Casual Look: A Classic tale

Casual Look, Andrew Balding’s most successful filly in his impressive training career to date. The American bred seventeen-year-old is currently enjoying a happy retirement, after a racing career that ended in 2003. She went on to foal five horses in total, albeit without any of the quintet making too much of an impact in the world of racing – Casual Smile was the exception and the only one to achieve ‘black type form’, winning a group 3 for trainer Chad C Brown in America.

Casual Look made her debut as a two-year-old at Ascot over six furlongs in July 2002. Initially, she was very green and inexperienced, giving some trouble when entering the stalls on her debut. In the race itself, she started slowly, was far too keen, before settling a little better, and then finally staying on to finish a five lengths third to Ed Dunlop’s Nasij. Martin Dwyer rode her that day and it was a partnership that was to last and flourish (mostly) for ten or her eleven racecourse appearances.

That early promise at Ascot continued, and was even more evident on her next outing at Salisbury in August. This time over seven furlongs, she appeared to show a lack of experience at the finish; upon hitting the front one furlong from the winning post, she could only stay on the one pace, maybe thinking she had done all she needed to do by hitting the front and then, seemingly, taking things easy close home.

Next up, in September, she made the short journey to Bath. Here, she traveled like a dream and won very easily by eight lengths. This performance seemed to signify that she was learning but foremost, that she had ability; this prompted owner and trainer to run her in the group one Fillies Mile at Ascot, twelve days later. Trainer and connections were not to be disappointed, as the 2-year-old daughter of Red Ransom ran a blinder to finish second behind James Fanshawe’s talented Soviet Song – and we all know how good she was.

Casual Look finished her opening season at Newmarket, running in the group two Rockfel Stakes. She again ran with plenty of credit, finishing second behind Roger Charlton’s Luvah Girl, who made all to win. It was a solid debut season from Andrew Balding’s promising filly, and left much excitement for the following year.

However, she was given a tough task in her first race of 2003 – the 1000 Guineas at Newmarket. Despite this, she was not disgraced, finishing sixth, and was even a little unlucky in running; denied a clear run at one point, before running on encouragingly inside the final furlong. Following on from that run in the Guineas, people – most notably the bookmakers – started to take the Andrew Balding filly seriously. Next up, the Oaks at Epsom in June, was identified as the target.

At Epsom she traveled beautifully, settled nicely in the pack for the much of the race; it was a far cry from the inexperience of those early runs of her career. Everything seemed to fall just right for her this day, and Martin Dwyer sat mostly motionless onboard her until the exit of Tattenham Corner. On the swing into the straight gaps opened up for her and Dwyer began to get more vigorous in the yellow and green silks of owner William Stamps Farish III. At the two furlong marker she was angled to the outside and given further urgings for even more effort. Meanwhile, the Aiden O’Brien filly, Yesterday – the favourite – was tracking in behind, patiently waiting for a clear run. However, Casual Look was not for catching, and Dwyer rode the perfect race to win the prestigious British Classic.

A section of the media talked endlessly about how unlucky Yesterday had been, but if you watch the race again, Casual Look certainly didn’t appear like she was stopping come the finish line. Maybe if Yesterday had got a clearer, smoother passage, the outcome might have been tighter, but on this day, it was Andrew Balding’s talented filly that prevailed.

The day will also be remembered for the emotional scenes post race, most noticeably between Andrew and his sister Clare – Clare Balding was the presenter for BBC racing at the time – and by clinching his first Classic as a trainer, it all added to this special day for the Balding family.

Casual Look, unfortunately, for the remainder of her racing career never exceeded those exploits on Epsom downs in June. She was tried in the Irish Oaks in July, but could only achieve a third place finish – interestingly, Yesterday, finished behind her on that occasion too (two lengths back in fourth). Subsequent disappointments followed: in the Yorkshire Oaks (finishing seventh of the eight runners) and a below par effort in France in the group one Prix Vermeille Fouquet’s Barriere (finishing eighth of the eleven runner field) – Yesterday, finally finishing in front of her and a head second to the Godolpin winner: Mezzo Soprano.

In my eyes, Casual Look did bow out on a high, albeit not a fairytale goodbye. She took her chance in Keenland, America, in the Queen Elizabeth II Challenge Cup; a grade one race for three-year-old fillies over one mile and one furlong. She was well towards the rear, held up, before making swift headway and finishing strongly but ultimately too late and a little unlucky not to win on what was to be her final appearance of a very memorable racing life.


Viking FK – Rosenborg BK

IMG_3882.JPG20.00 Monday 17th April 2017 
Venue: Viking Stadion, Stavanger.
Competition: Eliteserien, game round 4.

Viking went into this game in the worst possible shape: bottom, after a series of nightmare results from their first three Eliteserien games of 2017. However, in complete contrast, Rosenborg had secured three wins from their opening games and sat second in the table.


The team from Trondheim dominated the first half; they looked stronger, fitter and more talented than their Stavanger counterparts. And their dominance was rewarded as early as the 9th minute, when the talented wide man Pål Andre Helland got in behind the Viking left back, Haugen, before clinically dispatching the ball past Austbø from inside the area. The first half continued much in the same pattern, and Rosenborg went close on a number of occasions, both Helland and Bendtner having the best chances to double their lead.

Nicolas Bendtner ambled about up top for Rosenborg, only occasionally showing rare glimpses of his skill and ability that he still possesses. While Mike Jensen ran things in the middle for the industrious Trondheim men, constantly channeling the ball out wide for Helland to do his thing; meanwhile Viking struggled to contain him and often affording him too much space – in truth they were petrified of him.


The second half was much better for Viking, but particularly the last twenty minutes. They came alive, battled and went in desperate search of the equaliser; and they thought they had found it, only for it to be wrongly ruled out by the Assistant — Viking players and fans protested angrily. Shortly after that, André Hansen made several import saves for Rosenborg, most noticeably one that he athletically tipped onto the post before pouncing on the loose ball. Viking’s huffing and puffing continued right up to the final whistle but to no avail. This fourth defeat in a row confined them to more Elitesiren misery and piled early pressure on their new manager: Ian Burchnall. While for Rosenborg, it propelled them back into first place and they appear be looking more and more like champions by the game (even this early in the season).

(Full Time) Viking FK 0-1 Rosenborg BK 

9’ Pål Andre Helland.

Attendance: 6,804

Viking FK: Austbø [GK], Mets, Ledger, Haugen, Kronberg, Danielsen [C], Ernemann, Adegbenro (76’ Michalsen), Ryerson, Bytyqi (83’ Bringaker), Appiah.

Rosenborg BK: Hansen [GK], Reniniussen, Skjelvik, Hedenstad, Gersbach, Konradsen, Jensen [C], Midtjsø, Jevtovic (66’ Vilh’on), Helland (90′ Bjørdal), Bendtner.

Flat Jockeys Championship: The contenders

The Lincoln handicap at Doncaster, always a great time of year for the flat racing enthusiasts amongst us. And a time that of course signifies the start of the flat season each year. In 2016, it was a battle between only two riders for much of the campaign: Sylvester de Sousa and Jim Crowley. Listed below are the five main contenders for this year’s championship, before finally, one jockey to follow, one that, perhaps, could creep into the top five placings. Ok, so on with the shortlist…

img_0485Sylvester de Sousa finished runner up last season behind Jim Crowley, but although he missed out on the top spot he still amassed an impressive tally — 132 winners from 759 rides, with a strike-rate of 17%. This season, the Brazilian will be looking to go one better, and with his strong style of riding, few would be surprised to see him crowned top jockey for a second time — a title he won back in 2015. Predicted placing: 3rd.

img_0487Paul Hanagan the 36-year-old from Cheshire, is another jockey with leading claims. Hannigan won the championship in 2010 and 2011, and his return to his former retainer, Richard Fahey, could give him all the ammunition he will need to secure his third title. Predicted placing: 2nd.

img_0486Jim Crowley, last year’s champion jockey will again be at the forefront of many betting markets as his bids to defend his crown. His newly formed association with leading owner Hamdan al-Maktoum will surely only enhance his chances and with this opportunity he will get to ride some of the very best bred horses around. If he can pick up a high majority of other rides alongside this connection, then there is no reason why he can’t compete again. Predicted placing: 5th.

img_0488Andrea Atzeni, the man giving Frankie Dettori a challenge for leading Italian jockey in the UK, amassing 88 winners in 2016 alone. A strongly built rider who has made some good partnerships in recent years, not least with the great Postponed, and further such combinations this season could boost his tally and see him secure a place in the top five once again. Predicted placing: 4th.

img_0484Ryan Moore, the most talented flat jockey we have seen since the days of Kieran Fallon’s domination of the flat racing scene from 1997 to 2003. Moore has won the title on three separate occasions, first in 2006, then back-to-back in 2008 and 2009. He is the complete horseman, and despite his boyish frame, he seems to get the best out of almost every horse he rides. And if he continues to take rides outside of his Ballydoyle obligations and maybe finding himself near the top around August time, then he could well push on and win title number four. Predicted placing: 1st.

An outsider…

Horse Racing Jebel Ali, Dubai, United Arab Emirates 20th Febrary 2015Oisin Murphy, the talented Irishman is not considered a contender for this year’s championship, but he does have a great outside chance to sneak into the top five. He will get many rides from Andrew Balding this term, and he will be looking to build on his total of 83 winners in 2016. This gifted young rider could well be a future champion in the making.

Kevin Strootman: Back to his best

Kevin Strootman is looking as good as ever this season. He has brought an energy and drive to Roma’s midfield, and his influence on the pitch is infectious to all around him. Much of what we have witnessed this campaign and especially since the turn of year, is Strootman of old — He is back!

The serious injuries that had frustrated him during 2014/15 and 2015/16, seem to have been over-come. Some, doubted if he would ever return to full fitness or be able to recapture his very best form. His recent performances have been typical of his style — dominant and full throttle, with both a mixture of composure and assured technique with the ball at his feet.

Roma’s aggregate defeat to Lyon in mid-week, resulting in an untimely exit from the Europa League was dissapointing for the Serie A club. However, in the second-leg in Rome, Strootman was the stand-out best player for the Giallorossi and certainly one of the main positives to take from the tie overall. The Roma player led by example and often thrusting them into attack after attack at the Stadio Olympico, as the rest of his teammates followed his battling example.

The 27-year-old has been in equally impressive form in Serie A this season. He has appeared 26 times, scoring 3 and assisting on 4 occasions, while his pass completion ratio also reads well — completing 85.5% of his passes.

The Dutchman’s combative nature is illustrated by this next stat: he has won more tackles per game (2.7) more than any other Roma player this season, in fact the closest to that figure are: Emerson and De Rossi, who are both tied on 2.1 tackles per game.

The aforementioned statistics will certainly draw the attention of other big clubs throughout Europe; Manchester United for instance, have long been admirers and Old Trafford could prove an ideal new home for a midfielder of Strootman’s stature.

Should he choose to remain in the Italian capital however, then he will continue to entertain not just the Giallorossi faithful, but football fans alike and for many years to come.

AC ChievoVerona

AC ChievoVerona’s rise through the Italian football pyramid has been impressive, yet it has largely gone unnoticed outside of Italy. Think Wimbledon, but over a longer time‐frame. The smallest club in Serie A continue to defy the critics, with a brand of football that is not only nice to watch, but makes them deserving of a place in the division.

Founded in 1929 in the small Verona suburb of Chievo, the club has come a long way since those humble beginnings. Chievo share the 39,371 capacity; Stadio Marc’Antonio Bentegodi with Hellas Verona. Their home team colours consist of a bright yellow and blue jersey, yellow shorts, and yellow socks. While Nickname(s) include: Gialloblu (yellow-blues), Ceo (‘Chievo’ in Venetion) and the more intriguing Mussi Volanti (‘Flying Donkeys’).

They inherited the name ‘The Flying Donkeys’ from rival fans of Verona neighbours Hellas, who stated that if Chievo should gain promotion from Serie B in the 2000/01 season ‘Donkeys would fly’ — equivalent to the English term ‘Pigs would fly’. Under Luigi Del Neri Chievo achieved the thought to be impossible promotion and thus the name stuck.

Since that promotion campaign, which in turn marked a serie a debut, Chievo have suffered only one relegation; which came in 2006/07, before bouncing straight back up into Italy’s top flight for the 2008/09 season. Chievo have only ever briefly flirted with European football, only once progressing beyond the qualification stages of the UEFA Cup, a first round defeat to Red Star Belgrade put an end to any further progression.

The most iconic player during Chievo’s time in Serie A, is undoubtedly — Sergio Pellissier. The Aosta, Italy, born forward has made 423 appearances for the Italian minnows, scoring 118 goals in the process. Pellissier has been a Chievo player since his debut in 2000 — he did spend one season (2001-02) on loan at SPAL, scoring 17 in 44 appearances — and has become an image synonymous with their stay in Serie A.

This season has been much like any other Serie A campaign for Chievo, fairly consistent form that we have almost come expect from them. For Rolando Moran’s Ceo relegation seems unlikely, as does the possibility of them clinching a European place and so another season of Serie A football seems to be secured.

Skjelbred retires from international football

Per Christian Skjelbred this week anounced his decision to retire from the Norwegian national team. The 29-year-old from Trondheim made his international debut against Malta on the 28th March 2007 and went on to accumulate 43 caps, while his only goal for his country came at Ullevaal Stadion, Oslo, in June 2012 — when he scored the first goal in Norway’s 2-0 win over Macedonia.

In his early years at Rosenborg Skjelbred impressed with his technical ability and his sheer industrious work-rate — often attracting the interest from the biggest clubs throughout Europe. Then, in 2005, in a Champions League encounter against Olympiacos, his promising career progression was cruelly halted — Skjelbred suffered a horrific double bone fracture just above his ankle in his right leg.

However, despite that set-back, Skjelbred recovered and fought to re-establish his place within the Rosenborg line-up. And the hard work payed off, as he went on to produce a string of consistent performances for the Trondheim outfit. But, by now the the interest from the ‘big clubs’ in Europe had dwindled some-what, so Skjelbred remained a Rosenborg player until 2011, before moving to the German team — Hamburger SV.

Next came the interest from Hertha Berlin, joining them firstly in a loan move in the 2013-14 season. After impressing during that spell, Hertha decided to make the move a permanent one. Skjelbred continued to feature regularly in the Bundisliga for Hertha and in turn this seemed to help his International form.

Then, in 2014, following the retirement of the then Norway captain — Brede Hangeland, Skjelbred was awarded the international captaincy. In what was and still is a difficult transition period for the national team; Skjelbred helped hold together a team lacking top level experience. Upon receiving the armband, he also become the point of focus for much of the younger squad members and someone for them to look-up to, this and Skjelbred’s consistency on the pitch will almost certainly be missed, in what are now uncertain times for Norway.

Senior career
Years               Team                           Apps (Gls)
2004–2011     Rosenborg                 156 (9)
2011–2014      Hamburger SV         26 (0)
2013–2014 → Hertha BSC (loan)  28 (2)
2014–              Hertha BSC               68 (0)

National team
2007–2017     Norway                      43 (1)

Hallo Hallo Oslo

It’s January 6th, and I have just arrived at Gardermoen Airport, Oslo. And boy it’s cold! It’s not so bad though, I like Winter and the snow, and everything always looks so much nicer under a blanket of crisp whiteness.

Once I’m through Duty-Free, I exit the main terminal and precede to buy my NSB train ticket, before making my way down to the platform.

As I wait, I have only a Blackbird for company. Although, I don’t think he is interested in forming any kind of lasting friendship; as I notice he is firmly fixated on the almonds I am currently eating.

A short while later I am approached by a couple, in their forties I would say, and the Lady starts talking to me in English, but I think she/they might actually be Italian.

The lady asks ‘if I know whether the next train makes a stop at the National Theatre in Oslo?’

I tell her ‘I’m also waiting for this train, but that I’m not too sure if it does or not, and that I’m not from this area.’

She is, however, some how convinced I’m a local, so then asks me: ‘if they should change at Oslo central?’

Again, I politely inform her ‘that I am just here visiting, but that I would assume you would, yes.’

She seems satisfied by this, I think. However, they then make there way back towards the information board to study it some more. Not long after, I notice they approach somebody else.

The train appears and pulls smoothly into the station. Once I’m seated on the train, I check for the free wifi connection. This is one of those small things that impresses me about Norway; the Internet coverage is excellent and far superior to most of the countries I have visited recently.

The train is fairly busy. I’m sat with a young family both in my row of seats and the row in front. The youngest of the children, is a boy of about 4–years–old, he is looking at me curiously, almost in a trance like state. After a few minutes he breaks his silence, ‘Hvordan står det til?’ — How are you.

I don’t know much Norwegian and so the best I could muster was ‘Engelsk!’ and ‘Bra takk.’ — Good, thanks.

He then pauses for a moment, you can see he is thinking what he will say next, then he suddenly shouts ‘HALLO! HALLO!’ I meet his parents gaze and we all share a smile and laugh.

Once I arrive in Oslo, I notice the snow has really started to come down pretty heavily by now and to my delight of course.

As I meander my way through the streets of a dark and gloomy city centre, I’m struck by the subtle contrast of the modern architecture mixed with the more traditional styles, it some how seems to blend quite well together and has a kind of even consistency to it all.

As I round a corner, Oslo Cathedral comes into view, standing alone in isolation. Much of the surrounding buildings have evolved over the years, meanwhile the Cathedral has been frozen in time almost and in turn making it appear almost out of place.


I realise now is a good time to buy some food. I decide on: a sandwich, an Almond Snickers and a coffee. Then I make the short walk along Grensen towards my hotel in what is a perfect wintery scene.

Inside the lobby at the hotel I am greeted in Norwegian by the receptionist. This seems to happen pretty much every time I meet new people in Norway, either the combination of my surname and/or more likely my physical appearance, so people assume I’m Norwegian, which I actually quite like.

Once I enter my room, I immediately make my way to the window and I’m greeted with the most memorable of views (see picture, below). By now I’m pretty tired, and so I’m happy to grab a hot shower, get cosy in the warmth of the bed and read my book for rest of the evening  — That way I will be fresh and ready for my first full day in the Capital, tomorrow.


The New Home Of Racing

It has been almost a year now since ITV struck a deal to show live horse racing on British terrestrial television — commencing in January 2017. This also means removing it from channel four screens, which had been racing’s long term home since 1985. After retaining the rights in 2012, channel four in most parts failed to elevate viewing figures beyond previous years, that despite plenty of fresh new innovations in its coverage and introductions of some high profile presenters and pundits.

So what can we expect from ITV’s new venture…


ITV will screen 41 days of live horse racing on its main channel, including: The Grand National, The Epsom Derby, Cheltenham, Royal Ascot and all the Classics. Furthermore, they will also show additional meetings on ITV4, so in total ITV sport will screen a 100 race days each year. In addition to this a weekly magazine preview show will be a permanent fixture each Saturday morning on ITV4.

The New Team

The face of the main coverage will be fronted by Ed Chamberlin. Ed will be joined by Francesca Cumani for flat season coverage and At The Races Matt Chapman will bring his unique and enthusiastic approach as the betting and trackside reporter. Oli Bell will front the weekly magazine show, while Richard Hoiles and Mark Johnson will man the commentary box. Other members will include: Frankie Dettori, Hayley Turner, AP McCoy, Jason Weaver, Luke Harvey, and Rishi Persad.

Coverage starts on New Years day with action from Cheltenham and Musselburgh. It will be an interesting time for racing coverage and I look forward observing ITV’s transition and the way it chooses to present its material. Maybe they can turn the scales and improve the decreasing viewing figures that haunted its predecessor.

Tbilisi’s Forgotten Racecourse

So, after nearly three months in Tbilisi, Georgia, my time here is coming to an end. And one part of my stay I really wanted to write about was the old abandoned racecourse in the city. And upon learning of its existence, I just had to set out and see what I could discover for myself.

While many tourists will hear about the ancient religious history, numerous Cathedrals and the many reminders of former Soviet state occupation of Georgia, however, I was more intrigued by something all together different—the Old Hippodrome.

I have been passionate about horse racing since my teenage years, and in particular flat racing season. Watching Royal Ascot on television was an annual event, as was Derby Day at the start of June each year at Epsom. And so the very mention of an old racecourse in Tbilisi—you can see why it imediatly caught my attention.

The Old Hippodrome Park is situated next to the Kakutsa Cholokashvili Highway, and at first glance it just looks like a flat, vast, open space of green land, in what is an otherwise built up, bustling City. As a keen runner, I decided first to explore the racecourse by running around its outer perimeter to get a feel for the place, and so, off I set.

Around each corner I discovered something different, from the dilapidated former grandstand, to the rusting starting stalls that had been left behind to rust under some trees. As I ran, I could easily imagine the majestic thoroughbreds thundering down the home straight towards the finish line (see 200m picture – below). The park has a welcoming, but somewhat sad atmosphere, and I could not help but think about its former use—the sound of the cars on the nearby highway almost sounding like the crowd on a busy race day.

Built by architect, Iuri Kasradze, the old hippodrome first opened in 1959, before eventually closing its gates permanently in 2007. Currently, it provides the local community with some valuable outdoor green space, a place to relax with family or friends, and it’s also a popular place for locals to exercise. There is unfortunately very little other information available about this once popular sporting venue, so I thought it best to try and tell the remainder of its story or rather what it has become, through my pictures.

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