The Punter’s Blog – To Or From York or Killarney

September 1st 2020: To Or From York Or Killarney

AUGUST was approaching, and the strange and/or bad and/or sad feelings I talked about when I last wrote one of these, had all but passed. Marital relations were no longer strained, and things were back to the new normal.

In my case, the new normal involves firing up the work laptop at 6am, logging off at 1pm, switching on the #rwsteeplechasing laptop between then and 2pm, and doing racing analysis – updating my jumps ratings, and watching back races, homing in on the best jumps and, as it’s Summer, the best staying and middle-distance Flat handicappers.

It was just a question of when to go for my next bet. After July went wrong on Summer Plate-day – of my own making, apart from Mrs rwsteeplechasing’s reaction to it – I’d decided not to go for anything at Glorious Goodwood or the Galway Festival.

To an extent, it was a shame not to take a betting involvement. Other potential target-races, in the shape of a couple of Class 2 handicaps over jumps in Britain that week, were let go too. With a big festival on, the wisdom of the British Horseracing Authority in scheduling decent races elsewhere in the same week, is open to question.

But when it comes to whether to study form or not with betting in mind, I can change my mind at any time.

I’d been watching Goodwood, and what would have been the first target-race of the meeting – the Goodwood Handicap – grabbed my attention. If you think the Ascot Stakes is a jumps race without the jumps, this race isn’t even started from stalls. They start opposite the stands and go the wrong way, hang a left and take the whole of the loop, then right hand down into the long downhill home straight.

I knew this bunch of horses now. For a start Coeur De Lion, who did me a turn in the Ascot Stakes, was in again – Smart Champion, Summer Moon and several of the others from the Royal Ascot race were there too, but I just watched, as 25/1 chance Just Hubert got up late. At least once when watching Just Hubert’s races previously I’d put ‘could do better over further’, or words to that effect. Would I have landed on him, I’ll never know.

The next Goodwood race I’d have looked at would have been the one-mile six-furlong handicap on the Saturday. More of the horses I’ve been keeping tabs on were entered.

The question of when to re-enter the betting fray was suddenly coming up on me quicker than at the beginning of the week. I’d done a hell of a lot of work, without knowing exactly what – if anything – it would be of any use for. Thanks to some of that work, I was in the loop on the mile-six handicap.

August began on August 1st, not August 6th or whenever I thought my first bet of the month would be, and Saturday was August 1st.

I could have done with a few more runners, but – thanks to my being a bad sleeper – in the early hours of Saturday morning, I decided I was in, and a spreadsheet was done.

When I put the prices in, Hochfeld and Quloob were the only ones to go red. Hochfeld did the business, and a successful start to the month was made, earlier than originally anticipated. I bought a new smartphone with the winnings. Do they still call them smartphones?

Regardless of the reasons for avoiding Galway with my wallet, results showed it was the right thing to do. Early Doors in the Galway Plate would have been too short, and Aramon in the Galway Hurdle was even shorter. Aramon, the County Hurdle runner-up, has made up into a Champion Hurdle-class horse and his performance at Galway would have got him in the three in the latest Champion. Judged on that, the reappearance of Saint Roi, who beat Aramon at Cheltenham, is very eagerly awaited.

Not to worry: the Galway form – not just the Plate and Hurdle, but the Blazers and other decent hurdle races – could be thoroughly analysed, with other good Irish jump races in August and September upcoming.

Moving on to the following week, the meeting that would normally have been the Shergar Cup, at Ascot, had mile-and-a-half and two-mile Class 2 handicaps on it, so I went for both – the two-miler was no good for me, but I was only a head shy of winning the shorter race with Hyanna, who closed on Look Closely late and would have got up in another stride. The place money on her ensured that I stayed in front for the month – each-way betting doing its job, offsetting losses.

York You Think?
I decided that the week after was a blank week, because I knew that starting August 17th, there was a busy week upcoming. It was York’s Ebor meeting, with three potential target-races, one of them the Ebor itself. Not only that but, if it wasn’t enough that Goodwood and Galway were on in the same week, again the British and Irish racing authorities somehow managed to get festival-meetings scheduled in the same week, with Killarney also running from Wednesday to Saturday in the Emerald Isle.

In another example of atrocious scheduling by the British Horseracing Authority, no fewer than four Class 2 handicaps over jumps were scheduled the same week as the Ebor meeting – very much eggs-in-one-basket race ‘planning’. If you have to have them at all given the time of year, don’t put them on the same week as a major festival meeting!

The study-plan was the two-mile handicap at York on the Wednesday, the Grade B two-mile handicap hurdle at Killarney on Thursday, the mile-and-a-half handicap at York on the Friday, and the Ebor and/or the Grade B two-and-a-half mile handicap chase at Killarney on the Saturday.

In the last PLOG I wrote about how deciding which three horses to bet on, out of five which turned red in the Summer Plate-spreadsheet, cost me a return on the race. What I wanted to do going forward was reduce – and most of the time eliminate – such decision making.

Whereas the Hochfeld Goodwood-race was worked on in the early hours on the day of the race, this week’s races were started two days before, with 48-hour declarations for all races continued in Britain and Ireland.

In the York two-miler I wanted to keep Volcanic Sky on the right side, making that progressing sort a joint favourite with Make My Day, and if Summer Moon could make his effort later than he did in the Ascot Stakes, in which he went to the front five furlongs out, maybe he could do something. As usual though, there was a case to be made for many others too.  

For the first time, here I give you an idea of what I’m faced with after putting the prices into the spreadsheet. One of these electronic ‘tissues’ is done for every race I study with the intention of betting. This one is for York’s two-mile handicap.

This time, no mucking about. All of them were backed each way.

Rochester House used himself up from the front, but there were two chances for me at the two-pole – Summer Moon boxing on, and Volcanic Sky coming there strongly, looking the winner.

Volcanic Sky’s stamina failed and he dropped back in the last furlong, but Summer Moon stayed on well, and overhauled Rajinsky in the last 150 yards.

Royal Ascot winner backed – check: Glorious Goodwood winner backed – check: York Ebor meeting winner backed – check. This strange Summer could be going a lot worse.

On to Killarney on the Thursday. A named storm, Storm Ellen, was starting to hit Ireland, and the going changed during the track’s Flat-card on the Wednesday. This softening of the ground led to many withdrawals at Thursday’s jump-meeting and decimated the field for the Grade B handicap hurdle, only seven lining up.

Nothing, apart from The Mouse Doctor, was drifting into my back zone. I was still willing to back a couple win-only, but I decided I was out in the last few minutes before the off. With The Mouse Doctor only third to Poseidon, I was right to stay out.

On the same day I looked at Saturday’s declarations. Long before this week came round I’d thought that, since the Ebor had its prize money substantially increased, a horse needed to be better than a handicapper – maybe even Group 2-class – to win it. It’s the same with the Cesarewitch now. Trainers are being encouraged to run in the Ebor and/or the Cesarewitch, then go for the mega-dollars in the Melbourne Cup.

A maximum field of 22 in the Ebor was off-putting too. I know it’s contradictory to my usual strategy over jumps, as I wouldn’t hesitate to get involved in those monster Cheltenham Festival-handicaps, but, sure enough, there were better horses in the Ebor than I’d been dealing with for the last couple of months. There was also an Irish contingent, and I hadn’t been studying Irish Flat racing – whereas the only races in which overseas raiders could compete in at Royal Ascot were the Group 1s, the BHA were now permitting their participation in Heritage Handicaps.

Also, for all I’m dabbling in more Flat races, I’m still jumps first. The Grade B handicap chase at Killarney had a much more attractive shape, with a dozen runners, lots of Galway form (some Cheltenham Festival form too) and five horses rated 140 or more.

I’m prepared to put in the hours and do the work, but whereas the Ebor needed work, the work on the Killarney race had already been done – so I decided the Ebor would be passed over. Saturday was Killarney or bust.

But first, the mile-and-a-half handicap at York on Friday. A couple of non-runners reduced the field to nine, but I still landed on three to back each way, of which On To Victory made the frame, but I didn’t land on the winner Alfaatik, who looked most ungenuine when last seen out in 2019, was blinkered first time and still gave trouble at the start. Still, losses were offset, and I took out a profit from the York Ebor meeting.

On To Victory became the latest of many Alan King-trained horses to have run well on the Flat this year, but had already showed a deal of promise over hurdles, shaping well at Newbury in December 2019, and ought to be on for at least one win if going back hurdling in 2020/21.

York to Killarney to… Cartmel?
Saturday afternoon came round in the knowledge that, if the Killarney race went badly, Summer Moon’s win meant that it would still be an up-week.

Two hours or so before the Killarney race I browsed the Sunday cards, and I noticed that two races on that day’s Cartmel fixture were to be shown on ITV Racing. I hadn’t picked up on this at all before this point. This was a pretty big thing to me, as it should have been to all National Hunt racing fans. For me personally, the likes of Fontwell and Plumpton are boring when compared to Cartmel.

There was a good race at Cartmel too – a Class 2 two-mile one-furlong handicap chase with 11 runners. Was it as good as the Killarney race, no – there was only one horse rated 140 or more in it – but it was easily the most competitive Class 2 jump race in Britain that week. There were too many Class 2 jump races last Summer, and that’s been very much the case again this time. They’ve been uncompetitive, and are unlikely to have any bearing on the jump season-proper when Autumn arrives.

Having said the work on the Killarney handicap chase had been done, a little extra analysis was required. The declaration of Smithscorner, who’d won a two-mile handicap chase at the track on Thursday, was a curveball. In addition to doing two versions of my tissue for the race – one with Smithscorner, one without – I had to analyse Smithscorner’s performance. The conclusion was that, on the ‘with’ analysis, he deserved to be made favourite; not only did he win well, but he was following up a victory at the Galway festival – the first time in his career that he’d followed up a win with another. The consistent Robin Des Foret was made a joint favourite.

Smithscorner stayed in the race, so the tissue without him was discarded. Here’s how things looked around 5:05pm, half an hour before the race.

Mortal hadn’t run well in the Galway Plate, already done with when unseating. Having not won since his successful chasing debut at Fairyhouse in December 2018, he was worth backing on the strength of his okay-run behind Bachasson at Clonmel in March, at the last meeting before Irish racing was suspended. Mind’s Eye had claims on his Tipperary-win, and the above-average hunter chaser Stand Up And Fight – for all he’d lost his way – looked interesting dropped in trip, but that interest only lasted for a circuit.

There were two false starts, which is the last thing I need at 5:35pm on Saturday, when Mrs rwsteeplechasing’s wanting me downstairs for dinner. According to the IHRB’s website, the first false start was because the field started racing before reaching the marker poles, and the second because a jockey was shouting ‘no’. Both times, everyone was facing the right way – so surely if all horses are pointing in the right direction, then it’s a legitimate start? Or is that too simple?

The ex-Paul Nicholls-trained mare Kupatana, despite taking two or three furlongs to pull up after both false starts, set a strong gallop – just the sort of pace that was likely to favour those held up, even round a track as sharp as Killarney. Sure enough, the race came back to the hold-ups, which included Mortal, but amazingly Kupatana was still in there pitching at the second last. Only going to the last did she fade, and it was left to Mortal and Robin Des Foret to fight it out. Mortal proved the stronger – a tasty 22/1 winner on my first bet on a race at Killarney.

Aside from the win I was taken with Kupatana’s performance, as were many others I suspect – to run that well, after near-bolting twice with the false starts, bodes well for 2020/21. It was easily her best run since joining Henry De Bromhead, and the new mares’ chase at the Cheltenham Festival looks the obvious target.

So a good betting week turned into a great one. August used to be my off-season – it’s not a full-on month for me like January and February, but over the last four or five years I’ve wanted to explore new betting possibilities and opportunities – first by studying more Irish jumps form, then looking at staying handicaps on the Flat, which often have jumpers in them. The Flat is beginning to work for me, whilst jump racing in Ireland is better, and the form more reliable, than the British version during Summer.

But… there was the not-so-small matter of the Cartmel race still lingering in my mind. I don’t usually do Sundays, but the position was that I’d smashed the week, and a last-minute form study-session, followed by betting on the race, wouldn’t damage anything. More to the point, this was Cartmel being shown on ITV3.

The decision I came to was that the week wasn’t over yet.

The only problem was when to shoehorn the study in to my time. Pretty much the only option was to ‘work the graveyard shift’. When my usually-bad sleeping dictated that I woke up at 1:30am, I tried not to wake Mrs rwsteeplechasing, and tiptoed – sort of – into The Engine Room.

The race did have something of a class act carrying top weight – none other than one of my favourite horses in training, the one and only Chesterfield, who won at the Grand National meeting at Aintree then followed up in the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr in 2017. If the race was over hurdles it would revolve around him, but he hadn’t quite matched it over fences, and he ran in the Coral Cup at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival.

The rest of the field was a cross-section of course winners and good Summer jumpers, and besides Chesterfield I landed on Theflyingportrait and Tonto’s Spirit. As we had a morning out planned, the betting was done around 3:30am, when the study and uploading of the preview to the website was finished, and again at 8:15am, around the time when Tonto’s Spirit drifted into my back zone.

There were a couple making promising moves from the midfield and rear down the woodside with four to jump, but the leaders pressed on. Tonto’s Spirit wasn’t one of them – unable to get the lead, he was knocked out of rhythm at an early stage, and was all done after a circuit. Chesterfield’s jumping didn’t hold up either – he didn’t make major errors, but a slight mistake set him back to fifth starting the long run-in, and thanks to there being no fences in the last half mile at Cartmel, he passed a couple to get third and bag an each-way place.

That the winner was exposed chaser King Alfonso illustrates how sub-standard in general the quality of Summer jumping in Britain is. King Alfonso had no pretensions to being of Class 2 ability, then he ran fourth to Summer Plate-flop Imperial Presence at Stratford, and on the strength of that connections decided to go for a Class 2 again and it came off. Well done to them, but that’s surely as good as it’s going to get.

Am I jealous? The King Alfonso-team got free Sticky Toffee Pudding – of course I am! Not talking through my wallet, more my stomach, as I haven’t had any of the world’s greatest dessert for a while now…

Next Please
I had no problem keeping my feet on the ground after the win on Mortal. Disagreements over how to park the car and – of all things – Times New Roman font, as well as working on the Cartmel race, made sure that the familiar backed-a-winner-yesterday glowing feeling was, if not banished, mostly suppressed. Which is a good thing, if like me you want to work towards whatever’s next. Away from racing Times New Roman pays my wages, so don’t knock it, even if you think it’s the world’s most boring font.

Now I’m ready for what September brings.

Like it or not, I’ll also have to be ready to go back to presiding over Times New Roman in the office, albeit not full time. A lot depends on the UK Government and local lockdowns, and the picture can change at a moment’s notice, but one week out of every five, they tell me I’ll be wanted on site.

As far as following racing and doing this website is concerned, yes it’s a bummer; but I’ve shoehorned it in somehow since I stopped working the Graveyard shift on my old job in banking presentations – that was back in 2014. No reason why I can’t again, although obviously I won’t be able to get involved during the midweek when I’m in the office.

After working on the Cartmel race in the small hours, for the first time in those six years since I felt that familiar tired, fuzzy, subdued feeling – the one that doesn’t leave you until you next have a good night’s sleep at the time that your body expects you to. If you currently work nights, or have in the past, you’ll know what I’m talking about. I’m glad I did the Cartmel race, but next time I’d like to study whilst there’s still daylight…

The other great thing about August was that I now feel I know what I’m doing where the Flat’s concerned, more than I don’t. Indeed, I might put some Flat-material on the website going forward…

…the name and logo need a bit of work though.

Read previous PLOGs:
‘This Time, I Really Don’t Know Where To Start’
‘Roy’s Royal Ascot Week’