Another for the string

I got back from a weeks holiday on Dartmoor on Thursday night and didn’t go into the office on Friday. It gave me a chance to catch up with the horses and hatch a few plans.

Straw Bear was down to run in the Kingwell hurdle, and he had the look of a banker about him. He’s a real pro and looked sure to run a strong race – it was more or less a match with Afsoun, who is younger and less proven at this stage. Afsoun had run a big race last time on bottomless going – I follow horses that really handle the heavy and many of my biggest bets over the years have been on heavy ground days. I figured that Afsoun was probably a high class mudlark but a shade short of top class otherwise, and even if the analysis was wrong he was no certainty to reel in Straw Bear. The going at Wincanton was soft.

I’d expected Straw Bear to be a very short priced favourite, but the early tissues had Afsoun in as favourite with Straw Bear a shade of odds against. I probably only have two or three big bets a year these days as I’m rarely that confident about anything – I decided I was going to have my biggest ever bet. I had a few early punts and lost a bit of money, including one on Wee Robbie who came second at a big price. As the Kingwell approached the price was getting shorter and shorter – I’m price sensitive in these things and I didn’t weigh in with as much as I had planned. The Bear won well – Afsoun goes into the notebook for the next time the ground really cuts up.

I’ve been planning to pick up a few horses in claimers this year, and Mick, my racing manager, studies all the claimers (in England and France) assiduously. Mick had highlighted the 4.25 at Lingfield as a possible – one of the fancied horses was a non-runner, but we were still interested in a filly called Baldovina.

Buying in claimers is tricky as there is no chance for a vet’s exam – a lot has to be taken on trust. Mick spends time looking at pedigrees and tracking trainer performance to see who is weak, which trainers horses have historically done well for a move and which trainers seem to be badly suited by certain types of horses. Examining motives for sale is a big part of it – the other guy knows the horse better than we do and if he wants out it’s a good reason not to want in.

Baldovina was trained by Marco Botti in Newmarket. Botti is no bum trainer – he’s very much on the up and has recently moved stables to deal with an influx of top class horses. Tom Dascombe went to the track – he reported before the race on the appearance of the filly. She was a decent size (16 hands or so) but of fairly light build and looking light on bone. She looked as if she could fill out a fair bit. He had spoken to a former assistant at the Botti yard who said that he thought the horse was sound but not classy enough for the owner concerned.

There were several reasons for liking the horse. The pedigree was hard to decipher, but on balance it looked as if she would be better over further in time. Broodmare potential was hard to assess, but couldn’t be entirely ruled out. As a filly she was a classier proposition than the colts in the race as she was racing off levels with the principals but had a right to an allowance. She was a very late foal (27th May) – converting to human terms she is about 16 1/2, whereas an early foal would be 18. This is quite a difference and its importance is IMO often underestimated.

Botti is a good trainer but Boldovina was one of his lesser lights, and he had recently moved stables which must have interrupted his routine. Weighing it all up we decided to go for it if she won the race – I had a decent bet on her to get something into the pot in that eventuality. It was only a five horse race, but Neil Callan found all sorts of trouble in running, getting locked out three times – she came third but we felt that with a clear run she may well have won. Tom spoke to Callan after the race – Callan said “that’s as good as she is” suggesting that third place was the right result, but we decided to disregard this. Tom put the claim in (£17k) and we got the horse – it was a bit expensive as I had to pay for the horse and stomach the losing bet, but it was a good betting day on balance.

I should have runners this coming week. Mon Michel is down to run at Lingfield on Wednesday and we’re hopeful – he has been working well with Nation State, who ran a good second today. Master of the Race is down to run on Tuesday, but unless the ground firms up is unlikely to score. Thunderbolt Jaxon was supposed to be running on Monday but has been taken out – I haven’t spoken to Pete so I don’t know why this is.