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.
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.
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.