Cheltenham Festival 14 – Day 1

Just a day-trip to the Festival this year. Not since my debut in 2000 have I only taken in only one day. Nev would have been up for a second day, like last year. But I think I’m still licking wounds from a bare knuckle mauling last year.

Scoured clean through by bookies no less excoriating than the permanent easterly skimming over Cleeve Hill, I limped home on the Thursday night feeling like a broken frigate captured in the receding light of a JMW Turner painting.  The rattling hangover didn’t help much either. And then I read about JT McNamara – having beaten my retreat before his devastating fall in that that race – and stopped feeling sorry for myself pretty abruptly.

I’m also, rather more prosaically, juggling commitments so that Mrs A and I can enjoy our trip to Iceland later this month. As if I won’t have had enough of screaming east winds...

Tomorrow will be such a rush. I woke up this morning wringing with anticipation. So much so that I forgot to brush my teeth. How ridiculous is that? There is nothing at all better than the first day of the Festival. Bar nothing. Clambering off the shuttle bus so brimful of confidence that that your swelling chest won’t fit through the double doors and your swaggering arse clouts all the touts out of the way.

This year sees the return of my punting partner Bacchy to the fray, after a couple of years away, completing the perfect scenario. I go into battle with a fistful of value, live, ante-posts (having reversed completely last year’s policy) and things couldn’t be sweeter. Last season is a distant memory.

This is the way the bets are lining up at the moment:

1.30 – Supreme
Irving, 10-1. Looking like one of my strongest ante-posts. His Dovecote win and other efforts this season tick all the boxes for me, save a run going left-handed. Vautour of course is a massive danger. Whether or not he got a soft lead in the Deloitte is less important than the fact he has gears and pace. Never a bad combination. I’ve also had a saver on Mullins’ second string Wicklow Brave at 7-1. But the form of these novices is so hard to assess, particularly those that have beaten only trees in egg and spoon maidens.

2.05 – Arkle
My ante-post on Hinterland bit the dust once it became clear that Nicholls had nothing else for the Champion Chase on Wednesday. There’s some logic in that as it is a very weak renewal and Hinterland is a second season chaser, so taking that bit of extra experience into a Championship encounter. I’ve backed him for that now. I think he would have been a handful here as well. My surviving ante-post is Trifolium. At 6-1 I haven’t gathered much of a value advantage, but his form hasn’t taken too many knocks. A lot depends which Champagne Fever turns up on his favourite track.  I’ve also had a little look at Valdez at 9-1, who will love the drying ground and seems to have crept in under the radar with some solid enough form. Maybe one more run might have made a more compelling case.

2.40 – Bayliss & Harding Chase
Always a competitive handicap (show me one at the Festival that isn’t) attracting a couple of classy ones. I had backed Annacotty for the RSA on Wednesday, but when the weights came out, I found myself hoping he would be re-routed here. So my dabble at 35-1 on Betfair is a small loss I’ll take on the chin. Instead, I’m with Lucinda Russell’s Green Flag who followed Annacotty home in that strange Feltham on Boxing Day. Green Flag was travelling sweetly when clipping heels with another at Wetherby last month. I think he has a nice weight here and 14-1 is good enough for me.

3.20 – Champion Hurdle
Nothing to add to the ante-posts here. Jezki at 12-1 and Melodic Rendezvous at 25-1. The addition of a hood for Jezki is worth a try, but you don’t really want to be experimenting on the big day. If the move sets him alight, he may just about be able to keep up with the pacemaker, Captain Cee Bee. The ground has gone against Melodic Rendezvous if you believe the deep surface arguments. I expect I’ll be in that camp too by tomorrow night. Best race at the Festival, this, despite the defection of Annie Power and Un De Sceaux.

4.00 – Mares Hurdle
I had a couple of 40 to follow horses here who were not declared, so no surviving ante-post action. But in a race that is usually a low punting event for me, I’ve found myself getting behind two at double figure prices. Down Ace at 14-1 is just the sort of progressive mare I can’t resist and I’m a big fan of Feargal O’Brien. This is a new trip though. And, following a line through Carole’s Spirit (my long-range fancy for this renewal), I was really taken with the performance of Harry Fry’s Highland Retreat (16-1) at Ascot in January. I’m playing for place money in reality and jumping onto two beasts is folly. Evidence of festival fever. Mullins may have been concerned about a Quevega for a day or so, but there’s nothing to suggest she won’t turn up here and set records flying. 

4.40 – Four Miler
Suntiep. So good I backed it twice. On purpose at 16-1 and then again by accident at 20-1. More signs of festival fever, or simply incompetence. One bet would have been sufficient, but I do think the horse has a decent claim. A good hurdler last year, he started slowly this season and was lucky to win in February when Si C’Etait Vrai tipped up at the last.  He will stay these four miles though, looks to jump well and is surely an improver. Mullins won this with a slow one last year in Boston Bob. Trading at around 10-1 now.

5.15 – R4R Novice Handicap Chase
Despite Pendra being one of my 40 to follows I haven’t secured any value on this Charlie Longsden shout. He has been near the head of this market since it was formed and I only belatedly took some 7-1. Whilst I think he has a good weight and McCoy gets on well with him, there are question marks. He bombed out at Prestbury Park in last year’s Coral Cup and also failed to get home in the only decent race he’s tackled this season. Not my most confident punt on the card. My other interest is also a minimum stakes affair. Up To Something is a 25-1 tickle, but has a lot of weight and form that yo-yos more than the stock market in a financial crisis. This is his trip though, and the ground will suit.

Regular readers may also dimly remember the existence of the Butts Mott whip money.  The decent stash that has been carefully cultivated over a good few months will be cracked open, at least in part, tomorrow:

  • Hurricane Fly/Quevega - Champion Hurdle/David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle: £30 win dble @ 6.64/1
  • Foxrock – Four-Miler: £30 win @ 7/1

and on Wednesday:
  • Red Sherlock - Neptune Novices' Hurdle: £35 win @ 6/1
  • Morning Assembly - RSA Chase: £25 win @ 9/1

Even if all these are blown out of the water, we have £119 left over to DRINK with on Friday!

I love it when a plan comes together.


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