When Theresa May came to power the Turf community was full of hope. Had she not been, if only briefly and in partnership, a racehorse-owner herself? Perhaps, then, she might revive the question Margaret Thatcher used to put to her ministers about any intended senior appointment in Whitehall: ‘One of us?’ Sadly, those early hopes are evaporating fast. It is not just that the pound’s collapse since she confirmed that Brexit means Brexit has given foreign owners a 20 per cent advantage at the bloodstock sales. It is fear of the government’s puritanical streak, a streak that has led to a new gambling review and the suggestion that ministers are minded to ban advertisements for gambling before 9 p.m.
Racing depends on gambling, as the Conservative home secretary Rab Butler recognised when he legalised betting shops in the 1960s, and nowadays it depends on TV to build the racing and betting audience. Without the income stream available from bookmakers’ advertising, commercial television will soon lose the appetite for broadcasting racing and racing’s own income will rapidly diminish. To misquote Macaulay, there is no spectacle quite so depressing as the government in one of its periodic fits of morality. To quote him correctly, we should remember his dictum: ‘The Puritan hated bear-baiting not because it gave pain to the bear but because it gave pleasure to the spectators.’
My own efforts to encourage gambling with our twice-yearly Twelve to Follow have brought happy results in recent years. Last winter’s Twelve to Follow brought us a profit of £101 on a £10 level stake to win. The previous summer’s return was a jolly £328. This summer has been a little leaner. Backing only one where our selections clashed we had an interest in 36 races and ended with a profit of £38, although if Ralph Beckett’s She Is No Lady had not lost by a short head at Sandown at 9–1 that figure would have improved significantly. Of our nine victories the most lucrative was Brando’s 11–1 success in the Ayr Gold Cup. Mecca’s Angel produced the run of her life to win another Nunthorpe Stakes from Limato. She won twice, as did Brando, She Is No Lady and Great Order.
So now for another jumping season. We must have candidates from Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson and I was intrigued to see owner J.P. McManus and Sir Anthony McCoy at Ascot the other day to watch the Nicholls-trained Modus, who had run poorly on his last two outings last season. Sure enough, the money came for him and he stormed up from the rear to be a close-up third. The same day Nicky’s Cultivator, winner of the bumper on the same card in 2015, scored a smoothly professional victory over hurdles confirming to Malcolm Timmins and friends that the fun won’t stop with Bob Worth’s retirement.
The coming force is obviously Dan Skelton. Skelton’s Robin Roe was highly impressive at Aintree but for the Twelve I will select his novice chaser Itsafreebee and his novice hurdler Aintree My Dream. Having already won a point-to-point and a bumper, the latter won his first contest with ease. My two trainers to watch this year are Neil Mulholland and Rebecca Curtis: Mulholland’s Fox Norton looked a future star in winning the Randox Health Handicap Chase at Cheltenham but I am including, too, his mare Indian Stream along with Rebecca Curtis’s Truckers Glory, an impressive winner at Ffos Las last month.
In the north Malcolm Jefferson’s horses have been on fine form. His Black Ivory impressed in a maiden hurdle at Hexham but I will include instead his Cloudy Dream, winner there of a beginners’ chase.
Gary Moore is not one to over-promote his horses. Indeed before Antony ran in the Sodexo Gold Cup at Ascot the other day he declared that neither he nor the handicapper had been impressed with his previous run. After Antony’s fluent victory, son Jamie, who rode him, was talking of Antony as his future Grand National horse. The handicapper may not be kind after that performance but let us include him in the hope of a little divine intervention — appropriately for us punters one of his owners is a vicar, who weaves her sermons around St Anthony, the patron saint of lost causes.
I have always liked Philip Hobbs’s Rock The Kasbah, who made an impressive start over fences, but won’t include him because his form tailed off in the spring last season. He’ll win races, too, with the J.P. McManus-owned Defi du Seuil but we are likely to get a better price if we choose as our Hobbs horse Roll The Dough. Recovered from a cracked pelvis, he jumped well in his first chase. For the final pair I shall nominate horses from slightly less fashionable yards in the hope that they creep under the bookmakers’ radar. David Bridgwater’s Accord showed up well on his Cheltenham debut and Brian Ellison’s Ravenhill Road, a £100,000 purchase after winning an Irish point, coasted to victory in a Market Rasen bumper.