Cheltenham should be sheer Bliss

IT’S amazing how much interest the traditional after-racing gallop at Leopardstown last Sunday generated.

At The Races certainly did a solid job for punters and nothing was allowed to get under the radar.

The performance of Sicilian Secret was the one which had most observers purring and there is no doubt his work was stylish to say the least.

It was well known he was regarded as being Willie Mullins’ best bumper horse, prior to making his debut at Leopardstown last month.

But his display there didn’t exactly set the pulses racing. He won well enough alright, by four lengths, but other Mullins inmates have produced much more eye-catching displays through the season.

This is a yard, however, which doesn’t half know the time of day and the way Sicilian Secret coasted through that work at Leopardstown was impressive.

But how much should we really read into such work? I mean these exercises are a fair way removed from races and are surely more a flexing of the muscles and an indication of well- being.

Quel Esprit, who looked a real star of the future when winning by 13 lengths at Leopardstown at Christmas, couldn’t live with the speed of Sicilian Secret up the straight.

That wasn’t a big surprise, however, because his bumper success came over two and a half miles.

You’d imagine he’s a three mile chaser in the making anyway and he did win his only point-to-point, beating Tinakellylad at Dundrum in Tipperary.

The third horse in the gallop was most interesting, Meath All Star. I hadn’t heard a word about that horse since he won a bumper, on his debut, at Cork by six lengths way back in July.

To my eyes he seemed in rather good health at Leopardstown, coming home hard on the bridle and, if it was a race, the stewards would have locked up connections and thrown away the key!

Anyway, this bumper is the puzzle of all puzzles. Trying to work out the best of Willie Mullins’ is difficult enough, but when you toss in Philip Fenton’s Dunguib, Paul Nolan’s Shinrock Paddy, whatever Dermot Weld decides to run and the unknown English factor then it’s a contest probably best given a wide berth.

But we Irish love our bumpers and the wide berth theory, you can be absolutely certain, will be given a wide berth!

Another who created a fair stir was Cooldine. He’s won lots of races and is one of my favourite horses.

When Cooldine runs the finances in this quarter are generally in far better shape afterwards.

He jumped straight and beautifully at Leopardstown, but then got it all wrong at the last. Cooldine is still learning his trade and Cheltenham will only be his fourth outing over fences.

That he still has plenty to get right at this game is beyond dispute and if he was a relatively short-priced favourite at Cheltenham then most bookmakers would lay him until they bled out both ears.

But he’s not a short-price and was available this week as high as 11-2. The seven-year-old has an engine and bottle and we are going to have to be with him, in the hope Cooldine is poised to produce his best jumping performance so far.

Right. Onto other matters and a few good things for the Festival. Kasbah Bliss, in the Ladbrokes’ World Hurdle, for me is the stand-out bet.

Narrowly beaten a year ago by Inglis Drever, he made a stunning seasonal debut at Haydock last month.

The fact his trainer, Francois Doumen, seems to rate him even better than Baracouda is a fair old endorsement.

Voy Por Ustedes is going to be hard to beat in the Ryanair Chase. He travelled powerfully, and his jumping was a joy, when winning at Ascot recently.

At this stage of the game two miles and five is probably his ideal trip and he already has an Arkle and a Champion Chase at the Festival in his portfolio.

Kasbah Bliss and Voy Por Ustedes are both going to be short-priced favourites, but are there any we should oppose?

Binocular and Kauto Star have to be at the top of the list. They are the most likely winners, I suppose, of the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup respectively, but do not represent much value.

If Binocular roars up the hill then he’ll bolt in and the real Kauto Star will make short work of his rivals.

But there are sufficient doubts in both cases to seek value alternatives.

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