Friday, March 02, 2012

The Coral 2012 Cheltenham Festival preview evening at Haydock

Over the years, in very general terms, I've tended to give Festival preview evenings something of a wide berth on the grounds that you end up coming away with more tips than you can shake a stick at.

This year has been different on two counts. Firstly, I received a kind invitation to attend the Haydock event from sponsors Coral and secondly, given the form in the book, a surfeit of tips for the Championship races looked rather unlikely beforehand.

The panel, chaired in turn by AtTheRaces presenter Matt Chapman [MC] and Mick Fitzgerald [MF], consisted of Richard Johnson [RJ], Niall Hannity [NH], Simon Clare [SC from Coral Bookmakers] and Jason Maguire [JM] who, apparently, displayed admirable restraint on learning  his name had been misspelt in the souvenir programme... And, more or less, unanimous the panel were in their selections for the 'big four': Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle; Sizing Europe for  the Champion Chase; Big Buck's the World Hurdle and Long Run the Gold Cup following news of Kauto Star's 'pretty awful fall' on the Ditcheat gallops last week.

Matt Chapman's stentorian style (YeeeHaaa!) wouldn't necessarily have appealed to all patrons present but his piece in the programme was particularly pertinent - we hardly need preview nights as 'it all looks so easy...'

Of course, such thinking is dangerous and, where horses are concerned, nothing can ever be described as 'easy' otherwise we'd all have large amounts of cash in the bank. Still, the point Matt made is that he feels layers are 'wrong' to think they'll get a result from the big four; if an upset were to occur, going on past results, it's most likely to come in the Gold Cup.

Having arrived before most of the organisers, I had plenty of time to check out the lie of the land, get to know fellow bloggers and then tuck in to the slap-up meal. The event, somewhat delayed at the start, kicked off with a live phone call on a somewhat intermittent line to Nicky Henderson.

The news from Seven Barrows was that plenty of schooling would take place this weekend with AP riding, amongst others, Darlan and Barry Geraghty on board Simonsig. It was reported Geraghty is particularly keen that Simonsig goes for the Neptune on Wednesday rather than the Supreme. Connections felt Binocular was back to something like his best the last day at Wincanton (although Paul Nicholls felt Celestial Halo had not run to his mark) and will not be schooled. The biggest word was for Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle, described by his handler as a horse 'with tremendous presence' who 'likes showing off'. The trainer rates this one his best chance at the meeting but realised even money about one in a novice chase at the Festival wouldn't appeal to everyone so he put up Triolo D'Alene 'down in the handicaps'. This one is currently priced 7/1 favourite for the final race on the opening day but is also quoted 14/1 for Thursday's Byrne Plate - now, the line wasn't the best, but my understanding was Nicky had said he was in the Byrne, but I could be mistaken.

Other tips for the Supreme: SC - Darlan; JM Cinders And Ashhes; NH Sous Les Cieux; RJ Colour Squadron.

The panel sold the Arkle as possibly the race of the whole meeting. Having three rated in the 160s, (Sprinter Sacre 161, Peddlers Cross 160, Al Ferof 160) BHA handicapper Phil Smith considers this one of the best renewals in recent years. With Cue Card likely to make a strong gallop, JM indicated Peddlers Cross & co. will be out to get Sprinter Sacre off the bridle, pointing out the horse never came up the hill when finishing third in the Supreme last year. Questioned about Peddlers' jumping the last day, JM said the gelding had given hinself a fright at the first and was careful for a couple afterwards. MC joked that RJ would be asking his wife to check the medical insurance before he took the ride on Menorah but RJ described Menorah as 'one of his best rides of the week'.

Arkle tip: MF Sprinter Sacre - quote:  'I've never seen [Nicky Henderson] so excited by a horse.'

The value in the Champion Hurdle looked to be Overturn each way at 33/1 - tipped by RJ and described by JM as 'the toughest horse in racing I know'. A sceanrio was painted - plenty of the fancied contenders are hold-up horses - Overturn just could get an easy lead and who knows what might happen... NH liked Rock on Ruby who is considered on a par with Zarkander at Ditcheat.

In the Neptune on Wednesday: MC Make Your Mark, NH Boston Bob, RJ Simonsig (on good ground), SC Monksland (will be suited by better ground).

For the RSA discussion centred around whether Grands Crus would now be allowed to take his chance in the Gold Cup given Kauto is no better than 50/50 to run. RJ pointed out that Grands Crus' time in the Feltham (6.01.8s) was faster than Kauto Star's in the King George (6.05s). Bobs Worth will stay and I know several people are keen but MF had a big tip for Paul Nicholls' Join Together in the programme. MF said Bobs Worth 'doesn't travel as well as he used to.' NH tipped First Lieutenant.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase was seen as 'weak' with JM describing Sizing Europe as 'a certainty'.

There followed the charity auction where an overnight stay and trip for four people to Alan King's gallops went for £1,000 while a similar offering for two at Nicky Henderson's made £950. In the raffle I was fortunate enough to pick up the RP Cheltenham Festival Guide but fellow blogger James Yellen could only rue his luck as he missed four tickets to the Haydock races by one...

Unfortunately I had to leave shortly afterwards but not before I was told that layers had priced the market wrong for the Ryanair with Rubi Light one to avoid; make of that, or indeed any of this post, what you will.

It's worth mentioning Coral has appointed Jason Maguire and Paddy Brennan to be their Cheltenham ambassadors this year . A £100 wager has been placed on each of their mounts over the past week or so - up to last night £5850 had been raised for Racing Welfare; bets will continue to be placed throughout  Festival week with a minimum £10,000 guaranteed for the charity.

Finally, I'll share a couple of tips that were heard around our table only...

Calum Madell ( - check out his comprehensive review of the evening - holds a small share in Magnifique Etoile who goes in the County Hurdle on Friday. This one has decent form to his name including a third in the Tolworth behind Captain Conan and Colour Squadron as well as finishing ahead of Batonnier in a Fontwell bumper and behind Mountbazon in the Doncaster Spring Sales bumper. Callum tells me he could be seven to nine pounds well in - the gelding is best-priced 25/1 with Willliam Hill.

Over on the Flat blogger James Yellen ( had a word for William Muir's Stepper Point who could turn out to be Kings Stand Stakes material.


Anonymous said...

At the end of the day, Mr Tips, let's be honest, the challenge is, can Mrs Tips come up with more winners? I'd like to think she can, but as you say, it's all about the horses...

The major said...

Nice one..... Planning on writing up my own Chelters tips this weekend.... - agree the Arkle is strong and the CC is weak.... Some of those Arkle horses would be in with a big shout in the CC