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Plog 47 - 03/02/16:
Mullins And Salad

Irish Racing: Disappointing Dabbles
The wheels came unstuck in November and December, as I continued my occasional exploration of betting opportunities on Irish jumps racing.

Two tasty-looking handicaps at Fairyhouse, on the same day as the Hennessy at Newbury, presented possibilities. The results of these races were the worst case-scenarios you encounter if you're a value punter - one was won by an unfancied horse, and the other by one of the favourites.

My choices didn't get close to Nearly Nama'd, a 40/1 shot, in the 2m Grade B handicap chase - and then three of the first four favourites filled the frame in the Grade B handicap hurdle, led home by Blue Hell, a skinny price in such a competitive race at 4/1. Hell indeed - yes, it's safe to say that I was feeling blue.

Nobody could have known it at the time, but I was looking at two strong handicaps. I'll go back to the chase later, but fifth to Blue Hell in the hurdle was Henry Higgins, who later notched a lucrative success in the Coral Handicap Hurdle (the old Ladbroke/Pierse) at Leopardstown in January. Another well-known occupational hazard for the punter - sometimes you don't know what you're dealing with up front.

On to Christmas, and the first of two competitive-looking novice hurdles that would cost me money came at Leopardstown on December 27th - the Future Champions Novice Hurdle over two miles. What sometimes happens with these Graded novice hurdles is that the field is, in part, comprised of a collection of unexposed horses who've yet to be properly tested, and after I'd gone through the videos I thought there was a lot more to it than Long Dog and Tombstone - the ones whose form and reputations were already out there. Long Dog, though, looked to me as though he might be better over longer trips after I'd watched him in action, and this race being over the minimum distance was as good a reason as any to have a look at it.

The race turned out to be one of the reasons why Willie Mullins is, as far as some with a cynical viewpoint are concerned, taking over National Hunt racing. Mullins had three of the other runners besides Long Dog and two of them were in my team, but both Ruby Walsh and the betting had it right, as Ruby sent the 9/4 favourite Long Dog to the front and was never headed, finding all the way to the line. Well though Petit Mouchoir and Bleu Et Rouge ran, they didn't find the improvement necessary. Their earlier races, in which they looked like they could turn out good, were as uninformative as those in which Long Dog looked like he could be good, and only after they race against each other do we find out for real what they have to offer, at least in the short term.

Subsequent events have suggested that Yanworth, officially rated 158 by the BHA handicapper for his deeply impressive success at Cheltenham on the Festival Trials card, already has his name on the trophy in the Neptune. Long Dog was, and possibly still is, heading there. Improvement is likely on what he did at Leopardstown over further and what Yanworth did won't have passed Mullins by, so don't be surprised if Long Dog turns up in the Albert Bartlett, the three-miler.

Should Have Left The Leamington
Mullins's takeover bid has also extended to Britain this season. He's sent runners to places like Huntingdon and Taunton for decent races. Having sent runners to British Grade 1 jumps courses for several years, suddenly it seems that no gaff track that puts up above-average prize money is safe.

Not for the first time, the stable was well represented at Warwick's Classic Chase meeting during January. First Black Hercules lobbed round and jumped soundly in the Listed 3m novices' chase, and could well be a big player in the RSA Chase or National Hunt Chase.

Later on the card, Mullins sent out two runners in the 2m5f Grade 2 Leamington Novices' Hurdle. Open Eagle, who'd chased Altior home at Kempton on Boxing Day, looked like an unlikely stayer beforehand, but the only thing wrong with Thomas Hobson's win at Punchestown on his previous outing was his jumping, and he was favourite on my tissue. Even though he wasn't the real favourite, and therefore will have been a gold star-bet for many, my betting method nowadays dictated that, at around 11/2, he was too short for me. The market leader was Born Survivor, whose trainer Dan Skelton stated pre-race that he was so short (6/4) on account of reputation.

What I think was going on there was that he was favourite because of the trainer, and this is not the first time that I've suggested it. Skelton, as well as Harry Fry of course, came from the Paul Nicholls trainer-training operation, and I've noticed a few Fry-trained horses go off at shorter prices than they should have been as well. The same thing is bound to happen if and when Tom Jonason, current assistant trainer at Ditcheat, goes it alone himself a few years down the line.

Meanwhile back at the racecourse...

Thomas Hobson proceeded to get rid of the opposition - including those who I'd backed - when upping the pace over the three hurdles down the side before the home turn. Having been made a lot of use of, he got very tired from two out and one challenger came out of the pack to have a go. You guessed it - it was his stable companion Open Eagle, pulling out reserves of stamina that I didn't think he had. That's Willie Mullins for you - when a horse is trained by him, it can break any caveats and statistics that a punter might apply to that horse. Two-milers who stay the Grand National trip, stayers effective over the minimum trip (like Faugheen) - anything seems possible.

However, for the second time in a matter of weeks, I'd blown cash by taking on Mullins-trained favourites in novice hurdles. With the benefit of hindsight I didn't bet against Douvan, etc. at the 2015 Cheltenham Festival, so why try it in races that are easier for fancied horses to win than Festival ones? Own worst enemy sometimes, that's me.

Pulling it round
It wasn't looking good, but in my betting the next good day is just around the corner provided that I keep up the work. However well or badly the previous Saturday has gone, starting Monday night I'll crank up the hard drive-recorder and get watching back those races containing the next Saturday's entries.

Every bit of form study you do is worthwhile, because if it doesn't lead you to a winner the next day, it could point you in the direction of one in the future, be it weeks, months or even in a year and a half's time.

Whilst I was poring over that 2m handicap chase at Fairyhouse, Dandridge blipped on my radar for the first time. He earned reasonably high style marks for the manner of his win at Wexford - which is now a left handed-track, its familiar right hand-configuration last used in 2014 and now history - and looked to have a leading chance, going off 8/1, but was sent up to challenge the leaders too early - with four to jump - and weakened between the last two fences,

Subsequent events showed that anyone behind the eventual first two that day at Fairyhouse had a job on. Nearly Nama'd followed up in the Dan Moore Memorial Handicap Chase back at Fairyhouse - at a lot less than 40/1 - while in second was Minella Foru, who went up a mile in trip to land the mighty competitive Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Leopardstown on December 27th, beating 27 rivals. So there you had two reasons why Dandridge could do better than he did in that race; challenged too soon, and the opposition too hot.

Dandridge turned up in the entries for the 2m Class 2 handicap chase at Doncaster on the Sky Bet Chase-undercard, and despite a competitive, ten-strong field in which the opposition included the progressive Dresden, the useful Just Cameron - who of course chased Un De Sceaux home at Punchestown - and unexposed novice Red Spinner, was probably in an easier race than at Fairyhouse, and an early 12/1 was duly snapped up. Most of his form was when going right handed, but the Wexford win showed that he could act the other way round.

This couldn't have gone better. With good 5-lb claimer Donagh Meyler delaying his effort until he couldn't help but go on at the second last - later than at Fairyhouse - Dandridge stayed on to defeat Just Cameron, whose jockey had been at work for a long way, and perhaps a step up in trip is required for Micky Hammond's stable star. As for Dandridge, reportedly he could be making the crossing again for the Red Rum Chase at Aintree.

Salad on the menu - rare for Roy
I'd got involved in the Sky Bet Chase as well as that ten-runner two-miler, with bets placed while waiting for the result of the inspection at Cheltenham, where there'd been 15 millimetres of overnight rain. To be honest the betting gene in me wouldn't have minded if Cheltenham had been called off - the two Doncaster races would have done nicely. I'd studied Cheltenham too and had ideas, but had it been abandoned, then I'd have stayed in a mental comfort zone for the day. Two races bet in, both lose, no problem.

Cheltenham got the go-ahead, and bets were placed on two Cheltenham races. Now, realistically I needed to win two of the four races in total that I'd bet in to win the day. Time for a culinary diversion.

When I have a meal, whether it's my wife's home cooking (she should open a restaurant) or we're eating out, the first thing on my plate that I eat is the salad. Some people eat their favourite part of the dish first, others start with their least favourite; and I'm one of the latter.

It follows, then, that if I'm going to take an interest in Waldorf Salad, it's more likely to be watching the episode of Fawlty Towers in which it features prominently. But the racehorse of that name - a great big thing - was on the menu for the novices' handicap chase at Cheltenham, a race that in 2015 contained the winner of the similar but more competitive event at the Festival in Irish Cavalier.

The equine Waldorf Salad got his hooves very wet and muddy at Taunton when winning just after Christmas - there was considerable waterlogging evident, the horses splashing through lakes with virtually every stride in all races that day. That tells you that if conditions were as bad at Cheltenham as was being made out, here was at least one horse who was guaranteed to cope with it. I originally had him at a very big price on my tissue, but when the news first broke that the meeting was in trouble, if it did go ahead, I decided I should more than half Waldorf Salad's price.

You shouldn't lose sight of more conventional form study methods though, and at available odds and after three non-runners King's Odyssey, winner of a three-runner novice at Wincanton on Boxing Day, and Smooth Stepper - who'd beaten Wizards Bridge in a competitive novices' limited handicap at Newcastle (where at the time of writing, the jumps track has what looks like an extension of the A1 running around the outside) on the Fighting Fifth undercard - joined Waldorf Salad in the 'team'.

King's Odyssey won, but the way Waldorf Salad performed - slogging round up front to make it as much of a test as possible and then briefly looking like he might rally and take King's Odyssey's measure up the hill - justified the bet on him. The winner, however, is the most likely of the trio to go close in the novices' handicap on day one of the 2016 Festival.

'BTW', as the acronym we so widely use on our phones nowadays goes, I've seen Cheltenham much, much worse than it was for the Festival Trials card. Not that long ago either - on New Year's Day 2014, when Mendip Express won a staying handicap, Oscar Whisky took the Dipper and Annie Power also won, that was proper-splashing-waterlogged. On this card, the going seemed harmless - no worse than soft. Now I'm thinking that Waldorf Salad ran well despite - rather than because of - the ground, which I reckon was less testing than was suggested at 08:00 that morning.

Thanks to King's Odyssey and Dandridge, I was in a very good place. No matter what happened in the Sky Bet Chase or the handicap hurdle at Cheltenham, I was ahead for the day - and before the Channel 4-programme had even started. I don't think that's ever happened with my Saturday betting before. The other Cheltenham race was no good, but Ziga Boy winning the Sky Bet was the cherry on top.

Where my betting goes from there, I'll find out soon enough. I know where it's not going, though - I saw in a couple of places that connections are now considering running Buywise, who stayed on for a place - the usual with him - behind Ziga Boy at Doncaster, in the Grand National. I reckon Andy Richmond's discreetly-sarcastic 'one for the notebook' -tweet after the Sky Bet can suffice as the last word on that.


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46: Botted! (Not For The First Time) | 45: New Season, New Hope | 44: McCoy Memories |
43: Night Shift | 42: Cheltenham 2014