Cheltenham 2016 – Return of the Black Aeroplane

If Annie Power’s thrilling Champion Hurdle romp set the emotional bar high on Day 1, Sprinter Sacre’s extra-ordinary Queen Mum performance booted it into orbit on Day 2. I’ll bore rigid anyone who cares to listen about my love for this race as a fast-paced jumping test with no margin at all for error. The Black Aeroplane just sealed the deal on one of the most populist renewals ever run.

The story of this horse with the film star looks has all the dramatic elements of triumph and tragedy - and triumph again – that we lap up. The perfume of vindication and restoration permeated the races on Day 2.  Phrases like ‘dreams do come true’ and ‘the power of sport to thrill and unite’ were bandied about Prestbury Park with all the misty eyed schmaltz of a Disney script reading.

This is no fairytale though. It’s as 24-carat reality as the signet ring on Nico De Boinville’s little digit. Coming back from a fibrillating heart condition and other physical issues after carrying all before him as recently as 2013 must rank as one of Nicky Henderson’s greatest training achievements. I’ve not been his greatest fan over the years, lobbing a few acid barbs his way. No doubt I will do so again. Hats off to him for this one though.

We all have personal histories with horses. I’m often too swift to call time on the greats. I made this mistake with Kauto Star and I had done the same thing with Spinter Sacre. His renaissance this season has enabled me to restore some balance. I backed him today, but I didn’t really believe he would get within a sniff of odds-on Un De Sceaux. Four out, Nico later admitted, he thought he was outpaced. The result looked a forgone conclusion at that stage.

Last week Henderson said that he wanted something to serve it up to Un De Sceaux, just to see what the horse really had. “I hope it’s us”, he said. That is exactly what happened. Nico urged Sprinter forward and into the lead. Ruby was still motionless on UDS and though the crowd threw up an almighty roar, it looked like a token effort.

Until they turned for home at the top of the hill, that is, when Sprinter began to stretch the lead. Swoop. That’s where he won the race. UDS couldn’t quicken off the firmer going. Ruby never really got animated with his charge once he knew the after burners would not kick in. Mullins said later that if a horse comes up to UDS and he can’t respond, it means he has given everything. By now I was on my feet, shaking my head in disbelief and screaming the aeroplane onwards. Sprinter slowed to a sluggish crawl after the last, but had enough of a lead to get home. Cue the emotional outpouring.

This was part of a very good punting day. Two winners and two places. Day 1 gave me 11.5 point profit, courtesy largely of Altior. Day 2 was plus 10.5 points from more diverse sources. Things did not start well, however, with Yanworth’s reversal. Geraghty plotted the wrong course around the outside whereas Ruby found more luck on the golden highway up the inner.  A saver on Yorkhill provided some compensation.

Apart from SS, there were place returns on Baoulet Delaroque in the Coral Cup and Battlefront in the bumper who was an agonising nose away from providing me with a big three-figure payout. Ballyandy and this lad had a right ding-dong up the home straight and though Battlefront appeared to be finding more, NTD’s horse held on. Chinned.
So into Day 3 with a reasonable cushion. I’ll need it because there is very little to get excited about in the ante-post locker. This is how the bets are shaping up.


Zabana, 22/1, 0.5pt win (ante-post)
Outlander, 5/1, 1.5pts win

This is an intriguing race with loads of chances. Loved the style of Zabana’s gritty chase debut win over Christmas and backed him accordingly. He was then slammed by Outlander over further at Leopardstown. This slicker surface will help and his 2nd in the Coral Cup last year provides grounds for optimism. The wily Davy Russell in the plate is a positive.

I’ve topped up with a straight win on Outlander in the Skybet money-back-if loses offer. Just a bit concerned about the ground for him.

Pertemps Final

Arpege d’Alene, 14/1, 1pt e-w

Impressed last time out.

Ryanair Chase

Village Vic, 16/1 (BOG), 1.5pts e-w (ante-post)

A race that revolves around Vautour, now that connections have decided his work at home is not electric enough to justify a place in the Gold Cup. That hints at vulnerability. Though I have decided not to go in again. Village Vic was backed when it appeared as if Vautour, Road To Riches and Valseur Lido would head elsewhere. Vic has a squeak but this is a huge step up from handicap company.

World Hurdle

Martello Tower, 16/1 0.5pts e-w (ante-post)

The selection was an early season punt. Too early. Martello Tower has shown nothing of the potential shown last season in the Albert Bartlett. Arguably the ground has also gone against him. A poor bet. Thistlecrack looks bomb-proof and I may try to get him involved in some combis or accas just to have a proper interest in the race.

Brown Advisory Plate

Stilletto, 10/1, 1pt win
Buckers Bridge, 20/1, 0.5pt e-w

I like the improvement of the former and the latter has slipped to a good handicap mark.

Mares Novice Hurdle

Smart talk, 7/1, 1pt win, grudgingly

Honestly, haven’t seen many of these race. I don’t fancy the Mullins horse at odds-on here. Smart Talk I have seen and liked. Minimum stakes though. This together with the Fulke Walwyn next seems like a tame end to the day. Low key stuff.

Fulke Walwyn Chase

I hate this race. I’m never gonna find the winner. I’m not putting one up now. I’ll probably have a token fiver on something like Upswing. Or maybe I’ll just follow the good Irish amateurs.



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