Day Four of the Cheltenham Festival is finally here and as you read this I shall be brushing the cobwebs off my cheap Burtons suit ready for the trek down south in my friends one wing mirrored car. There is nothing quite like arriving at Cheltenham in style!
Yesterday was a disappointment but could have been so very different had 33-1 shot Aimigayle been able to hold on over the final fence and up the hill. Another second place to add to the several already with our wins for the Festival still on a lacklustre total of three (not including Big Bucks because he was a favourite and only a numpty could not have picked that).
The worry once again this year is the weather as I have to make my selections in advance of travelling but there is a decent chance that there could be between 5-8mm of rainfall hits the track overnight so I am perplexed as to the correct approach. I do not like to predict winners when I am not armed with the full set of variables and ground conditions are one of the most crucial aspects of racing. Tread carefully if there is severe alteration to the described going Friday morning as this preview has been written at 10PM the evening before.
The JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) starts off proceedings at 1.30 and it is only a race I half saw last year as my friend and I battled are way through the town centre but failed to get through the entrance before the race had begun. However I did manage to get to the rails to watch a quite astonishing finish as the unlucky Barizan was passed up the hill after leading by a country mile for the majority of the contest. This season looks as competitive as ever but I am seriously perplexed now as to the well-being of the Nicky Henderson runners. It cannot just be attributed to bad luck as to why he has not had a winner because all of his runners on days two and three have been appalling. Day One he admittedly had three seconds but who is to say those horses would not have won their races had the stable been firing on all cylinders? It is an interesting one and I would not be surprised now I have commented publicly if he was to train two or three winners now and scupper my betting! However the facts are Mr Henderson has had many runners on the last two days and not placed once so I will stay clear from his well fancied entries on this final day.
For this 4yo Grade 1 hurdle I feel Smad Place looks a lively contender for the Alan King stable. Beaten in Grade 1 company already but apparently had some dirty scopes over the winter so third place in a race that was an unsuitable stamina test bodes well and he has since gone on to win cosily at Wincanton last month against an interesting newcomer from the Paul Nicholl's yard. The two pulled some 30+ lengths clear from third place that day and whilst this race is the pinnacle for 4yo hurdlers in Great Britain I feel he can put in another solid effort and run very close. It is worth nothing that any rain would be an added bonus to this selection and more than likely shorten his price.
The Vincent O´Brien County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) continues the day at 2.05 and this looks a classy renewal. Several of the top four year old hurdlers from last season do battle alongside recent Saturday success story Alarazi who scooted up just SIX days ago in the Paddy Power Imperial Cup at Sandown. Whether or not he is back to 100% after such a brief rest though is up for debate and whilst several have managed the Sandown/Cheltenham double in the past I am just not quite sure that he will be good enough.
My own selection in the race is one that I chose last time out for the Totesport Trophy. Notus De La Tour that day ran a fine race in an event he was admittedly targeted at but he belied his front running duties to battle on and claim a place in what was a very competitive affair. Bothy helped frank the form of that race when finishing runner up in the Coral Cup on Wednesday and my belief is that Notus De La Tour can establish it as a classy renewal even further with a solid performance today. Any rain would be a benefit to the selection but not a necessity to see him run well.
The acid test for the Henderson yard must surely come in the 2.40 Albert Bartlett Novices´ Hurdle (Grade 1) in which he has two exceptional contenders in Bobs Worth and Mossley. On a normal day I would perhaps not bet but if I am correct in my thinking then these two are in the race to get beaten. My shortlist consists of two in Join Together and recent winning selection Kilcrea Kim.
Now I would dearly love Kilcrea Kim to win again as not only do I rate the horse I also have my Festival bet on Phillip Hobbs being the top trainer in contention. The reality though is whether he will be strong enough up the final hill in a fast paced three mile hurdle race. Kilcrea Kim has attempted this C&D back in December which resulted in the only blemish on his hurdling CV thus far when he finished fifth. Rated 10lb higher since then then I will tamely overlook him in favour of Join Together who was runner up behind Mossley on only his second hurdling appearance when ridden by the French jockey David Cottin. Ruby Walsh is back in the saddle for today's effort and with three runs experience behind him I feel he poses a significant threat to the leading principles. It is worth noting that Nicholls also stated post race that "riding instructions had been lost in translation" to the French pilot for that run behind Mossley over C&D. Current odds look favourable and once again should there be any rainfall this will only aid the selection in his attempt to outbattle his rivals up the hill.
The highlight of the festival finally arrives at 3.20 in the form of the totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (Grade 1). One has to go back to 1998 since the last horse aged more than 10 proved successful in the race which counts markedly against last years Champion Imperial Commander and his predecessors Denman (2008) and Kauto Star (2007& 09). It is on that note that there may be some value in chancing our luck further down the list of contenders and having a bet on Pandorama who may not run should it fail to rain overnight but if it did then he is by far and away the most serious contender in my eyes. A vastly underrated individual who was still only rated 148 by the handicapper despite winning THREE novice Grade 1's in total over hurdles and fences. He added the Lexus Chase (Grade 1) to his haul of trophies before the turn of the year and that race featured on the agenda back in 2006 when War Of Attrition could only finish runner up in the event on his way to Gold Cup glory.
This years renewal kind of falls between two eras as the old brigade are surely on their way out yet are still being hyped up as contenders by the bookmakers. The youngsters consisting mainly of Pandorama, Kempes and recent King George scorer Long Run are possibly the imminent future of horse racing and it is with these recruits I believe interest should lie. My personal preference as stated is with Pandorama but it is not beyond possibility that perhaps one of the other two should prove good enough. However Long Run is by far an improved horse on a flat track and Kempes on breeding should have considerable difficulties keeping pace with his rivals on the approach to the last and up the hill. These are the main reasons I am choosing Pandorama over any other rival and I indeed hope it is the correct choice on this occasion.
Of the remaining races on the card I should hopefully still have a few interests. This is if I am still alive and have not lost all my immediate senses and done a copycat impression of the Irish leprechaun that stormed onto the track during the Ryanair Chase on Thursday.
In the 4.00 Christie´s Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup (CLASS 2) we are challenged to find the winner of a 24 runner race with Amateur jockeys aboard. Almost impossible but it is safest to concentrate on the male participants I would imagine. I noticed there are a fair few front runners contesting this hunters classic including two of the main contenders Baby Run and Just Amazing. The main irish hope On The Fringe will possibly stay on late if he does not meet trouble inrunning but at the age of six he may lack the maturity for a gruelling race such as this. My outsider selection for this is Jaunty Flight who has rediscovered some form contesting Point to Points which should have hopefully helped him find new confidence having gone wayward over rules back in 2010. Apparently this mare was purchased with breeding in mind but there is still life left it would seem and she can surprise quite a few with expert amateur Mr Tom Greenall in the saddle.
It would be a fitting should Mr Greenall prove successful as he injured himself in a fall on the eve of last years Foxhunter Chase and missed his intended mount. Hopefully the bad luck will be reversed in its entirety this time around.
Alan King's Shalone ticks all the boxes I require for a bet of interest at 4.40 in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys´ Handicap Hurdle (CLASS 2). Trainer claims the selection has an "each way squeak" and should the rainfall become a reality I would regard him as a possible winner myself.
The likelihood is that my biggest bet will take place in the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup Handicap (Grade 3) which is the final race of Cheltenham Festival 2011. Shoreacres is a smart horse and only needed to be at 60% to comfortably win on his comeback at Taunton last month. Due to him having had a light campaign it means he is still terrifically handicapped and it is no coincidence that Tony McCoy has been booked to ride. Brendan Powell and Mccoy have a strong winning ratio when combining their skills and as this is the final race I can only imagine the SP this horse will end on. Therefore the sooner bets are placed the better and I have already spent a small fortune on this selection knowing that if I have not already done my dough prior to this race then I definitely will have after!
I write that obviously in jest as I am quietly keen on the prospects of some of the days selections being rewarding. I am certainly due a change of fortune having seen several of my nice priced selections finish as runners up this week. Amigayle anyone? :-(
1.30 - Smad Place (1.5pts WIN @ 10-1 Betfair)
2.05 - Notus De La Tour (1pt WIN @ 28-1 Betfair)
Bluesquare pay out on five places and offer 18-1 on this selection for each way backers.
2.40 - Join Together (2pts WIN @ 9-1 William Hill)
I have placed a small cover bet on Mossley for Nicky Henderson incase I am completely wrong about suspecting something is amiss in his yard.
3.20 - Pandorama (1.5pt WIN @ 12-1 Ladbrokes)
4.00 - Jaunty Flight (1pt WIN @ 20-1 Paddypower)
4.40 - Shalone (1.5pts WIN @ 15-1 Betfair)
5.15 - Shoreacres (4pt WIN 1pt PLACE @ 8-1 William Hill)
Now if the betting stakes above do not represent carnage awaiting then I do not know what does! Lets not forget these are the stakes I have already bet at.... God only knows what I may do on course if the beer reaches my lips.
Hopefully I can regain consciousness and be back with you next week! Though betting after the Cheltenham Festival will be limited until the Aintree showpiece in April.