Another day that will see some slogging through the mud at Cheltenham. It’s a strange track going-wise since they overhauled the drainage so dramatically some years ago. Given time to drain, the track dries really well compared with the old days, but if it gets caught by heavy rain during a meeting, as it did yesterday, the going can change pretty quickly.
It’s soft to heavy today, at least to start the meeting, and they’ve moved the rails to provide fresh ground. No more rain is expected today. At the time of writing, there are 11 non-runners at the track.
It’s a long time since I spent so much time over so few. This is down to three runners but I suspect the betting does not accurately reflect their chances. The one being overlooked is Ozzie The Oscar at around 7/1. As a hurdler he was about 7lbs below his two opponents today on ratings, but after his winning chase debut he’s much closer – a pound ahead of River Wylde and 4 behind North Hill Harvey.
But the ground seems to have gone against Ozzie. I’d like to have more evidence on his going preferences and can’t say for sure he won’t be at his best on this. At 7/1 in such a situation I’d normally be happy to take the chance, and I’m not that worried by River Wylde. But the one who could turn out to be a festival horse here is North Hill Harvey.
Trainer Dan Skelton cursed himself for the way he campaigned this horse last season, putting him away after winning the Greatwood. He was hoping to have him ripe and ready to win the County Hurdle but he ran a poor race (Ozzie was third that day) and Skelton now thinks the horse needs much more racing. His chase debut here was impressive, making pretty much all and rallying bravely after the last to beat the smart Sceau Royal.
I’ve always thought River Wylde over rated. He ran up a hat trick on right-handed tracks last season but has been beaten on his two visits to Cheltenham. He was third in the Supreme but that, I think, will turn out to be one of the poorer renewals.
North Hill Harvey loves this track and he won the Greatwood last year on soft ground. Even giving 3lbs to River Wylde today I think the bookies have the wrong favourite in the latter and I’ll go for North Hill Harvey at around 13/8.
The time I spent on the 1.50 was recouped here as I’ve been a big fan of Fox Norton since watching him skate up on his seasonal debut last year at the track after which I backed him for the Champion Chase at 50/1 (beaten a head). He won this last year and I think he’ll win it again.
Tough race in which stakes should be limited. I’ve had my eye on Mohaayed for some time mainly because his trainer, Skelton, likes to get one ready for this. He won it last year with North Hill Harvey and trained the 2nd Superb Story in 2015. His Blue Heron was 4th in 2014. Those have been his only runners in the race.
But he faces some potentially smart horses: Elgin is one, as is London Prize, and Nietzsche is only 4 and could go on to better things. Of the bigger priced ones, William H Bonney will like the ground although he is 4lbs out of the handicap, and Chesterfield is overpriced at 25/1 with good 7lbs claimer Daniel Sansom riding. I’ll be having a small saver on him. But Mohaayed is the selection.
Skybet offer EW first 5 on the Greatwood if 10 or more go to post. I’ve already backed Mohaayed win only but will add Chesterfield EW at 28/1 and William H Bonney EW at 16/1, both with Skybet.
One for the purist rather than the punter. There isn’t a runner without promise and one or two could turn out to be very good indeed. I was impressed by the athleticism of Dame De Compagnie on her successful debut. She’s a mare and thus gets 7lbs from the others today despite the fact there’s a strong likelihood that, ignoring gender, she is better than them anyway. One to watch for me rather than bet on but I think the Dame will be very hard to beat.
Enjoy the racing. Don’t bet more than you can afford.
Post-race edit: North Hill Harvey won as expected and I’ll be doing a separate post on his Festival chances. Fox Norton won well and will come on for that. Mohaayed never went a yard in the Greatwood and his trainer will be convinced he did not run his race. Whether the ground affected him much more than expected, I don’t know, but he is better than that and could pop up at a decent price in one of these big two-mile handicaps. Having been determined to leave the last race alone I weakened and backed the mare who was beaten far too far from home for that to have been her form. The winner Slate House looks like he’ll make up into a cracking chaser but no doubt will win more over hurdles.
An interesting addendum which might help explain some surprisingly poor performances today:
Brian Hughes (Cloudy Dream) took the unusual step of criticising the track exec in public saying, “The track should be ashamed of themselves, watering so much. That’s horrendous ground.”
Jockey Stan Sheppard described it as “like galloping through PVA glue” – while champion rider Richard Johnson added: “The weather we had yesterday was horrendous and it’s got very soft. Unfortunately it’s got very tacky today.”