Punchestown, April 24th through 28th
The national hunt festival at Punchestown was something of a non-event for me this year with only a few piffling bets and all but Alderwood being losing dockets. The five-day break for flat racing was a welcome one however as it gave me plenty of time to have a look at the Tote Ten To Follow competition for the flat and with a price in excess of £58,000 last year it is certainly worth effort.
The prize-money is clearly the big attraction and all the more so for an Irish-centric punter like myself; opportunities to get a big score in Irish racing in terms of pool bets are few and far between. We do not have a Saturday Scoop 6, our daily Pick 6 a pale imitation, while the Jackpot in Ireland runs from races three to six instead of one to six which makes big rollovers infrequent. The Ten To Follow thus presents a rare opportunity to go for the sweep.
I prefer the flat competition to its jumps equivalent for a few reasons. The obvious one is that I am mainly a flat punter though I must stress that I don’t necessarily prefer it to jumps racing; it just suits my other work commitments to follow flat racing and you cannot study everything. There are fewer horses in the flat competition (250 versus 500 over jumps) while there is a much lower attrition rate on the level; jumpers miss entire seasons regularly.
Also, with the jumpers, you have to find big handicap winners which isn’t easy – who, other than a rabid sentimentalist, could include a horse like Carruthers in this season’s jumps list, yet he goes on to win the Hennessy and blows the completion apart – whereas on the flat it is all about Group 1 winners.
There are much fewer entries on the flat which obviously leads to less prize-money but fifty-odd thousand is nothing to be sneezed at and it is easier to win; I managed a lifetime best one hundredth and thirty-fifth last year and want to do better this and might well have done so last year if I hadn’t had brain-freeze and included Jan Vermeer in so many lists!
I wrote above that it is all about finding Group 1 winners and one can easily get rid of a raft of horses by knocking out exposed listed and Group 3 types; official ratings can be a fine guide. More than finding Group 1 winners however, it is about getting the winners of the bonus races which are worth an extra 25 points to go along with the 25 you get for a Group 1 win.
This is where you need to weigh what a Group 3 horse can do versus one with top-level pretensions; a lesser group horse, the likes of Famous Name say, could have a fine season and win three Group 3s yet its points would not amount to that of a single bonus race winner. Don’t forget, there are also points for coming second in a bonus race.
All bonus races are not equal however. Some are completely inscrutable, the St. Leger being the most obvious example, and anyone trying to pick the winner of the final classic in early May really needs to reassess their strategy. Stayers in general are probably horses to avoid with only one bonus race available, the Ascot Gold Cup, so their window for big points gathering is narrow; ideally you want horses that are likely to take in a number of bonus races. The counter-argument to this is that the staying division is a weak one and a dominant horse, in the mould of Yeats, can sweep the boards. If there is such a horse in the division this year it is Fame And Glory but he hasn’t always been one to hold his form throughout the year and he wouldn’t be for me; if pressed for a stayer to include (and I’m lukewarm on them as a group) I would plump for Saddler’s Rock.
I’m similarly sceptical about including sprinters though this season is an exception with Black Caviar coming over; more of her anon. There are three bonus races for sprinters, the Golden Jubilee, the July Cup and the Nunthorpe, but only twice since 2001 has a single horse won more than one of them, Starspangledbanner in 2010 and Les Arcs in 2006, who if I recall correctly wasn’t even in the competition that year.
The top sprints just have too many complicating factors in an average year; the fields are huge, there is little gap between the top handicappers and Group 1 types while there are a raft of horses coming from abroad that aren’t even in the Ten To Follow lists. But this is hardly an average year and Black Caviar merits strong consideration for banker status; she will reportedly take in two bonus races, the Golden Jubilee and the July Cup, which is a big plus while the fact that Australian sprinters do so well over here – and she is apparently their best of all-time – is another pointer.
On the subject of bankers, you need to have a few. Frankel is the obvious one but he is coming back off an injury and while sure to go into plenty of my lists, I’m more interested in the horse he beat throughout last season, Excelebration. With Frankel set to go up in trip, the way looks clear for him to take in all the bonus races at a mile – the Queen Anne, Sussex and QEII – and he has already shown his wellbeing this term.
Other possible bankers for me include St Nicholas Abbey (the 12f division for older horses looks weak and he has already beaten one of his main rivals Sea Moon easily), So You Think (a talking horse if ever there was one, but one that still sets the standard at ten furlongs and is set to get plenty of racing) and Akeed Mofeed (my fancy for the Derby).
Before the Derby, there is the Guineas and it is vital get a good start to the competition here; not only are an early 100 points (plus Tote returns) available but the first classics also open up other point-scoring pathways; not only the St. James’s Palace and Coronation Stakes, bonus races run under similar conditions at Royal Ascot, but also the Irish Guineas.
Ballydoyle have short-priced favourites in both and I’d probably be stronger on Maybe of the two as I don’t think Camelot’s form has any substance to it though the visual impression could hardly have been better. I’ll be perming both in my lists however; Camelot with Trumpet Major, Abtaal, French Fifteen and Power and Maybe with Lyric Of Light, Lightening Pearl and La Collina.
That may change should the final make-up of the either race be altered between now and Saturday; it is always best to hold off until the last minute before entering your lists.
A few final thoughts. Cape Blanco was a big scorer in winning three American turf Group 1s last year but horses like him won’t do the same this time around as only points scored in Europe count which is a change in the competition. Consequently, you want to be against globetrotters; the likes of Cityscape, Wigmore Hall and Dunaden may be very likeable but if they’re not running in Europe, they won’t be getting points, no matter how many Group 1s they win.
I also want to be against fillies and mares or at least older fillies and mares. There are no bonus races for them and while the likes of Snow Fairy are very good they struggle to win in open company against the colts; in 2011, 8 of the top 10 point-scorers were colts and geldings while it was 9 of the top 10 in 2010.
Good luck with your lists.