We Need To Talk About Cheltenham

I’m young, immature and an idealist. They say it’ll rub off, they say I’ll be a cynic too, soon enough, but until then humour my quixotism.

We need to talk about Cheltenham. Whether it’s sunny weather or rainy weather, the four-day carnival in Gloucester is glorious. That’s just what it is. That’s what the media have told us, that’s what the long-range ante-post markets have told us and that’s what we have internalised. It’s a kind of conditioning; Pavlov’s dog would think Cheltenham was glorious had we repeated it to him often enough. It is awesome of course; we get to see the best against the best, the Olympics of jump racing, and aren’t we lucky it happens more than twice a decade.

The excitement is intoxicating. On Monday, I sat in bed doing nothing productive. Feverish. On Tuesday, I went to university completely distracted, utterly delirious to the prospect of seeing equine greatness, gaining precious pounds to supplement the silly student loan and eager to share in the delight of our four-legged sport with great friends. That’s superb. I love, relish, adore that feeling.

But it’s not real is it. Kennedy said Churchill ‘mobilised the English language and sent it into battle’. We’ve mobilised Cheltenham Festival utopianism and sent it into every part of racing society. In similar fashion, the words I scribble here can create a world that is entirely imaginary, you could get swept away in to believing something far distant from what you know as veracity and reality. It’s dangerous. It’s created the very real reality of four days in March as the be-all-and-end-all.

It’s not just us fans and punters. Look at the pressure on trainers to have a Cheltenham winner. Nicholls’ relief at getting Pacha du Polder up in a race that really should be restricted to amateurs; pilots, trainers and owners alike. He’s our second-best trainer in the country. Looking back now, you’d giggle at the suggestion that Jack Kennedy had anything to prove, but some were claiming his position was wobbly before Cheltenham. It makes or breaks you.

So if Cheltenham is it; the pinnacle, the everything, the four days of it all, why do only a handful get to drink from the fountain? How do McCain, Twiston-Davies, Hobbs, King, Mulholland and O’Neill leave Cheltenham? They failed, didn’t they? They’ll have to come back next year. Twenty-eight races, shared by twelve. Twenty-one of those, shared by five.

The point is not about Irish domination, it’s about big owner’s and big trainer’s domination.

Take visuals, for example. I’m a visual learner. I like to be joyed by the expression of colour; different and jubilant mixtures of dye on a jockey’s chest. JP’s yellow-and-green, Gigginstown’s maroon and Ricci’s pink-and-green… I glaze over at the ordinary, the unremarkableness of it all. It’s affected the horses, too, their personalities lost in the machine – it takes a great one to overcome that curse. Douvan, to me, is still yet to shed the corporate tag. My boy, My Tent Or Yours, was fortunate in that he cemented his name in my heart before he succumbed to the yellow-and-green.

As soon as they passed the line after the Ryanair, I dubbed it the most boring race I’d ever seen at Cheltenham. Disappointing, bloodless and colourless; it’s already a memory lost in the swathe of maroon. Let’s be fair though, I was biased in the belief that Cue Card, sparkling in colour, could call it a happy ending.

Yet it could get worse. Remember the day Dessie won at Cheltenham? I don’t… I wasn’t even an embryo. But I’ve heard the roars. They broke the microphones, turning exalted cheers into fuzzy crackles. Why? Because he was the people’s horse, the horse that raced. Seventy starts to his name. You can see why they loved him; they felt like they knew him.

Do you feel the same about Penhill? He hadn’t run at all this season before victory on Thursday. Native River and Altior ran once apiece, while Buveur d’Air had swerved anything of equal ability until Tuesday, taking on just nine opponents in three races.

Could jump racing lose its greatest pull? We adore seeing our horses come back, year after year, but our adoration comes from seeing and conversing with them as frequently as possible. Would Balthazar King, Hello Bud and Knockara Beau have carved a place in my memories forever had they raced only once a year? The flat has The Tatling and Megalala, but we have so many more. We don’t care for unbeaten records over the sticks, just give us a champion with a personality. Kauto only won 56% of his races, do we question him? He showed so much more than overrated invincibility in defeat to Denman, still fighting to the line to repel Neptune for second. Please don’t let our sport become indistinguishable from the flat (a homonymic word with more than just the one meaning).

Did you see those scenes in Somerset on Saturday? That’s my definition of Glorious. Real racing fans came out to see their champion in the flesh. No action, no money changing hands, just appreciation of equine achievement. Glorious.

Then there’s the other consequence: desperation. I don’t think it was the sole factor in this year’s Grand Annual – and correlation doesn’t mean causation – but there was something wretched about the chaos that ensued. Cheltenham has reached such an elevated status that it is leading to the pushing of boundaries; we’re asking for that little bit more, an unsafe and dangerous ‘extra’.

And it is ultimately the consequences of three Grand Annual deaths that we are leaving our favourite festival, the carnival we have been waiting for all season, in a depressed, ruminative state. The BHA felt the need to release a short statement of sadness and sympathy, imagine the Football Association doing that after a successful FA Cup.

Unless you are devoid of emotion, unequipped for empathy or simply indifferent to ethics, you can’t only look back with elation. Usually it may be a mixture of sadness – 362 days to go – and exhaustion, but don’t confuse them this year with emotions far more distressing. Our mind might try to block out the unpleasant – its human nature – but we can’t truly forget what we saw.

And then we lose the public debate. It doesn’t even need to be lazy journalists anymore; social media influencers can throw about words without lucidity or wisdom, the retweets still come. How do we respond? We too are upset and aggrieved. We know why they’re wrong, but that doesn’t fit into 280 characters. They can block out reason, too.

Finally, I shall now pen something entirely against my overarching values and beliefs. I hated the lack of true, committed racing fans at Cheltenham last week. The roar felt fake, an imitation fed by those unclear about the meaning of National Hunt racing. It was a roar without value, used superfluously and fallaciously. You’ve already got Royal Ascot, please don’t take another from us. Writing such a statement is against my loudest convictions: I want everyone to go and enjoy racing. However, last week, in my own selfish sense, I wanted to share equine perfection with those that truly appreciate, empathise and comprehend my own feelings. The feeling of being at one with the crowd, 70,000 heads but one racing heart.

We need to remove Cheltenham’s pedestal. Allow it to become just another festival, remove the pressure, desperation and significance. We won’t, but we should. For safety, for our health and for the industry’s future.

I’ll be that angry young man if that’s what you want to label this outpouring, but I count myself so lucky to have found this sport. I want to help it grow, nurture it into what I know it can be. It can be Glorious. In the very real sense.

Winx: Why Not World’s Best?

It is an international disgrace that Winx sits below the now twice-shamed Arrogate in the Longines World’s Best Racehorse rankings.

The six-year-old thunder from down under secured her twenty-first consecutive victory this month, with only four more needed to match the record of her fellow Australian compadre, the mighty Black Caviar. It was once again a flawless display, brushing aside her G1 opposition to a six-and-a-half lengths win – the cameras struggling to fit the second into shot.

Meanwhile, over the summer in the northern hemisphere, when Arrogate came back from his Dubai World Cup win, it was hard to even see him in eyeshot. Beaten by over twice the distance Winx beat her rivals on Saturday, he trailed in fourth of five, fifteen-and-a-half lengths behind winner Accelerate.

Forgive and forget, perhaps; the distance was shorter than ideal and it was his first run in four months. He was also giving away nine pounds in weight to the winner. Yet, back at the 2000m, he failed to reel in Collected at Del Mar in August off level weights. Since that Dubai World Cup win, there’s been a certain sparkle missing. But, he’s the best in the world?

Arrogate maintains his rating of 134. Winx sits two behind, on 132.

It’s scandalous.

There’s always been a local bias rife within most racing states, but the northern-hemisphere prejudice is incredible – and it reaches the highest echelons of our sport. The alarm bells begin to ring by looking at the 2016 World Rankings and the three countries represented by the chairmen who make the decisions: Hong Kong, Britain and America. None from the southern hemisphere.

Arrogate and Californian Chrome both topped Winx in 2016, followed by Almanzor, A Shin Hikari, Maurice, Frosted then Found, Hartnell, Postponed and Werther. Three, including the top two, were American. A further three were European while another treble were Asian horses endowed with Hong Kong success.

As a European, I’ll always favour races conducted on turf. Yet, as the majority of major racing nations do conduct their racing on grass, it seems bizarre that the top two horses in the world will never have to take on a huge chunk of equine challengers. Arrogate has never faced one of the top British, Irish, French, German, Australian or Japanese horses.

One of the head handicappers, Philip Smith says, on the topic of Winx that: “there is nothing wrong with what she is doing. And the glib answer is that it’s not her fault that her opposition isn’t stronger.”

How strong is Arrogate’s opposition?

The Dubai World Cup may be the richest race in the world, but since 2012 it has been won by horses trained either in the United States or the United Arab Emirates. Thus, is it fair to say it’s truly an international event?

Of the twelve starters in the 2017 renewal, seven were American. The others cut little ice as national heroes; the best from other countries were nowhere to be seen.

However, over on the turf in the Sheema Classic – renowned by many as the real international race to watch – we’ve seen winners from Great Britain, France, Japan and Ireland in the past five years.

Therefore, if we suggest that despite the prize-pot the Dubai World Cup isn’t as magnificent as it looks, what has Arrogate beaten? Winx has been accused of beating the same-old horses, but…

His win in the Dubai World Cup, his crowning jewel, was a mere re-do of the Breeders’ Cup Classic in November. Previously vanquished: Keen Ice, Hoppertunity and Frosted returned for the same event. He’d already beat third-placed Neolithic, in the Pegasus, too.

Horses that have beat him? Cat Burglar, for example, has won just the one (ungraded) race since 2014.

Let’s examine Winx. She’s beaten 48 Group One winners according to Magic Millions, are they worth it?

Highland Reel, beaten 5.5 lengths by Winx in 2015 has won G1 races in four different countries: the Hong Kong Vase, King George VI, Arlington Million, Breeders’ Cup Turf.
His second in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe adds another state to his repertoire.

Storm The Stars, brushed aside but a dual-Derby placer and Great Voltiguer winner.

Vadamos, French G1 winner and second to Ribchester in the Jacques le Marois.

Endless Drama, Irish Guineas placer.

Ventura Storm, English St Leger second.

Sir Isaac Newton, Royal Ascot winner.

Spiritjim, consequently disqualified winner of the Grand Prix de St-Cloud, third in Prix Foy.

Chautauqua, running over 1500m but she still beat the world’s best sprinter.

Hartnell. Harlem. Humidor. Singing. Foxplay. Le Romain. Yankee Rose. Black Heart Bart. Happy Clapper. Stratum Star. The list goes on.

The point of mentioning these horses are not because I believe they’re particularly strong or outstanding, but it shows that at least her form-lines are at the very least, internationally traceable. She has beaten horses from almost every corner of the world.

It’s true, she has not been able to take on Enable. She never got to tussle with Almanzor, nor Found. But when has Arrogate? She’s beat multiple G1 winners from various racing countries, when has he?

If the question is of the quality of opposition, how did Frankel reach such lofty heights?

Frankel was similarly accused by many of beating the same horses over and over again… Excelebration bearing the brunt of it. He never left Britain and earned a Longines Ranking of 140. Why does Winx need to leave Australia to claim her much-deserved title?

Nevertheless, if we admit both of Arrogate’s and Winx’s respective opposition have weaknesses… she still manages to beat hers. Arrogate lost a few lengths at the start of the Pacific Classic, but when Winx fell out of the stalls in the Warwick Stakes, she still got up.

Both Arrogate and Winx continue to beat ‘the same horses’ again. They have remained in their comfort zones, on dirt tracks or in Australia. But Winx still hasn’t actually been beaten this year. No matter what, she still wins. Her racing allows her to take on horses from multiple racing districts; horses of which she continues to thrash. Smith’s explanation is inadequate. If there’s not some northern-hemisphere bias… what is it?

Winx deserves that top spot. A six-year-old mare unbeaten for over 900 days, it’s not an achievement that justifies this incredible slight.

America currently have a popular saying that Trump is #NotMyPresident. Well, Arrogate isn’t my best horse in the world. Not while Winx works those wonders.

Melbourne: A Year in Racing

This year, and this racing season, has been spectacular.

If you’d told me that when I landed in a rather fresh and chilly Melbourne last July that within a few months I’d see Winx annihilate a Cox Plate field surrounded by racing fans and new friends… I’d say you were dreaming. But it wasn’t a dream; she really did do just that and we really were right there to witness it.

Yet my year began cold, on my own, wandering around Flemington with knowledge only of the few European imports. I hadn’t thought I’d need my winter racing coat, a frequenter of Cheltenham, Newbury and Aintree… how wrong I was. I hoped a ‘Best Bets’ would help the new CommBank balance – a book sold to me for $5 (the pen extra) – but it didn’t, I drew a complete blank. Cold, disheartened and fair to say a little lonely, I returned to the comfort of 1am, watching Glorious Goodwood. Oh, Big Orange, perfect.

Later, a little warmer, I dragged two friends to Caulfield for the G1 Memsie Stakes. They drank and wanted to leave before the Memsie. It wasn’t the same.

Then Racing.com called and my year abroad truly began. It’s taken me twenty-one years, but it was Racing.com who finally forced me into a suit at the races. Australia, my British bosses thank you.

Caulfield kicked us off with brave Black Heart Bart and Jameka. What a marvel the horse with a heart on his head is, I’d recognise him anywhere in the world. Yet the joy of Bart’s success was scuppered slightly by my Real Love love-hate relationship… can you believe I’d find a cliff horse so quickly? Yet he never won for me and I backed him often enough. He also caused a slight embarrassment when I, an Aussie racing newbie, mistook him for a bay horse on Instagram… safe to say, relief flooded my veins when Weir announced his retirement.

Before I knew it I was onto Moonee Valley. The best racecourse in the state, I’ll tell you that now. Don’t change it. The sole track that isn’t a boring watch all the way round, where anything can happen – and anything does.

I was informed Chautauqua was quite good on Manikato night, but the grey flash looked like he was no more… that opinion took about six months to appropriately amend.

The next day, as the rain slowly died down, colleagues informed me that some guy called Daryl Braithwaite was kind of a big thing, whoever he was. Why would the best race of the season need a popstar to make it? Little did I know.

That was my favourite hour of my year abroad, period. Forget bungee jumping, skydiving, swimming with turtles. Any racing fan lives, survives, just for those electric days. Hearing thousands of passionate racing fans singing The Horses just minutes before Winx stormed to a nine-length success was simply sublime. I’m sad that Australian racing only gave me that one day, one day I was exactly the same as everyone else there, but they just don’t get the attendances. There’s little clapping, there’s little screaming and there’s generally not much of an atmosphere – that’s flat racing for you, I suppose. But for that one day it was a melting pot, as if the season had been saved up just for that one hour of emotional explosion.

A word on Winx, particularly to those from far away shores. She’s the real deal. Yes, those who thought Hartnell was within touching distance before that day were clowns, but nine lengths could have been twenty. A ‘respectable’ Group winner in the UK could’ve easily been floored twenty lengths. It’s a shame she won’t come to the UK, but why should she? If you don’t respect her, she doesn’t care. A country down under loves her, and they’ll put a hell of a lot more into her prize pot, too.

The Melbourne Cup is pretty special, Almandin is very special and the Cup racegoers are allotted a slightly different definition of the word. As I announced Almandin the winner, some TV personality with a camera – Aussies would know better than I – asked me who won and swore profusely at the answer. At least Heartbreak City’s owners were happy.

To many, that was the end, the Spring slunk off for another year. But the Internationals stayed behind for that extra day, including the bravest of them all: Big Orange. Egg on my face after the Cup, a race in truth that would never suit him, we got to see the real Orange at Sandown. You’d say he’d cracked before the top of the straight, but his terrier-like tenacity toughed it out all the way to the top, denied narrowly by Suroor. You can’t breed attitude like that.

Christmas came – and it was weirdly warm – but it was Catchy that caught the cameras come Autumn. That Blue Diamond was electric, it’s excellent to see the forward two year-olds meet for one big bash – the UK’s timetable doesn’t cater for that, with options to avoid opposition available until three.

The business in the Lightning Stakes with The Quarterback confirmed something I already knew. No matter what, no matter where you are in the world, the love this industry and these people have for their horses is overwhelming, intoxicating – his wellbeing was the biggest news that escaped the track that day.

Next up, it was farewell to Miles and felicitations to Matt, who moved onto the mic smoother than anyone could’ve imagined. We were lucky there.

Chautauqua did that thing too. I’m not entirely sure how, but he did something few horses can do. I’ll watch the replay again soon and once again I’ll expect him to get beat. Sensational.

Warrnambool came in May and the jumps brought out the best in loyal fans. I mentioned the inability of racegoers to put their hands together in the Spring, but most yearned to do just that as they saw Zed Em courageously lift the Brierly, Renew saunter to a silly-margin success and Regina Coeli turn back the clock. Flat races? What flat races?

Brisbane shone in the swamp, Jungle Edge the notable hero to rise out of the bog. A small trainer takes on the big boys with the most willing of partners, it’s written in literature somewhere.

And then the season closed off with a century like little others, I still look back and smile at the rare winter buzz Extra Zero created with that utterly inconceivable victory on his one hundredth start. Once again, a dramatic script few ever thought would be used.

Then it was all over, flight booked, bags packed and taxi waiting. Melbourne, Australia in general, has an incredible racing scene. Lifelong friends made, unforgettable memories secured and treasured pictures saved. I’ll be back… and I’ll be in a hurry.

The Racing Lord Giveth and He Taketh Away

It is over ten-thousand miles, twenty-four hours and half a world away from Cheltenham and yet the chill felt after last Sunday’s Cheltenham meeting reached even the spring weather of Melbourne. Horse racing has this unique bound with those that share it, an indescribable connection of thoughts, feelings and emotions between those that revel in a sport played out by our equine companions. Empathy doesn’t decline by distance, passion isn’t prevented by time-zones and utter heartbreak isn’t hampered by presence. The loss of Vautour, the retirement of Sprinter Sacre and the death of Simonsig aren’t merely words written on a page to those who share their stories; they’re blows to the heart.

To wake up to the news that Sprinter Sacre has retired causes a blind panic – why? What’s wrong? But to then listen to Nicky Henderson speak to the press is heart-wrenching. The Lambourn trainer has been a standing figure of the National Hunt racing world for decades, with his recognisable idiosyncrasies, quiet charm and overwhelming passion. However, this passion over the years has flowed from the professional to the personal when it came to one horse, Sprinter Sacre. The insecurities of a trainer, who for two years held perhaps the most brilliant horse ever at his fingertips, were always on show when Sprinter ran. The relief he showed to the cameras after Sprinter returned safely was numbing: Nicky Henderson loved and cared for this horse so much (and knew so did many thousands of fans worldwide) that he was terrified. Terrified every day of making a mistake with ‘Racing’s horse’. Terrified of pushing too far and yet terrified of not pushing enough.

Then the pressure lifted as if the stove had dropped in temperature: the teapot’s lid stopped shaking as the liquid inside settled. His return to action in 2015 showed not a horse without peers, but one that simply wasn’t quite up to it. That’s what allowed him to come back. The burden of the unbeatable beast had put doubts in Nicky Henderson’s mind when he should have had none, but when left with a horse who needed to improve he knew exactly the route he should take. The Cheltenham win in November 2015 was good, but still, it wasn’t the same. No pressure. Then he beat Sire De Grugy and for the first time he knuckled down and showed the brave Moore horse how much fight he truly had. Still, Sire De Grugy no longer sat upon the throne of Champion Chasers; it was Un De Sceaux that he would need to take on. Then at Cheltenham, at the Festival, in front of the most loving crowd of National Hunt fanatics he produced a spectacle like no other. He was back. The pressure was back on. Henderson’s heart beats double time. It’s too much.

To be able to retire Sprinter Sacre healthy at Cheltenham is a gift to the National Hunt racing community, but it’s also a gift from us in return. To thank a beautiful, outstanding horse for his services to our joy at the home of racing is the perfect conclusion to a perfect racing story. Nicky Henderson’s words afterwards were too emotional to bare to those listening in, finally putting into words the insecurities we had seen on his face. “It’s been a pretty emotional time. He’s been a great part of our lives. It’s been an extraordinary journey. What happened last year was something that will never be repeated in my lifetime. It took us all to the brink.” Words of the trainer, yet the thoughts of a nation.

Then racing crushed us in a way few sports can. To remind us of the highs, the spectacular highs of an industry we’re not just monetarily invested in but emotionally bound to too was emotional kidnap, but to assault us in one foul swoop was emotional devastation. Without knowing it, racing fans lose their emotional sovereignty when they move into the sport, and the Racing Lord holds that power to wield as he wishes, to give or to take away. Simonsig’s passing just hours after, minutes really, was not fair. Simon Holt knew it as soon as he saw it: “I’m terribly sorry to say he’s injured; this day really is playing on the heartstrings.” The tears we saw early in Henderson’s eyes were nothing like the jolt we felt hearing those words, or the stab of pain in the gut when the cameras catch Henderson walking alone back up the walkway. He wasn’t alone, not at all, but it didn’t matter.

Then Haydock arrives and the see-saw finally lifts from the tragic ground to head to towards the side marked ‘triumph’. Cue Card is the epitome of racing, the textbook horse every fan, owner, trainer, jockey wishes to be associated with. Six years ago he won the two-mile Champion Bumper at the Cheltenham Festival. This year, he ran – and was terribly unlucky in – the feature race of the Festival, the Gold Cup. He’s perfection, a gift that keeps on giving. To win that Betfair Chase in the manner that he did was simply outstanding, brushing aside the unbeaten Gold Cup hero Coneygree in facile fashion, before walking into the paddock ear’s pricked, as if little had been exerted. It was that ease that was the most impressive part to the eye. And for the softly-spoken Colin Tizzard, a farmer from Dorset, and Jean Bishop, who has held onto the horse since the day they bought him. The story writes itself.

Yet this battle has only just begun. Sara Bradstock and Coneygree did not quite secede from their crown claims yet and bow to the Cue Card King. “We’ll be back. He won’t beat us again.” And you believe her. Just as two, three (too many) stars depart the racing scene a duel royale looks set to take centre stage over 2016/2017 season. The Lord has given it again. The drug is intoxicating, even the lows aren’t sufficient to stop us from quitting; we can’t escape while horses like these anthropomorphise themselves to us. Bravery, courage, character, they all have it. The lord taketh away in the most devastating fashion, but it’s devastating only because when he gives it, he gives it so so good.

Melbourne Cup Guide 2016

The day is upon us once again and for the first time I’m actually writing this guide from Melbourne itself! It’s been a long time coming but I’m extremely fortunate to be at the Spring Racing Carnival this year, working for Racing.com, while ‘pretending’ to also be enrolled at Monash University on my year abroad from the UK.

Runner by Runner Guide

1 – BIG ORANGE (57kg) ~ 15/1 

I just love this horse. He has captured the hearts of British fans back home with his brave front-running style that has seen him win his past two starts over 2400m and 3200m, both good Group 2 events. Stamina clearly isn’t an issue and I would also argue neither, surprisingly, is top-weight for this huge 17 hands horse (he carries much more to victory in the UK). He’ll lead them from the front, but you would want him to kick on earlier as an Australian-style sprint to the line would not suit him – a more gruelling British test should see him deny all-comers.

  • Pick of the race. Massive price. 9/10

2 – OUR IVANHOWE (57kg) ~ 51/1 

Won the 2000m Doomben Cup on what looked a softer surface than advertised and the Freedman’s frequently acknowledge that rain would be required to improve his chances. Stayed on well in the 2400m Caulfield Cup, but I don’t think it’s going to be enough. Flemington drains well.

  • Will run on, but others for the win. 3/10

3 – CURRENT MIROTIC (56.5kg) ~ 31/1
Just off the leaders

Although his trainer Osamu Hirata made a fair case on Sunday at the Media Breakfast, this horse just seems far too old, with too much weight and with such mediocre form. His Tenno Sho Spring form is good, but last few starts just make him very difficult to fancy. Bad barrier too.

  • Hasn’t won since 2013. Leave alone. 2/10

4 – BONDI BEACH (56kg) ~ 9/1

The Aidan O’Brien factor has to be the reason this horse is so short, because on basic form I really cannot understand why you would be backing him. I’d firstly question his temperament after the Great Voltigeur and the St Leger and then the modest form he’s shown all year, winning two small-field Irish races at short prices (beating very little). Since those wins he has been beaten in small field Group 3 races by decent horses over 2400m. He’s clearly been primed for this, but he hasn’t shown enough for me to really deserve to be 9/1.

  • Aidan O’Brien can do magic, not sure if that will be enough this time. 4/10

5 – EXOSPHERIC (56kg) ~ 21/1

He’s not straightforward in any way, but he clearly packs plenty of ability as shown by his Newmarket win in the UK over 2400m, beating Big Orange by 7 lengths. The big horse reversed the form next time however, over C&D. Ran very well in 2400m Caulfield Cup and will probably stay, but hard to get too confident about.

  • Has the class on his day. Who knows if he wants it to be? 5/10

6 – HARTNELL (56kg) ~ 5/1

He’s been outstanding this year, capped off by his excellent second in the Cox Plate. Unfair to ever compare him to Winx, as most of us Brits would probably have said before, but he still beat some very good horses in Yankee Rose and Vadamos. He also beat Jameka in the Turnbull, who won the Caulfield Cup convincingly, so all the form stacks up as the best Australia has to offer in class and in staying ability (he won a 3200m Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot, remember). James McDonald is an excellent booking too, as he’s ridden some of the UK horses or raced against them when he came over to the UK during July.

  • The one they all have to beat. 9/10

7 – WHO SHOT THEBARMAN (56kg) ~ 41/1
Off leaders/Mid

Ran a really brave race in defeat last time in the 2500m Moonee Valley Cup, just pegged back by Grand Marshal. Will enjoy a bit of weight relief here but looks well held by Hartnell on his Sydney form this spring and would be a shock if he could reverse that form. Eleventh last year and though this looks weaker would be hoping more for a place than a win. Drawn wide.

  • Not discounted but others more inviting. 4/10

8 – WICKLOW BRAVE (56kg) ~ 15/1
Flexible, can lead but likely to be mid

Drawn in the car park unfortunately but Willie Mullins, as we all know, works his magic in Europe and has got close to taking the biggest prize down-under with Simenon (4th, 2013) and Max Dynamite (2nd, 2015). Wicklow ran really well in Irish St Leger, but I’m not sure that form should be taken so literally (and Order of St George did get beaten on Champions Day by horses he should definitely have walked by). Held by Big Orange three starts ago, and bad draw, but don’t completely discount him.

  • Everything is possible. Each-way chance. 7/10

9 – ALMOONQITH (54.5kg) ~ 21/1

Hasn’t won since the Sandown Cup 3200m, but that came after a disappointing 18th place in the 2015 Melbourne Cup. Has ran OK since, including a fifth in the Sydney Cup but nothing suggested a return to form more than the eye-catching fourth in the Caulfield Cup last time. Travelled very well into the race before meeting traffic trouble and staying on very strongly. Gets a nice weight and return to this trip is perfect, but gets a worse draw this year.

  • Can’t get too confident, but no surprise to see him place. 7/10

10 – GALLANTE (54.5kg) ~ 61/1


Won this year’s Sydney Cup leading all the way (did have the run of the race), before running a really strong race when second in the Naturalism to Jameka. She beat him convincingly there and he disappointed last week in the Moonee Valley Cup, but best forgiven on wet ground in a race that got started very early (winner and the third came from last three).

  • One of the better roughies. 6/10

11 – GRAND MARSHAL (54.5kg) ~ 41/1

Race worked out really well for him last time when scoring in Moonee Valley Cup on favoured soft ground, but unlikely to figure in a race of this type particularly if the pace isn’t strong. Finished 21st last year, last week was probably his Cup. Good draw though but probably won’t take advantage of it.

  • Hard to sum up but possibly vulnerable to younger legs. 3/10

12 – JAMEKA (54.5kg) ~ 8.5/1
Prominent/Off leaders

A revelation this year, with only Hartnell ruining a hatrick of wins in her last three starts, rounding it off last time with a facile Caulfield Cup success. Stamina has to be one of the only worries, with her end-of-race injection of pace possibly going to be absent (she is sprint/middle distance bred) it could leave her vulnerable. Hartnell holds her on form too.

  • Big each-way hope but hard to choose her over Hartnell. 7/10

13 – HEARTBREAK CITY (54kg) ~ 17/1 

No luck for the Irish in the draw (Wicklow Brave only horse drawn wider) but Tony Martin is a very clever trainer and the way he won the 2800m York Ebor suggests he’s right up there with these. It’s not the same Group form that Wicklow & Orange bring to the table but that doesn’t mean anything with horses trained by Tony Martin. Stamina won’t be an issue, but the draw and his typical running style will depend on the race.

  • Perhaps risky, but not without strong claims. 6/10

14 – SIR JOHN HAWKWOOD (54kg) ~ 101/1.
Prominent/Off leaders

Ran a great race when winning 2400m Metropolitan in Sydney for passionate pilot Blake Spriggs, but had the run of the race sitting just off the leaders and sprinting clear at the right time. Put in his place last time in the Caulfield Cup. Sure to run a good race and if he sits in the right place should run well, but hard to tip as top 5.

  • Hard to be too confident about. 3/10

15 – EXCESS KNOWLEDGE (53.5kg) ~ 81/1

Hasn’t won since last year’s Lexus before finishing 7th in last year’s Melbourne Cup. Not been so good this time around, couldn’t get to Almandin in the Bart Cummings and his effort flattened out when finishing fourth in the Moonee Valley Cup, both over 2500m. Sat up with the pace last year which probably helped, but drawn only slightly better than last year and carries 2.5kg extra.

  • Not for me. 2/10

16 – BEAUTIFUL ROMANCE (52.5kg) ~ 71/1

Difficult to place as this is not an ordinary path to the Melbourne Cup, with possibly My Ambivalent the best comparison and even she was an (Australian) 6yo. Has some really nice form up to 2400m, including when winning at York in May, over 2100m. Set some tough tasks two starts ago, but arguably should have finished closer in the Nayef Stakes behind Journey who won the Champions Day Fillies & Mares if she was going to run well here.

  • Hard to assess, probably one to treat with basic optimism more than anything else. 3/10

17 – ALMANDIN (52kg) ~ 13/1

Has finally come good in Australia past three starts, winning his last two in impressive fashion. Made up good ground on both of his last starts with a turn of foot that a Melbourne Cup winner needs. Jockey didn’t touch him with the whip in the Bart Cummings and only three times the time before. Once beat 2014 Melbourne Cup winner, Protectionist, in his native Germany and his profile is just about perfect for this.

  • British trainers note him as their greatest threat. Huge chance. 8/10

18 – ASSIGN (52kg) ~ 71/1

Second to Almandin two starts back before going one better in a usually good Cup trial, the Herbert Power. Only just clung on there however, and held on form with others so probably going to be lucky to get into the top five here. Tough draw but jockey actually happy with it.

  • Not a bad roughie but others more persuasive. 4/10

19 – GREY LION (52kg) ~ 34/1
Prominent/Off leaders

Hard to get too excited by French form, finishing last in typical Melbourne Cup trial the Prix Kergorlay (Protectionist and Americain went on to win Cup). Better when close second in Geelong Cup last time, but suited by run style there and Oceanographer improved past him since. Not a great barrier and form doesn’t stack up sufficiently to support with any strength.

  • Only grey in the field, but not one for my money.

20 – OCEANOGRAPHER (52kg) ~ 8/1

Not the strongest of form in the UK, despite not getting a good run in Ebor in August he still wouldn’t have got to winner Heartbreak City. However, stayed on very well when third in Geelong Cup and was even better in Saturday’s Lexus Stakes. This will be his third run in 13 days which is an unusual prep for a British horse, but he’s absolutely thrived here. Not sure about the depth of Lexus and Geelong form, however.

  • Price is a bit skinny really, should be held by many of the UK raiders but Melbourne clearly brought the best out of him and can’t wholly discount. 7/10

21 – SECRET NUMBER (52kg) ~ 31/1
Prominent/Off the leaders

Very lightly raced and clearly had his issues. Ran a really nice race when second in the Queen Elizabeth here (balloted out of the Cup in 2015) and only run once since in September at Ayr (Scotland), winning easily in minor Listed event. Hard to weigh up and to put too much support behind. 3200m an unknown, though not beaten far as a 3yo over 2800m in the UK.

  • Hard to know what to expect, others safer. 3/10

22 – PENTATHLON (51.5kg) ~ 126/1

Beaten in the Moonee Valley Cup and beaten in the Lexus. Hard to find any reasons that he will reverse the form.

  • Best left alone. 1/10

23 – QEWY (51.5kg) ~ 26/1
Flexible (held-up UK, led in Geelong Cup)

Two very good seconds in staying handicaps at Royal Ascot and Goodwood (up to 4000m), staying on strongly from the back of the field yet not quite getting there. Change of tactics worked in Geelong Cup when leading pillar to post and may need to be prominent again unless they go a very fast pace. In with a shot but questions if he has any speed, an attribute typically needed here.

  • Not out of it. 5/10

24 – ROSE OF VIRGINIA (51kg) ~ 151/1

Hard to find form to support. Look elsewhere. However, I did say this about Prince of Penzance last year…

  • Look elsewhere. 1/10


I’m not sure this is the best edition of the Melbourne Cup and last year’s fifth BIG ORANGE should find this an easier race. He’s a huge price given his UK form and the huge 17hh horse has only grown and matured from last year. He should be tough to beat and 17/1 is a huge each-way price. HARTNELL is the rightful favourite and his form is sensational this season, with only Winx able to beat him. He should stay and as long as that doesn’t sap his speed, he should be right there on the line. Towards the bottom of the weights, ALMANDIN looks like he’s had the ideal prep for this and did beat 2014 Melbourne Cup winner, Protectionist, a few years back. He looks to have the perfect mix to run well in this race. WICKLOW BRAVE’s looks held by BIG ORANGE on form, but for Willie Mullins you can never discount him despite the wide draw.


1 – BIG ORANGE e/w @ 15/1
6 – HARTNELL win @ 5/1
17 – ALMANDIN e/w @ 13/1

Adam Webb’s 2016 Crabbies’ Grand National Pinstickers Guide

Here’s my 2016 Grand National Pinstickers Guide. It’s a more condensed version compared to last year due to timing constraints. One thing I have aimed for in this year’s guide is to have stronger negative stances against particular horses and their chances of Aintree glory rather than sit on the fence and give a more average rating. Each horse gets a rating out of 10, one gets 10 and three get 9 so you get a 1-2-3-4 at the end. Obviously the lower the rating, the more unlikely the chances are for success on Saturday.

Racecard number – Horse – Age – Weight carried – Trainer – Jockey

Many Clouds Silks

1)  MANY CLOUDS   9      11-10     Oliver Sherwood      Leighton Aspell

We begin this mammoth process with the 2015 hero who, in terms of a return bid, couldn’t have had a more perfect preparation if they had tried. Having needed the run in the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby when sixth behind Cue Card, he followed up with a sound effort when second giving 5lb to Don Poli in the 3m1f Listed Chase over Aintree’s Mildmay Course. Another good second behind Smad Place in the Betbright Chase on Cheltenham Trials Day set him up for Kelso where he jumped brilliantly in the Premier Chase to win as he pleased by 10 lengths from Unioniste.

Many Clouds bids to become the first since Red Rum to win the National for the second time.
Many Clouds bids to become the first since Red Rum to win the National for the second time.

Everything looks primed for another big run and he has realistic claims to become the first horse since Red Rum 42 years ago to get the double. In terms of recent Grand National winners, he probably has the best chance since the same owner’s Hedgehunter back in 2006 who put up a brave effort when second to Numbersixvalverde. He deserves to be clear favourite and, even off top weight, has to be in the shortlist.

Rating – 9/10
Silviniaco Conti Colours2) SILVINIACO CONTI    10       11-8        Paul Nicholls        Noel Fehily

For a horse as popular as Silviniaco Conti, his participation in the world’s greatest steeplechase has a polarised view. Just like Marmite, you’re either for or against.

The case for him is pretty simple. The son of Dom Alco is a seven time Grade One winner including two Betfair Chases at Haydock and two King Georges at Kempton, not carrying top weight, and even with Many Clouds in the field is the class act of the race. He should race prominently and use his prime asset; his jumping. He returned to form in first time blinkers last time in the Ascot Chase over 2m5f when thrashing Dynaste by 20 lengths.

The classiest in the race but will Silviniaco Conti last home over the trip?
The classiest in the race but will Silviniaco Conti last home over the trip?

The negatives. Apart from his jumping, he hasn’t shown any inclination that he would be an ideal Grand National horse. Trainer Paul Nicholls is convinced he has all the stamina in the world and while in his more recent Grade One victories he has used his stamina to win, the majority of his rivals haven’t been the strongest of stayers at 3m and on both attempts he completed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, stamina has looked the issue rather than the track.

At the prices, he is one near the head of the market that needs to definitely be taken on with the main issue being stamina. Arguably he is better than Neptune Collonges, who won this back in 2012 for the champion trainer, but had confirmed his liking for a thorough stamina test.

Rating – 4/10


First Lieutenant3) FIRST LIEUTENANT  11   11-4    Mouse Morris    Bryan Cooper

A wonderful servant to connections over the years with his CV including a Cheltenham Festival win and various placed efforts. Ran in this last year and lost any chance with two bad mistakes at the first two fences, eventually completing tailed off. Bounced back to some decent form this season including when chasing home Smad Place in the Hennessy at Newbury and when a fast finishing second to Don Poli in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown. Hard to recommend even with Bryan Cooper choosing him.

Rating – 3/10


wonderful charm4) WONDERFUL CHARM    8   11-3    Paul Nicholls    Sam Twiston-Davies

Another of the Nicholls battalion which stable jockey Sam Twiston-Davies chose to ride, although his choices seemed pretty limited. Either him or Rocky Creek who has completely lost the plot with Black Thunder being sold at the Aintree Sale and the trio of Silviniaco Conti, Just A Par and Unioniste being rides set out for particular jockeys.

Having looked at one stage to be the next big thing in National Hunt racing, the son of Poliglote proved to be rather frustrating and has been trained specifically for the race this season with only one outing when second behind Aachen at Cheltenham before Christmas. The major concern is stamina and the recent rain will have done more harm to his chances. He’s one to avoid.

Rating – 2/10


ballynagour5) BALLYNAGOUR     10    11-2    David Pipe     Tom Scuadmore

It’s a joke he’s running here when he’s shown no inclination for a stamina test in his career. Will travel well for a circuit but the warning signs will soon be showing around second Becher’s. Next!

Rating – 1/10


o'faolains boy6)  O’FAOLAINS BOY    9    11-1    Rebecca Curtis     Brian Hughes

The closer we get to the off, the more his chances appeal. The 2014 RSA Chase winner missed last season due to a leg injury and whilst his return to action in the Amlin Chase behind Vautour at Ascot was a shocking effort, he proved his wellbeing when taking a Graduation Chase at Newbury just before Christmas when beating Sausalito Sunrise by 15 lengths. The wheels soon fell off however when disappointing in the Betbright Chase behind Smad Place before a below par effort in a Pertemps Qualifier at Chepstow at the end of February.

O'Faolains Boy will appreciate any rain falling in Merseyside.
O’Faolains Boy will appreciate any rain falling in Merseyside.

His Gold Cup effort was a lot better in first time cheekpieces and he looked for a long way as though he would have a say in the finish before fading in the closing stages. As a preparation for this it looks a fair effort and with the rain making the ground softer, his chances improve greatly.

Rating – 8/10



gilgamboa7) GILGAMBOA    8     11-1     Enda Bolger    Robbie Power

Another that has proven he doesn’t stay 3m yet holds an entry here. Ran respectably in the Ryanair but should have either gone for the Melling Chase or the Topham as he would have had a more realistic winning chance. Next!

Rating – 1/10


on his own8) ON HIS OWN    12    11-1    Willie Mullins      Mr Patrick Mullins

A grand old veteran whose career high came when second in the 2014 Gold Cup, he has had three attempts over these fences and since his first experience has looked soured by the place. Travelling well in the 2012 National when baulked by a loose horse and falling at Becher’s second time, he returned as a leading principal the following year and had began to struggle when falling at second Valentine’s. His other effort over these fences in the 2013 Becher Chase was a extremely mulish effort as he tailed himself off before plugging on through beaten horses.

The same character has made this appearance on a few occasions this season, including on his banks debut where you couldn’t blame him in fairness and at Leopardstown in the Irish Hennessy when showing wayward tendencies at various points in the contest. Should give Patrick Mullins a fun spin round but he’s a bit long in the tooth and plenty of others preferred.

Rating – 3/10


druids9)  THE DRUIDS NEPHEW    9     11-0     Neil Mulholland      Denis O’Regan

Arguably a case of what might have been last year when travelling omniously well before crumpling on landing five from home and giving Aidan Coleman no chance of keeping the partnership intact.

The Druids Nephew should run well despite 9lb higher.
The Druids Nephew should run well despite 9lb higher.

Unlike last season where the Cheltenham Festival seemed to be the main aim with Aintree as a back up due to him being well-in at the weights, the whole season has revolved around a return to Aintree with three runs since the start of the campaign. A pipe opener in the West Yorkshire Hurdle at Wetherby behind Kilcooley before an interesting effort at Cheltenham when sixth behind Aachen in December.

His warm up came in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster last month when chasing home The Last Samuri in second having shaped well throughout. The son of King’s Theatre is 9lb higher than last year and probably has decent place chances but the main questions, which was a pre-race fear last year, are whether his stamina will hold out and how will he take to the Aintree experience the second time round.

Rating – 8/10


triolo10) TRIOLO D’ALENE     9      11-0     Nicky Henderson      Jeremiah McGrath

A former Topham Trophy and Hennessy Gold Cup winner, he missed last year’s renewal due to an injured knee and returned to action this year with a comprehensive display of jumping in a Listed Chase at Kempton when having the measure of Ptit Zig before that rival unseated two out. He consequently disappointing behind Silviniaco Conti on testing ground in the Ascot Chase in February and can ultimately be forgiven the run.

Just like when he contested the race in 2014, similar concerns about his jumping apply. Despite winning the Topham, he made several mistakes on the way round and he cannot get away with those again and also similar worries about his stamina lasting out. This does look another year where trainer Nicky Henderson’s wait for a Grand National year will continue for another twelve months.

Rating – 3/10


Rocky Creek Silks11) ROCKY CREEK    10     10-13     Paul Nicholls      Andrew Thornton

Sent off a well backed second favourite last year, he disappointed badly and has showed little remnants of that Racing Plus Chase win at Kempton last season. Looked out of love with the game in the Grand Sefton before a poor effort in the Denman Chase. Should suit Andrew Thornton’s style and jump round safely but he won’t be troubling the leaders.

Rating – 2/10


Sir des champs12) SIR DES CHAMPS     10      10-13     Willie Mullins      Nina Carberry

Dual Cheltenham Festival winner who looked a live Gold Cup candidate a couple of years ago when second to Bob’s Worth in the 2013 equivalent. Injury woes prevented him from another crack at the blue riband event and he returned from a long absence to win a farce of a contest at Thurles which proved very little about what form he had retained. We got a clearer indication at Christmas when he disappointed in the Lexus Chase and further more in the Irish Hennessy. This seems a desperate last bite of the cherry and his jumping even at his peak wasn’t the most fluent. Readily opposed, even with top amateur Nina Carberry drafted in to take the ride in place of Ruby Walsh who is out injured with a fractured wrist.

Rating – 3/10


holywell13) HOLYWELL    9     10-12     Jonjo O’Neill      Richie McLernon

There’s no doubting Holywell has plenty of talent when on a going day, a fourth in last year’s Gold Cup a testament to that and two Festival successes in two of the toughest handicaps of the season showcases his mettle for the big days when the pressure is on.

Holywell gets on really well with Richie McLernon.
Holywell gets on really well with Richie McLernon.

As has become the norm in Holywell’s season, it had been fairly quiet including a miserable display in the Skybet Chase at Doncaster before another crack at the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase at the Cheltenham Festival where he bumped into a better handicapped horse in Un Temps Pour Tout. He still looks fairly treated here on the pick of his form and Aintree could be the type of test that could just bring him alive, similar to his stablemate Don’t Push It who won the race back in 2010. If he takes to this unique test, the son of Gold Well definitely has the class to go very close but that’s the risk you take backing the horse. Any extra rain is a negative to his chances.

Rating – 7/10


Shutthefrontdoor14) SHUTTHEFRONTDOOR    9    10-11    Jonjo O’Neill     Barry Geraghty

The 2014 Irish National winner was all the hype twelve months ago when the final ride in the contest for Sir Anthony McCoy the possibility they could win looked more than realistic for three quarters of the race until he weakened after the second last, finishing fifth behind Many Clouds.

Shutthefrontdoor didn't quite see out the distance last year.
Shutthefrontdoor didn’t quite see out the distance last year.

The son of Accordion started his season well with a promising effort when third behind Broxbourne in a Pertemps Qualifier back at Aintree in early November before disappointing in last month’s Greatwood Gold Cup where he never travelled a yard before being pulled up. An abcess on his foot was found as an excuse but it’s not an ideal ailment to have just a month before the big assignment.

Whilst there’s a doubt he didn’t get home last year, the lack of a run since November may have counted against him and at least his supporters have the benefit of connections wanting to give him an outing this season. It would be foolish to ignore him with Jonjo O’Neill’s record in staying handicap chases but others are preferred.

Rating – 7/10


soll15)  SOLL    11     10-11    David Pipe     Conor O’Farrell

An excellent servant to connections who won the inaugural Veterans Chase Final at Sandown where he beat Aachen in January. As a result, he runs here off a career high mark but while the son of Presenting has shown a liking for the track, he has had enough attempts in the race to suggest his winning chance has gone. He was officially 9lb well in last year and disputed the lead for most of the final circuit before fading quickly due to a broken blood vessel. Should give a good account for a fair distance before tiring.

Rating – 4/10


buywise16) BUYWISE 9 10-10 Evan Williams Paul Moloney

Fortune favours the brave. This is one case however where it won’t. Buywise has a ton of ability and consistently places in big handicap chases. The issues are definitely his jumping, even with the new modification fences, and his way of managing to lose ground midway through a race. His owner Hywel Jones when interviewed at the weights lunch came up with the plan that the son of Tikkanen could go for the holes in the fences on the first circuit which could be a disastrous method of negotating Aintree with 39 other competitors and likely fallers in front of him. Even if he manages to stay upright after making several errors, he needs to prove he can stay the distance which seems doubtful.


boston bob17) BOSTON BOB    11    10-10     Willie Mullins      Paul Townend

Has plenty of class on his day including wins at the highest level in the Melling Chase here two years ago and the Punchestown Gold Cup when beating First Lieutenant. On that form and his Bobbyjo Chase success last time at Fairyhouse, he appears well handicapped but he can be inconsistent and has had jumping issues in the past.

Rating – 5/10


aachen18) AACHEN    12    10-10    Venetia Williams      Henry Brooke

A horse who has taken his form to another level this season, even allowing for the fact he is in the veteran stage of his career. The son of … was given an enterprising ride at Cheltenham in December when setting a good gallop under Charlie Deutsch and maintaining it to win as he pleased with several of these in behind including The Druids Nephew. He followed up that effort off a career high mark when second to Soll at Sandown before a couple of below par efforts. Needs more than a career best to be taking this but should give connections a decent run for their money.

Rating – 5/10


Morning Assembly19)  MORNING ASSEMBLY   9     10-9    Pat Fahy       Davy Russell

One of the more fascinating contenders in this year’s renewal. Third in the 2014 RSA Chase behind O’Faolains Boy and Smad Place, he missed last season due to leg trouble and returned with an excellent comeback when just denied by Bridget’s Pet at Fairyhouse. Another fair effort followed before finishing third in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase behind Un Temp Pour Touts when ridden as seemingly he was going to progress from that effort for this race. The concern would be whether he will stay. Although he has shaped like a real stayer, his finishing effort at Cheltenham does raise some doubts.

Rating – 6/10


double ross20) DOUBLE ROSS     10    10-9    Nigel Twiston-Davies      Ryan Hatch

Has problems seeing out 3m in races so why is 4m2f and 74 yards going to suit? Also showed a massive dislike to the course when returning in December behind Benny’s Mist in the Grand Sefton. Next!

Rating – 1/10


goony21) GOONYELLA    9     10-8      Jim Dreaper       Johnny Burke

It’s a case of third time lucky for Jim Dreaper’s charge having missed the cut for the final two renewals, although he has had two attempts over these fences in the Becher Chase. The first ended with an unseated rider at the first and the second was used as a sighter with his handicap mark high enough thanks to his endless reserves of stamina landing him a Midlands National victory at Uttoxeter and his third in the Scottish National at Ayr.

Goonyella loves testing ground and a real stamina test.
Goonyella loves testing ground and a real stamina test.

His most recent outing came when chasing home Venetian De Mai in the Leinster National over 3m at Naas last month, a run that will have left him spot on for Saturday. His chances increase with the more rain that falls but the slight concern is whether he gets left behind in the early stages due to the likely early gallop.
Rating – 7/10


ucello conti22) UCELLO CONTI    8     10-8      Gordon Elliott     Daryl Jacob

Silviniaco Conti’s half brother Ucello who has recieved his fair share of dreadful rides over the course of the season, in particular the Thyestes Chase by everyone’s favourite French jockey Jacques Ricou who took an unorthodox route around the outside where he gave the rail up to nobody. All things considered, it was an excellent run to finish as close as he did back in third behind My Murphy and he also boasts strong handicap form from Christmas when run down by Minella Foru in the Paddy Power Chase. Just like his half-brother, stamina has to be the main concern with the way he weakened in the last furlong at Leopardstown lingering on the mind.

Rating – 4/10


Unioniste Silks23) UNIONISTE    8     10-8      Paul Nicholls       Nick Scholfield

Smart grey chaser on his day who is just short of the highest level at his best. Looked an ideal candidate when preparing for this race twelve months ago until falling at the fifth fence. Returned to Aintree in December and although the yard was out of form at the time, it doesn’t explain his poor jumping fully. Has since won the Ivan Straker Memorial over 3m2f at Kelso and ran well enough behind Many Clouds at the same track last month. At the weights in a normal handicap, you would give him a big chance but previous course form tempers enthusiasm.

Rating – 3/10


le reve24) LE REVE   8    10-8     Lucy Wadham     Harry Skelton

An admirable and consistent type who has an exceptional record around Sandown including several course wins over an extended three miles and a fine third in last season’s Bet365 Gold Cup behind Just A Par. The main question about the son of Milan is whether he can handle going left handed with all his best form going the other way round. However, his runs at Cheltenham and Doncaster were good enough to suggest Aintree shouldn’t be an issue. Has place claims and won’t mind the ground.

Rating – 7/10


gallant oscar25) GALLANT OSCAR    10     10-8     Tony Martin     Mark Walsh

Gallant Oscar has been prepared for one day only and has a real live chance.
Gallant Oscar has been prepared for one day only and has a real live chance.

Threatened to win a big staying prize over fences before finally bagging the Pat Taaffe Handicap Chase at last year’s Punchestown Festival in very taking fashion under Mark Walsh. This season has been aimed around Aintree and he was creeping into the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown on his return over Christmas when unseating Donagh Meyler at the second last. Two quieter efforts have set him up nicely, the first coming in a handicap hurdle at Leopardstown before shaping eyecatchingly in the Leinster National when fifth behind Venetian De Mai. Doesn’t look badly handicapped on the best of his form and may yet improve for the extreme stamina test. One for the shortlist.

Rating – 9/10


onenightinvienna26) ONENIGHTINVIENNA    7    10-8     Philip Hobbs    Tom O’Brien

The least experienced member of the field having only ran in four novice chases and runs in the colours of former Grand National winner West Tip.

Having won on chase debut at Exeter where he jumped like an old hand when beating Fletcher’s Flyer before a solid effort when runner up behind RSA Chase winner Blaklion at Cheltenham in December. The son of Oscar followed that effort up with another second at Kempton, this time behind Local Show where the pair served up a treat in the jumping department. His most recent effort came in the Reynoldstown at Ascot where he got too involved in duelling for the lead and, as a result, suffered the consequences by finishing a very tired fifth.

The obvious concern would have to be the lack of experience and he is a definite candidate for future renewals of the race. The last seven year old to win the race was Bogskar back in 1940.

Rating – 7/10


the last samuri27)  THE LAST SAMURI (IRE) 8 10-8 Kim Bailey David Bass

Looked a useful novice chaser last season before moving from Donald McCain’s yard to Kim Bailey where the improvement has been quite staggering. A good third behind Wakanda and Virak in the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle was a sign of things to come as he won a competitive Kempton handicap over Christmas, his stamina coming into play in the closing stages. He then followed up with an excellent performance in the Grimthorpe Chase at Doncaster at the beginning of March when beating The Druids Nephew by 10 lengths.

The Last Samuri is 12lb well in on official figures.
The Last Samuri is 12lb well in on official figures.

His chance is obvious and of the Rooney horses, he is preferred to Kruzhlinin but he can give his fences plenty of air which could result in him getting behind from an early stage. Apart from that, he holds every chance of becoming his trainer’s second winner in the contest since Mr Frisk back in 1990 who smashed the track record on firm ground.

Rating – 8/10


kruzhlinin28) KRUZHLININ     9      10-7     Philip Hobbs     Richard Johnson

The other Paul & Claire Rooney runner who has benefited from a switch in yards; this time to Philip Hobbs. Won on his first start in convincing style at Kempton and was my main long term fancy leading up to Cheltenham where he ran in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase when fifth behind Un Temp Pour Touts which on the face of it looks an ideal National trial. However, his jumping fell to pieces in the last mile of the race and did remarkably well to recover from a shocking mistake at the fourth last which stopped him in his tracks. Although he has jumped round Aintree twice before when ridden to give him experience of the track as an inexperienced horse and looks a thorough stayer, the worry has to be whether his jumping will hold up ridden closer to the pace.

Rating – 7/10


rule the world29) RULE THE WORLD    9     10-7     Mouse Morris      David Mullins

Bids to become the first novice to win the race since Lord Gyllene in 1997 and has yet to win a race over the larger obstacles in thirteen attempts. Had shown no indication of staying a trip until finishing in the runner up spot in last year’s Irish National behind Thunder And Roses, a race that hasn’t worked out at all apart from this horse. Was second to the ill-fated No More Heroes over Christmas in the Topaz Novices’ Chase at Leopardstown. The main issue here is stamina, as he looked out on his feet at the end of the Irish National and this is an extra five furlongs. Others make more appeal.

Rating – 5 /10


just a par30) JUST A PAR   9    10-6     Paul Nicholls         Sean Bowen

Last year’s Bet365 Gold Cup winner looked an ideal Grand National type as a novice chaser when winning a Grade Two at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting back in 2013, however his only attempt over these fences in the 2014 Becher Chase was a disappointing effort when pulled up after jumping slowly at a couple. Remains inconsistent and wants decent ground ideally but could go well if the race takes his interest.

Rating – 5/10


katenko31) KATENKO      10      10-6       Venetia Williams      Will Kennedy

Looked a chaser heading for the top when taking two handicap chases at Sandown and Cheltenham back in 2013 before a serious bout of colic nearly ended his life. Has failed to recapture that form since and seems very fragile these days. One to avoid. Next!

Rating – 1/10


vicscanvas32) VICS CANVAS    13     10-6     Dermot McLoughlin     Robert Dunne

Normally when looking at entries for a Grand National, 13 year olds tend to be ignored as they usually are past their best in terms of form and ability. This son of Old Vic is a different case however as injury problems curtailed his younger days so he started life in point-to-points aged 8. Since going chasing late in life, he has improved for a stamina test having won the Cork National in 2014 and finishing second in the 2015 Bet365 Gold Cup behind Just A Par.

Vics Canvas isn't your typical 13 year old running in the Grand National.
Vics Canvas isn’t your typical 13 year old running in the Grand National.

This season began with a preparation in the Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle at Haydock where he did well to stay with the field before getting outpaced, finishing in mid-division. Connections then came to Aintree for the Becher Chase where the slight concern beforehand was his size for jumping round. However, his jumping was excellent and he shaped with plenty of promise before getting tired on the run-in when finishing sixth behind Highland Lodge.

Two more runs in Ireland will have kept him ticking over nicely and, at the prices, he deserves to be shorter with stamina not looking an issue and him showing a liking for the fences. The last 13 year old to win was Sergeant Murphy back in 1923 but it wouldn’t be a huge shock were Vics Canvas able to return to the winners’ enclosure. One definitely in the shortlist and still available at 66’s.

Rating – 9/10


oscar t33) BLACK THUNDER     9     10-6     Paul Nicholls     Mr Sam Waley-Cohen

Possibly the pick of the champion trainer’s quintet as he looks fairly handicapped on the best of his form. A decent novice chaser with form tieing in with Many Clouds when he beat him at Haydock, the son of Malinas has always shaped as though an extreme stamina test will suit. His form this season looks mostly ordinary but he was running well off top weight in a recognised trial at Cheltenham in November when making an awful mistake at the second last, costing him all chance before unseating just after halfway in the Welsh National at Chepstow having just be niggled to stay in touch on atrocious ground. He ran better at Sandown behind Le Reve in early February, and can give his new connections a decent run for their money. Was bought by Robert Waley-Cohen for £90,000 at the Goffs Sale at Aintree for his son Sam to ride which is no negative whatsoever to his chances. Could sneak a place at a big price.

Rating – 7/10


Ballycasey34) BALLYCASEY    9     10-6     Willie Mullins     Katie Walsh

Similar to last year, he gets the exact same rating despite showing a liking for the track. A candidate for one of the worst campaigned horses in the past few seasons, the son of Presenting proved yet again in the Thyestes that he wants an intermediate trip and ran well in the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Plate over 2m5f at Cheltenham when fifth behind Empire Of Dirt. Would be much better off in the Topham. Next!

Rating – 1/10


hadrians approach35) HADRIAN’S APPROACH   9    10-6    Nicky Henderson    Nico De Boinville

A former Bet365 Gold Cup winner at Sandown back in 2014, the son of High Chapparal has had niggly issues which kept him from the track most of last season however, he shaped with encouragement on his return in the Racing Plus Chase when sixth behind Theatre Guide. The distance shouldn’t pose any issues but the concerns revolve around his jumping which can be sloppy and the ground as he wants decent good ground to be at his very best.

Rating – 5/10


vieux lion rouge36) VIEUX LION ROUGE     7     10-5    David Pipe    James Reveley

A progressive chaser who won a decent handicap at Haydock’s Betfair Chase before falling when in the chasing pack behind Aachen at Cheltenham in December. Ran well enough in the National Hunt Chase but failed to see out the distance. Hard to recommend.

Rating – 3/10


wyck37) PENDRA     8     10-5     Charlie Longsdon     Aidan Coleman

Had shaped like a real non stayer over 3m when failing to get up the hill at last year’s Cheltenham Festival behind The Druid’s Nephew but proceeded to dispell those thoughts with an impressive success in the United House Gold Cup back in October at Ascot. However, his finishing effort in the Silver Cup back over the same course and distance just before Christmas was hugely concerning and he doesn’t look an Aintree type. Very difficult to recommend. Next!

Rating – 1/10


saint are38) SAINT ARE    10    10-5    Tom George     Paddy Brennan

An excellent old campaigner who benefited hugely for the switch in stables from Tim Vaughan to Tom George last season when returning to form with a bang, culminating with a fine second to Many Clouds in last year’s renewal. He took a while to come to hand earlier in the season when unplaced both at Cheltenham and in the Becher Chase, but a small wind operation and better ground seemed to bring about plenty of improvement when winning a veterans chase at Doncaster after the weights came out.

The son of Network should run his usual honest race but the slight concerns are his jumping as he made several errors on the way round last year and the softer than ideal ground. Has definite place claims.

Rating – 8/10


home farm39) HOME FARM    9    10-4    Henry de Bromhead    Andrew Lynch

Looked a promising staying handicap chaser in his younger days when with Arthur Moore but his chase form had tailed off at the back end of last season when pulling up behind Coneygree in the Gold Cup and disappointing behind Menorah at Sandown. The son of Presenting has ran two fair races over hurdles this season but it would take a massive leap of faith to fancy him here.

Rating 2/10


the romford pele40) THE ROMFORD PELE    9    10-4    Rebecca Curtis    Trevor Whelan

One of my longer term fancies since his return to action at Cheltenham in November over 3m3f when running on eyecatchingly up the hill behind Sausalito Sunrise before falling behind Aachen on ground that was too testing and at a time when the yard was struggling. He bounced back with a decent effort on Trials Day in the Cleeve Hurdle behind the dominant Thistlecrack before shaping really well over an inadequate trip in the Coral Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

The Romford Pele looks unexposed as a stayer and fairly treated at the weights.
The Romford Pele looks unexposed as a stayer and fairly treated at the weights.

A former John Smith’s Summer Cup winner at Uttoxeter over 3m2f, he’s unexposed at the distance and has a very good jockey booking in Trevor Whelan who has a remarkable record with trainer Rebecca Curtis. The only slight concern is his jumping which can be haphazard at times, but he should take to these fences and and is well handicapped on his best form.

Rating – 10/10



Many Clouds looks a solid favourite in his bid to win back to back Grand Nationals and with a smooth preparation this season, it’s hard to keep him out of the frame as his main market rivals have questions to overcome with The Last Samuri’s jumping technique and Silviniaco Conti’s stamina. Saint Are can give another bold showing while last year’s fifth Shutthefrontdoor still has slight stamina reservations. The Druids Nephew should go well after his unlucky fall last year but any extra rain is a negative.

The idea of the 2016 Crabbies Grand National winner is THE ROMFORD PELE who has had a fair season despite not winning, looks feasibly handicapped on his best form and is unexposed relating to an extreme stamina test which should suit. Gallant Oscar and Vics Canvas are two others that should make the frame, the former given an ideal Aintree preparation and the latter unique in the sense that he doesn’t tick the majority of the trends but he is more than capable of ruffling a few feathers. Outside the main four, others that could go well include O’Faolains Boy and Black Thunder with Sam Waley-Cohen now riding.

1st – The Romford Pele

2nd – Many Clouds

3rd – Vics Canvas

4th – Gallant Oscar

Good luck with your bets!

Dubai World Cup Night 2016 Preview

Evening/Morning all depending on when you’re reading this, it’s Calum here with a very rare blog post, even more rare on the OTOH site! I’ve had a lot of people ask me my fancies for the Dubai World Cup meeting, so thought it would be better to get a preview done, along with selections in the Theyoungracegoer style.



I have a good antepost look to this race already, with Sloane Avenue and Maftool in the book already. The vibes surrounding Noseda’s colt aren’t brilliant, but he did have a recent prep and was obviously second in this last year, when covering a lot of ground from a wide draw. Maftool looks set to run a big race. He impressed me when winning last time on yard debut, the gelding of him looking to make the difference and connections won this with Tamarkuz last year, another former Godolphin horse.

However it’s hard to see past MARKING who despite clearly having his quirks, it’s easy to forget he only made his debut 6 months ago and the progress he’s made since then is truly remarkable. Only Runhappy has been able to beat in when he’s finished his races so far, and the switch to the 1m race looks the right decision. He could well have too much class for these. Elsewhere One Man Band will give it a good go from the front from stall 1 and has frame claims.



The one race on the card that i’m really quite undecided on. Vazirabad will win this on form, he has clearly the best form already, but also gets a handy weight-for-age allowance, is versatile regards ground and could well have more to offer too. But he is pretty quirky too, he carries head awkwardly in races, has played up  in trackwork and after not travelling over too well, is a risky proposition at a short price.

Manatee is a top performer and this will be a far more suitable 2m than what the Royal-Oak test was for him, when well behind Vazirabad. I still get the feeling Big Orange will be done for a bit of toe in a race which is so often about tactical speed, while there’s a few who are likely to go forward as well so he may not get his own way as such. Maybe HAAFAGUINEA can be the one, I wasn’t really a fan of his originally but he’s winning me over. His Meydan record is superb and though he has stamina to prove but is very much bred to stay, even taking into account this isn’t a true test at 2m anyway and can definitely outrun his odds.

Advice – 1pt e/w Haafaguinea @12/1 Sportsbook (11’s Hills, 10’s general) 



Not a strong renewal and POLAR RIVER will take all the beating. She was superb on her first 3 starts, and though that air of invincibility took a knock in the Oaks last time, she still won with plenty in hand despite not really looking herself. I think she’ll bounce right back now, and it’s not like the challenge is that much stronger here. None of the Japanese runners, probably led by Lani, truly convince and neither does US raider Frank Conversation, which probably leaves Vale Dori to chase her home again, as she is at least open to improvement for a top yard. I would recommend a double with Marking, as they look the most likely winning favourites on the card to me.

Advice – Marking/Polar River 3pt win double @3.22/1 Bet365



I love a Sprint and this is a belter of a contest. Ertijaal is an obvious starting point, he has looked superb in demolishing a pair of C&D handicaps this term and plenty points to him being the one to beat. I certainly won’t be putting you off him and I will very likely have him covered when it comes to betting in the race. The Hong Kong pair are huge players, and though Peniaphobia will be the obvious one to many, I readily prefer NOTLISTENIN’TOME who has come in from the ridiculous prices earlier thiNot_Listenin-tome-92419-636x424s week, but is still very backable. He’s been much improved this term, impressing in particular when tackling 5f at Sha Tin (3/3 this season) and this test looks ideal, with Ryan Moore a notable booking too.

Peniaphobia went mighty close last year and December’s Hong Kong Sprint winner is sure to do so again. He was touched off by Sole Power 12 months ago in a race that could not have worked out any better for him. He ran a stormer in the trial and will get a strong pace to run at again, but he’s getting on and I do have a hunch he may have left his race behind a touch that day.

Buffering, Lady Shipman and Muthmir have all got to be considered, the former still very classy despite also getting on. The latter pair should relish this test and usually give their running. The vibes surrounding Goldream are poor, and I couldn’t back him after a very ordinary return in the trial, so JUNGLE CAT appeals of those at a bigger prices. I’d be a touch surprised if he won, but he ran a massive race in the trial when touched off bizarrely by Fityaan. He’s probably best at 6f, but this will be a good test and he’s not far off a few of these based on what he’s shown this Carnival.

Advice – Notlistenin’tome 3pts win @13/2 Paddy Power & Sportsbook

                Jungle Cat 0.5pt e/w @20/1 general



A race which revolves around XY Jet, the American challenger who has won his last 5 races, the general trait being he goes off like a scalded cat from the start. He’s well drawn to adopt such tactics on a speed orientated track and many feel that will be far too much for the rest of these to handle. It very well could be, but there’s enough there to think he’s worth taking on given how one-dimensional he is, added in the fact he obviously won’t be on medication. Basically it’s a race I’d want to back something e/w in instead.

Neither of Confrontation, Muarrab or Rich Tapestry appeal all that much. Confrontation is only really here because of Marking, for all he’ll be suited by the strong pace at the trip that the favourite is sure to offer. Muarrab had everything go right on Super Saturday and probably doesn’t here, and Rich Tapestry is always best fresh considering his bleeding problems, for all he should still run better than he did 3 weeks ago. Super Jockey went close 12 months ago and though not seen on dirt since, does certainly make appeal.

But the old boy REYNALDOTHEWIZARD is the one I really like at the prices. The winner of this in 2013, he looked better than ever on return when taking his dirt record to 3/3 here, and again ran well last time when a wide trip and a slow tempo were against him. I like the fact they’ve come here fresh and with a strong pace guaranteed, I think he’s a huge e/w player. Add in a very backable price and we’re in business!

Advice – Reynaldothewizard 1.5pts e/w @ 14/1 Hills & Paddy Power


3:45 – DUBAI TURF SPONSORED BY DP WORLD (Group 1) (Turf)(3yo+)

A two-horse race probably according to the market, with Tryster who has impressed visually in winning both his starts this Carnival, heading the betting. It’s not hard to pick holes in that form, the Jebel Hatta he won last time was clearly not a very good race for the grade, and this is a bigger and better field, but his turn of foot is superb and he is clearly capable of winning this. So too is Intilaaq, who I rate very highly and rightly comes here instead of trying the dirt but connections have much bigger targets with him this summer, so I can look elsewhere.

Real Steel will be fine with the trip and has mixed it with some of the best in Japan, so should be thereabouts. Forries Waltz, The Corsican and Euro Charline all have some claims or other, but it’s VERY SPECIAL that I want to be on. Her form isn’t the easiest to weigh up, given she’s made all in fillies’ Group 2 events the last twice, but she beat Euro Charline fair and square last time to me and is simply just a smart and progressive filly. Connections won this with a similar type in Sajjhaa a few years ago (who also landed the Jebel Hatta) and do not be surprised to see her run a massive race. The rest really do have it to find.

Advice – Very Special 1.5pts e/w @14/1 general 



The race of the night for me this, and that’s nothing against the World Cup but it’s on turf and it encapsulates everything I love about International Racing. I’ve bduramenteeen a huge fan of Postponed since his Voltigeur win in 2014. He was always going to be one who improved with age and he could not have been more impressive on Super Saturday. If in the same form he’ll take plenty of beating, but in the form of DURAMENTE there could be a horse who can.

He looked truly exceptional when winning the Japanese 2000 Guineas, and though more workmanlike in the Derby still got the job done with a bit in hand. He looked well over his injury (which foiled an Arc bid) when giving weight and a beating, albeit a narrow one, on return last month (looked value for plenty extra) and Dubai has often been the scene of some huge performances from Japanese runners. Victoire Pisa won the big one in 2011, but most memorably was the big race double of Just A Way and Gentildonna in 2014, the former who demolished his Duty Free field and the latter who landed this race under Ryan Moore 40 minutes later. There’s no doubt Duramente could be capable of putting up a huge performance when asked, and this could well be the time for it.

Anddddd the stage is set for a Highland Reel win now of course. I’ve been on the wrong end of races he’s won a couple of times now, but he’s such an admirable horse and this is remarkably the seventh country he’s raced in. Dariyan remains with potential but has a bit to find with Highland Reel from Hong Kong and was brushed aside by Postponed in the trial. The rest will be surprise winners.

Advice – Duramente 3pts win @10/3 Bet365, Skybet & BetVictor



Finally to the big one and it’s certainly not a race that disappoints on paper. We’ve seen some head-scratching results of this race, but I don’t see that happening this year. California Chrome will obviously be a hugely popular winner and he’s had a better prep this time than he did when second to Prince Bishop last year. He’s sure to go well.

But I can see a huge effort being needed to win and no doubt FROSTED has far more potential than him in that regards. American Pharoah overshadowed all last year, but this could be the time to shine for Kiaran McLaughlin’s 4-y-o, who mixed it with the best throughout the campaign and really impressed when bolting up in his trial last month. For a Godolphin-owned colt (and don’t underestimate that!), this has surely been on the radar for a long time and I really think he’s the clear one to beat, something which isn’t reflected in the market.

The US challenge is further boosted by Mshawish, who not long has raced on dirt but has looked a natural thus far, while the consistent Hoppertunity and also Keen Ice are interesting, the latter in particular if there is a pace meltdown. I don’t think that’s in any way a given though. Special Fighter dictated at a crawl when winning on Super Saturday and i’ll be shocked if he went close, Vadamos is interesting on dirt but MUBTAAHIJ appeals most of those at big prices. He’s not come close to the heights of last year’s Carnival, but his whole campaign has revolved around this race and he maybe has taken some time to get over the whole Triple Crown campaign, when he was far from disgraced. He badly needed his return and the form of his last effort is totally worthless, thus easy to forget. I’ll be surprised if he didn’t run much better here.

Advice – Frosted 3pts win @5/2 general

                 Mubtaahij 1pt e/w @16/1 general 

In Their Best Interests

A week ago, I thought I’d be writing about Victoria Pendleton. How important it was for racing to let her into our community, allow her to open it up and reveal it’s complex beauty to the world. Many loud voices in the sport shouted far and wide about the dangers she provided, a one-dimensional pessimistic point of view pointedly refusing to realise what they were doing. Are we ashamed? Terrified of opening ourselves up to a new audience and the vulnerabilities that come with it? Isn’t that exactly what contributes to diminishing viewing figures, deteriorating attendances and ageing fans? We can’t do that.

However the events of last week, the best week in National Hunt racing, were more distressing than blocking good publicity. It was the horses’ welfare. It is simply unacceptable for seven horses to die in the space of four days at one racecourse, irrelevant of the importance of the meeting (yet the publicity makes it more important).

Horse racing is an extreme sport. It’s hazardous, dangerous and life-threatening, yet this mix forms part of what makes it the second-largest spectator sport in Great Britain. I can live and love the sport so long as I believe everything is done to protect the wellbeing of both the horses and jockeys. Horses are cared for like royalty by their stable-hands, loved like one of the family by their owners and trainers and wisely looked after by their jockeys. However, still, seven horses died this week – and I don’t believe everything was done in their best interests.

The ground at Cheltenham this week was too firm for jumps races and… why? Why? That’s not a rhetorical question. Why exactly was the ground that firm? Despite claims from all kinds of officials that good ground is suitable for National Hunt racing, is that really true? The drainage system at Cheltenham is now so efficient most festivals are run on good going (all of the past ten have had good in the going description). Perhaps an important aspect in considering this is that, on the whole, it’s the first time many horses and jockeys have faced good going for the first time all season

Assessing the ground and the number of fatalities is a fundamental starting point.

2016 3 Good to Soft (Soft i-p) 1 Good (Good to soft i-p)
2015 1 Good to soft (Good i-p) 1 Good (Good to soft i-p)
2014 1 Good to soft (Good i-p) 2 Good (Good to soft i-p)
2013 0 Soft (Good to soft i-p) 0 Good to soft (Soft i-p)
2012 3 Good (Good to soft i-p)* 2 Good (Good to soft i-p)
2011 0 Good (Good to soft i-p) 0 Good (Good to soft i-p)
2010 1 Good to soft (Good i-p) 1 Good (Good to soft i-p)
2009 0 Good to Soft (Soft i-p) 0 Good to Soft (Soft i-p)
2008 0 Good to soft 0 Abandoned (Wind)
2007 1 Soft (Good to soft i-p) 0 Good to soft (Good i-p)
2016 1 Good (Good to Soft i-p) 3 Good (Good to Soft i-p)
2015 0 Good (Good to Soft i-p) 0 Soft (Good to soft i-p)
2014 0 Good (Good to soft i-p) 2 Good (Good to soft i-p)
2013 1 Good to soft (Good i-p) 0 Good to soft (Good i-p)
2012 0 Good (Good to soft i-p) 0 Good (Good to soft i-p)
2011 1 Good (Good to soft i-p) 0 Good (Good to soft i-p)
2010 0 Good to soft (Good i-p) 2 Good then Soft (Rain)
2009 1 Good to Soft 0 Good to Soft (Good i-p)
2008 0 Good to soft (Good i-p) 1 Good to soft
2007 1 Good to soft (Good i-p) 0 Good to soft (Good i-p)
2016 7 GOOD
2014 5 GOOD
2012 5 GOOD
2011 1 GOOD

In 2014, the each day had the exact same going description as this Festival did. Five horses died that year. In 2012, five horses died while racing was run on, on average, even faster going descriptions. On the other hand, only one died in 2013 while on average the ground was softer and only one horse has died when ‘soft’ was the chief going description in the last ten years at the Festival (this was only three days in thirty nine, however). Taking the average of the going description from the four days, three of the four most deadly festivals in the last ten years have been run on good ground (2012, 2014 & 2016). Only one of the five least dangerous festivals (with only one fatality) was run on good ground (2011).

Digging deeper, the most upsetting going description has to over the passing of two greats in Garde Champetre and Scotsirish. On the first day of the Festival in 2012, the overall description was good. On the cross-country course however, it was officially good-to-firm – both the aforementioned ran on that course and tragically never returned.

Furthermore, is the ground exacerbated by the fact it is the first time horses and jockeys have raced on it since the summer? The previous major meeting, the Imperial Cup at Sandown, is typically run on heavy going as you can see from the following statistics. In the last five years, the ground has predominantly soft and no horse was killed. Furthermore, it highlights the sudden shock from heavy going to good going within the space of just a few days. Perhaps it is that shock of the ground that endangers the horse. Both horse and jockey are facing good ground for the first time and add that to the fathomable pressure to succeed at the most important fixture on the National Hunt calendar and you may have a mix that unacceptably jeopardises the welfare of our treasured horses.

Sandown Imperial Cup Day (Saturday before Cheltenham)

2016 0 Soft (Heavy i-p)
2015 0 Good to soft (Good i-p)
2014 0 Soft
2013 0 Heavy (Soft i-p)
2012 0 Good to soft (soft i-p)

These statistics are subjective, without due regard for each incident and examining their sometimes complex causes (such as a history of injury particularly in the case of Pont Alexandre who broke down away from the fences). Furthermore, are the times not suggesting that perhaps the ground is even firmer than the going description officially states? That the ground is actually quicker yet officials understand if stated so the fault would more easily be laid at their door. Even if these statistics are merely a coincidence, what has racing got to lose by ensuring the ground is slower? We have had a fantastic season – one of the best in a while – this year on soft and even heavy going conditions… what is there to lose? Last year, one of the biggest ever Gold Cup fields lined up on soft going for one of the best Gold Cups, eventually bravely won by Coneygree. This year, it’s fair to say the fast going helped next to none of the mere nine contenders.

If there is little to gain from fast going, but such tragic losses to lose, why not ensure each Festival is run on conditions no quicker than good to soft? Athletes suffer running on tarmac thus track events are run on special softer surfaces to help absorb shock, obviously a key component in horses jumping large fences and landing on hard ground. For the sake of slightly faster finishing times and for ‘fast ground’ horses is that really worth it? Is that in keeping with our commitment to the welfare of these beloved animals? Aren’t we simply increasing the risk we undertake, for such hollow reasons that we look back in agony minutes later. Minutes after a Festival we have looked forward to for nearly a year and will cherish so lovingly in our hearts for years to come. We love this sport and we love these horses. Why ruin that. Why risk it all for simply no reason at all.

Cheltenham Festival 2016 Comp Final Scores

After being agonisingly pipped in the final race last year, it’s congratulations to Calum who gains revenge with a success in a similar fashion to how Thistlecrack won yesterday, although it wouldn’t be right to describe Michael’s second place being on a par with Alpha Des Obeaux! In saying that, well done on ending with some profit whilst George Gorman managed to end the week breaking even.

Jason and Sean both ended with a negative amount but not as embarrassing as Adam in sixth (not last for once!) and last year’s winner Luke who ends the week coming home in a tailed off and dismal last place.

OTOH Blogger/Guests Race 1 Race 2 Race 3 Race 4
Adam Webb Zubayr All Yours E/W WEST APPROACH E/W Cue Card
-28.75 -38.75 -58.75 -68.75
Calum Madell Zubayr Starchitect E/W Barters Hill Cue Card
268.94 258.94 248.94 238.94
Luke Elder Sceau Royal John Constable Barters Hill Djakadam
-93.75 -103.75 -113.75 -123.75
George Gorman Ivanovich Gorbatov Wait For Me Long Dog Cue Card
-2.5 -12.5 -22.5 -32.5
Jason Herridge Zubayr Blue Hell E/W BARTERS HILL Don Cossack
-46.48 -56.48 -76.48 -43.98
Michael Andrews Zubayr BLUE HELL Alysson Monterg E/W Cue Card
39.17 19.17 9.17 -0.83
Sean Ellis Connetable E/W Cardinal Walter E/W Long Dog DON POLI
2.27 -7.73 -17.73 -27.73
OTOH Blogger/Guests Race 5 Race 6 Race 7
Adam Webb It Came To Pass E/W Qualando Next Sensation
-78.75 -88.75 -98.75
Calum Madell It Came To Pass E/W Bivouac E/W NEXT SENSATION
228.94 218.94 198.94
Luke Elder On The Fringe Qualando NEXT SENSATION
-97.5 -107.5 -127.5
George Gorman ON THE FRINGE Montdragon E/W Rock The World
20 10 0
Jason Herridge Paint The Clouds E/W Qualando E/W Next Sensation E/W
-33.35 -43.35 -53.35
Michael Andrews On The Fringe Nabucco E/W Next Sensation
27.08 17.08 7.08
Sean Ellis Mendip Express E/W Qualando Eastlake
-37.73 -47.73 -57.73

2016 Cheltenham Festival Comp Catch-Up & Day 4 Selections

Apologies for the lack of posts over the last couple of days as I ended up going to Cheltenham for longer than anticipated. With a lot to get through, the main news coming from the competition is that one person has shot clear like last year, that person being Calum Madell who looks to consolidate his comfortable lead on the final day and isn’t making the same mistake as last year when losing in the final race!

OTOH Blogger/Guests Race 1 Race 2 Race 3 Race 4
Adam Webb Yanworth No More Heroes Brother Tedd E/W Sprinter Sacre
-63.75 -73.75 -83.75 -23.75
Calum Madell Yanworth More Of That Diamond King SPRINTER SACRE
-25.83 -35.83 94.17 214.17
Luke Elder Yanworth No More Heroes BAOULET DELAROQUE E/W Sprinter Sacre
-63.75 -73.75 -93.75 -33.75
George Gorman Yanworth More Of That Blazer UN DE SCEAUX
2.5 -7.5 -17.5 -37.5
Jason Herridge YANWORTH More Of That Politologue Sprinter Sacre
-53.75 -63.75 -73.75 -13.75
Michael Andrews Vigil E/W Vyta Du Roc E/W BROTHER TEDD E/W Sprinter Sacre
-63.33 -73.33 -93.33 -33.33
Sean Ellis A Toi Phil MORE OF THAT Waxie’s Dargle E/W Sprinter Sacre
-7.5 -27.5 -37.5 22.5
OTOH Blogger/Guests Race 5 Race 6 Race 7
Adam Webb Balthazar King OUR THOMAS E/W First Figaro E/W
-33.75 -53.75 -63.75
Calum Madell Balthazar King Diego Du Charmil New To This Town
204.17 279.17 269.17
Luke Elder Ballybroker Bridge E/W Kasakh Noir E/W Castello Sforza
-43.75 -53.75 -63.75
George Gorman Quantitativeeasing Kasakh Noir Bacardys
-47.5 -57.5 -67.5
Jason Herridge Balthazar King Jaleo E/W High Bridge E/W
-23.75 -33.75 -43.75
Michael Andrews Balthazar King Kasakh Noir E/W Onthewesternfront E/W
-43.33 -53.33 -63.33
Sean Ellis Josie’s Orders Campeador New To This Town
12.5 2.5 -7.5



OTOH Blogger/Guests Race 1 Race 2 Race 3 Race 4
Adam Webb Garde La Victoire LEAVE AT DAWN Vautour Thistlecrack
-73.75 -93.75 -73.75 -53.75
Calum Madell Outlander OUR KAEMPFER E/W Road To Riches Thistlecrack
259.17 239.17 229.17 249.17
Luke Elder Garde La Victoire Our Kaempfer Vautour Thistlecrack
-73.75 -83.75 -63.75 -43.75
George Gorman Garde La Victoire Leave At Dawn VAUTOUR Thistlecrack
-77.5 -87.5 -47.5 -27.5
Jason Herridge Garde La Victoire Leave At Dawn E/W Vautour Thistlecrack
-53.75 -63.75 -43.75 -23.75
Michael Andrews Black Hercules If In Doubt E/W Josses Hill E/W Thistlecrack
-13.33 4.17 -5.83 14.17
Sean Ellis Outlander Arpege D’Alene E/W Smashing E/W THISTLECRACK
-17.5 5 -5 15
OTOH Blogger/Guests Race 5 Race 6 Race 7
Adam Webb Johns Spirit Tea In Transvaal E/W Cause Of Causes
-63.75 -73.75 -18.75
Calum Madell Johns Spirit Limini A Good Skin E/W
239.17 256.44 278.94
Luke Elder Johns Spirit Chocca Wocca E/W SAMBREMONT E/W
-53.75 -63.75 -83.75
George Gorman Fingal Bay Smart Talk Sambremont
-37.5 -47.5 -57.5
Jason Herridge JOHNS SPIRIT E/W Limini Upswing E/W
-43.75 -26.48 -36.48
Michael Andrews Ballynagour E/W TEA IN TRANSVAAL E/W Cause Of Causes
4.17 -5.83 49.17
Sean Ellis Art Mauresque E/W Limini The Job Is Right E/W
5 22.27 12.27


OTOH Blogger/Guests Race 1 Race 2 Race 3 Race 4
Adam Webb Zubayr All Yours E/W WEST APPROACH E/W Cue Card
Calum Madell Zubayr Starchitect E/W Barters Hill Cue Card
Luke Elder Sceau Royal John Constable Barters Hill Djakadam
George Gorman Ivanovich Gorbatov Wait For Me Long Dog Cue Card
Jason Herridge Zubayr Blue Hell E/W BARTERS HILL Don Cossack
Michael Andrews Zubayr BLUE HELL Alysson Monterg E/W Cue Card
Sean Ellis Connetable E/W Cardinal Walter E/W Long Dog DON POLI
OTOH Blogger/Guests Race 5 Race 6 Race 7
Adam Webb It Came To Pass E/W Qualando Next Sensation
Calum Madell It Came To Pass E/W Bivouac E/W NEXT SENSATION
Luke Elder On The Fringe Qualando NEXT SENSATION
George Gorman ON THE FRINGE Montdragon E/W Rock The World
Jason Herridge Paint The Clouds E/W Qualando E/W Next Sensation E/W
Michael Andrews On The Fringe Nabucco E/W Next Sensation
Sean Ellis Mendip Express E/W Qualando Eastlake

Good luck on the final day!