Big Buck’s won his fourth World Hurdle, while Sir Des Champs won a titanic Jewson Novices’ Chase
Good morning everybody
10am: Welcome to Day Three of our live Cheltenham Festival blog. Our team of experts – Greg Wood, Chris Cook and Will Hayler – will be at the track, while Barry Glendenning and Tony Paley will bring you all the latest news, tips and gossip on our live blog.
Today’s races and tips
1.30 Jewson Novice Chase
Will Hayler: Peddlers Cross
Top Form: Sir Des Champs (nb)
2.05 Pertemps Handicap Hurdle Final
Will Hayler: Our Father
Top Form: Across The Bay
2.40 Ryaniar Chase
Will Hayler: Captain Chris
Top Form: Riverside Theatre (nap)
3.20 Ladbrokes World Hurdle
Will Hayler: Oscar Whisky
Top Form: Big Buck’s
4.00 Byrne Group Plate
Will Hayler: Niceonefrankie
Top Form: Niceonefrankie
4.40 Fulke Walywn Kim Muir Chase
Will Hayler: Adams Island
Top Form: Sunnyhillboy
10am: Competition time!
You could win a £50 bet from Betfred by proving your tipping prowess. All you have to do is give us your selections for all of today’s races at Cheltenham.
As ever, our champion will be the tipster who returns the best profit to notional level stakes of £1 at starting price. Non-runners count as losers.
Please post all your tips in a single posting, using the comment facility below, before the first race at 1.30pm. There are six races at Cheltenham today and you must post a single selection for each race.
Our usual terms and conditions, which you can read here will apply, except that this will be a strictly one-day thing. If we get a tie after all the races have been run, the winner will be the one who posted their tips earliest out of those with the highest score. If an entrant has to repost their selections because of a non-runner, we will use the time of their later posting for tiebreak purposes.
If you don’t win today, don’t despair. We are running an identical competition on each day of the Festival. On Friday, the prize will be a £100 bet to mark Betfred’s first sponsorship of the Gold Cup.
Congratulations to Shrewdette, who won our competition on Day Two. She picked Une Artiste (40-1) and Teaforthree (5-1) to finish on +40.
Chris Cook’s World hurdle preview video
Wearing the same elegant pale blue shirt (the bookies haven’t taken it off his back yet) and beige trousers that served him so well in the opening two days of the festival, Guardian deputy racing editor Chris Cook stands before the camera and waggles his hands like a Blackpool pier puppeteer putting on an invisible Punch & Judy show while assessing the runners in this afternoon’s Ladbrokes World Hurdle.
Today’s market movers
Jewson Novices’ Chase (1.30)
Peddlers Cross 10-3 from 4-1
Sir Des Champs 4-1 from 5-1
Pertemps Final (2.05)
Our Father 5-1 from 6-1
Sergent Guib’s 9-1 from 10-1
Pineau De Re 16-1 from 22-1
Ryanair Chase (2.40)
Captain Chris 11-1 from 14-1
Riverside Theatre 9-2 from 11-2
Byrne Group Plate (4.00)
Hector’s Choice 12-1 from 16-1
Matuhi 20-1 from 33-1
Niceonefrankie 9-1 from 12-1
The Cockney Mackem 18-1 from 25-1
Kim Muir Challenge Cup
Sunnyhillboy 7-1 from 8-1
Summery Justice 14-1 from 20-1
• Prices from William Hill
10.50am: Today’s non-runners
Jewson Novices Chase (2.00)
No6 Imperial Shabra
Ryanair Chase (2.40)
No10 Realt Dubh
Ladbroke World Hurdle (3.20)
No2 Carlo Brigante
No6 King of the Night
Byrne Group Plate (4.00)
No3 Rebel Du Maquis
No4 Jack The Giant
No24 Kilcrea Asla
Kim Muir Challenge Cup (4.40)
No24 The Sawyer
• We will add to this list in the event of any more withdrawals
11.09am: Greg Wood sets the scene for Day Three
For the third day running, the morning mist is sticking around here at Cheltenham, but the sun is due to find its way through later and the ground, which has been watered and is currently described as good, good to soft in places.
The notion of “Festival history” can be a pretty cheap currency at Cheltenham, and it is often attached to achievements that are merely surprising rather than truly historic, but there are two horses on the card today with a chance to get a piece of the 22-carat stuff. Big Buck’s is the obvious one, as he goes for a fourth World Hurdle and his 16th hurdle win in a row, which would equal the all-time record, but there will be plenty of support too for Buena Vista, who will attempt to win the Pertemps Final, a handicap, for the third year running.
There is a precedent for this in Willie Wumpkins, who won the same race three years running from 1979, and his name will still coax a smile of fond recognition from anyone old enough to have seen him do it. Buena Vista would have as much claim as any horse to a statue in his honour if he can complete the hat-trick today, as he has not missed a Festival since finishing sixth to Missed That in the Bumper in 2005, and has also been placed in a Supreme Novice Hurdle, contested an Arkle Trophy and finished second in the Pertemps in 2009 for good measure.
If Buena Vista can get his third win, there is every likelihood that the “history” horses will complete the double, as Big Buck’s is currently an 8-11 chance and while Oscar Whisky represents the red-hot Nicky Henderson yard, he still has plenty to find if he is going to beat the favourite.
Will Hayler peers into his microscope
Each day we look at how the betting for one race has developed over the past few months and today the World Hurdle comes under the microscope (Data supplied by leading odds comparison site Oddschecker.com)
7 April 2011: Big Buck’s wins a third World Hurdle impressively, beating Grands Crus into second. It is his 11th consecutive victory. Bookmakers initially go 2-1 about a fourth win in 2012 but after beating Grands Crus again at Aintree in April 2011 he shortens to 11-10. Oscar Whisky finishes third in the Champion Hurdle, after which connections mention that he will be tackling longer trips in 2012.
Big Bucks 11-10, Grands Crus 6-1, Oscar Whiskey 10-1
24th November 2011: Big Buck’s returns with a bloodless win in Newbury’s Long Distance Hurdle. Meanwhile Grands Crus goes chasing. He wins his first two starts and drops out of the World Hurdle picture. Oscar Whisky falls on his first run of the season at Ascot but travels well, with trainer Nicky Henderson saying the horse will improve greatly for run. Thousand Stars wins on his reappearance in Ireland. With stable-companion Hurricane Fly hot favourite for the Champion Hurdle, Thousand Stars emerges as a World Hurdle contender despite concerns about stamina and whether he is good enough to beat Big Buck’s.
Big Bucks 4-6, Oscar Whisky 8-1, Thousand Stars 8-1
Today: Big Buck’s continues his perfect preparation with victories in the Lough Derg Hurdle and Cleeve Hurdle. Following his fall at Ascot, Oscar Whisky wins two races at Cheltenham impressively, underlining his credentials to take on Big Bucks. Willie Mullins sends out four horses in total with Thousand Stars, despite stamina concerns, taking his chance over the longer trip.
Big Bucks 8-11, Oscar Whiskey 5-1, Thousand Stars 10-1
Time for a run …
Well, it might be for Guardian tipster Will Hayler if Mrs Hayler is reading this blog. Chris Cook has just tweeted that “a well-known & pulchritudinous bookies’ rep has just popped over to m’colleague @haylerwill to say she has his watch from last night.”
Damn Twitter and it’s 140-character limit – we want details! With the mystery bookies’ rep as yet unidentified, we’re going to open a book on who it might be: 11-10 Kate Miller (William Hill), 6-4 Lucy Rhodes (William Hill), 6-1 any unnamed Bodugi rep 50-1 Simon Claire (Coral)
11.50am Crunched standout bet at 3-1 in charity race
Will Hayler: Coming to World Hurdle day hoping to get Big Buck’s beaten is a bit like being the ultimate party-pooper, but nevertheless that’s where I’m standing ahead of the third day of the Cheltenham Festival.
I’ve nothing but respect for such a marvellous horse, but the combined weight of the opposition – the likes of Oscar Whisky, Thousand Stars, Dynaste and So Young – surely represents the stiffest opposition that Big Buck’s has faced so far in this race. Oscar Whisky, in particular, has the potential not just to repeat his fine form over shorter trips but to improve upon it.
Anyway, none of the horses I’ve mentioned so far are going to win because the first horse I saw when I arrived this morning was a small, grey gelding trained by Alan King – Smad Place.
Personally, I hadn’t given much consideration to Smad Place up until now, but to borrow a phrase from Cerises on yesterday’s blog, “never mind the formbook, just tell us the horse”.
Cheltenham is a lonely place when you can’t find a winner, especially if that’s what you’re paid to do, but I stand by most of the bets I had yesterday.
Sizing Europe was the right bet at odds-against. Maybe he was unlucky, maybe he wasn’t, but I reckon if you ran that race 100 times, he’d have won more than 50.
But one thing you can’t do at the Festival is give up and there are still ways out of this maze. I’m backing For Non Stop off scratch in a match bet against Cristal Bonus with Sporting Index and I’m sure Niceonefrankie will give us a run for our money in the Kim Muir too.
However, it’s in the charity races that I always seem to do the best and after Lorna Bradburne landed a touch for us aboard Plato 12 months ago, it’s Niall Hannity’s turn to do the same on Crunched today.
With the possible exception of the Charlie Swan horse, Crunched looks a standout on Flat ratings and ex-jockey Hannity has considerably more professional experience of raceriding than the majority of his opposition.
And in case you might be worried that he’s not taking things seriously, he’s lost about three stone over the last eight weeks and tweeted last night of his jealousy that he was watching his mates tuck into a Chinese takeaway without having so much as a prawn cracker.
You can back Crunched at 3-1 with Boylesports and BetVictor. Don’t forget to give some of your winnings to Cancer Research, in support of whom the race is being staged.
12.15pm RSPCA ‘very concerned’ by Cheltenham Festival deaths
The RSPCA have issued a statement on Thursday morning expressing their concern about the five racehorse deaths at Cheltenham so far this week. The RSPCA’s equine consultant, David Muir, said the deaths showed “the unacceptable face of horse racing”, while another RSPCA spokesman expressed continuing concern about whip use by jockeys. You can read Chris Cook’s report here.
Donald McCain has already had an excellent Festival, with two winners, a second and a third from only nine runners. Now we get to see the best horse in his yard, Peddlers Cross, favourite for the opening race on Day Three.
Peddlers Cross had been expected to challenge Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle on Day One but that plan was finally changed last week after much humming and hawing. McCain was apparently worried that he hadn’t been able to get much schooling into the horse since he was duffed up by that same rival at Christmas and returned home with pulled muscles.
The way Sprinter Sacre won on Tuesday, it is very hard to believe that Peddlers Cross could have beaten him. But he was slick enough on his two previous starts over fences and has run well at the Festival in the past, winning a novice hurdle and then running second in the Champion Hurdle.
His main rival is another Festival winner, Sir Des Champs, who landed a handicap hurdle here last year, beating Son Of Flicka, who won here yesterday. Sir Des Champs is unbeaten in three over fences but would probably lack the raw pace of Peddlers Cross.
Paul Nicholls fields Cristal Bonus, who floated round Kempton last month and must be a threat to all. He was twice well beaten round Cheltenham in hurdle races and must prove that that was more to do with the type of race than any dislike for the track.
Nick Williams is trying to get his first Festival winner with For Non Stop, who won a weak Grade One at Newbury last month. Williams will presumably not be happy to see a big run from Zaynar, who was recently switched from his stable to David Pipe’s, the horse having tried to refuse on his latest start. Three years ago, the grey won the Festival’s Triumph Hurdle for Nicky Henderson but he appears a temperamental sort to say the least.
Let’s not forget the mighty Red Tanber, who is a bit like Hunt Ball (a winner on Day One) in that he has kept winning this season, despite getting more and more weight each time. He still isn’t rated highly enough to get into one of the Festival’s handicaps, so here he is in a Grade Two instead, horribly outclassed. It would be nice to see him run above himself, not least because he is the second Festival mount of the promising Lucy Alexander, five times a winner on him since December.
Market Moves in the Jewson Novices’ Chase
Zaynar 14-1 from 25-1
Peddlers Cross 3-1 from 4-1
Sir Des Champs 7-2 from 5-1
• Prices from William Hill
HBO racing drama runs out of Luck
Those of you who prefer your your racecourse drama to be fictional (it’s cheaper, for a start) will be disappointed to learn that HBO has pulled the plug on it’s big budget horse racing drama Luck.
Featuring Dustin Hoffman in full-on “mumble” mode, Nick Nolte talking in an incomprehenisble “growl”, a Hispanic trainer who talks at 150mph and an actress who speaks in full-on “begorrah, top of de mornin’ to ya” cod Oirish despite being from Thurles in County Tipperary, the series hasn’t been cancelled because it’s impossible to make out what any of the characters are saying, but due to the sad deaths of three horses and the ensuing criticism from animal rights’ campaigners. You can get the full story here. I’ve only seen two episodes thus far and won’t be shedding any tears over its demise, it must be said.
Not long now …
Channel 4 commentator Simon Holt is on the box saying that he’s unable to see the start because of a mist that’s failed to lift from the course, which is bad news for him. Meanwhile in the betting market, Peddlers Cross is 5-2 favourite as the runners and riders head down to the start, Sir Des Champs is 10-3, Cristal Bonus is 13-2 and Zaynar is the springer in the market at 14-1, having been available at 25-1 earlier today.
They’re away for the opening race of the afternoon on a gloomny afternoon at Cheltenham, with Peddlers Crosss making the running from Champion Court and Zaynar and Sir Des Champs … Champion Court and Zaynar pull four or five lenghts clear of Peddlers Cross and Sir De Champs … Peddlers Cross has dropped back to fourth from last and switched from the inside to the outside, possibly because Jason Maguire wants to give him a better view of the fences … into the back straight with nine to jump and Zaynar leads over the water-jump with Champion Court about half a length behind on his outside, Michael Flips is third from Sir Des Champs and Peddlars Cross and Cristal Bonus is struggling badly … four out and Peddlars Cross is being scrubbed along looking beaten … Champion Court leads, stalked by Sir Des Champs …. approaching the second last, Davy Russell makes his move on Sir Des Champs … Sier Des Champs pulls clear on the run in and wins by three lengths from Champion Court, with For Non Stop a well beaten third.
Jewson Novices’ Chase (1.30)
1. Sir Des Champs (DN Russell) 3-1
2. Champion Court (AP Cawley) 8-1
3. For Non Stop (N Fehily) 8-1
A potential Gold Cup winner?
SIr Des Champs, owned by Ryanair mandarin Michael O’Leary and trained by Willie Mullins, was undoubtedly the class horse in the race and has already been installed as a 12-1 chance in next year’s Gold Cup. On Channel 4, Mullins has just said that the 2013 Gold Cup is definitely his target.
This is just about the trickiest race of the week for punters, the last eight winners having all been 10-1 or bigger and including two at 50-1. The last two runnings were both won by Buena Vista, who was 16-1 in 2010 and 20-1 when he followed up a year later, proving how quickly the betting market latches on.
He’s shorter this time, around 10-1, which probably means he’ll be stuffed. He is, after all, 11 years old and on the senior side for a hurdler, older than any winner of this race since the 13-year-old Willie Wumpkins in 1981. His recent form amounts to very little indeed, but then that was also true a year ago.
He is trained by David Pipe, who has a couple of other onions in this soup, notably Our Father, the favourite. Lightly raced, he won on his handicap debut at Ascot in December and was then put away for this. The runner-up seemed to prove the worth of the form in his next two starts and it was 14 lengths back to the third. Then again, Our Father is 19lb higher in the weights this time, so he better have had a lot in hand that day.
Paul Nicholls gave Sonofvic as his tip of the meeting at several Festival previews. The horse is basically in this race because he has failed over fences this winter but he was unbeaten in two hurdle races before that and a switch back to hurdling worked fairly well for a Nicholls-trained beast who appears later on the card.
Thehillofuisneach was hammered in a Grade Two last time (the heavy going might not have helped) but he was previously unbeaten in three handicaps and, even on an 8lb higher mark, may have more to offer. He comes from the yard of handicap king Jonjo O’Neill, who has won this race three times.
Gordon Elliott knows a bit about handicapping too. He fields Russian War, who beat a big field here in October 2010 and won handicaps at Aintree and Ayr last April. He has since failed to make a chaser but would still be fairly treated judged on those efforts from last spring, if he’s fit to do himself justice after a five-month absence.
Willie Mullins has Sergeant Guibs in this race, a horse who ran a respectable third on his handicap debut on heavy going. Several of his sire’s progeny have coped well with jumps races on good going or faster, so there is every chance he will improve for today’s very different conditions.
At the bottom of the weights, Bellflower Boy appears to be another successful reclamation project for Dr Richard Newland, who trained another nine-year-old to win the 2007 Coral Cup. This one could hardly have been an easier winner on his last two starts at Warwick and should be well suited by the ground.
This from Will Hayler: “@haylerwill Big Buck’s currently ‘asleep in his box’ according to Paul Nicholls. Evidently not letting the big occasion get to him #Cheltenham”
St Patrick’s Thursday?
With the calender seeing to it that Saint Patrick’s Day doesn’t fall during the Festival this year, the racecourse powers that be have clearly decided to take the most rubbish day of the meeting, stick a big green shamrock on it and label it St Patrick’s Thursday in the hope of luring more punters through their gates to drown in stout and wave their knobbly sticks in the air.
Fun by association with the Oirish craic, eh? It’s a cynical ploy, that suggests there might be a few snakes in the Festival marketing department that St Patrick could do with banishing.
Chris Cook has tweeted some very interesting snippets
3 After poor showing by Cristal Bonus, there must be concern about general form of Paul Nicholls runners. Champion Hurdler Rock On Ruby based in satellite yard
And they’re off and have jumped a few, with Palace Jester leading from Buena Vista, with Kayf Aramis in third … Palace Jester leads down the back straight with a little under a circuit to go, with Buena Vista coming under a bit of pressure in second, Kayf Aramis is in third and the rest of the field is quite bunched apart from a few stragglers … They’ve just two to jump but a long way to go and Palace Jester comes under pressure from Kayf Aramis who jumps the second last upsides him … approaching the lasdt, Camntlow and Cape Tribulation lead from Catch Me … Cape Tribulation leads up the hill to win under Denis O’Regan from Catch Me in second and Cantlow in third. That was a good patient ride from Denis O’Regan, who breaks a losing streak of 66 Festival rides without a winner.
1. Cape Tribulation (D O’Regan) 14-1
2. Catch Me (AP McCoy) 14-1
3. Cantlow (D Elsworth) 33-1
4. Houblon Des Obeaux (A Coleman) 33-1
Riverside Theatre was well fancied for this race last year but cracked his pelvis while working at home and was on the sidelines until last month. But he returned to action with an impressive win at Ascot beating Medermit by three lengths with Gauvain 20 lengths back in third.
With his trainer, Nicky Henderson, seemingly unable to train a loser this week, you would think Riverside Theatre would be hot to the touch but instead he’s a very backable 5-1. People are, it seems, put off by his fifth-placed finish on his only previous start at Cheltenham, in the 2010 Arkle, when he was seven lengths behind Somersby, the runner-up then and back in the line-up today.
Still, Riverside Theatre fairly bounded up the hill that day and it could fairly be said that the two miles was too short for him. He is much better suited by today’s extra five furlongs and probably will cope perfectly well with the course.
Somersby was in danger of being known only as a ‘nearly’ horse, having finished third, second and fifth at previous Festivals, but he finally got his Grade One win at Ascot in January, battling past Finian’s Rainbow close home. That looks pretty good in light of the runner-up’s success in yesterday’s Champion Chase and today’s extra distance is widely expected to suit Somersby better. He did, however, contrive to be beaten by Gauvain over this trip at Huntingdon in December.
Noble Prince won the Jewson at last year’s Festival but that didn’t look a brilliant race at the time and the form now seems underwhelming. Two defeats to Big Zeb and another to Blazing Tempo this season suggest he may be short of the necessary quality.
That could hardly be said of Albertas Run, winner of this race for the last two years. He also won the RSA Chase at the 2008 Festival and has only been beaten twice in six visits to Cheltenham – in Kauto Star’s second Gold Cup and in the Champion Bumper six years ago. He won his only race so far this season, at Aintree in October, but then strained a ligament in a foreleg and has not been seen since, though he was said to have recovered two months ago.
Captain Chris ought to be a serious contender, having beaten Finian’s Rainbow in last year’s Arkle, and was a very respectable third in the King George. But he jumped violently out to his right round here in January, was pulled up after just eight fences and anything resembling similar antics will make him a no-hoper.
Medermit runs here instead of taking a flyer in the Gold Cup. A reliable grinder, he has beaten on all seven starts at Cheltenham and may be short of pace at this trip on this ground.
Rubi Light was third in this last year as a six-year-old novice, when he travelled well on a surface much faster than he is used to. His form this winter shows he has improved and he has a big chance.
Luck: an addendum
A pal of mine in Ireland has just emailed me the American viewing figures for Luck, which are dismal and provide a far more plausible reason for the HBO series’ demise than the death of three horses. “If it was bringing in 20m viewers an episode they wouldn’t bat an eyelid if three jockeys died,” he says.
Paul Nicholls interviewed on Channel 4
Considering all his horses are running like hairy goats as a result of sickness in his yard (Champion Hurdle winner Rock On Ruby is kept in a satellite yard over 20 miles away from Ditcheat), you could reasonably have expected Alice Plunkett to have asked the Champion Trainer if he fears for Big Buck’s chances at odds-on in the Ryanair Chase. With everyone in racing being so chummy and afraid of upsetting each other, it should go without saying that she didn’t put him on the spot. Which is a shame, because Nicholls is one of the more media friendly trainers around and would almost certainly have given her an honest answer.
Leading actor owns Riverside Theatre
Northern Irish actor James Nesbitt, star of such dramas as Cold Feet, Bloody Sunday and Murphy’s Law, not to mention assorted movies I can’t think of at the moment, is the owner of Riverside Theatre, the favourite in the Ryanair Chase. On Channel 4, he makes all the right noises about it being an honour just to have a horse running at the Festival, and a particular honour to have a horse with a live chance running. For all that, he looks beside himself with nerves, but must be in with a massive chance considering the form Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty are in.
The start’s been delayed because the vet’s been asked to come down and have a look at Poquelin, who has blood trickling from his mouth and has been dismounted Daryl Jacob. Poquelin is withdrawn and the remaining 12 runners are riders are sent on their way. Alberta’s Run and AP McCoy make the running early doors from Great Endeavour, Rubi Light and Little Josh … Great Endeavour, Alberta’s Run and Little Josh form a wall of three at the front as they head uphill to the back straight with 10 to jump … Rubi Light and Alberta’s Run diuspute the lead from Great Endeavour, followed by Captain Chris and Little Josh as they go over the water jump … Alberta’s Run takes it up with five to jump from Rubi Light as they approach the top of the hill with Riverside Theatre slowly creeping into contention … Alberta’s Run takes it up again at the third last, from Rubi Light and Riverside Theatre … Alberta’s Run leaps the last like a stag, gaining a length, but Riverside Theatre gets up under Barry Geraghty on his outside to win the race in the closing strides … the drinks are on Jimmy Nesbitt tonight! Alberta’s Run was second and Medermit was third.
1. Riverside Theatre (BJ Geraghty) 7-2 fav
2. Alberta’s Run (AP McCoy) 10-1
3. Medermit (R Thornton) 8-1
Ryanair Chase post mortem
Wow! That was an epic horse race, with Riverside Theatre digging deep into what are clearly vast reserves of courage to swoop at the death and win under a fine ride from Barry Geraghty, for Nicky Henderson. There’s no shame in defeat for Alberta’s Run who, as Alistair Down says on Channel 4, gets carried out on his shield. The strange thing is that Riverside Theatre never looked a likely winner until the last 50 yards, but still managed to get up on the line. Astounding stuff!
Will Hayler hits us with his going stick
Racing at Cheltenham has moved today from the Old course to the New course and after just two races many punters were talking about the different conditions underfoot. The going is officially ‘good, good to soft in places’ with the track having been extensively watered (including from 6pm to 2am last night) in the (correct) expectation of dry weather.
However, temperatures are not as warm as might have been expected and the fog hanging over the track isn’t encouraging the track to dry out as much as normal. Despite what looked a visibly highly impressive performance by Sir Des Champs in the opener, the time of the race was three seconds slower than last year’s renewal and horses generally considered to prefer softer conditions fought out the finish of the Pertemps Final.
It’s the Big Buck’s show! The country’s most famous failed chaser has won this race for the past three years and is unbeaten in 15 races since January 2009. He has never been beaten over hurdles in Britain and, even though he has regularly been very short odds indeed, his most faithful followers have cleaned up.
Being champion staying hurdler is not the most glamorous accolade but he has also mopped up more than £1m in prize money and seems as solid as ever this winter. Despite his famous ‘flat’ spot in the final third of his races, he should be extremely difficult to beat.
That said, Oscar Whisky has a real shot at it and is my bet for the race. He also has a high strike-rate (seven wins from 10 over hurdles) and his only defeats came when he fell at Ascot this season when half-fit and when fourth in the Supreme and third in the Champion Hurdle at the past two Festivals.
Today’s race is three furlongs further than he has ever tried but he has shown no sign of being a weak finisher. He settles well, travels well and must have every chance of seeing out the trip on this dry ground. With Nicky Henderson’s runners on fire (literally!), he has a fine chance of causing an upset.
Willie Mullins hurls four outsiders at the race. Mikael D’Haguenet looks like a busted flush again after his defeat last time by Mourad, who also seems exposed as not being quite good enough for this, having been third last year.
Thousand Stars is splendidly game and genuine and could give his supporters a run for their money once more but So Young looks the most appealing of Mullins’ four. He was third in last year’s Neptune, when he may have won with a clean jump at the last. That form looks very solid, since the winner was First Lieutenant (second in yesterday’s RSA) and the runner-up was Rock On Ruby (who won the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday).
If you fancy Big Buck’s, back him now …
He’s available at 5-6 …
They’re away in this three-miler, with Big Buck’s bidding to make Cheltenham history by winning this race for a fourth time. Cross Kennon makes the running, a half-length clear from Five Dream, Mourad and Big Buck’s … Heading towards the downhill run, Cross Kennon and Five Dream tow the field along, followed by Mourad and Big Buck’s … about 10 lengths separates the field, with Voler La Vedette taking up the rear … Cross Kennon and Five Dream continue to lead with six to jump, with Big Buck’s behind them on the rail … with four left to jump, Big Buck’s continues to look comfortable on the rail and draws up alongside Mourad in front … some great jumping here from Big Buck’s, who takes a length out of the field at the third last … there’s two to jump and Ruby Walsh is looking comfortable, but Oscar Whisky and Thousand Stars are bearing down … Ruby shakes up Big Buck’s as they race towards the final flight, prompting Barry Geraghty to get to work on Oscar Whisky … Voler La Vedette looks the biggest threat now … Big Buck’s writes history by holding on to win his fourth World Hurdle, but was made to fight all the way after being given the race of his life by Voler La Vedette …
A breathless Ruby Walsh speaks
“He’s an amazing horse … I guess with the way some of ours were running, you were starting to doubt, but you’d be foolish to doubt this fella … he’s just a great horse, thank God I have him.”
1. Big Buck’s (R Walsh) 5-6fav
2. Voler La Vedette (A Lynch) 20-1
3. Smad Place (R Thornton) 20-1
World Hurdle post mortem
Big Buck’s won comfortably enough in the end, but was made to work all the way by Voler De Vedette, who was given a canny tactical ride by Andrew Lynch, who put his horse to sleep at the back of the field until they were coming up the hill, then made his move. As the speed horses in the race were dropping away when the distance began to take its toll, Lynch brought his mare up the inside leaving the width of the track between himself and Walsh in the hope that he’d be able catch them napping and mug them. Walsh clocked him, steered Big Buck’s nearer the rail so his horse would have “company” to try to outpace rather than idle alone in front, prompting Lynch to cross to the outside in his bid to leave the width of the track between the horses again. In the end, Big Buck’s class prevailed, but he was made to fight all the way.
Another of those tricky handicaps, with no winner at less than 12-1 in the past decade while two of them were 33-1 and 66-1.
David Pipe hopes this year’s race will be simpler to solve because he has the 5-1 favourite, Salut Flo, who is such a short price partly because his trainer has repeatedly described him as his bet of the meeting. The horse has only had three races since arriving here from France and was stuffed here in December on his only race in the past two years.
Pipe has had a moderate Festival so far, his 12 runners failing to finish closer than fourth, including the hotpot Grands Crus yesterday. He also runs Notus De La Tour, who looks well treated on the pick of his form from handicap hurdles in the past, and Matuhi, who makes less appeal.
The man of the moment, Nicky Henderson, has been reduced to a single runner because Jack The Giant is lame again. That leaves Giorgio Quercus, whose burden of 11st 1llb is more than has been carried by any winner of this race since 1977.
Paul Nicholls says this is the first time he has had Crack Away Jack in peak condition this winter and the horse is a past Festival winner when trained by Emma Lavelle, though his history of problems and low strike-rate is offputting.
Holmwood Legend won this last year but is 10lb higher now and his recent form is not so encouraging as it was then.
JP McManus owns Finger Onthe Pulse, who won a Festival handicap in 2008 but has poor recent form. He pays Tony McCoy a healthy retainer to ride his horses but has let him off to partner Ferdy Murphy’s Divers, a winner at last year’s Festival. McCoy will not be safe to approach if Finger Onthe Pulse should happen to win.
Murphy also runs Charingworth, the mount of the promising young jockey Lucy Alexander, who got the biggest win of her nascent career when the pair landed the Castleford at Wetherby over Christmas. They’d have won last time out at Ayr, but for Alexander being unseated two out. They have a chance if sticking together this time.
Niceonefrankie is also well treated and gives Venetia Williams a good chance of another Festival handicap success.
More on Riverside Theatre’s Ryanair Chase win
Some said he might bounce, a few more said that Cheltenham is not his track, writes Tom Thurgood. Yet despite not looking the likely winner for more than a bit of the way, Riverside Theatre has got up to win one of the most competitive races of this year’s festival in the Ryanair Chase.
Paddy Power offer 7-1 about this horse winning the King George in December, while William Hill offer 6-1. Boxing Day is a long way away, but that price could feasibly be shorter.
Jimmy Nesbitt’s chaser has won every start at Kempton bar his second in the King George in January 2011 (rescheduled from Boxing Day 2010), while the horse has a flawless record fresh. He could make his seasonal bow in the Kempton showpiece.
Winning rider Barry Geraghty, interviewed after winning the Ryanair, described the run as “a great performance”, adding: “I don’t think I’ve ridden many who are as tough as that.”
Apologies – technical glitches (OK my own bungling incompetence) mean I’ve missed the first half of the race. Thewre’s nine left to drink with Salut Flo in the lead from Divers, tracked by Finger On The Pulse, then Hector’s Choice, who’s just blundered … four to jump and they reach the top of the hill and the heavily supported Salut Flow gets in a bit close and blunders through the fence … Salut Flow is the one to catch two out and meets the last perfectly. He’s four lengths clear of The Cockney Mackem and pulls even further clear to land a huge gamble for the Pipe team under Tom Scudamore.
1. Salut Flow (T Scudamore) 9-2fav
2. The Cockney Mackem (S Twiston-Davies) 10-1
3. Glam Gerry (B Hayes) 33-1
4. Divers (AP McCoy) 8-1
A race for amateur riders, this has turned into a significant trial for the following year’s Grand National, being won by Ballabriggs in 2010 and last year by Junior, who is fancied for this year’s Aintree marathon. Unusually for a long-distance handicap chase, the topweights do not seem to be at a disadvantage, in that two of the last three winners have carried 11st 12lb. Clearly, this is a tiny sample and m’colleague Mr Hayler is having none of it.
That’s good news if you like Sunnyhillboy, who has 11st 11lb. He was an unlucky second in a Festival handicap in 2010, when his jockey left it a shade late, and was an early faller when fancied last year. He hasn’t actually won anything since February 2010.
Also well fancied is Up The Beat, who has 11st 12lb. On his handicap debut last time, he was beaten only by Portrait King in a field of 17 and that is no bad effort as Portrait King has since won the Eider from an 18lb higher mark. Up The Beat is 13lb higher this time.
Summery Justice, an eight-year-old with Venetia Williams, is almost certainly well handicapped if able to run to the best of his ability. Alas, setbacks have restricted him to one outing since November 2010, at which point he was being heavily backed for that year’s Welsh National.
Gurtacrue comes from the shrewd yard of Evan Williams and is almost certainly better than he has been able to show so far. He has been raised just 5lb for his latest win at Wincanton. Williams won this race with High Chimes four years ago.
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase 3m 1f (4.40)
The runners and riders have been ordered to take a turn at the start, as two of the riders were facing side on, but they’re sent off eventually. Slippers Percy makes the early running. BecauseIcouldntsee takes up the running, followed by Benbane Head …
Becauseicouldntsee continues to make the running, which is great news for those of us having to type commentaries for this race, Adams Island and Benbane Head are next, followed by Fredo, Startmeup, Your Busy and Slippers Percy … they’re all still standing as they approach the water jump, with Adams Island makes a mistake but stays on his feet … Becauseicouldntsee leads from Benbane Head, Your Busy, Adams Island and Sunnyhillboy …
Becauseicouldntsee continues to lead from Benbane Head as they turn toweards the second last, but Up The Beat is looking a big threat as he creeps up from outside …
The 13-2 favourite Sunnyhillboy forges ahead up the hill to win for jockey Alan Berry and trainer Jonjo O’Neill from Becauseicouldnt See, Exmoor Ranger and Up The Beat.
1. Sunnyhillboy (Mr AJ Berry) 13-2fav
2. Becauseicouldntsee (Mr RP McNamara) 9-1
3. Exmoor Ranger (Mr J Guerriero) 33-1
4. Up The Beat (Mr WP Mullins) 8-1
Cynical racing tipster in grumpy mood sensation
“What a joyous result for racing to see Sunnyhillboy miraculously return to form on the big day – just like Alfie Sherrin. Oh I’m so happy,” tweets our man in the press room, Will Hayler.