Brendan Duke: The craic from the track as the curtain comes down at Cheltenham

Our roving reporter couldn't resist the lure of the Festival and is looking to sign off in style as the curtain comes down on Friday...

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Greetings from Cheltenham. In quite the U-turn, I decided late last week to join the massed ranks of festival goers. It was hard to justify financially, but that FOMO is a bad dose. Also, I had unerring confidence in Paisley Park restoring me to full financial health. Will find out in a couple of hours whether that faith was justified.

The unending battle between bookie and punter, is delicately poised heading into day three. Tuesday was carnage. The Champion Hurdle was pitched by most, including me, as a three-horse race. A rampant victory for Espoir D’Allen, followed by the exit stage last of Benie Des Dieux, saw the layers leave with bulging satchels. Wednesday saw the books continue to prosper in the early races. However, four consecutive winning favourites to end the card, saw the punters roar back into contention.

Benie-Des-Dieux

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The chat Tuesday night, was more windy than usual. An inspection for the following day, had been called. It was a reminder of the combination of fatalism, and resilience, that sums up gamblers. The later, and more tipsy we got, the stronger our chat imagined the winds would be. Visions of small cars being swept out to sea were conjured. Having now decided the fixture was doomed, we had to choose a contingency plan.

‘Only one thing for it’ said my friend. ‘We’re off to Huntingdon’. ‘How far away is that’ I enquired. ‘An hour and a half, be grand’ came the reply. ‘It’s rubbish racing’ I protested. ‘It’s racing, it will be on, and there are at least seven winners to be backed’ he retorted. I couldn’t argue with that. As it turned out, the Wednesday winds would have struggled with a full line of washing. Altior, and Tiger Roll got their Cheltenham groove on, and all was right with the world. Altior in particular, was thrilling.

Altior-Cheltenham-2019

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As mentioned in previous pieces, Cheltenham probably isn’t his track, and two miles probably isn’t his trip. He always wins of course, but that combination of factors, means there is usually a moment or two when supporters almost lose the faith. On Wednesday, that moment came when he was headed at the last. He responded like a lion, and pulled another one out of the fire. Magnificent steed.

If by some chance Paisley Park doesn’t win, I will be fighting a serious rear-guard action. These are the horses who may yet save the day. My confidence in Ch’tibello in the County Hurdle 2.10 remains strong. Hopefully you were persuaded in a previous piece to take the 16/1. The 10/1 that’s now available still looks fair to me. The drop of rain that’s forecast overnight can only enhance the prospects of this strong stayer.

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Another who should relish conditions is Derrinross in the Albert Bartlett 14.50 is always a savage test. As an eight-year-old, with plenty of hurdling experience, Derrinross is better equipped for the demands of the race than most. He looks a sporting bet at 10/1.

Sir Erec will obviously be very hard to beat in the Triumph Hurdle that opens the card at 13.30. I don’t like betting at short prices. One of the reasons is value can be harder to discern. In his case, it seems easier. He’s more likely to win than not. Even money is more than fair.

The Gold Cup is really tricky at 15.30. I will probably end up just watching it. At the prices, Clan Des Obeau would be my bet. He’s improving fast, and brings strong form to the party. I’m quite confident he will stay. Going left handed is a concern. Despite that, I think he should be favourite. Around 4/1 looks fair.

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What do you think?