Tomorrow may not be the betting haven that some intrepid punters seek, but rather one for the purist. Two top class cards staged at Ascot and Haydock with a supporting cast of Huntington. To my mind this is the template for which all Saturdays in the racing calendar should follow. A steady flow of top flight racing rather than the likes of which is seen on the flat where it’s a group race every five minutes and punters haven’t the time to catch their breath let alone read through the card. Alas, this racing utopia seems to have been consigned to the dustbin in favour of wall-to-wall racing thanks largely to the accountants, formerly known as “bookmakers”.
I wanted to quickly remark on a recurring theme I’ve seen over the past twelve months; Channel 4 racing and it’s presenters aren’t up to scratch. A theory backed up all the time by dwindling viewing numbers. While I feel the prawn sandwich eating fraternity that run racing are quick to hark back to the old days through rose-tinted glasses I myself am inclined to agree with what appears to be the consensus – the old format was best. That may be personal taste, but one thing I think the show (The Morning Line especially) lacks is education. We live in a world in which consumers appear to have ADHD and those same viewers are greeted with what can sometimes appear to be gobbledygook in the form of racing jargon. The old “crew” had people such as John Francombe and who was both a great character and exceptionally knowledgeable, which made his points understandable to the layman and enthusiast alike. In the ring, Tanya Stevenson is constantly trying to make a drama about nothing. Due in part that bookmaker prices are all the same. However, Big Mac was utterly eccentric, while at times daft as a brush. Nonetheless he is synonymous with racing. How many stag parties turn up to the races dressed in Tanya Stevenson fancy dress?
I must say that I could listen to Graham Cunningham and Jim McGrath all day as a racing enthusiast – I’m just not sure they are the right pair to entice fringe fans into the sport on a regular basis. Lastly, can the Channel 4 producers for god sake give Matt Chapman a call? He is in some ways the new John McCririck, but given the channels ageist policy, a younger version.
Onto the racing…
On this what promises to be a wonderful Saturday of racing there are three certainties; Death, taxes and Silvianaco Conti winning the Betfair chase. He remains one of my favourite horses in training and I’m as excited as ever to see him back over fences for the first time this season to defend a race he’s won twice previously – the 2012 win being one of the most fluent rounds of jumping anyone could wish to see. Cue Card a general 3/1 poke will need to find 5lb on official ratings from somewhere, but he looked very well the last day at Wetherby on his seasonal reappearance and knows what it takes to win this having won the race back in 2013. Not a race I’d be having a bet in, but if you fancy Conti I wouldn’t wait too long to take that 33/1 for the Gold Cup (I’ll leave that to the readers discretion as to whether that’s a joke or not).
The first race that I’ll be toying with the bank manager’s heart with is the 13:15 Haydock and the one that I’m trusting to not break my kids (don’t have any but for the purposes of the joke….) hearts this Christmas is HUNTERS HOOF – a 6yo from the Nicky Henderson yard who’s having just his fourth start over hurdles today, but was impressive when taking a step up in class last time out at Aintree off a mark of 130. Was given 9lb for that win, which on the face of it appears harsh, but he’s likely even better still and at 11/2 is a good enough price to pay to find out. The slight concern being that he’s tackling soft conditions for the first time under rules. However, being out of Flemensfirth coupled with his relatively high knee action suggests he should handle conditions.
Staying at Haydock the next race of interest is the 14:25. DEFINITELY RED is a very lightly raced 6yo having just his ninth start today. Has been off the track for 250+ days, which could be perceived as a negative but trainer Brian Ellison is more than capable of getting them fit enough. Makes his handicap debut after a smart couple of displays in grade races. A general 8/1 chance, which is about the shortest price I’d be willing to take. The money has come for the Nicholls-trained ALCALA who certainly looks to be off a workable rating of 126, but I’ve got question marks over his handling of soft/heavy ground and now a general 8/1 chance is worth opposing. The other interesting runner is the Emma Lavelle runner, CLOSING CEREMONY who looks nailed on to take up the running – a favourable tactic at Haydock. Goes well in conditions and has plenty of speed; each way chance at 14/1.