Friday, 16 March 2012

Cheltenham Day 4

Another tremendous days racing – though from a betting perspective, it was more about what might have been…

Sir Des Champs was hugely impressive wining the opening contest – so much so, that I had a small play on him for next years Gold Cup, at the 12/1 offered post race. The horse seems to have everything – and Willie Mullins is adamant that he will be better over further, next season. He really is something to look forward to…
Of the 2 selections: Zaynar ran well to a point – but he wasn’t able to go with Champion Court when he quickened down the hill.
Michael Flips ran a tremendous race for an outsider, travelling and jumping as I’d hoped he would – but he simply hadn’t got the class of the first 3 home and could only finish fourth (the fate of all the best EW selections !).
Peddlers Cross ran no sort of race – and may as well have run in the Arkle ! Clearly all was not right with him…
If the first race hinted about the state of the ground – the second race confirmed it.
Buena Vista needs quick spring ground – but he struggled in the prevailing conditions. Conversely, Cape Tribulation wants it soft – in fact, my main concern was whether he would handle the ground today.
I need not have worried on that score, as he tanked through the race and comfortably saw off the late challenge of Catch Me.
Unfortunately the soft ground probably did for the chances of most of our other runners…
The Ryanair was an absolutely brilliant race – but I simply couldn’t have foreseen the outcome.
Credit must go to Riverside Theatre, who won despite never really travelling and hitting numerous fences. His stamina won him the day.
Somersby travelled really well (despite the fact that Dominic Elseworth bizarrely gave up the outside to no-one for the entire race). However, he didn’t have the stamina when it was required and ultimately finished well beaten.
Captain Chris ran a strange kind of race: continually jumping to his right and getting outpaced on the downhill section, He stayed on approaching the last but couldn’t bridge the gap to the leaders and finished fourth…
The World hurdle was an equally compelling spectacle – and for a few strides, looked like it might be a financial gold mine for us as well !!
Ruby pressed for home on Big Bucks, coming down the hill but Thousand Stars was still cantering in behind. I thought he was going to outspeed Big Bucks – but he started to falter in the run to the last.
However, it was at that point, that Andrew Lynch arrived there swinging on Voler la Vadette. She looked sure to take the measure of Big Bucks – but I guess you don’t get to win 3 word hurdles unless you are prepared to fight - and Big Bucks fought.
As hard as Voler la Vadette tried, she simply couldn’t get past him – and, as I said yesterday, Big Bucks deserved all of the post race accolades he received. A truly outstanding champion.
The Byrne Group plate was taken apart by Salut Flo – who was handicapped to do so, if his jumping stood the test.
As it turned out, there were no issues with his jumping, which had improved massively since his seasonal debt over the same course.
Hectors Choice ran a very disappointing race – and has maybe had enough for the season. Radetsky March simply wasn’t good enough – though Gilbarry ran a very eye-catching race and will certainly be of interest in the coming weeks on quicker ground.
The ground also probably scuppered the chances of Benbane Head in the last. He ran a solid enough race, helping to force the pace - but he made a few niggly mistakes and was a spent force turning for home. Like Gilbarry, I suspect there will be other days for him in the next few weeks…

So, another tough day’s betting yielded a small profit – and we go into the final day of the festival a little ahead.
I’ve struggled a bit more finding selections for tomorrow – and the knowledge that the ground is slower than I expected, has made me doubly cautious.

Still, hopefully we can find a winner or two – and thereby end the meeting on a high…

Triumph Hurdle

I feel I’ve got to put my hands up with this one, I’ve absolutely no idea what will win !
I’ve turned the race upside down looking for an angle – but I can’t find any route in that I feel comfortable with…
I find it very difficult to separate the English challengers – if forced to pick one, I would probably go with Pearl Swan, however it would be in hope rather than expectation.
The Irish challengers are just as bad, and again I could give all the major players a chance without overly fancying any of them.
The one horse I can make a case for being over-priced, is Ut De Sivola.
He hacked up on his Irish debut, before accounting for Hisaabaat at Punchestown in January.
On the strength of that performance, he was sent off 2/1 favourite for the grade 1 Spring juvenile hurdle, at Leopardstown in February. He was a bitter disappointment that day, finishing well beaten. However, it subsequently transpired that he was struck into during the race, so I think his run can be ignored.
What is interesting, is that the race was won by Hisaabaat. Now, he probably improved from his run against Ut De Sivola at Punchestown, but regardless, it suggests that Ut De Silvoa should be capable of holding his own in grade 1 company.
The concern, is that Ruby has got off him to ride Pearl Swan – but he has probably as  much of an idea on the relative merits of the various form-lines, as we have !
Paul Townend is a more than able substitute and hopefully Ut De Sivola can give is a fair run for our money at a decent price.

County Hurdle

This is a wide open looking race, but hopefully I’ve found 3 who all have a better chance than their odds imply…
The most interesting of the 3, is probably Local Hero.
He ran 8th in last season’s triumph hurdle, splitting Third Intention and Brampour, with Smad Place just behind. Those 3 are now rated 153, 161 & 157 respectively, so the fact that Local Hero gets to run off a mark of 140 tomorrow, shows you how potentially well handicapped he is…
He only made his seasonal debut last month, in the conditions race that Simonsig used as his prep for his Cheltenham romp. Local Hero finished a very creditable third that day, just 4 lengths behind the winner (whom he was conceding 4lbs to). The bare form of that result flatters him – but it was a commendable performance all the same and if he has progressed for that run, he must go very close tomorrow.
Next on the short list, is Ubi Ace.
He has already had a fine season, recording 2 wins and 2 places from 4 runs. Last time out at Mussleburgh, he travelled like a hose who was still ahead of the handicapper, only getting caught close home by another progressive rival. He has been raised a further 5lb for that effort – but that may not be sufficient to stop him. He has recently transferred into the care of Jonjo O’Neill and if he can eak a little more improvement out of him, then this fine looking sort can run another big race tomorrow.
Finally, Magnifique Etoile is a really progressive novice, who was last season at Sandown back in January when he ran in the grade 1 Tolworth novice hurdle.
He finished a respectable third that day – but the soft ground wouldn’t have been ideal. He should be much better suited to the conditions he will encounter tomorrow (even with the watering !) and a mark of 136 looks very workable.
The Charlie Longsdon stable are back in form, as was proven by Paintball’s victory in Saturday’s Imperial Cup and Magnifique Etoile must have fair prospects of adding to their tally.

Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle

My original intention here, was to tip Sea of Thunder...
He was very unlucky not to collect the trial for this race that was run over course and distance in December. He was pulling clear of the field when he over jumped the last and took a very nasty fall. 
However, that run was on good ground – and Sea of Thunder is far more effective on a quick surface. On his only subsequent run, he was destroyed by Boston Bob on heavy ground at Leopardstown. He was in receipt of 7lb from the winner that day and it really does take a leap of faith to see him turning the form round tomorrow - at level wieghts on the prevailing surface.
Boston Bob also comfortably holds the other main Irish challenger, Mount Benbulben. He beat him by 4 and half lengths at Navan back in December, and again it is difficult to argue a case for the form being turned round…
The English trained horses don’t generally look as strong as their Irish trained counterparts in this race. Brindisi Breeze is the highest rated and unbeaten over hurdles.
However all of his form is on deep winter ground and he may well get found out by the quicker ground tomorrow.
A more interesting English challenger – and the potential dark horse of the race – is the Colin Tizzard trained Grand Vision.
He absolutely hacked up in the mud at Haydock, in the style of a horse going places. It was only a handicap that he won – and he did so off a lowly mark of 123 – but he couldn’t have done so more impressively and when you look at the horses that finished behind him that day, the form starts to look a little more interesting…
No less than 3 of this weeks winners finished in his wake – and whilst all 3 were doubtless using the race primarily as a prep for this week, it still makes the form look quite strong.
Grand Vision will need to improve again if he is going to hold his own tomorrow – but that is a distinct possibility.
In a race which lacks strength in depth and which has a very strong favourite, an EW play on Grand Vision looks to be the best shout.

Gold Cup

The highlight of the 4 days – and whilst this years renewal doesn’t look to be of the finest vintage, it still looks like a race to savour…
The question everyone is asking, is whether Kuato Star can regain his crown for an unbelievable second time. I would truly love to see it happen –and will be cheering him on as loudly as anyone if he has half a chance – but I some how doubt it will be the case…
That said, I think he has a better chance of winning this year than any recent year, simply because I don’t see a lot of strength in the opposition.
Obviously there is Long Run – and he will undoubtedly take the beating, but he has hardly set the world alight with his performances this season and when you look back and see that he only beat What a Friend 11 lengths in last seasons renewal, it does make you wonder…
Of course he also beat Kauto in that race – but Kauto has operated at a much higher level this season. The issue is, that despite 2 victories in the race, the Cheltenham Gold cup has never really played to Kauto’s strengths. Even when he was at his peak, he won because of his class rather than because he was perfectly suited to the demands of the race. If you combine that with the fact he is now 12, you really have to think that the winner will come from elsewhere…
The trouble is where !!
Long Run is the obvious place to start – and whilst he may not be the best Gold Cup winner ever, he is a very decent animal who is well suited to the demands of the race. I would consider him the most likely winner and certainly struggle to envisage him finishing out of the first 3…
Burton Port has a definite chance based on form – but his long absence prior to his last run, is a worry – plus before he had his problems, it was felt that he was better suited to a flat track.
Midnight Chase is an honourable horse, who will doubtless give his all from the front. A placing is a distinct possibility for him – but I can’t really see him coming home first, even in a relatively weak year.
The two I am most interested in, are Weird Al and Synchronised.
Weird Al was an ante-post selection a couple of months back – but the case for him now seems even stronger than it was at the time.
He is unexposed; has good course form and has purposefully been kept fresh, as that is when he runs his best races.
Again, he might not quite have the class to win the race – but everything is in place for him to run a very big race.
Synchronised is a little more exposed but he has improved significantly this season – and who is to say the improvement is over…
He won the Grade 1 Lexus chase in Ireland last time out, from Rubi Light. That might not be absolutely top class form, but it is pretty good – and the demands of the Gold Cup should suit him even better.
To win the race, he will need to improve significantly again – but that is possible…
The only other runners in the race whom I feel worthy of a mention, are Quel Esprit and Diamond Harry.
I was tempted to put up the former as a saver – but opted for Synchronised instead. I would view both horses in a similar way (potentially progressive) but think tomorrows test will suit Sysnchronised better.
Diamond Harry has no chance on recent form – but the horse has a real engine. If connections somehow managed to get him to the post with his ‘A’ game, he certainly has the natural ability to get placed… 

Foxhunters Chase

I think there are 2 races to concentrate on, in order to find the winner of this particular contest:
The M&C Carpets Hunter Chase, which was run at Newbury on January 18th – and the Raymond Smith memorial Hunter Chase, which was run at Leopardstown on 12th February.
The former race was won in spectacular style, by Chapotergeon, with Cloudy Lane second and My Flora beaten when falling at the second last….
There are 2 reasons for thinking that My Flora can turn the tables on Chapoturgeon tomorrow. Firstly, there is a weight turnaround of 15lbs – and secondly the race is over an extra 4 furlongs.
My Flora will relish the extra distance – but it could well prove to be a bit too far for Chapoturgeon (whose best form under rules, was around 2m5f).
The Leopardstown race was won by Salsify, with On the Fringe back in third place.
However, that was On the Fringe’s seasonal debut and he was only beaten 4 lengths by Salsify. His 3lb better off tomorrow – and should also be the better suited of the pair to the longer trip and slower ground.
The third horse I want to have on side in this race is Roulez Cool. He didn’t run in either of the above ‘trials’ and in fact hasn’t been seen on a racecourse for almost 2 years.
However, he is still the highest rated runner in the field and went off 9/2 favourite for this race, 2 years ago.
He suffered an interrupted preparation that year and already looked beaten when brought down.
However I have little doubt that he has the ability to win a race of this nature – and he is still only 9 years old. He has won of the back of a long absence in the past, so if connections have managed to get him back to form, I think he could go very well at a decent price.

Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle

This looks a potential minefield – but I’m hoping I might have found one…
Nicky Henderson could hardly be in better form this week and in Oscar Nominee, he has a very interesting contender for this race…
Strictly on form, the horse has a lot to do – and his rating of 135 doesn’t look overly generous. However, he has only run 3 times over hurdles and therefore has endless scope for improvement.
Interestingly, one of those 3 runs, was behind Cinders and Ashes in a grade 2 contest at Haydock. The race was run on bottom-less ground – so the form can’t really be taken at face value – but Oscar Nominee was beaten under 3 lengths that day, by the horse who subsequently won the Supreme novice hurdle…
Next time out, Oscar Nominee lost his maiden tag at Doncaster. He ultimately won quite comfortably that day (as his odds suggested he should) but that didn’t look like being the case for a fair bit of the race and it was his stamina that ultimately won him the day…
Tomorrow, Oscar Nominee gets to tackle a trip in excess of 2 miles of the first time – and I think that will enable him to show his true ability…
If I’ve read Oscar Nominee wrongly, then I’m not sure what will win the race !
I did consider putting up Bourne, as he won very well last time out (beating Smad Place, amongst others). A 10lb rise for that victory doesn’t look overly harsh – but 6/1 in a 24 runner race, isn’t really my style !
If the ground had been quick, then Grandad’s Horse would have been interesting at a price – but if the going is on the soft side, it won’t suit him…
On balance, I’m happy to go with just the one tip in the race – and win only – in the hope that Nicky can pull another one out of the bag !!

Grand Annual Chase

So, here it is, the 27th and final preview of the 2012 festival. If it’s been tiring for you to read them all – just imagine the amount of effort hat has gone into writing them ;)
I figured that as this is the last race of the meeting, it would be right and proper to end with a winner.
I therefore spent a lot of time looking a this race – and having considered quite a few, eventually decided that it will be won by Astracad !
I’ve actually taken a shorter price on this horse than I would have liked – but both in terms of actual form – and reading between the lines, I can’t see how he won’t go very close tomorrow (assuming he gets a bit of luck).
He has clearly been laid out for this race and that was after winning a similar (if slightly less competitive race) over course and distance, in December.
Astracad was backed to win that day – and a 7lb rise in the weights doesn’t look overly punitive for a horse that still has plenty of scope for improvement.
The main danger tomorrow, is likely to come from one of the other novices in the race…
Kid Cassidy, Kumbeshwar, Toubab and Eradicate all look potentially very interesting. However, Astracad has experience of the hurly burly of a big handicap that they don’t have – whilst having similar scope for improvement…
As a saver (even though I sent it out first !), I’ve gone for Tara Royal, who won so well for us at Mussleburgh…
He has been raised 10lb for that win, but did hack up that day and has always looked a horse capable of competing off a mark in the 140s.
His stable form is obviously a big bonus and if his jockey can get him into a rhythm behind the leaders, he may even be able to spoil the party for Astracad.
A 1,2 in the final race of the festival – now that would be some way to bow out !!

Summary of bets

1:30 Triumph Hurdle

Ut De Sivola 0.5pt win 25/1 
Minsk 1pt win 16/1 - (ante-post) NR

2:05 County Hurdle

Magnifique Etoile 0.5pt win 20/1
Ubi Ace 0.5pt win 25/1
Local Hero 0.5pt win 25/1

2:40 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle

Grand Vision 0.5pt EW 33/1

3:20 Gold Cup

Weird Al 1pt EW 25/1 (ante-post)
Synchronised 0.5pt win 14/1 

4:00 Foxhunter Chase

My Flora 1pt win 10/1 
On the Fringe 0.5pt win 10/1
Roulez Cool 0.5pt win 16/1

4:40 Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle

Oscar Nominee 1pt win 16/1

5:15 Grand Annual Chase

Astracad 1pt win 10/1 
Tara Royal 1pt win 20/1 

11.5 points staked in total


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