The Flat is back!

Newbury

The flat is back! Finally! Yes, I’m very happy about this. I love flat racing. Though, understandably, there will be also plenty of sad faces today, as this means the jump season is pretty much over. Even though the biggest of them all, the Grand National is still to come!

But personally I really happy to have the flat back, as it means spring is in the air and top class racing is approaching thick and fast! The UK flat season kicks-off with the Lincoln meeting at Doncaster, while we have the Dubai World Cup night at Meydan today. It ain’t much better. I don’t want to bore you to death, dear readers, so i hope you enjoy this quick and snappy betting preview of all the big races….

2.35 Doncaster: Cammidge Trophy (Listed)

Wide open renewal. The ground is drying out and that may catch out a couple of these, particularly last years winner Dinkum Diamond. On the other hand the ground may not be quite quick enough for Naadirr, who I actually like allot, but under a penalty could find this too tough. Astaire will find this easier than the top races he contested in last season. He is a worthy favourite, but not more than a fair price.

As the value here, I fancy the filly Perfect Blessings to go well. Still rather lightly raced, she looked promising in spring last year and may do better now as a four year old than her last two results may suggest. If she is fit today, she could outrun her price with conditions to suit. 1/4 odds EW with Coral looks tasty here.

Perfect Blessings @ 33/1 Coral – 2.5pts EW

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3.45 Doncaster: Lincoln Handicap (Class 2)

The feature race on the opening day of the English flat season – the Lincoln is naturally a race with a big field and plenty of runners with realistic chances. Two lightly raced horses heading the market this year, tough current second favourite GM Hopkins makes more appeal than 13/2 favourite Mange All. If you ignore those two slightly below forms when seen last in the 2014 season – where the soft ground may not have been quite suitable – then Gm Hopkins is a rapidly improving gelding with plenty of scope. Still generally lightly raced, he won a big Newmarket Handicap last summer in the manner of a really good horse.

Strong pace is key to him, but that should be ensured today, and the drying ground is a big bonus. It’s more than fair to assume that he has much more to offer from a mark off 99. If he progresses with age as one would hope and actually expect, then 7/1 could be a bit too big a price.

Another runner I fancy, though a much bigger price, is Baraweez. A very impressive winner of a Premier Handicap on Irish Champions Weekend at Leopardstown, he was progressive last season as well and could have still more to give. He wwas also a good winner at the Galway Festival, both those big wins came over 7f, but he’s equally good over further, as a strong pace is simply key to him. Interesting that Chris Hayes travelled over to ride two mounts for Brian Ellison on the card, but surly this is the one he’s over for. No doubt, Baraweez is overpriced in my mind at 22/1.

Gm Hopkings @ 7/1 Bet365 – 5pts win
Baraweez @ 22/1 Coral – 5pts win

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2.30 Meydan: Al Quoz Sprint (Group 1)

I might be slightly biased here because I really love South African racing and therefore have all fingers crossed for big runs of South African horses at Meydan today. Although, even from a neutral perspective, one has to say that 14/1 for Via Africa must rate as way too big a price. The filly is the best sprinter in her native country, a multiple Grade 1 winner with loads of pace. She impressed me on her Meydan debut when she showed excellent gate speed and stuck well to the task in the closing stages.

She was entitled to fade away, given the gruelling preparation she had to endure, with all the quarantine measurements taken in regards of South African horses, but she finished well enough. Via Africa should come on allot for this, only the bounce factor is a slight worry. But conditions in her favour, I would expect a big run.

Via Africa @ 14/1 Bet365 – 5pts win

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3.40 Meydan: Dubai Turf (Group 1)

Multiple Group winner Sollow is favourite to land this, though this is his first ever crack at the highest level. In contrast proven Group 1 horse The Grey Gatsby makes more appeal on pure form. He lowered the colours of Australia last year and should be a major contender here. Slight concern is the drop in trip, as he looked to need every inch at Leopardstown.

Euro Charline looks the value against the two well fancied favourites. This filly could easily  have still more to offer. She was super progressive last year as she performed very well during spring in top Group races in the UK and won a 1m Listed contest before she travelled over to the US to land a strong renewal of the Grade 1 Beverly D. Stakes in very taking style. She proved that day what a gutsy, genuine and talented filly she is. She missed the Breeders Cup through injury, but vibes are very positive in recent days about her wellbeing and a big run can be expected.

Euro Charline @ 10/1 Bet365 – 5pts win

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4.15 Meydan: Dubai Sheema Classic (Group 1)

Probably the deepest race on the excellent World Cup card – you could make a case for almost every runner. The Japanese have a very strong hand in this once again. Harp Star was unlucky in the Arc last year, and wasn’t disgraced in two subsequent races back home in very hot company. With Ryan Moore in the saddle, she has every chance. Arc runner-up Flinsthire will relish the conditions, and must rate a big danger. His Hong Kong Vase triumph is a brilliant piece of form, after hitting the crossbar on so many occasions before. However he really needs to have everything falling right into place, as otherwise he will surly run well but without crossing the line first once again.

Main Sequence has been utterly impressive since moving to the US. He deserves plenty of respect. But this rapid improvement could easily be down to medication, and I’m not sure if he can run to the same sort of form outside the US. The one horse I feel is the value here, is the French filly Dolniya. She was very progressive last season, ended the year with a creditable 5th place in the Arc and has scope for further improvement. She beat Flintshire in a prep on the All-Weather over shorter last month and in my mind she doesn’t get the credit she deserves here.

Dolniya @ 7/1 Coral – 5pts win

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Dn’t miss the big race preview of the $10 million Dubai World Cup: Read here! 
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Preview: Dubai World Cup

The richest race on the planet is just around the corner – the $10 million Dubai World Cup! We could debate all day long if this race deserves its status and the incredible amount of prize money that is on offer – but let’s concentrate on the sport for the moment.

We have a field of eight runners going to post this Saturday. The controversial switch to a Dirt surface at the Meydan racetrack has certainly helped to attract at least two top class runners from the US – but not only that – it is a good international line-up this year, with two classy horses from Japan, as well as last years World Cup champion African Story. But let’s take a closer look:

California Chrome:

Last years Kentucky Derby and Preakness Stakes hero California Chrome made the trip over to Dubai and has been installed as the red hot favourite. Chrome proved himself a versatile horse, with Group 1 successes on Dirt and Turf alike. He came close to win the Triple Crown last season and it would have been easy to retire him to stud after such a great year, so one has to applaud connections for their brave decision to keep him in training for another season. Can he add to his impressive tally of victories?

Possibly. Chrome started the new year with a very good effort in the San Antonio Stakes. Only beaten by Shared Belief that day, this prep run should bring him along nicely for the big day. One of the few concerns is the Meydan Dirt. Seemingly different to what he knows from the US, we will have to find out on the day itself how he handles it. There are positive vibes, though, following good workouts since his arrival in Dubai.

The 2.000m trip won’t be a problem at all. He won the Derby over this distance and finished a gallant third in the Breeders Cup Classic. Usually aggressively ridden, he should be helped by the way the new Meydan Dirt track has worked out so far over the course of the season.

Lea:

A multiple Stakes winner in the US, he broke the track record at Gulfstream Park in the Grade 1 Donn Handicap over 1 1/8 mile last year. He had a long lay-off afterwards but was probably near his best when reappearing in January, winning a Grade 3 over a mile. He followed up with a nice runner-up effort in the 2015 Donn Handicap. That all sets him up nicely for a crack at the Dubai World Cup and he rates a big chance.

The main question is the trip. He never tried 10f before, albeit there aren’t that many opportunities in the US to do so. He’s got a chance on pedigree, but the way the Meydan Dirt rides and the possibility of a very quick race, this is a potent concern in my mind.

African Story: 

Last years impressive World Cup winner, although back then on Tapeta, has put concerns to bed about his ability to translate his class to Dirt. A fair effort on his seasonal reappearance, followed by a very gutsy success in the Group 1 Al Maktoum Challenge R3, proved that he is capable of running well on the Dirt. He hated the kick-back on his first run, but was much closer ridden to the pace the last time and that proved the deal breaker.

African Story isn’t getting any younger but his most recent run was clearly promising and over the years he has excelled under the Dubai sun. Naturally he has to be one of the main contenders, given the fact that he is proven over the course, surface and trip. He also showed guts and the right mental attitude to compete with the best on Dirt.

Prince Bishop:

A versatile and talented horse, albeit also a quirky character, Prince Bishop has been a close runner-up in two starts on the Meydan Dirt this season. He has developed a habit of starting poorly as well as racing lazily in the early parts of a race and that caught him out the last two times. He stayed on very impressively on both occasions, but the risk is there that he loses the race at the start and any ground he’d give away early on would be difficult if not probably impossible to make up in the World Cup this time.

Epiphaneia:

The 2014 Japan Cup winner is a top class horse and exciting addition to this race. If he can translate his class to the Dirt, he must be a big runner. But there is the big question mark: He’s never tried this surface On pedigree there is a possibility that he can adapt to it. But first time out here in a big race like the World Cup may prove quite a difficult task. He is a former St. Leger winner, so one has to be slightly concerned about the sharp 10f trip, particularly as early speed is so important on Dirt. It could be all happening a bit too quickly for Epiphaneia.

Hokko Tarumae

Another high class individual from Japan is trying his luck in the World Cup. Hokko Tarumae was a long way beaten in the very same race last year, but the change of surface should make a big difference to his chances. He is the reigning Japan Dirt Cup winner, in addition to a long list of other big Grade 1’s on Dirt in his home country.

Hokko Tarumae likes to be ridden close to the pace and he showed himself in good nick lately. If he travelled well over and can adapt to the Meydan Dirt surface, he should be a big chance to go really close in the Dubai World Cup this time.

Candy Boy: 

The four year old was thought to be one of the more fancied Kentucky Derby contenders last year but disappointed in the race itself and was a long way beaten by California Chrome that day. He ran out some creditable placed efforts in some big Stakes races, however was more than five lengths beaten in the Breeders Cup Classic. He looks up against it here, particularly with the trip not sure to suit.

Side Glance: 

He has been running really well in Group 1’s all over the world last season and was only half a lengths beaten in the Cox Plate when seen the last time. He was fourth in the 2013 Dubai World but has never raced on Dirt and that is an obvious concern. Worth a try with him here, but hard to fancy him against top class opposition.

Verdict: The 2015 Dubai World Cup looks an open enough renewal. The Meydan Dirt surface is a question mark for many runners, but it can be assumed that the US horses have enough class to take to it. If that is the case, then Lea but probably even more so California Chrome have to be strong contenders to land the richest race on the planet. However it would be a mistake to underestimate the local runners.

I feel that African Story in particular doesn’t get the respect he deserves. He is a proven top class performer, defending his crown, and has seemingly adapted to the new surface as his most recent success proved. He showed good gate speed that day, and if he can get a good break this time again, he’ll have a big chance to go really close. At 8/1 he looks a huge price.

The other international horses have to be respected as well. Japan’s top Dirt performer Hokko Tarumae should play a big role this time I feel. He wasn’t suited to Tapeta at all last year, but should be really suited by the test on Saturday. It is sometimes hard to know how this Japanese form translates to the international stage, though my perception is that Hokko Tarumae would be a classy Dirt performer anywhere in the world. Widely available at 12/1, he is overpriced and together with African Story I select him as a value bet against the two market leaders California Chrome and Lea.

African Story @ 8/1 Betfred – 5pts win
Hokko Tarumae @ 12/1 Paddy Power – 5pts win

A wind of change?

Wind operations certainly have been a big topic at Cheltenham last week after a couple of horses produced some dramatic improvement of form at the Festival following this type of surgery. Most prominent example was World Hurdle winner Cole Harden, who gamely stormed up the hill at the end of a three mile race, when before he would probably have stopped at the final furlong marker.

Not that there is anything wrong with that. Improved performance and well-being of the horse is the intention of such a surgical intervention. However there is a question of how horse racing fans and punters are informed about it. The logic says, since a wind operation can have a drastic effect on a horses performance, it’ll be clearly stated in the race card or at least somewhere in the profile of the horse on the official BHA website.

Guess what, that is not the case. Of course not. We know that. Therefore many people were stunned about one or another performance last week. Right now you have to read carefully through trainer quotes in all the different publications in order to find this kind of information. Sometimes it is more widely known, because it is a bigger race and connections made it public. Sometimes it is not so well known and only becomes public in the aftermath.

Same applies to gelding operations. Not so relevant in jump racing, but very much on the flat. A gelding operation can have a dramatic effect on the performance of a horse. It can influence temperament and attitude. We know that. Many racing jurisdictions worldwide make the date of gelding available in racecards. For example here in South Africa:

gelding

The same sort of detail is not available in British Racing at the moment. And that despite – one would think so at least – racing in the UK is much more advanced if it comes to data and the availability of data. But if it comes to such important things as the gelding date…. well it is just not there.

Now, the recent incidents from the Cheltenham Festival made me curious to find out what the BHA actually has to say about this. Well, judge for yourself – this is what they replied to my questions about the availability of either wind op and gelding date – BHA Response:

[…] “I’m afraid due to a technical fault the sex of the horses on the BHA website is missing, the IT team are working to get his corrected as quickly as possible. However you can see that status on the Racing Post’s profiles (http://www.racingpost.com/ ).
I’m afraid at this stage we are not able to include the date of a gelding on the horse profile page.

I can confirm that the British Horseracing Authority has been considering the proposal to make public wind operations. After initial consultation it is clear this development is not going to be straightforward and wider consultation is required.

We are progressing this with trainers, Weatherbys and BHA’s Veterinary Committee with a view to developing a mechanism for effective and meaningful information sharing on the matter.

I’m afraid at this point we can give no clearer detail or timeframe, until the consultation is further down the line”. […]

Good to hear that they consider changes – but if I’m not completely wrong, then this wasn’t the first time that this kind of thing was brought up. It looks to me though, much more like a lack of willingness to make changes actually happen. In my mind it’s hard to understand why other racing jurisdictions can provide this vital information, but in a powerful racing nation as the UK or even Ireland, it is just not there. Why is it so difficult to import gelding dates to a data base? if you want it, you can do it.

Of course it is understandable that not every racing nation can offer such an enormous data base like Singapore or Hong Kong usually do (check it out, it’s amazing. every workout, every medical treatment, absolutely everything is stated there!) – but key details, like gelding date or wind operation, should simply be part of the standard package.

East Cape Sprint stepping stone for Copper Parade

Copper Parade is a proper Grade 1 horse running at Listed level today. There are reasons for that, as he can be bit temperamental in times and hasn’t been seen since January. Bigger targets are on the mind of connections with the big Grade 1 sprints looming. He is the top rated sprinter in the country due to his success in the Premier G1 Computaform Sprint last year and a subsequent runner-up effort in the G1 Mercury Sprint.

He’s been a bit up and down in the next three, but dropping big time in class today, he is clearly the one the others have to beat. That says he is a slightly better horse over 1.000m but has won over further in the past, so 1.200m should be okay and class should prevail. On official ratings he is well in today.

Main opponent should be the only filly in the race, Yoshie. A multiple winner of sprint races at listed level, she is well in the weights compared with most rivals and should run a very big race. However she has loads to find on the ratings with Copper Parade. In-form horse Unannounced won four on the bounce and should be competitive, but as most in this field, has mainly been running in handicaps.

If things go normal, Copper Parade can’t get beaten here. A 115 rated individual against 100 rated horses and lower. This discrepancy is not offset by weight allowances at all, so if he runs to his ability, it should be game over at 200m post.

2.10 Fairview: East Cape Sprint Cup (Listed)
Copper Parade @ 5/4 Sportingbet – 10pts win

Happy Birthday “King” Kauto Star

Kauto Star

Happy Birthday KAUTO STAR – a true racing legend! A winner of 5 King George’s and 2 Cheltenham Gold Cup’s, he is a horse for the ages! I only saw him once in flesh, which was last year at the Festival when he took part in a parade.

Personally I’m not entirely sure if the dressage thing is really what he wants, but on the other hand it is great to see him having a fulfilled post-racing-life with purpose and exercise.

Enlance dangerous on All-Weather debut

Godolphin is red hot on the All-Weather and for that simple reason you have to respect the favourite Hollie Point who finally got off the mark on the ninth attempt over course and distance when fitted with blinkers for the first time a fortnight ago. An opening mark of 80 looks fair and she may well has more to offer, but for all of that, she hasn’t beaten much the last time and looks a very short price.

Dark War looks a solid enough gelding and has fair form to offer, though more is required here and there might not be too much more to come. Jaganory doesn’t look good enough to land this, while Caltra Colleen is an interesting filly with potential, but she has been off the track for a very long time and the drift in the market is a worry.

Mark Johnston has his string in excellent form lately and does particularly well with three year olds. That gives confidence in the chance of Enlace, who has her first start this season. She die very well in the early days of her career when she followed up on her fine debut win with a strong runner-up effort in a hot Newmarket Nursery. She was unable to confirm that form subsequently, but a break may have done her well and on pedigree it looks likely that she can progress with age as well as the step up to 7f should suit. As a Shamardal daughter she should take well to the All-Weather.

In my eyes Enlace is the value against the favourite in this field where on merit it should be between the first two in the market. Money is floating in for the Johnston filly and 11/4 looks a very good price here.

8.15 Kempton: Class 4 Handicap, 7f
Enlace @ 11/4 William Hill – 10pts win

Strydom value on Leeuloop Jet at Vaal

The betting market suggests that this a widen open race with plenty of chances, and indeed, that is the case. Though I can drill down the field to a handful of runners with realistic chances to go close. Favourite Orchestrated will be one of them. He won over course and distance last month and had a couple of runners in this field behind him. A swing in the weights and a five pound higher mark make life tougher though. He found 2.450m too far subsequently, dropping back to 1.700m will surely suit. He’s a fair favourite and a fair price.

The only three year old in the race, Kingmambos Legacy has a very light weight and that must give him a chance, as well as you always have to respect De Kock’s runners. But he hasn’t shown anything in six starts that suggests he is up to this standard. He also has been campaigned over further and may find this trip too sharp. Tee Jay Ar finished 3rd behind Orchestrated the last time. A 2.5kg swing in the weights can help to get closer, but the trip is a worry. His best is over shorter and he may find this too far once again.

Talented Eurakilon loves this track and has fair form in the book. But his problem is that he gets going way too late on too many occasions. He has an obvious chance if he can produce his finish earlier, but I wouldn’t bet on it. Lightly raced Thatho Magetique is an interesting horse. He has fair form to offer and may be able to improve a bit. A light weight gives him a chance but it remains to be seen how he fares for the step up in class against much stronger rivals.

Exposed Noble Star has plenty to find on ratings, however a very light weight of 52kg gives him a chance to be in with a shout. He’s been consistent lately in lower grades but hasn’t won in ages. He shouldn’t be good enough, though the weight is in his favour. Zanzibar Man goes well at this track and wasn’t too far beaten by Orchestrated last month, swing in the weights with this rival gives him a competitive chance, though he has hit the crossbar a bit too often and his last win dated back almost a year in lower class.

Dark horse could be Leeuloop Jet. A good deal beaten by Orchestrated the last time, he usually loves track and trip as he is 2 from 3 over course and distance. He’s coming down in the weights and rated to be competitive today with conditions very much to suit. He was only a lengths beaten on his penultimate run by a lightweight, a repeat of that form should see him going close. Interestingly top jockey Piere Strydom gets the leg up, which must mean that a strong run is expected. Strydom has a 24% strike rate with trainer Moffatt and steered Leeuloop Jet to two wins last season. So to see him up again is a confidence boost. Leeuloop Jet is a 9/1 chance which looks too big and the value in this field.
2.35 Vaal: MR 92 Handicap, 1.700m
Leeuloop Jet @ 9/1 Bet365 – 5pts win

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