The talking is over and the punting begins in earnest for Cheltenham
The Cheltenham preview season seems to start earlier and pops up in more widespread venues than ever before. This year's Belfast one was the 17th held here and continues to be better than the rest. Reading reviews of some of the other events it is clear that there has been more than a bit of RHI (rubbish horsey information) leaving punters scratching their heads. Gems such as "Limini wil be supplemented and win the Champion Hurdle" and "Moon Racer will definitely run in the Supreme" were advised in the last week by people supposedly in the know. All absolute nonsense as it turns out, just hot air like that produced by the folks up on the hill! It's not as if this year has been difficult enough for punters with a massive list of absentees in the roll call. Not one of last years big winners, Annie Power, Sprinter Sacre, Thistlecrack or Don Cossack will be here to defend their titles, add Min and Movewiththetimes and the double or triple declarations made for various horses and the situation becomes more confused. One thing is certain however and it is that there are 28 races to be won and I will try my best to get a few of these so here goes.
The Supreme looks to be one of those races where opinion will be equally divided between those who see Melon as the next great horse from Willie Mullins to follow Douvan, Champagne Fever and Vautour who all won this race, and those like me who thing there are more holes in Melon's form than seeds in the horrible things (I don't like Melon). His sole run over hurdles was an egg and spoon affair and the runner up, Broken Soul, was stuffed in an even worse race next time. That leaves Ballyandy, last year's bumper winner as the most likely winner. He was impressive last time at Newbury and Moon Racer who has beaten him twice this season is strongly fancied in the Champion Hurdle later today.
The Arkle which follows the Supreme features last year's Supreme winner, Altior who with Douvan is one of the two short priced bankers of the meeting. Altior would probably be odds on for the Champion Hurdle but they went chasing with him and kept him at it, unlike Buveur D'Air who reverted to hurdles last time and would be a short priced favourite for this and who is now favourite for the Champion Hurdle! These two are surely running in the wrong races, a case of racing reflecting the strange times we live in.
The Champion Hurdle is a strange race and one which can be won by a few horses depending on which way it is run. Yanworth is the most likely winner provided he can jump better for Mark Walsh than he did for the injured Barry Geraghty in his last couple of races. He was one of the few shorties not to win last year when beaten by a masterclass Ruby Walsh ride on Yorkhill in the Neptune. That was his only defeat over hurdles and I think that Petit Mouchoir will try and make all and set it up for the strong staying Yanworth. Old boy The New One could be the one to follow him up the hill as they can't go fast enough for him early on.
The Willie Mullins benefit race, otherwise known as the Mares Hurdle will be won by him again, making it 9 in a row. Ruby chose Limini over Vroom Vroom Mag and the hint should be taken, Apples Jade is the only credible danger. You won't get rich backing the winner of this unless you can find 3 or 4 other winners to go with it. One of these might be Holywell who runs in the race before the Champion Hurdle. He hates the winter, a bit like the Arsenal midfield, comes to life at this time of the year and has both won and came second in this race in the past. Take an early price as I expect his price will shorten during the day as his past Festival record is significant.
The starting point for the 4 miler is usually the jockeys. This race is confined to amateurs and the two top men Jamie Codd and Derek O Connor are in big demand and have won it before. They ride Agenieinabottle and Edwolf respectively and both have big chances but I think both prefer real winter ground which they won't get today. My preference is for the Nicky Henderson trained Beware the Bear which has good form on the ground and has a great chance at around 7/1.
Thought for the day. If you think that a sound defence is the basis of all great football teams, why are the only team with one in the Champions League, Juventus, priced at 9/1?
One a day for the week Tuesday 14 March 2017
Anyone interested in short priced horses are advised to look away as these 4 selections will give backers a run in an each way Lucky 15 and guarantee an interest right up to Friday.
Today the selection is in the last race. Foxtail Hill is a front runner who jumps really well and while this is the hardest course in the world to try and make all he has a bit of class and should have enough in hand to fight off the opposition up the hill.
Wednesday. The selection is Divin Bere in the Fred Winter race at 4.50. He is due to carry top weight but still looks well in as the horse he beat last time out at Huntingdon, Master Blueyes, is fancied to win the much more prestigious Triumph Hurdle on Friday.
Thursday. Selection is Sub Lieutenant in the Ryanair at 2.50. This horse is probably the best jumper on show all week. He absolutely bolted up at the Maze in November, on similar ground to what he will encounter here, his last run when a close second to Gold Cup fancy Sizing John at Thurles makes him the form horse and one of the bets of the week.
Friday. The selection is Dandridge in the "Get out" Grand Annual on Friday, the last race of the meeting. Laid out for this since finishing second in this race last year, he could send us home happy.