Well, that’s it for another year as horse racing’s eagerly awaited Cheltenham Festival passes all too quickly into history. How was it for you? It’s wasn’t a great festival for most punters and like many I had a forgettable weeks betting. Granted it could have been worse and at least we have the start of the flat to look forward to.
I am doing plenty of spring cleaning on the horses in my tracker. As I concentrate solely now on those horses going for races at the Aintree and Punchestown Festivals and other notable high-profile races such as the Irish & Scottish Grand National’s and the Bet365 Gold Cup. N
Not forgetting that the start of the flat season is less than two weeks away. So onwards and upwards as they say!
Cheltenham Eyecatchers Special:
This week’s tracker horses are all from the Cheltenham Festival.
Tuesday 14th March – Day 1
The meeting began on what was described as good to soft going with Buveur D’Air’s win the Champion Hurdle being the day’s standout performance. The race was run at a good gallop which was set by Petit Mouchoir who incidentally did well in the circumstance to finish 3rd and flatter track will suit this strong front runner much better. There could be a bit more improvement to come from the winner but it didn’t take a top class performance to win this years Champion Hurdle and he only beat the second home My Tent or Yours by the same margin as Annie Power had done last year.
Ultima Handicap Steeple Chase – 3m 1f
Singlefarmpayment – Tom George – Had been brought down when still travelling powerfully on his last start here. Was well backed and once again travelled really well throughout the race and coming to the last looked like he would reward market support. Sadly for his backers he had to give second best in a driving finish to tough rival in last year’s winner Un Temps Pour Tout. There is a valuable pot in the 7 year old either this season or next.
Go Conquer – Jonjo O’Neill – The 8 year old was always up with the pace and once he took over the running he had plenty behind in trouble. The doubt before the race was if his stamina would hold out over 3m 1f and it didn’t as he faded after being headed at the last. Still his 5th placing was a really good effort that can be marked up slightly and a drop in trip could get the horse back into the winner’s enclosure.
Wednesday 15th March – Day 2
Might Bite put up the most extraordinary performance of the week when winning the RSA Novices Chase. Coming to two out the Nicky Henderson trained 8 year old had jumped into a clear lead but after the last he hung badly to his right which allowed the eventual second Whisper to get ahead just before the line but to his credit when headed he showed great resolution to win by a nose. Clearly a very talented horse that has his quirks the bookies made him joint favourite for the King George alongside Thistlecrack after his win and that will be some race if both turn up. Special Tiara set a very strong gallop to see of his rivals when winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Once he kicked on he had most of the field running out over their comfort zones. He had just enough in reserve to hold off the strong finishing Fox Norton, who needs a step up in trip in this company. The winners cause was helped by the poor run by hot favourite Douvan who was never travelling and was found to be lame after the race but take nothing away from Special Tiara who was a worthy winner on the day.
The Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle -2m 5f
Scoir Mear – Thomas Mullins – The 7 year old came into the race with form figures of 1222 this season in handicap hurdles. He did best of those held up and no horse was finishing as fast as he was. He didn’t get the best of runs after he last either so did well to finish as close as he did in 5th given how far behind he was coming to the last. He continues to progress and on the evidence of this performance a step up to further would be fine.
The Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Race – 2m ½f
Diable De Sivola – Nick Williams – Trainer had his first festival winner with Flying Tiger in this handicap hurdle but it’s his other runner Diable De Sivola who took the eye when finishing best of all to take 5th at the winning post. The 4 year old had made a winning debut when winning a juvenile hurdle back in July and had run some good races after, notably when a close up 2nd to Defi Du Seuil at Chepstow in November. Clearly at home on a sound surface on the evidence of this run he needs more of a stamina test and looks worth a go at 2m4f. A mark of 132 looks more than workable.
Thursday 16th March – Day 3
The racing moved from the Old Course to the New Course and despite overnight watering of the track the going was officially good although it was arguably nearer good to soft on the hurdles track. Un De Sceaux took the Ryanair Chase and made it four winners on the day for trainer Willie Mullins. Wisely allowed to go to the front from the 5th he then jumped superbly all the way to win in good style. He saw out the 2m 5f trip really well, on this sound surface, putting to bed any pre-race stamina doubts. Nichols Canyon won the Stayers Hurdle for Mullins as he stayed on to strongly for his rivals. Given he had won just short of 2 miles on the flat when trained by John Gosden it’s maybe not so surprising then that he looks a much better horse over 3m than 2m over hurdles. Presenting Percy put up a great performance to win the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle, over 3m, under a welter weight 11-11. He continues to progress well and although It looks like he will go chasing next season if he was to stay hurdling he would be a contender for the Stayers Hurdle at next years festival. From the Pertemps it might pay to keep the 6th home Electric Concorde onside as he is another progressing nicely and could go well in a staying handicap hurdle at Fairyhouse or Punchestown.
Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices Hurdle -2m 1f
Awayinthewest – Pat Fahy – The mare belied her 100/1 odds with a really good run when finishing an 8 ½ lengths 6th, despite not get the best of runs coming to the last. She was running on in eyecatching fashion at the end of the race. A winner of a Fairyhouse bumper back in December she was 0 from 4 over hurdles coming into the race although she had just been denied by a useful mare at Clonmel on her previous start. The five year old is going the right way and can surely win races at a slightly lower grade.
Friday 17th March – Day 4
Gold Cup Day and a double for trainer Jessica Harrington who took the final race of this year’s festival, the Grand Annual, with Rock the World. Earlier in the day she had won National Hunt racing’s Blue Riband race the Gold Cup with Sizing John. He had stepped up to 3m to win the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown on his previous start and he continued his improvement with the step to an extended 3m 2f here. The race probably wasn’t the stamina test it could have been and the 7 year old was too speedy for his rivals. That’s not to say he wouldn’t be just as effective in a strongly run race at the distance and given the quality of his jumping it will take a good one to beat him over this trip. If he stays sound he will have a great chance of retaining his crown next year!
Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase – 2m 1/2f
Calipto – Venetia Williams – The 7 year old was having his first start for his new trainer and his first run since April. He was staying on nicely at the end of the race to finish 6th beaten just 7 lengths. The gelding had been a useful hurdler for Paul Nicholls finishing 4th in the 2014 Triumph Hurdle and 4th in the 2015 Betfair Handicap Hurdle. Has only had 5 starts over fences winning a beginners chase over 2m 3f at Fontwell back in October 2015 which was his debut over fences. A step up in trip will suit him as does a sound surface. Looks on a very workable handicap mark of 139. There are races to be won with him sooner rather than later.
Next week I will share some interesting stats to get you up and ready for the start of the new turf season.
All that’s left is to wish you an enjoyable and profitable weeks punting.