Tag Archives: Feature Post

Video Game: Frankie Dettori Racing

The Grand National takes place this Saturday. On the eve of the National ITV will run the “Virtual Grand National”.

An obscure event it may be, yet in 2020 – when the VGN replaced the real race due to Covid – it was watched by about 5 million people.

Now in its seventh iteration, the VGN has grown in popularity over time. One of the reasons for the increased popularity are the increasingly realistic animations.

Earlier this week the Virtual Grand National Twitter account previewed some of the CGI powered animations and received praise for the realistic nature of their animations.

Alongside it where many comments of people asking to leverage these graphics for a horse racing video game.

Over the years there have been a number of racing games available. The Japanese G1 series comes to mind in particular. This tweet also reminded me of my favourite horse racing game – which, believe it or not, the kid inside me still plays from time to time – which seems to be relatively unknown, or certainly forgotten whenever there’s a discussion on video games in a horse racing context.

The game I’m talking about is the legendary Frankie Dettori Racing, or also widely known as Melbourne Cup Challenge on the other side of the globe. Back in the day – we’re talking 2006 – this game was available for PC and the PS2 and it portrayed the world of horse racing rather well. Mainly because it had official licenses for many of the worlds most popular racecourses.

Personally I don’t know anyone who played it. Although I for one wasted plenty of hours, days and also many nights on the addictive career mode which is the core piece of the game.

In the career mode you can play up to ten consecutive years. You would start with a small budget to buy your first horse. You then build from there to create an empire of luxuries stables with your own breeding operation and racing the offspring of your past stable stars in the major races of the internal flat racing calendar: the Epsom Derby, Arc De Triomphe or Dubai World Cup.

There is a pretty accurate racing calendar where you have to register your horse – pending their eligibility – and then it’s up to you steering them around the “realistically modelled” racetracks.

Realistic to the point of what was graphically possibly at that time. Although, even for 2006 the graphics weren’t exactly a strong point of the game. Yet, the racetracks looked like they do in rea-life, actually. The Curragh looks like the Curragh. Epsom like Epsom. And Nad Al Sheba like the actual Nad Al Sheba. Including the dirt surface. That was impressive for the time and I haven’t seen in any of the other racing games to date.

A neat little feature is that at the start of the game you could decide whether you want your career aligned to the European or Australian season. Based on this choice the game would include more racecourses and races of one or the other region.

As for the gameplay itself: it’s a steep learning curve at the beginning. Once you figure it out the racing becomes much easier. Still, on the highest difficulty level you have to get your tactics and moves spot on. The game feels rather realistic in that sense. Particularly around the tight, ever turning Australian tracks winning from the back of the field with a hold-up horse is challenging but makes for a thrilling and rewarding experience if successful.

I feel that is exactly what makes the game special. Yes, the graphics are rather poor, outdated and the gameplay is not overly sophisticated. But at the same time you can really get a feeling for how it feels like to be Jamie Spencer – sharing in the frustration or elation to ride like him: sit in last position, trailing a fast pace and either finding a gap to go through, producing a late turn of foot and get up on the line… or getting stuck in traffic, losing the race there and then.

When you get it right it feels like dancing on water!

With that in mind it’s fair to say Frankie Dettori Racing isn’t a pure arcade game. You have to get your tactics right and you have to know your horse, ride it how it wants to be ridden – some from the front, other middle of the pack, others from behind. Some have a turn of foot. Others purely grind it out. There are those that respond to the whip. Yet some won’t find anything off the bit.

External factors like the going, course layout, size of the field and draw all play a vital role too. And you need to adapt how to ride the race. Much like in the real world.

In the career mode you can influence some of the preferences horses have later in the game once you got your breeding operation up and running. It’s certainly the most rewarding part. Unfortunately, and that is a real bummer, you don’t have enough time to really reap the benefits of breeding long-term. Simply because the game stops after ten seasons. There is no way to prolong it. A real shame.

Of course this game isn’t a simulation either. But it strikes a great balance between realism and arcade. Something I personally always missed in the G1 series.

For anyone interested in giving the gem of a horse racing video game a try: I believe you’ll find it somewhere for free on the internet to download. Otherwise I’m sure on Ebay or similar you’ll find a cheap copy for PS2.

But be warned: it can be highly addictive. Day and night fly by as you attempt to win this elusive Hong Kong Cup. Or as you try to get the get the first offspring you bred yourself, but turned out not as good as hoped, nonetheless some blacktype.

A Day at the Irish National Stud

Back to normality. Somewhat, at the very least. Thanks to the recent easing of Irish lockdown restrictions open-air visitor attractions are allowed to reopen again.

Because I’m living in County Kildare I have the opportunity to visit the Irish National Stud. I haven’t been for more than a year. So it’s good to be back.

This is the best time of the year to visit the stud because the foals are born. It’s such a beautiful thing to observe: the special bond a mother and her foal have.

While the younger foals follow every step of their mum, the older ones have grown in confidence and somewhat independence. They can be seen having fun fooling around the fields.

It was a typical Irish May day with nearly all seasons present within a single hour. The foals didn’t mind, anyway.

Mums joined in the fun from time to time as well, to the bewilderment of the foals.

Royal Ascot hero Equiano – who is new to the Irish National Stud roster in 2021 – clearly has not lost any of his zest. He was flying around the paddock and enjoyed parading for the camera.

The living legends enjoyed the attention from the kids in the afternoon. Kicking King and Rite Of Passage were particularly keen on cuddles, and perhaps even more so keen on the treats they received over the fence. The almighty Hurricane Fly couldn’t be bothered and was lying far aware in the deep grass soaking up the sun.

At last. Cuddles for Hurricane Fly.

…………….

All Photos copyright Florian Christoph, 2021.

5 Golden Rules – Betting On Horses

Whether you aspire to become a serious punter or simply have a flutter for the enjoyment of the sport, it all boils down to two pivotal points – at least in my view:

  • The desire to win money.¬†
  • Losing money isn’t fun.

Personally, I have been on a long journey when it comes to betting in general, particularly when it comes to betting on horses. I tested and trialed many ideas, systems and angles – won some, lost some more – be it laying, trading, naive attempts of building automated betting models as well as all the way back to conducting the good old-fashioned form study.

In the end all of that can be successful. It depends on the type of person, what you prefer, what suits your own style and mentality.

These days I’m using a hybrid method: data based as an initial selection step – uncover specific circumstances on any given day which then initiate action to dig deeper, i.e. put my own analysis on top of it. It took years to come to this point – a point where it all clicks, works and is profitable.

While the approach may change again (there’s no standing still in betting = what works today may be obsolete tomorrow) what stays with me are a simple rules that act as a guide of how to approach betting on horses.

These rules are obviously highly subjective in their significance and impact. For someone else they may seem trivial, maybe controversial or even wrong. Nonetheless, I imagine that following these rules can help anyone to be a more successful punter in the long run, and with that enhancing the enjoyment of “the game”.

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#1: No Bet? No Problem.

The first rule is one about discouraging from the actual act of betting. It’s the most important rule for the simple fact that you’re usually investing your hard earned money when betting. Earning money is far more difficult than losing it in a matter of minutes in the 4.45pm class 5 Handicap at Wolverhampton.

In our day and age bets can be made as easily and swiftly as the simple touch on the screen of a mobile phone. It’s the fastest way of losing money. Not betting means not losing money. Obviously!

What we really want, though, is to maximise our chance of winning when finally decided on a bet. Yet, more often than not, I argue, it’s about being prudent and working along the lines of “letting go” and not having a bet.

To illustrate what I mean let’s imagine the following scenario: most likely we all have been there, studying a race for a significant amount of time – “putting in the effort”, analysing video footage and making plenty of notes and whatever else you do to work through a race.

What’s the result after all the hard work? More often than not you likely won’t have a strong feeling about any horse in the race. You haven’t discovered any value opportunity at all! Yes, you may ‘fancy’ a horse – simply because you think “he’ll run well”. The horse, possibly a 5/1 chance, seems like a “fair price”. There is an obvious urge:

“Hey! I’ve done all the work, I want my reward: a bet!”

From my experience there can be this overarching feeling of “what if the horse wins and I’m not on?!”. We all know this feeling if this horse we somewhat fancied, but didn’t back because we didn’t believe there was enough juice in the price, crosses the line in first place. Crap feeling. It hurts. A missed opportunity?!

reward

Perhaps the next time you gonna follow your “gut instinct”, you back the fancies you didn’t identify as value but feel they should run well. A winner is a winner after all and sure enough some will win. But what’s the chance those winners are going to be offsetting the losing bets in ROI terms in the long run? That’s the value question that is the fundamental aspect of understanding how profitable betting works.

I firmly believe once you subscribe to this sort of mentality – following the gut feeling¬† – as described above, it’s game over.

When betting on horses on a day to day basis one encounters these type of scenarios numerous times. You put in the time and effort but at the end you’ve got no bet to show for all the work. How annoying! However, fact is: you haven’t lost any money….. yet. And that is a good thing. Because you really want to invest your money when you truly have identified a proper value opportunity.

Also: even if not having a bet as the outcome of analysing a race, it may still have been time well spent: you may have learned something about some of the horses in the race for future studies or possibly uncovered an interesting trend to monitor moving forward.

Put simply: it’s not always lost time only because the effort didn’t result in the desired outcome of finding a bet. The opposite is true. No bet? No Problem.

#2: Let Go of Emotions.

This rule links back to rule #1. And it’s easier said than done. As in the example outlined above: seeking the reward for an hour of studying a race – having a bet – despite the outcome of the analysis saying one shouldn’t have a bet, is seriously influenced by our emotions and feelings.

It’s a natural human reaction to be seeking a reward for work (having a burger or ice cream post gym, anyone?). You have to learn to let go, though. Stick with the objective analysis you’ve already completed and its corresponding result: no bet.

What can help in this type of situation: if you fancy one or two horses in a race and feel the urge to reward your work with a bet, even though your objective analysis comes to the conclusion that the odds aren’t good enough, simply writing down the pro’s and con’s for or against the horse side by side does help me. Having the cold, hard facts written down on a paper right in front of us can take the emotions out of the equation.

Emotions come into play in other situations as well. If things go well or if things go badly. We may get enthusiastic. Euphoric. Let’s strike while the iron is hot. Or: disappointment. The feeling of depletion. Anger. It’s the jockey’s fault. Let’s chase the losses. A sudden change in a method proven over time…..

emotions.png

Emotions cloud our mind. They cloud our objective decision-making skills. Fact. Therefore: never get too high and never get too low. You can be happy if your work pays off and you can be disappointed if the long analysis you did and the great value horse you identified didn’t get the luck in running. But it should never lead to subsequent decisions based on these emotions.

A good piece worth reading in this context is: How I Learned to Love Variance

#3: Think Big Picture.

Horses have bad days, jockeys make mistakes and variance is the reason for winning- and losing runs alike. The only thing that stays constant: if you find value bets – i.e. the horse has a better % chance of winning the race than the odds suggest – you will be a winner in the long run.

In that sense it is important to see the bigger picture: the race you lost because Jamie Spencer was sitting and suffering on the well-backed favourite at the back of the field and got his mount out too late…. it’s only a single race.

In the context of the hundreds of other races you’re betting o this sort of “bad luck” will be neglectable and is going to be offset by those times where you have the eventual winner on your side, even though he wasn’t the best horse in the race, perhaps because the best horse was boxed in and made a run too late as the jockey was overconfident, while your lad got a clean run from the front in a slowly run race, hence you’ve been the “lucky one”.

In the long run this one race won’t matter. It won’t matter because if your bets are consistently value bets, if you got an edge, if you see something others don’t see, and if you – leaving emotions out – keep following whatever method you have to identify the value, you won’t need luck today to be a winner tomorrow.

Understand this and it becomes much easier to see the one race in context of the bigger picture. Which ultimately helps to control emotions and feelings, hence is vital for making the level-headed decisions.

#4: Follow the Concept of Value.

What is this ominous value in betting we hear so often referred to by experts, jockeys and punters? Google says this:

“A¬†value bet¬†is the one where you believe the chances of one team (or horse) winning are better than the odds suggest and all you need to do is to take advantage of the situation.”

I love the last part. As if it would be that easy….. of course it isn’t. The concept of value works different for different people. However the essence of it – you know your horse has a better chance of winning than the layers’ assessment – will remain a constant.

It’s vital and is the one key question you need to ask yourself before backing a horse: is it value? If the answer is “No” or “not sure” then move on, refer to rule #1 and #2, there’s nothing to see here. It has to be a resounding “Yes” for a confident selection – or as I call it: “quality bet”. Otherwise: no bet? No problem.

Some people might go into more detail. They make a 100% book and assign % chances to each horse which then translates into odds. In its most simple form: if you assign a 10% chance to a horse that translates into fair odds of 9/1. If a bookie offers 10/1 you’ve got a value bet.

In theory, if you always back horses that have a better chance of winning than the odds offered, you will make a certain profit long-term. It’s the one thing a successful punter can’t compromise on.

How punters come to the conclusion of identifying value is a personal choice and responsibility. And obviously there are a few more nuances to it than my simple explanation. Nonetheless, what holds true: finding value is crucial.

A good read if you want to dig deeper on this topic: What is a Value bet?

#5: Bet Win Only.

Obviously this is highly subjective. But it is likely, and studies have shown the same, that if punters back their selections “win only” they will win more in the long run. One could also argue: if you didn’t believe strongly enough that your horse has a better chance of winning than the odds suggest – even if it is a 20/1 shot – why bother backing the horse anyway?

Place terms are often poor, they favour the bookie. Keep in mind even a 9/1 “each-way chance” – a relevant example because this is often the cut-off price for punters as their confidence in win-only dwindles and they feel it’s big enough a price for a decent place return – will only place around one in four times (~7% win). Not exactly ‘value material’, particularly in races with 1/5 place terms.

Even if you are decent at identifying so called “each-way value”, you’ll struggle to turn this into sizable profits long term – I believe.

Now, you can make exceptions to the rule: put simply, some people will be better suited to each-way backing due to the nature of their psychology. Even if in an ideal world we fully eliminate emotions and feelings, the reality is a different one. We’re humans after all.

Some punters simply can’t stand losing, let alone long losing runs – which tend to be inevitable if you back win-only.

Each-Way betting offers the opportunity for tasting success on a more regular basis. There are professional punters who know full well they would make more money if they’d go win-only all the time. But if they would do so their mental state would prevent them from being successful and making confident selections day in day out.

There are also some other reasons to consider each/way betting once in a while, as outlined in this excellent piece by Simon Rowlands.

With that in mind, it is not to say you can’t be profitable backing each-way. But it is much easier in the long run to go win-only – if you can be endure losing runs. It’s certainly not for me, although I still have the occasional each/way bet, regardless.

Most will agree, though: keep your fingers off multi-bets, parlays and the likes. You’re gonna be the bookies best friend if you’re handing in a “Lucky 15” every Saturday.

Yes, the promise of a massive payout is sexy. In truth, you’re hardly ever win one of these bets, if ever! The value on these multiples is non-existent. It’s heavily skewed toward the bookmaker. Sure, some folks get lucky. But that’s it: luck. Some people get lucky in the lottery. Luck isn’t what influences successful long-term betting.

“But it’s fun!”. Some may say. And it’s probably true: having a Lucky 15 running on a Saturday through the ITV card can be fun. But only until one sees the first two selections finishing tailed off. It’s the moment when reality bites: losing isn’t fun. Never.

#Bonus – Put in the Effort.

Racing is an immensely complex sport. So many parameters to consider. So much information available through many different resources. You have to make sense of it and find a way to put the puzzle together in a way it works for the individual.

Consistency breeds success (not only in betting). This requires some level of (minimum) effort that goes beyond checking the left-hand column of the racecard and reading the spotlight comments.

Questions I consider asking regularly: what is it that you do, you know and see that others don’t do, know and see? What is your niche? How do you get to a point where you can confidently make decisions on the value of a specific horse and its price in a given race?

To get there requires effort. One could say it requires work. Doesn’t sound like fun? Well, we love horses. We love racing. If that wouldn’t be the case we’d find it difficult to put in the effort – it would feel like “real work”.

I know if I put in the effort it feels like work. Yet this is work I do enjoy, in fact. Because I do love racing. And I do love working through the form book, through the stats and video clips, figuring out the value prices, solving the puzzle and finding winners…. and having a positive ROI to show for all the effort in the long run is the reward.

Without this enthusiasm for putting in the effort you’ve lost before even started.

Side Notes: a couple of thoughts I want to add – not specifically rules, more general guidance in addition to the Golden Rules that are important for me:

  • Keep a Record: you will struggle to keep track of your P/L if not. You will also be able to identify where things work well for you. Is there a specific race – class, trip, course – where you’re consistently able to find value? Are there specific situations where you simply can’t get it right? Keeping records is paramount.
  • Realistic Expectations: It’s unlikely you’ll get rich with your betting. But if you do it smartly you may earn a little extra cash that can pay for holidays, a new car or at least the pints and entrance fee to the race track. Something like 5-10% ROI is certainly attainable.
  • Consistent Staking: Find the best method for your bank and betting style and stick with it. I use a flat stake to keep things simple. All I need to decide: do I believe so strongly in the chance of this horse that I want to invest? If so then I do want to be on with my full stake, regardless of price. I understand proportional staking may be the more profitable way to go long-term. But in the end it comes down to what suits ones personality best.
    Recommended read: Choosing A Staking Method
  • Avoid Odds-On Shots: value can be found in any price – even a 2/5 shot could be value. But let’s face it: the amount of races you have to win consistently to make a profit is high. Racing is a volatile sport. Things can go wrong quickly. Even odds-on shots win only about every second race. Backing all odds-on shots would result in a certain loss. Of course nobody does that. But you would have to be incredibly selective and a superb punter to turn it into a profit long term. It’s not for me. One saying resonates with me when it comes to odds-on shots: “you can’t buy money”.

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There you have it: those are my golden rules of betting on horses. Obviously a lot of is deliberately kept simple. Further details need to be filled in by oneself.

The issue of “getting on” isn’t addressed, obviously. I’d argue being successful in the long run isn’t the challenge any longer thanks to all the resources available today. But account restrictions and premium charges make life difficult. That’s a different topic altogether, though.

Favourite Horse: Rachel Alexandra

Favourite Horse: over the next weeks I am writing a series of articles about horses I hold dear to my heart. Classy miler Paco Boy kicked off proceedings in part I – next up is a “filly for the ages”. 

Normally US racing on dusty dirt isn’t quite my cup of tea. Yet here on dirt it happened: a race I’ll never forget. It’s the 1st of May 2009, an unusually scorching hot day – I remember it vividly, sweating in front of the laptop in a stuffy living room.

Late evening, I’ve got a grainy stream from Churchill Downs: post parade for the Kentucky Oaks. This ridiculously short priced favourite heads the field – I throw a bit of money on Flying Spur, the second favourite. Not the wisest investment as it turns out.

Rachel Alexandra is three to one on in the betting. Little did I know about her at this point in time. Minutes later the whole racing world will know about her. Hard on the bridle she destroys her six rivals by 20 lengths – the widest winning margin in the Kentucky Oaks ever:

The “super filly” goes on from here proving this otherworldly performance wasn’t a fluke. She takes on the boys in the Preakness Stakes. Odds are staked against her: no filly has won the second leg of the Triple Crown since 1924. Rachel Alexandra usually enjoys to run from the front but has been dealt the widest draw on this day.

Yet jockey Calvin Borel gets Rachel Alexandra across to lead wire to wire: “And the filly did it!” screams an excited Tom Hammond in the commentators box. The first filly to win the Preakness Stakes, doing so she’s defeating Kentucky Derby champion Mine That Bird.

Rachel Alexandra becomes a star that shines beyond the boundaries of horse racing. She features in “Vogue” magazine and a legion of fans follow her every move – so do I, although from far away. Still, those Saturdays in the summer of 2009 – “Rachel Saturdays” – are cherished memories to this day.

Only six weeks after the Preakness she romped home in the Mother Goose – only three rivals in her way, though leaving a multiple Grade one winner more than 30 lengths behind, nearly breaking Secretariat’s track record, if not for being heavily eased in the final furlong.

Another almighty performance against the boys in the Haskell Invitational Stakes – she makes it look so easy, beating Belmont Stakes champ Summer Bird by six lengths on a muddy track, again running an incredibly fast time, despite the conditions, becoming the second filly in history to win the race,

A final ‘hallelujah’ in September saw Rachel Alexandra write history – once more – as the first filly to land the Woodward Stakes. This time in a dramatic finish, holding off the late charges from high class rivals after setting grueling early fractions from the front in her usual style. It leaves commentator Tom Durkin stunned as he concludes his call “She is, indeed, Rachel Alexandra The Great!”.

2009 was her year: Unbeaten in eight races, five Grade 1’s – each for every month from May to September. She beats the boys in the Preakness, Haskell, and Woodward – her spectacular three-year campaign is probably only matched by Sea The Stars on the other side of the globe!

That intense year took a toll on Rachel Alexandra. The next season she clearly wasn’t the same filly. Five more races, three of them end in defeat. She never reached the same heights again. After another shock defeat in August 2010 Rachel Alexandra is retired to become a broodmare.

She produced a colt and a filly but it turned out she wasn’t suited to the breeding game. She nearly died in the aftermath of the delivery of her second and final foal, Rachel’s Valentina.

To this day Rachel Alexandra has a loyal fanbase and they come to visit her at Stonestreet Farm. Once a year the “See Rachel Day” provides opportunity to those who are lucky enough to win a ticket to be invited to spend some time with the “Super Filly”.

There was something special about Rachel Alexandra as a race horse that made me follow her with passion throughout her career, but especially that magic summer of 2009: the white blaze across the face, you could easily make her out among a bunch of other horses. An athletic, strong body and beautiful bay colour; alert and all heart when it mattered most, galloping her rivals into submission from the front.

I want to end this piece with a recommendation to sit back, relax and enjoy this wonderful homage on Rachel Alexandra and her biggest victories – it still gives me chills, even after watching it probably a hundred times by now. Rachel Alexandra: a filly for the ages!

Favourite Horse: Paco Boy

Favourite Horse: over the next weeks I’ll write a series of articles about horses I hold dear to my heart. Let’s start with my all time favourite!¬†

2008 was the year that my interest in horse racing became serious. In my memories these are the good old days – a time when betting on horses was neither financially rewarding nor sought out to be, although it was a great time of learning something new about the sport every single day.

What coincided with this time, and it probably was one of the main reasons why I became so fascinated by horse racing, was the emergence of a number of legendary horses. To this day I do become a little bit emotional if I hear their names, to be honest.

Possibly not quite in the league of legends, yet the horse I well and truly fell in love with, was in his early days very much doubted whether he could become what he ultimately became: a top class miler. He showed plenty of speed and a dazzling turn of foot but may well be short of the required stamina?

It was exactly this incredible change of gear – the moment when a motionless Richard Hughes pressed the button, when the response was instantaneous – something that was visually so impressive and outlandish, certainly not observed in any other sport I have ever watched – that made me fall in love with Paco Boy.

Paco Boy was a promising juvenile, however he took his career to new heights in his classic year, particularly in the summer and autumn months.

He landed a number of graded races and finished the season with an exciting first Group 1 victory in the Prix de la Foret at Longchamp. It’s a shame Paco Boy didn’t get the chance to run in the 2000 Guineas that year, but at that stage he was still an immature horse with question marks over this stamina.

A year older and wiser, after a disappointing reappearance in Dubai, Paco Boy then proved his class thanks superb victory in the Queen Anne Stakes, when an ice cool Richard Hughes showed his trademark patience, delivering Paco Boy late in the race to produce his own trademark turn of foot.

The partnership of Richard Hughes with a horse like Paco Boy, who needed to be ridden with patience and confidence and delivered late, turned out to be an irresistible combination. It didn’t always go to plan – on the days where it did it turned out to be as spectacular as racing can be.

To this day for me personally the most spectacular, visually exciting and explosive demonstration of an instant acceleration and manifestation of pure class is the one Paco Boy produced in the 2010 Lockinge Stakes:

Richard Hughes completely motionless, with two furlongs to go still sitting behind all his rivals, ever so slightly edging closer while calmly steering Paco Boy through an opening gap; approaching the final furlong marker and everything else around him is hard at work – “Paco Boy is laughing at them”, screams an astonished Richard Hoiles in the original track commentary!

Once asked to win the race Paco Boy puts it to bed in a matter of strides. Mind, this is a Group 1 race!

Extended footage can be found here – including a few shots of an emotional Richard Hannon, who shed a few tears that day and also is quoted saying “I’ve got pictures of him all over the house”!

A career spanning over four seasons – 24 races, 11 victories, 9 in pattern class, three Group Ones, including the Queen Anne Stakes at Royal Ascot.

On the rating front: Paco Boy ran twelve times to a Tospeed Rating of 100 or higher (six times >110). That is an incredible level of consistency for successive seasons. Not many horses are capable of achieving this. In his prime on fast ground when tracking a decent pace Paco Boy was nearly unbeatable.

Yes, one could potentially point out: “what did he beat?”. The form of is Queen Anne and Lockinge Stakes victories didn’t work out all that great in hindsight. Nonetheless he beat and fought it out with the best of the best among the milers of that era and made some really good horses look rather ordinary.

Ultimately, when do you ever see a horse in a Group 1 contest cantering all over his rivals, hard on the bridle, approaching the final furlong marker? It’s a rare feat and something special.

And not to forget: he chased the almighty mare that is Goldikova on more than one occasion home. I maintain to this day he was the better horse in the 2010 Queen Anne Stakes and Richard Hughes, on that day, left it simply a little bit too late (as a matter of fact Paco Boy recorded a higher Topspeed rating than Goldikova that day).

Put simply: Paco Boy was the most exciting horse I have ever followed as a fan of the sport. He was my first real “love” in the world of horse racing. Although he is closely followed by possibly the greatest racehorse of all time. More on that in the next part of this series.

Safety First: Grand National still a Great Race!

Every year at this exact time the same debate: no – I don’t mean the one the hypocrites from PETA try to stir up; I mean the fiery debate around the challenge – or perceived lack of it – the Grand National does provide for horses and jockeys these days.

There seems to be an ever increasing, certainly rather vocal minority of racing fans, that do feel the Grand National has been reduced to a “glorified hurdle”, a race that’s not “what it used to be” and not all that tough to win anyway – in summary: the “welfare brigade” has changed the Grand National beyond recognition to a point where it doesn’t provide sufficient spectacle.

Let this sink in: the fact fallers have been greatly reduced in the last number of years – and with that casualties completely avoided up until this year – is cited as a reason to conclude the Grand National has lost its appeal as a spectacle.

Guess what? Nearly 10 million tuned in to watch ITV’s coverage of the Grand National –¬† the peak audience was up by more than a million viewers compared to last year. Sure, those numbers – as always with viewing figures – can’t be taken at face value, but they are a fair indication for the fact that the audience for the Grand National isn’t turned off by the perceived “lack of spectacle”. Much the opposite, it seems.

Racegoers didn’t mind either: a sell-out 50.000 crowd flooded through the gates on Saturday.

Let’s get the most important point straight – from my perspective anyway: yes, the Grand National has changed. Fences have have been altered. They are easier to jump, more forgiving and the race has become much safer for horse and rider. Those in charge of the sport – often slated recently, and more often than not rightly so – made drastic decisions after the infamous 2012 Grand National.

Those safety changes have resulted in the the desired outcome: only one fatality (Up For Review, 2019), plus 84% of fences have produced the same or lower rate of fallers/unseated/brought downs since then. Also only seven fallers/unseated/brought downs in yesterday’s Grand National was one of the smallest numbers ever.

This is good news! The race has become safer. But has it taken away from the spectacle? Absolutely not! Not in my view.

I’m still looking forward to the Grand National every single year. I still rate it as the pinnacle of jump racing. I still adore all those 40 horses and jockeys for their bravery and skills.

And I firmly believe the Grand National remains a fabulous test: a distance of 4 miles & 2 furlongs (6.907 km) & 30 fences of different heights to be negotiated Рno exactly a walk in the park.

Mind you, even though the race is safer and slightly “less of a challenge”, it stills is a tough race to complete. Despite all safety measures of recent times, there was one casualty – and less than half the field finished the race on Saturday. So, it clearly isn’t without its challenges, still.

And that brings me to Tiger Roll. The fact he’s completed back-to-back victories in 2019 and not in 1979 doesn’t make it less a remarkable achievement. It IS a remarkable achievement!

I didn’t back the little horse. But as soon as was clear none of my selections wouldn’t get near winning, I was roaring the Tiger home. What a true champion he is. A safer National it might be, but the fact remains it is a tough race to win, let alone do it twice – even in this day and age. Tiger Roll is the king of National Hunt racing!