Cheltenham rolls around again. With it has come the standard late disasters for some connections who have spent a year or more looking forward to this day, only to find their horses withdrawn for various reasons.
I usually have a bunch of ante post vouchers, dirty and pocked by incoming fire over the months and weeks but, all in all, still worth holding. This time around, ironically, the only true survivors are almost a year old (put on straight after the 2020 festival): Goshen at 10/1 Lisnagar Oscar at 16/1 and Al Boum Photo at 6/1.Ithere are a few others stragglers hanging on in various small stake perms, but it looks like I’ll have to count on day to day betting for getting a return this year.
1.20 The Supreme
Appreciate It has dominated this division in Ireland. Metier and Soaring Glory get their chance here to have a crack at him, whereas Blue Lord, Ballyadam and Irascible have failed against him. I like Metier, but would much rather he’d had experience of a Grade1 left handed track. His last two wins have been right handed. Soaring Glory was impressive in winning the Betfair Hurdle, and the yard have always thought a lot of him, much in the way they have of Cloth Cap, who won the Ladbroke Trophy. He could be anything, but I’ll hold off on him this time.
The one I think has a chance of coming on enough to beat Appreciate It is Blue Lord, who finished 3rd to him last time, when reverting to 2 miles in the hope he’d settle better. He did settle (had pulled hard over 20f behind Bob Olinger the time before) and he looked to me like he’ll have learned from it. I’d rather have seen a bigger field here to help him cover up, but I’ll back him EW with Skybet at 9/1. !0/1 is available elsewhere, but Skybet offer cash back on all losers in the first up to £10. On EW bets they’ll refund the win part of a losing win bet. This lets me effectively bet Blue Lord for a place with the bonus of a win bet just in case.
1.55 The Arkle
Shishkin is a wee superstar and I believe he will win this. Main rival Allmankind is a cracking horse, but his buccaneering style from the front means he gives himself hard races; I thought he had an especially tough one last time at Warwick.
2.30 The Ultima Handicap Chase
With 7 places available with Skybet, I’m backing Cepage EW at 22/1. I think he’s significantly overpriced, probably because of stamina doubts. Three of his six best Racing Post Ratings have been recorded here at Cheltenham; the 6th in that list was in this race last year, where he was 7th, fading up the hill after being just 2 lengths down at the last. The stamina damage was probably done earlier in the race when he’d pulled his way to the front at the 9th. Hopefully Deutsch, who is riding with loads of confidence this season, can keep the fizz corked until much later in the race.
I’ll have small savers on another two with stamina doubts, which I think might be overcome: Nietzsche, a horse I’ve followed since his novice days, and Admiral’s Secret. I’ll bet them win only at 33/1 and 20/1 respectively, with Admiral’s secret having a significantly better chance of getting the trip than does Nietzsche. But Nietzsche has a wee touch of class (he won the Greatwood here in 2018). Admiral’s Secret is a reformed character. He refused to race three times in 2019, before Alan Johns got the leg up, but AJ’s record on him is 221113. Still, he’ll be going 5f farther here than he has before, but he keeps on, is improving and usually doing his best toward the end of a race.
3.05 Champion Hurdle
My heart says Goshen. My ante post voucher says Goshen. My head says Epatante is the best bet at 4/1. It’s hard to convey the advantage these top mares enjoy with the 7lbs gender allowance. Even if Goshen is all I think he might be, the concession of half a stone to Epatante, and maybe Honeysuckle, is a monster task.
I like Honeysuckle, and, on the face of it, her impressive victory last time cannot be faulted. She’s a battler too. But after Epatante’s imperious victory in the Fighting Fifth, I though she could take the hurdling scene apart this season. She has won and won well on soft, but that Newcastle victory set me thinking she’d be even better on decent ground. It looks now that we will struggle to reach good to soft for this, but her record on soft is strong.
What attracts me most to Epatante now is that she has done almost everything in her hurdling career very easily, even last year’s Champion Hurdle. Her one form blemish was last time at Kempton where she was beaten at 1/5. She was amiss that day. Henderson first said she’d been in season, then they found a problem with her back. Assuming that has been fixed and she is fit mentally and physically, then I think she will be too good for the others.
3.40 Mares Hurdle
Concertista has been a long term banker for many but I’ll happily side with Roksana here. She won like a champion last time in an Ascot Grade 2, cruising through to come home in a canter. She held an entry in the Stayers on Thursday, for which I think she would have started 2nd fav. That race is over what many believe to be her best trip. She’d get a half stone concession there too. It must. have been hugely tempting for the Skeltons, so why have they come to take on Concertista instead?
The only possible reason is they think they can win this. The Skelton team is one of the shrewdest operations in the sport. I’ve never fallen head over heels for Harry as a jockey (when he gets it wrong he gets it badly wrong) but 98% of the time he makes the right decision. And Dan is on his way to the top given normal luck.
4.05 Boodles Handicap Hurdle
Backing juvenile hurdlers has never been my forte, and I’d always be cautious around them. The main reason is the big steps in improvement they can make as they gain experience and grow physically. So I won’t be making a five-para-case for Busselton here, but it is he who will carry my money. He has run 129, 135, 142 on Racing Post Ratings in his last three, and there might well be another 10lb or 12lb jump in his locker.
Houx Gris is this ointment’s fly as many believe Nicholls put him away to protect his handicap mark after he ran so well at Chepstow, his only UK outing, on January 9th. And he might well be a snip, but I’d sooner row in with Joseph O’Brien’s horse at the prices 8/1 EW to 6 places (Power/Betfair). O’Brien won this two years ago, although Nicholls has won it three times.
4.50 National Hunt Chase
This 3m6f Novices Chase should be a cracker, and I think the first three or four in the betting will dominate the finish. Of them I’m backing Galvin at 10/3. His career has not been quite so regal as that of Next Destination, but I believe he is the better jumper of the two. Last time we saw Galvin was here at Cheltenham, when he was most impressive if a touch keen in the early stages. Hopefully Kennedy will get him settled in this. He’s on a strong upward curve improvement-wise, and is only 7. He was second last year at the Festival over 20f, and this trip ought to be much more suitable (his dam won the Durham National over 28f). I think he’s very good. You might see him in a Gold Cup in a year or two. He’s my bet of the meeting as I seek a hat-trick following Champ and Defi Du Seuil.
1.20 Lord Blue EW 9/1 with cashback – FELL
1.55 Shiskin WON 4/9
2.30 Cepage 22/1 to 7 places EW – 4TH. Nietzsche & Admiral’s Secret (win only: 33/1 20/1)
3.05 Epatante 4/1 3RD
3.40 Roksana 5/2. 3RD
4.05 Busselton 8/1 EW 6 places – UNPLACED
4.40 Galvin 10/3 NAP & bet of the meeting WON 7/2
There are lots of special offers on from the bookies; some of them offer excellent value. You will find most of them in this Racing Post article, but remember the wise words of Tom Waits: “The large print giveth, and the small print taketh away”
Good luck. Enjoy the racing. Go easy on the stakes.
All the best.
PROFIT/LOSS TO £1 UNIT STAKE: £11 STAKED/£11.34 RETURNED