Friday, 27 April 2012

Punchestown Champion Hurdle Preview

It's just a four-horse field in today's feature but it is full of class. James Jack, @materialista27, assesses the field.


Rabobank Punchestown Champion Hurdle
The Punchestown Champion Hurdle is a Grade 1 race, open to horses aged four years or older. It is run over a distance of about 2 miles (3,219 metres), and there are nine hurdles to be jumped. The race was established in 1999 and previous winners are the who's who of Irish hurdle racing including Istabraq, Hardy Eustace, Brave Inca and current two-time defending champion Hurricane Fly. Willie Mullins has saddled three winners in the past, so it's not a surprise to see he's responsible for three of the four runners in this year's renewal. The prize fund for the race is €160,000 of which €96,000 goes to the winner. All horses carry eleven stone twelve.

Hurricane Fly
Ruby Walsh for Willie Mullins
As previously mentioned 2010 and 2011 winner, but he stunk at Cheltenham. Given the injury concerns at the start of the season and the fact that this is run at a heavy ground Punchestown and not a good ground, you could forgive his last run. He chugged up in heavy conditions at Leopardstown in November and looks like he could quite easily make up for that poor Cheltenham run tomorrow. On the face of it, the race looks like a race for second place behind him, but he's not Sprinter Sacre. He's got the form, and should win this easily.

The Real Article
Barry Geraghty for Edward O'Grady
Sorry, but can't win this and Bazza G isn't riding for Nicky "Dwain" Henderson. Yeah sure, this horse has won a couple of Grade 2 races this season. However, this is a massive jump for him and he's only 21lbs behind Hurricane Fly. He's also got to make up 17 lengths on Thousand Stars given their performances in the Istabraq hurdle at Leopardstown in November. He's not for me, the 40/1 quotes seem about right, even given that this is a 5 horse race; he's a class below the other 4.

Thousand Stars
Katie Walsh for Willie Mullins
Finished third in the Irish Champion Hurdle to Hurricane Fly and Oscars Well. That form looks reasonably solid given the subsequent Cheltenham form and he should be in the mix in this one. He goes well on soft/heavy ground given he won a Grade 1 here in November beating Oscars Well. Most of his defeats in the last two years have come at the hands of Hurricane Fly, so there's no reason to doubt that now. If he was 7/1 I would be tempted to back him, but not at 4/1, sorry.

Zaidpour
Paul Townend for Willie Mullins

An interesting addition to this field, as he hasn't me too many of these horses before. Sure, he was well beaten by Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham, but they went too fast for him that day, and given the heavy conditions they won't be running away from him in this. I'd expect him to try and dictate from the front and plod away in a similar style to Overturn. Townend is a canny jock and he knows what he's doing in this race. Zaidpour has beaten Voler La Vedette over 3 miles and beaten some donkeys over 2 in a Grade 2 at Gowran Park is similarly ploughed ground. I expect him to go close, and at least beat Thousand Stars and The Real Article.

ADVICE

5pt reverse forecast Hurricane Fly and Zaidpour

Punchestown Bumper preview

It might be extremely wet at Punchestown this week but that doesn't stop the winners flowing. @jimgilch is back with his look at Friday's Bumper. 

Irish Thoroughbred Breeders Association Fillies Scheme Premier Bumper (4-6yo) Winner Euros 29,400; 24 runners

 2m1f Heavy.

SPRING HARVEST?

A 24 runner bumper won't be many punters' first port of call, however I think this valuable fillies (and mares) bumper offers one strong bet. The now chewed up ground will be desperate, even without further rain, and the winner will have to stay further than the 17 furlongs of the race.

I need to start with the bang in form Willie Mullins team. Everything the stable runs merits respect and his Champagne Fever followed up a courageous performance when winning the Cheltenham bumper with this week's equally game success in the winners bumper here. And he unleashed a previous points winner here in the shape of Flash of Genius, who is certainly one to follow, in another bumper.

It hardly needs saying that the stable targets this meeting, with four winners on Wednesday, and he has three runners in this.

All three are unraced, so I'm guessing that Patrick Mullins has selected Tasitiocht. This daughter of French Derby runner up Oscar should have plenty stamina, while Katie Walsh is on the year younger Glens Melody, by King's Theatre. Both need watching in the market, while the stable's third runner, Chiltern Hills, by Beneficial, actually looks interesting with its stamina laden pedigree and might handle conditions best of the three.It's interesting that Alan King appears to highly try the Uttoxeter seventh, Golden Electra, here, also by King's Theatre, (no relation to the trainer), but it's hard to think the form will be good enough.

Money for any of the unraced horses would merit attention, of course, and the pair that might be most significant would be La Belle Amie or Peter Fahey's Four Wives, but I am looking for the winner to come from those with bumper, as opposed to just points, experience. I've largely passed over the points form here, and would be surprised if it matched a couple with racecourse experience and quite high class form.It's not only Mullins that sets us a quandary, but Robert Tyner is another trainer to do so. Perhaps Way up in the Air's best run was on debut when third behind the subsequently decent Hats and Heels and the booking of Derek O'Connor certainly takes the eye, (Wontbelongnow about 7 lengths further back in fifth), but his other runner, the five year old mare  LUGHNASA, makes more appeal. On debut beat Director's Forum from the Jessie Harrington stable, and that horse franked the form when a fine second here in a warmer race earlier this week. Ground conditions will be totally different here for this daughter of Westerner and she is not absolutely guaranteed to handle the surface, however purely on the form of that excellent debut performance at Cork, she has to be the selection. The Flying Doc made a fair debut when third behind Vickie the other day, and the Mangan team always merit plenty of respect in these contests, but a bigger danger to the selection is surely Lady of Glencoe. It was a fair debut only, when fifth of thirteen behind Darwins Theory on soft ground, but that was left way behind when an excellent second tpo previous winner Summer Star last time. 

The booking of Nina Carberry completes the puzzle nicely for lady of Glencoe and Summer Star ran a fine fourth in unsuitable conditions on Wednesday in the most prestigious of this week's bumpers, the winners race.

 

That is probably better form than Directors Forum's aforementioned second this week. However my reservations are two. This is a daughter of Marju and the strike rate of 5% on heavy ground for his progeny, and, together with Mr Prospector on the dam's side, I am not sure this stamina sapping surface, or 17 furlong trip, are ideal.  

CONCLUSIONS:Money for any of the three Mullins runners (or Alan King's raider) needs the utmost respect and though Tasitiocht is the likeliest of his three I have a (personal) liking for Chiltern Hills's pedigree, but in these testing conditions the advantage of racecourse experience is the decisive factor for me, especially so late in the season. there's no obvious pace in the race, and i wouldn't be surprised if one of the Mullins trio were to make the running, but with so many unraced horses, it's difficult to get a real idea as to how this will be run.Of those with that experience I have narrowed it down to two, Lady of Glencoe and LUGHNASA. Even though Derek O'Connor rides the 'other' Tyner runner, Way up in the Air, I feel that beating a good yardstick in Director's Forum on debut showed Lughnasa well up to winning one of the week's slightly weaker bumpers on paper. The rider has around 300 rides and is good value for his 3lbs.Lughnasa (which means August, and represents an ancient Harvest Festival - bad header pun!) I feel has stronger stamina in its pedigree than Lady of Glencoe, and I just suspect it has the better chance of the two to handle the ground. Even though the four year old will carry 7lbs less,(after jockey's claim), I don't think it is quite enough to compensate for the likely extra strength of the year older mare.

Both of the key races were run in good times, and both horses put in good sectionals when making their runs from well back, so that lends further substance to the idea that the form of both is solid.

LUGHNASA is very much the main bet, though small combination forecasts with Lady of Glencoe, and if there is money, whichever is the best backed of the Mullins trio, might not go amiss. At the time of typing no proper market has formed unfortunately, though very early exchange indications (potentially unreliable!) suggest Tasitiocht might just edge favouritism. 
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Thursday, 26 April 2012

when the rain buckets down....lay the field

Have only been dabbling on the lay the fields today, doing some races and missing others through no other reason than time available, and wouldn't you know it, I've missed THREE 1.01s getting beaten (two at Wolverhampton, one at Perth). Best I could manage on a race I got involved in was getting a 1.05 beaten.... however my 'jackpot' line was set at 1.04! Still in profit, just no sign of that big result. So while I was setting up for the big cross-country slog at Punchestown, one of the 1.01s gets rolled at Wolverhampton - missed it because the race times were all out of whack on Betfair and didn't look elsewhere to check.

But then the 4m slog in the bottomless bog at Punchestown came good. Only had two matched at 1.34, just the winner at 1.03, but several on the higher bands. If you've no idea what all this means, I suggest you click on the link to the right which covers the lay the field strategy.

When the ground suddenly changes severely (against recent weeks of racing and training), there should be more chance of horses being found out with their stamina as they bust a gut to plough through it. Whether there's any facts behind that statement though is another matter...

Note there is no science to these numbers and liabilities used for this race, as I was a big field on a very wet track, I fancied going with more lines. The field size also made it far less likely than one get beaten at a very short price - with so many runners, the aggressive IR backers don't crush them as much in big fields, partly to do with the market percentage. So here we had six matched at 3.3, five at 2.34, three at 1.56, two at 1.34 and just the one on the jackpot line 1.03. Lydon House went as low as 1.1, and Tally Em Up got to 1.4, so not far off a bigger payout...

Friday, 20 April 2012

Doncaster Day preview

It's Sydney's big day of racing this Saturday, but they've had plenty of rain (>150mm in 48 hours midweek). The fields remain strong and most horses in Sydney have some sort of wet track form anyway. The guys from @Priomha share their homework with you below. If you need a formguide, this is the place to look - Racenet.
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It would not be a Sydney Autumn Carnival without wet weather playing a huge role. And so it is this weekend. Sydney has been receiving torrential rain this week and whilst the sun is shining at the moment we can be assured of a significantly rain affected surface. In spite of the surface there are winners and value to be found and that is the job at hand. We will preview the three Group 1 features.

Race 5 - ATC Oaks, 2400m (1416 AEST/0516 BST)
This is the autumn staying feature for the 3yo fillies and the renewal this year has pulled together a bunch of ordinary combatants, bar #1 Streama. Streama is clearly the best horse in the race having amassed a string of Group wins in its 12 start career. The only threat to it winning is its ability to run a strong 2400m in the testing conditions, but this aspersion can be cast over the entire field. With a small field, and the need to ensure all runners can plough through the mud and stay the journey a moderate speed is likely and this will suit Streama. We are not however prepared to take $1.60 to find out how well the race will suit it. We have her clearly on top but at $2.00. She is the best horse and it should win as class will take her a long way but she is currently no value. The second favourite, #2 Full Of Spirit is also under the odds. A couple of runs back she was in a lowly benchmark race in NZ and last start beat walkers over 2000m. We will be laying her @$5. Of the others #5 Thy looks most likely as it bred to stay and has run a couple of nice races over 2000m in the lead up to Saturday. #4 Aliyana Tilde is sure to keep plugging away, as will #s 3 & 6.

The best way to extract value from the race is the play the multiples with the favourite.

Selections: 1, 5, 4, 2
Lay: #2 if $5 or less

Race 7 - Doncaster Mile, 1600m (1535 AEST/0635 BST)
The Doncaster is arguably Sydney's best race and again it has pulled a capacity field of 22 (before scratchings) over the famous Randwick mile. The favourite is #2 More Joyous and we are prepared to risk her. She has a great record admittedly, but does not like the heavy ground and is giving weight to some good horses. One of these is #6 Sincero. We think it is great value at $9 on the exchange and we put him on top. #3 Shoot Out has bounced back to form and is coming off a good run last start over 2000m. He will be fit and the slog through the mud will not bother him. #10 Secret Admirer is a back-marker, drawn barrier 22 and will charge home but we don't think she can win. If she gets in below $6 we will lay her. Of the others first four chances to #s 1,9, 13,14,15 but we are keen on #6 Sincero.

Selections: 6, 3, 13, 1
Lay: #2 & #10 if $6 or less

Race 8 - The Galaxy, 1100m (1615 AEST/0715 BST)
Like the Oaks, this is hardly a Group 1 feature with most of the field a rung or two below the top grade. None of the runners have previously won a Group 1, meaning that at race's end there will be a bunch of very happy owners. The race is made even more tricky by the fact that all of the runners relish the wet conditions. We rate it $8 the field so finding the winner will mean a profitable day. Like the Doncaster we don't like the favourite #4 Bel Sprinter. It regularly misses the start, gets back and will need luck. At $5 it is a lay. The other runner tight in the market is #14 Nobby Snip. It has been smashing 3yos recently but Saturday is a different story. It has an undeniable chance but needs to be $10 for Priomha to be interested. So where does this leave us? #2 Temple Of Boom loves the wet and whilst it is only a Group 2 winner, as stated, this is a very poor Group 1 and at $10 on the exchange we like it. #11 Elite Falls should have won the Group 1 Oakleigh Plate in Melbourne two starts ago and gets her chance to right that wrong here. #6 Hot Snitzel resumes from a spell and will cross over from a wide gate and give a great site. The last 50m will test. #10 Winter King at $30 on the exchange is the real value. Tough race.

Selections: 2, 11, 6, 10
Lay: #4 if $5 or less.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Grand National preview 2012

Someone had to step up to the podium to take on the biggest and possibly the hardest race of the year. Adam Ward is that man....

Grand National preview 2012

The greatest steeple chase in the world, but from a betting perspective The Grand National is one of the hardest races. All the hours of form study and opinions can go straight out of window, from a simple mistake or interference from another runner. My thoughts on the race is that you’ve done well if your horse finishes!

1.SYNCHRONISED - This year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup winner. He is an out and out stayer, who is lightly raced for a 9 year-old. Although his jumping technique leaves a lot to be desired, he has never fallen over fences. Although statistically his weight is against him, he has carried a big weight before. The ground will also be to his liking. The only negative, is the effect the Gold Cup might have left on him, however connections report his fresh.

2.BALLABRIGGS - Last year’s Grand National winner, he has only had one race since when running a pleasing race at Kelso. Although only carrying 9lbs more than last year, no horse has won back-to-back nationals since Red Rum, which Donald McCain will know plenty about. If any stable would know how to ready one it would be them.

3.WEIRD AL - Top class performer on his day, who is very lightly raced (12th start today) due to numerous injuries throughout his career. The distance should suit, as he won this seasons Charlie Hall chase at Wetherby with plenty in hand. He is a sound jumper who has never fallen, and with Timmy Murphy’s patient tactics, he could be a decent e/w proposition who is overpriced at 66/1.

4.NEPTUNE COLLONGES - A long standing servant, who will retire after this race. Has run consistently well, albeit in defeat this season. No doubt he will give his running and jump round well, but with age against him, he may be running for a place at best.

5.CALGARY BAY - Has been in good form this season with wins at Cheltenham and Doncaster. He should stay and the ground will be fine, the problem being his jumping can sometimes let him down and he fell in this race last year, so perhaps one to avoid.

6.ALFA BEAT - A good horse on his day, but not the most consistent. He fell over these fences in the Topham last year, and although he has a top pilot in Davy Russell on his back, but he isn’t solid enough.

7.PLANET OF SOUND - Ran a solid race in the Hennessy this season, but he isn’t the easiest to catch right, and is known to make the odd mistake. No doubt the ability is still there, but whether he is up to winning the race is another matter.

8.BLACK APALACHI - Has only has one race since finishing 2nd to Don’t Push It in the 2010 Grand National. His 2nd was to Prince De Beauchene, who was hotly fancied for this race before getting injured. It’s hard to know him as on his past form he’d have a chance, but at the age of 13, you have to write him off.

9.DEEP PURPLE - Has won some nice prizes on his day, and showed he still retains his ability when winning at Sandown this season. He has suffered from burst blood vessels in the past and fell on his last start which hardly shouts confidence. Could outrun his 100-1 odds, but is a risky preposition.

10.JUNIOR - Has been aimed at this race since last year, and could set an impressive stat of being the only horse to win at Royal Ascot, Cheltenham and Aintree. He is an out and out galloper who will be up there from the off. Jumps well, has a nice weight, the only worry being if he goes off too fast in front. A good e/w chance.

11.CHICAGO GREY - Has been aimed at the since winning the 4m amateur race at the 2011 Cheltenham festival. He usually is dropped right out and somehow manages to come from nowhere and pick up the pieces. Although he is known to make the odd jumping error, he will stay all day and the ground will suit him completely. I’d rather be with his than against him. Solid claims.

12.TATENEN - A nice horse who showed his battling qualities when beating i’msingingtheblues as Ascot in January. The big concern is his stamina, he has never looked like he is crying out for this trip and I personally don’t see him staying the 4 miles 4furlongs.

13.SEABASS - Don’t be deceived by all the 1’s next to his name. All his wins have come in very testing ground and i’d be doubtful that he’d stay out this trip as he seems to have plenty of speed. Although it would be great to see Katie Walsh ride, i’m sure Ruby Walsh could have ridden him had he wanted to.

14.SHAKALAKABOOMBOOM - He has been a different horse this season, who stays and jumps all day long, the only negative, is that when looking like coming to win the Skybet Chase, he found nothing, and these large fences seemed to take a lot out of him last year when he finished tired in the Topham. There is also no getting away from Nicky Henderson’s poor record in the race.

15.WEST END ROCKER - Came onto everyone’s radar’s when winning the Beecher Chase in fine style under Wanyne Hutchinson, who retains the ride having won four races on him. Although the ground was heavy that day, he has won on better ground and a repeat of his Beecher performance would put him in the mix. E/w shout.

16.ACCORDING TO PETE - Has been in good form this season, with decent wins at both Haydock and Wetherby. The ground and trip will suit, you just worry that he might find one or two too good. His trainer is in good form having had a winner this week, with Cape Tribulation.

17.ON HIS OWN - A very lightly raced gelding, who looked ever so impressive when winning at Gowran in January. His form doesn’t look anything too fancy, but he still seems to have improvement in him. There is a lot to like about him being from the top Irish stable of Willie Mullins and the choice of Ruby Walsh, but this seems a big jump in class for a horse having only his tenth start under rules, I think it is a big ask.

18.ALWAYS RIGHT - His form figures are deceiving as his last two runs were in very testing conditions which did not seem to suit him. He was only beaten a length behind Beshabar in the Scottish National, so he definaltley stays. With a return to better ground, you’d hope he would return to form. A nice racing weight.

19.CAPPA BLEU - Although he is consistent and lightly raced. There is no solid look to any of his form, even his Welsh National 3rd was on heavy ground and he was a good 22 lengths behind the winner that day.

20.RARE BOB - There is nothing to suggest that he likes the national course from his previous tries at Aintree, and he doesn’t look like a horse who will stay under the current conditions.

21.ORGANISEDCONFUSION - I feel in these staying, different style of races, Nina Carberry is worth 10lbs on any jockey as she manages to get her horses settled and into a good rhythm. Although the horses record is a bit patchy and he has fallen a couple of times. I think he will give you a good run for your money as he will like the ground.

22.TREACLE - Another horse who has good form, but only in testing conditions in Ireland. Not for me.

23.THE MIDNIGHT CLUB - Went off favourite for this race last year, and ran a good race to finish 6th. He was very careful over his fences last year and he would have had to improve a lot for him to have any chance, which he hasn’t done. He will most probably get round, but Walsh has jumped ship.

24.MON MOME - Won this in 2009 but has not shown a lot since. He is 12 now, and hopefully with a safe round he will retire, with his name in the Grand National history books forever.

25.ARBOR SUPREME - Has to many Falls and unseats on his record for my liking, his odds reflect his chance.

26.SUNNYHILLBOY - A very good horse on his day, he is a good stayer and will like the ground and is definitely no 2nd string for Jonjo O’Neill. Old Vic’s offspring also have a very good record in this race. Good e/w value.

27.KILLYGLEN - A good win last time, but not the force of old and he fell in this race last year. Place chanced at best.

28.QUISCOVER FONTAINE - A very solid record having won seven races. The negative being he has never raced over 2 and a half miles. He has won on good ground, but he might struggle to stay the trip.

29.THARAWAAT - Sounds like he was named by someone from Liverpool. No doubt he is only in the race so Gigginstown House Stud can have a runner.

30.BECAUSEICOULDNTSEE - Ran a very good race behind Sunnyhillboy at Cheltenham, over a trip that was perhaps on the short side. Only got as far as the 2nd fence in this race last year, so you can’t really judge him. He will love the trip and ground, so is worth another try over the bigger fences.

31.STATE OF PLAY - He only runs in the Grand National, his last two starts being in this race and finishing 4th and 3rd. It is a big ask at the age of 12 for him to come straight here and run another big race. I’m sure he will run well and get round, but I feel his best days are behind him.

32.SWING BILL - The lovable grey will give you a good run for your money, but he jumps too carefully over the Aintree fences in my opinion.

33.POSTMASTER - Doesn’t have the profile, I hope he jumps round safely.

34.GILES CROSS - Has run some unbelievable races this season, barley coming off the bridle in his last win at Haydock. He would prefer the ground a lot more testing, but for his staying and natural ability, you can not rule him out off a feather weight.

35.MIDNIGHT HAZE - A nice horse at a lower lever, a big ask.

36.VIC VENTURI - Has failed to complete in the last two Nationals.

37.IN COMPLIANCE - Has never won over two and a half miles and loves bottomless ground. He won’t get it here.

38.VIKING BLOND - A good jumper, but would prefer it softer.

39.HELLO BUD - Will give Sam Twiston-Davies a good spin as always but at 14. He won’t be winning.

40.NEPTUNE EQUESTER - Not the worst form, but all of his best performances have been at Wetherby. He makes up the 40.

Conclusion: A very open race with a lot of quality. The main thing needed apart from a clear round, is luck. The main thing is that all horses come back safe.

1st: CHICAGO GREY
2nd: WEST END ROCKER
3rd: SYNCHRONISED
4th: BECAUSEICOULDNTSEE
5th: JUNIOR

Follow Adam on Twitter: @AdamHWard

the grand finale, the John Smith's Champion Bumper

OK, so it's not officially called the Champion Bumper but the proper title is too darn long as you'll see below... Making his debut previewing on the blog is Jim, @jimgilch.

5.35: John Smith´s Champion Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race Grade 2 (CLASS 1) (4-6yo) 20 runners 2m1f Good.

A different Tent

My original post selected a non-runner! Here is my new offering

Given that six of the last seven renewals of this race have been won by horses priced at 14/1 or bigger, this is traditionally no easy puzzle to unravel. For the purposes of the preview I am assuming the ground to be mainly good to soft, but not dead.

Unlike a lot of bumpers, I would expect the pace angle here to be a strong one. Both of the McCain horses, Howaboutnow and Ifyousayso made all on their last starts, so an element of team tactics could come into play. It's surprising given improving ground conditions that Jason Maguire prefers the former, which looks more of a soft ground performer. Both would have solid chances, but i think one or two might have too much turn of foot.

Nicky Henderson's Flags winner Minella for Fitness was impressive at Kempton when romping away with a bumper last month, and clocking a fair time, but Barry Geragthy opts for the stable's other runner, My Tent or Your's. The horse was just beaten at Newbury last time, but the form looks decent, and that was a valuable race. Making relentless ground over the last half mile of that contest, before just getting tired close home and hanging slightly, against a horse that was a two time winner previously. The pair drew clear that day. Stable form would be a slight concern but of the older generation (5 and 6 year olds have won this race on 8 of the last nine occasions) this horse looks a promising contender.

John Ferguson has made a splash in his first full season and he saddles Population. I think this is a serious contender. Tony McCoy rode Minella for Fitness at Kempton, but presumably opts for this horse instead. Both of this Noverre gelding's wins at Ascot have been impressive. This is a very different track, and the horse has not been seen since November, however the stable had a double at Huntingdon on Wednesday. My concern is that the second, Be All Man,while it did win next time, has been outclassed a few times since. Incidentally, look out for John Ferguson leading the horse up in the preliminaries, he is not far off 100% when doing so this season!

I've kept the four year olds to last. It's a real shame that there are no Irish raiders so the collateral form will not be tested directly. Morning Royalty was beaten 19 lengths on Monday at Fairyhouse behind the best bumper horse I have seen this season, (and possibly for a few years), Don Cossack, but Willie Mullins has taken his horse out overnight.

Devon Drum won in a fast time at Newbury, putting in some excellent fractions from the home turn in particular, beating a Nicky Henderson debutant easily. Paul Webber isn't one to overtry his horses, so the horse should be taken seriously. Its relative inexperience would be the issue.

Another danger is the Cheltenham bumper sixth, The New One (four time winner Sir Johnson among those renewing rivalry but was well beaten that day). Has some aforementioned stats to overcome, but brings a strong form profile to the table here. That was a superb effort, but the horse was outpaced turning for home before staying on again resolutely and this track might prove rather sharp. Had previously won the New Year's Day bumper at the same track (form not worked out, but it took a while to do so last year as well, when Keys and Cinders and Ashes fought out the finish). These two runs entitle the horse to respect here.

I prefer the horse to the pair of dual soft ground winners, My Inheritance and Stock Hill Fair, but it would be no surprise to see money for Charlie Longsdon's Spirit of Shankly (non-runner), a winner in a very decent time at Stratford. The second there, Island Magee, was third in last season's Punchestown bumper and may well head there again this time round.

VERDICT:

The shortlist consists of Population, My Tent or Yours and The New One, while cases can be made for Minella for Fitness and Devon Drum.

In conclusion then, I'd like to have seen the last win of Population work out a bit better, but MY TENT OR YOUR'S split a pair of previous two-time winners in first and fourth at Newbury in a valuable contest. The form is probably slightly more reliable than the Cheltenham bumper in which The New One ran well.

At the prices, at time of typing, 2points win 1 point e/w on MY TENT OR YOURS (6/1 Corals).

Postscript:
Incidentally if My Tent Or Yours goes close here, as I expect, then I think the Chepstow bumper is likely to be won by the Newbury third, Kalani King, who ran a belter on debut in that hot race. Infact, as long as Chepstow avoids the worst of the showers, (by Ashkalani, rain would be a very likely negative) that would be my bet of the day.

Thanks to all readers and especial thanks to 'Boris' for inviting me to do this preview!"

Maghull Novices Chase

It's turned out to be a small field, but we could just be seeing a superstar in action. Time will tell. James Jack, @materialista27, previews the race.

The Maghull Novices' Chase is a Grade 1 Chase which is open to horses aged five years old and up. It is run at over two miles and there are twelve fences to be jumped. The event was established in 1954, and it has been known by various titles. It is currently named after Maghull, a town located to the north of Aintree. For a period the race was classed at Grade 2 level, and it was promoted to Grade 1 status in 1995. Previous winners include Flagship Uberalles, Well Chief, Twist Magic and Finian's Rainbow. Paul Nicholls has won the race five times and Ruby Walsh has ridden three winners in the event. The prize fund is £100,000 of which £56,270 goes to the winner. Due to the fact that the race is synonymous with the two mile novice division, traditionally runner from the Arkle Chase at Cheltenham usually line up. When I picked this race to preview, there were eleven entries, but for various reasons, which will become apparent, there are only four runners tomorrow. All horses carry eleven stone four pounds.

Australia Day

Denis O'Regan for Paul Webber

Form figures look good, won his last two in Novice events at Huntingdon and Kempton and is used to these small field races having been first of three and first of four. However he hasn't run since November, and the Nosecondchance who he beat that day has been worse than rubbish on his subsequent re-appearances. In fact, even the horse that last beat him, Ultimate has been mince since then. It would appear that he'll only finish in the first four by default.

Best Odds: 14/1 (Paddy Power)

Kudu Country

James Reveley for Tom Tate

Well at least this one has more recent form, albeit a defeat of Nosecondchance at Southwell last time out, but he only beat him sixteen lengths in a three runner race for £3,250. That just isn't going to cut it in this event. The second that day finished a mere thirty two lengths behind what would generously be considered one of Paul Nicholls' shire horses. Still, he's in with a chance as this is such a small field, but he's thirty five pounds behind the favourite, so it'd be an achievement to even finish.

Best Odds: 40/1 (Sportingbet)

Sprinter Sacre

Barry Geraghty for Nicky Henderson

A penalty kick, a sure thing, a mortgage job, one for your wonga and any other phrase that annoying cockney Gary Wiltshire wishes to call it, seriously, isn't he as bad as McCririck as a caricature of bookies....? [edited]

Won the Arkle whilst still asleep destroying Cue Card, Al Ferof and Menorah. Beat Peddlers Cross (Who?) by a distance at Kempton. Beat Zaynar and French Opera while setting a new course record on the bridle at Newbury. If you don't get the drift by now, I'll spell it out:

S-P-R-I-N-T-E-R S-A-C-R-E W-I-L-L W-I-N T-H-I-S R-A-C-E

Which means what? Well nothing much, the absence of any older horses means we won't be able to read much into this for next season as in avoiding older horses at this meeting means we might get a slightly better price if he re-appears in the Tingle Creek or the Amlin Chase next season. In all honesty, we're looking for a second placed horse for the forecast.

Best Odds: 1/6 (Paddy Power)

Toubab

Ruby Walsh for Paul Nicholls

I was quite right to discount this one in the Grand Annual preview at Cheltenham, and guess what, I'm gonna do it again. He won't win, but if Nicholls and Walsh are as smart and shrewd as me, they'll realise that this is a race for second and the £21,200 that comes with. Toubab should have enough to beat the other two easily, he beat Zaynar by nine lengths at Cheltenham in October and was nice enough to fall when in contention next time out at Haydock, he bounced back at Sandown to beat Falcon Island in a second rate Novices' Chase. He should have enough to beat the other two if Ruby lets him switch off and forget about trying to chase Sprinter Sacre. If they do get silly and try to go with Sprinter Sacre, there's a chance there could only be one finisher. Fingers crossed they all stay on their feet.

Best Odds: 10/1 (William Hill)

VERDICT

Sprinter Sacre's race to lose, men braver than I will try to get him beat, but that's not the way I play and they'll deserve whatever they get.

10pt Sprinter Sacre to beat Toubab

Aintree Hurdle preview

Small But Perfectly Formed
Tom Essex (@cynically_me)

John Smith's Aintree Hurdle

Racing has never been shy of shooting itself in the foot and small fields - which fly in the face of those campaigning for greater and/or minimum prize money - do little to generate either emotional or financial interest. Indeed, they often make for largely unspectacular viewing, but this year's Aintree Hurdle can be forgiven its diminutive, six-runner status.

As the adage goes, it's small but perfectly formed.

Contenders
Six may become five rather sooner than expected, with Michael Scudamore's Saphir River due to contest a Listed handicap hurdle on Friday. An early mistake put paid to his chances in the Coral Cup at Cheltenham last time, but pre-Festival murmuring suggested he was held in some regard by his Herefordshire-based trainer. Despite graded-race form in France, a top class renewal of this contest is almost certainly beyond him at this stage; but a less competitive event may well be his for the taking.

Third Intention is another to hold an alternative engagement at the meeting, but carrying top weight over an inadequate trip later on on Saturday's card probably isn't ideal. There's also the small matter of £4,256 just for finishing fifth here. And in reality that's as well as he will do. His useful novice form was finally built upon with an impressive victory in the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell in February, but he followed that with a lacklustre effort at Cheltenham just over four weeks ago. Colin Tizzard boasts a modest strike-rate at the track and has been short of both runners and winners of late.

Although he comes in to the race with the lowest rating of the four main protagonists, Zarkandar is easily the most interesting. Despite concerns about the wellbeing of Paul Nicholls' horses at the time, he was an ultimately comfortable winner of the Betfair Hurdle on his reappearance. Second-placed Get Me Out Of Here and fourth-placed Sire De Grugy have both won since, but it is Zarkandar's effort in the Champion Hurdle that really catches the eye. Time may show that running him so soon after Newbury, with rumours about the yard still lingering, was a mistake, but it's hard not to be fascinated by the way he finished the race. Off the bridle and apparently going nowhere four hurdles from home, he ran on well under modest pressure to be beaten just 7l by front-running stablemate Rock On Ruby. The step up to two-and-half miles can only be in his favour and any rain will hold few terrors.

He may not be at the very top of the hurdling tree, but Thousand Stars is surely one of the most adaptable horses in training. After being narrowly beaten by the re-opposing Oscar Whisky in this race last year, the admirable grey went on to land successive Grade 1 contests at Auteuil and Punchestown. That in itself is perhaps unremarkable, but the difference in the distances of those races - an impressive ten furlongs - lends credence to the argument that Thousand Stars is a little better than he's sometimes given credit for. Big Buck's eventually had his way with him in the World Hurdle last time, but Oscar Whisky finished one-and-a-half lengths behind in fifth and no horse was travelling better approaching the home turn. The step back in trip may well be key, with no other horse likely to make the running.

Oscar Whisky has the potential to rip this race to shreds, but scarcely believable victories over Get Me Out Of Here and Poungach have been book-ended by visually awkward performances at Ascot and Cheltenham. A final-flight fall at the former venue gifted victory to Overturn, but he was by no means certain to win and there's little doubt he was disappointing at the latter course just under a month ago. A lack of stamina has been offered as an excuse for that defeat, but the way the race was run should have suited him and connections seemed unfazed by the step up in trip beforehand. It's possible that his high cruising speed and apparent turn of foot are better deployed on slower ground, but a strong gallop could find him out.

It's often easy to get carried away with impressive handicap victories, but so dominant was Rock On Ruby at Newbury in November that top honours appeared to be a mere formality. And so it proved with a power-packed win in the Champion Hurdle succeeding a narrow defeat to the revitalised Binocular at Kempton. A heartbreaking, last-gasp loss to First Lieutenant in last year's Neptune Novices' Hurdle proved that stamina was of no concern and Noel Fehily appeared reluctant to leave anything to chance in stalking the dogged, battle-hardened, pace-setting Overturn. A near four-length success gives every indication that Rock On Ruby will be just as effective over this trip in Grade 1 company, but it can also be argued that he had the run of the race last time.

Analysis
Whether set to participate or not, the exclusion of Saphir River and Third Intention is fairly self-explanatory. Less obvious is the decision to put a rather bold line firmly through Thousand Stars and Rock On Ruby. Whilst the former has cemented his place in the hearts of many, he remains the likely front runner and the rest of the field is never going to be too far behind. Rock On Ruby will benefit from being towed in to the race, but he won't have the same tactical advantage that saw him storm to Cheltenham glory and is vulnerable to a 'quicker stayer'. Oscar Whisky's turn of foot could settle this race in a matter of strides, with the forecast rain very much in his favour, but Zarkandar still has the potential to be significantly better than we've seen. He has to concede age and experience to higher-rated rivals, but he finished so well in the Champion Hurdle that it's hard to believe he won't improve markedly for the step up to two-and-a-half miles.

Advice
Zarkandar
3 point win (from 5) @ 5/2 general

ATC Sires Produce - 2yo Grp 1, 1400m

It's not just Aintree that has the top notch racing at the moment, there's a brilliant card of racing at the home of racing in Sydney today/tonight depending on which hemisphere you're in. The Australian Derby is the feature of the all black-type meeting, but the juvenile feature is the Sires' Produce Stakes, featuring the undefeated half-brother to Black Caviar. Brendan from Priomha assesses the field succinctly.


The second leg of the two year old triple crown will see the Golden Slipper winner (1st leg) Pierro take on Black Caviar's half brother All Too Hard. If the spruik about having a famous older sister was not already enough, the younger sister topped the Inglis yearling sales this week, fetching $2.6m. The expectations are high.

It looks a match race between the two as given the exposed form, they are too classy for the rest in the field of seven.

The hype around the lineage of All Too Hard has been reflected in the opening price of $1.60. Amazingly, Pierro has opened at $2.60.

We have them both rated at around $2.15 so in search of value we have to put Pierro on top. All Too Hard goes in for second and Pierro's stablemate Raceway looks the most likely to fill the minor placing, albeit a most probable distant third.

For those interested in the UK or Ireland, the race will be live on AtTheRaces at 05.16.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Topham Chase preview

More from aspiring sports journalist Calum Madell, who has his own website, TheYoungRacegoer and can be followed on Twitter @calummadell.

The Topham Chase looks as tough as usual. The handicapper seems really stretched in this with bottom weight coming from 10lb out of the handicap but that hasn't stopped a number of past winners coming from absolutely anywhere in the handicap.

I've not known a race like this where you can almost split the field in two, possibly even three of classy horses rated from 153 to 138, horses from 130 to 127 and the rest that are out of the handicap. Usually you can discount the ones out of the handicap but in a race like this where a number have run well from out of the handicap, you really can't.

I will in terms of previewing, split the races into the three categories. You have 10 horses at the high end of the weights, led by TARTAK who when I saw the original entries stuck out like a sore thumb to me. He had a wind operation in the summer and that was supposed to have a significant effect on him, apparently he was showing a lot at home. But it hasn't really worked out for one reason or another with a number of tame efforts. However on his first run for Tim Vaughan since leaving Tom George, he showed improved form with a good 5th behind Salut Flo in the Byrne Group Plate at Cheltenham. Horses who run well in thay have typically done well in this and he has already shown good form, albeit not over these fences, in the past. He was 4th in the Melling last year which was his last good effort before last time out. Off 153 I can certainly see him being competitive if taking to these fences and it seems Tim Vaughan is keen on his chances. Top weights usually find it tough in these handicaps but two have been palced in this in the past few years and I can definitely see him going well.

Triangular is certainly the least exposed in the field and the one that looks the best handicapped by far. Obviously in this type of race that certainly doesn't make him a certainty, though 8/1 seems a fair price. The form of his Newbury win hasn't really worked out and it was clear that he improved for three miles though and so the step down to 2m5f may not be ideal. He is a solid favourite though and should get involved.

I've backed Chance Du Roy a few times this year and he has served me really well. I'm not sure if he really gets further but his running style suggests he does so in that way he's a bit of an enigma. He looked like he was going to be tailed off at one point at Haydock last time out but found the rail and rallied to win comfortably in the end. I'm not sure this is the right kind of test for him here and although he is a possible, his new mark of 148 could also prevent him from winning.

Off 145 Little Josh is a fascinating runner. He is now 1lb than when winning the Paddy Power Gold Cup in 2011 and he's been running better than his placings have suggested, most especially in the Argento when he travelled beautifully. After two grade 1 efforts he comes here for by far his easiest task so far since that famous win and for that reason alone he must be involved if taking to the fences.

A mention must go out to Always Waining who bids to win his third Topham in a row. Again Aintree has seemed to be his target all season as he's not shown much all season. He won his first off 128 and last year's off 133 and he's up a further 5lb again this season. A bold bid is still likely, though it's interesting connections have opted for this after thinking of going for the big one this year.

The ground may be too quick for Apt Approach meanwhile Fistral Beach who admittedly was hampered last year, was still beaten out of sight without that and is higher in the weights.

It's very tight in the middle range of the handicap and typically the winner comes out of this range. Frankie Figg must go well for Paul Nicholls who does quite well in this. He is one who relishes these fences. He won the Grand Sefton off this mark for Howard Johnson and he must go on the shortlist with Ruby on board too for good measure.

Irish raider Gonebeyondrecall is another who should come into calculations. He was fourth last year, beaten 20 lengths by Always Waining but is 5lb this year and 10lb better at the weights. Plus with the experience on his back now, he could get much closer.

Aimigayle has seemed to have his problems lately but is clearly talented in these races. He was 2nd in the Byrne Group in 2011 but hasn't been seen much since. However he did run well behind Triangular last time and that could bring him on.

Fabalu is on a good mark for shrewd connections who know just how to win at this meeting. He looks to have improved for better ground with a win and 2nd in his past two starts. The only worry is that they were both in small handicaps and this is a much more different test.

In terms of horses out of the handicap, some such as DOUGLAS JULIAN are only 1lb out and that shouldn't hurt his causes. He has had 11 starts over fences but either seems to run badly or win. He has five victories to his name, the last at Ayr just a month ago. He fits well into the trends and Sue Smith is having a superb time lately. His form figures at 2m4f and 2m5f read a highly impressive 1114911 while chase runs at other distances read u87p so with the stable flying and the lightest of weights to go on, I really can see him going close.

I have to say there is not much else to shout out below him. Nicky Henderson has a rare runner in Bai Zhu but he needs to show some improved form before being a betting proposition. The rest I can't see either getting round or I can't see challenging. Giorgio Quercus also runs for Henderson but his mark seems to flatter him and he has the fences to prove. He won a poor race at Haydock two starts ago and was never able to challenge off his mark in the Byrne Group last time out.

Verdict
So many must go in with a shout and the race can definitely be split into three categories of horse. You have your class acts, your closely bunched middle of the range handicappers and your ones out of the handicap. Right at the top though I do like the chances of TARTAK. This will be his 2nd run for Tim Vaughan since leaving Tom George and he always comes to best around this time and ran on really well in the Byrne Group Plate for 5th last time. Little Josh if handling the fences is really well handicapped, now being off the same mark he won the Paddy Power on. Chance Du Roy has a squeak while Always Waining could easily win his third Topham in a row. Frankie Figg and Gonebeyondrecall looks well handicapped and fit in the group where the majority of winners have come from on trends. Aimygayle and Fabalu are two others who can get involved, especially the former who has had troubles and is coming back to form. He ran 3rd behind Triangular over three miles last time though and he goes in with a big shout again. He looks the least exposed of the field but improvement came last time from the step up in trip and he goes back down here again. From just out of the weights, I'm really keen on DOUGLAS JULIAN for the in form Sue Smith yard. His record at this trip is fantastic and he clearly is in great heart. Off the minimum weight, he can go really close if handling the fences, which I feel he will. He usually travels well and that is all important in this.

Advice
Tartak 1.5pts e/w 20/1 Generally
Douglas Julian 1.5pts e/w 25/1 Generally

4:50 2m4f Handicap Hurdle preview

Dan Kelly, @muffinmannhc, again with this listed, non-terrestrial TV, race.


This handicap hurdle has a solid feel to it with novices and confirmed 2m 4f specialist coming head to head and here's my three against the field.

Bourne was beat at the 2nd hurdle in the Martin Pipe Condititonals race. Hampered and shunted into the wing of that hurdle, Brooke never looked happy with his position throughout the race and as such I am happy to forgive that run. Either way, you can only be impressed by his win at Ascot, and even off this higher mark the return to this flat track is going to play into his hands. The front two in the market have to prove themselves in a hustle 'n' bustle handicap, Bourne passed that test with flying colours.

Of the bigger priced runners, two catch my eye. Firstly Arthurian Legend seems to have crept into this race under the radar. He won the Silver Trophy Handicap at Chepstow smoothly off 125 and comes here only 8lbs higher after runs which suggest he can still has a good race in him. Following that win, he finished 4th to Any Given Day at Haydock, in 3rd that day was Attaglance in receipt of 5lbs, today there's a turnaround of 16lbs for that 1 3/4l defeat. He flopped over fences, and looking to prevent his novice status for next year he was a staying on 3rd to Dream Esteem over an inadequate 2m1f trip. Back to his preferred trip then he is of interest at 25s.

Like Minded has shown a liking for this trip and at 25s looks overpriced. He started the season with a non staying effort behind Sivola De Sivola but followed this up with a sound 3rd to Knights Pass at Kempton. Didn't enjoy his experience over fences, and was given too much to do when behind Attaglance at Cheltenham Festival and this track does seem to prefer the closers.

Tangle Teaser Top Novices' Hurdle, Grade II

Another of our previously successful guest bloggers return, Dan Kelly,@muffinmannhc. He was on fire during Cheltenham tipping Son of Flicka and Sir des Champs.

Tangle Teaser Top Novices' Hurdle, Grade II

I'm yet to be sold on the Supreme Hurdle form, and simply with Darlan and Prospect Wells taking such a chunk out of the market I have to look elsewhere.

Vulcanite has the talent, but it's difficult to pinpoint when he'll actually decide to show it. Captain Conan is the selection of Barry Geraghty but I can't seriously give him a chance, gifted the Tolworth and found out in mediocre company twice since, he is overlooked too. Right Step is a quirky sort, soured to end of his flat season and even though he won on his first start over timber, but that form leaves you with more questions than answers. However two runners have shown enough for me to think they will outrun their prices.

Oscara Dara was formerly with Alan Fleming and he looked a bumper horse of great potential. He cantered through an all weather bumper at Southwell, and when stepped up in class he was the meat in the sandwich between the then Champion Bumper Favourite, Persian Snow and a good Nicky Henderson sort in Mono Man at Ascot. Given his injury record, injured in Mar 09, missed 09/10 season due to tendon injury, it was no surprise he was given time to come to hand by Nicky, and when he arrived on the hurdling scene he didn't disappoint. Jumped well in main and held up off a moderate gallop I suggest you watch the closing stages of this race, as when David Bass went for him from second last, did he go. Unexposed and seemingly not devoid of pace he's of interest at a double figure price.

Leftfield pick for the places, but I can only be drawn in by the 100s quote on North Cape. He hurdled well on debut at Kempton and was given an easy introduction by Felix De Giles, he went off too fast at Newbury in November, and on his return late last month he improved on that run considerably to suggest that a win was just around the corner, but in Grade 2 company? Reason I am interested in his entry here is he's been allocated a mark of 122, I'd have him as a certainty to win a 0-125 hurdle off that mark at a sharpish track on better ground, and with Alastair Lidderdale fairly decent with his placing of horses, I'd be surprised if he was running here if they didn't think he had a chance.

Melling Chase preview

James Jack landed Krypton Factor in the Golden Shaheen in Dubai at his latest appearance on my blog. What is in store for him at Aintree? Follow him @Materialista27

Melling Chase

The Melling is a steeplechase for five year olds and up and is run over two and a half miles at Aintree. The runners, mostly from the fields of the Queen Mother Champion Chase and the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham festival will tackle sixteen fences. It was first run in 1991 and is a Grade 1 with a total purse of £175,000. Voy Por Ustedes, Moscow Flyer and Viking Flagship have all won the race twice in the past. All horses carry eleven stone ten pounds.

1. Albertas Run
AP McCoy for Jonjo O'Neill
Aintree seems to be his track, second in the race last year, won it in 2010 and after a good tune-up at Cheltenham, all would seem right for another tilt at this. The extra week between the festival and this meeting is a good thing for most horses, but I don't think it really affects Albertas Run. He's well used to this trip and unlike most of his rivals, namely the favourite, he's won over course and distance which to me is just as important in these races as it is at Cheltenham or at any other undulating course. The only slight concern is he's now 11 and one of the oldest in the field, so maybe one of the younger horses could do him for pace on the run-in.
Best Odds: 3/1 (William Hill)

2. Finian's Rainbow
Barry Geraghty for Nicky Henderson
Winner of the Queen Mother Chase in somewhat farcical circumstances at the last fence, he comes to Aintree having won the Maghull Chase last year at the meeting, but my main concern is that he hasn't won over two and a half miles since February 2010 and although he's plenty quick enough over two miles, I'm not convince he'll keep that pace up over the extra half mile with some of these more experienced campaigners over this trip. He's rated five pounds ahead of Albertas Run, but I could see that easily being overturned.
Best Odds: 5/4 (William Hill)

3. Forpadydeplasterer
Bryan Cooper for Thomas Cooper
Won the Arkle at Cheltenham in 2009, just nutting Kalahari King that day, went on a very consistent run, albeit seconds until he was pulled up in last season's King George. Since then he's struggled, finishing third to Big Zeb and Noble Prince twice in Ireland and was a disappointing sixth in the Ryanair to Riverside Theatre who was pulled up in the Betfred Bowl this afternoon. Backers of FPTP can only hope he wasn't trying at Cheltenham and that a return to a flatter track and drop back in trip will galvanize him and although I wouldn't rule anything out with this horse, I wouldn't be rushing to back him.
Best Odds: 20/1 (Ladbrokes)

4. Kalahari King
Noel Fehily for Ferdy Murphy
Winner of the Maghull Chase in 2009, this horse was behind FPTP in the Ryanair and looks even less of a prospect in this race. Looked a great prospect as a Novice, but has failed to fulfil that promise when he joined the older horses in saddling the extra weight. He was pulled up twice in defeats to Master Minded in the Amlin Chase and this event last year, and although he might finish the race this year, I wouldn't think he'll be in the front three and I'm happy to discount him as a betting prospect, as are most of the layers.
Best Odds: 25/1 (William Hill)

5. Kauto Stone
Paul Carberry for Paul Nicholls
Fell at the first in the Queen Mother, and only beat one home in the Ascot Chase in February, but Paul Nicholls horses weren't right at Cheltenham, and the trip at Ascot was just too far, so a drop back might suit him. His half brother was quite the racer and in time so might Kauto Stone. He's only six and three years younger than any of his rivals, so that freshness of youth and the ability to bounce back from a dodgy fall at Cheltenham is definitely in his favour. He has plenty of speed as shown by his second in the Tingle Creek this year, and he wouldn't mind any precipitation overnight. The booking of Paul Carberry also interests me and he did guide Kauto to his first win this side of the channel, at Down Royal and over two and a half miles in soft conditions. Looks a bit of value in this.
Best Odds: 12/1 (BetVictor)

6. Poquelin
Ruby Walsh for Paul Nicholls
The only main contender to miss the Cheltenham festival, he will be the freshest in the field after seventy six days off. He missed the Aintree festival last year in favour of the Silver Trophy Chase at Cheltenham, and Ruby takes the ride on this one instead of Kauto Stone. I'm not convinced however, and as he was second to Monet's Garden on his last visit to Aintree and threw Ruby off in this race two years ago, I can't get enthusiastic about his chances. Trip shouldn't be a problem as he's been running over two miles five and ground won't be an issue. I just feel he's peaked, not a very high peak, but peaked nonetheless.
Best Odds: 8/1 (Bet365)

7. Pure Faith
Tom O'Brien for Peter Bowen
Donkey, making up the numbers for three places.
Best Odds: 100/1 (William Hill)

8. Wishfull Thinking
Richard Johnson for Phillip Hobbs
Helped to cause all the commotion in the Queen Mother Chase when he fell and went under the rail. Did his bit for his country when he kicked the French photographer though. Go on my son. Remains to be seen how he has recovered from that fall, and although he won a Novice Chase here last season, I'm not convinced he's recovered enough. He did beat Medermit in that Novice's event last term, but that's one of his few wins away from Cheltenham, and I'm not sure he'll enjoy the pace that should come in this race over a flatter track. Wouldn't begrudge him a win, but won' be backing him either.
Best Odds: 12/1 (Stan James)

SELECTIONS
4pt win Albertas Run
2pt ew Kauto Stone
1pt reverse forecast Albertas Run with Kauto Stone

the sectional angle for Aintree today

Racing authorities in Britain don't make easy for punters who want to rely on facts such as accurate distances and sectional timing. If you want to do it, you have to do it the hard way, but it can certainly provide the rewards for doing the 'hard yards'. And it's not just for flat racing either. Sectional timing devotee Steve Lines, @sjlone1, takes a look at today's action at Aintree.

National Hunt Sectionals

Remember when you started jogging…….. and how you sprinted the last 20 yards to the front door. Yes you were exhausted…. but a sit down with a beer – the pain was still a couple of hours away. Gradually the sprint distance got farther and farther from the front door; mainly because you knew your own energy reserves - and if you misjudged it – you were nearly home. Never did you risk a faster pace at the start of the run with the possibility of having to walk later; or try and match speed with the old, grey haired, skinny guy in the micro shorts! You used your energy most efficiently.

Horses run their fastest times with the same profile – gradually increasing pace with a view to their energy finally being expended right on the line – jockey permitting! Sectional timing allows us to identify the horses who win despite not being able to use their energy optimally. If you want sectional times in Britain you have to record your own! Any of those journalists out there who squabbled over whether it was in the punters interest to know Kauto Star had a schooling fall want to campaign for something objective i.e. correct race distances, sectional timing on the AW, weighing horses – no…. more comfortable to make your case for why Frankel would beat Brigadier Gerard!

To record your own sectionals you need a constant reference point, difficult on the flat, but fences provide the static points required -hurdles are generally in the same area meeting to meeting. Add a stopwatch, spreadsheet, ability to replay races, a few formulas to compare different race distances and a going allowance and you end up with a mass of numbers which would have taxed Bletchley Park incumbents. I am that soldier! You then need a month in a sound proof room to make sense of the figures. I am not that soldier. These figures are still more meaningful than NH ‘final times’ which don’t differentiate between running and static starts and it’s taken on trust the stopwatch is started as they pass the starting tape!

Certain patterns have emerged. It takes a true Grade 1 horse to win 3 fast sectional races (FSR) in a row – horses managing this last year included Finian’s Rainbow and Sir Des Champs. This year’s qualifiers are unfortunately a bit higher profile: Sprinter Sacre, Flemenstar and Last Instalment. It is the act of winning which seems to determine their future performance, however their ease of victory; ‘putting the race to bed’ is tough whatever the visual impression. Lower class horses winning a FSR nearly all fail to follow up (what percentage is ‘nearly’ you say, if I could rectify a troublesome Excel formula I would tell you) – although it may be the handicapper is the culprit. Cheltenham saw 47 qualifiers who had run and won at least 2 FSR; this included Boston Bob, Grands Crus, Oscar Whisky, Binocular, Grumeti and Somersby (before you ask ….. Boston Bob was the only lay…). The competitive nature of the races saw 3 winners: Big Bucks, Sprinter Sacre and Sir Des Champs. The recent Fairyhouse meeting saw 5 qualifiers go to post – the only winner: Flemenstar. Going and days since the last run are all relevant but without that free month and a benefactor I have to use the figures as a guide rather than forming a system. I’ll try and relate some of my initial findings to the first day at Aintree.

2.00 Liverpool Hurdle
Why try and get Big Buck’s beat? He ran my fastest sectional time over the New Course last time and has now run 2 FSR in succession but the rules don’t apply to him.

2.30 Matalan 4-Y-O hurdle
Eight FSR qualifiers. Grumetti has won 2 so is passed over. Pearl Swan’s narrow victory over Grumetti (although subsequently disqualified) meant he had won 2 consecutive FSR so his Triumph run fitted my theory and is neglected again this time. Triumph runners have won 9 of the last 12 runnings so that provides a shortlist of Countrywide Flame, Dodging Bullets and Sadler’s Risk. There seems no obvious reason why Sadler’s Risk should reverse Triumph form – he also has no form left handed. Splitting between Dodging Bullets and Countrywide Flame is difficult – my angle would be back both each-way.

3.05 Betfred Bowl
Sectional figures fail to discard any runners. Although a race run at Cheltenham may not be fast run compared to other races at the Festival I suspect they are gruelling compared to races run elsewhere so Riverside Theatre may well have had a tough race but his previous effort at Ascot was slowly run compared with Invictus’ sections over 2f further. His class may allow him to overcome a mainly exposed bunch but with stamina also unproven I wouldn’t want to take 3/1 to find out. Carruthers and Nacarat will ensure this is a true test so backing Burton Port in running (he tends to get behind) with a view to laying will be my play.

3.40 John Smith’s Fox Hunters
No qualifiers.

4.15 Red Rum Chase
A typical 2m handicap which is often won by the horse getting the best ride! The sprint handicaps of NH. Nine qualifiers who’ve competed in FSR. Kid Cassidy, Kumbeshwar and Astracad have already won2 so are discarded. Tanks for That last 5 runs have been in FSR or fast final time races; I’m betting he’s had enough. Takeroc is 0-8 in class A races- you’re fired. Song Sung Blue – a winner over 3m2f on heavy and 2m on good… but no obvious reason to back him. Tara Royal 0-6 above class C level and is likely to be involved in a pace dual up front. Free World is exposed and 0-16 above class C. Echo Bob, exposed pace setter, nothing to give him a chance to win this. De Boitron is likely to be suited by the pace profile under newly retained jockey James Reveley. Silk Drum is now 5 pounds lower than when winning this last year – coming back to form he could be involved again. Edgardo Sol is a progressive French import; a course winner he has a lot going for him if he can handle the competitive nature of this tough handicap. Oiseau de Nuit, a tough handicapper who was unlucky in this race last year. Although not improving he has the toughness and experience to handle this test.

A short list of 4 but my play will be to lay the field at evens. If we get 2 horses trading below even money, we profit.

4.50 Betfred Manifesto Chase
An easy race for this speed rating user to produce a selection. Menorah and Alasi have already won 2 FSR. Cristal Bonus and Pepite Rose have yet to produce speed ratings showing they can win at this level. This leaves Al Ferof; already proven at this level his price reflects his chance, although Paul Nicholls wouldn’t have entered Cristal Bonus if he didn’t believe he would be competitive. This invariably means Cristal Bonus is capable of producing good figures. Objectively, Al Ferof seems a good thing; subjectively he never travelled with any fluency at Ascot or Cheltenham.

I’ll be placing an order for 2.75 – if it’s not matched I’ll let him run unbacked.

5.25 Silver Cross Hurdle
Sectional figures are of little use with 14 qualifiers. Using a combination of statistics for the race i.e. less than 10yo, under 11-1 plus horse statistics of winning in large fields in class C or above with a speed rating for the class gives 2 qualifiers – Veiled and Volador.

My play…wait for tomorrow!

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Liverpool Hurdle preview

The Festival of the Fake Tan bottle, also known as Aintree, kicks off tomorrow. Making his debut on my blog is aspiring sports journalist Calum Madell, who has his own website, TheYoungRacegoer and can be followed on Twitter @calummadell.

The Liverpool Hurdle.

Big Bucks looks an absolute certainty in this to take his record to 17 UK hurdle wins from 17 starts and also to land this race for the fourth time in succesion. Unlike last year where he had the prospect of Grand Crus to overcome, there is little to challenge him this year. Obviously anybody can tip a 1/4 shot and I won't be putting him up as a selection. I do like these races as betting proposition, mainly through straight forecasts, betting without the favourite and place markets, which regularly has a bit of value in them.

The question is who do you back to win without the machine that is Big Bucks? Smad Place is the bookie's favourite to do just that however i'm not convinced he is the one. He is one of the least exposed of the field and has made some gallant efforts in good handicaps this year, notably over 2m4f at Ascot off 144 and then off 151, chasing home the smart Bourne over the same C&D. He went well on his first try over 3m when chasing home Big Bucks in the World Hurdle, beating Oscar Whisky and Thousand Stars in the process. On that form he is the one to beat but I feel he was slightly flattered by being stuck right off the pace and all he did was pick up the pieces. He is only a 5yo so more is to come but I don't feel 2nd is a certainty for him.

There is an alarming lack of pace in this and although I can't see that being a hindrance to Big Bucks, it could for others. Tidal Bay is one who looks likely to be held at the back and still seems to have his quirks. He ran over hurdles on his first start for Paul Nicholls when behind Houblon Des Obeaux and Kayf Aramis off top weight in a handicap at Cheltenham. Although since he has run a good race back over fences when 2nd to Midnight Chase in the Argento, he took a step backwards again when last of five in the Denman Chase. The lack of pace does worry me for him in this and I can see him struggling, although ability wise, 2nd is his for the taking.

Paul Nicholls is also represented by Poungach who showed himself to be a potentially decent sort when easily being the smart Cantlow who subsequently finished 3rd in the Pertemps, at Sandown in December. That was just his fourth start over hurdles though he was readily put in his place by Oscar Whisky on New Year's Day at Cheltenham, receiving 8lb and never looking like beating him. Again improvement is likely but a strong pace looks needed for him too and while he should stay, there are others I prefer to chase Big Bucks home.

With a real muddling pace probable, RESTLESS HARRY looks the likely pace setter and will be pretty hard to catch. He has been in good form this year with a grade 2 rout at Wetherby on his reappearance and then victory on heavy at Haydock in between a failed chasing campaign. He was just under 10 lengths behind Big Bucks at Ascot in the Long Walk Hurdle but the pace was surprisingly strong that day and i'd be surprised if they went quick here. Although he was 11th in the Pertemps at Cheltenham, the ground may not have been suitable and he did have to lump top weight. This is a more suitable race for him and it's surprising that one so classy has never raced here. With ground also likely to be on the soft side, Robin Dickin's 8yo should be right at home in this race and he looks to have the best chance of the rest.

Crack Away Jack has now joined Tom George after only being at Paul Nicholls' for a few months. it's been a decent amount of time now since we've seen any real spark from him, especially since his injury problems which meant he missed all of 2010. Although running okay over two miles over fences at Cheltenham, he was well behind Smad Place back over hurdles and then was pulled-up back over fences at the festival. He was quite fancied for all those runs which also means he was probably ready to run well and he hasn't, so he is best ignored here.

I wouldn't discount WON IN THE DARK to run a good race. He took advantage of a decent lead last year when finishing 3rd behind Big Bucks and Grand Crus. There were some smart rivals in behind that day and he has been trained for this race. He hasn't shown much promise this year but has been running at inadequate distances all season. He's another who should appreciate the softer going and the step up to 3 miles should see him back to his old sparkle. He looks overlooked and is worth a shout at his massive price.

Across The Bay is the final runner in the field and on official ratings has a significant amount to find. He's improved this season over hurdles with two good runs at Haydock but he was miles behind Big Bucks in the Cleeve Hurdle and then was pulled-up in the Pertemps.

Verdict

Big Bucks is an absolute certainty in this and 1/4 isn't the worst price ever, though he's not the kind of price you put a selection up at. The value seems to be in the place market and the forecast market. Smad Place is the most fancied of the rest but I still think he was flattered by his 3rd place finish in the World Hurdle because he set right off the pace. He won't be able to do that here and I think others are better value to chase home Paul Nicholls' certainty. Nicholls is also represented by Poungach, who runs for just the sixth time of his career though he was readily put in his place by Oscar Whisky last time and he's yet to convince he's good enough. A muddling pace is likely and that will go right against Tidal Bay who on form is the second best and with an easy lead likely at a sedate pace and ground on the soft side, RESTLESS HARRY looks the best of the rest. He's won two good races this year, notably when routing a grade 2 field on his reappearance at Wetherby. WON IN THE DARK is no forlorn hope either at a massive price. He was 3rd in this last year and has been targeted for this after running over shorter distances in Ireland all year. Finally Crack Away Jack joins Tom George but hasn't been the same for a while and Across The Bay has a lot to find.

Advice
Big Bucks/Restless Harry straight forecast 3pts win
Won In The Dark 2pt place @17/2 Bet365

Is Betfair's time up in Australia?

Breaking news from Racing Victoria Limited (RVL), the premier racing body in Australia.

In light of the recent Federal Court ruling in favour of Racing NSW and the right to charge a turnover fee for offering wagering on their racing, RVL has swiftly elected to switch from their fee model based on gross profits (possibly from the start of the new racing season on August 1). This is in stark contrast to their previous statements saying that the difference in figures wasn't a great deal, it was far better to have the corporate betting houses on side to encourage innovation and sponsorship investment etc. As mentioned in the previous post re Racing NSW - the model doesn't make that much difference to corporate bookmakers, it's a bit more than the current system but they can live with it. However, it does completely screw Betfair and the exchange model. Recently appointed Betfair Australia CEO Giles Thompson was quoted as saying the 1.5% fee in NSW made racing in that state six times more expensive than racing in Victoria, to an extent where it was worth considering dropping NSW racing completely. Soon it will mean all Australian racing unless they switch to being just another corporate bookmaker - margins which can afford the fees model but they would lose all their unique selling points and send out mixed messages to customers who would want to do the same thing on racing as they could on footy. And with the majority of Australian sports betting based on two-way markets, exchange betting offers little more than what bookies can offer, so long as there is a little competition around.

At the same time, the restrictions on betting in-running in Australia have severely hampered their inroads into sports betting. Betfair is an online business, trading over the phone on in-play events as required by the stupid Federal Interactive Gaming Act is difficult for punters (placing a bet is easy if the liquidity is there, but few want to post offers without being able to control them) and a heavy burden on operating costs, having to provide telephone operators.

It's a crucial time for Betfair in Australia, and for that matter around the world. If racing authorities manage to kick Betfair out of Australia, then the rest of the world will do their best to follow suit. The legal challenges coming up may be at least as big (and expensive) as those involved in establishing the business so far.

Curiously, the share market has reacted positively to the announcement in Australia, perhaps believing that this allows Betfair the perfect opportunity to cut their losses and abandon a portion of the company which has been very expensive to operate. However, this cuts a lot deeper than that. Authorities (sporting and government) around the globe may believe they can stick the knife even deeper into Betfair - let's face it, almost without exception, they have all despised Betfair and how it disrupts their cosy little regimes.

This story has a lot of legs yet....

Betfair vs Racing NSW verdict

The dust is now beginning to settle on the Racing NSW victory in the Federal Court case against Sportsbet and Betfair over racefields fees. The betting firms won the original case, claiming collusion between Racing NSW and TABCorp in the type of rights fees paid and how it was determined. Racing NSW head honcho Peter V'Landys, amid plenty of criticism and abuse for frivolously wasting money on legal costs, including from yours truly, refused to take the decision lying down and appealed. Many moons later, Racing NSW won that appeal, prompting the betting firms to take the case to another level with a further appeal. Forgive me for not getting the exact details of which court is which etc, but it really doesn't matter now.

That Racing NSW won the final appeal decision doesn't surprise me. After all, they had won a previous verdict so it wasn't a shock. What did leave me just a little perplexed was the unanimous judgment from a panel of seven.

Despite my background working for firstly IASBet, now a subsidiary of Sportsbet/Paddy Power, and more recently Betfair, I do wholeheartedly believe that betting companies should fund racing. And properly. Otherwise you get a situation like UK racing, where any decent horse which isn't owned by the huge breeding conglomerates will target races abroad to earn proper prizemoney. British meetings, equivalent in standard to good Melbourne or Sydney meetings, are being run for Adelaide or Hobart-level prizemoney. Step down to the lower rungs and they are racing for similar amounts to Aussie pacers and greyhounds.

Betfair and Sportsbet never shirked their responsibilities re funding racing in Australia, despite the PR spin from their opponents. They just wanted it to be based on another model which inspired competition amongst wagering operators and encouraged innovation. Hark back to the 80s and 90s where the number of new products launched by the TAB (NSW or Victoria) could probably be counted on one hand, with a couple of fingers left over. Racing lost a generation of punters because it was as bland as a Julia Gillard policy speech, with the TABs sat firmly on their laurels and watching the money roll in. The introduction of sports betting and corporate bookies plus privatisation made the TABs get off their arse and compete. Dead wood got pushed out the door and the totes modernised. Racing hasn't been the only game in town for a long, long time in Australia. Casinos, pokies and sports betting are here to stay, not to mention rival sports taking market share and general entertainment. Closing off racing to totes only would kill the game. There is no comparison with the likes of France, Japan, NZ or the US. All of those are completely different cases - the genie never goes back into the bottle.

While a turnover fee is what the TAB supporters wanted, it's worth remembering that TAB payments also equate to a figure on their (guaranteed) profits. That's all the corporates wanted. Had the governments and TABs wanted to hurt the corporates, they could have pulled their finger out and merged the main TAB pools of NSW and Victoria, taking the sting out of Best Tote products. But sometimes it seems world peace is easier to accomplish... Don't for a moment think this is only relevant to NSW and other states will stick to their own arrangements. The others will change as soon as they possibly can. Betfair's only hope of holding back the tide is convincing Racing Victoria that their fees charged on gross profits works at least as well.

So where to from here? Matt Tripp, CEO of Sportsbet, has stated in interviews that the difference is only about $1m per year anyway. Considering a fair chunk of their business is via tote derivative products and that on-course bookies used to pay 2.25% turnover tax in some states, it seems about right. So for corporate bookmakers, it appears to be a burden they can deal with without passing too much onto punters.

It's an entirely different story though for Betfair. Racing Victoria have just sent out a press release in the last hour stating they will switch to a turnover model of 1.5% for 10 months of the year, and 2% for October and November, the peak of their season. Betfair might have been able to survive on Australian racing if they were able to lobby Victoria into maintaining their status quo of a fee based on gross profits. Now they are in serious trouble re Australian racing and the Australian business in general. Huge potential ramifications, and not just in the southern hemisphere.

More details on the Racing Victoria news in my next post later this morning...


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Aintree Festival previews

Aintree is upon us again and after the success of Cheltenham and Dubai World Cup night, it's time to let the bloggers and aspiring writers back onto the site to share their expertise.

First up it's Jon da Silva, also known as @CreamOnTop, covering the Betfair, no, the Totesport, no, it's the um... BetFred Bowl!

The ethos here is that of a Field Size fetishist still getting over Carruthers Hennessy.

Skeptical that with so little in the trainer's title whether every horse is being run because it's a perfect opportunity or more in hope than judgement. It would be difficult to overstate the interests or moral hazard of the UK's top trainers nor their treatment as sacred cows by media and BHA. Sadly the cash machine lay of Denman or Kauto is not on this year and Henderson's main ones are not necessarily out of place but I'd want more than my usual value room.

Aintree so far it sounds like drying soft ground that could be anything. Aintree goes from being a sharp track to actually quite stamina testing with its alluvial soil apparently. This tipping point is sadly hard to decipher. Traditionally the mildmay fences have been as stiff as you get in the UK judged on rates of fallers.

I've assumed no worse than Good to Soft mostly.

Can't Win
========

Carruthers so the old boy won from a big field but not sure what the form is worth. Nonetheless that win was off 146 and he'd need to be 166+ to win this. Probably won't get an easy lead either with Nacarat and arguably one of Hendos 33/1

Follow the Plan has won a weak grade 1 and been thrashed in poor grade 1s. 40/1

Master of The Hall Chasing with 6 or fewer runners 11111 7 or more 56FR 11 run and he's nowhere near good enough unless it got bottomless. 14/1

Nacarat more meriting of respect than Chris Hoy but record in grade 1s is a horror show. Unlikely to get home in the ground or be good enough. 10/1

Roberto Goldback arguments he's unexposed over 3 miles and might like a small field no argument he's not bloody good enough here. Similar chance to Follow the Plan none.

Some Hope, between Bob and No Hope
===============================

Diamond Harry ah 'arry make 'im England manager what a diamond geezer. If you think Occam should shove his razor up his arse then IF you ignore Cheltenham as a chaser P5P and think his Haydock run was OK off a long break even given he goes well fresh and say he muellered Burton Port twice (surely narrowly beaten) on flat tracks you can make a case at 20/1

Burton Port is as solid a yardstick as you get. However has been beaten by most grade 1 horses or near grade 1 he's faced. Won here at a silly price v trees but struggled over the stiffer objects. Slightly disappointing at Cheltenham and not sure this was the plan. 9/2

Hunt Ball managed to win the Pulteney Land Investments Novices' Handicap Chase by battering every fence. It's a race that has produced a 2nd in the Foxhunters so far in its history. Stamina, class etc all guessable but at 6/1 less than he was against trees at Cheltenham. This a bigger step up than that. In the field of the exposed one should not write off the progressive too quickly..... OK... ummmmh... he won't win. 6/1

Merits Respect!!!
==============

Medermit attempts 3 miles for the first time and has exploded every theory I've had about him except that he is not quite top class. 5s shy as I think this is a last effort to find out if he can be top class at something i.e. 3 miles. No hill to be caught up here. 5s!

Which Leaves
===========

7/2 says there is a 22.222% chance Riverside Theatre wins which is fair enough if not value. Has tried 3 miles before - 2nd in a King George. Needed every yard and a hill at Cheltenham to get up from Medermit. Might be concerned if this got really really testing but the race is a lottery then. Suspicion he might not be 100% with the down hills at Cheltenham as well and can be expected to run well here. Only reason I don't lump on are ground potentially and fear this is not a plan.

What A Friend who likes these tight turny tracks it seems. This is the first time he's had this circumstances since beating Carruthers and Nacarat here 2 years ago. At a price I am more than prepared to be wrong and likely will be wrong at 12/1. Still only 9 and 2nd fence fall at Cheltenham not actually that discouraging - only fall in 13 chase starts. No excuses and could be written off with a bad'un here IMO. Newbury run sufficient to think he's not far off the multiple grade 1 winner he was.

3pts win What a Friend
1/2pt Riverside to beat WaF
1pt Riverside Theatre (coincidentally at 7/2 cover other bets)

Friday, 6 April 2012

hope for investors in the Centaur scandal?

In a breaking story, it has been reported that directors of the failed sports investment fund Centaur have had their assets frozen in order to repay investors. It is believed that managing director Keith Sobey skipped town trying to avoid prosecution however he either naively thought Ireland was a safe enough place to hide or had a lingering feeling of guilt and sat waiting for that knock on the door.

Sobey, the name behind Centaur (read the original story here), is believed to own four houses, worth more in total than the missing £1.6m. His willingness to sell them to repay investors is likely to keep the matter out of the courts, and at least one other director, Andrew Cork, will apparently follow suit.

All this adds weight to anecdotal evidence that the collapse of the fund came down to mismanagement rather than fraudulent deeds. As costs grew (why would you set up a training academy in central London?), margins evaporated and keeping the business afloat went through money like an 'It' girl in a Christian Louboutin shop. However there are allegations that £400k in directors loans were paid from client funds late in 2011 which were splurged on cars and expensive holidays.

The business focused on three areas: securing investment money, training Betfair customers and investing (punting with) client funds.

Centaur was way too shiny and fake for serious investment. Sobey simply thought everything he did on a small scale could be multiplied linearly and they'd all be rich. A few signed up to it, but the Gibraltar-based firm who managed the funds for them need their heads examined for expecting the public to stump up £50m to trade with. Any punter will know that when you step up from £5 stakes to £50, things change. Put another zero or two on the end and you start having great difficulty getting set, unless you are A - a complete mug, B - betting only into the bigger markets (eg Cheltenham, EPL football etc) which are so tight there is little edge, or C - you falsely claim your bets were on at price X, when actually you got £5 at the best price and the rest went on much lower because bookies see you coming a mile off and slash the price because you're not wise enough to use beards/bowlers to get set properly. But, apparently this practice (C) is legal under advertising standards....

Centaur partnered with Betfair for a while to conduct training seminars for customers. Sobey's scale problem arose again - filling four seminars of 20 people in a week made him think they could do that every week of the year, and run several at the same time. It just doesn't work like that and Betfair weren't interested in hammering their database regularly to plug it, nor to subsidise expensive training for low-value customers which simply doesn't add up, unless it is part of an underlying company ethos which has long disappeared.

My spies tell me the training they offered was of high quality, however it all centred around one individual. Centaur made no effort to train/hire additional staff to roll the programme out, believing anyone could do it, and Betfair cannily had the partnership deal linked to the programme being led by one person. When that person left the business, one of his assistants was given the opportunity to take over, but Betfair felt the writing was on the wall and the get-out clause was activated.

Once the individual left and Betfair pulled the training, the new man, Neil Daldy came up with the idea to allow 40 people to come in and do a four-week "intensive" course and then trade for the company. So 40 people applied and came in every day for four weeks at their own expense, no payment with the promise of a job at the end of it. They were trained on BetTrader Evolution for 4 weeks on training mode and of course, with no pressure, they all made money. Then they let them loose on the REAL markets and you don't need me to tell you the result. One guy was abused so badly by Neil Daldy he went home one night, opened his own Betfair account and transferred via obscure markets the whole £15,000 bank allocated to him. Police were not called as this would have exposed the whole situation at Centaur and the guy was allowed to leave with no consequence. Daldy, who allegedly took a four-hour lunch break every day on the company credit card and came back pissed mid-afternoon, was eventually fired for trying to destroy Centaur and steal the clients and start up on his own.

Punting with client funds was always going to be the hardest part. Any half-serious punter will tell you how hard it is to stay on top of the game. If you expand the business or your turnover, you need extra resources, and these resources don't come cheap. Bookmakers these days have mostly switched from expensive, high quality staff to cheaper operators who mostly monitor automated systems. There aren't that many experts left. On the other side of the counter, unless you have developed/purchased your own sophisticated programmes to do most of the work for you, then there is no option to recruit cheaper, less skilled labour. It was soon very evident that Centaur could not get anywhere near promised targets so it went back to square one - Keith Sobey using his tipping line bets for straight out punting. Ever tried punting your way out of a deep financial hole? Has it ever worked? Not likely. Complicate that with all the stresses of trying to hold a business which you have invested heavily in and it's a desperate picture. No time to do the form properly, bookies seeing him coming a mile off and laying unders every time and lo & behold, the business collapsed because for all the good intentions in the world, if you don't arm yourself with the resources to make the business a success, you have more chance of flying to the Moon than turning a profit....

If reports are true about Sobey and co being prepared to pay back investors, then I'm glad and that's one less nasty black mark against the industry. But it will make it very hard for a sports investment fund to get off the ground unless they are far more professional about it. An Australian firm called Priomha are making positive steps at doing that, following basic business school principles, and importantly for punters and investors, being very transparent about what they do. I am certain it can be done properly - but there is no room for sloppiness, cutting corners or ill discipline as we've seen from the Centaur fiasco.