Sunday, February 20, 2011

Cheltenham's coming...

Thought I'd start this round-up with an update on the possible Festival longshots put up last week...

Mille Chief Took the Kingwell by a nose from Celestial Halo. The latter-named made a right hash of the last; Mille Chief looked booked for the runner's up berth before that error. Trainer Alan King tells us he'll be better on better ground and I'm sure he will but it was still disappointing in a race in which both Silviniaco Conti and Overturn didn't appear to run to their marks. 14/1 available in a number of places - if you're not holding an ante-post voucher at this point, I wouldn't be rushing out to get one.

Cue Card Trainer Colin Tizzard indicated the Supreme Novices' Hurdle rather than the Champion Hurdle is Cue Card's intended race at the Festival.

Tarablaze Jumped abysmally in the four runner novice chase won by Aiteen Thirtythree at Newbury on Friday. William Hill still go 25/1 for the RSA, Sky Bet offer 66/1. No longer of interest.

What A Friend Another I was ready to ditch after Newbury on Friday but, having seen the recording, I'm going to hold fire. The horse struggled on the ground, appearing to run in snatches. He's not the easiest of rides at the best of times; with Noland getting very tired after the last, there was a suspicion he could still have collected the spoils had Harry Skelton not switched his run. Of course, on official ratings he should have won with something to spare - handler Paul Nicholls indicated this performance wasn't anywhere near good enough to get placed in a Gold Cup and he'll consider applying the blinkers in the big race. The horse will improve for the better ground, something he hasn't had in his two races this season. Stan James and William Hill stand out with quotes of 50/1 - Boylesports go 20/1. Tempted?

China Rock Interesting to see Alistair Whitehouse-Jones make a similar case for this one in the Weekender. Trainer Mouse Morris confirmed his charge has come out of the Irish Hennessy well and goes for the Gold Cup. The $64,000 question is - will this son of Presenting stay? Whitehouse-Jones describes it as a grey area, with the dam from the same family as Zongalero and Garrison Savanagh. 66/1 still available with William Hill - a bigger price than What A Friend - I think I'm going to have an each-way dabble.

Other Cheltenham snippets - Imperial Commander had a racecourse gallop at Warwick on Monday. Afterwards handler Twiston-Davies said he was 'pleased' with his charge and was quoted as saying 'He went really well...' Later in the week the quality of that workout appeared to have deteriorated - in Friday's TV coverage it was described as 'satisfactory' while by Saturday the workout had become 'indifferent'. In the past fortnight the stable have had just two winners from thirty runs - the team at Grange Hill Farm have a month to get last year's winner to peak fitness.

Updated Festival prices following yesterday's action - Riverside Theatre 7/1 Ryanair Chase; Master Of The Hall 20/1 RSA Chase; Back In Focus 10/1, Court In Motion 10/1 Albert Bartlett.

If you make just one pre-Festival purchase make sure it's Paul Jones' Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide 2011 due to be published February 25th. On his Twitter account (@sportspunter01) Paul has put out some taster stats to whet your appetite... For example, all Gold Cup winners in the past 20 years had had at least one run after Christmas Day that season; over half the winners of the William Hill Trophy had been placed at the Festival previously; of the last twelve Arkle winners to contest the Champion Chase the following year, five won, five finished second and two were placed third. I'm off to place my order now!

Those who have in the past used the Gloucestershire Warwickshire Railway to arrive at Cheltenham Racecourse station for the Festival should be aware they will be unable to do so this year as the railway has had something of an annus horribilis with two separate landslips, one at Gotherington and the other at Chicken Curve, Winchcombe, causing damage that will cost over £2 million to repair. An emergency appeal has been launched which has the backing of that well-known railway fanatic, Pete Waterman.

A piece in the business section of Saturday's Times told us something betting shop regulars will have suspected for quite some time. Ladbrokes reported a 7.3% fall in their 'over-the-counter' bets last year but gaming machines were up 7.2%...

Finally, if Ant and Dec are to your taste, there's a chance you'll bump into them on a racecourse this summer. They've bought Primaeval, a four year old chestnut colt trained by James Fanshawe. Apparently Dec bought the horse for his father as a Christmas present - I've been dropping subtle hints to Mrs Tips along similar lines but, to date, I've nothing concrete to report. Rest assured, you'll be the first to know should the unlikely ever come to pass.

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