Monthly Archives: November 2015

12/1 a 3/1 chance in the Ryanair? Ptit Zig

P Zig

UPDATE: 11 January 2016  If you are a latecomer to this post, be aware that the trainer says that although PZ will get a Ryanair entry, he will return to hurdles on his next outing.

I’m afraid that since I tipped him, he’s managed to tip himself up – twice, and even if he runs in the Ryanair, the last thing you’d call him now is a value bet.

Apologies to those who took my advice at the outset!

Ante-post betting can be dangerous. If your horse doesn’t turn up on the day, your cash is lost. However, when you get it right, it can be lucrative, and give you a lot of personal satisfaction. When placing an ante-post bet, you need to weigh up the following:

Is the horse likely to run?

Which of its rivals in the betting are likely to run?

Will the price shorten significantly enough to justify the long term risk?

Is the animal sound enough to rely upon, barring accidents?

You can marshall facts, but the biggest decider will be your experience and, often, your instinct. From time to time, a race is priced which appears to throw up an opportunity as close to ante-post perfection as you’ll get. The last one I recall is the  2013 King George, when Cue Card was available at 12/1 early in the year, despite the fact that the front 4 or 5 in the betting looked doubtful runners. Had Cue Card not gone wrong two out at Kempton, the biggest ante-post bet of my fairly long life would have been landed. Still, a couple of years on, I think I might just have found another one.

Here’s the current betting from Stan James for the Ryanair Chase in March:

  • 11/4 Vautour
  • 5/1 Cue Card
  • 7/1 Don Cossack
  • 12/1 Ptit Zig
  • 12/1 Valseur Lido
  • 12/1 Sprinter Sacre
  • 12/1 Vroum Vroum Mag
  • 14/1 Simonsig
  • 14/1 Sound Investment
  • 16/1 Road to Riches

The current intentions  of connections, gathered from reading race reports, stable tours, blogs etc suggest that the following are likely to be seen in the Gold Cup, not the Ryanair:


Cue Card

Don Cossack

Road to Riches

The QM Champion Chase is the likely destination for Sprinter Sacre, who might be joined there by Simonsig (though I wouldn’t be surprised to see the grey return to hurdling full time).

Valseur Lido could also end up in the Gold Cup as connections appear to believe stamina is his strong suit. Vroum Vroum Mag might run in the Ryanair, but I doubt she’ll have accumulated sufficient tough-it-out experience by March. Also, she has yet to run left-handed outside France (she has an entry at Carlisle at the time of writing, another right-handed track).

Should all of the above pan out (unlikely, but far from impossible), that leaves the Nicholls pair, Ptit Zig and Sound Investment. The latter is a fast-improving handicapper, who could run well. Ptit Zig is a horse bordering on top class. He is also much more likely to run here than in the QM or the Gold Cup. The QM would mean facing a potential superstar in Un De Sceaux as well as a rejuvenated Sprinter Sacre. The Gold Cup would see him taking on arguably the best field in the history of the race, over a trip he’s not at all sure to stay.

Ptit Zig ran Vautour pretty close on Saturday, giving the Gold Cup favourite five pounds, a performance which brought brickbats raining down on the Irish horse rather than bouquets on PZ. I think it will turn out to be very good form indeed. Prior to that, Ptit Zig had won easily in Ireland on his seasonal debut. In the JLT, he was routed and gutted by Vautour, but so was everything else in that field. Ptit Zig does have a Cheltenham victory, having won there last January. Nicholls has always thought a lot of him (he ran him in the 2014 Champion Hurdle). I’ve a feeling Ptit Zig will progress this year much the way the yard’s Dodging Bullets did last year.

Crucially, Ptit Zig is the one horse in the above betting list who looks most likely to turn up in the Ryanair. Nothing is certain, but that risk is more than built into the price of 12/1.  If my hypothesis proves correct, he’s unlikely to be bigger than 3/1 on the day.

Good luck





Claimers, blood-tests, Pipe, and a plater who wins a Grade 1

Alan Potts, long-time pro-punter is publishing some reminiscences on The Racing Forum, and he kindly allowed me to reproduce this cracking tale

PipeThe crux of this story is a tale of two claiming races, and since the rules that applied to such contests then are important and rather different from those that apply now, I thought it would be best to get the explanation out of the way first.

In 2015, the claiming price set by the trainer when he enters his horse is the exact price at which any purchase by a claim will take place. If more than one claim is received, then Weatherbys conduct a ballot to decide who gets the horse. The current owner or trainer may make what is called a friendly claim in order to take his chance in the ballot and hope to retain his horse.

In the 1980s the claiming price set at entry was a minimum price and anyone entering a claim could offer a higher price than that minimum with no upper limit. If there was more than one claim, then the highest bidder wins and there was no option for the existing owner or trainer to enter a claim.

There’s one other rule which applied then and still exists today, which is that a claimed horse (other than a friendly claim) cannot return to the original stable for a minimum of six months. That is designed to prevent a trainer from persuading other owners within his stable to make a claim in order to increase his chances of keeping the horse, even if it then had a new owner. The only way this six month rule can be bypassed is if the new trainer enters the horse for another claiming race and the original trainer buys it back by making a claim.

The horse at the centre of this story was an unprepossessing gelding, of plain appearance, modest breeding and initially, very little ability. His name was Vagog, a 1985 foal by Glint Of Gold, who began his career as a 2-y-old trained in Yorkshire by Peter Calver. At the end of that season, Timeform rated him at 50 and described him as a modest plater and a poor walker.

The following year, he ran nine times on the flat in races from 12F to 2M and won a seller at Pontefract in early August. He won by six lengths from an even money favourite trained by Nigel Tinkler, who was sufficiently impressed to buy Vagog for 5,200 gns at the auction. In Timeform he’d improved to a rating of 52 and was now designated a fair plater and moderate mover. Tinkler mixed flat and hurdling for Vagog and on his second run over hurdles, he won a juvenile seller at Newton Abbot in a photo finish, with the first pair a distance clear of the rest. Once again the trainer of the runner-up took over the horse, Martin Pipe paying 8,750 gns for Vagog.

After three defeats at trips around 2M, Pipe stepped Vagog up to 2M 5F for a conditional jockeys novice hurdle at Wolverhampton and must have been surprised when he won by 15 lengths, as the SP was 20/1. Maybe Pipe thought that was a fluke, as a week later he ran him in a claiming hurdle at Towcester over the same trip, and this time he scored by 30 lengths and the SP was 2/1 on. He was promptly claimed by Bob Champion for £10,000, no surprise given the promise he was now showing given a test of stamina. But when Champion spoke to the press after his claim was successful, the reasons he gave were not what everyone expected.

Champion said that he’d long wanted to get hold of a horse that was trained by Martin Pipe, so that he could do an immediate blood test and use the results as a benchmark for tests done on his own horses to see how they compared. Presumably he did have a test done, although his subsequent training career suggests he didn’t gain any insight from the results. Then, in what was either a blunder of epic proportions, or a deal agreed between him and Pipe, he ran Vagog in another claiming hurdle at Huntingdon, which the horse duly won running in the colours of Andrew Reid. Pipe took advantage and got the horse back to his yard at a cost of £12,556, the re-claim allowing him to get round the six month rule.

Vagog continued to thrive and three weeks after Huntingdon, he won a 2M 6F novice handicap hurdle at Nottingham off a mark of 106 (shown as 31 in the form book as this was prior to the changes that added 75 to all NH handicap marks), followed that with a second at Newbury on heavy ground before a disappointing run at Ludlow on firm. At the end of that first season of hurdling, he was rated 122 by Timeform, who now described him as a small, rather lightly made gelding, suited by forcing tactics and sure to stay 3M.

Vagog remained with Martin Pipe for the rest of his career, which continued on an upward path despite the odd setback. His second season ended after just two races, the second of which was a win in a 3M handicap hurdle at Cheltenham on firm ground – in December! He was off for 13 months after that, but improved again as a 6-y-old, winning another staying handicap at Ascot off a mark of 124 and third under a penalty at Chepstow a week later. Another 10 month layoff followed before his greatest year, 1992.

He won the same Chepstow handicap this time, by 12 lengths, then returned in the autumn to win the 3M 1F handicap hurdle at Cheltenham on the Mackeson Gold Cup card by an astonishing 20 lengths, making all the running off a mark of 138. He tried the same trick off a 10lb higher mark at the December meeting, but found the 3M on the New Course an insufficient test of stamina, beaten by the very useful Sweet Duke to whom he was conceding 18lbs.

His last hurrah and his best came just eight days later at Ascot, when he stepped up from handicaps to the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle. In a race run at a strong pace thanks to Muse (D Elsworth), Vagog couldn’t adopt his usual tactics, but he got to the front when he outjumped Muse three out and never looked like being caught from that point – Sweet Duke couldn’t handle the quick return to action and finished tailed off, but he came back to win the race the following year. By then Vagog had retired, having pulled up lame at Haydock a month after Ascot. He was tried once more in the Stayers Hurdle at the Festival, but was never going and pulled up again.

That was the end for the ‘small lightly made gelding’, who had progressed over four years from a selling hurdle at Newton Abbot to a Grade 1 race at Ascot. He’ll always have a place in my memory as I backed him at 12/1 to win four grand that December afternoon at Ascot, the bet that turned my first year as a ‘professional’ punter from loss to profit. On what I’d seen at Cheltenham that autumn, the price was an insult to a smashing little horse that was as great a trier as I’ve ever seen over hurdles.

So did Bob Champion give away the horse that might have sparked his training career? Would Vagog have achieved the same level of success in his stable anyway? We’ll never know, but it was certainly one of the strangest stories attached to a claim that I can remember.

Take 14s the superstar Vautour to land big double

vautourIt’s difficult to convey to you how good a bet I think this is. I could tell you how much I’ve staked, but that would mean little – you’d either go ‘Gulp!’, or ‘That’s peanuts!’, depending on your own staking levels.

This is like trying to explain how much you love somebody…you can describe all the physical attributes and linger over how that person makes you feel, but you can usually tell by the glazed looks that you’re not getting it across.

Like returning to an old holiday video of you and your darling walking in the sand at sunset, I’ve played again and again the recording of Vautour winning the JLT in March. I backed him that day. On the morning of the JLT I backed him for the 2016 Gold Cup, and told anyone else who’d listen to do the same. I was smitten before the race, mesmerised during it and stunned after it.

Watch it.

You must watch it. Preferably in HD if you’ve kept the CH4 recording. See how clever he is at the 4th and how flawless he is at the others, how majestic he is over the last three. Concentrate on his ears, and how he pricks them approaching each fence, then flicks them as he listens to Ruby. Home in on that long stride and the natural power that drives his athleticism in a way he seems to find joyful. Note how he is still pulling coming to three out, where Ruby has to steady him and, once he’s over and spots that turn for home, the zest with which he quickens…observe his rivals, multiple Grade 1 and Grade 2 winners as they come under panicked pressure long before they’re in the straight. Smile at how he romps toward two out and zings over it and sees the last and gallops toward it and pings it as though it’s the first, and at how he pricks his ears once more and responds to Ruby’s just-for-the-sake-of-it urgings as he comes farther and farther clear. Marvel at how much energy he shows afterwards, walking back in…

…and now, forget the doubts about stamina, ignore those who say he might not be as good right-handed, reject protestations that he’s not a midwinter horse, then type into your address bar, click horseracing, scroll down to where it says ‘AntePost Special Doubles’ and grin widely as you take 14/1 about this superstar landing the King GeorgeVI Chase and the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Then, pour a drink, and look forward to Boxing Day.

Hopefully, you’ll take this for the light-hearted piece that it is – though do not doubt that I think the world of this horse. But ante-post betting is a dangerous zone at any time. Vautour has been entered at Ascot on Saturday. He could fall and end his career there. He could step on a nail and miss Kempton. He could go wrong in a dozen different ways. I think 14s is a fantastic price, but please bear in mind the risks other than those that I might be wrong, and don’t bet more than you can afford to lose.

Good luck


16/1 Bobs Worth a handicap blot in the Hennessy

Bobs Worth & B Geraghty in 2013 Gold Cup

Bobs Worth & B Geraghty in 2013 Gold Cup

It was heartening to see such a superb display at Aintree today by one of my old favourites, Bobs Worth. For the first time in the past two seasons this fine horse – formerly one of the most consistent in training – showed real appetite and enthusiasm.

I wish Mr Henderson had been more forthcoming about BW’s training issues, of which, it seems, there have been many. Breathing op(s) have been mentioned, but I get the feeling it goes quite a bit deeper than that.

Anyway, I’m astounded to see him still available at 16s for the Hennessy (888 and 32RED). If Coneygree runs, as it seems almost certain he will judging by his trainer’s comments, Bobs Worth will carry 10.5 and get twenty one pounds from the Gold Cup winner. Bobs Worth is unbeaten at Newbury (two Class 1s, the second one being the 2012 Hennessy). If NJH has indeed solved all his problems, he must be the biggest handicap blot of this short century.

I’m willing to take the chance that the horse has turned the corner. He should be just half the price he is for Newbury