Thursday, 11 March 2010

Why the Long Face...? Part II - Cheltenham 2010 Preview

Next week it is the 2010 Cheltenham Festival, which for me is one of the sporting, and TV, events of the year.

This year’s festival is already shaping up to be better than ever, with Channel 4 extending their brilliant coverage to show five races live from each day of the four day punter’s paradise.

In addition to that, C4 will also have a special edition of their fantastic show The Morning Line each day of the festival as well as a highlights show each night.

For three years now (this will be the fourth) the Cheltenham Festival has taken over my life for this week in March, and every year I seem to get more and more wrapped up in, what is without a doubt, one of the most nerve-shredding spectacles you can experience on your TV.

Last year I live blogged through the week, but if I’m entirely honest it kind of took away from the experience a little, so this year I decided to preview the Festival instead.

(NB: there will be no TV or not TV next week due to the fact that my days will be taken up with watching the Festival and then my nights filled with celebrating, or more than likely, commiserating my efforts that day)

With that in mind, where better to start than Day 1, Tuesday 16th March with the first race of the Festival – The Supreme Novices Hurdle…

The betting for the Supreme Novices has long been dominated by one Horse: the monster that is Dunguib.

Now more than likely, Dunguib (who will undoubtedly one day be a huge star) will win this race, comfortably, but I am very reluctant to back any Horse at Cheltenham at odds on.

So my advice is to bet with trailblazing bookmaker Paddy Power who are offering a ridiculous money back offer that if Dunguib, as expected, wins, they will refund all losing bets.

I’ve already taken advantage and backed the impressive (and unbeaten) Get Me Out of Here @ 6/1… I’ll just have to hope that something else doesn’t win!

My logic here is that anything can happen, and as much as I expect Dunguib to romp home there is no value in backing him, if Paddy Power weren’t offering this deal I’d be a lot less tempted to back something else, but I guess that’s why they’re doing it! It is essentially insurance against the inevitable.

Next up on the Tuesday is the Arkle, and as the betting suggests, it looks to me like a tough call between Captain Cee Bee and Somersby. If pushed to pick one now I’d probably go with Captain Cee Bee, who won the aforementioned Supreme Novices race back in 2008.

The third race on the Tuesday is the William Hill Trophy which is wide open at the moment, I’m not too confident on any of these but again if I had to pick, I’d probably go with Bensalem. I’ve always liked this Horse and he has twice this season given the very impressive Diamond Harry something to think about. That said, I know the Pipe team are big on The Package and there are a few Horses in there that have mixed it up with Denman earlier this season so it really is a difficult one to sort out, at least at the moment.

Next up, the big one: Tuesday’s feature race The Champion Hurdle.

The Champion Hurdle is an absolute clusterfuck of a race at the best of times and this year is no exception. I wouldn’t back anything at short odds, as last year’s 22/1 winner proves, so I have already backed the grey Zaynar @ 15/2 or better.

Up until his shocking 1/14 defeat a couple of weeks back, Zaynar was unbeaten on British soil and was up at the head of the market, yet after that (excusable) defeat on awful ground he has drifted to roughly where we find him now.

All week during last year’s Festival I tipped up Zaynar for the Triumph Hurdle, then inexplicably didn’t back him, of course Zaynar inevitably went on to win the race.

That win though is one of my strongest reasons for fancying him for this year’s race. The Triumph Hurdle was won in 2007 by Katchit who then went on to win the Champion Hurdle in 2008. In 2008 the Triumph was won by Celestial Halo who then went on to come 2nd in last year’s renewal of the Champion Hurdle – so can last year’s Triumph winner continue this form...?

With my only other real fancies Hurricane Fly out indefinitely and Solwhit now a major doubt, I would say yes – I’d be very surprised if Zaynar isn’t occupying one of the place positions when they cross the line, here’s hoping it’s first!

The final televised race on Tuesday is the Cross Country Hurdle, which is always a great race to watch and features the Horse I’m sticking my neck out for and calling my NAP of the week: Garde Champetre.

This Horse loves this race and won it very impressively last season, I’m quite surprised that there is still 9/4 available and will definitely be backing this JP McManus Horse to win what is probably one of the most enjoyable races of the meeting.

Tuesday is rounded out by the Mare’s Hurdle.

Onto Wednesday and Day 2, and first up we have the National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup for Amateur Riders.

Second race of the day on the Wednesday is another Novice Hurdle and is again looking very difficult to sort out.

Third race of the day on the Wednesday though is the RSA Chase, which is a lot easier for me to get stuck into. Should he run, my money will be on Diamond Harry who is currently trading at a ridiculous price of 8/1 in places.

He may have only had two runs over fences, both in relatively small fields, but anyone who saw this Horse canter home under top weight over Hurdles at a muddy Haydock late last year can’t have failed to be impressed and I remain confident that sooner or later this Horse is destined for great things, and following in Denman’s footsteps and winning the RSA could be one of those great things.

Wednesday’s feature race is the Queen Mother Champion Chase and as the odds on Master Minded bids to make it three in a row, I realistically can’t see anything beating him.

Therefore it will probably pay to look each way, as I did last year with Petit Robin (until I decided not to bet in this race) who came third. There are some good horses in there who can chase Master Minded home and I fancy Forpadydeplasterer to fill one of the place spots, currently available @ 10/1 in places, that would give you a modest return on your money should you go the each way route.

The final televised race of the Wednesday is the Coral Cup, a mental Handicap Hurdle that I actually managed to get the winner of the other year, by pure fluke obviously…

Picking something out at the moment is damn near impossible so I won’t even try! Wednesday’s final two races (non-televised, at least with C4) are the Fred Winter Juvenile Novices’ Handicap Hurdle and the Champion Bumper which is usually won by a Willie Mullins trained Horse.

On to Thursday, and the first race of day 3 is the Jewson Novices Handicap Chase, which sees a Horse I was raving about as a hurdler last season: Jered hold an entry as well as my hero from the weekend (yes, I actually backed a winner) the brilliantly named Wogan.

Second race of the day on the Thursday is the Pretemps Final Hurdle. The Paul Nicholls trained Alfie Sherrin currently heads the market and for me that is as good a pick as any.

The Ryanair Chase is race three of the day and is another tough one to sort out with a crop of good horses who could have gone for the Gold Cup in theory holding entries.

Poquelin, who I was very impressed with at the start of the season, currently heads the market with Paddy Power Gold Cup winner Tranquil Sea just behind him. In an interesting form note, this race was won last year by Imperial Commander, who earlier in the season had won the Paddy Power, so that could be a strong argument in favour of the Irish raider Tranquil Sea.

Thursday’s feature is the World Hurdle which again sees a Nicholls trained horse heading the market at odds on in the shape of Big Buck’s. There’s nothing in there that I can see beating the favourite so I’m going to be extremely boring and go with last year’s winner.

The fifth, and final, C4 race of the day is the Byrne Group Plate which is another race that I’m not too sure on at the moment. The day’s racing is rounded out by the Kim Muir.

On to Friday and the Festival’s centre piece.

First up on Friday is the aforementioned JCB Triumph Hurdle – at present the market is headed by Alaivan but I am tempted by something at longer odds, the Nicholls trained (see a pattern emerging?) Advisor.

The Vincent O’Brien is up second and I could be interested by 12/1 shot Harry Tricker who ran well earlier in the season at Sandown and then at Cheltenham finishing second behind Champion Hurdle hopeful Khyber Kim.

Third race of the day and another Hurdles race is The Albert Bartlett which just looks too awkward to even attempt to sort out at the moment but should see a local hero round my village get a run out in the form of The Betchworth Kid, which will no doubt keep my brother and I entertained…

Now it’s time to get serious, because Friday’s fourth race is the big one, ‘the decider’, as its being billed: The Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Now here’s my problem with the betting at present: Denman is currently 4/1 in places which is effectively the same or worse than his starting price last year. Last year, Denman had a torrid season and came here without much of a chance; he still ran a huge race and came second though.

So here’s where my beef lies: this season he ran arguably the greatest race I’ve ever seen in the Hennessy and rightly shot to the head of the market with stable mate and reigning champ Kauto Star, who in turn ran a sublime race in the King George on Boxing Day. How then does Denman who ran the race of his life earlier in the season end up drifting to longer odds than last year with an uninterrupted preparation…?

His fall at Newbury?

I would say that all of Denman’s bad runs can be put down to a tangible reason, but you cannot explain his good runs as freak events – this Horse is pure class, it’s why I backed him in the Hennessy under top weight with no proof he was back to his best and it’s why I will more than likely back him in the Gold Cup.

As much as I love Kauto Star, and I do (probably more so than Denman) I just can’t back him at those odds. My head and heart may say that this is Kauto’s race but the gambler in me is saying Denman, at what, to be blunt, are retarded odds.

I can’t see anything else other than the big two winning, but for third spot I would say, providing he is back to the best that saw him land the RSA last year, Cooldine, otherwise Imperial Commander.

The rest of Friday is usually somewhat of an anti-climax, but the TV coverage is rounded out by The Foxhunter Chase, which sees an old Grand National bet of mine Dun Doire involved. The week’s racing is then rounded out by the Conditional Jockey’s Handicap Hurdle and the Grand Annual Chase.

As always the Cheltenham Festival promises to be a thrilling ride and one hell of a week and I for one cannot wait for things to get started and hear that famous roar as the first race gets under way.

The Cheltenham Festival 2010 begins Tuesday 16th March – with coverage on Channel 4 and Racing UK.

Channel 4 has The Morning Line every morning of the Festival, live coverage in the afternoon and a highlights show at night.


Other Musings:

- Just to briefly follow up on last week’s Rescue Me-centric instalment, I have now watched the final 3 episodes of what was a brilliant fifth season of one of the hottest (pun intended) shows out there.

As expected things didn’t end well for Tommy, yet again, with his scheming wife and mistress ruining things with someone he had the potential to be truly happy with, although his revenge on the two of them was particularly sweet.

Things soon went from bad to worse for our hero though as he was shot twice by a rather unhinged Uncle Teddy. I’d had this cliffhanger spoiled so I was fully expecting it, but the way it played out was still surprising. I expected it to be quick and then a fade to black and To Be Continued… but the way it slowly and almost painfully unfolded was a nice touch.

I’m very much in the camp that thinks Tommy will survive, yes, given the nature of the show he could die and remain present, but with only one season to go the last thing we want to see is a ghostly Tommy Gavin. How he gets out of this though is anybody’s guess.

- Over on 24, I’m growing ever more convinced that Tarin is actually going to be a bad guy. They’ve spent so much time playing up what an injustice he has suffered, I can’t help but feel it’s going to be a bait and switch; especially now that Kayla has gone dark and is holed up in a hotel room with him. Hostage anyone?

Maybe I’m wrong and this could just be another Dana snorefest subplot but I can’t see so much time being invested in these two rather minor characters (at present) and their plight if there isn’t going to be something more substantial around the corner.

Elsewhere, I loved the fact that a hospital would leave what must be a very expensive piece of equipment unsecured and unguarded for a terrorist to barricade himself inside.

It was a pleasant surprise to see little Agent Owen survive as well, I thought he had red shirt written all over him… I bet he doesn’t see out the day though. I found Owen’s ineptitude almost funny, CTU’s supposed to be this last line of defence against terrorists, yet their second in command field agent looks like he’s about to pee his pants every time someone looks at him funny.

Speaking of 24…

24 Day 8 Death Counter:

Hour 10

Farhad Hassan – shot twice by Ali (one of the generic terrorists)

Episode Death Total = 1

Cumulative Season Death Total = 32

(Ongoing) Jack Bauer Kills (JBK) Total = 9


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