Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Oil wrestling

Three weeks before the Cheltenham Festival and the ante-post strategy remains light touch. Unprotected exposure has been largely resisted. That’s not to say I haven’t unfurled the greenbacks in support of those kindly bookies who have put up refreshingly early festival insurance offers. Some risk-free, if reckless, positions have certainly been taken. But the only bets dancing on the cliff edge without a safety net are those struck with Betfair back in January.

Petit Mouchoir is now the most attractive of those early shouts. The 9/1 looks a good price in the turmoil of the Champion Hurdle market. New favourite Buveur D’Air rates the chief threat, having beaten my lad twice, including a thumping in the Supreme last year when both were well behind Altior and Min. Buveur looks classy and travels supremely well. A line through Irving would make him the form pick. Mouchoir has improved shed loads in his last three runs and that gives me some comfort. It should be a good clash, come 14th March.

I can’t have Yanworth as a Champion Hurdle 4/1 shot. How his price was ever clipped in after a laboured, sloppy performance in Saturday’s Kingwell defies logic. His fitness (offered up by King as a potential excuse) is not an issue as much as his rank hurdling. Mullins will still have a hand in the shape of this race too. Will it be Yorkhill (maybe); will it be VVM (no); will it be Footpad (yes); will it be Nicholls Canyon (no).

Some Plan, backed at 34/1 is now a general 20/1 shot having completed his Arkle prep as the last nag standing in the Irish Arkle. He didn’t jump or travel with his usual zest and Royal Caviar was cantering all over Some Plan before Ruby decked his mount at the last. Maybe Davy Russell had a little something left up his sleeve, but whichever way you stack it up, Some Plan won’t be beating Altior any time soon, without a mishap.

I had high hopes for Saturnas, backed at 23/1 with Betfair for the Neptune. Then he fell apart so spectacularly in the Deloitte Hurdle that it is impossible to know what to think. No idea where he will turn up next. I have to assume that this is a dead bet. Remedial action in the portfolio is needed.

The remaining Betfair punt is the small stakes affair on The Storyteller at 55/1 in the Albert Bartlett. Not much to report here. He’s not been seen out again and is a much shorter price for the Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle. Guessing game.

Of the money-back bets, it looks like I might have a fair bank returning to me come race day. Sizing John is tentatively being nosed towards the Gold Cup, not the Ryanair. Trying to get on the right side of this horse is like grappling with an oil-wrestler. I’ve never managed it yet, pouring good money after bad season after season. I believe the Ryanair is the right race. The Irish Gold Cup was not a vintage renewal and Sizing John surely cannot win the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Jessie H appears to think differently, citing the fact that ‘he was not stopping at the line’. True, but there are a further 2 ½ furlongs at Prestbury Park and at least four horses with more obvious credentials.

Indeed, I prefer Outlander’s chances at 12/1 and have backed him accordingly. The Lexus looked like a stronger race than the Irish Gold Cup and Gordon Elliot’s charge registered his best race to date in an upward trajectory.

Much more ill-judged than the Sizing John scenario are a slew of rash punts on horses whom I hoped would come out, smash up their prep races and thus have tumbling odds for their Festival targets. This is a common trait of mine at this time of year. Horses to have unknowingly failed this stern test I set for them are Calett Mad in the RSA Chase (didn’t stay the trip at Doncaster), Le Prezien in the JLT (jumping fell apart) and Most Celebrated in the Triumph (ran like a three legged dog). Crap bets.

The markets for all three of those races present a whiff of value opportunity before the next declaration stage. The JLT has already cut up once and may well do again if Yorkhill gets redirected. I like Whisper here and have gone in at 10/1. He loves Cheltenham, he loves the 2½m trip and seems to love jockey Davy Russell best of all. I hope the dry Corkman keeps the ride.

The RSA is a conundrum. I’m leaning towards American and, with the NRNB offers, regret not getting in early. But in truth I haven’t sorted out the form here yet. So I’ll wait. Same goes for the Triumph. This used to be a good race for me, but since the introduction of the Fred Winter, I’ve struggled.

Finally, we come to the curtain-raiser. Having slain the Supreme hoodoo last season, I have confidently punted up Movewiththetimes in recent days. Impressed with his Betfair Hurdle 2nd and with improvement to come, I think the 16/1 offers sound value. I’ll probably back Moon Racer too. In an open looking market, these two arguably have the best form on offer. It’s all about the form, stoopid. 

One last bet: Vosne Romanee at 25/1 NRNB in the County Hurdle. Mug punt. I read on some dodgy blog (can’t trust ‘em) that the good Dr Newland had sent him to the sandy climes of Dunstall Park for his final prep. He duly dobbed up. Next stop the County Hurdle Well why not.  It’s all about the whispers, stoopid.

Here’s the state of play:  

Supreme    
Arkle                     
Champion Hurdle
Neptune     
RSA Chase
JLT Novice Chase
        
Ryanair Chase
Triumph               
County Hurdle      
Albert Bartlett
Gold Cup
-       Movewiththetimes, 1pt win, 16/1 win NRNB
-       Some Plan, 0.5pt win, 34/1
-       Petit Mouchoir, 1pt win, 9/1
-       Saturnas, 0.5pt win, 23/1
-       Callet Mad, 0.5pt e-w, 33/1 NRNB
-       Whisper, 1pt win, 10/1 NRNB
-       Le Prezien, 0.5pt e-w, 16/1 NRNB
-       Sizing John, 1pt win, 8/1 NRNB
-       Most Celebrated, 0.75pt win, 16/1 NRNB
-       Vosne Romanee, 0.5pt e-w, 25/1 NRNB
-       The Storyteller, 0.5pt win, 54/1
-       Outlander, 1pt win, 12/1 NRNB

After a self-imposed break from the festival last year, I am itching to get back this March. I thought, in some misguided sense of maturity and emotional control, that the time had come to sit back and enjoy the festival from a distance. What a load of bollocks that was. I hated not being there on Champion Hurdle Day 2016. I won’t be doing that again. Tickets and accommodation have been booked, and I’m getting stoked.

Watching ‘Being AP’ last night on the box got the juices flowing nicely. Great biopic, I thought. Apart from the brilliant racing shots, the film was a pretty good insight into McCoy’s insanely driven nature; tortured mind and body; and the impact of all that on those around him. Hard to envisage there will ever be another quite like him.