I had a jolly Fish and Chip supper at a local pub last night with my old friend The FinTech Brain, and while inventing a new and delicious dessert (one scoop each of Blood Orange and Gin Sorbets covered in a shot of Cointreau), we cruised around the conversational islands of Paralympic Curling, Olympic 3-day eventing, Russian yacht-finding apps and the fact that when you buy a hundred SqueezyAir tickets to France for the following year, it is easy to forget what dates Cheltenham takes place. He had forgotten. His impossibly long-legged and beautiful girlfriend seemed relaxed on the subject, despite the fact that I have seen her with the best of them in The Guinness Stand leading the singing. I suppose if the alternative is the house in Provence in Spring, one can get over the odd disappointment.
Let me digress a moment, apropos of Russian yachts. It transpires that many of them have illegally turned off their Automatic Identification System trackers, which means that they are invisible on radar and no longer seen on one of my favourite sites VESSEL FINDER. Many of them will soon appear in Vladivostock, which is handy for Japan, the Pacific and many charming and warm destinations. Even handier for the avoidance of seizure.
I would go even further in my wandering from The Cheltenham Question and tell you we also didn’t discuss the passing of the gent, super trainer and outstanding jockey that was Andy Turnell. I had the very great pleasure of meeting him in Rascals, a London restaurant I was operating once upon a time – on the first night of Andy’s honeymoon. The great man left in a very jolly mood having been feted by the many racing fans and admirers who happened to be in that notorious dive at the time. His wife appeared somewhat disappointed and might have been expecting a more romantic moment. He was a good egg.
Meanwhile back on piste, and as I digested the news of FinTech’s absence from the bowl below Cleeve Hill, I was distracted by the arrival of another chum, the Sporting Tech Guru and his always charming and affable wife. Hugely successful in business, SporTech is one of those weird generational transitions who are older than Methuselah – and still understands all the nuances of tech. He also constantly reprimands me for having lunches he cannot attend. He cites his constant attendance at myriad board meetings while telling me about the lunches he has organised. He always hints the guest list at his lunches is top-draw and all senior figures in FTSE 100 companies. He is a masterful games player because, by inference, my own lunches must thus be guested by AIM board members. (It is of course perfectly possible that he is simply too clever to lunch with me). However, social competitiveness aside, he is a great one for the interesting question. Thus he told me of a Cheltenham lunch he has, at which the guests throw x into the hat and the resulting kitty must be invested on a horse that cannot be favourite and is at odds sufficient to make an e/w bet interesting. The lunch conversation is only about racing and must provide the answer to the question where does Kitty go? What, he said, are the answers to these questions. They are similar to the questions one is often asked by taxi drivers – bar the use of the odd word… Guaranteed, Outsider, and the pressure of playing with someone else’s money.
Your Best Horse – Guaranteed Winner
Your Best Outsider
Where would you put the Kitty’s money
Having slept on it overnight, my answers would be… oh yes and a couple of thoughts on the rest of the weekend’s sport.
BEST HORSE GUARANTEED WINNER:
FACILE VEGA in The Champion Bumper 5:30 Wednesday. He is quite simply exceptional and potentially the best horse at Cheltenham this year and for the next five or six years. He is a machine and demolished a very high-class field in the Goffs Future Stars Flat Race at Leopardstown LTO winning by an eased-down 12l. AMERICAN MIKE who is very good, will be second and I would add REDEMPTION DAY for the Trifecta
MY BEST OUTSIDER:
ZAMBELLA in the tritely-named Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase. Only been out of the frame once (fell) in her chases to date. Her jumping is improving, her confidence is good, she looks like the complete NTD package. 10s is too big.
…AND THE KITTY GOES ON:
STAG HORN from Archie Watson’s yard can still be had at 12/1 for The Albert Bartlett on Friday. One of the highest-rated horses to come off the Flat in recent years, (OR 108) he improved LTO taking a major step-up over his debut hurdle form. That race was over 21f and I think the extra 3f will not inconvenience him. However, his principal ability is simply his fluid, entirely relaxed and natural hurdling style. For a horse with so little experience, that grace and huge talent bank will see him in the frame for sure. I would take the price now.
Now for the rest of the weekend, I shall have the following:
PLAYERS CHAMPIONSHIP GOLF
They’ll still be playing this when Cheltenham starts, such are the weather conditions and unplayable ground. More than half the field were unable to complete their rounds on the opening day, which had been delayed by an hour due to overnight rain and had a four-hour stoppage due to the threat of lightning, while 12 of the field didn’t even get to start their tournament until Friday.
XANDER SHAUFFELE 14/1 and BROOKS KOEPKA 25/1 are backable for 1/4 odds for 6 places and both have yet to finish their first rounds.
EPL: CHELSEA v NEWCASTLE UNITED
What do you think the morale-boosting team talk will be like? Will there be a Roy of The Rovers moment when Cesar Azpilicueta gathers his team together and says “C’mon boys, let’s do it for Roman, who’s having a really tricky time of it.” Cheering they run out onto the pitch, bold and proud in their blue kits – and lose 4-1.
Sell the time of the fifth match goal at 87 mins with Sporting Index for double your normal stake.
Spurs will also beat Man U. but I have no firm views either way about the run of the game.
1:50 SANDOWN European Breeders’ Fund Paddy Power “National Hunt” Novices’ Handicap Hurdle Final (G3) Cl1 (4-7yo) 2m4f
I have a shortlist of three. JERRASH at 20/1, THUNDER ROCK at 11/2 is being backed and on trends COMPLETE UNKNOWN at 22/1. Because it’s the Moores and he’s 2/3 over hurdles and he looks an improver, I’m going for JERRASH e/w for 5 places generally
JERRASH e/w 1pt
2:25 SANDOWN Paddy Power Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle (G3) Cl1 (4yo+) 2m
Drying ground will put a bit of pace into this and that might suit the hold-up horses that have a bit in reserve. That would be LUCKY ONE who looks to have been laid out for this by the Skeltons. Talk about dodgy handicap mark…
LUCKY ONE e/w 2pts e/w (You can get 7 places with Sky and William Hill, 6 in many other places)
3:00 SANDOWN British Stallion Studs EBF Mares’ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race Cl1 (4-6yo) 2m
LUCCIA looks as though she’ll benefit from the weights, but 100/30 seems skinny. So instead I’ll have Kim Bailey’s FLIRTATIOUS GIRL who has put in some solid performances and won this last year.
FLIRTATIOUS GIRL1 pt e/w
3:35 SANDOWN Paddy Power Novices’ Handicap Chase Cl1 (5yo+) 2m4f
A toss-up between DANNY KIRWAN and SCENE NOT HERD. The latter will handle the ground but is 5lbs over his last winning mark, but, then again, but….
Dutch the pair of them for a combined stake of 5 points – which at current odds would return even money, and hope Venetia isn’t on form.
DANNY KIRWAN – SCENE NOT HERD Dutch win Total Stake 5 pts