Tanya's Blog - March 2014
Read our exclusive monthly blog from Channel 4's Tanya Stevenson here, starting with a look at the Cheltenham Festival....
On the cusp of the Cheltenham Festival, it’s a big hello to you all! While you are reading this I’ll probably be or have been to Sandown preparing ahead of the William Hill Imperial Cup which may require me to complete my final 2014 Festival betting resume. It’s often not easy to squeeze all the valuable key snippets into around sixty seconds.
Just a nudge that due to the Winter Paralympics coverage from Sochi, the Morning Line on 8 March is scheduled for 11.30am. I won’t have to leave home until 8am!
If you are not familiar with me or my background, it’s in betting rather than horseracing. I immerse myself in stats, mathematics, betting percentages and watching races over and over again. I stood up as a bookmaker in the late eighties until appearing in vision alongside John McCririck for Channel 4 Racing in 2001.
Many believe my favourite sport is greyhound racing, which is understandable as that’s where it all began, standing up as a bookmaker, I owned greyhounds, wrote newspaper columns about the sport, worked for Sky Sports on their live broadcasts, sponsored ‘Best Turned Out’ greyhounds and even sat on the sport’s decision making committees. I even raised money for the Retired Greyhound Trust by organising three Charity golf days. But I haven’t been involved in the sport now for a number of years. Even though I did walk my retirees until they passed away at the grand old age of 15 last April!
Other than racing, American Football and cricket vie for the number one spot, with golf, darts and football close behind. I digress, I guess you’re bursting with excitement or perhaps a little more restrained and just looking forward to the Cheltenham Festival.
The Cheltenham Festival...
I’ve been going to the meeting now for over 30 years in various guises, firstly working in tandem with my father on his pitch in what is now the Best Mate enclosure. Then for SIS sending the prices back to their then HQ in Corsham Street which in a split second was distributed to all the betting shops round the country and since 1998 for Channel 4 Racing, in vision since 2002.
There is a hideous, intense expectation to rustle up not just one but multiple winners within the confines of 27 hotly contested, competitive races across four days! Plus there is blanket marketing with enticing bookmaker concessions which all in their own way appeal but be vigilant with the terms and conditions.
Amusingly on the very first race there are disagreements in my household. Dad likes Irving, whereas I’m a Vautour fan. I’ve been backing Willie Mullins’ runner for sometime each week. The last horse to do the Dovecote/Supreme double was Flown in 1992, a horse we were both on and now 22 years on we go our separate ways. I just thought watching Vautour he appeared a Champion Hurdle horse in the making. Irish challengers have won 8 times since 2000. Even I admit Irving was impressive at Kempton, yet just four of the last 18 horses to be priced 3-1 or shorter have won. If you are looking for a big price alternative Wilde Blue Yonder or Gilgamboa. Also have a look at the market for AP McCoy to be top jockey at 8/1 - it is just too big!
As for the Champion I’m in the Tent’s camp, excuse the cliché pun! I love My Tent Or Yours. Of course he’d be better suited to Aintree, but I loved the Christmas Hurdle, the inevitability of the stalking ride given by AP McCoy. What worries me is not only the injury scare but also since 1998 all but one horse (Sprinter Sacre) to have finished in the Supreme Novices Hurdle who turned up at the Festival the following year have been beaten. A stat which also encompassesJezki! But at least 16 of the last 20 Champion Hurdle winners had won or finished second at the previous Festival. I know many of you will be cheering for Our Conor, his win in last year’s Triumph is one that will resonate forever. Yet this season has been a stern test and only two Triumph Hurdle winners have gone on to win the Champion. The New One’s style of trying to make all could well be his greatest handicap as, to me, although talented he hasn’t yet the strength of Hardy Eustace or cavalier front-running approach of Make A Stand. The addition of Captain Cee Bee may release the pressure from The New One, yet it could leave Sam Twiston-Davies in two minds. As for Hurricane Fly, whatever ensues at 3.20 on Tuesday March 11 he’s always going to be a legend of our sport, I applaud him.
If that’s not enough we could see history in the form of Quevega, a heroine of our sport. Yet I’m going to be the ultimate villain and backCockney Sparrow. I wonder how close she’d have been to Annie Power had she not fallen at Doncaster!
Wednesday could be the day for Vieux Lion Rouge. David Pipe’s novice hurdler could run in the Neptune or the Coral Cup. I was taken by his Wincanton runs so when he pitched up at Sedgefield, conceding lumps of weight with ease, it filled me with delight. If he doesn’t run in the Coral Cup then it has to be Meister Eckhart to go one better. There has only been one winning favourite and one winning joint favourite in the last 20 runnings.
In the Champion Chase 20 of the last 26 winners had been placed at worse at previous Festivals. Sire De Grugy has picked up all the quality prizes this season and should be given the recognition he deserves. Yet bookmakers are keen to oppose him, perhaps mindful of his defeat at the course earlier in the season at the course. That was down to another peach of a ride by Tony McCoy aboard Kid Cassidy, and the pair team up again. Sizing Europe returns for a sixth run at the Festival and sentiment hopes he claims a place. It’s not a race at present I have a strong fancy.
Last October I was asked to come up with a Festival yankee for charity by Racing UK. At the time of writing amazingly three of the four could go to post - the first is My Tent Or Yours, the second isBalthazar King (so I wish him well over the unique Cross Country fences) and the final one is Oscar Delta in the Foxhunters. With noMossey Joe he has a big chance.
Thursday and the World Hurdle...
Thursday and the debate surrounds Big Buck’s and can he make it five wins in the World Hurdle now Annie Power is an intended runner? Heart says Big Buck’s but head says Annie Power. As for the stats, all of the last ten winners had previously run at the Festival, six in the World Hurdle itself. Horses aged 9 and over are 2 from 72 since 1988. If you are an At Fishers Cross fan well AP McCoy’s last 13 rides have all been beaten including three favourites. Back to Annie Power, this seems her most likely target but all of Willie Mullins 15 runners have been beaten.
This could be a good year for AP McCoy as he is quietly assembling a pretty potent book of rides and I can’t wait to see Tap Night who is entered for Tuesday but could run in the Byrne Group Plate. The horse ran a blinder at the course last time out.
Gold Cup Day...
Gold Cup day and I’m only going to focus on the big race itself as although I have put up some selections I don’t generally get involved until the day because I like surveying the betting movements as they mean as much as the form.
For me it’s hard to look further than Bobs Worth. He is unbeaten in five at the course, he is going for his fourth win at the Festival and six of the last ten favourites have won. On my Saturday off on 1 March, the whole day was spent researching facts and figures for the four days. What was enlightening was none of the last ten winners had defended their title. Eight of the last ten had previously finished no worse than third at the Festival.
With so many horses holding multiple entries it is hard to come to any firm conclusions but I hope my ramblings give you an insight into my train of thought and most importantly enjoy the four days either from home or soaking up the atmosphere on course.
The Flat Is Back!...
Be mindful, I know I am, that the start of the turf flat season is imminent at Doncaster on Saturday 29 March. Town Moor has played a blinder in producing some lively Cheltenham Festival protagnists, Urban Hymn, Annie Power and Valdez to name three. While some of my Channel 4 Racing colleagues will be slapping on the factor 50 in Dubai for the World Cup, it’s Doncaster for me and I can’t wait. I have the cavalry charge that is the Lincoln between previous winners Levitate and Brae Hill at present. If it’s any help, nine of the last 15 Lincoln winners came from the first four in the betting, six of them favourites. Despite my fancies, since 1980 26 of the 34 winners of the Lincoln were aged four or five.
Dubai World Cup...
Later on in the evening it’s time to focus in on Meydan for the spectacle that is the Dubai World Cup. A couple of horses worth watching for their continued progress are the phenomenal Long John, who hosed up in the UAE 2000 Guineas. If he stays the extra distance he should claim the UAE Derby. Then there is the South African challenger Variety Club, who won the Group 3 Firebreak Stakes. He is sure to improve and his progress interests me.
I look forward to seeing many of you in the Racegoers Club marquee on Tuesday at Cheltenham prior to going on air.