GC's Festival File: Who goes where
Fifteen days and counting. The vast majority of significant clues are in the form book now but Racing UK and Channel 4 analyst Graham Cunningham feels there are still plenty of key questions to be answered in part nine of his 2013 Cheltenham Festival File.
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Ballynagour looks another perfectly timed Pipe improver
Time may show that the last week contained any number of significant clues for the Festival championship races - and if it does then they will probably cost me dearly.
Indeed, the more I look at the last seven days the more I think the notable winners did more to advertise the chance of others than themselves.
Tetlami tipped his proverbial hat to his Musselburgh conqueror Overturn at Huntingdon on Thursday, while Challow Hurdle runner-up Easter Day did likewise to Jonjo's Neptune hope Taquin De Seuil on the same card.
Stocktons Wing paid a fair compliment to leading Irish Triumph hope Our Conor at Fairyhouse on Saturday, while those who fancy Rolling Star and and Far West for the juvenile championship must have been more than happy to see Irish Saint and Vasco Du Ronceray dominate the finish to Kempton's Adonis Hurdle.
Swnymor and Fago were among those who blotted their Festival copybooks in a big way, while Dovecote winner Forgotten Voice might not be the ideal Cheltenham type and Wetherby winner Whispering Gallery will need to sharpen up his jumping in order to make a splash in one of the big novice events.
On a more positive note, the Festival handicap weights are published this week and one horse put down a very persuasive marker with a runaway success at Warwick on Friday.
"Pipe won the Byrne Group Plate with a similarly unexposed Frenchie in Salut Flo for the same owner last year and it looks very much as if the old firm have unearthed another secret weapon."
French recruit Ballynagour didn't rate a mention from David Pipe when the media descended on his Somerset yard in midweek (surprising that) but the seven-year-old was backed off the boards and made a mockery of a mark of 123 by sauntering clear of two in-form rivals to win by 19 lengths while value for 30.
He will be a 140-plus horse by the time the Festival weights are published, but Pipe won the Byrne Group Plate with a similarly unexposed Frenchie in Salut Flo for the same owner last year and it looks very much as if the old firm have unearthed another secret weapon.
Ruby has plenty to chew over as Cheltenham approaches
Saturday's Morning Line was followed by my own version of Breakfast With The Stars as I dined in the Kempton stable staff canteen with Ruby Walsh and star Racing Plus scribblers Nick Robson and Nick Luck.
The ravenous Robson and Luck were soon heavily into nosebag mode with little thought of anything else, but my silver tongue soon persuaded the most successful jockey in Cheltenham history to break off from his sizzling sausage to offer a few revealing Festival thoughts.
First, it's clear he isn't fretting in the slightest about having to choose one horse over another in races where he has multiple options.
"If you're having to think hard about which one to ride then they're probably both going to get beat," was the gist of his approach.
Second, it's clear Ruby has taken a shine to Unioniste as a possible RSA Chase contender.
The precocious grey (currently trading at up to 10-1 for the RSA) only scrambled home at Newbury on his latest start, but Walsh enthused about his jumping and feels he is a much better horse now than when third behind Dynaste at Cheltenham in November.
"Ruby plainly shares my oft repeated enthusiasm for Pont Alexandre in the Neptune. I was a little surprised to hear him compare the star Mullins novice to Denman during Saturday's ML yet the more I think on it the more the analogy makes perfect sense."
And third, Ruby plainly shares my oft repeated enthusiasm for Pont Alexandre in the Neptune.
I was a little surprised to hear him compare the star Mullins novice to Denman during Saturday's ML yet the more I think on it the more the analogy makes perfect sense.
History relates that Denman lost his unbeaten record at 11-10 when partnered by Walsh in the 2006 Neptune but wasn't beaten again for the best part of three years subsequently.
Ruby seems adamant that Pont Alexandre's ground devouring stride will be every bit as effective if the ground comes up good next month.
And, for what it's worth, I'm still adamant that this hugely exciting Irish gelding will start closer to 7-4 than the current 5-2 and 11-4.
Evidence from the Festival File's highly paid research team shows there is nothing readers like more than a topical quiz.
And racing's fastest growing quiz, complete with my slightly educated guesses, is called "Who Will Go Where?"
1: Puffin Billy - Supreme or Neptune?
Probably the Neptune, though I might get a better steer on Wednesday when I visit Oliver Sherwood for a C4 piece.
2: Dynaste - RSA or Jewson?
They wouldn't, would they? All the evidence suggests Dynaste is RSA bound but Pipey is keeping the Jewson door open. In short, if he rocks up in the latter it surely means we've had a right deluge.
3: Sizing Europe and Cue Card - Champion Chase or Ryanair?
The healthier Sprinter Sacre is, the more likely this pair will board the Ryanair flight. My instinct tells me Sizing Europe will reroute from the Champion, but Cue Card's owner still fancies a crack at the Black Jet and the debate with Colin Tizzard could be an interesting one.
4: Captain Conan - Arkle or Jewson?
Put simply, if the Captain goes for the Arkle then ante post Arkle vouchers with Simonsig's name on might not be worth too much.
5: First Lieutenant - Ryanair or Gold Cup?
Now this is a tough one. Trainer Mouse Morris wants to go for the GC while all the market moves suggest others in the camp favour the race sponsored by owner Michael O'Leary. I've had a small bet at just over 20-1 on him for the big one. And I'll nibble again each way if the Mouse roars and gets his way.
6: Quevega - Mares' Hurdle, World Hurdle or both?
Definitely the former...and just maybe the latter as well. It's high time the second best staying hurdler of recent years finally got the chance to tackle the best of British and what better time to do so than the year when Big Buck's is on the sidelines. It would be unwise to dive in yet but another silky smooth success on day one might just tempt the Mullins team to roll again on Thursday.
7: Boston Bob - RSA Chase or National Hunt Chase?
Hard to call at present given the lack of clear information available. On balance, I suspect it might be the RSA but perhaps without Ruby on board.
8: Oscar Whisky - Champion Hurdle or World Hurdle?
Put simply, if he goes for the Champion then ante post vouchers with Grandouet and Binocular's name on them might not be worth too much.
9: Bog Warrior - World Hurdle or Gold Cup?
Perhaps neither of the above. Or maybe he will be declared for both only to drop out at the eleventh hour in favour of a better fancied runner in the same colours? Rum lads, those Gigginstown characters.
10: Name the races in which Ballynagour and David Pipe's other handicap plots will rock up?
Who do you think I am, Albert Einstein?
How did you do?
1-3 correct: Selling plater
4-5 correct: Moderate handicapper
6-7 correct: Useful performer
8-9 correct: Pattern race class
All 10 correct: You are David Pipe
Spring is on its way - but winter menu clearly needs spicing up
Just over two weeks now until the Festival bursts into life and we can all stop talking and start watching.
But how do you feel about the fact that the best horses in action at Kempton on Saturday were merely enjoying racecourse gallops as opposed to banging heads in big races?
"But the winter programme is clearly suffering as a result - and some bright spark surely needs to come up with a plan which incentivises connections of the best jumpers to give them more than just one or two runs before the big Fez."
Triple Festival winner Albertas Run exercised between races, while Nicky Henderson wheeled out a posse of his potential Festival stars after racing when Bobs Worth, Binocular, Long Run, Rolling Star and Riverside Theatre all galloped in the gloaming.
It's clear the wet winter and one or two minor setbacks have played their part in helping keep these stars in their boxes.
But the sharp eyed among you will have noticed that the six big names who stretched their legs at Kempton will head to Cheltenham having had a measly six runs between them all season.
It's crystal clear that powerful owners - along with star trainers - are now more willing than ever to take an ultra-patient approach in order to have their best horses cherry ripe in the spring.
That policy which makes Cheltenham all the more exciting once March finally comes around.
But the winter programme is clearly suffering as a result - and some bright spark surely needs to come up with a plan which incentivises connections of the best jumpers to give them more than just one or two runs before the big Fez.
Water table disciples don't have a leg to stand on
Remember those chin scratchers who nodded sagely during deep midwinter and insisted that "the water table is just too high for the Cheltenham ground to dry out?"
Well, it looks like they were talking a load of old cobblers.
It was a Dryza Bone remix in the Cotswolds last week and the next few days promises much more of the same.
"There is still a bit of 4-5 and 8-11 about day one beginning with an official verdict of "good to soft.' And, given that starting description represents the Claisse man's ideal scenario, it's probably very fair value."
Cheltenham clerk Simon Claisse is already talking about watering and won't be shy of keeping the taps on in the final week before the Festival if Mother Nature doesn't help him out.
There is still a bit of 4-5 and 8-11 about day one beginning with an official verdict of "good to soft.'
And, given that starting description represents the Claisse man's ideal scenario, it's probably very fair value.
RP Guide awaits for the top Tuesday napster
You wait all year for racing's fastest growing quiz and then two come at once.
Part two of this week's Festival File puzzle carries a prize of rare quality, namely the Racing Post's "Cheltenham Festival Guide 2013."
Want tired and lazy stats driven fodder of the type that used to infest some guides to the Festival?
It's most certainly out in this colourful and punchy tome, which will be posted directly to the reader who naps the longest priced winner on Tuesday's racing in Britain and emails the name of said beast to firstname.lastname@example.org by 1pm on the day in question.
Oh, and multiple entries from the same email address will be disqualified. In the event of a tie, the first to have registered their entry will be deemed the winner.
I know this prize is a jewel beyond price (it retails at £9.99, actually) but we do have stern invigilators on the job to prevent any tomfixery.