As a bumper panel lined-up and the loitering audience hang around the bar, a call for all to be seated for dinner rings around the impressive set-up, showcased by the stage and number of big screens playing Cheltenham festival memories. A failed original call brings another, but after 3 strikes, the message has got across and dinner was served.
A delayed start. No worries as this was a preview night to savour. A panel that included ATR presenter Matt Chapman, top jockeys Richard Johnson and Jason Maguire; retired riding legend Mick Fitzgerald, RUK presenter Niall Hannity and Coral PR man Simon Clare.
The Starter comes and goes, Tomato Soup and a Cheese Stick. However Roast Pork cutlet is our main and what a delicious one it is. Anyway that is enough about the food as the panel emerge mid-way through main. And what a start as Nicky Henderson is straight on a live link from Seven Barrows (Click Here for Views). A long and fascinating discussion about most of his best chances going lasts at least until the dessert of a Chocolate and Toffee Tart. But with the food gone, it was time to get into the nitty-gritty and for the panel to do what they do best.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
Tuesday’s discussion started with the Festival showcase, The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. It’s the start of the split opinion as Jason Maguire obviously chooses his mount Cinders And Ashes. Meanwhile Simon Clare is keen on Colour Squadron, Niall Hannity on the Willie Mullins trained Sous Les Cieux and Fitzgerald all over Simonsig, wherever he turns up.
Arkle discussions start and after Matt Chapman says that Richard Johnson will have to take out extra medical insurance before riding Menorah. Johnson replies confidently: “He’s one of the best rides of the week for me. He will love Cheltenham and a fast run race and has schooled well since Donny where Tom O’Brien said he was just lifeless”. Hannity and Simon Clare differ on Sprinter Sacre, the latter stating the Henderson hotpot is his banker of the meeting and the former saying it would be made to back him at the price, which Chapman agrees with: “You can’t back a novice at evens for the Arkle, surely?” Maguire doesn’t mention any Jewson plans for Peddlers Cross and generally doesn’t tell us much more than we know already on him. Al Ferof, although thought of as decent, is thought likely to be outpaced in which he won’t be able to recover from.
Hurricane Fly is given a rave reviews by the majority of the panel for the Champion Hurdle however the other correlation is a liking for Maguire’s mount Overturn who was agreed by all to be the best priced e/w horse in the field. Binocular is doubted by Chapman but is praised by all jockeys after really good reports from Henderson while Zarkandar isn’t mentioned that much. Most agree that it isn’t the strongest of renewals but is still fascinating.
After the panel all agreed that Quevega is unbeatable in the Mares Hurdle, talks of Wednesday begin with the RSA Chase soon after some fantastic banter between Chapman and Fitzgerald, the latter saying that Join Together will win: “the winner always stays further and he definitely does”. Johnson believes Bobs Worth and Join Together have the best chances of winning while Maguire goes for First Lieutenant, who Davy Russell rates highly. A stat is brought up that all RSA winners run their race before around a month ago, putting off a few of the panel on Grand Crus although the decision to go Gold Cup or RSA with him is split.
Neptune Novices’ Hurdle
Johnson believes Simonsig is the one, especially on good ground and if taking his chance, with Fitzgerald already stating that he would be backing Simonsig wherever he turned up. Although the injury to Fingal Bay, who had shown the best form on show so far, is a big loss for the jockey and the yard. Willie Mullins can’t see Boston Bob getting beat, a report heard by many, while Simon Clare feels Monksland is the one.
A discussion on the Champion Chase sees the unoriginal and unanimous choice of Sizing Europe although a discussion of Finians Rainbow brought on a comment by Michael Buckley to Chapman. “Apparently last year Finians was always looking at Mares but this year he now just looks at geldings which means he must be gay now”. Fitzgerald instantly says it must be a wind-up and we move on.Johnson doesn’t eek much confidence in Wishfull Thinking
We leave the handicaps well alone, notably and ironically the Coral Cup being one of those races to be snubbed. However a small discussion on the bumper sees a few strong opinions. Hannity is very keen on Moscow Mannon while Chapman likes the look of Pique Sous. Closer to home, Johnson gives a decent report on Village Vic, his likely mount for the race.
Day 3 starts with the Ryanair which ends up with a large array of opinions and in depth discussion. Maguire firstly chooses the David Pipe’s Great Endeavour. Simon Clare feels Noble Prince will like the ground and should go close. Meanwhile Chapman feels the bookies have the market all wrong and is strongly against both the main Irish contenders, while also agreeing with Johnson’s view that Somersby is the one to beat: “It’s the best form I’ve ever seen him in”. Hannity is also keen on Somersby while also giving a good word for Riverside Theatre. Interestingly though Fitzgerald is not so keen on the Henderson horse: “He is best fresh and he isn’t going to be fresh at Cheltenham”.
Big Bucks rightly dominates the discussion in the World Hurdle although Fitzgerald doesn’t rule out Oscar Whisky: “He will (Big Bucks) be beaten one day and Oscar Whisky could be the one to do it”. Johnson feels Oscar Whisky is the only one who could possibly beat him although a good word is made for Dynaste to finish 2nd to him again.
The handicaps come into discussion a little this time, although not much and after Niall Hannity gives a good word for Module in the Coral Cup (yes the only mention of the feature race). Interestingly Chapman mentions that Paul Nicholls feels Sonofvic is his best handicapped horse of the festival and is being aimed for the Pertemps. Vendor meanwhile for Alan King has reportedly got a stone in hand for the Fred Winter, similar to reports that he is just as good as the yards juvenile stars Grumeti and Balder Succes
Fitzgerald believes it’s a very good chance the race goes to Alan King of which Clare replies with a price of 7/2 of that happening and a call to open a Coral account. “Fitzy’s stopped betting since he’s retired” remarks Chapman, queuing one of the highlights of the night. A stuttering Johnson can’t decide whether Choc Thornton knows which of Balder Succes or Grumeti to ride although a shout out from an audience member about Wayne Hutchinson being a better jockey is dealt with by Chapman: “That’s your opinion but I do rate him as a jockey and you wouldn’t be worried which one each of them rode”.
Hannity goes for a Shadow Catcher at a slightly bigger price while Clare feels Baby Mix is the one and will confirm his rating as the best juvenile this season. My selection Pearl Swan is not given much of a mention at all bar Johnson feeling he is closely matched with Grumeti. However Johnson is very keen on his own mount Sadler’s Risk and feels he should go very well at a track and test that will really suit, while also, like Fitzgerald, shown their fondness for how well Balder Succes has won his first two starts in the UK. Maguire also sparks confidence on his mount Hollow Tree: “He’s a consistent type who should have an e/w shout”.
It’s the big one and much time is spent discussing whether Kauto Star would run and if yes, win. Fitzgerald reports that Ruby wanted to make it less of a stamina test while also stating that they went too quick last year and Long Run’s stamina was what got him home. However Fitzgerald feels that Long Run has looked laboured this year although completely discounts the chances of Burton Port beating him after going close to doing just that last time at Newbury, also insisting that Geraghty did not give him an easy time. “Long run was just pulling out more and more and he would have won even if they ran on to Basingstoke”. Fitzgerald feels Synchronised and Midnight Chase are the best options from a betting perspective. Hannity disagrees with Synchronised though and doesn’t rate his chances at all.
Johnson reports on Captain Chris who he will ride if he turns up. “He wasn’t right in the King George and didn’t give me a good feel. He had muscle problems behind in the Argento which caused him to jump left alarmingly. He schools this week and that will decide whether he ends up at Cheltenham although I know he can run very well and if he jumps the first few fences well then have all the money you want on him e/w”.
On the subject of Grand Crus and whether he should turn up, Fitzgerald feels that the memory of Gloria Victis will play on connections minds although many agree that if Kauto doesn’t run, he should go. Weird Al is Jason Maguire’s ride and the report is normal rather than eyecatching while Chapman ends the debate with his view that Grand Crus will struggle to stay and that’s he’s all over Long Run. The question of Kauto v Long Run in a match race, not taking into account Kauto’s participation doubt, sees all bar Johnson go for Long Run.
After a word with Nicholls, Hannity feels that TED SPREAD (12/1 County Hurdle) has a fantastic chance of doing the Imperial Cup/County Hurdle double. “The horse is very well handicapped and should go very close if ending up in the County too”.
CHAMPION COURT (10/1 Jewson) is Simon’s nap. The Martin Keighley gelding won a good race at Cheltenham last time. “He’s a proper chaser and because he doesn’t stay 3 miles, the trip is perfect. He likes Cheltenham and is a good e/w shot”.
Rather unsurprisingly, Fitzy bases his around Henderson’s yard and goes for SIMONSIG (7/2 Neptune) in “whatever race he turns up in”. Meanwhile TRIOLO D’ALENE (7/1 Novices’ Handicap Chase) gets another good mention: “I was him in the yard last week and he looked stunning”.
HOLLOW TREE and OVERTURN (33/1 Champion Hurdle) e/w are the two naps for Maguire, amidst a few question marks of what a nap really is. Both though seem to look overpriced.
Chapman comes up with one he hasn’t mentioned before with ROCKY CREEK (8/1 Albert Bartlett). The Paul Nicholls horse is very highly rated by the ATR presenter who feels he could be a machine.
Again Dickie comes up with one not mentioned yet and it’s BALTHAZAR KING (14/1 X-Country Chase). “He runs well fresh and I feel we would have won if we hadn’t had been brought down last time at Cheltenham”. Johnson also confirmed that he would take the ride.
I would just like to thank Coral (www.coral.co.uk) for hosting a fantastic event for Best British Bloggers (www.bestbritishbloggers.co.uk) for the opportunity to report on it. It was also great to meet some other tweeters such as @Pgstips, @eclipse_tweets and @thegolfbandit. Oh and to @jamesyellen for bearing with me.