Wednesday 23 October 2019

Wayne Bailey: Al Dancer can get punters off to a flyer on day one

Nigel Twiston-Davies' gelding overcame a 12lb rise to win at Ascot last time

Horse for course: Favourite for today's opener, Al Dancer and Sam Twiston-Davies were easy winners at the track back in December. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
Horse for course: Favourite for today's opener, Al Dancer and Sam Twiston-Davies were easy winners at the track back in December. Photo: David Davies/PA Wire
Wayne Bailey

Wayne Bailey

I've mentioned the American writer and philosopher Elbert Hubbard on these pages before, him being the author of the quote "the only man who makes money following the races is one who does it with a broom and shovel".

It's a good quip, and probably holds true for most people, but there are occasions such as Cheltenham that the punter can actually manage to come out on top.

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The racing is high-class, the form stands up, and with many bookmakers offering loss-leading offers to get custom, it's one of the few times that the serious punter has a decent chance of beating the old enemy.

So it's not all doom and gloom but remember, the bookmakers will happily let you win money at Cheltenham - as they can assume that once you have opened an account with their firm, you will stick with them thereafter and eventually lose it all, and more.

So shop around, take advantage, and don't give it back to them on a wet Wednesday at Wolverhampton if you manage to come out on top this week.

In some ways, the build-up to today is the best part, as there are so many possibilities.

Paul Townend. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile
Paul Townend. Photo: Seb Daly/Sportsfile


Come Friday evening, half of us will be weary, cynical, perhaps broke, and claiming it's all a fix. But for now, there's that innocent air of anticipation.

The aforementioned Hubbard, who doesn't sound like the type of bloke who'd be much fun at a racing festival, also said that "if pleasures are greatest in anticipation, just remember that this is also true of trouble."

I suppose we should take that on board and remember that it's not the end of the world if you have a bad day. Just don't over do it with the stakes, especially early on.

Indeed, one race where punters are often caught out early is the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle (1.30), where a number of hotpots have been beaten down through the years. That makes me slightly wary of backing the favourite here, although none are too strong in the betting with Al Dancer and Angels Breath both 4/1 at the time of writing, and Klassical Dream not far behind at 9/2.

Of those, Al Dancer ticks the right boxes. Unbeaten in four starts over hurdles, he looked at home here winning a handicap hurdle in December.

I mentioned yesterday how I've abandoned Buveur D'Air in favour of Apple's Jade in the Champion Hurdle (3.30).

It could be one of those occasions where I'll be left pulling my hair out having switched allegiance, but Apple's Jade has been superb this season, particularly in the Irish Champion Hurdle, and that 7lb mare's allowance will be highly advantageous.

In the closing National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase (5.30), OK Coral should appreciate the longer trip here, and he put in a lovely round of jumping at Warwick last time.

Stat attack: Ultima Handicap Chase (2.50)

Tony Martin won the Ultima Handicap Chase in 2006 with Dun Doire under Ruby Walsh, but there’s been no Irish winners since, despite 20 horses attempting.

The Gordon Elliott-trained Noble Endeavor was third last year at 15/2 having traded at 5/4 in-running, but Henry de Bromhead’s Grand Jesture was the closest we got during that period, finishing second to The Druids Nephew in 2015.

There are a number of Irish entries this year, of which the most prominent in the betting is the Willie Mullins-trained Up For Review (8/1) under Paul Townend.

Rated 146 for a racing weight of 11st 3lbs, the gelding is one of the older horses in the race aged 10. While it’s been a few years since a horse of that age was successful (Chief Dan George was the last in 2010), they have managed to win four times in the last 20 years.

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