Friday 3 December 2021

Sir Henry Cecil

Henry Cecil is one of the greatest British flat racing horse trainers in history. 

A 10-time Champion Trainer, he trained 25 Classic winners including four in The Derby, eight in The Oaks, six in the 1,000 Guineas, three in the 2,000 Guineas and four winners at St. Leger Stakes.

He was especially known for his success at The Oaks and 1,000 Guineas and as the master trainer at Royal Ascot, where he had 75 winners. 

Born in Scotland in 1943, Cecil began his career assisting at his stepfather, British flat racing Champion Trainer, Captain Cecil Boyd-Rochfort’s stable Freemason Lodge. In 1969 he obtained his training license and won his first English Classic, the 2,000 Guineas in 1975. A year later he took over the running of Warren Place in Newmarket, which quickly became known as the “most glamorous yard in Europe.” 

Noted for his flair in clothing, Cecil’s extraordinary career was marred by huge swings in fortune both and off the track. After a brief dip in success from 2000 to 2006, his career rebound with the training of Frankel. 

Described by Cecil as “the best horse I’ve ever seen,” Frankel was unbeaten in his fourteen-race career and was the highest-rated racehorse in the world from May 2011. His six Length victory in the 2,000 Guineas was called "one of the greatest displays on a British racecourse".

Knighted for services to horse racing in the queen’s 2011 Birthday Honors, Cecil died of stomach cancer age 70 in 2013 after a six-year battle.

Monday 28 June 2021

Dancing Brave

Dancing Brave, owned by Prince Khalid Abdulla and trained by Guy Harwood, was officially the second highest rated horse on the Flat since official international figures were first published in 1977. Only Frankel was rated higher and, even then, only after a “historical recalibration” of the rankings in 2013, which downgraded Dancing Brave from 141 to 138.

During his career, Dancing Brave won eight of his 10 races, including the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, the Eclipse Stakes at Sandown, the King George VI & Queen Elizabeth Stakes at Ascot and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe at Longchamp, and was named European Horse of the Year for 1986.

An unimposing son of Lyphard, Dancing Brave made his racecourse debut in the Dorking Stakes at Sandown in 1985, which he won convincingly. Guy Harwood later recalled, “[Stable jockey] Greville Starkey got off and said, ‘This horse is my Derby ride.’” Dancing Brave followed up, in similar style, in the Soham House Stakes at Newmarket, and went into winter quarters as favourite for the 2,000 Guineas.

On his reappearance, he started favourite for the Craven Stakes at Newmarket, which he won emphatically. On his return to Newmarket for the 2,000 Guineas, he came with a powerful run going down into ‘the Dip’ and quickened clear in the closing stages to beat Green Desert by 3 lengths, with jockey Greville Starkey looking around for non-existent dangers.

His subsequent defeat by Shahrastani in the Derby, in which Starkey gave him far too much to do, has been well chronicled elsewhere, but his finest hour came at Longchamp on October 5, 1986. Sent off favourite, once again, for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe, he was switched off at the rear of the field by Pat Eddery before being asked for maximum effort in the final furlong-and-a-half. Delivering his challenge wide, late and fast, Dancing Brave passed a dozen rivals – including Bering, Triptych and Sharastani – in the final furlong to win by 1½ lengths. Commentator Graham Goode said afterwards, “Pat Eddery has never ridden a better race.”

Monday 5 April 2021

Don't miss the 2021 Grand National!

Just my opinion of course, but last years 'Virtual Grand National' was virtually unwatchable. There is something about actually watching the cream of the crop of racing, and all of the emotion and effort that's poured into that one moment, that is missing from a parade of pixels. Even in this age of gaming, I'm not convinced that many thought that it in any way compared to the real thing.

This year we have an especially short favourite, the Jonjo O'Neill trained Cloth Cap. It makes for an interesting scenario as the racing public appear to have gone 'all in' in a race that can throw up more surprises than just about any other. Still, it's interesting to have these 'narratives' writing themselves as it creates quite the story no matter the outcome.

As with all Grand Nationals, millions will be tuning in at home, but sadly on this occasion crowds will be absent. We can only hope that next year more normality has returned, while simultaneously counting our blessings for how far we've come this year. In preparation for the Grand National Betway present a short, yet absorbing segment on women jockeys trials and tribulations in the race.

Monday 15 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021 Quiz

If there's one event on the racing calendar that I'd be sorry to miss, it just has to be the Cheltenham Festival. With so much history wrapped around this jewel in the national hunt crown, and it being a gathering point for the top horses, jockeys, trainers and owners around; we can safely call it an unmissable event. The likes of A Plus Tard, Al Boum Photo and Native River will all be part of the action this year. To celebrate this unrivalled Festival of racing, it's time to switch it up with an entertaining Betway Horse Racing  quiz featuring Richard Hoiles and members of the West Ham team. Let's see how much they know about racing!

Tuesday 2 March 2021

Al Boum Photo: Dual Gold Cup Winner in Profile

Irish trainer Willie Mullins has had plenty of luck with French-bred horses. A regular to France on scouting missions, Mullins has been part of lots of deals for French imports to train at his Closutton operation. It has clearly been a fruitful enterprise for Mullins, with the likes of six-time Cheltenham Festival winner Quevega, Arkle winner Douvan and Ryanair Chase winner Un De Sceaux heading from France to Ireland, and, ultimately, success at Cheltenham. You can add many others – Vroum Vroum Mag, Vautour, Min – to that list. The Racing Post terms it a “pipeline of success flowing between Chantilly and Clossuton.”.

But if you weigh up the recent Cheltenham Festival race results, you’d have to say that Al Boum Photo tops the lot of Mullins’ French-bred superstars. A two-time winner of the Gold Cup, and the hot-favourite for his third in just under two weeks’ time, Al Boum Photo could even eclipse Quevega as Mullins’ best French discovery.

However, Al Boum Photo is a curious horse. He is superb, of course – you can’t win two Gold Cups without being special. But he perhaps does not get the respect afforded to others who join him on the list as multiple Gold Cup winners. For instance, even though he might go one better than Kauto Star this year, there are few who rate Al Boum Photo ahead of Paul Nicholls’ beloved two-time Gold Cup winner.

Al Boum Photo is lightly raced

So why the low-key profile? Perhaps it’s down to how lightly-raced Al Boum Photo has been over the last few years. Kauto Star, for instance, was also a five-time King George VI Chase winner, whereas Al Boum Photo has never appeared in the race. In fact, you rarely see Al Boum Photo at all. He has run just four races since winning his first Gold Cup in 2019, including the 2020 renewal.

Mullins tends to take him out for the Savills Chase each January, a Grade 3 in Tramore that acts as little more than a workout for Al Boum Photo. The trainer then puts him away until Cheltenham, where he is fresh for his tilt at the big one.

Townend rode horse to first Gold Cup success

And that probably gets to the heart of Al Boum Photo and his reputation. His career was fine before the Gold Cup win in 2019. He had appeared at Cheltenham before, falling in the RSA Novices’ Chase in 2018 with Ruby Walsh in the saddle. Walsh, DJ Mullins and Paul Townend all rode him throughout 2017 and 2018, picking up a couple of Grade 1s in Ireland. But the constant changing of jockey suggested that he wasn’t the pick of Mullins’ stable at that time.

While the 2019 Gold Cup win under Townend wasn’t a shock – the horse had an SP of 12/1 – it was still a mild surprise. Al Boum Photo hasn’t looked back since. But he is perhaps beneficiary of Mullins’ nous as much as his own talent. You get the sense that Mullins has promised his owners that he will deliver Gold Cups, and little else manners. He is playing the percentage game.

Al Boum Photo’s reputation will perhaps not be helped by the fact that there is a lot of question marks over the field at this year’s Gold Cup. Many of the established horses, like Santini and Lostintranslation, have been in a terrible run of form. The likes of Royal Pagaille and A Plus Tard are untested at this level. So, if he wins, he’ll be a hat-trick hero, a history-maker. But the sense is that he won’t be venerated alongside the likes of Arkle, Best Mate and Kauto Star.