This week we have seen some interesting events in the World of racing, with trainers top of the list for me personally, and all sorts of goings on behind the scenes.
On the negative side, what is going on inside Irish racing if someone of the calibre of Charlie Swan feels the need to pack it all in for the ever risky career of bloodstock instead? High Profile, tick, wealthy owners, tick, excellent facilities, tick, and plenty of winners, tick – yet still he implies that the finances are the reason behind the sudden retirement from the training ranks. Now Ron and I argue the toss about prize money on almost every podcast and it will be influential but, over on this side of the Irish Sea we have been led to believe all is hunky dory over there. That is clearly not the case despite government intervention and the odd financial sweetener. Ex trainer Michael Grassick, who is now head of the Irish Trainers Association, implied that despite rising costs training fees were back to a decade ago – maybe we have been more sheltered from the recession than we realise over here?
Positives are so much more fun as I hope you agree, and the start of a new career for a certain Simon Crisford should be absolutely fascinating. His abilities have always polarized the press offices around the World, with some seeing him as little more than a puppet for Sheik Mohammed, and others blaming him for the poor Godolphin performances considering how much money they shell out each year. Either way, he can’t really be both, and since moving on from his position as Racing Manager he has found the time to start a new career as a trainer from his Newmarket base at Calne Stables, and I can at least confirm that this was always his long term ambition and not simply a climb down, as some have suggested. With the support of his rich ex bosses (he still works for them in another lesser capacity), he seems sure to have some decent ammunition to go to war with, and I for one will be following his progress with some interest – and hopefully an interview or two.
Third on the trainer merry-go-round we have the planned return to action of my old mate Geoff Huffer, trainer of double Classic winner Cockney Rebel and who I would describe as a lovable rogue. Banned by the BHA after the running of Sabre Light in a Lingfield claimer, his four years are now up and with the backing of owner Phil Cunningham, the 67 year old will be looking to kick start a new career at home in Newmarket where, I hear, close to half a million pounds has already been spent on yearlings. Again, I plan to keep a close eye on how he gets on (and possibly volunteer my help if he wants it), and although there is a thin line when it comes to dishonesty in racing, we also need characters and no one can possibly argue against Geoff on that score.
Moving swiftly onwards (Geoff is another who polarizes opinions one way or the other), and I have spotted two horses this weekend who have decent looking chances, and no odds on shots either (sorry about that last week). Both run at Ascot (Haydock looks pretty questionable as I write), starting with the 1.15pm, a five runner novices’ handicap chase over two miles and three furlongs. Village Vic is the one that interests me but as you know by now, I like to try and at least explain why so you can agree or argue with me as you see fit. He has won a point to point at Taylorstown which implies he may be able to jump, then picked up a Chepstow bumper before running well without success in some quality hurdles that saw him rated 128 when he finally won his maiden hurdle, and 134 at his peak. That last sentence is the reason I am on him here as the handicapper has given him a rating of 122 this afternoon (for reasons frankly unknown), which seems pretty generous to me and although I am very wary that he has been off since September 2013, Philip Hobbs can get them fit when needed and he does seem very well handicapped at his best – today could yet be the day to catch him with his best chance.
For my second bet I call first dibs on the David Pipe trained Willem, who makes his British debut in the handicap hurdle at 2.25pm, over a fraction shy of two and a half miles. He has already won at Compiegne and was running a big race when falling at Auteuil but, more intriguingly, he is also entered in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on the 7th of February, where he is currently the 55th entry of 65, and one of only three from the yard. My theory is that the stable intends to win this race, with the intention then of being put up by the handicapper to thus get in to the more valuable Newbury contest, a theory that will be put to the test on Saturday afternoon with Tom Scudamore riding (as you would expect).
Finally, I mentioned to Ron that Carole’s Spirit ought to win the Mares’ Hurdle at 1.50pm but that I was intrigued by Harry Fry’s decision to send Bitofapuzzle as opposition. Harry will have a good idea what is needed as the jolly was beaten by Highland Retreat last season and although Bitofapuzzle is rated nineteen pounds inferior to the top weight, she only gets a miserable five pounds! As we all know with the Fry yard of late, all things are possible even with the move up to the three mile trip (though why she has been given a “D” for distance winner against her name on the race card is beyond me, as this is her first race beyond 22 furlongs)?
Good luck one and all…..
Selections this week:
Village Vic 1.15pm Ascot Saturday
Willem 2.25pm Ascot Sunday
Horses to follow: (Creepy deleted – enough is enough):
Camlann – only sixth on his bumper debut at Cheltenham on New Years Day, the son of Cape Cross was very well supported in the market before being sent off the 7/2 favourite. Racing well enough in behind the leaders he failed to quicken up when asked before finishing sixth but it would be fair to say Barry Geraghty threw everything but the kitchen sink at the four year old, all be it to no avail. He must be better than that and could well need the two miles (one of those silly mile and three quarter bumpers here), and ought to win a bumper or two before going hurdling, possibly in lower class at a less fashionable venue?
***No current entries***
Broxbourne – used to be well above average on the flat when trained by Mark Johnston and looked like a machine when winning at lowly Fakenham for Nicky Henderson this week. More of a confidence booster than a real race he is entitled to improve for his first run in over a year and he could be pretty decent over two and a half miles or further over hurdles and seems sure to add to that victory.
*** No current entries until the Cheltenham Festival***
Ballyallia Man – Tom George is off to a flyer and this nine year old returned to action with little more than an exercise canter to win at Wincanton by a long looking six lengths. This was his first run for seven months or so and he is entitled to strip a little bit fitter next time out, so as long as the handicapper isn’t too punitive he ought to score next time out as well, after which he may be in the grips and can be removed with profit made!
*** No Current Entries***
Hargam – an unlucky runner up on his hurdling debut the three year old was travelling as if it was a matter of how far not if at Cheltenham before fading up the infamous hill. With that run behind him he is surely a shoe in to win next time out and could win a few more if sensibly entered.
***No current entries until the Cheltenham Festival***