Dubai World Cup Night 2013 (Tapeta Races Only)

GODOLPHIN MILE

Won last year by the Godolphin runner African Story in blistering fashion, the son of Pivotal has this year been rerouted towards the Dubai World Cup after an explosive performance over a mile on his comeback run this campaign.

I can see the logic in the Godolphin thinking given how open and poor quality of opposition the Dubai World Cup has attracted this time round – a year in which it wouldn’t be surprised to see the Winter Derby winner (Farraaj) end up the season rated higher than the winner of the Dubai World Cup.

Mike De Kock saddles the favourite in Soft Falling Rain who comes into this contest off the back of two impressive victories out in Dubai, most recently in the UAE 2000 Guineas (Group 3). He was the champion two-year-old in his native South Africa and remains unbeaten in his career to date but hasn’t been given an ideal draw in stall 13, on the outside of likely pace-setter Capital Attraction with Saamidd to his outside who will also be looking to drop in.

Moonwalk In Paris has twice run to a mark of around 113 on his two most recent Dubai Carnival starts but hasn’t been given any help with the draw out in box 15, and is ridden by the enigma that is Ahmed Ajtebi.

Barbecue Eddie is a very likeable sort and a stalwart out on the Dubai scene but he has been handed a draw out in the car park in stall 16, and whatever chance he appeared to have before the draw was announced soon evaporated.

Surfer is one you have to give a chance to, he has been handed an assortment of high draws throughout this campaign and gets a decent draw position for the first time in a short while. A decent run the last day when fourth over the long distance to Dubai World Cup favourite Hunter’s Light and must surely place a role in the finish here.

From memory there appeared to be a fairly slow and tactical running of the Godolphin Mile last year with those positioned closest to the pace benefitting from soft early fractions. I am hoping that Tadgh O’Shea can grab the lead without as little exertion as possible aboard the Ernst Ortel trained Capital Attraction and lead them all from pillar-to-post in a performance similar to last time when only bettered by African Story in the Burj Nahaar.

Should they go too quick in the early exchanges it will be worth looking out for Weichong Marwing aboard Rerouted who will be finishing fast and late down the centre of the track and wouldn’t be a forlorn hope at double-figure odds.

UAE DERBY

Strictly speaking a repeat performance of his victory in the Al Bastakiya will be more than enough to see Secret Number take out this Group 2 contest. A winner of his sole start as a juvenile in the UK, Secret Number put in a huge performance when winning that contest off just his second lifetime start.

Losing lengths at the start of the contest he endured a terrible trip throughout keeping widest of all to avoid any trouble in what was a tactically run affair throughout. The fact he still had enough engine to roll over the top of them into the straight, let alone to win convincingly signalled this is a top class colt in the making and he really should win this race tomorrow afternoon.

I have him running to 112+ when winning the race, that is without even accounting for the distance lost at the start and the amount wider he travelled further than his rivals throughout (which equates to around 10L) it wouldn’t be inconceivable to think he is a legitimate 120 horse based on that performance.

Of course we have a couple of American’s in the field who are untried on the surface, along with Keiai Leone a raider from Japan who has to be respected. Add to that the twist of the European duo of Lines Of Battle (Aidan O’Brien) and Law Enforcement (Richard Hannon) this makes up into a half interesting race in what has been suffering in recent years.

Mahmood Al Zarooni also saddles Now Spun who was an impressive winner on the Dubai turf on his most recent effort and makes the switch to the Tapeta for the first time, and must have impressed enough to warrant a run in this contest.

Of the remainder the two which interest me most are Shuruq and Snowboarder and I’ve included them in a couple of small each-way multiples on the card despite being against the hotpot favourite of Secret Number. Both have run to decent figures out in Dubai and could easily make the frame here in what is an open contest.

GOLDEN SHAHEEN

Won last year in somewhat of a shock by Krypton Factor who basically picked up the pieces after Rocket Man, duelled so hard at an electric pace in the opening exchanges with Giant Ryan to grab the lead he had nothing left when Kieran Fallon bought his mount upsides.

Krypton Factor was a disappointing second behind Reynaldothewizard the last day in the Mahaab Al Shimaal and it would genuinely be a shock were he to retain his crown in this contest against much stronger opposition.

Mental made an impressive debut in the UAE with a strong late burst to snare the Al Shindagha Sprint back in February. He was held back off a hot pace in the first half of the race so understandable finished powerfully as those in-front of him had already given their all. He is without doubt a class horse and ran to around 122 when winning that race last time, and he could well have the race set up for him again with the two American horses looking likely to duel on the lead early.

Trinniberg winner of the Breeders Cup Sprint when last seen at the close of 2012 he looks a big price at around the 8-1 mark based on that performance. He likes to go forward and get things done and looks sure to run a big race along with fellow American Private Zone who will likely be ridden attackingly also.

Frederick Engels was a good horse in the UK as a juvenile and has since developed into one of the best sprinters in Hong Kong since being sold by Pearl Bloodstock, and he would be a very interesting recruit on the first time switch to Tapeta. He is an unknown quantity on this surface (a similar thing can be said about much of this opposition) and he ranks a fair price at around the 10-1 mark.

Of the remainder Gordon Lord Byron has developed into a smart horse but looks much too short at the prices, and only won an egg and spoon race at Dundalk the last day.

I honestly can’t see Reynaldothewizard being good enough to land this Group 1 prize despite being transformed since wearing blinkers and I’d be disappointed were he to get his head in-front of these based on what I’ve saw.

I guess the one I’d chance at this stage would be Kavanagh from the Mike De Kock yard who was ridden closer to the hot pace than Mental when these pair last met in February and has since accounted for some high-grade sprinters on the turf in impressive style. He is currently around the 10-1 mark and if ridden more conservatively off the likely quick pace early on he’ll be in with a say in the finish as they turn for home.

DUBAI WORLD CUP

A very poor renewal of the world’s richest race and considering the prize money on offer you’d expect a better turnout for this event.

Last year’s winner Monterosso was so disappointing on his return to action behind this year’s favourite Hunter’s Light in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge, but his trainer Mahmood Al Zarooni appeared to suggest the run was needed and he’d left plenty to work with. A repeat of his victory in this race last year would be good enough to win this I reckon, but I struggle to see him finding enough improvement in such a short space of time.

Hunter’s Light has done nothing wrong since the middle of the summer in 2012 and has further enhanced his reputation with his performances out in Dubai this winter. He is the one they all have to beat and has been given a good draw in stall four, he looks likely to go very close but consequently isn’t a big enough price to get excited about.

I can’t have either of Royal Delta who looked absolutely clueless on the Tapeta in this race twelve months ago and I can’t see any reason why she should improve dramatically on that effort and is clearly a better animal on the more conventional dirt in her native America – or Dullahan who is a massively overrated animal.

Kassiano has progressed nicely through handicaps this campaign in much the similar way Capponi did twelve months previously but hasn’t been helped with a wide berth in this contest and although will be dropped in early on will need plenty of luck in running in what is a usually tactical affair.

African Story switches to this race instead of trying to defend his crown in the Godolphin Mile, and on ratings alone is one of the best horses plying his trade out in Dubai in recent years. Quite whether he’ll be good enough over this longer distance remains to be seen but if his stamina holds out he holds massive claims.

Meandre is too slow to get competitive over this distance, and Treasure Beach should have gone for the Sheema Classic.

Capponi is one who could surprise a few here if Mahmood Al Zarooni has him forward enough for this assignment and given the value of the race you’d have thought he’d have him spot on.

My idea of the bet though has to be Planteur who won in a massive time on the Polytrack at Lingfield a month or so ago, despite looking awful in the pre-parade ring beforehand. He ran third in this race last year despite sweating up badly at the start, he was caught wide throughout and came home really well from off the pace. Providing he is ridden closer to the pace this time round, and doesn’t lose his head in the preliminaries he looks a sure bet to be in the first three for me, and rates a fairly strong bet at the prices.

[notification_box]My Bets:
1pt each-way Capital Attraction @ 20-1 (1/4 odds) with Boylesports
4pts win Secret Number @ 2-1 (Generally)
1pt each-way Kavanagh @ 11-1 (1/4 Odds) with Boylesports, Bet365 & Ladbrokes
3pts each-way Planteur @ 12-1 (1/4 Odds) with Boylesports & Bet365. [/notification_box]

 

A Cheltenham Update

It has been a fair while since the last entry on this blog but fear not I haven’t been sitting on my hands doing nothing, which is usually why there is often a lull in activity on here. We have been working on the Cheltenham Festival!

As majority of our attentions are beginning to be drawn towards the Cheltenham Festival next month, I have been working tirelessly along with good friend Charlie Sutton in getting the Cheltenham Tips website up-to-date after a quiet year last year.

Those of you have been visiting this website for a few years now will know that each year I try and do as many previews as possible revolving around the Cheltenham Festival, usually with the help of Jacob Cohen (Alias: Dancing Brave). However this year Jacob has been unable to find the time required to contribute towards the website so Charlie has been drafted in to work alongside myself.

Over the last week we have posted a whole host of previews of races which are going to take place at the Cheltenham Festival next month, and have spent plenty of time and hard work into making them as good as possible for you, our reader.

I have browsed around the web and haven’t found much in the way of previews available yet so we are up nice and early with plenty of time for users to read what we think will be winning at the Cheltenham Festival 2013, and then form their own judgements based on the knowledge we’ve put forward.

Races we have previewed up until this article was published:
Cheltenham ’13 – Supreme Novices Hurdle
Cheltenham ’13 – Arkle Chase
Cheltenham ’13 – Champion Hurdle
Cheltenham ’13 – Cross Country Chase
Cheltenham ’13 – Neptune Novices Hurdle
Cheltenham ’13 – RSA Chase
Cheltenham ’13 – Champion Chase
Cheltenham ’13 – Jewson Novices’ Chase
Cheltenham ’13 – Ryanair Chase
Cheltenham ’13 – World Hurdle
Cheltenham ’13 – Triumph Hurdle
Cheltenham ’13 – Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle
Cheltenham ’13 – Cheltenham Gold Cup

Feel free to click on any of the links above where you will be taken to the relevant article on the Cheltenhamtips website. You can alternatively go via the Cheltenham Festival Races tab on the Cheltenhamtips website, by clicking on the race you require and clicking through to the preview from there.

Over the next couple of weeks our attentions will be turning towards the handicaps at The Festival and thus more is still to be done with the website but we are aiming to make it the most informed place around ahead of the greatest show on turf.

Thanks for reading.

Meydan Thursday’s

Thursday afternoons rarely have a purpose other than bringing the workforce another half day closer to that Friday feeling. That is unless you’re a fan of quality flat action as those wealthy fellas out in the Emirates are about to host another weekly Carnival of racing- I have been counting down the days until I can switch from Leicester and Ludlow to Meydan!

Never short of a grand idea or two, the Dubai Racing Club turned Nad Al Sheba from wasteland in 1991 to hosting the world’s richest race four years after the racecourse was officially opened. The Dubai World Cup remains the centrepiece of the final day of the Carnival and the race’s value has increased to over eight figures, quite ridiculous in comparison to some of the Group Ones run in front of us on European soil. Since Cigar was wooed into taking part in – and winning – the inaugural World Cup in 1996, Dubai has witnessed some outstanding races as the fields have grown in quality almost year on year- Dar Re Mi’s Sheema Classic struck me personally as being one of the best Group Ones I had seen in a long time. Below the top level the value of the handicaps week in week out ensures that there is high-quality representation from Europe and the rest of the world – almost every race run at the Carnival would feature prominently on a Saturday afternoon in Britain – and with horses from places like South America, the US and Australia clashing with our own recognisable animals there is almost always an interesting feature of every race. More than likely this sounds like PR for the DRC, but I find the whole thing fascinating- I wrote on Student Racing about how I completed most of my dissertation in Ladbrokes watching what was probably the first year of racing at Meydan, and I do think that without it on the LBO screens the 10,000 words might have sent me over the edge.

The most famous race/performance at the Carnival is still Dubai Millennium’s sensational effort in the 2000 World Cup, and to be honest they could probably race in the desert for another hundred years without seeing anything like it. It’s still on YouTube and well worth replaying a few times! An immensely athletic beast who was only beaten once when a blatant non-stayer in the 1999 Derby, Dubai Millennium would in my opinion have given Frankel an awful lot to think about. My own personal favourite race from the Emirates was much more low-key and in fact when I look back at it on the Racing Post site now it was only a 40k conditions race. The event was a one mile race featuring even money favourite and established high-class performer Eagle Mountain as well as four other horses rated 110 or better. 95-rated maiden winner Skysurfers made them all look like they’d been nailed to the Tapeta and I think he became my favourite horse in training there and then. I think we were on a bit of an all-dayer at uni at the time which would probably explain the overreaction to what I thought I’d seen but I was still pretty gutted when he couldn’t beat the likes of Yaa Wayl and Penitent back on turf in Britain.

While Skysurfers was only making waves inside my flat near Headingley, today’s card features one of the most universally popular horses at the Carnival in Barbecue Eddie. The now nine-year-old Eddie lines up in the first round of the Makhtoum Challenge over a mile at 5.20 and is the general second favourite on early prices in the shops. The old boy will complete a four-timer should he get his head in front on the jam stick in the Group Two event but there is intriguing competition from Godolphin entries Out Of Bounds and Fulbright as well as another Hamdan runner in Mufarrh. BBQ backers will be hoping his fitness edge can help him overcome ex-American Out Of Bounds- a colt who apparently looked very smart when taking a Grade Three on the dirt over the pond- and also Mufarrh who was second to my boy Skysurfers in the 2011 Godolphin Mile but has only been seen once since when below his best. Fulbright brings Group Two turf form to the table and seeing as his jockey will be wearing blue it’s hard to rule out him being even better over there on his Tapeta debut. I’m not sure the Newmarket form is that great, however those colours really improve a couple of pounds out here… Marco Botti may well have travelled over in First Class after the gamble he landed at Leafy the other day and Fanunalter could go well at a double figure price despite running poorly on his last two starts. I’m not inclined to have a bet in the race but will be watching Out Of Bounds with great interest given his profile and the fact I have no idea about him. If forced then a couple of quid each way on Fanunalter could be the way to go considering he won the Summer Mile off a similar break to the one he’s had before today’s race but I doubt any roubles will be leaving my pocket this afternoon.

The rest of the card contains plenty of interesting runners:

3.05: Akeed Wafi– Looked potentially smart when he won his maiden in Ireland for John Oxx and was second fav for a Irish 2000 Guineas trial over there when second to Furner’s Green. Fifth (and last) to Takar in dismal ground the only other time he’s been seen and his mark of 102 is likely to be higher by the end of the Carnival.

Oasis Dancer – Much more thoroughly exposed than Akeed Wafi and had a rocky 2012. Had threatened to be better than a 102 horse when winning an all-weather Listed sprint in the early part of the year but form collapsed in a bit of a heap over the same trip afterwards. Gave a glimmer of hope that he was turning a corner when beaten four lengths by Belgian Bill over 7f at Kempton last time and could pop up in Dubai.

3.40: A couple in the race from abroad who can be filed in the ‘could be anything’ bracket in Govinda (Germany) and Benji’s Empire (Hong Kong). The market prefers the Asian challenger and to be honest I don’t know anything about either so couldn’t say if either is well handicapped.

Temple Meads: Looked a sprinter with loads of potential when he won the Mill Reef in 2010 but had a horrid 2012 after missing the whole of 2011. Ran alright behind Ballista at Leicester in September and on old form 105 would be very appealing.

Bear Behind: Very smart for one who has only won once. Mark of 104 looks fair considering his exploits behind Ballesteros and slightly in front of Hamish McConagall (when disqualified and placed second) and as with plenty before him he found everything happening too quickly on fast ground in the Epsom Dash. May need it today but could make up to be a very nice type.

4.15: Rocks Off and Farrier have tidy form figures out in the Middle East and could both be well handicapped. Again I’ve got no real grasp on the form out there so I’d be guessing but no surprise if one of them was good enough. Mark Johnston’s Universal was progressing very nicely until possibly undone by the heavy ground at Chester on his last run and 9/1 is quite appealing. Kassiano is similar to Rocks Off and Farrier in that his form figures (completed hat-trick last time) look nice but I really don’t know about their worth while one of the other Godolphin runners Royal Empire has only had five runs and is likely to end the Carnival off a mark a fair bit higher than 100. The rest are exposed to varying degrees except for Mushreq at the top of the weights, and while he’s been running in Group Ones he’s been beaten far enough. Start Right would interest me at 20/1 on the piece of form he produced at Goodwood but the Tapeta isn’t overly conductive to hold-up tactics and if I were to have a punt I’d probably side with Universal at 9/1.

4.50: Sharestan: has the potential to be really smart for Godolphin having looked good in winning Listed races in Ireland last year. Ran Famous Name to a head and on the figures is a worthy 11/8 shot. although after his absence I’d rather not be involved. While plenty of horses improve dramatically in these colours at the Carnival more than the odd one has tailed off completely so I’d rather watch in this case.

So Beautiful: Unexposed French Group Three winner. That’s about what I know so far having never seen her race. None of the three to chase him home did too much for the form next time but he adds another interesting element to the race.

Red Duke: Could benefit from the ease in grade as he’s competed in much better races than the rest of these – bar Al Shemali – according to the book. Maybe surprising that he’s an each way price and is one of the few tempting bets on day one.

6.00: Just a fair ending to the day by the looks of things. Amanee won a Grade Two in South Africa and a mark of 102 could wildly underestimate her if similar past Mike De Kock runners are anything to go by. Otherwise the highly regarded Arnold Lane is of interest off 105 having been third in the Newmarket Group Two won by Fulbright and Don’t Call Me’s first and second in big Ascot handicaps at the end of the turf season suggest he could keep improving at six-years-old. Lockwood – the Godolphin second string – has a French Group Three on his CV and was highly regarded enough to be sent off 6/1 for the Maurice de Gheest. 9/1 off 109 is semi appealing.

Gold Ship sails to success in Arima Kinen

On the greatest stage of all for the season finale, three-year-old GOLD SHIP put in a powerful performance in the home straight to lift the Arima Kinen for trainer Naosuke Sugai and rider Hiroyuki Uchida.

Settled in rear early, the grey son of Stay Gold made ground on the outside of the field into the second last turn before a strong sweeping move into the middle of the track rounding for home. Giving up lengths of ground to those on the inside, the Kikuka Sho and Satsuki Sho winner turned on the afterburners to drive himself into the lead inside the final furlong.

The Craig Williams ridden Rulership came wider still and ran as close to Gold Ship as he could but lacked the finishing gear of the winner, but it was quite a brilliant run in defeat after his well documented stalls problems resurfaced costing him four lengths at the start.

Rulership was narrowly claimed inside the last few yards by Ocean Blue and Christophe Lemaire who put in a strong late run more towards the inside of the track but was unable to reel in Gold Ship who’s jockey Uchida was already celebrating the victory as they crossed the line.

Gold Ship is the third three-year-old to win the Arima Kinen in a row after Japanese Triple Crown winner Orfevre was successful in 2011, and Victoire Pisa before him in 2010. Will Gold Ship now go for the Arc de Triomphe in 2013? Stay tuned.

Gold Ship was advised in our extensive big race preview on the blog here.

King George 2012 Preview

26th December 2005 was the first time the family really had to face up to the fact they had lost me to racing. The whole extended family on my mum’s side gathered at the local carvery for what was becoming a traditional Boxing Day lunchtime meal- everyone that is except me; I was sat in the car park with a handheld radio listening to Impek finish a distant third to the King of Kicking. Still not sure why I didn’t back him each way… I may have returned in disgrace halfway through the starters but I had made my point – Boxing Day was from now on about Kempton (or as was the case in 05- Sandown) and not much else.

The recent King George roll of honour is dominated by that famous dressage horse Kauto ‘Five Kings’ Star and his regular partner in Christmas cheer Ruby Walsh. A glance at Kauto’s winning distances for the race – 8L, 11L, 8L again, 36L and finally 1.25L as an 11yo – confirm just how superior to the rest our favourite dancing horse was at the Sunbury venue. Kauto’s tally of five Boxing Day wins is one ahead of the four earned by Dessie in the late 80s and a look back through the past winners of the race shows a number of dual and triple winners- fact is there have been just 18 different victors in more than 30 races since 1978. Some horses just love Kempton.

Pre-Kauto, the early 2000s saw some real deserving winners of the contest:

2001: “Can Florida Pearl win the King George??” Simon Holt asked as the Irish raider and Best Mate approached the last in the second renewal of the new millennium- he could, finally securing top honours after a number of placings in Britain’s best staying chases.

2002: Ridden with more confidence in his stamina than the previous year, Best Mate got his revenge on Florida Pearl to add the George to his first of three Gold Cups secured in March. Matey needed every last drop of staying power in a gruelling race, beating off Marlborough after an almighty scrap after the second last. A true chasing great!

2003: French raider Jair Du Cochet fluffed his lines in a big way as 2000 Champion Chase winner Edredon Bleu made all in a below-par renewal. In some cases though it’s not the strength of form that matters – in ’03 the rousing performance of a hugely popular veteran made the race a truly memorable one.

2004/05: Kicking King was good enough to win two King Georges and a Gold Cup, but with Best Mate’s hat-trick at Prestbury Park proceeding his efforts and the Kauto/Denman rivalry following not long after his retirement Tom Taffe’s champ will probably not get the recognition he deserves in future. He ran a quite outstanding time in ’04 in beating strong stayer Kingscliff and won despite being below par at Sandown in ’05.

This season’s renewal of the race is typically intriguing despite the loss of a potentially key player in Al Ferof this week. The Paddy Power has thrown up Gold Cup winners Imperial Commander and Long Run in recent years and John Hales’ grey looked a live contender to further enhance the standing of the Cheltenham handicap. Instead we are left with the winners of a King George and Gold Cup (Long Run), a Champion Chase and a Melling (Finian’s Rainbow), a Ryanair (Riverside Theatre), the Gold Cup second (The Giant Bolster) and a couple of 2012 Grade One novice winners (Sir Des Champs and Menorah) – this without mentioning Grade One winners Grands Crus, Captain Chris and Kauto Stone. Oh and Hunt Ball. And Cue Card, who is around the 4/1 mark despite never winning at the top level…

dark blue, light blue hoop, checked sleeves and capCAPTAIN CHRIS (Philip Hobbs): Stamina and no shortage of class won him the Arkle in 2011 after which he was considered a real contender for the top staying chases in future- Hobbs was inclined to mention the King George of 2011 straight after his Cheltenham victory. Well beaten behind Kauto that year but went straight from tipping up at the last in the Haldon Gold Cup – this time he’ll line up off the back of a fairly smart effort when winning at Ascot. Hard to make too much of the form of that race considering the ground and the fact none of the quartet would’ve been happy on it, and with Chris running a bit of a “Tidal Bay” type race in the Ryanair it’s not set in stone that he truly gets home. Has about a stone to find with an in-form Long Run.

black, purple sleeves, red spotsCHAMPION COURT (Martin Keighley): Rarely runs away from Prestbury Park. Returned at Ascot last month over a little more than two miles and time may tell that he ran an absolute screamer giving lumps of weight to William’s Wishes over a trip short of his best. That run came on heavy ground – the fact he appeared to handle things okay will be in his favour but the extra mile would be of much more concern. His trainer mentioned the King George straight after finishing second to Silviniaco Conti at Aintree in April and also felt his horse wasn’t operating at 100% at Liverpool. Taking that into consideration he’s clearly a smart, progressive horse having also chased home the re-opposing Sir Des Champs at the Festival. Question is whether he can improve the stone+ that he may well need to from that Cheltenham effort? A massive ask, however there will certainly be worse 25/1 shots than this seven-year-old should he truly stay.

royal blue, pink star on body and cap, royal blue sleeves, pink starsCUE CARD (Colin Tizzard): No disrespect meant but Cue Card at (at biggest) 9/2 for a King George? Can he stay three miles in what could be desperate ground come Boxing Day? It would certainly be a surprise to me as he appears to be a 2 1/2 miler, albeit one with a huge amount of natural ability- giving Bobs Worth 7lbs and being beaten a short head was some effort over 20 furlongs at Newbury last year. That natural ability means that I’m loathe to totally write him off but I’m very much of the opinion that these conditions will not see him at his best, and as a front-runner it is vital jockey Joe Tizzard does not get things wrong pace-wise. He also has Junior to bother him up front- I imagine Pipe’s horse isn’t going to be taking things slowly either. I would want him to be a fair bit bigger than double the price of guaranteed stayer Long Run before entertaining him as a betting proposition.

white, black capFINIAN’S RAINBOW (Nicky Henderson): If Cue Card isn’t going to stay then what to say about Finian’s? Just a couple of quotes from Nicky Henderson –
“When he is really good he is a two miler” – after the Champion Chase this year
“… we haven’t learnt anything at all except not to run him on soft ground again” – after finishing last of four on heavy ground at Ascot.
Errrr what more to say about a race on probably heavy ground over three miles? Ton of ability, huge engine… deep ground stayer? Unlikely, although Henderson did allude to the fact the horse was ‘learning how to race’ after winning over 2 1/2 miles at Aintree. Would he be running in this race if it wasn’t for Sprinter Sacre? Unlikely, and despite his obvious talents I imagine he will struggle to finish in the top two of the runners from his own stable on Boxing Day.

red, pink hoop and armlets FOR NON STOP (Nick Williams): When I rang The Duke this morning bemoaning my failure to find a confident selection for the race he gave this horse a mention but he’s another who may be treading water come the second or third last. Like Champion Court he is by no means a rank outsider having hosed up at Aintree in October and with form in the past that doesn’t put him too far behind Cue Card or Al Ferof. Does though have a lot of ground to make up on Sir Des Champs based on their running at Chelts in March and his form and the opinion of his trainer suggests that he’ll not be happy in the guaranteed soft ground. Ran well enough in the mud behind Captain Chris at Ascot but that form may well be worthless in hindsight with none of the runners enjoying conditions- nice horse who appears to have progressed over the summer though looks likely to be found wanting up in trip in the wet.

purple, yellow triple diamond, yellow sleeves, red armlets, red capGRANDS CRUS (David Pipe): My idea of the winner after his round in the Feltham last season. A year on and that confidence has been severely dented, if not by an expected reverse in the RSA then by the pretty lifeless effort in the Paddy Power on ground he will meet again at Kempton. Back when the Pond House license was in the name of M.C. Pipe there would be a lot less concern about a horse arriving for a big race on the back of being pulled up – Our Vic, Paddy Power, 2005. Now though the Pipes are not ahead of the game with getting their horses fitter or better prepared than the rest and Grands Crus’ only win in genuine soft ground came in a novice hurdle at Plumpton back in 2010. Another though with a huge amount of ability and unlike a fair few of these he has form over three miles round here- form which has been strengthened by the subsequent exploits of Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti, two of the favourites for the Gold Cup. The ground is the nagging doubt, and the addition of Junior from the same stable is likely to be more of a hindrance than a help to Grands Crus considering he has been entered to make the most of his stamina. Needs to improve on his Feltham form and whether has or not is anyone’s guess considering he’s not had his ideal conditions – has had a breathing op.

red, yellow hoops, light blue sleeves, red capHUNT BALL (Kieran Burke): His progress last season has been well documented, as have the exploits of his owner who appears, quite frankly, to be a bit of a wazzock! Pulled up alongside Grands Crus in the Paddy Power and connections were adamant that the ground was to blame – if so then he’s another who will be going nowhere fast come the business end in the King George. Did prove he was deserving of a place at the top table when rounding off an incredibly busy season by being Grade One placed at Aintree but that race doesn’t really compare too well with this line up. Likely to give his best but come up short.

light blue, orange epauletsJUNIOR (David Pipe): On the face of it Junior is well out of his depth in a King George but on closer inspection there have been far worse examples of tilting at windmills. Likely that he’ll go to the front and try and stay there, and should his young jock get things right in front it wouldn’t be surprising to see him have one or two of the more fancied runners in a lot of trouble. Unlikely, however, that he will have all of his opponents still trailing him come the winning line as despite him being able to handle conditions and be a stone cold guaranteed stayer he has been operating at a much lower level than these over fences. With the number of dubious stayers/horses disliking the ground he could possibly, maybe, potentially hold on for fourth but any closer would be a major surprise.

light blue, dark blue chevrons and sleeves, dark blue and light blue quartered capKAUTO STONE (Paul Nicholls): Nicholls’ only representative has the enviable job of stepping up to take the place of his half brother now that Al Ferof is out of the contest. A good horse in his own right, he’s still only six-years-old and appeared to see out the trip well when winning the JNwine in Ireland- until then he had been very disappointing after chasing home Sizing Europe in the Tingle Creek over a year ago, and the fact he went off 4/1 for the Irish race despite form figures of 7F7 suggests it wasn’t a particularly strong Grade One. Along with the vanquished First Lieutenant running a strong race in the Hennessy, what is in his favour is the race was over three miles on soft ground – unlike a large proportion of his opponents he has proven he is at home in such conditions. An interesting contender whose form suggests he’s an early season horse.

brown, orange sleeves, quartered capLONG RUN (Nicky Henderson): As desperately dull as this selection is, in my opinion 5/2 Long Run is an outstanding price. In the last two seasons Long Run has run to marks of 181 at Kempton after a slightly below-par reappearance effort – after a similar return to action in the Betfair Chase last month the horse (still only seven years old) should be primed to run to a similar figure come the big day. Despite my feeling that Long Run has turned into a bit of a grinder in comparison to the sparkling novice we saw three years ago he would not need an exceptional performance to win this race and would almost certainly not need to improve on his last two King George runs. It boils down to the fact that one of his opponents is likely to need to run to 178+ in order to beat him- I am struggling to find a rival who is likely to do so.

dark blue, light blue hoop, checked sleeves and capMENORAH (Philip Hobbs): Made a sketchy start to his fencing career having been good enough to go off 3/1 for the Champion Hurdle in 2011, failing to complete twice in his first four novice chases before being beaten miles when third to Sprinter Sacre at Cheltenham. Did win the Grade One novice chase at Aintree but has been disappointing again twice since. Out of his depth on first try over three miles on ground he won’t enjoy.

red and white diamonds, white sleeves, red armlets, red capRIVERSIDE THEATRE (Nicky Henderson): Ran a horror race last time out at Aintree on his third appearance in under two months – Henderson has since said it is important to keep him fresh to see him at his best. Chased home Long Run in the “2010” running of this race but was a long way behind and hasn’t improved on the figures since. Won a competitive Ryanair Chase in March without needing to find that improvement and will be vulnerable to a 100% Long Run on all the evidence but has a solid each way chance as a 170-rated horse with form on soft ground.

maroon, white star & armlet, maroon cap, white starSIR DES CHAMPS (Willie Mullins): Hugely exciting Irish novice last season when he won at both the Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals- the Punchestown Grade One was a poor excuse for a top level race but he’s obviously got a proper engine the way he won the Jewson. A five-length defeat to Flemenstar on his reappearance saw his unbeaten record go west over a trip that suited his highly talented opponent, although the major concern with this race in mind would be his preference for a sound surface. Three miles looks like it will bring out further improvement from the son of Robin Des Champs Like a couple of others in the line-up Sir Des Champs has the raw ability to scale the heights, however taking on Long Run in conditions favourable for Nicky Henderson’s horse he is going to need to extract every ounce of potential if the prize is going to head back over the Irish Sea. [NON RUNNER 22/12/12]

red and white check, black and white check sleeves, royal blue capTHE GIANT BOLSTER (David Bridgewater): Appeared to show his Gold Cup effort was no fluke by finishing fairly close to Silviniaco Conti and Long Run at Haydock. His RPR over three miles on soft ground in that race suggests he is a much better bet than his 14/1 price suggests- that’s even without considering that he should improve for the run. Did show improvement with every run last season and is still only seven-years-old – a real cliche but if he were trained by a household name then it’s unlikely he’d be nearly twice the price of Kauto Stone and three times the price of Cue Card! A cracking each way bet at the prices.

dark blue, light blue hoop, checked sleeves and capWISHFUL THINKING (Philip Hobbs): Completes the trio of Hobbs/Whateley horses and will probably finish second of the three while some way behind the rest. First try at three miles having never been further than 2m5f before and it’s very unlikely to unlock enough improvement to win this. Likely to be taken on for the lead by Junior and possibly Cue Card as well.

VERDICT: Incredibly difficult to oppose LONG RUN on the basis that he has improved for his reappearance in his last two campaigns and the unexposed horses in the race all appear to have probable issues with either the trip or the potentially deep ground. The Giant Bolster appears to have been underrated in the market at 14/1 in comparison to several horses quoted in single figures and looks an excellent each way bet if backing the 5/2 favourite is not your thing. It would be no surprise to see For Non Stop or Champion Court outrun their odds but the most likely to complete the tricast would be Riverside Theatre, while Grands Crus and Sir Des Champs have the ability to win this but there are doubts about fitness and the ground respectively about the best folding rowing machine.

[notification_box]Advice:
Win: LONG RUN at 2-1 with Bet365, PaddyPower, StanJames
EW: THE GIANT BOLSTER at 12-1 with PaddyPower [/notification_box]

 

Arima Kinen 2012 Preview

With Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe and Japan Cup runner up Orfevre not taking to the field this weekend in Nakayama, the 57th Arima Kinen will be lacking a little in ‘big names’ especially if you take into account that Fillies Triple Crown winner, and Japan Cup victor Gentildonna doesn’t make the line up either.

However the Arima Kinen is “The Grand Prix” in Japan, and is the season finale for the Japan Racing Association which has arguably the highest turnover of any race in the world alongside the Grand National at Aintree in April. Despite the lack of Orfevre and Gentildonna, the Arima Kinen has still managed to attract a stellar group of horses including high-class three year olds Rulership and Gold Ship.

The race was originally known as the Nakayama Grand Prix, founded in 1956 by then president Yoriyasu Arima. The inaugural running of the race was held over about thirteen furlongs and was renamed the following year to the Arima Kinen after founder Yoriyasu Arima died in January. The race has been held at its current distance of 12.5 furlongs since 1966, and began accepting foreign-bred entries from 1971. In 2007 the Arima Kinen received International Grade 1 status which opened the door to a maximum of six horses of overseas to run in this prestigious race.

The record for the race was set by Zenno Rob Roy in 2004, running the distance in 2 minutes 29.5 seconds.

 BEAT BLACK – Winner of the Tenno Sho (Spring) back in April, the five-year-old son of Miscat has failed to trouble the judge in his three most recent starts, culminating with a seventh place finish in the Japan Cup on his most recent start. Usually hard on the pace, the shorter home straight at Nakayama will work to his advantage unlike Tokyo and should come into this race in top order after two recent runs a month ago.

 DAIWA FALCON – Usually thereabouts on the front-end, Daiwa Falcon comes into this off the back of victory in the Grade 3 Fukushima Kinen in the middle of November. The five-year-old son of Jungle Pocket has won 5 races from 13 tries around the Nakayama circuit and always come to form around this time of year. It’ll take a career best from the Hiroyuki Uehara trained entire and based on his run in the Tenno Sho (Autumn) he is likely to struggle in this grade.

 DARK SHADOW – The five-year-old son of Dance In The Dark comes into this race in search of his first Grade 1 success after backing up with two impressive performances in both the Tenno Sho (Autumn) and Japan Cup finishing fourth in both races, just 0.4sec off the pace. The Noriyuki Hori trained entire has a bit of a reputation for being a Tokyo specialist and the longer straight obviously plays to his strengths so it has to be a bit of a worry coming to Nakayama with his only previous run here yielding an unplaced effort.

 EARNESTLY – The Shozo Sasaki trained seven-year-old comes into this Grade 1 completely out of form, with two recent heavy defeats in both the Kinko Sho (G2) and Tenno Sho (Autumn, G1) and realistically doesn’t have much chance against quality opposition here.

 EISHIN FLASH – Winner of the 2010 Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby) returned to winning ways in October to lift the Tenno Sho Autumn (G1) in what would be his first victory since landing the Tokyo Yushun two years ago, blasting through the final three furlongs in 33.1 under talented big race jockey Mirco Demuro. Second in this race last year to Orfevre, Eishin Flash is a free going sort so will need all the strength of Mirco Demuro to settle him in the early stages of what could be a tactical affair but he seems to have hit form lately and looks to be a major player this year without the likes of Orfevre of Gentildonna in the line-up.

 GOLD SHIP – Winner of the Kikuko Sho (Japan St Leger) in 3 minutes 2.9sec back in October, this impressive son of Stay Gold also has the Satsuki Sho (Japan Guineas) on his resume having won that back in April. The only blot on his copybook coming when beaten on the middle leg of the Japanese Triple Crown in the Tokyo Yushun, but he was unlucky that day and is clearly the best of the three-year-olds based on what I’ve seen. This is an impressive colt and his only previous run at Nakayama yielded an impressive success in the Satsuki Sho (Grade 1), and given that he will be staying the distance strong he looks the one they all have to beat.

 LELOUCH – A four-year-old son of 2004 Arima Kinen winner Zenno Rob Roy, Lelouch recorded a first graded success in the Copa Republica Argentina (Grade 2) on his most recent start. A late maturing start who only has eleven starts to his name he comes into this race in the form of his life, and could pick up the pieces in the place market if one or two of the main protagonists fail to run to form, but looks very much a horse for next year to me with another winter to strengthen up.

 NAKAYAMA KNIGHT – A very attractive chestnut son of Stay Gold, this four-year-old has a big liking for this Nakayama circuit winning three and placing twice from just five attempts. Ninth in the Tenno Sho Autumn (Grade 1) he had previous returned to Nakayama in style to record a ready success  in the Sankei Sho (Grade 2) over eleven furlongs. His failure to Tokyo can be excused though and the return to this trip will certainly help this deep-closing sort – place chances.

 NEVER BOUCHON – The veteran of the race at the grand old age of 9, he comes here off a fifth placed effort in the Nippon Sho (Grade 2) last time out. He isn’t getting any younger though and has been well beaten off in decent races this season and it is seriously hard to imagine him laying a glove on the main contenders here.

 OCEAN BLUE – Comes into this race after winning the Kinko Sho (Grade 2) at Chukyo on his most recent start, he seems to win every other start looking through his most recent form. That said it is hard to imagine him being good enough against some of the better quality of rivals here and looks another just making up the numbers.

 OKEN BRUCE LEE – Hasn’t got the best record at either this distance or around the track, and isn’t getting any younger either at the age of seven. He comes here off a tepid display in the Japan Cup and in all seriousness I couldn’t envisage him playing a hand in the finish here.

 ROSE KINGDOM – A very good three-year-old this now 5yo son of King Kamehameha has appeared to lose his way over the last two years and will need to rediscover that 3yo form to feature here. Well beaten in this contest last year I can see him plugging on into mid-division but that looks about it really after a disappointing display in the Japan Cup latest.

 RULERSHIP – A top class operator at around this level, but although he landed the QEII Cup in Hong Kong back in April, the 5yo has yet to win a Grade 1 on home soil. With both Orfevre and Gentildonna out of the way this could be the time for Rulership to shine, with placed efforts in all three of the main races on lead up Takarazuka Kinen, Tenno Sho Autumn and Japan Cup. The son of King Kamehameha has shown a tendency to be slow to break from the gates in his races and this has ultimately proved his undoing this campaign. However trained Katsuhiko Sumii has a plan in place to combat this problems judging by reports I’ve read, and he gets the assistance of Aussie Craig Williams in the plate – live contender.

 SKY DIGNITY – A good late-finishing second to Gold Ship in the Kikuka Sho on his most recent start, this three-year-old looks the type who could improve further next year. A winner of a maiden and allowance race from just 9 starts this could be a step too soon for the son of Brian’s Time but I can imagine him staying on through beaten horses late.

 TO THE GLORY – A fair four-year-old last year who finished third in this race last year with a big late closing effort. He has disappointed on majority of his starts this campaign but that has probably been over trips short of ideal. Also placed in this race in 2010, he has shown a clear liking for this track and distance and although it would be hard to see him having the class to take this, would be my idea of one of the big outsiders getting into the frame at a price.

 TRAILBLAZER – Winner of the Kyoto Kinen before a stint in the United States which yielded a fourth-placed finish in the Breeders’ Cup Turf, this five-year-old son of Zenno Rob Roy is a winner of his sole attempt around the Nakayama circuit although in general his form isn’t quite good enough to secure victory here.

COMMENTS FROM CONNECTIONS:

Beat Black (5yo, horse)

Hitoshi Nakamura
“I thought he’d run it in 56 seconds, but he did it in 54. I think he’s in very good form. Before he won the Tenno Sho (Spring), he worked a lot faster than we expected him to. We’ll have to see about where we travel but we do want to be out in front fairly early.” 

Kodai Hasegawa (assistant trainer)
“He was in pretty good shape (for the Japan Cup) but he’s just as good as he was then. I get the impression he has an easier time racing at Nakayama than Tokyo. Now all we need is for the turf to hold up.”

Daiwa Falcon (5yo, horse)

Hiroyuki Uehara (trainer)
“Everything’s been like clockwork. He’s done all the training we planned for him. He always picks it up at this time of the year and judging by his last performance (first, Fukushima Kinen) I’d say he’s in excellent condition at the moment. He should have no problem with the distance so we’ve got a lot to look forward to here.”

Dark Shadow (5yo, horse)

Ryan Moore
“Judging by what I saw in the workout and looking at his fur today, he seems like he’s in pretty good condition. I could tell right away that he’s got a lot of quality, that he’s a very good horse. He just went through the motions today but I’m really pleased with where he’s at. I think he should be able to run clockwise just fine, on a tight track, too. You never know how a race will turn out but I’m in this to win it. Hopefully I can deliver a Christmas gift to all the fans.” 

Noriyuki Hori (trainer)
“For his last two starts, we worked him hard on a Wednesday, trying to get his weight down. But this time he was ready to go last week which is why he put in his work today. The big concern for us last time (in the Japan Cup) was the distance but we know now he can handle it. He traveled at the back and we had to make our move early but he was still accelerating on the straight. We got a lot out of his last race.”

Earnestly (7yo, horse)

Shozo Sasaki (trainer)
“Considering what the track was like today, he gets passing marks from me for the way he finished the workout. His movement offers more hope than disappointment. You can never say never…”

Eishin Flash (5yo, horse)

Mirco Demuro
“He was focused yet relaxed. I think he was very good today. When I won the Arima Kinen two years ago (with Victoire Pisa), I won the Asahi Hai Futurity Stakes (with Grand Prix Boss) the week before. I hope I can do the same with Flash this time, too.” 

Hideaki Fujiwara (trainer)
“He was very impressive. I think it’s safe to say he’s ready. This will be his fourth start of the fall so I am keeping an eye out to make sure he doesn’t suffer from exhaustion. But he’s a tough horse who always responds when you ask for it. He knows how to work himself into top form and sustain it once he’s there. (Christophe) Lemaire does a wonderful job of riding him, but I just think the horse hits it off slightly better with Demuro. He made his comeback in the Tenno Sho (Autumn), and I hope he can win this one now after he came so close last year.”

Gold Ship (3yo, colt)

Hiroyuki Uchida
“He got a lot stronger over the summer. He’s more sure of himself now and knows what he’s doing during a race. He can take the race to the opposition while remaining in control. You have to be a good racehorse to be able to do both. We could’ve positioned ourselves closer to the front (in the Kikuka Sho) but the horse didn’t exactly jump out of the gate; maybe he knew we were in for a long one so I just decided to sit back until the time was right. But to produce the performance he did takes not only talent but toughness. There’s no telling how the race will unfold but I want to make sure he leaves every bit of horse out there. This race will tell a lot, whether he can be one of the best racehorses in the country or not. There’s a lot on us here. I’ve been told by the trainer that he’s stronger than ever before which almost worries me because I’m not sure if I can control him if he does become too strong. I was watching the race on TV a year ago so to be back riding in the Arima Kinen with such a special horse is just an unbelievable feeling. I’ll ride Gold Ship with confidence and there’s not much more I can do than that. A bunch of 3-year-olds have won the Arima Kinen before and even when they lost, I remember them having pretty good races. I don’t see much of a gap between the older horses – if at all. I hope I can bring some hope and excitement to all the racing fans.” 

Naosuke Sugai (trainer)
“We wanted to get his lungs going today and crack the whip a little bit, to remind him we’ve got a big race coming up. I think on the day of the race, he’ll be 10 kg bigger than he was for his last race – 10 kg of muscle, too – and that’s the way we wanted it because we asked the farm to add around 20 kg to his frame. He’s built up, really broad across the chest and you’ll notice it. You need power at Nakayama unlike a marathon in the Kikuka Sho. We’re leaving everything in Uchida’s hands now. We’re going up against the big boys but I want him to ride with the utmost confidence. We’re challengers here.”

Lelouch (4yo, colt)

Norihiro Yokoyama
“His time wasn’t especially fast but he’s coming along fine. I’m just glad he’s managed to get this far without any issues. With him, it was never a case of filling out but staying injury free. I thought he had something special from the moment I rode him in his debut. He’s just a very easy ride. The competition will get tougher here, but he doesn’t take a backseat in terms of potential.” 

Kazuo Fujisawa (trainer)
“He has the pace to race near the front and the stamina to leg it out. We’re going up against horses who run regularly at Grade 1. It’ll be interesting and anxious to see how he does here. His whole future is still ahead of him next season.”

Nakayama Knight (4yo, colt)

Yoshitomi Shibata
“His breathing has improved even from a week ago. I was careful not to overwork him but at the same time, you want to make sure he puts in the necessary work because it is a huge race. 

Yoshitaka Ninomiya (trainer)
“The jockey himself worked the horse last week and we went at it pretty hard, but he wanted to work him again this week so we obliged. There’s nothing wrong with him; all systems are a go. He doesn’t struggle running counterclockwise but he does seem to get his legs better underneath him running the other way around. He’s won at Tokyo, but his wins at Nakayama are probably more impressive. I think he’ll be even better next year but I’m pretty happy with his progress at this point in time. He continues to mature physically, and I’m really excited to see how he does against the best horses in the country. It’s not too often that you get to race a horse in the Arima Kinen in the shape he’s in right now.”

Never Bouchon (9yo, horse)

Masanori Ito (trainer)
“He’s got a lot of motivation for a horse his age. He doesn’t seem to be tired, and he’s in good shape. Not bad for an old-timer. He’s starting to show the form of his peak years. He suffered a broken bone at a relatively old age and that was really stressful for him. But he’s back, finally. No one can predict how a race will turn out. I mean, a 10-year-old won the Stayers Stakes. I hope he has his moment and gets the fans involved. I’m really happy with the inside draw; we’ve got less of a distance to cover.”

Ocean Blue (4yo, colt)

Christophe Lemaire
“He’s in extremely good condition, very relaxed as well.” 

Yasutoshi Ikee (trainer)
“He looked good. He’s just as fit as he was for his last race. He’s relaxed and I was happy with the way he responded. Hopefully, we can stay on the tail of the pacesetter and travel along the rail.”

Oken Bruce Lee (7yo, horse)

Hidetaka Otonashi (trainer)
“He looked good to me. He’s not in bad shape by his standards.”

Rose Kingdom (5yo, horse)

Yasunari Iwata
“He was running in a straight line down the last furlong. He didn’t show any signs of losing his handle. I hope I can get the most out of my horse.” 

Kojiro Hashiguchi (trainer)
“I was hoping for an inside draw and we got what we wanted. I hope he leaves from the No. 1 post and ends up No. 1. Leaving from this gate, he should be able to save himself for when it matters most. It’s definitely not a disadvantage.”

Rulership (5yo, horse)

Craig Williams
“He’s improved from last week. He seems motivated, and is responding much better. His form dipped a little after the Japan Cup but he’s on the way back up now. A good trainer knows how to prepare a horse in best condition for the race. Mr. Sumii knows what he’s doing; the horse has been perfect this week. I know how much the fans love him. He’s definitely among the favorites and would love to help him win a Grade 1 race in Japan. The crowd is massive at the Arima Kinen and I really hope we can win.” 

Katsuhiko Sumii (trainer)
“He worked among a party of three but he settled fine and was moving really, really well out there. Physically, I’d say he’s the same as he was for his last race – if not a little sharper. Again, he’s going into another race in really good form. We were worried about how he might hold up inside the gate in the Japan Cup and things didn’t turn out well. Since then, we’ve been trying a number of things to make sure he starts properly. We’re still not sure if he’ll be wearing any kind of equipment for the race. I think the only thing standing in our way is the start of the race. I pray we draw an even number. We’ve been doing everything we can for him, especially so that he breaks properly. I hope we can have a good Christmas.”

Sky Dignity (3yo, colt)

Christophe Soumillon
“He was relaxed and he responded really well. It’s tough to compare how he is in real life to the horse I’ve been watching on film, but he is an easy ride for sure.” 

Yasuo Tomomichi (trainer)
“We were thinking about racing him in either the Stayers Stakes or the American Jockey Club Cup after the new year so the farm had been prepared. He’s in good condition and after Orfevre pulled out, we decided to give him a shot. I think his footwork has improved since the Kikuka Sho, and there’s no wear and tear on his body. He doesn’t have a huge stride so a tight course like Nakayama should work to his favor.” 

Yusuke Oe (assistant trainer)
“An inside barrier is definitely better than outside. The weather nor the turf conditions will be an issue for him. He’s such a diligent racehorse. He used to be physically weak and couldn’t keep up in the workouts but that’s no longer the case. He’s always had the quality but he’s added toughness to it now. He’s gotten really, really strong. Given the quality of the field we’re going up against, we can’t sit here and brag about our chances. But he does have lots of stamina and has never had an issue settling, which bodes well for this race. We’re looking forward to it.”

To the Glory (5yo, horse)

Yasutoshi Ikee (trainer)
“It’s only been two weeks since his last start so we took it easy on him. I think the workout he had today was just fine. I didn’t see the immediate effect of the cheek pieces in training but I certainly don’t think it will take away from him. I hope he remembers the way he ran the race last year.”

Trailblazer (5yo, horse)

Yutaka Take
“He was in really good condition for the Breeders’ Cup Turf. I was surprised how good he was during the workouts. He came around that next to last turn so smoothly and that’s usually the way he wins races. I was betting on it. He didn’t back down against the world’s best racehorses, and I’m happy we were able to show what he’s made of. I hope we can go back next year – but as a Grade 1 winner. Even when he was an assistant trainer, Yasutoshi and I used to always talk about American racing because he spent time over there learning the trade. I think the distance and the layout of the Arima Kinen suit him because he’s a pretty crafty horse. It’s probably better if he travels toward the front but not on the lead. He can get a bad jump out of the gate from time to time so I want to make sure he gets off to a smooth start. It was never a concern in the States because we always had someone at the gate. The only thing that worries me is his physical condition because he spent a long time in America to come back for this. But he did finish fourth in the Breeders’ Cup Turf so as long as he’s in halfway decent shape, we should have a chance here. I’ve only won the Arima Kinen twice, aboard Oguri Cap and Deep Impact. It would be nice to win the Arima Kinen because it’s been a while.” 

Yasutoshi Ikee (trainer)
“His action wasn’t very good, even taking into account how bad the course was today. The horse has a history of nose bleeds when he trains too hard so we’ll just have to see what kind of an effect this workout will have on him. He hasn’t shown any signs of fatigue. We worked him to the limit (for the Breeders’ Cup Turf) and we’ve got to admit he’s not close to being in that form right now.”

VERDICT
In years gone by the Japan Cup has proven to be a poor form guide to use in the Arima Kinen with a win ratio of just 8.8%, and place of 17.6% it has often paid to look elsewhere. Rulership comes into this off the back of three decent placed efforts in top races this campaign but his bid depends on his start and taking that into account I couldn’t possibly advise him here.

Of 10 winners in the last 10 years all (apart from Dream Journey in 2009, 5yo) have been aged four or younger, and it generally pays to side with quality with those having already won a Japanese Grade 1 in the same year doing well. If you extend that to having won a JRA G1 over 12 furlongs or less, you are talking about a 40% top two finish ratio, which augurs well for GOLD SHIP who comes into this race with all the form in the book to add to his impressive campaign here, and take the season finale for connections.

[notification_box]2pts win Gold Ship @ SP [/notification_box]

 

Marvelous Kaiser takes 135th Nakayama Daishogai

Majesty Bio winning the 2011 Nakayama Daishogai

The history of the Nakayama Daishogai dates back to 1934 when the biggest jump race in Japan was established in the aim of providing equal excitement to the Tokyo Yushun (Japanese Derby), which was the most popular race in flat racing. The highest level of steeplechase racing was originally held as a biannual event held in April and December until the spring version was renamed the Nakayama Grand Jump in 1999. Still, the two jump races continued to position itself as the only two obstacle races of J-G1 level of equal standard and its results serving as a decisive factor in the selection of the seasonal JRA award for Best Steeplechase Horse. In addition to the Nakayama Grand Jump, which was designated an international race in 2000, the Nakayama Daishogai became an international steeplechase event open to foreign contenders in 2011.

The Nakayama Daishogai features 11 jumps over the figure-of-eight-shaped course which includes six up-and-downs over the banks. The first half resembles that of the Nakayama Grand Jump while the Nakayama Daishogai does not include the movable hurdles along the outside turf track and the total distance being 150 meters shorter. The uphill stretch before the wire also is quite a test for many of the runners especially after running at a solid pace throughout the race.

2011 Best Steeplechase Horse Majesty Bio was the heavy favourite  having continued to excel this season with another overwhelming eight-length victory in the Nakayama Grand Jump (J-G1, 4,250m) in April. He came off his third win this year in the Illumination Jump Stakes (3,570m) early this month. Basel River, who finished second in the spring J-G1 this year after his first grade-race victory in the Hanshin Spring Jump (J-G2, 3,900m), was also among the top favourites having come off a runner-up effort in the Kyoto Jump Stakes (J-G3, 3,170m) last month. Meiner Neos, who finished fourth in the Nakayama Daishogai last year, had come off a ten-month break after recovering from a tendon injury, while Spring Ghent had also just come back from a leg injury incurred during his fifth-place performance last year—the 2009 Nakayama Grand Jump winner came into the race with one start on the flat earlier this month. This year’s line-up also included Merci A Time, a consistent jumper who won the 2007 version of this race while finishing second in six J-G1 events at Nakayama between 2005 and 2011. The ten-year-old son of Chief Bearhart, who also suffered a tendon injury after his runner-up effort in the Nakayama Grand Jump (held in July due to schedule change following the earthquake), made his return start over the flat last month to prepare for his first jump start in 17 months.

Symboli Montreux (JPN, by Mogami) set the record when winning the 1991 Nakayama Daishogai (Autumn) in 4:37.2.

Marvelous Kaiser’s first grade victory came in his first attempt at the highest level in this year’s Nakayama Daishogai, denying the challenges of two-time J-G1 winner and heavy favorite Majesty Bio and second choice Basel River who had finished first and second, respectively, in the spring version of the race in April but was nowhere near the winner in this race while with no excuse regarding their performances. The four-year-old son of Marvelous Sunday, also the sire of two-time Nakayama Daishogai winner  King Joy (2008, 2009), proved an immediate success over jumps in his first steeplechase test which he won by nine lengths in October 2011 after registering two wins out of 13 starts on the flat earlier in his career. Coming off his second win following a runner-up effort in the spring this year, he was third in his first grade-race challenge over jumps in the Kyoto High-Jump (J-G2, 3,930m) and scored another third-place finish in his fall debut prior to his Nakayama Daishogai start. Jockey Shigefumi Kumazawa, who is also well recognized in flat racing with three G1 titles to his name, had won nine grade-race jump titles since the grading system was first adopted in steeplechase racing in 1999, but a G1 title was his first this time. It was also the first G1 title for trainer Masami Shibata.

All broke smoothly with Sexy Sweet taking command to set the pace as Spring Ghent, I T Gold followed a few lengths behind. Marvelous Kaiser was forwardly placed behind that beside Merci A Time in fourth or fifth as all the horses cleared the water jump. Heavy favourite Majesty Bio sat around eighth position while Basel River kept track of the defending champion another length behind that in mid-pack.

The field continued to travel at a moderate pace over the course rated good after the rain earlier in the day as Sexy Sweet maintained a comfortable margin up to around two thirds of the race, but the four-year-old filly began to tire after clearing the big hedge (fence seventh) and was overtaken by Spring Ghent approaching the final fence.

Marvelous Kaiser also made headway to challenge and caught the 12-year-old veteran who gave a terrific fight to duel with the four-year-old chestnut up to the last turn. However, once entering the stretch for home, Marvelous Kaiser found another gear, despite keeping pace with the leaders for the whole trip, and was uncontested for the rest of the way as Basel River and Majesty Bio desperately rushed to contention but failed to close the gap behind the winner in second and third, respectively.

Krypton Factor to aim for all top Dubai Carnival sprints

When Krypton Factor took to the track at Meydan Racecourse at the start of last season, he was a handicapper rated 100.

This season he will embark on the defense of his 2012 US$2m Dubai Golden Shaheen Crown a Group 1 winner rated 123.

Within the span of just four races last term the highly progressive gelding worked his way through the ratings to earn a spot in the Group 1 Dubai World Cup day all-weather sprint alongside the likes of the contest’s 2012 winner, Rocket Man and Bob Baffert’s The Factor.

“I think a lot of people were questioning whether he had the class,” says owner-trainer Nass of his first Group 1 winner. “In a very short span he went from being a handicapper rated 100 to being a Group 1 winner. He wasn’t the favourite and I don’t think anybody expected him to win in the way he did. He looked the winner around 200m out.”

This season the handsome bay won’t get onto the track until the Al Shindagha Sprint rolls around in February.

“There isn’t really a race for Krypton Factor until February,” says Nass. As well as conditioning 11 horses in Dubai, the handler also maintains a 42-strong yard in his native Bahrain and has a small number of horses in training in the UK. Among them is the promising Mujazif, a three-length winner of a nice maiden for Brian Meehan in Newmarket this October.

“I’ll be looking at the Group 3 Al Shindagha Sprint in mid Febuary and the Mahab Al Shimal on Super Saturday for him,” he says.

Krypton Factor was the popular success story of the Dubai World Cup Carnival last season. His duels with Hitchens captured the imagination of race fans. Hitchens first beat Nass’s charge by a short head in the Al Shindagha Sprint before the fast-improving Krypton Factor turned the tables on David Barron’s sprinter in the Mahab Al Shimal.

Then on World Cup day Krypton Factor, ridden by regular jockey, Kieren Fallon, claimed the biggest sprint prize, dashing the hopes of Pat Shaw’s defending champion, Rocket Man as well as pre-race favourite, The Factor to claim the Golden Shaheen.

Now Nass is looking forward to seeing whether his stable star can defend his Golden Shaheen Crown on March 30, 2013.

“He went to Singapore and Ascot and encountered soft ground and he’d done some travelling so we didn’t see him at his best,” he says. “But he loves the all-weather in Dubai and he is back here now. He’s doing very well but he’s still far away from being ready for his first run, which won’t be until later in the season.”

But Nass has plenty to keep him busy until then. He recently purchased Carnival runners, Lui Rei an old Dubai campaigner and two-year-old Hototo, who finished sixth in the Group 1 Middle Park Stakes for former trainer, Kevin Ryan, in October.

“Lui Rei is rated 102 and has run around Meydan a few times,” says Nass. “He’s not a young horse and we are just hoping that he bounces back to his best form. Hototo is rated 104 and he looks like a consistent youngster that I’m hoping can maintain that same form over here.”

With 42 days to go until the Carnival, Nass is set to saddle his first runner of the new season tomorrow (Friday) at Jebel Ali Racecourse.

Critical Moment goes to post in a 1,600m maiden at the Sheikh Ahmed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum-owned course under jockey, Pat Cosgrave.

“He ran in the UAE last year having come over from England rated 100,” says Nass, who won’t be in attendance at the races on Friday as he also has runners in Bahrain. “He’s now rated 88, which hopefully should be nice competitive mark. He stayed here in Dubai over the summer and I’m looking forward to seeing how he comes on.”

Also carrying the Nass colours this season will be Forevertheoptimist and Journalistic who will make their seasonal debuts at Meydan on Thursday December 6.

“Forevertheoptimist is in the same boat as Critical Moment,” says Nass. “He came here last year but we could not get him right so he didn’t run. He’s dropped from a mark of 97 to 91. Journalistic is a maiden who had five attempts in England, coming second once and third twice. I’m hoping that the break has helped him come on since his last run.”

Also due to have pre-Carnival runs are Finest Reserve, Shamsheer, Muraweg and Rocks Off.

“I bought them over from Bahrain and they’ve all run there apart from Finest Reserve,” says Nass. “They have good race records and they are just horses that I thought would take to the all-weather.”

Drinmore Novices Chase 2012

Along with the Royal Bond Novices Hurdle and the Hatton’s Grace this Sunday, Fairyhouse has a Grade 1 chase on a quality packed card. Won last year by Bog Warrior, owners Gigginstown Stud will be hoping to keep the race in their possession for another year, sending out another Tony Martin trained runner in the shape of Dedigout.

pink, light green spots, pink sleeves & cap ARVIKA LIGEONNIERE – Has had his injury problems which saw him sidelined throughout the whole of 2011 but made a seriously impressive comeback on chasing debut with an unextended victory at Punchestown. Thrashed a horse in Giblin who wasn’t beaten much further by Hidden Cyclone since then and all the form suggests this horse could be the one to be on in this competitive Grade 1 chase. I always thought this horse would make into a cracking chaser and although it is embarking on that career a season or two later than I expected he still showed signs of that ability when winning when last seen.

emerald green, yellow chevron & sleeves, red cap BUCKERS BRIDGE – Remains unbeaten and connections wasted no time in going chasing after a successful bumper campaign yielding two impressive wins. A winner in the point-to-point sphere he made a winning chasing debut when beating Sword Of Destiny (impressive winner since). He looks the type to continue improving over longer distances and has plenty of time to shape himself into a decent staying chaser but I think this could be a step too soon here.

maroon, white star, armlets and star on cap DEDIGOUT – A wide-margin winner on chasing debut but on the face of it, it was pretty much an egg-and-spoon race so he was entitled to win by such a distance. A very good novice hurdler, culminating with a good victory in Grade 1 conditions at the Punchestown Festival last spring he is certainly an interesting sort for the powerful owners Gigginstown and will be very popular with the betting public on the day I feel.

red, black seams, striped sleeves & cap PRIDE OF THE ARTIC – Has certainly improved on his hurdles form since being sent chasing, culminating with a victory in the Grade 3 Like A Butterfly Novices Chase at Tipperary when last seen. Has been awarded a rating of 144, and although is another likely to run his race I think he’ll struggle against the main contenders in this race and could perhaps pick up a place if something happens to either Arvika Ligeonniere or Dedigout.

orange & emerald green chevrons, orange sleeves, striped cap TEXAS JACK – Wasn’t as good as these over hurdles but made a winning chasing debut when edging out Make A Track at Naas. He will once again need to improve and the general feeling is that he has a task at hand to try and serve it up to the more likely rivals in this race and perhaps the experience is the best he can hope for at the moment.

VERDICT
In what looks a tight race, the bookmakers aren’t giving much away but I feel the value in the race certainly lies with ARVIKA LIGEONNIERE who at around 100/30 looks a cracking price against the ‘hype’ of Dedigout. Willie Mullins has his string in cracking form, has the best jockey in Ruby Walsh in the plate and ground conditions to suit.

[notification_box]1pt win Arvika Ligeonniere @ 10-3 with Ladbrokes [/notification_box]
 

What do you think? Leave your thoughts below what you think will win, and why!

Royal Bond Novices Hurdle 2012

A race named after the Arthur Moore trained Royal Bond, a successful national hunt horse in the early 1980’s; the race itself was established in 1994 and has held Grade 1 status throughout its history. It is usually staged on the same afternoon as the Drinmore Novices’ Chase and the Hatton’s Grace Hurdle and is run over two miles.

A brief look back through the history of the race tells a story of some impressive champions have etched their name into the roll call of winners before moving onto bigger and better things.

Names like Istabraq, Moscow Flyer, Like A Butterfly, Hardy Eustace, Newmill and Hurricane Fly are amongst past winners and it is a race that both Noel Meade and more recently Willie Mullins have farmed over the last decade.

Once again we have a small but select field lining up for this prize, and this is one of the best renewals I’ve seen in recent years.

maroon, white star & armlet, maroon cap, white starALLY CASCADE – Looks to have ground to find on all known form but has to be respected hailing from the Noel Meade stable. A facile winner of a bumper before finishing second to Jezki on his hurdles debut. Jezki already had the benefit of a recent run on the flat and has since gone on to further success in fine style to suggest Ally Cascade is no back number in this contest and has to be respected. The only thing that would concern me is that all ten of the recent winners of this race had all won over hurdles prior to winning the Royal Bond.

pink, light green spots, pink sleeves & capCHAMPAGNE FEVER – Winner of both the Cheltenham and Punchestown Champion Bumpers (first horse since Dunguib (who won this race) to do the double). He is a winner of four of his five races and made a successful debut over hurdles two weeks ago. Let’s not get carried away though, that race he won was an egg-and-spoon race as far as hurdles go and his pedigree is absolutely laden with stamina. I actually thought he’d make into a fairly nice staying chaser in the future and thus could find this trip on the sharp side against a better quality of opposition and is far too short for me at the prices.

dark blue, dark blue & orange hooped sleeves, orange cap, dark blue starCLONBANAN LAD – A winner at the first time over hurdles after switching from a bumper campaign which yielded two victories from four attempts. He was well beaten by Champagne Fever in both the Cheltenham and Punchestown bumpers and quite whether he has the class necessary to take this prize remains open to question. If he were to win this though he’d be only the third horse aged over 5 to win this race, with Like A Butterfly (2001) and more recently Dunguib (2009) being the two before him.

orange, black star , black & orange hooped sleeves, orange cap, black starJEZKI – A very likeable honest sort from the Jessica Harrington outfit, and a winner of four of his six races. Held by Champagne Fever in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham in March he made a workmanlike debut over hurdles to edge out Ally Cascade when the pair made their debut over timber at the end of October. Jezki has followed that up with a recent success when fairly un-extended to thrash a couple of fair 135+ rated individuals in Un Beau Matin and Pageboy, with the 143 rated Hisabaat a further 22L back in fourth (although he arguably run below form).

maroon, white star & armlet, maroon cap, white starMIDNIGHT OIL – Another entrant from the Willie Mullins stable who looks to have very little chance of winning this race on hurdles form shown thus far. Beaten by Bat Masterson (a fair 130’s rated performer) on hurdles debut before readily put away by Burrenbridge Lodge when last at Fairyhouse in April, his peak flat form would give him a chance in this but on what we’ve seen thus far he couldn’t enter considerations.

yellow, dark blue sash, dark blue cap, yellow starMINSK – A four-year-old with a huge reputation who came very close to make a winning debut over hurdles when getting edged out by Burrenbridge Lodge in a mad dash to the line. He made amends though on his next start over hurdles when thumping previously unbeaten bumper performer Glens Melody from the powerful Willie Mullins stable. He is a tricky horse to assess as he is no doubt better than his debut over hurdles but his proximity to Burrenbridge Lodge (now rated 129) is a slight concern, but I think it’s fair to say he would have beaten him had he landed faster over the last flight.

royal blue, light blue star, white sleeves, royal blue stars, white cap, royal blue starZUZKA – The third runner and probably second string for the Willie Mullins stable. This daughter of Flemensfirth was a fair performer in the bumper sphere before taking a while to get the hang of hurdling. Bred for stamina it was no real surprise to see her step up when upped in distance last time, and a return to the minimum trip looks sure to work against her and looks out of her depth in this grade to me.

VERDICT:
In what looks a typically tough renewal of a race which in recent years has gone the way of the favourite (last 4 renewals) I’m going to go against the grain and try and get Champagne Fever beaten. Adding to the mixture is the flat spice of Minsk who still holds his huge reputation, and got off the mark over hurdles last time but he will be over bet such is his reputation. I also think he takes a little too long in the air over his flights for my liking, and that could prove his undoing if it comes down to a battle over the last flight.

With Clonbanan Lad, Zuzka and Midnight Oil not appearing to have the class to win this grade of race it looks to be left between old adversaries Ally Cascade and JEZKI, with the latter coming out on top for me after a very authoritative success over decent horses last time. The gelded son of Milan will no doubt improve for going up in trip like a few of his rivals here but I like the way he gets things done in his races and he thrashed some fair 130 rated rivals with utmost disdain last time.

[notification_box]2pts win Jezki @ 9-2 with Boylesports and PaddyPower[/notification_box]
 

What do you think? Leave your thoughts below what you think will win, and why!

Hennessy Gold Cup Preview 2012

It is fairly obvious to anyone with half an idea about horse racing that this year’s Hennessy Gold Cup is a fascinating and high quality renewal. It looks like there is going to be a star-studded line up going to post on Saturday afternoon, with the headline act sure to be Bobs Worth should Nicky Henderson give him the ‘green light’ on Tuesday afternoon.

Last year’s RSA Chase hero makes his seasonal return off a mark of 160, although is so far untested on ground softer than ‘Good to Soft’ so it remains to be seen if he can handle conditions if they worsen throughout the week – he has already had a breathing operation last season.

Alongside Bobs Worth is the current top-weight and ‘character’ that is Tidal Bay who comes into this off the back of an impressive victory in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby on his seasonal return. I’ve always had Tidal Bay down though as the sort of guy you’d see at school who would lure kids into a false sense of security that he was their friend before coaxing them towards the nearest alleyway and taking their lunch money – he has done that to me a few times (Tidal Bay that is)!

Roberto Goldback and The Package come into the race off the back of impressive victories last time, and First Lieutenant ran a very brave race to fill second to Kauto Stone when the pair met in Ireland a month ago.

A quick check of the weather suggests Newbury shouldn’t be getting too much rain during the week, so the ground should be fairly similar to what is currently being described ‘Soft’ and generally Newbury does drain fairly well for a jumps track so we shouldn’t be dealing with bottomless conditions come raceday.

black and beige (halved), chevrons on sleeves, beige capTIDAL BAY – Has recently put together the first back-to-back success since his novice chasing campaign in 2008 when recently landing the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby on his seasonal return. He rounded off his previous campaign with a rousing victory when absolutely slamming the field in the Bet365 Gold Cup in soft ground off a mark of 154. Is now up to 166 and I think that’s too much of an ask for this old boy against these rivals. He has failed to beat both Midnight Chase and Neptune Collonges off this mark both off level weights and in receipt of weight and I couldn’t see either of those horses winning a Hennessy off a mark of 166, so even though Ruby Walsh has already been declared he wouldn’t be for me.

emerald green, dark green sleeves, dark green and emerald green quartered capROBERTO GOLDBACK – Put in a quality return to action on debut for Nicky Henderson when slamming the field by nine lengths at Ascot last time (Duke Of Lucca in-behind), and in the process removed all thoughts that he was just a small-field specialist when beating home 13 rivals. He was kept wide throughout and kicked on turning for home to score a strong success, but has been handed a 12lb raise by the official handicapper and competes here off a mark of 162. It looks a difficult task for the gelded son of Bob Back who despite looking impressive last time will have to give away weight to better horses here, and it would be hard to imagine him being good enough to do that in all honesty.

royal blue, red stripe, red capBOBS WORTH – Arguably the horse the race pretty much revolves around for me, and the definite class angle. He returns to action off a mark of 160 which looks fairly lenient given the impression he made when winning a strongly contested RSA Chase last season. He is untested on ground this soft though so that could be a concern, but he is bred to handle conditions and he is also unbeaten in five attempts going left-handed and has won at Newbury previous. Whatever way you look at his form it holds up to the closest inspection and he is a worthy favourite.

maroon, white star & armlet, maroon cap, white starFIRST LIEUTENANT – A horse I’ve been waiting to go back up in distance after ending last season over two miles and returning over two and a half this campaign. A solid run when second to Kauto Stone in a Grade 1 when last seen a month ago has seen him raised 4lb in the weights to a mark of 159. Was beaten 2.5L by Bobs Worth off level weights at Cheltenham so I can’t see 1lb doing much to reverse the form in truth but he is a horse I like a lot, and one worthy of respect in this race.

light blue, orange epauletsJUNIOR – Is a better horse on quicker ground and later in the season when able to get such conditions. He has struggled really since winning at Cheltenham off 134 two seasons ago, and a brief solid run when second to Ikorodu Road at Doncaster has been backed up with two failed attempts to complete and has to be off the list of contenders for me.

purple and white (halved), sleeves reversed, light blue capPLANET OF SOUND – Isn’t getting any younger and is the horse I backed in this race last season when finding Carruthers too good in the closing third of the race. He usually goes fairly well fresh so that lacklustre effort at Wetherby has to come of somewhat of a concern. He is 6lb lower in the weight this time round though, and although he’ll probably be able to reverse form with Carruthers it is hard to see him being good enough to win this at his age, and is best passed over in my opinion.

emerald green and white check, halved sleeves, emerald green capHOLD ON JULIO – Is on many people’s shortlists for this race this season, and made a pleasing return to action when third at Cheltenham in October. Lightly raced and scope for further improvement he wouldn’t be out of it here off a mark of 148 and is certainly one of the more likely types for a yard in decent form.

red & black halved, diabolo on sleeves, quartered capLION NA BEARNAI – This one’s improvement came from seemingly out of nowhere when landing a Grade 2 Novice Chase off a mark of 108 at 50-1, but he duly followed that success up with a win in a valuable handicap chase off 27lb higher on his next start. He has now been handed a further 12lb rise for that success and my punting history has taught me to steer clear of these types, and it’d be hard to imagine this one defying a further rise in the weights against this calibre of opposition.

white, black diamond, red sleeves and capCARRUTHERS – Has looked seriously out of sorts since winning this race 12 months ago, and is able to return here off a 2lb lower mark than he won off last season. His form hasn’t been anything to write home about this season and although he goes well around Newbury I’d be very surprised if this one won again.

black and white (halved), red sleeves and capTATENEN – Trainer Richard Rowe apparently ‘can’t wait’ for the Hennessy with his charge but from what I’ve read in the form book his entrant doesn’t really have the class to be winning such a contest from his rating. A better horse around Ascot he will need somewhat of a miracle to win this race off a mark of 147, and isn’t one I can entertain for any great length of time.

royal blue, emerald green sleeves, white cap, emerald green spotsTHE PACKAGE – Returned as good as ever to take out the Badger Ales Trophy around Wincanton on seasonal return, and did so with a rather authorative display. The ground looks like being ideal for the David Pipe trained gelding but with just two weeks between the Hennessy and his previous race, I can see this race coming a little too soon for the son of Kayf Tara, who had quite a hard race last time.

dark blue and white stripes, halved sleevesTEAFORTHREE – A stoutly bred son of Oscar, Teaforthree always requires a run or two to come right after a layoff so I wouldn’t be too concerned by a below-par showing at Cheltenham on seasonal return in October. He previously ran out a good solid winner of a competitive National Hunt Chase over four miles at the Cheltenham Festival in March beating Harry The Viking by 2 lengths and he could well be in the shakeup here off this sort of rating after a recent run.

dark green, royal blue diamondFRUITY O’ROONEY – Has looked the type to do well in this race based on what I’ve seen of him so far. Solid placed efforts off 140 at both Doncaster and Cheltenham before finishing fifth off this mark in the Scottish National. A comeback over hurdles should have put him right for this contest, but he wouldn’t want the ground too soft despite winning on heavy over hurdles, majority of his better chase runs have came on decent ground – has his chances at these weights.

light green, yellow inverted triangle, yellow sleeves, red diamonds, yellow cap, red diamondsSAINT ARE – A very interesting contender for this staying handicap chase and one which could be well handicapped in this sort of grade. He has had a lot of his racing at Cheltenham and it is clear to see from his form figures that he hates the place (754U0) whereas away from Cheltenham his form improves to (2F310221) and has shown a liking to the flatter left handed tracks of both Aintree and Newbury. He is certainly bred to relish the stamina test he will face at the weekend, and the Hennessy is usually run at a searching pace throughout which will play to this horses strengths. Any juice in the ground will be a bonus and he has shown a tendency to go well fresh and finished second on his comeback last year beaten 4.5L over an inadequate trip to Champion Court (now rated 155) so you’d think there could be room for manoeuvre off his rating of 145.

red, black star, striped sleeves, yellow cap, black starDUKE OF LUCCA – Whilst I find it hard to imagine this horse winning the Hennessy I found it hard to remove him from my final shortlist. A good second to Roberto Goldback at Ascot last time you’d have to think he might have got a little closer had he not been crossed by Nataani and his slow jump at the last. A rating of 144 certainly looks workable and a return to a left-handed track ought to be an extra positive for ‘The Duke’ and I can see him going fairly close in this contest at a very decent price.

white, red triple diamond, royal blue sleeves, white stars, white cap, red diamondsDIAMOND HARRY – Has failed to complete on his last three starts and this former top-class chasing prospect appears to have seen better days. Has been coming down in the weights and did win this race in 2010 for Nick Williams off 13lb higher but he looks on the downgrade these days, and couldn’t entertain this one sadly.

maroon, white star & armlet, maroon cap, white starMAGNANIMITY – A tricky horse to assess with a very in-and-out profile but would have to be respected if Dessie Hughes decides to make the trip across the pond. From what I have seen he wouldn’t be well handicapped off a mark of 143 so he has questions to answer and wouldn’t be one I’d be rushing to back.

red, white stars on sleevesHARRY THE VIKING  – Beaten by Teaforthree in the National Hunt Chase at Cheltenham and has since failed to complete in two starts after that effort. Has questions to answer and a mark of 142 looks stiff enough really to me given I think Teaforthree held a definite advantage at Cheltenham and is only 4lb higher in the weights than Paul Nicholls’ gelding.

dark blue, pink diamond, armlets and diamond on capIKORODU ROAD – Came to hand last season over fences winning a couple of decent staying handicaps and going up 10lb in the weights in the process but I have a feeling this one’s improvement may have reached a plateau, and is coming up against some decent rivals here and hard to see him reaching the frame.

brown, orange seams and sleeves, quartered capFRISCO DEPOT – On a line through their run at Punchestown this one has the beating of Magnanimity and has the advantage of a further 5lb coming off his back thanks to Sam Whaley-Cohen’s allowance. His jockey has his knockers for his rides aboard Long Run but he isn’t the worst jockey I’ve seen and didn’t do much wrong at Haydock last weekend IMO. Was still travelling fairly well at Ascot when coming to grief last time behind Roberto Goldback but I don’t think he’d of won and I can’t see him being good enough to win here either.

dark blue, royal blue chevrons, dark blue cap, royal blue starSOLL – Has switched from Willie Mullins to Jo Hughes and is very much the unexposed aspect to this race. Is certainly bred for the job and was unlucky when brought-down at the Cheltenham Festival when last seen. Could be a stone well in off his rating of 139 but I’d of much preferred the horse to still be with Willie Mullins and it’s hard to know what the plans are for this one, so I’m leaving this as a watching brief for now until I’ve seen for myself what they plan to do with this horse.

white and black stripes, royal blue sleeves, white capALFIE SPINNER – Third behind Roberto Goldback and Duke Of Lucca at Ascot last time and he wasn’t closing the gap at any real pace when the line came, so it would be hard to imagine this gelded son of Alflora getting into the frame in this big handicap. Has dropped 2lb in the weights for that run but that shouldn’t be enough to feature here and is another I’m leaving alone.

VERDICT
All in all this is a fairly tough race to assess as one would come to expect given its history, and chances are we won’t be left amazed and open mouthed like we were when Denman retained his Hennessy off top weight back in 2009. However it looks a class race on paper and provided the main protagonists line up at the weekend we should be in for a cracking renewal.

On form Bobs Worth could be absolutely thrown in off a mark of 160, and you’d have to think there will be more to come from him this season in higher grade chases. The only problem I have is you aren’t going to get rich at the 7/2 on offer, and although he is the most likely winner for me I usually try to look elsewhere for a value alternative.

First Lieutenant is another I expect a good run from (if he lines up), and Mouse Morris will be making a decision during the week on his participation but a repeat of his run when second to Kauto Stone last time out would put him bang into contention and looks a better priced alternative to Bobs Worth at around 14/1.

However the two which catch my eye are Duke Of Lucca who looks tailor-made for this sort of test, has been given a pipe opener last time at Ascot and a return to a left handed galloping track should coax out further improvement from this likeable sort, and SAINT ARE. The latter of which I find very interesting off this mark of 145, is bred for the distance and is fairly unexposed over this trip if you forget his races around Cheltenham where he clearly doesn’t act – I think he is a cracking price to be honest and whilst he might necessarily come up short against Bobs Worth and perhaps First Lieutenant he is sure to run his race.

[notification_box]1.5pts each-way Saint Are @ 14-1 with Betfred, Boylesports, SportingBet
0.5pts each-way Duke Of Lucca @ 20-1 with Bet365, Betfred, BetVictor, PaddyPower
Both horses 1/4 odds 1-2-3-4 [/notification_box]
 

What do you fancy? Leave us a comment below with your thoughts on the race and what you are backing!

My 5 memorable racing moments

You never really know what’s going to grab your attention and imagination when you’re young. Football was almost literally my life. Rarely a day would go by without a game in some capacity – playing or supporting my beloved Leeds United. Two things have changed a bit since then – my life isn’t quite so concentrated, and the fact I’m still alive shows that my love of LUFC decreased in intensity.

I knew that my Grandad enjoyed the odd flutter and that my Dad was partial to a trip to the races so sparingly we’d make the short journey to one of the local racecourses, or even get out the Roses tin of coppers and play fantasy bookies in front of Channel 4 Racing. Slowly but surely the seeds were being sown, and I was becoming an avid horse racing fan. Some of our earliest memories are our most vivid and fondly remembered. Looking back over my encounters with the sport, five particularly stand out and contributed to where I am now.

  1. 1.       Spectested wins at Wetherby

The formbook simply reads “Held up and behind, hit 3rd, pushed along halfway, headway 3 out, ridden and stayed on from next, driven flat to lead last 50yds”, however, that last fifty yards probably was crucial to me writing this piece right now. Looking back, it was obviously a superb piece of form reading – a handicap debutant stepping up in trip – but in reality, the half-decent odds would have been 90% of the decision-making process. I remember this as my very first winner and it was special because I’d given up on the horse. It seemed to come from nowhere, or more likely I was too busy watching the queue for hot dogs, and I remember shouting “that’s my horse, that’s my horse!” as Wayne Hutchinson cajoled him to the front. The buzz I got from that was greater than the financial reward – even if a tenner is a lot of money to a young teen (heck, and a student!). I think most people will remember their first winner and that’s what puts a 94-rated hurdler into my top 5 memorable horse racing moments.

  1. 2.       Not So Grand National

When On His Own crashed out at Bechers’ on the second circuit in the 2012 Grand National whilst looming large, you’d probably think it was the first gut-wrenching moment I’ve had at that particular obstacle in the big race. “Brook” wouldn’t quite be the word I used at the time and I wouldn’t be the only person to fall foul at this particular fence in 2005. There have been numerous hard luck stories in the National but Clan Royal certainly fits into that category having been headed late on in the 2004 renewal. What happened the following year was as harrowing experience as I’ve felt watching a horse race. It was too much to place on the heart of a 13-year-old lad who was thoroughly enjoying the vast majority of the marathon. In many ways it was made worse as I could see it happening in slow motion in front of my eyes. It wasn’t a simple fall or unseated rider; there weren’t even any rivals nearby to worry about. The danger appeared in front not behind. However, it actually manifested at the side. Tony McCoy, piling on the pressure from the front, was suddenly left with no option but to sit and suffer as a loose horse ran right across him, leaving him unable to jump the flight and be officially “carried out”.  I’m still not over it. In denial I selected him the next two years but it was never to be. I feel sorry for Clan Royal. I hope he feels sorry for me.

  1. 3.       Denmania at Newbury

When hearing about the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury, only one horse comes into my mind. He put in a terrific effort in the 2010 renewal but it was his performance the year before that I consider the foundation for my love of national hunt racing, and the moment that sold me racing as a sport, and not just a financial game. Of course I’m talking about Denman. At the time of the race I did have a solid knowledge of horses in training and whatnot, and remember me and my Dad agreeing that he looked a good price considering he was comfortably the best horse in the field. It was only really after the race that I realised what a performance I had witnessed. Carrying 11-12 on his back (a full 22lbs and 29lbs higher than the second and third-placed finishers respectively), the “tank”, as he is affectionately known by many, jumped and galloped on strongly to put in one of the best displays in a jumps race in recent years. He could have folded when challenged by stable mate What A Friend but that wasn’t the Denman way. This would be the first time I was truly mesmerised by a horse and much like the experience of a first win, I view this as a fond memory and as a time where my true love for the sport was realised.

  1. 4.       Authorized To Print Money?

It was a pleasure to see Frankie Dettori get the Derby monkey off his back in 2007 when he partnered the hot favourite Authorized to a storming success at Epsom. The Peter Chapple-Hyam-trained son of Montjeu routed some very good horses and it was a performance that suggested he was the real deal. The Coral Eclipse at Sandown the month after would be another comfortable victory and he’d be on his way to Longchamp as an outrageously short-priced favourite. Or not, as the case may be. Well, he did go off at 11/10 for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, but that didn’t go so well, and I’d rather not have to talk about the Eclipse either. However, for the sake of balance, and the truth – as this is a memorable moment – I will. I would go to my Dad’s every Saturday around lunchtime (if we weren’t going to Elland Road) and on this occasion he quickly brought up the race, basically asking me for confirmation that the Derby winner would prove successful again. Naturally I complied and he did something he wouldn’t do again (from memory) and placed a bet on an odds-on favourite. It was clear from some way out that Authorized wasn’t going to put in as authoritative performance as he had the month prior but it did appear as if he was just about going to edge it and save our blushes (and supper, quite literally). He narrowly got to the front and just as they came to the line…boom! As the action was so intense on the far side of the track, little attention was given to Nownowcato (not helped by an awful camera angle), who had gone it alone on the stands side. It soon was, however, as pictures showed that Ryan Moore had matters in hand and had secured victory by a length-and-a-half. I’m not sure anything was really said for a while afterwards. I think we both felt the same pain in the gut, for all I’d lost nothing financially. He never did say how much he placed on the 4/7 shot.

  1. 5.       Indian Summer At Ascot

When you like to write about the sport of horse racing, it’s enjoyable to watch great races and talk about the latest goings-on, but there’s nothing quite like getting something right. I’ve posted my thoughts and my views on particular races (and particular horses) for a few years now but one of the first real calls I got correct came at Royal Ascot in 2007. I didn’t win any money on it given I was fifteen at the time but I remember posting on the internet that I was keen on the Richard Hannon-trained Indian Ink for the Coronation Stakes. Rain came down on the morning of the race and it caught my eye given the filly’s best performances had come with some give in the ground. Even though subsequently the contest has been marked down as a bit of a sub-standard event due to the deteriorating conditions, her performance still rates as one of my favourites in flat racing – and maybe was outright prior to Frankel’s demolition job in the 2000 Guineas. Sure, there’s some sentimental value thrown in for good measure, but this was a Group One race and my word did she win it like a Group One horse. It took her a few strides to hit top gear but once she did she was away. “Indian Ink sets sail for home…and scampers clear!” roared Simon Holt in a manner which suggested he was also taken aback somewhat by the style of victory. 8/1 winners at Royal Ascot have come since but none stand out like that one does. I watch the video every few months and never get sick of it. She didn’t race again. Probably not a bad idea. Maybe I should have done the same when sticking a quid on Slavonic Lake to win a Wetherby hurdle at 50/1 a few years ago. You never forget.

[information_box]Written by Ben Rowe
Ben studies in Liverpool but is born and bred in Yorkshire. A racing, Leeds United and Alan Partridge fan
Follow him on Twitter @cerealdestroyer[/information_box]
 

Coral Hurdle (Ascot Hurdle) Preview 2012

A small and select field for the 2012 renewal of the Coral Hurdle (Grade 2) at Ascot on Saturday, with just the four runners going to post.

Won last year by the Donald McCain trained Overturn who has now embarked on a novice chasing campaign, so won’t be around to try and defend his crown so it’ll be going with a horse that will be winning this race for the first time.

[frame_right src=”http://www.ohracing.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/GMOOH.png” href=””][/frame_right]1. GET ME OUT OF HERE
A very likeable son of Accordion, who is very likely to be the pace in this race under champion jockey Tony McCoy. He has put together back-to-back successes in his two recent runs and given he usually comes on plenty for his first run you have to take note of that victory last time out over Brampour, in the William Hill Hurdle. He has high class form but was held by Oscar Whisky whilst in receipt of weight (8lb) when second in the Relkeel Hurdle (Grade 2) at Cheltenham last year.

[frame_right src=”http://www.ohracing.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/oscar.png” href=””][/frame_right]2. OSCAR WHISKY
Without doubt the class horse in the race, and many would argue he was coming to win the race last year when taking a tumbling fall when overstepping the final flight. He is a small field specialist with form reading: 111F1111 (8 runners or less), and has a killer burst of acceleration which will be his great strength in this sort of battle. I think he is the one to beat and is likely to sit behind likely pace-setter Get Me Out Of Here, stalking him into the straight and then easing clear over the last.

[frame_right src=”http://www.ohracing.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/brampour.png” href=””][/frame_right]3. BRAMPOUR
Has always been held in some regard at Ditcheat and in some ways has yet to reach the lofty heights he was touted for early on in his career, however last year showed somewhat of a resurgence to form; winning a handicap hurdle at Ascot before taking down the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham off 149. Came up short in both The International and the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham since, and was held by Get Me Out Of Here on return at Kempton on his most recent start. The step-up in trip ought to suit this stamina laden sort and that could bring out more improvement but he seems a horse better in larger fields where there is a true pace and could be undone by a tactical affair likely here.

[frame_right src=”http://www.ohracing.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/raya.png” href=””][/frame_right]4. RAYA STAR
Hails from the Barbury Castle outfit of Alan King and has shown improvement through the handicapping ranks, rounding off with a good success in a decent handicap at this track last time out (off 149). Is certainly bred to improve over further even though his only start over the longer distance yielded a defeat to Premier Grand Cru (now rated 133), but I think Raya Star is a much better animal now than he was back then. He will need to improve again and I don’t think the small field will be of great help to him either given he likes to take cover in races and is likely to come up short against this opposition in these conditions.

VERDICT:
On paper this race looks between OSCAR WHISKY and Get Me Out Of Here and I think that is what we’ll get, with the Nicky Henderson trained gelding confirming Relkeel Hurdle form with Jonjo’s charge. These two last locked horns in the Relkeel Hurdle (Grade 2) at Cheltenham last December and given that they now race off level weights you’d have to expect Oscar Whisky to confirm his 1.75L superiority over Get Me Out Of Here given the fact he is 8lbs better off at the weights.

If the ground got any softer it would be a concern for Brampour who has shown a liking for a little juice but not too much, but that wouldn’t hurt Raya Star’s chances who won a decent handicap around here last year in testing conditions and Alan King’s charge could sneak into third behind the main two if this is the case.

[notification_box]3pts win Oscar Whisky @ 5/6 with StanJames & Coral [/notification_box]

 

Q&A with Kevin Parsons (NASS)

National Association of Stable Staff or NASS for short, have recently won a bid from Union Learn Funding which will provide for a Union Learn Project Manager, who will based in Newmarket at the New Astley Club. They have recently appointed Kevin Parsons who started with NASS on the 8 November; Kevin has provided a short biography which outlines his history in racing and his plans for the Newmarket Learning and Community Project.

So having met with Union Learn who are funding the project last week, NASS are hoping to roll out courses with the help of local college’s and tutors starting in The New Astley Club, Newmarket in January. The main objective is to increase the workforce’s current skills and qualifications and to give them an opportunity to do so in areas they choose.

Then hopefully with success NASS will be able to progress nationally working on the same ideas in Lambourn, Epsom, Middleham, Malton, South West and The Midlands. This will give everyone involved in Racing all around the country a chance to enrol on the courses and help make this a success for all participants.

As with the sport side of things Kevin is looking to organise a National Football Cup competition between racing regions (as used to be in place years ago).  As well look to organise a National Go Karting competition starting off in each region then to a grand final somewhere central to everyone.  Another idea is to do something similar with paintballing.

Another task for Kevin is to get the Cricket day that used to be hosted once a year in Arundel going again as this is another sport event that has not been continued for the last few years and was always a fun day for those involved.

All in all the whole idea of the project is to re-engage stable staff with a community feel and to give them a chance in extra learning and taking part in events. At the same time adding members to our union that works and provides for them.

[frame_center src=”http://www.ohracing.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/kevo.png” href=”#”]Kevin Parsons with the Newmarket Ladies Team.[/frame_center]

Kevin Parsons – Biography

Kevin has been involved part time in racing since catching the bug at 14 and then started working full time in racing as when he left school aged 16.

Kevin has spent the last 18 years enjoying working with horses and held positions ranging from apprentice; conditional jockey; work rider; stable lad, head lad and travelling head lad. He has been lucky enough to travel all around the world including Europe and Dubai and worked with many good horses. In his time in racing he has worked for some excellent trainers like; Roger Charlton, David Loder, John Gosden, Chris Wall and Roger Varian.

[frame_right src=”http://www.ohracing.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/kev.png” href=”#”]Kevin Parsons[/frame_right]

During his 18 year career in racing, Kevin has always been involved with organising football games including Roger Charlton’s vs.  Peter Chapple-Hyam’s , Newmarket vs. Lambourn, North vs. South and most recently the NASS national team.

He began at the British Racing School (course 90)1996 and has completed up to his NVQ Level 3 in Horse and Stable Management as well as FA Level 2 Coaching Badges and FA youth module 1. So he is now looking to combine all his experience and skills working with NASS in giving the people in racing something back.

Kevin will be looking to organise more sporting events, as well as putting on local course’s to offer IT courses along with core subjects such as maths,  English and any other course’s that may be of interest to people within the local community. They plan to hold a survey using a page on the NASS website which will be dedicated to sports events, to find out more about ‘what the people want’ as well as talking and interacting with racing staff to find out their interests and then looking to build events and courses around those.

Q&A with Kevin Parsons

Having filled various positions within racing over the last 18 years, what made you finally make the decision to take up a more active role within the racing community and go from being a general stable employee to your current role for NASS?

[quote]KP: Well firstly it was offered to me by NASS Chief Executive George McGrath whilst the bid for the funding was in motion. After we sat down and had a chat about what the job was to entail and what they were looking for, I went away to think about it and if I was the right man for the job. Firstly knowing it was going to be a massive change in career as all I have known since leaving school was early starts and horses, and having to be dedicated to a job that can be hard at times especially in the winter. But this is a job I have to have a good crack at for myself, the stable staff and racing as a whole, even though I will miss the day to day banter and riding out in the summer I feel if I can make a difference in this new role it will all be worthwhile.[/quote]

So NASS stands for National Association of Stable Staff, tell us more about what they do etc?

[quote]KP: NASS is the union for stable staff and was formed in the early seventies as the SLA (Stable Lads Association) unfortunately though it went through a dismal period in the early 2000’s and a regeneration took place, and this newly named organisation was formed in 2007 and renamed by a member to its current name. With its newly elected Chief Executive George McGrath who was voted in and started his role in August this year the whole Union is looking to expand, with 18,000 people in racing we need to have more than the current third of staff signed up. NASS meets with the National Trainers Federation every year to discuss wage and expense rises as well as improvement in working conditions. They also legally represent any member who needs representation in a dismissal case or with any grievances at work. So to be a member is free and only beneficial and we need to get more people on board.[/quote]

As Project Manager for NASS what does your job entail on a day to day basis?

[quote]KP: At the minute it’s lots of organising and planning, interacting with tutors, organising to work with the British Racing School and Northern Racing College and trying to establish links. As well this I’m helping to design and set up the IT Suite in the New Astley Club. Its all very new to me though so learning as I go, whilst hoping to get numbers on the first courses to get the ball rolling.[/quote]

What do you think people within the racing community can achieve by taking part in courses provided by NASS?

[quote]KP: They can achieve qualifications which will enable them to progress from racing into other careers (if they so choose), not that we want to lose anyone from the industry but a more skilled work staff is better for our industry overall. Knowing they can learn and get qualifications to do other things will be good for the racing staff, and it will keep people more interested in their jobs whilst learning new things in their spare time.[/quote]

What are you most excited about introducing to the racing community over the coming months?

[quote]KP: Mainly the chance to add to their qualifications with new ones and even qualifications they never thought about trying. We are looking to put on courses to cover a wide range of activities, be it from IT Skills to Cooking or Gardening to Basket Weaving, basically whatever the racing staff want we will look to provide. Being sporty myself the National Go Karting Championship we are planning for next year will be great fun for members, and will help boost staff morale and be a great way to bring the community closer together![/quote]

If somebody would like to find out more information on the courses provided by NASS, where would be their best place to go?

[quote]KP: The NASS website which is currently being updated and modernised but the old website still remains available at www.naoss.co.uk this will eventually have a section for all this info on as well as the sporting events coming up and being planned. Otherwise NASS has a page on Facebook or ringing the office on 01283 211522.[/quote]

Anything else you would like people to know about?

[quote]KP: Well mainly that joining NASS is completely free and they work for you the racing staff! All these events and courses we are planning are to get more people involved in activities out of work time and to give them something else to do, aim for and hopefully achieve! Each event and course will be for members and you can sign up on the day, so at the same time as providing these activities NASS will also be gaining the union members and helping us to grow and become much stronger and more influential  in the national industry.[/quote]

 

Doing nothing this weekend and local to Newmarket? Get yourself down to the match and show your support!

[frame_center src=”http://www.ohracing.net/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/nass.png” href=”#”][/frame_center]

What got me into racing?

I’ve always been a sports fan from the day I could walk. From Football to Rugby to Cricket and everything in between. But as a child, horse racing never caught my eye. I’d hate it when Grandstand would interrupt something to broadcast a race from Haydock or Sandown, it all looked the same to me at a young age. I had no appreciation for what I was watching and so would wander off outside with a football or a tennis racquet. The only member of my family to have been keen on it was my Grandfather who passed away many years before I was born. Without that influence it was football and cricket that became the sporting passions of my youth.

In the past few years however, horse racing has eclipsed them both. Not immediately at first. I’d watch the ‘big’ races; the Grand National and the Derby, then the odd handicap at a big race meeting, but before long I found myself watching maidens and sellers at Wolverhampton with almost the same zeal. Football isn’t the sport it once was, players are now celebrities rather than sportsmen and, in my opinion, care more about appearing on the front of a newspaper than the back of it. And as a purist there isn’t enough Test matches to keep me interested in cricket for any length of time. Racing however, never stops. The National Hunt season ends, the Flat season begins, old favourites return and a new crop emerges.  It’s impossible to get bored!

Obviously the interest skipped a generation from my Grandfather but has now manifested itself in me and I’m completely converted. Maybe I just didn’t understand it in my early years? It’s not the easiest sport to comprehend after all.  With so many horses, trainers, distances and venues, all over the world,  it can seem overwhelming to someone just finding the sport with no-one around to guide their hand.  This is an area I feel the BHA and even Racing For Change need to address.  Information needs to be more accessible to newcomers. Especially to those wanting to actively participate in the sport, even if that only amounts to having a flutter at the weekend.

But with this I’ve found horse racing rewards patience.  It rewards those who buy their copies of the Racing Post and watch The Morning Line religiously as I now do. And when those small sacrifices are made the ‘Sport of Kings’ gives back much more than it demands.  Nowadays, I wouldn’t dream of choosing a football terrace over standing by a parade ring, looking through a race programme for my selection as the  horses are led past,  (not always with the greatest success) and at the breeding of an animal that combines such grace with incredible power.

For me it’s these two things that make it so easy, too easy, to become attached to the chief protagonists. They don’t always have to be the best ones either. I quickly fell for Lough Derg with his front running style and red blinkers. His all out win when off the bridle a long way from home in the Long Walk Hurdle was arresting to someone new to the game and even in defeat he would always give his all.  Exotic Dancer was another I instantly took to heart. Always clearly visible in any race due to his gorgeous bay coat.  And  It was the demise of Sir Robert Ogden’s French import that taught me how painful it can be too, learning of his death after the Aintree Totesport Bowl in 2009 was a bitter pill.

But for each low point there is an equally meaningful high. Watching Sea The Stars weave his way to the win the Arc from an unlikely position 5 furlongs from home with Jim McGrath describing him aptly as, ‘perfection in equine form’, on crossing the line, will live long in the memory. As well as following Cinders and Ashes all of last season knowing he was the Supreme Novice in waiting and to have my opinion vindicated is a feeling that only racing can give.

These are the ups and downs I’ve had to learn to endure for the love of a sport steeped in history. It’s impossible to watch a horse like Frankel destroying Group 1 fields without wanting to know how he came into being. What makes him so much better than the rest?  And where does he rank in comparison with those who came before him? Impossible questions to answer with any great certainty and nothing could be more subjective, but it’s this that’s grabbed my imagination now.

I’d love to sit down with my Grandfather and debate Frankel against Sea Bird II or Kauto Star taking on Arkle over the Gold Cup fences at Cheltenham . The two stand out horses of his era in both codes. Or even the jockeys, a titan like Lester Piggott against the greatest jockey of my era in Frankie Dettori.

Sadly this wasn’t to be. Maybe in years to come I’ll be able to have that debate with a grandchild of my own. Being told about a two year old winning the Royal Lodge Stakes in fine fashion and putting them in their place by showing a recording of Prince Abdullah’s wonder horse doing the very same thing all those years before.

This year saw my first visit’s to the Cheltenham Festival, seeing Sprinter Sacre make the Arkle Chase look like a racecourse gallop, Big Bucks claim a fourth World Hurdle, and Synchronised power up the hill to win the Gold Cup before his ill-fated attempt at the National.  Followed by a trip to Royal Ascot to see Black Caviar, not quite win in the manner I was hoping but a thrilling finish and an ‘I was there’ moment none the less.

It’s said that trainers find it so difficult to retire incase the next superstar is in their juvenile ranks. I guess it’s the same for me? I couldn’t turn my back on racing now, for the threat of not seeing another finish like Pour Moi’s Derby or Wichita Lineman coming from out of the clouds to win the William Hill Handicap Chase is unthinkable. No other sport can promise me so much drama all year round.

 

[information_box]This article was written by Mark Butcher
Sadly for some this wasn’t written by the former International Test Batsman but nevertheless it is a cracking read, and gives you an idea of how the ‘Sport Of Kings’ can really draw you into its beautiful majesty.

Follow Mark on Twitter @TheGr8WhiteHope[/information_box]
 
What got you into racing? Let us know how via the comment box below!