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Cheltenham Festival: A Novice’s Glance At Day One

March 13, 2012

As a current Irish resident and a horse racing fan, it would be akin to blasphemy if I were to ignore one of their biggest traditions – the Cheltenham Festival. The irony is, Cheltenham is right in the middle of England – but it is an Irish meeting if I’ve ever seen one.

Over the next four days, punting very small, I’m going to see if I can turn a profit. I honestly don’t like my chances but we’ll see!

Unfortunately, due to university commitments, I can’t get over to Cheltenham until Thursday night, meaning I’ll only get to experience one day of this fabulous festival. But it will be a good day to be there – Kauto Star and Long Run are set to duel in an epic Cheltenham Gold Cup.

Okay, straight up I must admit – I know next to nothing about National Hunt form. The great part about it is, it takes me back to when I first started going to the races. I knew much less about the industry at that point. At least I can understand, analyse and interpret form now! I was pretty much picking off names, colours and jockeys at first.

But I almost do feel like the novice who goes along picking horses for no reason. No, that’s not entirely true. I can see that Horse A beat Horse B by five lengths, and Horse B beat Horse C by five lengths, so theoretically Horse A should do better than Horse C. But I don’t have any attachments to horses.

I have a confession now – I’m a bit of a sentimental punter. I grow attached to a horse and will keep backing it through the driest of dry spells. There aren’t that many horses I’ve become incredibly attached to, but it happens.

But now, with no attachments to any horse (bar two over the course of the Carnival – I shall explain), I feel like I can look at the form and make a much more objective decision.

That being said, there are two horses that I will back on sentiment alone – one is Galileo’s Choice, a Dermot Weld trained galloper who was almost on a plane to Melbourne last spring. The only reason he didn’t come was that he hadn’t passed the first ballot clause. I think he should have the class to go close, he did only finish seven lengths from Ascot Gold Cup winner Fame and Glory. I think he’s probably a better flat horse than a jumper, but still, I think he’ll go alright.

The second horse I’ll back on sentiment is Kauto Star – but I’ll get to that on Friday.

Today’s big race is the Champion Hurdle, a Grade 1 race over approximately 3300m. It is the most prestigious hurdle race at the meeting, with the other feature hurdle race – the World Hurdle – over a much longer distance. The other two feature races are steeplechases.

It’s a great rendition this year, featuring the last two winners – Hurricane Fly (an odds on favourite) and Binocular (5-1 second favourite). Being such a high class race, all runners tend to come in with great form.

Hurricane Fly has only had one run in the last 10 months, a crushing six length victory over today’s rival Oscars Well in the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle. He looked a Group 1 horse in the making on the flat, but he lost form and was transferred to the jumps. He’s not been beaten since November 2009 over the sticks, although he’s only had ten or so starts since then.

Binocular also comes in with good form, albeit in inferior races to Hurricane Fly. He was disappointing behind fellow Champion Hurdle aspirant Overturn at his return, before scrambling home in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle. He was good winning dominantly in a Group 2 race at Newcastle last time out, but is he going good enough to beat Hurricane Fly? On face value, I’d say probably not.

Outside of the top two, it’s very open. Rock on Ruby almost beat Binocular in the Christmas Hurdle and should probably be nearer to him in the market. Overturn‘s form has tapered off since beating Binocular but he could lead all the way here, he was a good flat horse on his day so could be competitive here. The brother to unbeaten Arc winner Zarkava, Zarkandar, is yet to be beaten over jumps and looks to have scope. Could he be the fly in the ointment?

Personally, I’m not betting big and I’m not betting confidently. Hurricane Fly should win if all goes according to plan. But it rarely ever does, so I don’t want to be taking $1.85 about him.

Therefore, I’m going to have $10 the win on Zarkandar and $5 each way on Overturn.

In the Grade 1 Arkle Challenge Trophy, a steeplechase event over 3200m, Sprinter Sacre looks the winner. In fact, he looks classes above his rivals and it’s hard to see them beating him unless something goes wrong. I’m not game to bet against him. It’s a no bet race.

I don’t know much about the other races, so apart from one, I’m going to stay out. Every man and his dog has tried to tip me Sizing Australia today. I don’t know if it is because I’m Australian, but he seems to have plenty of market support too so I’ll have $10 the win on him.

Enjoy Day 1 of the Cheltenham Festival, whether you are there at the course, watching from a bar in Ireland or watching in the dark of the night in Australia!

Andrew’s bets:

R1 (1:30) – $10 win Galileo’s Choice
R4 (3:20) – $10 win Zarkandar/$5 EW Overturn
R5 (4:00) – $10 win Sizing Australia

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