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Before I look back on last night’s BetBright-run Cheltenham Festival Preview Evening, just a quick mention in case you missed it that Paul Smith has previewed the T20 Cricket World Cup for us with his outright and team-by-team analysis and will return next week with his views on the Top Batsman/Bowler and Specials markets. Mike Henderson, fresh from two successful selections out of two (15/8 and Evens) from the Premier League last night has looked at the UK Open Darts which starts this lunchtime and I’ve covered the first WGC golf event of the year at Doral and will return tomorrow with my half-way update. Andy Richmond’s latest Trading Talk article was uploaded this morning.
The Walkabout Bar in central London was the venue for my first Cheltenham Preview Evening in 16 years in a non-working capacity and it was an enjoyable night even if just three bar staff trying to attend to hundreds of customers was nothing short of a joke. At one point a clearly irritated Rich Ricci even stood up and made a plea to the management to sort the situation out. That aside, and the 20 minute queue outside to get in that resembled Wimbledon, it was a really fun night with an almost football crowd atmosphere so Matt Chapman was in his element acting as M.C. and opened up the night dressed in full Rich Ricci attire.
Ricci was on top form too and joined in with all the banter except when pressed on his choice between Vautour and Djakadam, and when asked by Chapman if Faugheen would go for the Gold Cup next season answering incredulously: “where the hell did you get that question from?” His horses may dominate some of the markets to the extent that it gets boring, that he won't commit his horses to races earlier to help ante-post backers like me (though understandable) and he’s made his millions from banking, but it’s very hard not to really like the guy.
Cutting to the chase as to what he said about his horses, this was the gist of it. He fancies Min, thinks Douvan would beat Un De Sceaux if he ran in this season’s Champion Chase and reiterated that he is the best horse he has ever owned, thought Let’s Dance was “outstanding value” for the Triumph, feels that Long Dog is an each-way bet for the Neptune and the only reason for potentially not running Annie Power in the Champion Hurdle would be because of a feeling of ‘what if both of his mares, the other being Vroum Vroum Mag, don’t win as that would be really disappointing’. That sounds seriously weak reasoning to me so, although it’s not a done deal yet, I’ll be gobsmacked if Annie Power doesn’t run. He gave Limini as his banker in the Q & A session at the end.
As for the Gold Cup, Ricci categorically stated that it will be the Gold Cup or miss the Festival altogether with Vautour so we can forget the Ryanair. The talk about missing the race might worry some as he commented that Vautour isn’t on top form at home at present so Ruby has a tough choice between him and Djakadam who is blooming apparently. To allay those fears he added “at this stage it’s full steam ahead for the Gold Cup” and continued that if he doesn’t stay then we’ll win the next three Ryanairs.
Sam Twiston-Davies turned up an hour late though rumours that he was actually there from the outset but wasn’t allowed in as he didn’t look old enough were quickly quashed. Nicholls is shy in the Grade 1s this year as we know so his most interesting contribution, apart from saying that he would hit The New One as many times as it takes to win and take the seven days, was that the Fred Winter talking horse, Diego Du Charmil, finished his work off better than Zubayr before the latter named then won the Adonis. He’s off 132 for the FW and assured of a run. STD was also bigging up Clan Des Obeaux’s recent work with Dodging Bullets which suggested that he could be his Triumph ride (though he can’t ride some of Nicholls’ other five hopefuls due to owner retainers) commenting how he couldn’t believe a 4yo could work so well with the champion chaser. Chapman then reminded him that that last season’s Champion Chase “was a f*****g awful race” so he could believe it. Just as interesting, though for next season, was his reply when Paul Kealy asked “why the f**k isn’t Saphir Du Rheu running in the Ryanair as he would be second favourite?” The response centred around wanting to protect his chase mark for another crack at the Hennessy. His owner does love that Newbury Meeting.
Noel Hayes represented the sponsors and was roundly jeered each time he came up with a special offer just for the night, which to be honest, were not that special to begin with it has to be said. The ‘special offer’ of The New One at 5/2 for a place in the Champion Hurdle got more boos than Raheem Sterling returning to Anfield on Wednesday! Sensing this, the offers improved dramatically in the second half and no one could quibble with Dodging Bullets at 100/30 to place in the Champion Chase or Don Cossack or Don Poli to win the Gold Cup at 4/1 combined, as free bets with money back if those bets lose up to £50 via their mobile phone.
In other news, Matt Chapman reported that he had spoken to Philip Hobbs just before the event and was told that Garde La Victoire was more likely to head to the JLT than the Arkle. But this was more about the craic and, on that basis, the night was a resounding success.