I’M relieved Sprinter Sacre has been scratched from the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Yes, the Cheltenham Festival may have lost its finest creature and the sport its biggest PR figurehead, but I wasn’t looking forward to biting my fingernails and desperately hoping his heart problem would not return. The horse isn’t right and he is too good to risk if not 100% despite what the armchair gossip-mongers on Twitter may be suggesting. A much bigger blow to Cheltenham is the dark cloud hanging over it from the Philip Fenton steroids case…
The Festival needs that like a hole in the head and there could be carnage if Last Instalment wins the Gold Cup (which he could easily do). Opinion is divided among pundits, punters and even Fenton’s owners: zero tolerance vs innocent until proven guilty. Barry Connell vs Michael O’ Leary. It is a travesty that the build-up will be blighted by this debate for the next fortnight. The BHA may have its hands tied to a degree but hopefully it will intervene and show its teeth as much as it can. For the record, I don’t think Fenton’s horses should be allowed to run in the UK until the matter is resolved. Harsh but necessary, especially if the sport is serious about strengthening its anti-doping stance.
Thankfully, Cheltenham has enough equine luminaries still standing to ensure that steroids are pushed off the back age. But Big Buck’s, Hurricane Fly and Bobs Worth have a bigger responsibility to perform now!!
The weekend’s action was last-chance saloon for several Cheltenham possibles. The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is suddenly looking like a straight shootout: Irving vs Vautour. Irving could not have been more impressive in the Dovecote at Kempton on ground that he was not supposed to like. Better ground, according to Paul Nicholls, will see him to greater effect at Cheltenham. BetVictor cut him to 3/1 joint favourite with Vautour. The rest have it all to do although Dell’ Arca still looks overpriced at 20/1 under BetVictor’s Non Runner Free Bet offer. First Mohican is also out to 20s after coming a disappointing fourth to Irving and Henry Ponsonby says plans are fluid for the ex-Sir Henry Cecil flat horse.
Harry Fry’s Activial was another major weekend mover after his authoritative win in Kempton’s Adonis Hurdle. He also paid a big compliment to Calipto (now 5/1 favourite) who beat him at Newbury. He is now 12s from 25s for the Triumph Hurdle with BetVictor while Fairyhouse Grade Two victor Abbyssial is 16s from 33s.
Surprise National Spirit Hurdle winner Kayf Moss, who won off a mark of 96 recently, is now 16/1 for the Coral Cup. The second Meister Eckhart (rated at 150) is also 16s. It will be fascinating how the handicapper unravels that conundrum when the weights for the Cheltenham handicaps are unveiled on Wednesday. Meister Eckhart was second in the Coral Cup off 143 last year so connections may be tempted at a crack at the World Hurdle as he was going on strongly at the finish.
Meanwhile, BetVictor also report steady interest in Felix Yonger for the JLT and Willie Mullins’ charge is now into 7/1.
Looking further ahead, both Wyck Hill and On His Own have been cut to 16s from 25s for the Grand National after their weekend successes.
BetVictor are going Non Runner No Bet on the four Championship races at the Cheltenham Festival. Click here for details.