Things We Learned » Almost there now

Almost there now

You have got through the last 358 days, fair play to you, so just three more to go now.  On one hand, you just want it to start, there is not much more to write or to say now, but on the other, you don’t.  There is a part of you that wants to wallow in the delicious anticipation.  Because once it starts, it will roll along unchecked for four days until it ends. 

You have to feel for Jessica Harrington and her team, it’s desperate that Sizing John will not be travelling.  He got all the way to Thursday, eight days away from his date with the defence of his Gold Cup crown, and then, wham: plans in tatters. 

Sizing John is a massive loss to this year’s Cheltenham Festival.  When he won last year’s Gold Cup, a mere seven-year-old, he won it like a horse who had it within his compass to go and win one or two more.  And his debut this season in the John Durkan Chase suggested that he was on track for two in a row anyway.  Okay, so he was disappointing at Christmas, but one bad run and suddenly he was deposed as Gold Cup favourite by the King George winner.  Hopefully he makes a full recovery soon.

Sizing John aside, the roll call this morning is not bad, we haven’t lost too many others along the way.  We lost Cracking Smart and Willoughby Court and Hunters Call, and we lost Sceau Royal on Monday and Top Notch on Thursday in a bad-news week for owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede, and we lost Hollowgraphic on Thursday and Waiting Patiently yesterday, and we may lose one or two more between now and Tuesday.  But compare this year to last year.  Last year we had no Don Cossack, no Thistlecrack, no Annie Power and no Sprinter Sacre.   (And no Vautour.)  None of the winners of the four (or five) feature races was able to return to defend his or her crown. 

This year, of the title-holders of the four feature prizes – five if you include the Ryanair Chase – we are missing just Sizing John and poor Nichols Canyon.  Buveur D’Air is back, probably better than ever and after a far more straightforward preparation this year than he had last year.  (He hasn’t been jumping fences this season for starters.)  Special Tiara is back, a 16/1 shot this year and under-rated again.  And Un De Sceaux is back, looking as good at 10 as he was at nine.

Then you have Altior, bidding to graduate from Arkle to Champion Chase, and Might Bite, fancied to take the step from RSA Chase to Gold Cup, and Supasundae, trying to make the jump from Coral Cup winner to champion stayer, and Apple’s Jade, apparently better this year in her bid to land back-to-back Mares’ Hurdles, embarking on the Quevega road.  And the potential superstars, mere novices for now, Samcro and Getabird and Footpad and Petit Mouchoir and Presenting Percy and Monalee. 

The galacticos are here all right.

Difficult to find angles

The presence of the galacticos makes it difficult to find angles in some of the highest-profile races.

As things stand, there are five odds-on shots in the Cheltenham ante post markets: Buveur D’Air in the Champion Hurdle, Apple’s Jade in the Mares’ Hurdle, Samcro in the Ballymore Hurdle, Altior in the Champion Chase and Laurina in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle.

Truth be told, it is difficult to find chinks in the armoury of any of the five.  Buveur D’Air looks like an improved horse this year, Apple’s Jade also looks like a better mare this year than she was when she won the Mares’ Hurdle last year.

Samcro is Samcro, so you can’t be taking him on (check the archive files), and Altior looked imperious on his comeback run in the Game Spirit Chase.  Laurina could be vulnerable, but only because we don’t have a large body of evidence.  She looked mighty good at Fairyhouse last time in a race that is working out well.

It may be that you have to filch the value elsewhere.

The Irish challenge

It used to be the case that, at Cheltenham preview evenings the country over, we figured out what was best of the Irish, said that’ll win that and that’ll win that, then scratched our collective heads when the week ended with one and a half Irish winners.

These days, different story: figuring out which is the best of the Irish is a significant step to take towards finding the winner of any of the 28 races.

Nineteen Irish-trained winners last year was unprecedented, six each for Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins was remarkable, three for Jessica Harrington, including a Gold Cup.  A Champion Chase for Henry de Bromhead, and handicap wins for Alan Fleming and Pat Kelly and Noel Meade.

It is unlikely that last year’s haul will be repeated this year, but the final tally might get close, you never know.  It looks like an Irish-trained horse will go off as favourite for 19 or 20 of the 28 races, and that there could be 14 or 15 Irish-trained second favourites.  Certainly, 8/11 about more Irish-trained winners than British-trained winners looks very fair.

Eye on Dublin Racing Festival form

It will be interesting to see how the Dublin Racing Festival form pans out at Cheltenham, but you suspect that horses who ran at the Leopardstown meeting could do very well.

You have the Grade 1 contenders, like Footpad and Petit Mouchoir in the Arkle, Samcro in the Ballymore Hurdle, Supasundae in the Stayers’ Hurdle, Djakadam and Our Duke and Outlander and Killultagh Vic and Anibale Fly and Minella Rocco in the Gold Cup, Min and Special Tiara and maybe Ordinary World in the Champion Chase, Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle, Monalee and Al Boum Photo and Dounikos probably in the RSA Chase, Tower Bridge and Duc Des Genievres maybe in the Albert Bartlett, Invitation Only probably in the JLT, Mr Adjudicator and Farclas in the Triumph Hurdle, Blackbow and Rhinestone in the Champion Bumper. 

Then you have a clutch of handicappers, like Patricks Park and Tully East and Last Goodbye and maybe Snow Falcon in the Brown Advisory Plate, Any Second Now in the Close Brothers Chase, Three Stars in the Grand Annual, Deal D’Estruval in whichever handicap hurdle he gets into.  And others.

And Edwulf in the Gold Cup.  Now that would be some story.

 No denying Harvey’s effectiveness 

Harvey appeared to be in good form at Henry de Bromhead’s last week.  He didn’t look very fit, he looked a bit scratchy in his slower paces, and he is not overly big, but there is no denying his effectiveness.

He does, admittedly, jump like a hairy goat, but his trainer reports him to be in top form and all set to travel with Monalee this weekend.  He loves it at Cheltenham, and you know that Cheltenham Festival form will be key this week.  (Goats for courses.)


© The Irish Field, 10th March 2018