Sunday 20 October 2019

Wayne Bailey's Cheltenham Festival Lucky 15: 'Punters must bet with the head, not the heart'


Apple’s Jade, with David Condon up, leads the Gordon Elliott string onto the gallops at Cheltenham yesterday. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Apple’s Jade, with David Condon up, leads the Gordon Elliott string onto the gallops at Cheltenham yesterday. Photo: Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images
Wayne Bailey

Wayne Bailey

There's an important castle in Dorset named Corfe Castle, which was built by the first Norman King of England, William the Conqueror, in the 11th century.

Later on during the English Civil War, the castle was won over by Oliver Cromwell's forces, who turned their coats inside out to match the colours of the Royalist army.

These days, passions can become flared in topics like politics and sport when someone is seen as disloyal, as we saw recently when Declan Rice declared for England. He's been described, rather unfairly, on social media and elsewhere, as a 'turncoat'.

With football, for example, a fan changing allegiance to support a rival team would be unforgivable and you'd never see a Celtic man pull on a blue shirt regardless of how well Rangers were performing.

But in racing, and particularity betting, staying loyal can prove costly and you have to back horses which you feel are good value, rather than horses you like, or have an allegiance to.


That's easier said than done, and we are all guilty of backing horses with our hearts rather than our heads, especially in National Hunt racing.

However, I've decided to jump ship at the Cheltenham Festival and abandon Buveur D'Air in this year's Champion Hurdle (3.30) tomorrow, having backed him successfully in that race last year and also in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in December.

Don't get me wrong, Nicky Henderson's charge is one of my all-time favourite hurdlers, and I'm one of those who has claimed he doesn't get the credit he deserves, but to emulate the likes of See You Then or the great Istabraq by winning three in-a-row is no mean feat, particularly with Apple's Jade now lining up here for Gordon Elliott.

While Apple's Jade was beaten in the Mares' Hurdles at Cheltenham and Punchestown last year, making me quite wary of her, she's been on fire this season and her Irish Champion Hurdle win marked her down as one of the best in the business over timber at the moment, regardless of sex.

Buveur D'Air won a Listed race last time with the minimum of effort, but he fluffed his lines in the Christmas Hurdle and I'm getting cold feet.

At the time of writing, Apple's Jade is 2/1 and Buveur D'Air 9/4, which seems quite fair to me - with Willie Mullins' Laurina next at around 4/1.

As for Festival bankers, I'm all over Sir Erec, which was evens yesterday evening for Friday's Triumph Hurdle (1.30).

I've met his trainer Joseph O'Brien on occasion and he's an absolute gent who, just like his father, has an incredible work ethic that would put most of us to shame.

O'Brien was open with the press on Thursday, and confirmed that Sir Erec had suffered a stone bruise, but he's confident he'll fully recover on time. That statement eased his price, but if all is OK come Friday, I'll be filling my boots following his impressive Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown.

My Bismarck, I'm afraid, is Presenting Percy in the Gold Cup (3.30) on Friday. Not because I don't think he has what it takes - he may well do - but I just can't be having him at 7/2 in such a competitive race which includes Clan Des Obeaux and Native River.

I backed him successfully at the Festival last year, and it's a great racing story I'd love to be a part of.

A smaller Irish trainer, Pat Kelly, taking on the big guns in one of the greatest races of all.

Yes, he was quite smart in the John Mulhern Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran, but it was a Grade Two after all and we can't get carried away.

It would be a fantastic Irish victory and I wish them well - but purely on price, I think he's opposable.

Elsewhere, Get In The Queue could be a bit of value around 5/1 in the Bumper (5.30) on Wednesday for Harry Fry. We've only two races to go on, but he looks quite special.

Finally, Tiger Roll looks nailed on to take the Cross Country Chase, also on Wednesday. Since this became a non-handicap, Gordon Elliott has targeted it with success, and the Grand National winner has the perfect profile to do the double.

Lucky 15

4.10 Day One: Mares' Hurdle

Willie Mullins has aimed Benie Des Dieux at the OLBG Mares' Hurdle, and with some other prominent rivals such as Apple's Jade now going for the Champion, she can have it all her own way priced around even-money.

Quevega skews the stats, but Mullins has won this nine times in 11 runnings, including last year with the selection. He's described the mare as his best chance of a winner at the Festival, and although she hasn't been seen since Punchestown, reports from the stable are all good.

3.30 Day Two: Champion Chase

He'll be priced accordingly, somewhere in the region of 4/9, but it's impossible to oppose Altior in the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

There's no such thing as a certainty in racing, but this is as good as it gets and while Nicky Henderson's nine-year-old might not be as stylish as Sprinter Sacre, his record is incredible, with 17 straight wins to his credit, many of those at Grade One level.

4.10 Day Two: Cross Country Chase

Grand National 2018 winner Tiger Roll is already as short as 10/1 to land a historic double at Aintree in April. But for now he can complete a Cheltenham double by winning the Cross Country Chase again, priced around evens.

He's got a good record at Cheltenham, and while he looked a little rusty when fourth in a cross country chase here in November, he surprised everyone by winning a Grade Two back over hurdles at 25/1 last month. He'll be primed for this.

1.30 Day Four: Triumph Hurdle

A son of Camelot, Sir Erec won a Listed race on the flat for Aidan O'Brien before moving over to son Joseph's jumps yard, and that's paid off with two wins in as many races over timber to date.

I was particularly impressed with how well he jumped in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown, and O'Brien feels the four-year-old is his best chance of a winner at the Festival.

* Last year's €1 Lucky 15 returned a total of €60.82.

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