The first day of the Festival certainly didn’t fail to entertain, with talking points in every race. With three of the weeks ‘bankers’ running on the first day, Tuesday had the ability to make or break the week for many wallets and set a precedent for the 4-day long slog against the bookmakers; wits pitted as each plots plans more cunning than even Baldrick could summon.
Of the three bankers, 2 prevailed in tremendous fashion. Sprinter Sacre dominated the Arkle in ever-so impressive fashion, jumping like a stag and, although only winning by an official distance of 7 lengths, did so with plenty in hand. It is no revelation to announce that his seat is already reserved at the top table for a few years to come. The style of his win will be hard to pass throughout the week.
Quevega, the toughest of tough mares, recorded a fourth victory in the mares’ hurdle, a feat which will be very hard to surpass for many years to come. Resembling Joan of Arc more than her contemporaries, she oozed class, galloped all over her 18 rivals before putting them to the sword in merciless style. As much of a banker as a banker could be…with or without hindsight, she was never in doubt.
Hurricane Fly was turned over in the Champion Hurdle. Rock On Ruby took the crown, surging clear off a blistering pace and going one better than he did in last years Festival. A truly run race which was hugely competitive, the best horse on the day took the crown.
Only one other notable record passed the author’s ear, that of trainer Nicky Henderson equalling the most Cheltenham Festival winners of all time. A man bred only to maintain the chin image of our sport of Kings, hid ruddy red cheeks under his trilby have illuminated the course through his 40 victories, and it doesn’t look like he’ll stop anytime soon. Keep up the good work Mr Henderson, rah rah rah rah rah!
Enough of yesterday, today begins a fresh feast! Those who won will be thirsty for more blood, the losers chasing redemption. With a further 7 races, Wednesday promises to be no less entertaining.
The first is a steeplechase over four miles for amateur riders. The race often resulting in the most fatalities (equine, not human), apparently due to the non-professional status (humans, not horses), it is a total lottery and hard to win. The advice is to go with an experienced pilot, and tag onto that the normal useful items (good form, won around the course before, has four legs etc). As such, Harry The Viking, owned by Sir Alex Ferguson, could be of interest, although at 13/2 he is far too short. Lively Baron is tipped at a big price, should relish the ground and should give something to shout about at 33/1.
Next up is the Neptune hurdle over 2m 5f. Won by many good horses in the past and boasting a cast of young pretenders, it will be a very competitive event and Simonsig is a worthy favourite. Having said that, 5/2 is very short and there is value in the field, so search about for a little each way flutter. Cotton Mill had his form franked on the weekend and could continue his unbeaten run at 14/1 and Batonnier has winning form around Cheltenham which will stand him in good stead. The author sold Close House, who is a lovely horse, but probably can’t move his legs quite fast enough to trouble the principles.
The RSA Chase is a third on the card and a fantastic renewal. Grand Crus, the sleek grey, was close to going for the Gold Cup before electing for the RSA, and was quoted at odds as short as 6/1. At a tender 7 years old, it demonstrates the thoughts of the knowledgable connections preparing him. He is the stable star of the Pipe yard and will be hard to beat. Bobs Worth and First Lieutenant will provide fierce opposition and it is suggested they are put in a tricast (1,2 and 3 in the correct order – “outrageous!” I hear you cry) in that order – its a little different! Enjoy it though, it will be an excellent race. Walkon could provide a nice each way bet for those unconvinced at a generous 33/1.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is off at 3.20. A race over the minimum trip of two miles, it really tests the art of jumping at speed, and is always a great spectacle. Betting wise, it’s a trappy affair and difficult to find any real value. Sizing Europe should follow up last years victory but is too short to be value and is not classed a cast-iron banker. Big Zeb has the form tonne challenging on the line. Not a great one for punting – sorry!
The Coral Cup is a handicap hurdle of 28 horses – I don’t mind putting forward thoughts but I’m not Nostradamus. Poole Master could run a good race for the Pipe yard (who could have a great day). Carlito Brigante won the race last year and looks a good option – he’s carrying plenty of weight but at a general 16/1 he should have a shout.
The Fred Winter fields young juvenile hurdlers in handicap company. Many were terrible on the flat but seem to be rejuvenated over obstacles, and as such the race has interesting form. Many of the horses have a multitude of ‘1’s next to their name, however there is some good each way value in the race if you can swim through the form. A selection would be Royal Bonsai from the John Quinn yard. An expert handler of these types, Quinn holds him in high regard and has kept him fresh on the all-weather, and at 20/1 will give you something to dream about. For a bit.
The final race is the Champion Bumper, a flat race for the best young jump horses throughout Britain and Ireland. Jumps are excluded as the race is for experience, like Top Gun with no planes. The Irish have a fantastic record, Willie Mullins in particular, and often take the honours. Without a win for the last 2 years they could be due a victory, or alternatively may have lost their Midas touch? Sir Johnson is a tank of a horse who has won his 4 starts and has the age and experience to cope with the occasion. Named like a true gentleman, you can already see him parading around the winners enclosure, red trousers glaring and chin protruding. Alternatively Royal Guardsman is fancied by his trainer (same man who commanded Cue Card to victory in the corresponding race 2 years ago) and should be there or thereabouts.
So there we have it, a few to take into calculations, blow a pony on and reduce a bookmaker and his extended family to tears of homelessness. Good luck, brave soldiers, go forth fleet footed and taste the immortal victory of the Festival.
Race 1: 1:30 – Harry the Viking 13/2, Lively Baron 33/1
Race 2: 2:05 – Simonsig 5/2, Cotton Mill 14/1
Race 3: 2:40 – Walkon 33/1, Grands Crus-Bobs Worth-First Lieutenant (Tricast)
Race 4: 3:20 – Sizing Europe EVENS
Race 5: 4:00 – Carlito Brigante 16/1
Race 6: 4:40 – Royal Bonsai 20/1
Race 7: 5:15 – Sir Johnson 14/1
by Daniel Polak (@followtheferret)
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