Tanya Stevenson
Tanya Stevenson's Racing UK Blog
Wednesday 19th March 2014

Racing UK
Aintree Winners can be Uncovered at Cheltenham

Having had a couple of days to recharge the batteries I've had a chance to reminisce and ponder. How or why does time fly past so quickly?

I arrived in Cheltenham around 4pm on Sunday 9th March, blinked, and then it was all over. A week on from the extravaganza it’s back to the 'real' world - washing, ironing going to the tip, and the kettle has just died on me so that will need replacing! And of course back to the routine spinning class this morning which will be repeated three times a week.

The Cheltenham Festival does provide the ideal way to lose pounds monetary or otherwise! From waking up at 5am and arriving at the course just after 6am there is no opportunity to eat. I think across the four days my intake was the accumulation of three donuts, two bread rolls, a couple of barley sugars, two jelly babies and one steak and chips. 

Lesson learned for next year is to make the most of the supermarket's close proximity and buy some fruit and fizzy drinks to keep the sugar up. 

Mobile signal was woeful until leaving the course which left one ruing missing messages. Some were tips, others orders or invites for coffee. 

Paths cross with so many friendly familiar faces but there is never any chance to say anything beyond hello. One day, I wish, and hope for an opportunity to have more time for a conversation. 

I don't think I left the course earlier than 8pm each day except for Gold Cup day when I finally drove through the gates at 7.30pm. If there is anything to learn, then it is that in years to come I'd like to come back to the Festival as a spectator, which I have never done! 

Experience has always taught me Aintree winners can be uncovered at Cheltenham and I'll be spooling through the tapes with that in mind. 

So far I have found Sgt Reckless, Wilde Blue Yonder, Western Boy, Kilila Quay, Rathvinden, Ballyalton, Smad Place, Morning Assembly, Green Flag, Tours Des Champs, L’Unique, Noble Prince, Smashing, Timesremembered, Uxizandre, Double Ross, Pineau De Re, Hidden Cyclone, Attaglance, Sraid Padraig, Hunt Ball, Rajdhani Express and Calipto. 

Of course, not all will head to Liverpool but a couple might and in turn could be worth an interest.

As many have already stated the starts need to be investigated. The runners seemed to be held for an awfully long time which in hindsight may well incite the participants to become keyed up which increases the probability of false starts. Not a good image for infrequent racegoers where the intention is to make them regular spectators.

Despite the extreme weather leading up to Cheltenham, the course still dried rapidly and the taps were turned on on Wednesday night. As important was the relevant form to focus on.

In an attempt to find the best conditions available, Doncaster and Musselburgh were a couple of courses who provided the much needed better ground. No surprise to see the form there translated well to a drying Cheltenham turf. 

How betting has changed in the weeks and days prior to the Festival. Punters were overwhelmed with various offers and concessions from bookmakers, which continued through the four days. The onus is on us to check out the terms and conditions which include the restrictions. 

Quite a few relate to new customers, while most to specific horses which are great if you fancy the horse but no so great if you are like me and don’t fancy the horse and the maximum stake is below your normal sphere. Yet it’s fair to say come Aintree and Royal Ascot I suspect it will be more of the same so keep your eyes peeled.

On course the whole dynamic of the betting ring is changing, the current Tattersalls pitches, and the rails which hem them in, I suspect will be a poor relation to any new betting areas by the new stand.

Already the nine pitches attached to the walkout are the best in the track. Their proximity to the Guinness village, shopping marquees and paddock give them prime footfall. Some bookmakers lucky enough to have positions on both the walkout and the rails report that at times those on the walkout position turn over 80% more bets! 

Can you imagine what it will be like when the building work is complete!  Those in the Centaur Stand weren’t doing badly either, I made it my mission as soon as Channel 4 Racing came off air to go in and stand alongside either Geoff Banks or Pat Whelan and to be fair, I couldn’t, as they were so busy with one continuous queue that I kept to one side so not to disturb the flow. Plus they said it’s busier when the weather is bad, which is common sense. 

There is always teething problems with technology and on its inaugural run at the Festival the free WiFi did pretty well. I’m sure with time it will be perfected, but it was fun at times to see proper bookmaking. Yes, for a short period of time on occasions they were without their umbilical chord to the exchanges!

I’ve been asked to assemble my five equine or human performances of the week. First has to be the unsung heroes and heroines that are the stable staff. For the horses to arrive and perform at Cheltenham as they do, it is with thanks to the staff, they are with them 24/7, pandering to their every need and keeping them as calm as possible in order they can then give their all in the races themselves.

On course bookmakers played it fair, I know I bang on about each-way terms and I will continue to do so, but putting that aside, the value in the ring, off course in concessions, and on the exchanges, mean punters have never had it so good.

Having scanned through some of the 27 races I noted, in an environment which continues to close in on the 2% a runner through the year, that over the four days, it skirted around the average of 1.3% a runner! 

Bookmaker’s staff, who don’t get a break from arrival at 10.30am until about an hour after the last race, also deserve a mention. Total concentration is required and when you are taking up to 3000 bets a day of varying stakes, with the tannoy blaring and obstructing the bookmaker calling out the bets, it’s not easy. 

Equine vote goes to Sire De Grugy, mainly because he proved all the doubters wrong in contemptuous fashion. In the end he couldn’t have won easier. 

As soon as Sprinter Sacre was discounted from running in the Champion Chase the layers couldn’t wait to chase after him. In a way it backfired, as when you chase after something so hard as they did, it inevitably puts doubts in the minds of the backers themselves. On the day, it fell in the ‘price is too big’ category. In this instance I have no sympathy with the bookmakers and I hope it is a lesson learned though I doubt it. That aside Sire De Grugy proved himself a worthy champion.    

Davy Russell and Tom Scudamore excelled, highlighted by improbable victories. Tom Scudamore cajoled Western Warhorse to win the Arkle by the narrowest of margins, while Davy Russell displayed the utmost patience on Lord Windermere to win a Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup. Can’t wait to see them both at Aintree.

Free Racing Tips

Team Hobbs and Johnson deserve recognition for their victories with Balthazar King and Fingal Bay. Balthazar King is much loved round Prestbury Park. The ground came right for him and, with his ears pricked, he would not be denied under top weight in the Cross Country Chase

That’s a seventh win at Cheltenham for the horse who is slowly becoming etched in our hearts. Then there was a training feat extraordinaire with Fingal Bay. He had been off through injury but he repaid his trainer and jockey’s faith by landing the Pertemps under top weight.  Surely a Grade 1 is within his grasp.

Finally I know it’s only meant to be five but all of you who watch or attend the four days are entitled to a pat on the back because without you making the atmosphere or supporting or backing your heroes and heroines where would racing be? A big thank you and roll on Aintree!

William Hill