Before any talk of racing, my thoughts, like yours, are with JT McNamara and family. The 37-year-old Irish amateur jockey was injured in a fall from his horse Galaxy Rock today. The latest news is that he is in an ‘induced coma’ in Frenchay Hospital, Bristol. Never do we feel more like a band of brothers than at the festival – all of us, punters, owners, trainers, jockeys, grooms, valets, media people, everybody who loves racing. We know how everyone else feels in this sport – we all get the same heartlift from Sprinter Sacre and we all get the awful stomach lurch when we hear of a bad fall. First thoughts are with the jockey, then the horse. And we lost a decent one today in Matuhi.
He was no superstar, but a fair handicapper and was still in with a chance when coming down heavily at the last. Whatever his rating, there is still an empty box in the Pipe yard tonight, and much sadness among connections.
Davy Russell too was taken to hospital with a ‘spontaneous punctured lung.’ It’s a hard game sometimes.
On to the racing and betting side . . . in all the years I’ve watched the festival I’ve tried to learn from my betting mistakes. One of those was spending hours trying to solve handicaps. I gave it up about ten years ago to concentrate on the graded races and have never had cause for regret. Some punters relish the challenge of finding a big handicap winner but for me it’s a time sink. It’s demoralising. It’s close to pointless. Now, I’ll pick out two or three that appeal at first glance and have a fiver each on them. This ‘system’ has worked better for me than sweating over weights and plots and trying to read the minds of the Tony Martins and Gordon Eliotts.
I smile now when I hear trainer after trainer say, “This has been the target all season.” That sounds impressive. Trouble is the target is a small red and white disc at the top of a hill and everybody is aiming a half ton horse at it. Only one will hit the bullseye.
Anyway, I hope you’ve found a winner or two and maybe even backed a couple of the right ones (plenty wrong ‘uns!) from my pre-festival post.
Today was one of mixed feelings and results for me. Blog followers will know I’ve always thought the world of Cue Card and, apart from winning a few quid, I was delighted for the horse and for Joe Tizzard especially, who has taken some outrageous flak from ‘riders in the stand’. As his father said, Joe has made Cue Card; the horse is a bit quirky in manner and has an unusual way of getting from one side of a fence to the other, which JT understands perfectly. If he sees a clean stride, he asks him up, if not he lets the horse pop in that curious cat-backed style which I don’t think I’ve seen in any other top-notch horse.
By the way, credit to the Racing Post summarisers: I criticised them after Ascot when they said they thought Cue Card would have been beaten by Captain Chris had that horse not blundered (one of the silliest pieces of professional race-reading I’ve come across), and stated in today’s post-race summary that they’d been wrong.
His win helped take the edge off my disappointment with the earlier Tizzard runner, Third Intention, who never really got his jumping together. I remain convinced there’s a decent race in him and I will follow him over the proverbial cliff.
Another serious and costly let-down was Oscar Whisky. I knew after two flights he’d be winning nothing. The two things he normally does supremely well – jumps and travels – evaporated quickly today and B Geraghty rightly pulled him up. I hear that his owner’s heat-of-the-moment declaration was that he’d never go three miles again – understandable in the immediate aftermath, but I hope he will reconsider as the horse was simply amiss. Perhaps he left this race in the mud of the Cleeve Hurdle and doubtless NJH will regret the fact the horse had a tough race there.
Sam Winner gave me another jolt: like OW, he was never travelling or jumping. At least punters knew their fate early.
And, I could be feeling worse: I could be the guy who decided that opening a new Paddy Power phone account qualified you to have £50 on Cue Card at 8/1, stake back as a free bet of he lost. Some of these offers from the big bookies are eye-popping.
Gold Cup day
Let’s get the nap of the day done first. I’ll be most surprised and quite a bit poorer if Bobs Worth doesn’t win the Gold Cup. I think he’s almost as good a bet as Cue Card was. I’d feared Silviniaco Conti, but the Nicholls yard seems to be very much in and out, and winnerless so far, with some fancied horses running very badly.
Reflecting on Mail de Bievre’s Champion Chase performance, I’m beginning to wonder if the Newbury race 33 days ago, where he led Silv Conti and The Giant Bolster a merry dance, was another attritional contest which might have taken more out of the principals than you’d want coming into the Gold Cup. It made me wonder if Bobs Worth’s supposed stat bullet of this 104 day layoff might not turn out an advantage.
Cue Card franked Bobs Worth form today, from last season. Bobs Worth is unbeaten in 4 runs at Cheltenham, two of those being festival victories – and these first three days have shown yet again how reliable past festival winning form is. BW is still young and improving with this being only his 6th outing over fences. I’m confident Nicky Henderson (I’d forgive that man anything when I see how stressed and emotional he gets watching his horses) will have him spot-on.
Bobs Worth’s two runs before his RSA win last season could be crabbed, but Mr Henderson said he’d never been happy with the horse throughout that crucial mid-part of the campaign (Bobs Worth had undergone a breathing op). Take those runs out and BW’s form looks gold-plated. He’s an economical jumper and traveller, so much more important, imo, than the flashy travellers like Dynaste , My Tent or Yours etc., and he stays well.
I’m very confident he’ll win. If he doesn’t I will crawl under the bed like that kid used to do in the adverts when he’d let in a dozen goals.
I won’t have a serious bet in any of the other races, though I’ll be having a small interest in each as follows:
I like the way Vasco Du Ronceray goes about things and I think he’ll outrun his price of around 16/1
Hisaabaat was 2nd in the Triumph last year and is a dual Grade One winner. The very talented claimer Micheal Nolan rides, and good claimers are increasingly being used very effectively in big handicaps.
2.40 A Bartlett
In the hope that P Nicholls unfancied runners will continue running better than his shorter-priced ones, I’ll take Aaim to Prosper at around 20/1. I like At Fisher’s Cross (especially as he beat the apple of my other eye (Cue Card’s my right eye!), The New One. But he’s had a couple of very hard races and is too short a price to risk.
I’m going with Cottage Oak (around 8/1) to overturn the Irish hotpot Salsify
4.40 M Pipe
I thought Bourne very unlucky last time and believe there’s a nice race in him. The hill should suit and he’s value at 16s.
5.15 J Henderson Chase
I’m trying one more time with a horse I can never catch. He’s back on the mark he can win from and has a good claimer up – Oh Crick. He won this in 2009 and the handicapper thrashed him for it. He’s 25/1 here and I cannot let him go at that. But I’ll also back Stagecoach Pearl. This grey is about due to pop up again and is 40/1