5-1 ‘FLAME’ LIGHTS UP HAT-TRICK OF NAPS: Irish Flame (WON 5-1) made it three consecutive winning naps for Daqman yesterday, following Camborne (WON 6-4) and Run To Fly (WON 15-8). It was a second quality price in the last two days – after The Absent Mare (WON 13-2) – in which he has made just over 40 points profit .
We’re back in the big time today. The home of championship jumps-racing gives us two days of delight, with the devastating whips rules eased (were they stringent so they could be relaxed a bit?) and the weather set fair for top-quality Cheltenham action.
1.10 Cheltenham The hype merchants got it right yesterday: Cucumber Run won 11 lengths and McCoy got his hat-trick. But can you be so confident of the headlines in an amateurs’ race?
Stewarts House hacked up in the West Country and he’s had a breathing op. He may win today but we all know this morning that he’ll be a false price because the world and his wife are all on in the trade paper (headlines on two pages).
As early as 7 o’clock the 8-1 Pricewise was more 6-1, and only one favourite has won this in the last decade, with winners up to 16-1.
In fact, Stewarts House is one of half a dozen in the race who’ve never won at this trip, though he did stay on strongly at Newton Abbot and it was a Listed race.
But Frosted Grape and Estates Recovery should ensure this is an end-to-end gallop, and those old dogs Buena Vista and Pigeon Island, both dual winners at Cheltenham, will be waiting for a home run, though nothing has won this with more than 11st 3lb since 2001.
Quattrocento has scored here but has only a five-runner race to his credit in 13 starts since. Bai Zhu goes well fresh but the rider broke all and any whip rules when the beast won its one race inside the last year.
Bescot Springs and Time For Spring (watch where your mouse clicks) are both likely improvers at their age but the Irish won this race three years running between 2006-8 and Jim Culloty has a good-ground animal he needs to campaign over here, away from the bogs.
The Milan gelding Barel Of Laughs, though only five, beat older horses – the second, Model County Lass, is a good yardstick – in his first handicap: nice each-way price at 9.4.
1.45 Cheltenham This race is no exception to the trend for younger steeplechase winners: horses aged six and seven have won five of the last six, with 11st 6lb the ceiling for weight carried.
So that’s two black marks against one of the Pricewise horses, Tanks For That, but trainer Nicky Henderson, who bids for a hat-trick in this race today, will know his best chance of a win out of this one is first time out; he has to be fresh.
Keki Buku, also tipped by Pricewise, is a similar proposition: he didn’t go on from his winning chasing debut, implying he is best caught fresh, when he’s forgotten what work he has to do.
Champion Hurdle fourth Crack Away Jack is well handicapped but has ‘taken an age’ to get fit, according to new trainer, Paul Nicholls, yet he did win twice for Emma Lavelle after long absences.
All the horses I’ve mentioned so far have been beaten by Imsingingtheblues – so has Oh Crick – and he could be the pace horse, back to 2m. But the one I want to be on, now that he’s had a run back, is last season’s big improver, Rileyev.
One of the Pricewise horses may win an open race, but Venetia Williams has just turned the corner with her chasers (two wins in the last eight days), so I shall start backing Rileyev now, win or lose today, at 17.5.
2.20 Cheltenham Garde Champetre, one of the great cross-country stars is 20lb clear in the ratings today but, though he won this in 2009, has twice been beaten in the race.
Uncle Junior, capable of winning a hat-trick of chases, travels across the Irish Sea to challenge his compatriot for champion trainer Willie Mullins.
The 10-year-old is a 3m 6f winner and, if adapting to the banks courses, could be a potent threat to the current Glenfarclas clan: a massive each-way bet at 8.0 this morning.
2.55 Cheltenham This race tends to produce animals a few lengths short of top class – a Supreme Novices fourth, a Jewsons third – but that didn’t stop the massive hype for Cue Card when he took this last year (he has a chance to prove I’m wrong later this afternoon).
Group-2 Flat winner Prospect Wells has come good over hurdles after a tough upbringing: couldn’t jump and needed a long period of schooling; that after he nearly died when being gelded.
Ericht was sixth in the Champion Bumper, a source of good hurdlers – like Cue Card (did I write that?) – and the Irish have sent over their own Grade-2 bumper winner, Steps To Freedom, two out of two over obstacles, and Absolutelyfantastic, similarly a bumper and hurdles winner. Watch and learn.
3.30 Cheltenham Only one in 10 winners of this are older than six and only one in 10 carry more than 11st 4lb; in fact, we’ve seen a recent run of five in a row off 9st 10lb to 10st 12lb, so we’re probably talking the bottom half-dozen.
Nicky Henderson goes for his fourth consecutive success and, sure enough, has one within those winning parameters, Semi Colon, whose fifth in the Mares Final suggests she has a touch of class (8.8 on Betdaq).
Semi Colon has won first time back from a long absence before. Tigre d’Aron is the hype horse and rates the stakes saver.
4.05 Cheltenham A very smart bunch of four Cheltenham course winners at the front of the market in a race which throws up giants: Denman, Imperial Commander, Time For Rupert and Weird Al in the last five years alone.
Cue Card v Grands Crus suggests we might get another one today. If Grands Crus can jump fences, his proximity to Big Buck’s over hurdles – and his 16lb higher rating in that sphere – suggests he’s a much better horse than Cue Card, and he gets an additional 5lb under the conditions of today’s race.
Watch the big grey, Dualla Lord, still novicy at home, for the future but I’m going nap on Grands Crus, with his 21lb in hand over the favourite.
BET 2.3pts win and place BAREL OF LAUGHS (1.10 Cheltenham)
BET 1.2pts win and place RILEYEV, and 0.8pts win 9stakes saver) CRACK AWAY JACK (1.45 Cheltenham)
BET 2.8pts win and place UNCLE JUNIOR (2.20 Cheltenham)
BET 2.5pts win and place SEMI COLON, and 1.5pts win (stakes saver) TIGRE D’ARON (3.30 Cheltenham)
BE 10pts win (nap) GRANDS CRUS (4.05 Cheltenham)
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