Festival 15: Progress on ante-posts: St Patrick’s Thursday & Gold Cup Day
St Patrick's Thursday
I very rarely stay past the first two days for Thursday's action. Like Al Ferof, I’ve tried the extended trip a few times, but recognise that I should really stick to something that doesn’t test my suspect stamina quite so ruthlessly. Persevering with the analogy, I refuse to rule out stepping back up at the right moment for the right opportunity.
It could be this year. Tickets never sell out for the ambiguously titled St Patrick’s Thursday, so the option is always there. It’s all about quality. This card looks like it’s shaping up nicely.
I’ve stoked up a little interest.
A fascinating race. Like the Neptune, the market for this intermediate trip has more questions than answers. For my ante-post porfolio, the nightmare scenario is that Gilgamboa and Valseur Lido both pitch up here rather than the Arkle and the RSA respectively. Given that turn of events I’d probably end up backing them both at odds shorter than ideal.
The market is now made by Vautour. He’s as short as 7-2 after Mullins tacitly nominated this as the prize following an uninformative race last weekend. The performance of Un De Sceaux on Sunday could still change all that of course. Vautour’s wins have come in bloodless schooling sessions. His defeat came in his only good quality race, when jumping was put under pressure. In mitigation, the trainer suggests last year’s Supreme winner was not right when Clarcam won so convincingly. Observers have also commented that he sweated less profusely on the occasion of his win last week. I was quick enough to back him for the Queen Mother after his fencing debut. I’m now swerving him in the much lesser quality JLT. How fickle is the reasoning behind ante-post punting. It’s all about the value.
Notwithstanding the Gilgamboa/Valseur Lido scenario, I’ve backed Ptit Zig. Hardly left field, and 4-1 is far from a give away. The bet is based simply on the best form I’ve seen so far at this trip. He’s unbeaten over fences, running up a sequence of four wins in which he has improved every time. His win at Cheltenham against decent yardstick Champage West was assured and confident. What can go wrong? [Pause.]
Hidden Cyclone is one of my 40 to follows this year and I always had it in mind to back him here, assuming he showed some promise after his tumble at Thurles in November. Interesting that Pricewise has put him up in the Champion Chase. His 2nd behind Twinlight over an extended two miles now reads pretty poorly after the latter was outclassed on Saturday. So I’ll stick with him at this 2½ mile trip. In fact, I had him down as a likely stayer a couple of years ago. A theory that has not been categorically bottomed in my view. Whether he can improve on his runner up spot behind Dynaste last year is open to question. I still believe he has not fully delivered on his potential. Others may think he is now exposed. Don Cossack’s excellent win last week makes the race suddenly look much tougher. I need Shark Hanlon’s stable stalwart to repay my long held, but increasingly fragile faith this time.
A really open, scarily inviting renewal this year. Even though last year’s winner More Of That is four points clear in the market. Despite his obvious class, the reigning champ is a risky proposition at the moment. Clearly wrong on his poor seasonal debut, there is still a cloud hanging over the form of inmates at Jackdaw’s Castle. I’m not saying Jonjo won’t have him right come the big day, just that I’m looking elsewhere. I like Beat That, but he too is suffering an interrupted preparation and backing him requires a leap of faith.
Saphir Du Rheu has a touch of class and the decision to revert to timber is a good decision after his two falls over the larger obstacles. If they have not left a mark, this could be the right race for him. Whisper, having also blotted his copybook over fences, comes into a similar category.
I haven’t bypassed Lieutenant Colonel either, after a great tussle with Jetson at Christmas. However, I may well bypass two of my old friends who will line up here. Zarkandar isn’t quite the horse he was and although there are positives to be drawn from his 3 mile races this year, I don’t think he has the engine on a sounder surface anymore at this level. Rock On Ruby I would love to back. What a warrior. Owes me nowt. I can’t shake the nagging doubt that he’ll struggle to get the trip. I’m more concerned about the stamina issue than the age stat that is being bandied around about winners of this race. ROR has not had a hard career and still shows plenty of zest. If he wins, I’ll be screaming the place down, but he’ll only have a sliver of my sentimental money on his back, if anything.
I backed Monksland at 16-1 after his 3rd place behind Lieutenant Colonel over Christmas. There’s class about this Noel Meade charge and his potential hasn’t yet been fully tapped. Whilst he should have won in the mud yesterday at Gowran, I’m not unhappy with the way he travelled and jumped. That he got nutted on the line says a lot about Bryan Cooper on Dedigout and even more about my fella’s dislike of heavy ground. Assuming there’s no bog awaiting him at Prestbury Park on 12th March, he should go well.
That said, this is shaping up to be a good race, and I’ll no doubt return for more action before the off.
Gold Cup Day
By 1.30pm on Friday, I will be part of a large and unruly gang of enthusiastic punters up to its neck in beer, whip money, 12 to follows, and the excruciating final stages of Fantasy Festival in the Barley Mow.
I’ll need reminding that I’ve had some ante-posts already. Many of which will may well be long dead. This is for the record.
A race I used to target, but increasingly I’ve become a casual punter. Like the world and his dog, I loved Peace And Co’s easy win at Doncaster. This weekend will tell us more about him and the rest of Mr Munir’s strong hand of 4yos. I haven’t had a bet yet, but trainers often play their hands late in this division so I’m not ruling out a little dabble over the next week or so.
Another of my favourite races. Bloody hell, aren’t they all? What an unrivalled feast of top quality fare! I’ve taken a view about Fletcher’s Flyer at 27 with Betfair. He hasn’t yet achieved as much as those at the top of the market. Harry Fly is nevertheless bringing him along nicely and he has won both his outings this year like a horse with plenty up his sleeve. He hangs a bit, which is a small concern, but with one more outing before th Festival, he should be spot on, especially with better conditions underfoot that he’s met so far.
My other bet was a speculative punt (again) on Out Sam after the horse he beat at Newbury, Thomas Brown, came out and won well on New Year’s Day at Cheltenham. Then Tea For Two – also beaten by this lad – won the Lanzarote. I took a little bit of 45s with Betfair. Then I got the wobbles and backed him for the Neptune at much shorter as well. Even though my instinct was for the longer trip. So when Out Sam turned out last weekend I was expecting the odds to contract and for me to be sitting pretty. I thought I’d covered the angles. He won. But it was a tad scrappy to be honest. Then Hendo said they’d probably skip the Festival and head to the 3m novice at Aintree. Why? I can’t see much else that he’s got for this. Bastard.
I started this series by saying in that I’d never won the Festival opener, the elusive Supreme. I’m closing it by saying I’ve never actually won the Gold Cup either. Terrible. Not with an outright bona fide win bet. I’m excluding a few combination place returns and other such spawn.
I’ve come close a couple of times. Maybe Road To Riches can get me over the line this year. His Lexus Chase victory had all the hallmarks of Gold Cup quality. The usual stuff: jumping, travelling, yawn yawn. What marked him out for me was the way he responding to a patient ride from the impeccable Bryan Cooper and found plenty when asked to go and reclaim the lead, staying on powerfully to the line. I backed him at 12-1.
He is second in the betting at about 8s now, behind Silviniaco Conti. Probably rightly so. That one’s King George victory was a joy. Slick jumping is his hallmark. I’m a little burned by his capitulation after the final fence in last year’s Blue Ribband when for all the world I was counting my cash. I couldn’t bear to be all over him in March and see the horse knuckle up the hill again. Cheltenham simply may not be his track.
Djakadem must also come back into the reckoning after a superb performance in the Theystes Chase at Gowran yesterday, Mullins pretty much said it left him no other option. He had a tough assignment under 11st 10lb and won in the way he needed to if he was to dispel concerns after his tame Hennesey run back in November. A lingering question mark is his ability to handle ground better than soft.
I don’t go a bomb on any of the others at this stage, though it’s a brave punter that excludes Lord Windermere.
That’s me then. The quivering mug punter in the corner, stealing glances between fingers at the shifting tales of horror on Oddschecker.