Another week has simply flown by, and the best thing about this job is the never-ending stream of stories and occurrences to write about, be that the horses, the courses, or today especially, the jockeys. In my opinion Frankie Dettori got little more than a slapped wrist from France Galop despite testing positive for a banned substance (why won’t they announce what it was to stop all the rumours I wonder), and much as I love the effervescent Italian, is a six month holiday for a multi millionaire really enough of a punishment? I can only hope that he learns his lesson and I doubt we will ever know for certain whether this had anything to do with the end of his arrangement with Godolphin, but will he seek treatment and return to the saddle leaner and meaner like the good old days, I wonder?
With regard to the horses, it seems that I was the only one impressed by the way Countrywide Flame hacked up in the Fighting Fifth hurdle at Newcastle last Saturday, but that could well be because I tipped and backed him big time! Excuses are being made for his rivals including the odds on Cinders And Ashes who was allegedly a gallop or two short of full fitness, but the fact he started odds on implies to me he was strongly fancied and I am happy enough with the form. The 12/1 currently available for the Champion Hurdle is not something I will be grabbing with both hands to be fair but then again, I would not put anyone off backing him either, as he is still just a youngster in hurdling terms, and should keep on improving.
The Gold Cup picture gets cloudier by the day with Long Run blotting his copybook the other week, and now Bobs Worth allegedly staking a serious claim at Newbury. The Hennessy is a good race I agree, but he was receiving weight from runner up Tidal Bay and I will be surprised if either horse turns out to be their stable’s main representative come Cheltenham in March. The Hennessy has thrown up a few Gold Cup winners in its time (the latest was Denman), but I feel the bookmakers have over reacted in making the winner the new 5/1 favourite based on that display. Harry The Viking did not run as well as I hoped but wasn’t embarrassed in ninth and could be a serious Grand National contender if he gets in with a sensible weight. 40/1 is freely available as I write, and as he has almost unlimited stamina and is only a child in chasing terms, there are worse ways to waste the shiny coins you may get from Santa in a few weeks time.
Earlier on the card, Big Buck’s simply did what he does best with another romp over hurdles to make it a ludicrous eighteenth win on the bounce over hurdles (eat your heart out, Frankel), though all we really found out was that he is alive and kicking as he saw off a pretty substandard field as you would expect. Nothing else really leapt out over the weekend to me (no need to make it up, there is always next week), so we will stop there and look to the future instead with a few predictions from Mystic Sean!
The weather is threatening to impose on our pleasure once again this weekend, only now it is frost and snow, not wind and rain – but then this is the UK and it is December, so what was I thinking? The only way I manage to stay ahead of the game overall is to search out value and try (sometimes successfully, sometimes not), to let friendships stay out of the equation, which is why I suspect I may be the only serious racing journalist willing to oppose Sprinter Sacre on Saturday! Nicky Henderson does not have his team as fit as he would like after the recent torrential rain, and although he has always thought the world of the son of Network, there is every chance he will not be 100% on Saturday. If that is the case, then Sanctuaire may well find and ruthlessly exploit any chinks in his armour and as a confirmed front runner, he may well be able to inject the pace when needed to cause the odds on favourite some serious problems.
Other races are not quite so simple to second guess at this early stage (over to you and your ratings Ron), but the Henry VIII Novice Chase from Sandown looks like a race worth watching for future winners, assuming most of those entered stand their ground. There is no way I am going to be naïve enough to make a prediction but suffice to say that Overturn is unlikely to have it all his own way with Captain Conan and Tap Night two of any number of serious potential rivals, with the last named the most likely to carry some of my cash if the price is right.
At Aintree on Saturday all eyes could be on Ballabriggs as the 2011 Grand National winner is scheduled to return to action over the Liverpool fences in the Becher Chase at 2.10pm. Top weight on his return will take some training performance from Donald McCain and I prefer to keep a watching brief to be fair, with plenty of other races on the card to play in. Naturally, we all need to keep a close eye on the betting as fitness is a bit of an unknown at this early stage of the season, but if Albertas Run turns out in the Listed Chase at 1.05pm then I may even open my wallet for a change. He is now an eleven year old so he is at the veteran stage (aren’t we all), but he seems to go well fresh (won first time out last season) and is a cut above these at his best -though that is the million dollar question with his age making it less likely he can be spot on first time out, despite all the amazing facilities at Jackdaws Castle.
Finally, and I did warn Ron about this, I am a massive fan of overseas racing which I feel gets almost ignored by the press, racing and otherwise. There is a big wide world of racing and characters out there and this weekend we have the International races from Hong Kong and I admit it, I was there last year and wish I was there right now. Don’t try telling me you “like a bet” until you have been to Happy Valley or Sha Tin where all official betting is Tote only, but with stakes a lot higher than the average here. The tickets are actually printed with amounts up to £10,000 per bet – I just can’t see that catching on at the windows here even at Newmarket or Ascot, can you? On to the racing and this is not second rate action with the likes of Dunaden, Cirrus Des Aigles, Reliable Man, Brown Panther, Dandino, Sea Moon, and Fame and Glory currently entered – this is quality stuff and should get more column inches than it currently puts up with over here (rant over). The facilities at the track are better than first class, food far more economical and varied than the rubbish we have to put up with here and the views excellent, while the whole place has an atmosphere second to none – imagine a packed Wembley watching the racing with everyone having had a sizeable bet on the outcome, and you get somewhere pretty close. Winners are never easy to find with so few international form lines to work on, but it is fun trying and I seriously urge you to at least take an interest – and maybe travel racing abroad with us some time in the not too distant future?