Favourite Horse: Rachel Alexandra

Favourite Horse: over the next weeks I am writing a series of articles about horses I hold dear to my heart. Classy miler Paco Boy kicked off proceedings in part I – next up is a “filly for the ages”. 

Normally US racing on dusty dirt isn’t quite my cup of tea. Yet here on dirt it happened: a race I’ll never forget. It’s the 1st of May 2009, an unusually scorching hot day – I remember it vividly, sweating in front of the laptop in a stuffy living room.

Late evening, I’ve got a grainy stream from Churchill Downs: post parade for the Kentucky Oaks. This ridiculously short priced favourite heads the field – I throw a bit of money on Flying Spur, the second favourite. Not the wisest investment as it turns out.

Rachel Alexandra is three to one on in the betting. Little did I know about her at this point in time. Minutes later the whole racing world will know about her. Hard on the bridle she destroys her six rivals by 20 lengths – the widest winning margin in the Kentucky Oaks ever:

The “super filly” goes on from here proving this otherworldly performance wasn’t a fluke. She takes on the boys in the Preakness Stakes. Odds are staked against her: no filly has won the second leg of the Triple Crown since 1924. Rachel Alexandra usually enjoys to run from the front but has been dealt the widest draw on this day.

Yet jockey Calvin Borel gets Rachel Alexandra across to lead wire to wire: “And the filly did it!” screams an excited Tom Hammond in the commentators box. The first filly to win the Preakness Stakes, doing so she’s defeating Kentucky Derby champion Mine That Bird.

Rachel Alexandra becomes a star that shines beyond the boundaries of horse racing. She features in “Vogue” magazine and a legion of fans follow her every move – so do I, although from far away. Still, those Saturdays in the summer of 2009 – “Rachel Saturdays” – are cherished memories to this day.

Only six weeks after the Preakness she romped home in the Mother Goose – only three rivals in her way, though leaving a multiple Grade one winner more than 30 lengths behind, nearly breaking Secretariat’s track record, if not for being heavily eased in the final furlong.

Another almighty performance against the boys in the Haskell Invitational Stakes – she makes it look so easy, beating Belmont Stakes champ Summer Bird by six lengths on a muddy track, again running an incredibly fast time, despite the conditions, becoming the second filly in history to win the race,

A final ‘hallelujah’ in September saw Rachel Alexandra write history – once more – as the first filly to land the Woodward Stakes. This time in a dramatic finish, holding off the late charges from high class rivals after setting grueling early fractions from the front in her usual style. It leaves commentator Tom Durkin stunned as he concludes his call “She is, indeed, Rachel Alexandra The Great!”.

2009 was her year: Unbeaten in eight races, five Grade 1’s – each for every month from May to September. She beats the boys in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward – her spectacular three-year campaign is probably only matched by Sea The Stars on the other side of the globe!

That intense year took a toll on Rachel Alexandra. The next season she clearly wasn’t the same filly. Five more races, three of them end in defeat. She never reached the same heights again. After another shock defeat in August 2010 Rachel Alexandra is retired to become a broodmare.

She produced a colt and a filly but it turned out she wasn’t suited to the breeding game. She nearly died in the aftermath of the delivery of her second and final foal, Rachel’s Valentina.

To this day Rachel Alexandra has a loyal fanbase and they come to visit her at Stonestreet Farm. Once a year the “See Rachel Day” provides opportunity to those who are lucky enough to win a ticket to be invited to spend some time with the “Super Filly”.

There was something special about Rachel Alexandra as a race horse that made me follow her with passion throughout her career, but especially that magic summer of 2009: the white blaze across the face, you could easily make her out among a bunch of other horses. An athletic, strong body and beautiful bay colour; alert and all heart when it mattered most, galloping her rivals into submission from the front.

I want to end this piece with a recommendation to sit back, relax and enjoy this wonderful homage on Rachel Alexandra and her biggest victories – it still gives me chills, even after watching it probably a hundred times by now. Rachel Alexandra: a filly for the ages!

Favourite Horse: Paco Boy

Favourite Horse: over the next weeks I’ll write a series of articles about horses I hold dear to my heart. Let’s start with my all time favourite! 

2008 was the year that my interest in horse racing became serious. In my memories these are the good old days – a time when betting on horses was neither financially rewarding nor sought out to be, although it was a great time of learning something new about the sport every single day.

What coincided with this time, and it probably was one of the main reasons why I became so fascinated by horse racing, was the emergence of a number of legendary horses. To this day I do become a little bit emotional if I hear their names, to be honest.

Possibly not quite in the league of legends, yet the horse I well and truly fell in love with, was in his early days very much doubted whether he could become what he ultimately became: a top class miler. He showed plenty of speed and a dazzling turn of foot but may well be short of the required stamina?

It was exactly this incredible change of gear – the moment when a motionless Richard Hughes pressed the button, when the response was instantaneous – something that was visually so impressive and outlandish, certainly not observed in any other sport I have ever watched – that made me fall in love with Paco Boy.

Paco Boy was a promising juvenile, however he took his career to new heights in his classic year, particularly in the summer and autumn months.

He landed a number of graded races and finished the season with an exciting first Group 1 victory in the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp. It’s a shame Paco Boy didn’t get the chance to run in the 2000 Guineas that year, but at that stage he was still an immature horse with question marks over this stamina.

A year older and wiser, after a disappointing reappearance in Dubai, Paco Boy then proved his class thanks superb victory in the Queen Anne Stakes, when an ice cool Richard Hughes showed his trademark patience, delivering Paco Boy late in the race to produce his own trademark turn of foot.

The partnership of Richard Hughes with a horse like Paco Boy, who needed to be ridden with patience and confidence and delivered late, turned out to be an irresistible combination. It didn’t always go to plan – on the days where it did it turned out to be as spectacular as racing can be.

To this day for me personally the most spectacular, visually exciting and explosive demonstration of an instant acceleration and manifestation of pure class is the one Paco Boy produced in the 2010 Lockinge Stakes:

Richard Hughes completely motionless, with two furlongs to go still sitting behind all his rivals, ever so slightly edging closer while calmly steering Paco Boy through an opening gap; approaching the final furlong marker and everything else around him is hard at work – “Paco Boy is laughing at them”, screams an astonished Richard Hoiles in the original track commentary!

Once asked to win the race Paco Boy puts it to bed in a matter of strides. Mind, this is a Group 1 race!

Extended footage can be found here – including a few shots of an emotional Richard Hannon, who shed a few tears that day and also is quoted saying “I’ve got pictures of him all over the house”!

A career spanning over four seasons – 24 races, 11 victories, 9 in pattern class, three Group Ones, including the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.

On the rating front: Paco Boy ran twelve times to a Tospeed Rating of 100 or higher (six times >110). That is an incredible level of consistency for successive seasons. Not many horses are capable of achieving this. In his prime on fast ground when tracking a decent pace Paco Boy was nearly unbeatable.

Yes, one could potentially point out: “what did he beat?”. The form of is Queen Anne and Lockinge Stakes victories didn’t work out all that great in hindsight. Nonetheless he beat and fought it out with the best of the best among the milers of that era and made some really good horses look rather ordinary.

Ultimately, when do you ever see a horse in a Group 1 contest cantering all over his rivals, hard on the bridle, approaching the final furlong marker? It’s a rare feat and something special.

And not to forget: he chased the almighty mare that is Goldikova on more than one occasion home. I maintain to this day he was the better horse in the 2010 Queen Anne Stakes and Richard Hughes, on that day, left it simply a little bit too late (as a matter of fact Paco Boy recorded a higher Topspeed rating than Goldikova that day).

Put simply: Paco Boy was the most exciting horse I have ever followed as a fan of the sport. He was my first real “love” in the world of horse racing. Although he is closely followed by possibly the greatest racehorse of all time. More on that in the next part of this series.

Saturday Selections: March, 14th 2020

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Cheltenham is over. It didn’t deliver the goods on the betting front as it did in the last years. At the very least it delivered some relieve in the sense some of my selections were successful. Many more ran really well. That’s a big positive after the worst start to any betting year I ever had.

There is a bit a question “would, could, should”. But those type of thoughts rarely lead to anything good.

I got the Gold Cup spot on, though: Al Boum Photo was the one to beat and he had everything you need to go back to back. He didn’t quite have the same dream run through as last year but he had a super sharp Paul Townend in the saddle who made the right decisions in the right moment to ensure ABP endured as little trouble as possible.

He beat Santini in a brilliant finish. In third, my selection, Lostintranslation, ran a massive race. The two possible improvers were good enough to beat the rest of the field, as was my expectation before the race. But they were not quite good enough (yet?) to beat the defending champion.

After the week didn’t start too well for Paul Townend, he finished it off with a week that’ll go down in history. Champion jockey and the man who steered a horse to defend the crown in the Gold Cup. He doesn’t always get it right. But who does? Ruby and AP didn’t. What matters is that Paul Townend got it as right as it gets at the grandest of stages. That makes him a top top class jockey.

I will review Cheltenham tomorrow afternoon on Dublin City FM. Tune in if you like. Beyond that, I gonna struggle on in an attempt to get by betting back on track. Thankfully the flat is around the corner.

………..

6.00 Wolverhampton: Class 6 Handicap, 9.5f

The money is pouring in for Taurean Dancer who returns from a break with a first time visor fitted and Rossa Ryan in the saddle for what is his only ride on the card.

Whether this Taurean Dancer’s optimum trip is a question mark, given his career best topspeed rating came over further. However hes form over shorter as well, having been beaten only by a neck at Kempton over a mile of a much higher rating in the past.

I imagine he’ll be ridden forward in order to set a good pace and use his undoubtedly existing stamina. As he can be keen, this should suit him well in a race that is wide open.

Selection:
10pts win – Taurean Dancer @ 11/1 MB

Cheltenham 2020: Friday Preview

Winner!

Oh Melon…. right before the line and after the line in front but not on the line – where it mattered. Tough to take. This year really tests my mental strengths. It’s the second tight finish this week (Abacadabras) that went against my horse. Kilfilum Cross was another runner-up, albeit fair and square beaten.

Final day of the Festival. Even though it went decent enough so far, I really could do with a big winner. On a different note: how Cheltenham can go on while every other sporting event worldwide is cancelled due to COVID-19 is hard to understand.

I mean don’t get me wrong: I’m home bound, so happy it’s on. But from a pure risk management perspective this looks wrong.

………

1.30 Triumph Hurdle, 2m 1f

This is a wide open race as the betting suggests. The completely unexposed Solo is probably the one most likely to be a superstar. If he finds this a bit too much, though, there is anything up for grabs.

The one that looks completely overpriced is the JP owned Cerberus. If not for idling when seemingly having won the Spring Juvenile Hurdle, he’d be a Grade 1 winner and much shorter today.

He’s jumping generally fine and economically, has run as fast on the ratings front to suggest he belongs here and is much closer matched to Allmankind that the bare Chepstow form would suggest.

Re-watch the race and you’ll see the field gifted the eventual winner an easy lead, and while Cerberus made nice progress at the latter stages, Robby Power was taking a bit pull before approaching the last, which meant the ground made up was lost in an instant. He was pretty kind on the gelding in the finish, is fair to say.

The 5 place offer with William Hill looks attractive. I firmly believe he’ll be in the money. But the win odds on the exchange are much bigger and even better value.

Selection:
10pts win – Cerberus @ 24/1 MB

……..

2.10 County Hurdle, 2m 1f

Oakley ticks a lot of boxes trend wise but also form wise. I really liked his most recent effort in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury when pretty much all went against him that could.

Good ground was certainly not what he wants, a standing start didn’t help with finding a good position early on, and then being hampered by fallers at the last was still not enough to see him finishing strongly, resulting in an eye-catching performance that also looks good rating wise.

He’s one of few in the field who has already proven to be able to run as fast as his handicap mark warrants. Oakley has performed with plenty of credit this season, including course form, including a neck beaten runner-up effort over this CD.

Selection:
10pts win – Oakley @ 29/1 MB

………

2.50 Albert Bartlett, 3 miles

Experience can count for a lot here, so does stamina. With that in mind Ramses De Teillee should have a tremendous chance to be in the shake-up at the very least.

He’s reverted back to hurdling, although he was quite a good staying chaser, actually. A runner-up in the Welsh Grand National, he also achieved a topspeed rating of 149, which is the highest in this field and manifests his status as a graded horse.

Ramses De Teillee has won his last two starts, so comes here in fine form and is sure to stay every inch of the uphill finish to the line.

Selection:
10pts win – Ramses De Teillee @ 14/1 MB

……..

3.30 Gold Cup, 3m2½f

After landing the big pot twelve months ago as a 22/1 longshot (and I backed him!), Al Boum Photo holds a special place in my heart. Emotions aside, he looks the type capable of doing the seemingly impossible: defending his crown!

Part of the reason why I believe he has quite a decent chance is simply down to the opposition. Make no mistake this is a good and deep Gold Cup field – but without any true superstar to beat, other than ABP himself. That may change post race; as of now Al Boum Photo looks the clear favourite in my book.

The other reason to believe he can do it is the ideal preparation the 8-year-old enjoyed. He went down the same route as last year, he comes here fresh on the back of a fine effort at Tramore. Since Cheltenham he only ran twice: the aforementioned January race and a fair runner-up effort behind Kemboy at Punchestown.

ABP is still relatively low mileage and even though he may not improve any further, he doesn’t have to: an effort as good as twelve months ago will see him probably hard to beat.

The one thing that does potentially speak against him is the fact that last year he got pretty much a dream run through the race. Everything worked to perfection. That may not be the case this time.

Nonetheless it’s reasonable to attest that 10/3 is at the very least a fair price – potentially even too big. Still, I feel there is better value in the field for the fact that I do want to have an improving horse on my side.

I don’t think Delta Work is good enough. He’s a contender but a silly price for all what he has done so far. Particularly if leaving naked form aside – which can mislead – and look what’s under the hood, it becomes clear he simply hasn’t ran particularly fast yet. He may well be capable of doing so, but fact remains in 17 starts over fences or hurdles he never bettered a 132 topspeed rating. That’s not up to scratch for a proper Gold Cup horse.

Granted these ratings are to be taken with a pinch of salt and Al Boum Photo didn’t achieve that either before his Gold Cup victory. He had, though, less chances to do so and you could make a reasonable case to believe why he might be able to step up to the required form, plus he was a much bigger price, than Delta Work is today. Not to forget ABP ran to a 177 TS rating in the Gold Cup eventually.

Kemboy has been disappointing this season. His jumping makes him vulnerable. If he gets his act together he is a live chance, nonetheless, and a far better one than Delta Work.

Presenting Percy had enough opportunities to prove he is a top class staying chaser. He hasn’t quite delivered the goods as many would have hoped he would at this stage last year. He has place claims if at his best.

As impressive as Clan Des Obeaux is at Kempton, he will likely struggle here once more. Bristol De Mai can run his race and could be an interesting each-way candidate at massive odds.

That leaves the two potential improvers. Santini and Lostintranslation.

Santini has been touted a Gold Cup horse for a while and to his credit he has answered the calls when landing the Cotswold Chase this season. A breathing operation has clearly helped. He has the right profile and looks to have talent in abundance, with more to come.

The same can be said about Lostintranslation. However his star has faded a little bit since the King George where was pulled up. He had a wind OP in the meantime, though.

You have to believe that procedure has helped to rectify the issues he clearly had in December. If it has and you ignore the King George, you see a progressive staying chaser who was a fine winner of the Haydock Betfair Chase, which made him a short price for the King George in first place.

What I appreciate most about Lostintranslation: he is not a pure stayer but has proven speed. He has both: speed and stamina. That is the magic combination for a true Gold Cup contender.

Therefore, at given prices I have to side with him. He ticks nearly all the right boxes. Only the King George and recent wind operation are question marks; hence he isn’t 3/1 but rather 11/1, which is over the top and the fair price is probably somewhere in the middle.

Selection:
10pt win – Lostintranslation @ 11/1 WH

…………

4.10 Foxhunter Hunters’ Chase, 3m2½f

The drift is a worry, but at this price, particularly each/way, too good to let go. Alcala has ran well to qualify for this race with two efforts within two weeks last month. That may have left a mark and possibly is a reason for the drift.

Hard to know. If he is fine, and one hopes he is if allowed to run, then Alcala must have a better chance to make the frame than 50/1 would suggest.

He’s a decent chaser who has won over this trip in the past and he’ll enjoy the drying ground. In an open contest he can outrun his price tag.

Selection:
5pts e/w (5pl) – Alcala @ 50/1 Bet365

Cheltenham 2020: Thursday Preview

Cheltenham Finish

The tide has turned! Two successful selections on Wednesday: Politologue landed the Champion Chase, albeit one has to put an asterisk behind the word “Champion”, given the field lost two of its main attractions due to injury, while Defi Du Seuil didn’t fire at all.

Politologue galloped the decimated field into the ground from the front – he finally had his big day here, after chasing Altior home in the past. Rule 4 deduction is painful, it remains a double figure price, though.

Easywork finished a gallant second behind superb Envoy Allen. For a moment the favourite looked in trouble but only for a moment, until Envoy Allen motored home in impressive style. Easywork was plenty keen throughout the race, so his performance can be upgraded. The place part of the 22/1 each/way price was certainly a fine start to the second day of the Festival.

………

1.30 Marsh Novices’ Chase, 2m 4f

Possibly I eat my words later on: I simply can’t fathom who made Samcro a favourite for this race… and who are those people backing him at the prices on offer? Insanity. It’s grand memories attached to the name of Samcro. Those memories have faded, though.

The Ballymore is two years old, and his best performance rating wise is a runner-up effort over hurdles. Sorry, but this lad isn’t a superstar and will struggle here, even though there is some danger attached to these words given a recent wind operation.

That may help him to find a bit more, but you can’t tell me he had all the years wind issues and only now these are notices and rectified?

Probably an even bigger surprise is to see 12-year-old Faugheen looming large behind Samcro in the betting. At least surprising in that sense as only a few months ago that sort of scenario would have been laughable.

Not so funny any more: Faugheen is the one they all have to beat. He has the best form in the book. And he is, around 5/1, actually a price to seriously consider. If he’d be two years younger I’d back him. I simply can’t however, bring myself to back a 12-year-old. Particularly after he had a very hard race at Leopardstown.

Sure, that was last month, plenty of time to recover. Yet I remember other veterans – Kauto Star or Hurricane Fly – who turned the clock back during the season before coming to Cheltenham in March when all that was left in the tank they gave in the races leading up to getting them there to the Festival in their grand age in first place.

In my opinion there isn’t all that much substance in this race. Itchy Feet is interesting, though what did he beat at Sandown? Improving Mister Fisher has an intriguing profile without having set the world alight.

That brings me to my selection: Melon. A quirky horse, a poor win record, still searching for a first success on the highest level. But clearly there is a lot to like as well. He was a top class hurdler nonetheless. if not for a neck, he could be a Champion Hurdler. He finished twice a runner-up in that race, plus a second place in the Supreme. Clearly he comes alive at Cheltenham.

Melon has taken well to fences in three starts. A second behind Fakir D’oudairies on his debut run – a good piece of form given Fakir D’oudairies has franked the form with a strong second in the Arkle on Tuesday.

Melon had to work hard but eventually prevailed with more than two lengths to spare subsequently at Leopardstown. That form doesn’t look too shabby either. What became apparent then and also the next time when disappointing in the Irish Arkle that Melon has lost a bit of speed and particularly over fences seem to cry out for a step up in trip.

He has to prove to truly stay the longer distance, but in theory it should slow things a little bit down, which may help his jumping, which can be a bit sketchy sometimes. But then, he can learn and improve as well. It’s noteworthy when Willie Mullins says:

“He’s shown us that he needs two and a half miles. He has good Festival form and if he has a clear round of jumping, I think he’ll go close.”

That sums it up for me. With the potential that the trip helps his jumping and a bit more improvement to come from experience over fences, together with his excellent Cheltenham record and whatever ground we have come race time unlikely to bother him, I feel Melon is overpriced in this wide open contest.

Selection:
10pts win – Melon @ 15/1 MB

………..

2.10 Pertemps Final, 3 miles

I am quite keen on Dingo Dollar here. 50/1 with six (even seven, if you’re lucky) places on offer looks foolish to leave on the table. He may well find a few too good or too speedy, particularly if the ground dries out further. At the same time he comes here potentially well handicapped.

The 8-year-old has established himself as a fine staying chaser, but has also two victories and two placed efforts from seven hurdle starts to his name. he can race of 4lb lower than his current rating over fences, and done okay in three starts this season, including when qualifying on his seasonal reappearance for the Pertemps.

Dino Dollar is a no-nonsense, simply horse to ride. Up with the pace, which will hopefully eliminate potential in-running trouble. He stays all day long but also has speed ratings that can match the ones of the more favoured individuals in this race.

Selection:
5pts e/w (6pl) – Dingo Dollar @ 50/1 BF

……..

3.30 Stayer’s Hurdle, 3m

Paisley Park will be the banker of the week for many. And rightly so. You can’t fault the defending champion. He appears to be the perfect horse for this race. In saying that, this is racing, things can go wrong and there is always a “new kid on the block” from time to time that will challenge the leader of the pack.

Summerville Boy came close in the Cleeve Hurdle. He had the champ off the bridle before turning for home and made him work hard for the eventual victory. I can see a scenario where Summerville Boy can turn this around; more so I can’t see many scenarios where he won’t be in the money at the very least.

Nonetheless it remains still only a slim hope that the former Supreme winner can turn the form with the almighty Paisley Park. The “new kid on the block” who offers a little bit more hope is City Island.

Last years excellent Ballymore winner, beating Champ, who we all remember now for his dramatic RSA victory.

City Island went chasing after his successful, albeit short, hurdling career. It never worked out. Connections done the wise thing and revert back to the smaller obstacles.

The 8-year-old has a lot to find with Paisley Park. By no means its a given he’ll do that. However, coming here off a recent wind OP, the ground on the new course not quite as soft and potentially further drying come race time, is a positive. That offers the potential, in combination with the new trip, of improvement. Not to forget, he’s four from five over hurdles.

Whether that’ll be enough to go close, and whether City Island has retained appetite for the game as well as being able to revert back to slick jumping over hurdles is another question. At given prices he’s certainly overpriced and can give the favourite a run for the money.

Selection:
10pts win – City Island @ 18/1 MB

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5.30 Kim Muir, 3m 2f

It’s a bit of a shame I left the analysis of this race so late because I missed nearly missed the boat. Meaning, the price for my selection is borderline now. Kilfilum Cross remains value, despite the big field.

The still relatively lightly raced 8-year-old finished an excellent runner-up in this twelve month ago. He jumped the last narrowly in the lead and only missed out to Any Second up the hill.

That is a superb piece of form and today Kilfilum Cross can run of one pound lower than last year! He comes here in excellent form after a fine runner-up performance at Kempton. The wind OP seem to work. He ran a career best RPR and TS that day.

The ground is fine today, the race, although competitive in field size, is not the strongest. Kilfilum Cross has a fine chance to go one better this afternoon.

Selection:
10pts win – Kilfilum Cross @ 9.2/1 MB

Cheltenham Festival 2020 – Wednesday Preview

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A winner?! A feeling I forget exist: enjoying one of my selections crossing the line in first.

I can’t quite remember the last time this happened – it’s been a while – even though it looked like coming when Abacadabras traveled like a dream through the Supreme, despite a slightly awkward start, and getting hampered by a faller, he looked like the winner turning for home…. only to be denied on the line. Of course!

Thankfully Honeysuckle ended my incredibly brutal losing run, beating Benie Des Dieux in a brilliant finish. It was a superb ride by Rachel Blackmore, who continues to prove female jockeys certainly can be at the very top of the game.

I could do a with a few more winners now. Have a lot of catching up to do in order to get 2020 back into the green. The second day of the Festival is a tasty one, although again a tricky puzzle to solve as usual. All selections are big prices which increased the chance for a blank day on the winners front.

………..

1.30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, 2m 5f

On paper Envoy Allen looks the banker of the day. He may well be. If he can continue to improve he’s hard to beat. Will he, though?

You can argue he didn’t have to be pushed to the limits in his last two starts. There is a good chance he can pull out more. At the same time, at least on the rating front, Envoy Allen is good but not overwhelmingly brilliant. RPR’s and TS ratings are to be taken with a pinch of salt in jump racing, yet have some merit.

On that front, second favourite Sporting John is a highly intriguing rival. All the time improving, his Kempton performance was simply stunning and looks excellent on the rating front too. Unfortunately I am too late to the party: the juice is out of the price. Factoring in his general inexperience, having never raced on these terms, I have to leave him alone.

Brings to my selection: a rare each-way one: Easywork appears to be a massive price. I believe he’s harshly judged by his runner-up effort – albeit a long way beaten – behind Asterion Forlonge, who didn’t run too badly in a super competitive Supreme today btw..

Relativally decent ground over two miles was clearly against Easywork that day. Stepping up to 2m 4f with plenty of juice in the ground is much more to his liking. He showed his talent already this season winning three on the bounce, in pretty good style, all of these victories came on soft or heavy going.

Selection:
5pts e/w – Easywork @ 22/1 WH

………

2.10 RSA Chase, 3m½f

What a competitive renewal: the betting says it all with four horses heading the market with less than two points between them. I personally think there a few behind them that can’t be discounted either. Certainly form wise the first five, six in the market are rather closely matched anyway.

Certainy overpriced is Battleoverdoyen. He probably would right in the mix at the top of the market if not for an usually poor showing in Flogas at Leopardstown. He was effectively beaten before falling at the last.

That’s a big question mark obviously. He was apparently pretty sore and 50/50 running at the Festival, only a fortnight ago. That’s a reflection of his price tag.

Nonetheless, even taking that into account, he remains an exciting prospect. Battleoverdoyen was classy hurdler, although twelve month ago was disappointingly pulled up in the Ballymore.

The big, rangy gelding was always a chaser in the making. And he took well to fences, winning three on the trot, including a small-field Grade 1 over Christmas.

Three miles om soft ground won’t be a problem. The fact Battleoverdoyen usually travels strongly and is a good jumper will count for a lot in what could well turn out to be a war of attrition. That sort of race could easily put Copperhead at an advantage, who has been quite impressive as well, and would be my most likely winner.

At given odds, even with the risk of the recent fall attached, Battleoverdoyen is clearly one who’s much bigger than he should be.

Selection:
10pts win – Battleoverdoyen @ 14.5/1 MB

……..

2.50 Coral Cup, 2m 5f

In a tricky affair where in-running luck will play a role Protektorat stands out to me. His style of running, and the fact he can b a quirky sort, adds to the risk of needing things to fall right. On the other hand he ticks a lot of boxes which outweigh the risk given the price.

The five-year-old is an improving individual, having ran well here at Cheltenham already, will enjoy the ground and will stay the trip. He ran with plenty of credit finishing third under a penalty when last seen here, following from a Listed victory at this venue, if not for a demotion post race.

A mark of 144 gives him a really nice weight in this contest where few make appeal on that front. French bred with speed – and Protektorat has shown to have a bit of speed as well as staying ability – tend to do well in this race.

Selection:
10pts win – Protektorat @ 16.5/1 MB

………..

3.30 Champion Chase, 2m

With absence of Altior this race is wide open, despite two seemingly clear horses leading the market. There is little in the betting between Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi, even though personally the potential improvement that can still come from Willie Mullins’s charge would sway me to believe he is the one to beat today.

Nonetheless this race is wide open for the fact that both these star names have actually never ran to speed figures that are mind blowing. Not yet at least. That is in contrast to Altior or other top class Champion Chasers of the past. Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi may still be the best of the rest today and for that reason land a Champion Chase, but I firmly believe they are not as much clear of the other four runners.

The two I think have a chance to get much closer than there odds suggest are the runner-up and third of the 2019 Champion Chase.

Look back at the reply of what as hugely exciting race, that produced strong ratings and see how both Politologue and Sceau Royal had the almighty Altior off the bridle and hard working two from home. In fact Sceau Royal traveled much the best!

This was a career best performance for both horses. However, they have proven in the past – at leas on ratings – to be on par with the two market principles. Both are proven in Championship races.

Sceau Royal was beaten by DDS this season, however that was on his seasonal reappearance. In his next two starts he has shown himself in good nick, including a fine second behind Altior in the Game Spirit Chase. He’s likely to run his race today, and if he does run to form then he’s a much better chance than 25/1.

Politologue has already been beaten twice by DDS this season. He was a close enough runner-up on his comeback run but bitterly disappointing in the Tingle Creek. That wasn’t his true showing.

He will need to bounce back and there is risk attached to a 9-year-old with so much racing under his belt already.If he can bounce back he’s in it with a fair shout, having run well at Cheltenham in the past.

Selection:
5pts win – Politologue @ 19/1 MB
5pts win – Sceau Royal @ 26/1 MB

……….

5.30 Champion Bumper, 2m½f

Willie Mullins could have another winner in this one with Appreciate It who is a rock solid favourite in my book. Nonetheless he is a short enough price to look what’s further down the market in what appears otherwise an open race.

Ask A Honey Bee is one that catches the eye with his three bumper wins, particularly as he defied a double-penalty when last seen! I also appreciate the fact the six-year-old has plenty of experience, as beside those 3 NHF races, he also has ample point-to-point experience.

Further to this Ask A Honey Bee clocked a solid topspeed figure on his penultimate run, which can’t be said for many in this field. He is a fine each/way shout.

Selection:
5pts e/w – Ask A Honey Bee @ 44/1 WH

Cheltenham Festival 2020 – Tuesday Preview

The Festival

Here we are: Cheltenham 2020! The festival has been good to me over the last number of years. More of that this week please – I could do with a few positive results after a start to the year that can only be described in one word: catastrophic!

Day one looks pretty tricky, at the same time offers plenty of value in the market. Rain has soften the ground significantly and adds extra spice to open contests.

Unlike in previous years there are few red hot favourites, heading the betting at short odds. I can see some big prices making the frame – one of those winning for me would a unimaginable relieve as at this point I simply wonder if I ever will back a winner again?!

From a pure racing perspective the championship races are highly intriguing, more so by the lack of odds-on favourites. Although not a vintage year, the Champion Hurdle makes for a compelling puzzle to solve, whereas Supreme and Arkle shaping like unmissable contests with future starts in their respective divisions unleashed.

…………..

1.30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 2m½f

Highly competitive. Plenty of exciting novice hurdlers in the field. Usually a fast start to the Festival and the year: plenty of pace, crowd noise, nervousness among the jockeys.

I feel experience will count for a lot. Hence I like Abacadabras. Fourth in the Champion Bumper last year, he made a seamless transition to hurdles, having four already under his belt, winning a first Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas and only been beaten by sublime Envoi Allen at Fairyhouse.

He tends to travel well, has been here before, has proven to run fast, can jump straight and is tactically versatile, giving Davy Russell plenty of options.

Selection:
10pts win – Abacadabras @ 11/2 MB

……….

2.10 Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase, 2m

The one completely forgotten here, particularly in the soft ground conditions, is Global Citizen. He’s been classy hurdler over two miles, which tends to be a good indicator for this race, and since switching to fences has left a poor start to his chasing career behind when winning impressively at Kempton last time.

That Grade 2 at Kempton looks useful form, but it’s more the way Global Citizen went over his business that is noteworthy. He was pretty keen, set a fast clip, jumped pretty well – much improved to his debut – and held off the advances of his rivals in fine style in the end, finding plenty when needed.

He’s got to bring this to Cheltenham and is unlikely to get an easy lead, however it’s his now proven ability to jump at speed that can be key in the Arkle.

Selection:
10pts win – Global Citizen @ 22.5/1 MB

……….

2.40 Ultima Handicap Chase, 3m 1f

Stamina is key in this race, so my eventual choice is a risk, but beside the favourite Vindication, who is, on the other hand a rather short price for a race like this, I struggle to identify many who are ahead of their respective handicap marks.

Who Dares Wins could be on his handicap debut, though. Whether he well and truly stays the distance, particularly on soft ground all the way up the hill remains to be seen. Fact he has been here before, ran well at two Festivals before, particularly in the Pertemps two years ago.

That day he lead the field to the final hurdle but faltered into finishing fifth eventually. That’s an obvious negative. On the other hand, Who Dares Wins potentially saw daylight a little bit too early, certainly compared to the winner and runner-up who were asked all questions a little bit later.

With that in mind, this performance also gives hope as Who Dares Wins is a little bit older now and has proven his ability to on the flat to stay marathon trips. He also could be rather well handicapped on his chasing debut after having landed a Grade 2 in Novice company at Kempton when last seen, with an opening mark of 147, which is 4lb lower than his hurdling mark.

Selection:
10pts win – Who Dares Wins @ 15/1 MB

……….

3.30 Champion Hurdle, 2m½f

A rather ordinary renewal with plenty of question marks hanging over the market principles. The mare Epatante looks a fair favourite, if nothing else. With plenty of pace this race is unlikely to turn into a pure speed test and I’m not sure whether that truly suits her.

This should suite, however, quite clearly Supasundae. It’s probably fair to argue two miles isn’t quite is optimum trip, on the other hand there is plenty of evidence he is – or least used to be – highly effective over the minimum distance as much as over further:

A winner and runner-up in the Irish Champion Hurdle, a Punchestown Champion Hurdle winner and a decent 4th on his seasonal reappearance in the 2020 Irish Champion Hurdle back in February; Supasundae doesn’t seem to slow down too much, even though turning ten now.

He is still a class act in this field and I feel the likely setup of the race will be an advantage to him. Hi experience, having been around Cheltenham numerous times is another bonus.

Selection:
10pts win – Supasundae @ 11.5/1 MB

………..

4.10 Mares’ Hurdle, 2m 4f

A fascinating clash between two top mares, albeit the market has Benie Des Dieux a clear favourite, which seems fair, given the should be a hat-trick seeking Festival winner if not for a fall at the last twelve months ago.

The question is, though: is the 9-year-old that far ahead of the young challenger Honeysuckle? We’ll find out today. As it stands now I come to the conclusion to answer this question with a “No”.

BDD has stellar form in the book and look as imperious as ever at Gowran Park in what was her sole outing this season. She has the experience, is fresh and clearly in top form.

Honeysuckle in contrast had quite a few more races this season already, advancing through the ranks, landing the Irish Champion Hurdle when last seen, and connections seriously pondered whether a bid for THE Champion Hurdle should be the race to go for.

It was a widely shared opinion in the aftermath of Leoprdstown that Honeysuckle didn’t quite jumped that well and wasn’t as brilliant as expected. That is to some extend a fair comment.

On the other hand, the Irish Champion Hurdle was still an excellent contest, she beat some really good horses, would be at the very least joint favourite for the Champion Hurdle if running there, and in my view, showed a lot of valuable traits in February, mainly the ability to dig deep and go through the wall when challenged heavily.

I also believe that stepping up to 2 miles & 4 furlongs, on soft ground can lead to further improvement for a mare that has only raced seven times and has won all of them. On the ratings front she ties in closely with BDD: their career best RPR’s and TS rating are only two and one pound off respectively.

With that in mind: Honeysuckle has to improve. But not by much. Given that, she is quite clearly overpriced.

Selection: 
10pts win – Honeysuckle @ 10/3 WH

………….

Edit: 10:45am – added Mares’ Hurdle

Friday Selections: March, 6th 2020

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6.00 Wolverhampton: Class 6 Handicap, 7f

It looks this could be the day Street Poet is finally let loose. I have been eyeing this day for a while, ever since the gelding caught the eye very much at Wolverhampton in early January.

Always travelling wide, a bit keen, yet going quite well for an awful long time, he only tiered once turning for home without ever being asked any question whatsoever – he also ran clearly over a trip way too far.

he gradually stepped down in distance ever since. Two more jobs later, here we are back over his preferred 7 furlong trip, with the mark fallen dramatically since he won back to back over this CD last summer.

This race looks wide open and is clearly for the taking. The draw isn’t totally ideal, given Street Poet wants to be rather up with the pace. That’s the risk that if he breaking cleanly he will be in trouble.

First time tongue-tie is an interesting addition as it strengthens the case that today connections mean business.

Selection:
10pts win – Street Poet @ 7/1 MB

Preview: Saudi Cup

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5.40 Riyadh: Saudi Cup, 1m 1f

There is a lot of positive talk about Tacitus leading up to the race. A notoriously “unlucky” horse. Always in the money, usually running a fine race, but also finding reasons to not get his head in front on the highest level.

He’s reportedly shipped over really well and has physically as well as mentally improved. If he has filled his frame fully, now more mature and stronger, one could imagine a little bit of improvement now as a four year old.

Surely this race must have been the goal for a long time given the prominent connections of Tacitus.

He comes here off a winter break. That may not be an issue given he won on his seasonal debut last year in impressive style. He also has worked well since then. He’s more likely ready to run the race of his life than not.

How much of an advantage a low draw really is at the Riyadh racetrack remains to be seen. Nonetheless I have it more as an advantage to start from the 2 gate.

Obviously this is a top class field and Tacitus has to find some extra to win. But it’s hard to gauge how well the others have travelled and fare at this stage of the season. Given all the positive talk and obvious reasons why Tacitus should be 100% today, I feel he remains a big price.

Selection:
10pts win – Tacitus @ 14/1 VC

Friday Selections: February, 14th 2020

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5.10 Southwell: Class 6 Handicap, 1 mile

Equidae has caught my in all of his last three starts. In my book he ran much better than the bare form of those races suggest. He didn’t receive hard rides in of those, while running well to the line, even if things weren’t in his favour on multiple occasions.

The two Newcastle runs over a mile a visually quite taking, although his latest run here at Southwell over the shorter 7 furlongs trip is equally compelling, as Equidae was mad keen early on, pulling loads of energy away  but still managed to finish a fair 4th.

Another couple of pounds off, he will race off 7lb less than when winning over this course and distance last May. Equidae also matched or battered his current mark on topspeed ratings multiple times.

Cheek-pieces on for the first time may help him to settle a bit better as he has the tendency to race freely.

Selection:
10pts win – Equidae @ 3.6/1 WH

………..

5.45 Southwell: Class 6 Handicap, 1m 3f

Earl Of Bunnacurry has probably the key piece of form with his 3rd over 1m 6f back in December – form that worked out tremendously well. The gelding made most likely too much early on and ultimately didn’t have anything left in the tank when it mattered most.

He changed yards, was largely disappointing in two starts for new connections since, particularly when send off 4/1 on stable debut.

However, back over a possibly suitable trip, at Southwell where he usually runs rather well, with two pounds off his mark and new headgear, I feel Earl Of Bunnacurry is an intriguing runner in a race where there is little to fear.

A return to that December form will see him having a massive chance to get his head in front again.

Selection:
10pts win – Earl Of Bunnacurry @ 8/1 MB

Horse Racing Around The Globe

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