Tag Archives: silviniaco conti

The Aintree Opening Day Sermon – Plus, Why I am no National fan… Don’t shoot.

Good evening from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire where the dirty air clings to your skin in a thin film.  The warmness, the itchiness, unsettling, anxiety droops slowly from all buildings, all structures, losing their integrity, slowly, watch your step my friends.

Aintree is here and the Major has decided to run through the card of each day with a notable race exception being the Grand National itself.  Regular followers might know that it is not my race but I shall clarify anyway.

It is darn difficult to find a winner in a 40 runner handicap full of Irish handicap smugglers and horses experiencing the challenging fences of the Mildmay for the first time, but this is not the trouble.  It is the safety record.  I shall not be crass and crow but I am uncomfortable with the fatality rate, which I feel is just too high .  It is about as likely as not that one of the competitors will die on Saturday, this compares to a death in approximately every 25 races in normal National Hunt racing.

Two things about this before some of you explode.  Firstly, I truly hope the changes implemented last year, in which a much safer race ensued, continue to have effect.  I am not hoping to be proven right about a bad safety record at all and I want it to be a safe (not sanitised) race.

Secondly, I recognise that my position could be reasonably criticised as hypocritical, I cannot deny the claim.  My objection is purely on quantum and not utter moral.  The positive side of racing as a sport, industry and spectacle is a very hefty ledger too.  In the sense of balance, I just feel the loss of horses in the National has been too much.

As you can see, I am wrestling with it.  This, mixed amongst many other facets of life that trouble me too, last night again was entirely restless, turning constantly, too warm or too cold, rolling from side to side, listening over and over to the Divine Comedy regarding Dantes passage through hell (worth a listen on Iplayer Radio).  As the night broke, I stared at the horizon and the edge of the sky thinned, slowly,  almost imperceptibly from black to a band of deep dark blue, I started to shake myself into order, I broke cover in the dusky morning for Pershore and first light in the old Georgian market square was pleasant, I bought fresh croissants whose warm crisp layer dented to the touch.  I surprised the good lady by presenting them with good coffee and all was well again.

For those following my twitter feed (@tdl123) – I have been in good form this week, picking 6 Southwell winners from just 11 selections.  A strike rate of more than one in two would be some result on this card, we shall endeavour.

Ready the mothership.

Aintree Thursday Tips

Now as a rule, when it comes to Cheltenham and Punchestown, I like to find good ground horses that have been laid out for these specific festivals.  This is a markedly different track to Cheltenham, it has a slight rise but is largely flat, the cornering is tighter too.  We must balance this desire for horses that have been targeted and will enjoy the course without dismissing any classy sorts that simply might outclass their rival in spite of these impediments.  Let me see…

We start with a juvenile hurdle where the favourite is one of the hard luck stories of the festival.  Who knows whether Calipto would have won but for the breaking of his gear, he certainly was travelling sweetly to that point.  There are a lot of folk thinking that Activial, for in form Harry Fry, might have the measure of Calipto but I am not sure.  Regardless, I like Fox Norton, who has distinguished himself well on these shores and in France.  A key piece of form was giving half a stone and a narrow beating to Broughton – Crucially he has been targeted to this and Nick Williams is in decent form.

The Ryanair gave Dynaste a fine opportunity to win a Grade 1 festival race but it might be that he finds this a step too far this season.  He did win on his only other visit to Aintree mind and while the Major has found him quirky, he is clearly some talent on his day.  Silviniaco Conti had an even tougher race in the Gold Cup when seemingly in with a chance at the last before fading badly to be unplaced, although some way clear of fifth.  He faded so quickly, I wondered if something was amiss but he is turned out again quickly and so it seems not.  He had the measure of Dynaste in the King George and if he is over those exerts, he will definitely be a contender as I rate him the best in the field.

That is a big if though, it was a big gruelling effort and he looked bottomed out.  I am not a First Lieutenant fan and so am left with a decision between a quirky but talented sort and a horse that gave his heart just under three weeks ago.  Not an easy choice but I go for Dynaste at 15/8 because I was very worried about the exertions of his main market rival.

The Aintree Hurdle is a testimonial for The New One if you believe the markets – Many folks feel that he was also a very unlucky horse in the Champion Hurdle although I am unconvinced, not a doubter just open-minded.  Anyway, being only 3l down at the finish anyway proves he is better than this lot and he has already served up Rock on Ruby on a plate.  Should win.  Not much fun.

The Foxhunters can go to current favourite Mossey Joe who as an eleven year old can recoup some of his enormous fee by taking this.  Boxer Georg has the assistance of Mullins who is the best amateur rider in this race.  Best because of skills, best because of experience (almost twice as many rides in the last year as any other jockey in the field) and best for strike rate (30% owing to the exceptional book of rides his father supplies!). I was initially whole heartedly into Mossey Joe, his jockey is a steadier 2 wins from 46 rides…. A saver on Boxer Georg is definitely required (20/1).

In the 4.15 I am chancing Off the Ground for Emma Lavelle.  He ran an OK race for most of the way at Cheltenham last time and I am not concerned about this shorter trip.  He likes good ground (2 from 3) and at 16/1 I give him a squeak but it is a tentative bet.

Back for a fourth Grade 1 of an excellent card and the Novice Chase.  Western Warhorse caused a stink by narrowly defeating the crowd favourite Champagne Fever.  He could go in again here but as an unpredicatble sort, I am not sure I would want to be on and I am equally uncertain that the tighter track will suit.  Oscar Whisky is a much more solid sort and providing he was not set back in his fall at Cheltenham he will be fit and not overcooked.

In the last, there are a number of likely sorts in such an open hurdle handicap.  Riverside Theatre has the class to take them on but is older, less consistent and more exposed than most, even though his chase mark is a stone higher.  Nope, Doctor Harper is the one for me, he has progressed as a hurdler and enjoys these conditions, David Pipe won this three years ago and his father had a decent record in the race too.  12/1 is available but 11/1 generally.

Good luck if you are at Aintree tomorrow, have a great day…… Courage and roll the dice.

Advertisements

The 2014 Cheltenham Gold Cup Sermon

Good evening from the Major who writes from a Worcestershire beset in a dull grey, the sun never quite managed to rid the land of that cool malaise and as dusk fell, I felt tired.

Today was not to plan.  Annie, oh Annie.  Ruby blamed himself, he parked in behind the wrong JP horse, whichever way you look at it, More of That was impressive and a second Championship winning racehorse that AP McCoy chose not to ride!  I was involved in a major position on Annie and was quite gutted to see her not quite real in More of That who was the deserved winner.

I cannot quite describe how, since the blog had a poorer day, that I ended up in some clear profits.  Some old forgotten antepost and a dash of fortune, the war chest is prepared for the final assault.  I feel a bit dirty over some of the wins, fortuitous and unlikely would not quite cover it.  Still, I am armed – Let’s get to business.

I am expecting guests tonight and so, will discharge the dribble of my mind for your own appraisal without much of the buffer you might usually expect.  I trust you are in position too for the final assault – Ah Gallipoli, Crimea, Cawnpore – Those final stands.  Allow us to aim true, with a steady hand and a sharp eye.  Stay frosty my friends, you need to act without emotion.

Cheltenham Friday Gold Cup Tips

As per all posts this week, I will be referring back to the antepost piece I compiled a week ago, reviewing the Grade 1’s on the Cheltenham card.

We start with the Triumph… My selection last week was Calipto, 5/1 then, 9/2 now – The same logic applies, his form from beating Activial is the bit that stands out for me, Royal Irish Hussar being the next best.

We move into the County Hurdle and of high interest is Arctic Fire who while having achieved less than some of these, is the choice of Ruby Walsh and let us not forget that Mullins has won the County twice in the last five years.  He has won on good ground and is receiving support.

Hobbs has talked up the chances of Cheltenian and it is easy to foresee him going well.   Never Enough Time caught the eye, as did many, as he looks very well handicapped and this is typically a race that goes to an Irish raider.   I am having one and it is a Mullins horse but not Arctic Fire. No, If AP can jock himself off two winning rides, it is not too far removed to imagine Ruby managing to get off one too…. Upazo, gets the services of Paul Townend (as long as he is OK after a bad fall earlier today).  I think he is well handicapped and while only a tentative selection, at 25/1, he gives us a chance to really deal up a stake of pain!

The Albert Bartlett also got the Grade 1 treatment and my logic has survived another week.  First of all, I like Kings Palace and am on at some reasonable antepost prices.  Yet he might struggle to cut it from the front against this opposition – Although the ground is a massive plus for him.  Briar Hill is an obvious call, I would not put anyone off, his champion bumper left us all agog at how we managed to let a 25/1 Mullins / Walsh through and his course form and impeccable CV this year put him rightly at the head of the market.

However, Captain Cutter has done little wrong too.  He had the beating of Kings Palace on bumper form and was my antepost pick… Hmmmm… On balance, I am going to get after this particular Mullins favourite but I am going to back against Captain Cutter too.  As a rule a front runner in this sort of race would not be my thing but I am going to side with Kings Palace on two counts.  The ground and the super confident form of Tom Scudamore.

Then the big one, the Gold Cup.  We have been waiting from it, ever since last year with Conti sprawling out on the way down the hill, Sir Des Champs playing a role and Bobs Worth niggled but classy, determined and perpetual, building his run in layers, with his foes unable to respond at the death.

Again, I have already a position here where Silviniaco Conti has been my choice and this has been true since the start of the season.  Prior to his King George win, I was backing him at the fancy prices.  That said, I have been hedging in with Bobs Worth too – He is five from five on good ground.  There is something funny about him though, he does hit flat spots and I wonder how reliable he is in a fight.

Silviniaco Conti will battle, I think he is wiser at his fences and while his good ground form does not quite stack up as equal, it is impressive enough.  Go large or go home as they say.  7/2 is available but in the morning, I bet some game bookmaker, offers us 5/1.

The Foxhunters is a race in which I have another of my antepost positions built up.  On the Fringe at 4/1 is an absolute snip.  Go watch his last race, it is highly impressive.  Of course, nobody would begrudge a win for Oscar Delta and Jane Mangan after the disaster that struck last year… Can you imagine if he sails over the last, how people’s memories of last year will be in our minds, how we will cheer if he charges up the run in, incident free… Good luck @jane_mangan

If you get to the last two races of the festival and need something, you are in a world of trouble my friend.

The Martin Pipe is a wide open handicap and playing it for a big result is a very perilous affair.  My best guess is The Skyfarmer who will absolutely love being returned to a sound surface.  Yes he is a stone and a half more weighted down since his last win but he needs this surface and despite being seemingly the second Hobbs string, I hold a hope.  16/1 is available.  Vieux Lion Rouge is a suspicious looking Pipe horse but has been campaigned on heavy ground and that puts me off.

I have a simple theory for the lucky last of the Festival.  Last year, the Grand Annual, named after Johnny Henderson about ten years ago, almost fell to his son, Nicky for the second time since the renaming.  Surely he has another prepared for us?  Tanks for That is not a typical horse for me, being older but his run in an all weather bumper will have put him right and while he has two ways of running, maybe we will strike true with his 16/1 price.

Courage and roll the dice!

Boxing Day Sermon – Kempton et al. Shabash. Courage, roll the dice.

Good morning from the Major who writes from Cork, all full of Christmas hangover, weary from the excess.  The sky here is large, full of Atlantic glory, the ground crisp, my head hurts.

The Major is not well acquainted with Ireland.  Driving down from Dublin, the signs were racecourse after racecourse, each stirring a memory.

Christmas Day was spent with Jim and Mary, he from Waterford, she from Cork.  Their hospitality was excellent.  From the sole served to me for Christmas lunch (I am vegetarian for a year) to the fine wines and brandy that washed it down, all was good.

Jim worked at Winson Green and Wormwood Scrubs, he is a solid sort, keeps things simple – It is fair to say I liked him from the start.  We connected immediately because of a mutual appreciation of racing – Sometimes you can look at a man and know you have that in common.

I trust your Christmas was as merry as mine.  Forgive the lateness of the post, I type from the hotel I am residing at.  My head hurts and we badly need a turn in fortune.  Such things happen at times like these.

To the sports.  Saddle up my kindred warriors.  It is time for us to daub the war paint.  We may have needed credit to enter the Christmas period but we shall emerge dripping in cash, victory upon victory, sedimentary layers of success building relentlessly until the enemy cries no more and we give out of sheer generosity for the spirit of the season.

Kempton – Boxing Day Tips

I love this card.  It is one of my favourite days of racing.  Memories bubble up of Kauto sailing over the fences, leaving Madison de Berlais or the Tom George trained grey whose name momentarily escapes me (forgive the drunken haze), in his glorious wake.  Or of Long Run, battling on like a true warrior.  The King George has taken its rightful place as the second best race of the season.

To win 5 King Georges.  Think of that.  Incredible.

Two meetings have been called off and the Major does not care.  Partly because of my wine flown state, partly because Boxing Day is hectic enough.  Jockeys you have never heard of pressed into action and races going off back to back, remorseless and relentless, painfully busy.

Let us begin like  all good stories at the start.

The opener looks like a good opportunity for Dubai Prince who is a very good convert to the hurdling game and won on debut.  He is definitely not a straight forward sort but clearly has talent and his Donnie win has been franked since with the second going in again.

In the second, Western Warhorse is one I have followed after hitting the bar at Cheltenham.  Disappointing next time out and the Major abandons him for Ericht who is a fine bet at 7/2.  The Henderson horse made a decent start over the big obstacles in a race won by Funny Star, a decent Nicholls horse  who has gone on to win again.

Although it looks a spot kick for Just a Par, I am siding with Green Flag who has looked very impressive to the eye and a natural jumper.

Then the Christmas hurdle.  Take your pick of the top two – Both incredibly impressive hurdling prospects, My Tent or Yours and The New One make this a very good renewal.  I remember the race that cemented Punjabi in my mind as a Champion Hurdler, even though he fell when chasing leg 2 of the £1 million WBX bonus… Ahhhhhh.  I think we will have a new favourite for the Champion Hurdle today and I believe it to be My Tent or Yours.  When you consider that McCoy > Twiston Davies, it becomes an easy choice.

Then the big one.  For my money, Cue Card will get beaten.  It is a tough one ruling him out because I was quite impressed with his Betfair win.  As I said before that race, I am not concerned about his stamina, even though he has pace to burn.  Yet, some races just fall completely right for a horse and I believe the betfair to be that way fir Cue Card.  No, the Major has interest in others.  Al Ferof is of interest but again, I just think there are better horses.  The King George is won by a class animal and for me that means either Silviniaco Conti or Long Run.

Regular readers will know there is a touch of the heart about Long Run for me, I cannot deny it.  I love his gangly style and despite the amateur rider who is a definite handicap, this is a superb horse.  I think people overlook just how young he was when he won a Gold Cup – Not may do that at such  a tender age.  Since then, his career has gone one way but this is an excellent chance for him on ground he will relish and with the spotlight and pressure on others.

However, the money goes to Silviniaco Conti who is a very very good horse in his own right.  I thought he was travelling as well as Bobs Worth when coming down in the Gold Cup and frankly, he is one of my horses for the season.  9/2 is available with some outfit I have never heard of but 4/1 is the general price.

Sportingbet go 8/1 about Beyeh in the last and it will stay in my top pocket as a Get Out of Jail card.

At Leopardstown, Anifleet and Champagne Fever both look like 1/2 spot kicks – Not much fun there.  Limerick has an even shorter 1/4 certainty in Felix Younger – Where has the fun of Christmas gone?

It is to Wetherby and the Roland Meyrick for the other selection to add to your Christmas acca.  I am interested in two of the bigger priced runners.  While Cloudy Too is a good starting point for Sue Smith, I think this race is far more open than the market suggests.  My two are…. Cape Tribulation at 8/1 and Master of the Hall at 25/1.  The first is the bet, the second the saver.  Malcolm Jefferson has won this in the last few years and I think the form that Cape Tribulation has shown at Cheltenham has been close to top class.  I am surprised he is this price but understand that we need to return to form.

To the football.

I have asked my brother-in-law to guest tip the Premier League.  He is a good drinking partner and will see you right…

Man United will beat Hull in an old score style – By that he means draw half time and Man Utd at full time.  Villa Palace is a dreadful prospect (he is a Villa fan too) and unders is the way to go.  Cardiff v Southampton is a BTTS certainty.  Chelsea a 1-0 scoreline against Swansea.  Everton v Sunderland is a nil nil! Surprised me too.  Fulham might get the points out of Norwich at a price.  Newcastle v Stoke is worth backing in the overs market.  Arsenal to beat West Ham to nil.  Spurs v West Brom is a 2-2 – Reminds me of when we did come away with that scoreline and Scott Dobie scored a blinder! Finally, over 4.5 goals in Man City v Liverpool.

Outlandish calls… big prices… Merry Christmas.

For the Major – I would be a buyer of Villa t close to evens because even though they are poor, Palace are worse.  I would also back Spurs to beat Albion because they have more conviction currently.  Regulars will know that I believe Wigan to be constantly overpriced and that is true today too.

I hope your Boxing Day is in fine family company and that you indulge to the right amount.  Think of me and toast to all that is good in this world.

From Cork, I wish you and yours well.  Courage… Roll those dice.

Thursday Aintree Card – Why I’m Bypassing the Grand National

Good evening from the Major who writes tired from his bed and thus will keep things brief, if that is OK with you.

When you are being slung out of the office by the security guard and find yourself buying an 11pm kebab for dinner (not ideal Paris Marathon, Sunday, prep), you know it has been a day.  Yet, a damn productive one too.  I was not there under sufferance, more capturing the spirit of productivity coursing through my veins.

Sleep beckons though.  I started typing at midnight and plan to be finished by twenty to one.  That means 40 minutes, to fit in a diatribe about the national and give some tips.   Now you can do the maths but you can see that not a  lot of time in this equation is dedicated to the fine art of studying form.  I am not selling this well am I.  Come to think of it, I never do.

The Major remains free, slightly profitable and unhinged.  Here for your delectation.

Why the Major is Bypassing the Grand National

This week I am going to receive thousands of visitors seeking a tip on the national.  It is a moment of the year when our sport is in the nation’s mind.  we will be front page and not just back page.

Yet, it is race that I, for one, am done with.  At essence, it does not compare to the national hunt racing I love, baring few similarities.

No other race is run over four and a half miles.   The obstacles are like no other these horses face and the melee of the scene and forty horses piling around makes for an ugly spectacle.

Now some will think that I am either soft or a hypocrite.  Let me take those in turn.  To the first I say that I love racing despite its inherent dangers.  The thrill of watching these fine athletes strut their stuff… well, I find it intoxicating.  Yet, with the National, the danger is no longer a feared risk which is the by-product of the challenge… no, the danger becomes the spectacle.

The commentator excitedly calling the spills, betting markets on whether they all survive the first fence, I find it less appealing.

I hope all 40 horses make it round safely but I’d rather give it a miss myself.  If racing wanted a safer national, less runners is where I would start, followed by severe changes to some of the jumps, particularly those, like Bechers, with a severe drop.  Then, National fans, would wring their hands and exclaim that the heart of the race has gone.  Good riddance would be my reply.  This is no good advert for racing.

That is my other issue with the National.  The controversy around it may threaten racing more widely.  Further tragedies may create more popular support for banning the race.  I would prefer we dealt with it now.

I have it off my chest.

Thursday Aintree Card

Aintree and Punchestown can throw some odd results.  It is a time of the year when the ground is changing and horses that have been running on softer ground, meet spring ground, changing their prospects.  Horses who have been on the go a lot, or mainly prepared with Cheltenham in mind can also throw some shockers too.  Thus, a little caution is advised.

In the opener a prime example of a must back horse is there.  Irish Saint bypassed Cheltenham for a crack at Aintree and clearly Paul Nicholls thinks a flat track is what he needs.  Judged on his performance up the Cheltenham hill when second to Rolling Star previously, I am sure he is right.  10/3 Stan James.

Flaxen Flare is a danger to all if reproducing an astonishing Fred Winter performance that came after the application of headgear.

Silviniaco Conti is an unbelievable 10/11 shot.  He has been a much improved horse this season and would certainly (in my eyes) have played a part in the finish of the Gold Cup had he not fell coming down the hill.  Load the cannons.

The New One is a hugely likeable horse having just beaten My Tent or Yours at Cheltenham in a warm up before winning the Neptune Novices.  Good ground holds no fears and what is not to like?  Yet he is meeting older horses for the first time here and we should be fearful of several.  Oscar Whisky ran too badly to be true in the World Hurdle and is a considered beast on ground he likes.

Zarkander has been fitted with headgear which is odd as I see nothing wrong with the attitude of the horse but having run well earlier in the year, looked just short of top class when fourth in the Champion.

It is Grandouet I side with who was still travelling well when falling in the Champion, runs well on good and can be forgiven finishing behind Zarkander on reappearance after a long lay off.

The foxhunters is run on the national course and considering my earlier rant, it is one I shall leave, even though it is a far safer race and not one I oppose in itself.

In the Red Rum, Kid Cassidy is of clear interest having finished second to another JP owned horse in the Grand Annual last time out.  That race is bound to throw up more handicap winners and this one is a clear contender.  However, I side with Astracad who loves good ground, is young enough to improve and races off a similar mark to when placing in this last year.  The Twiston Davies family have had a good year and I back it to continue.

I am having a big slice of Captain Conan in the novice chase.  Many did not like the look of his Sandown win and judged him a non stayer.  Whether that is correct or not, I am unsure but his defeat by Benefficient (indeed behind Changing Times too) in the Jewson was more the result of poor jumping in my view.  Many of these might not act on good drying ground and Captain Conans physique and style suggest he might be one but I struggle to find a much better one to beat him.

In the last race, the three mile handicap hurdle, I am going to opt for Many Clouds who really impressed me last time out and looked a shade classy.  He has big field experience and is my idea of the winner at 14/1.  One at 20s worth a mention and probably wholly unfancied is Connectivity.   He is likely to much prefer this ground to his Warwick reappearance and I would not rule his involvement out.

 

Friday Cheltenham Gold Cup Tips – The Major is Chasing, JT McNamara, The Triumph… last chance for glory

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!

The Triumph

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.

The Foxhunters

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.