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A Weekend To Remember

What a roller-coaster week. Culminating in an emotional and dramatic weekend that included a 16/1 winning selection for the 1000 Guineas as well as a winner in the Kentucky Derby that was no winner half an hour later and a superstar on the other side of the globe far too few people have heard of yet!

Throw in a couple of unlucky 2nd places and a 2000 Guineas result that left me wonder “what if” and you’ve certainly got a few days to remember!

2000 Guineas: What Draw Bias?!

Horses loading for the first Classic of the 2019 flat season, a last few words from Johnny Murtagh on ITV: he’s now leaning toward Magna Grecia based on his observation of the existence of a draw bias in favour of the stands-side.

A few minutes later Twitter was running hot as Magna Grecia passed the line in front of everyone else, indeed. The colt trained by Aiden O’Brien – of course – won the battle of his small group on the stand-side, far away from the rest of the field, comfortably. And because his side was always ahead throughout the race he won the 2000 Guineas rather comfortably in the end.

My selection Skardu ran a massive race and finished 3rd, winning the race in his much larger group. I guess, ideally we wouldn’t have this discussion now and instead we’d have seen a “fair” race. But this is racing. Happened in the past. Will happen again.

Whether there was a draw bias I am not so sure. Most likely there was a pace bias, though. And this had the most profound impact on the outcome of the race. This is certainly something that occurs any given day. If you’re drawn close to the pace and you follow it you always have a better chance of winning than not.

Smarter people will be able to explain all the exact reasons behind it in greater detail than I can or want right now. But that is a racing fact.

On balance I believe – at least over 1 mile – there is little between Magna Grecia and Skardu, and possibly Madhmoon. Will we see a re-match at the Curragh in a few weeks time? Magna Grecia is bound for the first Irish Classic. Wouldn’t it be nice to see these three meet there again? I’d love to see that!

Derby Delight Turns Sour

I live for these big races. The anticipation building over the whole day leading up to the moment when the gates crash open – pure excitement!

Normally I’m neither too high nor too low watching bred and butter racing, regardless of betting, the winning or the losing. Big races get my blood flowing, though.

Getting up at 3am in the morning for the Melbourne Cup? No bother. I can’t sleep anyway because of all the butterflies in my stomach!

The Kentucky Derby is one of my favourite races of the entire year. The occasion, build-up and atmosphere transported thanks to the outstanding NBC coverage is simply stunning.

No different this Saturday night. I was cheering home my selection Maximum Security with passion – surely the neighbours enjoyed it too – pumping the first in the air as the colt crossed the line ahead of everyone else. And who wouldn’t? A 9/1 winner in the Kentucky Derby is something to shout about!

Then the dreaded words: “objection lodged…. hold on to your tickets”. What follows are replay after replay dissecting ever aspect of the final three furlongs of the 145 Kentucky Derby. It was obvious Maximum Security was the best horse in the race. The runner-up Country House had no right to be upset with the result. He wasn’t impeded at all!

But it was also obvious Maximum Security impeded other horses when shifting around when turning home. It could resulted in a pretty bad situation on a different day.

Taking that into consideration I can understand the disqualification. And given the strict US rules it probably was the right call in the end.

On the other hand, whether it is truly a fair call to take the race away from the horse that was quite clearly the best one in the race, because of shifting around in an incredibly tight situation, racing on the limit at the end of a tough contest, doing so on a sloppy surface….

After all these are animals, not robots who run straight on rails as if they’d be pre-programmed machines.

It all happens so fast, there are 150.000 people screaming, horses and riders fighting for space, whips flying around…. it’s racing, not chess. These things happen in the sport and the question that needs to be raised in these type of situations is: did the winner got an unfair advantage and did the runner-up lost because of this situation?

The answer is unequivocal NO in this instance.

Ultimately I feel Maximum Security should have kept the race. What a fairytale it would have been. A horse thought to be so bad he started his career in a $16k claimer, going to win the Kentucky Derby…..

The Best Ever? 

South Africa as produced a lot of fantastic race horses over the years. The likes of Variety Club or Igugu come to my mind, in particular. But there is a new kid on the block and he could be the best there ever was in South Africa – some already suggest!

Well, one thing is for sure: Hawwaam is an incredibly exciting colt, with a turn of foot you rarely see produced in such stunning manner. How he races away from his rivals in the closing stages, like it’s the easiest thing in the world, is nothing short of breathtaking.

I took note for the first time – and was immensely impressed –  when Hawwaam stepped into Grade 1 company for the first time in the SA Classic earlier this year as he arguably exploded in the final furlong putting a handful of lengths between himself and the rest in a matter of strides.

He followed up on Saturday in the Grade 1 Champions Challenge when stepping up to the 10 furlongs distance and he couldn’t have been more impressive. How often do you see a horse in a top-level contest travelling hard on the bridle approaching the final furlong and then shooting clear under hands and heels? This horse is special:

On to the Durban July now? He surly will go off a warm favourite. And only luck or the lack of can stop him there I reckon.

How great would it be to see this superstar travel the world?! And what a shame that it remains so difficult for South African horses to travel. In turn it means far too few people get to know these classy horses that race on the other side of the globe.

Wayne Lordan Defies the Stats

He was 1 for 42 rides in the UK for Aiden O’Brien and his mounts went off a 25/1 average SP – Wayne Lordan couldn’t have been an unlikelier hero in the 1000 Guineas today – at least judged by the numbers.

Riding the least fancied of the Ballydoyle string once more, Hermosa was a largely ignored runner coming into the race. You could back her at 20/1+ this morning.

I missed those massive prices, but still got 16s with only a few hours to go to the race when making her my sole selection for the 1000 Guineas.

All credit to Wayne Lordan, though. What superb ride: incredibly brave, at the same time keeping it simple, bouncing the filly out of the stalls sending her straight to the lead, knowing Hermosa would likely stay all day and night long.

And she did! She was gutsy, stuck to her guns when challenged and won well in the end. A supremely well bred filly, adds another big race success to her superstar family, given she is a full-sister to Group 1 winners Hydrangea and The United States.

It brings a hectic week to an end. I had 30 bets. Way too many. I go carried away on Monday in particular but was bailed out by New Show at Windsor, thankfully. 4 winners & 120pts profit this week – the highlight obviously Hermosa.

A week of what would have been. 10 placed horses, multiple of those beaten in tight finishes on the line. A winner in the Kentucky Derby that was taken away half an hour later.

Well…. onwards and upwards. 

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Monday Selections: April, 29th 2019

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I said in my preview my hope for Winklemann is that Miss Imogen Mathias won’t fall off. She didn’t. But she also couldn’t have given the poor horse a worse ride. Winklemann finished a close third in the end. So did Roaring Rory, who stayed on from a long way back in his race.

No complaint, though: I knew the dangers of backing a horse in an Amateur race. And maybe it wouldn’t have mattered if a different jockey would have steered Winklemann home. It’s easy to point out a seemingly weak ride while sitting comfortably in the chair myself, of course.

I was massively impressed with Pink Dogwood at Navan today. The ante-post favourite for the Epsom Oaks proved too strong for her rivals in the listed Salsabil Stakes over 10f. She showed a lovely attitude under a hands and heels ride and looks to have wintered well from a physical standpoint as well.

She’s been cut from 6/1 to 7/2 in the meantime. I’m not the man for ante-post wagers these days, so will not touch it. But I think she’ll be hard to beat if getting to Epsom healthy.

On to Monday – there’s plenty of flat action both on the All-Weather as well as on the green lush grass! Still, I’m a little bit surprised to have found nearly two hands full of selections…. whether that’s a good or a bad sign remains to be seen.

…….

2.10 Southwell: Class 6 Handicap, 7f

Smashing Lass is the only winner in this field – a poor line-up with a few unexposed sorts, but generally one where the filly stands out. She won a seller last year and also was a decent runner-up at Newcastle twice.

A recent seasonal reappearance was surely nothing more than a pipe opener and big improvement is expected from that run. She has dropped to a 55 handicap mark, while she already ran to a TS rating of 59 and 54 in the past.

So improvement is possible, also as she was an April foal and may get better with age. First time Southwell is always a risk, but her sire has an excellent fibresand record. Interestingly, it’s Shane Gray’s only ride on the card.

Selection:
10pts win – Smashing Lass @ 9/1 PP

……..

2.20 Newcastle: Class 6 Handicap, 6f

The favourite is clearly opposable given his super skinny price. I’m keen on Rantan, even though the draw may not be an advantage with the pace more drawn toward the other side.

Nonetheless, I feel this lad has been campaigned with this race potentially in mind. He had two pipe openers over the minimum trip. Last time out here at Newcastle he finished quite nicely showing a bit of spark in the closing stages, while it was obvious he needs further.

He drops in class but is stepped up in trip. He slipped to an incredibly dangerous mark as well, judged by last seasons performances in particular.

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

………

3.45 Southwell: Class 5 Handicap, 1 mile

Dropping in class here and further down in the ratings, Me Too Nagasaki may finally found a race to fulfill expectations. He was well backed since joining the Stuart Williams yard, and though running with credit most of the time, he never looked like winning.

Surely the now 5-year-old isn’t the force of the past, but down to a mark of 75 he looks very dangerous, particularly down in a class 5 Handicap. It’s his second time on the fibresand – even though well beaten in January, he looked like taking to it until falling away after travelling widest of all throughout in a hot class 3 Handicap coming off a long lay-off.

This here looks a very winnable race – if he can finish off his race. The way he dropped out lately is slightly concerning, in truth. But he’s the class act in this field, so I give Me Too Nagasaki the benefit of the doubt as he is potentially well handicapped.

Selection:
10pts win – Me Too Nagasaki @ 13/2 PP

……….

4.15 Southwell: Class 5 Handicap, 6f

This is an ultra-competitive race. Margins could be decisive, so being drawn wider than ideal is a negative. Nonetheless I feel Big Brave Bob has a tremendous chance first time out for a new yard if race fit.

It’s likely hell be race fit given Big Brave Bob returns to the place of his biggest- and sole success: the 6f at Southwell. He won here last year in taking style, even if the tight margin tells a different story. He clearly looked like an individual who’d strive on the fibresand.

He followed up with a number of good performances of higher marks in good races – particularly his follow-up effort at Bath is super strong form; but also all his last runs on the AW are solid.

He left the Hannon yard over the winter, and has also dropped down to a mark of 70. With a fair 5lb claimer in the saddle, back on the fibresand, I think there is a good chance Big Brave Bob has too much on his plate for the rest of this field.

Selection:
10pts win – Big Brave Bob @ 6/1 MB

………

4.25 Newcastle: Class 3 Handicap, 1 mile

Ballard Down looks underappreciated in this race. Since changing yards he has ran well on two occasions, particularly an unlucky 3rd place finish behind Mr. Scaramanga rates a strong piece of form.

He’s clearly a tricky sort, but Newcastle’s straight mile suits him. Down to a 91 mark now, I feel he looks poised for a big performance, given there seems to be a good deal of pace in the race as well, to see him coming with a late charge to get his head in front again.

Selection:
10pts win – Ballard Down @ 16/1 PP

……..

4.55 Windsor: Class Handicap, 6f

Kwela was desperately unlucky not to get her head in front when being several times severely  impeded in the closing stages at Lingfield on her seasonal debut recently.

She’s a pound higher today but that won’t make a difference. Back on turf, with fast ground likely to suit well, she can attack from pole position riding the golden highway of Windsor.

Excellent Georgia Dobie keeps the ride; she’s well worth her 7lb claim and I predict we’ll hear a lot of her in the future.

Selection:
10pts win – Kwela @ 5/1 WH

……

6.30 Windsor: Class 4 Handicap, 1m 2f

The favourite Just Brilliant is an intriguing runner here: a lightly raced colt for a good yard and race fit. But he’s a short price for all he has shown to date.

I put trust in Silvestre De Sousa’s mount Allegiant, who hopefully doesn’t lack for fitness either. The gelding is also low mileage, but already won a race: on handicap debut coming off a break at Epsom last autumn. He couldn’t follow on from there  when turned under a penalty soon after, but he seems to be a tricky individual and maybe the race came too soon.

He’s 7lb higher in the mark today, but ran to a TS rating of 69 at Epsom – so, if he can find any bit of improvement for age and the new trip, he could well be a good thing.

Allegiant certainly looks the part. A big, strong gelding with scope. On pedigree the 10f looks a fair possibility, and even though fast ground was cited as a potential reason for his under-performance when last seen, I think it could, in fact should suit.

Selection:
10pts win – Allegiant @ 6/1 MB

……

7.30 Windsor: Class 4 Handicap, 1m 3.5f

Couple of weeks ago I was keen on New Show…. and desperately disappointed with his run. However, it’s too early to give up on him. What applied back then still applies today as reason why he remains an interesting individual:

New Show ran an almighty race in a hot handicap when last seen in 2018. Inexperience cost him dearly that day but to be in it for as long as he was was impressive. That Goodwood race has worked out tremendously well, so, if he can improve as a 4-year-old with age and experience, he could be on a nice mark.

As a late April foal, with low mileage, you do hope there is more to come. H steps up in trip again and tries blinkers for the first time. At the same time, dropping in grade should help as well.

Selection:
10pts win – New Show @ 11/2 Coral

………

7.40 Thirsk: Class 6 Handicap, 1m 4f

It’s fair to say Star Ascending is a better horse on the All-Weather than on turf, an on the synthetics he wasn’t particularly good lately either. On the other hand, back in January he won seemingly with a bit in hand a class 5 handicap over 12f in fine style.

He can race off a 6lb lower mark than he did that day at Wolverhampton. Judged by the past that may not mean all that much, as Star Ascending had plenty of chances on turf and has only one win to his name in 17 attempts.

However, over 12f and on decent ground he had very few opportunities to run, the last one eleven months ago at Doncaster where he finished 5th, albeit a good deal beaten. He ran off 69 that day, and in the context of the form of that particular race, it was probably quite a good performance.

So 5lb lower than when last seen on turf now, a fair 5lb claimer in the saddle as well – even though he’s totally inexperienced at Thirsk, so hopefully this isn’t just a race to gain vital experience, as also trainer Candish hasn’t an overly fruitful record with apprentices.

That’s the clear risk. But if Star Ascending can find back some form and doesn’t miss the kick most importantly, as he sometimes does, he may be able to utilize a good draw (high draws over 12f at Thirsk an advantage) there is a fair chance he can outrun his price tag.

Selection:
10pts win – Star Ascending @ 16/1 MB

Sunday Selections: April, 28th 2019

Newmarket Rowley Mile Winning post

5.40 Salisbury: Class 6 Lady Amateur Handicap, 7f

Normally this isn’t my type of race and I’m not sure if I’m comfortable watching it later on; but I dearly hope Miss Imogen Mathias won’t fall off Winklemann, who has a cracking chance otherwise.

The Italian import hasn’t exactly taken British racing by storm. As a consequence he remains a maiden in this sphere and tumbles down the weights. Down to a mark of 59, the son of Rip Van Winkle has shown glimmers of hope here and there in the past, though, of much bigger marks and in better races.

He was an agonisingly close second at Windsor last summer off 70, running to a TS rating of 69 that day; the form looks rock solid, so does a 4th place finish in September at the same place when even 3lb higher.

Winklemann also seems to be racing himself into a bit of form, judged by a good runner-up performance at Chelmsford at the end of March, even though he couldn’t quite kick on from there days later at Southwell, when receiving a shocking ride by Miss Mathias.

Dropping down to 7f on fast ground, with a good draw to play with – granted he doesn’t bottle the start, which he can from time to time – Winklemann has a big chance to run well in a poor contest.

Selection:
10pts win – Winklemann @ 13/1 MB

…….

5.55 Wetherby: Class 6 Handicap, 5.5f

Two selections in this open contest for me: the mare Dandilion dropped to a handy mark as well as finding herself back in a class 6 handicap on the turf. She’s right home here and 5lb below her last winning mark.

She had a wind operation last autumn and subsequently ran well in two starts on the All-Weather earlier this year. Her return to the turf at Pontefract recently after a two months long break was merely a pipe opener and I happily draw a line under that poor performance.

Ground will be fine, the trip may stretch her a little bit, but given she is so well handicapped on past form, running five times to a higher TS rating than her current mark, I hope the additional 110y won’t be an issue today.

The other one potentially well in here is Roaring Rory. He’s got form over both 5- and 6 furlongs, and will enjoy any further drying of the ground.

Racing off 3lb lower than his last winning mark, and 5lb lower than his last turf winning mark, with good 3lb claimer Jamie Gormley in the saddle, he can run a big race, given he achieved a TS rating higher than his current handicap mark on seven occasions already.

A recent pipe opener at Thirsk after a little break  was a fair performance in a big field. Though, I do expect him to come on quite a bit for it today.

Selection:
5pts win – Roaring Rory – 14/1 Coral
5pts win – Dandilion @ 17/1 MB

Winx The Great – But Not The Greatest

 

“Beep, Beep, Beep……” The alarm rings at half past five in the morning – on a Saturday. Autsch!

35 minutes to go until the gates crash open on the other side of the globe: Winx, the Australian wonder mare, is about to bring the house down at Sydney’s Randwick racecourse.

It’s her final final race – number 43, in a career that’s spanning over six years. Quite an astonishing longevity for a horse competing at the highest level of the sport. Even more astonishing: Winx hasn’t lost in 32 consecutive starts.

She’s not letting this one slip – consecutive victory #33. From the widest draw she settles in sixth position, travelling beautifully. The pace isn’t particularly hot, but jockey Hugh Bowman has nothing to fear: three furlongs out he allows Winx to stride on, she’s got to turn four wide, no bother. Once entering the home straight, the star mare hits top gear and sprints home in emphatic fashion.

Impressive: a 25th Group 1 success – no horse won more. Ever. Same goes for the astronomical amount of price money she’s amassed throughout her stellar career.

It was worth getting up early for this wonderful moment of racing history. Winx, now retired, will live on in our memories as one of the great champions of our sport. What she has done, again and again, over such a long period of time – given we know how fragile these creatures are – is simply astonishing.

The Debate: “The Greatest We’ve Ever Seen” ?

Racing fans across the globe arguing for some time about the true merit of her victories. Whether Winx is one of the best – if not even the best ever – or whether she’s merely avoided real competition hence she can’t be “a great”…. the debate is pretty black and white in many quarters.

True, Winx took on the same horses on many occasions. She’s beaten poor Hartnell eight times and Happy Clapper eleven times. We know the competition beyond sprinting trips isn’t quite as deep in Australia as it is in Europe.

Nonetheless, the saying goes: you can only beat what’s put in front of you. And the way she’s done it, backing her performances up on the clock as well, has been pretty sensational.

One number stands out for me: 76 – it’s the number of Group 1 winners she has beaten in her races. It’s hard to argue Winx is not top-class. She is! And with supreme class come expectations that sometimes stay unfulfilled. For example the hope to see her travelling over to Royal Ascot.

I’ve no problem with that. Personally for me it doesn’t diminish her achievements. Seeing them in the right context is vital, though. Because, as mentioned before, the debate tends to be black and white, while the reality rarely is.

In the 2018 Timeform Global Rankings Winx (133) took second place behind Cracksman (134) – there is little evidence to support the notion she’d been worse than that – but also not much better than that – this year. This isn’t a knock on the mighty mare. Winx is a true star of our sport. So is Arc winner Cracksman – greats of their time. But neither is in the category of “the greatest of all time”.

Seeing it this way is a fair and balanced reflection on the achievements of this brilliant mare, in my eyes. It’s what she is – or was; a brilliant, classy and incredibly sound horse, competing at the top level over a variety of trips; outstanding in her part of the world, reigning over any rival who tried to take the crown off her.

Oh so many wonderful moments for the sport of horse racing. Isn’t that what it’s all about? The special bond between horse and human, showing in the affection of the general public for the mare, none more so today at Royal Randwick, where it was – of course – a sellout crowd, and even outside of the racecourse hundreds lined up on the streets lurking through the fences, only to get a glimpse of Winx.

Let’s not argue about good or bad, black and white, best or worst – let’s celebrate the final chapter of a great career of a great mare – Winx, you’re a champion.

…….

Photo Credit: 7HorseRacing

Tuesday Selections: January, 22nd 2019

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7.15 Newcastle: Class 5 Handicap, 7f

The British Lion won off 5lb higher over course and distance twelve months ago – that form looks strong and has been franked. He never went quite close ever since, though ran a few fair races in better grade and off higher handicap ratings.

The 4-year-old gelding has dropped significantly in his mark, despite two okayish efforts in his last two starts, which came after a break.

He Johnston yard is in fine order right now and The British Lion has another engagement next week Monday – so here are more than a few hints that a big performance can be expected today.

Selection:
10pts win – The British Lion @ 13/2 MB

……

7.45 Newcastle: Class 6 Handicap, 6 furlongs

The drift in the betting is a worry but I feel there is a strong case to be made for Bobby Joe Leg here.

First time blinkered, dropping down to class 6 for the first time, a 1lb below his last winning mark, even though he also was successful off 4lb higher, a CD scorer who has TS and RPR ratings that give him a top chance if he’s anywhere near that today.

The jockey booking isn’t inspiring, which is a concern – but James Sullivan only comes here for this one ride – let’s hope he make it count.

Bobby Joe Leg usually goes from the front. This looks to be a fast race. He stays a bit further as a strong 7f effort here at Newcastle last year proved. He may the answer to a tricky race.

Selection:
10pts win – Bobby Joe Leg @ 18/1 PP

Wednesday Selections: January 16th 2019

Newmarket Rowley Mile Winning post

6.00 Kempton: Class 5 Handicap, 6 furlongs

Another chance for Miracle Works after his recent third place finish at Newcastle over 5f. I was keen on him that day and that hasn’t change ever since, as he is stepping up to 6f again today.

The minimum trip was a bit too sharp as it turned out, nonetheless this imposing grey ran a fine race in a competitive race, finishing strongly to claim third.

Even though he continues to be a maiden, this is only his fourth Handicap start and the fact remains his handicap debut last year over course and distance off 2lb higher rates super form in this field.

Now the third time running after a break as well, after a pipe opener and the recent excellent performance, up to what appears to be his optimum trip off a mark he could still better – Miracle Works has a fine opportunity to get finally off the mark today.

Selection:
10pts win – Miracle Works @ 8/1 MB

Friday Selections: January, 11th 2019

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Finally a winner again after hitting the post a handful of times lately – The Right Choice (11/1) was the right choice indeed! He drew clear in the closing stages to land the 6f sprint after a hectic race that saw him under pressure at the back of the field right from the start.

……

6.45 Wolverhampton: Class 6 Handicap, 2m ½f

Thresholdofadream looks certainly well in here of a rating of 55 after two highly promising efforts in October and November, her first tries on the All-Weather as well stepping up significantly in trip.

She was arguably unlucky not finish closer over 14f here at Wolverhampton and subsequently she should have won at Lingfield the way she finished, if not for her poor positioning way too far off the pace.

This race is in fact even weaker, so given Thresholdofadream remains unexposed on the AW and the trip as well as being still lightly raced, there is every chance for more natural improvement.

The only issue is the wide draw and her running style, which caused her to get into trouble the last two times. Drawn in 11 may see her confronted with the same sort of scenario. Thankfully top man Joe Fanning is on board.

Selection:
10pts win – Thresholdofadream @ 7/2 MB