Ante-Post Armchair: The Final Countdown

It is the calm before the storm, with the Cheltenham Festival a week away and excitement building. Driving through Cheltenham there is the old buzz back once again; Festival-related billboards are on display, and you are never more than 50 yards away from a pub advertising a giant full-english at a special offer price.

Special offers being an important factor, as when looking ahead to the Racing itself, it is probably a case that if you haven’t got involved by now, you might as well wait until the day. Habitually, bookmakers will be tripping over themselves fighting for custom and some tasty offers often follow, so keep your eyes peeled.

The weather is another important factor at this stage. If you have missed the price on something, sit tight, as the going could scupper a lot of last minute plans from connections, so it is not worth taking a punt on a 8/1 poke in a handicap at this stage for example. The ground at Cheltenham is currently Soft on both the Old and New Courses at the moment, with it expected to be mainly dry this week, but with rain forecast Friday through to Sunday. How much precipitation, will likely be the difference between Good to Soft, or Soft (Heavy in places) with anywhere between 6mm-25mm of rain due to fall in those three days depending on which website you visit for a weather update. It is the only time of the year where we all like to pretend to be meteorologists!

The will-he-won’t-he-where-will-he saga of Sir Gerhard rumbles on, and in my mind he looks a proper two-miler. Obviously, there are owner-trainer politics at play, including opposition and the ground, and there are lots of factors to consider, but remember connections aren’t obliged to make a decision until next Sunday morning, and in this case, it would appear unwise to make any hasty decisions. If they opt to go the Ballymore route, especially on testing ground, that will really pose questions of Sir Gerhard’s stamina which may be unwanted at this stage of his career. There are numerous conversations to be had, but no doubt, nice problems to have when you are training a plethora of equine talent that Mr Mullins has at his disposal.

The same could be said with some of the protagonists from the novice chase ranks. The Venetia Williams team are saying they will be leaving it until the last minute to see what the ground conditions are in regards to which race L’Homme Presse takes his chance in. “We will be moving him up to three miles at some stage, but whether it is now or at a later date we are not sure.” He has looked very happy over 2m4f with substantial cut in the ground, and it could just be that conditions end up perfect for him once again over that trip. However, the Turners Chase could easily have the small issue of Bob Olinger and Galopin Des Champs in his way, so connections may decide the Brown Advisory over 3m may be the way to go, although with Bravemansgame and co. in attendance, there will be lots of class on display as you would expect. It may be a case of the lesser of two evils as far as where L’Homme Presse heads. The well documented virus within the Williams yard will be of a bigger concern; a few of her horses have been under the weather, and a few have run inexplicably poorly in recent times. Hopefully all those geared up for Prestbury Park can produce a clean bill of health and be given the green light in seven days time.

Elsewhere, it is squeaky-bum time for myself in regards to my antepost wager on CORACH RAMBLER for the Ultima Handicap Chase. Readers of this column will know he is the one I have been backing from 33/1 downwards for the handicap chase on the opening day of the Festival. At number 52 on the list, he currently needs 28 horses to drop out to sneak in. Fingers crossed he does, and even better if Frodon stays in – that will mean ‘The Rambler’ and Derek Fox will be the deadly duo with only 10st 2lb to carry. With a clear round he must go close.

There will be lots of twists and turns over the next week or so, so don’t get in a frenzy over erratic exchange moves or Twitter rumours, buckle up, and enjoy it all!