Now that the election is over (almost ), we can concentrate fully on what will unfold in the Cotswolds for four hectic days next week. There are certain acres of ground which are held sacred by followers of sport in this country. Horse Racing, and particularly National Hunt Racing, also has its sacred piece of ground where man and beast combine in pursuit of their holy grail. The irony for Irish National Hunt fans is that these few acres are in a town in the Cotswolds that couldn't be more English. All that changes next week, when an estimated 15,000 Irish people descend on the town.
Willie Mullins will have a good week, with a strong chance it will finally include victory in The Gold Cup itself, but I cannot see him matching last year's record number of winners. Looking at Tuesday's opening race, the Supreme Novices Hurdle, the market suggests the continuation of the dominance of Willie Mullins and Rich Ricci with the lightly raced Min. At odds of around 7/4, he does not represent a lot of value on what he has achieved so far, and I'd prefer to have a few euro each-way on Buveur D'Air or Altior. I expect both of these to make the frame. I also expect Min to be a drifter on the day, so if you are thinking of getting involved, hold off until Tuesday morning. Then take advantage of some of the specials on offer: don't be surprised if one of these offers Min as large as 3/1. In the Arkle Challenge Trophy, if Douvan stands up, he wins; it is as simple as that. If he doesn't, expect to see Vaniteux or Sizing John take advantage.
A Champion Hurdle that was set to see Faugheen confirm himself as one of the recent 'greats', is now sadly lacking any strength in depth, with both the winner, and runner up from last year, Arctic Fire, absentees on this occasion. Super sub Annie Power is now the 2/1 favourite, with Nicholls Canyon and Identity Thief next in the betting. Having cost this punter significant sums in the last two years, with her World Hurdle defeat by More of That in 2014 followed by her last flight fall in 2015 when having the OLBG Mares' Hurdle at her mercy, I have taken a certain dislike to this undoubtedly talented mare. She may do it, but as her stable's third choice, I wont be getting involved at odds of 2/1. Maybe a small e.w. bet on her stablemate Sempre Medici, or one of Nicky Henderson's outsiders, will prove tempting on the day. Vroom Vroon Mag, in the Mare's Hurdle, should provide Willie Mullins with his second or third winner on day one.
The Novices' Hurdle opens the second day, and is the target for one of my two main bets of the week. I left Trials Day in January convinced I had seen at least two festival winners, and Yanworth was the first of these. Alan King has been effusive in his praise of this horse, and for me he, along with Thistlecrack in the World Hurdle, represents one of the bets of the meeting. At 6/4 he wont be paying for too many nights in the Queens Hotel, but if he was part of the Mullins/Ricci partnership, his odds would be closer to 4/6. The double on these two is currently 5/1: once you are finished reading this article, you know what to do.
The RSA Chase is often a wide open affair, but this year it seems a match between More Of That and No More Heroes, if the ante post betting is to be believed. AP McCoy has expressed his confidence in More of That, but he will need to be at his best to take a very competitive renewal. Sit back and enjoy this one; it is a race that may give us a shock result.
The Champion Chase is a fascinating race. Un de Sceaux is trading at slight odds on, with Vautour second favourite in many lists. Assuming Vautour is not in the line up, his stablemate should be up to winning this. However, the presence of Sprinter Sacre, Sire De Grugy and Dodging Bullets means he wont have things all his own way, and if any of those three can reclaim their best form, we are in for a special race. Again, too short a price on the favourite and too many question marks against his rivals to warrant a wager makes this an unlikely betting medium, so another race to sit back and enjoy the crowning of a new hero, or the re-crowning of an old one!Josies Orders has a leading chance in the Cross Country Chase, with likely dangers including Quantitativeeasing, Balthazar King and Any Currency.
On Thursday, the Novices Chase is another very competitive contest with Garde La Victoire, Bristol De Mai, Outlander and Black Hercules all cracking novice chasers. A number of the novice chasers still have multiple entries at this stage, so better to hold fire here until we are sure of who will turn up in which race. It is also still unclear what the lineup for the Ryanair Chase will be, but if Vautour turns up in anything like the form he was in for last year's festival, he wont be beaten. In his absence, Road to Riches would be the likely favourite, but the race would become wide open. The World Hurdle sees my other main fancy for the week line up. Thistlecrack has been a revelation since Aintree last year, and scanning through the field, I can't see anyone to live with him. Make him your nap of day three.
Friday begins with The Triumph Hurdle, and it looks a typically tricky affair. Of those near the top of the market, I like Zubayr and Sceau Royal, but a modest e.w. bet makes most sense here. A wide open Gold Cup awaits us on Friday, with Cue Card and Smad Place the pick of the home defence and Don Cossack, Djakadam, Vautour and Don Poli leading the Irish challenge. Maybe try a few euro each way on Smad Place, who will stay all day, and on Djakadam who may end Willie Mullins drought in this race. The week is closing in now and if your luck has deserted you up to the time of the Gold Cup, don't wait for the final two tricky handicaps; use the Foxhunters as your 'getting out' race, and reclaim losses with On The Fringe.
It is too early to say for certain what will run in many of the handicaps, and whether or not the weights will rise will have a bearing on the outcome of a number of them. A few names to watch out for are Out Sam and The Aloomomo on Tuesday, Great Field, Campeador and Ballyandy on Wednesday, Leave at Dawn, Our Father and Sametegal on Thursday, and Superb Story, Squouateur and Next Sensation on Friday.
Bet of the week; a win double on Yanworth and Thistlecrack at current odds of 5/1.