Friday, March 11, 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016 - initial thoughts

This time last year Alan Lee had written several pieces on the Festival build-up and pointed out the value in the 7/2 Coral were quoting about Ireland to win the Prestbury Cup. This week The Times coverage has been pitiful.

The old adage 'Money talks' is particularly pertinent at Cheltenham - it just hasn't had an awful lot to say to me in recent years. Thankfully, Cole Harden broke that worrying trend when winning the 2015 running of the World Hurdle.

If money talks, then comparing current prices about the Mullins hotpots with those quoted at the beginning of the month might just indicate those that are vulnerable; they are Min (was 5/4, now 2/1) and Annie Power (was 6/4, now 2/1).

I intend to oppose Min in the opener with one of the Henderson runners, depending on the ground. If it comes up soft Buveur D'air (7/1) will get the vote, otherwise Altior (4/1) will be the selection. Sky Bet currently offer a free bet if you lose on the first race of the day and also give a best odds guarantee.

Most observers seem to think Douvan a shoo-in in the Arkle. Garde La Victoire isn't always the neatest at the obstacles but his seven length defeat of Bristol De Mai at Uttoxeter while conceding that opponent nine pounds reads well. He rates an each-way chance at 14/1.

The Champion Hurdle looks very tricky; at this point I don't intend to have a bet but I will have a wager on Polly Peachum in the mares' hurdle.

Two years ago I backed her at 3/1 and watched her win a Warwick mares' handicap hurdle by an astonishing fourteen lengths off a mark of 117; I've followed her since. Ideally she needs good ground to show her best and probably missed her chance last year when beaten a head by Glens Melody after Annie Power fell at the last with the spoils seemingly at her mercy. This is Polly's last race before being retired to the breeding paddocks.

I'm not inclined to oppose Yanworth in the opener and I like Blaklion in the RSA (an each-way shot at 10/1 with William Hill) although I'm worried he had a hard enough race on heavy ground in the Towton at Wetherby the last day.

Ballyandy brings strong form into the concluding bumper.

Thistlecrack is the form selection for the World Hurdle but this looks far more competitive than the market would have us believe.

Last year's winner Cole Harden (8/1) hasn't fired this season but better ground could make all the difference; Saphir Du Rheu (10/1) was second behind Cole Harden and has since had a wind operation; Kilcooley (20/1) is returning from injury but is certainly no mug while Henderson says of Whisper (14/1): 'This time last year he had to run in it to get him right for Aintree, but this time he's where he was for Aintree last year.'

If I had to bet now, Whisper 14/1 each-way looks value.

In the mares' novices' hurdle, Smart Talk (7/1) represents a play against favourite Limini.

I gave up betting in Festival handicaps a long time ago and my wallet has certainly felt the benefit.

This year I have been tempted to stray having heard a whisper for locally-trained Superb Story in the County Hurdle. This one hasn't been seen since finishing second behind Old Guard in the Greatwood in November; Old Guard is set to take his chance in the Champion on Tuesday. Wait For Me is entered in the same race and is another of interest; both have 50 odd entries above them in the handicap so aren't guaranteed to make the cut.

A quick handicap digression here - in the Ultima on Tuesday Carole's Destrier is a chaser I like and is trained by Neil Mulholland who saddled last year's winner The Druids Nephew.

In the Gold Cup, the last ten-year-old to win was Cool Dawn in 1998 which puts me off Cue Card.

Last year's second Djakadam fell here at the end of January and required a number of stiches to his chest afterwards; handler Willie Mullins tells Weekender readers his charge hardly missed any work - nonetheless it's disconcerting.

For me, the race is between Don Cossack, Vautour and Don Poli. I'll make my selection nearer the time but in his comments to the press Mullins is fairly convinced Vautour will stay and improve between ten and fourteen pounds from his running in Kempton's King George.

That's where I am - I hope that's helpful rather than confusing. I stopped going to Festival preview evenings some time ago as you end up coming away with more tips than you can shake a stick at.

It just remains for me to say that, as usual for the Festival, I'll post a blog with selections each evening before the following day's racing.

The racing gods - are they going to look on favourably this year, I wonder?


Anonymous said...

Its very hard to pick much for Tuesday this year. Do you think Tombstone can improve on better ground in the Supreme. Ive held off backing him so far.
Good Luck

GeeDee said...

Hi Ray,

Over the years I've never spent much time looking into the breeding angle - usual caveats apply.

From this listing, the progeny of Robin Des Champs (sire of Tombstone) seem to prefer soft ground:

Comments in the 'Cheltenham Ultimate Guide' suggest that, with his last two runs in smallish fields, Tombstone may find improvement from a different angle: "...there's a very good chance he'll be seen to better effect in strongly run race and bigger field, as shown when bolting up in a maiden contest on his hurdling debut."

Gordon Elliott's stable tour (Weekender 17.02.16 - 21.02.16):
"He's very consistent and clearly holds his own at the top level, so he'll go for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle next and he'll be one to consider each-way."

Long Dog beat Tombstone at Leopardstown but that doesn't appear to be reflected in some layers' lists - William Hill: Tombstone 14/1, Long Dog 25/1.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Be lucky this week.

Unknown said...

Thanks for your considered observations, I went for him as 12/1 is big enough and he might squeak a place.