I got two big calls wrong yesterday. Annie Power was most definitely up to the task in the Champion Hurdle. The mare, as everyone refers to her, was imperious and won in the style of true champions: flag fall to post, with Ruby gradually turning up the burners all the way round. She’s no supersub for Faugheen, she’s the real deal. And to think that without the reigning champ’s injury, Annie Power might have been confined to the shallow pool that is the mares hurdle.
That was my other wrong call. Vroum Vroum Mag proved easily good enough to beat an average bunch of mares. This has to be the softest Grade 1 at the Festival, given prominence in the collective psyche only because of the achievements of Quevega. My pick, The Govaness was running a big race and looked booked for good prize money until a horrible fall at the last resulting in her being put down. A sickening moment and a race I’ll not look back on too often.
The one I got right was the opener. I’ve finally shaken the tenacious monkey from my back by finding the winner of the Supreme. Altior was my most confident bet of the day and Henderson’s charge sealed the win with a very impressive performance.
There were some other poor calls around too. I didn’t give MTOY a prayer after 709 days off the track and with a reputation for monkeyness (to stick with simian metaphors) that Whipsnade would blush at. But how well he ran. Only really seen off my Annie at the bottom of the hill. My other lumpy bet on Day 1 was Identity Thief in this race who was massively disappointing.
Clerk of the course Simon Claisse also copped a clanger with his ground call of Good to Soft. Not for the first time in his tenure here. Times were generally much quicker than standard and the Champion Hurdle was run in a new track record. OK, there have been changes in the way the timings are calculated now, but this ground call was way off the mark.
I could have told Claisse all about that even from over here in Hertfordshire. In an attempt to keep traditions alive for the Festival despite my non-appearance, I tested the going - in this case by walking the dog on the football pitch in the local the park. I also had a fry up - another key part of Festival prep; and gabbled incoherently about the races to anyone in earshot.
Rather than Bacchy, Nev, Colin or Si in previous years, the babbling was suffered by Daughter No 2. Trapped in the kitchen with the open fridge door blocking her escape route, she stared back at me open-mouthed and wide-eyed as I blurted out a stream of pent up inarticulation that I needed to unload about the coming day. “Ricci’s just switched Vautour to the Ryanair, can you believe it? Disrespect. Altior’s gotta win today otherwise I’m toast. Whaddayathink about the ground? The Festival eh? It’s like Christmas and birthdays rolled in to one isn’t it? Fantastic. I need a breakfast…” Her grasp on the smoothie on the middle shelf of the fridge tightened and she bolted for the lounge as soon as I drew breath.
I gushed a similar amount of rubbish on returning from the pub last night. Mrs A has seen this before and asked politely if I would eat my curry in the dining room. With the door closed. This will feel like a long four days for her with me actually in the house and not at the track. Even with a skinful of Sambrooks Pale Ale I sensed the lack of understanding from the assembled household. I suggested that I should talk to Daughter No 2’s boyfriend as he would probably appreciate things better. “Tell your Dad I said ‘hi’”, she later reported. That sounded like a brush off to me.
Let’s get back to the business in hand. All the stars must have aligned yesterday because not only did I have a good day, but so did the favourite backers. A rare occurrence. Today could be a knockout blow for the bookies.
Yanworth, 8/1, 1pt win (ante-post)
In a twist of the ante-post markets, I find myself on the side of the favourite backers in the opener. Backed before his impressive Cheltenham trials day run in January, I now wish I’d shovelled more on at 8/1. The ground is a question mark though. He’s never run on anything this quick. I’ll probably use my free Skybet token as a saver on Yorkhill. The switch of that one from the Supreme gives this race more depth. There are plenty of encouraging noises around for the Gigginstown House pair A Toi Phil and Bello Conti, too. I may top up Yanworth with some double-action. He’s my banker of the day.
Vyta Du Roc, 12/1, 1 pt win
Backed a couple of weeks ago after I spent a little while mulling over his win last time out at 3 miles. He beat Minella Rocco and that now looks like good form. I had been unimpressed by his earlier chases, but the step up in trip appears to have brought the best out of him.
Taking on the big two here will be tough and we have a classy race in prospect. Looking forward to seeing how much talent More Of That retains at this level. No More Heroes has put together a fine, if unspectacular sequence. History tells us that you don’t need to be flashy to win this. It is a gruelling race. I would also have been interested in Roi Des Francs, but the suspicion is he won’t be as effective on this better ground. I’ll stick with this one bet.
Rock The Kasbah, 12/1, 0.5pt e-w
Baoulet Delaroque, 14/1, 0.5pt e-w
Minimum stakes here on a couple that have eye-catching profiles, but neither of them are strong fancies. As ever, this will be a fun race to watch.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
Sprinter Sacre, 5/1, 1pt win (ante-post)
Sizing Granite, 33/1, 0.5pt e-w (ante-post)
Both early bets, and both now available at bigger odds. This is Un De Sceaux’s race to lose. I can’t be confident of much of a return here. The best scenario barring UDS tipping up sees Sizing Granite, whom I really like but has shown nothing much this season, running in to a place on much better ground.
Ardamir, 18/1, 0.5pt e-w
I don’t have a good record in this, so this is a quiet bet on one that seems to fit the profile and will like the quicker ground. Diego Du Charmil is the talking horse, though he has yet to be seen out on a British track. Surely this is only a bet if you follow the stable banter.
Battleford, 25/1, 0.5pt e-w
Just an interest on one of Mullins’ that seems to have some resolution about him. May go in for Ballyandy too, if the day is going well.
We go again.