UK Racing this weekend looks at Cheltenham

Well it has certainly been an exciting and intriguing week in the big wide orld of horse racing with Cheltenham sneaking up as it does at this time every year, with trainer visits to come in February, the Longines Awards last Wednesday, Meydan’s classy cards in the warmth of Dubai, The Pegasus from Gulfstream Park on Saturday, oh and the little matter of some serious Festival trials at Cheltenham as well, not to mention all the other meetings.

I have to start with the Longines Awards because I was lucky enough to be in attendance as the three top rated horses in the World today (Enable, Waltgeist, and Crystal Ocean) shared the prizes off a mark of 128. 

No doubt we all have our opinions of who is the better horse, but the handicappers have them as equals, so we applauded them accordingly. Personally, the day I do not get a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye when watching the obligatory “best of” videos of the animals concerned is the day I give this up for good, but that is not coming any day soon and I lapped up the atmosphere, the celebrities, and the free champagne with equal vigour and even managed a handshake from the effervescent Frankie Dettori and a photo with Tim Carroll of Ladbrokes and Sky Racing fame, OK, we are friends anyway but never let the facts get in the way of a good story. 

All in all it was a spectacular affair with a good chance to chat to the great and good of the sport we love, so thank you Longines for the generous invite. Amusingly, during the lunch I received the e-mail announcing Pinatubo as the highest rated juvenile since Celtic Swing with a mark of 128 (coincidentally the same as the three winners). He has certainly impressed us all so far and could well go on to be the superstar Godolphin want and perhaps deserve after all their investment, yet I am personally struggling to rate him that highly, yet. He may be just another “bully” of a juvenile simply stronger than his contemporaries, though we will have to wait for the 2000 Guineas in May before we find out just how top class he really is. 

On to Dubai and thanks to the lack of betting in Dubai that we all appreciate, the media failed to jump on the back of Saeed Bin Suroor as they perhaps would have over here in our bookmaker dominated environment. At 3.05pm Dubai Love took the UAE 1000 Guineas at UK odds of 12/1 with the alleged stable first string third at odds of 1/2, while the dirt race at 4.15pm was won by another 12/1 chance in Laser Show, with three other stable runners (all at shorter odds) coming home eighth, tenth, and twelfth. I do wonder whether that would have garnered a bit more attention had the races been run over here, just saying.

Much as I am into my international racing, with the exception of the Triple Crown races and the Breeders Cup I cannot claim to be a Stateside expert. So my views of the Pegasus meeting are next to worthless I suppose. With a million dollars first prize or so for the turf and even more for the dirt they do at least deserve a passing mention, though that man Dettori may have a big say on the grass at least. He knows St James’s Palace Stakes winner Without Parole very well from his days with John Gosden and he ought to go mighty close on that form in the 9.49am (and won’t be long before we are experimenting with similar race times), though the dirt is beyond my little brain with Mucho Gusto a very tentative suggestion, mainly due to his consistency with a first four placing on all of his nine. Trained by Bob Baffert (big tick) and to be ridden by Irad Ortiz Jr (another big tick), he needs to recapture the sort of from that saw him finish a length and a quarter adrift of Maximum Security in the Haskell in July, but he has had a break since September and I am hoping that will see him raring to go here.

Closer to home and Cheltenham put on a top class card on Saturday that will be fun to try to unravel, but not necessarily either easy or profitable sadly. 

The races with possible improvers may be the hardest to call, but still well worth recording, with the opener a prime example. Monte Cristo deserves his place at the head of the market but that is based on the Nicky Henderson factor and I will happily keep a watching brief.  Now I am quite aware that I regularly allow my heart to rule my head, and that is most certainly the case ahead of the Cotswold Chase at 2.25pm over three miles and a furlong when I will be backing Bristol De Mai. Nigel Twiston-Davies may be considered an eccentric, but he is good company and I going back many years - for those reading from overseas, that’s one of the reasons we love the jumps, years to get to know and love the superstars - though whether he can still mix it with the youngsters at the age of nine, we will soon find out. Lightly raced Santini looks the one he has to beat if you believe the betting, though I doubt it is quite that simple with four of the six declared a winner last time out. My choice has won eight times over fences in total, and although many see his previous Cheltenham efforts as failures by his lofty standards, I know that Nigel disagrees and is determined to get him a Prestbury Park success before retirement, to prove the doubters wrong. 

Despite getting it horribly wrong last week by tipping pretty much every losing Twiston-Davies horse while he had winners in plenty of the other races I am risking it again here, and finally suggesting a Henderson runner. Time Flies By has some decent bumper form with a win and a second here at Cheltenham and looked as if he had a lot to learn on his hurdling debut with a twelve and a half length third at Ascot last month. He seemed a little deliberate at the obstacles that day on the heavy ground but may find conditions a little bit easier to handle now and having heard he has improved hand over fist at home, he ought to be able to get involved in the finish here at an each-way price.

Sean’s Suggestions:

Bristol De Mai 2.25pm Cheltenham Saturday

Time Flies By each-way 3.00pm Cheltenham Saturday