Cheltenham Festival: Makounji is the one with sex appeal

IF ANYONE doubts the power of words, consider this. Just two words, and fairly small ones at that, could unleash mayhem in the betting ring at Cheltenham today. Bookies will start doing frantic sums, the tic-tacs' arms will wave like windmills in a typhoon, and punters will reach deep into their pockets for thick wedges of cash. The man doing the talking will be JP McManus, but the great unknown is whether the words will be "Joe Mac" or "Cardinal Hill".

Both horses will go to post for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle in McManus's green and gold colours, and it is unlikely that he will find it any easier than the rest of us to resist a bet in the first race of the Festival. His choice should be obvious within seconds, as one horse charges clear at the front of the market while the other starts to canter in the opposite direction. Many punters will not think twice before sending the money scurrying after JP's.

Success for either could be the first step on the road to hell for the bookmakers. Winnings would be played up on Istabraq, the odds-on favourite for the Champion Hurdle, and above all Florida Pearl, Ireland's great hope for the Gold Cup on Thursday. But it is also worth recalling that even JP McManus does not get it right every time. At the last meeting at Cheltenham, he left pounds 140,000 behind with just one bookmaker after three successive bets failed to oblige.

And while both Joe Mac and Cardinal Hill have been laid out for the race, and probably have a great deal of improvement to come, their odds already reflect the McManus Factor and make little appeal. Joe Mac looked sure to win the Bumper here last year with a furlong to run, but could not get past Alexander Banquet up this hill, which is not what you look for in a second-favourite, while Cardinal Hill's jumping was far from fluent when he was second to the same horse last time out.

Of course, there is no shortage of alternatives. Martin Pipe's Hors La Loi III and his stablemate Auetaler both have good chances on form, although if the latter is anything like his owners, Robbie Fowler and Steve McManaman, he will finish in mid-division.

The best bet, though, is surely The Fly (2.00), who is by some way the most accomplished horse in the race. Third in the 1997 St Leger, he also finished fifth in the Derby, and although he comes to Cheltenham after just one run over hurdles, he has come through many tough battles on the Flat.

"The plan was to give him two runs before the Festival," Barry Hills, The Fly's trainer, said yesterday, "but we've had one of the exceptional wet years of all time, so we've had to make the best of what we've got. He's schooled every week since he ran, and jumped 48 hurdles in practice. He's made the odd mistake, but they've got to make the odd mistake to learn, like everyone else in life."

Hills has not had a runner at Cheltenham since Nomadic Way won the Stayers' Hurdle in 1992. "I'm looking forward to it, it'll do the adrenalin good," he said. "I don't know much about the Irish horses, but we're running a horse with a lot of class who jumps well and will travel well through the race. He's got a very good chance."

His Song will be another Irish favourite in the Arkle Trophy, but he too failed to quicken up the hill here last year. With the ground drying out, he may be beaten for speed by MAKOUNJI (nap 2.35), who gets weight and sex allowances and has more than enough talent to exploit them. Keep some money aside too for Eulogy (next best 3.55), who has slipped into the handicap chase with a very fair weight, and Papo Kharisma (5.05). The latter appears wildly overpriced at 20-1 on his form behind Lady Rebecca last time out.

More racing, page 23

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Executive

£15000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An On-line Sales & Customer Ser...

Recruitment Genius: Accounts Assistant - Fixed Term Contract - 6 Months

£15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the largest hospitality companies...

Recruitment Genius: Electricians - Fixed Wire Testing

£28000 - £32000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: As a result of significant cont...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Advisor

£16575 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An excellent opportunity is ava...

Day In a Page

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth: Would people co-operate to face down a global peril?

How to stop an asteroid hitting Earth

Would people cooperate to face a global peril?
Just one day to find €1.6bn: Greece edges nearer euro exit

One day to find €1.6bn

Greece is edging inexorably towards an exit from the euro
New 'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could help surgeons and firefighters, say scientists

'Iron Man' augmented reality technology could become reality

Holographic projections would provide extra information on objects in a person's visual field in real time
Sugary drinks 'are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year'

Sugary drinks are killing 184,000 adults around the world every year

The drinks that should be eliminated from people's diets
Pride of Place: Historians map out untold LGBT histories of locations throughout UK

Historians map out untold LGBT histories

Public are being asked to help improve the map
Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

Lionel, Patti, Burt and The Who rock Glasto

This was the year of 24-carat Golden Oldies
Paris Fashion Week

Paris Fashion Week

Thom Browne's scarecrows offer a rare beacon in commercial offerings
A year of the caliphate:

Isis, a year of the caliphate

Who can defeat the so-called 'Islamic State' – and how?
Marks and Spencer: Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?

Marks and Spencer

Can a new team of designers put the spark back into the high-street brand?
'We haven't invaded France': Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak

'We haven't invaded France'

Italy's Prime Minister 'reclaims' Europe's highest peak
Isis in Kobani: Why we ignore the worst of the massacres

Why do we ignore the worst of the massacres?

The West’s determination not to offend its Sunni allies helps Isis and puts us all at risk, says Patrick Cockburn
7/7 bombings 10 years on: Four emergency workers who saved lives recall the shocking day that 52 people were killed

Remembering 7/7 ten years on

Four emergency workers recall their memories of that day – and reveal how it's affected them ever since
Humans: Are the scientists developing robots in danger of replicating the hit Channel 4 drama?

They’re here to help

We want robots to do our drudge work, and to look enough like us for comfort. But are the scientists developing artificial intelligence in danger of replicating the TV drama Humans?
Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

Time to lay these myths about the Deep South to rest

'Heritage' is a loaded word in the Dixie, but the Charleston killings show how dangerous it is to cling to a deadly past, says Rupert Cornwell
What exactly does 'one' mean? Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue

What exactly does 'one' mean?

Court of Appeal passes judgement on thorny mathematical issue