If there were any doubt about the state of the ground for the Cheltenham Festival, it was erased by the GoingStick reading of 5.3 taken on Monday afternoon. That is the lowest published reading at the track for five years, suggesting the surface will be even more testing than usual for midwinter racing.
Speed will have nothing to do with what happens for the next four days. Anything that wants spring ground had better wait for Aintree. The capacity to endure is what is needed, in punters as well as horses.
These are conditions that can throw up a real shock result. Yet it is hard to get away from Buveur D’Air (3.30) in the Champion Hurdle, not least because he appears more at home in the mud than on drier ground. Since he went over obstacles, his only defeat came in a race when he was the stable’s second-string behind the mighty Altior.
Those who cannot look at odds of 8-13 might consider a place bet on the 66-1 rag Ch’Tibello, a hardy character who does not win very often but has coped well with heavy. He is not very quick but is dogged and that may take him a long way here.
1.30 Connections have described Getabird as “delicate”, which is not really what one wants to hear about a hot favourite on testing ground. He might be flattered by his latest win, when he was unchallenged for the lead in a small field. Kalashnikov stormed home after a big field set a strong pace in the Betfair Hurdle and it may be a similar story here.
2.10 Footpad has been transformed by fences and it is hard to see Petit Mouchoir reversing their Leopardstown form, when the latter jumped so sketchily. Saint Calvados is the threat but his trainer does not yet have Willie Mullins’s record of bringing horses to a peak in mid-March.
2.50 This could be attritional and perhaps may fall into the lap of Casse Tete, much as a Warwick race did last month when he ended up scoring by five lengths after working hard to keep in touch. His form suggests he comes good in spring and this step up in trip could be really helpful.
4.10 Unbeaten in five outings since the fitting of a tongue tie, Apple’s Jade would grace a much stronger contest than this. There are a couple of useful rivals but she should be too good.
4.50 A powerful type, Sizing Tennesse has had four spins round here this winter and would have won two of those but for a late fall in October. His jumping has improved and will be helped by this step up in trip, which should lead to a slower pace.
5.30 Quite a stylish winner on similar ground here in January, Mister Whitaker has snuck in at the bottom of the weights.