Cheltenham Festival 2015: Day Three Preview, Trends, Tips
We're over the hump and past halfway in the 2015 Cheltenham Festival. And the bad news if you're behind at this point is that historically the last two days have been a lot tougher for punters than the first two...
The good news is that one decent winner can put us level, or back in front. So all is still to play for as we roll up for the first of six Thursday races, the...
1.30 JLT Novices' Chase
There have only been four previous runnings of this intermediate novices' chase, and this will be just the second as a Grade 1 contest. As such, race-specific statistics are largely meaningless.
It might be interesting to note that Irish-trained runners have won three of the four JLT's so far, from just 30% of the runners.
Paul Jones noted in his excellent trends guide that only four winners from the last 68 races held at up to 3m 1/2f in Festival novice chases failed to be first or second last time out. That is a negative for the tumbling Ptit Zig.
Let's get to the form book. Favourite is Vautour, a horse whose reputation probably precedes him somewhat. He was undeniably an impressive winner of the Supreme (and the Punchestown Champion Novices' Hurdle), but his fencing has not quite passed muster yet.
In fact, in three chase starts he was well beaten by Clarcam the only time he tackled Grade 1 company. That was at two miles and this is an extra half mile or so, which may play to his stamina forte. But still, I'd be wary of piling in at around 2/1 or less.
The best of the British is clearly Ptit Zig, on what's been achieved so far at least. He'd racked up a four race unbeaten sequence, including in the Grade 2 Dipper Novices' Chase here, before falling when tackling open Grade 1 company last time in the Ascot Chase.
He'll have been relentlessly schooled by trainer Paul Nicholls since then, and whilst such an error remains possible, Ptit Zig has looked pretty safe thus far. His form in the book is a way clear of Vautour's but the jolly looks to have the more scope to improve.
Noel Meade's Apache Stronghold is the one with the proven ability for this specific challenge, as he showed when beating Valseur Lido half a length in a Grade 1 over this sort of trip on yielding ground a month ago.
It was a fascinating race with Apache Stronghold looking one of the first beaten, but rallying boldly up the inside of Valseur Lido. He was reversing form with that one from their Drinmore Novices' Chase running in November, and there should again be little between the pair. Slight preference is for the Gigginstown horse, but it is a marginal thing.
I can't see anything else being good enough to win, and I find it hard to pick between the top four. As such, I've had a small interest bet on Valseur Lido only.
Likely Pace Angles:
Tango De Juilley and Vautour have both led in their races to date. And Irish Saint may also step forward.
JLT Chase Tips:
1/2 pt win Valseur Lido 11/2 888sport
Best JLT Chase offers:
Free bet to the same stake if favourite wins with SkyBet. Click here for this offer.
2.05 Pertemps Final
A fiercely competitive handicap hurdle, run over three miles, and not a race I'm keen to get too involved with either. Still, as food for thought, here are a few trends...
Older (aged eight to ten) horses have won eight of the last eleven renewals. And the younger winners have tended to carry more weight (i.e. classy improvers).
Last time out winners have a very strong record, taking eight Pertemps Final's since 1997, from just 72 runners.
First up, let me say that I'd be delighted if Anthony Honeyball's Regal Encore could win this. He's a seriously nice horse trained by a seriously talented man, and after a second in the Champion Bumper here we know he acts on the track.
Regal Encore may not have progressed in the same way that Briar Hill, who beat him in the Bumper, has; but he's rated just 139, as opposed to Briar Hill's 150+. He has the talent to win a race like this, but things just haven't panned out for him yet. Hopefully that will change. It is worth noting that he has a fairly solid trends profile too, and as a JP McManus inmate, he's likely to take hefty support.
Call The Cops showed everyone what he was about when hacking up in a decent handicap hurdle at Doncaster a fortnight ago and he's clearly going the right way quickly. With the services of Barry Geraghty to aid his chance, Hendo's Presenting gelding looks sure to run well.
I'm not really a fan of 'plot' horses for Festival handicaps, and instead prefer progressive last day winners (as you can tell from the above). As such, I won't be with Edeymi, even though every man and his dog saw that he wasn't off a yard at Musselburgh last time out.
Tony Martin's charge has a rating of 135 for this and that looks no better than fair. Irrespective of how you cut it, Edeymi has won one of fifteen hurdle starts, and that a maiden hurdler at odds of 2/7. No thanks.
Big Easy and Katkeau represent the Haydock Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle form. That race has flagged the winner of this race within its first five in three of the last six years (thanks Paul Jones!), and Big Easy's second has been supplemented with a couple of nice runs since.
The problem is that he's elevated himself in the ratings from 136 to 145 and, even though he's a Cesarewitch winner on the flat, that should be enough to stop him from winning. He could still hit the frame, mind.
Katkeau looks a lot more interesting for the David Pipe team. A winner over three miles-plus here in November, he was a held up never dangerous fifth in the Fixed Brush. Having then pulled up on heavy ground, he needed a bit more to get into the race, so ran at Chepstow on 21st February.
A short head second there pushed his rating up to 137 and attested to his well being at the same time. He too has a very solid profile for a Pertemps, and he's more tempting than most.
There are of course countless others with prospects, but I'll play Katkeau with my head and Regal Encore with my heart.
Likely Pace Angles:
Closing Ceremony, Bygones Sovereign, and Brother Brian all race on the speed, and perhaps Haydock qualifier winner, Closing Ceremony will be the speed of the speed.
Pertemps Final Tips:
1 pt win Katkeau 33/1 Stan James
Best Pertemps Final offers:
Look for a bookie paying five places. Which is most of them, but not Paddy, Coral, Betway or Betbright.
2.40 Ryanair Chase
The Ryanair Chase was previewed on geegeez on 3rd February, and there's little to have happened since to have changed my view. Nothing, that is, aside from a swathe of absentees.
Even as I was writing that preview, Dynaste was ruled out of the contest. More recently, Cue Card was scratched. And more recently still, Foxrock was supplemented for the race and Boston Bob threatened to stand his ground.
While Boston Bob was an interesting floater, and an obvious non-runner no bet play when a 25/1 shot (he doesn't run, so money back); Foxrock does merit a second glance. Rated 164 after a very close second to Carlingford Lough in the Hennessy Gold Cup, that's just two pounds below favourite Don Cossack. The 2m5f trip looks right up his street, and he showed in the four miler last year that he can handle Cheltenham. He didn't stay there - was sent off the 3/1 favourite - and this son of Flemensfirth is a live danger. I've added a point on him as I feel he could win this.
Otherwise, I'm happy with the preview pick of Johns Spirit, a horse that comes alive over this course, and distance. He's trained by Jonjo O'Neill, a man with few Festival peers, and he looks sure to give us a run for our money.
Don't entirely discount Uxizandre from coming back to form either. He's been running poorly on winter ground, but was a close second in the JLT Chase last year, and McCoy rides.
Likely Pace Angles:
Uxizandre and Hidden Cyclone both like to bowl along in front, and they should have the lead between them. The likes of Third Intention, Ballycasey and Foxrock normally race prominently, as does Ma Filleule. Likely favourite, Don Cossack, is indifferent to pace, having led, run prominently and been held up while winning this season.
Suggested day of race play:
1 pt win Foxrock 8/1 general
1pt win Al Ferof 12/1 NRNB (stakes returned)
1/2 pt win Johns Spirit 11/1 NRNB
1/2 pt win Menorah 25/1 LOST
Best Ryanair Chase offers:
New BetVictor customers can get 10/1 Don Cossack. Click here for this offer.
3.20 World Hurdle
Another of the early previews and, with the defection of More Of That, this truly is a wide open affair: very, very tricky from a betting perspective. The World Hurdle preview is here. In it, I nominated the three Henderson horses, one of which - Beat That - has failed to make the line up.
In an unfathomable race, I'm happy to let those slips ride, and have no interest in supplementing the portfolio. I think this is probably the toughest betting heat of the week (Champion Bumper aside), and good luck if you're playing!
Likely Pace Angles:
This looks like being fast and furious from the outset. All of Cole Harden, Seeyouatmidnight, and Reve De Sivola like to lead, as usually does Abysial, and there is probably going to be a contest for that dubious honour. In fact, for a staying hurdle, there's any amount of pace in this race with most of the rest habitual prominent racers.
Suggested day of race play:
2 pts Beat That 12/1 NRNB (stakes returned)
1 pt Whisper 20/1 Non-Runner No Bet
1 pt Blue Fashion 20/1 Non-Runner No Bet
Best World Hurdle offers:
New racebets customers can get 14/1 Paul Nicholls to train the World Hurdle winner (has favourite Zarkandar, and 2nd fav Saphir Du Rheu). Click here for this offer.
4.00 Festival Plate
The Festival Plate, known this year as the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate (gulp), is a 2m5f handicap chase. It's been a Pipe benefit down the years, with father Martin winning it four times, and son David already possessing three Plates of his own in the last five years.
As such, Monetaire warrants close scrutiny. Monetaire runs in the colours of Allan Stennett, successful with Salut Flo and Ballynagour in the the last three years, and this looks a very similar type of horse.
All three had fairly exposed levels of form in France, before moving to the Pipe yard. Each won a race before their intended Plate date, and each was rested noticeably before turning up to win at the Festival.
So, the blueprint is there, and we know the trainer knows just how to get the job done. Monetaire looks likely to make another bold bid for experienced connections, despite a twelve pound hike after his win in a Class 2 handicap chase in late November.
Buywise will be popular too. A winner of four of his seven chase starts, Evan Williams' ex-hunter chaser had a prep run in a novice hurdle to preserve his rating of 146, earned before a close up fifth in the Paddy Power and maintained by that run.
He's been jobbed up for this all season - as have plenty of others, of course - and should give supporters a run for their pennies, even allowing for his trainer's one from 41 record at the Festival.
A few other trends to lob into the melting pot include:
25 of the 27 Plate winners were rated no higher than 141
Only one Irish-trained horse has ever won this
18 of the last 20 winners carried eleven stone or less
French-breds have been first or second in twelve of the last fourteen renewals
Though he may have too much weight, don't rule out Rajdhani Express. A winner of the novices' handicap chase two years ago, over this trip on the Old Course, Nicky Henderson's eight-year-old son of Presenting has been carefully choreographed through this season with this in mind. A drop of six pounds from his career high looks only fair, not generous, but we know conditions will be spot on.
Let us not forget that Rajdhani Express was third in the Ryanair over course and distance at last year's Festival. So, if any horse can defy the weight/rating stats, he has a sound chance.
Likely Pace Angles:
Kings Lad is the clear pace angle, and may get an easy lead. Those likely to follow are Make A Track, Rawnaq, Un Ace, and perhaps Hunt Ball.
Suggested Festival Plate play:
1 pt win Monetaire 7/1 bet365
1 pt win Rajdhani Express 12/1 Stan James
Best Festival Plate offers:
Look for enhanced place terms, bet365, skybet, Paddy, Ladbrokes, Betfair Sportsbook, and Racebets are all paying FIVE places.
4.40 Kim Muir Handicap Chase
A 3m2f amateur riders' handicap chase, and interest for me will be reserved for trying to notch a line or two of the placepot... assuming I'm still rolling at this late juncture!
That said, there are some strong patterns in a race that is growing in terms of both the quality of both the horses and the horsemanship. On the subject of the latter point, and closely related to the former, the non-claiming jockeys have a stranglehold on the podium positions. Indeed, they've thrown their beach towels over no fewer than 21 of the last 24 available win and place positions. That's from around half the riders.
As I say, it follows that connections want to snap up the best pilots for the best horses, so there's some causal reciprocity here. The weights range is becoming increasingly compressed for the Kim Muir as more and more owners clamour to get their horses a run at the Cheltenham Festival, and this seems to be favouring the classier young horses.
To prove that point, in between the 'no race' years of 1978 and 2001, the average age of the winner was 8.95, and the average weight carried was 10-07. But since that foot and mouth interlude at the turn of the century, the 13 Kim Muir's have been won by a horse aged on average 8.38, and lugging an average of 11-03.
So yes, younger, classier, sorts.
Prior to Spring Heeled's win last season, the Irish challenge has been muted in recent years. In fact, Jim Culloty's lad was the first Irish-trained winner for over thirty years.
One I really like, though not that young, is Masters Hill. I had him marked down for the Festival Chase on Tuesday, but he's come here instead. His trainer, Colin Tizzard, knows exactly how to win handicap chases at the Festival, and he's booked top amateur, Harry Bannister. Masters Hill wants quick ground, and he was good enough to be fifth in last year's Grade 1 Albert Bartlett. That's the best piece of form in the race so, while he lugs almost top weight, I think he has a fine chance. In fact, I'm disproportionately hopeful, given the context of the race conditions!
It doesn't take a genius to know that The Package will be tuned to the minute for this. Third in the Festival Chase last season, he has also been fourth and second in that race previously. So yes, he loves Festival handicap chases. This is his first attempt at the New Course in March, and it might be that the slightly stiffer stamina test is what he now needs (the trip is a furlong longer as well). Obvious player, with the National Hunt Chase-winning jockey, Jamie Codd, booked.
And at a bigger price, Sue Smith's Vintage Star might have a bit more to offer. Placed on five of his six good ground starts, he's yet to complete in two Festival spins (pulled up in 2013 RSA Chase, fell in Festival Chase last year), but still looks feasibly treated off a pound lower than his last winning mark. 28/1 with Stan James is too big.
The Irish may have won - and finished second - last year, but their overall record in this race is pretty patchy. As such, I'm more than happy to let the likes of Champagne James and Gold Bullet make the market for a Blighty-based blunderbuss...
Lots of others with chances but I'll stick with this trio.
Likely Pace Angles:
Looks likely that Benbane Head and The Nephew will press on, with any of Grand Vision, Guess Again, Sixty Something and possibly Just A Par and Across The Bay joining in too. In other words, it will likely be frenetic in the early go, and stamina-sapping by the end.
Suggested Kim Muir play:
1 pt win Master's Hill 14/1 general
1/2 pt e/w Vintage Star 28/1 SJ
1/2 pt e/w The Package bet365, Coral, Racebets (paying FIVE places)
Best Festival Plate offers:
Look for enhanced place terms, bet365, Coral, and Racebets are all paying FIVE places.
p.s. how's the Festival going for you so far? Leave a comment on the blog to let us know!