Our new series continues with Ben Linfoot and David Ord picking out their cliff horses - thanks to Martyn Weston for this idea. We want your tales on this subject as well!
We want your feedback. What are the cliff horses you just backed and backed again without success? - check out details of how to contact us towards the foot of the article - and the early views from our readers.
Ben Linfoot – Htilominlo
There’s a bit of recency bias here as I’ve had many cliff horses over the years but I can tell you all about Htilominlo who cost me a fortune in 2019.
I first heard about this horse in the December of 2018 when I was over in Hong Kong working at the International Races for Sporting Life, during which myself and a few others from the English press bumped into trainer Sylvester Kirk on a night out.
Now, Sylvester is a bit of hero of mine, if only because of his successful obsession with the 1m2f handicap on Derby day, a race he has won three times including with Gawdawpalin who won me a few quid back in 2016.
So, instead of asking him about Salouen, who was in town for the Hong Kong Vase, all I wanted to know was who he had in mind for the Epsom handicap in six months’ time. He was gracious with his time, whispered me a horse and I put it in my phone.
Tiller Mean Low. Should be easy to find.
He wasn’t, for obvious reasons, but through the haze of a Hong Kong hangover I found this horse, Htilominlo, and not only was he owned by Gawdawpalin’s owner but their names interlinked with one being a temple and one being a temple builder.
This. Was. The. One.
I had enough restraint to wait for him to go handicapping and watched his final two runs in novice company with interest. They were encouraging, especially his third run at Kempton, so it was all systems go for his handicap debut at Salisbury. Bet one.
Goodness me he should’ve won that day. Sent off at 7/1, he was bumped and ran about a bit and paid for that greenness by losing by a short head in a frantic finish.
Still, he’d learn from that next time. Six days later, at Goodwood, he was sent off at 7/2. Bet two.
Again he couldn’t run straight, again he ran a blinder and again he ran into one. Beaten half a length, he’d shown he was well handicapped and I was convinced we’d get the money back and more at Epsom.
Before that, though, there was bet three. The London Gold Cup at Newbury, a mega hot race and the same contest Gawdawpalin prepped in before he landed Epsom glory. At a big price I had to back him but it was simply too hot and he was blown away.
No Epsom. This is where I should’ve turned around and walked away, but, what’s this? He’s entered at Nottingham, the day after Epsom, in first-time cheekpieces? This is the weekend he’s been trained for, I said to myself. This was the one.
Bet four. Beaten half a length in second again. It was about now I was starting to question his stomach for the game (as well as my own) but that didn’t prevent me from placing bets five (last of eight) and six (sixth of seven).
Bet seven he won! But he was disqualified. Interference. Betfair. No first past the post on there. That is where I dusted myself down at the bottom of the cliff and said ‘no more’. You can’t say I don’t learn from my mistakes…. eventually.
David Ord - Charli Parcs
What a great topic this is – and what a list I had to work through.
One time Classic hopes for John Gosden who were followed through three different silks, four different trainers and two different codes all to no avail.
Horses our Newmarket work watchers whispered into the ear which went into the trackers. The alarm bells didn’t even ring when they finally surfaced, aged seven, in a bumper in Ireland.
Mile handicappers for David O’Meara who seemingly never got the rub of the green, sprinters trained by anyone who seemingly never got the rub of the green.
But you have to choose one – that’s the name of the game and it boiled down to a clash of two former Nicky Henderson horses. West Wizard v Charli Parks. Charli won – which he rarely does.
West Wizard was a longer-term fling, I backed him for successive Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdles after all, but even it became abundantly clear his reputation far exceeded his ability, it was hard to say goodbye.
And so it was with Charli Parcs.
The word was out, long before his British debut at Kempton over Christmas in 2016 that he was smart, very smart. And my did he look it that day, thumping Mister Bluesky without ever threatening to come off the bridle.
He fell in the Adonis on his next start, and whisper it quietly but some of the non-believers felt he was beaten at the time. But we, the early disciples, knew otherwise. Henderson told the media ahead of Cheltenham he was a big player in the JCB Triumph. Again we knew that.
He finished sixth.
Clearly that wasn’t the real Charli Parks, nothing like it. Dust ourselves down and get ready to go again the following season. It started with the Gerry Feilden at Newbury when the fools allowed him to drift in the market only for the disciples to see how crucial a mistake at the last was in terms of a length-and-a-quarter defeat at the hooves of High Bridge.
No worries we’ll make amends in the Ladbroke at Ascot before Christmas. Scrap that. He finished 13th but that was down to the testing ground and wide route he took looking for some green grass.
Onwards and upwards we roared – to the Betfair Hurdle and…14th spot behind Kalashnikov. 43 lengths behind Kalashnikov.
Ok – alarm bells were starting to ring but hang on, they’re only running him in the Champion Hurdle. Can’t let him go off at 100/1 in any race can we? And it’s not like he’s in there as pacemaker for Buveur D’air..aahh.
Still – one more chance. Good ground and a bit of spring sunshine at Ayr. That’ll do the trick. And it nearly did. For all but the last 100 yards of the Scottish Champion Hurdle 14/1 redemption was in the wind.
In the end Midnight Shadow, Claimantakinforgan and Chesterfield all proved too strong and the love affair died.
It had taken us to some of England and Scotland’s finest jumps courses, on some of their biggest days, but after it all there was still only the debut win at Kempton to look back on.
By the time he reappeared to finish 11th in the 2018 Greatwood, stakes were reduced to a minimum. Shortly afterwards he seemed to exit stage left.
Like all the greats though there was one last hurrah. For in March this year, after an absence of 16 months and switched to Aidan Howard, he snuck under the radar at Leopardstown to bolt up at 7/1.
And dear reader. I had not a penny on.
Send us the cliff horses you just couldn't stop backing...
Send your comments on cliff horses that you've backed over the years into firstname.lastname@example.org and if you’ve any ideas for topics you want covering over the coming days and weeks please let us know.
James Dickson: One Flat racing horse I followed in the early '70s (approximately) was named 'Welsh Warrior'. If my memory is correct it ran 14 races one season, was placed 2nd or 3rd in first 13 and 4th in it's 14th and final race that year. My pocket suffered very badly 😢. It would be nice if anyone can confirm this?
Martyn Weston: The most obvious cliff horse that springs to mind on this subject for me is bizarrely an Aidan O’Brien horse. You would think a horse from this stable would surely pay you off at some point, well step forward Ace in 2005.
The horse had quite a positive reputation and was unraced as a 2YO, then came out as a 3YO and won its maiden and a G3 (both at very short prices) impressively and looked destined to improve into a high class 4YO once stepped up to 10 furlongs. It ended its 3YO campaign running in the QE II Group 1 at Ascot finishing midfield and not given too hard a time for an inexperienced horse.
I was convinced it was destined for greatness as a 4YO and was ready to strike with this horse the following season. Whilst the horse always ran well throughout its 4YO campaign, it was just one of those horses who always seemed to find one or two runners too good for him on the day. It ran 8 times as a 4YO and drew me in to back in at least 5-6 of those 8 runs. I had convinced myself it was still lightly raced and slow maturing, then I convinced myself that the step up to 10f would bring improvement, then I was convinced it was the step up to 12F it needed. However, it could just never get its head in front and the horse went on to never win another race, other than its first three runs in its 3YO campaign, all when too short a price for me to back !
It competed well against some modern days greats such as Rakti, Bago, Azamour and finished up winning over 500k in prize money and a OR 120 at its highest, but he was always the bridesmaid and strangely enough, the more it got turned over in these G1 races, the more attached I became to the horse!
Some honourable mentions to the likes of Bertiewhittle , Gabrial , Halicarnassus who I am sure caught many out over the years. Whilst these horses all won more than their fair share of races in their good careers, they were all tough horses who had long careers and I found them even tougher to catch on a going day!
Peter Overton: Don't know of any cliff hoses but what about the one result you would like to see change - mine would be Crisp v Red Rum .
Richard Pawlowski: Hello David & Ben. I always read your columns and am a fan, first and foremost, hope you guys are keeping well with what’s going on in the world at the minute.
I’m not sure if you would class this as a cliff horse but I’ve been interested in horse racing betting responsibly since 1990, enjoy both codes but slightly prefer the jumps, loved the 1990-95 era best when Twin Oaks and co were around.
Anyway I digress, back in 1999 myself and my brother started to follow a horse called Night Flight trained by Richard Fahey, from March 99 to Jul 99 this lovely grey won a few races and was most consistent so we started to follow it. We didn’t earn much money back then so were staking 50p - £1 each way as you do.
The horse had 16 runs from when he won at Ascot in July 99 but always kept the faith as he always travelled well into it’s races. One day me and my brother decided to go all in on the 22 Aug 2000 when it was ridden by John Reid at York races, (now all in for us was £20.00 each way, we split the stakes to make it less painfull if the horse lost). Well, John Reid gave this an absolute peach of a ride, stalking the leaders, pounced with a furlong to go and readily won about half a length at 25-1. Needless to say, (at that time) it was the biggest payday we’ve had and we often reminisce about that day and still have a giggle to ourselves how much of a great day that was.
Interestingly enough we never backed it since and it never won again!
George Goodenough: Charli Parcs not exactly a cliff horse for me but at Cheltenham he was the last leg of a 9 horse 50p each way Seven Barrows acca. I was trying to emulate the groom who won the £1m. Needless to say the first eight either won or placed and CP, as stated, was 6th in the Triumph. I share your pain Mr Ord but remember for every CP there's a Bensalem 🙂.