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Despite being run behind closed doors British and Irish racing has returned with a big bang since the last blog but I must admit that with the revised schedule I have found it difficult getting a feel for things so far with the rhythm of the season altering radically.
I think that’s part reason why I found Royal Ascot somewhat of a struggle just two weeks into the season but at least damage was restricted by stating ahead of the meeting that if getting involved in the handicaps and two-year-olds races that I/we should be playing it very safely in those races. As it transpired I didn’t get a sniff in the handicaps and two seconds (Albany and Queen Mary) was the best that I could muster in the two-year-old races with so little to go on.
It was a strange old week in so many ways; no racegoers/atmosphere, six extra races, so little time for prep runs, races being used as Derby/Oaks trials, the biggest SP (150/1) in Royal Ascot history and a primarily-jumps trainer in Alan King preparing three winners (was almost four with a close-up second) whereas Godolphin and the meeting’s most successful trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, couldn’t muster one single winner between them, being just some of them. A very well done to everyone involved for getting it on though. I must admit I had my doubts about not moving it back a month.
The lack of success for Godolphin at the biggest meeting of the year was certainly under-reported. Some things don’t change at Royal Ascot though and Frankie Dettori was riding on the top of his game again. Some effort therefore for Jim Crowley to match his haul of six winners. You can count yourself unlucky if you backed him at 25/1 to be leading jockey at the meeting, ride as many as half a dozen winners, and then lose out on countback.
The lack of seasonal form aside, the other big problem for punters was that the draw proved to be a massive factor in the straight-course handicaps with just three horses from a single-figure stalls finishing in the first four in those heavily-supported eight contests which rather ruined them as betting races. Montatham, Onassis and Cherokee Trail could be worth following on that basis. They are not really my type of races and all look and feel a bit too same-ish to me. The rain then arrived on Wednesday night making life even trickier for punters turning the ground soft so well done to anyone who made it pay.
John Gosden was the man for the Group 1/2s bagging six of them but he endured a wretched time with his many well-fancied runners in the handicaps including three well-beaten favourites. Roger Varian picked up two of those and also had two seconds (plus the Wolferton and Jersey winners) so it was a very good for him but an unfortunate one for William Haggas with four seconds. Maybe he’ll have a very good York which is where I like to follow him more closely?
As for the non-two-year-old pattern races where I suggested we keep our stakes to normal levels, we fared better with Equilateral (11/2 w/o Battaash) and Palace Pier (4/1) being the highlights and were also with Who Dares Wins in the lucky last. Palace Pier was nearer a 13/2 Betfair starting price so the Frankie Factor was certainly at play come the industry SP, as it was for some of his other rides at the meeting. Something to note going forward in other big races this summer until crowds and on-course bookmakers can attend. France are opening up their racecourses soon to a limit of 5,000 people.
Summing up from a personal betting standpoint, I had too many seconds over the five days and some of them shouldn’t have been like Monarch Of Egypt in the Jersey (switched whip hand late on and then the horse hung that way) and Sir Dragonet in the Wolferton (looked like he was ridden to beat Regal Reality and forgot about the far rail runner), neither of which were Ryan Moore’s finest rides. I'll leave it up to you to decide if you think I am talking through my pocket. I was also on the Hampton Court and Queen’s Vase runners-up; First Receiver (got embroiled in a battle with the third early enough and had nothing left to repel a late closer) and Berkshire Rocco.
In the other pattern races, I got the Queen Anne all wrong, picked the wrong one in a toss-up between my two fancies in the Duke of Cambridge, Elarqam didn’t stay 1m4f in the Hardwicke, I thought we were on the best horse in the Diamond Jubilee in Khaadem but he just got lit up at half-way, I under rated Alpine Star by some margin in the Coronation Stakes and my Prince of Wales’s Stakes, Gold Cup, Commonwealth Cup, Ribblesdale and King Edward VII fancies ran shockers. I’ll be reviewing the meeting more thoroughly in the next edition of Horses to Follow this weekend - probably Sunday as have decided to squeeze in an Irish Derby/Northumberland Plate preview on Friday.
Looking forward to next month, in terms of race previews I’ll be covering Derby/Oaks Day (July 4th), and the three-day Newmarket July Meeting (July 9-11th) plus big individual races in Ante Post Focus such as the Eclipse (July 5th) and King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes (July 25th) amongst others before Glorious Goodwood (July 28th-August 1st).
The Champions League and Europa League quarter-finals onwards are now reset to be single-game knockout competitions at one base between August 10-23 (Portugal for the Champions League and Germany for the Europa League) with the Premier League to be played to a conclusion in July and the FA Cup Final on August 1st. I will be covering all competitions in the weekly football column which started well with Everton and Liverpool drawing 0-0, which was the recommendation at 12/1 (16/1 on Betfair on Match Day). We’re in good ante-post positions in all four competitions so fingers crossed.
Ciaran Meagher is back for us for The Memorial and WGC St Jude Classic in July after he returned with a winning week in the Charles Schwab Invitational after around a three months’ hiatus to the PGA Tour. It’s from August onwards when his golf columns pick up in quantity and also given the quality of tournaments from the USPGA onwards means that we are set for a very strong late summer/autumn culminating in The Masters. There won’t be any crowds returning in time for the first Major, the USPGA (August 6th-9th) but the plan is that they return in August on the PGA Tour. As for The Ryder Cup, a decision on whether that event goes ahead has to be made shortly given the course needs to make a start on preparations very soon.
Summer is here so Paul Smith will be returning with his Cricket Test Series columns involving England shortly. The inaugural staging of The Hundred was abandoned last month and the T20 World Cup in Australia remains up in the air. England are hosting the West Indies in July and Pakistan in August.
All three test matches against the Windies will be played at the Rose Bowl whereas the first test against Pakistan is at Old Trafford with the remaining two back in Southampton. Who knows what to expect with no professional cricket played this season and England have named a 30-man training group and play a three-day match against themselves to help prepare. The Windies have brought over 25 players and are training during their quarantine at Old Trafford but three of their players opted out of travelling over. Pakistan are set to arrive at the weekend and enter their quarantine period. Ten of their squad have tested positive for Covid-19 this week however.
Darts returns with the World Matchplay (July 18-26) in Blackpool which is widely regarded as the second most popular event on the PDC Tour. It’s looking like no crowd so it will be interesting to see which players react best to that. Some feed off the crowd whilst others suffer when they get on their backs. At least we probably won’t have to listen to the morons singing their wide variety of four songs! Individuals that fare well in ‘floor events’ could also be seen to advantage. Mike Henderson will be back to the cover proceedings on a round-by-round basis.
The World Snooker Championship starts on the final day of July with the final set to be played over August 15th-16th. The form of most of the top eight in the world this season that I’ve watched this week in the Tour Championship has been very rusty in the main after the break so they have a month to play themselves into some kind of form. Maybe we could get more shocks than usual when play starts at The Crucible Theatre? Having attended days at three tournaments this season so seeing the players close up in action, that propelled me to strike a couple of ante-post bets before the lockdown on Graeme Dott (has to qualify being world ranked 21) and Dave Gilbert so I am hoping for another surprise like when Joe Johnson, Sean Murphy, Graeme Dott and Stuart Bingham were all 100/1+ winners. Mark Williams was also a fairly-big-priced winner two years ago. Paul Thompson will cover the 17-day tournament for us and for the first time the qualifiers are being televised this year the previous week.
Adam Hewson’s recommendation at 2/1 for Joe Biden to be the Democratic nominee for President is almost a winning one (now 1/33) so the focus is now on who will be his running mate. Adam covered this market in his last Political Betting column back on April 6th recommending a couple of candidates on what appears to be an all-female shortlist for which the announcement will be made in August. With the Black Lives Matter movement gathering more and more momentum, his 2/1 recommendation on the Californian senator, Kamala Harris, has shortened into 8/11. That said, six of the top seven in the betting for VP nominee are women ‘of colour’ to use the media term but with her mother from India and father from Jamaica, she has the diverse background that many voters will want and it has looked like the obvious Democratic ticket for around a year now. Raising £2 million for Biden in a recent virtual event won’t harm her chances either!
With regards to Sporting Predictions Competition, I received 80 entries and well done to the trio who found both Kameko and Love in the two Guineas’. The next two events in the competition are the Derby and Oaks after which I will update the leaderboard.
On a personal note, like most of us I am looking forward to July 4th, and not just for the Derby/Oaks (a shame that Highest Ground had a dirty throat holding back his seasonal debut as he looked very good yesterday but it's now probably too quick a return to head to Epsom) and the re-opening of the leisure sector. I've managed to lose a stone through cyclng and a healthier diet (I used to concentrate on things that previously had a face) during the lockdown so will be careful not to pile that back on. In fact, I aim to lose another half-stone before I hope to go away in the second half of August to my apartment in Spain, though I will still be providing uninterrupted coverage of the racing and sport during that time. I've pretty much exhausted what I wanted to watch on Netflix during the last three months before the return of live sport but am enjoying finally getting round to Better Call Saul. Das Boot2 is also very good. Just think of a cross between Hunt For Red October and Inglorius Basterds and that's the second series in a nutshell.