Punters of Britain the Major is on a high, another profit day on Thursday, with Albertas Run returning 6/1 and Big Bucks at evens.
Important news. Regular readers will know the Major resides in the village of Defford, outside of Pershore in rolling Worcestershire countryside. This is 20 miles north of the course and I can report some important news…. The rain has come. The amount of rain tonight could be crucial and it makes the job tomorrow more difficult. I have no idea what the ground will be like first thing. I shall risk it and offer my advices but I warn all punters to freestyle if the Major was off. For the record I am going to expect enough for good to soft, soft in places. Perhaps dead, perhaps tacky. Makes life tougher.
The Major does not need to be told that he rants. For a very special and abusive friend, I have agreed to start highlighting the advices in bold for those with less time to read the analysis or reasoning. This is a concession that may not last.
75% of the battle is done. We have wounded the enemy and he seems unsteady on his feet. He has a nasty looking gash where we took his cut on the near side and then caught him with our own defensive slice. His guard is still up though and his mind devious; in this injured state he is dangerous, on guard young man and keep a steady eye, his rapier slashes may be crude but we need dedication to the end to see this enemy dispatched to meet his reckoning.
Yet the Major is wearied from battle too. Three days of analysis of some of the trickiest handicaps, snow blind from reading form lines, vigilance as we approach the last dear friends. We are almost triumphant, yet ’tis many a slip between the crouch and the leap.
Grandouet has been put away since the defeat of Two Kisses in January. Two Kisses is a reliable yardstick, the form is unspectacular but good. Henderson always has a good sort for the Triumph and the jockey booking suggests this is it.
I hate to make strong statements as they can be wrong and this may mislead but I just cannot believe Smad Place is good enough, it looks over rated to me.
A Media Luz was beaten by stablemate Grandouet and although the assistance of AP McCoy will help, I cannot see it turning the tables. At this age, the mares allowance is influential but I just do not think it will be enough in the case of A Media Luz.
Unaccompanied, another of the fairer sex and thus 7lb in, is the Irish leading fancy for the powerful Weld / Smullen team – Dangerous to ignore, particularly with the weather turning.
Zarkanda is an Aga Khan bred animal who while über impressive when defeating Molotof, is in better company here. Molotof is the Henderson third string. I find it interesting that Ruby has defected to Sam Winner though.
Yet Sam Winner has struggled to cope in his last race. Looking highly capable in the heart of winter, has some of the sparkle gone.
This triumph is a classic. The crunch decision is over the form lines you take. Grandouet has to be respected but had been defeated by Sam Winner, who in turn was defeated by Marsh Warbler who ran poorer than expected earlier in the week. Both may be forgiven a run but neither are rock solid.
Zarkander has been abandoned by Ruby but could be absolutely anything.
For the Major, Unaccompanied It has the best Irish form, the Irish trainers are having a great week, this would get Friday off to a steamer. Have an each way bet at 7/1 and hope the allowance and rain aid the cause. Stick it in the toaster, butter, marmite, cup of steaming tea and thank me later.
The County Handicap Hurdle
The County is a puzzle hidden inside an enigma which is disguised as a rohypnol induced nightmare.
Alazari who picked up the Imperial Cup and is hunting the £75k bonus is an obvious threat but in a field of 28 and having run in the last week, I am unsure it is wise to invest at 8/1.
Dirar is sitting favourite and you can see why. Stable form and profile mean it should be involved, interesting.
The Major advises you though to bet sensibly, this is an insanely difficult prize. I would proffer a few thoughts as follows.
Snap Tie a pound off top weight loves Cheltenham and has been dropping to a very handy mark. Having not run since October 2009 it would be an almighty training performance but Hobbs can do it and Dickie Johnson in the saddle is a huge boost, 14/1 is it enough?
Salden Licht gets the burden of an extra pound, thus is the top weight and despite making a couple of errors when chasing after Recession Proof in the Totesport is on the Majors considered list, particularly at 25/1, not out of it.
Get me out of Here is also extremely well treated if the tongue tie has the desired effect, I would not put you off, personally 16/1 is an OK price but not what I am after.
Soldatino looks held unless there were excuses last time. Dee Ee Williams more so.
Alaivan comes into it if the rain has been significant.
Ski Sunday is a bit of an unknown. The January run with subsequent winner Skint behind has a classy look about it. It was only rated 66 on the flat but is a much better hurdling prospect, hmm.
Final Approach would not be 12/1 had Call the Police performed solidly on Wednesday. Ruby and Mullins 12/1 in this sort of handicap, interesting.
Zanir at 33/1 could run a bigger than expected race too.
The Major has not ruled too many out of the County. I have a shortlist of a few. The most interesting of which is Snap Tie. A Cheltenham horse, a mark that has dropped from two years off, 14/1 is as tight as I would want it but I just fancy the trainer and jockey if they have the horses confidence back. It goes against many of the Majors principles, after all the time off the track is a significant downside before competing in such a big field. I just have a sense that Johnson can turn him off and nurse him through, letting class do the rest.
The Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle
Some time ago the Major put up a piece about Moonlight Drive which had been tipped to me antepost. It definitely wants the rain which is coming and is a threat still but the softer the better. Certainly the stable hold it in good regard it seems and as Recession Proof is a stablemate then they have a decent yardstick with the Totesport Trophy winner.
The hope was that Bobs Worth would defect to the Neptune and since that has not happened, it has to be a major threat in this given the ease of the Grade 2 success last time out.
The other horse of interest and the one I settle on to advise tonight is Champion Court. At 10/1, I hope they have sorted the issues which caused the horse to hang so badly when it looked like it might get involved in defeat to Bobs Worth last time out. The previous form has some depth, Bobs Worth could well be too good but with Henderson not enjoying the best week, I oppose with Champion Court.
The Cheltenham Gold Cup
The Major has a strong fancy in the Gold Cup this year which is odd because it is as open as any I can recall. I would go as far to say it is the best Gold Cup in many years, it will be a privilege to watch the interwoven strands of form, story, conjecture and magic unfurl.
It is not so much a case for the Major of picking the winner, it is more a case for finding the least likely reason any of the main protagonists will fail to lose. That is not to say the quality is poor, quite the opposite.
The highlight of our national hunt year is solved by answering these questions correctly:
1. Does Kautos small bleed excuse his poor King George run and is he capable of pulling his old school form out when it matters? (He would go down not only as the only horse to have regained a Gold Cup but to have done that twice, wow)
2. Is Denmans third to the non runner Diamond Harry, giving best part of 2 stone away, in the Hennessy a decent bit of form?
3. Is the ground soft enough for Pandorama, the Majors ante post tip for the gold cup?
4. What does the Kempes Irish Hennessy win form add up to?
5. How ripe is Imperial Commander and how good was last years Gold Cup?
6. Is Midnight Chase a credible threat?
7. Is it time to change the old guard?
8. Who wins?
The Majors view: 1. No, he looked shot in the Down Royal opener, I know Nicholls will not have had him wound up for that but I think he is on a slide. 2. This is better form than anything Kauto has done but only entitles him to place form in the Majors view. 3. Probably not but if the rain keeps coming, too early to tell 4. Nothing 5. The Major is unimpressed on both counts. 6. Not really, if he were mine he would go straight to the National. 7. Yes. 8. LONG RUN.
I am aware that the stats for 11 year olds are shocking and so are the stats for 6 year olds. Here is the advice. If the ground gets good to soft, soft in places, then go Pandorama. If it remains any better than that, stick with Long Run.
I am going to believe that his 6 year old status is offset by the fact that he has had an awful lot of racing. This was probably the reason that he lost last festival. I was standing by Nicky Henderson that day (not that I know him!) and it did not look like the expected script was followed. After being on the go all of the previous summer in France and then all winter, I think Long Run was already over the top at the festival. The way he demolished the King George field suggested he is a different prospect to me. He should stay, he won’t mind conditions, he is inexperienced but…. 5/1 Hills (who offer £20 bet on the race and a free £10 at the weekend to all customers), Paddypower and Coral – Have the biggest slice your wallet allows and send me the postcard.
Master Hobday, if you are reading, it already carries a £20 from the Majors wallet for you, the man, the legend.
The two races after the Gold Cup are surely designed as a bookies benefit to drag in any remaining cash.
Gone to Lunch could be dangerous if showing the best of old form. Baby Run is a worthy favourite, nothing wrong with betting that.
For value though the Major plumps for On the Fringe. Probably too young, where Baby Run is starting to wear. 9/2 (Hills) On the Fringe for the Major.
The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys
Conditional jockeys riding make this one of the most trappy handicaps of the festival.
That said, there is one that stands out like a beacon to the Major in King of the Night.
This horse gets to race off a mark of just 139 despite having lost by a nose to Sprinter Sacre (now rated 145) when giving a full stone away.
From the champion trainer, plenty of scope. 11/1, the best the Major can come up with.
The Lucky Last – The Grand Annual
Christ, if you need a win here you are in trouble.
I might have the long priced answer too. The Major has always had an eye for Sports Line. OK, he gets way to frisky in his races and is often fighting for his head but when he does settle he looks classy.
What catches the eye is the switch to Timmy Murphy, I think they plan on burying him away in the field under the best rider at the last to first tactic.
33/1 is the sort of price to get you out of any trouble.
The Cheltenham Festival Summary
I hope you have had a terrific week. The Major has taken not given and this is a refreshing change to last year.
In not many hours from now, the point in the year that National Hunt fans aim at is the furthest from us. Thank god that the 2012 antepost markets are already open.
Let us draw blood once again tomorrow. I hope the racing is glorious, your victory magnanimous.
Gold Cup night deserves the best french cuisine. Have some duck in the country fashion seared and with green peppercorn sauce. A good Bordeaux. Tip well, this is right. Be upstanding for the Queen at midnight. Find a nice girl from Cork whose sing song voice shall last with you for many days.
This Gold Cup, I hope you have every reason to be glad in your heart.