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Let’s not beat about the bush. Yesterday was a shocker. A cracking day of first class equine competition in the global home of National Hunt racing, but not a sniff of winner. That’s not too bad a thing though; to win gambling means that making money is the main focus rather than admiring the great spectacle. Every cloud has a silver lining….or so I keep telling myself.

Nicky Henderson kicked on from equalling Fulke Walwyn’s 40 Festival winners with an astonishing day, winning four races and utterly stamping his authority on the days proceedings. Two ‘good things’ were turned over in the shape of Sizing Europe and Grand Crus – neither through any particular short-coming of the horses on the big stage, rather evidence of the strength in depth in more fantastically competitive events.

The authors poor luck was symbolised by the incredulous attempt by Cotton Mill to run out of the second last jump when in the lead. Such an action happens one in 200 hundred races, at the most. Whether he’d have won or not is debatable, but he was there with a chance, galloping like a good ‘un, and then his rider was on the turf. Losing gamblers are a philosophical bunch and what will be will be, he wasn’t supposed to win – instead, pray greater glories hide around the corner, rewarding the courage and bravery of perseverance. Pray. Please.

Tomorrow should be a good day…it will be a good day. Positive mental attitude is the root to all success. The racing is certainly not the strongest of the week but where there are horses there are opportunities. With only 6 races and a banker amongst them, surely the tide is set to turn.

Race one is the Jewson Chase, a race for novice jumpers, many of whom have progressed from very promising hurdle campaigns. Peddlers Cross is a worthy favourite, having won the Neptune Hurdle two years ago (race won by Simonsig yesterday) and coming second in last years’ Champion Hurdle (to Hurricane Fly). His three starts over fences have yielded two victories and a second, and he’s reported to be absolutely flying at home. The incredible competition in the race is demonstrated by his odds of 7/2, far longer than they would be in any other year. To make matters more difficult, two other horses have sterling form around the track – potentially the most important factor when assessing form – in Sir Des Champs and Champion Court. The former was victorious in the Martin Pipe hurdle at last years’ festival, whilst Champion Court won a grade 2 chase on New Years Day. The verdict however is the win bet on Peddlers Cross, a great horse from an in-from yard who should have the class to eclipse his rivals.

The Pertemps Final, the second race on the card, is ridiculous. I’ve tried to pick winners of the race for the past couple of years with zero success. That is solely due to the victories of Buena Vista, a relatively mediocre member of the Pipe yard. Having overcome moderate form for the past two years he has taken the honours like the weedy sapper at the back of the trenches shooting the Hun with a single bullet to the head. I’ve resigned from opposing him and bowed to his immeasurable talent – get your mortgage on him and live a long and happy life. If that doesn’t satisfy you, try Barwell Bridge each way at 16/1, although it’s fruitless to bet against Buena Vista’s eternal, ethereal and majestic power.

Next is the Ryanair Chase, a race sponsored by an airline that makes my skin crawl and blood boil no matter how much sponsorship they employ. It’s horribly competitive, like the scrum for a seat and a sick bowl on a Ryanair flight, and your best to sit back and watch the men with horses wrestle (like on a Ryanair flight). Riverside Theatre should win, Captain Chris could offer good each way value at 14/1.

The Ladbrokes World Hurdle (sponsored by a company of far greater repute, an upstanding member of the community with the ability to alight a wide spectrum of the community’s imagination just through their very being) will probably be won by Big Bucks. He is excellent. He’s won his last 15 starts on the trot, at a trot, amassing over a million pounds of prize money. He has been unrivalled in his utter dominance of his field, and it will take something incredible to beat him. Having said that, one lesson we’ve learnt this week is to challenge the hierarchy and take on the ‘dead certs’ – for an each way bet or maybe as an exacta with Big Bucks try Thousand Stars, a great grey of Willie Mullins’. He shows value at 10/1.

The 4.00 is the Byrne Group Plate, a handicap chase over 2m 5f. Surprisingly, with 24 runners, it’s about as easy to find a winner as it is to get the collective noun for a group of ravens – correct, you might guess at an ‘unkindness’, but you’d be lucky. About as lucky as selecting the winner in this race, which may result in a small financial victory but also an exorcism. Having said that, try Niceonefrankie, trained by Venetia Williams who often gets a win at some point during the festival. Trading generally at 10/1. Hollywood Legend won the race last year but is in worse form this time round.

The last race on the second last day is a race for amateur riders. Try Midnight Appeal. He’s got nice colours.

The first day was about evens, strengthening the thirst for war on day two. The utter supremacy of the unkindness of bookies on day two has left a strange, odd, voidish feeling. Don’t be fooled. Keep your wits close and your mind clear and the battle can be won in the greater picture of the war. Tomorrow isn’t the day to go big on bankers but rather a day to follow your gut and right wrongs. Clear the mind and win back what’s rightfully yours. Gun down those ravens. Good luck.

by Daniel Polak

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