The Cheltenham Festival eventually got the green light yesterday although racing was put back 35 minutes as a result of the frost which remained in the ground till mid-morning. Having promised to refund all losses to our customers old and new up to £50 in the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle it was a difficult watch knowing whatever the outcome of the race we couldn't win! That said I hope some of you took my advice and backed Champagne Fever which was the best backed horse in the race and was given a magnificent ride by Ruby Walsh. The marketing "guru" who came up with the idea of money back on all losses is named Eoin Ryan; excellent employee and general good egg but why does the spoof "Saving Ryan's Privates" spring to mind!
Day Two begins with the 4m John Oaksey National Hunt Chase named after the former amateur jockey, Channel 4 presenter and Injured Jockeys Fund President who sadly passed away last year. The ground appears to have come right for Back In Focus (1.30) and he always gave the impression he would come into his own over extreme distances when trained in Britain by Howard Johnson; the selection is unbeaten in three starts over fences in Ireland for his new handler Willie Mullins and might just be a class apart from today's rivals. Buddy Bolero is a big danger for the Pipe yard although he needs to improve again to chase up the Irish raider who has the best form on offer going into the race. Emperor' Choice at 20/1 with betvictor.com looks a tad big although this is a step up in grade following his Lingfield win last time.
Ruby Walsh has a wonderful book of rides but he insists his best chance of a winner comes courtesy of the unbeaten Pont Alexandre (2.05) and he cannot be opposed in the Neptune; there are many who think the horse is a future Gold Cup winner and he certainly looks the part although he has only beaten a total of thirteen horses in his three career starts to date. The English challenge is headed by Taquin Du Seuil who was an impressive winner of the Challow Hurdle at Newbury last time although the race did look at the time, and still does, a sub-standard renewal; I would be surprised if he were good enough to trouble the favourite and confidence in The New One is tempered by the fact that the yard have some of their horses coughing including former Gold Cup winner Imperial Commander. I think the danger, if there is one, could also come from across the Irish Sea with Rule The World and not only Take That fans will be expecting a big run from the Mouse Morris trained 6-y-old who has improved throughout the season and put up a career best performance last time. Two Rockers could be the best of the British but Pont Alexandre at 13/8 with BetVictor is a confident selection.
I have been a big fan of Boston Bob all year but why has Ruby Walsh jumped ship to the 5-y-old Unioniste who has little in hand of Hadrian's Approach (2.40) on their last start at Newbury? If Boston Bob wins I will kick myself but this is a race that is won by dour stayers and if the Henderson runner can avoid the errors that have littered his novice career to date I think he can cause a bit of a shock. The selection was no match for Dynaste (runs Thursday in the Jewson) in the Feltham but I am convinced Hadrian's Approach would have picked up Unioniste at Newbury last time but for clouting two out and he should not be double the price (6/1 at BetVictor) of the Paul Nicholls-trained runner.
Sprinter Sacre (3.20) is one of the most outstanding horses I have seen and cannot be opposed in today's highlight the Champion Chase; Mail De Bievre is likely to give the favourite a good tow into the race but the Henderson star is a different class on what we saw in the re-arranged Victor Chandler Chase over today's course & distance back in January.
I was delighted with the two winners for trainer Charlie Longsdon at Market Rasen at the weekend as Pendra (4.00) has long been my fancy for the Coral Cup although the yard had been having an indifferent run; there is a slight stamina concern but Longsdon is convinced the five-year-old will appreciate the step up in trip and if that is the case he must take the beating. We won't be able to gauge the form of his second behind Melodic Rendezvous in the Tolworth as a result of the latter missing the opening race of the Festival the Supreme Novices' as a result of the latter missing the gig due to a poor scope, but JP McManus bought the horse earlier in the season and he remains a horse of real potential. Mullins' pair Fiveforthree and Abbey Lane are both dangers with the former particularly interesting despite the fact that Walsh deserts in favour of the latter.
I know Paul Nicholls believes Saphir Du Rheu (4.40) is fairly-handicapped but you fast forward this race another 12 months and half the field are going to look extremely well treated! The selection could not have been more impressive when scoring at Taunton against older horses back in January and when his handicap mark was revealed it was decided to keep him in cotton wool until today. Megalypos of Nicky Henderson has had a wind operation to help his breathing since his last run in a Grade 1 at Chepstow and if working the oracle he must enter calculations; Henderson saddled the winner last year and Nicholls three years ago and the pair may have the race between them again today.
I fancied Golantilla for the Bumper which concludes an excellent second day at the Festival but the unbeaten gelding is reported to have worked poorly 10 days ago and, rightly or wrongly, I have decided to look elsewhere. I like the look of Blackmail (9/1) with the boking of Barry Geraghty a positive. The selection was beaten in his first two starts but seemed to show improved form when making most at Leopardstown last time. Sgt Reckless has been the subject of some very favourable reports from the Mick Channon yard in the build-up to the race and Richard Hughes is a significant booking but he is not sure to be suited by a slog on soft ground and he might be seen to best effect in Aintree.
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