Tag Archives: thunder strike

Royal Ascot Tuesday Tips…. the madness begins, what to trust? which stories to unfold?

Good evening from the Major who writes to you on Royal Ascot eve from a dusky Worcestershire whose cool air belies the season.

The Major must confess to not mustering quite the Cheltenham heights of fervour on Ascot eve.  Yet, we gaze down as Generals on the scene below with the battle about to be joined.  Our artillery are firing Armstrong shells which are bursting brightly above the enemies damn business like looking lines.  Our forward infantry is skirmishing in open formation and the heavy cavalry with lance drawn are bristling to get involved.

What orders shall we send?  What combination of factors does our reason, experience and instinct favour?  Are they right?

Shall we dig in grimly like the Warwickshire’s at Rorke’s Drift, firing our Martini Henry rounds until the enemy is upon us and we entertain them with bayonets drawn and twenty rounds per man?

Shall calamity strike us, like Lord Cardigan, with Raglans orders, charging his Lancers, Dragoons and Hussars into, to quote Tennyson, into that valley of death, sluicing through Russian positions at awful cost; shall we be done the same way? Discharging our bets, each greater than the last seeking glory to shadow past loss but finding none.  Shall our utter defeat be glorious and draw awe from our friends.  As the French General Bosquet famously said; c’est magnifique mais c’est ne pas guerre.

or.. dare we dream, shall our Ascot be akin to Sir James Hope gloriously marching to Beijing, sweeping far numerically superior foe before him, punching his great fist of heavy horse through those ranks of elite Mongol warriors and bringing the Qing forces to heel in glorious style.

At this moment, we can savour the uncertainty, our preparations are made, our strategy of bets laid out.  I wish you luck in the field, my friends.

Royal Ascot Tuesday Tips

The opening day of Royal Ascot is my favourite.  The St James Palace, The Kings Stand and the Queen Anne; not to mention the Coventry, the delights are laid before us, we must eat slowly as not to gorge.

The Queen Anne

The Queen Anne gets us off to an absolute flyer with a single question race… Will Animal Kingdom run to form on his first British start.  If you could answer that with a solid yes then you surely have the winner of the race.  After a number of high-profile defections, the 2011 Kentucky Derby and 2013 Dubai World Cup winner is the star of the show.

He has not raced in Britain, he has not raced over a straight mile.  He has not encountered an uphill finish… cause for concern?

None of these factors seem to bother Graham Motion, UK born trainer of Animal Kingdom.  He has been housing the horse in Lambourn since his travel from Dubai.  Animal Kingdom has had plenty of time to acclimatise and has spent some time at Ascot too as part of his induction.  Having handled the heat and pressure of his former exploits, surely the opening crowd of Ascot won’t effect him…

Motion states his main fear is the ground.  Currently good but with rain forecast, the horse does not want it too soft.

On balance, the other factors bother me less too.  Animal Kingdom is an impressive looking specimen and has a world-class jockey on board.  I would expect those facets to more than cover the unusual course and finish.  The ground is a concern… maybe worth waiting for…

The contenders include Sovereign Debt who was runner-up at a massive price to Farrh in the Lockinge.  That form holds up and he loves Ascot, Sovereign Debt won’t mind the rain either, in fact I dare say that Michael Bell is currently praying for the heavens to open.

Of the John Gosden pair, clearly Elusive Kate is the favoured sort.  I think this is a big ask against the big boys on seasonal debut and I would be more interested in Gregorian who look very pleasing when hitting the front last time out at Epsom on Oaks day.

O’Brien saddles Declaration of War who has something to prove but is in the finest of hands to do it.

On balance, the balance of this race is going to come down to the ground.  I am hoping it stays fairly sound and plan on taking every available bookie offer to supplement the current evens price of Animal Kingdom in the morning.  Coral are going 2/1 for £25 and I am sure there will be more.  The thing that convinces me most is class….. the recent history of the Queen Anne reads like a who’s who of Group 1 racing… Goldikova, Frankel, Canford Cliffs….. Animal Kingdom, feels right n’est pas?

Kings Stand Stakes

Another Group 1, another international star, this time it is South Africa and Shea Shea, as well as Aussie representative Shamexpress.  Prohibit, Sole Power, Kinsgate Native, Swiss Spirit and Reckless Abandon make this an absolute mouth-watering renewal.

Prohibit won the Kings Stand two years ago and can be backed at 40/1, I seriously would not put you off, even if it does not appear, at first glance, to be best in his yard yet alone best in the race.  His stablemate Kingsgate Native, a sterling warrior, back to form last time out is from the same yard and while he will have his fans, if he ever wins again, he won’t be carrying my money.  Kingsgate Native has misbehaved at Ascot before so caveat emptor.

Shea Shea is clearly a leading talent and had Sole Power well beaten twice so must be the form pick  Again we are dealing with an international star traveller who we must take on trust has settled into British life.  Given his globe trotting success, it makes sense to assume he is OK with it.  He is sometimes a bit lit up though and will be ponied to the start.

The other raider, Shamexpress, troubles me as connections have clearly stated that firm going is preferable.

I like Reckless Abandon and three years olds have a great record in this sprint.  He has every chance of reversing form with Swiss Spirit and winner Kingsgate Native as he raced on the wrong side and did not have a lot go his way.  He also gets a shift in the weights to his advantage.

Something tells me to get after Shea Shea.  With the top sprint horses often getting turned over as the season develops, I would never want to be on something that short in the Kings Stand.  That is my strategy.

On balance, I think Reckless Abandon is the most solid option.

The St James Palace

What a beautiful renewal of the St James Palace – For me, this is worth the entrance fee alone, if only I were lucky enough to be present.

First of all, you have to assess Dawn Approach.  When winning the 2,000 guineas, he looked like Pegasus, powering away from the bushes.  His derby run is best described as unexplained.  He broke fine but after half a furlong, something went click and he lit up like a wild bear.  Kevin Manning fought for control, no doubt with his shoulder sockets burning but half way down the hill, no matter who was to win the Herculean struggle for supremacy between man and horse, the race was gone.

Much was made of whether Ballydoyle got the horse beaten with a muddling pace while Bolger had no pacemaker… That is remedied tomorrow with Lettir Mor surely in there to ensure his stablemate has a hare to aim at.

My concern is the mental effect of the Derby on the horse, the whole affair must have at least confused the horse and for me, he is a watch animal for now.  I am a bit surprised they have not sought distance with Dawn Approach to recuperate.  I cannot have been the only punter watching the whole affair unfold to consider the wonder and fortune with which the late Sir Henry Cecil drew the best from Frankel.  Such a comparison is unfair, I draw it not to criticise Bolger – After all Sir Henry will have made his own mistakes at times… Rather it highlights the fine judgements and simple luck needed in managing this top quality precocious youngsters.

Clearly leaving Dawn Approach out of calculations is a big call because his previous form as an unbeaten star is impeccable….. yet it is decided.

I am not keen on horses sub 5/1 with excuses last time.  Toranado may well have had good reason but solving it does not make him value.  What I specifically mean is that to think that it represents value, you have to think Toranado had a great chance of beating Dawn approach anyway.  I did not.

So Magician then… surely.  Well…. there is a horse with a disturbed preparation and that bothers me too.  This horse otherwise would be my pick.  He has won a  2,000 guineas and that is the route that Henrythenavigator, Rock of Gibraltar and Mastercraftsmen all took on the way to their successful St James Palace stints.

So, we have one horse with potential mental issue, one who needs to get over a palate / breathing issue and one that needs to overcome a setback from kicking out in his box.

Of the shorter horses, I fancy Magician.  I trust O’Brien to have him OK after his knock and I think he has a solid winning chance.

Then there is Mars.  Like many, I was very surprised to see Mars stepped back to a mile after doing his best work at the finish in the derby.  I think the course will suit him much better, he got going late at Epsom on a course that doesn’t suit many horses.  There is  going to be a lot of pace on in the St James Palace so a closer might be a good idea.  12/1 is available, I suggest a win bet.

The Coventry

Two lines strike me in the Coventry.  Firstly there is the tale of Sir John Hawkins, after his Curragh win, Sir John Hawkins was supplemented for this race.  That process cost connections £45k, they are plenty fluid enough to have a pop at any race they fancy but my view is that to do so at a later stage when they have a stable of other live chances… well, connections must think there is a decent chance of winning.

The second line of enquiry is Richard Hannon.  He has won this race with Canford Cliffs and Strong Suit, the latter racing in the colours of Championship.  Interestingly, those horses also took in the Newbury maiden which Championship won too… interesting.

If the Coventry was more open, I would definitely be betting War Command.  It is hard to split that one from Sir John Hawkins.  Yet this race favours those at the head of affairs and I am going to stick with Ryan Moore who I rate the superior of the jockeys on my fancied sorts.

Ascot Stakes

I am minded to have a pop at two in this for win bet purposes as there are two I am struggling to be drawn on.

Tiger Cliff would bring the house down winning for the recently widowed Lady Cecil.  Sir Henry said that he thought this was the winner of the race prior to his sad parting and 11/2, I want to be on – Even if it is just to be a part of the emotion of this horse winning.  There will not be a dry eye in Ascot.

The other I want on my side is the Phillip Hobbs trained Big Easy.  There are so many of these jump horses that transfer well back to the flat and Hobbs is pretty decent at it, I still have memories of Detroit City performing well reverting back to the flat.  12/1 is plenty for me to take an interest.

The Windsor Castle

If the twenty runners in the penultimate race provides a conundrum, the twenty-eight due to post in the finale make life insanely tough.

I want one in a high draw and I am opting for last years winning trainer and jockey combination in Ryan and Makin.  Sleeper King is 16/1 in a few places and that is where my pin landed.

Best of luck to you.  For the Major, after a mammoth post, it is to bed.

The Saturday Sermon on Derby Day

Good evening from the Major who writes from the dulling Worcestershire evening.  The air is chilling beautifully, the crackling ball of plasma has dipped beneath the horizon and dusk brings a calm to the soul.

The Major has been immobile this week, regular readers will have noticed the abbreviated Sermon last Saturday.  The Major suffered a sudden sporting injury and the finest medical opinions in my local surgery suggest I have torn ligaments.

Don’t rush to sympathise with me, for today I struck a minor mothership and am undeserving of your thoughts.

I cannot say I scrutinised the Oaks card with great thoughtfulness, it was just one of those days where a lack of contemplation boded well.

I had Thistle Bird in Epsoms opener, only because I have a soft spot for anything in Nathaniels colours.  Resurge was my winning selection in race two on account of Neil Callan being one of the more under rated jockeys.  Gregorian had the best Group form in the book and was my selection in the third before the fourth in which I chose Mister Music (the only leg that let me down) on account of wanting some Hughsie in my mix.  Then the Oaks, I almost took The Lark but settled on 20/1 winner Talent.  Why? Well it’s damn hard to read what these fillies are up to and I felt her listed race was open to be interpreted as better as she had fought hard for her head in it and won despite that wasted energy.  My how she repeated that tomfoolery today.

Coming down the hill towards Tattenham corner, she was on the verge of rearing, fighting viciously with Hughes.  Once he had her on the straight, he asked her to go between two tiring sorts, which seemed the wrong course to me when a simpler option lay wide.  She went through though and put the race to bed in glorious style.  It was not Hughes’ finest ride in my consideration but for a quality hard-working jockey, no other deserves to break a classic duck with two in one season more than he.  Bravo.

The Majors spoils?  Well I had each way doubles and trebles on the five selections.  The swag was enough for a holiday, not the Caribbean perhaps but maybe a weekend in a fine hotel with enough loot to satisfy some of my lascivious vices.  As I say, feel no pity for I.

The strangest part is that despite considering myself fairly level minded, after three legs, special thoughts were brewing in my mind, the opportunity of great gains lay before me.  Mister Music put pay to those.  I was lost a bit, to the point where even when Talent galloped home,  I still felt rather flat, more than I should have.  That troubled me and stayed with me, as these things will.

If it were not for the back, I would take these illicit gains and romp to Epsom tomorrow for some fun on the downs.  As it is, I shall leave those shenanigans to my good friend Mr Hadden and his merry band.  For them, I shall try to reproduce the trick but the Major is circumspect.  I am the blind squirrel and occasionally I find the odd nut.  I am the broken clock, correct twice in a day.  Past performance is not a guide to future performance.

To the sports…

Epsom Derby Day Tips

I am going to go across the Epsom card.  My principles are as follows.  You need a good jockey, for this I am going to use subjective views, my own.  You ideally also need a horse that has gone well at Epsom before where there is a significant camber.  If no Epsom form is available, I would allow Brighton, Goodwood or Bath form to correlate.  To business.

1.35 Epsom

In the opener, High Troja is current favourite.  Starting last time at 25/1 at Newbury, the horse was visually impressive but that was off an awful crawl and I am not entirely buying the form.  Plus Ed Dunlop has saddled 4 winners from 33 runners in the last two weeks, not a huge problem but not convincing either.  Plus the Newbury ground was much better than this… plenty of doubts.

Space Ship carries those Nathaniel colours as well but also has a lot of questions.  He clearly is progressing and the Chester win was fine.  He has good form tied with Telescope from last season but his win was on good to firm and Chester is a completely different proposition to Epsom.

Neil Callan is my favourite jockey in the race, I have never seen him given anything other than his best and he keeps things simple.  That said, I am struggling to find a line of form that puts St Paul de Vence in it, he would have to improve a lot from his reappearance, which is only a minor possibility in my view.

The opener is a tricky affair and I am going to chance my arm on King Muro.  Andrew Balding is a top trainer and I am sure he has not bought the horse to Epsom for a day trip.  It is in on a bottom weight of 8-2 and has the assistance of Hayley Turner for the first time in the horses career.  His only win came at Kempton in a class 6, hardly enthralling I know but last time out at Chester was interesting.  The horse was prominent and travelled well but threw an anchor out two furlongs out and the jockey was kind from there to the line.  Who knows?  The price builds in the doubts, 20/1.

2.05 Woodcote Stakes

These big early season contests for two year olds offer less evidence but we can still apply reason.

This is the type of race where you would expect to see the plethora of riches from the Hannon juvenile camp dominate but he has only won it once in fifteen years.  That said, Thunder Strike comes with obvious credentials having won two sprints very nicely, a step up of a furlong should not be a problem either.

Two reasons make me opt for Riverboat Springs though at 11/2.  Firstly, Thunder Strike only has form at Doncaster and Newbury – Two flat straight easy courses, this is a different world.  Riverboat Springs won at Bath, a swerving dipping and cambered course – That win was also on good to soft.  I also like the fact that Channon has targeted this race in recent years winning it twice in the last ten years, including the last running with Chilworth Icon.

2.40 Epsom Coronation Cup

The first of the two Group One races and the Coronation Cup renewal is a disappointment.  Only five runners, one of which looks to be a pace horse.

It is incredible to consider that Ballydoyle have such spoils that they can deploy listed winners to be a hare for their top animals to aim at.  That seems to be the lot of Chamonix.  It may also be the job of Chapter Seven who may be leading Dunaden.  This should make for an interesting early pace duel.

St Nicholas Abbey has won the last two runnings of this race and I have no clue how to oppose him.  Joshua Tree is a Grade One winner in Canada, winning their top race for the globe-trotting Ed Dunlop stable – This is tougher.  Dunlop knows Dunaden well as he was responsible for the defeat of Red Cadeaux by a shadow in the Melbourne Cup in 2011.

Since then, St Nicholas Abbey has given him a good hiding and as far as I can see another dose is due to be served up in the race that St Nick has made his own.  4/11 is not sexy I know.

The Dash

The dash is all about the draw.   It is also a punters graveyard.  In the last three years we have had winners at 33/1 and 50/1.  Kudos throughout the season of sprinting swings from one horse to another so I have less faith in the science of prediction than in other races.

Nothing I just told you is new.  The top four in the betting come from stalls 15 and upwards.   What glimpses may have the winner left though, what can we analyse that might allude to the true signal, the one horse that will cross the line mere fractions of seconds before the next?

Captain Dunne ticks a number of boxes, he is almost a stone lower than when running well in this last year  A reappearance run will have him spot on, he likes the ground and is well drawn.  A contender, no doubt and I expect the money to come flying.

It is merely in search of value that brings me to my more interesting selection.  Ballesteros is available at 22/1 and I think it dismisses his chances.  He was 4th in a Prix de l’Abbaye behind Wizz Kid but in front of Sole Power, that is well franked form, c’est vrai?  In the saddle is William Buick, a pilot who won this just five years ago.  Have a slice.

Derby Tip

I am surprised that this evening the books are out to get Dawn Approach.  At the start of this week, the colt was odds on but has drifted to 11/8 and Ladbrokes are going 7/4 in the morning for 15 minutes from 8.15… I kid you not!

Dawn Approach gave me and a few Business School pals a terrific thrill in the 2,000 Guineas.  Listening to the race on the radio and the commentators excitable description of him powering away at the bushes, well… it was better than watching it.

On what grounds do we see him beaten?  Trip is the one that is being trotted out. He has only raced over a mile and so will he get a distance 50% further.  When we don’t have the evidence to go on we look to the clues…. Breeding and Visual evidence from former races.  On breeding, the favourite is out of New Approach (who himself is a Galileo horse).  New Approach was a derby winner and sire of yesterdays Oaks winner.  The Dam, Hymn of the Dawn, gives us no clues.  She was a poor racer and kept to short distances in Ireland with Jim Bolger.

Visually, Dawn Approach hardly looks the sort to be inconvenienced by a well run mile and a half.  If anything, you could argue he will improve for the step up. His sire did.

Back for the verdict on Dawn Approach in a moment.  Ocavango was of serious interest to the Major but being drawn in stall 1 has a sobering effect as was highlighted in todays stats, it is definitely a penalty.

Battle of Marengo is unbeaten in five and out of the O’Brien camp so has to be taken seriously but it concerns me that the horse is yet to compete at the top-level.  Last years Ballydoyle derby winner Camelot had already taken in the Racing Post Trophy as a juvenile and the 1,000 guineas as a seasonal debut before the derby.  I question the strength of the O’Brien classic crop this year and will swerve this one.  If you wanted a Ballydoyle horse, I would prefer Mars who did compete in the 1,000 guineas and gets Hughsie who knows every roll of these Epsom Downs.

When the answer is right in front of you, do not be afraid.  Dawn Approach is the obvious selection and I find his case entirely compelling.  I would want 6/4 or bigger to account for the risk we are taking that he will handle the track but he is in good hands to do so (as his Sire did).  He delivered the goods in the Guineas and I am getting stuck into a follow up in the second classic he is eligible for.

4.50 Handicap

Moore riding Sirvino for David Barron catches the eye as it is a rare booking.  However, it has not been one that has reaped rewards either (no wins, three runners in last two years).  He did at least serve up a stronger performance last time out when winning at York, staying on well to score at last.

I am prepared to have a pop at another at bigger odds in 11/1 shot Scatter Dice.  My selection might be a typical Johnstone horse and if he gets in front two furlongs out may just prove hard to catch.

The other horse that caught my eye was Sheikhzayedroad who I think will enjoy this new trip.

5.25 Handicap

If you are not ahead by the time of the handicap, you need a bit of luck in this last race because it is a minefield.

I am going for Seeking Magic at 9/1 with the strong Adam Kirby in the saddle, I could tell you why but I won’t.

The each way Martin Hill Lucky 15 is Seeking Magic, Scatter Dice, King Muro, Riverboat Springs.

I hope your dinner is bought with the bountiful catch of the day and the company you keep is elegant and charismatic.

Courage, roll those dice.