Those of us who occasionally advocate the hazarding of money on horses have to live with a little scepticism, too. In fact, those of us who live with Mrs Oakley (actually, it’s only me) have to live with a lot of it. If I were to give up punting, she believes, we could live on Meursault rather than Merlot. There she is wrong. At the price you pay for Meursault these days we only drink it when I have some mad money from a decent win.
But this summer Mrs Oakley was neither right nor wrong about my tipping. Our Twelve to Follow ran in 42 races between them, securing nine victories, three seconds and six third places. And the effect of putting £10 on the nose all round? Absolutely nil, nada, zilch. No loss, no gain. We came out pretty well dead even. Well, that is provided you assume, reasonably, that in the two races in which two of our selections (Triple Aspect and Total Gallery) clashed there would have been only one bet selected.
We had our moments. A nice win for Godolphin’s Whispering Gallery at 14–1 helped the total, and Jane Chapple-Hyam’s Klammer won three times at 6–4, 5–2 and 6–1. Triple Aspect, who won twice, was very unlucky on another occasion. He was moving up threateningly when his saddle slipped and deposited his jockey on the turf. ‘Unseated rider’ is not a hazard you expect during the Flat season. And then there was Dandy Nicholls’s Xilerator. A 14–1 shot, he was just beaten into second place on his only appearance and will be worth watching next season.
But, if we didn’t make a profit on the horses, I hope a few readers did take note of the column in May that I devoted to the jockeys’ championship. All the rage then was for Ryan Moore, Kieren Fallon and perhaps the emerging young star William Buick. But I pointed out that, freed from his Khalid Abdullah retainer, the 14–1 shot Richard Hughes would be in his best position ever for a challenge, while the 20–1 against northern rider Paul Hanagan’s chance was well worth a look. For the past six weeks we have had a totally thrilling tussle for the championship between Hanagan and Hughes, a tussle conducted with a generosity of spirit on both sides which few sports could equal and in which Hanagan beat Hughes by just two winners. Mrs Oakley’s case of Meursault has been ordered.
So now for the winter dozen. Not champions necessarily but a dozen mixed between hurdlers and chasers, novices and handicappers that should give us some varied fun. I have avoided obvious choices from well-known yards such as those of Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson simply because their prices tend to be cramped, and since I recently spent some time in Ireland researching a book on the Cheltenham Festival I have a few more Irish candidates than usual.
The wise Willie Mullins told me, incidentally, that he was glad to get rid of gambling owners. ‘You don’t want a juvenile hurdler running a promising third, something to be pleased about, and then having an owner whingeing because he’s a bookie’s ticket burning his arse pocket because he’s had £10,000 on.’ He made the good point, too: ‘Trainers who get into gambling never bring their horses to their true potential. They start deviating from the right route, aiming more at bookies’ satchels, running in the wrong races. What’s worse is that horses that have been stopped get confused about what they are there to do and may take two or three runs to recover.’
The one I select from his outstanding team is Zaidpour, who won on the Flat for Alain de Royer-Dupré. Irish trainer Gordon Elliott has moved up smartly from raids on small Scottish tracks to good Cheltenham winners so I include his Steps to Freedom, and Jessica Harrington’s Summit Meeting looked nice in light work. Edward O’Grady expected Shot From The Hip to win at Cheltenham last year but was forced to run him too close to the Festival. Try him again and his novice chaser Arvika Ligeonnaire. From Wales, I stick with Evan Williams’s Phidippides, who cut into himself when carrying my biggest bet of last season at Aintree, and Tim Vaughan’s impressive juvenile hurdler Architrave.
From Donald McCain, the north’s new force in racing with fabulous horses like Overturn and Peddler’s Cross, I go for the staying chaser Fabalu. From Colin Tizzard in the West Country, I have hopes for Coup Royale and Third Intention, and with Philip Hobbs’s stable in irresistible form I like Dare Me over hurdles and the novice chaser Wishful Thinking.
The Meursault is on you, chaps.