Most years I pop down to the media day at Cheltenham racecourse (it looks very strange with no crowds, like most courses), and we get to hear about the weights as they are announced for the Cheltenham handicaps, mingle with a few trainers and the odd owner, and look to see if we can spot a blip in the weights worth taking note of.
2017 was very different and very informative which resulted in page after page of notes to look though before drawing any useful and hopefully profitable conclusions.
It was interesting for starters to hear that despite various comments regarding the poor treatment of Irish horses from the handicapper the entries are up quite dramatically from the Emerald Isle (Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott are looking at 70 to 80 between them) while the Festival looks set to be a sell out with Gold Cup day already full and the other days following closely behind.
With the list of trainers going up on stage one by one (and with the excellent Nick Luck hosting), it seems to make good sense to go through them in order (and thus with no preference) – so off we go.
Poor Ben Pauling took to the stage first but seemed at ease and he mentioned a few of his including Willoughby Court who has chances in the Neptune Hurdle but he actually seemed sweetest on A Hare Breath who is still on target for the Arkle and was described by his handler as “a bonkers price”. He seems certain that he is a good deal better than we saw last time out at Doncaster and is a best priced 50/1 for the race on the opening day and his trainer seems to think an each way bet may yet reap dividends. Don’t shoot the messenger!
Nicky is good with the media but I have to say, he looks a lot happier at his yard in the company of horses! No massive surprises to report with Altior reported to be on good heart, and little to choose between Buveur D’Air (softer) and Brain Power (better ground) and we will all have to await the weather. Triumph Hurdle hope Charli Parcs has recovered from his fall which was put down to inexperience and if he gets decent ground by the end of the week he looks to have chances. When pushed the first handicapper he mentioned was Consul De Thaix who is on target for the Coral Cup (best priced 12/1) though whether the value has already been snapped up is a moot point. Whisper will head to the RSA where the trio is expected to help him get in to a decent rhythm unlike the shorter option.
Despite the majority of the talk revolving around Our Kaempfer who heads to what could be a sub standard RSA Chase it seemed to me that Pendra was the more interesting bet if he heads to either the Ultima Chase (33/1) or the Kim Muir (25/1). His trainer seems to think he is running off a nice mark now and that he has him back to his best but both contests are clearly extremely competitive and hard to solve. Forth Bridge is a nice horse owned by The Queen and could go well in the Triumph Hurdle.
Representing the Tizzard yard Colin’s son Joe told the eagerly awaiting throng that both Cue Card and Native River were in good form at home, and that Finian’s Oscar will almost certainly head to the Neptune with the added trip expected to help his chances. West Approach will go for the Albert Bartlett as things stand and avoid the Stayer’s Hurdle for another year and seems strongly fancied. They are still undecided about Fox Norton between Champion Chase and Ryanair (I got the feeling they are heading to the Ryanair), but Joe did mention once again (see the stable tour) that Sizing Codelco has a solid chance in the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate on the Thursday and he looks to be their best chance of a handicap winner at current odds of 20/1 which is sorely tempting each way.
A strong mention for Master Blueyes (probably heading to the Triumph Hurdle) caught our attention but he was rather led in to that one by Nick Luck and he seemed even keener on Dino Velvet ahead of the Fred Winter where he seems attractively weighted and at 25/1 could be worthy a small interest. He was most certainly not happy that River Frost has been put up ten pounds (unless that was a smokescreen) though on the brighter side Yanworth is on target for the Champion Hurdle, and would have been the chosen mount of Barry Geraghty had he been fit to ride. Uxizandre seems sure to head to the Ryanair rather than take on Douvan in the Champion Chase and is another with solid each way chances (apparently)
The Druids Nephew (16/1) is apparently in great form and will head to the Ultima Chase looking to win it for the second time off the same handicap rating as when successful in 2015. “We think he is every bit as good…….Maybe a little better…. Very happy with him” were the words his supporters will have wanted to hear, and at a big price there are worse chances in one of the most competitive looking handicaps of the entire week. Southfield Royale is apparently better than we have seen recently and has improved for his last run at Doncaster and he could go well in whichever ends up his chosen target.
I love Jonjo just like most punters and racegoers but he has been well schooled by J P McManus and there are MI6 agents who let out more secrets than he does. Both Minella Rocco and More Of That will head to the Gold Cup though he hardly came over as enthusiastic about either, though Holywell seemed more interesting but he was described as “a law unto himself” who rarely seems willing or able to repeat his home work on the track, but he has been out hunting to try and rekindle his enthusiasm and could go well at a price.
Tom mentioned Gods Own (Champion Chase) as well as The Worlds End (Albert Bartlett) both of which apparently have chances but it was Singlefarmpayment he seemed most keen on. He is still in the RSA but is also seen as potentially well handicapped and if they send him to the Ultima or Kim Muir instead he could be worthy of some each way interest.
Plenty to talk about for Warren who told us Cole Harden was back to near his best and a big player in the Stayers’ Hurdle given good ground as always the big question and anything but guaranteed. He seemed sweet on the chances of La Bague Au Roi in the Mares Hurdle on the Thursday and I admit I have already had a little each way at 7/1, while he also seems keen on Western Ryder (16/1) in the bumper who he said has a lot in his favour and everything needed to go well in a race of that calibre.
Any Currency (12/1) is the one for the Keighley yard as they are clearly looking to right a wrong after he lost the race in the Stewards room last season. He has been trained for this race and this race alone and will be at his peak for the Cross Country, but he is fourteen now and will break a few records should he be successful this year at his age.