The third instalment of the Majors antepost Cheltenham 2014 series and we are concentrating on the three Grade 1 races on the World Hurdle card, for Thursday 13th March.
The highlight of the day is certain to be the intriguing clash between Big Bucks and Annie Power, two ends of a racing spectrum! Racing fans are salivating at this contest because of the polarisation of the profiles of the two runners. One bordering retirement, the other at the start of her seemingly illustrious career. Age, proven class and experience or the arrogance of youth. Ah, such a question.
It is at moments like this, a week before we know the answer that I wish we could freeze time, live in this perpetual state for a bit longer. I want the answer eventually, but I wish to savour this moment as long as I can. Draw in the air my friends and hold it cold in your chest, it is this moment in the anticipation that we can draw the most delight.
My NAP of the week runs in one of these races, for those that follow me on Twitter, you probably know where my mind runs, for the rest of you, be patient.
Right now, as I type, I have the solutions for all of the top class Cheltenham races. It is all there, I hope my calculations are right. I wish for it. Last year, I remember being stood watching Our Conor demolish his paltry Triumph opponents, laughing at them as he sauntered clear, with no earthly being able to catch him, I was not on. This year will be different. I plan on landing the mothership. As they say in the military though, there is many a slip between the crouch and the leap.
Three Grade Ones to cover and we start with the newest of them all, the JLT.
JLT Novices’ Chase
Formerly the Grade 2 Jewson, this year the two and a half mile novice chase has been upgraded to first class status under its new sponsor, JLT.
Being the newest Grade One, you might think that the novice line up might be one of the poorest and it is 11/2 the field, but I am more interested in the outcome of Felix Yonger v Oscar Whisky v Wonderful Charm v Taquin Du Seuil than I am in the RSA, see Wednesday Cheltenham Grade 1 Antepost. At least this is open and fun and intriguing.
Wonderful Charm looks a lovely sort, a great jumper, athletic mover and a horse I am interested in. He was held by Oscar Whisky at Cheltenhams December meeting and while he is a class animal, he only advertises the chances of the latter surely? Well maybe there is an argument for a turnaround in form, which would be the better ground. Maybe he could have gotten the better of Oscar Whisky if he had put it up sooner? He does look a fine athlete of a horse…
The key to Felix Yonger is the ground. He has been seen to lesser effect on heavy although his 7l second to Trifolium who looks top class was not a bad show at all anyway. He has excellent Cheltenham form from last year when he was runner up to Simonsig.
Taquin Du Seuil is a horse that the Major has a soft spot for. Regulars will have heard me crow of my meeting with Tony McCoy previously when, interrupting him at the after show party of the Sports Personality awards, he gave me Taquin to follow for the remainder of the 2012/2013 season. He won two and then flopped in the Neptune. There is a strong suspicion that he wants softer than good ground and this is a negative.
Oscar Whisky – This is going to be the last or one of the last chances for Oscar Whisky to reap some festival success. His defeat of Wonderful Charm and Taquin Du Seuil and wins on a variety of grounds put him well in the picture. I have the feeling he will not be a popular bet at his age.
Then there is Vukovar. Second to Mr Mole on UK debut, he powered to a bloodless win last time out. He is going to be ridden by Noel Fehily and that is a significant advantage. Yet, I would like to see more form in the book. Passed over with some reluctance.
To burn up some of the mist and clear the air. The Major has his red pen out and is drawing a reluctant line through Taquin (ground), Vukovar (inexperience) and Felix Yonger (losers even with valid reason are still losers kids).
That leaves me Wonderful Charm and Oscar Whisky. When it comes down to it, I really want to back Wonderful Charm but his layoff since December tips the balance to Oscar Whisky. I am mildly concerned that he might be exposed compared to Felix and Wonderful but he has the measure of the latter as well as owning Taquin (although Taquin beat him in a farce of a race earlier on in the season). 7/1 is freely available but Oscar Whisky is a horse I would predict not to shorten, in fact there might be a bit bigger available on the day as I expect the bets to come for his opponents.
I think I might be swimming against the tide.
It is a funny thing the Ryanair, a Grade 1 chase at the festival but one that seems to have a sour edge to it for many owners. In the build up to last year, when it was evident that Flemenstar was an ideal two and a half miler, his connections were determined to avoid the Ryanair, instead trying to compound their horse into a Champion Chase or to stretch to a Gold Cup.
You sense the same this year about the participation of Al Ferof. John Hales the owner seems a bit put out that his star horse is not competing in the Gold Cup and has signalled that next year, no messing about, that is where they are heading.
Why people think down on this race, I do not know. Well I guess I do. The Champion Chase is regarded as a champions race. The Gold Cup winner is national news. The Ryanair winner, is more a local victor and not as illustrious a glow shall halo his owners, not as many cameras flash in their faces. For us fans, it is hard to take, run your horse and win the Ryanair for gods sake! My father used to say to me when he bought a round and ordered a beer I would not have ordered myself that he who pays the piper calls the tune, C’est vrai.
This always means that any early bets on the Ryanair should be absolutely placed in NRNB markets because the race can fall apart easily enough as defectors become clear.
Fools. This is a class race of it’s own right and snobbery does not win you festival races!
Calm down Major…. We are looking for a horse rated in the mid 160s, that is what this takes, no slouch.
Al Ferof is the first of the four at the head of the market that I am happy to duck. He has the required guns and on decent ground, this trip looks ideal. However I think that his chances were given up somewhere in the home straight at Newbury last time out. That day was a mudbath and this horse finished his tough race but I think it might have taken a bit chunk from him.
Benefficient has beaten Avrika Liggieoniere this season but his headgear and style of running put me off slightly. That said, positive notes include the good ground which is likely as he is an unusual Irish horse in that he improves for more rattle.
Dynaste has finished second in a Jewson but we have not seen him since the King George. He is not a horse I would want to trust and Scudamore is going to need to coax him into this, could he be kidded into winning a Grade 1? The one piece of form you would say puts him down as the winner for this is his sandwich between Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti. That was once and the Major says once alone.
First Lieutenant finished a remote placed effort behind Last Instalment who is the leading Irish hope for the Gold Cup as things stand. I like him and he looks booked for a place but I just think that one of the three above will beat him.
The one I am liking the most is Benefficient. Drying ground, good form, a stable sensible enough to target the race for some time, not bottomed out by daft runs in the mud… Makes sense at 9/2 with Sportingbet* and 4/1 generally.
*If I ever point to a bookmaker it is because they offer the current best price. The Major promotes no bookmaker, has no affiliate deals. I am on your side my friends. We are kinsmen. Daub thy war paint and stand by my side, lancepoint sharpened and glinting in the light, we shall drive hard into their forward positions, skirmishing in open formation and crying Shabash!
To the World Hurdle.
Ladbrokes World Hurdle
Since I touted a NAP of the week on the Thursday preview, by now, you will have figured it is coming in the stayers hurdle, the World Hurdle. The race owned by Big Bucks in recent years and by Inglis Drever before.
Big Bucks, majestic, almost black, sleek, mercurial – What a star he has been. Some of the World Hurdles he has won have not been the best. Voler la Vedette for example, will perhaps be remembered more for her involvement in the extraordinary Betfair bot error at the close of 2011 that caused the loss of £23m as a layer continued to offer 20/1+ even as she crossed the line.
Still, you cannot argue with his medals, Big Bucks has the proven form. He also looks the sort to only do as much as is needed. That might have flattered some of his rivals and be the reason I have always taken a slight hesitancy to his strict form.
His reappearance run was acceptable in many ways, a close up third after so long off, of course that is fine. Yet examine the form closely and it falls apart a bit.
At Fishers Cross has been a shadow of himself this season. He has had back problems and it has shown in his jumping. I have an antepost position on him from the start of the season but as it has progressed, including his narrow second at Cheltenham last time, the belief has sunk in, my thinking become clear, he is not right, he needs a summer in the field, sun on his back, couple of hot mares checking him out… I love Rebecca Curtis and if she is reading, it is an open offer, let me know, but I think this horse with his injury only compounds my dim view of the form of the Cleeve Hurdle where Knockara Beau… let that sink in…. won. Seriously, do you want a World Hurdle horse that was beaten by Knockara Beua last time out. You see where my mind runs….
What a mare Annie Power is. Unbeaten, sauntering to victory against Zarkander and never raced over this distance. To be stepping up to it now, well, it is a tough finish on which to make your staying debut. I love this girl though. She looks the real business. While we are on the positives, she is going to receive 7lbs and 5 years from Big Bucks. Can you see where this is going… Slide down the facts with me my friends…
Sometimes our champions are hiding in plain sight. Mullins thinks (according to Walsh) that she might be a Gold Cup horse to come. The last was Dawn Run. The only horse to have completed a Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup double. To be even talking Gold Cup, you are thinking she is special.
It is interesting that she ended up in the World Hurdle. I have touted on twitter for some time my own view that the owner wanted to place her in the Champion Hurdle. That would mean that the apple of the trainers eye, The Fly, would have had in-house serious competition… Note how extremely promising hurdler Un de Sceaux is also not making an appearance. So it looks to me like Mullins got his own way. It might prove right too as she now gets the assistance of Ruby which surely she would not have had in the Champion as it would take a fully armoured division to separate Ruby from his mount there.
It might be a blessing. If she is a Gold Cup horse of the future, she wins. She is, she does.
ANNIE POWER 15/8 CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL NAP – Load both cannons with the heavy grape shot, tell Mark Carney that “Thank You but we need no more quantitative easing”……. Speak to your international money man, see what assets you can liquidate.
The time has come, bet like you mean it.
She is central to my Cheltenham mothership plans. Has been for some time. I have held not one regret during that time.
Courage……… roll the dice.