Day 1 was spectacular as expected but also tragic with the sad death of Our Conor. The Liquidator ran well for a long way but faded at the top of the hill in the opener. However, no one would have beaten the ultra-impressive Vautour, not even Pegasus. Champagne Fever ran a cracker and was pipped on the run-in but at least my stake was returned. Like a scripted comedy, Vintage Star and King Massini both fell in the 3 mile Chase, very early on as well! Jezki left me with egg on my face as he deservedly won the Champion Hurdle, although the New One was a very unlucky loser. Jezki also stuck the boot in by spoiling all my second place refund bets!
The Mares race was a “no bet” race although I was tempted to plough into Quevega. Ashamedly I will admit to having a place bet on the exchanges on Glens Melody (a mini-chase if you like, but at odds of 2.78 to finish in the first four it was better value than the 1.77 for Quevega). The 4 miler was a classic. Shotgun Paddy put in a woeful round of jumping but still managed to finish a neck-second giving me another second place refund. Suntiep came from nowhere to pick up some nice place money @16/1 and Day 1 was not the disaster it was looking likely to be an hour or so earlier. In the finale I thought Attaglance was very unlucky as he had the door shut on his run which may have stopped him winning. Luckily for me it was more place money @20/1 and yet another 2nd place refund on the win stake. All things considered, not a bad first day.
On to Day 2 and first up is the Neptune Novices Hurdle or the Minefield Hurdle as I like to call it. Willy Mullins has a strong hand as expected but so do Nicky Henderson and David Pipe. I think between them these three probably have half the entries. So where do you start? With small stakes is my answer. I really like Red Sherlock and I’ve taken the early @9/2. David Pipe thinks he is the best of his lot. The price is a bit skinny seeing how competitive this race is. On the other hand the last 5 winners all returned at 7/1 or shorter, so this race has favoured those at the head of the market in recent years. In fact only 2 outside the first five in the betting have prevailed in the last 29 years! I had also backed Briar Hill @8/1 Non Runner No Bet and he hasn’t made the final declarations, so I will just stick with Red Sherlock as my sole selection in the opener.
The RSA Chase looks like an absolute belter this year and I think this is the most fascinating race on Wednesday’s card. AP McCoy once again rides Carlingford Lough who was beaten by Don Cossack who was beaten by Ballycasey. Not sure if that means anything! Ballycasey has just two starts over fences and that puts me off a little so, again to small stakes, I’ve had an each-way nibble on Don Cossack to reverse that form @12/1. Oliver Sherwood’s Many Clouds may lack the class of some of these rivals but he has finished 1st or 2nd in 9 of 10 starts over obstacles and was second in a Grade 2 on his last start. Another each-way nibble on Many Clouds @16/1 will do for me. This is really a race for watching, but then again this is Cheltenham and I feel obliged to get involved!
The Coral Cup has returned winners @33/1, 16/1, 16/1, 14/1 and 14/1 in the last 5 runnings. So let’s get stuck in! It will be a miracle if I find the winner but Irish trained horses do have a good record in this race. Of the various trends I’ve looked at we may be looking at a second season hurdler who has had three or less runs this season and carries less than 11-02. One that fits the bill is Dermot Weld’s Waaheb @20/1 and I’ve taken that each way. Unusually for me in such big field handicaps I will make this my only selection as this really could be one for the pinstickers.
The Queen Mother Champion Chase will not be the same without Sprinter Sacre but I do have an opinion on this one so here goes. I love Sizing Europe, I really do. But just like me, he is too old. Somersby would be a popular winner, but again he is too old. 31 of the last 32 winners returned no bigger than 11/1. Make of that what you will and you may believe that trend will be broken in the absence of the mighty Sprinter Sacre. Kid Cassidy has beaten Sire De Grugy but was in receipt on 10 pounds that day and Sire De Grugy has since gone on to win the Tingle Creek (in which he thrashed Captain Conan) and 2 more Graded races. I have backed him at 11/4 with William Hill, best odds guaranteed. I do think Henderson’s pair, the aforementioned Kid Cassidy and Captain Conan are real threats, despite the latter not running for 95 days since his walloping at the hands of Sire De Grugy and the latter’s flop at Punchestown. It’s just a nagging feeling that one of these may upset the form book, but I’ll stick with a win only bet on Gary Moore’s stable star. So there you have it and now Avrika Legionnaire will probably win!
Next up is the Cross Country Chase. I love to watch this race. I think it is a real spectacle. Unfortunately a lot of racing purists disagree. But then again, I’m a punter not a purist so I’m happy to get involved. Big Shu was second in the PP Hogan at Punchestown in 2013 before winning this race and the Cross Country race at the Punchestown Festival. He was second in the PP Hogan again this year. Will he go on and complete the double for a second successive year? I don’t know, but what I do know is that there will be worse 4/1 shots or shorter I’ll be backing this week and so Big Shu @9/2 it is. I also have to back last year’s winner Balthazar King @7/1 with William Hill’s secons place refund concession. He has raced twice at Cheltenham this year, winning both times and the better ground might also be in his favour. It’s about as original as magnolia paint, but I’ve backed the top two in the betting.
On to the Fred Winter and the scene of my best ever festival winner, Une Artiste £5 each-way @50/1 back in 2012. That will almost certainly remain my best ever festival winner even if I was immortal. I’ll be happy to get a placed horse this year. This is ultra-competitive so, for better or for worse, I’ve gone for a stats based angle again. I’m going French and I’m going filly. That gives me just one who I backed on Monday evening – David Pipe’s Azza @25/1 each way (the only other filly, Willy Mullins’ Adriana Des Mottes, did not make the final declarations). It may be simple but I don’t want to be up all night trying to decipher this race and end up with multiple unplaced finishers. I can do that in just 10 minutes.
Finally, the Champion Bumper. I have no idea and for the same reasons above I am not about to commit 6 hours of my life in trying to find the winner! I’ve taken one at a huge price in Our Kaempfer @33/1 (again with William Hill and I’m pleased to see they cut him to 20/1). He was beaten just over a length by Red Sherlock on his second run and that will look like a great piece of form if Red Sherlock wins the Neptune. Small stakes only and this is a bet just to have an interest in the race (and allowing me to watch it on live steaming assuming C4 have gone home after the Cross Country Chase!). Day 2 looks really difficult from a punting perspective and in reality the best chance I have of picking a winner is in the Cross Country race and maybe a bit of place money at the very best.
Nick’s Day 2 Selections:
1.30 Red Sherlock @9/2
2.05 DonCossack @12/1 & Many Clouds @16/1 (both each way)
2.40 Waaheb @20/1 each-way
3.20 Sire De Grugy @11/4
4.00 Big Shu @9/2 & Balthazar King @7/1
4.40 Azza @25/1 each way
5.15 Our Kaempfer @33/1 each-way