With Royal Ascot just a week away, there are only nine months until Jumps Racing showcase; the Cheltenham Festival with the big race of the week being the Cheltenham Gold Cup. With Bob’s Worth running out an impressive winner of last season’s Gold Cup, the focus will be on him to see whether he can be the first horse to do the double since Best Mate back in 2003. Personally, I think he will be very hard to beat based on this year’s run when he was outpaced before being hampered by the fall of Silviniaco Conti three out, but his determination saw him through. Like a few others, I believe he wasn’t 100% on Gold Cup day so he could potentially be even more exciting and if he gets better ground then he will be many people’s banker. The obvious main threats include Sir Des Champs, Long Run and First Lieutenant who are all proven Grade One competitors on their day as evidenced by them filling the first three places in the Punchestown Gold Cup. Also in the mix is Silviniaco Conti, however, I want to look towards the up and coming chasers who could take a hand over the next few seasons in the top staying chaser ranks. I have chosen two to follow with both coming from England. Although he was a disappointing fourth in the RSA Chase behind Lord Windermere, there is plenty to like about Unioniste who we must remember is only a five year old. I feel that he wasn’t at his best at the Festival but anything he did last season was a bonus and he’s an exciting prospect going forwards into next season. This upcoming season will be interesting for him especially as he will have several options open to him and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him have a Hennessy entry. Out of last season’s staying novices, I feel that he is the one most open to improvement from the RSA so I will watch his season with massive interest in which I hope he ends up in the Gold Cup. The 33/1 offered in some places looking an appealing price. The second horse that I feel could cause an upset in a Gold Cup is the Kim Bailey trained Harry Topper who looked a real star in the making when winning at Exeter in February. However, he blotted his copybook with an uncharacteristic unseat at Kelso and was unlucky at Punchestown when Jason Maguire was effectively knocked off by Dedigout. He is another relatively young horse who has the world at his feet and a summer at grass will only help. Kim Bailey’s decision to avoid Cheltenham being was right one with the horse still developing physically and mentally. Let’s look at some of the horses he has beaten over fences; Benefficient, Rocky Creek and Houblon Des Obeauxs. All good novice chasers in particular Benefficient who won at the Festival. This can only bode well for this horse’s future. I would like to take this opportunity to thank JP for letting me write on his website and also to Cathryn for mentioning the idea to me at Uttoxeter about a month ago. I’m delighted to become the Student Writer for JPFestival.com. Adam Webb @AdamWebb121
A lot has been debated about the campaigning of Quevega. I’m kind of sitting in no man’s land between the two schools of thought. Yes, I would dearly love it if connections let her take her chance in a World Hurdle, but it would also be wonderful to see her more than twice a year. That said I am mindful of the fact that like all tough women, she has a fragile side. Also, let’s face it her owners pay the bills, it’s their decision. We can argue all we want but the fact is we’ll see her in a few weeks at Punchestown, then that will be it until next March. Until then the complexities and the delights of our lives in racing will consume us.
Whilst watching Quevega make her relentless charge to victory in her fifth Mares Hurdle, I was suddenly transported back in time; twenty seven years to be exact. My ears were filled with the sweet music of one of the greatest commentaries of all time: “The mares beginning to get up…”. Through a hypnotic state of mind I saw Dawn Run closing in on Wayward Lad in the 1986 Gold Cup, before snapping back to 2013 to see Quevega cross the line in front. Given both mares connection to the Mullins dynasty, the correlation is a poetic dream. Whatever your view on the Mares Hurdle or indeed Quevega, I for one saw beauty and history in equal measure on 12 March. The rides are not similar; Dawn Run was handy, Quevega wasn’t. However, both look beaten coming into the last with Dawn Run prevailing by a length, Quevega by a length and a half.
Maybe it’s me with the eternal rose tints on, but take a look and see what you think.
If Dawn Run is forever Queen of Cheltenham then Quevega’s new moniker; the first lady of Cheltenham is completely fitting.
Bankers. We used to count the banker material in the car with my Dad on the way down to Cheltenham. It was our benchmark to success at the meeting. And that was the word- success, because losing at the Festival was a non runner for Bookies such as John Banks. The environment has changed. I don’t use betting exchanges to price up my book, I value opinion over trading between Bots and the numpties. I’m very much in the minority. Modern day Bookmakers can’t see past exchanges, trading every penny they take, offering a very poor service to the customer, which starts with uniformity of odds. We have to thank Rob Hughes, casting vote chairman of the Levy Board for introducing exchanges to rings – now decimated. Bookies have become their own worst enemy. Me? I expect to win by taking the aggressive line. No, I didn’t offer ten pound bets on Sprinter Sacre at Evens, but then I’m not running a casino. I don’t study a yard of form pre-festival. It clouds my plans. If I sat up all night studying form, I’d surely end up with the same book of hotpots as the punters do. Dynaste, Quevega, Hurricane Fly, Bobs Worth and Simonsig. My job is to get them beat. Tuesday rolls in, starting well for the Books, with the hard pulling My Tent Or Yours looking assured for victory, outbattled by Champagne Fever. Last year we started poorly and never looked back. This year was more muddled. Wins for Simonsig, Hurricane Fly and Quevega placed the straight bat layers behind the 8 ball. We lost- solidly. The bright spot? Handicaps. Result after result all week penned the punters back.. Wednesday, gloomy lot of Bookies clutched defeat from the jaws of victory in the first, with Back In Front rallying. Groans and queues around the Centaur for payouts. I employ 3 people to just pay out the cash, which by nature is more time consuming than accepting a bet – it wasn’t enough! The office rang – running up bets onto Irish wonderhorse- Pont Alexandre in the next. This from multiple bets onto Back In Focus and yesterdays ‘heroes’. How much do we have it for I ask? ‘Don’t ask’, says my senior trader, we’re behind the sofa in here. Talking horse-not wonderhorse. And it kicks off panic with the punters. They barely scrape a return in another race for two days. Who cares about Sprinter Sacre? Not the Bookies-they ignore him. Ooh aaah, well done, move on. Round after round to the Bookies continued through Thursday. Had you asked me to write down my own set of results, I couldn’t have penned a better set of results. It was embarrassing, – well almost embarrassing. Thursday night we celebrated, care of the Richard Power firm in Cheltenham. Smiles all round and stories of derring do and how what looked on paper a punters festival, had turned so much to us. We were well in front. Friday. Hmmm. I remember thinking I would coast round, secure that even if the results were similar to Tuesday, we couldn’t finish behind on the meeting now. That’s not to say I intended backing off and hogging the pot. Oh No! not my way at all. I’m too daft to do that..Punters on the ropes and down. I was going to put my heel gently on their necks. Hard to remember a thought proven more wrong, as result after calamitous result ensued. The worst of which for me was Salsify in the Foxhunters. Backed in from 9/2 long term to 2/1. It was a catastrophe. It’s fair to say I was totally stunned at the manner of his victory. Iiterally speechless at the turn of events- and the noise in the Centaur was unbelievable! It didn’t surprise me to watch McCoy boot home the last favourite home. I was numb. The punters deserved their day. How much did the Festival cost the firms? Well, my firm lost double on Friday what it had reaped on Wednesday and Thursday. Those are traditionally quieter betting days. I’m not crying, I have a track record of winning long term. Overall, the Cheltenham bash cost the Bookies big time. More with the large offshore concerns, who outdid each other with one moronic offer after another. These days they seem to treat the whole event as an opportunity to pad their online products with lovely names and addresses. And the dimmies queue up to sign up as if it’s Christmas. Is that a fair comment? I believe so, because every tenner laid at evens on Sprintre Sacre usually gets ploughed into something else. I mean who deposits a tenner and goes through the rigmarole of withdrawing it the next day? It’s ploughed into some other product and Bobs your uncle. Whilst everyone from the BHA downward is clapping themselves on the back at producing another showcase event – and it was, I offer a word of caution. I listened to the great Micky Fitzgerald on the excellent Morning Line, a show I’ve been lucky to participate in, eulogising about his former boss producing the horse in tip top condition to wrest the big prize of the Gold Cup. And I congratulate my friend Nicky for his skills. However, the last time I saw the great Bobs in action was November. He wasn’t the only one of course. A number of top jumping stars rested from December onwards. Fine, the weather was poor in January, but there were still opportunities to be had, rejected by stable stars with owners rich enough to take the gamble and lie low for months. In the meantime viewers on telly, and worse attendees on course endured uncompetitive events and ‘match races’ for months. There have been 23 grade one events this season. 16 won by the favourite, and 6 by the second favourites. It highlights the predictable nature of jump racing these days, and hardly pads the Levy.It’s not good enough in my view. I don’t care who wins the Gold Cup, it’s a great institution, and whatever lifts the little cup, Dessie or Nortons Coin, is going to be big news. Micky Fitz was right to congratulate the great one, but he forgets the intervening months have become drab and boring. Might I remind those looking in- Desert Orchid ran 8 or 9 times a year. He was an athlete and so are today’s horses. It disproves the current lame excuse given for horses languishing in their boxes, that they’re not ‘capable’ of winning top races if they race in February. And if you’re Newbury or Kempton? You’re doing the industry no favours by permitting quiet gallops for top stars after racing. Ask Fontwell who provided 50 grand for a five runner race how they felt at the lack of ambition? Simonsig? Beatable. Dynaste beaten. Where was the inventiveness of connections then? Small fields for Championship races at the Festival? An alarming development for Racing. As for Quevega? Group class in a seller, just leaves me cold. There’s only one horse who cannot be bested these days. One. Let them race. By Geoff Banks
Monday Feel a change in the weather… (1) Dark clouds hang over jumping’s HQ and I can feel an ill wind blowing. I’m walking the course, stuff of dreams but there is trouble ahead, my senses tell me as much. It’s the day before the best four days of the year and yet as I look through blizzard conditions from the centre of the course back to the stands, I say to myself this is going to be a rollercoaster. Quite to what extent, I wouldn’t have believed. Would I change anything if I could rewind now? Yes, lots actually, but that’s the thing about life, you cannot. I discover that I am parked next to a blue and green car, this bodes well but I still cannot shake a certain unease. It’s a weird feeling, I am on the one hand delighted that my favourite week of the year is finally upon us, but at the same time I just know that something is brewing. Call it a sixth sense and one that you should never ignore. Our gut feeling tells us everything. I have a choice, to go out into town to greet the sea of excited faces or to stay in, I stay in – like I said – odd. Tuesday Dodging Bullets, in more ways than one… On Trials Day snow was visable on the course but it still wasn’t as cold as it is on this the opening day of the 2013 Festival. I get the butterflies walking through the gates. I fleetingly remember the old days when it was all play, get choked and decide I should crack on with my work. There is something about this place that never fails to move me. I watch the Supreme with a sense of wonder; Champagne Fever who is bred to be a staying chaser takes the Supreme and I couldn’t have got him more wrong. I have no doubt in my mind that we are looking at a very special horse here, given his pedigree, I am inclined to say the words ‘Gold Cup’. My Tent Or Yours just appeared to get unbalanced on a few of the undulations, but the way he ran with the choke out wouldn’t have helped matters. Is this a horse that really wants a fight though? It’s now Hurricane Fly time; I go to the pre-parade ring and I am absolutely marveling at what I see; my boy is back. I’m pretty confident that I won’t have to work all day on Wednesday in my underwear – watch JPFestival.com Cheltenham Preview Night video for more on this. Although, I do have to admit to a few anxious moments during the first half of the race! I think the best moment of the entire Festival for me, was when Ruby got the Fly back on the bridle. If you watch closely, on the turn for home Ruby gives two very gentle nudges on his neck and the response is electric. That was always his trademark and something that was lacking in 2012. I can honestly say the closing stages of the Champion Hurdle was one of the sweetest moments in my whole racing life; right up there with Dessie edging out Yahoo in the 1989 Gold Cup. To love is to put your heart on the line and be prepared for it to be trampled on; you have to be brave and a little foolish. I’m about a 40/60 split. However, I make no apology for the passion I have for racing or for the way I completely fall for certain horses. If you don’t have passion, then what is the point? I am penning a separate article on Quevega so I won’t go into too much detail here. I along with everyone else on course thought she was beaten at the top of the hill. I was still floating along in a Hurricane Fly bubble, when I could scarcely believe my eyes to see Cheltenham’s first lady tanking towards the last. To see two performances like that in an hour was nothing short of breathtaking. What was I worried about? The week was going to be just fine – what a clown I am. Wednesday At the end of the day, you’re another year older…..(2) I awake to a stack of birthday messages, that in itself was totally heartwarming. To everyone who sent me texts, Tweets and Facebook messages – thank you, it meant so much. So it’s Queen Mother Champion Chase day and my birthday so I should be in great form, especially after Tuesday. I’m not though; still there is this feeling of malaise and it’s niggling away at me. I get the call to do a second slot for BBC Radio Gloucestershire and as I look out across that wonderful vista and at the winning line which is my Dad’s final resting place, I remind myself just how lucky I am. I always had faith in The New One but his Neptune win was a mighty performance. Sam Twiston-Davies rode the race to perfection just as his Father had predicted. This perfect equine and human partnership took it up at the last and used the horses speed to get up the hill. I was delighted to hear that connections are going to map out a Champion Hurdle campaign with him next season. He could just follow in the footsteps of Istabraq and Hardy Eustace. I saw a real chaser in waiting in Rule The World and it seems the Pont is a mudlark, albeit a very good one. What can you say about Sprinter Sacre who really is the most beautiful horse I think I have ever seen. As much as I would have loved to have seen a horse serve it up to him on a hot dish; the sight of him dancing all over Prestbury’s finest turf was one of the iconic images of the four days. It was great to see Wayne Hutchinson win the Coral Cup. It’s no secret he is the best number two in the country and he is riding at the very top of his game. I hope this victory on the great stage propels him even further forward. Thursday Darling, darling – that dam’s gonna give….(3) I am off the bridle after the worst sleep of my life. The niggle is still there. I am like a bear with a sore head; my mood is explosive and that is extremely rare and never a good sign. I decide to just throw myself into my work and after an hour of solid typing I need coffee. It’s then I look around me and nearly slap myself for being such a brat. Here I am working in the media centre at the Olympics of National Hunt racing. I look to my right, then look to my left, to take a look at the illustrious company I’m in and berate myself some more. I lean back on my chair to watch the Jewson and nearly fall asleep which is ridiculous. I’m not surprised to see both Dynaste and Captain Conan beaten. I really didn’t fancy Captain Conan over 2m4f at Cheltenham and as for Dynaste, the vibes were not great beforehand. However, both remain in the exceptional bracket. I am focused on my laptop for most of the Pertemps and when I look at the TV, I nearly fall off my chair. I knew Holywell had a right chance in the race but I didn’t expect to see him going so well. Suddenly I discover energy and shout him home. I then remember that I have put this horse up as my NAP of the Festival. Firstly on our joint broadcast with Imperial Racing, as a bit of a laugh and a surprise because I knew everyone expected me to say Hurricane Fly! Secondly. at our Cheltenham Preview Evening, that was very kindly sponsored by Star Sports where I put Holywell up as my charity bet. So £25 each way at 25/1 went to Racing Welfare. I am over the moon that Holywell obliged and that an organisation that does such amazing work benefited from it. During the Ryan Air, it is apparent that I am struggling with my energy levels, or so I thought. I think in reality I was struggling with my emotions. I work on a bit longer, wrap up my final broadcast of the day with Radio Winchcombe and watch the World Hurdle. I am gutted to see Peddlers Cross struggling so far out; it seems the broken heart and the mental scars are yet to heal. It can do that to you. I cheer Solwhit home as his victory was one of the most deserved of the week. I fire off the last write up of the day, look out of the window at the free flowing traffic and realise if I split now I can be home in ten minutes and watch the last of the action on my sofa with RUK. This is madness. This time last year I was on my sofa wishing with every part of my soul that I was at the Festival and now all I want to do is get back on my sofa! I tussle with the angel and the devil and for a change I take the angels advice. It’s sofa time as I need to be in flying form for tomorrow. Cheltenham Gold Cup Day was my Dad’s favourite, I’ll do it for him. I walk in the door to find a house full. My Mum who was obviously not expecting me home for hours has thrown a racing lunch which does nothing for my fraying at the seams disposition. I find a quiet corner of the house to watch the Kim Muir – it all goes dark. I knew it was bad, the change in the tone of the presenters’ voices and the phone call I receive confound my worst fears. I am suddenly wide awake. I can hear the air ambulance hovering overhead and I just know where it is heading. The way the RUK presenters handled unfolding events proved once again they are a credit to their profession. Since that very hour my thoughts and prayers have been 40 minutes down the road in Frenchay Hospital with John Thomas McNamara and his family. May the love and support emanating from every corner of our great sport guide him through his darkest hour. At 1am, I am still awake and my mind is with JT. He is 37 years old, my age. He has a wife and kids. The tears roll onto my pillow. Friday Where the ocean kisses Ireland and the waves caress its shore, the feeling it came over me and stayed forever more. (4) I must have slept all of three hours but by some act of God, I do not feel as rough as I did yesterday. The Morning Line is essential viewing and yet again I am reduced to tears at the sombre reflection in the presenters voices. I cannot watch for long. I give myself a good talking to in the shower as this is Gold Cup day and I have a job to do. I manage to catch up with some friends before hurrying off to do my last slot of the week with BBC Radio Gloucestershire. I was longing for some normality to subdue the raging torrent of emotion I was feeling. Triumph time and I knew I had backed a good horse but what Our Conor did was nothing short of incredible. I have never seen a Triumph field taken apart like that. For the fourth time in a week I shout the roof off the media centre. I then run into the lashing rain to find my Final Furlong Pod counterpart Noel Hayes, I launch myself on him and the sheer joy and emotion etched on his face has me all choked up again. This must be the ultimate feeling; take any high you have ever had and multiply it by 1,000 and I’m not sure you even get close. For all my correct decisions over the last few weeks, I have made some howlers. The biggest of them all was opposing Bobs Worth in the Gold Cup. I don’t think he was at his best on Friday and still he dug deep to see off Sir Des Champs and Long Run by seven lengths. That showed unbelievable guts, Bobs Worth must have the heart of a lion. He sees his favourite hill and he sets sail. He’s not flashy but he’s clever, a grafter that would die for you in a battle if he had to. I’m welling up just watching him walk back in and to see the respect that Barry Geraghty paid to JT by not celebrating on his return to the winners enclosure pushes me over the edge; I am done. I cannot stop the tears. I go for a walk to clear my head. I take a route that my Dad was fond of, up in to Tatts to where he would have a bet and back through Club looking out across the course. I cut through by the Arkle Bar and get back to work. It then hits me as I say goodbye to my Irish colleagues who are making a run for the airports that after everything, I will be sad to see the back of this Festival that was far harder than I could have ever imagined. I’m alone at my desk for the Grand Annual and smile to see Alderwood and Kid Cassidy fight it out. I hang around to let the traffic go down, see a few people and say thanks to the amazing team that looked after us all week. I return home to a house in darkness; I am alone but I am glad for that. I could go out but I am tired and I want some solitude. I rarely drink but I’ll admit to having a few Friday night. The words of Rudyard Kipling spring to mind: “If you can make one heap of all your winnings And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss, And lose, and start again at your beginnings And never breathe a word about your loss; If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew To serve your turn long after they are gone, And so hold on when there is nothing in you Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!” (5) Festival Statistics Number of expletives used: 724 Number of superlatives used: 2,321 Number of cereal bowls launched: 1 Number of tears: Lots Number of laughs: Plenty Hours of sleep over 5 days: 12 Number of times I turned my phone on and off to get a signal: 4,324 Dreams realised: Several Days til Cheltenham 2014: Too many Credits (1) “Feel a change in the weather” – Blue Cirque – The Bellrays (2) “At the end of the day, you’re another year older” – Les Miserables – Victor Hugo (3) “Darling, darling, the dam’s gonna give” – Dogwood Blossom – Fionn Regan (4) “Where the ocean kisses Ireland and the waves caress it’s shore, the feeling it came over me and stayed forever more” – The Green and Red of Mayo – The Saw Doctors. (5) If – Rudyard Kipling
There were two unfortunate jockeys who missed out on their rides in the Gold Cup; Davy Russell who suffered a punctured lung on Thursday and Paul Carberry whose horse was brought down in the third. AP McCoy stepped into the breach for Russell’s mount Sir Des Champs and Sam Twiston-Davies took over on Monbeg Dude. As they went down to the start for the big race Bobs Worth with Barry Geraghty up was favourite with Sir Des Champs, Long Run. Silviniaco Conti and The Giant Bolster all well fancied. the first mile. Coming down to the last it was Bobs Worth, Sir Des Champs and Long Run all in with a fighting chance but Bobs Worth continued his unbeaten record at Cheltenham and stormed up the hill to take it, giving Nicky Henderson his 50th Festival winner. Sir Des Champs was in second with Long Run holding on for the third. The JCB Triumph Hurdle saw Our Conor take it by an impressive 15 lengths from Far West; the first time in 11 years the Irish have been victorious. 20 year old jockey Brian Cooper made it two for two in the second, partnering Ted Veale in the County Hurdle when snatching it from Tennis Cap who was running well and looked to have everyone else in trouble. In the third race favourite At Fisher’s Cross gave AP McCoy his first win of the Festival with his stamina shining through. There was a photo finish for second which was awarded to African Gold over Inish Island. Earlier on in the contest, I Shot the Sheriff fell bringing down Our Vinnie which aggravated Paul Carberry’s already injured shoulder putting him out of the Gold Cup. In the Foxhunter Salsify repeated his first from last year. But he was lucky that Oscar Delta ducked in towards the tape with Jane Managan who was unseated. Salisfy was struggling to catch Oscar Delta when Managan went out the side door leaving him free to score. The Martin Pipe gave Paul Nicholls his first festival winner this year as Salubrious cruised up and won by seven lengths from Nagpur. The final race of the Festival 2013 was another Irish victory as Alderwood led home Kid Cassidy giving JP McManus a one two and the Irish a record 14 victories over 13 British. There was a shadow over the day as JT McNamara is still in hospital seriously ill but the latest news is that he is stable after an operation on vertebrae in his neck. Best wishes to him from me and all at JPFestival.com. Four action-packed days with stunning victories, record-breaking feats, heartache and a lot of fantastic horses. Roll on next year.
Another day in the sun at Cheltenham and it was a bad day for the punters and jockeys, with unexpected results and injury, rife. The Jewson Novice’s Steeple Chase saw Benefficient bravely fight back to beat the favourite Dynaste. A photo result declared the 100/1 shot Changing Times third. In the Pretemps Holywell hung on from Captain Sunshine, travelling well from a long way out. Trainer Jonjo O’Neill said, ” I was a bit worried when Richie (McLernon) came to the front such a long way from home but he did well.” Captain Sunshine’s jockey Paddy Brennan was banned for nine days due to incorrect use of the whip which would appear to rule him out of his Grand National ride on Imperial Commander. Jockey Davy Russell suffered a spontaneous punctured lung and will be spending the night at Cheltenham Hospital. No decisions have been made about who will be riding his Gold Cup mount tomorrow as yet. In the Ryanair Cue Card from a long way out whilst the favourite First Lieutenant had made an error at the third last and came second but it looked as though he would have struggled to catch the leader anyway. The Ladbrokes World Hurdle was missing Big Bucks this year, who has won the last four consecutive years, due to a leg injury. Paul Carberry aboard Solwhit rode a great finish despite being very stiff from a couple of nasty falls. He was unable to move yesterday and has flown his doctor over from Ireland to prescribe painkillers. Celestial Halo ran bravely but was beaten into second. Solwhit is the first Irish winner of the World Hurdle for 18 years. Venetia Williams’ Carrickboy held on to win from Vino Griego in the fifth. Tartak ran a valiant race but is dogged by wind problems and finished third. In the Kim Muir the photo finish gave it to Same Difference on the nod, with gallant Super Duty just missing out. J T McNamara had a punishing fall when Galaxy Rock crashed into the first fence. He was airlifted to hospital and was conscious after his fall but is now in an induced coma at Frenchay Hospital in Bristol. The Cross Country race was delayed by 30 minutes due to J T McNamara’s fall and then there was a false start. When they eventually got off Wedger Pardy and Passato set off at a cracking pace clearly wanting to get home in the daylight. They tired near the finish and Big Shu stormed up to win at 14-1. Shakervilz came close but couldn’t catch him and Outlaw Pete took third. The Charity race in aid of Cancer Research UK took place in failing light and Newmill certainly wasn’t hanging around getting to around 25 lengths ahead of Shinko Moon who was 10 lengths ahead of the rest of the field before they began to close the gap. Age of Glory with Brian Bunyan were victorious.
You’re probably all tired of hearing his name and I am a little late to the party with this article. However, I cannot let Hurricane Fly’s second Champion Hurdle victory pass without comment. You all know by now that Hurricane Fly is my favourite horse, but his regaining of the crown resonates on a far deeper level for the both of us. Last year, we were both sick, really sick, I couldn’t walk. He’s far classier than I am, even with ailments. His then misfiring engine carried him into a brave third behind Rock On Ruby. Whereas I couldn’t get out the front door. When Hurricane Fly crossed the line yesterday it heralded the end of probably the most testing year of my life. As for him, he sent a flare high above Cleeve Hill that simply said: “I am the real deal”. I have no doubt in my mind that if Hurricane Fly had been on his A game last year we would now be looking at a triple Champion Hurdler. When I saw him in the pre-parade ring, he was every inch of the horse that I had fallen in love with on a cold January day at Leopardstown. He had what I call the positive buzz, not anxious; just lightly on his toes and there to do his job. I have no doubt that this son of Montjeu will continue to divide opinion, but that is just one of several hundred things that make this game so great. Next stop on the Hurricane Fly show is the Punchestown Festival, where he will attempt to win the Rabobank Champion Hurdle for the fourth time. There is talk of a shot at the French Champion Hurdle and I’m with the maestro Mullins – he’ll stay no problem. 17 Grade Ones, imagine that. Both Rock On Ruby and Countrywide Flame went down with all guns blazing. Incredibly, Rock On Ruby remains an underrated horse and he is galloping fast onto my favourites list. A word on his trainer Harry Fry; what a gentleman. Many would not have been that gracious in defeat. As for the five year old Countrywide Flame; the world is his oyster. Aintree beckons for him and he is in the right hands. My closing words are: there are those of us that love and there are those of us that play. Hurricane Fly loves and so do I.
Morning, I’m here and even with the Arctic conditions that have prevailed during the night, this is already a better meeting for me than last year. This time last March, I was in the grip of a cruel illness and I couldn’t walk. Emotions ran high for me this morning when I walked through my favourite gates and caught the sight of Cleeve Cloud, rising above the temporary road like view of Prestbury Park. Seeing Dessie on the Morning Line brought a tear to my eye too. Yes, it’s true that if Hurricane Fly doesn’t win the Champion Hurdle, my heart will smash into a million pieces like a disco ball onto a broken down dancefloor. However, I am a big girl and I have got over far worse.
Here are two thoughts for the day:
Supreme: After laughing my head off that Champagne Fever was to run in this, I now firmly believe that everything has come right for this horse who has a beautiful staying pedigree. He’ll need it out there today. I’m still keeping Dodging Bullets onside though.
JLT: I talked up Our Mick on the Broadcast, I’m still very much in his camp. You have to respect the declaration of Merry King but I think Knockara Beau will play an active part in proceedings too.
Sorry this is brief but time of of the essence. I wish you all a very happy Cheltenham.
Bensalem is my selection for the RSA Chase at the Cheltenham Festival 2010 on Wednesday 17 March 2010. Grab the 33/1 with the totesport as soon as you can. Free money is available for traders as the horse can be laid at 27 on Betfair so the price won’t last for long. If Bensalem makes it to the race then I expect him to start at a single figure price on the day. The race has been a lucky one for me over the years with Lord Noelie, One Knight and Trabolgan all backed and tipped at 33/1. So can Bensalem be another 33/1 winner?
I think he can so let’s look at his claims. Overall, he boost an excellent record over both hurdles and chases of 5 wins out of 7 starts having come 2nd in both defeats. The first of those was a close defeat to Diamond Harry who was extremely impressive at Haydock and takes on Big Bucks this weekend. The other was over an unsuitable distance, 2m 3f at Exeter, in his most recent run. Surprisingly he was pushed out from a best price 16/1 to a stand out 33/1 with totesport. Given the distance, the poor form of the Alan King yard and the fact the race was run on heavy, this run was fine and he will show dramatic improvement when sent over a trip closer to the 3 miles of the RSA Chase on better ground.
Bensalem has the typical profile of an RSA Chase winner. He’s the right age (8 out of the last 10 winners were 7) and he’s a late developing national hunt bred with good quality hurdle form from last season.
I can see the odds come tumbling down following his next outing over a longer trip and when the Alan King stable is back in form. His bad form can’t last the whole season…can it?
There are several other unexposed horses open to improvement and the favourite Punchestowns has to be a contender but my selections are all about value and at 33/1 Bensalem is worth a punt.
Look at your clock and rejoice. There is less than a month until the most important week in the calendar – the Cheltenham Festival 2018. Yes, those four days are less than four weeks away and as part of the build-up to the epic festival it’s time to shine a light upon a race that hasn’t had the microscope treatment here – the Betway Champion Chase.
Two deeply impressive performances over the past month has injected a huge amount of potential into the race, and also ignited a rivalry which is by no means unfinished – that of Altior v Min. Altior, so deeply impressive when trashing Min in the Supreme Novice’s Hurdle two years ago, didn’t get a chance to have the rematch that so many had hoped for with the Irish raider when he suffered and injury last year, and in his absence, belted older opposition in the Game Spirit before then winning the Arkle, putting away the penalty kick that he was given by the fall of Charbel.
Some suggested that he wasn’t at his best that day, and his wide margin win in the Celebration Chase afterwards – arguably a more impressive performance – suggested that could have been the case, although there was no doubting for many that he was the best 2-mile chaser in training.
One had expected to see him more than once this season, but fortune was not kind to Nicky Henderson, who found out that Altior had made “a whistling noise” during his work in the lead up to the Tingle Creek, for which he had been a hot favourite – it turned out that he needed a wind op. So away he went, with the Game Spirit the one chance he would have to run before the Cheltenham Festival. Thankfully he made it, and as you can recall, he oozed class in tracking Politologue and then moving past him in a manner of seconds, with Nico de Boinville having an easier time on him than he did for any of his wins last year as he won by four lengths on the bridle.
If that’s what he can produce after such a long time off, imagine what he could produce with improvement – although there is one major caveat. Firstly, the dreaded bounce factor. This is shown by the small but incredibly eye catching (or worrying if, like me, you are a fan of the horse) sample size with over 30 horses having run at the Cheltenham Festival for the second time in a season with 600-day breaks – producing only one winner. That said, none were Altior. There are always different interpretations of statistics which result in many websites and analysts posting tips throughout the Cheltenham Festival 2018.
Min, who met Altior two seasons ago in the Supreme, is accepted not to have run to his best that day and was making into a fine novice chaser before injury intervened and robbed us of a rematch last year. Previously a deeply impressive winner of the Racing Post Novice Chase, his knee injury ruled him out of the spring before a visually impressive return at Gowran over 2m4f. He didn’t have much of a workout there – he did go off a 1/9 shot – but the style enthralled many and it was no surprise that he was sent off long odds on to take the Dial-A-Bet Chase.
However, he found things much tougher there and at many points looked to be struggling against Simply Ned through the straight before he drifted into the general line of Nicky Richards’ horse, and the disqualification that he suffered was deserved. However, that was arguably his first real race since last Christmas and he was a different horse when sitting off the lightning quick gallop in the Dublin Chase.
Special Tiara – the winner of this last year – set a terrific pace and jumped with the verve he’d last showed in March, stringing the field out by 15 lengths after the first fence and refusing to relent until well after the last, By tat time, Min, who was clearly in his element, was tracking him and ready to go and win the race in style, which he did, and announce himself as a huge player. He duly won by seven lengths and is sure to go well at the Festival, but it would not be a surprise if Special Tiara was able to improve on that effort.
Whilst he is now 11, it must be remembered that the better the ground, the better Special Tiara is, and should we get the same surface as last year, then he can surely be expected to go well again. He should improve physically too – he did not get a full runout in the Desert Orchid Chase and had only appeared in the Shloer Chase before that, his seasonal reappearance. He might be more restrained at the Festival but set a strong pace when outlasting his opposition last year and with his target absolutely confirmed, appeals as being overpriced at 16/1.
It will be a surprise to many that I have not mentioned Douvan, odds on for this race last year and serenely unbeaten before that, until now. However, at the time of writing, it is not a certainty that he will run in the Red Mills Chase at the weekend, and should he win that then the Ryanair begins to look the stronger option for him anyway.
Politologue had no answer to Altior in the Game Spirit but might not be the worst each/way option given that he was not going to have been at 100% either (due to a combination of race targeting and a January flu jab) and his extra stamina makes him an attractive choice here. He hasn’t put a foot wrong in jumping terms all season, especially in the Tingle Creek when he got the better of Fox Norton, and he can run well.
Un De Secaux is likelier to defend his title in the Ryanair, unless there was a deluge of rain. Great Field is an incredibly exciting horse, but his problems have robbed him of a clean crack at the race and he is next season’s horse. Last season’s neck second Fox Norton was out jumped when Politologue beat him in the Tingle Creek, and it could be that he’s happier at the Ryanair trip – he certainly looked it when he was a super winner of the Melling Chase at Aintree last season. Ar Mad was third in that race, but beaten fair and square whilst he’s better going right handed. Charbel, fourth there, doesn’t look good enough to run the finish out of a field this good. Yorkhill won’t be running here following his disappointing showing at Leopardstown, and neither will Top Notch unless the ground becomes seriously testing.
1 pt each/way Special Tiara, Champion Chase (16/1 general)