Cheltenham Festival 2015: Day Four Preview, Trends, Tips
The final day of four, and history dictates that it is the trickiest, Gold Cup Day at the Cheltenham Festival is as tough a punting challenge as there is in the noble sport of horse racing. As a convenient and local barometer of that, consider that the placepot on Gold Cup day last year paid a whopping £44,616.30 for £1. And that was 'merely' to find six placed horses!
Even by Day Four standards, last year was something of a bloodbath for punters. And it may be no different this time either. For me, that means a lightish betting day - Triumph and Foxhunters' aside - and simultaneously pulling out the padlock for the wallet and the beer goggles at 4.15pm.
All that said, as always, I have some opinions and, perhaps more importantly, some data, to help you form your own opinions on 'play' or 'pass'.
The show commences, as ever, at 1.30pm, with the...
1.30 Triumph Hurdle
Not nearly as trappy a race as it used to be, with the inception of the Fred Winter Hurdle in 2005 thinning the field to quality over quantity and restricting the amount of hard luck stories. Of course, it's still a conundrum and is usually the first confluence of Anglo-Irish formlines at the top level.
As such, it makes sense to look at any trends from 2005 onwards, which gives us ten years to play with.
Aside from 33/1 Countrywide Flame in 2012 (tipped here, woohoo), the biggest priced winner in the past decade has been 10/1 Tiger Roll (last year, not tipped here, boooo). And only four of the 30 horses placed 1-2-3 have been priced higher than 20/1. Given that almost exactly half of all entries (93 of 187) were priced higher than 20/1, that looks material.
The pick of the trainers have been Alan King (two winners, four more placed, from twelve runners); Philip Hobbs (a winner and two placed from four runners); Nicky Henderson (two winners, two places, from twelve runners); and Paul Nicholls (two winners, two places, from 15 runners).
Willie Mullins has saddled eleven runners in the last decade, with just one making the frame.
Most notably perhaps, of the 78 horses to have run in a Grade 1 or 2 contest last time, seven won here, and a further 14 were placed. That group includes 33/1 scorer Countrywide Flame (and it's how I picked him out, woohoo) and 10/1 scorer Tiger Roll (boooo), both of which were placed in the Grade 1 Spring Hurdle prior to Triumph glory.
The 1-2-3 in that race this year was Petite Parisienne, Kalkir, and Prussian Eagle. The first two are in the Triumph with the last named declining his invitation to carry top weight in the Fred Winter.
All ten winners, and 29 of the 30 placed horses, finished 1-2-3 last time out.
So those are the trends, but what about the form?
The favourite is Nicky Henderson's Peace And Co, a position he's occupied in the market for a long time. Since coming over from France, he's won two Grade 2's in Britain in two starts: the Finesse Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Summit Hurdle at Doncaster. And he's done the job nicely enough. But around 2/1 in a field of unexposed types overstates his chance in my view. Beating the consistent but four-time bridesmaid (best man, perhaps?) Karezak three lengths is a solid but unspectacular piece of form, and I think there are at least two better lines at bigger prices.
Neither of them belong to second choice Hargam. Listed class on the flat, Hargam represents the same trainer - Henderson - as favourite Peace And Co, and has similar claims on a line through Karezak. He also has less compelling claims on a line through Starchitect, and though both are open to significant improvement, so are many/most of this field.
Hendo also saddles Top Notch, a likeable unbeaten hurdler, who has largely been serving up on soft ground. What he's beaten thus far is open to question, but the manner of his performances is not. He's duffed up his rivals to date, and comes here high on confidence if not collateral form. At the prices, he'd be an interesting play to be the pick of the Henderson three.
Back to those better form lines - or at least better value, in my view - and the first belongs to Beltor, a horse from an unheralded stable who would surely be vying for favouritism if trained by Mullins, Nicholls or Hendo. Beltor is trained by Welsh freshman handler, Robert Stephens, and he's looked a seriously good horse in two runs to date.
First, on debut in what the market made a match race, he pooped on the punters' protagonists by scoring on the bridle at 16/1. The second horse there, Arabian Revolution, ran all right in the Fred Winter on Wednesday, having won a Class 2 easily (with the 17L 3rd there winning a decent Sandown handicap since) in between times. And then, last time out, in the Grade 2 Adonis Hurdle - along with the Spring Hurdle, the other pre-eminent trial for this - Beltor absolutely hacked up by five lengths on the bridle from the re-opposing Bivouac.
All Yours, a well thumped five length second in the Adonis, was beaten less than that in the Fred Winter.
With just two hurdle starts to his name, he has bags of scope, and the manner of his wins suggest there's a fair bit more to come. He's a strong travelling sort, and is the wrong price here. Moreover, although his two hurdle wins have come on soft, the pick of his (granted, fairly moderate) flat form was on good ground. I'm on.
The other line I like is the Spring Hurdle, of course, won by Petite Parisienne, with stablemate Kalkir two lengths back in second, and Prussian Eagle (3L away) the only other horse within twenty lengths. The winner there is a filly and she gets a seven pound allowance for that, a concession that could prove most generous come 1.35pm.
Petite Parisienne had been notably weak in the market (though still sent off at 9/10 - was 8/13 in the morning) when beaten by the other Gigginstown horse in the race, Chatham House Rule, on debut. She improved markedly from that showing to the Spring Hurdle and was a slightly cosy victor at the finish that last day. She'll need to improve again, of course, which is likely rather than possible with so few hurdling miles on the clock.
Kalkir was talked up early in the season, and there were grounds for marking his form up the last twice in defeat (the first run when tanking for much of the early part of the race; and then he was in front plenty early enough in the Spring Hurdle, and stuck on resolutely enough). I'm not excited by his chance - and I have two vouchers with his name on - but he's a credible podium player still.
Stable mate Dicosimo makes up the Mullins trident, but he looks one for the future, and I'd think he'll be seen to better effect over three miles and with bigger obstacles in his way.
In case you missed the inference from the above waffles, it means that six of the first seven in the betting are trained by just two men: three each for Wullie and Hendo. Into that throng, Robert Stephens thrusts his potent weapon. Oo-er!
Further down the lists, there have been bullish noises about Alan King's Pain Au Chocolat. Given the stable record in the race, he could be a tasty (geddit?!) each way play, but his form makes him no more appealing than that. He's out of a sprint sire, and has yet to race in Britain over hurdles on anything other than soft ground, both of which are pertinent reservations in the context of a fast ground Triumph Hurdle.
The same yard's Karezak has, as mentioned, been seen off by four different horses and, while he's a solid yardstick, he has much less scope to step forward than the majority here. The race may be handicapped through his performance, but in many ways it would anchor the form were he to make the frame.
Likely Pace Angles:
There doesn't look to be bundles of early pace here, though Stars Over The Sea should be front rank. Officer Drivel may also get a call or two in the early furlongs.
Triumph Hurdle Tips:
1 1/2 pt each way Beltor 7/1 general
1/2 pt each way Petite Parisienne 10/1 Stan James (1/4 1-2-3-4)
Best Triumph Hurdle offers:
Stan James the only bookie so far paying four places. This might change, with others doing likewise, so do check before placing your bet.
2.05 County Hurdle
If it wasn't tricky enough, finding a winner just got a whole lot more difficult. The County Hurdle is a frighteningly open race every year and, though I nominated 50/1 scorer Silver Jaro here in 2008, it's been a long quiet haul since then. In the intervening six years, Wullie and the Denizen of Ditcheat (Paul Nicholls) have bagged a brace each, all at double digit odds; and Irish trainers have claimed the other two renewals as well.
Indeed, since 2003, the score reads Irish trainers 7, Paul Nicholls 4, The Rest 1. And the one was Martin Pipe! We'll keep that in mind as we shimmy through a few trends...
Last time out winners have won six County Hurdles since 1997, which equates to 35% winners from 17% runners. They were not profitable to back, unsurprisingly, and finishing position looks an unhelpful factor from a wagering perspective, as it largely nods to the top of the market.
Probably the most material consideration is age, with nine winners in the last sixteen renewals being five years old. As with so many of the Festival handicaps, we're looking at young progressive unexposed horses, capable of a good bit more than their current handicap mark gives credit.
To emphasise this point, five and six year olds have won twelve of the last sixteen renewals (75%) from around half the runners. Again, it's not enough in itself to make you rich - or even profitable - but it's a strong pointer towards the subset of runners likely to contain the winner.
Moreover, since Blowing Wind's victory as a five year old in 1998 carrying 11-08, all of the other eleven five or six year olds to win had eleven stone or less on their backs.
As a micro-system, five year olds carrying 11 stone or less, having won last time out are two from five in the last four years, courtesy of 10/1 Final Approach and 11/1 Lac Fontana. Gary Moore's Violet Dancer may add to that tally, though he'd likely be attempting to make all, which is a tough ask, and he carries 11-07 in what is a most compressed handicap.
To the form book, albeit briefly, as too much study in a race like this is likely to end in frustration and disappointment. There are easier fish to fry than the County Hurdle, the Festival's equivalent of Japanese fugu, and as we're not starving and don't need the questionable sustenance of a sushi repast, I'll leave it at that.
The Game Changer is close to the head ofthe lists and, while it has not been a good race for favourites (how could such a ferocious heat be a good race for any specific market rank?), his is an obvious chance. Trained by Irish handler Gordon Elliott, The Game Changer has been off the track for over five months since running third to Rebel Fitz in a Grade 2. Saved from the deep ground in Ireland through the winter, he'll likely not struggle for fitness given his yard, but still, pitching into this cauldron after 159 days off is a big ask.
The other at the head of the market is Quick Jack, for Tony Martin and owner John Breslin, who teamed up to win this with Ted Veale two years ago. Not seen over hurdles for 412 days, the magnitude of the required training performance is mitigated somewhat by a third in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket on the level a 'mere' 153 days ago. Again, connections offer every hope that the layoff can be overcome. And, with just six hurdle starts to his name, he fits the bill of a young lightly raced progressive sort perfectly.
Indeed, wins here and then a close third in a hugely competitive heat in Ireland last January point squarely to there being a LOT more in the tank. He must have a squeak granted luck in running, though his hold up style could lead to traffic issues.
Willie Mullins won this in 2010 and 2011. He didn't have a runner in 2012, and he was responsible for the second in 2013 and 2014 (as well as the 4th last year, too). Clearly then, whatever he runs is to be considered, but that doesn't help too much, as he has five declared!
That said, Max Dynamite and Sempre Medici are probably the pick, and should go close. Ignoring his last run where he was never in it in a Grade 1 - it could be argued he was never put in it... - Sempre Medici's form ties in closely with Jollyallan on Kempton running, and he was a facile winner of a maiden hurdle before that. Just three hurdle starts on the board gives him huge scope to progress, and the trainer's record says he will progress here.
Max Dynamite is the choice of Ruby Walsh, who has won this race four times, thrice for Paul Nicholls and once for Wullie. A Group 1 performer in France before switching to hurdles, he's had just three starts. A comfortable maiden hurdle win on debut was followed by second to Kitten Rock in a Listed event and finally a never-at-the-races fourth of five in a Grade 2 a month ago. That will have put him spot on for this and, given Ruby's first dibs on the quintet, it'll be a surprise if he's not the shortest priced of them come post time.
There are another twenty I could have mentioned but haven't, and I'll take my chances from those listed below.
Likely Pace Angles:
Strangely, not a huge amount of obvious pace, and it's possible that Violet Dancer will get a relatively uncontested lead. He might be dangerous in that scenario, as he was when making most in the Betfair Hurdle last time out. Orgilgo Bay, Lucky Bridle and Aso are others who could make it, and a prominent position will likely be an advantage.
County Hurdle Tips:
1/2 pt e/w Max Dynamite 20/1 (PP, paying FIVE places)
1/2 pt e/w Quick Jack 8/1 (PP, paying FIVE places)
Best County Hurdle offers:
Look for a bookie paying FIVE places
2.40 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle
'The potato race' as it's known, the Albert Bartlett has a mixed bag of future performers on its roll of honour. From RSA Chase and Gold Cup winner, Bobs Worth, to the barely heard of since likes of Berties Dream. Throw in At Fishers Cross, Wichita Lineman, Black Jack Ketchum and others, and it's a real head-scratcher of a heat historically.
It's also one where my own record is lamentable, and I will say right now that I don't have a strong handle on the form in the staying novice hurdle division. Perhaps some trendage will assist...
Just ten renewals to date, and winners have ranged from evens to 33/1 (twice). Whilst half the Albert Bartlett winners thus far also won last time out, they were horribly unprofitable to follow as a group, and those finishing second to fourth that last day have been more akin to punters' pals. Indeed, from less runners (68 compared with 80 last day winners), they've claimed the same number of prizes, and have notched an SP profit of 29 points in the process.
That is, of course, by dint of those two 33/1 pokes swelling their ranks, and it is worth taking a second to look at the Very Wood/Berties Dream angle in what looks an open renewal. Both were running on soft ground last time, both were running in Grade 2 company last time, and both were running at around two and a half miles last time.
Put another way, both were stepping up in trip and getting better ground under their hooves, having run respectably in decent class races under unsuitable conditions. But it gets better...
When I entered this quirky little angle into a system builder tool - last ran at around 2m4f, finished 2nd to 4th there on soft or deeper ground in Grade 1 or 2 company - I discovered that there were FOUR winners from just 13 qualifiers, and another two placed!
The other winners were Nenuphar Collonges and Weapon's Amnesty, at 9/1 and 8/1 respectively, and the placers were Powerstation 9/1 in 2006 and Apache Jack 20/1 last year. But it gets better still, as those unplaced horses often ran well too: Masters Hill was 5th at 66/1 last year, Le Bec was 6th at 28/1 in 2013, and Back To Bid was 4th at 33/1 in 2006. Yikes!
Qualifiers this time are... Value At Risk, Shantou Bob, and Milsean.
I do quite like Shantou Bob, and have risked a speculative on him at 33/1, the same price as that other pair of bombs in the race. And Milsean is 50/1 and has a similar profile to Very Wood, in the same Gigginstown ownership.
Meanwhile, at the top of the market, Irish runners dominate. Black Hercules is fighting it out for favouritism with No More Heroes, and Martello Tower is third choice in most lists.
I'm against Black Hercules. All his best (winning) form is on soft and heavy ground, and with it being good at the moment, there's a chance he'll be inconvenienced by that. Moreover, he's yet to win above Grade 3 level.
No More Heroes is at the same level as the Mullins runner, with his best so far being a Grade 2 win in a small field. He's likely to appreciate the longer trip, too, and he'd be interesting in a match with Black Hercules.
Martello Tower has won two Grade 3's, but he's been beaten both times he stepped up to Grade 2 company. First when he was arguably going to win but fell, and then when outpaced behind Outlander. On collateral form, there may not be as much between him and No More Heroes as the market suggests.
Value At Risk is the best of the British, according to the market at least. He too has a nice profile for this race, if improving for the quicker ground. In a race where I'm tilting at windmills for loose change, I'll reluctantly sidestep him, though I hope he runs really well for connections.
A horse I love is Fletcher's Flyer, and he'll be my third, well, flyer in this race. A wide margin winner of a Punchestown bumper last April, he's been running well all winter despite a suspicion that he'd prefer better ground. He'll get that here, so we'll be able to put the theory to the test, and at around 25/1.
So many unexposed horses, plenty of them encountering quicker ground for the first time in a while, and stepping up to three miles for the first time ever means it may be reckless to be bullish at the top of the market. As such, I'm happy to tickle three at prices, and try to get through the placepot.
Likely Pace Angles:
Wullie has three who could go on: Milsean, Black Hercules and Measureofmydreams. Teafortwo, Thomas Brown, Fletchers Flyer, Blaklion and Native River are other front rank sorts in a race loaded with pace. It will likely be very hard work in the last half mile, so a stout stayer that goes on top of the ground is key.
Albert Bartlett Hurdle Tips:
1/2 pt Shantou Bob 33/1 general
1/2 pt Milsean 50/1 general
1/2 pt Fletchers Flyer 25/1 Boyle, BetVictor
Best Albert Bartlett Hurdle offers:
3.20 Cheltenham Gold Cup
And so to the Gold Cup, the main event of the week. And what a race it is this year. The field is headed by the obvious form choice, Silviniaco Conti (note, for the hard of pronunciation, that's Sill-vinn-ee-arh-co Con-tee 😉 ). But he's been here before. Twice. And been beaten twice. First he was sunk by an errant leap before stamina came into play. And then he ran out of juice up the hill, plain and simple.
Various ailments were put forward as excuses, and no doubt Signor Conti has had several wind op's and got enough loyalty points from his local apothecary to fly business class around the world. Which is to say that he makes the market for everything else, and I don't expect him to win.
So... who will? Well that's no easier question to answer now than it was when I previewed the Gold Cup on 9th January. I personally have various interesting bets in place, including those tipped back at the turn of the year, and will not be topping up my portfolio. After all, I'm on most of them already!
As well as the advice below, I have these two very interesting 'flyers' from the start of the season. I'm not suggesting they'll win, but I really hope one of them does!
Likely Pace Angles:
Coneygree WILL attempt to lead. Road To Riches and On His Own may ensure that Coneygree is not on his own... This will be fast and furious and if your nag doesn't stay, you won't get your pay. 😉
2 pts Road To Riches 8/1 non-runner no bet [now 12/1]
1 pt Lord Windermere 16/1 all in run or not [now 18/1]
0.5 pt Sam Winner 33/1 non-runner no bet
0.5 pt Al Ferof 33/1 non-runner no bet (money back as doesn't run)
Gold Cup Tips:
Nothing to add to the above
Best Gold Cup offers:
A number of bookies are paying FOUR places. These include Skybet, Tote, Betfred and Ladbrokes
4.00 Foxhunters' Chase
Of all the amateur riders' races at the Festival this is the one I like most. The reason is that it's far less competitive than the others. And, even when an outsider - like Zemsky - wins, it's normally still gettable. All of the last ten winners have been aged ten or younger, despite only representing 63% of the runners.
That's as good as it gets trends-wise, although the two key trends race are the Champion Hunter Chase at Stratford, and the Raymond Smith Hunter Chase at Leopardstown.
In the Stratford race, Paint The Clouds was an easy winner from Shoreacres, Foundry Square and Pearlysteps. While in the Leopardstown race, Prince De Beauchene (not qualified for this) just beat On The Fringe, with a way back to Need To Know and dual Foxhunters' winner, Salsify.
Let's cut to the chase: I think Paint The Clouds is a great bet. I've backed him for my joint-biggest stake of the week and I'd be really hopeful that this normally sound-jumping prominent-racing good ground-loving ten year old will run them ragged, as he did in the Stratford Foxhunters' and, indeed, as he has done in all four of his hunter chases to date. No rival has got closer than the eight lengths margin Shoreacres ran him to at Stratford, and over that three and a half mile trip, Paint The Clouds may have been getting to the end of his stamina rope.
I have a slight niggle about the hill, and that something might be flying late. But, in truth, I'm hopeful he'll be away and gone by this point. He'll have the services of one of the best jockeys in the race, Sam Waley-Cohen, as well.
Shoreacres is twelve now, and it's very hard to envisage him winning, and they're the only two from the Stratford race slated to line up here, aside from Current Exchange, now trained by Gordon Elliott. That one looks to have a marked preference for soft ground, and has in fact side-stepped this race.
Meanwhile, from the Irish form, On The Fringe has run well in this twice before: 4th in 2011 as a six year old, and 3rd last year aged nine. He just doesn't seem to quite get home, and it would be a surprise if there wasn't a slightly stouter stayer in the field. Moreover, his middle to late running style is likely to be unsuited to the hurly-burly of a race such as this. He's not for me, talented though he undoubtedly is.
Need To Know was twelve lengths back in the Irish trial. Only seven, he has time and scope on his side, but this might just come a year too soon for him. Still, he's one of the more attractive outsiders on that line through On The Fringe, and he's a 50/1 poke.
Salsify is a joker in the pack. A dual winner of this race, he was incredibly fortunate when Jane Mangan was unshipped from Oscar Delta on the run-in when sure to win in 2013. He was beaten far enough behind On The Fringe and Need To Know, but that was on his comeback run after more than a year off the track. Sure to be fitter here, and with conditions known to be spot on, he might yet fare best of the Irish.
The main danger outside of the key prep races is probably Current Event, trained by Rose Loxton. This lad has been dishing up in the point fields all winter, and was as facile a winner as you'll see when cantering home over this trip on good ground at Musselburgh six weeks ago. Fast ground and trip look ideal for this ex-Paul Nicholls nag, and he's feared.
Carsonstown Boy could be a lively runner for Ireland too.
Likely Pace Angles:
Carsonstown Boy and Paint The Clouds are generally trail blazers or close up runners, but it's probable they'll be joined by exuberant horses under exuberant riders, and the first few fences could be pivotal. No Loose Change and Askamatic are two of the more likely candidates in that bracket. The worry with Current Event is that he does tend to close from the back and that might be sub-optimal in this type of fast run, big field contest.
Foxhunters' Chase Tips:
2 pts Paint The Clouds 5/1
1 pt e/w Current Event 11/1 PP (paying FOUR places)
1/4 pt e/w Need To Know 50/1 Skybet (paying FOUR places)
Best Foxhunters' Chase offers:
Some bookies are paying FOUR places on this race. They include bet365, Skybet, Tote, Betfred, and Paddy. And Racebets are paying 1/4 the first FIVE! (But they're not top price on any runner)
4.40 Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle
"The boys' race" as it's known, this is a 2m5f handicap hurdle, and it takes some winning. Only six renewals to date, but some strong trends emerging. Firstly, all six winners were aged five or six, and all were second season hurdlers. In fact, all bar two of the win and placed horses were either first or second season hurdles. In other words, they were lightly raced and progressive (are you spotting the theme in these handicaps yet?!)
Secondly, all carried more than eleven stone. This is less of a trend than it appears, however, due to the clustering of the weights in a 'compressed handicap'. Put another way, lots of similarly rated - and therefore, weighted - horses have competed against each other.
Interestingly, perhaps, the last four winners all won their previous starts. However, the placed horses don't back this factoid up, so it's one to be wary of, I think. Of more interest, I think, is that four of the six winners were trained by Messrs. Henderson, Mullins or Nicholls, THE main men in handicap hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival.
Indeed, last year, that trio of trainers saddled the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 11th from the 24 runner field!
This year, they collectively saddle Le Mercurey, Pearl Swan (Nicholls), Roi Des Francs, McKinley, Killultagh Vic (Mullins), Royal Irish Hussar and Full Shift (Henderson). Seven of the 24. Hmm.
McKinley has won a Grade 1 this season, and though he's a bit in and out, he has the services of crack Irish lad, Johnny Burke. That's a strong combination for Wullie, and I'd be happy enough to take a chance on him, albeit only for beans.
Full Shift is really interesting for Hendo: off for a year less a day, this lad has had just four hurdle starts, winning two of them. He was midfield in this race last year when sent off the 9/2 favourite, and he again gets the services of the peerless (in this context) Nico de Boinville.
And Pearl Swan has had his light hidden under a bushel for some time now. Second in a Grade 2 in January 2012, he was staying on into the frame in that year's Triumph Hurdle when bundling out at the last. Since then he's had just three runs in three years, the pick of which was second in a jumper's bumper. The other two runs were on soft ground, with all his decent form on good ground.
It's a leap of faith, but at 25/1 it's one worth taking, as there would have surely been easier options for Pearl Swan if he wasn't able to justify a place on the Ditcheat Cheltenham team. Jack Sherwood is another solid rider.
As always, loads of others with chance...
Likely Pace Angles:
Barizan is a good bet for the lead, and he'll be chased early by the likes of Balgarry, Shelford, Alderbrook Lad and Killultagh Vic.
Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle Tips:
1/2 pt win McKinley general
1/2 pt win Full Shift 11/1 BetVictor, Paddy
1/2 pt win Pearl Swan 25/1 general
Best Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle offers:
Plenty of bookies offering FIVE places if you're betting each way.
5.15 Grand Annual Handicap Chase
And we close with AP McCoy's last Cheltenham Festival ride, in the AP McCoy Grand Annual Chase. He rides Ned Buntline, that one is of obvious interest with such a poignant chapter in racing history coming to a close.
Nevertheless, it should be said that connections of all the other runners will not be feeling charitable and it's a fierce hard race to win... which is why it was moved to the last race of the meeting. (That said, the previous last race, the County Hurdle, was hardly a shoo in to find the winner!!)
It should also be said that if you still need a winner, good luck!!!
Here is a bit of pattern form to note:
14 of the last 15 winners carried less than eleven stone to victory. The exception was last year!
8 and 9yo's have won the last four, and nine of the last 15, from around half of the runners.
[Thanks to Paul Jones for this one] Seven of the last eight British-trained winners were previous course winners
[And for this one...] Just one of the last 16 winners had raced more than twelve times over fences.
That leaves a shortlist of... one - Bold Henry, who unseated last time out but won here easily in November. Just six chase starts on the board make him an obvious improver, and he's owned by JP McManus to boot.
He'll be the 'wrong' McManus horse if he wins though, due to the aforementioned AP McCoy bowing out at Cheltenham on the aforementioned Ned Buntline. Can you imagine if the pair jump the last together?! You only need to look at Box Office versus The Saint James in the Fred Winter on Wednesday to know that if Ned is in the first eight at the second last, Henry may not get maximum urging... (but you didn't read that here).
Ned Buntline could go off extremely short, and offers no value despite his form chance.
A third string to the McManus bow is Eastlake, but he'd like softer ground... and the same comments as above apply.
In all honesty, I'd be misleading you if I said I had any sort of opinion on this race, and I might just have a fiver each way Bold Henry, and a pound on Ned Buntline so I can cheer McCoy.
If you need a result here, keep in mind that it's the Midlands Grand National on Saturday, and the winner of that is Catching On 😉
Likely Pace Angles:
Pace-o-rama led by Next Sensation, the speed of the speed. He'll be challenged by My Brother Sylvest, Solar Impulse, and possibly Blood Cotil. Bold Henry will be held up and Ned Buntline will likely be mid-division early. This race can have a fair number of fallers due to the mental gallop they go, so you'll need to be both lucky and good!
Grand Annual Challenge Chase Tips:
1/4 pt win Ned Buntline 5/1 general (sentimental)
1/4 pt e/w Bold Henry 25/1 general (plain mental)
Best Grand Annual Challenge Chase offers:
A couple of bookies offering FIVE places if you're betting each way, including bet365, Betfair Sportsbook and Racebets.
Right, that's my lot. As tradition dictates, I shall be imbibing in the Brown Bear, Aldgate, tomorrow afternoon, and will look forward to re-connecting with the world after a rest and a recovery from a certain hangover!
Do leave a comment to let us know where your cash is going for the last day, and how you've been getting on this week. Winning? Hard luck stories? Share your joy/grief!