Daily Archives: March 17, 2016

The 2016 Gold Cup Sermon – Shabash!

Good Evening from the Major who writes from the clearest Worcestershire evening – Cloudless skies of such certainty.  Didn’t we do well today!

All of the layers will be nursing wounds and us merry band of warriors, well, we all had steak tonight.  For if you did not make money at Cheltenham on this, the finest of Paddy’s Days, then there is no hope.

Black Hercules went in for the blog at a tasty 6/1, returned 4/1.  Headed in the straight, a little like Un de Sceaux, Ruby did not react, this time he had the horse.  He was crossed heavily by L’ami Serge but being the sort of composed genius that has been to the fun fair before, he calmly switched outside again, got Black Hercules straightened up and fired home… Shabash!

My main picks in the Pertemps ran with real credit, Arpege D’Alene looked like the winner twice in the straight but as this trappy events will, it unfurled in a slightly different way, still, 16/1 the place, it will do.

The Ryanair went as advertised too to Vautour and the rueful Rich Ricci could only contemplate what might have been.  Bitter sweetness, drink your drink Mr Ricci.

Thistlecrack was immense.  One of the performances of the week, in a week which has seen many striking horses.  Alpha Des Obeaux looked a momentary threat after Cole Harden relinquished the pace making duties and well, the rest is for the record.  It will be interesting if they see him as a chaser next year because that did not look a bad World Hurdle.  It might be argued that Cole Harden ran to a similar standard as his winning run last year.

As a marvellous footnote, in a week in which the redemptive training performance of Nicky Henderson has been well advertised.  He managed a highly impressive feat when nursing Bobs Worth back to place in a Cheltenham

My 14/1 shot Kings Palace placed and my 12/1 shot, Fingal Bay was pulled up but I was personally kicking myself as I knew that Empire of Dirt had a had a race in him someday.  I am a sucker for the song too.

Limini.  I know some of you out there dislike this sort of thing, consider it uncompetitive and bad for racing but you and I depart on this point.  I love to see an imperious winner, one so confident that that they do not think they are best, they know it.  Shabash!  The bookies were buried.

Doctor Harper would have had the money delivered in lorry loads rather than barrowloads but we cannot all have it our own way.

Friday.  I shall keep things sensible.  I think.  What the hell.  It is never enough is it.

Gold Cup Day Tips – Cheltenham

The Triumph.  Of all the novice races at Cheltenham, the juvenile ones are perhaps my most financially baron.

For what it is worth, on breeding and on performances, many of the runners in this year’s Triumph seem to be proper national hunt prospects, perhaps this will not be their day.  On spring ground, over this trip, I am not sure that it is the profile of winner I am seeking.

Ivanovich Gorbatov is my pick and I know it will split opinion.  Yes, he has more reputation than proven form and he was put in his place last time out.  Yet, he has a flat breeding and may well perform better for a return to a good surface.  9/2, for the sort of stake my modest record suggests.  I’d like it for Joseph O’Brien to get a winner – Would add a twist.

The County Hurdle is always a bit of a ‘drop a pin’ job for me too.  You cannot go wrong with a 5/6 year old from the Mullins or Nicholls yards and my chosen weapon is Modus who placed in a Champion Hurdle last year.  While Moon Racer has had issues and we wait to Aintree to judge the value of the winner, Modus did have Bellshill, Supersundae and Yanworth all in behind so cannot be that bad!  14/1 will do.

The Albert Bartlett has memories for me from last year when No More Heroes was staying on to glory but things just did not work out.

This year, I have held my reservations over Barters Hill for some time and so have been looking forward to finding an alternative in the race.  My selection is the unfashionable (surprising given connections) Long Dog at 8/1.  I will grant you that it has not been winning with the same panache that some of the other Mullins aeroplanes have managed but some horses do not.  Some do just enough, more of that thought in a bit.  His battling style to me, suggests he will enjoy the step up in trip.

Then it is Gold Cup time.  This was almost the Gold Cup of a generation.  Had Vautour and Coneygree made it then I might have called it as such.  Still, it is a superb field and I envy those there to see it.

We need class.  We need staying credentials.  We want a good jockey and we probably want a good ground horse.

This last factor is where I expected to depart from my chosen horse.  I expected, in anticipation of writing up this years Gold Cup sermon, that I would be saying that the style of running and record on soft ruled him out.

Instead, the conditions reinforce my view.  I shall get there, bear with me.

Djakadam had a heavy fall latest but in a way, it might have saved his Gold Cup chance.  He was only going to get in an almighty scrap with Smad Place and he may well have left his chances on the hill last time.  Watching the rueful response of Ricci; one has to wonder whether that will be hammered home.  They know Vautour is a better horse, even if unproven as a stayer.  I just feel the team won’t be fully geared up for victory and I am unsure of the horses chances on this good ground.

Cue Card is the hardest horse for me to rule out.  I am battling the fact that I have never been attracted to him; I know it is a harsh judgement.  He has been resurgent this year and stands to win a cool £1m for connections following his earlier season exploits.  He has the experience and while I often think of him as a good ground sort, the reality is that he is pretty versatile and truthfully, is more effective on softer surfaces.  I fear him.

Don Cossack is leggy and possibly unlucky not to have a King George on his CV.  Bryan Cooper who is a well-balanced jockey is well suited to him.  I would not put anyone off.  It has to be a concern that he has fallen twice this year, in a Gold Cup that might be relentless, I’d be worried.  Particularly that fence as they turn at the top of the hill, second time round, that has had a few.

Smad Place has been a revelation this year, leading with exuberance in his races and seemingly transformed by a wind operation.  My goodness.  He is another who in my mind is better on good but the stats do not necessarily back it up.  He also has a bad record at Cheltenham winning here once but losing on all six previous visits to the festival, though he did place in a number, four to be exact.

The ground will play a part.  Smad Place will bowl along and Cue Card will be handy.  This is a Gold Cup though, none is going to let them slip anchor easily.

To mine. Don Poli.

He races like he needs a bog to run in but he actually has performed well on the top of the ground too.  I had made up my mind to back Don Poi right after last years RSA.  To be fair I also made up my mind to back Vautour after the JLT too!    Thing is, the year previous, I remembered Don Poli in the Martin Pipe too.

Don Poli has a touch of Big Buckitis of Ingles Drever Syndrome, if you will.  He does often hit a lazy spot and requires a wakener or two.  In the same way I think Cossack is suited by the soft, well-balanced approach of a Cooper, I suggest to you, that Iron Lung Russell is a perfect partner for Don Poli.  He will stay, he will respond to encouragement and when your lily livered sorts cry ENOUGH! up that, oh so famous, hill, my boy will roll on relentlessly.  Roll on like the river, eternal.

The Foxhunters will be dominated by the story of Vicky Pendleton and fair play to her.  Again, I know there is some difference of opinion here but, I admire her commitment to getting race ready in a year and wish her luck.  Of course, she has had advantages, but she is one of our finest Olympians, she deserves advantages.  She has bought a splash of the sparkle and it is not her fault.  Good luck to her.

Pacha du Polder is no mug either, he gives her a chance of getting around.

However, in spite of this seasons form, I have to recall last years Foxhunters.  On The Fringe, is not a hunter chaser.  He is capable of a lot more and I believe will prove to be one of the bets of the week.  I suggest a sturdy investment.

The Martin Pipe.  Good God.  My pick (Lord help me) is Qualando who is the only runner to have won on course and is ground proven.  Nicholls saddles up and the jockey is good (best strike rate in the field) which is important in a conditional jockeys event.

The Grand Annual.  The great close.

I have to back Next Sensation.  I have patted his neck in the yard.  I can personally say that Maz Scudamore is a fine person, from my short yard visit.  Do what you want.  I have mine.

I hope your festival has been spectacular.  Mine already has.

Courage, roll the dice.

The World Hurdle Sermon 2016

Good morning from a hazy Worcestershire that, like my mind has lost identity.  Sharp breeze, good soft light and a tingle of cold.

Brutal and Glorious, that was the 2016 Champion Chase day.  My goodness.  I know, I was there.

Thankfully, I am at home today and watching tucked up with the fire on and blanket wrapped round.  I am spent.  Not from the debauched excess but from the sheer drama of it all.

From a financial perspective, yesterday was awfully painful.  Seconds in the Neptune, Champion Chase and Cross Country; a fifth in the bumper and the Coral Cup (when I backed it on the 4th places tote!) and a third in the RSA does not tell the full tale.

My 14/1 Voix de Reve fell when about to win the Fred Winter and then a last-minute punt on Battleford at 45 on the tote, bought a nose finish, not in my favour.  Moral victories do not pay for steak dinners.

That yesterday might be reduced to a financial perspective is in itself a disservice to the wondrous sport we are all a part of.

Two moments.

No More Heroes – You all know he was one of my favourites.  What a brave warrior to complete his race after suffering such an injury, he would have been my Gold Cup horse but sadly he lost his fight against the injury.  This, after, news broke that he might be OK, just retired.  I think of him with a heavy heart, it is an awful price we pay in National Hunt.

Then if you need the full spectrum of Cheltenham drama, I am not sure Sprinter Sacre will be easy to top.  I muscled down to the front to watch the Champion Chase and witnessed a spectacle that shall stay with me, as these things will.

For context.  I have long espoused the view that Sprinter Sacre was done with.  that even his form back this year was dubious and that 2m chasers do not get back to their former brilliance after injury.  It is such a brutal division, always some young pup willing to go like a tear-away.  Old hands move to the Ryanair, more peaceful waters.

We had the young pup too.  Un de Sceaux had all the credentials and when some firms went to evens in the morning, I was ploughing in as hard as they would allow.

I always think the crowd ‘roar’ at the start of the Supreme is a bit embarrassingly overplayed by Cheltenham commentators.  I was at the Olympics, now that was an atmosphere.

This week though, I would say that the crowd raised hairs on my arm as Annie redeemed herself at the final hurdle, Ruby punching the air after the line, my goodness, we all felt it, didn’t we.

Even that though does not bear a candle to the feeling around Cheltenham as Sprinter joined Un de Sceaux down the inside and went on at the bottom of the hill.  Ruby did not budge a muscle and even then I was still immersed in my errors.  I thought Ruby might let Sprinter go on, that Un de Sceaux might want a hare in the straight, I took confidence from his inaction.

The aeroplane took two out a little scruffy but soon after, it was clear he was asserting.  He powered up the hill like an enthusiastic 5 year old and the crowd were in clover.  There is something incredibly British about loving an underdog.  A redeemed character.  I have to accept my own role in this too.  I played the part of the non-believer.  I was Sham’s owners still telling the world that Secretariat would not last the distance in a Belmont.

I must confess to not being as moved as others.  I hear your thoughts.  Major – How can you not be moved by that.  Well, call it sanguine but I guess I kept my role to the end but I do so with dignity.  To the supporters, backers, owners, training team, work riders, to Nico, to the fans, to the believers.  You were right, I was wrong – My goodness, shabash, bravo! It was theatre, it was wonderful and I am your humble naysayer, reduced to accepting that class is permanent.  I wish I had been on the right side of that argument.

To Thursday.

World Hurdle Day Tips

In the JLT, I am going to back Black Hercules who could have been a runner in the National Hunt on Tuesday.  The JLT has gone to Ireland more often than not in recent years. Mullins is having his customary great week and I am keen to get away from the Garde la Victoire and Bristol du Mai form.  6/1.  I think that price reflects the fact that folk see him as a stayer, keeps the price honest.

Never be afraid to go for a bit of experience in the Pertemps Final.  That and have a good British trainer in your corner.  That is my advice.  I am struggling to find one that exactly makes the profile and so have settled on a compromise, I am having two.

I would prefer the selection to have a bit more experience but have plumped for Arpege D’Alene for Paul Nicholls.  16/1 and drifting in a few places but I don’t care! The horse has won a couple of times in larger fields and I think there is a lot more to come from this one.  Ditched used to be the masters of the wind operation and I want this one onside after winning a handicap to qualify for this following an op… mmmm.

My second pick needs more imagination but bear with me.  Dubawi Island can be backed at 66/1 but I think is a bit dismissive in such an open race.  Being out of Dubawi, this Venetia Williams horse will thrive on better spring ground and if If In Doubt is about to go off in single figures and Venetia’s chased it home on unsuitably soft ground last time, well.  Have a slice and thank me later.

What carnage, the Ryanair routing decision for Ricci et al.  An apology was due and was made and personally, I am happy to move along accepting it for what it is.  In the end, us National Hunt punters have to be careful what we wish for because if we crucify all connections who are as open as Rich Ricci, we will end up with silent yards.

Vautour 90% fit?  I am not convinced that this was not just a line.  I am sure Ruby wanted Vautour in the Ryanair to give him top class ride in both this and the Gold Cup.  I wonder if the fitness angle is more just a line.

That is my thinking and so, evens.  Get stuck in, it could look like the greatest gift come 3pm.

The World Hurdle looks interesting.  I have not forgotten the impression that Cole Harden made last year,  He was imperious off the front and Thistlecrack has his work cut out.  That said, the latter was superb on trials day.

It is a damn hard decision.  Thistlecrack arrives in certain form and Cole Harden has to show he can bounce back.  the market more than prices that in.  Alpha Des Obeaux might be a bit under-rated and Saphir du Rheu is drifting to 12s, a price at which he starts to look tempting again.

In the end, I am playing Cole Harden at 7/1.  If he bounces back, Thistlecrack has a fight on!

If you get to the Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate with your funds depleted, you should retire from the field of battle and prepare for a final assault with whatever resources you can muster on the final day.

I want two on side.  Kings Palace (12/1) and Fingal Bay (10/1).

The case for both is clear.  They both love better ground, Kings Palace has a good Cheltenham record (as does Fingal Bay).  I am not usually a Pipe fan but he has won 3 of the last 6 renewals of this handicap and it is usually a very open affair.  I think  we can assume he sees it as a Cheltenham target each year.  I am also always minded to remember how highly Fingal Bay was held by Phillip Hobbs, I would not rule out another festival win for this horse.

If Limini does not win the Mares Novice then I am not going to and any motherships this Cheltenham.  She looks another of the Mullins lot that has been entirely untested in her wins and is held in top regard.  5/6 is still about, I imagine she will be much shorter at the off.

Finally the Kim Muir.  I need to get off to my bacon so I shall play Doctor Harper at 6/1.  Another Pipe horse!  Thing is, Pipe has won this a couple of times too and this horse had multiple entries this week.  A handicap chase debutante that I am sure is well in!

Courage, roll the dice.