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Free publicity but no free bets, is the Gold Cup winner in action Ron, and have the McCain yard finally seen the light?

Donald McCainThe real beauty of this sport is that if you sit there long enough, something always comes along worth writing about, and this week we have the so called “Curley Conspiracy”, a wholesale gamble executed to perfection by somebody, and currently used by the bookmakers for unlimited publicity in every broadsheet and red top you can find, plus countless websites! I only wish Ron and I were podcasting again as we could have had a lot of fun with this and it appears to have split the racing world down the middle, though I do like a good argument! In the red corner, the old fashioned brigade delighting in the fact that the bookmakers have been taken to the cleaners, and on the other side, those looking to enhance the integrity of the sport and screaming “foul” with no evidence to back it up – but I am in both camps, sitting on the fence and getting splinters! I am not jealous I was not involved in the plot (wish I had been, but not jealous), and I have no sympathy with the bookmakers (who rarely lay a decent bet anyway, and I suspect the figures quoted are a figment of an overactive PR imagination (at Paddy Power for starters)! That said, I am wary of where that leaves us “normal” punters in the long and even short term, so lets analyze one horse if nothing else and see what conclusions we reach with and Eye Of The Tiger a good place to start, being the first of the runners and thus the one backed independently and not as a panic move by the bookies (as per those later on). Now to get things straight, my viewpoint is simple – most times there is a handicap gamble the information was there for all to see – we were just too lazy to look for it! Running them over different distances on unsuitable going at the wrong tracks is fair game in my book and a way to bring the weights down – but as mentioned, it is all there for public view if we look, but was that the case here? His last four runs had seen him finish stone cold last (of 13, 15, 10, and 10), with the race before them a more promising 14th of 15! Lengths beaten were 85, 112, 111, and 36 with a 45 length second last in the other race mentioned – inspiring is not exactly the word that springs to mind. Odds returned were 20/1, 50/1, 14/1, 50/1, and 66/1 in the races mentioned, yet he opened on course at 5/4 and bolted up by a very easy nine lengths at Evens  on Wednesday. The going ranged from good to heavy in those races so ground effectively disappears from the equation (he had never raced on polytrack before), though in his favour, this was a drop in class from a Class five to a Class six, and he had also been dropped a massive (and rare) eleven pounds by the handicapper. Bottom line is, I would not have found him with a telescope and neither would most of us (even you Ron?), and as for the official reasons of and back and leg issues surely should have brought about questions as to why they ran him when he was at risk of injury and/or not fit enough to do himself justice? In conclusion, well done whoever masterminded this and lets hope most of the cash ends up helping the poor in Africa as we suspect it will, but I am wary that this was invisible if not impossible and I do think further investigations are needed and answers given – it is not good enough for us average punters to not get a look in and more importantly, horses need to be seen to be racing on their merits, not for some plan hatched years in advance (by the look of it)?

Rant over (I just can’t help it sometimes), and on to the weekends racing, and as a journalist of some repute (ill or otherwise), I need to assume everything will at least attempt to run to form! I cant start anywhere other than Cheltenham which is the worldwide home of National Hunt racing, and as we move deeper in to the New Year, all roads lead to Prestbury Park and the Cheltenham Festival, the highlight of my entire year (just don’t tell my wife that). What we learn this weekend is open to question but there are enough decent races to be worth videoing and watching repeatedly looking for clues, but you don’t want to know about that – you want to know my selections even if you see them as laying options! As Ron will no doubt be waxing lyrical about Rocky Creek I had better leave that contest alone I suppose (he should win, to be fair), and head off to the 1.50m where I will be lumping on Our Mick each way for trainer Donald McCain. No, I have not been carried off by men in white coats, I have logic on my side even though the now eight year old has flattered to deceive and failed to visit the winners’ enclosure since January 2012. For reasons they seem to now be questioning themselves, they upped him in trip to three miles or further without success, and the trainer told me himself that the further he goes the better he gets, but the stats don’t lie! He has now won a total of three races over fences, none of them over further than two miles five furlongs (today’s trip), and has first time blinkers on this afternoon to sharpen him up – he is no good thing but I think I have talked myself in to an each way bet if nothing else?

My only other bet is a bit more cowardly with the unbeaten Red Sherlock the one in the 3.00pm for the hopefully coming back to form David Pipe yard. I do like a horse with a string of wins against its name and follow the old adage that you never know how good they are until they get beaten, though hopefully that will not be this afternoon for the five-year-old son of Shirocco. Three bumper wins included a Listed event here at Cheltenham and were followed by wins over hurdles at Southwell and then Wetherby though this will be much more of a test I assure you. Track trip and going all look ideal and he certainly appears to be the one to beat but he will need to improve again and jump with more fluency to be there at the business end, and with Rathvinden coming over from Ireland, bets should be tempered accordingly!

Selections this week

Our Mick each way 1.50pm Cheltenham

Red Sherlock 3.00pm Cheltenham

Horses to follow:

New look shaken up horses to follow list:

Jumps:

Lily Mars – one run in a bumper was enough to catch my eye and I feel she caught a tartar at Wincanton on her debut when she looked in need of the run. With that experience under her belt she ought to be placed to pick up a race, which should be enough to make us a profit.

***No entries at present***

Rolling Star – a well-regarded young hurdler who won with any amount in hand at Haydock and seems certain to come on again for the run as per the Henderson yard this season

***Entered Newbury 8th February***

African Gold – a classy hurdler expected to be even better over fences, he rather let the side down on his chasing debut but is I am assured far better than that – he will win races over fences.

***No entries at present***

Opera Og – hopefully well handicapped off a rating of 117 (when last seen), the seven year old looked all over the winner at Bangor before fading badly to finish third. The lack of a run was clearly his undoing and with that run under his belt he should win next time out provided connections keep their sites lowered to a sensible level.

***No entries at present***

Champagne Fever – on target at home for the Arkle Chase, held in the highest regard and schooling well for Willie Mullins, likely to have Ruby Walsh in the saddle, what more can a punter ask for?

***Entered Leopardstown 9th February plus others***

Sire De Grugy – won as he pleased on his return and sure to improve considerably for the race for Sussex trainer and ex jockey Gary Moore.

***Won for us last week! ***

Flat:

Mutakayyef – trained by William Haggas I had a quandary this week – do I or don’t I back the son of Sea The Stars? As with all the stable juveniles he was a shoe in to improve for the run but he is spoken of in glowing terms by gallop watchers in Newmarket. Fact is he ran as expected – slowly away, green as grass, and hampered as well, he will learn plenty from the experience and can be ignored at your peril.

***No current entries***

Freemason – a once raced juvenile owned by Highclere Thoroughbred Racing – Harbinger (a posh syndicate), he cost a whopping 150,000 Guineas so ought to be half decent – word is he is all that and more, so one to stay on the right side of.

***No current entries (unless you include the 2014 Derby!***

Idea – once raced two year old trained by Sir Michael Stoute and said to be flying on the gallops. Won after a poor run at Windsor when last seen looking as green as grass and very much one to keep on the right side of – originally nominated by a post racing reader!

***No current entries***

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