Saturday, 28 December 2013

Ryanair Hurdle preview

The Lexus Chase was a mouth-watering contest but the Ryanair Hurdle has to trump it. The best hurdler we've seen since Istabraq with a serious challenge on his hands from the newer kids on the block...

Taking the reins is another new contributor - welcome aboard Andrew Humphrey, @ashsh.

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Ryanair Hurdle

Leopardstown welcomes a gathering of the best two mile hurdlers in the world as it hosts the Ryanair Hurdle tomorrow at 2:00pm. The undulating nature of the course is both a test of stamina and speed, much of the form seen here is translatable to the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival. The magnificent Hurricane Fly has amassed two Champion Hurdle trophies after winning this race and the great Istabraq completed the feat three times between December 97 and March 2000. It is what some might call, an Irish Champion Hurdle Trial.

The 2013 running of this race could be one of the best races, not just of the year but in the recent history of the race. The incomparable record of Hurricane Fly is under serious danger and he will have to fend off the highly thought of and respected younger horses going straight for him. The battle does not end with the horses, the two maestros of modern jump racing Ruby Walsh and AP McCoy will also collide in a battle that could go down to the line.

It would be unfair to start off with anyone but Hurricane Fly. The 9yo trained by the unstoppable Willie Mullins comes in favourite for the race after his workmanlike winning of the Morgiana Hurdle in November. With three Winter Festival Hurdles under his already bulging belt, the Fly comes up against arguably the best competitors he has faced in this race before. In his previous 10 starts in Ireland, only once has the nine year old been above Evens which is a testament to his quality but possibly also the opposition he has come up against. Ruby Walsh takes the ride and the relationship the two have is almost telepathic. The ground will not be a problem as the last three runnings of this race have been on a surface very similar to what is expected. This may be the toughest test that the Fly has ever encountered on any of his runs and some may say it is finally the race that will make or break the quality of this 9yo. The ground and the jockey are not the problems for this record breaker; the competition is.

Our Conor came like a bolt from the blue at the Cheltenham Festival last year, storming up the hill under the then less-commonly known jockey Bryan Cooper to whitewash his fellow competitors in the Triumph Hurdle. It was a day that the racing world stood up and saw what could be one of the superstars of the future. The four year old was entered for the Morgiana in which he would have faced Hurricane Fly but was pulled out, depriving racing fans of the battle they were so keen to see. Trainer Dessie Hughes has reported that his superstar is 100% ready for the race and that means bad news for his rivals. The lead up to this race however is something people may take note of, since his win in March, the 4yo has had a single run out coming in October in a handicap. Another worry for some is the jockey change. Bryan Cooper led him to victory at Cheltenham but after being purchased by Barry Connell his retained rider Danny Mullins now becomes the future jockey, this may unnerve some but with a weight for age claim of four pounds, he has a big chance. The question remains, how he will run fresh?

Jezki represents the yard of Mrs Jessie Harrington and owner JP McManus. The Harrington yard isn’t in the greatest of form but this horse is without doubt the superstar of the stable. The 5yo comes into this race unbeaten in his last three races overcoming recent winners such as Zaidpour and Champagne Fever, who had previously beaten him by 2.75 lengths. This horse has come on leaps and bounds since his defeat in the Supreme Novices at this years Cheltenham Festival, improvements in his jumping have seen him gain lengths on horses and use his raw speed to overcome others and secure two Grade 1 races. Course and distance form are both in the bag for this five year old after winning the Future Champion Novices Hurdle in 2012 in which he beat Bright New Dawn on a surface much like what is expected. Bright New Dawn has franked the form by coming out and winning himself recently at Punchestown. This horse has been somewhat overshadowed by the two leaders in the market due to their Festival wins but under the guidance of AP McCoy, there is real chance that an upset could be on the cards. If the jumping is fluid, the speed is there deep within this horse to really threaten the other two and it is not outside the realms of possibility that Jezki can come away from this race with a win.

The two outsiders of the race are Thousand Stars and Captain Cee Bee. The pair are aged nine and 12 respectively and seem to be well out of their depth. Captain Cee Bee has come up against Hurricane Fly before three times albeit being beaten by over 53 lengths combined. Thousand Stars is a stable mate of Hurricane Fly and it is conceivable that Willie Mullins will use him as a pacemaker for the Fly. Without a win since 2009 it is huge ask for this horse to come out and defeat any of the other four horses in the race.

This will be one of the races of the year without doubt. It will be a great tactical affair between Mullins, McCoy and Walsh to see who will make the pace and break first. To conclude, I have to throw my hat in the HURRICANE FLY ring. The knowledge of Walsh mixed in with the gusty determination of the Fly will see them narrowly overcome Jezki and extend the proof of his quality to the world.

Topaz Novice Chase preview

The Christmas Festival at Leopardstown continues tomorrow with a couple more Grade 1 races. The obvious choice for new contributor Andy Stewart would have been the Ryanair Hurdle but he's gone for the lower profile contest instead. You can follow him on @redofpurple.

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Topaz Novice Chase

With Ballycasey being taken out of the race it has lost a little bit of its intrigue, but the race still has some high class horses involved and it means Ruby Walsh is available to keep the ride on the favourite Morning Assembly.

Morning Assembly - Has won his last three races on the spin, including a Grade 1 Novice hurdle at the Punchestown Festival at the end of April where he comfortably beat the current RSA Chase favourite (and absentee from this race at 48hrs decs) Ballycasey by seven lengths. After this he started his chased career, winning over 20f at Punchestown, beating Si C'Etait Vrai by 3 3/4 lengths before beating the same rival again by 22 lengths when upped to 22f in the Grade 2 Florida Pearl Novices Chase where he also beat off Don Cossack, who himself had won his previous start by 22 lengths at Galway. Don Cossack went on to win the Grade 1 Drinmore Novices Chase after his defeat to Morning Assembly so the form of this race is strong and certainly sets the standard.

Bright New Dawn - A high class novice hurdler with an OR of 144, he has some useful form behind the likes of Champagne Fever and Jezki. He made his chase debut three weeks ago where he made the running and won at Punchestown over 20f where he beat Dogora by a 1/2 length. He was made to work harder than probably hoped for a chase debut but he did it well and the expectancy from the yard is he was going to make a better chaser than hurdler. Coming into a Grade 1 Chase with just the one previous start over fences is not always the best of preparations but he remains open to improvement for experience and trip.

Fox Rock - A lightly raced 5yo, he had a lowly hurdle rating of 129, but he looks to have left that well behind already. On his chase debut he finished a two-length runner-up to the smart Road To Riches (contested two Grade 1s since) and then won his next race over 21f at Fairyhouse where the trip would have been more to his liking. Whilst this is a big step up in class he appears to be going forwards and will have no problems with the three miles on soft ground.

Carlingford Lough - You can make a case for this horse on the form book. He has an OR of 150 and finished second last time out to Don Cossack in the Grade 1 Drinmore. However, he has one chase win from 11 starts and I'd expect something to improve past him. Three miles and soft ground look suitable for him.

Sizing Rio - Another promising 5yo in the race, he appears to be at his best in testing conditions. Both his chase wins have come on soft & heavy ground, winning by six and 10 lengths respectively. Last time out he finished 12 lengths behind Don Cossack when the going was good/yielding so he should perhaps be given the benefit of the doubt if indeed soft ground is what he needs. The trip of three miles is a question mark as he did not try that distance in his hurdling days.

Mad Brian - Has a hurdle rating of 127 and has already improved on that to the best part of a stone. He won his chase debut back in May over 22f at Killarney on soft ground, so the conditions of this race seem suitable. Although he is still lightly raced over fences, he was beaten in a handicap last time out off a mark of 132, the form of that race has been franked by Rockaboya since so it was a good performance, but I feel that sphere is where he'll stand a better chance of winning a nice prize.

Conclusion
With Ruby Walsh being free to ride in the race and the fact Morning Assembly's form is of a high standard I see no reason to oppose him. Bright New Dawn is highly regarded and has to be respected with classy novice hurdle form in the book but if I were to save on anything in the race it would be Fox Rock who has the slight edge on chase experience.

2pts Win Morning Assembly 11/8, William Hill.

Friday, 27 December 2013

Welsh National preview

It's gonna be mighty wet again tomorrow at Chepstow, seems pretty normal for this time of year. Taking the reins to preview the time-honoured Welsh National is another blog debutant, Adam Webb, @adamwebb121. You can also read more of his work on his blog.

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Welsh National

Chepstow’s showpiece of the entire year takes place tomorrow at 2:35 with the gruelling Coral Welsh National over three miles five furlongs. Previous winners of this race have gone on to even greater successes including the Cheltenham Gold Cup with the likes of Cool Ground, Master Oats and more recently Synchronised all taking this race before going on to land the blue riband of steeplechasing. This race has also shown potential clues towards the Grand National itself with Earth Summit doing the double in the 1997/98 season whilst Silver Birch took this in 2004 before going on to Aintree glory in 2007.

This year’s race looks a competitive renewal especially with the top class Tidal Bay lining up which has kept the weights down for some potential improvers plus this will have appealed to trainers of horses with a higher handicap rating to take their chances.

Heading the market are Well Refreshed and Goonyella with most bookmakers unable to split them. Well Refreshed has looked an ideal type for this race when bolting up in the Sussex National at Plumpton by 28 lengths before improving from that effort to take the Grand National Trial at Haydock but not before demolishing the final fence. His last run of the season in the Bet365 Gold Cup can be ignored. His comeback at Cheltenham was to blow the cobwebs off before an excellent run last time out when third at Sandown on ground conditions that would have been quick enough for him. Tomorrow’s conditions will suit him perfectly but the main concern for Gary Moore’s stayer is whether his jumping will stand the test.

Goonyella is a rare Irish representative but the trainer and jockey teamed up with Notre Pere back in 2008 so they know what type of horse is needed. He began last season as a hunter chaser which included form with top Irish hunters Salsify and Tammy’s Hill at Leopardstown back in February. He was well fancied for the Irish National but his saddle slipped early on however he confirmed his promise as a future staying handicap chaser when winning the 3m6f handicap at the Punchestown festival beating Vesper Bell. He ran an excellent trial for this when sixth behind Cootamundra in the Troytown on ground quicker than ideal. He has a leading chance but my worry is whether he has enough experience for a six year old.

Emma Lavelle has had a much better season with her horses being in really good form. Her representative is the admirable Highland Lodge who has some strong handicap form this season with his run in the Hennessy behind Triolo D’Alene looking full of promise considering the ground was lively enough plus the pace he set up front was strong. Back on his favoured soft ground over this trip, he must go very close. Jonjo O’Neill had two leading chances however Alfie Sherrin hasn’t been declared but he still has a live chance with Merry King who caught the eye as well in the Hennessy when staying on stoutly from the back of the field to finish fifth. Like Goonyella, the concern would be whether he has enough experience for a race as demanding as this.

Paul Nicholls has two runners but the most interesting is top weight Tidal Bay. The last top weight to win the Welsh National was the sensational Carvill’s Hill back in 1991 and this horse can follow in his footsteps. His return to action this season was the perfect pipe-opener with a second success in the Bet365 Hurdle at Wetherby where he sprinted to beat Medinas before looking one pace in the questionable Betfair Chase behind Cue Card. Although he is the only horse carrying over eleven stone tomorrow, Daryl Jacob rode this horse to victory in similar conditions in the 2012 Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown and the plan would be to use the same tactics of picking off his rivals one by one. Since going to Nicholls, he has been a rejuvenated character and even though he is in the veteran stage of his career, it would not be a huge surprise if he could win this.

Nicholls' other contender is Hawkes Point who looks to be wanting a marathon test and his fourth over the course last time out behind De La Bech will have put him spot on for this however whether he is capable of taking this is debatable. Mountainous was third in the same race and loves this type of ground and should have some improvement over the longer trip.

Last year’s runner-up Teaforthree returns after his heroic effort in both this and the Grand National where he ran a fine race when third behind Aurora’s Encore. This is a tough ask on his return plus he has looked to need his first run over the last few seasons but he could sneak into a place if one or two run below expectations. Hey Big Spender has looked back to his old self this season with two excellent runs especially last time out when winning the Rehearsal Chase at Newcastle. He runs here with a four pound penalty and would have place claims. Vintage Star was second that day but looked a useful novice last season before being overfaced in the RSA Chase. He would need to jump better to figure in this.

Goulanes heads the David Pipe trio but has to overcome a hugely disappointing effort at Cheltenham on his return to action. First time blinkers tomorrow are a positive to improve the horse but his lack of experience over fences would be the issue. Amigo has shown nothing lately to merit any attention however his third entry Ace High is the most interesting of the bigger priced horses. He changed trainers after his first run at Cheltenham where he was beaten 90 lengths by Balthazar King from Victor Dartnall to David Pipe. After that, his last run at Haydock showed plenty of promise when carrying top weight behind Nuts N Bolts. As a front runner, he can keep out of trouble plus he travels strongly through his races which is key in a race like this.

The form also ties in with another runner in Red Rocco who also has a big each way chance and both look overpriced.

To conclude, TIDAL BAY is the one to beat even with top weight and can show his younger rivals how to do it with Highland Lodge, Ace High and Red Rocco following him home.

Lexus Chase preview

The focus may have been on Kempton for the last couple of days but the Christmas Festival at Leopardstown is similarly high in quality. The King George shone the spotlight on the UK's best Gold Cup hopefuls, and the Lexus Chase does the same for the Irish contingent.

Making his debut on the blog is the astute Nick Palfrey, @8palfrey8, and you can read more of his work on his blog.

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Lexus Chase

Saturday's Lexus Chase from Leopardstown is a high class renewal that features three top class chasers at the head of the market who all have something to prove after disappointing starts to the campaign.

Bob's Worth makes the trip from Nicky Henderson's yard at Seven Barrows hoping to makes amends after a terribly lacklustre effort in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last month. He's a formidable contender on his best form but how likely are we to see that tomorrow? On the one hand Haydock is a very flat left handed track that plainly didn't suit him and it might not have been the best idea pitching him in first time out in one of the best staying chaser line-ups of recent times. So with a run behind him we can reasonably expect some sort of improvement tomorrow. The problem for me is his breathtaking win in the Gold Cup in March was such a lung bursting effort, one in which he was off the bridle four out, that there is the possibility it might have bottomed him to some extent and it might take a while to get him back. He's the sort of game, honest battler that leaves it all behind in his races and he isn't the type to take a lot of racing. At 2/1 for this I would respect him but I think he's worth opposing

Sir Des Champs had what looked a horror fall at the third fence in the John Durkan at Punchestown first time out but happily he's obviously recovered taking his chance as he does in this. The problem with this horse is the possibility that that tumble has knocked his confidence. I would also add that he was far from fluent at a number of obstacles twelve months ago in this very race. I think those two doubts are big enough to give him a swerve. I expect him to be a massive contender for the Gold Cup on good ground at Cheltenham but this time of year on rain softened ground on a course he has had problems at in the past I wouldn't really have him in my mind as the likeliest winner.

First Lieutenant was the only staying chaser in training who ran at all three of the big spring time Festivals at Cheltenham, Aintree and Punchestown last season. He ran creditably in all three of the races he ran in, winning at Aintree, and it stands to reason that his connections would have wanted to give him a nice quiet summer in a field somewhere before a similar campaign. With that in mind, the possibility that he might well run in all the big events in March and April, it would seem obvious that his trainer wouldn't have him cherry ripe for his first couple of runs in the Autumn. Indeed his profile, even as a novice, was of a horse who started the season slowly. So I'm going to forgive him his first two runs this campaign at Punchestown and Down Royal. He's an honest horse who jumps well and I can only think those two poor runs was a result of lacking proper fitness. At 5/1 he strikes as a fair bet. He was in front of Sir Des Champs in the race last year.

Paul Nicholls is a trainer in great form and he has taken this race a couple of times in the past. His contender, Unioniste, is a talented young chaser on the up but he looks awfully short for this at a top priced 7/1. He's actually five points shorter in the betting than Lord Windermere who had him nine lengths in arrears a the line in the RSA at Cheltenham. Yes, Jim Culloty's charge was disappointing in the Hennessy at Newbury but he was hampered by the fall of another horse when going well and I expect him to outrun his price tomorrow. 12/1 is decent value.

The others all look outclassed in what is a smashing renewal of Ireland's best chase although I wouldn't put anyone off having a small each way on Lyreen Legend at around 20/1. He also ran well in the RSA and is a touch overpriced.

Conclusion: I think there are enough doubts about Bob's Worth and Sir Des Champ at their respective best prices of 9/4 and 3/1 to want to take them on and I'll be going in double handed with First Lieutenant at 5/1 and Lord Windermere each way at 12/1.

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas Hurdle preview

It's not just the King George at Kempton on Thursday, it's a quality card all round including a mouth-watering contest in the Christmas Hurdle. Yet another new contributor, Andrew Downes, @17forlife has put sharp thoughts onto 'paper' for this one...

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Christmas Hurdle

When you talk about Boxing Day in the horse racing world, most people think about the King George and rightly so, it’s a fantastic race but this year it could easily end up playing second fiddle to a mouthwatering Christmas Hurdle. Two outstanding English Champion Hurdle contenders in My Tent Or Yours (MTOY) and The New One (TNO) who lock horns for the first time since their Aintree champion bumper battle two years ago.

This Grade One hurdle is of course, according to the race card at least, not a two horse race. It says all you need to know about the two market principles that the other four runners only get a small mention in this race preview. They include a Grade 1 winner and a Greatwood runner-up who placed in a Grade 1 at the Cheltenham Festival 2013. That alone speaks volumes about how good these two principals are.

The rest are probably led by Sametegal (Paul Nicholls, Official Rating 150).
Plugged on for third in a below-par Triumph Hurdle before clearly improving over the summer when he finished a cracking second in the Greatwood. The odds are that he is still improving but the problem for this likeable sort is that so are the big two. We have to look at the fact he couldn’t win a handicap off 144 and if this was a handicap he’d be getting almost a stone and a half off The New One. He’s relatively easily dismissed.

Grumeti (Alan King, Official Rating 151), winner of the Grade 1 Juvenile Hurdle at the Grand National Festival 2012, is higher rated than Sametegal however doesn’t look to have the improvement of the other 3. He always looked a strong, well developed juvenile who lacked the scope to really improve the amount he needs to in order to danger the market principles. He missed the entire previous jump season and has returned with two solid enough runs, one in a handicap off 153 and the other behind My Tent or Yours. Put into the mix the virus in the Alan King yard and Grumeti is fighting for third, nothing more.

The rest are in my opinion quite easily ignored;

Duke of Navan is simply below the level of these four.

The 500/1 outsider Chapel House will pick up £1,340 if he jumps round and quite a bit more should anything happen to the others. The owners can enjoy a day out and a guaranteed pay day, nice bit of placing if you ask me. (Ed. - unlikely, he's been pulled up at seven of his last eight runs!)

Now onto the big two, what a Christmas cracker this looks to be!
It’s been well documented that this season’s champion hurdle looks potentially the best renewal in a long time, it’s definitely the most exciting due to the amount of young, top quality hurdlers of which we really have no idea who is the best of them. There is however no doubt that these two here are the best England has to offer. The Neptune winner against a close second in the Supreme. Both of them confirmed their well-being and improvement in their seasonal re-appearance which catapulted them to the top two of the Champion hurdle betting. I’m getting excited for the race just writing about them!

My Tent Or Yours (N Henderson, Official Rating 160)
This strong travelling horse was second to this race’s rival in the 2012 Aintree Bumper, winner of the Betfair Hurdle, a close second to Champagne Fever (current 7/4 favourite for the Arkle) in the Supreme and an easy Fighting Fifth winner. His record on paper screams Champion Hurdle contender but videos of his races scream superstar. Anyone who has watched this lad’s races cannot fail to notice how well he travels all over top, top class horses. He is accused of not finishing his races after getting out fought twice in big contests however another summer of growing both mentally and physically means I believe this lad will finally fulfill his unbelievable potential.

Importantly he has shown that he is tactically adaptable. He sprinted clear of a slow pace in the Betfair Hurdle and then travelled well off a strong pace in Supreme before not quite getting past the very good winner. He is also versatile ground wise, won his Betfair Hurdle on soft (which it is certainly going to be on Boxing day).

The New One is a beautiful animal. His popular owners, the father and son trainer and jockey combination and his big local success in March have meant he is one of the most popular horses in training. He certainly has the talent to go with his popularity. Aside from being a taking winner of the Neptune, he then showed he was up to taking on the big boys with a neck defeat by Zarkandar in the Grade 1 2m4f Aintree hurdle. This year he impressively but not surprisingly showed that he has improved a great deal when easily brushing aside that same rival in the 74k International hurdle at Cheltenham as recently as last week.

So who is the likely winner?

Personally I think it is nigh on impossible to have a strong opinion that one horse is much better than the other at this stage, given their close bumper form and their obvious improvement since. It then comes down to tactics. There is a serious danger of there being no pace on in this race. None of the main five have led in recent races and quite a few take a keen hold so are unlikely to be allowed free rein to lead. This has to help The New One who settles far better than his rival however My Tent or Yours has reportedly been settling better at home and has had a race to take the freshness out of him. With the legend that is AP McCoy doing the steering it won’t be for lack of strength in the saddle to help him settle.

It will then come down to speed; they both have it in abundance although I believe MTOY is the quicker of the two. His rival has raced over further in his novice season and whilst he clearly isn’t slow he appears to have one quick burst of speed and if that’s not enough he could be in trouble. This is where I think MTOY will have the advantage. He has shown he can quicken off a slow pace in the Betfair Hurdle, he has shown that he has flick of a switch type speed. However the tactics pan out MTOY can cope whereas Sam Twiston-Davies needs to get the timing spot on to win in my opinion. He got it wrong against At Fishers Cross on trials day and lost but got it right in the Neptune.

I have deliberately not discussed the ground as they have both proved they handle all types of surface. The forecast for the next few days isn’t too bad and Kempton aren’t expecting much more rain before race time so I think we can expect soft ground, not heavy.

The one other factor which has had a big influence on me swaying with MTOY is the track. Kempton is completely different to Cheltenham especially in the finish. MTOY, as previously stated, hasn’t shown a love of a stiff finish however on a flat track like Newbury and Ascot, he has shown he sees out the 2m very strongly, were this race at Cheltenham in March my selection could well be the other challenger but I feel he needs that stiff finish.

I’m not going to patronise people and talk about the price, they are pretty much the same price around the 11/10 mark and that isn’t going to alter enough to change anyone’s bet. I recommend a bet on MTOY trusting that he settles and knowing that he has the quicker turn of foot on a flat track.

Selection: My Tent or Yours 11/10.

Monday, 23 December 2013

King George Chase preview

If Xmas bores you to tears, then you'll probably be straight into the form while the rest of the family crowd around the telly watching some old grey-haired bird ramble on. The King George VI Chase will probably be run at Kempton on Thursday afternoon (I say probably because the weather is awful in south-west London tonight with worse to come apparently), and it's a cracking field. Another new contributor, @tenembassy tackles the big race head on...

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King George Chase – Boxing Day, Kempton

Incredible to think that over the last nine years that only three horses have won this event, thanks mainly to Kauto Star giving no-one a look in between 2006-2009 and then regaining his crown in 2011. Long Run in 2010 and 2012 and Kicking King 2004-2005 are the other winners. Since Edredon Bleu in 2003 no winner has been bigger than 9-2. Recent winners had just the one seasonal run before coming here, although Kicking King needed two and three runs respectively before his victories.

Al Ferof (P Nicholls, 11-10, 4-1)
Four wins from just the seven chase starts, the chasing highlight of which was victory in the 2011 Paddy Power Gold Cup, and hurdling, his Supreme Novice victory over Spirit Son, Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card. Was thought of as a two and a half miler by connections for a long time and in the early part of his career his jumping was considered an issue (fell in a point and a novice hurdle) but that’s much better these days and he’s generally very good at his fences. Will be interesting to see how he takes the preliminaries as well (has got warm and left his race in the paddock before). Given that Supreme win, he clearly has the class to figure and the step up in trip, although an unknown, should be no issue around this tight track, given he’s a good traveller. Possibly a little bit under his right price now, as this is his acid test, but if all the pieces fall together on the day, a major player.

Champion Court (M Keighley, 11-10, 40-1)
Did nothing last time in the Peterborough Chase but confirm the impression I already have of him, in that he’s best in level weights contests almost regardless of the class of it. Showed his Paddy Power running to be all wrong (trainer basically said he thought he had belly ache) and seems to run his best races when he’s pushed from the start, as he was in this event last year. Continually forcing the pace with Junior, he’s the sort of horse that keeps trying but ultimately that’s to his cost at the business end of races. What he might do here, however, is make this an interesting contest as far as Cue Card goes – are they going to take each other on early and burn each other out, or will Joe be happy to settle in behind? Not had long to get over Huntingdon either.

Cue Card (C Tizzard, 11-10, 11-4)
First of all, let’s get the smokescreen of “trainer form” out of the way. Much is made of trainer form, in that if you’re not having a load of winners you must be out of form, but that’s nonsense. What you want to see is consistency from the stable, with horses running to their marks, and as far as that goes, there’s no problem whatsoever from this yard. In fact, I thought it was a strange statement for Colin to make – we have a virus, but that’s not why they are running below form (which they aren’t), it was almost sounded like he was getting the excuses in early.

So to the horse. Things we now know we didn’t this time last year – he definitely gets three miles and he’s better when given his head. So let’s forget all about his run in this last year for a start, where he was held up and two serious mistakes early did for him. Even with those mistakes he still looked a danger four out but tired very quickly after that. Since then he’s gone from strength to strength – gave them all a running lesson in the Ryanair (two small mistakes), a very respectable run against Sprinter Sacre at Aintree and then victory over three of his rivals today in the Betfair Chase, laying to rest those ghosts about whether he stays in good fashion. As stated, if I have a worry it’s that Champion Court is going to want the lead – he will find him a lot harder to shake off than Roi Du Mee at Haydock – which might leave him vulnerable to something ridden with a bit more patience. But given his profile, he’s a worthy favourite.

Dynaste (D Pipe, 11-10, 3-1)
I think there can be little doubt now that they got it wrong at Cheltenham and that they should have gone for the RSA rather than the Jewson – he’s clearly better over three miles, and Kempton is going to suit him better than Haydock and Cheltenham too. Not difficult to be impressed with his win in the Feltham here last season, where he had it in the bag a long way out with a fine display of jumping in the main (remind you of anyone…..Grands Cru, maybe?) and whilst the Jewson was disappointing (surrounded by horses very much his inferiors at the finish) he did nothing wrong at Aintree and again in the Betfair, just getting tired on the long run in. Will travel better than plenty of these in the race, and the key will be for Tom Scudamore not to get giddy and go for home too soon, as he sometimes does…..

Long Run (N Henderson, 11-10, 10-1)
He’s gone at the game, hasn’t he? Some facts – hasn’t clocked a top class speed figure since his third to Synchronised in the 2012 Gold Cup (and for 12 months before that he was clocking them with tremendous consistency), his mark has been on a steady decline since that day too, and on this seasons form he’s no chance with at least three of these. And yet….something nags away at the back of your mind. This is what he’s been trained for, his chance to make it three wins in the race. His Kempton form reads 1211. With every drop of rain that falls (and there’s plenty coming) his chance increases, given he’s clearly lost some pace and looks more the out-and-out stayer these days. He’s another that is going to be ridden prominently, surely, as he’s happier with a show of the front, but even given the fact this is his race, this seasons form simply makes it too much of a leap of faith for him to come back to his best. Interestingly, declared with a visor, which looks a good move.

Menorah (P Hobbs, 11-10, 25-1)
Strictly on Cheltenham April form he should beat Champion Court easily (over a stone better off for 3/4l) and there’s a case to be made in as far as he’s unexposed at the trip – two attempts at it are chalk and cheese, but he seemed to just about get it when second to First Lieutenant at Aintree. No doubting his class – go back far enough and there’s a victory over Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti over hurdles – but the main problem with him has been his jumping. He has actually only fallen once, but nearly every line of form contains the words “mistakes”, “not fluent” or “hit fence”. Whilst he’s never going to be foot perfect, it would be fair to say it’s been better on his last two starts, but they were back in the Spring. Trying to win this fresh is a monumental task. Nevertheless, if there’s a surprise to be sprung, he’s most likely – his Kempton form reads 111, won’t mind rain and will get the race run to suit. If – and it’s a big if – he can avoid mistakes, he’s a chance.

Mount Benbulben (Gordon Elliott, 11-10, 14-1)
Another that needs a right-handed track to show his best. Had frequently appeared to come up short in Grade 1s until Punchestown this year, where he sauntered away from some useful rivals in the Grade 1 Novice Chase there. However, could well be that that piece of form is a little overrated – he went there a relatively fresh horse compared to most of his opponents who had hard races at Cheltenham, and certainly nothing he’d shown before indicated he was capable of such a performance. Even that form will need improving on here, and with his jumping occasionally leaving a bit to be desired too, he looks a bit short on price and not hard to pass over, but is another to ensure a good pace in the race.

Riverside Theatre (N Henderson, 11-10, 16-1)
Still a mystery to me how he won the Peterborough at Huntingdon recently, being on and off the bridle (mostly off it) and jumping very ragged at times, but he dug deep to deny Captain Chris and Champion Court on the run in. Obviously, many worries - one, he had a very hard race and he’s polling up here just a fortnight later, two he seems better at that sort of trip than further, and three, he’s had two goes in the race already, been beaten twice, and he isn’t getting any younger. Plenty of reason to oppose and not many not to.

Silviniaco Conti (P Nicholls, 11-10, 5-1)
The debate still rages on as to whether he would have won the Gold Cup this season but for crashing out 3 out, and as some of my money was on I’m probably pocket talking but I think he might have done. And undoubtedly all roads will lead to there again this season, but first he will try and pick up a good prize here. A little worrying that on his one run around Kempton he seemed a little uneasy on the track but that was back in his novice days so it’s probably best to forgive that. For me the highlight was watching him jump Long Run and the rest of them silly in last years Betfair Chase – one of the few times he’s made the running – and it’s worth remembering Cue Card had the fitness advantage in this years renewal of that event, and he ought to get closer today. Noel Fehily is a good booking for him, he’s 2-4 on the horse, I think a soft pair of hands is just what he needs, and he’s every chance of victory here.

For me, it’s all set up for Dynaste to claim the crown on a track he seemed to skip around the last time he was here. The key is the pace in the race, and it’s not hard to see Champion Court, Cue Card, Mount Benbulben and maybe even a visored Long Run all wanting a share of the front, which should play right into the strong-travelling Dynaste’s hands. I just don’t want to see Tom going for home too soon, sit tight until two out and then let his acceleration kick in. At bigger prices, it might be worth chancing Menorah puts a clear round in – if he’s going to win a big one over three miles it’ll be on a tight track, and he’s got enough class if he can brush up his jumping. Simply shouldn’t be the same price as Champion Court, regardless of their actual chances of winning the race.

Sunday, 22 December 2013

WTA Fantasy Tennis competition for 2014

After gathering a list of 34 entrants on very short notice last season, it's time to start again for 2014.

Ten quid to enter, lowest score counts from choosing players in 11 groups. The more that enter, the bigger the prize.

For more details, visit the WTATennisComp website.

Friday, 20 December 2013

Long Walk Hurdle preview

It might be Christmas time with racing winding down until it gets serious again on Boxing Day, but there's a decent G1 at Ascot tomorrow in the Long Walk Hurdle. Regular contributor Jon da Silva, @CreamOnTop, is never afraid to have an opinion....

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WESSEX YOUTH TRUST LONG WALK HURDLE

Assuming the Wessex Youth Trust did not put up money it does show the power of Ascot to fund a Grade 1 race. Of course the Youth Trust is the official charity of the renamed Prince Edward now the Duke of Wessex - one assumes for similar reasons to Windscale being renamed Sellafield, nuclear mishap after nuclear mishap still at least he did not marry Fergie or that mentalist Spencer.

I believe this race is the most stamina sapping Grade 1 in the calendar more so than the Stayers AKA World Hurdle which cut from 3m 2f to 3 miles when it changed courses at Cheltenham and some dodgy stayers have won/nearly won that. Ascot's last mile whilst not as steep as Cheltenham's final 2F is against the collar with no lung-filling breather.

At Fishers Cross 8/15
One of those who has been adopted by the National Hunt fans cos he won a novice race at the Cheltenham festival - see Michael Owen in football make a splash at 18 and never get any better and no one notices, sadly in racing people notice as your record lacks 1s. He's good and looked like being at least 2nd to Celestial Halo when landing awkwardly having bucked in the air (Quit?). The prevailing assumption he would have won last time but for the mistake seemed to me fanciful as Celestial Halo had a ton left and would be the faster horse. OR 161. The Pretender.

Reve de Sivola 7/2
Reve was well beaten at pan-flat Newbury by Celestial Halo and would also have been well beaten by At Fishers Cross (AFC) too but for that one's error. Off the bit the whole way it seemed in the World Hurdle in 4th behind a Solwhit/Celestial Halo 1 2. On heavy ground he strolled in 14 wickets clear of Smad Place (3rd in that World Hurdle) here last year. Chance really determined by the ground for me and needs most of the 26 furlongs. OR 160. The Holder.

Salubrious 9/1
Second last week in the Relkeel Hurdle. Prior ran well in a handicap and up to OR 153. No obvious reason for him to improve for further based on form. Beaten 6L over 19F at Newbury by AFC and 7.5L over 21F at Newbury by African Gold (2nd to AFC at Chel). May get run of the race up front but would require improvement (8 pounds on Official Ratings with AFC) or an under perform by the front 2 (possible) and had a hard slog last week to boot.

Time For Rupert 12/1
Been off a year and a half and chasing prior. Breaks blood vessels. However when a hurdler would have had some chance here having been beaten 5L by Mudlark Tidal Bay in the Cleeve and 3.5 into 2nd in the World Hurdle by Big Buck's both of whom might be fav here (BB certainly). You can make a case for him but it's been a long time since he showed top class form in any discipline. Beating The Giant Bolster on a flat track in retrospect did not make him a Gold Cup contender.

Sidebar: What a shame Tidal Bay never faced Big Buck's on soft/heavy ground OK BB likely have won but it would have been 2 furlongs to the rest.

Tweedledrum Any Price You Like
This horse has no chance and has been entered for prize-money and if he picks off something that tries to win or there is a non runner the 2 grand guaranteed goes to 4 grand. Entered elsewhere to boot.

Conclusion

There is a chance AFC is the dog's bollocks still and would have beaten the selection hollow at Newbury if he had not jumped one badly. Salubrious would have some sort of chance but I suspect a lot of use will be made of Reve here and there will be no advantage to a front runner. Time for Rupert returns and with his bleeding and physical problems is probably best caught first time up (it's not necessarily a great training performance when they win off breaks - following up is the training performance!).

However this is the race that should bring out the best in Reve de Sivola and the form of his win last year is the best on offer. Poor runs since would mostly be when speed was needed and this is his patch.

2 pts Reve de Sivola 7/2 (on my 1pt or 2pt scale yes I bet like a Limit Poker game)

Thursday, 19 December 2013

Recent media work

With the recent football match-fixing arrests in England, the phone has been rather busy. You may have caught me on Sky Sports News, ITV News (shocking edit in the national version!), a Radio 5 Live panel on the day it broke, but this piece published in the esteemed journal, New Scientist, of which I am most proud.

We have the tools to keep sport free of match-fixing

The advent of rapid, global online betting could make match-fixing rife. But technology to spot it is better than ever, says betting-industry expert Scott Ferguson

Sporting history is littered with allegations of match-fixing. There are any number of reasons why people attempt to rig the outcomes of contests, including politics, personal pride and for the benefit of both sides.

Read the full article here.

It may even go into print in a January edition.

Wednesday, 18 December 2013

this week's BC3/Ponzi/Vlahos update

The scandal is well and truly exposed now and with every new article published, we learn how much of a conman Bill Vlahos is. No degree from La Trobe Uni, no Westpac bank account containing millions, more and more ties with the shady element of society, more bills unpaid....

Bill Vlahos claims The Edge owes him $32m

Apparently the fund owes Bill money. Yeah, that excuse will fly... Not surprisingly, Vlahos has declared himself bankrupt.

David Hayes admits victims stung in Bill Vlahos punting club scandal must move on

As someone who has been caught in a Ponzi scheme ruse before (the Michael Bastion share market con), David Hayes has some pertinent advice for victims of Vlahos and The Edge.

Bill Vlahos company ties to underworld figure

Well, there's a shock. He's been accused of laundering tens of millions of dollars of bikie money through the scheme, so it was long odds-on there'd be strong personal ties identified somewhere.

Debts may force The Edge investors to sell up

"The accountant said most of the members were living the high life while they were ­receiving email updates showing their funds ballooning.

"Nobody is a squirrel. I never met anyone that was making money who didn't spend it," he said."


Surely an accountant (this one is said to have invested heavily in the scheme) should be able to do some maths before investing and work out what a scam it was? Which breakfast cereal packet did you get your qualification out of??

Investors count the cost as Bill Vlahos' racing bets club collapses

"On June 15 this year, racing identity Bill Vlahos claimed his punters club, The Edge, staked $13.8 million, including more than $8 million in Melbourne.
In a betting sheet sent to members, Mr Vlahos said he had backed the favourite in the second at Moonee Valley, Mr Make Believe, to the tune of $1.8 million. It finished last.
While Mr Vlahos claimed The Edge was down $6.7 million that day, over the longer term he boasted of returns of up to 218 per cent a year."

Here are some prime examples of why The Edge was a complete scam.
- Getting a return 218% over the course of a year, but investing more than $10 million per day. Simply impossible. Zeljko Ranogajec and his team who actually did their homework and exploited market inefficiencies and pool rebates, would not have expected an 18% profit (118% annual return).
- $1.8 million was supposedly bet on Mr Make Believe. The official betting fluctuations for the horse were opened $2.30, drifted to $3.20, firmed slightly to $3.10. There was only $184,360.60 in the Vic TAB win pool for that race, the home TAB and almost certainly the largest pool in the country, where it closed at $3. Without knowing the hold of the corporate bookies or looking up the interstate TABs, it's pretty obvious that $1.8m would have been more than the ENTIRE NATION staked on that race. By my rough calculations, just $50k, less than 3% of the alleged investment, would have sent the TAB price tumbling into odds-on.

Dollar Bill and The Sting

Seedy, seedy tales - the more you hear, you just ask yourself why didn't anybody notice?

Police, realtors, and VRC employee among punters' club members

Anyone and everyone was getting pulled into the scheme - anyone who didn't understand the maths of betting was a target. Actually, it was a Racing Victoria Ltd employee who invested (before he joined the organisation), not VRC as per the headline.

Bill Vlahos and his reckless punting had been stuff of racing legend - until now

It turns out Vlahos did actually bet himself (I have had this confirmed by a couple of firms)... and he was one of those accounts likely to have a big flashing light on it "MUG - let him on for whatever he wants".

Will the real Bill Vlahos please stand up?

"I was at the races one day with a mate of mine who is an accountant. We went up to have a bet and Bill Vlahos was coming the other way," said the (former accomplished) jockey.

"I said 'what are you backing?' and he said 'I'm having $2000 on this'. I said fair enough and asked could I have a look at his market. He had the horse a lot, lot shorter than me.

"I asked him how could he get it so short. He said 'I do this, that, this, that and that'. I asked my mate if he could work it out. He said 'f. k, it's beyond me'. Both of us still don't know what he was talking about."

Perhaps Vlahos himself provides the best clue as to the chances of success with The Edge, at least long-term. A recent e-mail from him to his members is titled Goodluck@fingerscrossed.com.au, hardly confidence building but seemingly prophetic.


Vlahos money trail probed

We are still yet to see any evidence that his 'Dubai-based business partner Daniel Maxwell' actually exists.

Racing Victoria issues statement to clarify status of BC3-owned racehorses

The 16% share in Belle Couture, the half-sister to Black Caviar, has been transferred to a new owner for an undisclosed sum.

The facts regarding BC3, Inglis and Jimmy

'Jimmy' the $5m colt is still recovering from laminitis at Werribee Veterinary Hospital. It is doubtful he will ever race, and if he does survive, he might be worth $1m if he can still go to stud. Inglis will have to cop a major loss here, but like any company, that's a business risk you have to take in order to operate.

Friday, 13 December 2013

Villiers Stakes preview

As the calendar year draws to a close, for Australian thoroughbred fans, that usually means the Perth carnival and the Villiers Stakes at Randwick. Well, usually it's at Randwick, this time they've elected to race on the controversial Kensington track which is inside the main course at NSW racing HQ. Providing the insightful preview for the race are those smart fellas at PremiumPunting. Check their site for details of their ratings, or follow them on Twitter via @premiumpunting.

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Villiers Stakes at Kensington
1550m G2 QUALITY 3YO+
Race 6 run at 4:30pm


Speed Map:

Likely to be an even speed with the leaders ticking along at a better than average clip. Listen Son will pounce from an inside draw leading a pair who will have to cross the field – chance for either Limes, Taxmeifyoucan or Monton to decide to either force the pair wide or to settle behind Listen Son in a more prominent position. Midfield settler Alma’s Fury will have a lovely opportunity of peeling out at the bend.

To view the speed map, click here

NB: We have listed the price of horses we have under $15.00, our rating shown.

1. COUP AY TEE
Freshened after a one paced fade in NZ. Have to entrust Waller, however it is never ideal for a horse to present into a G2 after being freshened when his fresh form is not convincing. Looks to be caught back along the rail needing luck. Has queries I doubt he can overcome.

2. WESTERN SYMBOL
Resuming after a 420d spell. Trial was interesting; he made ground on them late after settling back. Think jockey Berry will not concede too big of a head start to the leaders and drive early, parking just off midfield. Hard to get a true gauge on how the horse has returned until we see how he performs on race day.

3. ALMA’S FURY $7.60
We have predicted that he will return the highest weight rating in the race. Is ready to springboard after two identical ratings in his runs following a 59d let up. Sat on a slow speed last start and battled on strongly, not possessing the sprint of two fast and extremely talented horses White Sage and Terravista. Is peaking now and the speed map is enticing for jockey Clark to allow others to cross and work early, whilst he waits on them to tire in the straight before pouncing at the 300m. He has the closing sprint to catch them. Despite his concerning strike rate of 6/40, he can peak in this.

4. DESTINY’S KISS
Will have support. Has returned with two runs indicating that he will thrive over further ground and most will anticipate that he will boast a far higher performance figure 3rd up. However he only rises 50m in distance from last start and the tempo here is not fast enough for him to simply settle and blouse them. Expect a scenario similar to last start where he battled very well late. He will flourish over further ground deeper into this campaign.

5. SAID COM $9.40
Is typically enticing to the public as he is visually appealing at the closing 200m of a race where he makes good ground. Pace was against last start losing to Alma’s Fury, he settled midfield then battled on – as we see so regularly. He will have traffic ahead of him shall jockeys not fan wide at the bend, and unless he can reach full speed at the 300m he will not be capable of running over them. Has the appropriate jockey Hugh Bowman to determine an accurate path in the sprint for him to catch them and the tempo is slightly quicker than last start. Positives are always find when analysing him, however he has proved unprofitable often.

6. MONTON
Poor run last start and had his chance to pounce on Alma’s Fury if good enough. Hasn’t returned a rating that would win this since the start of 2013 where he was excellent in two performances. Hard to trust.

7. STRIKE THE STARS
Prior to last start he was on a steady rise and destined to peak. He settled in a back trail behind a slow speed then battled on one paced. Doubt sits in the final running line here, but he will be back and unless the tempo is fast and the leaders tire, it is unlikely he can produce a quick enough time over the final 400m to be factored as a winning hope. Risk at the current price.

8. NINTH LEGION $7.70
Margin unfair last start, sat on the speed in the White Sage race but was blocked for room when needing to wind up, then tightened at the 75m. margin of defeat can be ignored, it is more suitable to analyse his form immediately prior to last start. He was excellent two ago, beating a handy field when sitting on the speed and kicking at the 200m. He can gain the box seat here, trailing Listen Son with cover preserving enough energy to deliver a final kick. Is at peak fitness now and will return to his career best. Mighty hope.

9. SCREAM MACHINE $9.40
Barrier the immediate concern as he will most likely have to concede that he will settle last. Missed the kick at Goulburn then cruised to midfield and gathered good speed in the straight. Loses 4.5kgs which inevitably helps his closing speed and he has the ability to rate higher than last start given only three runs ago he returned a PB rating and was ridden poorly. Has to be driven at the horses in front of him early by Hyeronimus.

10. LISTEN SON $12.00
Freshened after an OK run at Eagle Farm leading a good speed and then fighting on well with 3kgs higher than he has today. Will lead this field and the pressure is not as strong as he had last run however the class of runners trailing him are better. He is 1/9 when first up which forces concern when looking at a 42d break into this and he has produced only 3 runs in his career that would win this. Will be caught.

11. SYSMO $9.00
Running well and doubt that a 35d break will have any threat to his improvement. Likely to peak as he presents 4th up here, similarly to last campaign where he peaked 4th up back from a spell. Will be well back, likely in the last line but he has the ability to round up horses quickly. It would be wise of jockey McDonald to drive just off midfield inside Western Symbol, but I doubt he will do that. Given he is a staying type, a move on the leaders prior to the bend at the 600m may not pose major concern to his energy level. His performance is largely dependent on the jockeys decisions. A chance off the right run.

12. TAXMEIFYOUCAN $7.40
Striking form at the right it time here. Has elevated his rating past 3 starts and presents here at his peak fitness. Ran a PB rating last start, camped 4LO them and battled on well to narrowly lose. Can find a nice position here tucked in, close enough to be driven at the leaders at the bend. It is unknown whether or not he can improve upon a career peak though a weight reduction of 4kg helps. He only needs slight improvement, credit his trainer if he is capable of doing so.

13. LIMES
Likely to reach a career high performance and repeat his form cycle of last campaign when peaking 4th up. Faced the breeze in a prominent position last start and battled one paced. Faces a concern from a speed map perspective here, jockey McEvoy has an immediate concern as he either settles back which is unfavourable to the horses racing pattern, or he concedes that he will be wide throughout the run. Is he capable of winning G2 when running further than his rivals? Unlikely.

14. ABALSON $8.50
In good form and the potential looms for him to improve further upon last start given he reached his (at the time) career best rating 6th up last campaign. Was excellent last start at Doomben on a heavy surface, settling outside the leader, taking over at the bend and running away with good speed to the line. Can gain the 1×1 here but has to pounce early or he will be trapped wide. Always interesting to see a horse step back from a heavy surface to a good 3, however he can handle this condition. Might look the winner approaching the bend.

Selections:

8,12,3,11

Recommended Bets:
2 units Alma’s Fury and 3 units Ninth Legion to win
2 units Absalon to place

Victoria Cup preview

One of the elite races on the Australasian Harness Racing calendar is the time-honoured Victoria Cup. Not a flashy sprint over a mile, nor a long standing start staying race, but a race at a standard distance under standard conditions, with only the very best invited. Making his debut on the blog is another of the Krahe family, this time's it Luke. You'll soon work out that astute knowledge of the harness game runs strong in this family. Read more of Luke's witterings via @LukeKrahe.

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The Victoria Cup
2240m mobile start.
Saturday Dec 14, 2127 AEDST, 1027 GMT.


The last Grand circuit event for the calendar year provides us with one of the more open in recent memory. Betting shops have come up with Miracle Mile winner BEAUTIDE as the favourite, although from Barrier 11 I dare say that the $4.40 on offer at the moment is gross unders. The draw is not as bad as it seems, I can see there being a 3 wide line the entire race, making horses that are drawn to be in the running line not as advantageous.

Even if you knew very little about harness racing, you would assume that Lance Justice will be pushing forward at the start and trying to find the top on the old warhorse SMOKEN UP, as his customary driving style (and don’t we all love him for it).

This leaves the question as to what the master Gavin Lang will do on the freakishly talented RESTREPO. He does have gate speed, and being a feature I don’t expect that Gavin will be trying one of his drives where he somehow finds himself 4 pegs from a good draw and drives for luck. I expect him to run the gate and try and cross to pegs first, and then hand up to Lance on SMOKEN UP who will no doubt appreciate an easier run than last year when the champ was basically 3 wide the journey.

Which brings us to last year's winner CARIBBEAN BLASTER. He seems to be going ok at the moment, without winning, and seems that there is always a bad luck story, wether it be the draw, driver or other uncontrollable factors. Will need to do no work in the run, and for Kate Gath to outdrive them. If my calculations are correct and RESTREPO tries to get to pegs first, it leaves me wondering what Scott Stewart on the hugely overrated, or should that be enigmatic, BITOBLISS will do from the pole? The horse has shown gate speed in the past, but will he want to get in a speed war with Gavin and Lance at the start? Although run some freakish races, he has never been one of mine, and never proven himself at this level consistently.

CHRISTEN ME , although drawn the car park is my selection in the race. As stated earlier I think that there will be a 3 wide line the entire race, and he will be the one benefiting with the trail into it at the right time. Can reel off unbelievable quarters and think that he will be there at the right time when the veteran up front is feeling every bit of that 11 years of age.

The other two with outside chances are FOR A REASON for team McCarthy, started favourite for the Miracle Mile last week, and had every chance. Will be thereabouts but drawn 9 I can just see him being bottled up when the runs are coming. Will take an exhibition from Luke, although I don’t think he drives near as good when not in his own backyard at Menangle.

John McCarthy’s raider TERRORWAY was enormous last week and although he was gallant in defeat last year here when worked to the front, I just think that John will be lost a little in this field, and without offending, doesn’t have the class and poise to do what Gavin (I know I have shown a lot of love for G Lang here, but if you saw his drive on Terrorway last week you wouldn’t be surprised) did on the horse last week. If John had of driven last week, it would have been a hard held 9th in the form guide.

Those with no chance either because they are not up to it or the draw has severely cruelled them are THE GOLD ACE (horrible draw and with only 2 other family members in the race?), WARTIME SWEETHEART (won the Popular Alm at cricket score odds last go, and will be again), MAH SISH (will get a soft pegs run as he did last year, and still wasn’t good enough and not sure how good he is going) and IM VICTORIOUS (certain people on social media will have you believe he deserves to be racing in these features in the east, I guess that’s the beauty of social media?)

My Selection: CHRISTEN ME to win.

Save your money on the exotics for another time, or maybe pool your trifecta and first 4 money in a guessing competition on how many times Greg Hayes says “TRIGGER” on the SKY coverage, which we hope is better than the 30 sec pre race that we were afforded Miracle Mile night by the producers at SKY. Should be a fascinating race.

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Friday update on racing's Ponzi scandal

The fallout from this one isn't going to stop anytime soon - more victims will emerge, more details will be revealed in court, and we still have heard very little about the health of 'Jimmy', the $5m half-brother to Black Caviar. Today's revelations guarantee a special series of the high-rating TV show Underbelly.

Links to the underworld run a little deeper than Bill Vlahos buying Pillar of Hercules for $1.8m when Racing Victoria decided Horty Mokbel was not a suitable person to be owning racehorses. It is alleged that a key member of the BC3 staff has dated "Freddie the Bear", a suspected drug trafficker, for several years. D'Amico regularly attended the races with his brother-in-law, the nephew of Melbourne gangster Mick Gatto. Coincidental?

The Age is leading with a story today that BC3 was a vehicle to launder money for criminals and bikie gangs. Hardly a surprise after reading the previous paragraph. Tens of millions of dollars is the figure quoted, from one gang alone.

Crims, outlaw bikies linked to punters club

You start to understand why Melbourne Football Club has been such a basket case for so long when its former chairman Don McLardy invested $168k into the scheme. Rich Americans weren't immune from getting caught up in the scam, a tax-dodging investment fund based in Bermuda called Aloga is believed to have put in $26m. One of its members was LimeWire founder and tech entrepreneur Mark Gorton.

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Yarrawonga Football Club were denying their involvement yesterday and it sounds like Melbourne suburban football club Avondale Heights FC is in a similar position. A 'highly successful' Mortgage Choice broker, who scraped onto AFL lists for a few years but was a suburban league 300 game veteran, looks to be one of those early members who fell for it hook, line and sinker, and made plenty out of bringing in many other members - often by refinancing their mortgages - very dangerous ground indeed. BigFooty forum expands on the allegations:

Punting Scandal

The mortgage broker is believed to have disappeared in a hurry after a few threats. He may have been an innocent (but naive) victim of the scheme, but history doesn't bode well for people high up the chain in Ponzi schemes. Investigative journalist Andrew Rule in an interview on RSN this week listed several Ponzi scheme kingpins who didn't die of natural causes...

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The technical expertise of Mr Vlahos sounds about as weak as his pleas of innocence. His laptop has been torched - coincidentally just after US investment group Aloga opened NSW Supreme Court proceedings against him and demanded access to the laptop - but that doesn't really stop much if he'd been sending files around to the various syndicates within The Edge, or emails boasting about their fictional bets and account balances. Damn that modern technology eh? Perhaps he should have spent more time watching CSI instead of cavorting around town with some of the racing media.

Bill Vlahos' laptop with details of missing $194m in firebombed car, court hears

Punters' club cash clues up in smoke: racing identity Bill Vlahos' PC destroyed in car firebombing

And surprise, surprise - the money was used for just about everything but actually betting, shuffled around various accounts with Photoshopped versions being sent out to members to show how rich they were all getting.

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Celebrities caught in Ponzi style betting scheme

It's a shame not many people read this article, it's only from 2010!

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[Moral Rant]

WHEN YOU INVEST MONEY, EVEN IF IT IS 10 BUCKS ON A HORSE, DO YOUR BLOODY HOMEWORK!

Don't just look at the dream result and what happens when it works/wins, examine the contrary view to understand why it might not go according to plan. If someone's trying to sell you a dream investment scheme, particularly (but not only) when it involves betting, have a think about why they would share the goose that lays the golden egg. Is it really because they are such good blokes?

[/Moral Rant]

Betting markets are elastic, when the biggest player gets too successful, the value in the market collapses. $100k bets into standard Saturday pools on Australian racing will crush a market, and what was a 'value' bet is suddenly a negative investment. They either have to stick to 'modest' returns or switch to a bigger market. The famous Hobart syndicate headed by Zeljko Ranogajec was incredibly successful because they knew their limits. There's no point putting a shark in a goldfish pond...

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

today's Vlahos/Ponzi/BC3 update

Another day, another roundup of the Vlahos debacle...

Racing identity Bill Vlahos' emails reveal fear of attack, and warn of club collapse

It seems Billy has had troubling paying out for many months, since the start of 2013. Apparently this came from boasting about exorbitant returns (46% profit) in the last quarter of 2012. Rather than serving as a great advertisement to the scheme to bring in more members, all it did was encourage existing members to start enjoying the benefits of their new-found wealth, thus creating a major cash flow problem for the fund. And then the slow pay went on, and on, and on, throughout the year. One of his many excuses was they were now 'having difficulty placing their bets' and 'big mouths have made it hard for us again'. No wonder he moved to Singapore for several months - in a top end luxury hotel no less!

Then Billy got desperate, the ego couldn't be stopped. He had to find the missing money, so he was in discussions with a Michigan-based funding group for a loan of around US$178m. This just sounded like a massive sum of money when I first read that article, but listening to Andrew Rule's interview on RSN Sports Radio this morning...lo and behold, what does US$178m equate to? Something very close to AU$194m... now where have we seen that number before...? The Michigan firm will be thanking their lucky stars they didn't press the button on that loan. If it was due diligence that halted the deal, then those guys should be rewarded with massive bonuses - their firm probably would have gone bust without it...

By November 20, i.e. the end of the spring carnival, there was nothing left to salvage, hence the ''I WANT THIS TO BE OVER,'' he told club members in an emotional email.

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Once upon a time I was very active on internet forums, now I just do it all on Twitter. Unfortunately that meant I missed a thread like this:

The Edge

Some punters on that thread can hold their heads high, others will look back and cringe at their own naivety.

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Fraud squad detectives are now getting involved, and very interested in whether Vlahos has been destroying evidence.

Vlahos gets police 'please explain' over bashing and missing $194m

According to News Ltd journalist Andrew Rule, there are some long-serving policemen who have been stung as investors - do you reckon they might go that extra yard to crucify him?

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The town of Yarrawonga will suffer the effects of this for a long, long time. Not only having lost so much money, but also having most of the nation look at them as "Australia's Most Gullible". Footy clubs now have to make public statements to deny involvement...

Yarrawonga Pigeons distance themselves from Vlahos' failed syndicate

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What about the horses a few people have asked? Inglis have removed at least eight horses from the BC3 Connewarre property. Inglis CEO Mark Webster said it wasn't about reclaiming unpaid thoroughbreds but in concern for their welfare. Debts for yearlings are not uncommon, the sales firm holds the registration papers for each horse until such time as they are fully paid for, so there was no chance of 'Jimmy' running in a race or official trial or even being named before that took place. Whether 'Jimmy' is part of that group of horses, or even his current health is unknown.

the Vlahos/BC3/Ponzi scheme update

There's at least one series of Underbelly in this saga - or perhaps there isn't? After revelations earlier in the week that the man behind the multi-million dollar Ponzi scheme Bill Vlahos had been bashed and his ute torched.... it appears that he did it all himself! Very flimsy witness statements and evidence which just doesn't add up....

Police have task of unravelling puzzling tale of Bill Vlahos and his punting club

The house apparently had virtually no furniture in it, Vlahos hadn't been there for months and the 'thugs' just happen to find him there. Plus they managed to find the fuel can in the shed to torch the ute. Not just any fuel can, but the one with diesel in it rather than petrol, because the latter might cause an explosion and injure the person igniting it (cheers to @chyde33 for that tip out of the arsonist's handbook). All the paperwork (if there actually was any) just happened to be in the ute and probably any laptop too.

Investigating journalist Andrew Rule also shed some light on the figures quoted in the various articles - the $194m, or possibly even $500m according to some, is unlikely to have ever existed as such. Investors have put in large sums of money, an average of around $100k has been quoted, and were of the belief that they had increased their investment to at least double the original value, probably higher if they were hooked in early. So the actual cash which has disappeared/been pissed up against the wall buying under-performing horses is probably closer to $70-80m. Even still, that's a ridiculous sum of money considering there was never a prospectus for this scheme, known as 'The Edge', no receipts given...... And key to their recruitment drive - "anyone with a clue about racing was not welcome as a member", i.e. we only target people we think are likely to be sucked in... And the more this goes on, the more it looks like there never actually was a punters' club - no betting, just a big fraud based on money continually coming in from fresh investment.

Bill Vlahos syndicate loses its edge, and punters may lose $500 million

The Age seems to think it's $500m, I'd rather believe Andrew Rule's version of events.

Out-of-luck Craig Cameron left to salvage BC3's smouldering wreck

Craig Cameron left his job as General Manager of Football at Richmond FC to step back from the stress of AFL football and indulge in his love of racing. Now he has to deal with the aftermath of BC3.

And all of this basically says that it has very little to do with racing. A syndication company (which actually wasn't licensed) has gone bust, but that should be an ASIC matter and the punting syndicate/Ponzi scheme scam is a fraud matter for the police. Racing is just the vehicle which has been associated with it - there is very little Racing Victoria can do, bar ensure they have tighter controls on who they let operate in the industry as syndicators and to make big waves with advertising and self-promotion within the industry media.



Monday, 9 December 2013

Fixing 'epidemic' in the UK

The media are abuzz today with the weekend allegations of spot-fixing in the lower leagues, as captured on a hidden camera by the Sun on Sunday. I've been interviewed three times so far, with at least one more to come. You can discount the ITV News (nationwide version) of having any credibility, they edited my responses completely out of context and the bloke before me from some Business Centre had zero idea on the topic! Sky Sports News interview came across well - it was live, I know what I said!

Let me start my tirade with a disclaimer - based on the evidence presented SO FAR by the Sun on Sunday, I believe the Sam Sodje story is more likely to be fiction than fact. This view could completely change if more evidence is released to establish a clear link to betting. Right now, it makes little sense.

Sam Sodje is a dictionary definition of the term 'journeyman', having played for 11 different clubs, and only just over 100 games in the past seven years. His career has petered out, now he needs to find another form of income. He was caught on camera boasting that he made £70k for getting sent off in the Oldham-Portsmouth clash on February 23rd this year, and that he could control players to get red or yellow cards right through to the top of the football pyramid.

I'm calling bullshit on this one. Let's examine the circumstances of that match:

Oldham started 4/7 favourite and scored early via Jose Baxter. Sodje was sent off for punching the former Everton starlet in the groin early in the second half. Why? Oldham would have been around 1/8 at this stage, so there was no advantage for the 'fixer' to achieve in the adjusted odds after the red card. The incident was up the field near one of the sidelines, and Sodje tried to conceal the punch. Surely, if there is any benefit to be had for the Mr Big, it would be if the player strikes out inside the penalty box, with no attempt to conceal it? Penalty for a certain goal, one less player, major change in odds, and with a key defender sent off, potentially more scope for goals. There are two main markets in Asian football betting - match results (including handicaps) and total goals. Anything else is irrelevant and/or only available to win trivial amounts.

Sodje says he will pay a player £30k for a yellow card and £50k for a red. Why? Firstly, the relative values are way out of line. For betting purposes (and remember, this is the only point of these fixes), a red card is worth at least three times more than a yellow. The caution card is only of any use as the 'signal' that today's fix is on. On its own it is worthless. Yes you can bet on number of cards and bookings with licensed bookies - good luck getting five £100 bets on a League 1 match or lower - bookmakers are not registered charities, they have incredibly intelligent risk management systems which flag suspicious betting activity. Bookies are in business to win money, not lose to shrewd punters or fraudsters.

Next - who is putting up the money and how are they going to profit from it? A player gets sent off when his team is 1-0 down, the fav is now 1/12 and no more goals are scored? There is a small chance the fix could be on the unders, but if it was, getting the CB sent off would be incredibly risky, and he'd have to have paid off both teams to ensure they weren't in a scoring mood. If Sodje had been on the home team and his exit led to the outsider having a much better chance of coming back to win, there would be some merit in it. But there's not.

My call on this one is that Sodje has found what he thought was a sucker - a naïve attempted match-fixer (someone trying to emulate Dan Tan and Wilson Raj Perumal without knowing the mechanics of it) who should a willingness, in the unrecorded calls to set up the meeting, to pay whatever Sodje could set up for him. He drafted in some more players, including Oldham winger Christian Montano who conveniently apologised for not getting a yellow card recently, to make it sound organised. In betting, you have a method called 'backfitting' - when you create a betting system based on old results, tinkering with your variables until it works, but going forward it never does. I think Sodje has backfitted his sending off against Oldham to make it suit his story. If there was any evidence of that event being pre-arranged, we'd have heard about it by now...

There may be more to it, and I don't know the story behind the DJ Campbell arrest, but either way, Sodje has been a dill and will face the wrath of the FA. His career's over anyway, but some of the others at least had a bit left of theirs.

The papers and TV stations love a sensationalised, overblown story. I'm sure the staff at the Sun weren't happy about the Telegraph stealing their thunder a few weeks back with the Delroy Facey sting with Conference teams. But a story that makes some sense would have helped their cause....

The Ponzi scheme fallout is underway

What do you get when you have a individual fronting a Ponzi scheme with anywhere between $200-500m in funds that have disappeared, links to Melbourne's underworld and potentially thousands of investors who have lost anywhere from a week's takings in their own business, to their entire savings and nest egg for retirement? A bloody mess which soon turns nasty.

Vlahos bashed, car torched as BC3 Thoroughbreds turns ugly

Syndicate leaders bashed as investors face huge fleecing

You bet 600 Yarrawonga residents are angry at losing $74 million in punting club

Racing Victoria to investigate BC3 Thoroughbreds, alleged assault at Bill Vlahos property

Leading bookmakers in the dark over Bill Vlahos' alleged punting scheme

A lot of people have woken up to the stark realisation that if something seems too good to be true, it invariably is. The global financial crisis killed off strong returns from the stock and property markets, so people went looking for other 'easy' options. A costly lesson for many to learn, most will have little chance to recover these funds in the rest of their days.

Vlahos refused medical attention from an ambulance which suggests those links to the Melbourne underworld are more than just coincidence. One of my readers over the weekend pointed me towards photos with Vlahos alongside some of the names you are likely to find mentioned in the infamous TV series Underworld. Keep the ambulances out, keep the cops out - simple theory doubt he'll be able to do that for long...

Somewhat conveniently, Vlahos has very few assets to his name - the family house is in his wife's name. I reckon we've heard all this before in any number of scams. And bookmakers are rubbishing claims that any of the money was ever used for betting - the Australian market simply can't sustain that level of activity. So what are the chances of Daniel Maxwell actually existing?

Administrators have been called into BC3 - not 'The Edge' punting syndicate as there was never any paperwork or legal identity to it. So investors now face a second dose of being shafted - this time legally though, as administrators who take 80% of recovered funds for themselves are perfectly ethical and above board...

A lot of people on social media have been giving the racing media stick for not busting this open earlier. Damned if they do, damned if they don't. Would you be willing to go digging deep on your mates when you know there are links to the Mokbels and associates? When it would only take asking a couple of people to find out where you lived if you had opened Pandora's Box? I doubt I'd be writing this if I was back living in Melbourne!

Investigative journalists such as Nick McKenzie and Andrew Rule are very good at what they do. That is their niche, they know how to deal with all the flak that comes with such scandals. Many in the racing media will have been providing the background information for their investigations, but that is far as they should be taking it. Fawning over the 'big new players' in the industry though goes a tad too far - free lunches shouldn't be the way to buy favourable comment.

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Hong Kong Cup preview

Another classy feature at Sha Tin, this time the Hong Kong Cup, featuring some top echelon middle-distance horses. Once again, it's over to Dan Munn @chalkbeater with the preview.

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Hong Kong Cup

Once more unto the the breach, dear friends, once more, and Cirrus des Aigles is bidding once again to enhance his consistent, determined record from Europe in this year's renewal of the Hong Kong Cup.

As expected, concerns are being propelled from many corners on just whether the star gelding will handle the supremely fast conditions of the Sha Tin track and, like many, I want to take him on again in this race.

Endowing enters the race as the trial winner, but failed to impress me last time in the manner of his victory, but the performance of Akeed Mofeed when running from way off the pace was one key performance to note.

Formerly with John Oxx, Akeed Mofeed has slowly been coming to hand but is starting to improve with every start and figures to be a strong player in this Group 1 contest. It is worth noting that the owners of Akeed Mofeed could've opted to enter their other runner, Gold-Fun, in this race and he would've been a very strong fancy in this contest, but instead they have opted to run that charge in the Mile contest and allow Akeed Mofeed the chance to shine here.

Military Attack has struggled in local contests of late, and despite the polarised opinion as to whether those performances were merely trial runs as the trainer looks to keep Military Attack's strong performance in reserve for this race, I would not be one to advise on backing Military Attack at such a short price given the recent performances.

Finally, the chances of Blazing Speed are drastically under-rated who, at 33/1, poses a fantastic bet given his record over the ten furlong trip.

In recent trials over a mile, Blazing Speed has looked lacklustre in performance, but his chances over ten furlongs, with considerations made on his likeliness to be tracking off of a slow early pace, go up considerably and he could be the dark horse of the whole race.

Selections
3pts AKEED MOFEED 9/2 (Generally)
1pt EW BLAZING SPEED 33/1 (Paddy Power, Bet365, Ladbrokes)

Hong Kong Sprint preview

They say the best sprinters in the world usually come from either south-east Asia or Australia. There are no Aussies in this one, so it must be left to the home team surely? Taking the reins for this race is international form guru, Dan Munn. Follow him on Twitter at @chalkbeater and read more of his work on his blog.

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Hong Kong Sprint

Pace often proves key in races up and down the grading levels across the world, and this year's renewal of the Hong Kong Sprint is no different.

Go Baby Go, a prolific five furlong straight track star in Hong Kong, is a standing dish in these top level contests, but despite taking the lead on every occasion he has race over six furlongs, he is yet to hold on for the top prize.

However, whilst his chances of victory are somewhat minimal, he proves key to the chances of the 'Hong Kong Elite', a large number of late-running charges who's hopes of victory seemingly lay in the hands of Go Baby Go continuing his perfect record of making the lead.

With that in mind, there must be some concern over the bid to restrain Go Baby Go in his most recent barrier trial. Go Baby Go has struggled to be restrained all year by Tye Angland and this was entirely evident in the most recent trial, where Go Baby Go struggled to make any ground and impression on Rich Tapestry, who went on to win that.

In the event that Go Baby Go is placed back on the lead, the chances of Eagle Regiment are ones which stand out for me. A winner of a five furlong Group 1 in January, Eagle Regiment has been giving weight away to his home turf rivals all season but finally gets the weight break back onto levels in this top level international affair.

The key piece of form to note is the run of Eagle Regiment in the key trial race for this event back in November. Stuck for room twice on the inside of runners, Eagle Regiment had nowhere to go, bottled up behind a wall of horses with a lot of running left in the tank. In the event that Eagle Regiment was angled to the outside, or was graced with a gap at the right time, he would've been incredibly close to the likes of Charles The Great and Sterling City quite probably with a big chance of winning that race.

Given that Eagle Regiment was giving weight away to both of those rivals, and the whole field, it is quite clear who is the one to chance at level weights, particularly at a large price of 25-1.

Lucky Nine returns after a brief foray in Australia for two Group 1 contests, and whilst he is the obvious starter point for the home team I cannot help but be concerned over just how much the trip may have taken out of him. Lucky Nine looked to empty incredibly quick in his final Australian race, uncharacteristically so, and taking him back in this at such short odds would be of a concern.

In addition, Lord Kanaloa also has question marks over him. A stunning sprinter and miler, it is fair to say that the Japanese raider has not received the praise of racing's mass media that many feel he does deserve, yet his performances this year have left a little to be desired.

Time After Time, a strong fancy for this race last year, is a big price this year but with the pace layout likely to be quick in the event that Go Baby Go does go on, he could also run into a place. As such, his current price with the British bookmakers is substantially overpriced.

Selections
2pts EW EAGLE REGIMENT @ 25/1 (Generally)
0.5pts EW TIME AFTER TIME @ 66/1 (Bet365)

Racing has a Ponzi scheme - and the fallout will be enormous

When the term 'Ponzi scheme' is mentioned these days, the names Bernard Madoff and Allen Stanford instantly spring to mind. The pair of them ran multi-billion dollar frauds (US$60bn and $8bn respectively) that destroyed the lives of thousands of investors who had put their life savings into a 'wonderful' investment strategy. How so many people were sucked into the scheme is baffling to those on the outside. The lifestyle, the sales pitch, the success stories of the early investors - I suppose it all adds up.

So where does this link to racing you ask? A prominent Australian 'racing identity' this week has been reported to have lost access to a bank account with punters' club funds of $194m in it. Firstly - is there a worse term for anyone to be labelled with that 'racing identity'? It ALWAYS ends up meaning shonky crook! Secondly - who the hell has a punters' club with an active bankroll in the tens of millions? It simply can't be done.

The media has just started to scratch the surface on this case:

- Racing identity Bill Vlahos denies punting club losses

- $5m bill for Caviar's brother unpaid

- Punters' club man faces suit over Black Caviar's half-brother

but my sources tell me there is a lot left to expose.

Let's examine the alleged punters' club run by Bill Vlahos:

There was no prospectus for potential investors, no contracts securing their investments, nothing at all in writing. No public records of the club activity. All members were sworn to secrecy. (Anyone hearing alarm bells?)

Members would put money into the club and then receive regular dividends. Members were promised a return of over 6% per quarter, adding up to 25% annual profit on investment, and that's what the early investors received. It was a betting syndicate. Since when are betting returns consistent?

All the dodgy betting investment scams in Australia are based on the Gold Coast, so surely this one had to be legitimate? The syndicate was allegedly betting on Melbourne and Sydney racing each week, but with 'offshore outlets' via a broker. Punters worldwide will tell you that getting on is harder than ever. As soon as you start winning, your cards are marked and the industry works against you to shut you down. Corporate bookies shut or heavily restrict your account. Betfair hits you with a Premium Charge of up to 60% of your profits. There simply aren't offshore outlets who will let you bet millions on Australian racing, and there certainly aren't charitable betting firms out there who will let you win a million dollars per quarter to keep up with your promised 6% quarterly return. There is more truth in a Harry Potter novel!

The master system behind this money tree:

"Mr Vlahos developed his system during a two-year stint living near Randwick racecourse when he was not working full-time.

He said he used his mathematical training gained during his La Trobe University psychology degree to come up with a way to beat the odds.

Mr Vlahos said that members of his club trusted him despite the lack of written contracts, and accepted that he collected five per cent of the winnings.

"There's nothing in writing because it's a punting club and it's a trust punting club, the people that are in it have made the decision that they understand how the punting club works between me and them," he said."

"Mr Vlahos said that the maths-based system he used for the punting club brought constant quarterly profits back into the common pool."


The "mathematical training gained during a psychology degree" allowed him to develop a system, which he coincidentally did while living next door to one of the biggest racecourses in the country. I'm calling bullshit on that one. Wagering is an incredibly complicated business which requires an enormous workload just to keep up with continually evolving markets. Maths alone will not make you a profit. Form study alone will not make you a profit. The best money management scheme of all time will not make you a profit. Anyone who tells you they can make consistent, unlimited profits on horse racing has as much credibility as a politician....

The reference material for a successful and disguised Ponzi scheme is the success of the early members. They make their money from introducing new members, although it is highly likely they are unaware of the mechanics of it. Every new member brought into the syndicate bring new liquidity, which is actually the profit they supposedly make every week from their betting investments. The ground-floor investors do very well out of it, and continue to innocently provide glowing references for anyone else considering joining. For them, everything seems above board. So Bob is considering putting money in, he looks at Jim who has been in for a year and done well, then he looks up to Max who has been in for longer and is genuinely displaying the lifestyle of someone making solid, regular profits from their investments. So Bob thinks he's onto a good thing, everyone knows each other and believes what they see, and injects more money into the 'club'. This cycle continues with everyone profiting until it gets too big. Suddenly the rate of signing up new members starts to fall away, the liquidity dries up and so does the flow of profits. Vlahos claims that they had only lost money in one quarter in eight years - that's all it needs to start crumbling....

One piece of anecdotal evidence I have heard is of an early member in regional Victoria who had an incredible run signing up new members - while they all bought cars and swimming pools with their profits, he kept re-investing his profits to create that golden nest egg for retirement. I'm told he believed his share of the syndicate pot was as much as a third - in the vicinity of $60-120m! I'm tipping he'll be rather disappointed.

The Westpac account allegedly containing the $194m hasn't been locked by the bank, it hasn't gone missing, they haven't lost the account due to a computer glitch. It never existed in the first place.

Bill Vlahos doesn't exactly have the cleanest of connections in the racing industry - he has a link to Tony Mokbel, the big time drug dealer who laundered much of his cash flow through various forms of gambling. When the heavy hand of the law started closing in on Mokbel and his associates, it was Vlahos who took over ownership of a horse owned by Tony's brother Horty Mokbel, Pillar of Hercules. The chances of that being coincidental are very slim. And it was this love of horses which reports say, saw him come up with another front for the Ponzi scheme.

Vlahos was most famous for his backing for BC3 Thoroughbreds - a new age bloodstock syndication company who entered the market with a bang, paying huge prices for yearlings, including $5m for a half-brother to Black Caviar. It seemed over the top at the time, their attitude was "we weren't going to be outbid on this one". And now we know why. Value didn't seem to matter to them. So long as the horse could attract investors, they'd be fine. The sales company, Inglis, have yet to be paid for the horse. This isn't uncommon, trainers often take a while to syndicate horses, but they have to pay interest on their debts. It is reported that several people have paid cash for shares in the blue-blood colt, but none of that money has been passed onto Inglis - the allegations are that it has all been tipped into the Ponzi scheme.

If all this is true, and I have no reason whatsoever to doubt my sources who have seen this building up for several years, there are many highly respectable people caught up in this, completely innocently. Investors from Melbourne society, football clubs, players and administrators. Highly respected administrators who have left their jobs to become part of the BC3 'success story'.... My sources tell me that BC3 staff were told this morning Australian time that the company is no longer. I'd expect most of them knew nothing of all this until very recently.

The interest started to mount up on 'Jimmy', the half-brother to Black Caviar. Pressure was on to find more funds to put into the club - surely this sham would last forever? Vlahos allegedly relocated to Singapore earlier in the year - to secure more suckers? To get away from the front-line pressure of the scheme? To stay away from investigators and start preparing an escape route?

Theories of what has happened to 'Jimmy' are plentiful. The SMH article said 'the insurance policy can only be paid out in death'. Spider bite, heavy dose of anti-biotics from a vet which is rumoured could be linked to laminitis, a potentially fatal disease.... If the horse survives this ordeal which he is still recovering from, a successful life on the racetrack must be highly improbable now. A stud career for an unraced colt, no matter how esteemed the bloodlines, will be nowhere as lucrative as it could have been with a few wins under his belt.

This scandal has only just started to hit the courts, brought upon by legal proceedings from an unhappy member who is unlikely to ever see his money again. Vlahos' assets have been seized, his passport taken away. Criminal reporters will dig further into this, further than the traditional racing media who are always reluctant to expose/embarrass people within the industry. I'm told investigative journalists from The Age have been close to breaking this story but were holding back - articles from their rivals may now force their hand.

The fallout from this will be enormous. Racing can't afford to have thousands of people with significant sums of money involved become disenchanted with the sport. When the Nathan Tinkler empire crumbled, the people who felt it most were the businesses and staff he owed money to. This scandal goes so much wider. And yet it's not a new blight on the racing industry. Go back to the 80s and a Melbourne conman called Joe Talia did something similar, using the gift of the gab to convince people to invest in his schemes. There were no miracle investment schemes, it was just him pissing the money away at the racetrack, in casinos or living far above his means.