Jockeys’ Championship – Does It Still Matter?

By now you may have heard about the changes made in terms of the British Flat Jockeys’ Championship. The general perception is rather negative, though I don’t want to get caught up in the discussion whether these changes make sense or not. My question is rather: Does it still matter? I mean does anyone really care about this championship these days?

No. 

Simple answer from my side. I’m sure not anyone does agree with me, and that is fine. But let me explain: Flat racing has developed very much into a global sport. Opportunities are near and far these days – for horses, trainers, owners and jockeys alike. Be it Hong Kong, Australia or the US – the big ride in a prestigious Group race is just one flight away.

Yes, I’m sure to win the title meant allot to Richard Hughes or Paul Hanagan in recent years. And yes, it is still some achievement to ride thousand races a year and lift the trophy at the end of the season for being ‘the best’. But what is it really worth?

The broader context to this is that the best (or most talented) British jockeys simply aren’t competing for the title these days. Much the opposite. They are frequently on the hunt for opportunities elsewhere. Because of the internationalisation of the sport, the best jockeys have now more than ever the opportunities to ride in big races anywhere in the world. And indeed, that is what they do! The Buick’s, Moore’s and Doyle’s are happy enough to miss a whole day in the office at Pontefract or Windsor, for one single ride in the big Grade 1 at Arlington.

And here’s my point: If the best British jockeys deliberately don’t compete for the title, where is the merit of this championship? Yes, someone will win it in the end, because that is the nature of competition. Someone will have the most winners on the plate at the end of the season. But someone is not the best. And shouldn’t the best compete for a jockey’s championship?

Imagine Bayern Munich wouldn’t compete in the Bundesliga anymore because the big games in the Champions League are so much more important. Yes, someone would still win the Bundesliga. But what would it be worth, without competing against the best? I know, this comparison is quite  simplistic (and, admittedly, unrealistic). Jockeys still compete throughout the season in the UK, even if they don’t go all out for the title. But still, it illustrates my point, doesn’t it?

Long story short: The jockeys’ championship is becoming a pointless competition, it lost its appeal and value. Why? Because the currency of modern flat racing is big wins – and those aren’t necessarily the class 5 Handicaps on a Wednesday evening around Kempton…

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Monday Feature Race – Wolverhampton

Quick Tip
Nice little race for a Monday, an open contest with many in the hunt for the money. The favourite Related must rate a fair chance, dropping in class after running with credit in hot company. This is easier, and he should go close. Progressive Oriental Relation is a course and distance winner this winter already, he made a big jump right into Listed company the last time but was found out. This here is not quite as hot, but still tough enough and a career best would be required today.

Rich Again really excelled on the Wolverhampton tapeta in recent weeks. He couldn’t quite translate the same form over to Lingfield lto and a career highest mark may find him out this time again. Money Team went agonisingly close in a strong 6f Handicap last month, proving his good latest form. He didn’t get a run the last time when upped in trip and may find this today easier over potentially ideal 6f on the slow Chelmsford polytrack surface.

With the right form in the book, job-jockey Gibbons in the saddle and a fair handicap mark, Money Team looks the value in this race in my mind.
4.30 Chelmsford: Class 3 Handicap, 6f
Money Team @ 4/1 Bet365 – 5pts win

Weekend Round-up

Cheltenham is over, and one could feel a bit empty, but the racing world never sleeps! So let’s have a quick round-up of what happened this last weekend.

American Pharoah has been shaking up the Kentucky Derby ante-post market. An impressive success in the Grade 2 Rebel Stakes saw him jumping right at the top of the market. Trained by Bob Baffert – who also has the second favourite Dortmund in his barn – American Pharoah was last seasons champion two year old in the US, though injuries towards the end of the season put his Derby credentials on hold. He’s back no – see for yourself how impressive he was on Saturday:

Warren’s Veneda has been really progressive over the last couple of weeks, and her rise to the top of the mares division didn’t stop this weekend when she landed the Grade 1 Santa Margarita Stakes in great fashion. She tried the 1 1/8 mile trip for the first time, but clearly saw it out.

The Hangman was once a top class juvenile, but injuries prevented him from fulfilling his potential. Nursed back to form, he has now won two on the bounce after he took the Grade 3 Kings Cup at Greyville on Sunday – which is the place of his biggest triumph -here’s were he won the Grade 1 Premiers Champion Stakes as a juvenile back in 2012. Ridden to perfection stalking a slow pace on Sunday, he held on gamely to fend off the challenge by runner-up Candy Moon. The second may be the one to take out of this as he came from well off the pace, and has been a bit unlucky lately. A big win is potentially around the corner.

Tryster may well be one of the best horses we have ever seen on the UK All-Weather. Trained by Charlie Appleby, he has been progressive throughout the whole winter and took his form to new heights when getting up easily in the Winter  Derby at Lingfield.

Goonyella delivered for the Irish in the Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter! Trying the 4 mile + trip for the first time, he saw it out like a champ and could be en-route to the big National at Aintree in month time now, where he’d be well in.

If you haven’t seen it already – check out my Cheltenham Festival Review as well as the great Photo Gallery from my trip to Coolmore Stud.

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

Horse Racing Around The Globe

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