The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, dear reader, have once again been hurling their implements of destruction in the Four Day War that is Cheltenham 2009.
Let's review the victors and the vanquished of this second day, before projecting forwards 24 hours to the third leg of this most challenging of cerebral battles (scroll down to beyond the ********'s if you just want tomorrow's juice).
1.30 National Hunt Chase
After second places in the last two races yesterday, I felt like I was coming into a little form, and struck a placepot wager pretty much as per my post yesterday.
This race has the look of an impossible, and unworthy, conundrum, spanning as it does four miles, many fences and competed by novice chasers and even more novice-y pilots.
No matter, for a winner is a winner. And, having found Old Benny in the race last year, I may have to revise my disdain for the race, as I got back on track when one of my five tenners in the race was struck at 18.98 on Tricky Trickster.
My first blood of the day and indeed the 2009 Festival. Nothing much to report in behind, except that Coe was beaten when falling, Nine De Sivola seems to want eight miles on heavy, and Can't Buy Time didn't stay.
Placepot through with the winner and the third.
2.05 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
Dander in the up position, and confidence on the wax, I aggressively tickled (the term for this may be 'dutched') both Diamond Harry and Mikael D'Haguenet. The former still looks green, and the latter was a convincing and exciting winner. Mullins' nag way too good for the rest.
The stats were upheld neatly here.
For the placepot, I'd have much preferred the 25/1 4th, China Rock, to have touched off Harry (it was beaten a neck), as this would have whittled the pool down by much more than my ticket would have lost (I had Mikael and Harry here).
2.40 RSA Chase
Another to go to trends, and I was on the hat-trick. A confident wager on Cooldine never had a moment's worry. Cruised through, won easily to give Messrs. Walsh (R) and Mullins (WP) doubles.
Horner Woods was a massive shout for Gavin's guide followers, grabbing the silver medal at a fat 66/1, while Massini's Maguire did the decent thing and obliged place punters by staying on gutsily rather than strongly for bronze.
Placepot again double legged, with the winner and the third.
3.20 Champion Chase
Not a betting proposition, unless you're Harry Findlay or JP McManus, or fancied a place wager. Master Minded was too good, and - whilst not nearly so impressive as last year (the premature Marodima causing two false starts would not have helped) - he was still way too good for the rest.
The 'poursuivants' were led home by the brittle Well Chief, a most frustrating creature: bags of talent, legs of glass. At ten years young, despite the lack of miles on the tachometer, his chance looks to have gone.
Petit Robin survived a howitzer of a blunder to plug on for third, with former winner Newmill gallantly belying odds of 100/1 in 4th.
Briareus took a tired fall when on the retreat, but both Big Zeb and Twist Magic look like they need extra schooling. Both have become habitual tumblers, which is fine if you're a circus performer but less ok when your vocation is 'sprint' chasing.
Scotsirish was as close as I got to a 25/1 place (for my 100/1 each way ticket), finishing 5th at a nibbled 40/1.
No placepot worries as Master Minded stood up, and duly obliged.
4.00 Coral Cup
A ferociously competitive affair this one, and one in which I'd taken a view. Mirage Dore was a strong trends horse, and I hit it hard win only. Naturally, he got going too late and finished a length second. I could blame the jockey at this point, and I'm sure Mr McCoy would have won on the animal.
However, in Rose's defence, any other jockey probably would not, as the winner, Ninetieth Minute, looked to be saving a bit and might have been value for a length or two more than the official distance.
Incidentally, having backed Kempes (named after Argentinian World Cup winning captain of 1978), I'msingingtheblues (for Chelsea fans everywhere), and United (to redress the Reds balance), I really should have backed Ninetieth Minute!
The Polomoche appears to be a morning glory horse, and fair play to his trainer - the honest, no frills and ever so slightly loquacious Nicky Henderson - for saying as much.
Honourable mentions to Pause And Clause who finished third as a novice, and Kawagino, a horse whose proximity to the winner in Champion Hurdles and high class handicaps has deserved better. He finished fifth here (good enough for two grand in prize money to add to the £74k he's already won) at 66/1. He may never win the decent contest he deserves.
From my five in the placepot, I was grateful to Rosey for her podium finish, and four chances in the 'lucky' last.
4.40 Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Handicap Hurdle
A stats busting winner, as Silk Affair - lugging just 10-04 - danced past the heavyweights to record a clear success. In behind, the next five home all carried 10-13 or more, suggesting this race is still one to look toward the top of the handicap for the likely winner.
Ski Sunday, a late sub for Simarian on my ticket when the latter was withdrawn, saved the placepot bacon. Alas for me - though not for a majority of placepot wagerers (including Gavin's guide followers, who copped the pot for the second day running) - the 5/2 favourite hung on for 4th place from the closing 5th horse (Indian Groom at 33/1).
Had those placings been reversed, the £753.20 dividend, of which I had 80p, may well have been triple that. No matter, for a return of £602.56 is not to be sniffed at.
Another decent punt on Amore Mio went west, when this one was about the first beaten (at least it wasn't my four grand each way, one of the recorded bets on this beastie). Not a great ride, but the horse clearly didn't fancy it today.
5.15 Champion Bumper
The seventh puzzle of the day looked one of the trickiest. Unless of course you backed facile winner, Dunguib. The time was quick, the form looks bulletproof, and this is a serious horse for the future. Assuming he can jump, he could be a Gold Cup winner in due course. If he can't, he might win an Ascot Gold Cup!
My choice, Shinrock Paddy, was another who suffered an amateurish ride from an amateur rider. He would have had no chance if ridden by Merlin McCoy, so no complaints here.
A great day's sport, and happily back in front again. So what of tomorrow?
1.30 Jewson Novices' Handicap Chase
Just four previous runnings, so limited evidence to base trends on. However, all four winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out (indeed, such previous race form has been responsible for two podium clean sweeps and a further 1-2). Let's lose anything that didn't at least run-up last time.
All four winners were 7yo's, and the last three were officially rated 133-135, and carried either 10-11 or 10-12. Hard to be categorical, but I think we should be siding with a horse aged 6 or 7 (8yo+ 0 from 25), carrying enough weight to suggest a touch of class but not so much that he is bogged down (let's go with 10-09 to 11-00, and official rating of 131 to 137).
This brings us to Pancake, The Vicar, Exmoor Ranger and Slash And Burn.
Of these, clear preference is for The Vicar, who I take to (dog) collar his rivals (groan).
Selection: The Vicar
Placepot: The Vicar, Pancake, Exmoor Ranger, Slash And Burn (could be an early bath!)
2.05 Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle
You need a horse with strong recent form, as with all of the handicap hurdles at the Festival. Eight of the last 13 winners were coming here off the back of a win and, given that less than a fifth of the runners in those 13 renewals could say that, it's a strong stat.
Indeed, amazingly, there are only three last time out winners in the field: P'tit Fute, Kayf Aramis, and Synchronised.
It's tough for horses to carry big weights in any of the handicaps at the Festival (with the exception of the Fred Winter, which is akin to a flat nursery, where topweights habitually do well), and only one winner here carried more than 11-02 in the last ten years.
This puts me off P'tit Fute. Synchronised comes from the twice successful Jonjo O'Neill stable and is owned by the twice successful JP McManus - he looks nailed on for a big run and is a pretty bullish selection in an apparently wide open contest.
Indeed, the race he won last time out was won last year by... Pertemps Final winner, Ballyfitz!
Placepot: Synchronised, Kayf Aramis, Buena Vista, Pennek
2.40 Ryanair Chase
Another of the new races, just fours evidence to help. Still, we're looking for a former Cheltenham winner (as all four had been), and perhaps a horse with form in the two big early season handicap chases (Paddy Power Gold Cup) and the Boylesports (meeting abandoned this season).
Nothing bigger than 9/2 has won, so perhaps we shouldn't look too far down the odds boards. Paul Nicholls has won two of the four contests, including with a 6yo (Taranis), so the 6yo Nicholls entry Gwanako could be interesting.
Although last season's winner, Our Vic, is now eleven years young, the other three winners were 9 (twice) and 10 (Vic last season), so I couldn't discount him on age.
But it's Voy Por Ustedes that catches the eye. He absolutely oozed class when sauntering home at Ascot last time; and he's won at the Festival on his only two starts here, both in Grade 1 company (Arkle and Champion Chase).
My only slight reservation is his stamina, which could be tested in a true run race. Nevertheless, he remains the probable winner but not one I'll be steaming into.
Imperial Commander and Tidal Bay are both capable of winning at their best, but have become perhaps a little in and out.
Selection: Voy Por Ustedes, Gwanako (e/w)
Placepot: Voy Por Ustedes, Gwanako, Our Vic
3.20 World Hurdle
My bet of the meeting runs in this race. Regular readers will know that this has proven the kiss of death for many a star turn. No matter, for I am not superstitious, and don't believe that by sharing my confidence the horse's chance is any way undermined. (Think about it, such a feeling would be counterintuitive and - frankly - a bit preposterous!).
So, there you go. Kasbah Bliss to win. Ok, let's look a little closer at the race:
Form: Kasbah was 2nd to the mighty Inglis Drever in last year's race, was a close fourth in a Group 1 flat race at Longchamp in October, murdered the (admittedly second division) opposition at Haydock on his most recent start. Timeform top rated.
Trends: 6-8yo; Irish have a shocking record; first five in the market have monopolised the payout places for the last four years.
He's a 5/4 shot, and he does have to beat Punchestowns, who is readily preferred to Big Bucks, but he had any amount in hand at Haydock and, as a 7yo, is still on the upgrade. Punchestowns is also progressive, but in three runs here, has only won once and that in a Class 3 handicap. This clearly is a different kettle of kippers.
Selection: Kasbah Bliss (nap)
Placepot: Kasbah Bliss (obviously, bankers are designed to finished fourth...!)
4.00 Freddie Williams Festival Plate
Named in honour of one of the big layers at the track, you may know this race by its previous name, the Mildmay of Flete Handicap Chase. There are some strong patterns in this race, thus:
- just one winning favourite in 7 years, so let's spread our outlay over a few rag-tag nags
- Frenchies have been 1st or 2nd in the last nine renewals
- Ignoring last season's race, only two other horses have won carrying more than 10-09 in weight
- 15 of 17 winners had run previously at Cheltenham in March (at the Festival)
- Only one Irish winner since in over 50 years (!)
The only horse that ticks all of these boxes is Le Burf. He's been in the frame on 7 of 9 chase starts and comes here seeking a hat-trick. There are likely to be worse 33/1 shots this week.
I'll support him with some without Cheltenham Festival form, in the shape of Something Wells (33/1), Or Bleu (20/1) and Oceanos des Obeaux (22/1).
Although he doesn't tick trends boxes, look out for Ferdy Murphy's Three Mirrors, who has been threatening a big run for ages.
Selection: Le Burf (e/w), Something Wells (e/w), Or Bleu (e/w), Oceanos des Obeaux (e/w)
Placepot: Le Burf, Something Wells, Or Bleu, Oceanos des Obeaux, Three Mirrors(five choices and certainly no guarantee of making the last leg...!)
4.40 Kim Muir Handicap Chase
Another tough race to finish, the placepot should be worth having if we can get it. Especially as our financial fate is trusted to the sh-amateur riders again. Let's embrace the 'opportunity'.
We'll look to horses aged 8-10, rated less than 130. There's not been an Irish winner for quarter of a century, so they're out. Nicky Henderson has won the race three times, and twice since 2002 (he's also had the runner-up twice), so his Shouldhavehadthat is interesting. He's piloted by the capable Sam Waley-Cohen, who has won a number of Festival races, including the National Hunt Chase today.
In a race to dodge rather than savour, it's fitting that I look to a horse with the dreaded Timeform 'squiggle' (denoting unreliability). Step forward, Bowleaze, probably named after a cove in Weymouth (close to where I'm from), and trained by Dorset duo, Mr Robert and Mrs Sally Alner. I know it's sentimental and all the rest of it, but there really wouldn't be a dry eye in the house if Sally could pull this off for her recuperating hubby, who was so terribly injured in a car crash last year.
Le Duc is another 'squiggle with a squeak', and is added to the placepot perm. I'll be looking for an eye-popping ride from Mr I Popham!
I'll also chuck in Pretty Star, and the rank outsider Without A Doubt (about whom I have many doubts!).
Placepot: Shouldhavehadthat, Bowleaze, Le Duc, Pretty Star, Without A Doubt
Perm: 1200 x 10p = £120
Wish me luck!