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Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Cheltenham 2014 - Day 2 - Humanity and Humility amongst Racing Royalty

‘There’s more to life than Cheltenham’

Following a sublime, supreme ride aboard Vautour in a sublime Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, that was one of the first things Ruby Walsh said to Alice Plunkett when summing up his 39th career Cheltenham Festival victory this afternoon.

Ruby was referring to the fact that while he was celebrating, Jason Maguire was suffering, having been airlifted to hospital following a fall at Stratford yesterday.   

I’m not going to say that other sports do not have moments of heartfelt humility like the one displayed by this living legend live on television today, but you’d have to have a strong argument to convince me that horse racing isn’t quite peculiar in its combination of competition, compassion, cruelty and class.   

Adversaries get changed into tribal colours in a shared weighing room, more than just a dressing room.  They are paraded in front of punters who pray that their performances reward them with pounds and pennies. These jockeys work for various owners and employees, trainers and tacticians, often switching allegiance as regularly as they switch animal: one man’s rejected ride is another man’s Champion Hurdler.   Walsh and Maguire line up against each other on a regular basis, but in racing, rivals also stand together.

They slug it out; but after battle, immediately shake hands.  Tempers may flare, the spirit of the contest gets the better of its protagonists from time to time, but these guys are participating in a professional pastime in which it’s not unusual for animals or humans to end up hospitalised.

As my granddad said to me at the weekend: it’s the only sport where the players are followed around by an ambulance.

Our Conor was fatally injured in his fall at the third flight in the 3.20 today.   Just a year ago, we watched open-mouthed as he destroyed the field in the 2013 Triumph Hurdle on Gold Cup Friday.  I stood next to his trainer’s son, champion flat jockey Richard Hughes, who has achieved so much in the game himself, and he was buzzing like a bee in the winners’ enclosure, having witnessed a warrior at work like the rest of us.  This year, Our Conor’s owner has been pledging all the prize money his big white-faced horse has been collecting.  As Sam Twiston-Davies says in this RP blog, you’d have thought he would have got a bit of luck.

Read to the end of that piece, by the way.  STD refers to Aidan Coleman and Nick Scholfield as his friends, not as fierce foes.  What a tapestry this is.  Later in the week, Sam will be on board Big Buck’s, lining up against his pals for another boss, a boss who also just happens to be battling it out for a different title with his own father!

Ruby continued in a similar vein his interview earlier on, referring to his mate Tony McCoy, whose son was in the Portland Hospital having an operation earlier in the week:

‘You can make too much of all of that [the pressure]… this morning was a cold and timely reminder when you look at Jason Maguire that there’s a lot more to life than riding winners at Cheltenham… AP showed me a picture in the weighing room before the race of Archie and you think to yourself Jesus, thank god my kids are alright at home.

You can make too much of Cheltenham – it’s a big week, but there’s more to life than Cheltenham’

So it puts all of today’s gambling events into perspective really.  Which is lucky, as it wasn't a day to tell the grandkids about from a betting standpoint!  I did have a 25/1 placer with David Pipe’s The Package returning some decent profit in the first handicap of the festival.  Pipe had already got on to the trainer-of-the-week score sheet, though, with a surprise 33/1 head-bobbing victory by Western Warhorse against Champagne Fever in the Grade 1 Arkle Chase, denying Ruby Walsh his first Cheltenham festival chase success since Kauto Star’s 2009 Gold Cup.  

Losses were incurred towards the end of the card as I noted a Pricewise selection, Festive Affair, who was advised at 16/1, drifting out to around 30/1 before the off.  Remembering a similar situation last year, I followed the price out with increasing stakes, hoping Affair might mimic the Flaxon Flare.  But sadly, it didn't!

Ruby did reach the big festival 4-0 in the four o’ clock, however, and as predicted held aloft two sets of three fingers in victory, each digit denoting a demolition job by wonder-mare Quevega, whose name everyone seems to pronounce differently to Ruby himself!

Looking at tomorrow’s card, I was struck by the amount of silks bearing the colours not just of McManus and Ricci, but of Andrea & Graham Wylie too, who are represented by no fewer than five in the final two races, neither of which feature on channel four, but the finale of which they triumphed in last year, with this year’s favourite Irish hope of the week, Briar Hill.  Phew!

And this is what I mean.  Ruby Walsh rode Briar Hill for the Wylies last year at a ridiculous price of 25/1 in the Champion Bumper, and partners Shaneshill tomorrow with the same owner/trainer combination and a price of 8.4 on Betfair right now.  He was adorned with the same browny-beige colours when on board Tidal Bay in an heroic Lexus Chase last Christmas for his old boss Paul Nicholls, who will be trying to win the Fred Winter tomorrow with another two Wylie horses against, yes you’ve guessed it – Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins on yet another Wylie one! 

The merry-go-round of racing is a wonderfully rich and diverse spectacle of owners, trainers, jockeys, pundits, punters, writers, bookies, braggers and blaggers.  At its heart, however, is a unique humanity that you simply don’t find anywhere else in sport.

Wednesday’s Selections: 
**Multiples of Ruby’s rides in Ricci and Wylie colours**

Red Sherlock for Pipe, and course & distance winner Creepy at a huge price in first time headgear.

Smad Place for Alan King, and Paul Nicholls to get off the mark for the week with either Sam Winner or Just a Par.

Coral Cup:
Far West to put the fall at Newbury last month well behind him, and the other Axom horse in the race, Edgardo Sol, who is partnered by claiming jockey Harry Derham (3)

Champion Chase:
Some offers for Sire de Grugy at 4/1 are very tempting, and it would be a fantastic story for the Moore family, who are real gems in racing’s glistening crown.  I am going to give Wishfull Thinking another spin too.

Fred Winter / Champion Bumper:
Double on Ivan Grozny and Shaneshill for the aforementioned Wylie/Walsh/Willie axis.

Cheltenham 2014 - Day 1 - Champagne Superwager on the Fly

Noel Gallagher understands my predicament.  He is the britpop embodiment of the Palphabet Blog.

After the critical acclaim of Definitely Maybe, the stadium tours that followed (What's the Story) Morning Glory?; the worldwide success, the adulation; the vast wads of cash and pyramid piles of pills, powder and pints.  After all of that stuff, the diminutive Mancunian musician sat down and self-indulgently penned the bragging, bloated Be Here Now. 

Noel stood, perhaps on the shoulder of giants, certainly on the precipice of artistic immortality on the day that album was released and faced, in my mind, a very similar challenge to the one I face today.  You see, in many (well, some) ways (kind of), BHN was the music industry's equivalent of the 2014 Supreme Novices' Hurdle, the traditional curtain-raiser to the Cheltenham Festival of National Hunt Horse Racing.

Bear with me, and behold these blog entries, posted on this very forum on the eve of the festival over the past two years.  Firstly, Cinders & Ashes - the very by-product of Cigarettes and Alcohol - a red-hot 10/1 belter, which kicked off proceedings 24 months ago, and whose embers still burn bright in my festival memory banks.   Then the follow up in 2013: a perfect collaboration of Mullins's training brilliance, Walsh's riding magnificence and Rich Ricci's equine-ownership arrogance: Champagne "Supernova" Fever:  a 6/1 conqueror of Cleeve Hill in consecutive annual contests, who this year attempts his own "difficult third album".

The anticipation of the year's first festival selection is almost too much for me!   I desperately desire to deliver a Knebworth House recital  but realise such levels of performance are unsustainable without sufficient research and rehearsal.  Couple this self-imposed pressure with the distraction of having started a business in the past few months, and I feel like I'm heading off to do battle with the bookies at Cheltenham this week with as much preparation time as is normally afforded a microwave telly-dinner.  D'You Know What I Mean?

Maybe I should just Roll With It.  Despite not feeling as organised as I would like to be on this, the Christmas Eve of equestrian entertainment, I still feel the ever-enterprising bookies are charitably offering such generous gambling gifts that it would be wrong of me to bemoan the rock-god situation in which I seem to find myself.  So here's the track listing for day one of this year's festival season and a summary of the best deals available online and with your high street turf accountant:

Supreme Novices' Hurdle:

The Liquidator - 22/1 with Paddy Power offering money back if your horse finishes 2nd, 3rd or 4th.  Vaniteux, thought by most to be Nicky Henderson's support act in this race before Barry Geraghty took the ride, is the 12/1 alternative selection to take on the much fancied duo of Irving and Vautour, who deservedly vie for favouritism at the head of the market.  I just think The Liquidator's experience around this track, accepting his disappointing run at Kempton last time out, warrants a much skinnier price than the one on offer here.

Top Trainer:

David Pipe, fresh off the back of Imperial Cup victory at Sandown on Saturday can be backed as top Cheltenham trainer at 33/1 generally, 50/1 with, and with Kings Palace, Red Sherlock, Dynaste etc, surely stands as good a chance as any of the other British contenders.  Yet his price is significantly juicier than his compatriots. Usually regarded as being strong in handicaps, here's a clip taken from his website, in which he addresses the chances of his novice hurdlers, including my selection and former Cheltenham course winner, The Liquidator:  

And although we have come to expect Pipe-trained greys to come up short in recent years, Tom Scudamore rates Dynaste's chance as his best ride of the week, and obviously plans to make up for last year's runner-up spot and 2012's Grands Crus disappointment later on in the week: 

The Arkle Chase:

Rock on Ruby & Trifolium - available at 5/1 and 9/2 respectively - will check the Betfair exchange in the morning as they are offering Best Odds Guaranteed every day in the build-up to The Roar.  Much as I think the aforementioned Walsh/Mullins/Ricci combination is one to get even the most cool racing customer feverish under the white collar, I'm not confident enough in Champagne's ability to pop over every fence with the required fluency in what will be a pacy affair.  Noel Fehily is certain to have a good week, and he can get off the mark here on board Rock on Ruby, who is a consistent if unfashionable performer on this, the biggest of stages.  Trifolium is Tom Segal's antepost pick and is also partnered by a Palphabet favourite jockey in BJ Cooper, who should make the most of his steed's excellent jumping ability.

2.40 Festival Handicap Chase 

I like three here! Course, distance and 2012 race winner Alfie Sherrin has the strongest chance, and I fancy AP to do what he does best in handicap fields like this, particularly since he has clearly opted for this 10 stone 9er's chance over top weight Cantlow, on whom I saw him win back at Newbury in November at 6/1. The Package for Pipe and Scu as mentioned above at a big price after a lengthy lay-off, and a small stake on Time for Rupert.

Champion Hurdle

Ladbrokes and William Hill are clearly having a little side bet of their own this week: who can disrespect Hurricane Fly the most?  Hills go 6/1 tomorrow morning from 10am, offering 10,000 punters the chance to have £10 at a stand out price.  Lads, meanwhile, have been marketing their "money back if Fly finishes 1st or 2nd" for weeks now.  I have backed Hurricane Fly, who I think is as strong as ever, with a strong stake, and also had a bit of Melodic Rendezvous at 25/1 with Magic Sign, fully expecting to be able to claim against their insurance policy if, as I expect, Hurricane Fly finishes in the top two.  Young, strong contenders Jezki, The New One and Our Conor make this one of the races of the week, with seven-year-old and multiple grade-one winner My Tent or Yours extremely well fancied if he can put it all together and make it up the hill.  A mouth watering renewal, but expect Ruby to be holding up three victorious fingers as he passes the lolly pop ahead of his rivals yet again.

Quevega's Hurdle:

Need I say more?  4/1 for new Coral customers is available, but even the 1.9 on Betfair appeals for a horse who has made this race her own over the past five seasons.  Betfred's offer of money back when Quevega wins is effectively a free bet, so why not have it on Cockney Sparrow at 8s or Highland Retreat at 14?

Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase

Shutthefrontdoor with his experience and Nina Carberry with hers, well worth the short price.  I like Herdsman too, trained by Grand National winning boss Sue Smith and fancied by the RP's northern tipster, Colin Russell.

Novices' Handicap Chase

It's that tricky third album again! Haunting me all the way to the end of the card.  With Palphabet wins for Rajdhani Express last year, and top weight Hunt Ball in 2012, I need to avoid a Be Here Now at the close of play as well as at the start of the day!  Pricewise has tipped two at double figures (Art of Logistics and Festive Affair), and whilst I will be backing both of those at 8.30 in the morning, I am plumping for Gardefort at 50/1 for Venetia Williams and Aidan Coleman, and Baby Mix, who is partnered by former Irish Champ Davy Russell.

For what it's worth, by the way, I think Be Here Now is pretty good! Stand by Me remains one of my favourite Oasis songs, and at the end of the day, it's more important to have faith in your own convictions than to worry what the critics might say!  Best of luck for the week ahead .. If you've got this far, I'm sure you're as Mad Ferret as I am!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Nicholls' Near Misses a Sign of Undervalued Opportunities?

To which page in your copy of the Racing Post do you most eagerly turn as you open the crisp inky paper or flick digitally across the cool glass of your tablet device?  If Segal is making an appearance, as he did yesterday and Friday with more successful selections for stalwarts of his suggestions, I head straight to his column.  Richard Hughes has been my next port of call over the flat season, followed perhaps by David Ashforth, whose hilarious musings never fail to entertain and amuse.

After those pages have been perused, though, I'll head to see what horses have gubbed the punters on the previous afternoon.  "Yesterday's Highlights", they somewhat disingenuously subtitle the section (although to be fair, they do draw one's attention to the huge in-play prices that winning horses could have been backed at too), this little grey box has not just got my goat this morning, it's goading my goat.  Grrrrr.

I didn't have huge confidence in Salubrious yesterday, and even less so after reading his trainer's unenthusiastic but frankly realistic appraisal of his chances in his excellent and insightful Betfair column.  But with some sentiment - Salubrious provided a 17/1 Cheltenham festival winner for this blog when he claimed the Martin Pipe Conditionals Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle in March - I thought he was worth an each-way bet at 14/1 yesterday and was encouraged when Segal picked his stablemate Southfield Theatre as I reckon Paul Nicholls' yard is being underestimated by the layers at present.

It's a genuine sign of the magic of this sport though, that when I watched the replay of the 3.00 handicap hurdle on Sky+ last night, I couldn't help but be moved by James Best's tearfully emotional interview with Alice Plunkett after he nicked the Nicholls' pair on the line to score at 20/1 on board Philip Hobbs's Return Spring.  It would have been splendid to have taken the full spoils from the scintillating sprint up the famous Cheltenham hill, but the sport rightly took centre stage ahead of my meaningless P&L spreadsheets:

On the whole, it was a profitable day's punting, with a 3pt stake on Champagne Fever looking about as safe as the debut chaser's jumping looked competently assured.  I did set an unmatched lay before the off, which as you can see was matched shortly before the second last fence, just in case.  Ruby looked very happy on board as it completed a quickfire treble for him at the start of yesterday's Punchestown card, and he's surely going to be even more delighted when he guides Hurricane Fly to a record breaking 17th Grade 1 victory later today.  My £20 double on the Mullins bankers returns just £12 profit - a testament to the high esteem in which they are both held by the bookies.  Segal's tips of Fergal O'Brien's Bradley and Alvarado in the 1.50 at Cheltenham were confidently conveyed in his column and the latter proved him correct, causing me to collect :)

Onto today's racing, and I do really fancy Paul Nicholls to have a fruitful afternoon, not just at Prestbury Park, but over in Sussex at Fontwell too.  It would really set the scene beautifully for Saturday's hotly contested Betfair "Lancashire" Chase if Silviniaco Conti's stablemates return to Ditcheat later today, full of beans, neighing merrily, and send him up the M6 next week with loveable nutter Tidal Bay raring to take on Bobs Worth, First Lieutenant, Long Run and Charlie Hall Chase winner Harry Topper.

1.00 Cheltenham - Pay the King - Bumper winning Nicholls horse with Harry Derham taking off three pounds.  Lieutenant Miller has been out and about as a flat stayer this summer, notching up victories under Tom Queally and Graham Lee before coming a creditable third in the Cesarewitch priced up at 10/1.  Holds less betting appeal at 4/1 this afternoon but is the clear alternative to 15/2 shot Pay the King.

1.35 Cheltenham - Lac Fontana - Clifford Baker's dark horse popped up in my At The Races "Tracker" email this morning.  A 7/1 shot in a small field, worth a small bet as Sea Lord and The Liquidator hog the pre-race headlines.

2.10 Cheltenham - This is a tricky one, with Raya Star, Dodging Bullets and Ted Veale all there or thereabouts in the betting.  Probably the one Nicholls will win with DB, as I am siding with Cheltenham Festival winner and useful flat performer, Teddy V.

2.40 Cheltenham - Just wonder if former Nicholls horse Tataniano isn't worth giving another vote of confidence at a big outside price of 22 on Betfair.  Wearing the famous red and white colours of Big Buck's, he's a memorable horse, although I dug out this article from 2010 that Mr Nicholls would probably rather forget!

2.55 Fontwell - Benvolio (NAP) - With Ruby Walsh off the books at Ditcheat, I think the line up of jockeys should be able to be compared with the squad of Tottenham Hotspur this year.  Losing a superstar, but gaining a balance.. Sadly for Spurs fans, they are playing dreadfully dour football, while Nicholls has at his disposal his number 1 Daryl Jacob, claimer Harry Derham, a pumped-up Twiston-Davies and one of my Twitter faves, Nick "Melodic Rendezvous" Scholfield, who takes the reins on this even money banker today.  I know who I would rather be watching ply their trade this term and it's not the scum from Edmonton!

3.15 Cheltenham - Flaxen Flare - easy one for me this as FF gave me a huge 31/1 boost on Day 3 of last season's festival.  Was 12/1 this morning, but has been clipped into around 8s since Segal selected him again, lauding his trainer Gordon Elliott and describing today's conditions for the four-year-old as "perfect".

3.50 Cheltenham - One last Nicholls stab - Southfield Vic - same colours and close relative of the aforementioned near-misser from yesterday, and PFN seems more confident about this one than he did about that!

Over in Ireland, blog favourite and new Racing Post columnist Bryan Cooper has a good book of rides, picking up strongly-fancied Don Cossack from the banned Davy Russell in the 1.40 Novice Chase.  While the only bet I've had over there is on Hurricane Fly in the fourteen-fifteen formality, why not have a look at this blog from my Twitter pal Steve, as he seems to have a good handle on things over the water.

Saturday, 16 November 2013

A Lack of Written Attention, not of Genuine Affection...

You may very well be forgiven for thinking that the notable absence on these pages of a meaningful foray into the feast of flat racing, somehow indicates a loss of appetite for the sport over the summer months.

A friend of mine, who has been mentioned on these pages before, even went so far as to say he was insulted by my perceived lack of attention and interest in the code of horse racing that is contested over distances of five furlongs up to around two miles and during which the animals are not encouraged to leap gallantly over bristly obstacles.

Well, while I am always keen to take on board constructive criticism, the insinuation that a withdrawal of words and writings on this website equates to an absence of interest or excitement is wholly inaccurate.

I will acquiesce that this weekend, with the Cheltenham Open Meeting in full flow and with Punchestown delivering knockout blows in the shape of Mullins one-two Champagne Fever and Hurricane Fly, I certainly return to these pages with more vigour.  But I have taken huge pleasure and eked the occasional pot of profit over the period during which my Raymond Weil has been set to British Summer Time.  If anything, I've been enjoying it too much to have found time to write about it!

A few Palphabet highlights of the 2013 flat season:

- JP Murtagh - what a man - although not backing Royal Diamond on British Champions Day after having circled him in the morning's newspaper was a real error.

- Getting on a Producer / Lost in the Moment 4/1 double with a £100 stake the weekend after a visit to the Hannon yard.  Made all the more special by the fact that the double in question took place in Istanbul, was brought to my attention by Richard Snr in a "conversation" I was fortunate enough to share with him (I basically overheard him mentioning it), and required real endeavour to get on - I really savoured the rewards on this one.  Balthazar King's raid on a French cross country course at something ridiculous like 22/1 also provided under-the-radar European entertainment.

- BCD3 - I've not missed one yet! Breton Rock, Olympic Glory and Farhh ensured that although it wasn't a case of "Frankel who?!" on the richest day in British racing, there is life after the Sir Henry Cecil wonder-colt.  Meeting Paul Bittar; James Knight, Simon Clare and the Coral crew; merely seeing Julian Muscat from afar - all these characters ensured a fantastic day out.  Getting so obliterated on red wine that I knocked a table of drinks over some well-dressed ladies was only a small low point of an otherwise perfect day.

- The young Irish apprentice champion - Conor King - caught the eye many times, and none more so than when completing a 14,725/1 quadruple over at Cork.  Spoke very well when interviewed on the telly during some of the more high-profile meetings, he's definitely one to watch.

- Ryan Moore vs Graham Cunningham - this was an enjoyable exchange, with Ryan taking to his Betfair column to very eloquently put the outspoken TV pundit back in his box for a while.  Cunningham was not quite so scathing in his analysis of Moore's Melbourne Cup ride on Dandino, although somewhat ironically the horse's owners decided to boot him off for next month's Hong Kong vase.

- Treve - what a horse.


So, yes, I have thoroughly enjoyed the thoroughbreds throughout the warm months, and now I've worn myself out with memories I actually can't think straight about today's National Hunt contests, so I'll just leave you with my selections:

1.15 Cheltenham - White Star Line

1.50 Cheltenham - Goulanes

2.30 Cheltenham - Rajdhani Express (& adding Gift of Dgab to White Star Line for a Bryan Cooper double in anticipation of his new Racing Post Column tomorrow)

3.00 Cheltenham - I think his horses could be undervalued at the moment, and with Harry Derham taking five pounds off Salubrious I just wonder if he's worth an each way bet..

2.00 Lingfield (yes, the flat!) - Bronze Angel

1.00 Punchestown - Champagne Fever - NAP (also pairing him up with the Fly for a Mullins - Ruby Walsh double.. was great to see Ruby back at Cheltenham yesterday giving a great ride to win the last on board Quick Jack)

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Betfair versus the Bookies - The Virtues of Value

The blog below is also available on as an edited article.  I have been blogging for GM over the past few months now and am thoroughly enjoying the opportunity given to me by the country's best golf mag.  Thanks TC ; )

Stenson won!  StensWon, as he shall be known forthwith, rewarded loyal backers with a 35/1 Betfair booty bonus and delightfully demonstrated two things.  Firstly, that it’s prudent to peruse the punting purveyors for prices, and secondly that persistence and consistency lead to confidence and prosperity.

Heroic Henrik was 28/1 with BetVictor before the off last week, 25/1 with all other bookmakers, but was being readily layed (or laid, if you’re that way inclined) at 36 on the exchange. 

Minus Betfair’s commission (usually around 4-5% unless you roll high on a regular basis – mine is currently 4.8%), profit on the £20 win-only stake (before being offset against losses) was a devilish 666 pounds and forty pence.  The same money with Mr Chandler would have returned you £560, a shortfall of £106.40.  So don’t get sucked in by those ridiculous Dennis Pennis adverts.
Equally, don’t always assume that you have to be with Betfair to “Cash Out”, or that they are the only firm offering value.  Yes, their interface makes the ability for punters to hedge bets condescendingly easy (as shown below), and yes, they are often better priced than the market (as they were last week for StensWon), but you are not “settling for less” every time you opt to place your bets the old fashioned way.
Rather than "Cash Out", I normally favour hedging my bets manually by "laying off", particularly when I still have faith in my original selection
In this week’s Omega European Masters, with no FedEx Cup stuff in America, focus is fully on Europe, and I like one of the market leaders: Brett Rumford.  Similarly to StensWon (and this also incorporates my second theme: form), the multiple European Tour winning Australian has been in scintillating nick this term, notching up two titles and two strong top ten finishes in the past two weeks. 
Betfair have Rumford at 32 (31/1 in fractional odds).  He is currently 33/1 with and Bet365.  Annoyingly don’t do each-way terms.  This is particularly unfortunate for me since Bet365 restricted my account to Granny-bets after I took them to the cleaners in a three month winning window of wonder earlier this year, but I digress.   
Knock off your commission on a £20 stake with Betfair and you pocket £590.24 with them versus £660 with Bet365 (although don’t expect to be able to get a score on with the Stoke-based bookie the following week if Rumford revels!)
I also fancy Frederik Andersson Hed this weekend (runner-up at the stunning Crans-sur-Sierre last year, sixth in 2011 – again; form, consistency).  I don’t need to demonstrate the mathematics for you to work out that you’re better off with Betfair at 95 than you are with the bookies at 80/1. 
If the prices are the same on the exchange as they are with your bookie, it goes without saying you should take your business to the latter, who won’t take any commission if you win (but will take all your losses if you lose, unlike Betfair, who only take their commission fee).
Clear?  Great!
Aside from the golf, it's been an eventful few weeks at Palphabet towers.  Actually, that's utter drivel because I haven't spent an awful lot of time here at HQ.  I ventured on an eight-day professional sojourn to Melbourne and Sydney, which involved five days of work, two days of enjoyment, and a day of travelling.
The enjoyment came in droves (whatever they are).  Giant scoops of sporting droves served up in a double-schooner of MCG-branded beakers.  Yes, the Melbourne Cricket Ground was every bit the legendary venue it is cracked up to be. 

Talking of crack, or craic, Ireland was my next stop, where our friends’ wedding took us from County Monaghan to Galway City, fuelled by the black stuff and the rich tobacco of tightly rolled Cuban cigars.  All the while the gambling has been going well, until the new Premier League Football season started.
A Full Head on the Pints Only

Mrs Palphabet (right) and Her Pal Jules Sampling the Local Beverages
Finally, a trip last weekend to the Salisbury Plain.  A visit to Richard Hannon’s yard to see my mate’s new syndicated horse, Mr Greenspan.
Hannon's Gallops and Popular Filly Maureen
Up Close and Personal with Mr Greenspan - a HUGE two year-old colt
Watch this space for a more detailed blog on Mr G and the MCG, coming soon.
Continuing to Weave Pure Cotton Enjoyment into The Rich Tapestry of Life

Saturday, 29 June 2013

An Unwelcome Week of Woe - Cheers Bubba!

The blog below is available on as an edited article.  I have been blogging for GM over the past 10 weeks now and am thoroughly enjoying the opportunity given to me by the country's best golf mag.  Thanks TC ; )
You’re welcome.  That’s what Bubba Watson says on many a YouTube video like that one, joshing around and playing the fool like someone who doesn’t take life too seriously, albeit while hitting some pretty impressive and entertaining shots, occasionally of blancmange rather than a little white ball.  

Bubba actually wrongly displays the text “your welcome”, after the above clip, his incorrect grammar and complete disrespect for apostrophes perhaps betraying his lack of education through total dedication to his sport.  Or maybe he’s just thick.  Or “dumb”, as he admits in this PGA interview.
The phrase ‘you’re welcome’ is usually preceded by someone thanking you for a kind gesture.  Well, this past week I have certainly not been offering any gratitude in the direction of Mr Watson. 

His caddy probably wasn’t too impressed either, after Bubba’s collapse on the par-three 16th saw him turn a two-shot lead at the head of the scoreboard into a one-shot deficit, ultimately relinquishing the title, he took his dissatisfaction out on his assistant.  

This blog makes the salient point that Bubba was just doing at the Travelers Championship (one L, no apostrophes? Weird...) what most amateurs do on courses around the world every day – blame someone else for their mistakes – well, in that case, I am blaming the 2012 Masters Champion for my losses last weekend.

Me and Bubba (or rather, Bubba and I) have previous, as his playoff win against Louis Oosthuizen cost me Augusta profit last year.  Having sided with the South African for the coveted Green Jacket, it was agonising to see that big hook land where it did, denying me a four-figure payout.   Last weekend brought all those miserable memories flooding forlornly back into my bitter, sorrowful soul.

To compound the discontent, I layed my entire book against Ken Duke winning, meaning that any of Chris Stroud, Graham DeLaet, heck – even Bubba Watson himself, emerged victorious, I wouldn’t lose anything.  Duke had never been crowned victorious in his journeyman career, hit 999/1 on Betfair at one point as the chart below painfully portrays, and so I thought the £215 lay at 1.41 was a reasonable course of action.  He went on to win, I went to bed a loser for the second week running.

For this week’s AT&T National and Irish Open I went hard (well, £15.12 each way) on a Seung-Yul Noh/Graeme McDowell double.  Noh was fourth in the US event last year and was priced up a 150/1 outsider, while G Mac, despite missing the cut at the US Open and at this course twice, where he has also never managed to record a score under-par, appealed at 18/1 (for some reason) with SportingBet offering six place each way terms.
That would have given you a 46.5 bag return, had McDowell not missed the cut and Noh not been +5 when I last looked:  You’re welcome!

Feedback from your friends can come in many guises: "your hair looks shit", "you were an absolute liability last week", "your missus is gonna leave you when she makes her first million in business" are just a few examples of the more publishable words of wisdom given to me by my mates over the years. 
This week, I was informed that Palphabet was becoming little more than a copy & paste exercise for Golf Monthly, that I hadn't written anything about racing for two months (that's a lie, by the way), and that therefore, no one would bother reading it.
Well, if you've got this far, I thought I'd reluctantly listen to the lads and go back to my roots. 
Various expired bank cards have meant that my multitude of accounts with online bookmakers required some spring-cleaning.  Since Bet365, a favourite of mine throughout late 2012 and into early 2013, have decided to severely restrict (/ban) me from trading with them, I've had some decisions to make.
The P&L for May, across all of my accounts looked like this:
Since then, due mostly to debit card admin rather than any particular problems with online betting shops,  I've only been playing around with Betfair (and their new Sportsbook), SportingBet, Coral and my new favourite, Stan James.  Stan's golf prices are often the best around, even better than the Betfair exchange prices available (with no commission taken on winners), and I like the fact that their spokesman @roryjiwani regularly retweets links to my blogs!
One of the most satisfying events of recent weeks has been renewing my piece of Barclays plastic and having it emblazoned with the two greatest steeplechasers of my short love affair with horseracing.

The fact that I have chosen those two equine characters, rather than Frankel and Sea the Stars perhaps explains why my writing on the sport has been fairly limited since the Aintree Festival.  No matter how hard I try, and I do enjoy it, I just can't find enough inspiration in flat racing to put pen to paper with the same passion as I do over the colder and darker months of the year. 
Seeing champion of jumps Nicky Henderson get a 12/1 winner at Royal Ascot gave me more pleasure this "summer" than any winner I've had over a seven furlongs, and it speaks volumes that the main mention on these pages with regards to The Sport of Kings has been a genuine and heartfelt tribute to Sir Henry Cecil.
So, with only a passing interest in the Confederations Cup, a mild understanding of the betting markets surrounding Rugby Union and my small but long standing bets on the next Manchester United manager to follow SAF successfully settled, my current bets and conversational focus has been limited thus:
Sports Personality of the Year 2013 (for which I assume the Racing Post is still suffering a gagging order), antepost golf betting and the winner of Wimbledon Men's tournament dominates the screen above and are likely only to be given company by a few stabs on Le Tour, as I attempt to improve my knowledge of a sport that appears to offer entertainment and value in abundance, but about which I have very little knowledge, and of course, The Ashes.
So there we are - Palphabet has become rather more focused on golf, granted, but there's still plenty to discuss away from the fairways and greens.... that is until the proper beasts start galloping their way towards fences at least four feet and six inches tall and I can get stuck in with pen and pound once again.

UPDATE: Sunday Morning, 10am.....
These were the results of yesterday's picks at Newcastle, Newmarket and Curragh.  It's almost as though the lords of the flat were listening to me slagging off their noble sport, and decided to woo me with a fine fillip:

Thursday, 13 June 2013

Let Us Open the Wallets and Get Merry on the US Open at Merion

An abridged version of this piece can be found on where I am fortunate enough to be a weekly blog contributor - the past eight weeks have all yielded profit and perhaps the added focus on the little white ball is bearing fruit 

It’s not been a week for the weak: an emotional rollercoaster that has asked questions of this passionate punter and self-styled bon viveur. 

I spent Friday night in amongst the [largely] peaceful protesters in Istanbul’s Taksim Square, where European tension could be felt in such abundance you might have been forgiven for thinking you were back around the 17th green at Medinah (if the Ryder Cup venue had been frequented by masked graffiti artists jubilantly jumping around atop burnt out public vehicles).

I hadn’t really been able to gamble in Turkey.  I mean, I was able to get a raft of bets on with Stan James on my mobile, but Betfair’s app repeatedly flashed up the error message: “User Restricted Location”. 
There I was, stressed out trying to get the best possible prices at 2am Turkish time, making an international call to one of the exchange’s helpful customer service representatives, all to get my ultimately unsuccessful £150 down on Bernd Wiesberger for the Lyoness Open. 

I added Tom Lewis to the portfolio at 135/1, who started flawlessly but failed to capitalise, and followed the Racing Post’s in-form golf tipster Steve Palmer in on Joost Luiten (20/1) and Romain Wattel (55/1), my confidence in the first of those picks later bolstered when I discovered that the William Hill podcast boys opted for the same player.

The pod was banned from the Turkish airwaves by the regime against which my comrades were demonstrating... they must have all been keen to have a hefty wager too?  And rightly so: Luiten won, Wattel placed – tear gas and water cannons would not have been required if I hadn’t been able to get on.

Arriving back into London on Saturday, I headed to Finsbury Park to worship The Stone Roses, whose reunion has made grown men cry and whose masterful set-list resembled something close to perfection.  I've not stopped listening to the eponymous album since the weekend and memories of Made in Stone and This is The One have got me dangerously too close to welling up for a man in his early thirties.
And then, on Tuesday, heart-strings continued to be plucked like an eerie John Squire melody with the extremely sad news of the death of legendary racing trainer Sir Henry Cecil.   I have not been into racing for long enough to fully appreciate the majesty of Sir Henry, and am not the expert equine historian that many of my readers are, so reading the sincere and celebratory tributes to the great man this week has given added poignancy to the little I do know about Cecil. 
I was privileged enough to be in his presence on three or four occasions while following Frankel around Ascot, at Champions Day 2011 and '12, and what struck me was this tall, authoritative man's gentle nature, his mischevous sense of fun and humour and his absolute devotion to his craft.  I have a couple of pictures I snapped while standing only a few feet away from him, which I am particularly proud of: 

Last October, he was signing autographs outside the main stand around the parade ring and I was so tempted to go and get a few moments with him, but whilst he was greeting fans with genuine pleasure and humility, he looked frail, was with his family and I decided to let him get off and in position to see Frankel fly to what would be his last race.  In some ways I regret not telling him what, in a short period of time, he has done for my love of horse racing; but in another way, I felt like just walking amongst people with whom he clearly felt a natural affinity - he knew.
I hope you don’t mind me punctuating this light-hearted piece with a genuine mention for the great man: rest in peace, Sir Henry.
Moving onto this weekend’s Major, my headline picks are Manassero, McDowell and Woods.  I was excited by Mickelson at the weekend, who I backed for the FedEx St Jude before the final round, whilst laying Stefani and Stallings at short prices, partly covering pre-tournament wagers, but I'm yet to add him to an already bulging US Open Portfolio. 

In addition to the main bets - healthy stake on Tiger and mouth-watering prices about MM and G-Mac, I've got the following players on-side, with my own picks denoted by the asterisk and the players I'm following on the advice of others (namely Palmer and Mike Grenham from Billy Hills) listed below. 
Plenty of tipsters seem to like the chances of McDowell, so the fact I am on at 43/1 is especially pleasing.  The short, par 70 course has been made into more of a target track due to the inclement weather conditions that everyone has been banging on about, and I think that will help Matteo.  The young, articulate Italian isn't particularly long off the tee but is deadly accurate out of the gates with the driver and he can make that attribute count on the tight fairways with the irons.
I've mentioned Lefty, but I'm concerned that Big Phil the Thrill is slightly too wayward with his driving accuracy (ranked 160th on tour hitting only 330 out of a possible 613 fairways).  The rough here will be punishing, as will pin positions, as the tournament organisers seek to make the contest as tough as possibly in response to the rain, and while many have been saying that Mickelson will "love the course" and go well here, I'm not so sure.  The player that worries me more is Rickie Fowler.  I'm not going to back him, but I have done so for The Open before.  I've seen and heard him tipped up on and by Jamie Spence on the WH pod, and think his price and chance are pretty good.  I will be keeping an eye on the flamboyant young man, who has memorable Merion experience from his 2009 Walker Cup triumph, and will be motivated by the opportunity to secure another winner's medal this weekend.
So here we go: US Open podcasts downloaded, official PGA app installed, bookmakers’ offers scrutinised, RP iPad edition purchased and Golf Monthly microsite adorning my desktop.  I’ve even started following another tipster on Twitter, who seems to know his onions: @NicsPicks 
A weekend of high-octane golf gambling awaits... if my emotions can take it!
The US Open iPad App is a must-download for the weekend ahead