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Plog 54 - 22/09/18:
Changing It Up

I FELT after the 2018 Cheltenham Festival not quite like I'd turned a corner, but that I'd definitely made progress. I'd gone from a lowest ebb, wanting to quit absolutely everything that there is to quit in my life, and that betting was off indefinitely, to steering my mind back on to racing, and studying the form, and backing winners, and coming out of the Festival in front.

At work, in the job that I was leaving on the Friday of the Grand National meeting, they got every last ounce out of me. Without going into all the smelly stuff, just trust me when I say I felt so completely mashed and mentally done in by it. I told friends that I left it two years too late to get out. But hey, on that Friday the thirteenth, they gave me one last induction session for a bunch of off-cycle interns. Where I worked, interns traditionally arrived in the Summer - but this lot had to arrive in the middle of April didn't they, just for me.

Seeing bits and bobs of ITV's Aintree coverage on the Internet, when the poor signal at my desk allowed, eventually it was time to go home, and I said my goodbyes and left, for the last time.

The next step was to back the National winner for the third year running. Following that, on the Monday, it was updating my CV and starting the new job-search.

It Revolved Around Tiger Roll
I don't think any horse running in the Grand National in recent years has divided opinion as much as Tiger Roll. Smaller than most ponies, this undersized gelding - a four-foot-eight flyweight, in a large field of heavyweights - habitually made a string of errors every time he ran in a steeplechase. Despite this, his record going to Aintree included wins in the National Hunt Chase, the Munster National and, when last seen out, one of the best trials for the Grand National - the cross country-chase at the Cheltenham Festival, in which his trainer Gordon Elliott ran Silver Birch to be placed in 2007, when he beat McKelvey at Aintree.

Us punters thought one of two things: either 'he's too small for the National', which, if you'd seen him in the flesh or read a description of his appearance, made total sense; or 'he can't lose the National', which, to form students who had taken a maximum of 15 minutes to look over the race (therefore more than likely watching no video), made the exciting discovery that he'd won the cross-country at Cheltenham and stopped looking there and then, made total sense.

Seeyouatmidnight was my number one. If you keep it simple and go with form from previous Grand Nationals and/or other big Nationals, you often land on the winner - and Seeyouatmidnight, having placed in a Scottish National, looked good to go, despite his trainer Sandy Thomson having endured a frustrating build-up, with just about every potential prep race he was declared in abandoned, prior to his belated run over an inadequate two and a half miles at Newbury.

As Seeyouatmidnight emptied after the third last, Tiger Roll sailed on (of course), and just held on from the fast-finishing Pleasant Company. Nothing to report otherwise - my others were Gas Line Boy, fifth in 2017, but unplaced this time; The Last Samuri, who lost his race when getting on edge in the preliminaries; and Final Nudge, who had nowhere to go at the first Canal Turn.

The Last Samuri, the 2016 runner-up, and Final Nudge were chosen with the prevailing going in mind. They're at their best when it's at least soft, and it was officially 'heavy, soft in places' on the National course. The time of 9 minutes 40.1 seconds was 36.5 seconds slower than One For Arthur clocked in 2017. If the trip had been the old four miles four furlongs, it would have been at least 10 minutes. That said, was it as heavy as 1994 when Miinnehoma won, 1998 when Earth Summit beat Suny Bay, or 2001 when Red Marauder and Smarty were literally the last horses standing? Not near.

The 'Man Of Leisure'-weeks
So no joy with the 2018 Grand National. We all know we can't win 'em all. So began the job search.

It would have been tempting to study form and get involved every day - after all, in theory there was more time to do just that, unlike when I worked the Graveyard shift until 2013 - but it was getting on for the end of the season, and I kept it to Saturdays.

Scottish Grand National-day at Ayr was April 21st, one week after Aintree. I don't like it that way and would prefer a two-week break between them, but the British Horseracing Authority have made every effort to schedule a three week-break - four weeks if they can - between the Cheltenham Festival and the Aintree Grand National meeting. In 2019 Easter will be late, and it will be three weeks between the festivals, while there will be a fortnight between the Scottish Grand National and the Finale at Sandown.

Whether I've bet on the Friday of the Ayr meeting as well as Saturday, or just the Saturday, this fixture has often been good for me. Pleasingly given my personal circumstances, 2018 was no exception as I landed on Crosshue Boy, winner of the rebooted three-mile one-furlong novices' handicap chase. Ballyoptic came that close to making it a double in the main event, but couldn't quite get to Joe Farrell.

The following week, during the Punchestown Festival which I'd been watching (but not betting on yet), I got an interview - the first one since I quit my old job and its regular intern-intakes. On the Wednesday I put my suit on, got a train and hoped it didn't rain. The interview left me with a 'not sure'-feeling, but the day after I got a phone call, saying that a three-month placement was mine if I wanted it, which I did.

With a new job suddenly just round the corner, what more incentive did I need. I was in a good place, some rare positivity flowing. I cranked up the hard drive and studied the competitive-looking Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle over two and a half miles at Punchestown on the Friday.

A race time of 6:05pm was not ideal by any means as Mrs rwsteeplechasing was likely to be serving dinner at that time, but I don't set the race times. Three runners came out, all of whom had run at Punchestown earlier in the week, leaving a field of nine. When I adjusted my spreadsheet then typed the odds in, I landed on Dortmund Park, who'd been below par in the Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham but had a good chance on other form, and Whiskey Sour, another who'd run earlier in the week, but was allowed to take his chance again, having shaped as though two miles was too short in the Grade 1 novice over that trip.

Didn't See That Coming - Or That - And Definitely Not That
This was a Punchestown Festival which kept giving in ways that you couldn't possibly have foreseen beforehand. First there was the Paul Townend-brain freeze, when, with a strong chance of winning the staying novice chase, he took his mount Al Boum Photo round the last fence instead of jumping it, carrying out Finian's Oscar. Then on Wednesday Philip Enright rode a finish without irons on Blast Of Koeman in the two-and-a-half-mile handicap chase after an awkward jump at the last, only failing by a neck to pull back Patricks Park, and in the race before the novice event on the Friday, first and second favourites Samcro and Melon fell independently at the third last.

Things were bubbling up nicely in the Champion Novice when Debuchet, who'd made the running and raced on the inner, overjumped and fell at the second last. Two of Willie Mullins' six runners, the prominently-positioned Scarpeta and the disapppointing Supreme Novices' Hurdle favourite Getabird (also having his second run of the week), were unable to avoid the fallen horse and had their races ended, plastic running rail sent flying as the hampered horses tried to stay on their feet. While all that was going off, Dortmund Park was sent for home, went clear, jumped the last as though it was twice the height, and was ridden out for an unchallenged win over Whiskey Sour who, even with some of the opposition wiped out, still had too much to do.

Fortunate winner or not, they all count.

More shocks were upcoming. Later that evening Katie Walsh, after riding Antey to victory in a novice hurdle, from nowhere announced her retirement from race-riding - she now pursues a career in the bloodstock industry - and on the Saturday Nina Carberry also quit the saddle, going out on a winner herself thanks to Josies Orders in a cross-country chase.

Racegoers will miss those two, but it's beginning to look as though Rachael Blackmore, who as of September 19th had already ridden 33 winners in the 2018/19 season, is slotting right in as a replacement for both of them.

Ready For Another Jumps Season
Four-and-a-bit months into the original three in the documents department of a law firm, I must be doing something right. That's one thing right out of hundreds of tasks, I'm quite sure, but I'm still in it, and I'm happy to stick at it. Who knew that my job at The Sporting Life was only the beginning of my preparation for working on Electronic Closing Binders?

There are many other things to deal with too - the job ain't a one-trick pony. Neither is Roy Waterhouse the horse racing-punter.

After wagers on the likes of the Swinton at Haydock - not worth writing about, as is the norm (the 2019 renewal might have to be swerved) - there were a couple of dabbles on the Flat.

Not that the first of only two races on the level that I bet in over the Summer is a pure Flat race by any means, given that the Queen Alexandra Stakes at Royal Ascot is the longest race in the calendar that doesn't have jumps, and always has plenty of hurdlers and chasers in the field - I remember Norton's Coin running in it one year. I did the work and watched the videos, like I would for a jumps race, even raiding YouTube for a look at Nearly Caught's run at Hoppegarten in Germany.

He was one that I backed, but the one that went closest of my 'team' was Renneti, from the Willie Mullins-yard, at big odds. A win looked on just after the home turn, but one of the beaten ones from the Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown behind Dortmund Park, the Gordon Elliott-trained Pallasator, was too good despite wandering in the final furlong, with the outcome mirroring that of many jump races at recent Cheltenham and Punchestown festivals - Elliott versus Mullins.

In August, the same day as the Ebor at York, a seven-runner one-mile six-furlong handicap over the July Course at Newmarket presented easier pickings. We were there to see it, too. The favourite Atty Persse looked one to take on over further than a mile and a half, but this time he was beaten at halfway, before the trip came into play.

Sofia's Rock, one of a pair fielded by Mark Johnston, looked likely to make the running, then curl up in the final furlong. This could set it up for winning hurdler Byron Flyer, who'd consistently run well without winning of late. I encounter this type whilst poring through the jumps form all the time - one day it'll drop right, and it could be this race. Or what about the other Johnston-runner, previous course and distance-winner Star Of The East, if you could overlook a poor run at Pontefract last time. He was to be ridden by Jane Elliott, and her record on the horse going in to this race was two wins from four runs.

Star Of The East prevailed, and Byron Flyer turned up late in the piece for a place again. It worked out much like a jump-race would, which is why I've wanted to get involved in more mile and a half-or-longer Flat handicaps for a long time. The thought processes are the same - stamina, racing character, acting on the track, looking at a jockey's record (if a particular rider is an unfamiliar name) and so on. You might argue that there's the draw to think about as well, but in the Newmarket race, with a smallish field and the vast open layout of the track, it wasn't a factor.

Taking On The Galway Plate
Between the two Flat races, I had a crack at the Galway Plate, which this year - and not to everyone's approval - was run in an evening slot. It may not have been universally popular but it was good for me, as once I was home from my new job, I could watch what is always one of the greatest handicap chases in the Irish calendar.

There was nothing to cheer about in this corner, however. In a strange race, with - unusually but pleasingly - only the two fallers, the large field let Clarcam have way too much rope, and though they closed on him on the long run-in, he still had six lengths to spare over fancied rivals Patricks Park and Jury Duty at the line - Elliott from Mullins from Elliott, it's same old now.

(I should point out that that is not meant to come across as a complaint. I've enjoyed winning wagers on Elliott's horses a few times, while I can't remember the last time I won on a Mullins-trained horse.)

The one of my lot that looked likely to do best, given how it turned out, was Harry Fry's Drumcliff, who'd raced with Clarcam from an early stage, and the pair were drawing clear when he fell at the ninth. He's not always the strongest finisher, and would probably have dropped away if he'd stood up.

Turnover Down On Plate Evening
Whatever state Irish racing is in - and opinions vary at the minute - it is not in a position to accept any sort of downturn in revenue. The following day The Irish Field tweeted the turnover and attendance figures versus 2017, when the Galway Plate was run in the usual afternoon slot. There was a small drop in attendance, but bookmaker- and Tote-turnover were significantly down on the previous year. Given that, it seems very likely that the Plate will return to an afternoon off-time in 2019. If it does, whether I bet in it or not might well depend on whether or not I'm in work at the time.

One crazy idea that I hope won't be implemented was the one that got a reckless, unwarranted airing in the Racing Post - running the Galway Plate and Galway Hurdle on the same day. On the same day during a festival that lasts a week! You do that and one or other race will effectively become a supporting event, the undercard. They both deserve feature race-status and would be better off staying put on the Wednesday and Thursday respectively.

Autumn Here We Come
The change in job was never going to fix all the issues in my life, but it was a help. Travel to and from work is slightly easier (and slightly cheaper), and if a day at work goes badly, I'm always back for more. That always has been my platinum rule. Whereas in my previous job, with all those intern inductions, I'd reached a mental point of no return, I'm now a long way off feeling like that.

There were, and still are, other things happening which I'd rather they weren't; but they are personal and I can't divulge. Suffice it to say that I've come to terms and am not dwelling upon things I can't change.

All is in place now for another peak jumps season. I have a plan, and I'm in a good frame of mind. There's work to be done, at home as well as at work.


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Last five PLOGs

53: Finding A Way In Time For Cheltenham | 52: No Updates Over Christmas, I'm Human |
51: The Topham Is The Lottery Now | 50: A Meeting Of Two Halves |
49: Getting Out Of The Abyss