Good evening and merry Cheltenham Eve from the Major who writes from the vengeful cold wasteland of Worcestershire. The Siberian wind swirls across the landscape whipping silent flakes of snow that land anonymously.
It is cold. The sort of biting wind that searches every channel of clothing, driving deeply into the joins, seeking and exploiting weakness.
If you are coming to Cheltenham, dress warmly, wear layers, lots of layers. While out earlier, I think I caught ‘Weather Tourette’s’… such is the ferocity of the Russian air, it causes uncontrollable swearing that my mother would have been ashamed to hear me exhale.
Upon Cheltenham Eve the excitement amongst the twitterati of racing acclaim is etched into their timelines. Right now, all of our dreams are intact, all hopes remain untested, it will only remain so for a short while longer, savour this for anticipation is as good as the day itself.
The Major will take you through the Tuesday Cheltenham card. The battle is now upon us, our forward units have been skirmishing the enemy lines for many months, we have engaged man to man with bayonets fixed and now we settle down to sort it out.
I hope you arrive with a war chest becoming the great week. I hope coins are spilling from your wallet. If you are one of those that believes you should bet within your means, please find yourself another blog, you are not welcome here. If the stake matters not, then there is little point to your endeavour. Have a little edge to your stakes… live a little, load those cannons and feel the rush of adrenaline. This is Cheltenham, it is good to be alive and be here.
I am conscious that the blog will be receiving more than its usual readership. If you are new to these shores, welcome, whether tourist or new follower, I wish to be a good host. The Major is free, barely profitable and certainly unhinged… read on my friends and take what you will. At the end I have posted a few blogs to give you some second opinions too, you see, I believe in customer advocacy.
Please consider taking part in my charity tipping competition. I am inviting you to take on my 4 year old son who has picked his Cheltenham selections. Full details in this post.
A note for my strategy… The first two days of the festival are run on the old course and this is well worth taking notice of. The turn in for the old course gives a fairly short run in. You might think that with soft ground and a hill to contend with, it gives those from the back a decent chance. Yet, last year, the opening days required horses to be prominent and the Major will be seeking these sorts in the tips for the Cheltenham Tuesday card….
Daub thy war paint young warrior, sharpen that lance point and bring up your charger. We shall pick them at the gallop, crying Shabash and St George.
The opening race of Cheltenham 2013 has been made very interesting by the decision of connections to run My Tent or Yours as opposed to supplementing him for the Champion Hurdle later on the card. The owner, JP McManus, already has Jezki, whom he purchased for an eye watering sum earlier in the season scheduled for the Supreme and after MTOY destroyed a good Betfair field and the tragic racecourse death of Darlan, many suspected, he might pay to supplement MTOY to the Champion Hurdle.
Instead, he takes his chance as a 15/8 favourite in the Supreme. The Major thinks that common sense has broken out here. My Tent or Yours has earned a mark of 162 for his troubles but should be introduced to the top prizes next year.
The Supreme is not always an easy race to tip. Novices that are still on upwards curves can show some violent form swings. The runners that are proven on the ground are My Tent or Yours, Puffin Billy, Champagne Fever, Jezki, River Maigue and Cause of Causes.
Of them, I feel My Tent or Yours has certainly shown the best form and will not put you off a decent bet. 2/1 is generally available this evening.
Yet the tip goes to 15/2 shot, Champagne Fever. Ruby Walsh has selected him as the best shot and I think he may have a point, he has valuable Cheltenham form having won the bumper a year ago. What I really like about the selection is that he is a prominent racer which at least will put him in the race on the home turn, that and a love of soft ground can help him overcome a marginal defeat to Jezki from earlier in the season.
Really worth taking Hills up on their 5 places paid offer – That is an incredibly generous start to a week of superb offers from the enemy.
When Donald McCain recently suggested that Overturn would give the grey Aeroplane Simonsig a race in the Arkle, Henderson was quick to give his own bullish view.
I can only see the red hot favourite shortening up as the main rival Overturn has been avoiding soft conditions all winter, in his career he has only won one of his four races on ground softer than good to soft. Overturn is admirable but I feel will be setting this up.
Simonsig is 4/6 and I grant you it is no working mans price but we all need some winners on day one.
The JLT Handicap
Fruity O Rooney may well be a popular pick here having run so close in the same race last year. noone would deny that he would be a worthy winner and he is racing off a 1lb lighter mark here.
Only one horse in the last fifteen years has won off a weight greater than 11-2 and the tally of winners contains just one 11 year old. These seem logical enough trends and help us profile a likely sort. Soft ground is also a big plus.
Jonjo has taken the race twice in the last five years, not the most robust stat but clearly Merry King will have his followers. He lost a thorough battle last time at Haydock in very testing conditions. It showed he has talent and heart as well as a liking for the mud.. shortlist material.
Quantativeeasing owes the Major and a return to form would hurt but not be that shocking, my main concern for that one is the ground.
Pete the Feat is the Hunt Ball of the season having gone up over 40lbs for his exploits. Last time out was bitterly disappointing and many will now be feeling he has been caught by the handicapper but the Major holds a hope.
The two I like are Monkerty Tunkerty and Loch Ba. The former at 16/1 is reaching veteran status which is not quite the profile I had in mind but he comes with a light CV that suggests he has more to give. The latter showed tremendous improvement to win last time at Newbury in tough conditions and a rise of nearly a stone might not put him out of the frame for this.
Please note place terms, many bookies are 4 places only but plenty are 5 places.
Tips for the Champion Hurdle
The championship race of the Tuesday is the Champion Hurdle and the 2013 renewal seems to lack a little lustre.
The absence of Darlan is a loss and reminds us how frail the boundary of delight and despair.
Hurricane Fly is the one horse that could raise the roof on Tuesday. He will come with an army of Irish supporters who are convinced that the Fly can regain his crown. Last year I felt he had a fair crack and could not get to Rock on Ruby and Overturn. The talk is that he was not quite right.
Certainly he has not put a foot wrong this year, destroying fields in Ireland that, to be fair, he should destroy. That makes a reading of his form difficult. He is also 9 and has had to travel…. not the sort for me at 2/1.
Zarkander has not put a foot wrong too this season and his defeat of Grandouet and Rock on Ruby at the course was particularly strong. Both of his foes that day may be able to give a good excuse but Zarkander is starting to look like a horse who knows how to get his head in front. He has looked a lot stronger this year and remains undefeated this season.
Grandouet is of clear interest. Losing that day to Zarkander was no disgrace given the amount of time he was off the course previously He is obviously a delicate sort and has an interrupted preparation once again. That was the cause of a a significant drift in his price but connections have been reassuring. He is only 6 and entitled to improve.
Rock on Ruby has run this season as though this was the only race on trainer Harry Frys mind. Last year when he won the Champion Hurdle (tipped up ante post by the Major at 14s!) he was technically a Paul Nicholls inmate but operating from the satellite yard ran by Fry. He has been fitted with blinkers for the first time which comes as a bit of a surprise to the Major. I cannot bring myself to back him again.
So it is Zarkander and Grandouet for the Major and who gets the tip of death? At the prices now, it has to be Grandouet. I am suggesting a win bet too. If he performs he is entitled as any to win. He now gets 4lbs from Zarkander which with natural fitness after that first run back should be enough to turn the tables. Have a slice.
The Cross Country
If you can brave the cold, head out to the middle of the course for the cross country – It is a thing to behold.
The Major is keeping it simple, Enda Bolger is the specialist in these races and Arabella Boy is a worthy favourite, have a large slice and thank me later.
The Mares Hurdle
Quevega bids for history in the Mares Hurdle, seeking a fifth straight race win. What is incredible is that Mullins keeps this spring horse under wraps until this race each season and so she bids to do so on debut. Does the ground hold a concern? Not really, she seems very versatile… what a girl.
It would be an incredible achievement and she is sure to raise a fine cheer come glory or defeat.
Normally I would be getting edgy about backing a nine year old but she is so lightly raced and so well looked after that I think that the rest are playing for places.
Of them, Une Artiste is the one I would fear. The Major has had some tasty wins with this girl, including a surprise in last years Fred Winter. She is young, progressive but needs to be if she is going to endanger that record.
5.15 Listed Chase
If at this stage, the day has not gone to plan, I suggest a mere light interest in the last. Save your ammunition for easier puzzles than this.
The Novice Handicap Chase is designed in the deepest darkest minds of our enemy. A swirling vortex of factors, the inexperience of chasing, the lack of course form, the improvers and the ground… 20 runners… we stand little chance.
Hazy Tom won a good race at Warwick and was just headed at Mussleburgh, I would argue he wants to be stepped back up from the minimum distance and he catches the eye with the Majors favourite jockey Noel Fehily aboard.
Rajdhani Express is of some interest if his jumping holds together and 25/1 could look big.
Carlito Brigante as a Coral Cup winner has plenty of attractions but the going is a significant concern for the Major. Klepht is one to watch in the market.
On balance, I am opting for Hazy Tom at 16/1.
Good luck to all of you throughout the week. I will post Wednesdays thoughts by midnight tomorrow. For second opinions on tomorrow, have a look at any or all of the following, they are ad free enthusiastic racing fans… Young Racegoer, Luke Elder, Good to Soft, King of the Jumps (Callum, Luke and Emma – I wish you all the best)
Courage and roll those dice.