Traditionally, my strongest day. And in many ways my favourite day, though not just because of the positive financial returns.
I love the staying novices better than anything. Save perhaps for the sight of a select bunch of two-mile top-notchers attacking fences with pace and skill in the Queen Mother.
Do I say this every year? Yep. But last year I missed this day. We left after the first day due to a number of dull reasons. It felt so odd, out of place, to be at home watching on the races unfold on the telly, rather than baying my head off on the rails. I’ll be back this year. I hear they missed me.
My punting action has been limited and unsuccessful this ante-post season. Just a quick round up then.
A market that I habitually get stuck into, but this season is subject to the ebbs and flows of Willie Mullins’ impressive novice hurdle brigade and the shifting targets of other principles. It feels as though Parlour Games heads the betting almost by default. I haven’t waded in properly on this race yet. There are too many question marks. I did have a small covering bet on Out Sam before his last outing, but my main interest in him was for the Albert Bartlett. Both now look fruitless – but see later for more discussion. I’ll be back soon to stamp my calamitous opinions all over this race.
I have a long standing bet on Champagne West at 20-1, but it’s not a confident shout. I think he’ll need cut in the ground and that seems unlikely. I’d like to see Valseur Lido targeted here. Impressive winner of the Drinmore, he seemed to have bags of stamina. He’s a shorter price for the JLT though and I’m not keen to split my stake at these shorter prices. Gigginstown are less loathe to keep their best runners apart than Rich Ricci is, so it’s conceivable that Mullins could run both Don Poli and Valseur Lido in the RSA, with Vautour now confirmed for the JLT… I’m talking myself into this. If I can just find 14s somewhere.
I suspect I’m not the only one struggling to know how to tackle this race. It’s complexion has changed markedly in the last few days. The welcome return of Sprinter Sacre was a big boost for the sport. The event has been widely covered and the consensus seems to be that there is some way to go to regain the electric invincibility in the six weeks that remain. Dodging Bullets is only third in the market for the race, which seems odd on the face of it. However, SS and Sire De Grugy cast long shadows, even with doubts about them both. I’ve followed Dodging Bullets to my cost in the big end of season meetings. He’s fluffed his lines plenty. This must also be a factor in his relative market position. Nicholls is convinced he is a reformed character, but I’m still nervous. Lydia Hislop said of him this week “The Sprinter Sacre of old would eat that horse for breakfast and go back for the jockey.”
Champagne Fever now seems to be targeted at this race and has been clipped in accordingly. Ruby Walsh feels that his horse was already beaten by Don Cossack when falling at the final fence in last Thursday’s Kinloch Brae Chase. Agreed. He also said that Champagne Fever never travelled or jumped as well as he had in the King George. That surprised me as I thought he cut decent shape out in front and put in some impressive leaps. I’m more interested in him at 2 miles than any other trip, but can’t quite bring myself to back him.
With so many doubts about the race, there must be some value here. I don’t see it in Al Ferof who can’t now have the raw speed at 10 years old to drop back in trip and win this. But I don’t really see it anywhere else, either.
I’ve had two little Betfair speculates. One was an ill judged biggish-priced punt on Vautour after his sparkling debut, when I imagined a plunge scenario on a race that could cut up, his other novice chasers sticking to that route and Champagne Fever in the Ryanair or Gold Cup. With hindsight, that is not really Mullins’ style. Ho hum. The other is still alive, but is an even longer shot. Mr Mole has a modicum of Davoski wedge at about 65 after his handicap win at Sandown. If he turns up in the Game Spirit and performs with credit, JP McManus, in the absence of any other live contenders, may be tempted to run him here. He’s quirky, but so is Dodging Bullets and the former’s price is much more attractive.
Though don’t be surprised if I back the latter as well. And Sire De Grugy, once there are signs he is fit and well. Oh dear. This race may well be my nemesis.