The going is heavy on Cartmel Priory School's cross-country course, which passes through the woods adjacent to the racecourse.
As the kids
plod by, mud splattered up to their necks, I wonder if they're not being
over-trained in the soft conditions. If they were horses, I wouldn't fancy their
chances of making it to the Cheltenham Festival. And that's one of
the conundrums at this time of year: should trainers give their horses one last
preparatory run before the Festival, or will their best opportunity of winning a
big race be left behind in the mud?
was quoted in The Racing Post this week saying that many of his horses prefer
the better spring ground. Of the small number of runners that he has sent out
this year, most "came back knackered". He has the option of running Cheltenham
Gold Cup hope, Holywell, at Doncaster
this weekend in the Sky Bet Chase - but only if the ground dries up. O'Neill
said "The plan was to run, as he is in good form".
us to our other problem: on a weekend such as this, when Cheltenham is hosting
a day of dedicated Festival trials, how do we separate the horses which are fit
and raring to go now - from the ones which are being brought along steadily to
reach a peak in March?
Djakadam is a
short price to win the Gold Cup trial, but surely no one is expecting him to be
as sharp now as he will be in seven weeks time. O'Faolain's Boy and Many
Clouds are longer-priced, both have attractive Gold Cup profiles and both
are probably being trained to peak later in the spring - so maybe we should be
prepared for an upset. Wakanda
There is a
good argument that we shouldn't place any bets at all on Saturday; simply sit
back, enjoy the spectacle and form a few opinions for the races that matter
later in the Spring. But then... I just can't resist having a small punt on Knockara Beau.
At the age of
thirteen, the George Charlton trained gelding is old enough to go to school
with the mud-splattered kids from Cartmel. And in fact Knockara Beau is a graduate of Cartmel - having won his first
steeplechase here, back in May 2009. On Saturday he returns to one of his
favourite hunting grounds - the scene of his famous victory, at 66/1, over the
mighty Big Bucks in Cheltenham's
Cleeve Hurdle two years ago. He's currently priced at 25/1 to spring a similar
surprise on this year's World Hurdle favourite Thistlecrack.
Having won or
been placed nine times at Cheltenham, six times at prices of 22/1 or more, Knockara
Beau is our selection for the weekend.