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From The Dragon’s Mouth: James Lovell Column #3

The sun has re-emerged on weekday afternoons, the days are getting longer, and the daffodils will soon be bursting into bloom.

Yep, spring feels just around the corner and that means I’ve got nothing but Cheltenham on my mind.

Where there’s spring and Cheltenham, there is hope. They say it’s hope that kills you but I’m hoping that this year that’s not true.

Last week, I was standing at meetings at both Ffos Las and Chepstow. Neither had huge crowds and it feels as though racing – like every industry – has tough times incoming.

It’s up to everyone to make sure the sport stays accessible, affordable and attractive in difficult times.

My Ffos plan of attack, was to take on, Three Cliffs Bay, trained by Evan Williams, who was the early favourite for the bumper race.

He’s a horse that has come into my focus after there was heavy market support for him on Welsh National Day at Chesptow .

Backed from 20/1 to 5/1 he was a significant ‘bogey’ in the book, having traveled well and pulling well clear of the field bar one other runner, he slipped and fell on the flat.

It’s clear he’s a horse of obvious potential and that means the yard were never going to be too hard on him come the relatively quick re-appearance.

Three Cliffs Bay ended up running a decent enough (what you might call confidence boosting) race finishing third. He certainly one to put in the notebooks and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him winning some decent prizes as his career develops.

Friday involved a trip to Chepstow, it’s a course that always feels like a home fixture with my family having been working in the betting ring there for over half a century.

The crowd wasn’t excessive and I have to remind myself on days like this to not get overly involved and not overly exposed with liabilities.

Despite that, I do like to have an idea of the races to be more aggressive on and bumper races at Chesptow fit that mould. There’s been a lot of hearts broken and fingers burnt backing short priced jollies in these races so for that reason the lay of the day was Spirits Bay.

Early morning traffic on the DragonBet site for a few other horses including Duc Du Rene (again trained by Evan Williams) gave me the added confidence that there was going to be realistic opposition.

In a strange case of deja vu Duc De Rene slipped and fell on what appears to be the same part of the track. Spirits Bay was nowhere.

With trainers being creatures of habit and if easing back in was the priority for Three Cliffs Bay, then Evan might well take the same view when Duc Du Rene returns.

So, I’ll be laying it the next time it runs, but prepared to back it on it the run after.

Racing might be feeling the pinch here, but we have to keep the faith that better times are round the corner – and underpinning that faith was the Dublin Racing Festival last weekend.

There were record crowds at Leopardstown, it looked a terrific buzz, and proof to me that if you have high quality horses, low entry prices, and don’t charge seven or eight quid for a pint of Guinness in a plastic glass, then the people will come.

Dublin looked like it was bouncing with plenty of Brits having made the trip across the Irish Sea.

Galopin Des Champ won the Irish Gold Cup, and for the first time in his career he had to really dog it out. The question marks about him staying the trip seem to now to have disappeared but he was more brave than breathtaking and I’ll be happy to lay him at short odds come the Big Race at Prestbury Park.

State Man looked very good in winning the Irish Champion Hurdle. There’s no question he is good, but he’s not Constitution Hill good! My other take was that Blue Lord really needs a step up in trip and would be a real contender for the Ryanair if they go down that route.

This weekend, I’ve got my eye on the Denman Chase at Newbury. Denman, of course, was famously owned by one of the great characters, a man who famously lost £2.5 Million when France beat the All Blacks in Cardiff during the 2007 World Cup – Harry Findlay. We shared lunch last week and I’m happy to say he is joining us on March 10 for our Cheltenham preview night (I’ll let you know more about that next week.)

Hitman trained by Paul Nicholls is the race favourite on Saturday and as always, I’m looking for cracks, chinks and reasons to take these horses on. Having disappointed after bursting a blood vessel last time out and previously falling or jumping poorly in past races I feel there’s enough questions marks to justify sticking my neck out and standing him for more than the usual.

In the rugby this week, like every Welshman I’m still licking my wounds after what happened against Ireland in the Six Nations opener.

However, again that awful thing hope reared it’s ugly head after Wales’ second-half performance and with Scotland’s record of often being unable to back up a big win, I could easily be talked into backing Wales at Murrayfield with a 6.5 point start.

In the football, there’s probably a decent bet in backing Cardiff City not to ever score a goal again in the league and you won’t go wrong backing Paul Mullin blindly to score goals for Wrexham.

Whatever happens this weekend I’ll be hoping I avoid a Hitman knockout on Saturday.

Pob lwc whatever and wherever you’re punting.

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