Racing Review and Cheltenham Festival 2014 Tips – The Festive period offered up some brilliant racing action and many Cheltenham Festival clues. Here is a summery of the all important race results and Festival favourites!
If you’re a regular reader of our blogs, you’ll know that the Arkle is developing into one of the most competitive races at the Festival. Prior to this week the Willie Mullins trained Champagne Fever (5/1 bet365) was the clear favourite for the race, but thanks to a blunder two out when odds-on at Leopardstown his price has lengthened. Connections may well choose to step him up in trip and could well bypass the Arkle. The winner at Leopardstown that day was Defy Logic (10/1 Ladbrokes) who understandably finds himself near the head of the ante-post betting. Another one of Willie Mullins odds-on favourites to be turned over was Felix Younger (10/1 Betfred) at Limerick. Beaten by stable mate The Paparazzi Kid, his odds for the Arkle still shortened after the race; however, he too could step up in trip and contest the Jewson instead.
Back on home turf, Dodging Bullets (8/1 Coral) beat Grandouet (20/1 bet365) at Kempton. Bred by Frankie Dettori, the Paul Nicholls trained six year old remains unbeaten this season, and is a real progressive type. Despite finishing behind the likes of Champagne Fever, My Tent or Yours and Jezki in the Supreme Novices’s last season, he has shown good form around Cheltenham since and is a strong prospect. Grandouet is proving to be quite an unreliable type, improving and jumping one day, and showing nothing on another, he is still yet to get off the mark over fences.
At Newbury, the Harry Fry trained Vukovar (20/1 bet365) won impressively. This five year old came over from France and has so far only contested two races in this country. Despite being beaten by Mr Mole on his first start, he put in a fantastic round of jumping to win impressively. He is in the betting for both the Jewson and the Arkle.
On New Years Day, Oscar Whisky (14/1 BetVictor) reversed placings with Taquin Du Seuil (25/1 Stan James), with the latter beating the Nicky Henderson runner the first time they met at Cheltenham. The combination of a differnt trip and a mistake at the last from Taquin Du Seuil, allowed Oscar Whisky to revert the previous placings. Both could head for either the Arkle or the more likely the Jewson at the Festival, with owner Martin Broughton having to decide the best way to separate his two stars, Dodging Bullets and Taquin Du Seuil.
At Leopardstown on Sunday the reigning Champion Hurdle winner, Hurricane Fly (7/2 Coral) picked up Grade One win number 18, halving his odds for this year’s renewal. This put any of his doubters to rest, after failing to win as easy as the public thought he would on his seasonal reappearance. That was only his first run of the season, and after beating both Jezki and Our Connor, the 10 year-old rightly deserves the credit he is getting once again (here’s hoping you all backed him ante-post for the Champion Hurdle when I tipped him in my blog at 6/1)! Jezki (8/1 Stan James) finished second in that race and Our Conor (9/1 BetVictor) third, and while some were convinced that Jezki would have gone on to win had his path not been blocked by the tiring Captain Cee Bee and Our Conor, I’m not entirely sure. For me Our Connor was the disappointment of the race. I really did expect more from him after watching him trounce his rivals in last season’s Triumph Hurdle. He is yet to show his true capability, and I just hope that his new pilot Danny Mullins can get him back to winning ways soon.
Over at Kempton, the Christmas Hurdle was billed as a Christmas cracker, and it didn’t fail to disappoint. Before the last hurdle there was nothing in it, between The New One (3/1 Betfred) and My Tent Or Yours (7/2 BetVictor). However thanks to an error at the last by his rival, AP McCoy was able to power My Tent Or Yours to victory. There isn’t much between these two, and there’s even less between My Tent Or Yours and Jezki, which leaves AP McCoy with a difficult decision to make.
At Cheltenham on New Year’s Day, the Willie Mullins’ trained Annie Power (14/1 Stan James) was an impressive winner beating Zarkandar easily over 2m 4f. Options are still open for this mare, with the Champion Hurdle, World Hurdle and Mares Hurdle all possibilities. Wherever she goes, she’s one to follow after reamining unbeaten in nine races.
Another JP McManus horse, Carlingford Lough (12/1 Stan James), was a winner at Leopardstown on Sunday and could be heading straight to the RSA. The Galway Plate winner stayed on well under pressure to beat Morning Assembly (16/1 Betfred), a horse who could also contest the RSA after impressing connections.
At Kempton, Annacotty (25/1 Coral) beat the likes of Green Flag, Just a Par and Third Intention to win the Kauto Star Novice Chase after setting a relentless gallop from start to finish.
Mendip Express (20/1 BetVictor) was a really impressive winner at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day winning easily over 3 miles two and a half furlongs, and because of this can’t be ignored when it comes to the Festival. Trainer Harry Fry confirmed that he will either go for the RSA or the four miler, and after watching his lastest run, he is definitely one to watch come March.
The big news of the week was last year’s Champion Chase winner Sprinter Sacre (5/6 Stan James) who was pulled up in his seasonal reappearance at Kempton. Trainer Nicky Henderson later admitted that the stable star has suffered from an irregular heart beat and his condition will continue to be monitored. With the highest rated horse in training pulling up, this paved the way for Gary Moore’s Sire De Grugy (3/1 bet365) to continue in his rich vein of form. He was an easy winner who is suited by a track like Sandown, but I have my doubts about how well he’ll go at Cheltenham. If, for whatever unfortunate reason Sprinter Sacre doesn’t make it to the Festival, then Sire De Gurgy will likely start as one of the favourites for the race.
After a gallant second in the Lexus behind Bobs Worth, First Lieutenant (8/1 Stan James) found his odds shortening for the Ryanair Chase. After a couple of disappointing races to start his season, I was glad to see that a nice break has helped. Second in the race last year to Cue Card, I think that the shorter trip on offer in the Ryanair will suit this horse far better than that of the Gold Cup as I’m not convinced that this Mouse Morris trained nine year old stays too well up the Cheltenham hill.
Last year’s winner of the race, Cue Card (3/1 Betfred), still has the Ryanair as an option and is currently favourite for that race. This is the easier option for connections to take with strong course and distance form behind him. He ran a blinder to win the Betfair Chase back in November proving he can stay over the three miles, but emptied very quickly before the last after making all in the King George. I can’t help but feel that he will struggle to stay that extra half a mile in the Gold Cup at a testing track like Cheltenham, with the likes of Bobs Worth and Sir Des Champs likely to out-stay him.
Benefficient (10/1 Ladbrokes) was a surprise winner of the Dial-a-Bet Paddy Power at Leopardstown, with some class horses, including the favourite Arvika Ligeonniere, finishing behind him. He was also a surprise winner of the Jewson at the Festival last season but showed the battling qualities needed to win round Prestbury Park. Thanks to his course form he’s one of my picks for the Festival irrespective of which race connections decide to run him in.
The market favourite is still Big Bucks (5/2 Ladbrokes), despite a lengthy absence on the sidelines. He is likely to reappear in the The Cleeve Hurdle on Cheltenham Trials Day at the end of this month. Obviously, we’ll know more about his well-being after this race, but if he’s in the same shape as he has been for the last few years, it difficult to see him failing to regain his staying crown.
One interesting ‘possible’ contenders is the Willie Mullins trained Annie Power (8/1 Ladbrokes). Likely to be piloted by Ruby Walsh, his experience on Big Bucks will prove invaluable when trying to find a chink in his armour. Annie Power was so impressive on New Year’s Day, and really does have a fantastic future ahead of her.
It was also confirmed over the festive period that the JP McManus owned At Fishers Cross (14/1 Coral) will be heading back to Ireland to be seen by the vets. He has run two lack lustre races since coming back this season, and there is obviously something amiss. If the vets can find the problem, and get it resolved relatively quickly, I’m sure Rebecca Curtis will be able to get him back into form in time for March. However his recent form is worrying and he will likely need another run before contesting the World Hurdle.
Last year’s Gold Cup winner, Bobs Worth (5/2 bet365), put his doubters to rest when coming back to win the Lexus Chase with guts and determination. After jumping the last, victory looked doubtful; however, he gave it his all and he made sure he battled to the win. He remains favourite to win back to back Gold Cup’s at the Festival – a feat last achieved by Best Mate in 2004. Sir Des Champs (8/1 Ladbrokes) was disappointing in the Lexus finishing fourth, making no real impression on the leaders. This was his second run of the season after taking a horrible fall in the John Durkan at the beginning of December, and he could still well be feeling the effects. Understandably, his odds have drifted because of his current form however, unlike many I’m very tempted to back him on last season's form. He is a class horse with attributes ideally suited for Cheltenham, and I still can’t bring myself to take him on.
Silviniaco Conti (4/1 Betfred) is on course for the Gold Cup after staying on powerfully to win the King George on Boxing Day. It was an intelligent ride by Noel Fehily, who decided to track Cue Card and stay at the front before making his move. The Nicholls' yard obviously thinks a lot of the horse, who was travelling so well in the Gold Cup last year when falling three out. He’s only run around Cheltenham twice, falling and finishing third in a hurdle race as a four year old. A lot has changed since then however, and he could be a real danger come March.
Both the Paul Nicholls and John Hales’ greys slightly disappointed in their runs over the festive period. Al Ferof (25/1 Betfred) in the King George, where the money came thick and fast leading up to the race, and Unioniste who was sent over to Ireland to run in the Lexus. A lot of people, including myself, thought Unioniste would be the surprise package in the race, and I’m sure Paul Nicholls wouldn’t have sent him over if he didn’t think he had a chance, but the six year old didn’t travel as easy as he normally does and his chance was lost quite a way out before the finish. I think he is a year off the Gold Cup, and a race like the RSA, which he ran in last season, would suit him better. Al Ferof plugged on to take third in the King George, so for me would be the more likely Gold Cup candidate. He has won around Cheltenham before and could be the dark horse for the race. At double figgure odds, he looks like the current value in the race.
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