I popped into the bookies for 20 minutes in my lunch break yesterday. It was time well spent. First I watched a three-year-old chase from Pau, in the shadow of the Pyrenees, run over the craziest switchback, carting circuit of a cross-country course I’ve ever seen. It made the Cheltenham track, scene of many wrong-course disqualifications, look like an M1 slip road. One obstacle was less water jump, more shallow lake. Fish were jumping and the leaders did well to avoid the jet skis. Most of the open track resembled sheep grazing pasture with tussock and fescue aplenty to cause hazard to man and beast. The winner, as in England, asserted off a slow pace once the race returned to the regulation chase track. Malberaux will surely be one to watch come the Festival. You heard it here first.
Next up, the event in which I had a punting interest (after-timing alert), featured a stunning sit from jockey Aiden Coleman. His mount and race favourite Renard D’Irlande clattered the 12th, ejecting Coleman clean from the saddle and round the horse’s neck. Both feet appeared to be out of the irons and his head was level with the beast’s fore quarters with his backside in the air. Renard galloped on whilst Coleman, still holding the reins, executed a recovery so unlikely that he’s fielded calls from George Osborne about the UK economy. Back in the saddle, Coleman found that he had lost some track position but stayed on for a decent third.
The final treat for me was backing the winner in this, Grandioso, who came in at 7-2, despite bunny hopping the last. It put me into a handy possy for the Tweet Naps monthly prize, though there's ages to go and today's fancy could only manage 2nd.
I aim to improve my showing with a strong display at the Tingle Creek meeting tomorrow. Desperately, this is my first appearance at a track this jumps season. But it is one worth waiting for. It’s a lads outing and we’ve pouched the Winter Warmer offer. £10 food/booze vouchers, £10 bet tokens and Grandstand entry all for £32. Of course the value is stretched a bit more thinly when one looks a bit closer. The punting tokens are mostly to supplement to a fixed minimum stake on mug tote bets like the quadpot, trifecta and swinger. And I’m half expecting the drinks voucher to be rejected by the only place I’d really want to use it. No, not the mulled wine concession by the parade ring, but the Hogshead real ale bar in the betting hall.
But let’s not get off on a negative footing before the day has even dawned. Instead, time to ponder the highlights of a card at one of the Winter’s best meetings.
The Tingle Creek’s recent roll of honour goes two by two. Take out Sizing Europe last year and the previous eight results feature double winners: Kauto Star (added to Gold Cups, King Georges and Betfair Chases over 3m plus, his record shines ever more brightly) Master Minded, the enigmatic Twist Magic and the brilliant Moscow Flyer. His brace in ’03 and ’04 stand between Nicholls and a straight eight. The Flyer beat Team Ditcheat’s Azertyuiop on both occasions. Indeed that 2004 renewal that also featured Well Chief stands proud as the best running of this race in many a long year. How spoilt we were seeing that glorious trio of two-milers creaming the railway fences and spring heeling up the hill.
The 2012 vintage could well stand easy comparison with that illustrious crowd. Sprinter Sacre looks electrifying. Sanctuaire slammed decent fields by massive margins at the tail end of last season and bids to serve it up to the Sacre tomorrow. Fascinating. Of the others, I fancy Doeslessthanme to outrun his odds, though whether this race is a real betting proposition for me I doubt. I can see a few ToteMugbets being chucked in, but that can hardly add to the prospect this thrilling race.
The other grade 1 is also low on punting potential but high on interest. The Henry VIII novice chase has lost much of its lustre with the overnight withdrawal of Overturn. Captain Conan should win this against Third Intention who was back in third when these two met last month and Hinterland who has did not convince over fences last time out. More ToteTokens.
The other races offer more in the way of betting opportunities. Although both the opening novice hurdle (down to 6 runners from 27 entries at the five day stage) and the closing London National have disappointing turn outs. In the hurdle, the Chubby Chandler/Lee Westwood owned Golden Hoof will be short after a good looking win at Kempton. Hurdles debutants Bekhani and Lord Protector from strong yards will be interesting. It could be a ToteSwinger race. Or possibly ToteExacta. It will certainly be a TotePlacepot race and I may even commit my ToteJackpot token. Is this getting ToteTiresome yet? I haven’t even mentioned the bet that I’m required to make on behalf of the Berkhamsted Ladies who have yet again entrusted me with the loose change from their float in order to win them some Christmas drinking money. My last sorry attempt is burned in their memories so it is not really clear how this latest opportunity has come about. However, I’m prepared to step into the furnace again.
The Mares Handicap Hurdle at 1.25 is a new race at the fixture. More of these types of races are welcome. If only to increase the chances of unearthing a nice talented mare that one day might realistically take on the mighty Quevega at the Festival. I fear there’s nothing of that quality here. Florafern is improving but may not like the deep ground here again. Tempest River may have a squeak of improvement. Kentford Grey Lady has the strongest form in the book, but I’d be worried about her anchoring weight. Justazippy got mullered on the bend last time out after a long absence and could go well here off a featherweight
The staying handicap hurdle and the listed handicap hurdle either side of the Henry VIII chase are the biggest fields of the day. In the former, there are plenty on recovery missions. In fact nothing can win this. If you absolutely twisted my arm and wrung my final ToteEachway voucher out of my sweaty mits I might be persuaded that Lightning Strike’s best form on soft gives him a small chance of a place showing here. In the latter, Petit Robin, better known as a chaser, was impressive in a similar event at Kempton recently and will be interesting again. I backed Ifandbutwhynot from the improving David O Meara stable last time out and I’ll be looking closely at him here.
It will be a day for beanie-shod bonces to deflect screaming northerlies bearing a 5 degree wind chill and for frozen digits to slosh malt whisky into dry mouths from over-filled hip flasks. But I suspect it will also be a day to remember.