Thursday, 25 December 2014

This Time This Year We'll Be Millionaires

Well, over the Xmas period High Class Equine has hit the milestone of 1000,000 page views. These things come and go - although it has taken a blooming long time to reach such a number. Thanks to all the people who have helped us achieve this goal. Here's to the next million!

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Counting down to Cheltenham 2015 showcase races

Let’s face it, every Cheltenham Festival is a thrill a minute with the best jumps horses in the business bidding to write themselves a place in the history books at the home of National Hunt racing, and this season’s renewal, scheduled between March 10 – 13, will certainly be no exception, writes Elliot Slater.

One certainty as we close in on ‘The Greatest Show on Turf’, is that champion Irish jumps trainer Willie Mullins will head to Cheltenham with as strong a hand as ever, having a number of outstanding horses in his care at present, many of them such as Vautour, Annie Power, and Champagne Fever (to name but a few), owned by Rich and Susanna Ricci, whose pink and pale green silks have become an almost ever-present in the winners enclosure in Ireland, and have also been sighted a time or two in Britain as well this season.

Faugheen pictured] is the horse the Ricci’s hope will carry their colours into the hallowed winners circle at Cheltenham on March 10 in the Champion Hurdle, a race for which the unbeaten French-bred gelding is currently ante-post favourite having never before tasted defeat in a career spanning seven races under rules. Expected by most pundits offering insight and opinion to make it eight from eight when he bids for the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle on Boxing Day at Kempton Park, anything other than a convincing win will be a disappointment for a horse who genuinely appears to have real star quality.

He certainly looked the part when beating Ballyalton in the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle at last year’s Festival before going on to prove even more impressive when slamming Valseur Lido by no less than 12 lengths at the Punchestown Festival six weeks later, appearing to be better suited by the minimum trip of two miles than he had by the longer trip at Cheltenham.

If you’re looking for a horse to possibly bring to an end Faugheen’s unbeaten run then the outstanding candidate so far this season is the Nigel Twiston-Davies-trained The New One. He won all three of his races before the Christmas break in fine style, looking particularly smart when showing a visible change of gear to beat the highly regarded Vaniteux in the Grade 2 International Hurdle at Cheltenham’s December fixture, a race he took on in preference to going head-to-head at this stage with Faugheen at Kempton.

Twiston-Davies is very much of the opinion that had his charge not been badly hampered at an early stage of last season’s Champion Hurdle he might very well have beaten eventual winner Jezki. As it was, the gelded son of King’s Theatre still ran a cracker in finishing strongly to take third place, beaten less than three lengths by Jessica Harrington’s surprise winner. And having won the big race last term and then proven that no fluke by following up at the Punchestown Festival in beating former dual champion Hurricane Fly, Jezki is certainly not out of the reckoning either, with connections training him specifically for a repeat bid for the hurdles crown. We know he handles the track well, appreciates the normally decent ground, and has proved himself a horse capable of delivering the big performance on the right occasion.

There’s no doubt about it; the 2015 Champion Hurdle could well turn out to be one of the best for some years if all the principals make it to the starting line.

Glossing over the Queen Mother Champion Chase (for no other reason than the two ante-post favourites, Sprinter Sacre and Sire de Grugy have not been seen so far this season and both are under injury clouds), and leaving aside the World Hurdle, which at this stage looks wide open with last season’s hero More of That having run poorly first time out this campaign while most of the other contenders have been taking it in turns to beat each other, let’s concentrate on the other feature event of Cheltenham 2015 which is, of course, the Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Always a tremendous race and rarely providing anything less than a thrilling finish for any number of reasons, it would be fair to say that this season’s renewal is going to have to go some to better the breathtaking finish last term when the relatively unconsidered Jim Culloty-trained outsider Lord Windermere (20/1) came from a seemingly impossible position at the third last to storm up the hill and get the better of a titanic tussle with On His own to score by a nose under a brilliant ride from Davy Russell.

The enigmatic The Giant Bolster was back in third, the King George VI Chase winner Silviniaco Conti was fourth, and the reigning champion Bobs Worth finished fifth in a race that produced a hard-to-predict result, but that showcased everything that is great about National Hunt racing.

Lord Windermere is now a winner at each of that last two Cheltenham Festivals having 12 months earlier sprung another surprise when landing the Grade 1 RSA Chase. The old adage ‘horses for courses’ certainly rings true with this very talented gelding who is at his best on spring ground when putting his undoubted stamina to good use on the steep climb from the home turn at Cheltenham. An excellent third on his seasonal return at Punchestown in December in the Grade 1 John Durkan Chase over an inadequate trip, Lord Windermere is still a horse that many of the jumps public don’t seem to have taken as seriously as they should and he remains an attractive each-way betting prospect, at the very least, to run a big race back at the scene of his two greatest triumphs.

Silviniaco Conti, beaten less than two lengths into a close fourth in that great race last March, has since proven himself to be a leading contender to land the blue riband event this time around. He bounced back from his defeat to win nicely at Aintree a few weeks later and was clearly short of peak fitness when beaten on his seasonal return at Wetherby. You’d be best judging champion trainer Paul Nicholls’ charge on what he subsequently did at Haydock when he destroyed a high-class field in the Grade 1 Betfair Chase – winning the race for a second time – eventually coming home two lengths clear of the talented Menorah, who has been in terrific form this season for Philip Hobbs and Richard Johnson.

Nicholls knows exactly what it takes to win the Gold Cup having done the business twice with See More Business, as well as more recent high-profile successes with the superb Kauto Star and the hardly less inspiring Denman, two of the best three-mile chasers of the modern era. The Ditcheat handler has been very bullish about Silviniaco Conti being good enough for this season’s Gold Cup and he will be trained to be at his very peak on the big day, regardless of anything else he does prior to the main event.

Bobs Worth may well be back for another crack at the title, and Willie Mullins is mulling a bid for the race with the possibly doubtful stayer Champagne Fever – likely to be better suited by the shorter Grade 1 Ryanair Chase, in my opinion – while Jonjo O’Neill’s Holywell is no forlorn hope either in a race that will surely prove well worth the wait.

Thursday, 18 December 2014

Emotion: The Gambler's Enemy

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Bookies rely on emotion to fill their coffers. Think about the big race meeting for example the pageantry, the noise, the carnival atmosphere. Do you think that this evolved by accident? It’s all engendered to create a mob mentality, to get people going with the flow. Logical methodical thought is the bookies enemy. Someone who is having a good time, caught up in the party atmosphere, or indeed they may be scared that they’ll lose the weeks housekeeping if their ‘sure thing’ doesn’t come in. In either case, emotion rules, logical thought and planning doesn’t get a look in.

Professional gamblers, who by definition take a different approach, are regularly banned by bookies up and down the country. Bookies don’t like to lose, and they lose to professionals who don’t play the game by their rules. 

So what’s the trick? Are some people just born cool? Almost certainly. However, being ‘cool’ is a trick that can be learned. A basic understanding of body mechanics and mental control are all that’s required. When people get emotional, whether happy, sad, excited or scared, the way that the blood flows around the brain changes subtly. Without making this a lesson in biology lets just say that those parts of the brain that deal with emotion are most active during these times. However, the problem for us is that these parts of the brain claim the majority of the available resources, energy, oxygen etc. This deprives other parts of the brain and consequently they don’t work as well until the situation redresses and a balance is achieved. This includes those parts of the brain that deal with logical thought and communication, which are separate from the emotional centres. So how to we create that balance ourselves so that we stay in charge of our own brains? Learning a simple process of self hypnosis calms the mind/body system and switches off or calms down unhelpful emotional responses. There follows a set of specific instructions on how to use basic self hypnosis techniques to achieve this, you’ll probably be amazed at how simple it is, and that you probably already know how to do it. You just didn’t recognise it as self-hypnosis.

Start by taking three very slow deep breaths, in through the nose, hold for a mental count of two, then exhale slowly via the mouth without forcing, almost like a sigh. Make the out breath longer than the in breath. Its important when doing this to relax the tummy muscles so that you fill your lungs to the bottom. Most of us breath to the top our lungs, which is shallow breathing. This type of breathing actually predisposes us to an emotional reaction. Slow deep breathing on the other hand is associated with calm.

Once you have calmed your breathing down then you can begin to use the power of your imagination through visualisation exercises.

Imagine yourself being calm and focused. You are not affected by noise, or pressure, or atmosphere. You are about to make a rational decision. You’re going to place a bet on a horse which has a reasonable chance of winning. You’ve either decided this yourself, based on totally logical factors, or you’ve taken advice from someone you trust. You don’t care what the horse’s name is. Nor do you care about any other extraneous factors. You are making your decision based on factors such as past performance, the going that day and the jockey.

Of course physical and mental preparation are only part of the skill set needed to beat the bookies. Professionals make best available use of the skills of other professionals. Once you have mastered the necessary self-control and are no longer controlled by your emotions you make better decisions. I would like to thank Neil for his comment on Twitter: illusion of control: Why gamblers throw dice harder when trying to for a higher number and softer for a low.

Friday, 12 December 2014

2:00 Cheltenham Racing Tips (13th December) CASPIAN CAVIAR GOLD CUP (A Handicap Chase) (Grade 3) (CLASS 1) (4yo+)

Thirteen runners for this Grade 3 Handicap Chase over 2m 5f on Good going. With total win price money of over £100,000 this will be a fascinating contest. Paul Nicholls' Caid Du Berlais looks a decent each-way prospect. This five-year-old bay gelding, sired by Westener out of a French mare put up a mighty performance when running at this course in Novemeber when running on stoutly to deny John's Spirit by a head in the Paddy power Gold Cup Chase. With total prize money of just under £200,000 this horse could target the Ryanair Chase, come Cheltenham Festival in March. Remember to take advantage of bookmaker offer. Winner are giving Money Back If Your Horse Finishes 2nd In the Gold Cup on Saturday. Plus 1/4 odds each way for all Saturday's live Channel 4 racing. If that's not enough, then players can earn Free Bets by placing 10 bets on Horse Racing.   

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

When does a Professional Gambler stop gambling?

Another fascinating article from the Horseracing Pro. It is a well known fact that comedians are at their funniest when on stage. Put them in a normal social environment without the spotlights and cameras and most are unamusing. The art of making people laugh is a skill and it is one learned and practised by the jokester, but he is not a funny man all the time and in many instances lacks wit and wisdom, especially when in an every day situation. Similarly, when filming or on stage, actors have the luxury of being able to assume a part.

This allows them to shelter behind an alter ego. It is often noticeable that characters that play, James Bond for example – the epitome of the English gentleman – often dress casually when interviewed on television: Pierce Brosnan sported a beard on one occasion. It is as if they are seeking to escape from the character created, wishing to scream, ‘That is not me! This is me!’ Daniel Craig and Sir Roger Moore apart, most Bonds look as if they have been yanked from the pub when no longer assuming the mantle of 007.

When you think about it this is not surprising. A comedian is an impersonator in much the same way as an actor. When performing they run the risk of baring their all, their very souls, to the audience. So what better way to alleviate this potential nightmare than to hide behind a mask. For an actor that is easy. He portrays a ready-made part and becomes Hannibal Lector, Dirty Harry or Rhett Butler and if it fails to work, well he is merely following a script. The interesting point, however, is that most film actors are chosen to portray characters close to the public perception of them in real life. But the script, the fact that a film is largely a slab of make believe, allows the actor refuge, meaning he can claim, at least publicly, that whatever parts he has played have been works of fiction. In most cases that is true but there has been a central theme running through the roles adopted by the greats. I am talking about the likes of Bogart, Douglas (yes, Kirk and Michael – ever see Falling Down?), Steiger, Redford, Grant, De Niro, Eastwood, Newman, Hanks – the list is a long one and omissions are not intentional. I am straying slightly here and that is because I am talking about one of my great loves – the cinema.

Thank you for your patience – often an essential attribute in my pieces! I am about to come to the point that is relevant to our business which is not as glamorous as that practised by those that live in and around Malibu and Beverly Hills. But, just as an actor sheds his image when off camera, professional punters need to remove their gambling jackets when not at work. Those that are the most successful at betting are not necessarily gamblers at heart. They trade during the day, using their skill and expertise to bob and weave through the treacherous programme that is a racecard. Ask them what they are doing when they place a bet and the chances are prosperous punters will deny they are gambling. Some of the biggest gambles I have taken in life have been away from the racetrack. If you have the desire to live life on the edge, to bet, to drive too fast, to gamble whenever the situation crops up, you may not last long in racing. Betting is not about deriving a thrill. Yes, winning is thrilling and exciting, it is also rewarding in every sense, but if that is your motivation, take stock. Just the same as any writer or actor that is purely driven by the desire to be famous will eventually flip hamburgers, punters who wish to use horseracing as a legitimate way to gamble are likely to find themselves on the night shift at Tesco.

We are of course all different. I can only speak for myself along with those I have come across during my time in racing. And it is true that like tends to attract like so, even if we had moved in the same social circles, I am sure that, much as I admired his wit and recklessness, Jeffrey Barnard and myself would not have got along. He was a man who liked to take chances from the moment his feet hit the floor in the morning – or perhaps that should be lunchtime! I take no pleasure in risk-taking. My intention when backing horses is to remove as much of it as possible. I have seen what can happen, know that messages can often be dangerous in the extreme because they are someone else’s opinion and the one I trust the most is my own. I try to prune the risk before I bet and unless the price is commensurate with that risk, I don’t take it. As a result, there are those that level the charge against me that I am over-cautious and they may well be right. But, by such an approach, I have survived in a business that claims more scalps than the Sioux Indians managed at the Battle Of Little Bighorn.

Some of my contemporaries have a bank balance that must read like the graph at the end of a bed of a hospitalised heart-attack victim. They dine at the Ritz one day and eat fish and chips the next. Some could not wait to light the fuse, burning out like comets streaking across a night sky. Then there are those that plunged into the high life straight away without actually having earned the money that accompanies such a lifestyle. Others, forced into a corner, have bulldozed their way to massive fortunes by scraping together enough cash for one last do-or-die wager that obliged and from which point there was no looking back. Through a succession of poor decisions, I found myself in that situation during my early years, and had the good fortune to dynamite my way out of trouble. But such action is not something to be advocated. Making a mistake does not mean you are a fool. Failing to learn from it does that.

To a degree, how you play this precarious game depends on your make-up although there are parameters. I tend to trundle along, making enough to live a life that more or less suits and always hoping that one day I will pull off the miracle bet. Miracle bets do not tend to happen to people like me because I lack the optimism or the foolhardiness to strike too many of them. I am always looking to protect my investments so the emphasis is on survival rather than upgrading to a Porsche.

I have stated this before but it is worth repeating: If you have hit on a formula that works for you, that is all that matters.

But I do feel it is important is that would-be professional punters do not confuse gambling with betting. The gambler stands in a casino believing, or hoping, he can beat the house at its own game. The punter constructs his rules. He bets in his own house and to his own percentages, taking risks because they are unavoidable and a means to an end. But he does not take them because he likes to or because he enjoys the buzz they give. Become that man and you are the drunk that runs a pub, a dentist that delights in inflicting pain, a psychiatrist that feels superior to his patients.

Source: Horse Racing Pro

Retiree re-invents himself as professional blackjack gambler

In Rudyard Kipling's The Man Who Would be King, a British soldier named Daniel Dravot schemes to become king of a remote area of Afghanistan. Today, a 63-year-old retired real estate developer calling himself Daniel Dravot also schemes to become king -- of the blackjack table. 

In what is surely the most unlikely of "encore careers," Dravot works as a professional gambler.

For 33 years Dravot often gambled in real estate development to keep his 250 employees at work. "There were times I had to remortgage my house on a Thursday to make payroll," he says. But he only set foot in a casino a handful of times.

By 2004, Dravot saw the recession coming and closed his business. "I got out whole," he says, "though not as whole as I wanted to be. At 30 you think you're going to conquer the world. At 60 you realize the world has conquered you."

Bored with TV, Dravot searched his bookshelf for something to read and came across a book on blackjack strategy he'd bought 25 years earlier. He studied card counting, the system by which you assign a plus or minus value to cards in order to keep track of them. Soon he was making money at it.

And even though card-counting is perfectly legal, casinos don't like losing. "The casinos are there to take the money from the foolish and the stupid," he says. "They frown on people using their brains." Which is why Dravot's been thrown out of dozens of them. And uses a pseudonym.

Dravot's system is actually no different than the one used by hedge-fund managers to calculate risk. Indeed, billionaire Bill Gross, founder of Pimco, the world's largest bond fund, started his career playing blackjack professionally. And Beat the Dealer author Ed Thorpe, the MIT mathematician credited with creating the system of blackjack card-counting, went on to make a fortune in the securities market.

Now Dravot has simplified that system, taking out all the heavy division to provide a methodology for the average person.

Here are some of the tips you'll find in his book The Color of Blackjack. They apply equally to business as well as cards.

1) Make sure you're adequately financed. Dravot says to measure your bet size by your bankroll. For instance, with a table minimum of $5, you can't possibly make any money if you've only got $50. You'll need at least $500 so you can lose a few hundred before you start winning.

2) Get the best deal. Some blackjack tables play with a single deck while others can play with as many as eight, which favors the house. That is, unless the single-deck table is paying 6 to 5 instead of the traditional 3 to 2. "It's like a restaurant offering two different sets of prices," Dravot says. In other words, perform due diligence.

3) Pay attention. Unlike dice, which have no memory, blackjack depends on a "sequential event." The more cards the house deals, the fewer there are in the deck. So you should start with small bets, then increase as you gather information.

"Blackjack's taught me to stop and think, 'Where's the edge and who has the advantage?'" Dravot says.

Nowadays, Dravot lives on the road 250 to 300 days a year. After being single for 25 years, in June he married a woman who worked for his company for 28 years.

"I could be spending my money on greens fees every day," Dravot says. "Instead we're out having fun."

And that, my friends, is The Upside.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

2:10 Kempton Racing Tips (8th December) BOOK NOW FOR BOXING DAY MAIDEN STAKES (CLASS 5) (2yo)

A Maiden over one-mile on standard going. Thirteen two-year-olds take part: eleven colts and two fillies. A mix of lightly-raced thoroughbreds from leading stables and two debutantes, including the well-bred New Style for Saeed Bin Suroor, sired by Street Cry out of Land Of Dreams who was a class sprinter, racing at the highest level before retiring at three. A debut winner at two, she was triumphant in the Flying Childers Stakes (Group 2). 

The betting will give a good clue to the likely chances of all. One horse that catches the eye is Entitling, trained by James Fanshawe. This bay colt, an Irish-bred son of Mastercraftsman, was an expensive yearling purchase for Suzanne Roberts from Tattersalls October Sales 2013 when achieving 200,000GNS. 

Now racing in the familiar silks of Ben MC Wong, this March foal was well backed on debut [12/1 - 15/2] when racing on good ground at Nottingham over 1m 1/2f. That was a promising first start, running on after being short of room.

Generally, Fanshawe's two-year-olds improve for their run and this youngster has the making of a fair horse. A high draw is a slight concern although that experience should help Tom Queally sit in a handy position. 

The betting will be the best indicator. Wait for the markets to settle before making judgement. If this horse is priced 13/2 & less SP it should run a big race featuring strong each-way claims. 

An intriguing race.  

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Friday, 5 December 2014

Does the King George Give Any Pointers to the Cheltenham Gold Cup?

The King George VI chase at Kempton Park on Boxing Day is the racing highlight of the Christmas National Hunt calendar. Racegoers will flock in their thousands to the south-west London track to revel in the Christmas spirit – and hope to back a few winners along the way!

There has been many fine champions of this prestigious race - most notably - Kauto Star, who racked up an incredible five King George victories in his stellar career. Silviniaco Conti is the current King George market leader but how significant is this festive showpiece race in regard to the blue riband Cheltenham Gold Cup? Here we will look into the recent results of the Boxing Day spectacle, and see how those outcomes reflect towards the March festival.

Favourites’ race

In recent seasons, the King George has been a safe haven for favourite backers as eight of the last twelve renewals of the great race have been won by the jolly. Edredon Bleu sprang a 25/1 shock back in 2003, but this race is likely - according to statistics - to be won by a horse that is at the head of the market. It must be said that three of the last four renewals have been won by a non-favourite to redress the balance – but those three recent winners have all returned at odds of no bigger than 9/2.

Age no barrier

Most age trends to a specific race tend to congregate around a certain bracket, but that cannot be said for the King George. Three six-year old winners, Kicking King (2004), Kauto Star (2006) and Long Run (2010) have all proven that youth can conquer experience in the race. It could be argued that Long Run was effectively a five-year old as the 2010 renewal was actually run in January 2011 due to bad weather over the festive period.
The three mentioned above also won the race as seven-year olds, together with Best Mate (2002) and Silviniaco Conti from last season. Kauto Star (2008-2009) is the only eight, and nine-year old winner in the last twelve runnings, while Edredon Bleu and Kauto Star yet again in 2011, proved that age was no barrier by entering the winners’ enclosure at aged 11.

Experience is key

Other notable statistics are that nine French bred horses have passed the post in first place in the last 12 years, while the other three winners are Irish bred. Every winner of the King George during that twelve year period has also won a Grade One chase previously, which can be classed as a negative sign for the inexperienced Champagne Fever.

Tough task

So, how does all this information work towards the Cheltenham Gold Cup? From 1990 onwards, there have been just four horses who won the King George, and then went on and claimed the Gold Cup in March. Best Mate (2003), Kicking King (2005), Kauto Star (2007, 2009) and most latterly Long Run in 2011, all completed the seasonal double. That quintet are arguably the four finest staying chasers in recent history, which proves the thought of winning both titles in the same season is a very tough task that only the finest equine talent have achieved.


If you are looking for the winner of the King George, then the sensible option is to look towards an experienced horse, who has already won at Grade One level – and is relatively short in the betting. Form tends to hold up year on year in the race, so Silviniaco Conti must have excellent claims to return to the winners’ enclosure once again. However, if the Paul Nicholls trained gelding was to triumph at Kempton this Christmas, is he capable of winning the Gold Cup as well? I’ll leave that decision up to you.

Wednesday, 3 December 2014

5:45 Kempton Racing Tips (4th December) £25 FREE BET AT BETVICTOR MAIDEN STAKES (CLASS 5) (2yo)

A maiden stakes over 6f on standard going. Twelve two-year-olds take part: colts & geldings bar one filly. The betting will be important here and if Nuno Tristan is backed he could well prove a decent each-way bet. 

William Jarvis has a small string of juveniles at Phantom House Stables in Newmarket but is a capable trainer who can turn out winners, especially on their second start. 

This America-bred colt is a son of Henrythenavigator out of a talented mare who raced twice but won both starts for John Gosden [owned by Robert Sangster] including the Princess Margaret Stakes (Group 3) at Ascot. 

The mare, Saintly Speech, was purchased by Blandford Bloodstock aged 11 for $110,000 at the Keeneland January Sales [2008]. 

Nuno Tristan is a well-bred horse who was similarly purchased by Blandford Bloodstock for 115,000gns from Tattersalls October Sales 2013. Clive Washbourn has been a long-term patron with Jarvis, who sent out debut winner L'Addition, a surprise 16/1 winner on the all-weather in July of this year. He also has horses stabled with David Barron, George Baker & Marco Botti. 

Nuno Tristan showed limited ability when making his debut at Nottingham over 6f on good ground. It is most likely this youngster needed that initial outing and better should be expected today. If priced in single figures this March foal has sound each-way claims from a fair draw and Graham Gibbons in the saddle. If weak in the betting best watched.