Overturn can light up Ascot
BACK in the 1920s, one of the most popular fairground games in America was the 'strongman' test. A large mallet would be handed to the participant and he would use it to whack a level as hard as he could.
When the level was hit, a puck would rise up and measure the man's strength. If he hit it hard enough, the puck would strike a bell at the top, at which point he won the prize -- usually a cigar.
"Give that man a cigar," was shouted loudly when they had a winner, while "close, but no cigar" was a common phrase used for those who missed out on the prize. The latter phrase lives on and it was a case of just that for me last week when my first selection at Lingfield, Frog Hollow, was beaten at 2/1 by a head, despite travelling strongly.
I was keeping an eye on the betting in-running and when he hit 1/5 I already had the money spent in my head. But 1/5 shots can, and do, get beaten all the time and his loss set the tone for what turned out to be a pretty unlucky weekend of punting.
As I sat glumly over a pint that evening, the missus was all chat about Christmas presents, oblivious to the roller-coaster of emotions I'd experienced earlier.
It's a tough old business but you've got to take the bad days with the good and, with five weeks to go until Christmas Eve and Michael Buble turning on the lights in Grafton Street last night, I'm determined to get a few decent wins under the belt to boost the festive coffers.
Hopefully, Overturn can help me out on that front in the Grade Two Coral Hurdle at Ascot (2.45).
His owners must be delighted with the gelding as he's one of the most versatile horses in training. He won the Galway Hurdle in 2010, the Chester Cup in May and also took a high quality handicap hurdle last time out at Perth. He's yet to try 2m3f, but he travels well around the two-mile circuits and often looks like he could go further.
The front-running seven-year-old will like the ground and I was pleasantly surprised to see the bookmakers go 11/4 in yesterday's early trade.
Oscar Whisky will be hard to beat, though, and with successes in the Aintree Hurdle and the Welsh Champion Hurdle, it's hard to pick holes in his form.
Third place in the Cheltenham Champion Hurdle was a lot better than the selection's showing in seventh, although today's odds of evens are poor, considering he carries a penalty.
On the all-weather at Lingfield, Blanc de Chine is worth a punt at around 11/8 in the British Stallion Studs EBF Maiden Stakes (12.10). She has three ducks next to her name but was unlucky in her latest start when beaten by a short head by Sandfrankskipsgo at Windsor.
She hasn't raced on an artificial surface before, but by my reckoning she has a couple of pounds in hand, which should get her off the mark today.
AT 25/1, Quartz De Thaix is somewhat overlooked in the betting for the 'Fixed Brush' Handicap Hurdle at Haydock (2.30).
Venetia Williams' dual-purpose gelding has had some problems jumping fences in the past but is respected over sticks and can improve on his latest outing at Exeter.
Previously, he was pulled up on his reappearance at Wetherby but he was never travelling well and I wouldn't worry too much about that blip. His early odds look generous and I wouldn't be surprised to see him fight it out for minor honours.
12.10 Lingfield: Blanc De Chine
2.30 Haydock: Quartz De Thaix (e/w)
2.45 Ascot: Overturn
3.05 Haydock: Long Run