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The turf

The art of picking winners on the Flat

The beginning of the season is always tricky for punters, but there are helpful indicators if you know where to look

28 May 2016

9:00 AM

28 May 2016

9:00 AM

‘After a few decades of marriage a man ought to be able to recognise his own wife,’ Mrs Oakley observed a little tartly last Saturday when I picked her up post-Goodwood from Reading station after patrolling the concourse for 15 minutes. But if a woman buys herself a beanie to keep out the rain and buries herself behind A Month in the Country in the station café’s furthest corner he might be excused. Well, I thought so anyway.

It has been excuses all round this week with three of our Twelve to Follow running unplaced while Brando, She Is No Lady and Mecca’s Angel all occupied the dreaded second place. Mecca’s Angel was particularly unlucky, having been carried across the course by the swerving Profitable, but after 15 minutes deliberating the stewards let him keep the race.

It is always hard to find winners in the first few weeks of the season proper, by which I mean Flat racing after jumping’s Sandown finale. It takes time to determine whose horses are backward and which yards are running hot. All the more frustrating then that with Clive Cox’s yard going so well Kodi Bear flopped in the Lockinge. I shall keep the faith.


There can be helpful indicators. With top-class racing at the Curragh, Haydock, York and Newmarket too it was worth checking which trainers had bothered to turn up at Goodwood in the rain. They included Richard Hannon, constantly glancing at his dance card and dashing to a TV to watch his runners elsewhere, Roger Varian and Ralph Beckett. Hannon, who had two winners at Newmarket too, was beaming after his Oh This Is Us picked up £64,000 for winning the seven-furlong race for a City group who call themselves Team Wallop.

Nobody gets his two-year-olds ready to race more effectively than Richard Hannon, so we asked him then which of his two he fancied in the Fillies’ Novice Stakes, a race which Godolphin’s hot favourite Romantic View seemed sure to win. Richard gave Perdita the edge over Limelite which was handy for the forecast as the Hannon pair finished second and third to Romantic View at 9-2 and 12-1. Hannon then won the last, a three-year-old maiden fillies’ contest, with Out Of The Dark at 16-1.

Oh This Is Us, who has repaid his trainer’s patience after embarrassing him at Windsor on his first run for new owners, looks a really progressive type. He and Out Of The Dark were both ridden by Tom Marquand, the riding find of last season who just gets better and better. I would not, however, back him to follow up in this year’s apprentice championship. This intelligent young rider, as good in front of a microphone as he is in the saddle, is very much part of a team at Hannon’s and, just a dozen races away from losing his 3lb claim, he made it clear after the £100,000 handicap that this year’s plan is to put quality before quantity: ‘It would be fantastic to do it again, but we are focusing more on classier races rather than a massive number of races like last year when I would go to Chepstow for Class 7 races. It’s sensible to use my last few winners on bigger races as it is a vulnerable time.’

By playing it that way Tom hopes to pick up his share of some big prizes but he recognises that will mean choosing big meetings, where he might get only one or two rides, over the smaller tracks where he could pick up twice as many. Unlike the trainers’ championship, which is determined by the prize money won, the jockeys’ and apprentices’ championships are determined by the number of winners ridden, rewarding industry more than any other quality, and Tom Marquand already has one of those T-shirts. So who is the most likely successor? I would go for Eddie Greatrex, who was just 1/2l and a head behind Marquand in the big handicap. He is good value for the 5lbs he can still claim and has the advantage of being steered by top trainer and jockey tutor Andrew Balding. Young Greatrex is already a glamorous enough figure to be hauled out of the weighing room to have his photo taken with some of the most attractive fillies on the course. Two-legged ones.

Roger Varian’s presence was rewarded by seeing his Mount Logan win a Listed race over 1m 4f, which should put him in line for Royal Ascot, and Ralph Beckett was beaming in the rain after Kinema, a Galileo gelding previously with Alan Swinbank, squeezed through gutsily to win the 1m 6f Al Basti Equiworld Stakes in the hands of Pat Dobbs. We might see him in the Ebor in August.

I just had time before my assignation with the mystery woman in Reading to watch John Bridger’s Pettochside, backed from 5-1 to 9-4, make mincemeat of the others in the 6f sprint. Stick with him next time out.


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