Cheltenham Festival Day Three (Thursday) Preview, Trends and Tips
And so we kick off the second half, with still much to play for irrespective of your punting performance over the first two days. Six races to go at on day three, and we start with one of the newest contests, the...
1.30 JEWSON NOVICES´ CHASE Grade 2 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m4f)
Only two year renewals of this Grade 2 so far and, I'd expect, after this year it will be a Grade 1 contest. Certainly there are no penalties to be carried by Grade 1 winners here, which implies they're trying to attract Grade 1 winners.
Jewson Novices Chase Key Trends
Both winners were Irish
Both winners had four legs (seriously, there can be no key trends after two years!)
Jewson Novices Chase Form Preview
With the late enrollment of Dynaste to this race, it revolves around him. Quite simply he's achieved a heck of a lot more than any of the rest, and he deserves his status as favourite. He's unbeaten in three chase starts, including the Grade 1 Feltham last time, and the Steel Plate and Sections Novices' Chase over this trip here.
His Feltham win was in heavy ground, and his other two chase victories were on good to soft, so there shouldn't be any going concerns. And, excepting a fall, time off the course might be the only other cause for concern. That layoff is potentially mitigated by the fact that he has won first time up in competitive races for the last two seasons, so he still looks like going very close to winning here. I'd backed him at 5/2 non-runner no bet, and that looks a very fair price now.
The main - and perhaps only - danger could be Captain Conan, himself unbeaten in three starts over fences. He's also a triple Grade 1 winner, all three of which were at Sandown, and two of them over fences. As well as that, he won a Grade 2 novices' chase here back in November, so he's clearly a smart horse.
Although most of his form is at or around two miles, I think he'll have no problem with this longer trip, but I do wonder whether he'll have the speed to seriously challenge a horse like Dynaste. That's my only reservation, though, and he ought to make the frame at least.
The only other one of interest to me is Aupcharlie, a horse who simply isn't a three miler. He's been beaten a half length or less over that trip on his last two starts - finishing second both times - and that was in Grade 2 and Grade 1 company. Previously, at around the two and a half mile mark, he'd won both his races, a maiden hurdle and a beginners chase.
Although the merit of those two contests wouldn't amount to much in the context of a Jewson, he's unbeaten at the trip, and the extra stamina he has looks sure to be valuable in what could be quite a slog in the last quarter of the race. He is another who should run very well and challenge for the podium positions.
It's hard to get excited about many of the rest, but Texas Jack has been mixing it with the top tier of Irish chasers, and this is his trip and ground. He might go best of the bigger priced nags.
Jewson Novices Chase Tips
Dynaste is the class act here, and should win.
Most likely Jewson Chase winner: Dynaste
Frame prospects: Captain Conan, Aupcharlie
Interesting at a bigger price: Texas Jack
2.05 PERTEMPS FINAL (Listed Race) (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (3m)
A massive field of very good, largely experienced handicappers cross blades for the Pertemps Final, over three miles. To run here, you need to have been declared for one of the qualifiers run both sides of the Irish Sea throughout the season. And all of the last nine renewals have gone to a horse priced 10/1 or bigger.
Pertemps Final Key Trends
13 of the last 14 winners carried 11-02 or less
13 of the last 15 winners were rated 142 or less
Repeat winners Willie Wumpkins and Buena Vista are the only horses aged 10+ to win
The only five year old winner was Pragada in 1988
The Haydock, Cheltenham and Leopardstown qualifiers have been responsible for seven of the last ten winners
Pertemps Final Form Preview
Although this is wide open, there are a couple of very short priced horses at the top of the market in the shape of Sam Winner and Shutthefrontdoor. Connections of both are hugely respected, though Paul Nicholls has yet to win this race from eight runners in the last fifteen years, and one of them - Alfie Sherrin - went off 11/4 favourite! Jonjo on the other hand - who now trains Alfie Sherrin - has won it twice in the past decade.
Sam Winner was a precocious juvenile, being good enough to run fourth in the Triumph Hurdle behind none other than Zarkandar, having been given a lot to do. Of course, that's old news but it does at least show he handles the track and it may also imply he's very nicely weighted, give that Zarkandar is now rated 167, and the second and third are rated 155 and 166. Sam Winner has a rating of just 140!
An abortive chasing career was abandoned after two falls in two starts, and he then had a year off the track before returning in December 2012 with an encouraging fifth of twelve in a good Sandown handicap. In his only start since, he won a jumper's bumper, and it's certain that the stable has been holding off running him in case they buggered up his handicap mark. Although he may not be as battled hardened as some of these, he's got oodles of class, and a gimme weight. He has an obvious chance, but is very short.
Shutthefrontdoor comes from very highly regarded connections and is hard to quantify. He's won all bar one of his seven races (I was there the day he lost at Folkestone!), but he rarely wins by much, meaning the handicapper can't do anything with him. He's a novice with just four hurdle starts and that's less than any of the last fourteen winners. With a rating of 146 and a weight of 11-06, I don't think he can overcome inexperience, no matter how much he's liked at home. On that basis, I'm happy enough to be wrong if he's good enough to prove me wrong.
So which of the field match the winner's profile and look to be favoured by conditions? My metaphorical notebook has the following names scribbled in it: Action Master, Stonemaster, and Jetson.
Action Master won the qualifier here back in October, and has since been nicely 'managed' with two runs in handicap chases to keep him fit without impacting his hurdles rating. He's trained by the shrewd Dessie Hughes, obviously goes on the track, and loves a decent pace in big fields. But he's probably a bit better on quicker ground, and that's enough for me to look elsewhere this time.
Stonemaster and Jetson are the interesting pair. Both ran in the Leopardstown qualifier last time, finishing third and sixth respectively. Stonemaster was more prominent throughout, and he should make a bold bid here in a race which might just stretch his stamina to breaking point. If he gets the trip all right, after a running on sixth in last year's Coral Cup, he'll run well.
As for Jetson, well, his run the last day in that qualifier has to be seen to be believed. It's a blatant non-trier job: eleventh turning in (and still on the bridle), he was steadied almost to a walk at the last flight, before staying on to be sixth of thirty, beaten ten lengths. He won that race last year, and is now rated 135 in his bid to add the Final this year to the Qualifier last.
Jetson loves big fields, loves soft ground (but acts perfectly well on good), has a viable rating, and bags of experience. He should run a cracker.
Pertemps Final Tips
Most likely (Sam) Winner: Sam Winner
Best each way value plays: Jetson, Stonemaster
2.40 RYANAIR CHASE Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m5f)
The middle distance championship is starting to grow up now, and it has been responsible for one of the great stories of the Festival in recent years: Albertas Run. Winner in 2010 and 2011, he was a half length runner up last year and bids to regain his crown aged twelve!
Ryanair Chase Key Trends
Seven of the eight winners came from the top three in the betting.
Seven of the eight winners had won over this specialist trip.
Seven of the eight winners had won at the course previously.
Ryanair Chase Form Preview
A small field this year, and arguably a disappointing turn out for a race that provided perhaps the spectacle of last year's Festival, with three horses exchanging the lead on the run in, having been in the air together at the last.
Disappointing turnout or not, there's a winner in there somewhere, and the most likely candidate is First Lieutenant. 'First Left' has been running some blinding races this season, getting barged out of it late doors in two Grades 1's either side of a third place in the Hennessy at Newbury.
He's dropping back in trip a little here, to a distance which might well be optimal for him. He was a 2m5f winner of the Neptune at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival, and was then second to Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase last year.
First Left's last three wins have all been at around the two and a half mile mark, and I think he will relish the drop back. Hopefully, Davy Russell will sit just behind the lead and then aim to stretch them from the turn, with stamina assured and the ground no problem.
Against him are last year's 1-2, Riverside Theatre and Albertas Run. The former seems to have 'gone' a bit, and assistant trainer Charlie Morlock explained that they've had a lot of trouble trying to get him healthy, let alone fit. The latter comes here without a prep run and is now twelve years old. Surely even the most romantic of punters couldn't expect him to win here. If he does, it will be a fantastic story, and all credit to connections. But he is certainly not for me.
Cue Card has been hovering around the top of the market all winter, but he's never actually achieved a rating which would have been sufficient to win a Ryanair, and he looks pretty exposed nowadays. He does go well on soft, and this is his trip, but I suspect he'll find at least one too good in this company.
Champion Court would be a popular local winner, but four second places in his last five starts tell their own story. He's just not quite up to a race like this.
He and Cue Card will probably try to lead here, and they ought to set it up for First Lieutenant, the balance of whose form is a little better in my view.
Two at bigger prices worth a second glance are Menorah and For Non Stop. Menorah won the Supreme Novices' Hurdle here in 2010, and has been a consistent - if slightly below top class - sort ever since. His last two runs - a win against Hunt Ball and a fair third to Silviniaco Conti over a trip too far - are reasonable in the context of this field, and he could hit the board if his jumping stands up (or, more correctly, if he stands up to/from his jumping).
For Non Stop seems to have got his preferred ground, though he was also a Grade 1 winner on soft last term, and ran third in Sir Des Champ's Jewson here subsequently. He's been off since Christmas, which is a concern, but his price allows for a small stakes interest play if you're that way inclined. He will certainly love the trip and has a touch of class about him. It could be a staggering 45 minutes for Nick Williams if this fellow and then Reve de Sivola in the next prevail.
Ryanair Chase Tips
Best Ryanair Chase bet: First Lieutenant
Each way possible: Menorah
Reasonably interesting outsider: For Non Stop
3.20 LADBROKES WORLD HURDLE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (3m)
No Big Buck's this time, and that's a real shame. In his absence, though, the race looks wide open, and if we can hit the winner, we'll get paid out at a fair rate of return. If...
World Hurdle Key Trends
Big Buck's has won the last four renewals. Inglis Drever won three of the four before that. As such, trends are fairly redundant here.
World Hurdle Form Preview
This is a bit of a messy race. Basically, I don't think Oscar Whisky can stay this far in soft or tacky ground, and am happy to field against him unless times indicate it is riding quick. I have backed Reve de Sivola, but the vibes about him are not good, and nor is the drying ground helpful. And the senior handicapper - who knows a thing or two about form - reckons their ding-dong last time out scrap doesn't amount to much. Hmm.
So where do we go from there? Well, waiting in the wings are some talented, and perhaps 'forgotten horses'. This has always been the logical home of failed chasers, and the likes of Peddlers Cross and Bog Warrior (and Reve de Sivola himself) join the roster here. Mind you, Big Buck's himself falls into that 'failed chaser' category so we perhaps ought not to be too harsh!
Basically, it could be a wide open contest with reasons to doubt the top two, so I'm looking for some jam on my bread here. Bog Warrior is relatively inexperienced with just five hurdles runs to his name, four of them wins. He started off this season falling at the last fence in a Grade 2 chase, which is when connections reverted to hurdles.
Since then, he's gone three unbeaten: a handicap hurdle of a rating of 122 (!!); an ungraded hurdle where he beat Solwhit more than six lengths (that one was returning after a long layoff); and, an easy Grade 2 success from Zaidpour last time.
Bog Warrior needs soft ground, which is why he skipped last year's Festival. So he may not have quite come up trumps on the turf front this time either. He's progressive and has scope to improve again. That would give him a fair chance here, but I do have a couple of reservations with him. First, he usually leads and might not be granted that concession today. Second, his jumping - even over hurdles - leaves something to be desired. And third, he has looked a weak finisher on occasion. Collectively, they lead me to look elsewhere.
Solwhit was behind the Bog Warrior on his first start since January 2011, but followed that up with a nice win from So Young last time. His overall record, which includes SIX Grade 1 wins from a career total of thirteen wins, is impressive in the context of this race, and the ground won't be an issue, though he'd probably prefer a bit more juice in it. But the big problem here is that he's never raced beyond two and a half miles, and he's been beaten on two of the three occasions he went even that far. I just don't expect him to stay the trip.
Peddlers Cross is another classy hurdler, but doubtful stayer. True, he at least won the Neptune over 2m5f here, back in 2010. But his only win beyond that trip since was when beating a 130-rated horse by less than two lengths. He might well take them along, if he can get the better of Bog Warrior and perhaps Solwhit early, but with the doubt about his stamina, he's not for me.
Wonderful Charm ought not to be good enough. He beat Ballybough Pat of Anthony Honeyball's last time, and Anthony has no illusions about the ceiling of that one's ability. Whilst Wonderful Charm is capable of better, and will go in the ground, he too has to prove he stays, as his longest distance win to date was over two and a half miles. It's also the case that a five year old has NEVER won this race, and it's been run for the last forty years!
Get Me Out Of Here really doesn't like soft ground, and I can't entertain him on that basis alone. However, if it is genuinely good ground, he has to come into calculations. And that brings us to Smad Place. He's well suited by good to soft ground, and he's young and improving, and he finished third to Big Buck's in this last year.
Beaten just under nine lengths there as a five year old, that was an extremely meritorious performance. Since then, he unseated in the Aintree staying hurdle at the Grand National meeting when travelling well; he was a slightly disappointing third on his seasonal debut behind Tidal Bay; and then he ran up to Reve de Sivola on heavy ground last time in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.
He was fourteen lengths behind Reve de Sivola there, but on less testing ground here, I'd expect him to be closer, and with his liking for the track proven, he rates a good each way prospect in a race where most runners have big questions to answer.
World Hurdle Tips
Most Likely World Hurdle Winner: Reve de Sivola
Best each way wager: Smad Place
4.00 BYRNE GROUP PLATE (A Handicap Chase) Grade 3 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m5f)
Byrne Group Plate Key Trends
French breds have an excellent record: six wins and four second places in the last 13 years.
11 of the last 12 winners were at odds of 12/1+
14 of the last 15 winners carried 11-03 or less
23 of the last 25 winners were rated 141 or less
17 of the last 21 winners recorded a top four finish last time
17 of the last 21 winners had run previously at the Festival
Byrne Group Plate Form Preview
A very interesting race, and one which for a number of reasons is not a decent betting prospect for me. That said, I do have one I like against a couple of horses fancied by the market (but not especially by me). Let's deal with the market first, and the first point to make is that it generally gets this race wrong. Indeed, just two winning favourites in the last three decades tells its own story!
One of them was last year, however, when the Pipe plotters pilfered the pot with Salut Flo. The same connections are attempting the same feat this year with a horse called Ballynagour, and he's a warm favourite. On the evidence of his bolt up on British debut in a decent class handicap chase at Warwick last time, he's a seriously good horse. But the balance of his form is a little in and out, and he might not get his own way here. If he does, and wins, fair enough. But 4/1 or so is extremely short in a race like this, even for a Pipe hotpot.
Next up is Hunt Ball. The wonderful Hunt Ball. The highly weighted Hunt Ball. The Hunt Ball which wants better ground. No thanks, not this time.
The thing to note in this race is that historically north of 141 has been a hard rating to win from. This year, all bar the bottom eleven are above that figure. In a summary and swingeing cut off, I'll make those my 'starting eleven', with the exception of the 143-rated Cantlow.
Cantlow had multiple entries and I thought this would be the last place he'd end up. But, barring the Pipe plot, it looks an easier (note, not easy) race than his other possibles. He was third in the Pertemps Final last year on good ground, and has been doing is chase winning on heavy turf. So, no worries on that score. He's also looked progressive, beating the useful Oscara Dara and then smashing Dare Me in a pair of small field novice chases.
Obviously, this is a different game entirely, but he showed with that Pertemps run that the hurly-burly holds no fears, and he's expected to run very well in a race which has favoured lightly raced types recently.
Venetia Williams has had a field day in this race in recent years, and she's double handed with lightweights, Kapga de Cerisy and Carrickboy this time. I'm very sweet on the former and tipped him in an ATR piece I wrote a week or so ago.
He's progressive, as you need to be to win this, has battling qualities, goes in any ground, and has decent form. I think he's got an excellent each way chance.
Carrickboy is more exposed but has run two decent races round here. First, he unseated when travelling very well when unshipping four out; and then at the Festival last year, he was sixth of twenty in the Novices' Handicap Chase.
In truth, I think he's a bit to find with some of these, but his price of 33/1 reflects that and is acceptable in each way terms.
Domtaline has a rock solid trends profile for this, and allied to his trainer being Paul Nicholls, 25/1 looks a juicy price. He does have to prove he handles a big field, but the trip and ground could be plum. I'd be happy to take a chance at the odds.
And finally, Divers, a winner of the Novices' Handicap Chase in 2011 is just three pounds higher here. Seeing as we know conditions are optimal, he too is a big price.
Byrne Group Plate Tips
Obviously, Ballynagour could smash them all up, and Cantlow is a dangerous improver too. But at the prices, and with five places to go at, there's plenty of each way value towards the bottom of the handicap.
Most likely winners: Ballynagour, Cantlow
Each way three against the field: Kapga de Cerisy, Domtaline, Divers
4.40 FULKE WALWYN KIM MUIR CHALLENGE CUP HANDICAP CHASE (Amateur Riders) (CLASS 2) (5yo+ 0-145) (3m 1 1/2f)
Kim Muir Key Trends
15 of the last 20 renewals have been won by a horse aged eight or nine
All of the last twelve Kim Muir winners raced over at least three miles last time out
Only three of the last ten winners made the frame last time out, but all had done so in at least one of their last four runs
Kim Muir Form Preview
Three favourites have won this in the last six years, and all of them at decent prices, so the clear starting point is Super Duty. He's tough, consistent, goes on all ground, and stays well. These are strong credentials in a race like this, and he's ridden by top amateur Derek O'Connor. He ought to go close, but he has been beaten into second in four of his last five runs, so I'll look elsewhere for a possible pick.
Right down towards the bottom of the weights, Alfie Sherrin catches the eye. There's a strong chance that this is a prep race for the Grand National, and how ready he is for this needs to be taken on trust, but at 10/1, it's clear that a strong run is expected. He's a Festival winner (JLT Chase last year), and has a very good pilot in Alan Berry.
Prince Of Pirates is another which catches my eye, from the Hendo stable. Nico de Boinville, an amateur who is going pro next season, is an excellent jock, as he's shown on Petit Robin this season. The horse goes well on top of the ground, has won over hurdles in a big field round here, and is extremely lightly raced. He should get the trip ok, and a clear round ought to see him in the shake up.
There are plenty of others for which I could make a case, including Harry The Viking, Becauseicouldntsee, and Chartreux.
Kim Muir Tips
It's not a race I'll be looking to do anything more than get through the placepot in (if still going, natch!), and selections below are accorded token status.
Two against the field: Alfie Sherrin, Prince of Pirates
5.15 GLENFARCLAS HANDICAP CHASE (A Cross Country Chase) (CLASS 2) (5yo+) (3m7f)
Re-programmed after Tuesday's frosty course put paid to its original slot.
A looooong race, and one for specialists. I covered this recently in my Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase preview, and haven't changed my mind since then.
In a nutshell, then, this is a specialists' race where weight is less important than experience.
Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Key Stats
7/8 winners have been Irish-trained (the one 'failure' was when A New Story failed by a head to win last year)
8/8 had experience of the cross country course
Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Form Preview
Three horses vie for favouritism here: Arabella Boy, Outlaw Pete, and Uncle Junior. They're followed in close proximity in the market by Bostons Angel, Sizing Australia and Big Shu. But I don't make the race anywhere near as competitive as that! In fact, I reckon there are only four which can win, and only three which I think might win...
Last year's winner, Balthazar King, just clung on from the fourteen-year-old, A New Story, but is a late non-runner due to the soft ground. In my view, both of them benefited from the losses of Garde Champetre and Scotsirish, two classy horses who were almost certain to have played a hand in the finish.
He wasn't my idea of the winner, especially not on soft ground. Firstly, he hadn't run since mid-November and that had to be a concern. And secondly, he was beaten by the very slow Uncle Junior on that last run when he (Balthazar) was match fit. He'd had three months off prior to winning last year, so may go best fresh, but this is a long way to last out in the mud if you're only 98% ready. Anyway, he doesn't now go, so it's all immaterial.
The first of my trio of possibles is Outlaw Pete. He's really come to himself since trying cross country, and is a Festival virgin. Despite that, he's competed in both the course trials in November and December last year, finishing third on his first sight of the track and winning the other attempt by seven lengths from Bostons Angel (Uncle Junior and Arabella Boy both uncharacteristically unseated riders that day).
He's been kept on the boil since, with two runs in conventional handicap chases, where he's performed respectably, and I think he'll take a lot of beating on a course he now knows well enough. He looks nailed on for the frame, bar a fall or a 'wrong course' farce.
Arabella Boy is the latest off the Enda Bolger production line - Bolger's won this race four of the eight times it's been run - and as such is sure to have been extremely well drilled. The Boy has become something of a Punchestown cross country specialist, but unseated on his only attempt so far round Cheltenham's tied shoelace circuit. The ground has come right for him, as all his five career wins have been on soft or heavy going.
And the last one I'm drawn to is that old warhorse, A New Story. Yes, he's FIFTEEN years old. And what a story it would be if A New Story could win. If you think it's fanciful, then consider that he was beaten the length of a betting slip last year, and has a full record in this race of 34132. That's more impressive than any other runner, and though he could be regressive now, he's a big enough price to take a chance, off a similarly low profile build up to previous years.
Uncle Junior, Bostons Angel, and Sizing Australia are all too slow to win this; and Big Shu will be having only his second start outside of hunter chase/bumper fields, and his first sight of Cheltenham's track. That's enough for me to say 'no way'.
Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Tips
Arabella Boy will have everything to suit and looks the most likely winner, and at a fair price (around 5/1) as well. Outlaw Pete should also go very well. A New Story is a huge price and that - coupled with his race record - merits a throwaway investment.
Most likely Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase winner: Arabella Boy
Other strong contender: Outlaw Pete
Best each way bet: A New Story
Best Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Bookmaker Offer
If your horse is fifth, BetFred will refund the place part of each way bets as a free bet. (Not great, but better than nothing!)
And that concludes Thursday's action. It's normally the weakest day of the four, and after the last all roads will lead to Friday and the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself. There's a stellar supporting card and, of course, I'll be back with my thoughts on those races in due course.
Until then, best of luck with your Day Three wagers, and may your next bet need collecting.