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From The Dragon’s Mouth: James Lovell Column #2

I’m glad to report that after what seems like 384 days of January, we’re now into February and the Six Nations is finally here.

With the winter frost beginning to ease, I was back on track doing what I love most last weekend: bookmaking on-course – and as an added bonus that course was Cheltenham.

It was a nine-race marathon, but the card felt like a real festival warm-up with eight previous festival winners set to hit the track.

It had the feel – and in many ways it turned out this way – of a day that was going to make or break some big reputations.

I’d said in this piece last week that the horse I was looking forward to taking on was Paisley Park.

The success or failure that opinion was always going to shape the day. If he won it would have been beans on toast for dinner.

It turned out it was more steak and red wine after the horse never got into contention.

It wasn’t all plain sailing, though. After three races I was well behind. Comfort Zone followed up his Chepstow success as the 2/1 favourite in the Triumph Hurdle Trial but even with the obvious upward trajectory the horse is showing he’s not one I’d want to be backing come March.

It was the fourth race that brought a smile to the betting ring (well at least on the bookmaking side of the fence.)

The hotpot of the day and hot favourite for a repeat success in the Queen Mother Champion chase – Energumene got turned over at odds of 1/2 with a reported bet of £750,000 (not taken by me I might add.)

Since then the race has brought a further smile to my face with connections of the Energumene blaming defeat on the new white trim on the fences, which had been changed from orange since his festival success last term.

If that’s the reason for the loss then I’m the Queen Mother herself!!

Looking forward to this week I’ll be pitching up my tools at Hereford on Sunday. It’s not a course I have the best record at but I’ll be doing my damnedest to make sure I turn a profit.

Before that though, Saturday sees the start of the Dublin Racing festival at Leopardstown and again it’ll have a huge effect on the coming Cheltenham Festival markets.

So, here are my suggestions for value this week:

  • It would be a shock to see Gallopin de Champ being beaten in the Gold Cup but with the odds being so prohibitive it does open up the opportunity for some each way value.

The bumper race at 4.40 will certainly cause a shake up. The winner is likely to go straight to the top of the Cheltenham market.

  • I’ll be watching Fascile Mode with great interest, his only previous win was at the track and the way he ran to the line that day suggested to me he’s a horse that could be a bit special.
  • Prior to the Irish Gold Cup, is the Arkle Trial. At the top of the market is Appreciate It, who I’ll be taking on. His hurdle form is excellent, but I just haven’t been overly impressed with his jumping.

If the rain forecast for Dublin makes the ground a bit sticky then as a bookmaker I’ll be looking to lay at short odds.

  • In the rugby this week, the start of the Six Nations is often the week when favourites stumble.

It’s not only a sense of patriotism that makes me think backing Wales with 6.5 points start may be worthwhile at home to Ireland.

With Warren Gatland back, and the Principality Stadium bouncing, Wales may be a decent bet.

  • For similar reasons, the football fixture that interests me is Cardiff City away to Hull.

I think the appointment of Sabri Lamouchi as the new Bluebirds manager makes it easy to believe his players can dig in for a draw.

Hopefully I’ll see a few of you at Hereford, in the meantime enjoy the rugby Pob lwc and don’t go backing too many winners with us!

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