Hey Mr DJ, put a record on… And leave it on

One of the greatest inventions of the modern era is undoubtedly the iPod. I could go as far as to mention that there are other MP3 players out there, and good for them, but in reality who cares? I even had one of those alternative devices once. It had better battery, more space, better sound quality, it was great. Except that it wasn’t. Because no-one else on earth had one.

Anyhow I digress. iPods are wonderful. For someone like me, who had over 300 albums in their CD collection, a massive logistical storage headache was reduced to something the size of a passport. And while the consumer satisfaction of clicking ‘download’ on iTunes is nothing like that of unwrapping a newly-bought CD, there is the small matter of convenience.

But as with all other things, the iPod has brought with it new perils. The ease with which you can access such a wide array of music at the touch of a button is a great power. However in the wrong hands, it is pure evil.

There was a time when going to a party involved turning up and chatting, having a few drinks, maybe dancing, perhaps trying to get off with someone… You hardly noticed the music. The host would put a CD on and that was that. Once it was over, they’d put another CD on. It was all very logical.

Nowadays, with our tip-top technology, this has all changed. The moment anyone gets a bit of alcohol in them, they all seem to think they’re Judge Jules (check to see if there is a more up-to-date DJ that I can look cooler by pretending to know who they are –ed). Songs get chopped and changed with gay abandon as half the partygoers move over to the iPod and start wrestling for control of the music.

These two scenarios are, believe it or not, quite different...

These two scenarios are, believe it or not, quite different…

Alcohol is proven to shorten your attention span. It also makes you staggeringly self-indulgent. These are not qualities that I would look for in a DJ.

The end result of all of this is that the music tends to ping-pong back and forth between a couple of drunk people’s totally esoteric tastes in music, each one turning the volume up a little more in a grandiose display of “look at me”. They play about the first minute of each others song before losing their patience and changing to theirs. It’s like the worst round of “beat the intro” ever.

Then just when the battle for supremacy between minimalist Tibetan yodel-house and Congolese hip hop appears to have reached a cacophony, a girl somehow manages to put ABBA on at full volume before grabbing a wine bottle ‘microphone’, jumping on a chair and destroying everyone’s will to live.

Sound familiar?

What is it about girls and ABBA?

What is it about girls and ABBA?

This never used to happen in the days of CDs. You couldn’t just cut a song off with such ease halfway through, while the only person who had their music at a party was the host. And that’s the way it should be.

I mean it’s not like you’d stay at someone’s house for the weekend, only to start hanging a few paintings from your living room up on their wall because you don’t like what they had done with the place. Or maybe you would?

Perhaps next time someone comes to a party at your house and wrestles the music from you, you should reciprocate by repainting their bedroom when you get the return invite.

An Englishman’s house is his castle, and at parties in my castle I do not want to listen to:

  • The first 60 seconds of about 15 different songs
  • Anything I hadn’t heard before that evening
  • Anything boring and repetitive, no matter how trendy it is
  • Bloody ABBA

Or next time I’m watching a film at your house, I might just grab the remote and switch over to the golf halfway through.

by Harry Harland

Smart phones = Dumb people

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The human fascination with the non-telephone elements of mobile phones is a bizarre phenomenon.

I recently had an informal brainstorming (or chat down the pub, for a more accurate description) with a friend about ways in which we could get rich quick. The only answer we came across that was in any way legal or moral was to make an App. I mean, every day you open the papers and read that some spotty, computer-literate teenager has just sold a few hours of precious time on his computer (the opportunity cost of which was essentially masturbation) to some multinational firm for £30m. They are insanely lucrative because the consuming public gobble them up like Jenna Jameson in a hot dog factory.

It’s no new thing though, most of you (or ‘men’ in other words) can probably relate to sitting in a ‘quiet place’ and playing Snake on your Nokia 3210 until you got pins and needles in your legs. The seeds of our mobile fascination were sown there. But when did it grow into such a hypnotic business?

I must confess to being no angel myself in this regard. Indeed if technophilia was a crime, I’d be one of those social pariahs being hauled up in front of a court as part of Operation Yewtree (or uTree as Apple would call it) and locked up. My girlfriend has tired of throwing icy glances at me as another passing observation of hers is ignored in favour of reading an email or checking Twitter. I have a more detailed knowledge of what Facebook friends who I haven’t seen for a decade are doing than the schedules of my nearest and dearest. I’m an attention-retarded sponge for inane and useless information.

But I have my limits.

For starters, I will not read my phone while walking down a busy pavement. For the majority of Londoners, this must be up there with their biggest pet hates. Or at least it would be if the majority of Londoners weren’t actually doing the fucking thing in the first place.

Texting-While-Walking

It has got to the stage where walking down the street has become some sort of nightmarish Atari game from the 80s, where your only options are to duck and weave beyond the gormless hoards of head-down oncoming traffic. If it were a more modern game, then you’d be able to press button A and smash the bloody thing out of their hands. Or B and trip them over. Or Up, Up, Down, Down, Left, Right, Left, Right, B, A, Start (someone, somewhere is sad enough to get this reference)… And knock their lights out. Hadouken indeed.

That'll learn you...

That’ll learn you…

We’re so obsessed with what’s going on a foot in front of our face that we are totally unaware of what’s actually going on around us. In September, a man jumped onto a packed commuter train in San Francisco brandishing a gun and waved it around the aisle before shooting someone. Police were astonished that, until he actually pulled the trigger on the weapon, not one fellow passenger even noticed anything untoward. They all had their faces in their phones, entranced by pointless information.

Another astounding insight into our obsession with the allure of the shiny screen comes in the form of a recent statistic in which 19% of people, or roughtly 1 in 5 for the numerically challenged, have dropped their phone down the loo.

Another poor soul fails a basic human competency test...

Another poor soul fails a basic human competency test…

1 in 5 people. That’s statistically one of your immediate family or a handful of your team at work. Look at them now. Yeah, I bet you can tell the one who’s done it. They’re probably the one chewing a pen with ink seeping out of their mouth. They used to come home from school, face covered in glitter, and lick windows.

I can understand reading your phone while sat ON the loo. I mean when you’re settled in for the long haul, you positively need a time-waster. I once even perused the back of a shampoo bottle because there was nothing else to read. But that’s just me. And, I suspect, quite a few more people than would care admit it. Maybe.

However, from a sat-down position, it still remains quite a challenge to actually lose your phone in the loo. I mean, aside from resting it on your Johnson, the logistics of its journey to a watery (at best) grave don’t add up. To drop your phone in the loo, you either have to be a bit ‘special’, or you have to read it while standing up and peeing. Neither scenario reflects particularly well on your mental capacity.

The long and short of it though is that, for many people, these phones are a portal to what they perceive to be a more interesting world. A narcissistic paradise where the only self-projection comes in the form of selfies and social media bragging. It seems now that going to see something amazing or experience something unique is merely a conduit to inducing peer-group envy.

O yea... Just seeing the #mona #lisa at the #louvre... #omg #totesamazing #jealousmuch?

O yea… Just seeing the #mona #lisa at the #louvre… #omg #totesamazing #jealousmuch?

Why bother enjoying the moment when you can let all your friends know how much you are enjoying it? Why bother helping avert a disaster when you can video it and get on the news? Why bother watching where you’re walking when you could be reading that oh-so-important email on the way to your office?

Oh yes, that’s why, because it prevents you from being an arsehole.

by Harry Harland

Mercury rising: Why you need to let Young Fathers into your life…

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dead-front-cover

Young Fathers – Dead

4stars1

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The 2014 Mercury Music Prize has passed with another of the award’s famously unexpected decisions. After years in which acts like Elbow, Arctic Monkeys and the XX have all reflected previously-growing fanbases by scooping the gong, the decision to give the accolade to relative unknowns Young Fathers this year was seemingly a return to the quirky old days. Indeed the last time that the Mercury panel (who bizarrely included the relatively unproven – if talented – Lianne La Havas in their number this year) went this far off the beaten commercial track, the 2009 winner Speech Debelle was never heard of again.

If the same fate befalls this year’s winners though, there is a distinct feeling that the record-buying public are somewhat missing a trick. The fact that Young Fathers’ superb album Dead had previously sold a paltry 2,500 copies (which, as a friend pointed out, is little more than ‘friends of friends’ for some artists) grossly understates just how accessible the record actually is. Compared to more popular contenders like Royal Blood, whose album crashed straight into the charts at number 1, and the multi-platinum selling Damon Albarn, it is somewhat ironic that the Young Fathers album contains the most obvious pop hooks of the three.

Young Fathers show off the 2014 Mercury Music Prize

Young Fathers show off the 2014 Mercury Music Prize

That’s not to say that Dead is going to be filling dancefloors at this year’s office Christmas party, a lot of the album is more reflective of the dread-filled output of the mid-90’s Bristol scene than anything else, but some of the trio’s more euphoric harmonies almost (and they probably won’t thank me for saying this) seem to evoke parallels with One Direction.

These stylistic juxtapositions are clear from the off, as album opener No Way slides effortlessly from a grimy African-tinged rap intro into a distinctly pop-y chorus harmony of “AK-47 sent my brethren straight to heaven”.

There’s no doubt that this intriguing mix of styles and influences stems from the varied backgrounds of Young Fathers’ three members. While Graham Hastings (who also produced the album) hailed from the band’s native Edinburgh, his fellow rappers/singers – they all share these duties – are from further afield. Alloysious Massaquoi left his war-torn fatherland of Liberia for Scotland in the mid-90’s, while Scottish-born Kayus Bankole grew up in the US as well as Nigeria (where his parents hail from). These African roots are worn heavily on the band’s collective sleeves.

Another impressive feature of the band is the way in which all the members are equally gifted in both their ability to sing and rap, yet all in fairly unique ways (see closing track I’ve Arrived for evidence). Massaquoi’s vocal intro to second track Low has a tender beauty that lays a groundwork for Bankole’s relaxed rapping before the whole song crescendos into a 1D-ish series of drum beats and chanting.

It is this vocal versatility that makes Young Fathers so hard to define. If pushed for a lazy comparison, you could say the ghosts of Massive Attack and Tricky loom large, not least on the exceptional Hangman (below), which could have been lifted straight off Maximquaye or Blue Lines, combining as it does menacing beats and laid-back rapping with another of the band’s seemingly trademark tribal-ish vocal refrains. However several other parts of the album would ridicule any notion of the band being a new incarnation of those artists, for example the bouncy pop of Get Up owes more to the likes of Chase & Status.

Overridingly though, it does appear that the Mercury panel have got this one right. The shortlisted artists this year ranged (in the traditions of the award) from the shimmery indie of Bombay Bicycle Club, to the bleak pointelism of FKA Twigs, via a Polar Bear performance of such awful, abstract jazz that you half expected a wigged John Thompson to turn to the camera and say “Nice” halfway through.

Polar Bear... Nice

Polar Bear… Nice

While I think, as far as the public were concerned, the winner that would have raised the least eyebrows would have been Royal Blood, in this instance the purpose of the Mercury Music Prize has been personified in the winners. The award should strive to act as a launchpad for the deserving, to strike a balance between the esoteric and the popular. Too much in the direction of the latter and it almost seems a meaningless accolade in the artist’s trophy cabinet, while anything too random tends to be forgotten as soon as the ceremony ends.

This year, the decision was correct. Young Fathers are a deceptively accessible and talented group who have not thusfar received the prestige or established the fanbase that they deserve. One can only hope that, in winning this award, they manage to do so.

by Harry Harland

Advertising: A mug’s game

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Advertising is a strange world. A skillful combination of psychology, creativity and bullshit designed to make us to aspire to own the product we see. When this phenomenon started, it contained no frills, no subliminal messaging, it was straight and to the point. “BUY THIS!” It screamed, while thrusting the image of a happy family unit consuming said product onto our screens.

Slowly however the adverts have become as famous as the thing they’re supposed to be promoting. Non-smokers swooned at the Marlborough man, while you didn’t have to be an aficionado of repulsive powdered mash potato to enjoy the Smash aliens.

Advertisers realized that Joe Public was more discerning than they perceived, and that a softer approach was needed. They weren’t so much manically flogging a product like a Cockney fruit stall owner, they were subtly getting us to see their brand as a whole in a positive light. Nike created fantastical sporting scenarios, Guinness gave us surfing horses, Cadburys a drumming gorilla and Sugar Puffs brought us a crack-addled big furry yellow lunatic with ADHD and the voice of Louis Armstrong… To each their own.

I'm sure that's not the only thing you've used that spoon for, you lunatic...

I’m sure that’s not the only thing you’ve used that spoon for. Got your game.

These adverts worked because they were memorable. They didn’t make you impulsively want their product at all costs, but when you saw it in a shop you’d probably think of it favorably in comparison to a competitor.

Anyhow, those were the good ones. But they are diamonds in the rubble, lost in a sea of exasperating crap. Quite a few brands seem intent on making any association with their products a feeling of overriding anger.

When I speak of bad adverts, weirdly the really budget ones aren’t those that come to mind. It’s not the Admirals, the price comparison sites or the ambulance-chasing lawyers of this world that really grate. The trouble arises when an advertising firm places mislaid faith in what they perceive to be a good idea.

I mean look at that endless series of tedious adverts that BT have plagued our screens with. First you had My Family and Love Actually star Kris Marshall involved in possibly the most joyless and dull relationship of all time on our screens.

It must be sad for an actor of Marshall’s ability to be described (as he is on Wikipedia) as “best known for playing Nick Harper in My Family, Adam in BT Group adverts from 2005-2011 and Dave in Citizen Khan.” Having never watched Citizen Khan, I cannot confirm it’s lack of quality, but the fact that it is listed as a lower accolade than his on-off advert relationship with the world’s most boring woman probably speaks volumes.

I simply MUST find out what happens in the next instalment of their lives

I simply MUST find out what happens in the next instalment of their lives

BT obviously failed to learn its lesson though, replacing this grindingly mundane storyline with an equally dislikable bunch of students (or at least I think they’re supposed to be students, the girl looks about 30) whose entire lives appear to revolve around their router.

To be honest, given that they are students and the internet appears to be their life, it seems implausible that not one storyline so far has involved the other two catching the weird, socially inept bloke watching YouPorn while surrounded by used tissues. That would be an impressive demonstration of the BT Home Hub’s download speed as well, so maybe that’s the next advert in the series.

It’s this search for familiarity that seems to be so uninspiring though, advertising firms aren’t so much flogging a dead horse as they bring out their billionth fucking Meerkat advert as soundly whipping the cobbles through a mush of pulped horsemeat. You know, the sort that you find between layers of lasagna at Findus. The public seem to like what they find familiar, and for those reasons the word “simples” has burrowed its way into the dictionary, while a fictional ‘autobiography’ of the meerkat in the advert depressingly topped the bestsellers charts at Christmas. This is why soaps are so popular, Mr Average yearns for more of the same, no matter whether or not he actually liked it in the first place.

Oh, NOW I get it! It's a play on words. How ingenius...

Oh, NOW I get it! It’s a play on words. How ingenius…

Away from the silver screen though, and the baffling array of bad adverts still pollute our lives through their presence on Billboards.

I don’t know who is in charge of marketing for trendy French clothing brand “The Kooples”, but frankly (to quote a better man than I) they should be taken out and shot in front of their families. It took me over a year to work out that The Kooples was in fact a shop rather than the worst television show ever made. Look at the advert below and tell me that your reaction isn’t “Looks shit, think I’ll watch something else instead.”

Who gives a fuck?

Who gives a fuck?

Then there’s the insufferably frightful Match.com adverts that you see on the tube, in which seasoned daters offer insipid bits of advice on how to succeed on a date. Ranging from “I didn’t know what sort of shoe to wear for a country pub date” to “I asked my flatmate which shirt I should wear, she said NOT THE PINK ONE!!!” LOL ROFL.

The trouble with this sort of ‘experienced’ advice is that it leaves me with just one question: OK Mr “I always shave two days before a date to give me the perfect amount of stubble”, if the advice that you’re giving is so utterly flawless then how come you appear to still be single and dating?

Finally, there comes the simply disingenuous. Processed dough-clad faeces outlet Subway, who I suppose are stretching the truth in describing their produce as ‘sandwiches’ in the first place, ran a post-Olympics campaign in which gymnast Louis Smith and boxer Anthony Ogogo invited you to come and eat “where winners eat”.

So, presumably he's not allowed in then?

So, presumably he’s not allowed in then?

Given that both Louis and Anthony were part of Team GB’s great efforts that summer, I can see the commercial benefit of getting them involved. But what’s so baffling about this campaign is that Louis and Anthony managed just two individual bronzes between them. This begs the question that, if these two eat at Subway, where do the actual winners eat? It’s not like there weren’t around 50 alternative GB athletes who actually DID win their events that summer.

Perhaps this is part of a sadder indictment of British culture, the celebration of the mediocre, but that is for another day. For now I shall continue to walk my path through a world of advertising mediocrity and shake my head in bafflement. I may be no Don Draper myself, but it appears that very few industry insiders are either.

by Harry Harland

Organisation slays the Valentine’s naysayer

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So last week was Valentine’s Day, a day of abject misery for singletons, a day designed by Hallmarks to boost their profits, a day which men everywhere dread and engage in through a mere sense of reluctant duty… Or so we are told.

I myself rather enjoyed it.

Now I’m not going to come across as the sort of person who loves the occasion for what it is. There is still much to despise about it, not least the horrendous scenes that greet you should you take your girlfriend out to a restaurant on February 14th. Indeed the service industry gets Valentine’s day totally wrong. In their eyes we all want to sit down with our partner (horrible word, apologies) and gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes while being serenaded by a violinist like some sort of human Lady and the Tramp. Fine, some girls like that. Some boys like that. They are however both odd.

This is not normal

This is not normal

I would however go as far as to suggest that anyone who gets caught up in the more awful, commercial end of Valentine’s Day has been slightly lazy.

Those people who are seen queuing for Lidl own-brand roses on the way home from work. Those people who get ripped off on Interflora because they can do sub-24 hour delivery. Those people who end up being patronised by an irritating waiter in an unfathomably expensive restaurant… They are all the victims of their own disorganisation and lack of originality.

I planned a week before that I would cook a meal at mine for my girlfriend, and it became a fun project. I am, after all, a person who likes entertaining but requires motivation to do so. As such, Valentine’s Day became an excuse for me to try a few new recipes, to make the place look nice, to finally drink that bottle of champagne I’ve had since god-knows-when. All of which was genuinely pleasant.

Earlier in the week, while discussing Trivial Pursuits’ weekly strategy (miraculously there is one) on email, Ed had countered Beenie’s anti-Valentine’s sentiments by correctly pointing out that all girls say to their boyfriends that they don’t really care about Valentine’s Day… Until they catch wind of where their friends are being taken by their boyfriend, then carnage ensues… Usually involving at least one or two female utterances of “It’s fine, blended with an air of underlying menace not seen since the Berlin wall came down. “It’s fine” can standardly be translated for men as “you’re fucked”.

Yes, of course it's fine...

Yes, of course it’s fine…

The fallout of the sort of scenario depicted there is that the man will have to completely reassess his plans (or lack of) and ends up falling into every single one of the aforementioned last minute commercial traps. This then repeats itself year-on-year until the object of his affections has a ring on her finger, at which point she chills out a bit. I imagine.

But enough of that. What I like about Valentine’s Day is that it is an excuse to do something you have wanted to do. A friend took his girlfriend to Cirque de Soleil, a show that they had wanted to see for a while, yet I know that he wouldn’t have booked were it not for the excuse/obligation. Those who made a proper plan probably all had a great time.

It’s a very similar scenario to New Year, in my mind. Every November you ask people what they are doing and you pretty unanimously get the response that: “New Year is a waste of time, it’s always a disappointment, I can’t be arsed to do anything this year, blah, blah, blah…”, Then, with about two weeks to go, they all face up to the reality that they’re not 50 yet, and that a quiet night in with Jools Holland is about as appealing as a romantic citybreak with Oscar Pistorious (too soon?) and they panic. Panic leads to a crap last-minute plan. And they end up having a bad time. Which further reinforces their lack of enthusiasm for the following year. The wheel keeps turning.

The thing about both events, and I’d be tempted to add birthdays into the equation, is that you should never feel some sort of grinding obligation to do anything just because conventional wisdom says you must.

I’m fed up of people who moan about how much of a pain in the arse Valentine’s day is. If you don’t like it, ignore it. If you feel like you should do something, then do something you want to do. It is what you make of it, so if you resent the occasion, you only have yourself to blame. Now cheer up and I’ll see you on December 31st.

by Harry Harland

Cheltenham Festival, Day Four: This Doesn’t Slip…

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Nalim

Nalim: The real money yesterday was wagered at Towcester… Obviously.

After Day Three the Brits stand at 11 winners to the Irish 9 winners. That is a fair assessment of how competitive and close then excellent racing we have witnessed for the week has been, and equally sums up the competition on the track.

Finding a winner has never been easy, and the riddles have hooked us, like trout on fly, by the complexity and mystery they have been shrouded in. For all who have enjoyed the spectacle, the sport has been at the very least mildly addictive, as we try to make head of tail of the unknown and predict how the cards will fall.

Vautour was majestic in the first race of Day Three. Some may claim that the quality of the racing on the third day of the Festival is the weakest, but the pleasure of seeing him soar over his fences was divine, and any day of racing at any festival would have been made particularly special by such feats of quality and athleticism. Put simply, he was superb, and will undoubtedly be back to pursue further success in the future. His performance was symptomatic of a few other winners on the day, dictating the pace from the front and not being being passed from pillar to post. This should be noted for Day Four; don’t give a proven front runner a soft lead.

Elsewhere Cole Harden was a worthy victor of the World Hurdle, battling bravely from the front and giving trainer Warren Greatrex a deserved first Cheltenham, Festival victory. It takes balls to put yourself out there to be short down, and to be fair to the horse, he clobbered every challenge thrown down to him well over the boundary and surged up the hill to victory. Congrats to all involved.

You gotta know when to hold 'em, know when to fold 'em...

You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em…

As we approach the final day we compile all the lessons learnt and try to turn them into profitable gambling; Willie Mullins should never be underestimated, class will always tell, leading from the front is not necessarily a bad running style and Eddy Hall always has a nose for a winner.

One important factor to keep at the front of your mind is the ground. Eddy says it’s going to wet, and if he’s right, Daffy Duck could be the best possible selection. Keep an eye on the heavens and side with a horse you are confident will be able to profit from the conditions.

The first race is the JCB Triumph Hurdle off at 13.30 over 2 miles. A race for 4 year old hurdlers, it boasts the future talent in abundance. Messers Munir and Souede are mob handed with talented young hurdlers, and their Peace And Co and Top Notch deserve their place at the top of the betting. They are but two of the many representatives from the top yards, as we see the likes of Mullins, Henderson, King and co mob handed in this affair.

Yet we pluck for a lesser known yard in the form of Robert Stephens, whose Beltor has an excellent chance. So impressive in his last start at Kempton, he has a great opportunity to give his rookie trainer a beautiful first feather in his cap. He has a great chance, and although backed in from a juicy 12/1 a couple of weeks ago, he is generally available at 6/1 and should be kept on side.

Those searching for a little more value are suggested to look towards Devilment, another high-class charge from John Ferguson. At 22/1, his victories deserve respecting and he should give you a good run for your money.

Second up is the Vincent O’Brien Country Hurdle off at 14.05. Run over 2 miles 1 furlong and featuring 26 runners, at the very best it is an utter lottery. We will endeavour to find the winner though, and pass on valuable advice.

Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins could team up for yet another 2015 Cheltenham Festival winner. The excellently named Max Dynamite looks to have a very good winning chance and at generally 10/1 should be kept on the right side.

Those sniffing out a little more value should undoubtedly side with Violet Dancer, who could provide Moore father and son Gary and Jamie with a deserved winner after disappointment of Sire de Grugy. If any rain comes he will certainly lap it up and at a general 25/1 he represents resounding value.

The third race on the card is the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle over 3 miles. A race sponsored by a captain of potatoes, you’d have to have drunk a fair amount of distilled potato skin not to recognise the fact that the Irish have been utterly dominant in the novice events all week. There is no reason why this should change now.

We side here with the yard of the extremely talented young Harry Fry, who puts forward two talented charges. Preference is for Thomas Brown, younger brother of James, who has solid form over two and a half miles and is expected to step up to the plate. At 11/1 he could give win only or each way backers value, and is selected to roll in.

Elsewhere Blaklion is a proven course and distance winner, from the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard that has such an impressive record at the home of jump racing, and he could well be in the reckoning when the chips are down.

The fourth race is the highlight of the week, The Gold Cup. Since the halcyon days of Kauto Star, Denman and a Long Run at the peak of his abilities, the last couple of years have lacked a dash of pizzazz that the showpiece of the National Hunt season demands. Nonetheless, the 2015 renewal boasts a high quality and extremely competitive field, and there are many runners who have a case to put forward.

Preference is for Holywell, a horse who us proven to come good at this time of year. A specialist of the Cheltenham undulations, he looks to have an excellent chance back at his favourite course, and with an uninterrupted prep he should be there or thereabouts., The only question mark is the ground, and if the rain comes and ‘soft’ comes into the description we’d have reservations.

Can Holywell jump into your heart today?

Can Holywell jump into your heart today?

Other value can be found in Lord Windermere, victorious in the last running of the event. His preparation this year has been better than last year, and there is no reason why he can’t frank the form of last year’s success and record impressive back to back successes. He is one for the notebook at a general 12/1.

The Gold Cup has strength in depth, and without the intergalactic star we have become used to over the past decade, should be a fascinating affair with many having a reason to put their name into the hat.

The 16.00 race on the final day of the fantastic 2015 Cheltenham Festival is the Foxhunters Chase. A race for point to pointers, the horses tend to be amateur in experience, rather than in general ability. Often a coup is landed in this event, and those at the front of the market can prove their class.

The winner could well be Paint The Clouds from the excellent World Hurdle winning yard of Warren Greatrex. Having won all his starts this year, he has looked imperious in victory and will be hard to pass. However, generally at 4/1, in a race for amateur chasers, such odds are incredibly short and better value can be sought elsewhere.

Chosen Milan has course winning form and was an emphatic winner on his last start. Available at a general price of 28/1, he has a lot of positive next to his name and is worth a flutter. We may be running out of time at the Festival, but that is no reason why we can’t still land a big priced winner. This boy, ladies and gentleman, is your ticket to the big time.

The penultimate event of the 2015 Festival, a festival that has been hugely memorable for the quality of many of its winners, if not its Championship races in particular, is the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys hurdle. Run Over 2 miles 4 furlongs, it features 24 runner, and the only certainty is that it is not the race to hang your hat on if you are chasing losses built up over the past 3 days.

McKinley is selected for short priced backers. He has already claimed some impressive scalps this season, and looks the sort to be able to handle the undulations of Prestbury Park. At a general 9/1, he could give you a good ruin for your money.

Elsewhere, Pearl Swan could run into the prize money for UK champion trainer Paul Nicholls. Having had a recent wind operation, is ability to breath in his races is seen as a huge positive. At large prices ranging up to 25/1 he is selected as a good option to improve upon his current form and throw down the gauntlet to the market leaders.

The final race of the 2015 Festival is the Grand Annual Chase, this year named after the returning champion of champions, AP McCoy. A wonderful man who has made and immeasurable contribution to his sport, it would be quite incredible if the winning connections could deliver anything nearly as memorable as his contribution.

However wonderful it would be for his mount, the excellently named Ned Buntline to win, it looks like a tall order. Bar Very Wood at last years Festival, trainer Noel Meade has a poor record at Cheltenham, and I’m afraid to say AP will not triumph in his last race at Cheltenham.

The winner instead will be between Grumeti and Blood Cotil. Both look suited by the grade and have a chance to close out the Festival for connections in winning style. Blood Cotil looks nicely weighted and could closet the week in winning style for his Mullins and Walsh connections who have been so ruthless throughout the week. Grumeti on the other hand steps down in class and could get his nose in front for Mr King, a man who knows how to plunder a Cheltenham Festival handicap.

Come 17.30, the horses will have crossed the line and the curtain will have fallen for another year. The record books will have been re-written, Champions put upon their throne and solitude descending upon Prestbury Park. Whatever the outcome of the titanic struggles between the British and Irish, the bookmakers and punters, it has been a wonderful week and will sit very prominently in the memory. Particularly impressive this year were the Novices’, headed by those under the tutelage of Mr Willie Mullins, which only goes to make us more excited for the Cheltenham Festival of 2016. With that to look forward to, there is nothing in life for us to complain about.

by The Ferret

Editorial note: This is where the tips normally go, but Eddy Hall’s laptop is only workable if you are a gnome, so I’m afraid you’ll have to read the article today. Good luck.

Cheltenham Festival, Day Three: We Go Again….

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Day two was all about the English and the punters. The bookies were hit for six in almost every contest – every good thing that shortened did so with menacing momentum, and there’s no doubt about who was licking their wounds on Wednesday evening. Paul Nicholls and Sam Twiston-Davies had a double together, and a third win for Nicholls and a further victory for David Pipe with the extremely impressive Moon Racer in the last meant the British evened things up against the Irish, who were so impressive in Day One. 

Sadly for us racing fans, the feature event, the Queen Mother Champion Chase, was a bit of a damp squib, with the big guns carrying lofty reputations misfiring. Whether it was just not a going day, or whether something more serious is the root cause, only time will tell. We mustn’t take anything away from Dodging Bullets, a Champion on his own merits, but the overriding aftertaste is one of anticlimax.

Dodging Bullets completed a double over Sprinter Sacre this season

Dodging Bullets completed a double over Sprinter Sacre this season

So what have we learnt from Day Two? Willie Mullins’ good things will continue to frank their promise, as when the hugely impressive Don Poli romped to success. Also that Lady Luck will continue to play her hand in an unpredictable fashion, as we saw in the Cross Country Chase as the favourite ran out carrying Quantativeeasing with him. 

Day Three, typically the weakest in terms of quality, should be another excellent tussle between honest, faithful punter and the merciless, bloodsucking bookmaker (apart, of course, from Paddy Power – ed.). Let’s see if we can find the answer to the riddle.

Bastards...

Bastards…

First up at 13.30 is the JLT Novices’ Chase over 2 miles 4 furlongs. As with many of the novice races this week, the Irish look to have the strongest hand. Willie Mullins is once again well represented, and Noel Meade sends over a useful animal to bolster the invasion.

Preference is for Mullins’ Vautour, the impressive winner of last years Supreme and the class act in the race. At anything north of 2/1 it is worth lumping on and he should take all the beating.

There isn’t a huge amount of value elsewhere. Ptit Zig should chase him home, but is too short for any EW bets. Valseur Lido will so be there or thereabouts, but preference is for his stablemate. 

The second race is the Pertemps Final over 3 miles, a ludicrous enigma featuring 24 handicappers.

If you’ve got any dollars left then you can back your bottom one that at least half a dozen of these horses have had this race as the target for a year or two and someone is trying to land a sneaky coup.
Nonetheless we will look through the mist to find our charge. Dawalan is a young horse with plenty of weight on his back, but he has class and much potential, and we feel therefore that he could represent value at approximately 16/1.
Other each way charges worth bearing in mind are Aqalim in the first time visor. A horse with useful form on his day, the visor should sharpen him up and he’s worth a few quid each way at 20/1. Unique de Cotte is a course winner with potential to exploit and could give a good show at 16/1.
Next comes the Ryanair Chase at 14.40. A high-class race with a good list of past winners, there is one horse that stands out above the rest.
Anyone who has flown with Ryanair will know that Michael O’Leary gives nothing away for free, and that will be the same case here as he greedily takes back the prize money he oh-so generously put up in sponsorship. Don Cossack has looked excellent this season over fences after falling at last years Festival and is tipped to roll like a good ‘un. Anything larger than 3/1 should be gobbled up like a fat kid with cake.

Michael O'Leary - Money sustains him

Michael O’Leary – Money sustains him

Those looking for each way value should turn to Johns Spirit, more at home at Cheltenham than tweed and pashminas. He showed this when he took the Paddy Power chase earlier in the season, and at 14/1 you know you’ll get a run for your money. At a higher price Double Ross has good course and distance form and has a squeak at a generous 66/1.
The Championship race of the day is the 15.20, the ‘Less-Good-Version-Of-Paddy-Power’ World Hurdle (aka, Ladbrokes). (OK, that’s enough sucking up to the sponsors – ed.)
Since the retirement of Big Bucks this race has lost its perennial hero. The result is less hero-worshipping, but much more competitive racing. This year it is a very competitive renewal with many horses in with a shout.
Those looking for a sure fire winner should side with Saphir du Rheu; winner over course and distance in the Cleeve Hurdle for the same connections as Big Bucks. Today will be his day and this favourite will roll in at around 5/1.
Blue Fashion is an intriguing runner for those looking for more value. In only two runs in the UK he has the prestige of chasing home our new Champion hurdler, Faugheen, and he could put in a bold bid at 20/1. Jetson is also of interest for minor honours.

Can Saphir go for gold?

Can Saphir go for gold?

The penultimate race of the third day, at 16.00, is the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Chase over 2 miles 5 furlongs. As another 24 runner handicap, there is once again a slice of luck and a dash of a lottery about the race.
Buywise looks extremely progressive and although he has limited experience, he has won over course and distance. He could be interesting at 7/1, but preference instead is for Monetaire who looks the classic Pipe sort for such an affair.  The Pipes won the race in 2012 and 2014 and this chap has a similar profile. Impressive on his last start, he should be sided with at 7/1.
Elsewhere Un Ace is developing into a very nice chaser and should run well under the Champ. Rawnaq is interesting for the Irish and may give a little EW value at around 20/1.

PP Chelt 241 b big
Finally we have a good old chase for amateur riders. Over 3 miles 2 furlongs, the Kim Muir is always a little bit dangerous, and it is always wise to ensure your horse has an accomplished pilot.
Buddy Bolero looks like he could be coming back to his clever handler, and could give you an exciting final race at odds of 25/1. Gold Bullet also has a strong chance and should be kept onside; especially with Mr Derek O’Connor on board, a particularly able steerer. At 12/1 he should be there or thereabouts, but could go off favourite.
Day one was excellent. Day two was excellent. Day three will of course be excellent – this is the Cheltenham Festival, it’s all excellent! The battle will continue between bookie and punter, the English and Irish, in what promises to be more brilliant fun.

By The Ferret
TIPS:

Race 1, JLT Novices’ Chase (1:30) – Vautor @ 6/4

Race 2, Pertemps Final (2:05) – Dawalan @ 14/1

Race 3, Ryanair Chase (2:40) – Don Cossack @ 9/2

Race 4, World Hurdle (3:20) – Saphir du Rheu @ 13/2

Race 5, Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Chase (4:00) – Monetaire @ 15/2

Race 6, Kim Muir (4:40) – Gold Bullet @ 9/1

For more odds please go to the Paddy Power website by clicking here!

Cheltenham Festival, Day Two: Annie gives bookies the Power to continue…

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Well well well, what a first day to the Festival! It encapsulated everything we could have asked for…and more. By the time Douvan, Faugheen and Un De Sceaux had rolled in we were bathing in the glow of future Champions and Kings elect. And then it was time for the Queen… Ah.

The sport was majestic and the day wonderful. So many high points and the awesome displays of Willie Mullins’ Musketeers, who we referred to yesterday, were incredible. Fair play to the man – getting three top horses to deliver the goods on the big stage is no easy task, and yet they made it look oh so easy! Incredible.

Every punter throughout the land will be forgiven for being lulled into a false sense of security. Seeing ‘good things’ roll in only gives us the confidence to go bigger, braver, bolder next time. In our haste, dizziness, blind belief we follow, and when the unthinkable happens, we’re left looking like a startled baby sitting on the floor of the platform, thumb in mouth, crying for Mummy.

Poor Annie Power. She could run that race ten more times and ping the last, bounce up the hill and win eased down, jockey standing in the stirrups, saluting his faithful admirers, drowning in their admiration. Not this time. We mentioned yesterday but a few of the pitfalls that stand in front of any National Hunt horse. We didn’t mention trying to impersonate Evil Knievel.

"Oh, for f..."

“Oh, for f…”

Short priced favourites can face all manner of challenges, and therefore looking for value should be a good strategy for the next 3 days. Some nicely priced horses were placed yesterday, allowing value for those who don’t want to duel with such short odds. At Trivial Pursuits we managed to introduce you to a 14/1 winner and a handful of placed horses. I assure you Mr Power sends his warmest regards.

Alas St Patricks Day will stay where it is, and Day One won’t be renamed just yet. Nonetheless, Willie Mullins did have an excellent day, proving the rude health of his stable, something to remember for the rest of the week. A brilliant first day, and a lovely way to set us up for Day Two.

The first race of the day, off at 13.30, is the Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle over 2 miles 5 furlongs. Often the selection for the best young hurdlers who show a bit more stamina and a slight less turn of foot than those running in the Supreme, it is a fascinating renewal.

A good case can be made for many of the runners, which is proved by the fact that 6 of the 10 horses having a forecast SP of 12/1 or less. Intriguing as it is, this is no walk in the park.

Will Willie Mullins kick on from where he left off? He’s won this race 3 times since 2008. Nichols Canyon is a worthy favourite having shown high class form on the flat, and having won all starts over hurdles bar dropping Ruby Walsh from the saddle once. Generally he jumps well, but he does like to bowl along in front and it is questionable how he will settle if challenged for an early lead. Mullins’ other entry also has a good chance, and although Outlander has strong form, he could be anything and I worry whether he will be able dominate this high class field. Windsor Park has a good chance with solid form against Canyon, and Vyta Du Roc shouldn’t be underestimated.

Preference is instead given to Parlour Games (6/1) though, who also was high class on the flat, has shown quality form since switched to hurdles and seems to be suited by Cheltenham, a big plus. The drying ground will enhance his finishing kick, and I fancy him to give John Ferguson his first Festival winner. Beast of Burden has also looked mightily impressive in his lower class assignments to date, and is selected as the each way punt for those demanding better prices as he looks to fulfil his promise.

Up next is the RSA Chase over 3 miles. Often a stepping stone for future Gold Cup winners, we have a cracking renewal with strength throughout the 9 runner field.

Don Poli is a worthy favourite, a winner of the Martin Pipe hurdle at last years Festival. He has improved since his change to fences and been very impressive in his two victories this season. Yet another favourite from the Willie Mullins yard, and ridden by the lovely Bryan Cooper, he may well be victorious.

His main market rival is Kings Palace, from the David Pipe yard. Winner of three chases this season, two of those victories have come at Cheltenham, form which will stand him in very good stead. He has beaten some good horses, and although he likes to lead from the front in his races, he is selected for win bets. Generally available at 4/1, this represents value for a very likeable horse.

The Young Master is an alternative, who has shown hugely improved form this season but he may just come up short in this company. Southfield Theatre may offer a little each way value, but his odds are teetering around the 7/1 mark and that price may just be too short to make it worthwhile.

PP Chelt 241

The third race is the cavalry charge of the Coral Cup, a race of 26 horses galloping over 2 miles 5 furlongs.

There is no easy answer here and a case can be made for most. It has proved favourable to take on the favourite in recent years, and we will do this again.

This year’s favourite is Paul Nicholls’ Aux Ptits Soins, who will be making his British racecourse debut. As such, the handicapper has given him a handicap mark without knowing much about him, as he has no real form to compare him against. With 2 wins and a third from his 3 starts in France, he looks to have plenty of ability and could be anything. Generally available at 6/1, jockey and trainer alike often need a race to get to the bottom of a horse and know how to use him, and as such, although his mark could look charitable after the race, we will take him on.

Nicholls’ second string is very interesting. Lac Fontana hasn’t had much fun over fences this season, but today he reverts to hurdles where he acquitted himself so well last year. Victorious at Cheltenham and Aintree last year, he could return to his previous form, and partnered by the excellent Sean Bowen who takes a further 5 pounds of his back, he represents value at 20/1.

Another intriguing runner is Taglietelle. Trained be the ever-so-shrewd Gordon Elliott, he has been pencilled in for this race for some time and his handler knows how to ready one. His form is solid and at 14/1 he also represents good value.

Other interesting runners worth a second look are Willie Mullins’ Un Atout (will he return to his previous hugh class hurdling form?) and Baradari, who has proved he can handle a big field at Cheltenham already. Venetia Williams will have a winner at some point this week, surely, so could it be this chap?

The main event of the day is the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Probably the greatest race in the racing calendar, this sees the best 2 mile chasers attack their fences at top speed, needle in the red.

The field this year includes three previous winners in the shape of Sprinter Sacre, Sire de Grugy and Sizing Europe, as well as a dusting of young pretenders with big reputations.

Sprinter Sacre will always be the darling of the National Hunt racing world; a huge horse with an honest persona who loves his racing, his victory in this race in 2013 was mesmerising. Unfortunately his subsequent injury interrupted his progression into folklore, and although showing promise of his old self on his return at Ascot in January, he has questions to answer. He would be the most popular winner, undoubtedly, but has it to prove.

Can Sprinter Sacre come back to regain the crown?

Can Sprinter Sacre come back to regain the crown?

Similarly Sire de Grugy has also had an interrupted preparation. The 2014 victor unseated in his debut, but put wrongs right with a commanding victory at Chepstow last month. He didn’t beat much that day, but he did all that could be asked of him and showed his class again. As such, he has less question marks next to his name and we will side with him at 7/2.

Champagne Fever from the Willie Mullins yard could also be crowned champion, and with 3 runs at the Festival and results of 1st, 1st and 2nd, he has a live chance. He has been running over further this year though and this race often demands a 2 mile specialist. Dodging Bullets is progressing nicely and could throw down a challenge, but those looking for each way value are directed towards Simply Ned, who should be staying on as they climb the hill and shows a little value at 16/1.

The Fourth race off at 16.00 is the Cross Country race, over 3 miles and 7 furlongs and any obstacles that the imaginative course designer can dream up.

Enda Bolger is the go-to man for such a race, especially after the dominance of Spotthedifference, but it is not sure whether Quantativeeasing quite has the same aptitude as his illustrious predecessor.

Spotthedifference... A legend of the long-game

Spotthedifference… A legend of the long-game

Duke of Lucca has been promising to win a race of this type, and hails from the Philip Hobbs that has had a tremendous record in this race in recent years. He is selected to go on at odds of 7/1.

We see the main danger being put forward by Any Currency, 2nd in this last year and victorious at the November meeting, but he has gone up in the weights and may struggle one pound of top weight.

At a big price Charingworth may give you a good shout for your money. A winner at Cheltenham in November, he may be as big as 50/1.

The penultimate race at 16.40 is the Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle for 4 year olds. A handicap generally for horses who have progressed from the flat, this is always a fun puzzle to try and solve.

Zarib from the Dan Skelton yard, ridden by brother Harry, has strong form and looks progressive. All Yours, trained by Skeltons mentor Paul Nicholls, has already shown form franked by good horses.

Selection however goes to a couple of longer price horses. Tip weight Golden Doyen has been running against the cream of juvenile hurdlers, and had his sights lowered from the Triumph to this assignment. He has strong course and distance form and as a big horse, shouldn’t be too inconvenienced by carrying top weight. He is worth a good each way bet, generally available at 16/1.

Another worth an each way flutter is Sebastian Beach. With a nice weight on his back, he will improve for the dring ground, and Jonjo O’Neill knows how to ready one for a contest like this. He is certainly interesting at 25/1.

PP 241 c

The final race of the day is the Champion Bumper. A 2 mile National Hunt flat race, the race is generally dominated by the Irish. This looks set to be the case again. With limited racecourse experience there are all sorts of question marks dangling around and you’d be forgiven for reaching for your crystal ball.

Willie Mullins has no less than seven (7!) runners, anyone of whom could prove victorious. Bordoni seems to be another high class recruit and is partnered by son Patrick, therefore worth respecting. As likely favourite it is doubtful whether this shows much value though, and there may be more value in one of his other horses. Which one though, I don’t know, and I doubt he does either. Pylonthepressure would probably get the nod.

Last years winning trainer, Dermot Weld, has an interesting runner in Vigil. A short priced 5/1 in this race last year, he has only run once since and should have strengthened up and matured with the extra year under his belt. The experience will be invaluable and we side with him at 11/1.

Those looking for each way value could look at a whole host of horses. With such patchy evidence to work with, our only advice is to once again remember that a new day starts tomorrow, therefore try not to go bananas.

And so onto another fascinating day of racing awaits. We hope to see stars in the making in the Neptune and RSA, and the crowning of a Champion in the Queen Mother. It should be another enthralling day, but remember, as proved yesterday, absolutely anything can happen amongst the drama and romance of the Cheltenham Festival.

by The Ferret

TIPS:

Race 1, Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (1:30) – Parlour Games @ 6/1

Race 2, RSA Chase (2:05) – Kings Palace @ 9/2

Race 3, Coral Cup (2:40) – Lac Fontana @ 16/1, Taglietelle @ 14/1

Race 4, Queen Mother Champion Chase (3:20) – Sire De Grugy @ 7/2 (nap)

Race 5, Cross Country (4:00) – Duke of Lucca @ 6/1

Race 6, Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle (4:40) – Golden Doyen @ 16/1, Sebastian Beach @ 25/1

Race 7, Champion Bumper (5:15) – Vigil @ 9/1

For more odds go to Paddy Power… Click here to see ’em!

Cheltenham Festival, Day One: Welcome to the Willie Mullins Show

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 What an intriguing week stands in front of us.

Day One encapsulates this perfectly, with a championship race right from the top draw (The Champion Hurdle), novices races abundant with future stars (Supreme and Arkle), the top ladies throughout the land putting their best for forward on the dancefloor (OLBG Mares’ Hurdle), and a few good old fashioned large field handicaps to whet the appetite of the gambler who sees huge betting coup dangling like carrot from stick. Amen.

This is also the day when we learn quite how formidable a team Willie Mullins has assembled, particularly in the colours of Mrs Rich Ricci. Ruby Walsh jumps into the saddle on the four horses, all of whom have shown incredible ability so far and boundless potential. Today is the day of reckoning, when we find out quite how good they are.

From sea level to the moon their potential knows no limit, the Three Musketeers of Douvan, Faugheen and Un De Sceaux will join forces with the relatively experienced Annie Power, to try and rename Day One of the Cheltenham Festival, Willie’s Day of the Cheltenham Festival. If they all win, it is not unlikely that St Patricks Day will be moved from its normal home on 17th March to the Tuesday of every Cheltenham Festival.

A fairly accurate interpretation of how today could pan out...

A fairly accurate interpretation of how today could pan out…

First up is the Supreme Novices Hurdle at 13.30. Featuring the best 2 mile hurdlers who are tackling the smaller obstacles for the first season, it always churns out future star after future star. This year will be no different.

Douvan is a worthy favourite. He has only run twice in Ireland since being imported from France, but he has shown already that he is high class and with boundless potential. As a five year old and with only limited racecourse experience, he does have chinks in his armour. It would be no surprise to see him romp up the Cheltenham hill, but it will be no easy walk in the park, and he is plenty short enough in the market (approx.15/8).

Main market rival L’Ami Serge has more racecourse experience from his days in France. With three starts and three victories since moving to the expert tuition of Nicky Henderson, his form is rock solid and he would be a good favourite most years.

Both of the market leaders look high class, and could easily win. Neither though have course winning form at Cheltenham, and still at a tender age with potential to fulfil rather than form which is franked, it is worth looking for each way value elsewhere.

Shaneshill is the best of the rest. Runner up at the Cheltenham Festival last year in the Champion Bumper, the experience of the Cheltenham atmosphere and the final surge to the finishing line will stand him in good stead. At 12/1 he makes for an appetising each way bet. Seedling is another with course form who could plug on for minor honours at a more generous price.

Douvan PP

The second race of the day is the Arkle Novices Chase run over two miles. The race is always a fantastic contest as the novices hurl themselves at the big obstacles over minimum trip. This year is a strong renewal.

All the pre-race build up has centres around Un De Sceaux, a crack hurdler whose form has transferred to fences. He has only lost once in ten starts, and has been very impressive in slamming high class opponents. At Cheltenham, however, there is no room for error in the jumping, and if he bowls along with the choke out and fails to give his fences sufficient respect, he may just learn the hard way. He is the class horse in the race, but with a fall to his name and such short odds (generally 4-7), our charge lies elsewhere.

Vibrato Valtat has been a new horse since switched to fences. A breathing operation in the summer has helped, and his form is rock solid. Generally at 5/1, he offers better value, and if you search about Paddy Power are offering any losing bets if Un De Sceaux wins refunded as a free bet. Vibrato Valtat should be plunged on when such generous insurance policies are offered.

Elsewhere, those looking to sniff out each way value may look to Josses Hill, who, although slow at times with his jumping this season, was second in the Supreme at last years Festival and could bring value. Three Kingdoms is preferred though, with solid form and tasty odds (approx 20/1). He’d be the suggestion for those looking for more hope than guarantees.

Un Des Sceaux - Beatable?

Un Des Sceaux – Beatable?

The third race, the Ultimate Business Solutions Handicap Chase over 3 miles 1 furlong, features 24 runners, most of whom a case can be made for. The advice would be try to find a charge you have a fancy for, probably at larger prices, and have a little each way tipple. You’d be a brave man to make this race the ‘legend maker’.

Pendra has invaluable Festival form, being placed last year, but at such a short price (5/1) in such a large field, there is limited fun or value in plunging on here. Those who are seeking a longer-priced hope should look towards Gallant Oscar, who could just be another protagonist in the next chapter of a Tony Martin story of cunning and victory, a man who knows how to plan a handicap coup. Generally at 10/1, he has interesting form back in Ireland and needs respecting.

At larger prices, Cape Tribulation is a course and distance winner, and with the Malcolm Jefferson yard hitting top gear just at the right time, he could represent value, generally at 25/1. Lamb or Cod also has good Cheltenham form, although he has a couple of poor runs to put behind him. With Richard Johnson in the saddle, the perennial bridesmaid to McCoys bride, a case can certainly be made for him at odds of approx 40/1.

Champion Hurdle - Will Jezki be celebrating again this year?

Champion Hurdle – Will Jezki be celebrating again this year?

The fourth race is the main course in this sumptuous feast, the Stan James Champion Hurdle over 2 miles. Once again featuring a stellar line up, there are stories abounding from every corner, and a case can be made for many of the horses.

Undoubtedly the most interesting of these is Faugheen. Winner of the Neptune at last years Festival, the way he scooted clear of the field and romped home up the hill to such an emphatic victory is still fresh in the memory. He has done nothing wrong once again this year when extending his unbeaten run to 8, and is a very worthy favourite. His price is short, and at not much either side of Even money, you’d have to have a proper bet for this race to make or break your week.

Hurricane Fly was victorious in this race in 2011 and 2013, but has never really received the credit he might deserve for such success. At the age of 11, one must fear that his best years are behind him and he can only hope for place money at best.

The New One, the darling of the Twiston-Davies family, who is trained by father Nigel and ridden by son Sam, is a local favourite. Bitterly unlucky in last years Champion Hurdle, he is looking to put right wrongs. Generally available at odds of 4/1, although he has won all his starts this season, he has at times looked a little sluggish, although that could be put down to ground which has been a little deeper than preferable. We wish him better luck this year, and hope he’s there at the finish.

Last years victor, Jezki, also re-opposes. He has battled, and lost, this season to Hurricane Fly on numerous occasions, but you can be sure he’ll come good when the chips are down and be involved when it really matters.

In short, this Championship contest is an absolute puzzle. Cases can be made for many, and any number of horse would be worthy winners. Faugheen should win. I’d love The New One to win. Jezki has done it recently and may well do it again. The author will probably sit this one out and just enjoy the spectacle that it is. Those who wan to have a plunge should either go big on Faugheen, or have a little win bet on The New One to have his luck improved this year.

After the excitement of the diamond in the crown of Day One, we move onto the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, over 2 miles 4 furlongs. Dominated mercilessly in recent years by the exceptional Quevega, she looks to have selected a natural successor in the shape of Annie Power.

Quevega and Annie Power... Passing of the baton?

Quevega and Annie Power… Passing of the baton?

Losing little in defeat in last years World Hurdle, this race looks made for her. As such her odds are typical short, generally available at 4/7. She has proved her class at Cheltenham before though, will love the ground and the trip, and it would be a real surprise to see her turned over.

Those looking for better value may turn to Polly Peachum, closely related to the great Denman, who has been freshened up with this race in mind (12/1). More value could be found in Harry Frys Bitofapuzzle, who will need every hard of the distance and should be staying on up the hill (25/1).

The penultimate race of the day is the Toby Balding National Hunt Chase. For amateur jockeys, the class and ability of the pilot often tells in this race, so do look for a name you may have head of. With 17 runners and some jockeys of limited experience, anything could happen!

This is the race again for a little cheeky bet or two, rather than lumping on in a make or break fashion. The shrewd Michael Hourigan appears to have targeted this race with The Job Is Right, who was freshened up over hurdles recently, presumably with the aim of keeping his chase handicap mark intact. He is generally available at 6/1. Those looking for a little more value may look towards Broadway Buffalo, who will be steered by Ruby Walsh’s sister, Katie, and has solid form already this season (approx. 20/1) or one of Willie Mullins lesser lights on Day One, Perfect Gentleman, partnered by his son Patrick.

The final race at 17.15 is the CHAPS Restaurants Barbados Novices’ Chase over 2 miles 4 furlongs. Again this isn’t a race that should decide your fortunes for the week, and it is probably best to play it safe and ensure you don’t fritter away your stake money for tomorrow. Remember: we do have another 3 days to go!

Those looking for a charge to cheer around could do worse than look towards Irish Cavalier, who may improve for the first time headgear and could turn the tables with his recent course and distance vanquisher, Generous Ransom. At 20/1 the former could offer better value than the latter, who also should be there or thereabouts when it counts most, but odds of 8/1 hold limited appeal. For a longer priced shot, the Mouse Morris trained Dromnea could run well. He has good form this term and Morris is proven to deliver at the Festival with sons of Presenting when the ground is good. He may give you something to shout about at around 33/1.

All in all the curtain rises once again at the Cheltenham Festival with an abundance of quality and more intrigue than DCI Barnaby could shake a stick at. All the racing should be mightily enjoyable, but it is the stars of the show we cannot wait to see bowl along. Quite how good are Douvan, Faugheen and Un De Sceaux? We will find out very soon.

By The Ferret

TIPS:

Race 1, Supreme Novices Hurdle (1:30) – Shaneshill @ 10/1

Race 2, Arkle (2:05) – Vibrato Valtat @ 6/1

Race 3, Ultimate Business Solutions Handicap Chase (2:40) – Gallant Oscar @ 10/1

Race 4, Champion Hurdle (3:20) – The New One @ 4/1

Race 5, OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (4:00) – Annie Power @ 4/6 (nap)

Race 6, Toby Balding National Hunt Chase (4:40) – The Job is Right @ 8/1

Race 7, CHAPS Restaurants Barbados Novices’ Chase (5:15) – Irish Cavalier @ 14/1

All odds provided by Paddy Power. Click here for full odds and offers on select races…

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Cheltenham Festival Preview: The sunset of an era, and the dawn of a new one

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Another year has passed, and we find ourselves standing on the eve of the wonderful Cheltenham Festival once again.

The 12 months past has delivered relatively little in terms of sporting memories in comparison to recent years; the likes of the London Olympics and the Miracle in Medinah start to fade into the bookcase of spectacular chapters in an exclusive back catalogue of the greatest feats, no longer lingering moments draped in a cloak of awe and incredulity. There was Hamilton vs Rosberg, but that feels strangely like a Barcelona vs Real Madrid soap opera, mildly dramatised by the instigating puppeteers (both politician and press) who stand to gain most from these detached rivalries that bear little relevance to the their contemporaries. Engaging as it is, it lacks a kind of integrity, realism, romance. It’s pretending to be something serious, genuine and grown up, but with a moderately direct gaze you can’t help feel slightly conned and undersold. Like sitting down to a Michelin starred meal ringside to watch a WWE clash.

Nonetheless, every twelve months we are guaranteed the opening of the gates at Prestbury Park for the Cheltenham Festival.

The four days will open to a tsunami of passion, emotion, intrigue and hope. Rich emotions shared in different ways by different people, be they owners, bookmakers, car parking attendants, royalty, punters, trainers or even just plain old jockeys. All will undoubtedly share in the tapestry of emotions weaved in the wonderful Cotswold bowl. Action and top quality sport are guaranteed, not matter what has gone before it for the past 12 months.

Kingman romps home again

Kingman romps home again

The racing industry has had its own share of stories over the past year. On the level track we saw the high class Kingman deliver master classes over one mile. Although lacking the once-in-a-generation freakish abilities of his stablemate Frankel, we cannot hold that against him, and it was a joy to see him romping up the home up the straight.

There was also the diminutive Tiggy Wiggy, a 2 year old filly of minute proportions who, for every inch shorter she was, her heart was bigger.  With an uncanny ability to start her races in such fashion as to make it look as though her competitors were asleep, she was (and still may be as a three year old) blindingly quick, and it will be a joy to see her return when the weather is a little fairer in the months ahead.

The dominating story of the year in the racing world, and certainly for this year’s Festival, is the retirement of the 19-times champion jockey, AP McCoy, a man who has been crowned Champion every season since turning professional at the age of 21. The Northern Irishman is peerless, both in his day and in history, and he will leave a huge hole at the very heart of the sport. His application, desire and thirst is matched only by his ability. It is utterly remarkable that he has been at the very top of his sport for so long, with unerring consistency, breaking record after record with winners that flow as regularly as an Amazonian tributary.

AP - Champion of Champions

AP – Champion of Champions

He has many contemporaries who in another time would have been worthy champions in their own right, and although the racing world will find another champion and another story, his tenure as Emperor has been the stuff of legend.

McCoy has wholly dominated a generation. For this author, I have never in my lifetime as a National Hunt racing fanatic seen a different champion jockey. That’s ludicrous, I’m the wrong side off 30! What other sportsman can that be said of with such certainty and conviction? I bet the answer is “none”, and if nothing else, I am sure that I have one winning bet for the week.

As such this year’s Cheltenham Festival will be that bit more special. The stories that make the sport so wonderful are always there, but this isn’t another story as in other years, this is a blockbuster, stop the press, Hollywood-esc tale that has been built into the blood and bones of the sport. It will be the end of an era, and it will be celebrated!

Mullins, the man to beat

Mullins, the man to beat

Even with his unrivalled accomplishments, it would take a brave man to back the Champ to be top jockey for the week. The arsenal assembled by Willie Mullins, the cream of which will be ridden by Ruby Walsh, is staggering. Many of them run in the the Mr Blobby-styled colours of Mrs Rich Ricci (so wealthy they named her twice). As they go to bed this evening the Ricci’s will be dreaming of their charges soaring mightily up the Cheltenham hill, and with the likes of Faugheen, Champagne Fever and Annie Power, to name but a few of their stellar stable, they have the right to be very excited. Some claim it could be the greatest string of horses ever brought to Cheltenham by an owner – only time will tell.

Day One is dominated by Mullins and Walsh, with red-hot favourites in almost every race. In a sport though where horse and pilot have to contest with an unending list of challenges and uncertainties, almost anything can happen, and we can be sure there will be no dominance in the fashion of Real Madrid or Lewis Hamilton.

A great leveller...

A great leveller…

Immovable birch fences are only the first impediment. A stumble and peck upon landing, the jockey dropping his whip, being taken out by a loose horse or being brought down by a faller amongst a thirty-strong field, missing the break, getting trapped in on the rail, ground which is too fast, ground which is too slow, or even just the atmosphere getting to you and your charge and boiling over on the day, anything can happen as the poetic story of the race unfolds.

One small further threat is 30 or so other wily, steel-willed partnerships of horse and jockey, hell bent on victory and glory, aiming to raise their own colours on the flag at the finish line at the expense of yours. The path to victory is more a mine-strewn gauntlet along the edge of a precipice than the walk in the park such short odds would have you expect for many of the favourites. Going to Cheltenham with a team of Galacticos is one thing; coming out unscathed and victorious is something else altogether.

Faugheen the machine

Faugheen the machine

No matter how impressive the likes of Faugheen have been in sauntering to victory in every challenge they have faced, or how spectacular Un de Sceaux has looked in galloping relentlessly, choke out, and slamming rival after rival, Champions are not made until they have crossed the line at Presbury Hill, and there is a lot to overcome between now and then.

As such in many races we will be taking on these red-hot favourites, and approaching our gentleman’s gentleman, Mr Paddy Power, with belief and confidence. The favourites are worthy in their own right, but such short prices allow value elsewhere, and this is what we will be searching for. The men and the boys will be sorted, like wheat from chaff, and over the next 4 days we will publish our tips and fancies, with the necessary fact, fiction, opinion and hearsay to try and galvanise our charges over the line.

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The quality of the racing, its width and depth, is only further testament to the size of the achievements of AP McCoy. With so many hurdles to overcome, so many competitors jostling for victory themselves, not mention the physical risks and injuries encapsulated at the centre of this unforgivingly dangerous sport, his unquestionable dominance in the face of both risk and luck is quite simply spectacular. We will feast on the sport and on the qualities of its main protagonists. 

We may win. We may lose. But whilst there is a contest there is a story, a reason for debate and differences of opinion. All we know for sure is that we have a feast of four wonderful days in front of us, where we will witness some truly spectacular sport.

I am delighted to announce, ladies and gentleman, that the Cheltenham Festival is once more upon us, and it has served up mouth-watering contests, heart-warming stories and perplexing mysteries at every turn. Bring on the roar of the crowd as the tapes go up!

By The Ferret

The Ferret will be offering tips all week in his daily column, brought to you by Paddy Power, bookmaker of choice for gentlemen and the Irish. Check here every morning for the day’s fancies and GOOD LUCK!

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