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21st April 2024 9:19 pm

“A difference of opinion is what makes horse racing and missionaries."

Cheltenham – The first day of the new season

These Donors Are AMAZING Thank You

William S – MEJi – Peter N – Nigel B – Ken C – Mark S – James D – William M – Fiona M – Julian A – Jonathan H – Mrs V.M – Pete BN – Gavin C – Thom S – Sarah C – Mark S – Sam H – James R

A great chum called me this week to tell me the exciting, indeed brilliant news, that he had had a 40/1 winner in Ireland. He further explained that no, the trainer hadn’t told him it was on; that no, he hadn’t backed it; that, yes, his fellow owner in this (beautifully-bred) nag had also had a winner at Hereford at near-evens; and, no, he hadn’t backed that either; and by-the-by, why did I sound so bloody miserable in the last Raceweb missive?

Frankly, I was bewildered. I tried to put the bravest face on it that I could and promised to make more effort on the jollity front in future, But still and all… a chum calls you to say I didn’t tell you my horse was running, and winning at 40/1. Oh and our other mutual chum, (though to be fair he mixes in rather grander circles than I), has also had a winner, which wins doing handstands, juggling three cricket bats and whistling The Star-Spangled Banner. As news goes, I am delighted for him – he has had a winner, and when that happens in Ireland, decent prize money enters one’s Weatherby’s bank account. I am truly pleased for him as a chum should be.

Meanwhile and by comparison, the Pharoah of Galway gets back in touch having self-isolated in The Halls of Montezuma or similar. He says there is a 150/1 shot running at Kempton it will probably be top 5 for which Bet365 are offering 33/1 which is 4/1 profit on an e/w punt. Additionally, I should also know that in the race before, a syndicate has got a nag they quite fancy at around 14s which will be placed. Ta, I said. Had the punt. Made £90. The resultant grin on my face required a polite note to express my overall sense of bonhomie. The truth is I really am trying to be cheerful, but I am generally happier when tucking readies into my pocket rather than someone else’s – it’s just the way I am.

The rest of the week has been pretty sociable. It started with drinks and supper with a doyen of Lambourn who I am very fond of, which was followed by a decent and very generous lunch with the most indiscrete man in Lambourn. I bumped into the brilliant artist Katie O’Sullivan, who bought me up to speed with her daughter, Saffie Osborne. She, you might recall had an almighty fall resulting in a broken arm, smashed ribs and a punctured lung, not from eventing  – which she also does brilliantly – but from race riding as a very decent 7lb claimer! I confess I don’t have the courage, bones or sheer nerve that girl has and I am very cheered that she will fully recover.

I also gave supper to a brace of chums with strong views on the surfeit of racing. Finally, there are voices out there, that are not benefiting from the rapidly slowing gravy train, who are saying it might all be too much.  This Thursday we had 56 races to bet on in the UK and Ireland excluding Auteuil’s big meeting and an Arabian race. However, as I write that, I can feel my blood rising and I start to feel like Johnny Nice-Painter, the artist character in the Fast Show, whose focus on the colour black could bring on a psychotic episode quicker than a dog out of Trap 6. Racing’s gloom and inability to grasp the seriousness of the situation must not be allowed to settle here anymore. To that end and because I have apparently been such misery, I have decided to tell you a joke.

A man walks into a bar, and as he is obliged to do in these modern times, takes a seat at a table. As he sits down he looks up and sees three pieces of meat hanging from the ceiling. He asks the barman, “What’s with the meat?” The Barman says: “If you can jump up and slap all three pieces of meat at once, you get free drinks for an hour but if you miss even one you have to pay for everyone else’s drinks for the rest of the night. Do you want to try it?” The man takes another look at the meat and says: “No, I think I’ll give it a miss. The steaks are too high.”
Moments later, a lion walks in and says to the barman; “Any jobs going pal?” the barman says: “No sorry. Why don’t you try the circus?” The lion looks at him and says: “Why would the circus be looking for a barman?”

Talking of laughable, here are the tips for the beginning of real racing today, as opposed to proper racing.

1:50 CHELTENHAM Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (GBB Race) Cl2 (4yo+) 2m5f

Strong cases can be made for several of these, as is proper at this time of year, but the Skelton’s MIDNIGHT RIVER won his Uttoxeter debut a shade cosily and looks as though he needs a distance. He looks like top-class three-miler in the making. To add fuel to the betting fire, the Uttoxeter runner-up, Shantou Express, won at Exeter earlier this week by 23 lengths, and I will be interested to see how he fares going up in class in the opener. ASK FOR GLORY who is having his first race since his wind-op, is making his seasonal reappearance and must be considered.


2:25 CHELTENHAM Matchbook Better Way To Bet Novices’ Chase (GBB Race) Cl2 (5yo+) 3m½f

This is always an important benchmark early-season novices’ chase, and, Gordon Elliott’s GALVIN sets a pretty high standard. He was runner-up to Imperial Aura in a Cheltenham Festival novice chase, and has since won all his fence starts including a G3 at Tipperary last time.  However, I think that form is very ordinary and he beat a mare rated 29lb inferior to him by 3.5l at Tipperary, giving away 10lb. MOSSY FEN is possibly classier having won the Grade 2 Leamington Novices’ Hurdle at Warwick, and while he found the Ballymore too tricky, I gather the summer has broadened this chap’s physique. He gets 8lbs (as does the other 5yo CLONDAW CAITLIN), but quite possibly lacks experience. With only six runners I’m inclined to leave it alone, but gun to head I’d probably have a punt for small takes on CLONDAW CAITLIN e/w, but my selection is…


2:40 DONCASTER Vertem Investing In The Future Handicap Cl2 (3yo+ 0-105) 6f

There’s at least five here you’d give a chance to. TINTO benefits from Buick in the saddle and Amanda Perrett is in good form. David Loughnane can hardly put a foot wrong this season, and TRANCHEE’s second LTO suggested the handicapper had not quite got his grip on him. However, at around 12s, I quite fancy BERNARDO O’REILLY, who was sixth in the Ayr Silver Cup. Angus Villiers is a decent claimer with a good future and he is only 3lb shy of his last winning Doncaster mark. He was a 4l 5th LTO at Nottingham in a very messy race where several horses hampered each other in the first half-furlong, and his price that day suggests he was fancied.


3:00 CHELTENHAM Handicap Hurdle Cl3 (3yo+ 0-140) 2m5f

CAPTAIN TOM CAT is pretty decent over hurdles, winning his second start at Uttoxeter and then repeating the performance for a CD win. He is better than his mark and Dr Newland won this last year with Duke Street, also ridden by Cillin Leonard. Fergal O’Brien rund IMPERIAL ELYSIAN and LUGARNO PALACE and both are capable of taking this at decent odds. The latter has good hurdle course form, and is 4lbs off his last winning mark. STORM GODDESS might be good for a place – but looked unwilling when finishing third to Yeavering Bell at Ludlow. I’m not suggesting for a moment she was not trying – just unwilling. 2lbs off doesn’t enthuse me. The favourite HIJACK won a brace of novice hurdles last winter and came back three weeks ago with a decent 2nd on her handicap debut. She is an obvious threat.


3:15 DONCASTER Handicap Cl2 (3yo+ 0-105) 1m6½f

The favourite is OCEAN WIND who destroyed the field by 4½l LTO in a Newmarket Cesarewitch Trial landing a big gamble on his handicap debut. Sixth in the Champion Bumper in March, he’s quickly developed into a smart flat stayer and missed the Cesarewitch this month because he was not actually qualified to run. He would have certainly been placed in that and this looks way easier. However at the odds, better value can be had with CALCULATION and HOCHFELD. I suspect the former has fallen out of love with racing and recent runs have seen him shy away from the stick, look around and express a general sense of unhappiness. Perhaps he should take up writing this column! Instead I shall suggest that HOCHFELD will benefit from his 7lb claimer who had ridden him before and who now knows how best to manage him.


3:35 CHELTENHAM Bentley Flying Spur Handicap Chase (GBB Race) Cl2 (4yo+) 2m

SCARDURA went into the notebook when he won a maiden hurdle by 16l last year. Over fences, he has done nothing wrong, although we have yet to see real electricity. A decent debut in July at Stratford, then unseated at Perth but woke up to take a Newton Abbot handicap LTO. He’s picked up 7lbs which looks manageable, especially since that Stratford debut has produced six subsequent winners and looks strong form. BEAT THE JUDGE overcame an early blunder, LTO and put his rivals to sleep at Fontwell winning by 9 lengths. BALLYWOOD was sixth in the Grand Annual for Alan King, and I had that race down as one of the toughest of the year. Nothing else catches the eye, except HATCHER who is nothing if not consistent.


Sadly the 4:10 isn’t being shown which is a shame as it is a cracking and informatve race. For a bit of long-priced sport you might consider FOUND ON, who has good Irish point form, dead-heated in a mares’ maiden in December. That was in testing conditions, which held her in good stead on her bumper debut. Fitted with a first-time hood  she was in arrears in the main, but made decent headway to take second. On this ground she might find this too sharp , but at 16s I’m happy to take a punt.



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