Friday, March 07, 2014

Cheltenham Festival 2014 - early thoughts

Ten of the fourteen declared for tomorrow's Imperial Cup at Sandown hold entries in the races at next week's Cheltenham Festival; William Hill offer a bonus of £100,000 to the horse that wins the Sandown showpiece and then goes on to win any race at Cheltenham.

Many think Regal Encore shouldn't be opposed; four favourites have obliged in the past decade but the past three winners have been returned at odds of 20/1, 20/1 and 10/1.

With four days to the Festival, I'm keeping my powder dry. Here's some early thinking on selected Festival races.


Over the years my record in the opener (Supreme Novices' Hurdle 1.30) serves as little more than an egregious example of horse race tipping; for some reason this year's renewal has caught my imagination. Favourite Irving looks strong; it's worth noting all his races in this country have been on right-handed tracks. Irish runners boast a good record; Vautour has been slick at his flights to date and handler Willie Mullins states in his Weekender stable tour 'He would be one of our most exciting chances of the week...' On the lookout for some value, I thought I'd come up with something in Josses Hill. This one is priced 16/1 yet has an official rating of 148 (Irving 143); however, vibes from the Henderson stable indicate Vaniteux has made significant strides recently. I'll wait to see what Barry Geraghty chooses - the yard has had a runner placed in six of the past seven renewals.The Liquidator is another worth a second look. Paddy Power offer to return stakes on this race if your selection finishes second, third or fourth, an offer they modestly describe as 'Cheltmental'.

The Champion Hurdle winner is likely to come from Hurricane Fly, The New One, Our Conor and My Tent Or Yours. Hurricane Fly bids to become the first ten-year-old to take the crown since Sea Pigeon in 1980; the only other ten-year-old to succeed since the war was Hatton's Grace in 1950. Five-year-olds don't have a great record either; Our Conor bids to become just the third five year old to win since Night Nurse in 1976 - Katchit obliged in 2008. I feel The New One is probably better suited by further while My Tent Or Yours had a very slight setback earlier in the week but is now reported fine. At the prices currently available 5/1 My Tent Or Yours is a value play.

At the age of ten Quevega bids to win the Mares' Hurdle (4.00) for a record sixth time. She's not getting any younger but on ratings has plenty in hand over her rivals - a race to savour, perhaps,  rather than one to bet on.


Eight weeks ago I tipped Charlie Longsdon's Killala Quay in a race at Warwick; the horse ran a stinker on desperate ground and was pulled up. The trainer has since reported Killala was wrong that day and is now in much better form. The gelding goes in the Neptune (1.30) and may not be quite good enough to make a place but is overpriced at 33/1 (Skybet).

The RSA Chase (2.05) looks a very open affair. Some of the value about Carlingford Lough has disappeared and I think Corrin Wood is more likely to run in the four mile chase. Two at double-digit prices I'll look at more closely are Sam Winner (12/1) and O'faolains Boy (14/1) .The latter was on the radar but I missed him at Ascot last time; plenty will think the race was set up for him that day but Rebecca Curtis implied there was maybe a bit more to come from a horse they've held in high regard for some time. The worry would be he's probably better served by cut underfoot...

Sire De Grugy is the best horse in the Champion Chase but immediately after he was beaten by Kid Cassidy over course and distance in November connections declared Cheltenham's undulations didn't suit their charge and they would miss this race. The defection of Sprinter Sacre has forced a re-think; the gelding has been given a spin around Plumpton (!) - an undulating, left-handed track - in preparation. I still feel the favourite is at his best going the other way around; I'll look to oppose. 20/1 Somersby (rated 5lbs inferior to Sire De Grugy) looks a big each-way price.


Daryl Jacob has put up Al Ferof (Ryanair, 2.40) as his banker. He won't have things all his own way if Dynaste runs here rather than in the Gold Cup.

The World Hurdle (3.20) is intriguing. Unbeaten mare Annie Power puts her record on the line on her first attempt at this trip. Big Buck's is a legend in his own right but at the age of eleven I'm not sure whether his powers are on the wane... McCoy has chosen At Fishers Cross, a horse that has had a troubled season but appeared on the way back the last day. Reve De Sivola wants soft but is no 25/1 shot; he disappointed in the Cleeve but in a pre-race interview jockey Richard Johnson inferred that by winning that same race the previous season connections had in effect scuppered their World Hurdle chance and they weren't of a mind to repeat the same mistake this year.

Friday... Gold Cup day. Bobs Worth is unbeaten at Cheltenham and has won ten of his fourteen starts. Silviniaco Conti looked certain to be involved in the finish of last year's race before coming to grief three out. Champion trainer Nicky Henderson v. former champion Paul Nicholls. And this year Ireland has a creditable challenger in Last Instalment. I'll make a decision later in the week...

As always for the Festival, I'll post a blog with selected selections each evening before the following day's racing.

To conclude I'd intended to pass on a word for the appropriately-named Timesishard in Sunday's 4.10 at Market Rasen but handler Graeme McPherson decided the beast didn't want to run in that particular race so he didn't bother to declare him. Drat.

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