Friday, 15 March 2019

Up for the Cup

Cheltenham's a sporting venue that's witnessed its fair share of drama down the years. But if anyone ever compiles an official  Desert Island Discs of top Festival days, yesterday's events will easily make it into the final eight.

From Bryony Frost's never-say-die front-running ride on Frodon to win the Ryanair Chase, to the sight of the Andrew Gemmell-owned Paisley Park surging up the run-in under Aidan Coleman to collar Sam Spinner and land a memorable Stayers' Hurdle, it was enough to turn hardened racegoers to blubber.

Throw in a win for Lizzie Kelly on Siruh Du Lac in what used to be known as the Mildmay of Flete and Barry Geraghty's monumental effort to lift Sire Du Berlais over the line in the Pertemps Final and 2019 St Patrick's Thursday will go down in the annals as an all-round top day.

Followers of Philippos were rewarded with 3/1 winner Defi Du Seuil in the JLT and Not Many Left placed at 16/1 in the Pertemps for e/w backers.

Today we move on to the main event: it's Cheltenham Gold Cup day and there's a seven-race card which is trickier to crack than doing The Times crossword in the dark.

Still, you're a long time dead so let's see how we get on. The opening race, the Triumph Hurdle, features one of the talking horses of the meeting in the shape of the former classy flat racer, Sir Erec. On a week which has seen a few shocks I'd be inclined to take him on.

As for the Blue Riband Gold Cup at 3.30 itself, the weather may yet play a part. Last year's contest was run on really soft ground bringing out the eventual winner Native River's endless supplies of stamina. If the rain stays away today we could be in for a thriller with several runners jumping the final fence in unison. What price a photo-finish anyone?

Be lucky!

Each-way: Quel Destin (9/1, generally) Gardens of Babylon (11/1, generally)

Each-way: Crooks Peak (14/1, generally), Countister (16/1, generally), We Have A Dream (25/1, generally).

Win: Birchdale (6/1, generally), Allaho (8/1, generally) NAP

3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup
Each-way: Bellshill (10/1), Bristol De Mai (25/1, generally) NB

Win: Road To Rome (8/1, generally), Shantou Flyer (8/1, generally)

Win: Whatswrongwithyou (8/1, generally)
Each-way: Bun Doran (14/1, generally)

Win: Early Doors (7/1, generally)
Each-way: If You Say Run (201, generally)

Thursday, 14 March 2019

All to play for at half-time

The four-day Cheltenham Festival's just as much of a stamina test for punters as it is for the horses faced with that stiff uphill climb to the finishing post.

Half-way through the week and the Philippos punting portfolio remains in pretty decent shape with a brace of wins on Wednesday, one for the imposing Topofthegame in the RSA Chase (SP 4/1, advised at 7/2) as well as Envoi Allen in the Champion Bumper (returned 2/1, advised at 7/2).

Topofthegame is a giant of a horse at 17 hands 3. He will doubtless go on to better things and it would be something of a surprise if he didn't make into a contender for next year's Gold Cup.

The action comes thick and fast again today with the meeting's remaining races now switching over to Cheltenham's stiffer New Course.  There's rain around, so expect the going to be freshened up and turn a little bit softer than it was Wednesday. That will make it even more of a test in the day's feature race, the three-mile Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle. Good luck!

Win: Defi Du Seuil (5/2, generally)
Each-way: Voix Du Reve (10/1, generally)

Each-way: A Toi Phil (16/1, generally), Not Many Left (16/1, generally), Aspen Colorado (40/1, generally)

Win: Footpad (4/1, generally)
Each-way: Balko Des Flos (16/1, generally)

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle
Win: Supersundae (8/1, generally)
Each-way: Bapaume (25/1, generally), Wholestone (40/1, generally)

Each-way: Polidam (16/1, generally), Modus (20/1, generally)

Win: Epatante (15/8)
Each-way: Sancta Simona (20/1, generally)

Each-way: Touch Kick (20/1, generally)

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Wednesday wagers

There's life in the old boy yet. Not a bad start to Philippos's 2019 Cheltenham Festival week care of some placed, big-priced each-way selections: Thomas Derby (2nd, SP 28/1), Us And Them (2nd, 14/1 advised at 16/1), and even Flying Angel (5th, advised at 50/1, SP 25/1) if you found a bookmaker who paid extra places in the Ultima.

Time waits for no-one, though, so thoughts now turn to day two which is traditionally my favourite of the week. The imperious Istabraq made his Festival debut in the (then) 1997 Sun Alliance Hurdle, now the Ballymore, before subsequently going on to secure three Champion Hurdles on the spin in 1998, 1999, and 2000.

The Ballymore (1.30) typically features some cracking horses to follow in the future. Ditto, today's RSA Insurance Novices' Chase (2.10) which could easily supply us with next year's ante-post Gold Cup favourite. Last year's RSA winner, Presenting Percy, is at the top of the market for Friday's Blue Riband which promises to be a decent renewal.

Throw in the Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.30) with the brilliant Altior looking for back-to-back victories, the fiendishly competitive Coral Cup (2.50), plus the Weatherbys Champion Bumper (5.30) and all's set fair for a wonderful (and hopefully not too windy) Wednesday.

Win: Champ (3/1, generally)
Each-way: Castlebawn West (25/1, generally)

Win: Delta Work (2/1, generally), Topofthegame (7/2, generally)

Win: Brio Conti (10/1, generally)
Each-way: Apple's Shakira (16/1, generally), Joke Dancer (33/1, generally)

3.30 Queen Mother Champion Chase
Each-way: Politologue (25/1, generally)

Each-way: Fact Of The Matter (16/1, generally)

Each-way: Dogon (22/1 generally), Our Power (25/1, generally), Praeceps (25/1 generally)

Win: Envoi Allen (7/2, generally), Meticulous (8/1, generally)

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Philippos rides again!

Cheltenham Festival - Day 1 tips

I've spent three decades making a crust from financial journalism; a bit less from writing about horse racing. Racing's a terrific sport first and foremost. As a betting medium it often gets the cold shoulder from my more po-faced money journalist colleagues.

Well, I don't care. In my experience, the financial services and bookmaking industries have, if anything, converged down the years. Like insurers, bookies are in the risk management business and their aim is to maximise profits for shareholders. When writing about either, it certainly pays to have a certain aptitude for figures which, with a physics degree, I hope I've got.

In three decades, I've reported on just as many spivvy financiers as there are perceived to be bookmakers. In my experience, I've found bookmakers to be, in the main, a pretty honourable bunch.

One, who used to own three betting shops in the Cotswolds, is a very good friend and is as far removed from being a high-roller as is humanly possible. He's built his home (more of a shack than a palace) in a field in Worcestershire surrounded by the 200 plum trees he's planted. Not all bookmakers can net a dividend from their betting business worth £265 million. Looking at you Bet 365's Denise Coates.

At least I've never been gobbed at by a bookie; although that dubious distinction goes to one particularly irate independent financial adviser whom I once had the temerity to question. On another occasion, a fairly cheesed-off financial adviser (not long out of jug) came looking for me in a newsroom armed with a baseball bat. Charming. I had to leggit it down a fire escape to evade his fiscal clutches.

My horse racing tipster 'nom de plume' (or, guerre, depending on your point of view) is 'Philippos'. Ironically enough, Philippos made his debut in the financial world way back in 1994 when a financial hack and former newsroom colleague, Lawrence Gosling, went to work on a whizzy new-fangled Ceefax-style service for City of London traders called Cityscreen. This was the height of cutting edge communication in the 90s, you understand.

Anyway, he needed someone to file early-morning tips and would I be interested? You bet (literally) and so Philippos was born, phoning over copy (these were pre-email times) at 5.30am each morning. Philippos enjoyed something of a following amongst traders, but this time without the baseball bat.

Fast forward to 2004 and the newly-launched sports magazine, Inside Edge, edited by ex-Mirror City Slicker James Hipwell, was looking for a racing editor. I knew James from his days working on, wait for it, The Actuary magazine and took on the role which subsequently allowed me to secure a horse racing press badge (the only financial journalist to this day to do so).

Given our ridiculously long lead-in times, IE's tipsters did pretty well which rather brings us to today.
I've decided to resuscitate Philippos for this year's Cheltenham Festival. Here are my selections for day one which, with the rain having arrived at the course, looks set to be staged on soft-ish going.

With its offers and enhanced placings, the Festival's one of the few times of the year I'd ever considering betting each-way. Good luck!

Win: Angels Breath (5/1 generally); Fakir D'oudairies (6/1 generally).
Each-way: Thomas Darby (25/1).

Win: Hardline (5/1 generally).
Each-way: Ornua (14/1), Us And Them (16/1).

Win: Minella Rocco (9/1 generally).
Each-way: Magic of Light (20/1): Flying Angel (50/1).

3.30 Champion Hurdle
Win: Laurina (4/1 generally).

Each-way: Momella (20/1 generally).

Each-way: Good Man Pat (14/1 generally).

Win: Ok Corral (7/2 generally)
Each-way: Impulsive Star (14/1 generally).

Monday, 11 March 2019

Jolly bad show

Here’s a salutary punting tale about betting the jollies in time for this year's Cheltenham Festival which starts tomorrow.

It comes care of Odds and Sods, the autobiography of Ron Pollard who was PR director at Ladbrokes in the 1970s and 80s having started his career as a clerk at William Hill after the Second World War.

The tale involves the 1962 Festival, two Irish doctors, and an innocuous-sounding bet they struck which ended up costing them extremely dear. 

In that year, there were 18 races and the bet (once popular, now defunct) went like this. In essence the plan was to win £10 care of the favourite, in this case with the punt stipulated to take place over the duration of the entire meeting. 

If the gamble came off with a favourite winning, that was it and happy days; retire to the bar and strike a new bet. If it lost, however, the stake on the second (and subsequent races until a favourite won) increased in order not only to win a tenner, but to make up the losses from preceding punts. 

As Pollard pointed out “… in the case of our two doctors, they always knew the most they could win, but never what they could lose…”. You can guess how this is going to turn out.

On day one, the first favourite of the meeting was called Trelawny and was priced up at 9/4. So, the two doctors’ initial liability was £4.44 (converting from old money) to win their tenner. Only Trelawny didn’t win. The second race featured a 1-2 shot, Scottish Memories, which required the pair to stake £28.88 to win back the £4.44 and also to win a tenner.

Needless to say, that hotpot got turned over as well. On and on this tale of misery continues, through days one and two of the Festival with no market-leader winning until we come to the very last race of the meeting. 

By this stage, the rules of the bet meant that the doctors needed to stake £5,225.15 if Pegle, the 9/4 favourite, was going to get them out of a punting black hole and win them a tenner.

Guess what? Pegle lost, which meant the overall deficit was a sum just shy of £17,000, an eye-watering sum for 1962 and the equivalent in today’s money adjusted for inflation of about £350,000.

For the record, eight favourites won at least year's Festival. Be lucky!

Tuesday, 5 March 2019

Making contact

You don’t need to be an avid fan of the Halifax and its mildly irritating Ghostbusters TV advert to realise that contactless payments are on the increase.

Nowadays, all manner of retail outlets - large and small – accept a quick swipe of a debit card as a means of payment. What's more, you’re allowed to spend up to £30 a throw (in London this roughly equates to a copy of the Racing Post, a medium-sized bottle of still water and a Twix).

What’s that got to do with horse racing? Well, the slightly savvier end of the on-course bookmaker collective has realised that contactless is the way to go if it's to attract business from 20 and 30-something racegoers. 

With the Festival fast-approaching, I asked Cheltenham racecourse for a breakdown of its on-course bookmaking community for the four days in March this year and how many of these may be offering contactless transactions.

According to course spokesperson Sophia Dale, there are going to be 36 bookmakers located on the Rails & Lower Rails, 90 will be plying their trade in Tatts & Lower Tatts, 75 in the Best Mate enclosure (the part of the track facing the main grandstand), eight operators in the See You Then section and six in the Centaur building.

Dale said she estimated that around 20 per cent of the bookmakers present would be accepting payment by card. 

It’s certainly an easier way to pay for a punt if you're short of readies at the Festival. Lengthy ATM queues have become a regular feature at the course in recent years, especially during the Festival. 

Of course, the combination of imbibing a pint or two along with a simple wave of a debit card to place a bet is potentially financially toxic. Keeping tabs on wagers is crucial. There's no point going for a fun day at the races only for your finances to get swiped out.

Wednesday, 27 February 2019

Instant replays

Unless you’re very organised, working at the horse racing coal-face, or are fully subscribed to the UK’s two dedicated racing channels (UK Racing and Sky Sports Racing) it can be quite a challenge to keep up with racing replays.

Plenty of visitors to the Cheltenham Festival in a fortnight won’t be avid racing nuts. But they might still like to remind themselves of horses running this year who have performed well at the course in the past; during the 2018 renewal, for example. 

Don't forget, Cheltenham is a horses-for-courses track. Should Presenting Percy win this year's Gold Cup (and he's got every chance) it would be his third successive win at the course having lifted the Pertemps Final in 2017 and the RSA Chase last year. Before landing the 2018 Grand National, the gallant Tiger Roll had already notched up three Festival wins.

Fortunately, there’s a free and easy way to see all the past action, even though the service is not particularly well promoted by Cheltenham’s owners at Jockey Club Racecourses. Simply visit the latter’s website and select ‘The Racing’ tab from the dropdown options.

You’ll be taken to a ‘race replays’ section where you just have to select the relevant dates to see all the action. To view last year's Festival contests, plug in 13-16 March 2018.