Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Cheltenham Festival 14 - Day 3

Being at home for the first time in 12 years, rather than at the track, for Champion Chase Day felt all wrong. Watching the field on telly, milling round the chute for the opening race, was a strange emotion akin to an out-of-body experience.

That's probably how Ruby Walsh felt as Faugheen skipped free up the home straight, timber trailing in his wake like a raft-wreck. OK, slight exaggeration. He did totally demolish the third last, but even so he never looked like being beaten at any stage. Impressive. Red Sherlock was disappointing. Bang there with two furlongs to go, he seemed to empty pretty tamely.

I thought the ground had gone against the horses carrying my two best bets in the RSA. In fact O'Faolain's Boy had more trouble with his footwear. One shoe was kicked off and the other bent backwards, probably in his epic tussle with Smad Place up the hill. Thrilling, breathless stuff. Geraghty was as inspired as he was on Jezki yesterday, reeling in this time, rather than repelling. 33-1 is my best ante-post return for many a long Festival.
"It's quiet in here", 
observed Mrs A after the Neptune. Her tone had changed a fraction after my vocal and manic urging home of O'Faolain's Boy.
"I wish I was there at the course for this." I said. 
"So do I" she grinned.  
Sire De Grugy's Champion Chase win warmed the very cockles. The guard of honour formed by weighing room colleagues for Jamie Moore in the winners enclosure was the sort of genuine tribute that this hard working family deserves. I'm a big fan of the Grugy and this emphatic victory on a surface and course he doesn't like will surely give him appropriate recognition. Clare Balding was in her element with a tale of ordinary-folk-buying-champion-racehorse to amplify. I also warmed even more to the articulate and urbane Rich Ricci (owner of Faugheen amongst others in a stellar stable) when he described Balding's enthusiasm as the reason he wanted to get into jumps racing.

A good day. For a change, I'm well ahead at the Festival. Thursday will be a quieter day's punting:

JLT Novice Chase
Belatedly, I'm hitching lift on the Mullins' bandwagon. Watch the wheels come off now. I can't see past Felix Yonger at about 4-1. He should like the ground (only defeats on soft/heavy) and the track. No reason I can see why the extra half mile or so should hurt and with question marks over many of the others, he's the boy for me.

Pertemps Final
On The Bridge (16-1 e-w) has been kept for this since a run in one of the first qualifiers back in October when he wasn't asked too many tough questions in coming home a comfortable 4th. The bad winter ground wouldn't have been to his liking and off a sensible weight, this could be Jeremy Scott's best chance of the week. I also have Trustan Times (28-1 e-w) from the 40 to follow list, but I'm cool on his chances, so it's a small bet. He hasn't improved from last season and seems to struggle under the weight at the moment.

Ryanair
I backed Hidden Cyclone a month or so ago at 12-1 e-w and thought that was a good price. When he drifted to 16-1 a week later, I went in again. I think he has a more than fair chance at a track he likes and with questions to answer or recovery missions the order of the day for the other principals.

World Hurdle
I've messed this up.I backed Zarkandar ages ago at a not desperately attractive 10-1. I was sure Annie Power would line up in the Champion Hurdle and reasoned that if there were still doubts about Big Buck's then Z might have a squeak. It's not panned out that way and my lad's form is a notch or two below last year's. I don't fancy his chances, but I'm tempted to leave the race alone now, save putting Annie in a couple of crazy accas. This will be a great one to watch.

Byrne Group Plate
I was really taken with Shangani's win at Newbury in the Greatwood Gold Cup last month. The best of his form is in the mud (he's trained by Venetia of course), so will need to prove himself on the sounder surface, but 16-1 e-w is OK. Small stakes.

Kim Muir
An amateur race too far. I don't like this heat. Small bet on Indian Castle at 7-1 because I like the way he ran here when beating Annacotty and has a decent amateur (Derek O'Connor) on his back for this one.


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