AS usual there were plenty of twists and turns at the Cheltenham Festival but possibly the team I feel greatest pleasure for is the Tizzards who have always maintained that Cue Card is a top-class horse and were rewarded with victory in the Ryanair Chase.
It’s three years since this fellow caused a major 40-1 shock (for most people but not connections) when landing the Champion Bumper at the same fixture and in between he was fourth to Al Ferof in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle and runner up to Sprinter Sacre in last year’s Arkle, which now looks brilliant form after the winner’s success in last Wednesday’s Queen Mother Champion Chase.
Last week Cue Card took the lead approaching the last fence and stayed on well to master favourite First Lieutenant by nine lengths and in doing so deny the runner-up’s owner Michael O’Leary from winning his own prize money.
Winning trainer Colin Tizzard, who has an accent that would fit in well in The Archers, explained that this was just his fourth run of the season so he could take in Aintree and Punchestown and I would imagine that he’ll be very hard to beat in the Melling Chase at Liverpool.
After such a competitive week it’s unsurprising that this week’s action is much lower key so I’m going to have a look at a couple of future races starting with the English Grand National.
My early fancy for the world’s most famous steeplechase is Ted Walsh’s Seabass who ran a fine race last year under the trainer’s daughter Katie to finish third, beaten just five lengths, by Neptune Collonges.
This season he has enjoyed a typical National preparation, starting with a spin over hurdles in which he ran very well over an inadequate two miles, before his wily trainer waited until the National weights were unveiled before running him again over fences. This time he again ran creditably finishing third behind Roi Du Mee in the Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse last month, when running right to his handicap rating of 154, which at 5lb higher than last year’s National mark of 149 seems very fair and I think he’ll go off shorter than our current 12-1.
Before then it’s the Irish Grand National meeting at Fairyhouse and I fancy the chances of Mount Benbulben, trained by Gordon Elliott, in the Powers Gold Cup.
This is a horse that has had a big motor since his first couple of efforts in the pointing field but his jumping has sometimes left a bit to be desired, but he was a lot more fluent and really impressed me when scoring by 11 lengths from Lastoftheleaders at Thurles in February.
Even though that form was let down a bit by the runner-up’s fifth at Wexford last week, I would argue that it still stands up as Lastoftheleaders had previously beaten Alderwood at Punchestown in February and that fellow cost us a lot of dough when landing a gamble as a winning favourite in last week’s Grand Annual Chase at Cheltenham.
The current front three in the betting for Sunday’s Malaysian Grand Prix in Kuala Lumpur – Sebastian Vettel, Kimi Raikkonen and Fernando Alonso - are all no bigger than 7-2 and I’m not that surprised. I’m a great believer in course form in this sport and all three have won at least twice in Malaysia since 2001.
But I’m going to opt for Raikkonen at 7-2 as his two previous successes shout that he is happy on the circuit and the fact that he prevailed in last Sunday’s exciting Australian leg in Melbourne is a bonus. It’s true that Malaysia is a vastly different circuit with different conditions but Raikkonen’s in monster form.
Sunday, Kuala Lumpur, 8am - Kimi Raikkonen; Sunday, March 31, Fairyhouse 4.30pm - Mount Benbulben; Saturday, April 6 Aintree, 4.15pm - Seabass