Thursday 18 April 2019

'Tiger' can have the crowd roaring in Cross Country

Gordon Elliott's favourite seeks a Festival double en route to Grand National

Ready to Roll: Tiger Roll, with Lisa O’Neill on board, in relaxed mood on the gallops at Prestbury Park on Monday. Photo: Sportsfile
Ready to Roll: Tiger Roll, with Lisa O’Neill on board, in relaxed mood on the gallops at Prestbury Park on Monday. Photo: Sportsfile
Wayne Bailey

Wayne Bailey

You don't hear the words waxing and waning much in English anymore - but one means to grow, and the other means to fade.

It's still used to describe the moon - when it's getting brighter it's waxing, when it's fading, it's waning. The waxing of the moon can evoke beautiful imagery, and has been used in lyrical phrase and poetry down through the years - and one can only wax lyrical when talking about Altior, the magnificent animal which is the long odds-on favourite for this afternoon's Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.30).

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I must admit though, I'm finding it hard to find something to say about the nine-year-old superstar which hasn't been said already. Most readers will know the story: one win in three bumpers before Nicky Henderson sent him over hurdles. He was pretty good over timber, winning all five races, but he's been outstanding over fences and few would back against him earning his 13th straight victory over the bigger obstacles today.

Tackled

There are no certainties in racing, especially when fences must be tackled, but at the time of writing, he's 2/5. It somehow seems disrespectful when talking about one of the all-time greats to break it down to boring old numbers, but those odds suggest he's got just over a 70pc chance of winning - or 71.4pc if you want to be really pedantic. What actual price he goes off at remains to be seen obviously, but unless you are thinking of opposing him or have a bottomless bank, there's no need to have a bet in this race, it's one to savour for what it is.

That said, Altior is sure to be included in many multiples this week, including the Betting Ring Lucky 15 which I put up on Monday so there's still a bit at stake. Indeed, who can forget Douvan, which finished seventh in this in 2017, having went off at 2/9. Let's just hope they all get around safely including Min, the likely runner-up.

My biggest bet of the day will be on Gordon Elliott's Tiger Roll, although he'll be fairly short in the Cross Country markets (4.10), perhaps no bigger than 6/5. I checked the ante-post betting and he's 10/1 to do a Grand National double, which is not too attractive at this point considering an ante-post wager is essentially two bets.

The first bet is that the horse will actually make it to the race - there's a lot that can go wrong and he could pick up an injury before then, and the second part of the bet is that he then wins. I've said before that I find very little value in ante-post betting these days, and prefer to take each day as it comes.

Tiger Roll won the Cross Country last year before the Grand National, so goes for a Festival double here and is the clear form pick. Even Elliott was surprised when he won what was expected to be a warm-up race for this over hurdles last month, and said it shows just how good a horse he actually is. Definitely the one to beat.

Stat attack: Champion Bumper (5.30)

Since 1995, just one four-year-old has won the Champion Bumper, namely Cue Card for Colin Tizzard. Since Cue Card's win, 24 four-year-old horses have taken part but just two have placed.

While most of them were outsiders, a few market leaders were turned over too including New Years Eve (2012), Le Vent Dantan (2013) and last year's favourite Acey Milan, which finished fourth at 9/2. Those figures don't appear to be putting punters off Willie Mullins' Blue Sari, which was reasonably strong in the betting yesterday evening at 3/1.

On the plus side, Mullins certainly knows what he's doing here, and is the Bumper's most successful trainer with a total of nine winners in the race, which was established back in 1992. Martyn Meade's Cascova is the other four-year-old today, priced around 25/1.

Race-by-race guide to Day 2

1.30

Champ is the class act here and can get favourite backers off the mark at 5/2 or thereabouts. He's already beat one of today's rivals, Brewin'upastorm, to take a good-quality renewal of the Grade One Challow Hurdle.

2.10

Topofthegame, Santini, Mister Malarky and On The Blind Side all have claims but Gordon Elliott's Delta Work, which won a hurdle race at the Festival last year, is a worthy favourite at 15/8. He's unbeaten in three races over fences, including a couple at Grade One level.

2.50

Even Stephen Hawking would have struggled to figure this race out. As usual, a very competitive Coral Cup where a chance is taken each-way on Thomas Mullins' outsider Oscar Knight, around 33/1. He's going through a poor patch but can run a big race on a good day.

3.30

The Champion Chase is all about one horse. An all-time great two-miler, Altior's record speaks for itself with 12 straight wins over fences, including this race last year. Sit back and enjoy watching a master at the top of his game.

4.10

A winner of this race last year, Tiger Roll went on to win the Grand National at Aintree. He looked rusty in a Cross Country Chase here in November, but he'll be primed for this following a winning spin over hurdles in a Grade Two at Navan.

4.50

Trained by Paul Nicholls, Dogon won a chase race in France before arriving in England. He was pulled up on his British debut over hurdles here in January, but got back on track when second in a Wincanton novice last month. At 20/1, take him each-way.

5.30

This may end up a battle between Mullins' Blue Sari and Elliott's Envoi Allen, with the latter tipped to come out on top around 100/30. A three-time bumper winner, his experience gives him the edge.

A reminder that you can get all the behind-the-scenes action from the 2019 Cheltenham Festival  with Michael Verney over on the Independent Sport Instagram page.

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