Good evening from the Major who writes from the lounge feeling rather blue. My in-laws are in attendance and I have the fire roaring and the alcohol flowing but even these compensations cannot wash away the burdens of the day.
The Major had a shocker and at a meeting I normally do well from. I read the ground conditions with overnight rain, could see the form players, had angles into several races and bought confidence into the game with reckless abandon. Somehow, I managed to sweep aside all of these obstacles to failure with remarkable ruthless efficiency.
Perhaps Parlour Games is a fantastic sort, the way he quickened on the hill was eye catching, or perhaps Blacklion did not put down a fast enough pace to draw the sting from his opponent who showed an impressive turn of foot. Either way, my main hope of the day could only manage a place from an SP of 7/4.
I could barely draw the strength to crawl back to the keyboard to lay out my thoughts for Saturday. Crawl back I have though for in five and a half years, I have not missed a Saturday. Success, failure, good weather and storm, illness and holiday; whatever life throws, my world is anchored in the weekend sermons. Always seeking the mothership that may never come. Is it worth it? I feel barely worth the support I receive, for that I thank you and pray to good god that you can cut through my thinking to isolate the diamonds from the rock wastage destined for the slag pile.
I slept badly last night too which only adds to my malaise. After attending the Preview evening at Cheltenham, my back ached and my restless torso twisting through the night found no respite. Drifting in and out of consciousness, warm and clammy, coming to with the heart pounding and the mind racing. Dark thoughts swirl at that time of night, thoughts that do not belong in the daylight hours. I worry sometimes that they might seep into normalcy, that they might creep to where they do not belong.
So here I am, bottle of Chilean wine open, fire roaring and weary, yet willing, to get back into the battle. From the darkness, comes the light. Courage my friends, call up the heavy charger and let us trot to face our enemy with lances vertical, the points glistening in the sparkling morning light.
Courage, roll the dice.
Paddy Power Cheltenham Gold Cup Day
The one noticeable trait from Friday racing for me was the success that hold up horses were having. Perhaps, the ground helped, kicking off the front on that hill can make the front runners vulnerable to one given a quiet ride from an experienced hand. The successful jockeys were Bannister in the amateurs race (one of the top three riders in the race), Twiston Davies, Geraghty and Johnson (3).
Whatever happens on Saturday, I want a good pilot and ideally some more of those hold up sorts that are doing their best work at the death.
The opening race, the novice handicap hurdle over two miles has attracted a decent field and a bit like the 20 horse novice chase today, there could be some carnage.
My tentative vote goes to a former Godolphin horse that needs to concede weight to all but one rival . Chesterfield at 8/1 with Ladbrokes and Stan James gets my vote as a soft ground winner. Ferguson has his team on top form at the moment and had the aforementioned Parlour Games as a winner on the Friday card. He has won on good to soft but never on soft, to be fair, that was from one effort and with Cheltenham drying a little, the ground holds few concerns. We also get Noel Fehily aboard, a big plus and a persuading factor.
The the 3m novice chase which is an absolute cracker. What it lacks in field depth it makes up for in quality and intrigue. Creepy will have supporters having shown well in his first chase appearance and on previous hurdle form. Not for me although I must admit, he looks like a chasing type.
Sausilito Sunrise is another on the shortlist having jumped confidently to a novice chase win. Tom O’Brien is a decent jockey but not as accomplished perhaps as some of the others here, that tempers enthusiasm but the form of Hobbs has been red hot and that will keep the support pouring in.
Kings Palace has looked outstanding at times over the smaller obstacles but I confess that Pipe is not a trainer I have full confidence in. Couple that with the fact we have not seen the horse jump a fence yet, well the legitimate concerns over the favourite stack up. However, I feel that Kings Palace, a son of the great NH sire Kings Theatre could be a cut above. He gets 5lbs from the field too, having not won or raced for that matter over fences, throw that into the bargain and it starts to be appealing. The chief concern, of chasing prowess is balanced somewhat by the nature of a small field. Kings Palace should be able to find plenty of space and good sight of the fences. 5/4 is about.
The the Murphy Group Chase. Sam Winner has often gone well at Cheltenham but never quite fulfilled the belief his trainer that he might be one of the best. Mercurial would be my description. The horse seems to have been around for ever yet is only just turning eight. Maybe he could come again this year, maybe. Not for me though. In spite of Lord Windermere, I still think the RSA is a graveyard for chasers and even though Sam Winner only managed fifth, I just do no have him down as a potential festival sort.
The Package has tied form to Holywell who I find an implausible sort to be near the head of the Gold Cup market. No thank you, at veteran stage,this is a big assignment. So who then?
The Major has settled on the favourite, The Druids Nephew, largely through my dislike of many of the other runners. Mulholland is in fine form and we get Geraghty too, a rare booking for the yard (1 win from 2 starts in the past two years). 5/1 is generally available.
Then the big one. The Paddy Power Gold Cup did not used to attract the best types but in recent years the form has looked good. A young upcoming chaser, not too green but with an aptitude for Cheltenham is the order.
Johns Spirit, last years winner lines up and is a talented horse in fine order having won cosily on reappearance. Is he good enough to go in again in a much better race, a stone and a half higher than last year? The market drifts, as does the Majors mind. Jonjo is not flying.
Oscar Whiskey is the class horse in the line up but about to turn ten hardly has the typical profile of a Paddy Power winner. He does love to get his toe in and I would not begrudge him a win but my hopes lie elsewhere.
Martin Pipe used to milk this race and his son David started down the same track when winning with Great Endeavour in 2011. Easter Meteor therefore must warrant close inspection but the horse does not stand up to it in my view. Pipe seems to have purchased a reasonably good handicapper but one that is about to turn 9 and is well enough exposed. Not for me.
John’s Spirit, Buywise and Indian Castle are the three I would focus on. Buywise boasts the weakest trainer form (Williams 1 from 20 in recent weeks) and is reluctantly dropped. Jonjo is not firing the winners in at the rate I would like either but Johns Spirit looked value for his win last time. There are two types of winners of this race. Lighly raced 6-8 year olds seeking in at the bottom who are a stone better than their mark… or…. 6-8 year olds at the top of the weights who are genuine Grade One chasers in the making. I am banking on my selection burdening the weight and proving himself in the second camp. Markets seem to disagree and you can find prices at double figures, perhaps they will drift further.
The 3pm handicap hurdle is not the strongest contest and I fancy that champion trainer Nicholls might saddle the winner in Vivaldi Colognes at 6/1 with Ladbrokes. My choice has a little bit more evidence than the horse I perceive as a main threat, Katkeau, who has been injured best part of two years but returns at a good level from a big yard and as favourite. The signs are there. Yet, I feel the Pipe yard is a poor reflection of what it was and so past performance may not be a good indicator of future potential.
I have wrestled between the recent hurdling form of Golden Doyan and the potential of Hargam for Henderson in the penultimate race. Both get weight from the Fehily ridden L’Aigle Royal who took some time to get going at Sedgefield but eventually looked value… hmmm.
In the end, having turned from Hobbs earlier, I remain with my back turned. Just because he had the hat trick up on Friday does not mean he has right over the Saturday. Henderson has his horses going OK and Geraghty is better than Johnson, sorry for the frankness in which I expel this rude opinion. Thus, Hargam at a best price 7/4 (Bet Victor) is the tip.
Willie Mullins is on fire and since he has sent a bumper contender Daring Carlotta across, he has my firm support. Take the Paddy Power 2/1 and run.
I have promised @adamclarke501 my ten to follow for the season. It is coming I promise.
The Martin Hill bet is Hargam, Daring Carlotta and Kings Palace as a straight win trixie.
May your dinner be taken in peace. Forget company, just enjoy eating good food alone.