It's Monday again, and time to look back on the weekend racing with a view to the future.
Friday's Cheltenham card was nothing special for the most part, but it was noteworthy for one thing. And that, unfortunately, was the carnage that transpired in the Cross Country Chase.
In case you missed, it, seven jockeys - riding the leading seven horses turning in for home - took the wrong course! In point of fact, this did have an unexpected bonus for me, as this race is one of the two pre-eminent Festival Cross Country Chase trials (the other being run at Punchestown), and the merit of one horse's performance was masked by the farce.
That horse is Scotsirish, and I'm convinced that he's better than stablemate Uncle Junior and will carry the weight here no problem in March. He's 11/2 with Stan James, which is a bit annoying as I took the 5's with Bet365 before the other bookie chalked up prices. A hundred pounds win only.
Moving on to Saturday, and I was lucky enough to be at the track, which was a welcome respite from some difficult times on the personal front, with my mum quite ill in hospital at the moment.
I'd bid in an auction about a year and a half ago for four seats in a box at the West Country track, and myself, Mrs Matt, Gavin and Mrs Gavin, were guests of Weatherbys four storeys up and overlooking both the finish line below, and the entire course as a panorama.
We were very well looked after by our hosts, and enjoyed some good wholesome grub, some equally wholesome vin rouge, and some even more wholesome National Hunt fare.
Baby Mix was a good winner of the Triumph Hurdle trial, but what this probably told us more than anything is that we definitely haven't seen the winner of that race yet.
It is generally the case that the Triumph winner comes over from France these days, and usually has its first British run in late December or January. Baby Mix wouldn't have been the best of the Frenchies and, whilst there was much to like about the way he quickened off a fairly pedestrian pace here, there will surely be something better which reveals itself in the next few weeks.
In the second race, I was extremely taken with the jumping of the winner, Join Together. Running in the Denman colours, he showed all the exuberance and a hint of the engine of 'The Tank', when barrelling clear up the run-in to record a decisive twelve length verdict over Mossley.
It was surprising to hear that Paul Nicholls, the winner's trainer, was contemplating the four miler at the Festival for Join Together because, while I've no doubt he'll stay (the brilliance of his leap at the last implied he could have gone round again, no problem), he has class and that edge of street fighter that you need for an RSA Chase.
He's 14/1 in a lot of places, only 10's with Ladbrokes, and despite horses like Grands Crus heading the market, I like this chap. He's won twice round here now so there are no reservations about course, distance, or going. It is then simply a question of whether the horse is good enough. In a race which often becomes attritional, and finds out many a 'class horse', Join Together is made of the stuff that could trouble the judge.
I'm not invested yet, but I almost certainly will be before the week is out. If you've not yet seen this race, take a look at the round of jumping the winner puts in. Phenomenal.
In the two mile handicap chase, Rileyev is clearly the horse to take with an eye to the Grand Annual Chase at the Festival. He was badly hampered by the bizarre fall of Tanks For That (himself a player for Johnnie Henderson Grand Annual, the race named after his trainer's father), and had to work hard to get back into it.
He was then only mugged on the line. Venetia Williams has few peers when it comes to readying one for a Festival handicap chase, and I'd be surprised if we don't see Rileyev lining up there with a big chance.
The Albert Bartlett was won by Deireadh Re, but he would have had no chance with Sea Of Thunder, who was well clear when crashing out at the last. Not sure whether this was Festival form: if it was, the only horse to consider in that context was the falling Thunder, who was having his first trip beyond two miles this day.
Then came the big race. It seemed everyone in our box was on the same horse, Medermit. He ran a blinder to wear down the game front running Roudoudouville, but unfortunately, Quantitiveeasing fair flew between runners to get up by three quarters of a length, and uphold the form of the Paddy Power Chase, in which he'd finished second.
Whether that was a Ryanair run, or one for the handicaps (Festival Plate, I think) remains to be seen, but it was a cracking contest and a thrilling finish. Unless, like me, you were one of those mugs who backed the second win only...
And then came the International Hurdle, featuring Grandouet, Overturn, Brampour, Menorah and the rest. A mini-Champion Hurdle in many ways, and there are no chinks in the form. This was true run, as must be the case with Overturn being taken on early.
He ran another robust race, and showed real mettle to outstay Brampour for second. Both of these are high class beasts, without likely being good enough to win the Champion itself. Grandouet on the other hand, despite being a five year old next season, seems to have the maturity to match his undoubted ability.
He cruised into this, and galloped resolutely to the line in the style of a very good animal. Second favouritism (behind Hurricane Fly) was inevitable for the winner of this race, and 7/1 with William Hill is the standout best price now. He'll surely be jolly if the Fly is grounded come March.
Menorah has a little to prove at this stage, and it wouldn't actually surprise me if he ended up in the 2m5f novice chase that Noble Prince won last year. Whether he's good enough to win it is another question entirely.
The final race, the Relkeel Hurdle, looked a penalty kick for Oscar Whisky and, while the winning margin was less than two lengths, the style of victory was emphatic enough. Giving eight pounds to the runner up, a renaissance performance from Get Me Out Of Here at a track he enjoys, Oscar was eased down at the death.
I'm not sure he has a trip for the Festival over hurdles though, as I imagine they're too quick for him at two miles (where his trainer has plenty of other options), and he may well not stay the three miles of the World Hurdle. If I was owner Dai Walters, I'd be tempted to take in the Welsh Champion Hurdle again at Ffos Las (also owned by Walters), and then head to the two and a half mile hurdle at Aintree.
Missing Cheltenham is always a difficult decision for owners, but it might be the right one. Incidentally, full disclosure, I've backed Oscar Whisky at 33's for the Champion Hurdle, for which he is as short as 14/1 now, so I hope he does run there. I'm just not at all sure he will.
And finally, the prize draw entries close at 1pm this afternoon, so you might still have enough time to enter. One entry who will be less concerned about whether he cops the Â£250 first prize is Andrew R. Andrew opened a new sportingbet account and, with his free tenner bet, did this:
Nigh on two grand for a tenner! Well done Andrew and, as always when geegeez community winners are kind enough to show their winning tickets, thanks a million for sharing. 😀
A quick reminder of the rules:
1. Choose a special offer with a bookie you don't currently have an account with here.
2. Register and enjoy your free bet.
3. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with your name and the account you opened.
I'll have checked all entries by this evening and will annouce the winner on the blog tomorrow.
As well as the Â£250 winner, there will be three runners up who bag a six month membership to my Winning Trainers, itself worth eighty quid.
There are now just about forty entries, so you've all got a roughly one in ten chance of winning as things stand.
Good luck, and I'll be back tomorrow with news of the winners.
p.s. what was your pick of the weekend performances? Maybe it wasn't at Cheltenham, but elsewhere. Leave a comment below.
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