The hangover from some wretched Christmas punting has almost equalled the one that began at 5.30am on New Year’s Eve. Reading back over the Christmas Shopping post induces the sort of head-swimming nausea more common to those ill-advised whiskies that rang out the old year.
Anyone looking for some New year bargains, I’m ready to flog off a few unwanted ante-post purchases. One careful owner. Very few miles on the clock. Just don’t check the service history.
Some runs were too bad to be true. Ttebbob was beaten in Boxing Day’s Racing Post Novice Chase before the end of the first circuit. Douvan bossed the race from the moment the flag dropped and one school of thought is that Ttebbob’s game was affected because he couldn’t dominate from the front. This looked more fundamental than that, though. Poor jumping and sluggish travelling surely meant something more serious was amiss. My 20/1 voucher for the Arkle looks like bad joke. Douvan, however, looks like a po-faced shoe-in, despite one or two sticky jumps of his own. The exuberant and tough Ar Mad is next best, at least on this side of the sea. But trainer Gary Moore is reluctant to commit him left-handed.
My other Cheltenham interest in the Douvan race was Sizing John, backed at 12/1 for the JLT. He ran a strange race on and off the bridle and got no nearer to the Mullins horse than he had done in three attempts over hurdles. A step up in trip needs to bring about both an improved performance for his connections and a confidence booster for me. He is still best priced 12/1 for the JLT.
Earlier on the same card, Rashaan carried my very high hopes in the shape of a day-of-race as well as ante-post punts into the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile Hurdle. The burden proved too much and, in the manner of Ttebbob, he bombed out completely. My most confident two Christmas bets inexplicably smashed up within an hour of each other. Boxing day cold turkey, and I was sweating cobs. Surely neither of these previously fine looking steeds could run so badly without something physically wrong? The winner was another Mullins horse, Apple’s Jade, but in terms of the Triumph market, Aiden O’Brien seems to have unearthed a genuine contender in Ivanovich Gorbatov. He has a few interesting prospects on the stocks this year. Keeping them warm for his son Joseph, no doubt, when he takes out a full licence in the near future.
No excuses for Old Guard’s sluggish run in the Christmas Hurdle behind the real Faugheen. It simply magnified the massive gulf between what is happening in this division on these shores and in Ireland. Being turned out four times in three months wouldn’t have helped Old Guard, but it was a man and snotty-nosed boys out there on the Kempton acres. Old Guard 20/1 for the Champion Hurdle anyone? No, thought not.
I found some solace in a splitting a stake between Cue Card and Don Cossack in the King George. The race lived up to its billing. Vautour still jumped left, but cruised along in high gear and had everything in trouble behind. I thought Cue Card had a poor positional ride from Paddy Brennan which didn’t enable the horse to settle in the way he needs. Nevertheless he still found enough to reel in Vautour as that one’s tank emptied and Brennan redeemed himself. The only blemish on the spectacle was Don Cossack who would have gone very close if not falling at the last.
Willie Mullins came out after a few days reflection and committed the horse to the Gold Cup. Who am I? After the shambles of my punting this week, who the hell am I? But is Vautour really a Gold Cup horse on that evidence? Surely vulnerable to the likes of Don Poli (another grinding win, this time in the Lexus Chase, provides more copper-bottomed credibility for the Big One), Don Cossack and Djakadam.
I had also picked up earlier on the card when Tea For Two won the Feltham. Like the King George VI, the pennies I that came my way there were outshone by the race itself. Fantastic to see Lizzie Kelly become the first woman jockey to land a Grade 1 jumps race. Let’s have a bit more of that. But not in the RSA apparently. Nick Williams wants him to stick to right-handed tracks.
Cold turkey sometimes seems never ending. Un De Sceaux’s fall in the Paddy Power Chase should have been good news for my speculative punt on Henry de Bromhead’s Sizing Granite. Sadly, Granite was already way out the back when the Mullins hotpot fell over the second last, having spectacularly failed to build on his seasonal opener. Better ground will suit him more and I haven’t given up hope completely. This was disappointing all the same. Un De Sceaux just seemed too fresh. Sprinter Sacre and Sire de Grugy served up a treat in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton, but that fare is a notch below what UDS can do when he puts it all together.
To complete the wipeout, Martello Tower put in a laboured performance in the Christmas Hurdle. He goes well fresh and so the manner in which he folded pretty tamely here was not ideal. Davy Russell rode a beautiful, typically stalking ride on winner Prince Of Scars.
Outside my own crumbling world of festive punting, there were many eye-catching performances. In the novice hurdle division, Altior is going from strength-to-strength. The Boxing Day novice hurdle looks good form for the Supreme, with a fair yardstick of Mullins’ back in second. In truth, Open Eagle was probably third string behind Yorkhill who got the job done in the Tolworth in impressive enough fashion, Bellshill who goes again on Sunday, and Min who already heads that market. The pair of hills could both end up in either that or the Neptune. Juggling the preferences of the owners and the stable jockey seems to weigh on Mullins’ mind as much as the relative merits of the horses, judging by comments after the Tolworth today.
Mullins also has Long Dog, who battled well to take the Paddy Power Novice Hurdle, for the 2½m or 3m festival novice events. I thought Gordon Elliott’s Tombstone had a rough passage in Long Dog’s race and seems to be the one to take away from that encounter.
Over further, Barters Hill was perplexing in the Challow Novices Hurdle. Relentless galloping ensured him a comfortable win and propulsion to the top of the Albert Bartlett market. I like him a lot. But he was a tough old ride. David Bass had to urge him into every hurdle and avoid a detour via the paddock at the end of the home straight. Stick a pair of furry cheekpieces on him and he’ll be right as rain. Armchair training is a great lark.
Barter was joined at the top of that market the very next day by Up For Review, who looked like a much more straight-forward ride.
In the novice chasing division, I was really impressed with Zabana’s debut for Andrew Lynch at Leopardstown. It was just an ordinary 2m3f beginners’ event, but the manner in which the Halling gelding put the race to bed revealed potential by the Santa-sackful. The JLT or the RSA looks most likely, but this was just his debut over fences, so I’ll hang for now. No More Heroes is surely heading to the RSA, despite Gordon Elliott giving him entries in the four-miler and the JLT. He was very strong in the former-Topaz Novice Chase.
The New Year’s Day Action was interesting too, though it took me until today to finally catch up with the most notable developments. Paying tribute to Lemmy at 4.30am on New Year’s Eve with a spiralling air guitar solo that took out at least two dining chairs, together with a screamed group rendition of those immortal lines, “You know you’re gonna lose/And gambling’s for fools/But that’s the way I like it, baby/I don’t want to live forever” (which seems entirely appropriate to this particular post) inevitably took its toll. RIP Lemmy. I think an ensemble version of Bo-Rap was also served up at about the same time as the single malts made an appearance.
So, many hours after the races had been run, and despite a churning stomach and drumming head, I managed to discern that Village Vic is improving at a serious rate of knots and a return to Prestbury Park for the Ryanair looks possible; and that seemingly from nowhere, Robert Walford’s Camping Ground has emerged as a serious World Hurdle player out of a strange race in which all Henderson’s runners underperformed.
Just one addition to the ragged and hanging Cheltenham portfolio (…well what’s the point in giving up?) I backed The Govaness for the Mares Hurdle at 20/1 before today’s listed event. She failed by a neck to take the race from Polly Peachum, but this was a good effort and I think there’s still improvement in the mare.
Some interesting outings tomorrow. At Naas, apart from Bellshill (in a race where I quite like the chances of Anibale Fly) we will see Shaneshill and Kitten Rock in a novice chase; and at Plumpton see the classy L’Ami Serge make a belated start over fences.
The seasonal juggernaut rolls on towards Cheltenham, my trashed ante-post vouchers merely ticker tape in the backdraft. I’ll just have to find some more…
Happy New Year.