Friday, 22 February 2013






"TOM is expected to formally appeal this morning against the ten-day ban he received from the Doncaster stewards on Wednesday which would rule him out of next month's Cheltenham Festival, writes Richard Birch.
"The stewards at Doncaster deemed O'Brien, riding seventh-placed BENEFIT CUT in the novice hurdle, had "failed to take all reasonable and permissible measures throughout the race to obtain the best possible position",  and suspended him from March 6-15.


O'Brien, who landed the 2009 Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Handicap Hurdle on SILK AFFAIR, has partnered 54 winners this season, and was in action at Huntingdon yesterday, where he confirmed: "The plan is to pursue the appeal."
"Renee Robeson, trainer of BENEFIT CUT, said "The severity of the punishment is out of all proportion."
"O'Brien has ridden regularly for Peter Bowen, Paul Henderson, Richard Newland and Jamie Snowden this season, in addition to his boss Philip Hobbs.
"Hobbs said: I haven't had the chance to speak to him about it yet, but losing TOM is bound to cause me a problem at Cheltenham."

J Margaret Clarke Turfcall Comment

Doncaster Wednesday February 20th Winner £3,898.80
3.25 National Hunt Novices Hurdle (Qualifier) (Class 4) 2m+ 11 ran
WIN: MINELLA FORFITNESS 6 11-8 partner Barry Geraghty handler presenter? trainer Nicky Henderson 9-4f  rated (133)

Also ran
120 BENEFIT CUT (IRE) 7 11-2 partner TOM O'BRIEN rated (118)
Racing Post Spotlight  10-1 winner of Market Rasen bumper on debut last June and runner-up in Leicester novice (pulled hard) (unsettled) on hurdling debut for new yard in November but didn't show much after an early mistake in a decent novice at Newbury last time and another tough task here. (118) RP rating.

 120 BENEFIT CUT (IRE) 7 11-2 partner TOM O'BRIEN rated (118)
Took keen hold in rear, kept on from 3 out never a factor 66-1 needs to learn to settle 32 lengths off the winner MINELLA FORFITNESS 6 11-8  9-4f  rated (133) 2nd CHELTENIEN  3rd VALDES (129) Turned into a smart race. Yet more power abuse from the bloodhorse illiterate BHA government stewards another malicious punishment  dished out for victim TOM O'BRIEN. You can't go without your horse no matter how much you want to win. Only one person can ever ride a horse in any one race. TOM O'BRIEN is a highly respected handler rider, and rightly so, to abuse his judgement in this way is a criminal offense within the context herewith. The punishment given a sad farce, likened to the era of Charles Dickens.

Equus Zone
Rodney Masters speaks to Nick Scholfield, riding high in the jockeys' table
and with a clutch of lucrative rides at the festival.
"The leading jockey talks about his lucrative book of festival rides

Richard Birch and Scott Burton
FESTIVAL RECORDS TUMBLE Biggest-ever tally of 1,145 entries made for handicaps.
"RACING'S enduring love of the Cheltenham Festival has been illustrated by a record number of 1,145 entries for the 11 handicaps at next month's four-day extravaganza. The total is 48 up on the previous best in 2009 - In addition there are ten French-trained entries."

CHELTENHAM PUNTING PEARLS A Pyman's Theories special on the value of experience at the meeting. Lack of a prep race no barrier to festival glory.
"PY CATCHERS James Pyman's horses to follow."



James Burn " Investigate the state of all-weather racing in Britain Special report'


"Pitiful attendants, low-grade horses, corruption cases and starting-price manipulation.
  Fit for purpose? Or what? Needs to be developed the right way, the bloodhorse literate way within a truly run  Equus Zone. JMC

PUNTING ON THE POPE  yes, yes, yes (page 99)
Freddy Gray marks your card in the race for the Vatican hotseat. Cultured Italian may be papal punters' pal in a wide-open heat.
"Think of it as the Grand National but with three times as many runners.
"Ask any Vatican insider and they'll tell you that predicting the identity of the next Pope is not easy. The first problem is that the number of possible winners, or papabili, is huge.
"In Theory, at least, any baptised Catholic male 'with youth of reason' can ascend the throne of St Peter, which narrows the field down to about 500 million souls.
"But since the last non-Cardinal to be made Pope was in 1378 (Urban VI, in case your wondering) it's fair to say that the next Pope will be one of the 118 papal electors who will meet in Rome for next month's conclave.
"Think of it as the Grand National but with three times as many runners, and even bigger leaps.
"And that brings us to problem No 2. The papal conclave (the gathering of Cardinals who will choose the Pope) is shrouded in mystery.
"The College of Cardinals is intensively secretive at the best of times, and the men in red hats are forbidden by canon law from talking about the election so gathering solid information about their collective thinking is almost impossible.
"Besides, the conclave is supposed to be guided by the Holy Spirit, and we all know how profoundly unfathomable that is.
"Then again, maybe punters know best. In 2005, the heavily-backed favourite Joseph Ratzinger duly won - even though many Catholic pundits (including, thought he had too many enemies.
"It's possible that, faced with an agonisingly difficult decision, the Cardinals simply opted for the name that was already on everyone's lips.
"But now Ratzinger - or Pope Benedict XVI, as he became - has announced his resignation and, just like in 2005, the media buzz is that we'll have a Pope from the "global south" who will "represent the changing face of the Church".
"This is a politically correct way of saying that we should expect a non-white bloke from Africa, South-East Asia or South America, where the Church is growing, rather than the global north, where it is shrinking.
"The favourite, according to this school of thought, is Cardinal Peter Turkson, from Ghana.
"Turkson would be a strong contender regardless of the colour of his skin. He's a fine orator, has been an effective president for the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace and is well-liked by the Church hierarchy.
"There's no doubt that Turkson is up for it. Just a few hours after Benedict's resignation was announced, he declared that the Church was ready to be lead by a non-Europian. Hint hint.
"But nobody likes a too-obviously-ambitious man of God and Turkson may have wrecked his chances anyway last week with an ill-timed interview in which he conflated homosexuality and child abuse.
"The South American contingent should not be underrated, especially not Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, the Archbishop of Buenos Aires. He has form - rumours suggest that he finished second last time. He combines doctrinal orthodoxy, which endears him to conservatives, with a strong emphasis on social justice, or helping the poor.
"However, Bergoglio is 76, and it's widely thought that the Cardinals are looking for a younger Pope this time.
"Other Latin American names to watch out for are the Mexican Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera and the Honduran Oscar Andres Rodriguez Maradiaga, both of whom have been recognised for their brave stands against corruption.
"A leading Asian papabile, meanwhile, is Cardinal Albert Malcolm Ranjith. The Sri Lankan won lots of admirers for his work as Secretary of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments and might be worth a punt. Don't discount the shrewd Filipino Cardinal Luis Tagle, either.
"IT is important to remember that, while the Church may be universal, it remains Roman in essence - and Roman in this context means Italian.
"The Italians always form a large voting bloc within the College of Cardinals - and the number of Italian papal electors has actually increased since 2005.
"Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Archbishop of Milan, is rightly deemed a favourite. He is, like the outgoing pontiff, a well respected intellectual whose public stands against gay marriage and abortion have made him popular among Catholics outside and inside the Curia.


"Experts say Scola could be the right man to carry on Benedict and John Paul II's legacy of standing up for Christian values in Europe.
"My tip would be 70-year-old Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi - dubbed 'the most interesting man in the Church'.
"As president of the Pontifical Council for Culture, he combines high scholarship - he can talk eloquently on anything from philosophy to science to literature to art - with a useful populist and media - savvy streak.
"Moreover, Ravasi was chosen to preach at the week - long Lenten retreat in front of Pope Benedict and his Cardinals. This is a great honour, and it so happens that Karol Wojtyla delivered the Lenten retreat sermons just before he became Pope John Paul II - as did Joseph Ratzinger before he became Pope Benedict XVI.
"According to some sources, though, we may be about to have our first American Pope.


"Under the reign of Benedict, the influence of US bishops has grown considerably.
"Vatican experts speak about an "American  Pope. Under the reign of Benedict, the influence of US bishops has grown considerably.
"Vatican experts speak about an 'American moment' in Rome. Or as John Allen, the leading Vatican reporter, put it recently: "even if the Vatican remains an Italian village, these days it feels increasingly like one nestled on the Upper East Side of New York."
"Who better, then, than Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the rotund Archbishop of New York? He's a popular figure, close to Benedict XVI, who could easily win enough support from the English speaking and Italian blocs. The problem, though, is that some Vatican snobs think him 'unpolished'
"A more sophisticated choice, perhaps, is not a citizen of the USA, but somebody familiar with Church's struggles in north America - the Canadian Cardinal Marc Ouellet. He already has great influence as the head of the Congregation of Bishops, is a brilliant linguist, and has useful diplomatic experience in Latin America.

"Two weeks ago, bookmakers had Ouellet at 33-1, but those odds have shrunk in recent days. At 6-1, he may still be a touch of value and is worth adding to the portfolio alongside Cardinal Ravasi. And don't forget to say a prayer.
Freddy Gray is the assistant editor of The Spectator and a columnist for the Catholic Herald.

G Ravasi
2pts 25-1 Ladbrokes, Paddy Power.
M Ouellet
1pt 6-1 Boyles, Ladbrokes, Paddy Power

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