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Opinion: Racing’s Problems bigger than ATR vs RTV

The TV landscape has changed and we’re now well within the first week of these new times.

Racing UK has taken over the rights to show Irish racing (as well as Chelmsford), while At The Races, the long-standing television partner of Irish racing, is gone from the scene there – they’ve bagged themselves the prestigious courses of Ascot and Chester in turn.

There is a rich history of why the rights have moved in first place – you can dig into all the wonderful details here.

I’m more interested in how this first week went and what it means or doesn’t mean for the future of racing.

From all what I could gather up until this Saturday it was a pretty unspectacular change. The horses still ran at Fairyhouse, Tramore and Dundalk – in fact the evening coverage of the County Louth track on Friday was fairly good with the likes of Gary O’Brien and Kevin O’Ryan providing insightful thoughts and analysis.

Today, the first Saturday of the new year, I had the chance to watch the now re-branded Racing TV throughout a complete day – a busy enough day, where they showed live racing from Kempton, Sandown, Wincanton and Cork.

Apparently there was a bit of moaning going on after Racing TV’s New Year’s Day coverage, which was equally a busy day, where it all was put to the test for the first time. And I can see why, as today was probably not a different experience to the one RTV viewers were treated to last Tuesday.

It was race after race after race. Bang, bang, bang. A little bit of analysis squeezed in before and after some of the races, mainly around Sandown, to a lesser extend Wincanton, where commendable Lydia Hislop did her magic with the little time she had – as she usually does!

In truth, this sort of experience isn’t anything new, compared to the busy days on the flat throughout the summer. What is different now: Irish racing. It has to be squeezed in as well.

And that is a bit of a problem. Simply because there was little to no time to squeeze any sort of meaningful analysis of the Cork races in. Certainly not before their respective off. At least afterwards we got to enjoy a few words from the guys in the studio.

But what can you really analyse if you’ve got the maximum lengths of four of five sentences to say before it’s off to somewhere else, because the next race is waiting in line?

It’s a tough spot for RTV on days like this, so I wouldn’t knock them for the coverage. They tried their absolute best. Ultimately we were able to watch all the races. At least that!

In saying that: you do not need a proper TV channel (an expensive pay-TV one that is) for a glorified live stream of all the races. The expectations on a TV channel, particularly a specialist channel like Racing TV, is one that does provide expert commentary, meaningful insights and proper analysis to all the races it shows.

I wouldn’t say that’s always what you got on At The Races in the past. But of course Irish racing was a premium product for ATR, so they gave it ample airtime – even during the busier days.

This is where Irish racing and Irish racing fans do miss out, if the setup remains as it is right now: i.e. all on one channel. I don’t think as negatively about the fact that RTV is behind a paywall, though – I did so in the past; not anymore.

Yes, ATR is much easier accessible as it comes with your standard TV bundle in most cases. But that doesn’t mean its audience figures are anything to shout about.

Anywhere between an average of 40-70.000 people turn in for ATR’s most viewed weekly shows with a paltry average viewing time of 1 minute (weekly, per person) according to BARB figures. Racing UK in contrast has about 50.000 subscribers.

So the notion that there’ll be much less eye-balls on the Irish product may not be totally wrong, but is probably exaggerated at the same time.

Least we forget that, at least in Ireland, the biggest race days and Festivals are shown on RTE. That’s not to say the “accessibility” issue is a non-issue. It’s real and in truth makes it more difficult for someone to discover racing zapping through the channels.

I would argue the problems of the sport of horse racing in general and Irish racing in particular are bigger than that, though. Because in earnest, those who already have an interested in the sport will find a way to watch the races regardless. Either subscribing to RTV, or by watching the ‘free streams” bookies offer if you have a bet in a race.

In fact, I have a few friends who live outside of the UK and Ireland and therefore have zero access to either channel on TV. Guess what? They still find ways to watch the races they care about as well as ATR and RUK. It’s not that difficult if you want it.

In my view the currently (still) ongoing discussion doesn’t tackle the real problems at all. The situation with the TV channels appears to be simply a ‘nice’ distraction. Something to talk about that anyone can have an opinion on even though in reality it isn’t really changing all that much that radically and certainly won’t impact the sport in such a negative way as some commentators want to make us belief.

There are issues, though, that do have a very real impact on the sport in the long run:
race day experience for race goers and owners or the changing public perception against racing horses – accompanied by a lack of public knowledge/education on things like the whip – which is directly in line with the most fundamental questions:

How to attract a younger audience?
How to create a steady flow of (new) racing fans moving forward?
How to create a better betting product?
Which in turn is also about this point: the availability of more data for punters and racing fans. Sectional times, as one example.

These are real issues. Or at least question marks. The problem of the future isn’t whether Barry in Newbridge can watch the 6.45 from Dundalk on his TV for ‘free’. Because he’s watching it on his mobile in the DART on his commute home anyway.

Now, coming back to Irish racing on Racing TV – I actually do trust RTV to figure out how to give Irish racing proper airtime, even on busier days. Maybe a second channel? Potentially a digital one?

Who knows. Times are changing. TV isn’t everything these days. Sport goes digital as well. In a few years, Terrestrial TV won’t have anywhere near the importance it still has at this moment in time.

One thing that Racing TV and all the relevant stakeholders involved have been rightly criticized for this week: the replay shambles!

Come on, you guys had months and months time to sort this out! It shows a general disregard for racing fans. The fact historic (prior to 1st January 2019) replays of Irish racing + Chelmsford are gone right now is not acceptable in this day and age. In any other industry heads would roll for this type of stuff.

At least, so it seems, light is at the end of the tunnel and a temporarily solution has been found.

With that, I am moving downstairs again to enjoy the rest of the Kempton card. A rather sedated experience with only one race every half an hour to prepare for, compared to the frantic pace of the early Saturday afternoon.

 

Saturday Selections: January, 5th 2019

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1.45 Lingfield: Class 4 Handicap, 1m 4f

Only three horses that realistically appear to be handicapped to go close here in my book: the short priced favourite, only his second AW start could defy the slight rise in the weights for his winning debut in autumn with a first tongue tie applied this time.

Trallee Hills is dropping down to a rather manageable mark if he could translate his turf form to the sand. Certainly Nylon Speed is the more interesting individual, but no value at given prices.

Really the most compelling case can be made for top weight Dutch Uncle. He changed yards over the summer after a pretty decent – albeit winless – winter campaign, mostly at Lingfield over 10f, finishing 3 out of 6 times in the money in much more competitive races than this one here.

A run to blow the cobwebs away on his Olly Murphy Debut, was followed by a much improved display in an Apprentice Seller at the end of last month. Obviously he was well entitled to win that one.

He did it in style, hard on the bridle. Judged through the runner-up this form looks good and proves Dutch Uncle is as good as ever, certainly on nearly the same level of form as last winter.

That is good, because he stays over 12f at Lingfield, a trip he’s not been racing often over, but he’s got a 2:1-2 record over. The most recent outing wasn’t the fastest race, but the way he saw it out incredibly strongly, accelerating easily without breaking sweat in the final two furlongs suggesting this could be his ideal trip round Lingfield, a place he always performs well at.

Dutch Uncle doesn’t need to improve to win this, he simply needs to run to his mark – which, he is well capable of seemingly.

Selection:
10pts win – Dutch Uncle @ 7/1 VC

…….

5.15 Kempton: Class 6 Handicap, 1 mile

More often than not I get it wrong when saying it – of course, this is horse racing, it’s hard to be overly confident – but I’m excited as heck because I feel Blue Harmony could be supremely well handicapped in this race!

The equation is a simple one: the filly has been dropped dramatically in her handicap mark, mainly on the basis of a string of poor showings which – in my view – came on the back of marks too high as a result of her maiden win and a couple of subsequent decent handicap efforts. It took a while to get the weight down.

But now, second third for a new yard after a bit of a break, she drops to a more realistic distance plus got another few pounds off thanks her most recent 7th place finish at Wolverhampton.

Looking back at race, for the first time of a rather realistic mark, but probably a trip still too far, things didn’t go to plan early on when the inexperienced apprentice jockey removed the hood way too late, the filly bumped into a couple of horses and was lit up.

She dropped over the next furlongs back in the field, finding herself turning wider than ideal for home and when attempting to make a run, she lost her footing, stumbling, losing all momentum.

She still managed to finish 7th in quite a hot contest – the form has worked out rather well for that type of low grade race.

Now down to a mark of 53, one has to remember Blue Harmony has been running to a TS 69 rating in the past and to RPR’s over 53 on on six out of nine occasions on the All-Weather.

Even more significantly she gets the assistance of competent 5lb claimer Megan Nicholls and has the additional aid of a good draw. The price on offer is way over the top I feel given how well this filly could be handicapped.

Selection:
10pts win – Blue Harmoney @ 15/1 VC/PP

Thursday Selections: January, 3rd 2019

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A perfect start to 2019: Paparazzi delivered in style the first winner of the new year @ 12/1! It remained the only winner on the night, as Athollblair Boy ran a competitive race finishing third while Admiral Rooke didn’t last the pace.

I’ll have a full roundup of the 2018 betting year up over the weekend, similar to the on from last season.

…….

2.00 Southwell: Class 6 Handicap, 6 furlongs

For the low grade this is, this is quite a competitive race. The favourite looks sue to go well to follow-up on his recent success and you can easily argue a handful of these have a chance on their best to go close.

The one I like most on handicap debut is Point Zero. This lad is still winless after 13 career starts, however went close on multiple occasions, looking sure to win over course and distance this winter approaching the final furlong, just to be picked up late.

He clearly has an issue to finish his races, but some was also down to the fact he went off way too fast in the early parts of his races. Dropped to the minimum trip lately didn’t work to counteract this.

Point Zero looks a 6f horse to me. Ridden a bit more sensible early on and he could have enough left in the tank when it matters. Collateral form of his best 6f efforts suggest a mark of 67 is fair – in fact I believe, he could be a bit better than that.

The draw isn’t a huge help today, and he had a lot of racing lately, most notably only 3 days ago here over 5f – but he clearly goes well over this CD and could be well in at this grade if things worked out the way I imagine they can.

Selection:
10pts win – Point Zero @ 6/1 MB

…….

5.20 Chelmsford: Class 4 Handicap, 1 mile

The lightly raced favourite Holy Heart is sexy and could prove too good of his opening mark. However, it’s hard to judge what his recent win is worth, as the form has been franked subsequently but looked bad on the clock.

Proven class is 8-year-old Lacan. He appears to be as good as ever, certainly running to of 80 in all his recent starts, even though without quite finding enough to get over the line.

The handicapper drops him to 78 now. Not a lot but potentially enough: Lacan was a CD scorer off 82 in Spring last year. A big run seems to be expected: job jockey Rossa Ryan comes here for this one ride only.

Selection:
10pts win – Lacan @ 7/1 MB

Wednesday Selections: January, 2nd 2019

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5.45 Newcastle: Class 5 Handicap, 1 mile

A wide open contest but I feel Paparazzi ticks a lot of boxes today. He is second up after a break. It was a decent reappearance over course and distance a fortnight ago, given he was not in positioned well enough to challenge in a race where they absolutely crawled for five furlongs.

The four-year-old drops to a tasty mark, having won off higher in Ireland in the past, but also having performed with plenty of credit in many more starts on both All-Weather and turf of higher marks. He was placed off 69 and 66 in early 2018 at Kempton over a mile.

This is the poorest opposition Paparazzi will encounter for quite some time. If a slow start doesn’t see him falling back too far too early he should run a huge race today.

Selection:
10pts win – Paparazzi @ 12/1 MB

……..

6.15 Newcastle: Class 5 Handicap, 7 furlongs

Bottom weight and long-shot Admiral Rooke looks a hopeless sort judged by his 0-18 record. However, taking into account he’s been in the money seven times coming close to finally getting over the line, and the situation appears slightly different.

Whether today is the day, remains to be seen. He has an engagement next Monday over 9.5f also. Today, a simple straight 7f at Newcastle could be a perfect test, though.

Admiral Rooke is second up after a break, ran okayish in a lightning fast Southwell Handicap on his fibresand debut. He drops to a career lowest mark of 61 now. Given, at least on turf, he was placed over 7f off 67, running to a TS 64 rating, suggest he can be better than that.

His dam was an All-Weather winner. So I wouldn’t be too quick to discount his chances here judged on a fibresand and maiden race. At given prices this is well worth a shout for a yard in red hot form.

Selection:
10pts win – Admiral Rooke @ 20/1 MB

……..

6.45 Newcastle: Class 4 Handicap, 6f

Despite a seemingly disappointing effort as beaten favourite last time here at Newcastle, Athollblair Boy looks ripe for another victory. Already a 3-times course winner, with a 6-2-2 CD record, he had a fruitful winter campaign last season here and subsequently ran more often than not decent enough on turf through the flat season as well.

On his return after a 126-day-long break over CD in November, he ran perfectly well in a hot class 3 Handicap, that has worked out quite well in the meantime, despite missing the break and losing ground at the start.

The next time, the aforementioned beaten favourite effort, Athollblair Boy pulled incredibly hard for half the race, and had a race already ran when it really mattered. Sections show he ran well enough, nonetheless.

A drop down to a 73 mark now, with a fair 7lb claimer on board who’ll have learned plenty from the last two rides where he also steered Athollblair Boy, given the gelding is CD winner of a 3lb higher mark, this should be a fine chance to add another success to the list today.

Selections:
10pts win – Athollblair Boy @ 17/2 MB

Sunday Selections: September, 30th 2018

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4.10 Epsom: Class 4 Handicap, 7f

A competitive 7f handicap as you would expect it that leaves it open for an upset. Nonetheless I feel top weight and fancied Dourada could have all the right answers today.

The colt is a two times course and distance winner, who ran well in defeat in a number of races this year. That says his last two efforts – both came over CD – were below par, although he had some fair excuses four weeks ago.

Now down to a mark off 80 again – a rating he came as close as a neck and was arguably a bit unlucky due to his positioning and the way the race was run when runner-up at Goodwood back in May – Dourada will encounter ideal conditions today.

This race also looks slightly easier in terms of rivals encountered compared to most of the other handicaps he contested this season. There is the added bonus of an excellent 3lb claimer on board to steer the four-year-old home today.

Selection:
10pts win – Dourada @ 5/1 PP

Saturday Selections: March, 17th 2018

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The week-long Cheltenham Bonanza is over. Native River crowned as the new king. A thrilling finish up the legendary hill of Prestbury Park saw the eight year old edge out favourite Might Bite. While I enjoy the replay of this epic battle one more time, it’s back to bread and butter later on….

……..

8.45 Wolverhampton: Class 6 Handicap, 1 mile

A really poor race, even for this class. Given that I’ll side with Emigrated once more. I did so on two different occasions already this year.

Still a maiden after 13 career runs, there is little in his bare form to suggest he can win. However, closer examination suggests that with a tiny bit of improvement, particularly in a poor contest as this, he can go very close.

Actually, his last two starts on the All-Weather were a lot better than the naked result might tell. Last time out at Chelmsford he finished well among much higher rated horses. Three 60 rated horses only three lengths or less in front of him, a 68 rated individual a nose behind him.

Back in January at the same venue he travelled very strongly and for a moment looked like to be in with a massive shout. He faltered late to finish 6th eventually. He clearly has an issue seeing out his races, so the slight step up to the 8.5f does not seem necessarily ideal. On the other hand, races at Wolverhampton over this trip in smallish fields can be run at a slow pace.

That, plus the appliance of the tongue-tie can help. Main question remains: if he can win with a tiny bit of improvement based on recent runs, where is the improvement coming from?

Surface. This is Emigrated’s first try on Tapeta. While Tapeta isn’t all that different from Polytrack, it still seems some horses tend to prefer one or the other. Emigrated is a son of Fastnet Rock. A key piece in this case I gonna make.

Fastnet Rock offspring has an excellent record on Tapeta, regardless whether it is Newcastle or Wolverhampton. A better one than at any other All-Weather surface. Compared to his overall AW record, Fastnet Rock actually produces profit and solid positive ROI on Tapeta.

So there is it: if Emigrated is ever going to win a race, today is his best chance. A poor field, he has solid enough form in the bock, track should suit and trip may not be an issue either.

Selection:
10pts win – Emigrated  16/1 VC

Thursday Selections: December 28th 2017

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12.10 Lingfield: Class 6 Handicap, 7f

Backing the girls during the winter against the boys is something I try to avoid. Numbers have proven they tend to underperform on the sand when it’s cold. However this field here is made up of more than half of fillies and it has a rather open outlook despite a 6/4 fav greeting from the head of the market.

Far from the most obvious choice, nonetheless I like the chance of three year old Sea Tea Dea. The daughter of Archipenko has one impressive course and distance success from earlier this year on her CV and now 3lb lower rated than that day, she is potentially dangerously weighted.

It’s true on form she hasn’t shown much ever since. However you can make excuses if you want: either for an unrealistic handicap mark, or unsuitable ground or trip – in all her subsequent starts.

Now dropping back to 7f second up after a break with the handicapper offering a lifeline, I would not be surprised to see Sea Tea Dea return to form. Her sire has an excellent record over this CD, particularly with fillies in the winter months, surprisingly.

Her CD win achieved the joint-highest time-speed rating in the field, suggesting a return to anything close to her winning form will see her go really close.

Selection:
10pts win – Sea Tea Dea @ 16/1 Bet365

Saturday Selections – December 23rd 2017

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1.10 Lingfield: Class 6 Selling Stakes, 5f

Huge drop in class for odds-on favourite Yogi’s Girl who under normal circumstances should win this given her turf form. However this race is on the All-Weather and therefore a concern is about her being able translate turf form to success on the sand.

She raced three times on the All-Weather so far – though this is the first start on polytrack – and failed to fire. Given her sire Harbour Watch’s record on AW is truly shocking this comes as little surprise.

I feel it makes more sense to give the only boy in the race, Crystal Deauville, another chance. He went wrong ever since showing glimpses of ability on debut in France earlier this year but given that form came on the All-Weather and his sire produces excellent results on the sand, he could have a race in him.

Crystal Deauville was a late foal (May), so had a bit of catching up to do and that could have played into his poor showings ever since the debut run. He’s tongue strapped for the first time, which could bring out bit of improvement. Also the Kelleway yard tends to do quite well in sellers.

Selection:
10pts win – Crystal Deavuille @ 4/1 Bet365

Tuesday Selections: December 12th 2017

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Winner, winner, chicken dinner! Actually I had mushrooms for dinner…. Anyway – despite breaking slowly (again), Mach One had – as hoped – way too much in hand at Southwell this afternoon. He drew clear eventually when asked for full effort and justified market support.

Second selection Very First Blade ran a blinder in the last race on the card. He was a massive 40/1 before the off but finished much better, despite never travelling. A fine third in the end.

No winner, but it proved once again the golden highway for the low drawn horses over 5f at Southwell does exist, as explored in my recent Myth or Fact article.

…..

3.15 Lingfield: Class 5 Handicap, 5f

Arriving from back-to-back-wins is Entertaining Ben here; thanks to a good draw he has every chance to go close once more.

I fancy one who finished a good deal behind the last two times, though: Roundabout Magic.

Not seen to bet effect in his recent starts having to deal with wide draws, the three year old was also incredibly keen and that in combination meant he was finished before it really mattered.

As a consequence he drops to a very tasty mark: tasty because in February and March he went back-to-back off a similar- and even 4lb higher mark in similar type races.

His keenness can be an issue, however the colt has been allotted a pretty decent draw this time. So a combination of draw and falling mark should see him being competitive.

Selection:
10pts win – Roundabout Magic @ 10/1 Bet365

….

6.20 Wolverhamtpon: Class 5 Handicap, 7f

Mansfield couldn’t have been unluckier the other day when conceding first run, having to turn widest and being in front just behind the line…. off the same mark here he has an obvious chance to get his head in front.

He is finally down to a realistic mark after racing in tougher competition of much higher ratings for most of 2017, which was based on one excellent performance in a class 3 Nursery back in 2015.

This lad has obviously talent and is likely a bit better than what his current OR of 65 says – so with a clear run he should be hard to beat in this.

Selection:
10pts win – Mansfield @ 11/8 William Hill

……

6.20 Wolverhampton: Class 4 Handicap, 7f

Despite stepping up in grade this is not a tougher race, in fact at this course and distance Mr. Christopher has an excellent chance to run a big race.

He’s 3lb higher for a recent superb runner-up effort at Southwell and it remains to be see if this career best he has yet to achieve is beyond him.

However with conditions bound to suit to perfection – the wide draw must not be a concern over this CD as the stats prove – he is sure to go close as this most recent form looks strong and therefore the additional 3lb might actually underestimate what he is capable of right now in his third race after a break.

Selection: 
10pts win – Mr. Christopher @ 10/3 William Hill

Monday Selections: December 11th 2017

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Before I go into detail what’s on the menu tomorrow – big shout out to the star that Sizing John is. On a day as bleak and freezing as it gets here in Ireland, the reigning Cheltenham Gold Cup champion lit up a fire at Punchestown this afternoon.

A re-match between Djakadam and Sizing John is was meant to be; the odds moved only one way: defeat for the Willie Mullins charge was out of question while sizing John was likely to need the run. Incredibly, he was available at 2/1 before the off!

In the end it looked the other way around. Sizing John, in hands of Robbie Power, appeared sharp and won as he pleased, whereas Djakadam, who won the John Durkan the last two years, seemingly needed the run this time round….

……..

3.00 Southwell: Class 5 Handicap, 1m

Mach One has notably improved since being gelded and switching stable during the summer. Going handicapping since then too, he won a Chelmsford handicap in November – form that looks rock solid, and subsequently ran an almighty race here at Southwell over a mile.

Widest draw, he was slowly away, but pushed forward to make up ground quickly and be up with the pace before the first turn. He travelled strongly into the straight and went to the front briefly, just be worn down by a closer from off the pace in the dying strides.

Taking all that into account that went against him, it is fair to say Mach One was the best horse in the race that day, with a clean break would have won probably quite easily, so a 4lb rise on the mark is potentially lenient. Even more so as that was only his second start on fibresand – often horses improve for their second outing here.

The third has franked the form subsequently, so the run and ratings should be legit. Only slight concern, if you will, is the fact Mach One moves up in class and has to fight off a better bunch of horses than the other day. For reasons mentioned and general improvement not unlikely I do not think this is a problem.

Selection:
10pts win – Mach One @ 11/2 Bet365

…….

3.30 Southwell: Class 6 handicap, 5f

Very First Blade hasn’t won for a very long time and gets into this race only on a long handicap. Regardless, a return to 5f at Southwell from a perfect draw and a low weight might see him finding back some form.

He still finished in January of a higher mark an agonizingly close second over CD and subsequently ran some okayish races. His return in October after small break was really poor, and he had another break since then. Maybe he’s just gone, but deserves another chance.

Eye-shields back on, decent 3lb claimer in the saddle with conditions he loves so much. Any return to form shown not too long ago will see him go close.

Selection: 
10pts win – Very First Blade @ 33/1 William Hill