Monthly Archives: March 2014

A Potential Solution

This is something very different based on Jonathan Swift’s satirical pamphlet ‘A Modest Proposal’. It was my entry for Wills Writing Awards, for which I was shortlisted for. Hope you like it and, more importantly, ‘get’ it.

A Potential Solution to the Inadequate Numbers of Young Peoples at Racecourses in the United Kingdom and Cumulative Effect of Resolving All Contentious Issues in the Equine Industry

It is a dismal sight for those who still partake in the novel idea of frequenting a racecourse. Once upon a time it was home to a bustling crowd brimming with enthusiasm. Instead, the scene that now greets them is that of melancholy; the peeling paintwork, rotting roofs, crumbling steps, worn-out boards and discoloured doors. The ghosts that haunt it wander around monotonously like sloths; lethargically shuffling from empty bookmaker stands to closed tote booths. The divergent few, particularly the uneducated, uncontrolled and ill-disciplined fledglings that project an unerudite manner, receive the haunted glare of the withering traditionalists. These clueless delinquents rarely return.

I believe it is agreed by all members of the horse racing administration that there is a potential issue with the attendance figures at racecourses. Although some may state this is due to new, unreliable and unscrupulous technology I would like to quietly suggest that this might not be the case. It is therefore here that I draw on other domestic branches to consider their effective strategies.

During the Great War and the war that followed twenty years later, conscription was introduced among those fit and healthy to sign up. Now, despite the abandonment of that scheme after the latter of the two wars, the choice to enter the armed forces remains a popular one. Current figures suggest that the total military might of the United Kingdom is four hundred and ten thousand, one hundred and eighty personnel. If such an industry can retain such a powerful workforce, undeterred by the involuntary death of their ancestors, I would comment that the appropriate authority was doing sterling work. Their particular approach with the youth is a further point I wish to note; the armed forces allows minors to partake in their industry while the government remains disaffected with the teenage demographic. Reasons for this include laws that do not allow citizens under the age of eighteen to vote, watch violent video games or buy alcohol.

I shall now humbly propose my own views, which I expect will not be objected to in any way.

I have been assured by the aforementioned historical proof that conscription of eleven to eighteen year olds into obligatory racecourse appearances would be the ideal solution to the deepening issues prevalent in the industry.

I have already computed the figures appropriate to this most unflawed of solutions. There are seven point four million ten to nineteen year olds living in the United Kingdom at present, which makes up twelve percent of the whole population. Of these, approximately three point six million are present in our secondary schools and this is the recommended place for educators to encourage children, as well as ensuring the subjects engage in the enrolment.

The details of the programme would consist of four essential appointments at a racecourse per annum, excluding overseas courses and meetings not under the rules of racing. An educational establishment may arrange one of these engagements but the visit will only be counted if the party register their pupils with the newly founded Equine Conscription Administration (ECA). The four appointments must be at different racecourses with at least one involving all-weather racing.

Thus, if the three point six million of eligible secondary school age subjects were to visit a racecourse four times a year the projected average racecourse attendance each day would be thirty seven thousand, seven hundred and seventy nine persons. I grant this may concern some readers but this figure represents the number per day rather than per racecourse, so reservations about poor infrastructure at lesser meetings would be misdirected.

Further antagonists may suggest that despite the attendance figures the economic profits would not increase but actually put racecourses under further pressure. May I remind them that some racecourses, for reasons I confess unfathomable, already charge students full price if they’re over the age of sixteen. Nevertheless, my solution has already considered this issue; an attendance tax will be paid by all conscripted students every year; which, considering the three point six million students conscripted, will indisputably produce a better return than the current system.

Besides the obvious attendance advantages provided by this proposal there are further benefits, of which, I shall now impart.

Firstly, the equine economy would surge overnight. This would not just affect racecourses but businesses selling horse racing essentials such as flat caps and tweed.

Secondly, horse racing promotional groups can feel empowered and fulfilled. Morale within these groups is of paramount importance and while their efforts may have been ineffective up to this point, I will of course bow out after my solutions have been implemented for them to triumphantly savour the praise.

Thirdly, a larger amount of the population would be conscious of the numbers of racehorses leaving the industry every year. This would not only ensure racehorses have lives after racing – as more people will be interested in buying them – but will also tackle universal issues such as children’s health, as they would be spending far more time outdoors than on damaging and harmful technology inside. However, it has not escaped my attention that the aforementioned successful example, the armed forces, has a stupendous reputation in teenage gaming with some of the most admired games being ‘Grand Theft Auto’ and ‘Call of Duty’. Investment into gaming could prove beneficial to our sport.

Fourthly, the terminology used in racing will be known by all and, in time, will evolve into part of everyday life. It will also guarantee the continued use of imperial units such as ‘furlongs’ and ‘yards’, which are vital elements of the industry’s heritage.

Fifthly, racing pressure groups will have significant backing to ensure justice prevails across the industry. Current injustices would never have occurred in the utopian environment created by my proposal, where racing enthusiasts would easily have won the case ‘Justice for Mad Moose’.

Sixthly, policeman can be paid to Taser anyone who claims to be ‘buying or selling tickets at cheap prices’ at the gate.

Seventhly, food outlets will no longer only sell ‘traditional’ pasties, but offer more exotic dishes such as ‘cheese and onion’ and ‘vegetable’.

Finally, musicians will heretofore not be required at every single summer race meeting.

The advantages of this proposition are endless and are certainly not limited to the benefits listed in this report. I do profess however, with the goodwill of my gentle nature, that I, aged eighteen, would no longer be eligible for such an exemplary scheme.

I would hereby like to commend this proposal to the establishment, whom I expect will implement the plan without modification.


Cheltenham Festival Handicapping Review – Part 1

Many questions were answered over the four days of the 2014 Cheltenham Festival as the best that National Hunt Racing offered battled out over 27 races throughout the week. But along with the winners and the losers once again there were new and fresh questions to try and find an answer to.

Here I look at all the races from a handicapping point of view, earmarking some that may still be underrated by the handicapper on official ratings and a few that are at the opposite of the spectrum. In part 2 I will look at the Novice races and Handicaps but firstly I will start with the five main Grade 1’s of the week, The Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Ryanair, World Hurdle and Gold Cup.



Champion Hurdle

It took plenty, including myself, by surprise to see Jezki take the Champion Hurdle, a race what looked like the best of the week at the Festival. His rating of 165 however coming into the race, just 2lb lower than all the field bar Hurricane Fly, suggested he didn’t have that much to find with the rest.

With Hurricane Fly failing to run to that sort of mark too  on good ground and with a stronger pace, and Jezki finding sufficient improvement in a first time hood, it was he who landed the spoils. Jessica Harrington’s six-year-old was raised 4lb to 169 with My Tent Or Yours  now 1lb below that and The New One staying on his mark of 167.

You have to think the latter can definitely improve on that as he was clearly unfortunate to be hampered by the ill-fated Our Conor. Hurricane Fly was dropped to 169, his lowest mark since winning his first Champion Hurdle. He is still a force to be reckoned with back on flat tracks and on soft ground.



Champion Chase

There was a really good performance from Sire De Grugy in the Champion Chase who in the absence of Sprinter Sacre stamped his authority all over the two mile chase division. This didn’t take much winning at all but still it was definitely a career best from the eight-year-old, beating Somersby in a much more comfortable margin than he had in the Tingle Creek earlier in the season.

He was raised 2lb to 171 and that seems a very fair mark. Somersby was seen to set the standard and was kept on a mark of 164. That meant there was a 7lb rise and career best for Module who is really starting to prove himself as a top grade performer. Without doubt there’s improvement in him upped in trip and he’s one to keep an eye on next season



Ryanair Chase

This looked a well below par renewal beforehand and all Dynaste had to do to run to his Betfair Chase second to Cue Card earlier in the season. He looked in trouble at one point but found plenty up the hill for pressure and he deserved this success. The handicapper kept his mark at 169 and he’s certainly no better than that at the moment.

A 4lb rise for Hidden Cyclone seems fair. He jumped and travelled really well from the front and clearly relishes these sorts of conditions. He’d run a gallant third off 152 in the Paddy Power in November and 160 is the right mark for him at this stage. Again that suggests Dynaste really didn’t need to run to his optimum to win.

Rajdhani Express and Hunt Ball were off 155 coming into this and both haven’t been seen much this season for different reasons. The latter was used as the marker for the race while the former was raised 3lb. You get the feeling they can both improve on this and both should be looked at closely wherever they go to at Aintree, unless it’s the National.

Al Ferof went down 3lb to 162 and despite being struck into he ran well. He doesn’t quite look the same force since his injury, but he is worth another chance one day.



World Hurdle

The World Hurdle turned out to be one of the races of the week and it saw two unbeaten rivals fight out a fantastic finish. In the end it was More Of That, on just his fifth start, who got the better of hot favourite Annie Power. The Jonjo O’Neill six-year-old was originally given a mark of 130 for a handicap at Wetherby and is now a whopping 39lb higher. I still don’t think he’s being given the respect he deserves as he looks all heart, is still quite inexperienced yet is already winning races at the absolute highest level.

Annie Power definitely stayed the trip for me but was just beat by a better horse. I’m a touch surprised she didn’t have her mark of 165 raised as even though it was her first defeat and she was getting a 7lb mares allowance, I still think she put up a career best on the faster ground and over the furthest trip she’d faced. It’s an unknown whether either or both go over fences now but each have many races in him and I think they will be two of the leading National Hunt stars for the next few years.

At Fishers Cross has really bounced back the last twice and a mark of 162 is now a career high which he thoroughly deserves. He is a high-class hurdler but was no match for the front pair, who are potentially top notch. Zarkandar is maybe not the force of old but I thought he stayed well on his first try at the trip  while it was a shame to see Big Buck’s not build on a promising return and the decision to retire now is the right one.



Gold Cup

The Gold Cup was a real head scratcher of a race where the form was turned totally on its head. Coming into the race it looked a straight battle between last year’s winner Bobs Worth and King George victor Silviniaco Conti.

Turning for home it looked between the pair still but a trio of outsiders found more late on to cause a pulsating finish, which in the end saw Lord Windermere win at the Festival for the second year running. He was beat In the Hennessy off 154 earlier in the season and had really gone off the boil throughout the winter months but his stable hit form at the right time and the horse is clearly suited by the track, stays well and enjoys decent ground.

He was raised 13lb to 165, clearly well below par the usual standard to win a Gold Cup. On His Own ran a career best according to the handicapper and is now off a 3lb higher mark of 164, while The Giant Bolster was raised back up to 164, a mark he gained when placing in the same race two years ago. Silviniaco Conti stayed on 177, which he gained in the King George. He may just not have stayed the extra trip though personally I just think he much prefers softer ground.

Bobs Worth is now rated 5lb inferior to that off 172, his mark being 180 originally. That seems to be quite a dramatic drop for me considering it’s his only run poor run arguably in his whole career that is hard to account for. It would be of absolutely no surprise to see him bounce back next season but he does have it to prove.

Cheltenham Forgiveness List

What is the Cheltenham forgiveness list you ask? Simple! A horse will make it onto the forgiveness list for not performing to his or her full potential at Cheltenham and is one that can be followed in the next few runs. Just picture your money lost at Cheltenham like an ex girlfriend that you are trying to get back, you may want it on occasions but it doesn’t matter in the long run. Now before we get too distracted and start a support group for lonely males, lets crack on with horse number one on the forgiveness list.

The New One

More of an obvious one to start the list off with The New One who was desperately unlucky in the Champion Hurdle, when hampered by the tragic and fatal fall of Our Conor. In that incident he lost five to six lengths and when that happens in any Championship race at Cheltenham, it’s hard to come back from.

The argument against him is that he was outpaced coming down the hill towards three out and then stayed on up the hill. A different and my personal view is that he exerted a lot of energy getting back into the race and his jumping suffered as a result of the incident at the third flight. Sam Twiston-Davies wasn’t asking his mount for a great deal of effort coming down the hill and it could just be that he was filling his lungs before flying home up the hill.

The New One is the first entry on the forgiveness list and should go close in the Aintree Hurdle whereas another crack at the Champion Hurdle isn’t off the cards.


Jonjo O’Neill saddled Alaivan in the County Hurdle who ran well for a long way before being outpaced turning for home and not for the first time in the race. As usual the pace was a rapid one which looked to catch him out in the jumping department as he was far from fluent at a few hurdles in first time Cheek Pieces.

By the time they were preparing to turn back towards the stands you got the feeling and Maurice Linehan was far from happy with him and started pushing along his mount. He was still prominent approaching two from home but was hard off the bridle just after, and found himself struggling to go with the likes of Lac Fontana and Montbazon who both placed. Even approaching the last he was no more than five lengths off the lead but a poor jump cost him further lengths and he kept on at the same pace.

A trip to Aintree may not be completely off the cards but he will definitely appreciate a step up to two and a half miles after staying on in taking style in the Betfair hurdle previously.

Violet Dancer

Gary and Jamie Moore were all over the front pages after Sire De Grugy was victorious in the Champion Chase on Wednesday, and later that day had a good chance in the Fred Winter. Violet Dancer was responsible for that chance and with all things considered he ran a promising race in a competitive handicap. This year’s Fred Winter was particularly messy with mistakes and a few incidents, none of them managed to avoid Violet Dancer’s passage, all of this wasn’t helped by him being fiercely keen early on in the race.

The first time he was hampered came at the second hurdle when Astre De La Cour came down hindering the whole field, but especially Violet Dancer who was forced very wide after bumping. Approaching three from home when the race was heating up, he found himself short of room and had to get tight to one at a bad time of the contest, but it was two from home that put the nail in the coffin.

The fall of Clarcam forced more people out wide and with Raven’s Tower coming across him it cost him a lot of momentum and his chance. Violet Dancer is definitely one to watch next season and will definitely make a chaser.

Sgt Reckless

Sgt Reckless was an eye catcher for many in the Supreme after coming from an impossible position to finish fourth behind the mightily impressive Vautour.

He was widely fancied last year in the Champion Bumper before being outstayed up the Cheltenham hill but it was the opposite case this year. He has gone a bit under the radar this season but has taken the notable scalp of West Wizard at Kempton before a good third on bad ground at Kempton once again. His run in the Supreme was an interesting one as he was way out the back for the whole race and no less than 25 lengths down jumping two out. You could go about that run in two ways, either say he needs further and draw the line at saying he was outpaced or say he isn’t a Cheltenham horse. It could be a little bit of both but I would argue more the latter as he hasn’t looked the most straightforward ride on either visit to the course.

Sgt Reckless put in a massive effort to grab fourth at the line and will surely be suited more by the demands of Aintree, and is one horse who could just need a flat track and good ground.

Baily Green

The last two horses on the forgiveness list probably ran in the wrong race which is easy to say in hindsight, but that doesn’t apply to Baily Green who ran in the Champion Chase.

This season Baily Green had run four times back in Ireland before Cheltenham came around when shaping well without success. When stepped up to two and a half miles back home he pushed Sizing Europe to a length and a quarter before being second to Texas Jack in a race he arguably should have won. He has only ran over a shorter distance once this season when tackling fences and that outing resulted in a thirty and a quarter lengths pounding from Benefficient. But with the defection of Sprinter Sacre, connections decided to tackle the bigger race which you cant blame them for however you cant campaign a horse for one race and then change plans late on. The Champion Chase resulted in Baily Green being taken off his feet throughout and his jumping suffered, eventually falling four out.

For the future Baily Green definitely looks a stayer in the making and for now two and a half miles should suit but it would be no surprise were he to stay three miles, But onto our last entry on the list.

Wonderful Charm

The final entry comes courtesy of former Champion Trainer, Paul Nicholls who saddled the promising Wonderful Charm in the JLT Novices Chase.

You can’t blame connections for getting this race wrong as he has been campaigned over two and a half miles on every chase start so far and holding his own in top races. Before last week the only horse who had beat him over fences was Oscar Whisky and even that was a race he arguably should have won. There isn’t much else left to say about him other than he was probably travelling a bit too fast for his jumping to be fluent and as a result that suffered. The only thing that hindered him that was out of his control was when Djakadam came down four out, but in truth he wasn’t hampered too badly but it checked his momentum slightly at a bad time. He ended off the race by flying up the hill and almost catching Felix Yonger for fourth who may not have stayed the trip.

The future will surely be over further for Wonderful Charm and it would seem that a win isn’t too far away for him as he does look a natural over fences.

So that rounds off the forgiveness list, if I have missed any horses that you like then let me know, the same applies if you disagree with any of the entrants to the list. Follow me on twitter @lukeelder13 and join the debate!

Martin Smith Weekly Blog

Now that the Cheltenham Festival is over it’s finally time to look forward and concentrate on the flat season ahead. Who will win the classics? Who will be champion trainer, champion jockey and most of all…

Will we ever see another horse as good as Frankel???

Well Toormore certainly seems to have been the most impressive two year old of 2013 and although he will have a tough task ahead, my best wishes go out to him and all his connections. Having worked for Richard Hannon senior, nothing would make me happier than his team winning a classic in their first year with Richard Junior in charge. I know he has been waiting a long time to prove he can follow in his father’s footsteps and I think he has the ideal horse to do it with.

Before we go steaming headlong into the new turf season, there is one issue from last week that I think needs to be addressed. The comments from Ruby Walsh after the tragic loss of Our Conor have been the subject of much speculation. Having grown up in racing I have always heard similar comments about how “People are more important than horses and as long as the people are ok that is all that matters” but I have to say, what a load of rubbish!!!

It makes me sad to think that someone can have as much talent as Ruby, make an enormously successful career benefiting from all the hard work their horses put in and then be ignorant enough to think that one life is worth more than another. Whether it’s animals or people, every form of life is a miraculous gift and can Never be replaced by another!

When I was a 13 year old boy I went to the races with my father like I had done many times before, only this time changed my life forever. On the way there my father told me he was going to let me lead up our runner and I was so excited! My brother spent the day with me showing me how to prepare a horse ready for a race and after all the hard work, Prodeo won his race!

After that day I went on to ride Prodeo every day before going to school and then I came back to the yard to brush him after school, I learned to ride work on him and even jumped over hurdles for the very first time on him. After almost 2 years of me looking after him, he ran in another claimer and his owner had a big bet on him, unfortunately he found one horse too good on the day and finished 2nd.

The owner was so upset about losing his money that he didn’t put in a bid to try and keep the horse so he got claimed by another trainer and was taken away, leaving me to come home without him. I cried non-stop for 2 days when I lost Prodeo and I can promise you that although many other great horses have come into my life since that day, there has been and never will be another Prodeo!!!

Luckily for me I was reunited with him for one summer when his new trainer moved local to us and let me ride him every day during my breakfast break. I never asked for or received any payment, just to be back with him for 20 minutes every day was all I wanted.

I am still that 13 year old boy now and just thinking about this story is making me sad but I will never ever forget Prodeo! I am thankful for every day I spent with him and to think that someone who is at the top of our sport can say horses can just be replaced is a crying shame. I feel sorry for Ruby if he really has no passion for all those horses who have made him so successful, I can guarantee he wouldn’t even complete a circuit of Cheltenham without them!!

We had a fright at Uttoxeter on Saturday when Ossie’s Dancer made a mistake at the 4th hurdle and took a heavy fall. We saw him get up but he didn’t finish with the other horses and one of the girls working on the course told us he was in the horse ambulance. I walked across the course with the owner to find out what was going on and to our elation we found him walking towards us, safe and sound!

We then went to the weighing room to check the jockey was ok and were faced with a similar ignorance that had infuriated so many people at Cheltenham. After keeping the owner and I waiting for 15 minutes, he barely spoke a word to us when he came back and couldn’t get way from us quick enough. He certainly didn’t ask  (or care) whether the horse was ok!

Luckily I know from experience that not all jockeys are so heartless towards the animals who pay their mortgages and put their children through school but I think it’s time for the people at the top take a long hard look at themselves and think about the damage they are doing to our sport. Not only do they needlessly infuriate genuine animal lovers but they also set a bad example for young riders who aspire to be just like them!

Have a good week everyone!


Relish the Euphoria and Treasure Those Memories

The Cheltenham Festival of 2014 is over. Euphoric, intense, agonising, heart breaking, troubling, wonderful and stunning. The superlatives I could use to express the wonder-races feature heavily as synonyms of ‘awesome’, but the tragedies that surrounded some of them cut us raw like knives.

Tuesday: excitement crammed into the train, filled the course and overflowed onto the track. For the second year running, I went to day one of the Cheltenham Festival with oodles of enthusiasm to see my favourite horse run again. The day didn’t disappoint. I surrounded myself with the roar in the Supreme and returned to the gang with an irrepressible smile as Vautour and Ruby set the place alight.

Next up, the Arkle. Champagne Fever jumped like a stag, he looked unbeatable all the way around. All the way round. Well, all the way around until Tom Scudamore stood up in celebration after the line. Um, what? Western Warhorse? Which one is that again? Holywell came next and boy did I cheer him on. Speak to anyone I go racing with, Michael rarely shows any kind of outward emotion when it comes to the home straight, but suddenly I turned raucous with noise, willing Richie and Holywell up the home straight. Luke even turned to me and asked ‘Did you just roar that one home?’. It’s extraordinary what Cheltenham can do.

The Cheltenham Hurdle was the most anticlimactic, unsatisfactory, marred race of the entire year. I stated it later on twitter, but My Tent Or Yours’ second is of absolutely no interest of mine. Selfishly, I admit I’m relieved he’s not the one who passed on three days ago. Before the race, I turned to Adam and confessed how ill I felt. It’s got to a stage now where I really don’t enjoy watching him race. I can finally empathise with Nicky Henderson every time Sprinter Sacre runs; the feeling of relief after he crosses the line is overpowering. The pressure on him to perform to his high class standard is crippling, especially when he maintains such an impeccable record. Our Conor’s fall, Hurricane Fly’s demise and The New One’s hampering left the Champion Hurdle as a horrendous slump of a race, rather than the race of the meeting. The result really doesn’t have any consequence in my opinion, nor did it seem to have any impact above the polite respect awarded to winners from the crowd; all eyes squinted over to the screens on the far side. For My Tent Or Yours, I think he was unlucky. Cheltenham’s not his track and tactically McCoy was outplayed by them all. His utterance to Barry as they crossed the line looked enflamed with expletives and his comments today proved even with hindsight, he wouldn’t have traded horses.

I wish I could say remaining races did peel off into insignificance as enthusiasts contemplated the backlash of the high profile loss, but next up Quevega relit the fire. Her sixth win finally set Cheltenham into the craze we so desired, as the papers flew up into the air and she, cheekily, sneaked passed the post in front. The meaning of that success dulled the pain of the previous race, but couldn’t consume it. I wouldn’t want Our Conor’s death to be passed over or suggest that his life is worth forgetting, but bad news wins in our society and I knew the writing was on the wall already – Quevega’s heroic achievement would seep into insignificance as Our Conor filled the non-racing headlines. I heard the BBC even showed his fall. I have no words to express how atrociously the BBC projects horse racing.

In the last, I was very proud to have the opportunity to chose the best turned out for Rewards4Racing, which I presented to the connections of the beautifully turned out Persian Snow. Going to the Royal Box with them was some experience too and touches on something that makes Cheltenham so special – the people. Being surrounded by genuine horse racing fans is something surreal; sharing or challenging opinions is part of the game but at Cheltenham, so much more is on the line. You’ve got 7 shots a day, only 27 in the week. Miss and you’re out. Out for 361 days, perhaps 360 if you can find the Grand National winner (and good luck with that).

The following days all rushed past for me, as I went to school and rushed home to catch as many races as I could. Faugheen on Wednesday was something exceptional; the way he picked up was astonishing and my ante-post bets were looking top notch. Sire de Grugy’s win was superb and his response to the doubters had the makings of a like a two-fingered salute. Monetarily, I was also having the best festival ever, thank you very much Paddy.

The race of the week for me however occurred over three miles, seven furlongs and encompassed the majority of Prestbury Park, though only half of what Oscar Hill did on Friday. Balthazar King is the uncontested horse of the season, horse of the year, horse of Cheltenham. Coming here unbeaten he shouldered top weight but the ground, thank you lord, came up good. Good ground means Balthazar King and boy was he King. Watching the race on TV I screamed him home before turning into an emotional wreck when I realised he’d battled back to stick his nose in front. The only chance Any Currency had was to surprise him, lead on the line and on the line only, but he came early, a stride too early, and Balthazar decided his passing would just not do. It was by far the best race of the festival for me and no matter what Balthazar does now he gave me my race of the season, and a race to rival that of the Becher Chase in 2012.

How was I supposed to grieve for the following tragedies when sitting atop this high? The two deaths that followed were horrible situations for all involved with Akdam and Stack the Deck, but I couldn’t come down so suddenly from my Balthazar-induced mentality. The intensity of Cheltenham is intoxicating; everything means so much more than it does anywhere else. It also disables instant reflection and perspective. Throughout the week Channel 4 have spoke of perspective but the rawness when you’re watching that race on TV or even more so at the track is intense – you’re gutted after a loser, or overwhelmed by the joy brought by a winner.

Thursday. The World Hurdle. Everyone knows how inner turmoil had handicapped the race for me already, but yet again, for the second time that week, the championship race was anticlimactic. More of That was incredibly impressive but Annie Power was the only horse I could have beating Big Bucks. As it turned out, neither could take the prize. Big Bucks’ departure was extremely sad but he went out the way he really should, at Cheltenham, where his greatest fans could send him off with spontaneous, tear-jerking applause that sent goose bumps all around.

Friday came and I was already feeling deflated. Only seven races left. For the first year ever I wasn’t going to have a problem with making a profit, but Cheltenham is not just about that, it’s about the prestige and the atmosphere. The following paragraph I’d like to donate to Daryl Jacob however, whose season and year was reflected in less than two hours.

I’ve always regarded Daryl Jacob as a very competent rider. Perhaps not of the class of others, yet, but certainly with more credit that I perceive he’s been awarded from Paul Nicholls this year with the Big Bucks, Silviniaco Conti and others non-confidence deal. Calipto looked a very good bet for the Triumph and I thought, here we go, Nicholls, champion trainer less than two years ago, is going to finally get a winner at this year’s festival. Nope. The rotten luck dealt by the devil cut Daryl’s stirrup iron and, just like Rishi Persad the day before, he was playing the ‘stay on’ game. After Southfield Theatre, Daryl had surely lost hope. But thank the lord for Lac Fontana. Daryl finally got it right and spent the large majority of his interview thanking others for it. Then Port Melon came along and brought back the misty gloom. Daryl Jacob’s has been dealt a poor hand this season; his karma has been smited so many times you’d think another smite wouldn’t be humanely possible. Then you remember, it’s racing, anything can happen.

The Gold Cup was the third championship race that resulted in a disappointment. I’m one of the Bob’s Worth fans and I honestly expected – and desperately wanted – him to win for the sport. What makes this sport? Heroes. Jump racing always has that trump card over flat for me because your favourites return, year after year. Why was Arkle so special? Because he kept coming back. I’m pleased for connections of Lord Windermere, it’s an amazing achievement, but once again reflect back on my childhood where Best Mate ruled supreme and Kauto Star and Denman battled it out to the very end. The Gold Cup three-mile chasing division remains unconquered to date, with different winners each time, and thus there’s no true champion in my mind crowned this week. Sire De Grugy, unbeaten all year, is the only horse that deserves the title stated in the race’s name. Perhaps I’m far too naïve, but I’ll come back next year with my utopian expectation and relish it once more. For now however, I need a break from racing. The intensity Cheltenham brings is immense, but it is sadly, not sustainable.

Favourite Race: Cross Country, Balthazar King

Most Impressive Winner: Neptune, Faugheen

Best Ride: Arkle, Tom Scudamore

Most Disappointing Race: Champion Hurdle, Jezki

What were yours?


OnTheOtherHoof Cheltenham Tipping Competition – Day 4

Michael was de-throned on Day 3 after a predictable dismal day, but George Gorman has really showed his excellent tipping skills with another solid day. Thursday belonged to Calum though as he finally joined in the party and took second with some excellent selections. Adam, Luke and Martin look like big outsiders now with the Cheltenham Hill to climb to catch the top two.

Standing After Day 3

3RD Michael £32 £14 £0 £46.00
  Luke £1.45 £22.50 £0 £23.95
  Adam £5.45 £23 £2.50 £30.95
2ND Calum £11 £16 £36.88 £63.88
1ST George £23 £20.25 £27.38 £70.63
  Martin £0 £11 £2.50 £13.50

Winning Odds
George Gorman 2/1
Calum Madell 7/2
Michael Andrews 7/1
Adam Webb 14/1
Luke Elder 25/1
Martin Smith 66/1

Who’s your money on?

Day 4 Selections

Michael Abbyssial e/w Alaivan e/w Deputy Dan e/w Bobs Worth
Luke Calipto Alaivan e/w Briar Hill Bobs Worth
Adam Guitar Pete Flaxen Flare e/w Briar Hill The Giant Bolster e/w
Calum Calipto Cheltenian Briar Hill Bobs Worth 
George Royal Irish Hussar Makari e/w King’s Palace Bobs Worth
Martin Abbyssial Anay Turge e/w Deputy Dan e/w Silviniaco Conti
OTOH Blogger RACE 5 RACE 6  RACE 7
Michael Oscar Delta Une Artiste e/w Ned Buntline
Luke On The Fringe Leo Luna e/w Next Sensation
Adam Harbour Court Junction Fourteen e/w Oiseau de Nuit e/w
Calum Harbour Court Royal Regatta Ned Buntline
George On The Fringe The Skyfarmer e/w Ned Buntline
Martin Shy John e/w The Skyfarmer e/w French Opera

Your Thoughts

Thanks for all the great interaction this week, loved it, especially being at home after Tuesday. Wish you a lucky last day!

OnTheOtherHoof Cheltenham Tipping Competition – Day 3

Day 2 just about saw Michael cling onto his lead after a respectable day with a second successful nap, but Adam’s O’Faolains Boy selection put him right up into contention and George once again had a solid day with Sire de Grugy his nap. The others really need to step it up, though they’re not out of contention just yet as we pass the half way point.

1ST Michael £32 £14 £46
Luke £1.45 £22.50 £23.95
3RD Adam £5.45 £23 £28.45
Calum £11 £16 £27
2ND George £23 £20.25 £43.25
Martin £0 £11 £11

Onto Day 3!

Michael Oscar Whisky Utopie des Bordes e/w Benefficient Annie Power
Luke Wonderful Charm Josies Orders e/w Hunt Ball e/w Big Bucks
Adam Sizing Gold e/w Mickie e/w Benefficient Salubrious e/w
Calum Wonderful Charm Fingal Bay Hidden Cyclone e/w More Of That e/w
George Felix Yonger Fingal Bay Al Ferof More of That e/w
Martin Oscar Whisky If In Doubt Al Ferof Big Bucks
OTOH Blogger RACE 5 RACE 6 
Michael Bless The Wings e/w Cause of Causes
Luke John’s Spirit Indian Castle
Adam John’s Spirit e/w Hunting Party e/w
Calum Third Intention e/w Spring Heeled e/w
George Third Intention e/w Balnaslow
Martin John’s Spirit e/w Buddy Bolero

Have a great Thursday!

OnTheOtherHoof Cheltenham Tipping Competition – Day 2

Michael’s tent was the leader of the day on Tuesday, napping 10/1 winner Holywell as well as having Vautour. George was a close second with Vautour and Present View with the rest, particularly Luke & Martin, lagging behind.

1ST Michael £32
Luke £1.45
Adam £5.45
3RD Calum £11
2ND George £23
Martin £0

Day 2 Tips

Michael Faugheen Carlingford Lough e/w Yesyoucan e/w
Luke Faugheen Annacotty e/w Get Me Out Of Here e/w
Adam Red Sherlock O’Faolins Boy e/w Dell’Arca e/w
Calum Red Sherlock Annacotty e/w Magnifique Etoile e/w
George Faugheen Carlingford Lough Smashing e/w
Martin Fennel Bay e/w Corrin Wood Get Me Out Of Here e/w
Michael Sizing Europe e/w Balthazar King Ivan Grozny Definitly Red e/w
Luke Sire de Grugy Balthazar King Violet Dancer e/w Black Hercules
Adam Sizing Europe e/w Balthazar King Clarcam Neck or Nothing e/w
Calum Hinterland e/w Balthazar King Violet Dancer e/w El Namoose e/w
George Sire de Grugy Sire Collonges Violet Dancer e/w Killutagh Vic
Martin Wishfull Thinking Balthazar King Certification Shaneshill

Tweeps Thoughts

Sorry, WordPress is having a strop so not as cool as it was yesterday!

@MrFitzlord said

Red Sherlock, Smad Place, Bayan, Arvika Leg, Sizing Oz, Clarcam, Black Hercules

@oldwalls bullish in the Champion Chase

Conan to walk it

@DKimmett10 on the Coral Cup:

Kaylif Aramis

@Joedesouza, about the Cross Country:

i’ve heavily backed Balthazar ante post. I need him to run otherwise its a lot of money down the drain!

Would just like to say thank you very much to Rewards for Racing, who I recommend you look out for. I got my Cheltenham ticket half price through their system which is much like nectar points for racing. I presented the connections of Persian Snow with the Best Turned Out Award on Tuesday, so if you see a weirdo in your papers tomorrow, you’ll know who to blame!

Good luck all!

OnTheOtherHoof Cheltenham Tipping Competition – Day 1

So who’s the best tipster?! You shall now find out!

Michael “Don’t mention Knockara Beau” Andrews
Luke “Jumping was Grandouet’s biggest asset last year’” Elder
Adam “Is it the Grand National yet?’ Webb
Calum “Wait, this isn’t Meydan?!” Madell
George “My internet’s so bad I don’t even know what’s happening” Gorman
Martin “If only Balti’s Sister was in the Supreme” Smith

Day 1 – Tips (Naps in Bold)
OTOH Blogger RACE 5 RACE 6  RACE 7

What Twitter thinks…

When asked ‘What horse are you most keen on (excluding short prices favs)?

And, save the best until last!

Cheltenham Festival Day One Preview (Grade One Races)

With the Festival almost upon us again for another year, I am going to attempt to blog about all 27 races at this year’s Festival even with a much busier schedule to contend with. All prices are from Paddy Power as they are the main bookmaker I use.

Skybet Supreme Novice Hurdle

The meeting begins with the Supreme with the battle commencing immediately with principal British hope Irving taking on Vautour who leads a strong Willie Mullins trio across the Irish Sea. With the market changing over the last week with rumours surrounding Vautour, Irving is now as short as 2/1 favourite with him being unbeaten in four starts over hurdles which include two Graded successes at Ascot and Kempton. Given the nickname ‘Concorde’ by his rider Nick Schofield, he has lived up to that with his burst of speed being his most potent weapon. Whilst he has been winning his races easily, you can question to an extent what he has been beating with only Splash Of Ginge really going on to do anything decent with him winning the Betfair Hurdle and his jumping at times can be ponderous, in particular at Kempton where he was awkward at the last. There is no doubt that he has a serious engine but his jumping would be the main concern and for that, I am willing to take him on.

Vautour is another who comes into the race unbeaten this season having claimed the scalp of The Tullow Tank in the Deloitte at Leopardstown last month under a masterclass ride from Ruby Walsh. A horse with plenty of scope, he will definitely make a smashing chaser in time and is bred to get much further than the minimum two miles but he just doesn’t appeal to me for this race, especially with his price of 3/1.

Mullins also has Wicklow Brave and Valseur Lido for the race who are both unbeaten over hurdles. Wicklow Brave was let down by his jumping last time but had enough class to beat Lieutenant Colonel who goes for the Neptune pretty convincingly however his jumping would be my major cause for concern although in saying that, a faster pace will definitely help. Valseur Lido on the other hand is an excellent jumper of his hurdles and looked to ooze class when winning at Navan just before Christmas and could be the one of the Mullins trio but I would be concerned about his lack of experience however he looks a horse to remain on the right side of once going novice chasing.

Josses Hill is Nicky Henderson’s main hope for the race and ran a really good race in the Tolworth behind stablemate Royal Boy however the race itself was a muddling affair with The Liquidator disappointing and considering Kempton is a speed track, it was surprising to see Royal Boy win as he would look to appreciate more of a stamina test.  He would have a good chance on better ground but he isn’t my idea of the winner.

Having mentioned THE LIQUIDATOR and he was disappointing in the Tolworth, you can forgive one bad run as before that he looked a very promising contender for this race. He probably put up the best English novice performance when taking apart Sea Lord, a 150 rated hurdler over course and distance in the Supreme Trial with him showing the perfect blend of speed and stamina although he was given an unnecessary hard time by Tom Scudamore. If he comes back in that form then he will go close and could look overpriced.

Another of interest is WILDE BLUE YONDER who should be three from three however two final flight falls are on his form sheet. On what he has shown so far, his battling qualities are definitely assured and although he has fallen twice, his ability is still unknown which makes him still an exciting prospect for connections. Another positive is that he can have a toe into the race and have horses in front of him when jumping the last which should help as both times he has fallen, he has seen daylight which suggests a lack of concentration but a properly run race should suit perfectly.


The Liquidator – 18/1

Wilde Blue Yonder – 20/1

Racing Post Arkle Trophy

Whilst this race looks less one dimensional unlike the last two seasons, there could potentially be a disappointing turnout with a small field. The race for me revolves around the fitness and condition of CHAMPAGNE FEVER who has a 100% strike rate at the Festival with two wins in the Champion Bumper and last season’s Supreme. His debut win over fences was highly professional at Punchestown before his third behind Defy Logic at Leopardstown where he jumped beautifully until making a bad mistake two out. It has to be concerning that he hasn’t been seen since but he is the only horse that I can see winning the race before going onto Gold Cup glory in 2015. His high cruising speed mixed with his strong stamina should be enough to see him win this however the main worry is the last horse to make all to win this was Anaglog’s Daughter back in 1980.

The main danger would be Trifolium who jumped really well when beating Champagne Fever’s stablemate Felix Yonger in the Irish Arkle by nine lengths on heavy ground. Although he ran well in the 2012 Supreme on better ground behind Cinders And Ashes, the softer the ground is the better his chance would be especially based on his run behind Felix Yonger at Navan earlier in the season on better ground.

Dodging Bullets has course and distance form having won the November Novice Chase back in November beating Raya Star and Ted Veale. He then beat Grandouet in the Wayward Lad at Kempton before posting his best effort on awful ground in the Betfair Cash Out Chase (The Game Spirit) at Racecourse Newbury behind Module. The main concern for him is whether he can maintain his form especially as it tailed off towards the end of last season with him bursting blood vessels. His stable mate Hinterland will have the most experience in the field with him being a second season novice. Although he is a Grade One winner over fences when beating Grandouet back in the Henry VIII before Christmas, his jumping isn’t foot perfect at the best of times however the end to end gallop will surely play to his strengths.

Former Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby becomes the first horse to contest the Arkle since Celtic Shot back in 1990. He is unbeaten over fences however the form of his races remains questionable having beaten a 98 rated mare in Lindsay’s Dream at Plumpton and the enigma that is Mr Mole at Doncaster. His jumping hasn’t been spectacular and he has made mistakes in what were effectively match races so he will have to be on his A-game. On his hurdles rating, he should be winning this but at the age of 9 and with the doubts just mentioned, he is easily opposable.

Valdez is certainly an interesting runner for Alan King as he also had the option of bringing Balder Succes here. Both horses have form tied in with Fox Appeal and God’s Own however I feel Balder Succes is probably the better of the pair especially as he beat both over a distance that would suit both better. Valdez goes into this with a good chance based on his Lightning win at Doncaster which showed the return of King’s stable. Before that, he looked very good when winning a novice handicap on Hennessy day at Newbury and he remains an exciting prospect as unlike his hurdling days, he has learnt to settle which will help his chances enormously.

Simon Munir could go double handed with another King horse in Raya Star and Nicky Henderson’s sole representative Grandouet. Raya Star could potentially be overpriced based on form with Dodging Bullets having finished close to him on two occasions this season.

Grandouet has his lovers (Luke!) and haters (Mikey!). Overall this season his jumping has been mostly good especially at Sandown when he was second to Hinterland. Kempton was a run to forget as he wants something to aim at and he had to make his own running. His jumping that day did get worse as the race went on and he could be a threat here although having heard mixed comments about his schooling lately, it will take a far more confident person than myself to back him. The main concern would be whether his jumping can stand the test but he will love the end to end gallop on better ground.


Champagne Fever – 11/4

Stan James Champion Hurdle

This could potentially be the jumps race of the decade and I cannot wait for 3:20pm next Tuesday. Whatever people’s opinions of the main contenders, everyone can agree that we are in for a fantastic renewal.

When beginning to analyse this race, you have to start with the nineteen times Grade One winner Hurricane Fly. You can question what horses he has been beating in his native Ireland over the years but he is a superb racehorse and the way he has been handled by Willie Mullins is nothing short of brilliant. To get a horse to win a couple of Grade Ones is a fantastic achievement however to train one that can win nineteen with that breaking the previous record is extraordinary. Whilst this is probably the strongest Grade One he will have contested, he merits the utmost respect as a dual Champion Hurdle winner even though he has never shown his best form at Cheltenham. If he is able to become the sixth triple winner joining Hatton’s Grace, Sir Ken, Persian War, See You Then and Istabraq then his legacy will be sealed and hopefully he will be recognised as the golden hurdler of his time.

This season has been business as usual for him. His return to action did have many (including myself) doubting whether he was his former self with a workmanlike success at Punchestown beating three stable mates who are rated much lower over hurdles than him. The price offered of 13/2 now looks huge based on his last two starts at Punchestown where he has beaten two very creditable contenders in Our Conor and Jezki. Of those wins, the second one was most impressive as he out battled Our Conor after being outjumped at the last and having had an issue with a stone bruise. Whilst I believe he has three major contenders, whatever the result he will put up a huge fight whether he wins or loses.

The English challenge is spearheaded by The New One and My Tent Or Yours with both having excellent chances to wrestle the prize back to England. The New One could be considered to be the perfect type for a Champion Hurdle. His blend of speed and stamina is a potent mix and with his course record at Cheltenham, there are no worries on that account. His win in the Neptune last season has been questioned but that particular race was ran to suit as they went no gallop and Sam Twiston-Davies used his speed to perfection against the likes of Rule The World and Pont Alexandre, both strong stayers. Last season ended with a fine run behind Zarkandar in the Aintree Hurdle with him losing nothing in defeat.

He began this campaign with a bloodless success against 2012 Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby at Kempton where his turn of foot was instant and very impressive. He then reversed Aintree Hurdle form with Zarkandar who to be fair probably finds two miles on the sharp side for him, even on Cheltenham’s New Course. Although he won at Kempton earlier in the season, the Christmas Hurdle wasn’t exactly ran to suit but he did look to get My Tent Or Yours into a little bit of trouble between the last two flights before crashing through the last. However, I am not going to suggest that mistake gifted the race to My Tent Or Yours as he battled all the way to the line and proved me wrong on what I believed after last year’s Supreme. The only issue that puts me off siding with The New One in this race is that he can make a mistake and in a race like this it could set him back a few lengths which is less than ideal with horses that have a similar turn of foot.

My Tent Or Yours and The New One have both met twice with the score line between them one all as The New One beat him in the Aintree Champion Bumper back in 2012. A highly impressive winner of last season’s Betfair Hurdle where he looked thrown in even off a mark of 149, he went to Cheltenham with a big reputation but was beaten fair and square by Champagne Fever in the Supreme and looked a horse that shied away from a battle before ending his season with an easy win at Aintree.

This season began with a victory in the Fighting Fifth however his main rival Melodic Rendezvous disappointed through a muscle injury but he did it comfortably enough. The Christmas Hurdle was the first time that he became a genuine Champion Hurdle contender in my eyes as he proved those that doubted his battling qualities wrong with a gutsy performance to beat The New One. His most recent start in a Jumpers Bumper proved his wellbeing and underlined his brilliant turn of foot. Whilst he’s a very good horse and a major threat, I have two small concerns. One was whether he acted around Cheltenham last season with his record on flat tracks being strong and this foot problem announced yesterday would have to be a worry for his chances.

My Tent Or Yours’ owner JP McManus has a second dart to throw at the Champion Hurdle board in Jezki however I don’t believe he is quite good enough to win this and hasn’t shown to me that he could reverse form with Hurricane Fly and Our Conor based on the last run at Leopardstown which was disappointing.

This brings me to my idea of the Champion Hurdle winner which is of course OUR CONOR. Although the main argument against him is that he is only five, looking back through the race’s history shows that some exceptional five year olds have won it. These include triple winners Sir Ken, Persian War and See You Then plus a dual winner in Night Nurse and the most recent being Katchit back in 2008.  Our Conor is bidding to follow in the hoofprints of Katchit as they won their respective Triumph Hurdles in devastating style with them both probably being the standout performances of this century. Whilst Katchit was a gutsy little terrier who would put his head down in a battle and fight to the death, Our Conor is a classier type who travels strongly through his races and although there isn’t a front runner in the race, they will still go a good gallop which will benefit him enormously.

Whilst he has been beaten in all three starts this season, that wouldn’t worry me at all. Dessie Hughes is aiming for one day in March and knows how to do it, especially when he has been associated with the likes of Monksfield and Hardy Eustace. His two runs behind Hurricane Fly at Leopardstown have shown plenty of promise and that he has improved upon what he did last season plus not many horses have outjumped a nineteen times Grade One winner at the final flight at the top level.

For a more sentimental reason, it would be great if he were to win as for this season, owner Barry Connell is donating all of the horse’s winnings to the JT McNamara which is a wonderful act of kindness towards a true legend of the sport who as we know sadly was paralysed at last year’s meeting. Plus with the sporting decision to withdraw The Tullow Tank from the Festival and the loss of Minsk recently, he sure deserves a change in luck and this would be perfect for him.

At a longer price as well, MELODIC RENDEDVOUS is the unknown quantity. Forgiven for a lacklustre effort in the Fighting Fifth where things clearly weren’t right, he bounced back to win the Champion Hurdle Trial at Haydock in excellent style on heavy ground before beating the reliable yardstick in Zarkandar in the Kingwell at Wincanton on barely raceable ground. That day he looked in serious trouble turning into the straight but his class and speed saw him through that race with trainer Jeremy Scott suggesting after all that better ground could see him at his best. Whilst it’s unlikely that very soft ground will come up, if it did he would be one of very few horses that can handle it and have a burst of acceleration in it but even on better ground he would be a worry to the main protagonists. It would be fantastic if he could win especially for a smaller stable and put his trainer on the map as being able to prepare a good horse for a race like this. One thing I will freely admit, the prices before Haydock were ludicrous and I stupidly didn’t bite the dangling carrot as going into the Festival with an ante-post bet with a horse over double his current odds would have been a good feeling.

Our Conor – 7/1 (Ante-Post) 5/1 (In a range of multiples)

Melodic Rendezvous – 20/1 E/W