It’s finally here! We’ve been waiting for ages, but Cheltenham is here. Well, not here geographically speaking – obviously it’s still somewhere in the Cheltenham region – but here in the chronological sense. I’ll be at my desk until the end of racing – or four seconds after the boss goes home – to bring you all the big stories and quite a few small unimportant stories from the opening day of the Festival.
If you’ve no access to TV, radio or just don’t like mainstream media with all their ‘facts’ and ‘impartiality’ then this is the perfect way to keep up to date with all the goings on at the Festival. We’ll have cheap gags, competitions and occasionally some useful information – like the patented ‘Ted Walsh Hell Of A Horse Count’. If you, like me, think you’re ‘down with it’ enough to have a twitter account, you can follow me at @AidanWaffles_PP Please note that this invitation only extends to twitter and not real life.
5.30pm: That’s it from me for Day 1. It’s Team GB 4 Ireland 3 after the opening exchanges. I can only hope for both a better day of punting and more importantly, a better episode of Frasier tomorrow. The ‘Hell Of A Horse’ count was a little disappointing, but we can only hope that all the Hell Of A Horses running on Champion Chase Day boost that tally.
Good night and good luck.
5.22pm: Divers does the business in an exciting Centenary Chase. The favourite, Definity was up against it and never really in contention after an early mistake, whilst the well backed Tullamore Dew got up to finish third.
1st Divers 10/1
3rd Tullamore Dew
4th Vino Griego
5.16pm: Awww! A delay in the last ruins the full house of punctuality theu had going at Cheltenham today! They’re away for the Centenary Chase.
4.56pm: We’ve got one final quick-fire game of Cheltenham Katchphrase today. Free Bets up for grabs if today’s punting hasn’t gone so well.
4.55pm: Centenary Novices’ Chase Preview
Don’t put away that pin and blindfold just yet because the last race of the opening day is a real tough one to get to the bottom of. It’s wide open, so ignoring the formbook and looking at the market probably isn’t the worst of ideas. Definity has been backed heavily all day and is understandably favourite. There’s also been some money Tullamore Dew. I generally don’t like backing favourites or 2nd favourites, so just to live up to that, I’m going for American Trilogy who won a hurdle at the Festival last year. In reality however, there are a stack of horses that you could make the case for here.
4.50pm: Willie Mullins says Quevega is likely to head for the Aintree Hurdle next and then Punchestown and the Super Extra Bonus News is that he reckons she’ll stay in training for next season.
4.46pm: I was about to say Quevega romped home in the Mares Hurdle, but ‘romped’ doesn’t really do it justice. She has to try a Champion Hurdle at some stage. Sparky May ran well to finish second and I’m pretty happy because I had the reverse forecast!! Woo hoo!
1st Quevega 5/6F
2nd Sparky May
3rd Ocean Transit
4.40pm: The Mares’ Hurdle is underway …
4.31pm: She doesn’t have a snazzy jumper, but it’s still all about Quevega in the betting. She’s 10/11 now. La Vecchia Scuola is the other major mover in the race having been back in to 16/1 from 20/1 earlier in the day.
4.26pm: Hey Pat Rodford – didn’t you get the memo about the dress code for trainers? I thought it was basically illegal not to wear tweed if you’re a racing trainer. Sparky May’s trainer isn’t going along with horsey norms, but he does issue a positive report about his charge’s chances of causing an upset.
4.17pm: Or you could stay with Channel 4 for Deal Or No Deal, but you may need the mind of a 6 year old to find it dramatic.
4.16pm: A slow motion montage brings Channel 4’s coverage of Day 1 to a close. It’s over to Racing UK for the last two races or if that’s not an option, you can stay here for
all the some of the important stuff happening for the next hour or so.
4.10pm: Sizing Australia wins it for Henry de Bromhead and Andrew Lynch. Giving the winner 17lbs, Garde Champetre puts in a vailiant peformance to fall just short of a third win in the race. Maljimar flatters to decieve yet again and you’d have to wonder if Cheltenham is really his type of course.
1st Sizing Australia
2nd Garde Champetre
3rd A New Story
4.02pm: “Maljimar was nailed by Wichita Lineman here a couple of years ago” – I can’t help giggling.
4pm: Let the madness begin! They’re off in the Cross Country Chase …
3.58pm:David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle Preview
It’s a straight choice between Quevega and Sparky May in the Mares’ Hurdle. Quevega is looking to make it a hat-trick of wins in the race, but the vibes about her haven’t been overly encouraging. It’s mainly speculation and rumours rather than anything concrete coming from connections, but as we all know, there’s no smoke without fire. Unless of course you’re watching Top of the Pops and they’ve got that cool dry ice effect going on. Having drifted earlier in the day, she’s now back to odds on, which is arguably a sign that talk of problems have been wide of the mark.
Lots of people have been putting up Sparky May as the one who can cause an upset. She’s won all four of her starts this season and looks like she’s got a bit more to give. I’m going to back Quevega to give the Mullins/Walsh combination a quickfire double, but as I’m feeling reckless, I’m gonna to lash them into a reverse forecast as they look to be the standout horses of the race.
3.50pm: Maljimar is being backed off the boards for the Cross Country Chase. He’s 9/2 after being 7/1 earlier today. L’Ami doesn’t have too many ami’s at the moment as he’s now 9/1 after being 7s earlier and there’s been a bit of money for the Walsh representative in this race – Katie on board Poker de Sivola.
3.35pm: Is Trisha going to present the trophy for the Champion Hurdle?
Yaaaaay! An Irish winner and Ted gives us our first ‘Hell Of A Horse’ of the day!
3.25pm: And finally Hurricane Fly has won his Champion Hurdle! It feels like we’ve been waiting a long time, but it was worth the wait, as he held off the challenge of Peddlers’ Cross.
1st Hurricane Fly 11/4F
2nd Peddlers Cross
3rd Oscar Whisky
3.20pm: More punctuality! They’re away in the Champion Hurdle.
3.18pm: Rob has just started our second game of Cheltenham Katchphrase. He’s only revealed one square so don’t worry, you’ll have time to watch the Champion Hurdle before it really heats up.
3.10pm: Nicky Henderson now being interviewed on Channel 4 ahead of the Champion Hurdle. What are the chances of him being asked some awkward questions? No, that’s a job for the BHA.
3.08pm: It’s good to see Jeremy Kyle has taken time out of his busy bashing toe-rags schedule to present the trophy for the Stewart Family Chase.
3.06pm: Displaying the kind of tact she showed after basically saying Liam Treadwell had a set of teeth you could drive a bus through, clarebalding1 gives us a frank assesment of the view from the parade ring.
Looking at Champion Hurdle runners. Menorah looks amazing. Peddlers Cross good too. hurricane fly looks awful
3.05pm: With 15 minutes to go until the big one, it’s all about Hurricane Fly in the betting for the Champion Hurdle. He’s into to 3/1 after being 4s this morning. Peddler’s Cross and Dunguib are on the drift.
2.58pm: Cross Country Chase Preview
It’s needle in a haystack time for the Cross Country Chase. And no, that’s not one of the obstacles they have to jump during the 3 miles and 7 furlongs. Apart from those (very) rare occasions when I see winnings hit my account, this race is my favourite spectacle of the week. There’s not much money up for grabs and no-one really cares about it oo much, but it’s brilliant to watch. It’s a little bit of chaos in a world of slight madness.
As much as I enjoy it, I’ve got a gift for not picking the right one of Enda Bolger’s horses, so whatever I say in the following sentences should be treated with a note of caution. I’m going for Garde Champetre. I’ll hold my hands up and admit that’s mainly down to gooey sentiment from previous years, but the alternative is backing Maljimar and all I feel towards him is disgruntled resentment after he let me down a few times in the past. To be brutally honest, I doubt if Garde Champetre can haul 11 stone 10 around for almost four miles on drying ground ahead of some of the others carrying relative featherweights.
2.51pm: In the worst exhibition of jumping since the 110m hurdles at the Elephant Olympics, Bensalem stays on his feet to claim the honours. Favourite Sunnyhillboy and the well backed Great Endeavour are amongst the fallers in a very scrappy race. It doesn’t matter if you won however and we were paying 5 places on the race.
1st Bensalem 5/1
2nd Carol’s Legacy
3rd Reve De Sivola
4th Fair Along
5th King Fontaine
2.42pm: Sunnyhillboy is a faller!
2.40pm: And they’re off in the Stewarts Family Spinal Research Chase.
2.18pm: Pricewise is on fire (not literally – don’t worry) having tipped up the first two winners ante-post. Wolf Moon was his bet of the day for the first day of the Festival and he’s into 12/1.
2.05pm: They’re off in the second. They’re being surprisingly punctual so far this year.
1.58pm: Finian’s Rainbow now 4/1 from 5/1.
1.55pm: From Padcast contributor, @emmerlouell on twitter:
Ghizao is the ugliest horse I’ve seen in my life. Head like a sheep. Sorry. #cheltfest
Well I won’t back him for Miss Universe so, but I think he’s got a great chance in the Arkle.
1.50pm: It’s not exactly the start to the Festival most punters were hoping for, but it’s time to pick ourselves up and look ahead to the Arkle. We’ve seen money for Medermit and Ghizao who are now into 11/4 and 7/2 respectively. On the drift is Realt Dubh, despite connections claiming the fast ground won’t be as big a problem as originally thought.
1.43pm: We’ve also got a winner in our first game of Cheltenham Katchphrase. Stay turned for another chance to win shortly.
1.35pm: Only days after getting back in the saddle, Ruby notches up another Festival winner at the first time of asking on board Al Ferof. Paddy’s heart and bank balance breathe a huge sigh of relief. I was right about my groundless doubts about Cue Card, but the fact March Warbler vanished about half way round meant they weren’t winning groundless doubts.
1st Al Ferof 10/1
2nd Spirit Son
3rd Sprinter Sacre
1.30pm: And we’re off. Almost on time! Talk to you in about 4 minutes.
More support for Cue Card. He’s in to 15/8 now.
1.23pm: They’re in the parade ring ahead of the first. Megan’s Star is sweating like he spent the morning in a sauna.
1.20pm: Another slow motion montage with cheesy uplifting soundtrack on Channel 4. Can’t be sure, but it sounded like the Dixie Chicks. Or maybe Garth Brooks after a kick in the nuts.
1.12pm: Thommo gives my hair-brained <a href="Supreme Novices’ Hurdle“>Marsh Warbler scheme a vote of confidence as he puts him up as a great each way bet.
1.10pm: 20 minutes to go until the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. After looking an uneasy favourite, Cue Card has been backed strongly and he’s now 9/4 after being 3/1.
12.50pm: Sound difficulties on Channel 4. If Ted gave us a ‘Hell Of A Horse’ there I’m going to be very upset.
12.48pm: Speaking of difficult puzzles to solve, we’ve no winner of our first game of Cheltenham Katchphrase. Have a go – there’s a €/£50 Free Bet up for grabs.
12.45pm: Champion Hurdle Preview
Binocular’s surprise absence is the big story in the Champion Hurdle, but the champ’s withdrawal hasn’t done a whole lot to make picking a winner any easier. The three at the head of the market have little to separate them. I reckon Hurricane Fly is the most talented of the trio, but any horse coming to Cheltenham for the first time and expecting to win one of the championship races sets alarms bells of in my head worse than having Winona Ryder walk into your shop. Plenty of good horses haven’t handled the Cheltenham topography and I’d feel more confident about him had he been to the course before.
That’s enough early naughties references for the moment. In a difficult race, there aren’t too many reasons to think Peddlers Cross won’t be close, it’s hard to rule out course specialist Menorah and Oscar Whisksy won’t be far away. At this rate, I’m pretty much ruling everyone in, so it’s time to rule a few out. I don’t think Dunguib’s sketchy jumping is up to winning a Champion Hurdle. Mille Chief may go on to achieve big things, but 5 year olds don’t tend to do well in this race and although we’re not supposed to say it, we all know Overturn is only in the race to set the pace for his stable-mate. It’s wide open and I’ve no strong feelings about any of the runners, but I’d like to see Khyber Kim win it, if only for the mad celebrations we’ll see from the Twiston-Davies clan.
12.34pm: Back to Channel 4 for the main show. Alistair Down is shiteing on about something or other.
12.20pm: Ruby Walsh, sporting a big shiner, is on Racing UK now. He’s confident about all his rides for the day, but given considering the rides he has, that’s probably fair enough.
Patriotism or else lots of people backing him because he has a cool name has kicked in as Hurricane Fly has been trimmed for the Champion Hurdle. He’s in to 7/2 after being 4/1 earlier. Peddlers Cross going the other way – 9/2 after being 4/1.
12.02pm: Back by a combination of popular demand and no new ideas, it’s our first game of Cheltenham Katchphrase this year! There’s Free Bets for anyone who’s good enough to win a game and a severe mocking for anyone who’s not.
12.01pm: I’ve just noticed Pricewise has also gone for Wolf Moon in the Stewart Family Spinal Research Chase. I didn’t actually see that when I did my preview and now my selection feels slightly less ridiculous. Only slightly mind.
Eyes in the paper now to sort out tips for Cheltenham . Cue card a must in the first at 1.30.
11.45am: The Stewart Family Spinal Research Chase Preview
This race is the first genuine ‘blindfold and a dartboard proposition’ of the Festival, but lucky we’ve got a corporate plug to go along with it. We’re playing 1/4 Odds 1-2-3-4-5 Places on the race, which is good news for punters because the handicapper has done a great job in this one. At the moment, the top three in the betting are tighter than Paddy at pay review time at 11/2, 6/1, 13/2. There’s nothing between them and even looking further down the field, you’ve got a lot with chances.
In between Dessie Hughes mumbling and Choc Thornton’s hair tips, Racing UK flashed up an interesting stat – the last 11 winners of this race have carried 10st 12lbs or less. Normally I care for statistics as much as the suggestions of my spell-checker, but that’s quite a comprehensive one. If you are going to slavishly follow that stats, it points to Sunnyhillboy who just about meets the criteria at 10st 12lbs. I’ll be going for Wolf Moon who looks to have a lot going for him. He’s carrying a few pounds more than he should be according to the handicap, but equally he’s due to go up a few pounds in the near future for a recent win. With the drier ground, the weight shouldn’t matter quite as much as normal and he could run a big race.
11.39am: The parade of random football personalities continues with Chris Kamara is on Racing UK. In between laughing at his own jokes, he gives Hurricane Fly for the Champion Hurdle his nap of the day. Given that he regularly misses key moments in the games he’s supposed to be reporting on, maybe don’t put too much faith in that.
11.16am: Choc gives us his tips. Herbal Essences and the hairdryer on a low heat setting.
11.12am: Choc Thornton is now being interviewed on Racing UK. His hair is looking awesome.
10.58am: @MrBrianBennett has been on to me on Twitter to ask a very good question.
@AidanWaffles_PP Will there be any Caption/Picture comps this year on the blog? They were gas!
Oh Brian, with your well-timed corporate plugs – whatever will we do with you? Probably give you a job if you’re not careful.
While we’re on the subject, we will be having many a game of Cheltenham Katchphrase this year. They’ll be getting underway in the not too distant future and there will be the useful Free Bets up for grab. I can confirm that this year’s batch are very tough. Get the thinking caps on, we’ll be kicking off soon.
10.52am: Sorry, that wasn’t a bear, it was his jacket. That’s quite a collar! Motty’s tipping up Finian’s Rainbow in the Arkle Betting
10.50am: John Motson and what looks to be a giant bear on Racing UK now.
10.48am: We’ve had some nice words via the comments section of this blog. Dave Jones loves being warm-hearted almost as much as he loves unecessary capital letters and he has wished us all well:
Good Morning all and Good Luck at Cheltenham, let’s hope we all get some winners!
Thank you Dave and all the best to you too. Or should I say All The Best to You Too ; )
10.36am: Dessie Hughes is mumbling his way through an interview on Racing UK. He’s saying something about dual Champion Hurdler, Hardy Eustace. Or maybe he’s saying ‘hardly useless’ – I can’t be sure. I going to presume he gave a glowing report of all his Festival runners, the first of which is Rare Bob in the Stewart Family Spinal Research Chase.
10.28am: The Arkle Preview
Much has been made about the lack of talent in this renewal of the Arkle. Harsh as it sounds, it’s also true – this is the horsey version of the early stages on Britain’s Got Talent. There’s absolutely nothing that immediately strikes you as having the class to go on and be a superstar, but you never know, this could be the launch-pad to an unexpectedly lucrative career – just look at Jedward. I’m mixing up my reality TV show analogies, so it’s time for some actual analysis.
Medermit heads the market, but he looks like a vulnerable favourite. Taking the form line through Captain Chris, Ghizao has a great chance. He’s given him two sound beatings with the most recent being 4 1/2 lengths whilst giving him 10lbs. By contrast, Medermit beat him by half a length a level weights last time out at Sandown. Plus Ghizao has a course and distance win to his name, which I always like to see. Finian’s Rainbow can’t be dismissed either. He wasn’t far behind Peddlers Cross in last year’s Neptune Hurdle and since then he’s given some horses a few kickings (11L, 51L, 12L in his last three wins). Of course that may prove to be the equivalent of outpacing a sleepy turtle, but it’s still encouraging. Connections of Realt Dubh say he’d prefer softer ground and I don’t think they’re just saying that to be coy. Rock Noir is JP McManus’s first runner at this year’s Festival and given the owner and jockey’s record at the Festival, he’s a decent each way option. To be frank, he ran a bit of a stinker last time out, but still only finished 8 lengths behind today’s favourite. If he’s back to something approaching his best, he could go close.
10.08am: It appears I’m not as mental I thought I was about Marsh Warbler in the Supreme Novices. Or if I am mental, at least someone kind of agrees with me. @dalegibsontips has given me all the lukewarm encouragement I could possibly need via Twitter.
@AidanWaffles_PP i give a good place chance. another quiet one is Gibb River. been very impressive in 3 starts!
10.01am: Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Preview
I’ve been thinking about this race for a while and although Cue Card has done nothing wrong and deserves to be favourite, I just get the feeling he’ll get beaten today. I would point out however, that this is nothing more than a groundless hunch based on a gut feeling/a bad curry. It’s hard to get people to come around to your way of thinking without any actual evidence or proof – I’d imagine this is what it’s like to a modern priest.
By way of explanation, I would say a lot of the horses going for this race have some good form in the book and they’re open to improvement. Spirit Son has a real chance as do Recession Proof, Sprinter Sacre and Al Ferof. I think it’s wide open on and on that basis I’m going for a small speculative bet. He’s only a four year old, but receiving 8 lbs from most of the big boys, I think Marsh Warbler offers a bit of each way value. He qualifies for the juvenile hurdles, so connections must be confident he can mix it with the older horses. That could say a lot. Or else it’s just drawing conclusions from something entirely inconsequential.
It’s time for our first look at the Market Movers for Day 1. There’s not much movement in the early races, but there’s plenty of interesting stuff later on. Going against the notion that it’s an Enda Bolger benefit, Maljimar has come in for support in the Cross Country Chase Betting. He’s now 11/2 after being 7/1 earlier. Hot favourite for the Mares Hurdle, Quevega has gone a bit Cameron Diaz on us and is now a little less hot than she used to be – she’s been eased to 6/5 from Evens. In the same race, La Vecchia Scuola is worth keeping an eye on as she’s been back in to 16s from 20s. Definity has been trimmed to 6/1 from 8/1 for the Centenary Chase
9.31am: If you like basing your punting strategy around the offhand selections the Morning Line panel make for their charity bets, then here’s the summary.
Ted Walsh has gone for Hurricane Fly for the Champion Hurdle, Medermit in the Arkle and Garde Champetre in the Cross Country Chase.
Nick Luck plumps for Captain Chris in the Arkle and Sparky May in the Mares’ Hurdle.
Mixing it up a bit, Jon Francome picks Robert Thornton to be Top Festival Jockey (12/1 – nice!), Cue Card in the Supreme Novices and Medermit in the Arkle.
Michael Fortune opts for his horse, Finians Rainbow in the Arkle which is news of the ‘Ricky Martin is gay’ variety.
9.25am: 13 year old Mark Boylan plays us out at the end of the Morning Line. The panel watch on like elderly relations at a 21st when the music’s a little too loud. Here’s the song:
9.18am: Our glorious leader, Paddy Power makes his first Morning Line appearance of the Festival – and surprisingly he’s not in the canteen. He tips up Peddlers Cross for the Champion Hurdle and Big Zeb in the Champion Chase as his bet of the week.
9.17am: Thommo is down in the canteen. Paul Nolan looks delighted to have been interrupted during his breakfast.
9.08am: Our first bit of awkward flirting between Big Mac and glamourous bookie, Ellen Martin. Ahh – it’s a surefire sign that the Festival is officially here.
A boring few minutes on the Morning Line gives me the chance to slip in a seamless shameless plug for our Money-Back Special on the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. We’ll refund all losing bets on the race if Cue Card wins.
8.49am: An ad break gives me a chance to tell you Jim Bolger has nominated Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle as his banker of Day 1 – ” He is really classy and jumps, has speed and stamina.”
8.45am: Oh dear. We’ve had a whole 60 seconds of Ted Walsh talking about Hurricane Fly and not one ‘Hell Of A Horse’. Bad news for the horse and even worse news for our Hell Of A Horse count.
8.40am: After looking at Big Mac’s outfit in full, I can only conclude that there’s a lumberjack somewhere in Canada who’s waking up to find his boots have been stolen.
8.36am: Big Mac has blagged one of the free bowler hats they’re handing out at Cheltenham to celebrate the centenary of the Festival. Ted Walsh is on the panel to boost our Hell Of A Horse Count.
8.34am: Thommo is talking to Simon Claisse, clerk of the course. It’s basically just padding out the Good, Good to Soft news I mentioned earlier.
8.31am: That was a dreadful episode of Frasier – and I’m a fan of it normally. The Morning Line starts with a cheesy opening montage that gives you a warm fuzzy feeling in the pit of your stomach.
8.11am: This plot is moving especially slowly – even from an episode of Fraiser, so I’ll take this opportunity to tell you the going for Day 1 at Cheltenham is being given as Good, Good to Soft in places. Racing Post
8.02am: BREAKING NEWS I got in especially early to steal some ideas off the Morning Line on Channel 4, but it’s not on yet. It’s Frasier and our favourite radio psychologist has lost his job, leading to some strange behaviour. It’s going to take all his high-brow wit to get through this crisis. I’ll keep you posted on how he gets on.