CHEPSTOW, WALES - DECEMBER 27: A general view as runners make their way to the track at Chepstow Racecourse on December 27, 2022 in Chepstow, Wales. (Photo by Alan Crowhurst/Getty Images)

The Sun Is Back, Cheltenham Is Coming, And All Is Right In The World

From the Dragon’s Mouth

DragonBet on-course bookmaker James Lovell gives the inside track on Welsh sport – what’s hot, what’s not, and who’s the talk of the betting ring.

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 Cheltenham on my mind. Where there’s spring and Cheltenham, there is hope. And I’m hoping to be a millionaire by the time the Festival is over.

Last week, I had the pleasure of going to meetings at both Ffos Las and Chepstow. Neither had huge crowds and it feels as though racing – like every industry – is being squeezed by the cost of living crisis.

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

At Ffos Las, there was a horse I was keen to take on, Three Cliffs Bay, trained by Evan Williams, who was the favourite for the bumper race.

The reason I wanted to take him on was because I had seen him slip up at Chepstow on Welsh Grand National day, when there was loads of money on him.

He’d come down from 20/1 to 5/1, so I was watching him pretty closely that day because it could have been an expensive race.

But he slipped on the track and fell.

Then, I noticed he was entered relatively soon afterwards at Ffos Las, so the stable think a lot of him and there’s obviously talent there.

I spoke to Evan before the race, who said it was all about getting the horse back out there. So, that gave me a bit of encouragement to try and take him on.

He came in third, which meant I enjoyed a decent enough day.

On Friday, I went to Chepstow where the crowd seemed to have been affected by the rail strikes, but it was still a very good day’s racing.

Chepstow always feels like home, we have been in that betting ring for many decades as a family, so I was in a buoyant mood to take on a horse called Spirits Bay.

You find a lot of short-priced favourites get beaten in the bumpers at Chepstow. Duc Du Rene had a lot of money on it and he was well up there when lightning struck twice and he fell around the same place as Three Cliffs Bay had fallen.

Perhaps there’s an issue with the ground at that part of the course, but whatever it is I’ll be looking to take on Duc Du Rene the next time he runs.

Trainers are creatures of habit and if easing him back 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 keeping an eye on it for the time after that.

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, like they do at Cheltenham, then the people will come.

Dublin looked like it was bouncing and the crowds were 25 per cent British.

As a bookie, it was interesting that although Galopin Des Champ won the Irish Gold Cup, he had to really dog it out.

As a bookie, you are always looking for chinks in the armour of any horse. We know this horse can make the trip, but he’ll be around 6/4 come the Cheltenham Gold Cup, so there won’t be much value there.

So, I’ll be looking forward to laying him on the day, even though he might be the most likely winner.

State Man looked very good in winning the Irish Champion Hurdle, but will he beat Constitution Hill at next month’s Champion Hurdle? Not for me. He’s good, but he’s not Constitution Hill good.

This week, I’ve got my eye on the Denman Chase at Newbury. Denman, of course, was famously owned by one of the great characters, Harry Findlay, who I shared lunch with last week and who I’m happy to say is joining us on March 10 for our Cheltenham preview night.

Hitman is the race favourite and again, I’m looking for cracks, chinks to exploit. He bled (burst a blood vessel) last time out and that makes me think he’s maybe vulnerable.

He’s a class horse, but he’s fallen once in his career, so I’ll be looking to take him on.

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

There was a bit of hope for me, though, in Wales’ second-half performance and with Scotland’s record of often being unable to back up a big win, I fancy Wales at Murrayfield with a 6.5 point start.

In the football, there’s probably a decent bet in backing poor old Cardiff City not to score at present, but if you want to bet positively then it has to be Wrexham.

They’re at home to Wealdstone on Saturday and at the Racecourse Ground at present, they look simply unbeatable.


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