The first day of the Cheltenham Festival. The Day of Hope!
You’ve lost no money at all and there is everything to play for with plenty of time to add to wins or recoup losses (or indeed to plunge further and further down a slippery losing hill to financial oblivion – but this is the Day of Hope!).
The ‘Big Race’ is the Champion Hurdle, but that isn’t the best race of the day.
Although it isn’t the best race of the day the Champion Hurdle is a very good race. It was a particularly good race in 1988 (Celtic Shot), 1993 (Granville Again), 1998, 1999 and 2000 (Istabraq, Istabraq and Istabraq), 2004 and 2005 (Hardy Eustace, Hardy Eustace), 2006 (Brave Inca) and last year (Rock on Ruby). I’ll let you guess why those were the memorable years.
In fact, for me, the most memorable year of all was 1995. I had ante-post bets on two of my favourite horses: Danoli and Large Action. Danoli was one of my favourite horses of all time – and I know I am not alone in that. For one thing, he won me numerous bets. Actually – that is the only reason that he is one of my favourite racehorses of all time! My very first visit to Cheltenham racecourse was on the Wednesday of the 1993 Festival when Danoli won the Sun Alliance Hurdle at 7/4. The crowd went wild and I was cheering Danoli home with thousands of Irishmen (and women) as I had backed him too – and I even got better than starting price at 15/8. After that I seemed to have the knack of knowing when to back Danoli and when not to back him as he always delivered the goods when my money was down.
The main English contender, to my mind, in the 1995 Champion Hurdle was Large Action – another great horse. I backed both of them for the Champion Hurdle in the autumn and was pleased to see them both arrive fit and well, and at much shorter odds, on the day. And they both ran blinders of races and were all set to fight out the finish between them when a Flat horse (pahh!) by the name of Alderbrook rather unsportingly ran past them both, quite quickly actually, to take the prize.
Now we all know that Flat racing is hardly a sport at all, and certainly its rather flashy proponents should be banned from the Cotswolds at all times, but someone had forgotten this and Alderbrook won the race. My two favourite horses were second and third and I made a decent profit on my fairly small ante-post bets but it still felt as though victory had been unfairly ripped away from the three of us (me, Danoli and Large Action – I know the horses had trainers, jockeys and owners but to my mind it was rather more personal than that). Obviously I am not bitter and have got over it completely, and it doesn’t still eat away at me – that’s clearly why I have put it out of my mind almost completely.
But this year’s Champion Hurdle will be won by last year’s winner Rock on Ruby – unless Hurricane Fly wins it. What we don’t want to happen, under any circumstances, is that Zarkander wins. ‘Anything but Zarkander’ is the outcome of the combination of betting and laying that has gone into my financial investment in the race. Zarkander is a pretty good horse though – oh well, it’s probably too late now to get involved any more.
But the Champion Hurdle, although it is the Big Race, is not the best race. No – the best race is the Arkle Chase. Why is the Arkle the best race of the day? I guess it’s because the best race of the whole Festival is the Champion Chase, and the horses that run in the Arkle this year, will mostly run in the Champion Chase next year, and so it’s lovely to see them. Also, by the way, I’ve backed a few winners of this race over the years – particularly memorable were Waterloo Boy, Klairon Davis, Or Royal, Champleve, Moscow Flyer, Voy por Ustedes and Sizing Europe – many of whom went on to run well or win the Champion Chase.
This year’s Arkle looks like it will be a stroll in the park for Simonsig – but will it? We’ll soon know.
Simonsig has won his two chases and most of his other races too. He has won on most goings and he has won at Cheltenham. His trainer is having a great year and his jockey, not surprisingly, is having a great year too. There is no reason to think that anything will beat him except that it’s rarely that simple. His current price is 4/6 so it’s not a ridiculously short price but it’s certainly not a ridiculously long one! At those odds you want the horse to win – and they don’t always. Simonsig will definitely win though – unless he doesn’t, in which case it’ll probably be a brown horse that wins – probably Overturn. Ah yes, Simonsig is a grey – and you shouldn’t really bet on greys unless they are Desert Orchid, One Man or Kribensis – or Suny Bay – or Call Equiname.
There are other races at Cheltenham today – there’s that silly race where they all run around at random until Nina Carberry decides that it’s time to win and then they run up the hill and everyone cheers with relief. And there’s the race that Quevega wins every year. And then there’s the opening race when the Irish horse that you didn’t want to win actually wins it.
It’s a Day of Hope! Here’s hoping!