Cheltenham. Whilst I marvel every year at how time flies en route to the Festival, most of this season has passed me by. As you all know; my beautiful daughter Daisy arrived in September. What is lesser known is that since then, I have been fighting Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Post Natal Depression. Thankfully, I am on the long road back to full health. One in four of us will suffer with some kind of mental health related illness at some stage of our lives and yet is still very much a taboo subject. I admired Mark Enright for recently speaking about his battle with depression. Shortly afterwards Leo Powell wrote an excellent article about depression in the Irish Field. Several people have enquired as to why I have taken so long to get back to work so I thought I would make the reason widely known. I cannot thank my family and friends enough for their unwavering support. I plummeted depths that I never want to revisit. Days and weeks flew past where I didn’t even recognise myself. There were times that I thought that I wouldn’t get back on a Racecourse again, let alone back to work. I’m not fully there yet but I’m hunting around out the back and popping away slowly. My Festival Portfolio is nearly complete. The first two days are listed below. Updates along with Thursday and Friday’s selections will be added over the course of the next few days. For now my battle plans are as follows: Tuesday Champion Hurdle: My thoughts on last years race are that Jezki was a fortunate winner. With poor Our Conor’s fall and the hampering of The New One and Hurricane Fly not being on his A game, it only left My Tent Or Yours to fight and let’s face it that mercurial individual couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag. We all know where my heart is but whatever happens I just want Fly back safe and sound. Heard a lot of people say he can’t win it, granted it’s tough but of course he could win it. A bit of rain would help enormously and I’m not sure how much I buy into Cheltenham doesn’t suit, alright Leopardstown is more to his tastes but two Champion Hurdles, and a third and fourth isn’t pure disdain for the place. Have heard a lot said about Faugheen not beating much, I don’t think that’s the case at all. His record so far speaks for itself. I watched last years Neptune again this morning and there is something about him that reminds me of Istabraq. The New One gets unfairly crabbed left right and centre which is unjust, you’re looking at a Cheltenham specialist and what could have been the Champion Hurdler of 2014. The New One isn’t slow, the speed he shows from jumping the last to up the hill is a joy to watch. National Hunt Chase: Cause Of Causes. Let’s hope the ghosts of last years Kim Muir are layed to rest. Jamie Codd reportedly takes the mount. I also have my eye on Cogry in this contest as I truly believe we are looking at a future Grand National winner. He will have the assistance of Steven Clements in the saddle who is no stranger to Festival success. Wednesday Neptune: I have had Windsor Park backed since the beginning of time. I first clapped eyes on this beautifully bred gelding at Fairyhouse in December 2013 and thought immediately that he was a future Neptune prospect. He’ll come up a hill, his two wins at Galway have proved that. The only worry I have is his jumping. Beast Of Burden catches the eye but I just wonder if the ground may have gone against him. RSA: Southfield Theatre, he’ll stay, he’ll jump and has a Cheltenham record of 4, 1, 3, 4, 2 – that will do for me. Coral Cup: Watching to see where Goodwood Mirage and Dell Arca line up. Update – as they both line up, I cannot split them. Dell Arca has the happy hat on. QMCC: Champagne Fever. Having thought of him always as a Gold Cup winner, I’ve done a 360 and backed him for this race. Festival record speaks for itself. Bumper: Bellshill is my pick of the Mullins battalions. Thursday JLT: Currently caught between Splash Of Ginge and The Tullow Tank. This tussle normally invades my mind at around 4am, when/if I reach a conclusion, I’ll post. – Update: at the prices, I’ll back them both! Pertemps: Yes, we all know the call with Edeymi. He’s an obvious for the shortlist but I am also currently looking at Regal Encore and Trustan Times. The former relished the step up last time out and let’s face it, we’ve all expected him to pop up in a big handicap for a while now. Trustan Times races of 2lb lower than his 1/2 length fourth last year. Again, hopefully I will have decided by Thursday morning. Update: I’m with Regal Encore Ryan Air: I backed Johns Spirit for this a while ago, I know the new course hasn’t been as kind to him as the old course but I’ve wanted him to run in this since his Paddy Power win. If Boston Bob re routes here from the Gold Cup then he becomes of interest too. World Hurdle: After his run in this last year and his run at Aintree, I started to think that Zarkandar had got a bit cute. I edited all chance of a World Hurdle victory for him out of my mind. After seeing him take the Grand Prix D’Automne, I reconsidered his chances. Alright, he idled at Ascot but the new course at Cheltenham has always played to his strengths. Paul Nicholls is very bullish about his chances and for me he is the likely winner of a very open race. His main danger in my eyes is Lieutenant Colonel. Brown And Merribelle: Rawnaq, he runs on the level, over timber and over fences. He’s versatile with regard to the ground which is great as nobody seems to know what the true going actually is. Rawnaq took the notable scalp of Gilgamboa last time out. He has placed form at Cheltenham (third in the 2013 Greatwood). With wins at Navan in the bag, you can be assured the hill will pose no problems. Friday Triumph: I am opposing Peace And Co, not because I am dismissing his obvious talent, I just think he’s fragile in the mind. He wore earplugs on Trials Day and still got worked up by proceedings. It will be a lot noisier on March 13th. I’m currently toying between Beltor and Petite Parisienne; that 7lb allowance is handy. Albert Bartlett: I actually backed Killultagh Vic for this race a while ago as I’m convinced he’s crying out for three miles. He’s by no means a certain starter so my alternate selection is the battle hardened Blaklion. He’ll stay and we know he acts over course and distance. Have done a bit of a rewind here and have actually backed Black Hercules. Gold Cup: Today has seen a U turn on my thoughts for this race which are still under investigation. I will update. No time to explain but as the rain falls I am pointed further towards Many Clouds. Martin Pipe: Rain will help Killutagh Vic’s cause. Grand Annual: Eastlake – with or without AP’s assistance!
2014 Racing Post Arkle Chase
This year’s interesting renewal sees Willie Mullins’ Champagne Fever head the ante-post betting in pursuit of a third consecutive Cheltenham Festival victory.
The winner of the Champion Bumper and Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the classy grey is available at a best priced 3/1, which with his formidable course form represents significant value. Like last year however, holes can be found in his credentials. With only two starts over fences, he made a bad mistake in the Grade 1 Novice Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas, losing that race to Defy Logic. We haven’t seen him since. Critics point to his jumping which in a red hot two-mile Arkle could be his undoing. The truth is we’ve been here before. A sub-par run before his impressive victory in last year’s Supreme can reassure backers of his ability to rebound. If Vautour hacks up in the Supreme the 11/4 will collapse.
Unlike last year the challenge will come from a number of intriguing candidates. Harry Fry switched Rock On Ruby to novice chasing early in the season after a drubbing from The New One over hurdles. Similar to Mullins’ grey, Ruby has made only two starts over fences – winning them both. Whilst the standard of his opponents can be called into question, the horses Cheltenham record is ominous. A Champion Hurdle winner over Hurricane Fly, a second place to the same horse last year and a second place in the Neptune, his Festival record demands respect. Opponents will argue that 9 year olds have no place in this race and that his switch to chasing was an afterthought; enough to deter me from backing the animal.
The Paul Nicholls’ challenge is headlined by the likeable Dodging Bullets, who’s achieved a RPR of 161 this season across his four starts. After thumping Grandouet by ten-lengths at Christmas, he found the experienced Module too hot to handle in his last outing. That defeat was only by a neck and the winner was in receipt of 3lbs on the day. The problem with the horse is his Cheltenham form and the fact that he’s let his backers down on the big Festival stage. Is beating Grandouet the benchmark for winning this race? I can’t see it.
Trifolium has been nibbled all the way into 9/2 after claiming the Irish Arkle, seeing off both Defy Logic and Felix Yonger. Charles Byrnes’ charge has shown a predilection for crisp, clean jumping, but the consistency of his form this season is a little murky. Backers will be enthused by his reversal of form with Defy Logic in the Irish Ankle, but is a singular electric performance enough to pin one’s colours to his mast? Certainly going the right way, but the class of Champagne Fever at the Festival should prove insurmountable.
Grandouet has yet to taste victory this season and can be overlooked. At a recent Festival Preview night it was said that Nicky Henderson’s high-class hurdler would fall in a jumpers’ bumper and should be a bigger price. Surely Alan King’s Valdez would need to find more to win this competitive renewal. Unbeaten this season, he struggled to see off Trifolium’s stable mate Arnaud. He may be progressive enough for each-way punters, but there’s more than a couple who’ll fancy seeing him off.
Selection – Champagne Fever – 3/1 (Win)
|Arkle Chase – History|
|2013||11-11||Simonsig C, D||7||11-7||174||8/15F||N Henderson|
|2012||3-111||Sprinter Sacre D||6||11-7||179||8/11F||N Henderson|
|2011||22221||Captain Chris C, D||7||11-7||163||6/1||P Hobbs|
|2010||41111||Sizing Europe C, D||8||11-7||170||6/1||H De Bromhead (IRE)|
|2009||-1222||Forpadydeplasterer D||7||11-7||160||8/1||T Cooper (IRE)|
|2008||-1112||Tidal Bay C, BF||7||11-7||160||6/1||H Johnson|
|2007||21211||My Way De Solzen C, D||7||11-7||161||7/2||A King|
|2006||-1111||Voy Por Ustedes D||5||11-2||164||15/2||A King|
|2005||-2213||Contraband C, D||7||11-7||161||7/1||M Pipe|
|2004||3-151||Well Chief D||5||11-3||144||9/1||M Pipe|
The last 2 favourites for the Arkle have both won – Champagne Fever to win 3/1.
Each year we leave our drinks shopping later and later so here are my Ten to Follow win bets for Christmas and the New Year. Champagne Fever is top of many tipsters lists for the Arkle Trophy at Cheltenham in March and this horse’s name sums up the Yuletide period for fizz sales so here is my combination Exacta with the Tote (first three in any order) for bubbles: Pommery Brut Royal NV £29.99, down from £38.99, Sainsbury’s is dry, delicious and creamy, whilst the award winning Louis Roederer Brut Premier NV has made its mark as a consistently high quality performer. At Majestic i’s £42.00 per bottle or if you buy two bottles save 1/3 at £27.98 per bottle. If you are looking for a well-bred, Group 1 quality champagne from a great vintage year then Dom Pérignon 2004 Gift Box, £120.00- £135.00 Majestic and Selfridges has class and elegance in abundance with a memorable finish. There have been some famous New Zealand racehorses including Playschool, ridden by Paul Nicholls, then jockey and now seven times champion jumps trainer, who won the Hennessy and Welsh Grand National in 1987. It was around that time that many people were discovering that a chilled New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was the wine for them and the fan club has only carried on increasing over the years, so if you are a member or haven’t yet signed up, the try this delicious, zingy, fresh, peppery, spicy, Peter Yealands Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2012 £10.85, Co-op. Great with your smoked salmon – some NZ Sauvignon Blanc is just too full on for this kind of matching – but this is spot on. You may also want to snap up the ante-post 3/1 on the Nicholls’ trained Big Bucks for the World Hurdle at The Cheltenham Festival. From the list of runners with drink related names at The 2013 Cheltenham Festival I tried to include Vino Griego (successfully backed at 25-1 to win at their January meeting) in my group for this year’s Cheltenham Festival Racecourse Radio piece, however I was given a yellow card for this one as Vino Griego didn’t quite match up to Champagne Fever, John’s Spirit and The Liquidator! (hugely impressive on his last run). Despite my reprimand, I’m a big fan of Vino Griego and I’ll be backing him for his next run, which will hopefully be the Argento Chase. In vino terms, Oldenburg Vineyards Chenin Blanc 2012, Stellenbosch, South Africa at £16.99 from www.sawinesonline.co.uk is a classy, premium, subtlety-oaked and complex white which is ideal with fish dishes in a creamy sauce. Alternatively, if you are having the full roast turkey with all the trimmings then mark your card with Château Cissac 2009 Haut-Médoc Cru Bourgeois, Bordeaux, France at £17.95 from www.tanners-wines.co.uk. It’s one of the great well-bred Bordeaux vintages with winners at all grades and this intensely fruity, well structured red will most definitely bring some Christmas cheer. As a punter I’m always on the look out for a bit of value and with Yuletide it is no different with Torres Vina Sol 2012, Catalunya, Spain at £6.69 from Sainsbury’s, Tesco and it’s down to £5 in Asda plus Casillero del Diablo Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, Viña Concha y Toro, Valle Central, Chile at £7.99-£5.99 from Sainsbury’s. These are a couple of runners I would definitely back; perfect wines to enjoy whilst taking in the King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day and the Coral Welsh Grand National at Chepstow on 28 December. We invariably don’t spend enough time on the cheese course or the wines to match, but make it different this year. Hugel Gewurztraminer Vendange Tardive 2007, Alsace, France at £33.00 from The Wine Society is a brilliant, top class, off dry wine with complex flavours of citrus, honey and pear, with a truly memorable finish. This is a great match with blue cheese and worth every penny of your pre-Christmas winnings. Alternatively, your tipple might be port, so check out Sandeman’s Late-Bottled Vintage Port 2008 at £15.99 from Waitrose, which is definitely well-handicapped. Cheers! @TheWineTipster You can hear more from The Wine Tipster at our Cheltenham Preview Evening on 6 March in Copa, Cheltenham – BOOK NOW.
Hinterland currently sits second in the betting at between 8/1 and 12/1 he has some high quality form to his name. Ran in 3 novice chases last year and was runner up on each occasion but he was beaten by Theatre Guide, Captain Conan and Sprinter Sacre so that’s pretty solid from a four year old. Has won both starts this season the most recent of these being the Henry VIII Novice Chase which is usually a good pointer for Arkle horses. He beat Grandouet, Taquin Du Seuil, Claret Cloak, Balder Success and Mantriverstocross putting in a solid round of jumping after looking outpaced early. Hard to knock him and the experience he brings from last season will stand him in good stead but the price just put’s me off and while he looks on the upgrade I can’t help but feel we can get him beat. Grandouet is up next at between 8/1 and 12/1 and with a hurdles rating of 166 he is one of the classiest horses in the race. Trained by Nicky Henderson who is looking for his third Arkle in as many years, he is high on many peoples shortlist but not mine. While his hurdles form is top class, for me he’s a horse who has never found a great deal off the bridle and in two chase starts he has failed to convince me that he either jumps well enough (unseated on his first start after some terrible leaps early) or will grind out a win (travelled into the Henry VIII well enough but didn’t ever look like winning). I feel the price is based on what he did previously rather than what he has shown so far and it would be a shock if he was good enough to take this prize. Dodging Bullets is next and another Paul Nicholls inmate. Priced at 12/1 to 14/1 he was a fair 4th in the Triumph Hurdle on his second start over timber he has always looked the type to excel over fences which so far he has done. Won his debut in good style from Turn Over Sivola when he looked in need of the outing and put in a few sticky jumps but overall seemed to be enjoying himself and followed up at Cheltenham in very taking fashion. Looked to be well at home and jumped the field into submission beating Raya Star a comfortable 5 lengths. He is 3 wins from 5 starts at Cheltenham and with two runs at the Festival he has experience of the pressure cooker that is Prestbury Park in March, but he did run a awful race in last years Supreme Novice Hurdle so I do advise some caution if adding him to your ante-post portfolio. H is a contender and his price seems very fair. Oscar Whisky is up next and is another for Nicky Henderson and is priced at 14/1 to 16/1. A multiple Grade 1 winning hurdler he has run at the last 4 Festivals and placed once in the Champion Hurdle behind Hurricane Fly and Peddlers Cross. Has had one chase start so far at Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting when beaten a neck by Taquin Du Seuil after setting a sedate pace over 2m 4f110y. His jumping didn’t convince me but it did improve once the pace picked up. Seem’s a bit of a afterthought by connections to send him novice chasing at the age of 8 so he’d be 9 when the tapes go up for the Arkle. No doubt he has the class to win but his jumping was far from fluent. Gained another victory at Cheltenham’s International Meeting yesterday. Mr Mole at 16/1 is a interesting candidate for top honours and once again comes from the Paul Nicholls yard. Quirky but possessing bags of ability he threw away the Swinton Hurdle and Sporting Life Pony Racing Graduates Handicap Hurdle last season with his wayward tendencies but he looked a different horse on his chase debut. Jumped for fun and won with any amount in hand from French import Vukovar who looks a real nice type but possibly in need of further. I await Mr Mole’s next outing with interest and if he is free of his quirks he could be a serious danger to all. Valdez from Alan King’s yard is one who didn’t fly quite so high as many of these over hurdles but he looks a real prospect based on his two chase starts. Won on his chase debut at Exeter with one semblance of a mistake, otherwise his jumping was foot perfect and he looks to have grown during the off season. Went off to Newbury next and came home in splendid isolation with again just one mistake in a otherwise perfect round of jumping. His task was probably made easier with his main market rival Black River crashing out, but he looks a horse going places and Alan King could well have another Voy Por Ustedes on his hands. The current prices are between 14/1 and 20/1 and he looks good value. I look forward to seeing him upped in class. Rock On Ruby for Harry Fry sits at 16/1 and could be a late comer to the party. Runner up in the Neptune he has won the Champion Hurdle and ran a fair second in last season’s renewal and has 3 wins and 3 places from 6 starts at Cheltenham. Rated 170 over hurdles and if he translates that to fences he could be some horse. He’ll need to be a natural to switch codes with so little time to the main event. Entered in a novice chase this week it’ll be interesting to see how he gets on. Pendra from Charlie Longsdon’s stable is available at 25/1 after two decent victories and merits a mention here. Won his first 3 starts over timber then ran a respectable second in the Tolworth Hurdle to Melodic Rendezvous then bombed out in the Coral Cup looking ill at ease in such a big field handicap. Took in what was effectively a match race at Carlisle and got the better of Eduard due to that one making a bad blunder two out when seemingly holding every chance (has since trotted up at Carlisle in a Class 3 event). Followed up with another nice win at Lingfield and really won as he liked and didn’t put a foot wrong although did jump violently left at the first but can forgive that as otherwise he looked very professional. Charlie will place him well in the build up to Cheltenham and his next race will tell us a bit more about his chances. Balder Success is another from Alan King and his price is now between 20/1 and 40/1 after his poor showing in the Henry VIII at Sandown. But considering he has never won going right handed this may be an overreaction from the layers. Won well enough on debut in a Class 2 event. He then went to Cheltenham and despite hitting a couple he was 2 lengths up and looking good for the win when crashing out gifting the race to Dark Lover who was making his debut (since crashed out at Exeter when well beaten at the time). Alan wasted little time getting him off to Warwick and he flew home in a good time beating Baby Mix, who won next time out as he liked. He tends to hit the odd fence and Sandown was never going to suit him but if he brushed up his fencing he could be one to watch for come March and 40/1 is too big in my opinion.
Where else should we start but with the market leader and two time Festival winner Champagne Fever. Already a 4 time Grade 1 winner and still only 6 he is a class act. Trained by Willie Mullins often looks for a horse who will improve for a fence and on his sole chase start it was hard not to be impressed. 2m4f around Punchestown may not seem a typical starting point for a 2m chaser but he looked magnificent putting in a exhibition round of jumping and won very comfortably with the promise of much more to come. It was a perfect introduction and he’ll be slowly brought to the boil for March. Felix Yonger is 3 from 3 over fences and is available at between 9/1 and 14/1 so if he takes your eye shop around. Ran a fair second to Simonsig in the Neptune of 2012 and has won a Grade 1 at Naas but it looks like chasing is bringing out the best in him. Looked comfortable when beating White Star Line at Punchestown over 2m4f then went into a Grade 2 contest and beat Defy Logic who had looked very impressive previously hacking up at Naas and 6 others who had all already won over fences so was no mean feat on only his second start. Destroyed Trifolium on his latest start, who also had won his chase debut looking a smart prospect himself with The Paparrazi Kid miles back in third (another last time out winner). Currently he holds some very strong form lines but the suggestion is that he may be heading for the Jewson and it’s hard to put him up as an ante-post bet in light of this. Interesting wherever he turns up though. Dessie Hughes trains Art Of Logistics and he can be backed at 20/1 but he isn’t in most bookies lists. He skipped Cheltenham last season in favour of Punchestown and finished a fair fourth behind Jezki and Champagne Fever but he has always looked a raw chasing type. Won comfortably on debut at Gowran Park then followed up at Punchestown in a disappointing Grade 3 chase. Well beaten in a top class Drinmore Novice Chase, he may have more too offer if dropped back to minimum trip for his next run. Jumps for fun and wouldn’t be writing him off just yet although he does seem to be kept to right handed tracks. He has had two cracks at Grade 1 company and both without success. Rebel Fitz from Micheal Winter’s Co Cork base made hay through the summer with 5 wins over fences and looks a great prospect. A winner on all types of ground and with victories at 2m1f to 2m6f and right or left handed he is very versatile and I half hope he shows up in March for the Jewson. Ended up in a match race with Third Intention at Cheltenham’s Showcase meeting and was pretty well beaten. But considering it was his first start out of Ireland and had taken in 6 chases already since May, perhaps he just needed a break. Either way, his from doesn’t look good enough to me but Barry Geraghty rates him highly and I’ll be watching for him if he runs in March just not in this race.
Really you want to be following a 7 or 8 year old who has yet to finish out the first two on all completed starts and was rated 140 over timber and has a Grade 1 or 2 win to their name. No real surprises but Champagne Fever is the early call and while 10/3 is skinny for ante-post the weight of money already speaks volumes about how highly regarded he is at Closutton. I can see this field cutting up quite badly and if he gets here with another 2 wins under his belt I estimate he’d be going off at around the 7/4 mark or less. Ruby Walsh will be doing the steering and with the form of the Supreme Novice Hurdle looking red hot it’s hard to not be taken by this dashing grey. As a value alternative I’m also suggesting a small each way investment on Valdez at 20/1. He looks a horse on the upgrade and has already gone beyond what he achieved over hurdles. Has valuable experience around Cheltenham over hurdles, he goes well left handed and undulating tracks hold no fears and handles a variety of surfaces. His two chases have been very pleasing to the eye and Alan knows what’s required to win the race with two winners under his belt. I would like to see him once more before March to record another win to secure he place in the line up. Arkle ante-post advice from www.rogergreenracing.co.uk Champagne Fever – 2 pts win 10/3 generally available Valdez – 0.5pts each way 20/1 Ladbrokes (affiliate link)