HEAVEN is a place on earth - so the song goes though the world doesn’t feel too heavenly these days. But, for these four days next week, we can take a brief respite and enjoy the best things about our sport. Our Olympics, heroes, human and equine.
It looks the best first day Cheltenham to welcome back racefans for many a year and even if we don’t have to have a bet in every race, we can still pick out some winners.
The Supreme is top notch, two Hendersons against the Irish. I just have a slight doubt about Dysart Dynamo on run style and those wide margin wins. Was he flattered in poor races? Constitution Hill to live up to the hype for me and get the British tails up.
They might well win the Arkle too for Edwardstone does look a complete novice. Blue Lord and the three five-year-olds lead the Irish. Blue Lord was a long way from the top as a novice hurdler, Haut En Coleurs probably had the best form last year but I’ve been impressed with Riviere D’etel’s attitude all year. She came close to Ferny Hollow at Christmas, probably the best form line, and I think she will be suited by the two fences in the straight more than at Leopardstown.
It looks sure to be fast run and the best jumper and strongest stayer will prevail and I think she’ll be well placed to do it.
The Ultima could go to anyone. Novices have a good record but Vintage Clouds was 11 last year. I’ve gone with the novice Floueur here, hoping he doesn’t jump like “a bag of hammers” at the last again! School Boy Hours could also be interesting if he runs.
So to the Champion Hurdle. The hardest thing to do after winning an All-Ireland is to win a second one and Honeysuckle has been odds-on for a long time. Can Appreciate It threaten off 365 days away? Are there any flaws in Honeysuckle? Paul Townend has unfinished business from the Mares’ Hurdle two years ago. He will have to go with Honeysuckle when she kicks as you’ll not peg her back up the run-in.
But if Appreciate It is capable, hassle her into the last hurdle and see what happens.
Tommy’s Oscar could be ridden to pick up the place pieces at decent odds.
The Mares’ Hurdle is tricky. I don’t think Stormy Ireland can make all and will set it up for one like Queens Brook.
The Boodles – pass. I thought Iberique Du Seuil was a lovely horse when winning at the track two runs ago but he ran poorly next time and made a mistake last time. Connections have won this before. I’ll take Farouk D’alene to end the day for Ireland in the National Hunt Chase.
Off we go again with a clatter of Mullins novice hurdlers and I’ll stick with Sir Gerhard.
I’d love Ahoy Senor to win the Brown Advisory but have doubts on his jumping while Bravemansgame has been flawless. Also pretty flawless has been Charlie Deutsch on novices this season and while I’m surprised L’Homme Presse goes here, that must be a pointer to his chance.
The Coral Cup will set a tone for the rest of the handicaps. Philip Hobbs’ Camprond catches the eye but it’s not one to play big in.
The Champion Chase can see Shishkin mark himself in the same league as other great champions from his famous stable. I have doubts on Energumene on his first visit to the track while Chacun Pour Soi has had three less than happy visits to Britain.
The Cross Country – just pray for Tiger. The Grand Annual – help. Might try Before Midnight.
There’s no logical reason why Facile Vega will be beaten, He’s been mentioned in high regard for months, before he ran. But stranger things have happened. I’ll take James’s Gate for value. Rosy Redrum gets an awful lot of weight and fillies have a good record here too.
The Turners is another great head-to-head. I’m still not convinced on Bob Olinger’s jumping in public up against one like Galopin De Champ who could take lengths out of him and put him under pressure.
The Pertemps you’d love to see a smaller stable like Panda Boy or A Great View win but it’s a wait and see ‘til declarations race.
How can Allaho be beaten in the Ryanair? We said the same for Douvan in the Champion Chase and Envoi Allen last year. Saint Calvados will surely run better than he did at Ascot and could be the each-way play.
The Stayers’ has a more important start than finish. Will Klassical Dream or Flooring Porter get a flying start? Will Paisley Park start? Paisley coming through again would be the celebration of the day.
The Plate is too difficult so far in advance. Not convinced Andy Dufresne would be good on this track. Annamix has done nothing in his last three runs but that second to Galvin keeps popping up in my head.
Mares’ Novice, risky. Nurse Susan looks to have a decent level of from but too many fancy Dinoblue to desert her. Kim Muir can wait until jocks are declared too.
So to the final day. Pied Piper was very impressive last time but Vauban looked to have a lot of substance about him at Leopardstown. The County looks typically tough. Dan Skelton usually goes close. We’ll know more by mid-week. The Albert Bartlett has a stand-out in Hillcrest, with course form too, but I’ll take him on, just not sure who with yet.
Then the big one. Go for Gold. I can’t have A Plus Tard finding the extra from last year. His Haydock and Leopardstown runs were a contradiction. Galvin is too short for one considered for the National at the beginning of the season. Minella Indo thrives here and stays. I can’t see him not being in the first three and it looks an Irish domination as I can’t see Protektorat finding this trip to his liking. I scoffed at those backing Royale Pagaille last year but have invested at 20s this time as I can see him going closer if it came up softer and it might be a slowly-run race.
Al Boum Photo, Tornado Flyer and Asterion Forlonge make up a mighty Mullins team. Could there be value in Asterion? Ignore the two falls? Better ground and conditions? All those fences though? I’ll stick with course form and another Minella win.
The Irish are strong in the Hunter Chase. Best jockey wins? But we’ll be cheering for David Maxwell too. Mares’ Chase, I’ve backed Gin On Lime in November but think Mount Ida is the one. And so to the Martin Pipe, the get-out stakes and there’ll be a few well-backed before the 5.30 final curtain.
It’ll take a long day of study to mix up some multiples on Monday but here we are again, a full house, and the theatre of dreams ready and waiting for the show. We don’t need the Stay Safe this time so Have Fun!