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The Cheltenham Champion Hurdle Day Sermon…. Includes a 40/1 shot…. Courage and roll the dice

Good evening from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire where bright clear skies leak the days warmth away, leaving a breathless chilly evening and stars that seem to shimmer and move like the surface of water gently rippling away.

We are here.  Every tweeter in the world is tinkling at the keyboard, excited at what the morning brings.  The Major will not dribble so trivially and waste your time.  No.

Lest to say this.  We shall witness the four days of Cheltenham, all of life shall be there, rich and poor, every social echelon, the equine athletes, the twinkle eyed Irish sirens at their betting pitches, the tatty commercialism, the genuine rush; it is all ours to savour my friends.

This year, I am attending proceedings on Tuesday and Friday, both will be tremendous occasions I am sure.

Two years prior, I attended all four days and drank and gambled at extreme pace on each.  On the Friday, a fresh set of reserve troops arrived from Birmingham but they were reinforcements, not relief forces.  As such, the expectation was to be back on it, Guinness and Champagne at breakfast and continuing in the spirit.  Ah, I did… I soldiered on but I finished that day a ruin.

Cheltenham for the duration is a physical and emotional war of attrition.

In 1900, as part of force set to break the siege of Ladyship, Natal, Lieutenant Colonel Thorneycroft followed orders to lead his men to retrieve Spion Kop, a height occupied by Boer forces, which had good sight of the road.  As a surprise tactic, Woodgate, giant of a man, led from the front  up the 1500ft slope in complete darkness.  What that must have been like, to be climbing through the mist, knowing you are about to engage the enemy , utter silence and a great hulking officer lumbering in front.  The tactics worked and following a brief engagement with bayonets fixed, they were able to scatter the small Boer force that had been in situ.  This success proved though to be a misjudgment.

The Engineers set about digging in but found hard rock just a foot into the earth. They managed to create a crescent-shaped, several hundred feet long, shallow trench and at daybreak, as the sun rose from some distant point over the Indian Ocean, it was clear that two heavy forces would be engaged heavily in action.

You see, there were several other heights at similar levels that gave the Boers excellent sight of the encamped British forces and so the bombardment commenced.  Shells ranging from 80mm to 600mm rained onto the British position every 6 seconds for which they had little protection.    The British realised that they had also mistaken the summit and the position they had dug, just slightly below had poor sight lines over the Northern crest.

By mid morning, the Boers had resolved to a sortie to recover the position and the Boers that climbed that hill did so with their leaders ears ringing ‘we shall be attacking the enemy and not all will be coming back; Do your duty, trust the Lord’.  The Boers, who were excellent rifleman rushed the summit from the blind side, which the British position allowed, this was surprising and resulted in some warm action with bayonet, fists and knives flashing.

Both sides settled down to exchange rifle fire just a hundred yards from each other, bodies lying all amongst them, the heat of the day rising.  The Boers were tired and morale was low, what they cannot have understood was either the losses of the British or the effectiveness of the continued bombardment which was taking its toll.  The Boer gunners were finding their range and among their British casualties was General Woodcroft.

Confusion started to become prevalent.  Reinforcements for the British were called for and sent but the mortars which may have been used against some key Boer positions were never bought against the enemy.  As battle progressed into the second night, the lunacy of war was such that both the Boers and British were ready to surrender their positions.  The Boers at one point started to but an officer persuaded them to stay and such is the balance of things, it proved decisive.

In the morning, Thorneycroft, receiving messages from the main army was able to lead a retreat down Skion Kop.  He left a devastation at the summit.  Nearly 250 British and 350 Boers were left dead.  The Boers so badly hurt that they were unable to hold the position.  The futility of it all.

Still, a few footnotes worthy of your attention.  Winston Churchill, a journalist but drawn to action, was the runner on the private staff of General Buller in command of the 11,000 strong force from which Lieutenant Colonel Thorneycroft was despatched – Thus he was running the messages to Thorneycroft on the summit and would have seen the bloody mess.  His schoolboy friend from Harrow also died on the summit.  Baden-Powell also served in the action.  It is also the reason that Liverpool has the Kop.

Our battle shall be entrenched too, just less bloody, for most of us.  To the action, the Cheltenham action.  Sabres drawn.  The festival is underway…

Tuesday Cheltenham Tips

Now, if you cheated and have not read about Skion Kop, either go back or exit.  Your sort is not welcome here.

For those who missed my stream of tweets last week, I have written up the Grade 1 races at the festival already and so will be drawing on that shortly.  This is where you will find my Tuesday Grade 1s but I shall summarise with brevity, something I value little, below.

In the Supreme, I have already tipped Vautour and am sticking with it.  I stand by my reasoning that Irving looks a flat track bully and my boy has been in a fight, which fancy dan Irving has yet to experience.  At a price, The Liquidator is an interesting runner and so is Vaniteux who will appreciate the better ground and is the favoured runner of Geraghty (over Josses Hill).

I am also sticking with Valdez who I wrote up in my antepost piece for the Arkle.  His price is unchanged and if anything might be bigger at the off.  The bottom line he is not a popular sort.  Perhaps people are put off by the fact he was not as good as hurdler as this lot but some horses are meant to go over the big obstacles and this season, we have seem him in fine form, even when the King stable was under a cloud.  Grandouet is a bit of a forgotten horse and all of the principles can be argued for, including Rock on Ruby who is a good ground horse in my view – This is not a big stakes race for the Major.

The 2.40 Handicap Chase is a minefield.  I would call out a few I like.  Alfie Sherrin and Holywell at 8/1 and 10/1 are of interest, particularly the latter.  Yet, in this sort of race, I want a tasty price, in the last eight years we have witnessed 28/1, 33/1 and even 50/1 shocks.  My runner to steal the money is King Massini at 20/1.  This Evan Williams horse has been a serious improver and was campaigned aggressively early in the season, unlucky not to complete a four timer.  He has been put away, most likely with this in mind.  As such, I am happy to have a pop but dangers lurk around every corner my friend.

Then the feature dish, the Champion Hurdle.  Again, you will find this on my G1 Tuesday Cheltenham Antepost page but a quick summary….

  • I have been backing Our Conor since my jaw rested on the Cheltenham tarmac as he sauntered over his Triumph field
  • I backed what my eyes saw with real money building up an antepost position
  • His runs in Ireland have been OK but not quite what I wanted, particularly the last
  • He might be better with the pace been forged by Captain Cee Bee
  • I suspect I am suffering from Confirmation Bias and am desperately turning everything I see in his favour
  • He likes good ground… Oh god, I am suffering confirmation bias
  • I will probably have a saver on the Fly – Not because I prefer him, in fact my next best is My Tent or Yours – Yet, I cannot let the place go wild and me not have a winning ticket to hand, no matter what the financial logic.

The Mares Hurdle is a potential moment of history with Quevega, the amazing Mare that the magician Mullins manages to get right for this one day, trying for a sixth Cheltenham Festival race.  Will she?  I hope so – I have some bets that include her name but I have to admit to it not being many.  I was actually a little concerned last year.  She finished well enough to win but to me needed to be niggled earlier than usual, maybe it will catch up with her this year?

I did like Highland Retreat but think the ground is going against her.  So the one I offer as an alternate is Cailin Annamh who won a graded Irish race effortlessly and could be offering a viable alternative if improving a stone… and a bit…. and beating a legend… with the best national hunt jockey in the world aboard.  What am I on about, back Quevega – If she wins, you will be gutted that you did not!

Then the four miler… amateur riders.. The Major is a fan of backing the best jockeys in these races and I also think over this distance, it makes an even bigger differential.  Clements is good but McNamara, Carberry and Mullins are better.

McNamaras mount, Herdsmen, needed the mud, no.  Nina (Carberry for the legion of irregular racing fans joining us today) takes the ride on the favourite, Shutthefrontdoor – That horse is going to love the drying ground and I love watching Nina ride a hold up sort, she has elegance, strength and resolve.  It is hard to pass over but I am resting on Suntiep at 10/1 – There are lots of reasons why not, including the ground and lack of chase experience around such a tough course… take it easy.

Then the Novice Handicap Chase that closes the card and if we need this as a get out of jail, we are in a world of hurt.

I am going to put up two.  First a horse I have watched for a while, Grandads Horse, currently available at 40/1 – Do you want the reasoning? Look, if you are backing a 40/1 shot in the last, you definitely do not… Don’t even start to think about the trainer having Pendra, a seeming much fancied runner…

My saver is another massive price.  Venetia has been the talk of the year with her horses running to tremendous credit on heavy ground.  I think Gardefort forgiven the last time out may be a snip at 40/1 also with BetVictor…

Courage and roll those dice.

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Thursday Punchestown Tips

Good evening from the Major who again writes from the bed, tired, drained and rather weary of the fight.

A rather poor Tuesday and this Punchestown festival is one I don’t seem to have a great hold of.  I shall keep this brief, I am cloaked in defeat and I think you may be best using these notes to help you put a line through a few selections…

Thursday Tips – Punchestown

Both Malt Master and Marito have been chasing recently which complicates the picture as they return to smaller obstacles in the opening hurdle.  Marito fell when looming up in the Jewson after being backed.  A mark of 140 is probably not beyond him but at evens, he looks a little vulnerable.  I really like the form of Malt Master as I think Oscara Dara may well be very decent and so I prefer the second favourite.

I am chancing two at massive prices.  Frawley, 14/1 has clearly had some problems but as a result is supremely lightly races and unexposed – A definite bet.  Rye Martini was made too much of last time out over further and I suspect has improvement to come so 20/1 is too big.

In the second I am going for Plan A at 9/1, Slippers can bring home the bacon.

Arabella Boy is my idea of the Cross Country winner, weight and conditions may see him get the better of Big Shu here.

In the stayers hurdle, Quevega and Solwhit dominate the market.  Both won their respective Cheltenham races, Quevega threading her way through the field for a victory that looked unlikely… what a mare.  Solwhit is a horse I did not rate but hats off to him, he won fair and square.

Yet I am minded to side with Reve de Sivola, 6/1.  I thought he was set up as a sitting duck at Cheltenham and this race might pan out more in his favour.

I jump the big handicap and go straight to the 6.40 where Alderwood, 11/2, is a horse I want on my side.  I thought the Grand Annual was a very competitive handicap and this horse is young enough to keep stepping forwards from here.  An early mistake seemed to unsettle at Aintree and I think a reversal of form with Special Tiara is in order.

I think more has been expected of Twigline and I am a fan but like Ruby, desert the horse in favour of Upsie – Load the cannons.

I will double that up with a slice of Captain Cutter in the last for a McMAnus quickfire double.

Courage and roll those dice.

Cheltenham Tuesday Tips – Its Cheltenham Eve… The Arkle and Champion Hurdle await tomorrow…

Good evening and merry Cheltenham Eve from the Major who writes from the vengeful cold wasteland of Worcestershire.  The Siberian wind swirls across the landscape whipping silent flakes of snow that land anonymously.

It is cold.  The sort of biting wind that searches every channel of clothing, driving deeply into the joins, seeking and exploiting weakness.

If you are coming to Cheltenham, dress warmly, wear layers, lots of layers.  While out earlier, I think I caught ‘Weather Tourette’s’… such is the ferocity of the Russian air, it causes uncontrollable swearing that my mother would have been ashamed to hear me exhale.

Upon Cheltenham Eve the excitement amongst the twitterati of racing acclaim is etched into their timelines.  Right now, all of our dreams are intact, all hopes remain untested, it will only remain so for a short while longer, savour this for anticipation is as good as the day itself.

The Major will take you through the Tuesday Cheltenham card.  The battle is now upon us, our forward units have been skirmishing the enemy lines for many months, we have engaged man to man with bayonets fixed and now we settle down to sort it out.

I hope you arrive with a war chest becoming the great week.  I hope coins are spilling from your wallet.  If you are one of those that believes you should bet within your means, please find yourself another blog, you are not welcome here.  If the stake matters not, then there is little point to your endeavour.  Have a little edge to your stakes… live a little, load those cannons and feel the rush of adrenaline.  This is Cheltenham, it is good to be alive and be here.

I am conscious that the blog will be receiving more than its usual readership.  If you are new to these shores, welcome, whether tourist or new follower, I wish to be a good host.  The Major is free, barely profitable and certainly unhinged… read on my friends and take what you will.  At the end I have posted a few blogs to give you some second opinions too, you see, I believe in customer advocacy.

Please consider taking part in my charity tipping competition.  I am inviting you to take on my 4 year old son who has picked his Cheltenham selections.  Full details in this post.

A note for my strategy… The first two days of the festival are run on the old course and this is well worth taking notice of.  The turn in for the old course gives a fairly short run in.  You might think that with soft ground and a hill to contend with, it gives those from the back a decent chance.  Yet, last year, the opening days required horses to be prominent and the Major will be seeking these sorts in the tips for the Cheltenham Tuesday card….

Daub thy war paint young warrior, sharpen that lance point and bring up your charger.  We shall pick them at the gallop, crying Shabash and St George.

The Supreme

The opening race of Cheltenham 2013 has been made very interesting by the decision of connections to run My Tent or Yours as opposed to supplementing him for the Champion Hurdle later on the card.  The owner, JP McManus, already has Jezki, whom he purchased for an eye watering sum earlier in the season scheduled for the Supreme and after MTOY destroyed a good Betfair field and the tragic racecourse death of Darlan, many suspected, he might pay to supplement MTOY to the Champion Hurdle.

Instead, he takes his chance as a 15/8 favourite in the Supreme.  The Major thinks that common sense has broken out here.  My Tent or Yours has earned a mark of 162 for his troubles but should be introduced to the top prizes next year.

The Supreme is not always an easy race to tip.  Novices that are still on upwards curves can show some violent form swings.   The runners that are proven on the ground are My Tent or Yours, Puffin Billy, Champagne Fever, Jezki, River Maigue and Cause of Causes.

Of them, I feel My Tent or Yours has certainly shown the best form and will not put you off a decent bet.  2/1 is generally available this evening.

Yet the tip goes to 15/2 shot, Champagne Fever.  Ruby Walsh has selected him as the best shot and I think he may have a point, he has valuable Cheltenham form having won the bumper a year ago.  What I really like about the selection is that he is a prominent racer which at least will put him in the race on the home turn, that and a love of soft ground can help him overcome a marginal defeat to Jezki from earlier in the season.

Really worth taking Hills up on their 5 places paid offer – That is an incredibly generous start to a week of superb offers from the enemy.

The Arkle

When Donald McCain recently suggested that Overturn would give the grey Aeroplane Simonsig a race in the Arkle, Henderson was quick to give his own bullish view.

I can only see the red hot favourite shortening up as the main rival Overturn has been avoiding soft conditions all winter, in his career he has only won one of his four races on ground softer than good to soft.  Overturn is admirable but I feel will be setting this up.

Simonsig is 4/6 and I grant you it is no working mans price but we all need some winners on day one.

The JLT Handicap

Fruity O Rooney may well be a popular pick here having run so close in the same race last year.  noone would deny that he would be a worthy winner and he is racing off a 1lb lighter mark here.

Only one horse in the last fifteen years has won off a weight greater than 11-2 and the tally of winners contains just one 11 year old.  These seem logical enough trends and help us profile a likely sort.  Soft ground is also a big plus.

Jonjo has taken the race twice in the last five years, not the most robust stat but clearly Merry King will have his followers.  He lost a thorough battle last time at Haydock in very testing conditions.  It showed he has talent and heart as well as a liking for the mud.. shortlist material.

Quantativeeasing owes the Major and a return to form would hurt but not be that shocking, my main concern for that one is the ground.

Pete the Feat is the Hunt Ball of the season having gone up over 40lbs for his exploits.  Last time out was bitterly disappointing and many will now be feeling he has been caught by the handicapper but the Major holds a hope.

The two I like are Monkerty Tunkerty and Loch Ba.  The former at 16/1 is reaching veteran status which is not quite the profile I had in mind but he comes with a light CV that suggests he has more to give.   The latter showed tremendous improvement to win last time at Newbury in tough conditions and a rise of nearly a stone might not put him out of the frame for this.

Please note place terms, many bookies are 4 places only but plenty are 5 places.

Tips for the Champion Hurdle

The championship race of the Tuesday is the Champion Hurdle and the 2013 renewal seems to lack a little lustre.

The absence of Darlan is a loss and reminds us how frail the boundary of delight and despair.

Hurricane Fly is the one horse that could raise the roof on Tuesday.  He will come with an army of Irish supporters who are convinced that the Fly can regain his crown.  Last year I felt he had a fair crack and could not get to Rock on Ruby and Overturn.  The talk is that he was not quite right.

Certainly he has not put a foot wrong this year, destroying fields in Ireland that, to be fair, he should destroy.  That makes a reading of his form difficult.  He is also 9 and has had to travel…. not the sort for me at 2/1.

Zarkander has not put a foot wrong too this season and his defeat of Grandouet and Rock on Ruby at the course was particularly strong.  Both of his foes that day may be able to give a good excuse but Zarkander is starting to look like a horse who knows how to get his head in front.  He has looked a lot stronger this year and remains undefeated this season.

Grandouet is of clear interest.  Losing that day to Zarkander was no disgrace given the amount of time he was off the course previously   He is obviously a delicate sort and has an interrupted preparation once again.  That was the cause of a a significant drift in his price but connections have been reassuring.  He is only 6 and entitled to improve.

Rock on Ruby has run this season as though this was the only race on trainer Harry Frys mind.  Last year when he won the Champion Hurdle (tipped up ante post by the Major at 14s!) he was technically a Paul Nicholls inmate but operating from the satellite yard ran by Fry.  He has been fitted with blinkers for the first time which comes as a bit of a surprise to the Major.  I cannot bring myself to back him again.

So it is Zarkander and Grandouet for the Major and who gets the tip of death?  At the prices now, it has to be Grandouet.  I am suggesting a win bet too.  If he performs he is entitled as any to win.  He now gets 4lbs from Zarkander which with natural fitness after that first run back should be enough to turn the tables.  Have a slice.

The Cross Country

If you can brave the cold, head out to the middle of the course for the cross country – It is a thing to behold.

The Major is keeping it simple, Enda Bolger is the specialist in these races and Arabella Boy is a worthy favourite, have a large slice and thank me later.

The Mares Hurdle

Quevega bids for history in the Mares Hurdle, seeking a fifth straight race win.  What is incredible is that Mullins keeps this spring horse under wraps until this race each season and so she bids to do so on debut.  Does the ground hold a concern?  Not really, she seems very versatile… what a girl.

It would be an incredible achievement and she is sure to raise a fine cheer come glory or defeat.

Normally I would be getting edgy about backing a nine year old but she is so lightly raced and so well looked after that I think that the rest are playing for places.

Of them, Une Artiste is the one I would fear.  The Major has had some tasty wins with this girl, including a surprise in last years Fred Winter.  She is young, progressive but needs to be if she is going to endanger that record.

5.15 Listed Chase

If at this stage, the day has not gone to plan, I suggest a mere light interest in the last.  Save your ammunition for easier puzzles than this.

The Novice Handicap Chase is designed in the deepest darkest minds of our enemy.  A swirling vortex of factors, the inexperience of chasing, the lack of course form, the improvers and the ground… 20 runners… we stand little chance.

Hazy Tom won a good race at Warwick and was just headed at Mussleburgh, I would argue he wants to be stepped back up from the minimum distance and he catches the eye with the Majors favourite jockey Noel Fehily aboard.

Rajdhani Express is of some interest if his jumping holds together and 25/1 could look big.

Carlito Brigante as a Coral Cup winner has plenty of attractions but the going is a significant concern for the Major.  Klepht is one to watch in the market.

On balance, I am opting for Hazy Tom at 16/1.

Good luck to all of you throughout the week.  I will post Wednesdays thoughts by midnight tomorrow.  For second opinions on tomorrow, have a look at any or all of the following, they are ad free enthusiastic racing fans… Young Racegoer, Luke Elder, Good to Soft, King of the Jumps (Callum, Luke and Emma – I wish you all the best)

Courage and roll those dice.

Cheltenham Festival Day One Preview – Festival Tips including a 50/1 STUNNER!!

Marsh Warbler

Marsh Warbler could be overpriced but it is Cue Card for the Major - Good luck followers

Thankfully regular followers of the Major arrive at the festival in good touch.  The Saturday Service returned a 55% profit with placed horses at 18/1 and 15/2 as well as a 5/2 winner.  We also had Wales to beat Ireland at a shade of odds on and Hull to win at Coventry at 9/5.  This from just 8 bets. 

As always, the Major is free, amateur and unhinged – All of my advices are recorded in the top navigation, you can see every bet I advise, with who, the price and the outcome.  I also summarise monthly performances.  It is all there.

Now though we are at a National Hunt fans Christmas Eve, the excitement is palpable, the treasure trove of racing goodness shall overflow from Prestbury Parks ample cup.  The moment has arrived, let us sup. 

Regulars will also notice a change of scenery.  The Major felt that the festival deserved a sprucing up of the decorations, hence a new banner, one of carnage, drama, horses and Guinness. 

The Major has been working this evening in readiness to offer a run down race by race.  If you are on course then I wish you a terrific day.

The Supreme Novices Hurdle

Dunraven Storm strikes me as a forgotten horse in this race.  The animal had done little wrong but has been off course for too long.  25/1 appeals on original form and I would not put someone off an each way slice but a lot has to be taken on trust regarding well-being.  He may have been held by Cue Card on previous outings but not by much and the same can be said of Al Ferof who has fitness in his favour but at 9/1 probably is poorer value.

Gibb River is an improver but not even the stables second choice so that would be a significant shock.

John Quinn has had some very positive things to say about his Totesport Trophy winner, Recession Proof.  Not for the Major.

There is going to be plenty of pace on with three of four horses wanting to set a fair gallop.  This includes sorts like Hidden Universe who is going to want to get on with it.  So will Marsh Warbler who also likes to lead.  It is tough to win a race of this quality from the front.  Of the two (and there are likely more), Marsh Warbler is very interesting to the Major.  The Chepstow form looks very good and with the good ground in his favour, this one may be harder to peg back than many expect.  25/1 is a bit dismissive.

Zaidpour has let a few people down in the last two runs but the Major would be at pains to stress that was on heavy ground in Ireland.  This one could surprise a few although Ruby made the decision to go to Al Ferof.

Spirit Son has done little wrong and I would expect him to be involved.  Sprinter Sacre likewise is a quality beast.

The way the race is likely to pan out would have Marsh Warbler near the front at the turn for home.  I would expect the lively pace to be a real asset to the hold up horses with good form in the book.  That said, no-one wants to give Marsh Warbler too much rope.  This unknown may not stop too quickly.

This is likely to set it up nicely for the others.  I have to say Cue Card has the best form in the race. FACT.  I would be very surprised if any jockey did not want to be on this one, Joe Tizzard can score the first victory of the festival for Britain and for the punters.

My advice is to take Cue Card at 5/2 with Paddy Power and William Hill.  The dangers are Sprinter Sacre and Spirit Son rather than Recession Proof and Al Ferof in the Majors view.  Marsh Warbler is worth an each way saver at a price. 

I think Cue Cards price will be honest because of the record of the recent hotpot favourites in the festival opener.  Certainly last year, Dunguib did not have the same form against top class opposition and had a claimer on board.  I think Cue Card is a different prospect, I hope he finishes the strongest of all.  I might not think Menorah will win the Champion Hurdle but the form of Cue Card is still goo enough for this.

The Arkle

The Arkle is a tremendous race.  What a wonderful start to the festival, the Supreme and then BOOOMMM, the Arkle!

This Arkle is an intriguing contest and I have a few angles I want to pursue.  For me (and I don’t mind sticking my neck out!) Finians Rainbow would be a 10/1 shot.  I just think his form in small fields is over-rated.

Captain Chris is a very interesting runner – I am hugely surprised that connections felt this Arkle was the right race, it looks red-hot and I am not sure Captain Chris will not find it all happening a bit too quickly for him over the minimum trip. – His best races for the Major have been those when stepped up in distance.

Ghizao  has the best form in the race for the Major but the break (last ran in December is a concern. 

I don’t think that Realt Dubh will be inconvenienced by the goodish ground and as Irelands best hope in the Arkle, he warrants respect.  The Major has had a winner with him before.

Medermit will go off as favourite and after his narrow defeat of Captain Chris, it is fair enough.  3/1 is plenty skinny for the Major but not under-priced.  I would be happier if the last few runs had not been over half a mile further. On good ground back at this trip, I question whether the turn of foot is quick enough.

My idea of the best animals at the top of the market are Medermit or Realt Dubh.  I would love to go with the bigger priced horse but Noble Prince, twice defeated by Realt Dubh is not a fantastic yardstick, perhaps Irelands best will not be good enough. 

At a massive 50/1, the Major is going to take a chance on Stagecoach Pearl.  There are plenty of questions about some at the top of the market.  Stagecoach Pearl needs to be forgiven the last defeat at the hands of Finians Rainbow but let us not forget that this horse is rated 147 for a reason (same as Realt Dubh).  At least it will give you a race as it likes to go from the front.  A clean round and it might surprise a few and hold on for a place.  You never know, it might go one better!

Spinal Research Handicap Chase

This is a very tricky handicap.  Heading the weights is Blazing Bailey, a favourite at Cheltenham who has improved as a chaser.

Rare Bob also has good form in the book, particularly the last race where blinkers were applied for the first time sparking improvement.

Great Endeavour has been raised a stone since last festival due to improved performances, I suspect more improvement is to come.

Caroles Legacy has feasibly a decent mark racing off 4lbs lower than his hurdle mark, of interest.

Bensalem on 6/1 is of a similar profile but probably a better version of it.  Not only did the horse finish second last year, this followed a very poor error at the first.  He went on to improve as a hurdler, makes plenty of errors but progressive.

Reve de Sivola is even more progressive!  10/1 (Sportinbet)!! This horse was second to Peddlers Cross last year, very worthy form.  The problem is whether you are likely to get a clean round.  In my view, if he jumps well he wins.

Razore Royale is back to a winning mark if finding old form.

Sunnyhillboy is also fancied as last years runner-up in the plate.  While he has some likely improvement, I am unsure he is the likely winner.

In summary if Bensalem and Reve de Sivola jump, they will be the first two in the Majors calculations.  Those are big ifs.  That said, I just like the look of Reve de Sivola and at 10/1 (Sportingbet) am willing to take it on, hope that Daryl Jacob gets is settled and jumping and then it shows what a class animal it is on the home run. 

The Champion Hurdle

I covered my thoughts on the Champion Hurdle in yesterdays post.  Peddlers Cross is my nap of the meeting.

The Cross Country

I forgot to mention in my Cheltenham build up piece that a real joy at the first day is to head to the centre of the course for the Cross Country.  You will never get as close to these magnificent beasts as they tackle some interesting obstacles.

The Cross Country is a race the Major has an awful track record in.  Maljimar is my idea of the winner with Garde Champetre peaked and the weight catching up with him.  6/1 is available generally.

The David Nicholson Mares Hurdle

It is hard to get past the hat-trick seeking Quevega who was once considered a Champion Hurdle contender.  For the second season running she gets her shot on her debut for the season.  That was a fine training performance last year from Willie Mullins, I have to say that at just 7, you have to admire the record already. 

Sparky May has to be the main danger, rated a 4/1 chance and unbeaten over hurdles, it is hard to assess what the form amounts to.  On a line with Caroles Legacy it looks quite impressive and as such I would prefer this as a bet solely because the horse ran eight weeks ago.

If Quevega turns up in the same form as last year, there is no reason to suggest she won’t, then I think Sparky May has to find 9lbs further improvement.  That is not beyond the realm of possibility and I suggest a 4/1 stake.

The Lucky Last – The Centenary Novice Handicap

This is the trickiest race of the day for the Major.  The field of novices have some very interesting contenders.

Short and sweet.  I think it comes down to Divers 9/1 and Definity 7/1.  Back both for wins, or each way for those of lesser vigour…. thank me later!

In Summary

If Cue Card (or Marsh Warbler), Stagecoach Pearl, Reve de Sivola and Peddlers Cross don’ go well, it is a bad day because the Major does not fancy trying to recoup losses in the Mares Hurdle, Cross Country or the Centenary.

I hope that whatever you are on, you take great wedges of cash from the old enemy.  Allow yourself to be carried along with the tide, remember what the Major tells you, you go along once so enjoy it. 

Remember you can sign up for the email alerts in the left hand column.  You can also sign up to the tweet feed @tdl123.  Tweet me if you are on track tomorrow.  The festival tips piece for Wednesday will be written late on Tuesday and a little bit more drunkenly.  Have a great day.

Go to bed and sleep, Santa doesn’t come unless you do….

Ouch – Quevega was not the best of the three!

Let’s start with the 2,000 guineas.  I do enjoy the first classic of the season the most.  Watching George Washington win this a few years back was a fantastic experience for me, probably his best performance, the turn of foot was explosive. 

This renewal doesn’t throw up an obvious superstar.  Coolmores superb record in the race cannot be overlooked and therefore Mastercraftsman and Rip van Winkle are of obvious interest.  I have them both backed ante-post which on reflection was like printing money as they inevitably shorten up.. wish I had printed more of it!

RVW suffered a stone bruise recently but that hasn’t put off J Murtagh from taking the ride, could this be the finger from Coolmore identifying the better runner.  They usually know their best runner but not always and so money for either on the day would be significant in my eyes.

Mastercraftsmen will get the top ground surface he likes and Pats Smullen is equal in my eyes to Johnny Murtagh.

Both have clear chances but the selection comes from another Irish Raider, John Oxx.  Sea the Stars is a well bred horse who must rate as a great price for the Derby at this stage (will probably be better at the distance).  However, the trainer is shrewd enough and with pace assured and always does well when straying into big English races.

Punchestown Four Year Old Hurdle 2.55 Grade One

Put simply Mourad looks by some margin the best of these.  With Willie and Walsh both on fire this week, this one looks good for some profit making.

4/6 doesn’t put me off.

Football

To make a change, a football fixture is selected.

The horror show (Sorry Latics and Bolton fans) is at the JJB where two teams with nothing to play for meet Wigan v Bolton.  Wigan are the leagues lowest scorers, neither team do well in North West derbies.  Uninspiring stuff.  0-0, 1-0, 0-0 HT, Less than 2 goals…. take your pick.

Advice:

Back Sea the Stars win £5 13 and place £5 4.4

Back Mourad Win £30

Back 0-0 10, 1-0 8.8, 0-0 HT 2.9 and less than 2 goals 3.5 all with £3.