Good evening from the Major who writes from another bitterly cold Worcestershire which sports a biting wind. The temperature remains cold enough to numb the touch and add a dull ache to knee and ankle joints. The only antidote is the warming effect of winners and champions.
The former I had a couple of. Only a couple and I am in no doubt that day two belonged to the enemy.
The latter we were blessed with, in fact we saw a new legend. Sprinter Sacre was breath-takingly good. He beat a Champion Chase field by 19 lengths, hard held. The commentator summed it up suggesting that this steeplechaser was sent from celestial heavens… who could argue with that. No doubt, we have a star and let us hope he remains centre stage for many years.
On Tuesday, I left the racecourse by the bottom car park and spent 90 minutes queuing. Thus in a planned change of operational procedure, tonight I parked in town and walked, a test and learn. It certainly was easier and it gave me the pleasure of a post-racing stroll through Pittville and across the park to my car. It was all most pleasant but the trappings of the festival that you witness on this journey remain etched in my mind, as these things will.
The girls handing out cards for gentleman’s clubs look very different through the eyes of a sober man. The language is the same… the use of the word ‘guys’ in a voice straining to suggest familiarity. They aim to make the groups of men who average twenty years their senior comfortable, as though they are conversing in normal circumstances. That level of performance though must tire and something in their body language, the slope of shoulder, the curl of a lip hides a disdain for the work. It is cold and you can see it in their eyes.
Do not take me as a prude by the way. I am a believer that consenting adults are perfectly able to choose what they want to do without my views and whatever contracts are struck are for those parties alone. In fact I am generally in favour of skullduggery. I just prefer it a bit more refined.
Sadly for the Major, Taquin Du Seuil did not win the Neptune. I did not pass go, I did not collect significantly more than 200. Still, the dream itself was worthwhile. There will be another time.
We go into Thursday with our war chest intact. Early exchanges have been searching, exploratory forays to test defences and reactions. I almost fell into the trap of backing Coral Cup and Fred Winter horses with conviction, pure folly and I kept my losses sensible… The enemy allowed me fancy prices about Mullins Jnr and Nina Carberry in the amateur riders… I took them.
The next two days could be taken easily, too concerned with the fear of loss to try to be glorious. No, not for us, we know what we must do… Read on only if you are prepared to come with me and face the abyss. Fearless.
To Cheltenham…. load the heavy cannons, stand broad and tall.
Dynaste cost me a fortune when defecting from the RSA to the Jewson and I am not sure it was a great call. His previous Feltham win was very strong defeating Third Intention and generally looking very good. This is also my issue with Dynaste – He has only won one of four starts at Cheltenham and we know it is a specialist track
I think the RSA field was weaker and today he faces Captain Conan, a horse I can easily forgive a more lacklustre display at Sandown when winning latest. That day he clearly was not himself but still finished well on the hill to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat. He was not right that day and he is reported much better now – I think a 13/2 punt (Paddy Power) is in order.
Aupcharlie has looked an immensely powerful traveller who has not always found much off the bridle. Interesting but overlooked.
The Pertemps Final
Look, let us keep this really simple. When Paul Nicholls describes a handicap mark as a ‘gift from God’, one should sit up and pay attention. Sam Winner heads the market at 9/2 and I think it is well worth backing. He has won twice at Cheltenham from four visits so the track holds no fears. His Triumph race was interesting, while only fourth, he was staying on at the end. He has beaten Grandouet and been within half a dozen lengths of Zarkander. That makes a mark of just 140 very manageable.. I have to agree with his trainer.
The Pertemps is often won by a more experienced handicapper. Maybe that is a reflection of the rigours of a big field.
If you like one at a price, Ely Brown at 20/1 does look a tad tasty. Sam Winner for me.
The quality of the Ryanair is superb this year as the Aeroplane scared people into stepping up half a mile in trip.
First Lieutenant is favourite and most argue that his form finishing in a heap with Flemenstar, Sir Des Champs and Tidal Bay is also key to the Gold Cup. The Major remains unconvinced. It is the presence of Tidal Bay that bothers me. First Lieutenant is a top horse, he was a superb hurdler beating Rock on Ruby and showed promise as a novice hurdler. Yet his last win was 9 starts back. I know he has not been disgraced in any run since but I am always nervous with horses with bad strike rates no matter what their form lines.
Most people will be a fan of the favourite because of the stamina doubts of Cue Card based on a poor King George effort. I don’t think that day had anything to do with stamina, I think he just had a bad day… it happens.
Champion Court has a lot of plusses but for me lacks the requisite je ne sais quoi.
No… Cue Card.. 7/2… smash it.
The World Hurdle
Reve de Sivola and Oscar Whisky are surely the key starting points in the World Hurdle.
Many had the latter down as a non stayer but I was never convinced about that and his last run at Cheltenham surely put pay to it. I think he will be fitter for the effort and on much much better ground, he will have the measure of Reve de Sivola in my opinion.
My betting strategy is going to be clouded by the presence of Bog Warrior. He is my favourite horse in training. Top hurdle form looked like it might transfer to fences but some major jumping errors have seen them convert the horse back to hurdles and he has been awesome ever since. If you want to see why I love the horse so much, have a look at the Drinmore he won on Youtube. His style is head in chest, bowling along… How can you not love him? He will carry a significant sum of the Majors wedge for that reason alone…
Yet my advice to you all is Oscar Whisky at 7/2.
The Bryne Group Plate
Sorry to be boring but I cannot get away from Ballynagour, 4/1. The performance it put in suggested that we have missing a lot while he has been lightly raced.
Hunt Ball is eased back into handicap level and his mark may well be passable. He won this off just over a stone lighter last year but is a class horse.
I cannot get away from the Pipe horse though… Join the money train.
The Kim Muir
The stakes here must be kept to a minimum as the puzzle is vast and the traps numerous.
There are only 5 horses in the vast field though that have won at Cheltenham and that is not a bad angle to take into this. Super Duty, Prince of Pirates, Swing Bill, Galaxy Rock and Alfie Sherrin should all cope with the decent ground.
I put a line through Swing Bill because although some of his form is working out well, he is 12 and I do not like it. Jumping puts me off Prince of Pirates but a clean round equals danger for all in my view.
The Major struck well in the John Oaksey by suggesting that the jockey in these amateur races is vital. This brings other horses into contention too including Vesper Bell and Romanesco.
Class horses have no problems lumping weight around the Kim Muir so Super Duty and my selection should be fine if they have the minerals. I am sticking with the boy who got the job done for us on Back in Focus…. Patrick Mullins is aboard Vesper Bell.. That one has placed form at the top level and the Irish National trial he competed in has worked out OK. There is every reason to be excited about 16/1 so have a large slice and berate me later for being so interested in a horse in a ridiculously tricky handicap.
The Cross Country
Go back two days to see the reasoning for Arabella Boy to win the Cross Country.
Courage, roll those dice.