Robin Oakley

The turf | 11 May 2017

After several highly profitable years, we dipped last year, despite having many winners. I blame the miserable odds

The turf | 11 May 2017
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The longer Donald Trump sits there the better Ronald Reagan looks, not least because he had a sense of humour. The President who told his aides that he should always be woken in an emergency, even if he was in a cabinet meeting at the time, once declared that he wasn’t worried about the budget deficit: ‘It is big enough to take care of itself.’

There were moments during the jumping season just ended when our Twelve to Follow had me worrying about a significant budget deficit. Sad to say, after several highly profitable years, our Twelve to Follow this winter left us, on a £10 win stake for every run, with an overall loss of £22 compared with the previous year’s profit of £101. It wasn’t that we lacked winners: we had 12 victories from 42 runs, a pretty decent strike rate, and in 29 of their 42 races our selections made the frame. Nor were we unlucky with fallers: we had only two of those all season. The problem was that too many of the winners were at miserable prices: five of them starting at evens or odds-on. Only Modus, at 7–1, won at a proper working man’s price. I hadn’t realised there were so many heavy punters among Spectator readers…

Both Aintree my Dream (on one occasion by 37 lengths) and Cloudy Dream scored twice, and one of Cloudy Dream’s four seconds was to the mighty Altior in the Arkle. Cultivator, Itsafreebee, Ravenhill Road and Truckers Glory also won but our star was Fox Norton. Not only did he win the Schloer Chase at Cheltenham, the Melling Chase at Aintree and the Champion Chase at Punchestown, he lost by only a head to Special Tiara in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival. Since he was 7–1 that day, we were that close to another profitable season.

Looking for our Twelve for this year’s Flat, I had noted Sir Mark Prescott’s Marsha, winner of the Prix de l’Abbaye in France last autumn, as a sprinter to follow. I still hope she wins plenty of big races but after her remarkable victory in the Palace House Stakes at Newmarket on Guineas day, carrying a 7lb penalty that put her weight up to 9st 7lb, I have left her out because we will never see a fair price again. What makes her so good? Sir Mark was asked. ‘She goes so quick,’ he replied. Precisely. He is planning a bold course with her, believing that you can afford to be braver with fillies: ‘Fillies are remembered for their best performance. Colts are remembered for their worst. The moment they get beaten, their value plummets.’

So who does make the dozen? One of my earliest memos to self last season included the name of Hugo Palmer’s Escobar. He wasn’t ready for the 2000 Guineas won impressively by the hefty Churchill, but his trainer assured me at Newbury recently that he remains a serious prospect this season. You can always rely on Manton trainer Brian Meehan to place his horses well and he was pleased with how his International Law won a Bath maiden over a mile in April. He looks an improving sort who will stay further. Another early entry in my notebook was Ian Williams’s London Prize, who has won both on the Flat and over hurdles. His finish at Newcastle in February suggests that he should win a staying handicap or two.

There was plenty to learn from Marsha’s race at Newmarket. After they finished third, Goldream’s jockey Martin Harley reckoned Robert Cowell’s sprinter was back to his best after a disappointing 2016, but the one who caught my eye for the list was Tom Dascombe’s Kachy. Now a four-year-old, he was left with a lot to do after a poor start but ran on well. I like to have plenty of sprinters in the Twelve because we get more action that way and I shall include Kevin Ryan’s Brando for a second year. From the Ryan yard we should get some good middle-distance runs, too, from Syphax.

We must have a horse from Richard Fahey’s Malton winner factory where he reckons Ribchester the best he has ever trained. Godolphin’s Brian The Snail won’t be racing at exciting odds, so we may have more fun with the Shamardal gelding Nimr and with Garcia, a lightly raced son of Paco Boy. A Richard Hannon candidate is also a must: I liked the way his Giant’s Treasure, another Shamardal, won his maiden at Wolverhampton.

Atty Persse, trained by Roger Charlton and owned now by Godolphin, completed his task resolutely in the Esher Cup, and could step up in class, so he joins our list. Roger Varian at Newmarket has strength in depth but since his talented Barsanti may do some of his racing abroad I will include instead Morando, a winner at Ayr last September. Finally, I will take a chance that Absolute Blast, with second-season trainer Archie Watson, will prove as good on turf as she has been on the all-weather.