I love the way this sport makes fools of the best of us sometimes, but at least I am willing to put my hand up and admit my ignorance on occasion, unlike the majority of hacks I could name. This week’s article was meant to start with a rant about trainers putting horses in to races where they obviously had no chance, and the affect that can have on their allotted handicap rating for future contests and how we need to spot these little tricks if we want to make this game pay in the long term (can you see where this is going yet?). Mark Johnston is a trainer I have all the time in the world for, and one I respect more than most, but I spotted his three year old filly Pilates, who had won with a stubborn staying on effort over a mile at Bath, dropped back to a little shy of seven furlongs on the super quick Brighton track – what was he thinking of and was he looking at getting her weight down I thought? Naturally, she won a she pleased after decent market support and by four lengths, and there I was, expecting to report her demise and ask what her trainer thought he was doing? That said, she was the one that got away to be fair and those of you taking their punting seriously would do a lot wore than picking one particular discipline (all weather, sprinting, milers, chasers, hurdlers, whatever takes your fancy), and recording and watching all the appropriate races as I guarantee you will spot a few who are not off that day to add to your notebook for future bets.
On Tuesday afternoon, word was soon out that Irish raider Goal was strongly fancied for the mile handicap at Musselburgh, but my each way concept soon disappeared with an early price of 3/1. Before the race I had sussed out that the five year old had improved a few pounds over hurdles which could not be taken in in to account on the flat, but I am always wary of horses dropping back from two miles plus to a mile or so as I am convinced it must blunt their speed (no evidence whatsoever to back that up though!), and even considered a lay bet. I got lucky to dodge that particular bullet as he was backed from 3/1 early doors to 7/4 at the off before landing a serious gamble by a neck, though I suspect jockey Robert Winston would have been lynched had he failed to score after dropping his reins inside the final furlongs! Bets of £1000- cash were struck more than once but I am not sure my ticker could have stood that finish, and I will settle happily for less significant stakes thank you.
Those who have been around a while (like me) will have been sad to see that Direct Route passed away on Tuesday at the ripe old age of 22, having to be put down after breaking a leg at home. Trained by Howard Johnson, he was a top class chaser at two miles or thereabouts (OK, he won a couple over half a mile further), and got involved in numerous titanic battles with the likes of Edredon Bleu and Flagship Uberalles (two quality names to jog your memory), so a real blast from the past and if there is a horse heaven, I hope he settles in quickly.
Looking ahead, we have some cracking action this weekend, centering for me on both Haydock and Leopardstown, pure heaven for punters and racegoers alike and with a touch of the all-weather thrown in! Calling the shots at this early stage is never a good thing but if William Haggas, who has his string in brilliant form of late, decides to send Conduct for the September Stakes from Kempton then I could well be tempted if he goes off at an each way price. Very highly regarded at home (and that comes from the horse’s mouth, so to speak?), he has clearly had numerous issues with two winning runs as a three year old in 2010 followed by close to two years off the track before his Doncaster return in August 2012 when a head runner up to Silvery Moon at Doncaster – and then another year off. His third coming (if there is such a thing) was at Newmarket last month when a respectable if not electrifying fifth in a class two handicap but as they feel he is at least Group Three class, he could be worth a speculative small bet this weekend with Royal Empire the likeliest winner?
As I want to save plenty for the podcast (stardom awaits?), I will limit my action this weekend to one more race and the Sirenia Stakes looks as good as any – if only because I know Ron hates the all-weather and thus will not be looking to argue with me for a change! Another Group Three on the polytrack, this time we are limited to two year olds over six furlongs, so no great shock if something improves out of all recognition and we tear up the form book. If Anticipated shows up on the day he is certainly the one to beat according to official figures but with six runs on the board already this season I am suspicious if not certain that something could and perhaps should improve past the son of Whipper, hopefully starting with the lightly raced and unbeaten Hot Streak. Trained by Kevin Ryan and with Jamie Spencer booked to ride, he has been brought along steadily which I see as a sign of how highly they regard him, with a cosy York maiden win over six furlongs on good to firm going followed by a Listed event at the same venue over five furlongs on soft ground – so he has the speed for a tactical battle and the stamina for the sixth furlong AND he seems capable of handling whatever ground Mother Nature throws at him, all ticks in the right boxes as far as I am concerned! Trying to get a handle on juvenile form is never that easy but the second and third from his maiden have won while there were plenty of previous winners in behind when he took the Roses Stakes and I get the feeling he could be a bit better than we have seen so far – and good value for a 42,000 Guineas purchase last May!
Selections this week:
Hot Streak 4.10pm Kempton Saturday
Horses to follow:
Afortunado – unraced three year old trained by Conrad Allen who I nearly removed from the list – though we all know that would mean he wins first time out at a price!
Taayel – a nice lightly raced sort trained in Newmarket by John Gosden – should be Group class, will improve for his reappearance, and well worth adding to your little black book (ignore his last run, then ground went against him).
Soft Falling Rain – needed the run last time out when losing his unbeaten record, still held in the highest regard and entered in all the top autumn sprints.
Winter Picnic – low grade two year old (no insult intended) who caught my eye on his Brighton debut and is sure to improve for the experience. Nice looking sort who ought to pick up a small race at a price.
Araqella – I doubt we get too rich off this one but she did sweep clear with an impressive turn of foot and could be anything – sure to improve for her first run but we need to see how highly they aim her next.