Read all the insight from our five excellent panellists on the five biggest races.
Introducing jockeys Nico de Boinville, Megan Nicholls and David Crosse, trainer Jamie Snowden and our very own Shark.
Handshakes were shaken, hugs were taken, and the vibe was pure racing. It was an infectiously fun evening at our Annabel’s Cheltenham preview and the only danger is that the tips were almost too good.
Sadly, the room was only big enough for 30 people, so I’ve done everyone the favour of taking the minutes. Just don’t audit me.
There was a real consensus in the room that this is a bad Champion Hurdle. Gone are the days of legends like Istabraq, Hurricane Fly and perennial bridesmaid My Tent Or Yours competing for this flagship race. While not great for racing, this could be a plus for those who aren’t just looking at the top of the market.
Nico spoke cautiously about Pentland Hills and warned against his chances if there was heavy ground. Sharky, our man on the panel, laid forward Ballyandy’s claims, having beaten Pentland Hills twice. Both Megan and Crossey concurred and that should be enough to tempt some into Shark’s nibble at 16/1.
When Nico de Boinville says that Altior has “improved and progressed”, you should take note. A horse that has been beaten once in his last 21 starts should have limited capacity for improvement, but there was something in Nico’s demeanour that emanated pure confidence.
So much so that David Crosse, a most silver-tongued man (he somehow convinced us to sponsor his jockey school), said that the 2/1 we offered on the night was one of the “best bets of the meeting”. As an aside, he also reserved that sort of claim for his pupil David Maxwell’s Shantou Flyer in the Foxhunter Chase.
Jamie Snowden suggested at the prices he would be all over Chacun Pour Soi but there was certainly an element of the polemicist about his behaviour throughout the evening. Not to dismiss his exceptional judgement, one suspects he would have found it almost too boring to nod along with the rest. A witty dismissal of Shark’s tip Edwardstone in the Supreme set the tone.
Megan Nicholls caught everyone’s attention, however, when she said that Dynamite Dollars was the one her dad was “most excited about all week”. When your dad is a 33/1 shot for the Top Trainer, that quote probably doesn’t count for much, but she sounded genuinely effusive in praise for the chaser. Defi Du Seuil didn’t even get a look in and yet it would come as no surprise should JP enter the Winners’ Enclosure. This is arguably the race of the week.
Don’t tell Bryony Frost, but there were a few giggles on the panel about her effusive interview post-Ryanair last year. Put it this way, Nico won’t be talking about holding horses’ hands, sorry hooves, when he bangs in his first winner. We love it though. The more character and enthusiasm the better, and we’ll be hoping that both her and Frodon provide yet another great story.
Not many on the panel were holding a candle for their chances, though. Jamie spoke highly of A Plus Tard, while Nico rated Min’s chances too. Another open race but there was a feeling the market has elected the right favourite.
Paisley Park! All five said it, although Shark made the point there are still four previous Festival winners against him, so it isn’t a complete gimme. Of the challengers, Megan pointed out she thought Emitom was the most talented, and if you were looking for a nice each-way poke, that would be the one.
This is one of the most open Gold Cups in years and the fun thing is that every member on the panel had a different opinion. Crossey was adamant that this should be “8/1 the field”, but as a bookmaker, we know the maths doesn’t add up for this utopian betting dream. He did, rather interestingly, pick out The Big Breakaway as a potential future Gold Cup winner. He is running in the Ballymore on Wednesday…
The one horse who hasn’t been spoken much about is Clan Des Obeaux, a two-time King George winner. Crossey called him the “forgotten horse” but Megan had plenty of interesting things to say about him, seeing as he is trained by father Paul.It was interesting to hear that jockey Harry Cobden had been given the wrong instructions (by Paul, no less) last year and they are going to take their time on him next week. She has “never seen him look so well”. If you were to dismiss his 2019 Gold Cup form (for Paul’s instructions), then he would have as good a chance as any in the field.
Most of the panel were unanimous in dismissing Santini’s claims of favouritism, except Nico, who said he is an “out and out stayer” and will love the ground. On that note, there was a lot of sadness for the absence of Native River, who would have relished the mud but alas, let’s not dwell on that.
On the note of stayers, if you are of the belief that there’s always one who manages to outlast some of the classier horses (think Anibale Fly and Minella Rocco), then Sharky pointed us towards Elegant Escape at 50/1.
However, the real tip is hiding very much in plain sight. Al Boum Photo. Winner of this race last year, he hasn’t shown any weaknesses since, and this is not a classic renewal. Jamie Snowden put it simply – his price is a “steal”. If you fancy being a bandit for a day, you can bet on him here.