Well the Cheltenham horse racing Festival has come and gone. You gear your betting up for that week of blissful horse racing and once it’s all over you get an empty flat feeling for a week or so and I am starting this week on that flat note. There is, however, plenty to look forward too; All Weather Finals Day at Lingfield on Friday, the return of the turf season at Doncaster, the Aintree Festival which gets better every year for me, the Irish and Scottish Grand National’s and at the end of April the Bet365 Gold Cup of course the Punchestown Festival.
I don’t really bet much over the jumps in the outside of the spring festivals and big races and you won’t be seeing many jumps eyecatchers from me unless they are likely runners at those events. The first flat eyecatchers can be found later in this article and I will be concentrating on the flat turf action from Doncaster onwards for eyecatcher purposes.
I thought I would begin with a look back at Cheltenham with my highlights and lowlights from the four days and pinpoint a few horses that could be heading for other major spring targets or will be worth noting for next years Festival.
Cheltenham Diary: The Highlights and Lowlights!
A really enjoyable and even more importantly profitable Cheltenham Festival for me. It was a bad week for the bookmakers and the punters came out on top. For those punters or who were looking for bigger priced winners it wasn’t such a good meeting, certainly not for the first three days anyway.
In last weeks column I highlighted the chances each way of Taglietelle and Bouvreuil and the former was 4th in the Pertemps and the latter was an excellent 2nd on the first day. Add to those, wins by eyecatchers like: Minella Rocco, Ballyandy and Ivanovich Gorbatov.
This is what I wrote about Ivanovich Gorbatov at the beginning of last month and once again highlights, if you still needed it, the power of using a notebook.
“I have added to my Cheltenham ante post betting portfolio this week and its Ivanovich Gorbatov who I think will be a much better horse come March in the Triumph Hurdle. Sadly the 8/1 has mostly gone; although at the time of writing it is still available with Racebets. In a race which I won’t be having too much of an interest he will do for me now until the day of the race”.
Ivanovich Gorbatov chance was ridiculed by plenty of pundits before the race but was well backed before the off and went off the 9/2 favourite.
Tuesday – Day One
Not much to be said about the wins of Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle or Douvan in The Arkle Novices Chase, who were part of a Willie Mullins first day hatrick, alongside Vroum Vroum Mag in the Mares Hurdle.
The one that got away for the Mullins team was Min in the first race, who had to settle for second in the Supreme Novices Hurdle. The race had looked a strong one on paper and so it turned out to be with Nicky Henderson’s Altior running out an impressive winner. The six year old jumped really well throughout the race and not surprisingly was made a single figure price for next years Champion Hurdle. Henderson also trained the 3rd horse home Buveur D´air who did best of those held up. The five year old made good progress from three out and if he hadn’t have made an error at the second last would probably have finished second. Probably found the trip on the short side and would have been better suited by more give in the ground all his previous runs had been on softer going. Will possibly head to Aintree for the 2m 4f novice hurdle, where he will be a short price I expect. Whatever his fate there he looks a classy horse for next season.
Minella Rocco – 1st in National Hunt Chase 8/1 and Measureofmydreams – 3rd in the same race, advised and backed ante post 20/1.
The Young Master – ran a great trial for the Grand National here and rewarded each way support at 14/1 and in the last race of the day Bouvreuil, advised each way to Eyecatcher Pro subscribers in the morning, finished 2nd at 14/1. The five year old had looked like he would win when taking it up at the last but was just out battled by the eventual winner. Still an excellent run and added to the day’s profits.
Out Sam was the only real low point on day one as his inexperience of a big field showed. He is still handicapped to win races off his present mark. Was backed into 13/2 favourite but a few of his trainers runners would underperform during the week.
Wednesday – Day Two
The performance of the day was the return of Sprinter Sacre to win the Champion Chase. It was a fantastic training performance from the trainer to bring the horse back to something like its best after his heart problems. We were told ten year olds don’t win Championship races at the Festival, and to be fair they don’t normally, which showed how meritorious the training achievement was.
Racing began with an excellent renewal of the Neptune Novices Hurdle as the Willie Mullins trained Yorkhill beat hot favourite Yanworth and in the process pulled 7 lengths clear of the field. Both the first two horses are really good horses and will go onto bigger and better things. Yorkhill could head for the Champion Hurdle or the Arkle next year that’s how highly rated he is and the second lost nothing defeat. His trainer didn’t have the best of Festival’s so I think Yanworth’s run can be slightly upgraded. The ground was as lively as the horse wanted and when returned to an easier surface I am sure we will see even better from the six year old who could be aimed at next years World Hurdle and potential match up with Thistlecrack if that one doesn’t go chasing. Blaklion won the RSA showing guts and stamina in equal measure to see off the challenge of Shaneshill. The race was marred by a severe tendon injury to No More Heroes, who later was put down, and a bleeding nose for the well backed favourite More Of That.
Ballyandy holding on to win the Champion Bumper having advised him as a Cheltenham Eyecatcher for the race at a double figure price! The Champion Bumper is form that’s usually worth taking forward to the next season and I am sure this renewal’s will too.
Politilogue really disappointed in the Coral Cup, as did Seeyouatmidnight in the RSA Novices Chase. Modest savers on Diamond King in the Coral Cup and Blaklion in the RSA, who I gave a good mention too in this column after his win at Wetherby, meant I managed to break even on both race.
Thursday – Day Three
Plenty of highlights on day three! Black Hercules set the tone with a strong travelling and good jumping performance to take the JLT Novices Chase and already looks the one to beat in next years Ryanair Chase on the evidence of this performance.
Even a 90% fit Vautour was to good for his rivals in the Ryanair, although honourable mention has to be given to the second & third home Valseur De Lido and Road To Riches, the latter is still looks to be improving but really needs 3 mile plus. Whilst the latter tried to put it up to the winner which cost him 2nd at the finish.
Thistlecrack put up one of the performance of the week for me when taking the World Hurdle. It will be interesting to see if he lines up in the World Hurdle or the Gold Cup at next years Festival. I would think connections will certainly try him in a novice chase in the Autumn to see how he does. Alpha Des Obeaux my 20/1 ante post betting advice for the race was easily brushed aside but landed the place side of the bet.
A modest punt on Black Hercules but the main highlights apart from Alpha Des Obeaux, were Taglietelle finishing 4th in the Pertemps Final and Full Shift, advised in the morning to subscribers at 12/1, also finishing 4th .
I really fancied Upswing to run well in the Kim Muir Handicap Chase but his jumping wasn’t of the required on this occasion. John’s Spirit looked a well handicapped horse but his jumping also let him down and he never got involved in his race.
Friday – Day Four.
Ivanovich Gorbatov won the Triumph Hurdle in good style to ensure I would end the Festival with a healthy profit. Trainer Dan Skelton got the first the Festival win of his short training career. The first of what will no doubt be many in the future.
Don Cossack who entered the Gold Cup the best staying chaser in Britain & Ireland and he proved it by holding off Djakadam who had to settle for the same position as he did last year. Don Cossack had fallen two out when looking like he would go close in the King George. This time it was King George winner Cue Card’s turn to fall to fall three out. He was travelling as well as the winner when he came down and punters were left wondering what might have been once again, as they had been after the King George. Don Poli couldn’t go with the early pace but made decent headway without ever looking like he would trouble the first two. Would be interesting in a soft ground Gold Cup! Don Cossack will come back for next year’s race and with possible rivals being Coneygree & Vautour, it has the makings of one of the best Gold Cups in many a year.
Ivanovich Gorbatov in the Triumph!
A shocker from Modus, who I fancied strongly for the County Hurdle!
Battleford – Willie Mullins – According to the market the 5 year old was one of the lesser fancied of the Mullins horses in the race as he was sent off at 25/1. As has happened in the past from the trainer in this race he outran his odds with a strong finishing 2nd to Ballyandy, only beaten a nose at the line, a winner on heavy at Punchestown in January this was much improved form on the good ground that clearly suited him. Should win races over hurdles next season and could well come back for next years Festival.
Theinval – Nicky Henderson – The six year old was having his first start since pulling up on testing ground at Ascot in January. The good ground was in his favour and he ran a lot better than his finishing position of 14th suggests. He was still contention coming to the second last and only started to fade as they came to the last. Aintree suits him better than Cheltenham as he is 3 win and 1 place from four runs on flat track whilst he is 0/5 on undulating track. He is also 2/3 when racing 16 to 30 days since his last run. The 6 year old is still 5lb higher than winning a valuable handicap at Aintree last year, he will hopefully be dropped a few lbs after this run, and I can see another big run from him at Aintree.
This Weeks Eyecatchers
Both of this week’s eyecatchers come from the first Irish turf meeting of the new season held at the Curragh on Sunday.
Sunday 20th March
St Brelades Bay – Jessica Harrington – The four year old had caught my eye on his first start for the trainer in a handicap at the Curragh last August but didn’t really improve as much I had expected on his next three starts in the autumn. Didn’t get the clearest of runs here inside the final furlong when making his effort and was beaten about 2 lengths into 7th at the finish. Is entitled to come on for the run and given his sole win has come on good ground he could be interesting one for a sprint handicap on better ground. Clearly has ability and has only had 10 career starts so he is relatively lightly raced for his age.
Awtaad – Kevin Prendergast
Was carrying 9-10 in this three year old handicap over 7f and put in a really smart performance to win easily by 5 lengths off what had looked like a tough mark. He was always travelling well just behind the early leaders and showed a very good turn of foot once he took up the running two furlongs out. A winner of a maiden at Leopardstown back in October he looked a horse with potential that day and he has certainly improved over the winter. Interestingly his trainer said after the race “I think we´ll probably go straight for the Irish 2,000 Guineas. With better ground and more improvement I think he could be there or thereabouts. That race is a fair bit away but he’s one to have in your tracker!
All that’s left is to wish you a profitable betting week with the return of the flat turf season not far away.