Two to keep in mind going forward post-Cheltenham

There are two horses that got beaten at Cheltenham who are worthy of the closest inspection going forward, namely Alpha Des Obeaux and Valseur Lido.
Two to keep in mind going forward post-Cheltenham

They are owned by Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud and both finished second in their respective races at the festival.

Regular readers of this column will be aware I am a big fan of Alpha Des Obeaux’s, although at times he has more than tried our patience.

When he was beaten by Prince Of Scars at Leopardstown at Christmas the shock was such, both to the system and the pocket, that it was a minor miracle the medics didn’t have to be summoned.

That outcome left one completely puzzled and explaining it away, due to the testing conditions, just didn’t do it.

Alpha Des Obeaux then went on a retrieving mission at Gowran Park in January, on Thyestes day, and I could not bring myself to back him, leaving as high as 2-1 pass by.

The surface was very heavy then as well, but he was right at the top of his game, winning in a canter and just shaping like the horse some of us always felt he might be.

We were back on side for Cheltenham, for the Ryanair World Hurdle, but the trick was to show a profit, knowing he was taking on Thistlecrack.

Of course, Thistlecrack - what a horse he is - just blew Alpha Des Obeaux away, beating him out the gate by seven lengths.

But those who were on without the favourite - Alpha Des Obeaux was available at 9-2 with Ladbrokes and 4-1 with Paddy Power - never had any real cause for concern.

Mouse Morris was surely thrilled with his charge, but to beat the third, Bobs Worth, by 22 lengths and still be a million miles removed from the winner’s enclosure had to be difficult to take. In any case what we know for sure now is just how good Alpha Des Obeaux really is and that is simply very good.

Mouse indicated this week that Alpha would run next wherever Thistlecrack wasn’t running and that would be a wise move.

Next season, however, you’d imagine, it will be all about fences for the six-year-old and he has some scope for that game.

Chances are Valseur Lido would have faced the starter in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, if Willie Mullins had his way, but he took on Vautour instead in the two and a half miles plus Ryanair Chase.

Gigginstown already had Don Cossack and Don Poli for the Gold Cup and it was understandable they would re-route Valseur Lido in an effort to win their own race.

I watched that Ryanair again this week and it confirmed that Valseur is crying out for three miles and even further, having stayed on powerfully in the closing stages.

Ideally, you would love to see him tackling the three miles and a furlong of the Punchestown Gold Cup at the end of April, but that is likely to be Don Cossack’s target, so Mullins’ next move is going to be interesting.

It is not so long ago that we would be advising punters to treat Cheltenham with extreme caution and to approach the meeting with fear in your heart.

It would be no real surprise, for instance, to hear of punters that were “cleaned out’’ and tales at the airports coming home from those who would admit to never touching a winner for the week. A lot of the time the festival was a bonanza for bookmakers, but those days are now long gone.

There are two reasons, firstly extending the meeting to four days and secondly the Willie Mullins factor.

The vast spread of races means that it is far less competitive than it used to be. Take the Triumph Hurdle, which used to be a total minefield for punters.

Bringing in the Fred Winter in 2005 changed the face of the Triumph Hurdle completely. The Fred Winter, a handicap, had 22 runners this year, while the Triumph had a very manageable 15. What it means is that the Triumph has become perfectly solvable.

Mullins has farmed the OLBG Mares’ Hurdle, formerly the David Nicholson, since its inauguration in 2008, winning eight of the nine runnings, the latest arriving with Vroum Vroum Mag.

This year, Cheltenham provided yet another new contest in the Trull House Stud Mares’ Novice Hurdle and Mullins duly won that with Limini. Both heats were a disaster for the layers.

But in the “bad old days’’ there would have been no such races and Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini would have had to take on the geldings in other novice events.

And, of course, Mullins has simplified Cheltenham in lots of ways. Eight winners a year ago and seven this time around meant that punters just couldn’t fail to hit the net at some stage.

Essentially, Cheltenham has gone full circle. What was regarded as the hardest meeting of the year for punters has become the one that you just don’t want to end. As long as the bookmakers don’t twig it we’ll be grand!

You would have to admire Kevin Prendergast, who has been training since the early 60’s and, by my reckoning, is now in his 84th year.

At the Curragh last Sunday, he saddled Awtaad to defy top weight of 9-10 in the Madrid Handicap, the son of Cape Cross scoring by five lengths.

By any standards Prendergast is a remarkable man and Awtaad certainly has the capacity to give him every reason to dream this summer.

You couldn’t argue, at least before the race, that the handicapper had been lenient, giving the horse a mark of 95.

But lenient, and very lenient, it turned out to be and Awtaad was raised 11lbs this week, meaning his days as a handicapper are, at best, numbered.

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