GC's Festival File Part 7: From A-Z
If in doubt, go for an A-Z. It's a mantra which has served many a scribbler well over the years and Racing UK and Channel 4 analyst Graham Cunningham has been waiting for Zarkandar to run again to seize his opening. Oh, and he has found one for the letter X. Not an especially relevant one, granted, but the other 25 might make up for it in part eight of GC's 2013 Festival File.
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A is for Across The Bay
Tactics win races and Henry Brooke made the rest dance to his tune on Across The Bay in Haydock's Rendlesham Hurdle, dictating then finding a big leap at the last to thwart Trustan Times and Kentford Grey Lady.
TT heads for the World Hurdle but looks up against it, while KGL clearly needs holding up in a more truly-run race to show her best and could go well again in the mares' hurdle at Cheltenham.
Across The Bay's Aintree dentist owner Anthony Coyne is now bracing himself for a tilt at the National. He clearly knows the drill but I'm sure he won't get the needle if I suggest there will be better handicapped rivals come the big day.
B is for blunder
Namely the one at the second last which cost Captain Chris his chance in Saturday's Ascot Chase. He had every chance at the time, but it's surely significant that he jumped so well while parked hard on the inner only to make a mess once switched outside.
There are 22 opportunities for him to lose ground by jumping right going anti clockwise at Cheltenham. Some will be tempted by the 20/1. Thanks, but no thanks.
C is for Cappa Bleu
Is being trained very much with the National in mind and is now as short as 12/1 after a fine second at Ascot on Saturday.
I'm not tempted by that price or the 16/1 for that matter. True, he ran very well for fourth last year after a troubled passage, but he was never a serious factor in a race run at a very searching pace and (famous last words) I suspect he probably isn't quite good enough.
"Colin Tizzard seems to favour the Ryanair, but Cue Card's owner fancies another tilt at Sprinter Sacre and says he "isn't easily swayed." Interesting. Very interesting."
GC on Cue Card
D is for Dapper Don
McCain, that is. Up And Go continues to look one of the brightest young prospects in Donald's care and put up another fine display of front running to give weight and a trouncing to useful rivals at Ascot.
Similar tactics will be hard to carry off if he runs at Aintree after but his future looks very bright indeed.
E is for earwig
And wouldn't you like to be a fly on the wall when the top trainers and riders are sorting out their Festival plans.
The My Tent Or Yours debate has ended with news that he goes for the Supreme Novices', but there are still plenty stars with multiple options and Ruby Walsh in particular has some tough choices to make over the coming weeks.
F is for Finians Rainbow and Far West?
It's hard to see another pot of gold at the end of the Finians Rainbow at Cheltenham this year. Granted, testing ground isn't ideal, but he went like a horse with a problem when soundly beaten in the Ascot Chase.
By contrast, Far West warrants considerable respect for the Triumph Hurdle after outspeeding River Maigue at the end of a very slowly-run novice hurdle later on the Ascot card. It's always encouraging when a proven stayer starts to show pace and that's exactly what Far West did here.
G is for Ground
The canny Ruby Walsh joked that "the taps will be on at Cheltenham shortly" to Emma Spencer on C4 at Ascot on Saturday. But he might have a very good point.
After a sodden winter we now have a dry forecast for the rest of this week and I suspect we might see something approaching good ground for Kempton's big card this weekend.
Time will tell what the following two weeks bring, but you know what to expect if they are similarly dry. And that is a very different racing surface than most horses have experienced this season.
H is for Hughes
Dessie Hughes, to be exact. I sat on the same table as Hughes snr at the National weights lunch last Tuesday and asked him about his Deloitte Hurdle runner-up Bright New Dawn.
"He might be more one for Cheltenham next year rather than this year," was the reply. Either way, Bright New Dawn remains a very bright prospect indeed.
I is for Ifandbutwhynot
Trying to find the County Hurdle winner is hard enough on the day without stepping in with over three weeks still to go.
That said, Ifandbutwhynot makes much more appeal than most after an impressive performance at Musselburgh on Wednesday.
He travels beautifully, jumps quickly and has the potential to progress again on spring ground. In short, anyone who backs him at a big price might just be able to trade out at a much shorter price if he takes his usual impressive cruising speed to the Festival.
J is for John Smith's Grand National
Which has all the makings of a superb race this year.
Bizarrely, none of the first three in the market (Prince de Beauchene, Seabass and On His Own) have run a single race over fences since last year's National.
That's a clear indication of how willing top trainers are to put good horses on layaway with Aintree in mind and I'm very happy to be guided by what happens over the next few weeks before jumping in.
K is for King
Namely Alan King. Setbacks to various good horses have depleted his Festival team but Two Rockers was impressive at Haydock on Saturday.
Connections will probably regret not giving him an Albert Bartlett entry. He is engaged in the Neptune but that looks a tough task at this stage.
L is for Luck
Everyone needs it with the Festival just three weeks away.
We've already lost Big Buck's, Al Ferof and Tidal Bay to injury this winter and Darlan to that fatal fall at Donny.
It's a pound to a penny there will be more high-profile withdrawals in the next few weeks - and history suggests we will also lose a big name rider or two to injury or suspension.
M is for Moores
Three of them, namely Gary, Josh and Jamie.
Yes, Ryan still garners most of the headlines, but dad Gary has enjoyed a fine start to 2013 and sons Josh and Jamie made it a memorable weekend for the clan with polished displays aboard Well Refreshed at Haydock and Vino Griego at Ascot.
It's clear Gary stamps his stock in very different ways both physically and in terms of personality. He isn't one for public emotion but he must have been a very proud man on Saturday.
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N is for Neptune
Right, here we go.
The Neptune market looks ripe for a bet for several reasons.
First, several of those quoted - namely Champagne Fever, Un Atout, Up And Go, Melodic Rendezvous, Chatterbox, Ballycasey, At Fishers Cross and Puffin Billy - either have alternative options or won't go to the Festival.
And second, the exciting Pont Alexandre looks increasingly likely to shorten up in the light of the above.
Regular readers will know how highly I rate The New One, but Pont Alexandre has looked a formidable novice on both his starts for Willie Mullins.
I don't expect spring ground to trouble him next month. I do expect him to go off at more like 2/1 or 7/4 than the 11/4 and 3/1 still available with three weeks to go.
O is for Only Orsenfoolsies
Now this is embarrassing. Very embarrassing. I'm not a habitual tissue maker, but I did one for Saturday's Victor Leudorum Hurdle at Haydock which had Zamdy Man atop the market at 7/4 with impressive Catterick scorer Only Orsenfoolsies next in at 11/4.
The record now reflects that he drifted all the way out to 10/1 before winning in very gutsy style without one brass dinar of my money on him.
Never mind, Rodney. This time next year we'll be millionaires.
P is for Peddlers
"He's never felt more like a World Hurdle horse," was Jason Maguire's reaction after Peddlers Cross won at 1/5 at Musselburgh.
Now you can take that either to mean that the 2011 Neptune winner had delighted him - or that he felt very one paced.
Personally, I was left puzzled. PC jumped beautifully and travelled accordingly for a long way only to labour late against relative second raters.
I'd love to see him shine in the World Hurdle but it's hard to back him with confidence based on this inconclusive success.
"I don't expect spring ground to trouble him next month. I do expect him to go off at more like 2/1 or 7/4 than the 11/4 and 3/1 still available with three weeks to go."
GC on Pont Alexandre
Q is for Queen Mother Champion Chase
Which is where I'd love to see Cue Card come the Festival.
I realise he's favourite for the Ryanair, but Cue Card would be unlikely to get an easy lead in a big field over two miles five there and letting rip against a handful over two miles in the Champion Chase looks a very tempting alternative based on Saturday's Ascot Chase success.
Colin Tizzard seems to favour the Ryanair, but Cue Card's owner fancies another tilt at Sprinter Sacre and says he "isn't easily swayed." Interesting. Very interesting.
R is for Rocky Creek and River Maigue
Rocky Creek had to work to subdue the ultra-consistent Houblon Des Obeaux at Ascot and River Maigue was unable to recover after Far West got first run on him in a sprint finish.
Walsh was adamant he was in front much too soon on Rocky Creek, but owner David Johnson feels Aintree might be more suitable than Cheltenham.
Such a plan might spare Ruby a ticklish decision between Nicholls and Mullins horses, while River Maigue will do better in a strongly-run race but defeat here does suggest he will probably come up short in the Supreme Novices' with or without stablemate My Tent Or Yours in opposition.
S is for swerving the Gold Cup
Something that is on the cards with First Lieutenant if recent vibes are accurate.
I doubt Mouse Morris wants to head for the Ryanair rather than the Gold Cup with his Lexus runner-up, but owner Michael O'Leary has Sir Des Champs for the big one and may fancy splitting his aces.
To my mind, that would be very frustrating. The Gold Cup is diminished if it lacks the very best staying chasers. And First Lieutenant surely falls into that category.
T is for Teaforthree
Who blotted his National copybook with a dull effort behind Well Refreshed in Haydock's Grand National Trial.
Rebecca Curtis blamed the holding ground and stressed that it's "onwards and upwards for Aintree."
Perhaps they are right about the ground, but this clearly wasn't the performance they were hoping for.
U is for Utopie Des Bordes
Well worth a mention if only because finding an alternative beginning with U would have been very tough.
Nicky Henderson's mare is bound for the Albert Bartlett after winning at Sandown on Friday, but she was getting 5lb from runner-up She Ranks Me and might have been beaten had Twigline jumped the last.
In short, she hasn't shown enough in Britain thus far to suggest she's a Festival winner in waiting.
V is for Vino Griego
And a very slow maturing vino, at that.
Seventeen consecutive chasing defeats have been followed by two impressive handicap wins and, as at Cheltenham, Gary Moore's gelding threw in some great jumps late to defy a 10lb hike in emphatic fashion.
He's shown his hand to the handicapper now but some said the same about Hunt Ball last year and it wouldn't be at all surprising to see him run another belter in the big novice handicap chase back at Cheltenham next month.
W is for Wayne
Close your eyes and he sounds just like TV funnyman Stephen Merchant, but open them again and Wayne Hutchinson continues to look like an elite jump jockey.
Two winners at Haydock and one at Market Rasen over the weekend showcased his talents yet again and it's high time that his ability was rewarded with more rides for the better stables.
X is for Xylophone
As played by that late, great racing man Sir Patrick Moore. Check him out performing The Prodigy's "Firestarter" on Room 101 with Jon Culshaw. What a man.
Y is for yearning
Thousands of punters are waiting anxiously for the publication of the handicap weights for Cheltenham.
The date in question is next week and the BHA lads face a few ticklish decisions this year, not least in how they treat a clutch of unexposed horses who have been keeping their lights hidden under a bushel (whatever that means) with one day in March in mind.
Z is for Zarkandar
For some reason, and I have to admit that it might be related to having laid him for plenty when he scrambled home at Wincanton in November, I've never really warmed to Zarkandar.
His last two wins have won me round to a certain extent and he accomplished a straightforward task with ease back at Wincanton on Saturday.
He can win the Champion - there, I've said it - and I certainly won't be laying such a strong stayer.
That said, the way he was outpaced in last year's Champion nags away at me and it's that as much as anything which makes me wary.