We got a bloody nose on Day 1 with punters having the best of things but when the lights went out in our Gibraltar office yesterday afternoon there is no truth in the rumour circulating that we were looking for 50p for the meter! At the time of writing on Day 2 we have steadied the ship somewhat but the wins for Sprinter Sacre and Back In Focus meant we were going into the second half of the day still well behind on the week. Having tipped four winners and two placed horses at 33s and 6s on Day 1 I was feeling quite proud of myself until a wag in my box suggested a broken clock tells the correct time twice a day!
The feature race on Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival is the World Hurdle and, with the ground drying up all the time, Oscar Whisky looks likely to go off favourite for the race although there remains a nagging doubt that he is not a true stayer and the intermediate 2m 4f trip of the Aintree Hurdle where he is chasing a hat-trick of successes next month looks his best chance of another Grade 1 win. The ground may have gone against Reve De Sivola who can't have conditions soft enough and my two against the field are the unexposed Wonderful Charm 8/1 (3.20) and Irish raider Solwhit with marginal preference for the former.
The selection has not been seen since winning the Persian War at Chepstow back in October on his British debut and my understanding is that connections were considering a handicap at the Festival until injury prevented the yards' Big Buck's from defending his Stayers' crown. He is reported to be working very well ahead of the race and although he has stamina to prove he is highly-regarded by the Nicholls' camp and in a race where there are question marks about many of the principles he gets the nod. Solwhit has never raced over 3m but this six-time Grade 1 winner returned from a lengthy lay-off in cracking form earlier in the season and if he improved for the step up to 3m he would have every chance.
There seems no logical reason to oppose Dynaste in the opening Jewson Novices' Chase on all known form but I must point out that his five career wins have all been in November or December and his career record in the second half of the season in Britain is 0-3; he has run well at Cheltenham before, although he disappointed in last year's World Hurdle, and has looked a natural over fences including having won the Grade 1 Feltham Chase last time. Connections bypassed the RSA for this prize but he doesn't lack pace and remains the one to beat. I am going to throw a couple of quid each way on Benefficient (1.30) who wears a hood for the first time to sharpen him up. The drying ground is a slight concern but he is a good yardstick and can reward each way support at 16/1 with www.betvictor.com.
Having chaired a Festival preview panel with Paul Nicholls' assistant Dan Skelton at the weekend it would be fair to say that the stable were confident of a good run from Sam Winner (4/1 5 places at BetVictor) (2.05) in the Pertemps Final; the selection finished 4th to Zarkandar in the Triumph Hurdle when a beaten favourite a couple of years ago and after an unsuccessful chasing campaign he is, arguably, very well treated having beaten Peddlers Cross in a Jumpers' Bumper last time. Ruby Walsh takes the mount and I would be very disappointed if he was out of the frame.
A small but select field of eight go to field for the Ryanair Chase and I hope the sponsor keeps his own money with Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary's First Lieutenant (2.40) the selection; the selection won the Neptune Novices' Hurdle two years ago beating subsequent Champion Hurdle Rock On Ruby and although he has been running over further of late jockey Davy Russell is sure to make it a true test and it promises to be one of the races of the Festival. The selection finished runner up to Gold Cup favourite Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase last season and although he hasn't won since he has been knocking at the door. Cue Card is the danger having failed to stay in the King George when making uncharacteristic jumping errors; he won the Ascot Chase last time over a similar trip, will love the ground and is a top class chaser. The yard have already had a winner on the opening day of the Festival but First Lieutenant gets the nod.
My old grey campaigner Zaynar, who like many of us has been called a few rude names in the past, runs in the Byrne Group Plate and first time out might be the time to catch the grey who landed the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival back in 2009; minor niggles have kept him off the track so far this season but I am optimistic of a bold run although the stable think Ballynagour is their first string. I think the latter might be best caught fresh and he has gone up 21lbs since annihilating his field at Warwick last time. Cantlow doesn't quite stay 3m despite finishing 3rd in the Pertemps here last year and near the foot of the weights back on decent ground I like the look of Tartak (4.00) who is 15lb lower than when last winning over today's C&D; ok that was two years ago but I thought he hinted at a return to form over further last time, this trip is ideal and he is very well treated on his best form.
The Kim Muir is a race that has been very good to me over the years and Vesper Bell representing the Willie Mullins yard would have been the selection on soft ground but he is reluctantly overlooked with the ground drying out in favour of Relax (4.40) who will certainly appreciate the better ground for Venetia Williams whose excellent season needs a Festival winner to cap it off. Both horses are two to keep on the right side of going forward and if there were a couple of heavy showers I would jump ship to the Irish charge.
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