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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

2023 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY TWO (Weds 15th March 2023)

Each day of the 2023 Cheltenham Festival our horse racing trends experts will give you all the quick-fire positive and negative stats for EVERY race. Apply these to the final cards and you will build up a picture and a profile of which horses have historically done the best in recent renewals.

We hope they help narrow down the fields and also help pin-point plenty of winners at the 2023 Cheltenham Festival for you!

The 'day two' feature is the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase - a race trainer Willie Mullins won for the first time in 2022!

Cheltenham Festival Trends

Wednesday 15th March (Old Course & Cross Country)

    1.30 - Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 5f ITV

2022 Winner: SIR GERHARD (8/11 fav)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Paul Townend
UK/Irish: Irish-trained

Pluses….

  • 16 of the last 18 winners came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 6 of the last 9 winners were unbeaten over hurdles
  • 12 of the last 14 winners came from the top two-rated on BHA ratings
  • 18 of the last 22 winners returned 17/2 or shorter
  • 22 of the last 28 winners won last time out
  • 27 of the last 28 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • The Irish have won 13 of the last 20 (8 of last 9)
  • Horses rated 150+ do well
  • 11 of the last 14 winners had won a Graded Novice Hurdle
  • 23 of the last 28 winners (including last 11) had won at least one bumper race
  • 16 of the last 17 winners were aged 5 or 6 years-old
  • 10 of the last 12 winners were aged 6
  • In the last 11 runnings Irish-trained horses have filled 21 of the 33 top 3 places
  • 22 of the last 24 were NH bred
  • 16 of the last 24 had won a graded race before
  • Look for past Irish point-to-point winners (8 of the last 12 had won an Irish Point)
  • Respect Willie Mullins – 5 winners in last 15 years
  • Gordon Elliott has won 2 of the last 5

Negatives….

  • Only 2 winners aged older than 6 has won since 1974
  • Avoid 4 year-olds too – just one winner since 1991
  • Horses aged 7 or older are 1 from 57 (since 1988) (but was last year’s winner Sir Gerhard)
  • Only two of the last 36 winners came from outside the top 5 in the betting
  • The last 19 Challow Hurdle winners have all been beaten
  • Avoid ex-flat horses (since 2005 all have been beaten. 0 from 30 in the last 17 years)

2.10 - Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (Grade 1) 3m 80y ITV

2022 Winner: L’HOMME PRESSE (9/4 fav)
Trainer – Venetia Williams
Jockey – Charlie Deutsch
UK/Irish: UK-trained

Pluses….

  • 5 of the last 14 winners ran in the Ladbrokes Novice Chase (Mighty Potter won this year’ race)
  • The last 21 winners had run in a Graded Novice Chase
  • 15 of the last 16 winners finished 1st or 2nd in a G1/G2 over fences
  • 25 of the last 28 winners had only one previous season over hurdles
  • Respect 7 year-olds – won 13 of the last 16 (18 of last 23)
  • 11 of the last 17 winners won last time out
  • 7 of the last 13 winners were beaten on their chase debut
  • 8 of the last 15 winners had won a bumper before
  • 8 of the last 16 favourites won
  • The last 8 winners were rated 150+
  • 10 of the last 11 winners returned single-figures in the betting
  • 20 of the last 22 winners had run between 3-5 times over fences
  • Every winner since 1997 had their chase debut the previous year
  • Irish bred horses are 21 from the last 26
  • 11 of the last 16 winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 Chase
  • 7 of the last 14 winners were trained in Ireland
  • Trainers Nicky Henderson, Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls often do well in the race (11 of the last 19 between them)
  • 25 of the last 30 were novice hurdling last season
  • 6 of the last 13 winners ran in the Albert Bartlett the previous season
  • Look for horses that ran that same calendar year (54 of the last 56 winners had)
  • 12 of the last 16 winners had raced at the Festival the previous year
  • The last 8 winners came from the top 3 in the betting market

Negatives….

  • No winner aged 9 or older since 1992
  • Just 4 winners younger than 7 since 1978
  • Avoid horses that had 2 full seasons over hurdles prior
  • Just 2 of the last 23 winners had run less than 3 times over fences
  • No winners of the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (Feltham, Kempton 26th Dec) have won gone onto win this race
  • French bred horses are 1-from-39 (last 16 years, but last year’s winner L’Homme Presse was a French-bred)
  • The Tizzard yard are 0-from-10 over the last 11 years
  • Avoid unbeaten horses (only 3 of the last 23 winners)
  • Mares are currently 0-from-11 in the race
  • Horses in headgear have a poor record

    2.40 - Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 5f ITV

2022 Winner: COMMANDER OF FLEET (50/1)
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Jockey – Shane Fitzgerald
UK/Irish: Irish-trained

Pluses….

  • 12 of the last 18 were 2nd season hurdlers
  • 18 of the last 22 winners raced less than 10 times over hurdles
  • 10 of the last 13 winners had run at the Festival before (8 had top 4 finish)
  • 10 of the last 14 winners hailed from the top 8 horses in the weights
  • 9 of the last 14 winners were rated in the 140’s
  • 14 of the last 23 winners aged 6 or 7
  • 9 of the last 13 winners DIDN’T win last time out
  • 12 of the last 17 winners hailed form the top 7 in the betting
  • 21 of the last 28 winners won earlier that season
  • Respect JP McManus-owned runners
  • Respect trainers Nicky Henderson & Gordon Elliott (7 wins in last 13 years)
  • 10 of the last 21 winners were French-Bred
  • 15 of the last 29 won last time out
  • Respect Irish-trained runners (7 of the last 14)
  • Look for horses that had raced 4 or less times that season (12 of last 14 winners)
  • 15 of the last 18 winners had run 32 days or longer ago (look for horses that have had a small break)
  • Trainer Gordon Elliott is 3 from 12
  • 5 year-olds do well from the small % that have run (win and place)
  • The last 4 winners wore headgear

Negatives….

  • Just one winning favourite in the last 19 years (2020)
  • Only 4 winners since 2000 had run in 10+ hurdles races
  • Horses aged 10+ are just 3 from 308 to even place since 1999
  • Just 5 winners since 2000 aged 8+
  • Horses rated 150+ don’t have an overall great record, although the 2019 winner was rated 151 and 2020 winner was 152
  • Willie Mullins won the race in 2018 and had the second in 2019, but overall has a bad record – 47 runners – just two placed inside the top 2 (1 from 44 since 2010

    3.30 - Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) 1m 7f 99y ITV

2022 Winner: ENERGUMENE
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Paul Townend
UK/Irish: Irish-trained

Pluses….

  • 13 of the last 22 winners ran in the Tingle Creek Chase that season
  • 4 of the last 10 winners won the Clarence House Chase (Ascot) that season
  • 24 of the last 38 had won at the Festival before
  • Paul Nicholls & Nicky Henderson have won 11 of the last 23 between them
  • Nicky Henderson has won 5 of the last 11
  • 28 of the last 36 winners aged between 7-9
  • 14 of the last 21 winners won last time out
  • 17 of the last 20 winners had run that calendar year
  • 39 of the last 41 winners returned 10/1 or shorter
  • 16 of the last 23 winners returned 5/1 or shorter
  • 8 of the last 16 winners were French-bred
  • 12 of the last 20 winners were second season chasers
  • 16 of the last 18 winners had run 2 or 3 times that season
  • 20 of the last 24 winners came from the top 3 in the betting
  • 16 of the last 23 winners ran in the previous season’s Arkle or Champion Chase
  • 7 of the last 12 Arkle winners (previous season) to run have won
  • Past champions do well – 13 horses have won the CC more than once

Negatives….

  • Only two winners priced 11/1 or bigger in the last 39 years
  • Just 1 winner in last 18 had run 4+ times that season
  • Horses that didn’t run in that calendar year have a bad record
  • Top Irish trainer, Willie Mullins, has just 1 win in the race (Energumene) (1-from-14)
  • Just 1 of the last 21 winners hadn’t won a Grade 1 Chase before
  • 13 of the last 17 winners had run in no more than 16 chases
  • Be wary of horses older than 10 – just 2 winners since 1977
  • Dublin Chase winners are currently 0-from-4
  • Only 3 winners aged 6 or younger in the last 48 years
  • Just one 11 year-old winner in the last 44 years
  • 5 of the last 7 odds-on favourites have lost
  • Just one Mare has ever won the race (Put The Kettle On, 2021)

    4.10 - Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase 3m 6f 37y ITV

2022 Winner: DELTA WORK (5/2 fav)
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Jockey – Jack Kennedy
UK/Irish: Irish-trained

Pluses….

  • The Irish have won 15 of the last 18 runnings
  • Respect Enda Bolger-trained runners (won the race 5 times)
  • 15 of the last 18 winners returned 7/1 or shorter
  • 21 of the last 25 winners came from the top three in the betting
  • 9 of the last 18 ran in the December Cross Country race at Cheltenham
  • 14 of the last 18 winners had run on the course before
  • Respect jockeys Keith Donoghue (3 wins) and Davy Russell (2 wins)
  • 14 or the last 18 winners were aged 10 or younger
  • 8 of the last 12 winners were aged 8 or 9
  • Trainer Philip Hobbs is 2 from 12 (5 placed in the top 5 too)
  • Trainer Gordon Elliott has won 4 of the last 6 runnings
  • 7 winners since 2005 owned by JP McManus
  • 10 of the last 18 winners had run in the NH Chase before
  • 5 of the last 8 winners were owned by the Gigginstown Stud House
  • The last 7 winners wore headgear
  • 8 of the last 10 winners wore a tongue-tie

Negatives….

  • Debutants over these fences/course have a poor record, but last year’s winner (Delta Work) was running for the first time over the X-Country course
  • Just 3 of the last 13 winners won their last race
  • Horses aged 7 or younger are only 3 from 100, but the 2020 winner was 6
  • Trainer Willie Mullins is 0 from 16
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls is 0 from 13

    4.50 - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m 62y ITV

2022 Winner: GLOBAL CITIZEN
Trainer – Ben Pauling
Jockey – Kielan Woods
UK/Irish: UK-trained

Pluses….

  • 7 of the last 9 winners carried 11st or more
  • 16 of the last 19 winners had run at the Festival before
  • 8 of the last 19 winners ran in the previous renewal
  • Irish have won 4 of the last 10 runnings
  • 9 of the last 13 winners came from outside the top 5 in the betting
  • 10 of the last 14 winners novices or second season chasers
  • 11 of the last 17 winners aged between 6-8
  • 13 of the last 19 winners were aged 8 or older
  • Henderson, Nicholls, King-trained horses are respected
  • Paul Nicholls has won 4 of the last 19
  • Respect JP McManus-owned horses (4 winners, 11 placed)
  • 11 of the last 12 winners were rated at least 138
  • 5 year-olds have a good record (from few runners of that age that have run)
  • Novices have won 6 of the last 14 runnings
  • 5 of the last 8 winners won after a 91+ day break
  • 9 of the last 12 winners were rated between 138-147
  • 10 of the last 12 winners rated between 138-150
  • 7 of the last 9 winners carried 11st or more in weight
  • 20 of the last 23 winners had run no more than 12 times over fences

Negatives….

  • Horses aged 10+ are just 3 wins from the last 27 runnings, but last year’s winner was a 10 year-old
  • Horses that last ran 45 days or more ago have seen just 8 winners since 1990
  • Last time out winners are just 1 from last 16
  • Horses aged 6 or younger (from top 3 in the market) are just 1 from 34 since 2005
  • Only 2 of the last 18 winners were favourites
  • Just 2 winners since 2000 had run in more than 12 chases
  • Horses that won a handicap chase that season have a bad recent record

    5.30 - Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1) 2m 87y RTV

2022 Winner: FACILE VEGA (15/8 fav)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Paul Townend
UK/Irish: Irish-trained

Pluses….

  • 28 of the last 30 had won last time out (all of last 19)
  • 23 of the last 30 winners trained in Ireland
  • Respect Irish-trained runners (23 from 39)
  • 21 of the last 30 came from the top 6 in the betting
  • 23 of the last 30 were Irish-bred
  • 11 of the last 22 winners were second season horses
  • 16 of the last 17 winners were aged 5 or 6 years-old
  • 19 of the last 30 winners aged 5 years-old
  • 19 of the last 21 had their debut runs in Ireland
  • 12 of the last 20 had been beaten in a race before
  • 6 of the last 13 winners returned between 14/1 and 40/1
  • Respect Willie Mullins (12 winners) – also had first three in 2018 and first and second in 2020 and 2021
  • The Irish lead the British 24-7 in the race history
  • Trainer Gordon Elliott has won 2 of the last 6 runnings
  • 11 of the last 20 winners came from the top 3 in the betting
  • Mares are 3-19 in the last 18 runnings
  • 6 of the last 7 winners had run in February
  • 3 of the last 4 winners owned by Cheveley Park Stud

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses with 4 or more NH Flat runs
  • Just 2 winners failed to win last time out
  • Just 2 of the last 12 winners hadn’t run that calendar year
  • Only 4 of the last 12 winners were won by UK-based trainers
  • 4 year-olds are 1 from 65 since 2000 (Cue Card)
  • Gigginstown, Paul Nicholls & Nicky Henderson don’t often focus on the race

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Betting the Breeders’ Cup Rollercoaster

The Breeders' Cup action on the tracks at Keeneland was, barring the high class procession of Flightline in the Classic, fiercely contested and highly emotionally charged. So, too, was betting the races; and, for this punter at least, it was a white knuckle roller coaster of a weekend. Allow me to elaborate...

A feature of playing big meetings is the availability of futures - or ante post, if you prefer - markets: more generous prices offered ahead of time when there is less certainty about which horses will run, what form they will be in, and how the races will set up. In the days leading up to the event, I had what the latest markets suggested was a solid value book and, importantly, had largely dodged the dreaded no shows.

Alas, that luck didn't hold with Laurel River getting scratched from the Dirt Mile the day before. 7/1 about a 3/1 shot is decent; 7/1 about a non-runner is, well, not decent. That's the futures game in a nutshell right there.

To Friday, and five two-year-old contests, three of them on the turf. How would the Europeans fare? And how would the portfolio hold up?! The opening Juvenile Turf Sprint would offer a tentative answer to both questions.

Love Reigns had been available at 8/1 a few days prior to race day - highlighted in this post as a likely shortener - and was sent off the 3.14/1 favourite for Wesley Ward, seeking a fourth straight win in the race; it's only been on the card for five years! That one broke only OK but couldn't run with the British speedsters who, led by Mischief Magic, finished 1-2-4-5. I'd had little bets on a few US horses (they'd won all four prior renewals) and they're mostly still running... I did nick a couple of quid with Dramatised's fine run but neither she nor any other was a match for Charlie Appleby's colt.

 

Next came the Juvenile Fillies and a contention that the Alcibiades, run over the same course and distance four weeks prior, was the key race. There, Wonder Wheel beat Chop Chop by a rapidly diminishing nose, with Raging Sea third. Chop Chop was the bet and 6/1 was secured (having flagged her at 8's and been too tardy to actually get any of that). She went off a little bigger than 9/4 but had no chance, getting a five wide transit throughout and eased off in the straight, with Wonder Wheel winning again and Raging Sea again finishing third. The winner was impressive under different tactics - she was supposed to be front rank but missed the bus! - and would probably have won anyway.

 

Staying with the two-year-old fillies but on the grass now, in the Juvenile Fillies Turf, it was time for Europe to try to win their third renewal on the occasion of the fifteenth running. Not a strong record, but Aidan O'Brien had peppered the target in spite of never having won the race. I'd fielded against the British and Irish, with their very poor race record, and had some fancy prices about a clutch of American runners. It was money back on G Laurie after she scratched the day before; and I was cheering 20/1 Free Look or 40/1 Pleasant Passage to get in front.

We all know what Meditate did: she was much the best and dominated in the straight. But with 13/2 or so Pleasant Passage running second, and 15/2 Free Look less than a length behind her in fifth, it was another close but no cigar event for this punter.

After two second places at decent prices, and a favourite taken at 6/1 who was the 'right answer with the wrong trip', it wasn't going especially well. And it would be going worse after the Juvenile...

In that penultimate Breeders' Cup Friday race, I'd played a 'no brainer' double finishing in the Mile with Modern Games and starting with Bob Baffert's Cave Rock. I feared the inside drawn Hurricane J as a pace spoiler and, as it turned out, was right to because that one ensured Cave Rock - sent off just less than 1/2 - did a tap more than ideal in chasing the lead. As they entered the straight, up loomed east coast champ Forte to run the jolly down.

 

Another second and it was starting to smart. At least this time, I picked up a few shekels for the place part on National Treasure, the second of four horses flagged in the 'bet these now' post from a week or so prior. He returned 8/1 and only 1/2 for the 'show' (i.e. to finish 3rd or better).

 

Finally on the opening day we had the Juvenile Turf, with the raiders bidding for a clean sweep on the sod and me bidding to get things back on track. This time I'd swung at an Appleby - not the only one across the weekend as will become apparent - in the form of progressive Autumn Stakes winner Silver Knott. In my quest for value, I'd merely supplanted big prices on this occasion, with the exception of 8/1 win only on Silver K.

Naturally, he found just a dash of traffic in his daring rail run while Victoria Road charmed himself through the eye of a needle between horses to prevail by a nose. The four remaining plays in the race, three of them over-staked most likely, are currently asking for directions to the jam stick somewhere towards the end of the back straight.

 

At the end of day one with the UK books I'd staked £586 and returned a skimpy £129.48. Meanwhile, in tote action, I had bought a $500 betting voucher and converted that into $708 by close of play, mainly thanks to a patriotic (of sorts) $20 exacta Victoria Road over Silver Knott; so a little more than £250 down overall on Friday. Far from a drama at this point, and I at least had some betting tokens for day two, as well as an equally healthy looking portfolio for the Saturday.

*

Breeders' Cup Saturday is a goliath of a race day: nine main event races bookended by two or three undercard heats make for an eleven or, as in this case, twelve race card. Even just focusing on the Cup stuff, which was the case for me, is a momentous undertaking. I was up early - everyone needed to be with a first post time of 10.30am - and had scribbled my tote plays into a notebook.

These are them, and I placed them all prior to the first race, something I've never done before and which turned out to be a godsend.

Total stakes were $1173 rather than $965 due to a) backing Cody's Wish for fifty bucks, and b) immediately recycling the return on that on two losers in the FM Turf. Sigh. Anyway, we're getting ahead of ourselves.

Saturday's curtain raiser was the Filly and Mare Sprint, a race in which I've had plenty of success backing bombs down the years and, with a ton of early speed in the pre-entries, I was excited to swing big again. But, when first Letruska and then Hot Peppers - both out and out need the lead types - were scratched, it notably diluted the front end heat. We still had Slammed, Lady Rocket and Echo Zulu, each of which had led or been within half a length at the first call in three of their last four starts, so the bomb play remained viable to some degree.

The whole position hung on a contention that favoured Midnight Olive might i) be over-estimated and ii) burn herself out chasing a too hot tempo. Long story slightly shorter, it just didn't play out that way: the first half went in 22.10, 44.89, which is quick enough; but the speed held up and Olive showed plenty of class to win by daylight.

Tote tickets with big-priced deep closers on top went on the spike. As did my only ante post play, on the sole Japanese runner, Chain Of Love, who, after a taking late rally both in the Dubai Golden Shaheen and in Japan last time, showed absolutely nada here. The other two deep closers - Obligatory and Chi Town Lady - did what they do but always at a respectful distance (respectively 14.5 and 16 lengths off the front at the first call!)

 

Having projected the opener completely wrong, I then managed to totally overlook Caravel, winner of the Turf Sprint, when doing form previews of 'all' runners. This was a potent combination of embarrassing and annoying, not that she'd have featured highly on my shortlist save for the good looking track and trip win last time out. I certainly wouldn't have played her 'on top', so that's something, I guess.

In the end, as well as ante post plays Arrest Me Red (ran fine, not good enough) and a double kicking off with Golden Pal (dreadfully dull effort), I added a few day of race darts including the Appleby duo and a defensive play on Flotus at about a million to one on the board. Also limped in with a very narrow Pick 4 guess. Limped back out again about 55.77 seconds later - in fairness, so did most other people who probably staked more into that pool than me.

Chazza's Creative Force closed well into third without ever threatening the (pretty impressive) winner; Emaraaty Ana ran another stormer in second and Highfield Princess performed perfectly well in fourth. The $100 US tote chip on her was lost but she was, like most of my tickets, value when comparing available odds.

The Turf Sprint was the only grass race won by the home team all weekend as it transpired, British runners finishing 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 6th in what was still a strong non-winning display.

 

"System going well, send more money" was the summary at this point. And, in the Dirt Mile, some respite. A lazy, chalky bullseye on story horse Cody's Wish - see below - was a relative shot in the arm to at least stem the flow: nice little cocktail of mixed metaphor there...

Cody's Wish was given a measured ride to out-finish the extremely busy and admirably tough Cyberknife who went down fighting. I'd had a good looking investment on late nonner, Laurel River, and my wise guy exacta selections - one of which was the other horse I backed in Britain, Simplification - took the wrong course, or something.

 

Check out Cody's on the jockey cam

 

Onwards, as is relentlessly the case through the top class nonet of wagering conundrums (wasn't sure if it should be 'conundra', so googled and discovered a very fun - if utterly nerdy - answer here) on day 2 at BC.

[Aside: Six-eight Friday/Saturday would work so much better, but we don't really need another juvenile race - dirt sprint?! - which would only make it seven-nine in any case; and moving one of the older horse Saturday races would be incongruent, so guess we're staying like this for now]

It was the Filly & Mare Turf next with its host of Euro entries. I was as cool as a refrigerated cucumber on the chances of the Ballydoyle 'T' brace, Tuesday and Toy, but all around the vibes - ah, yes, the vibes - were strong, especially about the Oaks winner. My contention had been she wasn't needing a bigger than quarter mile drop in trip; the counter - made by, clearly, smarter judges than me - was that she was crying out for it. Turned out she was. Luckily for me, one of the shroods was Neil, with whom I'd chewed the form cud for much of the weekend. His bet of the day, I couldn't ignore her, especially at 6/1 in a place.

It is, as they say, far better to be lucky than good. Having been neither heretofore, I borrowed someone else's good for ten minutes and caught some luck.

In point of fact, I'd been good enough to back second-placed In Italian each way at 7/1 - she went off 3/1 - and lucky enough that she made all bar the last fifty yards of the running. But the same tote board tempted me into a rapid release of my Cody coin, first with $100 on Nashwa at 4/1 (her price then proceeded to crash to a little better than 5/2, at which she'd have been no bet) and then $50 Above The Curve who ran no race this time. In the finish, with a $5 exacta returning $110, this was slightly better than a scratch race overall. But, left to my own devices, it would have been a car crash. Jeez.

 

The middle leg on Saturday, race five, was the Sprint, and the first of two coronations. Or so we/I thought. Jackie's Warrior had been much the best in the division all season, figured to get an easy lead, had had legit excuses (stamina, injury) when failing at odds on the past two Breeders' Cups, and, well, he'd just win, wouldn't he?

One of my learnings from the weekend - which I should already know - is that, when it looks like one horse will get a soft lead, it's information that every rider in the race will be aware of; as such, the chance of such an eventuality diminishes, and the price needs to reflect that scope for something different to play out. 4/5 is not a price that permits much uncertainty at all, and so my third - and, mercifully, final - punchy short odds double was waved adios as the #7 horse, Super Ocho, two boxes inside Jackie's Warrior, dished it up to the champ-elect on the front end through five of the six eighths of a mile. Then along came the big improver this season, Elite Power, with a strong finish to roll on by. JW was sufficiently cooked that the octogenarian (OK, unfair, he's eight, not 80) C Z Warrior also shuffled his Zimmer frame past in the final strides.

This was a hideous bet for me, coupling a non-runner and a pair of shorties both of whom failed to make the place position let alone the win. The first two home were nowhere on my exotics either so, head shaking like a sideways Churchill pooch, we pushed on pronto.

 

Well into the second half, then, and I've yet to have a winning opinion of my own. I was feeling pretty down in the chops by this point, and I didn't really have anything to cheer in the Mile after Cave Rock had done for my value double with Modern Games. I'd backed Annapolis at 10's because I felt he had to be shorter by the off, and I had some tote action firmly centred on Modern G. I meant to back Ivar but didn't, which would have been annoying assuming the books had paid four places and a relief if they paid three. And I played a bit of Order of Australia and Kinross at his ridiculous US tote price of 9.39/1: I didn't like him at 3/1 back home but this was a bit insulting.

More losers, more self-flagellation and wagering-wise I was in what felt like as big a hole in a couple of days as I'd been since some reckless punting ventures of many moons ago. I'd done about $750 on the tote to this point, but had $250 left of those wagers placed before racing; but my ante post book was in tatters: £1300 staked, £600 returned. Writing that now, it's not nearly as terrible as I'd perceived, but when you're caught up in a really fast-moving moment like Breeders' Cup Saturday lucid thinking can fail even the best of us - and certainly me.

There were three races left and I needed a minor miracle to get out breathing, or so I thought without the benefit of the bean counting in the stanza above. It was the Distaff next, and I'd made a stinky each way play on Malathaat at 3/1 () believing that the eight pre-entries would reduce to seven with one filly claiming first preference elsewhere. If ever a bet deserved to get whacked, it was this one. But, with so many on the spike that arguably deserved better, the perversity of the betting deities was on show yet again.

In the best finish of the meeting - a three-way shootout separated by nostrils - Malathaat just edged Blue Stripe with Clairiere rounding out the podium positions. The winner paid 2.88/1 compared to my 3/1. I mean, I'd take it if you offered me it on every 3/1 ticket struck, but... With a couple of place bob on Clairiere each way at 14/5, too, this felt massive. Again, it felt bigger than it was. Such can be the heightened sensitivity of a marathon punting sesh.

 

Additionally, I had taken a couple of wimpy Pick 3's starting in the Distaff, rolling through the Turf and ending in the Classic. This is the losing $1 version, and I played a $3 version with the same horses in legs 1 and 2, and the big guy in the Classic.

In fairness, they may have been narrow but they left well touted Nest off the Distaff leg, and that helped. If not yet quite back in the game, it was at least looking a little less like a motorway pile up and veering towards a shattered headlight, to continue with the utterly unsuitable vehicular metaphor.

But then came something approaching divine intervention in the Breeders' Cup Turf. I knew from midsummer I wanted to be with Charlie in anything beyond a mile on the lawns, and I'd seen a quote mid-September that Nations Pride and Rebel's Romance were slated to get on the 'plane. In their final preps, both took the eye in differing ways: Nations battered his rivals at Aqueduct while Rebel's showed a rarely-seen-in-distance-racers turn of pace before flattening (or maybe idling) in a German Group 1; he still won there. Both were 12/1. Well, I went and backed 'em though I wasn't allowed much. Fair enough, I suppose. A week before, I had a bit of a saver on War Like Goddess, and before racing began I'd played boldly in exactas and trifectas with four Euro horses, the Appleby pair as 'A' picks on top.

It went really rather better than anything to that point. And thank crikey for that.

After drawing £720 I was now in front on the ante post book, a scarcely plausible position from just an hour ago. As well as that, I'd cashed a $10 exacta with Rebel's Romance on top of Stone Age, another horse I was against when doing the form but drawn to by 'the vibes'. The exacta paid $69.87 for a dollar, so $698.70 for ten. I'd played some $5 trifectas with Charlie over Aidan/Charlie over Aidan/Charlie. Not quite, but could conceivably have put the Goddess underneath: it came up $175.27 for each 50 cent unit. Woulda coulda shoulda.

Emotions were up and up by now. Some people say you shouldn't get emotional when betting, but not me. I want to be moved by both the action and the outcome. I want to feel good and, yes, I want to feel bad; that's the game: we need the bad beats to give us emotional context for when it goes our way, to elevate the sense of joy, relief, excitement, vindication. That's why we bet. It's why I bet at any rate. Those who use an algo to nick a few quid... well good luck to them but what a soulless existence.

Here's the Rebel, reprising that late gear change and getting me boisterous in the process:

And so to the climax of the meeting, the Breeders' Cup Classic, and a fella named Flightline. I had those two Pick 3's live into the Classic and there's little doubt the dollar versions were going to pay more than the three buck single through the jolly. I did also have a couple of weirdo bits and pieces staked a while back, including a non-runner, a forgotten Ky Derby winner, and some smaller staked each way filth; but I was only rooting for one man here, Flavien Prat, Flightline's jockey.

The race had a clear shape to it - as clear as any race can given the comments made in the Sprint section above - and this one went with the script: Life Is Good, an extremely classy if one-dimensional front end brute, surged on with Flightline tailgating on the snaff. At the top of the stretch, with Irad Ortiz throwing the lot at Life Is Good, Prat asked his lad to lengthen: the verdict was instant.

Flightline bounded away, Life Is Good a fading shape in the rear view mirrors; the gallant trailblazer eventually eased out to fifth place, surpassed in the final quarter by all of Olympiad, Taiba and Rich Strike respectively. The final margin of victory was eight and a quarter lengths, taking Flightline's six-race career aggregate winning margin to 71 lengths! It's just a shame we won't see any more of him as he feels like he's only really getting started.

Epicenter, second betting choice, unfortunately sustained an injury, which has been successfully operated on since and, though he has been retired from racing, the prognosis is good that this super-consistent three-year-old - winner of the Grade 1 Travers and second in two Triple Crown races including the Kentucky Derby - will be able to take up stallion duties in due course.

After the Turf, I was able to watch this almost exclusively as a sporting event rather than a wagering one, and that was just great. I cashed the Pick 3, which didn't pay much ($123) but was a welcome contribution to the bottom line. In terms of that bottom line, buying a voucher and then keeping most winning tickets until the end (I did cash and 're-invest' the Cody chip) makes it easy to track profit and loss. I bought a $500 voucher on Friday, topped it up with $300 before racing on Saturday and didn't pay with 'folding' for a bet thereafter. So the $868 and pennies I cashed the winning tickets in for after the last represented a most improbable - and waffery-thin - positive outcome. Likewise on the UK books P&L:

 

Having published detailed thoughts on every race here, it was more the ignominy of sending so many geegeez readers inadvertently in the wrong direction that smarted most. Obviously, I bet within my parameters of comfort - though Saturday did take me away from the centre of that zone - but what is never comfortable for me is when I have publicly shared the name of a horse I think is worth betting: it's pressure I can't handle, truth be told. With luck, at least some of you will have found a way to the pay window through the weekend. [Regardless of how the results go, it's always the same - large - amount of labour to work through the form. Sometimes the effort is rewarded, often now. That's how it is, eh?]

I very much hope you enjoyed the Breeders' Cup show, especially the brilliant performances by the Euro squad - not just the winners but 'we' laid siege to the places as well - and that boyo in the Classic.

Matt

**

post script

A few things I learned, or about which I was reminded:

  1. Short-priced horses habitually get beaten at the Breeders' Cup because the races are so deep. Doubling them up doesn't really make sense. [Note to self]
  2. European horses seem to love Keeneland: they're 12/20 in the three Breeders' Cups here, the 6/7 this year bettering 4/7 in 2020 and 2/6 in 2015.
  3. Betting race to race is emotionally challenging. The very best thing I did was to strike the majority of bets before the first. Whilst conceding the chance to scout the prices pre-race, it took emotion out of the thought process (but not the race watching process), leading to more reasoned wagers.
  4. A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, especially in pursuit of a late night weekend winner!

**

COMPETITION TIME

I managed to bring a few souvenirs back with me and thought they'd make a nice raffle prize. As they say across the pond, here's what I got...

Click on the image to view full size

- Programmes from both Friday's and Saturday's meetings
- A Daily Racing Form for Friday's card
- Some Kentucky 'horse country' brochures
- A Breeders' Cup lanyard
- A Breeders' Cup tote bag
- Uncashed $1 win bet on Flightline

Plus three runners up prizes of an uncashed $1 win bet on Flightline

To be in with a chance to win, simply go here and enter your name and email. These details will ONLY be used to contact you for postal address if you're a winner. One entry per person. Duplicate entries will be disqualified. Good luck!

Matt

Breeders’ Cup 2022: Four to back now

This time next week the first five, of fourteen, Breeders' Cup races will be upon us. Friday is juvenile day, with nine older horse Championship races following on Saturday, and the action - both on track and in the betting - will be feverish.

One of the beauties of the Breeders' Cup is the convergence of US and European (and sometimes Japanese and South American) form, and the differences of opinion that British and American bettors have. With that in mind, what follows are four horses that look likely to shorten from their current prices and represent a bit of value a week from now.

Love Reigns (Juvenile Turf Sprint)

Wesley Ward has won this for the past three years and has just a single runner this time around. He puts his faith in Love Reigns, a fast starter who won over course and distance on her debut. She was a fine fourth to re-opposing Dramatised at Royal Ascot but didn't quite see out that demanding straight five with an uphill finish. Since returning to America, she's won again over the turning five and half furlong range in spite of taking a lead to the first turn.

 

All four winners of the Juvenile Turf Sprint have led all the way and, while she does face a couple of possible pace contenders in The Platinum Queen and Tyler's Tribe, she is likely to be very popular with the American betting public.

The Platinum Queen represents Britain and she's a fast filly, as demonstrated by her win in the Prix de l'Abbaye in receipt of chunks of weight against elders; but she has never raced around a turn before and that's a different ball game. It doesn't mean she can't handle a turn but her current price implies she definitely will. She only definitely might!

8/1 Love Reigns looks on the big side.

National Treasure (Juvenile)

Love him or hate him, Bob Baffert has a stranglehold on the juvenile colt dirt division, and is doubly represented here. He saddles the strong favourite, Cave Rock, who is unbeaten in three and stretched out to this trip for a comfortable five length Grade 1 win last time. And he also saddles the less exposed National Treasure, who chased Cave Rock home in that G1, the American Pharoah at Santa Anita.

There is a good chance that Cave Rock is just much the best, but even then something has to finish second and third, and National Treasure's Beyer speed figure is already the clear second pick in the race. He is entitled to improve on what will only be his third career start and was able to rate the pace set by Cave Rock meaning he's versatile in terms of run style. A horse called Hurricane J is unlikely to trouble the judge but he could be a pace spoiler for the favourite early on, and we don't know how the Baffert beast will cope with early contention: it might weaken his ability in the stretch.

Regardless, National Treasure looks over-priced in an each way context at 12/1 in a place.

Malathaat (Distaff)

Malathaat is only 3/1 but she perhaps deserves to be favourite for the Distaff. She's a dual Grade 1 scorer this season, has the highest speed figure in the field (jointly with Clairiere) and has never been out of the first three in seven tries at the nine furlong trip. She's unbeaten in three at host track Keeneland, including two at the trip, one of which was last time out by more than five lengths in a Grade 1. A half length third in last year's race, she's upped her game a length since then and - if she doesn't get too far back early in what might not be an especially rapidly run race - is the one to beat.

 

She's available at 3/1 with three places each way with one firm, even though of the eight pre-entries is already stated as having her first preference in another race.

Taiba (Classic)

This could simply be the Flightline show, that unbeaten colt recording some off the scale numbers this season in totally savaging his rivals. And I hope it will be just that, because he might be the best since Secretariat, which is to say the best for fifty years. His win in the Pacific Classic last time was preposterous: it was his first try at the Classic trip of ten furlongs and stamina was supposedly a doubt. He won that Grade 1 by 19 1/4 lengths with the Dubai World Cup winner in second and another seven lengths back to a legit G1 horse in third!

 

He's an absolute monster but... he has been fragile, as his five race - all carefully spaced apart - career implies. And his trainer, John Sadler, has had some shocking fortune in the Breeders' Cup: having saddled bundles of fancied horses, his sole triumph from 54 BC starters is the 2018 Classic winner, Accelerate. This will be Flightline's second venture outside southern California, an Achilles heel for many of his trainer's Breeders' Cup runners in the past. He was his least assured - though still much the best - on his previous foray out of state, in the Met Mile at Belmont. In fairness, it's unlikely even Sadler's bad ju-ju will stop this lad; but, again, something has to run second and third.

In that context, Taiba, another out of the Baffert barn, looks likely to shorten. A three-year-old unraced at two, Taiba is by rock hard Classic winner Gun Runner, and his sole heavy defeat was in the massive field Kentucky Derby. He was also a head second in the G1 Haskell before stepping forward to win by three lengths in the Penn Derby, a favoured Baffert Classic prep.

His price - 12/1 - is made mainly by Flightline of course, but also by a horse called Life Is Good, a need-the-lead speedball who has only raced beyond nine furlongs once, when failing to get home in the Dubai World Cup at this mile and a quarter range. In fairness, he's tough on the lead but I imagine he will be wilting in the stretch.

Epicenter - conditioned by Gun Runner's trainer, Steve Asmussen - looks more legitimate for the frame. He's a strong stayer and will be unhurried while the fireworks are lit ahead of him; but he cannot fill out second and third spots, and he's more exposed than Taiba (ten lifetime starts vs five). It doesn't look an especially deep Classic beyond those mentioned so, while there's an absolute superstar in there, 12/1 Taiba looks an each way multiple play on a potential shortener.

Good luck.

Matt

Breeders’ Cup 2022 Trends

Breeders' Cup Trends for Keeneland 2022

This will be the 39th renewal of the great transatlantic horseracing shemozzle that is the Breeders' Cup and, while some races are a lot newer than that, most have a historical profile worth noting. What follows are some observations based on what we've seen previously in the hope that it might help to predict what will happen in Keeneland on the first weekend in November.

Click on any highlighted race title below to move straight to that event.

 

Contents

FRIDAY 2

7.00pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (5f, Turf) 2

Key Trends (4 BC renewals to date) 2

7.40pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (1m½f, Dirt) 2

Key Trends (38 renewals to date) 2

8.20pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (1m, Turf) 3

Key Trends (14 renewals to date) 3

9.00pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (1m ½f, Dirt) 3

Key Trends (38 renewals so far) 3

9.40pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (1m, Turf) 3

Key Trends (15 renewals to date) 3

SATURDAY

3.50pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (7f, Dirt) 4

Key Trends (15 renewals so far) 4

4.29pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (5f, Turf) 4

Key Trends (14 renewals so far) 4

5.10pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (1m, Dirt) 5

Key Trends (15 renewals to date) 5

5.50pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (1m3f, Turf) 5

Key Trends (23 renewals to date) 5

6.30pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Sprint (6f, Dirt) 5

Key Trends (38 renewals to date) 5

7.10pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Mile (1m, Turf) 6

Key Trends (38 renewals to date) 6

7.55pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Distaff (1m1f, Dirt) 6

Key Trends (38 renewals to date) 6

8.40pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Turf (1m4f, Turf) 6

Key Trends (38 renewals to date) 6

9.40pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Classic (1m2f, Dirt) 7

Key Trends (38 renewals so far) 7

FRIDAY

7.00pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint (5f, Turf)

Key Trends (4 BC renewals to date)

A newish race, which was run for the first time on the undercard in 2017, and now has full Breeders’ Cup status. Naturally, at this stage trends are thin, so caution is strongly advised.

  • 2017 (undercard) at Del Mar: Euro 1234
  • 2018 US 123 (1st/2nd from wire)
  • 2019 US 1234 (1st/2nd from wire), 2020 US 12 Euro 34 (1st from wire), 2021 US 1345 (1st from wire)
  • Wes Ward won last three, overall form: 200 in 2018; 149 in 2019; 1500 in 2020; 135 in 2021
  • First 2 winners unbeaten (1 & 2 prior starts), 2020 winner won LTO/form 221, 2021 winner won LTO/form 2121
  • All 4 winners led all the way
  • Winners LTO: '18 1st Listed; '19 1st G3; '20 1st Listed; '21 1st Listed
  • Best two Euros: '18 3rd/4th; '19 5th/7th; '20 3rd/4th; '21 2nd/6th

 

7.40pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies (1m½f, Dirt)

Key Trends (38 renewals to date)

  • 17 of the last 20 had 3-5 career starts (exceptions, 2 starts, ’07, ’17 & '19)
  • Last 20, career runs: 2-3/3-8/4-6/5+-3
  • Layoff: 32/38 were running within 30 days (‘16 winner 35 days off, '21 winner 33 days off); (35/38 5 weeks off or less)
  • 31/38 (82%) had a Grade 1, 2 or 3 win, from c.60% of the runners. 3/7 non-qualifiers placed in Frizette (incl. ’17 winner)
  • 21/27 improved Beyer when racing 7f+ for 1st time (excludes pre-Beyer BC's and winners with no 7f+ form)
  • 90+ Beyer = very strong, 80+ 1 or 2 starts = strong
  • 35/38 were top 4 or less than 4L behind the winner last time out
  • Favourite is 19/38 (50%)
  • "Look beyond the obvious when trials were slow", favour lightly raced improver
  • 23/38 (61%) had NOT won at the distance
  • Baffert not won since 2007

 

8.20pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Fillies Turf (1m, Turf)

Key Trends (14 renewals to date)

  • US 12 Euro 2
  • 9/12 US winners ran in Miss Grillo or Natalma, ’17/'20 winners exited Jessamine, '19 winner minor Stakes
  • 13/14 finished top 3 or within 1.5L of the winner last time out (exception ran in Miss Grillo)
  • 13/14 won at 1m+ (exception, Flotilla, 1.5L behind in Arc weekend G1)
  • 14/14 finished top 3, or within 1.5L of the winner, in a Stakes race
  • Frontrunners 3, Prominent 6, Late runners 5
  • Layoff: 3wks-2 / 4wks-3 / 5wks-5 / 6wks-1 / 7wks-3 ('21 winner off 47 days)
  • Prior Runs: US winners 2-8; 3-2; 4-1; 5-0; 6-1 / Euro winners 4-1; 5-1
  • 80+ Beyer – 9/12 recorded 81+ (2 others had only 2 starts) / Euro RPR's 114, 106
  • 2 Euro winners ran in G1 races LTO (1st, 1.5L 4th) - Euro^ = G1 LTO
  • Chad Brown has trained 5 JFT winners (4 in California), last one was 2018. 3rd at 6/1 in 2021
  • 4 of Chad's 5 won the Ms Grillo (2nd in '22 MsG with Free Look)
  • All US exacta: 5/14 (US 1-3 in '21)

 

9.00pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile (1m ½f, Dirt)

Key Trends (38 renewals so far)

  • 36/38 ran 123 or within 4L of the winner last time out
  • Prior runs of US winners since 2000: 2-7 (incl 5 in last 9 years)/ 3-5 / 4-6
  • Look for solid workouts, especially off a longer (35+ day) layoff
  • Uncoupled entries won in 2010, 2013, 2015, 2021
  • 19 of the last 29 winners posted a new Beyer top LTO
  • 18 of last 26 winners improved their Beyer racing at 7f+ for the first time
  • Y/N - Previous runs, not what is declared for BC
  • (s) Synthetic track
  • Baffert won 5 times, Pletcher & O'Neill twice each

 

9.40pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf (1m, Turf)

Key Trends (15 renewals to date)

  • Euro 9 US 6 (APO'B 1st Kee 2015, 2nd Kee 2020)
  • 2-6 runs (14/15 had 2 to 5 runs - Prior Starts: 2-2/3-3/4-6/5-3/6-1)
  • 5/6 US won at 1m+, only 3/9 Euro won at 1m
  • 1st-3rd Fav combined only 8 from 45 - 47% winners outside top 3 in betting
  • 15/15 Top 3 LTO or within 2L of winner (ran sharp)
  • 0 Front Runner winners (8 CLOSERS, 6 PROMINENT, 1 MIDFIELD)
  • 7 of the 9 Euro winners plus Hootenanny recorded RPR of 110+; exceptions 108 LTO, 105 LTO
  • 9/9 Euro winners placed in G1/2 LTO, or won lesser stakes; 3 of last 6 Euro winners placed in Dewhurst LTO ('18, '21 winners won G3 LTO)
  • 6/6 US winners had won a Stakes and were placed 123 in all Stakes runs
  • Euro winners 20-43 days absent (5/8 20 or 21 days); US 20, 34, 34, 35, 49, 68 days absent
  • Pilgrim Stakes considered a key prep: got 1st win in ’16, 2nd win in '19, 3rd win in '20
  • APOB 4, C Appleby 4, Gosden 3

 

SATURDAY
3.50pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Sprint (7f, Dirt)

Key Trends (15 renewals so far)

  • Winner's age: 644544554453335
  • 3yo's 3 from 40 to date; '18 winner 3yo, 20/1; '19 1st/2nd only two 3yo's in the field; '20 winner Gamine 3yo
  • 3yo's won 0 of first 11, and now won 3 of last 4 (sole 3yo well beaten in '21)
  • 14/15 finished in the top 3, or within 3L of the winner, last time (not ’17 winner)
  • 12/15 won at 7f; 6/15 2+ wins at 7f
  • 11/15 won or were 2nd in a G1 ('17 winner 2nd 7f G1 2 years ago, '18 winner 1st G2 LTO only 7f start, '21 winner won G1 a year ago)
  • TCA at Keeneland is a key prep (albeit over 6f) –
  • PID Masters (6 1/2f) also key race – not run in '20 or '21 but back in '22, won by Artie's Princess
  • Surface switch (synth or turf to dirt): 7/15 winners; '18 winner 1stx2 on synths prior to final prep on dirt
  • Fav 5/15, 2nd fav 2/15, 3rd fav 1/15 ('21 winner). 7/15 4th or lower in the betting

 

4.29pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Turf Sprint (5f, Turf)

Key Trends (14 renewals so far)

  • 9/14 were distance winners (more material when run at 5½f or 6½f, less so at 5f)
  • Age 3-2; 4-5; 5-3; 6-3; 8-1 (all largely in line with representation)
  • 12/14 winners were top 3 or within 3L of the winner last time out (not ’17 winner)
  • 11/14 had 99+ Beyer or 115+ RPR; 14/14 96+ Beyer or 115+ RPR ('21 winner 96 Beyer)
  • 12/14 had 4+ starts in year ('21 winner 3 starts)
  • 13/14 had a 28+ day layoff
  • 14/14 placed in Graded Stakes (10/14 WON Graded Stakes)
  • Europeans 1 from 15 so far (Glass Slippers in 2020, 4th-5th-8th in 2021)
  • Favourite is 5/14
  • Peter Miller won the three renewals between 2017 and 2019 (including 2x exacta!)
  • Wesley Ward first BC Turf Sprint win in 2021, from 13 runners to date

 

5.10pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Dirt Mile (1m, Dirt)

Key Trends (15 renewals to date)

  • 12/15 ran in a Grade 1 or 2 last time out (but NOT '19 or '20 winners)
  • 15/15 notched at least one 100+ Beyer in their last two races
  • 9/15 had 5+ runs in the year, 8/14 had 6+ runs in year (not strong trend)
  • Seasonal run breakdown: 2-1/3-2/4-3/5-1/6-2/7-1/8-2/9-2/10-1
  • # of runs from 2012: 5-8-4-3-3-9-4-7-2-4
  • Layoff: 12/15 27-42 days ('18 winner 70 days, '19 winner 20 days)
  • 8/15 'turned back' in distance (2/4 exceptions were Goldencents)
  • Top 3 favourites: Fav 4/15; 2nd fav 3/15; 3rd fav 1/15 [7/15 outside top 3 in betting]
  • Age 3-5/4-8/5-1/6-1 = 13/15 aged 3 or 4yo
  • 14/15 had won a Graded Stakes in career
  • 10/15 had won at a mile

 

5.50pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Filly & Mare Turf (1m3f, Turf)

Key Trends (23 renewals to date)

  • US/import 12, Europe 10, Japan 1 (2021)
  • 8/8 US winners 1st/2nd LTO; 3/4 ex-Euro imports 1st LTO; 1/10 Euro 1st LTO!
  • Layoff: US/import 10/12 35 days or less; Euro, anything goes!; Japan winner off 65 days
  • Age: 3-6 (all Euro, including 16, 17 & 19 winners); 4-10; 5-5 (inc '21 Japanese winner); 6 or more-1
  • Since 2007, Euro 3yo: 4, US: 8, Euro 4yo+: 2, Japan 1 (2021)
  • 21/23 - 4-7 runs this season (other 2 had 3 starts)
  • 9 of 12 US winners had a race at Keeneland that season
  • Since 2012, Chad Brown 4, Europe 5 (all 11/1 or shorter, 2nd with the fav in 2020 from 4 starters), Japan 1
  • 4 wins for Chad Brown, 3 for Sir Michael Stoute

 

6.30pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Sprint (6f, Dirt)

Key Trends (38 renewals to date)

  • 2007+, the BC Sprint winners came into the race with a combined 98/195 lifetime win record (50%)
  • Last 30 winners had at least 50% 1-2 strike rate at 6f
  • 35/38 won a G1-3 that season ('21 winner closing neck 2nd in G2 LTO)
  • 1+ 6f wins AND ran sharp 7f last 12 months a solid recent angle
  • 23 of the last 29 had 2+ 6f wins that season
  • 14 of the last 24 winners were 50%+ lifetime winners
  • 14 of last 18 winners had 6 or fewer seasonal starts ('21 winner had 8 prior starts in first racing season)
  • 21 of last 28 winners showed a bullet workout
  • 28 of last 30 winners notched at least 103 Beyer in same season ('21 winner only 102)
  • Bob Baffert 5 wins, Peter Miller 2

 

7.10pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Mile (1m, Turf)

Key Trends (38 renewals to date)

  • 19 of last 20 winners had 4-6 seasonal starts
  • 16/20 winners since 2002 had 2+ mile turf wins (exceptions all Euros)
  • Repeat winners common (Miesque, Lure, Da Hoss, Goldikova, Wise Dan)
  • 16 of the last 26 were US winners; 7 French-trained (UK/Ire 3 for 85 since 1995, after long blank, wins in '18, '20, '21)
  • Only Goldikova (x3), Karakontie, Expert Eye, Order of Australia, Space Blues have stemmed US dominance since 2004
  • 9/11 3yo winners were Euros (4 fillies); 12/14 5yo+ winners were US (exception Goldikova #3 & Space Blues)
  • Euro G1 win important, US any Graded win (Expert Eye, Order of Australia no G1 win)
  • 25 of the last 28 ran 123 last time, or finished within 4L of the winner (Order of Australia an exception)
  • Career record at 1m of BC Mile winners since 2002: Runs 141, 1st 81 (57%), 2nd 30 (21%)
  • Thus, the last 20 BC Mile winners had a collective 78% 1-2 record at the distance (Space Blues unraced at exactly a mile)
  • Only 1 front runner has been 1st or 2nd since 2000 (Smooth Like Strait, 2nd in 2021)
  • No trainer has won with more than two different horses

 

7.55pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Distaff (1m1f, Dirt)

Key Trends (38 renewals to date)

  • 29/38 won by 3 or 4yo's ('19 winner 6yo, '20 winner 5yo though missed entire 4yo season, '21 winner 5yo!)
  • 17/38 won by 4yo's (including 10 of the last 20)
  • 37/38 finished top 3 or within 4L of winner last time out
  • 23 of the last 31 winners ran 5-8 times in the year
  • 28/34 1m1f Distaff winners had won at the distance already
  • Layoff: 29/38 35 days or less ('20 winner off 64 days, '21 winner 86 days!)
  • 26/34 1m1f Distaff winners had won a Grade 1 in same year
  • The favourite is 16/38 (42% SR)
  • 34/38 had recorded a Beyer of 100+ ('21 winner no Beyer, top RPR of just 99)

 

8.40pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Turf (1m4f, Turf)

Key Trends (38 renewals to date)

  • 26/27 winners to have raced at the distance had been at least 2nd (Found in 2015 the exception)
  • Layoff: US 35 days or less ('19 winner off 3 months); Euro any
  • 38/38 aged 3-5yo; 6yo+ 0/59
  • Euro 3yo's 8; US 3yo's 2 (last one in 1989)
  • 29/38 won G1 that season (8/9 exceptions were Euro, & averaged 12.5/1). US *MUST* have won G1 same season
  • 12/24 Euro winners last ran in the Arc (rarely the 'obvious' one, though Enable doubled up in '18)
  • Arc winners are 1/7 in same season (Enable first horse to do the double)
  • 8 US winners ran in Joe Hirsch, six of them winning that key prep (??? won 2022)
  • 25/28 since '94 had 3-8 season starts - 3-5; 4 or 5-7; 6 to 8-13
  • 6 of last 10 had 6-8 seasonal runs, though mares Enable won off just 2 runs in '18 & Tarnawa off 3 in '20
  • Every winner to have had at least two 1m4f runs either won or was 100% ITM at the distance
  • Europe 17 1/2 US 5 1/2 since 1999 (2xUS winners trained Graham Motion, Englishman)
  • APO'B 6 wins (last won in '16), Sir Michael Stoute 4, Andre Fabre 3, Graham Motion, S bin Suroor, B Meehan, Bill Mott 2 each

 

9.40pm GMT: Breeders’ Cup Classic (1m2f, Dirt)

Key Trends (38 renewals so far)

  • All of the last 21 Classic winners had 3-8 runs that season
  • 37/38 ran 1-2-3 LTO (23 x 1st; 9 x 2nd; 5 x 3rd)
  • 34/38 won a G1 that season
  • 38/38 aged 3-5 (6yo+ 0/33) – 3yo 12 wins; 4yo 15 wins; 5yo 10 wins
  • 22 of last 33 posted stamina (6f+) workout since last run
  • 10/11 40+ day layoffs posted Bullet AND/OR Stamina works since last run
  • 10/13 3yo winners ran in at least one Triple Crown race (1 exception was a Euro)
  • 22 of the last 26 posted 100+ Beyer last time but below previous best ('19 winner, 106, new top; '20 winner, 105, equalled top)
  • Where no distance form, check breeding for stamina credentials
  • Bob Baffert 4, Steve Asmussen 2, Bill Mott 2

2022 Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe Preview, Tips

The first Sunday in October is the traditional date for Europe's middle distance Championship race, the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe. Run at Longchamp over a mile and a half (2400 metres if you prefer) the race invariably cements the reputation of a champion elect or elevates the status of a hitherto underrated contender.

Consider last year, when Torquator Tasso was considered a shock winner by most measures, including the betting - he returned 72/1 on the French tote - but he had already been first or second in five Group 1 races! That quintet included a G1 score in the Grosser Preis von Baden on his prior start. Since his Arc glory day, TT has run second in both the G1 King George at Ascot and the Grosser Preis von Baden, missing by just a head in the latter.

In 2020, Sottsass, a dual Group 1 winner including when claiming the 2019 French Derby, prevailed on his second Arc attempt; he'd been third the year before having prepped with a win in the G2 Prix Niel: that brace of 2019 contests were his only other races at twelve furlongs.

And so it goes, back through Waldgeist, a triple G1 winner; the brilliant queen, Enable, twice; double G1 winner Found (who was also second in top grade a remarkable nine times before, and once after, her Arc win); Derby, Eclipse and Irish Champion victor, Golden Horn; and twice prior to that the magnificent mare, Treve. There are simply no poor winners of the race, though some are bigger prices hiding in plain sight.

Sottsass was 7/1, Waldgeist 13/1, Treve 11/1 in her second Arc, and before her, Solemia was 33/1, and Danedream 20/1. In other words, it's a race that can be played at a price if that's your thing. And fillies have a great record in the Arc, too: between 2011 and 2018, seven of the eight Arcs were won by fillies and, in the three renewals since, fillies have run second in two of them.

Part of this performance by females can be attributed to weight concessions: three-year-old fillies receive four pounds from three-year-old colts and seven pounds from older fillies and mares; and they receive ten pounds from older colts.

With Baaeed now a confirmed non-runner, the market has begun to settle and a deep list of possibles, even without the top rated horse in Europe, is assembling. We'll get to the form in a minute, but first a brief squint at recent history...

Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Draw Bias

What about the draw in the Arc, of which much is usually made? Below are the stall positions of the first six home since 2008. Note that in 2016 and 2017, the race was staged at Chantilly while Longchamp was being renovated.

 

Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe draw bias? First six home stall numbers

Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe draw bias? First six home stall numbers

 

Eleven horses have made the frame from the inside three stalls in the twelve Longchamp renewals sampled above. That excludes the Chantilly 'combination Ted Rogers' (remember Dusty Bin?!) in 2017. But a horse from the outside three stalls has won three times, too, again excluding Chantilly. So is too much emphasis put on the stalls lottery?

Perhaps not, at least not in terms of Arc winners. As the little table below illustrates, those housed in the lower half of the stalls have won nine of the past dozen Longchamp Arcs: 75% of them. But the minor podium spots have been equally divided on both steps; and with many/most bookies paying four places at least in the days leading up to Arc Sunday, a high draw has been no impediment to finishing on the ticket.

 

Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe draw: first four home, high or low?

 

Summing the top four positions into high/low gives a 25-23 verdict in favour of low, though of course the most material difference is in the win row.

I hope it goes without saying that this is a tiny, just about meaningless, sample size so caution is advised for all that trigonometry dictates a horse drawn low will travel less distance and should, with a clear run, therefore have a small edge, all other things being equal (which they never are!)

 

Arc Winning Nation

Looking at those same 14 renewals of the Arc from a nationality perspective, a few slightly surprising points emerge. The scorecard is as follows:

France 6
UK 4 (3 for John Gosden)
Ireland 2 (1 for Aidan O'Brien)
Germany 2

It was a bit of a shock, to me at least, that Ireland's haul in recent times has been so 'normal' given the volume of high class middle distance horses from that nation. And, particularly, that within those figures, Aidan O'Brien's record is just, well, good rather than excellent. Here is APOB's tale of the tape, and I've included 2007 because it's kind of relevant as you'll see:

2021: Snowfall 19/5 6th
2020: No runner
2019: Japan 9/1 4th, Magical 19/1 5th
2018: Capri 25/1 5th, Kew Gardens 8/1 7th, Nelson 100/1 8th, Magical 40/1 10th, Hunting Horn 40/1 16th
2017: Order of St George 8/1 4th, Idaho 25/1 8th, Winter 9/1 9th, Seventh Heaven 50/1 14th, Capri 20/1 17th
2016: FOUND 6/1 1st, Highland Reel 20/1 2nd, Order of St George 14/1 3rd
2015: Found 18/1 9th, Tapestry 33/1 16th
2014: Ruler of the World 12/1 9th, Tapestry 14/1 13th, Chicquita 40/1 15th
2013: Ruler of the World 7/1 7th, Leading Light 10/1 12th
2012: Camelot 2/1 7th, St Nicholas Abbey 14/1, Ernest Hemingway 150/1 16th, Robin Hood 500/1 18th
2011: So You Think 9/2 4th, St Nicholas Abbey 33/1 5th, Treasure Beach 28/1 14th
2010: Fame And Glory 9/2 5th, Cape Blanco 11/1 13th, Midas Touch 40/1 17th
2009: Fame And Glory 6/1 6th, Grand Ducal 300/1 17th, Cornish 500/1 18th
2008: Soldier of Fortune 9/2 3rd, Duke of Marmalade 4/1 7th, Red Rock Canyon 250/1 16th
2007: DYLAN THOMAS 11/2 1st, Soldier of Fortune 10/3 5th, Yellowstone 150/1 11th, Song of Hiawatha 150/1 12th

In fact, Aidan has won the Arc only twice, in 2007 and in 2016 when he had an incredible clean sweep of the medal placings. Aside from that, he has just one further top three finish since 2007, which was Soldier Of Fortune's third place in 2008. When you look at the quality he has aimed, and the prices at which some were sent off, that's not the strongest pointer to Luxembourg's chance. Nor, naturally, will it prevent Luxembourg from winning if he's good enough: it didn't stop Found or Dylan Thomas after all. But at the prices...

Meanwhile, Germany has 20/1 and 72/1 winners for its brace in the sample period. That, according to my fag packet calculations, from just eleven runners. Of the nine non-winners, It's Gino dead heated for third at 150/1, and all bar two finished in the top nine.

The full German-trained form string since 2007 (oldest to current) reads: 6th / 3rd 11th / 13th / 9th 12th / 1st / 8th / 6th 7th / 1st

That's pretty impressive.

The last non-Gosden trained British winner of the Arc was Workforce, brilliantly conditioned in 2010 by Sir Michael Stoute. Without going into the specifics of it, the likes of Hurricane Lane, Adayar, Stradivarius, Enable (twice), and Ghaiyyath have all been beaten for Team GB in just the last three years alone. A few have rattled the woodwork in the wider sample period - Sea Of Class narrowly failed to beat Enable, and Youmzain was famously second twice - but the overall record does not inspire confidence in the challenge of les rosbifs.

The home team saddles far more runners than any of the raiding squads and it is therefore little surprise that they have the most wins in recent years. There was Solemia at 33/1 (tipped on these pages, astonishingly) but, she aside, the longest priced French scorer since the superdam Urban Sea prevailed at 37/1 in 1993 was 13/1 Waldgeist three years ago. That's probably not out of kilter with what the maths would expect but it does serve as a note of caution for us reckless moulin-tilters!

Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Winning Age and Gender

Five-year-olds occasionally win the Arc. Waldgeist did in 2019, so too Marienbard in 2002, Tony Bin in 1988 and Star Appeal in 1975; but you'll already have the impression that it's not a regular occurrence. That outlying quartet aside, every winner back to the five-year-old Le Paillon in 1947 was aged three or four. Runners older than five rock up in dribs and drabs most years, and this year may include the good (but not great) Aussie mare, Verry Elleegant, and Broome as well as a couple of Japanese entries. That latter trio if lining up would surely serve pacemaker duties only.

Between 1994 and 2011, three-year-olds won all bar three Arcs; since 2012, they've won only three. Further, two of the three-year-olds to win - Treve and Enable - doubled up at four. Why such a poor record for the three's? Well, given nothing has materially changed about the race conditions, it can only be down to the quality of the Classic cohorts and the rub of the green.

On gender, fillies and mares receive a healthy allowance from the colts. The biggest weight disparity is between a three-year-old filly and older colts, the younger ladies getting ten pounds from the more mature gents. In theory, this is simply to level the playing field, and it is a smarter cruncher than this scribbler who can posit against that theory. But since the German-trained three-year-old filly Danedream bashed up the trendsters, we've witnessed Solemia, then Treve twice, Found, and Enable twice bring it home for the fairer sex. Seven in the last eleven years.

But it runs deeper than that. Tarnawa got closest to Torquator Tasso last year, likewise Enable to Waldgeist in 2019, Sea Of Class was closest to Enable a year before that, and the likes of Taghrooda, Shareta, Sarafina, and Snow Fairy have also made the frame; as well, of course, as the brilliant winner in 2008, Zarkava. Fillies and mares continue to outperform their representation and, to some degree, are still under appreciated by the market.

*

Where does that leave us exactly? For many, it will doubtless leave you cold - or at least tepid - because the pen that inscribes the form book is more powerful than the blunt sword of statistical sophistry wielded hitherto. Or, in slightly plainer English, it's been quackery rules so far.

Still, I'm counselled by my rummage against being too hot on Aidan, or on Team GB, or on a Frenchie at a price; and never to dismiss a German runner out of hand. Moreover, I'll only slightly mark up an inside post and believe that a good horse can win from any post position. I will discount all but the most interesting five-year-old, and all older than that; and I will give a bonus point to any filly in the field. Devil take the hindmost.

 

Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe Video Form

Some, perhaps most, will disregard historical profiles in favour of which animals have done what on the track and, in fairness, it seems reasonable to at least consider those exertions*. So what follows is a quick whizz through many of the key races. Keep in mind that runners in some recent trials, especially the French trio of Niel, Foy and Vermeilles, may not have been 100% ready that day. For what they're worth, my quick notes are alongside each recording.

*sarcasm alert

Irish Champion Stakes (1m 2f)

Looked very strong 10f form.

Vadeni - a little inconvenienced against the rail - and Mishriff closing on first run getters Lux and Onesto.
Lux by Camelot out of Danehill Dancer mare: offers hope but no guarantees
Onesto by Frankel out of Sea The Stars mare: plenty of stamina there. Already won the G1 GPdP over 12f, beating Simca Mille

Grand Prix de Paris (1m4f)

Onesto last to first, great turn of pace; but steady enough gallop (Eldar Eldarov outpaced)
Simca Mille - needs supplementing - tried to make all, coming back at Onesto (tenderly handled) at the line.

 

Prix Niel (1m4f)

Race fit Lassaut gave Simca Mille, back from a break, a two length start but couldn't quite bridge it. Winner has bags of 12f form (1121) at the trip.
Japanese Do Deuce might improve for the run but was well beaten

 

Prix Vermeille (1m4f)

La Parisienne locked up on the rail, splits came late, quickened smartly but not quite getting there.

 

Prix Foy (1m4f)

Last to first for the smart gelding (who is therefore disqualified from Arc entry), Iresine. Broome and Verry Elleegant were verry (sic) disappointing.

Grosser Preis von Baden (1m4f)

Small field, tactical, Torquator Tasso prominent, took lead but run down by Mendocino in shadow of posts.

Prix du Jockey Club (1m 2.5f)

Vadeni chased leaders from inside draw, quickened impressively. Al Hakeem, Onesto and Lassaut the rear trio, 10L from the lead, all finished well, no chance. Al Hakeem finished best.

 

Prix de Diane (1m 2.5f)

Nashwa (Prominent throughout, first run in straight) held off La Parisienne (ground saving rail run, got split 1 1/2f out, finished well but slightly too late)

 

Yorkshire Oaks (1m4f)

Alpinista (unbeaten in last 7, all 1m4f, last 5 at G1 level, including vs males) tracked leaders, smooth run to lead 2 out, ran on well. Tuesday held in second.

 

Takarazuka Kinen (1m4f)

Titleholder always front rank behind pacemaker, kicked first, won by daylight. Had previously won over 2m.

 

Arc Market Overview with Form Comments

Arc Betting: latest odds on the Qatar Prix de l'Arc de Triomphe

To the right is a snapshot of some of the major betting lists courtesy of our mutual friends at oddschecker.

Luxembourg is the tenuous favourite, available at 9/2 in a place, and they then bet 7/1 the field. Clearly, the implication is this is still a very tough wagering puzzle!

Horses I'm for and against - and those I've backed (braced for impending arrest by the aftertime police), and why, are thus:

Luxembourg has bounced back from early season setback, comes here relatively fresh and has a chance of staying on pedigree. Would back him at a bigger price (had a small saver at 6's)

Alpinista has rock solid credentials in terms of trip, grade and consistency. Mare has beaten many of these, including Torquator Tasso prior to his 2021 Arc score and an obvious contender despite being a five-year-old. (Had tiny e/w saver at 15/2)

Torquator Tasso won last year on heavy but has strong form on sounder surfaces. Second the last twice in G1 company, running to similar level as prior to last year's Arc

Titleholder is the first Japanese runner in the list. Has won from 1m3f up to two miles. I cannot peg this form but winning - twice - at or around two miles suggests he might be too slow for this. [And I might be completely wrong about that]

Adayar won the Derby and King George last year before a good fourth in the Arc. Sole run in 2022 was an ungraded conditions event last week so has a bit to prove in spite of the ease with which he did it there (as the 2/7 favourite). Very well backed today - see line of blue in image

Onesto is a three-year-old colt with strong form. Winner of the 1m4f Grand Prix de Paris and second in the Irish Champion, he may not want it soft. Has a fine turn of gear, but will be "ridden for luck" from the back most likely

Vadeni is an uncertain runner and not a guaranteed stayer (by Churchill, though out of a Monsun mare) who has yet to race beyond ten and a half furlongs; took a while to get going in Irish Champion then tightened on the rail before finishing best. Prix du Jockey Club and Eclipse winner, good chance if he runs and stays

Westover has too much to prove after his King George blowout. Won a typically weak Irish Derby and was third in a pretty weak Derby. Not for me

La Parisienne is unlucky not to have won the French Oaks (Prix de Diane) and Prix Vermeille, both Group 1's, Gerald Mosse giving her a soupçon too much to do on each occasion. Looks like she stays and is a 3yo filly getting all the allowances. Backed her e/w at 33/1. 20/1 still reasonable, I think

Do Deuce represents the land of the rising sun and can be expected to step forward from his Prix Niel effort. Probably didn't enjoy the slow ground there and, if it comes up good, he'll be more interesting than the Niel trial suggests

Al Hakeem is another I took a small piece of at 33's, win only. Sole '22 defeat was when given (way) too much to do in the Prix du Jockey Club, where he recorded the best closing sectionals. Has won again since and is trained by 2020 winning trainer Jean-Claude Rouget (Sottsass)

Lassaut is also trained by Rouget and ran the classic French prep when accelerating from far back to not quite get up in the Prix Niel (sent off favourite). This is his trip and he's a dark horse for all that he has plenty to find on the book at this stage. Had small e/w at 33/1, currently readily available at 40's!

Simca Mille needs supplementing and there must be a good chance of that as he's won four from five this year, including the Niel. Was second to Onesto (tried to make all) in the Grand Prix de Paris, so his face fits for all that he may be swamped in the final furlong. Backed tiny e/w at 40's

Mendocino brings the Grosser Preis von Baden form to the table, seeing off Torquator Tasso there (ridden by TT's Arc-winning jockey, Rene Piechulek). Looks an Autumn horse and, as a German-bred and -trained four-year-old, likely to finish in the first half of the field

*I also had a cheeky go at 33/1 Baaeed prior to the Juddmonte. It looked interesting for a while... sigh

As you can see I've chanced a couple of quid in a few directions, and cannot yet discount a further wager, perhaps on Vadeni or Do Deuce when ground and entries are better known.

*

There remain a lot of horses with strong credentials and, whilst I respect Luxembourg and particularly Alpinista, there is value against the head of the market. I'm not hugely sold on any of TT, Titleholder or Adayar - which is not to say they won't fill out the first three places, natch - and I'm completely against Westover.

Vadeni would be very interesting on top of the ground if he's allowed to run; and Do Deuce also very likely has more merit than his prep blowout. But I think 20/1 La Parisienne and 33/1 Al Hakeem are two that could shorten (or shorten further in the case of the filly) and as such might be a sliver of value.

Good luck, it promises to be a fascinating Arc even in the absence of Baaeed.

Matt

Derby and Oaks 2022 Preview

This weekend, Epsom Downs will welcome the Queen's Platinum Jubilee celebrations in the absence of both Her Majesty, and his majesty. The former is a late scratch and we all hope and trust she is generally well; the latter, Lester Piggott - in whose honour the Derby will be run - passed just days before the 2022 renewal.

What follows is a slightly different take on a familiar theme: trends and tips for the Derby and Oaks. To wit, it seems reasonable to assert that the Oaks and Derby are parallel lines in terms of equine peer groups and, as such, any profiling considerations might be enhanced by combining the two datasets into a single cohort (group, if you prefer) and seeing what gives. Let's start with that...

Oaks and Derby Combined Trends

Looking at the past ten years gives us 20 individual races - ten Derby's and ten Oaks's - going back to the 2012 pair. Here are a few observations:

Trainers

Aidan O'Brien 12 winners (25 win & place from 80 runners)
John Gosden 4 (10 w&p from 26)
Charlie Appleby 2 (4 w&p from 10)
Ralph Beckett/ Dermot Weld 1 each

This is hardly ground-breaking stuff but it does serve to underline what an elite club the Epsom Classics have become. Ralph Beckett won his second and most recent Oaks in 2013, since when only Dermot Weld - with Harzand in 2016 - has had the temerity to interlope the hegemony of Messrs. O'Brien, Gosden and Appleby.

Naturally, if I asked you to name three trainers who get the best horses, you'd name those three; nevertheless, their dominance is sobering.

Odds

Five winners of Epsom Classics since 2012 returned 13/8 or shorter and, at this stage, it looks quite possible that both the Oaks and Derby will have a market leader with that degree of public confidence behind it. The good news for those of us that typically like a bit more jam on our bread is that four jollies in this odds range were turned over, two of them at odds on and none bigger than 11/8.

Moreover, seven Oaks or Derby winners in the past decade returned 16/1 or longer, and fully 21 of the 60 placed horses returned at least 16/1: windmill tilters, welcome!

Sires

Galileo 8 winners (19 win & place from 57 runners)
Sea The Stars 2 (4 w&p from 14)
Frankel 2 (5 w&p from 13)
New Approach 2 (2 w&p from 7)
Montjeu         )
Fastnet Rock )
Nathaniel       ) 1 each
Cape Cross    )
Deep Impact )
Pour Moi       )

Dubawi 0 from 11 (2 placed)

Galileo has sired 40% of the 20 Oaks and Derby winners since 2012. But that's not all. His progeny Frankel, New Approach and Nathaniel have collectively fathered five further Epsom Classic winners in that time. Aside from Galileo and his sons, only Sea The Stars, by Darley stallion Cape Cross, has more than one notch on the Epsom Classic winning post in the study period. And it gets even more one-sided when we consider the female blood lines...

Damsires

There have been two winners each for progeny of mares sired by Kingmambo, Galileo, Danehill Dancer, and Sadler's Wells. This means that Galileo is at least 25% of the gene pool for three-quarters of the Derby and Oaks winners in the past decade. That's a quite astonishing fact, to my eye.

Race Class last time out

The breakdown of last day race class is as follows:

Group 1 6 winners (12 win & place from 38 runners)
Group 2 1 (8 w&p from 27)
Group 3 5 (12 w&p from 72)
Listed 7 (19 w&p from 88)
Other 1 (4 w&p from 18)

*this excludes horses who ran outside of UK and Ireland on their prior start

Those which ran in Group 1 company last time did so, unsurprisingly, in either the Newmarket or Curragh Guineas. Two of them won a Guineas, one was runner-up and two more finished third. Only Qualify, hopelessly outpaced at both Guineas venues before rattling home over the extra half mile at Epsom, was off a Guineas podium from this sextet.

There was a reasonably fair distribution of winners to representatives across other race classes, though the 27 to have contested a Group 2 last time probably under-performed a touch. Golden Horn, winner of the Dante in 2015, was the sole torch bearer for this group, a group that will have high hopes for Desert Crown, the 2022 Derby ante post favourite.

Placing last time out

Only the aforementioned Qualify was off the board on prior start, the full tale of that tape being thus:

1st 12 winners (31 win & place from 114)
2nd 4 (13 w&p from 47)
3rd 3 (6 w&p from 34)
4th 0 (7 w&p from 17)

It's hardly a shock that last day winners have scored again in an Oaks or Derby, but perhaps one might have expected more than 'just' 60% of Epsom Classic winners to come here off the back of a victory in their prep run. Thanks largely to the exploits of Raif's Talent (20/1, 2013 Oaks) and the wind-assisted Serpentine (25/1, 2020 Derby), last day winners actually came out marginally ahead at Betfair SP.

But there may be more to go at with those acquiring minor medals the last day. Of the seven Oaks and Derby winners since 2012 who were 2nd or 3rd last time out, six were 'staying on' (three in a Guineas, two never nearer at Chester, one in a Lingfield Trial). Only Was (20/1, 2012 Oaks) "kept on one pace" on her prior engagement.

 

Draw

Who doesn't love a good Epsom draw theory? (Rhetorical)

There is all sorts of hokum presented as unequivocal fact on this matter and, as with most 'facts' in racing, we need to be a little less certain and a little more open-minded. The reality with draw at most tracks and most trips is more nuanced than many will have you believe. What follows, then, is offered in that spirit of open-minded sharing: there are no hard conclusions, just a few data from which to infer and a few candidate inferences from yours true - take 'em or leave 'em.

Specifically in the Derby and Oaks since 2012:

Lowest 2 stalls: 2/40 (7 places)
Highest 2 stalls 1/40 (6 places)

That's not out of line with expectation.

But there is no reason that I can think of why a Derby or Oaks should differ from any other mile and a half race of similar field size at Epsom in draw bias terms. So, from 2012 until now, here are a few cuts of who emerged from where...

[In the images below, I'm showing PRB - percentage of rivals beaten - and PRB3, the average PRB of a stall and its immediate neighbours. This gives a more rounded perspective as every runner, bar tail end Charlies, gets a bit of a score]

8-12 runners, all going: definite advantage to high, possible edge to 'waited with early'

13+ runners, all going: no clear advantage, though low/middle on the lead may be compromised

Quicker ground (good or faster) 8+ runners: advantage to high

Slower ground (good to soft or softer) 8+ runners: no draw advantage, clear run style advantage for held up types

 

On this final visual, you may wonder why the chart kicks up at the high end and yet I've asserted no advantage. The reason is that there have been very few races on a soft surface with that volume of runners - see below. It is therefore hard to know if those solitary scorers from wide boxes were random outliers or more material. I personally favour the former conclusion or, more accurately, a position of agnosticism (I just don't know). Feel free to draw your own conclusions from the heat maps and charts above.

 

 

Profile round up: where does that leave us?

Some interesting - arguably, at least - snippets in the above, but how do we piece them together into a vague identikit winner's profile? And, more pertinently for us value seekers, how do we do it without landing on the glaringly apparent and, consequently, more miserly end of the potential return spectrum?

In general terms, we might look for a runner from one of the main three stables, offered at a bold price, quite possibly (though not definitely) with Galileo featuring somewhere in the first two generations of the pedigree, and maybe a horse beaten but in the frame last time whilst 'staying on'. Do such horses exist in this year's Oaks and/or Derby?

Oaks Profile Possibles

In the Oaks, there are several that fit: Nashwa, Tuesday, Concert Hall, and With The Moonlight most obviously - and that's assuming Emily Upjohn doesn't just go and win again (the eye was taken by the Musidora score, though I'm yet to be convinced by the substance of the form).

These are all "well found", in the vogue parlance, in the betting. A couple of darker fillies perhaps worth a second glance are Tranquil Lady and Moon De Vega.

Tranquil Lady is trained by an O'Brien, Joseph to be precise. She's a daughter of Australia, himself a son of Galileo (and out of Ouija Board, champion-making material right there); and is a half-sister to last week's Group 1 Tattersalls Gold Cup third, State Of Rest. That one, by Starspangledbanner, was keeping on at the finish over 1m3f. This one, more stoutly bred on the paternal side, did her best work late when taking the Group 3 Blue Wind Stakes at Naas three weeks ago.

It's hard at this stage to know what she beat that day, but she was one of four horses priced 10/3 or shorter, the other trio all coming into the race unbeaten in either one or two starts. Tranquil Lady won by four easy lengths, but that's not all. As the result shows, her rivals were shouting "wait for me" from a fair way out: it is uncommon to see such margins between all runners in a small field race. The winner might just be under-rated.

 

More speculative again is Moon De Vega, trained by dual Oaks-winning trainer, Ralph 'Raif' Beckett. She is a lightly raced daughter of - you're ahead of me, aren't you? - Lope De Vega, out of an Azamour mare. Lope De Vega wouldn't be an obvious stamina influence, or so I thought, but Profiler tells me she has legit prospects of getting home:

Moon's mum, Lunesque, won at 1m3f and the Azamour damsire influence adds further ballast to this one's stamina case. The next question then is, is she remotely good enough? Well, Beckett knows this gig well enough and I thought the metaphorical hat of his Prosperous Voyage - staying on second in the 1000 Guineas - might have been thrown into the ring (in spite of a dubious pedigree for the task); so the fact he opted for MdV is a small positive to my eye.

Moon De Vega took her time to get the hang of the racing game last term: after two fluffed starts where she ran on with promise on both occasions, she made it third time lucky in a Donny maiden. On her sole 2022 spin, Moon De Vega was fourth in the Cheshire Oaks, earning the following in running comment:

The sectional chart illustrates this better. She's the darker green line:

See how she was making a stronger move than the winner, Thoughts Of June, before getting totally stopped in her run - actually having to take back off heels and swerve a filly cutting in front of her - and was finishing like she had plenty more to offer. Thoughts Of June, trained by Aidan O'Brien and a daughter of Galileo, also has a powerful profile in the context of this piece, but she controlled the pace at Chester and seemed all out at the finish. Still, she's 20/1 and will probably offer the proverbial bold sight in the early skirmishes.

 

Derby Profile Possibles

Meanwhile, in Saturday's Cazoo Derby (whichever genius came up with "Cazoo, yeah you can", I hope they were handsomely rewarded. Ahem), Desert Crown looks a highly credible heir apparent and, like Emily U the day before, may just be too good. But he's inexperienced and a heck of a skinny price for all that he's everyone's most likely winner.

The first five in the market as I write are either sons or grandsons of Galileo, with rising stars of the stallion ranks such as Ulysses (Piz Badile) linking up with more established producers like Teofilo (Nations Pride) and Nathaniel (Desert Crown). Stone Age and Changingoftheguard, as well as Star Of India, are all by Galileo himself, and then there's the Frankel's, Westover and Nahanni. Bloomin' 'eck!

It's a little harder than in the fillies' race to envisage a world in which one of those regally-bred equines towards the head of the market is not first past the post; but there may still be a tolerable return for a well-crafted risk/reward place play.

For all that I expect Ralph's Westover to take a large stride forward from his all out Sandown trial score, it still probably won't be enough. And, though Star Of India, winner of the Dee Stakes, is not bereft of a chance, it is a long time since Kris Kin (2003) and Oath (1999) did the Dee-Derby double for those legends of the game, Sir Michael and Sir Henry.

A horse I'm drawn to even though he may end up hopelessly outclassed is Eydon. As I mentioned when I flagged him up in this sectional Clock Watcher piece in January, he's by the uber-unfashionable sire, Olden Times, whose last noteworthy winners were in Cup races and trained by the late John Dunlop! Stay with me for a moment, though, because Eydon was fourth in the 2000 Guineas, a test surely on the rapid side for one of his breeding - as well as Olden Times, he's third generation Galileo as his damsire is Frankel. In fact, he was dropping back in trip for the Guineas having lagged up in the Feilden Stakes over nine furlongs the time before. His Guineas in running comment concluded, "kept on inside final furlong".

Trainer Roger Varian has yet to commit to the Derby despite giving Eydon a spin at the Breakfast with the Stars morning last Monday, insisting that the shorter Prix du Jockey Club is also under serious consideration. So, unless you can get the non runner money back concession, it's a hang fire for now job.

Conclusions

Both the Oaks and Derby markets are characterised by strong favourites bearing unblemished upwardly mobile credentials, and there might be a case to crash them together in a lazy double: there are plenty of less appealing 9/2 shots than that, and it at least offers a plausible saver against which to take a more ambitious swing.

In that spirit, I've backed Tranquil Lady at 14/1 and Moon De Vega at 33/1, both in the Oaks, each way for smallish (relative, always relative) stakes. And, as soon as yer man Roger gives the go ahead, I'll be lobbing the Derby Hail Mary in the direction of 33/1 Eydon, whose pedigree suggests his trainer ought to have more faith in his staying power (Mr V, naturally, knows more than thee, and way more than me, however). Of course, Eydon's price may shorten once his race target is known, but he'll surely still be 25/1 if lining up and could be longer on the morning of the race, depending on who stands firm on declaration day (Thursday).

Whatever you're backing, good luck and here's hoping for two exciting races on the helter-skelter Epsom cambers this weekend.

Matt

 

 

I Know What You Did Last Spring: Making Long Range Cheltenham Festival Projections

As late March heralds longer days and flat racing fiestas in the coming weeks and months, those of us with a Cheltenham Festival-sized gap in our hearts and minds (and, perhaps, wallets) are already projecting wistfully forward to fifty weeks hence and the 2023 Cleeve Hill jamboree. If that sounds about 85% of the way along the tragic-desperate continuum, it is mitigated by the fact that such far-reaching forward-looking is not mutually exclusive with more impending matters on the level.

The focus of what follows, then, is a last lingering look back - and forward - with the aim of trying to isolate an ante post ticket (or two) whose value might subsequently be enhanced. No sooner had the Festival winners been hosed down than odds for possible return targets were chalked up; most such offers will look pretty thin when the time comes but some will not. Emboldened as I am always by the prospect of a punt at a price, I've looked back at the last decade to see if there were any clues from the previous year's spring festivals that we ought to have heeded. If that doesn't yet make sense, it will do soon enough.

Where next for the Champion Bumper winner?

I'll start with a 'what happened next' for those Cheltenham Festival winners that typically didn't have a previous spring campaign under their belt, the ones emerging from the Champion Bumper.

 

 

The first thing to say is that five of the prior nine Champion Bumper winners did not even get to the following year's Cheltenham Festival. The second, an aside, is to apologise for references to the Albert Bartlett as 'Spuds': it's a lazy shorthand so forgive me, please.

Facile Vega, the very good winner of this year's Champion Bumper, is no bigger than 3/1 for next year's Supreme; that looks ungenerous given only one of the previous nine winners even contested that race, Ballyandy finishing fourth in 2016 - as a 3/1 chance. That ten year time span is more unhelpful than disingenuous in that, a year earlier than the snapshot, in 2012, Champagne Fever completed part two of the Bumper-Supreme double.

More interesting, if indeed anything is interesting when fishing for patterns (which may or may not be mirages) in shallow pools, is that two of the previous three Champion Bumper winners - Envoi Allen and Sir Gerhard - went on to win the Ballymore as odds on shots. Facile Vega is a top-priced 6/1 for that longer novice hurdle and, if there's a bet here, that must be it. After all, his mum, Quevega, couldn't win in Graded company at two miles (from two tries, 3rd and 9th) but was almost unbeatable at two-and-a-half and three; and sire Walk In The Park's best strike rate is comfortably at around two and a half miles.

In the slightly longer grass, a few of the placed horses from the Festival flat race have won the opener twelve months later, so perhaps a second glance at American Mike, 14/1 in a place, is merited. (I believe James's Gate, as he's owned by the owners of Ballymore Properties, will go to that race so he, too, might figure in considerations if only because we know what his target will be, all other things being equal).

Observations:
Champion Bumper to Supreme is generally not a path trodden by winners of the former, but to the Ballymore has been a recent 'thing'. 6/1 about Facile Vega for the Ballymore might look too big if he can actually get to next year's meeting.

Placed horses in the Champion Bumper have a fair record in winning the Supreme. American Mike's 14/1 quote in a place likely won't last but there is general 12's available.

Supreme Novices' Hurdle

For all races that follow there is typically at least one season's previous form with which to work; as such, the format laid out for the Supreme will be replicated for all of the remaining Festival Grade 1's. Here's how it looks:

 

 

We can now see Champagne Fever in the bottom row of the table - see, I told you I wasn't being 'convenient'! We can also see that Appreciate It (and we cannot see that in 2011 Al Ferof) won the Supreme having been second in the Champion Bumper. But what is most striking if you're desperate to bet this race now is that almost none of the Supreme winners in the past decade were on the mainstream radar a year earlier.

This table is, at least partially, the inverse of the Champion Bumper bit above and, as such, not much else needs saying, except tread very carefully: we may not have even heard of next year's Supreme winner yet!

Observations:
We quite possibly do not even know of the existence of next year's Supreme winner right now. American Mike is possibly the one for pin-stickers with a chance to replicate two recent Champion Bumper runners up who scored in the Supreme.

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

The intermediate distance Grade 1 novice hurdle and usually a classy affair, at the front end at least.

 

 

On top of the already made point about the pair of Champion Bumper winners who rocked up here as shorties a year later and got it done, the key takeaway is to keep a close eye on winning Irish bumper favourites away from the Festival spotlight. The thinking - and I do appreciate how tenuous some of this stuff is - is that they're favoured because of a level of ability already demonstrated, either at home or on the track; and they've been brought along relatively steadily out of the glare of wider perception. Related, perhaps, is that four of the five to fit this blueprint had also already won a point to point.

Both Yorkhill and Bob Olinger emerged from the same Gowran Park bumper won this year by Kalanisi Star. He won easily but recorded a lesser rating and is trained by the unfashionable (though eminently capable) Oliver McKiernan. Similarly, City Island (a winner for the race sponsors) and Faugheen both progressed from Punchestown's late May meeting, so that's a fixture to keep onside.

Observations:
Aside from maybe betting Facile Vega for the 2023 Ballymore, keep an eye on well-touted winners of spring bumpers in Ireland outside of the Punchestown Festival, especially if they already have a point to point verdict on their scorecard.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle

The potato race, as it is affectionately - and effectively, because who knew Albert Bartlett was a producer of starchy tubers beforehand? - known, is the staying division for novice hurdlers. Here's what recent AB victors were doing a year or so prior.

 

 

It may be more correct to say, here's what recent AB victors were not doing a year or so prior. They were not running in the Champion Bumper (though Briar Hill fell as 2/1 favourite for this in 2013) and they were not running in the Aintree bumpers. They might, however, have been on the podium in one of the non-Grade 1 National Hunt Flat races at the Punchestown Festival; and all the more interesting if they'd recently changed hands having won a point to point.

That ostensibly (and quite possibly actually) contrived route to potato riches was trodden by all of 33/1 Very Wood, 50/1 Minella Indo, and 5/1 Monkfish since 2014. A fourth winner in the sample, 33/1 Kilbricken Storm, also emerged as a point winner the previous spring. That's hardly surprising considering that, firstly, the vast majority of point to points are run at three miles, the same range as the Albert Bartlett; and, secondly, maiden races between the flags usually place a premium on jumping ability in young horses.

Observation:
Have a look at those emerging from points to make the frame in non-Grade 1 Punchestown Festival bumpers. They'll be a price, though history suggests they might be a bigger price on the day next March!

Champion Hurdle

After some middling attempts to find order in perfect randomness around the novice hurdle cohort, we move to the relative structure of the two mile Championship hurdle race, aptly known as the Champion Hurdle.

 

 

The column upon which to focus attention here is 'Prev Cheltenham' - it will not be a surprise that nine of the last ten Champion Hurdle winners were present a year earlier, nor particularly that they ran - generally placed - in a mixture of the novice hurdles, Mares' Hurdle and Champion Hurdle itself.

When contemplating such folly as an ante post bet a year out it is important to think about the shape of the race, in terms of how much is known already and how much is still to emerge. In the novice events, next to nothing is known at this stage while in the Champion Hurdle we probably have the vast majority of intel available, barring the maintenance of form and fitness.

What I am trying to say is that asking for both Honeysuckle and Constitution Hill to either regress materially or produce sick notes is a big request. Of the other potentials suggested by previous spring form, none appeal as capable of getting even much beyond the level of an Epatante or a Zanahiyr, let alone the champ and the champ elect. Of course, stuff happens, but we're already going out on more limbs than a millipede has in its possession and this, friends, is a bridge too far.

Marie's Rock has next to no chance in the Champion Hurdle, likewise the aforementioned Champion placed horses and, from the novice ranks, only Sir Gerhard looks a credible threat. He's 8/1 and he ain't sufficiently credible to legitimise that as an exciting punt. State Man and Vauban are unexposed sorts but we're back to Katchit in 2008 for the previous Triumph Hurdle winner to double up, and no horse has emerged from a handicap to win the big one a year later; Katchit, it should be added, had nothing of the immensity of Honeysuckle or Constitution Hill in his way.

Observation:
Not one to be getting too far ahead of ourselves about. Two seriously talented, career unbeaten, including in multiple Grade 1, horses - a race to hope they both show up for, and savour when they do. They're probably fair enough prices and there are more interesting (it's all relative) wagering options elsewhere.

Stayers' Hurdle

The Stayers' Hurdle, a Championship (nominally, at least) three-miler, is one of the more inscrutable - or less scrutable - open races at Le Fez. Its roll of honour reads more 'who?' than who's who, and there is very little in the previous spring Festival form from which to piece together even the most circumstantial of cases. And yes, I do appreciate that hasn't stopped me above and below this segment!

 

 

Podium finishers in the staying novice races at Aintree - the Sefton - and Punchestown - Irish Mirror - have provided four winners since 2015, and that's the best I have.

Observation:
This is akin to trying to sculpt water.

Arkle Challenge Trophy

And so to the Grade 1 steeplechases, the first of which is the Arkle, a two mile test of speed and jumpcraft (not a word, should be). In the last ten years, Willie's won four and Nicky has won three. That's as good a starting point as any.

 

 

Three of that Hendo/Mullins septet won the Supreme while the third Seven Barrows scorer won the Ballymore. The only beaten horse from a Festival novice hurdle to win the Arkle twelve months on in the last ten years was Duc Des Genievres and I'm still unable to explain how that happened.

We also know stuff like five-year-olds have struggled since their allowance was removed; the last of that vintage was Voy Por Ustedes, in receipt of five pounds weight for age, in 2006. So we can ignore those at this stage.

The obvious one is Sir Gerhard, comfortable winner of the Ballymore and already a point winner. Talk of his jumping frailty looks overplayed to my, granted somewhat untutored, eye and he is likely to take high rank in the novice chase division next term. I do worry that, as his flag form - and the Ballymore - implies, he could go towards the Golden Miller (Marsh/JLT/Turners) rather than the shorter race; and any early fencing blemishes will be amplified in the media which might make connections twitchy. That's enough to swerve him at the price, 5/1 tops, for now.

At double those odds is Appreciate It, nine lengths back in the Champion Hurdle after a year off the track. He ran a fair bit better than his finishing position suggests and I think we'll see a much improved performance, and subsequent contraction in his Arkle odds, after Punchestown. Even if he beats Honeysuckle there, which I don't really expect, he's likely to dodge Con Hill and go fencing next term. Footpad's was a not dissimilar profile for the same trainer, Willie Mullins, in 2018.

Zanahiyr might be another worth a thought, though he's not generally priced up: there's a good chance I don't know something I should do about the chances of his Arkle participation.

Observation:
The key is to work out who will be avoiding the perceived strength in next year's Champion Hurdle field while still being good enough to contest an Arkle. Appreciate It is a double figure price and may shorten for all sorts of targets if getting close to Honeysuckle at Punchestown.

Golden Miller Novices' Chase

Formally known as the Golden Miller, we'll stick with that for a race that in its short life has had as many sponsors/names (Jewson, Centenary, JLT, Marsh, Turners) as the Festival wants days. It's an intermediate distance novice chase, which means that even more guesswork is required in terms of horses being suited to its conditions rather than simply avoiding the level of competition in either the Arkle or RSA/Brown Advisory/Broadway. Quirkily, this year's Golden Miller had two of the very hottest novices around, Bob Olinger and Galopin Des Champs, and scared away another, L'Homme Presse, who was originally mooted to take this middle path.

That kind of double bluff is commonplace in a race whose ante post waters are further muddied by the vast array of talent in certain yards, many of which trainer and/or jockey and/or owner are eager to see in separate divisions in March.

Perhaps the previous spring will shed some much needed luminescence on these murky cogitations. [Why use one syllable when many more are available?!]

 

 

The Ballymore is the one, isn't it? Three Golden Miller winners were doubling up on a Ballymore score a year before; three more ran down the track in the same race. The winner, we know, was Sir Gerhard and I increasingly feel this is where he'll wind up - and with an obvious chance, of course.

But perhaps it's worth looking down the field for another arrow at a price that accommodates at least some of the additional risk. In that spirit, I offer up Three Stripe Life,  beaten by Sir Gerhard thrice in six career starts. But stay with me a minute, because he actually got closest - within four lengths of Sir G in the Ballymore - when everything else, bar the last flight tumbler Journey With Me, was waiting for a bus home - and connections would surely have been emboldened by his finishing effort on a first try beyond two miles. He might be playable at 14/1 for an interest.

Journey With Me, too, is not impossible. He might take a different tack, as might the others mentioned, but that is surely factored into a quote of 25/1 with one joint. He was unbeaten in a point, a bumper and two novice hurdles prior to being booked for third in the Ballymore; and he represents the same owner, trainer and, presumably, jockey as this year's Golden Miller winner, Bob Olinger (for all that we know how lucky he was).

Observation:
Look to the Ballymore form. Sir Gerhard is obvious but this has been a race for apparent rather than obvious winners as the abundance of those returned 3/1 and 4/1 attests; so perhaps TSL or JWM offer a sliver of value.

Broadway Novices' Chase

Familiarly known as the RSA Chase, but now sponsored by Brown Advisory, who used to sponsor one of the handicaps - this sponsorship lark is important but it really is getting very confusing - this is the three mile novice chase championship. Below are the last ten winners and what they were up to a year or so prior.

 

 

Most of the Broadway winners ran at Cheltenham the previous year and ran well there. What is interesting, to me at least, is that three of the seven to dance at the Chelto party a year prior did so in a handicap rather than a Grade 1. Don Poli won the Martin Pipe, Presenting Percy won the Pertemps Final, and Topofthegame was second in the Coral Cup. The last named was actually the highest rated of the trio, on 150 at the time and a second season hurdler - the other pair novices - and 143 was the lowest rating of them.

No horse from the top two in the handicaps this year fits the Broadway profile, but third placed Hollow Games ran on well over the two and a half miles of the Martin Pipe to be third, carrying 11-09, second top weight. Rated 143, it's far from impossible the £255,000 sales buy could emerge as an RSA contender.

The lazy route into the Broadway is the Albert Bartlett winner but, as can be seen, only the exceptional (I think, would like to see more of him) Monkfish doubled up in the last ten years. Two beaten horses from that race, O'Faolains Boy and Blaklion, prevailed in the fencing equivalent but trying to work out which, and why, from this year's potato crop (see what I did there?) is beyond me. That said, there are reasons to believe that Hillcrest is a lot better than he showed in the Al Barty and will improve for a fence, and he's priced attractively.

A final word of caution - one can never have too many words of caution in a post like this - is that three of the most recent ten Broadway winners were unsighted at any of the Spring Festivals. Might Bite and L'Homme Presse were particularly progressive during their chase campaigns: there's always time, and space in the ledger, to back another one or three 'twixt now and then!

Observation:
Three winners that were unheralded a year earlier mean this is a race to play small at big prices, or (probably) not at all. The pick of the handicap form, ideally from a novice with a decent rating and carrying a commensurately lumpy weight, isn't the worst way to tilt at it, so have a look at 20/1 Hollow Games. And perhaps Hillcrest at a similar quote.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

The last three races under consideration are the Championship chases, starting with the two mile division.

 

 

Two races from the year before dominate, and they're predictable enough, too. The novice version of the Champion Chase, the Arkle, and the Champion Chase itself are kingmakers (or queenmaker in the case of Put The Kettle On) having hosted eight next year Champion Chasers between them; no other race has featured even a single QMCC winner. Those Champion Chase winners have all been 11/1 or shorter, which surprised me when I recall how many of them I "couldn't have"!

Thinking about the logical contenders, this has been a race notable for absenteeism, either pre-race or during: in Politologue's victory year, both Altior and Chacun Pour Soi withdrew on the day; last year, CPS threw in a clunker; and this year, Shishkin did that while CPS tucked and rolled. I mention this by way of context as I'm about to overlook Energumene and Shishkin in the ante post market.

Energumene was undeniably electric in beating what stood up and got round, but the pick of those was the 165-rated 11-year-old Politologue. But he didn't run to 165; his performance rating from the BHA was just 148. That form is hollow for all that Energ waltzed by the residue of his field. Actually, that's not the concern. Rather, it's whether or not we can trust him to turn up twelve months down the line. If we can, and he does, he will be a major player, but a top price of 7/2 is not for me.

Shishkin is brilliant. Was brilliant. He now has a question to answer: did Ascot vaporise his verve for the game? Was Cheltenham really all about the ground? I so want to believe he'll be back, and I'll cheer him as though I'm all in if/when he does come back, but I definitely do not want to wager a year out at 5/1.

Bob Olinger and Galopin Des Champs will find ways to avoid each other without taking in the Champion Chase, I expect; and Ferny Hollow could be a runner for all that his form was not far clear of Riviere d'Etel's - and that one was no match, no match at all, for Edwardstone in the Arkle. True, it was a weak enough renewal, Eddie's pre-race 159 pick of the field ascending to 161 post-race; but he did it well and with more to give. He'll go into open company next season as second in after Shishkin of the domestics, assuming Shishkin returns to his former glories. And he's 12/1 to join the three previous Arkle winners to double up in the QMCC a year later, the most recent of which was the similarly underappreciated Put The Kettle On.

Observation:
The two mile Grade 1 chases from the previous year dominate the QMCC winners board. This is a race where the obvious often comes to pass but it can still be played at a square price, perhaps through the conduit of Edwardstone, a far better chaser than hurdler who retains upside in a division of fragile commodities.

Ryanair Chase

The much-maligned Ryanair is a race I love, and it's produced more than its share of good winners, including the current two-timer Allaho. It also has a trio of predictable components, namely Golden Miller, Willie Mullins, and Aintree form.

 

 

In fact, the Golden Miller angle, while not quite a chuck out, has gone a bit cold. Not since Balko Des Flos won the Ryanair in 2018 a year after falling in the Golden Miller as a 16/1 chance has a runner from that race won the Open version. There is a very good chance, however, that one of Bob Olinger and/or Galopin Des Champs will run in next year's Ryanair, and either would hold strong claims for all that Allaho is a worthy champ.

Galopin Des Champs, a stablemate of Allaho, is still more likely to go Ryanair as things stand: he jumps well (in spite of his last fence misfortune in the Golden Miller) and has a fantastic cruising speed. 6/1 is at the unexciting end of the acceptable spectrum, I feel, because there looks to be a huge amount of dead wood in the betting lists right now - this could end up being next year's version of the Turners match up: never mind the width, feel the quality. Galopin and Allaho both tick the Willie Mullins box - the Closutton guru has won five of the last seven Ryanair's and has a half nelson around the 2023 renewal at time of writing.

Aintree form is an interesting sneak into the ante post markets, for all that we don't yet know how that plays out. Winners of the two G1 novices chases, the Mildmay and Manifesto, prevailed in the following Ryanair in 2014/15, and Min won the Melling Chase, an Open Grade 1, en route to 2020 Ryanair glory.

Observation: 
Trained by Willie Mullins, and/or exiting either of the Golden Miller/Turners or an Aintree G1 (as a winner) all embellish the prospects of a Ryanair contender. At this stage, Galopin Des Champs is a fair enough play at 6/1 in what might end up a shallow race - Allaho notwithstanding - next term. But keep a beady on events in Liverpool the week after next, too. There might be a play at a price emerging from the action there.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

And finally, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Blue Riband. A proper test over three and a quarter miles, plus a few more yards, it's a legitimate proving ground for our sport's champions.

 

 

Placed Gold Cup horses can and do win the following year, as demonstrated most recently by Native River (2018), Al Boum Photo doubling up in 2020, and A Plus Tard this year. And, like the Arkle/QMCC and Golden Miller/Ryanair couplings, the Broadway is a natural springboard for the Gold Cup. Witness Bobs Worth, Lord Windermere, Al Boum Photo (first time around), and Minella Indo. Those two angles account for seven of the last ten Gold Cup winners.

A shortlist, then, might be A Plus Tard, Minella Indo, Protektorat, L'Homme Presse and Ahoy Senor.

Some have Stattler making a claim but the National Hunt Chase has made zero inroads into the Gold Cup picture, even since cutting back in distance, Galvin the latest to possess the stamina but not the class for the main gig. Others proffer the talented Monkfish but he has not been seen on the course since April last year and has plenty to prove as a result. He might enter the frame after we've swooned over his comeback but he's no kind of long-term conveyance at this point.

There is no sign of a Golden Miller runner winning the Gold Cup a year after in recent history and, besides, Galopin Des Champs is only 5/1 and has other - some say, better - options. Nor am I personally convinced of the Cheltenham credentials of Bravemansgame, for all that he may shorten if winning at Aintree.

Of the quintet on the shortlist, Minella Indo will be ten next year - too old - and Protektorat looked some way shy of what's required for all that he can certainly improve from his current mark: he'll only be eight next year. A Plus Tard was imperious this time and is unquestionably the one to beat; but he's scheduled to face two rising stars off Broadway, as it were, next year. That's just as well because it's hard to see anything behind him a couple of weeks ago reversing places.

L'Homme Presse had stamina questions to answer going into the Broadway; not only did he respond with a win, he did it going away from a strong stayer at the finish. It was a performance that quietly but confidently, erm, pressed his Gold Cup claims, though 8/1 reflects that pretty much fully. So what of his vanquished rival, Ahoy Senor? His jumping was a little sketchy, more than that at one point, and if brushing up as he's entitled to for a second season over fences, he could maybe bridge the gap; but it's a stretch to imagine a reversal of form even with a clear round.

If Royale Pagaille ever gets a swamp on Gold Cup day, he'd have a great chance, and is still young enough to be a player in twelve months' time; but that is a big 'if' as evidenced by the 'going' column in the above table. Still, 50/1 is a tad rude, I'd say.

Observation:
Look to the podium spots in the previous Gold Cup, and the 1-2 from the Broadway. The problem is that the market has looked there already meaning value appears pretty thin on the ground.

*

So that's that, a route into most of next year's Cheltenham Festival Grade 1's based on activity this spring. If you're ambitious enough to try a few of these so far out - we all have to survive another fifty weeks through uncertain times for a start (mind you, if we don't, I guess it won't really matter whether we've made good bets or bad) - then it could be worth some uber-optimistic permed doubles. Catch one and it will apologise for a lot of misfires from the scattergun!

One other thing to keep in mind is price volatility over time. The ante post markets overreact in both directions, so horses that fit the bill above but are skinny enough in the betting right now will still fit the historical profile if/when they ease out a point or three. The brave investor buys when others are selling, as long as her fundamentals are close enough to their mark.

Good luck. With a favourable spin of the wheel, we'll have a few tasty tickets on the back burner while those flat race bunnies are haring about the place.

Matt

Cheltenham 2022: Profit and Loss

It's that time of year again, post-Cheltenham 2022, when the prudent thing to do is look over one's wagering and inspect where things went wrong, and right; or right, and wrong. If you're the voyeuristic type then I invite you to look over my shoulder at how the Fez went for me from a punting perspective.

By way of comparison/contrast, here are a couple of previous reviews:

2021 Cheltenham Betting Review

2020 Cheltenham Betting Review

And, beneath this year's review video, is a link to my spreadsheet in case it's of any use to you.

Results spreadsheet can be downloaded here >
How was Cheltenham for you? Leave a comment and let us know!
Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day Four Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day Four Preview, Tips

We're onto Friday, Day Four, and traditionally the least fathomable of a quartet of largely inscrutable afternoons punting. But if we can unearth a winner or two we'll likely be well rewarded so let's work in that optimistic spirit...

After an unforeseen monsoon on Wednesday (it was a miserable day at the track), the going changed to heavy and much of what follows was based on an expectation of very different ground conditions. Do check whether the horse you fancy (or I've suggested) handles conditions!

1.30 Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m1f)

A dozen horses searching for Triumph triumph, the first four in the betting hailing from Ireland. Favoured is Vauban, trained by Willie Mullins to win the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. There he beat Gordon Elliott's - or, more correctly, Caldwell Construction's - Fil Dor by a relatively comfortable three lengths; but Vauban was previously second to another horse with the same connections as Fil Dor, Pied Piper. Vauban was rumoured not to be ready that day but the evidence of the form book is that Pied Piper beat him fair and square.

Pied Piper has run once since, in the Cheltenham Triumph Trial (G2) on trials day in late January, easily accounting for Moka De Vassy and six others, none of whom re-oppose. That fact implies a degree of hollowness to the win but it's hard to lay blame at the hooves of Pied Piper. He's unbeaten and on literal form reading should probably be favourite.

Fil Dor had notched a hat-trick before conceding only to Vauban last time, that trio being achieved in a novice, then a Grade 3 and then a Grade 2. Very much heading in the right direction until undone by Vauban, then, and another obvious contender.

Less obvious is the third from that Spring Juvenile, Il Etait Temps, who did all his best work at the finish and surged past the two in front of him at the jam stick. That was a first run for the Mullins yard having been acquired from France and he looks tailor made for a stern stamina test at the trip.

First of the British challenge is Porticello, whose excellent season in the care of Gary Moore has seen him win three of four, most notably the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow. He has plenty of experience and his best form is all on soft turf (has won on good to soft in Listed grade).

Porticello's sole defeat was to Knight Salute, himself unbeaten in five hurdle starts of which the last three were in Grade 2 fields. All of that quintet were on good to soft or good ground so no worries there, and one of them was at this track. The question is simply, is Knight Salute good enough, given he's unlikely to have the progression of some of his rivals after so much relative experience. He's a flagship horse for the resurgent yard of Milton Harris, and I very much hope he runs well. I feel he's entitled to be first home of the UK entries.

One of my ante post "probably gone west" vouchers is on Icare Allen, who was well beaten in the Spring Juvenile two back before getting on track, after a fashion, in a Grade 3 at Fairyhouse. He may have a little more to show yet though probably not as much more as at least one of the four atop the market.

Dan Skelton will saddle Doctor Parnassus, two from two over hurdles and a close second to the very good mare Indefatigable when last seen on the flat. This lad looks all about stamina: he's won over 2m3f already and was staying on in the soft before that. I just feel he'll not be fast enough even if he's good enough (and I doubt that, also).

The other four have limited claims on what they've achieved at this stage.

Triumph Hurdle Pace Map

Not masses of obvious early pace, with Lunar Power and perhaps Ages Of Man seeking a name check before the proverbial taps are turned on.

Triumph Hurdle Selection

The top of the market looks about right if you, like me, believe the Irish are stronger than the British. The one who has some juice still in his price potentially is Il Etait Temps, who looks an each way bet on that Spring Juvenile debut. Connections will know more this time and he'll not leave his challenge so late. Porticello has G1 form on wet ground and might hit the frame.

Suggestion: Try 11/1 Il Etait Temps each way.

*

2.10 County Hurdle (Grade 3 Handicap, 2m1f)

This is way above my punting pay grade though I did once tip and back the 50/1 winner, Silver Jaro when the County was the Friday night cap. What a day that was! Still, we can't live on former glories.

These days, it seems, you want an unexposed handily-weighted and classy animal. My shortlist, which should be treated with extreme caution, is State Man, First Street, I Like To Move It, Top Bandit, Cormier and Jesse Evans.

Few horses at this year's Festival have been as well touted and widely entered up as State Man, who lands here as the likely jolly. A five-year-old novice, he was second in France before falling on his Irish debut and then bolting up in a nothing maiden hurdle. All his form is on soft ground and that's a concern as is that jumping frailty/inexperience. I certainly believe that he's a very talented horse but at the price he's opposable.

First Street, in comparison, is relatively battle hardened after three wins from five hurdle starts, three novices and two handicaps. Most recently he was third to Glory And Fortune in the Betfair Hurdle (handicap) at Newbury, and that one ran a mighty race to be a nine length fifth in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday. Betwixt Glory And Fortune and First Street that day was I Like To Move It whose chance is also well advertised by the winner's subsequent effort. At Newbury, he just failed to close the remaining head deficit with the winner and has gone up four pounds as a result. This likely fast pace should bring the front of the race back to him sooner and he rates a definite danger.

Brian Ellison has played many a fine tune on Cormier, a veteran of 31 races, though only ten over hurdles, four of those wins. That record includes Class 2 handicap victories the last twice, one of them at Cheltenham, though his record in large fields is a concern for me.

Gordon runs Top Bandit, well named some might say, and this fellow has been progressing nicely over hurdles. After a debut third on soft at Limerick, he's rattled up a treble of novice hurdle scores. This will be his handicap debut and he's got the right combination of relative experience and a total lack of exposure to the assessor.

Meanwhile, trying to pretend he's not as good as he is has taken a different form for the Noel Meade-trained Jesse Evans. Meade saddles last year's Fred Winter bomb, Jeff Kidder, at 80/1 so he knows the way to do it. Jesse was sent off favourite for the Greatwood handicap hurdle in November (14 length ninth of 19), since which he's not been seen. His previous run over timber was when a two length fourth in the extremely valuable Galway Hurdle and before that he'd won an 18-runner handicap hurdle at Killarney. He looks a tempting price though wouldn't want it to get too wet.

Lorna Fowler trains Colonel Mustard and plenty thought he should have gone in one of the Grade 1's. He's been second to Jonbon and third to Sir Gerhard in his last two starts and that reads very well, as well as does the fact he handles all ground.

Many more can win, natch.

County Hurdle Pace Map

The charge looks set to be led by Felix Desjy and I Like To Move It principally, though there are bound to be others who want a piece of it. Likely to be rapid from the get go.

County Hurdle Pace Map

County Hurdle Pace Map

County Hurdle Selection

Devilishly difficult. Willie's certainty in the Fred Boodles was beaten on Tuesday and I don't want to be with State Man at the price, for all that he could be fantastically well handicapped. Top Bandit is not much bigger but has more concrete claims on the form book if not the rumour mill. But I'll swing with two at double figure odds in I Like To Move It and Colonel Mustard. They both have proven form, in top class handicaps and Graded conditions races respectively, and retain upside for this ultra-test.

Suggestion: Back 14/1 I Like To Move It and/or 12/1 Colonel Mustard each way with all the extra places.

*

2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)

This goes one of two ways, in terms of the market: it's either won by a classy well-fancied runner, or by an unconsidered rag with a street fighter's attitude. The last two winners, Monkfish and Vanillier, fit more or less in the first category; before that, we had 50/1, 33/1 twice and 16/1 within six years. Probably the way to play, in Countdown terminology, is one from the top and two from anywhere else.

The top is made up of Ginto and Hillcrest, strong and classy stayers from either side of the Irish Sea. Ginto (pronounced 'Jinto', I think) is a Gordon runner that is unbeaten in three over hurdles, taking in a maiden, a Grade 2 and the Grade 1 Lawlor's of Naas. 4 1/4 lengths is the closest a rival has got to date, in that G1, and he will likely again be front rank from the start. Whether he can see it out in this bigger field I don't know but he deserves his primary perch in the punting pecking order.

So, too, does Hillcrest, top of the domestic pops after four wins over hurdles in as many completed starts. While they've been largely achieved on wet ground, his first two were good to soft and he ought to go fine on that. Representing the Henry Daly team he'd be something of a throwback to an age before the mega yards and, as a soppy old romantic, I'll be cheering him on for that alone.

Back in the real world, Willie has the next one in the lists, Minella Cocooner who, rather marvellously, got the better of Minella Crooner last time. That was a good race at the DRF but it was over a shorter trip and he'd not have beaten the other Minella at this distance that day. He's lightly raced and is another who races very prominently.

Bardenstown Lad has lots of top of the ground form, and a similar profile to last year's third, Streets Of Doyen, for the same connections. He won easily, and as expected, at Musselburgh last month and looks like he'll stay well. He, too, is a front rank racer.

Willie's The Nice Guy steps up in both trip and grade after three wins, including a romp in a 22-runner maiden hurdle. That is his sole spin over timber, though, so his inexperience has to be a reservation.

From a personal perspective, I'd love Stag Horn to win. Along with Ron Huggins and Pete Williams, I own a horse called World Of Dreams, who was second to Stag Horn on that one's hurdling debut, giving him seven pounds and coming out best at the weights. Our lad is unfortunately sidelined just now but we're cheerleading for the Stag, who has elevated his claims for the 'spuds race' with a second hurdle win, in Grade 2 at Warwick. His previous career as a flat horse earned him a triple-digit rating, which confirms the class and substance of his profile.

At the big-priced bomb end of considerations is a horse like Idas Boy. He's run to a good but not great level in three mile novices behind the likes of Gerri Colombe, and if they 'go a million' placing a later premium on extreme stamina, he's the type to plod on into the picture. Of course, he might not be even nearly good enough: such is life.

And a word for Dermot Weld and his entry, Falcon Eight. Like Stag Horn, he's a classy flat horse - he won the Chester Cup off top weight last May - but, unlike Stag Horn, his price is still quite fat. Never in it on hurdle debut over two and a half miles (yielding to soft), he was able to get to the front eventually in a 2m7f maiden at Thurles last month on yielding ground. His best form is on good to soft or yielding and he looks the type to keep running. Indeed, his profile is quite similar to Stag Horn's where his price is 2.5x that one's.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

Stag Horn might take them along, though there are plenty of others who want to be close to the lead if not on it.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Selection

Like all of Friday's races, this is trappy. I do like Ginto but not his odds, likewise Hillcrest. I'm after a bit more latitude for making a mistake and so will tilt at a windmill in the form of Idas Boy, who might just appreciate an out and out slog, and Falcon Eight, whose classy flat form may have been a bit under-rated.

Suggestion: Try a couple of big-priced guesses in the form of 25/1 Falcon Eight and 50/1 Idas Boy each way, extra places obvs.

*

3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1, 3m 2 1/2f)

This year's Gold Cup is an interesting race though not a vintage one, on looks at least. I covered it in some detail in my Gold Cup preview here, and don't have much to add now the final preparations have been completed. Written on 11th January I felt Minella Indo was big enough to bet at 8/1 (now 5/1) and Chantry House was worthy of a small dabble at 16's (still 16's).

I'm not inclined to add anything much to those opinions, the reasons for which are to be found at the above link if you're minded. One horse who does need marking up, however, is Royale Pagaille, for whom the Wednesday rain moves him from unlikely to quite possible. He's been backed accordingly but remains a double figure price at time of writing.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Pace Map

Not clear where the pace will come from if not from Santini. And if from Santini, it may not be that fast early.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Selection

A competitive but not outstanding renewal of the Gold Cup, and one in which I respect Galvin's chance greatly but would rather bet Minella Indo at similar prices. Trying to guess on a longer priced horse led me to Chantry House, whose winning habit is more admirable than it often looks and whose clunk in the King George needs overlooking to rate his chance here. Trainer Nicky Henderson is having a very good week.

Suggestion: Back Minella Indo to win at 5/1 or maybe Chantry House each way at 16/1 if you're feeling fearless/reckless enough. Don't forget 16/1 Royale Pagaille loves it wet.

*

4.10 Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase (Class 2, 3m 2 1/2f)

This is a race for people who know about point to point and hunter chase form, and I am not among their number. So there will be better places to go for an insight than what follows. Nevertheless, and caveats firmly in situ, here goes...

Second for the past two years, the chance of Billaway is obvious. Trained by Willie Mullins (really?), he's been in similar form this term and has a similar chance. Sent off at evens and 2/1 in that pair of silvers, he's a slightly bigger price this time but not enough to get me interested.

Dangers abound, perhaps most notably Winged Leader, who beat Billaway on his most recent start. With his best form on a good or yielding surface, as long as it's not too soft this eight-year-old probably holds strong claims.

David Maxwell rides Bob And Co, who unseated when still in with every chance last year. There he was ridden by Sean Bowen in the absence of amateur riders but, reunited with his regular rider, he's a chance of hitting the board, though recent second places when a short priced favourite temper enthusiasm for the win a touch.

I'm sure there's a reason he's this price and I'm a layman as I've said when it comes to this discipline, but Cousin Pascal looks big to me. He won the Aintree Hunters' Chase last year and beat Bob And Co last time - that one less than half his price - he also bolted up, granted in maiden hunter company, over further than three miles from a big field in very wet ground. This set up looks spot on and his sole defeat in recent times was on good ground which may not have suited.

I probably haven't mentioned the lively outsider that the hunt fans are all over, so apologies for that.

Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase  Pace Map

Pinch of salt pace map because we don't have point form so these are Rules races only.

Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase Selection

I obviously don't know, so feel free to skip this next bit. But I've had a bit of Cousin Pascal each way at 16/1, and the other half of my stake each way four places at 14/1. Winged Leader should go well as a win play.

Suggestion: Back 5/1 Winged Leader to win and/or 14/1 Cousin Pascal each way with four or more places.

*

4.50 Mares' Chase (Grade 2, 2m 4 1/2f)

The least interesting race of the meeting for me. I accept that, in the grand scheme of the breed and all, there may be a place for it; but I'm unexcited by the prospect. Anyway...

Top rated is Elimay, second in last year's inaugural running to stable mate Colreevy. She's since won at Fairyhouse and Naas but, in between times, has been beaten by both Zambella and Mount Ida who lock horns again this time. Elimay handles all types of underfoot and is commendably consistent, but she's very short against a series of credible rivals.

Chief among them may be Mount Ida, winner of the Kim Muir last season, and 1-1 versus Elimay since. She was apparently a little wrong physically when taking the Kim Muir, hence the erratic looking jumping at times and the tailed off early run style. That remains a niggle when considering this six-furlong shorter trip but she's a very good mare.

Zambella handles deep ground and two and a half miles is her range. She has a comprehensive score against Elimay in last season's Houghton Mares' Chase (2m4f, soft, exhibit A) and could be the value.

A mare who has had a few problems since winning the 2020 Dawn Run is Concertista. When she's good, she's very good, though, and her second to Black Tears in last year's Mares' Hurdle would be about enough to win here if she could reproduce it. She's a novice taking on seasoned chasers and that tempers enthusiasm.

Course specialist Vienna Court has been having a great season, winning a couple of handicaps here, the second of which was against the boys. Back in mares only company last time, she was picked off by Pink Legend on the flatter pastures of Huntingdon. It is likely Vienna needed a slightly greater stamina test, which she'll get, but I'm not convinced she's good enough. Pink Legend has since fallen in a race won by Zambella but was struggling at the time.

Scarlet And Dove has won on heavy and was not far behind Mount Ida two back before pulling up in the Thyestes Chase. Her overall profile is patchy though she does have some occasionally solid form in defeat.

Mares' Chase Pace Map

Zambella will be near the front, along probably with Elimay. Should be an even gallop, no more than that.

Mares' Chase Selection

Mount Ida and Elimay look very likely to be on the premises but the one that stands out at the current odds is Zambella. This race could have been framed for her and, though she hasn't quite the class of the first named pair, that optimal setup could see her competitive. She's a definitely each way bet with the firm paying four places.

Suggestion: Back Zambella each way with extra places if you can find them.

*

5.30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m 4 1/2f)

The getting out stakes is for masochists! Conditional riders and 26 of them aboard largely unexposed and/or jobbed up horses over two and a half miles.

Langer Dan is trained in Britain by a Dan, Skelton, and was second in the Martin Pipe last year to Galopin Des Champs. Only two pounds higher now, having been nudged up five for the Martin Pipe silver then straight back down three for a limp effort at Taunton on his only intervening run has been widely observed as generous handicapping. Be that as it may, the missed point may be that this race has the potential for a lurker of the quality of a Galopin Des Champs. Or a Killultagh Vic, or a Don Poli, or a Sir Des Champs (strong trend for winners to have the suffix 'Des Champs'!)

So, if Langer Dan is not a blot, then who are the likeliest lurkers? Each of those mentioned was sent of 12/1 or shorter so I'm not going deep into the bowels of the form book.

Hollow Games heads the chasing pack, market wise, and is trained by former Martin Pipe conditional, Gordon Elliott, as are five others in this field. He was third in a brace of Grade 1's in his most recent starts and has form on deep ground. Of his others, Chemical Energy has won a maiden and a novice hurdle either side of beating all bar My Mate Mozzie in a Grade 3; he's quietly progressive. Likewise, The Goffer has more to give after a Grade 3 score last time at Thurles (soft). In fact, similar comments apply to all of Gordon's and I'm not even sure they're confident of how the hierarchy shakes down.

Willie Mullins saddles only two, so he's either happy he'll have won the trainers' title before 5pm on Friday or he quietly fancies one or both. They are Adamantly Chosen, winner of a big field bumper and a big field maiden hurdle, and second twice in between, including to the decent Gringo d'Aubrelle; and Five O'Clock, not seen since being hampered before staying on into a four length seventh in this race two years ago. Now four pounds better in, we know Mullins can get one ready off a layoff and this fella is a fan of the mud.

I can't resist a mention for Freedom To Dream, who has been second in a G2 and fourth in a G1 in most recent racecourse visits. He seems to handle all ground conditions and his trainer Peter Fahey knows the job (Royal Kahala, Belfast Banter, Suprise Package at Sandown, etc).

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Pace Map

Expect this to be fiercely contested from the outset, with what looks like one each of Willie's and Gordon's vying early. If it's not them it will be some others in a race that will take some getting.

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Selection

There's a good chance something at a single figure price will win this, perhaps even Langer Dan. But I'll have very small guesses on Five O'Clock and Freedom To Dream with the extra places.

Suggestion: Have a punt each way on 16/1 Five O'Clock and 25/1 Freedom To Dream with extra places aforethought.

*

The rain changed everything on Wednesday and hopefully you were able to pivot your punting accordingly. Regardless of wins or losses accrued in the toughest betting week of the year, the sport generally comes out in front and, with a following wind, will do again after the Gold Cup.

Be lucky.

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day 3 Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day 3 Preview, Tips

And so to the second half. No matter how up or down your punting yoyo has been through Tuesday and Wednesday, we are only at halfway and there are fourteen further fiendish sudokus still to unravel.

After an unforeseen monsoon on Wednesday (it was a miserable day at the track), the going changed to heavy and much of what follows was based on an expectation of very different ground conditions. Do check whether the horse you fancy (or I've suggested) handles conditions!

1.30 Turners Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4f)

A small field as has been the feature of many novice Grade 1's this week so far, but this uber-exclusive four-runner party is going to get people wailing and gnashing their teeth.

Still, never mind the width, feel the quality.

Here, in what looks a match to all intents and purposes, is the gallant galloper Galopin Des Champs up against the barrelling Bob Olinger. The tale of the tape shows that both have a Festival hurdle gold to their names, and both have two easy chase verdicts under their belts, too.

Bob Olinger first. He waltzed home in last year's Ballymore, a race which comprised just seven runners; and has similarly come clear of his fields in a beginners' and a Grade 3 chase. There were some good horses well beaten off in those fencing assignments but nothing remotely of the calibre of Galopin Des Champs.

Naturally enough, similar comments apply to Galopin, whose Festival win was in the Martin Pipe, a 22-runner rush that bears no resemblance to the matter at hand this time. In between, he's looked absolutely electric in a couple of Leopardstown chases, first when strolling 22 lengths clear of his closest pursuer in a beginners' chase and most recently when hacking up in a Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Both Bob and Galopin would prefer to take a lead but neither is averse to making the running if necessary. And both can be expected to stride on from what they've displayed so far in this sphere.

The other two - El Barra and Busselton - don't really count for win purposes though a few wily judges have El Barra each way with three places ante post. Good luck keeping that account open!

Turners Novices' Chase Pace Map

This could be tactical between the big two, and could end up with a sprint to the line from a couple of fences out. I'd not be at all confident about that, however.

Turners Novices' Chase Selection

There is not much in the way of betting angles in this year's Turners, it appearing a straight shootout between the top two in the market. I favour Galopin Des Champs but not by a lot.

Suggestion: Sit this one out from a betting perspective and enjoy what will hopefully be a right dingdong between two very high class horses.

*

2.10 Pertemps Final (Grade 3 handicap, 3m)

Another contest where I'm cutting to the chase and using historical profiles to make that incision. My shortlist is Winter Fog, Alaphilippe, Tullybeg and Born Patriot.

Winter Fog hails from the shrewd, very shrewd, yard of Emmett Mullins. A second season hurdler who was a big price when breaking his maiden at the third time of asking for former trainer Daniel Murphy and, after a single further run for Murphy, transferred to Emmett Mullins. For his new conditioner, he was a big eyecatcher in the Leopardstown qualifier, where he finished second having been backed from 22/1 into 8/1. He showed plenty there, and was clearly expected to be involved, but that cost him a ten pound rise in the weights.

In fact, he kind of needed that sort of elevation to guarantee a berth, as his prior mark of 128 would not have got a run. He's unexposed, represents smart connections, has shown he can handle a big field and looks a big player.

Alaphilippe has, like Winter Fog, had just the one run this season, in the Warwick qualifier; and, despite being sent off short enough at 7/2 he was a no show in fifth, eight lengths behind the winner. The first six in the qualifiers are eligible to race here so that was a job well done by connections. Looking back to last season and, as a novice, Alaphilippe - trained by Fergal O'Brien - was good enough to be fifth in the Albert Bartlett with a BHA rating at that time of 143. That has declined to 138 now and this is the day for the horse named after a cyclist to show what he has if he can.

All Gordon Elliott Festival handicap entries command respect and only his third choice according to current betting is Tullybeg. That may be because the seven-year-old Sholokhov gelding has rather shown his hand with a couple of wins on good ground in the autumn. He then ran fifth in the Cheltenham qualifier and hasn't raced since. That could be a sign that the trainer was happy that the job of qualifying was done allowing sole focus on preparing for the big day. So many handlers leaving something to work on - doesn't make it easy, does it?

Peter Fahey runs Born Patriot, the trainer bidding to win a Festival handicap for the second season running after Belfast Banter claimed the County Hurdle a year ago. This fellow has a similar profile: also a six-year-old and lightly raced in handicap company, he was second in the Cheltenham qualifier before a quiet effort in a Sandown handicap in early February. That last run might have been to ensure the British handicapper was happy with Born Patriot's rating and didn't do anything rash in terms of extra poundage. And it might not, of course. He looks interesting at a price.

And, though the trends say he's too old, it is impossible to ignore Sire Du Berlais. Not just because he is the current favourite for this race but also because he has an awesome Fez record: he's attended the last four Festivals, something not many of us can claim, and has finished fourth in the 2018 Martin Pipe, first in this race in 2019 and 2020, and second in the Grade 1 Stayers' Hurdle last season. Naturally, a record like that brings plenty of ballast for his saddle but it's earned by the classiest horse in the line up. He shouldered top weight of 11-12 to victory two years ago and will bid to do the same again now.

In the same colours is Dame De Compagnie, whose case is slightly less easily made. She was sixth, beaten 96 lengths, in the Wincanton qualifier - remember sixth is the minimum placing to get a run here - and had endured an abortive chase campaign. But go back a little further, to March 2020, and you'll note that DdC won a handicap hurdle at the Festival when easily accounting for Black Tears et al in the Coral Cup off a mark of 140. She's off 139 this time and, though time waits for no man, woman, gelding or mare, nine is certainly not too old for another hoorah.

So many more with a chance.

Pertemps Final Pace Map

Potentially the thrill of a lifetime for Victoria Malzard as her mount, Kansas City Chief, looks most likely to lead this big field. She'll be chaperoned, doubtless, by a few, including potentially Dallas Des Pictons and Remastered. I'm expecting a relatively even gallop.

Pertemps Final Pace Map

Pertemps Final Pace Map

Pertemps Final Selection

This is very tough. The 'obvious' answer is Sire Du Berlais and he looks sure to give a run for your money but he's no sort of a price. Likewise, Winter Fog; but the one with some flesh on its odds still is Born Patriot and there are lots of extra places being paid here.

Suggestion: Try 22/1 Born Patriot each way, and/or the shorties Sire Du Berlais and/or Winter Fog at bigger than 5/1 win only

*

2.50 Ryanair Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4 1/2f)

Nine go in the intermediate Grade 1 chase, the Ryanair, and they are headed by last year's winner and this year's strong favourite, Allaho.

Now eight, Allaho has won four of his last five races, the only horse to lower his colours being an on song Chacun Pour Soi over an inadequate two mile trip at last year's Punchestown Festival. At this sort of range and on this sort of going, he looks very strong as his price implies. So where are the credible dangers? Good question. The honest answer is that there may not be any, though I need to show my working out.

Conflated was a shock winner of the Irish Gold Cup over three miles at Leopardstown last month and runs here rather than the Gold Cup, which means the owner got his way rather than the trainer. I tend to agree with Michael O'Leary in that this greater relative speed test is probably more up Conflated's street than the stamina required for the Blue Riband, but can see Gordon Elliott's "there's only one Gold Cup" point, too.

Conflated was a good but not top class hurdler and has been chasing for two seasons now, but had shown nothing prior to that last day to suggest he was of this calibre. Was it a flash in the pan? Can he beat Allaho even if he's able to repeat that level? I'm not sure, but his price suggests he can.

Shan Blue was a legitimate Grade 1 novice performer last season but his sole start this term was when falling and injuring himself in the Charlie Hall with the race in the bag. 138 days have passed, it always being the plan to bring him back for a spring campaign if he recuperated in time. Seemingly he has, but this is a big ask off that preparation.

The horse to get closest to Allaho over this distance in recent seasons is Janidil. A Grade 1 winner last April at Fairyhouse, he was only two lengths behind the favourite here in the John Durkan in December. He appeared not to get home over three miles at Leopardstown twice since and this drop back in trip is a plus. Fair place chance.

Second season chaser Eldorado Allen has some very good runs to his name: as well as five wins, three at Grade 2 level, he's been the nearest at the finish to Shishkin twice, albeit at a respectful distance. A strong stayer at 2m5f, as his 2m7f Denman Chase verdict last time confirms, he looks mildly progressive and has a rating to get close to the frame. It is hard to see him challenging the jolly unless that one has a shocker, though.

Ten-year-old Melon has been a stalwart in the Graded races at the Cheltenham Festival, finishing second to Labaik in the Supreme (no, I didn't back the winner), second to Buveur d'Air in the 2018 Champion Hurdle, second to Espoir d'Allen in the 2019 Champion Hurdle and, you guessed it, second to Samcro in the 2020 Marsh/Turners. Last year in this, however, the seconditis was cured, Melon instead pulling up. He did win a Grade 2 in heavy ground last time out but the likelihood is his best is in the past. Lovely old stick, definitely deserved to have won one along the way.

The rest are even bigger prices. I'm not a fan of Mister Fisher, another who pulled up in an attritional renewal behind Allaho last season; nor especially of Saint Calvados who hasn't won since 2019. He was second in this in 2020 and ran a good race in the King George before running a bad race in the Ascot Chase. His 'A' game could threaten for minor podium honours. Fanion d'Estruval was fifth in this last year and has improved his rating a few pounds since, without hinting that he might be in the shake up now.

Ryanair Chase Pace Map

Allaho normally leads and I expect him to do that here, controlling the pace. Those closest to mount a challenge may be Conflated and Shan Blue while Janidil and Saint Calvados will more likely turn up fashionably late.

Ryanair Chase Selection

Allaho looks to have very sound prospects of a follow up, something which bookmakers consider more likely than not. I tend to agree. But after that they and I differ in terms of the next best: I think Janidil, two lengths behind Allaho in December, has a good chance to again get close and he can be backed either in forecasts or without the favourite.

Suggestion: Back Janidil each way without the favourite at 6/1.

*

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)

The Stayers' Hurdle is a Grade 1 run over three miles. That much is known. Thereafter it gets trickier to be confident about anything. Every horse in the field has a question to answer, most of them a series of questions. Which makes wagering difficult. It's a race to sit out from that perspective in truth but let's push on, just in case.

The reigning champion is Flooring Porter, who has done less wrong than many of his rivals since last year's Festival. He did pull up next time, at Punchestown's Festival, and fell when likely to win at Navan; and most recently he was two lengths behind Klassical Dream in the G1 Christmas Hurdle. And yes, that is still doing less wrong than most of these!

Klassical Dream looked relatively robust before running lamentably in the Galmoy Hurdle last time. Rumours are that Willie Mullins, his trainer, ran only to support his local track etc etc. If that's true, and the real Klassical Dream shows up, he's the one to beat, no argument. He'd previously beaten Flooring Porter as we know, and before that had dotted up in the Punchestown Stayers' Hurdle, another Grade 1. And those are his only three races at this trip. Assuming the Galmoy is a chuck out, which we're invited to believe, KD is the one to beat.

Best of the British might be Thyme Hill, who has been around quite a while now. He's mixed wins against the likes of Paisley Park and Roksana with defeats to the likes of Champ and, erm, Paisley Park. I quite like him as a horse but I don't really want to bet him.

So what of Champ? Intended for the Gold Cup even after beating Thyme Hill in the Long Walk Hurdle, he was diverted here even after losing to Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle. Ultimately he looks to be somewhat 'of no fixed abode' in terms of appropriate Festival targets having been a less than fluent chaser even when winning the RSA Chase two years ago. He's another who could win, but probably won't.

Paisley Park is fifth favourite but in my book four of these could be co-second favourites behind Klassical Dream. He's been a fantastic story horse for his blind since birth owner, Andrew Gemmell, and it would be amazing if he could roll back the years. Since his emotional win on that unforgettable Thursday three years ago, he's been third mostly and seemingly regressive; that was before bashing Champ and 2020 Stayers' winner Lisnagar Oscar after completely blowing the start. He's just got too many negatives to be a bet, but he'll be a hugely popular winner if that can happen.

The mare Royal Kahala gets seven pounds from the boys and comes here on a hat-trick, better winning form than most. But the wins were in minor Graded races for all that the most recent was that Galmoy where she turned away Klassical Dream among others. That was her first try at three miles so she's unbeaten at the trip and as a winner of five of her ten career starts she has fewer knocks than most of her rivals.

The others are 40/1+ and deserve to be, even though Lisnagar Oscar is a former winner. That Championship score is, unbelievably, the only win in his last 17 races!

Stayers' Hurdle Pace Map

Should be an even gallop with any of three (Flooring Porter, Klassical Dream, Lisnagar Oscar) expected to be front rank. Klassical Dream is perhaps most likely.

Stayers' Hurdle Selection

Not a very attractive betting heat, though it could be quite the spectacle. If you insist on having a win bet, Klassical Dream requires only the forgiveness of a below par run last time; prior to that he was a proper Grade 1 stayer. At bigger prices, KD's vanquisher in the Galmoy, Royal Kahala, has been a trifle overlooked, I feel.

Suggestion: Small bet on 4/1 Klassical Dream perhaps, or 9/1 Royal Kahala each way.

*

4.10 Festival Plate (Grade 3 handicap, 2m 4 1/2f)

Another handicap, another lunge for the trends in a half-cooked bid to find one that at least runs creditably. Thanks again to Josh Wright for doing the dirty work on racingtoprofit.co.uk, where I learned the following:

14/14 were at least 5lb higher than for their last win (were not: 0/115, 12p)
14/14 had 0-4 runs at track previously (5+ : 0/88, 18p)
14/14 had 0-3 runs in G3s (4+ : 0/81, 10p)
14/14 had 0-1 career wins over further (2+ : 0/54, 11p)
13/14 top 2 at least once last three starts (were not: 1/113, 14p)
13/14 had placed at least once last three starts (had not: 1/78, 8p)

That doesn't help especially and this is a very poor race for me historically. As such I'll spare you a deep dive in favour of a couple I think might be interesting. Simply The Betts, Celebre d'Allen, Imperial Alcazar, and Pistol Whipped all show up well and I think I'll split one point win only between them.

Festival Plate Pace Map

There's likely to be a good pace on early though front runners have done OK even in big fields at this trip. Wishing And Hoping will be doing just that about tactics, though he'll not be left alone in front.

Festival Plate Selection

This is too difficult for me. I'm having small interests on Simply The Betts, Celebre d'Allen, Imperial Alcazar, and Pistol Whipped. But I mean small! If one of them wins, I'll have been lucky, not good.

Suggestion: Good luck.

*

4.50 Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m 1f)

Another race where I don't have any special interest or awareness. Actually, I do have one view. I think Brandy Love should be a bigger price and, related, Dinoblue should be a shorter price.

Expanding a little on that, both are trained by Willie Mullins and, while Brandy Love has been beaten twice in four starts, Dinoblue was a striking winner - by 15 lengths - of her maiden. After that, Willie decided he'd seen enough and has prepared her for this since. He knows what he has and I suspect we're soon to find out, too. Meanwhile Brandy Love was beaten in a Grade 3, which is not an ideal prep for a Grade 2, for all that it's a higher level of form than achieved hitherto by Dinoblue.

Gordon Elliott saddles Party Central, winner at only 7/4 of a 15-runner Grade B handicap hurdle last time. She has experience in her corner and has only been beaten when the ground was wet wet wet. Here it will be dry dry dry. Grangee is another spoke in Willie's wheel, highly tried behind Mighty Potter et al in a Grade 1 at Christmas before falling when just starting to look interested in a mares' Grade 3 last time. She has a fair level of form but not much upside.

Similar comments apply to Statuaire, another Willie wunner. She won a muddling Royal Bond (Grade 1, Impervious back in fifth)  but was then thumped in similarly lofty company at the DRF. Still, this is a lot easier and it might be that she didn't appreciate the soft ground last time. After three wins, and one top class clunk, she might be a bit of value at around 20/1.

Love Envoi is very game and has made hay in an unbeaten string of five, one bumper and four hurdles, most recently on heavy in the Grade 2 Jane Seymour at Sandown. She's progressive but has been climbing the ranks in hock deep mud, a very different terrain from that which she'll encounter here. It would clearly not be a surprise if she won again but I will let her beat me if she can.

I'm not especially excited about the rest, though Nurse Susan looked very good at Leicester before finding Love Envoi better than her in the mud at Lingfield.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

Hard to be conclusive though it does look as though Brandy Love will try to make all, perhaps assisted or harried by Tweed Skirt. The pace is expected to find plenty out.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Selection

I don't normally bet in this race but I get the impression that Dinoblue might be pretty good. As such, I've had a small play at 11/4 which I think is reasonable for an interest. Statuaire can be forgiven her defeat last time and might be a touch of each way value if you can get loads of extra places.

Suggestion: Dinoblue could be special and I've bought a ticket to find out. Statuaire is a Grade 1 winner and that entitles her to each way respect at 20/1 with five places.

*

5.30 Kim Muir Challenge Cup Chase (Class 2 Handicap, 3m2f)

Can trends be our friend? I very much hope so.

14/14 had 2-6 runs this season (did not: 0/65, 10p)
14/14 had 0-4 runs in Class 2's (5+ ; 0/84, 12p)
13/14 aged 7-9 (6: 0/16,2p, 10+ : 1/80, 12p)
13/14 sent off 16/1 or shorter SP (bigger: 1/187, 14p)
13/14 within 8lb of top rated (9lb or lower: 1/123, 12p)
13/14 carried 11-4 or more (exc jockey claims) (11-3< : 1/129, 12p)
13/14 had 0-2 chase wins (3+ : 1/129, 15p)
13/14 ran in races for 5yo+ and 6yo+ LTO: (did not: 1/93, 10p)
12/14 official rating 137+ (136< : 2/175, 18p)
12/14 had 0-7 runs in handicap chases (8+ : 2/132, 17p)
11/14 had run at G1 or G2 level in careers (had not: 3/132, 15p)

The shortlist includes both of the Irish plots, Frontal Assault and School Boy Hours. The former has top weight as a result of his strong novice chase form and tries a handicap chase for the first time. He was only 8th of 22 in the Martin Pipe behind Galopin Des Champs last season as a 16/1 chance and rates a good bit shorter here at a trip which ought to suit better than last season's Festival tilt. He represents the Gordon Elliott (and alter ego, Denise Foster) team who have won this the last two years, and three times in the last six.

School Boy Hours won a valuable handicap chase at Leopardstown last time which, conventional wisdom has it, is not the way to get the right mark to score at Chelto. But last day winners can double up in the Kim Muir, as Ballabriggs, The Bushkeeper, Honey Mount and Celtic Giant prove. The only one of those to do it since 2002 was Ballabriggs and that was in 2010, so it's not a positive for all that nor is it the home time bell to his chance.

Nicky Henderson is having a great meeting and one who fits the impossible to find historical profile is Janika, who has done the square root of foxtrot oscar in terms of advancing his case this campaign. A career record of 1 from 15 in Britain is hardly exciting but this horse was rated 166 in 2019/20 when he won a Grade 2 and ran second in a Grade 1; and he was fifth of 26 in the Coral Cup last season off a nothing prep. It's a Grand Canyon-esque leap of faith to back him on his current form but still, why not?

More obvious from the Hendo barn is Mister Coffey, on whom the galloping dentist, Sam Waley-Cohen, takes the ride. A non-winner of three this season, he's peppered the target without affecting his handicap mark one scintilla. A novice, he was last seen chasing home L'Homme Presse in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown. That was two and a half miles, this is three and a quarter, and the obvious stamina question remains unanswered. He's not really bred to go this far but it would only need to bring out a smidge of improvement for him to be a player: he'll travel easily at this more leisurely meter and then we'll see.

Henry de Bromhead saddles Ain't That A Shame, second to Galopin Des Champs and third to Stattler this season, granted at a daylight distance. Still, this is no Grade 1 and those are top class staying novices, so he can be expected to play a part if his stamina lasts out over a quarter mile further than he's raced before.

One proven at the trip is Omar Maretti, who has been progressive and looked better the further the race distance. Jockey Dale Peters may be a new name to some - he was pretty much to me - but he's won on four of his nine Rules rides this season, and on eight of 29 (28% strike rate) all told, so can be trusted in this context. Omar is ascendant from a lower base than some classier rivals but he brings proven stamina, a winning attitude, and is a square price. Interesting.

And no consideration of a Festival amateur riders' race is complete without a review of the mount of the professional's professional amateur, Mr Jamie 'JJ Codd-father' Codd. He's up top on Smoking Gun, whose Porterstown Chase win in November showed he both stays and handles quicker ground. He's a bit more exposed than your average Elliott handicap runner these days but his chance is clear enough.

Kim Muir Pace Map

It's hard to be confident on how things will go, with so many amateurs (for all that they're the best, most experienced in their peer group). Mindsmadeup is a perennial forward goer and he may be joined by any/all of Almazhar Garde, Red Infantry and Fakir d'Alene. Likely to be run at a testing lick.

Kim Muir Pace Map

Kim Muir Pace Map

Kim Muir Selection

Tricky. Obviously. I think Frontal Assault has to be on the shortlist though he's a dreadful price. Smoking Gun is hardly a sexy price either, though has a strong claim and both Omar Maretti and Mister Coffey are solid home team players.

Suggestion: Back a couple for small change with loads of places. Maybe Omar Maretti will continue his progress for the Alex Hales yard.

*

It's a very tough card is Thursday's, even if you've found the previous two days challenging, but every race has a winner and perhaps we'll land butter side up somewhere through the afternoon.

Good luck!

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Day two, Wednesday, takes us from the end of the first quarter to halfway and, en route, we will savour four Grade 1's, a circuitous Cross Country jaunt, and a National Hunt race without any obstacles: all the fun of the fair. Matters commence at half past one with the...

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

There were only seven runners in last year's Ballymore (Neptune) and this year there are nine. Not great, but better at least.

It's six years and a dozen runners since Willie Mullins last clapped his germans on the Neptune pot, that 2016 triumph recorded by the subsequently quirky Yorkhill. Two years before Yorkhill came the machine, Faugheen, and then it was back as far as 2008/9 for Mullins' other two Neptune winners, Mikael d'Haguenet and Fiveforthree. The long and short of it is that Willie has trained four winners of this race but from 28 runners, 18 of which were sent off single figure prices. More positively, three of the six horses he saddled at odds of 3/1 or shorter won; and Sir Gerhard is by far the shortest priced runner he's had in the Ballymore, likely to be sent away as an odds-on chance.

Sir G's Rules career to date has comprised six races and five wins, the defeat being when only third in the Punchestown bumper behind Kilcruit. In two hurdles efforts thus far he was the easy winner of first a maiden hurdle (runner up is two from two since, including in a Grade 3 on Sunday) and then a Grade 1 novice hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. On that latter occasion, he was six lengths too good for Three Stripe Life, who renews rivalry. Critics point to Sir Gerhard's less than perfect jumping while supporters counter that the longer trip will enable him to hurdle more fluently and, in any case, didn't he win his Grade 1 easily despite that imperfect technique? Sir Gerhard has to prove his stamina under Rules but he did win a three mile point to point so it is more than fair to assume he'll see the trip out.

Three Stripe Life has no such proof of stamina though is bred stoutly enough to feel he'll get home; what is more of a reservation is that he's been beaten by Sir G twice and there is no obvious reason why that would change in round three.

Henry de Bromhead has been at least the third best trainer at the Cheltenham Festival in recent seasons and he is represented here by Journey With Me, unbeaten in a point, a bumper and two novice hurdles. The six-year-old son of Mahler was impressive in beating Minella Crooner and Kilcruit, both serious Grade 1 horses, in a very hot maiden before looking a touch laboured when following up under the penalty. This will be the quickest turf he's raced on, which is an unknown, and also is a step up in grade - at least nominally, because his maiden was peppered with G1 animals - but he too is a threat to Sir Gerhard.

Unquestionably the pick of the British challenge is Stage Star, trained by Paul Nicholls and owned by Owners Group's fractional ownership club. His is another high class form profile, most notably his latest effort when comfortably collecting in the Grade 1 Challow at Newbury. That form has yet to be fully tested, though third placed Gringo d'Aubrelle, beaten ten lengths by Stage Star, was 19 lengths behind Dysart Dynamo next time. Stage Star is tractable with regards ground and run style, the question being simply, is he good enough? I'm not sure, but he certainly deserves a crack and what a craic it will be for his enthusiastic owners. [Those who crab fractional ownership don't really get it, do they? It clearly works for thousands of racing fans, and if the crabs are not in that number, so what? *puts soap box away*]

Nicky Henderson runs I Am Maximus, whose form when winning a warm Newbury novice and running close to Hillcrest over this course and distance is solid but slightly below spectacular. He did beat My Drogo in a bumper here at the start of last season so clearly relishes this track. He'd be a shock winner but could push for the podium.

Whatdeawant's form behind Ginto in the Grade 1 Lawlor's of Naas last time leaves him with something to find, but he travelled very powerfully for a long way there before not quite getting home in the testing ground. It's possible that this sounder surface can help him finish off better but he still has plenty to find with the best of these.

The remaining trio are all maiden hurdlers - Scarface, Haxo and Hemlock - and look highly tried.

Ballymore Pace Map

Plenty of forward goers in the field though most are versatile enough to rein back as needed. Haxo and Journey With Me, and possibly even Sir Gerhard, are the likeliest for the lead and a sensible tempo is expected.

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Selection

On the face of it this is Sir Gerhard's to lose. He is the Champion Bumper winner, and he has been impressive in his two hurdle starts in spite of some less than electric leaping at Leopardstown. But he's terribly short and there is at least one credible threat in the form of Journey With Me, whose form may look better or worse after Kilcruit has finished his Supreme challenge 24 hours prior. He has to prove he handles quicker turf but he's an each way price and that'll do for me.

Suggestion: Back Journey With Me each way at 13/2 or bigger.

*

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

Widely remembered as the RSA Chase, and officially as the Broadway Novices' Chase, the Brown Advisory is the Grade 1 staying novice chase at the Festival. It has, however, lost a touch of its draw in recent years with the reduction in distance of the National Hunt Chase and the emergence of the Turners/Marsh/Golden Miller at an intermediate range.

This season, we might have expected Stattler from the NH Chase and either or both of Galopin Des Champs and Bob Olinger from the Turners to tackle this contest but all three of those Irish runners chose alternative paths. Such is the way of things now.

As it happens, the Brown Advisory looms as a strong chance for the home team with the first three in the betting being UK-trained. They are headed by Kauto Star/Feltham winner, Bravemansgame, who has since followed up off a big weight in a small field Newbury handicap. It is a well worn statistic that no Kauto Star winner has followed up in this from, I think, 22 to have attempted it. That's a withering trend and attests to the stark difference between the two challenges. It should be noted that Coneygree won the Gold Cup after winning the Kauto Star, which was a remarkable double from a freakishly talented novice.

What is more notable still, perhaps, is that five beaten horses from that Kempton Christmas contest have won the RSA/Brown Advisory. They include the likes of Bobs Worth, and that brings in Ahoy Senor. The Lucinda Russell-trained novice was seven lengths too good for Bravemansgame in the G1 Sefton at last year's Aintree Festival, but was beaten by a similar margin at Kempton (soft). His best form is on top of the ground and if his jumping stands the test - a comment that applies to a lesser or greater degree to all of them - he may reverse form with the Paul Nicholls runner.

There are a few contenders for the early lead, Ahoy Senor principle among them, but also L'Homme Presse and Threeunderthrufive potentially. The first named has the tactical speed as a result of being campaigned over shorter trips, including when taking the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown. That is usually a precursor for a tilt at the Golden Miller but perhaps the stern opposition there has encouraged connections to take the scenic route. Regardless, L'HP's unbeaten quartet of chases to date have seen him largely unflustered to record double digit margins in the most recent three including a bloodless verdict over The Glancing Queen at Cheltenham.

The first of the Irish contingent in the markets is Capodanno, who was second to Bob Olinger before unseating behind Galopin Des Champs in his last two runs; unsurprisingly, he swerves a rematch with that duo and instead takes on a different cohort entirely. He did have Gaillard Du Mesnil 27 lengths back in the Bob O race and surely has the measure of that one. A 140-odd rated hurdler, we probably have yet to see his top performance.

Threeunderthrufive is a win machine as demonstrated by his nine 1's from twelve starts. He's four from five over fences including a track score and, though only sixth in last year's Albert Bartlett, is another expected to make a bold bid from the front. He's won Grade 2's in that manner the last twice, and has led in all of his five chase runs.

One we've not seen a lot of is Ronnie Bartlett's Dusart, trained by Nicky Henderson. With just four runs to his name, three of them wins, his best effort was likely in defeat when a close up third to Belfast Banter in the Grade 1 Top Novices' Hurdle at the Aintree Festival last spring. Two easy wins over fences at this sort of trip and on this sort of ground put him in the right post code, but from there who knows?

Meanwhile, back in Ireland, Farouk d'Alene has been quietly racking up a solid form portfolio: in four chase races so far, he has two wins and two seconds, the runners up spots being when pipped on the line in a Grade 1 over 2m4f and when headed on the run in over an extended three miles in a Grade 3. His vanquishers were the smart Master McShee and Stattler and he doesn't look far off the best of his countrymen in this field.

Fury Road, in the same ownership and also for Gordon Elliott, beat Run Wild Fred eight lengths in a three mile Grade 1 at Christmas, but fluffed his lines big time when trailing home the length of the straight behind Galopin Des Champs at the Dublin Racing Festival. His is a veritable mixed bag of form figures, though some hope comes in the fact that the G1 score was over this trip and on this sort of ground while his defeats were at shorter.

One of Fury Road's defeats was to Beacon Edge, who in turn has been seen off by Farouk d'Alene since. This third Gigginstown wheel  is not the most obvious stayer in the field, to my eye at least.

Streets Of Doyen was third in last year's Albert Bartlett and fourth in the Sefton at Aintree but has been largely AWOL over fences since. He's 100/1 if you want to take a massive flyer on him getting back close to his best. I don't.

RSA Chase Pace Map

Lots of early dash here on the face of it, which probably means the winner will jump well under pressure and doubtful stayers need not apply.

RSA Chase Selection

A really good race in prospect and my inclination is to field against the favourite. Ahoy Senor is a gallant and very capable alternative but his jumping may be a little sketchy for a searching examination such as this. L'Homme Presse has to prove he stays but he's finished off his races well, while Capodanno doesn't look an obvious single figure player in here to me. Fury Road looks a bit over-priced if you're prepared to overlook that pasting last time out. At 16/1 and with four places, he's in my shake up.

Suggestion: Consider 7/2 L'Homme Presse for the win and Fury Road each way at 16/1+ with four places. Should be a very exciting watch.

*

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

A big field handicap hurdle is not the sort of race in which I should be wasting your time or mine, but I have sifted through some trends and come up with a shortlist of Saint Felicien, Fastorslow, Indigo Breeze and Good Risk At All.

Of those, I backed Saint Felicien last week after Matt Tombs made a very strong case for the horse fitting a Gordon Elliott-trained Festival handicap winner's profile. Seeing the broader trends profile fitting as well, he's as good an arrow as any in an obviously open race. His form only amounts to three lines in the book: a win in a big field at Auteuil, a win in a small field at Gowran Park, and a mark-qualifying fair second in a Grade 3 at Naas. His price has shortened from the 10/1 I felt was fair enough but his chance is the same as it was.

Elliott also has Indigo Breeze (amongst others) who, like Saint Felicien, will be making his handicap debut. The winner of a bumper and a hurdle, and runner up in two of three further hurdles races, including last time, the six-year-old son of Martaline has bundles of upside though was well beaten (7/4 SP) on his only try at this sort of trip.

Good Risk At All had been ante post favourite since the entries came out for this. A scopey sort yet to finish out of the first two, he bolted up by nine lengths on his handicap debut last time and now moves up in trip to something more closely aligned with his pedigree. It would be a great occasion for young trainer Sam Thomas if he could land this coup though he did show the 'capper plenty at Ascot last time.

I was surprised to see how strong Fastorslow had been in the ante post markets even though that early momentum has steadied in the past week or so. His form has been disappointing in two spins after a promising Irish debut second last April. But perhaps that was the plan given he won two of three French starts beforehand. Trainer Martin Brassil won the Ballymore in 2019 with City Island for these connections but he's had a couple of fancied handicappers flop at the meeting, too.

One non-trends type who caught my eye was Drop The Anchor, trained by Pat Fahy. Proven in top class big field handicaps, this eight-year-old won a valuable such race at the 2021 Dublin Racing Festival and was subsequently a staying on three-and-a-half length seventh of 25 in the County Hurdle. Most recently seen keeping on under minimal urging in that DRF handicap hurdle he comes here three pounds lower for an attempt at four furlongs further than the County. His best form seems to be on soft but I think he'll get away with good to soft, in fact he might even need it to allow his stamina to last out.

And a Brit to hurl into cogitations is McFabulous, who has been anything but in recent Graded spins. As a consequence his mark has drifted south from 158 to 150. His only previous role in a handicap was when bolting up by better than six in an 18-horse charge at Kempton (Grade 3 novices), and a pair of January jogs around this circuit suggest a plan was afoot. I'm happy to buy a bit of 20/1 to find out.

As ever, there are at least a gross more with chances.

Coral Cup Pace Map

Loads of runners and loads playing their hands late from midfield or further back.

Coral Cup pace map

Coral Cup pace map

Coral Cup Selection

I've backed Saint Felicien and, now there are all those extra places to work with, I'm minded to have a small crack at Drop The Anchor, too, for whom this has surely been the plan. McFabulous would be a brilliantly Keeganesque "I'd love it" moment for his trainer, Paul Nicholls, were that one able to do a job on the raiders.

Coral Cup Suggestion: If you can stomach the prices in such a big field, consider 10/1 Saint Felicien and 10/1 Drop The Anchor. At bigger odds, 20/1 McFabulous could be the pick of the home defence. Eight places are available with at least one firm, which gives us a fighting chance of getting something back.

*

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

For many, this year's Champion Chase is the race of the meeting. It's easy to understand why when you see the headline acts Shishkin, Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi. The fact that the first two named met so recently in a classic encounter at Ascot, with the result in the balance even after the last fence, adds to the anticipation for this deeper contest.

At Ascot, in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase, Energumene attempted to make all, an endeavour he very nearly completed: jumping slickly on the front and enjoying a rail-scraping trip, Paul Townend did the right things at the right moments and was overhauled only in the shadow of the post over the two mile and a furlong race distance.

Contrast that with Shishkin's transit, where Nico de Boinville had him wide and in clear daylight but with the partnership enduring some untypically scrappy leaps en route. Despite travelling further and showing less fluency at his fences, Shishkin was able to prevail. So what hope Energumene in the rematch?

Well, plenty as it happens. Firstly, the Queen Mother Champion Chase distance is a full furlong shorter than the Clarence House, a factor Energumene's supporters maintain gives their pure speedster the edge. The counter is that, in a field with bundles of possible pace angles, they will surely go a lick quicker than at Ascot which ought to allow Shishkin to travel and pick up so many pieces from the second last.

Those closest to the challenger insist he doesn't have to lead, and that may be correct; but the evidence of the form book is that he has led in every one of his seven races over obstacles and in one of his two bumpers. His only career defeat? When he didn't lead, on his first Rules start. At this point, we cannot know if that is coincidence or something more material; but knowing that we cannot know means the uncertainty must be factored into his price.

Prior to Ascot, both Shishkin and Energumene had shown themselves to be the dominant domestic players in their respective jurisdictions, though their ratings (Shishkin 177 in UK, Energumene 175 in Ireland) have an interloper betwixt and between. Step forward the 176-rated Chacun Pour Soi, stablemate of Energumene and a third large cog in the 2022 Champion Chase machinery.

Chacun Pour Soi's Irish form is incontrovertibly top class: four straight Grade 1 chase wins and six G1's in all. But, in two visits to Blighty, he double clunked: first when sent off 8/13 for last year's Champion Chase ("we rode him all wrong", they said) and then when returned that same price in this season's Tingle Creek ("too bad to be true", they said). Fact is, UK CPS is a pale imitation of Irish CPS on, granted, a limited evidence base to this point. In a 'normal' year, when he wasn't up against not one but two superstars, he might be worth chancing - and the price may be enough to make the play for some this time around - but for me he's very much up against it.

Even allowing for the strength at the head of the table, there are still worthies lower down the order. Take Nube Negra for example, a course winner in the the Grade 2 Shloer Chase in November and last year's Champion Chase runner up. Of course, last year, he had neither Shishkin nor Energumene with which to contend, and he did rather fluff his lines in the Tingle Creek albeit when different (wrong?) tactics were deployed. Nube Negra is a strong-travelling hold up type who comes home well; there might be an optimal setup for him here and, if so, the frame may again witness his presence.

It's pretty big prices on the rest, and understandably so. Envoi Allen has seemingly been 'found out' since tipping up in the Marsh (now Turners) last season. A current rating of 161 gives him a stone to find with three rivals and something pretty unexpected would need to transpire to bridge that apparent ability deficit. Put The Kettle On has been an unbelievable Cheltenham stick for connections, winning last year's Champion Chase in a remarkable conclusion. But she's been beaten 21 lengths, half that distance and double that distance in her three subsequent starts. Even allowing for a non-staying effort last time over 2m6f, she's hard to fancy against the strength and depth assembled this time around. Awesome mare, though.

The other form champ in the field is Politologue, whose Champion Chase record is very good indeed: fourth in 2018, second in 2019 and winner in 2020. He didn't contest last year's renewal but is back for another tilt this time. Aged eleven, he's knocking on a touch now, but what he certainly does bring is front end speed. He'll be a thorn in the side of whichever of Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi goes forward and that ought to make for a fascinating race, potentially favouring Shishkin and a late runner like Nube Negra.

A horse I like a lot, though not necessarily in a cauldron like this, is Funambule Sivola. A moderate novice hurdle campaign two seasons ago blossomed into deep progression last term when sent handicapping straight over fences. Wins in that sphere ensued, off 112, 124, 133 and 141, before Graded competition was embraced. The Venetia Williams-trained seven-year-old had his first taste of Grade 1 action at Aintree last April, ceding only to Shishkin and, even then, giving him a race.

This term, it looked very much as though connections wanted to swerve Shishkin at any cost, pursuing an abortive two-and-a-half mile chase campaign: first, when not getting home in the Peterborough Chase and then when midfield in a valuable Cheltenham handicap in January. Reverting to two miles in a brace of spins since has seen as many gold medals most recently in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. This horse wins a lot and does it at two miles; his full trip record in chases is 12121 and it is not inconceivable that he could continue that pattern.

Champion Chase Pace Map

Only eight runners but three of them are want the lead types. Two of those are stablemates so it's hard to know how the front of the race will go, or rather who will be at the front of the race. My guess is one of the Mullins pair of Chacun Pour Soi and Energumene will lock horns with Politologue. Shishkin will travel kindly in the next rank and Nube Negra will be sniffing around in the late furlongs for some podium action.

Champion Chase Selection

This looks a humdinger. We said that before the Clarence House at Ascot and it fully delivered. Asking for reality to match the hype a second time, whilst mixing in two former champions and Chacun Pour Soi - and Nube Negra and Envoi Allen - is asking for a lot; but let's hope we get a bag full of hum and ding.

I think Shishkin will win. There, I've said it. He's just going to travel beautifully through the race, might hit a flat spot but will have a strong finish when the pace pugilists have thrown in the towel. If you want a more exciting wager, or at least one at a bigger price, Nube Negra without Shishkin looks a bet. There's a pace-driven case for thinking the Mullins pair may be susceptible to the finishers and, bar the jolly, none finishes better than NN.

Suggestion: If you haven't got enough fives to try and win some fours via Shishkin, who will probably win, consider backing Nube Negra each way without the favourite at around 11/2, a quarter the first two.

*

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

The Festival's yeast extract spread of a race. Love it or hate it, the Cross Country - Glenfarclas Chase to give it its correct nomenclature - is here to stay, and this scribe is delighted for that. Apart from anything else, how could the peerless Tiger Roll have so emblazoned his palmarès without it?

The mighty midget - he's only 15.2 hands - has a Cheltenham Festival record that very few can match even going back to the dawn of battle engaged on Cleeve Hill. Not just the winner of three Glenfarclas Chases, but also a National Hunt Chase and, as far back as 2014, a Triumph Hurdle, little old (he is small and he is relatively aged) Tiger bids for a sixth Festival win spanning eight years. Chuck in a couple of Grand Nationals for kicks and, oh boy, what a joy. Unbelievable, Jeff, as Kammy would have it.

He's twelve now, is the Tiger, but word has it that the fire remains aflame and he doubtless knows his way around the ever-decreasing circles of Cheltenham's inner course better than any of the pilots. If this is to be his swansong (and let's not sully our chat with the National handicapping phoney war), then praise be if Tiger can Roll once more into the winner's enclosure. He'll take the blooming roof off!

Don't worry too much about his form away from the Festival in the context of the Festival; this (and Aintree's Nash) is the only one that counts, the rest mere cobweb removal.

Against him is a soupcon of interesting horses and a grab bag full of dead wood. Let's zero in on those of interest, starting with Prengarde, a young upstart from the French provinces who has decamped to Enda's in the livery of JP. That's Enda Bolger, and J P McManus, for the avoidance of doubt and, before and betwixt the Tiger King's domination, those connections enjoyed their own hedge-mony (see what I did there?!).

Indeed it's 3-3 between Giggy's Tiggy and JP's assortment. McManus has owned seven of the 17 winners of the race since its inception in 2005 and his most recent victor, in 2020, was also a jeune from the other side of La Manche, Easysland. More on that one anon but back to Prengarde, whose reputation for disrespecting his elders across the varied impediments of Compiegne's cross country piste grew with each of his five consecutive scores in the discipline. He was well enough beaten in the midst of that quintet in a hurdles spin, so we ought not perhaps to get too flustered about his nothing run at Naas a little over a fortnight ago. Still, his price is tight enough considering he's yet to officially traverse the Cheltenham bushes and barrels.

And back we go to Easysland, 17 length router of his opposition two years ago - closest rival, Tiger Roll, going soft (not good is no good for the Lord of this manor) - but beaten by the same margin, plus a length to remind him who is the daddy, a year later. That distant silver was Easy's last run for David Cottin before a move to Jonjo's Jackdaws base. From there he has so far amassed two letters and no numbers in his form profile; to wit, a pair of P's at 50/1 and 66/1 in strong handicap hurdle company implied plenty regarding expectation those days. Now he is a 12/1 chance and tepid enough in the early exchanges. Perhaps it's a language barrier thing, perhaps not; one thing we can rely on is the application of cash in the hours leading up to the race as a portent of prospects. No blue on the grid, likely no chance.

But these are not the only Gigginstown and McManus runners atop the market. Dear old Mr Ryanair (whose banter, whisper it, is so so good for the game, emotive and divisive as it typically is) has quintuple Grade 1 winner, Delta Work, as his second string! If that's the good news, he's looked a fair whack below that since the last of those five, in February 2020. Yet he's still a mere whipper snapper in cross country terms at the age of nine - Prengarde and Easysland are barely potty-trained - and was only beaten 15 lengths in the G1 Irish Gold Cup last time. That, like most of his other 'not beaten far' recent races, was a steadily run affair, and he could travel all over these until the kick for home as they straighten up on the course proper.

Old 'green and gold' also has the 1-2 from the PP Hogan, a banks race hosted at Punchestown which has traditionally been the key prep for this. There, Midnight Maestro bested Shady Operator, yet the market vibes suggest tables will be turned in this rematch, as indeed they were in their previous meeting, again over the Punchy banks in the Risk Of Thunder Chase in November. Shady will be having his first race over this track while the Maestro had a sighter in last December's handicap (6/1, never in it). That local knowledge edge allied to a bit more meat on his price means he's the value in a match bet.

Diesel d'Allier is a dual winner of the handicaps on these slopes and has a fourth placed finish behind Easysland in the 2020 Glenfarclas. That's enough to expect him to threaten the first half dozen but insufficient to consider even an each way play.

In the context of this race, the rest are akin to the cast of the Star Wars bar (*braces for aggrieved owner response) though Brahma Bull's rating at least affords him a name check. He was third in the Ladbrokes Trophy in November, but as an unexpected 40/1 poke. He'd not be the biggest shock ever, but he would be a big shock.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Pace Map

Whilst there is no guaranteed pace, they always go a crawl anyway so it doesn't really matter too much.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Selection

It's hard to know where to turn for a bet here. Tiger Roll is not really much of a price but it'll be fun cheering him home if he's still engaged as they face up to the stuffed hurdles. I've backed him in novelty wagers - biggest winning margin of the week, win by 10 lengths, that sort of thing - on the basis that maybe he either wins by miles or doesn't win; but of course he might just win by a little bit.

Against Tiger - such heresy - Prengarde was very strongly touted initially though that confidence has subsided since and he's been ousted as crown prince by Delta Work. I favour the former's subject matter expertise over the latter's back class, but both have much to answer.

Easysland looks a bit of a busted flush, though is young enough - and Jonjo is both talented enough and wily enough - to bounce back. Of the Punchy pair, Midnight Maestro may have a sliver of value in his price, but I'm nowhere near sure enough to suggest he's a bet.

Indeed, I can't find a bet here. Small win play on Prengarde perhaps?

Suggestion: Back whatever you like, or enjoy the theatre of it. Or, if you're one of them, go make a pot of tea or grab a beer. 😉

*

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

Impossible. Just. Impossible. Let's try a few of RacingtoProfit.co.uk Josh's profile pointers to try to whittle things more manageable.

14/14 had run at G1 or G2 level previously: (had not: 0/73, 13p)
14/14 had 7< career wins (8+ : 0/49, 4p)
14/14 ran 26+ days ago (25<: 0/48, 3p)
12/14 had 13< chase runs (14+ : 2/106, 14p)

That's unfortunately not a huge help, but it does eliminate some. I still have eleven on my shortlist and I don't think I've ever backed the winner of this race, so I won't waste too much more time. It goes without saying you want a strong travelling, sure-footed jumper and ideally one that has not shown too much already - or at least not recently.

The novice Embittered was rated a bit higher over hurdles and has yet to run in a handicap chase, instead rocking up and taking it on the chin in many of the best Irish two mile novice events. As with a goodly number of his rivals, this looks like a bit of a plan. And that'll do.

[Sorry not sorry if you were expecting more in this section]

Grand Annual Pace Map

For Pleasure is in here, and so is Editeur Du Gite; Exit Poll also. Chuck in Global Citizen and Before Midnight and this cannot be anything other than a tear up from tape up. Don't come from too far back, mind, as you'll need fortune in transit aplenty.

Grand Annual Handicap Chase pace map

Grand Annual Handicap Chase pace map

Grand Annual Selection

I don't know, simple as that. But I do know that Embittered looks like a horse who ought to relish this sort of test, and I'll probably have a throwaway voucher (which is very likely to get thrown away) in his direction.

Suggestion: Get your prayer mat out and try tuppence win and place Embittered. Don't feel that way when the inevitable comes to pass.

*

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

And we close with the only race less scrutable - or more inscrutable if you prefer - than the Grand Annual. Actually, the Fred Boodles is another runner. Anyway, what I mean to say in my typically verbose way is that this is usually deeper than the betting suggests. Consider this epic snippet from Matt 'the Stat' Tombs:

12 of the last 13 times Willie Mullins has had multiple entries in the Bumper, the most fancied has failed to be the first Mullins horse home. That is not a positive for Facile Vega, which is a shame because yours true has a tidy ante post ticket on the early talking horse. In fairness, he's done everything right since popping out of Quevega five or so years ago, his latest form line - of two - being a breath-taking smash up job in a hot-looking Leopardstown bumper.

He deserves to be favoured on that performance, but the reason for the Tombs-tone stat is that the Champion Bumper is a race in which most have yet to peak and many are unbeaten to this point. Consider this: since 2008, Willie has had four unbeaten winners of Cheltenham Flat Race. Sir Gerhard was 85/40 (ugh) last year, but in 2018 Relegate was 25/1; and in 2013 Briar Hill was 25/1; and in 2008, Cousin Vinny was 12/1.

The message is this, I think: if you've a tasty ticket on Facile Vega, bully for you and bonne chance. If not, look elsewhere because Willie had ten horses that fitted the above profile beaten at odds of 7/1 or shorter.

Mullins also saddles third choice, Redemption Day, winner of his only start to date. Paul Townend rides that one. But in the longer grass are Houlanbatordechais (easy for you to chais), James's Gate, Madmansgame, and Seabank Bistro, all of which are unbeaten in one or two starts and some of which are pronounceable. Who knows what the hierarchy is among them? Not Willie, as he's keen to share; history tells us we should take the hint and take a flyer on a 'could be anything' at a price.

Houlanbatordechais - did I spell that right? - will be ridden by Rachael Blackmore and is currently 50/1. Really? Madmansgame gets Danny Mullins and is 40's in a place. Brian Hayes partners Seabank Bistro and he's 40/1. Those are darts I'm more than happy to fling.

Meanwhile, back up top, I've failed to mentioned American Mike, Gordon's fly in the Mullins ointment. Spoken of in bullish terms he's been a facile, ahem, winner of two small field bumpers, the latter of which was in Listed company. This is wider and deeper than that but they know a good'un at Cullentra and they're fair sure this lad is a good'un. His price leaves zero margin for error, however.

The obvious truth is that I have no divine 'in' for this race, but the fact that King Willie has won it multiple times with a double didge-priced runner makes my wagering bed for me. I'm happy to lie there.

Champion Bumper Pace Map

Pinch of salt pace map below. They may very well run in a completely different formation from that suggested, such is the amorphous nature of their profiles.

Champion Bumper pace map

Champion Bumper pace map

Champion Bumper selection

One of these will step forward more than all the others, but which one is a total unknown. Facile Vega is a fair and obvious favourite, likewise American Mike second choice. But there's depth here that has historically rewarded a big odds guess. So let's guess!

Suggestion: Try a tiny tickle of Houlanbatordechais (I'll be cheering for 'the Mongolian' in case you're wondering), Madmansgame and/or Seabank Bistro and/or James's Gate. It's that sort of a race.

*

This second quarter brings us to the half time show. It will have been a roller coaster, as ever, and fingers crossed we'll have enjoyed more luck than losers.

Good luck!

Matt

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.

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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.

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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 racingtoprofit.co.uk 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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

Matt

London Racing Club Cheltenham Preview Notes

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the London Racing Club's Cheltenham Preview night. Always a considered evening, refreshingly bereft of "this is a certainty" and "will win" bluster, the panel comprised the notable nag noggins of Matt Tombs (MT), Lydia Hislop (LH), host Lee Mottershead (LM), and Unibet's Ed Nicholson (EN), who does a lot of media work with Nicky Henderson. Here's what they had to say...

Tuesday - Day 1

Supreme Novices' Hurdle

EN - Nicky is really very hopeful for Constitution Hill and favours him over Jonbon, but Ed prefers Jonbon's battle tested form to CH's bridle work.

LH - Would personally run Sir Gerhard in the Ballymore and the buzzy Dysart Dynamo in Supreme. Kilcruit could be a touch underestimated, while a strongly run race would suit Mighty Potter. Not betting until the final field is known.

MT - It should be a no brainer to split Sir G and DD as Lydia suggested. Constitution Hill not tested off the bridle, who knows if he'll find? Have some doubts about Kilcruit, who has perhaps had a physical issue. Feel Mighty Potter is over-priced based on the Grade 1 Christmas form beating Three Stripe Life. He could shorten between now and off time.

Arkle

LH - Edwardstone is a sold favourite but short enough at 2/1, though would be a bet if drifting as far as 3's. Great jumper. Saint Sam might finish in front from the trio out of the Irish Arkle. Haut En Couleurs retains 'could be anything' status.

MT - Might take a chance on HeC: in a race lacking obvious star potential, he has untapped upside.

EN - Bookies will probably want to try to lay Edwardstone.

Ultima Handicap Chase

MT - Oscar Elite should be on your shortlist.

Champion Hurdle

EN - Epatante has been hurdling really fluently in her schooling work and the Henderson team hope she can make the frame again.

MT - Honeysuckle about the right price. Too much made of her unremarkable but still clear cut win last time. Appreciate It has a mountain to climb trying to beat her first time out off a year's layoff.

LH - AI and Paul Townend should probably force matters and try to put Honey's jumping under pressure. Still think Honey will win, but struggling to find a betting angle into the race. Maybe if strongly run, Zanahiyr without the favourite is a play.

Mares' Hurdle

LH - Telmesomethinggirl the likeliest winner but short enough now. Queen's Brook could be a danger, and Burning Victory may be interesting at a price. Stormy Ireland is probably past her best now.

MT - Want to take Burning Victory on. She's been on the go for a long time.

EN - Marie's Rock has come back to form in her work and Nicky thinks she could be his best outsider of the week.

Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

EN - Champion Green and Brazil are both better value options than Gaelic Warrior and his mysterious handicap mark.

LH - Saint Segal looks like he has a lot of ability.

Wednesday - Day 2

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

MT - Sir Gerhard looks like he'll have too much toe for this field and could go off something like 4/6 in the end.

LH - Agree with Matt

EN - Agree, likely to shorten

Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (formerly RSA)

LH - Not sure Bravemansgame likes Cheltenham. Ahoy Senor could be a Gold Cup player next season but unconvinced about his chance on the tighter track in this novices' race. L'Homme Presse was previously going to the Turners but now heads here: he might just be the optimal runner in the field as he should stay the longer trip and might even improve for it - he's been hitting the line strongly in his races. Gaillard Du Mesnil might be a little value as a street fighting slugger, the sort that often fares well in this race.

EN - Also favours Ahoy Senor over BMG, reversing Kempton Grade 1 form.

MT - 22 Kauto Star/Feltham winners have been beaten in the RSA, no Kempton G1 winner has won RSA; beaten horses from that race have won RSA numerous times. If Ahoy Senor gets into a jumping rhythm he will be tough to beat but only if he jumps well enough. If Capodanno is declared he could be the danger.

Champion Chase

LH - Thought Energumene should have beaten Shishkin last time at Ascot where seemingly everything was in his favour. On Shishkin's home patch, the Arkle winner will be tough to beat. Not sure Chacun Pour Soi likes the track and worried that Willie Mullins says he has to train him at only 95%. Nube Negra each way or without the favourite is interesting because don't really like Energ or CPS and NN will finish strongly.

MT - Would rather back Energ at 7/2 than Shishkin at 8/11 but worried about him potentially jumping right at his fences.

EN - Nicky Henderson has won with all eight of his odds on shots at the Festival to date. Shishkin bids to extend that sequences.

Grand Annual Handicap Chase

LH - Coeur Sublime, if coming here rather than Arkle, has the right profile to be very competitive.

EN - Paul Nicholls very sweet on Thyme White, who he feels may appreciate the fast tempo to the race.

Coral Cup

MT - Saint Felicien is a Grade 1 horse in a handicap. Had a very similar prep to other Elliott handicap winners and was still in the Champion Hurdle until quite late in the day.

Champion Bumper

LH - "Not a race for me, because I just don't know enough about the runners"

MT - 12 of the last 13 times Willie has had multiple entries in the Bumper, the most fancied has failed to be the first Mullins horse home. Not a positive for Facile Vega.

Thursday - Day 3

Turners Novice Chase

LH - Could be a VERY small field. Not sure Bob Olinger has improved for the switch to fences, for all that he was a very high class hurdler; but feel Galopin Des Champs is a better horse for chasing. Henry de Bromhead horses are always well schooled but GdC looks "the real deal".

Ryanair Chase

LH - Eldorado Allen interesting against (or without) the favourite, Allaho. Shan Blue is a negative: think he wants a flat track.

MT - Mister Fisher, if he runs here, might be ridden to pick up the pieces.

EN - Not sure Mister F is running here.

Stayers' Hurdle

MT - The race is "a muddle". Might take a chance on Klassical Dream even after his Galmoy Hurdle clunk. Have also backed Royal Kahala, as believe the Galmoy form has been under-rated a touch. She's progressive while plenty in this field look regressive.

LH - Backed KD because, at his best, he's the best in the field. Might bomb out but if bringing his A game, he is the one. Also wouldn't underestimate Royal Kahala who receives a 7lb mares' allowance.

Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle

LM - Sire Du Berlais is my bet of the meeting. Has a good amateur jockey in Rob James, who will claim 7lb, and SdB is a proper Cheltenham Festival horse.

Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle

LH - Dinoblue the bet of the meeting after Willie decided to send her straight here following a single run and win. Strongly against Brandy Love who is an awful price. Party Central may be more of a danger.

Friday - Day 4

Gold Cup

LH - Wide open race. A Plus Tard is not getting away from his fences with any momentum whereas Minella Indo is made for this job. Respect Galvin who has a nice progressive second season chaser profile but is short enough. Don't think Protektorat is good enough. Would definitely be more interested in MI if Jack Kennedy gets reunited as he may force things from the front and draw out the horse's stamina.

MT - Feel like those to have run in previous Gold Cups don't have the progressive profile needed, while also think Galvin is short enough. Getting interested in Tornado Flyer given the possible steady pace.

EN - Chantry House has been a little hard done by. He is a pacey horse with an excellent win record including at the Festival last year. Granted, the Cotswold Chase is not a strong trial for Gold Cup generally.

Triumph Hurdle

MT - Trainer vibes vs form here: Willie is bullish about Vauban and Gordon about Fil Dor. But Pied Piper has the better form in my view. Spring Juvenile is the key trial though not necessarily the winner from that race. Pied Piper the play for me.

LH - Il Etait Temps must be highly regarded to have made his debut in the Spring Juvenile. Finished that race very strongly and could step forward notably from first to second run for the trainer (WPM). Willie is bullish about Vauban but I'm not so sure about that. IET a really good e/w bet in that he has strong place claims and could win.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle

MT - Like Hillcrest but want to bet a price in this race. Two of interest are Eric Bloodaxe, who bombed out last time but is a proper slogger, and Grand Jury who ran well over 2m4f and looks like he'll be suited to the longer trip. Win only at big prices.

LH - Against Matt's two! Love Hillcrest but kind of wish he was being saved for the Sefton at Aintree. Experience is a key requirement for the Albert Bartlett, and Stag Horn's flat catalogue as well as slick jumping and stamina make him of interest.

County Hurdle

MT - My Mate Mozzie could be another Group horse in a handicap. Crying out for a fast run, fast ground two miler.

Others

Gordon Elliott to be top trainer at 3/1 a great bet to keep the entertainment going for the week. Has bundles of entries and favoured horses in both conditions races and handicaps.

Good luck!

Matt

2022 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY TWO (Weds 16th March 2022)

Each day of the 2022 Cheltenham Festival our horse racing trends experts will give you all the quick-fire positive and negative stats for EVERY race. Apply these to the final cards and you will build up a picture and a profile of which horses have historically done the best in recent renewals.

We hope they help narrow down the fields and also help pin-point plenty of winners at the 2022 Cheltenham Festival for you!

The 'day two' feature is the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase - a race trainer Willie Mullins is yet to win!

Cheltenham Festival Trends

Wednesday 16th March (Old Course & Cross Country)

 

1.30 - Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 5f ITV

2021 Winner: BOB OLINGER (6/4 fav)
Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
Jockey – Rachael Blackmore


Pluses….

  • 15 of the last 17 winners came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 5 of the last 8 winners were unbeaten over hurdles
  • 11 of the last 13 winners came from the top two-rated on BHA ratings
  • 17 of the last 21 winners returned 17/2 or shorter
  • 21 of the last 27 winners won last time out
  • 26 of the last 27 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • The Irish have won 12 of the last 19 (7 of last 8)
  • Horses rated 150+ do well
  • 10 of the last 13 winners had won a Graded Novice Hurdle
  • 22 of the last 27 winners (including last 11) had won at least one bumper race
  • All of the last 16 winners were aged 5 or 6 years-old
  • 10 of the last 11 winners were aged 6
  • In the last 10 runnings Irish-trained horses have filled 18 of the 30 top 3 places
  • 21 of the last 23 were NH bred
  • 15 of the last 23 had won a graded race before
  • Look for past Irish point-to-point winners (8 of the last 12 had won an Irish Point)
  • Respect Willie Mullins – 4 winners and 9 placed in last 16 years
  • Gordon Elliott has won 2 of the last 4

Negatives….

  • Only one winner aged older than 6 has won since 1974
  • Avoid 4 year-olds too – just one winner since 1991
  • Horses aged 7 or older are 0 from 56 (since 1988)
  • Only two of the last 35 winners came from outside the top 5 in the betting
  • The last 18 Challow Hurdle winners have all been beaten
  • Avoid ex-flat horses (since 2005 all have been beaten. 0 from 30 in the last 16 years)

 

 

2.10 - Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (Grade 1) 3m 80y ITV

2021 Winner: MONKFISH (1/4 fav)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Paul Townend  

Pluses….

  • 5 of the last 13 winners ran in the Flogas Chase (Leopardstown, 6th Feb) that season
  • The last 20 winners had run in a Graded Novice Chase
  • 14 of the last 15 winners finished 1st or 2nd in a G1/G2 over fences
  • 24 of the last 27 winners had only one previous season over hurdles
  • Respect 7 year-olds – won 12 of the last 15 (17 of last 22)
  • 10 of the last 16 winners won last time out
  • 7 of the last 12 winners were beaten on their chase debut
  • 8 of the last 14 winners had won a bumper before
  • 7 of the last 15 favourites won
  • The last 7 winners were rated 150+
  • 9 of the last 10 winners returned single-figures in the betting
  • 19 of the last 21 winners had run between 3-5 times over fences
  • Every winner since 1997 had their chase debut the previous year
  • Irish bred horses are 21 from the last 25
  • 10 of the last 15 winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 Chase
  • 7 of the last 13 winners were trained in Ireland
  • Trainers Nicky Henderson, Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls often do well in the race (11 of the last 18 between them)
  • 24 of the last 29 were novice hurdling last season
  • 6 of the last 12 winners ran in the Albert Bartlett the previous season
  • Look for horses that ran that same calendar year (53 of the last 55 winners had)
  • 12 of the last 15 winners had raced at the Festival the previous year
  • The last 7 winners came from the top 3 in the betting market

Negatives….

  • No winner aged 9 or older since 1992
  • Just 4 winners younger than 7 since 1978
  • Avoid horses that had had 2 full seasons over hurdles prior
  • Just 2 of the last 22 winners had run less than 3 times over fences
  • No winners of the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (Feltham, Kempton 26th Dec) have won gone onto win this race
  • French bred horses are 0-from-36 (last 15 years)
  • Colin Tizzard is 0-from-10 over the last 10 years
  • Avoid unbeaten horses (only 2 of the last 22 winners)
  • Mares are currently 0-from-11 in the race
  • Horses in headgear are currently 0 from 30

 

    2.40 - Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 5f ITV

 

2021 Winner: HEAVEN HELP US (33/1)
Trainer – Paul Hennessy
Jockey – Richard Condon

Pluses….

  • 12 of the last 17 were 2nd season hurdlers
  • 18 of the last 21 winners raced less than 10 times over hurdles
  • 10 of the last 12 winners had run at the Festival before
  • 9 of the last 13 winners hailed from the top 8 horses in the weights
  • 9 of the last 13 winners were rated in the 140’s
  • 14 of the last 22 winners aged 6 or 7
  • 8 of the last 12 winners DIDN’T win last time out
  • 12 of the last 16 winners hailed form the top 7 in the betting
  • 20 of the last 27 winners won earlier that season
  • Respect JP McManus-owned runners
  • Respect trainers Nicky Henderson & Gordon Elliott (6 wins in last 12 years)
  • 10 of the last 20 winners were FRENCH-BRED
  • 15 of the last 28 won last time out
  • Respect Irish-trained runners (6 of the last 13)
  • Look for horses that had raced 4 or less times that season (12 of last 13 winners)
  • 15 of the last 17 winners had run 32 days or longer ago (look for horses that have had a small break)
  • Trainer Gordon Elliott is 2 from 11
  • 5 year-olds do well from the small % that have run (win and place)
  • The last 3 winners wore headgear

Negatives….

  • Just one winning favourite in the last 18 years (2020)
  • Only 3 winners since 2000 had run in 10+ hurdles races
  • Horses aged 10+ are just 3 from 308 to even place since 1999
  • Just 4 winners since 2000 aged 8+
  • Horses rated 150+ don’t have a great record, although the 2019 winner was rated 151
  • Only 3 winners since 2000 had run more than 9 times over hurdles
  • Willie Mullins won the race in 2018 and had the second in 2019, but overall has a bad record – 45 runners – just two placed inside the top 2 (1 from 42 since 2010

 

    3.30 - Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) 1m 7f 99y ITV

2021 Winner: PUT THE KETTLE ON (17/2)
Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
Jockey – Rachael Blackmore

Pluses….

  • 13 of the last 21 winners ran in the Tingle Creek Chase that season
  • 4 of the last 9 winners won the Clarence House Chase (Ascot) that season
  • 24 of the last 37 had won at the Festival before
  • Paul Nicholls & Nicky Henderson have won 9 of the last 14 between them
  • Nicky Henderson has won 5 of the last 10
  • 27 of the last 35 winners aged between 7-9
  • 14 of the last 20 winners won last time out
  • 16 of the last 19 winners had run that calendar year
  • 38 of the last 40 winners returned 10/1 or shorter
  • 15 of the last 22 winners returned 5/1 or shorter
  • 7 of the last 15 winners were French-bred
  • 11 of the last 19 winners were second season chasers
  • 15 of the last 17 winners had run 2 or 3 times that season
  • 19 of the last 23 winners came from the top 3 in the betting
  • 16 of the last 22 winners ran in the previous season’s Arkle or Champion Chase
  • 7 of the last 11 Arkle winners (previous season) to run have won
  • Past champions do well – 13 horses have won the CC more than once

Negatives….

  • Only two winners priced 11/1 or bigger in the last 38 years
  • Just 1 winner in last 17 had run 4+ times that season
  • Horses that didn’t run in that calendar year are 3-from-31
  • Top Irish trainer, Willie Mullins, is yet to win this race (0-from-12)
  • Just 1 of the last 20 winners hadn’t won a Grade 1 Chase before
  • 12 of the last 16 winners had run in no more than 16 chases
  • Be wary of horses older than 10 – just 2 winners since 1977
  • Only 3 winners aged 6 or younger in the last 47 years
  • Just one 11 year-old winner in the last 43 years
  • Just one Mare has ever won the race (Put The Kettle On, 2021)

 

    4.10 - Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase 3m 6f 37y ITV

 

2021 Winner: TIGER ROLL (9/2)
Trainer – Denise Foster
Jockey – Keith Donoghue  

Pluses….

  • The Irish have won 14 of the last 17 runnings
  • Respect Enda Bolger-trained runners (won the race 5 times)
  • 20 of the last 24 winners came from the top three in the betting
  • 9 of the last 17 ran in the December Cross Country race here
  • 14 of the last 17 winners had run on the course before
  • Respect Keith Donoghue (3 wins) and Davy Russell (2 wins)
  • 13 or the last 17 winners were aged 10 or younger
  • 7 of the last 11 winners were aged 8 or 9
  • Trainer Philip Hobbs is 2 from 11 (5 placed in the top 5 too)
  • Trainer Gordon Elliott has won 3 of the last 5 runnings
  • 7 winners since 2005 owned by JP McManus
  • 9 of the last 17 winners had run in the NH Chase before
  • 4 of the last 7 winners were owned by the Gigginstown Stud House
  • The last 6 winners all wore headgear

Negatives….

  • Debutants over these fences/course have a poor record
  • Horses aged 7 or younger are only 3 from 99, but the 2020 winner was 6
  • Trainer Willie Mullins is 0 from 15
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls is 0 from 13

 

    4.50 - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m 62y ITV

 

2021 Winner: SKY PIRATE (14/1)
Trainer – Jonjo O’Neill
Jockey – Nick Schofield

Pluses….

  • 7 of the last 8 winners carried 11st or more
  • 15 of the last 18 winners had run at the Festival before
  • 8 of the last 18 winners ran in the previous renewal
  • Irish have won 4 of the last 9 runnings
  • 8 of the last 12 winners came from outside the top 5 in the betting
  • 9 of the last 13 winners novices or second season chasers
  • 11 of the last 16 winners aged between 6-8
  • 12 of the last 18 winners were aged 8 or older
  • Henderson, Nicholls, King-trained horses are respected
  • Paul Nicholls has won 4 of the last 18
  • Respect JP McManus-owned horses (4 winners, 10 placed)
  • The last 11 winners were rated at least 138
  • 5 year-olds have a good record (from few runners of that age that have run)
  • Novices have won 6 of the last 13 runnings
  • 5 of the last 7 winners won after a 91+ day break
  • 9 of the last 11 winners were rated between 138-147
  • 10 of the last 11 winners rated between 138-150
  • 8 of the last 11 winners carried 10-11 or more in weight
  • 19 of the last 22 winners had run no more than 12 times over fences

Negatives….

  • Horses aged 10+ are just 2 wins from the last 26 runnings
  • Horses that last ran 45 days or more ago have seen just 8 winners since 1990
  • Last time out winners are just 1 from last 15
  • Horses aged 6 or younger (from top 3 in the market) are just 1 from 30 since 2005
  • Only 2 of the last 16 winners were favourites
  • Just 2 winners since 2000 had run in more than 12 chases
  • Horses that won a handicap chase that season have a bad recent record

 

    5.30 - Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1) 2m 87y RTV

 

2021 Winner: SIR GERHARD
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Rachael Blackmore

Pluses….

  • 27 of the last 29 had won last time out (all of last 18)
  • 22 of the last 29 winners trained in Ireland
  • Respect Irish-trained runners (22 from 38)
  • 20 of the last 29 came from the top 6 in the betting
  • 22 of the last 29 were Irish-bred
  • 11 of the last 21 winners were second season horses
  • 15 of the last 16 winners were aged 5 or 6 years-old
  • 18 of the last 29 winners aged 5 years-old
  • 18 of the last 20 had their debut runs in Ireland
  • 12 of the last 19 had been beaten in a race before
  • 6 of the last 12 winners returned between 14/1 and 40/1
  • Respect Willie Mullins (11 winners) – also had first three in 2018 and first and second in 2020 and 2021
  • The Irish lead the British 23-7 in the race history
  • Trainer Gordon Elliott has won 2 of the last 5 runnings
  • 10 of the last 19 winners came from the top 3 in the betting
  • Mares are 3-18 in the last 18 runnings
  • 5 of the last 6 winners had run in February
  • Last 3 winners owned by Cheveley Park Stud

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses with 4 or more NH Flat runs
  • Just 2 winners failed to win last time out
  • Just 2 of the last 11 winners hadn’t run that calendar year
  • 4 of the last 11 winners were won by UK-based trainers
  • 4 year-olds are 1 from 64 since 2000 (Cue Card)
  • Gigginstown, Paul Nicholls & Nicky Henderson don’t often focus on the race

 

 

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