All-Weather 2016/17: Horses to Follow

By Mark Rowntree (@uptheirons007)

Lingfield Park (October 27) heralds in the return of the All Weather Championships for 2017, so now is the opportune time to focus upon a handful of horses that can almost certainly make their mark on the All-Weather this winter.

Lightscameraction (Gay Kelleway) will need no introduction to All-Weather aficionados. The 4yo Pastoral Pursuits gelding sports an impressive record on synthetics, with his most notable victory coming in the 5f 3yo Sprint on All Weather Championships Finals Day 2015. After taking a Handicap from a mark of 102 (Dec 2015) & a Listed Fast Track Qualifier off 106 (Feb 2016), he returned to Lingfield to tackle the 6f all age Sprint Championship final on Good Friday 2016. Weakening inside the final furlong, he could only muster eighth place behind Alben Star from his revised perch of 109.

Lightscameraaction recently returned on turf from an extended summer break seeking to capitalise on a much lower mark on grass. Touched off at Chester, he missed an intended run at Beverley due to softening ground, and has raced twice more at Haydock, and at Leicester. Looking certain to score on the latter occasion (in a Class 2 Handicap) he drifted inside the final furlong and was run down close home by Mirza. His trainer has gone on record as stating the winter All-Weather season is the main focus with Lightscameraction, and despite holding a lofty rating, he’s certain to be ultra-competitive in the very best quality 5f races at Lingfield Park.

Zymyran (David Simcock) is a progressive juvenile in the care of a trainer who is progressing quickly through the Newmarket ranks. This Henrythenavigator colt has only experienced a Tapeta synthetic surface to date, having raced at Wolverhampton & Newcastle, alongside Chepstow, Epsom and Yarmouth on turf. Successful from a mark of 70 on his fourth start at Yarmouth, he brought a progressive profile (and a revised mark of 75) to Newcastle in late September for a Class 4 Nursery over the straight mile. Held up in behind, in very tough, gusty conditions, he made smooth headway when pulled out by Jamie Spencer at the furlong pole, and only had to be shaken up to draw readily clear to down Major Cornwallis by an ever widening three and a half lengths.

The confidence with which Zymyran was handled by Jamie Spencer suggested a safe knowledge that he was way better than his mark of 75, with much of this confidence likely gained by the fact that his previous race at Yarmouth had subsequently worked out extremely well. Raised 10lbs for this Newcastle success (to a mark of 85) he reportedly has a valuable Nursery target ahead at Wolverhampton in November.

Faiseur De Miracle (Micky Hammond) hasn’t been seen on a racecourse since May 2016, but looks the type to do well on artificial surfaces. Picked up by his shrewd trainer after just a sole start for Mark Johnston as a 3yo in 2015, he reappeared on the Tapeta at Wolverhampton as a 4yo in February 2016. A striking individual he travelled beautifully through that race, posting an excellent comeback run, beating all bar the Roger Varian trained Appeared.

Faiseur De Miracle duly backed up this reappearance run by making all and hacking up by six lengths in a similar Wolverhampton Maiden before following up in a decisive manner from a mark of 83 in a 1m3f+ Soft ground Catterick Handicap in April 2016. On his most recent start in May, a mark of 94 proved beyond him at Hamilton Park. Whilst it’s fair to say he didn’t quite get the run of the race or perhaps handle the much faster conditions, he could only finish sixth of eight to Sir Chauvelin. Given his style of running, sharper tracks such as Lingfield and Wolverhampton are most likely to suit Faiseur De Miracle, as opposed to the more galloping aspect of his most local All-Weather venue (Newcastle). However, if taking the All-Weather route as opposed to hurdling; which is a possibility given his dual purpose trainer, he’ll most likely pick up a decent 1m2f+ Handicap this Winter.

Flymetothestars (Sir Mark Prescott) is a strapping, scopey three-year old Sea the Stars gelding who is firmly back on an upward trajectory. A winner of a 1m Maiden on debut at Southwell in February; when downing Hermitage Bay (pair twelve lengths clear of the remainder), he perhaps raced too keenly on his return (up in trip for his Handicap debut) on the Kempton Polytrack on September 21st.

Flymetothestars & Ryan Powell

However, Flymetothestars bounced right back to his best next time (in early October) when stepping upto 1m 4f on the Tapeta at Newcastle. Again keen, he was produced at the two furlong pole by Ryan Powell, this time edging left, but staying on strongly to see off All About Time by one and a half lengths. Raised 8lbs from a mark of 83 to 91 for this success, this rise doesn’t appear enough to stop him following up, with jockey Ryan Powell telling stating that “he nearly went round again” when asked if he’d be suited by stepping up even further in trip. If remaining in the care of Sir Mark Prescott for a winter campaign on the All-Weather (and not heading to the sales); expect Flymetothestars to figure very high up the pecking order in the middle distance or stayers divisions.

At the other end of the spectrum, and unlike the horses mentioned above, Groundworker (Paul Midgeley) can hardly be described as progressive. However, this doesn’t mean that the 5yo Tagula gelding can’t have a profitable winter on synthetic surfaces.

A three time winner (on turf) for previous trainer Sylvester Kirk, Groundworker has been placed on five occasions from nine starts for his current trainer. Unexposed and lightly raced on synthetic surfaces, his fast-falling Handicap mark (60) looked very appealing ahead of his most recent run at Newcastle. His mark had in fact fallen by 10lbs (from 70) since his last appearance on the All-Weather at Wolverhampton in March 2016, and he was dropping into 0-60 grade for the very first time.

Not quite getting the run of the race at a crucial time around the two furlong pole, he was unable to reel in the Richard Guest trained Horsforth, but got to within a fast diminishing half-length at the line. Success in a future 0-60 Handicap for Groundworker is a formality, especially with the tongue-tie now reapplied for the first time by his current trainer. At a fairly lowly level, he’s more than capable of progressing quickly with his highest winning rating on turf in 2014 coming from a mark of 75. He’s the type of horse to go under the radar in the North and will pay to follow at the minimum 5f trip.

Footnote: All content is the Copyright of MarkRowntreeRacing. Permission should be sought directly from the author (Mark Rowntree: @uptheirons007) before reproduction in print or online. Should such permission be granted, full author acknowledgement must accompany the reproduction.

Posted in Feature Articles, Horses to Follow, Newcastle | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The North & Scotland: National Hunt Horses to Follow 2016/17

by Mark Rowntree (@uptheirons007) 

HESTER FLEMEN – Nicky Richards (Paul & Clare Rooney)

8yo Chestnut Mare – Flemensfirth/Hester Hall

Hester Flemen hasn’t been a regular visitor to the racecourse, but she’s unbeaten in three rules appearances for Donald McCain and Nicky Richards. A strapping, strong mare with a background in Irish Point to Points, fences were always going to be her forte, so in truth it’s no real surprise that she’s been lightly raced as she fills out into her frame.

A facile Carlisle bumper victory (December 2014) was quickly backed up by a winning debut over hurdles in a small field Novices Hurdle for Mares (2m4f) at Newcastle (January 2015). Absent thereafter, she left the care of Donald McCain during the early months of the 2015/16 season to join Nicky Richards at Greystoke.

She made her first start for Richards at Catterick in December 2015, when making all and staying on well to take a 3m 1f Beginners Chase by six lengths. In maintaining her unbeaten record, she disposed of the more experienced trio of Racing Europe, Central Flame and Warriors Tale.

This success left Richards with a dilemma for the remainder of the season, with few suitable Novice events open to a mare with her ability. However, as has always been the case with Hester Flemen, the longer term is of more importance, and her trainer has stated that she’ll be upped markedly in grade this winter.

Richards reported to Racing UK: “I think she’ll be a black type mare – she’s very nice.” Furthermore, with her bumper, hurdle and beginners chase victories all coming on either Soft or Heavy ground, Richards noted: “She’s very ground dependent –she needs cut.”

LADY BEAUFORT – John Quinn (The Desperados)

5yo Chestnut Mare – Shirocco/Kadassa

The word ahead of her debut on Morebattle Hurdle day at Kelso (February 2016) was that plenty was expected of Lady Beaufort. However, similar comments also applied to her main market rival, the Nicky Richards trained Randy Pike.

Lady Beaufort raced prominently towards the leaders and travelled well throughout before ranging alongside and swiftly past Randy Pike approaching the final furlong. With the pair pulling well clear of the remainder, Lady Beaufort was merely pushed out by Richard Johnson to record a comfortable three length success.

Whilst strictly on paper, a Class 6 Heavy ground National Hunt Flat race at Kelso isn’t worth going overboard about; especially with Randy Pike a well beaten third at Ayr subsequently, the professional attitude of Lady Beaufort stood out.

Lady Beaufort passed through the Tattersalls Ireland Cheltenham Festival Sale (Lot 2), but was retained by her vendor at £80,000. If kicking off the new campaign from her current yard, Lady Beaufort is likely to be campaigned in Novice Hurdles, and quite possibly if progressing quickly, she may be able to follow Intense Tango’s route to Wetherby and then onto Doncaster for the Listed and Grade 2 Mares’ Hurdles.

CLOUDY DREAM – Malcolm Jefferson (Trevor Hemmings)

6yo Grey Gelding – Cloudings/Run Away Dream

Cloudy Dream needs little by way of introduction, having progressed rapidly through bumpers, novice hurdles and into competitive handicap hurdles.

The grey Cloudings gelding kicked off his previous campaign in a bumper at Carlisle (October 2015), before being a beaten odds-on favourite in a Hexham Novices Hurdle. The suspicion was he’d been given a moderate ride at Hexham, with subsequent time analysis seeming to back this view up. Held up off a very slow pace, the race developed into a blisteringly quick finish over the final two furlongs. Nevertheless, the form worked out well with both the winner Nuts Well and second Waiting Patiently also progressing quickly thereafter.

Stepped upto 2m 3f next time at Doncaster, he galloped all over old foe Waiting Patiently showing a smart turn of foot from the final hurdle to score by one and a quarter lengths. After a few months off the track he went onto produce a career best on each of his final two starts upped into Handicaps.

As a six length winner over 2m 2f+ at Market Rasen (off 122), he subsequently contested the Scottish Champion Hurdle at Ayr from a revised mark of 133. He fair rattled home from the last (when seventh at best) to get within a fast diminishing length and a quarter of the Dan Skelton trained Ch’tibello. Ch’tibello of course having form closely tied in with Supreme Novices Hurdle winner Altior from earlier in the season.

Whilst Cloudy Dream has shown an ability to handle Soft ground, he avoided the worst of the winter weather and Good or Good to Soft seems to be his optimum underfoot conditions. The suspicion is that despite his ownership, he’ll most likely remain over hurdles this season, with valuable conditions events such as the Morebattle and Premier Hurdles (over 2m 2f at Kelso) possibly on the agenda. He’ll start the 2016/17 season with a revised hurdles rating of 137.

BETAMECHE – Dan Skelton (Judy Craymer)

5yo Grey Gelding – Kapgarde/Kaldona

With Dan Skelton training at Alcester in Warwickshire, I admit to being a shade out of geographical focus by including Betameche within this list. However, I make no apology, and having previously been trained by Nicky Richards and unbeaten in bumpers at Newcastle & Wetherby, his inclusion is fully justifiable.

A physically impressive grey gelding, Betameche was a striking winner of a Class 6 Newcastle National Hunt Flat race (December 2015) on debut as a four year old. Well backed overnight, and despite showing some signs of greenness, Betameche got the job done with the minimum of fuss, and in the style of a horse with a very bright future.

Therefore, it came as a major surprise to learn that Betameche had been sold by his previous owners (Langdale Bloodstock) to head into training with Dan Skelton.  He reappeared for his new connections at Wetherby (April 2016) with the market strongly suggesting that he would be forced to play second fiddle to the Warren Greatrex trained Keeper Hill. However, upon visual inspection in the paddock, Betameche simply reaffirmed my previous belief that he was a very nice youngster in the making, which frankly left me baffled by such market disparity.

Betameche travelled strongly throughout for Bridget Andrews, eased to the front about a furlong and a half from home and galloped on strongly to repel previous winners Sam Spinner and Keeper Hill by four and a half and six lengths respectively.

“Abundantly talented” were words that I’d used to describe Betameche following his Newcastle debut success, and whilst both of his victories to date have come with cut (Soft & Heavy), he appears to lack neither speed nor stamina. If continuing to progress for his excellent young trainer, it’ll be no surprise to see Betameche in action at Cheltenham come March 2017. Based upon what we’ve witnessed, 2m 4f could be his optimum trip for a Novice Hurdle campaign.

NEWTOWN LAD – Lucinda Russell (John J Murray/Lynne Maclennan)

6yo Bay Gelding – Craigsteel/Rocher Lady

Newtown Lad is a horse that strikes me as very much in a similar mould to the Michael Scudamore trained Kingswell Theatre (in the same ownership).

A 20 length winner of a three-mile Yielding to Soft Irish Point to Point at Boulta (November 2015), Newtown Lad has subsequently raced on three occasions this side of the Irish Sea for Lucinda Russell.

An inauspicious seventh of twelve in a Haydock bumper in late March 2016, was somewhat surprisingly backed up by success just a couple of weeks later at Hexham in a Heavy ground two mile Novices Hurdle.

Whilst Newtown Lad looked the part pre-race at Hexham, it was very much with the longer term in mind. A strong looking rangy individual, Newtown Lad appeared very much chasing material; and chasing material over staying trips to boot.

Therefore; it was a shade disappointing that Newtown Lad wasn’t able to build upon his initial success when stepping upto 2m 7 & a half furlongs back at Hexham in another Novices Hurdle. Beaten into fourth by just over four lengths by Buckskin Boulta, Newtown Lad was a shade laboured and one paced in the closing stages of the race.

However, in his defence, this race was came in June, was off a short break, and he did have the disappointing but talented 125-rated Another Bill in behind. Furthermore, an official going description of Good is likely to have been plenty quick enough for Newtown Lad.

A Novice Chase campaign most likely awaits this winter, with staying distances of three miles on Soft ground promising to suit. Although the bare form of his Hexham success may not amount to much (fourth placed Wazowski did win subsequently), Newtown Lad will more than pay his way with time in both Northern Novice Handicap and Handicap Chases.

WAITING PATIENTLY – Malcolm Jefferson (Richard Collins)

5yo Bay Gelding – Flemensfirth/Rossavon

Waiting Patiently has form closely tied in with Cloudy Dream, and whilst it was no surprise to see Cloudy Dream reverse Hexham placings with Waiting Patiently at Doncaster (November 2015), Waiting Patiently remains a most promising prospect.

By Flemensfirth, Waiting Patiently appeared to avoid the worst of the ground last winter, and the combination of a sharper track and drying Good to Soft ground helped the 5yo break the Maiden tag in an above average Class 4 Novices Hurdle at Sedgefield on his final start (January 2016).

This Sedgefield race looked competitive on paper beforehand with runner up Libby Mae a three time course winner, and the third placed Western Rules (undone by the drying ground) a prior dual bumper and Novice Hurdle scorer. Furthermore, the fifth placed Ash Park went onto record four victories subsequently for Stuart Coltherd by mid-June 2016.

Confidently handled by Harry Challoner, Waiting Patiently evidently relished stepping upto 2m3f at Sedgefield, staying on strongly to score by three and a half lengths.  An official hurdles rating of 123 looks very workable, set alongside the improving Nuts Well (133) and Cloudy Dream (137). Waiting Patiently has enough ability to land a valuable Northern Handicap Hurdle for his new trainer Malcolm Jefferson. Drying ground will most likely play to his strengths and spring 2017 could well be his time to shine.

BIG RIVER – Lucinda Russell (Two Black Labs)

6yo Bay Gelding – Milan/Call Kate

Big River hasn’t been seen in action since winning at Kelso in October 2015, but is back in training ahead of the 2016/17 season. Noted on his trainers’ website as a strong robust type who should be a stayer over fences, he’s a horse to look forward to this season.

A Glenbane Point to Point scorer, the 6yo Milan gelding has visited the racecourse on three occasions for Lucinda Russell. A half-length runner up to the heavily backed Brain Power in a Newcastle bumper (February 2015), Big River quickly went one better the following month when downing the scopey subsequent dual hurdle winner Gully’s Edge at Kelso.

On his sole start over hurdles at Kelso (October 2015), he justified favouritism when taking the 2m Carnacrack “National Hunt” Maiden Hurdle by two lengths from Just Georgie. Staying on strongly from the last, Big River appeared certain to be well suited by stepping up in trip, and it was a surprise to see him absent thereafter for the remainder of the 2015/16 campaign.

Big River looks the type to relish fences, and will be going Novice Chasing sooner rather than later. He’s likely to be far more adept over a trip of three miles (than two), although it should be noted he’s done the majority of his racing to date on ground no softer than Good to Soft. With this in mind, and if presenting themselves, it’s worthwhile waiting to see if he can handle more extreme ground conditions. However, Big River is a horse with a future over fences for a trainer who has a proven track record of excelling with staying chasers.

SAM’S ADVENTURE – Brian Ellison (Mrs J A Martin)

4yo Bay Gelding – Black Sam Bellamy/My Adventure

Sam’s Adventure more than demonstrated his natural ability by building upon an emphatic debut success at Wetherby when landing the valuable DBS Spring Sales Bumper at Newbury in March 2016.

This is a race which traditionally works out well and in just seeing off the Harry Fry trained Bags Groove by a nose, Sam’s Adventure displayed his character and tenacity in abundance. This Newbury test had been in stark contrast to his debut at Wetherby when largely unchallenged for much of the home straight he was merely pushed clear to score by nineteen lengths.

Furthermore, the fact that Sam’s Adventure was able to step up swiftly from a Class 6 to a Class 2 race in the space of four weeks, bodes extremely well for the future. At a relatively raw age of four, he not only maintained his unbeaten record, but defeated rivals from the South (some his elders) who were already previous winners. These horses included Sir Antony Browne (Alan King), Boudry (Warren Greatrex) and Cultivator (Nicky Henderson).

Sam’s Adventure’s owner tends to do relatively well with her Novice Hurdlers; so most likely to start off in a low key event in the North; it will be fascinating to see how this son of Black Sam Bellamy fares over obstacles. A trip of 2m at a track such as Carlisle would seem the obvious starting point, but Sam’s Adventure appears the type to be able to cope with stepping up in trip as the season progresses. Given his proven ability to handle testing ground, a reasonable late November target could be the 2m6f The French Furze Novices Hurdle at Newcastle on November 26th.

DUBAI ANGEL – Malcolm Jefferson (Mrs D W Davenport)

5yo Bay Gelding – Dubai Destination/Just Another Penny

Given an extended break since finishing second to Braavos at Market Rasen in October 2015, Dubai Angel promises to be a horse open to further improvement.

Whilst no match for the fully tuned up Meet The Legend at a Kelso twilight fixture in September 2015, Dubai Angel had shown distinct promise in emerging best out of a pack which contained subsequent three time winners Mardale and Barney Dwan; with the latter named landing a valuable Sandown Park Novices Handicap Hurdle (March 2016) from a mark of 129. Dubai Angel’s Kelso bumper was certainly a strong race for the grade and the time of the year, with Meet The Legend also making his mark for new connections in the South after leaving the care of Keith Dalgliesh.

Whilst appearing a shade one paced when beaten by Braavos (now rated in the high 120’s), Dubai Angel can be excused, with a step up to 2m4f over hurdles always promising to suit. Furthermore, with the benefit of hindsight in mind, it’s quite possible that Brian Hughes will be keener to play to those ‘staying’ strengths going forward than was the case at Market Rasen.

I’d anticipate that the combination of a further year to strengthen physically and the stepping up in trip over hurdles will see Dubai Angel in an increasingly positive light. He is a horse that is likely to be fairly well handicapped when allocated an initial mark, and can be envisaged winning plenty of races for connections who should be commended for favouring the longer-term development off their horses over the immediacy of a rushed development during their formative years.

BESTIARIUS – Keith Reveley (Richard Collins)

4yo Bay Gelding – Vinnie Roe/Chione

The overnight and early morning markets spoke volumes for Bestiarius ahead of his racecourse debut at Newcastle (March 2016). A half-brother to Night in Milan, the strong market confidence was well and truly justified as the four year old ran out a most convincing four length winner of a Heavy ground ‘Newcomers’ National Hunt Flat Race.

In the immediate fortnight that followed this race, Bestiarius was a late entry (Lot 23) to the Tattersalls Ireland Cheltenham Festival Sale, before being an even later withdrawal. Given this sales entry, it remains to be seen whether or not Bestiarius has been sold privately or indeed kicks off the new campaign for Keith Reveley.

Whilst the bare form of this Newcastle race is either untested (runner up Blakerigg yet to reappear) or deemed fairly moderate (third placed Black Ivory finally a winner at Hexham, and fourth placed Eaton Hill subsequently a runner up in a small field Ffos Las bumper), Bestiarius has the potential to prove far superior to his Newcastle rivals with time. He’s most certainly a horse for the notebook for Novice Hurdles, with an already proven ability to handle deep ground; conditions which prevailed at Newcastle throughout the majority of the previous National Hunt campaign.

Footnote: All content is the Copyright of MarkRowntreeRacing. Permission should be sought directly from the author (Mark Rowntree: @uptheirons007) before reproduction in print or online. Should such permission be granted, full author acknowledgement must accompany the reproduction.

Posted in Feature Articles, Horses to Follow | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

From Yorkshire & Nottinghamshire to Maison Laffitte (via Timbuktu) with Victoria Haigh

The bustle of the commune of Maison Laffitte in the north-western suburbs of Paris may be a far cry from Wiseton, Nottinghamshire, but for former model, jockey and now trainer Victoria Haigh it could quite frankly be Timbuktu just so long as her life is with horses.

Haigh is in the process of rebuilding not only her professional career, but her entire life, as the only fully French licensed English female trainer in France.

  Victoria Haigh (Image supplied via :

During the course of 2011, Haigh and her former partner became embroiled in a bitter child protection case, which had a devastating impact upon both of their lives. This case concluded with a custodial sentence for Haigh, but most sadly for her, the loss of all contact with her eldest daughter. Haigh explains:

“I haven’t just had to rebuild a career; I have had to rebuild my whole life from scratch with a baby to care for, with no friends or family around me, like a refugee.

“Sh** happens to everyone, but we all know it is how you bounce back that forms your character. My late father was a great footballer and had 18 years as a professional, so genes are passed on and my genes are not those of a quitter.

“I know my strengths, my talent and my ambition. To leave the country of your birth with nothing, only a two year old child, one must have a very good reason to do so.

“I am as determined to succeed in France as when I was in England. I am actually very happy that circumstances in the UK made me leave, as I adore France and would probably have never moved here otherwise.

“I will not allow things that were out of my control to determine the rest of my life.”

Life for Haigh is certainly about looking forward as she describes working with horses and helping them to achieve success as a fantastic job. 

Horses have been in her blood since a very early age. Her grandfather had several racehorses and their speed and more latterly the subsequent thrill of race riding reaffirmed this close bond.

At present, Haigh has six horses stabled at her pristine French base with a few more on nearby farms waiting for owners. Haigh explains:

“Maison Laffitte is a top class training centre. The team looking after the gallops are working on them all morning.

“I am very happy to be based here, and compared to my last training centre in Wiseton (where my ex-assistant Ivan Furtado is based) there is no comparison.

“If I trained listed and Group placed horses from Wiseton, with the right horses here, everything will be fine.”

The lure of French Racing is appealing for many owners and breeders with the added benefit of breeding premiums effectively serving to boost prize money. Premiums are paid to the owners and breeders of French-bred and French-assimilated horses in order to encourage and promote thoroughbred breeding in France. Haigh explains:

“Owners are involved here for a variety of reasons, but there are professional owners, which would rarely happen in the UK. In addition, there are many owner breeders too as the premiums available are good for the breeder.”

One of the other main advantages of holding a French license is the €3000 available to owners per year to transport their horses to the races. Whilst other former English trainers now based in France (but without a specific French license) do not benefit from this windfall, Haigh is more fortunate. Of the somewhat different situation back home in the UK she claims:

“Owners spend a fortune on transportation for peanuts in prize money.”

The French commonly hold English trainers in high esteem. Many believe that they have horses in their DNA and the fact that Haigh is a female trainer makes little difference to her career. For example, the success of Criquette Head-Maarek across International racing circles is of legend status in France, with Haigh stating:

“The Head family here are like the Balding’s, Hannon’s, Easterby’s Walsh and Carberry’s in England and Ireland.”

This open-armed welcome hasn’t made adjusting to life in France any easier for Haigh, but the more she has lived there the more she has grown to love the Country with the education system in particular drawing praise for immeasurably benefitting her younger daughter.

Haigh explains the numerous day-to-day challenges brought on by the language barrier, including her dealings with French Racing administrative bodies, banks, suppliers, bloodstock agents, jockeys and stable staff.

“There is a very good reason why there aren’t even more English trainers here. It has been (and still is) incredibly difficult.

“I speak and understand French to a certain level, but I’m not fluent yet. It will come with time and practice. My four year old daughter explains the storylines at the cinema to me!”

The French way of life and training career is very much a long-term project for Haigh. England is the past, whilst France represents the future.

“I’m here to stay. My daughter will be educated here right the way through her school days. She loves her life and is happy so that makes me happy.

“My life has never been too far away from racehorses and as long as they are in my life, it is bearable.”

The problems encountered by Haigh are well documented, but any accusation of a lack of drive or determination to succeed should not be levelled in her direction. Ambition continues to burn brightly, with further expansion (numerically) on the agenda. Haigh is seeking additional support from within France in order to achieve her dream.

“Getting access to train the top French thoroughbreds has to be the goal. I’m in talks with industry leaders about examining potential ways forward to take full advantage of being a previously successful English trainer now based in France.

“I have always loved the different classes of horse and how their breeding makes all the difference. I can spend hours just looking at sales catalogues.

“Long-term, I hope to have at least one of my two daughters follow me into racing. They both have a love for horses and ride very well. However, we will see how their education goes as they are both still very young so there is plenty of time.”

Posted in Feature Articles, News | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Why are we waiting? On Ireland of course….

We spend hours waiting; waiting for a bus or train, waiting at the supermarket or garage or simply waiting in traffic.

If you’re a fan of Great British racing, you must get used to waiting. Most of the time it’s because you’re waiting for a race to start. No, actually it’s more commonly a case that you’re really waiting for a race (in Ireland) to finish.

The powers that be at the British Horse Racing Authority (BHA) have issued a broad directive for Great British racecourses to wait for individual races in Ireland to finish before races in England, Scotland and/or Wales can start. 

One would assume in the interests of balance, that it would make sense for Horse Racing Ireland (HRI) to reciprocate this ‘favour’; but of course they generally don’t.

Waiting is frustrating. People don’t like waiting, horses don’t like waiting; especially when the logic for waiting is questionable or flawed.

Betting turnover is supposed to increase if races don’t directly clash with one another, although I personally have not seen any firm empirical evidence to prove this school of thought.

Just this week, we’ve already had Redcar waiting on Galway and Ayr waiting on Wexford. Furthermore, we’ve also had Bangor waiting on Punchestown; and it’s only Tuesday. By now I’m sure you’re getting the gist.

I should categorically state that I’ve nothing against Ireland or Irish racing per se. However, the vast majority of the audience in England, Scotland and Wales respectively would almost certainly much rather see Redcar, Ayr and Bangor than Galway, Wexford and Punchestown. I’m sure those based in Ireland will have the opposite perspective.

All too commonly, GB spectators are stood outdoors on cold, wet, windy racecourses (well past the scheduled off time) to be informed by the racecourse commentator that they’re waiting…on Ireland. The BHA would appear not to have considered this negative impact on the racegoer experience. Cash is king, and subtle pressure from major bookmakers appears to dictate the agenda for waiting. 

Great British Racecourses respect the BHA and almost always do as instructed. One might ask why this should be the case when they themselves can be fined (by the BHA) if two or more races on their racecard ‘jump-off’ more than four minutes late due to the failings of the individual racecourses themselves rather than due to a more generic instruction from above (which is deemed perfectly acceptable).

Waiting for races in Ireland to finish also harms some broadcasters; merely serving to compress the GB races together. 

For example yesterday, the Racing UK coverage of Redcar and Ayr saw little time for analysis and previews due to back to back coverage caused by delays to scheduled off times. The reason for these delays was of course Ireland. This in turn damages the viewing experience and sadly renders excellent analysts such as Andy Richmond and Ed Watson as largely superfluous to requirements.

Suffice to say the biggest negative impact caused by waiting comes on the horses themselves. Circling around at the start in semi-darkness, as in the concluding bumper at Bangor today, or boiling over at the start prior to a late running five furlong sprint at Redcar or elsewhere. Racecourses must begin to think of their own interests and begin to say ‘no’.

More rationally, for many, it’s high time that the British Horse Racing Authority got a handle on this issue once and for all for the benefit of everyone concerned. 

By all means wait for the Lexus Chase, the Irish Champion Hurdle or the Irish Derby, but waiting for a 0-70 Handicap at Galway? Really? What next; waiting for racing in South Africa, France, Portman Park, Steepledowns or elsewhere?

Waiting is tedious, people get fed up with it. Simply get on with the sport that we love and have came to/or tuned in to see. Ultimately if people are kept waiting long enough, they’ll turn around, pack up and go elsewhere. Can racing afford to run this risk? Surely not?

Posted in Feature Articles | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

The North & Scotland NH Ten-to-Follow for 2015/16 (UPDATE)

One month on since publishing my North & Scotland National Hunt Ten-to-Follow for 2015/16 (Mark Rowntree NH TTF 15/16) there have been significant developments.

Both Cyrus Darius (a winner at Perth) and Jurby have met with minor setbacks and sadly will not appear on a racecourse this season. Therefore, I’ve delved back into the longer list of 20 and have drawn up two suitable replacements.

1) Donna’s Diamond (Chris Grant)

6yo Grey g, Cloudings/Inish Bofin

Donna’s Diamond is literally the apple of his owners Dave and Donna Armstrong’s eye. So much so; I yielded some friendly banter at Hexham recently from Dave for not including his grey gelding in my initial list.

Donna’s Diamond has recorded three career victories from his eleven starts to date. These victories coming in a 2m Musselburgh bumper (Feb 2014), a 2m6f Kelso Novice Hurdle (Jan 2015) and a 3m Newcastle Handicap Hurdle (Mar 2015).

In seeing off horses such as Hurricane Hollow, Ballybroker Breeze and Wicked Spice in these races, coupled with solid form at around this time last year, (second in a pair of staying Novice Hurdles at Kelso) the ability of Donna’s Diamond is clear. Crucially, the grey gelding appreciates some cut with all of his best form coming on soft ground. 

Whilst some may argue with justification that he was found slightly wanting in better grade (fourth in the French Furze Novices Hurdle at Newcastle behind Native River, Definitly Red and Chidswell) he’s certainly earned his handicap mark of 130 through natural improvement and progression.

Armstrong told me at Hexham that a chasing career beckons for Donna’s Diamond. With plenty of size, a proven ability to handle soft ground and staying trips; there’s little doubt Donna’s Diamond should thrive over fences.

He’ll prove to be a cut above many of his rivals in Northern Novice Chases, and all being well should have many a season to enjoy in Handicap company in the years ahead.

2) Captain Chaos (ex Tim Fitzgerald)

4yo Chestnut g, Golan/Times Have Changed

Given the time that has elapsed since, I had to dig deep to recall the undeniably striking debut success of Captain Chaos at Newcastle in January 2015.

The youngster was hard trained for his debut and was driven right out to record a 17 length success in a soft ground bumper. In doing so, Captain Chaos justified some tidy market support and also earned his jockey Andrew Tinkler a two day ban for using the whip when clearly winning.

Whilst it is difficult to assess the merits of his overall form with runner up Beer Goggles subsequently second and fourth in two further bumpers before finishing down the field in a pair of Sedgefield Novice Hurdles and third placed Mahler Lad not seen on a racecourse since. However, sixth placed Dimple is well regarded and likely to be much better with time.

Captain Chaos has now moved on from the care of Tim Fitzgerald for a reported sizeable fee and is in the ownership of Mike and Eileen Newbould.

He looks the sort to do well in minimum trip Novice Hurdles with an ability to travel prominently and then unleash a decisive turn of foot demonstrably already within his armoury.

Posted in Feature Articles, Horses to Follow, Notebook | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Drugs: A single response needed to ‘self-inflicted’ adversity

Frankie Dettori stole the show at Longchamp on Sunday by registering a fourth career success in the Qatar Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe.

Despite it now being many years since the ever popular Italian was Champion Jockey in Great Britian, 2015 has certainly proved more favourable for Dettori than so many of the more recent years to have preceded.

In addition to becoming fully ensconced within his principal role as retained rider to Al-Shaqab Racing, Dettori has also flown the Oppenheimer silks high throughout the season with Golden Horn. His sublime talent and desire in the saddle remaining unquestionable despite his advancing years.

Frankie Dettori & Golden Horn victorious at Longchamp

(Pic: Michael Harris, @mjyharris)


Furthermore, Dettori continues to be a character who sports intelligence, charm and charisma in spades. He seeks the limelight, he embraces it and he thrives off the close attention of others. He has undeniably been hugely positive for the sport of Horse Racing for many decades.

Whilst the dedication and hardwork that Dettori has invested into both his career and his reputation is inescapable, there can be no denying that the sport of Horse Racing has also provided Dettori with plenty.

The six month ban; following a positive drug test in France; which Dettori served in late 2012/early 2013 and ultimately cost him his job with Godolphin is firmly etched in the past. This episode archived to a back catalogue which is truly an enthralling read.

However, at the time of his suspension, Dettori was the first to acknowledge publicly (through his solicitor Christopher Stewart-Moore) that:

“Racing has been good to Frankie, and he knows that his privileged position brings with it responsibility. For this reason, he is determined to rebuild his reputation when he returns to the saddle in six months’ time.”

Quite rightly, reputation restored, all of the talking is now solely about the talent of Dettori in the saddle. His ride aboard Golden Horn in the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe one of the best that has been seen on any racecourse in recent years. 

This in the main is due to the efforts of Dettori himself, but he has also been aided by plenty of positive PR from the major TV networks and the marketing agencies for which Dettori represents box office material.

Dettori remains the poster ‘boy’ of Great British Flat Racing and is undeniably a role model for millions worldwide. Everyone knows the name of Frankie Dettori; regardless of whether or not they have any interest with Horse Racing itself.

However, more recently, and at the other end of our sport, there have been other less well-known jockeys who have failed drug tests. Danny Cook and Daragh Bourke on the Northern National Hunt circuit being cases in point.

Like Dettori, both have served six month bans from the sport. In the case of Cook, a urine sample taken at Musselburgh on February 1st 2015 contained benzoylecgonine, a metabolite of cocaine. Bourke also tested positive for benzoylecgonine following a routine test at Haydock Park on March 18th 2015.

Cook returned to the saddle at Sedgefield in August of this year steering the Brian Ellison trained Viens Chercher to success. Whilst Bourke returned to the saddle as recently as last week, notching a double at Hexham on his first two rides back aboard Harry’s Whim and Quick Brew for trainer Maurice Barnes.

Quick Brew and Daragh Bourke victorious at Hexham 

(Pic: Mark Rowntree, @uptheirons007)


Like Dettori, both Cook and Bourke would appear hell-bent upon correcting their mistakes and rebuilding their respective careers. The visible outpouring of emotion from Daragh Bourke when crossing the line aboard Quick Brew bearing full testament to this fact.

Both Cook and Bourke are up and coming young riders; but with the greatest of respect are certainly not box office material to racing like Dettori. 

As National Hunt jockeys, they’re unlikely to have anywhere near the opportunities afforded to their more illustrious Flat counterpart. Most might say that they also don’t or won’t have anywhere near the natural riding ability of Dettori.

Nevertheless, this pair fully deserve a second chance and racing should welcome them back into the fold with the same open arms it has done for Dettori. Any other response from the powers that be; whether this be from the trainers and owners, the mainstream media or the chief marketeers of racing will shatter any image or notion of ‘the racing family’ and equality for all.

Dettori, Cook, Bourke and any others who may go have the misfortune to endure such ‘self-inflicted’ adversity in the future will doubtless be fully aware that their respective careers within the sport of racing are firmly in the last chance saloon. 

Whilst it has been fabulous seeing Frankie Dettori bounce back from such adversity to his very best, it will be equally fabulous seeing two promising young jockeys (in Cook and Bourke) being given the opportunity to fulfil their undoubted potential. 

Whilst above all else, and like Dettori, Cook and Bourke ultimately have a duty to succeed for themselves and their families; Horse Racing as a sport has a much more important duty. 

This duty is to offer the kind of support and level of promotion that it has done for one of its major stars or risk being viewed by many as hypocritical. This response itself will ultimately be as clear cut as any stringent drug testing proceedures. In the pursuit of equality for all there can be no grey areas.

Posted in Feature Articles | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Horse Race Bettors Forum (HRBF) : Starting Prices and the ‘Tote’ Return

The newly formed Horse Racing Bettors Forum (HRBF) is a welcome addition to the sport with no doubting its significant potential added value to punters. 

As Nick Rust, Chief Executive of the BHA, has noted:

“There are nine million people who bet on British Racing each year. They are an essential part of our sport and as such it is vital that the needs and wishes of those individuals – who are stakeholders in the industry – are properly considered. That is the purpose of this Forum.”

Early indications suggest that the HRBF is in safe hands under the stewardship of appointed Chair Simon Rowlands. Rowlands is well respected through his work with Timeform and represents something of a revolutionary thinker.

Rowlands has recruited what he describes as a team of ‘smart and knowledgeable individuals’ to the HRBF.

Whilst some have already questioned the close and potentially conflicting relationships that a number of these individuals hold with the betting industry (either directly or indirectly to various bookmakers); there is no doubting Rowlands assessment of their individual attributes and abilities. 

Rowlands has stated that the primary aim and emphasis of the HRBF: “will be on bringing a fresh and independent approach to the task in hand, and on understanding the needs and wishes of the betting public.”

Therefore, as the ‘exclusive’ provider of pool betting on British Racecourses, it stands to reason that the ‘Tote’ should be high upon the list of organisations to focus upon.

For clarity; by the ‘Tote’, I refer to the former Horserace Totalisator Board or Totepool. The ‘Tote’ has been operated by Betfred since a seven year license was agreed by the then coalition government in June 2011. This acquisition coming for a reported fee of £265M. 

There are other independent pools (Ripon, Chester and Bangor Bet) which operate elsewhere and are separate entities from this agreement.

For the good of British Racing, I’m sure that we can all agree that pools should seek to provide returns which are broadly consistent to starting prices (SP’s). The ‘Tote’ should be viewed as direct competition to traditional on-course bookmakers and of course vice versa.

For many who visit a racecourse, the ‘Tote’ will be their punting vehicle of choice, which may include many newcomers to the sport. Perhaps the ‘smaller-staking’ punters with a lack of confidence or familiarity to be able to enter the betting ring. Or the hospitality audience who are served by staff with handheld ‘Tote’ terminals at their tables. Either way, the ‘new audience’ that the British Horseracing Authority and Great British Racing are seeking to draw into the sport.

Whilst recognising and accepting that individual ‘Tote’ returns will fluctuate both positively and negatively in comparison to official SP’s; and that there are a wide range of ‘Tote’ bets on offer; ‘Tote’ Win punters at Hexham on Friday 18th September would have been dismayed at the returns for all six races.

The returns were as follows (SP’s):

Race 1: Great Fighter £1.50 (11/10)

Race 2: Brother Scott £2.60 (9/2)

Race 3: Samedi Soir £2.90 (9/4)

Race 4: Chicago Outfit £6.10 (8/1)

Race 5: Dynamic Drive £4.20 (9/2)

Race 6: Bescott Springs £13.90 (16/1)

The ‘Tote’ return in race two for Brother Scott can only be described as disappointing. No punter should expect to accept a payout at odds of 13/8 about a 9/2 winner. In this particular case, a bet on the ‘Tote’ (on Brother Scott) returned only 47% of what a bet with an on (or off course) bookmaker did.

Furthermore, for anyone fortunate enough to have backed all six winners to a level £1 stake, the combined cumulative SP return would have seen them £11.15 better off than with the ‘Tote’ return (£42.35 compared with £31.20). Each and every one of the six winners on the evening, paid less on the ‘Tote’ than with traditional bookmakers.

This of course in no way implies that the ‘Tote’ always will pay less than the starting price. Far from it. We should point out in the interests of journalistic balance that the ‘Tote’ return regularly exceeds the starting price. This was in evidence for many of the races at the high profile Western meeting at Ayr.

For example; the following Win returns show the ‘Tote’ in a hugely positive light in comparison to SP’s:

Ayr Friday 18th September:

Ambriel £11.00 (8/1)

Go Far £29.20 (20/1)

Quiet Reflection £10.20 (8/1)

Ayr Saturday 19th September:

Shaden £21.90 (16/1)

Tatlisu £24.50 (18/1)

Mutasayyid £8.40 (7/1)

Hardstone £77.00 (50/1)

Such positive returns at Ayr are most likely indicative of the greater liquidity in the pool markets than at Hexham. 

However, with pool betting at UK racecourses operated by a single ‘private’ provider, it remains vital that returns are continually monitored, not just in overall terms, but for each and every individual racecourse.

The HRBF has a central role to play in this monitoring process in ensuring that punters have the best possible offer available to them in the largest possible number of locations. Whether this offer comes via traditional bookmakers, online exchanges or the ‘Tote’ should not matter. 

If we are truly serious about broadening the appeal of Horse Racing to those currently on the periphery of the sport, racing (and betting) should seek to strive to appeal as good value for money. 

There can be no denying that anyone who backed a winner on the ‘Tote’ at Hexham last Friday may consider themselves to have been ‘short-changed’ with such returns. 

For the more discerning punter, Totepool information is available online to analyse and absorb. Less regular punters may not realise that this is the case, and doubtless some probably don’t even care.

The choice as a punter is yours to make, but the pursuit of value; whether it be with the ‘Tote’ or elsewhere, should be as high on your agenda as seeking the winner of any particular race.

Equally, there can also be no denying the importance of a body such as the HRBF in representing the best interests of punters going forward.

It is the primary responsibility of the HRBF to keep bookmakers, exchanges and the ‘Tote’ on their toes if it is to fully succeed in meeting its challenging and wide ranging remit. The ultimate value of the HRBF to punters can only truly be acknowledged with time, but the early signs of progress are encouraging.

Posted in Feature Articles, Hexham | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment