Thursday, 23 January 2014

Time to Watch and Learn - Not Leap and Fall

The Cheltenham Festival is seven weeks away and I’d like to give you some shrewd advice as to which horses to back now at a big ante-post price. I expect you’d like that too.  

It isn’t going to happen; not this week anyway. You see, a few years ago a very dear friend of mine gave me a dreadful gift – it was a little black book in which to record all of my bets. Of course I don’t actually write all of my bets in its pages, that would be too depressing. Instead, I just put in the major ones, the really important ones, I’m talking about the ones that I strike ahead of the Cheltenham Festival. 

I’ve been taking a look through the pages and it’s become obvious that my ante-post plunges are not what they could be. Last year I was very enthusiastic about Silviniaco Conti in the Gold Cup, backing him at 7/2 several weeks beforehand. He started half a point bigger at 4/1 and fell at the third last fence.  

In 2012 the horse that I most wanted to win was Wishfull Thinking, who I backed in advance at various prices for the Champion Chase. He started at 16/1 and fell at the fourth. 

Going back to 2011, I had been confident about the chances of Wishfull Thinking in the RSA Novices Chase.  I backed him at 20/1 and instead he ran in the Jewson over half a mile shorter distance. Fortunately I’d had a small saver on Quel Esprit at 12/1. He started at the much bigger odds of 20/1 on the day and was actually in front at the third last fence... when he also fell. Such is the record of my ante-post Cheltenham selections, I suspect that if I were to tip a Festival runner to you now, there’s a fair chance they wouldn’t be able to find a jockey to ride it. 

Fortunately, if you can wait until 6th March, we’ll have a panel of experts at the Cartmel Grandstand to give you some proper advice. In recent years they’ve napped some cracking winners including: Al Ferof (10/1), Divers (10/1) and Chief Dan George (33/1). Tickets for the Cheltenham Festival Preview Night cost just £15 and are available from the racecourse office now. The price includes a light supper. 

In the meantime, the Festival clues will keep on coming over the next four weeks as most of the main protagonists have their final preparatory outings. The last fixture at Cheltenham racecourse before the Festival is this weekend and they’ll be a few runners getting in a bit of course practice including my old favourites Wishfull Thinking (2½ mile chase) and Knockara Beau who could face the returning Staying Hurdle Champion Big Bucks and At Fishers Cross in the Cleeve Hurdle. 

Paul Nicholls’ improving chaser Unioniste seems likely to miss the Argento Chase, a recognised Gold Cup trial at Cheltenham, in favour of the main handicap chase at Doncaster. He’ll have to defy top weight, but is the selection for this weekend. 

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