Winterbourne Longjohns, our resident racing correspondent reports from Cheltenham:
With the curiously early cancellation due to “bad weather” of last week’s ‘free’ meeting at Wincanton four days in advance of its scheduled date, ‘Cannotwin’* would seem to be intent on living up to its not entirely enviable soubriquet. The Jockey Club , which is responsible for the course, remains oddly silent as to the real reasons for this.
Perhaps an absence of entries may have a bearing here. Two weeks ago at Taunton a six race card, also on a Thursday, could only attract a grand total of thirty-three runners. Robin Oakley in this week’s Spectator suggests an interesting explanation.
The real problem, he suggests, is not our National Hunt jockeys refusing to wear sun visors and so making a complete farce of many late afternoons hurdle races, but instead it is the fact that although there are now 650 more race meetings than there were seven years ago in 2008 , there are now 1,600 fewer racehorses in training than there were in 2008. The much increased number of summer jump meetings may also contribute towards this as does the appeal to owners and trainers of much enhanced prize money for races scheduled to be run on a Saturday, while the overall dominance of events such as the Cheltenham Festival may also contribute to this. In any event small mid week fields do nothing to persuade people to attend race meetings.
And so to Cheltenham, where hope continues to annually triumph over experience. But of course we go on. This year Harry Fry is taking his strongest team to date to Prestbury Park. The disappointing news , especially so for this correspondent, having backed ROCK ON RUBY at 20/1 in January to win Thursday’s Ladbroke World Hurdle, with the horse having been withdrawn on Saturday after having been scoped badly following a disappointing mornings work, was especially galling with ROR’s price at the time of the withdrawal having tumbled to 8/1.
JOLLYALLEN, also backed earlier in the year by Winterbourne at 20/1, will be very much the centre of his attention on Tuesday’s opener, the Supreme Novice Hurdle. He represents the first ride of the week for A P McCoy at his final festival before retirement. We are told that A.P. has always liked JOLLYALLEN and believes that he will be well suited by the better ground he is likely to encounter here. MENDIP EXPRESS, who is said to be in great order will be ridden by top amateur Will Biddick in the UBS H,Cap Chase, while BIT OF A PUZZLE will be the Fry stable’s third entry of the day in the OLBG Mares Hurdle in which the Irish trained ANNIE POWER is expected to be a hot favourite.
On Wednesday I am very much hoping to see ACTIVIALfinally achieve an outstanding success in the Coral Hurdle. Profitable places in big races at Ascot and Newbury mean that this gallant little grey owes us nothing, but a success here is most certainly something to be wished for. HENRYVILLE has been pencilled in for the Pertemps on Thursday, where Tony Martin’s EDEYMI might well go close as a real Irish gamble
Friday the Seaborough stable’s hopes mainly rest on THOMAS BROWN in the Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle. Harry Fry reports that he is in the form of his life and that the three mile trip looks ideal for him. It is possible that the Wincanton and Punchestown winner FLETCHERS FLYER may join him in the line up for this race. Experienced conditional jockey Michael Nolan has been booked for JOLLYS CRACKED IT later in the day and KARINGA DANCER under the excellent Noel Fehily may run in the Grand Annual Chase which will feature A P McCoy’s last ride at the Festival. Finally Swinley Bottom’s French friends are very keen on the chance of their compatriots Toutancarmont in Wednesdays Cross Country event provided that the French pilot can successfully find his way around this impossibly confusing course.They do after all drive on a different side of the road!
*A cunning, cryptic and cynical anagram for Wincanton –ED
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