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.
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!