Thursday, 30 January 2014

Six Nations - France v England preview

It's Six Nations' time when the cream of European rugby do battle (without the threat of being hammered by southern hemisphere opponents :). The non-football media in England will hit fever pitch in the next 48 hours before England step out onto the Stade de France to launch their campaign. Will eternal optimism be sustained or crushed back into doom and gloom on Saturday night?

Step in rugby expert Russ Petty, @rpetty80, and his detailed pre-game analysis of the first round's headline match. You can read more of his sterling work, including previews of this weekend's other matches via his blog.

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France vs England

There is a trend that the French do well in the tournament straight after a Lions tour – they won in 1998, 2002, 2006 and 2010, with Grand Slams in three of them.

They did only win two of their 11 games in 2013 though and the problems concerning fitness, and number of ‘foreigners’ in key playing positions in the Top 14 remain.

Since last year’s 6Nations they have lost four games to New Zealand (three away), one against South Africa and beaten Tonga. There is a case that their NH rivals would have achieved similar results themselves from those fixtures but it still means they go into this tournament with little momentum.

Saint-Andre has been pretty honest in his assessment of France’s problems – saying that in 2012 there was a clear order of Parra / Machenaud at 9 and Michalak at 10. Those three players were all playing well and were first choice at their clubs at the time too. Injuries and loss of form have changed all that for 2014 so he has been forced to look elsewhere.

He had seemed to have settled on 29 year old Castres fly-half Remi Tales (five caps) but injury has meant a decision had to be made between Plisson (0 caps), Trinh-Duc (48 caps and left out of the earlier squads) or Doussain (five caps).

The French coach also brought up the point that previous teams had player such as Bonnaire and Nallet that brought a steel and raised standards of team mates. A frustration about inefficiency in attack and coughing up ‘easy’ points in defence was also discussed.

The team with the fewest errors has won this fixture in the last six meetings so stopping those soft points will likely be a factor again.

In 2013, England won with 11 turnovers to 18 by France. In 2012 it was 14 to 16, 2011 16 to 21 and 2009 10 to 21.

For the French wins in 2011 (World Cup) it was 11 turnovers to 22 and in 2010 – 12 to 16.

The absence of Dusautoir also has to be considered. He has made 70 tackles in his last six games against England, only missing two (97% success rate). In that period, the rest of the French team made 510 tackles, missing 56 (90%).



Antoine Burban is having a very good season for Stade Francais and put in a highlight reel try-saving tackle a few weeks ago against USAP. He doesn’t have 54 caps though nor the leadership and experience of the missing Toulouse flanker.

It also means a different captain and if Pape’s impression of a walking yellow card, (six cards in 16 games for Stade Francais this season) continues – then the team could struggle.

France may have had a poor 2013, but number 8 Picamoles put down some impressive individual statistics. He made an average of 13 carries for 60m and beat three defenders. Against England it was 15 carries for 73m, with four defenders beaten, so a little higher than the year average.

Looking at his performances against Saracens this season in the Heineken Cup, he carried 30 times for 67m, beat six defenders in just 112 minutes. There may also be a psychological edge in that the Toulouse forwards did dominate their opposition in those games. Stacking the 23 man squad with as many forwards as possible, does suggest the hosts will be looking to emulate that power game again.

There is some evidence that England will need to control the first half if they want to win this fixture. In the last 10 meetings, they have won when they kept France to 10 or fewer points in the first half and lost when didn’t. England have only won five of 97 games vs France when they have conceded 10 or more points before halftime and only have the two victories in France when behind at the break.

The question over creativity persists with England, as it did in the 2012 and 2013 tournaments. The options of Wade, Yarde, Nowell, May or Watson on the wings are exciting however they will still need to be supplied with decent ball. Each are capable of scoring individual tries – which is a bonus, but there will have to be significant changes elsewhere in attack if they are to be given a fair chance.

Flood’s decision to move to France means that Farrell is now the senior 10 in the squad – with 19 caps. Ford has zero, Myler one. It does mirror the situation with the French team, except they needed to call up their equivalent to Flood, Trinh-Duc.

In the Feb 2013 game, the difference proved to be Tuilagi – who won a personal duel with Bastareaud and carried for 62m, beat five defenders and scored the crucial try on 54 minutes. His injury means England have needed to look elsewhere for someone to punch holes in a defence. Billy Vunipola carried 18 times and Ben Morgan seven against New Zealand and both will have an important role in Paris.

There will be plenty of optimism about England’s attack and Lancaster has talked about needing tempo against the big French pack. However, I’m leaning towards another campaign where the visitors prove tough to beat, solid in the set-piece and accumulate points via Farrell’s boot.

In the last 10 6Nations games, the time of England’s first try has been an average of 41 minutes. They have failed to score a try in the previous 186 minutes in the competition and backing time of their first try at second half or no try will be a tactic throughout these rounds, rather than expecting fireworks.

England starting with two tough away games and that old fave of French unpredictability have put me off their tournament prices of 3.5 and 3.75 respectively.

Was planning to treat this contest in the same fashion as a Top 14 game, which means backing unders on tries, no try, a drop goal and covering the draw at either HT or FT at 7.5. The poor quality Paris pitch, France likely loading the bench with forwards and a question over how creative England can be do tend to reinforce that view.

Have backed top French try scorer - Picamoles 11.0, top English try scorer – B Vunipola 17.0 and Nowell 13.0 (perhaps worth waiting for team news before getting involved with Nowell’s House Party, but I like that price and also 51.0 e/w for tournament try scorer).

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Ballarat Cup Preview

The Ballarat Cup is one of the jewels of Australasian harness racing yet puzzlingly (or is that politically), it is not a Grand Circuit event. This time of year is as good as it gets in Victoria, and signing in on the blog for the first time is Jay Wilkins, @TearitallaJay.

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2014 Ballarat Cup

Next week's Hunter Cup creates a couple of interesting sub-plots for the top fancies in this year's Ballarat Cup. The Ballarat Trotting Club has assembled a very competitive line-up for their Cup, despite the focus of many stables being drawn to Victoria’s showpiece standing start (SS) classic on 1 Feb.

The impact began when Shepparton Cup winner The Gold Ace was deemed to have galloped away from the SS, basically ending his chances of gaining a Hunter Cup place. Hunter Cup qualifying rules state:

A condition of the Hunter Cup is that “a horse must have contested and began safely in a minimum of one standing start race in the 12 months prior.”

This ruling would have forced his trainer Luke McCarthy to run him in the SS Pure Steel on Cup night to get him qualified for his major goal. The plot thickened when HRV stewards changed their decision, ruling that The Gold Ace “did step away from the tapes safely”. Strangely he remains out of the draw in SS races? As an owner,I hope this appeal option is available across the board for all horses.

So a clear win for Ballarat & stewards were hoping the drama would quickly be forgotten. As luck would have it, The Gold Ace drew gate one ensuring he would start a short price fave.

The million-dollar earning son of Bettors Delight is the automatic leader, having enough early speed to have led from gate seven in the Victoria Cup. I've heard talk that he may get crossed; this is fantasy unless for some reason he walks out. Always having a reputation as a brilliant pacer through his classic years in NZ, his move to the McCarthys for this preparation has seen him show real strength,sitting parked in the Shepparton Cup before holding off his rivals.

Clear second pick is Andy Gath’s Caribbean Blaster. Neatly drawn to sit close, he’s already a multiple Group 1 winner despite being a freshman on the Grand Circuit. He’s won a Victoria Cup from virtually last & saves his best form for the big stage.

The query horse is Christen Me, best of his age at four he’s teased in his first year at this level with a couple of amazing Group 1 placings in the Miracle Mile & Victoria Cup (how didn't he win?) Fairly plain efforts at his last two at Cambridge & an extreme outside front row draw make it tough but he has X factor, huge upside & Dexter Dunn

Which leads us to Smoken Up, warhorse & hero to millions. Personally I'm over him. Clearly he’s been a marvel but 11yos winning our Group 1s is not what I crave for our sport. Apparently he’ll be straight outside The Gold Ace, making it a war which is great however with the 400K Gp 1 next week, I'll be surprised if gutbuster number 100 is in Lance’s mind. Lance was quoted at the barrier draw that Smoken Up “never gets an easy run” which is ironic considering how he’s driven him all his career. Either way, he doesn't handle the corners at Ballarat (so we keep hearing) so I'll be risking him as a winning hope.

Abettorpunt must be included in tricks as he will hold the favourites back & has a kick when clear. Despite no sprint lane, runs tend to appear at this level.

Local Restrepo is a minor hope if Gavin Lang can produce one of his ice-cool gems.

VERDICT

At the odds I'll be backing Caribbean Blaster & Christen Me & hoping Lance drives his usual race.

The Kiwis have won the last three Cups including a 100/1 blowout when Highview Tommy grabbed a last stride win. With the 400K Hunter Cup firmly in the sights of most,lets hope the spectre of that prize doesn't compromise what is traditionally an epic contest.

Wednesday, 15 January 2014

Courtsiders at the Aussie Open has nothing to do with match-fixing

Following on from my popular post What shits me about match-fixing 'journalism', there is another prime case of media reporting on an industry they have zero clue about.... but because they once bet two bucks on the Melbourne Cup, they consider themselves an expert on it...

It started from this - a police statement about a nonsensical arrest at the Australian Open.

Police have arrested and charged a man at the Australian Open for ‘courtsiding’, a form of court side betting that involves placing bets on point outcomes throughout a match.

Fault 1 - no it doesn't. It involves placing bets on the match outcome. There's no advantage in betting on points, bookies will NOT let you bet on the next point because they know about broadcast delays. They will bet you on the point after the next point - eg at 15-all, they will offer a market on the fourth point of the game.

Fault 2 - this guy would not have been placing the bets, he would only have passing on the data to someone else who would process the information and might bet on it. (This, by the way, is exactly what the chair umpire is doing on each court. He pushes a button which then sends information to a company which works as an agent for the professional tennis tours and then sells that information to bookmakers, powering betting markets, live scoreboards etc.)

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Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton said people needed to be aware that this sort of activity was illegal in Victoria.

You'd think a Deputy Commissioner might have a clue what the law actually says.

CRIMES ACT 1958 - SECT 195C

Engaging in conduct that corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome of event or event contingency
A person must not engage in conduct that corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome of an event or event contingency—

(a) knowing that, or being reckless as to whether, the conduct corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome of the event or the event contingency; and

(b) intending to obtain a financial advantage, or to cause a financial disadvantage, in connection with any betting on the event or the event contingency.

Penalty:t level 5 imprisonment (10 years maximum).


Fault 1: There is no conduct that "corrupts or would corrupt a betting outcome of event or event contingency" here. Absolutely none. You cannot corrupt an event without influencing the participants or the environment they play in. There is zero evidence of anyone linked with this contacting a player or their entourage, and there is zero evidence of anyone influencing play by interrupting a player during a service motion, or digging up the baseline, or any other ridiculous idea which may affect the result.

“Victoria now has specific legislation that covers offences related to cheating at gambling,” DC Ashton said.

Well, he got that bit right, but in reality it is irrelevant here. The courtsider has had less effect on the match than any of the ballkids.

Point penalty for abuse of power.

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Next up it's The Age, taking the police press release and adding more drivel to it...

Man arrested, charged at Australian Open for courtside betting

Police believe he is part of an Eastern European crime syndicate that targets international sports events.

A rather bold assumption, that's like saying every person who barracks for Collingwood has no teeth. The report clearly states the person arrested is a UK national. Now I know that the UK tabloid press like to push the panic button that eastern European migrants are flooding the UK, but that's ridiculous. Why on earth would someone who has corrupted a player sit courtside on a 40 degree day to watch it? Sunstroke aside, the safest place for them would be to get as far away as possible.

0-40

It is the first arrest in relation to "courtsiding" in tennis after state parliament passed laws in April that specifically ban the practice as part of a crackdown on illegal betting in sport.

State parliament passed nothing of the sort - the law, as displayed above, relates specifically to corruption and influencing the match itself. Nothing to do with protecting the commercial interests of the sport and its event organisers.

Game

Victoria Police’s Sporting Integrity Intelligence Unit and Melbourne Crime Investigation Unit have been working with Tennis Australia officials to weed out people seeking to "disrupt and corrupt’’ the tournament.

What evidence is there of corrupting the tournament?

Deputy Commissioner Graham Ashton said police believe the accused man came to Australia especially for the Open.

About the first thing he's got right so far. He certainly didn't head out for the cheap beer!

He said the quick arrest should serve as a warning to other crime syndicates thinking of coming to Australia to corrupt the betting system.

'Other' crime syndicates? To have other crime syndicates, you first have to have a crime committed in a syndicate you have identified. There is no crime here, just an arrest based on a lack of understanding of the law.


The Metro, a free UK evening paper joined in:

Australian Open 2014: Briton arrested as police fear illegal betting syndicate preying on Melbourne Park action

The arrest is believed to be the first of its kind in tennis thanks to new legislation that has been put in place Down Under.

And hopefully the last considering there is no actual law to ban what this guy was doing. By all mean catch the crooks, but it might help if you understand which ones are the bad guys...

‘It’s certainly the first time it’s [legislation] been used in tennis in Victoria and I’m not aware of a [tennis] example anywhere in the world where courtsiding has been able to be dealt with in a criminal setting,’ Ashton added.

There's a good reason why nobody else has been prosecuted for it - it's not illegal! They transmit to take advantage of broadcast latency and then someone else processes that data to determine whether to bet or not. It is probably linked to a mathematical model (which many other advanced punters have), their only advantage is they get in a few seconds earlier, and thus gain an OPPORTUNITY (not a guarantee - these guys can still lose) to snap up better prices than what would be available if everyone was on a level playing field. Mathematical modelling works based on players performing to the best of their ability - it's what makes the models work so well, day in, day out. The model spits out what price it believes the market should be at any given score, and then if a significantly better price is available, it sends in a bet request.

Most of the illegal betting syndicates that profit from courtsiding operate out of Eastern Europe and central Asia.

Absolute myth. Courtsiding isn't illegal anywhere - there have been a few tournaments where persons accused of it have been ejected from the venue. If using the time to cover people who bet live from the grounds on any sport, then there are plenty in every sport with decent betting turnover.

Racecourses in the UK rent out hospitality boxes to punters who want a few/several seconds' advantage over punters at home. Football (soccer) has LEGAL live scouting services around the world, covering leagues from more than 100 countries. Many leagues actually make money from this service, again like tennis, from selling this information onto bookmakers. Bookies aren't sitting watching 50 matches at a time on a Saturday afternoon, much of the data is relayed to them, for a rather hefty fee I might add.

Betting 'syndicates' are not illegal until they commit a crime. There are many highly successful betting syndicates around the world that have no means of or interest in influencing an outcome, they simply have devised highly sophisticated mathematical models which they believe gives them an edge over the average punter, Mr J.Bloggs. Why is becoming organised and sophisticated a crime?

And then there's the rubbish spouted by Today Tonight - Australia's favourite gutter journalism TV show.... I'm not even going to go there...

Friday, 10 January 2014

Betfred Classic Chase preview

Less rain, lots of wind this week means we might get some decent racing this weekend in Britain! Warwick hosts one of its best meetings of the year, and taking up the challenge of the preview is @tenembassy. For weekly previews and reviews, and a monthly Eyecatchers service from him, send an email to tenembassy@gmail.com for more details.

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Betfred Classic – Warwick 11th January

Hot on the heels of the Welsh National comes another staying chase with good prizemoney, with over 34k to the winner here. Looks like conditions will be stamina sapping, with the course getting another 11mm Wednesday night into Thursday, but it looks set fair from here to Saturday which might well result in that sticky heavy rather than the heavy that we got at Cheltenham last week, where it just constantly rained and horses got through it easily. It’s a race that’s twice been won by Alan King and Paul Nicholls in the last ten years but for various reasons, neither has a runner Saturday. Last years winner Rigadin de Beauchene was the lowest rated at 140 that there’s been for a decade and only once has it gone to the favourite too.

So here’s a preview of Saturday's runners.

Carruthers (11-12, M Bradstock, best odds at time of writing 16-1)
Very popular former Hennessey winner (2011) who showed he was no back number when taking the West Wales National at Ffos Las last February off a 3lb lower mark. Handicapper is being very sensible with him and has no issues with the ground either, but has almost always needed a run and although a decent showing from the front would not surprise, surely a repeat at Ffos Las looks a more likely target, especially if he gets dropped a couple of pounds again after today.

Hey Big Spender (11-8, C Tizzard, 16-1)
Former winner of this race in 2012 off 10lb higher, and another veteran to won this season, taking a decent chase at Newcastle in November (form decent – second and fourth both won previous race and third won last time out) but a laboured effort in the Welsh National, being held up and never getting in it. Seems a bit of a confidence horse, even these days, when his jumping holds up he’s fine but a mistake or two and he lose interest. Has never won after a PU and there are more likely winners.

Master Overseer (11-8, D Pipe, 20-1)
If you believe in sequences then Master Overseer’s 1-PU-1-PU-1-PU in his last six runs will lead you to believe today’s the day. Eats mudpies for breakfast and has won off a long break before but another for whom a share of the front is essential or he can drop the lot. Cheekpieces discarded in favour of a pair of blinkers in an effort to sharpen him up but overall impression is that the handicapper probably has him right where he wants him. Stable also been quiet of late, although a good winner at Leicester in the week might indicate better things are around the corner.

Shotgun Paddy (11-7, E Lavelle, 7-1)
Only had the three chase starts and impressed me in the flesh before his Chepstow victory over Just A Par, where he jumped well and simply ran away from the odds-on favourite in the straight (third in that, Boyfromnowhere, won the Southern National at Fontwell in November, and reopposes today). Didn’t seem to take to the Haydock fences next time (often jumped right) but much better at Lingfield, making the useful Black Thunder do some work for victory. With the promise of more to come over marathon distances and heavy ground unlikely to pose any problems, must go on the shortlist.

Same Difference (11-6, N Twiston-Davies, 20-1)
Made hay last spring with a last gasp victory in the Kim Muir at the Cheltenham Festival off 7lb lower than today (in a first time visor) and followed that up with an excellent second to Quentin Collonges in the Bet365 at Sandown but two runs this term leave a lot to be desired, with mistakes at both Ascot and Newbury costing him any chance. Ground another worry (seems best on good/good to soft) and with stable still struggling in the main, isn’t difficult to pass over.

Vesper Bell (11-4, W Mullins, 6-1)
Only the six chase starts and has already run well twice in big field Irish handicaps, with his best effort coming when trying to give 18lb to Goonyella at Punchestown in April. Fell at the first in the Becher Chase at Aintree but as long as he’s none the worse for that then with ground conditions in his favour he has to be considered. Seems to have limitless stamina and trainer bang in form again (8 winners from last 15 runners at time of writing). Unexposed and more to come, without a doubt, but price reflects this.

Victors Serenade (10-13, A Honeyball, 16-1)
Has a few plus points, namely the ground, which he seems to need, and is unexposed having had only the five chase starts, but stamina a major issue (refused at the last when tried over this trip, never won beyond 3m), trainer form only moderate (some well fancied horses running well below their marks lately) and looks too harshly handicapped after his win at Ffos Las last March.

Noble Legend (10-11, C Bailey, 14-1)
New high mark for him to contend with after victory at Boxing Day at Wetherby (beating perennial runner up Tahiti Pearl) but steadily improving with racing over the last twelve months. This distance a complete unknown, with a well run 2m6f – 3m seemingly his trip. Big plus is the form of the yard though, banging the winners in, and jockey Andrew Thornton riding as well as ever, especially in long distance chases as this. Not completely without hope if he stays.

Any Currency (10-8, M Keighley, 16-1)
Trainer been talking up his chances and interesting he relies on him rather than the more fancied Merlins Wish for this. Seems rejuvenated by the new combination of headgear this season and two excellent efforts over the Cross-Country course would suggest he’s back to something like. However, he’s a dreadfully hard ride (needs stoking along early in his races), has never really excelled on bad ground and could be that the XC course has held his interest, so back on a regular track too, has plenty of questions to answer.

Loch Ba (10-8, Mick Channon, 12-1)
Victory over Welsh National winner Mountainous about this time last year looks all the better now, and two good efforts this winter against improving horses both look solid pieces of form (beat Mountainous again at Bangor when second to Midnight Appeal). Has never tackled a trip this far but has often looked like he might appreciate it (can get outpaced in the final mile of his races before staying on again). Has improved 24lb since Mick Channon got his hands on him, still only eight and might yet have a bit more to come. Not discounted.

Solix (10-7, Ian Williams, 33-1)
It’s only two years since he was trying to give 3lb to Champion Court in the Dipper (got beat 2l) and was rated 150, so it goes without saying he’s well handicapped off 131 if he can recapture some form. Question mark over trip (never tried it, sire hardly an influence for stamina) and well beaten this season (well behind Loch Ba last time). Too many questions to answer but one to bear in mind this spring, possibly when the ground quickens up, as shrewd trainer will place him somewhere.

Boyfromnowhere (10-5, R Curtis, 7-1)
Has 22 lengths to make up on Shotgun Paddy on Chepstow running and had had a run prior to that run, so shouldn’t have failed for fitness, but is 16lb better off here and seemed to improve for the step up in trip next time, staying on strongly over 3 ½ miles to take the Southern National at Fontwell in heavy ground. Tendency to jump right an issue around here but only put up 4lb for the Fontwell win and as an unexposed horse is of interest. Trainer in ordinary form, nothing special.

Emperors Choice (10-5, V Williams, 14-1)
Were it not for the trainers knack of landing big Saturday handicaps you’d probably dismiss this one without hesitiation, given he’s been well beaten by a fair few in the field this season already. Bit disappointing at Fontwell behind Boyfromnowhere, weakening quickly in the closing stages, and another lacklustre effort at Haydock last time, seemingly giving up quickly after mistakes. Coming back down to a winning mark as a result of those efforts, and given trainer in sparkling form, not the biggest shock were he to leave those poor efforts behind.

Safran De Cotte (10-2, H Daly, 16-1)
Remarkably, has been made favourite or joint-fav for 9 of his last 11 runs (winning three of them, once when not favourite) so you can almost expect money again on the day. Disappointing on reappearance at Carlisle in December given he’s gone well fresh in the past, and then was made favourite for the big handicap at Haydock that so many of the runners today took part in, but barely picked a leg up and was one of the first beaten. Possible that something has been ailing him but that’s only speculating, and all in all it looks too much of a leap of faith to assume he will bounce back to form here.

Major Malarkey (10-2, N Twiston-Davies, 16-1)
Dreadfully inconsistent and can be hard work when things aren’t going his way, but was on his best behaviour when sporting a first time visor at Exeter when beating the improved Whistling Senator. That was his first win for three years, and handicapper reacted badly to it, raising him 8lb (looks harsh) and a question as to whether the visor will work a second time remains. Stays well, but pulled up last three occasions he’s met heavy ground, and was tailed off in this race last year.

Royale Knight (10-0, Dr R Newland, 16-1)
Hosed up in the Borders National at Kelso last time, showing hitherto unknown reserves of stamina, but that race not as strong as it looked (effectively a 0-135despite the 0-145 tag) and raised 9lb for it. However, is still unexposed as a marathon chaser and if handling this ground (has won on soft, pulled up on only attempt on heavy) then off a feather weight has a chance for a stable in red hot form (three winners from last four runners). Can be keen so the fact there will be competition for the lead should only help him to settle.

Conclusion
Plenty of these have questions to answer after some poor efforts this season, and it might pay to stick with a pair of improvers from stables in form, namely Shotgun Paddy, who I earmarked for a contest such as this after beating the well-regarded Just A Par at Chepstow. There was no fluke about that effort with the third Boyfromnowhere confirming the form next time, and even with the weight pull I would expect Shotgun Paddy to come out on top again. At the prices the each-way saver is bottom weight Royale Knight. I have reservations about the suitability of the ground but that’s the only reservation, with the race run to suit, possibility of more to come over extreme distances, and trainer could not be in better nick.

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Sussex National Preview

How a track is allowed to name a race a National while including the county name at the same time is beyond me, but NH enthusiasts of the south will be heading to Plumpton to see this time-honoured race. Time to welcome another new writer to the blog - aspiring local sports journalist Harriet Fuller. You can read more of her work on her blog and follow her on Twitter @HattieLFuller

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Sussex National

With waterlogged courses having caused a few meetings to be abandoned, tonight we thank Plumpton for their new drainage system, which has saved the day. Tomorrow is of course the Sussex National and one of the course’s busiest days, and the doom and gloom of the weather is not enough to put many keen racing fans off.

The Sussex National will need guts, courage and pure determination to be cliché, and a horse that likes heavy ground may be of help to get round the 3m 5f course. The term ‘heavy’ is a compliment for the ground, the bottom bend is muddy on a good day and having had its own swimming pool recently this will be the stickiest spot.

Last year saw locally trained Well Refreshed take the race, a family affair with Gary Moore as trainer and Joshua Moore on board. These two enter stable companion Reblis this year and have every chance. A previous course winner, the 9-year old gelding ran well under Moore back in December, and coped with the soft ground. Moore has a good record at Plumpton, yielding 34 wins from 183 runs and knows what it takes to win here.

However the winner could also come from another local trainer, Miss Sheena West, her gelding Leg Iron has proved he can handle the distance before and Marc Goldstein knows this track inside out having appeared here 128 times. Leg Iron has proved to be a hit and miss horse, and if putting his best foot forward can mount a strong challenge, but there are questions whether he would be able to handle the heavy ground. With all aspects taken into account, the gelding could see himself just plainly outclassed here.

A P McCoy seems to like racing at Plumpton and achieved his 3000th winner here back in 2009, this does however seem a long time ago having reached his 4000th winner just recently. He rides the Jonjo O’Neill trained Smoking Aces, but I just cannot see him coming out on top here. The 10-year old can handle the ground but gut instincts veer me away from him and to look elsewhere.

It would be wrong not to mention Ballybough Gorta, his form in 2012 was his best and if getting anywhere near that has strong claims. However, his bets form has been on better ground, and he is not running at the top of his form coming into this race, his entry looks to be more of hope than expectation and there are doubts across a few aspects, his weight and the ground are the main sticking points and he will have to be at his absolute best to get into the frame here.

Top weight Monkerty Tunkerty may win the naming stakes, but there is nothing to suggest he can rain on anyone’s parade here. The 11-year old gelding has not shown too much recently to attract attention, and looks to be a spectator again here. The same can be said of Mortimers Cross and According To Them, the latter has an alarming record of being pulled up 5 times in his short 15 race career, and it would be profitable to bet on him being pulled up on this testing ground.

Mortimers Cross enters the race as a 13-year old, the oldest entry, and the ground may wear away at him and come to show in the closing stages, his form has not been particularly breathtaking and seems to be at the other end of the scale, and quite frankly there is not many positives to analyse.

It is however, Adrenalin Flight under Andrew Thornton who catches the eye. The gelding goes off at a lower weight than his other main rivals, and has been in consistent form recently. Perhaps the most positive thing to pick out is his performance on his last outing. A close second over 3m 4f on heavy ground has him dismiss any worries on any ground or distance issues. Under the very capable hands of Thornton there is nothing to prevent me from putting my money on Mullin’s gelding. For me Reblis will run him close, and although Ballybough Gorta has been fancied in the betting, for me the ground is not to his liking and he will not be able to mount a sustainable challenge.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Marriott Interactive Handicap Chase preview

The wet weather up and down the isle of Britain has put paid to a few meetings this week but the great mind of the north, Mark Rowntree, @uptheirons007, has chipped in with a look at the best race at Newcastle, a meeting likely to survive the big wet. Read more of his work on his blog.

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Marriott Interactive Handicap Chase
Three miles, Newcastle, Saturday 1340.


A race that has attracted only seven entries, but a competitive field for the feature-the Class 3, Marriott Interactive Handicap Chase run over 3M. Conditions will be testing (albeit less so than elsewhere in the South), with 32mm of rain having fallen on Gosforth Park since the previous meeting on December 21st. The going is currently described as Heavy, Soft in Places.

Ann Hamilton’s 11yo Rolecarr, a winner seven times from 38 career starts heads the weights off 11st 12lbs, conceding in excess of a minimum of almost a stone to all his rivals. Rolecarr adores Kelso, having won on five occasions at the Borders venue, including most recently when seeing off Or De Grugy (a winner last week) by a nose off a mark of 129 there in February 2013. This gelding had also previously landed the Timeform Jury Handicap Chase in successive years at the same venue in December 2011 and 2012-at varying trips of 3m1f and 2m7f due to the track reconfiguration at Kelso in the Summer of 2012. More recently he’s been beaten on his last two starts at Kelso by Donald McCain’s Kruzlinin, and with his other two career successes coming at Carlisle, he has plenty to prove off top weight at Gosforth Park. Rolecarr has generally run below par at Newcastle in the past (although in a fair grade – most notably when behind Junior in the 2012 Rehearsal Chase) despite being trained locally at nearby Otterburn.

Donald McCain will still be getting to know the 8yo gelding Knockgraffon Star. Formerly with Noel Meade in Ireland, Knockgraffon Star lost his way after scoring in a bumper at Naas (Jan 2011), and in a novice hurdle at Navan (Jan 2012). However, these pair of successes do suggest that he performs well at this time of year, and handles deep testing ground. In his sole start for McCain, Knockgraffon Star finished 5th of 10 behind Sun Cloud over 2m7f at Hexham in mid December 2013. The fact he weakened from the third last after making headway mid race from the rear was probably to be expected on his first run since April 2013. Also racing from a weight of 11st 12lbs at Hexham, he may appreciate the better grade here which sees him race off a more reasonable 10st 13lbs. Personally, I think Knockgraffon Star will further benefit from the run, but is a horse to be interested in going forward.

Mister Philson represents the bang in form Northern Irish based yard of Stuart Crawford. Crawford has already notched four winners in the UK in 2014 courtesy of doubles at both Musselburgh and Ayr. Mister Philson finished fourth, one place ahead of Knockgraffon Star in the aforementioned contest at Hexham. However, his attitude had looked in question, somewhat running in snatches and driven along with a circuit to run and weakening from the second last despite the application of headgear and the persuasion of 18 time Champion Jockey Tony McCoy. In fairness, Mister Philson is lightly raced after 12 career starts and did create a good impression back in April 2013 in a Novice Chase at Hexham, making all to justify favouritism and see off Lucinda Russell’s On Broadway for Peter Buchanan. With a proven ability over further, it may simply be that races over three miles (even on Heavy ground) aren’t enough of a test of stamina for Mister Philson, so I expect to see him forcing a strong pace early doors in this race.

Will Kinsey’s Cheshire raider Gwladys Street is another who is stamina laden. The 7yo Gelding scored in a pair of long distance (3m3f) Handicap Hurdles at Sedgefield in January and March 2013 for Charlie Huxley. These successes coming from official handicap ratings of 94 & 105. In three starts over fences during October and December 2013, the gelding’s best effort came at Bangor when a five length second to Henry Daly’s Castle Conflict. Gwlady’s Street has age on his side and looks the type to improve for Handicap Chases, but did hit the deck on his fencing debut, so does have some questions to answer in the jumping department despite remaining unexposed.

Etxalar brings winning form into the race, and remains feasibly handicapped, having dug deep to see off Indian Voyage on Heavy ground at Carlisle in December 2013. This success came in Etxalar’s first race since September 2013 (Perth), so Lucinda Russell’s 11yo comes into this contest a relatively fresh horse. A four time winner, Etxalar has won from a career high of 121, and was thrown in when a decisive winner, also at Carlisle on Good ground off 99 in March 2013. However, Etxalar is a horse better suited going right handed to left (with three successes at Carlisle), and despite having won previously on Heavy ground, I feel he’s a horse also much better suited by a better surface. One these facts alone, he’s worth opposing in this race, coupled with having previously run below par at Newcastle in the past (albeit mainly at an inadequate 2m4f). However, from a fair mark Etxalar will be a horse to watch closely at either Carlisle or Perth in the Spring of 2014.

Bertie Milan, despite shouldering an attractive looking racing weight in the conditions (10st 2lbs) has something to prove on his three starts this campaign. Although shaping with promise at Carlisle behind the progressive Tutchec in October (2m4f), he’s been disappointing on his last two starts when 5th to Snuker at Hexham (3m2f) and when beaten favourite (third of four) behind Kealigolane over 3m at Musselburgh in early December. Furthermore the Hexham effort finds him with work to do to reverse the placings with Etxalar (finished third) despite meeting that rival on 7lb better terms today.

Verdict

The confident selection, even in a relatively trappy affair is the unmentioned to date War On. This 7yo gelding is the least experienced of the seven runners after only eight career starts to date. War On scored just the once over hurdles on a Soft surface in November 2012 at Wetherby, staying on strongly to deny Donald McCain’s Deise Dynamo, having raced prominently throughout before being briefly outpaced. Over fences, War On is unexposed, having had just the three starts in Novice Chases on vastly unfavourable terms against talented rivals. Although fourth of sixth on his fencing debut behind the useful Sue Smith trained Green Wizard at Wetherby in May 2013, it is his two efforts at Newcastle this season which yield greater encouragement. A keeping on fifteen length third of four to Yesyoucan (Brian Ellison) and Bit of a Jig (Donald McCain) over an inadequate 2m4f in November, he followed this up with an excellent second placing behind Swatow Typhoon over 3m here two weeks ago. Although never threatening a progressive winner (won since at Ayr) he stayed on much the best of the remainder in the shape of a horse who will relish the step into Handicap company. War On is a horse with a future in this sort of grade at the Northern venues such as Newcastle, Hexham and Carlisle, and should go close to providing a first winner of 2014 for Billingham based trainer Chris Grant, and enthusiastic local owner David Armstrong at a decent price.