48 Hours: The Highs and Lows of Horse Racing

Slipper Satin leaps to glory

Slipper Satin in better hurdling form

Last weekend was a bizarre one for me personally, and highlighted the highs and lows of horse racing in a polar fashion.

On Saturday, Slipper Satin, a filly in which I have a share (along with Councillor Jim), was due to race at Wetherby in a novices’ hurdle. The Slipper Satin story is a roller coaster one in itself: she was bought very cheaply, finished a creditable third on her hurdling bow, then ran two bad (one very bad) races on the all weather. Presuming her to be moderate at best, we’d headed to Fakenham the last day more for the hog roast than the hurdling.

Shock and horror, then, when Slipper Satin surprised us royally by duffing up the odds-on Hendo hotpot by sixteen lengths, on the bridle, with another fifteen back to the third.

How quickly slim hope becomes fat expectation… The Wetherby race had four runners when declarations closed at 10am on Friday. But, with less than five declared, the race was re-opened for a further half an hour, and another name appeared on the list. Aurore d’Estruvale was the filly in question, bought by one of John Quinn’s wealthier owners after an unlucky head second (flying at the finish, should have won) in a Pau novice event, when trained by Guillaume Macaire.

From being a 1/5 chance to win the race, we’d gone odds-against, a huge frustration but part of the game.

It was a three and a quarter hour schlep from East London to North Yorkshire, and that was with a charmed run. But a small price to pay to witness the next – and potentially most exciting – chapter in the Slipper Satin novella.

She looked fantastic in the preliminaries: a good bit broader than when we first got her, and with a more confident less agitated demeanour. She actually looked like she was enjoying herself.

Myself, Tony, Roger, Charlie and Councillor Jim assembled and discussed the merit of being second to the French filly with the Triumph and Supreme entries. Then Jack Quinlan appeared, legged up and cantered down to the start.

Slipper Satin has been provisionally rated 129 by the BHA, so they clearly feel she is a filly of some ability, and today was the day when we’d discover the likelihood of that being an accurate rating. I was reluctant to agree beforehand – rating her nearer to 110 myself – but happy enough to be shown otherwise on the track.

And they were off…

Jack had Slipper Satin nicely positioned in mid-division with clear daylight all around him as they came to the first obstacle.

Up she leapt… no! Down she pitched, and off she threw poor Jack. Slipper had all but fallen, and Jack had no chance of retaining the partnership, such was the sideways arch in Slipper’s back and exaggerated peck of her neck to the turf.

It was an unbelievable moment. We’d not even got to the ongoing side of the first hurdle. So. Frustrating.

These things happen of course, and the small mercies for which we were grateful were a) Jack was all right, though he looked heartbroken, poor lad; and b) Slipper Satin was all right, despite running loose for a circuit and a bit with the reins threatening to trip her up or at least bruise her tendons.

Such is her newfound jumping alacrity – normally, at least – that she jumped one of the steeplechase fences down the back straight with zesty relish (something I was to taste on my burger not half an hour later). No good to us of course and, in point of fact, not much use to connections of the Quinn filly either: they learned little in a thirteen length stroll away from extremely moderate – but upright – opposition.

For us, it was the long trek home and a likely trip to either Plumpton or, preferably, Fontwell next week, weather permitting.

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“That’s show business”, as Noel Quinlan, our trainer, ruefully whistled through a fairly fixed smile. It was a long wasted trip for all of us.


Sunday was a family day, but I’d booked myself an hour or so to look through the Punchestown card, as I felt the Pick 6 (a jackpot type of bet where players are required to find the winners of the first six races) was gettable.

I very rarely play the UK jackpot, as it’s invariably fiendishly tricky. But its Irish equivalent is often a case of three bankers and a dragnet through the handicaps.

Yesterday’s was like that, with the added bonus that I had a strong opinion in one of the more competitive events. But, more importantly, the pool was laced with value. The Irish tote are currently heavily promoting their multi-race bets, with – recently – a bit of headway being made.

Yesterday there was a guaranteed €25,000 in the pool. There was also a rollover of €11,000. By the time the first race was off, the pool had swollen to €21,000. This meant – and this is key – that although there was a guarantee of 25k there was actually only about €10,000 worth of ‘live’ tickets in the pool. In other words, the amount of people playing was relatively small, meaning a win would not have to be shared too many ways.

If you’re still with me, good, because you’re starting to see why I consider this to be one of the last remaining regular value bets, even if you’re a pretty clueless punter which, I’m sure, you’re not! 😉

Sometimes I spread out in these bets, and sometimes I don’t. The play for Punchestown yesterday was a ‘shit or bust’ ‘caveman’ ticket: one perm with all selections getting equal weight, and with plenty of banker action. In fact, I took three bankers, two in one race, and six and five respectively in the big handicap hurdle and chase.

They kicked off with a novice hurdle, and the 1/2 favourite, Chancol, obliged. Just. Good news. Penalty kick number one slotted home, though with less than a length to spare you could argue the ‘keeper got a hand to it.

I was pretty confident in the next race, as I had the first two in the betting, and they dominated the market. Wicklow Brave, trained by Willie, and ridden by Ruby, cruised to an easy success, but was returned the 6/4 second favourite. Good news, as the ‘unnamed favourite’ tickets were lost.

Leg three was a shredder for plenty of folk: it was the Pertemps qualifier. This race is notorious as one where some are trying today, and plenty are just seeking to get qualified for the Pertemps Final at the Cheltenham Festival. My cursory research told me this was a race perennially won by a more mature (i.e. older) horse, and I used the RAR to do the business from there. This is how the Race Analysis Report saw the race:

First two home best suited by deep ground...

First two home best suited by deep ground…

I took Jetson, Marlbrook, Clonard Lad, Thunder And Roses, Inis Meain and Questions Answered. Jetson – with lots of green in his profile and, at nine, the right age for a race like this – prevailed at 14/1, from Thunder And Roses, the 4/1 favourite. Inis Meain was third at 10’s.

Still rolling at half way, and with a 14/1 winner slimming the pool down nicely. There were 220 units still running, and 205 of them were on Arvika Ligeonniere in the feature Tied Cottage Chase. He hacked up in the style of a horse that could win the Champion Chase, but beware, he clunked in the Arkle last year (carrying my cash).

Four down, two to go, and me and 205 other folks were cheering various nags in the P.P. Hogan Memorial, a cross country chase over the banks and brooks. I had this down to two horses: Big Shu and Love Rory. Big Shu was favoured by the market but the trainer had said he’d definitely need the run, so I banked (pardon the pun) on Love Rory. He was a 5/1 shot in the morning but, by post time, the burliness of his main market rival had rendered him a strong 2/1 favourite.

Long and short, he won easily, and my boldness (which could easily have looked like recklessness had Big Shu beaten him) left me with five arrows in the last. The last was a 3m4f handicap chase – a Grand National trial, no less – and five arrows spread around eighteen runners was about thirteen less than I’d have liked. Especially considering I had neither of the 5/1 and 11/2 favourites. Hmm…

Once again, I asked the RAR to bail me out. Once again, it came up trumps. When the ground is heavy, it is my primary consideration when making a bet. Here’s how the RAR looked, sorted by going and placed runs. I took #’s 1, 4, 7, 8, and 14, for what will be obvious reasons.

Heavy, heavy monster show...

Heavy, heavy monster show…

Note especially the heavy ground form of the two favoured runners, Sword Fish and Thelobstercatcher. It was not to be a good day for fruits of the sea wagerers…

Turning in, four of my quintet occupied the second to fifth spots behind game front runner, Sole Witness. They were quickly whittled away until I had only Folsom Blue in my corner. Fortunately for me, under a confident ride, he was always getting the better of the gallant Sole Witness, a horse which – had he won – I’d have cursed not including.

The wager was landed, and I shared half a ticket in the pool with 7.5 others. Gross pool of €25,000, less 30% take out, made a net pool of €17,500. Eight winning tickets settled the dividend at €2,187.50. My €30 caveman perm was worth a tidy €1,093.75. And I had the RAR, and the Irish tote to thank.

And, if you think this is hard, let me tell you that that is the fourth time I’ve collected on the Pick 6 since mid-November! From just eight attempts in that time!!!

Sometimes, I go in with a small caveman effort like yesterday, and sometimes a more robust ABX perm, but make no mistake, this is a winnable bet where value is doubly manifest through the rollovers and the guarantees.

Nice draw, thanks to the guarantee and the rollover...

Nice draw, thanks to the guarantee and the rollover…

If you have the RAR on your side, you have more than a squeak.

If you don’t have the RAR on your side, why the hell not?! Get it here. (It’s free…)

So yes, a curious weekend all told.


Now then, on a different subject, this Thursday is the Tattersalls sale, and I’m contemplating another syndicate. Here’s what I’m thinking:

 – Ten or twelve in the syndicate
– Initial payment of no more than £600 for a tenth or twelfth (depending syndicate size)
– Monthly cost of between £150 and £175

The idea would be to get a horse that is relatively fit and has some scope to be a dual purpose type. If there’s sufficient interest, I’ll press ahead. If not, I won’t. Please leave a comment below expressing interest if it sounds like fun to you. Commenting obviously doesn’t obligate you but it will help me get a handle on numbers.

You will, though, have to put up with me at the races. Every silver lining has a cloud. 😉


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