The best in the world…

A third Group 1 on the bounce for world class miler Able Friend! The six year old made light work of his rivals in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Cup at Sha Tin earlier today, despite encountering plenty of in-running trouble. That’s the signs of a true superstar!

Able Friend has been rated the second best horse in the World’s Best Racehorse Rankings, which have been published last week. Currently rated one single pound below US top drawer Shared Belief, one could think that after this performance today, he may well jump right on top of the queue!

Cheltenham Festival 2015 – As It Happend…

It is over! Yes, Cheltenham is over, indeed. We have to wait another (loooong) twelve month until it is alive again. But see it this way: If Cheltenham would be on every week, it wouldn’t be as special as it is. And boy, was this last week special, wasn’t it?! It had it all: Memorable triumphs, dramatic finishes, outstanding horses, magical rides and real Championship races. Relieve the action again – as it happened…..

Day 1 – Tuesday: All about the roar of the crowd – it’s the opening day of the Festival! Four Grade 1’s on the card, probably the finest day of racing the whole year. The big story of course was the potential Willie Mullins four-timer which would have resulted in a major loss for bookmakers. This wasn’t a long-shot. In fact it looked very likely to happen when Annie Power approached the last obstacle in the Mares’ Hurdle.

Punters and bookies alike were holding their breath. Annie was clear and just needed a decent jump to win. But as we know now, she crashed! She got seemingly confused by the shadows and jumped them instead the real obstacle. A fall literally at the last hurdle, saved the bookies millions, and cost punters dearly.

Earlier that day, Douvan opened the Festival with an authoritative triumph in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Un De Sceaux followed with an impressive success in the Arkle. Faugheen landed Tuesdays feature, the Champion Hurdle – living up to all the hype surrounding him. It was a clean sweep for the Irish and Willie Mullins, as not only did he train the winner, but also the runner-up Arctic Fire and of course world-record breaking Hurricane Fly, who finished a gallant third! The New One in contrast wasn’t quick enough. Jezki not good enough.

Day 2 – Wednesday: The readily improving Windsor Park provided renowned flat trainer Dermot Weld with a Cheltenham win in the Neptune Novice’s Hurdle. Davy Russell with a brilliant front-running ride. Don Poli, thought to be one of the bankers of the meeting, obliged duly in the RSA Chase and was rapidly installed as favourite for next years Gold Cup.

The Champion Chase was all about Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre – even or maybe because both didn’t run to their formerly best and were beaten a long way. Sprinter Sacre in particular looked a finished horse and retirement is looming. Sire De Grugy’s legs weren’t quite quick enough and the form horse Dodging Bullets landed the odds.

Day 3 – Thursday: What can you say…. Vautour on a different planet! He demolished classy opposition in the JLT and proved all doubters wrong. His jumping was spot on, maybe the best round of jumping around the testing Cheltenham course we’ve seen in a long time. Gold Cup next year for him.

A winner for AP McCoy is a winner for racing. A perfectly judged front-running ride on long-shot Uxizandre meant McCoy wouldn’t end his Festival career without a winner. It was emotional for anyone involved and just what was needed. A long-shot also got up in the World Hurdle. Cole Harden made all from the front too. Clearly improved since a wind operation, he fend off the challenge from favourite Saphir Du Rheu.

Day 4 – Friday: Gold Cup Day, and it’s all about the big race, indeed! Paul Nicholls’ Silviniaco Conti was the favourite – he had the form in the book thanks to his impressive King George triumph. But his failures at recent Festivals made him look vulnerable. Willie Mullins saddled progressive stayer Djakadam; former Galway Plate and Lexus Chase winner Road To Riches was another Irish runner with fine chances. Hennessy winner Many Clouds and novice Coneygree were well fancied UK rivals.

The race itself turned into a procession of jumping and determination. They said novices can’t win the Gold Cup. Well, they can! Connections of Coneygree were bold in making the decision to let him take his chance in the biggest race of the Festival – and that proved to be the right one. The rapidly improving novice made all from the front. He out-jumped his more experienced rivals and he galloped relentlessly, having more than half of the field on the stretch a long way before the finish. Jumping the last with his ears pricked, this Coneygree was jumping for fun and out-battled the few rivals which were still with him on the legendary Cheltenham hill toward the finish line.

A simply sensational performance. But credit to Road To Riches as well, who was never to far off Coneygree and stuck well to the task. He finished a very creditable 3rd while Djakadam stayed on in second. Silviniaco Conti was beaten when the leading pack turned for home, five runners had to be pulled up, including last years winner Lord Windermere. That shows how ferocious the pace was, set by Coneygree.

Number of the week: 13 – A draw between England and Ireland. Thirteen winners apiece. Though Willie Mullins was responsible for the majority of the Irish winners. He could celebrate a record eight times in the winners circle.

Ride Of the week: Davy Russell on Rivage D’or in the Cross Country Chase – A super confident ride and perfectly judged by the former Irish Champion jockey on the 16-1 outsider. Russell sat quietly on his mount, making up ground gradually, patiently waiting to ask Rivage D’or for everything when it really mattered. Not many can ride Cheltenham better than Russell.

Betting: If you would have followed all bets on this blog throughout the Festival week, you would be a whopping 132pts in the green! To give this figure some context: If one point of your betting bank would be €10, you’d have made €1320.00 this week with my selections. Not too shabby for a week’s work in the office! Highlights were of course Martello Tower on Friday, who got up at 14/1 SP in a dramatic finish. As well as Rivage D’or in the Cross Country, which was tipped at 20/1.

Future Outlook: What a massive Gold Cup we could have on our hands next year. Vautour and Don Poli looked both very special and are heading the ante-post market already, with Coneygree expected to try and defend his crown. Throw in Djakadam and Road To Riches who could both still improve a bit, and we have a race for the ages!

Willie Mullins was the utterly dominating force during the week and quotes of 20/1 are out for him to take all four major races at the Festvial next year – that’s the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, World Hurdle and the Gold Cup. I’ve seen worse long-shots to be honest!

Photo Gallery – Coolmore Stud Ireland

I had the chance to visit Coolmore Stud this weekend. Usually not open to the general public, but the Curragh Racecourse thankfully organized a wonderful trip for its members.I have to say it was a once in a lifetime experience to get close to some of the best racehorses & stallions on the planet. Find my photos from this trip below – click photos to enlarge.

Preview: Kings Cup

This intriguing handicap looks a wide open race to my eyes. The Hangman heads the market and he is a worthy favourite, no doubt. A Grade 1 winner as a juvenile, he had his fair share of problems in recent years, but found back to something close of his best when winning a MR 92 Handicap as top weight over 1.400m last month. The Hangman took advantage of a career lowest mark that day and proved himself to be still in love with the game. This form entitles him to be a big runner today, and the step up to 1.600m shouldn’t be an issue. However a 7lb hike in the mark is something he has to overcome and currently trading a 9/4 chance he isn’t more than only a fair price.

Christmas Handicap winner Fourth Estate will enjoy to be back at his beloved Greyville after two below par efforts at other tracks. Due to the big win in December, he is still on a career highest mark and after 46 career starts it looks unlikely that he can improve any further. Over this CD he rates a fair runner, but others make more appeal.

Candy Moon was fourth in the Christmas Handicap but encountered a troubled run. He stayed on very strongly once in the clear and a 2.5kg swing in the weights with the winner gives him the edge over that particular rival. He found 2.000m a bit too far subsequently, but the drop to a mile at Greyville should certainly suit. Candy Moon is two from three over CD and while he is another one who has to produce a career best, his penultimate effort gives him a strong chance.

Classy Uncle Tommy runs consistently well and lives up to his rating, despite the fact that he has always big weights to shoulder. Up in class today, he has a huge 62kg to overcome and that could simply be too much asked. Royal Zulu Guard and Stolen Destiny are improved sorts lately. They should be competitive but also have to prove that they are up to their new career highest marks. Auction King and King Neptune are not out of this by any means. Though they don’t strike as particularly well handicapped either and more is needed here.

Verdict: If The Hangman can overcome the hike in the mark and continues to find back to his formerly brilliant best, then he has an ideal opportunity to score here over preferred course and distance. It is not a straightforward ask though and I take an chance with gradually improving Candy Moon who loves this track and trip and was a bit unlucky lately. With a clear run he should be a very big runner with conditions in favour.

2.25 Greyville: Kings Cup (Grade 3 Handicap) 
Candy Moon @ 5/1 Sportingbet – 5pts win

Preview: Santa Margarita

Small field at Santa Anita for this Grade 1, without a real outstanding candidate, and in general it looks a rather open renewal. Warren’s Veneda is trading as favourite at the moment after she looked an improved mare over the last number of weeks. She won two on the bounce, most notably her recent success in the Grade 2 Santa Maria Stakes. She got the perfect race and ride, trailing the field and making a sweeping move around the home turn to win with a bit of authority. She steps up in trip to 1 1⁄8 miles for the first time, but has a fair chance to stay the additional distance. A couple in this field try this trip for the first time and that adds to the openness of the contest.

The mare I feel is a good deal overpriced is the generally still rather lightly raced Uzziel. She finished runner-up in the Santa Maria, and was fair and square beaten in the end. However she was the one who fared best from the horses up with- or tracking the pace, while the winner and the horses behind her came all from off the pace. The fact that she was able to keep going must give her a fine chance of getting the new trip, as she looked more beaten for speed than anything else. On pedigree, this should suit very well too. That says it is not out of this world that she can turn around the form with Warren’s Veneda. And if she can do that, then she’ll go very close here today.

11.00 Santa Anita: Santa Margarita Invitational (Grade 1)
Uzziel @ 14/1 William Hill – 5pts win

Cheltenham Festival Preview – Day 4

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Hard to believe, but time is really flying – This is already the last day of the 2015 Cheltenham Festival! We’ve seen some memorable performances over the course of the last three days, but none was more impressive than Vautour’s demolishing job in the JLT on Thursday. Simply in another world! Well, betting wise it was poor day yesterday, but overall we’re still big in profit. Today is a tough day punting wise once again with big, competitive fields. So I try to be a bit more selective. You can read my Gold Cup Preview here, in addition to two more selections for this last final day of the Festival in this post.

Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle)

Not sure if the favourite can be beaten here, but it is certainly a big and competitive field. For a much bigger price a chance is taken with Stars Over The Sea who was a very promising horse earlier this season. He has been a good performer to the flat and took well to hurdles but disappointed subsequently at Cheltenham in December, which was his last start. He’s coming into this as a fresh horse and first time hood and tongue tie have helped so many others before already to realize their potential. He remains a talented hurdler with potential and may outrun his price.

Stars Over The Sea @ 66/1 SJ – 2.5pts EW

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Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

The always improving Martello Tower should relish this test today. He stays all the way and going up in trip back to 3m will surely suit. So should be the arriving rain. He beat smart Outlander over this trip at Limerick and followed up with a fine runner-up performance over shorter at Leopardstown. There is plenty to like and in favour for him today and I feel track, trip and ground are tailor made.

Martello Tower @ 10/1 PP – 5pts win

Preview: Gold Cup Chase

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This years Festival feature race looks wide open. There is no real outstanding candidate in the race. Or is there? Normally, Silviniaco Conti would be a red hot favourite in anyone’s book. He has the best form this season, and clearly is the number one chaser around at the moment. His Kempton King George success is the standout piece of form – undoubtedly. Trainer Paul Nicholls insists that all past problems have been solved and therefore he won’t falter again the way he did in last years Gold Cup after jumping the last, when he actually looked the sure winner. I’m not convinced, however To my eyes he simply looks a horse tailor-made for flat tracks, like Kempton and Aintree. For that reason I oppose him today.

There are plenty of new kids on the block. Novice Coneygree is a super exciting prospect. I really like him. He gets his ground with the rain arriving. But he’s a novice. That is not an easy task today. Road To Riches and Many Clouds are the improvers. There is no reason why they shouldn’t be competitive. Carlingford Lough also falls into this category and I like his profile. But the more rain’s falling, the more his chances are faltering. Willie Mullins’ best chance is rising star Djakadam. Another progressive sort, but  he is a very short price in this competitive race given his form.

Holywell is tipped by many to give AP McCoy the perfect farewell gift. He has been improving throughout the season and looks primed for a big run. He loves it around Cheltenham and stays. Surely it would be lovely to see him winning. But is he good enough? I remain a doubter.

What about the old brigade? Bob’s Worth, a former Gold Cup winner. Hard to trust these days with lack of recent form. Last years winner Lord Windermere hasn’t shown much this year either. Though an improved effort in the Hennessy may bring him nicely along. He’s trained with only this one race in mind. But the 2014 renewal was a strange race. I don’t trust the form.

Boston Bob and On His Own, two more Mullins horses. The latter one was runner-up last year. As mentioned before, a strange race. He done well this winter in the Lexus Chase and is not out of this, clearly he is a better chance than Boston Bob in my mind.

A bit the forgotten horse is The Giant Bolster. He absolutely loves it around Cheltenham and with a bit luck he would have won at least one Gold Cup in recent years. His jumping can be a problem sometimes, but he has the heart and guts to be a big runner once again today. At 40/1 with four places, he is well overpriced and his chances underestimated. He usually comes alive at this time of the year, and it is wise to ignore anything he has shown up to this point this season.

The Giant Bolster @ 40/1 Bet365 – 2.5pts EW

Horse Racing Around The Globe

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