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. My friend used to run https://www.radracquets.com/ – and was an avid tennis fan, so the glass-half full side was that I had someone to play with. 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!

The Dukes NH 2011/2012 Ten To Follow

I shall clear this up straight away before you read any further, this is in no way written to correspond with the popular ‘Tote Ten To Follow’ competition that is currently ongoing, and is my own personal thoughts about horses with the potential to come to the fore in their relative departments this season.

I have, on the whole, skipped through the well known and over hyped types and tried to focus my attentions on those with potential that haven’t been relentlessly plugged in the racing media. Hopefully we can all get some enjoyment out of these animals in the winter ahead (and importantly some profit too).

So without further ado and in no particular order (other than alphabetical) I present to youThe Duke’s NH 2011/2012 Ten To Follow list – I hope it proves useful to some throughout the winter months ahead.

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7-y-o (19May04 b g)
Strategic Choice (USA) — Kilmac Princess (IRE) (King´s Ride (14.0f))
Always take a chance when putting up something trained by Tony Martin as you never know which way they are going to go, but I was really impressed with his debut over fences at Navan. A winner of three of his four races this big strapping son of Strategic Choice set a strong pace for his rivals to catch but kept thumping out the sectionals and won easily. Given his time proximity to Big Zeb (he was actually quicker) and the ease of his success this would put him in the top tier of Novice Chase territory, and something like Drinmore Novices Chase at Fairyhouse has to be on the agenda, and I think he’ll go mightily well should he line up – certainly one to keep a very close eye on.
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7-y-o (23Feb04 b g)
King´s Theatre (IRE) (11.4f) — Function Dream (IRE) (Strong Gale (12.5f))
A horse which has already shown a clear level of top-class form over fences in his Novice season, he made his comeback at Exeter when unlucky to have fallen when coming to win his race in the Haldon Gold Cup. His target for the season I believe is the King George where he will be up against the likes of Long Run, Master Minded and the revitalised Kauto Star which makes life difficult for him, but he is a lovely scopey and improving sort, and I wouldn’t rule him out. Not sure where he will go at The Festival but may end up lining up in either the Champion Chase or Ryanair depending on how he runs in the King George – a very smart horse.
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5-y-o (02May06 b g)
King´s Theatre (IRE) (11.4f) — Lady Marguerrite (Blakeney (12.1f))
This is the novice I am most excited about out of all the horses on the list. He has that rare blend of speed and stamina that you see in only the very best racehorses. He first caught my eye when thrashing his bumper field by 22 lengths at Exeter in February of this year, before making his return at Chepstow to start his hurdling career winning the Persian War Novices Hurdle (Grade 2) with consummate ease on his first try over timber. His most recent start came at Cheltenham in a Grade 2 Novices Hurdle, where once again he showed that trademark acceleration to maintain his unbeaten record. Sitting handy throughout, Final Bay quickened up to lead four from home, before completely smashing the second last out the ground, after losing ground the rapid acceleration shown to get back into contention really impressed me, and he continued to increase his speed all the way to the line. I believe this horse will win one of either the Neptune or Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 2012, before developing into an immense chaser the following year.
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6-y-o (14May05 b g)
Tikkanen (USA) — Golden Flower (GER) (Highland Chieftain)
A very likeable staying hurdler last season from the Colin Tizzard yard that looks to turn his hand to novice chasing this season. A faller on his first try over the larger obstacles I wouldn’t read too much in to that as it was the horses’ first try over them, and you can rest assured Colin Tizzard and his team will have had him extensively schooled since that run. The gelded son of Tikkanen seems to relish the extremes of going, and soft ground looks a massive plus for this long-striding sort. I’m unsure what sort of heights he will scale over the larger fences, but that Uttoxeter race he won so well (off 129) over hurdles is working out extremely well and I can see him developing into something like a Welsh National candidate in the long term – and could potentially take in something like the Jewson Novices Chase at the Cheltenham Festival 2012.
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6-y-o (01Apr05 gr g)
Dom Alco (FR) — Fee Magic (FR) (Phantom Breeze (8.8f))
Well this one doesn’t really need any introduction really does he? A top class staying hurdler last season for David Pipe, and one who got closest (yet still failed) against Big Bucks in both the World Hurdle and the Liverpool Hurdle last season. This season looks an exciting one for connections of the keen-going grey, as he bids to make a name for himself over the larger obstacles. A winner on his first start over fences at Cheltenham, he pulverised his opposition with an excellent display of attacking fencing, and pulled readily clear of Champion Court; a very good horse in his own right. The form of this race I think will work out really well, and cements just how good Grands Crus could be over fences. I wouldn’t be adverse for stepping out of Novice company and going for something like the Ryanair at the Cheltenham Festival this season, as that race is well within compass. I can see either the Centenary Novices (the race Noble Prince won) being his main target at ‘The Festival’ but wouldn’t rule out a tilt at the RSA Chase over the extra half mile.
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5-y-o (03May06 b g)
Flemensfirth (USA) — Clashwilliam Girl (IRE) (Seymour Hicks (FR ) (10.1f))
I backed this son of Flemensfirth when he made his chasing debut at Hereford earlier in the week off what looks a lenient mark of 122. The form of his Ascot race has worked out really well (Barbatos second to Fingal Bay in Grade 2 Novice) and so he has further scope for improve given he has only really had a handful of runs. I was really impressed with his jumping at Hereford, he jumped with alacrity and fluently en-route to success and although he will go up plenty after that ten length demolition job, I still believe he has plenty concealed from the handicapper at present. I can see him developing into a high 140’s/150’s chaser with more experience and one of the large handicaps at ‘The Festival’ could be well within compass, perhaps something like the Jewson Novices Chase would be an ideal target?
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5-y-o (07Mar06 ch g)
With The Flow (USA) — Kauto Relka (FR) (Port Etienne (FR ) (14.7f))
A half-brother to quite possibly the greatest chaser I will ever see in Kauto Star, this chestnut gelding has plenty to do to live up the exploits of his illustrious half-brother. However he posted an immense first impression on debut for Paul Nicholls after a lucrative career in his native France. The manner of his victory when thumping the likes of Roi Du Mee (previous G3 chase winner and 141 rated), and Blazing Tempo (151 rated, and won G3 chase next time out) giving away weight to both of them is impressive. He is an athletic sort with plenty of pace, just like his brother, but looks set to continue over distances in excess of two and a half miles instead of reverting back to the minimum like his illustrious brother. Based on that performance a tilt at the John Durkan (Grade 1) at Punchestown looks likely, and from what I’ve seen he’ll have nothing to worry about – I wouldn’t mind him stepping up in distance for something like the Hennessy Gold Cup at Leopardstown either.
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6-y-o (02May05 b g)
Sadler´s Wells (USA) (11.4f) — Brooklyn´s Dance (FR) (Shirley Heights (12.3f))
One I presume the breeders of this full brother to Prospect Park would never have assumed he’d end up going hurdling given his regal flat pedigree however despite his solid form on the flat in both France and England he has found himself over hurdles for champion trainer Paul Nicholls. I think he has shown improved form since switching to the Ditcheat handler from Howard Johnson and I also think he comes out of that Grade 2 Cheltenham Novices race (beaten narrowly by Steps To Freedom) the best horse, despite in receipt of 3lbs from the winner. He is a lovely big well bodied sort, with a loping long stride and wouldn’t have been suited by the slow early fractions in that hurdle race last time. The race developed into a sprint for home from three furlongs out and after being rushed into the race made a slight mistake over the second last. Prospect Wells managed to battle back and take the lead over the last before inching a length clear on the run-in, before being run down late by the classy Steps To Freedom. I believe a combination of the stop-start fractions, ground quicker than ideal worked against Prospect Wells and I thoroughly expect him to make up into a seriously good novice hurdler as the season progresses.
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5-y-o (02May06 gr g)
Fair Mix (IRE) (14.3f) — Dusty Too (Terimon (12.0f))
A graduate from the point-to-point scene over in Ireland, this lovely galloping grey made an impressive debut under rules when thrashing a good field of bumpers at Fairyhouse in the Champion P2P final. Lengthening all the way to the line, the Ian Ferguson trained grey cut a favourable impression on that occasion and has since switched yards over to England to be in the care of Nicky Henderson. His owner has reportedly turned down some rather large sums of cash for this gelded son of Fair Mix, and he looks certain to pay his way for connections. His debut over hurdles came at Ascot on Friday (18th November) and he readily dispatched a field of probable ordinary horses but the manner in which he drew clear without any assistance suggests he is a serious horse – one to keep a very close eye on, and will make up into a lovely staying chaser.
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5-y-o (23Apr06 b/br g)
Network (GER) — Fatima III (FR) (Bayolidaan (FR ))
A handsome strong-travelling son of Network, this horse cut out a favourable impression over hurdles last season, and the sight of him travelling down towards the final flight in the Supreme Novices Hurdle (Grade 1) lives long in the memory. He clattered the last and that took almost all his momentum away, but was potentially beginning to feel the pinch after going on three from home. I believe he will be going Novice chasing this season, and I think he could become top class over the larger obstacles. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him follow a similar route that stable-mate Finians Rainbow took prior to finishing second to Captain Chris in the Arkle back in March, and I predict it’ll take a seriously good novice to beat Sprinter Sacre over two miles this season.

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6-y-o (13Apr05 b g)
Definite Article (11.1f) — Soul Mate (IRE) (Phardante (FR ) (12.7f))
An improving sort from the Edward O’Grady yard over in Ireland, he has gradually improved his hurdling after an inauspicious start to his hurdling career and he begun to show real promise in his last three races. He narrowly failed to give Captain Cee Bee 4lbs and a beating (beaten a shd) over hurdles back in July and although that sort of form would leave him with plenty to do with a view to any Champion Hurdle aspirations his comeback from a layoff recently has been impressive. He truly hammered Luska Lad at Tipperary (giving him 4lbs too) and given that Luska Lad is rated 150, and third placed Donna’s Palm, although on the decline was still rated 150 at this time. The figure I have for that race would put him in the Champion Hurdle picture, and his next performance when beating Kalann (giving him 9lbs also) was even more impressive given just how impressive the Sabrina Harty gelding was at Cheltenham on his previous start – the figure for that race rates very well, and First Fandango has since won a handicap hurdle off 135 yet was beaten some 20 lengths. He is certain to appreciate the better ground we are likely to get at the Cheltenham Festival and would be my idea of an outside bet to spoil the party at around 25/1.

Cheltenham ’11 – Supreme Novices Hurdle

Where better to start than at the very beginning with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. The Grade 1 event is the curtain raiser to the 2011 Cheltenham Festival.

Won last year by Menorah, it’s open to four year old and above novices’, run over an extended two miles, on the Cheltenham Old Course, with a total of eight hurdles to be jumped.

10 Year Trends:
10/10 – won at least 50% of past hurdle starts
10/10 – had run within the last 45 days
8/10 – had won their last race
8/10 – were aged five or six
7/10 – were trained in Ireland

Cue Card
– C Tizzard
5yo bay gelding
King’s Theatre (IRE) – Wicked Crack (IRE) (King’s Ride (IRE))
Impressive winner of last year’s Champion Bumper, who went on to make very easy work of opposition on hurdling debut round Aintree. Followed up with another comfortable success returning to Cheltenham in mid-November, when dispatching Dunraven Storm in the Grade 2 Sharp Novices’ Hurdle. Tasted defeat for the first time at the hands of last year’s Supreme victor, Menorah, when runner up in the International Hurdle. Found not a great deal off the bridle in that race however, and the proximity of Silvaniaco Conti is now a concern. Short priced favourites don’t have a great recent record in this event, and given Cue Card’s absence since early December, I wouldn’t be shocked if that were to continue.

Spirit Son – N Henderson
5yo bay gelding
Poliglote (UK) – Kirzinnia (FR) (Zino (UK))
Made positive impressions on UK debut when cruising to win at Huntingdon in early January. Followed that by putting himself firmly into the Supreme picture with a wide margin demolition of five opponents in a listed contest at Exeter. Smooth hurdler who has yet to encounter decent underfoot conditions, but every chance of improving with them. Quoted as the more mature of the highlighted Henderson duo.

Sprinter Sacre – N Henderson
5yo bay gelding
Network (GER) – Fatima Iii (FR) (Bayolidaan (FR))
Classy individual who won both bumper starts before filling the runners up spot on his hurdling debut. Travelled supremely that day but possibly two keen for his own good, and only limited response when push came to shove. Yet to come off the bridle in two wins since, and although pulled hard last time, unlikely to encounter the circumstances responsible for that here. Reported as still quite immature and interesting to see if he is deserted or favoured by Geraghty.

Recession Proof – J Quinn
5yo chestnut gelding
Rock Of Gibraltar (IRE) – Elevate (UK) (Ela-Mana-Mou (UK))
Useful on the flat and made a winning start to hurdles when coasting clear at Carlisle in early October. Lost little in defeat when bumping into Dunraven Storm three weeks later. Returned to winning ways at Lingfield the following month and ended the year with another success in a jumper’s bumper over at Southwell. Six weeks on, he landed a big prize for the yard when edging out Bothy in the delayed Totesport Trophy at Newbury. Lot to like about his hurdling but he does have a propensity to idle and often takes a while to settle. Trainer plans to take in a handicap as well as the Supreme which doesn’t scream confidence and despite having flat form on good or better ground, it’s worth noting, connections weren’t quite as keen on his Newbury chances, prior to the softer conditions encountered in the rearranged Totesport Trophy meeting.

Zaidpour – W Mullins
5yo bay gelding
Red Ransom (USA) – Zainta (IRE) (Kahyasi (IRE))
More than useful flat performer over in France and made extremely impressive debut when cruising to success in a maiden hurdle. Enjoyed another bloodless success a month later when taking the Grade 1 Royal Bond looking every inch a future star. Turned over two weeks later at 1/4 in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle but gave the impression that that race had come too soon. Having had six weeks to recover, he pitched up at the Deloitte Novice Hurdle but again failed to fire and was easily dispatched by Oscar Wells. Both reversals did however, come on very testing ground and it would be a mistake to write him off just yet. His jumping, however, is yet to convince so backing him requires a huge leap of faith.

Dare Me

Others of note:
Hidden Universe was a Grade 1 winning bumper horse and although he’s run three nice races over obstacles, he hasn’t really shown enough to merit his current prices. Al Ferof was second in last year’s Champion Bumper and has done nothing wrong in three outings since falling on his hurdling debut but his jumping isn’t overly convincing.Dare Me ran four very pleasing races as a bumper and has been nothing but impressive in his two starts over obstacles. He’ll have to step forward to take a hand here and hasn’t been seen since early November but were he to line up, he warrants plenty of respect. Gibb River wasn’t a bad horse in his short flat career and has enjoyed three bloodless successes since switching codes. Improvement is probably necessary to take a hand here but he may have been slightly overlooked. Rock On Ruby brings some decent enough form to the table but may well head to the Neptune and a similar destination looks likely for So Young. He’s created two memorable performances so far in his fledgling career and looks a horse with a very bright future. The form might not mount up to much and his inexperience is a concern but I’m a sucker for untapped potential and this horse has it in abundance.
Finding an angle into this race at this late stage isn’t easy. I’d be quite happy, were I sitting on double figure prices for Cue Card but I couldn’t go near him now with such short odds available. Spirit Son and Sprinter Sacre could simply be anything but the time to back them both has probably passed, while despite liking the horse, I’m put off by Zaidpour’s jumping. So Young would have been my selection but seems Neptune bound so focus turns to Dare Me and Gibb River who both appeal strongly as each way angles, with slight preference being for the latter. They can probably be backed on the day at similar prices to the ones available now and that seems the safer route to take, given there is a slight doubt over their participation.

0.5pts each-way Gibb River @ 20/1 with Totesport, VCBet, StanJamesPaddyPower.
0.5pts each-way Dare Me @ 25/1 with Bet365StanJamesPaddyPower.

Article reproduced from www.cheltenhamtips.co.uk