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  1. #1

    Heavy ground plays and lays

    The possibility of heavy going at Cheltenham in March is a real one so ante-post punters should be warned, writes Ian McClean

    In many cases where property prices become over-inflated, buyers still continue to pile in. When the rain stops, many people still walk around with umbrellas up. The lag that occurs between a change of circumstances and the realisation that circumstances have changed is typically the gap where economic opportunity presents.

    It has been raining incessantly for months now. The GoingStick at Chepstow had a reading of 3.3 for the Welsh National – a full point lower than ever previously registered at a track renowned traditionally as top of the Bottomless League table.

    Frequent abandonment of race fixtures is resignedly accepted as the norm. And where racing has taken place this winter, victory has inevitably demanded resilience and guts as opposed to elegance and speed.

    The last time we had a heavy-ground Cheltenham Festival was way back in 1995 (it had been an atrocious winter that year too) when Master Oats ground his way relentlessly into Gold Cup history. With the advent of distorted climate change and improved irrigation at jump racing's headquarters, the prevailing wisdom is that we will never again see a heavy-ground Festival. However, the last time Cheltenham lost a race-day (notwithstanding the loss of the Wednesday at a recent Festival where the races were distributed across Thursday and Friday) was 2008 – and then it wasn't due to waterlogging, but to fog. Until this New Year's Day that is, when the interminable rain caused its cancellation.

    Simon Claisse reports they have had enough rain there to drown a sleuth of bears, and that the residue isn't going to subside any time soon. So, with just nine weeks remaining until the Festival, what if the rain persists and we have a heavy-ground Festival? It would make the current ante-post markets – formulated on the historic assumption of good ground – worth an early second look and perhaps yield a few early opportunities for those bold enough now.

    Be mindful of . . .

    Dynaste (Jewson 6/1)

    Arguably the most impressive novice seen on these islands so far this campaign, he is currently favourite for both the RSA and Jewson Chases at the Festival. David Pipe's grey has more than just a passing similarity to last year's silver prodigy Grand Crus, which had also won three chases by the end of Christmas, culminating in a scintillating Feltham win at Kempton.

    Extreme ground would place a telling emphasis on stamina in the RSA, a race already unsuited to speedier types. From what we've witnessed so far, Dynaste has a real change of gear at the end of his race, some were even imploring the trainer to run him in the Arkle, and that, combined with the fresh scars of Grands Crus' demise last year, would be more than sufficient to tilt David Pipe towards the shorter event. He is 6/1 for the Jewson and only 5/2 for the RSA. You do the meteorological maths.

    Boston Bob (RSA 8/1)

    If Dynaste gets diverted to the Jewson, then the motherboard for the race gets handed to Willie Mullins who, remarkably, trains the next four horses in the ante-post lists. The MMC (Monopolies Mergers Commission) doesn't operate in horse-race markets but, with Back In Focus more likely for the NH Chase, Aupcharlie dropping back in trip for the Jewson and Arvika Ligeonnniere pencilled in for the Arkle, Boston Bob, runner-up over three miles last year when probably not at his best, would become a very prohibitive price should Mullins perform such a novice diaspora.

    Oscar Whisky

    (14/1 Champion Hurdle)

    Ever since Oscar's tame capitulation in last season's World Hurdle, Nicky Henderson has been pacing all Seven Barrows trying to figure out if his invincible two-and-a-half miler didn't get the trip or if he simply had an off-day. There is little doubt that ground conditions will make up the trainer's mind come mid-March as to whether he will take up a World or Champion Hurdle option.

    Heavy conditions would guarantee his inclusion in Tuesday's field and none of those presently ahead of him in the betting would be as convenienced as he by the mud. Although extremely versatile underfoot, his record in ground described as either 'soft' or 'heavy' is a perfect 5-5 over the last four seasons.

    Champagne Fever

    (7/1 to win any race at the Festival – William Hill)

    Anyone who witnessed Willie Mullins' grey slosh through the almost unraceable Punchestown terrain would realise the Festival Bumper winner would handle any surface short of a transfer to the east Atlantic. His double Grade One bumper success marks him down immediately as a candidate for top honours this campaign. Having finished runner-up already in the Grade One Royal Bond on only his second hurdles start, he steps up in trip at Naas today. Where he will end up at the Festival is anyone's guess at this stage (and that includes fences) owing to Mullins' characteristic strength in depth in the novice division allied to Champagne Fever's versatility regarding trip and ground but given that the SP of the last six Festival Bumper winners to return the following year was 7/4, 4/5, 9/4, 17/2, 7/1 and 6/1, it seems fair to assume 7/1 to win any race at this stage represents a decent proposition.

    Be wary of . . .

    Bobs Worth (Gold Cup)

    Strangely for a Gold Cup favourite about whom the tea-leaves began to align over Christmas, Bobs Worth has no form whatsoever on heavy ground. The gelding is unbeaten on all four occasions he has raced on officially "good" ground and his only three defeats (in 11 starts) have all come on ground with "soft" in the description. How he would cope with extremely heavy ground is anyone's guess, but for a horse as short as 5/2 in some places I'd be looking for more reassurance.

  2. #2
    Could put first three in a patent ...looks like one of those related contingencies you can bet on

    Maybe tidal bay in gold cup as last one

  3. #3
    Quote Originally Posted by Cooper View Post
    Could put first three in a patent ...looks like one of those related contingencies you can bet on

    Maybe tidal bay in gold cup as last one

    Good thoughts but maybe long run in gold cup ...not sure where tidal bay will go.

  4. #4
    Would want to see Champagne fever back on track first.

  5. #5
    Stable Fat Jockey mayo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Soft ground variation ( cant see it being heavy ) from top man Donn McClean


    Here’s a hypothesis for Cheltenham 2013: it’s going to be a soft ground festival. Of course, we seem to think that at this time every year. In the middle of January, when you have seven hours of daylight and a constant puddle of varying breadth and depth (swans or tadpoles) in your back garden, it is difficult to imagine fast ground at Nakayama in July, not to mind fast ground at Cheltenham in March.

    Invariably, it dries up. The sun comes out, the winds get up, the Cheltenham drains do their job, and we call it good to soft, good in places on the opening day. This year might be different though. We have had the wettest six months since six-month records were invented, Simon Claisse says that the water table at Cheltenham has never been higher (I think that means lots of water still to be drained away), and an easy ground festival is more possible this year than it has been since Master Oats (Ed: Who could forget that: Barton Bank why did you torture me so?).

    Best to wait until the non-runner-no-bet concessions come in (they shouldn’t be too long now for the championship races) with this one, but if it does come up soft, here are four horses in the four championship races who might be of interest.

    Tuesday – Champion Hurdle: OSCAR WHISKY (16/1, sportingbet, Stan James)
    Nicky Henderson’s horse is probably at his very best over two and a half miles, but soft ground would bring his stamina into play over an extended two. More importantly, he handles easy ground well, and he has the class to be a big player in the Champion Hurdle if it does happen to come up soft.

    If it doesn’t ride soft, he could be re-routed to the World Hurdle over three miles, or he could by-pass Cheltenham altogether and stay on the road to the Aintree Hurdle in a bid to complete a hat-trick of wins in that two-and-a-half-mile contest. Hence the non-runner-no-bet caveat.

    Wednesday – Champion Chase: FLEMENSTAR (5/1, general)
    Flemenstar could end up running in any one of the three big chases, or nowhere at all, and if he does go and win the Hennessy at Leopardstown next month, it will be difficult for the Caseys to resist the temptation to go for the Gold Cup. That said, you would love to see him run in a soft ground Champion Chase.

    He was pretty much unbeatable over two miles as a novice chaser on soft ground in Ireland. Over the minimum trip, Andrew Lynch can be as aggressive on him as he likes, and it is under those circumstances that the potency of his fast and efficient jumping is maximised. Okay, so Sprinter Sacre is a bit of a colossus, but on soft ground, with a run, Flemenstar probably shouldn’t be a 5/1 shot to beat him.

    Thursday – World Hurdle: REVE DE SIVOLA (8/1, general)
    Reve De Sivola doesn’t need soft ground to be at his best, he has good form on good ground, but he does handle soft well, and his chance in the World Hurdle wouldn’t be diminished (at worst) if the ground does remain soft.

    A top class novice hurdler a couple of seasons ago, when he won the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle and the Grade 1 Champion Novice Hurdle at Punchestown, he under-achieved over fences, but he looked as good as ever over the smaller obstacles when he won the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot last month on just his second run back. He loves Cheltenham, the three-mile trip suits him really well and, in the absence of Big Buck’s, he is a big World Hurdle player.

    Friday – Gold Cup: TIDAL BAY (16/1, Ladbrokes, Coral, sportingbet)
    No 12-year-old has won the Gold Cup since What A Myth back in 1969, but strange things can happen on soft ground, when the strength and stamina that comes with age can be more important over an extended three and a quarter miles than youth and progressiveness and precocity.

    We saw in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown last month that Graham Wylie’s horse retains a huge amount of his ability even in the last glowing embers of his career, he loves Cheltenham, and soft ground would enable stay in touch with the pace-setters over the Gold Cup trip. He does have the World Hurdle as an option, which is just another reason to wait for the non-runner-no-bet concession.

    And the fifth bet? (Ed wanted five.) Last leg of the Lucky 31? Soft ground on the first day of the Festival at 7/2. (Ask for non-runner-no-bet.)
    ^Last leg related contingency imo

  6. #6
    That's a cracking lucky 15 from Donn.

  7. #7
    Morning Glory
    Quote Originally Posted by JohnC View Post
    That's a cracking lucky 15 from Donn.
    Looks like 4 NRs if latest Reve De Sivola news has substance. The dangers of antepost betting. Is OW still in Champion Hurdle?

    to be fair were good thoughts and starting on soft mentioned by Simon Claisse last night .... by phone here in Adare: 3/4inch of rain expected between now and start of Festival - "every chance of starting on soft ground"

  8. #8
    With 3mm of rain having fallen on Friday morning and a further 4mm or more still forecast to arrive, along with the prospect of further rain on Saturday and Sunday, officials at the track are expecting to change the going to soft when they walk the course later on Friday.

    "I'm pretty certain that both the hurdles and chase courses will be soft by this afternoon, with the cross-country course the same with a few softer patches," communications manager Andy Clifton told Racing UK.

    "Not a drop of water has been added by us to the track since last April. We simply haven't needed to having had so much rain."

    Plans remain in place to put down frost covers on Sunday with the weather forecast still suggesting that overnight temperatures will fall dramatically early next week.

    "As we get closer, as each day passes, the [weather] picture gets a little bit clearer," Clifton went on. "You could speak to five [forecasters] and get five different views and it's still significantly warmer than some people have been predicting.

    "However what's clear is that it will be cold on Monday night and cold on Tuesday night with Wednesday night a little warmer.

    "We're due to get down to -4C dawn temperature on Monday and Tuesday, so the plan is to put the covers down. It would be silly not to cover the course just to be on the safe side. But I must stress the meeting is not in any danger from frost or rain.

    "Given the forecast I would say it's now not going to get any quicker than soft for the start of the meeting - but it's Friday lunchtime, there's still four days to go and the amount of rain we could get varies enormously.

    "There is very little rain forecast after Sunday, less than 1mm on Tuesday, less than 1mm on Wednesday, possibly 2mm on Friday, and in terms of temperatures it's getting slowly milder - or perhaps I should say less cold!"

  9. #9
    Stable Fat Jockey mayo's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2012
    Stratford called off Monday waterlogged...Sandown like a ploughed field...going to be a tough going at Cheltenham.

  10. #10
    Stable Fat Jockey (Moderator) Old Vic's Avatar
    Join Date
    Apr 2012
    Claisse said: "Based on the current forecast, my expectation is that the meeting will start on soft ground and I think we will still be predominantly soft on Friday, when there might also be some good to soft places.

    "The track we use on Tuesday and Wednesday is now covered, as are the vulnerable parts of the cross-country course. Tomorrow we will be covering the course used on Thursday and Friday, although that is purely as a precaution because the weather is expected to become milder as the week goes on.

    "We have now used frost covers on eight occasions since the 2007-08 season and have raced on all occasions when they were deployed, including when we have experienced more prolonged and colder spells than the one-and-a-half-day snap that is due to run until Tuesday afternoon."

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