The eve of Cheltenham (it does have a feeling of Christmas Eve!) and now is the time to pin my colours to the mast.
I’m pleased that most of my initial selections (see earlier posts) have made it and my approach this year is to stick to my guns unless there is a compelling reason not to do so.
There are inevitably some short priced favourites but my view is that the bookies want to get all they can so the short prices (other than ridiculous shortening just before the races) are generally justified.
In my last post I made clear my views about the ground. Trainers that have waited for good ground will be disappointed. There are some runners that are not obvious and I’ll look for some value where I can.
1.30 Supreme Novices’
Having been kind to the bookies above I see that the top seven in the betting are all shortening!
Champagne Fever (8/1) has attracted obvious support given the likely ground and Festival form. I listened to Simon Claisse this afternoon and it seems a safe bet that we will be on soft ground but that can cover easy to sloppy to sticky to tiring to gruelling and I think that the last two are likely to be what we’ll have, particularly because of the covers (which will be lifted only just before this race). That will suit this one.
I can’t have My Tent Or Yours. He has no form on a track such as Cheltenham and we have no idea whether he’ll get up the hill. He’s no doubt a very good horse but I suspect that the hype about the Newbury handicap hurdle win is just that. It wasn’t the best field ever and he’d won before really challenged. Following race results like that can prove costly.
Dodging Bullets is a live contender but I don’t think that he’s shown star quality. Fourth to Countrywide Flame in last year’s Triumph is nothing to write home about.
It’s a cliche to say that Un Atout could be anything but that’s the only possible assessment. However I think that he’s too short at 7/1. He’s worth an each way at that price.
So that leaves Jezki. I was hugely impressed by his win in the Christmas win at Leopardstown and I saw an interview with Jessie Harrington on an Irish website a few days ago which did nothing to put me off. Unlike Un Atout this one is proven at the top level and I’m expecting a win by at least five lengths as he powers away from his rivals.
This isn’t a deep race and it’s now easier than it was. All the signs from Seven Barrows suggest that Simonsig is right up there with Sprinter Sacre (if not ahead at the same stage) so even at 4/6 he represents excellent value. The ground has done for Overturn and the unconcealed confidence of Donald McCain must have evaporated in the last 72 hours. Outside the market leaders Arvika Legionnaire will run his own race (probably belting off and then down the field up the hill) and the others are there for a Festival day out. I can’t for the life of me understand why Tap Night is in this when there were better options.
2.40 JLT Specialty Chase
Over 3m 110y this will sort out the stayers from the rest if the ground is anything like it’s predicted to be. Merry King (15/2) appeals with his usual jockey on board. I’ve had a few quid on Jadanli (75/1) having seen him win the Thyestes on testing ground and an undulating course. I’m also interested in White Star Line (14/1), second to Back In Focus on heavy last September, second to Hunt Ball here last year, second to Sir Des Champs on soft at Navan and second to First Lieutenant, albeit back in October 2010.
3.20 Champion Hurdle
The way it’s turned out is ideal for a head to head between Hurricane Fly and Zarkandar (7/2). I’ve made it clear from early in the season that I’m with Zarkandar and the ground has sealed it for me. He’s a fighter and I readily believe Paul Nicholls’ view that he does what he needs to win. He’ll grind it out up the hill. Hurricane Fly will probably run him closest and could lead after the last but I’m all the way with Zarkandar to collar him. Balder Succes is not up to this, Binocular has not shown anything to suggest that he’s back to winning the Blue Riband again, Cinders And Ashes has the wrong ground, Countrywide Flame is just not good enough, Grandouet (fragile) would have been a dodgy choice even before the ground turned out as it has, Khyber Kim is a good call for a place at 50/1 and Rock On Ruby had the benefit of a dream run last year which almost certainly won’t be repeated.
4.00 Cross Country
Unlike others I take the view that this is a perfectly valid betting race. Most of these have no chance but there are some interesting less obvious candidates. As previously indicated I’m very impressed with the favourite, Arabella Boy and he’s my win bet (placed now at 5/1 because he’ll shorten). However, I’m concerned by the suggestion (on RUK this afternoon) that he’s an out and out Punchestown specialist and the main target is the La Touche Cup next month. The race is much easier without Balthazar King (in and out but could easily have won on decent ground). This race was won last year in a course record time. That won’t be repeated and brings in other, perhaps less obvious, candidates. For me, they are Big Shu (12/1), proven on this ground, and, in particular, French challenger Sacree Tiepy, whose form is more or less exclusively on very soft or heavy.
4.40 Mares’ Hurdle
Ahh, a moment of calm in the frenzy as Quevega, a very generous 4/6, comfortably wins the right race for her and probably falls under the radar as one of the greatest ever Cheltenham horses. There’s absolutely no reason to put forward a case for any other. I know that this run will inevitably end at some point but she should be 1/3 at least – a gift!
5.15 2m 4f Novices’ Chase
The strong temptation is to go for a long shot in this one. For me the question for most of the possibles is which of these is going to progress out of the handicap ranks? The candidates are: Colour Squadron (6/1), Klepht (25/1), Vulcanite (20/1), The Druids Nephew (8/1), Ohio Gold (25/1), Johns Spirit (20/1) and Arthur’s Pass (16/1). However, I can’t desert Carlito Brigante, with superb Cheltenham form (Coral Cup and won 2m4f Novices’ Chase here last October, beating Domtaline). I’ve backed him so many times, and often chosen the wrong race, so beware that I’m choosing him on that basis.
I’ll wind up for today with:
2.40 Merry King 15/2 (really didn’t know that in advance)
4.00 Sacree Tiepy (I swear that I didn’t know that when tipping him up above and pleased to have the bet on – was 20/1 now 14/1)
4.40 Swing Bowler (10/1, now 8/1 – as you’ve read, not one for me)
Timeform strong plays
My Tent Or Yours 2.96
Our Mick 8
The Druids Nephew 8.4
I think I’d better post this now before more distractions. I’m off to the excellent racing pub Rigbys in Dale Street, Liverpool tomorrow where I will no doubt find lots of vigorously but civilly put opposing opinions. Guinness, racing fans, popping out for ciggies and bets, proper facilities for racing coverage. Perfect!! Alan, I’ve saved your excellent printed preview for my bedtime reading!