Tag Archives: Flat Racing

Preview: Royal Ascot Gold Cup 2020

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Three-in-a-row for Stradivarius? The defending champion bids for hat-trick glory in the Gold Cup this afternoon. But he’s facing a stiff test in an intriguing contest that will need him to be at his very best.

In short: Stradivarius looks vulnerable. It’s no rocket science to see why that is. Even though he looked as good as ever at Newmarket a fortnight ago when chasing home  Ghaiyyath in the Coronation Cup, the reality is that this was a much tougher race than John Gosden would have liked.

He was clearly ridden with a bigger day in mind in the closing stages, but that doesn’t distract from the fact that he ran some incredibly strong sectionals in the middle part of the race. Those must have hurt and could easily have left a mark as well.

While it was positive to see Stradivarius ran so well on his seasonal return over a trip possibly a little bit too sharp against top-class rivals, it also increases the opportunity, particularly with the rather short turnaround time, of having done too much that day with too little recovery time since then.

The pace in this renewal of the Gold Cup is another question mark. One can assume there’s a good deal of early speed here with quite a few potential horses keen to keep the pace honest. The excellent Kevin Blake makes some useful points in his assessment of the race on that part.

Stradivarius usually quickens at the end of a staying contest when tracking a moderate pace comfortably throughout. Will he be able to do the same in a strongly run contest over the Gold Cup distance?

With that in mind it’s obvious to me that Stradivarius is poor value at his odds-on price. This brings me to the questions who’s the rival that’s going to deny him the hat-trick victory?

The obvious option is Technician. Martyn Meade’s progressive colt enjoyed a particularly fruitful 2019: a listed-, Group 3- and Group 2 success, ultimately rounded up by the cherry on the cake, the Group 1 Prix Royal-Oak.

He thrives in the mud, hence connections will be delighted with all the rain that has arrived at Ascot. Will it be quite soft enough, though? Possibly. He’s certainly a fair price with the going change in mind.

A former Melbourne Cup winner has to be respected. And to this day Cross Counter‘s Flemington victory rates as one of the most pleasing ones I have ever experiences from a punting experience.

He wasn’t too far beaten in last years Gold Cup and subsequently in the Goodwood Cup, nonetheless was beaten fair and square both times by Stradivarius. A disappointing effort in the Irish St. Leger, followed by a another strong performance in the Melbourne Cup, shows he can be a little bit inconsistent.

Cross Counter was a hot favourite in Riyadh earlier this year, before another bid for the Dubai Gold Cup was on the agenda. It’s hard to know which Cross Counter we get today. He will need to be back to his best to land a blow, though.

Even though able to perform well with cut in the ground, his very best comes on a fast surface. Therefore I feel Nayef Road will struggle today, although his comeback at Newcastle was quite excellent.

Cross Counter stable mate Moonlight Spirit is the one that intrigues me most. Gelded over the winter and surprisingly bullish comments by Charlie Appleby (who’s usually rather reserved in the assessment of his horses) are clearly noteworthy.

But also the form of this generally low mileage 4-year-old points upwards. At the end of last season he won a Group 3 at Longchamp over 1m 7f in taking style before going down to Technician in the Prix Royal-Oak, albeit only in the final 100 yards of the race, after leading for a long time.

Soft ground won’t be a worry today, given those last runs, although the fact it won’t be quite as deep as those times at Longchamp is probably of benefit. The stamina question is out there in the open. We’ll have to find out today. His pedigree offers hope and the fact he clearly stayed long distances with plenty of juice on the ground already, offers even more hope.

At given prices, with potentially more to comer over the longer trips, I feel Moonlight Spirit is a little bit overpriced in an open enough contest.

Selection:
10pts win – Moonlight Spirit @ 11.5/1 SM

Preview: Royal Ascot 2020 – Tuesday

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No crowds, no hats, no queen arriving in her carriage at the scene – it’s gonna be a different Royal Ascot to what we’re accustomed to. But then you could say that about nearly everything these days.

Historically I’ve been burnt badly at the Royal meeting. I can’t remember the last time I left the week with the tiniest of profits. I’ll keep a low profile this week, that’s for sure, and instead enjoy the sport for the most part. I can’t help myself, though, and have two selections for day one:

1.50 – Group 1, Queen Anne Stakes, 1 mile

A rather wide open affair where I can make a case for half a dozen in the field which means some of the bigger prices are certainly attractive. Nonetheless I narrowed it down to less than a handful of prime candidates.

The obvious one is Circus Maximus: he has every chance to be an even better four-year-old after a prolific 2019 season. He’s been consistently running well, including when landing the St. James’s Palace Stakes twelve months ago.

He’s clearly the one to beat, although I continue to have a niggling doubt that there are days where h’s finding one or two horses too fast over the mile trip – let’s not forget he was once thought to have a decent shot at the Derby, given his pedigree.

Memories of Terebellum’s impressive Dahlia victory are still fresh. A lightly raced and progressive four-year-old, she should have enough ability to be competitive over a mile, but her price is way too short for me to get involved.

Completely overlooked appears Mustashry, though. Judged on his career-best Lockinge Stakes success from last year he would be the horse they all have to chase home, actually. A topspeed rating of 108 is a standout in this field.

Whether he can run to that sort of level again remains to be seen and his fitness has to be trusted. He ran better than the bare forms suggest in his subsequent defeats last year, before finishing his 2019 campaign on a high note thanks to a fine Group 2 success.

Mustashry is a consistent horse, albeit the oldest in the race, conditions and racing style should be a good fit in this renewal of the Queen Anne. He is certainly overpriced.

Selection:
10pts win – Mustashry  @ 14/1

………

3.00 – Group 2, King Edward VII Stakes, 1m 4f

We will find out if the hype around Mogul is real. Currently as short as 11/2 in the Derby market, he appears to be team Ballydoyle’s prime chance for the Epsom Classic. 

Mogul steps up to the 1m 4f trip for the first time, having raced entirely over a mile as a juvenile. Given his breeding he can be expected to improve significantly for the new distance. On the other hand he has to show significant improvement because he was no more than a fine juvenile, particularly by Aiden O’Brien standards.

He had four runs last year, the highlight a Group 2 success at Newmarket. However, Mogul’s best performance only awarded him a lowly 84 tospeed rating. That doesn’t sound like odds-on favourite to me.

His stable mate Arthur’s Kingdom can’t be underestimated as improvement is likely to come for the new trip as well. Papa Power and Pyledriver have shown good form on the All-Weather and it will be interesting to see how much more there is to come.

Undoubtedly the most intriguing horse in this lineup is Mohican Heights. After a successful debut at Leopardstown in May last year he changed hands for £520k.

Since then he won the Listed Stonehenge Stakes at Salisbury finishing really strongly to win by 2 lengths, when having recent Kempton Classic Trial winner Berlin Tango behind in third (who beat Pyledriver fair and square at Kempton.

Word is Mohican Heights has wintered well, progressed physically – which he had to – and with loads of improvement to be expected from stepping up in trip, given his pedigree – which makes it all the more remarkable that as a late may foal he was able to win on debut a hot Spring maiden over 7 furlongs – he has a prime chance in this race.

Selection:
10pts win – Mohican Heights @ 9/2

…….

What else is there to see on the opening Day of Royal Ascot? No further bets for me, but that doesn’t detract from the interest in some fascinating contests.

The King’s Stand Stakes is the obvious to mention. Battaash looks nearly impossible to beat in this. There is no Blue Point this time. He wasn’t quite his brilliant best when a beaten runner-up by that rival in this very race the last two years.

Truth told: Battaash can only beat himself here. A good Battaash is still well ahead of anyone else in this field. He is so much faster. That’s the question of the day: will he finally taste success at the Royal meeting?

The Ribblesdale Stakes is a slightly underwhelming event. Make no mistake, Frankly Darling is exciting on the back of her performance at Newcastle. But there is not much else here, is there?

Although, intrigue is added by the addition of Miss Yoda, who won a rather poor Lingfield Oaks Trial, and steps down in trip. With a good run here she can enhance her credentials.

The one from Team AOB I’m most interested in is Ennistymon. She won a maiden only a week ago, needed every inch of the ten furlongs and looks set to show much more for the additional distance.

I leave you here with the 2019 Nunthorpe Stakes: wetting the appetite, with what was Battaash’s best performance, awarding him a 123 tospeed rating!

 

Preview: Irish 1000 Guineas

Curragh

The Irish 1000 Guineas will rise and fall with the Jessica Harrington trained Albigna. The only top-level winner in the field has the best form in the book and will be hard to beat with natural improvement.

Albigna’s victory in the Prix Marcel Boussac is the strongest form on offer from last year – by far! Not to forget the classy filly was far from disgraced in the Moyglare or the Breeders’ Cup.

In a weak Guineas field there is no denying that she holds all the aces. The equation is a simple one: if the daughter of Zoffany can run to her juvenile form then she is more than likely to run away with the race this evening.

However – and I may repeat myself in all these Guineas previews over the last week – Albigna is an experienced individual, who saw a racecourse for the first time in May last year. There is every possibility that she was simply ahead of her rivals in terms of mind and body.

And given that the Guineas is held a month later than it usually is, there is a danger that others have been able to catch up with time and age on their side. In saying that that I also feel odds around 2/1 are entirely fair, if not even a tad generous.

Aiden O’Brien appears to have weaker hand than usual in the 1000 Guineas. None of his three fillies tasted success on Group level yet – that is rather unusual. But the lightly raced Peaceful may well be the biggest danger to Albigna I feel, as she caught my eye on a number of occasions last year and she could have any amount of improvement to come.

The most intriguing filly in my eyes, though, seems to be completely overlooked: that is the Michael Halford trained Ridenza. She is a huge price in a race that lacks depth.

The one-time raced Sea The Stars daughter is tremendously well bred, given her dam is the 2014 Debutante winner Raydara. She will probably stay further than the Guineas trip but makes appeal over a mile as well, certainly at the current price.

Ridenza lacks experience. She made a winning debut at Leopardstown in a seven furlong maiden last August and was put away ever since, not helped by an injury she sustained.

That piece of form looks strong: the fourth placed Lemista won a Group 3 earlier this year and the 9th of that race, Peaceful, won a Listed contest and is the 3/1 second favouite today.

In fairness, the Aiden O’Brien filly got a very light ride that day and looked to have tons left. Nonetheless it was really positive sign that Ridenza was able to win on debut, overcoming plenty of greenness over a trip that is possibly on the sharp side.

Trainer Michael Halford noted after the race that this was indeed Ridenza’s very first time away from home and even the first time of her tasting turf. He also mentioned that she has plenty of growing to do, which was probably the reason why we didn’t see her again as a juvenile.

He also described her as “a smart filly, very well bred and she’s always shown plenty at home” in addition to being quite hopeful that there is much more to come when she turns three.

Obviously there is a reason why Ridenza is a 18/1 chance today: how has she wintered? Has she trained on? Is she ready to go? is she over the injury? Is the trip potentially too sharp?

But at the same time, given her fantastic pedigree, that points to excellent form over the shorter distances as well, I’m inclined to give her a better chance than the odds suggest.

Selection:
10pts win – Ridenza @ 18/1

……….

Siskin Delight in Irish 2000 Guineas

It was an incredible victory for Siskin in the Irish 2000 Guineas last night. The favourite did it the hard way, having to fight for a gap to get out late and thunder home, beating the Aiden O’Brien “football team”.

If you read my race preview you know I had major doubts about his ability to stay the trip as well as actually being good enough as a three-year-old. He proved all doubters wrong. How well Siskin stayed the Curragh mile and ran strongly to the line, no care in the world for the uphill finish?!

There was a lot of love for Ger Lyons as well. For him it was a very first domestic Classic success. A man who always speaks so well, who is open and honest with the public, it was wonderful to see the man reduced to tears in the post-race interview.

Preview: Irish 2000 Guineas

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The Irish 2000 Guineas shapes as an intriguing contest, albeit a wide open one. Can ante-post favourite Siskin reward trainer Ger Lyons with a first domestic Classic success?

The 2020 renewal of the Irish 2000 Guineas, while intriguing, looks hardly a vintage Classic. There is no proven superstar here today – unlike in the English equivalent a few days ago – and given the delay of the season, the race has become an even trickier puzzle to solve.

More than half the field is trained by one man: Aiden O’Brien. While that isn’t anything new, it remains a sad fact that six of eleven runners come from the same yard in an Irish Classic.

Ante-Post Favourite:

The Ger Lyons trained Siskin is the ante-post favourite ever since he ended 2019 unbeaten. Four starts and four wins as a juvenile, with the highlight clearly a first Group 1 success when landing the Phoenix Stakes in August at the Curragh.

On form he is the horse to beat. However, only a week ago we saw that it’s never an easy task to carry over exceptional juvenile form to a classic season – particularly when achieved over shorter sprint distances – when facing rivals that have caught up physically and mentally.

With that in mind one could ask the very same questions as last week when wondering whether a precocious Pinatubo will be able to continue his incredible superiority.

Siskin started his juvenile campaign in May 2019. He raced four times over six furlongs before being put away for the winter after a final victory in the Phoenix Stakes back in August.

The key questions are obvious: Can Siskin improve? Will he stay additional two furlongs?

As mentioned last week in the English 2000 Guineas analysis, the fact that the Guineas is held much later than usual will have a significant impact on what type of horse it’ll suit. It certainly will give the precocious, early foals less an advantage than it does in any normal year. Siskin falls into this category.

On the stamina question: As a juvenile he never left the comfort of the 6 furlongs distance. That doesn’t mean he can’t stay a mile. However his sire First Defence was quite speedy himself and his offspring tends to perform best over shorter distances as well, with a noticeable decline in performance as they step up to a mile – in general terms.

Siskin’s dam stayed a mile, which is encouraging. So is Simon Rowland’s striding analysis that suggests he has a fair chance to stay the new trip.

Probably my biggest issue with Sisikin is that his form is far less impressive than four wins on the trot would usually suggest. He largely beat the same horses over and over again. Most depressingly, even though he had ample opportunity to run fast, he’s never done it.

A career-best 89 topspeed rating is not up to the standard of a top-class colt. Yes, these ratings aren’t the holy grail and have to be taken in the right context, but in my book they do continue to be a fine predictor of class and future success.

Having said that, I simply have to oppose Siskin as the Irish 2000 Guineas favourite. Mind, this isn’t an overly strong renewal. He has a fair chance to go close if he can find answers to the two key questions.

Aiden O’Brien Contenders:

From the comments AOB has made in recent days it feels like that Armory is Ballydoyle’s #1 here. And you can see why.

This son of Galileo was fast enough to win Group races over 7 furlongs, plus was a good runner-up, albeit a long way beaten, behind Pinatubo in the National Stakes and has already Group 1 form over a mile, when finishing third at Longchamp behind subsequent French 2000 Guineas winner Victor Ludorum.

He’ll likely stay further than the mile and should have a bit more to come once stepping up in trip. He ran already to a career-best topspeed rating of 95 and certainly wouldn’t mind any more rain (it has been raining a fair bit here in Kildare over the last 24 hours, and continues to do so as of writing).

Royal Lytham with first time blinkers is interesting stepping up to a trip that could suit on pedigree. He showed good form as a juvenile, in particular when staying on strongly to win the July at Stakes at Newmarket.

He got within a lengths of Siskin in the Phoenix Stakes when things didn’t quite worked his way. He’s an interesting horse but needs to find improvement as he’s yet to run particularly fast.

It’s hard to see Monarch Of Egypt to land a blow. He has a lot to find even with his stable mates. Fort Myers as a big price is a more compelling each-way contender if one wants to back one. His juvenile form is solid, if not spectacular. He should stay the mile and will appreciate if he ground stays decent.

Vatican City is an unknown quantity. A disappointing debut at Newmarket, followed by a visually impressive success on Dundalk’s All-Weather – what that form is worth is difficult to evaluate. Aiden O’Brien speaks fondly of the colt and he can improve any amount, so to speak.

In my view the most intriguing horse from team Ballydoyle is Lope Y Fernandez, though. He showed good form as a 2-year-old, in particular when a strong runner-up behind Pinatubo at Royal Ascot and he also stayed seven furlongs already.

He is a full brother to Al Hayyah who competed well in listed company up to the 1m 2f distance and his dam is a Listed placed miler.

Lope Y Fernandez has ran twice to 90+ topspeed ratings already, including a 95 rating, which is joint-best in this field. Although that is still a bit off a proper Group 1 winning horse, he looked like one in the making when winning the Round Tower Stakes at the Curragh in excellent style, proving himself to be in a different league to the rest of the field in the Group 3 contest.

Also Running:

The unexposed Sinawann stayed a mile well last year already. He looks interesting given the clear indication that he’ll be a much better three-year-old. The son of Kingman will need to improve quite a bit if he wants to emulate his prominent father, but it’s not impossible that he does.

Jim Bolger’s colt Fiscal Rules lacks experience. It has be pointed out, though, that his runner-up debut behind Wichita reads really well, given how well the Aiden O’Brien trained ran at Newmarket last week. Yet, it’s a tall ask to be pitched right into a Classic with only a single start under his belt.

Also quite unexposed is the Jessica Harrington trained Free Solo. A fine winner on his second start last July, he hasn’t been seen yet. The yard is going strongly, so that is a positive. But it’s total guesswork whether this son of Showcasing is good enough to land a blow.

The Verdict:

Only one horse I am really interested in from a betting perspective: Lope Y Fernandez. The fact that he is an April foal who showed quite strong form as a juvenile already while giving the impression he may need a step up in trip to be seen to best effect, I have reasonable hope that he can find the required improvement to be a major player in the 2000 Guineas.

With that in mind he appears to be a bit overpriced for all that there are so many question marks over the other market principles.

Selection:
10pts win – Lope Y Fernandez @ 5/1 VC

Love is in the Air

Newmarket Rowley Mile

“She isn’t good enough.”

Well, I didn’t have much love for Love leading up to the 1000 Guineas and made that pretty clear in my preview when highlighting her lack of a top-class speed rating as well as the many opportunities she had to produce one. Concluding with the final assessment: “she isn’t good enough”. Some things don’t age well.

One had to love her willing attitude, though. Relentless galloping from the start, never too far off the pace, albeit drawn away from it and racing on the outside of the field wasn’t the most economical thing to do.

Ryan Moore kept it simple and that paid off for a filly bound to stay further. She was going away from her rivals in the final 100 yards, winning with authority in the end.

Albeit I maintain that this wasn’t a particularly good renewal. It’s one we’ll forget nearly as quickly as it took the fillies to finish the eight furlongs of the Rowley Mile.

Love showed little love for my selections. In fact she broke the heart of Cloak Of Spirits when finally passing her half a furlong from the finish. The big filly ran on for second place, but as I backed her win only at 17’s on the Exchanges, that was of no no help from a betting perspective. Raffle Prize was beaten halfway through the race.

……….

Moving forward I won’t post selections on a (near-) daily cadence throughout the flat season as done over the last years here with relative success.

Time doesn’t allow for it as life is really busy and analysing the racing in the way I need to in order to continue making a profit is time consuming alone, plus the added strain of actually finding places to get a sizable stake on in the races that I tend to bet in.

I want to keep focusing more on quality content as (hopefully) seen over the last week already. In saying that here and there I’ll send out a selection if I have enough time and found one I really want to share with the wider world.

……..

4.25 Haydock: Class 5 Handicap, 1m 2f

Hot race. Plenty of handicap debutants who also step up in trip. The majority have a fair chance to improve quite a bit for age and distance. You never know what you get in these races, who has trained on, who’s 100% ready and who’s truly well handicapped.

Yet I firmly believe Alargedram has a tremendous chance to land a first career victory. An opening mark of 72 could easily turn out to be lenient for this son of Lope De Vega who’s out of a mare who was listed placed over 1m 2f.

He caught my eye on two occasions last year in what appeared decent races. Particularly the Wolverhampton one looks solid, given those ahead of him that day are now rated in the 80’s and followed up with decent performances.

He ran on well under a light ride that day on the wide outside. I also thought he finished with plenty of credit on his final start at Windsor, when the going was pretty deep and he didn’t seem to enjoy that too much, yet finishing well enough. In all three starts he received rather sympathetic or educational rides in my view.

Alargedram looks a big boy with plenty of scope ready to improve rapidly now upped in trip. The fact connections paid 75k for him as 2-year-old after he was only a ten grand yearling shows he has improved quite a bit from what was originally thought of him.

That matches a comment the owners made some months ago, suggesting they think he’s going to be much better than his opening mark. I think so too. Ground will be fine, trip is good – only the wide draw is a slight concern, whether he will get a clear run in a field with twelve runners.

Selection:
10pts win – Alargedram @ 6/1 VC/SP/MB

Preview: 1000 Guineas

Newmarket Rowley Mile False Rail

This years renewal doesn’t appear to be a “vintage Guineas”. However, that makes the contest quite an intriguing one, with so many fillies having so many questions to answer.

The betting is headed by a filly that’ll be outpaced four furlongs out and will struggle to finish fast enough in the end. In saying that I really do think Quadrilateral is a poor favourite and I am more than happy to take her on.

Her Fillies’ Mile victory is clearly a fine piece of form in the context of the Guineas but one had to be blind not to see that she needed every inch of the eight furlongs that day, not to forget on good to soft ground.

She is hardly getting any faster; in fact she is a fine prospect once she steps up in trip and probably more an Oaks contender than a solid Guineas favourite, but certainly an outstanding prospect for Group 1 races over ten furlongs.

Only a few fillies in this field have achieved a topspeed rating of 100 or more. That is disappointing and only proves the point that this year isn’t the strongest 1000 Guineas we have ever seen.

On the other hand, as mentioned in the 2000 Guineas preview, the fact that we’re four weeks behind the usual schedule will surly help those fillies that need time to mature, which in turn means there is the possibility for a big improver turning all the known form on its head.

I have little love for the Aiden O’Brien trained Love to be the one. Seven starts, beaten in four of them, only a career-high topspeed rating of 93 to show – she isn’t good enough.

Millisle has attracted a lot of positive quotes over the recent days and weeks. And rightly so. Her Cheveley Park Stakes success rates top of the queue. Given she is a late May foal you would hope for more improvement this year.

Stamina is the key question, as for many in the race today. She won twice over five furlongs. She has tons of speed. The pedigree gives some hope that she can stay the mile. In my book she is, with this benefit of the doubt, the filly to beat. At given prices she is too short for me to back, though.

The two I like in this field have both plenty to prove. There is the speedy Raffle Prize. It’s fair to say she has the best juvenile form in the book.

Runner-up against the boys in a strong Prix Morny, plus a subsequent runner-up performance in the Cheveley Park Stakes, plus two Group 2 successes early in the season – she achieved consistently high topspeed ratings, including twice of 100+ as well.

Obviously stamina is a massive question for a filly with so much speed. Her sire Slade Power was a classy sprinter but his offspring has done alright over the mile so far: a 12.6% strike rate reads decent enough. The dam side gives a bit hope too, so do the comments from the Johnston yard and the fact she is an April foal with scope.

The other one I like to outrun expectations, certainly judged by the market as a guide, is Richard Hannon’s Cloak Of Spirits. She was highly impressive on debut, subsequently disappointed in the May Hill Stakes, but really ran well in the Rockfel Stakes, when she also achieved a 97 topspeed rating, which in the context of the 1000 Guineas looks good form.

She is expected to progress as a three-year-old, boosts a scopey physique and has a fair chance to stay the distance. Richard Hannon is quite bullish about her chances as well. Not that I take too much note of that usually, nonetheless it’s a bonus if connections are keen and positive on an individual that you expect to progress anyway.

Her best form from last year isn’t far away from the best form of the market principles. So with more to come from her potentially, she is quite a massive price in comparison.

Selection:
6pts win – Raffle Prize @ 9/1
4pts win – Cloak Of Spirits @ 17/1

Racing is Back!

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Racing is back! At least in the UK. We here in Ireland have to wait for another week.

Although it was only sand racing, having full fields at Newcastle this afternoon was certainly welcome… compared to none at all over the last while. Plus it’s only two more days until racing on green, lush turf returns as well.

It’s gonna be a packed schedule with top class racing over the next couple of weeks also. Those Classics are coming thick and fast right, left and center. France and Germany with their Guineas races today. Others will follow soon. Exciting times!

Looking back on the first day of the flat season 2020 I have mixed feelings, nonetheless. One the plus side I’ve also got an intriguing eye-catcher for the tracker for those readers who make it to end of my ramblings.

Racingpost is Poor Value

The sport I love is back: great! The print edition of the Racingpost is back: great! Not so great: one would have thought the editors had plenty of time to think about how to improve their product for when it returns to the shelves in a bid to entice prospective customers to buy a paper that comes with a whopping price tag of €4.20.

I’m afraid there was nothing in the “Bumper Edition” of the Racingpost that inspired me to pay such a steep price for something that would end in the recycle bin only half a day later.

Racing back in the UK. Top class races in France and Germany – there was plenty to cover. Yet the paper felt thin on actual, valuable content.

An interview with Lester Piggott on his remarkable career. That’s alright – I’ve got all respect for the man and his story – though, it’s hardly anything original these days. You can find plenty of similar interviews and articles with him for free (in fact RP published some under the “PR Classics” banner only recently).

A stable tour of Richard Hannon’s. Plus the usual tipsters and some race previews. Add racecards. That’s it.

In the day of online and mobile where everything is a swipe away all the time, publishers face an uphill battle, particularly with a niche print product such as the Racingpost. If you produce a paper that in essence has not changed in two decades and offers little real incentive to buy because of a lack of original content then you’ll struggle even more so.

I really wanted to buy the Racingpost this morning. Really wanted it. But a hefty €4.20 for what you get is simply no value for money. I’m not saying there is no value. Of course there is. For some people more than for others. But is it worth the price? I don’t think so. And that’s a shame.

More Data Please

I have thoroughly enjoyed dipping my toes into Hong Kong racing over the last weeks. Doing so, what becomes blatantly obvious – now that racing returns to more familiar places – what sets their product apart from ours here.

Hong Kong racing is all about providing relevant information, a myriad on data and a level of transparency with the aim of improving customer experience. Data that is freely available and easily accessible to all punters and racing fans alike for them to analyse- and better understand what- and why certain things happen in a race.

Free replays in excellent quality with different angles to chose from. Sectional times as well as every little detail on all the horses – be it their racing weight, injury history, or track work. Heck, even rather accurate Speed maps are produced.

Given the importance of racing for Hong Kong as the HKJC is the largest taxpayer there, this makes perfect sense, of course: if you want punters to come racing and gambling you need to provide an enticing product that people can believe in due to its transparent nature.

Granted there are only two tracks in Hong Kong, a small horse population and fewer variables. That makes it a lot easier to track all these things. It’s unrealistic to copy everything Hong Kong does and bring it over to the UK or Ireland. Still, more can be done and lessons can be learned from Hong Kong if racing over here wants to appeal to new and younger generations.

People these days are much more familiar with looking at- and using data. Many of us do it for work in some form or another. Not only for work, though. In a betting environment think about sports like football, hockey, basketball and so on that offer tons of data – from simple to “advanced stats”. Often available for free, easily accessible. Quite like it’s the case in Hong Kong for their racing product.

For UK and Irish racing data is expensive to get hands on (Flatstats, Proform….) and racing media tends to speak in plain and banal language anyway, as if the general punter would be too stupid to understand anything that goes beyond the numbers associated with naked form.

Baby steps are being made, though. Sectionals and stride data start to become more readily available for certain tracks. This really provides great insights into how races are run and why horses finished a certain way. This has to become a universal thing, though. It’s 2020 not 1985.

Newcastle Eye-Catcher

Ghadbbaan – Race 1 – 7th place: One could easily overlook this well beaten 4-year-old gelding. However this was a fairly decent seasonal reappearance, given he was drawn in gate one, which can be a negative for horses who already have starting issues. So it was no surprise to Ghadbbaan walking out of the gate. Hoe was then firmly driven forward to chase the lead.

He surly did much more than ideal in those early stages of the race and tired over two furlongs out to finish side by side with the pre-race favourite. That’s not the whole story, though.

He switched yards over the winter and was gelded, after two low-key efforts as a juvenile. He didn’t fulfill the hopes connections once had when in care of Michael Stoute.

However, Ghadbbaan is quite nicely bred, although clearly looks to have a future beyond a mile. He is a full-brother to smart 103 rated Listed 1m 2f winner Sound Of Cannons out of a Listed placed- and 1m2f winning mare  and by French Derby winner Intello.

Today was only his first handicap start. A fair pipe opener. Once Ghadbbaan steps up in trip he should improve readily and be able to exploit his current 64 Official Rating.

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.

Saturday Selections: March, 14th 2020

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Cheltenham is over. It didn’t deliver the goods on the betting front as it did in the last years. At the very least it delivered some relieve in the sense some of my selections were successful. Many more ran really well. That’s a big positive after the worst start to any betting year I ever had.

There is a bit a question “would, could, should”. But those type of thoughts rarely lead to anything good.

I got the Gold Cup spot on, though: Al Boum Photo was the one to beat and he had everything you need to go back to back. He didn’t quite have the same dream run through as last year but he had a super sharp Paul Townend in the saddle who made the right decisions in the right moment to ensure ABP endured as little trouble as possible.

He beat Santini in a brilliant finish. In third, my selection, Lostintranslation, ran a massive race. The two possible improvers were good enough to beat the rest of the field, as was my expectation before the race. But they were not quite good enough (yet?) to beat the defending champion.

After the week didn’t start too well for Paul Townend, he finished it off with a week that’ll go down in history. Champion jockey and the man who steered a horse to defend the crown in the Gold Cup. He doesn’t always get it right. But who does? Ruby and AP didn’t. What matters is that Paul Townend got it as right as it gets at the grandest of stages. That makes him a top top class jockey.

I will review Cheltenham tomorrow afternoon on Dublin City FM. Tune in if you like. Beyond that, I gonna struggle on in an attempt to get by betting back on track. Thankfully the flat is around the corner.

………..

6.00 Wolverhampton: Class 6 Handicap, 9.5f

The money is pouring in for Taurean Dancer who returns from a break with a first time visor fitted and Rossa Ryan in the saddle for what is his only ride on the card.

Whether this Taurean Dancer’s optimum trip is a question mark, given his career best topspeed rating came over further. However hes form over shorter as well, having been beaten only by a neck at Kempton over a mile of a much higher rating in the past.

I imagine he’ll be ridden forward in order to set a good pace and use his undoubtedly existing stamina. As he can be keen, this should suit him well in a race that is wide open.

Selection:
10pts win – Taurean Dancer @ 11/1 MB