The jumps season gets underway at its Cheltenham headquarters this weekend but for the first time in over twenty years, Antony Peter McCoy will not ride at the Gloucester track anymore. Nor will he be champion jumps jockey, a title he has held since the year I was born. The Northern Irishman will not grace any racecourse, don his usual green-and-yellow silks nor lift any equestrian trophy. The buzz and emotion of his swansong last season won’t just evaporate; it’ll be consciously missing.
In a sport of ever-changing fortunes, horses and courses – with a British fixture list of three-hundred-and-sixty-two days a year – AP McCoy has been a constant. It’s important to point out this wasn’t just for avid racing fans; he was in fact the figurehead of our sport to the wider community, even crowned BBC Sports Personality of the Year in 2010. More importantly, a figurehead we could rely upon.
Integrity shouldn’t be a quality underestimated. Unlike jump racing, some sports have lately been landed with the disgrace of their previously hailed frontmen – look little further than Lance Armstrong in Cycling or the ever-present drugs bans of sprinters in Athletics. But jump racing, a sport always held at the height of suspicion, particularly by animal rights groups, was gifted with Tony McCoy – a consistent and dependable flag-bearer for the sport we love. On a racecourse, non-racing fans would seek out his name on a racecard in an act of trusting familiarity. We always knew he could be relied upon to perform the role of introducing our friends to the sport. How many racing fans were converted to the sport because of him? I’ll raise my hand eagerly to that.
Equine or human, the old champions have gone. Kauto Star and his brigade of the late noughties are yet to be emulated in recent times and now the McCoy-sized rug beneath our twenty year-old feet has slipped from under us. The jumps season of 2015-16 will need to bring it’s own new brilliance. Who will take up that mantle? On the human front, Richard Johnson, in the shadow of McCoy for so many years should finally get his time to shine though a battle royale with the young and talented Sam Twiston-Davies is not out the question… nor would it be discouraged. Sparks of equine skill were seen last season in the courageous Coneygree, winner of the Gold Cup, as well as Grand National winner Many Clouds. Can they assert their dominance like the old guard? The possibilities are igniting our impatient brains already.
It’s nearly been a month and a half since the greatest steeplechaser of the twenty-first century heart-wrenchingly passed away at the tender age of only fifteen. It’s too young. It’s not fair.
I was brought up on, spoon-fed and enchanted by the races of the late noughties of the twenty-first century. These were not, Rip Van Winkle, Motivator nor Galileo or Authorized. These were not the bloodless victories of beasts bred for brilliance, nor ran as a sideshow to a social soirée for the arguably apathetic. These were fought for, blood, sweat and tears in the pouring rain or bone-chattering cold of December, January, February and March. These were the dreams of racing folk throughout the country, the world. To see equine superstars, not soulless machines of sequence, throw everything at spreading joy to all. To connect a community in excitement, intrigue and so much love. Never have I felt so connected than on a racecourse. Never have I felt so united than watching, talking or reminiscing about the horse we came to know as Kauto Star.
I admit it, I admit it freely. I liked Denman. I thought he would win the year he did indeed overthrow the champion. I love an underdog. A hamartia shared by my race, not just my community. But it didn’t matter that he’d won, it was what both of them had served us with; that sweet taste of electricity. Because a battle won is only as good as the battle fought. A battle of two supreme stars of steeplechasing a memory of which I will cling onto forever, ingrained in my hippocampus.
Then he came back did Kauto. He came back and fought likeno other horse has ever done before. A golden age of steeplechasing and it was I, then only a secondary school student who witnessed it. Once on an old TV we found in the cupboard and once when illness coincided itself most fortunately with Cheltenham. Would I remember today what I had learnt those afternoons instead of skiving school for superstar spotting? Or do I wish my Saturdays were spent somewhere else than in front of the soft but richly enlightening tones of John Francome? Then I wouldn’t have that feeling of syrupy warmness when I look back, or when I visit a track with racing friends. There’s a racing bond between us all and those two tied the knots tighter than any that came before. Or did they? For me, it was my first exposure to its power. Those that came before, Dessie, Arkle, affected a different audience but the consequences was just the same.
Their retirement wasn’t too soon. Never could you feel hard done by as they both departed from the racecourse, you had had five years of a relentless and remorseless pair who only knew how to please. Still to this day do the hairs stand on edge and the goosebumps begin to flare when I hear the cheers and applause of a community, on a March day in 2012, saying “That’ll do, Kauto, that’ll do. Thank you”.
Between them, but among others, they lit a spark in me that has only grown with age. It may have been only that of a child’s heart that seeped out deep adoration for Kauto Star, but it will be an adult’s head that remembers and so strongly misses him. Horses allow you that luxury, to love them and act like children over them. A human glitch a designer may wish to brush out, but a glitch of pureness and, surprisingly, escapism. It however does leave you vulnerable to them, by removing that layer to love you also remove your protection and suddenly a four-legged dumb animal can knock you back without even knowing it.
It’s hard not to get angry. “Only the good die young” doesn’t cut it. It’s a complete annulment of our racing agreement. You have given us over half a decade of memories, a rollercoaster menu of emotions and a community we’ll have forever. We. Owe. You. This, now, is your time. It’s silly, trying to guess exactly what an animal wants, but it helps our heart to think we’re giving them back all the love they gave us. Three years is not a fair exchange.
I’m angry with the media, too. The non-racing media – I’ve spoken so much about it before – flippantly including his passing in their columns but failing to focus on his achievements, or the fact he passed after retiring from racing. Misconception spreads, again; we have to independently reassert facts as our hearts’ ache. Day in, day out. Go away. He’s our champion. He may just be a beast, a horse, hell, even a ‘figure’ for you but to us he gave us everything. But we’re guilty to. We didn’t give him the perfect life, the perfect long retirement we so yearned to give as our parting gift. And we have to live with that.
For the third year running, the Grand National has provided an eight-minute spectacle unequalled by any other sport; with a successful mix of danger, excitement, enticement but ultimately, safety.
Every year the Grand National is the worst and best day for racing fans. A day to reveal to the world the excitement that we get three hundred and sixty two days of the year. But, this publicity that jumps the sport from zero to hero for just a few minutes also leaves it at the mercy of perhaps the strongest condemnation a modern sport could ever undergo. What hurts the racing fan the most? The celebration of a fantastic sport being torn apart by the sudden façade of morality in those people who had failed to object about a horse’s welfare for the previous three hundred and sixty one days of the year. Even worse, those that don’t even understand the simple, natural, reasons as to why horses for centuries have willingly given their all for the sport of Kings. The Grand National brings about a revelation that their inner ethics that have, for reasons evidently unknown, previously only manifested in their minds. Because more horses die during those other three hundred and sixty one days than they do that day, so why do those forty horses matter more? It’s all about appearance. Superficial appearance; appearing moral while you contradict yourself every single day. Everyone’s his or her own hypocrite.
How dare you suggest we don’t care. How dare you. While you wear leather, sweatshop clothes and pretend you don’t know that bacon you’re eating is from a pig that used to be a family pet, we accept our sport will claim casualties. We know how much a horse gives on that track and it just makes us love them more. To us, the strange forty horses you see on the morning of April 11th are no strangers to us, but part of our tight-knit racing family. Humans have always desired animalistic qualities and what could you desire more than the bravery and willingness to run four miles jumping thirty fences in eight minutes? We love them. Every single day, we try to reach their unattainable level of humanity.
I’ve never met Balthazar King in my life, but I feel like I know him. A horse can give you a pick-me-up when you really need one and Balthazar is something so special for all close and distant. I was working at Cheltenham when he won last year and I, a reluctant roarer at the racetrack, couldn’t contain the excitement, pride and joy – spilling it over my colleagues like an infection as he charged up that hill. The hole I fell into when he fell at the Canal Turn this year was like no other, the beat of the heart changed course like a flick of a switch to overwhelming, shattering fear. Get up. Please. Get up. Gone is the boyish excitement, informing my parents of their horses’ progress. They’re bypassing the Canal Turn. Screens. Numb. A horse won, who cares. Balthazar? Nice winner. Tell me about Balthazar. Dread.
You show me your humanity, if you’re hoping that that horse stays down. Makes a good headline doesn’t it? Calling for a ban on what you don’t understand, you could rattle off a self-indulgent curriculum vitae on your incessant morality, easy. But while you hope he dies, our conscience in that moment only has the eyes for a confirmation on one of our own. Please boy. The messages came through “I hope he’s okay”, “I had to leave the room”, “Balthazar? :/” and “On the verge”, all racing fans knowingly empathising with the vertigo-like state I was in. Mate: “You look like you’ve seen a ghost”. I don’t care. Tell me, I need to know. Pray. Atheist. Still, pray.
“Philip Hobbs has assured me Balthazar King has walked away ok”. Euphoria.
“Is my horse ok? I will do an interview but I can’t see my horse, I need to know he’s okay” (Oliver Sherwood). Humanity. Compassion. Ruby Walsh desperately waving his flag to protect the injured horse? You tell me who cares.
Horse racing has finally realised how to come at this age old ‘moral’ question, from the angle it always needed to be: up front. Horses do die, but they die doing nothing in a field too. Unlike those abandoned creatures who are apparently more morally looked after, racehorses receive care only millionaires could even dream of. But hiding from the fact horses do die is not the way it should be done and thankfully, most racing news channels now inform viewers of a horse’s passing. Seedling’s was handled perhaps a little late by Channel 4, but it ultimately told the viewers that yes a horse died, but we are not deceitfully hiding it. Rather than hiding the fact weakly behind translucency for a malicious journalist to discover and magnify, we’re laying it as it is. Further tributes should be given to the cameramen on Saturday, appropriately cutting the injured horse frame to avoid unnecessary scenes of discomfort for all viewers. There have been lessons learnt from 2011 there. Or did you want to see a horse in pain? Would sell a story, but it wouldn’t help the horse… that’s what actually matters, isn’t it?
The Grand National, the race that despite all the other races run in the world, matters the most once again delivered with all horses OK. But we’ll still mourn the ones you forget; Seedling, Balder Succes and all those that have ever died. We care, we care too much. They make us care more than you could ever imagine.
Watch the video or scroll down to view each horses write up! Short summary at bottom.
Here is this year’s Grand National 2015 Selection Video:
1 – Lord Windermere (4/10)
Carrying top-weight is no easy task in any handicap, never mind the Grand National run over four miles, three furlongs and one hundred and ten yards. Although Lord Windermere is actually, somehow, a Cheltenham Gold Cup winner in 2014, he hasn’t won since. The renewal was a weak one in the eyes of many racing fans and he’s struggled since. He was in fact pulled up in this year’s renewal and has been racing off equal weights since November 2013.
2 – Many Clouds (6/10)
Progressed well this season, winning three including the Hennessy under 11st 6lb before going on to defy good performer Smad Place. Looked to have a good chance in the Gold Cup where he finished a respectable sixth beaten 25L. In good hands but questions raised whether this is a year too early for the eight year old (last 8yo to win was Bindaree in 2002).
3 – Unioniste (7/10)
The same connections appear here as they did in the winner’s enclosure in 2012 with Neptune Collonges and, although Unioniste is a very different sort of horse he also has a big chance from the same weight. He’s very much been laid out for this race by master trainer Paul Nicholls and even boasts a good record at Aintree with two wins from three starts. His class sits below those that precede him in the weights, but even from 11st 6lb he should be very capable of putting on a bold show.
4 – Rocky Creek (9/10)
Was very eye-catching when finishing fifth in this race last year (beaten 19 lengths) and even carries 2lb less than he did on that occasion. He’s had a wind op since and produced an excellent display last time when proving he was back in form. Main question lies with if he can stay that last two furlongs in 2015 where he failed in 2014, but if he can his chances scream winner as large as Hedgehunter did on his second attempt in 2005. He also hasn’t struggled from constipation this season which is a major plus when you’re running nearly four and a half miles, which I’m sure you can empathise with.
5 – First Lieutenant (5/10)
Mouse Morris’ horses are running very well of late (second and forth in the Irish National on Monday) and the Lieutenant is without doubt a classy performer who has lost his way in the last year. His highlights include when he won the Grade 1 Betfred Bowl around here in 2013. You could argue that he’s been running in competitive grade one races all year, but on his last start, when odds on to beat vastly inferior opposition, he failed to win again. Nina Carberry takes the ride so this old boy is likely to be popular on the day, but the national fences would need to rekindle a spark that’s been lost for a while. I don’t think it’s the Lieutenant that will break history for women in the world’s biggest race.
6 – Balthazar King (10/10)
One of the most popular horses amongst National Hunt racing fans and I am no exception. I’ve been signed up to The King’s fan club for years now and he knows how to deliver each season, winning six of his last ten starts and finishing five lengths second in last year’s National. He carries 3lb more this time around but weight carrying has never been a major problem, with all of his wins in 2014 coming while carrying top weight. If he gets into a battle around the elbow, it would take some horse to out-battle him. The ground, if soft, would be his major foe while the lack of a run in 148 days (while planned) has significant stat problems, with most national winners needing a run in at least that calendar year. Nevertheless, he does actually enjoying racing fresh having only been beaten twice from breaks over 100 days, winning eight of the other ten. Unfortunately one of those failures was in the National of 2013. But no one is telling Balthazar that, and #BalthazarIsOurKing.
7 – Shutthefrontdoor (6/10)
Will be extremely popular in the betting and will also live long in the minds of horse racing fans as Tony McCoy gives the Grand National his final performance. Unfortunately for McCoy, there are significant flaws in the master plan of JP McManus. Before winning the Irish Grand National last year, the horse had shown serious signs of ability without really producing it. Sam Winner et al put him in his place at Cheltenham before only finishing sixth in the four-miler at the Festival. He won the Irish equivalent in eye-catching fashion for this, but the form from that race is hardly inspiring with the first six home failing to win a race since (excluding himself). His only start since proved his wellbeing but the stat remains from Balthazar King and 152 days is a long time to grow rusty before your biggest gig of your career. He’s also one of the least experienced members of the field, with only six starts over fences. The McCoy factor adds two points.
8 – Pineau de Re (5/10)
Last years winner gets away with not carrying as much weight as his predecessors have done due to the classy inclusions in this year’s race. However, this year he’s been largely disappointing, failing to blossom at any point during the season (unlike last year before his triumph at Aintree in 2014). He carries an extra 8lb this time around which as already pointed out isn’t excessive, but a bigger problem may be his jumping. He was fortunate to get around last time, helped by a dose of the old National luck, but he may easily come a cropper without that fairy dust on this occasion. The stats point out how impossible it is to win Grand Nationals but he goes there with the same chance as any previous Grand National winner. He’s been there, got the t-shirt, can he snatch a jumper?
9 – Ballycasey (1/10)
It’s rare that a horse in these colours, with Ruby Walsh aboard for Willie Mullins has so little chance on at a major festival. Although the three of them won at the Cheltenham Festival, it’s more likely for Nigel Farage to win around the Aintree course on Saturday than Ballycasey.
10 – Spring Heeled (6/10)
Won a staying handicap at the Cheltenham Festival last year, although perhaps slightly fortuitously after having the run of the race and with his main rival (Cause of Causes) making a mistake at the last. Not beaten far next time in the Bet365 Cup at Sandown before a fourth-placed finish in the Galway Plate. Had comeback run in February so should strip fitter here, but unconvinced whether this marathon trip is exactly what he wants. Certainly has the class, and a danger if getting into a rhythm over the fences, but expected to just come up short.
11 – Rebel Rebellion (4/10)
Already won over these fences over a lesser trip in December 2013 and ran well when fifth in that race last year. Won twice since but never raced further than 3 miles and his two starts over three miles were when second to Soll and beaten 60L last October. That’s not conclusive evidence, but looks short of the class considering the weight he’s carrying.
12 – Dolatulo (10/10)
A big price for a really likeable horse. Had a good year with a strong second at Sandown on his comeback run before running over these fences in December giving him vital experience – and he was far from disgraced beaten less than 12L by Poole Master. It was also a trip perhaps on the short side for him nowadays and he duly stepped up to take the Grade 3 Rowland Meyrick chase from an extremely well handicapped and well fancied Cape Tribulation at Wetherby over three miles.
He then followed the route of last year’s winner Pineau de Re in qualifying (just) for the Pertemps final at Cheltenham, where he finished well beaten. It did look a much stronger renewal this year than the 2014 equivalent, but it’s without doubt he wasn’t asked too many questions from rider Dougie Costello. He was settled at the back nearly twenty lengths behind the leader and never really put into the race proper.
This is Warren Greatrex’s first year of National runners but broke into the big time in the National Hunt sphere this year, landing the World Hurdle last month with Cole Harden.
Dolatulo gives a really good chance at a big price for each-way backers.
13 – Mon Parrain (3/10)
He’s more likely to be a talking point because of his excellent young jockey, Sean Bowen, rather than his own skill. He’s been a moody performer but Sean gets the best out of him including when winning on New Years Day over 3 ¼ miles. That form has worked out OK, with re-opposing Saint Are finishing 4L third. Lit up over these fences in the Topham (over these fences, shorter distance) but faded badly on the run-in to be outstayed by three-time winner Always Waining. Temperamental, questionable stamina but should give Sean a grand run on his first Grand National ride.
14 – NON RUNNER
15 – Night In Milan (3/10)
I’ve never been convinced of this horse at top-flight level, having seen him beaten often around Sedgefield a few years back. However he has been revitalised in recent years, winning three staying handicaps including the Grimthorpe in 2014. Ran well in that race this year and will appreciate the ground but arguably a little short of class in my mind.
16 – Rubi Light (1/10)
Posted better efforts last two times, winning over 2m ¼ (soft), but poor runs before that and hasn’t run over 2m4f since 2012. Not the ideal preparation for a contest run over 4m 3f and easy to swerve.
17 – The Druids Nephew (6/10)
Progressed well this year and well clear of the others in competitive handicap at Cheltenham last start. Had ran well in the Grade 2 Cleeve Hurdle before that as well as a grand run in the Grade 3 Hennessy chase before that. Been a revelation this year but question whether his jumping will stand up to this stead having put in some questionable leaps at points during his career.
Regular rider, and a jockey who is virtually unbeaten for trainer Neil Mulholland, Barry Geraghty however is unavailable. Neither is second choice Davy Russell so it falls to Aidan Coleman to take the ride.
No strong reasons to avoid him but not convinced this is the race he desires. Could easily pop up but not for me.
18 – Cause of Causes (7/10)
Hadn’t actually won over fences until breaking his duck at Cheltenham last month but some excellent placed efforts before. Clearly stayed well for Jamie Codd when winning that day and was unlucky when narrow second in that contest the year before. Today’s jockey Paul Carberry is the master of timing hold-up horses to perfection and should give it a good shot once again. Stamina virtually assured and each-way possibilities.
19 – Godsmejudge (4/10)
One of my old favourites and tipped to win this last year before not running in the Scottish National instead when second to Al Co. However hasn’t been in good form all season. Pulled up on return before well beaten by Rocky Creek and last to finish in minor event last time. Doesn’t carry much weight as a result and there is evidence to suggest he’s a spring horse with his best runs in March and April, but odds leave no value for a horse who’s not suggested he’s at his best all season.
20 – Al Co (6/10)
Cleverly handled, showing next to no form before winning big races including valuable Chepstow handicap and the Scottish Grand National. Ran some respectable races in preparation for this with placed efforts at Doncaster and Bangor and would be no surprise to see him slowly make his way through the field on the second circuit. Pulled up on only start over these fences last year and jumping could be a question mark. Delivers on the big occasion.
21 – Monbeg Dude (7/10)
My selection last year who ran a grand race finishing seventh. Carries 2lb less and thrown in some very fair efforts this season once again including a fourth in the Hennessy. Respectable runs since; was well behind The Druids Nephew at Cheltenham last time but perhaps not asked for everything that day. Nevertheless, his form last season going into this was stronger than this time around as a whole. It would be just my luck for him to win it the year after selecting him, but he appeared not to quite stay the last two furlongs last time and, despite 2lb pull at the weights, that’s enough to prevent me from backing him for win purposes. Could place.
22 – Corrin Wood (1/10)
Bold front-runner who put in some great efforts in small fields last season, but quickly put in his place this season on three starts since. Best to look elsewhere.
23 – The Rainbow Hunter (2/10)
Has plenty going for him in staying chases, winning SkyBet Chase last year on desperate ground. However ran in this past two years and unseated his rider on both occasions at the same fence (Canal Turn). Pulled up on only start this season so little to go on from that and his Aintree record, unless it’s third time lucky, makes him OK to discount.
24 – Saint Are (6/10)
Shown plenty of temperament in the past but new trainer getting the best out of him this season. Had an excellent trial for this when only beaten 3 ¾ L by Oscar Time in the Becher (over these fences in December, 3m ¼) and held form since behind Mon Parrain at Cheltenham and recording easy win at Catterick. Finished ninth in this in 2013, beaten nearly 50L but as I said has been rejuvenated this year.
One of those horses that I won’t be backing but I don’t have big enough reasons to discount.
25 – Across the Bay (1/10)
Caused drama last year when leading around the bend to be taken virtually out of the race by a loose horse. Finished 14th, but no form this time around and easy to dismiss.
26 – Tranquil Sea (1/10)
Too old to make an impression here and hasn’t been at best for a long time.
27 – Oscar Time (3/10)
Likely to have a grand time once again, having placed in this race in 2011 and 2013 and won over these fences over shorter trip last December. Fourteen now, and will run well for good National jockey Sam Waley-Cohen, but vulnerable to younger legs.
28 – Bob Ford (2/10)
Runs in the colours of last years favourite Teaforthree and won West Wales National on desperate ground in January. Only one other horse finished that day (and had virtually pulled up) and ground nothing like that this time around. Up against it here for all stamina is assured.
29 – Super Duty (2/10)
Didn’t go on from great effort at Cheltenham in 2013 and came back from long layoff with little shown on his two starts this year. Easy to oppose for now.
30 – Wyck Hill (2/10)
Really good stayer when it’s his day but disappointing, frankly, since JP McManus bought him. Only effort of significance was Eider Chase win on heavy ground last year, so stamina guaranteed but tends to avoid good ground so that a worry. Not enough to suggest today is the day.
31 – Gas Line Boy (5/10)
In a year when at lot of the bottom weighted horses look to have it all to do, Gas Line Boy could be one who has a sneaky chance. Won two staying contestes already this year, including when beating future Welsh Grand National winner in November. Beaten 20L forth in the National trial on his last start, only beaten a short head by Monbeg Dude. Might be one that sneaks into a place at a big price carrying only 10st 4lb.
32 – Chance du Roy (6/10)
Loves these fences, only falling once from six starts: finishing second over them in 2012, ninth in 2013 before sixth in the actual National last season and fifth in December. He also won over them in December 2013. Likely to give it another good shot this year but expected to come up just short once again.
33 – Portrait King (4/10)
Irish raider that’s not really known about having never really strutted his stuff on the big stage against big National horses. Won a staying handicap over three miles in January and good second last time. One of the ones that doesn’t really have the form to take this but that doesn’t mean he can’t.
34 – Owega Star (1/10)
Very little to suggest a prominent showing.
35 – River Choice (1/10)
I like French horses but this very much above his level, winning a claimer being his highlight this season.
36 – Court By Surprise (3/10)
Another down the bottom that has a better chance than most, with some really nice runs in last couple of years. Second in London National in 2013, before winning on return last October over three miles. Ground shouldn’t be a problem and decent run behind progressive The Young Master in November (awarded race on technicality). Hasn’t run since however so may lack slightly for fitness.
37 – Alvarado (5/10)
Was a storming home forth in this last year but never got close to the winner who had already flown. Main aim is to not get to far behind like he did last year, as well as most horses that run in these colours have done in the past (State of Play and Cappa Bleu). Had comeback run in February not considered as had pulled up on his prep run before last year and goes in again with solid each-way claims.
38 – Soll (4/10)
Remain unconvinced by Soll who does seem to lack gears despite winning his past two starts in a faultless 2015 so far. The featherweight he carries is an important factor for backers and he ran respectably over these fences in the Topham Chase (over a shorter distance). Not for me, but could feature.
39 – Ely Brown (4/10)
Likeable horse who’s had a quiet season with only the one run in over a year. He was pulled up there but has been schooling well over these fences at home. Stays 3 miles at least but unknown quantity over further. Has already won twice at Aintree, both off long layoffs but they were over hurdles. Could place.
40 Royale Knight (5/10)
The last one to sneak in and not out of it by any stretch of the imagination, having won the Durham National easily in October over 3m ¾. Opposition that day clearly not up to this level but carries a mere 10st 2lbs and comes from the very shrewd yard of Dr Richard Newland – last years winning trainer. Not out of this.
My two main selections for this Grand National are DOLATULO and BALTHAZAR KING who both have excellent chances. ROCKY CREEK has very strong claims while other each-way possibilities include UNIONISTE, CAUSE OF CAUSES and ELY BROWN.
The Cheltenham Festival requires a kind of stamina that cannot be maintained. Its ingredients are an explosive mix that always threatens to boil over the crazy cauldron. How can a racing fan sustain four days of a feast flawlessly fashioned for their thirst? How can they rely on racehorses for their serotonin release? The peak of a win can so soon plummet to a fall. The long, drawn-out anticipation, waiting for this day… for nothing? For something? For euphoria or for despair? There’s no hiding place at Cheltenham. It’s a melting pot of hearts that will always beat faster when they turn for home.
2015 was no different and this time, I experienced it all. For the first year, I was at Prestbury Park for all four phenomenal days. I worked ‘commentating’ the numbers for the big screens across Cheltenham, dictating during the race the first four horses numbers to help inform the Cheltenham public. Professionalism, or perhaps objectivity, weren’t features maintained throughout the entire twenty-seven races when your heart’s on your sleeve and your head’s in Coneygree’s clouds.
We began on Tuesday. My favourite day. The only day I’ve ever been before. Supreme. Arkle. Champion. Three of the best races start to fill the lustful season-long pit of Festival desire. These weren’t any three races though; they were Ruby’s. And Willie’s. And ours. To experience a feeling of complete empathy with sixty thousand strangers is a sensation unparalleled; a sense of togetherness as you journeyed in partnership through the day. But the fever pitch couldn’t continue, it was unhealthy if we were to maintain our senses for the following twenty-four duels. Racing knew that, and acted upon it.
Annie Power’s fall turned the switch off. The sonorous sounds before she jumped the last were deafening to even a beginner’s ear, but the silence after spoke even louder. The launch party was at an end; the first dip of a forever falling and flying Festival had arrived. It was a rollercoaster slog all the way to the Grand Annual from here.
Tuesday provided us with a Mullins trio that were of a new generation. Douvan overcame a tyrannous trend to casually destroy an excellent field while Un De Sceaux dismissed his opposition without a second look. Faugheen provided another spectacle, he himself offering his fans a sweaty second at the second last. The rest of a day fell into place, but it couldn’t reach the pre-Annie Power levels until Thursday. They could only return for one man.
Day two came and the fatigue of halfway began. Wednesday failed to provide what National Hunt fans really craved: the return of a past champion. When Kauto Star returned to regain his right to the throne in 2009, the adoration of a racing nation poured over the soft grass. When Sprinter Sacre was pulled up and Sire De Grugy failed to finish with a flourish, the nation turned around, disappointed. There wasn’t a rapport with Dodging Bullets, as brave as the new Champion Chaser was. It wasn’t the result we wanted, it wasn’t the result we pined for. The highlight was the fight back of the previously easily invaded Great Britain, led by its spearhead Paul Nicholls. For me, my biggest challenge was delivered to me in the form of the Coral Cup. Twenty-six runners. You know, you can soon change your mind about JP McManus, Gigginstown, Rich Ricci and others when they decide three runners is an appropriate number for me to juggle. Even worse, try swiftly identifying the difference between the Souede and Munir strings; spots and quarters are not adequate.
The cross country personally provided a pang of misery, a race without it’s star isn’t much of a race at all. King Balthazar would have gracefully exhibited his rear to the field if given the chance to clutch a crown that will always be his own. I hope April 11th can provide that required fix. However the crash involving Patrick McCann stowed the festival fire, it wouldn’t be Cheltenham without a little drama.
Thursday needed a lift. The crowd were getting restless, their bodies remembering how euphoric Tuesday was before ‘the incident’ and they needed a return to sustain them for a further thirteen races. Who better to deliver than the usual postmen Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh? Vautour was sensational. He was a pleasure to watch to even an untrained eye and deserved the reaction he received from the hungry crowd who got served an aperitif to what was to come.
Anthony Peter McCoy is the only champion jockey nineteen year-old me has ever known and the tears that almost fell on Thursday and Friday is the perfect simplification of how much he means to me. He’s our figurehead, a constant in an ever-changing world, but he’s leaving us in 2015 and he will not ride in another Cheltenham Festival. Responsible for showing new, young racing fans the way into the sport for two decades, he will be missed more than we can comprehend. This Festival was a time to give something back to a man who had made it his life to give us everything, everyday. A nine-till-five miracle man. As soon as Uxizandre set out in front, I thought, this is it. This is the time we get to show it all. The crowd returned to Tuesday’s climax in a matter of seconds as we saw Tony McCoy deliver what he has done for over twenty years. I ran to the parade ring to say thank you with the rest of the racing community, thank you to a man who we will be forever indebted to. The goose bumps on my arm as he was roared into the parade ring raced around my body; will we ever see the like again?
Sharing Cheltenham with racing fans is what makes the Festival the best in the world and this year, the evenings were part of that experience. Talking racing, talking tactics and talking horses overwhelmed all other sensations for 96 hours in March. But betting at Cheltenham is hard. The pressure to perform is fourfold from any other day and when you’ve been waiting so long finishing second is gutting. Monetaire and Saphir Du Rheu especially, knocked me back for the rest of the day as you sink deeper towards the bottom of your betting account. Friday’s notoriously tough, how can I get back up from here? I’m exhausted, I’m fed up. But the big one is next, can I eke out that little extra energy?
The Gold Cup is a race like no other with a history book splashed with emotion, the tapes playing around Cheltenham on Friday exemplified that. From Dessie to Arkle and all the way forward to memories of my own in Kauto and Denman. This year it was a year for a newcomer, a horse who could touch our hearts for years to come in only a way National Hunt horses can do. The reigning champion didn’t fit the bill and the veterans had lost their way; we desired something sublime and untouchable. In the absence of My Tent or Yours and with Balthazar King in the wings, Coneygree took over the mantle of my favourite racehorse in the 2014-2015 season pre-Cheltenham, was I to rejoice this year?
When Coneygree devastating destroyed, demolished his more experienced elders, Cheltenham unified once again, proudly celebrating another worthy emblem. Up that hill, with my job disappearing instantly into insignificant, I willed home one of the bravest horses in one of the best Gold Cups I’ve seen in a long time. Relentless and remorseless, a champion we could relate to, celebrate and bear aloft for years to come. It was a very happy final day.
Farewell Tony McCoy, the roars of the crowds for you sent shivers down my spine from Tuesday to Friday but that final applause was heart-wrenching. Can you delay? Welcome Un De Sceaux, Vautour, Faugheen, Cole Harden and Coneygree to the big time, fill our hearts as McCoy empties them. The week was a rollercoaster that just wouldn’t stop, an intense trip of exaltation and melancholy. But we’re not ever taking off those seat belts, we’ll be back. See you next year.
I must profess I didn’t regard the Guardian as a tabloid newspaper, but their choice of article following this year’s Melbourne Cup certainly puts them in the same league as papers like the Daily Mail, who willingly publish their twelve-page Grand National pull-out on the Saturday to popularly declare horse racing as the spawn of Satan on the Sunday.
Is it this that makes the racing community so ashamed of their sport? You may argue that, as a loyal, racing enthusiast you don’t feel you’re ashamed. Then why do you feel the need to rationalise popular tabloid news when approached by non-racing fans? Explain that racing isn’t ‘crooked’, a large percentage of horses are not running on drugs and that we don’t cheer when horses die. We don’t have our own journalists to thank unfortunately, as the following image attests. I think I’m still yet to see a news broadcast from the following company that lasts more than five seconds painting horse racing in a positive light. “PineauDeReWinsNationalNoDeaths…Yet”.
The problem at hand, highlighted by Mr Millman (no relation James, I’m sure) is when journalists from outside our sphere decide to step their toe in what they really don’t fully understand. Now perhaps I’m undermining a well-respected journalist who does know all the facts, but the respect surely wains when he fails to produce them.
Let’s take into account the first and surely most popular headline: HORSE RACING KILLS. This is one point no enlightened person can disagree on; it ultimately does. However, so does cheerleading, gymnastics, skiing, lacrosse, hockey, obesity, lightning, hippos, aeroplanes, falling out of bed, jellyfish, dogs and roller coasters. There is a risk to everything and anything you do in your entire life. Typing now, a bizarre electric current could perhaps shock me through my keypad or a plane could crash land through my window. I run that risk, every day and so do you. Minimising that risk is instead what we do and those enlightened members of the horse racing discipline know full well that those risk assessments have been, perhaps overexamined due to external public pressure. Whip rules, changing of the Grand National fences, jockey training, drug tests and rehabilitation centres have been introduced even through my lifetime to ensure all participants help prevent accidents and get the best care they deserve. Why doesn’t the public know that? Surely it’s extremely important to educate the non-racing public about these safety regulations we’ve put in place? It’s very easy and lazy for journalists such as Mr Millman to tug and the heartstrings of the wider public but they’re just not getting the clear picture.
I could go further, many people ask me, “but why do they have to put the horses to sleep, he only broke a leg”. Once again, the lack of education means the general public thinks vets are enjoying an excuse to kill a horse, rather than doing what it ultimately right for the horse. In the wild, an injured horse would just have been left, abandoned by its herd. Trying to heal broken bones leads to further complications with horses, as many racing fans could remember in the case of St Nicholas Abbey last year. Unfortunately, yet unsurprisingly, the money, effort and love ploughed into that horse remained an unwritten about topic in the general press.
HORSES ARE FORCED TO RACE. Of course, because running fast is against a horses nature. The phrase is farcical to the bitter end. Try stopping a shark from swimming, a frog from croaking or a koala from doing just whatever a koala actually does. It is as natural as a horse to competitively race as it is for you or I to want to take a drink of water. I still seethe when I hear people, who have never sat on a horse in their lifetime, enlighten the ears with what an equine actually desires. Of course, dear fellow, like yourself, horses want to sit in a penned field until they grow old getting more and more bored by their monotonous days. Unfortunately, as man so helpfully decided wild horses should no longer be exactly that, wild, they are destined to do just that. I’ve ridden since I was six, and every single time I ride to the end of a cold, grey, hard track and enter a field, my equine companion lights up. If I’m not alone, suddenly, there’s a race on, without the rider’s encouragement, coercion or violence. It’s horses human nature. They want to race. Lough Derg. Borderlescott. The Tatling. The latter two have even refused to retire. They want to run. Let them.
HORSE RACING MISTREATS HORSES. In my life I’ve never seen anything cared for as closely and lovingly as a racehorse. Care homes and hospitals should really take note. In the heavenly field most rights activists desire for racehorses there’s no such care and the reports of horse mistreatment are those left abandoned in this divine quadrilateral, not in the racing ‘whip-chamber’. You could, if you want, ‘strip away the pomp’ as Millman so kindly puts it; the silks, the owners, the yard. All you will find is the stable hand, who comes back day after day, certainly not for the money, but for the love of the horse. The indolent writer doesn’t fail to deliver a full house for those with Anti-Racing-Article-Bingo cards when relating the sport to the rich and those with little real-world morality. “The crowds will be back next year, with their perchers and their daft hair”, go and collect card holders, go and collect. Once again, one-dimensional.
But in the racing community we really see what goes on in our world. Admire Rakti’s death alongside Araldo’s will be mourned by us all, instead of moving on as quickly and as perverse as Millman paints the picture, we will remember. Instead, it’s the outside world that forgets, the non-racing world. They scream out roar before getting on with their daily lives. In fact the stereotype of race-goers unceremoniously ploughing around intoxicated with a negligent view on the days events is not typically racing fans at all, but those from outside the sport; racing fans can have a purely enjoyable day out without touching the vastly overpriced and often vulgar stench of liquor. Did the newspapers catch sight of the racking emotion of Admire Rakti’s adoring owner?
He wasn’t at the bar looking for his next drink. And do they report the far more common event of a horse surviving a fall? It happens every day, perhaps every race for jump racing. If you really want a reflection of our respect, love and adoration for horses then look no further than Twitter after Irving’s fall on Saturday at Wincanton. When he got back up, the feeling of affection racked through the racing community. As racing fans, we can come together so often, an emotional linkage between fans rarely seen in team sports. There’s just no feeling quite like it. The flood of relief, elation and adoration in one sweep. But newspapers don’t show that. Not that.
Instead, it’s those that want to ‘protect’ horses that publish images like this. Because those that ‘really love horses’ just want to see images of them dying, because that’s how we’ve always defined love and respect in human nature. Propaganda may tug at the heartstrings, but it doesn’t actually do anything. If you really want to do something, work with us. Make a change. We are.
Why is this necessary? Because despite Mr Millman’s many failing qualities to put across a balanced informed argument some readers may devour his words as gospel. It’s our duty to educate non-racing fans to the truth. Call it out. Be proud. Because this is what we truly are. No monetary involvement needed.
The race that stop the nation(s) is back! For all loyal racing fans from across the world, an early morning awaits us. On The Other Hoof did a bumper preview of the race with special Australian guest Andrew Hawkins, alongside panellists Michael (@mytentoryours), Luke (@lukeelder13) and Adam (@adamwebb121). If you have a spare hour (or so) you can watch it anytime via the following link, or if there’s just a specific horse you wish to get our views on you can skip using their racecard number (they were talked about in chronological order). There are also claims that the image preview of the video is perhaps one of the greatest faces in our history and I take all the credit.
Best of luck!
1 – ADMIRE RAKTI Hold up (58.5kg)
Hard not to be impressed with the manner in which he won the Caulfield Cup last time out over 2400m. Hadn’t won in over a year previously, and that was over 3400m (showing he has the stamina) but was a G3 contest. Not had the best domestic lead ups with a poor showing in the 3200m Tenno Spring G1 (13th) his last start in Japan.
Will exaggerated hold-up tactics work in a race where there’s very little pace available? Needs to be close up. 2012 repeat (slowly run) race expected.
2 – CAVARLYMAN Hold up (57kg)
Been the Godolphin star this year with many of their other stars failing to perform. Won two in the UK as well as a win in UAE (and an unlucky second). Came unstuck at York last time and long gap between this race and that. Has won off a break before, and has run in this before but only 12th. Carries more weight today. Is a British 3200m horse.
3 – FAWKNER Hold up (57kg)
Sixth but beaten fair distance in last years race (54,5kg). Carries more but in a weaker renewal here. Just denied under big weight in Makybe Diva over 1600m and since won the Caulfield Stakes over 2020m (reversed placings with Makybe Diva winner). Second in Cox Plate since giving 3kg. Yet to tackle this distance apart from last years running.
4 – RED CADEAUX Hold up (57kg)
Ever popular stayer whose finished second in this twice now. Best sign of himself as usual came in Geoffrey Freer when he ran eye-catchingly. Ignore latest start at Kempton, but carries more weight than last year (56,5kg), 2012 (55,5kg), 2011 (53kg). Not his usual lead up race (usually Irish St Leger) but around similar time so break no issue. Will be enjoying time in Australia. Sentimental.
5 – PROTECTIONIST Hold up/Versatile (56.5kg)
German 4yos really come on and he has done so, winning the Hansa Preis (Singing) and then the Kergolay, which is usually a good lead up race for this. The form not the strongest but a really good run in Herbert Power. Nice type for this race as stays well in Europe over 2400m so not devoid of speed but also needs that extra distance in Australia. He’s short now considering what he’s actually proven but hard to think of too many negatives. Never been out of first four. Ryan Moore is apparently a negative, but he’s looking for a Cox Plate-Cup double.
6 – SEA MOON Non-runner
7 – SEISMOS Tracks (56kg)
Really likeable type who won the Geoffrey Freer at Newbury this year. Undone by the sprint that developed in the Caulfield Cup and the slow pace so question whether these Australian races suit? Not the type of horse you’re looking for.
8 – JUNOOB Track-mid (55.5kg)
Huge stamina doubts. Never been further than 2400m. Won G1 Metropolitan – was in front a long way and came up the straight very slowly – and then good run behind Admire Rakti when seventh in Cau Cup. No stamina available in pedigree, was running over a mile in UK in earlier years.
9 – ROYAL DIAMOND Hold up but flexible, can lead (55.5kg)
Best to ignore Irish St leger run considering the jockeys were largely to blame. Not really shown enough to suggest he’s good enough for this. Classiest successes come on soft (Ascot, only just got there on Champions Day). Seems to need every part of the trip in Legers over 2800m. Just unexciting.
10 – GATEWOOD Track-mid (55kg)
Hasn’t been in a field bugger than nine since April 2013. Won a few decent Listed and G3s this year but strength of those races has to be questioned. Never raced over further than 2400m. Last trip to Australia didn’t go so well. Bizarre move.
11 – MUTUAL REGARD Tracks (55kg)
Very consistent type, not out of first three since July 2013. Mainly handicaps however though third in 2800m Listed race. Won the Ebor which looked good on paper but only Pallasator has really impressed since (3rd, Champions Day). Hasn’t had a run since then which is a worry for Australians but form figures after a layoff read 1-2-1. This is the Melbourne Cup though.
12 – WHO SHOT THEBARMAN Tracks-mid (55kg)
Has won a 3200m NZ G1. Also won at the course twice who stayed on well over 2000m and 2520m, not the quickest. Was well beaten in Cau Cup but mucus found post race. Interesting one at bigger odds considering Distance win.
13 – WILLING FOE Hold up (55kg)
Very lightly raced for his age. Furthest he’s ran so far is 3100m so likely to stay the trip, but was only third that day in mediocre French G3 (Prix Gladiateur) 2012. Did win the Ebor in 2012.
Does seem a different horse this year however and plenty to like about Newbury second behind Seismos and fourth in Irish St Leger. One to keep in mind.
14 – MY AMBIVALENT Leads if breaks well. Doesn’t always (54.5kg)
Very moody, but arguably the classiest member of the field. Won G2 over 2100m at York earlier in the year before good third to Cirrus at Epsom over 2400m. Never been further than 2900m (came close fifth) but that was behind classy soft ground stayers Wild Coco and Estimate as a 3yo. Really worth a shot here especially if jumping well and getting soft lead.
15 – PRECEDENCE Mid (54.5kg)
Hasn’t won for a year. Ran in this in 2012 and 2011 without threatening and in worse form this time around.
16 – BRAMBLES Tracks (54kg)
Well placed when winning at Flemington (beat Signoff into third) over 1700m. Questions over the stamina have to be raised, good fourth in Caulfield Cup but then mid-div in Mackinnon at the weekend. More likely to be well placed than in the finish on merit.
17 – MR O’CEIRIN Tracks (54kg)
Needs rain (never won on good). Not really of this class, mid-division in Listed race LTO. Never been this far.
18 – AU REVOIR Tracks/can lead (53.5kg)
Really nice run over 2400m when just beaten by Spiritjim in listed race then didn’t enjoy soft ground behind same horse next time. Back to form in Prix Foy. Ran over 3000m in 2013 and was narrowly denied there so hope on extended trip. Good run when striking from the home straight in Moonee Valley G2 and one to really consider for e/w purposes. Under the radar.
19 – LIDARI Tracks/mid (53.5kg)
There or thereabouts around 2400m last few starts, second in Turnbull before sixth in Cau Cup. Few queries if he will stay the 3200m but usually sticks his neck out to be in the mix so could place.
20 – OPINION Hold up (53.5kg)
Second behind Junoob over 2400m in Metro G1. Only sixth at Moonee Valley since however and not screaming out for 3200m. Came 18/18 when last seen at Flemington over a staying trip, 2800m in Carnival Handicap (started fav but had tack issues). Unreliable.
21 – ARALDO Hold up (53kg)
Nice run in the Cau Cup, met a bit of trouble and stayed on quite eye-catchingly. A slow run race would not be to liking. Step up in trip should be appreciated however as did win a Listed race in Germany over 2800m.
22 – LUCIA VALENTINA Hold up (53kg)
In flying form of late, winning Turnbull before not getting to the line quick enough to peg back Admire Rakti in Cau Cup. Exaggerated hold up tactics are going to help in this race. Stamina? 2400m was a step up for her last time…
23 – UNCHAIN MY HEART Hold up (51.5kg)
Hard to fancy.
24 – SIGNOFF Tracks (51kg)
Nice chance this. In really good form of late including when winning Lexus Stakes at the weekend. Turn around no problem for Australian horses and one to consider. Very promising.
PROTECTIONIST 7/1(150/1 Ante-Post)
AU REVOIR 50/1
MY AMBIVALENT 40/1
ADMIRE RAKTI 5/1f
Think those that sit close up will be there for a long time due to a slowly run race, so a chance is taken on Au Revoir who has some nice form in Europe and a decent run in Australia. My Ambivalent is a big risk but is huge at 40/1 for such a classy type. I expect Admire Rakti, alongside many others, to fly home at the finish but not quite get there. The selection is PROTECTIONIST whose versatility and potential is just as enticing as the massive odds I have him ante-post.
This famous statement has been regurgitated lavishly since the seventies by political satirists, documenting the moment US President Richard Nixon declared he wasn’t a crook. Because he said he wasn’t, he expected the people of America and the world to believe him… he was after all leader of the ‘free world’. Richard Nixon genuinely believed it was within his right to change the laws and – more astonishingly to the public – that he was above them.
Before I get into the heat of today’s enflamed topic I need to highlight a few things about racing and, well, me. My passionate view of racing overflows at every moment, whether it’s the posters of Kauto Star on my wall or the lock screen of the Grand National on my phone. Every family friend remembers and my parents are still frequently asked “Is he still into that horse racing?”. Ever since I was young I knew I wanted to work in the industry, from jockey to trainer to journalist. Today has been the first day I’ve questioned if that’s still the case.
I’m eighteen. You can suggest the following article is written by an innocent, naïve and unenlightened teenager who has no common sense when it comes to the ‘real world’. But I simply ask you this; do you want to live in a world where dishonesty is acceptable?
Jim Best is renowned for being a gambling yard. You can’t really look two ways about it when this article quotes him affirming the statement “We did land a few gambles and that’s what the owners wanted” before explaining how he would typically go about it “Get him rated 85 and you might be able to win three or four handicaps before they get to you”. The unspecified third person plural pronoun ‘they’, who Best was originally deceiving, would happen to refer to the handicapper – the ‘judge’ in horse racing who ensures it’s always a level playing field.
So when an incident such as Saint Helena’s on Wednesday at Southwell turns up it’s difficult to look more than one way about it. The public, and apparently the stewards according to their report available here felt that the improvement was inconceivable on the form evidence available – the horse had been beaten a total of 228 lengths on it’s past three starts. Its starting prices on those occasions were 150/1, 50/1 and 80/1 respectively. These races were all ran over soft, good to soft and good conditions over 2m and 2m1f (3200m, 3400m). Much to the surprise of the formbook, Saint Helena was the winner of the 32Red Casino Handicap Hurdle at a price of 11/10f, with a late jockey change another notable feature.
Conclusions will be jumped to by everyone and unfortunately in racing, as this seems to happen often, it’s difficult not to concur on the evidence above. There’s nothing to suggest improvement was likely to the public but the SP suggests there’s clearly improvement expected in private.
Is it fair? To the betting public the usual outrage of sore pockets will stream through social media, betting shops and public houses. Many will be upset that they have staked their own money, fairly and by the book on what form and knowledge is available to them. Is it fair to hide information from horse racing’s loyal and essential followers, whether they be an avid fan, like me, or a weekend Saturday punter?
Unfortunately the more important externality of these situations is horse racing’s integrity. Our sport already sits not on a perfect pedestal, but the naughty bottom step of the sport ladder, where it’s labelled, stereotyped and back paged. This is reality. Talk to a non-racing friend or just take a quick look at BBC Sport to confirm my statement – it’ll show you how horse racing features only as a sub-heading under the ‘All Sports’ tab and, even worse, the prominent news articles feature negative reports rather than what we know horse racing is capable of. So if we’re struggling and desperately trying to claw our way to the top, why are we allowing dishonesty to go unpunished? “Join our sport, if you’re not in the ‘in’ crowd though, you’re scuppered” isn’t a slogan I hear Great British Racing wanting to present.
The handicapping system breeds dishonesty and honest horses running on merit every time are punished – and by extension, so are their owners’ and trainers’. I can’t change the way the Stewards’ work or how the system develops at the moment, but I wouldn’t discount it if ever given the opportunity. But what we can do is as media outlets try to change the way outsiders see our sport and attempt to break down the opaque wall for something far more translucent. The following quote not only solidifies the wall but also alienates people who want to play by the rules. I want a sport that plays by the rules.
“This concept that every horse must run absolutely on its merits. It must be fully fit. The public must be told (if it’s had a breathing operation) or any other medical treatment.
It’s kind of a nonsense.”
(BetRacingNation TV Wednesday 3rd September – view here)
The irresponsible comment is not only obscene to any law-abiding citizen (if used in a real life situation), but actually cancerous coming from the mouth of an apparent racing expert good enough to put on television. The TV show boasts excellent viewing figures so the damage done by the flippant guest has leaked into the viewers’ heads like a malignant mace. Unless the viewers have already formed a strong opposing opinion, what’s stopping them from agreeing with the guest on the apparent ‘acceptable dishonesty’ in horse racing? What’s stopping them from moving away from ‘crooked’ horse racing as a result? We’re not even attempting the weak defence put up by Nixon, we’re saying: “Here’s Horse Racing: We Are Crooks”. I don’t think I’m being naïve or looking for the implausible perfect world when I say I don’t think horse racing is crooked. It’s twisted, not broken.
The guest went on to say “There’s this concept that if we had every tiny bit of information on every horse; wind ops, treatments, everything like that, that it would benefit us as punters. And it wouldn’t.”
This is clearly similar to many scenarios in our country; for example when defendants are put on trial without all the evidence being made available or how surgeons perform operations without prior knowledge of their patient. The idea is preposterous to say the least in an information-intense world where everyone is looking for the ‘inside edge’, whether it’s in horse racing or not. I don’t believe this comment is representative of the entire racing media, but when it comes from a source with the ability to influence race-goers, it needs to be taken seriously.
The integrity of racing is essential to its survival and destructive people in positions of power need to accept their responsibility in that position or simply step away from the spotlight. Racing has had enough scandals smeared all over the non-racing media pages lately, why is the racing media attempting to kindle its own fierce fire?
The Baden-Baden festival started yesterday and continues long into next week with the pinnacle event being the Group 1 Grosser Preis Von Baden featuring G1 superheroes Sea The Moon and Lucky Lion.
Tomorrow we see the feature race of sprinting division with Goldene Peitsche, a race full of history. Unfortunately, most domestic betting companies don’t price up the German races unless they have UK runners, but you can use Racebets.com. The two really interesting and value bets tomorrow are EMERALD STAR and SIGN OF BLESSING in the feature.
Coolmore Stud B-B Cup – Listed Race
Many may be aware of the position EMERALD STAR holds in my heart after she won the Group 3 at Lingfield at a massive 16/1, being my nap on the On The Other Hoof video, which remains the biggest priced winning nap.
The important form line here is the Schwarzgold-Rennen, which is available to view on German Racing Review. It was run over 1600m and won by Meerjungfrau who’s now racing in the US. The favourite for today’s Listed race is Ajaxana, who finished second that day, with the third Emerald Star being the third favourite today. The difference between the two of them that day was 1 ½ L but I maintain the distance of 1600m suited Ajaxana more than it does Emerald Star and with today’s 1400m trip she may struggle to go past.
In the Schwarzgold-Rennen, Ajaxana took years to ages to pass the front-running Emerald Star and only did so around the 200m furlong pole – once the winner Meerjungfrau had flown. She was either unwilling, which I don’t believe, or just lacking a turn of foot and the drop in trip to 1400m today is a huge negative. She has won the 1000 Guineas over 1600m this season but she also took her time to go past before winning cosily. There’s also the argument that Ajaxana goes better on good ground, but I don’t see the slightly slower conditions as a big enough negative.
Unfortunately for Ajaxana fans, I think 1400m and Emerald Star is a match made in heaven, as they suggested at Lingfield. Her next and last start at York needs forgiving, as she came out slowly from the stalls – she likes to front-run – and ran over an inadequate trip (1200m). Her price perhaps harshly reflects that run and at 9/2 is a steal of a price (Ajaxana is 17/10).
Takenja is an interesting third wheel in the race but would need improvement in my opinion and has a three-month absence to overcome.
Advice: Emerald Star 9/2 Racebets (unless a domestic company prices up)
Goldene Peitsche – Group 3
The selection of SIGN OF BLESSING in the feature, as he is the favourite, looks an obvious one. Frankly, it is – his form is simply far superior to anything else in the race.
His runs this year include the qualifier to this race, the sprint on French 1000 Guineas day; Prix de Saint Georges won by the French super sprinter Catcall. He was second ahead of the third Stepper Point who has obviously done very well when placed at G1 level this year. On his next start he stormed home to be denied by Thawaany in another Group 3 in France. The softer conditions will be perfect for this multiple winner.
His main danger is domestic G3 sprint masterclass AMARILLO who always runs well in these types of events, having won two of the five qualifiers. The fact he has to give the French raiders 3lbs, alongside the stronger and more international form lines, is enough to overlook him for Sign of Blessing. 5/2 is too big merely on form.
With their best day of the year today, I have written a preview for the German Derby and the lead up races to the feature. I work, write and commentate for German Racing Review, who provide an excellent service on German Racing and I recommend you check them out! http://germanracingreview.com/index.php.
On Twitter, we’re also live from Hamburg tomorrow with information, pictures and videos – @GermanRacingRev
Race 1 – Preis der Generali Versicherung AG Handicap –
For 3 year olds and upwards | Distance: 7f210y | Purse: 13,500 EUR
EL TREN has only had three starts and won two of them, including on her debut. She’s 6/5 in the market and clearly no longer a backable price, despite looking the most progressive member of the field. LIPS DANCER is top-weight but is seeking his hatrick here and deserves to be second favourite. However, can he give the massive 1 stone 8 pounds to EL TREN? I doubt it.
Instead I look towards one of the outsiders ROCK OF CASHEL who has been struggling in Group events his last two starts. He, unsurprisingly, finished down the field both times, but dropping back to a much more suitable level here is eye-catching. His maiden win at Leipzig last year was impressive, winning by 8L for Roland Dzubasz. He’s changed hands since and this begins to explain his big price, but the return of the winning jockey that day, the very capable Alexander Pietsch is another thing to catch the eye. They put into place forcing tactics there and, given his pedigree, stretching the field could bring him back into the winner’s enclosure.
Advice: Rock Of Cashel 11/1 e/w
Race 2 – Hanshin-Cup – Handicap For 3 year olds and upwards | Distance: 7f210y | Purse: 22,500 EUR
I’ve been a fan of the favourite ROYAL FOX for over a year now, having commentated on him for German Racing Review. As Adam teases, he is one of the many horses in Germany who has won by six lengths or more! He was back to form last time out in a minor event, beating SIR OSCAR. ROYAL FOX was cantering all over SIR OSCAR last time out before seemingly not enjoying his time in front, winning by less than a length. However he still looked to have the measure and they’re off the same weight today. The shrewd yard should have him ready to back it up here on the big day. At 6/4, I couldn’t put you off.
The only serious challenger I can see to him is KOFFI ANGEL who won a Listed affair at the end of last year and has been running in Listed events this year. This year he’s cut little ice, but the drop in grade here could spark a much needed revival. Furthermore, he does appear a little one-paced, and his listed success came on soft ground, so the rain that has come is only to his advantage.
Advice: Royal Fox 6/4, Koffi Angel 7/1
Race 5 – BBAG Meiler Auktionsrennen – Auction Race For 3 year olds | Distance: 7f210y | Purse: 52,000 EUR
MARUNAS deserves favouritism having won on debut and been beaten a length by the already Group-placed Simba next time out (beaten by more experienced 5yo). On both of his starts, he has held second favourite FABIO by at least ½ L. Already winners have began come out of that good sales race won by SIMBA so it’s not difficult to see him following up here.
For the places I’m very interested in SOVALLA who broke her maiden tag in very impressive fashion at Baden-Baden last time. She had struggled when set some tough tasks as a 2yo and on her seasonal return she beat DIME DANCER by a bigger margin that SIMBA did on seasonal return (beaten a head by Simba, beaten ¾ L by Sovalla). I’m not suggesting we take this race on face value, but the impressive fashion in which SOVALLA won promises much more, and at her very tempting price I’m happy to take the favourite on. NEW WORLD will appreciate return to this trip after lesser effort last time out.
Advice: Sovalla 7/1
Race 6 – Hamburg-Trophy – POSTPONED FROM SATURDAY – Group 3 (A) For 3 year olds and upwards | Distance: 1m1f207y | Purse: 55,000 EUR
Decent Group 3 this and it’s great to see the old seven year old NEATICO fighting on once again. He’s certainly still capable on his day and last year it took him three starts to win, even if the rain wouldn’t be in his favour. This distance looks perfect for him nowadays and he’s beat a whole host of these in years go by.
PETIT CHEVALIER, who lowered the colours of Cirrus des Aigles during his poor early season in 2013, is another of the old guard to step up to the plate. He was put in his place last time however by re-opposing BERMUDA REEF and would need a significant reversal there. Nevertheless, the juice in the ground will not be a problem for him and he’s not one to discount.
The young guns of BERMUDA REEF and MAJESTIC JASMINE have both won their last starts, but this is another step up for both of them and they have still have it all the prove. BELANGO is typically consistent and I’d suggest backing him for a place.
The favourite, NOTRE SAME, is really surprising. Having only had the one start, albeit it for good connections, it’s going to be a massive step up for him here. That maiden hasn’t produced any stars as of yet so unless there’s a huge stable gamble I’m completely missing, I’m at odds to why his odds are so short. A more obvious second starter for me would be FLAMINGO ROSE, who was beaten by Novellist’s half-sister NINFEA last time out. NINFEA has raced twice, winning that race and being beaten by none other than SEA THE MOON on debut.
GINA’S DREAM, who also gets the full weight allowance like FLAMINGO ROSE, was very impressive on her debut against the colts and is clearly held in high regard. She did perhaps benefit from the front two taking each other on, but all but one other in the field had had previous experience and her professionalism was very taking, sprinting for home to gun down her experienced rivals including FIRE STORM, who she’s another 1kg better off with today.
SPRINGBOK FLYER is the most solid player of the field but his consistency has been rewarded with heaps of weight, only second to FIRE STORM who was second in the Swiss Derby last time out. Both of these should run their races if the unexposed three (FLAMINGO ROSE, GINA’S DREAM and NOTRE SAME) fail to be above average. I believe GINA’S DREAM could be.
Advice: Gina’s Dream 6/1
Race 8 – 145. Deutsches Derby – Group 1 (A) For 3 year olds | Distance: 1m3f205y | Purse: 650,000 EUR
Excellent renewal this, with twenty runners all – statistically – in with a chance. No favourite has won this, at times brutal, race since Schiaparelli in 2006. At this time I’ll direct you to German Racing Review’s comprehensive preview with factfiles on the main contenders.
The three my pin has landed on are LUCKY LION, MAGIC ARTIST and RUSSIAN BOLERO.
LUCKY LION this year has been empathic on his journey from maiden to 2000 Guineas, progressing quickly and impressing on each start. The way he travels through his races and quickens clear, it’s difficult not to be taken by him. He even had trouble on the way to the start in the 2000 Guineas but still came home in front. He deserves his chance – coming into the race unbeaten – but has a lesser reputation than the Markus Klug-trained counterpart Sea The Moon and the market reflects that. Nevertheless, the question of his stamina has eked into everyone’s mind-set. The lack of any sufficient proof that he stays in his pedigree is a question only the horse can answer on Sunday; and the rain that has arrived will not help either. However, rain will not help a colt sired by SEA THE STARS, who’s progeny have appeared to be good ground dependent.
Many, until pricewise decided they’d have their say, had overlooked MAGIC ARTIST. If you want to still get 19/1, it is available with German firm Racebets.com, as most domestic firms have dropped to 12/1. He won the Bavarian Classic impressively last start and suggests this horse has not stopped progressing. He was beaten fair and square by SEA THE MOON two starts ago at Frankfurt by 2 ½ L but over the extended distance with his steady progression, 19/1 is very generous considering the prices of other contenders SEA THE MOON has swept aside, namely SWACADELIC 12/1.
My third and final selection is the lively outsider RUSSIAN BOLERO. Looking through the card on Thursday night, the maiden stood out at me as a bit overpriced at 74/1 on Racebets.com. Since, he’s been cut down to 50/1 with that firm but remains 80/1 with Paddy Power. This consistent horse hasn’t suggested he’s a superstar but hasn’t been out of the places on all four of his starts, latest when narrowly denied by AMAZONIT two weeks ago. Interestingly, his full brother RUSSIAN TANGO finished fourth (placed third) in the 2010 Deutsches Derby. He’s not an 80/1 shot for me.