Ah, here we are. The quietude before the battle is joined. We sharpen the lances, unfurl our silken banners and clean the leather and sheepskin cloths. This is my favourite moment of the festival, just before. All dreams are intact, not one of our theories has been tested and so we can breathe, think and daydream in the warm glow that this might be the mothership year.
Although written some time ago, in the menu you will find some old Cheltenham stuff, favourite memories of various readers of the blog, how people like to spend their days etc. Before I relay some thoughts ahead of the week, let me recall some of my own.
I was not on the course the day that Punjabi won me a small fortune. What a brave little cracker, sticking that nose out for all of Geraghtys urgings and giving me my greatest win.
It is not about the winning though, it is about the tragedy, the triumph, the story and the glory. Jane Mangan, with glory in reach as Oscar Delta jinked to go and do another round. 60,000 gasps and the poor girl had to lift herself from the floor in front of the baying crowd. The ill-fated Our Conor winning his Triumph, I have never seen a horse canter to such an easy success, I bet him straight away for the Champion Hurdle but it was not to be. Brave Inca, Kauto Star, Denman, Best Mate; you could reel on and on with the names.
Anyway, I decided to post an early piece to cover the whole week. My aim is to tick off some of my main themes and then as we get into each nights post (I will be posting a Cheltenham Sermon in the small hours every night this week), for which I may be tipsy; you can juxtapose these more composed Sunday sober thoughts with those written under the influence of the Cheltenham haze.
There may be other reasons for why my tips on the night may occasionally differ from my views at this stage. The ground may well be good and that scuppers a lot of opinion formed through the dark wet winter slogs. Plus, pricing. At the end of the day, picking a horse is about finding one whose odds exceed its chances of winning. While I may have been backing some religiously, there comes a point at which, pricing sends you seeking value.
My evening posts will be written with a ‘what would I do today’ perspective. This post is written from the viewpoint of myself and I have tickets aplenty accumulated since last March, some inspirational, others redundant.
If I had to sum up Cheltenham, I cannot help but fall into hyperbole. If you love National Hunt racing, then nothing else will quench the thirst. How high our pulses race at first and afterwards, how we might wish to breathe for another year, to be one of the fortunate ones, to return. If you are religious and you believe in a god and a paradise, then why aren’t you suicidal? Why don’t you celebrate the death of loved ones? The answer lies in an underlying infallible truth, we are also destined for the dust and what is left is experience and only experience.
That we have risen from the brutality of animals, leaving behind in our wake violence. Shakespeare can do far better than I;
What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.(Hamlet Act 2, scene 2, 303–312)
The Major’s Main Cheltenham Tips, Antepost and Themes……
Tuesday, Mullins Tuesday. Could it happen? As I write with the aroma of a Sunday roast calling me away, Willie holds the favourites card in five of the seven races.
Douvan carries high praise from the yard. No doubt he is a top class sort, if Willie says he is the best he has sent to the race, then you have to sit up and pay attention. The problem is that everyone has and let’s be honest, there are a host of unexposed opponents due to the nature of the race. I have a sizeable interest and all men must take William Hill up on their refund all losers (as a free bet) offer on the race. 50/50 if this is in the list come Monday night, L’Ami Serge has done everything right .
Un de Sceaux on the other hand looks a more straight forward proposition. Some horses leave a lasting impression that you just cannot shake, a la Denman. UDS does the same for me, he just looks so much quicker than everything else and jumps with an athleticism and exuberance that is exhilarating to watch.
I was very disappointed when he did not come to the festival in 2014 but we have him this year and I think he is racing the fences. No price mind.
I don’t have a view yet on the Festival Handicap Chase and may use that time on course on Tuesday to chill out and digest what I have seen.
The Mullins maelstrom rolls straight into the Champion Hurdle. Faugheen has breezed through his races with all the grace and power or a true champion. For many, it has been an easy decision and I must confess to holding some tickets on him too. Yet, I also have reservations here.
The New One might well have won last year when hugely inconvenienced by the fatal fall of Our Conor. I like the horse and I like his experience. This is the key to the Faugheen potential frailty for me. Perhaps he will win by 10l and prove me all end a fool. I would not begrudge him, my opposition is not partisan, I just feel that there are many a hard luck story crafted at the Champion Hurdle table. Jezki, not for me at all.
If Hurricane Fly wins, I am racing to the winners enclosure before the race is over! I definitely want to be part of that party!
If I were ranking the three Mullins shots to date, it would go…. UDS, Faugheen then Douvan. I would slot Annie in between the first two. The field will be bigger and she has fitness to prove but in terms of class, that is the only obstacle. I have been backing Annie for the Mares solidly, in the belief that the team that posted 6 straight wins with Quevega would want a certainty. The moment Morning Run was diverted to Punchestown, I felt ever more confident. Locked and loaded.
I still remain confident that Don Poli will miss the four mile National Hunt Chase and confirm a spot in the RSA. This leaves a wide open race and I will pick a horse tomorrow night, Doing Fine, is on the list though.
Finally, the handicap and no views there yet.
Overall, Tuesday looks strong in my book. I must offer one piece of crucial advice.
Back Douvan, UDS, Faugheen and Annie in an accumulator and trebles. Why, when you have clearly stated concern, you ask? Well, imagine it. Imagine all four go in. It would be something that people would talk about for years. Bookmakers would decry a £100m+ loss; great stories of personal success would spread like wildfire, celebrations of ones personal financial success and the accomplishment of the finest yard in National Hunt racing. Imagine all that and you didn’t have a bet on it. Rings hollow eh? I thought so too.
Wednesday Critical Horses for the Major!
Wednesday opens with the Neptune and my significant position on Tell Us More has been holed beneath the waterline if he is declared a Supreme horse, the dangers of antepost. I added Outlander to my multiple and think I will end up with him on Tuesday night, as I was most impressed last time.
The RSA is a cracker. Kings Palace went into my book early as he was blasting his way around Cheltenham, bullying small fields into submission. However, my enthusiasm tempered when I considered it in cold light and I am not sold on his style, although somebody did force me to concede he has won held up too.
No, I am a Don Poli man in antepost and the feeling remains. There are plenty of other options though and I might be tempted into some of the each way value on offer. Coneygree does not yet carry a penny of my money but I am really warming to the chances, those were proper horses he beat well last time. Whether he turns up is a key question or whether he is thrown into a Gold Cup…. Hmmmm, not many win a Gold Cup as a novice. Long Run did but his principle opponents were on the decline. I am not sure that moniker can apply to Conti or Road to Riches.
The Champion Chase. I must confess that many moons ago, I sidelined in my thoughts both sick-notes and am very surprised and delighted for the race that Sire de Grugy and Sprinter Sacre have both made it. Neither are considered a positive result in my portfolio.
Of the two, I think Sprinter is the classiest but riskiest option, although not pressed by Geraghty last time, who knows what he would have found and it was concerning that he bled after the performance. Sire de Grugy has now raced twice since comeback and I was taken with that bold approach. It said something of the horses wellbeing that he could take the second race around Chepstow (hardly easy to get) and his stag like leap two out and cruising victory puts him firmly in my thoughts where previously he was dismissed. I confess, quite a turnaround but accepting error is part of the game.
The rest make for a weaker Champion Chase but if Special Tiara lines up, I would be interested. Call me crazy but that last piece of form was useful and while it may be difficult to dominate this field, the price is pretty bug.
The Champion Bumper is a race in which it is tempting to concentrate on the Mullins forces and I must confess that I have done exactly that to date. Bellshill carries some early season 50/1 and 40/1 tickets although he has not looked particularly flash, he is well-bred and I have not given up and we may see the best of him on a stiff track with a guaranteed blistering pace. I did add Pylonthepressure after Mullins seemed to give some positive mentions to the horse. I think come Tuesday night, I might try to find a ‘none Mullins horse’, they win too you know and the set up of this festival might mean finding the best British bumper might give the value.
I haven’t thrown any pins at the Coral or Fred Winter yet.
Thursday at Cheltenham
Thursday looks the poorest day of racing in the week. Please take that in context clearly stated and intended. My main interest in the day is in the JLT.
Vautour is one of the bigger antepost positions I have taken but I must confess to being a little nervous around Ptit Zig in particular. There was little reason for the dip in form of Vautour last time but one and I was pleased to see him bound back. The quality opposition will keep the price honest and I think I will be in again. This horse will be crucial for the week I feel.
It is not a great Ryanair and my early intention would be to side with Ma Filleule. I have tickets on her for the Gold Cup which are obviously burned but it tells you that I rate her. She jumps fluidly, beautifully in fact and travels well. Her Ascot performance was OK and delivered at a time when Henderson was not cooking. Since I am not a Don Cossack fan, I can see this becoming a meaty investment.
The Pertemps is as it always is, wide open and full of skullduggery. One who has shown a hand is Edeymi whose last run in Scotland was a very revealing 4th, just enough to qualify for the main event and representing Tony Martin, it is a barely concealed likely improver. Call the Cops was very good (especially as I backed it heavily on the Sermon) last time and could be well treated still.
The World Hurdle looks a poor renewal but then again they all do with no obvious Big Bucks or Ingles Drever. Assuming Willie does not stun us with a defection of great magnitude in Annie Power, then I think the two Nicholls horses are the ones to focus on. If she were mine, I think I would put Annie in the World Hurdle. She almost won it last year against a fantastic opponent and that form is bulletproof. Anyway, I am minded towards Saphir de Rheu who looks progressive, although jockey bookings and the presence of Fehily may swing my mind.
Gold Cup Day
I can never quite enjoy Gold Cup day on account of mental and physical exhaustion. We go to war in Cheltenham week and not all of us will be there at the end.
Time for a little more gloating. I have a small investment on Beltor in the Triumph after quite fancying it in the sermon, 50/1 no less. I am not sure it achieved as much as Peace and Co but trying to corroborate those form lines is near impossible. I’ll leave my late commitments, well, late.
I said Vautour was one of my antepost lynch pins but while one of the more significant, the most significant goes to No More Heroes. I attended an early seasonal preview night and Gordon Elliott more than once expounded his enthusiasm for the horse. Beating Shaneshill further invested my position and even subsequent defeat, which at first deflated me, was excused when scoping dirty. A bit of rain might help but this is one I am only going to invest more in. Some of the rivals I was chiefly concerned with are in other races and frankly I am going to be, as the technical term goes, ‘balls deep’.
The big one is wide open. Conti is a worth favourite, after all the King George is probably the best warm up and most trustworthy form. Nicholls says he is finishing better this year and I would not put you off. I was on last year and was counting my money between the last two only for Silviniaco to fade unexpectantly. By that, I do not imply he was a proven stayer, just that he looked like he was going easily enough at the time and emptied suddenly.
There are some very interesting runners in the rest of the field and some juicy prices too. I personally am on Road to Riches, who has the progressive profile I like and won an Irish Hennessy very nicely indeed.
Whatever you back, I hope you have a tremendous festival.
Courage, roll the dice.