Morando didn’t see a racecourse until around this time last year, but quickly made up into a useful last season, completing a hat-trick before meeting trouble in running on his final start in the Balmoral Handicap at Ascot in October. On the latter occasion, he was denied a clear run in the closing stages and, although running on well in the last half a furlong or so, could only finish seventh, beaten 2½ lengths, behind Yuften. The winner is set to reoppose on identical terms but, granted an uninterrupted passage, Roger Varian’s 4-year-old may be capable of reversing the form, especially with slower underfoot conditions seemingly in his favour.
The going on Town Moor is currently good to soft, soft in places so, with an unsettled outlook for the rest of the week, some degree of cut in the ground on Saturday is a virtual certainty. Morando recorded his best form to date when winning a 0-105 contest over a mile at Ayr last September, on good to soft going, and, like many of the progeny of Kendargent, can reasonably be expected to have improved over the winter, especially granted his inexperience. The early booking of jockey Andrea Atzeni adds to confidence in his cause.
Selection: Doncaster 3.35 Morando to win (11/2 with bet365)
Tobefair has improved out of all recognition since joining Carmarthenshire trainer Debra Hamer two seasons ago, winning all seven starts and rising an astonishing 62lb in the handicap. The Central Park gelding faces far and away his toughest task to date, stepping up to Listed level for the first time off a 9lb higher mark than when beating Morello Royale by 1½ lengths in a 0-145 contest, over 3 miles, at Newbury last month. However, the fourth horse, Bryden Boy – who was beaten 15½ lengths – has since won a similar race at Doncaster, so the form looks strong, even in the context of this race. Tobefair has won on good, good to firm and soft going, so should run his race whatever the weather at Prestbury Park and it would take a brave man to state, categorically, that he can’t extend his winning sequence to eight.
Selection: Cheltenham 2.10 Tobefair to win (17/2 with Betfair Sportsbook)
Starting us off at number 10, was the 50 million pound fall. The opening day of the 2015 Cheltenham Festival has been renamed Mullins and Walsh day in recent year’s, as the trainer and jockey combination was swept the board. In 2015 it was no different, as the punters had flocked to the bookies to get their Mullins lucky 15 on; Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Faugheen and Annie Power were the four most fancied horses in the history of the opening day of Cheltenham. The first three had all won with ease, and the bookies feared one of the biggest losses in racing history. Annie Power was sent off the odds-on favorite for the OLBG Mares Hurdle, and half way round Annie Power looked in cruise control. With two to jump Ruby Walsh had Annie Power at the front, as she came to the last jump Annie Power was three lengths clear, and the punters were smelling their money. Then disaster struck as Annie Power clipped the hurdle and fell. There was a stunned silence around Cheltenham, apart from the bookmakers who were jumping for joy. It’s been deemed the 50 million pound fall. Many since have said that the fall was deliberate and that Walsh was paid to make sure that Annie Power didn’t win as it would have bankrupted many bookmakers.
Coming in at number 9, the banning of the Racing Post from the 2012 festival. In 2012 the racing world’s premier paper was banned from the Cheltenham Festival. We never got to know the real reason for the ban, and has never been satisfactory explained why the Racing Post was banned. The ban has been lifted since, but we still don’t know the reason why it happened in the first place.
Entering at number 8 is a ban on the Festival. In 1829 the Festival had become a hotbed of activity as people traveled for days to attend. With the number of people now attending Cheltenham the local parish tried to have the festival banned citing pickpocketing and prostitution as the main reason for their case. The motion was never carried, and festival continued.
In at number 7 we have, John Inverdale dropping the c-bomb live on BBC 5Live. In 2015 during the BBC’s coverage of the festival on 5Live, Inverdale dropped the unforgivable word and was later forced to apologize.
During a phone in the following happened. Mr Francome said: “You get wet, you’re mucking out, and it’s hard work… But through all of that, it’s a way of life that most of them wouldn’t swap, a lot of people go off and do other things and then come back to it.”
Mr Inverdale replied: “This is looking at it through rose-c*****… rose-tinted glasses from the past. I apologize there for a slip of the tongue, but Lizzie your love of the sport just shines through.”
Joining is at number 6. Paddy Power had their television banned. In 2012 Paddy Power had their Cheltenham television advert. The advert showed a hitman going around the racecourse shooting ‘chavs’ with tranquilizer darts, so they didn’t have a chance to ruin the festival. This was banned from TV after thousands of complaints.
Jumping in at number 5. In 2012 on the opening day of the festival, three horses were forced to be put down after breaking legs during falls. Many top jockeys and trainers criticized the conditions of the course. The course was very firm which was out of context for the time of year, jockey including Ruby Walsh felt it was unsafe for jumping, and that tracked needed watering or be called off.
Just missing out on the top 3 at number 4, is the 2001 cancellation of the Cheltenham Festival. In 2001 the UK was in the middle of a Foot And Mouth epidemic, due to the easy way the disease was spread between animals. The Festival was canceled for only third time in the history of the Cheltenham Festival.
Into the top 3 and at number 3, is Willie Mullins the year of the cloud. In 2014 the Top Irish trainer was anxious about a doping scandal and feared horses would be ‘nobbled’ and that Irish Turf Club wasn’t doing more to tackle the issue.
“We have some very fancied horses, and it would make a lot of money for someone if they were going to Cheltenham and they could alter the course of events,
“Everyone should be vigilant, especially if you have a fancied horse. You’ve got to be.
Mullins says legitimate concerns over anabolic steroids have overshadowed the dangers of horses being sedated by criminal elements.
“Everyone’s going on about the anabolic steroids, but I’m always warning my lads here about guys using sedatives,” he added.
“If you wanted to nobble someone, who would you nobble? Nobble us. The one I had to look out for was the sedative. That was the one that was going to harm me. Everyone else was looking in the other direction.”
Another Irish trainer, Philip Fenton, faced charges of possessing anabolic steroids and other named substances.
But the case was adjourned until after the Cheltenham Festival.
Mullins said that delay would “put a cloud over our game in the biggest festival of the year. That’s what it will be known as – the year of the cloud.”
Missing out on the top spot at number 2, is the Wee The People scandal. In 2016 two shamed professional footballers, were caught urinating into glasses then throwing them off a VIP balcony. Samir Carruthers (MK Dons) and James Collins (Northampton Town) were both fined two weeks wages and forced to issue public apologies, for their antics and were both later banned from the racecourse.
BHA spokeswoman Rosie Margarson said: “The British Horseracing Authority is responsible for protecting the proper conduct and good reputation of horseracing in this country.
“As a result of their behavior at Cheltenham racecourse, the BHA applied to its disciplinary officer to have Katie Salmon, Jessica Hayes, Samir Carruthers and James Collins excluded from all licensed premises, including all racecourses in Great Britain.
“The disciplinary officer was satisfied on the evidence put before him that all individuals should be excluded from the sport.”
On the top at number 1, Death Rides A Horse. In 2016 one of the most unwanted records was set, as Eleven horses died over the four-day festival. This is a record that no one wants to see, and let’s hope that the 2017 Festival go without any deaths
After four days of pulsating equine action, it is perhaps fitting that the feature race that brings down the curtain on the Cheltenham Festival is also the most eagerly anticipated.
Run over three miles, two furlongs on Prestbury Park’s New Course, the Gold Cup has offered up some of National Hunt racing’s most iconic moments, and a reflection upon some of the former champions of this renewal – Coneygree, Bob’s Worth, Synchronised, Long Run and multiple-time winners Kauto Star and Best Mate – just offers up an appetising flavour of the quality on show.
The Grand National might see more money changing hands between punter and bookmaker (and hopefully back again), but for horse racing purists it simply does not get any better than this.
The Gold Cup always headlines the Friday of Cheltenham each year, and so on March 17 we can expect another showcase of outstanding chasing talent.
But who will win? That’s the question on everybody’s lips of course, and obviously the answer is not an open-and-shut case. Many of the planet’s finest have been pointed at the race, and this year’s renewal could be amongst the most competitive in a decade.
However, as always, history has a habit of teaching us plenty of lessons….
Wise Old Heads
Ask any experienced punter and they will all tell you the same: if you spot a betting pattern emerging, follow it in – so often we regret it when we don’t. Remarkably, the Gold Cup offers up not one but two sensible angles of attack for Cheltenham punters.
Let’s take a look at the last ten renewals of this race. Of those, five have been won by the favourite (50%) and six were priced at 7/2 or shorter (60%). Only one (Lord Windermere in 2014) took to the turf at a price of 10/1 or greater.
Typically, and perhaps unsurprisingly, this is a race where the cream rises to the top.
Even more assertive is the trend that a certain vintage of horse prospers in this renewal. Eight of the last nine winners – that’s a whopping 89% – were aged either eight or nine at the time of their triumph. The exception to the rule was the six-year-old Long Run back in 2011.
So with that in mind, we are looking for a short priced fancy that is eight or nine years old. Refer to your favourite bookmakers’ listing and you will thus find only one standout candidate for the Gold Cup in 2017: Djakadam.
History Repeats Itself?
This French fancy is joined at the head of the market by Native River and Cue Card, but neither of these fit the age profile at seven and eleven respectively. Indeed, the ante post favourite Cue Card appears to be really up against it; only one winner of this race in more than 80 years has been aged ten or more at the time of their triumph.
Can these patterns be definitive? Not always – Cue Card is a fine horse that obviously stands a great chance of upsetting the data. But with fast conditions expected at Prestbury Park, the odds, figuratively speaking, really are stacked against him.
For the sake of a few months, we’ll add Native River to our shortlist; he turns eight in May. And what a powerhouse he is too; four of his last five outings have ended in victory, including November’s Hennessy Gold Cup Chase triumph and the ever-competitive Welsh Grand National in December. A low-key outing at the festival 12 months ago, in which he was bested by Minella Rocco in the Chase Challenge, indicated a certain fondness for this stretch.
As such, a wager on the Colin Tizzard schooled chaser is not discouraged.
But if we’re following in the numbers then Djakadam, available at prices ranging from 7/2 to 5/1, must come under serious consideration. Runner up in this very race 12 months ago, he was some four lengths back to eventual winner Don Cossack but still ten lengths ahead of the rest of the field himself. In 2015 he again finished second in the Gold Cup, this time by a length or so to Coneygree, and so arguably only a marginal gain is required to get him into the winner’s enclosure.
What may turn some punters off is a lack of recent activity – Djakadam hasn’t been seen in 2017 as yet, but clearly Willie Mullins, his trainer, is a wily old campaigner. You can expect the French horse to be fit and firing come Friday March 17; will that be enough to secure a long-awaited Gold Cup victory?
In the Sunbets.co.uk Handicap (3.30) at Southwell on Tuesday, Shearian was on a losing run of 18 and had won just three times from 52 starts prior to joining Declan Carroll in November. However, the 7-year-old has struck a rich vein of form for his new trainer, winning all three starts over course and distance and rising 25lb in the weights as a result. The Royal Applause gelding looked better than ever when readily accounting for Alpha Tauri last time and, while a 9lb rise for that performance necessitates another step up in class, he’s made a mockery of previous handicap marks and may not have finished winning just yet. Historically, the North Yorkshire trainer has done well at Southwell and Shearian can keep up the good work.
Selection: Southwell 3.30 Shearian to win (9/2 generally available)