At this stage there is nothing for it but to top up the hip flask, grit your teeth and march back in to the ring with something suitably girding from Last Night of the Proms swirling round your head. If Day 2 has gone badly, Day 3 is the last realistic chance to come out ahead at the Festival without resorting to shit or bust tactics on Day 4. No-one wants that.
Jewson Novices Chase
A race that came into its own last year. Though this 2 ½ mile Grade 2 is not a championship race and has properly muddied the waters of ante-post markets since its upgrading in 2011, it is now becoming a serious option for decent novice chasers. This year and last, entrants have been attracted here by Arkle markets skewed by one dominant horse. In successive years, Sprinter Sacre and Simonsig have sent trainers scurrying for easier options. Sir Des Champs was an eye catching winner in 2012 and the way he powered up the hill has seen him close to the top of the Gold Cup betting ever since.
Capatain Conan heads the market this term and may have ended up in this race anyway, despite stable mate Simonsig’s monopolisation of the Arkle betting. He’s not for me though. It may be his trip, but he’s vulnerable to both jumping errors and getting caught flat-footed. His price reflects the prominence of his stable at this year’s Festival and he’s too short for what he has done. I like Module (9-1 NRNB). He has strong hurdles form at this track on good ground from earlier in the season. And whilst he hasn’t achieved much over fences yet (handing out a beating to the over-rated Colour Squadron doesn’t quite cut it), he looks to have bags of improvement in him and I want to be with him rather than against.
Elsewhere, Dynaste would probably win if he turned up instead of in the RSA. I’m not convinced by Aucharlie, who’s jumping doesn’t seem sharp enough for this and I’ve got doubts about Oscars Well, though this trip will suit him better than the Arkle. Tap Night at a bigger price could be interesting but can be inconsistent and the pick of his form seems to be on soft and heavy. The Byrne Group Plate might be his better option.
I once backed the winner of the Coral Cup and the Pertemps in the same season. I walked around shaking my head for two days. Impossible. Chuck out the season long analysis of the Grade 1s, I briefly thought, and get stuck into the handicaps the week before the Festival. Such delusions lasted an unmeasurable fragment of time, of course. I got lucky on a Pipe scam. Buena Vista had been campaigned in poxy little hurdles over the wrong trip most of the season and turned up at the Festival to make all and lead the field a merry dance. He did the self same thing the year after, but that time I didn’t spot it.
And if there’s one in there this year, I‘m failing to spot it again. This is one for the night before the race over a smokey Laphroig and a sizzling Gloucester Mix.
Another intermediate trip that suffers from multiple entries and unclear intentions. I think Cue Card’s best trip is a stiff two miles and so I wouldn’t be keen to back him here at a short price. That said, it could be a weak renewal if Sizing Europe takes up his Champion Chase option and First Lieutenant heads to the Gold Cup. It may not take much winning. If the latter runs here, I’ll back him. Although mostly campaigned over 3 miles this season, FL has winning form at Cheltenham over this trip. He comes to life on this track and seems to run pounds better round here.
At bigger odds, I like For Non Stop 16-1 NRNB. His win at Aintree over this trip on good ground was impressive. Next time out in the Amlin Chase, his jumping was a bit ragged out of bad ground and then the Peterbrough Chase, again on bad ground came too soon. Put away since then - running fresh is important – this race has been his target. His hold up running style should suit the race with Cue Card (if here) cutting it out and the track shouldn’t present any problems, though he’s never won here.
I’ve also still got an ante-post token on Call The Police (25-1 e-w NRNB) but his price is now bigger after an average run over an inadequate trip at Leopardstown late last month. I can only assume Mullins wanted to get another run into him and didn’t want to muller his handicap mark. 2 ½ miles suits him though he can get out paced and I’m assuming he is instead being primed for the Byrne Group Plate handicap later in the day.
I’m struggling to make sense of the form without the longstanding benchmark of Big Buck’s.
Oscar Whisky brings the best form, but he doesn’t get three miles the way he gets 2 ½. He’ll need some cut to be at his most effective and otherwise could be vulnerable to something else. I’m not tempted at the prices.
On soft ground, Reve de Sivola can stay all day and gets better the further he goes. He even seems to jump more competently out of bottomless ground. But I am not prepared to countenance ground that will be soft enough by Thursday. (Even with rain in the forecast, the improved drainage of the track and dry weather over the last few weeks means a bog is highly unlikely.)
Monksland is a newcomer to the staying hurdles game and dispatched Zaidpour over Christmas in perfectly effective style. It’s hard to say that form alone is good enough. Zaidpour is not a top notch 3 miler and was beaten here going the wrong way round. (Not literally!)
I backed Smad Place at 16-1 e-w NRNB ages ago but it was a 40-to-follow act of faith and I had hoped to see him out again before now. He has been below his best on both runs this Winter and its hard to simply blame the ground. King was quite bullish about his chances before he flopped first time out at Wetherby.
Bog Warrior is a bit of an enigma and adds a dollop of spice to this event. As much as Reve De Sivola, he would appear to need deep ground to be seen at his best.
Peddlers Cross doesn’t look like the same horse that won the Neptune – beating Reve De Sivola – and pushed Hurricane Fly in the 2011 Champion Hurdle. That was an epic duel and there are suggestions that it left a deeper mark. Peddlers didn’t really convince in his trial at Musselburgh and I’d only back him here if the price drifted a touch. Even that would feel like a sentimental bet.
Grand Crus is unlikely to turn up in this. It’s hard to see that a return to hurdles, especially over three miles, will provide the impetus to re-ignite his career. I fear he may be gone.
Get Me Out Of Here might come here, but it would be a serious gamble by connections over an unknown trip and the ground would have to be good for him to get nearer to Oscar Whisky than he did back in November at Ascot.
Solwhit’s price at 10-1 or thereabouts seems madness based on what he has done this season – two satisfactory runs after two years off and untried at this trip. Of course at his peak he was a fine animal at the summit of the 2m hurdle division and the price must reflect that. To be seen at his best he will also want it soft.
Sherlock Holmes would say eliminate what is impossible and what remains, no matter how implausible, must be the truth. I seem to have eliminated everything. Against cries of cop out, I’ll most likely wait until the day to see the shape of the ground and who has actually deigned to turn up. I’ll plump for one off a short list of Bog Warrior, Monksland, Get Me Out Of Here and Peddlers Cross.
Byrne Group Plate
Plenty to like near the top of the betting. I may be forced to eat my derisory words about Vino Griego and recognise that connections have now found the key to his undoubted talent. There is still juice in his handicap mark and as long as the horse’s confidence stays high he should go well again here. This is Hunt Ball’s trip and given a fair surface, he should put early season struggles behind him. He could be vulnerable of likely top weight though. I’ll be interested in Call The Police if redirected here and both improving handicappers Howard’s Legacy and Tap Night are on the shortlist.
The worst race at the Festival, frequently throwing up bizarre results or handicap plots and overly dependent on securing the services of one of the few decent amateur jockeys. Recent Racing Post winner Opening Batsmen is likely to come here and will be the best horse in the race, but will have a welter burden to defy. Minimum stakes betting on the day only.
Nap of the day: Module