Wednesday 15 August 2018

Who D'Airs wins

Noel Fehily celebrates with Buveur D’Air after last year’s Champion Hurdle

Noel Fehily celebrates with Buveur D’Air after last year’s
Champion Hurdle. Photo: PA
Noel Fehily celebrates with Buveur D’Air after last year’s Champion Hurdle. Photo: PA
Ivan Yates

Ivan Yates

Clinical psychologist Dr Eddie Murphy - of Operation Transformation fame - recently explained to me on radio what PTSD is and how momentous events can have long-lasting psychological effects.

Well, the nation may well be experiencing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder from the horrible misery of Storm Emma last week. The sheer destruction and disruption is without precedent in our lifetime. Countless commercial losses are only superseded by the human misery from power outages and no water.

However, national escapism is at hand - well, for me and National Hunt racing fans anyway. Christians have the Camino. Muslims have Mecca. Racegoers have Cheltenham.

Cheltenham 2017 will forever live among my best lifetime memories. In January, my son Andrew booked a week-long Airbnb in Chalford Hill, 15 miles south of Cheltenham town in the Cotswolds countryside. A modern cottage at €36 per night plus £100 per day in pre-booked taxis.

From the Rosslare ferry journey on the Monday morning through to the weekend, intense, well-oiled talk centred on horses, form, trainers, jockeys, inside tips, glorious and wayward punts.

Our daily intoxicating routine: form study, betting market analysis, punditry podcast listening; taxi to racecourse; gossip, drinking; seven superb races, interspersed investments; queues for everything; shuttle bus into town, dinner; taxi home.

All punctuated with endless equine chatter with a variety of characters - mostly 20,000 Irish annual pilgrims, who (to my surprise) rarely go racing in Ireland to the likes of Navan or Naas.

My investment strategy was based on significant outlays on one horse each day. Tuesday - Altior (won Arkle Chase). Wednesday - Douvan, my ultimate ATM machine horse, unbeaten in all 13 races (jumped erratically, injured, finished seventh). Thursday - Yorkhill (won JLT novice chase), ending two-day famine for Willie Mullins/Ruby Walsh. Friday - Native River to be placed (finished third Gold Cup).

Fortunately, despite unprecedented Douvan disaster, I ended the week with a profit of €12k and mental exhaustion and exhilaration.

Unmissable features of Prestbury Park include: Museum of past festivals' iconic horses; the amphitheatre- surrounded winner's enclosure; Guinness Village, despite lager louts in Peaky Blinders attire; hallowed pre-parade ring for intense intimate connections' anxiety; evening auction in the parade ring after racing; multiple tracks, with rolling undulations, stiff fences, constantly galloping left-handed at maximum speed.

Most of all - the sense of occasion. Racing history in the making. The very best of an equine generation competing for immortality.

Cheltenham 2018 is at hand. Trials and preview nights are done. From 1.30pm on Tuesday to Friday 5.30pm, a new chapter of spectacular sport will emerge.

My first memory of a winning Cheltenham Festival bet was in 1972, when 12 years old at Bray boarding school. My mate, the school's kind caretaker Johnny, placed a one shilling treble in the local bookies - returning two green pound notes and change.

For punters, caution is the watchword. More than 20 years in bookmaking taught me that it's the best place to get horses beaten; that's why market liquidity is exceptional. Because backing a Festival winner feels much more euphoric, it tends to entice erratic over-staking. One jumping or jockey error is unaffordable here. Testing underfoot going throughout the winter contrasts with this fast-draining sounder 'good to soft' surface.

The best trainers rise to the top at these Olympics. Nowadays I (almost always) restrict wagers to horses trained by Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson, Gordon Elliott and Paul Nicholls. Past course form is worth several pounds in weight - many good horses don't perform best here. The contrast with a flat, right-handed track like Kempton could not be greater. Handicaps are a betting nightmare; the last 36 favourites were beaten.

My investment portfolio advice for next week is based on the perennial old gambling adage "a short-priced winner is better than a long-priced loser". The quickest way to the punting poor house is the pursuit of "value". There is zero value in a beaten betting docket. The epic quality of nearly every race is such that you don't have to have a flutter to inhale the action.

Unfortunately my two 'banker bets' both run in consecutive races on Tuesday (3.30 and 4.10). All duck or no dinner.

I left the Cotswolds last year with one horse to take out of last year's results: Buveur D'Air. Since then, I back him every time he runs. He's subsequently won at Aintree, Newcastle, Kempton and Sandown. He's even better on soft/heavy ground. As a seven-year-old, he's still improving. I feel his slick jumping and turn of foot will win a hat-trick of Champion Hurdles.

His rivals include my former favourites Faugheen and Yorkhill. Faugheen is now 10 years old; that's statistically a huge negative, as we have to go back to Sea Pigeon in 1980/1; his form this year is a stone inferior to his 2015/16 performance level. Yorkhill has incredible Cheltenham record, but his chasing preparation and ability to lie up the pace of this race is dubious. The rest are well held on all known form. Maximum bet on Barry Geraghty's mount.

Apple's Jade is a truly exceptional, still improving, six-year-old mare. She would be competitive in any hurdle race at the festival. Michael O'Leary seeks the easier option of retaining her Mares' title. On ratings she has a stone in hand. She's even better on softer ground.

I expect her to make all the running at a strong pace and repel any challengers after the last hurdle. I witnessed her classy, dogged wins this season at Fairyhouse and Leopardstown, so I can't contemplate defeat. I believe both horses are the proverbial 'good things' of the week.

Greed is the curse of gamblers. Occasional flutterers want the illusory hatful of tips, that if proffered, will always rebound on the tipster. Whereas those who keep meticulous accounts of all their bets tend to be the most disciplined. Anyone can back a winner - the secret to profitability is to eliminate your losers.

Other selections include: Tuesday - Footpad (2.10). Wednesday - Samcro (1.30); Altior (3.30); Cause of Causes (4.10). Thursday - Laurina (4.50). Friday - Native River place only (3.30); Wonderful Charm (4.10). Plus two each-way fancies: Luis Van Pouch (2.10 Thursday); Patrick's Park (4.10 Thursday).

Happy punting. Never bet what you can't afford to lose. Backing your own opinions sustains sanity. Very best of luck!

Your day-by-day guide to the 2018 festival

DAY 1 CHAMPION DAY Tuesday, March 13

10.00 Tune into Cheltenham Radio on 87.7FM, online on cheltenham.co.uk or via Sound Dec earpieces available to buy on the racecourse.

10.30 Gates open. Make sure you visit the trade stands in the Tented Village for some Festival shopping.

12.15 Top trainers and jockeys run through the card with Martin Kelly in the paddock.

12.30 Rehabilitation of Racehorses parade in the paddock.

1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2m½f

2.10 Racing Post Arkle Chase 2m

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase 3m1f

3.30 Unibet Champion Hurdle 2m½f

Last year’s winner Buveur D’Air in the JP McManus silks and Rich Ricci’s 2015 winner Faugheen have dominated the talk in the lead-up to the Festival and the confrontation between the two really whets the appetite for the opening-day action to get under way.

4.10 OLBG Mares’ Hurdle 2m4f

4.50 National Hunt Chase 4m

5.30 Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase 2m4½f

5.40 Centaur: Top covers band The Wickermen lead the way for the post-race sing-song with old favourites and new tunes.

DAY 2 LADIES DAY Wednesday, March 14

10.00 Tune into Cheltenham Radio on 87.7FM, online on cheltenham.co.uk or via Sound Dec earpieces available to buy on the racecourse.

10.30 Gates open. Make sure you visit the trade stands in the Tented Village for some Festival shopping.

12.15 Top trainers and jockeys run through the card with Martin Kelly in the paddock. Ladies Day competition Enter the Ladies Day competition via social media, #ColourMeMarch, in advance or on the day. Winners will receive prizes including a MINI ONE and a Boodles necklace.

1.30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle 2m5f

2.10 RSA Chase 3m½f

2.50 Coral Cup (Handicap Hurdle) 2m5f

3.30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase 2m Special Tiara was a gallant winner last year, and may well be back to defend his crown, but he faces an imposing rival in the Racing Post Arkle Chase winner Altior.

4.10 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase 3m6f

4.50 Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 2m½f

5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper 2m½f

5.40 Centaur: The Wickermen.

DAY 3 St PATRICK’S THURSDAY Thursday, March 15

10.00 Tune into Cheltenham Radio on 87.7FM, online on cheltenham.co.uk or via Sound Dec earpieces available to buy on the racecourse.

10.30 Gates open. Make sure you visit the trade stands in the Tented Village for some Festival shopping.

12.15 Top trainers and jockeys run through the card with Martin Kelly in the paddock.

1.30 JLT Novices’ Chase 2m4f

2.10 Pertemps Network Final (Handicap Hurdle) 3m

2.50 Ryanair Chase 2m5f

Un De Sceaux justified favouritism 12 months ago and has shown no signs of slowing since. Can anyone stop him in the defence of his crown?

3.30 Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle 3m Set to feature another fascinating battle between Britain and Ireland with Sam Spinner and Supasundae the flagbearers.

4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (Handicap Chase) 2m5f

4.50 Trull House Stud Mares Novices’ Hurdle 2m1f

5.30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase 3m2f

5.40 Centaur: From the Green Fields of France to Cheltenham, the Fureys are the headline act. See thefestival.co.uk/bands for other showtimes.

DAY 4 GOLD CUP DAY Friday, March 16

10.00 Tune into Cheltenham Radio on 87.7FM, online on cheltenham.co.uk or via Sound Dec earpieces available to buy on the racecourse.

10.30 Gates open.

12.15 Top trainers and jockeys run through the card with Martin Kelly in the paddock.

1.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle 2m1f

2.10 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle 2m1f

2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle 3m

3.30 Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase 3m2½f Sizing John will be much missed this year and Jessica Harrington’s hopes will be riding on Our Duke. It will not be easy, with last year’s third Native River back again, along with the high-class winner of the RSA Chase last year, Might Bite.

4.10 St James’s Place Foxhunter Chase 3m2½f

4.50 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle 2m4½f

5.30 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase 2m½f Award presentations: Leading Jockey, NetJets Leading Owner, Irish Independent Leading Trainer and Britain v Ireland in the Betbright Prestbury Cup – as soon as final results are known.

5.40 Centaur: The Fureys.

Irish Independent

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