2014 Tuesday Cheltenham Antepost Grade 1s

The first two days of the festival are run on the Old Course, for the latter two days of action, the racing switches to the New Course, what difference you cry?  The Old Course turns into the home straight noticeably closer to the finish line and so the first two days the festival favours front runners, particularly on decent ground.

All of the Tuesday advice was provided on 4th March.

Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Grade 1 Cl1 2m110y

The festival tapes go up on the Supreme to a hearty roar and it is an emotional surge for all National Hunt fans.  It epitomises the anticipation, the heritage and the sheer excitement of the moment and is a crossing point, the fun has begun.  Right at that moment, that release from the people around you, there is a realisation, we are alive and all is well.  At that moment, all of our dreams for the week, all of our speculation, some of which you will read on this page, layer upon layer of them, thousands, millions of thoughts, all remain untested, all remain clean and pure, within minutes the first will be sullied.  It is wonderful and I pity those who will not experience it.

The Supreme, let us begin, my note previous to selecting a front-runner in this race really applies, I like prominent racers in the Supreme and last years winner, Champagne Fever was a perfect example of this with My Tent or Yours struggling to peg back the winner in the shorter climb to home.  That said, MTOY did get upsides the winner at one point, only for Ruby to get his mount back up at the line, what a race!

This year, the Supreme looks like boiling up into a nice battle between Nicholls and Mullins as Irving and Vautour go head to head.

Vautour is a prominent racer and his last race took his form to a new level, defeating very useful yardstick The Tullow Tank.  He had to battle for victory in his previous race at Punchestown and a strict reading of that form is not exciting, yet I am happy to chalk it up as inexperience.  He seems pretty ground versatile too.

Irving was very striking at Kempton latest and I was very impressed with how he reached for the last and could have given his followers some consternation on the landing side of the flight but his sheer athleticism allowed him to correct himself neatly and he powered on home to be an impressive winner.

I see this as a race between these two at the head of the market and I favour Vautour – Why not Irving?  Well I am not against him per se, he has shown an excellent level of form and has been eye catching.  Yet, I cannot help but feel that he has the look of a flat track bully about him, while Ascot can be testing, I wonder if the more searching test of Cheltenham might find him out a bit.  There is also something to be said in my decision making for the value of the pilot.  In rating selection criteria, jockey is right up there for me and in Ruby we have the best.  7/2 (888Sport) or 3/1 generally.

Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase Grade 1 Cl1 2m

In the last 15 years, there has been one double priced winner of the Arkle and that was 1999 and Flagship Ubaralles.  The last two years have seen Henderson hotpots go in at odds on prices.  Those two are the absent stars of the Henderson yard from Cheltenham this year, Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig.

Five year olds have had a reasonable record in the race but 6 years ago, they lost a handy allowance and since that point, we have not had a winner.  There are only two entries in this field of that age and Vukovar and Djakadam may have other targets.

Champagne Fever is favourite – His latest third included a thumping error and I am not put off by that.  He is last years Supreme winner and that course form, even over the smaller obstacles is of value.  I am strangely unsure though, I do not quite trust the horse and think this is an excellent race in which to get at the market leader.

While 5 year old winners of the Arkle are unusual, 9 year old winners are unheard of.  Rock on Ruby is an rather exceptional entry, he has won and been placed in a Champion Hurdle and is a later recruit for chasing.

7/8 years ago, Alan King had subsequent winners with Voy por Ustedes and My Way de Solzen.  He has an interesting runner this year too in Valdez who gets the Majors nod at an each way 9/1.  This horse has improved from run to run this year, last time taking a five runner Grade 2.  His previous win at Exeter looked mighty impressive too.  He has been a long term target for this race and given that he was impeded by the heavy conditions at Doncaster, I really think he might improve again (as is required) to get involved.

What I really like about this horse is that he has been doing his winning at times (and there have been a few) this season when the Barbury Castle team have been in the doldrums.  For example, his win last time out was the first for the yard in 2014 but came on 25th January.  He has been put away for this ever since.

I would back another at a price and that is the Mullins second string, Felix Younger.  He can be backed at a massive 16/1 and is a different ground on good to soft.  On his surface, I think he may have the beating of Trifolium, met twice and one apiece.  I would not put you off a small saver here at all, in fact I heartily recommend it.  NRNB bet is advised as @lukeelder13 advises he might be JLT bound…

The Champion Hurdle

The key race of Tuesday and possibly the race of the festival – That is the Majors view, what an absolute stellar line up.   The Champion Hurdle is normally my favourite race and in 2014, it promises to be an absolute cracker.

It is a shame that we are unlikely to see Un de Sceaux and Annie Power.  Those absentees are likely because of the presence of Hurricane Fly.  The record breaking bearer of the crown gets a pop at a third Champion Hurdle at the age of ten.  It would cement his legend and you feel the yard do not want to shoot themselves in the foot by giving him more improvers to beat!

What of his chances?  He is completely ground versatile and has a superb turn of foot.  I think the Fly is best off a slow pace, ridden prominently and able to use that pace up the hill.  He is not getting younger and conversely, if there is a strong pace, that will form the negative side of the ledger.  I am against the Fly – Before his army of devout followers descend on me, I wish to add that there would be no other winner in the week that would cause the roof to be lifted from the stands.

Yet, last year, the Fly won at the age of nine, that is quite an age for a Champion Hurdler.  Rooster Booster managed it back in the day but that is it for the modern era.  Now the Fly is trying to do it at the ripe of age of ten, I wish it, but I do not believe it.

The opposition is legion.  My Tent or Yours beat The New One and both look serious players.  I think that piece of form can be upheld in the Champion Hurdle and that puts me off The New One.   To be honest, he keeps shortening and I keep feeling more and more put off, it pleases me to see him shorten because if we are going to get the first two beaten, then we are getting into the value.

My Tent or Yours was a definite player in my eyes.  However, I won’t bore you with extolling his virtues because I am put off by his set back.  He has, according to the trainer, completed his work ahead of the setback and so fitness is not an issue but I think it unwise to be on a horse who has had to have his shoe removed with a very tender foot beneath.

The weather forecast looks likely to give us good to soft and might have Simon Claisse reaching for the sprinklers.  This is bad news for Melodic Rendezvous would may have entered calculations only if his beloved mud had been in abundance.

I have never been a fan of Jezki.

As Holmes said, rule out the impossible and what remains, no matter how unlikely, is the truth.  With this logic in my mind, it is with a degree of unsettled feeling that I recommend Our Conor at 4/1.  Most of my antepost position is invested in Our Conor and I offer this information to allow you to judge to what level there is some ‘confirmation bias’ for me in sticking with him.

I remain very moved by the way he won the Triumph.  The last time a horse made my jaw drop like that was Frankel in his Queen Anne, prior to that, Frankel in his Royal Lodge and prior to that, Denman, winning the Challow Hurdle the year it was rerouted to Cheltenham.

My point is that Our Conors win in the Triumph was jaw droppingly good.  He oozed class and was at ease on the course.  He looked a champion.  He has won on bad ground but I think is much better on good ground.

I think another tick is that his trainer is highly capable of readying his lot for the big races.  This assuaged my fears that he has been defeated by the Fly twice this season.  Both of those were in small fields anyway and off slow pace.

The last point is the significant risk for Our Conor.  He is not going to benefit from this being a crawl.  Who will set the pace?  I seriously would have been tempted to play a pace maker and I genuinely worry that noone is going to want a searching pace.  Our Conor needs it and it could be the undoing of my grand plan.  My hope is that McCoy has commented that Jezki might press on to aid his own chance but also that of My Tent or Yours.

I hope your opening Cheltenham day is excellent.  If you read the main blog posts, I will have a full run through the cards including these races again on Monday night.

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