Well, it didn’t take long for some of the best horses destined for the Cheltenham Festival to be withdrawn, for one reason or another. Frankly, I’ve lost count. And that’s before the forecast weekend rain my rule out some others. With 48 hour declarations being brought in at last, trainers will have to make some decisions a day earlier than they would have liked.
Nothing can be done should a horse pick up an injury, such as 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Sizing John. Connections are clearly very disappointed that he is injured and will not be able to defend his crown. It is also a shame that one of my fancies, Waiting Patiently, has been withdrawn in favour of the Bowl race at the Aintree meeting in April. Although I do agree with the trainer’s sentiment that the racing world does not begin and end at the Cheltenham Festival.
But there’s plenty of good thoroughbred racehorses still destined for the festival and plenty of quality racing to look forward to, whatever the ground conditions are come the day.
In part 1 I highlighted some of my fancies for one race on each of the four days. Last time I looked, they are all still going to Prestbury Park. Some of the best prices about those horses have shortened due in the main to other horses being pulled out of the races in question.
Time for me to mention some other ante-post fancies of mine (but, remember, the definitive tips will be available to members 1 or 2 days before the racing).
There are some high profile races on day 1 in addition to that one analysed in part 1 of my preview.
For example, the Champion Hurdle has Buveur d’Air as the best price 8/15 favourite. I would not oppose him. At that price, however, I am not convinced that I will back the most likely winner. But that’s my betting tastes. There will be odds on winners at the festival and this is one of the most likely to come home first. But I derive little or no pleasure from backing odds on winners, and plenty of unhappiness if I back an odds on loser.
Should 10 year old Faugheen be back to his best, then this should be one hell of a clash. I never thought I’d see a price of 13/2 about Faugheen. That price is with Betfair and is Non Runner No Bet. Some other bookies are as short as 9/2. It really does come down to how fit Faugheen is after his second place finish behind our big price winner of the Irish equivalent of the race, Supasundae. That race was in early February, over two miles on soft ground. The time before that he had been pulled up, looking well out of it. You have to remember that Faugheen was only able to race once in 2016. He won this very race the year before. Clearly, he is three years older now, but a fit again Ruby Walsh will be in the saddle and I’d be surprised should FAUGHEEN not make the first three at the very least, so that 13/2 is worth considering on EACH WAY terms (Non Runner No Bet).
As perhaps is the 10/1 on offer for My Tent Or Yours, which finished second in this race in 2014, when so unlucky to be beaten only a neck by Jezki, and runner up again in 2016 when over four lengths behind the winner, Annie Power. He finished second in this race again last year, beaten four and a half lengths by the aforementioned favourite for this year’s race, Buveur d’Air. Now aged 11, it would take a miracle for My Tent Or Yours to reverse those places, but who knows? Were they coming to the last fence in first and second, it only takes the favourite to fall and, all of a sudden, a perennial runner up is suddenly a winner. As I say, unlikely. Not least because the final field in 2018 may well include better opponents than My Tent Or Yours faced last year. But at 10/1 about a horse that has finished outside of the first three in only one of his twenty four races, that has to appeal to those happy to make a little profit on a double figure each way priced selection.
In part 1 of my Cheltenham Preview you received my each way selection for the first race on Tuesday, KALASHNIKOV, when priced 11/2. He’s now best price 5/1. No shame in taking that on each way terms for all Getabird is a worthy favourite and Samcro is, at the time of writing at least, still declared for this race (as he is for two others). I agree with those who say that Summerville Boy should not be as big as twice the price of Kalashnikov. 10/1 may be generous about Summerville Boy.
The Arkle Chase is attracting plenty of interest elsewhere. Will the favourite Footpad beat Petit Mouchoir once again? Members know that I am a fan of the last named and the race fitness gained from that last outing may ensure they finish closer than they did at Leopardstown last month when Footpad (11/8) beat Petit Mouchioir (3/1) by 5 lengths. But there is another potential fly in the ointment here. The young pretender to this crown is called Saint Calvados (4/1 with those bookies paying out on only the first two home and 7/2 with others returning on the first three). You had to be impressed by the 22 length victory in what was a Grade 2 Novices’ at Warwick. This step up to Grade 1 against much better opposition will tell us if Saint Calvados is the real deal. If you trust stats, then you will be against 5 year old Saint Calvados. Such young horses once had a weight allowance that worked in their favour. But not now. In the past ten years no 5 year old has won the Arkle (from five runners of that age entered).
Petit Mouchoir will try to make the running and lead from start to finish. His last run was the first since October and he made a mess of the first two fences at Leopardstown. When the pair used to race against each other over hurdles, and not fences as is the case here, Petit Mouchoir beat Footpad three times in Grade 1 races last season.
I love the look of Petit Mouchoir and those who took 6/1 or more each way, ante-post, should be content with their bet. If it came down to looks, Petit Mouchoir would win for me every day. But I suspect Footpad is the better chaser. I’ll make my final decision about this race when the declarations are in on Sunday.
You know by now that I prefer big field races, be they competitive handicaps or the larger in quantity Group class races.
At the time of writing, the Grade 3 ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE at 2.50 has loads of runners. That is sure to shake down to fewer come Sunday. Coo Star Sivola won well for us last time out. That was a much easier race than this one is likely to be but what I like about Coo Star Sivola is his experience of racing at Cheltenham. 8 of his 14 outings have been at Prestbury Park. His form figures – over hurdles and latterly over fences read – 2, 3, 3, 2, 1, 6, 4 (those were over hurdles) and 3, 2, 4 (over fences). Only the last one came in a race of this Grade (3) but he looks set to race from 7 pounds ahead of the handicapper on Tuesday. We wait to see if the gutsy Lizzie Kelly, stepdaughter of the trainer and the usual jockey aboard Coo Star Sivola, is in the saddle again come Tuesday. COO STAR SIVOLA at 9/1 with Paddy Power (first 4 home and Non Runner No Bet) is an ante-post EACH WAY play for me.
Another EACH WAY bet for me in the same race right now is the 8/1 (with several bookies) favourite, the Nicky Henderson trained GOLD PRESENT. The trainer pulled this one out of the last race I tipped him to win, at Ascot, due to a bruised foot. He may even bypass Cheltenham, leaving him fresh for the Grand National next month. Gold Present has twice beaten the now highly rated Frodon and had a few of his opponents next Tuesday a long way behind when winning a Listed Handicap Chase last time out. He’ll have the stamina for this over 3 miles and 1 furlong. If Gold Present is withdrawn over the weekend, the price about Coo Star Sivola will shorten.
Vicente, which won the Scottish Grand National for members of VG Tips last April, is currently declared to race here and is as big as 33/1. I will be interested to see if Paul Nicholls keeps him in this race. For all Vicente tends to do better over further than this distance, his record at Cheltenham is a good one. 6 outings on this racecourse, two wins (one over hurdles, the other over fences), a 4th, a 5th and, most recently, a 2nd place finish when just beaten a neck in a smaller field Grade 3 race over 3 miles and 3 furlongs. If he races here I am guessing Nicholls is using it as prep race for his entry in the Grand National at Aintree on April 14th.
Let’s see how the field for the Ultima Handicap Chase shakes down between now and Sunday, but I’d be interested in Vicente if still available after that at 20/1 or bigger.
My opinion about the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle has not changed since Part 1 of this preview, although some prices have. SAMCRO is now best price 8/11 favourite. Each Way option ON THE BLIND SIDE is still available at 6/1. One in the field at a big price currently is Scarpeta (25/1). I would be very interested at that price, but the Willie Mullins trained gelding is also entered for the Albert Bartlett race on the final day of the meeting. My eyes are peeled as to where Scarpeta runs.
One of my notebook horses has three entries for the festival, including in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed). BARNEY DWAN is one of 52 currently declared for that race. Clearly, there will be nothing like that quantity of horses going to post. He’s 9/1 for that race , which interests me. But let’s wait and see which race he finally takes his place in. Trainer Fergal O’Brien is leaving that choice up to the experienced owners.
Others in the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase that interest me include Movewiththetimes and Any Second Now, each priced at 8/1 currently.
LOOKING FURTHER AHEAD
From Part 1 of my preview, my opinion of the Gold Cup a week today has not changed. Might Bite is now best price 7/2. The 4/1 has gone, at least for the moment. Road to Respect (Each Way) is 11/1 with one bookie but generally 9/1. There is a little 11/2 left about Native River, but that will likely vanish early next week.
OTHER HORSES I AM INTERESTED IN BUT AWAIT SEEING WHICH RACE THEY ARE FINALLY ENTERED FOR, WHICH MAY ITSELF BE GROUND DEPENDENT (they do not include some obvious odds on favourites, about which I will write come the relevant days)
We Have A Dream
Balko Des Flos
Chef Des Obeaux
OK. The next racing selections will be later today, Friday, for racing on Saturday. After that the next you will receive will be my final selections for day one of racing at the Cheltenham Festival (next Tuesday). They will be available in the members’ enclosure, and mailed to you using Mail Chimp, on Sunday or Monday.