Monthly Archives: November 2013

Hail Cue Card and a wonderful Betfair Chase!

Cue Card

Cue Card

Just got back from Haydock, still smiling! Thanks for the kind comments, and well done to other Cue Card backers.

I’m so pleased for the TIzzards, and for the horse who has galloped most of his critics into the ground today (hang your head, Mark Howard). I’ve never seen him jump better, and credit once more to Joe Tizzard. He’s not the most stylish but, like Cue Card, he has his own way of doing things.  Joe takes no chances with CC. If he sees a stride, he’ll ask him up and I’ve never seen him get anything but a fine leap. But if he’s uncertain of the stride, he’ll let the horse fiddle – the 10th today was a perfect example of this.

Since I saw the horse win on his fencing debut, I was convinced he’d be a steeplechasing star, but every time I see him I learn a wee bit more. After today, I’m pretty sure that going left handed and soft ground are both important to him. He definitely jumps better this way round. He should get his ground in the King George, but I suspect he won’t jump quite so well.

Dynaste surprised me. I’ve never rated him. When Grands Crus was at the Dynaste stage, I suspected he was soft and I’d put Dynaste in the same camp. But given that was his seasonal debut, he could get closer at Kempton where running clockwise will suit him better than CC.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I believed Silv Conti might crack under pressure, but that could well have been a fitness issue today so I’m back to being undecided about him.

Bobs Worth looked superb in the paddock – I thought he had an almost tangible charisma. He’s not that big but looks superbly put together; lovely horse. That ground and track would not have been to his liking, especially the ground. I get the impression he likes to feel confident on take off at his fences from having something ‘solid’ to spring from. He wouldn’t have enjoyed that slipping feeling, and I think you’ll see a completely different horse back at his beloved Festival.

What of Cue Card’s Gold Cup chances? Well he wasn’t stopping today and he probably had an easier race than most if not all of the field. There’s a good dose of stamina on his dam’s side, and there’s a fair chance that staying is where he will finally find the ideal outlet for his huge engine. If the ground is soft in March, I’d bet him in front of Bobs Worth (and I’m heavily into BW ante-post, albeit with a saver on CC just in case he did exactly what he did today).

Long Run looks as though he’s gone now at this trip, and I was glad to hear the National is on his agenda. His jumping frailties shouldn’t hold him back now that the cores have been removed from the GN fences. Those back end leg-drops will just drag loose spruce off, and an extreme test like that should suit him very well unless it is the string of hard races that have dulled his edge, in which case, I suspect he’ll be a PU on the GN results page. He’s a fine looking horse and a great servant. Connections have never been afraid to race him although they might well now be paying the price for putting such a young horse through so many gruelling challenges.

Anyway, for those of you still awake, forgive me for droning on – still high on adrenaline! Roll on the King George

Cue Card the answer in a race full of questions

Cue Card

Cue Card

The Betfair Chase: I’ve been following horse racing since the late 1960s, and cannot recall looking forward so much to a race this early in the season.

So many questions hang over the 8 participants (5 of them in Timeform’s top 10 ‘chasers list).

Will Cue Card stay?

Has Long Run finally cracked after so many gut-busting races?

Will Bobs Worth be sharp enough this early to lie sufficiently close  to what will probably be a strong pace?

Is Silviniaco Conti top class or just below it?

Can Dynaste justify the belief his connections have?

Is Roi Du Mee more than a right-handed mudlover?

Five weeks short of his thirteenth birthday, can the wonderful Tidal bay have everyone gasping and smiling again?

Will The Giant Bolster finally repay the fiercely zealous faith his trainer has always had in him?

So many imponderables, not least how Silviniaco Conti and Cue Card and maybe even Roi Du Mee react to each other in making the early pace.

I’m still not sure what Silv Conti is made of. He could yet be a top-notcher. But my suspicion is he needs everything to go right. When the pressure is applied by top class opponents, my hunch is that he will crack.

Cue Card has the engine to head the field from the outset, I’ve no doubt about that, but jockey Joe Tizzard will have to conserve enough energy to see the trip out, so he will need to get his pacemaking spot on. Neither of the other pair are particularly headstrong, so there’s a fair chance they’ll sit just behind CC. If a battle does develop up front, I think all three will suffer for it.

If Joe decides to try and drop Cue Card in, then he’ll need to get him settled early which might prove a tough job at that trip, burning energy and taking concentration away from jumping. My feeling is that he has got to go on at a pace that lets the horse relax in front and keeps the others on their mettle. They cannot afford to let Cue Card get away, but if JT gets his pace right, it will put pressure on the jumping of Tidal Bay and Long Run. It might also see Bobs Worth being niggled along at times to stay with them. Geraghty won’t be too bothered of he turns in with four or five in front of him. He will want to be just picking them off one by one up that long straight. And here, the focus turns again to Joe Tizzard and his pace judgement. If he has got it spot on, he should have enough in hand to hold off Bobs Worth on the run-in.

I’d like to see the admirable Long Run bounce back and run really well, although he won’t be able to afford errors and it’s a rare outing when he doesn’t start dragging that back end through the birch. It’s too soon to write him off but if he runs way below form again on Saturday, I think it might be an indication he’s just had too many hard battles for such a young horse.

I love old Tidal Bay whose been blunder-free in his last three steeplechases. It will be a sight indeed if he and Bobs Worth are coming with late runs approaching the last. Looking back, I was surprised to see that only 1 of his 39 runs has been at Haydock, when was 2nd to Imperial Commander in the 2010 Betfair.

I’m not a Dynaste fan, and think him over-rated.

The Giant Bolster is thoroughly exposed now, and runs off exactly the same mark as he did in this a year ago when beaten 7 lengths in a poorer race. And he’s still susceptible to the odd blunder.

Roi Du Mee has spent most of his racing life travelling clockwise – only 3 of his 32 runs outside France have been left-handed (won 2). Still, he has been running in mostly Graded races and his most recent form figures make encouraging reading for an 8-y-o who could still be improving: 51111211-F21. His normally fine jumping will stand him in good stead here too and at 16/1 would hold plenty appeal if the ground does become properly soft – that seems vital to his chance.

In conclusion – it will be no surprise to regular readers that I won’t be deserting Cue Card. I’m confident he has the best engine in the race, but whether it will still be spinning at full revs come the last couple of furlongs, I don’t know. But I have paid to find out, having backed him a couple of weeks ago at 12s. I won’t be laying off. Whatever the outcome, I will take the dose, be it champagne or bitter medicine. You can still back him at 7s. If he stays, I think he’ll win. If he doesn’t, he might not place, so, tempting as it is in an 8 runner field, you might want to think twice about betting each way and take the brave man’s route – all to win.

I’ll be leaving early on Saturday to head for the track. The last time I made the trip to Haydock with such delicious anticipation was for the Edward Hanmer Chase in 1979 to watch a three-horse race. After dawdling for most of the race, things took shape three quarters of a mile out with Silver Buck and Night Nurse locked in battle.  Border Incident fell at the second last when still in close touch and Silver Buck won by a length and a half (Night Nurse injured a tendon in the race).

The old drop fences from back then have long gone, and thirty-four years’ worth of fine thoroughbreds have galloped up that straight in the hoofprints of those two great steeplechasers, but Saturday promises even more. There have been quite a few Gold Cups with worse fields. If you’ve never been to a racetrack before, Saturday at Haydock would be a brilliant place to start. You will never forget it.

Good luck to all

Joe

At 33/1, take the Folly not the Jolly for the Paddy Power Gold Cup

macksonThe first barrel of Mackeson stout rolled out of Kent in 1907. The first winner of The Mackeson Gold Cup, Fortria, carried twelve stone up the hill in 1960. The race has been run every year since – never abandoned. It was last run as The Mackeson in 1995, since when it’s had a few different sponsors. It was first run as The Paddy Power Gold Cup in 2003 and when those of my generation have died or forgotten, perhaps that will be the name stamped in the memories of today’s young racing fans.

I always loved The Mackeson; it signified the start of the season proper. This year’s looks a tough one for punters. My original fancy was Rajdhani Express, and I backed him each way at 12/1. A fine big horse who could develop into a high class one, he got a beautiful ride from Sam Waley Cohen to win the Rewards 4 Racing Nov Hcap  Chase at the Festival this year, although he’s gone up 15lbs since then. But he looks a weight carrying type and I think he’ll run a fine race.

But for value, I’m looking to one to defy the stats. You need to go back to Clear Cut in 1975 to find a winner of this race who was older than 9. In the past decade it’s been dominated by horses aged 6 and 7. But try as I might (and it should be easy as he is not a horse I’ve ever followed or backed), I cannot get away from the thought that the 10-year-old Woolcombe Folly represents tremendous each way value at 33/1 tomorrow.

He’s thoroughly exposed – rarely a favoured factor in these types of races – but in all we’ve learned about him, we know for sure that he’s admirably reliable and consistent, has oodles of Cheltenham experience (2 wins and a 2nd from 7 runs), a good speed figure, the yard’s in form, one of the best 5lb claimers rides (Harry Derham)  and he was running a cracker over this trip last time here, within a length of the lead when a clumsy jump at the last killed his chances. His amateur rider (Mr Biddick) went up his neck as the horse landed awkwardly, and he lost all chance, but I was impressed with the way he kept on up the hill to be beaten about 6 lengths.

Derham’s claim means Woolcombe Folly will carry just 10.8 tomorrow and that might be enough to let him get his head in front after 18 months without a victory. Bar that final fence blunder in his last run, he’d have been placed in all 5 races this season (he raced through the summer), and he must have solid each way claims at 33s with Bet 365. For those who want to take the win-only route, he can currently be backed on Betfair at 44.

I still expect Rajdhani Express to run a huge race, and I’ll be having savers too on Conquisto and Battle Group. I was very taken with the enthusiasm shown by Conquisto when winning at Aintree last time. He loved the job, jumped well and won with a fair bit in hand. He too is most consistent, with form figures of 31122131-21.  He’s on the small side and has to carry 11.3, although he almost won under 11.12 at Haydock in May. I have a slight reservation in that this will be his first Cheltenham visit, but there is no reason he shouldn’t take to the track. He can be backed at 25/1 with Coral.

Battle Group is still not trusted by punters. He was branded ‘quirky’ in his time with David Pipe. But he transferred to the yard of Kevin Bishop last year (the assistant trainer there was Johnny Farrelly who is now listed as Battle Group’s trainer). On the Thursday of Aintree’s Grand National meeting, BG hacked up in a handicap hurdle, then came out again on Saturday and did exactly the same in a steeplechase. Back over hurdles 5 weeks later, he carried 11.13 to victory over 19 opponents. He’s dual purpose, mixing hurdling and chasing, and, very unusually, is officially rated the same under both codes at 150.  On the downside he’s 0 from 7 at Cheltenham (3 from 5 at Aintree) and there’s no way of knowing if he’ll revert to his old quirky ways. But at the price of 25/1 with Stan James (he’s as low as 14s with others) I’m willing to pay to find out. His best performances have been at 3 miles or so, but a fast run 20f at Cheltenham shouldn’t trouble him if he is in the same form as when we last saw him.

So, there you go…valuewise, from the top…

Woolcombe Folly 33/1

Conquisto 25/1

Battle Group 25/1

Rajdhani Express 11/1

Good luck to you and to all horses and jockeys

Joe

Wi-Fi or Die-Fi? A warning from bookie Geoff Banks to the racecourse bosses

Racing folk have moaned for years about how uncommercial racetracks are – ‘Run by old buffers’. Not anymore. The sharper ones are cashing in on every possible income stream. But bookmaker Geoff Banks has a warning for them, and for you.  Geoff’s a regular guest blogger here. I admire his determination to try to stem the tide that threatens to wash away the track bookies, but I fear it will be a Canute job.

cashAscot is my favourite track, by a nose from York, with Cheltenham a neck third because it’s champagne is more than York’s..

Don’t bother giving me your favourite – they’re weighed in

I thoroughly enjoy Ascot. Most of the time it’s bullet cheap to race, they do concerts, firework displays, fairground rides for the Bookies, countryside fayres and service standards, the best in the industry. Nothing’s on the cheap. Bath take a peek.

Now it includes Wifi. Wow, that’s great. Except when you login and my old Mucker King Ralph pops up waving at me from Gibraltar, just like the Racing Post Betting App. I spilled my champagne all over the oysters.

Forgetting the customers for just a second, what’s in it for the tracks? First off, it’s not a cheap investment. Putting in wifi will cost some six figures at a track like Ascot or York. You can’t just bang lots of repeaters in when there’s 40,000 souls involved. It has to be paid for. Now with apologies to some seriously bright track bosses who I routinely engage I’ll tell you what it’s for.

Money.

You see to a track, Betting is appealing. They may not be considering getting into laying horses or such, but if William Hill are going to pay them a portion of what’s turned over via their wifi  to Gibraltar, then we have a new revenue stream. And Topping is no fool, he won’t overpay for the new custom. Forget what Rod Street has to say – ‘it’s a customer focussed initiative.’ That’s hyperbole, and I note with disappointment, another decision he made without consulting stakeholders. It’s about cash. No racetrack is reasonably going to invest in expensive Wifi if it wasn’t expecting something out of the deal.

Let’s deal with Rod’s take first. And I know he’s a racetrack man through and through. Is it about customers really? Will it drive footfall to the tracks – increase their customer experience? The short answer, maybe to the former – but the answer to the second is at the bottom of this read, for reasons I’ll outline. Rod knows it’s about money though. He knows everyone’s got 3g already and heading for 4g, and if they really wanted to book a table for dinner or post a picture to facebook from the track, then that works fine for that. When a customer thinks of Racing – will Wifi seal the deal on attendance when he’s got it already via his Apple? It won’t make any appreciable difference.

Now if you don’t care whether the humble Bookie turns up on course, and you feel the tracks can do well enough with their own Tote or in house betting, then read no further. Let’s not waste each other’s time.

Most of the people calling me a dinosaur with regards to this subject seem to base their arguments on value and betting. Their views revolve around going racing and achieving the best possible value for their punting dollar.

Except that they won’t (go racing) that is. Fellahs bent on achieving the top of the market in punting don’t get in their Austin Princess and drive 30 miles to Ascot. They sit at home in baseball caps on Orange screens and ‘green up’ or ‘cash out’

Woop-dee-doo

You’ve come this far. So I want you to picture a track without bookies. Here’s what it looks like.

empty track

Still going Racing? Hmm, I wonder if you really would? You see Bookmakers have been the very fabric of racecourses since they were built. Is it possible or desirable to go the whole hog with a ChesterBet type deal? (Don’t think that represents any value by the way at SP -10%! Turpin wouldn’t have faced the hangman if he’d invented RacecourseBet)

Ok, you’re a track boss, you really think you’re going to sell as many tickets if there’s no ring, or make as much from it as Bet365 might pay you for turnover? Anyone been to Kempton or Southwell, or for that matter Longchamp, excepting Arc day? They lack any appreciable atmosphere or flavour. People queue for a bet- then they queue longer to get paid. It’s not sexy. And I like rumpie-pumpie in my racing

So, to the humble Bookie, shivering in the ring. He’s invested in a pitch many thousands of pounds. He drives often scores of miles to work. Carries in heavy equipment, electronics. Pays support companies to keep him working, taxes and fees to the Gambling Commission. He’ll employ staff to service the customer, pay them out of the profit and their expenses. And finally he’ll hand over to the racetrack not only his entrance costs, but an expensive daily fee to bet and even a marketing fee someone dreamed up. All in all he’s looking at a ballpark minimum, including the startup cost of pitch and equipment of circa £600 a day. He can’t trade at the 103% book offered by someone sitting in his underpants at home with none of those costs to bear. Don’t weep. Seriously though, we all have to be prepared to pay a little extra for service and betting fun.

Yet oddly enough, the tracks now feel the Bookie should compete directly with underpants man. Not to mention King Ralph, and his lower cost-base technological kingdom. It’s thoroughly unrealistic. The little Bookmaker simply cannot withstand an assault from all directions whilst he shoulders the lions share of expenses.

empty rails

Consider this. A track’s daily fees from Bookies far outweigh what Ladbrokes would pay for the rights to turnover from users on betting apps. And a home layer, fiddling around on Betfair, can now lay bets directly to the track’s customers via these super fast Wifi systems.

You’ve come this far- step the last mile with me. Modern day telephonics already afford a user all the social networking a customer requires. If he wants to post a picture of him and his girlfriend (or boyfriend) on Twitter holding his plastic cup – he can do it, no bother on his existing network. Experience proves however – its simply not fast enough to cope with Betting Apps or exchange business when there’s even 5000 users at a track. Data becomes treacle slow and I seriously doubt 4g will revolutionise the issue of ‘bandwidth’. It deals with speed of data. If there’s lots of folk on the internet, clogging up the mast, the system breaks down because the issue is the number of users sharing the line.

Hardly surprising, those screaming loudly in favour of Wifi, and calling me a T Rex, are frustrated they cannot go racing and fiddle about on Betfair. They foresee Wifi as speeding up that issue. And they’re right – it will.

But the Bookie standing in the ring – who’s paid for the ‘Right’ to bet through every pore in his body? Whilst the track finds one revenue source it didn’t have before, it will lose not only the fees it generates from the Ring – but the ring itself. It’s not the final nail of course, I’m not saying that, but were you running a little business on track, how much pressure from the internet, paying pennies to bet directly to customers floating about the track, do you think you could stand? What percentage of a track’s custom frequent the ring, view, or feel it adds a sense of British to their day?

My solution? Is one which satisfies customers, excepting those who expect betting permanently on the cheap. Block all access from racetracks from Wifi to betting sites. They’re not paying to bet to bettors at Ascot as other track stake holders do. That’s a key point. You simply cannot expect to reap harvest from Bookmakers or Betting shops and allow BetVictor those same privileges for nothing. Customers rights are unaffected, they can use their 3g anyway to post photos of pictures standing next to Rod Street and his nice new suit.

busy rail

The answer to the improved customer experience question for a racetrack with little or no Betting Ring, is it a better experience than Longchamp?

You make the call.

Long Run should skip the Gold Cup and be trained for the National

Long_Run_CheltenhamI was pleased to hear that Long Run scoped dirty and that it was nothing physical from that bad blunder he made in yesterday’s Charlie Hall.  His consistency and attitude are rare and he’s still only 8. I don’t think he has gone downhill in the way his mark suggests – he was simply overrated on the two big races he won back to back.

In his King George in 2011, he met a sick Kauto Star, a two mile four horse in Riverside Theatre, then the usual suspects – Nacarat, Planet of Sound etc. He went up 17lbs for that, then three more were added when he ran down a pair in the Gold Cup who’d exhausted themselves battling from three out off a pace that had been hot throughout – SWC arguably outrode the pros that day. Remember too, that the second fav, Imperial Commander, pulled up (bled & lame).

He’s never been a 182 horse for my money. His mark now, 171, is about as good as he’s ever been, though I’d maybe allow a couple of pounds deterioration and put that down to very tough races. The Battle of the Somme he had in winning the 2012 KG would have finished quite a few horses. He’s hellish tough, though I’d find it hard to believe these constant challenges at the top level haven’t taken something out of him.

For me, he is what he’s always been; an out and out stayer. Against top class opposition he needs the desperate ground he got in the KG last year (worst going in the race since 1937), or hara-kiri performances by the other jocks in setting an unsustainable pace. In a fairly run Grade 1 on reasonable ground at 24 to 26 furlongs, he simply hasn’t got the pace at the business end.

As for Harry Topper – there’s a horse with an engine. He travelled farther than everything else in the race yesterday, walked through one fence, clattered a few more and pulled some double-jointed moves to stay upright. He looks as honest as you could wish for and if he can regain his confidence, he’d be a threat at the top level.

He was on the deck in his final two outings last season and went at many of the fences yesterday with obvious trepidation. I think an extreme close-up might have shown him shutting his eyes on take-off and hoping for the best!

K Bailey has a job on his hands in rebuilding  this horse’s belief in himself, but if he achieves it, HT would be a very lively Gold Cup outsider. And if his jumping doesn’t get better, oddly enough, he’d be tailor-made for the National. With the cores gone from those fences now (thankfully), HT would just barrel his way through the loose spruce. And if Long Run were mine, that’s where he’d be going next year. I’d miss the Gold Cup and send him to Aintree. Ninety nine percent of his errors are at his back end, and he’d just pull the spruce down and stay forever. And guess which jockey currently has the best strike rate over the National fences?

Charlie Hall Chase winner could be decided before dawn

Long_Run_CheltenhamWhat happens over Wetherby racecourse in the dark hours between now and sunrise could decide the outcome of the feature race, the Charlie Hall Chase at 3.35. The BBC’s moving weather map shows rain will fall twice before dawn, though there’s no reliable indication of how heavy it will be. The more the better for supporters of Long Run and Harry Topper, and probably Unioniste. Not only will very soft ground improve their chances, it might seriously affect the likelihood of Benefficient seeing out the trip. I advised twitter followers this morning that Benefficient was good value at 10/1, and he has shortened throughout the day. If the rain stays away, he could go off around 6/1.

Apart from Long Run, Benefficient is the only Grade 1 winner in the field (he’s won two of them). He’s a big horse, a Cheltenham Festival winner, who seems to be improving as he matures. Whether that improvement will bring with it the ability to last this trip out against the likes of Long Run, we shall see. If it remains good to soft, soft in places, as it was today, I think he’ll have every chance. Even at 6/1 or so, if underfoot conditions are not too taxing, he’d be worth a bet through the Racing Post App (or William Hill mobile app), as you get your stake returned as a free bet for horses finishing second in Channel 4 races.  If it turns very soft, or heavy, Benefficient is probably best avoided, as a serious stamina test will greatly increase the probability of Long Run winning it.

Long Run is a fine animal. I’ve never backed him, mainly because I thought he was badly over rated after his first Gold Cup win. I have no problems with the jockey and I think Sam Waley Cohen takes an awful lot of unmerited flak. His ride on Rajdhani Express at the Festival was a superb one and he’s highly talented. He just doesn’t get the race-riding ‘practice’ of the pros, otherwise, I’ve no doubt he’d be in the top flight. Long Run also has an inclination to leave his hind legs in a fence, especially under pressure. If the ground stays decent and they go a good clip, you could see one or two mistakes from him. I’m convinced he needs a serious stamina test these days.

Kim Bailey says Harry Topper is the best he’s had since Master Oats, and it would please many in racing to see KB with another top class horse. Harry Topper beat Benefficient at Newbury, but the Irish horse has improved 18lbs on official ratings since – Harry Topper 12lbs. HT is hugely promising but still needs to prove he is up to this class, whereas Benefficient has his two Grade 1s in the trophy cabinet. However, if it turns very soft, I’ll have a saver on Harry Topper through the apps mentioned above.

Of the others, I think Unioniste is a bit of a plodder. At this level, you need to be able to pull something extra out, and I don’t think has it to pull. He’s poor value in my opinion, although he’s another who would benefit from plenty rain.

The remainder are thoroughly exposed and outclassed.

It’s great to see the top-notchers back at the start of a new season. Let’s hope they all come back safe and sound.

Good luck

Joe