Don’t be caught short at Cheltenham

AS the monkey said when he got his tail cut: “it won’t be long now”.

Yes, we’re rounding the home turn in Cheltenham terms and the mighty Festival is just ten days away.

One of the things that strikes you this year is the number of very short-priced favourites the meeting is going to throw up.

We have the likes of Grands Crus in the RSA Chase and Long Run in the Gold Cup, but there is scope for an extension to their prices and they are not what we have in mind.

No, it is the so-called certainties which are going to make or break punters and bookmakers alike this time round.

The theory has it that there are five good things and many punters will not hear of defeat for any of them.

They are Sprinter Sacre (Arkle Trophy), Hurricane Fly (Champion Hurdle), Quevega (Mares’ Hurdle), Sizing Europe (Champion Chase) and Big Buck’s (World Hurdle).

The more you go through all five races the harder it is to find holes in the hot-pots. But, that said, I’ll nail my colours to the mast right now and say they all won’t win.

I’ve been to Cheltenham far too often to think there is anything simple or straightforward about the place and it has the ability to tame lions.

So which of the five could be the most vulnerable? Well, I just cannot envisage defeat for Hurricane Fly.

He beat Peddlers Cross and Oscar Whisky a year ago and both of those horses now have different targets at Cheltenham. Bottom line, this is a weaker Champion Hurdle than last year.

Quevega cannot be opposed either, especially with her main rival, Voler La Vedette, rather surprisingly, set to contest the World Hurdle.

That leaves Sprinter Sacre, Sizing Europe and Big Buck’s and it is also a struggle to make a decent case as to why any of the trio should fail to deliver.

Sprinter Sacre excites Barry Geraghty like no other, Sizing Europe is in the form of his life and Big Buck’s, well he’s just Big Buck’s.

So, logic clearly dictates that we put the five of them together in a little wager and then sit back and enjoy the view.

Not in a million years. Mark my words, as sure as night follows day, at least one will get turned-over!

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HORSERACING, arguably, lends itself to hype more than any other sport and a real case in point was surely Dessie Hughes’ Minsk.

Do you know last weekend there were punters being accommodated at around 6-1 Minsk for the Triumph Hurdle? He had been a talking horse for many months, on the back of three wins on the flat for John Oxx, ending with an easy success in the Irish Cesarewitch at the Curragh.

But jump racing is a completely different discipline and until they have gone and done it on the track you just don’t know how they will take to the game.

Minsk made his debut over flights at Fairyhouse last Saturday, in a Grade 2, and went off at 4-6.

He was beaten a neck into second by Burrenbridge Lodge and is now out of Cheltenham with a throat infection.

If you were one of those who backed him at Fairyhouse, and for the Triumph Hurdle, then move to the back of the class.

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WHEN Prince Of Fire won a Leopardstown maiden hurdle by a comfortable four lengths at Christmas of 2009 his trainer, Charlie Swan, described him as the best horse he had ever trained.

Prince Of Fire, however, went on to run 16 more times over jumps and only managed a solitary a win, which came in a beginners’ chase at Limerick.

When he scored at Leopardstown the ground was yielding and the description of the Limerick surface was good. The seven-year-old has now had his attentions turned to the all-weather at Dundalk and, finally, we begin to realise why he once had Swan up and out of his chair.

His record now is two from four and he was impressive when winning a competitive handicap there a week last night.

Every cloud has a silver lining, apparently, and because of Prince Of Fire’s indifferent form in the past, he looks really nicely handicapped over both fences and hurdles.

We now know he has to have decent ground to produce his best and is surely one to note, when returning to grass. In the meantime, Swan tells me he will first run in the charity race at Cheltenham.

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THE handicapper had reason to feel pleased, following the Grade 2 novice hurdle won by Felix Yonger at Naas last Saturday.

Despite the fact Willie Mullins’ charge won what looked a modest enough maiden at Downpatrick previously, he had him clear top-rated.

His assessment was spot-on and Felix Yonger proved far too good for his rivals, winning by three lengths, after being none too clever at the last.

And the difference that well-publicised little adjustment to help his wind has made to Rathlin was again plainly obvious at Naas. He bolted in for the third time in-a-row and the bundles he cost us in the early part of the campaign are but a distant memory. Yeah right!


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