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The Saturday Sermon – Ascot Champions Day Tips | Cheltenham and a bit of football… Shabash

Good evening from the Major who writes, weary and happy, settling into the weekend, like a well worn glove.  It is late, very late, the Worcestershire scene tonight is dank, driving home, orange streetlights in the distance flickered, seemingly to fizzing and humming in the wet like a live wire gently caressing the damp earth.

I have been out with colleagues and friends this evening eating a thoroughly average meal but in such damn fine raucous company that the cuisine was merely a distraction.  Laughs so deep and primal, deep within, they are fine for the soul and in the company of good people, well… Ah, All is well in the world.

I remain on the cusp of exhaustion, as I write I hear the patter of rain against window glass and it sounds like tiny fingers tapping a rhythm.  I know I am warm and I know out there in the darkness, there are things moving.

I love the winter and it is coming to us now.   Even recently, while  deep into Autumn, the late days of summer held on dearly but now, things are changing.  The rain that kisses you now is cold and taking a morning walk, toes feel numb, fingers tingle.  Summer has had its time at the front, running freely, wild times of chaos.  Now is nearly the time for winter, climbing the hill relentlessly, coming home on a tight rein and the Major is pleased.

I have enjoyed the flat season immensely this summer.  While the classic crop was an average bunch, there were some great memories of which my favourites were Dawn Approach and Toranado going to battle, Talent fighting for her head and still finishing like a train in the Oaks and… momentarily the triumphant victory of War Command in the Coventry, to name but a few.

Yet, todays racing at Cheltenham has reminded me that the flat season is always the poorer cousin to the Majors real passion, National Hunt.  I think the reason I prefer it is the longevity of the horses.  It allows for much greater stories to develop.  Horses that start in bumpers, transcend to hurdling and become novice chasers before joining the staying chaser ranks and those glorious old servants that win ten years after their bumper dreams.  They become like old friends.

Today’s cards offer the perfect handover from flat to the jumps season.  Yes, we still have a few big days to come, particularly the Racing Post Trophy at Doncaster but the Ascot Champions Day is a perfect climax to the summer contests and the first days of the Cheltenham season whet the appetite for the narrative untold.  Be still my friends, it is our season.  To the sports..

Ascot – Champions Day Card

There has been a real fuss over Champions Day and the prospect of moving key Newmarket races next year to create Future Champions Day.  In all honestly, it strikes me that a lot of the antipathy is simple resistance to change.  After all, why not try it and if it does not work, we can go back!  This is a superb card, FIVE group ones, we are spoilt.

One criticism of the timing of the card is that it is likely to have high-profile defections due to winterish ground.  That is true of tomorrow but you either have an end of season finale of you do not.  We definitely need some soft ground horses tomorrow…

In the opener, the horses that I think will go well on the going are Estimate, Harris Tweed, Biographer, Aiken, Pale Mimosa and Eye of the Storm.

Aiken ran well in this last year and likes it soft under foot but I am not convinced he is good enough.  The Queens horse Estimate must rate a huge danger to all having won all of her Ascot starts but I just fancy the chances of Eye of the Storm, 7/1, who won a listed contest latest and has a valuable weight-for-age allowance.  He is a smart colt who needs to up his game again but well could do that with plenty progressive profile and the Ballydoyle machine is purring again.  Pale Mimosa is no 14/1 shot either and I also like the favourite a lot so it shall be small stakes.

The Champion Sprint Stake is one of these top class races that could typically go to any of the protagonists.  Maarek was good when winning the Prix Abbaye and loves it soft but the home team has such a candidate too in Jack Dexter who the dogs have been barking for all week down from 12s into 4s overnight.  I have to say that it is hugely attractive, Jack Dexter has won 6 from 6 on soft or worse.  Yet I am loathed to support either at the prices and instead opt for 13/2 shot Viztoria who also has an unblemished record on soft ground (although only 2 races).  It is a concern that man of the moment Johnny Murtagh is not aboard the girl but I think this is his inability to do the weight rather than him feeling he has a better shot with Belmont Mast.

Regular readers will know what is coming next.

At 2.55, in a corner of Berkshire…. TALENT WILL WIN THE CHAMPIONS FILLIES AND MARES STAKES.  Get stuck in at 7/2 and thank me later.  She should have won the Leger (OK a bit stretched) and I would have like to have seen her in the Arc (next year) and she has nothing to fear here, I shall pray that she settles.  The Lark and the German horse Nymphea may be the closest to looking at Talents glorious behind at the finish.

The QEII is a cracking race and while it is a shame Toronado did not make the line up, we have plenty of quality to give Dawn Approach something to consider.  The one I think could completely outrun his price is Kingsbarns at 16/1.    This time last year, he had the world at his feet, was favourite for classics but his day in the sun has yet to come this year, missing most through injury.  His return was very poor but it is perfectly reasonable to think he may have needed that both physically and mentally.  We also get Joseph on board, the comfort that we know he has been in top hands (O’Brien is a master at getting these sorts to fire again) and he won both his juvenile starts on soft.  What is not to like?

In the Champion Stakes, Derby winner Ruler of the World is of key interest but is unproven on the ground, although he is a Galileo so perhaps we should not worry too much, of interest.  Mukhadram and Farhh are both classy sorts but all of them should really be paying homage to Cirrus Des Aigles.  We all remember him giving Frankel a good run last year and you may remember Cirrus winning the race in the previous year, he was 12/1 that day, tomorrow I can only advise you to be on at 5/4.

Cheltenham Tips

Poor old @limerickjfk – He tweeted me on Thursday night for some Friday Cheltenham tips and even promised me the benefit of a big drink should they come in.  I gave him a non runner and one that finished down the field.  I am the sort of friend you do not need.  Still, we shall try again and I shall stick a drink on the ledger the other way regardless, because it was nice to be asked!

There are some lovely sorts in the opener at Cheltenham, it is a tasty opening to proceedings.  Minella Fiveo is an interesting runner being an Irish raider with Noel Fehily up but the form is uncertain and despite a tempting price, I shall steer to more settled waters.  IT is the last time winners which I want to stick with and of them, Kings Palace stands out.  The Pipe trained horse won his last race at Fontwell very nicely indeed and I think may be better for further.  Oscar Magic rates a real danger as the stable has always been positive about him.  Others stand their chance too but I like my selection well enough.

Skipping a race and looking at the 3.10, I cannot get away from Samtegal, 9/4,  who was placed in a Scottish Champion Hurdle (a poorer handicap imitation of the Cheltenham masterpiece) which is good enough but he was also placed in a Triumph.  I am normally a bit hesitant about Paul Nicholls at this stage of the season, knowing he likes to leave a bit to work on but he had two winners here yesterday and I am in.

Finally in the 5.00, Balder Success is going to be a hot ticket after winning a Chepstow race latest, proving jumping and fitness.  I see those benefits but thought it a slightly odd race.  At the finish he appeared either idling or more likely running flat and I am not sure stiff tracks are what this horse needs.  Turned out again quickly, we will find out.  I shall back my argument with a stake on another.  Dark Lover, 2/1, was  a better hurdler than Balder Success and gets 8lbs here.  He also comes with the benefit of winning at Cheltenham before.  If you are feeling brace, Mr Watson could beat the lot if he decides to apply himself, a big if!

In football, one bet.  West Brom (my own team, I do declare an interest!) have a great chance of winning at Stoke – The team are brimming with talent and confidence, it is a good time to be a baggie.

May your dinner be as well as @limerickjfk who shall eat at Queens Hotel, in excellent company and with good wine, having solved several of the large Cheltenham handicaps.

He will be joined by Martin Hill should the Major break a string of bad losing advices to him with this suggested each way trixie: Talent, Kings Palace and Kingsbarns.

Courage, roll those dice.

Longchamp Arc Day Thoughts

Good day from the Major who writes from the office in glorious Cheltenham where the fine conditions betray the mind into thinking it is late August.

Yesterday was a mixed bag and probably edged by the enemy if being fair.  Today though, in conjunction with the skies bright dawning, I shall share the riches of my mind for Longchamp Arc day.  Let’s get stuck in to the big one.

Longchamp – The Arc

Any racing fan and punter who has any notion of improving their staking strategies focus their energies on value.  The most likely winner is less important than the biggest disparity between price and chance.  Thus, our aim always is assess chance as remotely and impartially as we can.  I would concur that good advice is often to do this before seeing the market, then you can back your own view independent of others.

That said, the market itself is often a great indicator and can reveal useful information in its own right.  In the instance of the Arc, the market is an opportunity in itself.  The Japanese have such a fixation on winning the Arc that they flood the PMU with bets for their own runners, thus Orfevre and Kizuna will be the subject of sustained betting, making the pot imbalanced.  If you want a value punt, then baking anything other than these two on the PMU represents value. Secondly, if you have the time and the energy, it would not be too difficult to use this market disparity to put yourself into a no-lose situation.  Backing Orfevre and Kizuna in the UK and the remaining lively hopes on PMU should be a strategy to which you could return a profitable book regardless of outcome.

Regardless of this nuance to the day, I am sure you are more interested in the race itself so here are some thoughts.

Ruler of the World

I was not that impressed with the Derby this year, I felt at the time that the classic crop was poor (Dawn Approach and Talent being the exceptions) and that thought remains.  Yet Ruler of the World performed with some credit in his trial where he was pipped by Kizuna.  In fact, he was doing more work at the death… Interesting.

Here is a thought though – I think the trials which are held just a few weeks before Arc weekend give a false sense of certainty.  We tend to place too much value in them.  consider this, just four of the Arc winners from this century have won an official trial on the way, plenty of Arc winners were not tuned up for their trial and plenty more did not bother with one.

Kizuna

If you like Ruler of the World then surely you must like Kizuna.  I think this horse brings some of the best form into the race and has a profile that would befit an Arc winner.  According to the trainer, there was plenty left to work on when he won his trial.

The Prix Niel though asked more questions than it gave answers.  Yes Kizuna beat Ruler of the World but the latter was doing more at the finish.  However, Kizuna probably had more to give and I do not think was fully extended, in fact I would argue the horse had a fairly gentle race.

Leading Light

You pay serious money to be supplemented for the big race, couple that with the profile of Leading Light, a certain stayer and many will be hoping that this horse can get to the front and stay there.  That in itself is an interesting conundrum.

Longchamp is an interesting course, the wide bend they take can catapult a well timed runner from the back into the momentum needed to win and generally, those coming from the middle of back of the pack fare better than those in front.  Thus to win the Arc from the front you have to be special or lucky.  I think Leading Light would have to be in the second group.

Should he get to the front, I would be relying on better horses not getting their run combined with bad timing from other challengers to see him as the winner.

That said, it has happened plenty of times before and since I believe Talent to be very good, I would be disingenuous to suggest that Leading Light is a forlorn hope.  I thought Talent might have got to him with a clear run in the St Leger and having tweeted Mr Beckett to suggest she be supplemented if Leading Light was, I got a two word reply…. ‘next year’

Orfevre

What of the favourite then.  He is going to popular and unpopular depending on the partisan camp you find yourself in.  I have already observed the near fanatical home support he will receive.  Suggesting he will be beat to a true Orfevre fan is to place your life in danger!  There is also a significant camp that believes he would have won the race last year if it had panned out slightly differently, reminding myself of the race, it seems impossible with 300m to go that any other result than an Orfevre win was possible.  Yet the leader tied up after showing us that explosive burst of speed…

In the ‘agin’ camp, you have the trends argument.  Five year olds do not do very well, no Japanese horse etc etc – I always have an issue with trends and the people who use them – They need to be grounded in something!  It is clear that with Japanese racing amongst the best quality in the world, it is a matter of time before we have a winner of the Arc from their quarters, thus as a trend it is of no use to me.  The five year old trend also needs some context – There are not that many highly fancied five year olds that compete in the race so pound for pound you would expect them to have a sparse record.

I am not put off by the trends, I am slightly concerned for him in the ground and against a better Arc field than last year.  In fact the 2012 Arc has a very shaky look to it, won by a long shot, with Masterstroke third(anyone?).  In fact, St Nicholas Abbey finished down the field but it was not his day and overall, I am against Orfevre not because of his age but because I doubt the form.  His Arc was weak and his trial the weakest of them.  I think that weakness also provides succour for those that support him and point to last years wide draw… My argument is that in a very weak Arc, draw is less important (as it is if you are a natural hold up sort)

Clearly he is very talented and he has a blistering turn of foot but I am going elsewhere.

Treve

She is good and is yet to be beaten and there was a time where the three year old filly allowance would have given her a significant advantage.  Yet that gap has been narrowed and I think it is a big ask for her.  It is easy to be swayed by her unbeaten record and she is in fine fine hands, I just think this might be too much for her.

The most unsettling part of her profile is the year she has had – If she were top class why not be campaigned as such?

Intello

Will Intello stay?  that is the key question about this runner.  Fabre / Pelier are a formidable pair and seeking their third Arc win (although first this century!).

On the subject of stamina, my view is that Intello should be fine.  He was a ready winner of the French Derby and that was in good to soft ground – He stayed on fine that day and although this is an extra 300m, it is a trip into the unknown and in the breeding there are mixed messages.

It is also an odd course he has charted to the race and last time must have been set up as a confidence booster.  He is a hard horse to assess because we have not seem him in the top races recently and we have not seen him extended in distance, a definite question.

Al Kazeem

There seems no easier of the main players to back than Al Kazeem following a tailing off of his form in the last two runs and a wide draw.  Seriously, the way people have written him off seems a tad unfair.

I don’t see him as a winner myself either but that is not to discredit his positives.  I think he has a style of running that would suit the Arc, right up until the end.  Watching the race last year, Orfevre drifted right quite badly and Al Kazeem suffers the same.  He has done it on a few of his wins, most notably his last G1 at Sandown and I wonder if his tailing of form is connected to that.

Not for me but give the boy credit.

Flintshire

My antepost book is focussed on Flintshire and I wish it were not the case.  The Dansili colt needs decent ground and I think that will be his undoing.  This seemed apparent in his trial and on similar ground, I think he does not have the racing style to glide to victory.

Summary

If you believe Orfevre to win, you have to think any Arc is quality and that he was unlucky last year and that the age and returner stats are less important – I have some sympathy for that view but not at 2/1.

If you think Ruler of the World then you must overcome a slight ground concern but believe he was better than Kizuna for the bare result in the Prix Niel – I can accept that too.

For you to back Kizuna 15/2, you have to think that there was plenty left off for his trial where he was treated lightly and travelled much the best.  this I have significant sympathy for and thus he gets my nod.

As a post script – What a shame Novellist is not there, he would have carried my money.

The Rest of the Card

12.45 – Maarek 8/1 – Likes the cut and needs some luck

1.20 – Veda – 8/1 – Seriously sinister profile – Once raced and thrown into this!

1.55 – Charm Spirit – 7/1 – Can win from the front, looked mighty impressive here latest.

2.30 – Silasol – 7/1 – Time for some revenge over Tasaday over this more suitable trip

4.40 – Moonlight Cloud – Evens (Coral) – Easily the best in this field

5.10 – Tac de Boistron – 6/1 (Ladbrokes) – Unexposed at marathon distances and in good heart

The Saturday Sermon with a Lingfield Flavour… plus the Northumberland Plate

Good evening from the Major who writes from a close Worcestershire evening air, stifling and uncomfortable.

Thank goodness Ascot is behind me.  I can only say that it was a non stop unending catastrophe.  I started with a solid idea of the group winners, decent form in my mind concerning the leading three year olds and a small war chest with which to undertake the campaign.  I managed to overcome those issues with  incredible deftness to leave the week pot-less.  Following the Major at Royal Ascot was your fast route to the poorhouse.

The dust has settled.  This is a brief post as the Major is dedicating his weekend to the garden.  As such, we shall head straight to the sports.

Lingfield Tips

It is strange you might consider that the Major is spending some time on the Lingfield Saturday card but @rjcoughlan is attending and I said I would, for what it is worth.

Going to Lingfield for the racing is not high on the Major’s list of ways to spend the time until we face our final reckoning.  That is because I typically associate Lingfield with the sandy dog track; where low-grade racehorses trade handicap positions, skullduggery and gambling plots unfold and my only usual advice would be to back Robert Tart, Adam Kirby or Neil Callan… either that or stick a pin in the card.

Yet Lingfield boasts a rather fine turf course whose attributes are slightly undulating, sharp left hand turns but a reasonable long straight in which normally, horses get their run.  I like it.

In the opener, I would have to be on Banadeer whose debut race I watched where he finished a close up second having possible been out fought on the run in.  That might give some cause for concern regarding attitude but I think the colt did well having broken a little badly, he made up good ground and travelled well, these two year olds can learn a lot from run to run and since that was the best form on offer anyway, I think the odds on shot should go in easily enough in the opener.

There are a few competing for favouritism in the second and the Majors fancy is one of them.  Indian Tinker looks the most obvious call having shown a return to form last time where he chased Cincinnati Kid home at Leicester.  While just over a length short of the winner, he was three clear of old warrior Methaaly in third.  A repeat effort will see him win at 5/2.

The third race is a fillies handicap in which I am struggling to see past the Lady Cecil trained, handicap debutant Tomintoul at 5/1.  Moma Lee is a the 2/1 favourite but I think my selection if putting the best foot forward (not guaranteed) has an excellent chance of getting upsides.

The 7.25 is a four runner affair and in these, I am always swayed by jockey booking.  Apart from horse ability, I always considered jockey booking the most significant factor in calculating my horses probability of winning and I think the emphasis on jockey is greater in extreme small or large fields where timing, tactics and putting the horse in the best position are amplified in influence.

In the Majors view Bishop < Keniry < Doyle < Queally.  Thus the selection is 8/1 rank outsider Santo Prince who has yet to run well this year but might find this small field a good chance to find a love of racing again.

Then the racing switches to the fibresand and the first of the last three races is a seller… Right Stuff is destined to be the odds on favourite but I think I am going against and backing Proud Times at a forecast 4/1.  The horse has some talent but has had some significant issues and faded badly on a return from another big break latest.  I am pinning hopes that the lung opener there and Adam Kirbys assistance can do the business.

In the penultimate race, I am backing Hello Sailor to outrun 9/1 odds.  His last run was too bad to be true and the soft conditions probably had something to do with it.  Point of Control would be of huge interest if the money comes and Duchess of Gazeley also caught the eye in a race where it was hard to narrow the thoughts.

In the last, Harbinger Lass makes easily the most appeal.  I think Channon must have thought she was better than this class as she has been in some much hotter races to date.

Northumberland Plate

The field for the renewal of the Northumberland Plate is absolutely top-notch.  I want to increase our chances in this race by ignoring anything over 9 stone as only two horses have shouldered more than that to victory in the last twenty years.  However, it feels a dangerous tactic as the field quality in 2013 is unusually high.

Yet lurking nearer the base of the weights is Mubaraza a Dalakhani colt trained by Ed Dunlop and ridden by Paul Hanagan.  The jockey had a nasty fall at Ascot on Ektihaam but he has been riding brilliantly this week and I think he will give us a great run for our money.

The Curragh – Irish Derby Day

The quality racing on Saturday is happening on the Curraghs evening shift.  Moving the Irish Derby to be run in the early evening was an interesting move but not one the Major is entirely opposed to.  @limerickjfk and his band of merry men shall be on course and the Major wishes you the finest of fortune.

Watching Friday Curragh action, the form of O’Brien struck me.  He had seven runners and two winners which is not at all shoddy.  In there though, he had three favourites unplaced, including a 4/6 shot and some of those runners performed particularly badly.  I am not agin him entirely, more I tread a little more warily than usual.

My reading of the Curragh card is as follows.

The opening maiden looks a penalty kick for Intensified if you trust the market which prices him at 1/3.  Not surprising really as the form tie with War Command who was easily the most impressive Royal Ascot winner for the Major is excellent.  However, I am wary of horses with excuses, particularly those tied to better form.  Intensified also has tied form with Sir John Hawkins so it looks rock solid.

Second on the card, in the listed race, I am supporting 6/1 shot Flashy Approach.  This horse is making a huge step up from a debut maiden win to compete with seasoned campaigners but I like the connections and I like the breeding.  New Approach is already a leading sire this season and this is going to further improve in the years to come as he gets a better quality crop of mares to cover.  As it is Flashy Approach is out of a Group 2 winner.  Load the Cannons, John Oxx will have him ready.

21 runners in the handicap and 6/1 the field tells you something… Gathering Power is current favourite and after Royal Ascot, who would argue against Mr Murtagh, he is showing irresistible form from the saddle.  I prefer Akira at 14/1 who gave Tropical Mist a good beating when winning on his second start.  I also think Majestic Queen should not be 20/1 either so will have a small saver. Dangers aplenty!

It goes from the difficult to the mind bending as the 4.45 is the 30 runner sprint which is currently 10/ the field!  I am taking a stab at Bajan Tryst who is a massive 28/1 as I type with BetVictor.  These sprinters swap form like anyones business and so the key is not to be too hung up on literal readings.  Instead, find a decent jockey and a sprinter that looked like he was heading the right way ( as mine was last time when a little unlucky).  Tick the boxes of capability, jockey and form and you have a contender.

The Railway Stakes is more solvable, particularly with Coach House who was second to the excellent American raider No Nay Never at Royal Ascot in the field.  I am not that convinced that Coach House will beat Stubbs who was in the Coventry and finished 6th but had raced on the wrong side.  I would prefer to have a slice of the stable second string at 4/1, a price I suspect might drift.

In the Sapphire Stakes I am opting for Slade Power.  The horse was a Pricewise pick at Ascot and would surely have played a better pat if breaking on terms.  That was uncharacteristic and if coming out of the stalls, I expect a very good run.  7/2, fill your boots.

The Irish Derby

Libetarian has passed into the hands of Godolphin and they are looking for some immediate payback as the horse has another crack at Ruler of the World and Galileo Rock from the first three home in the Epsom Derby.

You have to admire the record of O’Brien in this race, he has won the last seven renewals.. A role call including Camelot, Fame and Glory and Dylan Thomas.

Whether Ruler of the World is in that category, we shall see.  Yet I think odds-against cannot be ignored.  The horse is unbeaten  He won the derby on an unusual undulating and cambered track having crossed a sea.  If Libetarian and Galileo Rock fans think their own hard luck stories give them a rightful expectation of overturning the form, I think they are wrong.

It is often easy to look at a placed horse and concoct a reason as to why the horse was unlucky.  Yet in doing so, you ignore the fact that the horse WAS unlucky.  It is no certainty that over a fairer track that either of the Derby runner ups will get to Ruler of the World.  If anything, I think the latter might improve further back on home soil on a course that should suit better.

The one I worry about as a fly in the ointment is 9/1 shot Sugar Boy but on balance, I think the odds against price of Ruler of the World is a signal that European recession and Austerity is being bought to a close.  Steak tonight!

The Lucky Last

If we end up needing the lucky last, we are in big trouble.

Any Willie Mullins horses redirected to the flat need to be respected and so Call me Bubbles is of interest.

Abou Ben is an extraordinary entry.  At the tender age of 11, he is in resurgent form and can defy the latest rise in the weights.  Many might be put of by his switch from soft to firm ground but not me.  He has won on it before so why worry?

I am playing my get out card on Fanaan Aldaar at 25/1 who is just out of the handicap proper but I am not concerned.

The Martin Hill Lucky 15 is Hello Sailor, Harbinger Lass, Tomintoul and Muburaza.

Courage, roll those dice.