Tag Archives: Derby

Weekend Review

A happy ending to the week thanks to two whopping winners on Saturday – Best Solution (12/1) was a runaway winner in the Lingfield Derby Trial. He clearly was better than the form he showed on Dirt and this success puts him right into the frame for the Epsom showdown.

Though it has to be said this race is not a good predictor for subsequent Derby glory, given since 1998 no winner of the Lingfield trial actually went on to win the big race in June.

In other Derby related news it seems that the world has finally realised that Sir Michael could have a little gem in his yard as the Racingpost headline reads Derby gamble gathers pace on Stoute’s Crystal Ocean – thankfully I jumped on the bandwagon right after his impressive Nottingham victory and got a bit of the 40/1 that was available back then.

Bainne (9/1 SP) made it two winners from four selections on Saturday, when she got her head in front late yet when it really mattered in the Apprentice Handicap at the Curragh – at the same providing young Seán Kirrane a first ever winner under rules.

As far as Classics go, the French 1000 and 2000 Guineas took place at Deauville this weekend. The Poule d’Essai des Poulains went Jean-Claude Rouget’s way with exciting Brametot. The son of Rajsaman fought gamely to get up in a thriller. He looked beaten but somehow had the guts to come back and win the race on the line.

 

The fillies equivalent, the Poule d’Essai des Pouliches, was won by long-shot Precieuse with an ultra-cool Olivier Peslier in the saddle who stayed calm in what appeared to be a slowly run race

 

Acapulco got her first win since moving to Aiden O’Brien under her belt. The big filly took a while to hit top gear and achieve separation from the pack but she managed to win by half a lengths in the listed Sprint Stakes.

She’s entitled to improve and we’ll likely see her in the big sprint races this season, though I have the feeling she might find it tough to win against the best, now that she is a four year old.

…….

3.25 Wetherby: Class 4 Handicap, 7 furlongs

Dutch Artist ran a big race in defeat on his seasonal return at Catterick last month. He didn’t enjoy the run of the race and wasn’t ideally positioned, which makes all the difference at this track. So his 3rd place is probably better than the bare form.

Only one win to his name so far, but he remains still low mileage for a five year old and ran a handful of stormers last season, suggesting his turn could come soon. He’s dropped another pound in the mark, which sees him racing of a career lowest mark off 76 now.

Conditions tomorrow should work be fine though the draw is wider than ideal. However with a early pace that he possesses, he should plenty of options.

Selection:
10pts win – Dutch Artist @ 11/2 William Hill

……

5.50 Windsor: Class 4 Handicap, 1m 2f

Top connections, top entries, to form: Crowned Eagle should be way too good for the opposition in this race. Of course fitness has to be trusted and there is always a question mark whether these young horses have wintered well.

However, I waited for the return of this lad for a while and would have expected him to be odds-on in a race like this, so I’m happy to to take the risk.

Crowned Eagle was third behind Barney Roy on debut – strong form, given that we do know how smart this Barney Roy turned out to be. He got off the mark at the third time of asking at Kempton. A nice piece of form too: the runner-up won subsequently and was thought good enough for a spin around Meydan, is now a 90 rated individual.

With further progression assumed for experience, age and the step up in trip, the current mark of 85 looks potentially well below what Crowned Eagle is capable of. Only slight concern is the fast ground.

Selection:
10pts win – Crowned Eagle @ 2/1 Skybet

Chester Thoughts

The Chester Vase is often a good trial for the Derby, particularly if it comes to horses trained by Aiden O’Brien. He likes to bring his Derby hopes over to this awkward, ever turning track that tends to teach young, inexperienced horses allot.

So it was intriguing to see him running a whopping four in the Vase on Thursday. That implies AOB isn’t sure himself whether one of these actually is a real contender for the big one in June, I suspect.

As it panned out favourite Venice Beach won the race in fine enough style, though far from giving the impression that he’s an upcoming superstar. And that is pretty much in line with what the four times raced son of Galileo produced so far – his highest time speed rating until yesterday was a lowly 72. It’s fair to say, at this point in time, that despite his victory yesterday, he’s probably not the 2017 Derby winner.

Runner-up Wings Of Eagles isn’t a superstar either, however I liked, at least on the visual front, the way he stayed on late despite encountering a troubled run, where he was forced to come wide around in the closing stages.

Despite four runs – so a bit of experience on would think – under his belt before Chester, he still seemed to have quite a bit to learn. The race comments for him in the Vase actually state ” disorganised over 1f out” – you’d hope the experience taught him a good lesson – as it should – and that in itself makes him an interesting horse to monitor for the future I reckon.

Today we see the return of US Army Ranger to the place of his biggest success: he won here the Vase twelve months ago on only his second career outing which as a result catapulted him into the hot seat for the 2016 Derby.

He finished a strong runner-up behind Harzand in the Classic of the Classics, however things have not gone to plan subsequently and it was pretty much the same story on his seasonal reappearance last month.

So with plenty of intrigue I watch him go to post today in the Diamond Ormonde Stakes, a Group 3 contest, which, if he is as good as he promised early in his career, he should win. Would I bet on it? Hell, no!

A good hour earlier on the card we’ll see a horse that’s been talked about aplenty: Cliffs Of Moher. The thee year old is the 8/1 second favourite in the Derby ante-post market right now, based on hype, trainer name and on an impressive second career run, when beating useful stable mate Orderofthegarter at the end of last season, clocking a serious time speed rating of 104.

Can he deliver today? If he does we probably see him shortening dramatically in the betting for the Derby. The fact that Aiden O’Brien does not run another horse here in the Dee Stakes seems significant in terms of confidence he and “the lads” have in the Galileo son.

……..

1.50 Chester: Class 2 Handicap, 7.5 furlongs

Hot race with a potentially well handicapped favourite in lightly raced El Hayem however the James Eustace trained Ice Slice should go close from a good draw for a much better price.

He’s already a CD winner and went close from a poor draw on his only second start here. Ice Slice was a massively improved horse last year winning five races and on form looks capable of running to or even above his current handicap rating of 93.

He probably needed his seasonal reappearance run last month and should strip fitter. Conditions will suit, even if a bit of rain would fall.

Selection:
10pts win – Ice Slice @ 8/1 Bet365

Tuesday Racing – 9th May 2017

A nice winner with Shargiah (4/1) at Windsor today – the “lucky last”! My other two chances for the day only hit the post – both finished in the runner-up spot, though it is fair to say both found one too good. No excuses there.

In the meantime the racing world discussed the possibilities of 2000 Guineas hero Churchill to turn up at Epsom. Aiden O’Brien didn’t commit to anything in the post-race interviews, only referring to “the lads”.

Today things became a little clearer. At least in so far as no decision will be made for at least another week. That says Aiden seemed to get slightly carried away when  letting his mind speak:

“You wouldn’t say he won’t get further with the way he did it in the Guineas.” 

A hint in itself? Well, I reckon Churchill has a go at the Derby. He’s a son of the almighty Galileo, that alone gives him a chance to stay. And let’s be honest, it’s not like that Ballydoyle has too many other exciting options for the big race at this point in time: Capri, Yukatan, Douglas Macarthur and maybe the “dark horse” Cliffs Of Moher?

…..

3.00 Ayr: Class 4 Handicap, 1m 2f

Dalgleish’s Eez Eh looks overpriced in this race now probably fitter than on his seasonal reappearance last month. The four year was gelded over the winter after a pretty fruitful opening campaign.

He went through three obligatory maiden runs to get a handicap and after finding 12f too far on handicap debut he was subsequently dropped in trip and finished runner-up twice but went one better when dropped down to 9f at Carlisle where he got finally off the mark.

You can draw a line through his final start in 2016 on soft ground over 12f. However conditions at Ayr should suit, 10f on fast ground looks ideal. Eez Eh is only 3lb higher than his last winning mark but ran already three times to RPR’s above that, so there is a good chance that he could still pull out a bit more under optimal conditions.

Selection:
10pts win – Eez Eh @ 17/2 William Hill

Sunday Tips

The flat changes gear – we saw that today. The 2000 Guineas finally kicked the new season really off and it did so in style. The race produced a blockbuster finish with the better end for the 6/4 favourite Churchill.

It was another superb ride by the master that Ryan Moore is, as he made sure Churchill was in the best position when it really matter, grabbing the rail, to keep the colt focused and in line, which was an advantage.

At least compared to some of the other well fancied rivals, like Al Wukair or Barney Roy for example. The French horse had to go wide around the whole field, found that certainly not easy but finished strongly in his own right. Barney Roy looked still a bit green.

I’d love to see a rematch of the Guineas main contenders this year, and I’m sure we get it. Will be interesting whether it’s gonna be the same outcome? I’ have my doubts.

Sunday will be another massive day. The 1000 Guineas at Newmarket, and the Derby Trial at Leopardstown, plus a handful of other Group races and good Handicaps.

…….

1.50 Newmarket: Class 2 Handicap, 1m 4f

This is a hot contest with some really good horses lining up. Favourite Big Country is an exciting improver who looks certain to bring his All-Weather form to the turf. His last Kempton win is excellent form and the lightly raced son of High Chaparral could easily defy a 10lb rise in the mark.

However at prices I prefer top weight Frontiersman. Yes, it’s a tough task to run of 101 and 9st 10lb in a Handicap. However this lad looks pattern class. He has filled his huge frame nicely over the winter, strengthening further after a fine 3yo campaign last season that saw him win a nice Handicap over course and distance.

He clearly needed the run on his reapearance at Doncaster last month and should be primed now. Fast ground seems key, which he gets here at Newmarket. He takes plenty of beating in my mind.

Selection:
10pts win – Frontiersman @ 5/1 Paddy Power

……

3.55 Leopardstown: Handicap, 7 furlongs

He’s never won on turf, nonetheless Split The Atom looks incredibly well handicapped here. It’s not like that he doesn’t act on grass, in fact he’s been placed six times, however never found the right opportunity.

It looked like he could break the duck at Navan a fortnight ago. He travelled much the best and finished like a train but was arguably an unlucky runner-up.

He’s got a chance to race off the same mark, however with a 5lb apprentice in the saddle and over his preferred 7f trip on fast ground where he has a four out of six place strike rate.

The wide draw is not a problem because he’s a hold-up horse anyway, however it is not easy to win from far back at Leopardstown, so that is an obvious question mark. Nonetheless on RPR’s an time speed figures he has a tremendous chance and I’m happy to go risk at a big price.

Selection:
10pts win – Split The Atom @ 7/1 Bet365

……..

4.55 Hamilton: Class 5 Handicap, 8.5 furlongs

Kevin Ryan’s Al Hawraa seems judged on a poor seasonal reappearance but it’s likely she’s going to be much sharper this time. We don’t know yet how good (or bad) daughter of Iffraaj is, though there was some indication last season that she is not totally  without talent.

She was able to finish a good runner-up on debut behind subsequent dual winner and she managed to finish in the placings another two times in maiden company. It’s fair to say she looked bad in her two handicap runs, however her opening mark was potentially on the stiff side.

She dropped down to 63 now and judged on her maiden form that could give her a chance to be competitive if she can respond well for the slight step up in trip. Ground looks fine and Kevin Ryan tends to do pretty well at Hamilton even more so if Kevin Stock is in the saddle.

Selection:
10pts win – Al Hawraa @ 14/1 Bet365

…….

The Irish 1000 Guineas Trial at Leopardstown looks a shocking race on Sunday. What’s the chance that even one of those runs in the actual Classic? On the other hand the Derby Trial is intriguing. Capri versus Yukatan.

Yukatan is held in high regard by the ‘Brien camp. However I actually like Capri a bit better at this stage. The big grey was not suited by the slow pace on his reappearance and it’ll be interesting to if things pan out differently and if that sees him closing the gab to Yukatan.

1000 Guineas Preview

Crystal Ocean – a Derby contender?

It’s been quite an excellent week – another one, I dare to say – as Dakota Gold went in at 12/1 and did so in fine fashion. Enjoy as long as it lasts…. desperate times may be around the corner at any given point as the past has taught.

Betting aside, it’s bee a huge day for racing. The jumps still feature big time, despite May only days away. The Scottish National was on the cards today, and one I fancied allot for Aintree, who then fell at the very first fence, made amends here and made it back to back victories in the Scottish equivalent: Vicente!

At Newbury we saw a potential 2000 Guineas contender – a serious one, most likely. Barney Rot looks a brute of a horse and overcame inexperience to score readily in the Greenham Stakes for his daddy Exelebration who himself was runner-up in this race who then went on to win the German Guineas subsequently.

Bareny Rot, though, will run at Newmarket and must be a serious contender if he turns up healthy. He’s now a mere 6/1 chance and should be ready for a step up to the 1 mile trip. That says I remain firmly in the Al Wukair camp, of course!

We may saw a different Classics contender at Nottingham: in the 6.30 Maiden the well fancied Sea The Stars colt Crystal Ocean impressed me with an easy victory in what appeared not a bad race at all. But he did it so nicely, all hands and heels. A bright future lies ahead?

Possibly. He is certainly bred to be a really good horse. Crystal Ocean is closely related to the excellent Crystal Capella and the Derby trial might be next on the agenda now that’ll give us a better idea of how good he really is.

It’s noteworthy that Crystal Ocean is trained by shrewd Sir Michael Stoute who certainly knows how to get one ready for the big day. With a muddy Derby picture at this point in time I’ll do have a small nibble at 40’s – he may not run, but if he does, this price could easily look incredibly big.

……

4.55 Navan: Class 1 Handicap, 1m 2f

Prendergast’s Althiba is one who looks ready to step up and take advantage of a fair looking mark after a fine placed effort on her seasonal debut. However I feel the top weight Massif Central could easily do the same but offers much better value at a huge price.

Massif Central ran pretty well in maiden company, achieving mid-80 RPR’s that make his handicap mark appear fair. However on handicap debut which was also his seasonal comeback he started awkwardly and was soon relegated to the back of the field. He didn’t really look comfortable throughout and turning widest didn’t help either.

He still ran better than the bare form suggests, though this looked more like a pipe opener than anything else. On the other hand he seems physically improved. A fine, biggish, scopey colt, who now steps up to 10f for the first time.

Not a given that he stays the trip, but there is a fair chance he does and if that turns out to be true than it is not unreasonable to believe he can improve for his second seasonal run too. If same happens then he could be a bit better than his current rating. Also this is an easier race than the other day plus the better ground should suit.

With a top jockey in the saddle I feel connections expect a big run from this Arcano son – at 12’s he seems quite a bit overpriced in an open race.

Selection:
10pts win – Massif Central @ 12/1 Paddy Power

Preview: 2017 Hong Kong Derby

Sunday morning 8.35 – it’s time for the 2017 renewal of the Hong Kong Derby. The winner will net a cool £1,1 million! Local horses are favoured to land the odds with a red hot favourite seemingly unbeatable – yet I do strongly fancy a fresh UK import.

The favourite: Odds-on and very well fancied – with some experts claiming he’s nearly unbeatable in the Derby – the exciting Rapper Dragon ticks plenty of the right boxes, indeed.

Still unbeaten this season and a winner of both the Classic Mile and the Classic Cup as part of the Four Year Old Classic Series, he created a big impression and build up a reputation of being incredibly versatile and owning a trademark turn of foot.

The form book says Rapper Dragon is probably hard to beat tomorrow, even more so as he has been allotted a perfect draw. But he is a very short price and has yet to prove his stamina over the 2.000 meter trip.

His sire Street Boss is not necessarily known for stamina so if there is at least a small home in Rapper Dragon’s chance then it must be this one. However that only has a real impact if the race is a strong run one, which we can’t be sure of.

Main Contenders: Nonetheless there is some fair opposition on hand to make life difficult for the favourite. Exciting Pakistan Star is a real crowd favourite. An honest, fast finishing son of Shamardal out of a 1m2f Listed race winning mare, he may improve for the step up in trip, but will need to have things fall right for him from a wide draw.

Eagle Way had a rough ride in the Classic Cup and might be better than the fourth place finish. Former UK based Booming Delight has excelled in Hong Kong since his move last summer. He won three on the trot lately. Ex-Australian Beauty Generation has a bit too find on recent form but could easily improve for the trip.

The one I do strongly fancy is another UK import, however, one who’s still a somewhat unknown quantity in Hong Kong: Gold Mount (ex-Primitivo). He was always ahead of the handicapper in Britain, winning impressively at Royal Ascot a strong Handicap.

He showed versatility during his time in Britain, given he won from 1 1/2m to 1m 4f on soft to good to firm ground and particularly in his last two starts at Sandown and Ascot he produced a nice turn of foot, though hanging badly in the closing stages.

Clearly a raw talent, he moved subsequently to Hong Kong where he was relatively unfancied on debut in a hot handicap over seemingly too short 1.600m. He was outpaced on the home turn an then got stuck in traffic, switched by Mosse to the inside rail, a move that cost momentum, but regained control quickly and thundered home in impressive style.

There is no doubt that he should come on leaps and bounds for the run and more improvement is expected for the step up to a more suitable trip like the Derby’s 2.000 meter.

He’s got a half decent draw but his running style means he may need a bit of in-running luck. Granted he gets a run through I’m hopeful he’s good enough to be thereabouts.

Longshot: Far below the pecking order but a horse not to underestimate is Helene Charisma at odds around 33’s – a huge price for a French Group 1 winner, though in three starts he hasn’t quite fired at Hong Kong yet. That is somehow explainable over trips too short and on unsuitable fast ground.

There are positives taken from his last start though, when upped to 2.000m for the first time in Hong Kong and only a lengths beaten in fifth by Booming Delight. He encountered an absolute nightmare run but still finished as well as he did.

The ground is likely not going to be all that fast as it was the last two times, that must be a positive. His wide draw may or may not be  negative, as he may encounter a less troubled passage actually, with the opportunity to come with a sweeping run on the outside to catch the leaders making his stamina in abundance count.

Selection:
10pts win – Gold Mount @ 11/1 Unibet
5pts win – Helene Charisma @ 33/1 Unibet

Epsom Review: Minding The Gap

A historic day for Irish trainer Dermot Weld, who celebrated a first Derby success thanks to his brilliant Sea The Stars colt Harzand, who followed in the footsteps of his prominent daddy, who himself now sired a first Epsom Derby winner!

It was not a trouble free preparation, though. In fact it was touch and go in the morning whether Harzand would take his chance in the most famous flat race and the ultimate call was actually with Pat Smullen cantering down to the start! He went into the starting gate, thankfully, as we know the outcome by now.

Under a masterful ride by jockey Pat Smullen – also for him a first Epsom Derby success – the inexperienced colt was patiently guided through the field; Smullen settled him in a good position somewhere in midfield and rode with a cool head when gaps didn’t open up immediately in the home straight.

Harzand ultimately fend off a late surge by favourite US Army Ranger. He dug deep and found another gear when it really mattered. Given all the foot problems beforehand, it was a brilliant performance!

And The Ranger, whom I’ve been so keen on? Finished runner-up with plenty of credit. He clearly proved to be a classy individual. However it didn’t go to plan for him. Ever so slightly, yet decisively, he missed the break and didn’t seem to travel particularly well early on, subsequently lost every chance to be in a decent position. In a race where small margins can be the deciding factor about victory and defeat this was surely a tough ask to overcome.

Good Ryan, Bad Ryan?

After the less than ideal start, Jockey Ryan Moore took it easy on US Army Ranger, settled in rear, relaxed the horse and let him find his rhythm. Commentator Richard Hoiles called it during the race: “Us Army Ranger is given time” – which was the only real option in my mind. He was still third last turning for home but Moore gradually edged to the outer of the field to get a run. Gaps didn’t open for him and only inside three furlongs Ranger finally got into the clear.

Winner Harzand was already flown towards home at this stage, still Ranger produced a stunning change of gear and loomed large with 200 yards to go. But the big effort to make up so much ground in such a short space of time showed its effect and he ran out of gas in the final furlong.

Ryan Moore has come under scrutiny for his ride on US Army Ranger. As often in this game, opinions are divided. In my view this was a class ride by the world’s best jockey. He proved, despite defeat, why he’s simply the best. In difficult circumstances he gave his mount the best possible chance to finish as close as possible. Not always is a winning ride a good one and a losing ride a bad one.

Sure, it wasn’t the game plan to travel as far back as second or third last for large parts of the race. But inexperienced Ranger didn’t help the cause when he bottled the start. What other option did Moore haven than let the horse find his stride, relax him and try to preserve as much energy as possible? Hustling him up to make up ground would have been detrimental to Ranger’s chance, in my mind.

The fact that gaps didn’t open up when Moore (and I as a punter) would have wanted it is not his fault. These things happen in racing. Imagine the gap would open up over 4f out though – Ranger cruises through it, and maybe wins the race. You know what happens then? Moore’s going to be the hero!

It wasn’t to be. The gap didn’t open, Moore had to delay and ask Ranger for an almighty effort when the road was finally clear. In the end it was all a bit too much for US Army Ranger who still finished second – what is in fact credit to his class and the one of his rider.

In the end inexperience cost him, and for that reason it’s fair to say the best horse on the day won. Harzand was more professional, mastered the difficult test Epsom provides and is without a doubt a really good winner of the world’s most famous flat race.

Minding and the Beauty of Racing

These last two days were yet again a wonderful reminder why I personally love flat racing so much. Yes, it was a disappointment not to back the winner  in the Derby with US Army Ranger, still I enjoyed the coverage, the races leading up to the big one, Postponed’s brilliant success in the Coronation Cup, the joy and emotions on Weld & Smullen’s faces after they won their first Derby….

However it was Friday’s performance by Minding in the Oaks that is the standout of the two days – she simply blew me away! When I saw her overcoming all the trouble in the Oaks, when I saw her blistering turn of foot, changing gears so smoothly like Formula 1 cars usually do, her wonderful attitude and enthusiasm – it was something else!

The speed, the beauty, the power, the elegance – it’s what flat racing is all about and it’s epitomized in this dramatically good looking and at the same time incredibly talented filly Minding. Her Oaks performance was one of those special racing moments you have to see to believe.

And no, I didn’t back her. It has nothing to do with money whatsoever. I’m just grateful for having witnessed her performance for the pure love of the sport. And on that front isn’t it  wonderful to know our sport is yet again blessed  with brilliant talents like Minding, Harzand and US Army Ranger? I love it!

Photo Credit to citizen.co.za