Something Strange At Cheltenham …

March 18th, 2019 | Marten's Current Racing Diary

Hi there!

There is always something of a lull after the excitement and drama of Cheltenham and this year is no exception, with a pretty dire week of racing and nothing to look forward to until Aintree, which starts a fortnight on Thursday.

I will have more to say about Cheltenham in my Postscript, which follows in about a week’s time, but there are a couple of observations I would like to make now, starting with the first day.

At this point in time, and unless I have reason to think otherwise, I would be very wary of taking the results at face value.

I’m not sure how soft the ground was – it read 6 on the penetrometer and 6.7 by Friday – but the winning margins may, in my view, prove misleading.

This applies specifically to the Champion Hurdle, which Espoir D’Allen won by 15 lengths – the widest margin of victory ever in the event. Earlier Duc Des Genievres won the Arkle Trophy by 13 lengths and later A Plus Tard took the Close Brothers Handicap by 16 lengths.

It would be wrong to take anything away from these three winners, but I will be amazed if the form of any of the three races holds up to inspection in the fullness of time.

On figures, assuming Melon ran to his mark of 165, Espoir D’Allen ran to a rating of 180, as opposed to his current figure of 162. This from a horse whose victories had been at Grade 3 level and had met his only defeat when tried at Grade 1 level last February.

Willie Mullins said afterwards that Melon put up the best run of his life but the proximity of 156-rated Silver Streak in third must cast doubt on the value of the form. Then, of course, we have the efforts of the mares Laurina and Apple’s Jade, with the third-flight departure of Buveur d’Air , who brought down Sharjah.

To say the race was ‘unsatisfactory’ is an understatement. The mares can be excused poor runs because they are mares, subject to physical changes from one day to the next, but it was hugely frustrating to lose the dual-Champion Hurdle and, to some extent, my each-way selection Sharjah.

Regarding the wide winning margins of the three races I have mentioned, my view is that we were dealing with false ground. That it not to say the clerk and his team are in any way to blame, but that the heavy rain that fell in the hours before the meeting, following a sustained spell of dry ground in the weeks before, caused the going to ride loose on top.

Put succinctly, some horses coped with it while others didn’t.

The frustration didn’t end with the Champion Hurdle. It was disappointing to see Glen Forsa and Kalashnikov make early departures from the Arkle. The latter especially, probably would have relished the conditions. Almost half the field failed to complete in the Ultima Handicap Chase while Benie Des Dieux took that last-flight tumble in the Mares’ Hurdle. Sadly only four finished in the National Hunt Challenge Cup.

Now don’t get me wrong. The meeting proved a success for my clients, with a profit made to level stakes and some good winners, but something strange was happening on the first day and my advice, again, is to be very guarded about taking the form too literally.

Perhaps more will be revealed at Aintree.

Bye for now