For all that it’s not been the most profitable week so far, I’ve really enjoyed this week’s Festival.
The obvious star is not a horse but a jockey, Rachael Blackmore. I can’t emphasise enough how much her success has been down to her tactical skill and judgement of pace, which have been peerless. She has rightly made the news headlines and is favourite to be the leading jockey at the Festival. As the BBC’s Frank Keogh (@honestfrank) pointed out, the current tally is Rachael Blackmore 5 Great Britain 4.
So, here’s the summary so far. Appreciate It got us off to a great start in the Supreme and that should not be forgotten for a horse that has great potential. The same can be said for the short priced favourite and imperious winner of the Arkle, Shishkin, who is current 6/4 favourite for the Champion Chase 2022. Vintage Clouds was a great 28/1 winner of the Ultima and I recommend listening to Harvey Smith about him on the Nick Luck podcast. As for Goshen, well, I’m just very sad for the connections. He’s very talented but, like many in so many different disciplines in life, perhaps unsuited to the one that he’s been given. I’m still not giving up but there are perhaps shades of Might Bite about him.
Bob Olinger was all that I hoped for in the Ballymore, while Monkfish showed what a good horse he is by being far from his best and still winning. Although I couldn’t have him in a month of Sundays, it was clear from early on that Tiger Roll would win the Cross Country and it seems that he may now be aimed for the Betway Bowl at Aintree on Thursday. On the same Nick Luck podcast (Wednesday) that I mentioned above, racing manager Eddie O’Leary said:
“He seemed to jump off with a big smile on his face and as the race went on, he seemed to get better and better.
“Without getting too mad about him, I don’t think there’s been too many like him. Before this race came along, he kind of chucked racing. It was an amazing training performance by Gordon to get him back, and an amazing training performance by all at Cullentra to get him there yesterday in that kind of shape.
“Because he is what he is there are no races for him, and because of the famous handicap mark he has, there are no opportunities to get it down. He doesn’t really run on (conventional) tracks.
“We’ve absolutely no regrets about taking him out of the National as his rating is just too high. We’re probably going to have to run him at a park track, we’re even considering the Betway Bowl at Aintree.
“The way the horse won yesterday, retirement is off the table – he’s loving life and while he is we’ll listen to him.
“He’ll probably go for the Bowl and unfortunately he’ll prove he’s not that (166 rated), unless he is and then he’ll prove us all completely wrong.
“The Tiger we saw yesterday, you’d have to give him 10 out of 10, which is a testament to all at Cullentra.”
I was gutted to see Kilcruit beaten by Sir Gerhard in the Bumper but they are both great horses in the making.
Envoi Allen‘s unexpected fall did for all my accas but credit to Richard Hoiles on ITV who commented before the off and in the early stages that he was fizzing and didn’t jump the first few too well.
The victory of Allaho in the Ryanair was largely down to a superb ride by Rachael and I was pleased to see that my selection Fakir D’oudairies ran into a creditable (albeit not profitable) second place.
I can’t remember who it was who tweeted that The Shunter‘s comments in running should have been “settled in in the early stages and responded to lots of money” when he (unusually) collected a £100,000 bonus for winning at Kelso on 6 March and following up at the Festival. All credit to the tweeter and to Emmet Mullins for a cracking result. I should also add a mention to Farclas in defeat for another excellent Festival performance.
So, on to Gold Cup day.
13:20 Triumph Hurdle (2m 179y)
Regular readers will know that I chose Zanahiyr (11/10) months ago and I see no reason to change now. Rather like the the Supreme, it’s an unusually small field and that will help. While not in my top 5 for the week, this is a confident selection.
13:55 County Hurdle (2m 179y)
I’ve been a follower of Buildmeupbuttercup (18/1) all season but the time has come to desert her in favour of Third Time Lucki (8/1) who has an ideal profile for this race. For loyalty rather than confidence I’ll also have a few quid on Ciel De Neige who has let me down a few times. but I have to see it through.
14:30 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2m 7f 213y)
The potato race (these previews would be incomplete without me saying that!). I think that this is wide open and I still like Alaphilippe at 12/1 for Fergal O’Brien and Paddy Brennan. He has graded form and is rock hard with a guarantee to stay the distance.
15:05 Wellchild Gold Cup (3m 2f 70y)
My initial thought was to go with Champ (5/1). However, I was struck by Kevin Blake’s comment in a preview that he is a horse of “low intelligence”, particularly when it comes to fences, having a tendency to ignore or head butt them.
I understand that Al Boum Photo (3/1) is not a star, even though he is aiming for a three-time win in this race which would put him among the all-time greats. All the form suggests that he will do it again but I’m unconvinced.
Aso (125/1) will not stay.
A Plus Tard (100/30) will probably go off as favourite because of the Rachael Blackmore factor. He’s a leading candidate and Rachael could do it, given her superb riding to date but he’s not guaranteed to stay this trip.
Black Op (125/1) will be tailed off. Not up to this standard.
Frodon (12/1). Don’t discount him. Front running has been seen to work this week and the King George win shouldn’t be discounted. My choice for a longer odds win (12/1).
Kemboy (16/1) could run away with this but not for me because of dodgy jumping.
Lostintranslation (25/1) , politely, is not going to win this.
Minella Indo (8/1) was supposed to be the coming horse but I’m unconvinced. Could run very well but definitely not my choice.
Native River (14/1) doesn’t have the right ground and could be withdrawn.
Royalle Pagaille (14/1) was my choice for National Hunt Chase and I was gutted when he was withdrawn from that (at 2/1). I watched this horse (live on TV) when he first ran in the UK when beaten at Chepstow in a match behind Vision Des Flos and when he lost a shoe when beaten by Equus Secretus at Huntingdon. Since then he beat Espoir De Romay in a Class 2 at Haydock, Cap Du Nord and Double Shuffle impressively at Kempton and Potters Legend and Just Your Type in the Peter Marsh (Grade 2) at Haydock on 23 January. He’s a 7-y-o and I think that his time will come, starting with a place in this race.
15:40 Hunters’ Chase
Well, this is an oddity because it is the amateurs’ Gold Cup but amateurs are not allowed to take part.
The Hunters’ calendar has been a bit of a mess this year so we should look for the outright best horse. There is a good case for looking for an Irish horse but I’m going with Bob And Co (9/2) for Paul Nicholls and with the excellent Sean Bowen on board.
16:15 Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase (2m 4f 127y)
I don’t know why Elimay isn’t 1/2 (currently 4/5). The only other challenger is Shattered Love (7/1).
16:50 Martin Pipe Conditionals’ Handicap Hurdle (2m 4f 56y)
Normally a random choice But Gentleman Du Mee (3/1) has attracted a lot of support in recent weeks. Langer Dan (13/2) has made it in for the bonus after winning the Grade 3 Imperial Cup last Saturday and could follow The Shunter in this regard. However, I’m with Frontal Assault (12/1) for Denise “Sneezy” Foster, “((former) trainer said, regarding improvement in form, gelding was tried in blinkers on his most recent run which seemed to make him too keen)” !! I’ll leave you to draw you own conclusion!