Sprinter Sacre not ready to hand over his crown just yet
The Flat season officially began in early April but it gets into full flow next week with the 2,000 Guineas at Newmarket, for which Air Force Blue looks a worthy favourite.
In the meantime, the jumping game is not going away quietly and the tussle between Paul Nicholls and Willie Mullins for the British trainers' championship has given the tail end of the season an extra bit of life.
I'm not normally too interested in the championship (which finishes today) and feel the format based on prize-money doesn't reward the small but consistent trainers, but I'll admit that to see it go down to the wire this year has been fascinating.
We also have a week of Punchestown to look forward to, and Wednesday's Gold Cup looks like a cracker, with Don Cossack once again taking on Cue Card. Let's hope both of them stay up this time and finally provide a conclusive answer as to which horse is superior.
About ten years ago, a well-known seasoned punter told me that he never backs a horse at Punchestown if it has run at the Cheltenham or Aintree Festival. He reckons it probably had a hard race and may not be fully fit.
I've heard those sentiments being expressed by few people since but the theory just doesn't stand up to scrutiny any more.
The truth is, training methods have improved greatly over the years and it's now possible to keep a horse in very good condition over a number of weeks in order to take in a couple of big festivals.
In fact, one of my Punchestown betting strategies involves backing horses which won at Cheltenham or Aintree last time. While it's true that some horses will have emptied the tank in their latest race, I find the market is good at filtering those out.
Indeed, since 2008, backing Punchestown favourites which won at Cheltenham or Aintree last time has provided 25 winners from 40 bets (63pc) and produced a profit of €90 to a €10 stake. Last year, there were five winners from six bets, although with Mullins so dominant, some of the prices were just too skinny.
I'm not suggesting you blindly back any horse but it just goes to show that you need a very good reason if you are going to oppose some of the top animals.
Getting back to today, I'm keen on Nicky Henderson's Sprinter Sacre in the Grade One Celebration Chase (3.35 Sandown) albeit at a short price, possibly a shade odds-on.
This horse reminds me of Kauto Star in that I've written him off a number of times and subsequently got punished for opposing him.
I was fairly sure that Mullins' Un De Sceaux would have his measure in the Champion Chase at Cheltenham but Henderson's ten-year-old put in a good round of jumping to beat the young pretender fair and square.
Sprinter Sacre might not be capable of putting in performances like his 2013 Champion Chase win, which was one of the most outstanding displays I've seen, but he's still got something to offer at the top level despite his age and his well documented injury problems.
It could be argued that the pace of the Champion Chase didn't suit Un De Sceaux, with Special Tiara going off at a very good clip, but you are on dangerous ground when you make excuses for a beaten 4/6 favourite.
All the same, it's great to get these rematches and it's partly the reason why National Hunt seems to capture the hearts of the racing public more so than the Flat.
Speaking of flat racing, Home Of The Brave is my idea of a value bet around 4/1 in the Listed Leicestershire Stakes (4.0 Leicester). Sixth in the Guineas last year, he beat Gordon Lord Byron in a Group Three at the Curragh but was later disqualified due to a prohibited substance.
He's already had 22 career races but I must admit that Henri Parry Morgan had somehow slipped my radar.
He eventually caught my eye when winning a novices' handicap chase at Uttoxeter in March, despite a drift in the betting. He followed up by finishing second to Native River in a Grade One at Aintree and he looks a proper stayer in the making.
The Peter Bowen-trained eight-year-old sits mid-division in the weights for the Bet365 Gold Cup Chase off a mark of 149 (4.10 Sandown). But considering he's improved with every race (bar one fall) since switching from hurdles to fences late last year, a racing weight of 10st 12lbs seems quite reasonable.
Priced around 9/1, he can be taken each-way and the step up in trip to just over 3m4f is likely to suit his style.
2.55 Sandown: Valseur Lido
3.35 Sandown: Sprinter Sacre
4.0 Leicester: Home Of The Brave
4.10 Sandown: Henri Parry Morgan (e/w)
4.15 Limerick: Bondi Beach
4.45 Sandown: Silsol (e/w)
Do the double
Kerry are often accused of not taking the League too seriously but a final against the Dubs tomorrow will certainly focus the mind. After a slow start to the League, Eamonn Fitzmaurice’s side turned things around with six straight wins, and a victory here will be a huge boost before the summer. But Dublin’s record is flawless and with competition for places so fierce these days, that cockiness which was so often their downfall has disappeared. Back the Boys in Blue at 4/6.
The Willie Mullins-trained Valseur Lido hasn’t won since last year but he’s been keeping good company in Grade One races since, and was a decent second to stablemate Vautour in the Ryanair Chase. The seven-year-old is down in class for the Grade Two Oaksey Chase (2.55 Sandown) and should have enough talent to see off the ageing Menorah, priced around 4/5.