“Unbelievable! That’s un…be…lievable!!!” My words sitting in front of a screen in an open space office located on the outskirts of Dublin; Racing UK stream on, headphones on, sound up to the maximum… apparently emotions got the better of me. Co-workers made clear gestures:”Pssssssssssssssst!!”. The race was over anyway.
It was a funny thought beforehand, a joke told with a bit of a cynical undertone – but here it was: REALITY! Nicky approaching the parade ring, emotional, close to tears. And there he was, the hero, returning to the winners enclosure, accompanied by the loudest cheers imaginable. A euphoric crowd trying to get a glimpse of the horse they call Sprinter Sacre. You have to see it to believe it. I mean: he REALLY did it. Unbelievable!!!
Look, I’m the first to stand up and say I got it wrong. 12 month ago I sure said “retire him”. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, was I?. And surely I can’t have been the only one entirely dismissing Sprinter’s chance in today’s Champion Hurdle. I certainly did. And I got it spectacularly wrong.How wonderful!
Let’s enjoy the day but at the same time let’s not get too carried away. This wasn’t the Sprinter Sacre of the old, glory days which were days of pure brilliance. However today was one closer to it than ever since all the injury problems started to emerge.
What I really want is: take my hat off to Nicky Henderson! What an unbelievable job you’ve done with this horse. Fit and ready to go to war at the moment when it mattered most.
And Sprinter delivered! I loved how he found more and more once under pressure. He’s not a bridle horse. He’s a fighter! Admittedly there was a moment when he was rather too early off the bridle for my taste and I thought “that’s it”. But here came the surprise. He kept going, embraced the fight and won duly. Stuff dreams are made of!
Any Currency – Consistency pays off
Placed twice before, now he got one better – finally! Any Currency, at the grand age of 13, out battled the younger legs of favourite Josies Hill. He was prominent throughout the race, jumped well and clearly knew what was asked of him. Still, turning for home I would have put my money on rival Bless The Wings, who were there coming with a very strong ride.
But experience prevailed. Any Currency, throughout his career, was a model of consistency, excelling particularly in this discipline. Ten starts in cross-county races, five times placed, two times a winner, both victories at Cheltenham, including this one today, the biggest day of his long lasting career. Well done!
Blacklion caused a bit of a shock in the RSA. He outstayed the strong travelling Shaneshill, who – that’s probably fair to say – is not quite a 3 mile chaser. But neither of the well fancied No More Heroes and More Of That where involved in the finish, although the Gigginstown horse has a good excuse, was found lame afterwards and is lucky to have survived, if Twitter is to be believed. On a personal note I’m happy here, given Blacklion provided me with a first Festival winner (13/1).
Slightly surprising, albeit not quite as shocking, was how how easily Yorkhill disposed red hot favourite Yanworth in the Neptune. Yanworth looked a superstar in the making when winning the Neptune Trial here at this very same venue back in January but was clearly only second best today.
Yorkhill, who won the Tolworth hurdle on his way to Cheltenham, didn’t mind the better ground and looks a super exciting prospect. How good he can be, we have to find out. But he’s been quoted 10/1 for next years Champions Hurdle.
Thursday: What’s on the tab? *Updated Wed. 11am*
First race, the JLT; I have had a proper look through this race but still feel it’s some kind of lottery race. Ground, trip, form – question marks everywhere, none of the better fancied ones really stands out.
So I like to go with a horse that could be anything: Three Musketeers. Still available at 12/1 which could look big later one. Had excuses for his last bad run but is pretty much unexposed, an excellent jumper, was brilliant before when winning a Grade 2 at Newbury – plenty to like about, though the ground is a bit of an unknown.
But he was far from disgraced on fast ground at the Aintree festival last season, when an excellent third in a Grade 1 hurdle behind Nichols Canyon.
If the JLT is a lottery, what would you call the Pertemps Final then? Madness! It’s funny though that after having a proper look I feel quite strong about the value of some in the field. There’s the dramatically improved Kilfinichen Bay. Maybe too high in the mark now? We’ll see, but sure to act on the ground and stays the trip. 50/1 is a huge price.
The same can be said about Broxbourne. He’s only had eight starts over hurdles and could still improve a bit, particularly in today’s conditions. I like the 28/1 for him. I also feel 18’s for Saddlers Encore is slightly over the top. He’s got the right profile. Progressive, fair mark, ground, trip all what he wants.
And I also feel 50/1 shot Rolling Maul is massively overpriced if he can find back to his past hurdling form. Back over timber off a competitive mark gives him a chance to run well. I’ll be on all four individuals each-way; a rarity for me, but five places and 1/4 of the odds is too good to leave alone.
The Ryanair Chase and back to the “Vautour Saga”. It’s not the Gold Cup for him as we know now. Anyway, my evens wager looks a “good thing”. Go Vautour go! Nothing else to add. Except: While Road To Riches is probably to slow to beat a fit Vautour, he could make this a true test of stamina and should be at least in the money. If I’d be an each-way backer I lump on the 8/1.
World Hurdle, and here I have an ante-post stake as well. Cole Harden. Though the closer the race, the more I feel Thistlecrack is near impossible to beat. Although my 8/1 looks a steel of a bet with the good ground sure to bring out the best of the reigning champ. Still, the more often I watch the reply of the favourites last race, the better it looks.
The beautifully named Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate is a race I want to be involved in. Because I fancy one of Willies’s! Doesn’t happen often, I have to say, which is more for price reasons than anything else. But Ballycasey in this grade, trip on ground he acts on, makes plenty off appeal from his current mark. He’s not as good as he used to be but still has some decent form in the book. At 20’s he looks a big price.
The Mares Hurdle looks a sure thing for Limini… according to the bookies. The mare has done really well since joining Willie Mullins but her price is over is plain wrong and only as short because she is trained by the Irish Master.
I seriously like Smart Talk at 8/1 as the value. There is a bit of concern about her jumping, she has to improve in that department, has to be slicker and more efficient over her hurdles, but her record is hugely impressive and the way she put away decent opposition the last time at Doncaster, despite almost coming down at the second last demonstrated the enormous engine this mare has.
The Amateurs race is dominated by some familiar names. An equally familiar name makes plenty of appeal with his mount. Grandads House and Sam Waley-Cohen must be a good chance to go close I feel. The horse stays the trip, acts on the ground and ran a blinder in the very same race last year but is getting in this time off a much better mark. At 33/1 it’s a nice each-way shout with 5 places, 1/4 odds.