Monthly Archives: January 2016
I’ve believed since last March that Vautour will win the Gold Cup, but value cannot be ignored and Smad Place has to be the value bet now at 14s NRNB (Betfair Sportsbook). He has never run a bad race in his life and since his breathing op, the King George has been his only blip – King continues to ‘protest too much’ about abandoning front-running tactics there: I doubt he would have won with them, but he might well have finished much closer.
He has exactly the same attributes as Coneygree had plus experience and, touch wood, soundness. Horses who can get into a rhythm in staying chases have a precious advantage, especially at Cheltenham.
I can only think he is such a big price due to bookies assuming he is a deep ground specialist. But he’s run some fine races on good ground, not least a neck 2nd in the RSA and a 3rd in the World Hurdle (not finishing his races either time, and his breathing might well have been the issue). Since his op, he’s run once on good, thrashing Fingal Bay on his seasonal debut. He then wins a Hennessy easily by 12l off 155, and yesterday, the Betbright in the same fashion and by the same distance off 168.
Why is he 14/1?
Champagne West will be a warm order in tomorrow’s 2.25 at Cheltenham, and he has a good engine, but he’s not the most natural jumper so, seeking some value in the race, I came across Un Beau Roman at 16/1.
Six weeks ago his home was among the stars in Closutton as one of Willie Mullins’s horses. But he was sold to a small trainer, Paul Henderson who trains about 30 down at Whitsbury. Un Beau Roman ran poorly in his first outing for the yard over hurdles, but back over fences a couple of weeks later, he won in the style of an improving horse.
With 28 runs, you’d hardly call him unexposed, but it’s not unusual for a horse to improve for a move to a much smaller yard. He’s the best horse Henderson has, which will make a nice change from seeing Vautour & Co at breakfast every morning.
In a race run at a decent pace at Kempton, he travelled supremely well throughout under Wayne Hutchinson, and after a brief tussle in the straight put the race to bed in fine fashion. A comment from Ruby about the horse early in his career suggested he was a weak finisher, and if so, Cheltenham wouldn’t be the place for a ding-dong battle in this hot handicap. But he looks as though he’ll have no issue travelling nicely in behind the leaders, and he jumped well at Kempton. The hill, as ever, will tell the tale in the end.
I’ve backed him EW at 16/1 and suggest you do the same. And Bet365 offer 100/1 about him in the Ryanair non-runner-no-bet. If he loses tomorrow, I suspect he will not run, and if he wins, he’ll be a good deal shorter than 100/1, despite the size of the task in March. So, a fiver at 100s will buy you some very cheap fun throughout tomorrow’s race.
And stranger things have happened than a Closutton ugly duckling turning into a Festival swan.
These are all non-runner-no-bet with Bet365
Champion Chase – betting without Un de Sceaux
Traffic Fluide 8/1
I was very impressed with this fella, especially the way he travelled and ran on against the hotpot last weekend. There’ll be a fair bit of improvement in him and he could easily finish 2nd to UDS, thus starting us off with an 8/1 winner, giving £45 running onto . . .
Road to Riches at 5/1 for the Ryanair, which is where I think he’ll turn up, as I suspect he’s better when stamina is not at a premium. The owner sponsors this race, and I believe this one would give him the best chance of winning it. He could miss this for the Gold Cup, but with NRNB, it’s no loss. If he wins you have £270 running on . . .
… and the NRNB clause applies even more to the final selection, Kilcooley 20/1 to win the World Hurdle. Niggly problems have kept him off the track since his stunning Wetherby victory in November in the race Cole Harden won last season before taking the World Hurdle. Charlie Longsdon say the horse is well and he’s very hopeful of making Cheltenham. His price has drifted since November as there’s probably been more action in this market than any of the other Grade Ones at the festival.
So, there you go, an easy £5,670 return if they all win, and a consolation of £202.50 if they place…Happy Days!
For every small trainer starting out in their new career, the hope of finding one good horse to make their name is the big dream. If they can send out a winner at the Cheltenham Festival or at Royal Ascot, more owners will come calling and the stable has a chance of reaching the numbers that make the business profitable. Well that’s the theory, but does it work like that in the real world?
This is the story of one such trainer, Matt McCormack, who learned his trade as head lad for Peter Walwyn during the 1970’s, a time when that stable had numerous top class horses. McCormack had set up on his own in a small yard at Sparsholt, a village in the Vale of the White Horse, a few miles west of Wantage and on the other side of the downs that stretch to the north of Lambourn. In his first two seasons, he managed just three winners on the flat each year, but as the yearling sales began in autumn 1981, he had a new owner with penty of funds wanting to buy half a dozen horses to run as 2-y-olds in 1982.
McCormack eventually bought eight yearlings, spending a total of £42,000, only to discover that the ‘owner’ had gone missing and the funds were an illusion. The next three months were spent desperately trying to find people to take on at least some of the horses, either wholly or in part shares. One he did manage to sell on was a colt by the US sire Tumble Wind that had cost 8,000 gns, and he would subsequently race in the pale green colours of Lebanese businessman Abed Rachid, who named his colt Horage – if you count the ‘H’ as silent, then orage is French for storm, so a neat reference to his sire.
McCormack soon established that Horage was much the best of his batch of 2-y-olds and by working him with the 3-y-old Shiny Hour, a winner for the stable the previous season, he became confident that the horse could win pretty much any early season 2-y-old maiden. With the chance to land a punt and get back on his feet financially, McCormack opted to send Horage to Ayr, avoiding any chance of running into another hot juvenile from one of the big southern yards. So it was that on Tuesday March 30th, 1982, Horage was one of six 2-y-olds lining up for the 5F Hillhouse Stakes.
Looking back at the race now, I wonder if McCormack was bothered by the presence of a colt called Pangulo, who’d already shown decent form by finishing second in a twelve runner field for the Brocklesby Stakes, held five days earlier at Doncaster on the opening day of the season. But at least his presence ensured opposition in the market and Horage was returned 6/1, a price that would look very silly indeed by the end of the season, especially as his rivals were all still maidens twelve months later! Horage won easily by three lengths, McCormack’s financial worries were eased, and the new owner was reportedly very happy.
Just over two weeks later, Horage was sent north again to Pontefract where he beat four newcomers in the Ropergate Stakes. On the same afternoon, the Brocklesby winner, a colt called Brondesbury, trained by Bill O’Gorman, contested the Granby Stakes at Newmarket, where he beat two other winners and confirmed his position as the best juvenile seen out so far. The two then met in the Garter Stakes at Ascot, where Brondesbury was sent off favourite but found Horage way too good, going down by five lengths. Predictably, excuses were offered for Brondesbury, who reportedly became unbalanced when jumping the road crossing at halfway, because after all, how could the cheaply purchased Horage, from the unfashionable stable, really be a better horse than the Newmarket star.
By the time Royal Ascot arrived, Horage had won two more races, small field events at Salisbury and Haydock, the latter his first try at 6 furlongs. In the same period, Brondesbury had won three times, covering the 5F in a remarkably quick time when winning the Great Surrey Stakes at Epsom. But the pair wouln’t meet again, as Brondesbury was saved for the 5F Norfolk Stakes, which he duly won taking his score to six win in seven starts. Horage ran on the opening day of the meeting over 6F in the Coventry Stakes and in a field of eight, he went off the 85/40 second favourite. He extended his unbeaten sequence to six, holding off his only serious challenger Kafu (Harwood, Starkey) by one and half lengths and now the eight grand colt from the Sparsholt yard was getting noticed.
Next stop was Newmarket for the July Stakes, where Kafu took him on again with a 6lb turn round thanks to the penalty carried by Horage. The pair were sent off 7/4 joint favourites, but Horage once again came out on top, leaving Kafu behind in the final furlong and gamely holding off the challenge of another O’Gorman colt called On Stage, who was also in receipt of 6lbs. In Timeform Racehorses of 1982, there’s a photo of this finish and in it you can see the shoe on Horage’s near fore hanging loose below his hoof. That was the first time I saw Horage in the flesh, having been tied down by a major project at work that had implemented on July 1st – the Newmarket July meeting was my first chance to go racing that summer. I backed Horage on the basis of what I’d seen at Ascot on TV and was very impressed by his attitude on this occasion.
His next target was the Gimcrack, but McCormack took the opportunity to get paid for his final piece of work by taking him down the road to Newbury for the Washington Singer Stakes on the Saturday before the York meeting, where he dotted up at 9/2 on. The Gimcrack wasn’t much more difficult, starting 13/8 on in a field of seven, he made all to win by four lengths. His record now stood at nine straight wins, with prize money totalling around £105,000 – not bad for the cheap yearling in a small stable.
Sadly his unbeaten run ended in the Mill Reef Stakes, when he ran well below his previous form in fourth, with those ahead of him including Kafu. He was found to be suffering from sore shins afterwards and thus his 2-y-old season came to an end. For all his success, few people thought he’d be a force as a 3-y-old, when his lack of physical scope would surely be an issue as better bred colts improved past him and the penalties for his Pattern wins would make life tough in all but the best races. But to the surprise of many, the best was yet to come.
After a poor start to his 3-y-old career, beaten at odds on in a small race at Thirsk, he lined up for the St James Palace Stakes as the rank outsider in a field of seven which included the two placed horses from the 2000 Guineas, Tolomeo and Muscatite. I was still a punter that played to sentiment as much as form and logic back then, and couldn’t resist a small bet at 20/1, espeially as Horage was riden that day by Steve Cauthen. I had liked everything I’d seen of the American jockey in his first season riding in the UK, most of all his wonderful skill with front runners and his judgement of pace. He gave a master class here, quickly away and controlling the pace, slowing it down before the turn, then bursting clear as they straightened to steal a lead he never lost. Tolomeo had been held up at the back by Starkey (does this sound familiar) and he made up a lot of ground in the final furlong, but failed by a head to catch Horage, the pair four lengths clear of the rest.
Horage ran three more times that season, but never reproduced his Ascot form and at the end of the year, he was sold to go to stud in Ireland. He never produced anything as good as he was, but his toughness did get passed on to his most prolific winner, Star Rage. From very modest beginnings, winning a 3-y-old 12F claiming handicap at Musselburgh off a mark of 39, Star Rage improved to become a consistent winner of staying handicaps on the flat and a very useful two mile hurdler, successful in the County Hurdle and the Fighting Fifth.
As for Matt McCormack, the higher profile obtained from Horage did have some effect. The day after Horage won at Ascot, he added the Queen Mary with a filly called Night Of Wind, another cheap yearling purchase sired by Tumble Wind – although her success was more of a shock as she returned at 50/1. After a failure in the Cherry Hinton, she was sold to go to the USA and that set a pattern for the stable. Another decent 2-y-old called Star Video won seven races in 1984 and also finished second in the Coventry, but after a poor start to his 3-y-old season, he was also exported Stateside after Royal Ascot.
Typecasting is as much the enemy of the racehorse trainer as it for an actor. McCormack’s role was training cheaply purchased two year olds, so nobdy was sending him middle distance or staying horses and nobdy ever thought of him as the man to train a Classic contender. He continued to train at Sparsholt for many years, but never had more than 20 winners in a season. The numbers in the yard dwindled in the mid 90’s and he gave up his licence at the end of 1996, when he was back to square one, with just three winners and less than ten grand in win prize money for the season.
Another informative run from Don Cossack today. He has a very awkward action, especially behind where both feet come out almost like a breast-stroking swimmer – he tends to do it more with his off-hind. I suspect it’s this action that makes him tilt his head quite often (much more noticeable rounding bends, or when initially trying to pick up under pressure). His ears go one way, his nose the opposite. At Kempton his nose went left, at Aintree it went right. His long stride too makes it very difficult for him to put in a short one; he can do it, but it tends to break his rhythm and lose him ground. He also jumps quite flat at times, and I think he’s going to need an awful lot of luck at Cheltenham to win a Gold Cup.
He’s a horse I’ve always liked, and I backed him to win the Betfair Million (he did not run in leg 1). But the more I see of him, the more inclined I am to keep my cash in my pocket.
He has a mighty engine, but that action looks even more awkward coming down the hill at Cheltenham. All in all, I think he’s going to find things happening too quickly for him. It’s highly unlikely he’ll get into a rhythm, and he’ll probably belt at least one, and need scrubbing along. I don’t think headgear will make a jot of difference. He strikes me as a most honest horse, and not at all lazy; it’s just that when something happens that requires a quick move from him, he cannot make it; he’s just too big and gangly.
It’s not just errors that cause him problems. When Vautour took it up in the King George and raised the pace, Don Cossack could not go with them and got shuffled back. That pace increase happened as they went into a bend, which disadvantaged him further.
He’ll be a place lay for me in the Gold Cup where I suspect young Cooper will be aboard Don Poli.