An absolute death bed of a race for favourites, Cousin Vinny, Dunguib, Cue Card and My Tent or Yours, have all failed to deliver in this race. Even Sprinter Sacre didn't win it. In my only bit of boasting, managed to avoid (and I know a few followed here) My Tent or Yours last year and got on Champagne Fever in a big way. But down to it.
Irving and Vautour are the favourites in the betting (both 3/1) and deserve to be, and dont be surprised if Irving in particular runs a big race. But are just that bit too short for me and I can oppose them. Irving has good time against him, and his Ascot run was impressive, but I dont think he will handle the undulations all that well and I can justify backing him when there are doubts about getting up the hill. Vautour has Ruby up and I can see him being ridden just the same way Champagne Fever was last year, the race was 4 seconds quicker than the Champion Hurdle. However don't see the others letting Ruby bowl away up front. Plus there are doubts over the jumping of all the Mullin's horses. Nevertheless I am on Wicklow Brave 7/1 win or e/w take your fancy (as Bigdog said Paddy Powers have a money back on this race. Wicklow Brave is Mullin's second horse in the race, but Paul Townend is a fine jockey. His win at Punchestown was rock solid, and the way he quickened up on the run was very impressive. Read somewhere that he rides alot like Go Native, who pissed a Supreme Novices and would have to agree. Gilgamboa (9/1) is improving certainly and if he was closer to 14/1 etc I would have punt, I dont think that Cheltenham is the place to be looking to be improving. For the €1 e/w bet The Liquidator is worth it at 22/1, 4th in the bumper here last year and won the Punchestown Grade 1, so has a nice line in him but others have more class.
Wicklow Brave 7/1 (win or e/w)
14:05 Arkle Chase
Was this race a week ago, the mortgage was on Champagne Fever, has won at the last two festivals, which is a huge plus. Clearly stays and Ruby up. But the way he dropped after making a mistake a Christmas worries me and there is always a bit of bumping in this (think ForPaddyThePlasterer a few years ago). It is an ordinary enough reknewal to be honest and at 5/2 I can't bring myself to back Champagne Fever. Rock on Ruby is clearly a class act, Champion Hurdle winner and ran the Fly close but he is a small daintyish horse and dont like them chasing personally. Trifolium is my pick but a tight enough 9/2. He ran a very decent third in the Supreme in 2012 and has been campaigned very well. Won the Irish Arkle (albeit no Irish Arkle winner has won this Arkle in like 20 years.) Grandouet is a class horse and cruises like a dream but cant trust him at all. I can easily pick holes in all the horses in this race but a small e/w on Trifolium, Bryan Cooper is a stylish jockey and certainly will be there or thereabout
Trifolium 9/2 e/w
14:40 Handicap Chase
A c*nt of a race, some bookies will give you a free bet on this race in the papers, so see what you can find. Read somewhere that backing in these handicaps is like eating at a cheap all you can eat, you just regret it later on. In these ones it sometimes tends to shy away from the main trainers, John Jo O'Neil's two Holywell and Alfie Sherrin lead the market, with McCoy up on Alfie Sherrin (same race of his greatest win on Witcha Lineman). Hadrians Approach is a classy horse, but no enough experience and a barrell load of weight up on him. Wont go on too much as this is a race best avoided, Time For Rupert was a festival banker 3 years ago and came 5th in the Gold Cup 2 years ago but has struggled this term, and the old warrior The Package will certainly see it out, but at 11 possibly one too far. So with that in mind I am taking a small e/w punt on King Massini 20/1 for Evan Williams, really drove home (a weak race) and won well in Cheltenham in November I think and a nice prep race in Ludlow. So looking for value with extra places etc I am on him
King Massini 20/1 small e/w
15:20 Champion Hurdle Possibly the best reknewal on paper ever. Multiple Grade One winning horses, who all in other years could piss it but even if you have a passing interest in Cheltenham just watch this race. Just to start, I am oh so very sweet on Our Conor 5/1 and am on him now and backed him at 12/1 in Novemeber when he missed a prep run. The main players are Hurricane Fly, The New One, Our Conor, My Tent or Yours and Jezki and honestly I dont think the Fly can do it. I think they will set out to ride him into the ground and set the race up for someone else coming off the pace.The only concern in terms of the race is that there may be a lack of pace in the pack to do that, unless someone like Captain Cee Bee forces it. The New One was very impressive all year and his times are very good, My Tent or Yours has such a good gallop, Geraghty will look to deliver Jezki late, Hurricane Fly is the best hurdler since Istabraq and possibly the best ever... etc etc etc. I am on Our Conor as the way he obliterated the field in the Trimuph last year was incredible, he has 2 lengths to find on the Fly from Xmas and at 5 has the scope and now hopefully the fitness. The New One is the biggest threat to Our Conor, isn't a fantastic hurdler but gets up and down quick and strides out like a dream. Rather than ramble on, have a small bet and enjoy it