Cheltenham Festival 2024: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2024: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Day Two. Wednesday. The second half of the first half and a day when, seemingly, it has rained since time immemorial. After a full on drenching last year, the action may again be played out under sullen skies and over sodden swards. Be that as it may, we have a second septet of compelling skirmishes, each one an opportunity to play up - or down - our tank. Vamanos!

1.30 Gallagher Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m5f)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno.

Ah, the Ballymore Baring Bingham Gallagher Novices' Hurdle. Fair play to the new sponsors, who stepped in at the eleventh hour to support this race and who, I trust, got a commensurate discount as a result. It's a disappointing reality that sponsors are hard to come by at the pinnacle event - certainly the one where those hawking products and services can expect the most eyeballs and, therefore, traction - in the sport. By my count, and there might be reasons unknown to me for why they're not, none of the National Hunt Chase, Grand Annual, County and Martin Pipe have a sponsor. Crikey. Anyway, the Bally... Baring... Gallagher does, and good luck to them: they're an insurance company and Jockey Club supporter lest you didn't know.

Down the years, this race has been more of a kingmaker for the Champion Hurdle than the Supreme in spite of that one's recent alumnus Constitution Hill flying the flag for the day one curtain raiser. Gallagher simply looks at Ballyburn and says, "hold my drink"...

There is little doubt in anyone's mind that, prior to the 2024 Cheltenham Festival, Ballyburn brings the best novice form. His pre-race RPR is 7lb superior to anything else in this race and 10lb clear of the top rated in the Supreme (Slade Steel, who he comprehensively beat last time). Five runs to date (six if you include his easy point win) have yielded two bumper scores, latterly at the Punchestown Festival, and, though beaten on seasonal debut by Firefox, he's since won a maiden (by 25 lengths from a good horse) and the Grade 1 two mile novice at the Dublin Racing Festival, by seven lengths and with another seven back to the third. He's got an almighty engine on him, and seems to be pretty versatile ground wise; the trip is fine and he can lead or race handily; and he's jumped very well in the main.

The only slight reservation I can think of - and it is really slight - is that he's not had to jump a hurdle at the business end in his last two races; so while he's been well on top each time, we don't know how he hurdles under pressure. I expect he'll be fine, but I don't know.

A better question might be to ask which horses can put him under pressure, so let's posit that one. Ile Atlantique, another Willie entry, was outstayed by yet another from Closutton in Readin Tommy Wrong in the G1 Lawlor's of Naas over two and a half last time. Tommy heads for the Albert Bartlett, rightly so as his effort in Naas was very much one of a stayer. It is often said of the Gallagher that it's more of a speed than a stamina test, with runners tending to settle into a steadier rhythm than, say, the Supreme - a two mile burn up from flag fall. That being the case, Ile Atlantique's two mile tactical speed could be valuable, though he's only run once over timber prior to his defeat last time. That was a maiden hurdle which he won by 19 lengths, beating little of consequence. He looks to have a good bit to find, though it's possible that he will locate at least some of the form deficit with Ballyburn for his ultra-shrewd owner, Tony Bloom (pictured above).

Predators Gold is a horse that interests me. He's a son of Masked Marvel, a sire I've bet on being 'the coming man' of the NH stallion ranks by acquiring and syndicating an expensive yearling filly with 50% his genes! It'll be a few years before we find out how good she is, and in the meantime I've become a full-time cheerleader for the Marvel behind the Mask. He's pretty good is this lad in spite of silver medals the last twice. Those were both in G1's, at two miles and then two and three-quarters, and this slight drop in trip on presumed slightly better ground could be the happy medium he seeks. In truth, I don't think he can beat Ballyburn - he's a touch more exposed than a couple of others in here - but he's a good chance of being on the podium again. Does it go without saying that he's a 42nd string to the wildly hirsute Mullins bow?

Best of the British could be Handstands, for Ben Pauling and former Gold Cup sponsor Tim Radford. He is an unbeaten domestic, defending a point and three hurdle scores, the most recent of which was in the Listed Sidney Banks at Huntingdon, where he beat the previous Grade 1 winner and subsequent Grade 2 second, Jango Baie. That form reads pretty well for all that it's probably a dollop below the pick of the Irish team. Still, he has very clear potential and might come out as the top home team runner (if you like sound bites, his trainer has apparently suggested Handstands is better than Willoughby Court, who won this race in 2017).

Nicky Henderson has Jingko Blue, three times a runner and twice a winner to date. A non-standard prep has seen him eschew Graded action in favour of a Class 3 handicap last time out; he fair bolted up there, seeing his official rating balloon from 124 to 140 in the process. Even allowing for the further progression that leap implies, he still has something like a stone to find with Ballyburn. And soft ground may not be in his favour, though the jury remains out on that score.

Willie has the outsider Mercurey, too, this one running in the Mr Blobby / Susannah Ricci colours. He's stepping up half a mile in trip and, by Muhtathir, that doesn't look the most obvious manoeuvre (that's easy for me to spell!). So far he's been beaten in two maidens before getting off the mark in a third such race, and that doesn't fit with this race. I can't see him at all.

Jimmy Du Seuil was picked up for €200,000 in October 2022 and then we didn't see him for more than a year - amazing how often that happens with Willie runners - before he just failed to reel in stablemate Asian Master in a maiden hurdle. He was the evens favourite that day so clearly felt to be at a good level, and he made no mistake a month later in similar company.

Having written about these two horses, I was curious as to how Willie's maiden winner to Grade 1 hurdlers have performed. In 2008, Fiveforthree bridged that class chasm as a 7/1 chance in the Ballymore - now Gallagher - i.e. this race. And in 2022, The Nice Guy did likewise at 18/1 in the Spuds race. Thirty others tried and failed, though you'd have got paid out on at least six of them for a place. In other words, market wise, they've probably fared no worse than any other Willie cohort; which is to say losing a little bit over time and the real longshots don't win.

Gallagher Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

More Willies out front than a Festival urinal, and one of them will tow Ballyburn into the race if he doesn't make his own running.



Gallagher Novices' Hurdle Selection

I am not going to be especially creative here. Ballyburn can lead or follow, handles the ground, has won at the distance, generally jumps fluently for a novice and has the best form. What's not to like? Again, he's not necessarily a bad price even though he's a short price. I like Predators Gold but not to beat the jolly.

Suggestion: Back Ballyburn or just watch the race.

TIX PIX: 'A' banker and maybe couple of C's

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2.10 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 3m)

Previewed by Gavin Priestley,

All of the last 14 winners were rated 144+.

All of the last 14 winners had raced 2-5 times over fences.

All of the last 14 winners had run in the previous 25-80 day period.

All of the last 14 winners had finished top 3 on their last start (when completing).

All of the last 14 winners were aged 6-8yo (10/13 were 7yo's).

All of the last 14 winners had won over hurdles from no more than 10 hurdle runs.

All of the last 14 winners raced over 2m4f-3m last time out.

All of the last 14 winners had raced 6-16 times under rules in their career.

13 of the last 14 winners ran in a Grade 1 or Grade 2 race last time out.

13 of the last 14 winners had finished top 4 in all completed Chases.

10 of the last 14 winners had raced at a previous Cheltenham Festival.

All 27 horses fitted with headgear have been beaten this century.

The last mare to win the RSA was way back in 1981 (all 10 female runners this century have finished unplaced).

None of the last 14 winners had run on the flat.

A disappointing turnout for the race and yet again we have a Willie Mullins odds on favourite, Fact To File, to contend with but this time he doesn't quite tick all the trends boxes due to him going straight from NH flat races to chasing without running, and therefore winning, over hurdles. Although it's only a small chink in his profile it does give us some hope that we can get one of these Mullins hotpots beaten.

Paul Nicholls' Stay Away Fay won last year's Albert Bartlett Hurdle and has had a great start to his chasing career winning his first two and then running the race of his life when a close third in the Cotswold Chase last time out. Racing against hardened, more experienced chasers he battled all the way to the line to get within 3 1/2 lengths of the Grade 1-winning Mullins chaser Capodanno and last year's Brown Advisory winner The Real Whacker. Back down to novice company he should go well but wearing headgear is a big no no in the Brown Advisory and I don't like that Nicholls is reaching for the first time cheekpieces here.

If you take that pair out of the race there's very little to separate the other four runners on ratings so I'm going to take a big chance on the outsider of the field GIOVINCO who was a perfect 3 from 3 over hurdles, including a Listed win, and has done well over fences except a surprisingly poor run in the Kauto Star Novice Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day when racing on good ground. He'd previously been only 1 1/2 lengths behind Stay Away Fay on softer ground at Sandown where he travelled strongly through the race before being continously hampered by a loose horse around the 3rd last fence. He still cruised upside the eventual winner as the pair jumped the last and kept on nicely up the run in but wasn't quite able to keep a straight line and keep tabs with Stay Away Fay in the last 100 yards. He had his warm up for this when cantering home in a two-runner Limited Handicap at Newcastle, against a rival receiving 19lb, and I think he has every chance of outrunning his odds here. I just wish we had eight runners for that 3rd each way place.

Brown Advisory Chase Pace Map

An even pace likely, with Stay Away Fay expected to have his own way in front.

Brown Advisory Chase Selection


TIX PIX: A's, B's and C's

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Festival Trends


2.50 Coral Cup (Handicap, Grade 3, 2m5f)

Previewed by David MasseyFor me, this year’s Coral Cup has been about one horse for quite some time now, and more to the point, whether he’d get a run. For a long time I thought he wouldn’t; then the confirmations were made, and I thought he had a chance, and as it turns out, Doddiethegreat (for it is he) has made it with a bit to spare. What were you worrying about? 

One maxim I always have in racing is this; if they’re brought back after a long absence, there’s usually a reason why, and for all that Doddiethegreat has the Scottish Champion Hurdle as the longer-term target, that doesn’t mean he can’t win this en route; and ever since his Betfair fourth he’s looked just the type to give Nicky Henderson a fifth win in the race. 

After an easy score at Ascot following two years off the track last November, he showed he had retained all of his ability when second to Go Dante over 2m1f here in December, form that’s worked out well, not least from the winner who bagged the Imperial Cup at the weekend. He improved again when fourth in the aforementioned Betfair Hurdle last time, not getting the best of luck in the run but staying on strongly after the last and looking for all the world like a step back up in trip would suit. 

He has already won a novice hurdle over 2m5f at Kempton back in 2021, and ground doesn’t seem to bother him. There are many ticks in boxes when looking at his overall profile, and it’ll be a big disappointment - mainly in terms of my ante-post bets - if he can’t go close. 

If he blows out, then what else? Well, classy types have a decent record in the race and Ballyadam, despite the steadier of twelve stone, has bundles of it. He’s also got Festival form, which is never a bad thing, having finished fifth in the last two editions of the County Hurdle, and I do feel this intermediate trip could be ideal after finishing third to Irish Point in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown last time. A hard task off top weight, but definitely one for those exacta and trifecta mixes. 

Doddiethegreat might be Nicky’s main hope, but I’d not be dismissive of First Street either. Whilst we know him best as a two miler these days, he stayed this sort of trip earlier in his career, and he has won a handicap off a 3lb higher mark back in 2022. He’s run respectably against both Lossiemouth and Constitution Hill this year and comes into this off the back of wind surgery, something he seems to need fairly regularly; but he has won after the procedure before, and the way he’s finished off over hurdles on each occasion this year has suggested he requires this step back up in trip. Another class animal with the right sort of mark from which to go well. 

Others to consider for placepot and exactas/trifectas include Langer Dan, reigning Coral Cup champ and now back to that mark after some down-the-field efforts over trips too short, in the main; Sa Majeste, for so long one of the talking horses; and, at a bigger price, Supreme Gift, who has been chasing for much of the season but, back over hurdles at Ascot last time, went down fighting in a ¾l defeat: third home Astronomic View was an easy winner at Warwick on Sunday, so the form has had a boost. The visor, on that day, is retained, and Harry Cobden is hardly a negative either…

Coral Cup Pace Map

Bound to be a nice bit of pace on, and should be fair to most run styles.

Coral Cup Selection

Back Doddiethegreat at 7/1 with as many places as you can find (six generally, Skybet eight but a point shorter as I write).

TIX PIX: A's, B's and C's

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3.30 Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno.

A Champion Chase that has been El Fabiolo's to lose for much of the season. And in the absence of his Closutton mate and reigning champ of the past two years, Energumene, he shows at odds on to register a third victory in a row for that man Mullins, who - let's not forget - had never won the QMCC prior to 2022. More sobering for those taking the short odds is that he'd saddled three odds on favourites, and six priced 9/2 or shorter.

Remember the brilliant Un De Sceaux? Beaten at 4/6 for Willie in 2016. The mighty Douvan? Fell at 9/2 in 2018, when Min was only second as a 5/2 shot, and - worse - 7th in 2017 as a 2/9 chance. Then, more recently, Chacun Pour Soi was returned 8/13 but could only return to the 3rd place area in the winners' enclosure. Since then, Energumene was sent off at 5/2 and 6/5 in his two recent winning years.

So has Willie now found the key? Or should we be wary of quotes of around 1/3? Well, the answer is possibly yes to both questions. A casual glance at El Fabiolo's form, which reads 121111111, four of them Grade 1's, might be enough for the less curious to conclude 'case closed'. There is, however, a small niggle...

We need to talk about El Fab's jumping. It's pretty clumsy and there's no getting away from that fact. If you don't believe me, I've copied the in-running comments from his six races over fences below. He's won them all, but that might be something to keep in mind if you're tempted to pile in at cramped odds.



In opposition are the usual suspects, pretty much. Jonbon heads them, as he did the rest of the field in last year's Arkle where he was five lengths second to El Fabiolo. After that, he won four on the spin, three of them Grade 1's, before coming surprisingly unstuck at 1-4 in the Clarence House Chase, diverted for the second year in a row to Cheltenham after Ascot was abandoned. His in-running comment that day was prefaced with "didn't jump well", a feature too of his most recent quartet of races. The surprise winner that day was Elixir De Nutz, a likeable and oddly progressive ten-year-old, who had previously been pulled up and midfield in the last two renewals of the Grand Annual: that hardly screams Champion Chase contender. But he has won three of his last four, each time when eschewing his customary front-running role (indeed, when leading early over fences he's won one from ten; when racing prominently early over fences he's four from six - you'd think someone would have mentioned that to connections...)

I mean, I expect this to be well run and the top two in the market - who are clearly the best two horses in the field - have had persistent jumping frailties. While they're comfortably the most likely pair for the exacta, that's not the way to bet.

Last time out, Edwardstone looked a new man under revised tactics. Sent forward in the four-runner heavy ground Grade 2 Game Spirit he barreled clear by 40 lengths from Funabule Sivola. Quite apart from the small field and deep ground, that result is flattering because Boothill looked booked for a certain second, within ten lengths or so of the winner, when ejecting two out. Connections mentioned after that 28th career start, Edwardstone's first as a ten-year-old, that they'd worked out how to ride him. What the... fertilizer? In any case, that chat is patent hogwash as a record of four wins from six completed starts - including the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase - when racing prominently asserts. Further, he won the Tingle Creek (G1) when held up so, you know, it's not about the run style, is it? That said, such a sound bite implies he'll want to go forward here and he is unlikely to be alone in that desire.

Getting back to Newbury, and that form line has a dubious look to it; the remainder of Eddy's 2023/24 catalogue is probably a fairer reflection of where he's at: he was twice second to Jonbon before failing to stay two and a half miles behind Banbridge. In his defence, he's the most consistently good jumper of the first three in the market. But I can't really see it.

Who's left? How about Henry de Bromhead's Captain Guinness? HdB is the best trainer at the Festival in recent years - yes, even better than Willie in my opinion - and this lad has strong place prospects. Second to Energumene twelve months ago - Edwardstone tailed off as second favourite, Funambule De Sivola failing to complete - he finished last term getting close to Jonbon in the Celebration Chase at Sandown. He's been campaigned seemingly with this in mind all season: after a G2 win on debut in November, he was pulled up (post race clinically abnormal) at Christmas in a Grade 1 before running on from an impossible position in the Dublin Chase behind El Fabiolo last time. I expect him to be ridden a little closer here, and to benefit from a rapid tempo, and I think he has a decent chance of making the frame. And, if jumping is the watch word, who knows?

That leaves Gentleman De Mee, perhaps the most likely pace angle. The second runner for Willie Mullins and a second for JP McManus, this lad beat Edwardstone in the Maghull Novices' Chase (Grade 1) at Aintree two years ago and won the G1 Dublin Chase of 2023, too, so he's got plenty of class. Both of those top level scores were on the soft side of good, though it might be a lot wetter here. I just feel that, if Edwardstone also goes forward, and with any or all of Jonbon, Elixir De Nutz, Funambule Sivola and El Fabiolo snapping at his heels, he's going to be vulnerable in the last quarter of the race.

All in all, it's a fascinating renewal of the Champion Chase, and one where jumping could well decide the outcome.

Champion Chase Pace Map

Gentleman De Mee looks the most likely to take them along, with Edwardstone also expected to go forward. Elixir De Nutz could press, too, ditto El Fab or Fumble de Siv. I think they'll go quickety quick.


Champion Chase Selection

As mentioned, this revolves around jumping and the unconvincing athleticism of the front two in the market. El Fabiolo is clearly the best horse in the race and, if avoiding serious error, should win. But given that eight of the eleven horses sent off at odds on in the Champion Chase this century have been beaten (5/6, 4/5, 4/5, 4/6, 2/9, 2/5, 8/13, 5/6) I'm looking to back a horse each way. It's unlikely that neither of El Fab and Jonbon will fail to complete so we're probably playing for minor money; but in that context I want to oppose Edwardstone and play Captain Guinness. I feel it might set up for a midfield runner to close into tired horses and he could get into the first two, and then who knows?

Suggestion: Back Captain Guiness each way at 16/1 or so.

TIX PIX: A with couple of C's

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4.10 Glenfarclas Chase (Cross Country, Class 2, 3m6f)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno. Sadly, this race has been abandoned.

The Glenfarclas Chase, a cross country event contested around three ever-decreasing circles before spinning off up the straight of the main track is not everyone's cup of rosy, it's fair to say. Me, I love it, which is not to say that in recent times I've been especially successful at finding the winner. The nature of the race has changed: inaugurated as a handicap in 2005 it graduated to a conditions event in 2016 since when its become a very happy hunting ground for former - and in some cases still - high class chasers.

We're talking the likes of Cause Of Causes, Tiger Roll, and Delta Work, all of them 'medalling' in the Grand National subsequently. And all of them trained by Gordon Elliott (by proxy in one case), a man who trained a National winner before he'd trained a winner in his native Ireland. His horses jump and stay.

Delta Work is the reigning champ, having retained his crown a year ago, and bids for the three-peat (as they say across the pond - yuk). He's knocking on a bit now, eleven years young, but that didn't stop his mate Tiger Roll from bagging his own hat-trick (that's better) at the same age. When Delta Work won this last year he prepped with a 13 length 6th of eight in the Boyne Hurdle at Navan; this year he's prepped with a 15 length 6th of eight in the same race, so we all know where we are with him. He handles wet ground fine - it's wetter on the infield track than the Old and New Courses - and knows his way home blindfold around there.

But there's a ton of back class in the field this time headed by Gold Cup winner Minella Indo, and Savills and National Hunt Chase winner Galvin. Add in this year's Troytown and former Thyestes Chase winner Coko Beach and a raft of credible place contenders at least and it makes for what is very likely the deepest field in Glenfarclas history.

Minella Indo won the Gold Cup in 2021 and was second a year later; pulled up in the Blue Riband twelve months ago, his sights have been lowered considerably and he had a reconnaissance visit in the December handicap over track and trip. There he conceded a stone and a half to Latenightpass but was beaten only five lengths or so. He'd started out this season winning a Grade 3 at Punchestown but was last of the four in the Grade 1 at Down Royal after which this new plan was hatched. He stays well, has class and is proven at the track and the Festival.

Galvin probably doesn't want it too wet. Most of his best form is on a sounder surface, as when fourth in the Gold Cup two years ago; but he's raced mainly on softer recently. Indeed, he was second to Delta Work in this race a year ago and was down the field in the two handicap chases over the track/trip late last year. Sent off 10/3 favourite for the November edition, he was never put into the race; but he did run a little better in the October variant, finishing a place and four lengths behind Minella Indo. This has obviously been the plan all season but I'm not at all sure he can bring his A game when water wings are needed.

One who loves it deep is Coko Beach. He's officially top rated in the line up, on 161, and this season has run 3rd in the Munster National, won the Troytown, been 2nd in the Becher Chase and bolted up in the PP Hogan Cross Country Chase at Punchestown. He stays well, jumps well and handles most ground; the only thing I don't like about his profile is that it's a very un-Gordon Elliott prep for the race! That said, Tiger Roll came to the race in good form when winning his second Glenfarclas in 2019, but it's a weird niggle I can't quite shake. He's taken a few of my quids nevertheless.

Foxy Jacks has run cross country here three times and failed to get round twice, though he did win on the other occasion! That was in the November handicap last year in which the heavyweights Delta Work and Galvin both went missing, presumed not off. The winner that day was in receipt of a stone but faces those old foes off levels here. He's not for me, thanks, and nor are any of the others. Stattler, representing Willie Mullins, might take a few betting pounds but his trainer is 0 from 15, four places, over the Festival banks and barrels.

Of the remainder, I'd give Waldorf more chance than Stattler, and the rest just need to keep out of the way by and large.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Pace Map

Something at a big price will lead the dawdle until the third lap, at which point the class horses will pull on their running spikes and clear away. I think.



Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Selection

Gordon Elliott has won six of the last seven (one of them under the pseudonym Denise Foster) Festival cross country races and has an iron grip on a bid for a seventh. And yet it's Henry de Bromhead who saddles the ante post favourite, Minella Indo. He's highly respected but not as much as Elliott's dominance - as well as six from seven winners since 2017, he's also saddled four of the second placed horses, a quite phenomenal record. Choosing between his entries is not easy and Delta Work might well be the one. But I've been drawn to Coko Beach, still relatively young at nine and in the form of his life. He's no longer an each way price so I hope he'll go very close to winning.

Suggestion: Try Coko Beach at around 4/1 in a cracking renewal.

TIX PIX: A's only

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4.50 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m)

Previewed by Rory Delargy. Two things to have uppermost in your mind regarding the Grand Annual are that the going is likely to be testing and tacky and that the switch back to the Old Course means that it is a kinder race for prominent racers, whereas the stiffer New Course was a benefit for hold-up horses (who can forget Paul Carberry on Bellvano).

There are lots of poorly handicapped horses in this race and it’s not hard to whittle the field down to horses well enough treated who can cope with the conditions and the Cheltenham fences. The significant gamble that such an approach rules out is Harper’s Brook, who is rated one of the best bets of the Festival by a couple of people I respect, but while he’s a talented horse, he strikes me as one of the very WORST betting propositions of the week.

Firstly, it’s well established that for all his talent he is ungenuine and has twice pulled himself up in front after trading at 1.01 on Betfair. I napped him on the latter occasion, so am unlikely to forget it. What really puts me off Harper’s Brook is his record at Cheltenham where he has raced four times without beating a single rival. I’ll be mildly surprised if he finishes the race and stunned, I tell you, STUNNED if he manages to win. I will have to lie down in a dark corner for quite a long time, in fact. A long time.

Saint Roi bids to become the seventh horse in Festival history to win a handicap over both hurdles and fences, but for a horse who was briefly ante-post favourite for the Champion Hurdle a few years back, his record since his County Hurdle win is disappointing, and his only win in his last 18 starts came back in December 2022. He’s capable of getting placed, but too expensive to follow.

Madara rates a mention as a progressive 5yo with a 3-3 record on testing ground, and he went to Ireland to spank the local handicappers at the DRF. I’m not dead against him here, but all the talk about his chances ignores the fact that he’s not only gone up 10lb for that win against largely unconvincing rivals (there really isn’t a great deal of depth to the two mile chase scene in Ireland beyond the top-class runners), but he is now not eligible for a juvenile allowance. That allowance was 6lb when he won at Cheltenham two starts back and still 3lb at Leopardstown but has now been eroded entirely. It won’t stop him, as such, but he’s effectively 19lb higher than when beating In Excelsis Deo two starts back, and I don’t think it has been factored into his price.

The two I like most are Libberty Hunter and Hardy du Seuil with the former looking really solid in the conditions. He would be unbeaten over fences but for overjumping on debut at Chepstow and has added wins at Wincanton and on the New Course here, beating Arkle hope Matata by a length in a 2m handicap in December. Those wins have come on heavy and soft ground and he coped well with the jumping test when scoring last time. Harry Cobden takes over from regular pilot Adam Wedge and that looks no negative, with the handicapper unlikely to have caught up with the son of Yorgunnablucky, who was bred by the shrewd Brian Eckley, who trained Libberty Hunter to win twice in bumpers before he was bought on behalf of the Ruckers for £160k.

Hardy du Seuil is lightly raced over fences having switched back to hurdles last season, but he has some solid form, and very much caught the eye when staying on into third behind Etalon at Sandown last month on his first start since April 2023. He was noted by m’learned friend Mr Massey as looking big and well (ie not yet fit) at Sandown, and he has a good record on his second start after a break, winning on his second start for Jamie Snowden over fences, and finishing third and first having needed his return last season.

His mark of 132 is 3lb lower than when an excellent second at Kelso on his penultimate chase start since when he has scored over hurdles, and the only time he’s been worse than second on soft ground since his debut came when a respectable seventh in the Imperial Cup last spring, with lifetime figures reading 22221723.

Grand Annual Pace Map

Always run at a harem scarem pace, and often suiting those not too far from the teeth of it, you may not want your pick to be too far back.


Grand Annual Selection

Suggestions: Try 13/2 Libberty Hunter, or 14/1 Hardy du Seuil
Suggested Place Lay: Harper’s Brook

TIX PIX: A's, B's and C's

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5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1, NH Flat, 2m 1/2f)

Previewed by John Burke, Just when I was anticipating diving into the Coral Cup or the Grand Annual, Matt presents me with the Champion Bumper! However, upon closer inspection, it seems more like a handicap in terms of the betting.

The Festival Bumper is a good example of race trends evolving, and the trend is away from big-priced winners. Four of the last five winners were returned 7/2 or shorter and the outlier was the 11/1 Willie Mullins trained Ferny Hollow ridden by Paul Townend. All the last ten winners of the Champion Bumper where LTO winners and all of them were aged five or six.


A maximum field of 24 horses are set to compete in this year's renewal. Despite previous trends favouring shorter-priced horses, this year's contest appears to be wide open. The absence of a standout bumper horse from Ireland contributes to the race's unpredictability, reflected in bookmakers offering odds of 6/1 for the entire field at time of writing (Tuesday morning).

Willie Mullins fields the favourite, Jasmin De Vaux, who showcased promise with a victory at Naas on his stable debut in January. Partnered again by Patrick Mullins, he's expected to perform well. Mullins also saddles Cantico, ridden by stable jockey Paul Townend, who cruised to victory at Navan last month.

Gordon Elliott's contender, Jalon D'oudairies, boasts an unbeaten record in two bumper starts and is considered a strong prospect for the race after a victory at Leopardstown last time. He’s got a big chance. Elliott also saddles Romeo Coolio, an impressive debut winner at Fairyhouse who looks an exciting prospect for staying hurdles next season.

You Oughta Know, also trained by Mullins, heads the Racing Post Ratings but faces stiff competition from other contenders.

Fleur Au Fusil won a Naas bumper on racecourse debut and followed up in a Grade 2 mares bumper at Leopardstown last month. Given how keen she was it was notable that she was able to finish off her race as strongly as she did at Leopardstown. It’s not a total surprise that Mullins opts to apply the first time hood on the mare.

Among the British challengers, Teeshan from Paul Nicholls' yard showed promise with a victory at Exeter last month, while Ben Pauling's Sixmilebridge impressed on his stable debut at Sandown. Though primarily seen as a hurdling prospect for the future, Sixmilebridge shouldn't be overlooked in this race.

Champion Bumper Pace Map

Pinch of salt pace map...



Champion Bumper selection

It looks a minefield to be honest with most of the field potential improvers.  Fleur Au Fusil caught my eye with her recent Leopardstown victory, but she'll require the hood to help settle her if she’s to get home, although the faster race tempo should also help. Both Jalon D'oudairies & Romeo Coolio, trained by Gordon Elliott, stand out as strong contenders, and it's difficult to choose between the two. Teeshan appears to be the top choice among the British runners and can secure a place, or even victory, in the race.

In the end I'm wavering between Jalon D'oudairies and Teeshan, but I've settled on the former. The 13/2 available looks fair in a race which I have priced up at 6/1 the field.

 Suggestion: 0.5pt win - Jalon D'oudairies


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Cheltenham Festival 2024: Day One Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2024: Day One Preview, Tips

We're back! The 2024 Cheltenham Festival is here, and I can't wait! Finding winners will, in the main, be tricky; though value is lurking everywhere. The job of our race previews will be to combine those two challenges to try to give you something to cheer and something back at the end of it. I've asked a few smart judges to help me with the previews, so as well as a trio of races each day from yours true, there's one daily preview each from our own David Massey, plus Rory Delargy, Gavin Priestley and John Burke. All the fun of the fair - let's crack on!

1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 1/2f)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno. The big roar that accompanies this race sometimes feel like a racecourse full of punters has been holding its collective breath for 361 days (or 362 this time around). And the traditional curtain-raiser is usually a very satisfying conclusion to the prior hiatus, pitching together a raft of exciting unexposed types all with even grander aspirations down the line.

In the recent past, the Supreme has not been the Irish benefit it might appear at first glance. Yes, Barry Connell won it last year with the sadly absent from the Festival this time Marine Nationale, but before that Nicky Henderson prevailed in both 2022 and 2020 - and 2016 - and Tom George took the major honours in 2018. Odd years Ireland, even years UK? Probably not, but that's a nice symmetry to remind us that the domestic runners have performed well in recent renewals.

Since 2011, 0nly the very talented monkey Labaik won this without having also scored the time before, and he was 25/1 when the tapes rose (he should have been almost that price to actually jump off). You're not getting north of 4/1 about Firefox who was similarly vanquished the last day. Of course, his supporters will protest that he was up half a mile in trip and didn't stay; maybe that's right, and his form at this range - notably when beating the presumed superstar Ballyburn the time before - stands very close scrutiny for all that it was 'only' a 24-runner maiden hurdle. Let me put it another way: while it won't necessarily stop him winning, Labaik is the only horse this century to win the Supreme having finished further back than third on his prep run. If you still like Firefox (I do, just not his price), you may be heartened to know that he, like Labaik, is trained by Gordon Elliott.

Willie Mullins naturally saddles a phalanx of blue bloods, and his first choice normally wins. Indeed, going back to Ebazayin, a 40/1 scorer for Mullins in 2007, that was his only - and therefore first choice - entry. He's since won another five Supremes, each ridden by the stable jockey (Ruby four times, Paul Townend once). That Paul has opted for Tullyhill is a potential red herring this year because Mystical Power has a retained jockey - and there is nothing to separate them in the market as I write (Sunday afternoon).

Mystical Power runs in the green and gold of JP McManus, but is co-owned by Susannah Ricci and Mrs John Magnier. He's by Galileo out of the star mare Annie Power, which perhaps explains the ownership triumvirate - or at least two-thirds of it. He's three from three to date - a bumper, a novice at the Galway Festival, and the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer in January. Winners of the Moscow Flyer include Douvan, Vautour, Min, and more recently Impaire Et Passe. While the form of this season's renewal has yet to be franked, Mystical Power bolted up by seven lengths and he is yet to be extended.

Closest to A Dream To Share in last year's Grade 1 Punchestown bumper was Tullyhill, who got off the mark at the second time of asking over timber having been second on debut at odds of 1-8. Ouch! The bridge jumpers knew their fate early, mind, as he overraced from the start, jumped poorly throughout and was spent by the second last, eventually beaten a whopping 24 lengths that day. Of course, that effort was all wrong as he showed when waltzing home by seven in a maiden field of 25 next time, and more materially when dotting up by nine in a Listed novice on heavy ground last time. That form is questionable in the context of a race like this, though he beat Jigoro by slightly further than did Mystical Power, and he couldn't really have won any more easily.

If you liked Ballyburn for this, his representative is the Henry de Bromhead-trained Slade Steel, who was third and second to the Gallagher Novices' Hurdle favourite in a bumper and a Grade 1 novice hurdle respectively. De Bromhead has ostensibly a poor record in this - though a great record at the Festival - but closer scrutiny reveals that of his eight previous runners, Captain Guinness was brought down two out when still tanking along, Ballyadam finished second, and Inthepocket was fourth, all since 2020 and from just four entries. Henry is perhaps the best target trainer of all in recent Festivals, his hit rate at the last five being a scarcely believable one in seven.



A bit of a wise guy horse on the preview circuit has been Mistergif, another Willie wunner, this one in the double green of Munir and Souede. Rated 75 or so on the flat in France, he failed to win in nine starts before trying hurdling. Under the new code, he was fifth in a Listed race on his debut and then second in a conditions event, both at Auteuil; but the horse that beat him on that final French start is zero from five (fallen three times, third once) since. True, since transferred to Closutton he's won his maiden by a street, but again that form looks shallower than the toddlers' end at your local baths. He's pretty exposed is this chap and he's shown very little. Of course, he can win, but there's now't in the book to say he should.

Let's go back to the Brits and those even numbers. Nicky Henderson bids for a 2020/22/24 treble with Jeriko Du Reponet, in the same McManus ownership as Mystical Power. Winner of his point by 11 lengths from The Other Mozzie, a relatively modest chap under Rules to this point, he was a big talking horse before making his debut at Newbury at the start of December. He won there, and twice subsequently, but without looking a star on any of those occasions. That said, the most recent effort was in the Grade 2 Rossington Main where the horses beaten into second and third ran 1-2 in the G2 Dovecote next time; that adds some much needed ballast to Jeriko's form.

On numbers, the Seven Barrows runner has plenty to find; but when we consider that Nicky also had second placed Jonbon behind Constitution Hill in 2022 and third placed Chantry House (and fifth placed Allart at 33/1) behind Shishkin in 2020, as well as third placed Buveur d'Air behind Altior in 2016, it's fair to say that he has unleashed some serious horsepower in the Supreme. In fact, overall, 17 of Henderson's 32 runners in the race finished in the first three - take that, Willie! There's a leap of faith required with this chap that there isn't with some of the Irish Grade 1 horses but that's reflected in their respective odds. One does need to keep a weather eye on the yard's form, however, as there have been a fair number of P's on the recent Hendo score card. He hasn't had a runner, let alone a winner, since 2nd March and has just one entered pre-Cheltenham, at Plumpton on Monday.


What about Tellherthename for Ben Pauling? It's at this time of year that we hear plenty of "the best I've ever trained" bluster, and Pauling has gone on record as naming this fellow in that category. The son of Malinas, a £200k purchase at Cheltenham this time last year having won his Irish point, was a close second on debut behind the subsequent Grade 1 winner Jango Baie, and followed that up with a 14 length verdict over Lucky Place, who went on to narrow Grade 2 defeat subsequently. Clearly not right when reopposing Jango Baie in that G1 he was pulled up on the soft ground there before beating the syndicate horse Dartmoor Pirate into second at Huntingdon last time. The Pirate has since run a mighty fourth of 17 in the famously competitive EBF Final last Saturday, with Pauling novices filling out the first two places there! Tellherthename was withdrawn from the Betfair Hurdle on account of the ground and connections will want it to dry out as much as possible for their charge. With the forecast being for persistent drizzle and light rain, official going of soft is a very short price. That would have to count against this lad.

One who would be right at home in the mud and at a massive price, too, is Favour And Fortune, second in the aforementioned Aintree G1, and a winner on heavy previously. He was just touched off in a muddling three horse race last time (heavy) with this tempo expected to be more his metier. He was thumped in the Champion Bumper here a year ago (soft), however, so just might not be good enough.

I'm struggling to make a case for any of Kings Hill, Supersundae and Gold Dancer. The latter pair are both trained by Willie Mullins and both came with ostensibly good French form. Gold Dancer could conceivably step forward significantly from his first run for his new trainer but he'd very much need to.

Supreme Novices' Pace Projection

Closutton holds the key to the pace. Mistergif led on his sole Irish start though that was a maiden hurdle only, while Tullyhill has led the last twice. Firefox has also led in two of his last three, likewise Tellherthename. Even to fast looks the most likely pace setup on the scant evidence we have.



Supreme Novices' Hurdle Selection

This looks very open between the top four or five in the market, none of which would be a surprise winner. Mystical Power and Tullyhill are a coin toss for which one finishes ahead, my suspicion being that Mystical Power might edge that side bet. Firefox requires a leap of faith that the longer trip was the reason for his below par effort last time; even if you buy that, questions can be asked as to why he was tested over that extended range; he's a very good horse - duh - but plenty short enough in the betting for my liking. And that brings us to Jeriko Du Reponet and Slade Steel. The former has his trainer's long term Supreme record very much in his favour, but his trainer's recent form very much not. On balance, unless he drifts to a double figure price, I'll let him beat me - if he did drift he'd be playable win only, I think. Slade Steel has a top trainer and top form behind Ballyburn (who was a strong favourite for this before defecting to the Gallagher). He'll be finishing strongly and looks a solid each way alternative to a 'nothing between them' top of the market.

Suggestion: Back Slade Steel e/w at 5/1 or bigger, four places if you can find 'em

Tix Pix: Tix is a smart multi-race bet placement tool that is free to use. You can find it here. There are guaranteed million pound daily placepot pools and £50,000 jackpot pools, with stakes as low as a penny. For obvious reasons (all on the same horses), Tix Pix cannot select the horses I intend to play. Instead, I'll share where I think I'm going narrow or deep. In this race I'll be playing A's only on jackpot and brace for an early bath. Check out Tix here >


2.10 Arkle Challenge Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno. More Grade 1 action, you lucky people, as the first foray over fences, the Arkle Challenge Trophy, follows the Supreme. Somewhat downgraded by the absence of a number of high profile horses, most recently and notably Marine Nationale, the reigning Supreme champ, we're left with a competitive but trappy wagering challenge.

As I write there are four horses priced at 5/1 or shorter, headed - just - by Gaelic Warrior. Trained by Mullins for Ricci, he was presumed for the Turners after his romp in the Grade 1 Faugheen Novices' Chase over two and a half miles at Christmas. But then came Leopardstown and the Dublin Racing Festival (DRF) where, in the Grade 1 novice chase there, he just ran a shocker. Mistakes with his fencing likely contributed to him dropping out of contention from before three out, and he was well beaten when unshipping Paul Townend at the last.

It's not obvious, to me at least, why he's running here rather than the longer race on Thursday, and he's a very shaky favourite in my book after that lamentable showing last time (at odds of 4/7). True, he had solid form prior to that, but was never in the Arkle conversation. Perhaps the defection of Marine Nationale has to do with his arrival in this slot, but I just don't like his prep at his price. The first time hood doesn't look a plus either - Willie Mullins has saddled 30 horses with a hood at Cheltenham in the last five years and only one of them won:



Willie also has Il Etait Temps, soundly enough beaten by GW at Limerick in that Faugheen but a winner either side, most recently in the G1 Irish Arkle, also at the DRF. He too wears a hood here and, though more likely to run his race than Gaelic Warrior, I feel, his best race is not as good as that one's, and only a fine margin in front of Found A Fifty, just a neck back last month. Found A Fifty has led in each of his four chase spins and will face pace contention here; that might compromise his chance. In any case, he looks a little way behind peak showings from the other pair mentioned so far.

My Mate Mozzie was only a length and a half behind Found A Fifty but hasn't raced this year, and his best form looks to be on better ground.

The fourth sub-5/1 musketeer at time of writing is Hunters Yarn, and he's a third wheel for Willie. It didn't really work out for Hunters in the County last season, sent off 11/2 but finishing mid-div, and he's been beaten twice from three starts since: he was second in a G2 novice hurdle at Fairyhouse last Easter before kicking off over fences with a tumble at the last when clear. Most recently, he bolted up on his second attempt at a beginners' chase and, while he's generally a very good jumper, he made a horlicks in each of those chase starts. Even in what looks a sub-par Arkle, he doesn't seem quite good enough on the evidence to date.

Remember Quilixios? He was a very smart juvenile hurdler and the Triumph winner in 2021. In the following season he was bested three times by Teahupoo at two mile trips before having a long (nearly two years) spell on the sidelines. Back this season as an older, stronger horse he's won two of three chases, both ungraded. In between times, he was thumped in the G2 Florida Pearl over three miles. Whilst it's perfectly fair to assume he didn't stay there, the balance of his post-injury form requires a lot to be taken on trust regarding retained ability.

Mention this in hushed tones, but is it possible that this year's Irish cohort are not as good as normal? The best of the home guard could be Jpr One, trained by Joe Tizzard. Joe is in good form - two notable winners at Sandown's big weekend fixture - and this one has a nice bit of experience after four chase outings. He unseated at the last over course and distance in November, when seemingly having the race in the bag, but had a win before and since. The 'since' comprises two runs, a third place in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase when making a mistake two out, and a win last time in the G2 Lightning Novices' Chase on very soft ground at Lingfield, narrowly from the re-opposing Matata. Matata is one of the pace angles in the field and that may see him do too much too soon, whereas Jpr One tends to be handy but off the speed.

Nigel Twiston-Davies saddles both Matata and Master Chewy, the latter one of the more experienced chasers in the field. On his run behind Champion Chase hopeful Elixir De Nutz - beaten just a length and a half getting nine pounds - he is better than a 25/1 poke. And there are reasons to throw out his defeat behind Jpr One last time: specifically, he was almost brought down at the first as Matata veered right down the fence causing Djelo to fall and Master Chewy to take back in evasive fashion as the meat in the sandwich. He was unsure at his next couple of fences before regaining some composure but it might be that his race was run.

Authorised Speed doesn't look slick enough at his obstacles, and probably not good enough in any case.

Arkle Pace Projection

Lots of speed, most obviously from Found A Fifty and Matata, but also Gaelic Warrior, Jpr One and Authorised Speed - perhaps others, too.



Arkle Chase Selection

I really don't like this race from a betting perspective. You have to make excuses for the horses at the top of the market where their price doesn't allow for such latitude. And you have to be imaginative to see the horses lower down the lists beating the ones at the top. But perhaps this is a race for imagination play. In that spirit, I'll take the Brits to beat the Irish, primarily through Jpr One and Master Chewy.

Jpr One has the best domestic form but not by much; he also has a trainer in form and can handle conditions. Master Chewy is a bit of a punt but, if ridden patiently, he might be able to pick up the pieces... and if they go a million on the front then he could just nick the whole enchilada. Of course, he's priced as though he has little chance and that may be how it transpires. Caveat emptor.

Suggestion: Try one or both of Jpr One 9/1 and/or Master Chewy 25/1 each way and cheer Blighty against the raiders.

Tix Pix: Spreading out all over A, B and C in what looks a trappy race. Check out Tix here >


2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3 handicap, 3m1f)

Previewed by Gavin Priestley,

The Ultima is the first handicap of the meeting and is a hyper-competitive race that can throw up some very useful performers. Last year's winner Corach Rambler, which was doubling up in the race having scored in 2022, went on to win the Grand National on his next start while the horse he beat by a neck, Fastorslow, went on to win a Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival subsequently and now sits second in the betting for Friday's Gold Cup.

Although they've been getting closer in recent times (2nd and 4th last year), the Irish don't have a great overall record in the Ultima (0/38 since 2007) and you have to go back to 2006 and Tony Martin's Dun Doire to find their last winner. That doesn't mean Ireland doesn't have a say in the race, though, as Irish-bred horses have been responsible for the last five winners and ten of the last 11 (exception French-bred).

A top six finish last time out is very important (14 of the last 15, exception unseated rider) as is a run at Cheltenham previously (all of the last 17 winners, with Dun Doire the last horse to win without course experience) while all of the last ten winners have been rated 139+ (an emerging trend has seen eight of the last ten renewals go to a horse rated 139-148).

All of the last 16 winners had raced at least once since the start of Newbury's Coral Cup Handicap Chase meeting the previous November.

Applying these trends leave us with a shortlist of 4 horses: Monbeg Genius, Victtorino, Chianti Classico & Lord Du Mesnil who range in age from a 6yo to an 11yo.

20 of the 24 winners this century have been aged 7-9yo but there's been an 11yo winner in 2021, a couple of 10yo winners (2007 & 2010) plus a French-bred 6yo in 2018. The three winners before the turn of the century were all 10 & 11yo's so I'm not sure age is too much of an issue for this race.

What is worth noting, however, is that 11 of the last 14 winners had raced fewer than ten times over fences and interestingly nine of the last 12 winners had worn some king of headgear (cheekpieces, hood or blinkers). Five of the last 13 winners had run in the Ultima Handicap the previous year.

If we look through the form of the four horses on our shortlist we can see that one of them was third in this race last year, just two lengths off Fastorslow, has run only eight times over fences and his trainer reaches for the first time cheekpieces. The Irish-bred 8yo, MONBEG GENIUS, has long been my fancy for this race and despite his relatively underwhelming run at Kelso a couple of weeks ago that did come on the back of a long break since his excellent Newbury Coral Gold Cup Handicap Chase third where he had picked up an injury. He raced strongly until tiring from the second last at Kelso and I'm hoping that he may have just needed the run that day. His trainer Jonjo O'Neill won the race three times between 2009-2014 and horses that had run in the Coral Gold Cup at Newbury that season won in 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2023.

He ticks every box and looks a typical Ultima winner. I retain the faith in him and think he has an excellent chance at a decent price.

Ultima Pace Projection

Just an even gallop in prospect in all likelihood despite the large field.



Ultima Handicap Chase Selection

Back MONBEG GENIUS 1pt EW 14/1 (6 places)

Tix Pix: A's and B's and not straying far from the top of the market.

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3.30 Champion Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 1/2f)

Previewed by Matt Bisogno. In what amounts to a tragedy for fans of the sport, Contitution Hill has been suffering with an infection that has sadly ruled him out of this year's Champion Hurdle. He was long odds on to retain his crown having cruised home by a wide margin in his only run of the season, the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. I'm daring to dream that he might show up at either or both of Aintree and/or Punchestown, but realistically it might be better to get him right and go again in a (please God) busier 2024/25 campaign. It should be remembered that he's only seven, so time is very much on his side.

Anyway, enough of the no show, and on with the show show. Every leading man needs a capable deputy, and there can be no finer understudy at the entire meeting to step into the big man's shoes than State Man. Like the absent champ, he is also seven and his record reads well. Very well. F11111121111. The '2' was behind Connie Hill last year, and nothing else has got to within three lengths of him in eight - EIGHT! - Grade 1's before and since the lowering of his colours a year ago. He normally races handily or on the lead, though was held up in last year's Champion Hurdle presumably in the hope the hill found out the Hill, he's won G1's on all ground types softer than good, and he's a country mile clear on ratings. What's not to love? Well, his price maybe, because it's a very short price, though that's not to say it doesn't represent value.

If any horse can stop State Man's procession to glory it might be Irish Point, in the Robcour colours and trained by Gordon Elliott. This time last year, while State Man was getting closest to Constitution Hill, Irish Point was winning a Grade 3 novice hurdle at Naas. He's since won the 2m4f Grade 1 Mersey Novices' at Aintree, and then this season he's added a Grade 3 at Down Royal and the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown. So far so good. But that Leopardstown race is contested over almost three miles and, as the name suggests, it was contested at the end of last year. Not since then have we seen this fella. It was a terrifically convincing score there but in a slow time beating (relatively) slow horses. I don't see how that makes him second pick for a Champion Hurdle. But I've been wrong about such things many times before.

Iberico Lord was supplemented for this after the defection of stablemate Constitution Hill, and he has serious handicap winning form this term. Specifically, he won the Greatwood over course and distance in November and then the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury in February. The third and fifth from the Betfair finished 1-2 in the Imperial Cup at the weekend so that form looks solid. In between times, Iberico Lord was well beaten at Ascot and perhaps it was a combination of the slower pace and faster turf that did for him. It should be at least a little bit softer here but whether there's much pace in the race remains to be seen. Whilst he's obviously progressive, he's got about a stone and a half to find on official ratings if the favourite runs to within a pound or three of his mark.

It's possible that Luccia could be sent on in a bid to force a stronger pace, she herself having made all in the race when her barn mate Iberico flopped; but that's not her normal run style. And nor should a 140-rated mare be in the same conversation as a 165+ gelding.

The wonderful veteran Not So Sleepy is hard as nails and still retains plenty of ability even at the ripe old age of twelve. His form in the race is P565 and, though he did win the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth, that was 94 days ago and a weaker G1 you'll struggle to find. Please don't misunderstand me: I love this bloke; I just don't want to bet him to win a Champion Hurdle.

Willie also has Zarak The Brave, who is at least vaguely credible for the frame at a price. His form this season is 1P1, wins in the Galway Hurdle (off 145 in a field of 19 on goodish ground) and a Naas Grade 3 in a small field on soft sandwiching a flunk when he was found to have been post-race clinically abnormal. I'm not entirely sure what that means but perhaps it was a fibrillating heart; conjecture aside, if he can bring his A game he is one of the few within a stone of State Man on ratings.

Champion Hurdle Pace Projection

Either or both of Not So Sleepy and Luccia could go forward, but there's not a ton of obvious early speed.


Champion Hurdle Selection

This is all about State Man. He's a very unsexy price but might still be value at around 1/3. You can expect Iberico Lord to shorten if Nicky's team have shown anything prior to this race, and he looks the one with the most upside - he needs to be as the second lowest officially rated in the field and with 26lb to find on a strict interpretation of the book. I don't really fancy Irish Point, who in my view would have been better placed in the Stayers' Hurdle even if his owner does have Teahupoo for that. No, this is State Man's to lose. And I don't expect him to lose it.

Suggestion: Watch State Man win well. And/or back him to do likewise.

Tix Pix: If State Man is beaten, a lot of jackpots will go pop. Including mine. He's never raced on heavy

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4.10 Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m4f)

Previewed by John Burke, Let’s begin with what look like some of the key race trends.

Favourites (Clear & joint) have won 3 of the last 10 renewals of the Mares Hurdle and have performed 44% worse than market expectations. Eight of the last 10 winners had an Official Rating of 147 or higher. Six of the last ten winners were trained by Willie Mullins (4) and Henry De Bromhead (2).

Last year's Triumph Hurdle winner, Lossiemouth, made a highly impressive return to action here on Trials Day. While she's the clear favourite and the most likely winner, stepping up to 2m 4f poses a question mark on her stamina.

Lossiemouth’s nearest market rival, stablemate Ashroe Diamond, boasts an impressive record of five wins from six starts against her own sex. If the favourite falters due to stamina, Ashroe Diamond could capitalize, although the fitting of a first-time hood for a return to 2m 4f would be a slight concern. 

Love Envoi, winner of the Mares' Novices Hurdle here in 2022, finished a 1 ½ length second to Honeysuckle in this race last year. Although she hasn't been at her best this season, she was a 9 ½ length runner-up to Lossiemouth in the International Hurdle here (2m 1f) last time. We know she seems to thrive at the Festival and the fitting of first-time cheekpieces could improve her performance against Lossiemouth. Each-way claims remain.

The Henry de Bromhead pair of Telmesomethinggirl and Lantry Lady shouldn't be dismissed outright. Telmesomethinggirl, who returned to hurdling this season after a stint over fences, looked rusty on her seasonal return at Leopardstown but was a lot better when a 1¼ length 2nd of four to Zarak The Brave at Naas last time. It’s worth remembering that she was going well when brought down two out in this race in 2022. Lantry Lady, who falls into the "could be anything" category, boasts a perfect 2-2 record over hurdles with wins on heavy ground. The 2m 4f distance should bring out more improvement in her. Although Rachael Blackmore appears to prefer Telmesomethinggirl, Jack Kennedy is a capable substitute. Both of Henry de Bromhead's mares present each-way opportunities. The same trainer also saddles Hispanic Moon.

Mares' Hurdle Pace Projection

An even pace is most likely, perhaps even a slow one. That said, plenty of owners and trainers are represented by multiple runners so they may send a 'hare' forward to chase. Regardless, it's not easy to see this being quickly run.


Mares' Hurdle Selection

The outcome of the race largely depends on Lossiemouth's ability to stay the 2m 4f distance today. If she manages to do so, she will outclass her rivals. However, her tendency to be keen raises a doubt about her effectiveness over longer distances. Excluding Lossiemouth, the race appears wide open. last year's runner-up, Love Envoi, is a contender for the places once again. However, I lean towards the Henry De Bromhead duo of Telmesomethinggirl and Lantry Lady. While Rachel Blackmore seems to prefer Telmesomethinggirl, Lantry Lady shows more potential for further improvement, making her the more intriguing option.

Suggestion: Lantry Lady – 0.5pts each way – 33/1 @ Bet365

Tix Pix: A's, B's and C's in here in search of a result, I think. Check out Tix here >

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4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Fred Winter, Grade 3, 2m 1/2f)

Previewed by David Massey.

I was delighted to be asked by Matt to contribute to the Geegeez previews this week, and was even more delighted when he asked me to look at one of the key handicaps each day. Looking forward to working on the Ultima for Day One, imagine my horror when, instead, he gave me the Chinese puzzle ball that is the Boodles. Many thanks to our Dear Leader for his generosity! [Sorry mate! - Ed.]

The Boodles. Plot race, right? Just back the one that’s been given three quiet runs and a mark that’s well below what it’s really capable of. Well, have a look at the price of the winners over the past ten years - just one winning favourite, every other winner bar one returned at double figures including a 25-1 winner, three 33-1 winners and Jeff Kidder at 80-1, who had started out in the August of the previous year and was having his fifth start over hurdles. Stats, schmats. 

My starting point for this is Milan Tino, who wouldn’t fit many of the trends but has been given a chance by the British handicapper off a mark of 126, which looks very fair based on his French third to Jigme in a Grade 2 at Auteuil last October. Jigme went on to win the Grade 1 Grand Course later in the year and that form, along with what he’s achieved in two starts at Cheltenham this winter, make him a solid option. Physically, he’s looked a horse that wants further already to my eyes, and it can’t be a bad thing that he’s already shown form over a bit further than two miles, such stamina likely to come in handy on ground expected to ride soft on the first day after Sunday’s rain. 

Of the Irish, it’s tempting to go in with Willie’s Batman Girac after an eyecatching run at Leopardstown last time, one that certainly suggested the Boodles would be his next stop; but, despite some near misses, this is one race at the Festival that Closutton have yet to get the better of, and I’d prefer Willie Durkan’s Eagle Fang, who comes from the Naas race that has thrown up Brazil, Jazzy Matty, Aramax and Band Of Outlaws in recent times. The way he came clear in the closing stages, in heavy ground, was a good step up on anything he’d achieved previously and whilst this will be his sixth run over hurdles already, which you could argue means other, more lighty-raced types could improve past him, he’s more battle-hardened and should run his race. At 16-1 and bigger, with extra places on offer, that makes plenty of appeal. 

Back in fourth at Naas was Nara, who really has looked a Boodles project on her two starts on Irish shores so far. A ready winner on her only start in France at Auteuil (last April!), she looked very much in need of the experience when fourth to Nurburgring at Fairyhouse in December, her novicey jumping holding her back from finishing any closer than a one-paced fourth; but she travelled and jumped better at Naas, looking some sort of threat between three out and two out before her early exertions saw her flatten out late. The reapplication of the hood looks a smart move, as she was a bit keen pre-race and I don’t expect to see her in the paddock at Cheltenham until the bell for jockeys-up goes, at which point it’ll be straight in and straight out again. There should be more to come once she learns to take her racing better, for all you’d struggle to say she’s been thrown in here. 

If we’re looking for the Hail Mary, a phrase our editor Matt loves so much, then it has to be Latin Verse. He looks so unlike a Boodles winner it’s untrue - this will be his seventh hurdles start and he’s already raced in an all-aged handicap at Ludlow last time out, one which he won by no fewer than 19 lengths. A 10lb rise for that win not only looks lenient - Timeform expected him to get a stone and more - but it creeps him right into the bottom of the handicap. If you’re a lover of figures (and we are, of course) he comes out well on both form and time. In some ways he reminds me of last year’s fifth Mr Freedom, who took a totally different route from most Boodles campaigners and was having his tenth start of the season, having taken in a couple of handicaps, by the time he got to Cheltenham, but it didn’t stop him from that strong finish (and might have done better still but for his pilot almost coming off turning for home). I suspect Latin Verse can similarly show that experience is no bad thing when it comes to the Boodles. At 33-1 and six places, he has to be worth a few quid each-way. 

Boodles Handicap Hurdle Pace Projection

Not a map to place too much store by, because many can be expected to adopt a different run style now they're actually doing their best!



Boodles Handicap Hurdle selection

Try 28/1 Latin Verse or 20/1 Eagle Fang each way. 

Tix Pix: Depending on how much bankroll I've got left, I'll take as much A action as I can afford, and back up with some B's. There will be hedge opportunities on Betfair if it's worthwhile. Check out Tix here >


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5.30 National Hunt Chase (Grade 2, 3m 6f)

Previewed by Rory Delargy. The National Hunt Chase has changed markedly in character since gaining Grade 2 status and being shortened in trip. What used to be a race for Corinthian amateurs in which anything could – and frequently did – happen, has become a classy contest dominated by Irish shamateurs (that is to say you can’t book one without a buff envelope), and there is no point in the old plodders turning up any more. In some ways that’s a shame, but the farrago of the 2019 running where the few who finished were legless was a pathetic last hurrah for the race of old.

On that cheerful note, let’s dive into the latest renewal, with just the seven runners meaning there’s no point looking for an each-way angle into the race. All seven of the runners have a chance and the first thing I want to say is that the old advice that Derek O’Connor’s mount already has a 5lb advantage is not to be believed. O’Connor has been a fine rider over the years but there are no weak links in the riding line-up here, and this race ought to go to the best horse at the trip, pure and simple.

O’Connor rides Corbett’s Cross, who was a big talking horse before running out here last year, and he was brought down in his prep race for this when the rider was given his traditional ‘feeler’ at Fairyhouse. That is hardly ideal, and while he was a respectable second in the Grade 1 Neville Hotels (Fort Leney) Novice Chase at Leopardstown at Christmas, that form hasn’t really been tested, with the winner injured and Flooring Porter (10 lengths behind Corbett’s Cross in third) reverting to hurdles. He has a chance, for sure, but is of no great interest at around 2/1 given his imperfect preparation.

Embassy Gardens, like Corbett’s Cross, was a big fancy (ante-post favourite) for the Albert Bartlett 12 months ago, but pulled up before running down the field at Punchestown. He’s won both starts over fences in the style of a useful prospect, but his defeat of Sandor Clegane at Naas saw him race on the best of the ground as the runner-up persisted with racing on the chewed-up inside, and impressive as it was, it’s very hard to put a figure on. As such, he’s short enough to be backing at current odds.

On a side note, both Corbett’s Cross and Embassy Gardens wear a hood for the first time, and while there have been several winners at the Festival to wear a first-time hood (Benefficient, Jezki and Western Warhorse to be precise), none since that trio have been successful. On the other hand, many of Willie Mullins’s runners at Cheltenham over the years have worn earplugs which have not been declared, so the figures only tell part of the story.

Salvador Ziggy has achieved as much as the pair above but is a more realistic price, with his second under 12st in the Kerry National a fine effort for a novice. He comes here after an abortive trip to run in the Grand National Hurdle at Far Hills in October, and while the absence might be a worry, he was second in the Pertemps last year off an identical lay-off. He appeals as best value of the Irish contingent.

Mr Vango has it to do on the ratings and the other three all met in the Reynoldstown Chase at Ascot last time, where Henry’s Friend held off Kilbeg King and Apple Away. It may look surprising that the winner is now the outsider of that trio, but he is the one least likely to stay this six-furlong longer trip, and I’m in agreement with the betting market, for all I like the horse.

Kilbeg King got low at several of his fences at Ascot but still stayed on dourly at the end to force the winner to pull out all the stops. Prior to Ascot, Kilbeg King had jumped better when a creditable third in the Grade 1 Kauto Star at Kempton, his jumping allowing him to get into contention in the home straight having been out-paced in the middle of the race by the brilliant winner.

If he can jump like he did at Kempton, then he ought to run really well for Anthony Honeyball, who was unlucky not to win this race with Ms Parfois a few years ago (winner Rathvinden would have been demoted under new whip rules). Like Ms Parfois, Kilbeg King will be ridden by Will Biddick, who has been the best English amateur at Cheltenham over the past decade and more.

APPLE AWAY is seemingly held on Reynoldstown form, but I thought she was better than the bare result at Ascot, jumping really well on the whole and trying to battle back when getting squeezed out at the final fence. She was picking up again at the line, and appeals to me as the sort to relish a thorough test of stamina. It’s worth recalling that she was a Grade 1 winner over hurdles at Aintree last April, and it’s typical of Lucinda Russell’s horses to only show their very best form in the spring. She got involved in an ill-advised pace duel when second to Grey Dawning in the Grade 2 Hampton Novices’ Chase at Warwick and my belief is that she can improve enough for the step up to 3¾m to turn the tables on the pair who beat her at Ascot.

National Hunt Chase Pace Projection

Mr Vango is a forward goer, so too Apple Away; but the small field means they'll likely be steady away over this extended trip.



National Hunt Chase Selection

Selection: 1pt win APPLE AWAY at 10/1
Exotic Mixers:
Kilbeg King & Salvador Ziggy (1/4 pt combination exacta)


And that's a wrap for Day 1 at the Cheltenham Festival 2024. Hopefully this has been an entertaining read, and with a little luck, there's a winner or three in its midst. We'll all be back to do it again tomorrow - see you then.

Be lucky!


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Cheltenham Festival 2023: Day One Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2023: Day One Preview, Tips

We're back! The 2023 Cheltenham Festival is here, and it's going to be a belter! 28 races, almost all of them head-scratching puzzles in terms wagering possibilities... and that's just as it should be! Let's get straight to it.

1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 1/2f)

Half past one on the middle Tuesday in March is when the roar reverberates around the Cotswolds as racing regulars and occasionals alike release 361 days' worth of waiting for the first of seven races on the first of four days of fiercely contested battles.

The Supreme is sometimes won by a clear cut favourite - think Appreciate It or Douvan - but, more often than not, the waters are muddier and the multiple returned for finding the winner more appealing. This year falls into the latter bracket, and surely bookies all over the country will be desperately trying to 'get' Facile Vega. That is not, of course, because he can't or won't win; but rather that his price probably over-states his chance currently. Here's why...

Ignoring the fact that he was a terrific bumper horse - winning Grade 1's both here and at Punchestown - and the fact that he's Quevega's son, his actual hurdling form is not out of this world. A maiden win against a field that has managed a solitary handicap hurdle victor, off a perch of a relatively lowly 106, from 27 runs between them, was followed by a much more impressive Grade 1 score where he beat three subsequent winners. That legitimately put Facile Vega in short at the top of the market; but, since then, he's run a very poor race over the same course and distance in a G1 at the Dublin Racing Festival (DRF). Excuses have been proffered for that clunk: he was messed about with by High Definition, he went too fast, etc. But they didn't go crazy fast, and High Def mainly messed with himself as he tumbled at the fourth. Word is (take it or leave it, obvs) that FV was lame for a week after Leopardstown so, if you've backed him ante post you'll see that as legitimacy and hope, and if you haven't you'll see it as a concern and a reason to look elsewhere. Such is the way of value betting...

I've backed him at shorter than he is now and I am not remotely inclined to go in again!

But assessing the remainder is also tricky. Marine Nationale was the early season poster boy - and he might perhaps be the late season heartthrob, too, except that we've not seen him since early December; his form has taken a few dents in the interim. In fairness, he's an unbeaten-in-four Grade 1 winner so it will be no shock if he's the best of these but that 100-day layoff would be the longest by a winner since Captain Cee Bee in 2008 and only the second triple-digit absence since at least 1997.

Il Etait Temps has to be a player. Only fifth and fourth behind Vauban in the four-year-old Grade 1's at Cheltenham and Punchestown a year ago, Willie Mullins has had a novice hurdler with plenty of experience to work with this term; and he's been rewarded with wins either side of getting closest to Facile Vega at Christmas. Of course, most recently Il Etait Temps won 'that' race in which HD dived and FV bombed. Although he was a bit awkward early in transit that day, he powered through the line and was just on ten lengths clear of second-placed Inthepocket, Dark Raven a neck back in third. Despite his relative hurdling experience, IET can look a bit slovenly at a flight for all that he's generally safe across them.

High Definition is obviously a very high class ex-flat horse; he was favourite for the Dante as a three-year-old and ran second in the Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup and third in the Group 1 Coronation Cup last year. The problem is that, as obviously and unsurprisingly fast as he has been, he jumps like, well, like a Dante favourite. I think he's very likely to be found out in a race as hot as this, especially with other pace players from the get go.

Both Inthepocket and Dark Raven have a place chance on that DRF form: they each brought unbeaten in three records to the G1 party there and each emerged with a degree of credit, Inthepocket having found himself exactly that at a key point in the race. Crucially, both are entitled to be wiser for their first exposure to top class company.

What of the British challenge? The most obvious contender is Tahmuras, winner of a maiden hurdle at Chepstow, a Listed at Haydock and the Grade 1 Tolworth at Sandown. There have been six subsequent winners from his maiden, and the Tolworth form is standing up too: the third there won a G2 next time, the fourth won a novice and was then second in the same G2, and the fifth - Authorised Speed - easily reverted to winning ways back in shallower waters. He's won on soft and good to soft so no ground concerns. The question is how the UK level compares with its Irish counterpart.

Rare Edition was very disappointing when only second in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon, a race won in 2020 by Shishkin en route to Supreme glory. He apparently scoped dirty after the race and there has been some whispering about back spasms, both of which appear to have now been resolved. Trainer Charlie Longsdon is bullish about his chance and, on the evidence of the book, he's a place possible at least... if the British form holds its own.

The talking horse in recent days has been Diverge, who won a 22 runner maiden hurdle by 23 lengths. None of the eleven horses to run again since that race have won, and only one hit the frame: the form is weak regardless of how good Diverge might turn out to be. He's inexperienced, too, and for those reasons, as the Dragons say, I'm out.

Olly Murphy runs two in the race, Chasing Fire and Strong Leader, and my preference of the pair is for the former. He's unbeaten in a point, a bumper, and three hurdle races and, though untested in Graded company, he's kicked to the kerb everything he's faced hitherto. I feel like the quicker they go the better for him, as he looks a very strong stayer.

Fennor Cross is a massive price but is a dual Cheltenham hurdle winner this season, the second of which was in the Grade 2 Supreme trial. That was in mid-November, however, and he's not been seen since as, presumably, he needs good ground - the underfoot for both those course scores. Alas, it looks unlikely that will be the description for race one, day one.

Supreme Novices' Pace Projection

Likely to be quick, as forward-goers like High Definition and Rare Edition collide with an ocean of adrenaline coursing through the jockeys' veins for the first rising tape of the week.

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Selection

I don't have a strong opinion here except that the favourite is poor value. Note, I don't think he is sure to lose, just that his win probability may be lower than his price implies. That's a general take through all of the races: any horse can - and, at Cheltenham, often does - win any race. So we're looking for something that might have a better chance than implied in its price. In this race, I think Il Etait Temps is a fair price, especially if you can find four each way places; and it wouldn't surprise if Tahmuras ran a big race either, especially with his trainer in terrific form.


2.10 Arkle Challenge Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

The first chase of the week is a speed test for novices, and frequently advertises the claims of a potential Champion Chaser of the near future. This season, battle lines are drawn between Britain and Ireland and, as with the Champion Hurdle two races later, team captains are Messrs Henderson and Mullins.

For the home squad, Hendo saddles Jonbon, second (third if you include yawning daylight) in last year's Supreme behind Constitution Hill. In the absence of that monster, Jonbon won the G1 Top Novices' Hurdle at Aintree, beating a chap called El Fabiolo. This season, the JP McManus-owned seven-year-old has won all three chase starts, mostly in the manner of a good'un; that said, he was more workmanlike than striking in his Festival prep in the Kingmaker at Warwick. There, he eventually eked out a five-length margin over Calico in a match. The form of that race has received a boost with the runner-up - a twelve-length winner in Class 3 handicap company before Warwick - going in again at Doncaster in a £20k Class 2 handicap since. Obviously, this is a different kettle of gravy, but there's also every chance that Jonbon was under-cooked for his preparatory spin: he'll be cherry ripe now.

Pop back to that Aintree G1 and we find our other joint favourite. There was little between Jonbon and El Fabiolo in Liverpool and they may again be hard to separate. Willie's contender has had two chasing starts, winning by 19L and 10L, the latter in the Grade 1 Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival. Handy enough throughout, he pounced on trailblazing Dysart Dynamo approaching the second last and had enough energy left to go clear of a three-way picture for the places between Banbridge, DD and Appreciate It.  If they all stand up it's hard to see the placed horses reversing with the winner, in spite of the argument that the furlong and a bit shorter trip might favour the pace horse. That said, El Fabiolo did not impress with his jumping at Leopardstown.

Those that fell or unseated last time are 1 from 14 in recent times with nine of them sent off 11/1 or shorter: it's not obviously a positive for the chance of Saint Roi but nor is it a terminal knock. This lad was fourth in last year's Champion Hurdle and won a Grade 1 novice chase at Christmas, so he's oodles of class; but he was hurdling for four seasons including his time in France which sometimes makes it more difficult for horses to make a chasing shape thereafter. He's bang there on talent but that leaping has to be a concern.

The rest are unlikely to be good enough.

Arkle Pace Projection

There looks to be plenty of early speed in this line up with each of Ha d'Or, Dysart Dynamo and Jonbon leading in their most recent three races. Jonbon is expected to sit slightly off the fiercest of the sizzle.

Arkle Chase Selection

A race that will probably play out in line with the market expectation of a duel between Jonbon and El Fabiolo. If El Fab's jumping holds up, I think he'll win, and if it doesn't I think Jonbon will win. I don't really see Dysart Dynamo sustaining his front-footed charge and prefer Saint Roi to travel round in his own time and pick up the each way pieces. Not especially a betting race if you haven't already played, I don't think.


2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3 handicap, 3m1f)

The first of nine handicaps and I'll tell you now that my thoughts will be (mercifully) brief. This race has been won by the home team exclusively since Dun Doire and Tony Martin wrested it away in 2006. They actually don't run many - just three darts this year - and I'll be fielding against them, perhaps carelessly.

My shortlist is Corach Rambler, The Goffer (though he is Irish), and the Tizzard pair, Oscar Elite and The Big Breakaway.

Corach Rambler won the race last year and will again be played late; he was much the best that day and is only six pounds higher now. A fine fourth of 15 in the Coral Gold Cup (Hennessy as was) in November was his most recent run, though that was 108 days ago. Joes Edge defied a 114 day absence in 2007 though such extended layoffs are exceptional when it comes to Ultima winners.

The Goffer won a Grade A handicap chase at Leopardstown last time off a mark of 138. He's got 149 here, as a result of both that win and the recalibration of Irish marks to British ones; while that seems a hefty enough elevation to overcome, the step back up to an extended three miles could be in his favour. He's a novice and so remains somewhat unexposed.

I had a good bet on Oscar Elite in this last year. That partially paid off - the place part specifically - as he finished third. Given he was subsequently found to have bled from the nose, and he is now just a pound higher in the weights, and that he won last time out, I like his chance again. He won't want it too soft, though. Tizzard's other runner, The Big Breakaway, on the other hand loves the wet. He was third in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase two years ago and a game second in the Welsh National at the end of last year - carrying 11-13 - last time. He jumps, he stays, he handles the track and ground and he's very much a runner for me.

Ultima Pace Projection

It will be frenetic, due to the field size and the number of jockeys having their first ride of the week. Luck in running is needed, and usually patience, too.

Ultima Handicap Chase Selection

Skybet are paying EIGHT places on this race, and a couple of others are seven places deep. That gives us plenty of chances and the first name on the team sheet is Corach Rambler, whose run style lends itself to hitting the frame even without extended places! I'm slightly on weather watch with Oscar Elite, very much liking his chance on good to soft but less keen on softer. I'd rather take shorter when knowing the ground with him. In the end, I'm swerving The Goffer on the basis of the Irish record, which will of course be the wrong thing to do one of these years; but I definitely want a bit of the The Big Breakaway with the extended places as well.

Suggestion: With as many as eight places on offer, you can take two or three each way and potentially be rewarded on all places while trebling your chance of hitting the win jackpot. In that context, back any/all of 6/1 Corach Rambler, 11/1 Oscar Elite (wait for ground news is my advice), and 14/1 The Big Breakaway.


3.30 Champion Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 1/2f)

The undoubted highlight of day one is the Grade 1 Champion Hurdle. Since just under two hours before last year's Champion Hurdle, Constitution Hill has been close to, or outright, favourite for the 2023 renewal. The reason for that was his destruction of a solid-looking Supreme Novices' Hurdle field in the 2022 curtain raiser, where he easily despatched Jonbon et al in a very fast time. True, both Dysart Dynamo (joint favourite with CH that day) and Mighty Potter, unbeaten in four since, both failed to complete; but that is, after all, a fairly important part of the challenge.

Since sauntering home a year ago, Nicky Henderson's six-year-old son of Blue Bresil has bolted up by a dozen lengths from Epatante in the G1 Fighting Fifth, and hosed in by seventeen lengths from the same rival in the G1 Christmas Hurdle at Kempton. He's won his last four starts, all Grade 1's, by 12L, 22L, 12L, and 17L - and had won his previous start by 14L. His speed figures are just about off the scale and he can take a position wherever in the field meaning tactics are not a worry. Given he's normally an excellent jumper, there are essentially no holes in Constitution Hill's profile whatsoever and he's a very worthy odds-on favourite.

If this year's Champion Hurdle is not to be a procession, the most obvious candidate to make a race of things is State Man. Since 2009, Nicky Henderson leads Willie Mullins - in whose care State Man resides - 5-4 and, in search of the equaliser, Mullins' Man has very strong credentials. At least, in any other year he would have. To wit, he's unbeaten in six straight completed starts, a sequence that includes last year's County Hurdle followed by four consecutive Grade 1 races. In that quartet of G1 scores, he's earned closing comments as follows: "easily", "comfortably", "easily", "comfortably".

Well, something has to give, and the market is fairly confident it will be the British champion lording it over his Irish counterpart. I'm also confident that will be the case having not been overly impressed with what State Man found off the bridle in the County, the only time he's needed to be pushed out to the line. But I don't have enough threes to try to steal some ones at the prevailing odds. So how else to play? We'll come to that. First, what of the supporting cast?

Willie has more than just State Man; he also saddles last year's Triumph Hurdle winner, Vauban, and he's an interesting contender. While Constitution Hill and State Man are likely to be on or close to the pace, Vauban has been ridden a lot more patiently and, as a result, has finished his races off well in respectable defeats to State Man. If State Man tries to force things against the favourite - and it's unlikely the Closutton team will be riding for a place - then Vauban may be the one to hoover up any crumbs.

The second possible in that context is I Like To Move It, whose Greatwood and Kingwell Hurdle wins have advertised his 'dark horse' claims. True, he was well seen off by Marie's Rock in the Relkeel, though that was over an extra half mile; and he was no match for State Man in the County a year ago. He has some impressive performances to his name, most of them on genuine good ground, but I can't quite shake that County clunk from my memory banks.

Not So Sleepy has a fair record in the race: 5th two years ago and 6th last year, but he's eleven now; and I don't give Zanahiyr or Jason The Militant any material chance.

Champion Hurdle Pace Projection

Any of Jason The Militant, Not So Sleepy, or the big pair of Constitution Hill and State Man could take them along. Most likely is that the top two in the betting will mark each other behind the rags, with Vauban expected to be ridden cold at the back of the field.

Champion Hurdle Selection

The win market is all about Constitution Hill, who better ratings judges are suggesting is the best we've seen in a very, very long time. If that's right, he's a fair enough price for those who like playing big at short. Each way is not an option in a seven-runner race generally, still less with such a domineering jolly; but 'without the favourite' is a way in. That market has its own shortie, too, in State Man but I feel Vauban 'without' is a credible alternative given how the race is likely to pan out. If State Man and Constitution Hill have at it from far enough out, it's possible that SM cracks; Vauban wasn't far behind him in steadily enough run G1's in Ireland and can come through for silver.

Suggestion: Back Vauban without the favourite at anything better than 7/2 (4/1 with Hills at time of writing).


4.10 Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m4f)

There has been plenty of chat on the Maremite Hurdle - some love it, some hate it. Me? I'm in the love camp, and I don't really understand the naysayers who I feel are only rehashing the argument, which has surely had its day now, that it denigrates the Champion Hurdle. Let's just accept the new world and move forward - and what better time to do that than in a year which features the winners of THREE Champion Hurdles?

Well, why aren't they running in that race then, I hear (one of) you cry! The answer, of course, is trajectory; and that is the byword for attempting to solve this wagering puzzle. Cast back to 2020, and a six-year-old Epatante was winning the Blue Riband while forty minutes later Honeysuckle, also six, was winning this race. Five-year-old Marie's Rock had won a Listed mares race at Taunton, and Love Envoi was a year away from making her debut.

In 2021, Epatante could only finish third in the Champion Hurdle, behind Honeysuckle. Marie's Rock had recently run third in a mares' Grade 2 at Doncaster and Love Envoi was about to win a Wexford bumper on her first start. A year later, last year, and Honeysuckle again won the Champion Hurdle with Epatante her nearest pursuer on this occasion. Marie's Rock had graduated to winning the Mares' Hurdle and Love Envoi the Mares' Novices Hurdle.

And so to this term. Honeysuckle, heretofore unbeaten in 16 Rules races and a point to point, is now without a win in her two seasonal spins. Third to the improving - and very good on soft ground - Teahupoo over this sort of trip, and then second to the improving - and just very good - State Man over two miles is hardly poor form; but it is a step down from where she was previously. The question then is whether Honeysuckle is regressing slowly enough to still have something in hand of Epatante, herself steadily on the downgrade, and of the progressive Marie's Rock and highly progressive Love Envoi: that's what makes this such a fascinating conundrum.

Epatante has been thumped twice in Grade 1's by Constitution Hill this season; and then beat a field of inferior mares in appropriate fashion. She's only run once at this longer distance, when winning the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle easily last season. Her main market rival that day fell at the last as Epatante was looming upsides, but she looked to have had him covered at that point. She is holding her form fairly well and is unexposed at the trip.

Marie's Rock has been a revelation since winning a handicap hurdle in December 2021: from that point on, she's won five of six - pulling up having been hampered on the other start - a sequence that includes the Mares' Hurdle and Punchestown equivalent (both G1) last season and the Relkeel Hurdle on her only start this year. My reservation, aside from the very light 2022/23 campaign, is the substance of her form: in last year's Mares' Hurdle she beat 150-rated Echoes In Rain, who doesn't seem to stay this far, and a bunch of 140-something mares; at Punchestown, she beat a conceivably over the top Epatante (who had run 2nd in the Champion Hurdle and won the Aintree Hurdle in the previous six weeks); and in the Relkeel she beat an array of dodgy geezers the likes of which would not look out of place outside an East London boozer (I should know!). She might win - she's just about favourite after all - but her rising star may have just about reached its apex to my eye.

As for Love Envoi, she needs the rain to continue her own ascent. She has won eight of her nine starts to date, including last year's Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle here and her only defeat - second to Brandy Love - was on yielding turf. She's tough, loves the mud and has improved her top Racing Post Rating in each of her last seven races; it's not a big price that she'll improve on it again - the question is whether she can do it to a sufficient degree to usurp those above her. Trajectories, eh?

Brandy Love has been very lightly raced but is a Grade 1 winner at this range, when seeing off Love Envoi who, by contrast, was having her sixth battle of last season. I don't expect her to confirm the form with Harry Fry's mare.

Mares' Hurdle Pace Projection

This looks like it will be run at a sensible even gallop.

Mares' Hurdle Selection

A fantastic race in terms of stalwarts of the game and in competitive terms. Finding the winner will be difficult. Having backed Honeysuckle, I didn't think she'd face such a deep field - and I don't think connections did either. But she's still just about the one to beat, along with Epatante. I'm against Marie's Rock - fully mindful that it might look preposterous post-race - and, if it is soft, I'd want Love Envoi onside, too. It's that kind of contest!

Suggestion: The each way 'bet to nothing' (it doesn't exist, but you know what I mean) is 9/2 Epatante, who looks sure to be bang there; and I'm going to have a small bit on 9/1 Love Envoi as well, if the ground is soft.


4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Fred Winter, Grade 3, 2m 1/2f)

Too difficult. I've backed loads of them, which is ridiculous, because I haven't got a clue who wins. The average winning SP since 2012 has been 27/1, and there have been nine winners priced 20/1 or bigger since the race's inception in 2005; so the market doesn't have a clue who wins either! The suggestion, then, is to ignore anything shorter than 16/1 and try to make a case for two or three darts, win only, for small change.

In that spirit, I offer the following:

Afadil - a Paul Nicholls French import a la Sanctuaire, Qualando and Diego du Charmil, all of whom won this for PFN

Metamorpheus and Jazzy Matty - with thanks to Gavin Ryan for this snippet: this pair both ran in the Naas race that has thrown the winner of the last four Fred Boodles. So, too, did Byker, Sir Allen, and Morning Soldier - and the one I had most on for this prior to that race, Almuhit. He blew the start and was left 30 lengths!!!

Boodles Handicap Hurdle Pace Projection

A good half dozen possible pace angles here, headed perhaps by Mighty Mo Missouri. Expect thrills and spills.

Boodles Handicap Hurdle selection

I cannot with clean conscience propose you bet anything in this race on my say so. I've backed a few, including the three mentioned above. 

Suggestion: One for a blindfold and Mr Felt Tippy, your magic marker


5.30 National Hunt Chase (Grade 2, 3m 6f)

The four miler is not quite the race it was, and not just because it's only three miles and six furlongs in distance these days. This oldest race of the Festival and monument to the Corinthian nature that characterised National Hunt racing for a million years has undergone more nips and tucks to its race conditions than <insert your preferred surgically enhanced pantomime dame here>.

Its current format, borne somewhat legitimately out of the ugly optic that was the 2019 renewal, where just four of 18 starters completed and 'encouragement' was outside of what might be termed the comfort zone for even the most stoic of country sports fans, comprises more than just a reduced race distance. That range truncation implies a reduction in the number of fences, and there are indeed two fewer - 23 versus the previous 25 - and, additionally, no horse rated below 120 or with fewer than two chase starts (including one in the current season and one over about three miles or more) will qualify. The upshot is that a race that drew 17-20-18-16-18 runners up to 2019 has, since the amendments, attracted 14, 12 and, last year, just six runners. It's another smallish field this year, with ten going to post.

The market has been headed for a long time by Gaillard du Mesnil, a hyper consistent horse but only an occasional visitor to the winners' enclosure. To wit, in 13 Rules starts he's finished in the places on all bar one occasion, but has won just four times - and only once in eight starts in the past two years. That's got to be a concern about a horse priced around the even money mark, for all that many of those form lines give him a clear edge on his field. He was third in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase last year and filled the same position, in a field of 27, in the Irish Grand National a month later. This season, GdM followed up a good second to Mighty Potter over an inadequate two and a half miles with one of those elusive wins - and by eight lengths no less - against Churchstonewarrior, a surprise defector at the final declaration stage, in a three mile Grade 1 at Christmas. He was again beaten by the Potter when dropped back to the Potter's trip territory in a G1 at the DRF, and will clearly relish this more stamina-emphasised test. But did I mention that he doesn't win all that often?

The key to Chemical Energy appears to be in the turf. His form on good ground is 112111, while on softer he's 140854. It's bound to be softer than good and he has some stamina questions to answer, too. He's not for me.

Mahler Mission ran a fair race (7th of 16) in last year's Albert Bartlett and, though he was whacked in a novices' chase at Cheltenham early in the season, that was surely a sighter on ground much faster than ideal. More recently he's won a beginners' and then ran a gallant second to Churchstonewarrior.

Minella Crooner was a good staying hurdler, running second to Minella Cocooner in the Nathaniel Lacy at the 2022 DRF. He's one from four over fences though was also second in a Grade 2 in early season. The balance of his performances is not at the level of some of his rivals, and he might not want it too soft either. However, an interesting outsider to consider is Tenzing: he's still a maiden after three chase starts but that trio includes finishing close to Gerri Colombe and Ramillies before being beaten a little further last time by Mahler Mission. On the pick of those runs, he could again challenge for the frame.

Best of the (limited) British defence is probably Mister Coffey, a perma-bridesmaid trained by Nicky Henderson. He's finished second in five of his last six starts, a run that includes the G1 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase of last year and the Kim Muir a month later. He looked a strong stayer at last season's Festival and this test might be just the ticket.

Of the big prices, Coolvalla has nothing like the ratings to be in the shake up at this level. And yet, he's won handicap chases by 19 lengths and 17 lengths the last twice, has proven stamina, jumps well, and comes here nicely rested. He might outrun his 66/1 odds.

National Hunt Chase Pace Projection

A few possibles for the lead, most notably Mahler Mission, Minella Crooner, and perhaps Bellatrixsa. At the other end of the field, Chemical Energy will probably be patiently ridden by that master of the waiting ride, Jamie Codd.

National Hunt Chase Selection

On official ratings, Gaillard du Mesnil is clear of his field and he obviously has the talent to win; but his inability to put races to bed, even if they have been higher level races, has to be a worry at the price. Against him, there is a clutch of horses separated by only a few pounds on ratings, and it will be the one that adapts best to this somewhat unique test who is the each way bet. That might be the ultra-consistent Mister Coffey, who has placed Festival form to his name.

Suggestion: Back Mister Coffey each way at 9/1.


It's a fascinating start to the week, with top class horses aplenty and deep, deep fields in the main. Good luck with your betting in the opening quarter!


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London Racing Club Cheltenham Preview Night Notes

In front of a packed and enthralled gathering at South Kensington Holiday Inn, London Racing Club's annual 'best of breed' Cheltenham Preview Evening unfurled. Gently and eloquently compered by Racing Post senior writer, Lee Mottershead (LM), the panel further comprised stats man extraordinaire and former author of Weatherby's annual guide, Matt Tombs (MT), Racing TV's outstanding host and form judge, Lydia Hislop (LH), and - with a line from the odds makers, Sam Hockenhull of Fitzdares (SH).

What follows are their thoughts as far as I was able to scribble them down while still mainly aiming to enjoy the show!


Supreme Novices' Hurdle

LH - Concerned by Facile Vega's last run. Was reportedly lame after: that's a worry. Prefer Rare Edition each way, who was impressive at Christmas but came back with a dirty scope after his race at Huntingdon. Not dismissing Il Etait Temps, though he can pull hard.

MT - Is FV ground dependent? Best form seems to be on soft, could be a place lay on a sounder surface. Il Etait Temps is unsexy but is a good value e/w play. Like Rare Edition as well. At longer prices, Diverge and Doctor Bravo are mildly interesting in what looks a very open and potentially substandard renewal.


SH - Hard to separate the top two in the betting

MT - Strongest view of day 1: on form, El Fabiolo should be clear favourite. Jonbon jumped right at Warwick and, while El Fab also has jumping concerns, he's always jumped well immediately after making his mistakes. Dysart Dynamo is probably the best jumper in the field but if he goes too hard on the front could bomb out completely.

LH - Feel like the Warwick race has been overplayed in terms of Jonbon form. Calico (2nd there) showed he'd improved when winning next time. Not worried about Jonbon adjusting right. El Fabiolo "occasionally quite clumsy", but agree the Irish Arkle is the best form on show so far. But this race is likely to be the best form by season end. Saint Roi is interesting - "jockey admitted falling off" last time. Won't get involved in any pacey business on the front end and so is playable e/w at the prices.

Champion Hurdle

MT - Think Constitution Hill might be better than Istabraq; he's the complete package.

LH - It's a horse race ("thankfully"), and stuff can go wrong; but it will very much have to for CH to get beaten in the CH. I Like To Move It the "wise guy" horse but his forward-going style may not be suited to the tactical shape of the race.

Mares' Hurdle

SH - Epatante is a very interesting supplement. Want to lay Honeysuckle. Love Envoi is backable on softer ground.

LH - Can't make a strong case for Honeysuckle, but can see why she's stepped up to Mares' Hurdle distance. Epatante appears to be regressing more slowly than Honeysuckle and "mullered" some lesser horses at Doncaster last time. Interested in Love Envoi and Maries Rock if she shows here, but not Echoes In Rain.

MT - Can see a wall of money for Honeysuckle on the day so might be a back to lay opportunity. Maries Rock probably going to Stayers' Hurdle but would "really fancy her" if turning up here.

Rest of Tuesday

SH - Ultima: Happygolucky ran well at Newcastle off a big break before tiring in the straight. Was given a sighter at Cheltenham next time. Form looks decent and trainer Kim Bailey thinks a lot of the horse. Can't see Corach Rambler winning from behind again. Don't like Tekao in the Boodles, don't think he'll get up the hill.

MT - 'Waited with' run style can be a positive in the Ultima where plenty of jockeys go off too quickly. Gaillard du Mesnil is opposable at the prices in the NH Chase. Don't think that race's profile suits such a strong stayer any more. Churchstonewarrior could be a playable alternative - going slower could suit him.

LH - Happygolucky in the Ultima. Into Overdrive is interesting, too. Afadil in the Boodles. Want to oppose GdM in the NH Chase, with Mahler Mission and Chemical Energy viable options.



Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

SH - Impaire Et Passe (IeP) the recent money horse.

LH - IeP has the right combination of speed and jumping. Ruby/Willie vibes are very strong. Inthepocket is interesting up in trip; didn't the run of the race at the Dublin Racing Festival. Might need playing late but looks fair e/w.

MT - Would love to own Hermes Allen, but wouldn't run him in this race! Nicholls doesn't tend to hard train novice hurdlers. IeP is "nap of the whole Festival". He has everything you need for this job.

Brown Advisory Novices' Chase

LH - Thyme Hill form awful, the time was "glacial" 😆 Rain might be important for Gerri Colombe. Without rain, not sure he'll enjoy downhill sections of the track. Like The Real Whacker, but form has taken some knocks.

SH - Don't like Thyme Hill

MT - Lay of the meeting is Thyme Hill. Want to oppose Sir Gerhard who is inexperienced over fences and would probably be running over shorter if trained by anyone else than Willie. Gerri is a banker if it's wet. Like TRW as well. Thunder Rock could be an 'in running' play if he's travelling well in the first mile.

Champion Chase

MT - Edwardstone seems to be the momentum horse. Most likely winner but Editeur du Gite is some value - he's underestimated. Gentleman Du Mee is the horse liked most at the prices: looks progressive.

LH - Energumene jumps right which is a problem at Cheltenham; cannot have him at all. EdG is a fair price, and he might be Gentleman's problem if he doesn't allow that one to dominate from the front. Edwardstone probably just wins, after a good prep when a lot went wrong last time. He's the nap of the day.

Rest of Wednesday

MT - Cross Country: Gordon Elliott is the man for this now, with a stranglehold on the race. Delta Work probably wins if the ground is soft, Galvin probably wins if it's quicker. In Grand Annual, Rouge Vif and Sizing Pottsie have interesting profiles.

LH - Rouge Vif had a nice prep for the Grand Annual at Doncaster, but would be worried about rain for him.



Turners Novices' Chase

SH - Betting each way at shortish prices is not for everyone, but Banbridge will surely be hard to keep out of the frame and has a solid win chance, too.

LM - Nicky Henderson likes Balco Coastal at a big price

MT - Tipped Banbridge early season... for the Brown Advisory! In the Balco Coastal camp, possibly got there too soon in the Scilly Isles, and might appreciate going left-handed. One of the e/w bets of the week.

LH - Worried about Mighty Potter potentially not handling the travel/prelims again after last year. Could be different story this time but he has to overcome that and is very short in the betting considering. Banbridge is more straightforward and Balco Coastal is interesting at a bigger price, too. Appreciate It might be "a bit aged" to be winning this.

Stayers' Hurdle

SH - If Blazing Khal runs, he will go off favourite and looks the most likely winner.

LH - Will BK make it? The jockey - trainer's son - is a slight concern, too, as he won't be able to claim his usual five pounds. Maries Rock is very keen, while Teahupoo needs soft ground (might get it). Flooring Porter has had issues in the build up; Home By The Lee is improving but has more to find... which leaves Gold Tweet. The French horse has had a perfect prep, and jumps brilliantly.

MT - Ground important for Teahupoo who wants "proper soft". Blazing Khal has fitness and jockey concerns. Quite like HBTL though he wouldn't want a dawdling pace. If Maries Rock settles, she might be the bet.


MT - Hitman without the favourite (Shishkin) looks a good bet.

LH - Shishkin is a very likely winner; he "towers above the opposition". French Dynamite playable without the favourite: should like the return to Cheltenham, is improving but can make mistakes. Not interested in hold up types like Fury Road in this.

Rest of Thursday

LH - Mares' Novices: Luccia very good but Halka du Tabert, Magical Zoe and Harmonya Maker are all possibles, too. Check the ground before betting in this one. In the Festival Plate, Frero Banbou has been shaping like he needs this step up in trip.

SH - In the Mares' Novices, You Wear It Well keeps improving and wasn't far behind Hermes Allen in G1 Challow. Will stay on up the hill. Main danger might be Ashroe Diamond.

MT - Frero Banbou in the Plate. In the Mares' Novices, Halka du Tabert didn't get a good ride last time: she's better than that. In the Pertemps Final, Good Time Jonny could be a good old fashioned Tony Martin plot. Ran in Albert Bartlett last year, and been a mixed bag this season: very well weighted on his best form.



Triumph Hurdle

MT - 'Vibes' have been for Blood Destiny, but not a betting race

LH - Preview-night yak has raised the possibility Paul Townend might ride Blood Destiny, which would move him into favouritism. Lossiemouth has to prove herself in an end to end gallop, while Gala Marceau probably didn't get the credit she deserved last time: she's overpriced in relation to Lossiemouth. All three of those are Willie horses, so jockey bookings will be instructive. Comfort Zone can run well and could be the e/w play, though Aintree might be more his bag.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle

MT - This is a great betting race, as it's a different test from most of the races through the season and throws up some big priced winner as a result. Only one winner shorter than 11/1 in the past nine years. That said, may need to be more open-minded this year. Favori de Champdou and Affordale Fury are two of interest, but whatever you like, swing win only rather than each way.

LH - Hiddenvalley Lake one to be with. Profile of race has changed: now less seasoned horses can win. Absolute Notions a player if running here; so too Dawn Rising. Will be looking at unexposed types at the 48 hour stage.


LH - Galopin Des Champs is a very likely winner but, at bigger prices, Ahoy Senor could have a perfect setup in this test. Noble Yeats looks good to pick up place pieces. Although Bravemansgame may prefer flatter tracks, he has the strongest form in the race this season. Strongly against A Plus Tard's profile coming into the race. Even at his best, which we've not seen for a year, GdC would beat him anyway.

MT - Coming round to Bravemansgame having not been a fan early season - he's very hard to knock. Ahoy Senor may attempt a Coneygree off the front. Heart says GdC, value is Bmg. Against APT.

Rest of Friday

SH - Mares Chase: Allegorie de Vassy might be in a different league.

LH - Mares Chase: Allegorie de Vassy "jumps wildly right". Along with Thyme Hill, she's the one all week to field against the strongest! Jeremy's Flame looks solid while Elimay is too big a price.

MT - Hunter Chase: Rocky's Howya is a young horse and a complete unknown quantity. He's 5/5 in points this season, some of the form of which has worked out nicely.



LH - The Real Whacker in Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (SP)

MT - Balco Coastal e/w in the Turners Novices' Chase (16/1)

LM - Milkwood e/w in the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (40/1)


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Cheltenham Festival: The 15 year View

It is almost that time! For many, the Cheltenham Festival is the highlight of not just the National Hunt season, but the whole racing year, writes Dave Renham.

In this article I will attempt to break down the facts and figures going back as far as 2008. This gives us 15 years’ worth of data to crunch, which is plenty to get our teeth into. Fifteen is also a neat number as we can easily compare 5–year periods (2008–2012; 2013–2017; 2018–2022) to see what, if anything has changed.

My main focus will be looking at the data as a whole – market factors, last time out (LTO) factors, etc. At the end I will delve briefly into Grade 1 contests only. In terms of profit and loss, I am going to use Betfair Starting Price, and take into account commission on potential profits.

Cheltenham Festival Stats for All Races

Since 2016 there have been 28 races in total at each year's Cheltenham Festival and that will be the same in 2023: four days with seven races on each day, and a rich variety of different race types and distances.


Market Factors

Let's first examine the results by market price. Although I am quoting profits/losses to BSP, the market price bands I am examining are based on Industry SPs. This is simply because we have more defined prices for this group:


The Evens to 9/4 bracket has proved the most profitable in ROI terms and, taking shorter priced runners as a whole, the market has been a pretty good guide. Combining all runners priced 6/1 or shorter we have seen 182 winners from 807 (SR 22.6%) for a small BSP loss of £7.42 (ROI –0.9%).

Despite these relatively positive figures, there are strong fluctuations year on year as the graph below shows.



As you can see, the win percentage / strike rate peaked in 2016 at 33.33%, whereas 2010, 2014 and 2017 saw percentages dip under half that figure. Eight of the years would have turned a profit, seven a loss. Hence one needs to be aware that results for runners priced 6/1 or shorter are difficult to predict for a one–off Festival, 28 races always being a small sample size. However, having said that, taking the overall data into account, one could do worse than focusing attention on this price band.


Performance of Favourites at the Cheltenham Festival (2008-2022)

A look at favourites next. Taking all favourites as a group (clear and joint favourites), they have secured 113 wins from 443 races (SR 25.5%). However, backing all of them would have returned £43.12 less than staked, equating to a loss of nearly 10 pence in the £. Before ‘binning’ favourites as a betting option though, let me share the stats comparing clear favourites with joint favourites:



There is quite a difference here! Of course, it is sometimes difficult to predict who the favourite will be pre-race which can be an issue for trying to exploit ‘market data’. However, as a general rule, the stronger the favourite the better. What I mean by that is, horses who are a much shorter price than the second horse in the betting tend to do best here at the festival. AND of course this type of favourite can be confidently predicted before the off.

For favourite fans here are a few profitable angles in relation to clear market leaders:



The best figures come from horses aged 7 to 9: we do need to be careful bracketing runners by age, in case there is back-fitting in play. However, this age bracket of runner is around the optimum age for high level jump racing and much is known about such runners. By that I mean we usually have detailed form lines for runners within this age bracket. Of course there are races at the festival where 7 to 9yos do not take part, but in the races they do, if any clear favourite is in this age band, I believe it demands close scrutiny.

We will examine Irish trainers versus UK trainers in more detail later, but Irish-trained clear favourites have done well. If we combine the clear favourite records of Willie Mullins, Gordon Elliott and Henry De Bromhead, 39.1% of them won (54 wins from 138) for a profit of £27.25 (ROI +19.7%). The ‘rise’ of Irish runners will be a theme of this piece, and this can be seen when we look at a year by year breakdown of clear favourites that were trained in Ireland.



The graph illustrates a clear upwards trajectory with the last four years averaging out at just under 20 per meeting (19.5 to be precise). Essentially this means that around 70% of all races in the past four years have had an Irish-trained favourite. Compare this to the first five years (2008 to 2012) where the average was 7.4.


Last Time Out (LTO) performance

Cheltenham Festival Performance by LTO finishing position (2008-2022)

Onto last time out factors now with my initial focus being on where a horse finished in its most recent race:



Although horses that either finished 3rd LTO or 5th or worse have made a profit, this is down to big prices skewing the figures. As we can see, strike rates are low across the board, but if there is an area to concentrate on, it does seem to be last day winners. This is because they are the biggest group, have by far the best record win wise, and they have just about broken even.

Earlier I noted that LTO winners that went on to head the market at the festival have proved profitable. What about other areas?


Performance of LTO winners by Gender of Horse 

I want to share some gender data with you in terms of the gender of horse. Male LTO winners make up around 90% of all such runners, but female LTO winners have comfortably outperformed their male counterparts at the festival in terms of strike rate:



194 female LTO winners have run at the festival with 31 winning. Not only that, if you had backed all of them ‘blind’ they would have secured you a profit of £116.24 (ROI 59.2%). If sticking to solely mixed sex races (races open to both sexes) the stats, albeit from a small sample, are even more impressive: 13 wins from 69 (SR 18.8%) for a profit of £116.14 (ROI +168.3%). Indeed, looking at the last three festivals (2020, 2021 and 2022) LTO winning female horses running in mixed sex races have won 8 races from just 20 runners!


Performance of LTO winners by LTO Race Class

Time to examine whether the class of race that the horse won last time out makes a difference... and it certainly seems to!



Horses that won a Grade 1 contest LTO have scored close to one race in every four which is impressive. Backing all runners would have yielded a good profit also of over 22p in the £. Horses winning LTO in either Grade 2, 3 or Listed company have very similar strike rates, but it is Listed LTO winners who have created the best profit (£49.48 returning 41p in the £).

LTO winners outside Graded and Listed company have by far the poorest strike rate as you would expect. They have incurred losses of £116.97 (ROI -8.3%) over the period of study. LTO winners outside Graded and Listed company have not surprisingly struggled even more when the race at Cheltenham is a Graded one – in these races their record reads 50 wins from 957 (SR 5.2%) for a loss of £149.46 (ROI -15.6%). Losses have been steepest in Grade 1 contests with your £1 bet returning on average 79p (loss of 21p in the £).


Performance of LTO winners by LTO Course

The next question I will try and address is, does the track at which the horse ran LTO make a difference? One might expect that horses that ran at a top track last time would outperform those that didn’t. The table below looks at any course that has sent 75 or more runners next time out to the Cheltenham Festival. I have ordered it by win strike rate:



What immediately resonates is the record of Irish tracks: the top four in the list are all Irish tracks and runners from all four (Thurles, Leopardstown, Naas and Navan) have secured decent profits at the festival to BSP. Irish tracks also take positions 6 and 7, giving them six of the first seven spots in the list. Focusing on those top four courses, here is win strike rate breakdown by 5-year groups:



The last decade has seen a notable uptick in performance which mirrors the type of pattern we saw earlier in terms of the increasing number of Irish runners that have started clear favourite. In that favourite data, the years 2008 to 2012 saw the smallest market leader numbers by some margin. Of course, we know about the dominance of Irish winners at recent Festivals but there is still plenty on which to chew in relation to possible value edges.

Before moving on, any system punters out there may want to consider an angle based on last time out runners from these four Irish tracks. It combines some positives we have already noted and is as follows:

  1. LTO run at Leopardstown, Naas, Navan or Thurles
  2. LTO run in Graded / Listed Race
  3. Finished in first three LTO

The results were:


Ten of the 15 years would have yielded a profit, and a very good one in nine of those ten positive renewals. Three years made small losses, two years quite big losses.

Sceptics will naturally be highlighting the fact that this system idea is back-fitted, and to a great extent they would be right. However, the rules are simple, logical, and there are not many of them, all of which is positive from a system building perspective.

I am definitely not advocating that this system is one that punters should use ‘blind’ at the 2023 festival, but it may offer a potential starting point, to at least give you a pool of runners to consider. Also, for readers with little time to study form, I am confident there are plenty of systems around that are less likely to produce a profit at the Festival than this one.


Irish runners versus UK runners

We have already noted some positives connected with Irish runners or those that raced in Ireland last time. It goes without saying that the vast majority of horses racing at Cheltenham that raced in Ireland last time out would have been from Irish stables; in fact 97% of them were. Hence there definitely has been a strong Irish bias.

Below is a breakdown of the records of all UK trainers versus all Irish trainers:



Looking at this, we can the Irish bias in all its glory. Irish-trained runners have more than twice the strike rate of their counterparts trained in UK. Moreover, they've enjoyed a 55p in the £ difference in their returns, and a clear differential between the A/E indices.

In recent years their stranglehold has got stronger and stronger. Below shows the number of Irish wins by 5-year groups:



These figures are skewed inasmuch as the last five years have seen a big increase in the number of Irish horses travelling across. However, the win strike rate for Irish runners in the five years from 2008 to 2012 was 6.8%, whereas in the past five years (2018 to 2022) it has been 9.7%. So the Irish are sending more runners than they did more than a decade ago, and are winning on average more often. That, obviously, is a potent combination.

Indeed, Irish runners have outperformed UK runners in terms of win strike rate in the last ten festivals starting from 2013 as the graph below neatly illustrates.



The UK runners did close the gap in 2022, after a dreadful 2021. Will they be able to get any closer this year? Only time will tell, but you have to expect the Irish to come out on top overall once more.


Grade 1 Races

For the final segment of this article I want to have a brief look at Grade 1 races. These races comprise 50% of the 28 Festival contests and, in the last 15 years, they have accounted for roughly the same percentage of all the Festival contests (some of the newer races being upgraded during the review period).

The betting market comes under the spotlight first.


Market Factors in Cheltenham Festival Grade 1 Races

I have split the prices as I did earlier in the article and here are the Grade 1 only figures:



The data show a poor record for odds-on runners, but in general short- to mid-range prices do quite well. The cut off price looks to be at 14/1 – at this price and bigger Grade 1 runners have performed poorly. Strike rates are below what is the 14/1+ norm for all National Hunt races and losses have been significant.

If we look at market position data instead, clear favourites in Grade 1 races have just edged into profit, albeit by only £6.77 (ROI +3.6%); backing ALL runners in the top four in the betting would have yielded a profit of £55.24 (ROI +6.8%).


LTO performance in Cheltenham Festival Grade 1 Races

One group of runners to avoid in Grade 1 races seems to be those that ran relatively modestly or poorly last time out. Horses that finished 5th or worse on their prep run have accounted for just eight winners from 282 runners (SR 2.8%) for a hefty BSP loss of £129.01 (ROI -45.8%). Meanwhile, last day winners have secured 141 wins from 1200 runners (SR 11.8%). They, too, made a loss but nowhere near as severe, at -£50.53 (ROI -4.2%).


LTO Race Class

A look next at race class on their previous start (all Cheltenham Grade 1 runners).



There is a sliding scale of strike rates as you would expect. Horses that raced outside Graded/Listed company have a poor record.

If we focus only on LTO winners, it is interesting that each LTO Graded category made a small individual profit to BSP, as did those who won a Listed contest.


LTO course

In terms of the course Grade 1 Cheltenham Festival entries ran at last time, Irish courses have again outperformed UK ones. This time around I have grouped all courses in each country for the comparison:



It is no surprise to see horses that ran in Ireland LTO coming out on top in terms of strike rate, returns and A/E indices. There is, however, one Irish course where caution might be advised, and that is Gowran Park. Just 2 winners from 90 runners in the last 15 years prepped there, with losses amounting to over 88p in the £.


Gender of Horse (LTO winners only)

We saw earlier that LTO winners that were female had a better strike rate than males, as well as proving profitable. Focusing on Grade 1 races only, this pattern is replicated once more:



A strike rate of close to 1 in 5 is excellent and female LTO winners have secured a profit in Grade 1 races of £66.94 (ROI +85.8%). Hence any female running this year at Cheltenham who won last time out might be a horse to consider as a betting opportunity.


Irish runners versus UK runners

It is abundantly clear from what we have seen to date that, in general, Irish-trained runners outperform those trained in the UK at the Cheltenham Festival. From the LTO course (by country) figures we can see that this is also the case in Grade 1 races (as most of the runners that ran in Ireland last time are Irish-based). What I would like to share is the number of Irish wins in Grade 1 races broken down by year:



The last ten years (from 2013 onwards) have seen Irish runners dominate these events more and more. Indeed, in the last two years we have witnessed double figure victories and, considering there were only 14 Grade 1 races in each of 2021 and 2022, this is mightily impressive (or concerning, if you're a British-based racing administrator, trainer or owner). To spell it out, in the most recent two Cheltenham Festivals, Irish runners have secured 22 wins compared with just six for the UK.


Key Takeaways

Before winding down, here are some of the key stats I suggest you keep in mind:

  1. The betting market is a good guide. Clear favourites are reasonable value in all races including Grade 1 contests. Focusing attention on horses priced 6/1 or shorter should give a sporting chance of making a profit. In Grade 1 races avoiding horses priced 14/1 or bigger will usually save you some cash.
  2. Irish runners are likely to outperform their UK counterparts. This is especially probable in Grade 1 races. The trainers Henry de Bromhead, Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins have good records with favourites.
  3. Female horses have a good record when following up a win last time. This is true even in Grade 1 contests.
  4. A prep run at Leopardstown, Naas, Navan or Thurles has provided good profits over the past 15 years.
  5. Last time out Grade 1 winners are generally decent value.
  6. In Grade 1 races it looks best to avoid horses that finished 5th or worse in their final prep.


Hopefully this article has offered some good general guidance to follow, with the hope that it will find a winner or two along the way. This is my last article before Cheltenham, so good luck, and I'll see you on the other side with some early thoughts for the 2023 flat campaign!

- Dave R

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Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day One Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day One Preview, Tips

We're back! After the weirdness of a behind closed doors Cheltenham Festival last year - did that really happen? - and the hand-wringing and recrimination that followed the 'super spreader' 2020 variant, we are finally back live on Cleeve Hill for the 2022 renewal of the greatest meeting in the calendar. Whoop, whoop, and woohoo!

The opening day always majors on speed, quality, and drama from the get-go, with a double-barrelled Grade 1 two-mile novice volley to kick us off. It's the hurdlers first, in the...

1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 1/2f)

The traditional pipe opener restored to its 1.30 tapes up slot and, after much hokey cokeying amongst the mega stable entries we have our list of runners and riders fixed. It's a yes for Dysart Dynamo, Constitution Hill and Jonbon but a 'see you tomorrow' for Sir Gerhard.

A smallish field of nine sets the tone for a week where the non-handicaps are expected to be shallow affairs runners wise in the main, with the dominance of those aforementioned superyard chickens perhaps coming home to roost a little. Anyway, macro questions like that don't belong before an obstacle has been cleared so let's get back to business.

In spite of the small field the Supreme remains a competitive race with five horses at single figure prices. They are headed by inmates of the unofficial Prestbury Cup team captains Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins and, more pertinently, their A and B players, Constitution Hill and Jonbon (NJH) and Dysart Dynamo and Kilcruit (WPM). Mullins also lobs a third dart in Bring On The Night.

Let's start on home shores and Constitution Hill has looked all class in a pair of facile Sandown scores to date, trouncing a field of maidens before treating his Grade 1 Tolworth rivals with similar disdain. The merit of that heavy ground G1 form is unclear with the second and third getting thumped next time, but the winner could have done no more. He is clearly a very classy recruit whose maiden win offers hope that the quicker Cheltenham turf won't be a problem. We have to yet to see what he'll find off the bridle, though, and it is hard to imagine any horse taking this 'on the snaff'.

Vying for favouritism is the first of the Closutton triumvirate, Dysart Dynamo, a buzzy front-running type who is quick, very quick. Winner of all four starts to date - two bumpers, a maiden hurdle and a Grade 2 hurdle - it is worth noting that while never seeing a rival in the two hurdle starts he took a lead in both of his bumpers before strolling home unchallenged. It may be further worth noting that the first of those was a soft ground near two-and-a-half miler, so stamina is assured. It's hard to know exactly what he beat in the G2 but second-placed Gringo d'Aubrelle had previously been a ten length third to Stage Star in the G1 Challow over further.

For all of the obvious upside of those 'opening batsmen', their second picks have arguably more substance in the book. Jonbon, representing Seven Barrows, is also unbeaten in four, a bumper and three hurdle races, most recently a couple of Grade 2 contests. The first of those was a steadily run small field heat, but the second, the Rossington Main at Haydock, was well contested and Jonbon came home in a good time. He's not been nearly as flashy as those shorter in the market but he's highly effective and has been well on top each time in spite of narrower margins of victory. Jonbon cost £570,000 after winning his point to point, a price based as much on being a full brother to Douvan as to the manner of his win between the flags. Nothing looks value at that sort of a price, but owner J P McManus has met his objective of getting to the Festival with a chance.

Second pick for Willie is Kilcruit, beaten by the race tactics in last year's Champion Bumper and subsequently reversing form with his conqueror, Sir Gerhard, in the Punchestown equivalent. Hurdling has not been a straightforward discipline for Kilcruit heretofore however: it took him three attempts to get off the mark, something he only achieved in middling maiden company last time out. If that's the not great news, the positives are that he won that twenty-runner race by 21 lengths, and that he did it in a manner which impressed the time and sectional watchers. He has looked a little ungainly on occasion, even appearing to lose his action, but that may just be his way of going.

The Mullins third string is an unbeaten-in-one 'could be anything' type called Bring On The Night. A progressive three-year-old when trained in France by Andre Fabre, it was nigh on two years thereafter that he made his timber debut at Naas. Impressive he was, too, coming right away from a large field of maidens in spite of bungling the final flight. It should be remembered that a maiden in late February will be easier to win than one in late November, most of the runners already multiple non-winners by then. Willie was quite bullish about his ability in recent stable tour chat but I thought he might have gone Ballymore rather than here.

And no Festival party is complete - 2021 excepted - without a Gordon Elliott-trained invitee. His sole Supreme entry is Mighty Potter, whose Grade 1 form stands up against what his rivals have achieved thus far. Outpaced in a tactical Royal Bond in late November, he showed his true self a month later in the Future Champions Novice (G1). A more truly run race such as this looks right up his street and he is a definite place player at least in a tough betting puzzle.

That leaves a trio of British-trained hopes, the word 'hope' used loosely. Shallwehaveonemore was beaten 26 lengths by Constitution Hill in the Tolworth but has improved a fair bit since. His best form is on decent ground so that's a plus, and he may have been a little outpaced at Kempton last time when second in Grade 2 company. He could run quite well without challenging the podium places.

Jpr One was just about last in the Betfair Hurdle last time and that doesn't bode well for his prospects here; while Silent Revolution is inexperienced but beat a well regarded horse last time at Newbury.

Supreme Novices' Pace Projection

Likely to be at least truly run, and potentially a little fast early; the winner will need to travel and jump at top speed as well as possess sufficient stamina to see it out after the last.

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Selection

This is tricky. We've got to balance the style and potential of Dysart Dynamo and Constitution Hill against the substance of Jonbon, Kilcruit and Mighty Potter. Given the prices, where style is in the realms of win only wagering, and substance comes with each way potential, I'll let the pin up boys beat me if they can. The more I look at the Supreme, the more I feel like Mighty Potter should get a lovely lead into the business end and will get the end-to-end gallop that suits him best. He's the biggest price of the fancied quintet and that seems a little unfair.

Suggestion: Back Mighty Potter each way at 8/1 or better, ideally with a bookie offering extra places or money back if beaten.


2.10 Arkle Challenge Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

The first chase of the week is the Arkle Challenge Trophy, a two mile event for novices. If it perhaps lacks a little star quality this year - there can't be a Shishkin/Altior/Douvan every time - it remains competitive from a betting perspective.

Edwardstone tops the pile on just about every ratings compiler's list, and he heads the betting, too. Brought down on fencing debut, that inauspicious introduction has long been forgotten as he has subsequently strung four straight chase wins together, three of them in Graded company, one a Grade 1. He jumped very well at Warwick in the Grade 2 Kingmaker last time but, prior to that, had put in the odd clumsy one. With a versatile run style and the best form in the book, he has a very obvious chance to add to trainer Alan King's two previous Arkle scores.

The best fancied of the Irish party is the Willie Mullins-trained Blue Lord, whose hitherto unbeaten trio over fences culminated with Grade 1 success in the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival. His hurdles form was better than respectable - he'd have been comfortably closest to Appreciate It in last year's Supreme but for tumbling at the last - and he's looked assured in his leaping thus far. He was being closed down by Riviere d'Etel, who had led to the last fence before blundering, but was conceding nine pounds to that five-year-old mare. Saint Sam, who had led until the second last, was a further four lengths back while the quietly fancied Haut En Couleurs was an early faller.

Trying to unpick that form line with a view to the Arkle is difficult: Blue Lord can probably be expected to come on for the run and has proven himself at Cheltenham albeit when unshipping - he is also the top-rated hurdler (148) from the Irish Arkle cohort; Riviere d'Etel was only a 134-rated hurdler but is 150 over fences already and has looked good this season, but her age and weight pull with Blue Lord will be reduced from nine pounds to seven; Saint Sam is likewise a far better fencer than hurdler (152 versus 143), while Haut En Couleurs was the best of the five-year-olds over timber and has most scope to progress chasing after just two starts and one completion.

In his sole chase effort before the last day fall, Haut En Couleurs had easily accounted for Gentleman De Mee and Mt Leinster, the former hacking up twice since, most recently in Grade 3 company at odds of 1/5. It is worth noting that five-year-olds have failed to win since their allowance was removed, though some of the fancied ones (Allmankind, Saint Calvados) have been given, erm, interesting rides from the front. Nevertheless, that's a reservation for now, even though the pre-eminence of the same age group in the Champion Hurdle market says a fair bit about the older generations in the two-mile division currently.

The lightly-raced mare Magic Daze has been fairly well supported but I'm struggling to see her case. She was second in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle last season before finishing only fourth in a Listed mares' event at Punchestown. Over fences, she's one from three so far and she lacks obvious upside to my eye. Perhaps more interesting of the longer-priced Irish runners is Coeur Sublime, who ran in open Grade 1 hurdles last year and was rated 152 in that sphere. True, Coeur was beaten a number of lengths by Riviere d'Etel when that one was a length and a half behind Ferny Hollow in the G1 two mile novice chase at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival, and he's done no more since than ease home in a nothing beginners' chase at Gowran Park; but he brings 'back class' and fencing upside to the Arkle party.

War Lord is also worth a mention. Trained by Colin Tizzard, his sole defeat in four progressive chase starts was when well seen off, but still best of the rest, behind Edwardstone in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown in December. It's fair to say that the Tizzard stable was in poor form at that moment and is firing much better now; if that was a factor in War Lord's defeat, he might be over-priced.

Gavin Cromwell runs Gabynako, whose last race was a shocker. That was on heavy and he quite possibly didn't handle it. On his previous start, in the Grade 1 Drinmore, he was narrowly beaten having made a mistake at the last; and prior to that he beat Fury Road in a beginners' chase. All that form is over further so, if his jumping can hold up in what looks set to be a fast early tempo, he'll stay well and could sneak into the frame.

Brave Seasca, who has progressed through soft ground handicaps but was no match for Edwardstone last time, is probably a little out of his depth.

Arkle Pace Projection

Saint Sam and Magic Daze are the most likely leaders, but Blue Lord and Riviere d'Etel have led or pressed the pace in at least two of their most recent four starts as well. Should be an honest, perhaps, fast gallop.

Arkle Chase Selection

The furlong shorter trip compared with the Irish Arkle might be a benefit to Blue Lord, whose credentials look most apparent of the Irish runners even though the eye was naturally drawn to Riviere d'Etel's unlucky runner up effort there. Haut En Couleurs has plenty of untapped potential and could usurp the finishers from that race if standing up.

Of the home team, Edwardstone's case dwarfs his compatriots, though it is possible that War Lord may significantly reduce the margin by which he was beaten in December. Coeur Sublime is another dark horse at a price, and Gabynako a third, in a trappy and open-looking Arkle.

Suggestion: Back Haut En Couleurs to win at 8/1, ideally with a bookie offering faller insurance. 20/1 Gabynako may outrun his price and could be a little each way value with four places.


2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3 handicap, 3m1f)

The first handicap of the week and one that normally goes to a runner close to the head of the market. A few trends may help the route to a shortlist.

Josh Wright from tells us that

14/14 had 1+ run at track previously (had not: 0/44,7p)
14/14 had been ridden by today’s jockey at least once (had not: 0/42, 3p)
14/14 0-4 chase runs at the track (5+ : 0/53, 6p)
14/14 top 6 on last start (7th>: 0/99, 14p)
13/14 had 10 or fewer runs in handicaps (11+ : 1/120, 12p)
13/14 were 5th or lower in the weights (Top 4: 1/67, 13p)
13/14 had run at Grade 1 or 2 level in career (had not: 1/79, 9p)
13/14 had 14 or fewer chase runs (15+ : 1/83, 9p)
13/14 ran left handed last start (RH: 1/107, 14p)
12/14 had 1 or 2 runs this calendar year (did not: 2/105, 17p)
12/14 had 0-1 handicap chase wins (2+ : 2/116, 13p)

That leaves eight - Does He Know, Floueur, Tea Clipper, Fantastikas, Grumpy Charley, Kiltealy Briggs, Full Back and Oscar Elite.

And Matt Tombs in his excellent matchbook content added that five of the 14 runners to start with a chase rating 7lb+ lower than their hurdle mark managed to win in the last 13 renewals. Interesting, almost like they found improvement for the atmosphere of the Festival...

Putting all of that together gives me a single horse, Oscar Elite. I'd backed him prior to the kingmaker race for the Festival handicap chases, the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase at Cheltenham's Trials Day, and am consequently on very good terms with myself. The case is thus: he was second to Vanillier in last year's Grade 1 Albert Bartlett and then third behind Ahoy Senor in the staying Grade 1 novice hurdle at Aintree. A switch to fences has failed to produce a win in four starts but there was the promise of more in three of them, all at Cheltenham. This will have been the plan from the outset.

Of the others on the shortlist, Does He Know's trainer, Kim Bailey, has had a winner (in 1999) and two places from four Ultima starters, including last year's second, Happygolucky. And Tea Clipper is interesting with first time cheekpieces and first run after a wind operation. He was no match for Bravemansgame in the Grade 1 Kauto Star (Feltham as was) but this will be more his cup of, well, you know. Full Back won at the New Year's Day fixture and was probably looked after a little at Taunton in his only race since.

The last Irish winner of the Ultima was Dun Doire in 2006 but they've had very few runners since. In fact, their runner form string from 2007 is 02222121233422. This year, there will be as many as seven Irish-trained runners, so they have a commensurately greater chance of winning!

Ultima Pace Projection

It will be quick and there will be some trouble in transit for a few. Hopefully Frodon gets them spaced out behind and all have their chance.

Ultima Handicap Chase Selection

I backed Oscar Elite at 28/1 in January and I think he's still value at 20/1 now, especially with loads of extra places. Of the rest, Does He Know and Tea Clipper are possibles.

Suggestion: Back Oscar Elite each way at around 20/1 with as many extra places as you can find.


3.30 Champion Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 1/2f)

The main event on Day One is the Champion Hurdle, a two mile Grade 1 where the reigning champion, Honeysuckle, will bid to defend her crown. Not only is Kenny Alexander's mare the reigning champ but she is also unbeaten in 14 career starts under Rules and, before that, a single point to point.

I previewed the Champion Hurdle in mid-January and nothing has materially changed since then. Honeysuckle won the Irish Champion Hurdle easily enough; Appreciate It has still not been sighted; and the five-year-olds are still loitering on the periphery with intent.

Of that last named cohort, maybe Teahupoo has advanced his claims since the turn of the year. He's still yet to race in Grade 1 company, but has been dominant in winning a brace of Grade 3's either side of a Grade 2 score. He's looked like there is plenty more to come but his potential is more than factored into quotes of 8/1 especially when noting his lack of form on a sound surface (for which, granted, he could improve, though I don't expect him to).

I also didn't mention Tommy's Oscar in that earlier preview, Mrs Ann Hamilton's flag bearer well worthy of the name check having waltzed away with the Haydock Champion Hurdle trial shortly after publication. He's been aggressively ascendant, rising from a rating of 139 at season start to his current 156; but that still leaves him with a stone and more to find when Honeysuckle's mares' allowance is incorporated.

Champion Hurdle Pace Projection

It looks like this year's Champion Hurdle may be run at an even to quick tempo, with both Appreciate It and Teahupoo generally going forward. However, both took a lead on their most recent starts so perhaps we'll be erring towards just an even gallop, in which case all should be able to run their races.

Champion Hurdle Selection

In that earlier preview, I found it impossible to oppose Honeysuckle. I still do, though after an electric gear change to settle the race last time she didn't really stretch away as it appeared she might. As a consequence, I went fishing for a wager in a different pond, the 'without the favourite' market. There I plumped for Epatante each way at 11/2. She's now as big as 7/1 in that market, and in all honesty I've cooled on her prospects of running second to Honeysuckle (and therefore winning that bet) a little, though she still has grand claims of being in the first four.

I'm not keen on backing Appreciate It at around 6/4 in the 'without' market either, nor the untested in Grade 1 or on fast ground Teahupoo, or any of his five-year-old contemporaries. No, if I was having a swipe right now, it might be Not So Sleepy without Honeysuckle at 33/1+ each way. He was 5th last year at 125/1 outright, and has dead heated with Epatante in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth this season.

But, on balance, I'll stick with what I have and cheer the champ to repeat and remain unbeaten.

Suggestion: Consider Not So Sleepy each way without Honeysuckle at anything above 25/1. Not really a betting race now.


4.10 Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m4f)

The Mares' Hurdle had been dominated by Willie Mullins almost since its inception in 2008. Mullins was actually unrepresented in that inaugural running, but then went on to win nine of the next ten editions, six of them with the fantastic though only occasionally seen Quevega. However, more recently, the omnipotent Closutton barn has enjoyed success in the Mares' Hurdle only once in the last five years, and not at all in the last three.

Related, and perhaps more remarkable, is that the last five favourites in the race - all of them short - were turned over. Limini was 3rd at 6/4 in 2017, the same position occupied by 1/2 Apple's Jade in 2018; Benie Des Dieux fell in 2019 when sent off 10/11 and she was beaten by Honeysuckle a year later at odds of 4/6, before most recently 10/11 Concertista was run out of it by Black Tears in the shadow of the post.

There's no shortie in the betting this time, current prices being 3/1 and upwards your pick. Tenuously top of that pile is Telmesomethinggirl, trained by Henry de Bromhead and running in the Kenny Alexander colours of Honeysuckle, meaning it could be quite a 45 minutes or so for connections. This mare won the Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle at last year's Festival over two miles, but has been beaten in all three starts since. If that's the unpromising news, her most recent effort - when a staying on third to Royal Kahala at Leopardstown - was definitely her season best and she comes here perhaps sitting on a big one, as they say.

In front of Telmesomethinggirl but largely whacked before and since this term was Heaven Help Us, winner of the Coral Cup a year ago. Like the favourite, she brings Festival-winning form to the party and her form string at this intermediate distance is 12. She seems better going left-handed and with just a little ease in the ground, conditions she'll get here. This has presumably been the target for Paul Hennessy's charge; he also owns and bred her.

Queen's Brook will be Gordon Elliott's hope for the race, the mare having run third in the 2020 Champion Bumper behind Ferny Hollow before skipping last year's Festival. Her recent form is consistent and ties in with the likes of Burning Victory but she's won only once from five starts over hurdles since her maiden score.

Burning Victory was the beneficiary of Goshen's black swan event at the last in the Triumph Hurdle of 2020 and she's travelled all over the place since. Specifically, she's taken in the Galway Hurdle (7th), a Deauville handicap (1st), the Cesarewitch (2nd), a Navan handicap hurdle (tailed off), the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle (3rd) and that defeat of Queen's Brook last time. There are plenty of top class efforts in that sequence, a positive which has to be balanced against the busy campaign; that said, she's had only the one run in 2022.

It's hard to know what to make of Stormy Ireland, who has won a lot for Willie Mullins either side of a curiously disappointing sojourn at Paul Nicholls' yard. She was fortunate to win the Relkeel Hurdle here on New Year's Day but that showed the track holds few fears, and she was a Grade 1 winner at this trip and on this sort of ground at Punchestown last May. Still, she's not getting any younger - this will be her third run in the race having finished second in 2019 and fifth in 2020.

Mrs Milner, like Heaven Help Us, was a handicap hurdle winner at last year's Festival, her score coming in the three mile Pertemps Final. This is a different test, more about speed than stamina, though she had the gears to win a couple of lower grade two mile hurdles earlier in her career.

Nicky Henderson saddles Marie's Rock, who ran a nice race without troubling the judge in the Greatwood Hurdle in November. Subsequently stepped up to this range, she won either side of a non-completion when badly hampered by a faller. On ratings she has a few pounds to find with some of these but her trainer is making optimistic noises (for whatever that is worth).

Yet another former Festival winner is Indefatigable whose 2020 Martin Pipe win was a red letter day for trainer Paul Webber but also for geegeez-sponsored then conditional rider, Rex Dingle. Rex came with the proverbial wet sail there, weaving through tiring rivals up the run in to present the mare on the line, a style which has proven more difficult to pull off in smaller field, more steadily run contests since. There is a good bit of pace projected for this one, however, perhaps allowing her to finish a little better, and almost all of her best form has come at Cheltenham including when fourth in this last year and fifth in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle in 2019, either side of that Martin Pipe score.

Echoes In Rain enjoyed a purple patch last spring where a hat-trick of wins was capped by Grade 1 honours in a Punchestown Festival novice hurdle. At the top table this term, she's found life tougher, twice getting a distant view of Sharjah's tail before finishing closer to Honeysuckle albeit in a steadily run contest. This is shallower than those meetings with Champion Hurdle aspirants, actual and absent, and it wouldn't be a total shock if she were to bounce back. She will also have to prove her stamina on this first attempt beyond two miles, her pedigree not guaranteeing she'll stay.

And an honourable mention for the admirable Martello Sky, whose habit of winning must be delightful for connections. To wit, she has eight first places from just twelve career starts, among them a brace of Listed Hurdles. This will be tougher though the extra distance should mean she'll be able to get into a better rhythm than was the case when midfield in last year's Mares' Novices' Hurdle. Both Western Victory and Nada To Prada look to be pitching above their level.

Mares' Hurdle Pace Projection

This could be pretty quick but possibly not overly strongly run, with Stormy Ireland and Western Victory going forward and Heaven Help Us close up. Telmesomethinggirl and Echoes In Rain will be amongst those looking to affect the outcome with a late rally.

Mares' Hurdle Selection

This is a really tricky race with if's and but's about most of them. In the absence of a reliable option, I'll take a chance on Heaven Help Us being trained for the day in what seem to be her favoured conditions. Indefatigable looks like getting her optimal conditions for the first time in a while and may be over-priced for hail mary each way players.

Suggestion: Try Heaven Help Us at 12/1. Give Indefatigable a second glance at 28/1 or bigger.


4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Fred Winter, Grade 3, 2m 1/2f)

A feature of the handicap hurdles this year is the almost total dominance of the top end of the handicap by Irish runners. This is as a direct result of the recalibration of ratings in the British hurdling division and, depending on your perspective, it either shows how much better the Irish horses are or it gives Team GB (ugh) a better chance. My opinion is that those two perspectives are not mutually exclusive and both hold water.

Looking down the weights, the first British-trained runner is actually the top weight, ex-French Petit Tonnerre, who perhaps shouldn't have won on British debut! Next in is the Paul Nicholls entry, Bell Ex One. Closer scrutiny reveals he's not raced since qualifying for this for his previous trainer, in Ireland! The next UK-trained entry is Saint Segal, number 14 in the weights (!), trained by Jane Williams. Jane is married to Nick Williams, who won the Fred Boodles (Winter as was) in 2017 with Flying Tiger having trained third-placed Coo Star Sivola a year earlier. Five further swings at this prize since have come up dry, but Saint Segal looks a legit contender: he was second in the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle having pulled too hard early and is unbeaten in a pair of spins sandwiching that G1. The likely quicker pace ought to suit well.

Meanwhile, further up the weights, Gordon Elliott seems to be the main man for the occasion. Uninvited last year, he saddled five in 2020 and, of the 22 who set off, his quintet finished 1-3-4-8-9. In 2019, one of his trio of entries ran second; and in 2018 he scored at 33/1 from just two runners. A pair of runners in each of the 2014-2017 renewals yielded no more than a single fourth-placed finish, but Flaxen Flare was a 25/1 winner in 2013.

This year, Elliott has five entered up. His main chance appears to be The Tide Turns, whose three qualifying races were a comfortable victory in a 20-runner maiden hurdle (2nd, 4th and 5th both won their only starts since), fourth to Triumph Hurdle favourite Vauban in a Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival, and another fourth against elders in the Red Mills Trial won by Teahupoo. That third dance was hastily arranged to facilitate qualification for the Boodles though I'm not sure 137 is a gimme of a mark considering he was only a mildly progressive mid-70's handicapper on the level for Sir Mark Prescott.

As mentioned, Elliott has twice won this with a lesser fancied runner, 33/1 Veneer Of Charm in 2018 and 25/1 Flaxen Flare in 2013, so his others deserve consideration. That pair both won their hurdle debuts before finishing second and then nowhere in two subsequent pre-Boodles runs. This year, Britzka and Ebasari both won before failing to follow up twice, as did the aforementioned The Tide Turns. The market is currently a little more circumspect - both Britzka and Ebasari are around 16/1 - though the play book is there for all to see.

The favourite, and very short at that, is trained by Willie Mullins and owned by Mrs S Ricci, and he is called Gaelic Warrior. Still a maiden after three hurdle starts in France he has a mark of just 129 which compares very favourably with his French peg of 63kg (multiply by 2.2 to get 138.6 pounds, making GW ten pounds 'well in'). In his most recent start, Gaelic Warrior was outpaced on heavy ground before finishing strongly to take third of 14. The second horse, Golden Son, has since won a Grade 2 before claiming runner up honours in a G1; while the winner, Sans Bruit, has won a Grade 3 and been third in a Grade 2.

He's undeniably well treated, then, but hitting a serious flat spot on heavy ground doesn't translate brilliantly to the rough and tumble of a fast ground 22-runner charge across Cleeve Hill. Luck in running is needed by all; most have a little more meat on their price than this lad. Willie is 0/14 in this race but went very close last year when Saint Sam was second (Ciel De Neige 3rd in 2019, too).

Joseph O'Brien won this in 2019 with Band Of Outlaws, and saddles Champion Green this time. A relative slow starter he broke his maiden at the fourth time of asking, over nine furlongs at Punchestown. The second won next time and was rated 89 when taking on handicappers for the first time, the third - also trained by Joseph - has won a couple of minor hurdle races, and the fourth won a Leopardstown maiden next time. That's a verbose way of saying he probably achieved a 90-odd level of form on the flat before sights were switched to timber.

In three completed starts over hurdles, he was a close up fourth in a big field on debut, 2nd of 15 having drifted from 8/11 to 5/4 the next day and, after a slipped saddle led to pulling up two back, he made all and bolted up at 4/6 in a Naas maiden hurdle. That maiden score, like his flat maiden win, was on good ground and, with the drying forecast, conditions look to be in his corner.

In the last twelve years, every winner of this race was either a single figure price (five winners) or 25/1+ (seven). Last year's 80/1 bomb was only a minor outlier on a recent history that includes a 40/1, three 33/1's and two 25/1's - so maybe this is the race to turn the form book upside down. If that's your thing, let's mess about with the concept for a minute.

Of those seven bombs, all ran in a non-handicap last time out (four of them in G1 or G2 company), all had four or fewer UK/Irish hurdle starts (though three had raced in France before), and five of seven were beaten 15 lengths or more last time. I think that's the one that puts punters off the scent. The only one really fitting the bill from a price perspective is Tanganyika who is second reserve. He is quite interesting on his run behind subsequent Grade 1 1-2 Kyrov and Golden Son in France. Now with Venetia Williams, Tanganyika was beaten eight and a half lengths in that Auteuil race. Kyrov is currently rated 75kg (165), Golden Son 71 (156) and Tanganyika's mark in France is 61.5 (135). Here, he has just 121, a full stone below his French rating. If he gets a run, he might be better than a 66/1 poke.

Gordon's Britzka and Ebasari both measure up on this 'interesting rag' angle but are shorter than ideal to take the chance. I might be tempted if either slid out to 25/1 or bigger.

Boodles Handicap Hurdle Pace Projection

Fast, frantic, furious, frenetic, ferocious and other adjectives beginning with 'f'. Doubtful stayers need not apply. Note that neither Gaelic Warrior nor Milldam have raced in UK or Ireland to this point. Their French form suggests both will be waited with to varying degrees.

Boodles Handicap Hurdle selection

It's a really tough heat with even fewer clues than your average Festival handicap. The British handicapper seems not to be on the same page with his European counterparts, ranking Irish form more highly and French form lower. On that basis, it's easy enough to bypass Gaelic Warrior at such cramped odds and I don't really want to be with The Tide Turns at not much bigger, though naturally I respect the chance of both.

Rather, I'll take a small swing at Champion Green and Saint Segal, both of which ought to be suited by this setup and both of which come from yards that know how to win the Fred Boodles. Jockeys are important at this meeting, however, and the experience of Rachael Blackmore versus the exuberance of Chester Williams tilts the pendulum in favour of Champion Green if having to choose between them. 

Suggestion: Try Champion Green at 12/1 or perhaps 16/1 Saint Segal, and watch the betting on Ebasari and Britzka. Get lots of extra places. Prepare to sigh if/when either Gaelic Warrior or The Tide Turns prevail.


5.30 National Hunt Chase (Grade 2, 3m 6f)

The nearly-four-miler as it has become known is in many ways the bellwether for the meeting and indeed the sport. Once (a long time ago) the most important race at the Festival, rank amateurs have given best to crack amateurs (there was a cheaper pun comparator which I'm proud to have resisted!), the distance has been truncated, and the quality and experience thresholds have been elevated.

In other words, this is a completely different race from the one which carried the same name 15 years ago. Back then, journeyman Corinthians on massive-priced pigs in a poke in huge fields played a version of 'last man or woman standing'. Now, field sizes are smaller, the quality of bipeds and quadrupeds alike is higher, and it is consequently a far more predictable affair. Note, not predictable, only more predictable.

On field sizes, in 2016 there were 20 runners; over the next three years there were 18, 16 and 18 runners; but, since the distance was reduced to 3m6f and it has become more about class than out and out stamina, field sizes have reduced to 14 and then 12 last year... and now just seven horses are slated to go to post. That is not a good look. To the septet...

Experience has counted for a lot in recent times, with nine of the past ten winners having four-plus seasonal runs and four-plus chase starts. That's a potential knock for the strong Willie Mullins-trained fancy, Stattler, who is unbeaten in two fencing contests. In 2013, Mullins won with the unbeaten-in-three Back In Focus, but more recently both 9/4 Ballyward (fell) and 10/11 Carefully Selected (unseated) have succumbed to their inexperience at the obstacles. Still, Stattler's form credentials are robust and his stamina is assured if his leaping holds up at the expected quicker tempo on quicker turf.

Fitting the historical profile more snugly is the Gordon Elliott inmate, Run Wild Fred, who represents Gigginstown and is ridden by Jamie Codd. Codd has piloted the winner in three of the last six renewals where amateur jockeys contested (professionals last year due to Covid), two of the three coming for Elliott.

Run Wild Fred has almost as much experience as his rider, being a veteran of ten chases, the same number as Cause Of Causes (Codd/Elliott), Tiger Roll (Elliott), and Rathvinden; and second place finishes in the Irish Grand National and a Grade 1 novice chase attest both to stamina and class. He does finish second unnervingly frequently - he's allowed one to pass in five of his last six chases - but otherwise is a strong box-ticker for all that he's no Prestbury Park previous.

Next in is another Irish-trained horse, last year's Albert Bartlett winner, Vanillier. Apparently a spring horse, he improved on a February drubbing last year to win at the Festival and trainer Gavin Cromwell will hope that sizable deficits behind Fury Road, Run Wild Fred and Stattler in his two runs in 2022 can be overcome. It's taking plenty on faith at his price.

Ontheropes is a slight rarity in that he's a Cheveley Park Stud entry, and trained by Willie Mullins, that is not favourite. He has had plenty of experience, however, which is definitely the way to go in the National Hunt Chase, and breeding suggests this trip is within range. The form of his fourth in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in the autumn is strong and if quicker ground ekes out a pound or two, he could cause a minor surprise.

Gordon also has Braeside, whose two career wins have come on heavy ground, as Profiler handily highlights. He's slow enough for the old four-miler but probably not quick enough for this classier, shorter iteration of the race.

The best of the two trained by Rebecca Curtis - the only two British entries to stand their ground - should be Pats Fancy, who has risen through the handicap ranks this season but was comprehensively hammered at both Cheltenham and Aintree in Grade 1 novice hurdles a year ago. On his latest outing, Pats Fancy was a three length second to Bravemansgame in receipt of 16 pounds. That form is not good enough here. His stable mate, Beatthebullet, is more than two stone 'wrong' with the top rated of these and appears to be the much maligned 'social runner'.

National Hunt Chase Pace Projection

No sign of an out and out burn up, and just a couple that might want to lead. Most are fairly versatile regarding run style so this looks like being run at a fairly even gallop, at least in the early part of the race.

National Hunt Chase Selection

I'm not totally sold on Stattler for all that he can obviously win. Run Wild Fred looks the one, especially with the striking booking of Jamie Codd. And last year's Albert Bartlett winner, Vanillier, must also be a contender on that evidence though not on much evidence since.

Suggestion: Back Run Wild Fred to win at around 9/4.


It's a first day light on runners but brimming with class, and it may be sobering to remember that the opening stanza is often the best chance for us punters to get a few quid up on those bookie types. Regardless, there will be 21 more opportunities hereafter so keep some powder dry!

Good luck!


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Cheltenham Gold Cup 2022 Preview, Trends, Tips

With just two months to go until the Cheltenham Festival 2022, thoughts begin to turn to those high class clashes, none more so perhaps than the Blue Riband itself, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. A number of contenders that ran over the Christmas and New Year period are slated to head straight to Cheltenham so now seems an opportune time to have a rifle through recent - and slightly less recent - history in search of an ante post play.

In this post, I'll cover some Gold Cup trends, potentially favoured run styles, and of course the actual form of those with chances and a few without much hope!

Let's start with some historical context.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Trends

Trends seem to have acquired something of a bad rap in recent years, perhaps because factoids are taken out of context a little too often. But the reality is that history is our best guide to the future and, especially in top class races, a certain profile tends to come to the fore time and again. The Gold Cup is a race that places a premium on stamina, class, jumping and a touch of speed. Given the undulating nature of Cleeve Hill, against which the racecourse is set, contenders need also to possess balance: not for nothing is this considered such a champion's test. What follows will flesh out the importance of some of those attributes in numbers.

Official Rating

The best staying chasers in training tend to line up for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and only those towards the peak of the ratings pyramid normally prevail.

With the exception of 152-rated Lord Windermere, who just got the best of a bizarre five-way scrap up the hill in 2014, every other Gold Cup winner since 2007 has been rated at least 164. The average winning rating in that time, bar Lord Windermere, was a touch over 171.


Starting Price

The trouble with highly rated winners of the Gold Cup is that their rating is testament to their ability and that, naturally, is not missed by the market. So it is that, again excepting the impostor Lord W, every other Gold Cup scorer this century has returned 12/1 or shorter. The average winning return has been just under 5/1.



Championship racing is a young man's game, the Gold Cup being a case in point. Aged ten, Cool Dawn was a shock 25/1 scorer in 1998. Since then, I make it 75 double-digit aged horses have faced the starter, none passing the post in front; eight did place, however. It seems to be a less frequent occurrence that older horses take their Gold Cup place these days and, when it does happen, it is often a star of previous years enjoying a(n unplaced) swansong.

Denman and Kauto Star fair monopolised the podium before and shortly after 2010, but as ten- and eleven-year-olds they could do no better than Fell-2nd-3rd-2nd between them in 2010/11. The other 13 times a double-digit aged horse has been sent off a single figure price since [at least] 1997, they managed a solitary fourth place between them (See More Business at 9/4 in 2000).

Meanwhile, more materially, the sweet spot is, well, any horse younger than ten. From micro representation this century, a six-year-old has won (Long Run, 2011), while the majority of winners are aged seven to nine, as are the majority of runners.


It is hardly a surprise that no age group was profitable to back blind but we can see from the colour coding the folly (or boldness, if you prefer) of siding with a veteran.


UK vs Ireland

Last year's overall pasting for the home team was reflected in the Gold Cup itself as Irish runners filled out the medal positions, Britain's top performer being the valiant eleven-year-old Native River in fourth. It is worth further noting that there were only four Irish runners in the field of twelve.

In 2020, Ireland's trainers saddled seven of the dozen runners, again taking top honours but this time ceding the consolation spots to the domestic quintet. Irish runners finished 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 10th and fell.

A year earlier, the first of Al Boum Photo's brace of GC's, an Irish-trained horse also ran second, with the remaining five raiders faring no better than 8th (three non-completions). Native River beat Might Bite for a British 1-2 in 2018, but prior to that it was Irish eyes smiling in both 2017 and 2016, where Team Green bagged the first four places home.

All that means is Ireland have won five of the last six renewals of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and current market sentiment points to a sixth pot in seven years.



In 2014, the novice Coneygree recorded a memorable Gold Cup success for the small clan at Mark Bradstock's Old Manor Stables; a year later, Jim Culloty unleashed Lord Windermere from his handful of horses to bag glory. These days, most of the equine power is housed in just a few whale stables and romance, even relative romance, is in short supply. But then, perhaps it has been thin on the ground for a while longer: Nicky Henderson won a couple before Lord Jim, and prior to that was a spell of Paul Nicholls dominance.

We are unlikely to see an unfamiliar name engraved into the annals of Festival history this term.



A test as unique as the Cheltenham Gold Cup makes it something of a specialist's race. Best Mate famously reeled off a hat-trick of wins early in the century and, since then, both Kauto Star and Al Boum Photo have doubled up. More than that, the same horses seem to have hit the frame with regularity.

The 56 1-2-3-4 positions since 2008 were filled by just 38 individual horses. Names like Native River and Kauto Star and Denman and Long Run and Al Boum Photo return instantly to mind; but a little more noggin-rummaging is required to recall the triple-placed sticks Djakadam and The Giant Bolster. Hardy perennials all, and expect further familiarity nine weeks hence.


Identikit Gold Cup Winner

So where does that leave us? Not much further forward in truth: the challenge with markets like the Gold Cup is that there are few lights dimmed under bushels. We know we're most likely seeking a younger horse, prepared by a mega-trainer, probably in Ireland; and we know that horse will have a top rating and may have run well in last year's Gold Cup.

It's desperately obvious and yet, at the same time, there are a few pretenders who don't really fit that bill.

Of the 30 entered, a dozen don't have a 160+ rating, another four are aged ten (including Al Boum Photo and Champ), and Allaho is almost certain to run in the Ryanair barring the same owner's A Plus Tard's absence from the final declarations for this one. From those remaining it shouldn't be too hard to whittle a good few more:


Gold Cup Run Styles

The way races are run suit some horses and, at the same time, compromise others; it is always worth trying to figure out which side of that argument your wagered conveyance is likely to be. Attempting to project from this far out is not straightforward but we still ought to give it a lash. First things first: how have recent Gold Cups played out pace wise?

Last year, Minella Indo tracked a steady enough pace. He was never more than two or three lengths off the lead. In 2020, Al Boum Photo raced midfield but never more than about five lengths from a lead shared without contest; and the previous year, the same horse was ridden more patiently after a number of rivals battled for early primacy.

The story of these three winners? Right place, right time each time.

In 2018, Native River won from Might Bite, the pair engaging in a ding-dong skirmish from flag fall; in theory, both should have wilted and been passed. This was definitely not a winner I could have found as it looked on paper beforehand that they'd have at it exactly as they did, an approach in this sort of cauldron which typically spells c-u-r-t-a-i-n-s. Fair play to both.

Sizing John in 2017 was trying a longer trip and was ridden accordingly, with patience. That panned out ideally with, again, Native River disputing the lead at a fast tempo; back they came at the bizzo end on quick turf.

O'Faolains Boy set a fair but not searing tempo, aided and abetted by Smad Place, in 2016, the beneficiary of which was the handily-ridden Don Cossack. Remember him? And in 2015, Coneygree made every yard under an inspired ride from Nico de Boinville. de Boinville's measurement of pace there was brilliant, saving enough to repel a brace of Irish challengers up the hill to the line.


The message, in case it isn't clear enough yet, is that situation dictates optimal position: if it's steadily run, be close to the front; when there's a more contested gallop, a more patient ride is best. Regardless of how things pan out from an early speed perspective, out back is likely not a favoured position. The only time since 2009 when 'in rear' prevailed? That weird, wonky, bizarro Lord Windermere episode in 2014.


2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup Pace Map

So let's attempt to nail some jelly to the wall. Specifically, we'll try to conjecture a) which horses will run in the 2022 Gold Cup, and b) how they might be expected to assemble themselves through the first mile - and at what sort of an overall speed. Quackery? Here? How very dare you...

What we do have here on geegeez are future big race fields and, as a result, we can put our tools to work, including the PACE tab. Removing horses I perceive as unlikely to line up, the field looks this, based on an average of their most recent three run style scores:


Remastered and Conflated are the two who typically press on. They are also two of the lesser-rated animals in the entries: as such, the chances of them not lining up or simply not being quick enough against this calibre of opposition are high. Run Wild Fred, a novice likely heading elsewhere, is another who could have been trying to nose an advantage over the first few fences. Which is a verbose way of saying this field is not obviously loaded with early dash given the more probable starters.

As such, a prominent run style might be an advantage, which could be a positive for the likes of Minella Indo and Chantry House. Fancied runners such as Protektorat and A Plus Tard would do well not to gift easy lengths to talented rivals by lagging behind in the first half of the race. At least, that's my reading of this vaguest of vaguenesses.


2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup Form Guide

And so, enfin, let us peruse the past performances, in approximate market rank order.

The favourite, at around 7/2, is A Plus Tard, whose Betfair Chase demolition job at Haydock propelled him to the top of the lists. A model of consistency, APT has yet to finish outside of the first three in 13 Rules starts. Three of those races have been at the Festival where he has the full set of medals; his only gold, mind, came in a handicap, and he's since finished third in the 2020 Ryanair and runner up in last season's Gold Cup. Defeat was unexpected in the G1 Savills Chase over Christmas, but it might be that he had a harder race than it appeared in the Haydock mud; and it might simply be that that self-same Warrington sticky stuff has flattered to deceive once more, as it has done in the Gold Cup context with Bristol De Mai and Royale Pagaille in recent renewals.

For all that iffing and butting, A Plus Tard is the right favourite and almost certain to offer a run for the pennies. But he's no bargain, especially if his jockey - presumably Rachael Blackmore though she has another option - allows others a head start.

The one to deny APT a year ago was stable mate Minella Indo, himself falling cruelly short on the same sward twelve months earlier. Run down by Champ in the Festival Novices' Chase as a seven-year-old, he resisted Blackmore's persistent attempts to repeat the feat up that withering hill aged eight. We already know repeat winners are relatively commonplace, and that Indo usually figures prominently from tapes up, is theoretically in his pomp as a nine-year-old and, if we add in that he also won his sole other Fez spin, the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle of 2019, what's not to like?

Well, P is for 'potato race' and also for 'pulled up', which was the fate that befell the reigning champ on his most recent outing. That scrabble tile on the scorecard came by way of Bryony's goading aboard Frodon in Kempton's King George: the preeminent female riders of their generation - heck, any generation pretty much - set a gallop way too hot to handle and paid the price. The race looks a 'chuck out' but it does follow a middling seasonal debut behind that pesky Frodon at Down Royal, too.

Looking again to the upside, Minella Indo has one target this season as he has had for the last few seasons: Cheltenham's Festival. He arrived in Gloucestershire last term with recent form of F4 and, unless taking in the Dublin Racing Festival between now and his return visit to England, he'll arrive this time with 3P as the last two efforts. He's 8/1.

A niggle with both of these Henry de Bromhead inmates is the form of the yard; while there's plenty of time for that to shake itself right, a 6.5% strike rate in the past month (28% placed) compares unglamorously with historical hit rates a smidge more than double the win and another five or six points on the place.

The third and final single figure price is offered about the chance of Galvin, trained by Gordon Elliott, and vanquisher of A Plus Tard in the Savills last time. An eight-year-old second season chaser, Galvin is another previous Festival winner: his big day came on the Tuesday last year when he saw off all-comers in "the four-miler" National Hunt Chase, which is of course no longer staged over four miles. Stamina is not in doubt then, nor is the quietly ascendant trajectory of his form; but he does tend to struggle more when it's wet.

The evidence is a form string on yielding or quicker of 111121111111 and on soft or heavy of 16F4222 (credit to Tony Keenan for highlighting this). I'm not really into long-range forecasts, nor do I know about water tables, evapotranspiration or turf husbandry; but I do know that, since 1997 - 24 Gold Cup renewals - the official going has been good to soft or quicker on all bar three occasions.

Next in the lists, at 10/1, is Al Boum Photo, winner of the 2019 and 2020 Gold Cups and third last year. That seemed to signal a changing of the guard, an impression that recently turning ten has done nothing to dispel. The substance of his Punchestown second to Clan Des Obeaux and his annual trot around Tramore on New Year's Day has corroborated the perception of this brilliant fellow yielding just a touch to the passage of time.

On the same price, and figuratively passing Al Boum in the lift on the way up, is Protektorat, Dan Skelton's great white (bay, actually) hope. A seven-year-old son of Saint Des Saints, he was a good but not great novice hurdler - won a Listed, beaten three times in Grade 2's - but seems to have taken a solid stride forward over fences. To wit, a novice chase season of 11221, the last win of which was a four length score in the Grade 1 Manifesto at Aintree; and, hitherto this campaign, a staying on close second over a trip seemingly too short under top weight in the Paddy Power, and a facile romp in the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase at an extended three miles. The form of that latter race is seriously open to question: Native River ran his last race and was spent much further out than usual, and everything else bar Sam Brown failed to complete.

Protektorat has been Pricewise'd in the last couple of days, that value vacuum cleaner meaning he's a rum price for us Johnny Come Lately's, but he's not really one I'm yet persuaded by anyway. I do admire his upwardly mobile profile, though.

After that we move towards the longer grass, where contenders morph into pretenders in the main. Take 14/1 Tornado Flyer for example: a shock winner of a bonkers King George that culminated in a pace collapse. His only other effort at three miles was when 37 lengths (count them) behind A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase of 2020. His best run in the interim was when staying on into third in another mental burn up for last season's Ryanair; if they go a million, and if he stays, and if he can cut out the mistakes which are a feature of his performances, he might make the frame. As referenced earlier, at this early juncture the race looks unlikely to set up for him even assuming those other boxes got ticked.

What of 18/1 Chantry House then? Another rocking up after a last day 'P', assuming he doesn't stop off 'twixt now and then, this eight-year-old Seven Barrows green-and-golder was a fine winner at the Fez twelve months back, and an even finer winner in Liverpool three weeks later. That brace of novice G1's, the second of which was at beyond three miles, advertised his prospective Gold Cup claims, something a facile match score over The Big Breakaway did little to rebuke. And then, when it was all going so well, along came that King George; never going the pace there and succumbing to a couple of - these days - uncharacteristic blunders and pulling up.

If one can overlook that disappointment, Chantry House's Chelto form is strong: as well as the Marsh score last campaign he was also a fair third to Shishkin in that one's Supreme. But, with reference to the PU, and this applies equally to Minella Indo unless/until they bid to usurp it as their pre-Gold Cup form figure, the last horse to pull up prior to the Gold Cup and still get it done was... Cool Dawn in 1998. The 15 who attempted to overcome that stat since were all massive prices with the exception of 10/1 Lostintranslation two years ago: he managed third in spite of his trainer's lamentable form at the time, so all may not be lost. Lies, damned lies and statistics...

Asterion Forlonge - not on his feet for longe [harsh] - is a really talented horse who is probably just a bit soft. There's a fair argument that three of his four falls/unseats were because he is a wuss, scaring himself on the landing side when not foot perfect. I doubt he'll iron that out before March but, if he could take off and land adroitly throughout, he'd be interesting for all that it's (very) hard to forget his errant transit in the 2020 Supreme. He's 18/1 tops.

20/1 bar these, the first of which is Champ, now ten and last seen winning well in a Grade 1 hurdle. His last chase sighting was when pulling up after only six fences in the Gold Cup a year ago. Connections are publicly pointing towards this gig but I wonder if he might go t'other way in a very open looking and winnable Stayers' Hurdle section. Oh, and he's only had four runs in two years.

Of the rest, Allaho almost certainly goes Ryanair, Royale Pagaille has plenty to prove away from Haydock, Fiddlerontheroof has most of a stone to find on ratings though does have some good placed form at staying trips, Mount Ida surely goes to the Mares' Chase, and Lostintranslation pulled up in last year's GC and is now ten. The rest are almost impossible to fancy.


2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup Tips

Plenty to chew on in the above ahead of what looks an open and fascinating betting puzzle. No horse comes without some downsides and, as ever, the challenge is to weigh the negative against the prevailing odds. In my view, and that of most of the rest of the world, easily the three most likely winners are the trio at the head of the market; but their credentials are largely reflected in their prices.

A Plus Tard has been exposed a couple of times in Festival G1 company now and is short enough for all that he's hugely talented. Galvin may still be improving but 5/1 readily acknowledges that. He'll likely be a similar price on the day if it's good to soft ground, and then might be worth a saver; he'd probably be opposable on softer.

The one who might still be a little on the fat side is Minella Indo. Yes, we have to overlook a no better than fair first day of term and a very flat effort at Kempton; but there are credible excuses, and Indo's previous - as he arrived at last year's Gold Cup - offers hope he'll be a different horse in two months' time. 8/1 is all right, I think.

Of the remainder, I'm slightly tempted to have a little throwaway each way bet on Chantry House. Again, it was a bad one in the King George last time but, prior to that, he was 1113131111 including a win at last year's Festival. He has a rating that fits (just about), upside at the trip, handles the track, goes on most ground and usually races prominently. And he's 18/1. Or 16/1 NRNB and best odds guaranteed (if you still have it) with bet365. That latter option is playable small each way, I think.

2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup Suggestion

1 pt win Minella Indo 8/1 Paddy, Hills, Victor

½ pt e/w Chantry House 16/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG) or 18/1 Skybet, Unibet

Good luck,


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Cheltenham Festival 2021: Trainer Form

We're just a week away from the biggest gathering in jump racing, the Cheltenham Festival, and what a chaotic lead in it has been this year. As if a pandemic wasn't enough, we have subsequently had to endure reservations about ease of transit for Irish- (and French-) based runners post-Brexit, the shocking Gordon Elliott revelations, and rumours of a pan-European equine herpes outbreak potentially throwing a further spanner into the works. On top of all that, now we have the Meghan Markle story!

OK, so that last one, and probably/hopefully the last two, are of no consequence to Cheltenham, mercifully; but the others have each caused some degree of consternation in the weeks and months preceding the Festival. With six days until tapes rise on the Supreme, we can hope that all will hereafter be more serene, barring the perennial raft of late scratches and shock race switcheroos. So we can get down to business, the business of this post being to review current trainer form for the big guns heading into Cheltenham Festival 2021.

How to quantify trainer form?

This presents an immediate and obvious question: what actually is trainer form? When referenced in general - "xyz is in flying form" - it normally means xyz has had a couple of winners recently. Is that 'in form' or merely the happy end of the variance spectrum? How can we even things out and judge trainer performance more broadly? And should we even bother given that winners are winners and losers are losers, right? Plenty to chew on here.

Let's start with a pretty much unarguable contention: trainer form is how well or poorly a given trainer is faring at a point in time. So far so meh. The challenge is isolating an agreeable metric (or metrics) against which to vaguely scientifically measure form; and to then further layer on the wagering component of profitability (and, of course, how best to measure that).

Happily, publishes a few metrics that cut through the thorny thicket of quantifying these data, namely Impact Value, Percentage of Rivals Beaten, and Actual vs Expected. We do also display win and place percentages but, in truth, these are the equivalent of answering the question, "What time is it?", with "Tuesday afternoon".

Let's (very) quickly recap what the numbers mean.

Impact Value (IV) is a measure of how frequently something happens for x in relation to how frequently it happens for all. For instance, how often the going is good to soft on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival compared to how often the going is good to soft over all days of the Cheltenham Festival.

A figure of 1.00 means the 'thing' - Cheltenham day one good to soft, in this case - happens the same amount as in the wider set of data. A figure above 1.00 means it happens more often, below 1.00 signifies that it happens less often. The further away from 1.00 the IV the more or less something happens in relation to the round.

Still here? Topper, PRB next.

Percentage of Rivals Beaten (PRB) is a means of applying a sliding scale of merit to every finishing position, and doing it in relation to the field size in which that finish was achieved. For instance, 2nd of four has less merit on this metric than 2nd of 40 - and rightly so, of course.

In this case, 2nd of four beats two horses and loses to one horse, so has a PRB score of 67% (or 0.67) for beating two out of three of its rivals.

2nd of 40 beats 38 horses and loses to one, so has a PRB score of... gets calculator... 38 beaten divided by 39 total rivals = 97%, or 0.97.

When looking at a combination of events - say, all trainer's runners over a period of time - we can derive an overall PRB figure and use that for comparative purposes.

Actual vs Expected (A/E) is the betting number. It works as an index where, like IV, 1.00 is a par figure and better or worse than 1.00 is a degree of good or bad respectively. It's calculation requires a little unpacking and, rather than do that here, you're encouraged to look at this racing metrics article where I explain and exemplify each of IV, A/E and PRB in more detail. The key here is that north of 1.00 is good, south of 1.00 not so much.

How to quantify trainer form pre-Cheltenham?

So we'll use IV, PRB and A/E as way points to navigate to a conclusion; but against which period(s) should we measure performance? It probably makes sense to compare a longer period pre-Cheltenham with a shorter period pre-Cheltenham with performance at the Festival itself.

Willie Mullins

The following table has performance data for Willie Mullins-trained runners (WPM) for three different periods in each of the previous five seasons:

- The four days of Cheltenham
- The four weeks prior to Cheltenham
- The four months prior to the four weeks prior to Cheltenham


Looking for correlation is difficult in what is, granted, a crowded table. And it is still more confusing when noting that comfortably Mullins' poorest win strike rate (6.78% in 2019) produced his best ROI (+30.51%).

The message there is simple enough: the microcosm of win strike rate - and indeed Impact Value - in tiny sample sizes is misleading. At the same 2019 Festival, Mullins could boast a 25% each way strike rate, in line with placed efforts at the two preceding Festivals. In PRB terms, 2019 only ranked third of five.

Below is the same information but with the key metrics ranked, e.g. Mullins' 2020 Festival win percentage was his second best of the past five Festivals; it was his best of five Festivals on each of EW%, PRB, IV, and A/E.


Looking for correlation is tricky. It can be said that the 2018/19 season was not great for Mullins, and that was something which manifested almost across the board at the Festival - with the counter-intuitive exception of ROI. Closer scrutiny reveals that Willie backers were saved by the 50/1 success of Eglantine Du Seuil in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle as well as, to a lesser degree, Al Boum Photo's 12/1 maiden Gold Cup score. Take out the big priced winner and it's -29 and ROI rank 4.

One thing that is reasonably clear in relation to Mullins is that in the past two years he's found things more competitive, not just at the Festival but generally, a number of his top rankings being largely accumulated between the 2015/16 and 2017/18 seasons.


Gordon Elliott

It is fair to say that nobody really knows what to expect of the Cullentra House yard, currently fronted by Denise Foster while Gordon Elliott serves out his suspension. What we do know is that flagbearers like Envoi Allen have been moved to other yards and that has to have a negative bearing on overall figures this time around. To frame this year's expectation, we need to look backwards.


Elliott's Festival record, in terms of scale and punter-friendliness, has been unrivalled. Apart from a big blip in 2019 - same as Mullins, interesting? - his performance has been off the chart by almost any measure.

Using the ranking approach gives us the following.


Here there appears to be quite strong correlation between Elliott's four-month form and his Festival form.


Nicky Henderson

The Irish haven't (quite) had it all their own way in the past five years at Cheltenham, and Britain's top man - sometimes persisting in the wind - has been Nicky Henderson.


Four-win hauls in the last two Festivals help to explain the mini-lull, relatively, in the fortunes of Messrs. Elliott and Mullins, and represent a welcome return for Seven Barrows, in the shadow of the Irish challengers for the prior few years.


Paul Nicholls

It has been slim pickings for the former multiple Champion Trainer who has failed to record more than a pair of victories in the last four Festivals. However, in the 2019 and 2020 renewals, Nicholls' three wins were all at Grade 1 level: quality over quantity he might say.


Looking at the rankings shows a loose, perhaps tenuous, link between four-month form and Festival form in recent years.


2021 Pre-Festival Form and Predictions

At this point, you'd be forgiven for thinking "so what?". So let's try to review recent form approaching this year's Festival in the context of previous years.

In the table below, I've included four-week form up to 7th March (not quite up to Festival Eve, obvs, as I'm writing this a week earlier); and performance in the four months prior to that.

Specifically, from 8th February to 7th March, and from 8th October 2020 to 7th February 2021.

Willie Mullins has the same 75% PRB figure as he did in 2018: that year he won seven races from 62 runners. His four-month form is also the best it's been since 2018. And yet, Cheltenham Festival 2020 was arguably Mullins' best in recent seasons in spite of coming into it off the back of his second-worst recent form of the past five.

Elliott's team, meanwhile, has been in top form despite the challenging circumstances. Who knows what impact the loss of key horses and the absence of the hitherto licence holder (and the new named holder) will have? Likely some, but probably not a huge amount is my best guess. Elliott has had three phenomenal CheltFests in the past four years, 2019 being a sharp reminder of the perils of blind backing a yard; and he's had at least three winners in each of those years - 27 in all during that time.

Paul Nicholls has enjoyed enjoyed a relative resurgence in the last two renewals courtesy of that hat-trick of Grade 1 scores. He comes to Cheltenham Festival 2021 in similar form to 2019.

Most interesting is probably Nicky Henderson, whose form this season is notably lower than in each of the previous four seasons (current season four-month PRB of 0.57 vs ultra-consistent 0.65 in 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20). In the past four weeks he's been pitching at 58% PRB which again compares unfavourably with far higher PRB figures for the run-up to the past couple of Festivals. It will be fascinating to see how Team Henderson fares next week, with Shishkin an early barometer.


Cheltenham Festival Trainer Form Conclusions

Sometimes you can spend a lot of time looking for something which, in the end, only tells you that there is probably nothing to be found. This may be one such occasion. Indeed, the writing was on the wall when I mulled the research overnight, came back to my computer this morning and discovered Windows had decided to undertake a forced update and, further, had corrupted the open - and, naturally, unsaved - spreadsheet document containing all of the data. Ugh.

Ignoring my computer woes, what can be seen from the above is that there is little to no strong correlation between various preceding periodicities and the meeting itself; and sometimes it is useful simply to know that. Of course, that won't stop a swathe of "he's in form" or "she's out of form" observations casually lobbed into the chat next week, the kind of positive/negative reinforcement, generally delivered after the fact, that adds now't but sounds knowledgeable.

It may ultimately be the case that the best gauge of Festival trainer form is from previous Festivals. In that regard, we should expect each of Mullins, Elliott/Foster, Henderson and Nicholls to hit their mark, and at least three of them to do so multiple times.

At the last five Festivals, they have collectively bagged 82 of the 140 races. Four trainers responsible for 59% of the winners. Throw in Henry de Bromhead - whose team is bolstered by the high profile addition of the Cheveley Park bluebloods - and Dan Skelton and you have six handlers responsible for two-thirds of the Festival winners in the last five years. Between them, they'll be long odds-on to take at least half of the 28 prizes on offer next week.

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Cheltenham Festival 2021: 7 NRNB ‘Free Hits’

With  just a fortnight to go until the Cheltenham Festival 2021, a number of bookmakers are now offering the 'non runner no bet' (money back if your horse doesn't run) concession. This is great news for punters, especially when allied to one bookmaker's - bet365 - best odds guaranteed concession. In this article, I've found seven horses that can be backed for 'the wrong race at the right price': stars which are expected to line up elsewhere but which would likely shorten from currently available odds if doing a late switcheroo.

They're presented in race order, starting on Tuesday, Day 1...

Honeysuckle - Mares' Hurdle - 11/8 bet365 (NRNB, BOG)

"She's running in the Champion Hurdle", all my friends tell me. And they're probably right. But she's the reigning champ in this race and the drying ground will make the two mile Champion more of a speed test than this two and a half mile contest. She's the classiest mare in the entries for this race by at least seven pounds, and there's a chance that drying ground sees Roksana re-routed to the Stayers' Hurdle. There will still be Concertista to deal with, but Honeysuckle will be more 8/11 than 11/8 on the day if she runs here. If she doesn't, you'll get your cash back a fortnight hence.

Royale Pagaille - National Hunt Chase - 5/2 bet365 (NRNB, BOG)

Venetia Williams' wildly experienced novice, Royale Pagaille, looks to have stamina as his strong suit. I was so taken with his outright demolition of a solid Graded handicap field in the G2 Peter Marsh at Haydock that I backed him for the Gold Cup. He's rated in the Gold Cup ball park off that run, too, though I don't fully trust it, given his main market rival, Sam's Adventure, came down too far out to judge whether he'd have been an actual threat in the race; and the third favourite, Acey Milan, also exited at a fence.

It is also true that RP has been dishing up in deep ground and it remains to be seen how he handles quicker terrain. For all of those reservations, he has been ultra-impressive visually, and his stamina combined with fluent jumping makes him a natural for a staying test like this. There are other credible contenders in the field, not least Galvin, but if Royale Pagaille lines up here rather than his other entries, he'll take some beating. If not, no damage done, money back.

Ballyadam - Ballymore Novices' Hurdle - 14/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG)

Slightly more speculative, this one, but with the same 'second choice race' angle in play. Ballyadam has hitherto raced exclusively at around two miles, but has been beaten the last twice at the trip. In his defence, those defeats were in Grade 1 company against tip top opposition, and he got closest to Supreme favourite Appreciate It in the Chanelle Pharma last time. Closest, yes, but there is no real reason to believe he ought to reverse form with that one; so why not take on a different group of horses over a slightly longer trip?

Breeding - by Fame And Glory out of a Bob Back mare - suggests he'll stay the Ballymore range without a care, and in a race that is 3/1 the field, he has Grade 1 credentials. 14/1 looks a very playable each way proposition, with the NRNB proviso.

Shady Operator - Glenfarclas Chase - 10/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG) or 10/1 Fred (NRNB)

Shady Operator could be an apt winner for players of this slightly snide angle. The horse is banks king Enda Bolger's latest McManus project, and was revitalised by a first spin over ditches, wedges and all in the PP Hogan Memorial Chase - a key prep for this - last time. There he won in a field of 17 which contained plenty of dead wood; so, too, will Day 2's Cross Country field. He was effective rather than eye-catching in winning but that was his first cross-country effort in public. As an eight-year-old he's oodles of upside in this sphere and is clearly with the right man.

He is not a guaranteed runner, hence the insurance caveat of NRNB, but this race is looking less and less clear cut by the day. Easysland was expected to bolt up before flopping at the November meeting; he was then expected to race in France as a preparation but skipped that, too, so comes in off that solitary, below par, effort. He could easily bounce back but is not the 'gimme' he looked going into the November meeting.

What of Tiger Roll? Who knows? But he looks a shadow of his past self even allowing that a spring campaign will have always been the plan. Then come the French pair of Ajas and Uniketat: the former is trained, like Easysland, by David Cottin and is well fancied by his yard; the latter is a banks specialist who won a very good race at Pau last time, electric jumping a feature of his victory. Uniketat may apparently be done for the season, so one less to feature.

It's hard to get excited by the rest which makes Shady Operator a compelling each way proposition at 10/1 with the BOG and NRNB concessions aforethought.

Energumene - Marsh Novices' Chase - 2/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG)

He's running against Shishkin in the Arkle! Yes, that's very likely the case; but he is still entered here and, given current uncertainty about what will happen with horses trained heretofore by Gordon Elliott - which therefore extends to strong Marsh favourite, Envoi Allen - this could end up a desirable slot for the Arkle second choice.

Energumene would not necessarily be a bigger price than 2/1 if both he and Envoi Allen line up, but he will certainly be a shorter price if he does and the current ante post favourite does not. The balance of probabilities are that this will be a money back job, but he'll look great value if those things do come to pass: that's the whole point of this article!

Roksana - Stayers' Hurdle - 7/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG) or 8/1 Sky/Fred (NRNB)

Dan Skelton trains this mare and she's looked very good either side of a two length third to Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the Grade 2 Long Walk Hurdle in December. That run leaves her very little to find with the pair who beat her, especially as she was given a lot to do that day; and, if the ground dries as looks likely, connections may opt to go for the stronger test of stamina this represents rather than the half mile shorter Mares' Hurdle (which could look as deep a race as this in any case).

Her price represents a very solid each way bet in an open section and, as you know by now, if she doesn't run it's money back.

Put The Kettle On - Mares' Chase - 5/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG) or 11/2 PP (NRNB)

Last year's Arkle winner has excellent Cheltenham form, being three from three at the track including that Festival score. Whether she has the stamina for this is uncertain - her best form is at two miles and she was beaten in a Grade 3 over this trip in late 2019; but there's little question it's an easier slot than the Champion Chase in which she is more obviously scheduled to participate.

Put The Kettle On doesn't need to lead, which is just as well in a field that could have plenty of early goers, but her ability to lie handy and her battling qualities, as well as no little class, mean she'd be very competitive if she ran here rather than in the Queen Mother. At an each way price, she is the final leg of this magnificently sneaky seven.


It can be no bigger than 4/1 that none of the above take up these engagements, in which case you've lent your money to bet365 (other books are available) for a fortnight or so. But considering any or all of this septet, perhaps in multiple perms, feels like a wise guy play with plenty of upside and limited downside. Given that four or more non-runners must be odds-on, I've permed them in each-way five-, six- and seven-folds. Declarations day will be interesting!


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Cheltenham Festival 2021: Favourites – Bankers or Blowouts?

Pretty much the last spectator-attended action of last year was the Cheltenham Festival and, regardless of the 20/20 hindsight about whether or not it should have had the green light for crowds, this year's event will be contested behind closed doors. That it will be contested at all, and that the entirety of the preceding seasonal narrative has played out - weather notwithstanding - is a cause for celebration during these times where not a great deal has been worthy of such emotional uplift.

With just 21 days until tapes rise for the opening skirmishes of the 2021 renewal of #CheltFest (I can hear the grinding of traditionalists' teeth as I pen that incendiary soshul shorthand!), time is nigh to fix mental bayonets and consider, in the round, what may transpire three weeks hence.

In this piece, we'll look at the shorties: those favourites whose current top quote is 5/4 or tighter. Using the age old hackney of 'banker or blowout', and mindful that for geegeez readers (and value players everywhere) the very notion of a banker is anathema, I'll offer a view as to which side of the back/lay divide I'd currently like to pitch my punting tent.

A recent history of short priced favourites at the Cheltenham Festival

First up, a short history lesson. The main lesson of history is "don't believe the hype", a message that resonates far beyond Festival jollies but which was poignantly reprised twelve months ago when, of the six favourites sent off at 5/4 or shorter, five were beaten. Ouch.

If that was a storm in the 2020 teacup, how does a more extensive tract of past performance influence our appetite for piling in at the sharp end?

As can be seen from the table and summary row above, there have been good times and bad times since 2009, with the management summary being that this is one of the less bludgeoning methods of wagering self-harm. But, of course, not all shorties are made equal; so is there anything to be gleaned from dividing what is already a very small dataset still further?

Despite the answer to that question almost certainly being 'no', for the record here are a couple of logical splits:

A lot of data manipulation and a very short read later we can now say the answer is certainly 'no'; which is unsurprising given the maturity of, and liquidity in, these markets. Nevertheless, when the media cries "certainty" and the market posits 4/6, punters are well served to beware.

The full list of qualifying runners is below, and may bring back painful memories for some, yours true included!

2021 Cheltenham Festival Shorties: Banker or Blowout

There is a quintet of ante-post shorties for this year's renewal of the Fez (yet more trads reaching for 'off' switch!) and they shape up price wise like this:

Time to consider each horse's respective merits...

Arkle Challenge Trophy: Shishkin

Form this season

Unbeaten in three facile wins in novice chases, most recently in a brace of Grade 2's, with no horse yet landing a glove on him. In spite of the small fields - he beat a trio of rivals in each - the form is solid and the times have been good. His fencing style is economical and comfortable: he has barely put a foot wrong thus far.

Shishkin is now unbeaten in seven completed starts, having fallen on his hurdling debut.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Sent off 6/1 joint-third favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year, he was hampered by a faller as the race was hotting up, but overcame that impediment to hold the late charge of Champion Hurdle fancy, Abacadabras. That was his only race at Cheltenham.

Obvious dangers

For a while this looked a matter of 'how far' assuming good health and a clear round, but the emergence of Energumene - an energumence? - as comfortably the best of the Irish has livened up the pre-race debate immeasurably.

On form, Willie Mullins' charge is a serious threat. But he does have a lot more questions to answer: how will he handle Cheltenham? Does he need to lead and, if so, how will he handle Allmankind? If he doesn't need to lead, he has yet to prove his effectiveness from further back. And how will he handle drier ground if indeed it pans out that way?

None of these are of concern to Shishkin, who looks sure to get his favoured lead - either from Allmankind, or that one and Energumene - and who will have every chance having dealt with all underfoot terrain, longer trips, and the Cheltenham contours already.

If Energumene and Allmankind lock horns on the speed, they may both pay for those exertions in the manner that Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir did in the 2018 renewal of this race, setting things up for a 14-length rout for Footpad. Shishkin is undeniably more of a horse than Footpad, and a tear up on the front end could see him record the largest winning distance of the meeting.

But if Energumene is ridden more conservatively, there are two possible dangers. The more obvious is that, in a fair fight, the Irish raider is simply better than the domestic challenger; the less obvious is that, by marking each other, the top two grant Allmankind - a very good horse in his own right - an easy and unassailable lead.

The other fly in the Shishkin ointment is the form of the Nicky Henderson yard, on the face of it at least: a single winner since 10th February, from 28 runners, is not the sort of record a Champion Trainer needs going into the biggest gig of the year. But, of course, we're not yet at the eve of Cheltenham and, in any case, that headline figure masks what have been largely acceptable (if not altogether pleasing) efforts from his Seven Barrows squad.

A place strike rate of 36% is more compelling, and a majority of runners have performed at least close to market expectation. Notably, the big guns - Chantry House, Champ - have run very well. Still, better will have been expected overall and better will be needed if Shishkin's price is not to flirt with odds-against between now and mid-March.


Shishkin looks a superb athlete and a very fast horse. His trainer is having a wobble just now but knows better than anyone - even Willie M - how to campaign a precocious two-mile chaser. Having ticked the race conditions boxes, and with a pace setup almost certain to play to his A game, he looks a 'banker' (relatively speaking).


Mares' Hurdle: Concertista

Form this season

Lightly raced, as is often the modus operandi with Willie Mullins' better mares, Concertista has run just twice this term. She beat the same mare, Minella Melody, by nearly two lengths in a Grade 2 in November and then by more than six lengths in a Grade 3 at the turn of the year.

The hallmark of those runs, and indeed her run style generally, is being held together off the pace before cruising through to prevail comfortably. In so doing it is hard to peg the level of her form exactly, always leaving the impression there is more in the tank.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Presented off a layoff of eighteen months prior to the 2019 Mares' Novices Hurdle, Concertista saw off all bar Eglantine Du Seuil as a 66/1 chance that day. She had twenty rivals behind her and only a short head to the one in front. That singular race in the 2018/19 season meant she retained her novice status the following campaign and, lining up in the same race last March, she outclassed a similar 22-strong field by an emphatic dozen lengths.

This will be her third visit to the Festival and she offers very solid credentials on that score.

Obvious dangers

It very much depends who lines up on the day. If the ground dries out, it might be that connections of Honeysuckle decide to run over this two-and-a-half mile trip rather than the extended two of the Champion Hurdle. That would change the complexion markedly.

Likewise, though to a lesser degree, if Roksana stepped this way rather than to the Stayers' Hurdle, she would present a fierce challenge.

But there is very little depth to this field beyond the aforementioned three: they bet 9/1 Dame De Compagnie (who has been chasing, has four entries, and is far from a certain runner in this), 14/1 Verdana Blue (more likely for the County Hurdle, I think), and 20/1 bar (including Elimay, who more likely goes to the Mares' Chase).


If Honeysuckle goes to the Champion Hurdle and if Roksana goes to the Stayers' Hurdle, Concertista could be the shortest priced favourite at the meeting. If Honeysuckle comes here, she may be 4/7 or so.

This is a ground dependant conundrum: drying ground would increase the chance of Honeysuckle running here, but decrease the chance of Roksana doing likewise. Concertista is expected to run here regardless (though she is still entered in both the Champion Hurdle and the Mares' Chase).

The way to play this, if you're so inclined, is to back Concertista at 6/5 and Honeysuckle at 5/4, both non-runner no bet. Most likely, you'll have 6/5 about an odds-on shot and money back on the other; second most likely is that you'll have 5/4 about a 4/7 shot and a poor value back up ticket. That may not sound exciting right now but it is odds on to look value on the day.


Brown Advisory (ex RSA): Monkfish

Form this season

Another Willie Mullins inmate, Monkfish has been imperious this season in brushing aside talented opposition with relish. Monkfish with relish: tasty!

Lousy puns aside, he won his beginners' chase in a canter before being merely pushed out to record a pair of Grade 1 successes in recognised trials, by three lengths and then eleven lengths from the talented Latest Exhibition. He is by some margin the pick of the Irish challengers.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Not only is Monkfish unbeaten in three chase starts this term, he is also the reigning Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle champ, earning a hard-fought verdict over... you guessed it, Latest Exhibition. That was his only visit to Cheltenham so he is unbeaten in one both at the track and at the Festival.

Obvious dangers

It is quite hard to find 'obvious' dangers to Monkfish. He has blitzed the best of the Irish this season, and he did the same to the best of the British and Irish here last season over hurdles.

Of course, he's a novice and the fences have to be jumped, so that's a possible issue.

In terms of potential rivals, Royale Pagaille has looked a mud machine this winter, but that one has numerous other possible engagements, principally the Gold Cup itself. Moreover, the two horses are in the same Ricci ownership and will surely attempt to divide and conquer.

The only other possible issue is ground: good to something would present a challenge met only once previously, when Monkfish was beaten into second on debut in a 2m2f bumper at the Punchestown Festival in May 2019.


It's double digits bar Fishcake - as Nicky Henderson once flippantly (and very amusingly, imho) labelled the jolly - and Royale Pagaille; and, with options over longer and shorter for shying rivals, this could cut up dramatically. Monkfish looks very strong in this division.


Champion Chase: Chacun Pour Soi

Form this season

Three runs, three wins, in Grade 2 and Grade 1 (twice) company, beating the right horses with nonchalance. He travels like a dream, jumps very well and, if he faces the starter at Cheltenham, will have managed more runs this season than in the previous two combined.

His form this campaign is well clear of any other two mile chaser on either side of the Irish Sea.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

It was all going so well, but then... Chacun Pour Soi was pulled out at the eleventh hour last year and, as such, has yet to race outside of Ireland. That leaves question marks not just over the track but also about travelling generally: he did come over on the boat last year but was withdrawn with a foot abscess.

Whilst it may very much be a case of abscess making the heart grow fonder (sigh), it also nods to this fella's hitherto fragility. Against that we do have a trio of scores, and an absence of scares, so far this term. But we have still to conjecture about his ability to handle the idiosyncrasies of Cleeve Hill.

Obvious dangers

He himself is the obvious danger. Will he stay in one piece? Will he handle the travel? Will he handle the track?

Of the other horses in the race, each has eroded his or her case at some point: Arkle winner Put The Kettle On was bashed by Chacun, albeit after what was a very hard race at Cheltenham first up this season, and she may bounce back training up to the race; Altior is patently not the horse he was; Politologue has a rock solid Champion Chase profile but not against the calibre of CPS; and Defi Du Seuil is a binary chap, more zeros than ones in recent times.

The leftfield option is First Flow, who was exhilarating at Ascot last time. He'd need supplementing, very likely, but he'd also need to improve another eight pounds on current ratings - less likely.


Chacun Pour Soi has to contend with himself. His form is in another postcode to his rivals in a market still trying to get him beaten with the wonderful but past his best Altior and a sizeable group of second division chasers. A horse like Fakir D'Oudairies, who is 20/1 NRNB in a place because he's more likely to fly Ryanair, might be a feasible hail mary in a race loaded with if's and but's.

Those imponderables extend to the favourite which makes him unplayable outright at the prices for all that he is the outstanding logical choice. [I did flag him in a derivative market at more appealing odds, as I don't really seeing him finishing second or third. He will win, or something will have happened between now and the finish line, is my wagering opinion.]


Marsh: Envoi Allen

Form this season

Three runs, three wins this campaign have meant Envoi Allen is now eleven from eleven lifetime under Rules (plus one point to point), all of them as favourite and only once at odds-against (the 2019 Cheltenham Champion Bumper). The middle leg of his 2020/21 hat-trick was a comfortable verdict in the Grade 1 Drinmore, and it was little more than a schooling round against Grade 3 rivals last time. I wasn't as impressed as some with that most recent effort for all that he still bolted up.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Two tries at the track, both at the Festival, have yielded two victories; the Bumper score was by a narrow margin, his Ballymore victory more unequivocal. He beat 13 rivals the first day and eleven the second and, well, he just keeps winning.

Obvious dangers

This looks another case of getting to the start line. Unlike CPS, EA has been slated to start twice and has started - and finished first - twice. He's had an incident-free prep thus far and has jumped really well in his three chase races to date.

Still, those fences need to be jumped, and he has to arrive pristine at Prestbury. It is hard to nominate dangers thereafter.


The Brown Advisory would have meant a likely clash with Monkfish, the Arkle a ding dong with Shiskin, Energumene and Allmankind. The Marsh feels a bit like the coward's route for a horse boasting his CV. More generously, it is the best opportunity to extend the winning sequence.

You can bet double figures any other horse likely to run in this race - single digit quotes about Energumene and Monkfish don't even appeal NRNB especially - and there has to be some each way value, though I've yet to go through the fine detail to find it.

What is clear is that, on form, Envoi Allen is different kit.



Last year, five of the six horses sent off at 5/4 or shorter were beaten. This year, we look set to have at least five runners priced in that same bracket. Mishaps aside, it is hard (for me, at least) to make credible cases to oppose any of the quintet.

But mishaps do happen: in 2020, Paisley Park had a palpitation, Patrick Mullins was carelessly ejected from Carefully Selected (very harsh on the jockey, apols, poetic license for a play on words), Tiger was Roll'ed over by a heretofore unconsidered French assailant, Defi did the Defi thing, and 'mon dieu' Benie was beaten by Honey.

Any horse could come down or have a heart murmur in the heat of combat; Shishkin could get beaten by Energumene; a previously unsighted dark horse could emerge in one of the novice chases (though that feels unlikely).

In short, stuff could - and at some point probably will - happen. But I'd be hard pushed to bet against any of this quintet in the win slot if they trotted round at the start. That's my view, uncontroversial as it is. What about you? Which horse(s) would you hang your hat on? And where are you looking to get a hotpot beaten? Leave a comment and let us know.




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Two Cheltenham Festival Side Bets to Consider

February is upon us and, with it, the focus on the Cheltenham Festival becomes more intense. Regardless of the debate about the middle March showpiece overpowering the National Hunt calendar's narrative, there is no denying it offers a rich range of options from an ante post perspective. So, during this short hiatus from decent turf action, I thought it might be worth looking at a couple of the more interesting 'side bets'.

The growth of 'request a bet' type functionality has been a boon for bookmakers, with ambitious punters adding more and more elements which must occur in an event in order to trigger the cumulative payout. These are largely to be avoided though the related contingency (i.e. one element having a direct bearing on another element within the wager) factor can occasionally make such plays of interest. Here are two which might appeal - they did to me!

Arkle Chase - Shishkin to win by six lengths-plus (10/3 Skybet)

On first inspection, I was apprehensive of this. Not because I think the horse in question is poor value: on the contrary, I think he's a very, very likely winner where the biggest dangers are expected to be the form of his stable and the 13 fences between the rising tapes and jam stick.

Of stable form, it can be seen from the right hand part of the chart that the Henderson hordes have not been firing at their highest rate in recent months. Nor, mind you, has the win percentage been anything other than aspirational for most other yards.

Moreover, there is plenty of time for an uptick should such a thing even be necessary: it's not prevented Shishkin from strolling home in his three chase runs this season, most recently by eight widening lengths from a 150-odd-rated animal on Saturday.

And in terms of jumping acuity, he has yet to make a serious mistake in three chases. True, all were small field affairs, but the Arkle, too, will quite likely cut up to a handful of contenders.

The opposition looks a rung below Shishkin, with perhaps Energumene the only credible danger. A fortnight ago, he beat a rival of similar ability by the same margin as Shishkin won on Saturday; if that was a parallel performance, there is little doubt about the 'remaining gears' differential in my view. Moreover, Willie Mullins' charge was a little novice-y in places that day for all that he was entitled to be on just his second fencing start. One further slight question mark is whether Energumene needs to lead in his races: he has led or disputed in all four of his starts over obstacles though whether that was a function of class and staying out of harm's way, or is a tactical prerequisite, is moot. What is clearer is that, if he does go forward, he will very likely face a challenge from Allmankind who appears to have no plan B when it comes to run style.

All of the above verbosity is by way of suggesting that Shishkin will probably win assuming he turns up in one piece (never a given). But a top priced 8/11, whilst still very far from offensive in value terms, is unexciting for those of us with limited elevens to risk in the pursuit of eights. And here is where the winning distance comes in.

Skybet are actually offering prices on winning margins of 2+ lengths (10/11), 4+ lengths (2/1), 6+ lengths (10/3), 8+ lengths (5/1) and 10+ lengths (7/1). I'm interested in 6+ as the optimal value play. And here's why.

Last year, Put The Kettle On was a 16/1 chance when winning by a length and a half. There were 18 lengths back to the third placed horse. In the five previous renewals, the race went more in keeping with the form already in the book as 5/1 Duc Des Genievres was the only one of the quintet of Arkle winners between 2015 and 2019 to score at odds against. His winning margin was 13 lengths. The four odds-on scorers, in reverse chronological order Footpad, Altior, Douvan and Un De Sceaux, scored by, respectively, 14 lengths, six lengths, seven lengths and six lengths.

The tl;dr (bit late now, I realise) is that five of the last six winners - four of them, like Shishkin, odds-on favourites - won by six lengths or more. In that context, Shishkin - who has won all of his completed starts, by 8L, 11L, 11L, a neck, 23L, 13L, and 8.5L - looks very fairly priced at 10/3 to win the Arkle by six lengths or more.

The link to this market is here.


Queen Mother Champion Chase - Chacun Pour Soi to win by four lengths-plus (4/1 Skybet)

Suggesting an ante post position on a hitherto infamously infrequent racecourse attendee may seem a tad gung-ho, all the more so when said runner was withdrawn on the morning of the race last year. But there is a growing belief, in the heart and mind of this scribbler at least, that the 2020/21 Chacun Pour Soi model is a more robust one.

Exhibit A to that end are the two races - both comfortable victories, in Grade 2 and Grade 1 company - in one month, the final month of last year. If that's the good news, the less good news is that Exhibit B must likely follow this weekend at the (outright excellent) Dublin Racing Festival; and Exhibit C requires him to cross the Irish channel in mid-March sans sicknote.

That's a risk and there are no two ways about it: if you don't like that risk, don't make this bet. Indeed, don't make any bet on CPS without the 'non runner no bet' concession.

But if, like me, you think 4/1 more than accommodates the chance of his non-participation, then let's talk about the opposition and the winning margin, oppo first.

This season, I've been a Put The Kettle On fan and a Politologue fan and a Chacun Pour Soi fan. The first two have bombproof Cheltenham form while the headline act - in the context of this proposed wager - has had a look around Cleeve Hill but not yet galloped there in anger. If anything was to happen to CPS, I'd split my stake between the other two named here, and might chuck in Rouge Vif in the unlikely event we get a six week drought henceforth. I can't have Altior, as much as my heart wrestles my head to consider him: he's just too long in the tooth now, before we even consider the depth of the Kempton form behind Nube Negra (a horse arguably a good bit better suited to Aintree than Cheltenham, though he has run well at the Festival).

Chacun was imperious at Christmas, value for plenty more than the official six and a half lengths. He will again face the second horse from that Grade 1, Notebook, if both stand their ground at the weekend, and the fact that Notebook is circa 5/1 third choice for Dublin's Festival Chase speaks of the paucity of opposition once more. There is the not inconsiderable frame of Min betwixt and between in the weekend market but, in the same ownership as Chacun Pour Soi, it is unclear what might be gained from that pair locking horns. Mind you, they did last season, CPS prevailing by most of four lengths.

Put The Kettle On jumped poorly under Sean Flanagan when slammed by CPS and Notebook last time but can be expected to improve both for a return to Cheltenham and the presumed return of Aidan Coleman to the saddle. In that light, she's of minor interest at 14/1 each way and also worth at least a second glance when the 'without the favourite' market emerges. But it is hard to see her turning tables with her last day vanquisher.

Of the home team, Politologue had been under-rated a touch in my view: his Festival record is excellent and he is the reigning champ. He'd looked good this season before being undone by an absolutely terrific performance from First Flow at Ascot ten days or so ago. Kim Bailey's charge reminded me of something between Denman's belligerence and the young Master Minded's panache: he has some way to go ratings-wise to be within a half furlong of that pair but his Ascot performance was, visually, everything jump racing should be.

In terms of race tactics at Cheltenham, if First Flow and Politologue again have at it a mile and more from home, as they did at Ascot, they'll be spent when CPS presents arms at the turn in, and that one ought to run away from them thereafter, assuming he handles the track.

The margin of victory of Champion Chase-winning favourites in recent years is thus: Altior 2019 (1 3/4 lengths), Altior 2018 (7 lengths), Sire De Grugy 2014 (6 lengths), Sprinter Sacre 2013 (19 lengths), Master Minded 2009 (7 lengths).

If Chacun Pour Soi runs and wins at the Dublin Racing Festival this weekend - he's currently a best priced 4/9 so to do - he'll be shorter for the winning margin bets and odds on for the Champion Chase. If he doesn't run, he'll be circa evens on the day assuming he shows up. If he runs and gets beaten, who knows? But, like I say, I think he's a more robust animal this season, and I'm prepared to back that perception.

So here's the rub: if Chacun Pour Soi wins the Champion Chase, I believe he'll win by a 'fresh air' margin. And if he doesn't... well, you might as well have 4/1 as 6/5 about the same loser.

The  link to this market (at the bottom, in the 'lengthen the odds' section) is here.


There will be lots of to and fro in the six weeks from now until the Cheltenham Festival gets underway. A few positions on shorties at fancier prices, for all that the spectre of our picks winning but not by far enough looms, may help to wile the worst of these remaining Covid days.


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Cheltenham Festival: Avoiding the Bad Bets

This article was originally written ahead of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, and was updated prior to the 2019 Cheltenham Festival. It has been further updated ahead of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival as most of the themes have gained strength since first publication.

The Cheltenham Festival is almost upon us and soon we'll be faced with the unenviable - though highly enjoyable - task of trying to find winners in 28 deeply competitive races. Many sensible players will focus on a subset of the full four-day card but, regardless of your plan of attack, there are some rules of thumb worth keeping in mind.

I've broken the races down into four categories: open Grade 1's, novice Grade 1's (excluding the Bumper and Triumph Hurdle), handicap hurdles (excluding the Fred Winter), and handicap chases. The following races, in addition to the trio mentioned above, are also excluded: NH Chase, Mares' Novice Hurdle, Cross Country Chase, and the Foxhunters' Chase.

That leaves 21 races spread across four groups upon which to focus. For each I was looking for negative angles: in so doing, I'm happy to forego a small percentage of winners if it means there is a far more workable residue of runners who comprise most victors and, crucially, a value edge.

The sample covers the last eleven Festivals, going back to 2008, with commentary on the updated figures and performance at the 2018 and 2019 Festivals appended.

Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1's

The open Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival are the Champion Hurdle, Mares' Hurdle, Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase, Stayers' Hurdle, and the Gold Cup: six in total. Across the ten years to 2017, that equated to 53 winners (Mares' Hurdle upgraded during the sample window) and 158 placed horses, from 635 runners. To that we add six winners and 17 placed horses from 2018, and a further six winners and 18 places from last year.


Those wearing no headgear won 50 of the 53 open Grade 1's in the last decade, from 521 runners. That's 94% of the winners from 82% of the fields.

Just one of the 94 runners sporting blinkers or cheekpieces won - Our Vic in the 2008 Ryanair - and such horses' place strikerate is poor, too.

Be wary of horses wearing headgear, especially blinkers or cheekpieces, in Open Grade 1's at the Festival.

2018 Festival Update: Native River won the Gold Cup wearing cheek pieces, with just one of the other twelve headgear-accoutred runners making the frame. So that's 55 of 59 open Grade 1's now: 93% of the winners from 82% of the runners.

2019 Festival Update: 15 headgear runners across the sextet of open G1 races, and no winners. In fairness, three were placed (Melon, Politologue, and Sam Spinner) at solid prices.

2008-2019 Picture

Those wearing headgear can win (QED) but are 4/142 (2.82% SR) with an A/E of just 0.43.


Horses aged five to nine won 49 of the 53 open Cheltenham Festival Grade 1's in the last decade. The other four were aged ten. From 45 runners, 11+ year-olds have failed to win. These include such sentimental veterans as Cue Card, Big Buck's and Kauto Star, all of whom were sent off at 9/2 or shorter since 2012.

Avoid backing horses aged in double digits in Festival Open Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: Two more 11+ year-olds ran in last year's Festival, including the wonderful Cue Card. Wonderful he may be but, sent off at 9/2 and pulled up, he was another mug punt for many. Worse than that, though, was the ten-year-old Un De Sceaux, who was turned over at 8/11. He was one of six ten-year-olds beaten last year.

2019 Festival Update: Nine double-digit aged runners in these big six races in 2019, and no winners. Just the still quite mighty Faugheen - who will bid to defy the stat again next week - made the frame, running third in the Stayers' Hurdle.

2008-2019 Picture

Horses aged ten-plus are now 4/121 since 2008 (3.31% SR), A/E 0.42.

[As an aside, the four winning ten-year-olds did so in the Champion Chase (two) and Ryanair Chase (two).]

Starting Price

None of the 238 horses sent off at 25/1 or bigger managed to win an open Grade 1 at the last ten CheltFests. Moreover, only three priced bigger than 14/1 scored, from 335 to face the starter, with this group losing 274 points at SP. Meanwhile, those priced at 14/1 or shorter won 50 races from 300 starters, and lost just two points at SP. That converted to a BSP profit of 51.75 points.

Ignore horses priced at 16/1 or bigger in Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: Another blank for 16/1+ horses, who went 0/31 in the Grade 1 open races. Of the four who placed, only one was second - Midnight Tour in a lop-sided Mares' Hurdle - with the other three good enough for no better than third.

2019 Festival Update: The bad news is that there was a winner. 16/1 Espoir D'Allen won the Champion Hurdle as the race fell apart. The good news is that there were also 49 losers! Saying that, nine of the 50 made the frame, so these horses (obviously, duh) can win.

2008-2019 Picture

Overall, then, this group is now 4/416 (0.96% SR) with a loss at SP of 338 points (-81.25% !) and an A/E of just 0.32. Even at Betfair SP, the loss is 322.9 points. I remain happy to let these beat me.


Paul Nicholls is still the winning-most Open Grade 1 trainer in the past decade, with ten such victories to his name. Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins each have nine, and the next best of Jonjo O'Neill, with four.

But... the denizen of Ditcheat has led just one beast - Dodging Bullets in 2015 - into the winner's enclosure since 2012, with none of his eight such runners at the last two Festivals reaching the first four. Notwithstanding that all bar one of that octet was sent off a double-figure price, he's a trainer about which to be apprehensive in this context.

Philip Hobbs is 0 from 17 in this type of race in the review period, and has only had one horse placed. That was Fair Along, third in the 2008 Champion Chase, and Hobbs tends to fare better at Aintree, though he's had a wretched season blighted - one suspects - by a touch of the virus.

Noel Meade has an infamous record at the Festival and, while he's 0 from 13 in this section of races, his Road To Riches was third in both the 2015 Gold Cup and the 2016 Ryanair Chase.

Nevertheless, Messrs. Hobbs and Meade are 0 from 30, three places, which is hard to overlook. Nicholls' 1 from 30 record since 2013 is equally difficult to excuse.

Tread carefully around Cheltenham open Grade 1 runners trained by Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs and Noel Meade.

2018 Festival Update: Both Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson have usurped Nicholls at the top of the pile, each having now secured 11 such wins since 2008. Last year, Messrs. Nicholls, Hobbs and Meade went 0/4 (three Nicholls, one Meade) though two of them ran fairly well in fourth. Caution remains the watch word.

2019 Festival Update: Four more qualifiers last year, including a Nicholls winner (lovely Frodon), and two further placed horses. The other finished fifth, and I think rather than the 201-mentioned caution being the watchword, I'd be happy to lose this particular element. It will be expunged from the 2021 preview!

2008-2019 Picture

Overall the figures of 11/112 (-65.07) look like keeping on side. But, while there is normally a premium to be paid for siding with Paul Nicholls especially, he seems to have largely overcome a hiatus in fortunes of a few years ago and, as such, should not be opposed lightly. This one is about to be consigned to the dusty bin.

Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1 Micro System

Pulling all of these negative stats together makes for a nice little micro system. Specifically:

- No horses wearing blinkers or cheekpieces
- No horses trained by Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs or Noel Meade
- No horses priced at 16/1+
- No horses aged 10+

That would have netted 36 winners from 180 runners (20% strike rate, 69% race win strike rate) and a level stakes profit of 46.48 points at Starting Price. That bloats to +69.95 at BSP. Moreover, the approach was profitable in eight of the ten years, exceptions being 2016 and 2009.

2018 Festival Update: The above 'dodge the negatives' angle would have netted you five of the six open G1 winners (excluding the cheek pieced Native River) from just 25 bets. It would have been enough to make you a profit of 6.17 points at SP or a very tidy 13.82 points at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: The mini system had a fine week with wins for Al Boum Photo, Paisley Park and Altior in the big four races, as well as Roksana in the Mares' Hurdle. That was worth a profit of 5.74 points at SP and 6.95 at BSP. Espoir d'Allen was 16/1 and therefore just outside the range.

2020 Festival Angle: We'll remove the trainer element from the above for 2020. Results will be published in due course...


Cheltenham Festival Novice Grade 1's (excl. Bumper & Triumph Hurdle)

The novice Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival are the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Arkle Chase, Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle, RSA Chase, JLT Novices' Chase, and Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle: six in all. Across the ten years, that equates to 54 winners (JLT upgraded during the sample window) and 159 placed horses, from 723 runners. To that we add six winners and 17 placed horses, from 76 runners, in 2018.

The Bumper is excluded because it has no obstacles, and the Triumph Hurdle because it is for four-year-olds only.

Here are the negatives...


Those wearing no headgear still account for the vast majority of wins - 57 of 60 from 2008 to 2018 - but perform little better than expected, 95% of the wins coming from 93% of the runners.

2019 Update: Headgear is a slight negative seemingly among the novice ranks. In the 12 years from 2008 to 2019, although there were only three winners (from 72 runners), two of them - both in 2014 - returned 33/1, for a profit of 6 points. The starting price A/E of 0.77 suggests these are still types about which to be wary, a feeling which has added credence in the form of two beaten favourites in 2019, Delta Work at 15/8 and Hardline at 10/3.


Again, little of note here except that those novices aged nine or more running in Grade 1 novice races at the Festival have done poorly. They are 0 from 22, though then nine-year-old Whisper nearly benefited from Might Bite's errant course up the hill last year in the RSA Chase. It is worth noting that nine of those 22 were priced at 7/1 or shorter.

Avoid horses aged nine and up in the novice Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: No 9yo novices ran at the Festival last year.

2019 Festival Update: Two older novices ran, and were beaten, last year: Articulum ran well to be third at 25/1 in the Arkle (albeit beaten 17 lengths), and the ill-fated Knocknanuss was fifth in the same race.

2008-2019 Picture

These older lads and lasses are now 0 from 24, though Faugheen looks a live chance in a novice chase, probably the Marsh (former JLT) this time around.

Starting Price

There is the occasional shock result in Cheltenham Festival novice Grade 1's. But four, out of 54, is not a percentage on which to hang one's wagering hat. Interestingly, perhaps - or maybe just coincidence - two of the four winners at 16/1 or longer in the last decade came in the Albert Bartlett. It does seem a race where all of the preceding trials have been run on different ground and/or under very different pace scenarios.

Even allowing a little latitude in the 'potato race', the four rags came from a total population of 336 horses sent off greater than 16/1. They were 'good' for a loss of 208 points at SP.

Naturally, then, the other 50 winners came from horses priced at 16/1 or shorter, the 381 such runners losing just 31 points at SP, and breaking even at BSP.

Be wary of horses sent off at 16/1 or bigger in novice Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival. (With the exception of the Albert Bartlett)

2018 Festival Update: I think I got some sums wrong in the original above. The 16/1+ brigade were 6/379 (1.58% SR, -217, A/E 0.53) going into last year's Fez. Those priced at 16/1 or bigger were 1/42 at last year's Cheltenham Festival, and it was again the Albert Bartlett that provided the shock, with 33/1 Kilbricken Storm prevailing.

And that's now four of seven winning G1 novice rags since 2008 scoring in the spud race, so I'd be even more apprehensive around that event. Indeed, I might even be tempted to actively target outsiders therein. (Those priced 16/1 to 33/1 in the Albert Bartlett are 4/65, 12 places, +54 SP and +104 at BSP since 2008!)

2019 Festival Update: One more 16/1+ winner last year, and guess which race it happened in... yup, 50/1 (FIFTY!) Minella Indo emerged victorious in the Albert Bartlett. Aside from that race, the numbers were 0 from 29 for bigger-priced horses in the novice Grade 1's.

2008-2019 Picture

The overall figures now stand at 8/467 (1.71% SR, A/E 0.58) since 2008. Ignoring the Albert Bartlett, horses priced 16/1+ in novice Grade 1's are now 3/327 (0.92% SR, -251 at SP) since 2008.

The Albert Bartlett picture since 2008 is thus: 5/140 +30 at SP (+183 at BSP!)

Official Rating

Despite being novices, most horses running in the Festival novice races have an official rating. The 39 in the last decade which didn't were all unplaced bar one. Indeed, horses rated 140 or below, including those without a rating, are a combined seven from 308 for a loss at SP of 185 points.

Those rated higher than 140 won 47 races and lost a relatively small 54 points at SP and 2.75 points at BSP.

Avoid horses rated 140 or below.

2018 Festival Update: Those unrated added another three duck eggs to their collective card, though all of the trio were 20/1+. Meanwhile, those unrated or rated 140 or less went 24 spins without so much as a place at last year's Festival.

2019 Festival Update: Three unrated horses ran last year in novice G1's, Minella Indo winning and Allaho running second in the same race. The Albert Bartlett does seem to be a special case.

Those with a rating below 140 were 0/22 last year, just two placed.

2008-2019 Picture

Overall since 2008, then, they're now 8/361 (2.22% SR, A/E 0.62, -187 at SP). But...

Minella Indo was the first such winner since Martello Tower in 2015. Before that, Very Wood in 2014, Weapons Amnesty in 2009 and Nenuphar Collonges in 2008 made it five Albert Bartlett winners from the eight winners to be rated 0-140. The Albert Bartlett usually asks horses to do something they've not done before and, in trying, the pack gets shuffled with slower-but-stronger-staying types able to show mettle beyond the classier horses that had been winning therebefore.


Willie Mullins is the dominant player in this sphere over the last decade, his fifteen winners almost double that of the next man (Nicky Henderson has eight). No other trainer has more than two novice G1 wins in the past decade, excluding as we are the Bumper and Triumph Hurdle.

Paul Nicholls is again a man to treat with caution: his one winner, Al Ferof, from 43 starters came in 2011. In PFN's defence, he only had one runner last year, and just two in 2016.

Other handlers to be given a wide berth may include Colin Tizzard (0 from 15, 2 places), Warren Greatrex and Charlie Longsdon (both 0 from 9, no places), and Venetia Williams (0 from 8, no places).

Keep in mind that Paul Nicholls does not have the firepower he once did in this category (and indeed many others).

2018 Festival Update: Nicholls ran two novices in this context last year, Modus (8th of 9 at 12/1) and Black Corton (5th of 10, 5/1).

2019 Festival Update: Again, Nicholls was resurgent in 2019, with Topofthegame winning the RSA Chase at 4/1. This doesn't look an angle worth persevering with and will be dropped for the 2020 update.

Cheltenham Festival Novice Grade 1 Micro System

Again, we can fashion something of a micro system by dodging these negative angles, thus:

- No horses aged nine-plus
- No horses rated 140 or lower, or unrated
- No horses sent off greater than 16/1
- No horses trained by Paul Nicholls

44 of the 54 winners in the sample came from avoiding these negatives, from just 38.5% of the runners. They were collectively worth a profit of 7.57 points at SP, and a slightly more worthwhile 31.15 points at BSP.

2018 Festival Update: If you'd followed this angle last year, you'd have found five of the six winners, 14 places (exception, Kilbricken Storm - see above) from 46 bets. That would have yielded a profit of +9 at SP and +17.41 at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: Not such good news here, as loads of runners and some short odds winners meant the angle lost 16 points at SP and 7.28 points at BSP.

2020 Festival Angle: We'll again remove the trainer angle but caution is advised with this micro generally. I'll not be following it this year.


Cheltenham Festival Handicap Hurdles (excluding Fred Winter)

Let us now take a look at the handicap races, beginning with the handicap hurdles but excluding the four-year-olds-only Fred Winter.

Fred Winter aside, there are four handicap hurdles at the Festival: the Coral Cup, Pertemps Final, County and Martin Pipe. The last named was introduced in 2009, meaning we have a sample size of 39 races with which to work. Those races were contested by 964 runners.


The fairer sex have recorded just one placed effort from 27 starters in the ten year review period. That 3.7% place strike rate (and 0% win rate) compares with a 16.4% place rate for the boys.

It may be safe to exclude fillies and mares in all age Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdles. (Incidentally, fillies have an excellent record in the Fred Winter).

2018 Festival Update: Fillies and mares were 0/9 (1 place) last year.

2019 Festival Update: The females were 0/6 (1 place) last year.

2008-2019 Picture:

Overall since 2008, that now reads 0/42, 3 places.


Cheekpieces are again a negative. This time, 84 horses have worn them without a win, and just six places. Conversely, 11 of the 84 blinkered horses (one also wearing a hood) made the frame, and four won. Two of the 45 hood wearers also won, another eight placing; while the visor went 0 from 21, no places.

Cheekpieces or visors appear to have no positive impact on Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdlers. (This is in line with overall Cheltenham Festival statistics, where visor use has a 2.86% win rate in the last decade, compared with cheekpieces 3.15%, hood 4.92%, blinkers 5.57% and no headgear 5.96%)

2018 Festival Update: Nine more cheek pieced losers last year, and two more visored losers. Blinkered runners were 1/7 last year.

2019 Festival Update: Two headgear-clad winners last year, both in cheekpieces, though those otherwise accoutred were 0 from 17, wiping out the SP profit from the cheeky brace.

2008-2019 Picture:

There have been ten headgear-wearing winners of all aged handicap hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival since 2008, from 293 runners. That's a 3.41% strike rate for a loss of 119 points (ROI -40.61). Those without headgear won 37 from 865 (4.28% SR, -256 at SP, ROI -29.6%).

Headgear seems to be a negative, though ignoring such runners hardly helps the pursuit of winner isolation!


Handicap hurdling at the Festival is a young man's game. Of the 964 runners in such races in the past ten years, 842 (87%) were aged five to eight (ignoring the Fred Winter). They won all bar two of the races (95%), and claimed 92% of the places. The two wins were both achieved by the same horse, Buena Vista, in the same race, the Pertemps Final.

But it is worth further squinting at the data, because it relates that those aged five or six notched 27 of the 39 wins (69%) from just 49% of the runners. Those victories were worth 94 points profit at BSP.

Chuck out horses aged nine and above, and be unforgiving with those aged seven and eight.

2018 Festival Update: All four handicap hurdle winners in this context last year were aged five to seven, with twelve 8yo's beaten, and eleven 9yo+ horses also seen off.

2019 Festival Update: The four winners in 2019 were aged six, seven, eight and nine. Those aged nine-plus were 1/19 for an SP profit of 10 points. William Henry it was who did the business (tipped at 40/1 in this preview), at 28/1.

2008-2019 Picture:

Age remains a factor, younger horses have much more improvement potential than their elders. William Henry was the first winner for the older battalion since that Buena Vista brace in 2010/11. Overall, the numbers read 3/148 (2.03% strike rate, -55% ROI, A/E 0.6).

Compare that with those aged eight or younger: 44/1006 (4.37% SR, -29% ROI, A/E 0.77).

And, further, with those aged five or six: 30/560 (5.36% SR, -8.7% ROI, A/E 0.83).

Starting Price

506 of the 964 starters in all-age Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdles since 2008 have been sent off at greater than 20/1. Five have won, at a collective loss of 343 points.

It follows then that the other 34 victors were priced at 20/1 or shorter, of which there were 458 runners. Remarkably, backing all such runners returned an SP profit of 35 points. That mushroomed to 127.5 points at BSP.

Only five of the 102 horses sent off shorter than 9/1 prevailed, for a 66 point loss at SP (60 points at BSP).

Make 20/1 your cutoff in all-age handicap hurdles, and beware the shortie.

2018 Festival Update: There was a 33/1 winner last year (Mohaayed in the County Hurdle), but the other three were 20/1 or shorter. Even allowing for the County winner, those priced at bigger than 20/1 were loss-making at SP (though an enormous BSP of 70 ensured a profit for intrepid exchange punters). Overall, the 22/1+ brigade are now 6/555 since 2008 in handicap hurdles at the Fez (Fred W aside).

2019 Festival Update: William Henry was again the blot on the copybook, he being the one bigger than 20/1 poke, from 47 to run, to win.

2008-2019 Picture:

Even with William limiting losses last year, outsiders continued to struggle. The long term picture now reads 7/602, 1.16% strike rate, -62.5% ROI, A/E 0.45. Compare that with 20/1 or shorter horses: 40/556, 7.19% SR, +0.18% ROI at SP (!), A/E 0.86.


Willie Mullins has a fantastic record in open handicap hurdles at the Fez, scoring seven times from just 60 starters in the past decade. He's also added another ten placed horses for a brilliant 28% place strike rate. Gordon Elliott has performed even better in place terms, hitting the frame with twelve of his 34 such runners (35%). He also has a win and two places in the Fred Winter, from 11 starters.

Paul Nicholls has a very good record in handicap hurdles, too, in contrast to his Grade 1 performance in recent seasons. But the likes of Evan Williams and Charlie Longsdon (0 from 31, 0 places, between them), Noel Meade and Dr Richard Newland (0 from 27, 3 places, collectively) are probably best passed up.

Approach Messrs. Evan Williams, Longsdon, Meade and Newland with caution.

2018 Festival Update: Only the 40/1 shot Prime Venture represented this angle last year; he ran well enough in 8th of 23 in the Pertemps Final.

2019 Festival Update: Another barren year for the quartet with four mostly quietly fancied (16/1, 2 x 20/1, 33/1) runners finishing no nearer than 14th.

2008-2019 Picture:

That's now 0 from 63, just three places, with a remarkably even split between them: Longsdon and Meade are 0/15 each, Newland is 0/16 and Williams 0/17.

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Hurdle Micro System

Throwing all of the negatives into a mixer gives the following:

- No female horses
- No horses wearing cheekpieces or a visor
- No horses aged nine or above
- No horses sent off at greater than 20/1
- No horses trained by Evan Williams, Charlie Longsdon, Noel Meade or Dr Richard Newland

Applying those negative filters would have left 375 qualifiers. They collectively won 32 of the 39 qualifying races, for a profit of 80 points at SP, and a tasty 165 points at BSP.

2018 Festival Update: Even missing out on the County Hurdle last year, meaning there were only three winners to get, this angle made a profit at SP. In fact, it nailed three winners from 36 runners for +4 at SP and +18.07 at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: More losses on this angle with well backed winners spoiling the party. Still, figures of -13 at SP and -5.61 at BSP were not terminal.

2020 Festival Angle: A great angle down the years, I'll be rolling the dice for small stakes on this approach once more.


Cheltenham Festival Handicap Chases

That leaves us with the handicap chases: Festival Handicap Chase, Novices' Handicap Chase, the Festival Plate, the Kim Muir, and the Grand Annual. With all five races having been run throughout the review period, that gives us fifty races to go at. (I've excluded the Cross Country, which has been run as a handicap but is currently framed as a conditions race).

A whopping 1,086 runners have contested these handicap chases.


As with the handicap hurdles, it's been hard work for the girls. Only 19 have shown up but, while they have failed to win, they have recorded an impressive five placed efforts (26.32% place rate vs 18.18% for the boys).

Nothing especially of note.

2018 Festival Update: Just one unplaced female last year.

2019 Festival Update: Three more unplaced mares in 2019, all at big prices.

2008-2019 Picture: The handful of girls to run in Festival handicap chases are 0 from 23 but there's nothing really to write home about.


Bizarrely given what we've seen hitherto, the fitting of any kind of headgear has outperformed the large 'no headgear' group in terms of win percentage. Cheekpieces, up until now shunned as a universal negative, have been worn by no fewer than seven of the fifty winners, at a rate of 5.26%. Blinkers have been worn by nine handicap chase winners, a 7.5% clip; and the visor and the hood were responsible for a win apiece from 22 and 23 runners respectively. Crikey!

Those unaccessorized won 32 handicap chases from 786 runners (4.07%, the lowest in the sample).

I'll stop short of saying that no headgear is a negative (!), but suffice it to say that the sporting of any kind of 'go faster' kit has not been a portent of failure.

2018 Festival Update: A blinkered runner, Missed Approach, again scored last year and, while cheek pieces went 0/14, four of them made the frame. Allied to Native River's Gold Cup win, I'm warming to the idea of cheekies on a chaser.

2019 Festival Update: Another cheekpieced chaser scored at huge odds, this time the veteran Croco Bay at a monster 66/1 (180 BSP). Two blinkered runners joined in as well, Any Second Now (6/1) and Beware The Bear (10/1) making it a great Festival for the headgear fencers.

2008-2019 Picture: Without getting too gung ho, it remains the case that chasers sporting headgear should not have their chance belittled on the basis of accoutrement.


Although most winners were clustered in the six to nine years bracket, neither youth nor experience has been a killer blow in handicap chases. Winners have emerged from across the spectrum, with the winning-most ages from a number of victories perspective being the losing-most from a betting perspective.

2018 Festival Update: Last year was non-standard in that all five handicap chase winners were aged six to eight. You'd have still lost money even focusing on that age bracket.

2019 Festival Update: The full spectrum was again covered, with Croco Bay's win at 12 being counter-punched by A Plus Tard's score as a five-year-old. The other three winners were aged six, seven and nine.

2008-2019 Picture: Very little in this angle, from a handicap chase collective perspective at least.

Starting Price

Again we see winners up and down the odds boards, with the sweet (but highly unpredictable and potentially coincidental) spot being north of 25/1 and south of 80/1. Those unconsidered athletes have bagged nine of the 50 races for a profit of 23 points at SP and 331 points at BSP (thanks almost entirely to one enormous return).

Just too unpredictable to work with.

2018 Festival Update: Incredibly, all five handicap chase winners last year were priced at single figure SP's. That's probably never happened before and will probably never happen again!

2019 Festival Update: After 2018's chalky quintet, 2019 largely followed suit with winners at 9/2, 5/1, 6/1, 10/1... and 66/1!

2008-2019 Picture: Backing all handicap chasers at 10/1 or shorter in the last two years would have won you nine of the ten main track races, and a profit of 20.5 points at SP (30+ at BSP). But longer term, since 2008, this no-brainer angle would have lost 10% ROI at starting price, though it would have made a small profit at exchange odds.


David Pipe has a terrific 8 from 75 record in the last decade in Festival handicap chases, for a small SP profit. On the flip side, Nicky Henderson's two winners have come from 83 runners (-45 at SP); Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Philip Hobbs are an aggregate of five from 153 (-68 at SP); and poor Charlie Longsdon is 0 from 23 (two places, -23 at SP) to make the cold list once more.

Steer clear of the volume boys: Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon.

2018 Festival Update: A good strategy this, as between them they saddled 30 runners in handicap chases, with just 15/2 Le Prezien in the final race of last year's Festival doing the business. Six of the 30 hit the frame.

2019 Festival Update: Again swerving this high profile quintet would have saved you money: their 21 runners yielded one winner - Beware The Bear (10/1) for a loss of 11 points.

2008-2019 Picture: Overall these chaps have nine handicap chase winners between them since 2008, from a whopping 310 runners! That's a 2.9% strike rate, an ROI of -54% and an A/E of 0.46. Compare that with all other runners in the handicap chases in the same period: 5.2% strike rate, ROI of -15% and an A/E of 0.87. Dodge these chaps.


Cheltenham Festival Handicap Chase Micro System

Very little to go at here. We have some negative trainers, and we could try ignoring those:

- No horses trained by Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon

That gives a fat 827 qualifying runners for a loss of 104 points at SP. A bumper profit at BSP was secured courtesy of Mister McGoldrick's 66/1 victory which returned 310 on the exchange!

Perhaps, just for kicks, we could add a long-odds SP range:

- No horses trained by Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon
- No horses shorter than 28/1

We now only have eight winners, from 291 runners, but an SP profit of 40 points. At BSP, for the reason highlighted above, it becomes a juicy 341 points.

But we all know that there's nothing really of use in this section. The handicap chases are a crap shoot and, in negative elimination factor terms, should be avoided at all costs.

2018 Festival Update: The comment directly above was spot on. Just for the record the long-odds angle suggestion went 0/18 at last year's Cheltenham Festival.

2019 Festival Update: Surely nobody in their right mind would have followed this approach. But, if there was a contrarian nuts enough to have at it, he or she would have comfortably recouped last year's losses thanks to 66/1 winner, Croco Bay. He paid 180 at Betfair SP. That meant a profit of 32 points at starting price, and a monstrous one hit wonder return of 146 points at Betfair SP.

2020 Festival Angle: Nothing much really, though swerving the five named trainers will make life more manageable.



Ignoring the highly unpredictable handicap chase segment, there are some consistent negative factors worth keeping in mind throughout Cheltenham Festival week.

Firstly, don't get too gung ho by ploughing into the longshots. Unless you fancy one to shorten to 20/1 or less, there is a strong likelihood you've done your money.

Secondly, favour unexposed youth over established age/experience.

Thirdly, cheekpieces have been more about futility than utility outside of handicap chases.

Fourthly, beware Paul Nicholls outside of handicap hurdles, and Charlie Longsdon and Noel Meade universally.

The micro-systems above will provide plenty of action for those who like a mechanical approach. Better yet, they may assist in whittling fields to more manageable numbers with a view to poring over the form on the remaining runners.

However you choose to use this information - indeed, whether you choose to use it or not - enjoy the Fez. There's nothing quite like it!

2018 Festival Update: Nothing to add to the above, which pretty much nailed it at last year's show and may again provide valuable guidance this time around...

2019 Festival Update: These principles - they are guidelines rather than hard and fast rules - still largely hold true. I'd not be so negative about Paul Nicholls any more, with the exception of his (and those four other named trainers') handicap chasers; and I'm very interested in that emerging them in the Albert Bartlett: of all the Festival races at which to have a swing at a long price or three, that one is tops in my book.

However you play things, enjoy the ride, and be lucky!


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