Monthly Archives: March 2013

For what it’s Worth

The final day of the 2013 Cheltenham Festival features the sport’s Blue Riband event, the Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.20), the race that everyone interested in racing dreams of winning.

After an almighty struggle to win a Gold Cup since he began training way back in the late 1970s, Nicky Henderson finally bagged the prize and brought the curtain down on the era of Kauto Star and Denman, when his Long Run won it as a six-year-old in 2011.

Despite being below his best last season, the French-bred gelding still made the Gold Cup frame, and having never finished out of the money he remains a serious player today.

Even so, this race has long favoured improving horses and so stablemate Bobs Worth looks the one to be on today. A measure of his class was in winning the Hennessy Gold Cup off top weight, much as Denman had prefaced his own Gold Cup with. Throw into the mix that he loves Cheltenham and is 4/4 at the track and he will take plenty of beating.

Very honourable mentions go to Silviniaco Conti, who has done everything right so far this campaign and looks a big threat, though with Paul Nicholls’ runners just one or two per cent below par plus a couple of hard races under his belt this time and not Cheltenham form for us to work with, we will take him on.

Irish hopes rest with Willie Mullins-trained Sir Des Champs. He still has it to prove, but he has been laid out for this all season and now with Tony McCoy stepping in for the mount at the 11th hour, he looks sure to be a very warm order and may even go off favourite.

David Bridgwater is also very keen on the chances of The Giant Bolster, who also made the frame in this at a big price last year and is they go a good clip then he will be doing his best work up the hill.

The Triumph Hurdle (1.30) kicks off the final day and Henderson can fuel confidence for the big one later on the card by picking up his fifth win in this race with Rolling Star. Our Conor would look a serious danger if the forecast rain gets into the ground, while the same applies to Ditcheat representative Far West.

In days of yore, the Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle (2.05) was the meeting’s ‘getting out stakes’ but these days it presents punters with a second conundrum in succession and amid the English versus Irish battle we’ll take outsider Kian’s Delight to win it for Wales and Peter Bowen.

The Grade 1 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2.40) could be McCoy’s first success of the meeting and as both favourite and one who carries the colours of J P McManus, there would be no more popular winner. Our Vinnie could be the main danger.

The Gold Cup for the amateur riders (CGA Foxhunter Chase, 4.00) follows the Blue Riband itself and this can again be fought out by the first two home last year, Salsify and Chapoturgeon and an interest in both should prove profitable.

Legendary multiple champion trainer Martin Pipe is recognised once again with the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (4.40) looks as difficult as ever. Martin’s son David usually has a very strong hand in this race but this year he saddles only Gevrey Chambertin, who is progressive and looks to have strong claims.

However, Nicky Henderson’s Ma Filleule looks well suited by conditions, is very consistent, and is taken to score with Make Your Mark possibly the best of the Irish.

Finally, Henderson would love nothing more than to bring the curtain down on a fascinating Festival than to win the race named after his father Johnny, the Grand Annual (5.15), which is just about the toughest two-mile handicap chase of the whole season.

The Seven Barrows handler has no less than six of the 24-strong field running for him and Kid Cassidy might arrive late on the scene under Paul Carberry and give them all something to think about.

Even so, Tom George is double-handed and jockey Paddy Brennan is very keen on the chances of Rody, who can go close along with stable companion Parsnip Pete, who is very attractively-weighted with just 10-5 on his back.

Just about all over for another year then and now it’s time to sit back and enjoy steeplechasing’s greatest prize. After a dismal Thursday, for what it’s worth, my selection is Bob’s Worth.

Whisky can pick up hurdling Oscar

So we move on to day three of Cheltenham and it’s a day where Oscar Whisky can finally star at Prestbury Park in the featured Ladbrokes World Hurdle (3.20).

In the absence of the great Big Buck’s, today’s contest has a very open look to it. Nicky Henderson’s Oscar Whisky is, it has to be said, the best two-and-a-half miler in the business over hurdles and he clearly wasn’t right when crawling up the hill behind Big Buck’s 12 months ago.

Plans were for him to bypass a rematch and head for Aintree next month, but after the injury to the four-times champion, connections had a change of heart and this race is all the better for it. If Barry Geraghty can switch him off then he could have too much pace for them all up the hill. Bog Warrior looks the biggest of several dangers.

Forty minutes earlier the two-and-a-half mile chasers take centre stage for the Ryanair Chase. Former dual winner Albertas Run would be a hugely popular winner but he is now at the veteran stage and youth can have its day. Cue Card proved he gets this trip at Ascot last time and looks a major player, as does Riverside Theatre, who bagged this prize in a controversial finish a year ago.

Menorah loves it around here and is a previous Festival winner himself. Conditions looks ideal for him and he doesn’t have much to find with the best of these on official figures. He can be backed each way, but First Lieutenant looks capable of seeing off his seven rivals for another Irish success.

The Jewson Novices’ Chase (1.30) kicks things off and can be fought out by Dynaste, the leading English hope on this season’s form and Aupcharlie, who has rock solid form in Ireland.

The Pertemps Final (2.05) sees a maximum field of 24 go to post and Paul Nicholls will be hoping that ante-post favourite Sam Winner can bring his Ditcheat team their first success of the week.

However, from a betting perspective he is plenty short enough and we’ll take him on with Jetson, who will love the drying conditions and have an each-way play on the hugely consistent Ballybough Pat.

The Byrne Group Plate (4.00) is no easier for wagering. Ferdy Murphy is a past master of winning Festival handicaps and Divers, placed in this race before, looks well handicapped if his jumping holds up. He certainly looks worth a nibble at around 16/1, but Ballynagour looks laid out for this by the David Pipe team and he can improve again here to land this.

The Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase (4.40) is another devilishly difficult race to sort out, with Same Difference likely to go off favourite for local trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies but we will take a chance on Galaxy Rock each way. Twice a winner at the track, he stays all day and with a strong pace assured he can pick them off up the hill.

The Glenfarclas Handicap Chase (5.15) has passed an inspection and takes place over the Cross Country obstacles. We will stick with Tuesday’s assessment and take Arabella Boy to win it for Ireland, while Wedger Pardy can go close for the home team.

Sensational Sprinter to steal the show

Despite some cramped odds we will gladly accept the profit from day one at Cheltenham and renew rivalries with the bookies once more for Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Chase day.

The feature is due off at 3.20 and stars the best National Hunt horse in training, Sprinter Sacre. Nicky Henderson’s seven-year-old is unbeaten over fences, with those successes including last year’s Arkle. He acts on the ground, has yet to be extended in any chase and looks the banker of the whole meeting.

However, at 3/10 he is too short for the working man, so he may it may be worth backing without him or to find the one to follow him home for the forecast. Sizing Europe is a previous champion chaser but at 11 he is getting a bit long in the tooth. The fact that connections thought long and hard about going for the Ryanair tomorrow, in preference to this, suggests that they are concerned about how much speed he still possesses. He is still second-best here on all known form, but it might be worth chancing Mail De Bievre to fill the runner-up spot.

Tom George’s charge jumped with plenty of enthusiasm, trying to make all until his stamina ran out at Newbury last time, meaning his trainer had a rethink over his best trip. We know he stays at least two-and-a-half miles, which will stand him in good stead and he might lead the favourite to the home turn and plug on behind him for second.

Also on the card is the staying novices’ championship, the RSA Chase (2.40). This year’s renewal should suit Boston Bob who, despite being deserted by Ruby Walsh who prefers Unioniste, should be ideally suited by a strong pace over this three-mile trip. Slow ground is definitely a positive and he will take a bit of beating. Unioniste beat one of today’s opponents, Hadrian’s Approach at Newbury last time, when he was said to be in need of the run.

If that’s the case then he can improve today, but so too can Nicky Henderson-trained Hadrian’s Approach, who would probably have won that day but for a bad blunder two from home. He found three lengths on the run-in, only to go down by a short head and he looks capable of at least making the frame. Houblon Des Obeaux is another with the potential to finish in the money.

The day’s opener (1.30) is the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase, named after the former journalist and broadcaster who did so much for racing, not least the Injured Jockeys’ Fund. The ‘Noble Lord’ would have relished riding in this stamina-sapping four-mile contest which should see Back In Focus and Buddy Bolero fight out the finish. The latter looks the better value option at the odds. A word also for Scampi Boy, who looks worth a small wager to make the frame at massive odds.

There’s a third Grade 1 on the card for Wednesday watchers to enjoy, the Neptune Investment Novices’ Hurdle (2.05). Pont Alexandre looked very impressive when winning at Leopardstown in January and a strong gallop over this trip looks ideal for him. He can improve again and will be hard to beat. If anything is to lower his colours then another Irish-trained runner, Rule The World, could be the one. However, of more interest and potentially destined for the top is Chatterbox. Another representative of Seven Barrows, he may have been flattered by his defeat of stablemate My Tent Or Yours on his Newbury hurdles debut. He is stepped up in trip here, but with stamina on the dam’s side of his pedigree, he could find significant improve.

The last three races today are all potential minefields for punters. The Coral Cup (4.00) has drawn a maximum field of 28 and Pendra looks to have claims of giving A P McCoy another Festival winner. However, Ericht and Mr Watson both look decent value to make the frame and possibly even win it.

At 4.40 the Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle is for the juveniles and looks a very tough race to call. Donald McCain has done well with his Cheltenham raids in recent seasons and Counsel could go close to winning another big pot for the Cheshire-based trainer. At a bigger price Angelot Du Berlais could make the frame. He caught the eye when winning at Ludlow in January and his last run, when he finished lame in third, can be overlooked.

Finally, a fourth Grade 1 brings down the curtain on day two at 5.15, the Weatherbys Champion Bumper. Traditionally farmed by the Irish, they have a strong hand again this time with Willie Mullins saddling several runners. Even so, Tony Martin’s Golantilla may prove the pick of the those from the Emerald Isle. Regal Encore also looks to have strong claims, but in a race where punters should tread carefully, David Pipe’s Vieux Lion Rouge looks overpriced and can be backed each way.

A fantastic day’s sport ahead. Once again, enjoy!

Cheltenham fever!

Sadly no chance of being at the Greatest Show on Turf this year, but as I dream of donning the overcoat, badge and shiny shoes once more I still can’t help being hooked on the emotion, the history and the sheer joy of witnessing the best National Hunt horses in the business go hoof-to-hoof around Prestbury Park.

My Tent Or Yours can lay it down to them in the opener and defy his cramped odds, with Irish hopes Jezki and Champagne Fever the major threats.

By 2.05 Simonsig should be making it two from two for the maestro that is N J Henderson and I don’t think it will be either Overturn or Arvika Ligeonniere chasing him up the hill, but instead Lucinda Russell’s 28/1 shot Tap Might under A P McCoy.

At 2.40 we have what is usually one of the top three most competitive staying handicap chases on the calendar. A field of 24 line up for this three mile and half furlong contest and with a fast pace assured the winner is going have to stay every inch of that trip. For me, White Star Line has been ultra-consistent and should at least make the frame, while Monkerty Tunkerty is short-list material, though I am going to take the former plus the improving Nuts N Bolts (28/1) to be at least placed. With some luck in running then we may see one of them home in front.

The 3.20 is the feature on day one, the Stan James Champion Hurdle and Hurricane Fly can repeat the feat only previously achieved by Comedy Of Errors (1973 & ’75) in regaining his lost crown for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh. Zarkandar looks a big threat if ‘The Fly’ is below par, as was the case this time last year, while Countrywide Flame looks the each way value.

With the Cross Country Chase now postponed until Thursday, we’ll move on to the 4.40, the Mares’ Hurdle. Look no further than the great Quevega for a fifth successive win here. She looks banker material again and I fancy Swing Bowler to follow her up that mighty hill.

Finally on day one, the 5.15 is the Listed Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase and Colour Squadron looks open to plenty of improvement, the first of which we can see today. The Druids Nephew is an interesting contender, though at a price Johns Spirit can go well for the Jonjo O’Neill yard that does so well at the Festival in these type of races.

A fantastic afternoon ahead. Enjoy!