Searching For Fresh PasturesWith the UK horseracing calendar grinding to something of a standstill this month, we enlisted Racing Post tipster Guy Butchers to fill the void by turning our strategic eye to the best forthcoming action in the US and Australia.
The days of smoke-filled betting shops on your local high street, with punters straining ears and imaginations to make sense of how their hard-earned cash was faring via the crackling Exchange Telegraph commentary of a Classic from Newmarket or a seller at Catterick, are long gone.
Indeed, technology is now on the side of the betting man (or woman). Whereas detailed information on British racing was as scarce as a humble Australian, these days the internet, satellite television and G3 mobile phones are all weapons to help the punter try and gain an edge over the odds-layers.
They are also the tools that mean Britain does not have to be the limit of anyone’s wagering horizons – France, America and Australia are all realistic places to examine for betting opportunities.
Last month at Royal Ascot, Aussie speedster Scenic Blast became the fourth horse from his country to win the King’s Stand Stakes in five years. The racing world is a shrinking one, champion performers are no longer restricted to their domestic racing scene – a point made by the other successful long-distance raids on Ascot by USA-trained two-year-olds Strike The Tiger (Windsor Castle Stakes) and Jealous Again (Queen Mary Stakes) and the relatively mundane channel-crossing exploits of Paris darling Vision d’Etat.
Having highlighted Scenic Blast, let’s examine why racing in Australia could and should be on any punter’s radar. Firstly, there is a full and tasty menu of pattern races (Group and Listed events) which your correspondent regards as the best diet for anyone hoping to gorge themselves on bookmakers’ cash.
There is plenty of online data to help you get to grips with the form, fancies, expectations and news of the racing scene down under, while Sky Sports subscribers can watch two meetings a night from Australia, live from around 2am – thank God for Sky Plus.
So where is the best place to start your internet investigations? Well, your correspondent’s advice is to log on to www.smh.com.au – that’s the Sydney Morning Herald, and if you click on to their sport section, scroll down and look to the right, you will come across a small icon for ‘the form’. One carefully aimed click and you are transported to a 36-page, easy-to-navigate guide to the big Aussie racing on Fridays and Saturdays – ‘the form’ is available every Thursday and includes racecards, full form, expert opinion, jockeys’ silks, news and views.
The Australian racing year starts on August 1 and stages many of its highlights between September and February, with the pinnacle being the Melbourne Cup. Unlike most other major Aussie races which are run on a Saturday, the Cup takes place on the first Tuesday in November.
Having saddled the narrow runner-up in the race for the last two years with Purple Moon and Bauer, Newmarket-based trainer Luca Cumani has already stated his intentions to try and go one better this year, with Bauer and Mad Rush (an eye-catching seventh this year) again expected to be in his raiding party.
The home team’s defence of the Cup is likely to include Coniston Bluebird, sent by trainer Bede Murray to win the New Zealand Derby back in March.
Murray has some ambitious plans for Coniston Bluebird and the Classic winner is back in work preparing for a tilt at the major spring races and perhaps a few more overseas – September to November equates to spring Down Under.
Murray said: "He proved he can be a travelling horse and that gives me the confidence to try again. But there are a few races at home we'd like to get out of the way first."
Hong Kong, Singapore and Dubai are among the destinations on the horizon but Murray’s immediate targets are the Caulfield Cup (October 17, Caulfield), Cox Plate (October 24, Moonee Valley), and Melbourne Cup (November 3, Flemington), the Holy Trinity of big spring races.
A likely starting point is the Warwick Stakes at Warwick Farm (Sydney) on August 22 – using a 7f race as a springboard for a middle-distance and staying race campaign is just one of the ways they do things differently in Australia. So is the fact that earlier this year, Murray and his fellow owners made the decision to sacrifice a stud career for Coniston Bluebird by having him gelded (castrated).
Murray has bitter memories of the Melbourne Cup. He trained Universal Prince, ante-post favourite for the 2001 Cup but controversially ordered out on race morning by Racing Victoria veterinary stewards who deemed the AJC Australian Derby winner to be lame.
The Murray family has another big hope for the new season, however. Predatory Pricer is trained by Murray's son Paul and will do all of his spring racing in Melbourne.
Last season’s efforts to be in the money for the Queen Elizabeth Stakes and the AJC Australian Derby suggest he will be knocking on the door of some big races this time around – especially as he looked likely to improve with more time on his back.
Murray Snr said: "I'm looking forward to the spring and it would be nice if Coniston Bluebird and Predatory Pricer met in the Cox Plate and fought out the finish."
Predatory Pricer has been linked with top Melbourne jockey Craig Williams for this spring. Williams is a familiar name to British punters after his successful spell with Mick Channon a few years ago.
Whether or not Williams takes the ride on Predatory Pricer, you can be sure he will be riding more than his share of winners in the big Melbourne races. Other jockeys to keep on your side there are Nick Hall, Steven King and Craig Newitt.
Two trainers who send out Melbourne winners as if on a conveyor belt are David Hayes and Lee Freedman, while Gai Waterhouse and Peter Snowden are a pair of trainers with a Sydney bias who also perform well on the national stage.
Snowden trains a number of horses for Sheik Mohammed and his Darley operation, with former Godolphin employee Kerrin McEvoy his principal jockey in Sydney.
Recent Flemington winner Denman will form part of Snowden's spring arsenal with the $1 million Golden Rose firmly on the agenda.
The Rosehill victory was the second win from three starts for Denman with jockey Peter Mertens full of praise for his effort.
"He virtually pulled himself to the front," Mertens said. "I couldn't stop him, he was travelling that well while the horses in front started to tire. No doubt he is above average. I would love to stay on him."
That won't happen in Sydney, where McEvoy is certain to be aboard in the Golden Rose (7f) at Rosehill on August 29. Denman will be a major player, but whatever his fate, this is a race that often signposts plenty of future winners.
Snowden is in his first full year in charge of the Darley team and is in a tight battle with Waterhouse for the trainers’ championship. “Gai has a big stable and is very competitive but I just want to concentrate on my runners," he said.
Waterhouse is always a trainer to note, but your correspondent particularly likes the way she campaigns her two-year-olds and the Golden Slipper Stakes – the world’s richest race for two-year-olds – is an event she likes to target. Run at Rosehill on the first Saturday in April, Waterhouse has carried off the prize three times in the last nine outings.
For those of you looking to have a punt on the Aussie racing scene, there are plenty of outlets, but if you want to move away from your usual bookmakers, then take a look at www.iasbet.com – International All Sports Limited (IAS) is a publicly listed company on the Australian Stock Exchange, and Australia's first licensed, Stock Exchange listed, corporate international bookmaker. With offices in Australia and England, IAS claims to be a driving force behind the evolution of bookmaking.
The other international arena to be heavily featured on British television is the USA, and its nightly coverage on At The Races.
The choice of meetings is huge, which is why specialising on black type races (Group and Listed) is a decent way to sift through the content.
To find out more information on American racing, www.drf.com (Daily Racing Form) and www.brisnet.com (Bloodstock Racing Information Services) are two websites with a wealth of data – but such inside information always comes at a price. You can takes out subscription packages, but they need not be at all expensive if you take to the specialising suggestion.
The US Triple Crown (Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes run over five weeks from first Saturday in May) and the Breeders’ Cup are US racing’s highlights.
This year the Breeders’ Cup two-day meeting will be at Santa Anita, Los Angeles on November 6-7 and adds three new races (Breeders' Cup Turf Sprint; Breeders' Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf; Breeders' Cup Dirt Marathon). Before then, however, lightly-raced Dunkirk (two wins and two seconds from five starts) is sure to pick up a decent prize at around 7f or a mile – his trainer is Todd Pletcher, a man to be reckoned with at any level.
Another Pletcher horse to note for Graded-race glory is Quality Road – favourite for the Kentucky Derby before falling victim to quarter cracks – who has just joined Pletcher having won three of his four starts under Jimmy Jerkens, including the Florida Derby.
Pletcher is also anticipating further success with Michael Tabor-owned Munnings, who scorched home in the Grade II Woody Stephens at Belmont recently. He will be aimed for the Grade I King's Bishop at Saratoga on August 29, but may have another run first.
That should keep you occupied until the UK racing calendar picks up again next month with the ever-popular St Leger and Ascot September Festival.