Desert Orchid

I was born exactly one week after Arkle strode 20 lengths clear of Mill House to record the second of his three victories in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in March, 1965, so it’s fair to say that the legendary steeplechaser was just a little before my time. However, I vividly remember peering through the gathering gloom, as a lithe 18-year-old, at Ascot in November, 1983 to see a maiden hurdler by the name of Desert Orchid win his first race. Impressive though he was in slamming my selection, Lucky Rascal, by 20 lengths on that occasion, little did I realise that I was witnessing the birth of a legend.


Having seen “Dessie” – as he affectionately became known to his thousands of followers inside and outside racing – win ‘in the flesh’, he quickly became a favourite of mine, not least because he won five more times during the 1983/84 National Hunt season. He was thought good enough to contest the Champion Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in 1984, finishing unplaced behind Dawn Run, but won just once more over hurdles before being switched to fences at the start of the 1985/86 season.


By the time he lined up for the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day, 1986, he had already established himself as a talented second-season steeplechaser but, with doubts about his stamina over three miles and passed over by regular partner Colin Brown in favour of stable companion, and favourite, Combs Ditch, he was sent off a largely unconsidered 16/1 chance. However, jumping boldly out of the hands of replacement jockey, Simon Sherwood, Desert Orchid led the field a merry dance, eventually passing the line 15 lengths ahead of his nearest pursuer, Door Latch.


The performance that catapulted the iconic grey into the public eye but, with his grey coat becoming increasingly white with age, he was to win plenty more races before his retirement in 1991 to guarantee his place in racing history.


Notwithstanding his Grade 1 wins over 2 miles, in the Tingle Creek Chase at Ascot in 1988 and the Victor Chandler Chase at Sandown in 1989, he was to win the King George VI Chase three more times, in 1988, 1989 and 1990, plus the Whitbread Gold Cup, over 3 miles 5½ furlongs, at Sandown in 1988 and the Irish Grand National, over 3 miles 5 furlongs, at Fairyhouse in 1990.


However, perhaps his finest hour came on March 16, 1989, when on a cold, wintry day he summoned every last ounce of his resolve to overcome his dislike of racing left-handed and heavy going to win the Blue Riband of National Hunt racing, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Desert Orchid jumped well in the lead until the fifth fence from home and, although left in the lead again by the fall of Ten Plus at the third last, was soon headed by confirmed mudlark Yahoo. The race seemed lost, but the 10-year-old found extra on the run-in, quickening to beat his younger rival by 1½ lengths, much to the delight of the 60,000 crowd.


All in all, Desert Orchid won 34 of his 70 races, amassing over £650,000 and, having survived an operation for a severe attack of colic in 1992, went on to enjoy a happy retirement, during which he became something of a national celebrity. He died quietly in his stable on November 13, 2006 at the age of 27 and was laid to rest close to the statue erected in his honour at Kempton.


Having followed his career pretty much from start to finish, I’ll always remember Desert Orchid much as Simon Sherwood did, ‘brave, tough, intelligent and totally honest’. He was certainly a legend in my lifetime but, more importantly, a legend in his own.

The Three Laws of Profitable Betting

From time to time during my career, I have been fortunate enough to be privy to ‘inside’ information or, in other words, information that is unknown to the betting public and the bookmakers, regarding a horse that is ‘expected’ to win by connections. Even the most fastidious racehorse trainer cannot expect to be 100% accurate in his or her predictions, but those from whom I have received information (who shall, of course, remain nameless) know, or knew, the time of day and have provided me with many winning bets.


That’s all very well, I hear you say, but what if I don’t know any jockeys, owners or trainers and I don’t want to pay for expensive information from those who do? What are my options, if any, for profitable betting on horse racing?


Well, you essentially have two options. You can become a form student, in the conventional sense, and develop your knowledge of odds, probability and staking to the extent that you feel confident of beating the bookmakers at their own game. Even then, if you make your selections based on conventional factors, such as class, distance, going, recent form and so on, you’re using the same data as everyone else, including the bookmakers, and are likely to draw similar conclusions from it. As a result, unless you’re ‘on the ball’ with regard to obtaining the best odds available, you’re likely to find value, and hence profit, hard to come by.


Thankfully, off-course betting tax is a thing of the past, so you don’t necessarily need to go racing in person to find value but, if you’re not going to use the same information to make your selections as that which the bookmakers use to make a book, how, and where, are you going to find it?


Unfortunately, that isn’t an easy question to answer, but the crux of the matter is to take a broader view of the various factors that affect the outcome of any horse race focus on those factors that are, perhaps, less obvious as selection criteria develop one or more alternative, but nonetheless profitable, selection methods.


Once again, this is all very well in theory but, getting down to brass tacks, which factors should you consider and how can you determine if any selection method based on those factors is profitable in the long-term?


Some suggestions for less-than-obvious factors that you might like to consider, and selection methods based on those factors, will be described in a series of detailed articles to follow. As far as profitability is concerned, it may be possible to determine if a particular selection method has any merit by applying it, retrospectively, to a database of historical horse racing results for, say, the last 10 years. Of course, this may not be possible for all selection methods and, in any case, extensive record keeping going forward will be necessary for any selection method.

Premier League – Leicester vs Southampon – 19th April

The Claude Puel Derby should be a good one. With Southampton entertaining for all the wrong reasons and Leicester trying to recover for a late European push, this should be an enticing game. Following the 2-1 loss to Burnley last weekend, can Leicester recover and get a positive result here?


Home News


When it comes to Leicester, the loss of Vicente Iborra and Kasper Schmeichel has been felt. With Schmeichel likely to miss out here, too, the return of midfield enforcer Wilfred Ndidi is very important. The Foxes are out of form a touch, with back-to-back losses in his absence. With his return, we should see them pick up some of the forceful nature that led them into the top half earlier in the season.


We’ll also likely see Marc Albrighton come back into the side, with Christian Fuchs pushing to get back into the team.


Away News


For Southampton, the loss of Jack Stephens on a suspension is a kick in the teeth. So, too, is the loss of Steven Davis and Mario Lemina; they are very short in the middle of the pitch. Mark Hughes will likely stick with three at the back in a bid to make up for the lack of midfield numbers (and quality) – Sofiane Boufal misses out, too, robbing them of a regular creative threat.


The sheer lack of depth in the Saints squad is being exposed in a big way at this moment in time. With so many injuries now adding up, it’s easy to see why they are a sure-fire choice for relegation.




With the Saints conceding a whopping 3+ a game for four matches, we cannot see them getting anything up at Leicester. The Foxes might be struggling a touch, but they should have what it takes to get a positive result here. Southampton simply lack the quality to stay in the league at this moment in time; a loss here would more or less consign them to relegation. We suspect that will be the case.



Cheltenham Roar

cheltenham roarThe one and only Cheltenham Festival is now just around the corner. Starting on Tuesday 13th March and ending on Friday 16th, this year’s festival is sure to once again provide us with an unrivalled feast of horse racing action. Year on year punters flock to the course, bellowing out the traditional Cheltenham Roar prior to the first race. The pace doesn’t let up over the entirety of Cheltenham, so there are regular highlights and betting opportunities for both casual fans and professional gamblers alike.


The Cheltenham racecourse at Prestbury Park has to be the perfect location for such a prestigious racing event. With an impressive capacity of 67,500 no-one need miss out, especially with the recent addition of the £45m 6,500-capacity Princess Royal Stand in 2015.

Some of the highlights of Cheltenham Festival include classic races such as the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, Festival Trophy and the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It goes without saying that the Cheltenham Gold Cup, first run in 1924 and with prize money of almost £600,000, is a highlight for most. It’s held on the final day and pits the cream of the crop of racing talent against one another.

I also have a soft spot for the aforementioned Queen Mother Champion Chase though, on account that the 2 mile Grade 1 race is a sweet reminder of how much the Queen Mother loved her racing! The race title was changed from National Hunt Two-Mile Champion Chase in 1980, on the year of the Queen Mother’s 80th birthday! Little did we know at the time that this royal racing fan from live to reach her 101th birthday!