Should Dunguib have gone to Nursery rather than adult education classes?

Dunguib will be something of a dark horse in more than just colour when he lines up for the Champion Hurdle on March 15th.

One of the most impressive Champion Bumper winners  (2009), he started at odds of 4/5 in last year’s Supreme and finished 3rd.  His jumping in that race was adequate but he’d looked awkward and unskilled at his hurdles in some of his other runs.

Trainer Philip Fenton has reportedly given him extensive schooling this season, and, to me, he looked quite clever at times in his sole outing at Gowran Park on Feb 19th when winning a three-horse race.  What was less taking, to my eye, was that he appeared to idle markedly once he hit the front.

What I’m really interested in is the schooling side.  Dunguib is eight years old.  I accept that many horses of that age are schooled successfully for fences – the jumping technique is very different.   Surely the confidence needed to measure a hurdle, ping it and get away quickly needs to be learned much earlier in life?

French trainers have been sending  very young horses round loose schools for many years.   A yearling set for a jumping career would be broken in alongside Flat horses and often loose schooled before ever being ridden. By the age of two, it will have jumped sizeable obstacles and be ready to race early in its three-year-old season.

When buying horses from France rather than Ireland was becoming popular, French trainers Guillaume Macaire and Arnaud Chaille-Chaille regularly used an outdoor circular school where members of both strings are worked on a near-daily basis.

“I would jump my horses a lot compared to horses in Britain and Ireland,” says Chaille-Chaille, “and when Barry Geraghty has ridden for me, he has been amazed at how my horses jumped. He said they made up two lengths at each – they were just playing with the obstacles. It is all very different from Britain and Ireland from what I have seen.”

Renowned bloodstock agent Anthony Bromley (pic. below, right), who started the French Revolution with purchases like  Katarino, Cenkos, Geos, Azertyuiop, Monkerhostin, and, of course, Kauto Star, is on record as saying about breaking horses in young ” . . . the vets say the same – that it helps horses’ tendons. With an exercise regime at two and three, it will stand them in good stead when they are racing. There’s no reason we shouldn’t do it. It’s the conditioning and training that brings about a lot of the advantages that the French horses enjoy.”

So, like humans, are lessons best learnt young in horses?  In my memory it is much rarer to see a very slick hurdler than a fine jumper of fences.  On the downside, I believe, that fast, fluent, low action essential for gaining an advantage at each hurdle, can also be hard to train out of a horse when it goes steeplechasing.

Master Minded, (an early Macaire ‘student’) breath-taking as his jumping can be at times, regularly ‘hurdles’ his fences (though he can also spring like an antelope when the fancy takes him).  He’s a horse I’d never take short odds about, due to that jumping style, even though Ruby says he’s the best jumper he’s sat on.

Back to Dunguib.  We’ve seen the result of his schooling only once so far this season, at Gowran park a couple of weeks ago.  The thing that impressed me was when he looked to be getting it wrong, he was much cleverer than last season.  He is still no Binocular or Clerk’s Choice (no raised eyebrows please – CC is an exceptional jumper of hurdles to my eye, and unfortunate in that he seems to need genuine fast ground – as rare this season as a copy of  The Star without a mention of Jordan on the front).

Irish-bred Dunguib was ten weeks short of his seventh birthday before jumping a hurdle in public.  French hurdlers were sitting with their hooves up, pipe and slippers at the ready by that age.  Are we to believe that this comparatively old dog has learned new tricks?

Your thoughts, as ever, will be welcomed.

Will the ‘curse’ of Montjeu strike Hurricane Fly?

I’ve read numerous comments along the lines of “You can forget Hurricane Fly for the Champion Hurdle, no Montjeu has ever won at Cheltenham”

The statement is true.  No horse sired by Montjeu has won at the track.  But as with many ‘lazy’ stats, things look different when you dig a bit deeper.

Only 26 of Montjeu’s stock have run at Cheltenham.  Among them they’ve amassed 44 runs there.

15 of the 26 have run at the Festival, contesting 21 races.

Festival race record of Montjeu stock

Pace Shot finished 4th of 17 to Detroit City in The Triumph, beaten under 10 lengths. He was 100/1 SP (500 on Betfair) so arguably ‘outran’ his price.

Blue Bajan was 6th of 22 to Cap Cee Bee in The Supreme, beaten under 16 lengths; his form comment: “kept on approaching last and stayed on run-in but no chance with leaders”  His relevant SP and Betfair SP – 33/38

Won in The Dark was 3rd of 14 to Celestial Halo in The Triumph, beaten under 5 lengths: “stayed on to chase leading duo 2 out, kept on but no impression soon after”  SPs 16/27

Mon Michel was 8th of 22 in The County; he started at just 6/1 and was beaten under 13 lengths

Shortest was Alexander Severus who was 5/2 fav when finishing 4th in the Fred Winter (never raced again): “led going well after 2 out, ridden last, headed soon after and soon no extra”

Green Mile was 5th of 22, beaten 8 lengths, in The Pertemps; SPs: 8/10.5

Gloucester‘s best performance from three runs at the Festival was 6th of 28 in The County. SPs 50/95

Noble Prince finished a head in front of Gloucester that day; SPs: 11/14

It seems to me that a number of them ‘outran their price’, though a couple did worse than expected based on the market.

Hurricane Fly’s Champion Hurdle chances

I backed Hurricane Fly earlier in the season for the Champion.  As I mention in my main Champion Hurdle Article, after seeing the way he finished last time out, I now suspect he will  not ‘get up the hill’ if the race is run at its usual hot pace.  But I’d never argue that this is because he is by Montjeu – there is simply no evidence for it.

I suspect what will scupper HF’s chances in the big one is that his killer acceleration can’t be sustained long enough on the climb to the post.  Many more ‘grinders’ win Champion Hurdles than turn-of-foot specialists.

I hope I’m wrong so I can collect on him and the Montjeu moaners can be silenced.

Montjeu’s record

Montjeu’s progeny have only a slightly better record on the flat than over jumps:

330 wins from 2571 flat races (13%)

153 wins over jumps, from 1235 races (12%)

He’s sired 45 Group winners and 39 Listed winners.  He himself won over £2.2m in total prize money.  Among his top class victories were an Arc on heavy ground and a King George on good to firm.

So, ignore the Montjeu naysayers, but don’t be surprised if Hurricane Fly doesn’t win at The Festival

Good luck and thanks for looking in.  You can follow me on twitter, if you care to, by clicking on the Twitter Updates section on the right.  Or click to join the mailing list and get new posts as they come in.


Just how effective are first time blinkers?


When I first got into racing in the late 1960s (under-age, sneaking into my local betting shop).  I used to be impressed by those punters who’d nod wisely and mutter under their breath “First time blinkers” and write the relevant runner on their slip.

FTB is one of those myths that is still given credence by many.  The theory is that connections have been ‘running it down the park’ to get a decent handicap mark and their excuse to the stewards when it sluices in at a fancy price will be “First time blinkers, sir.  Made such a big difference.  Wish we’d fitted them sooner.”

The reality is that the fitting of these ‘aids’ is often a last-ditch attempt to galvanise a useless horse.  Of course they work from time to time but when that happens, it’s usually with a pretty decent animal anyway.  Companero won yesterday’s Eider in FTB and although he is 11 years old, that was the 6th win in an 11-race-career under rules (he’d also won all three of his point to points).

David Pipe is a master when deciding a horse needs blinkers.  He’s picked up some big prizes with the likes of Comply Or Die, Our Vic and Tamarinbleu, among others.

Since January 1st 1996, until yesterday, flat and jumps, and all-weather, 17,344 horses have run in FTB:   1121 won , a strike rate of 6.5%.  £100 on each at Betfair odds (estimated Betfair odds where necessary) leaves a loss of £124,000.

Since starting training in 2006, David Pipe has sent out 106 runners over jumps in FTB: 16 won, a strike rate of 15.1%  £100 on each at Betfair odds would have brought you a profit of £7,022.

Thanks for looking in today



75% of runners pull up in today’s Eider – anyone like to take responsibility for the damage to racing’s image?

Today’s Eider Chase over 33 furlongs (6,638 metres) was the equine equivalent of  The Somme. Thankfully there were no fatalities other than racing’s image.

Nine of the twelve who set off through the mud, did not finish; 75% of the field pulled up.  The winner, Companero, and second, Giles Cross, didn’t jump the  last so much as scale it.  The third horse, Morgan Be, 188 lengths behind Giles Cross, actually stopped to rest before being asked to negotiate the final fence – for a prize of £2,760.

Clerk of the course James Armstrong : “I’d have to say, it wasn’t a nice race to watch. It didn’t look good. But what do you do? The Eider is a very tough race every year and this year we’ve got heavy ground, but although it’s heavy, it’s not unsafe ground. Anyone who rang me in the week with runners in the race were told what it would be like and the general response I was getting was that the more testing the better would suit them. Everyone who took part knew what it would be like.”

Italics are mine.  If indeed connections of all these horses knew what lay ahead, then the decision to run ought to be taken from their hands. Racing’s in poor enough shape without offering ammunition to its critics and slow motion horror videos to potential fans.  The Clerk and Stewards cannot simply wash their hands by passing responsibility to owners and trainers.

The racecourse executive have a vested financial interest in meetings going ahead.  To make a decision on the basis that the ground is ‘safe’ isn’t good enough.  Quicksand is deemed safe by many, so long as you don’t stand up in it.

I doubt either party – racecourse or connections – will step forward to take the blame and that crystallises one of racing’s main problems – the quick buck, the short term, the grab-what-you-can and to hell with the future.  Shameful and demoralising.

The Eider – ‘alternative’ stats – 7 winners from past 12 -ROI 246.5%

Results update:  Belon Gale pulled up:  Giles Cross finished an exhausted second at 9/2



I’m wary of many stats and trends because few give you a base to compare with.  You will read, for example, that Long Run cannot win the Gold Cup because 6-year-olds have a terrible record in it and no 6 year-old has won since Mill House in 1963.

What some won’t tell you is that only three 6-year-olds have run in the race since then which makes the ‘stat’ useless despite the fact that, on reading the ‘stat’, many will simply put a line through Long Run right away.

Stats are best used with care and from a foundation of full information about those who qualify to be included in the stat range – especially the losers.

Right, on to today’s Eider Chase at Newcastle.

The key stat here is that horses who have carried at least 5lbs more than the average weight for the race have a strong record.  After running various filters the best result comes from combining that information with the number of horses aged 8, 9 or 10 who’ve contested the past 12 runnings.

39 horses in these combined categories have taken part in the past 12 Eider Chases. £100 on each of them at Betfair odds would have cost you £3,900 in stakes and brought a profit, from 7 winners, of £5,714, a return on investment (ROI) of 246.5% (100% being break even).

A strong word of caution here – much of the profit was contributed by one winner, Thyne and Thyne Again in 2004 who returned a Betfair SP of 44.8. (28/1 SP).  Hence the reason that using any stats I publish should be looked at over the long term – they’ll offer some historical guidance for today’s race, but you will see that you’d have had 5 losing years among the 12 runnings based on these stats.

Without Average Weight Stat

Out of interest, removing that average weight stat and just using the age only basis of 8, 9 and 10 gives you the following:

122 bets: 10 winners: £484 profit at £100 stakes, an ROI of 104% – take out Thyne and Thyne Again from that and you have a substantial loss.

Anyway, today’s qualifiers are:

Belon Gale

Giles Cross

Good luck with your betting today and thanks for looking in