Where in England could you have seen a world snooker champion, buy a signed picture at auction of two footballers holding the Champions League trophy and the former assistant to the most successful trainer in the history of the Cheltenham Festival 300 yards away from the start of an iconic horse race? The Old Railway Club on Melling Road in Aintree is the answer and the occasion was Jumping Prospects Cheltenham Festival preview evening.
The picture showed Steven Gerrard and Jamie Carragher holding the European Cup after the miracle of Istanbul in 2005. John Parrott and Ben Pauling are the gentlemen in question and they were joined on the panel by the trainer Charlie Longsdon and form expert Andy Holding at an event hosted by John Morris of the sponsoring organisation. The night also raised some money for a deserving local charity as donations were requested for Alder Hey Children’s Hospital.
The club is literally next door to Aintree racecourse and from the car park you can see the start of the National and the empty grandstands that will be full of life on the first Saturday in April. Mister Parrott is a blue nose, which means an Everton supporter in these parts, and being asked to auction the picture of a trophy won by Liverpool was clearly galling. In a brief chat he said he thought Ronnie O’Sullivan would win the world championships again.
For a non-racing professional and former player and commentator from another sport Parrott’s view were as cogent and informed as the other members of the panel. The night was structured around the grade 1 races though the handicaps were discussed briefly for each day when time allowed. On a night of revealing snippets and insights the highlight for me was an analysis of Hinterland’s chances in whichever race the horse contests.
Hinterland won a novice chase at Sandown over two miles earlier this season. According to the speed figures he covered the distance in three second faster than Sire De Grugy on the same card. Apparently that equates to 15 lengths which means on the basis of speed figures Hinterland is a better horse than Sire De Grugy.
Hinterland still appeared in the betting for the Arkle Chase and Champion Chase six days ahead of the festival, at 14/1 for each race. It will be interesting to see which race Paul Nicholls selects for the horse but at the odds the Arkle for novices would make the most sense. If trusting the accuracy of the clock and the validity of speed figures Hinterland looks one of the outstanding bets of the meeting.
The other horse at a big price that received a mainly positive mention was Killultagh Vic in the bumper. The Willie Mullins trained entry is the fastest horse in the race on speed figures and the trainer clearly knows how to win this contest. The form of the horse does not look the strongest but given the evidence of the clock he could be the runner that improves the trainer’s already outstanding record in the race.
So I would say the three headline bets to take out of the preview are Hinterland and Killultagh Vic and Ronnie to win the snooker. Before those matters were discussed the key races from each day in order were analysed. There was a consensus that the Champion Hurdle was the race of the meeting. One salient fact that emerged was that last year’s Supreme Novices Hurdle was run in a time 2 seconds faster than the Champion Hurdle on the same afternoon.
In theory that means My Tent Or Yours or Champagne Fever would have beaten Hurricane Fly in the Champion. This is not an exact science but the inference is that last year’s novices were a strong bunch. The New One’s chances were highlighted with the fact that he stays 2 miles four furlongs, an attribute needed in the two mile championship race. A show of hands suggested Hurricane Fly has a 50/50 of winning the race for the third time but the ex-Henderson man is in the Our Conor camp.
Quevega is seen as a banker to win the mares hurdle for the sixth time but Sirene D’Ainay was identified as a horse to back without the favourite. Pendra is the favourite in the last race of the first day and the horse’s trainer, Charlie Longsdon, is expecting a big run. However, he pointed out to win a handicap at the festival you need to have about 10 pounds in hand and didn’t think his horse was quite as well in as that.
Red Sherlock is seen as the best horse in the Neptune Investments Novices Hurdle that opens the card next Wednesday while Morning Assembly was given a good word for the RSA Chase. Sire De Grugy has the best form for the Champion Chase in the absence of Sprinter Sacre, but Hinterland could be the fly in that particular ointment.
Al Ferof was noted as having the form to win the Ryaniar Chase especially over a distance at which he excels. The 7 pounds mare’s allowance for Annie Power makes that horse a solid favourite for the World Hurdle according to the panel. For the Triumph the speed figures point to Calipto but Andy Holden has an interest in Rutherglen. He said the horse had an each way chance and he was tipped by Pricewise in the Racing Post.
The last championship race to be discussed was the Gold Cup, the Blue Riband of steeple chasing. According to the racing professionals Bobs Worth won the race last year despite the ground going against him. It was reported that there was a downpour at Cheltenham on the morning of the race but Bobs Worth was still 7 lengths too good for Sir Des Champs in second place.
Sir Des Champs misses this year’s race due to injury while Silviniaco Conti is unproven at the trip. The word from the racing centres was that Bobs Worth is spot on and the general feeling was that we could see the first multiple winner since the Kauto Star era. Finally John Parrot told a joke about David Moyes. He bought a lamp last week and its sitting in the middle of the table.