Barry Geraghty, jockey of Epatante, second right, goes on to win the Champion Hurdle on day one of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham, England, Tuesday, March 10, 2020.
Barry Geraghty, jockey of Epatante, second right, goes on to win the Champion Hurdle on day one of the Cheltenham Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse, Cheltenham, England, Tuesday, March 10, 2020.|Simon Cooper | PA via Associated Press

Garrity searches far and wide for action and picks the Cheltenham Racing Festival in England

Chris Garrity

These times remind us of a horse race from Mountaineer Park a few years ago. It was the Mountaineer Marathon, and Peter Berry, who calls the races at Mountaineer (he's a terrific racecaller and an even better guy), watched as a horse named Feodor started running away from the field. "This is the biggest win I've ever seen at Mountaineer," Berry said. Then, as Feodor opened up a bigger lead down the stretch,he added, "It might be the biggest win I've ever seen anywhere.... it might be the biggest win anybody's ever seen anywhere!" Feodor's official margin of victory was 50 -- count 'em, 50! -- lengths.

This came to mind when we thought about the world that the coronavirus has wrought: a landscape will all sports cancelled is something that nobody alive has ever seen. Baseball? Cancelled. College and pro basketball? Cancelled. Hockey? Cancelled. There's probably a tiddlywinks tournament somewhere that has been cancelled as well. It might be the strangest thing anybody's ever seen anywhere.

Horse racing, when it comes to the fallout from this pandemic, is uniquely positioned in the sports landscape. The people who work there still have to go to the track, as the horses need 24-hour care, and as long as the workers are already there, there is zero risk in running the races. The main impacts we will see are grandstands closed to the public, and restrictions on shipping horses from one track to another. But we expect the races themselves to go on.

And who knows -- maybe racing can pick up a few new fans from people who are dying for something to watch. Which is where we come in: we're going to be posting more for as long as racing is the only game in town. While we will continue our usual handicapping posts, which run Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Saturday, we're going to add a second type of post, which will be geared toward people who know nothing about horse racing. This is the first one of these. Unlike the usual handicapping posts, where we assume readers have at least a fundamental understanding of the game, here we will start from zero, as it were. We will try to bridge the biggest barrier that horse racing faces, which is getting people to understand what they are watching when horses run in circles on their televisions. And if you want to have a flutter while doing it, even better.

We will start today with some racing that is absolutely worthy of attention: the Cheltenham Racing Festival in England. These are jump races, where horses run long distances and jump over fences, and they are a big deal: in all of British jump racing, only the Grand National, which is one of the world's great horse races, gets more attention than Cheltenham. The Festival itself is four days long, with half of the races Group 1, the highest grade there is. Friday is the last day of the festival, so if you're reading this, you're just in time.

We'll start with a good one, the Group 1 Albert Bartletts Novices' Hurdle. It's a steeplechase that is is three miles long, a true test of stamina, and it is the third race on today's Cheltenham card. Post time is 10:50 am Eastern time. It will take the field between six and seven minutes to negotiate the course, which is a long time for a horse race, but we find the action of the race, the horses jumping over fences and negotiating the undulating turns of the course, to be oddly enthralling, so even the long ones go by quickly for us. They're fun to watch,

There's a big field in this one, with nineteen runners, and it's easy to get lost in a field that big. But there's a runner we like, the delightfully named 12-Monkfish. He's a 6-year-old Irish-bred gelding who has won his last two races by eye-popping margins, beating the field by 20 lengths last out, and he has shown that he can handle a soft turf course, which is what he will get at Cheltenham today. It's a step up in class for him, but we think he can handle it, and we think he's worth a wager. We will bet him to win at 9/2. The bet: Cheltenham, Race 3, $30 to win on 12-Monkfish.

The other Group 1 on today's Cheltenham card is Race 4, the Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase. It's 3 1/4 miles, and post time is 11:30 am Eastern. This race is a big deal: it's about as good as it gets for jump racing. It is a terrific culmination of the four-day festival at Cheltenham.

There's a more manageable field in the Gold Cup, with only twelve runners, and we fancy a French-bred: it's 4-Clan des Obeaux. He's an 8-year-old gelding who had mixed results last year, but who showed his current form by winning the Group 1 Ladbrokes King George VI Chase in December, a race he won by 21 lengths. He showed a devastating late move in that race, which shows that he's in razor sharp form, and we think he's going to win the race. At 7-1, he offers good value, so we will bet him to win. The bet: Cheltenham, Race 4, $40 to win on 4-Clan des Obeaux.

That's all for now. Enjoy the races, and, as always, good luck at the windows.

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