Racing commentator John Hunt gives you his views on issues in the sport.
It’s really started, there is no escape. Even a three day working trip to Paris this week rendered the whole thing unavoidable. Emails about production meetings, phone calls about "bankers", eating arrangements being finalised and restaurants booked (now you’re talking!), can I do a luncheon talk on Thursday afternoon? Thanks for asking. Yep it’s all aboard the Gravy train for Cheltenham 2009!
It may well sound crazy but if you're are not careful, it is quite possible to run your race before the tapes go up for the Supreme Novices Hurdle. Because of that, the one thing that I am reluctant to get involved with are these very popular Festival preview evenings. I did a couple a few years ago and enjoyed them but, apart from one profitable journey to Jersey, they are not bookings which arrive with any sort of fee (mercenary bar steward), they eat into the existing working week and, say it quietly but, you seldom hear anything particularly insightful and even if I did have an angle in to any given race, I would be far happier at home, busily keeping it to myself.
For example, the bumper will be discussed, but not in any great detail. After the work session conducted at Leopardstown at the weekend, everyone seems to have handed the prize to Willie Mullins and particularly to his Sicilian Secret. All based on a piece of work.
He beat three stable mates but was the only horse to be asked to lengthen his stride and what weights did they carry? Binocular worked moderately by all accounts at Kempton the other day but so what? A mile and a half canter on the sand, what were people expecting? What I'm getting at is that if we are not careful, we can get too distracted by sights and sounds that mean not a jot really. Incidentally, I'm going to find out the name of the horse who finished 3rd in the Mullins gallop. I'll have his name next week.
If you have time on your hands, get the DVD's out (not those ones) and get a real feel for the form. Did Binocular really fail to handle the hill last year? Does Diamond Harry look as though he could self combust at any stage? (Yes). Does Kasbah Bliss deserve to be such a short price favourite for the World Hurdle? What did he beat at Haydock? Did Denman run that badly at Kempton? Has Tatenen been consistently overrated? You can find the answers on the tape. Or at least have a bloody good attempt.
For what its worth (probably a nice bag of Pink Lady apples) I will give detailed assessment of the major races in this space next week but I have been wondering, from a betting point of view, if Ruby Walsh is a good thing to be top jockey at the meeting and therefore, should we all simply wade in for the 5/4 and not waste any further time trying to work out if Psycho is well handicapped still in the County Hurdle?
So Ruby, to back or not? I had the quickest of scans through his likely rides for the week between races at Nantes on Tuesday and looked at their current prices. Let’s think prices for the time being, not names. On Tuesday next week, Ruby has rides on five horses currently priced 12/1, 9/2, 10/1, 8/1 and 4/1. Wednesday, likely rides at 5/1, 5/1,1/3, 9/1 and 7/1 plus whatever he wants in the bumper, hopefully the horse that finished 3rd in that gallop! Thursday looks less promising with Big Bucks looking his best at around 5/1 whilst Friday throws up four obvious rides at current odds of 8/1, 4/1, 7/4 and 7/1. So there we are: fifteen solid rides for the 5/4 favourite.
The top jockey at Cheltenham usually needs to ride three winners. Every now and then, someone achieves four or even five winners as Barry Geraghty did in 2005. But let’s work on three being enough to put you bang in contention. Ruby has ridden three winners at four of the last five Festivals and of course, so many feel that Master Minded and Kauto Star have their races in the bag. Add two from maybe Quevega, Tatanen, Big Bucks, Pride Of Dulcote, Mikael D'Hauguenet and Cooldine and he really looks strong. Can anyone match him? Remember three winners put you in contention. Well, I've a massive respect for Robert Thornton and can’t help feeling that he is the best value bet against Walsh.
Even then though, if you had to name his best chances, you would probably come up with just three names. The golden ride on Karabak is now in McCoy's hands but Voy Por Ustedes, Walkon and Bensalem all appear to have top class chances. I know he has the mount on Big Zeb now in the Champion Chase but, well though Alan King's horses are undoubtedly running, Choc just doesn't have the race-after-race firepower that Ruby can boast. I was thinking that I would have my main bet on Thornton with a Ruby saver but will turn it around, take the 5/4 with a saver on Thornton . The one thing with Thornton is that he never lets you down and has a wonderful Festival record of his own. In the last four years he has scored 3, 4, 2 and 3. There are worse 8/1 shots to be had.
Before heading over to France I caught a couple of days racing at Newbury and Kempton and then tore down to Lingfield on Sunday.
Last Friday at Newbury was particularly joyous as I was reunited with my very own Binoculars. I had stupidly rushed away from Kempton and left them in the commentary box. I rang the track only for them to tell me that they weren't there. I have a strong attachment to them as they were a gift from my dear old Dad when I did my first Festival in 1996. The thought of losing them made me feel sick. Anyway, it all came good when colleague Ian Bartlett found them where I had left them at the next meeting. Barty really is a brilliant commentator.
With a huge air of relief, I settled back and enjoyed According to Dick's victory, a good effort so soon after Sandown, but was disappointed to hear that he will not head to Cheltenham. He remains a lovely horse who can make great strides over the next few years. I could easily see him develop into a Hennessey type of horse in a couple of seasons.
Although Pepsyrock won again, I so want to be against him next time when the assessor has had his full say. Again, like Sandown, he beat nothing here but his jumping was alarmingly unsure and I am convinced his spell in the spotlight is to be short lived.
Very Cool in contrast, won the Novices Handicap chase with something to spare and never once looked like falling even though he gets from one side to another in a fairly unconventional style. He will win again.
Another David Pipe novice caught the eye at Kempton on Saturday when Power King ran a super first race over fences, narrowly piped by a well treated horse. His jumping was safe and, just when he looked to be heading for a comfortable defeat, he really knuckled down and was closing strongly at the line. At this lowly grade, he can certainly win one or two. The Kempton card was packed with disappointing horses with My Turn Now and Hells Bay looking completely out of love with the game. In the saddle Jamie Moore really shone with an excellent double for his father, Gary. I know it’s a simple thing but thank goodness Jamie took steps to avoid the unpredictable My Turn Now in the Beginners’ Chase. Charlie Mann's horse looked an accident waiting to happen, making the running and Jamie quickly realised that he should sit well wide of his rival and then eventually kicked on into the lead at halfway; thereafter the result was never in doubt.
With all of this rain around, Jamie could easily win the Imperial Cup with Numide, a classy soft ground lover. I understand that Gary Moore has seldom been more gutted as when the weather prevented Numide from a crack at Newbury's Gold Trophy and compensation awaits on Saturday. Hope it rains all week!!
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