History was made yesterday as Sprinter Scare reclaimed the Queen Mother Champion Chase three years after first wowing crowds in 2013. The seven year old star was a virtuoso combination of poise, speed and showmanship and the public simply adored him. Fast forward three years to a tougher version of Sprinter Sacre, one who has almost had to start from scratch, yet one who could still overcome one of Willie Mullins A-Team, in Un de Sceaux.
Cheltenham horses, particularly the speedsters, simply do not come back but, the ‘Sprinter defied all conventional logic with a composed race that for a mile and a half appeared to be run completely within Un de Sceaux’ comfort zone. However, as the two kicked around the home turn, Sprinter Sacre stormed clear, and even some fairly shoddy late jumping was not going to prevent a victory that was as impressive as it was emotional. Indeed, Nico de Boinville – who is having an amazing 12 months – was afforded the luxury of easing home with three and a half lengths to spare.
Willie Mullins should comfortably amass the most winners at this year’s Festival, but the single most outstanding training effort belongs to Nicky Henderson and his incredible rejuvenation of a true all-time great, Sprinter Sacre.
Thursday 17th March – Feature Race: World Hurdle
There’s point in dancing around the fact that the third day of Cheltenham is, by any comparisons, the weakest day’s racing. Nonetheless, the feature World Hurdle – three miles over the smaller obstacles – could today showcase a real star of the future in Thistlecrack. Even the name alone is fantastically onomatopoeic. Trainer, Colin Tizzard, a former dairy farmer from Dorset, saddles today’s banker as well as Cue Card in tomorrow’s Gold Cup, the latter pursuing a £1 million bonus.
The World Hurdle is known to throw up some superstars, like Big Bucks or ‘The Monster’, Inglis Drever, horses who dominate the race for years and endear themselves to the racing public. Thistlecrack possesses all this potential and more, with Tizzard believing he has the potential to compete in Gold Cups of the future.
Today however, the rapidly improving stayer must repel last year’s winner, Cole Harden and Irish hope, Alpha des Obeaux. The latter fell when probably beaten, at the second last at Aintree last April but there is no questioning his improvement in the meantime. However, Thistlecrack has also improved and for many punters, British ones in particular, this fella’ is this week’s get out of jail free card.
At 6/5 there’s little value here – although many journalists have observed that these are actually probably generous – so we suggest a small bet on one-two forecast of Thistlecrack and Alpha des Obeaux at 17/2. Colin Tizzard has two huge days ahead of him. Thistlecrack should set the ball rolling for him in impressive style.
If, like us, you’ve taken a good old fashioned pummelling with the bookies over the last few days, then perhaps confidence is low. Nonetheless, we have a few tentative selections for you and all at decent each-way prices.
We’re going to sidestep the opener, where decent arguments can be made for a half dozen of the entries, and move instead to The Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle. J.P. McManus’ Leave at Dawn heads the market but our preference is for Cup Final, trained by the king of Cheltenham – at least for another few years – Nicky Henderson. He looks likely to have the three-mile trip and was fairly handy in his most recent victory in Musselburgh. A lot of bookies are paying five places on this race, so there’s definitely some value in Cup Final at 10/1.
Rich Ricci has come in for plenty of flak from punters in recent days for the very late deferral of Vautour to the Ryanair Chase. Ricci effectively said Gold Cup or nothing for last year’s incredible, JLT Novices’ Chase victor but, a u-turn in midweek means Vautour steps back in trip. No matter how hard Michael O’ Leary tries, this race has failed to capture the heart of punters and this week’s renewal will do nothing to quiet the doubters.
Apparently, Vautour has only being firing on 90% at home in recent weeks so, rather than risk him in the Gold Cup – where he may not make the trip anyway – connections have dropped him back to the handier option in the Ryanair. Vautour should have the measure of his rivals but he’s too short a price and there may be each-way value here. We’ve a huge soft spot for Road to Riches – third in last year’s Gold Cup – and frankly with the better ground, we’re perplexed that he’s most likely going to be diverted from the main event. If Djakadam who was second last year has the Gold Cup form, then surely Road to Riches should enter that equation. In any event, he won’t be our preference if he lines up this afternoon as the feeling is that this trip doesn’t suit him.
We’ll have a small each-way look at Josses Hill, placed in the last two year’s at the festival. Not near the class of Vautour, and sometimes a bit of a head-the-ball with his jumping, we’ll take him each-way at 18/1.
All the talk in the Dawn Run Novices Hurdle has been for Limini and given the astounding quality of Willie Mullins’ mares and her performances to date, it’s hard to argue with the market. Still, like the disillusioned eejits that we are, we’ll plump for the impressive English filly, Bloody Mary, available at a very tempting 12/1.
And, finally, in the day’s finale, the Kim Muir, we’ll just about take David Pipe’s Doctor Harper over Gordon Elliott’s Cause of Causes.
It may be a flat enough day in comparison to the rest of the Festival but in Thistlecrack, we may be seeing a star in the making.
Beannachtaí na Féile Padraig!
S.U.S. Tips – Thursday 17th March, 2016
14:10 – Pertemps Final – Cup Final e/w @ 10/1
14:50 – Ryanair Chase – Josses Hill e/w @ 18/1
15:30 – World Hurdle – Thistlecrack @ 11/8
16:50 – Dawn Run Novices Hurdle – Bloody Mary e/w @ 12/1
17:30 – Kim Muir – Doctor Harper e/w @ 11/2