Sire De Grugy to put brakes on the Mullins juggernaut
A bloke by the name of Bret Harte, not to be confused with the Canadian professional wrestler of a similar name, wrote a number of novels and short stories concerning gamblers and gold seekers during the California Gold Rush in the mid 1800s.
Perhaps one of the best known Harte quotes comes from a story called The Outcasts of Poker Flat (1869) in which one of his characters states that, "The only sure thing about luck is that it will change".
Other than a paltry few euro returned on the place portion of an each-way bet, this corner drew a blank last week so I hope Harte's prediction comes true for me sooner rather than later - although the quality of racing itself was rather poor so I was half expecting a difficult time.
I'm not one for making excuses but January can be a tough month for betting and one or two professionals that I know actually take the month off.
Along with the changeable weather and cancelled meetings, quite a number of horses have their prep run for Cheltenham during this month and the difficulties punters face at this time of the year is borne out in the stats.
As an indicator of how well or otherwise the betting public are performing against the bookmakers, we can look at the favourite - and ordinarily, blindly backing the jumps jolly shows a return on investment of minus 7%, which means that for every euro you place at SP, you can expect to lose seven cent on average.
It just goes to show how tough this game can be at the best of times but in the month of January, the return on investment is minus 11% which is a big difference.
On the flip side, those that like to lay favourites on the exchanges would have shown a profit of 58 points after commission to Betfair SP, had they opposed every January jumps favourite since 2009.
My biggest bet last week, De Kerry Man, went off at 15/2 in the Betfred Classic Chase and my heart was racing as he got into contention a few fences out, hitting 11/10 in-running.
I'd managed to get €75 on each-way at 11/1 in the early markets which would have returned over a grand for a win and even a place wouldn't have been too bad.
But he began to tire quickly leading to a mistake - and not for the first time with this horse, jockey Jake Hodson landed in the mud.
It pretty much summarised my day but, as mentioned before in this column, the form stands up better in higher quality contests and thankfully we've no fewer than seven graded races to consider this afternoon.
We could argue about how one defines an exceptional horse but in my book, a chaser rated 165 or higher falls into that category and I always consider having a decent-sized bet on such horses even though the odds are often short.
Both Un De Sceaux and Sire De Grugy are above that level in the Grade One Sodexo Clarence House Chase at Ascot (3.0) but priced in the region of 4/7 and 5/2 respectively, Sire De Grugy gets the vote over Willie Mullins' Arkle winner.
Now aged ten, Gary Moore's chestnut gelding looked back to his old best when winning the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown at the expense of Special Tiara.
I backed Special Tiara on that occasion and I must admit that I'd underestimated the winner based on a relatively poor season but he's become the comeback kid of sorts, and got close to beating Sprinter Sacre in the Desert Orchid Chase over the Christmas at Kempton.
Who knows what would have happened had he not made a mistake at the last and it's interesting to see that he hit 1/50 in-running on the machine.
It was disappointing to see Un De Sceaux fall on the same day in a Grade One at Leopardstown but he remains one of the best around in this division and if both horses stay up, we could be in for a cracking race this afternoon.
Earlier on at Haydock, Otago Trail has strong claims at 15/8 or thereabouts in the The Altcar Novices' Chase (1.30).
Trained by Venetia Williams, the eight-year-old was useful over hurdles but looks a good chaser in the making, winning handicaps at Exeter and Chepstow in his latest two runs. He loves the mud so heavy ground is a big plus.
At Leopardstown tomorrow, Douvan is forecasted to go off at 1/12 in the Arkle Novice Chase and Faugheen is 4/11 for the Irish Champion Hurdle so both are races best watched without a bet.
Generally speaking, I haven't really agreed with those who complain about Mullins' dominance of the sport in this country and he can't be criticised for simply doing a fantastic job - but I suppose this type of thing makes you wonder a little.
While we all love watching top-quality animals, it's almost impossible to be interested in the two big races on tomorrow's card betting wise - and that's got to be a worry for a number of parties including the bookmakers and the organisers. Then again, Mullins raises the bar for everyone on both sides of the Irish Sea and I suppose it's a good complaint that the best horses around are Irish.
The Sue Smith-trained Cloudy Too ticks all the right boxes in this afternoon's Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock (3.15). Based in West Yorkshire, Smith has a great record in this with two winners and a number of places - and this year's representative will love the heavy ground.
Her charge is also familiar with the course with one win and three places to his credit from four chase runs here. He was third to Seventh Sky and Spookydooky in the Tommy Whittle Handicap here last time but he's down 1lb to 137 which seems quite fair. A racing weight of 10st 4lbs should leave him with a little extra in the tank now back up at three miles.
1.30 Haydock: Otago Trail
1.50 Ascot: Aurore D'estruval
2.05 Haydock: Le Prezien
2.25 Ascot: Ebony Express (e/w)
3.0 Ascot: Sire De Grugy
3.15 Haydock: Cloudy Too (e/w)
Do the double
Racing: Priced 10/11 yesterday evening, Le Prezien will be hard to beat in the Sky Bet Supreme Trial Novices' Hurdle at Haydock (2.05). Trained by Paul Nicholls, the French import looked very smart when winning a Novice Hurdle at Doncaster, and with a couple of pounds in hand on ratings, he can handle the step up in class.
Soccer: With 43 goals scored, Manchester City have hit the back of the net more times than any other side this term and the 8/11 about a Sky Blues win over West Ham makes good appeal. The Hammers are in good form of late but last week's loss to a relegation-threatened Newcastle was a blow to Slaven Bilic's men and their confidence will have taken a dent.