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21st April 2024 9:17 pm

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

What a week. Enquiries galore and a huge 21st

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There are only a few weeks every year or so, that make one pause for serious thought. There have been even fewer in lockdown because unless you got a can of paint out, it has been a case of plus ca change pretty well every day.

This week was different. There was a change to the hand that sits on The Football. Huzzah maybe, or not? The change gave rise to an outbreak of Woke-speak, which was moving and needed, but not terribly unifying; and some muted tones from the more thoughtful right, who measure things by outcome rather than the means of getting there.

Somewhere, I reasoned, there must be a chum to give me a personal insight. So, on Monday I spoke to a friend of mine who lives in Nevada to discuss this coming change, but it was already too late. At  the age of 72, he had just withdrawn his Glock and two other handguns, from the bank, and started practising at the Sunset Gun Club for Silver Shooters. He had bought 5000 rounds at 30c each, to ensure that he remains safe from the Armageddon he believes Trump supporters will unleash. He told me that ammo is now over a $1 a shell – if you can get it. By midweek there were a large number of Middle Americans who were plainly very concerned that another Civil War was on the way. On the plus side, he’s made $3k on his ammo.

Back in Blighty, on 11th Jan, Newbury Racecourse opened one of the region’s major vaccination centres which, (I am entirely guessing), would be handling 10,000 vaccinations a week, probably more. On Wednesday, it was closed for racing. I am puzzled that no one seems to have predicted that the baying mob would gather at the social media gates of Newbury Racecourse and hurl abuse at the industry for not caring. One local said: “What exactly is the priority at the moment? Getting people vaccinated or horse racing? I think it’s crazy they’re not either able to accommodate the two or just cancel the race meeting to get on with the job to get people vaccinated. Fair play to the racecourse for doing its part in the vaccination but to close just days after opening for a race meeting which no ones allowed to go to has left me a little bit incredulous.” It seems that Newbury’s hands were tied and that it was a BHA call.

As an aside, I was sitting in the back of what was known as “A Pig”, an armoured (just) personnel carrier in Belfast in April 1972. A large bang went off outside and the soldier next to me started and accidentally discharged his SLR inside the Pig.   As a rule, a small piece of metal travelling at over 2700 fps, and bouncing off the steel walls of an enclosed space, will badly damage anything it hits which is soft. With ten people trapped inside, it was reasonable to assume somebody was going to die, possibly two, and even now I would calculate the odds at 10/1 on. Fortunately, the round exited somewhere, leaving us unscathed and intact. I only mention this because, in these straightened times, The BHA would do well to remember that every public decision it makes in racing has the potential to become an accidental discharge. Why not move the fixture or walk around the vaccination centre – no one else is there for heaven’s sake. And, since you ask, the soldier responsible was “disappeared” to Germany or Colchester, and nobody remembers his name.

While not recent, October 2018 saw Viking Hoard running at Tramore and being pulled up with the following race report:  towards rr and pushed along fr s: reminder after 1st: pushed along and reminders fr bef 3 out: stl struggling and detached after 4th: t.o whn p.u bef 7th The subsequent enquiry found that Viking Hoard had been doped with a significantly large dose of the fast-acting tranquilliser acepromazine (ACP), so large a dose that he was 100 times over the screening limit.  On Tuesday, the trainer Charles Byrnes was banned for 6 months and fined €1000. He immediately launched an appeal, but it is not yet clear if this is to the charge or the sentence. Meanwhile, and this is already beginning to sound like the 1960s at Brighton, investigations are being carried out into two of Viking Hoard’s previous races; a search for details into someone in “a distant part of the world” who placed a big bet against Viking Hoard on the Betfair betting exchange. The £30k+ bet was laid to win at approx 1-9 and accounted for 50% of the market. We also gained an insight into Betfair’s modus operandi, when it was revealed that the bet had been placed by an LLC, possibly offshore, and therefore likely untraceable.  There are also apparently websites, using the Betfair engine and software (White Label sites) that are involved in the trades.

The Changing Room row between Camp Frost and Camp Dunne has now moved to the Red Tops and while I loathe the concept of “What Happens in X, Stays In X”, which always smacks of some sort of coercive culture, there are times when I wish people could be less public with their washing – unless a specific charge can be levied – which should be done with alacrity and preferably without publicity. Sadly the great fall-back position is that all bets, investigations and rumours are off because of the pandemic – the same issue that possibly explains the time lag on investigations into the running of Dreal Deal. On Sunday Dreal Deal hosed in again for a 6th consecutive win, (four of them hurdles) and defying his meteoric rise in the ratings by almost 60lbs. He has won at 16f, 20f and 22f, and is 20/1 for both The Supreme Novices and The Ballymore. However, the Dreal Deal’s rise to fame has triggered a response with the Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board, who have now launched two investigations into betting patterns, possible unexplained improvements, and other circumstances around the horse’s runs. The first came after his win 22f win at Navan in September when Dreal Deal opened at 20/1 and went off 6/4. They investigated again after Dreal Deal won again at Limerick on the Flat at 5/6 in October, over 12f. McNally explained the rapid improvement by saying his horses had recovered from an illness in his yard that struck in November 2019. The investigations apparently continue.

There was a time when investigations were only used for Great Train Robbers and Moors Murders. All this midweek murkiness got me to thinking, about a night I once spent greyhound racing with my aged aunt, at the old Pompey Stadium, near Copnor. The track had a cambered, slightly banked turn at one end, which ran to within three foot of the edge of the crowded “cheap” enclosure. The six-dog, a wide runner, was benefitting from my money and, it later transpired, a lot of other peoples. The hare started, they broke cleanly, my dog took off like a… well like it should, and was going so well that only something dramatic and unforeseen could happen in order for my hopes to become dashed. Even I, however, was not braced for the tweeded arm which came out of the crowd on the top bend, with what I can only call a shillelagh in its hand, which appeared to clout the six-dog as he came past. The blind crowd never noticed; the dog was reported as run out; I never got paid; the Stadium closed in 2010, and my Aged Aunt, bored with us all, shuffled off for a bit of sport elsewhere. Nothing really to investigate, but a salutary reminder of things ending only when Fat Ladies are singing.

However, the best bit of this strange week was to receive a call from The Pharoah of Galway who sent me a note to tell me that he’d had the Tricast in the 7:00 at Newcastle; that I owed him a tenner for a losing side bet; and would I like a Zoom call to his cabin on the foothills of Mourne to see in the 21st. As is the way of all necromancers, he had worked out the importance of the time and date and so the Zoom had to be before 9:20 pm because – and only he would have spotted this  – we could then toast in the 21st minute of the 21st hour of the 21st day of the 21st year of the 21st century. I’m rather pleased to say we did – and how bloody rare is that?

Talking of rare successes…..

1:15 ASCOT Matchbook Betting Podcast Mares’ Hurdle (G2) Cl1 (4yo+) 2m7½f ITV4 5 runners

I really can’t see past the first two in the betting and my only concerns around ROKSANA are her weight disadvantage with a very good rival and the very tough race she had LTO in the Long Walk against the best UK stayers. You’re betting odds-on she’s recovered from that. On the other hand, Jess Harrington’s MAGIC OF LIGHT hosed home to an 8l hat trick of wins at Newbury LTO and was always in control. She comes here to attempt a second hat trick in the this The Warfield, and then she’ll head off to Cheltenham to The Mares before one assumes having a crack at going one better in the Grand National. In other words, he’s following a well-worn path and if it ain’t broke, I’m not going to fix it. Jess, by the by, is very hacked off that she’s had to spend an extra £700 to get the horse here at all, just in extra paperwork and VAT on the fees or some such and with no thanks to the very slow lackeys in the Department of something. The Romans used to sharpen up their civil servants by introducing them to something called Decimation.  Things worked pretty well on along those lines for a couple of hundred years.


1:30 HAYDOCK Sky Bet Supreme Trial Rossington Main Novices’ Hurdle (G2) Cl1 (4yo+) 1m7½f ITV4 5 runners

NADA TO PRADA is 3/3 on heavy ground and can win this from the front, given her drop in trip. LLANDINABO LAD has won over C&D, but looked much more comfortable at Ascot when 2nd in the Kennel Gate, and I suspect he finds this too sharp a track. If one discounts him that makes it possible that MINELLA DRAMA might make up the difference between them when they met at Bangor earlier in the year.


1:50 ASCOT Matchbook Better Way To Bet Holloway’s Handicap Hurdle (G3) Cl1 (4yo+) 2m3½f ITV4 12 runners

A small e/w on NORDANO might give one some interest and I accept entirely that the horse’s name might not be mentioned in commentary from start to finish – but it is hard to ignore his February form last year over C&D, Since then they’ve run him on unsuitable ground and over 3m. Just saying. 7/1 seems decent for ARRIVEDERCI who will appreciate the extra 4f having found it all too quick LTO, and one suspects was uncomfortable with the 1st time Tongue Tie. I’m expecting better.


2:10 TAUNTON Weatherbys Portman Cup Chase Cl2 (5yo+) 3m4½f ITV4 7 runners

IF THE CAP FITS looks as though he has race conditions in his favour, and YALA ENKI is far too short after a tough race LTO in the Welsh National, coming third off top weight.


2:40 HAYDOCK Peter Marsh Handicap Chase (A Limited Handicap) (G2) Cl1 (5yo+) 3m1½f ITV4 10 runners

ROYALE PAGAILLE has been on the upgrade all season and ran well here on heavy following up decisively at Kempton in December. Double Shuffle, 3rd that day has won since and that race is delivering some solid form promise. However, no horse in the last ten years has carried more than 11st 3lbs to victory, which might also cause concern for SAM BROWNE.  CRIEVEHILL and POTTERS LEGEND both look as though they’d like it less boggy. The one I do fancy is SMOOTH STEPPER, who used to be with Sue Smith (who trained 3 of the last 5 winners). The trip, Track and Going will all suit, and he’s being backed like a good ‘un.  Yesterday he was 20s, today he’s 10s. He won the Grand National Trial here in February off a 4lb lower mark and I don’t think that was by any stretch a weaker race. CLAUDE AND GOLDIE is consistent and was 4th in this last year, off the same mark. 20/1 is way too big.


3:00 ASCOT bet365 Handicap Chase Cl2 (5yo+) 2m5f ITV4 14 runners

Crikey and Lumme – 16/1 about ACTING LASS ? Yes Please and all day. Hugely underestimated, and the wind op, going right handed and Harry Fry’s patience will hopefully see a good placing for this decent horse. ESPOIR DE GUYE should win.


3:15 HAYDOCK The New One Unibet Hurdle (G2) (Registered As The Champion Hurdle Trial Race) Cl1 (4yo+) 1m7½f ITV4 3 runners


3:35 ASCOT Matchbook Betting Exchange Clarence House Chase (G1) Cl1 (5yo+) 2m1f ITV4 8 runners


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