It has been a good and uplifting week on the Bay of Freedom front. Peter took him for a gallop after racing at Punchestown on Wednesday. Katie Walsh agreed to ride him which was ideal as it gave us a chance to gauge if he has really strengthened up since Galway.
In case you don’t think that Katie is a pretty straight shooter let me take a quick aside and mention a few of her bon mots from the Cheltenham Preview that took place at the Goat Inn later that night.
On Douvan : I have ridden every novice of Willie's and the best horse of them all is Douvan
On Shaneshill: tough as honours maths and great bet for the Neptune
On Don Poli: as much a certainty as Douvan. The faster Coneygree goes, the further Don Poli beats him
On Faugheen: 5/4 Faugheen is ridiculous. What has he beat? Absolutely nothing. Ridiculous price. Wide open race
and, most relevantly for Bay of Freedom fans:
On Up For Review: I think is the horse they all have to beat. Keeps going forever and you've got to stay.
And so, you can see, it is with a delicious combination of excitement, anticipation and fear of what she’s going to say that we jocked Katie up for her 1 ½ mile gallop around Punchestown with a couple of Peter’s horses (both of whom went well and included his Grand National entry Owega Star)
He had matured and grown up a lot over the winter. He just cruised around and did it very easily. Very impressed and excited with him. Very exciting and just what we needed to hear. I spoke to Peter yesterday and he ate up well and walked out with no problems yesterday morning and we are bang on track for the 11th. As an aside a couple of people have asked if Katie would be riding him at Cheltenham; it’s far too early to decide anything and, in Katie’s case, Willie Mullins has first call so a lot depends of how many horses he sends
Of course, this perversely just makes me even more paranoid about him getting into the race. Peter mentioned this to Katie who said ”he’ll get in – no bother” Katie rides out at Willie Mullins so I take this to mean that he wouldn’t be entirely out of place at Cheltenham. Unfortunately, though, Katie is not the handicapper so her opinion is interesting but isn’t the important one. This made me decide to do a little bit of handicapping myself and get a feel of where we stand; a hopeless task, in many ways, because of the lack of races most of the potential runners have had and the difficulty in establishing collateral or form that links the horses. Timeform is the most respected ratings authority in British and Irish racing and so I used their ratings; based on the horses I consider likely to turn up at Cheltenham Bay of Freedom (rating 105) would be rated 16th; as the maximum field size is 24 this is good news. (I did exclude six horses with higher ratings in the belief they will not be going to Cheltenham. This was based primarily on previous trainer comments. If I did include these horses then he would have been 22nd and would just get into the race)
I have put a lot of thought into why I prefer Timeform ratings over Racing Post Ratings (the other pre-eminent ratings source). Normally, for chases and hurdles I think they are very comparable and have realistic and logical ratings. However, when it comes to Bumper ratings, I think the Racing Post is all over the place. (It doesn’t help that they would place Bay of Freedom 32nd if I use their ratings of intended runners) If you are interested in a more detailed review with examples please click on this How did you come up with that rating?
At the same preview evening on Wednesday Bryan Cooper (Gigginstown no. 1 jockey) said that he had been told they will be sending one, maybe two, horses for the Bumper. That being the case, i think you can perm any from General Principle, Stone Hard, Balko Des Flos and Valerian Bridge. In my opinion the first two are the most likely but, if it dries up, I would not be surprised to Valerian Bridge replaces , probably, Stone Hard.
Willie Mullins had some positive comments about Balko Des Flos at his pre-Cheltenham Press Day this week but his win form has been badly let down by the 2nd and 3rd in that race (something I discuss in RPR v Timeform link).
He also said that he would run as many as he can get in at Cheltenham. I have previously forecast Up For Review, Bordini, Au Quart De Tour, Bordini and Pylonthepressure would be going along with Stone Hard if Gigginstown decided to send any. This still looks broadly right although Au Quarts De Tour has been sick and has to be considered an unlikely runner at this stage. This may bring Turcagua and Bellshill into the mix. Supreme Racing have also indicated that Very Much So will be going. I expect all of the above and a few more to be entered for the race next week; we won’t have a clearer idea until the following week about what he really plans to do. The timing is as follows:
Entries due in by noon 24/2 (Irish entries by noon on 23/2)
I would expect around 40-45 entries at this stage. They will be announced on 26/2
Entries to be confirmed by noon on 5/3 (Five day stage)
This is when the main reduction will take place. There is likely to be around 28-30 horses at this stage. This is when the handicapper gets to work and rates each horse. The highest rated 24 are definitely in the race; other horses have to wait until the declaration stage and hope that enough horses come out to allow them to run. These ratings are published on the 6th and that will give rise to a very relaxing* or very stressful weekend for yours truly
Declarations to be made by 10am on 10/3 (Overnight declarations)
If you are in the 24 you run on the 11th; if not, you are out. There are no reserves.
* When I say relaxing please realise that this is a relative term. If we are guaranteed a run at this stage I would be delighted but it still means that the horse has to travel over the Irish Sea on a ferry, be driven to Cheltenham, settle into his new surroundings and just keep sound for the next five days...so, not relaxing at all come to think of it!
Entries costs 80 pounds (where is a International Keyboard when you need one?) and a further 220 pounds is payable at the Confirmation stage. Nothing is payable at the Declaration stage.
I will post another blog after the initial entries next week. In the meantime I will be watching the runs of Up For Review (the best Mullins horse in my opinion) and Ghost River this weekend.