Sunday, March 15, 2009

Champion Chase Day 2009 - a view from Tatts

I made it to the Cheltenham Festival last Wednesday, the first time I've manged to get to a racecourse in the last eighteen months. Here's how things looked to an ordinary punter with a ticket for Tatts...

Two things I'd temporarily forgotten about this meeting quickly came back to mind. Firstly, once you've parked your car, you don't sit down again until after the racing has finished; by mid-afternoon the legs and back had started to ache... Secondly, when you go racing with friends and colleagues, not only do you lose money on your own losing selections, you end up losing money on your friends' losing selections as well.

The drive along the A40 into Cheltenham and to the course itself was completely trouble-free and traffic-free too, in marked contrast to previous years. The Times reported the crowd for the day to be in the region of 47,000 - this was the first time in the last ten years I have had a completely uninterrupted view straight down the course. A pint of Guinness in The Guinness Village cost £3.60 where Steve Bruce, the Wigan Athletic manager, was spotted. Later, near the paddock, one J. P. McManus walked past - I'm sure I heard him whisper 'Good blog, P.G.' to which I replied 'Thanks, J.P.' but I'm not sure he heard me...

As I've already hinted the reduced crowds meant it was fairly easy to secure decent viewing positions both in Tatts and in the paddock. After Tricky Trickster's victory for the Million In Mind Partnership in the opener, a couple of us struck up a conversation with a delightfully well-to-do lady whose brother-in-law was a member of the syndicate that had, by this point, practically taken over the winners' enclosure. Apparently bloodstock agent Anthony Bromley does the buying and sellling; they have a 'general clearout' around May time, which I guess was the reason why Twiston-Davies was keen to seek out a new buyer when talking to the Channel Four cameras. Alistair Down's quips on air about 'the tweedy set' and someone offering him £500 if he could find a Labour voter amongst the winners captured the scene perfectly.

Mikael d'Haguenet looked good in the paddock and was well-backed before the Ballymore. I saw 3/1 in places before the price contracted in to 9/4; he started 5/2 favourite. Connections think he could be a Gold Cup horse in time.

The Market Man sweated up badly before the RSA Chase. This looked a brutal race with Carruthers and Lightning Strike taking no prisoners by setting a blistering gallop from the off that had several in trouble on the first circuit. Gone To Lunch was one example of a horse that normally jumps well but was out of contention by the half-way point. I'm sure I saw 100/30 Cooldine in the ring but it didn't last long - all the money was for Ruby's mount. At the end Cooldine was the only one still galloping. Sam Thomas was given a two-day suspension for failing to ride out What A Friend for fifth position. As if that wasn't bad enough for the jock, Twist Magic, his ride in the Champion Chase, dumped him on the turf in front of the grandstand. Twist Magic did not look on good terms with himself.

Marodima's antics, breaking the tapes twice before the start of the big race, received short shrift from the punters around me - many suggested he should be withdrawn. Personally I thought Nick Scholfield did well to hold on to the horse. Master Minded's victory had an air of anti-climax about it. Several bookies in the ring decided to bet without the favourite but on many boards there were no clear signs to indicate this; after the race at least two of these bookies displayed the result as 1. Well Chief, 2. Petit Robin, 3. Newmill. For a minute I thought Newmill had run on for third place -all very confusing!

The ring was very quiet before the Coral Cup. A colleague had received two tips 'from an Irish source', one of which was for Kirbybroguelantern in this. I took 40/1 each-way and had a jolly decent run for my money, with the horse up there all the way and a close third two out before he faded to finish a respectable sixth. The other tip was for Alexander Severus in the Fred Winter. This opened 4/1, was backed in to 5/2 favouritism, and came there travelling on the bit two out. 'Easy!' cried my colleague. It turned out to be anything but as the horse found nil for pressure and finished fourth; he looks something of a bridle horse to me and is one to be wary of.

In the bumper ante-post favourite Sicilian Secret was very weak, drifting out to 9/1. The money came for Dermot Weld's Rite Of Passage but the stand-out horse in the paddock was eventual winner Dunguib who looked a picture. I harboured doubts about his amateur jockey in a race as competitive as this but plenty backed the horse, the price contracting from 13/2 to 9/2. Those who took the odds never had a moment's worry as the horse destroyed his field with a scintillating turn of foot. We all left the course that evening knowing that in Dunguib we had seen an exceptional animal.

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