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Saturday 8 February 2020

Newbury showdown

We have a great day of racing at Newbury this afternoon, with ALTIOR and NATIVE RIVER both endeavouring to show their potential as Festival winners.  They've been there before, and landed the spoils - can they do it again?
ALTIOR is the one that troubles me the most. Let's be honest, if you looked at his run at at Ascot over 2m5f in November, it was lacklustre.  The pace was not scintillating and the winner Cyrname looked like he had a good 7lb up his sleeve. Personally, I thought Altior was well below the performance he ran when winning the QMCC last March, and I think he's going to have to run in the high 160's to win this race today, and he's not done that for nearly 2 years.
Who could beat him?
Kalashnikov would go close if the race was over further, but not today perhaps.
Sceau Royal perhaps if he's at his best and he may well be.
It will be an interesting race.
For NATIVE RIVER, today's run will likely be a formality. He looked back to his best LTO, and if he is then he cannot be opposed today.

Monday 3 February 2020

Is Delta Work the real-deal?

On Sunday, DELTA WORK powered through the yielding ground, and stayed on strongest of all (from off the pace) to put the 9yo Presenting Percy firmly in his place, and made sure that the 8yo Kemboy knew he had been in a race. It was a performance that puts him firmly in the picture for the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, and is amongst the best we've seen over 3-miles this season.
Watching the race unfold, you cannot expect either Presenting Percy or Kemboy to reverse the places with Delta Work over the 3m2f Gold Cup trip, as stamina is something Delta Work does not lack.
So far, we've seen some great performances from Lostintranslation, Clan Des Obeaux, Santini, Native River and now Delta Work - and I cannot split them.
From those 5, it would seem that we can discount Clan Des Obeaux from the Gold Cup picture as he went into the race in tip-top form last season, he held every chance 2-out, but he found nothing in the final quarter-mile suggesting that the Gold Cup trip is slightly beyond him.
The old boy Native River finished in front of Clan Des Obeaux, passing him on the run-in. When he won the Gold Cup in 2018, Native River ran to a higher level (in my opinion) than Al Boum Photo did (when winning the Gold Cup) and it could be that he was still feeling the "burn" of that winning performance. However, when Native River won at Aintree in December (absolutely running the OR163 rated Black Corton ragged in the process) he looked at lot like his old self, and we could see a bold effort from the 10yo come March.  Native River is certainly capable of finishing in the 1st-3 in the Gold Cup and, in some respects, connections may be tempted to give the "Denman" chase on Saturday a miss and take him fresh to the Festival. 
Two other good 2nd-season chasers are Lostintranslation and Santini, and the former ran a stinker at Kempton in the "King George"(won by Clan Des Obeaux). However, before that he beat Bristol De Mai over his favourite C&D to win the Betfair Chase and a repeat of that form would see him thereabouts, but he does not have great speed figures and 7 of the last 10 CGC's have required a Speed Rating of 160+ to win, and Lostintranslation has not recorded better than 143.
Santini has a similar profile to Lostintranslation, but having had only 5 chase races to date, he could well have more improvement to come. However, I know he beat Bristol De Mai in January at Cheltenham but he looked a beaten horse 2-out.  Bristol De Mai looked very strong that day but (unfortunately) made a very bad error when jumping 3-out which cost him a lot of momentum. It took a supreme effort to get back in front from there - but he did - and that likely cost him the race.
I'm also a bit worried about the trip for Santini, as he failed to stay up the hill when 3rd in the Albert Bartlett (3-mile) Hurdle as a novice (for which he was 11/4 fav), and he failed to stay up the hill when 2nd to Topofthegame (having led over the final fence) in the 3-mile RSA Chase last March.
Yes, Delta Work was in 3rd that day, but he was tanking along in front coming to 2-out looking very much in control and it could be that the sharp bend before the 2nd-last fence caused him to have a 2nd-look at that fence which cost him momentum and the race.  He has since won 3 x Grade 1 chases over 3-mile, so his class is now not in any doubt.
So from this seasons performances I am siding with DELTA WORK, but is he good enough to beat AL BOUM PHOTO?
You have to go back to Imperial Commander in 2010 to find a Gold Cup winning performance with a speed rating better than ABP's 177 - and Imperial Commander was being chased home by Denman, who had recorded a Speed Rating of 178 when winning the Gold Cup in 2008. Those were heady days for staying chasers, and when you watch Al Boum Photo put the opposition in their place in the final quarter-mile of last seasons Gold Cup, you have to wonder is he better than we thought at the time?

Sunday 2 February 2020

One for the Notebook

Yesterday at Leopardstown we could have seen the most likely winner of the "Arkle" to be run at Cheltenham on 10th March. Notebook was ridden with a lot of confidence behind a forceful ride on the eventual runner-up Cash Back.  To me, it looked a tough race as this pair slugged it out over the final half-mile, and so it may not have been a surprise to see the 25/1 Gallant John Joe staying-on after the final fence to finish just over 7-lengths behind the winner.
Notebook is now a best-priced 3/1 for the Arkle, but to be fair you have to ask if Cash Back is capable of reversing that form at Cheltenham and, given that this was the first serious test for Cash Back, it's is likely that he can only improve on that. So, will Cash Back go for the Arkle or the "Marsh" Novices Chase over 2m4f (won last season by Defi Du Seuil)?
It was disappointing not to see Fakir D'oudairies not line-up yesterday, but I'm not sure that he would be able to reverse the placings with Notebook after being beaten by him when they last met. I get the feeling that connections may try a step-up to 2m4f with him at Cheltenham and go for the "Marsh" instead (for which he is a best-priced 9/1).
Nothing other than this pair (Notebook and Cash Back) looks capable of winning the Arkle at the moment, and I'm having a punt at 7/1 on CASH BACK to be the main challenge from Willie Mullins for this.
Mullins also had a helluva result in the earlier race Dublin Chase over the same C&D, which he dominated with Min and Chancun Pour Soi.  This race looked top-class, especially as the time was 3.60sec faster than the novice chase won by Notebook (carrying the same weight).  The winning margin of nearly 4-lengths was decisive, and Min in 2nd is no slouch, so in my opinion this was the best "two-mile" chase we've seen this season. On the back of this CHANCUN POUR SOI should be the fav for the QMCC, which is a bit galling for me as I thought we had already seen the most likely winner in Defi Du Seuil.
Prior to winning on Saturday, Chancun Pour Soi had run 2nd to A PLUS TARD again over this C&D and now we have to regard this winning performance in a better light.  Combine that form with the emphatic 16-length win (as the 5/1 fav) in the Novices' handicap chase over 2m4f on the opening day of last years Cheltenham Festival, and we are looking at a serious candidate for the Ryanair Chase. Now I realise that he is already 5/1 for the Ryanair, but trainer de Bromhead knows what he's doing, and to be honest I do not think that Min (the 4/1 fav for the Ryanair) is as good over 2m4f as he is over a shorter trip. Without a doubt, Frodon (who won the race last year) showed he was as good as ever when winning at Kempton last month over 2m4f, and he will undoubtedly start as the fav on the day given the crowd will absolutely love him. One horse who I think is flying under the radar in this is KALASHNIKOV who ran a cracker to be 2nd behind Oldgrangewood at Newbury (and that horse went up 7lb and won again at Cheltenham NTO), and a repeat of that performance in the Ryanair will put him in the frame for this, as the form of the "Supreme" novices' hurdle in which he was 2nd in 2018 is now looking to be right up to the usual standard.  Kalashnikov is 16/1 and I'm sure he will line-up in the race in March and (should he do that) he will be trading at under 8/1.