Monday, March 10, 2014

Cheltenham Festival 2014 - Tuesday

The highlight on the opening day is a vintage renewal of the Champion Hurdle (3.20).

On official ratings Hurricane Fly has six pounds in hand over his nearest rivals. He bids to become the first ten-year-old to win since Sea Pigeon in 1980; conversely, there are relatively few miles on the clock and many will be tempted by 3/1 available in several places. The New One was beaten by My Tent Or Yours at Kempton the last day; Cheltenham's stiff uphill finish will play to his strengths but he hasn't always been the most circumspect at his hurdles. Our Conor won last year's Triumph by a staggering 15 lengths but in the past this has proved difficult for five-year-olds with just two wins recorded since 1970 - Night Nurse (1976) and Katchit (2008). My Tent Or Yours is one of three J.P. McManus owned runners - Captain Cee Bee has been supplemented and looks likely to act as pacemaker. My Tent was beaten half a length by Champagne Fever in the Supreme last year and of the principals is the only one not to have won at the course previously. A close call, as indicated by Timeform's ratings...

For me, it's between Hurricane Fly and My Tent Or Yours; I'll side with My Tent Or Yours.

The Irish boast a good record in the opener (Supreme Novices' Hurdle at 1.30) and look to have a strong hand again; on ratings Willie Mullins' Vautour is the one to beat. Nicky Henderson has had a runner placed on six occasions in the past seven years. Stable jockey Barry Geraghty prefers Vaniteux to Josses Hill - the latter underwent a tracheal wash in the week; the results have come back clean and he takes his chance with Alan Tinkler in the plate.

Vaniteux rates an each-way play at around 12/1.

I don't like to overplay on the first day but layers, keen to bolster turnover (and therefore profit), come up with more special offers than you can shake a stick at - the latest from William Hill is even money Ruby Walsh to finish the meeting top jockey.

After Tom Scudamore had ridden Baltimore Rock to victory in Sandown's Imperial Cup on Saturday, one of the Channel Four racing team pointed out that Tom Scu looked to have a decent book of rides in the week ahead (includes Red Sherlock, Kings Palace, Dynaste and Vieux Lion Rouge).

Five times in the past decade three winners has been sufficent to take the top rider prize and Walsh can no longer rely on the support of Paul Nicholls.

33/1 Tom Scudamore is a big enough price for those prepared to take the chance in a market that isn't always easy to call; of course, by this time tomorrow evening, Walsh could already have a treble in the bag...

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