I thought it might be a good idea – with just nine weeks to go – to start having a look at a couple of the big races, and almost immediately regretted my thinking. It’s a bit like ordering a 1000 piece jigsaw of a green square, and discovering too late that the manufacturer will be sending it in two batches. Honestly, Guv, I did try… I had a look back at some of the races and then applied some trends and then had a look again, but there were too many imponderables.
The Gold Cup is the prime example, with the problem being that we will probably need Newbury’s Denman Chase on Feb 8th to make any sense of the shape we’re trying make – let alone solve the damn thing. LOSTINTRANSLATION ran like a dog in the KG, and something was patently wrong. A wind-op has apparently been done and his target will be the Denman. If he wins – his price will fall through a hole in the floor. Even so, he is still only 8/1 at the moment, and on top of that, I’m trying to remember the last time a horse that had pulled up previously that season, had been placed – let alone won – a Gold Cup. A leading online journal suggested NATIVE RIVER but surely he is too old; another pointed at CLAN DES OBEAUX who won the KG on Boxing Day, but I think Kempton’s flat, speedy fences are ideal for Clan and he is unsuited by the rigours of Cheltenham. In fact, all his wins have come on tracks that are in the main Flat and only slightly undulating, with the exception of Exeter back in 2017. ELEGANT ESCAPE caught the eye in November and has been mentioned, but surely his target is the National? So can AL BOUM PHOTO do it again? Of course, it’s possible, but is he The Special One? Has he been chosen by the Gods of Racing to carry the mantle and to become a hero? No. His name doesn’t work in catchy PR terms, and his stablemate KEMBOY is a better horse in my opinion. Oh yes, and in case you think I’m clutching at negative straws, his record at Cheltenham is a never-better than 4th from three runs. So for the moment, my advice is to hold fire on all fronts.
The same applies to the Champion Hurdle. Last year’s winner Espoir D’Allen is sadly dead; Buveur D’Air is injured; KLASSICAL DREAM (10/1) and PENTLAND HILLS (8/1) have both to get to grips with the season and to find their form. Current favourite is the mare EPATANTE, (7/2 in only a few places), who has impressed when winning her two starts this term – and indeed the Christmas Hurdle which she won cosily by 5l, might very well hold the answer. Epatante was sent off joint-favourite along with her 4yo stablemate Fusil Raffles and looked comfortable throughout. She took up the running after the last and never looked as though she could lose it. SILVER STREAK caught the eye, recovering from a stupid mistake and finished a decent second having made up some of the lost impetus and ground. Last year’s Christmas Hurdle winner VERDANA BLUE was in 4th, but would have preferred faster ground. If the Champion Hurdle is run on good ground, we should maybe have a look at both SILVER STREAK and VERDANA BLUE for possible places. I don’t think either can win, but their prices might be worthwhile to place money. As regards EPATANTE her best RPR of 157 seems a bit light. There are still some possibilities out there that we need to see again, possibly on faster Cheltenham ground, that will help clear the fog. My shortlist still has SHARJAH on it as well as COEUR SUBLIME and SUMMERVILLE BOY, but pro tem, I’d leave alone. So there you have it. Nada, Zilch, Zero, sorry. At least, however, it is an honest opinion.
Meanwhile, here’s what I think for today.
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