THE HURRICANE FLIES!
Well, it’s finally here: The Cheltenham Festival 2014!
And we couldn’t ask for much more from the first day of action, which features an enthralling Champion Hurdle that has the entire racing world talking, a quality field of exciting improvers in the Arkle, some big talking horses putting their reputations on the line in the Supreme, and the chance for Quevega to make history in the Mares’ Hurdle.
Beyond this, there are a pair of predictably hot handicaps and of course the marathon slog of the 4 miler.
All we need to complement this fine array is a few winners, so let’s see what we can do…
13.30 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
(4yo+, 2m 110y, Class 1, 18 runners)
Irving and Vautour are all the rage in the market and understandably so having shown some top form this season. The former’s jumping can be a touch sketchy however and the latter got the run of the race when taking his Grade I at Leopardstown so they’re certainly not bomb-proof as neither will have anywhere near as easy a time of it here.
The fact that Mullins also runs Wicklow Gold and Valseur Lido only adds to the numerous imponderables we always encounter in this race and both have the potential to take this having put in impressive performances on home turf.
Another exciting Irish runner is Enda Bolger’s Gilgamboa, who managed to land the competitive Boylesports Hurdle at Leopardstown on just his 4th start and must rate a big danger.
But I am going to take a risk on some other Irish form, but not with an Irish-trained horse…
David Pipe’s THE LIQUIDATOR showed serious talent last season to finish 4th in BRIAR HILL’s Cheltenham Bumper and then took the Punchestown equivalent with some ease. His first 2 starts over hurdles were mightily impressive, including a C&D Grade II win, and if we forgive him his Tolworth run then he should be a big player.
With the yard in good heart and apparently confident they have the horse back in form, he could be good value for a place at 25/1.
FANCY: THE LIQUIDATOR – 1pt EW at 25/1
14.05 – Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase (Grade 1)
(5yo+, 2m, Class 1, 9 runners)
Champagne Fever is a true Cheltenham Champion having landed the Bumper and the Supreme here and looks to add to his tally of big wins with the Arkle.
With such course form and such powerful connections, as well as a decent start to his chasing career, he is of course a major player. But I have not been very impressed with him over fences and think he is somewhat ponderous compared to some of today’s rivals.
The one I like, and have liked all season, is DODGING BULLETS, who has really come into his own over fences, landing 2 Grade IIs including the Cheltenham Arkle Trial. The stable are confident he still has much more to give and he appears to be in immaculate condition. At 6/1, he’s the one to be on.
Former Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby could of course improve for a run in more competitive company, having had little to beat in his 2 chase starts so far, but his jumping hasn’t been top-drawer so I’ll save him for another day.
And finally amongst the big players we have Trifolium, who I always rated over hurdles and who yet may prove to be even better over the larger obstacles. He has shown sharp improvement this term, including a beating of Champagne Fever and a win in the Grade I Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas. He rates a serious threat, but may be better with some cut.
SELECTION: DODGING BULLETS – 1pt WIN at 6/1
14.40 – Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase
(5yo+, 3m 110y, Class 1, 24 runners)
Any handicap at Cheltenham is likely to be a competitive affair and this is no exception!
They can often throw up a big-price improver and I’m hoping it will be KING MASSINI this year, who has shown rapid improvement over fences in only 4 starts, yet remains on what could be a workable mark.
His form doesn’t quite match up with some his more established rivals, but he has a vital course win to his name and at 20/1 I think he’s worth a small interest in an open race.
Holywell would be my next best for Jonjo O’Neill, a trainer with a fine record in Cheltenham handicaps.
FANCY: KING MASSINI – Half pt EW at 20/1
15.20 – Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1)(4yo+, 2m 110y, Class 1, 9 runners)
The race of the season? The race of the decade? I guess we’ll have to wait and see, but it certainly has a lot of the key ingredients for a fine sporting spectacle, with the precocious young guns seeking to shoot down 19-time Grade I winner HURRICANE FLY.
I must admit that THE FLY certainly faces some firepower today, but I still think he is the bet of the race at 4/1 as his form has been as good as ever this season, he has seen off some of his closest rivals with a bit in hand, his preparation has been perfect, and connections have every faith that he remains at his best.
Of course, some might say that he isn’t as good at Cheltenham, but he has nonetheless won 2 Champion Hurdles and I think that today he will make it a third!
Our Conor and My Tent Or Yours look the biggest threats to me as they are both open to a deal of improvement and have put in big runs at Cheltenham in the past. The former especially was so impressive in last year’s Triumph and, aged only 5, he will be getting better by the day. 5yos do have a very poor record in the Champion however and I think he will have a better chance next season.
My Tent Or Yours is somehow bigger in the betting than The New One, despite having beaten him in Kempton’s Christmas Hurdle, and looks a horse with a real killer instinct. AP McCoy will make sure he is delivered at just the right time and his strong finish could see the others in trouble.
And as much as I rate Sam Twiston-Davies, I think he still needs a few more years’ experience to reach the level of Ruby and AP, and am thus inclined to pass over The New One, despite his good course form and progressive profile.
Of the rest, Jezki is a top animal whom I have followed closely. He’s got class and with Geraghty on board certainly has a chance, but he has been too far behind THE FLY this term and seems to lack the dash for this level of competition.
SELECTION: HURRICANE FLY – 2pts WIN at 4/1
16.00 – OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Registered As The David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle) (Grade 2)
(4yo+, 2m 4f, Class 1, 16 runners)
Quevega wins. HIGHLAND RETREAT makes a place.
FANCY: HIGHLAND RETREAT – 1pt EW at 18/1
16.40 – Terry Biddlecombe National Hunt Chase (Listed Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase)
(5yo+, 4m, Class 1, 15 runners)
SHOTGUN PADDY looks likely to relish conditions today and with Derek O’Connor on board should be given every chance of showing his best in an open race.
FANCY: SHOTGUN PADDY – 1pt WIN at 6/1
17.15 – Rewards4Racing Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed)
(5yo+, 2m 4f 110y, Class 1, 20 runners)
KING VUVUZELA has really come into his own this season with 4 solid runs including 2 wins. His 4th to HE’LLBEREMEMBERED at Leopardstown last time is top form and today’s decent ground should hold no fears.
FANCY: KING VUVUZELA – Half pt EW at 28/1
Enjoy the racing everyone and…
Alex @ The Winning Post.
The WP – Where every Post’s a Winning one!