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Saturday 5 March 2022

Cheltenham Festival Preview (part 1) - 5th March

Given the events in the Ukraine, I need to give myself something to look forward to. No matter who you are, or where you live, life isn't ever going to be the same again. How did we allow one man to have so much power?

So, I'm not looking at today's racing - I'm looking ahead to the Cheltenham Festival and laying-down the groundwork of what I hope will be another successful Festival week for the blog. The races I'm looking at today are the championship races, beginning with the Arkle Novices Chase over 2-miles on the opening day.  This isn't usually a betting race as 7 of the last 10 winners have started at odds-on, but this year it looks wide-open. First-off, I'm opposing the fav Edwardstone: he's a very good horse, but he's not quite good enough to win an Arkle.  He's also 8yo and, since 1990, only 2x 8yo's have won the Arkle: Moscow Flyer and Sizing Europe and Edwardstone isn't as good as that pair. The 2nd-fav Blue Lord is also not my idea of the winner: he seems to lose concentration, having fallen at the final flight in last years Supreme Hurdle, and idling on the run-in LTO when just holding-on to beat the mare Riviere D'Etel. Personally, I don't think there is much more improvement in him. I've more respect for Riviere D'Etel, mainly for when she chased home Ferny Hollow on 26Dec; that looks better form than when 2nd NTO to Blue Lord as she looked beaten coming to the final fence and (in the end) was flattered to get so close to Blue Lord on the run-in. Personally, I think she's a better horse on soft ground, and she's unlikely to find that at Cheltenham - also she was only rated OR133 as a hurdler and couldn't win the Juvenile handicap hurdle off OR134 at the Festival last year.  I expect Saint Sam is only in the race to guarantee a good pace, as he does not look good enough. And that brings me to HAUT EN COULEURS: very lightly raced (just 5 runs), ran 3rd on his stable-debut in last years Triumph hurdle and beat the fav Zanahiyr into 4th. On his chase debut he easily beat Gentleman De Mee (races today at Navan) and was well-fancied for the Irish Arkle but made a novice error at the 3rd fence firing his jockey out of the saddle. Odds of 7/1 (NRNB) are not great as we are taking potential over actual form, but I think this 5yo has a tremendous future ahead of him, and I do consider this year to be a weak Arkle: Ferny Hollow would be long odds-on to win this were he not injured.

The Champion Hurdle should be won by HONEYSUCKLE: she is head & shoulders better than anything else in the race.  Mullins could not beat the mare with Sharjah last year, and his entry Appreciate It will need to have found over 12lb of improvement since we last saw him when winning the Supreme hurdle. It would be one helluva training feat.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase should be a classic.  I'm going to start off by opposing Shishkin as I think 2-mile trip just a bit too short, he definitely needed the extra furlong (220 yards) at Ascot to beat Energumene. If you want to have an antepost wager on Shishkin, take the 12/1 offered for the King George at Kempton next Boxing Day as I think he will step-up in trip next season and the King George looks made for him. So, if not Shishkin who? It has to be ENERGUMENE: Mullins would not race this absolute top-class 2-mile chaser in the QMCC if he thought he had no chance of reversing the places of the Ascot race, and the QMCC trip and Cheltenham could suit him well.  Odds of 4/1 (NRNB) are massive about a horse who - without Shishkin - would be about 1/3 odds-on for this race.

The novice chase races Turners over 2m4f on the 3rd day of the Festival, and the Brown Advisory over and extended 3-miles are much dependent on riding plans: Bob Olinger is entered in both races as is Bravemansgame and to make a selection now may not be the best use of limited stake money.  There looks like a bit of place value in the Ryanair Chase in FAKIR D'OUDAIRIES who was 2nd in it last year when going off at 11/2 - he's currently 12/1 (NRNB) with some bookies. While I cannot see Allaho being beaten in this race, it's almost impossible to see Energumene (current 2nd fav) lining-up, or the Gold Cup fav A Plus Tard; and ditto Chancun Pour Soi.  With recent Grade 1 winner Conflated aimed at the Gold Cup, it looks like only Envoi Allen (currently 14/1) is the only horse likely to stop him filling one of the places. He has to be included in any eachway multiple wagers. 

The 3rd day is the Festival is my favourite: every race presents a betting opportunity, and I've fond memories of cheering home winners of every race on the card.  The Stayers' Hurdle over 3-miles provided the blog with it's best winner last year in FLOORING PORTER who we were on at 14/1 . There's nothing he beat in the race last year that has a hope of reversing the form this time around. What of the new challengers?   Thyme Hill has won 3 of his last 4 races off a long break, so coming into this race off an 89-day lay-off wont inconvenience him, but I just don't think he's good enough. Klassical Dream has also won 3 of his last 4 races off a long break, but LTO he ran a stinker and he will have to be at his peak to beat Flooring Porter. As a novice hurdler, Champ wasn't the best of his year, and I can't see him winning this at 10yo. The 7yo Sporting John is interesting if he brings his "A-game" to the Festival; on his last visit to Cheltenham he couldn't win a 3-mile handicap hurdle off OR151 which - if he's going to win this race - he should have won easily (he went off the 5/4 fav). It may be worth considering a long-odds chance if 4-places are on offer on the day; but Flooring Porter at 7/2 looks good value to me.

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