Tag Archives: horse racing

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.

My Betting Review 2019

2019 is over! It’s been a year that has flown by like Paco Boy thundering past his rivals in the 2010 Lockinge Stakes! The last twelve months were intense. Certainly on the betting front: a real roller-coaster year!

As in 2017 as well as 2018 I like to do a detailed review of my betting year: overall results, what worked, what didn’t work, plus key lessons for the new year.

2019 in numbers:
  • 635pts Profit
  • 20.09% ROI
  • 336 bets
  • 45 winners
  • 13.39% Strike Rate

Overall it was a good year once more – the third profitable one in a row, with 9/12 months in green.

2019 was also about an ever increasing difficulty in “getting on”. My accounts with any high-street bookmaker are limited to cents now. Liquidity on exchanges for the low grade races I am usually interested in isn’t always a given either.

Nonetheless, compared to to other years I placed more bets than ever before, however, for lower profit and lower ROI than in 2017 and 2018. Which is perfectly fine – 20% ROI is plenty and any profitable year is a good year after all.

In reflection I have to be critical of myself as well because there were days when I simply gave in to my urge to have the bet because I somewhat fancied the horse without having all boxes ticked on my “checklist”. Something to address: no bet, no problem – my mantra, which I want to follow even more rigidly in 2020.

It was also a year where I missed out on some big scores. Some massive prices denied on the line – in fact my selections hit the post a whopping 80 times!

The Good:

Turf delivers the goods: A 385pts profit! I was losing in this sphere last year so I am delighted to see my slightly revised focus on how to approach the turf paying off. UK only posted 485pts (without class 6 Handicaps, a massive 615pts!).

Highlight was clearly the 1000 Guineas victory of Hermosa at 16/1. The majority of winners came in the lower grades though, class 4 and 5 Handicaps – which really is no surprise as it’s always been my happy hunting ground. Windsor and Brighton turned out to be the most lucrative tracks.

1m & 2 furlongs: The mile and a quarter trip is a clear standout profit wise: 465pts+ profit, 9 of 26 successful bets – British racing provided all winners (of 20 bets, +515pts).

Jump racing: 275pts profit, thanks to another decent Cheltenham Festival, including 22/1 selection Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup. City Island (11/1) landing the Ballymore was another fine winner during the Festival week.

Lately the French Diesel D’Allier’s success in a Cross-Country Chase at the Cotswolds venue helped boosting a profitable 2019.

I wanted to be much more selective here, as the last years taught me my knowledge and understand of the day to day world of jump racing is simply not good enough to make it pay in the long run. The bigger races, though, have always yielded a fair return as more data – and reliable data – is freely available that helps me to make quality calls on races.

The Bad:

The All-Weather: My bread and butter. A 15pts loss! To compare: 605pts profit in 2018. Something went badly wrong here. I don’t think my selections were poor. A lot of big prices hit the post. However I know that in autumn in particular I lost focus a bit and made selections there were not quite up to the high quality I would expect of myself.

Class 6 Sprinting: A total disaster. Regardless of the surface, a 200pts loss is a clear sign for what to avoid moving forward. Across the board from 5 furlongs to 7 furlongs, in the lowest grade I struggled badly. It’s such an issue in higher classes, though. Apart from the minimum trip, specifically on turf. These are trends manifested from years before as well.

25 losers in a row: Not a single winner in October – tough autumn. It’s those long losing runs that test your mentality as a punter. However it also shows how tight the margins are: if Delphinia would have got up in the super tight finish on British Champions Day it all would have looked a little bit different – a 25/1 shot denied on the line.

2020 Outlook:

Hopefully another successful year. Potentially even more selective, with less bets and more quality, that’s the aim. Combining several different data points with my own form analysis will remain the method of choice in identifying potentially well handicapped horses, likely in lower grades.

If I can’t answer the question “Is the horse well handicapped” with a resounding YES I’ll revert back to “no bet, no problem”.

Avoiding class 6 races on turf altogether. Be properly diligent in my assessment on anything below class 5 on the All-Weather before placing a bet while swerving sprint races on the sand.

The odd group races will still keep me entertained. Speed ratings tend to hold up well in those competitions therefore they remain of interest in the right circumstances. I also enjoy writing more complete and in -depth previews of the big Group 1 races.

Become even more selective on Irish racing. Don’t get sucked into the excitement of the bigger meetings. I always struggled to make it pay.

Complete Betting Record

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Saturday Selections: February, 2nd 2019

Newmarket Rowley Mile Winning post

12.35 Lingfield: Class 5 Handicap, 7 furlongs

Only one ride today, that usually is a sign of confidence if Joe Fanning makes his way down to Lingfield. His mount Port Of Leith may have a future over further, but right now offers still plenty of scope over this 7f trip also.

A cozy CD winner in December off 2lb lower in a good race, which loooks strong form through the runner-up who is now 5lb higher rated than back then, today is only his second All-Weather start.

He couldn’t follow up at Kempton subsequently but you can forgive that run. Master Fanning may be able to dictate matters in this small field today and that could be telling when it matters most in the closing stages.

Selection:
10pts win – Port Of Leith @ 6/1 MB

……..

6.45 Kempton: Class 4 Handicap, 1 mile

Looks a competitive race, but in reality most are in the grip of the handicapper. That leaves space for an unexposed sort. I feel Enzemble could be this. Still generally lightly raced, particularly on the All-Weather.

Gerald Mosse back in the saddle, he steered Enzemble to CD success last summer. The 4-year-old followed up with a strong runner-up performance behind a subsequent Group 3 winner and ran another nice race on Turf.

Changed yard since then, returned to the track after a small break here at Kempton last month. He finished well enough after hitting a flat spot over 2f out. He needs to improve to have a chance today.

But he should be capable of doing so. Enzemble’s mark has dropped below 80 now – given he already ran to higher RPR’s and an 80 TS rating (on turf) there is a fair possibility he is something like a mid-80 rated individual.

Selection:
10pts win – Enzemble @ 7/1 MB

………

8.15 Kempton: Class 6 Handicap, 1m 4f

In truth, I do not have all that much trust in the ability of Spring Ability – but in a wide open race I feel this lad has a chance to outrun a huge price tag. And there a reasons for it.

First of all, the yard has a fair spell. Furthermore trainer Laura Mongan’s charges excel over longer trips generally and her record with horses stepping up in trip is quite excellent.

So, from that perspective, seeing Spring Ability, who has only his second handicap start, stepping up to 12f after doing most of his races over a mile, until his latest 10f bout at Lingfield, a second run after a long break, gives a bit of hope.

Spring Ability looks quite a big and scopey individual. He’s related to a couple of 12f winners, so clearly bred to go this distance, and you can pretty much draw a line under anything he has done so far.

Whether today is already the day to let the handbreak off, I don’t know. Price suggests no. Mark is still high enough. But then, it seems significant to me to see him running 3rd time after a break, 2nd handicap, for the first time over “his” trip with a good jockey in the saddle also. And not to forget, Spring Ability’s best career run came at Kempton.

Selection:
10pts win – Spring Ability @ 100/1 MB

The Good, Bad & Ugly – Week #1:2019

It’s a new year – the time for a New Year’s Resolution: be more active on the blog again! Plain and simple.

The last year in particular I’ve focused on the betting side neglecting the other rather important side of why I initially started this blog a good eight years ago: to write about all the things I love about horse racing – the sport, the horses, the global aspect of the game!

So, with the new year still fresh, I gonna try to be a bit more (pro-) active: a few more insightful (hopefully!) columns, opinion pieces, educational stuff and so on – starting with the introduction of a new weekly column right here:

The Good, Bad & Ugly – a short review of all the good and not so good things in racing that caught my eye and lit up my emotions during the past week. Let’s get started with Week #1:2019!

good.pngThe Good:

Do It Again – he did it again, indeed! This imperious looking son of the great Twice Over and reigning Durban July champion, has followed up on his biggest triumph with another massive success.

On Saturday he was one of nine starters in South Africa’s premier 1 mile race, the Queen’s Plate, that took place at Kenilworth racecourse.

The powerful gelding overcame a slow pace and produced another stunning performance to get his head in front when it mattered most:


The Candy Man
– What a lovely name for a horse, isn’t it? The performance of this lad in a Handicap on Sunday at Australia’s Sunshine Coast was certainly as sweet as candy!

The grey missed the start completely, still standing in the gates while the others flew out to race. He was trailing the field by half a dozen lengths for half the race, until making a swift move to the rear of the field as the pace slowed. He then unleashed a devastating turn of foot in the home straight – WOW!

Watch a replay of this unreal performance here.

First winner of 2019 – It was the perfect start: first bet, first winner! Paparazzi strolled home on Wednesday in a Newcastle handicap to win as easy as he liked, despite a 12/1 price tag.

It’s those magic moments when the picture you painted in your mind beforehand comes to fruition in reality, as I concluded in the preview:

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

bad2The Bad:

Racing’s Staff Crisis – Becomes one of the biggest threats to the industry. It was reported over the weekend that there’s an estimated shortfall of around 1,000 staff in the UK. Brexit fears enhance the feeling of uncertainty in relation to employing foreign staff to offset the shortfall in yards.

Often long hours, not enough off-days and low pay – those are the main concerns brought forward. Understandably so: the stable staff is preparing the horses day in day out, hence they play a pivotal role in the industry.

If they can’t be retained in numbers enough to keep the show going, plus if the jobs aren’t attractive enough for new people to join, then the game is in incredible danger. Falling prize-money surely isn’t helping, particularly for smaller yards it adds even more pressure.

A viscous cycle: working long hours, physical work, often starting very early in the morning, ordinary pay at best – that isn’t attractive to a lot of young people these days.

Stable staff does it for the love of horses. Without this love and duty of care for the welfare of our equine athletes these wonderful people show any given day, horse racing would be long gone.

Add to this the rather low pay at times where everything else becomes more expensive and the possibility of Brexit which could make it harder for yards to employ foreign staff – there you have an existential crisis.

It was surprising to see it so blatantly called out by the biggest names in the sport over the weekend. Nicky Henderson commented that the threat is no longer only a threat but  it “has already become a reality”.

Now, not everything is black and white. Not all staff are impacted by issues the same way. Plenty love their job, enjoy their day to day doing, are paid well enough and feel treated fairly.

Not all, though, and there is, no doubt, a balanced and fair discussion needed right now – a solution oriented one that addresses issues. Because the issue of staff shortage is at the heart of the game.

badThe Ugly:

 A Bad Loss – “I’m excited as heck because I feel Blue Harmony could be supremely well handicapped in this race!”

I got that spectacularly wrong. Blue Harmony finished nearly last, never went a yard. There was zero confidence in the market either. The filly was obviously not as well in as I felt she is.

Well, that’s racing. Can happen. It was a 16/1 shot. But it hurts. Particularly if you go and shout it so loud as I did in my preview.

Irish racing video archive – Gone. Since Racing TV has taken over the rights to show Irish racing, the complete video archive of all races prior to 1st January 2019 are no longer accessible – neither on ATR, the Racing Post- and Sportinglife website and certainly not on the RTV site.

You couldn’t make it up, could you? They had months and months time to prepare for this transition. But they didn’t seem to think about this rather important piece – or shall we say didn’t care – which shows a complete disregard for the racing public.

Please also read my latest opinion piece on the matter: Racing’s Problems bigger than ATR vs RTV

Got your own ideas of what was good or not so good in the the last week? Want to share feedback? Let me know in the comments! 

My Betting Review 2018

671.50 points profit. 28.78% ROI – 239 bets, 33 successful selections: 2018.

A fine year from a punting perspective! It’s back-to-back profitable years in fact, ever since I changed my approach to betting on horses. As last year was all about refining, tweaking and adjusting the method, 2018 was all about putting it consistently to work.

There is no doubt that the All-Weather is my happy hunting ground. It’s so by a wide margin outperforming turf in terms of profit and ROI, and has delivered the majority of success this year: 605pts.

Of course a few big priced winners helped. They always help. However, you only find long-shots if you consistently punt them, and they only turn into a long-term profit if you find value in them. The notion that any 20/1 shot is automatically value isn’t only flawed, it’s the route to bankruptcy.

The British Turf has been a different story: a lot of bets for a negative return: -49.50pts. The story could have been a different one if not for 7 furlong races. 22 selections, not a single winner. Burned a lot of money there. Take those out of the equation and it would have been a healthy profit.

Jumps delivered a minimal loss -8pts. The Cheltenham Festival, profitably for the second year running, couldn’t make up for an otherwise poor performance over obstacles.

It’s simply not where my strengths are and I don’t have the same tools available as for flat racing. It’s telling on the scoreboard.

On the international front it was yet again a fine year. From a small selection of bets, the highlights were Hawkbill in Dubai and of course for the second year running, finding the Melbourne Cup winner with Cross Counter: +144pts.

January and March 2018 contributed as the most successful months of the year to the profit of 2018. No surprise, as those are major months for the All-Weather.

The summer months were a difficult roller-coaster. August resulted in a -90pts loss, October posting minus 75pts.

Clearly there is a lot to learn from all of that, though:

  1. Despite having more selections in 2018 than the year before I found less winners and posted a smaller ROI, yet a higher profit. 2019 shall be about quality over quantity.
  2. Low grade- and 7 furlong Handicaps on Turf have been a disaster. Keep selections on this type of races to an absolute minimum.
  3. Jumps: Focus on the Cheltenham Festival. Keep money in the pocket otherwise.

One of the major issues developing over the course of 2018 has been the problem of getting on with bookies. This is nothing totally new. Many punters face severe restrictions.

Only over the last two years, though – punting higher sums as confidence in my process is rock solid now, followed up by monetary success – I have started to see my accounts become restricted. Bet365, Sky, VC or Betway – they all market their products prominently but only want mugs to join them (from a business perspective: who can blame them!).

Most firms, big an small, have restricted my accounts to meaningless amounts these days. A certain Geoff Banks – at least he had the guts to engage in a real conversation, mind – accused me of cheating. While all I’m doing is working hard and putting in the effort.

Obviously the majority of my races are lower grade, less liquid markets, mid-week. To get a reasonable stake of something like 100 quid on  to an 8/1 shot is neigh to imposible. And it doesn’t even matter whether you’re winning long term with these firms or not.

Exchanges help, but only to an extend. Betfair has high charges, particularly if you win well over a certain period of time. And markets for my races aren’t always liquid.

I’ve found Matchbook a pretty good substitute, thankfully. The markets are growing. Even though I barely get my full stake on top prices, at least I get my stake on within a range of odds that I still regard as value.

The issue of “getting on” has put me off the idea to potentially increase my flat stake – yes, I do bet with flat stake, because it simply works best for my process, particularly mentally – and considering going full time. The hassle isn’t worth it.

For now it remains a wonderful side income. Tax free. 671.50 points profit and 28.78% return of investment for around 20 hours work a week – that’s pretty decent – no bank gives you that sort of interest on your money. And I do actually enjoy the hours put in as well. A win-win situation.

  • A complete list of all 2018 selections can be found here.

Disclaimer: This website is not a betting service. I do not take responsibility for your losses. This is a betting blog where I write about my selections. If others follow, enjoy the read and get on to a few winners thanks to this blog – great, I’m happy. Please only bet what you can afford to lose!

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Saying that: happy punting in 2019 – and bringing it to an end with my personal favourite victories of 2018: