Coral Cheltenham Preview Night; Loose Cannon Club, London; Tuesday 6th March
Tonight was my first “preview night” of any kind and it was an enjoyable night that’s for sure, for this “invite only” occasion. A panel of four were the main players in discussion. These were Nick Luck (NL), Channel 4 Racing and RacingUK presenter; Simon Clare (SC), Head of PR at Coral; Mark “The Couch” Winstanley (MH), from the Racing Post and Paddy Brennan (PB), who arrived late after returning from riding at Exeter. All 27 races were discussed, albeit some briefly and I’ll go through them in chronological order, as the panel also did bar the exception of the Gold Cup, which was left until last.
Supreme Novices Hurdle
The Supreme Novices Hurdle opened the discussion, with MW vehemently opposed to Galileo’s Choice, mainly due to the poor record of Dermot Weld at the Festival alongside that he believed that Weld was merely using Cheltenham as a “schooling session for Galway”. MW advised giving this race a miss altogether. SC commented on the shortening price of Darlan, possibly due to owner JP McManus claiming it was his NAP of the Festival. SC also put in good mentions for Tetlami from the same Nicky Henderson yard, along with Galileo’s Choice, which provided the first of many short and lively debates with MW regarding Dermot Weld. At a bigger price, NL suggested the Charlie Longsdon trained Vulcanite as a nice each-way wager, his belief being that his run last time at Newbury was disappointing due to incorrect jockey tactics. PB supported NL’s views regarding Vulcanite, and was very complimentary regarding work he’d done on the horse at home, using the word “unbelievable”.
The Arkle contains the highly touted Sprinter Sacre and all four of the panel agreed that he’s going to be very difficult to beat. SC suggested that on-course layers will be very tempted to get stuck in to this favourite and evens on-course might not be a complete fantasy, a view corroborated by his colleague in the audience, James Knight. MW sternly rubbished suggestions that Sprinter Sacre would fail to get up the Cheltenham hill, and quickly went on to say that Ruby Walsh for top jockey was his NAP of the festival, along with Blackstairmountain in the w/o favourite market in the Arkle not being a bad shout. Both NL and PB also agreed that barring accidents Sprinter Sacre could be very difficult to beat.
JLT Handicap Chase
MW threw up a few horses in this race, including The Package who has been off for a long while but has been well-supported. Penny Max too as a NRNB play, especially if the ground comes up soft [was pulled out at Ascot as ground said too fast a couple of weeks ago]. MW also put in a good word for Tullamore Dew, who was just touched off at that Ascot meeting and he wouldn’t put anyone off backing Quantitativeeasing, NL stating that he needed to get in the first 4 to get a place for the National. NL further added a good mention of Lie Forrit, a favourite of a colleague of his and he believed he was a similar kind of horse to that of Chief Dan George, and Lie Forrit would prove to be well-handicapped over fences. SC provided a trend that winners tended to be rated 143 or less, and thus he thought Tullamore Dew might go well. SC also had reservations regarding current favourite Hold On Julio, as Wayne Hutchinson had concerns regarding the horse’s jumping.
This was another race where the race seemingly revolves around one horse, that being in this instance Hurricane Fly. In this case, the panel wasn’t unanimous in their support for the Willie Mullins trained horse. NL suggested Binocular as being a “great each-way price” at 5/1 and a “danger to all” if his form of his win in this race two years ago. SC was less impressed with Binocular, stating him as “unexciting” and suggesting that a possible betting plan of action would be to wait for the day regarding backing Hurricane Fly, as it is likely that the bookmakers may try to get after him on-course. PB thought Hurricane Fly would win barring accidents, whilst MW was similarly impressed, especially after his last win at Leopardstown. Other bets suggested in this race was that by SC of Oscars Well and a place bet on Overturn, whilst MW also liked the chance of Rock on Ruby in the w/o favourite market, alongside a tricast including Hurricane Fly, Rock on Ruby and Thousand Stars.
Cross Country Chase
This race was mentioned only very briefly, with PB quickly quashing any suggestion he’d want to ride in this race. SC mentioned that Richard Johson believed that Balthazar King was his best chance at the Festival in this race. My feelings of that horse would be that he’d need fairly quick ground to play a part in the finish, which with the current forecast isn’t that likely.
David Nicholson Mares Hurdle
Another race where the market revolves around one horse, that being Quevega. PB will likely ride Terre Du Vent but claimed Quevega to be a certainty. SC suggested the only horse that could beat Quevega would be Unaccompanied (bringing about another short debate regarding the Cheltenham Festival record of Dermot Weld) but the market vibes were suggesting she wouldn’t line up. MW put up Kentford Grey Lady, a progressive horse who he claimed was given a poor ride by Jack Doyle last time, as a place bet, but that Quevega would win.
SC and MW both mentioned the gamble on Triolo D’Arlene, who allegedly was tipped by Nicky Henderson himself as his NAP of the Festival, and there were reports of said horse working like a 150 rated animal. SC also found the Irish trained Slieveardagh interesting, whilst MW also threw the Tony Martin trained Nearest The Pin into the mix, who he’d received a positive report for. NL liked Shot From The Hip, whom he felt was well-handicapped on his form over timber and at 10/1, had slipped under the radar. PB suggested Ackertac, who had finished behind Triolo D’Arlene at Ascot earlier this year, as having been “set-up” for this contest by his old boss Nigel Twiston-Davies.
MW suggested Allee Garde as being one of his best bets of the festival, feeling it should be a much shorter price than it currently is. SC commented on the market support for Harry the Viking, along with the low-profile campaign over fences of Oscar Dan Dan also being of interest. SC also liked Teaforthree as he would stay the trip solidly. NL felt that Alfie Spinner was Nick Williams’ best chance of a winner at the Festival and that he should go well upped in trip.
Neptune Investments Hurdle
MW was of the view that Boston Bob would win any race he goes for, but market signals were suggesting that BB was going to go elsewhere, and that the 5/2 on Simonsig at the time was a fantastic NRNB investment. It was also stated Irish P2P rider Derek O’Connor at another Cheltenham Preview night, had suggested that Simonsig was “banker material” having his experience with the horse in the past, NL adding that he’s bred for the trip and it will likely turn out to be his best distance and that the race itself would be fairly thin if Boston Bob didn’t show.
Will Grand Crus turn up here or in the Gold Cup? SC suggested the market vibes were pointing to the latter. If lining up in this race though, it’s probable that the bookmakers will again want to take on the favourite anyway and SC stated Bobs Worth as having an obvious chance, fitting the stats nicely. He also added that the huge gamble in Sire Des Champs meant there was very little value in the price currently. MW disagreed entirely, stating Sir Des Champs to be an “aeroplane” and having an excellent chance, shown especially by how far he’d come from the rear last time out, later going on to give it as his charity bet. MW felt that Grand Crus should be given a crack at the Gold Cup.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
MW brought up the poor record of older horses in this contest, leading him to have sided with Finian’s Rainbow as an each-way wager, although apart from the age stat, he found it difficult to knock the chances of Sizing Europe. NL was keener on the chances of Finian’s Rainbow than MW, while also questioning why Henrietta Knight doesn’t give a chance to Somersby in this race. SC agreed, saying he’d run Somersby as it was a pretty poor race in truth, especially with the likes of Big Zeb towards the front of the market, who he felt was regressing badly from top level competition. He felt though that Evens or better about Sizing Europe was worth a bet. MW also added a possible match bet in this contest, that Finians Rainbow would beat Big Zeb.
SC quoted a stat that no horse higher than 147 had won the event, which would rule out some of the big players in the market. He however, gave no specific advice about what to back, suggesting you should follow the money on the day of the race. MW would have liked Our Father if lining up, but he goes elsewhere and he gave a small mention to Third Intention after an impressive success in the Spirit Hurdle.
PB claimed he’d have no ride in this contest, and stated that Vendor would be difficult to beat in any case. Vendor was the topic of much the discussion on this race, with reports of the Alan King horse working well alongside much higher rated animals in Balder Succes. Wayne Hutchinson claimed he couldn’t be beaten off a mark of 129, but SC hasten to add that the Fred Winter often has many well-handicapped animals involved that could go off at big prices. MW believed that Vendor could be a difficult ride and that might find him out at Cheltenham, even comparing him to the frustrating Olofi. MW put up Fire Fighter as an alternative to Vendor, especially as Alan King had an excellent trio of runners in this race last year and you shouldn’t be put off by any second-fiddle jockey bookings, although he was concerned with said horse’s jumping last time out. MW also suggested Musawama from Gordon Elliott’s yard, who’d appreciate the likely ground being out of Azamour and he won’t have been seen to the best of his ability running on softer surfaces.
SC said the market was wide open, but had heard reports that Fickle Fortune was “very special”, a comment also corroborated by MW. MW thought market principle Moscow Mannon wasn’t a very likely winner, putting up a suggestion in the John Ferguson trained New Years Eve as the best of the English horses. Both NL and PB liked Royal Guardsman after his Ascot win, and the former suggested he thinks this race will go to a British trained runner. A couple of audience members (including Twitter member “kingofbumpers”) suggested Cool George as their fancy, although PB thought that he wouldn’t be running.
Peddlers Cross was confirmed for this race only a couple of days ago and all four of the panel weren’t too keen on his chances, PB being concerned with his jumping and his movement when last seen at Kempton, while SC was also worried with “why” they had decided the switch so late, did they just believe that Sprinter Sacre couldn’t be beaten? Coral’s were likely going to lay top price about Peddlers, with both PB and SC, liking the chances of Champion Court. MW liked Cristal Bonus, although he was unsure to how strong the Kempton race actually was, while putting good mentions in for Call the Police (ew) if the rain arrived. Taking a similar view to that of Coral, MW stated Peddlers Cross as his lay of the meeting.
PB was adamant throughout that Sivola De Sivola had an excellent chance in this race, especially with the NRNB concession now in place as there are doubts to whether he’ll get in. From what you could see, he felt this horse had a huge shout and that this horse was a “serious talent” after an eye-catching run last time. MW thought Our Father had an excellent chance also, as he believed he’d go for this race and that Sweet My Lord also had claims. SC spoke about their being a big move for Jetson, but he obviously wasn’t too worried as he offered a special price of 10/1 on the night.
PB liked Noble Prince in this race, and wasn’t really convinced by Riverside Theatre. SC thought otherwise, liking Riverside Theatre, especially with Medermit possibly going elsewhere. Great Endeavour was another where a fair case could be made, with MW not sure whether he could handle it at the top level. MW wasn’t particularly involved in this race, stating it was a hard one to call but if he had to, he’d go Noble Prince.
Big Bucks is unbeatable according to the current odds but MW thought there was a chance he could be turned over, putting up Dynaste in opposition at 14/1, further adding that Big Bucks is getting on a bit now and sometime soon, bad luck in-running will fall his way. Dynaste was stated by MW as a decent trading proposition in-play, especially as he consistently trades much shorter. PB thought Oscar Whisky would stay the 3 mile trip, but still wouldn’t have enough to beat Big Bucks, although he was glad Oscar Whisky lined up as it added another plausible rival to the favourite. SC thought similar, suggesting Big Bucks should be 1/4, and his colleague in the audience James Knight suggesting 1/5 would be a more apt price.
Byrne Group Plate
PB had been reliably told that Salut Flo had worked very well on a racecourse gallop at Exeter recently, but obviously didn’t want to say who he had heard it from (it wasn’t Conor O’Farrel). MW jokingly suggested that they’d been working in the dark, possibly even “in Guernsey”. MW went on to say that he’d love Hunt Ball to win, especially as he enjoyed Anthony Knott as a character in racing, adding that he felt Crackaway Jack and Divers were possibly worthy of investment. SC also thought Divers was worth a bet, especially with AP McCoy on board. SC also said that Notus De La Tour would likely show in this contest, as one of his co-workers had a share in the horse and this was the target.
MW thought Up The Beat was capable of running a big race, with NL thinking that Midnight Appeal was still under the radar after it’s win at Sandown. PB thought this was a weak race and Faasel was at least reliable. He also felt that Helpston was overpriced, merely due to the fact that it was Pam Sly training, rather than a big-name. SC reported the market as pretty quiet, and that he’d heard that Faasel was working well at home.
MW thought that Grumeti was bombproof before the scare today regarding his lameness, although it’s fully expected he’ll be fine for the Festival itself. He also liked Shadow Catcher, as his jockey had gone too soon last time out and he was expecting a better run. PB rides Baby Mix, who’s been brilliant but with one big blip. He needs good ground but the impression is that he’s still a serious horse, but Grumeti still stands as the one to beat. SC thought that punters shouldn’t get too adventurous with bigger priced selections, as those at the forefront of the market have a good record. NL went against this, feeling that Hollow Tree was too big a price, his defeat last time being excused as he went off too quick last time.
MW thought an Imperial Cup/County Hurdle double for Ted Spread wasn’t impossible and thought the current price for the County Hurdle wasn’t a bad price NRNB. He also found the money for Snap Tie interesting, especially given the amount of time he’s been off the track. NL thought Citizenship “has a stone in hand”, whilst PB “wouldn’t swap Olofi” for any horse in the race, which created a debate regarding how genuine Olofi was. PB felt he was just a bit quirky, similar to Pigeon Island and that he felt he knew the right way to ride him. SC confirmed that Coral had laid loads for Snap Tie, but didn’t seem too concerned.
Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle
SC said the vibes were that this would be where Boston Bob would run, and that they’d been an interesting move for Mount Benbulben. Lovecen was seen to be a “really likeable type”, but still,the market was suggesting that Boston Bob would go off a short-price. MW thought that the 9/4 was worth taking now, and that sort of price would be one of the best bets of the festival. PB further stated his fondness of Sivola De Sivola, suggesting if he didn’t get in the Pertempts then he’d go here, feeling that wherever he went, he had the ability to run to a level of around a mark of 145.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
SC stated that Long Run had been eased out to 7/4, especially with plenty of negative vibes about and the fact that no-one was backing. Kauto Star had “rolled” today, which was a positive. PB wasn’t keen on the chances of Kauto Star at all, feeling (as a Gold Cup winning jockey) that preparation had to go perfectly for you to have a chance of winning the contest, and after Kauto’s fall (which he’d heard had been “awful”). He felt Long Run was a certainty barring accidents, and just hopes that Kauto Star returns from the race safe. MW also couldn’t have Kauto Star at all, “if he can’t win at 11, how can he at 12?” He thought Grand Crus was the best horse in the race, although PB disagreed and thought it would come too soon in his career. A chance was also given to Weird Al due to his impressive record when fresh, but NL and PB both thought Weird Al lacked resolution in a battle, which wouldn’t stand him in good stead for the race. Further questions by the audience led to What A Friend being mentioned as a possible each-way alternative, especially now Burton Port’s value had pretty much disappeared, and the likes of Quel Espirit being “an awful price”.
Both MW and PB both agreed that ex-handicappers such as Chapoturgeon who had raced at a high level shouldn’t be allowed to run here, as it should be a race for the smaller yards to compete in. NL and SC both liked Salsify.
Martin Pipe Conditional Hurdle
PB had the impression that there may be up to 10 runners from David Pipe, one put forward by SC being that of Street Entertainer. MW thought that the Bourne/Smad Place form-line was a good one, and he expected both to be fighting it out near the finish. NL ended the discussion on this race by saying that none of them really had a clue. PB hoped that Sivola De Sivola wouldn’t line up in this race (he obviously can’t ride him in this one).
SC felt Toubab had a good chance here, but MW disagreed completely, saying that he wouldn’t get up the hill. He put forward Kumbeshwar instead. NL reiterated his belief that Shot From The Hip had a chance in whatever race he showed up in, also giving a fair chance to Ferdy Murphy’s De Boitron. PB confirmed this, saying he had spoke to Ferdy Murphy and had felt that De Boitron was his best chance of the entire Festival, and especially with the likes of Divers also running during the week, was a fairly strong comment to make.
Panel Charity Bets
Simon Clare – Champion Court in the Jewson
Paddy Brennan – Sivola De Sivola in Pertempts Hurdle
Nick Luck – Cristal Bonus in the Jewson
Mark Winstanley – Sire Des Champs in the RSA
Overall, it was an enjoyable experience for someone who hadn’t been to a Festival Preview night before, and would recommend attending to anyone in the near future, especially if you have a particular strong fancy for the Festival, as it’s entirely possible that a bookmaker may give you a better price on that night. One of the biggest impressions looking to the Festival was how excited Paddy Brennan was regarding Sivola De Sivola’s chances. He looked gutted when it was even mentioned that he might not ride him if he missed the cut on his first two planned engagements and if there was one horse to take from the night, it would be that. The unanimous opposition to Peddlers Cross was also interesting, along with the repeated assertion that bookmakers are likely going to try and take on the short price favourites in Big Bucks, Hurricane Fly etc on the day. It’s an obvious point to remember that these are just the opinions of four people in the racing industry, and shouldn’t be seen as the “be all and end all”, but it provides an interesting discussion nonetheless, and I hope the above has been of use to you in some regard, or merely just an interesting read!
Finally, could I thank Coral for their invitation, along with “Best Brit Bloggers (http://www.bestbritishbloggers.co.uk) for setting me up to attend! Thanks guys.