Day 2 was an eventful one. In the opener, Red Sherlock was found wanting when push came to shove and could only finish a distant 9th. Just like the first race on Day 1 there was no catching the Willie Mullins’ hotpot. I enjoyed my second tragic comedy of the festival so far when my each-way shout Don Cossack fell, hampering my other each-way shout Many Clouds who shipped the rider out the side door. Waaheb came nowhere in the Coral Cup and three races in, Day 2 was shaping up to be a poor one. Thankfully Sire De Grugy impressively won the Champion Chase to give me my first winner, returning 11/4 and I’m finally on the board on Day 2. The Cross Country Chase was a brilliant race and, having already backed Big Shu and Balthazaar King, I popped a cheeky couple each way on Any Currency. It’s a an exceedingly rare but gratifying feeling when you have backed three against the field and they end up battling out the finish. A thrilling finish and a second winner on the board at a nice 7/1. Normal service resumed as Azza is a no show in the Fred Winter, finishing in the last three home. In the Champion Bumper finale, Our Kaempfer ran well until 3 furlongs out and then faded out of contention. All in all a satisfying Day 2 and finally a couple of winners on the board.
And so to Day 3. We open with the JLT Novices Chase and I’ve backed Felix Younger @9/2. Many peoples’ NAP of the meeting, Willie Mullins horse has festival form and a preference for better going. That’s good enough for me and he should be there or thereabouts.
In the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle, I can’t let Fingal Bay go unbacked @7/1 as he could easily outclass this lot. After being off the track for over 400 days he won his comeback a shade cosily. He has not been out of the first two in 9 of 10 starts he also boasts a win over Simonsig in his novice days. Assuming all is fit and well he must have a serious chance here. Another one I like is Jetson. He was 2nd in this last year and followed that up with another 2nd at the Aintree Grand National Meeting. Course form and form on decent ground gives him a squeak here and so I’ve had a small each way on the aforementioned Jetson @16/1 each way.
I really don’t know what to make of the Ryanair Chase and I’m tempted to sit it out and have an additional bet elsewhere. But this is Cheltenham and I will back course and distance winners Al Ferof @9/2 and Dynaste @4/1 both to half my usual stake, if nothing more than to give me an interest in this race.
This years’ renewal of the World Hurdle looks the best and most intriguing in years. I am a huge fan of Big Bucks. I love horses that break records and create history. He has carried by far my biggest single wagers at the each of the festivals from 2009 through to 2012. I desperately want him to win this, but he will not be carrying my money. I actually feel quite guilty making that statement given how often he has bailed me out of festival poverty. A lot of people are making the point that Annie Power has raced mainly against her own sex and is unproven at the trip. Fair enough. I guess Zarkander is the only notable scalp on her CV, but you can only beat what is put in front of you. This race is a real conundrum. At Fishers Cross was an impressive C&D winner at last year’s festival but has had jumping issues this year. Although having said that, he was much improved last time out and the 8/1 is enough to tempt me in each way. Celestial Halo will run his race without being good enough to win whilst More Of That could be anything having had only 4 runs over hurdles. Rule The World was beaten by Zaidpour over 3 miles who was then thrashed by 48 lengths by Mala Beach. Although Mala Beach was also beaten by Zaidpour when he also beat Rule The World!!! In other words I have no idea really so I will back At Fishers Cross @9/1 each way and Annie Power @15/8 under the pretence that if she gets the trip she wins. Phew!
The Byrne Group Plate is next and only one winner since 1999 has returned at single figure odds. This race has seen winners at 50/1 (Carrick Boy 2013), 66/1, 33/1, three at 25/1 and the rest between 12/1 and 18/1. Venetia Williams, Nicky Henderson and David Pipe have, between them, won 7 of the last 9 renewals. I have run the rule over their runners and nothing really appeals. In fact I’ve spent a fair bit of time on this race and nothing really stands out. To be honest this should be a “no bet” race for me but, for the sake of interest, I have backed a couple to small stakes. The first one is Johns Spirit @ 12/1 each way whose Cheltenham record read 67115. Those 2 course wins came on good ground and my major concern is that we has gone up 19lbs since after those 2 wins before being thumped by 14 lengths by Double Ross. He beat Colour Squadron off level weights and he now has a 2lb pull and tops the betting market. Both may be too high in the weights to win, but with I am hopeful of a run for my money. I’ve also had a nibble on Sew On Target @33/1 each way. He has plenty of course experience without winning but might just make the frame. I’ve placed both these on Betfair Sportsbook as they go ¼ odds, 5 places.
The finale is the Fulke Walwyn Handicap Chase for amateur riders previously won by the likes of Ballabriggs, Junior and Sunnyhil Boy. Three favourites have prevailed in the last 10 years and the biggest priced winners in that time were 40/1 and 33/1 (twice). I actually fancy the two at the head of the market, so I have backed them both, Indian Castle @7/1 and Cause Of Causes @7/1. Highly unoriginal but I don’t think this is as competitive as it looks and both have top notch amateurs on board. Once again, best of luck whatever you are backing.
Nick’s Day 3 Selections:
1.30 Felix Younger @9/2
2.05 Fingal Bay @7/1 & Jetson @16/1 each-way
2.40 Al Ferof @9/2 and Dynaste @4/1
3.20 Annie Power @15/8 & At Fishers Cross @9/1 each way
4.00 Johns Spirit @12/1 and Sew On Target @33/1 both each-way (5 places)
4.40 Indian Castle @7/1 and Cause Of Causes @7/1