Not a vintage start for me to Cheltenham 2009, dear reader, with a couple of second places for my main bets of the day, and very little else to shout about.
Indeed, I am hoping that the remainder of the week will bring better fortune and, at this early point in the annual clash with the bookies, I remain cautiously confident.
These are my notes from today, and my thoughts for tomorrow (scroll down to the *******'s if you just want tomorrow's picks):
1.30 Supreme Novices Hurdle
Cousin Vinny was not himself, and will prove better than this. Expect him to win at Punchestown if he runs. Go Native won on merit, traveling very well through the race before asserting after the last. Medermit may have beaten him had Choccie Thornton got going a little sooner. Somersby ran a blinder and looks a ready made chaser for the Henrietta Knight stable.
Kempes was disappointing. Blundered early, and never got competitive. Placepot down on the first leg.
Another frustrating ride on the second, Kalahari King, who failed by only a short head to wear down pace setter Forpadydeplasterer. Those who backed the King have every right to be disappointed with Graeme Lee, who will give horses better rides than this.
The winner has been consistent all season, and I thought he'd be a fair bet in the RSA Chase over further, but connections were spot on to go for this race.
Favourite Tatenen fell quite early on, and my hope I'msingingtheblues was just not good enough on the day.
2.40 William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase
I'd pinned my hopes to Hot Weld, a 40/1 shot from Ferdy Murphy's shrewd stable. Alas, he was never going, and pulled up. This race will be memorable for one of the best rides I've EVER seen by... who else?... A P McCoy, the horseman getting the better of a three mile argument with his steed (Wichita Lineman) only on the line, to prevail by a neck from the game and slightly unlucky Maljimar.
I'd put up Wichita Lineman on my Laying System service, and took a heavy hit personally when McCoy produced the kind of Siegfried and Roy magic that only he can. Forget rabbits out of hats: this was vanishing tigers stuff. As costly as it was personally, it was a bloody superb ride... I will not ever lay McCoy again.
As well as Hot Weld, I'd backed Nenuphar Collonges, but his gallant rally was only good enough for third.
Paul Nicholls is a very naughty man for blatantly withdrawing Star de Mohaison in order to ensure Dear Villez (4th) carried 7lb less than he otherwise would have been obliged to. Very cheeky (but at least I might get a run from Star in the Gold Cup on Friday!)
3.20 Champion Hurdle
Binocular came to win the race, but wasn't quite good enough. Punjabi cost me a tidy treble when he fell on Boxing Day, and added to my dislike of him by winning this race (although in fairness I had nothing behind him to merit my disdain).
Celestial Halo ran a belter, being the only horse close to the pace to hang tough turning in.
The old boys (Brave Inca, Hardy Eustace, Harchibald) should now be retired.
David Pipe is a buffoon for running his two in blinkers. Osana may well not have won, but those blinkers turned him into a dog, which belies his battling qualities (and did for my decent ante post ticket).
Crack Away Jack ran an excellent race, full of promise back in fourth. The first six home were three 5yo's and three 6yo's, and these - plus a couple from the Supreme - will be the new kids on the Champion Hurdle block for the next few years.
4.00 Cross Country Chase
Not a winner all day, and nothing better than third. No matter for my nap would bail me out. In at 3.35 on betfair in the morning, the expected money came for L'Ami, and he was sent off the warm 7/4 favourite. As predicted, Enda Bolger had another benefit day, saddling the first three home. Alas for me, Garde Champetre rolled over L'Ami, with Drombeag finishing 3rd. These three were so far clear of the rest (24 lengths plus) that it's barely worth anyone else running!
To add financial insult to injury my trifecta paid £17.60, while my drinking buddy's tricast paid £42.37. Cheers Jerry (and the Tote)!
4.40 Mares Hurdle
I had questioned the form of Quevega, the 2/1 favourite, and readily opposed her with rock solid second choice in the market, United. Quevega answered all questions, hacking around and scooting clear in the fashion of a very good horse. She was miles the best, and put 14 lengths between herself and the chasing United, who in turn got the better of a tight tussle with, in finishing order, Aura About You, Over Sixty and Gaspara.
Small salvation came in the shape of an each way bet on Over Sixty, which was honoured on 4th place by those fine chaps at William Hill (ahem).
Well done to Gavin's guide for finding four of the six winners from his top three in the Nag ratings. Fine start.
So, a tad muddied, I begin day two in something of a pickle. Not a courgette chutney or anything alarming like that; more of a tame branston.
Battle lines will be rejoined, and I'll be ready with a new arsenal of equine ammunition (smothered in various marinades!), in the following forms:
1.30 National Hunt Chase
Four miles, amateur riders, novice chasers. Never was a race less befitting of risking euros, dollars or pounds. I mean, really, it's an absolute shambles of an affair with most of them ending up on the deck (8 from 20 failed to complete last season, 9 from 19 the year before, 9 from 22 before that, and so on). Yes, I know we had the winner on the blog last year, but still, this race is an abomination.
For the record, my thoughts are thus:
7 and 8yo's have won the last six runnings and 8 of the last ten. Four runs or more this season is a must, as is finishing placed (first 4) last time out. In fact, let's look only at those who finished 1st or 2nd last time out. The 'obvious' one rarely wins.
Taking that into account, although Can't Buy Time looks a likely lad, I'll pass over him for the selection and instead plump for Coe over Fair Point, Tricky Trickster and Nine De Sivola.
Placepot: Coe, Fair Point, Tricky Trickster, Nine De Sivola, Pangbourne, Parsons Pistol (six and still not confident!!!)
2.05 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
A cracking renewal with just fourteen runners but loads of unexposed 'could be anything' types. Strong trends are:
5 and 6yo's have won the last nine runnings; 9 of the last 11 winners ran in a Graded race last time out; 10 of the last 11 winners had won in their previous two outings.
This gives us Diamond Harry, Knockara Beau and Mikael D'Haguenet. The winner of the Challow Hurdle has failed to win this race in eleven attempts, a stat Diamond Harry attempts to defy. Nevertheless, I do believe that Harry is a fantastic prospect who would surely be shorter in the betting were he trained by a bigger name. 9/2 seems reasonable enough.
Selection: Diamond Harry
Placepot: Diamond Harry, Mikael D'Haguenet
2.40 RSA Chase
A classy race which has been won in the past two seasons by Denman and Albertas Run.
Stats to consider: 7 and 8yo's have won 12 of the last 14 renewals (excludes 7 of the 15 runners, including the 2nd to 4th favourites); must have been 1st or 2nd last time out; only two Irish winners in the last decade (both trained by Willie Mullins).
Shortlisted are: Cooldine, Killyglen, and Massini's Maguire.
The form of Cooldine's win over Forpadydeplasterer received a very handsome compliment today when the latter won the Arkle, and Cooldine is trained by two-time winner in the last decade, Willie Mullins. He will be a tough nut to crack.
Massini's Maguire's course record includes two wins and two thirds from five starts, and he is a very game contender who may well run for a place again.
Killyglen is improving but probably isn't up to winning a race of this magnitude.
Selection: Cooldine, Massini's Maguire (e/w)
Placepot: Cooldine, Massini's Maguire
3.20 Queen Mother Champion Chase
A race that revolves around the brilliant Master Minded. Bar a fall, it's hard to see him being beaten, and I think it will be great if he wins. His victory last season exhausted most superlatives as he was rightly accorded performance of the season status.
But horses do fall in this race. As I've mentioned previously, Well Chief, Kauto Star and Moscow Flyer have all fallen at odds of 2/1 (and favourite) or less, in the last five years! Bear in mind also that the last NINE defending champions have failed to win.
In the unlikely event that Master Minded fails to win, then - as previously alluded - the two I'd take against the field are Big Zeb and huge outsider, Scotsirish.
Selection: Master Minded
Placepot: Master Minded, Big Zeb, Scotsirish
4.00 Coral Cup
A handicap hurdle, requiring punters to be as resilient as their equine investments. Trends: 5 of the last 6 winners had won last time out (10 of the last 11 finished in the first six LTO); nothing has led and won in the past decade; 10 of the last 11 winners carried 11-03 or less (only Irish horses have won with more than 11 stone).
In what is an ultra competitive race, the shortlist is not all that short, but Mirage Dore ticks all the boxes, despite this scribe's reservations about the jockey.
Selection: Mirage Dore
Placepot: Mirage Dore, The Polomoche, Thundering Star, Ambobo
4.40 Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Handicap Hurdle
Won by a couple of decent sticks in the last two seasons (Crack Away Jack and Gaspara), horses higher in the weights seem to go well here. Other trends to mention - though there's only four years of data - are: top weight has placed three out of four times; 3 of the 4 won last time out; 3 of the 4 winners have been 14/1 or bigger; all four had run three times over hurdles (the minimum to get a handicap rating!). The Aga Khan's breeding operation has a great record (two wins and a 2nd in the four races).
Higgy's Boy hits all the marks, as does Amore Mio for last year's winning connections.
Selection: Amore Mio
Placepot: Amore Mio, Higgy's Boy, Mr Thriller, Simarian
5.15 Champion Bumper
The flat race of the Festival. An Irish benefit race, the challenge is to find the right one from the many entries. Trends tell us: all of the last 11 winners won a bumper with 15 or more runners; Irish have won 13 of the 16 renewals; look to horses who have not run this calendar year.
Any number of unexposed likely types, and the Bumper King, Willie Mullins, saddles no fewer than eight of the 24 runners (quite ridiculous - there should surely be a limit!).
I'll side tentatively with the unbeaten Shinrock Paddy, trained by shrewdie Paul Nolan. He's won a bumper over course and distance, and also a point to point over three miles, so the required stamina will be there. He should give us a decent run at 14/1, but there are numerous live opponents.
Selection: Shinrock Paddy (e/w)
The best of luck to you for Day Two - I'm hoping for one winner at least, and I don't mean Master Minded!
p.s. Feel free to leave a comment below with your fancy or fancies for the day. Can you do better than me?!