Cheltenham favourites fail to strut their stuff

An interesting weekend with plenty of Festival 2010 clues at the Paddy Power Open and in Ireland. On Sunday Master Minded, although giving away 10lbs could only manage third behind Well Chief when odds on in the Connaught Chase. This was a disappointing run and suggests that Master Minded has a problem and/or is on the downgrade from his lofty perch as highest rated jumping horse in training. Ruby Walsh had to give him a tug of the reins to the left on several occasions as he lugged and jumped out to the right. All is not well with this great horse. Best available price is now 7/4 but those judges taking these odds after this performance would not make the X-factor panel.

It was great to see Well Chief back in the winner’s enclosure again for the first time since 2007 and whilst this was a good performance I can’t see him winning the Champion at his age and given his history of leg problems. Big Zeb was impressive when winning the Fortia Chase at Navan and jumped a lot better than usual. He has to be a contender but as a 9 year old he would be an older than usual winner. It all adds to my confidence in Forpadydeplasterer being the one for 2010. Generously, Paddy Power still go 16/1 and this is well worth taking if you not already on at the 20/1 advised.

Over at Punchestown, the favourite for the 2010 Champion Hurdle, Hurricane Fly was also turned over at odds on by the impressive Aintree winner Solwhit who has now won six of his last seven races. Unlike, Master Minded though I think Hurricane Fly’s performance didn’t detract too much from his chances at Cheltenham. He was running against older horses for the first time, looked to need this reappearance, made a mistake at the last flight and Paul Townend was easy on him when his chance was gone. He will improve for this and is now a more realistic stand out 11/2 chance with Paddy Power. Solwhit has to be a contender now having beaten the reigning Champion Hurdle winner Punjabi at Punchestown on 1 May and the current favourite today on the same course. Unlike Celestial Halo though, he hasn’t yet run around Cheltenham. My selection Celestial Halo, having been advised here at 14/1, is now down to a best price 8/1 with Ladbrokes, and is still value at that price. Binocular is now the new favourite but he’s a false favourite and I can’t see him maintaining this position for long.

No tips on the Arkle yet but Sizing Europe, Tataniano and Jered all put up impressive trials at Cheltenham and Punchestown respectively. It’s gonna be some Arkle!

On Saturday, Dunguib absolutely dotted up in Ireland and I think this horse is something special. He has a great presence about him and travels so well. It’s going to be fascinating and exciting to see how his career develops. Very short at this stage for the Supreme Novices but 5/2 could turn out to be a value price as it’s quite easy to imagine him storming up the hill to a tumultuous Irish reception at around 1.35pm on Tuesday 16 March 2010.

Finally, I was quite taken by Poquelin’s performance in the Paddy Power on ground he would’ve hated and carrying a fair bit of lead. Given he’s only been raised a pound by the handicapper, there must be a race or two in him and he should also go onto the shortlist for the Ryanair.