Thursday, 31 October 2013

Breeders Cup Distaff preview

The self-proclaimed world championship of thoroughbred racing, the Breeders' Cup, takes place in California this weekend at the stunning Santa Anita racecourse. A true world championship it isn't, but it's still high class racing. Whenever there's top grade US racing on the programme, then blog regular Jon da Silva is usually the man to cover it. You can follow him @CreamOnTop.

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Breeders Cup Distaff
9 Furlongs Dirt

Keep an eye on the dirt track on the night. Last year it appeared to favour speed although a bit like commentator's momentum it only needs 1 performance to make such a notion ridiculous. I'm gambling it is a fast but fair surface and excludes the plodders - as it should.

Filly and Mare racing's premier dirt event now has reverted to its original name of Distaff from the rather bland Ladies Classic. I confess when I first followed racing in the US to having no idea what a Distaff was and actually only looked it up now I am writing about it.

noun
1.
a stick or spindle on to which wool or flax is wound for spinning.
2.
of or concerning women.

The 2nd version appears pertinent here although the former hints at sexist origins.

Mercifully this is a race with at least three champions so no demeaning is needed. Essentially we have here is Close Hatches beat Princess of Sylmar who beat Beholder and Royal Delta who beat Authenticity all ends up etc etc. We have two pace horses, two pack animals and two closers. Six runners - five Ladies and a Hooker.

Street Girl
Lives up to her name. Relatively looks like a working girl turning up to her Ivy League school reunion here form wise. Improving sort who has some sort of shot just because she is a hold up and there is a chance of a burn up. Needs to find 15 pounds or far more if formful. Beaten by Close Hatches in the Cotillion (8.5F) but was closing in that and the Ballerina (7F) so could improve for the distance. Would not be a jump off the stand result but not far off.

Authenticity
and she is a live outsider. Second in the Zen Yaaa Taaaaaaaa to Beholder and royally thumped by Royal Delta in the Personal Ensign receiving weight. Putting up her best ratings age six but would need race to fall her way from a stalking trip which is not out of the question.

Close Hatches
went to the Kentucky Oaks after a win over Princess of Sylmar. Never got into that race that day but has bounced back with a 211 record in 3 grade ones - Fillies Grade 1s like talent shows too many IMHO so good but not necessarily Thornbridge Jaipur* good. Timeform US Speed Ratings make her marginal with 3yo allowance with Authenticity of the stalkers.

* Beer of the Gods

Royal Delta
until the Beldame it seemed only Tapeta and flying to Dubai could dent this one. However running marginally below her best she was bettered by Princess of Sylmar there. You can argue it was prep and if she gets loose on the lead here she'll defend her title. That overall she still has most of the top 10 ratings in this field. That at 5 no reason to consider her below peak. Doubts include after a post Dubai loss she came off Lasix and speed ratings good but down since - Lasix can be said to improve a horse a few pounds as it will carry less water in its system never mind less likely to bleed in the lungs. I hope she bounces back but with a real speedster against her 2/1 may be called the right price. Defending champ over same course and distance.

Beholder
Produced a stunning two year old rating over a sprint trip before a more mundane performance in winning the Juvenile Filles here last year. Narrow 2nd to the Princess in the Oaks showed this distance on this take off strip not forlorn. Chance she gets an easy lead but chance Royal Delta goes after her. Only two runs since the Oaks and looks laid out for this. Can make a case less pace pressure here and she will be stronger against Princess of Sylmar than the Oaks.

Princess of Sylmar
The Hide and seek game is over and she runs. Looked visually much the best in the Beldame besting the Queen [Royal Delta]. Since losing the Gazelle to Cross Hatches she is 1111 in four Grade 1s. She has wins over her two closest rivals. They could well set it up for her and she won the Beldame without the need for scorching fractions to reduce Royal Delta. Seems laid out with a nice break and prep after winning two at Saratoga yet apparently connections ummhed and ahhed which is only negative for me. Was 38/1 in the Oaks and frankly could still be unexposed to a degree.

Conclusion

I would not dispute anyone looking at Authenticity or even Close Hatches as having a chance but they are not close in reality if the race is fair run. You can argue either of Beholder or Royal Delta gets the front they may hang on if the track is lightening. However for me the best Filly this year is Princess of Sylmar and I expect her to roll which will give me some money for the Street Girl later.

Princess of Sylmar 5/2

Mackinnon Stakes preview

On a star-studded card at Flemington, one of the highlights is the Longines Mackinnon Stakes. In the past it has been a lead-in to the Melbourne Cup but with the transition towards European style campaigns, this race has seen smaller fields of perhaps lesser quality. Only one horse backs up from the Cox Plate and they've boosted prizemoney up to the $1m mark, not sure what else they can do? It's not an elite field, but there's still a bit of quality in it, and regular contributor, Kieran Fitzgerald, @kjob85, saddles up with the preview.

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Mackinnon Stakes
Group 1, weight-for-age, 2000m.

1. Mourayan (4)
Following a strong victory in the 3200m Sydney Cup in the Autumn, Mourayan has disappointed this spring in his two starts. The Sydney Cup seems to have been a bit of a fluke – it was this horse's only win in the last 12 months and just his fifth from 40 starts. There was a bit of a kerfuffle when Nick Williams from the Macedon Lodge stable said this horse would not be running and go straight to the Cup, but then accepted for this race less than an hour later. Are they treating this race as a warm up then? Here it would be best to look elsewhere.

2. Mr Moet (5)
Western Australian star who has had mixed results in the east, with his best result this prep being a fourth placing in the JRA Cup at Moonee Valley two starts back. There is no doubt that this is a very talented horse, but his underwhelming performance in Melbourne needs to be kept in mind. Is he up to a G1 weight for age race on Derby Day? His form this prep has to indicate not. He has closed strongly in his races but there has not been enough there for me to take him here.

3. Side Glance (6)
This will be this 7 year old gelding's second run in Australia following an alright but unspectacular run in a very ordinary Cox Plate. The Cox Plate is a tough race, especially for internationals who are not used to the Moonee Valley track, and he performed reasonably enough in that race. Side Glance has had reasonable but not standout form overseas, including a fourth in the Dubai World Cup earlier this year over this distance. This seems to be a hallmark of his career – good, but not great. I do not particularly rate his chances here – he has not won at this distance and while he will be fitter for his run in the Cox Plate, this is not his race.

4. Solzhenitsyn (2)
Coming off his last start win in the G1 Toorak Handicap, Solzhenitsyn has performed strongly this prep, simply proving too classy for his competitors in that race following placings in his two previous starts. He is in great form and will be right up there in this race. The break since Caulfield Cup day will help him – last year's winner Alcopop had the same break, defeating the Cox Plate winner Ocean Park in this race. Solzhenitsyn is flying, and I firmly believe that had he been entered in the Cox Plate, he would have won it. A classy runner and the one to beat.

5. Moriarty (9)
While this Chris Waller trained gelding ran a disappointing tenth in the Caulfield Cup, his run was notable for how quickly he flashed home from last. That race followed an luckless 5th place in the Metropolitan where he got held up and struggled to get a clear run. Prior to that race he bolted home for a strong win in the Hill Stakes over this distance at Randwick. 2000 metres and over is his best distance – with wins at the distance against decent opposition including in the Gosford and Brisbane Cups. He has drawn the outside barrier which won't help him but at double figure odds he stands out as a value bet for mine.

6. Jet Away (1)
A bit of an unknown quantity. Jet Away had a huge run in the Caulfield Cup and had he been able to settle at the beginning of the race, he probably would have won it. This is a do or die race for this horse – he needs to win to get into the Melbourne Cup, and champion jockey Glen Boss is gambling on this happening in order to have a ride in the great race, meaning he will be dead keen to give the horse every chance. If he can settle he is a very strong chance. While the rails barrier won't help him, I wouldn't rate it as a major problem and I regard him as one of the best prospects here.

7. Pakal (3)
A German import trained by Mick Price who has performed reasonably well in Australia, including a last start win in the Cranbourne Cup where he held off Sertorius who has subsequently won the Bendigo Cup. This followed some decent performances at Caulfield, but this is his biggest test in Australia so far. His runs here have shown a strong ability to hit the line hard which will serve him well here. It is a step up for him, competing at Group 1 level for the first time here. While he has shown ability, I would consider that jump to be beyond him just yet, although certainly there is potential further down the track.

8. Hvasstan (7)
Backing up after a last start win at Moonee Valley, this Fastnet Rock stallion has fashioned a reputation as the battler's horse and has produced some memorable moments in racing over the past year or so. He looked to be out of form this year but in his Moonee Valley win was classy and he ran strongly over the whole distance (2040 metres). While a victory at this level is probably beyond him at this stage, particularly given that he is backing up after a tough win, there is huge value available and you could do worse than having a flutter for a place.

9. Dear Demi (8)
Last year's Oaks winner and already guaranteed a Melbourne Cup start, Dear Demi has had an impressive prep where she has mostly flown under the radar. She ran third in the Underwood to the champion duo It's A Dundeel and Atlantic Jewel before getting stuck on the rails in the Turnbull and then an awesome third place in the Caulfield Cup. She opened around $7.50 in the markets and at the time of writing had drifted out a bit. This is big overs, she has performed strongly this prep and is well suited at this track and distance.

Suggested Bet
There are three standouts for me in this race: Solzhenitsyn, Jet Away and Dear Demi. I would expect them to finish in that order but unless you are up for a big risk, box your trifecta. While any of the three could win, Solzhenitsyn is the standout and I will be backing him to win – as I said, I believe he would have won this year's Cox Plate had he run in it. Jet Away is a classy horse and Dear Demi has been running superbly. Of the three, the mare could be the biggest surprise at a much bigger price than the other two. Moriarty looms as a big value each way bet and throw him in your multiples. Hvasstan is the only other horse I would rate as a contender, I can't see him winning this but a place bet at big odds is worth a look.

Solzhenitsyn
Jet Away
Dear Demi
Moriarty

Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Derby Day pointers

Derby Day at Flemington, the most magnificent day of racing in the world (yes, I am biased). Courtesy of those clever chaps @TheTrialFiles, here are some pointers for the great day. Find more of their great work on their website.

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DERBY DAY POINTERS

RACE 1 – Carbine Club Stakes – 1600M

• 2012 winner (Lunar Rise – H Bowman/B Cummings)
• Best recent lead up has been the Gothic Stakes at Caulfield and it was the race won by Hucklebuck this year.
• Form always follows onto the Sandown Guineas.
• Favourites or horses hard in the market have been tough to beat.
• Bart has won it multiple times, with Saintly the most famous although Think Big won it too.

RACE 2 – Wakeful Stakes – 2000M

• 2012 winner (Zydeco – K McEvoy/A Freedman)
• Sensational pointer to the Oaks (four dual winners since 2004) plus many other winners coming though the race.
• Dear Demi was unlucky not to win last year but was able to turn the tables on Zydeco five days later.
• Most winners come out of the Thousand Guineas.
• Only Zanbagh and Quayside of the top 13 in the Oaks market are not running.

RACE 3 – Lexus Stakes – 2500M

• 2012 winner (Kelinni – N Rawiller/C Waller)
• Had an amazing amount of name changes but the Registered name is the Hotham Hcp.
• Famously the edition in 1956 was a Triple Dead Heat.
• Form from the race has been a great guide to the Melbourne Cup (Kelinni, Maluckyday, Shocking, Maybe Better, Brew)
• Kelinni was 2nd in Metrop after winning the Colin Stephen and 4th in Wyong Cup in 2012 – with some other runs in between Julienas has exactly the same placings.

RACE 4 – Coolmore Stud Stakes – 1200M

• 2012 winner (Nechita – C Reith/J Thompson)
• Formerly known as the Ascot Vale Stakes but became a G1 and moved to Derby Day in 2006.
• Fillies had not had a great record in the race before 2002 but since have seen Innovation Girl, Alinghi, Gold Edition, Headway and Nechita win.
• Sydney 3yo sprint form has held up well.
• Divine Calling has beaten home the Cox Plate winner at his last two runs.
• Three horses under double figures in the Golden Rose are entered plus Thermal Current who was 25-1 that day.

RACE 5 – Longines Mackinnon Stakes – 2000M

• 2012 winner (Alcopop – C Williams/J Stephens)
• Has lost its traditional importance as the Melbourne Cup lead up race, in fact the whole day had very few Cup runners engaged in 2012.
• While So You Think backed up to win after the Cox Plate, Better Loosen Up was the previous one in 1990.
• Gai Waterhouse has a tremendous record in the race but no runners in 2013.
• Leading has been a good option.
• Last mare to win was La Bella Dama 12 years ago at 30-1.

RACE 6 – AAMI Victoria Derby – 2500M

• 2012 winner (Fiveandahalfstar – D Oliver/A Cummings)
• Besides Monaco Consul, every winner from 2008 onwards has been double-figure odds.
• Kiwis won three in a row recently and had the short favourite last year.
• The Caulfield Guineas/Derby double hasn’t been done since Helenus in 2002.
• The Vase has been the best guide and if they run a time close to or better than the Cox Plate, it is even more so (Savvy Nature was only 0.53 seconds slower than the Plate).
• Trifecta from the Spring Champion entered versus the first seven home from the Norman Robinson – is it Sydney or Melbourne form?
• Cadillac Mountain is the full brother to 2008 Derby winner Rebel Raider.

RACE 7 – Myer Classic – 1600M

• 2012 winner (Appearance – M Rodd/G Walter)
• Guy Walter had three in the race last year and the outsider won.
• Sydney mares have won four of last five.
• Few fillies run but have a poor record – Alinghi was beaten in it as a $1.70 favourite in 2004.
• Favourite Red Tracer has had four goes at a mile with a third in the Epsom two years back her best placing.

RACE 8 – Yellowglen Stakes – 1200M

• 2012 winner (Fontelina – V Duric/A Cummings)
• Formerly the Linlithgow and then was swapped over with the WFA race (now on the last day).
• Light weights have been important.
• Much of the form comes from Brisbane and Adelaide in the Autumn/Winter period – that has been very strong this Spring.

RACE 9 – TAB.com.au Stakes (Chatham Stakes) – 1400M

• 2012 winner (Fawkner – N Hall/R Hickmott)
• Fawkner won the Caulfield Cup over 1000m further 50 weeks later.
• Top guide to the Emirates with plenty of horses running well in both.
• Epsom form has been electric this Spring but only Riva De Lago runs here.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

Paris Masters 1000 preview

The ATP season is drawing to a close and the last large draw event of note is the Paris Masters 1000. This time of year is a tricky one for punters - most players have their mind on a long overdue break before they get back into heavy training aiming at the Australian Open, the elite few have to keep something up their sleeve for London and those around the 30-50 mark will be doing their best to lock in a seeding in Melbourne. But mostly, players are knackered and needing a holiday.

Time to bring in a top class tennis analyst, Dan Weston, @tennisratings. Follow his work on his website - Tennisratings and make sure you take a look at his magnificent new piece of work, the 'Ultimate In-Play Spreadsheet'. I wish I had the time and dedication to produce something like that!

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Paris Masters preview

The Masters 1000 event in Paris is the final event on the regular ATP calendar each year and with many players’ eyes on a beach somewhere there’s plenty of potential for upsets and for more motivated players to pick up some cheap ranking points on offer in a 48 man field.

The courts in Bercy had marginally above average service holds in 2012 (81.3% compared to the ATP Indoor Hard average of 80.2%), marginally below in 2011 (79.4% holds) and above average in 2010 (83.6%). So there may not be as many breaks of serve as expected this week. Opposing servers will have to be done in select circumstances.

As my resource ‘set percentages by venue, surface, season and tournament category’ shows, Paris has a slightly above average percentage for matches ended in 2 sets (66.7% from 2010-2012) and also for retirements (5.7% 2010-2012) and this is unsurprising considering motivation is frequently low in this tournament so the potential for fightbacks is low – something both over/under backers and in-play traders would do well to bear in mind.

It’s also very telling in this respect that favourites do not do well here, particularly those priced 1.50 to 1.99. If you had backed every favourite for £100 level stakes you’d have accumulated a huge loss of £1554 (based on the best prices available on oddsportal.com) from 2010-2012 from 140 completed matches (ROI of -11.10%) so be very careful about backing favourites in this odds range, particularly in the early rounds.

Going along with the above statistics, it cannot be ignored that in the last ten years, the top or second seed has never won the event, and between those, they’ve only made one final (Rafael Nadal in 2007). So anyone backing Nadal or Novak Djokovic this week has history against them. However, with an excellent record in the latter stages of the season, (4 defeats in 35 matches September-November since 2011, 1 defeat in 26 matches in 2012/2013) I’d much rather have the Serb onside than Nadal. Djokovic had a shock defeat to Sam Querrey in the first round last year and gave a walkover to Jo-Wilfried Tsonga in 2011 suffering from a shoulder injury so hasn’t had great recent success here.

With those historical stats seemingly very prevalent, there could be excellent potential for picking out some long-priced players who can be backed each-way or backed with a view to lay at a later point in the tournament on the exchanges. A player not seeded in the top 10 has made the final in the last ten years so having a portfolio of long-odds players appears very sensible.

Jerzy Janowicz was the shock runner-up last year, having entered as a qualifier, but will find things hard this year with a scheduled clash in the round of 16 against Nadal. A defeat here will ensure his ranking plummets to a more realistic level than his current over-rated 15 in the world.

Having looked at the players around the top 10-15 who could make a big impact here, I have made a shortlist of players that could impress with a nice draw. Although the top two seeds have historically struggled here, there is no doubt a player would rather be in a quarter without Nadal or Djokovic in it, so the two middle quarters which have David Ferrer and Juan Martin Del Potro in them as the top seeds could be an area to identify for success. With Roger Federer and Del Potro having made the final in Basel this week, fatigue could be an issue later on next week for them, but Fabio Fognini and Tommy Haas are the other seeded players in that quarter. Fognini is a highly unstable player that I would never have faith in to perform consistently in a week away from clay, whilst I’ve noticed a bit of a drop off in level from Haas in the last couple of months – perhaps age is finally catching up with him – so I’m not especially keen to have the German on-side either.

The second quarter with David Ferrer as the top seed could have potential, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see either Milos Raonic or Tomas Berdych get through to the semi-final from it. Whilst Ferrer is considered a clay-courter, he is the defending champion here and has an excellent 17-3 record on indoor-hard in the past year so it’s far from a foregone conclusion he won’t challenge again. But again, fatigue may be a factor with him in the Valencia final on Sunday. He’s another player who hasn’t consistently shown his best in recent months.

It can be considered that Tomas Berdych’s serve is more effective on indoor-hard than outdoor hard with the Czech boasting much better service stats on the surface (90.6% average holds in the past year compared to 85.1% on outdoor hard) but he seems to have major problems on his opponent’s serve indoors, breaking only 19.5% compared to 30.5% outdoors. Based on those stats a position on the Czech world number seven cannot be considered.

Perhaps it’s Raonic that can impress. After a very disappointing grass court season, the Canadian has really stepped up his level with an increase in his opponent break percentages and a much improved tie-break record (critical for a big server who naturally ends sets with a lot of tiebreaks) and has taken titles in Bangkok and Tokyo in the last two months. Raonic is starting to live up to his huge potential but at odds of 40/1 for the outright victory I feel those prices are fairly skinny.

Long shots who are ranked outside the top 10 who have ability include Gael Monfils, Mikhail Youzhny, Kei Nishikori, John Isner and Ernests Gulbis but out of those I cannot consider Isner, who has an atrocious record in Europe in the last couple of years, and I feel Nishikori and Youzhny (who has a terrible record against top players) are very unlikely to cause a shock. Monfils and Gulbis have little fear against top players but it’s just a question of consistency with them.

I always like the chances of Gulbis to progress in a tournament at long odds, but he has a tough draw. He starts with a winnable clash against the over-rated Fernando Verdasco, before a clash with Richard Gasquet, who looked far from fit in his defeat against Michael Llodra this week. He then would face tough matches against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (who along with Gasquet needs the ranking points in a bid to capture a late World Tour Finals spot) before potentially taking on Rafael Nadal in the quarter finals.

Monfils has Vasek Pospisil in the first round with the Canadian likely to be fatigued after a superb run in Basel (I feel he can make a big impact in 2014) but the enigmatic Frenchman would probably then face Berdych then Raonic on his way to the quarter finals and that’s a pretty big ask to get past all three.

I’m going to chance a small recommendation on the Frenchman at 80/1, and chance two other home players at very long odds too.

Both Julien Benneteau and Michael Llodra are 250/1 and have excellent indoor hard records with Benneteau winning 14 out of his 21 matches on the surface in the past year, holding 81.9% and breaking 27.6% on the surface – stats which would definitely put him in the top 20 on the surface. He faces Kei Nishikori in the first round who couldn’t have been more disinterested in defeat to Ivan Dodig last week. Llodra loves this tournament having made the semi-finals in 2010 and 2012 and could find Grigor Dimitrov a non-too-tough opponent after a long couple of weeks for the over-rated Bulgarian. Llodra is 9-4 on indoor hard in the last 12 months holding a superb 92.8% of the time, and breaking 16.1^% of the time – a very similar combined sum to Benneteau and for a ‘big server’ those surface stats are highly impressive.

Recommendations:-

Back to lay Gael Monfils
Back to lay Julien Benneteau
Back to lay Michael Llodra
Lay Rafael Nadal

Friday, 25 October 2013

Cox Plate preview

The greatest Aussie race of all, at least if you are a purist loving the weight-for-age system rather than the everyone gets a chance method of the big handicaps which make up many of Australia's feature races. The Cox Plate has a long honour roll of champions, and none better the legendary 1986 contest, replayed here with the immortal words of 'The Accurate One', Bill Collins....

Supplying the preview for this year's classic is the sharpest analyst in Melbourne, Racetrack Ralphy, @rtralphy. His record on this blog this carnival is impeccable! Subscribe to his premium service on his website, Racetrack Ralphy, now featuring Vince Accardi's Melbourne Cup blog assessment...

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Sportingbet Cox Plate

Race Overview

Basic numbers: 11-3-8-9-14 Best roughy: (if not 9) 4-12

Three World Class horses become two with the scratching of ATLANTIC JEWEL. I've taken a massive opinion play here on IT'S A DUNDEEL as I believe that the wide barrier and missed run/work is "giving" you an extra point or two off odds which is too good to refuse. By extension I'm risking PUISSANCE DE LUNE and LONG JOHN against the market for reasons listed below, but I don't want to lose if FIORENTE wins, and want MASKED MARVEL running for a result. Please yourself and best of luck, but I'm very keen on IT'S A DUNDEEL.

Suggested bet: 14 win units IT'S A DUNDEEL at anything over $4:50. (Betfair has $2600+ at 11:30 posting.) 4 win units FIORENTE. 2 win units MASKED MARVEL.

Speed Map



1. Green Moon
Last year's Melbourne Cup winner whose winning chance is hard to assess, but certainly impossible to dismiss. He was in a walking tempo Underwood when out the back and no chance, but was the 3rd best closer and only 2nd up so should be significantly fitter/stronger here despite missing the Caulfield Stakes. Note his 2012 Turnbull win was 3rd up. He started $5:00 favourite in this race last year, but gut-busting tempos aren't his go as he also proved in this year's Australian Cup won by SUPER COOL. Does the stable consider him a genuine Melbourne Cup chance with 57.5kgs or is this now his Grand Final?

2. Happy Trails
Just keeps surprising the market with his $26:00 Turnbull win being immediately after his $81:00 Underwood fourth to IT'S A DUNDEEL. Drawn to get the gun run, and is clearly in the zone, but is the FAWKNER/DEAR DEMI Caulfield Cup form a sign that they had flat runs at Flemington, while this bloke peaked through the roof?

3. Fiorente $5:50
His past two runs have showcased not only his pure talent, but monster closing ability in first winning here at Group 2 WFA level, prior to simply being too far back in the Turnbull, and smashing the line too late. The concern here has to be the double shot of the wide alley and how the track will play. Does Shinn roll the dice in his only ride on the horse (Oliver booked for the Melbourne Cup) to get a position, or ride him dead cold and hope to pass everything? Big risk/reward choices, but he is an outstanding galloper and a big winning chance.

4. Foreteller
Lobbed out the back in the walking speed Caulfield Stakes and unsurprisingly finished well, but in no match for the ATLANTIC JEWEL world class turn of foot. She's not here but he now is - call it last minute coincidence - and the reality is that his 2000 elite level record is very good. For him he can't have a very solid speed - EG the Australian Cup busted him open - nor the walk of last time, but if it's somewhere in the middle - like when winning the Ranvet - he can produce a big 600 metre sprint and that is usually an asset at this track. A wider chance.

5. Side Glance
Looks a pack chasing average beast, who from 1 at least has the tactical speed to be in the right spot as he was in the Arlington Million before a bit of a hold up at the top of the straight saw him lose momentum and run third. For the sake of the standing of the race, I hope he doesn't place or gawd forbid win as a non-Group 1 winner, but Williams will give him every chance.

6. Seville
Won the Group 1 Metropolitan handicap last start when giving the same type of kick (but here off a hurdle speed) that saw him run 2nd to GREEN MOON in the 2012 Turnbull.

7. Rekindled Interest
Yes gets back to his favourite track and yes was unlucky in this race in 2011 behind the ill-fated PINKER PINKER (a weak year,) but he hasn't won since September 2011, and as such is a low % play, who can flop into a place if absolutely everything went in his favour. Blinkers go on.

8. Puissance de Lune $8:00
The picket fence is gone since his booming looking first up win, that on 2nd glance was against pretty average stock and in a plain time. He just missed in both the Group 1 Makybe (1600) and Turnbull (2000) either side of going back and having no chance with the slow tempo at Caulfield v IT'S A DUNDEEL/ATLANTIC JEWEL. But in those 2nds the concern and/or question is, has he lost his killer punch? Either it's been a slow build to a big exploding peak here, or he's just an each way chance needing luck. Have to respect the trainer's ability to get them to pull out a monster run and winkers go on.

9. Masked Marvel $21:00
I think he's the best roughy and crikey what a story if Michael Rodd won it after ATLANTIC JEWEL broke down. He's been the Williams runner staying at 2000 with the Melbourne Cup grand final to come, but from the draw can sit mid-field and has the ability to give a monster close whatever the tempo. He's now 4th up and typical of the camp trending upwards in a big way.

10. Mull of Killough
The 2nd international visitor with inferior form to SIDE GLANCE. Hope not.

11. It's a Dundeel $2:75
I try and keep these reports relatively dry and overlay it with an opinion, but I'll cut to the chase here. I expect him to bolt in... if he has luck in running from the tricky barrier. He was seriously well backed first up against ATLANTIC JEWEL when he failed to get momentum when needed, before putting himself on the speed and out-bobbing the same mare off a slow tempo. Yes, he's since missed a race and some work with a foot abscess, but it was 3 weeks ago and has since had genuinely solid work. So 3rd up? Last prep 3rd up he was astonishing in bolting in the Rosehill Guineas by 6.8L over SACRED FALLS who won the Doncaster at his next start! Of course he isn't a certainty, but I'm supremely confident that he is clearly the best horse in the race, and as such that is too good a starting point to resist.

12. Super Cool
He's seemingly out of form but he's definitely the type to need high pressure 2000 metre (+?) races as shown in his brilliant though narrow win over FIVEANDAHALFSTAR in the Australian Cup

13. Atlantic Jewel scratched

14. Long John $21:00
He peaked for his Grand Final in a style typical of the camp in the Caulfield Guineas when in the right spot to hang tough on a murderous early speed. The usual comparisons from 3yo's of years gone past will be given, but my starting point is this belief; Last year's 3yo's ALL TOO HARD and PIERRO weren't able to win this race, and they were vastly superior to this year's crop, but IT'S A DUNDEEL was comfortably in their bracket. As such I have to risk.

15. Shamus Award
See LONG JOHN comment for 3yo overview, but this bloke had not much go right in the Guineas after being super brave on the speed here in the Stutt.

Queensland Pacing Championship preview

Harness racing in Australia steps into the spotlight this weekend, not only with the Kilmore Cup previewed earlier, but also the Queensland Pacing Championship, the first race in the Australasian Grand Circuit. Making his debut on the blog is astute harness racing analyst, Darren Clayton. You can follow him via @Dashman01.

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Queensland Pacing Championship

Track: Albion Park
Distance: 2680m
Starts: Frontline 7


The Garrards Queensland Pacing Championship (QPC) is the first leg of the Australian Grand Circuit and to be fair, it is disappointing that a race of this stature can only attract two interstate trained horses.

Regardless of the reasons, the locals will be out in force to protect the crown and no trainer will play a bigger hand than the Major General of the Black and White Army, Grant Dixon. In a career that has seen Dixon either train or drive the winner of nearly every major race in Queensland, the QPC is one that still eludes the premier trainer. Although he had some involvement with the immortal Blacks A Fake who won 2 QPC titles, there is no doubting Dixon's fire in landing the biggest race on the Queensland trotting calendar and is this year launching a quartet of pacers in his quest to land the valued prize.

The biggest attack on the Black and White Army will come from Ideal Scott from Team McCarthy. One stat that Ideal Scott will have to overcome to take the spoils here is that only three horses have completed the Winter Cup/QPC double in the same year. Each of those three have been champions of the sport, with Wondai’s Mate, Double Identity and Blacks A Fake being the triumvirate.

Field:
1. Pub Blitz is slow to muster speed and will most likely be deeply entrenched along the fence and will need to get some luck to figure in the finish. Young trainer/driver James Wanless will be lining up in his first Grand Circuit event, just 5 days after falling heavily in a maiden event at Albion Park on Monday. The Wanless name is synonymous with both codes of horse racing in Queensland and James certainly has the breeding to call upon.

2. Vegas Bound is one of four Grant Dixon trained runners and has drawn favourably however his form is just not strong enough at present to worry these. The 9YO will most likely be back in the field and looking for the breaks to fall his way taking the cheap runs wherever they appear.

3. Devil Dodger. Dixon stays with Devil Dodger who draws much better in this than he has in the 2 lead up races of the Gold Coast Cup and Be Good Johnny Sprint. He found the front last week but burnt plenty of gas getting there and it told, ending up 13m from the winner in 7th place. An easier lead will be on offer here and he could find himself lighting the lamps well into the home straight. Could there be a sign of Grant’s confidence and desire to win this race by opting to wear his Black and White Checked silks for this race. All through October he has been helping support the Leigh Plunkett Foundation by wearing specially designed silks with top drivers from each state wearing them, however he will be sporting his own silks tonight.

4. Alberto Contador is a query runner, as no horse was going as good as this fellow prior to a brief let up. Since leaving the Shaky Isles and joining the Dixon barn, he has won 9 of 11 and he has shown that the staying journey is his forte. However being scratched from last week's Gold Coast Cup just hours out from the race certainly places some question marks over his chances here, however he appears to have strong endurance, much the same as his human namesake.

5. If Saucy Legend was a footballer, he would be dubbed a journeyman. Starting his career in New Zealand he has since been trained in NSW and WA and now finds himself in the stables of trainer/ Mark Dux. Saucy Legend will start from barrier 5 and will look to push forward at the start and if he can gain some cover can prove that his win in the Be Good Johnny 2 weeks ago was no fluke. Forced to do it tough last week and race 3 wide for a sustained portion of the race, the run had merit and if able to get away without doing too much work, can find himself in the firing line at the finish.

6. Lebron is able to ping the machine and although he is drawn a little wide, is a real chance of finding the top should they set him alight off the arm. If he is able to do that he has options to choose from but the likelihood of him staying the trip appears slim as he is a noted sprinter and the mile journey is his caper.

7. Sign To Inverell for trainer Darrel Graham and driver Adam Sanderson has drawn wide off the front in 7 and will find this grade too steep from the draw. Although he did finish 3rd in the Sunshine Sprint here in July, he is not going well enough presently to offer much to punters here.

8. Field Officer will need all the luck after drawing inside the second row. Following out only a moderate beginner in Pub Blitz, it looks likely that he will be buried along the marker line early and will need all of last season's leading driver Mat Neilson's guile to work into a position to issue a challenge. Breaking the track record of his stablemate and fellow QPC aspirant Devil Dodger in last week’s Gold Coast Cup triumph, he has in his arsenal a paralysing turn of foot. Fortune favours the brave and Field Officer will certainly need it all this week to land the Group One prize but it is not beyond him if he can charter a clear passage and launch his sprint at the right time.

9. Ideal Scott was the winner of the Group One Blacks A Fake over this course and distance in July and will certainly earn the plaudits if he can salute in Queensland's only other Group One for Open class performers. Ideal Scott was enormous in last week’s Gold Coast Cup and had the trophy on the mantelpiece, until one final lunge from the fast finishing Field Officer saw the spoils go to that pacer. He will have to do it tough, but cannot be denied. Ideal Scott also has the McCarthy factor to call on. Six of the last eight winners of the QPC have either been trained or driven by a member of the all conquering McCarthy clan.

10. Bettor Draw finished third, within a head of the winner last week and has really stepped up since emigrating from Tasmania and joining the Paul McGregor team. However without a win or place in 3 attempts at the distance is a little concerning so will pay to keep safe. If he can reproduce anything near his last run, he is a definite place hope.

11. Ace Light has drawn poorly with his preferred racing style of dictating terms on the front end not suited to four out the second line. Owned by 2 of the same owners as Blacks A Fake, he may well be suited to this race in another 12 months as he continues to develop into a genuine open class horse. Driver Kylie Rasmussen will be looking to emulate younger sister Nat, who has won this race twice with Blackie.

12. Baby Bling could be the knockout runner. The Miracle Mile winner and only mare in the field, Baby Bling was left searching for running room in the home straight last week after being left behind a tiring runner, she never really was able to fully extend. Given the car park draw in the outside second line of 12, it could prove to be a blessing in disguise. If any speed battle eventuates up front off the gate, the mare can be coiled up and saved for one shot at them. Provided she does not get shuffled back to far in the early stages, her chances can not be denied.

Overview
Devil Dodger can get to the pegs first without spending a penny and certainly give the field something to chase. So if that scenario pans out it could be left to the Belinda McCarthy trained, John McCarthy driven Ideal Scott to come around and park in the chair and see if he can outstay Devil Dodger. Devil Dodger will certainly appreciate getting to the front easier than last week and may prove to be a tougher nut to crack than many think. The market certainly reflects the scenario of Ideal Scott outstaying his rivals as he is into tomato sauce odds after opening around the even money or 6/4 mark. Those odds did not last long and he may start as short as $1.50. Field Officer who has been impressive in his two Australian runs can unleash a fast last section and if he gets clear running at any point in the home straight has the zing to blow them all away. Like Field Officer, if Baby Bling can be saved for one crack, she too can zip past tiring runners if the pace on the front end is set up for the swoopers. The best of the rest will be represented by Saucy Legend, while Pub Blitz might offer sneaky value up the passing lane.

So while no New Zealand and just two interstate performers will be in action in the opening leg of the Grand Circuit, the locals will ensure it is a great race.

Kilmore Pacing Cup preview

While the Australian thoroughbred attention is currently focused on Moonee Valley, the Sunday after the Cox Plate is traditionally one of harness racing's biggest days - Kilmore Cup Day. As new contributor Matt Nicholls, @mattnicholls29, says below, it's a race steeped in tradition.

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Kilmore Pacing Cup

One of the greatest races in harness racing history is the Kilmore Pacing Cup. The home of many top former pacers and trotters, the stand-start event boasts a magnificent honour roll and has provided some of the biggest highlights in harness history. While the $70,000 Group 2 race has lost some of its nostalgia and Group 1 rating over the years, it’s still a ballot-exempt race from the Hunter Cup and is still much adored by the harness public. Sunday’s 3150-metre stand-start race should be another classic, with Bitobliss aiming to make it three Kilmore Cup wins in a row. He’s going to have to do it off a 20-metre handicap, though.

1. JADAHSON – $61 Was outclassed in Saturday night’s Nyah Cup at Swan Hill when he had a reasonably soft run. Would need to step well from the stand start and get the sit behind Chancellor Cullen to be any chance of running a place.

2. MAGICAL TELF – $8.50 Was beaten a head as a 2.10 favourite at Swan Hill last time and that was over a mile. He’s certainly a progressive pacer, but he’s having his first stand-start race and jumps significantly in distance. A place chance only, but I doubt he’ll run top-three.

3. JACCKA CLIVE – $15 At his best, old Jaccka Clive might have been able to challenge these. He was fifth in this race last year, but he was in OK form at the time. Hasn’t won since April and hasn’t looked like winning, so I’ll risk him as he’s a nine-year-old and starting to lose touch in FFA races.

4. MUSTANG MACH – $17 He can be a bit of an enigma, so you can’t completely dismiss his chances of being in the finish, but on paper he looks a little bit outclassed. The positive for him could be the fact it’s a stand-start and he’s had two attempts from the strands and placed both times, winning one and running third in another. Rough place chance only.

5. CHANCELLOR CULLEN – $3.60 A tough pacer who should lead from this good draw and prove hard to run down. Providing he steps well from the strands, he should find the front with reasonable ease and that makes him a contender. Does love to run quick sectionals, so he could be paddling late, though. A tough wind at Kilmore can make it tough for leaders in the race. Definitely one of the major players.

6. OUR CHAIN OF COMMAND – $35 Getting on in years, but this Tasmanian pacer still knows how to run a good race. An excellent start-start horse, he has given rivals in Hobart a 50-metre start and won. That’s the main thing in his favour on Sunday. If he steps well and can find a cosy run in transit, he might be able to sneak into third spot. A few others do look to have his measure, though.

7. CUT FOR AN ACE – $15 Is flying at the moment, but jumps significantly in class and I think that will be his undoing. Has only had one stand-start beginning and was unplaced, so you’d be risking him on Sunday in a high pressure race. I’d be happy to take him on if I was a bookmaker.

8. RESTREPO – $4.40 Was absolutely brilliant last start when winning the Nyah Cup at Swan Hill, but that was helped by the fact Chancellor Cullen set a cracking speed up front for him to fly home and nab him. I think if you watch the replay it’s pretty easy to acknowledge that he had a much easier run, so he’s going to need it again on Sunday. Lang’s best home might be to lob in the running line and hope to get a cart-up from Bitobliss. Can’t see him winning, though.

9. LIVINTHEHIGHLIFE (emg) – $61 Needs a scratching to get a run, but would be no chance of winning anyway. Hasn’t fired a shot this preparation and is likely to run around in a claimer later in the program. Discard.

10. JACK IN FLIGHT – $35 Had a good run in transit last time when third behind Bitobliss, beaten four metres, but he’s a rough chance again on Sunday. Has six wins from stand-start races, so should be a pro at the tapes and that gives him hope of running a place. Petroff must get him cover when making a three-wide trip late.

11. ARTOC – $101 The bookies have his price spot on as he’s no chance. Has raced 121 times for 15 wins, but his best is well and truly past him and the owners must want a day out at the Kilmore Cup. Can’t win.

12. MACHIN OUT – $61 Would need a lot of luck to feature in this race. Won as a $1.30 favourite at Yarra Valley, but that was four steps down in class. Would have to follow Bitobliss and, to be frank, I don’t think he has the motor to do it. I’d leave him out of my exotics.

13. BITOBLISS (20m) – $2.10 The class horse of the field, but can he overcome the 20-metre handicap? Scott Stewart is an old Kilmore boy and has won this race the last two years with Bitobliss, so it would be a dream to make it a hat-trick. Last year he sat in the death against Caribbean Blaster and outstayed him, but he won’t have that option on Sunday. Needs to make a mid-race or late move to win as Chancellor Cullen will get a softer run. Definitely the best horse in the race, but how he’s driven will go a long way to deciding his fate.

THE VERDICT It’s not the classiest Kilmore Cup that’s been pieced together, but Bitobliss certainly provides the star factor. The race is going to be determined by the horse that sits in the death seat. If enough pressure is applied to Chancellor Cullen, then Bitobliss can win, but if Alford gets a relatively soft lead, then I don’t think Scott Stewart can outgun him from the 20-metre handicap. I’ll stick with Bitobliss to make it a hat-trick of wins, but try and shop around for better odds. $2.50 is about the right price.

Friday, 18 October 2013

Showcase Trophy Handicap Chase preview

Flat racing dominates the TV coverage in Britain this weekend but National Hunt fans are salivating at the return of racing at Cheltenham. Fans such as Billy Blakeman, @five2tenracing. Billy writes and broadcasts for BetRacingNation TV and his blogs can be found at OLBG.

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Showcase Trophy Handicap Chase

It was the Wednesday at Glorious Goodwood this year and I was standing by the paddock sipping a glass of Veuve Clicquot on a warm summer’s day. A roast beef dinner had gone down nicely, a couple of winners had thickened the wallet enough for me to be walking slightly lopsided and the sun was shining off the coats of the maiden fillies, seemingly parading for my personal gratification.

Now Goodwood racecourse is special to my heart but despite the idyllic circumstances into which I have managed to manoeuvre myself, I knew in the back of my mind that something was missing. Don’t get me wrong, I like a maiden filly as much as the next man but where was the bond between racegoer and horse? My mind drifted to the Cheltenham Festival a few months prior and I forgot how I was so cold walking from the car park to the course that I was genuinely fearful of losing toes and fingers. What I remembered though was that sense of anticipation, that common euphoria which, rather than being aimed at Pimms, 5-course picnics on the lawn & posh frocks, instead was entirely driven by a desire to witness the battle-hardened horses, trainers and jockeys compete for a place in history at the greatest race meeting on God’s earth.

So, despite Champions' Day taking place at Ascot, this weekend is the time the 2013/14 jumps season really kicks off with Cheltenham’s 2-day Showcase Meeting taking place. I was lucky enough to be at the course on Monday for a spot of filming and the morning mist over Cleeve Hill sent a tingle that you wouldn’t get anywhere else.

Anyway,on to the racing and I am going to highlight four selections in both of the big handicap chases, starting with the 2.35:

2.35 Cheltenham - Equus-Fine Dining At The Festival Handicap Chase
(Class 2) (4yo+) 2m 4f


Cheltenham isn’t just about the horses, it is very much about the trainers and at this early stage of the season, some yards will be taking a different view to others. Is this a meeting composed of valuable races? Or a starting point for a long season ahead? For local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies, all meetings at Prestbury Park are important and his record here is notably good. One of the yard’s guests is the 7-y-o chaser ASTRACAD and Saturday will see his 11th appearance here. It is true he has some good and some bad efforts to look back on in his Cheltenham album but many of his better efforts have been at this time of year; a winning appearance here in Dec 2011 preceding a decent fourth in last year’s Paddy Power Gold Cup. Good ground seems to be his preference and he gets in here on what looks a very fair mark.

When Easter Meteor ran second in this last year, I had a little ante-post bet for Cheltenham but I was reminded about the foolishness of ante-post betting when Emma Lavelle’s stable fell down a hole. No matter, the yard have come out flying this season as might have been expected and Easter Meteor could be a well-handicapped horse who is fit and ready to go.

Charlie Longsdon is another trainer laughing at his rivals currently and Vulcanite will be carrying a green & yellow silk-clad AP McCoy. Only a 6-y-o, Vulcanite came off the flat and whilst not really bred for jumping a fence, he already has two festival appearances, once in the Supreme Novices and last year in the Rewards 4 Racing handicap chase, where he finished close up. Given the way the yard’s horses are running, fitness won’t be a problem and he must have strong claims.

Johns Spirit is missing an apostrophe but perhaps more importantly, he is missing the ability to jump fluently. Blunders were a regular feature in last year’s campaign and that certainly dented his haul. Another to have contested the Rewards 4 Racing handicap, he is certainly on a very generous mark and if he should sail over his fences, he must surely win. The IF deserves to be bold, italic and underlined though and don’t risk your rent money.

3.45 Cheltenham – Showcase Trophy Handicap Chase
(Class 2) (4yo+) 3m 110y


Risk versus reward and TOUR DES CHAMPS comes with risks, having had a select collection of dreadful words attributed to him by race commentators during his novice season, including ‘blundered’, ‘mistakes’ and ‘fell’. However, ‘in command’ ‘won easily’ and ‘stayed on strongly’ convey other colourful images and this horse is potentially very well handicapped indeed. On three successive occasions, he earned a rating of 146 yet finds himself able to start the campaign on 133. Another inmate at Nigel Twiston-Davies’ Stow yard, he also has exactly the right profile to win this. I shall be investing but I have taken the time to prepare a couple of choice phrases to utter if he should clout his fences.

It wouldn’t be Cheltenham without a strong Irish flavour and Becauseicouldntsee could take prize money back across the water. Fifth in the Kim Muir last March off a mark of 140, he appears to have dropped 16 lb after just a trio of chase efforts afterwards. The first of those was in the Grand National and he had probably had enough after that. Significant that he has been able to take advantage of his novice status over hurdles this autumn and he comes here fit and well on a protected handicap mark. I like his chance a lot more than the bookies who are offering 20/1 as I write.

Bradley is yet another of interest at a price and for a 9-y-o, he remains a chaser of some potential. During 2012, he jumped round here no less than five times and in finishing a close second behind Monbeg Dude in the November mud, he ran 11 lb better than his mark today. That is due to the fact he fell out of form in the spring but I wouldn’t mind betting he is fresh, fit and well for this return.

Back to the Emerald Isle, a certain Henry De Bromhead has been knocking in winners on home soil and his record with Cheltenham raiders threatens to become legendary. His entry here is Queros Bleu, who although fairly high-mileage has enough going for him on balance. A trio of decent efforts here over hurdles including a festival fifth are a good pointer and although he fell twice over fences previously, that was way back in the 2009/10 season. The now 9-y-o jumped well when winning a chase in the summer and good ground will help him.

Qipco Champion Stakes

In the last of my Champions' Day previews, Owen Alsop takes to the biggest race of the day, the £1.3m Champions Stakes. Follow him via @owenalsop.

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The Champion Stakes

The grand finale of the British flat season takes place with the Champion Stakes, the Group 1 feature race, on British Champions Day. Won by the mighty Frankel in his final appearance 12 months ago, this year’s renewal see the evergreen Cirrus Des Aigles, a pretender to the throne that day; stake his claim for top billing on Saturday.

There has been a gargantuan amount of money for the French gelding since his victory in the Prix Dollar on Arc weekend and with conditions to his liking, we are sure to see another dazzling display. Christophe Soumillon claimed he could have won the Prix Dollar by “ten lengths” if he had not wanted to look after the gelding for Ascot’s showpiece. There will be no relenting tomorrow and Cirrus Des Aigles can sign off his campaign in style, avenging the defeat of last year and writing his name well and truly into the record books. Great for racing this would be, but as a betting proposition? Not so.

Another French invader with claims, I believe, is Morandi. With form around the brilliant Intello, Morandi was a late withdrawal from the Arc with this race in mind. A Group 1 winner as a juvenile in the soft, Morandi has since finished second in the French Derby and is well placed to put in a bold bid at 16/1. A nice each way price.

Of a similar profile is Andre Fabre’s Triple Threat. It takes a brave man to ignore the French genius when he sends one over and stepping down in trip back to a favourable ten furlongs, Triple Threat is also a good each way proposition.

Another who is dropping back down in trip is Derby hero Ruler of the World. I think 8/1 is a cracking price for the Ballydoyle charge provided his excursion in the Arc haven’t taken too much out of him. It is a competitive race, but it’s unusual to see a Derby winner go off at this kind of price. Dropping to a mile and quarter for the first time since his maiden Ruler of the World can certainly add to his Group 1 tally.

At a similar price, William Haggas’ Mukhadram is in danger of becoming the forgotten horse in the field. A model of consistency all season, the soft ground may just prove to be his undoing.

Jim Bolger’s Parish Hall will have to step up markedly on his last start victory on the all-weather at Dundalk whilst Sir Michael Stoute’s Hillstar will appreciate the give in the ground but looks like he wants further in trip; Ryan Moore has also decided to side with Ruler of the World instead of Stoute’s colt.

Godolphin saddle a live chance of landing a feature double on Champions' Day with Farhh. Last seen blitzing the field in the Group 1 Lockinge Stakes at the beginning of the season, Farhh is stepping back up to ten furlongs today. This, combined with ground conditions shouldn’t prove a hindrance and I can certainly see the Godolphin charge in the frame. Available at 5s in the week, the best price you will find now is 7/2.

Avoiding the short priced favourite, my selections are each-way punts on either/or Morandi and Triple Threat (16/1 generally). Ruler of the World will be my win selection at around the 8/1 mark.

Queen Elizabeth II Stakes (sponsored by Qipco) preview

Next up on the Champions Day preview programme is the QE II Stakes. Plenty of class in this race, let's see what Owen Alsop has to say about it. Follow him via @owenalsop.

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The Queen Elizabeth II Stakes

The cream of the milers crop will step out at Ascot on Saturday for the final time this season, to determine who will be crowned as champion of the division.

The market is headed by the tenacious Dawn Approach who is looking to bow out on the highest of highs in what will be his last racecourse appearance.

Having been off since finishing down the field, with mucus on his lungs, in the Prix Jacques Le Marois, Dawn Approach has had plenty of time to recover from his busy early season schedule that took in the 2000 Guineas, the Derby, St James Palace Stakes, Sussex Stakes and the Marois and master handler Jim Bolger is sure to have his star right as rain come Saturday.

The highest rated horse in the field, Dawn Approach is unbeaten in two starts at Ascot and I think we will see the real Dawn Approach turn up, back to his best in the QEII. A general 2/1 shot, doesn’t represent great value however, and, with many feeling that Dawn Approach is on a retrieval mission here the 2/1 looks even barer. My heart tells me ‘Yes’, Dawn Approach is a superstar and a personal favourite, but my head is telling me at 2/1 ‘No’…good job I got on at 5/2 then!

Stiff opposition will come in the form of the Hannon’s ‘other’ miler, Olympic Glory. Finishing a fast second to the classy Moonlight Cloud in the Marois on seasonal reappearance, Olympic Glory was last seen being well beaten by another of today’s competitors, Maxios, in what was a strangely run affair. Olympic Glory will handle conditions at Ascot, but on their best form, Dawn Approach has him held and Maxios absolutely thumped the Hannon charge on Arc trials day. With this in mind, I won’t be taking the 4/1.

Maxios, one of many French raiders on Saturday, has been subject to a positive bulletin from trainer Jonathon Pease in the last couple of days. The ground will be right up his street and, at his preferable distance of a mile, Ascot goers will see a changed horse from the one that finished well beaten in the Prince of Wales back in June. Having been steadily backed all week, the value may have disappeared and, although holding major claims, I am going to look elsewhere in search of lining my pockets.

Elusive Kate is a classy, multiple Group 1 winning filly who relishes these ground conditions and, quite frankly, is overpriced at 14/1 generally. She did not give her true running in either of her last two outings, both of which were on unsuitably quicker ground than what she will encounter at Ascot. The only downside to his filly on Saturday is that she will not be gaining an easy lead from Dawn Approach’s pace maker Letir Moir. However, at 14/1 in ideal conditions for a multiple Group 1 winner…I am certainly prepared to take my chances with Elusive Kate.

Soft Falling Rain is an interesting entrant from the Mike De Kock stable who has been on the drift since fears arose about her ability to handle the soft conditions likely to be encountered at Ascot. For a horse that started favourite with some firms for this race in original markets, the 6/1 available now might represent great value for a horse that was last seen streaking away from rivals in the Nayef Joel Stakes at Newmarket. However, Soft Falling Rain was beaten fair and square on his British debut by John Gosden’s second string, Gregorian. With this in mind, the 40/1 about Gregorian, who also gets ideal conditions in the QEII is ludicrous and is certainly not a bad bet if the colt handles the back up from Arc day.

Of the remaining challengers, Gordon Lord Byron’s second behind Moonlight Cloud last time out is a nice piece of form but I fear, again, he may find one too good here, despite having the masterful Johnny Murtagh on his back.

Aidan O’Brien saddles Kingsbarns in what will be an eagerly awaited comeback since a disappointing seasonal debut – if you’re one for Ballydoyle hype then get stuck in at 20/1. It is hard to ignore the supplementary fee paid by connections of Top Notch Tonto earlier this week but, there won’t have been many stronger Group 1s run this season and I fear Top Notch Tonto may be outclassed.

SUMMARY
I would love to see Dawn Approach win the QEII and win it well, however, I don’t advise backing favourites and I certainly don’t advise backing favourites at short prices. If that’s your thing however, feel free to have a nibble at Dawn Approach around the 2/1 mark. My personal preference is for two each-way singles on Gregorian and Elusive Kate. At 40/1 and 14/1 respectively, they both relish conditions and are overpriced.

If each-way betting doesn’t agree with you then I would point you in the direction of Maxios at around the 5/1 mark to confirm the form with Olympic Glory and add a third Group 1 to his tally for the season.

Qipco British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes preview

The flat season ends in a grand finale at Ascot tomorrow with the much touted Qipco British Champions Day. There's no Frankel or a flood of ticket giveaways this year, let's see what sort of crowd they pull. The programme is strong enough, but will it get the paying public through the gates?

There are five Championship races on the day, and taking care of the Fillies& Mares division is long-time contributor, Jon da Silva, @creamontop, who has no problem calling a spade a spade....

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Qipco British Champions Fillies and Mares Stakes
12 furlongs Ascot Soft Ground Likely

The pattern for all age 12 furlong Colts after the King George is the Arc. Fillies and Mares get the Yorkshire Oaks, Vermeille and this and if they are good enough get three pounds off the boys and can run in the Arc. Thus I preface this as yet another 12 furlong Group 1 for Fillies and Mares and this one lacks Treve and The Fugue sorta Group 1a. Indeed if Her Maj's Estimate wins the plodd... Stayers' race then they won't even be the most celebrated Fillies and Mares on the day.

Belle de Crecy
steps up in trip having beaten a rival here Hot Snap over 10 furlongs. Distance and ground are unknowns and breeding is Rock of Gibraltar out of a Cape Cross Mare. Trained and ridden by Johnny 'Money' Murtagh. Unexposed.

Dalkala
won the l'Opera over 10F over Tasaday who was third in the Vermeille. Won the Middleton at York early season from subsequent Group 1 winner Ambivalent [Group 1b]. Has won over 13 furlongs on heavy too but best form at 10F. Good hoss merits respect.

* Sneaky old York presciently naming a race after 'Kate' years ago.

Igugu
I probably spent longer than the rest of this preview trying to reference a crap song Einstein Agogo with Einstein Igugu but had to give up due to lack of creativity and it not being funny anyway. 10 wins from 17 looks great except it was 10 wins from 12 when she left South Africa. Still solid trial last time and has won over 12 furlongs on an uphill finish on yielding. Nice trial last time when done by Ryan Moore's 3 card trick of playing late and last. Without the four runs in Dubai and the far East might be near favorite here. Disappointing type.

Nymphea
named like an Italian porn star with some form to go with it. Won a Group 1 in Germany [Group 1d]. Narrowly topped in a Group 3 given run of the race at Haydock prior. No evidence soft ground brings or threatens to bring improvement. Beaten in a Turkish Group 2 [Group 2g] last time. Could well go to an easy lead on initial downhill so may appeal to in running players I guess. Not quite in the class of these.

Seal of Approval
as the jumps season gets into gear here's one who fell last time. Only had four completed starts and won three of them. Beat perennial conditions race filler Songbird a neck in a Listed race. Big jump in class. As a four year old with only four starts one may assume she is fragile. Could be anything.

Hot Snap
Having kicked Sky Lantern all over Newmarket in the Nell Gwyn has not exactly set the world alight. Nassau was decent albeit one suspects many contenders played Russian Roulette up front that day. Beaten by Belle de Crecy last time. Think the short price is a case of people thinking this might be the right circumstances having decided she was good six months ago over a fast seven furlongs. V disappointing type.

Talent
Oaks winner and favourite here. 2nd in the Leger and strong impression slow underfoot conditions a boon. Suggestion Oaks fell her way but confirmed with Secret Gesture in the Leger and arguably that might be the best recent form on offer here. Certainly if this becomes a slog and the ground heavy the one I would want to be with. Worthy favourite.

The Lark
Ascending at Doncaster in facile win in the Park Hill [Fillies Leger] Seal of Approval fell. My Oaks pick as I fancied soft ground and 12 furlongs to suit and 3rd was a decent result. I think Talent may be the better filly but odds reflect that. Improving sort.

Waila
Now I confess I'd not heard of this one. It's Stoute and Moore and single figures. Bolted up in a listed race last time but form does not say must win here. Well beaten at Ascot in the Ribblesdale. For those who like the unexposed which is probably not a bad punting strategy especially if you accept sometimes they may make you look stupid. Could be anything.

Conclusion

None of the above would surprise me. Conditions on the day could spring towards the sloggers like Talent and The Lark or to the speedier Dalkala and Belle de Crecy. Talent and The Lark represent classic form. Most of the rest are unexposed or 10 furlong horses stepping up and Dalkala has arguably a strong chance.

I am going to take them on with Igugu not just because of the wasted effort trying to come up with a pun. She was considered a top top horse in South Africa and essentially we are writing off a 3 month period when she was quarantined and travelling. Her official rating of 118 when arriving in Dubai would be best here. She could be the Group 1 filly in a Group 1a race and that prep was decent enough.

Igugu 9/1 FTW (10s and 11s are imaginary prices with bookmakers who don't actually exist or who will never pay you out).

Caulfield Cup preview

Great race we have in store here. Many say Chris Waller has a mortgage on the race with his four runners, form guru Dominic Beirne says it's very open, rating just two lengths between nine horses, meaning it will come down to luck.

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The $2.5m Group 1 BMW Caulfield Cup
2400m handicap
1745 local time, 0745 BST.



1. Manighar - after the passing of highly respected owner and racing administrator Andrew Ramsden this week, there will be plenty of tears if this horse, one of the many he part-owned, was successful in Caulfield's premier race. Never got into the race in the Turnbull but was only 1.2L behind It's A Dundeel and Atlantic Jewel the start before. 45% win record at 2400m, three-time Group 1 winner, ignore last start and he'd be no more than half the price. Luke Nolan only has three winners in his last 50 rides, he's off the boil at the moment.

2. Dandino - drawn the car park but so was Dunaden last year (same jockey). Can't believe the price this horse is, think it is massively overhyped. Beat statues at Arlington last start, forget that form. Second to the ill-fated Thomas Chippendale in the Hardwicke at Royal Ascot. Hasn't progressed since 3yo and early 4yo form, merely holding his level while others have caught up. Two runs in big fields, for a win in a Royal Ascot 3yo handicap and well back in the Japan Cup. Well travelled but doubt he is good enough under these conditions.

3. Ethiopia - unplaced since he won the AJC Derby in autumn 2012. Fourth in last year's Cox Plate but backing horses with a win strike rate <10% in Group 1 races is a fast lane to the poor house. Watch for a decent midfield run which will suck some people in for the Melbourne Cup.

4. Waldpark - bit of a talking horse this week, drawn well, flying in trackwork and was beaten a head earlier in the year by the world's best male middle-distance horse, Novellist. Won his first four starts, hasn't been able to finish the job since (five seconds by a total of three lengths). Didn't get into the Turnbull so went to Benalla, carried 62kg, dropped out the back from the outside gate and didn't do a lot. Good run first up in the Makybe Diva. Very good record around this trip, only failure was last behind Danedream (Arc winner 2011) when he started favourite but played up before the race. Right in this if he gets the gun run but can't see him winning without great deal of luck. Makybe Diva replay.

5. Glencadam Gold - stopped quickly after leading the Turnbull, when tempo should have suited. Started 4.50 favourite here last year from gate 17. Going nowhere near as well, up 2kg in weight. Will help set a tempo but can't see him in the money. Curious that stable jockey Tommy Berry rides this one rather than Julienas.

6. Mr Moet - fourth in JRA Cup at last start, conceding weight to others, worked home well late after being hampered at the start. Fourth-up last time in he ran a close second in the Perth Cup (2400m) after sitting wide without cover for the trip. Showed in the autumn he wasn't just an overhyped WA horse, finishing close behind All Too Hard and Foreteller in group races at this track. Drawn nicely, top jock aboard, and prepared by very astute Perth trainer. One of many with a chance if breaks go his way.

7. Fawkner - the sole contender from the Hickmott stable when they could have been mob-handed. Does that say this horse is their leading chance for this race, or reflect on owner Lloyd Williams' obsession with the Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup? More of the latter I'd say. Third in the Turnbull last start when many in the field copped interference, he had none. I just don't think he's a Group 1 horse, biggest win so far was a G3 handicap on Derby Day last year. Will he run out a strong 2400m under pressure, possibly posted three-wide? Too short for mine. Turnbull replay.

8. Jet Away - prepared on a European-style campaign (no real break over the winter, kept being topped up, never really lost condition) so having only one start this time in before a G1 over 2400m shouldn't be too much of a worry. Did miss a planned run in September, trainer says he's made up for it in work and with his lavish facilities at Euroa these days, I have no concern about that. Showed in the autumn that he has a big motor and can get himself out of awkward positions. From 13, he'll probably need to get cover in the three-wide line. Have liked this horse since he arrived in Australia and think he is a huge chance.

9. Kelinni - drawn the rail so will be pocketed and has to hope for luck on the home turn. Fourth in last year's Melbourne Cup, that will be his target again. Will mess up a few pacemaps if he pushes forward to make best use of the draw. Hasn't raced that well since, can't see him being in the mix. 65 on Betfair for a reason.

10. Moriarty - another Chris Waller runner, one who won't be too bothered by the wide gate as he'll drop back anyway. Fifth in the Metropolitan behind Julienas after being blocked at the top of the straight when hemmed away after drawing the rail. Has a powerful finishing burst, if he can get a cart into the race at the right time, he's not out of this at all.

11. My Quest For Peace - no idea what all the fuss is about this horse. Ran fifth in this race last year from similar gate when first-up in Australia, but since then has done four-fifths of sweet FA, including running in the Stradbroke, a Group 1 over 1400m. Peter Moody keeps talking the horse up but his local results show nothing. Beat Dandino at Goodwood last year. Six runs in Australia for four duck eggs, a fifth and a seventh. Those 'better' runs were both first-up. Absolutely no hope unless the blinkers going back on can work a miracle.

12. Hawkspur - favourite after winning the Qld Derby in the winter and then unleashing a powerful burst to win the Chelmsford over a mile six weeks ago. Dived through gaps to finish a close-up fifth in the Turnbull to show he should be cherry ripe for this. Qld Derby winners have a shocking record in this race but that just could be because few of them progress like this bloke. Settled close to the pace in his three-year-old campaign, but has been dropping out this time in, quite possibly due to awkward gates - extreme inside or outside draws. Jimmy Cassidy isn't afraid to do something different from the barriers and Chris Waller was holding his cards close to his chest. Drawn immediately outside Julienas who will definitely go forward and only a couple inside Mr O'Ceirin who will also be on the pace. Might he push forward and try to take the 1x1 box seat? Very good horse but don't think he's any value in a tough race.

13. Julienas - last start Metropolitan runner-up. Honest handicapper with strong Listed record (three wins from four) and a G3 win, but perhaps not at G1? Yes, the Metrop is a Group 1 but it's a bottom of the barrel one. Will be right on the pace, McEvoy takes the ride, and his record at 2400m is first class - two wins and two seconds from four starts. Will give a very good sight for your money at around 25. Metrop replay

14. Mr O'Ceirin - in by virtue of winning the Naturalism, is he really good enough to be here? Good off-season stayer but surely not up to these. Only a chance if it buckets down overnight (unlikely, forecast is for 26C).

15. Silent Achiever - Waterford Crystal (or whatever the new name is now) Mile winner last spring, not won in nine races since. Close up in a lot of races since (total beaten margin in those nine of 21L), but that's the problem - you don't get paid out too often for 'close up'. Drawn well, Glenn Boss jumps aboard, awful price.

16. Royal Descent - most dominant winner of the Australian Oaks you've ever seen last April, 10 lengths on a heavy track, shades of Might And Power in the Queen Elizabeth in the late 90s, a win Mark Read described as the best his database had ever seen. Not won since but has been coming along nicely, three placings in leadup races no further than a mile and then copped plenty of interference in the Turnbull to finish mid-pack, a run to forgive completely. And that's my worry here. She's not a big horse, and drawn three in a hotly-contested field of 18 under high pressure, I reckon she'll cop a buffetting again unless she can make use of the gate and go forward. Nash is a genius so if anyone can ride the perfect tactical race, it's him. Too short for me.

17. Tuscan Fire - got into this by winning another of the Melbourne Racing Club's "Win and You're In" races, the Mornington Cup. He's an off-season stayer who has never run a place in a Group race. Nothing more than nuisance value.

18. Dear Demi - bonny mare who has run too many times for my liking at this stage of her career, there's no upside left for her. Had the perfect run when third behind It's A Dundeel and Atlantic Jewel in the Underwood, then close up without too many excuses in the Turnbull. Much harder here from the extreme outside. James Macdonald has a very good record on her (two wins, four placings from seven rides), will need to be a genius to get her into a winning position from there. Turnbull replay.

19. Forgotten Voice (first emergency) - would love to see him get a run as I'm on at 180! Might be an old bugger but has been lightly raced, and Nicky Henderson is a master trainer who can pull a rabbit out of a hat. Last two wins very impressive, has won big competitive handicaps in the past and drawn ideally.

SUMMARY

Two parts to look at here - winning on this race and then the market movements for the Melbourne Cup, for a trading angle.

The favourites or anyone can win? I'm struggling with this one. I've seen two different pacemaps and mine is different again. Riding instructions announced by the stewards on raceday will be important, at this stage I'm making a best guess and I reckon there will be a few changing tactics depending on how the track plays throughout the day and the nerve of the various jockeys and trainers.

I think Cassidy will go forward on Hawkspur and try to tuck in behind Mr O'Ceirin who will cross him. Should he get cover, he then has to be on the ball re any horse coming up on his outside before the home turn, he can't afford to get boxed in there. Waldpark and Jet Away (have backed both antepost) hopefully get cover and stay within range to challenge on the turn.

I really don't know. The answer my friend is a pineapple.... The favourite could win this easily or it's a trifecta which could pay $50k. If you are taking exotics, consider Manighar, Waldpark, Mr Moet, Moriarty and Julienas for the value. For the sake of stringing some numbers together....

Hawkspur
Jet Away
Waldpark
Mr Moet
Moriarty
Julienas
Royal Descent

For the Melbourne Cup trading angle, I don't see too many of those as live Cup chances. Waldpark and Moriarty to shorten, whatever wins will shorten, but will also cop a weight penalty. Unless it steps out and wins by five lengths, don't get too carried away with the winner.

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Thousand Guineas preview

The Victorian fillies' classic is the Thousand Guineas at Caulfield, traditionally held on the Wednesday between the Caulfield Guineas and the Caulfield Cup. In charge of the preview is a new contributor, Trent Masenhelder, @tmase04. Not just any old blogger, but a panelist on Horse Talk, a radio show on Dubai Eye 103.8 and International reporter for SEN 1116 in Melbourne. Welcome aboard Trent!

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Thousand Guineas

1. GUELPH ($1.40) – Sensational filly from the Peter Snowden yard looking to emulate success of stablemate Long John, who won the Caulfield Guineas on Saturday. Clearly the best three-year-old filly in the land and deserving of short quote. Has been set for this race and unbeaten at the mile (1600m). Jockey Kerrin McEvoy can do what he likes with her from perfect draw (barrier five) and the only thing that can beat her is bad luck.

2. GREGERS ($12) – Talented filly from the David Hayes stable who won well last time out thanks to a brilliant ride from Chad Schofield. She knows how to win, having saluted at four of her six starts, but there’s always been a doubt about her running a strong 1600m. Think she’ll get the trip but she won’t beat Guelph at level weights. Top place chance.

3. BOUND FOR EARTH ($15) – Lowered Guelph’s colours three starts back in the Group 2 Furious Stakes at Randwick over 1200m. However, the Darley filly took serious improvement from that outing and has since beaten her out of sight over 1400m and 1600m respectively. She does have form through the best three-year-old colt in the land in Zoustar and can figure in the minor end of the prize her. First start at Caulfield a small concern.

4 SE SAUVER ($15) – Sensational winner of the Edward Manifold over this trip at Flemington last time out. It was, however, a career best run and the query is whether she can back it up. Star Fashion did make her earn it on that occasion and she has been up a while. Place hope at best.

5 MAY’S DREAM ($8) – Second favourite but well under the odds for mine. There’s no doubting she has ability but she takes a quantum leap in class here. Bred to get 1600m and beyond but doubt she has the class to trouble these. Under the odds and a definite lay.

6. GODIVA ROCK ($67) – This filly has one thing going for it – she’s trained by Mick Kent. Third in the Blue Diamond as a two-year-old but she’s yet to recapture that sort of form. No excuses when a 3.25L eighth behind Se Sauver last time out. Still a maiden and won’t be notching her first win in this.

7 MIRACLE TO ME ($51) – Was disappointing behind Gregers two starts back (eighth of 11, beaten 6L) but turned in a nice effort for fourth behind the talented Paximadia two weeks later. Gate no help (barrier eight) and she looks tested at this level.

8. WORDPLAY ($21) – Very talented filly who has come on in leaps and bounds since her racetrack debut just two months ago. Sensational effort when second to Savvy Nature in Group 3 at just her third start and that form is very strong for this after Savvy Nature ran third in the Group 1 Spring Champions Stakes at Randwick at the weekend. Her last start fifth behind Se Sauver is a forgive run as it wasn’t one of Glen Boss’ finest rides. Over the odds and can run second.

9. GYPSY DIAMOND ($67) – John O’Shea clearly trying to pick up some prize money for connections here given the small field. Should get a nice run from gate one and has Brett Prebble aboard but she’s making up the numbers and will be totally outclassed.

Unlike the colts and geldings race (Caulfield Guineas), which appeared very open pre-race, this looks a no-brainer. GUELPH is the dominant three-year-old filly and has panels on her rivals. She’s very skinny odds but is entitled to be. Her preparation has been near perfect, only tasting defeat when first-up, and there’s no doubt Peter Snowden would’ve earmarked this race a long time ago. Favourites do get rolled, even $1.40 shots, and they don’t hand out Group 1s, but if she stays out of trouble she should be winning this without much fuss before a possible tilt at the Cox Plate. There’s only a few hopes to fill the placings and I’m giving the highly talented WORDPLAY the nod for second. It might be a bit soon for her but the Savvy Nature form reads well and she’s untapped. Still not convinced GREGERS runs 1600m but her class will carry her a long way in this and I’m putting her in for third.

SUGGESTION: Anchor GUELPH in multiples with WORDPLAY, GREGERS and BOUND FOR EARTH.

Friday, 11 October 2013

The Cesarewitch

Winter weather has arrived and the flat season is drawing to a close. Tomorrow is billed as 'Future Champions Day' at Newmarket, but to most, the highlight is still the Cesarewitch, the monster staying handicap which will test any punter or racecaller. @five2tenracing specialise in all-aged handicaps and here, chief analyst Billy Blakeman breezes through the capacity field. Billy writes for a number of sites and his work can be found at BetRacingNation and his OLBG blog.

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3.50 NEWMARKET - BETFRED CESAREWITCH 2M2F

This famous old race is most notable for the fact that it crosses the county line, as they might say in the States. I believe also that with a modern day maximum of 36-runners, it is the largest single assembly of flat handicappers.

Were this a sprint down some abnormally wide straight, the field would doubtless split into groups but here we have a bend. Not a series of bends, not a course where laps are in order (as one visiting American owner once ventured) but a single bend. Any conversations between jockeys are best completed before loading as the chap in stall 36 will be about half a furlong sideways to the chap (or lass) drawn 1.

So, we might consider a high draw damned inconvenient in this race, although anyone drawn low making a mess of the start will see traffic in front of them akin to Bombay in rush hour for the next 2 ¼ miles.

Enough, on to the horses and I am going to give prominence to what would be my top five, with summary notes below for the remainder (where the winner no doubt is lurking).

Top of my list is PALLASATOR, trained by the rather unique Sir Mark Prescott. For anyone not familiar with how Sir Mark handles a handicapper, then look it up but few trainers are so masterful at having one ready for the big day. Many a notable gamble has been landed but in this race, Lady Luck has denied the trainer and his supporters their prize.

It would be a fair concern that this horse beat only a meagre total of 13-rivals in winning all three of his races in 2012 but then as a respected judge once told me, a horse can do no more than win.

Perhaps this gelded son of Motivator’s imposing frame dissuaded the opposition but like many who grow a little more than they should, he has not been without the odd issue physically. Importantly though, having missed the Ebor, a run has been gotten into him and a very respectable third up at Haydock was the result. That should have set him up nicely for this and although his trainer has publicly pondered the question of stamina, one detects a metaphorical ‘twinkle in the eye’ perhaps…..

Next, the Irish-trained Domination jumps out from my double-sided A3 page of notes. I well remember last year’s Cesarewitch Trial, in which this likeable horse put 4 ½ lengths between himself and…whoever came second. Didn’t line up for the big one but he has improved again since, winning at The Curragh off a mark of 85 before finishing second of 20 at Galway in a £34k handicap off 92. Since those efforts in the summer, the 6-y-o has managed to squeeze in a couple of hurdles, winning both unchallenged and earning RPRs of 149 & 154.

Reverting back to the flat, he races off 95 and whilst to avoid paranoia I tend to believe Charles Byrnes (of Solwhit fame) when he references the handicap mark demanding more, I still think this horse holds a massive chance.

Two down, 30-odd to go and for those still with me, Earth Amber is next on possibly the longest shortlist I will draw up all year. Now I don’t know much about this filly so I am guessing a little but that has got me out of a hole before!

Nicky Henderson is the key phrase as he has rather made a name for himself on the level by snatching these staying handicaps from under the flat yards’ noses. My Henderson (Sprinter Sacre fame as well as a few others) has kept this filly back for today and it may just be she is on a good mark. I don’t know, maybe not but she has a good draw and there seems an amount of positive vibe in the Lambourn area.

Maybe I am clouded as my daughter is called Amber. Incidentally, her latest chosen school project on the clashes between Kauto Star and Long Run is going to earn me another visit to see the headmistress.

Moving swiftly on and few would not like to see the top weighted Tiger Cry win for Lady Cecil. This 4-y-o colt is better than a handicapper and he has improved each time he has seen a racecourse. No hint of temperament and stays as well as his pedigree suggests. Class will out but perhaps not from stall 30 and there lies the doubt.

For anyone looking for a huge outsider, I did briefly ponder Scatter Dice. Slightly concerning to read Mark Johnston’s press comment referring to the filly as a ‘he’ but I suspect that is sloppy journalism, rather than a long season taking a toll on the master trainer. Scatter Dice has run some shockers along the way but mostly gives her running and in a first time visor, she could just surpass her odds.

There we go, bookies offering 5-places, 5 horses given, job done. However, if you don’t believe me and I wouldn’t blame you, the remaining 29 are summarised below;

2. ORIENTAL FOX - Went agonisingly close in the Northumberland Plate, placed at Ascot, 5th in the Ebor. Sudden burst of improvement last time, 4 lb rise very fair and the man for the big occasion, Johnny Murtagh on board.

3. THECORNISHCOCKNEY - Not a turf horse. 50/1 terrible value, needs more 0’s.

4. CHIBERTA KING - Excellent stayer but whist he won the Queen Alexandra at Royal Ascot, that form isn’t up to this and may just be a few pounds high.

8. BROXBOURNE - Had an amazing 2013 with 7-wins, including at Glorious Goodwood in the 2m5f race, which she looked to find sharp enough. Poor run last time but couldn’t rule her out.

9. PLATINUM - Progressive and the manner of his recent hat-trick is more impressive than the bare form. Wouldn’t be without a chance of another win on this bigger stage.

10. CLOWANCE ESTATE - Only had 6-runs, stays well and jockey’s Grand National winning exploits will help in this marathon. One of the better outsiders for Roger Charlton.

11. SMOKY HILL - French raider so help! Nice pedigree, by Galileo out of a Danehill mare but French trainer only 1/22 when visiting the UK.

12. LIEUTENANT MILLER - Nicky Handerson, Ryan Moore, proven form in these races and all good, despite mark creeping up. Stall 32? Less good.

13. BROCKWELL - Probably needs 3-miles and behind Oriental Fox in the trial. First time hood interesting and sure to be staying on well.

14. MOIDORE - Hurdling will be on his agenda and whilst I had a long look, I couldn’t decide he is well handicapped.

15. BIG EASY - Philip Hobbs a man to fear in these races. Stall 36 nothing less than scary though.

16. SEASIDE SIZZLER - Third at Royal Ascot and Glorious Goodwood off similar marks and will find this a mere sprint. Lots to like if the ground stays decent but stall 35 upsetting.

18. WATER CLOCK - Potential to improve but his pedigree does not suggest he wants this far.

19. COSIMO DE MEDICI - You need to have a brave heart and not sure this fellow quite has the requisite courage.

20. ALBERT BRIDGE - Seventh last year a fair effort. Ran twice in 2-days at Ayr last month after a summer break and so should be fit. Needs to find something though.

21. COUSIN KHEE - Stays well, poor draw, doesn’t stand out.

22. NANTON - Legendary 11-y-o but surely this can’t be a fairytale end to a brave career?

23. POYLE THOMAS - Not certain on pedigree to appreciate quite this far

24. EAGLE ROCK - Stamina his forte but beaten 48-lengths in the trial & drawn 33.

25. RECESSION PROOF - No show on comeback after 18-month break.

26. TAGLIETELLE - Disappointing last 3-runs and does not appear to be up to winning this.

27. SOHAR - Well beaten last time.

28. LOS NADIS - Do well to be winning this as a 9-y-o.

29. FLASHMAN - Looks short of this class on racecourse evidence.

30. SIGN MANUAL - Royal runner who should win more races but probably not this one.

31. SWINGING HAWK - Out of depth 7-y-o

32. HIGH OFFICE - 4/41 career record.

33. MERCHANT OF DUBAI - Last 3-races read ‘666’. Devil at work if this 8-y-o wins.

34. JONNY DELTA - Out of the handicap, 32-races, not good enough.

Toorak Handicap preview

Caulfield's great day of racing doesn't stop with the 'stallion maker' race, the Toorak Handicap is one of Melbourne's great races. A traditionally tough mile race under handicap conditions. Providing the preview for this great contest is Melbourne form expert Racetrack Ralphy Horowitz, @rtralphy, whose work can be found on his iPhone app, or now via his website which offers a lot more premium content - Racetrack Ralphy.

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Toorak Handicap G1 1600m

1. Linton $12 Was a monster-looking run first-up here last start when fifth after covering ground near the speed over 1400, and notionally should be improved second up over the mile. That race wasn't overly quick early, and for mine covering ground for him as a strong fresh horse wasn't a disadvantage. As such second-up and still under the big weight, he'll need all the breaks to go his way.

2. Solzhenitsyn $5 Just didn't get a chance to roll with his usual strength and momentum last start after a monster first-up chasing effort behind Riva de Lago when serving it up to the high-balling Rain Affair. He should leap and peak here third-up off that, and despite 6kgs more than last year, is up to it as a proven strong weight carrier.

3. Luckygray Was strong late last start when closing hard in traffic. His WA form is best at this distance, and he looks to be set for this in his first prep for Smerdon. A chance with all the breaks for the big-race specialist at this track in Dunn.

4. December Draw Finished OK last start here over 1400 at $51 and should be better suited here over the mile. Rodd will probably bowl him forward and make it a staying test suiting his 2000 ability.

5. Ferlax May have peaked when second to Atlantic Jewel two starts back and even with some Ollie magic steering, has to leap in performance from his last run AND overcome the poor barrier. His Australian Guineas win was in fast time over this distance.

6. Speediness $12 Was a monster closing run in the Rupert Clark over 1400 and notionally should be suited by the extra distance here. However the barrier and his racing style almost commits him to right back and looping the field and that is a tough ask.

7. Budriguez Is bulldog tough when out in front and happy, having won an amazing 12 races through his career, but he hasn't finished close enough at either start this time in to follow here.

8. Yosei Is a spiker who generally puts in one monster run per prep. However she last won in June 2011, and that is the profile of an animal I avoid.

9. Lord of Brazil $12 Is a monster closing animal who didn't get the race shape to suit second up behind Blackie under 60kgs without market love. Baster needs to find the right back, and if the leaders are slowing, he could be hard to hold out with luck.

10. Mouro $10 Trialled like a bomb leading into his first-up run here over 1400 on a wet deck when unfortunately the luck just didn't come from his inside alley on a fence off day. He was super last prep beating Beaten Up prior to that galloper winning a Qld Group 1, before being picked off by Speediness. Bossy rides and still on the up with minimum weight. Has to be a strong chance.

11 Centennial Park $15 Was acceptable two starts back when stuck near the cooking Rain Affair speed, before looming without the killer punch behind Rain Drum last start with 59kgs. He should get a cheap run and carries the minimum weight which is rare for this horse. Obviously a chance in a wide race.

12. Trevieres Has good French handicap form but who knows how that lines up here? Will market weight but hope it gets beaten due to lack of exposed data and vision.

13. Dany The Fox Had every possible chance last start when 2.7L tenth as as such it's hard to see where the improvement comes from.

14. Mutual Trust Was negatively ridden last start and put in a good late surge when the race was over. Has some good quality Northern Hemisphere runs on his CV so can he leap forward off that last run? He is entitled to be good odds.

15. Blackie Is back racing well after a "lost" couple of years. Put in a strong mid-race surge to run away with a 1500m handicap at the Valley when in the right spot. This is much tougher and the race shape is unlikely to be as kind, so will be risking.

16. Transporter $12 Could be the sleeper here and particularly so if he can jump cleanly which he often doesn't. He's won eight races in Qld with four of them (and another four placings) from nine starts this distance. His winter form holds up with both Solzhenitsyn (beaten a head at level weights when a well-backed second favourite) and Foreteller (third to his second with a nose between them at 1800 Group 2 level) and significantly both of these runs were under 59kgs at WFA. His Randwick and Rosehill starts have both been acceptable with 57kgs in strong races.

17.Bass Strait $10 Has stepped it up a serious level this prep, starting off with two super closing efforts with the second a monsterand unlucky finish behind Fiorente when 1.0L fifth. He followed it up in a contrasting high pressure race here over 1700 when able to hang on best late in a comfortable win in a terrific overall time. If he springs rather than gets flattened off that, he can win.

Speed Map



Summary
As you'd expect from a 17 horse handicap mile, this is an open race! SOLZHENITSYN looks set to peak for back-to-back wins and for mine is entitled to be favourite. Outside of that it's really open. MOURO also looks set to peak and ticks every box from a jockey, trainer, barrier, distance, weight, form and fitness perspective and that's a fair start! BASS STRAIT is shaping great this time in and is the one I'm worried about running naked for me. SPEEDINESS for mine is overbet due to his hard-charging run last start as he gets McDonald (poor Melbourne stats) and a poor barrier, and LINTON also looks a bit short due to his wide run last start. For mine the best roughies are TRANSPORTER who lines up well with the favourite and CENTENNIAL PARK who gets a cheap run with monster weight relief and strong Sydney data.

SUGGESTED BET: 5 win units SOLZHENITSYN. 2 win units MOURO and TRANSPORTER. 1 win unit CENTENNIAL PARK. And hope!