Friday 20 April 2018

Talented Thistlecrack has the World at his feet

Diamond King (right), with Davy Russell up, clears the last ahead of Blazer, with Barry Geraghty (left) and Ubak, with Joshua Moore up, on the way to winning the Coral Cup Hurdle (SPORTSFILE)
Diamond King (right), with Davy Russell up, clears the last ahead of Blazer, with Barry Geraghty (left) and Ubak, with Joshua Moore up, on the way to winning the Coral Cup Hurdle (SPORTSFILE)

Wayne Bailey

The Ryanair Chase (2.50) was introduced when the Cheltenham Festival became a four-day event in 2005, and despite being sponsored by an Irish company, horses trained in this country have a poor record with all 32 participants losing to date.

Most Irish trainers prefer to take their chances in the Gold Cup if they have a very good horse so it's fair to say that representatives from Ireland in this have not always been the best of the best.

That mostly accounts for the poor showing from the Irish in the last decade although that looks set to change this afternoon with Willie Mullins' Vautour controversially scratched from the Gold Cup to line up here instead.

Vautour's owner Rich Ricci has apologised to punters who had backed him for Friday's showpiece, having previously said that the seven-year-old would go to the Gold Cup or else stay at home.

I'm in two minds about some of the abuse Rich Ricci has been receiving from punters, especially online.

On the one hand, punters do pay for the sport and it would be nothing without them, so they deserve to be treated with respect.

But, on the other, I think owners and trainers should be free to change plans for their horses as they see fit and not be beholden to the betting markets - even if those plans are changed late on.

A few years back, I decided that ante-post betting on Cheltenham was not for me anymore after a string of non-runners left me severely out of pocket before a single race had started.

People tend to forget that an ante-post wager is essentially two bets: the first is that the horse will actually line up, and the second is that he'll win the race.

Years back, punters were compensated with big prices for betting early on, but these days, I feel that the value is largely gone from ante-post betting.

When you include the bookmaker specials, the markets are so competitive at Cheltenham on the day itself, so it's usually worth holding fire to see what's on offer.

Getting back to the race in question, Vautour will go off somewhere in the region of 8/11 and you'd have to say that the price is about right.

Considering the change of plan, connections must feel that the King George runner-up is not 100pc but with 11lbs in hand on official ratings, he can still be below his best and win handy enough.

The World Hurdle is another race the Irish don't raid too often with just one winner since 1995 and judging by the market, Mouse Morris' Alpha Des Obeaux is our best hope here.

He hit evens in-running when falling in an Aintree novices' hurdle won by Thistlecrack in April and following a couple of placed efforts, he got back to winning ways in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran.

It would be nice to see him run a big one but my banker for the week is Thistlecrack, although I won't win any awards for originality here at a price of even-money or thereabouts.

The trial races act as a good pointer for this, and he's been the stand-out horse in the staying division, winning both the Long Distance and Long Walk hurdles in fine style at Newbury and Ascot respectively.

He may actually have more to come and it's a big compliment that he's being compared to multiple World Hurdle winner Big Buck's.

Last year's winner Cole Harden is respected but he hasn't won a race since which is an obvious worry.

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