By Alan Coyle
Cheltenham. Four days of pleasure, pain, frustration and indifference depending on how your horses ran. Day one highlights saw My Tent or Yours come up short against Champagne Fever, Simonsig driven out to hold off the 33/1 shot Baily Green, Hurricane Fly regain his title as Champion Hurdler and Quevega at her imperious best galloping through the field relentlessly after a mishap mid-race to beat her rivals into submission and gain a fifth OLBG Mares’ Hurdle victory.
Simonsig was to scope dirty after his race and it may go some way to explaining a narrow two and a quarter length victory over a horse rated 13lbs his inferior. Credit thought to Baily Green, who clearly ran a cracker of a race for Mouse Morris and connections.
Day two highlights were the father and son combination in the shape of Willie and Patrick Mullins’s Back In Focus. The New One showed he looks a horse for the here and now and indeed the future with a scorching success in the Neptune Investment Management Novices Hurdle. Boston Bob unfortunately suffered a last fence fall in the RSA Chase before Lord Windermere would hold off the challenge of Lyreen Legend on the run-in, providing a one-two for the Irish. Was I the only one who wasn’t blown away by Sprinter Sacre? He got the job done and is clearly the best horse in training but like Nicky Henderson said in a pre-recorded interview shown on Racing UK on the day of the race, everyone expects this horse to be absolutely spectacular every time. Anything else is a disappointment. True he was great but with Sizing Europe’s stumble during the race, admittedly he was beaten at the time, when a horse is left to complete a virtual walk over, one senses a slight feeling of anti-climax, in a similar way to that of Frankel’s races, that there wasn’t quite a horse good enough to serve it up to him big-time in a big race. That’s not to take anything away from Sprinter Sacre. I was as delighted as the next person when he won and I look forward to seeing more of him as I believe we may yet see even better from him in the future.
Thursday brought about a glut of big priced winners and perhaps the only winner expected to win by some on the day was Cue Card who strode away from the field to record a nine-length victory in the Ryanair Chase. Carrick Boy at an SP of 50/1 provided the meeting’s biggest priced winner in the Byrne Group Plate.
Friday was probably my best day punting wise with victories recorded for At Fishers Cross, Bobs Worth and Alderwood. Many will claim Our Conor was the horse to take out of the day and who could argue with the way he put his race to bed in the JCB Triumph Hurdle, beating the Paul Nicholls pair Far West and Sametegal by fifteen and seventeen lengths respectively.
Immediately after races, thoughts turn to the future, the Ante-Post markets for 2014’s Cheltenham Festival. I decided to avail myself of the 10/1 on offer for The New One in the Champion Hurdle to be run in 2014 and it will be interesting to see how he fares against Champion Hurdle fourth Zarkandar, should the two meet at Aintree’s Grand National meeting. Bobs Worth was available at 6/1 after the Gold Cup for the following year’s edition but my immediate thoughts in the aftermath of the race were that of I had taken 4/1 with Betfred a matter of hours earlier for 2013’s edition of the race. He will probably have a good chance again next year but I wasn’t desperate to take the 6/1 with twelve months still to elapse and also miss out on the various concessions offered by bookmakers on the day of the race. At Fishers Cross could be a possible for the World Hurdle next year but with many roads to be crossed before then, I left my Ante-Post punting for next year at that.
It would be remiss not to acknowledge Mr J T McNamara who remains in hospital at the present time after a fall at the first fence of Thursday’s Kim Muir Challenge Cup for amateur riders. The world of racing hopes Mr McNamara recovers to be involved in many more of this great sport’s showpieces and festivals.