Cheltenham but not as we know it
t doesn’t need me to state the obvious, but I will, it is going to be a strange Cheltenham this year. No crowds, no amateur jockeys, no Gordon Elliot, no roar when the first race gets underway, no trying to spot the next top Irish amateur to rival Derek O’Connor or Jamie Codd. At least the action on the track will be just as good, four days full of top-class sport. Unlike football and rugby, I never notice the absence of spectators once the race starts. Although winning connections will still be overjoyed at their success, I should imagine the walk back down to the paddock from the winning post won’t have quite the same buzz as in a normal year. We can only hope that in this strange atmosphere all the horses and jockeys come back safe and sound, so that Racing is able to move on from the last couple of weeks.
Enough of the musings
I will leave the proper Cheltenham analysis to the big boys. It’s difficult to get away from the numerous virtual preview nights that are constantly appearing on smartphones and laptops, there is bound to be somebody who tips a winner. The handicaps will be fiendish to work out as usual with a J P McManus unexposed one being readied somewhere.
Looking at Tuesday’s card it is shaping up to be a cracker. Four Grade ones to whet the appetite. As I said the other week the Arkle looks a match between Shishkin and Energumene both have looked top class so far, but the Skelton’s might have a spanner to throw in the works with Allmankind. This lad likes to bowl along in front so I can’t see connections changing tactics come Tuesday. If he does charge off, he might just test the others jumping at speed so the first few fences should be interesting for both jockeys and viewers. Another spanner was thrown on Friday morning when Energumene was found to be lame so will not be running. Ah well the law of sod shows up once more.
The Champion Hurdle seemed to be another match between Honeysuckle and Epatante until Goshen trotted up at Wincanton and threw his cloth cap in the ring. It would be great to see Goshen make amends for tripping up at the last in the 2020 Triumph with the race at his mercy. The Moore family are a hard-working bunch who deserve to bag this big pot after last year’s disappointment. I don’t think Jamie Moore will miss the crowds if he wins, he will be so pumped up. Cue ITV pictures of him leaning over the rail after last year’s trauma.
Talking of hard workers news this week that Joe Tizzard was to take over from father Colin. They seem to have worked well as a duo over the last few years but there always comes a time when the youngster wants to run his own ship. Getting the timing right for the move is the tricky part… time will tell.
Back to the Festival Monkfish reappears on Wednesday in the old Sun Alliance the three-mile novice chase. He won’t be much of a price, but it will be worth watching how he handles the track, if he wins, he won’t be much of a price for next year’s Gold Cup as the7/1 currently available will soon disappear.
This weekend’s fare has a distinct pre festival feel … more Alf Ramsay than Gordon Ramsay…but a winner is a winner whatever grade you manage to find one in.
Selection: 3:35 Sandown: Paddy’s Rewards Club Novices’ Handicap Chase
To keep things simple a couple of chases at Sandown are worth a second look. The Novices Handicap Chase over 2m 4f is a 0-145 so a reasonable quality near to Cheltenham. Venetia Williams’ horses are running consistently well this season and her lowly weighted Farinet could be the one to be on. This gelding has only had one run in this country when a reasonable third at Haydock and it might be significant the trainer is keeping him in this grade as she usually likes her horses to progress gradually via low quality contests. This lad’s best form in France was on softish ground so the forecast good going may not play to his strengths. But at around 10/1 and only carrying 10st 5lbs its worth a few quid on Farinet to try and increase the festival kitty.
Selection – 4:10 Sandown: ‘From The Horse’s Mouth’ Podcast Handicap Chase
The other decent chase is the three miler where Nicky Henderson’s Versatility might be the answer. I backed him in December when he ran an ok race to be second to a Philip Hobbs’ improver at Newbury. That day he lost his position mid race and then race on again toward the finish. I notice he has since had a wind op which hopefully will enable him to travel through the race better this time round. Looking at the present betting the layers have in at around 7/2 which seems a bit skinny for his overall profile, but they always run scared of Henderson at his local track. Around 4/1 or better I think Versatility is worth a small punt.
To end on a positive note, it was good to read that Henry de Bromhead has invited Envoi Allen’s groom from Gordon Elliot’s yard to lead the horse up at Cheltenham…a decent gesture at the end of a sorry affair. Let’s hope the horse does them all proud.
Well then have a good Cheltenham… and remember you don’t have to bet in every race… tempting as it may be.
Again, good luck throughout the winter. If you’re interested in racehorse ownership, take a look at the syndicate’s available shares.