Here we all are on the Monday after Royal Ascot, trawling our way through the bog standard dross which is synonymous with midweek racing in the UK. It’s a massive anti-climax, but clearly it can’t be Ascot every day and we only have to wait until the weekend for some decent fare. Unfortunately, it looks like this will be the last ‘Pitman’s Derby’ meeting to be run in it’s entirety on turf before ARC dig up one of the best (and generally best kept) turf tracks in the country to feed our overwhelming desire for more all weather racing…… ‘Sad, Mad, Bad’ was the headline used by Tony Morris to describe Peter Savill’s decision not to run Celtic Swing in the 1995 Derby, I think it equally pertinent to use it with regard to this decision too. Look out for more 0-60 floodlit handicaps at 8.45 in December, perfect fodder for the shops to justify keeping them open for the FOBT players as, make no mistake, this is the driving force behind much of the fixture list now.
It was terrific to finally have a major flat racing ‘Festival’ run in the UK on genuinely fast racing ground. Top class horses running in their optimum conditions (flat breds generally run to their best on good to firm ground, NOT good as the myth-peddlers would have you believe) and breaking track records as they should. Don’t be fooled though that this was part of some masterplan of racecourse preparation, it happened by accident. The application of 10mm of water by the Clerk on the same day that a 15mm thunderstorm hit the course is actually the ONLY reason we ended up with ‘proper’ flat racing ground, without the thunderstorm he would probably have continued to water on a daily basis and we would’ve ended up with the usual sludge on top which is synonymous with other major meetings like Newmarket’s July meeting and ‘Glorious’ Goodwood. Thankfully, with the words ‘good to soft’ remaining (in part) in the going description right up until the morning of the first day, the possibility of watering in the 96 hours before kick-off was taken from the Clerk’s hands. It should also be pointed out that the fact it would clearly be riding good to firm had been missed, but I will try not to be over critical as in only applying 2 ‘lots’ of 4mm of artificial water he cannot be accused of an exagerated reaction to the position he found himself in. Mr Stickells quite rightly pointed out that evapotranspiration rates would be around 3mm per day, laying to rest the myth perpetuated by other Clerks that 8mm per day to ‘maintain’ is required.
In general the meeting went well for me, mistakes were made and a few were understaked, but I’d have taken what I got ‘out-of-court’ on Tuesday morning, so I really can’t complain.
Tuesday was relatively slow, the Queen Anne is never the strongest Group 1 of the season and the good reports of Toronado’s prep, including the fact that he had been for two racecourse gallops persuaded me to take the bit’s of Evs and 10/11 that I could get and it turned out to be the right decision. This was followed by a fun 20 minutes or so just after 3pm. After the usual confirmation from Willie Power that all was well with Sole Power and he thought he would win (he tends to do that when Willie fancies him) , I sent a text to my old Boss at IG Sport Toby Brereton wishing him well with his last remaining horse in training (Toby has become totally disenfranchised with ownership in this country over the last few years as his horses mostly required fast ground and were rarely allowed it, another good owner lost to the BHA’s watering policy) Orpsie Boy. The old fella is 11 now, but clearly still loves his racing, even if he does take a run or two to get going these days. Apparently he had struggled with the turn at Musselburgh last time out and as long as Thirsk hadn’t been seriously overwatered (it had been slightly) Toby thought if he was ever going to trouble the judge again, it should really be today. Knowing how shrewd Toby is and given that he had already been backed from 14/1 to 8/1, I should probably have ’emptied’ onto him, as it was I had a very, very small each way bet for old time sake and watched him win comfortably. I cheered as loudly as for any bet at Ascot in the week though, it really was one of those occasions when it ‘wasn’t about the money’. 15 minutes later Sole Power got Hughesy out of trouble and did the business (I had saved each way on Hot Streak in the morning in case the was any residual ‘juice’ in the ground) so all was well and I set about the texts of congratulations to both. If I’ve ever had text conversations with cross the card winning connections before, I’ll be damned if I can remember it.
Wednesday turned out to be the best day of the week despite the fact I ‘fell’ for Treve. I had decided 8/11 was the cut off point for betting her and actually managed to get a bit more than I expected at the early 4/5. A lot has been said and written since about her performance. I think the way she moved to post (if only RUK had flagged this up BEFORE the race !!) and the way she moved through it tells you this was not her form. I don’t want to detract from the performance of The Fugue who ran right up to her brilliant best and was beautifully prepared for this by the genius that is Johnny G, but Treve is better than that. Anyone who thinks it was the fast ground should have a look at her Prix Diane win and the time she achieved it in…. Small bets on Mustajeeb and Muwarry got me off to a small but reasonable start. It also helped that when I asked Willie if Anthem Alexander was as good as she had looked at Tipperary he replied ‘Yup’ (U don’t need any more than that….) So a half decent each way bet was landed and the multiples I had placed (I rarely do them except at the big meetings) were both 2 up with 2 to come, exciting times !! Unfortunately my main multiple had I’m Super Too in it (at Hamilton) and a bashed head it the stalls quickly put paid to that dream. The other ‘banker’ on the day was Sir Michael’s Integral in the Windsor Forest. His record in the race, along with that of Cheveley Park is exemplary. 3/1 ew 1/4 the odds looked as close as you could get to a ‘bet to almost nothing’, especially with the lousy records of penalised and Godolphin runners in the race. A saver on Esoterique and a small go at the forecast (on the Newmarket form) came unstuck, but it was still a good race. We also had 3/4 in one multiple and 3/3 with one to come in the other. A serious lack of involvement in this years Hunt Cup meant the race was neither here nor there for me and I’m afraid the dream of 4/4 in the other multiple died in the last when Eddie Lynam’s Oddisea could finish only midfield. All in all a reasonable day, even if I did ‘rattle the crossbar’ for a big payout.
Thursday was one of those days when I was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Whilst trying to burgle all of the 5/4 The Great War and 6/4 Leading light that I could, I totally forgot to bet Cannock Chase. The long and the short of it is I got way too much on The Great War (I really did like him so no complaints, I just got it totally wrong ). It was poor start, compounded by seeing Cannock smashed into 7/4 which I wouldn’t take. A small bet on Maid In Rio across the card eased the pain slightly but my decision to offload my Leading Light position after the poor run of The Great War (just before Bracelet won !!) was always going to come back and haunt me. It was one of those afternoons when I was constantly chasing my tail and could do nothing right. The only thing left was to jump on the bus to Paddy Powers and have a little go (6 places) at the Britannia. Two very small each ways, with tiny win press-ups on Hor’s De Combat and Born in Bombay actually managed to put me a bit in front (even I don’t need much at 14/1 ew and 23.0 to undo damage). The winnings were then laid at 1.99 on Betfair as the wagon-shunters piled into Engerlund against Uruguay. I’m no football judge, but were they watching the same game as me against Italy on Saturday night ?
Whereas Thursday was the day for wrong decisions early in the card. Friday was the day for ‘getting the value and doing my bollox’. Each way bets on Patience Alexander at 9/2 (money back) and Elite Gardens at 12/1 (sp 6/1) provided a nice loss to start the day, as did my match bet of Elite Gardens to beat Osaila (bf sp 7.2/22.0 !!) Losses were further compounded by deciding to play small on Bold Sniper after having missed the best of the price (well I couldn’t watch him win like Cannock, could I ?) All very frustrating, but not to worry as I’d had a decent each way and Snow Sky at 1/4 the odds and an each way double with Snow Sky and Hartnell and they were both moral certanties for the frame weren’t they ? After having laid Engerlund the night before, the Irony of Snow Sky getting nabbed close home for 3rd place by a horse called Scotland was not lost on me, but with it went a sizeable chunk of place money and all the lovely running-up place money on Hartnell, it was all starting to get a bit ‘nippy’. No particular view on the Coronation Stakes, but a message that Lightning Thunder was supposedly ‘A OK’ after her run in the soft at the Curragh led to me taking a bit of the 9/2 each way and I felt quite smug as she proceeded to be backed into 11/4 fav. Hung out wide in a muddling race and running flat as a pancake, the ‘nip’ continued to grow. Thankfully we had one of my favourite races of the year to come, all was not yet lost, but we did need a result and soon…. The Queens Vase is a punters dream of a race. You look to 3 stables and 3 stables only : Mark Johnston’s record in the race is terrific, he often has more than one runner, but this year relied solely on Hartnell, who stayed 1m2f as a 2 year old and looked to be screaming out for the trip; Sir Michael Stoutes record too is terrific, thankfully he had no runner this year to muddy the waters ; The other man for the job is Aiden O’Brien, but his tend to be well backed if fancied. The story was ‘Michael wasn’t playing’ in the race and although not a drifter, confidence didn’t seem to be that high for Century, so the decision kind of made itself. The 9/2 each way early (with a rule 4 ) was averaged out with a press-up at 7/2 to undo the damage. If Carlsberg did ‘The Queens Vase’ this would have been it, out of jail without a sweat, not just because of the ‘first-past-the-post’ concession, but because as the rules stand, disqualification was nigh on impossible and would have been totally unjust. I had no interest in the Buckingham Palace, the race is a punters nightmare, other than to note another unplaced Sir Michael fav in the race and to laugh hilariously at yet another attempt by Frank Spencer to go from last to first off a moderate pace on fast ground on Horsted Keynes. For a jockey who is so very good from the front, it’s sad to see that he is generally so one dimensional in races, ‘Plan B’ is clearly a phrase he is unfamiliar with, never a truer case of the old adage that ‘ego costs money’.
By the time Saturday came I was a mere husk. Physically and emotionally drained, it was an effort to function, especially as I knew I had to get prepared for and make an early exit in order to get to, the 40th birthday celebrations of ‘The Laird of Airdrie’.
Not much was done early doors, all of the fancy prices on Telescope had gone. Should I take the shorter price on him now, or get stuck into Hillstar each way ?, because, let’s face it, Sir Michael farms the race with ‘types’ just like them. I was too tired to decide and so, did nothing. The only good thing to come from the race was that I had told my Father I couldn’t decide, when he mentioned this to my Mother (who has had 1 bet in the last 25 years) she said ‘Well bet them to be 1st and 2nd then’ and propmptly gave my Father £5 to have a £2.50 reverse forecast !! Abandoning Sir Michael’s Arab Spring for Hamelin (everyone in the world seemed to tell me it was the right move !) did nothing for my mood and the day turned out to be all about the only bet I had struck that morning, Slade Power. 2 years ago when he came over to Haydock for a listed race, I laughingly asked Willie Power if he was better than Sole Power, ‘not yet, but he will be’ was the reply. A fractured pelvis sustained on his first visit to Ascot for the Champions Series Sprint in 2012 seemed to still be remembered when he got fractious in the gate and ran poorly in last years Diamond Jubilee, however those ghosts were well and truly laid to rest on his return to win the Champions race last year, obviously still progressing and off-the-back of a terrific reappearance at the Curragh this year he just looked the stand-out horse to beat. With bits of 5/1 each way (yes 5/1 !!) further win and each way presses at 4/1 and 7/2 were purloined. I did have an each way saver on Aljamaheer to cover some of my stake as the story was he was extremely strongly fancied too, although I did resist the offer to ‘have your house on it’, which was the actual message…. The rest is history, turned out to perfection, he raced up with the pace, kept on strongly and never looked in a moments danger. As a lapsed Catholic Atheist from the West Of Scotland I have never looked forward much to the 12th of July, for obvious reasons, but this year it is July Cup day. I am looking forward to it very much this year and might even get myself up the M11 to HQ to witness another little bit of history for as nice a family as you could wish to meet. Earlier efforts to get the best of the prices available on Pique Sous had proved fruitless and with the East London branch of the Overground being suspended for the weekend a bus journey to Waterloo loomed large, my Royal Ascot was over, all that remained was to watch him get smashed-up even further and win, unbacked.
If i’m still standing, I’m sure I’ll be back to do it all again next year. Roll on The Queen’s Vase !!