- Day3, Cheltenham Festival 2015

Home Fires Stoked

After the high drama of Tuesday, proceedings somewhat came back to normal on day two of the Cheltenham Festival. The feature race, The Queen Mother Champion Chase was won by the impressive Dodging Bullets, who stayed very well up the gut-bursting Cheltenham hill, to hold off festival veteran Somersby. Paul Nicholls scored both before and after the feature and the British took somewhat of a stranglehold on proceedings after Ireland and one particular south eastern yard enjoyed a phenomenal opening day.

Unfortunately Willie Mullins’ Champagne Fever was precluded from participating after an unfortunate incident, possibly a bite from a stablemate, forced the grey out. Special Tiara took to the front early as expected, seeking to stretch the field and see if the champs of the last two year’s Sire de Grugy and Sprinter Sacre had any of the old juice left in the tank. Sam Twiston Davies ensured the winner was always in touch but when he looked to make his move on the way to the last it looked as though Somersby, so often the festival bridesmaid, so to speak, would catch his seven year old rival. Instead, Dodging Bullets, dug deep and held on for a relatively unfussy victory, leading home his game old rival and the gutsy Special Tiara. The bookies will have licked their lips at the number of emotional, ‘maybe he has one last big one in him’, bets placed on our old hero Sprinter Sacre. Truth is, 2013’s superstar never looked all that comfortable and Barry Geraghty, the man who knows him better than anyone, thought it wise to pull him up before facing into the steep rise to the finish post. Sprinter Sacre has brought the house down in Cheltenham before and he assuredly owes nothing to anyone. The reigning champion Sire de Grugy seemed to have heavy legs, an eventuality predicted by many, in racing so soon before the event. Dodging Bullets has shown sustained improvement throughout the season and this victory is a fitting outcome for an underrated horse, one from whom we expect plenty more to come.

Davy Russell extended the incredible start for Ireland aboard Dermot Weld’s Windsor Park in the opener. Weld, of course is a renowned flat trainer, but he’s not too shabby at the jumps game. As winning jockey Russell noted of the Curragh man, “Dermot told me that jumping was his hobby. What a hobby.” Brian Cooper followed up on board Don Poli in the RSA Chase to send the bookmakers running for cover once more, still no doubt reeling from Tuesday’s shellacking.

It wasn’t the best of days for Nina Carberry, who was shaping nicely on Quantative Easing in the Cross Country Chase when taken out, Super Mario Kart style, by French favourite Toutancarmont, crashing through the rails and obviously ending her interest in the race. Unfortunately a photographer, Patrick McCann suffered a broken ankle but thankfully nothing worse.

Anyone who returned and paid heed to our advice yesterday had winners in Don Poli,  Dodging Bullets and Bumper winner Moon Racer who managed to weave his way through all sorts of difficulty, to come home to a huge Cheltenham roar, under Tom Scudamore.

Thursday 12th March 2015 – Feature Race – World Hurdle

The weakest day’s racing in our humble opinion or perhaps better put the least prestigious of the four feature races, the 3 mile stayers, World Hurdle. Don’t get us wrong there have been some legendary stamina hurdlers; most obviously Big Bucks and Inglis Drever in recent years but the chase events over a similar distance will always steal the limelight. Identifying the winner of year’s renewal will prove extremely tricky particularly with last year’s winner, More of That, missing the Festival due to injury. The favourite Zarkandar is available at 11/2 and that reflects the relative uncertainty of the market. Un Temps Pour Tout is one we heard good things about but were left unmoved by his seasonal reappearance, finishing two and 3/4 lengths, though it felt further, behind Saphir de Rheu. Saphir de Rheu is jostling for market supremacy with the aforementioned Zarkandar and will be prominent although a theme could very shortly follow, whereby we give virtually every horse a chance. A victory for Lieutenant Colonel trained by Sandra Hughes, daughter of the incredibly fondly remembered Dessie would be particularly welcome in the Irish racing community. He beat Jetson by three-quarters of a length at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival and the two won’t be far apart. Still history shows that the British have a decent grip on this race and we like Un Temps Pout Tout to come on for his Christmas run but only if the ground remains a little on the soft side.  Whisper, last year’s Coral Cup winner poses the greatest home threat though and Lieutenant Colonel will need a monumental effort to secure what would be an emotionally charged victory. Horses and horse racing have no room for sentiment. Tomorrow, for a day, that may change.

The highlight for us tomorrow is actually the Ryanair Chase, run over two miles and five furlongs, and sees Gordon Elliott’s, Don Cossack head the market. There are so many quality horses on display here; course and distance winner John’s Spirit, Nicky Henderson’s Ma Filleule who’ll suit the rolling hills of Cheltenham and Balder Success, a classy horse who just can’t seem to stay the distance at this racecourse. Our preference, however, is for Shark Hanlon’s Hidden Cyclone, second in this race last year. A horse whose form seemed to wobble a bit after last year’s appearance here, he was very impressive in winning the Tied Cottage Chase in Punchestown last month. The Shark is a larger than life character and we’re happy to say we’d be delighted if he took home this prestigious grade one tomorrow. We could ponder this one for quite some time but for us it’s Hidden Cyclone leading home Don Cossack and Ma Filleule.

Elsewhere we like Vautour (2/1) in the opening JLT Novices Chase but be warned six different people might pick six different winners in this one. Valseur Lido, Ptit Zgig and Apache Stronghold will be prominent but we like last year’s Supreme Novices winner to prove his disastrous December trip to Kempton was but a blip.

Edeymi is the pick for the Pertemps Final Handicap. Just a quick refresher, a handicap race in horse racing is a race in which horses carry different weights, allocated by the handicapper. A better horse will carry a heavier weight, to give him or her a disadvantage when racing against slower horses. Incidentally, The Aintree Grand National, the world’s most famous race is a handicap. Tony Martin gives the handicappers sleepless nights and then some nightmares and he looks to have got this one just right. There’s a big market move for Edeymi but be warned, handicaps are rarely as easy to decipher as they appear.

Thursday’s Picks

 1:30 – JLT Novices Chase – Vautour @ 2/1

 2:05 – Pertemps Final – Edeymi e/w @ 8/1

2:40 – Ryanair Chase – Hidden Cyclone e/w @ 8/1

 3:20 – World Hurdle

  1. Lieutenant Colonel 
  1. Whisper
  1. Un Temps Pour Tout
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