Thursday, 27 February 2014

Save £2, Win £108 More...

If you book your tickets for Cartmel Races now, you can save £2 per ticket. There is a postage fee, so it’s best to book for two or more people together. Once you’re done you’ll have secured a great day out for yourself and a few friends. The next trick is to decide what to do with the money you’ve saved. 

If I had £2 to spare this week, I'd take advantage of another special offer - the non-runner-no-bet prices being offered by bookmakers on the Cheltenham Festival. I’d place a £1 each-way “double” on Menorah to win the Ryanair Chase followed by At Fishers Cross to win the World Hurdle, at Cheltenham, in a fortnight from now. 

Menorah won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at the 2010 Cheltenham Festival and was placed third in the Arkle Novices’ Chase behind Sprinter Sacre in 2011. Last season he was only just out-stayed, over three miles, by First Lieutenant in a Grade 1 Steeplechase at Aintree. He’s obviously very highly regarded by his trainer Phillip Hobbs and he has the look of a horse that has been specifically campaigned with Cheltenham in mind.

While First Lieutenant trades as the 4/1 joint favourite for the Ryanair with several bookmakers, Menorah is currently available at 14/1 and looks likely to run as long as the ground isn't too soft.

If there is one horse that I really fancy for the Festival it is At Fishers Cross – who should run in the very next race on 13th March. There is a nagging doubt though: this morning he drifted alarmingly on the betting exchanges, suggesting that all might not be well with the horse. This is where the non-runner-no-bet offers come in to play, because if the two horses turn out to be non-runners, you'll get your money back.

Assuming that At Fishers Cross lines up for the World Hurdle, he'll be the only runner who has previously beaten the favourite Big Bucks. He won the three mile novice hurdle at the Festival last year and is likely to be ridden by Tony McCoy. At Fishers Cross jumped indifferently on his first two outings this season, when he reportedly suffered from a physical problem. He was back to his old self in January, when McCoy nursed him over the last hurdle before sprinting for the finishing post – just failing to catch Knockara Beau. I doubt there’ll be any holding back in two weeks time and he can be backed at 11/2.  

When both horses win, within the space of less than 45 minutes, you’ll have just over £108 in your pocket – which will be enough to upgrade your entry ticket for Cartmel races to a luxurious seat in the Louis Roederer Restaurant overlooking the finishing straight. If they fail to win but finish in the first three, the place portion of the bet will pay more than £10 – which is the price of an adult ticket for the Course Enclosure at Cartmel on 28th May. 

Save £2 today and bring some extra friends to Cartmel – is life really that simple? We'll find out in two weeks time.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

The Cheltenham Festival - It's A Team Game

Horse racing isn’t a team sport. Is it?  Well, not if you don’t count the annual Shergar Cup Event, where teams from Britain and Europe compete with the “Rest of the World” – I suggest that if you haven’t heard of it, we don’t count it and agree that racing isn’t a team sport. Except… 

Team tactics are set to play a major role on racing’s most important stage at the Cheltenham Festival in March. From race to race and hurdle to hurdle, the trainers with the largest teams of equine players will be plotting their way to the winning post. 

Some will be planning to take out the opposition, literally. Willie Mullins, for example, is seemingly intent on diverting Annie Power away from the Mare’s race. That apostrophe is deliberately placed by the way - because since 2009 the race has belonged to one mare only: Quevega, with whom Mullins is aiming to win the race for an incredible sixth successive time next month. I don’t blame him. There’ll be many other top owners and trainers trying to keep their best horses apart. It just seems a shame that Quevega won’t be asked to face the most potent opposition available, primarily because they’re part of the same team. 

If Annie Power goes to Cheltenham at all, she may well be set on a collision course with another great champion, the Paul Nicholls trained Big Bucks. Like Quevega, Big Buck’s started his Festival winning sequence in 2009, although he’s clocked up only four victories in the Stayers’ Hurdle following an enforced break through injury last year. Unlike Mullins, Nicholls looks as though he could saturate the stayers’ event with runners and team tactics will play a large part in the race. 

Big Bucks can be a tricky ride as he tends to idle once he hits the front; when he sees another horse, he picks up the bit and races again. You can therefore be fairly certain that Nicholls will ensure that there is a decent pace in the race and, if all goes to plan, Big Bucks will be given a lead over the last obstacle. Personally I don’t think it will make any difference to the result – I am sure that Tony McCoy will have analysed every possible eventuality and he will deliver At Fishers Cross fast and late (and as wide of Big Bucks as he can) to trump both Nicholls and Mullins on the run-in. 

You can back At Fishers Cross for the Stayers’ Hurdle at 6/1 right now. However this week’s selection is Saphir du Rheu, one of the Nicholls team, who is likely to take up his entry for the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell Park on Sunday, in preference to a shot at the stayers’ crown at Cheltenham. 

For more news, views and gossip about the Cheltenham Festival, tickets are now available for the Festival Preview Night at the Cartmel Grandstand on Thursday evening 6th March. The expert panellists will include Festival-winning Irish trainer Arthur Moore, Festival-winning Cartmel trainer, Jimmy Moffatt and top form analyst Marten Julian - so you won't have to listen to more half-baked theories from me! 

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Preaching The Good Racing News

Today’s lesson comes from Corinthians, Chapter 13 (bookmakers’ translation). 

If I speak the racing lingo, but do not possess a love of the sport, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and can fathom all the mysteries of the form book, and have faith in Tony McCoy to move mountains, but do not have a love of the sport, I am nothing. If I take my winnings and lose them all on the next race at Southwell, I am an ass. If I boast about my losses, but have no love of the sport, then I gain nothing. 

To love the sport is to have the patience of Barney Curley whilst plotting a coup. It doesn’t mean that we envy Barney Curley (even just a little bit); nor does it mean that we boast about backing Imperial Commander in the 2010 Gold Cup (when he thrashed Kauto Star and Denman); or that we are too proud to admit to backing the “outsider of three” on a regular basis. 

Love does not laugh at the selections of others; pretend that its selections are better than others (even when they’re trained by Jim Goldie, called Caledonia and entered for the 4.05 at Haydock on Saturday); get cross when its horses lose; or keep a record of its losses.

Love rejoices whichever trainer wins, even those that complain about the going before the first race has been run. It protects, trusts and places faith in the integrity of the sport, while persevering when previously banned jockeys and trainers get their licences back.  

Our love of the sport will never fail. But where there are predictions, they will fail; where there is gossip, it will be proved false; where there is knowledge, it will be proved wrong – because we can only know half the story until we read Pricewise in The Racing Post… when all will be revealed. 

When I was a child I wasn’t allowed in betting shops, so I used to give 50 pence to my Dad instead. Now that I have become a man, I have an online betting account. If I knew then what I know now, I would probably have become a bookmaker. 

As the Cheltenham Festival approaches we have faith in the sport, hopes for the sport and a love of the sport. But the greatest of these is our love of the sport.


Wednesday, 5 February 2014

Sand and Spectators

You might think that when a popular horse like Jim Goldie’s Hawkeyethenoo runs at Lingfield, he makes just as splendid a spectacle on the sand as he does on the turf at Ascot or York. You might think so, but you’d be wrong. Same horse, same jockey, same tactics, completely different level of interest. 

Last week The Racing Post’s principle tipster, Tom Segal, confessed that he struggles to find any enthusiasm for all-weather racing. Meanwhile, Alan Lee, writing in The Times, remarked on the dearth of racegoers at Britain’s all-weather tracks – an average of just 788 per day across 314 fixtures. When it comes to racing on an artificial surface, it seems that the majority of race fans develop attention deficit disorder. 

The truth is that the majority of these fixtures are not scheduled with racegoers in mind; they are scheduled for the betting industry. Initially the all-weather tracks bridged a gap in the schedules when freezing conditions impacted on turf tracks. The tracks weren’t always as resistant to adverse weather as their name suggested, but in general they performed a valuable service. In later years the focus changed to exploiting new time-slots. 

The all-weather tracks at Wolverhampton and Kempton were designed with floodlights, enabling them to race during dark evenings, which in turn allowed high-street betting shops to remain open for longer hours. The all-weather racecourses are rewarded financially by the betting industry through media rights payments and, to be fair, they have recently announced some dramatic increases to their prize funds.

The industry has a business plan which effectively promotes all-weather racing: if the fixtures generate sufficient off-course betting turnover, the Horserace Betting Levy Board (HBLB) makes significant contributions towards the prize money and integrity costs of each meeting, irrespective of their appeal to racegoers. Why else would there be plans to build two or three more?

The danger of reducing a spectator sport to this level is that the focus shifts away from the core values that established the fan base. Customers vote with their feet - or the lack of them. On some days the gates may as well stay closed to the public - perhaps this will be part of the business model for all-weather tracks in the future. 

By voicing such concerns, I could be accused of espousing elitist snobbery with a tenuous grasp of the commercial realities that drive the sport... But hang it! Cartmel is hardly elitist and I fully appreciate that the racing and betting industries are inextricably linked.

I like to have a bet as much as the next man (and possibly the two men standing next to him, the lady next to them and the one watching the dogs on the main screen; although the guy playing the roulette machine, in the corner of the betting shop, probably has it worse than I do). The thing is, I believe that the sport of horse racing is integral to my betting enjoyment - not an incidental side show. 

When it comes to racing on turf, Alan Lee noted that Cartmel achieved an average crowd of 9,012 per fixture in 2013 – more than any of the three tracks which host the Classics of the Flat racing season: Doncaster, Epsom and Newmarket (as well as Newbury where this week’s selection is Chris Pea Green - each way in the race that the nostalgic will still think of as the "Schweppes").

While I’ll gladly accept any plaudits, the current management team at Cartmel can take very little credit for the amazing crowds that we welcome each Summer. It was our far-sighted predecessors who created the formula for a fun racing event which attracts hoards of people to this beautiful corner of Cumbria. And it is these people, the ones that attend year after year, who lend racing at Cartmel its vitality and party-like atmosphere. To me, fixtures at Cartmel – and similar events where the racegoer is key to the proceedings - are what horse racing is all about. 

Twenty years ago, media rights payments from betting shops were paid according to a formula which took account of the number of racegoers in attendance at each meeting. If the HBLB could find a way to reward racecourses for generating larger crowds, all tracks (including the all-weather ones) would place a greater emphasis on attracting and entertaining the public.

The fixture list would look very different. Levy yields may decline slightly; they may not. Jump fixtures in the winter would have to be protected. There might be fewer all-weather fixtures - but I bet that they would be more fun to attend, they'd attract bigger crowds - and the horses that race on the sand might just create as good a spectacle as they do on turf.