Good evening from the Major who writes from a blustery Worcestershire where heavy squalls have deposited their sorrowful cargo and still, high grey blankets ripple at speed across the heavens, dizzying the eyes.
The going will be testing tomorrow, despite the current good to soft declaration. Pleasingly, the forecast looks fair for those good souls heading to course, sadly, I shall not be amongst those warriors. While time is on my side, my slipped disc recovery would not be served well by a day on my feet in the cool air of November. My physio would not allow for it and I dare not cross her. She is a Cheltenham soul herself, all sharp eye and curled lip, lean and lithe of body; tremendous fun.
Such a shame…. Stop there, I know how your mind runs, I am speaking of my attendance at the Open meeting. It is one of my favourite racecourse experiences. Two memories that show the light and dark of the sport we love come to mind. With much sorrow, I remember poor old Granit Jack falling terribly at that fast fence they used to take near the bottom of the hill, that was an awful dark moment – Watching him sprawl, watching the rest toil up the hill to glory and glancing back anxiously to see those dreaded screens going up. Hollowness, you know the feeling. I hope Dante reserved a secret ring of hell for those that cheer fallers.
I also recall queuing to back Monkerhostin but persuaded against by an Irish chap in front of me who was, as they say in his home land, fluttered, buckled, langered or locked. Quite how I went from Monkerhostin to Old Vic under the wise counsel of my drunken friend, well, I cannot say. Yet, it felt glorious to watch those Johnson colours come home that day.
As for tomorrow and the opening Friday of the meeting. Another front is being flung off the Atlantic in God’s slingshot of fortune. Warm Caribbean air, humid, hurried to our shores by that marvellous jet stream, depositing all of that precipitation on our Northern rocky outcrop. The storm will come at the break of dawn and be done by mid morning. The current good to soft ground looks highly unlikely to hold and I am planning on proper soft conditions.
I have attended the preview evening at the course tonight. Charlie Longsden and Gordon Elliot talked at length and I tweeted the most significant tit-bits that caught my ear on @tdl123.
Cheltenham Friday Tips
The opening race on Friday is an Amateur rides race and regulars will know that I am quite keen on these races. The advantage I think they offer is the range in quality of the amateur riders that line up. A number are close to the standard of their professional colleagues and have significant experience. Others, less so. This has a number of impacts. Cheltenham is a tough course and so the effect quality riding is amplified. Experience is significant, leaving some in the tank for that hill. Plus, given the quality is more diverse, we should pay attention to yards booking the better jockeys for their mounts.
Now, I will let the jockey booking continue to carry a high influence but to be fair, we also have a lot of quality angles to get in to this opening race.
Sam Waley-Cohen, Will Biddick and Bannister have won strike rates of in excess of 16% over two years. The B Division start at 11%. These three are high quality. Between them they have secured 45% of the entire winning rides this field of jockeys can muster from 29% of the total rides. They boast between them a strike rate of 18.5% compared to an average of 9.4% by the rest of the field combined.
I would mention Sam Clements too who doesn’t boast the stats but is one I have confidence in. Of the four, Sam Waley-Cohens stats stand out as excellent but I also consider his rides to be off the best quality too being supported by his fathers excellent string.
Of course, in all races, course form is a big plus but in the opening race, only Handy Andy has won here previously and that was from six attempts, he placed in none of the other five. His win happens to be in this race last year and after being tuned up again, clearly he will be well fancied. One of those warm up runs was a race in which one of my other fancies, Benbens competed and finished behind Handy Andy.
Oscar Time, Ballyoliver and Charingworth represent the jockeys I prefer in the field. Charingworth is the first casualty as I am not sure it will appreciate the soft conditions I am anticipating. Oscar Time will be celebrating his 14th birthday on New Years Day and while he stacked up a hat trick over the larger and smaller obstacles in a remarkable spring campaign that included a place in the Grand National, this is a big ask for his aging frame.
Anyway, for all of the machinations of my calculation. For all of the toil. Gordon Elliot said that Pipe does well at the meeting and that Broadway Buffalo currently 9/2 was his thought for tomorrow. There you go. Here I am. Striving between what I think (Ballyoliver) and that which a trainer; of whom I hold in high regard, thinks. Gordon Elliott only gave one tip for Friday at Cheltenham. Pipe. 9/2.
1.50pm – A 2m handicap chase concerning twenty starters around Cheltenham is going to be carnage. As such this is an automatic low stakes race, signalled by the market, 7/1 the field. There have been 57 runs at Cheltenham from these racehorses and incredibly two horses, Oiseau de Nuit and Astracad are responsible for 30 of those runs! My tip though is Anay Turge who needs to come back to form. It also needs things to click right but having won this race convincingly last year and of the type that might ‘come right’ again, I will be in for a very meagre investment at 12/1 with Ladbrokes.
The Steel Plate has been won by some decent sorts including Taquin du Seuil; regulars know my connection. Is there a star chasing name to emerge from the field? Hmm, I am doubtful.
Well, I am not opting for the favourite – No thank you. Why not? There are things in Colour Squadron’s favour including the significant fact that Cheltenham is his preferred venue. Hobbs has used him very well at times and last year I was a buyer early on In the campaign and he served me well. Yet, he is not classy. I feel harsh here but he has limitations. Last year was his year. The future belongs to others. Let me die by these words.
Hobbs saddles the second favourite, Champagne West who is ridden by Richard Johnson, I am not sure enough of the jockey order for the JP horses to understand the significance of this. That said, I prefer this horse to Colour Squadron. I have already decried the first choice Hobbs horse so is this my idea of the winner. Well, no.
I think Champagne West is going to be a stayer and a decent one but these middle distance chases might go a bit too quick even at this stage of his career.
So my idea of the winner is 15/2 (Stan James) Splash of Ginge, a horse I feel I might be under-rated. He beat a Pipe horse, Ainsi Fidelis, recently and I have the sense that now they might repel a greater Pipe challenge from Dell’ Arca who I see as the main threat. My tip has form, course comfort and the Twiston-Davies team on the positive side of the ledger, plenty for me at that price. It’s a risk opposing Hobbs who is sending out winners and has the front two in the market but that mothership won’t land itself.
The 3pm staying hurdle has some recent history too. Winners include Fingal Bay, Champion Court and Diamond Harry. I am going to keep things simple here. Blacklion was a horse I backed against last time (in what I think might emerge as a key bit of form) to my loss and I refuse to make the same mistake again. Many in the line up have potential, Blacklion boasts both opportunity and recent fitness and as advertised in the last race, Twiston-Davies and his local track, come on; what thought against might you have? Load your cannons. I have a feeling , this horse might start being a great tomorrow. A real galloper, reminds me a bit of Denman. Relentless. Call your money man, 15/8.
The Cross Country. Hmmmmmmm. Balthazar King battled well last year and course form is crucial. Let’s hope the jockeys remember the course! Thing is, Uncle Junior is too old and nothing else appeals. Sorry. Not that I would be going wild at 4/5 but winners pay for dinner.
You aren’t going to like it but Charlie Longsden tonight said that Cup Final was his good thing for the Friday card. I won’t argue and at 13/8 (Paddy Power) plan a reasonable investment.
Courage, roll the dice.