Well yesterday was one of the worst days of my life! I left Coral TV Towers in Milton Keynes at 5.30pm full of anticipation and excitement for today and went on to endure an epic 12 and a half hour drive back to Brighton! I had no idea there had been any snow let alone the amount that had fallen. I slept for about 3 hours through the night on the M23 completely stranded with thousands of other drivers. The ploughs finally got through at about 4am and I made it home just after 6am. This is one start to a festival I will never forget!
The time has finally arrived for the best week of the calendar year! Good luck to everyone and hopefully we can top last year which was our best festival yet!
1.30 CHELTENHAM – WILLIAM HILL SUPREME NOVICES´ HURDLE
The roar will greet us at 1.30 with the usual tough punting opener to get the festival underway. My Tent Or Yours is the obvious starting point and is currently trading at around 6/4. I think you just have to take a view on him and stick to it. There is no doubt that he was incredibly impressive in the Betfair Hurdle last time, winning easily off 149. The right horses were in behind him that day too as the 2nd, 3rd and 4th will all end up much better than their current marks. He’s a strong traveller and I have no doubt he will get to the bottom of the hill tanking along, the question will be will he get up it?
The second favourite is the unbeaten Irish raider Jezki who now also races in the colours of JP McManus. He has done nothing wrong at all in beating Waaheb (who has been disappointing) and Champagne Fever in his last two starts but I do just have a nagging doubt about him against top quality opposition. There is an interesting stat that goes against him too. Everyone of the last ten winners of this race had raced in the last 53 days. Jezki last raced 75 days ago. He is a sure-fire 3mile plus chaser of the future and at 4/1 I am happy to let him go. MELODIC RENDEZVOUS has today been confirmed as a non-runner. A major blow for the yard as he would have come here with every chance. Un Atout is next in the market and he is also unbeaten. On all of his starts to date he has done everything on the bridle and has looked potentially a little one paced. He will certainly need further than this in time and I can see him getting readily outpaced before staying on, I think the bird may have flown though so I am happy to let him run.
Champagne Fever will probably make the running but looks to lack a gear and is likely to be a sitting duck up the hill. Are you seeing a theme here? Yes I don’t like the Irish raiders who are 2nd,3rd and 4th favourites. This means there must be some value elsewhere! Dodging Bullets has course form, conditions will suit and has probably gone overlooked after his run in the Christmas Hurdle. That was a messy race however and there was no disgrace in being beaten by Darlan who in my opinion would have won the Champion Hurdle. He is currently about a 11/1 chance and must have very solid each way credentials. River Maigue hasn’t done much wrong but has had his limitations exposed by both Dodging Bullets and Far West. Puffin Billy should get a truly run race and has every chance of being involved in the finish. Cause of Causes will need a miracle to turn the form around with My Tent Or Yours. PIQUE SOUS would have been of major interest to me had we ended up with better ground. As most of you will now I backed him ante-post on Betfair at a ridiculous price so I have that voucher running for me. Cheltenian could surprise a lot of people and is probably over priced at 33/1.
So to sum up I do think that MY TENT OR YOURS will be incredibly hard to beat and if he is anywhere near 9/4 this morning I will back him. Of the others Dodging Bullets probably represents the best each way value and I believe William Hill are paying five places.
MY TENT OR YOURS 3pts win @ 9/4 or better
DODGING BULLETS 1 pt each way @ 11/1 with William Hill
2.05 CHELTENHAM – RACING POST ARKLE CHALLENGE TROPHY CHASE
In my eyes one of the races I am looking forward to the most over the four days. SIMONSIG is one of my favorite horses in training and he is a jumping machine. He will get a true test over fences for the first time tomorrow with the challenge of the very smart OVERTURN who brings plenty of very good credentials to the table. I’m convinced that Simonsig is a future Gold Cup horse. He is absolutely electric over his fences and I think we might see something very special here. the presence of Overturn if anything will help Simonsig as he has such a high cruising speed. I think he will win comfortably and although the price is pretty prohibitive there will be plenty of interesting markets to play on this race.
I’m not sure I’ll be playing a single at 8/13 but he will definitely be going in a couple of doubles/trebles through the week.
SIMONSIG 5 pts win @ 8/13
2.40 CHELTENHAM – JLT SPECIALTY HANDICAP CHASE
One of my favorite races of the whole week and the race that I peaked very early on day one last year after telling everyone that I though Alfie Sherrin would win last year at 33/1 in the days leading up to the race. I took a massive bow to the crowd in the parade ring after the race and did a little dance after he hacked up.
My biggest opinion on this race has just been thrown a curve ball as I thought it was absolutely ideal for CANTLOW. He has been completely tee’d up for a handicap and has been crying out for 3 miles. He has just been taken out of the race which is gutting. He has entries in the Kim Muir where he will have to carry top weight and the Byrne Group Plate which may not be far enough.
OUR MICK is the favourite at 6/1. He looks like he is potentially well in but he’s had one start since last year where he unseated in the race one by Katenko when still going well three out. He doesn’t represent any value but will probably go very close! Fruity O Rooney was second in this race last year and has run with real credit all starts this time round. A very good seventh in the Hennessy before solid efforts behind the very well handicapped Katenko the last twice. He will undoubtedly run his race again but may be vulnerable to a better handicapped rival. THE PACKAGE is another one that is feasibly weighted and will probably run his usual solid race but again may find one or two too good.
LOCH BA has benefited from the switch to Mick Channon after Henrietta’s retirement. He is a horse that I backed on several occasions last year believing he wa well in and he didn’t really produce. He was a ready winner last time and although he is up 12lbs in the weights he has been given a nice break since to freshen him up and he will come here with every chance. He must go well and is of interest.
MERRY KING will have every chance and looked again last time like a horse that is possibly still ahead of the handicapper. He has really solid credentials and I think he will run a massive race and go very close.
POOLE MASTER is a potential flyer that has been running over the wrong trip in small field races. He smells of a typical Pipe plot horse for the festival and the 33/1 about him this morning is enormous.
Of the other ones at a big price the two that I think are overpriced are MIDNIGHT CHASE and NUTS N BOLTS. The former needs no introduction. He has a cracking course record and he has come down the weights quite a lot this year so could run a big one. Nuts N Bolts has won two small races on bad ground and is only seven pounds higher here today and might run well at a massive price.
LOCH BA – 2 pts win @ 12/1 generally
MERRY KING 2 pts win @ 7/1
MIDNIGHT CHASE, POOLE MASTER & NUTS AND BOLTS 1 pt win @ 33/1 on all three.
3.20 CHELTENHAM – Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
Another very good renewal of the Champion with the last three winners all looking to regain the crown! It is a race however that I think revolves around the front two in the market. Pace is a big question, there is every chance we could get a repeat of last year where Rock On Ruby makes it at a sedate pace. This time around though I’m sure all of the other jocks will be wise to the tactic especially Ruby. I’ve no doubt that HURRICANE FLY is the best horse in the race and if he produces his best today I think he will win. His main danger will be the very tough ZARKANDER who is a real stayer over this trip and I would imagine that Daryl will be upsides Noel Fehily as the tapes go up as he will not want a muddling pace. If these two do go on and we get a decent pace I think that the fly will pick them up. If it becomes tactical I think Zarkander will grind it out. I will be backing Hurricane Fly before the race and I will have my finger on the button in running to see how things pan out over the first half mile.
I still have my Ante-Post voucher on Cinders and Ashes who has been largely disappointing this season. The ground has probably gone against him again here today but it’s another string in the bow. The ground is also a blow for GRANDOUET who I must admit I probably would have been quite keen on were we racing on good ground. He will travel but I’m not sure he will be able to pick up on this dead ground. Although I’m not really one for listening to rumours especially from Henderson, there has been more negative talk than West Ham going to Stratford so I’m happy to leave alone.
HURRICAN FLY 3 pts win
ZARKANDER 1 pt saver and potential in running play.
4.00 Cheltenham – Glenfarclas Handicap Chase
The cross-country chase is not my favourite event of the week and I don’t really get too involved if I am honest. I do think that ARABELLA BOY will run and big race and give you a decent round for your money though.
ARABELLA BOY – 2 pts win.
4.40 Cheltenham – OLBG Mares´ Hurdle
The Admiral mare QUEVEGA turns up twice a year and wins twice a year. Simple as that. She is in a different league to her rivals and will be winning again this afternoon. The team must have been very tempted to have a tilt at the world hurdle with the defection of Big Bucks. They have opted to stay with what they know though and she is just a different class to her own sex. I will take great joy in watching her win again.
One of my favourite horses in training is the lovely grey mare KENTFORD GREY LADY. Emma Lavelle’s charge is a model on consistency and the hurley burly of this race really suits her too as she travels very strongly and does most of it on the bridle. I had a decent wedge on her without the favourite last year and I will be doing the same again today! I think Une Artiste is opposable in this better field and although I massively respect the hugely improved SWING BOWLER, this may just be a race too far for her this season.
QUEVEGA 5 pts win @ 4/6
KENTFORD GREY LADY without the favourite 2 pts @ 13/2 with Paddy Power
Chuck in a stright forecast for good measure.
5.15 Cheltenham – Rewards4Racing Novices´ Handicap Chase
An absolute belter to end day one and I think my best value bet of the day goes here in the form of the very progressive ARTHURS PASS. Things really couldn’t have panned out better for Tom George’s charge after he racked up a quick hat-trick in small field events around Leicester and Ludlow. The last of those three wins came just twelve days ago and as a result he gets in here off second bottom weight. He won easily last time and only has a 7lb rise to contend with here which makes him of obvious interest under the guidance of Paddy Brennan. This is a different ball game all together but to me he looks very progressive and I think he has been laid out for this! A real solid each way investment is needed.
Lots of dangers in here not least the likely favourite COLOUR SQUADRON. He went on the interesting list after an interesting ride last time at Exeter where AP didn’t seem overly keen to be winning on him. Regular followers will know that he is a horse I have said for some time that will win a big one. I backed him at the festival last year. He could run a massive race and the 6/1 is an accurate reflection of his chances.
The ground may well have gone against CARLITO BRIGANTE who is a model of consistency and loves it here. The Druids Nephew may struggle with this step up in class whilst SHANGANI has been mopping up in small field events and is another who is still on a potentially attractive mark and he should be backed.
ARTHURS PASS 3 pts each way @ 20/1 with StanJames
SHANGANI 2 pts win @8/1
COLOUR SQUADRON 2 pts win @6/1
News just coming through that racing goes ahead which is terrific. Well I hope you all have a blinder today. I have just about woken up properly from my epic night. Fingers crossed plenty of winners today! Less than three hours until the roar!