The Cheltenham Festival. It is four days of exceptional racing on the best racecourse in the country right? Wrong.
It is four days of exceptional racing, yes, but it is actually run on two courses and they are very different.
There is the Old course, used on the first two days for races such as the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, the Arkle, the Champion Hurdle and the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase. Then the action switches to the New course, on which the JLT Novices’ Chase, Ryanair Chase, Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle and Gold Cup are run.
The Old course is the tighter of the two, with the field coming down the middle of the course. This makes the run from the tight home bend to to finish line a lot shorter and generally it suits horses with the tactical speed to assume a prominent position and favours those with more of a turn of foot.
The New course takes a much wider descent from the top of the hill, meaning the field go much further away from the finish line and the run from the final bend to the finish line is a lot longer, making the famous uphill finish even more drawn out. As a track it is much more suited to stamina-laden types and it is much easier for horses to come from further back.
But just what does that mean in punting terms? Well, horses for courses did not enter common parlance because it is untrue and it is all about finding the horse best-suited to the specific test of each individual race.
Perhaps the most interesting horse of the entire meeting with regards to the course is Gold Cup favourite Might Bite. He was seemingly going to saunter to a sensational win in last year’s RSA Chase - on the Old course. But having jumped the last some 12 lengths clear he idled, then all but ground to a halt as he passed the parade ring exit. It was not until Whisper came by him that he consented to run on again and somehow, miraculously, got back up to win by a nose.
Now, the New course on which the Gold Cup is run would seemingly suit him less. He is a strong-travelling, free-going sort and the Old course plays to his strengths. The Gold Cup, over two furlongs further than the RSA and on a vastly more stamina-testing course, will ask a question of this speed king that he has not faced before.
But there is also an angle that suggests the New course could be better suited to this mercurial beast. Might Bite has run at Cheltenham four times and he has come to a near standstill when passing the parade ring exit twice.
Interestingly, he won both races but he is unlikely to be able to get away with such a move in a race as stacked as a Gold Cup and the chase track on the New course is as far away from the parade ring exit as any of the four layouts (chase and hurdle, Old and New), which potentially could reduce the likelihood of another handbrake manoeuvre. In Native River, last year’s third-place finisher, he faces a horse who adores the track.
Supasundae would be another the switch from Old to New could catch out. Last year’s Coral Cup winner on the Old course is now favourite for the Sun Bet Stayers’ Hurdle over three furlongs further on the more testing New course.
Given that win last year was the furthest distance he has won over, and he won the BHP Insurance Irish Champion Hurdle over a mile shorter than this three mile test last time, it could be his questionable stamina will not be suited to this more gruelling track.
Alan King’s Yanworth runs in the same race and his finishing positions in three starts on the Old course read: 427, while he is unbeaten in two runs on the New. He also got the better of Supasundae the last time they met, in a Grade 1 three mile hurdle at the Grand National meeting, and yet he is currently trading at a 50 per cent bigger price.
Of the novices, the Old course looks less likely to suit Kalashnikov as much as it should Getabird, while everything about the Ballymore - the course and the way the race is usually run on ground quicker than he has ever encountered before - means the odds-on Samcro will have to be at his best to win.
If the race was on the other course he would have a better chance, while Next Destination and Cracking Smart, two of his potential rivals, also look potentially better suited to the New course and the demands of the Albert Bartlett.