Good evening from the Major who writes from a slightly dank, close evening in Worcestershire where the grey light flattens the colours but cannot suppress the senses.
Here we are, Cheltenham. What a Tuesday we have in store too. Faugheen, The New One, Jezki and Hurricane Fly have been advertising their credentials through the winter months, whetting our appetite and now we are on the cusp. So many questions to be answered.
Wounded Warrior and Very Wood caused a bit of a stir with their targets, at best the yard noises were contradictory and changed at the last-minute, at worst, it showed no care for the punters who need guidance as to the horses proper targets. Not that I have a penny on nor that I cannot appreciate the give and take of antepost wagers and the inherent risk of entering that dark vortex of confusion.
Overnight, England beaten by Bangladesh and I was chuffed. For a start, I am not much of a nationalist, such feelings are falsely generated and cause more bad than good. I am a human first. Bangladesh fought like their Tiger mascots and you could see what it means for them, scenes tonight in Dhaka no doubt and England home early. It spared us an embarrassing quarter-final drubbing and frankly, we will probably only now beat Afghanistan because the pressure is off!
I have already posted outline thoughts for the week on my Cheltenham Preview post from Sunday. Now it is the time to settle how to play on Tuesday. The final judgements, last adjustments to the tack. Like our naval gunners, expert in dropping mortar fire, fine tune the calibration.
First and foremost, the Willie Mullins thing…
Willie Mullins Tuesday
Will he clean sweep? Will the Irish be dancing all the way back to Tipperary? Will a green haze settle over Prestbury Park and bookmakers cry into their Gibraltan satchels and cry ‘Why!’ at the heavens?
Well I will tackle the chances of his runners in a moment as I go across the card but I make a case for a multiple on Douvan, Un de Sceaux, Faugheen, Annie Power and even Perfect Gentleman.
Simply because you do not want to miss out. In years to come, such an event would become Cheltenham legend. Do you remember the year Willie had it away on Tuesday? It will enter the annals as did the Dickinson first five home in the Gold Cup. In such an eventuality, I would be a poor counsel to you if I had not suggested an interest.
Something you can hold and produce later, to celebrate with the masses and tell friends, family and children about in years to come.
When potential history can be made, it is a poor man not to hold a slice.
Overall – Cheltenham Tuesday Thoughts
Look, there are a lot of obvious candidates in the G1 races, with various levels of bulletproof appearance to me.
Come the end of the day, three scenarios seem plausible in my mind.
The Bookie Wipeout – The big hits go in and bookies are decrying a black day, possibly their worst ever.
The Good Ground Shocker – Wide eyed puzzlement as streams of unfancied horses getting their spring ground provide shock after shock and bookies require cranes to get the loot off course.
or some mixed bag which seems likeliest. The game then is to spot the weaknesses in our forward defences and play wild cards where necessary.
If you are on course, message me, I am drinking all day and aim to be literally blind by tea time so share one with me. For attendees, I have two pieces of advice.
Could history call for Hurricane Fly? If over the last, Hurricane is winning, do what I am going to do, sprint to the winners enclosure because I cannot think of a horse that would be due a warmer (by warm read ‘end of days’) reception that will make grown men cry.
Second piece of advice. Nicky Hendersons best chance tomorrow is L’Ami Serge. Nicky always stands on exactly the same spot to watch the races and if you are in Club, you can join his entourage. He walks from the parade ring, through the underpass past the Arkle Bar and stands right there, on the first drain cover you come to. I watched Long Run disappoint in his first Cheltenham appearance there and you could tell it was not what the camp expected, went into the book for next year when he returned for the Gold Cup!
All that nonsense about the Supreme and the ‘roar as the tapes go up’. I went to the olympics and can say hands down that the Cheltenham atmosphere at the start is moderate. It matters not. The crowd will gasp at the fallers, holler at the close finishes and celebrate wildly the punter friendly winners all week, you won’t feel cheated.
There will be offers at bookmakers try to get Douvan in the morning. The Supreme is always the race with the finest offers. Bookies know that you will spend money this week and they don’t mind attracting your loyalty at cost early on. You have to learn to play this game and apply a discipline to the approach.
One of the things swaying me at this stage is the ground. In the field, there have been 17 runs on ground with the word good in it, 8 of those were winning runs. One contender has an unbeaten record on this ground, from three runs, Jollyallan and at 10/1 I think it makes an excellent each way prospect.
One thing that is useful in the Supreme is a prominent racer. All of the market leaders have been up with the paces generally in their races but on the New Course at Cheltenham, the shorter run in, despite being up a hill, suits someone prominent. I think this is especially important in the Supreme as the alternate is to ask inexperienced horses to pick up it’s rivals.
In putting up Jollyallan. I do not want you to think that I think Douvan is poor. The stable noises are very strong, I have money riding on him myself. Plus, I have already suggested you have him in a ‘rout’ scenario accumulator. I am merely suggesting Jollyallan as the pick at the prices.
Just as your blood pressure returns to a non-lethal level, along comes the original firecracker, Un de Sceaux.
I was so disappointed they didn’t bring him as a hurdler last year, instead routing him to France. It may have cost him some valuable course experience.
I haven’t the lexicon to do Un de Sceaux justice. He is power packed, like a middleweight finely tuned, he moves with speed, unleashes power and does both with such an insatiable urgency. Jockeys have tried to restrain him but his attitude is, ‘sod that, let’s race’.
Will that exuberance be the better of him? Well it has to be a slight concern. This is Cheltenham, there are undulations the whole way and he needs to be correctly paced, which requires an element of slight control. Of all men, on the planet, there is not one I would trust more with the task than Ruby Walsh.
The fences. God the fences. He attacks them with such reckless abandon. That makes him an enemy unto himself. As his supporters we are thus to be hostages to this fortune. Yet in his most recent race, he got in tight to two and had the raw athleticism to set himself right.
Three ways to get beat. The fences, ill-judged pace or out-stayed.
The first is a risk but one I can live with. The second is less likely with the greatest jumps jockey alive aboard. The third, well I don’t know but my gut says no.
Un de Sceaux leaves something when I watch him race. An impression that Plato would credit to his Theory of Forms, he is close to perfection. Denman did the same, something raw and perfect.
It is fair to say come 4/9 or 1/3. I, my friend am an Un de Sceaux man.
2.40 Handicap Chase
In all honesty, there is so much action of the top order going on, I am going to keep my interest in the handicaps to a minimum.
I know that might sound like I’m ducking the issue and I shall give you my tip for this but I would rather have a small interest here and relax a little during the race! We will need the energy for what is to come.
Two appeal and I am going for the wildcard option.
The horse that I would have a saver on is Gevrey Chambertin who has been a bit disappointing but returned with a flourish at Christmas. If he is ticking he is a threat to all at a generous 14/1.
My bet though, modest as it will be, is What a Warrior. The Skelton team have been excellent all season and they thought enough of this horse to put him the Hennessy. Three things went wrong. He was not good enough, the ground was deeper than ideal and he burned along like it were a two mile lick around Taunton. He is a handicapper not Pegasus.
Yet, given a break to get over that exertion and returned to better ground, he might raise his game once more. At 33/1, I can afford to pay little and find out for fun.
Champion Hurdle Tip
I wrote my preview to avoid having to expand on each and every race and my view here is unchanged. I am tipping The New One at 4/1 and drifting.
You know the tale by now, he was unlucky last year. He is the apple of his trainers eye. He is less fashionable and has a lesser but capable young jockey.
I must have a go at Faugheen. Yes, like Douvan, he has not put a foot wrong but this is the Champion Hurdle. The New One has seen it, Faugheen has not and that gives me an angle, not a gaping one I could thrust a donkey-choking wedge into, but an angle no less.
I have Faugheen in my Mullins Tuesday bonanza. I am happy to back my gut.
Vaughn advocates, I say this. There is many a slip between the crouch and the leap.
The Mares Hurdle
Quevega. What a horse. I am glad Cheltenham have a bar named after her in their redevelopment. I shall toast her health in it.
Some derided the Mares Hurdle and mocked it’s upgrade to G1 status. Not, I.
Previous anger with Quevega was that we were not seeing her against the boys in the Champion or sometimes the World Hurdle. She was that good. Remember how this would be her seasonal debut! Crazy. Remember the year, Ruby almost got her beat but she bailed him out with one of the braces performances up that hill, weaving through when others had long cried enough to win by a mere length to the delirious cheers of her fans. Remarkable.
All that history. Washing around. Here from the mists comes Annie Power.
I backer her last year for the World Hurdle. I loved her. Remember her beating Zarkander. If he wins the World Hurdle, it will tell you everything of her chance that has been passed up.
She came clear last year and just was out-stayed by the magnificent More of That who looked set to dominate the staying division until throwing his own complications into the calculation.
Why then, have they not gone back to the World Hurdle? The official line has been that she might not be ready for that. I am sure when they say it they mean it. However, I think a touch of sentimentality is in the air. You cannot win a race six times, retire the star and not want to give it your best shot the next year.
Is she fit though? I am almost certain she is. The moment my mind was made up was after Morning Run won her last race in Ireland. That made her a genuine contender for the Mares Hurdle but Willie immediately ruled it out, saying he had a race in mind at Punchestown. Why thought I, why?
They want to win this. She is 20lbs clear. She will be ready. I was hovering up the odds against two weeks ago and if anyone pushes this one out, jump in. Get on anyway at the 8/13. We all need a winner.
National Hunt Chase
My goodness. I cannot believe that Very Wood lines up here after all indications were for the RSA. Not the best form I felt, I am sure there are some of you reading, stung by this late seeming change of plans, unannounced too.
Thank god Don Poli goes to the RSA though. I needed that for my general antepost position.
Anyway…. Theatre Queen is beautifully bred and if consenting to race might be far better than the prices suggest. She is risky though, damn risky.
Jonjo has a good record in the race but I am telling you this with no reason as he has no runner. You won’t get the time back it took you to read this,
No, the Major has wrestled with it all. Very Wood looks back to form and maybe it is because I am a little soured by the management of the placing but I will try to get it beat.
The one I am going lightly on is Thunder and Roses at a 25/1 price. Thing is, there are a lot of questions but also some talent and something in the back of my mind says Sandra Hughes might have a very heart warming win. I said that Hurricane Fly might be the result of the festival in terms of atmosphere. For a different reason, this could rival it.
5.15pm – Novice Handicap Chase
If come 5.10pm on Tuesday, you find your war chest diminished. Do not stride, chest puffed out to your nearest bookie with your confidence matched in hard currency on this snake pit.
A swirling dark mess within a puzzle, blindfolded and desperate, thrashing around. It is tempting to come through lashing out like a great wounded animal, rage without logic. Relax, step back. It is only day one.
I was at Robin Dickens yard two weeks ago. Great place, generous hospitality, the loveliest people and I got this picture taken with the stable star, Thomas Crapper. I am round-faced and pasty to the right. @frankelslowbro and his far better half Andrea (bakes like Nigella and carries the same saucy smile) to the left. Accompanying me, my second born (Matthew, will break APs seasonal record 15 years from now) and Kelly – All curt of lip, sensible and discipline; just the sort the Major needs about him.
I did my polite best to extract the goods from the Master and Robin obliged me with some very interesting facets. I could not budge him on Thomas Crapper though. At the time he had Garralhish in the same race. Obviously they didn’t want to race both in the same contest but could not hint much at plans. Hence, I do not have some fancy ticket to ride on this.
He did have a slight glint in his eye when I questioned him about the last run, suggesting the 3lb drop in the handicap was a welcome respite. Clearly there has been money.
By the way, he did give me an interesting runner or two. If you are a regular and I am likely to recognise your handle on twitter, drop me a DM. Only the discrete may apply.
As it is, my pin landed on Killala Quay. Better ground will suit and he must be pretty well weighted on a placed run in a decent Neptune. Plus Noel Fehily. I said Ruby was the one man I’d trust, Noel is close, so close I’d hate to live off the difference.
Shabash! That mothership. Those dice…. the damn dice.
Nothing left. Retire from the field of battle at your discretion. Dine as appropriate – I am booked into Cheltenham’s finest Indian restaurant. I love the Indian nation in general, their food being one pillar of that love. See, even I can be nationalist and hypocritical. I don’t care. I don’t need you as friends.
Courage friends, roll the dice.