Friday, November 26, 2010

Denmania Returns

Denmania Returns

It’s that time of year again; rolling around like clockwork; Denman is set to take the Hennessy, Kauto Star The King George. It has seemed this way for some years now, comfortable, expected. Both of these superstars are supposed to be approaching the end of their careers but show little signs of decline. When asked about Denman approaching his eleventh birthday, Paul Nicholls stated “He's not getting any better at his age, but in our view he's not getting any worse at the moment either”.

Tomorrow may be the last time Denman runs around Newbury, he may go for the Aon Chase in February where last year he unshipped Tony McCoy when 1/6 favourite. That race was a mere blip however and his fine second in The Gold Cup has resulted in his rating of career-high 182.

Denman ran four times last year, his record was 1U24. His only win of the campaign came in a workmanlike performance in the 2009 Hennessy, but then again Denman is teak, he is a relentless 17.1 hands high galloper and will make the field suffer tomorrow as he attempts to become the first horse to ever win three Hennessey’s. Arkle and Mandarin never achieved this, they both had refinement and panache in abundance but Denman is all “blood n guts”.

Tomorrow morning he will leave Box No 2 at the Manor Farm Stables in Ditcheat, there will be a mini exodus as Neptune Collonges, Taranis, Niche Market and The Tother One lead a five-pronged Paul Nicholls attack on the race, while all should make a good account of themselves, it’s all about Denman.

Last year he beat What A Friend who was carrying 22lbs less, watching the race there was a time where Denman was niggled along 4 out and ridden again when 2 out but he ground it out and stayed on strongly under pressure on the run-in. He is running off the same weight as last year but rated higher (182 vs. 174). Sam Thomas takes the ride ahead of the injured Ruby Walsh, Noel Fehily and Tony McCoy (who never won riding Denman on three starts).

Denman is carrying a top weight of 11-12, Nicholls believes “He's going to need a career-best to win”. The horse reportedly schooled very well and is primed for a bold showing but this is still the Hennessey. There are seventeen runners in the race including Noel Meade’s Pandorama, the well-weighted Weird Al for Ian Williams and Diamond Harry, an exciting novice chaser last year. There are a crop of talented staying chasers snapping at the heels of Denman.

In July, Paul Barber took over Harry Findlay's share in Denman, mainly due to the BHA situation, he is now the sole owner of the horse and one wonders has he taken the a snip of the odds of 25/1 that bookmaker Blue Square are offering to complete a Hennessy/Cheltenham Gold Cup double.

In reality tomorrow may be the swansong for Denman and he is entitled to his own little piece of history. At the weights he appears to have it all do to, he shoulders a big burden but that’s what tanks do, they rumble on regardless and it’s better to be on a tank than facing one.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

6% unseated record? I’ll take that.

6% unseated record? I’ll take that.

by Stephen Dwyer

Here are a few points to note ahead of tomorrow’s Betfair Chase at Haydock.
1. It is the first Grade 1 chase of the British National Hunt Season and current Gold Cup Champion Imperial Commander begins a three-race season. He will run at Haydock, in the King George and The Gold Cup.
2. Imperial Commander runs well fresh, his seasonal reappearance record is 1-1-2
3. There is no Kauto Star in the race (Kauto has won 3 of the last 4 and would have won all 4 had he not unseated at the last in 2008 when in the lead)
4. In the 2009 renewal Imperial Commander was rated 21lbs inferior to Kauto Star but lost by just a nose.
5. Imperial Commander is currently trading at 8/11 and will win barring accidents, he has never fallen and unseated only once in his career, at Aintree when a tired horse, 1 “U” in 17 starts is just under 6%, I’ll take that.

Imperial Commander is top drawer, he has a current handicap rating of 185, second in the ratings only to Kauto Star and the race revolves around him being fit and fresh. Faith in the exploits of the 9 year old can only be affirmed by the comments of his Naunton-based trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies who stated he has a “very, very good chance of success in this race”.

Last Season, Imperial Commander’s race record read P251U-, not the most impressive of records on paper you would think, but you would be wrong. His solitary win, a near-flawless performance in the Cheltenham Gold Cup catapulted the son of Flemensfirth into the ranks of the best staying chasers around, a reputation he will surely maintain tomorrow.

Owned by the 8-strong “Our friends in the North” syndicate, many believe that defeat in the Betfair Chase at Haydock last year was the catalyst for his success in The Gold Cup. In a desperately close finish, jockey Paddy Brennan, punched the air passing the finishing line in the belief he had beaten the-then Gold Cup Champion, Kauto Star. This was not so and Paul Nicholls superstar inflicted another defeat on Imperial Commander in The King George when he beat him by 63 lengths before he turned the tables in Cheltenham when he was so conditioned and ripe, his trainer called him “a ball of muscle”.

With a prize fund of £200,000, The Betfair Chase (registered as the Lancashire Chase.) was first run in 2005. It served as part of a marketing event, the Betfair Million. Sponsor of the series sponsor, betting exchange Betfair, offered a £1,000,000 bonus to the winner of the Betfair Chase, King George and Cheltenham Gold Cup. After Kauto Star won the series in effortless fashion, Betfair changed the format to any first-three finisher achieving first or second at the Cheltenham Festival and then winning the Grand National. Last year it was The Betfair Million was dropped altogether.
Although just 7 go to post for the race, it is not a penalty kick for Imperial Commander; Paul Nicholls run’s the Sir. Alex Ferguson-owned What A Friend, who he describes as a “'lean, lean machine'”. Now recuperated from a breathing operation over the summer, What A Friend has already beaten Imperial Commander, he did so at Aintree in the Totesport Bowl Chase and prior to that he had a big win at Leopardstown over Christmas when he took the Lexus Chase. He is a tough sort and was beaten just once last season, by Denman in the Hennessy Gold Cup and at 7, the best may be yet to come.

Punchestown Guinness Gold Cup winner, Planet Of Sound may run into place claims, 100/1 outsider Atouchbetweenacara is only one of two entries with the benefit of a run this season. Nacarat, winner of the Grade 2 Charlie Hall Chase three weeks ago is not as top-class as Imperial Commander but should be the improving sort.

It will be very hard to beat Imperial Commander tomorrow; he was no flash in the pan at Cheltenham his jockey noted after schooling the gelding that “he felt every bit as well if not better than last year. There’s no such thing as a good thing in racing but I couldn’t be happier with my horse”.

The Imperial Commander Camp will be hoping to build momentum after the race on Saturday and they have every right to be confident, he may indeed prove imperious.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wiley Waley-Cohen

Wiley Waley-Cohen

By Stephen Dwyer

I like dentists. I think they have a tough vocation but a necessary one. If I have a toothache I go to see Mr. McCarron in Kilkenny, if I have a horse that is a leading contender for The King George I don’t go to Mr. McCarron, I go to Ruby Walsh or Tony McCoy.

Long Run an exceptional five year old lines up for the Paddy Power Gold Cup on Saturday, his jockey will be an amateur claiming five pounds. Mr. Sam Waley-Cohen, a London businessman runs a company which acquires private dental practices. He would not be the first choice for a horse of Long Run’s calibre and without being sardonic; it helps if the owner of the horse is your father. The jockey’s father is none other than Robert Waley-Cohen who appears in the Sunday Times Rich list with a private fortune of £30 million from founding a medical device company.

To be fair to Mr. Sam Waley-Cohen, he had a 23% strike rate last season. Granted he only won 3 races out of 13 starts and he is only a slip of a man, his lowest riding weight last year was 9-13. Not many amateurs achieved what he did in 2007 when finishing fifth in the Grand National on Liberthine.

Riding Long Run, Waley-Cohen won his first two starts in England by a combined total of 26 lengths, one over 3 miles, the other over 2. In the RSA he finished third on a day when his jumping was not spectacular. Still he was the youngest in the race and could not cope with the speed horse, Weapon's Amnesty.

The Paddy Power Gold Cup is no RSA, it is a Grade 3 Handicap Chase. Faced with a stiff ask off 11-6, Long Run is joint-youngest in the race, the other 5 year old is 50-1 chance Rory Boy who carries 10-0. Long Run is already a Grade 1 winner having won the Feltham in Kempton on St. Stephen’s Day but I think is vulnerable tomorrow. Trained by Nicky Henderson, his stable mate 8yo Mad Max beat Somersby (second in the Arkle) at Aintree and he is a massive scopey sort who has trained well and will relish the trip.

Poquelin is tough 7yo, an acutely accurate jumper who won the Grade 2 Gold Cup over 2m 5f last December, Paul Nicholls has never won the race and he has strong place claims. He runs off a mark of 158 but 5 year olds have a desperate record in the race. The only 5yo to win this race in 50 years was Cyfor Malta in 1998. Good horses win The Paddy Power, Imperial Commander two years ago and look at what he has achieved.

I would like to see Long Run defying the records and his jockey stuffing his critics and he needs to win convincingly in order to justify his odds as second-favourite to Kauto Star for The King George.

Ultimately Long Run was bought by Robert Waley-Cohen for his son to ride so we are unlikely to see Barry Geraghty aboard any time soon. If however he puts in a poor performance tomorrow and in the King George, a private present from father to son will remain just that.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Star of County Down

Star of County Down

Five things you need to know about Down Royal Racecourse

1. The Ulster Derby is run there each year in June.
2. Technically the racecourse is in the United Kingdom, but it is under the governance of Horse Racing Ireland.
3. It is situated 30 miles away from the birthplace of Tony McCoy.
4. The biggest race of the year there is the James Nicholson Wine 3 mile chase, run each November.

This takes us to point number five;

Kauto Star will win point number four this Saturday.

There is no need to say much about Kauto Star; Tony McCoy summed it up during the week when he stated simply and unequivocally “Kauto Star is as good a horse as I have ever seen” Not bad praise for a man who won a King George on Best Mate.
Kauto Star visited the Northern track once before, in November 2008, that day he beat a poor field and won an unextended 11 lengths as the 2/5 favourite. He went on to win The Gold Cup that same season.

The Champion Chase is a Grade 1 over 3 miles, at £140,000 it’s valuable and not many people know it’s the very first Grade 1 event of the Irish National Hunt season. It is also likely to be the last time Kauto will be in Ireland racing but his current odds of 8/13 are far too skinny, given the opposition and conditions.
He is up against Arkle winner, Sizing Europe. In my opinion, Henry De Bromhead’s star has yet to prove he can stay, he was well beaten last time out over 2m 7f but may have needed the run. He did win once over 2m 4f but never beyond, he is still improving though and Saturday’s run will tell a lot.

By Pistolet Bleu, it is noteworthy that getting 3 miles is not a guarantee. Geos, who was also by Pistolet Bleu never won beyond 2 miles (he finished last in the long walk hurdle) I'msingingtheblues, by the same stallion fell over 2m 4f and was beaten 9 lengths when favourite for the Future Champion Novices' Chase (grade 2) in Ayr last year, also over 2 m 4f. Indeed Pistolet Bleu’s collective progeny produce very few winners over distances greater than 2 miles.

China Rock is a solid stayer and may give Kauto a race. He was a good fourth in a very hot Jewson in Cheltenham and second to Kempes in the Grade 1 Champion Novice Chase at Punchestown. If the ground turns up soft to heavy he may not appreciate the going but is still an exciting prospect and is still just a seven year old.

Last year Kauto Star ran seven times, winning five and unseating and falling in the Betfair Chase (at the last) and The Gold Cup respectively. He is likely to run less this year, Saturday will be is 25th start for Paul Nicholls, a partnership that sees a 66% strike rate.

Kauto runs well fresh and will have recovered well from his fall four out at Cheltenham. For Ruby Walsh it will be a case of settling the horse early and letting him do what he does best, switched off.

In fifteen years of following horse racing I have never seen a horse better than Kauto Star, I fully believe he will win on Saturday and be the toast of Co. Down.

In doing so, he will join Beef or Salmon to become the most successful horse in the race and if the Gods are favourable, he will take his fifth King George in six weeks.

On Saturday we should just watch and enjoy a legend, not one in the making but one already made.

The name’s Bolger

The name’s Bolger

By Stephen Dwyer

1997 was the year Tony McCoy won the Cheltenham Gold Cup aboard Mr. Mulligan. It was also the year that Cockney Lad won the Irish Champion Hurdle and a season before Istabraq would start winning that same race an unheralded four straight times. As racing seasons go, it was a notable one, yet above all else the racing staff at The Independent lauded the performance of trainer and jockey Enda Bolger’s Risk Of Thunder in the La Touche Cup. Not mincing their words, journalists heralded it as “the finest display of athleticism any racecourse will see this year.”

The reason for the praise was simple; Risk Of Thunder had just completed a hat-trick in the La Touche and had made a mockery of Punchestown’s twisting cross-country course. This was no easy task given the challenge of the race. The La Touche Cup is Ireland’s most unique horse race; it is run over 33 furlongs, (4 miles 1 furlong in old money) and includes 30 fences. Among the collection of obstacles are giant Aintree fences, drop banks, log fences, an up-and-over double bank, native birch rolls and the etymologically-named Tommy’s Hedge and Ruby’s Double. Along with the Velka Pardubicka, it is one of the longest horse races in Europe, winning three in a row couldn’t have been easy. By the time he retired, Risk Of Thunder had won seven of them.

Former James Bond, Sean Connery bought the gelding on the spot when he saw him wining one of his La Touche races. From that point on, he would race in the colours of the Scottish Saint Andrew’s Cross, the famous Azure and White saltire.

Despite the fondness of a certain Mr. Bond, it is a misnomer to say that Risk Of Thunder was an absolute top-class horse, he regularly made mistakes in handicap chases and although he once finished fourth in the Irish Grand National and second in the Velka Pardubice Chase the same year, he reigned supreme in cross country races. By Strong Gale, the vast majority of his 18 career wins (12) would be at Punchestown partnered by regular riders Ken Whelan or trainer/jockey combination Enda Bolger.

Indeed Bolger is easily the most gifted cross-country trainer in Ireland and the UK, even managing to string together ten consecutive victories in The La Touche. He would also train winners in Garde Champetre, Spot Thedifference and Good Step and is unsurpassed in the Cheltenham banks races. Originally from Graiguenamanagh in Co. Kilkenny, he cut his teeth riding 413 point-to-point winners. It was with Risk Of Thunder that he made his name as a cross-country specialist trainer and the partnership’s record in the race will be matchless for some time to come.

On a side note, The La Touche Cup at the Punchestown has now become part of a new European Series of ten races called the Crystal Cup. This series is run in six different countries – France, Belgium, Italy, The Czech Republic, Britain and Ireland, it has a combined prize fund of over €700,000. The most successful stable at the end of the series will win the Crystal Cup and collect an additional €10,000.

I know who my money is on, with the Crystal Cup in hand; Enda Bolger will be smiling like a Kilkenny cat.