Thursday, 27 January 2011

Festival Repeat? - Ante Post Thoughts

Scouring the ante-post markets this week for the Cheltenham Festival gave me a sense of déjà vu and had me harping back to 2003 and 2004. At the 2003 Festival, Rooster Booster won the Champion Hurdle, Moscow Flyer the Champion Chase, Best Mate gained a second Gold Cup whilst Baracouda added another Stayers’ Hurdle to his CV.

Fast forward twelve months and all were strongly fancied to retain their crowns. Rooster Booster and Baracouda had prepped for the Festival in handicap company, Rooster Booster going down gallantly off 166 in the Tote Gold Trophy whilst Baracouda defied a mark of 170 at Sandown in February. Best Mate, in a typically light campaign, had won the Ericcson at Leopardstwon over Christmas and Moscow Flyer was still unbeaten on his completed starts over fences, and was still a short-priced favourite despite Azertyuiop having raised the bar with his gallant narrow defeat in the Victor Chandler Chase.

Although not all at such short prices (only Rooster Booster started odds against at 11/8 in 2004), the reigning champions of those contests from 2010 look to hold very strong claims once more. Binocular looked much more like a Champion Hurdler at Kempton than he had at Newbury, Big Zeb is still undefeated for the season, Big Buck’s is, well Big Buck’s and Imperial Commander missing the King George and going to the Festival fresh is surely a blessing in disguise.

Of the reigning champions is 2004, only Best Mate managed to retain his crown, Rooster Booster coming across Hardy Eustace, Baracouda bumping into Iris’s Gift whilst Moscow Flyer took off a stride too soon at the top of the hill and deposited Barry Geraghty into the turf.

So what are the chances of history repeating itself and can we profit from it? The Champion Hurdle is too competitive a race to tempt me into backing Binocular at around the 3/1 mark. But the other three Champions all look appealing enough and in the cases of Big Bucks and Imperial Commander, will surely start shorter than the current 4/7 and 7/2. Non-runner, money back-Trixie anyone?

Sunday, 23 January 2011

Tellwright from Wrong

Jumps fans have already had plenty to put up with this winter with the adverse weather causing havoc with the fixture list, and the return to freezing temperatures over the last few days meant all of Friday's Jumps meetings were abandoned as well as Haydock's Saturday card which would have featured Champion Hurdle hope Peddler's Cross taking on one-time Triumph Hurdle runner-up Walkon.

It came as a surprise to many that Haydock failed to beat the elements, particularly as much-malinged Clerk of the Course Kirkland Tellwright had issued an upbeat bulletin with regards the meeting going ahead. Predictably there was much criticism of him for Haydock failing to beat the elements but I can't help feeling that on this occasion it was misplaced. The track was reportedly raceable on Friday afternoon, as it had been for nine days prior to that. In fact, had temperatures only got down to the forecast -1, rather than -4.5 which transpired, I've little doubt they would have raced. Could Haydock have used frost covers that have been deployed at other meetings this winter which have enabled them to go ahead? Perhaps, but as big meetings at Kempton and Ascot have already shown, they are not guaranteed to succeed, and Haydock itself has used them five times previously but still had to abandon four of those meetings. Given the forecast, and the cost of such measures, reported to be in the region of £30,000 per fixture, I don't think it was a value punt for the Haydock executive to take.

I'm not saying Clerks of the Course should be above criticism, they still have plenty to answer for with regards to overwatering Flat courses in the summer and I'll be saving my criticism for then.

Fortunately we did get some top-class action at Ascot, another heartwarming performance from Sparky May further delayed the retirement of Pat Rodford with an impressive victory in the Grade 2 Mares Hurdle over 3m. If she continues her progression, she'll surely give some of the bigger yards a scare in the David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Master Minded also extended his unbeaten run for the season to three but failed to universally impress as he scrambled to a short-head victory over Somersby. Much of the coverage has focussed on the seeming underperformance of Master Minded, but I'm not sure he was that far below form. Forgetting his 2008 Champion Chase win, my take is that Master Minded pretty much ran as well as he's capable of since then. Somersby got much closer than he managed in the Tingle Creek, but that more to do with him improving, pulling 20l clear of the rest after all. Where do Master Minded's Champion Chase claims stand now? Well for me, the same place as they did beforehand, he's the most likely to take advantage, if for some reason, the reigning Champion Big Zeb fails to retain his crown.

Saturday, 22 January 2011

Lets see how this goes.

Not sure how often I'll post anything. Possibility that this will be my first and only offering. But the idea is that I'll post my thoughts on horseracing here every fortnight or so. Main interest is in Flat racing so will tend to focus on that.