The Longshot: Getting a bit optimistic for Cheltenham

The Longshot: Getting a bit optimistic for Cheltenham

FUN TIMES: Willie Mullins’ State Man enjoys a roll at morning track work ahead of Cheltenham.

WHIP. Something you stick on horse’s hindquarters to make it go faster.

Bet. Something you stick on a horse's nose to make it go slower.

Regular readers will have noted the geegees don’t get a whole pile of coverage in these pages. Mostly, that’s to let better-informed correspondents advise on the sport of kings. But once Cheltenham rolls around, it’s hard not to get caught up in the buzz.

As a youngster, I wasn’t so much bitten by the horse racing bug as I was bitten by a racehorse.

This happened on a farm in deep North Cork, when for a summer job I was detailed with painting fences. While haphazardly slapping my paintbrush off one of them I was delighted when a magnificent specimen on four feet trotted over to me. I knew the squire had numerous horses in training and this fella certainly wouldn’t have looked out of place in a parade ring. I’d never been this close to one before but emboldened by his curiosity, I gave him a pat on his lovely long face. If you asked me to use one word to describe the scene, I would say “bucolic”.

But the fence wasn’t going to be somewhat covered in paint itself, so I returned to the job at hand. And then, in a sneak attack from behind, the horse attempted to take an enormous chunk out of my shoulder. I began swearing loudly at the horse (something that followed me into my subsequent betting career), who didn’t seem perturbed and just wandered off. It was so painful, I had to start painting with my weaker hand - which didn’t overly impact my effort.

When I was finished, and it was time to survey the mediocre job I had done and hurl a few more curses in the direction of my assailant, I rested my palms on another fence and got such a jolt of electricity I nearly fell over. That was my last day working on a farm.

My only other real-life equine encounter (if you exclude driving behind horseboxes that give you a prime view of the horse’s ass) is being chased by five of them out of a field on Valentia Island because they didn’t take to myself and my dog taking a shortcut through it.

If you were to think my experiences with horses when not actually in their presence were any better, you would be wrong. I’ve been betting on Cheltenham since I was in second year in school. From then on I’d spend most of the time I was meant to be in school after lunchtime during Cheltenham week in the bookies. One time I was surprised to see my physics teacher in a parallel queue to the counter. I guessed correctly I wasn’t going to be in too much trouble because although I was meant to be in his class at the time, he was meant to be sitting at the top of it. So we just gave each other a nod.

I wasn’t putting a whole pile down back in those days as wages in the shop where I worked were just north of £3 per hour. My wagers did increase as an adult but decreased again rapidly when I realised I wasn’t good at picking festival winners. Indeed, for all bar two festivals of the 21st Century, I’ve ended up down after each one (a large bet on Best Mate saved me one year). For some reason this didn’t stop acquaintances asking me for tips for various busters down the years. Yet the festival’s approach has never failed to excite me.

And then betting dockets become confetti, walls are head-butted and tears are shed. That is all par for the course in a normal Cheltenham week spent in the vicinity of the Longshot.

What was not expected last year was that I would finish the week up. Even the races where I didn’t pick a winner, my selection was usually chasing the victor up the hill. It was pretty incredible and very bizarre.

The odds are that my losing streak will resume in 2023, but now I’m back on these pages supposed to be providing readers with insightful tips we better pretend to do so with some confidence brought on by last year’s unexpected change of fortune. But if you’ve not been convinced by the above to put no more than a tenner on any of my tips, then I don’t know what to tell you.

Here are the our picks 

I ONLY found out last week, that the first Cheltenham preview, that hardy perennial, took place in 1978 at the Grand Hotel in Fermoy.

The master of ceremonies for the evening was Ted Walsh, while JP McManus, multiple champion jockey John Francome and then champion trainers in Britain and Ireland David Nicholson and Edward O’Grady were also present. That’s a decent line-up. If you were looking for hot inside information, you should probably have attended one of this year’s editions. If not, well let’s see what I can cobble together.

We’ll look at the first three days first and wait until Friday to pick a Gold Cup winner.

I’m not a fan of the opener at Cheltenham, because my selection usually comes nowhere.

There have been two winning favourites and two joint-favourites in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle in the past 10 renewals, Willie Mullins (5) and Nicky Henderson (3) account for eight of the winners). Shock results are rare, although Labaik was 25-1 in 2017. I’ll pick High Definition at 16/1.

It might be best to stay away from the Champion Hurdle with Henderson’s Constitution Hill likely to have the right constitution to make it first up the hill at 4/11. That’s not a price you want to be on unless you have deep pockets.

The race after it, the Mares’ Hurdle, had my biggest price winner last year at 18/1, Marie’s Rock. She returns as the 5/2 favourite but should we show a bit of brand loyalty and opt for Echoes In Rain?

Willie Mullins’ charge finished a good bit back 12 months ago, but was runner-up by a neck in the Irish Cesarewitch and ran out an easy winner of the Limestone Lad Hurdle at Naas in January and is 11/1 and might go bigger if there’s a heap going on Honeysuckle (who dodged a battle with Constitution Hill and a chance of three-in-a-row in the big one) closer to the off.

Wednesday? I’m hot on Editeur du Gite for the Queen Mother, which some will put down to being an editor and a git, but I have to ensure you it’s probably not. He is 5/1 at time of writing.

And I’d avoid Galvin for the Cross-country.

Might Potter and Shishkin are hot favourites on Thursday and doubling them up would be my choice.

Dull Champions League

LAST week's Champions League action was perhaps the least exciting we’ve seen.

The whole tournament has been a bit of a damp squib (World Cup hangover?) so far, other than Napoli and Benfica performing much better than expected and Real Madrid continuing to put in utterly bizarre performances.

Liverpool, coming off a defeat to Bournemouth, coming off crushing their great rivals, are 18/1 to qualify.

Both games tomorrow are essentially dead rubbers, with Frankfurt 13/2 to turn things around in Naples.

Guardiola v Gvardiol

TONIGHT’S Champions League action offers at least a chink of competitiveness. Inter carry a goal lead to Porto.

Man City welcome Leipzig having drawn 1-1 in Germany.

City have a solid home record in Europe and come in after a 1-0 away win Crystal Palace (Patrick Vieira is now 4/1 to be next manager to leave).

They’ve won 21 out of their last 23 Champions League matches at the Etihad and their main issue will be getting the ball past crack young Croatian defender Josko Gvardiol (translation: Guardiola), who bagged the deserved equaliser with 20 minutes to go.

Let  aMan City win and both teams to score tempt you at 21/10.

The Bet

HOPEFULLY you have your own back-channel line to a stable boy (who never seem to be that rich) and your WhatsApp is pinging with tips this morning.

Otherwise, we’ll advise a five-timer that comes from a place of optimistic lunacy: Editeur du Gite, Delta Work, Shishkin, and Mighty Potter. At time of writing it will net you just shy of 50/1.

Echoes in the Rain is advised at 11/ 1 today.

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