Wednesday, 6 April 2016

The Thrill of Horse Racing

It's maybe not the most frugal thing to do but when the big races like the Grand National or the Classics get under way, many people fancy a flutter. Horses (and ponies) can get into your blood at any age.

Horses and ponies are for all ages and you don't need to start as a kid to ride a race horse

Growing up in the country, for me, meant one thing - ponies! It's a passion that developed into a love of racing. I am lucky to have seen both sides of the industry's coin, having owned and raced my own horse and worked behind the scenes with vets, stable staff, trainers, jockeys and the administration of racing clubs –  these make it possible for even the most frugal budget to afford involvement at some level.

As kids with ponies, I think our parents would have freaked at some of our antics, had they known of them! We weren't rich, showy types, more down to earth, hairy, muddy pony types, galloping about the countryside, completely oblivious to everything except the thrill of it all. Much of our time was taken up racing one another and I hate to admit it, but we did used to utter such things as “I'll bet you..." whatever we had - usually a few sweets! (Please note that under age gambling is an offence, you need to be at least 18 years of age to wager an actual bet.)

Nowadays, gambling has become a nationally accepted pastime, with many bookmakers, such as William Hill, offering attractive and lucrative free bets for customers. Used wisely, you really can have an affordable and fun virtual day at the races.

Horse racing is a far cry from Pony Club mounted games and weekend show-jumping, but everyone is in it for the thrill and excitement that equines can provide. As adults, we can still experience that feeling through wagering a bet now and again on any of the thousands of horses that compete or race throughout the year. It's from the thrill of the gamble that national heroes such as Red Rum, Desert Orchid, Mill Reef and Shergar were raised; it is from the love of the sport – yes, I do consider it a sport – that celebrities such as Frankie Dettori thrive and some of the nations best-loved films, like National Velvet, have well and truly stood the test of time, thanks to racing.

Ponies get into your blood when you are young but horses can get into your blood even when no pony ever crossed your path as a child – that's why you find yourself falling for the thrills and spills of racing and the fun of trying to predict the outcome. The breeding, speed, stamina, training, jockey skills, form and general luck of the draw all combine to lure you into believing you have it all sussed - you pay your money and you take your chances. If you're lucky, you win!

NB: Never gamble more than you can afford to lose. There's no such thing as a sure thing in horse racing.

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Grand National Preview

Grand National Preview - It’s as much a part of the beginning of spring as the first daffodils emerging from the ground.

Grand National original artwork by Harvey Mayson
Aintree Grand National 1999  by Harvey Mayson, based on original photograph by John Grossick

We’re talking about the Grand National, or the Crabbie’s Grand National to give it its official title, the horse race that even people who know nothing, whatsoever, about horse races know something.

This year it takes place at 5.15 pm on April 9th, a moment at which an estimated 600 million global television viewers will tune in to watch 40 horses mill around the starting line at Aintree in a state of what looks, to the untrained eye, a little bit like chaos. In fact, it looks a little bit like chaos even to the fairly well trained eye, and therein lies the first aspect which gives the Grand National such widespread appeal; it’s simplicity. 40 horses, 30 hugely challenging fences and a gruelling 4 mile course combine to present a challenge that’s about guts, strength and the will to survive as much as it is about the finer points of equine husbandry.


Consider the fact that it’s not just the horses that have jumped the fences at the Grand National who become famous, it’s the actual fences themselves. Becher’s Brook, The Chair and Canal Turn are up there with the Royal Box at Wimbledon and the Long Room at Lord’s in the ranks of iconic sporting structures, and that’s a testament to the reach which the Grand National has and to the unusually testing nature of those fences. Even after the modifications of recent years – designed to render the fences in question slightly safer – they still represent frankly terrifying edifices.

Another selling point, on top of the iconic nature of the course itself and the egalitarian feel of a race which takes place in the North West of England and attracts spectators and punters from all walks of life, is the fact that the result of the Grand National is genuinely unpredictable in a manner which most other National Hunt races can’t hope to match. The handicap system is utilised to ensure that, in theory, all the horses should finish at the same time.

Outside punts

In practise, the length of the course and the challenge of the fences – which are considerably larger than those generally found on National Hunt courses – combine to create what is often referred to as the ultimate test for horse and rider, and to offer a race which can be won on the day by any horse taking part. The last four races have been won by Many Clouds at 25-1, Pineau de Re at 25-1, Arouras Encore at 66-1 and Neptune Collonges at 33-1, whilst as recently as 2009 the winning horse, one Mon Mome, crossed the finishing line at an eye-watering 100-1.

Indeed, the very fact that the first official winner of the Grand National was called Lottery should provide something of a clue; millions of people who would otherwise never think of placing a bet on a horse race opt for a flutter on the Grand National because, for once, the ‘sticking a pin in a list of names/choosing a horse because I like the colour of the jockeys silks’ method might actually work.

Offering tips for specific horses this far out from the race is a risky business – particularly given that the field of 40 has yet to be finalised – but it is still perhaps worth considering a few of the longer term trends when making your choice:

  • Since 1970, every Grand National winner has previously won at least one race over 3 miles
  • It’s over 75 years since a horse under the age of 8 won the Grand National
  • Since 1961 only one winner from the Cheltenham Festival has gone on to win the Grand National
  • Of the last 17 winners, 8 have previously jumped over the Grand National fences

(Any bets on what the housewives' choice could be this year?)

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Making a frugal pony paradise

Our journey from the start, as we try to create a frugal pony paradise from scratch so we can provide a more natural way of keeping the ponies at Frugaldom - barefoot with the freedom to roam.
Ponies at Frugaldom
This is the first in a series of articles and blogs covering our step by step process towards creating a frugal pony paradise. Until it is built, the ponies are living between the yard, the corrals and the area around the barn and we started the project about one week ago.

The yard and corrals were fenced last year in local larch, which is quite an expensive way of fencing anything, but we want Frugaldom to become a wilderness retreat not only for our members and supporters but also for the wildlife and the ponies that visit tor reside within the project.

I have been researching various ways of creating a mini paradise for ponies and found myself looking at Jaime Jackson's book, Paddock Paradise. The land at Frugaldom isn't suitable for fencing into standard fields and turning livestock out to graze as is the norm, but we will have paths all around the place.

Based on the concept and information on the Paradise Paddock System, our paths, some currently no wider than a footpath, will provide an ideal foundation on which to develop a track grazing system. This method of horse keeping is based on keeping them ranging around your land, foraging for their food over all types of terrain in the same way they would do in the wild. It is a holistic approach to horse husbandry that looks relatively simple to replicate in a frugal format. We can only work with what we have, so this is the account of how we are doing it.

The barn yard at Frugaldom before new fencing
October 2016 - This is the area directly in front of the hard standing that represented the barn yard
Barn yard after fencing was completed
November 2013 - yard has been fenced to incorporate an extra 5 metres of space, making it just over 20m x 20m
The yard is adjacent to the corral
March 2016 - There is a wide track area between the yard and the corral - this will be utilised for grazing
Muddy corner in yard
09 March 2016 - There is a very muddy corner in the yard that needs to be sorted out to improve it. This is where we had the tractor in before winter to scrape out all the branches and debris left over by the previous owner's logging and gardening enterprises.

Fixing the muddy corner
12 March 2016 - We laid down some weed fabric and began digging gravel and dirt from the little quarry, which is about 100m from the yard. This corner is approximately 5m x 5m, so it took a couple of days and  many wheelbarrow loads, all hand dug, to cover the membrane completely.

Gravel over the weed fabric
13 March 2016 - With 2 of us digging the gravel, carting it from the quarry and laying in in the corner to be raked over the woven membrane, it took us a couple of days to complete. You can see by the photographs that we were blessed with amazing late winter weather, despite there still beng snow lying on the distant hills.

Muddy corner filled
13 March 2016 and the corner was almost completely covered. I had placed boards and rocks around the base to hold the weed fabric in place and retain the dirt and gravel. It was certainly hard work and I hope it will be worth it.

Delivery of sand

16 March 2016 - After researching how to level the corner and provide a surface that would be ok for ponies, I settled for the cheapest sand available locally, which was £38 plus VAT per tonne bag delivered - we needed 4 to provide an adequate depth over the rubble.

4 bags of sand

The next lot of back-breaking work began and as I was working alone, I was pleased that the lorry driver had been able to get the sand right up to the yard gate. Who needs a diet when there's sand to be barrowed?

Sand over gravel

Again, the weather stayed in our favour and with all the sunshine, despite the frost in the mornings, the ground, gravel and sand were all drying out a bit.

Sand over gravel

I managed to barrow the first 2 tonnes of sand within a day of the delivery, laying it over the gravel and dirt. It was hard going, but it was already looking so much better tan the previous mud bath.

Muddy corner sorted.

Almost there - just a few more barrows to go and then I can roll the logs into place that will retain the sand on the other 2 sides. These should also help prevent the sand blowing away on dry windy days.

Yard work and making a pony play pen

18 March 2016 The weather is still holding and the muddy corner has dried out really well but there's no rest for the wicked - the hay and bedding delivery has arrived and I now have about half a tonne to shift into the barn before I can do any more yard work but it really just needs a good rake over and then the water buckets and hay feeding station filled... the ponies arrive tomorrow. (19/03/16)

Next post coming soon.

Friday, 11 March 2016

Cheltenham Betting Tips

Cheltenham Betting Tips

Cheltenham Betting Tips and racing previews for the 2016 Festival, including Novices Handicap Chase, National Hunt Chase, Cross Country Chase, the Coral Cup and the JLT Novices Chase

Cheltenham Festival blog

Cheltenham Festival – Novices Handicap Chase 15/03/2016

The final race on the opening day of the Cheltenham festival is the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase at 5.30. The Listed contest is over two and a half miles and the weights are likely to be very compressed. Aloomomo the early favourite for day 1 Cheltenham... read more

Cheltenham Festival – National Hunt Chase 15/03/2016

The four-mile National Hunt Chase is the longest race at the Cheltenham festival. The race is confined to amateur riders. Jonjo O’Neill has trained the winner on five occasions while Gordon Elliott has won the race twice in the last five years. Mullins holds strong... read more

Cheltenham Festival Preview – Cross Country Chase 16/03/2016

The Cross Country Chase is the most unusual race at the Cheltenham festival and was introduced in 2005. It is run over a cross country course of almost four miles with a variety of fences to be jumped. Enda Bolger won the race four times in the first five years with... read more

Cheltenham Festival Preview – Coral Cup 16/03/2016

The Grade 3 Coral Cup is one of the most competitive handicap hurdles of the week at the Cheltenham Festival. It has been won by some high class stayers in the past including Time For A Run (1994), Top Cees (1998), Sky’s The Limit (2006), Medinas (2013) and Whisper... read more

Cheltenham Festival Preview – JLT Novices Chase 17/03/2016

The JLT Novices Chase was only added to the Cheltenham festival programme in 2011. It is a two and a half mile contest which bridges the gap between the two mile Arkle Trophy and the three mile RSA Chase. Willie Mullins won the race with Sir Des Champs in 2012 and... read more
By Harvey Mayson,

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016 - Racing and Betting Previews: Cheltenham Hurdle, Ryanair Chase, Champion Chase, World Hurdle, Triumph Hurdle and Cheltenham Gold Cup

The Cheltenham Festival 2016
Cheltenham Festival Preview – Champion Hurdle 15/03/2016

Most Bookmakers are now offering non-runner/no bet on the Cheltenham festival. The big race on the opening day is the Grade 1 Champion Hurdle over two miles. Annie Power is the new Champion Hurdle favourite The betting market for the Champion Hurdle has been shaken up... read more here

Cheltenham Festival Preview – Ryanair Chase 16/03/2016

The Grade 1 Ryanair Chase was introduced at the Cheltenham festival in 2005. It is a race over an extended two and a half miles and provides a championship race for horses who do not stay the Gold Cup distance. Albertas Run won the race in 2010 and 2011 for Jonjo... read more here

Cheltenham Festival Preview – Champion Chase 16/03/2016

The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the two mile championship race at the Cheltenham Festival. Although there are many star names on the roll of honour, only Badsworth Boy (1983-85) has managed to win it three times. Two time winners include Viking Flagship, Moscow... read more here

Cheltenham Festival Preview – World Hurdle 17/03/2016

The Grade 1 World Hurdle is the top prize for staying hurdlers at the Cheltenham Festival. There have been several multiple winners including Crimson Embers (1982 and 1986), Baracouda (2002 and 2003) and Inglis Drever (2005, 2007 and 2008). The greatest staying... read more here

Cheltenham Festival Preview – Triumph Hurdle 18/03/2016

The Triumph Hurdle is the juvenile championship race at the Cheltenham Festival. The race has been won by subsequent Champion Hurdlers Kribensis (1988) and Katchit (2007). Other top class winners include Mysilv (1994), Zarkandar (2011) and Our Conor (2013). Nicky... read more here

Cheltenham Festival Preview – Cheltenham Gold Cup 18/03/2016

The highlight of the Cheltenham Festival is the Grade 1 Gold Cup over three and a quarter miles. Mullins holds a strong hand in the Cheltenham Gold Cup The current favourite is Don Cossack, trained by Gordon Elliott. He blotted his copybook when falling in the King... read more here

By Harvey Mayson,

Monday, 1 February 2016

Racing at Southwell and Taunton 02-02-16

 Free tips

Taunton 02/02/2016 – Wychwoods Brook suited by heavy ground

The feature race at Taunton on Tuesday is the Bathwick Tyres Handicap Chase over three miles at 4.15. Wychwoods Brook carries top weight at Taunton The weights are headed by Wychwoods Brook, a ten-year-old... read more here

Taunton 02/02/2016 – Bloody Mary makes UK debut for Henderson

The 2.45 at Taunton on Tuesday is a novices’ hurdle for four-year-olds and upwards over two miles. Bloody Mary held in high regard Trainer Nicky Henderson introduces the highly-regarded French mare Bloody Mary who... read more here

Southwell 02/02/2016 – Fujin bids to maintain perfect course record

The 2.30 at Southwell on Tuesday is a six furlong sprint handicap for four-year-olds and upwards with eleven runners. Fujin up 8lbs for recent Southwell victory Shaun Harris saddles Fujin who is bidding to... read more here

Southwell 02/02/2016 – Edgar to repeat course victory

The opening race on the fibresand at Southwell on Tuesday is a handicap for four-year-olds and upwards over two miles. Edgar value for bigger winning margin David Bridgwater saddles Edgar who heads the market... read more here

Content by Harvey Mayson,

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Racing at Wolverhampton and Kempton 01-02-16

Horses Galore Blog - Racing and betting previews for Wolverhampton and Kempton on Monday 01 February 2016

Free horse racing tips

Wolverhampton 01/02/2016 – Murphy to strike late on National Service

The final race at Wolverhampton on Monday is the Ladbrokes Handicap over seven furlongs. National Service chasing hat-trick at Wolverhampton The early favourite is National Service, a five-year-old gelding trained by Gordon Elliott. He... read more here

Wolverhampton 01/02/2016 – Abbey Angel can take feature race for Fahey

The feature race at Wolverhampton on Monday is a fillies’ handicap over a mile with eight runners. Abbey Angel in fine form for Wolverhampton Trainer Richard Fahey is doubly represented with recent winners Abbey... read more here

Kempton 01/02/2016 – Hat-trick bid by Sonnythenavigator

The 5.00 at Kempton on Monday is a two mile handicap for four-year-olds and upwards. Sonnythenavigator a firm favourite at Kempton The clear favourite here is the hat-trick seeking Sonnythenavigator, ridden by Martin Lane... read more here

Kempton 01/02/2016 – Lulu Stanford to star on Giovanni Di Bicci

The 3.25 at Kempton on Monday is handicap for four-year-olds and upwards over a mile with eight runners set to go to post. Giovanni Di Bicci can shrug off 6lbs penalty The clear favourite... read more here

Kempton 01/02/2016 – Little Big Man can take opener for Brendan Powell

The all-weather race meeting at Kempton Park opens at 2.15 on Monday with a one mile handicap for four-year-olds and upwards. Little Big Man the form choice at Kempton Brendan Powell saddles Little Big... read more here

Content by Harvey Mayson,