My top tips for the racing season

The cockerels of jump racing had better look out: the Hen is back. At 76, Henrietta Knight, whose feat of training Best Mate to win three consecutive Cheltenham Gold Cups will probably never be equalled, is to renew the licence she relinquished 11 years ago to care for her late husband, Terry Biddlecombe. Racing fans will be delighted; perhaps a few of the 27 trainers interviewed in depth by a ‘retired’ Henrietta for her revealing book The Jumping Game: How National Hunt Trainers Work and What Makes Them Tick slightly less so. Henrietta, who has continued pre-training and advising owners looking for future stars, is known as the best judge

The fight over jockey saunas is heating up

When the nine equine athletes involved in the seven-furlong contest for Newbury’s Saturday highlight, the Group Two BetVictor Hungerford Stakes, strolled around the parade ring there was nowhere else in the world I would have preferred to be. As the sun gleamed off perfectly burnished coats and perfectly toned muscles rippled in sturdy hindquarters I wanted every one of them gift-wrapped and delivered to a paddock behind my garden. The classy Chindit, a Wootton Bassett colt trained by Richard Hannon, looked glorious. His stable companion Witch Hunter, sired like this year’s wonder-horse Paddington by Siyouni, gazed intelligently around him. Spain had a rare representative in the Lope de Vega colt

Has gambling become the great British addiction?

When I was 14 my father took me to a bookmaker’s and encouraged me to place a bet. He wanted to show me the futility of gambling, I think. Big mistake. I picked a horse called Maroof at 66/1 in the Queen Elizabeth II stakes at Ascot. My father put on 50p each way. Maroof romped to victory, no problem. ‘I think I’ve just ruined your character,’ said my father, not entirely joking, as he handed over the winnings. He had. I’ll forever associate betting with that triumph – the rush of joy I felt jumping up and down on the cruddy red carpet surrounded by Irish drunks and cigarette

Clash of the two-mile titans

The engine wasn’t what it was, they said. At ten years old the spark that had once made him a champion was flickering only intermittently at best. The fire in his belly had gone out. There had been five runs since his last victory and when Paisley Park, a horse who once nearly died of colic, whipped round at the start of Cheltenham’s Cleeve Hurdle last Saturday and gave his four top-class rivals a start of some 15 lengths it seemed all over. Ruby Walsh, the greatest Cheltenham jockey of them all, was watching for ITV. Asked if he would now persevere on Paisley Park he replied: ‘No, you don’t.

The rise of the long-odds winners

Seen any groundhogs your way? In racing the New Year began much as the old one had ended. At Cheltenham’s New Year’s Day fixture, the Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle feature race ended with Danny Mullins driving to victory Stormy Ireland, a horse trained across the water by his uncle Willie Mullins, after their only serious rival Brewin’upastorm had fallen at the last. Six days earlier, at Kempton Park on Boxing Day, it had been the same story with Tornado Flyer, ridden by Danny and trained by Willie, capturing the £142,000 prize for the celebrated King George VI Chase after his closest rival had capsized at the final obstacle. But while

My top tip for the Grand National in 2023

Want to know the winner of the Grand National in 2023? You heard it here first: when the ante-post books open, get in early on Kitty’s Light, trained by Christian Williams and to be ridden, I hope, by Jack Tudor. Being married to a racing scribe is a bit like being an angler’s wife: you hear rather too often the tales of the one that got away. Mrs Oakley is so inured to my hard luck stories that she tells all her friends they can be sure that any horse I recommend will finish second. But after Sandown Park’s jump racing finale last Saturday, she conceded my point and consolingly

The secret of Ireland’s racing success

How Father Sean Breen would have loved this year’s Cheltenham Festival. The late parish priest at Ballymore Eustace, who owned a horse or two and had a pundit’s tipping spot on Kildare FM, used to complain that it was most inconsiderate of people to die in the Cheltenham run-up: over 40 years, it was only ever funerals that stopped him attending to conduct his usual service for his fellow Irish attendees, bless a few Irish horses and pray that the Almighty would leave enough in the bookmakers’ satchels for Irish punters to be paid out their winnings. There was nothing in the Bible, he used to argue, that said we

The poetry of Bryony Frost

Hearing that the Queen has both a real and an official birthday, a small boy asked the obvious question: ‘Does she get two lots of presents then?’ Horses, too, have an official birthday: no matter the month in which they were foaled, they all become one year older on 1 January. The advantage for some is that they then become eligible for the increasingly popular veterans’ races confined to horses aged ten or more, like the classic Unibet Chase we saw at Sandown last Saturday. What racegoers love about these contests is the presence of familiar names on which they have won money, or narrowly lost it, over the years,

How I won €160 by mistake

My French friend André speaks perfect English and is the kindest of men. After reading last week about my futile efforts to place a bet on the French state betting terminal in the village bar, he put himself out during the week to have a word with one of the bar staff. He gave her my description and told her to expect me to appear in the bar the following Sunday afternoon in time for the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe. And he drew an assurance from her that she would help me decipher the betting-form multiple-choice hieroglyphics. Or, better still, take a verbal betting instruction over the counter. I

Cyrname was lucky to survive his shocking fall at Ascot

Few jumpers have a better record at Ascot than the Paul Nicholls-trained Cyrname. He triumphed in the Betfair Chase at the Berkshire course in February 2019 by 17 lengths with three Grade One winners behind him. It was at Ascot in November, in an enthralling duel, that he ended the mighty Altior’s record of 19 successive victories over jumps and Cyrname was a short-priced favourite last Saturday to take a second Betfair Chase with only three horses daring to join the highest-rated chaser in Britain. But it was not to be. On rain-soaked turf, soon officially changed from soft to heavy, Cyrname was never going with quite his usual zest.