Cheltenhamdream.com is basing itself at Cheltenham tomorrow as Bay of Freedom tries previously untested waters in the Cross Country race. If you think this smacks of desperation you could be onto something but we have nothing to lose at this point. Everybody who rides him at home is convinced he is in great shape and can win a big race so we just keep listening to them; it’s just when he gets on the racecourse and runs so badly that we can only scratch our heads.
I will be there with seven friends and an American Girl doll. Apparently, these dolls are collector’s items and are much craved by young children (no PC police attacks on me) mostly, it would appear, in certain corners of Kildare. The problem is that they are not available in Ireland and it is necessary to find a friendly mug to bring them over from America. Luckily, Ber knew one such mug and introduced her favourite American owner to her nanny who wanted a customized doll for her daughter for Christmas. While it was too late for the customized version, this does explain why I will be carrying a doll in it’s ‘collector’s ‘box and matching PJ’s for the doll and a seven-year old into the hallowed environment of Cheltenham racecourse tomorrow.
There are only seven runners and, at 25/1 in places, he is the outsider with most bookmakers. Honestly given how he has been running even 25/1 looks too short a price and I, honestly, don’t mind that most tipsters completely disregard him. I do, however, draw the line at the Racing Post not quoting his RPR (Racing Post Rating) or Topspeed ratings. They must have made an editorial decision not to do so based on an ‘egg on face’ factor; the reality is that he would have been ranked top and second top respectively on those ratings.
It is easy to see why he might be discounted but, as always, let me provide an unfiltered behind the scenes look at the horse and what he is doing. Let’s use some key metrics:
He hasn’t done a tremendous amount since Listowel. Peter mentioned that he might be a gallop short last week to which the obvious response was “ so why are going all the way and incurring the expense of going to Cheltenham?” Instead, brave as a lion, I said “Oh..ok then” Between you and me, I think this is Peter’s way of downplaying any expectations.
You may not know (I didn’t) that, in order to run in the Cross Country race, a horse has to either have run in a previous X-Country race of, if not, needs to be schooled in front of a BHA (British Horseracing Authority) official before being allowed to take part. He did that yesterday (Wednesday) and passed with flying colors. We expected it as he had been schooled at Peter Maher’s yard in Newbridge over ‘replica’ fences and had had the dubious pleasure of being hunted by Peter. The horse has loved the experience and Peter also got a great buzz out of riding him; even the three days of being unable to move could not take the smile off his face.
He jumped adequately yesterday but today was a whole different story. Richie McLernan came down this morning and he absolutely loved the horse and felt he was a brilliant jumper. He only lives 20 minutes away so Peter asked if he wanted to come over and school early Friday but Richie declined; saying there was absolutely no need.
We don’t think he has ulcers at the moment. Looking back he definitely had ulcer issues at Fairyhouse and Wexford and probably did at Leopardstown; that could explain three of his last four performances.He was clear before Listowel and clear afterwards (much to our amazement) and nothing appears to have changed. Of course, you always worry when you transport a horse such a long way and take them out of their routine but he seems to be in good order. Which brings us on to …..
Listowel continues to confound us. We know it wasn’t ulcers but it was a lifeless performance. Johnny Burke (jockey) felt he might have resented the blinkers but Peter and I think, even if true, there was much more to it. Even when he arrived at the stable yard he was morose and subdued; well before he knew about the blinkers. It was as if he didn’t want to be at the racecourse.
He seemed much better at Navan in an Amateur race when he traveled with his field companion (Conor’s pony), was not plaited and did not have either blinkers or a noseband. Peter will decide what to do tomorrow but, at least, there are no blinkers.
Last night, despite the “ok’ schooling, Peter was not overly happy with the horse and was of a mind not to declare if he came out this morning in the same state. In the event, he was in great form today and Peter said he could not believe the difference in the horse since Wednesday.
The hope/straw that I am clutching at is that he took one look at Cheltenham and decided, like he may have done at Listowel, that he just didn’t want to be there. After a quick school around the different fences and another night in the stables, it was almost as much as if he was thinking: “hey…this is not so bad after all”
He ate up last night (good sign) and seems at peace. We will try and keep it as low key as possible tomorrow and just let him enjoy it.
I could spend the rest of this blog giving reasons why he won’t win but you can do that for yourself. You are less likely to delve into the minutiae of his form to finds little seeds of hope; that is my job and here is what I have come up with:
At his best, he can win. Don’t take my word for it; just see what the Attheraces says about Bay of Freedom using form from the two occasions he has met the 6/5 favorite: Tiger Roll
• 3rd v Tiger Roll (2nd): carries 18lbs less than when behind by 1.25l on 30/10/2017 Wex 23Sft
• 1st v Tiger Roll (3rd): carries 20lbs less than when ahead by 10.50l on 31/10/2016 Wex 23Gd
Of course, Tiger Roll has won over the course and is much more consistent than Bay of Freedom but at 6/5 and 25/1 there is way too much discrepancy in the pricing.
One final random thought about Cheltenham:
I answered the phone this morning: “Hi Paul, it’s Vic from Cheltenham” In my semi-woken state I remember thinking that the only Vic I know in Cheltenham is a bouncer at the Queens and ‘how has he got my number?’ and, more worryingly, “why is he calling me?” I quickly woke up, recognized the pleasant female voice as that of Victoria Bowen-Jones who deals with all owners at Cheltenham. The policy at Cheltenham is that you are guaranteed four badges on entering a horse and a further two if he is declared; or six in total. Victoria was calling to tell me that she had sorted out eight tickets for me and they would be left at the Hall of Fame entrance. She was wonderful to speak to and has single-handedly raised the customer service bar at Cheltenham.
Tomorrow evening we will have a much better idea of future plans for Bay of Freedom. For now, I just hope he rediscovers his love of jumping and really enjoys himself. He owes me nothing, we have had some great days with him and tomorrow is yet another great day. Standing in that parade ring is a dream itself for someone who grew up wanting to become a member; then being a member for 20 years and now, living overseas, having attended every Festival for almost 30 years. It really is the Cheltenham dream!