Good evening from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire where this morning broke like souls awakening, pale blue and pink skies welcomed a tremendous day, the sun basked us in glory, Prestbury Park like a great green emerald twinkled and, for many hours in my life, all was well with the world.
When people might ask why I love National Hunt racing, it would be impossible to do justice with a comprehensive reply covering the complexity of this lifetime sentence.
Yet, today, the events at Cheltenham, what happened, was about as close as I could muster to an accurate portrait. I feel I have been beaten up.
Everything. The sport offers absolutely everything. Power, pace, excitement, intrigue, momentum. Layer on layer the stories built and the emotions, within hours swung from sensational elation to heart breaking disappointment.
My day. We arrived to course early to take Guinness and soak up the atmosphere in our own time. This felt good, we were missing the main gate queues and able to relax and talk about our thoughts, perfectly civilised. I met up with a few twitter folk before we set to drinking. Champagne in the Arkle Bar set our tone for the day We were here to celebrate, we were looking for Mullins Tuesday. The ‘we’ consisted of my brother and an old friend.
We took the first race on the new viewing step lower on the course. It affords a good view and sports a vast bar underneath.
Douvan set the day alight, easing into contention and then coming clear. He looks very very good. Visually, you might have wanted him to power up the hill, sprinting away. However, I think the pace was only moderate and he did everything asked of him. More than the performance, the fact that one of the trickier legs of the multiple all of Britain and Ireland had taken, landed, well, there was a buzz.
Un de Sceaux then posted his powerful win as expected and Cheltenham was on tenterhooks. Could it happen?
We migrated to the Guinness Village for the handicap which we watched from there, soaking in the live music and enjoying the beer.
Then we did a strange thing. We watched the Champions Hurdle from the winners enclosure. I knew it was our only hope of getting prime seats to welcome the conquering champion return. I recorded this 18 second footage to share.
My, my, my it turned out to be an inspired decision as the place was soon alive welcoming back the Willie Mullins three. Hurricane placing in a Champion Hurdle again, Arctic Fire a deserved high profile place and Faugheen. Wow, I might have sacrificed the pleasure of viewing in the throng on the course but we gained a slice of history.
We were in the main stand for the Mares Hurdle and you know what happened well enough. I shall not bore you with a simple regurgitation. Suffice to say that, imagine 60,000 people’s disbelief as Annie, blazing away and loving life, stepped at the last and just couldn’t right herself. It was like slow motion. It was awful and complicated by her fall and bringing down another horse.
In the aftermath of this calamity, I received a number of tweets suggesting this was some sort of conspiracy. Please. If this is your view, I don’t think you are a regular here. Find yourself a new travelling partner for the road.
To compound the heartache, the screens were up and it took me a few minutes to realise they were not for Annie, who had got up and galloped up the finish. I realised this when I saw Ruby jogging up the chute to retrieve her. In the confusion I did not know who was down but she was in trouble, those screens remained and it looked like the worst. Then, with a resounding crescendo, up popped the horse, over the winding she had evidently received and jig jogged around, seemingly bruised but nothing too major. Somehow this was a good outlet for one and all, some steam was released.
However, in spite of this, I remained in a dazed state after the race, I was unsure what to make of it all. Put aside the mothership sized pot that had been all mine bar the counting. No, I was emotionally ruined, ‘wondered’. Like many other punters, I meandered about the course, looking for a home, lacking purpose, eyes meeting uncertainly with others whose expressions were blank, furrowed, furtive. None could describe what had just happened. Lost souls.
In such condition, we retired to the seats in the upper Centaur. Not normally a spot I would take in but it offered some sanctuary. The last two races slipped by and we made a fast exit for home. We wanted tea, blankets and for a fine restaurant to bring us curry.
This day will stay with me. Life, glorious, eventful and unpredictable played out on God’s own stage. I am emotionally ruined. I am exhausted. It is only day one.
Wednesday – Cheltenham Champion Chase Day Tips
I did not exactly score well on Tuesday on the tipping front. For new readers seeking advice for Wednesday, you might think it odd for me to advertise my own incompetence but, you see, I don’t need reassurance. This is not an annal to help you, no, it rather serves to assist me. Being an unhinged sort, an anchor and an outlet is a marvellous medicine. You are welcome to do as you please with my incoherent thoughts.
The Neptune – My own tickets were riding on Tell Us More who ran in the Supreme. Dare I suggest he looked like he needed further. I gaze into his future and see fences.
After clearing up on Tuesday, the Neptune looks like another race that could go to Team Mullins. Outlander has some of my late antepost money and Nichols Canyon shares favouritism.
The ground is riding fast enough and this minds me to side with Windsor Park at 5/1. He is a good flat bred sort and while he has been on the ends of beatings from the Mullins pair, I would hope he might improve for the ground and the step up to three miles which surely suit. Conditions prevail.
For me, the two biggest defections of the festival both involved the RSA. The late switch of Very Wood and Wounded Warrior being one and the rerouting of Coneygree to the Gold Cup.
The latter is a real surprise. It is possible to win a Gold Cup as a novice (see Long Run as exhibit one your honour) but there is a lot against you and whether it is in the long term interest of the horse, I do not know.
That said, the RSA looks tough, even with these changes. Kings Palace bullied some small fields but has an excellent record here and has done nothing wrong. He is a gorgeous jumper, ping ping ping and I am tempted to back him again.
If In Doubt was scratched from the Midlands National to take this assignment up but surely lacks something.
In the end, I am minded to have a significant investment in Don Poli. Clearly a Gold Cup horse of the future, this former Martin Pipe winner has really taken to fences and has gold plated formlines. What is more, he is a visually pleasing specimen and applies himself. 2/1, I hope someone pushes that out.
The Coral Cup is a handicap that often goes to the higher rated horses in the field. That said, I could not back top weight Volnay de Thaix with your own money and so I am really looking for one in that intermediate band.
three horses jump off the page which I have had some association with before. Goodwill Mirage could yet show he is better than we have seen. Hammersley Lake has let me down thrice but has been gutsy in defeat and then the selection.
Blackmail is a bit of guesswork as far as latent ability but I have an appetite for this runner purely on the trainers reputation. 18/1 Paddy Power.
The Champion Chase
This has become easy for me. I initially scrubbed Sprinter Sacre and Sire de Grugy from the possible winners of the race, knowing it is tough to come back in this two mile division.
The emerging pack looked week to me. Dodging Bullets is a 160ish sort, Champagne Fever looks a worthy Grade 1 runner but not necessarily a winner. It forced me into taking wilder and wilder options. I had tickets on God’s Own at one point, who by the way I was delighted to see chase Un de Sceaux home today.
Anyway, I said it became easy. This will be a big on the day play for the Major.
I make the case for Sire de Grugy. My main concern was well being. This is why I was feeling smugly vindicated when his flat performance on return saw him defeated by Mr Mole convincingly, going down when beaten. When connections confirmed another run at Chepstow, I scratched my head. Initially, and with hindsight, incorrectly, I thought they were desperate.
No, no, no. His Chepstow display against a small field, in the mud was everything you wanted to see. Sire de grungy has always been a horse that takes lots of racing well and there was no doubt that under a sobering weight, in tiring ground, that this was some performance. His jump two out was the moment where I was forced to face my own previous error.
See the value in not entrenching yourself in partisan views. I was wrong, I can correct it. I will be heavily invested. 7/2 is available.
Special Tiara might give backers some fun at 25/1 if racing with the enthusiasm shown last time.
The rest of the days racing.
The cross country is not a race I can offer much foresight in. A discipline in its’ own right. I always find backing the Enda Bolger runner is unsophisticated but not unwise and so, I shall troop in an orderly fashion to back Quantitativeeasing at 10/1.
The Fred Winter is a pit into which you can throw all your money if you please.
I will back Box Office for small stakes as he showed good form in France and has the smell of a Fred Winter plot about him. Jonjo surely won’t go a festival without a winner.
Then the Champion Bumper. The same comments to a large degree apply here as to the Fred Winter. These are not the races in which our war will be won or lost.
I have some fancy tickets on Bellshill and shall stick with him. He has been winning his bumpers with no flare whatsoever but has left me with the lasting impression that the ferocious pace of a Champion Bumper and a stiffer finish will see him in the best light.
Courage, roll the dice.