CHELTENHAM FRIDAY: SIMON NOTT reports from Cheltenham’s Hunter Chase evening on Friday. Always a big night in the pointing calendar – but would it translate to action in the ring where Star Sports were amongst the layers?
The finale of Cheltenham’s season is when the hunter chasers get to enjoy the spotlight and the point to point community have a night at jumping’s HQ. I remember the fields always being a lot bigger, 18 per race and so on. The decline in the population of point to point horses is partly to blame, according to a mate of mine, an aficionado of racing between the flags. Anyone with any other theories please let me know.
5:05 Cheltenham Club Open Hunters’ Chase
The opening race was contested by seven of the original eight on the card. Gustave Mahler looked a good thing according to most pundits. One punter who must have agreed came in and had a carpet (£300) with Flynn on the rails at 4/7. That punter must have been a little worried to see his fancy drift to 6/4 at the off. He would have been right too have worried too, the jolly never really looked like winning. It wasn’t all great for the layers though, winner Saffron Wells was backed from 6/1 into 11/4 so nasty for those firms that weren’t as good looking as Flynn and didn’t get the jolly in the hod.
5:40 Connolly’s Red Mills Intermediate Point-To-Point Championship Final Hunters’ Chase
There were 15 runners in the next. This time the punters wanted to be on the jolly Salvatore, pretty much with the exclusion of everything else, and it tumbled from 7/2 into 13/8. The one exception was Sixteen Letters that saw support from 14/1 into 10/1. At the last it looked as if the latter might play a part in the finish, punters that were on each-way would have been counting their money. It wasn’t to be though, 11/1 shot Latenightpass won under Gina Andrews while the favourite ran on up the hill to deprive Sixteen Letters of third. It was happy days in the ring again, apart from the rain that just started to fall again.
6:15 KTDA Racing Open Hunters’ Chase
The precipitation dampened business in the next but it didn’t stop Lofting posing for photos on the pitch (judging by this photo I think the firm’s greyhound hero has muted the idea of a ‘Star Sports’ calendar for 2020 to Ben and fancies himself as ‘Mr June’!) It didn’t stop a flood of money either, not on Lofty becoming a pin-up but on Sam Jukes’ Marcle Ridge supported from 7/4 into 5/4. This time the punters were spot on. Sam Jukes, rider as well as trainer, didn’t mess about, he forced the pace for much of the race before running on nicely up the hill to win quite cosily. The rain may have saved the bookies on this occasion, punters betting on their phones in dry bars rather than venturing out into the ring. Nobody likes to get their fancy dress wet do they.
6:50 Timico Mixed Open Gold Cup Final Hunters’ Chase
The bookies looked busier betting on the next, another 7-runner affair which saw Philip Rowley’s Hazel Hill backed from 4/9, if you were quick, into 1/4. ‘Not here though mate’ Lofty informed me on the phone, the rain had started again, I’d ducked back into the dry, no flies on me. The only loser in the book was Master Baker, so psychologically a good race for the favourite to win. With two to jump that looked quite unlikely with 12/1 shot Caryto De Brosses appearing to have the favourite under the cosh. The jolly slowly ground its way back into it and just prevailed after a rare old tussle up the hill. All I can say it that any punter who took the odds-on got their money’s worth. It reminded me of a saying my dear departed and much-missed old boss Jack Lynn had after races like that. ‘Those punters must have rings of steel’. You can tell why I loved working for him can’t you.
7:20 GX Landrovers Mares’ Open Hunters’ Chase
There was another odds-on shot in the race before the penultimate. Theatre Territory was backed from 8/11 into 8/13 but not with Star Sports. Lofty was doing his best to get it in though, as he colourfully put it ‘It was an arb at the off (don’t tell Ben) but even the duel phone holding, bike riding ex-bookie stood in front of the joint wasn’t tempted’ At the off the jolly was a loser but only for a round of Diet Cokes @ £2.30 a can. 11/4 Kalabaloo second-in shot clear to win from the jolly. You’d have thought that Lofty and Flynn would be a bit despondent as the firm didn’t get their whack on the race. Not a bit of it, the staff were very cheerful indeed. Flynn had tucked up a firm on the back row with the correct forecast while Lofty admitted backing the winner each-way, yes each-way an 11/4 shot, filthy I know. Shameless the pair of them. Meanwhile the Ellis yard and jockey Gina Andrews celebrated doubles on the night, congratulations to them.
7:50 Are You Well, I Thought You Were Open Hunters’ Chase
20 runners lined up for the penultimate, ‘There’s been a lot more people about for this race’ Lofty offered. Haymount was the one they wanted to be on, the price had contracted from 9/2 into 3/1 accordingly, maybe punters sensing it could be the Tom Ellis/Andrews husband and wife combination’s night. This time the other dynamic duo, Lofty and Flynn, had the jolly in its place, losing a relatively nice few quid in the book. Sara Bradstock’s Southfield Theatre won the race under Lily Bradstock, the gelding had been backed from 9/2 into 7/2 but when Lofty peered into the book he was pleasantly surprised to see that it was a much better winner than it should have been. With a race to go, winning on the night was assured.
8:20 Junior Jumpers Open Hunters’ Chase
We have a colloquialism in Devon, dimpsy, it means near as dammit dark. I know we weren’t in Devon but that’s what it was at the off. Risk A Fine was a shade of odds-on and a loser in the book, not for a sum that would ruin the night though, Lofty had snapped the elastic band around the winnings. He needn’t have worried, 16/1 winner Bishop Road which hosed up under Zac Baker was an excellent, old-fashioned result that hopefully ensured that all the good guys, the bookies, had a winning last race of the season at Cheltenham.
Enjoy the summer, we’ll be back in October.
Simon Nott is author of:
Skint Mob! Tales from the Betting Ring