It seems, dear reader, that everyone has a 'Cheltenham Banker' come mid-March, and most of them get rolled over... so it might be strange for me to flag up a banker fully two and a half months prior to the big meeting... but you already know I'm a bit strange! 😉
So, without further shilly-shallying, let's get on with it.
The last nine winners, and their best run prior to January, look like this:
|Year||Winner||Best Run Prior To January|
|2009||Master Minded||1st G1 Chase (Tingle Creek)|
|2008||Master Minded||2nd G1 in France|
|2007||Voy Por Ustedes||2nd G1 Chase (Tingle Creek)|
|2006||Newmill||3rd G1 Hurdle|
|2005||Moscow Flyer||1st G1 Chase (Tingle Creek)|
|2004||Azertyuiop||2nd G1 Chase (Tingle Creek)|
|2003||Moscow Flyer||1st G2 Chase|
|2002||Flagship Uberalles||1st G1 Chase (Tingle Creek)|
|2000||Edredon Bleu||3rd G1 Chase (Tingle Creek)|
[Remember, foot and mouth disease claimed the 2001 Festival]
We can see then that the Tingle Creek is THE key prep race, with 6 of the 9 Queen Mother Champion Chase winners finishing on the podium in the Sandown heat. Note, though, that three of those podium finishers failed to win at Sandown before triumphing at Cheltenham in the biggie.
Let's now look at the Queen Mother Champion Chase winners' best run the previous season:
|Year||Winner||Best Run Season Prior|
|2009||Master Minded||WON Queen Mum Chase|
|2008||Master Minded||Won Auteuil 4yo Chase|
|2007||Voy Por Ustedes||WON Arkle|
|2006||Newmill||Won G2 Novice Chase|
|2005||Moscow Flyer||Won 3 G1 Chases|
|2003||Moscow Flyer||WON Arkle|
|2002||Flagship Uberalles||1st G1 Chase (Tingle Creek)|
|2000||Edredon Bleu||2nd Queen Mum Chase|
Unsurprisingly, all won (including Eddie Bleu, whose best run was actually a 2nd place finish in the previous QM Chase). Four of the nine had won at the previous year's Festival, and seven of the nine had prior course and distance form (note, I am including both old and new courses here, so it's not technically all CD form).
|2007||Voy Por Ustedes||French||5-1||Yes||6|
Interestingly, perhaps, we note that all of the victorious nonet were French or Irish bred.We can also see that eight of the nine won at odds of 5-1 or shorter, and 7 of 9 were 6-9 years old.
Actually, age is interesting as follows:
Only French breds have won aged 7 or younger since 1997; and only French breds have won aged 6 or younger, EVER!
It should also be noted that, although dear old Well Chief will be 11 next March, Moscow Flyer scored for this veteran bracket back in 2005, so it can be done.
So that's the stat attack - but what does it all mean?
Well, applying the numbers to the nags produces the following:
|7-4||Master Minded||Won QM x 2|
|10-1||Twist Magic||Fell twice, 6th of 8|
|10-1||Kalahari King||2nd Arkle|
|10-1||Big Zeb||Fell only try|
|16-1||Well Chief||1st Arkle, 2nd & Fell QM|
|33-1||Petit Robin||3rd QM last season|
|33-1||Planet Of Sound||3rd Arkle|
|Odds||Horse||Tng Crk 123||Age '10||Fr/Ire?|
|7-4||Master Minded||No||7 French||Yes|
|10-1||Big Zeb||No (4th)||9||Yes|
|33-1||Petit Robin||No||7 French||Yes|
|33-1||Planet Of Sound||No||8||No|
Master Minded is justifiably favourite, as a two time winner of the race, and current Champion Chaser. But he was less imperious last season than in 2008 (not saying much maybe, as his 2008 triumph was one of the most visually stunning performances I've ever seen!), and he was beaten in a new race at Cheltenham in November.
That race, the Connaught Chase, featured four of the first six home in the 2009 Champion Chase, and it was Well Chief who prevailed. We can expect a much more match-fit Master Minded in March, but this run was disappointing nevertheless. The fact that he was also beaten by Mahogany Blaze, who is a good enough stick, but limited at the top level, says a lot too.
It should be noted that he's only been beaten in UK on his first or last runs of the season, which bodes better for MM fans. He might well win again. But 7-4 is not for me thanks.
Moving down the card, and they then bet 10-1 (top price) each of four: Twist Magic, Kalahari King, Big Zeb, and Forpadydeplasterer.
Twist Magic is a marvelous horse at Sandown, as he again proved when winning the Tingle Creek. However, his Cheltenham performances have been, umm, less sparkling. Two tumbles and a tailed off does not a Champion Chase winner make. A place lay for me come the day...
Kalahari King was just touched off in last season's Arkle, and is relatively unexposed. The problem is that he hasn't run this season and may not run before February. That can't count in his favour, and nor from an ante-post perspective can the fact that the Ryanair Chase has not been discounted yet.
Too many question marks to make him a betting proposition.
Big Zeb is a swerve as well. This horse makes mistakes, especially in top class races where he's not able to dominate. His only Grade 1 chase wins were in Ireland in a novice and a very soft looking Leopardstown affair. I liked his chance last year, and he let me (and, more notably, himself) down with more dodgy jumping. The way he bungled his way round Sandown behind Twist Magic was further fuel to an already over-heated fire. Readily passed over.
Which leads us onto Forpadydeplasterer. The only horse to have ticks in all boxes, he's got CD form having won last season's Arkle (as did Voy Por Ustedes, Azertyuiop and Moscow Flyer first time) ; he was second in the Tingle Creek (as were Voy Por Ustedes and Azertyuiop prior to winning at Cheltenham); he'll be an eight year old next season (which is the optimum age - three 8yo's have won in the last nine years, more than any other; and ten since 1985, way more than any other); and, he's Irish bred.
Forpady runs best on decent ground, which he's quite likely to get for the Festival (trainer Tom Cooper was quoted as saying that he hated the going at Sandown behind Twist, and it was only guts and determination that kept him in the runner-up berth).
As if all that wasn't enough, he's certain to run in the Queen Mum (barring accident or injury), and his chase record is two wins and six seconds from eight starts.
That number of silver medals has to be a concern, but it's worth noting that his two chase wins were the Arkle where he got his preferred ground, and a very soft novice event on debut over fences.
He's 10/1 pretty much everywhere, and all firms go 1/4 the first three, so a tenner each way would return Â£35 for a place. I can't see him being out of the frame (though I could see him chasing one home), and I've backed him accordingly.
Of the others, Well Chief is loveable in the extreme. In my experience, 'loveable' horses tend to be expensive to follow, as when I backed him in the 2008 renewal where he bailed at the second fence as the even money favourite. I wasn't gloating about my 2/1 voucher any more... He could win, but there are too many negatives (including the fact that he's got glass shins) and he might not even make it to Chelts.
Barker is the 'dark horse'. He's got no Cheltenham form - in fact, he's got very little form. He does have a cut and dried verdict over Forpady, though again the ground would have been against my boy and in favour of the plumper of the Two Ronnies... Moreover, he's never raced outside Ireland, and his Topspeed figures give him an absolute mountain to climb. Too dark - don't believe the hype.
Petit Robin and Planet of Sound round out the top mob in the betting, and the former was third in the race last year. He's in the right care (Nicky Henderson), is the right age, a French bred (won the last three, and four of the last six), and has scope for improvement.
The 33/1 is certainly tempting with the slight caveat that he was withdrawn from both the Tingle Creek and the Peterborough Chase in recent weeks. Still, he's been close to Master Minded twice, and has a bronze medal from last year's Champion Chase, so 'double carpet' may represent very good value.
Planet of Sound is a British bred, which is a negative in the race in recent years; was beaten over five lengths in the Arkle by Forpady; and he's been racing over further than two miles, suggesting the Ryanair Chase may be the Festival route.
Most Likely Winner: Master Minded (7/4, no bet)
Best Each Way (nap): Forpadydeplasterer (10/1, most firms)
Best Long Shot (e/w): Petit Robin (33/1, Stan James, Ladbrokes)
I'm finally back in dear (c)old Hackney, after my sojourn in the States. That was truly an amazing experience, and I'm very fortunate to have crafted a business that allows me to operate anywhere on the planet (as long as there's mains electricity and internet capability - oh, and ideally beer and horse racing!).
When time permits, I'll write up my journey for any of you who are interested (no problem if you're not, it's obviously off topic). But, as a reminder of just how long I was away - six and a half weeks - I've finally managed to get the Breeders Cup video onto youtube. It was a very big file and kept crashing out on me, but it's up there now, and you can view it - should you so wish - by clicking the box below:
[SIDE NOTE: if you're not fussed for the US National Anthem, you can move the time slider from 1:24 to 2:52... All American viewers are honourbound to listen to the full video ;)]
As wonderful a trip as it was, it is fantastic to be home, despite the temperature differential (from 25C to 0C is a bit of a shocker), and despite my bags failing to arrive with me for the THIRD time during my travels (unbelievable).
I'm really looking forward to getting back into the equine swing of things, and have lots planned for next year. In fact, next year, I will be embarking on an additional new role, where I'll be offering some of you the chance to follow in my virtual footsteps (or, more correctly, fingersteps) and start your own business online.
If that might be something of interest to you, look out for more news early in the New Year - and if it's not of interest, don't worry, I'll still be offering my thoughts on racing, races, and racing systems (because that is my true passion; although running an internet business is becoming quite a consuming pastime too!)
Many thanks to those of you who applied for the Irish racing article writer role. Your time and effort in applying is very much appreciated. I'll be going through your submissions over the next couple of days, and will be in touch with all of you to personally thank you and to let you know how things will move forward.
Applications are no longer needed, so if you didn't email me already, there's no need to now.
Finally, I've news of the Geegeez geegees.
Obvious had her first run after a three month injury break last Friday, and it would be true to say we were all rather disappointed. She was going very well at home and, despite it being a weak looking contest,Â she was well beaten.
I was traveling so unable to be at the track, and it subsequently transpired that she had a very bad four hour journey in the horse box, due to snow and ice. When she got to Southwell, she got very upset as well. Some of you may have noticed her drift on Betfair, and I imagine the two events were related.
As if that wasn't enough, her usual jockey, Amir Quinn, was also struggling to get to the track due to the weather. In the event, we had a claimer on board, and he put Obvious into a six-way battle for the lead. She was very stressed already, and gave best quite rapidly.
The long and short is that a) her handicap mark will diminish as a result of this, and b) she is better than she showed.
Her next race is likely to be mid-January, and we will hope for considerably better.
Baggsy, our other club horse, continues to train up after a slight knock from her last race, and she's being aimed at a race in mid-January as well, probably at Lingfield. This will be her third run in a maiden, after which the handicapper will pass his verdict and we'll see what happens after that. We're very hopeful of finding a race (or two) with her, as the winter progresses.
Finally, Night Orbit is doing great. He was pulled from the Ascot race last Friday, and is instead entered at Wincanton on Boxing Day. It's a qualifying race for the Pertemps Handicap at the Cheltenham Festival, and the dream at this stage is to be present as an owner at that great meeting. Running placed or winning is too much to hope for probably, but just being there will be amazing. Fingers, toes and other appendages are firmly crossed.
That's all for today and, as there's nowt to note between now and Boxing Day, I'll be taking a few days off from the blog (busy working on those other things I've mentioned in recent posts), but will be back before the New Year.
In the meantime, please accept my very warmest wishes to you and your families for a
VERY MERRY CHRISTMAS