Horse racing

The best books about horse racing to buy now

‘There are just not enough horses’ heads looking out of the boxes,’ said William Jarvis as he ended a 140-year-old family dynasty training in Newmarket. We are losing too many like him. But racing has surmounted previous downturns as a remarkable new book reminds us. George Stubbs is credited as the first great equestrian artist to present galloping horses correctly, with all four feet off the ground rather than splayed out like rocking horses, but James Seymour – to my eye an equally talented artist – had at least experimented with the idea. After a decade of painstaking research, Richard Wills has produced in the sumptuously illustrated James Seymour (Pallas

How sport helped shape the British character

Faith in state planning was central to Harold Wilson’s pledge to modernise Britain. It was his rhetorical vision of a country guided by strategic foresight and ‘forged in the white heat of technology’ that helped him win the 1964 election. But Wilson also displayed the same attachment to planning in his personal life. Back in 1934 he joined the Port Sunlight tennis club, not because he was interested in the sport but because he felt it would provide the right environment to approach one of its young female members, a shorthand-typist called Gladys Baldwin. Unlike his ‘white heat’ agenda, the policy worked. After a lengthy courtship, during which Gladys dropped

Life was simple when we had just a tent in the bush

Laikipia, Kenya Twenty years ago, we pitched a tent in the wilderness which became the farm where we live now. We were starting from scratch. At twilight we saw a low, silver mist descend into the trees, making halos around the distant giraffe and elephant, and settling into the grass. The constellations came out, the moon in its phases, with meteorite showers. There were no electric lights, nor any sounds outside camp apart from wild creatures. In our early days, drought made the land bare and silent. Dust devils coiled across the plains. One night, we woke to hear an army beating spears against shields. The breeze brought the first

The murky world of bloodstock agents

Top owners are quitting horse racing because bookmakers nervous of a government and a Gambling Commission that know remarkably little about the horse-racing industry and ignore even the modicum they do know are making it harder and harder for them to have a significant bet, closing the accounts of those who refuse to acquiesce to ever more intrusive demands about their personal finances. The biggest bets, though, are made without interference from officialdom by those who buy unridden, untested and expensive racehorses before they ever set foot on a racecourse purely on their looks and their breeding. Some 12,000 thoroughbreds are born each year in Britain and Ireland and at

Tom Marquand was the star of Goodwood

On no course in Britain does jockeyship count for more than at undulating, tricksy Goodwood and although Frankie Dettori was able, on his final appearance there, to treat the expectant crowd to a couple of flying dismounts after victories on Epictetus and Kinross, the week’s top rider was clearly Tom Marquand. One racing sage told me during the week, ‘Racing will desperately need another Frankie to engage the public’s attention’ – and when I proffered Tom and his wife Hollie Doyle as a twosome who could do so together, the rejoinder was: ‘Of course Tom’s got the ability but he’s just too nice.’ He meant that you simply couldn’t imagine

Relief Rally put the Ascot heartbreak behind her at Newbury

‘God it’s hot,’ said a Newbury waitress escaping into the lift from rain-soaked crowds jostling in the bars last Saturday. ‘Yes,’ I agreed. ‘It’s steaming.’ ‘Oh no,’ she replied. ‘That’s just the ladies waiting for Tom Jones,’ and the veteran Welsh warbler was indeed scheduled to be the after-racing entertainment. The race is framed to give some comparatively cheaper horsesthe chance of a good payday People go racing for different reasons and for punters one significant clue on Weatherby’s Super Sprint Day was the presence of trainer William Haggas. An invariably courteous interviewee when he is on the premises, the Newmarket maestro is by his own admission not one of

Three tips for the big weekend handicaps

The two big handicaps tomorrow are the bet365 Bunbury Cup at Newmarket and the John Smith’s Cup at York. Both are early closing races in which the weights were framed by the official handicapper several weeks ago. This means several horses in both races are ‘well in’, in that if the handicapper was in a position to evaluate their most recent runs – after he set the weights – they would be carrying several pounds more tomorrow. However, the most difficult issue to factor into which horses to tip today is undoubtedly the weather: both Newmarket and York are forecast to have large amounts of rain which could make the

A second tip for the Northumberland Plate

When I put up Zoffee at 20-1 for the Jenningsbet Northumberland Plate six weeks ago, I said that I was hoping he would swerve the big staying handicaps at Royal Ascot. I had suspected trainer Hugo Palmer wanted to keep his horse fresh for tomorrow’s target which has a first prize of more than £80,000. Sadly, the temptation to dress up in top hat and tails was too hard to resist for his owners and the seven-year-old gelding lined up in the Ascot Stakes, running well despite a poor passage and an average ride to be sixth behind Ahorsewithnoname. That race over a marathon trip was only ten days ago

Two tips for the Epsom Derby

It is usually the Grand National at Aintree that throws up a delightful human interest story for the media to relish. Think Devon Loch throwing away the race when poised to win for the Queen Mother in 1956, Foinavon’s 100-1 victory in 1967, Red Rum winning his third National in 1977 and former crock Aldaniti and cancer-suffering jockey Bob Champion’s triumph in 1981. I could go on and on…but I won’t. Tomorrow I am hoping that it is the turn of the Betfred Derby (Epsom 1.30 p.m.) to produce a story to tug at the heartstrings when two horses, which I believe represent the best bets in the race, would

The science of horse racing

Everybody in racing is looking for an edge. With 7-4 the field, the punter is looking for a 2-1. The racecourse executive wonders which pop group will add 4,000 to the gate if booked for after-racing entertainment. The jockey on a confirmed front runner plans to slip the field out of the stalls. Trainers all seek an extra ingredient to help win them races consistently. At Sarsen Farm, a state-of-the-art new yard in Upper Lambourn built on the site of what was once a decrepit farmhouse then a Jockey Club tractor depot, Daniel and Claire Kubler are hoping that what a famous if ungrammatical advertisement for white goods used to

The dark side of racing: Kick the Latch, by Kathryn Scanlan, reviewed

Kathryn Scanlan’s second novel Kick the Latch is adapted from the transcript of an interview with a family friend in her native Iowa. Its narrator, Sonia, looks back on her years as a racetrack hand in a series of vignettes. She recounts run-ins with violent men, a freak accident that put her in a coma, and interactions with assorted rural eccentrics, such as Bicycle Jenny, a notoriously pongy gardener who owns 70 chihuahuas, and Johnny Block, who keeps a pet crow and ‘some ferrets’. Animals ran amok on the trailer parks where she lived: ‘As soon as you stepped out your door the goose would come and – bam! –

A 6-1 tip for the Temple Stakes

James Tate is an accomplished young trainer who has won several top races in his time but landing a Group 1 contest is still missing from his CV. That will undoubtedly change at some point and the horse currently in his care most likely to achieve it for him is ROYAL ACCLAIM. Aged four, this likeable filly has only had five races in her career, which means there is still plenty of scope for improvement – particularly as the Newmarket handler has been patient with her to date. Tomorrow (Haydock 3.30 p.m.) Royal Acclaim will line up for the competitive Group 2 Betfred Temple Stakes. I am usually loath to tip horses which

My summer Twelve to Follow

Usually in May I am still casting an enviously nostalgic eye backwards to Aintree and Cheltenham, reluctant yet to pack away my stouter shoes and rainproof Barbour. This year it is different: I have rarely looked forward more to the Flat. It all began with two glorious races for the Guineas. Rock-star wrinklies make farewell tours an annual event, but this really is to be Frankie Dettori’s last year in the saddle and in this year’s 2000 his victory on Chaldean was a perfect reminder of his skills. Andrew Balding, scoring his second training success in the race in four years with the first horse sent to him by Juddmonte,

A 17/2 tip for the 2000 Guineas at Newmarket

Master trainer Aidan O’Brien provides a quandary for punters by sending over two very different horses from Ireland to contest tomorrow’s Qipco 2000 Guineas Stakes. Little Big Bear is officially the highest rated horse in the race (Newmarket 4.40 p.m.) after four impressive wins last season but he has never raced over further than six and a half furlongs. He may well not stay the one-mile distance of tomorrow’s contest over Newmarket’s demanding straight course. Auguste Rodin, on the other hand, is already tried and tested over a mile with two of his three wins last season coming over that trip, one on soft ground and the other on heavy.

A 100-1 shot for the Grand National

My late father, who was the kindest man I have ever encountered, introduced me to horse racing when I was a small boy. Although he died all of 33 years ago, I still remember his advice to me when betting on the world’s most famous horse race: ‘The best form for the Grand National is… the Grand National.’ He was convinced that very few horses were capable of both jumping the unique Aintree brush fences and truly staying the marathon trip, which is now 4 miles 2 and a half furlongs. So he concentrated his bets on horses that had done well in the race the year before. A few

A 16-1 wager for the Irish Grand National

The new flat season and the Pertemps Network Lincoln at Doncaster (tomorrow 3.35 p.m.) will dominate the racing pages this weekend, and rightly so. The bookmakers have the correct horses at the head of the market for the Lincoln: two improving four-year-olds, Al Mubhir and Awaal, but both at cramped odds. I largely stay clear of betting on the flat for the first month of the season because it is hard to know which horses are fit and which are not after their winter break. If I was forced to have a bet, it would be an each-way play, many places, on Charlie Fellowes’s Atrium, another four-year-old improver who has

A 14-1 tip for a handicap on day two of the Cheltenham Festival

The big race on day two of the Cheltenham Festival tomorrow is the Grade 1 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.30pm). This will decide which horse in Britain and Ireland is the best chaser over a distance of two miles.  The first three home in the Albert Bartlett Clarence House Chase, run at Cheltenham in January,reoppose each other tomorrow. Editeur du Gite caused something of an upset that day, winning from Edwardstone and Energumene. Yet, I can’t believe the Willie Mullins horse, Energumene, was at his best on that occasion and I’d fancy him to win tomorrow if he shows his best form. However, especially as there are four other runners with chances, odds of around 7/4 are easy to resist. Instead, I am happy just to watch an enjoy

A 22-1 tip for day one of the Cheltenham Festival

Few people enjoy the thrill of a winning punt more than me but there are times when betting becomes (almost) irrelevant. Tomorrow at 3.30 p.m. will be one of them. That’s when seven runners will line up for the Unibet Champion Hurdle, the first championship race of this week’s four-day Cheltenham Festival. I will be at the course to see what I expect to be a hurdling masterclass from Constitution Hill, Nicky Henderson’s vastly-talented six-year-old gelding and the odds-on favourite for the Grade 1 showpiece. To date his racecourse record is flawless: five wins from five races including victory in the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle at this meeting a

In defence of having a flutter

It was the end of May 1983, half term week. I was meant to be revising for my O-levels, which were to begin the following Monday, but instead was mooching around town, a teenager ready to be led astray. And when I bumped into a couple of similarly unfocused classmates, that’s exactly what happened.  Instead of studying, they’d been seduced by gambling – specifically, betting on the horses. And now they were trying to seduce me. ‘You’ll love it,’ I was promised as they led me into a Ladbrokes, where the air was thick with fag smoke and booming with racetrack commentary.  They explained the procedure to me – the

One more to back at Cheltenham – and three other big-priced tips after a 16-1 winner

With the start of the Cheltenham Festival just four days away, I am pleased to say that this column’s antepost book for the meeting is looking decidedly healthy. It can all go badly wrong, of course, over the space of four days but, for now at least, let’s live in hope. Over the past couple of months, I have put up 12 Festival bets and, particularly for the first two days, most of those horses are now being offered at significantly shorter odds by all bookmakers. With more rain falling than was expected this week – and with more to come – this will inevitably suit some horses that I