Last Thursday I attended the Cheltenham Season Preview Night in The Centaur building at the racecourse. I thought it would be a good opportunity to grab the notepad and jot down the thoughts of the panel and share them with you.
The night was sponsored by Ladbrokes and the panel discussed the big races in March. Ladbrokes posted their ante-post prices for every race that was analysed on the big screen.
The night was hosted by Channel 4 and At The Races presenter Gina Harding. Joining her, were jockey Richard Johnson, local trainer Charlie Longsdon, Irish trainer Gordon Elliott and At The Races presenter Martin Kelly.
I will use their initials when typing their thoughts throughout this piece.
GH began by asking GE his thoughts on Tiger Roll’s chances for the race. He was up on the screen as a 14/1 chance with Ladbrokes. GE surprised everybody by being completely honest and said the horse has absolutely no chance of winning. Everything will have to fall for Tiger Roll to win the race he stated. He said Tiger Roll wants a step up in trip and is very unlikely to run in the race unless the owners want to run him. Tiger Roll is now a 25/1 chance with Ladbrokes. CL believes The New One needs to improve his jumping to win this race and rates Faugheen as the one to beat in March. RJ says it is worth giving The New One another chance after being somewhat unfortunate last season but also gave Jezki a positive mention. GE is a big Jezki fan (more on this later) but stated it would be disappointing if he could not defeat Hurricane Fly on Sunday (Jezki finished 2nd to him). MK says Hurricane Fly needs a step up in trip now. Of the outsiders CL believes Sign Of A Victory needs to improve 3 stone to be competitive in the race. MK put up Goodwood Mirage as a big priced outsider if the ground is decent.
CL started by discussing Annie Power’s run in this last season and thought she didn’t quite stay. He said he knows his old boss Nicky Henderson holds Beat That in huge regard. Lastly he stated At Fishers Cross is likely to struggle. MK thought More Of That put up a huge performance to win it last year and is currently the ante-post banker of the Cheltenham Festival at around 3/1. RJ said when talking to AP McCoy about More Of That this season, he was keen to go over fences and straight to the Gold Cup with him, this shows the regard in which he is held. RJ also said Whisper could develop into a contender if sticking to hurdles. GE said Annie Power should go to the mares’ race. The panel all agreed on this but CL thought owner Rich Ricci might want to win a bigger and better race with her.
Supreme Novices’ Hurdle
MK kicked things off by stating this not currently a betting race but thinks Henderson’s West Wizard is interesting again this season at around 14/1. Things did not go right for him last season. GE was asked about his horse Tell Us More, he likes him a lot but he is not a Supreme horse, will go up in trip. CL was asked about Battle Born who he said is currently running over 2 miles for experience and will go up in trip also. RJ put up Golden Doyen as his juvenile to follow, he likes soft ground (Golden Doyen won on Saturday). He also mentioned Henry Daly’s Tara Mist as one to follow. GE stated his younger horses are all big staying chasers in the making and none of them are really 2 milers. GH mentioned Harry Fry’s Jollyallan very briefly.
It was then the interval where the Ladbrokes rep came on stage to tell the audience of some ante-post price enhancements available in The Centaur’s Ladbrokes shop that evening. A maximum of £50 was available to all. Jezki was enhanced to 7/1 and GE asked if he could get £250 e/w on at 7s as his charity bet for the evening. The rep originally declined his offer, which was greeted with a chorus of boos with GE stating “that’s Ladbrokes for you”! After the interval GH announced Ladbrokes had accepted the offer. GE stated there is absolutely no way Jezki will finish outside the places come March. GE was great entertainment throughout the evening, he was very honest and straight talking. I recommend going to a similar event if he is ever on the panel.
Queen Mother Champion Chase
CL said there has to be a huge question mark over Sprinter Sacre and if he will get back to his best. The betting market is very questionable at the moment with doubts surrounding him and Sire De Grugy. MK stated Simply Ned looks big at 25/1 with doubts about the front 2 in the market currently (Simply Ned finished 2nd to Uxizandre on Sunday). GE laughed off this suggestion and jokingly said he would fly 5 people out to his Irish yard and give them a free stable tour and champagne breakfast if Simply Ned were to win the race! He then more seriously claimed that even if Sprinter Sacre is 70% fit on the day he should still win the race. Hinterland was then mentioned but GE and RJ claimed he had no chance of winning a Queen Mother.
GE started by saying he has no idea how Lord Windermere won the race last year. He was questioned about Don Cossack and he said he is more of a Ryanair type. RJ mentioned Fingal Bay at a big price and said Silviniaco Conti has been running at the top-level for some time now so maybe his best years are just behind him. CL gave a mention to Shutthefrontdoor who won well at Carlisle the other day. MK said he thinks the younger horses are the ones to concentrate this season and put up Holywell who will be a much better horse after Christmas, Spring is when he shines.
Hennessy Gold Cup (Newbury)
The panel then looked at 2 races outside of the Cheltenham Festival, starting with the Hennessy. MK said Many Clouds has a decent chance in this but is a shorter price now as it is the selection of Pricewise. 11st 2lb is a good weight for him. He also mentioned Gary Moore’s Via Sundown as having each way claims at 25/1. GE stated he thought Rocky Creek had no chance of winning the race but thought Ballycasey of Willie Mullins might run well. RJ again mentioned Fingal Bay and said he would go there with a chance. The panel all thought Djakadam also trained by Mullins could well be anything.
King George (Kempton)
RJ stated Menorah would be a likely runner and said he is definitely best on good ground. GE thought Champagne Fever had a huge chance and will take all the beating. He also thinks Cue Card takes a lot out of himself during races and after a terrible run at Exeter might be on the decline. CL liked Champagne Fever and Dynaste. He thinks Silviniaco Conti has a lot to prove after Wetherby. MK agreed with this and also mentioned Cue Card and Simonsig have a lot to prove.
MK said Vautour has to be kept onside this season and has a big future over fences. He also put up Gilgamboa each way at 14/1, GH agreed with him. GE said his Clarcam may run if the race cuts up and would have a chance. He starts his chasing career in a couple of weeks time. CL said Josses Hill has a good profile for The Arkle.
MK stated Don Poli has a similar profile to Sire Des Champs and may follow the same route (Sire Des Champs ran in the JLT however). He also put up Sue Smith’s Blakemount as having a chance at a big price. GE stated Kings Palace looked a picture at David Pipe’s yard when he visited earlier in the day (Kings Palace won on Saturday) and he would have a serious chance in the RSA. GE also mentioned Pont Alexandre as being a good chasing prospect.
That concluded the evening. March is a long way off but it was entertaining and hopefully it will prove to be very informative. The only downside was that Richard Johnson didn’t tell us he would ride 7 winners over the next 3 days! It was a great meeting for him and his boss Philip Hobbs, congratulations to both of them.