Neill Dennehy has been reviewing each day of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival this week. We bring you his final review of the Festival for Friday’s races at the Tavern.
The race most likely to produce a future star on the Friday looked to be the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle over three miles, the first two in that race both look like very good prospects. The winner Brindisi Breeze took it up plenty early enough and looks a top class prospect. Although not overly big, his shrewd connections are still very confident that he will go to the top over fences and they have every reason to be buoyant given his performance here. It is great for the northern circuit to have produced another top class racehorse. The Willie Mullins trained Boston Bob was regarded by connections as being as good a novice as they had ever sent to the festival.
Many were quick to criticise Ruby Walsh’s ride on Boston Bob and on the face of it, it looks as though it was misjudged. They did go off pretty quick in front, but it seems that Walsh still had his mount settled too far back when the race began to develop. The ride smacked to some as overconfidence and he displayed a certain lack of tactical versatility in sitting still even when they were starting to get away from him out in front. It subsequently transpired that Willie Mullins wasn’t overly happy with Boston Bob before the race and he remains a top prospect for chasing next season. He possible just lacks a change of gear and might be better suited by soft ground. Connections were certainly correct in running him here rather than in the Neptune. It looked briefly like he might gather in Brindisi Breeze coming up the hill, but having to make up so much ground clearly blunted his finish. Nothing should be taken away from the winner however who did it the hard way and was well on top at the line. Boston Bob might be a future candidate for something like the Irish National as he may just be short of the pace to compete in the top three mile races over fences.
This year’s renewal of the Triumph didn’t look a vintage one from the outset and so it seems to have proved with the winner Countrywide Flame looking exposed coming into the race. While he was a shock winner at 33/1, there was little fluke about the manner of the victory and he probably will go on to be the best of these over two miles. He showed a good turn of foot here. If any of this crop are to progress to become grade one animals in open company, it will probably be at a trip well above the minimum. The winner reversed Leopardstown form comprehensively with Hisaabaat who was three lengths back in second and Dermot Weld’s made hurdler is an exposed flat performer not short of a quirk who really looks to have limited prospects in both spheres. He can probably step up in trip; this move looks to be a common theme here. Like the winner, he is tough and jumps well but lacks a turn of foot. Saddlers Risk showed up well for a long way in front, but was ultimately disappointing back in sixth. The in and out Baby Mix once again let down his followers in ninth. The two best prospects in the race might have been the fallers Pearl Swan who was coming into it when departing, he may have a future in staying hurdles and Balder Success who lacked experience and probably found the ground quick enough. He is regarded as an embryonic chaser by Alan King who’s other more fancied charge, the very professional Grumeti didn’t get up the hill back in third having looked the winner at the second last.
Finally, it falls to discuss the blue rebind, the reason why over seventy thousand spectators crammed into Cheltenham racecourse last Friday, the motive behind the very existence of the National Hunt breed….. The Gold Cup. It is probably best to treat this race as if Kauto Star wasn’t in it, in truth, he never was having not fully recovered from his training ground fall and Paul Nicholls reported that something seemed to go amiss internally at the water jump. What we saw was the horse that used to be Kauto Star and he won’t be remembered for what happened last Friday. On the plus side it was a chance for his adoring public to say goodbye and he got a lovely reception as he was quickly pulled up by his jockey Ruby Walsh, a man whose reputation he helped cement and reinforced again and again over the course of sixteen grade ones. This can’t be described a disappointment as really, who can reasonably expect a fairytale and that is what it would have been. The truth is that the last time we saw the real Kauto Star was probably in the December of 2009 and everything since has just been a testament to his courage. We’ll leave what happens next up to Paul Nicholls as we all should have done the last time, but it looks pretty clear what is going to happen and the Gold Cup of 2012 was not just the end of the career of a horse, but the end of an era. The racing public has been spoilt in the last six years with a succession of box office Gold Cup winners, now we are going to have to realise that most of the time, the Gold Cup is just won by a good stayer. Sir Des Champs and maybe eventually even Sprinter Sacre show a lot of potential, but right now, it is just that.
There looks to be a definite changing of the guard as well as the power swing in the Trainer’s Championship is definitely moving towards Nicky Henderson. If he doesn’t do it this season, he must surely finish the job next. Paul Nicholls is most certainly working behind the scenes to ameliorate matters, but we can only judge on what we see now, and as regards chasers, Henderson holds all of the cards. Scarcely can a man ever have looked so disappointed as to have won a stayers hurdle and a Champion in one week. If it needed pointing out, we certainly know now what fires the passion in Paul Nicholls.
Now to try and analyse what happened last Friday. There are a few possible ways of looking at this, and it is difficult to say definitively why we got the result we did, but we’ll have a look at a few of the angles. Long Run just simply didn’t pick up at the finish and on the face of it that seems strange given this year’s Gold Cup was run in a time seven seconds slower than last year. Long Run hasn’t been performing as well as he did last season, but the decline culminating in a third place last Friday is quite startling. Could he do with stronger handling? Possibly, but it seems unfair to put blame on Sam Waley-Cohen when the horse has simply seemed a shadow of himself. The fact that he couldn’t beat a 12yo Kauto Star at Haydock or Kempton pointed towards regression, now it appears, we have had it confirmed, the question is, is it terminal? This is one way of looking at it. But there are some mitigating circumstances to his demise, they primarily concern the pace in the race.
What can be said for sure is that with the absence of Denman and effectively Kauto Star, there was no one to pull along the pace, this Gold Cup took a different complexion to recent renewals. Of course, there are no two races exactly the same, but they can have common traits. In recent Gold Cups, the slow staying type horses had already been left for dust by the quickening pace by the end that the likes of Denman, Kauto Star and Neptune Collonges would set. At the start of the second mile, someone would typically up the ante and this year there wasn’t a stayer who was classy enough to do this and it might have been to the detriment of Long Run who effectively had the race set up for him last season. In effect, there were too many horses travelling too comfortably for too long. To alleviate this problem, Sam should maybe have kicked on a bit earlier on Long Run, but then, like Ruby Walsh on Hurricane Fly, he thought he was on the best horse and so thought he could win any way from anywhere. He sat a close fourth like he had when winning last season, but as the times suggest, this was a very different race as horses like The Giant Bolster and Time for Rupert can’t force a pace like Denman.
Generally, it is viewed that out and out stayers like Synchronised will struggle with a slower gallop, but there are exceptions to this rule and often the best horses need a strong gallop to fully assert their superiority. It can be said that the Welsh National winner is the one who should have been more inconvenienced, but in this instance, it was the slow gallop that allowed him to stay in touch and then make his abundant stamina tell at the end of the race. Had a Denman or Neptune Collonges been setting the pace, Synchronised would have probably been about twenty lengths behind and so far out with the washing his extra stamina would have been no use. When Kauto Star used to up the the ante six out in the King George year on year, that is when he used to begin to out speed his rivals as that was the point when they simply couldn’t go with him.
Ruby Walsh didn’t give the stayers the chance to exert their stamina around the last few flights in those King George wins, when the stamina horses were beginning to exert their influence, the speed horse had already flown the coup. It is all about making that move that only a high class horse can make. When they were entering the torture chamber four out in the Gold Cup, no one had made that telling move and it left Long Run with the same chance as all the rest as he hadn’t been given the chance to use his extra gears. The way to beat stayers is by setting an even gallop with a gradually rising tempo, it is the reason why Ballydoyle employ pacemakers. Stayers don’t win by going off helter skelter and grinding their opposition into the ground, they do it by keeping close enough as McCoy did on Synchronised and then kicking into overdrive. The way for class horses to beat the sluggers is to set smart sectionals and then make their move at the point when the stayer can’t go with them. In letting Synchronised be that close to him at the bottom of the hill, Long Run levelled the playing field. Simon Holt called exactly what was going to happen after the last and the two and a quarter lengths doesn’t fully reflect the fact that he was well on top at the line. He landed sideways after the last and still won going away. It wasn’t stylish, as McManus said, ’they did it their way’, at least Jonjo now has a Saturday horse. Having felt the burn of carrying eleven stone ten hock deep around Chepstow mid-winter, Synchronised was always going to triumph if he was still there when the water got deep.
Even connections of the Giant Bolster must wonder if they should have taken it up a little sooner, Tom Scudamore rode him to beat Long Run and then Synchronised came out of the shadows and mugged him. It must be difficult for David Bridgewater to take as AP McCoy has had his job, his Jockey’s Championship and now he has only gone and nicked his Gold Cup!! In all seriousness, he seems an amiable fella and a capable trainer so let us hope he is sent a few more horses. He looks to have a horse who can compete at the top level for a few years to come and what a certainty he must have been in that handicap on Cleeve Hurdle day. Burton Port and Time For Rupert both ran good races in fourth and fifth and will probably go for the National from here, neither will probably ever have a better chance of winning a Gold Cup and the same can be said for Midnight Chase who possibly underperformed a tad. So there it is, another year gone by, this year’s Cheltenham Festival was something of a transitional one and while it will be remembered for the launching of a superstar, it will also be recalled as the final round for a few old warriors and the year that Father Time finally felt Kauto’s collar.
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Neill Dennehy continues his day-by-day review of the 2012 Cheltenham Festival! Make sure you read Neills’ reviews from each day at the Horse Racing Tavern.
The Thursday action kicked off with the Jewson. It is safe to say that this was the best edition of Thursday racing that Cheltenham has seen since its switch to four days with a n extremely classy winner of the Jewson and cracking finishes in both the World Hurdle and especially the Ryanair where Barry Geraghty gave a Riverside Theatre as good a ride as this corner has ever seen over jumps. The quality of action on display really served to establish the Thursday as legitimately being on the same footing as the other days. The Jewson winner Sir Des Champs looks to be the best winner of that race since its inception maintaining his unbeaten record. Due to the depth of novice chasing talent that Gigginstown have boasted this season, he has been campaigned mainly at the country tracks, but he confirmed himself here as probably the most talented of the bunch with the ease of his victory. His jumping was perfect and he travelled beautifully all the way through the race just off of the pace under a textbook ride by his jockey Davy Russell. It was his first real test of the season and he passed it with flying colours and the four and a half-length margin of victory doesn’t reflect fully his superiority. He has already been installed as 6/1 ante post favourite for the Gold Cup in a number of places and looks to be the best staying chaser Ireland has produced since War of Attrition. He is said to be the perfect physical model to look at and thus possesses the scope to go on and improve on this again. It will be interesting to see if connections choose to step into open company at Punchestown.
Champion Court jumped and travelled really well throughout and Martin Keighley’s stable star was an absolute credit to connections battling on really well to the line despite the winner clearly having his measure. His jumping will stand him in good stead next season and he looks the type who could make a big impression in something like the Paddy Power under a big weight. Champion Court looks an out and out two and a half miler and if he continues to go the right way, there is no reason why he shouldn’t be contesting graded races over that trip for the foreseeable future. Connections will hope to return for the Ryanair next season. For Non Stop ran well without ever looking like troubling the front two, he simply doesn’t jump well enough. The disappointing Peddlers Cross also looks to have issues in that area, but he looked so far removed from his best when pulled up early that it looks like connections are going to have to look at sorting whatever is physically ailing him before looking at anything else. Despite a good start over fences, he evidently hasn’t really taken to it, but there are issues beyond fences that will have to be rectified if he is to succeed back over hurdles where he is presently a 33/1 shot for the Champion Hurdle. The market confidence probably derived as much from the stable’s good form and this probably led to a falsely placed confidence that Peddlers Cross was back to his best. In truth, the vibes were bad for most of the season. As an aside, connections of Grands Crus may now feel that their horse may have been better suited by this race rather than the RSA.
The Ryanair Chase which has been much maligned in the past probably served up the best spectacle of the meeting and certainly the best finish. Given the way that the Gold Cup panned out, it is quite probable that the front three here of Riverside Theatre, Alberta’s Run and Medermit could probably have had a say in the blue rebind. The winner, Riverside Theatre, was given an excellent ride by Barry Geraghty to be delivered on the line to pip gallant runner up Alberta’s Run who was seeking a fourth festival win. Riverside Theatre almost certainly acts better on a flat track and won here despite not handling the course. He seemed to be climbing at times on the way around and was never fluent at his fences and won in large part due to the prowess and determination of his jockey. He is clearly a top class animal as witnessed by his two grade one victories at Ascot one year apart and is probably capable of even better than this somewhere more conventional. He looked like bouncing a few times here, but Geraghty galvanised him and he will be a force wherever he goes now be it Punchestown or Aintree and he must be on the King George shortlist for further down the line. He ran third in it last season. This was probably the moment where Geraghty moved into the stratosphere of Walsh and McCoy.
Medermit ran a great race in second and confirmed himself as a real grade one force going down by just half a length to the all-out winner. He clearly came on a lot from Ascot where he was further behind Riverside Theatre in second, it could be however that Medermit is better suited by Cheltenham and Riverside Theatre by Ascot. It is possible that connections may well decide to try and step him up in trip now; he was a bit unlucky here as he was on the far rail and the finish occurred a bit away from him. He may have benefited from some company. Medermit is clearly going the right way and it will be interesting to see where connections go from here.
Alberta’s Run came into this off the back of his Old Roan win in October having been side-lined since with injury. This was a brave effort and he was only hauled back well inside the final furlong. He is a real course specialist and it might just be that he won’t be seen again this season after these exertions. The plan will probably be to try and get back to this point again next season. Captain Chris ran his best race for a while back in fourth and this was certainly a step back in the right direction. He would be interesting stepped back up to three miles. Sommersby’s connections might feel he would have been better served running in the Champion Chase given how things transpired there and how closely his form ties in with Finian’s Rainbow, it should be remembered however that Sommersby’s victory over the Champion Chaser was over an extended two miles and one furlong and Sommersby has looked somewhat tripless in the past. For what it is worth, his best two career runs have both been in that same Ascot race.
The worries over the stable form of Paul Nicholls lead to his perennial champion Big Bucks being sent off at a seemingly generous 5/6. Big Bucks equalled Sir Ken’s record of sixteen consecutive hurdle wins here and also put himself into the record books with a fourth consecutive Ladbrokes World Hurdle. He lobbed along easily through the race here and took things up three out at the top of the hill. At this point, he had the speed horses Thousand Stars, Voler la Vedette, Smad Place and Oscar Whiskey to fend off and he did so one by one with characteristic aplomb. He burned off the non-stayer Oscar Whiskey most easily and that horse will probably aimed at a repeat bid in the Aintree Hurdle, he simply didn’t see out the trip here.
Voler la Vedette was to give the champion the most to do as she cruised up between the last two hurdles travelling powerfully. Andrew Lynch switched abruptly to the stand side rail as he felt his mare would be intimidated in having to eyeball the great champion and wouldn’t go past. For a split second, it looked like it might have been a tactical masterstroke. Walsh brought the champion back across the track to impose his horse’s presence on the mare and eventually managed to get away from her to win by a length and three quarters with the gallant Smad Place back in third. The result justified Colm Murphy’s decision to undertake a World Hurdle bid with his star mare. Thousand Stars ran well back in fourth, but he is short at the elite level and he can go well again at Aintree en route to his prime target of defending his French Champion Hurdle crown. Big Bucks once again showed his class here as he quickened away from his rivals and William Hill immediately went top price of 7/4 for him to retain his crown next season, it might look big on the day this time next year, but given his trainer Paul Nicholls’ lack of staying chasing talent, don’t be too surprised if the Big Bucks chasing debate is reopened as Nicholls identifies himself primarily as a trainer of Gold Cup horses and the only other horse he currently trains who may have pretensions for this pursuit next season is Al Ferof who may not get the trip. Can anyone imagine Paul Nicholls without a runner in the Gold Cup? Big Bucks might be worth an ante post poke for jump racing’s most prestigious race if the price gets silly.
Neill Dennehy brings us his detailed review of all the top graded races at the Cheltenham Festival 2012! He starts with day one at the festival!
Plenty of new champions and another year gone by, Cheltenham seems to come around more and more quickly these times, yet it never detracts from the anticipation. Three days or four, added on races and the resultant dilution of Arkles and Gold Cups, whatever you say, wherever you stand on changes, you’ll always watch because whether it has altered for the better or the worse, there is still nothing remotely to match it for theatre, confrontation and yes, quality. Watching the Charlie Hall in October, as a Nacarat or an Ollie Magern do battle, thinking of things to come, you think it will never arrive, of course it always does and really is all too fleeting. Pretty soon it will be Guineas and Derby talk, not that there is anything wrong with that, it is just further removed from the ordinary man and more transient in nature, quicker, where horses are defined by deadlines and a single season rather than a prolonged period where a real sense of familiarity is created. Just different really, just different…
In the opening Supreme Novices Hurdle, Cinders and Ashes won with a degree of authority underlined by the fact that despite a serious last flight blunder, he still had a length and a quarter to spare at the line and thus probably had plenty still in the tank. The owner of a terrific Juddemonte pedigree which closely ties in with classy flat stayer Sea Moon, Cinders and Ashes was bought cheaply at 4,500 guineas by the late great Ginger McCain and looks a hurdler all over as confirmed by his trainer Donald McCain who declared after the race that he will be aimed at the Champion Hurdle next season. Having only been proven on soft ground before Cheltenham, this performance opens up a lot of doors for the son of the stamina laden Beat Hollow. Darlan drifted heavily before the off and although taking a wide route, he still managed to find plenty of trouble and might have given the winner a bit more to think about. Trifolium ran well having slipped slightly as they tightened up on the turn. Being a Gigginstown horse, he probably has the scope to jump fences and is an exciting prospect for next year. The same probably cannot be said for the Dermot Weld trained high end flat recruit Gallileo’s Choice who never truly got into contention and probably suffered a bit for a lack of experience. A Group winner at Leopardstown last autumn, the flat sphere is where his attentions will be concentrated now with a potential Melbourne Cup bid in the pipeline. Of the others, it may be best to focus on the future prospects of Montbazon of Alan Kings who holds a steadily improving graph and ran really well in fourth and the Willie Mullins trained Midnight Game who although running moderately here, might be best forgiven as he lacks experience and is said to have worked the house down at home on a few occasions this season. He might be one for the good ground at the Punchestown.
The Arkle turned into the glorious procession it had threatened for months to become as the princely Sprinter Sacre outran and outleapt his rivals with ease. This charismatic horse nicknamed ‘the Black Aeroplane’ was taking lengths out of his rivals at obstacles from early on and odds on backers can scarcely have ever had such an enjoyably stress free viewing experience at the Cheltenham Festival. He looks nigh on unbeatable on the evidence of this and the Champion Chase looks to be at his mercy next season with reports from Seven Barrows having mentioned that he regularly works all over incumbent two mile champion Finian’s Rainbow. Reading between the lines, Barry Geraghty seems to think he is the best horse he has ever ridden. At this stage, the hallmarks of Sprinter Sacre appear to be his enomous stride, high cruising speed and astonishing scope at a fence. Cue Card ran with credit seven lengths back in second and there are plenty of races to be won with Colin Tizzard’s charge, although obviously the prospects of him ever reversing form with the winner look remote. On the plus side his jumping held up well, but it may be a case of targeting the places where Sprinter Sacre isn’t next season, he could be stepped up in trip, but his free running style suggests that he is probably best at the minimum distance. Menorah jumped sketchily at times during the race, he ties in closely with Cue Card going all the way back to the Bula Hurdle at Cheltenham last season. He ran as well as could be expected in the circumstances and helps to give the form a solid look. He can have a good career over fences if he learns to concentrate as he jumps very well at times. Al Ferof’s bad mistake four out ended his hopes, we didn’t really learn much about him here, but Sprinter Sacre appeared to be travelling much better than him at the time the mistake occurred. He will benefit from a step up in trip and Paul Nicholls will be hoping he may develop into a Gold Cup horse. He remains an excellent prospect for staying chases next term.
Also on Tuesday, the Hurricane blew into town, but few headed the warnings as he failed to pick up as expected leaving a few Irish punters to swim home. Hurricane Fly has been wrong more often than right at home this season as evidenced by a late January reappearance, albeit an impressive one. Has the Hurricane blown out? The balloon burst? Probably not but certainly some of the air has been let out. He sweated up badly before the off, Philip Hobbs commented saliently in a Cheltenham preview evening that even the best horses will let you down once, the fact he was by Montjeu made the let-down even more likely to come in his estimation. Indeed, it was a let-down, but by what measure was it an underperformance? The race was run at a very fast pace compared to last season’s renewal, a hectic pace at Cheltenham on quickish ground may not be the Fly’s optimum conditions, but it is the fact that he couldn’t reel in Overturn that raises suspicion. Indeed, setting the quicker gallop to draw the sting out of the finishers probably suited Overturn better than last season’s crawl, but Hurricane Fly never really looked capable at any stage of picking him up. Having struggled to make up ground coming down the hill, he had nothing left to give after the last by which time the bird had already flown anyway. Peddlers Cross who Hurricane Fly beat last season is rated far more highly than Overturn by trainer Donald McCain, but that race was one of the slowest run Champion Hurdles in years. Hurricane Fly boasts 10 grade 1’s but 9 of those were in Ireland where the pace is generally more leisurely. Here, against a horse in Rock on Ruby who was able to give 13lbs and a 10 length beating to high class handicapper Raya Star at Newbury, Hurricane looked to struggle against a stayer with speed who would keep going relentlessly. I suppose it is a question of what one is to believe, was Hurricane Fly under the weather, or is that just as good as he is under those conditions? At least the Fly’s followers will be rewarded with a more backable price at Punchestown, but as it stands, he has more to do to cement the legend.
As mentioned, connections have never had a clear run with the Hurricane this season and that could be a factor, as could the possibility that an impressive victory on heavy ground in the Irish Champion may have taken more out of him than many had realised. Boston Bob who ran on the same day at Leopardstown was also relatively disappointing in the Albert Bartlett. Maybe an early reappearance next season could be taken as a positive ante post pointer for the festival in 2013 as the vibes were never good this year. As a 9yo flat bred by Montjeu he will have a lot to overcome by then though. Many were not happy with the ride that Ruby Walsh gave the favourite, but he believed he was on the best horse and rode him as such, it seemed he had little left at the top of the hill anyway. AP McCoy tracked Ruby all the way on Binocular so it is difficult to criticise one without criticising the other, but in this instance, I’d be more inclined to question McCoy as I’ve never viewed Binocular as a deep closer and Binocular was held up dead last here.
Binocular stays two miles very well as evidenced by his Champion Hurdle performances in 2009 and most notably in 2010. He was held up out the back here here, the idea being presumably to beat Hurricane Fly for speed at the finish seemingly to the disregard of everything else. Even the idea of beating a horse like Hurricane Fly for speed seems a bit strange really. Binocular would almost certainly have reeled in the Fly’ had he jumped the last, he wouldn’t have won, but I’d still think connections will feel they’ve gotten their tactics wrong. Henderson stated in an interview before the last race on Tuesday that things hadn’t gone to plan and if they had it to do over they’d surely have settled in upper mid division as was done when he won the race in 2010. In fact, McCoy himself has stated that he tracked the wrong horse and would have ridden his horse closer to the pace had he known then what he knows now. It seemed both Walsh and McCoy both thought that the front two would stop. Each way Binocular backers will feel he probably should have placed.
Rock on Ruby was given an excellent ride by the deserving Noel Fehily. Always sat just off of the pace, he took a pull coming to the top of the hill as the pack began to motor, the pace set had been fast enough to run the finish out of the closers but it wasn’t suicidal and Rock on Ruby had more than enough left to overtake Overturn and repel Binocular and Hurricane Fly up the hill. The moral of the story is that it is very difficult to give ground to good horses that go a reasonable pace and don’t stop. Rock on Ruby was the best horse and given his run with Binocular around the tight turns of Kempton at Christmas where he would have won had he jumped the last better, he was probably quite entitled to do what he did here. Zarkander powered up the hill making up a lot of ground near the finish. This was a very creditable performance given trainer Paul Nicholls was not happy with how he looked in the paddock and the fact he was found to be coughing after his Betfair Hurdle victory, he should go very well in the Aintree Hurdle on his first try over further and all options are open to him trip wise next season where he could well still yet be a Champion Hurdle contender. This may have been Binocular and even Hurricane Fly’s last chance, but I’ll leave the last word on this race to trainer Nicky Henderson who commented rather cryptically that we may not have seen a changing of the guard in the hurdling division just yet.
Just a quick comment on the David Nicholson mare’s race where we saw Quevega take a fourth consecutive festival victory by six lengths off of a sedate pace. This achievement is notable and even worthy and the Mullins team deserve credit for getting Quevega to Cheltenham four years running, but the lack of competitive quality and depth in this race must be beginning to concern organisers. The turnout for this race, the only notable absentee being Voler la Vedette was not befitting of a platform like the Cheltenham Festival. This race is in place largely to encourage owners and breeders to put jumping mares into training, long term this can only be good for the breed and National Hunt racing, but in the short term, and in the spirit of competition, something needs to change. I would advocate that for the foreseeable future the race should be run as a limited handicap, at least until it establishes itself better. The handicap system would probably eventually encourage wider participation and once this wider participation is established and the quality consequentially increased, than it could revert to the conditions race format. The race in its present format is not really contributing to the festival in the way that it should and has been a failure. In fact it is openly taking away from the meeting as the performance that Voler la Vedette put up in the World Hurdle served also to underline what Quevega could have brought to that race or even the Champion Hurdle.
Make sure you read Neill’s reviews of each day of the Cheltenham Festival 2012 at the Horse Racing Tavern!
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Cheltenham Day Three, and the hangovers have already set in, and are in direct proportion to the volume of losers totalled, and Guinness consumed. The bookmakers after day one have started off well, with Hurricane Fly beaten in the Champion Hurdle, as well as good results for those at the other side of the rails in the Supreme Novices and the JLT Handicap Chase.
The opening race is the Nap of Day Three and SIR DES CHAMPS for my money is an absolute banker. I have been backing this horse for the Jewson Novices Chase for the best part of four months. He looked smart over hurdles, and won the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival under Emit Mullins. He was seemingly swept off his feet by the early pace, but stayed on well, to win comfortably, showing great resilience and tenacity. Since imported fromFrancehe is unbeaten in five starts, including last time out winning a 2 miles 5 furlongs Grade 2 novices chase on soft ground. The better ground should see further improvement, and given he has course form, he should have the beating of much supposed inferior rivals in Peddlers Cross, For Non Stop and Champion Court.
In the Pertemps Final, it could be worth taking a chance on CAPE TRIBULATION for the Malcolm Jefferson yard. The yard hasn’t been in the greatest patch of form but they have booked Denis O’ Regan to be on board, and he on the other hand is. The eight year old made plenty of mistakes in some decent handicap chases this season, and has looked far better when switching back to hurdles. He ran a game fourth last time out behind Grand Vision at Haydock over 2 miles 5 furlongs, and although he was beaten 21 lengths, he ran on well towards the finish. Fifth that day was Alfie Sherrin, who won the JLT Handicap on Day One, beating a decent field, and further franks the form. He is top rated on Racing Post Ratings and should be a decent price, and definitely an each way player.
The Ryanair Chase looks to be one of the most open renewals for years, and is seen in the betting, with Riverside Theatre the 5/1 favourite. Reigning champion Albertas Run looks set to win three in a row, but given he hasn’t run since Aintree in October, has to be opposed. Poquelin has course form, winning five times, and a good second last time out around course and distance, not to mention respect for Somersby, Kalahari King and course and distance winner this time last year Noble Prince. That being said, the best bet looks to be MEDERMIT, a horse with consistent and tough performances, as well as course form aroundCheltenham. Since switching to chasing, he has yet to finish worse than fourth, and that was in a good renewal in last years Arkle. Since then he has finished 2-1-3-2-2 and has been running in Graded Company or in class one handicaps. The trip should suit and given the tenacity of this striking grey, at the prices, he is terrific value.
Big Bucks is one of the most amazing racehorses I have ever had the privilege to witness, and without reasoning or rhetoric, he will win his record breaking fourth World Hurdle.
The two remaining handicaps look to be difficult nuts to crack, and the Byrne Group Plate and the Kim Muir and usually races that are associated with the Pipe stable, and they have leading players in both races, and have to be respected, with Junior for the stable winning the Kim Muir last year, when punted off the boards to land a touch.
They have Dan Breen and the current favourite Salut Flo in the race, and Salut Flo has been backed no end in the last few weeks, to the point where he is the 9/2 ante post favourite. Much in a similar fashion to The Package who finished fourth in the JLT Handicap Chase, he returns from a lay off, and could be out of the grip of the handicapper. That being said, I like the look of DIVERS for the Ferdy Murphy yard,, and has the all important course and distance form aroundCheltenhamnext to his name. Trainer Ferdy Murphy has a good record in festival handicaps, and with AP McCoy booked for the ride, connections clearly feel a good run is on the cards.
The Kim Muir is another one of those races for amateur riders, one of four overall, but still attracts a very good field, and some very good riders as well. Ferdy Murphy has another live chance here with THE HOLLINWELL. He seems to be peaking at the right time, and had a perfect tune up with a ‘Jumpers bumper’ at Southwell last month. He won the six runner race quite easily under a 10lb claimer, and the form has already worked out well with the fourth that day coming out and winning a 17 runner handicap hurdle on his next start. He goes toCheltenhamwith the handicapper not altering his mark after this run, and he could be potentially well in. At the prohibitive odds at 20/1 he has to have a live chance.
1.30 Sir Des Champs (NAP)
2.05 Cape Tribulation (EW)
2.40 Medermit (EW)
3.20 Big Bucks
4.00 Divers (EW)
4.40 The Hollinwell (EW)
The Yorkshireman – Jack Milner (Follow Jack on Twitter @JJMSports!)
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Leg 1: Peddlers Cross (8)
Leg 2: Sonofvic (10) / Catch Me (12) / Cantlow (18) / Thehillsofuisneach (21)
Leg 3: Albertas Run (1) / Medermit (7) / Somersby (13)
Leg 4: Big Bucks (1)
Leg 5: Hectors Choice (5) / Notus De La Tour (6) / Charingworth (15) / Niceonefrankie (20)
Leg 6: Swing Bill (4) / Becauseicouldntsee (6) / Brackloon High (17) / Gurtacrue (23)
192 @ 10p
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We’re taking your Cheltenham doubles every day of the festival this week! All you need to do is tweet us your two selections (must be evens or above!) from Cheltenham and the player with the most winners come the end of the festival wins a £40 free bet courtesy of Stan James! It’s that simple!
Not many winners on Tuesday so there isn’t much catching up to do – get your entries in now!
Terms & Conditions:1) Entrants must tweet two selections per day of the Cheltenham Festival. Entrants can start in the competition whenever they want! 2) Entrants must be aged 18 or over. 3) Selections must be priced 1/1 or above at SP. 4) Selections must be tweeted before the time of the first race – 1.30 Cheltenham. 5) If there are winners on the same tally at the end of the festival, the person with the highest cumulative SP will win the competition. 6) The winner will be notified no later than Saturday 16th March 2012. 7) The winners’ Stan James account will be credited with a £40 free bet within 72 working hours. 8 ) The decision of the Horse Racing Tavern is final.
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A very difficult placepot for Day 2 with very good fields! Why not have a crack?
Leg 1: Alfie Spinner (1) / Four Commanders (9) / Universal Soldier (19)
Leg 2: Make Your Mark (10) / Sous Les Cieux (16)
Leg 3: Grand Crus (5)
Leg 4: Sizing Europe (7)
Leg 5: Carlito Brigante (2) / Featherbed Lane (4) / Spirit River (7) / Act Of Kalanisi (20)
Leg 6: Edeymi (4) / Dark and Dangerous (16) / Ardlui (19) / Lemon Drop Red (22)
96 @ 20p
Nap for tomorrow is Lemon Drop Red (ew) in the Fred Winter (4.40) He started his career over hurdles with an excellent run behind the Nicholls horse at Kempton. He ran disappointingly at Musselburgh next time out, but he didn’t get the run of the race. He then won at Southwell which helped and therefore he may have some more improvement left. He’s off a very handy mark and this stiff uphill finish will definitely suit. There have been worse 25/1 prices before. EW Value for me.
Good Luck everybody for Day 2!
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Our regular placepot hunter Mark Cranston landed the placepot at Wolves on Saturday, and he hopes to carry his good fortune into the Cheltenham Festival 2012! He kicks off with a safe but solid set of selections for Day One!
Leg 1: Steps to freedom (16)
Leg 2: Sprinter Sacre (6)
Leg 3: The Package (11)
Leg 4: Hurricane Fly (4)
Leg 5: Sizing Australia (4)
Leg 6: Quevega (5)
1 @ £20
Hurricane Fly wins the Champion Hurdle for me at a very good price of 4/5.
I hope you all have a very successful Cheltenham!
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The JLT Handicap Chase on Day One is the opening handicap for the festival, and is a race that has invariably been one for the punters, in the week-long battle with those evil bookmakers. Run over three miles, the race has been won by some classy sorts in the past few years, with previous winners including Bensalem, An Accordion, Youllneverwalkalone, and Wichita Lineman, under an inspired AP McCoy, possibly one of the best ever rides seen around Prestbury Park.
A trainer having something of a rejuvenation this season is Alan King, who has amassed an impressive arsenal this year, and looks to have several leading chances going into the festival, with horses such as Medermit, Grumeti, Montbazon, Bless The Wings, to name but a few. Alan King has two winners and a second from the last five renewals in this race, and he has the impressive Hold On Julio at his disposal. The nine year old returned from a 2 ½ year absence winning a maiden chase by a staggering 28 lengths at Kelso last April. Since then, he has racked up two very impressive three mile handicap chase victories at Sandown, impressing in decent company. The gelding is clearly on the upgrade, however the fact that he has never run around the Cheltenham and is up 28lb by the handicapper, means he has a lot on his plate.
A horse who could be potentially well handicapped is Noland for Paul Nicholls and Ruby Walsh, who has better form than the bare figures suggest. A Grade 1 winner in 2010 and Grade 2 winner last year, both over three miles, he ran a good race in defeat in Ireland, before finishing sixth at Ascot, when his jumping let him down. Down another 2lb by the handicapper, he looks to be at a very workable mark.
Tullamore Dew ran an absolute cracker when finishing a neck defeated by Massini’s Maguire in a thrilling finish in a three mile handicap chase last month at Ascot. He stayed on well to close down the strong front running Massini’s Maguire, and could be considered unlucky to not get up on the line, looking all over the winner two fences out. He has solid Cheltenham form of 2-3-F, which is impressive course form, given the difficulty of the track. The two negatives that could put punters off are the 6lb hike in the weights, and the fact the Nick Gifford stable are yet to have a chase winner in 2012. The horse that finished third that day Cappa Bleu will also take is chance, and the Grand National bound horse will turn out, however looks to be using this as a stepping stone to Aintree, and on the basis of his previous run, could find himself seriously outpaced in the middle stages of the race.
The Pipe yard are renound with the Cheltenham handicaps and it is no surprise to see the ante post money plough into several of his fancies already, and The Package is another who has seen considerable money. Nine out of the last eleven winners have come in with an SP of 8/1 or shorter, so the shorties are one to look at, so the price should not put punters off. Back from a serious lay off, the nine year old has not run since an unsuccessful run in the Badger Ales Trophy in 2010. He was a narrow loser in this race two years ago, losing by a head in slow motion finish, to 33/1 shot Chief Dan George. He is 2lb lower than his run then, and has to be respected.
Fruity O’ Rooney could be a lively outsider for the in-form Gary Moore yard, given the run of Sire De Grugy in the Imperial Cup, the yard are in good nick. He won a Class 3 handicap chase over three miles on 27th December, meeting trouble in jumping throughout but still beating subsequent winner Midnight Appeal by four lengths. He followed up that win with a good third in the Great Yorkshire Chase behind potential Grand National horses Calgary Bay and Shakalakaboomboom. That was a fair effort and he could be a terrific each way price come the day.CalgaryBay has further franked the form.
A horse that I have backed and followed for years since losing many ante post vouchers on him for the Neptune in 2010 is Quantitativeeasing for the Nicky Henderson stable, and is a horse that simply loves Cheltenham. The manner and style of his Gold Cup Handicap Chase win atCheltenham in December was superb, and the step up to three miles should further enhance the seven year old, who has the makings of a Grand National horse. The form of that last race has worked out well with Medermit finishing second in a Grade 1, and Tatenen, Imsingingtheblues and Calgary Bay all running with great credit since. He goes well fresh, and has a great record around Cheltenham, his last three runs there being 2-2-1. He is up 10lb, and would have to defy top weight with a mark of 155.
A relatively wide open contest, with several contenders, but when it comes down to looking at the key components such as course form, distance form, and actual form this season. All that considered, the strongest piece of form in the race is that of Quantiativeeasing. The manner of his Gold Cup Handicap Chase win at the December meeting was outstanding, and he stayed on running up the hill with great enthusiasm. Further runs by Calgary Bay and Medermit have only enhanced his claims. Tullamore Dew finished behind him last year in the Centenary Novices Handicap at last years festival and he should be running on into the places. Given the length of The Package’s absence, stamina doubts have to linger, and I can see him fading in the closing stages, with Fruity O’ Rooney running on from the back.
- Tullamore Dew
- Fruity O’ Rooney
- The Package
The Yorkshireman – Jack Milner (Follow Jack on Twitter @JJMSports!)
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We welcome Jack Milner to the Horse Racing Tavern, who is a bookmaker by day, but in his spare time he writes on all things racing, featuring on The Racing Forum and Oddschanger. For Jack’s first article, he gives us his tips for the Diamond Jubilee National Hunt Chase on Wednesday.
The National Hunt Challenge Cup is the opening race on day two of the Festival, and the four mile trip is usually a precursor for horses going onto the Nationals, with the first and second from last years race, Chicago Grey and Beshabar both running in the Scottish National, with the latter being triumphant. Chicago Grey will now go for the Aintree Grand National this year, and is quietly fancied at around 25/1 for trainer Gordon Elliot.
The National Hunt Chase is the most historic and arguably challenging race of the Festival, run on the old course, is run over four miles with twenty-four fences, making it a true test, even more so with the relative inexperience for some riders, with the race being contested by amateur riders.
Former jockey and current trainer Jonjo O’ Neill has the strongest record in the race, with a record five wins, most recently through Butlers Cabin in 2007. He has no entries unfortunately in this race, but trainers similar to him who have won the race as a jockey do, going onto train, the likes of Willie Mullins and Andy Martin. Willie Mullins, Champion Irish Trainer has the front two in the betting in Soll and Allee garde. Soll has had this race as his target since winning a Down Royal chase on February 1st over two and a half miles on heavy going. The seven year old son of Presenting looks to be an out and out stayer and has all the makings of a National horse. Similarly Allee Garde has shown good form this season since reappearing at Clonmel, winning comfortably, much like Soll, on two and a half miles on heavy ground. He ran well behind the two leading Gigginstown novices First Lieutenant and Last Instalment in the Grade 1 Fort Leney Chase at Leopardstown, before another game effort when third at Naas in January. Mullins will have two of the best amateur riders in racing at his disposal in his son Patrick Mullins, and Katie Walsh, a winner of t his in 2009 with Poker De Sivola, and both have been in good form this season.
Alfie Spinner has shown good form this season in novice chases, running behind some much superior rivals, yet still demonstrating a good attitude. A fourth behind Grands Crus on his seasonal reappearance at Newbury, had him thirteen lengths behind a hopeful for the Twiston-Davies stable Viking Blond, owned by the same connections of Sprinter Sacre. Alfie Spinner followed that up by a win on heavy ground at Chepstow, before game efforts behind Frascati Park and a top rated performance of 138 on official ratings when three lengths behind RSA hopefuls Bobs Worth and Invictus in the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot. He has the added bonus of having a previous winning jockey on him in Sam Waley-Cohen, who has a tremendous record in the race, winning in 2009 on Tricky Trickster, and was third last year on Be There in Five.
Harry the Viking has shaped like a stayer all winter, and has been the long time ante post favourite for this race and has leading connections, being trained by Paul Nicholls and owned by Sir Alex Ferguson. The seven year old gelding was bought from the Irish point-to-point circuit, and showed good heart with his debut last season. He won two maiden hurdles, before winning two subsequent maiden chases. The latter being the more impressive, winning over three miles two furlongs on good to soft ground atDoncaster. He was caught on the run in before showing great determination to rally back and get up on the line. Second that day was Ikorodu Road, who got up to subsequently beat the Grand National favourite and Kim Muir winner Junior in the Doncaster Chase, further enhancing the strong line of form.
Teaforthree looks to be shaping up to be a very smart chaser since switching to the larger obstacles at the start of this season. He had a good hurdling career, a narrow third in a Cheltenham Grade 2 novice hurdle, before a solid eighth in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival, when seemingly done for speed. Chasing was always going to be the making of this animal though, and he has warmed to them, running five times during this campaign, with three victories. The beautifully bred eight year old finished second to RSA hopeful Join Together on his debut, who has won anotherCheltenham novice chase, with both winning further races. He was a comfortable winner of a three mile heavy ground run at Chepstow, beating subsequent winners Restless Harry and Cannington Brook in fine style, running on well towards the end. Beaten for pace in the Feltham Chase, he got back on track winning another novice chase at Chepstow, getting a smart ride from AP McCoy, with the form already working out well. JT McNamara has been booked, and that should further enhance his claims.
Given the nature of TEAFORTHREE’s victories, I think the trip will be the making of him. Winning on all types of ground has highlighted his versatility, and he has been running against much classier rivals. Winning, running on heavy ground over three miles further indicates the trip should suit and he will be there or thereabouts. The main threats look to come from the unexposed Harry the Viking and the latter of the Mullins pair Allee Garde, who like Teaforthree, has been racing in much higher class races, and still running with great credit.
- Allee Garde
- Harry The Viking
The Yorkshireman – Jack Milner (Follow Jack on Twitter @JJMSports!)
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