This is it!
With the issue of today’s Weekender with the advance runners for next Tuesday and Wednesday, preparation for the Cheltenham Festival is now in full swing. Before that, as I’ve not issued a blog since Saturday, let’s take a look at how racing went last weekend.
There were no selections advised, but the alert list was fairly successful on the day providing the winner of the Grimthorpe Chase in THE LAST SAMURI, of whom I wrote would not be lacking in stamina; and UPSILON BLEU who I have always thought was an OR150+ horse but had been struggling to show that form this season. With Mountain King (another from my alert list) declared a non-runner, perhaps I should have lumped-on UPSILON BLEU as his race rivals looked very weak in the formbook - and so it proved as he ran out a very easy winner. There was a further bonus in the run from MASTERS HILL in the veterans chase who ran 3rd. I expected this race to be won by one of the 4, 10yo’s in the race – and they came 1st, 3rd and 4th. I thought the 3m3f trip would be too far for eventual winner Shotavodka, but he ran away with the race.
Onto the Cheltenham Festival, and a look at the races next week.
The card for the opening day is unchanged, with the same order for the 7 races as last year. As with previous festivals, keep to “last-time-out” winners and horses that have run since Christmas Day but come to the Festival off a break of about 28-days. You want horses that are race-fit and fresh.
Given that MIN comes into the Festival off a break of 66-days; and only Captain Cee Bee in 2008 has won this race off a longer break, I will be looking to oppose him.
And the same for DOUVAN in the “Arkle”, the next race on Tuesdays card. Douvan comes to the Festival off a 51-day break and, with 5 of the last 14 winners running here off a break of under 28-days, it is possible that Douvan may not be on his “A” game.
The “Ultima” handicap chase on the opening day over 3m1f will be the ultimate test for me, never mind the horses, on Wednesday. This is one of the highlights of the season for me, the ultimate test of mind and “bottle” between the punter and the bookies. I’m surprised the top-weight Sausalito Sunrise isn’t going for the Gold Cup as, with an OR163 rating, he is among the best half-dozen chasers over 3-mile-plus in the country at the moment. I’m expecting quiet a few at the top of the handicap to drop out, and the weights to go up; so I will be hanging-fire for now. But there are a handful of young horses that I will be hoping get a run. Those on the email list will be having the names of those horses to ponder over.
Unusually, the Champion Hurdle looks wide open. I know Annie Power has a 7lb mares allowance (why, this is supposed to be the Champion Hurdle), but this will be the toughest race she’s ever been in by a long way. If she is at her best then, with the 7lb allowance, she will take all the beating – but will she be? When 5yo’s run in the Champion Hurdle then I think it’s best to take notice. I know they don’t win very often, but they are never far away in a “normal” year and, with this year being potentially a weak renewal, I will most likely be looking at the 5yo’s for my wager.
The Mares’ Hurdle also looks an interesting race without ANNIE POWER, and the current highest-rated UK-trained horse in the race is Nicky Hendersons’ POLLY PEACHUM on OR150. Of course, the Irish entries don’t have official ratings, but we al know that VROUM VROUM MAG looks well capable of substituting Annie Power.
The National Hunt Chase is run over a trip just 50 yards short of 4-miles. Every runner carries the same weight of 11st 6lb in this amateur riders race, and a good ploy is just to wager on the top-rated horse in the race; end of! Those on the email list have been given the name of that runner.
The first day ends with the tough novices handicap chase over 2m4½f which gives me brain-ache just looking at. This is a tremendous race, and it is a great shame that organisers have placed this as the last race on a 7 race card. I would really like to see this race brought forward in the card, and it should be swapped with the Mares Hurdle and given the prominence it deserves.
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