Cheltenham Festival 2013: Day Two Preview
Day two (Wednesday) has good news and bad news for us. The good news is that there are still twenty races to go at. The bad news is that Day One is traditionally the easiest on which to find winners. Hmm, hope you had a decent start.
OK, no time for reflection, so let's push on with the first of the septet of Wednesday's fiendish equine sudoku's, the...
1.30 JOHN OAKSEY NATIONAL HUNT CHASE (Amateur Riders´
Novices´ Chase ) (CLASS 2) (5yo+) (4m)
Four miles. Amateur riders. Novice chasers. When deconstructing the ultimate safe wagering conveyance, it's Sprinter Sacre odds that you'd have any of that trio of conditions, let alone all three!
This is a stupid race, let's be clear about that from the outset. Even now they've made it a classier affair, you still see most of them fall over. Stupid. Hard luck punting stories are more abundant here than in a home for retired poker players. It's just stupid.
But... it does form the lead off leg for the placepot. And it has been won by the jolly old favourite for the past two years. So let's give it a lash.
National Hunt Chase Key Trends
Last two favourites won
8/11 finished 1-2 last time out
11/11 3+ chase starts
National Hunt Chase Form Preview
Back In Focus has had a great season so far, winning three novice chases, including a Grade 2 and a Grade 1 last time out. That's extremely strong form in this race. But the ground is a factor with him. He's done all his winning on soft or heavy, and when he came up against decent oppo on good turf at Aintree, he was stuffed senseless by Saint Are and most of the rest of the field. Lucky for him then, that it's on the soft side of good here.
Rival d'Estruval has been well backed for this, but I can't see it myself. He's been beating up mainly inferior rivals in the North and mostly on flat tracks. At the very least, he has to show he can win a Festival race on a seriously testing circuit, and the price doesn't allow for any wriggle room in that regard.
David Pipe's Buddy Bolero is filed firmly in the 'could be anything' dossier, and with all five of his runs to date having been on soft or heavy, his price acknowledges that he must have a great chance. Connections are obviously respected hugely, and he ought to run very well if standing up, especially as his breeding lends credence to the notion that he's an out and out stayer.
Godsmejudge ran a blinder to be second in the Grade 3 Warwick staying handicap chase, but he was running on fumes at the death, and this is three furlongs further up a big hill in sticky ground. It's hard to crab a horse which has almost won over further than the vast majority of his rivals for being a doubtful stayer... but I do have a stamina niggle with him, after he showed his hand somewhat that day.
With five starts to his name, Godsmejudge is experienced, and he jumps pretty well in the main too. If he's not taken on for the lead early, and he stands up, he should still be involved at least until they turn for home. After that, the 'judge may well run out of juice.
Of the remainder, I'm far from confident that Tofino Bay will stay this far; Highland Lodge looks a really hard horse to catch right and is maybe a bleeder (previously nominated by me for the RSA, alas); and Hawkes Point could plod on into a place.
National Hunt Chase Tips
Not a race to get seriously involved with, unless you're currently very rich and don't mind being only quite rich by day's end. The Mullins runner obviously has the class if he can put in a clear round, and Buddy Bolero may be best of the rest.
Best value for National Hunt Chase: Back In Focus
Other likely contenders: Buddy Bolero
Longshot if on a going day: Highland Lodge
Betfred will give you the place part of your e/w bet back as a free bet if your horse finishes fourth here.
2.05 NEPTUNE INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT NOVICES´ HURDLE (Registered Baring Bingham Novices´ Hurdle) Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (2m5f)
A small field this year, with just ten slated to meet the starter, and a warm favourite in Pont Alexadre. He's very well regarded at home, so is it really a one horse race?
Neptune Novices' Hurdle Key Stats
14/15 were aged five or six
12/15 won last time (15/15 1-2-3 last time)
14/15 unrated or rated 138+
14/15 ran 16-60 days ago
Neptune Novices' Hurdle Form Preview
Pont Alexandre has a perfect profile for this, and comes from the extremely powerful Willie Mullins yard. He is three from three over hurdles, a hat-trick which includes a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 score. Clearly, there's a bundle of improvement possible.
But... he's a 6/4 shot, and his jumping has looked less than perfect so far. It's for that reason that I'm prepared to take him on at the price, despite his otherwise robust credentials.
The New One has been the apple of his trainer's eye for a while now, and he thinks this fellow might even be better than his Gold Cup winner, Imperial Commander. That's as maybe, but it's his credentials for this contest we're interested in, and they look good. He ran a fine race in the Champion bumper here on this day last year, and he again ran well here when just headed by At Fisher's Cross the last day.
Lest you think he's not quite good enough on these slopes, let me assure you that he's won twice here as well, in a Listed bumper and a decent novice hurdle. The ground will be no issue as it's what he's raced on for the most part this season, and his current form level puts him right in the mix.
Moreover, it was widely held that his jockey went too soon that day, and he's likely to be played later here, if he's still pitching with prospects.
Taquin de Seuil is the third musketeer at the top of the market, and he's an ex-flat racer from France. This contest is almost always won by a National Hunt type - that is, a more stoutly bred horse - and that's a negative for TdS. However, a four race hurdle career which has only one - small margin - defeat, and that to My Tent Or Yours, reads well enough.
He ought to be fine on the ground too, and ran on very nicely in a Grade 1 last time despite a novice'y leap at the last. He's clearly got a chance, but I just have a niggle about his flat breeding (by a ten furlong horse out of a miler) for such a stiff stamina examination.
Rule The World was something of a shock winner last time, but he was a facile one too and, though the form is suspect with long odds on Champagne Fever (winner of the Supreme Novices Hurdle on day one) running a clunker, it's hard to discredit the winner. His form profile looks quite solid too, with progression from race to race, and Minsk - a well beaten second last time - is a decent enough form stick.
With the turf not too distance a relation to the hock-deep quags he's been swimming though, and being that he's by a sire whose progeny have a marked preference for making a mark in the turf, Sulamani, he's sure to cope with the conditions. Whether he's good enough remains to be seen, but he should travel for a long way.
Chatterbox is the sort of 'now' horse which can do well in these type of events. Evidently not highly rated by his trainer when sent to contest a Huntingdon bumper in April last year, he was never in front until the line. Since then, he's won twice more and remains unbeaten.
The first of those two victories was eye-catching, because he beat none other than My Tent Or Yours by nearly five lengths. Now it's highly likely that the bare form flatters Chatterbox - a flatterbox, if you will - but nevertheless, you need to be good to even nick a race off My Tent.
He has since confirmed his upward form curve by beating the highly regarded Lac Fontana in a race which looks like it's going to work out well. Charlie Morlock, assistant trainer at Hendo's yard, reported that Chatterbox has improved a fair bit recently and, allied to a step up in trip - which looks ideal based on the way he's finished his races - this fellow could get on the podium.
Two Rockers is progressive and has been winning easily, including in Grade 2 company at Haydock last time, and he might get into it if not getting outpaced, but I doubt it.
I don't see the rest being quite good enough.
Neptune Novices' Hurdle Tips
Most Likely Winner: Pont Alexandre
Best Alternative: The New One (if not bitten by the bug at Twiston-Davies' yard)
Interesting at a price: Chatterbox
2.40 RSA CHASE (Grade 1) (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (3m 1/2f)
A decent race for me down the years, and I've a couple of strong-ish views again, which I've supported financially, natch! You definitely want a horse that stays here, and a grinder too, as they go at it from a long way out.
RSA Chase Key Stats
Last ten won or placed in a Grade 1 or 2 chase
14 of the last 15 finished first or second last time out
It's fifty years since a horse won this without a run in the same calendar year (!)
All of the last fifteen winners ran between 16 and 60 days prior
Every Feltham winner to run here has been beaten.
RSA Chase Form Preview
So it looks like a recent run and a good one at that, allied to a proven level of class, are pre-requisites here. Despite that sounding obvious, not all of the entries fit that fairly broad bill.
Dynaste, for instance, hasn't run since Boxing Day last year. He won the Feltham there too, which is a completely contrasting race to this, with speed favoured over guts and grinding. He's surely better suited to the Jewson, which is where he's headed.
Boston Bob is next in the betting and this boy is a classy plodder: just the attributes you need to win an RSA Chase. Last year, he was many people's 'banker' (if such a thing even exists), but got beaten by the late Brindisi Breeze. Since he's gone chasing, he's two from two, the latter in a Grade 1 which has been a very good trial for this.
But, despite winning both chase starts, he was all out and seriously laboured each time. The first day, he scrambled home by half a length from an above average (though nothing special) type called You Must Know Me, over two and a half miles.
Entitled to come on a lot for that - indeed, entitled to feel that race afterwards - Bob didn't surface again until 9th February, where he again got home by the skin of his teeth. But this time, the performance should be marked up considerably on the bare winning distances. He was outpaced as the field made a break for the line, and looked set to trail home in fourth place. In fact, he traded as high as 620 in running on Betfair!
But, in an impressive rally, Boston Bob made up five lengths from the last fence to nut Texas Jack on the line. Like I say, the bare form isn't good enough to win an RSA. But I expect him to improve considerably for the extra three furlongs here, perhaps by as much as seven to ten pounds. After all, he's only had the two chase starts to date.
My one concern with Boston Bob is that he does get outpaced in his races but, if he can hang on to the flailing tails of the leaders just before the home turn, he'll quite probably catch them and pass them up the hill.
Unioniste is also well fancied in the market, but he's not well fancied by me. Firstly, he's a five year old, and the allowances have long since stopped being dolled out from the days when Star de Mohaison won for that age group back in 2006. That day, Star got ten pounds from his rivals. Here, Unioniste will get just two pounds.
More telling than that, though, is that I'm just not sure he'll stay. Yes, he won the December Gold Cup well enough over two miles five here at Cheltenham, becoming the first four year old to win a handicap chase at Cheltenham in the process. But it's an extra half mile, give or take 100 yards here, and he was flat-out-all-out to hold the bungling Hadrian's Approach at Newbury. For me, he's far too short and I can see him possibly missing the frame here.
That rival, Hadrian's Approach, has a really tasty profile for the RSA. He's had four goes at chasing: a winner from the useful The Druids Nephew on debut, he then fell four out when going well behind the useful Harry Topper in a Grade 2.
After that, he went to the Feltham where he was no match for Dynaste, but he was the clear second best that day. If the Feltham winner struggles in the RSA, it's interesting that those who laboured behind the trailblazer there have gone on to win SIX RSA Chases, and three in the last eight years. Bobs Worth last year was the latest to achieve that.
And on his most recent start, Hadrian's Approach was beaten just a short head by Unioniste over Newbury's three miles. He absolutely horlicksed the second last and, but for that shuddering mistake, would surely have won by three lengths and been close to favouritism for this subsequently. I feel strongly that Hadrian's will finish his RSA race better than Unioniste, and I think he's the biggest danger to Boston Bob.
I really like this horse and, if his jumping holds up, he's got to go close.
RSA Chase Tips
Most Likely Winner: Boston Bob
Best Each Way: Hadrian's Approach
3.20 SPORTINGBET QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m)
Likely to be a coronation procession this year, Sprinter Sacre looks unopposable. He's still only a second season chaser so has yet to claim a Champion Chase. Surely that will no longer be the case by 3.30pm on Wednesday.
Queen Mother Champion Chase Key Stats
13/15 had previously won at Cheltenham
13/15 finished 1-2-3 last time out
Queen Mother Champion Chase Form Preview
There's little point going into too much detail here. Sprinter Sacre will win and some other horses will finish second and third, presumably at a very respectful distance. Actually, there's only seven runners and therefore two places, so that rather buggers up things for place players... unless some very generous bookie type offers three places in an act of benevolence bordering on business suicide.
In truth, it's bar a fall stuff, and if Coral are still offering their £20 at evens on Sprinter Sacre, you should gladly accept. It's not money in the bank, but if he jumps round, the 100% interest rate is as close to that as you get in equine investment terms.
For the places,it's quite tricky to envisage Sizing Europe being more competitive this time aged eleven than he was last year aged ten, and against a far better horse.
We're then into the realms of 16/1 Mail de Bievre, a French import who looks capable on his best form, and might well make the frame if he doesn't bounce (only one starts since September 2011).
It's 20/1 the rest, and perhaps 25/1 Somersby is the place answer. This chap has good form at Cheltenham: he was third in the 2009 Supreme; second in the 2010 Arkle; fifth in the 2011 Champion Chase; and a non-staying seventh in the 2012 Ryanair Chase.
I'd rather cheer my even twenty quid on Sprinter Sacre than bet anything else, but Somersby could nick the place payout at a price which rewards taking the chance.
Queen Mother Champion Chase Tips
Most Likely Winner: Erm... Sprinter Sacre
Best Each Way: Somersby
Best Queen Mother Champion Chase Bookie Offer
Sprinter Sacre at even money? Really?! Yes! (£20 max stake)
4.00 Coral Cup Grade 3 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (2m5f)
A trappy but not impossible handicap hurdle over an intermediate distance, and the market has generally had at least some view on the race with nine of the last ten winners being 16/1 or shorter.
Coral Cup Key Stats
11/12 Carried 11-02 or less
7/15 won last time out (12/15 top six last time)
14/15 aged five to eight years
14/15 Rated 127-142
Only two horses from 180 to try won this within 30 days of their last race.
Thirteen horses from 202 to try won this off a break of between 31 and 120 days.
Coral Cup Form Preview
The two I like are Barbatos and Meister Eckhart, both as big priced speculatives in a wide open race where they bet 7/1 the field.
Meister Eckhart is my first choice, and Alan King’s five year old was a smart novice last year that is well regarded by his handler.
A winner of only one of his quartet of hurdles runs, he been second and third in Grade 2 races, and a respectable fifth in the Albert Bartlett here last March.
His stamina ran out over those three miles, so this drop back might be ideal. Being lightly raced, he has scope to improve and this is a race which has favoured unexposed second season hurdlers in recent times (six of the last eight winners). A general 16/1 looks good.
Barbatos is worth a second glance. He's only run once this season, behind Mr Watson, on ground he would have hated and after a year off. Last season, he was a very nice novice, finishing second and third in Grade 2 races at around this trip behind Fingal Bay. He finished that season with a course and distance win on good to soft, and I'd expect him to be spot on for this, though he may not want it super-sticky underfoot.
Dangers are everywhere. Trying to name all of them is a fool's task, but key amongst them may be Pendra, and Mr Watson.
Pendra is very lightly raced, and highly regarded by the Charlie Longsdon team. In four starts, he's won three and was second to the very good Melodic Rendezvous in a Grade 1 at Sandown most recently. Although unlikely to have beaten much (or indeed anything) in two Plumpton novices, the Grade 1 form looks rock solid with all three of the horses to have come out of the race (winner, fifth and seventh) winning their subsequent starts.
Pendra quickened up smartly there and just got outspeeded by the winner. The pair pulled seven lengths clear of the rest, and the way Pendra jumped the last - quick and athletic - suggests he'll stay at least some of the extra trip of the Coral Cup.
Mr Watson absolutely bolted up at Cheltenham last time, and I for one was surprised with the facile nature of that win. He'd been allotted a mark of 127 there, and now has 139. He'll probably need to improve another seven pounds to win here, and that's certainly possible. Before his two race winning run (which has coincided with the application of a hood - he wears it again here), he was beaten by Melodic Rendezvous, and the margin of defeat there was similar to Pendra's, which implies Mr Watson might have a similar chance to the favourite at a slightly bigger price.
Coral Cup Tips
Clearly, luck in running as well as being favoured by race conditions and having a workable handicap mark are all required to get to the jamstick in front here. That's an unfathomable combination to crack, so it makes sense to side - small stakes - with horses at a price.
Decent Each Way play: Meister Eckhart
Other possible each way plays: Barbatos, Mr Watson
4.40 FRED WINTER JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE GRADE 3 (CLASS 1) (4yo) (2m 1/2f)
One of the new races, the Fred Winter is growing in class but remains a very trappy puzzle, largely because of the ability lights being hidden under handicap mark bushels. Or, to put it another way, trainers trying to get their horses well handicapped!
Fred Winter Key Trends
7/8 winners had run twice since January 1st
5/8 winners won last time out (+29.50 to level stakes)
7/8 winners had run within 30 days
8/8 winners made British/Irish debut after 30th November
7/8 winners failed to win until at least their third run
Fred Winter Form Preview
This, like the novices handicap chase on the first day, is a plotters' race. Those who show their ability to the handicapper too early get whacked with an uncompetitive weight, and the winner of this race usually improves about ten pounds on what they've previously achieved (publicly). There's also a really interesting trend towards the best flat rated horse running very well.
Only one winner was rated higher than 130, and I'll use that as a ceiling here, with those capable of that (and more) but rated much lower my focus.
Last time out winners have also performed extremely well, and using the key trends above my shortlist is Saphir Du Rheu, Ptit Zig, Another Sensation, Habesh, and Ibsen.
Let's start with the Nicholls pair. Saphir Du Rheu and Ptit Zig have similar profiles, both having been acquired from France, and both having had just the one run this year. Saphir Du Rheu was impressive when slamming God Of The Kop, while Ptit Zig put the useful bumper horse, New Years Eve in his place.
The form of neither race has worked out so far however, with Ptit Zig's contest seeing twelve horses race since, none win and only two place. Saphir's race can at least boast one winner from the ten subsequent runners.
Another Sensation is a really interesting one. Apparently working very well, his form is nothing to speak of. But... he was only about four lengths down and closing when unseating at the last at Sandown last time, having been a good ten lengths back at the second last. That burst of speed marks him up as a contender here, if his jumping holds up.
Habesh would have been seriously interesting on decent ground. A winner of a heavy ground juvenile hurdle on his third start last September, he's not been seen since in National Hunt circles. But he has had two runs on the flat at Dundalk and improved nicely from the first to the second of those. His trainer is adamant that he's way better on good ground and it looks like the plot might have come unstuck with the rain. Nevertheless, he's a better chance than his price implies.
And lastly, my eye is drawn to a horse rated in the 50's on the flat, Ibsen. Yes, I appreciate that might sound daft, but Mysilv was only rated 63 on the flat and she was able to win a Triumph, so it is possible. Anyway, this fellow was a late developer, not winning until his seventh flat start, and that in a field of sixteen. He proved that was no fluke by doubling up next time in higher class, and a field of nine.
But I suspect he needs a strong pace to go at, as his previous best performance had been when fifth of 23. In three runs over hurdles, he's yet to win. But he's also yet to be lower than second, and I'm pretty sure he'll be sticking on up the hill like a good'un, especially if they go fast early.
Obviously, not many of these picks are sexy top stables, which means the prices should hold. And of course, there's a chance they all run clunkers and my plot theory unravels. But, in a wide open race, I'd rather take a punt on a price than row in with a shortie, whichever beast history may record as the winner.
Fred Winter Tips
Clearly, not a straightforward race to handicap. I've elected to ignore the top ones, as history has shown that they have a heck of a lot to do here. And, in any case, if they were that good, they'd be running in the Triumph Hurdle, and not the consolation race.
Thereafter, it's a plotplotplot for me please.
Most interesting towards the top of the market: Another Sensation
Possible Irish jobs, and worthy of each way tickling: Habesh, Ibsen
5.15 WEATHERBYS CHAMPION BUMPER Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4-6yo) (2m 1/2f)
Always a good test of raw horses, and very tricky to find a winner from so many unexposed 'could be anything' beasts generally.
Weatherbys Champion Bumper Key Stats
Big field experience seems crucial. Champagne Fever became the first horse not to have previously won a bumper with at least thirteen runners. And he was second in one!
The last nine winners all won last time out, and thirteen of the last fifteen did too.
11/15 won by five year olds, with three won by six year olds and the 4yo Cue Card completing the last fifteen years.
11/15 won by the Irish (six for Willie Mullins)
Weatherbys Champion Bumper Form Preview
Sheesh, where do we start here? It's a race where every horse could be nice in future, and it's not a race in which I'll be betting, truth be told. If you must have a bet, then here are some thoughts, for what they're worth.
The obvious place to start is with Willie Mullins, given that he's won six of the last fifteen runnings. Of his trio of entries, Union Dues might be the pick, but all of them have been running in small fields and this is a different story.
Golantilla is the highest rated on official figures, and he has won both a point-to-point and his bumper in easy fashion. He was 'expected' when winning at Cork the last day, and has since changed hands for a bundle of cash. Sure to be a lovely chaser in due course, the form of the bumper hasn't worked out yet, though it's not the fault of the thirteen length victor.
Regal Encore is trained by Anthony Honeyball, who trains a horse for the geegeez syndicate, and I'd absolutely love it (in Kevin Keegan parlance) if this fellow - snapped up by JP McManus - could give Anthony a maiden Festival winner. Certainly, he's murdered all-comers in his two runs to date, the latter an eight length battering of Be Bop Boru at Chepstow.
That win was every bit as impressive as Golantilla's, and that's why he's second top rated, a pound behind the Irish horse. It's a race which has worked out well too, with the second and sixth winning three races between them, and the third, fourth and fifth all making the frame since.
Le Vent d'Antan ran green as grass on debut, but was still six lengths too good for the rest, and he's another lovely big chaser-in-the-making (apologies for the cliche, I've used hyphens to accentuate the point!). But he took his time to pick up there, and the five horses to come out of the race have managed just one place between them.
Yes, it seems the pick of the form might be with Mr Honeyball's beast, and I'll be screaming the place down if that's clambering the hill with McCoy in full drive. Good luck, Anthony!
Weatherbys Champion Bumper Tips
Not a race to go mad in, but Regal Encore sets a good standard, and a layoff is no bad thing in this contest. Golantilla and Union Dues head the 'respected' category, but it's one of those races where whatever wins will make sense after the event, so don't go too mad here.
Best (and most wanted) each way selection: Regal Encore
Others with obvious chances: Golantilla, Union Dues
And that brings us to half way. It will have been a challenging run so far, and very well done if you get to the half time oranges level or, heaven help you, in front. But there will be many more battles to come over the final two days, and geegeez will be right there with you. So stay tuned. And the very best of luck for your day two Wednesday wagers.