The first day of Cheltenham lived up to all that was expected. Ruby Walsh and Willie Mullins galloped off for the first as if the LAPD were on the tail of Champagne Fever and haven’t looked back since. Three thoroughly deserved victories with only 6 races gone – Champagne Fever’s victory really was an emphatic microcosm of the Mullins/Walsh teams statement for the week ahead.
Hurricane Fly followed up for the pair to take the first champion event back across the Irish Sea. He was always a good thing and justified his hot favouritism.
Their third of the pairs hat-trick was the wonder-mare Quevega. Winning the fifth renewal of the mares’ hurdle, an incredible accomplishment, she is only the second horse in history to win 5 races at the Cheltenham Festival.
Day two could be a similar story to the first with Mullins holding a very strong hand. There are alternatives though, and plenty of race form to be analysed, so on to the card.
First up is the John Oaksey National Hunt Chase over four miles. For amateur riders, the race often features an abundance of incident and carnage more resembling drunk teenagers in bumper cars than the entree for a cracking days sport. Back In Focus will be a very popular choice (4/1) and could further Mr Mullins’ stranglehold on the 2013 Festival. It will be a competitive event though and the honest gambler deserves bigger odds; Emperors Choice should run nicely with a good pilot at 20/1, whilst Rose Of The Moon has been lined up for this race and runs well fresh, offering definite value at 16/1.
Up next at 2.05 is the Neptune Novices Hurdle, a race for exciting young hurdlers who inevitably have a very exciting future ahead of them. Victorious alumni include the grey-dart Simonsig, a winner again in Tuesdays Arkle, and you can be sure this years winner will be a star in the future. I appreciate that this may sound like a broken record but that man again has what many are touting as his best chance of the week – Willie Mullins’ Pont Alexandre has as good as won the race already according to the sentiment in the Emerald Isle. He should win, and as such he’s as short as 11/8. For more handsome rewards without having to sell an organ, Chatterbox (10/1) could run them close. Owned by the same connections as Bobs Worth (favourite for the Gold Cup), he could kick start a great week for connections.
At 2.40 is the RSA Chase, won last year by the aforementioned Bobs Worth. Dynaste has defected, leaving the Paul Nicholls (who? we haven’t heard a dicky-bird from him yet this Festival?! Ominous!) trained Unioniste (7/2) as favourite. At five years old he’s still wet behind the ears and worth taking on. Goulanes is selected (6/1), although lightly raced, having shown remarkable winning form to win a proper race at Haydock last time. He has won round Cheltenham before and could certainly win again.
The fourth race at 3.20 is the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Sprinter Sacre will win this. Don’t try anything clever, just enjoy it.
I wish I had such certainty in the fifth, the Coral Cup at 4.00. With 28 runners you may as well select on the name and the colours. Pendra (7/1) is beautifully bred and was recently bought for a generous sum by the all-conquering Irish gambler JP McManus. He’s earned his short price. Elsewhere, the Scudamores, synonymous with jump racing, are quietly confident on the Lucinda Russell (partner of Peter Scudamore) trained Sapphir River (40/1). He could offer a little bit of fun in this lottery.
The youngsters are out in the 4.40, the Triumph Hurdle for juvenile hurdlers (4 year olds). Always a very competitive race, there are some generous odds on offer. John Ferguson saddles some beautifully bred (and extremely expensive) horses that have traversed across from flat racing. It’s very hard to split Ruacana (20/1) and Bordoni, (10/1), the latter who showed great enthusiasm when hurdling last time, and both could be there or thereabouts as the hill climbs. Pistol for Philip Hobbs also seems an extremely large price at 25/1 and should run a big race.
The second day is closed with the Champion Bumper, a national hunt flat race, designed for the best young horses to further their education against their most talented peers. The Irish, and that man Mullins in particular, have a phenomenal record in the race. If Union Dues runs (8/1) he’s certainly worth a few precious pounds for the Mullins team. If he doesn’t, you could switch to Sizing Tennessee. Le Vent d’Antan is a short priced favourite at 4/1. At only 4 years old though he could be a little delicate for this bruising encounter, where age and a few miles in the clock are a significant advantage. The best the British can put forwards could be represented by David Pipe’s Doctor Harper.
Day one was moderately successful, with a little money returned here and there. Most importantly, we’ve learned our lesson – keep Mullins and Walsh onside. Good luck for day 2, lets turn the screw on the bookies.
The Ferret’s Day 2 Tips:
RACE 1: National Hunt Chase (1:30) – Rose Of The Moon e/w @ 14/1
RACE 2: Neptune Novices Hurdle (2:05) – Pont Alexandre win @ 6/4, Chatterbox e/w @ 10/1
RACE 3: RSA Chase (2:40) – Goulanes win @ 6/1
RACE 4: Champion Chase (3:20) – Sprinter Sacre win @ 3/10
RACE 5: Coral Cup (4:00) – Saphir River e/w @ 50/1
RACE 6: Fred Winter Handical Hurdle (4:40) – Ruacana e/w @ 20/1 and Pistol e/w @ 20/1
RACE 7: Champion Bumper (5:15) – Union Dues win @ 8/1, otherwise Sizing Tennessee e/w @ 16/1
Odds supplied by Paddy Power, find updated odds here: