Good evening from the Major who returns to an icy Worcestershire scene from the equally frigid Cheltenham air. Post racing, I dined in Pershore tonight, the company was good, the dinner reasonable but the restaurant odd. The subtleties required that underpin a good service were lost on my hosts. Still 6/10.
The same score could apply to the review of day one of Cheltenham, we went to battle but no definitive blows were struck, we danced around our enemy, driving into their lines in small neat packs, sharp fast movements, not overly committal and retreating quickly under threat from their rearguard. There were some warm engagements as Champagne Fever struck at 15/2 and then the more obvious Simonsig and Quevega results bolstered our position. Yet the gloss was tarnished by the no-show of Hazy Tom, Monkerty Tunkerty, Loch Ba and Grandouet, ah Grandouet.
Still very healthy profits from day one. I did though get the Champion Hurdle all wrong. Fair play Hurricane Fly, he was sublime. Other day one observations. The ground is not proper soft and being prominent is still important. Easy.
Performance of Champion Hurdle day has to go to Quevega who looked beat on the downhill run but the game old girl plugged on, christ she knows where the finish line is. With my yelps of KICK RUBY KICK KICK KICK urging her up the hill and an expectant crowd waiting to pay homage to her… a special Cheltenham moment. I do hope that next year she competes to win the race again, an unprecedented sixth festival win. I also wonder if we cannot jiggle the race namings so that she gets to run in the Quevega Mares Hurdle.
So much about Cheltenham is good that it is sometimes easy to brush over what is bad. The diversity of life on show is one of the main attractions. Throw in opportunities for merriment and skullduggery and any soul who still has an ache for life can’t fail to enjoy yourself.
Today, I saw the happy drunk, the unhappy drunk, the obnoxious drunk and my favourite, the delirious drunk. Myself, I am abstaining from alcohol for a year… yes a whole year and so the entire laddish culture that exists around Cheltenham probably stood out more to me as a consequence.
When you love something, (as do I concerning our glorious National Hunt pinnacle), then you become protective of the hallowed ground. Certain behaviours, a decorousness is preferable and established within the community who appreciate the same thing. I don’t want to complain about it but I would observe that by acting upon a thing, the experience can change. Should the number of people there to solely drink be proportionately greater than the people there to enjoy National Hunt racing, then our shrine will suffer, not at first but at last.. a thousand cuts.
Are we ready for day two? Cast aside the rigours of what has passed. Allow the sensations of victory and defeat to slip from you, wash over you like water. As Kipling suggested, treat both those imposters the same. Win or lose we need to prepare. Defeat teaches you this more readily than victory. In defeat you analyse, in victory, too often you simply accept. Let us prepare, as Pasteur said ‘Fortune favours the prepared mind‘
The National Hunt Chase
What a challenge for amateur riders, four miles of the Cheltenham undulations – The National Hunt is a real test. Without doubt we need a thorough stayer and a top amateur rider. Jonjo O Neill has a good record in the race too.
Of these factors, for me the most important is jockey. If we can find a talented young soul who can switch their mount off and make them forget they are in a major staying race then we can be halfway to a decent performance.
Two obvious candidates stand out. Nina Carberry and Mullins Jnr – Bear in mind that no other rider has ridden half the amount of rides that either of these guys have had in the last two years and they boast the best strike rate of all riders here. Put simply, they have the experience and they have the talent (even allowing for the excellent rides they are granted).
Carberry is on Tofino Bay, an interesting candidate whom the Major has followed before – He has ability but comes with a health waning and I am not sure a trip across the Irish Sea is what he needs.
Patrick Mullins is on Back in Focus, the 3/1 favourite. The Mullins operation are flying this week with three winners on day one and I am sure all of their runners will get plenty of backing. This one with good reason. He has grown into his role of staying chaser with some aplomb, makes few mistakes and has won at the top level.
That is enough for the Major who thinks Buddy Bolero, despite having potential progression is not going to be good enough.
The Neptune Novices
So Mullins is on fire and he is on record as saying that Pont Alexandre is the best novice he has… obvious then?
Well…. It is time to declare an interest. You might need to make up your own mind after I have explained why the Major is biased.
Last December, I met Tony McCoy at the Sports Personality awards. I asked him for a horse to follow and he suggested Taquin Du Seuil. I wrote all about it at the time. Although I did not declare the horse he had tipped me publicly, I did offer to communicate it privately to those interested and several of the more regular sorts took me up on the offer.
Since that point, I have been backing Taquin Du Seuil relentlessly for the Neptune (and a little of burned money for the Albert Bartlett).
I don’t care for the stat about Challow winners and their subsequent Neptune records, means nothing. I also think the ground will not matter too much either. He has form tied in with My Tent or Yours and I shall remain loyal. should he win, then I shall be found purveying the fine shops of the Festival store-holders seeking a fancy coat for the good lady.
Taquin Du Seuil for me 5/1. It is a fantastic race though and I would not put you off a saver on Two Rockers at 14/1. The New One comes with the advantage of being proven at the course and also has form tied in with My Tent or Yours. Yet, the yard is going through a sparse time and I think conditions suit others better. I am also unconvinced by Rule the World. So, the tip comes with fair warning… Should Taquin win though, you may find me in a state of utter delirium, identifiable by a mile wide grin.
The RSA Chase
The defection of Dynaste from the RSA to the Jewson has been the cause of significant damage to the Majors antepost position. Still, you go early for the prices and you take the bumps that come along. It has made me more wary of Pipe horse placement in the future though. Unioniste, 7/2, has done little wrong but as a five year old, I think this is an almighty tough ask over a searching three miles. That said, Golden Chieftain who won on Tuesday has given the Newbury form a boost. That and the fact that Ruby has abandoned Boston Bob for my selection are enough for me.
Boston Bob himself has a good chance but I think his form has an ordinary look to it. Hadrians Approach almost got the better of Unioniste last time out and rates a danger but I just think mine is better.
If Sizing Europe was at his peak (two years ago) he might have finished within ten lengths of Sprinter Sacre. As it is the Black Aeroplane barring accident will live up to the billing. Simple. 2/7.
This contest is one of the festivals greatest puzzles with lots of form lines converging and plenty of puzzling handicap marks to decipher. The best you can do is seek a few you prefer and take a punt.
A key piece of evidence concerns Mr Watson and AP McCoy. In January, the latter slimmed down to minimum weight to win a gamble on the former and that looked pretty impressive. The best part of a stone rise is probably not the limit of the horses ability.
Charlie Longsden is having a great year and runs Pendra a horse bought by JP McManus. By virtue of the contract between the top owner JP and AP the top jockey, then it is understandable that Pendra is a short price. Clearly they fancy winning with him.
Yet the Major cannot get away from that win by Mr Watson at 16/1. Proven course form is a massive plus and who knows what APs thoughts are regarding the chances of the horse who now gets Richie McLernon in the saddle.
The Fred Winter
The Fred Winter is as difficult as puzzle as the Coral Cup. 24 runners go to post and many of them have highly progressive profiles making form reading difficult. The focus for the Major is again finding a likely sort and keeping stakes sensible. I do wonder if Ruby has his selection right opting for Saphir Du Rheu over Kalmann. The Nicholls horse had a confidence booster at Taunton and arrives here with a good chance but I would prefer the chances of the Mullins horse who cost a pretty penny and whose French form has a very decent look about it – He is one of three representatives of yard and owner and jockey bookings suggest he is the most likely.
The Major though is going to tip a 40/1 shot in Habesh. Like most runners we have a potential improver but this one has arrived after an unusual preparation. I think it is a trainers Cheltenham debut and the unusual prep has been two runs on the Dundalk all weather track after a very good Limerick win. His all weather handicap mark will hardly set pulses racing but he does seem a better hurdler. It is worth noting that he beat Stocktons Wing at Limerick, who subsequently defeated Dogora at G2 level… interesting n’est pas?
The Champion Bumper
I like so many of the bumper horses it is difficult to narrow it down. So many of them have destroyed average bumper fields, it is hard to get a good reading on which of those performances were the relevant ones.
There are so many other things to note and like… I like Regal Encore because JP bought him but did a deal to leave him with Honeyball. I like Sergeant Reckless because Richard Hughes rides and is sure to want to bag a Cheltenham winner. I like the Liquidator because Tom Scu rides it which in turn suggests it is the better of the Pipe horses. I like Blackmail because he is coming to good hand and the form of his last win is very good.
Which do I like the most? Regal Encore 10/1. Kings Theatre bred, that will do for me. Courage, roll those dice.