Access all areas – with strange results

It has been the strangest of weeks in the sporting world – not merely in the horse racing corner of the sporting spectrum.

Admittedly, this is a time of year where racing aficionados are primarily fed a relentless diet of extremely modest fare and I will be far happier with punting life once the evening racing comes to a close in a couple of weeks (yes, the Newbury card was decent on Saturday). However, next week’s Ebor Festival cannot come quickly enough although a personal view is that this is yet another meeting that is self-harming by the decision to move their final day to a Saturday.

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The York executive will tell you that it all worked very well last year but the simple fact is that there are other sporting events that will command far greater media coverage, namely every Premier football league match (because that is the way of the world), the last big Saturday of the final Ashes Test at The Oval and the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final at Wembley, which features a Yorkshire side in Hull who take on Sam Tompkins’ Wigan.

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There’s no point in pretending that the last day of the Ebor meeting is a bigger draw – as far as the media goes it isn’t. Nevertheless we will be graced with four excellent days of action on the Knavesmire with the Yorkshire Oaks my personal highlight. It will be interesting to see if the Cecil team field both Wild Coco and Riposte whilst it is a desperate hope that a decent field will turn up to tackle Al Khazeem in the Juddmonte International.

However, one thing we have learnt in the past week is that an intrinsic element of the fascination of sport is its glorious unpredictability. Hitherto, this week we’ve seen Andy Murray, Juan Del Potro and Novak Djokovic all fall by the wayside in the ATP Cincinatti tournament against decidedly inferior opposition whilst Warrington, almost unbelievably, folded to a home defeat by Widnes on Thursday evening in Superleague, followed by a home defeat for Leeds the following evening at Headingley by Hull KR and a French battering for Wigan on Saturday in Perpignan.

Such results shouldn’t happen – but they do. In the same way that Arsenal shouldn’t lose 3-1 at home by Aston Villa on the opening day of the Premiership- but they did. It’s something we all need to bear in mind when throwing a few shillings at our racing selections day after day. I was told by one colleague during the week that there was no way the hitherto unbeaten Soft Falling Rain would get beaten in the Hungerford but he was comfortably put in his place by Gregorian. And what about Ruby Walsh’s only ride of the evening at Tramore on Saturday night for the all-conquering Willie Mullins. 2-7 in a four-horse race – couldn’t lose could it? Yes, it could.

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Maintaining a level head, treating each bet with cool equanimity and ensuring that you have a suitable betting bank to handle to unexpected are crucial to any prospect of professional punting.

As a professional punter for whom I have the greatest admiration once told me: “Never forget. The worst thing that can happen is the worst thing that can happen – and it frequently does.”

Finally, it was tempting to pen a few words about those owners and trainers who carp on incessantly about the poor prize money on offer. In the end I was too annoyed to bother but it would be interesting to hear their views on the £9000 winning pot on offer in a juvenile contest at Ripon on Saturday. Two runners and an exercise gallop at 1-25 for Supplicant. Ridiculous, quite ridiculous.

Battle Royal worthy of the name

Glorious Goodwood is a contradictory experience for this writer – I adore watching the sport and hardly ever wage war with the bookmakers. Like Epsom, it seems a ludicrous place to host top-class racing with its’ relentless turns, undulations and camber.

For the last two seasons it has also hosted a self-proclaimed ‘Duel of the Downs.’ Last season’s contest turned into a non-event as Canford Cliffs failed to get anywhere near the greatest racehorse ever to set foot on the turf but this time around the Sussex Stakes shoot-out between Dawn Approach and Toronado produced a truly stirring spectacle and not only lived up to but exceeded expectations.Dawn Approach and Jim Bolger (580 x 350) racingfotos_16554147581www.britishchampionsseries.com

It matters not a jot that Toronado turned around Royal Ascot form with the Bolger colt. What matters is that for the second successive time these two high-class colts treated us to a magnificent battle royal. It may well be that the decision went in favour of the Hannon inmate because Richard Hughes clearly rides Goodwood better than anyone else but that doesn’t matter either.

18/04/13 Second day of Newmarket Racecourses' Craven Meeting, with the feature race the Craven Stakes - Rowley Mile, Newmarket Racecourses, Newmarket

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With the score reading Dawn Approach 2 Toronado 1, the victory of the latter means that their fight for supremacy will continue apace with no quarter given. Nothing is expected in Round 4 other than another pulsating contest – a contest that has without question become the highlight of the Flat racing season which was otherwise in danger of becoming rather mundane and low-key at the highest level. Thanks to both Messrs Hannon and Bolger for their boldness in taking one another on so captivatingly.

The other performance of note in Goodwood week was the superb performance of Wild Coco in landing the Lillie Langtry for the second successive season – both times without a prep run. She’s clearly a talented lady and will be a leading challenger for Group 1 honours if able to go to work on the soft/heavy ground she craves. The Yorkshire Oaks is an obvious target but she would be an Arc possible in my book if Longchamp came up heavy in the autumn.

Elsewhere, hopefully one or two will have followed up last week’s piece on Rosie Jessop by supporting her success on the grand old veteran Baan at Yarmouth in the week – another finely judged tactical ride. Sadly, Jessop will not be making her way up to Carlisle on Monday evening to participate in the evening programme for which the Carlisle executive deserves massive credit.

It takes guts and conviction to put on a six-race card for lady riders  only and it’s excellent to see them rewarded with a competitive night’s racing which pits amateurs and professionals against one another. Let’s hope the weather remains set fair for the evening which concludes with a Ronan Keating concert.

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Finally, another offer of congratulations – this time to Tony Martin for his Galway exploits with Busted Tycoon. To win once is hard, to win twice is very tough but to win three times during the Galway week is a remarkable achievement – a piece of theatre in a long but always absorbingly special week of Irish sport.

A Week In Focus

A moderate week of sport until the last couple of days but always something to caught the eye.

STABLE TO FOLLOW

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It’s practically impossible to come up with something original in a world of information overkill and (at times) over-analysis. However, that must not stop us trying and a yard that continues to impress is that of Jo Hughes. Partner of former trainer Paul Blockley, Hughes is now in her third season as a handler, each of which has witnessed steady progression with 2013 well on course to be her best yet by some way. The yard predominantly operates at the lower end of the spectrum but is perfectly capable when provided with appropriate ammunition to aim higher. This season has also demonstrated that all-important ability to progress charges through the ranks with the likes of London Bridge a noteworthy example. Pay special attention when the money is down as the yard rarely leaves their cash behind. Earlier this week, Smart Payer was sent to Catterick to contest the direst of sellers, having been beaten 13.5l on debut when finishing fourth of five at Brighton over 6f. Upped to 7f, the juvenile was backed into 11/10 with supporters never having a moment’s worry, bounced out of the stalls by Frannie Norton to cruise home to a 10l success.  Harbour Captain was another well-backed stable success at Salisbury on Saturday night for a yard that clearly knows the time of day.

PREDICTING A ROSIE FUTURE

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Six years ago I watched a young apprentice called Rosie Jessop land a Yarmouth handicap at the Norfolk course’s prime meeting of the year in September – the 3-day eastern festival. Coolness and style hallmarked the ride for one Sir Mark Prescott – arguably a tough-as-teak task master. Six years on, Jessop, still attached to the Newmarket baronet, somewhat surprisingly can still claim the 5lb allowance. Maybe the decision was taken to develop and hone her skills steadily, and more especially her strength, but the fact remains that her best season came in that first year with 11 winners. Nevertheless, check out the figures and you discover that Jessop has ridden 41 winners over the past six seasons, each year at a strike rate of over 10% – a good figure for an apprentice pilot. This season rides have become more plentiful and it will be a disappointment if that best-ever tally of 11 is not surpassed by the conclusion of the current campaign. Recent highlights include two beautifully-timed late swoops on Catflap (Derek Haydn Jones) and Threetimesalady (Sir Mark) but the ride that plays in the mind this season was the make-all effort  at Yarmouth on Peter Charalambous’ 11-year-old warrior Colinca’s Lad, on whom Jessop has now scored six times. The confirmed front-runner blasted off as usual before, in the words of the Racing Post analyst, ‘looking vulnerable’ from two furlongs down as the pack closed in. But Jessop nudged, coaxed and cajoled the old boy to repel all raiders and just inched home. It was a ride of a cool tactical brain and precision that would have been lauded to the skies had it come from a Moore or a Fallon. Rosie Jessop remains excellent value for her 5lb claim, looks far more the finished article in the saddle this term and should be a popular pilot for more yards at her current riding weight.

NOVELLIST A STAR

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The King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes is no longer the race it was, not to people of a certain generation anyway. The days of Nijinsky, Mill Reef, Nashwan and Dancing Brave landing the prize are long gone it seems as many trainers eye later-season opportunities. However, Novellist was a spectacularly impressive winner this weekend and looks sure to take high rank at the top level for the rest of the season. A superb effort under the immaculate Johnny Murtagh.

All a question of love and hate

On visiting my local bookmaker on the second Wednesday of Wimbledon fortnight, I listened to a conversation between two people I know well, both highly knowledgeable about racing.

However, it was tennis that was on their minds – or rather Andy Murray.  Put simply, they both vented their spleen about how much they hate the guy. It was all down to a throwaway comment by the young teenage Murray that he would always support any side playing England at football. And that’s it. That one comment – years ago- was still producing a storm of vitriol. They were both supporting Janowicz to win the semi-final and, even if Murray won, they would both be ‘lumping on’ Djokovic in the final. Apparently Murray would have no chance whatsoever against the Serb, irrespective of what happened when Murray landed the US Open title last year against the very same player.

All of which got me thinking. Do we adopt the same attitude with our betting strategies when it comes to racing? The answer is almost certainly yes – to an extent anyway. The trainer who clearly polarises opinion more than any other is obviously, as we touched on in last week’s column, Mark Johnston. I have come across more strategies involving the Scottish (is a trend developing here!) handler than the rest of the training fraternity put together.

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From a punting perspective however, the message is clear. If you get involved in supporting any runner from the Middleham yard then it’s best not to moan afterwards if things don’t go your way because they frequently will. There is no other yard in the country that is so difficult to read (even Clive Brittain!) even though you will also be guaranteed a hatful of winners. Sorting them out is the difficult job as the yard sends a double hatful to the races most days of the week.

In a nutshell, the Johnston horses have become predictable in their unpredictability. Accept that premise and backing in races where they have a runner becomes far easier. An obvious example was Galician on Saturday.

Back to the Murray story and what intrigued me more than anything was the decision of the two men in question to actually support Murray’s opponents on both occasions, semi and final, just because they hated (their word) him – and even though, by their own admission, they know little if anything about tennis. Such is life and it’s a view that permeates the world of football betting too.

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We probably don’t do precisely the same thing with racing but there are parallels, especially when it comes to jockeyship. It’s human nature for us to have our favourite pilots – for me it’s Ryan Moore (by light years) and Jimmy Fortune on the level and Noel Fehily and Denis O’Regan over jumps. Jamie Spencer is probably the obvious one to focus in respect of this column as he seems to be the love/hate jockey on the level at present.

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I well remember seeing Spencer in his very early days on these shores riding more experienced rivals to sleep on Southwell’s fibresand week after week. As time has moved on, including being champion jockey, he’s been regularly criticised for exaggerated waiting tactics, be it in a Leicester seller or at Royal Ascot. However, the fact is this – that is how he rides and it must be factored in to any bet placed on any Spencer mount if the the horse is not a prominent racer. In the words of Nike – just do it.