Cheltenham Festival Day One Preview
(written on Thursday, 11th March. Updated Monday 15th 08:30)
Time for the talking to stop, dear reader, and the money to be placed squarely where mouth is. With that in mind, here's my combination of Cheltenham Festival Day One ante-post and day of race wagers.
Supreme Novices' Hurdle
It all kicks off with the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at 1.30 tomorrow. In my initial preview on Horse-Racing.ie, I'd looked for something Irish to beat Dunguib. I came up with two options, Loosen My Load and Saludos, and neither are running. An inauspicious start to say the least.
The reality is that I should have just backed Dunguib. He reminds me of the magical mare, Like-A-Butterfly, who won four straight prior to taking on 28 rivals for the opener. As it turned out that day, the Butterfly had a hell of a scrap with Westender (guess which one I was on, on my first and only trip to Cheltenham for the Festival), and prevailed by a neck.
Dunguib can hardly expect to win this swinging off the bridle, and there are lots of horses with which there is no form line. But he's a proper racehorse, whatever noises people are making about sore shins and can't jump and this and that.
Although he can hardly be considered value at around evens, I think he's likely to win. The style and time of his victory over Fionnegas last time was breathtaking, and he did that apparently without jumping and with pain in his legs. Really? Come off it!
The Irish have traditionally had the best of the opening skirmish on the opening day, and I expect it to be the same tomorrow. If I had to back one each way, which I won't be, I'd side with Philip Hobbs' Menorah. I know he got beaten in a noddy race the other day, but his overall form level, against proven horses in UK, is as high as pretty much anything else, bar the favourite. And, at 12 or 14/1, he's far better value for me than Get Me Out Of Here, at half that price.
Sure, Get Me Out Of Here won the totesport Trophy, which is a competitive enough heat. But he received weight from most of the field (and all of the leading contenders), bungled the last (and several before), and took a cut to his heel. Moreover, his trainer said that the plan was to win that race, and anything else would be a bonus. So he'll have been cherry ripe that day. Keeping him at perfect pitch for another five weeks is a huge challenge and, whilst he should have further improvement, he's not for me.
Timeform top two: Dunguib 166p, Get Me Out Of Here and Menorah, both 161p
Next up it's the Arkle Trophy, a steeplechase over two miles for novices. Again, my ante-post picks look to have swerved the race, meaning more dough done before the tapes go up.
Both French Opera and Tataniano will contest the closing event of the week, the Grand Annual, as opposed to the second one, the Arkle. Bugger. It's especially disappointing because I think this year's renewal looks wide open, and there are reasons not to side with any of the market protagonists. And Timeform had French Opera rated just a pound below Captain Cee Bee and clear second best (I put him up at 33/1).
Captain Cee Bee is bidding to be the first nine year old winner since 1988, and only the third ever. The race was incepted in 1946! Good luck with that.
Although Somersby hasn't raced for three months, and missed his prep due to abandonment, he might be the soundest bet in the race. His hurdles form was top drawer (third to Go Native and Medermit in the Supreme last year), and two bloodless victories over fences, including a definitive decision over the talented Crack Away Jack.
The Irish have a poor record in the Arkle, despite one of their newspapers sponsoring the race, and I expect the home team to grab the tuck again this time.
I don't have a bet in the race after my two were pulled out (even more frustrating to learn that Timeform had French Opera rated just one pound inferior to Captain Cee Bee, and my ticket had him at 33/1!). But I might back Somersby on the day.
Timeform top two: Captain Cee Bee 169, Somersby 165p
William Hill Trophy
The first of the handicap races at the Festival, the William Hill Trophy acts as a nice buffer between the Arkle and the feature of the day, the Champion Hurdle. It's a steeplechase, run over a distance of three miles and a hundred metres (mixing my imperials and my metrics nicely there). So, after the marathon, the winner will need a sprint!
Again, I've reviewed this elsewhere, and the upshot of my deliberations was that my three against the field are The Package, Khachaturian, and Boychuk (if he gets in).
This race is normally won by a fancied runner, and I think The Package must go mighty close.
Khachaturian and Boychuk both have two ways of running: if either is on a going day, then we'll have some fun and maybe cash a big ticket. But it's possible they'll not fancy it, and I'll be left with The Package. That's the chance you take.
[Note also that both the bigger priced duo are usually front-runners, so it will be interesting to see if they can get their preferred position.]
Also of interest in the race, at the top end of the weights, are the numerous Grand National entries having their final prep. The likes of Character Building (whose National chance I like very much), Comply Or Die and Niche Market will be interesting to observe, with an eye to Aintree.
Timeform top rated: The Package 172, a whole host of horses on 171
After the hubbub of the handicap chase, comes the speed and style of the Champion Hurdle, the feature event on Day One, at 3.20. There have been a couple of significant 'will he, won't he' scenarios in the run-up to this race, with both Solwhit and Binocular questionable starters.
I remember many moons ago the incomparable Nick Mordin saying that Grade and Group 1 races are hard enough to win when everything has gone spot on, let alone with an interrupted preparation.
I mean, despite the staggering common sense virtue of that statement, why do we so often overlook it and try to find a justification for backing a horse whose prep has been stunted. It's true that we might miss the occasional winner, but we'll swerve plenty of losers as well.
For this reason alone, I'll be against Solwhit (who, with no Cheltenham experience, couldn't win anyway - according to the trends at least!) and Binocular (who was beaten fair and square at the last two Festivals and has done nothing to justify reversing form with a bunch of horses since).
In my early preview of this race - which you can see here: Cheltenham 2010 Champion Hurdle Preview - I pretty much nailed it. Good job after the howlers that preceded it on this card.
That remarkable piece of tipping (though I say so myself! ;)) suggested backing Celestial Halo, Punjabi and Go Native. The prices for those horses at the time were 8/1 (now 12/1), 14/1 (now 7/1 generally), and 33/1 (now 7/2 and as low as 11/4).
For good measure, I also suggested Medermit had the 'same track record as Binocular, at 11 times the price'. He was 40/1 at the time, to Binocular's 7/2.
So I have a very juicy ante-post portfolio, on Celestial (topped up when he touched 22/1), Punjabi and Go Native. I didn't back Medermit so it would be sod's law if that one came home in front.
Celestial Halo does have to overcome the poor run last time. But I reckon he's Ruby's best chance of a day one winner.
Timeform top two: Solwhit 176+, Zaynar 176
Cross Country Chase
As only Cheltenham can do, we flit seamlessly from the sublime to the ridiculous, as the encore for the Champion Hurdle is the Cross Country Chase! Derided by many, it has proven a punters' pal since its inception, and this year ought to be no exception.
Don't be tempted to get cute here. Form over this variety of obstacles wins the day, and hat-trick seeking Garde Champetre will be very tough to beat. Biggest danger is likely to be stablemate L'Ami, and don't rule out Sizing Australia.
Nothing British-trained is likely to get near first place (although Philip Hobbs has a surprisingly strong entry, given he's no pedigree in these races at all).
I've not had a bet yet, but will be backing Garde Champetre (9/4), with a money-back saver on L'Ami (7/2).
Timeform top two: Garde Champetre 169, Monkerhostin, A New Story, both 168
Tuesday's finale is the Mares' Hurdle, a Grade 2 over two and a half miles. It's a new race, and in its two years, has seen a 20/1 winner and a 2/1 winner. It is not a race that I tend to play in. I'll be finishing off my pint, and writing up my notes at this stage.
Quevega is the favourite, at a general 5/4, and this is PLENTY short enough for a horse who hasn't raced since tailing off in Paris in May. That said, she won this race easily last year and, on that form, would be tough to beat.
The one I like though, is Voler La Vedette, an improving young lady, who has won four on the bounce, including a thirteen length trouncing of an admittedly unfit Go Native.
There's nothing in this race of that calibre, including the short priced jolly, and at 5/2 she really should go close.
I've looked down the rest of the card trying to find a value alternative, but I can't. Most of these would be uncompetitive in the handicap hurdles, so it is difficult to make a case for this race really.
Voler La Vedette for me.
Timeform top two: Quevega 171, Voler La Vedette 166
Have a great day one, and the best of luck with your wagers!