LIFE is never easy.
An equine flu epidemic almost derailed the Cheltenham Festival last year. Now the coronavirus is putting the frighteners on track supremo Ian Renton.
Mind you, the fixture was always going to be a man down after Leighton Aspell announced his retirement the other day.
Lucky Leighton hit fewer bum notes than Pavarotti and was a proper punters’ pal.
More importantly, he’s a lovely fella and will be sorely missed.
Still, the game goes on and the Festival rumour mill is starting to move into overdrive.
For starters, there’s a serious whisper for a Nicky Henderson horse in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.
Hendo trains the ante-post jolly for this in Shishkin. But some shrewd faces are adamant he’s a step behind stablemate Chantry House.
King of the punters J P McManus owns this fella. If he decides to flex his wallet the 9-1 currently on offer could be history.
Meanwhile, the birds have been getting up early to tweet about The Big Breakaway.
The word is Colin Tizzard and his crew think this flying machine is their best chance of a Cheltenham winner.
He’s being primed for a crack at Irish banker Envoi Allen in the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle. Connections chins will be nailed to the deck if he fails to go close.
By the way, punters had the right hump after word circulated that Kempton’s ground-staff had harrowed the middle of the track extra deep the other night.
It seems the tractor had been doing overtime so Nicky Henderson’s Cheltenham horses could have a pre festival workout.
That left anything racing up the centre at a distinct disadvantage which hardly made life easy for Billy Bunters or jockeys.
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Not that it seemed to worry red-hot apprentice George Rooke.
The canny claimer landed a tickle on Hieronymus (100-30 to 2-1), adding to the three winners he’d already booted home at Southwell that afternoon.
This kid looks the part, had super-slick commentator Anthony `Enzo’ Ennis cooing and is blinding value for his 7lbs allowance.
A couple of track regulars weren’t quite as successful and were overheard trying to console each other over a cup of coffee.
“Still, one of the fellas said, “you are a professional punter.”
“Not any more mate. I’ve done enough money tonight to make myself redundant,” came the reply.
Easiest winner at Kempton was Punctuation. He drifted like the Kon-Tiki but still managed to win a maiden by the length of Southend Pier in the royal silks.
Quick as a flash trainer Andrew Balding told photographers: “I think I better go and collect the prize. The owner couldn’t make it tonight.”
Talking about Andrew, I’m told his unbeaten Group One Power is rated a better prospect than last week’s runaway winner Arctic Vega.
The fella who imparted this bit of gossip is right at the heart of Balding yard, so it would be dopey not to stick him in your notebook.
Looking at today, it’s double interesting that Harry Cobden has schlepped up to Doncaster for a handful of Paul Nicholls’ flyers.
Happy Harry should pay for his petrol with CILL ANNA who will be hard to beat in the 888sport Take `Em On Mares’ Hurdle (3.00).
WORTHY FARM (3.35, Doncaster) is Paul Nicholls’ selected from a handful of entries. He won with a bit up his sleeve at Wincanton last time and must go close with ice-cool Harry Cobden doing the steering.
Meanwhile, super shrewd Stuart Williams’ sprinter ROYAL BIRTH can bully a small field in the Betway Casino Handicap (2.00) over at Lingfield.
He bumped into a smart one here last week and has everything in his favour this time.
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