Oli Bell’s diary: Power surge
The ITV racing and Racing UK broadcaster tells us what he's been up to this week and looks forward to how the Cheltenham picture might shift this weekend.
Brain Power: Could be the horse coming forwards looking at the Champion Hurdle.
This week so far has been eventful to say the least and with a fascinating weekend ahead at the likes of Newbury and Exeter it will be no surprise to see more drama in the days to come.
Saturday, February 4:
They day began with The Opening Show and this week we were lucky enough to have champion jockey Richard Johnson join us. After Thistlecrack's defeat in the Cotswold Chase, he was quite bullish about Native River for the Gold Cup in March.
Top Notch's display in the afternoon's Scilly Isles Novices' Chase means for me he has to be a massive player in the JLT. He's so nimble and athletic over fences, you'd always want him on your side. He's a really nice horse, not the biggest, but he knows what he's doing. It's going to take a good horse to beat Top Notch and if Yorkhill takes a different route at the Festival then Top Notch is the one to beat in my view.
It's really good to see Daryl Jacob doing so well at the moment. As retained rider to owners Simon Munir and Isaac Souede he's getting some really good rides in the likes of Top Notch, Messire Des Obeaux and Bristol De Mai and he deserves the success he is having.
On Saturday night I dusted off the whistle and flute and went to the boxing to see Chris Eubank Jr win the IBO super-middleweight title in classy fashion. I wasn't sat too far back from the action and given I'm not the bravest in the world it only helped me reaffirm my view that I'm glad I ended up being a racing presenter and not a boxer…
Sunday, February 5:
Sunday was a lot more relaxed, watching some football and then the Super Bowl.
Leicester City were awful against Manchester United and are very much relegation candidates. But the fact that Claudio Ranieri's job is at question is a massive sign that football has gone completely off the mark. He's 7/4 favourite with Sky Bet to be the next manager sacked.
Ranieri guiding Leicester to the Premier League title is as close to Moses parting the Red Sea as we will ever see. Fast forward six months and his job is somehow under threat, which is laughable. Even if Leicester are relegated this season, and relegated again for the next three seasons and end up playing my team, Yeovil Town, in Skybet League Two he should keep his job. If not, I'm sure we'd have him at Huish Park.
With the Super Bowl, I probably did what many others did – went to sleep at half time thinking it was game over, only to wake up a few hours later to recap on one of sport's biggest comebacks.
One of the great stories to come out of the Superbowl involved the tennis player Eugenie Bouchard who was so confident that Atalanta were going to win at half time that she accepted one opportunistic fan's proposal of a date if indeed New England did the miraculous and came back to win. Eugenie is a lady of her word and one very lucky man is now planning a date with one of the world's best tennis players…
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Monday, February 6:
A few people may have seen that I had to break the news to Ruby Walsh live on ITV just moments after he had won last month's Clarence House Chase at Cheltenham that injury ruled Faugheen out of the Irish Champion Hurdle the next day. Well, sadly it was further bad news for Faugheen fans this week with him ruled out of the Cheltenham Festival along with stable-companion and Arkle hope Min. When I heard the news I put a tongue in cheek statement on Twitter: "Someone else can break the news to Ruby this time…". He showed that even in a time of disappointment his very good sense of humour remained by replying with the Chicken emoji!
It has meant the Champion Hurdle has been thrown wide open, but for what it's worth I really fancy Brain Power. He's rated 162, while Yanworth is 164 so there's little disparity in their ratings yet quite a large disparity in price. In my opinion, Brain Power has only just learned to be a racehorse. Trainer Nicky Henderson won't ever go overboard about his horses, but he's working this one with Altior and he has been pretty bullish about this horses ability in pre-Cheltenham comments. In an open race, this good ground specialist may be the improving Champion in waiting.
Tuesday, February 7:
We found out today it will be Altior v Fox Norton in Saturday's Betfair Chase at Newbury. I just can't see anything beating Altior in March's Arkle and although Fox Norton has improved, I still think Altior is a fundamentally better horse – he's a superstar. Sprinter Sacre won the Game Spirit Chase in 2012 before going on to win the Arkle, so Altior is obviously trying to emulate that.
But I think Altior is one of the best two-mile champion horses we've seen, even in this era of Sprinter Sacre and Douvan. Henderson is already getting asked questions about how good he is in comparison to horses of that ilk, and he's having a job hiding his excitement.
Wednesday, February 8:
Despite Cheltenham being on the immediate horizon we do have the Randox Grand National in a few months to look forward to and the ITV team met up with Randox to discuss plans for this year's Aintree showpiece. They are really supportive of the event and I have no doubt that the race is in the right hands with them sponsoring. It will be interesting to see the weights for this year's contest and they will be published next week so keep your eyes peeled for that!
I am of the view that Warwick's Classic Chase winner, One For Arthur, is a big player in the National this year. He jumped like a stag round the Aintree fences in the Becher Chase and is clearly in good form this season following that victory last time out.
Looking forward to this weekend:
On Thursday I'll head into the ITV office to meet Producer Coops and talk through Saturday's Opening Show. Joe Tizzard and Richard Dunwoody are our guests this week, with the latter discussing a new challenge ahead of him in the coming months.
Both Saturday's card at Newbury and Sunday's at Exeter throw up some races to really whet the appetite.
A lot of people will be napping Native River in Saturday's Denman Chase at Newbury, but I was so impressed with Bristol De Mai in the Peter Marsh where he didn't come off the bridle.
He may be a soft ground horse who really thrives in the mud or he might just be a rejuvenated animal. I can just see Bristol De Mai being the horse to beat Native River at Newbury. Richard Johnson will only ride Native River in one way and if Bristol De Mai does everything again in second gear like he seemed to in the Peter Marsh he could stalk and pounce.
That will answer so many questions about the Gold Cup, not just for Native River and Bristol De Mai but for Thistlecrack as well.
Alary gets his second run for Colin Tizzard at Exeter on Sunday, having been pulled up at Haydock on his English debut. I think we still have to really respect what the Tizzards are saying about the horse – he certainly wouldn't be the first French horse to experience a culture shock in his first race over here.
Away from racing, I'm sure all footballing eyes will be on Huish Park and that meteoric clash in Sky Bet League Two. Hopefully the mighty Glovers will be able to pick up the points against a struggling Leyton Orient side and not upset too many accumulators!
Bet of the weekend – Consul De Thaix, Saturday 3.35 Betfair Hurdle, Newbury.
He brings fine recent form into the race, having finished second to Brain Power on his last two starts. Going on JP McManus's record and Nicky Henderson's love for the race, Sky Bet's 6/1 looks an outstanding each-way bet with four places on offer.
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