It was an evening of words and numbers last night, as a truly mixed panel of racing people convened around the top table for London Racing Club's Cheltenham Preview Night.
Hosted by Barry Faulkner, the panel was further comprised of George Primarolo (tote/Betfred PR man), Declan Rix, Lee Mottershead (Racing Post senior writer and current racing journalist of the year), Charlie Morlock (assistant trainer to Nicky Henderson), and Phil Smith (chief handicapper of the BHA, and arguably the most important man in racing... if you bet!)
Here's what they had to say about the upcoming Cotswold jamboree...
Supreme Novices Hurdle -
Lee Mottershead (LM) - An ordinary renewal. Gossip is for Darlan. But Prospect Wells at 25/1 non-runner no bet (NRNB) is interesting.
Charlie Morlock (CM) - Darlan has bounced back from his fall at Newbury, and schooled well since. We shouldn't ignore Tetlami but Darlan a better horse at home. Simonsig runs elsewhere. Cinders and Ashes interesting.
Declan Rix (D) - Jockey likes Steps to Freedom, but Midnight Game has a better chance. He's very sweet on Tetlami.
Phil Smith (PS) - It takes a 152 rated horse to win this generally. Thirteen (!) horses are currently rated within five pounds of each other at the top of the figures. Darlan rated 148, Tetlami 145. But PS was sweet on Tetlami. Winners galore coming from his races, unbeaten over hurdles, by Daylami (shaping up to be great National Hunt sire), and stoutly National Hunt bred.
CM - Can't see past Sprinter Sacre. "Sprinter can only be beaten by a clumsy jump"
LM - SS unopposable
PS - It takes a 160 horse to win an Arkle usually. Sprinter Sacre is currently rated 169, Peddlers Cross and Al Ferof rated 160. Doesn't like Peddlers and thinks he'll run in the Jewson. Memorable quote: "You could drive a coach and horses through Peddlers Cross' chase form".
Also believes this is the best Arkle we've had for many, many years.
D - Al Ferof offers the each way value.
JLT Handicap Chase (formerly William Hill Trophy) -
GP - Money for Hold On Julio
PS - 10/11 won over three miles-plus; 10/11 finished 4th or better in a race at Cheltenham (any race). Interestingly, Quantitativeeasing, who is favourite, hasn't won over three miles and needs to be in the first four to qualify for the Grand National.
Champion Hurdle -
PS - Generally takes a 170 to win the Champion Hurdle and only four here capable of that: Hurricane Fly, Binocular, Zarkandar and Rock On Ruby. Fly ran an 'adequate' race last time - form unreliable.
CM - McCoy was guarded in his TV interview, but delighted with Binocular last time at Wincanton. Could be back to best.
GP - Rock On Ruby the value. GP has backed him ante-post!
D - 'Hurricane Fly WILL win'
LM - Thinks Binocular will be shorter on the day.
Cross Country Chase -
? - Halley of Tom George's might be interesting [Editor's note: this one's a FIVE YEAR OLD!]
Mares Hurdle -
All - Quevega unopposable
Pulteney Land Investments' Novices Handicap Chase -
CM - Triolo d'Alene was given by Hendo to his former school's racing club as his best bet of the week!
National Hunt Chase -
LM - Teaforthree has the assistance of JT McNamara (fine jockey in the context of the race).
PS - Up The Beat was second in a Punchestown race that has worked out very well (Portrait King won it). "Up The Beat is going to win some really nice races in the future". [Note, he's entered elsewhere so take NRNB if you go with this chap.]
Neptune Hurdle -
D - Boston Bob a serious contender based on heavy ground form giving weight away. Liked Simonsig as well, but would be surprised if Batonnier had enough class to win. Two to note at bigger prices: Make Your Mark (16/1) and Aupcharlie (50/1 bet365 NRNB).
LM - Loved Boston Bob over Simonsig.
CM - Likes Sous Les Cieux. Believes he's better value at 14/1 than Simonsig at 7/2. Molotof is gritty but may not have the speed. [Editor's note: I want grit in this race!! 25/1 NRNB looks good]
PS - High 140's is the rating to win this. Simonsig 148, Molotof 145. Confident Boston Bob will win in whichever race he runs!
RSA Chase -
D - Willie Mullins wants to run Sir Des Champs here, but Mouse Morris adamant this is the place for First Lieutenant, and they won't both run in the same race for the same owner. Grands Crus the selection if he runs.
PS - Grands Crus rated 159. Denman posted a 161 when winning. Grands Crus has been off the track a long time now. Invictus has a great each way chance, and Bobs Worth will stay all week.
CM - Bobs Worth can win. Can be sticky at his fences, but stays. Grands Crus is there to be beaten and Bobs Worth has a chance. Invictus respected as well.
LM - Bobs Worth the best value. Three from three round Cheltenham.
Queen Mother Champion Chase -
D - Sizing Europe hard to get away from.
CM - Hopeful for Finian's Rainbow, but Sizing Europe is very good. Aintree a better target.
LM - Sizing Europe hard to beat but no value. Kauto Stone at 20/1 NRNB looks a reasonable value play.
PS - Sizing Europe looks bombproof. "I expect him to win". Amazed he's not odds on. Somersby and Kauto Stone both interesting each way with the non-runner no bet (NRNB) concession.
Coral Cup -
D - Dare Me has a big shout. (20/1 NRNB with betVictor)
Fred Winter -
PS - Look for less exposed horses, who have kept their true ability from the handicapper!
Champion Bumper -
D - Irish not great this year. Moscow Mannon the best over there. Horatio Hornblower interesting each way (25/1 NRNB).
LM - Royal Guardsman from the Cue Card team interesting.
CM - No idea but they'll win Saturday's Newbury bumper with My Tent Or Yours!
PS - "I will be enjoying scones with real butter, jam and cream at this point"
Jewson Novices Chase -
PS - This is a Grade 2, and cannot be upgraded until it's fourth year. It almost certainly will become a Grade 1 then. Cristal Bonus is rated 152, four horses (incl. For Non Stop) on 150. Bog Warrior is interesting with the NRNB concession.
LM - If Peddlers Cross turns up here, he wins. (9/2 NRNB with bet365)
D - Solix to turn around form with Champion Court.
Pertemps Final -
?? - Sergeant Guib's interesting
PS - "If Buena Vista wins again, the Pipe's deserve a medal". In other words, no chance. One horse has the following form comment: "held up, headway four out, kept on steadily three out, never reached leaders" [Editor's note: if you figure out which horse this is, let me know!]
Ryanair Chase -
D - Rubi Light has good chance, but ground an issue. Lay Riverside Theatre for a place. Forpadydeplasterer is a good each way at a price (33/1 NRNB).
PS - This is the best Ryanair so far. [Agreed!] Poquelin seems better giving weight to inferior horses. Somersby talented if he runs. Riverside Theatre has won on début all five seasons he's been in training, but only followed up once. A classic 'bouncer'? Rubi Light looks pretty solid.
GP - Noble Prince trained specifically for this. Great Endeavour has a chance. Kalahari King at 20/1 might be too big.
World Hurdle -
CM - "I wouldn't be backing Oscar Whisky to win the World Hurdle". [Editor's note: Coming from Nicky Henderson's assistant trainer, I got the impression that they don't like Dai Walters and, if I was Walters, I'd be moving my horses. There was a real 'old school' arrogance about Morlock, and I don't mind conceding I took an instant dislike to him. Too many silver spoons in 'The Chemist's' yard for me.]
PS - We don't know where we are with Big Buck's because he hasn't been seriously tested for ages.
GP - No bet, but Big Buck's should win.
LM - "Oscar Whisky and Thousand Stars have as much toe as Big Buck's". Believed Thousand Stars more likely to stay. (10/1 e/w NRNB betVictor)
D - Mourad e/w
Festival Plate -
GP - Salut Flo well backed.
Kim Muir -
PS - Higher weighted horses tend to win, "presumably because there's less chance of their amateur riders falling off the better horses". [Nice!]
Triumph Hurdle -
LM - Sadlers Risk is still liked by his yard, and by LM. Stays on well, has improvement and should like Cheltenham.
PS - Low 150's required to win this. Baby Mix might not get home in a true run race, a bit 'doggy' anyway, and perhaps more an Aintree horse. Liked Ranjaan.
County Hurdle -
Albert Bartlett Hurdle -
GP - Brindisi Breeze ran well last time, but this looks one for the Irish. Boston Bob wins if he runs. (10/3 NRNB betVictor)
Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup -
CM - Burton Port has a chance. "We thought he was slow, but he surprised us". He could bounce though. Believes Long Run will win.
LM - Long Run seems to have lost his 'wow' factor this season.
GP - Synchronised has a chance. (LM chimed in, "I like Synchronised too. But then I like my granny, and she's not going to win a Gold Cup!"). Spoiled it all by saying he liked Diamond Harry e/w.
PS - Gloria Victis was best novice in the Gold Cup. He was unlucky to fall, BUT he wouldn't have won anyway. Long Run rated 178, Burton Port 166 for their race at Newbury. Grands Crus has a rating of only 159! Believed Long Run was idling and would improve 3lb by Cheltenham.
Kauto Star if he runs will have to repeat his 183 from Kempton to win, something he's only done at Cheltenham once in five tries.
GP - My Flora has been well backed by the tweed-touters (point-to-point brigade). Chapoturgeon a doubtful stayer. Monkerty Tunkerty interesting, and not just because of the name.
D - Cloudy Lane has a good chance.
CM - Barbers Shop not expected to win by the yard.
PS - Agreed, we dropped Barbers Shop 8lb for winning!
Martin Pipe Conditionals Handicap Hurdle -
Grand Annual Handicap Chase -
CM - Hendo has seven entries for the race named in honour of his dad. Kid Cassidy is interesting, as is Tanks For That.
And that, my friends, was that.
If you want more of the same, and you haven't looked already, then here's the Exeter Preview Night, featuring Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs, David Pipe, Nick Williams et al. And below are my ante-post previews to date.
p.s. which of these do you think are going to win at Cheltenham?