Friday, March 16, 2012

Cheltenham Gold Cup Day 2012

Notes from Viewing The Cheltenham Festival on Friday March 16 2012

Tuned in early to TVG in advance of the 9:30 a.m. (EDT) start. Good thing I did. After watching endless TVG commercials about how much fun it would be to win the Pick 4 in the quarterhorse races at Los Alamitos, the signal went abruptly to England where the first race was just in progress. Since they had to restart there were a couple of minutes for the analyst to set the stage, but barring that, viewers would have had no idea what to expect.

These jumps races had in some cases dozens of starters and were run over 2 to 3 mile or more courses. Cheltenham is very hilly with both the hills and the jumps leading to strategic decisions by jockeys. The start was supposed to be a “walking” start, but it was preceded by several minutes of milling around. The whole field walks in tight circles over and over again before straightening out and proceeding to the starting line. It struck me that this requires extraordinary ability by the jockeys, but might respond to some herd instinct in the horses. At the finish, the jocks acted very collegially in congratulating the winner while still astride.

The opener, The JCB Triumph Hurdle was won by Countrywide Flame at 33 to 1. Far from the longest shot on the board. See what big fields can do? Then back to TVG stateside for some replays of old races, ads for services needed by people who refuse to pay their taxes, and races from two other English tracks.

The County Hurdles also featured a false start requiring all the horses to stand still at an imaginary line before being sent off. Winner was Alderwood (IRE) at 12 to 1. Show horse paid $47!

The third race was the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle where Boston Bob (IRE), the odds-on favorite made a great run from back in the pack to finish second to Brindisi Breeze (IRE). As I was browsing the web for more Cheltenham information, I saw on the official site that you could shop for odds among the bookmakers. What gives? Why would you take 8 to 1 when 10 to 1 is the same mouse click away?

The fourth race was the feature, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. At this point TVG did have some analysis by Jimmy Duggan, very helpful to those who lack a background in English jumps racing. The race featured one bad fall and the abandonment by the highly touted past winner Kauto Star. Winner was Synchronized (IRE) at 8 to 1.

The fifth race was the Foxhunter Chase Challenge Cup, which I gather featured only amateur jockeys. Another messy affair with several loose horses running toward the front of the main field. The late race leader had several bad jumps toward the end allowing Salsify (IRE) to win from well back at odds of 7 to 1.

In the sixth race some more bad jumping at the end resulted in a very tightly fought finish. Attaglance came up on Toner D’Oudairies (FR) to win at 20 to 1.

The seventh race, the Grand Annual Chase Challenge Cup, was marred by several ugly spills and my long-suffering and ever more beautiful wife asked that we turn it off. As I looked at the results on line I saw that eight of the twenty one starters did not finish. That seems like a very large number. The on-line results showed two horses as PU, which must mean pulled up. Three horses were listed as F, which can only mean fell. I have no idea what UR or BD means, but those are the fates of the remaining three non-finishers.

Bellvano (GER) was the winner at 20 to 1.

For me it was a pleasant way to spend a cool and damp Spring morning, but I have to say TVG did about as little as they could have to educate an American audience about this aspect of the sport. Surprising, since they are owned by Betfair, an on-line sports betting “community” based in England. Betfair/TVG is angling to legalize this kind of computerized amateur bookmaking here in the US, especially California. Guess that accounts for all the Los Alamitos commercials.