Ed Chamberlin looks ahead to Cheltenham - and his debut as a racehorse owner this weekend.
By Ed Chamberlin
Last Updated: 02/02/13 4:08pm
With no Premier League football last weekend I was able to enjoy a superb day's racing at Cheltenham. It was as good as any day at a Festival with a mercurial performance from Sprinter Sacre and a number of thrilling finishes up the famous hill. It was also nearly a very profitable one with only The New One letting down doubles, trebles and yankees. Wretched AP McCoy!
However, as AP said after lifting At Fishers Cross across the line with an inspired piece of riding, not all the best horses were winning on that desperate ground on Saturday. I think that certainly applied to The New One, who showed a brilliant turn of foot to go clear as they turned for home.
I said last week that I fancied him for the Neptune before Saturday and that expensive defeat has done nothing to dampen my enthusiasm. I have added him to my ante-post portfolio - he's 9/2 with Sky Bet - alongside Un Atout at 7/1 in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.
Sprinter Sacre was imperious again and the one horse to glide through the horrible ground. On a day when races were slogs and battles, he floated to victory. Pure class. He rightly had racing fans purring and is down to 2/7 with Sky Bet to win the Champion Chase.
My sadness is that the race promises to be a procession - Cue Card, Finian's Rainbow, Sizing Europe (who would be a standout bet at 8/1 for the Ryanair if you knew that was his target) could all go elsewhere - and a turn-off for some punters so Nicky Henderson's star won't get the media attention he deserves. What tells the story at moment is that very few people in my department at Sky have even heard of Sprinter Sacre.I'm convinced that, in order to capture the sporting public's imagination, he needs a rival and the one horse who can save the race is Flemenstar. He runs in the Irish Hennessy over three miles next weekend, which will decide his Festival target. A big part of me hopes he doesn't stay as I'd love to see Flemenstar run back over two miles as I think he's a machine.
The hype and build-up for Sprinter Sacre v Flemenstar would be terrific and surely capture sports fans' imaginations, plus lift the winner to superstar status.
The hardest Championship puzzle to solve at the moment is the Champion Hurdle, which is shaping up like a fiercely-competitive renewal.
Another piece was fitted into the jigsaw on Sunday with Hurricane Fly's facile win at Leopardstown, which I don't think told us anything new but saw Sky Bet shorten him to 5/2 favourite.
He's clearly back in good form but likely to face a totally different test to beating similar horses in small fields in Ireland. He's a fantastic horse and entitled to be favourite but this looks a much deeper Champion Hurdle to the one Hurricane Fly won two seasons ago and I couldn't back him at that price. Darlan has been a favourite of mine since AP gave him as his horse for us to follow last season.
The Champion jockey thinks the form of his Christmas Hurdle win isn't up to much but I also sense he thinks this horse is a bit special. Darlan is set to run at Sandown on Saturday and will hopefully confirm his credentials. My worry with Darlan is whether Cheltenham really suits him. He's been high class on flat tracks but I don't think either of his runs at Cheltenham so far has seen him at his best.
That's a sentiment I thought also applied to Darlan's stablemate Grandouet (6/1). I used to think he was a flat-track bridle horse. The International at Cheltenham changed all that. I thought he would struggle to give weight to Zarkandar (6/1) after a long absence and on ground he didn't like so thought he ran a blinder in second and I was particularly impressed by what he found off the bridle up the hill. The sharper Old Course in March is going to play to his strength - speed.
We'll learn more this weekend but at the moment the Champion Hurdle looks a hard puzzle to solve and a race full of really good horses, who have little between them. I just think Darlan and Grandouet could be the two with an X-factor.
I make my debut as a racehorse owner on Sunday as part of the 'Goodfellows' syndicate that owns Wayne Manor, who is set to run in the Triumph Hurdle trial at Musselburgh.
He's trained by Lucinda Russell and Peter Scudamore and has been working nicely at home but this is a tough task on his hurdling bow. I shall be eagerly awaiting news in the studio at Manchester City!