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Tuesday 5 December 2023

Betting Big Odds On

The shorter the price, the better chance of winning.

Statistically that is correct but what about value?

Phil Bull, the founder of Timeform, said that an odds-on shot could be value. He made his betting pay as a professional gambler in the late 1930s. By all accounts Bull was one of the most influential gamblers we have ever seen in the United Kingdom.

I think every gambler has bet odds on. It seems a good idea at the time. That’s betting odds against, meaning your stake is bigger than your potential win. Obviously you get your stake back. For example, you bet 4/6f. Let’s set the scene. You wander up to Honest John Turf Accountant at Great Yarmouth who loves to shout: ‘Money without work!’

You say: ‘£600 to win £400’.

When it wins, you walk away with £1,000.

A Cockney Geezer shouts: ‘A bag of sand!’

I remember years ago when my brother and I first started to bet. We specialised in the niche of two-year-old horse racing and compared to most of the population we were exceptional. There is no replacement for hard work and we put in the hours to know the form book inside out, had insight to the best unraced horses in training and were a couple of anoraks if you had ever met a pair.

We went for a day’s racing at Great Yarmouth.

Always a lucky track.

It was back in 1989. We were just nineteen years old. I say we, because my brother and I are twins.

It was 19th July.

The first race on the card: 2:15 Yarmouth – EBF Cotman Madan Fillies Stakes over 7f. Going: Firm.

We had our eyes on the two-year-old race.

That was the day we’d dip our toe into backing odds on.

Henry Cecil (pre knighthood) trained a filly in the old maroon and white silks of Sheik Mohammed, called Wajna. Not only was she priced 1/2f but it was her debut. Never mind, we had Steve Cauthen in the saddle.

We’d heard he had a stopwatch inside his brain.

‘It bloody needed to be decent at 1/2f.’

Tony went up to some random bookie and bet £100 to win £50. We felt very confident before placing the bet but as soon after we questioned whether it was a good idea at all. In fact, if we could have sidled up to the bookie and asked politely for our money back we would have done!

It was too late.

At that time, £100 was a lot of money to us. Thinking all these years on, I can safely say I would never have placed that bet now. Was it value at those prohibitive odds? You can make your own mind up.

I know what you are saying: ‘It depends on whether the horse won or lost.’

Too right.

We had seven horses in opposition. Half of the field were priced at odds of 25/1 or bigger. The second favourite priced 9/2 was another debutante called Varnish, trained by Lord Huntingdon, in the ownership of The Queen. Ben Hanbury had the third favourite named Lady Wishing Well (the name itself made me think I was tempting fate) priced 7/1. While Sir Michael Stoute had the last of the half fancied horses priced 10/1.

It was minutes before the off.

I felt slightly ill. Thoughts kept flickering through my mind from our horse winning impressively to getting stuck in the stalls. Back in the day, TV adverts promoted Hamlet cigars, where someone in a moment of peril or impending disaster would find comforted enjoying a pleasant smoke. I had visions of either Steve Cauthen or Wajna emerging from the starting stalls in a cloud of smoke.

Cigar smoke.

‘Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet. The mild cigar...’

Before we knew it, the race had started in earnest and Wajna was leading. Every moment a horse you backed is leading is pure pleasure. The sun is shining, the seagulls are calling your name, and the ice cream man is even offering an extra flake in your 99. Visions of Sir Winston Churchill with his victory v.

Honest John is shouting: ‘Money without work!’

However, that winning feeling was threatened at the two-furlong pole as Varnish, under an inspired ride from Tony Ives, threw down a challenge. I’m not sure if my brother looked at me first or me him but we both had a panicked look and pale complexion. This was in the days before the big screens and without binoculars 400m looked a long way in the distance. I’m not sure who the commentator was that day but I suspects they had bet on Varnish as they gave the impression it was very close.

Coming into the final furlong we could see Wajna held a length advantage but ridden quite vigorously by Cauthen. We were shouting like a couple of girls. The crowd was screaming. And I’m pretty sure I saw Henry Cecil shout in triumph as Wajna crossed the line to win by a length.

To be honest, I was just pleased the race was over.

If the race had been one mile six furlongs I think one of us would have been calling for the St John’s Ambulance or a dose of Ketamine (horse tranquilliser, or, at least, a couple of mild cigars).

Tony went to the bookmaker and collected £150.

We looked at each other and said: ‘Never again.’

Talk about ‘buying money’.

As it turned out Wajna (just like Phil Bull would have said...) was a value bet!

Thank the Lord that day went to plan.

Monday 6 November 2023

A look at Opulence Thoroughbreds

You may be wondering what does this Opulence relate to. Well, it is about a new horse racing syndicate called Opulence Thoroughbreds. There are many horse racing syndicates (in fact several hundred) who give horse racing fans an opportunity to have a share in a race horse. Syndicates have grown in popularity in recent years because it is a less expensive (dare I say cheap) way of ‘owning’ a horse.

Opulence Thoroughbreds started in 2020 and have a variety of syndicated horses at differing price points.

With my niche being two-year-old horse racing, I’ve take a particular interest in their juveniles over the last few seasons.

Opulence Thoroughbreds is a more branded outfit with a high level of media coverage advised by Cornelius Lysaght. This British journalist and broadcaster has a wealth of experience and was the BBC’s horse racing correspondent from 2001 – 2020.

Other ambassadors for Opulence include, Luisa Zissman. She is an English retail entrepreneur. Also, the runner-up on the 9th series of The Apprentice. She has a great passion for horse racing.

What do you get from your purchase?

  • Visiting your horse at the stables

  • The thrill of race day experience

  • Share of prize winning and sales proceeds

As you may imagine, Opulent Thoroughbred have a select number of high-profile trainers including: Andrew Balding, William Haggas, Roger Varian, Stuart Williams, Ed Walker, Paul & Oliver Cole, Charlie Fellowes, Michael Bell, George Scott, Jack Channon, Dr Richard Newland, Clive Cox, Harry Fry, Evan Williams & George Boughey.

All syndicates are kept small from 10 -20 people. Also, tailored to your interest and affordability.

Throughout the year there will be opportunities to visit your trainer’s yard and enjoy the spectacle of seeing your horse run on the gallops. It’s brilliant insight to appreciate the preparation before race day.

The thrill of going to the races. Your owner’s badge allows you and your guest full access to the parade ring and winners enclosure. You can also get complimentary food and drinks in the lounge.

Taking a look at the horses in training for the 2023 season:

Being interested in the two-year-old horse racing niche, I see Opulent Thoroughbreds had 20 juveniles in training this season

They had 7 three-year-olds.

They had 6 older horses aged from four to six years old.

Three National Hunt horses (aged five and six)

And two broodmares.

Opulent Thoroughbred are predominantly interested in two-year-old horse racing, which is the most exciting age group and offers the chance of training a high-class talent that races at pattern class.

If you are interested in being part of a forward-thinking horse racing syndicate then you will have to go a long way to better Opulent Thoroughbreds.

Tuesday 17 October 2023

Mildmay Novices' Chase

The Mildmay Novices' Chase is a Grade 1 novices' steeplechase run over 3 miles and 210 yards on the Mildmay Course at Aintree in early April. As the title indicates, the race is restricted to horses, aged five years and upwards, who, at the start of the current season, have yet to win a race over regulation fences. Both the race and the course on which it is run are named after Anthony Anthony Bingham Mildmay, second Lord Mildmay of Flete, a popular amateur jockey, who rode in – and came agonisingly close to winning – the Grand National either side of the Second World War.

The Mildmay Novices' Chase was inaugurated in 1981 and boasts an impressive roll of honour, which includes future Cheltenham Gold Cup winners Bregawn, Burrough Hill Lad and Native River and future Grand National winners Rhyme 'N' Reason and Royal Athlete. The race was awarded Grade 2 status following the revision of the National Hunt Pattern in 1989 and upgraded to Grade 1 status in 2014.

The Mildmay Novices' Chase often features horses that previously contested the three-mile novice steeplechasing 'championship' at the Cheltenham Festival, the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase. The last horse to complete the double was Might Bite in 2017. Nicky Henderson, trainer of Might Bite, also saddled Sparkling Flame (1991), Irish Hussar (2003), Burton Port (2010), Terrefort (2018) and Chantry House (2021) for a total of six winners and is the most successful handler in the history of the Mildmay Novices' Chase.

The 2023 renewal of the Mildmay Novices' Chase is scheduled for 2.50pm on Friday, April 15 – the second day of the Grand National Festival, a.k.a. Ladies' Day – and, at this still early stage, it is hard to look far beyond the likes of The Nice Guy and Minella Cocooner, who feature prominently in the ante-post betting for the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase.

Monday 18 September 2023

Aintree Hurdle


As the name suggests, the Aintree Hurdle is a Grade 1 hurdle race run over 2 miles and 4 furlongs on the Mildmay Course at Aintree in April. Inaugurated, as a Grade 2 contest over 2 miles and 5½ furlongs, in 1976, the race was shortened to its current distance in 1988 and promoted to Grade 1 status three years later. Interestingly, while the Aintree Hurdle is open to horses aged four years and upwards, no four-year-old has ever won.

Morley Street, trained by the late Gerald 'Toby' Balding, won four consecutive renewals of the Aintree Hurdle, in 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1993, and is the most successful horse in the history of the race. Balding, who died in September, 2014, also saddled Beech Road to victory in 1989 and, alongside Nicky Henderson, is jointly the most successful trainer. In 2010, for one year only, the name of Dick Francis – Champion National Hunt Jockey in 1953/54, but probably best known for his calamitous ride on Devon Loch in the Grand National – was added to the race title, following his death in February that year.

The 2023 renewal of the Aintree Hurdle is scheduled for 3.30pm on Thursday, April 7 – the opening day of the three-day Grand National Festival at Aintree – in the same spot it has occupied since 2013. Not altogether surprisingly, the Aintree Hurdle is often contested, and won, by horses that ran in the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival the previous month. In the last decade, Annie Power (2016) and Buveur D'Air (2017) won both races in the same season, while Zarkandar (2013), The New One (2014), Jezki (2015) and Epatante (2022) ran with credit at Cheltenham before winning at Aintree.

Wednesday 7 June 2023

Which jockey has won the Oaks most often?

Run over a mile and a half at Epsom Downs, Surrey in late May or early April, the Oaks is the third English Classic horse race of the season and the second of two – after the 1,000 Guineas at Newmarket a month earlier – restricted to three-year-old fillies. Established in 1779, the race was named after the residence of Edward Smith-Stanley, 12th Earl of Derby, in nearby Carshalton.

The late Lester Piggott, who won an unparalled 30 British Classics between 1954 and 1992, won the Oaks six times, but the record for most wins is still held by Frank Buckle, the outstanding jockey of the Regency Era. Between 1792 and 1827, by which time he was 61 years old, Buckle rode 27 British Classic winners, thereby setting a record that would stand until 1984, when Piggott won the St. Leger, having 'jocked off' American Darrel McHargue on the favourite, Commanche Run. It is also noteworthy that the first of them, 1792 Derby winner John Bull, came 17 years before the inaugural running of the 2,000 Guineas in 1809, while the 1,000 was not established until 1814.

Anyway, between 1797 and 1823, Buckle won the Oaks nine times, on Nike (1797), Bellissima (1798), Belina (1799), Scotia (1802), Theophania (1803), Metora (1805), Neva (1817), Corinne (1818) and Zinc (1823). Nike and Bellina were owned by Richard Grosvenor, 1st Earl Grosvenor, while Metora was owned by his son, Richard Jnr., 2nd Earl Grosvenor, who succeeded his father in 1802. Neva, trained by Richard Dixon-Boyce, th Duke of Rutland, was the first filly to complete the 1,000 Guineas – Oaks double, while Corrine and Zinc, both trained by the so-called 'Emperor of Trainers', Robert Robson, were the second and third fillies to do so.

Thursday 25 May 2023

Race Focus: Finale Juvenile Hurdle

The Finale Juvenile Hurdle is a Grade 2 juvenile hurdle run over 2 miles and 11 yards at Chepstow in late December. As the name suggests, the race is restricted to horses aged three years, at least if run as scheduled. However, in the event of postponement to the following January – which has happened five times since 2010, due to waterlogging – the race is restricted to horses aged four years, since all horses born in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate their birthday on January 1.

Currently sponsored by Coral, the Finale Juvenile Hurdle was, until August 2022, the only Grade 1 race run at the Welsh track and one of just three races of its kind in the whole of the British National Hunt calendar. At that stage, it was downgraded to Grade 2 by the British Horseracing Authority (BHA) as part of an annual review of the National Hunt Pattern.

Nevertheless, the Finale Juvenile Hurdle remains a significant trial for the Triumph Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival, with Defi Du Seuil, in 2016/17, the last horse to complete the double. The 2023 winner, Comfort Zone, trained by Joseph O'Brien, went on to win the Finesse Juvenile Hurdle, run over the same course and distance as the Triumph Hurdle, and is currently quoted at 10/1 for that race and the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Martin Pipe saddled four winners of the Final Juvenile Hurdle, namely High Knowl (1986), Enemy Action (1988), Hopscotch (1990) and Rainwatch (1997) and, more recently, Nicky Henderson has done likewise, courtesy of Mister Banjo (1999), Nas Na Riogh (2002), Blue Shark (2005) and We Have A Dream (2017). Jointly, the two legendary handlers are the leading trainers in the history of the race, which was first run in 1971.

Friday 12 May 2023

Dead Cert?


2/9 favourite unseats jockey at the last. It just goes to show that there's no such thing as a dead cert!

Thursday 2 February 2023

Cheltenham Gold Cup

As the most prestigious race run during the National Hunt season, the Cheltenham Gold Cup requires little or no introduction. However, for anyone unfamiliar with the 'Blue Riband' event, the Cheltenham Gold Cup is a Grade 1 steeplechase run over 3 miles, 2 furlongs and 70 yards on the New Course at Cheltenham in March. The race was inaugurated, as a steeplechase, in 1924, but was run on the Old Course at Cheltenham until 1959.

The legendary Golden Miller – who remains the only horse to have won the Cheltenham Gold Cup and the Grand National in the same season – won five consecutive renewals in 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935 and 1936 and is, unsurprisingly, the most successful horse in the history of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Other notable winners include Arkle, the highest-rated steeplechaser of the Timeform era, Mill House, Kauto Star, Desert Orchid and Burrough Hill Lad, to name but a handful.

The late Thomas 'Tom' Dreaper saddled Prince Regent (1946), Arkle (1964, 1965, 1966) and Fort Leney (1968) to victory and, more than five decades after his retirement in 1971, remains the leading trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Looking ahead to the 2023 renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, which is scheduled for 3.05pm on Friday, March 17, it may be worth noting that six of the last seven running have been won by Irish-trained horses.

Perhaps a little surprisingly, the early ante-post market is headed not by reigning champion, A Plus Tard, but rather by Galopin Des Champs, who has won three of his four starts over fences with consummate ease and was an unlucky loser in the Turners Novices' Chase, when falling at the final fence with the race at his mercy. The home challenge is headed by Ahoy Senor and L'Homme Presse, who filled the first two places in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase,

Tuesday 3 January 2023

Altcar Novices' Chase

 The Altcar Novices' Chase is a Grade 2 steeplechase run over 2 miles, 3 furlongs and 203 yards at Haydock Park in January. As the name suggests, the race is restricted to horses, aged five years and upwards, who start the current season without a win over regulation fences.

The Altcar Novices' Chase began life, as a lowly Class D affair, in 1996, but was elevated to Class B status the following year and again, to Grade 2 status, in 2007. In 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2005 – the 2001 was abandoned due to frost – the race was run 2 miles and 6 furlongs, before reverting to its original distance in 2006.

The 2023 renewal of the Altcar Novices' Chase is scheduled for Saturday, January 21, when it is one of four Grade 2 races on the Haydock Park card, including the feature race, the Peter Marsh Chase. Cholmondeley trainer Donald McCain is currently the most successful handler in the history of the race, having saddled Will Be Done (2009), Our Mick (2012), Testify (2018) and Minella Drama (2022) to victory.

Since the demise of the famous drop fences at Haydock Park, which were replaced by more forgiving, portable versions in 2007, the course present a less severe test of jumping than was once the case. Nevertheless, novices tackle seventeen obstacles during the Altcar Novices' Chase, so sound jumping is a pre-requisite, especially if the going is on the soft side.

That said, course form, even winning course form, is not, with none of the last ten winners having previously won at Haydock Park and only three having any experience of the Newton-le-Willows track. For the record, nine of the last ten winners of the Altcar Novices' Chase came from the first three in the starting price betting market.