A singular clear lesson was learnt from Day One and professed for Day Two. Keep on the right side of Willie Mullins. And just as sure as one red bus follows another, in rolled Back In Focus in the first to reward those who lumped on the favourite.
As any rational creature would do, the same strategy was employed for the second race. With Mullins boasting what many deemed his greatest chance of the week in Pont Alexandre, boosted by Mullins’ invincibility, victory was inevitable. Lump on, lump on, was the cry on the crowd. Bookies crying, selling their children, begging for mercy was in every punter minds-eye, along with seam-bursting pockets stashed to the brim with used twenty-pound notes.
Alas, lumping on led to limping out. How one who trainer who has turned to gold all that he has touched, could then see his short priced favourite trail home third is mind-boggling. As a racing fan and a punter, all one can do is look to the heavens, shrug your shoulders, enjoy a small chuckle to yourself and move on. Battles are won and lost during a war; this was a setback
Any money lost however was a small price to pay to witness what the Racing Post calls the “extraterrestrial” performance of Sprinter Sacre. He was magnificent, soaring magnificently around Cheltenham in a league of his own. No other horse could get close to him, and his official 19 lengths victory was without leaving second gear. The first time jockey Barry Geraghty touched him was to pat him – a small thank you for such a special occasion. The beautiful, giant of a horse is truly special and hopefully will be a household name for years to come.
On to Day Three though, where big handicaps and the championship staying hurdle, the Ladbrokes World Hurdle, Re the order of the day.
Race one at 1.30 is the Jewson Novices Chase over 2 miles 4 furlongs. Dynaste is the hot favourite and rightly so, being the top rated novice chaser in the UK and Ireland this season. At 7/4 he will take a lot of beating. You would be forgiven for sticking by him and trying to win yourself enough money to eat and drink to the end of the week. Alternatives are the Willie Mullins trained duo, primarily on their ability, but emphatically reinforced by the form of the Mullins yard. Marito could run at big race at 20/1, always a generous price for any horse with Ruby Walsh in the saddle. Also Aupcharlie, who has good form around Cheltenham having been third in the 2011 Champion Bumper should be there at the finishing line (7/1).
The second race is the Pertemps Final, a hurdle race over 3 miles. A very competitive event with 24 runners, there should certainly be each way value in the race. The favourite Sam Winner was a good winner of a jumpers’ bumper last time, but that form can always be patchy, and therefore the advice is to take him on. Close House for the Pipe team has had this race lined up for a long time and ran very promisingly in the Neptune last year (10/1). At a bigger price Bertie’s Dream, a previous Cheltenham winner, could find some of his old form and run a very big race at lip-smackingly attractive odds of 40/1.
On we go to the Ryanair Chase, the third race at 2.40. With 2 previous winners on the card in the shape of Albertas Run and Riverside Theatre, the latter owned by actor James Nesbitt, this will be a fiercely competitive affair. Cue Card and First Lieutenant both have winning form around Cheltenham, and the latter will be very hard to beat, as he looks to win this race for his owner Michael O’Leary, the deep-pocketed-short-armed owner of Ryanair. However, Champion Court has very good form around Cheltenham and ran well for a long time in the King George, but he is marginally preferred by Menorah (15/2) who comes into his own at the Festival and laps up this course.
At 3.20 we have the feature race of the day, the World Hurdle. Without Big Bucks, the great winner of the last four runnings, the race is much more open and therefore an intriguing betting affair. Reve De Sivola beat Oscar Whiskey around Cheltenham by the narrowest of margins 47 days ago. That was on Reve De Sivola’s favoured heavy ground, and the feeling is that the form could be reversed today. Oscar Whiskey is an immensely talented horse, but his optimum trip appears to be 2 miles 4 furlongs, and the World Hurdle over 3 miles often seems to stretch him. However, with slightly better ground than on their last meeting, Oscar Whiskey is tipped to pip his old rival and there is plenty of value at 6/1.
The Byrne Group Plate kicks off at 4.00, another 24-runner handicap over Cheltenham’s fences. Sort priced horses have a poor record in this contest, however the Pipe trained favourite of Ballynagour is hard to overlook. His team know exactly what to do to win this race and he has the right profile (4/1). There should be more value than this though, so those favouring an each way bet, keep your eye on the horses with less weight. Divers is selected, a horse with a solid record at the Festival and trained by a man who knows how to ready won in Ferdy Murphy (14/1).
The penultimate race of the day is the Kim Muir at 4.40, often seen as the Gold Cup for amateur riders. As such, the advised strategy is to back a horse with an experienced pilot – a young gun with little experience may get a rush of blood to the head on the occasion. Super Duty should have a big chance for Donald McCain, partnered by the very able Derek O’Connor (5/1). He is favourite though, so alternatives are put forward in Alfie Sherrin, a course winner, and Relax, with the talented Will Biddick in the saddle. Relax represents Venetia Williams’ yard who are in red-hot form at the moment, and at 20/1 he should be good value.
Our final race at 5.15 is the rescheduled Glenfarcas Cross Country Chase. Previous selection Uncle Junior (10/1), again trained by the indefatigable Willie Mullins, was tipped earlier in the week and should again be there or thereabouts. Another to keep on the right side of is Bostons Angel (8/1), a winner of top quality races in Ireland who looks to have a great chance with a very reasonable weight on his back.
It has been a fascinating, roller-coaster of a Festival so far. However, remember the important lessons we have learned so far; stick of the right side of Mullins and Walsh, and never, ever, give up.
The Ferret’s Day 3 Tips:
RACE 1: Jewson Novices Hurdle (1:30) – Aupcharlie win @ 6/1 and Marito e/w @ 20/1
RACE 2: Pertemps (2:05) – Close House e/w @ 12/1, Bertie’s Dream e/w @ 40/1
RACE 3: Ryanair Chase (2:40) – First Lieutenant win @ 9/4 Menorah e/w @ 15/2
RACE 4: World Hurdle (3:20) – Oscar Whiskey win @ 4/1
RACE 5: Byrne Group Plate (4:00) – Ballynagour win @ 9/2, Divers e/w @ 16/1
RACE 6: Kim Muir (4:40) – Relax e/w @ 20/1
RACE 7: X Country Chase (5:15) – Uncle Junior e/w @ 11/1, Bostons Angel e/w @ 7/1
Odds supplied by Paddy Power, find updated odds here: