Cheltenham 2010: Day Three Preview
(written on Monday, some runners have been balloted out)
Regardless of how your half time team talk was, dear reader, it's important to head into today's punting skirmishes cognizant of the fact that there remains much to do. Tuesday/Wednesday winners can easily become Thursday/Friday's humiliated losers, and early and ignominious defeat can be blown away by the favourable verdict of a single handicap hurdle or chase in the latter part of the week.
In other words, however kind or otherwise proceedings have been thus far - whether you had to give yourself the hairdryer treatment or just reflect on doing 'more of the same' over your half-time cuppa and orange quarter - your current predicament is not guaranteed to remain in situ thirteen races and two days hence (unless of course you're one of those uber-disciplined people who quit when they're ahead - spoil sport!).
Enough with the preambles, and let's hurtle headlong into day three of the Cheltenham marathon.
Jewson Novices Handicap Chase
First up is another of the newer races, the Jewson Novices' Handicap Chase, and it's not really an 'all in' type affair. By definition, these are inexperienced horses, and the weight has told in the five times this race has been run to date.
No horse has yet lugged more than eleven stone (or 10-12 to be precise) and prevailed. And all of the five winners so far were first or second last time they ran. Moreover, and as with all of the handicaps at the Festival, not surprisingly no winner had more than one prior chase victory to its name.
Rivaliste might go close, but does have a decent amount of weight to overcome. If you can overlook that - and many punters will - then Paul Nicholls' rising star looks set to contend, especially given Ruby's assistance from up top.
Hey Big Spender is another with lots of course form, and he too would have been a fancy were it not for the burden his form obliges him to haul. Colin Tizzard's beast may well run into a place, but I fancy something less encumbered will outrun him up the hill.
One I'm prepared to take a chance on here though is Alan King's Bormo. Lurking right at the bottom of the weights (if he gets in), and yet to get off the mark over fences (like 2008 winner, Fingeronthepulse), the conditions of the Jewson look spot on. He'll relish the step up in trip here, and looks to have been laid out for the race. In a recent 'Stable Tour' article, King highlighted this one as capable of improvement, and he might run a mighty race at a fat price (40's available at time of writing).
Pertemps Final (Handicap Hurdle)
It doesn't get much easier in this handicapped start to the second half of the meeting, as twenty-plus handicap chasers are replaced by twenty-plus handicap hurdlers, in a traditionally ferocious battle for the Pertemps Final.
Some of the stats for this race are interesting, and relate to horses who did (or did not) qualify through the Pertemps series of qualifiers, with many this season abandoned due to the cold and soggy weather we've 'enjoyed'.
This race has been a graveyard for five year olds since its inception, with just one winning in three and a half decades, so I'd be taking them on (Mr Thriller, Trenchant, Erzen, Silk Affair, Always Bold). And the only horse older than nine to win was the remarkable Willie Wumpkins, who won it three times in a row as a teenager! (Swerve Ballyfitz. Don't Push It and Chief Yeoman).
But the winner is highly likely to be aged six to nine, and it is there that I will focus my energies.
Recent form is also a key pointer with 80% of winners in the last decade having won or been second in their most recent two outings.
The two I like are Alfie Sherrin and Smoking Aces. The former is hardly imaginative, given that he's favourite, but the way he picked up and ran away from a high class competitive field at Newbury last time (including my own Night Orbit, who stumbled and unseated poor Hadden Frost when leading) was impressive.
Smoking Aces looks like he'll adore the extra trip here, comes over in great form, and comes from a yard with plenty of Festival handicap success to its name.
The main trainer to follow in this race has been Nigel Twiston-Davies, whose record includes two winners and a placed horse from just seven runners in the last ten years. His Ballyfitz and Kayf Aramis are both previous winners in Festival handicaps, but the weights they carry (and age of the former) reflect this and, even with the first named receiving a seven pound claim from his jockey, I'll reluctantly pass over them.
Further down the card, 'Twist and Shout' has Made In Japan entered and, whilst stable bookings might imply this is the third string, he's not without a chance.
Next up is some respite from massive fields and weight-carrying conundrums (conundra?!) as we don our Graded stakes apparel for the Ryanair Chase.
Another recent addition, this race - over an interim trip of 2m5f - has proved quite popular with both trainers and punters alike, with all of the five winners starting at odds of 6/1 or shorter.
The trends are starting to firm up, despite the lack of a great deal of history, and we should be siding with a horse that has proven class (all winners were rated upwards of 150); a combination of speed and stamina (four of the five winners had won over the specific trip of 2m5f); and, course form (all five were previous Cheltenham winners, though not necessarily at the Festival).
That bodes very well for both Poquelin and Tranquil Sea. I was a big Tranquil Sea fan, prior to his last run. And, whilst it might seem perverse to oppose him on the back of that bloodless victory, he does seem to be a horse who runs best fresh, and that might just have taken the edge off him.
Poquelin on the other hand comes from twice winning stable of Paul Nicholls, and won convincingly in the Boylesports here over the Ryanair trip back in December.
He was also beaten into second by Tranquil Sea over the self same course and distance in the Paddy Power back in November, but made so many jumping errors that day that the runner-up spot demonstrated just what a good horse he is.
He will need to fence better than that run and, assuming he does, he's going to be very hard to beat.
I could spend a stack of time and words previewing this race, but I won't for two reasons:
1. I previewed it earlier in the year, and you can read that post here. World Hurdle 2010 Preview
2. Big Buck's should win, simple as that.
The two best alternatives seem to be the next two in the betting, Karabak and Tidal Bay, but they're surely playing for place money only behind the impressive and unbeaten in six hurdle starts, Big Buck's.
If you've not found a winner yet today, it might be a long way home, as the Festival Plate is another eminently tricky handicap chase. That said, there are some decent trends, and those allowed followers of Gavin's Festival Trends guide to bag 33/1 winner Something Wells last season.
Let's see if we can repeat the dose (unlikely, but nothing ventured and all that).
This race might be renamed the 'Prix des Francaises' soon, with six French bred winners in the last decade, and the other four races seeing a 'Frenchie' take the silver medal.
I'm going to scratch any horse without the suffix (FR) and proceed from there.
Majadou in 1999 was the only winning favourite for nearly thirty years, and this race is certainly one to play a couple of long shots against the field.
With those two statements used to thin the field, my smallish stakes will be invested in the Gallic galloping of Chapoturgeon and Nomecheki. The first named is already a Festival winner, having bagged the Jewson Novices Handicap Chase as a fresh-faced and precocious five year old.
Now a year older and uglier, he clearly goes well round here despite an unconvincing performance in a Grade 3 handicap last time out. Before that, he was fourth in the Boylesports here and, assuming his sometimes erratic jumping holds up, he ought to go close even with the impediment of eleven and a half stone.
Nomecheki is another sketchy jumper (well, if you're going to gamble, you might as well gamble!) from the Nick Gifford yard, but he's got plenty of ability too. He ought to appreciate this stiffer test of stamina and as a very lightly raced two time winner, the 33's looks more than fair.
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase
Concluding a quartet of handicaps, three of them over the bigger stumbling blocks, on the trickiest day's punting of the week, is the Kim Muir, a handicap chase over most of three and a quarter miles, and for amateur riders(!)
If you're in a hole at this stage, I strongly advise you limit your stakes in this race to the minimum. It's tough. And there will be easier 'get out stakes' on Friday.
Only three of the last ten winners were shorter than 12/1, so you might as well side with a rag here. Also side with proven jockeymanship (or whatever the right word is!). Seven of the last ten winners were ridden by above average pilots for the grade and - given the returned SP's - that is not necessarily reflected in the horses they're on.
Nicky Henderson and Ferdy Murphy are the hot trainers in the race, so look out for Galant Nuit, Poker De Sivola and Fleet Street. But it might be worth speculating with the Jamie Codd-ridden I'moncloudnine. He won this race last year aboard Character Building, and looks to have bagged himself a nice ride again this time.
The 'cloudnine has only been out of the frame once in nine chase starts, and has won five of them. He's normally a safe jumper and there's plenty of 20/1 available, which may not look too shabby come five o'clock tomorrow.
As I write this, I'm not sure which horse Richard Burton is riding but, as a two time winner in the last decade, he will definitely deserve a second look when the final declarations are available (i.e. when you read this!)
Small stakes only for me though in this one.
Despair not, wherever Thursday takes you, because Friday is the Gold Cup day. And it might also be one of the most memorable days our sport has ever had!
Kauto vs Denman - bring it on!!