Well, I was wondering what to write as we continue the build up to the most exciting time of the year here in the UK, Cheltenham, Aintree, 2000 Guineas and in to the new flat season, until I remembered a little trip I made to Nicky Henderson’s yard on Monday this week. I cannot pretend we are “mates” but I do get to join in with the annual pre Festival stable tour which I will confess is one of the highlights of my year, from keyboard warrior to standing in awe looking at some of the finest horse flesh in the National Hunt game.
Sadly, the equine flu meant we were on a strictly “no touch” policy for all the right reasons and we only got to see the two big guns in Altior (Queen Mother Champion Chase) and Buveur D’Air (Champion Hurdle), but Nicky was in great form chatting away afterwards and the long drive on the M25 car park was well worthwhile in the end.
I did get the feeling that behind the smiles and laughter there was a little annoyance/concern about the new vaccinations within the last six months that were sprang on all the trainers, and that the best laid plans had to be altered with the effects an unknown quantity until it is too late for all us punters.
He did seem pretty desperate to get some more experience in to RSA hope Santini but the abandonments of his original targets mean he will have to go there without another run which makes the 11/4 more or a price to lay than to back. Although on the bright side I did note a lot of enthusiasm for both OK Corral and Birchdale, who head off to the National Hunt Chase and the Albert Bartlett respectively with what look like decent chances if their trainer’s enthusiasm translates in to racecourse form.
Away from Cheltenham very little has happened worth of more than a passing mention with the exception of “trainer power” with a protest against ARC Racecourse and their reductions in prize money. Whether either withdrawing or not entering runners is the answer is beyond my brain but I do not think too many can argue that an owner having a winner can expect to cover their fees for a while, and sadly at the lower levels that simply is not the case. While racing remains as fragmented as it is, with everyone blaming everyone else and little or no transparency as to who is reaping the benefits, I am afraid I can’t see it changing for the better any time soon.
On to the racing this week and I will be halving all of my bets as some will be out to win this weekend while others will be having their last prep races ahead of Cheltenham next month, problem is we don’t know in advance which are which?
Deadline Diva was well backed on his British debut here before falling, which makes it all the more interesting to see Harry Cobden on board ECCO in the Adonis Juvenile Hurdle at 2.20pm as he makes his debut over hurdles. Decent on the flat in his native Germany he has a build about him that suggests hurdles and the winter game won’t be an issue, and as a son of Maxios we may even see the best of him over obstacles in the months ahead.
One other bet will be more than enough for me this weekend and Sleight Of Hand, who may not be the Henderson second string whatever the betting suggests. Well regarded at home at Seven Barrows the Kalanisi ran a race full of promise when a staying on third first time out and looks the sort to have learned plenty from the experience. With Ned Curtis claiming three pounds from the saddle he has a sporting chance.
Ecco Each Way 2.20pm Kempton Saturday
Sleight Of Hand Each Way 4.45pm Kempton Saturday