Viewers overseas who in 2014 got their first glimpses of GAA action thanks to the contentious deal with Sky Sports (and no matter what anyone might say about viewing figures, it’s unquestionable that the games acquired new spectators on foot of the arrangement) were evidently enthralled by what they saw if their documented reactions are anything to go by.
Over time, though, they will most likely come to realise that it’s a disappointing reality that only a handful of teams can harbour realistic ambitions of attaining autumnal gold in either code. Turning thoughts to a different sporting sphere, you wonder do similar sentiments apply to the Cheltenham Festival in horse racing.
Past experience has told that when bookies put up ‘Specials’ – especially ones involving multiple bets – the very seldom come up. Most painfully usually coming a cropper because of one leg not clicking. This year, the supposed cock shot bet in the Cotswolds is a Willie Mullins four timer on the opening day.
It can’t be as easy as it seems, can it? The four purported ‘good things’ are Douvan, Un De Sceaux, Faugheen and Annie Power. Nothing is ever as easy as it seems though. That’s not to say that the four of them won’t win – they may very well do. However, as with any top level sport, it’s effusing flippancy to be so matter-of-fact about the Cheltenham Festival.
But let’s have a look. Having been pinpointed by Rich Ricci as the most exciting prospect in the silks of his wife Susannah, Douvan has been all the rage for the Supreme Novices Hurdle. His two outings in Ireland, a sauntering victory at Punchestown, certainly did nothing to dissipate such notions.
You just wonder will two runs be enough of a warm up. That said, underlying fears pertaining to a lack of sharpness are assuaged by knowledge of the extensive homework Mullins inmates undergo. At this point, despite Ricci’s championing of his prospects, he to me looks the most shaky leg of the four-timer. If you can forgive another Closutton horse – Alvisio Ville – a poor run last time, he’s entitled to enter calculations. As is another Mullins horse, Nichols Canyon, Harry Fry’s Jollyallan and Dermot Weld’s Silver Concorde, if the latter shows up.
Why the comparison between the GAA and Cheltenham was made at the outset was that – while shocks are always a possibility – it’s most likely that the biggest threat to Mullins’s dominance will come from only a handful, David Pipe, Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson. The latter’s L’ami Serge looks primed to give Douvan most to do.
So to Un De Sceaux. It’d be openly admitted that if the list of Horses To Follow produced last autumn was to be done again the lunacy that was leaving him out would be amended. Not least because he was such a prolific winner thereon last season. In truth, quite a bit of said list could’ve been re-drafted, but anyway… When any chaser falls it does germinate a kernel of doubt but my honest belief is that Ruby Walsh will strive to let him bowl along out in front and if he manages that, he should win. A few months back, I’d have said his biggest threat would be a yard-mate, but both Vautour and Valseur Lido appear bound for other contests. And Henderson’s Josses Hill has thus far failed to set pulses racing over the bigger obstacles.
If Un De Sceaux is to be upstaged or even troubled, Vibrato Valtat for Nicholls may well be the steed to do so. As for Annie Power, aside from it being her first outing of the season planting a few seeds of doubt, regardless of any other races, in her case it’s beyond question that in her case that biggest threat is indeed from a neighbouring resident via Glens Melody.
In fact, presuming Ruby stays with Annie, one might actually consider doing the unthinkable and siding with the other mare. Then again, doing a reverse forecast with the two of them – presuming the Mares Hurdle is where the Ricci’s steed heads – might be the best fence sitting policy!
Speaking of which, if Ruby’s entitled to procrastinate over the Champion Hurdle aren’t we all? Can I make my mind up? Honestly, no. But there are a few barometers. Should – as seems entirely plausible – the ground come up soft, the fairytale of Hurricane Fly winning can happen. On the other hand, good ground could see Faugheen streak away or the reigning champ Jezki – something of a forgotten horse in all this – become a factor. Either way, I’m going to, wisely or otherwise, let sentiment rule on this one and have a few bob each way on the Fly! Did you ever think you’d again see such a legend as an each way prospect again?!
As for some of the other races, while one detests putting the label of ‘banker’ on anything, I feel the Ryanair Chase is increasingly Don Cossack’s to lose. While if the World Hurdle continues to cut up – and Annie Power goes for the Mares race – the possibility of Monksland running a big race therein becomes more profound.
Again, let it be said, sentiment and betting aren’t healthy bedfellows. However, I’ll admit that there are a few results that’d get me nearer to walking than anything! Namely, if Road To Riches was to win the Gold Cup, or a Noel Meade winner of any kind in fact. Or, even more especially perhaps, were Los Amigos to figure in the Kim Muir for Jim Dreaper.
Now, normally handicaps are avoided like the plague in this corner. Normality goes out the window in special cases mind you. And were Mydor – owned by a group of lads from my own town – to turn up in and, God help Cheltenham, win any race over there, it’d necessitate one of those occasions when not a clue how to begin to write about same would occur!
Tony Martin is a dab hand in handicaps, ditto Dermot Weld. Therefore, anything would run therein would command utmost respect. Keep an eye out for Quick Jack, Savello and Hissabaat. But anyway, enough posturing, to have a bit of an interest during the best four days of the year – and hopefully make a bit of profit – punters could do a lot worse than have a go at the following:
Lucky 15 with:
Lucky 15 with:
Each way options: Road To Riches, Apache Stronghold, Calipto, Quick Jack.