Good evening from the Major who writes from an overcast Worcestershire scene that is positively balmy compared to recent conditions.
The Major is tired. Three days of battle cling to my clothes and skin and there is a certain stench of defeat about it. Today we scored a magnificent win with Cue Card, whom I gave a strong indication to load the cannons on, but there ends the success.
Should you feel disappointed I hope it eases your mind to understand that the Major was significantly invested in Sam Winner, Ballynagour and Oscar Whiskey all of which floundered hopelessly at one stage or another.
Twitter is alight with thoughts and prayers for JT McNamara who suffered a fall on Galaxy Rock in the Kim Muir, the consequence of which was him suffering a severe neck injury. Powerful barbiturates were used to induce a coma and the racecourse medical team flew with him on the air ambulance to Bristol. My own losses become inconsequential.
A bitter taste was left by that turn of events which unfurled as the racecourse team were dealing with Matuhi who suffered a fatal fall in the previous race.
This all followed the surprising news that Davy Russell had suffered a punctured lung, although the cause remains a mystery. He is stood down and tonight there remains a mystery as to who will ride Sir Des Champs in the Gold Cup on Friday…
The Major kept good company today and included in the group was a chap whose methodology involved selecting horses on a theme from current events. He selected the papal election and so used that when reviewing each race. To build my own knowledge of what is likely to transpire in the 2013 Cheltenham Festival championship races, I have invested hundreds of hours following national hunt racing. You know already what happened. He selected the winner of the first two races at 25/1 and 20/1 before following up with some rather tasty each way places including Celestial Halo (of course) at 40/1. Good on him, I wish every man his good fortune, I just hope our own enterprise is rewarded tomorrow.
Today was a critical day and it swung things in the bookmakers direction. We need winners. We have just one day remaining.
Stick with me, it is darkest before the dawn. As Roosevelt (Theodore) said it is better to be faithful than famous. Either that, or pick a theme and knock yourself out!
Our Conor is going to give Ireland a terrific chance of winning a Triumph, not a traditionally strong race for the raiding team. He has already had the measure of many of his Irish rivals this winter including Stocktons Wing and Diakali.
On the home team, the probable best chance is Rolling Star who beat Irish Saint on British debut on heavy ground and could be anything. That win was at Cheltenham and mighty impressive. Henderson has won three of the last twelve Triumph hurdles and so clearly he is to be feared.
Complicating the scene is the ground / weather. The rain is likely to not be serious until later in the afternoon and so this will be a good ground race. That brings in some serious questions for Rolling Star and Our Conor, neither of whom have raced on good.
Lac Fontana has an interesting profile having not disgraced himself against better horses in novice company and now stepping down to juvenile grade for this. Jockey booking suggests Far West has the measure of him at home.
On balance, Our Conor is getting the line – I am not convinced the yard is in the best shape, the horse has done better in smaller fields and he has the travel to contend with.
Both Far West and Rolling Star have won at Cheltenham. I cannot split them but will do so on trainer form at the festival which means that Rolling Star gets the nod.
The County Hurdle
The favourite in the County is Cotton Mill, well thought of by Pricewise, enough to make him his antepost Champion Hurdle pick. The County is a much less ambitious target.
Cotton Mill may have some class but the County is often won by a springer from lower in the weights and that is the Major’s angle into the race. Age 5/6, Mullins horses particularly interesting…
This leads us straight to Tennis Cap at 12/1 who I think has an excellent chance. Ranjaan has been the selection of Ruby which is an advert in itself but with Ditcheat not showing their usual swagger this week, I prefer Paul Townend aboard my pick
The Albert Bartlett
I am not sure how the Albert Bartlett will feel tomorrow after we witnessed the rise of equine and jockey stars Brindisi Breeze and Campbell Gillies and their tragic deaths last year. I am sure the course will have some moment planned to commemorate them.
What a great advert The New One gave for At Fishers Cross in his demolition job in the Neptune on Wednesday. That Cheltenham race now looks key to this.
Utopie des Bordes has some experience which is an advantage but I am not sure it is good enough.
Ballycasey lines up to have a pop at At Fishers Cross where Inish Island failed. Neither I think will get to the favourite. All evidence to me says that At Fishers Cross is very very classy and has a great attitude. If the rain is not soaked in by the time of the Albert Bartlett I would not be too concerned as the tip is an Oscar bred animal and should be fine under firmer conditions.
Cheltenham Gold Cup Tips
The 2013 Gold Cup has a decent feel to it with a number of potential winners and a great story to unfold.
At this point last year, I was convinced Sir Des Champs would go on to be crowned 2013 Gold Cup winner but he seems to have a lost a little edge. That said he has improved with each run this year, looks a thorough stayer and clearly likes Cheltenham. Yet, the standing down of Davy Russell is a final negative for the Major.
I cannot have the Giant Bolster. Won’t place. Neck on line.
At 10/1 Captain Chris would be a consideration having run Long Run so close in the King George but rain might put pay to his chances.
Bobs Worth, Long Run and Silviniaco Conti are harder to split.
Silviniaco Conti has two negatives that put him out of the picture for the Major. Firstly, he has no Cheltenham win to his name and while he has looked mighty impressive this term, he has yet to face this sort of challenge. Secondly, I alluded earlier to the fact that Ditcheat just look a little short of sparkle this week.
That leaves me with a Henderson 1-2. The order is the tricky thing. The trend of not regaining a Gold Cup (with the exception of Kauto Star) does not bother me. Long Run picked up his at a very tender age and there is no reason why he cannot win another simply because others have not. He probably was not on full song when Conti beat him on seasonal debut, his King George win was brave and overall the Major is not against him at all.
Bobs Worth won a Hennessy and showed he had staying power doing so. He has 4 course wins from 4 starts, including an Albert Bartlett and an RSA. The Hennessy makes me slightly nervous because Tidal Bay is a yardstick that I think over-rated. I might be the only person to think this but it makes me concerned about the Irish Hennessy form too, a view supported by the trouncing Cue Card gave First Lieutenant. A further concern would be deteriorating conditions with Bobs Worth only experience incredibly being on goodish ground.
That leaves me with Long Run. 11/2 is available and I think it is well worth a decent wedge even if we are hampered by the Amateur Jockey.
Jockey booking is essential and after that, horse quality is required. I think Salisfy can defend his title but 11/4 is not much of a price, particularly as the ground is going to be getting away from him.
I much prefer the 10/1 about Cottage Oak available with Corals. The more rain he better for this one whose price accounts for the talented looking but inexperienced rider.
The Martin Pipe
After Dynaste went down in the Jewson, Ballynagour seemed to empty fast in the Byrne Plate and it seems hard to trust Pipe horses at the head of affairs. This puts Gervey Chambertin in a little doubt.
It is only a little doubt though and I think it telling that the Pipe yard are having a pop at the race named in honour of their own with just this entrant. He is a full brother to Grand Crus and could have been entered in several of the novice hurdles.
Solix is not a 66/1 shot in my eyes and if Ian Williams has him firing, he could make a mockery of that price.
Bourne has shown some class and rates a credible winner if we get more rain, 20/1 is workable.
The Major is opting for the fantastic festival of Willie Mullins to continue with a big run from the unexposed Make your Mark at 12/1 – Clearly he has been well thought of at various stages and if he arrives here in form, perhaps we will see it happen in front of us! A saver on the Pipe horse is recomended.
The Grand Annual
The former race is named after the Pipe yard and the Grand Annual also carries the name of a famous yard, the Hendersons. Rather than take one good shot at the prize, the team have lined up six darts to throw and there are cases for many of them.
The yard had a one-two in the race last year but this year they may struggle to cope with the Tome George trained Rody (8/1). The race has a tendency towards featherweights and Rody carries 10 8 – Have a slice.
Courage, roll those dice.