The unsettled forecast had made advance decision-making awkward, both for participants and punters, but the weather seems to have settled into ‘mildly unpleasant’ until the Cheltenham Festival is over.
If you were hoping for ground at the quicker end – or as near to that description as Festival ground is permitted to get – it looks like you’ll be disappointed.
Watch: Lydia Hislop and Ruby Walsh were joined by Dan Barber and guests as we counted down the final days to next week's Cheltenham Festival during Thursday's show
At the time of writing, the Old Course – in use on Tuesday and Wednesday – is described as ‘Soft’, whilst the New Course – utilised on Thursday and Friday – still lags half a degree behind at ‘Soft, good-to-soft in places’. The Cross-Country course for Wednesday’s race is ‘Soft, good-to-soft in places’.
However, a complicating factor might be the poor grass growth clerk of the course, Jon Pullin, had been reporting prior to this latest wintry blast.
This is also an awkward moment to be thinking about betting because Tuesday’s declarations appear on Sunday and, shortly afterwards, any concessionary offers from bookmakers. (That’s if, of course, your account is valid for such sweeteners and/or you’re not restricted to the degree that actually getting on is either not worth the effort or has become a full-time job in itself.)
However, some horses spring to mind as either being advantaged by the recent rainfall, and forecast bands of rain – or, perhaps more precisely, no longer at risk of being disadvantaged by going they could have found too quick.
One horse at the top of my list for this reason – and one that is perhaps less obvious than, say, Teahupoo or Gerri Colombe – is Facile Vega.
As discussed previously, one of the composite factors that perhaps caused his lesser display at the Dublin Racing Festival last time out might have been the slightly quicker ground. He has an extravagant action and was later found to be lame when he returned to Willie Mullins’ yard. He also raced a shade too hard with High Definition in the early stages.
Ruby Walsh responded to my questions about Facile Vega’s lameness – as he did with that of Edwardstone, as dutifully reported by his trainer Alan King after the Clarence House Chase – with the verbal equivalent of a shoulder shrug. That is: when an athlete exerts his or herself, they might well be feeling some effects the following day. In other words, his lameness was not a big thing, according to those at Closutton.
"It's not news...there's nothing wrong with him!"— Racing TV (@RacingTV) February 9, 2023
Ruby Walsh certainly isn't concerned about Edwardstone's minor setback ahead of the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase...#RoadToCheltenham | @LydiaHislop | @paddypower pic.twitter.com/eN6D6KocP8
You can take that information two ways. It’s a positive that it isn’t such a setback as to have seemingly jeopardised his Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle bid, but it also denies Facile Vega of his best excuse for a below-par run, especially if two miles is his preferred trip.
He looked very comfortable when winning the 2022 Champion Bumper in heavy ground before being pushed all the way to the line on good-to-soft ground at Punchestown by a stablemate he’d thumped at Cheltenham.
We won’t know exactly how soft it is until after the Supreme is run – or, at least, we will have a better idea of the going unless something of Constitution Hill’s calibre is again running in that race, and fools us all into mistaking brilliance for better ground.
So, those who suspect Facile Vega needs cut will not be so keen to field against him.
Willie Mullins discusses his leading players heading to this year's Cheltenham Festival
His price has steadily contracted this week and I suspect it will shrink further. Even now, however, I think 2-1 best suggests this Grade One is less open than it is in reality – even if this horse had held Douvan or Vautour status in the belief of his followers until the Dublin Racing Festival.
It’s interesting, by the way, that stablemate Impaire Et Passe has since become the Closutton Banker on the preview circuit. You can’t move for someone tipping him for the Ballymore, or passing on how confident those around him are. He won’t run here and yet currently trades at around 5-1.
Stable companion Gaelic Warrior has been said by Mullins to also be Ballymore-bound but was backed into around 6-1 for this race earlier this week, so there appears to be some difference of opinion (Geoffrey). (One for da kidz…)
More definitely, Hunters Yarn looks likely to head to the McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle on Friday.
That’s at least two, and possibly three horses, expected to exit stage left on Sunday, all of whom are also shorter in the betting than RARE EDITION. This is the forgotten horse in the race.
I’m convinced he’s best of British. So what? (You might say.) But we don’t yet know where the two nations stand against each other among the novice-hurdling ranks – Weveallbeencaught clearly didn’t run his race at the DRF and the two Irish challengers in the Challow Novices’ Hurdle were thumped, despite mostly racing on the correct part of the track.
Rare Edition drifted after being beaten at Huntingdon last time out, yet he scoped dirty the following day, and the winner, Marble Sands, is no slouch (he did too much and raced in the wrong part of the track when fifth in the Challow).
If you go back to Boxing Day, Rare Edition’s comparative performance with Constitution Hill over the same course and distance was substantial. Seven-length runner-up Rubaud has since won the Grade Two Dovecote, too.
Whichever way you splice it, 25-1 underestimates Rare Edition’s ability. The only question was whether to wait and perhaps get an extra place for an each-way bet..or to go for it now at 25-1.
It’s the first race. What the heck. (We might reassess when the decs are published on Sunday).
Advised 01/12/22: Ahoy Senor at 25/1 for the Boodles Gold Cup with various bookmakers.
Advised 14/12/22: Hiddenvalley Lake at 8/1 for the Albert Bartlett with Bet365 or William Hill.
Advised 05/01/23: The Real Whacker at 12/1 for the Brown Advisory with Paddy Power or Coral.
Advised 19/01/23: Impaire Et Passe at 6/1 for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle with various firms.
Advised 26/01/23: Banbridge each-way at 20/1 for the Sporting Life Arkle with various firms.
Back now: Rare Edition to win the Sky Bet Supreme at 25/1 with various firms [3 places, NRNB].
Advised 01/12/22: Noble Yeats at 66/1 for the Boodles Gold Cup with William Hill.
Advised 19/01/23: Corbetts Cross at 25/1 for the Albert Bartlett with Coral or Ladbrokes.
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