A great day for horseracing yesterday, if not a great day for the blog.
It started with a tremendous effort by Walsh on Champagne Fever (I did say he was the best of the Irish challenge). I'll do a thorough appraisal of the Festival results at the weekend. Let's get stuck into Day 2.
1:30 National Hunt Challenge Cup for Amateur Riders (4-miles)
This is a Challenge Cup were every horse carries the same weight (11st 6lb) excepting mares which get a 7lb allowance; and for the past 2 years, the highest rated horse in the race was the eventual winner. Therefore, the highest rated horse (Official Ratings) is a good starting point, and this year it's Back In Focus (OR150).
With 7yo's having won 5 of the last 8 running's of the race, and no 5yo winner in 35 years (and only a single win for a 6yo in 23 years), so we can put a line thru' 6yo Emperor's Choice straight-off. As usual, winning form LTO is a great pointer, and I'm looking nowhere but those who won LTO. They are, Back In Focus, Buddy Bolero, Godsmejudge, Rival D'Estruval (and 6yo Emperor's Choice). I feel both Back In Focus (75-days since last run) and Rival D'Estruval (94 days) have been off the track too long. Purely on experience alone, I am favouring GODSMEJUDGE over Buddy Bolero, but this looks a tough race to weigh-up this year.
Selection: GODSMEJUDGE, 1pt win @ 15/2 (available generally)
2:05 Neptune Novice Hurdle (2 miles & 5f)
In my opinion this is the most important novice event (chase or hurdle) of the Festival meeting, if not the entire NH calendar. With no winner older than 7yo in 39 year, 17 of the last 20 winners to have won at least twice coming into the race, and 19 of the last 22 winners had won LTO, We have reduced this to just 4 candidates: Chatterbox, Pont Alexandre, Rule The World, Taquin Du Seuil and Two Rockers. However, as 23 of the previous 25 winners had run in at least 3 hurdle races the dilemma is do we strike out hot fav Pont Alexandre (I do not consider his debut French race when he beat only 2 rivals)?
Currently, PONT ALEXANDRE is being hailed as the best thing to come out of Ireland in years. This tho' looks like being a vintage year for novice hurdlers and PONT ALEXANDRE looks the part.
2:40 RSA Chase for Novices (3-mile & 110 yards)
This the novice chasers 'Gold Cup', and the betting market was turned upside-down when Dynaste defected to the "Jewson" to be run on Thursday. RSA winners are born not made, and are bred to be a chaser. This year, the market leaders all seem to lack the usual experience. Either they haven't had 3 chase runs (Boston Bob and Goulanes), or are a bit young (6yo's Hadrian's Approach and 5yo Unioniste). I recommended a wager on HOUBLON DES OBEAUX when he was 33/1 at the time of issuing the Bulletin in mid-February, and he still looks fair value to be in the mix at 10/1 over a trip he'll love with the race this year looking like a poor year. He has won a couple of decent novice chases, handles Cheltenham's undulations, and (if the ground stays soft/heavy) won't be inconvenienced by the going.
Selection: HOUBLON DES OBEAUX, ½pt eachway @ 10/1 (Betvictor)
3:20 Queen Mother Champion Chase (2-miles)
When this race is competitive it is the most exciting and exhilarating spectacle of the entire Festival. In recent years, the race has been dominated by some exceptional 2-mile chasers which scare-off the opposition leaving the "champion" to record a facile victory. Unfortunately, this year looks like being a "walk-over" for Sprinter Sacre, and his only realistic opposition will be Sizing Europe who was 2nd in the race last year. I cannot see SPRINTER SACRE being beaten, but I do not think it will be the walkover people are expecting. I can see Sizing Europe going down fighting.
Everything points to an emphatic win from SPRINTER SACRE and since winning the "Game Spirit" chase in February 2012 he has been the leading 2-mile chaser in the UK & Ireland. I rate him at 175+ (with Sizing Europe at 168), but he could well be in the mid-180's if pushed.
Coral Cup Handicap (2-miles & 5 furlongs)
This race is a fiercely competitive handicap invariably run at a strong gallop and, with 28 runners, it looks a tough race to find the winner in. In my Bulletin, I wrote that CASH AND GO may not have won this season, but all his 3 runs have been in top handicaps. He's a half-brother to top hurdlee Catch Me (who was best at 2m4f) and the step-up in trip from 2-mile may bring out the best in him. It's a bit of a left-field selection and as the best odds are only 14/1 there is no real value in him. Another that may go well is the bottom-weight BUCK MAGIC who won LTO and get's into this race with a 5lb penalty for that win. A prominent runner, he comes he fit and in-form will appreciate the trip and ground; he's 28/1. If you are having a wager, most bookies are paying 5-places eachway.
No selection advised.
Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (2-miles & 110 yards)
Another race in which it looks an impossible task to find the winner. There are no mares in the race, so that angle is closed (the last 2 winners were both mares). The only horse to catch my eye going thru' the form this morning was TOTALIZE. He won LTO, and he looks to have a lot of improvement left in him. Odds of 16/1 (available generally) look fair, and with the race looking wide open, a small eachway wager could pay dividends.
Selection: TOTALIZE, ½pt eachway @ 16/1
I think that today we have learnt to stick with the highest rated horses in the National Hunt Challenge Cup - 1st and 2nd today and go with Willie Mullins in the bumper, but avoid his more fancied horse and pick one of his other runners - Champagne Fever last year, Briar Hill this year.ReplyDelete