Monthly Archives: December 2012

Left it late but bet of the year at 25/1 to pay for Christmas

cash_in_handI fancy Cue Card very strongly to win the King George VI Steeplechase at Kempton on Wednesday.  If he does so, he will almost certainly shorten dramatically for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March. If he wins convincingly, he might even end up favourite for that race.

If he loses on Wednesday, it’s highly likely lack of stamina will be blamed (assuming he completes the course), in which case he will not run in the Gold Cup.

Betvictor offer 25/1 against Cue Card winning the Gold Cup. If he is a non-runner, your stake will be refunded as a free bet (which must be used on Gold Cup day in March: read the full terms and conditions ). In ‘normal’ ante-post bets, your stake is lost if the horse does not run in the specified race.

If Cue Card shortens in the Gold Cup betting, you will, if you wish, be able to ‘sell’ all or some of your bet on Betfair (if he wins I will post a Betfair video tutorial showing you how to do this). Selling (laying  off) ensures you cannot lose from the deal. If he loses at Kempton and for some reason still runs in the Gold Cup without shortening in the betting then you will not be able to lay the bet off profitably (I cannot foresee circumstances in which this would happen).

If you take advantage of this offer, you might also want to have a bet on Oscar Whisky at 6/1 for The World Hurdle. Betvictor’s free bet also applies here and if Oscar Whisky runs (he has a choice of races at the festival) he is likely to be around 2/1 or shorter, thus providing another selling opportunity.

I need to state the usual caveats that this is not investment advice. I have no direct link to the connections of Cue Card and my judgement of where he will run, and how his connections will interpret the result of Wednesday’s race is based  on my own experience, so it is not without risk. If he does not turn up in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, you will, of course need to find another selection to carry your refunded stake, but that is a much healthier position to be in than losing it without a run.

Good luck and happy Christmas


Oscar Whisky well worth the risk at 7/1 for World Hurdle

binocularsWith Big Buck’s announced out for the season with injury, the World Hurdle has its most open look for many years (assuming BB does not make a recovery, as Kicking King and Binocular did).

Bookmakers make Quevega favourite at between 3/1 and 11/2. Oscar Whisky can be backed at 7/1 a price that owes more to the doubt that he might miss the World Hurdle for the Champion Hurdle.

But his trainer Nicky Henderson seems to be growing increasingly convinced that Oscar Whisky was amiss last year when beaten in the World Hurdle. The immediate post-race reaction was that he’d failed to stay but Mr Henderson said in a recent interview that he thought the horse might well have been amiss that day. “Can you really believe he didn’t stay? He finished absolutely unconscious. He was virtually wounded he was so bad. He virtually dropped to the ground.”

Does that sound like a man who wouldn’t like another crack at the World Hurdle, especially minus Big Buck’s? Add to this the fact that Mr Henderson has Grandouet, Darlan and Binocular for the Champion Hurdle. He will, of course, need to persuade Mr Walters. who owns Oscar that the World is at his feet. But at 7/1 I’m willing to take the chance on that.

If he lines up for the race, I suspect he’ll be closer to 7/4 than 7/1

Good luck


Goodbye Bud. Why Hello Bud should be barred from running in the National

national_startIn nineteen days’ time, Hello Bud will officially turn fifteen. His actual birth day was April 24th 1998, but all racehorses are deemed 1 year older on January 1st and that is the age that will appear alongside his name if he lines up in the John Smith’s Grand National on April 6th.

It is rare for a 15-y-o to be in training. The last of that age to run in the National was MacMoffat in 1947.

Hello Bud is one of my favourite horses, a game front runner who jumps very well. He has never fallen over fences and his victory in The Becher Chase last Saturday, a race he won in 2010, was over the National fences, although it is more than a mile shorter than the big race in April.

The National is often described as racing’s shop window.  But it’s a shop which opens just once a year as far as the public is concerned and among the millions gaping, there are plenty with big bricks in their hands. On view in recent times, equine corpses, a trail of exhausted dismounted horses having buckets of water thrown on them by panicky people lest they collapse in view of millions.  That sweating cavalry were led home by a beautiful big horse who was thrashed all the way up the run-in by his jockey.

Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Synchronised died in the 2012 race after throwing his rider before the start. Some believe his fatal injury was caused by the thick wooden stakes making up the core of each spruce-dressed fence. Those wooden cores are on their way out and should have been dispensed with many years ago.  They were removed from four fences for last weekend’s Becher meeting.

The shop-window audience is increasingly filling with rubber-neckers and animal rights people.

Dene Stansall, spokesman for Animal Aid told Chris Cook of The Guardian,

“We did some research in 2008, looking at racehorses that were killed between March 2007 and March 2008, and we found that most of those who collapsed and died were older horses running over a long distance. I think there is a question over whether it’s right or not for him to be taking his chance. Obviously, we remember Mac Vidi getting placed in the [1980] Gold Cup at the age of 15, though that was a very long time ago.

“It’ll be a different ballgame for Hello Bud in April, running against 39 horses rather than 15 [last Saturday] and probably on faster ground, when he might be taken off his feet. Pointing to the horse’s career earnings of £320,000, Stansall said: “He’s done enough, surely. He’s earned his retirement. The National would be one step too far.”

I cannot verify Mr Stansall’s research but you can bet that most editors won’t seek verification before publishing his quotes. Mr Stansall, from a personal viewpoint, is doubtless sincere in not wanting Hello Bud to run. But he will be delighted to make all he can of the opportunity should the BHA not step in and end this now, well before entries for the race open.

On the face of it, there is nothing wrong with allowing Hello Bud to take part in a marathon steeplechase. In the interests of the horse and his connections and, crucially the interests of fairness, justice, whatever you want to call it, he should be allowed to run anywhere he is fit to.

His owner/trainer Nigel Twiston Davies, who has won the National with Bindaree and Earth Summit, told Chris Cook,

“Why is the poor horse going to deteriorate so much in the next three and a half months? It’s ridiculous. He’s led them a merry dance [in the Becher], he’s beaten a previous National winner. I’ll withdraw him instantly if they can prove that his age is going to put him at such a great risk but I don’t think they can.

“They could say these things if he’d trailed round in last but he didn’t. There’s a risk every time you canter a horse, or gallop them at home. If he gave up racing, he’d go hunting or chasing a trail or something like that, where he’d be just as likely to break a leg. Do they want me to put him in a field for the rest of his days and tell him, sorry about the cold weather?

“If ever you saw a horse enjoying himself in a race, it was him on Saturday. I think it’s a bit silly to talk about horses enjoying themselves, which is a human thing, but at the very least he wasn’t showing any resentment. I put him out in a field with our other horses who had run at the weekend and he was the one who was bucking and kicking most of all.”

I cannot dispute a word of that. Nigel knows him better than anyone and the last thing he would do is put any horse at risk.

But it’s not the risk to the horse that’s paramount here, it is the risk to the future of the Grand National. We have more than our fair share of experts in this sport but you need not be one to foresee the folly of allowing a fifteen-year-old to run in the National.  A class of  school-children the same age as the horse faced with doing a risk-assessment on the potential PR impact would, I’m sure, recommend that he should not take part.

The BHA has the power to prevent any horse running in any race (under rule 12.4.4). A specialist BHA-organised panel also assembles to judge the qualifications of each horse before the Grand National. Last year, a minimum age limit of seven was introduced. How they must now wish they’d stuck a solid bookend at the upper level too.

There is a chance that Hello Bud will not ‘get in’ anyway (there is a cut-off ballot for this maximum field of 40 based on a horse’s handicap mark; Hello Bud’s mark is 133 and that might just be short of what is needed). But I believe the BHA should act before the end of the year to nip this particular Bud. Formally, there might be nothing they can do until entries have been made, but they should let the trainer know they will simply not allow the horse to run.

If  he misses the National, Mr Twiston-Davies says Hello Bud will run in The Topham. Fine, that’s a reasonable trade-off. It will be a smaller field over a much shorter trip and, vitally, the curtains will not yet have been opened on racing’s shop window.

Long-term sponsors Heineken, via their John Smith’s brand, will be wishing they’d ended their sponsorship in 2012 (the 2013 race is their last as sponsors). Reportedly, there has been disquiet for some time in the sponsors’ HQ about the image of the National. It’s gone from a wayward PR firecracker to something much more threatening for a sponsor, and if Hello Bud is allowed to run it becomes a time-bomb.


Sprinter Sacre V Red Rum – a good marketing tactic for racing?

national_jumpersWe have another good horse on our hands, perhaps a great one, in Sprinter Sacre. He runs fast, jumps well and looks good. Racing For Change will be seeking ways to make the best of him and his promise. Unlike Frankel, we know that, barring injury, Sprinter Sacre will be around for a few years, which is a further bonus.

But how do you get across to a non-racing person just how exciting a horse is? That is always the problem. People have no current context to place Frankel or Sprinter Sacre in.

It’s fine for us to cry brilliance and speed and but even we, the experts, would be hard pushed to just look at a horse or a race outside of the context we are used to. Think about this: you lose your memory and spend some time in hospital.  One sunny day you wake up and see a race on TV, a dozen horses galloping round Tattenham Corner. Fairgrounds and cheering crowds are in the background but the sound is turned down.

Would you be willing to bet you are watching The Derby?  Could it be a class 3 handicap? A selling plate?

Horses running fast mean little to non-racing folk. With football, everybody can applaud a wonderful goal; they know how difficult it is to score one, even if they’ve never played the game.

So how do we convey the brilliance of good horses? How about circulating a nice colour graphic to the media showing Red Rum only halfway along the Grand National run-in while Sprinter Sacre is passing the post? “When Red Rum was the same age as Sprinter Sacre, this is how far behind he would have been.”

You needn’t go in to ratings, or different trips to complicate matters. To many, Red Rum was the greatest horse of all time: full stop. Racing should use that perception to help the public give some context and to whet appetites for coming along to see ‘The horse who would have hammered Red Rum”


Cue Card now looking a very strong bet for King George

binocularsThe victory of Bobs Worth in the Hennessy Gold Cup franked the form of Cue Card who had failed by just a short head to give that top class horse half a stone at Newbury last season over 2m 4f. Some say Cue Card would have won that day had his jockey not looked round after the last fence.

Cue Card went on to run 2nd in the Arkle to the brilliant Sprinter Sacre who beat the Tizzard horse 7 lengths. But  Cue Card was 22 lengths clear of the third, Menorah with Al Ferof (who’d made a bad mistake) back in fourth. Sprinter Sacre’s astounding performance at Sandown yesterday forged a gold edged seal on that Arkle form.

First time out this season Cue Card won the Haldon Gold Cup over an extended 2 miles 1 furlong, by 27 lengths. Best Mate won the Haldon Gold Cup by 20 lengths the year before he won his King George.

Cue Card has won over 19f on soft ground at Newbury and over 20f on good at Chepstow where he comfortably beat fellow chasing debutant Silvianaco Conti.

Cue Card can be a tricky ride; he dislikes restraint and often has to make is own running. The hot pace of the King George should suit although it will also test his stamina on his first attempt at 24 furlongs. His jumping, touch wood, is pretty sound these days though, like Sprinter Scare, he is not always straight in the air – there can be a degree of lateral movement which sometimes leads to him screwing slightly on landing.

Still, I would say he has the most solid form in the race. I fear Al Ferof and have had a saver on him, but the 7/1 about Cue Card holds strong appeal. The race is definitely his target according to his trainer and unless a training mishap derails him, he will be there on the day. I suspect, by then, the 7/1 will have shrunk to 11/2.

Bearing in mind that ante-post bets are losers if your selection does not run, some might be willing to sacrifice a point or two in price and wait for the day.

If you decide to back him for the King George, you’d be as well having a small bet at 33s for the Cheltenham Gold Cup too. If he wins well at Kempton he might drop to a single figure price for the festival showpiece.

Good luck




Plenty of water essential for the long term health of the Grand National


Changes were made to four fences on the Grand National course in preparation for today’s meeting where 25 horses competed over the course on heavy going. Five fell and two unseated.

As a spectacle I could see no difference from the Grand National other than the very sensible pace they were forced to go in the ground. Fences 13 and 14 had their wooden core replaced by plastic that would give on impact. The cores in the 3rd and 11th were replaced by a ‘standard birch frame'(as you’d see in an everyday steeplechase).

There seems to have been no downside to the removal of these wooden cores which were made up of a tight forest of thick stakes. In the past, once the heavy spruce dressing had been thinned out by a big field on the first circuit, it was more likely that horses would hit these stakes when making errors. Many believe Synchronised’s fatal fracture was caused by the stakes when he was jumping loose.

Aintree should now remove all wooden cores. It should also do so as quietly as possible. Not many GN viewers are/were aware of the stakes. Publicity about their removal will only prompt questions about why they were allowed to pose a hidden danger for so long.

Despite all the changes over the years, Mother Nature proved today that nothing hi-tec is needed to ensure the long-term health of the great race, plenty of water seems the answer.

Cheltenham has a declared policy of producing ground no faster than good to soft for day one of the festival. Maybe it’s time Aintree followed them with an announcement that all races over the Grand National fences will take place on soft ground – genuinely soft, erring on the side of heavy rather than risking good to soft.

That would be the only sure way to slow the field to a safe speed. There’s a strong chance it would result in a significant increase in Pulled Ups, but that’s far preferable to watching horses somersault at breakneck pace.

It would also mean some slow finishes – the end of the Grand Sefton today was just about on the right side of watchable – and I think it would be prudent to ban the use of the whip from the Elbow.

The National is on a PR tightrope. The sport cannot afford to be walking that wire for years to come. Annual post-race tinkering just makes us look silly and indecisive. Discriminating against good-ground horses would, in my opinion, be a small price to pay to secure the future.

Make these three changes for 2013 and we might never need to make another . . . and getting a new sponsor should be easy.

  • Replace all wooden cores
  • Guarantee proper soft ground
  • No whip use from the Elbow

The 2014 Volvic Grand National . . . sounds okay.


For Cheltenham fanatics with time to spare

qmMy friends at Racenews have sent me their usual highly detailed guide to Cheltenham’s International meeting set for  next weekend.

For lovers of facts and figures it makes a good read.

Just click the text link below and when the page comes up, click it again

Cheltenham internationalmg2012



Can one horse ‘break the heart’ of another?

sad horseReading a post on The Racing Forum, someone suggested that Big Buck’s had, perhaps, broken horses like Punchestowns.

They used to say Arkle broke Mill House’s heart.

Do you think horses have the emotional capacity to feel humiliated or psychologically battered by not being able to catch a rival?

Does a horse even see another one as a rival? Racehorses are not competing for food, although it might be argued that some genetic/historic drive compels them to compete not to end up as food by leaving others behind for predators?

But even that tactic might be questionable; many would see the safest place to ‘hide’ would be in the middle of the herd.

If only they could talk!

All thoughts most welcome in the comments section


Why banning FOBTs from shops will damage racing


William Hill CEO Ralph Topping’s comments in yesterday’s Racing Post have caused quite a stir (when do Mr Topping’s comments not cause a stir?).

One debate taking place on Twitter as I write concerns, among other aspects, the potential benefits to racing of FOBTs being removed from shops completely. I assume that this is on the presumption that much of that FOBT turnover will be transferred to horse racing.

I wouldn’t argue for a minute that betting on horse racing is not an essential attraction for regular betting shop punters. But its market share has been slipping for years. In the 1980s, horse racing made up more than 80% of turnover; I suspect it’s now closer to half that figure. The belief that dulling the attraction of FOBTs will boost horse racing turnover to any noticeable degree simply does not stand up, in my opinion.

Why would serious players move from a product that returns 98% of stakes to one that returns 84%? And, that second figure is only achievable, realistically, if you take the time to learn about racing. Betting shops are grossing around £900 a week per machine (source William Hill half year results, June 2012). The costs to bring racing into shops is onerous. FOBT profits are subsidising that cost, in some cases very heavily. If FOBT business collapses, experienced industry figures predict we will lose a minimum of half our betting shops meaning racing will lose at least half its media rights money.

Some will cry ‘Scaremongers’, but when FOBTs really started taking off  with Roulette some years ago, I asked the MD of one of the major bookmakers in a private conversation, ‘What would happen if FOBTs were made illegal tomorrow?’

‘I’d close around 80% of my shops’ was the reply.

On the stats front, the Racing Post recently published an article on a survey done by a company called GamblingData. One of the areas covered was the cross-over or interplay, however you want to term it, between FOBT play and horse race betting.  43% of people who bet on FOBTs also bet on horse racing.  What the report does not indicate is the level at which that takes place.  A machine punter who also bets on horses might have one £5 bet a month. A horse player who also bets on machines might put just £5 a month into a machine – the figures are useless without further data.

The real bummer for supporters of the ‘ban FOBTs campaign’ is the stark fact that 57% of those playing FOBTs do not bet on horse racing.

Those who believe that smashing the FOBT market will re-direct most of the turnover to horse racing, or that it will encourage bookmakers to sell racing (a product with the tiniest of margins and in a number of cases, negative margins) well, the stats we have so far, plus anecdotal evidence, do not bear that out.

The proof of the pudding will only be found in the eating. It could turn out to be the most expensive dessert racing has ever sought.

GamblingData Survey article in RP



Why ‘related contingency’ in horseracing bets is a rip-off

riskStan James’ front man Rory Jiwani raised some long dormant hackles in me yesterday when he tweeted SJ’s offer of Cinders And Ashes to win The Fighting Fifth and Champion Hurdle at the ‘special price’ of 12/1. At the time of his tweet C&A could be backed for the Champion at 10/1 – his SP in the Fighting Fifth was 10/11.  What Mr Jiwani was effectively saying was ‘I’m assuming he has already won today and will therefore offer a shade over 11/2 for the Champion Hurdle’.

C&A lost and drifted to 16/1 for Cheltenham encompassing nicely the folly of taking related contingency prices on horse racing bets. I rarely meet an experienced punter who questions these RC bets – it has always been the way and to many it seems logical, ‘If my horse wins the first leg of my bet, I’d expect him to shorten for the second one’. What they never consider is what the odds would be if their horse lost the first leg. The fact that it doesn’t matter then because the bet is down anyway does not make the odds correct.

Take, in hindsight, what the ‘correct’ odds for C&A appear to have been –  31.45 to 1 (10/11 & 16s). But you cannot argue that this is accurate either, because that assumes that leg 1 of the bet is lost. The correct odds, in my opinion should be the simple multiplied odds that apply to any normal double – in this case, 20/1.

RC bets are valid in some sports, football for example. Chelsea to win 2-0 and Chelsea to win the match should obviously not be accepted because if the first part happens the second part is certain. ‘Man Utd to win today and win the League’ would also see a perfectly fair application of RC  odds – 3 points enhance their chances of winning the league, no question.

In horse racing the bookmaker wants the best of both worlds. At the time the bet is struck the punter has no advantage over the bookmaker, he knows no more than the bookie does. The bookie assesses the horse’s chances based on the info available and prices the horse accordingly for both events. In quoting you a ‘special’ RC price what he is saying is,”Even though we are both in possession of the same information, I want to reserve the right to insure myself in case I got it wrong – and I am not going to pay that insurance premium, you are”.

Now, if there were a rider that allowed your insurance premium to be returned in the event of your horse losing leg 1, RC bets would be much fairer.

If you’re in any doubt about the value of RC bets, ask yourself this; supposing you wanted a double yesterday on Countrywide Flame to win the Fighting Fifth and Cinders And Ashes to win the Champion, do you think you’d have been the beneficiary of RC in that the bookie would have laid you 16s C&A for the Champion, before the Fighting Fifth?