• Hands Heels

The flat season, topical thoughts and horses to follow list.

With the flat season just starting, I am going to try and write more blog posts as opposed to just tips and reasoning behind them. As I’m writing this, the 1000 Guineas has just concluded with Mother Earth winning for Aidan O’Brien. Yesterday we had the 2000 Guineas won by Poetic Flare of Jim Bolger, a master class in both training and breeding. With Poetic Flare that is now the third generation of horses trained and bred by Mr Bolger who have won classics for him. Poetic Flare’s sire Dawn Approach also won the Guineas when trained by Bolger, and his sire, New Approach, won the Derby. This is unlikely to happen ever again and he deserves a lot of praise for such an achievement. I was feeling a little down about the jumps season ending, but the last weekend has got me excited for the flat season ahead.

I’ve also been thinking a lot about the whole saga regarding Santa Barbara, who I thought actually ran very well and if there was no betting market would have be receiving a lot of praise for finishing a good fourth in a classic on just her second start with only a maiden win behind her. Are trainers comments worth taking as gospel, or should we take them with a pinch of salt? Uncharacteristically bullish about one of his horses, people backed Santa Barbara off the boards based of of Aidan O’Brien’s comments on her, in a race then won by her stable-mate Mother Earth. You have to presume Ryan Moore would have ridden both off the race track and he too sided with Santa Barbara. At such a short price I didn’t personally back her, but wanted her to be every bit as good as we were being told, who doesn’t love seeing a superstar? I also think that in time we will have an excellent horse in her and should not be written off so easily. She was quite big in herself and should come on massively for her reappearance as Aidan’s often do. With trainer comments more easily accessible through twitter and social media, I think anything like this is being retweeted and generating a lot of noise leading to punters diving in and bookies shortening excessively. I will only ever take trainer comments as a small piece of the puzzle when deciphering a race and never bet exclusively on this, but I found the whole thing fascinating.

Another topic from the last week that has wound me up a little is some of the twitter comments regarding horses who underperform, or criticise jockeys for bad rides. Now I’m not suggesting that Jockey’s should be immune to criticism as there are times when you question the decisions they make. However, they are experienced horsemen and women who make decisions travelling at ridiculous speeds, they sometimes get things wrong, but so does everybody and there is never any call for the abuse that they receive. The specific tweets this week were regarding Goshen. I saw tweets saying that he should be retired, how he was useless and some truly awful things about him. Now he hasn’t quite lived up to the hype from last year when he looked an absolute superstar, unbeaten barring the fall in the triumph on which he would have won by whatever distance he wanted. However, even if he doesn’t end up being a top grade one horse in time, despite his quirks and proclivity to wander around the track, he has this season won a grade two by 22 lengths beating two other multiple grade two winners in breathtaking style. For a relatively small stable, he is an absolute superstar and there is no shame whatsoever in being ‘just’ a grade two horse. A lot of owners and trainers would kill for a horse this talented and there is still a chance as a five year old that he will settle and iron out his issues.

With the rants over, I’ve compiled a list of 5 of horses who I think may be worth following throughout the year, these will mostly be horses that aren’t the obvious ones. This can be a good way to find some value as these will be the types of horses often overlooked in the markets as they either aren’t with the top trainers, or are improvers.

1. Onassis – Charlie Fellowes – Listed/Graded races 7 furlongs to a mile

An admirable horse who had an excellent season last year, winning two listed races as well as a very good Royal Ascot handicap on her reappearance. It looked like she was going to be retired for breeding, but the owners have decided to give it ago in her four year old season which is great news. Trip versatile she won last year at a mile and seven furlongs, before dropping back to six on her final start in the Champion Sprint at Ascot. That run was very impressive as to me she always looks like the mile would be her best trip, she often runs on late with a lovely turn of foot, and did well to get so close against the best sprinters over six. Her first race this year looks set to be the Duke of Cambridge stakes at Royal Ascot, I am hoping that she can replicate a winning Royal Ascot reappearance again this year in the Grade Two contest over a mile. That should be a good spring board for some of the best mile races this year, whether she steps up to Grade One or slightly below that in listed and grade two/three contests. Her average starting price last year was 16/1 and hopefully she’ll be similarly overlooked this season.

2. Summer Romance – Charlie Fellowes – Group Races 1 mile to 1 mile 2.

A Goldophin owned mare that finished midfield in last years 1000 Guineas before winning a group three and then disappointing in a French grade one. She appears to have trained on well throughout the winter with a decent run in two Meydan group two’s weakening into fifth in the first, but with a run under her and more fitness on her side, she then convincingly won the next against some of the same rivals. That was over 1 miles and 1 furlong which appears to be her trip as she was originally entered in the Dahlia stakes this weekend on 1000 Guineas day. I expect we’ll see fairly soon this year, potentially even in the same race as Onassis at Royal Ascot.

3. Ornate – David Griffiths – Handicaps/Listed races 5 furlongs.

An admirable performer who often front runs. Ornate actually finished two lengths third to Battaash last year at 100/1 finishing a neck behind behind glass slippers. The first three that day all broke the previous track record. He runs almost every week and has been kept busy over the winter running in conditions and handicaps. Winning twice in good handicaps and a close enough fourth in a listed race. The fast rattling ground over the summer suits him best and his handicap mark is slightly lower this year than it was last time so we may seem him in some of the sprint handicaps as well as the Kings Stand stakes at Ascot where he will be a huge price, but wouldn’t be surprised to see him pick up place money there.

4. Night Arc – Richard Hannon – Novices before tackling better company.

This two year old colt is a once raced maiden, I was very taken by his debut despite only being a four runner affair, he dwelt at the start and showed plenty of greenness before staying on well and being the only runner to get near to Bellarena Lady who had previously finished an excellent second on debut. He will know more next time out and will hopefully get a win in a novice race before being aimed at the better two year old races, he stayed on well enough on debut that I would be happy to see him over 5 or 6 furlongs. ‘

5. Dark Vision – Mark Johnston – 1 mile listed/group races

We may see Dark Vision in the top handicaps like the Royal Hunt at Ascot, or he may be raced exclusively in the class one events due to his high mark now. A group two winner as a two year old, he was disappointing for connections as a three year old, without winning a race he was very highly tried. However he repaid the faith last year as a four year old. A second to the excellent Sir Busker on seasonal reappearance he then went on to win the Royal Hunt Cup from Montatham, the same rival then reversed form in another top handicap, but on watching that race Dark Vision was desperately unlucky and with an extra metre even would have passed Montatham. He won a strong listed race from Beringer as well as a German group two. He finished midfield on final start in the QE2 at ascot, that was very strong form though as he finished only 6 lengths off the winner, beating multiple group one winners, Nazeef and Circus Maximus. In last place that day was Lancaster House who has already come out this season and won a group three. I think he will be similarly campaigned in the group races at about a mile and look forward to a few wins if we’re lucky.

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