Sunday, 8 March 2015

Cheltenham,


I must admit there is something soothing about writing a blog. You can say what you feel without somebody interrupting you. It’s an opportunity to get things off your chest.

Whenever Cheltenham comes around it’s inevitable it brings Cheltenham previews. Long drawn out, often repetitive, often pointless. Most are held before running plans are known, none once declarations are made.

Many who attend say it’s a ‘great craic’, even in England where ‘craic’ is rarely, or often never, used. In reality, it’s an opportunity for ‘pundits’ to earn a decent amount of money with little downside if you’re wrong. I don’t have a problem with that.

Most people that follow horse racing will have an opinion on the Cheltenham Festival, me included. You will see numerous different tips, many from the same trade paper in each race.

I love the fact people get passionate about the meeting, willing to discuss why they fancy a certain horse and defending that particular selection to the hilt, I even can stomach, for a while, people having post two hour discussions on the subject on Twitter.

Personally, I just like to use facts. I’m not big into guessing and rather than ‘give’ tips I like to analyse the evidence in front of me. 

A big talking point ever since his defeat at Ascot by Dodging Bullets has been Sprinter Sacre. Will he ever recover his former brilliance? Is he is the same horse? The answer is that he doesn’t need to be.

His run at Ascot (running to 166), after a massive lay-off, was the second best run by a 2m chaser this season behind Dodging Bullets,  who recorded a seasons best in that race.

In truth, Sprinter Sacre only needs to improve 7lbs from that run to score. Will he? I don’t know but it’s hardly a vintage renewal and after such a lay-off, on better ground, it’s hardly beyond him.

I’m not great on stats but Dodging Bullets has yet to win on six attempts in the spring. It may be a coincidence but his performance levels have dipped in the last three seasons

Sire De Grugy’s facile victory at Chepstow against handicappers confirmed nothing but his well-being and he only recorded 170 in winning the Champion Chase last season.

The one horse I can’t have for the race is Champagne Fever. His 2m form over fences isn’t good enough. He may have a decent record at the track but his defeat in last year’s Arkle by 135-rated Western Warhorse is only fair at best.

A more pertinent point is the Champion Chase has never been the long term plan for Champagne Fever. His try over 3 miles in the King George suggests the Gold Cup was the original target while his victory in the Red Mills hinted the Ryanair was also high on the agenda.

The other horse at the meeting I can’t have is Josses Hill in the Arkle. I don’t know Barry Geraghty and he is undoubtedly a top jockey, but I’m flummoxed by his assertion that the horse will be better suited by a faster gallop of a 2 mile Grade one contest at a track like Cheltenham.

This is a horse that has made mistakes in all three of his starts over fences. He struggled to beat a 145-rated horse at Doncaster, receiving weight, over 2 miles and was then beaten by Third Intention (151) in a Graduation Chase at Kempton over 2m 4f when his jumping was sticky again.

The main highlight for me this year, as it was last, is Faugheen. I have marvelled at him since his victory in that Punchestown bumper (beating Josses Hill by 22 lengths). Noted how he has won from 2 miles to 3 miles, clocked incredible splits, and mostly showing contempt for the obstacles.

He can be ridden whatever way Ruby chooses, ground is immaterial and a horse has yet to get him off the bridle. He is a freak and, worryingly, if the Mullins’ team ever decide to put him over fences (which I hope they don’t) he could be even better.  

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 I did a talk at the British Racing School on Wednesday as prospective  trainers were in the middle of their first module. It was a daunting, nonetheless enjoyable, experience in speaking about the importance of entries and race planning.

There were nine delegates, as the BRS like to call them, and they included Richard Hughes – who announced he intended to retire at the end of the season that night – former Gold Cup winning jockey Sam Thomas, erstwhile Sir Michael Stoute assistant Owen Burrows, and the delightful Sally Randell.

Sally, due to take over the licence from Andy Turnell, had to get permission to leave the course early in order to ride Loose Chips to victory in the Grand Military Gold Cup at Sandown on Friday. It was a glorious last ride. I'm sure she will make a success of her new career

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