The week continued with another great third day. Annie Power ran second in the World Hurdle, and although a brave effort, many were looking to the mare to get them back on an even keel for the week and unfortunately she was not the Florence Nightingale we all hoped for. As such, many enter the last day chasing losses. But do not lose faith, there will be a saviour yet, and his name is Bobs Worth.
The feature race of Day Two at the Festival provided a wonderful story for all interested in sport, or for that matter anyone who just loves a wonderful fairytale. The Moore family’s pride and joy, Sire de Grugy, emphatically showed his class with a faultless round of jumping to earn a much deserved victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Bought for Mr Preston by his family for a birthday present, he was the owners first and only horse in training and my, what a journey they’ve had with the chestnut gelding with the big bold blaze.
All week Sire de Grugy had been weak in the market, but eventually went off the 11/4 favourite. Ridden by Jamie Moore in 22 of his 24 races, and to all of his 12 victories, the charismatic jockey has forged a bond with his charge reminiscent of any great partnerships; the Lone Ranger and Tonto, Alexander and Bucephalos. He is the apple of the eye for Jamie’s father Gary Moore, and in a yard not characterised by expensive Festival winners this really is a lovely story. The jockeys knew how much this meant to connections and received Jamie with a guard of honour. The crowd also showed their admiration, welcoming them into the winner’s enclosure with a cheer, the volume of which is rarely heard.
With two other favourites winning on the card this was a day of the punters getting their own back. Faugheen was impressive in the opener, forging clear under Ruby Walsh to repay the faith of punters at a short 6/4. This was the ideal way to start Day Two, and gave a much-needed positive mental attitude to those looking to claw back the losses of the first day. Later on the card Balthazar King defeated the brave Any Currency by a mere short head, another favourite bringing home the bacon at 4/1. After two days it’s fair to say that honours are even as we reach the half way marker.
Day Three promises to be equally as compelling as the two before. The feature championship race, the World Hurdle, is one of the most intriguing of the week and could be as competitive as the Champion Hurdle on Day One. With six top quality races it promises to offer exceptional sport, wonderful drama and some amazing stories.
RACE 1: JLT Novices’ Chase
The first race of the day off at 13:30 is the JLT Novices’ Chase over 2 miles 4 furlongs. A highly competitive race with the the best charges from England and Ireland, there are many with a squeak and the odds reflect this. Willie Mullins’ hand is three strong and a case can be made for each. Felix Yonger, second in the 2012 Neptune, is the pick for Ruby Walsh and will relish the return to a sounder surface. He has to have a very strong chance and is likely to go off favourite. Wonderful Charm is from the Paul Nicholls yard who, without a winner in the first two days, are due one. He has some great chasing form, and has an eight pound pull in the weights against Oscar Whiskey, who beat him by half a length at Cheltenham in December. The latter however is a shrewd operator over this trip, loves Cheltenham, and although his jumping needs to polish up a little he is am exciting charge at 6/1. Those looking for more value are pointed towards Tarquin Du Seuil at 8/1 who has solid form around Cheltenham.
Win: Oscar Whiskey, 6/1 EW: Tarquin Du Seuil, 8/1
RACE 2: Pertemps Network Final
Up next is the Pertemps Network Final, a handicap hurdle over 3 miles. With 24 declared runners it is the big lottery of the day, however there will be some juicy odds and an opportunity to try and land a gamble. Top weight Fingal Bay is a class above his opponents and a worthy favourite. He completed a very appealing return recently at Exeter, winning in good style, and should give you a good run for your money at 9/1. An alternative would be Josies Orders who, at the other end of the weights, looks an interesting proposition. Ridden by the capable Maurice Linehan, he takes an invaluable 5 pounds off his charges back which could be the difference as they approach the hill. At 12/1 he looks good value. Those looking for better value may look towards Lie Forrit who has be reinvigorated under the stewardship of Lucinda Russell. At 25/1, he could get your week back on track.
Win: Josies Orders, 12/1 EW: Lie Forrit, 25/1
RACE 3: Ryanair Chase
At 14:40 we have a real riddle in the shape of the Ryanair Chase. With 6 of the 12 runners having winning form around Prestbury Park, all of a sudden my way of whittling down the field has become even less useful. In recent history the race has been won by some classy sorts, and last year the excellent and sadly missed Cue Card was victorious over First Lieutenant. A case can be made for many of the runners. Boston Bob is a quality animal who was full of running when falling at the last in the RSA. This may be his chance to redeem himself at a tasty 10/1. Benefficient did what Boston Bob didn’t manage to do, winning the now JLT Novices Chase on this day last year and as such must be taken very seriously, and is an interesting option at 5/1. Dynaste has got his season back on track after flopping at last years Festival and is likely to go off the favourite, currently priced around 4/1. Aside of these runners, a case can be made for many others, including the very classy Al Ferof who has been tried at the highest level this year, and Hidden Cyclone, who has great form around Cheltenham and is fancied to go one better and get his head in front at an attractive 9/1.
Win: Hidden Cyclone, 9/1 EW: Boston Bob, 10/1
RACE 4: Ladbrokes World Hurdle
The feature race of the day is the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. Off at 15:20 and over three miles, it is the championship race for staying hurdlers and will certainly be one of the most eagerly anticipated contests of the week. Star of the show is undoubtedly Big Bucks, victorious in this race no less than four times, a hero who racked up an immense 18 victories on the bounce prior to injury. A satisfactory return on unsatisfactory heavy ground back in January resulted in a third placed finish, however many question whether at the grand age of 11, the master will regain the regal heights of his former glories. Chinks in the old hero’s armour have also encouraged a competitive field to take their chance. At the fore is undoubtedly Annie Power, a super-mare in the making with a reputation that inflates with each appearance. Although untried over this distance, she was victorious around Cheltenham over 2 miles 4 furlongs in January on heavy ground and she has to be fancied to be there when the screw really turns. Hailing from the Mullins/Walsh team, there are many reasons to fear this new mare, who, at the tender age of six and five years younger than Big Bucks, surely is a name we will hear a lot more of in the future. Those looking for a little more value may turn to Medinas who won last years Coral Cup and is proven to stay over this trip.
Win: Annie Power, 6/4 EW: Medinas, 25/1
RACE 5: Byrne Group Plate
The penultimate race on the card is the Byrne Group Plate, a handicap chase over 2 miles 4 furlongs. As ever the art is to try and beat the handicapper and find a charge who has a little in hand, and as such any form on the course, distance and ground should be taken very seriously. Colour Squadron is the McManus choice for AP McCoy and has solid form around Cheltenham this season. He could well go off favourite at 8/1. Venetia Williams however has an outstanding record in the event with three victories in the last seven years and has three options this year. Her Shangani is fancied to follow up on his recent success and give her another victory at 16/1.
Win: Colour Squadron, 8/1 EW: Shangani, 16/1
RACE 6: Kim Muir
The last race on the card is the Kim Muir for amateur riders over 3 miles one and a half furlongs. Jockey bookings could be key, as we have seen inexperienced pilots cause havoc in recents renewals. Same Differnce was victorious in the contest last year and could go close again for the Nigel Twiston Davies yard who deserve a slice of luck. The pick however is Indian Castle who has some very solid form lines and an able partner in Derek O’Connor. At 6/1, he is a short price and is likely to go off favourite. Those needing to get their day back on track in grand style may look to the bottom weight, Problema Tic, from the shrewd Pipe yard and with little weight on his back.
Win: Indian Castle, 6/1 EW: Problema Tic, 25/1
All in all another mesmerising day of sport, with riddles galore and a case to be made for plenty of the runners. We haven’t been far away with the tips so far and managed to land a couple of victories yesterday with Faugheen and the juicy Whisper at 14/1 in the Coral Cup. A shrewd punt can be undone by a stumble at the last or being pipped a short head, but over 4 days luck will even itself out and we don’t want anyone feeling hard-done-by. Barry Geraghty recently pointed out the trick to winning round Cheltenham is to believe, truly believe, you’re on the winning horse and that you can’t get beaten. Whether circling at the start, watching from the armchair of yelling from the grandstand, this is a sound mantra, so keep faith in your charges and plough into Day Three.
by The Ferret
All odds supplied by http://www.paddypower.com. For more details on the festival, please check here: http://www.cheltenham2014.net/cheltenham-festival-race-calendar-2014/
Neither Homer, nor any of the other Ancient Greek classicists could have written a more compelling first chapter. With heart break and hard luck, starkly contrasting Herculean efforts that rewrote the records books, Day One of the Cheltenham Festival was rife with drama, glory and tragedy that even Odysseus could not carry on his shoulders.
Even with all of the headlines from the afternoon, special praise must be reserved for the wonder-mare Quevega, who triumphed in the OLBG Mares Hurdle for a sixth consecutive time. This isn’t just a good horse competing in an easy race and steam-rolling it once again, another walk over for a far superior creature. This is the stuff of legends that is deserving of the highest praise. To keep a horse sound and fit and to get them to the track 6 years in succession is in itself a minor miracle. To have them primed and ready to give their all, is again more impressive. But to overcome luck, or even to make your own luck, and to be there at the business end when it matters and to put your head in front and win, is what separate real legends, true heroes and heroines, for mere Champions. For the sixth year in a row Quevega, Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh defied all in their path to forge an incredible bond and a record which will not be broken for many years. She surpasses the record of 5 Festival wins set by Golden Miller back in the 1930’s, and it’s quite conceivable we may have to wait another 80-odd years to see this record broken. If you ever have the pleasure of seeing Quevega in the flesh, please remember to bow or curtsey. She deserves every ounce of glory we can heap onto her.
That was not the only drama of the afternoon for the mighty team of Messers Mullins and Walsh. The deadly duo kicked the day off with a master class of tactics in a high quality Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Ruby conducting affairs from the front aboard Vantour, using Machiavellian control to ensure the race unfolded exactly how his charge required it. He quickened the pace, he took a pull, and he stormed up the hill with his competitors trailing in his wake. If ever we needed a wake up call to the ability of the Mullins/Walsh partnership and the calibre of their stable, they were kind enough to supply it early in the week when we have a chance to look, listen and learn. Vantour rolled in an impressive 7/2 joint favourite and got the meeting off to a great start. Irving, the fellow joint favourite who was so fancied in the morning, never got into the race to throw down a challenge. It is yet to be revealed what was amiss, but this was not a good day at the office for him.
The same partnership was in the spotlight in the Arkle, a race that appeared an unfathomable enigma before the tapes went up. Those who swiftly accepted the lessons from the first, to side with Mullins and Walsh, and employed them in the Arkle would have felt mighty proud coming to the last, with Champagne Fever looking the winner all over, a few lengths clear of the field. However it was a day when Western Warhorse had the wind in his sail, felt the power and surged up the hill. A foot perfect jump at the last meant he shot away from the obstacle with only Champagne Fever in his sights. He charged down his rival and got to him, desperately, in the final stride, sticking his head out to win by the slenderest of margins. Winning jockey Tom Scudamore timed his assault to perfection, as he attacked and passed Champagne Fever so late in the race that Ruby Walsh didn’t have a chance to react. Although a shock winner at 33/1, everyone likes to see an outsider belly his odds and Western Warhorse was a very impressive, and deserved victor. It added a further layer to the roller-coaster of an afternoon; Mullins and Walsh tasting glory and despair minutes apart, and a handsome dollop of drama thrown in for good measure.
And having already experienced a bounty of glory, drama and despair, the Stan James Champion Hurdle gave us tragedy. One of the strongest renewals in the recent years, and with all the top two mile hurdlers from England and Ireland pitting their wits, it was never going to be anything other than spectacular. Setting off at a break-neck speed the field attacked their hurdles like winged Pegasi, disappearing over the obstacles with grace and precision. In the back straight Our Conor sadly came to grief, falling when in the lead and impeding The New One. In a tragic hand of fate he was injured beyond repair and so sadly had to be put down. It again shows that when the stakes are so high, the competition so fierce, the risks are also terrible. It is because of this that the quality, ability and skill demonstrated is even more impressive.
In the episode The New One lost momentum, which in effect ruined his chances of winning, and the fight was left to three as they turned onto the home straight. Hurricane Fly, the reigning champ and old master gave his damnedest but the day was reserved for the new generation, and the JP McManus-owned pair of Jezki and My Tent Or Yours battled it out up the hill, the former victorious by just a neck. The New One regained his poise and momentum after the unlucky interruption and charged up the hill to earn an impressive third. Glory for McManus, Harrington and Geraghty and this should not be underestimated; they were the best horse on the day, made their own luck and deserve high praise. The race does emphasise the oh-so fine line between glory and tragedy, and make Quevega’s achievement appear even more remarkable.
The three handicaps were also fascinating affairs, with relatively short-priced fancied runners to the fore. No massive shocks were sprung and it appears that the solid form stood up.
In short, Day One was nothing short of spectacular. A microcosm to everything that makes the sport of horse racing so beautiful and so compelling. We have learnt not to underestimate Mullins/Walsh and to look for horses with form on undulating tracks. These clues are essential weapons in the coming three days. So, on to Day Two…
RACE 1: Neptune Investment Management Hurdle
The first race, off at 13:30, is the Neptune Investment Management Hurdle, a Grade One over two miles five furlongs. With great strength in depth across the 16 runners, Day Two gets off to an intriguing start. The horse of immediate interest is Faugheen, victorious over Josses Hill early in the season by 22 lengths (Josses Hill went on to be second in the Supreme Novices’ yesterday). That is rock solid form, as are his three further victories, and he is a worthy favourite at 7/4 that deserves all of our respect. He represents Messers Mullins and Walsh again, and we have already learnt the lesson from them through Vautour. David Pipe, already with a 2014 Festival winner, fancies Red Sherlock as his best chance of the week and at 4/1 he is going to be a tough opponent. He has won all 6 of his starts, including two around Cheltenham, form that must be respected, and he will be throwing down his challenge at the line. Those looking for a little more value would do well to side with Lieutenant Colonel who has rock solid form in Ireland and is an unexposed type who could be anything.
Win: Faugheen, 7/4 EW: Lieutenant Colonel, 12/1
RACE 2: RSA Chase
Up next, the second race on the card is the RSA Chase, an event that has been the spring board to glorious careers for many chasing stars. This is a very competitive renewal and the market reflects that with little to split the field. Smad Place was a high class hurdler and has translated his form to the larger obstacles. Sam Winner and Le Bec have both won over fences around Cheltenham, something to take very seriously, and the latter in particular looks to have a particularly good each way chance. Ballycasey is a talented operator, however, after a fall whilst schooling at the racecourse recently, question marks hang over his jumping and confidence, and therefore in an event where there is no room for error, the 5/1 favourite is worth taking on. An intriguing runner is Morning Assembly, who has very solid form lines and has run against the best in Ireland. He is yet to encounter good ground, but he appears to have the profile of an RSA winner and could go on to big things.
Win: Morning Assembly, 7/1 EW: Le Bec, 14/1
RACE 3: Coral Cup
The third race of the day is the Coral Cup, an ultra competitive handicap consisting of 28 runners. To win such an event one will need a huge degree of luck in running to be in the right place at the right time. A couple of horses with interesting profiles are Whisper from the Nicky Henderson yard, ridden by Nico de Boinville who will take a valuable 5lb of his back. He has winning form at Cheltenham and run close in defeat and should be there or thereabouts at the finish. Also Cotton Mill could run a big race, putting in a blinder in 2012 in the Neptune before unseating the jockey late on. He could run a nice race at an attractive price.
EW: Whisper, 18/1 EW: Cotton Mill, 16/1
RACE 4: Queen Mother Champion Chase
At 15:20 we have the championship race of the day, the Queen Mother Champion Chase over 2 miles. A highlight of the Festival, it is fast and furious with no room for error. Sadly this year is shadowed by the absence of the wonderful Sprinter Sacre, the highest rated chaser in training and victor in the last two renewals. As a result of SS not being with us, we have a more competitive affair, even if the quality is not so high. Sire de Grugy has been an able deputy all season, winning Grade One steeplechases in emphatic style, but many seem to think he is best when able to get his toe in and question his ability to handle the better going. A 3/1, he has drifted markedly in recent weeks and the bookies are doing their best to entice you. Alternatively Captain Conan for Nicky Henderson is a top class chaser who has beaten Sire de Grugy this season, has for round Cheltenham and is a solid option at 5/1. However Kid Cassidy is cited as a further alternative with better value at 11/1. Although a tricky customer, he has beaten Sire de Grugy over course and distance and the champion jockey, AP McCoy, knows how to get the very best out of him.
Win: Captain Conan, 5/1 EW: Kid Cassidy, 11/1
RACE 5: Cross Country Chase
An entertaining race greets us at 16:00, with the Cross Country Chase over walls, hedges, ditches and all other obstacles the ground staff can find to throw at the horses. Enda Bolger has an unrivalled reputation in this unique discipline, largely through his supreme Spot Thedifference who won multiple runnings. Big Shu is general 9/2 favourite and deservedly so, having won many similar events already this season. Bolger’s Star Neuville is a good alternative though for respected connections at 7/1 with little weight on his back.
Win: Big Shu, 9/2 EW: Star Neuville, 7/1
RACE 6: Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle
The Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle is the sixth race of the day, a hurdle over 2 miles. Run at a frenetic gallop, this is a handicap for the youngest hurdlers all vying to make a name for themselves. It is not unusual to find a rough gem somewhere, an unexposed sort who has not had his ground or trip and will deliver his best on the big day. Dawalan has strong form for Henderson and Geraghty who have historically held a strong hand with these types, however there may be more value elsewhere and it may be worth taking on the 6/1 favourite. The form of Clarcam, hailing from the Gordon Elliott yard who was successful last in this race last year, has solid form against top horses and looks to be a good option at 14/1. Elsewhere and at a bigger price, Handiwork will appreciate the better ground and has recorded a couple of decent hurdle victories this season already. At 33/1 he could offer great value, with pilot Sam Twiston Davies looking to gain vengeance for his hard luck in Tuesdays Champion Hurdle.
EW: Clarcam, 14/1 EW: Handiwork, 33/1
RACE 7: Weatherby’s Champion Bumper
The final race is the Weatherbys Champion Bumper, a 2 mile ‘flat race’ for young horses who are new to the game, aiming to give experience to the top-draw talents. Willie Mullins has a mightily impressive record in the race with multiple victories in recent years, and he is represented by three charges this year. His horses are almost inseparable in the market, with two at 7/1 and one at 8/1, and no one, including the master himself, will probably be able to tell who is superior until they turn for home. In the past son Patrick Mullins has picked the correct horse and again we will trust his judgement, with Black Hercules. Elsewhere, more value and something more to build dreams on could be found in Definitely Red for the home side, under champion jockey AP McCoy, a dual winner at a sumptuous 20/1.
Win: Black Hercules, 7/1 EW: Definitely Red, 20/1
I think it is fair to say that Day One was victory for the bookmakers. With Irving, Champagne Fever, The New One and Hurricane Fly all being turned over punters had a torrid time. Although all we could ever have demanded in drama and intrigue arrived in a mere 5 hours of racing, we have the pleasure, nay the privilege, to a further 3 days and 15 hours of stirring spectacle. We weren’t far away with our selections yesterday, the method is working. Keep faith, knuckle down and go forth. Today will be a great day, and the glory of the star horses will be mirrored with us, mere punters, in our field of combat, the betting ring. Good luck on Day Two and enjoy the feast of riches in this wonderful sport.
by The Ferret
All odds supplied by http://www.paddypower.com. For more details on the festival, please check here:
What a wonderful day of racing. Hours away from the start of another fantastic Festival, the magic has become even more magnificent with a lineup that any of the world’s premier catwalks should be proud of. Milan, Paris, Tokyo…no, we’re in the bosom of Cleeve Hill at Prestubry Park for another magnificent Cheltenham Festival…
Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh team up with not one, not two, but three Cheltenham Festival heroes; firstly two-time Festival winner Champagne Fever bids for a third victory in The Arkle, Hurricane Fly bids to emulate the great Istabraq by winning the Champion Hurdle for the third time, and Quevega aims to rewrite the record books with a 6th, yes SIXTH, victory at the Cheltenham Festival in the OLBG Mares race. And we haven’t even mentioned The New One, Irving, Rock On Ruby, My Tent Or Yours…oh, my mouth isn’t merely watering, I’m dribbling like an overflowing trough!
Nerves and the ability to handle the pressure on the big stage will be imperative. The stakes are at the highest in what is without doubt the pinnacle of the National Hunt calendar. Who can handle the pressure, the weight of expectation, the dreams and urgings of the 60,000-odd crowd will be those who can make their own luck and be at the business end when the cards are sorted. With so little room for error guaranteed by ultra-competitive racing, this really is a joyous spectacle as well as an intriguing betting contest.
It’s nice to be able to say that we are on the threshold of the first day of the finest festival in the world of National Hunt racing. No caveats, if or buts or maybes, just the first of four days of brilliance. This is the stuff of so many dreams, of owners and breeders and jockeys and stable staff, people who have put in money and effort, blood sweat and tears, culminating in this week. Many are about to go under starters orders and how they cope under that tremendous pressure, that tremendous honour, will be what divides champions from mere competitors.
Anyway, onto the feast in store. Wow, what a day! What a week! Momentum, belief, recent form and the knowledge of how to handle the big days and big races will be as vital as ever. Once again the big names occupy the main stage, and again give good reason to be feared. Nicky Henderson’s yard are doing their best to impersonate an unstoppable steam engine; Willie Mullins has a stellar cast with almost a favourite in every race; big names who love big days are licking their lips and eyeing up their prize.
Day One is the strongest I can remember for a very long time. The feature races, centring around the Champion Hurdle, but ably flanked by the Supreme Novices Hurdle and the Arkle are all mouth-watering propositions. Featuring Champions galore, champions elect and deserved champions who may never quite reach those lofty heights, the racing is nothing short of absolutely first class.
As with every year there are the keys signs to look for in your quest for backing a winner. Course winning form around Cheltenham is extremely valuable, with a knowledge of how to handle the unique undulations, sharp corners and gruelling finish invaluable. JP McManus has always cited the ground as a key determinant of a horses chances, and the going will play a huge part this year. Sodden doesn’t do justice the quantities of water we have all endured, and as such form-lines may be turned on their head as horses who need to feel a little more traction for the turf finally feel ground they can kick on from. As ever the competition is fierce, the riddles enigma-esq and the potential prizes glorious.
In short, look for a horse that likes Cheltenham, has form on good ground (even though it may be a little while ago, before all the rain), has a trainer in good form and has a jockey who wears pretty colours. Double the age of your cat, subtract your IQ and that will give you the number of the winner. Easy.
RACE 1: Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
The first course on our menu is the Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, a Grade One (top class) race for young hurdlers over 2 miles. As ever the curtain raiser is a cracking event, with resounding strength in depth. There are 18 horses lined up to take on the event, and as ever when quality is deep a case can be made for many. Irving has done more than can have ever been asked of him in 4 hurdle starts so far, winning all four and beating some decent beasts at the same time. His form is rock solid, he has a serious turn of foot that may be needed come the home turn and he is a worthy favourite. His price of 4/1 is short, and there isn’t a lot of value when one sees 17 other high class horses. That said, you’d be a brave man to offer bigger odds. Willie Mullins has a full hand of potential winners, a theme you may see recurring throughout the week. Vantour, ridden by his number one jockey Ruby Walsh, come across the Irish Sea with a massive reputation. At 4/1 joint-favourite, we are spoilt with the best English and Irish novices opposing. Thereafter Mr Mullins has another two runners in Wicklow Brave and Valseur Lido who are also unbeaten over hurdles and could be anything. You could forgive Messers Mullins and Walsh for not knowing which of there 3 has the best chance, the strength is so impressive. Bryan Cooper, the newly appointed retained jockey to Gigginstwon Stud and Michael O’Leary (Mr Ryanair – aim your eggs….) had a fantastic Festival last year and his mount Valseur Lido shows a little more value at 16/1. However for strong each way value Josses Hill is put forward at 20/1. Although he appears the second string of Nicky Henderson’s horses on jockey bookings he has top form and is expected to step up to the mark for a yard that can do no wrong at present.
Win: Irving, 4/1 EW: Josses Hill, 20/1
RACE 2: The Arkle
Once the roar for the first has gently died down, we move on to race two which is no less intriguing and exciting. The Arkle is again a Grade One race, a novice chase for the best young chasers about. Last years Supreme Novice winner has progressed onto chasing and once again shows spades of ability in his new discipline. Champagne Fever, again for the Mullins-Walsh partnership, was a class act over hurdles and is a deserved favourite. He has won at the two last Cheltenham Festivals and undoubtedly has the class to make it a hat trick. That said, he made a hash of his jumping on his latest start at Leapordstown and there will be no room for similar errors. As such, he may be worth taking on at a very short 5/2. The primary alternative is Rock On Ruby, a previous Champion Hurdle winner who loves both Cheltenham and the Festival. He has only has two starts chasing, beaten two rivals on his first occasion, and only one on his second, but his young trainer Harry Fry is a master at setting a horse up for a race and he has a real chance. At 4/1 he is value to take on Champagne Fever and you can be sure he will be there or thereabouts coming to the last. The only question mark would be his lack of chasing experience, after only 2 starts in small fields. Dodging Bullets is appropriately named, and his form appears bullet-proof. With 3 of his 5 wins have come at Prestbury Park, the conditions will suit to a tee. He will be there fighting at the end. It should be very close between him and Rock On Ruby. For those looking for a little more value, Valdez at 7/1 could be the each way option. He has won his three chase starts for Alan King and looked like a natural chaser.
Win: Rock On Ruby, 4/1 EW: Valdez, 7/1
RACE 3: Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase
The third race is the Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase, a big field handicap Grade 3 over 3 miles 1 furlong. With 24 runners it really is a bit of a lottery, however there are some little gems of information to pick upon with the chance of landing a jackpot. Ackertac is a course winner who is handled by the shrewd Tim Vaughan who knows how to ready a gamble for a big handicap. He should run a big race with a nice weight from the handicapper and at 25/1 there could be some nice place money for the each way punters. Alfie Sherrin is a rock solid favourite for champion jockey AP McCoy, having won the race before and coming 4th at last years Festival, but at 8/1 there isn’t much value, especially in such a competitive affair. Value can also be found with Time For Rupert, a high class on his day who has dropped right down the weights and must have a chance dropped upgrade (16/1), and King Massini is a horse on the up who could have no end of ability having won around Cheltenham earlier in the season. He must be worth a tipple at a juicy 25/1.
Ackertac, ew, 25/1 King Massini, ew, 25/1
RACE 4: Stan James Champion Hurdle
The fourth race is the feature event of the day, the Stan James Champion Hurdle over 2 miles. With all of the gems in the lineup, it is classier than can ever have been dreamt of a championship affair. The best horses from England and Ireland are fit, on form and descending on Prestbury Park with no excuses, no caveats, just glory in their sights. Where to start… Hurricane Fly was the first horse to ever regain his Champion Hurdle crown after losing it and comes into the race this year having beaten two of his principle competitors (Our Conor and Jezki) twice this season. Ruby Walsh has had the privilege of preparing perfectly for this year, having ridden Hurricane Fly in 3 previous Champion Hurdles, he should have every eventuality covered and have the experience, quality and nous to get his head in front when it really counts. At 7/2 co-favourite, he can use all his skill and cunning to keep the new young generation of hurdlers at bay. The obvious contender is The New One, a beautiful thoroughbred oozing quality. A gelding with a very high crushing speed, he also has an electric turn of foot at the death of a race. After stumbling on landing he was unlucky to go down to My Tent Or Yours earlier in the season and he will be challenging at the death for father and son team trainer Nigel and jockey Sam Twiston Davies. The aforementioned My Tent Or Yours gallops and will love the drying ground, but last years second in the Supreme Novices’ may have to settle for a supporting role today. For those looking for some each way value, try Melodic Rendezvous at 25/1. He has taken many scalps and is as genuine as they come, but he may be found out by the turn of foot of some of these. He’ll never stop galloping though and will being doing his very best for your money.
Win: Hurricane Fly, 5/2 EW: Melodic Rendezvous, 25/1
RACE 5: OLBG Mares Hurdle
The fifth race off at 16:00 is the OLBG Mares Hurdle, for the ladies out there over 2 miles 4 furlongs. Quevega, the star mare, aims to rewrite the record books and win the same race for the sixth time. Yes, the sixth race in succession. That would be a remarkable feat, as the quality of the opposition aside, it is a minor miracle to keep a mare on top of her game and fit for 6 years in a row. It would be a pleasure to see her add the the £669k she has already earned in her career and to set a serious bit of history at the same time. At 4/6 there isn’t a lot of value, but there is more to earn for her victory than just money. Those demanding more value, I would suggest two good value each way shouts; Highland Retreat from the Harry Kane yard is an interesting option at 14/1. The young trainer is a specialist with the mares and she has been set up for the face perfectly. The ground may be a little too fast for her but she is definitely a classy mare. Otherwise the top horse, Callin Annamh is an interesting runner for Jessie Harrington and should run nicely at 16/1.
Win: Quevega, 4/6 EW: Callin Annamh, 14/1
RACE 6: National Hunt Chase
The sixth race of the day is run in honour of Terry Buddlecombe, a father of racing who put so much into our sport. A true character, the race will run in an entertaining and eventful way, truly befitting the man it was named after. For amateur jockeys, literally anything could happen, and the advice is to side with a horse who has a pilot who gives you some trust (or knows how to sit on a horse and which way to go). Favourites have a great record in the race, winning the last three renewals, and Foxrock is a worthy favourite, being trained by Ted and ridden by Mark, father and brother to Ruby Walsh respectively. However at 11/4, in a race where the only thing that is guaranteed is drama, the price is far too short. Better value can be found with Rogue Angel for a shrewd pair, who could be there or thereabouts at the post at a tasty 14/1. Elsewhere Milborough could run into a place under a jockey who recently recorded a victory under rules, Mr B Gibbs, and is value at 33/1.
Win: Foxrock, 11/4 EW: Rogue Angel, 14/1 EW: Milborough, 33/1
RACE 7: Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase
The seventh and final race is the Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase over 2 miles 4 furlongs. This handicap is bound to have some well weighted horses looking to make the most of the return to a better surface. The ever-impressive Bryan Cooper seems to have a great chance on Art of Logistics. Sounding like the love-child of Eddie Stobart, the Dessie Hughes trained gelding should relish the return to a firmer surface and has a great shout at 8/1. There is also further great value in the race, with Attaglance looking to have found a ready opportunity to open his chasing account. He has good form around Cheltenham and, having been 4th in the Paddy Power earlier in the season, he should be challenging Art of Logistics coming to the last.
Wn, Art of Logistics, 8/1 EW, Attaglance, 14/1
All in all we are graced with a fantastic day ahead of us. The customary roar of the crowd cannot be loud enough, so deserving are those in the line up. For those having a flutter, I wish you Godspeed. Follow your gut instinct and don’t overcomplicate it – and certainly don’t change your mind at the last minute! Coupling this beautiful spectacle is a ruthless war against the bookmakers and I wish you luck as you advance on your chosen gentleman’s turf accountant.
We’re under starters orders, and the mighty roar will soon be unleashed. Welcome to the Cheltenham Festival…
by The Ferret
All odds supplied by http://www.paddypower.com. For more details on the festival, please check here:
Rising like a cliff in the midst of the floods, Cleeve Hill and the mite of the Cheltenham Festival is once again upon us.
The recent months may have been damper than a Majorcan wet t-shirt competition, with the National Hunt season doing its utmost to avoid the puddles, fords and minor tsunami’s that would have struck terror into Noah’s heart. Now the sight of a few snowdrops amongst the trees and four days of absolutely unrivalled competition at the sacred home of jump racing have arrived in a very timely manner.
Every year the quality seems to be higher, the competition tougher, the riddles harder to solve; this year is no different, only exacerbated by the wettest of winters, yearning for the reflection of a ray of light from the gleaming armour of equine champions.
A party without the belle of the ball starts slowly, but soon those present forget those absent and move onto the real feast in store.
Regrettably the highest rated chaser in our world is injured, and the masses visiting and tuning into the Festival will have to do without the site of the wonderful Sprinter Sacre. A magnificent beast of giant proportions, he needs to be made up of every hand and inch just to carry the lofty reputation that he has deservedly established. A beautiful, natural creature, he crafts his art in arguably the most impressive of equine fields, the 2 mile chase. Over the minimum trip and attacking fences at top speed, athleticism, precision and nerve are the order of the day. Attributes he holds in spades.
No one who loves the sport has ever wanted to see Sprinter Sacre do anything but spread his wings and win, emphatically, and as such the Festival will be lacking without him. Nonetheless, it is better that a horse who is not showing the master that is the ruddy-cheeked Nicky Henderson his true self stays out of the limelight until he is back to full song. And the supporting cast for the Queen Mother Champion Chase (Wednesday), as well as all of the other Championship races, certainly serve up more courses of Michelin-starred cuisine than even the most pie-eyed of scoffers could demand at his table.
Day One, Tuesday 11th March, centres around the Stan James Champion Hurdle. Arguably the most competitive race of the whole week, the quality is astounding, with all the best 2 mile hurdlers from Britain and Ireland fit, on form and in line to start.
Joint-favouritism is shared between two-time Champion Hurdle victor Hurricane Fly, who will be attempting to maintain his crown, and the comparatively sprightly The New One, who weighs in at four years the junior. Both recorded victories at the Cheltenham Festival in 2013, boast 5 wins from 6 starts between them this season and deserve to be Champion.
However this is by no means a two horse race; My Tent or Yours, owned by the enigmatic JP McManus, has speed to burn and has winning form against The New One, taking his scalp by half a length at Kempton on Boxing Day; Our Conor looked a Champion Hurdle winner all over when romping home in the 2013 Triumph Hurdle by a colossal 15 lengths, a rare distance when the competition is so intense; as well as the ‘no-hopers’, including the unbeaten Un De Sceaux for Willie Mullins, McManus’ second hope Jezki that the Champ AP McCoy regrettably had to discard in favour of My Tent or Yours, and Melodic Rendezvous, who has time and again shown his quality against the top opposition.
It seems the most hardy sports fan, looking for a proper riddle to solve, has already bitten of more than they can chew. And that’s before we get onto the other 6 races on Day One, including a sensational Supreme Novices Hurdle, an astounding Arkle Chase and a potential history maker in Quevega, bidding to be the first horse to win six times at the Cheltenham Festival.
The rest of the week continues in similar fashion. A Sprinter Sacre-less Wednesday is only slightly poorer than the most optimistic of fan could have hoped for. Sire de Grugy has stood in as an able deputy all season for SS, and he will go eye to eye with some fierce opponents.
Thursday centres around the World Hurdle, the Championship race for staying hurdlers over 3 miles. While one hero may be absent, another household name has dragged himself away from the physio and masseuse to take his chance: Big Bucks racked up 18 victories on the bounce before returning from almost 14 months off with a brave three-quarters of a length defeat at HQ in January. The roar he will receive from the crowd will be from the bottom of everyone’s heart, he is loved so much, but he will have more on his plate and more to prove than ever before. He is the wizened pro who has been around the block, the Tom Jones of the field, and he squares up against a sassy little blonde-bombshell Kylie Minogue-esque number… Annie Power, the star mare, is a mouth-watering proposition who has been victorious in all ten of her starts. She has already won in the knee-deep mud around Cheltenham on New Years Day, albeit over half a mile shorter, and if seeing out the trip, which one must expect with the drier ground, she could throw down the gauntlet and demand every ounce of fierce ferocity that Big Bucks can muster. The drama, oh, the drama!
The week will culminate in the minor spectacle of the Gold Cup, the dream of every owner, breeder, jockey, fan, pundit, gambler, bookie, and anyone else who may exist in this humble world. Quality is very much to the fore, and Bobs Worth, victorious twelve months ago, appears to have an excellent chance to retain his crown. In recent years we have been spoilt with the multiple Gold Cup winning feats of Best Mate, the epic duels between Kauto Star and Denman, and the lowering of both their flags by the immense Long Run.
It would be greedy to expect anything similar to this class once again, but forgive me for licking my lips at the juicy proposition. Bobs Worth is a real Champion and a true ‘Gold Cup horse’, running and jumping like the purest, classiest of thoroughbred that an equine artist could ever dream to draw. Silviniaco Conti, a faller when the screw began to turn last year, now has a King George VI win under his belt, and must be taken more seriously than ever. The rest of the field are also no slugs, and whoever turns up on the day will ensure that we have a wonderful treat ahead of us.
The 2014 Festival also marks the beginning of the Prestbury Cup. As if the natural rivalry between the British and Irish is not enough, a Ryder Cup-styled trophy will be presented to the most successful ‘team’, whichever side can show more victories. With only an Irish Sea in between the rivalry has never been anything but friendly, and fierce, and will have an added degree of spice this year. Even with the mighty stable that Willie Mullins will undoubtedly present, the Brits are offered at 1/5 versus the Irish at 7/2 – surely a little value in the Paddies and a chance to get the week off to a flyer?
The sport will be wonderful and the admiration these horses command should have our attention alone. However, the races also offer differences of opinion, the breeding place for a good wager. As such, we will take out the tarot cards, tea leaves and astronomy guide everyday next week in the aim of plotting a path through the marvelous, sumptuous, twisting turns of four days of regal feasts. And once our bet has been placed, we can sit back and enjoy the race, because as Bill Barich points out in his excellent run up to the 2004 Cheltenham Festival, “there’s always relief in placing a bet. Like boarding an airplane or going broke, you’re delivered into the hands of fate”.
by Daniel Polak
Keep an eye out next week as we analyse patterns, mysteries, gossip and gut feelings, one more layer of subterfuge surrounding this magic of the Cheltenham Festival.
For more race details, please refer to the Cheltenham 2014 website: