Things We Learned » Lots of stories

Lots of stories

You think of the stories that might emerge from the Cheltenham baize this week.  The new chapters that will be written into racing’s annals.

Victory for Tiger Roll would be a story, probably the story.  Tiger Roll is often the story.

A third Cross-Country Chase.  Garde Champetre is the only horse to win two in a row, and no horse has won three.  That would be five Cheltenham Festival victories too, just one behind Quevega, and a springboard to his bid for a Grand National hat-trick. 

Altior would be a story, a third Champion Chase win would do that, only the second horse in the 60-year history of the race to win three Champion Chases and the first since Badsworth Boy in the 1980s.  A 10-year-old, taking on two whipper-snapper eight-year-olds in the best renewal of the Champion Chase since an 11-year-old Moscow Flyer beat Well Chief and Azertyuiop in 2005.

There are myriad other possibilities.  Darver Star could be the story, Rachael Blackmore could be the story, Al Boum Photo could be the story.  Hopefully we all get there now and the stories are allowed to develop.  Hopefully we get to open the book.

Charli back

It was good to see Charli Parcs back at Leopardstown on Sunday.  The form of the race may not be the most robust, but he couldn’t have done much more than he did really.  He cruised in behind the leaders on the run past the by-passed second last flight, and he picked up impressively when Barry Geraghty asked him to, coming clear of Jetz on the run from the by-passed last.

JP McManus’ horse was high in the betting for the 2017 Triumph Hurdle before he fell in the Adonis Hurdle that year, a fall in which Barry Geraghty broke six of his ribs and consequently missed that year’s Cheltenham Festival.  The Anabaa Blue gelding was well beaten by Defi Du Seuil in the Triumph Hurdle next time, and he failed to win in six attempts thereafter.

We didn’t see him after he finished down the field in the 2018 Greatwood Hurdle on his final run for Nicky Henderson until Sunday.  Sunday’s run was his first for Aidan Howard, and it promised plenty.

He doesn’t have any entries now, and he doesn’t have a published handicap mark, but he was rated 145 the last time we saw him in Britain, and he has the potential to progress beyond that mark.  It seems like he has been around for ages, but he is still only seven.  It will be interesting to monitor his progress now.

Top jockey

It makes sense that Paul Townend is favourite to be top jockey at this year’s Cheltenham Festival.  You can point to all his high-profile rides, Al Boum Photo and Benie Des Dieux and Asterion Forlonge and Min and Chacun Pour Soi, and the rest, the pick of the Willie Mullins orchard. 

You can also measure the expected value of the number of winners that he will have, using current odds as a measure of probability.  It’s an inexact science, you need to make several assumptions and best-guesses in terms of running plans and riding plans, and the handicaps are difficult at this stage of course, but Townend’s 2.72 is clear best. 

Second best at present is Rachael Blackmore on 1.645, followed by Nico de Boinville, Barry Geraghty and Davy Russell.  Patrick Mullins is interesting in the top jockey market at 33/1.  He will have other rides too, like maybe Sharjah in the Champion Hurdle and surely the pick of a few in the Kim Muir, but, at current odds, his top three rides, Carefully Selected in the National Hunt Chase, Appreciate It in the Champion Bumper and Billaway in the Foxhunter, give him an expected value of 0.878.  He would need the ball to hop his way, but Nico de Boinville was top jockey last year with just three winners.  Stranger things have happened. 

Short going well

Adam Short was seen to good effect at Leopardstown on Sunday, in landing the two-mile handicap hurdle on the Philip Rothwell-trained Wolfofallstreets, and again on Monday, in winning the three-mile beginners’ chase on Turbo Jet for Dermot McLoughlin.

Turbo Jet’s task was rendered easier than it might have been when Discordantly fell at the second fence in the back straight but, left in the front rank after the favourite’s departure, he jumped well for his young rider after that, and he kept on well.

Wolfofallstreets was a little different in that, he was in front from early, but his rider didn’t panic when British Art moved up and took it off him on the run to the end of the back straight.  Content to take a lead at that point, the rider allowed his horse move up on the outside of the leader on the run around the home turn and, when he asked him for his effort, the Kalanisi gelding found plenty, and appeared to win with at least a little more in hand than the bare winning margin.  

Wolfofallstreets took Short’s tally to the season to 16, past last season’s best-ever 15.  Turbo Jet took it to 17.  All three could be worth following now. 

25 years on

It’s 25 years since Tourist Attraction, Willie Mullins’ first Cheltenham Festival winner, won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, at 25/1, and arrived back into the winner’s enclosure on 14th March 1995 at about 2.25.

© The Irish Field, 7th March 2020