THE annual Shabra Charity Cheltenham preview night kicked of a decent pace in the Glencarn Hotel, Castleblayney on Monday night.
MC Dessie Scahill was kept well informed on the goings on at Selhurst Park to add a bit of banter to proceedings with Liverpool legend and charity patron Ian Rush as special guest on the panel.
Along with Oliver Brady, fond memories were recalled of previous attendees who had sadly passed away in the last year – Peter Casey, Noel O’Brien and Fr Billy Hughes.
First off the mark, Shark Hanlon had reportedly been busy ferrying Willie Mullins employees to work through the snow and was expect to have the latest updates on the Closutton team.
Handicapper Andrew Shaw had Supreme favourite Getabird falling a bit short of a Vautour or Douvan rating on 152 with Kalashnikov on 154, but noted the latter had a hard race at Newbury, and with Summerville Boy on 150, there was little between them.
David Jennings felt there was enough doubts to put people off Getabird and offered Paloma Blue to take on the favourite at the prices. Sean Flanagan was impressed with Getabird but his preference for Mengli Khan on softer ground.
Paddy Power’s Frank Hickey had this race dividing the trading room and expected Getabird to go off 1/1. He too was keen on Kalashnikov.
For the Arkle, it was over to the Willie Mullins hotline and the Shark reported, “The boys think he is a certainty, they’ll be very disappointed in Willie’s if the first two (Getabird and Footpad) are beaten.”
He felt Petit Mouchoir might not jump as well in England, while Tony Martin saw Petit Mouchoir as the better hurdler but Footpad was better over fences.
“I can’t see Footpad being beaten,” he summed up.
Willie Power added: “Footpad looks class,” noting he had won at Navan, Naas and Leopardstown, “the best tracks.”
Andrew Shaw had Footpad on 162, “very high for a novice”, though Petit Mouchoir should give him a closer race. “I can’t see Footpad being beaten on what I’ve seen so far.” Famous last words!
Cheltenham can do strange things to man and beast and David Jennings joins in, auditioning of the role of a romantic novel writer.
“Remember the girl at college you couldn’t take your eyes off, you wanted to talk to her, buy her a drink ... and a few years later you see her in the pub and she’s put on weight, has spots and is pregnant, but you still love her?”
Where’s this going…?
It’s Brain Power!
“He has so much potential, it’s like first love.”
“Brain dead!” counters Dessie.
Sean Flanagan, sensibly, won’t have his head swayed by past affections, staying with Footpad – “the banker of the meeting”.
On to the Champion Hurdle and Andrew Shaw can see little opposition to Buveur D’Air, unless Faugheen “finds the form of his first run”. The favourite is rated 167, 7lbs below Faugheen at his best.
He says on Yorkhill: “It’s hard to know what to expect but can’t see him winning a Champion Hurdle.”
Willie Power suggests we should not forget the Group 1 flat winner – Wicklow Brave.
Day two sees Samcro launched into Britain. Sean Flanagan has actually been lucky enough to be on board the banker, “a super horse who just tips away”.
David Jennings imparts some knowledge gained on the preview circuit – offering On The Blind Side, who they love in Seven Barrows, and Black Op at a big price. But is with everyone is “really hoping Samcro wins”.
On ratings, it’s Samcro tops on 155, followed by Next Destination 150.
Frank Hickey’s brother know someone who knows someone with first-hand info from Adrian Heskin who rated Black Op an absolute aeroplane and is a “knocking each-way bet”.
Another Irish domination beckons in the RSA Chase, again split loyalties.
Sean Flanagan found it strange that Presenting Percy was given a hard race at Gowran. It’s Monalee all the way for him.
David Jennings comes back on board saying, “who are we to question Pat Kelly?” He offers Ballyoptic of the UK horses, similar to stable companion Blaklion, while Willie Power gives Benatar a shout.
Andrew Shaw has only 5lbs covering seven horses at the top of the market here with Invitation Only (152) “in there too”.
Shark is with the Mullins runner too: “Paul Townend was disgusted with himself after the ride at Leopardstown, said they’ll never beat me again.”
Tony Martin preferred Monalee from the Leopardstown race. Presenting Percy is popular with Frank Hickey – people are backing him for the 2019 Gold Cup.
For the Champion Chase, Dessie says: “We’ll let England win one.”
It’s Altior bar a fall for Shark. Sean Flanagan agrees, and wouldn’t be surprised if Douvan didn’t run. It’s Altior all the way with a bit of each-way recommendation for Charbel, while Willie Power offers a little support for God’s Own and Ordinary World of the longer priced horses.
It’s Sam Spinner for David Jennings in the Stayers but a little interest in the “bit of a rogue L’Ami Serge”, with solid Cheltenham form. Willie Power recommends Unowhatimeanharry – “they have him back”.
On to the Albert Bartlett, and David Jennings has another interesting stat from the circuit from Paul Kealy.
The race usually goes to the horse with the most runs. This would have seen you find winners at 33/1, 16/1, 14/1 and 10/1 in recent years. Avoid the “promising ones, don’t get sucked in to the exciting horse” – Death Duty, Black Hercules, Briar Hill… He offers Chef Des Obeaux and Calett Mad as fitting the bill.
Willie seems well clued in to the UK trainers and offer Gowiththeflow from the Ben Pauling yard along with Calett Mad.
For the Triumph Hurdle David expected revenge from Leopardstown, as he offered Paul Kealy’s nap of the meeting – Farclas.
It all builds to the Friday climax of the Gold Cup. Sean Flanagan believes his mount Road To Respect would have won the Irish Gold Cup but is now delighted he missed it, and “is in super form”.
David’s still feeling the love: “Nothing would make me happier than if Sean won the Gold Cup,” – not even that student crush!
He thinks Our Duke is overpriced and if he got into a rhythm he could be a mini Denman. “It’s all about rhythm,” he concludes.
Willie wants to look at value but the audience have no time for that.
“Value is no good if it doesn’t win!” comes the retort.
Tony Martin has doubts on the favourite: “Might Bite will go a fierce gallop but will he get home? The race will suit Native River.”
Anthony McCann is with Road To Respect, while Andrew Shaw believes the “horse who wins is the one who has had the clearest run through the season,” and gives Road To Respect the thumbs up with Definitly Red overpriced. Both Dessie and Ian Rush would be happy with a Definitly Red winner!
PANEL BEST BETS
Sean Flanagan: Flawless Escape (Martin Pipe)
David Jennings: Any Second Now (Close Brothers Chase)
Willie Power: Unowhatimeanharry (Stayers)
Andrew Shaw: Laurina (Mares Novices)
Frank Hickey: Tiger Roll (Cross Country)
Dessie Scahill: Invitation Only (JLT)
Anthony McCann: Un De Sceaux (Ryanair)
Tony Martin: Dounikos (NH Chase)
Ian Rush: Getabird (Supreme)
Shark Hanlon: Benatar (RSA) and Didtheyleaveuoutto (Bumper) each-way double