GC's Festival File: Time to play
So now we play the waiting game. Or maybe not. It's possible to form a clear idea of the shape of most of the big Festival races with just a week to go and, barring a late deluge, the ground will probably be on the easy side of good. Time to get off the fence for C4 and RUK pundit Graham Cunningham, who outlines his strongest views on a dozen major races in part 10 of his 2013 Festival File.
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Supreme Novices' Hurdle
You hardly need me to tell you that My Tent Or Yours holds exceptional form claims given that he's trading as big as 2/1 in isolated places for the opener.
Anoraks will be aware that Cue Card was beaten at similar odds in this, while also in recent years Cousin Vinny and Amaretto Rose were beaten at 9/4 and 2/1 and so-called wonder horse Dunguib was turned over at 4/5.
But none of that quartet had form to match MTOY's trouncing of a high-class field of handicappers in Newbury's Betfair Hurdle.
He deserves to be trading short, but I suspect there is at least one other genuine Grade One hurdler in opposition and that horse is the unbeaten Un Atout.
Davy Russell, possibly fuelled by a beaker or two, has been waxing lyrical about this gelding on the preview circuit and feels he is streets ahead of last year's runner-up Trifolium.
It's more about impression than solid form at the moment.
However, the horse who finished a 34 lengths third to Un Atout at Naas last time emerged to beat useful rivals at Fairyhouse last week and I feel he should be trading at least a couple of points shorter than the 8/1 available in a couple of spots.
In a way this looks time to put the wallet in the back pocket and switch to fan mode as Overturn tries to turn over the mighty Simonsig.
The head says Henderson's loping grey will probably run down McCain's freewheeling warrior in the straight.
But the heart cries for Overturn to draw his sting in the way that so many dangerous rivals have been neutralised both on the Flat and over jumps.
"The head says Henderson's loping grey will probably run down McCain's freewheeling warrior in the straight but the heart cries for Overturn to draw his sting in the way that so many dangerous rivals have been neutralised both on the Flat and over jumps."
The market is gradually adjusting itself and it's now looking likely that Hurricane Fly will be sent off at more like 9/4 than 6/4.
He would need to be bigger again before I got interested and I'm still inclined to feel we have a group of good but not great two-milers who can beat each other depending on conditions and tactics.
The word is well and truly out about the lack of frontrunners and I very much doubt that Ruby on The Fly and AP on Binocular will let Rock On Ruby get the drop on them early this time.
Ground conditions will help shape the market, but provided it isn't deep last year's winner Rock On Ruby looks very solid win and place material.
Look back on the video of him forging clear in a well-run race last year and tell me he was flattered.
He's highly likely to run to a similar level again. And if he does then it's highly unlikely there will be three to beat him.
This will make a difference, possibly a sizeable difference.
Regular readers will know I'm very keen on Pont Alexandre and it isn't necessary to flesh out the case too much again.
Suffice to say he has looked exceptional in two runs in Ireland and Ruby Walsh is buzzing about him.
I don't fancy Rule The World, while Chatterbox and Melodic Rendezvous probably won't run and Puffin Billy has a question to answer after losing his unbeaten record at Exeter.
The New One and Taquin Du Seuil won't bow down easily - but they might have to if Pont Alexandre is as good as I suspect he is.
"Suffice to say he has looked exceptional in two runs in Ireland and Ruby Walsh is buzzing about him. The New One and Taquin Du Seuil won't bow down easily - but they might have to if Pont Alexandre is as good as I suspect he is."
A strong body of evidence pointing to Dynaste as being much the best here is possibly tempered by two issues.
First we have the Feltham Young Offenders stat. All 18 Feltham Chase winners who tackled the RSA have been beaten, but Dynaste is proven at Cheltenham and I certainly don't hold that against him.
Second we have the slight concern that the Pipes will switch to the Jewson in search of easier pickings.
That prospect might loom large if it comes up mud, but for the moment it's a case of ensuring you go non-runner money-back if you are a Dynaste fan.
On balance, this doesn't look that deep an RSA in advance. The best of the Irish have been fighting out bunched finishes, but Nicholls and Walsh are keen on Unioniste and this bold jumping grey looks one of the bigger dangers to Dynaste for all that he was swamped for pace by him at Cheltenham last November.
The Black Jet looks like going off the shortest-priced Festival jolly since Arkle's heyday and, having taken one mildly-embarrassing crack at Sprinter Sacre with Sanctuaire in the Victor Chandler, I'm in no mood to repeat the dose.
Indeed, the 'without the favourite market' looks the one to focus on here once the final field becomes clear.
That date may be some way yet and it's crystal clear that connections of Cue Card and Sizing Europe are waiting to see whether SS stays healthy.
If he does then one or both may fly Ryanair instead but here is an educated guess as to what might play out over the next week or so.
Mail De Bievre will be supplemented and set a fierce pace; Sizing Europe will reroute to the Ryanair; and Cue Card's owner might just come down in favour of another crack at Sprinter.
If the admirable Sizing Europe runs here he's the one to be with without the jolly - but the balls are clearly still in the air at present.
The worry that Dynaste could yet rock up here makes keeping the powder dry a sensible option for the moment.
Captain Conan was laboured in victory under a defensive ride in a Sandown bog but commands plenty of respect on his overall record, while Aupcharlie looks a likely lad and those who took big prices about Module after a good mention here a few weeks ago look on a fair ticket now he's trading at 8/1.
Texas Jack has the potential to go off a fair bit shorter than the current 25/1 available if he travels but that's probably a big if. All in all, this looks a tough market to attack at present.
"Rolling Star beat a useful winner handsomely on his British debut, Our Conor shows a tremendous zest for his new job and Far West has already beaten smart rivals and has very valuable Cheltenham experience."
This is simply a guess and guess again-job at present, with market leaders Cue Card, Sizing Europe and First Lieutenant all holding other engagements.
Bookmakers are betting to very tight margins and those offering the NRNB concession are being predictably cautious, but Sizing Europe has an impeccable Festival record and his deadly accurate jumping will be a major asset if he lines up here.
First Lieutenant is another fine jumper with strong claims if his owner over-rules his trainer, but For Non Stop could be the forgotten horse of this year's Ryanair.
The more stars defect, the better his chance becomes, but a relentless gallop on goodish ground saw him paste a smart field at Aintree last October and 20/1 looks a big each-way price.
Reports suggest there is little chance of Willie Mullins throwing a Quevega-sized cat among the pigeons here, but again patience might be the best ploy with a keen eye on the ground.
In short, the faster the surface the brighter Oscar Whisky's prospects become.
Reve De Sivola held him off in a deep-ground Cleeve Hurdle, but spring conditions would suit Oscar very well indeed, while possibly working against the likes of Monksland and Bog Warrior.
No need to jump in feet first yet for the simple reason that bookies aren't giving much away and it's very hard to split Rolling Star, Our Conor and Far West.
Rolling Star beat a useful winner handsomely on his British debut, Our Conor shows a tremendous zest for his new job and Far West has already beaten smart rivals and has very valuable Cheltenham experience.
It's a tough call - but this trio set a standard that will be hard to match for those trading at double-figure prices.
Albert Bartlett Hurdle
What happens early in the week will have a clear domino effect in this market.
A Neptune win for The New One would provide a clear pointer towards his Cheltenham conqueror, At Fishers Cross, while Ballycasey is bound to strengthen in the market if the Mullins novices have thrived.
I don't fancy Utopie Des Bordes, while the improving Gevrey Chambertin has multiple options and African Gold is very progressive but up markedly in class.
Ballycasey is highly regarded and hasn't been fully extended in two hurdle wins, but At Fishers Cross carries the more solid form into the race and his fine Cheltenham record is an added pointer to his chance.
"He holds First Lieutenant but Mouse Morris's gelding looked better than ever when pipped in the Lexus and will make vastly more appeal than the others at double-figure prices if he lines up here rather than in the Ryanair."
A compelling Gold Cup and regular readers will be well acquainted with how I view it.
To recap, Sir Des Champs is a big player but has always been a shade too tight in the market to attract my money; Silviniaco Conti is equally hard to knock based on his serene progress back to Cheltenham, but I'm less keen on my old pal Long Run this time and Captain Chris, Imperial Commander and The Giant Bolster all have questions to answer of one sort or another.
By contrast, old rivals Bobs Worth and First Lieutenant are very easy to make a case for.
Bobs Worth is unbeaten at Cheltenham and his Hennessy win gives him very solid claims even without the possibility of further progress.
He holds First Lieutenant both on RSA Chase and Hennessy form, but Mouse Morris's gelding looked better than ever when pipped in the Lexus and will make vastly more appeal than the others at double-figure prices if he lines up here rather than in the Ryanair.
Say it like you mean it
Festival language isn't always what it seems
The Festival preview season is well under way and the daddy of them all is clearly the Cheltentam chinwag session taking place at the Ripon Bowls Club featuring Niall Hannity, Darren Owen and yours truly this Wednesday.
There can't be many Cheltenham devotees who haven't attended one of these thrashes nowadays.
But for those who haven't - and those who have - here's a rough guide to some of the terminology used and a few mischievous alternative interpretations.
"He's done nothing wrong": Someone has told me this is a good horse but I don't have much idea about what he's done.
"The more you have on the more you'll get back": I'm having a fiver on him.
"He's been aimed at this one race all season": Yes, I know all the others have as well but it sounds good, damnit.
"I can't have him on my mind": My mind is blank on this one.
"If this one wins I'll get a proper job". If this one wins it won't affect me in the slightest"
"The stats are all against this one": My complimentary Festival Guide book arrived in the post this morning.
"He is festooned with sheepskin accoutrements": My name is Nick Luck and I am tonight's chairman.
"He's in everything and all options are open": My name is David Pipe.