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Wednesday, 12 January 2022

Record-breaking Winner


On August 13, 2020, a three-year-old named He Knows No Fear won the Irish Stallion Farms EBF Maiden at Leopardstown at odds of 300/1. In so doing, he became the longest-priced winner in the history of horse racing in Britain and Ireland, eclipsing the previous record set by Equinoctial (250/1) at Kelso in November, 1990.

Bred, owned and trained by Luke Comer and ridden by Chris Hayes, He Knows No Fear was having just his second start after finishing only twelfth of fourteen, at 250/1, in a similar race on his debut at Limerick the previous month. At Leopardstown, he showed signs of inexperience when asked for his effort but, once the penny dropped, made rapid headway on the outside of the field. He went second in the final hundred yards and stayed on strongly to collar the hot favourite, Agitare, who had gone clear inside the final furlong, in the shadow of the post and win by a head. The winning trainer said later, 'He Knows No Fear is a nice horse. The first race, you couldn't go by, because he got left in the stalls.'

Comer, for whom training racehorses is almost a distraction from his main property development business, had not saddled a winner for nine years. Indeed, he had previously hit the headlines in 2017, when he was repeatedly fined by the Turf Club and was in danger of having his licence withdrawn, after a catalogue of 'very serious rule breaches', including refusing permission to inspect his stables in Kilternan, Dublin, failing to arrange adequate supervision for his horses and providing misleading and false information.

Thursday, 9 December 2021


History records that the Winter Novices' Hurdle, run over 2 miles 4½ furlongs, on heavy going, at Leicester on December 11, 2019, was won by the 2/9 favourite Kepagge, who kept on well in the final half-a-furlong to beat his nearest pursuer Bendy Bow by 1¼ lengths. Hardly an 'unlikely' outcome, you might think, but the bare result fails to tell the whole story; in fact, far from it.

Trained by David Pipe and ridden by Tom Scudamore, Kepagge had made his debut under National Hunt rules at Chepstow the previous month, where he made all the running to win a National Hunt Flat Race by 4 lengths. At Leicester, the five-year-old gelding faced an apparently facile task against three, modest rivals – all of whom were fellow hurdling debutantes – a fact that was reflected by his prohibitive starting price.

Kepagge set off at the head of affairs, albeit at a dawdling crawl, but backed off the first flight of hurdles so badly that he lost momentum and only just 'fiddled' over the obstacle. He recovered on the long run to the second flight, but wandered on the approach to the obstacle and jumped violently left, all but unseating Tom Scudamore. At that stage, his less-than-keen attitude drew the attention of Betfair layers and he was matched at the maximum price available, 999/1, to the tune of £500 or more.

Kepagge was again ponderous at flights three and four, but warmed to the task as the pace increased, slightly, heading down the back straight for the final time. He led, going best of all, approaching the second last flight, but again jumped slowly at the final flight, allowing Bendy Bow to challenge for the lead. However, close home, Kepagge only had to be pushed out with hands and heels to score what had looked, at one stage, a highly improbable victory.

Wednesday, 24 November 2021

Cheltenham 2022: Making a Case Against the Ante-Post Favourites

Ask any experienced punter about ante-post betting and they’ll tell you it’s something of an art form. But it’s not an easy skill to master. What’s true in November is not necessarily true in March. And if you don’t have NRNB (non-runner no bet), there’s a fair chance you’ve kissed your cash goodbye regardless of the result of the race.

But there are market movers across the winter months for the big races in spring, particularly Cheltenham. Indeed, much to the chagrin of some racing fans, the entire jumps season seems geared towards Cheltenham. Yet, a steady trickle of money comes in on the Cheltenham ante-post markets, and we wonder whether anyone is getting sucked into backing short-priced favourites?

Let’s start by talking about the most important factor – precedence. In terms of statistics, we rarely see horses who have led the ante-post markets at the beginning of the season carry that through to Cheltenham.

Early ante-post favourites statistically unlikely to win

Consider the four winners of the feature races last March: Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle), Put the Kettle On (Champion Chase), Flooring Porter (Stayers’ Hurdle), and Minella Indo (Gold Cup). Not one of those horses led the ante-post markets for their respective races in 2020. Yes, Honeysuckle went off as 11/10 favourite, but the momentum only started gathering for the mare after the Irish Champion Hurdle in February.

On the other hand, Put the Kettle On was still available at 40/1 with some firms for the Champion Chase as we reached the new year. The Champion Chase can be particularly gruesome for backers of favourites as a general rule. 2017 saw Douvan flop at micro-odds of 2/9, Defi De Seuil finished second last when going off at 2/5 in 2020, and Chacun Pour Soi failed to deliver at 8/13 in 2021.

So, how do you make the case right now for Shishkin, who is currently priced at 5/4 for the 2022 Champion Chase? Nobody is doubting that Nicky Henderson’s horse isn’t a class act. Shishkin is on an eight-race winning streak, a run that includes the 2020 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and the Arkle last March.

Yet we haven’t seen Shishkin this season (the Tingle Creek Chase on 4th December is likely), and we can’t quite shake the feeling that anyone backing the 7yo is playing with fire. Nube Negra, a fine winner at the Shloer Chase last weekend, looks a craftier pick at 10/1, and you can’t rule out Chacun Pour Soi bouncing back at 6/1.

The Gold Cup can be difficult to work out

What then about the big one – the Cheltenham Gold Cup? It’s always a puzzle. And while it’s not exactly a lottery, you might want to look at the tips for last year’s Gold Cup. Minella Indo, the 2021 winner, is the current favourite at 5/1, but that feels more like a case of someone having to be favourite. If you watched Minella Indo’s season debut at Down Royal, you’d be left scratching your head as to how this horse leads the Gold Cup markets.

While it’s a bit early in the season to be backing Gold Cup horses with any conviction, we would be much more comfortable having our money on Chantry House (14/1) or even two-time winner Al Boum Photo at 20/1. The latter is just 9yo and certainly not done. Willie Mullins used to keep Al Boum Photo lightly raced in the lead up to those victories in 2019 and 2020, but he recently said we would be seeing a bit more of him as he wanted the horse “battle-hardened”.

Perhaps the overarching theme here is to have patience. For all of us, it should be a big no-no to back any horse that has not yet run this season. Moreover, it’s almost certainly a better option to back a few longshots rather than pile in on a short-priced favorite. If a horse is sitting at evens now, there’s only so much the bookmakers can shave off that price. And as we saw with Put the Kettle On last season, you can still get value in the new year.

Monday, 22 November 2021

Beech Road

Owned by Tony Geake and trained by Toby Balding, Beech Road was a highly successful hurdler and steeplechaser, probably best remembered for winning the Champion Hurdle at the 1989 Cheltenham Festival at odds of 50/1. At the start of the 1988/89 National Hunt season, the intention was to send Beech Road over fences and, after two unsuccessful starts over hurdles, he duly made his steeplechasing debut at Newton Abbot on Boxing Day. He was in second place when unseating his rider, Rae Guest, behind odds-on winner Sabin Du Loir, which led to Guest being replaced by Graham McCourt on his next start at Cheltenham. Sent off even money favourite in a three-runner novices' chase, Beech Road was upsides eventual winner Waterloo Boy when falling at the final fence, but lay motionless on the Prestbury Park turf for 15 minutes before rising to his feet.

That spelt the end of an abortive chasing career, at least for the time being. Two starts later, returned to hurdles and re-united with Guest, Beech Road won the National Spirit Challenge Trophy at Fontwell and, in so doing, beat Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner Vagador, who was conceding 12lb by 20 lengths, unchallenged. Nevertheless, despite arriving at Cheltenham 'in the form of his life', according to Guest, he was still sent off 50/1 twelfth choice of the 15 runners, behind 11/8 favourite Kribensis. Settled off a fast pace, Beech Road was among the back-markers at the top of the hill, but made good headway on the outside from the second last flight, led at the last and ran on strongly up the hill to beat Celtic Chief by 2 lengths.