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It’s the last day, and Gold Cup day, in the Cheltenham Festival 2013, and there are seven more races to make or break our punting weeks.
The last two are extremely hard, so hopefully we’ll find a couple of winners earlier on to mitigate for the unlikelihood of getting out of jail later on!
The better of the two four year old hurdles, and a race which has seen some very good winners in recent years.
Barring 33/1 Countrywide Flame last year, sixteen of the last nineteen winners also won last time out. The other two finished second.
All of the last fifteen winners last ran between 16 and 55 days ago.
Apart from 33/1 Countrywide Flame last year, the other seven of the last eight winners were in the first four in the betting.
In recent times, this has gone to a fancied runner, and it’s long odds-on that that will be the case again in 2013. Quite simply, the three at the top of the market – Our Conor, Rolling Star and Far West – are a fair bit clear of the rest on form, with the possible exception of Mullins runner, Diakali.
Our Conor has been the best Irish juvenile hurdler this year, and is unbeaten in three easy wins, the last in Grade 1 company. He jumps superbly for one so inexperienced, and that lends credence to the notion that he may well have a bit in hand at the end of his races. That said, he’s been doing all his winning on soft ground and, unless the rain comes, he’s to prove he can perform to a similar level on quicker – and he’s a short price so to do.
Rolling Star ambled past the very useful Irish Saint the last day on this track, though that too was a heavy ground effort. Indeed, his previous run in France – another win – was on heavy ground. So this fellow also has to prove his affection for likely quicker turf. His sire’s progeny stats imply he’ll cope fine with it, but it’s always better to have seen that on the racecourse.
The third musketeer at the top of the market is Far West, which is unbeaten in his last four hurdle starts, all on soft or heavy. The merit of his form is not in doubt and he deserves to be near the top of the tree in this, especially after two of his trainer’s horses ran 2nd and 3rd in the Fred Winter on Wednesday.
This trio deserve their places in the market, but they’re all much of a muchness and picking between them is tough. As such, I’d rather find one each way, knowing that if just one of the three under-perform, I’ve a strong place chance.
My value play here is Willie Mullins’ Diakali. Two starts back he made all to slam Fred Winter winner, Flaxen Flare, and was then only five lengths behind Our Conor. Whilst the former line of form shouldn’t be taken too literally (it was a four horse race), it is at least decent form in the context of this affair; and the latter line is strong form.
Five lengths is roughly one bad jump and, with the change in going an unknown for all of the quartet mentioned, it’s far from impossible Diakali could reverse the form with Our Conor. Whether that would be good enough to win this is a separate question, but it ought at least be good enough to see him make the frame.
Lac Fontana is bred for six miles in the mud. OK, slight exaggeration maybe, but I’d be very surprised if this test was up his street.
The John Quinn pair, Hidden Justice and Kashmir Peak, have fairly similar profiles to each other and to the stable’s Countrywide Flame, which won this last year at 33/1 (tipped on this blog).
Of the pair, Kashmir Peak’s good ground form in a Grade 2 gives him a slight nod and, though he unseated last time, he is usually a fair jumper and might be better than the bare form he’s shown so far.
Realistically, this is a three – possibly four – horse race. And, at the prices, I’ll take a punt on the longest of the four.
Most Likely Winner: Rolling Star
Best Each Way Alternative: Diakali
Run over the same distance as the opening race, this is a beastly test of speed hurdling, and is normally won by a young, upwardly mobile type.
The Irish have won five of the last six renewals (!)
Eight of the last ten winners were first or second season novices.
Eight of the last fifteen winners were five year olds.
Thirteen of the last fifteen winners carried 11-01 or less
Twelve of the last fifteen winners were rated 140 or less (two more rated 144 and 145)
Let’s narrow things down a bit. We want a horse with a nice weight, and probably a sub-140 rating. Five year olds deserve a close look especially if they’re Irish-trained (like Final Approach and Silver Jaro in the last five years).
The one which fits the profile perfectly is Discoteca, and he’s the one I like most. We know all about Gordon Elliott’s mastery in Festival handicaps (six of his sixteen runners placed prior to this year, and Carlito Brigante winning. Flaxen Flare also winning this year), so this chap deserves immediate respect.
He’s a five year old, like eight of the last fifteen winners (53% of the winners from just 23% of the runners), and he’s rated 140 with a weight of 10-12 to carry. So far, so very good. And he’s had plenty of match fitness, as was the case with thirteen of the last fifteen winners, who had had between four and ten runs in the past year. Discoteca has run eight times in the last twelve months.
He’s won and run well in soft ground handicaps this Winter, even though there’s every chance his preference is for quicker (both flat wins, and two hurdle wins last year, on good or firmer). That means he’s scope to improve for better ground. His last two runs have been in big field handicaps where he’s finished 42, and I reckon he’s spot on for this. 25/1 looks massive, especially if you find a bookie paying five places.
Of the more fancied runners, it’s easy to make a case for Tennis Cap, who has emphasised his progression by winning three of his last four races, including when beating Discoteca last time. However, that does rather mean he’s shown his hand to the handicapper, and in races such as these, that’s not generally a good thing. Nevertheless, he’s tough, resilient, acts in big fields and in form. But he did get quite well beaten on his only try on goodish ground, and he was a 5/4 shot that day. That would be a worry.
There are obviously plenty of others with chances, but I’m happy to pick from solid ‘profile’ horses at value prices.
Best each way bet: Discoteca
Other of interest: Tennis Cap
All eight winners were NH bred
Seven of eight winners were first or second last time out
Seven of eight winners came from the top five in the betting
A very good staying novices’ hurdle. and a good field for it too. At Fisher’s Cross is the favourite, and a literal interpretation of his beating of The New One makes him mightily hard to beat. Before that, he’d seen off Inish Island (the pair clear, Wednesday winner Medinas back in fourth) here at Cheltenham, and that form looks bulletproof.
The only reservation – and it is significant – is that At Fishers Cross has only raced on soft or heavy ground, and we have to guess how he will cope with this much faster turf. If he deals with it, he’s hard to beat. 3/1 offers at least a modicum of latitude on that score.
Ballycasey is second in here, and he’s another from the Mullins production line. He’s been beating up inferior opposition, and his form to date wouldn’t be as good as the favourite’s. He does have a win on good ground to his name, though, so we can tick that box with him. I get the feeling that his price owes more to connections than form in the book, and whilst he obviously has upside potential, he’s no value at all in a race like this.
We’re then into the realms of each way prices, and Utopie Des Bordes is the sort of girl I like. She’s game, consistent and just keeps on finding. Her form in beating Call Me A Star on good ground is reasonable enough, and her form when beating She Ranks Me is sound. She’s ‘chaser in the making’ material (indeed, she’s already had ten chase starts in France) for next season. Whether she’s good enough for this, I’m not so sure, but she’s a very likable lass.
African Gold has had six runs and only been beaten once, when Anthony Honeyball’s Ballybough Pat (engaged 2.05, Thursday) was too good in heavy ground. He doesn’t tend to win by much which makes it hard to know how good he is. But he does keep on winning, and the form of his last victory over Close Touch received a bumper boost when that one won a really competitive Grade 3 at Sandown last weekend.
The trip is a bit of a mystery – three furlongs further than he’s raced over so far – but he’ll go in the ground and looks nicely progressive, with his last run being his best so far. At around 8/1, and the Twiston-Davies horses running well this week despite virus rumours, he could be each way value.
Of the rest, Mullins’ Inish Island is worthy of note. That he’s won two of his three starts this year draws the eye, as does the fact that’s the ’2′ in his ’121′ form string this season was achieved here, behind At Fishers Cross. But, all of his form is on soft or heavy ground and, unless it’s really testing there has to be a doubt about him replicating that level, which may not be quite good enough in any case.
The favourite has a very good chance if he goes on the ground, and 3/1 is probably quite fair.
Most Likely Winner: At Fishers Cross
Each way value: African Gold
Ah, the Gold Cup. Always a great race, this year will be no different, and it looks more competitive than for some time. Eleven are set to line up, headed by the 2011 Gold Cup winner, Long Run, and the 2012 RSA and Jewson winners, Bobs Worth and Sir Des Champs.
Eleven of the last twelve winners finished first or second last time out
Eight of the last eleven winners failed to run in the same calendar year
The last twelve winners came from the top three in the betting
Ostensibly a competitive Gold Cup, but I’ve long fancied the favourite, Bobs Worth, and I’ve bet him accordingly. In fact, he’s my bet of the meeting, so taken was I by his Hennessy win. It’s instructive to note that in recent times, horses have habitually been winning this race off a layoff, and everything in Bobs Worth’s profile suggests the track absence won’t be a concern.
His RSA Chase and Hennessy form is rock solid, and he’s four from four here at Cheltenham, including in the 2011 Albert Bartlett and – as I say – the 2012 RSA Chase. I think he’ll win.
The chief danger is probably the other unbeaten Cheltenham horse, Sir Des Champs, who is also second in the betting. Sir Des Champs was actually unbeaten in Britain and Ireland before this season, but came unstuck against a match fit Flemenstar on his debut in a muddling race over two and a half miles. Since then, he bungled his way around Leopardstown in the Lexus and yet still finished a three-quarter length fourth; and he then won the Irish Hennessy in boggy ground.
He’s better on quicker, and he’s been trained to the minute for this all season. He has an excellent chance.
If there’s one at the top of the betting I can’t see winning, it’s Silviniaco Conti. I just don’t think he’ll stay this far against the very best. That might turn out to be a bit unfair on a horse which has the highest official rating and the highest Racing Post Rating. But I suspect he’s been favoured by conditions when beating The Giant Bolster twice and Long Run.
Of course, I could be wrong, but this game is about opinions, and mine is he’s under-priced.
Long Run is next and I took a tiny morsel of William Hill‘s ‘Silly Season’ 10/1 each way, more because of the price than because I like him especially. If he were to bash up my (far bigger) bet on Bobs Worth, he’d at least pay for some of the stakes there. Clearly, he’s got the ability to win this – he’s done it already, after all – but I can see him placing again, with at least one of the second season chasing pair of Bobs and SDC being too good.
I don’t get the Captain Chris plunge, and he’s another I’ll happily field against. Basically, he was completely knackered over a slick three miles at Kempton behind Long Run in the King George last time, and he’ll need a taxi waiting for him at the turn in to get up the hill.
He was third in the King George the previous year, then went on to try a race here over three and a quarter miles on his favoured ground. Result? Pulled up. His Cheltenham record beyond two miles reads P4, and he will not stay this trip. WILL. NOT. STAY.
[Cue staying on victory...!]
Three which definitely will stay are The Giant Bolster, Cape Tribulation, and Sunnyhillboy. The Giant Bolster is a brilliant little horse and a flag-bearer for the extremely talented up-and-coming trainer, David Bridgwater. I’ve written about Bridgy’s skills with handicappers elsewhere on these virtual pages, but I think he deserves a hell of a lot of credit for the way he’s handled ‘the Lobster’s’ career.
His jumping has improved with age, and he’s always had a fantastic engine. He was only seven lengths behind Peddlers Cross in the 2010 Neptune, when a 200/1 shot; he unseated early in the 2011 RSA Chase; and then he was a brave second in the 2012 Gold Cup itself. All his chase wins have been on good to soft or quicker, and he’ll have hated the ground all winter.
Now it’s faster, and the trip is longer, I reckon he’s an excellent chance of reversing form with Silviniaco Conti. Whether that will be good enough to trouble the second season boys is another question, but he’s a lovely horse trained by a very smart bloke and I really hope he runs well.
Cape Tribulation is the other horse I’ve backed here, again for not nearly so much as Bobs Worth, but at 33/1. He stays. He has a touch of class (though not as much as plenty of these). And he stays. Oh, and did I mention he stays?
On deep ground, he’d have had a squeak at nicking this. On faster ground, I think he’ll be dropped before picking up again. Whether he can make the frame depends on how fast they go, but he will be finishing best of all, and he’s won his last two starts here (the Pertemps Final and the Grade 2 Argento Chase).
If he’s within six or seven lengths turning in, you’ll get a blinding run for your money. But I’m just not sure he will be that close on quicker turf, alas. He does stay though.
Sunnyhillboy won a handicap here last year, and was then famously nutted on the line in the Grand National. The National will be his target again this term, but plenty of horses have run into the frame here before or after National glory (Mon Mome at 50/1, Hedgehunter at 16/1, to name a couple).
They won’t want to leave too hard a race on him this time, with a short break between Cheltenham and Aintree, but he’ll be sticking on towards the end, and is another with a touch of class and a bucket of guts.
Forget the Prince who is Wayward and the Dude who is, erm, Monbeg. They can’t win, and they won’t win.
Most likely winner (pleeeaaasseee!!!): Bobs Worth
Biggest danger: Sir Des Champs
Each way possibles at a price: The Giant Bolster, Cape Tribulation, Sunnyhillboy
All bar two of the last 22 winners were aged ten or less
All bar one of the last 19 winners had won under rules
21 of the last 24 winners started out in points or hunter chases
I really like Salsify here. I backed him last year and, though I know it’s very hard for a horse to ‘double up’ in this, he has the best credentials again. The ground has come right for him, and with a clear round, I think Rodger Sweeney’s eight-year-old will be very hard to beat.
His early season form was excellent if you think that he hates soft ground, and he’ll improve a bundle on this firmer footing.
Salsify’s key market rival is the horse which came closest to beating him in this last year, Chapoturgeon. I’d suspected he was a non-stayer last year, but he plugged on pretty well there, which gives plenty of cause for optimism if he’s the one you like this year. But I can’t see him getting by the jolly.
Cottage Oak is next, and this fellow has won his last four – two in points and two under rules. He’s sure to stay, goes well on decent ground and therefore has a chance here with his prominent racing style suited to such a big field (and amateur riders).
Backstage hasn’t been seen on a racecourse since pulling up in the Irish National in 2011. He’s won seven straight point-to-points since then, but I’d have loved to have seen him under rules before lining up here. Not for me, on balance.
Tricky Trickster won the four miler here back in 2009, and is still ‘only’ ten. He obviously stays, has course form and goes on the ground. Whether he’s quick enough for this is another question, mind.
You can normally find one lurking down the lists to give a run for the pennies, and this year it might be Alan Hill’s Dante’s Storm. Given a shout by no less a judge than Phil Smith, the senior handicapper himself, Dante’s has distance and ground form, and hacked up from a decent hunter stick in Rumbury Grey last time. He was fifth of 24 in this in 2011 and, while he’s getting on a bit now, aged eleven, he’s a 20/1 shot here.
At a ridiculous price, Benedictus might give a run for fantasist punters. This eight-year-old son of Alderbrook was going like the winner when coming down at the hunter chase meeting here last May over three and a quarter miles. He is a bit of a dicey fencer in truth, and may not be good enough, but he’s improving and stays and goes on the ground… and he’s 66/1!
Most likely winner (please!): Salsify
Obvious danger: Chapoturgeon
Each way possible: Dante’s Storm
Massive priced ‘hope’ job: Benedictus
The boys’ race, as it’s known, is a new contest, and it takes some winning. There have only been four renewals so far, so trends are flimsy at best.
All four winners were second season hurdlers
Look out for Hendo, Gordon Elliott and David Pipe (in his dad’s race)
Three of the four winners were aged six (the other was five)
All four were rated 133-139
This revolves around Gevrey Chambertin, who is a highly weighted class act. He won easily in a Wincanton handicap last time: I was there and I was impressed. I’m not sure he beat all that much there and, whilst he remains a horse of immense promise, this might be bagged by a lower rated (and weighted) nag with more proven tenacity.
The one I like most, and nominated in my ATR handicap piece here, is Edeymi, who was last seen in a two mile handicap hurdle at Leopardstown. About twelth and still pretty much on the bridle at the last hurdle there, he was ridden out hands and heels to stay on into sixth, and should have at least been placed there.
That was off 132, and the UK handicapper shares my view to some degree having whacked him with a 139 here. Still, that might be viable and there’s no doubt that this 2m5f trip is much more his bag than the two miles the last day. My only niggle is that he’s currently due to be ridden by a boy who is yet to win a race, Shane Shortall, and who is extremely inexperienced.
It’s a race with plenty of possibles, as you’d expect for a Festival handicap, most notably perhaps Ma Filleule, Imperial Cup winner, First Avenue, and Toner d’Oudairies, but I’m sticking with Edeymi.
Most likely winner: Gevrey Chambertin
Best value: Edeymi
Each way at a price: Ma Filleule, First Avenue, Toner d’Oudairies
And so to the ‘lucky last’. I can’t remember ever backing the winner here, and in recent years, it’s been very big priced horses which have nabbed it.
The trends are all over the shop for this, and are more likely to lead up a blind alley than to a winner.
Alderwood, winner of the County Hurdle, heads the market, and novices have a fair record too. But this is a race in which I want to take a price and cross my fingers. The horse I’m most interested in is Kumbeshwar, whose Festival record is excellent and whose recent form is too.
He was second in the Fred Winter of 2011 at 33/1, and third in the Grand Annual of 2012 at 25/1. Most of his best form is on quicker ground, and he could just be ahead of his current (granted, higher than a normal Grand Annual winner) mark of 150.
This season he’s been running in Grade 1 company, and chased home Sprinter Sacre three starts back. Again, granted, he was a respectful distance behind that day, but he was closer than Sizing Europe got to Sprinter in the Champion Chase, and I love love love this horse! That Sprinter Sacre is now rated 188, Sizing Europe is rated 172, and Kumbeshwar is rated 150 means I’ve had a decent bet each way.
Old friends, Oiseau de Nuit and French Opera, also line up, as do a bunch of others. But this is a nightmare of a race, and I can’t find a route in aside from old Kumb’y.
Each way at a nice price: Kumbeshwar
And that’s your lot. I do hope you’ve found some winners this week and, more than that, I hope you’ve enjoyed what is a fantastic festival of racing. I’ll be back on Monday with a full review but, right now, I’m off to the pub!