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Dublin: 12 °C Monday 10 August, 2020

Thursday at Cheltenham: 5 things to say when the office chat turns to racing today

Here are some things to talk about when racing kicks off — apart from the inevitable “Have you got any money left?”

Image: ©INPHO/Dan Sheridan

1. “Is Dynaste as hot as his price suggests?”

Short answer: no.

There’s no denying that David Pipe’s seven-year-old has been one of the outstanding novice chasers this season but there was a lot of indecision about whether he would run in today’s opener, the Jewson Novices’ Chase (1.30pm), or in the RSA Chase (won by Jim Culloty’s Lord Windermere yesterday).

The decision to go for the shorter race was taken on the basis that the ground was soft to heavy earlier in the week, but now that it’s drying out, the scenario has changed a bit. The drop back in trip won’t inconvenience him too much but quite simply, 6/4 is too skinny for a favourite in this race.

The upside is that there’s plenty of value to be found elsewhere, not least in Aupcharlie (6/1) from the searingly hot Willie Mullins yard, and in Noel Meade’s Texas Jack (10/1).

2. “Is Paul Nicholls finally on to a Winner?”

Tuesday and Wednesday have not been kind to Paul Nicholls and the man who might rightly have been considered a good bet for the festival’s top trainer is yet to score, left trailing in the dust of Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson. The closest he came was in the Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap yesterday where Caid du Berlais and Ptit Zig picked up the place money for second and third.

Perhaps his best chance of ending the drought comes in the Pertemps Final (2.05pm) where former Triumph hurdle hopeful Sam Winner will be sent off the heavily backed favourite. In practically every pre-Festival preview, Nicholls and those closest to him tipped this horse as their nap of the festival and they believe that he is perfectly handicapped to strike after impressing since coming back following a year’s lay-off.

3. Will Michael O’Leary be flying in the Ryanair?

Michael O’Leary has put up the money for one of today’s big races, the Ryanair Chase (2.40pm), so it’s no surprise that he will want to win as much of it back as possible — as well as possibly charging jockeys extra for using their saddles. His classy eight-year-old First Lieutenant might well have taken his chance in tomorrow’s Gold Cup but he goes here instead and looks perfectly set to follow up on his win in the 2011 Neptune and his game second to Bob’s Worth last season.

To do so, he will have to dethrone two former winners in the ageing Alberta’s Run and Riverside Theatre, the latter of which won here 12 months ago but has suffered severe disruptions in his preparations this season.

4. “Who will step up to take Big Buck’s crown?”

For the last four years, Thursday at Cheltenham has always been focused on Big Buck’s, the four-time winner of the feature World Hurdle (3.20pm). Injury means that he cannot be here to defend his magnificent record in the stayers’ race, nor end Paul Nicholls’ wait for a winner, but it does mean that a new king must be crowned — for now, at least.

Unsurprisingly the race will be wide open. Oscar Whisky, the pre-race favourite representing Nicky Henderson, is currently 9/2 while you’ll get at least 6/1 about Reve de Sivola and more on the rest. The Irish have four challengers with the Willie Mullins duo of So Young and Zaidpour joined by Charles Byrnes’ Solwhit and the Tony Martin-trained Bog Warrior in the colours of Michael O’Leary’s Gigginstown House Stud.

5. “How do you pick a winner in these handicaps?”

You’ll need a lot of luck. So far we’ve had winners at 28/1, 16/1, 33/1, and 25/1 which would suggest that you might be well advised to shop around rather than settling on a talking horse from the top of the market. That’s not to say that favourites don’t win and David Pipe’s Ballynagour (Byrne Group Plate, 4pm) and Donald McCain’s Super Duty (Kim Muir, 4.40pm) have been hammered in the markets in recent days.

With 24 runners in each race, the best advice is: keep your stakes small.

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About the author:

Niall Kelly

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