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Tough Veale on menu at Cheltenham Weights lunch…

Oh, how the great and good of racing love a ‘Weights lunch’.

Such grand unveiling of handicap marks used to be reserved for the Grand National weights, but the craze has spread and there is now a big lunch prior to the Cheltenham Festival, which was staged this Wednesday.

Who knows, such is the popularity of these banquets with the hacks, they might stage a weights lunch at the Wimpy on the A1 next year to unveil the weights for the Southwell claimer on Champion Hurdle day?

Anything else would surely be selling the event short…

The point of the Cheltenham lunch was, of course, for the trainers and media to find out what weights the horses will be carrying at the Festival. However, unlike the Grand National weights, there is no ‘Aintree factor’ to consider, so all the British horses were just awarded their current official mark.

However, there was significant intrigue at the lunch, deserving of at least a four-course meal. That related, of course, to what marks Phil Smith and his pals awarded the Irish festival raiders.

In amongst a lot of painting by numbers, there was one rating that possibly left a few present choking on their canapés. The horse in question was Tony Martin’s Ted Veale. This horse will be familiar to punters as he landed last year’s County Hurdle – and he went into pretty much every notebook in the country last time at Leopardstown when he caught the eye having been waited with at the back of the field.

However, Phil Smith’s eagle-eyed team clearly didn’t miss the run either and awarded the horse a mark of 146 for the Grand Annual. That is pretty much in line with his very best hurdles form and is realistically as high as they could have gone for him.

Now, only a fool would write off a Tony Martin-trained horse at Cheltenham, especially one which has been successful previously at the Festival, but a handicap ‘good thing’ he is most certainly not. If Ted Veale is to win the Grand Annual, he will almost certainly have to hit a new career high.

The Festival with no bankers?

At the various Cheltenham Festival previews, one question that is always asked of pundits is for them to nominate their Festival ‘banker’.

Personally, I’m struggling to find a big-race favourite I really like. Hurricane Fly looks vulnerable to younger legs, Quevega hasn’t been seen for a year and recently had a setback, while Sire De Grugy may not be ideally suited to Cheltenham. Big Buck’s too looks opposable after a below-par defeat last time and Bob’s Worth, solid as he is, makes little appeal at the current prices given the level of his form this season.

Punters should not despair, however. In what looks a particularly open Cheltenham Festival – perhaps the most open ever – I think you will see plenty of bookmakers sticking their chins out with generous prices and offers in an attempt to attract business. It may be harder to find winners this year, but there will definitely be plenty of value around for punters.

Cometh the hour, cometh the Man

One of the stories of this year’s Dubai Carnival has been just how well the Irish-trained horses have performed, with high-profile wins for the likes of Eastern Rules, Russian Soul, Elleval and He’s No Saint.

But, the British horses have enjoyed success too and the terrific Medicean Man is starting to become a bit of Dubai legend after recording his third success there yesterday. It is one thing landing a $100k handicap with an exposed eight-year-old sprinter, but to do it twice within the space of seven days is remarkable.

It is true that the Dubai handicapper gave the Jeremy Gask-trained horse a decent chance yesterday by allowing him to race off a lower mark on Tapeta, but the step up to 6f and the new surface were significant question marks, which the horse overcame with ease.

Medicean Man now heads to Dubai World Cup night where he is likely to contest the Al Quoz sprint, a Group 1 over 5f. It is probably asking a bit much for him to win at Group 1 level against the likes of Sole Power, but in his current form, there is a decent chance that Gask’s old favourite could run into the places.

Sign up to the Coral Champions Club for a special Cheltenham offer

If you aren’t already a member of our terrific FREE racing club, then now is the time to sign up. Next Tuesday (March 4th), we will be emailing all Champions Club members with a special ‘members only’ enhanced price at the Cheltenham Festival. I can’t reveal the horse at this stage, but can guarantee that it will be a top name at a very generous price. You can sign up now for free at coralchampionsclub.co.uk.

WEEKEND NAP – WHISPERING WARRIOR (5.10 Lingfield)

Whispering Warrior returns here after a break, but there are reasons to think that David Simcock’s gelding can land a sixth career victory. This son of Oasis Dream has won off a long lay-off previously and he was a highly progressive horse last season.

His record over this course and distance is two from two and although he races from a career high AW mark of 91 tomorrow, he has the services of apprentice George Buckell, who can take off 7lb.

Buckell is still relatively inexperienced, but he has got the hang of riding this track this winter and he has been seen to particularly good effect on Club House, on which he has won twice and placed three times here. If he can ride with similar confidence on Whispering Warrior, then he has a decent chance of landing his biggest winner to date.

WEEKEND NEXT BEST – GLASS OFFICE (3:55 Meydan)

With the jumping programme feeling relatively low key in advance of Cheltenham, some of the best weekend action takes place at Meydan. One horse I’m really interested in is Glass Office.

David Simcock’s colt ran an excellent fifth in the Wokingham last season and shaped like a future Group winner when fourth behind Moviesta at Goodwood. Back in handicap company tomorrow, he might just have a bit too much class for these rivals.