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The Major’s Ultimate Cheltenham Festival Guide 2011

The Racecourse from Cleeve Hill

Just before I wrote this post tonight, I passed the course, it was a buzz of tiny people seeing to the detail, lights on, christ it whets the appetite

The Major has attempted to give you lucky people visiting Cheltenham this week a guide as to what you can expect, if you have not been before and a few of the Major’s favourite bits for those seasoned campaigners.  There is also the Major’s banker for the week which goes in the Champion Hurdle.

Like all bitten by the Prestbury Park bug, I have many fond memories of the festival.  I backed Kauto the year Denman won, convinced that the bully would not upset the master, that was pretty special being proven wrong.  Watching Big Bucks destroy the field in 2010 still on the bridle at the last, almost mocking the field, that was good.  Ingles Drever winning his third world hurdle crown, like Big Bucks having to come off the bridle half way around before showing us all what a champion he was, well that was probably the finest moment….  then again Masterminded’s first Champion Chase was special too, leaping like a stag clearing the imposing Cheltenham obstacles like a stage in the fastest chase race there is.  I hope that 2011 brings us all a few more breath-taking memories.  They stay with you.

Around the Course

Cheltenham racecourse is huge, particularly the extended bit when you get to festival week.  Let’s start with the enclosures

The Different Enclosures

Best Mate is not in the main section of the site.  It is wedged on the opposite side of the finishing line and is the cheapest enclosure.  In my experience, bar access is good, the atmosphere is just as exciting and the view of the grandstand adds something to the experience.  However, you lose access to the parade ring and winner’s enclosure as well as a host of other bonuses of being in the main area.

Tattersall’s tickets are over in the main part of the course.   Club gives you access to a few extra areas but in my experience during the festival there is very little benefit to a club ticket.  Members get a few extra exclusive areas too.

The Guinness Village

This is on the main site, so no use if you are a Best Mate ticket holder.  There is a live band, a pretty big outdoor Guinness bar and a cracking atmosphere – You should definitely head down here!  The village is lined by bars and plenty of people having a fine time.

The Arkle Bar

Without doubt my favourite Cheltenham spot is the Arkle bar.  The bar is adorned with old news coverage of ‘himself’.  The crowd in there is young and country, its good fun.

As an experience, take a race with a Henderson runner, go into the Arkle bar and order up either a Guinness or have a whisky and stones ginger wine.  Head outside 5 minutes before the off and stand by the first drainage cover you come across.   This is where you will find Nicky Henderson; he watches all of his runners from this exact spot, always worth a visit.

The Parade Ring

This is always very busy for the festival, particularly before and after the feature races.  I would suggest you squeeze in for a visit though, seeing the horses and owners parading before they set off for the start gives some perspective.  The owners trying to look calm, the jockeys getting their leg up onto to their mounts, it is good stuff.  Even better if you can be there when a champion returns.  The cheers raised as a good winner returns to the ring is famous.

Shopping

OK, so it is not the primary purpose of your visit and nor should it be.  The Major would recommend a stroll around the marquee villages of stalls that come in for the Major race days at Cheltenham.  You will see goods that you would never have even considered purchasing and the types of people that regularly do.  Ever wante a set of pink corduroys?  No, nor I; yet if that horse ins the 4.20….

Cheltenham Pubs and Eateries

For drinking post racing in Cheltenham, you will find plenty of pubs with clientele spilling onto the pavements.  If you fancy young and disco (I am aware that no one uses that word), try Vodka Revolutions in a fabulous old church building. 

If you are after something more real ale, I would suggest The Jolly Brewmaster – Always a good selection, well kept, enjoy.

If you want to watch the sport, try Tailors just off the High Street or the Hogshead near the bottom of the High Street with a handy local Betfred.   There was a pool bar opposite the Hogshead but I think it may be shut down. 

While in the area though I must point out that there is a kebab shop on your left as you walk away from the High Street at the lower end.  It is simply amazing as kebab shops go.  Try before you mock.

General Advice – The Ground

I have a slight concern about this year’s festival as a betting contest.  The terrible winter we have had has meant that no good ground horse has had suitable conditions, until now.  This may mean that many of our form races are not the guides we think they could be.   I would advise checking carefully before writing off better ground horses, particularly the Irish ones.  I am sure there will be a few big surprises from the previously written off.

One example of what I mean would be Zaidpour who has won twice on soft, been beaten toiling away in the heavy and yet remains the apple of his trainers eye.  It is difficult to compare that form with that of Cue Card but 10/1 Zaidpour, who knows?  Take care out there.

The Major’s Cheltenham Tip of the Week

I am going to be giving a rundown of the following days Cheltenham tips every evening (sobriety allowing); therefore I am going to keep my advices here for my banker.

It is Peddlers Cross in the Champion Hurdle.  I thought Binocular was shaping up as a bet and I had the field down to Binocular or Peddlers.  Binoculars abstention today made it an easy race.

Don’t get me wrong, Hurricane Fly could be a champion, I do worry about two things, one, how strong is the form against Solwhit who is now pursuing a staying hurdle career?  Secondly, the lack of course form is a worry; some very good horses do not perform to their best at Cheltenham.  Ruby in the saddle will help, although not much more than Townend.  One thing is for certain, the jockey booking will probably keep the money pouring on.

Menorah is also ahead of Peddlers Cross in the market but again, while I accept there is clearly no problem with Cheltenham, I do question the form.  Now before Menorah fans become irate with the Major, I must say that clearly it is a top class animal.  That said, the Cheltenham form this year beating Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti has not worked out all that well.  That, plus the recent runner stat which the Hearty Ploughman rolled out which is also a negative.  The Major only cares for trends that make sense, does this one?  In many races I wouldn’t care for it, I often back horses running fresh as long as I believe the trainer capable of getting it ready.  That said, this is a champion hurdle, 2 miles of fast hurdling against the best in the world……. a recent run is a trend we can count given no mistakes are allowable.

Dunguib is intriguing but too many questions, Khyber Kim is a terrific place prospect but doesn’t feel like a winner.

Peddlers Cross is an unbeaten hurdler, including when defeating this year’s champion hurdler on debut this season.  I accept that is not a race that Binocular would have been wound up for but…. what has PEddlers done wrong.  I like the fact that Jason Maguire awas willing to risk the rest of his weeks rides at the festival to challenge a riding ban which would have kept him off Peddlers Cross.   Get stuck in and get the week off to a flyer. 9/2, Sportingbet – KABOOOOMMM.

Bookmakers Offers of the Week

The Major urges you to take the most optimised betting strategy as possible for the week.  If you are going to the track then of course, take a bundle and have a laugh.  However, you should take advantage of the offers available.

Use a site like oddschecker.com to ascertain the best odds for anything you fancy.  Then sign up for new accounts and take advantage of the free bets bookies offer.   Most do.  For example Boylesports are offering a £20 stake a £40 free bet, have a piece of that!  £60 on for £20 staked, lovely.

Then understand the specials on offer and use them where they fit your betting pattern.  For example, anyone who doesn’t want Cue Card in the Supreme should get on with Paddy Power who offer a full refund if the favourite wins!  In the same race, Betfair offer new accounts a refund of up to £25 on Cue Card stakes if he loses!

Bet365 offer a free bet of the equivalent staked when your initial bet wins at 4/1 or more on any race covered by Channel 4.  The bet is redeemable on the next C4 race.

Mark Boylan – Finally, this lad knows the score!  13 and he loves the festival so much, he wrote a song about it – What a cracking Irish voice too!  Warning, it may stay with you!

Can the Major make it an all profitable November Saturday Service?

Good morning from fine Worcestershire where the hard frosty ground gives a beautiful backdrop to the Majors Saturday preachings.

Another fine sporting weekend to be enjoyed.  Two groups of people to thank for the fine sporting offerings today, the good folk at BHA, Newbury, Newcastle and sponsors sportingbet who pushed through the move to get the fighting fifth to Newbury – Well done, good show.  Well done also to the small army of people required to cover the majority of the Newbury track with frost covers last night to ensure that the gods of weather could not upset the Majors eggs on toast.

The coffee is simple, Gold Blend, we ran out of the expensive stuff and the Major needs to restock for Christmas.  The environment is wholesome and we all know a pure heart and a clear head is required when going into battle against the old enemy, him with the satchel who shall try to deceive with his dark and twisted approach.

The Major has been working for your benefit for some hours and today, the results are important for a few reasons.  Firstly, every Saturday service in November has been fantastically profitable.  The lowest return was 148% of stake, lovely.  Let’s complete the month with another stunner.  Secondly, it is building towards Christmas and the Major understands that in the time of credit crunches, recessions, student fee increases and swinging cuts; the Major has an obligation to return a profit…. let’s see what the art of the possible is….

Hennessy Day.  What a great day, let’s start with a look at the race.  Denman bids for a third Hennessy which would be a first.  This is a moment of horseracing history but we need to reflect.  Denman is an amazing animal.  A twice Hennessy victor, a Gold Cup winner and a top class chaser.  ‘The tank’ was an apt nickname, on his day he travels powerfully with an arrogance to match his class.  It is a measure of his success that he puts more than half of the field out of the handicap today, shouldering 11-12 giving 8lbs to horses like Niche Market (an Irish National Grade 1 winner) who still remains 8lb the wrong side of the handicap, unbelievable.

However, before we get too breathless at what this horse has already achieved and hopes to achieve today, we need to consider the greatest chaser of them all.  It is unfair to consider Denman in the category of the greatest without considering Himself, Arkle.

Arkle, for those who do not know (please do not return), was a bay gelding and was simply the best chaser to ever race.  In a similar style to Denman he came to prominence when many suspected he was second fiddle to Mill House, the stables other top chaser.  However Arkle proved to be in a different class.  He was a freak winning 27 of his 35 starts.  His losses were usually injuries.  His sole loss in the Hennessy was finishing second to a horse that went on to place twice in the Gold Cup ( a great white chaser called Stalbridge Colonist) – On Hennessy day, Arkle who lost by half a length was trying to give him best part of three stone.  Watch the film, if Arkle had not got so close to the last fence, maybe he would have been the first three times winner of the Hennessy.

I love Denman (although admit to being a Kauto man), I love his brashness, his attitude, I dearly hope he can win.  Let’s enjoy the day,a  great day.  Just have in mind though the greatest of the all.  If Arkle ran today, Denman would be out of the handicap by 4lbs.

So who wins the Hennessy after all this is a sport tipping service! 

This is a puzzle.  It is a huge ask of Denman and as much as I wish him well, I have to consider that at ten and with lots of second season improvers queuing up to have a pop, Denman is very vulnerable today.

Burton Port is a very interesting contender having the services of Geraghty.  I think it is a testament to the way this 6yo is considered at home that Barry Geraghty, no spring chicken but one of the Majors favourites is getting 3lb below his lowest riding weight for 3 years to take the ride.  Well done Barry, enjoy the sauna.  The horse looks an out and ou stayer to me and I suspect there is a lot of improvement.  This is my each way advice to you, let’s hope Barry is not too dizzy and can steer us round for a decent winner.  Bet 365 bless have gone 9/1 paying 1/4 to FIVE PLACES.  Very generous chaps, you shall be remembered in the Majors prayers.  Get stuck into the port faithful followers.  Pandorama could be the fly in the ointment, consider a saver.  Lots of other fascinating runners, how is Neptune Collonges who was looking good prior to injury, Weird Al who deadheated the impressive Little Josh at Carlisle last time out, Taranis returning from a knock…. this is a class field

Before the Hennessy kicks off at 3.05, we have the delectable delight of the return to track of Big Bucks.  The only one of the big four horses expected to give the bookies a thrashing at the festival, Big Bucks is going off 2/7 – Not a price for the Major but what on earth could beat it?  What bank would give you a 28% return by mid afternoon?? Stick it in the accumulators!!

The fighting fifth is a sit out race for the Major too.  Peddlers Cross has to show plenty on official form but there was plenty to like about the Cheltenham novice win.  If the real Binocular turns up then 4/5 could look daft.  The Majors winner from a fortnight ago (Nearby) looks out of his depth.

The 3.40 is a race in which I have spent some time considering options.  Of 15, I have it down to a few.  One of which, I think the enemy is making a considerable mistake with.  Mount Oscar will strip fit for a blow at Chepstow and on a winning mark could take this, 10s available with Paddy but not for the Major.   The favourite stands a great chance converting back to the bigger obstacles, a transfer of form (not a certainty) would make Working Title a threat to all.  The Majors advice though is to play Pocket Aces at 20/1 (sportingbet) to three places (although 16/1 Skybet go 4 places) – This horse has a 7lb useful claim in young Mr Cannon and is well weighted on better form.  Last time out at Cheltenham, over shorter, it looked like the penny had dropped making good late headway.  Have a chunky slice and thank the Major later.

The Major wants you to have advice for the big Saturday events as well as a few tasty morsels from things you won’t have picked up.  Why you would have looked at the 6.50 at Wolverhampton for example, is a question without answer.  The Major has.  This means he can give you West End Lad.  The Major is curious, verging on the suspicious over why they insist on running this horse over trips such as this when his best form is much shorter.  Russ Kennemore rides again after a decent second last time out… 10/1 generally, get involved.

To the frosty football fields of Britain. 

Some no bets are Arsenal and Liverpool who I suspect will both get beaten as I think they both have a soft underbelly.  Watching brief.

I do like the look of Stoke to beat an overrated Man City.  11/4 is a great price – Stoke beat Liverpool at home and fear no-one.  Man City might struggle, this is one that the Major likes to go after.

Leeds are a great 3/1 price to win at Reading, they are unbeaten in six and Reading are not a consistently good defensive team.  Andy O’Brien is a key player for Leeds now who have attacking options and now a rock to build on.  I think they are play off good things, they can get Reading today at a tasty price.

I like Martinez, the Spaniard in charge of Wigan.  I have often used his team to effect this season and todays trip to West Ham is a great opportunity.  Thankfully for the Major, the West Ham headcases have made a strong campaign of save our season around this game and this could play into Wigans hands.  Maybe the Major is wrong but Wigan can use the nonsense campaign as a springboard of their own – They are being told to turn up and play the part of the defeated.  West Ham have their own problems.  Noble is out and Parker will probably return but who knows if he is in top shape after his chest infection.  Wigan are 14/5 and with Cleverley returning, I fancy a plunge on this one.

Bristol City are a super price to win at home to a shockingly poor Sheffield United.  The red half of Bristol have had a season of two halves already but the new boss has them firing and recent performances have been strong.  6/4 with Hills is an unbelievable price.  Bristol City are on the up and have beaten Swansea away and Leicester at home in two of their last three.  Their loss was no disgrace, away to Leeds.  6/4, I cannot get over that!  Load the heavy cannon for this one.

In the eggball, the England international looks to be a terrific encounter with a bruised South Africa likely to prove tricky opponents.  I have been backing England in their autumn internationals as you know and think a slight victory is on the cards today too.  1/2 though is way too skinny.  In a tight contest, maybe take a small interest with Stan James that Nick Easter is first try scorer at 25/1.

Difficult week this week.  We need one of the bigger priced advised bets to pay if we are to maintain our streak.

The nap is simple enough, Bristol City at home is to be trusted at 6/4.  £20 returns £50.  A purple for a red is a good exchange in my humble opinion.

All the talk of Hennessy has me thinking that a late night brandy might be the calling today.  I hope yours is VSOP and in some fine crystal.  All the MAjor asks is that as you shift your bank note wedge which was digging into your ribcage, drink to the Majors health and then be upstanding for the Queen.  Ask the man to top that brandy up, tell him the Major sent you.