Cheltenham prospects not looking too rosy

NO great cause for optimism right now regarding Irish Cheltenham prospects!

It seems the logical conclusion one can draw at the end of a huge glut of racing over the Christmas period.

Last March, Ireland enjoyed a terrific Festival. Six winners was a cracking performance, bolstered by five seconds and six thirds.

First and second placings in the Champion Chase, Moscow Flyer and Native Upmanship, the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, Back In Front and Kicking King and the SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle - Hardy Eustace and Pizarro - emphasised the depth of our challenge.

Toss in three handicap successes, Youlneverwalkalone, Xenophon and Sprit Leader, and it was a rare Irish punter who did his dough.

As of now there is simply no possibility of repeating that effort. Christmas told us we won’t be winning either the Gold Cup or the Champion Hurdle.

Beef Or Salmon, even at his very best - or any other horse indeed, can’t hope to match Best Mate in the Gold Cup.

If Edward O’Grady can win the Champion Hurdle with Back In Front, a horse who hasn’t impressed at all in three runs this season, then he’s an even bigger genius than many believe.

The fall-out from our moderate bumper horses of last season continues.

In January of last year, we had some powerful novice hurdlers on the boil, Back In Front, Hardy Eustace, Solerina and Pizarro and plenty of back-up for them as well.

Name me one novice hurdler at the moment you think might win at Cheltenham?

Our novice chasers are better, led by Nil Desperandum and Pizarro, though Xenophon’s on-going disagreements with fences is disappointing.

But, as of now, could you see any of them beating Therealbandit in the SunAlliance Novices Chase, traditionally one of the toughest events of all at Cheltenham?

It is impossible to know how good our four-year-old hurdlers are, relative to the English, because there is little to go on and, of course, we will be strongly represented in the Bumper.

As far as Irish horses are concerned, there is only one ante-post voucher you would want to have in your pocket and that’s Moscow Flyer for the two mile Champion Chase.

All the evidence tells us he’s better than ever and far better than the opposition. He’s bomb-proof!

Meanwhile it is becoming increasingly likely live pictures of Irish racing, into your home, will be back on screen as early as the end of February.

The format, as I understand it, will be on the same lines as the old Racing Channel.

Irish racing will be the main ingredient, with dogs and horseracing from other parts of the world making up the programmes.

There will be a “minor” difference, this time round, however. The new Racing Channel won’t be free.

The word is that it will cost in the region of €20.00 a month. Cheap at double the price!

It is interesting to note the continued computerisation of bookmakers in the betting ring, a welcome development.

Wouldn’t it be great, though, if the computers displayed the exact over-round to which the layers are betting.

You wouldn’t half see red faces then among those on the boxes. If it was the case one particular firm might have had some rotten eggs tossed in their direction at Thurles on Tuesday.

This is the way they bet at the off for a 16-runner handicap hurdle. 4-5 Sixtino, 9-2 Chukchi Country, 8-1 Manndaliy, Richmond USA 10-1 Craigmor Hero, Native Park, Ebonyellen 12-1 Rosslare Express, Slow To Part (appropriate), Bridge Town Rosie, 14-1 Aran Island 16-1 Dreamy Run, Tatiana, Montasareen 20-1 Flaxen Town 25-1 Kavolan.

By my reckoning that means they were betting to about 180%. That is 60% too much. This was a handicap, for God’s sake, with every horse totally exposed. Talk about attempting to take punters for complete mugs.

No wonder many serious punters are swinging more and more towards the exchanges and can be seen mopping up morning prices before going racing.

“Come racing”, has long been McCririck’s battle-cry. “Come racing and get fleeced”, might just be ours.

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