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Wednesday 20 March 2013

Cheltenham Festival 2013 look-back Part 2

The 3rd day of the Cheltenham Festival started with the Jewson Novices Chase, and it was the 3rd running of this race for novice chasers. Again, it went to the Irish challengers with BENEFFICIENT trained by AJ Martin running out a decisive winner at the long odds of 20/1. This looked a strong field on paper beforehand, with the 11/8 fav DYNASTE taking this race instead of the RSA Chase run a day earlier. We had last seen BENEFFICIENT running when winning the Irish Arkle in January in a canter following the fall of Arvika Ligeonniere in that race. So, BENEFFICIENT came into this a LTO winner even if that form was a bit dubious. I wrote in my Bulletin that (as this is a tough 2m4f) proven stamina over this trip is a positive, tho' (in my opinion) a win over trips in excess of 2m6f would be a negative. DYNASTE had been campaigned over 3-mile this season with the RSA Chase in mind and he ran as tho' he wanted an extra half-mile in this. CAPTAIN CONAN came to win the race but faded quickly on the run-in, being passed by 100/1 chance CHANGING TIMES (OR140) who came in 3rd beaten under 5-lengths by the winner. This puts a slight dampener on this form, but I'll take nothing away from BENEFFICIENT who looks a decent chaser.

The Pertemps (Handicap) Hurdle went to the very game HOLYWELL although I came close to pulling-off an antepost coup as I named the runner-up CAPTAIN SUNSHINE in my Handicap Assessment (comes with the Bulletin) as "just be the sort who comes good in a race like this where he won't have time to think". The winner was having only his 7th hurdle race but hasn't been out of the 1st-2 finishers in his last 6 now and is a horse who never knows he's beaten. He'll make a great chaser over a 3-mile-plus trip, but he looked to have plenty more to give as a hurdler the way he won this.

The success of my Festival hung on the performance of CUE CARD in the Ryanair Chase. Whereas in 2012 this race looked very strong with 7 of the 12 runners holding Official Ratings of OR164 or greater; this year there was far less strength in depth. Last year's winner Riverside Theatre (OR169) had looked a shadow of himself this season; First Lieutenant (OR168) is more of a 3-mile-plus chaser and probably should've contested the Gold Cup; and Menorah (OR163) has never looked happy as a chaser. It was asking a lot to expect two-time winner Albertas Run to come back off an 11-month break and win this race as a 12yo; and so that left the race open for CUE CARD (OR165) to take advantage. He was my 2pt win antepost selection at odds of 5/1 when the Bulletin was issued in mid-February, and I advised a further 1pt win on the day @ 7/2.  The horse never put a foot wrong and when he jumped 3-lengths clear 4-out it was game-over. At this trip, I'd say he was unbeatable, and odds of 4/1 for a repeat in 2014 look very generous, so long as connections put thoughts of a Gold Cup attempt out of their heads.

The absence of Big Bucks meant that punters had, for the first time in a few years, to try and fathom what was going to win the World Hurdle, and the majority made a complete hash of it. The race was won by SOLWHIT who, it should be remembered, had won the Aintree Hurdle over 2m4f in 2009. Since then he'd been campaigned mainly over 2-mile but his 6th (of 12) in the 2010 Champion Hurdle exposed his limitations at that trip. Injured in January 2011 and off the track for 23-months till 31st December 2012 when he ran 2nd to BOG WARRIOR, he was on the comeback trail but looking as good as ever when he won LTO in mid-January. This was his first attempt at 3-mile and he could well come back here next March and win this again as, personally, I can't see Big Bucks returning to the track again. There was a game effort by CELESTIAL HALO to take 2nd place as his stamina was tested only by the winner. Whether this pair will meet at Aintree is debateable. He pace for the 1st-mile was slow, so the form may not stand up.

I thought I had the winner of the Byrne Group Plate when VINO GRIEGO loomed-up to race alongside the eventual winner CARRICKBOY after the 2nd-last, but it was not to be. Carrickboy is a bit of a character having pulled-up 4 times since running 6th in this race last year off 3lb lower in the ratings. This was a very brave run from the front making-all but apparently those were the instructions from trainer Venetia Williams to as he doesn't like being knocked about. I would not expect a repeat win soon from Carrickboy as he's been raised 8lb for his win. Connections have certainly found the key to Vino Griego and altho' he's been raised 6lb for this win to OR151 he could still be well handicapped as the front-two pulled well clear of the others. TARTAK sneaked in with OR134 and ran a cracker of a race (he missed the cut for another handicap earlier in the Festival) to be 3rd. He'll run off OR130 NTO so make sure you note when he runs. The presence of HUNT BALL and WALKON in 4th and 5th respectively helps the form of this race stand up, and my selection SHOEGAZER ran a solid race to be 7th and perhaps wants a bit further to show his best. I wrote in my Bulletin that Venetia Williams targets this race (she also won this in 2009 & 2007, plus she supplied the runner-up in 2009, 2006 & 2005). I also wrote that "with recent winners at odds of 25/1 (three times), 33/1, and 66/1 in past 10 years, don't be afraid of backing your own judgement and opposing the market"; and Carrickboy won at 50/1.

The "Kim Muir" Handicap Chase very nearly went to SUPER DUTY (11st 12lb) who would have been the 6th horse in 9 years to win with more than 11st 6lb. However, SAME DIFFERENCE with just 11st, beat him by a head. The winner became only the 5th horse in 34 years to win aged 7yo (and it's now 20 years since a horse younger than 7yo won).  Just over 3-lengths back in 3rd was ROMANESCO who ran a cracking Grand National trial, if he is able to get in the race. Fingers crossed, he will, as I am on at incredibly long odds. Donald McCain has won this race with Ballabriggs (who went on to win a Grand National) and Cloudy Lane, and so you can expect SUPER DUTY to attempt a Grand National in the coming years.

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