Champion Hurdle – Wednesday, 16 March 02:20 (EST)
Annie Power is one to field against at 3.40 in a vastly-changed Champion Hurdle landscape; she shapes like 20 furlongs is her best trip and her trainer has mentioned the Aintree Hurdle as her ideal race. Combine that with a less than ideal preparation and none-too-slick jumping, and I want to be with the more established two milers.
Nichols Canyon is one of those but he comes off a poor run where he finished uncharacteristically weakly and the track remains a doubt. That the World Hurdle is even being considering, as suggested at the recent Williw Mullins media day, is another negative.
I suggested backing Identity Thief at 17.50 back in January and though he’s less than half that price with the defections he remains the bet. The upside horse in the race having only started racing in November 2014, he can be expected to continue improving. He was better than the result when winning the Fighting Fifth in a fast time before shaping like the best horse in the Ryanair Hurdle and good ground should suit.
Champion Chase – Thursday, 17 March 02:20 (EST)
Wednesday’s feature is an unappealing betting race. I’m negative on both Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy in the belief that their Christmas battle was more a great spectacle than top-class form. But nor do I want to take 1.94 about Un De Sceaux for all that he is the most likely winner.
He is always a fall risk and may not like the better surface on Wednesday which is often the day of the fastest going. Special Tiara would be my token pick as he is operating at a similar level to both Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy this season and likes good ground.
Ryanair Chase – Friday, 18 March 01:40 (EST)
There have been some good renewals of the Ryanair but this isn’t one of them and the race could hardly be described as championship standard. Al Ferof comes here fresh but there is a big difference between first time out fresh and coming back off a mid-season break fresh while I suspect both the possible Gigginstown runners – Valseur Lido and Road To Riches – will find this trip too sharp. One horse that is thriving coming into the race is Village Vic, his form with the likes of Top Gamble working out, and he can outrun his odds.
World Hurdle – Friday, 18 March 02:20 (EST)
Thistlecrack has no holes in his claims to win a weak renewal; he stays well, acts at the track and has much the best form. Of the short-priced runners at the Festival, he’s the best though it makes sense to hold off on backing him until the day of the race. He’s the obvious ‘name horse’ on a Thursday card that lacks star quality and is the one the layers will be out to get that morning.
Gold Cup – Saturday, 19 March 02:20 (EST)
This is the race of the meeting and it’s not even close. I have little doubt that Vautour is the most talented horse in the field with the way he went through the King George but odds of 6.80 aren’t big enough to take a chance on his stamina. Djakadam may need soft ground and it sound likes he has missed schooling since his fall while Don Cossack hasn’t travelled well in his races this season. It would be no surprise if Don Poli improved to win this but I couldn’t back him at 7.00 with his form being at least a stone behind the rest.
Cue Card looks the bet at 6.60. He’s this season’s horse having won the key trials whereas Don Cossack is last season’s horse and Vautour may be next season’s and the King George is the standout piece of form on offer.
Stamina issues could be a red herring – he may have stopped in the 2013 King George but was injured afterwards – and everything he has done this season says he will stay. He has excellent Festival form, twice a winner in March and placed on two other occasions, and while 10 is a little old for a Gold Cup winner at least he has never failed in the race before.
BACK – Thistlecrack for the World Hurdle (morning of the race)