I think I've categorically confirmed my preference, dear reader, for jumps racing over flat today. Having opened up the cards at Punchestown this afternoon, and compared it with the seemingly insoluble conundrums (conundra?) at Newmarket this weekend, I know that my heart belongs to the sloggers!
It's not that flat racing doesn't quicken my pulse, or stir my imagination, or indeed any of the other frequently meted out, oft-used, terribly hackneyed cliches about racing exhilaration. It's just that, well, I feel... more confident... when betting jumps horses. Curious when you consider how many bloody obstacles they put between a good horse and the winning line, even before you've accounted for the opposition!
Enough preamble, let's have a look at the action. There are three Grade 1 races today, and all of them feature a Cheltenham Champion. Go Native, Cooldine, and the exceptional Master Minded are the triumvirate of top class title holders. But can they win this arvo? Let's take a look...
First up, at 4.20, is the Champion Novice Hurdle. And I'd say that's a fair enough name for a race that features the Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner, Go Native, and the horse that would have been favourite for the race had not injury precluded his participation (Hurricane Fly).
The latter is odds on, based on his previous impressive form, which included a convincing ten length tonking of Go Native in a Grade 1 novice at Leopardstown. Were both horses to show up to that level of form, there could only be one winner.
But the season has been long and meandering for this field, so let's consider the trends (thanks again to Tony Mac for his kind assistance):
- No British trained winner for a dozen years (scratch El Dancer and Riverside Theatre)
- 15 of the last 16 winners were 5 or 6 years old (Fosters Cross, at 7, has a tough stat to defy)
- The last ten winners all came from the first four in the betting (take out Dundrum and Fisher Bridge)
This leaves Hurricane Fly, Go Native, and Kempes. The last named ran a stinker when fancied by me at Cheltenham and I'm loathe to row in with him again today (though that doesn't mean he won't win of course!).
So, unoriginally enough, we're left with the first two in the market.
Given that Noel Meade has won three of the last four runnings of the race, and that Go Native improved 15 pounds from Leopardstown to Cheltenham, and that Hurricane Fly hasn't raced for four months and - whilst an easy winner that day from Go Native - still has to improve to match the latter's latest level of form, 7/2 on the Native is a far better punt that 4/6 on the Fly. In fact, 2/5 about Go Native being in the first three might just be buying money (not that I'd ever advocate such a strategy).
Selection: Go Native
Danger: Hurricane Fly
Next up in the Grade 1 arena is the feature Kerrygold Champion Chase at 6.05. And what a feature it is, with the first two in the market from Cheltenham's Champion Chase matching up again. Big Zeb took a tumble that day, and his form figures - 1FF1 - say everything about his iffy jumping (see what I did there?!). However, he's a very talented unit.
Obviously Master Minded is clear on form and, granted a clear round, will likely win. But...
- 11 of the last 12 winners were aged 8 or over (Master Minded is only 6)
- 7 of the last 10 favourites have been beaten (Master Minded is currently a 1/3 shot)
One more point that is interesting - to me at least - is that Master Minded is not at his best on the prevailing soft ground. Albeit that it was earlier in his career in France, he has contested three Graded races on very soft or heavy, and fell twice and was 2nd the other start. He was favourite on each occasion.
In summary, he'll probably win, and - to be fair - Big Zeb has far more jumping questions to answer. But the Zeb has won on soft; has notches against all the other contenders, barring the jolly; and he's even money a place on Betfair. At 11/2 with Bet365, he's value against the hotpot.
Selection: Big Zeb (e/w)
Danger: Master Minded
Finally, from a Grade 1 perspective, Cooldine takes on some very dangerous opponents in the Champion Novices' Chase at 6.40. He's 4/6 to win and, again, as the reigning Cheltenham champ in the staying novice department, he has the form in the book. But... although there are only seven runners after the absenteeism of Skip Two, it's highly competitive.
Horner Wells was 2nd at Cheltenham behind Cooldine, and cannot be realistically expected to turn the tables. Goingforporter is a 200/1 shot who wouldn't win if he started now.
Rare Bob ran a massive race in the Irish National to take 4th, but that was just 15 days ago and, by rights, he should be too knackered to win this.
Gone To Lunch too ran a massive race when 2nd in the Scottish National just 10 days ago, but having found it all too much at Chelters behind Cooldine, he's pretty unlikely to reverse that form.
Moskova is a very consistent mare who will love the ground. She's probably not good enough to win this, but she could grab a place at a big price.
All of which leaves Joncol and Cooldine. Joncol has been widely touted in lots of places, but he's yet to race beyond 2m4f under rules (this is 3m1f), and he's yet to race in Grade 1 company. It's a significant step up in class and, whilst he might bridge the gap, I'd rather take Moskova each way at the prices (although you'll only get paid on the first two places).
So there we are - despite the competitive look to it, Cooldine looks the winner to me. Lightly raced, and with nice gaps between his races, his only defeat came over a woefully inadequate 2m1f. The further they went at Cheltenham, the bigger his advantage of what was a fair field. He's got loads of form on soft ground, and - quite simply - I think he's going to win.
Danger: Moskova (e/w)
Best of luck, and be sure to tune in on attheraces (you can get this from your computer as well if you don't have satellite - just go to www.attheraces.com) - two of the best chasers in training are running, and it's a little better than the action at Sedgefield (with respect to those who will be in attendance there).
p.s. you might notice a few extra menu items in the left hand sidebar. I've finally got round to adding in some of the reviews / trials I'd previously done for racing systems. They're not all there yet, but they will be. Sorry for the delay in getting this up, and you may find something of interest there. 🙂