Cheltenham Festival 2015: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips
After a fantastic day of sport - and for yours truly on the punting front on Tuesday - we turn our attention to the second of four days of battle.
Day Two, Wednesday, at the Cheltenham Festival, and there are seven more top class contests to look forward to, spearheaded by the Queen Mother Champion Chase. I lost 3,500 words to a computer malfunction when first penning Wednesday's preview, so this second iteration will be a tad shorter than usual. Apologies to some and, no doubt, relief for others!
We get underway at the traditional 1.30pm start time with the...
1.30 Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle Preview
One of the strongest novice contests at the Festival, and historically a good portent of future Champion Hurdlers. Indeed, this was the Cheltenham launchpad for Messrs. I 'braq and H. Eustace to claim multiple blue riband titles.
It has also been a punter-friendly contest down the years with every winner bar Massinis Maguire (20/1) returning 12/1 or shorter going all the way back to Danoli in 1994.
The Irish have won half of the last dozen renewals, and again have a strong hand this time around.
Going back as far as 1997, all winners bar Massinis Maguire finished first (13) or second (3) last time out.
Horses aged five and six have won every renewal since 1999, albeit from a majority of the runners.
The favourite for this year's Neptune is Nichols Canyon, formerly a high class flat horse with John Gosden. He finished on the level rated 111, and is already on a perch of 148 over hurdles having been unbeaten when standing up, including in two Grade 1's.
He did unseat, when a 4/6 shot, in the Future Champions Novices' Hurdle, a mistake that looked a classic novice blunder. Although untried at the two mile five furlong trip, his breeding (by Authorized out of a Dalakhani mare) suggests he'll be more at home at it than the shorter distances he's faced thus far.
The one concern I have with Willie Mullins' star is that he wouldn't want the ground too quick. On the level, his three wins came on soft, soft and heavy (from ten starts, beaten all five starts on good to firm); and over hurdles he's yet to encounter anything faster than yielding turf.
In truth, I doubt it will be worse than good, and he should be fine with that, but it is something to keep in mind, based on the Tuesday race times. If not inconvenienced by the ground, he has a very good winning chance, as his odds imply.
Parlour Games and Outlander, a pair of seven-year-olds, are next in the market. Both are bidding to do what only French Holly (1998) since Brown Lad in 1974, and win aged older than six. It's not enough to exclude them automatically but it does constitute a knock.
In the case of Parlour Games, there are more knocks. First, he hasn't won in a big field over hurdles, and he has tried: soundly beaten in the Galway Hurdle when favoured at the weights, and turned over at fives-on in a nine runner Stratford novice. In fairness, he did win a big field Melrose Handicap on the flat, but he's more exposed than most, and not for me.
Outlander is an interesting Gigginstown runner, but he's yet to run a fast time and the balance of his form is probably seven to ten pounds shy of some others, so it's a big leap needed to bridge the gap.
Windsor Park's form ties in with both Nichols Canyon and Outlander, though he's been beaten by both. The likelihood is that the combination of quicker ground and a longer trip will eke further improvement, but that could also be true for the pair that have beaten him (though perhaps not the ground in the Canyon's case). For me, there isn't a big enough disparity in their prices to make Dermot Weld's runner a more attractive proposition.
Vyta Du Roc has been well backed this last week and, if you like Parlour Games, you have to like this lad too. He probably has more to come than his last day vanquisher, but I just don't see that form as being as good as the Irish.
Two others worth a second look are Ordo Ab Chao and Beast Of Burden. The former is trained by Alan King, whose record in Festival non-handicap hurdles is very good (five wins, twelve places, from 60 starters). A win in the Grade 2 trial of the same name on good to soft suggests that trip and ground will be no issue, and he's of mild interest at 14/1.
Rebecca Curtis' Beast Of Burden is the same price, and he looks a highly progressive novice. A winner by almost a distance on debut, his only defeat came when the stable was going through a lean spell. Since then, he's won twice more, most recently when beating the smart (if possible bleeder?) Mendip Express eleven lengths. He's not been tried above Class 3 yet, but that's not to say he's not up to it.
Likely Pace Angles:
It's far from clear who will lead here, and there could be a muddling pace. Saying that, Wullie wuns two and it's possible that Outlander could cut out the donkey work.
1 pt win Nichols Canyon to win any Festival race 6/1 Hills
1/2 pt win Ordo Ab Chao 14/1
1/2 pt win Beast Of Burden 14/1
Best Neptune Novices' Hurdle offers:
Money back if your horse finishes 2nd or 3rd with Sky.bet. Click here for this offer.
2.05 RSA Chase
Happily, I at least previewed one race on this card previously, and my RSA Chase preview is here. I'd be fairly happy with the selections there. Deputy Dan doesn't run - half a point lost - and Apache Jack is around the same price now as he was when nominated. But Southfield Theatre has halved in odds, and looks a real threat to favourite Don Poli.
Now Don Poli's target is known, he's worth a saver if you followed my previous advice. That's because, despite his youth and inexperience, he has looked a classy animal to date. His staying on defeat of Apache Stronghold in the Grade 1 Topaz at Christmas is good form. Against that, he's not been seen since, and there are a few negatives gathering together. Like I say, a saver.
A couple of horses that have been beating handicappers and deserve respect as a consequence are The Young Master and If In Doubt. The former has been highly progressive in three mile chases, even though he's bred for a mile on the flat! Infamously deprived of a smooth win in the Badger Ales Chase, he bagged deserved compensation when taking a Listed handicap chase from hardened 'capper, Houblon Des Obeaux at Ascot.
That form puts him right in the picture, but there is a niggle about him not being seen since before Christmas.
If In Doubt has slipped under most people's radars, the Philip Hobbs-trained, JP McManus-owned, AP McCoy-ridden beast 'only' winning a Listed handicap chase to date. That SkyBet Chase win took him up to a rating of 149, however, and that makes him a player. He ran a solid race in defeat at the Festival last year, but the worry with him is that he's a moderate jumper: the fences at Cheltenham are good bit tougher than at Donny!
Likely Pace Angles:
Kings Palace, Southfield Theatre and Apache Jack all look to be on the front, so this could be a) fast, and b) interesting!
1 pt Southfield Theatre 14/1
1 pt Apache Jack 25/1
1/2 pt Deputy Dan 50/1 non-runner
Day of Race Pick:
1 pt win Don Poli 5/2
Best RSA Chase offers:
If you like any horse bar Don Poli, you can get a free bet to the same stake if your pick wins, with Betfair Sportsbook (applies to winners with an SP of 3/1 or more).
2.40 Coral Cup
Obviously really trappy, and my angle in is the fine performance of highly weighted young horses (i.e. class horses open to further improvement) in recent years. To wit, since 2006 five winners (from 56 runners) were aged five or six and carried eleven stone or more to victory. Moreover, a further eight were placed. Betting win only at SP was worth 37 points profit, and each way was worth 53.75 points profit (from twice as many staked units).
My shortlist then is Volnay De Thaix, Garde La Victoire, Lac Fontana, and Activial. In my original piece I argued the pro's and con's for all of them, but this time you'll have to believe me that the most credible case looks to be for Lac Fontana, though Activial is respected if short enough in the betting.
Lac Fontana won the County Hurdle last term, and did very well to overcome a troubled passage, and to wear down the game Arctic Fire, a horse that worked his way into Champion Hurdle contention this season. He's been given a perfect prep by trainer Paul Nicholls, with two runs in Graded company (behind Faugheen and Rock On Ruby) maintaining his mark of 151. His County win was off 148 so if he stays, he must have a fine chance again.
Activial was third in both the Betfair and Ladbroke Hurdles, and they are fiercely competitive heats. After just six starts, this lad obviously can give more, but whether the horse named after a probiotic yoghurt is worth playing at the price, only you can say. He's not for me because he's too short, but he could appreciate this longer trip.
Gordon Elliott had Tiger Roll in here, who I liked, but his sole representative will be Taglietelle, a horse which has been lightly raced and won a charity race as a prep for this (no penalties there!). Everything Gordon Elliott runs in a handicap hurdle has to be respected and this lad is no different.
And one really interesting horse on old form is Un Atout. A Grade 1 winner over hurdles as recently as three starts back, he's had two fluffed attempts at fences since his return from a long break, and might spark into life now reverting to timber-topping. At the prices, he's worth a small tickle in case.
Likely Pace Angles:
Plinth and Barizan are nailed on to go at it from the get go. As such, this could be a strung out field passing the judge first time.
1 pt win Lac Fontana 20/1
1/2 pt win Taglietelle 16/1
1/2 pt win Un Atout 16/1
Best Coral Cup offers:
Look for a bookie paying five, or preferably six, places. Sponsors Coral are paying SIX places - fair play to them - to bet with them if they're price competitive.
3.20 Queen Mother Champion Chase
I spent a good amount of time in my initial post pouring cold water over the chance of, well, basically all of the runners in this race for physically and mentally challenged equines.
The top two in the betting have both spent time in the sick house this season (and, in the case of Sprinter Sacre, last season too). Sprinter was rated 188 in his pomp, and ran to just 162 when second in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot on his comeback. If he can improve seven pounds on that he will probably win. But he finds nothing off the bridle - no issue when you're a 188 horse, but a bit of a concern when you're 26 pounds below that level in a Championship Grade 1, even one as porous as this - and he bled from the nose last time.
Even a "low level bleed" is an issue for me, because this is a horse with the most well-documented medical records in the world right now. Further ailments are not what he needs. No thanks.
Sire De Grugy is a great horse - like Sprinter Sacre (OK, not as great as that one was) - and he enjoyed a fantastic wide margin win over a poor Champion Chase field last year. He would appear to be more obviously over his early season setback, judging by his Chepstow victory in a handicap off a mark of 172. But he did little more than he was entitled to there, and he seems a more fragile proposition this year than last. Corns, special shoes, and other hoof-related miscellany are not the stuff of confident wagering, but then this is not a race in which any sane person can announce they've made a confident wager.
He could win it and, to my eye, he's probably the most likely winner. But he's not a bet at the price. Nothing is!
Dodging Bullets seems to regress through the season so, while he has indisputably the best form this season - back to back wins in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek and Clarence House Chases - he may not replicate that level and, even if he does, it may not be enough.
The chance of Champagne Fever hinges on his affection for the course: wins in the Champion Bumper and the Supreme Novices' Hurdle were supplemented with an 'all but' win in the Arkle last year. That was the closest he's got in four Grade 1 chase starts to a win and, even in the Sicknote Dodgepot Derby that this has become, he's not tempting at the price. (I've backed him at 16's for small money, but would be looking for around 8's now).
Mr Mole surely can't win a Champion Chase. Fifteen career starts and no Grade 1 runs, let alone wins. His victory over Upsilon Bleu (who?) was as hollow as the famous 'Bottom' establishment not five miles from Chelters, and I will be shocked if he's good enough, even against the crocks and the swerves lining up here.
If you're sufficiently psychotic to fancy a bet in this race, then here's a commensurately psychotic suggestion: back Somersby each way. Yes, he's 95 years old (well, eleven). Yes, he last won when results were relayed on 'the blower' (OK, November 2013, nine starts back). And yes, he's a bit of a clumsy fencer. But he has at least shown up for all the big dances in recent times, and been good enough to run second in the Tingle Creek this season (and, indeed, last season), and the Champion Chase last season.
Honestly, it feels like that sort of race...
Likely Pace Angles:
Special Tiara looks nailed on to lead, and Somersby may follow him round. If Mr Mole traps on terms, he'll be up there too, and Champagne Fever won't be far away. This should make for a solid tempo to the race, and offer the likes of Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy every chance to show their former colours haven't yet faded.
Outsider for pennies:
1/4 pt e/w Somersby 40/1 general
Best Champion Chase offers:
a. Ladbrokes (all customers)
Money back as a free bet if Sprinter Sacre finishes 1st or 2nd in the Champion Chase. Max stake £25. Click the banner to get this offer.
b. Betway (all customers)
Money back as a free bet if Sire De Grugy wins the Champion Chase. Max stake £50. Click the banner to get this offer.
4.00 Cross Country Chase
Normally one of the best betting races of the Festival for me, I have to concede to not having much of a clue this time around. Any Currency has a mountain to climb at the weights but has at least proven many times his fondness for the ever decreasing circles of this quirky course.
French raider Toutancarmont has inexperience to overcome: he's never raced on the course before and it's a rarity that such a nag prevails. But he has more than that to deal with, as he looks to be better suited to softer turf. Of course, it may just be that that's the racing surface he's forced to work with in France, and in fairness he has won on good to soft, when he beat Maljimar a length at Le Lions d'Angers.
The question is, does that level of form equate to winning a Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase? The answer is, unhelpfully, I don't know. It's tempting, in the face of so much "this can't win, that can't win" projecting to side with a sexy 'dark horse', and who knows, perhaps it's the right call. But I can't remember a French horse running better than third (Pasquini Rouge) in one of these, and I can't remember such a horse showing up for the Festival edition ever.
[OK, I checked. Sacree Tiepy (8/1) was 6th in 2013; and Quezac De La Roque (20/1) was 5th in 2011. So it's possible.]
Sire Collonges has had plenty of tries, and could win, though he's not brilliantly handicapped; while Duke Of Lucca is fairly handicapped but that doesn't account for his sloppy jumping and inability to quicken at the sharp end of his races.
Quantitiveeasing was beaten at odds on in the PP Hogan, a key trial, and hasn't won since December 2011 (twenty starts back!). A capable horse on his day, supporting this lad requires a leap of faith even accounting for the finest of connections: Mr Banks himself, Enda Bolger, trains; and Mr Green'n'Gold'nballs, JP McManus, owns.
One that might be worth a tiny tickle at a decent price is Ipsos Du Berlais. This fellow wasn't beaten far at Punchestown in the PP Hogan, and a stamina test on decent ground looks right up his street, something he demonstrated when second in a Grade C handicap chase over the Irish National course and distance. That was the last time he encountered ground with the word 'good' in it, and the 'good' time before that was when he was fourth in the Grade 1 Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree.
Now, true, that was a moon or two ago. But in a race full of swerve balls and the occasional curve ball, he could greet the conditions like a dearly loved and long lost friend.
Likely Pace Angles:
Pace? What pace? This is the Cross Country race! OK, probably Sire Collonges, Any Currency, and Master Rajeem. But, in all probability, they'll bimble round until the inner circuit and then dash up the hill.
Small each way play:
1/2 pt e/w Ipsos Du Berlais
Best Cross Country Chase offers:
4.40 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this race. The last three winners have been 25/1, 33/1 and 40/1, and the last four winners failed to make the frame last time out between them.
However, I do have a couple of angles in. First up, flat form. The top rated flat runner has done well in this race (for instance, What A Charm and Dabiroun). Secondly, trainers. David Pipe has had a winner and four places from 11 starters. And Gordon Elliott had a win and a place from five starters. He would almost certainly have had at least another place if Clarcam had stood up last year.
That takes me to Unanimite, top rated on the level (94) and trained now by David Pipe; and Thunder Zone, for Gordon Elliott (former assistant to the Pipe's incidentally!)
Unanimite was a Listed performer in France before his acquisition to go hurdling. A winner on timber debut at Market Rasen, he's been beaten in both subsequent starts, and I suspect that was all part of the plan. A narrow defeat to Startichect on the flat plains of Aintree was followed by a perfectly respectable seven length fourth to Golden Doyen here in the Grade 2 Prestbury Juvenile Hurdle. After that, connections must have been happy with their mark because they went to the all weather for a spin around Wolverhampton back in December.
Not quite a racecourse gallop - he was quoted in the betting and it was an actual race - Unanimite was beaten less than four lengths there. The time off is a bit of a worry, but this is a handler who has few peers when it comes to readying one off a break, and I'd imagine the son of Kentucky Dynamite will be rock hard fit when the tapes rise. Owner Simon Munir won this with Une Artiste three years ago.
Gordon Elliott has a better fancied runner in the shape of Hostile Fire, but I prefer Graded form in defeat to winning maiden hurdle form in the context of a race like this. Hostile Fire won at the third time of asking in maiden company, beating the frustrating (screwy?) Zafayan, a nag that has now been second or third in its last five starts - and as favourite in the last two (odds on last time out - ouch).
That gives the form a questionable look: even though the team at Longwood know exactly the time to day, it wouldn't surprise me if Thunder Zone shows more. Rated 79 after his three placed runs on the flat - the same as Hostile Fire achieved after fourteen flat runs - it was interesting to note that, at the five day stage, Thunder Zone had first choice jockey, Bryan Cooper, booked.
That could comfortably be a red herring, but Thunder Zone's form looks a) better and b) open to more improvement. After all, he's had ten less career starts than Hostile Fire. Thunder Zone's best run on the flat was on good ground, and in four hurdle starts he's yet to encounter anything other than soft. Despite that, he's run seven lengths third to Dicosimo, and twelve lengths second to Kitten Rock, the latter in a Grade 2, and he looks very fairly treated for a trainer who specializes in this type of race.
The likes of All Yours, Zarib and Arabian Revolution could all run well, but I'll take the plotmeisters for small interests.
Likely Pace Angles:
Hard to be definitive in this one, though Golden Doyen and Sebastian Beach may make it. The Wallace Line, Buiseness Sivola, The Saint James, and Gwencily Berbas might be others to step forwards.
Two against the field:
1 pt win Unanimite 16/1
1 pt win Thunder Zone 20/1
Best Fred Winter offers:
Look for a bookie paying five places. Racebets may be the only one...
5.15 Champion Bumper
This is a guessers' paradise, and I'm afraid I just don't know. The best piece of form is probably Moon Racer's demolition of a decent looking field back in October. However, despite the impressive nature of his win, it's worth noting that just one of the 23 subsequent runners from that race has gone on to win since, which gives the form a pretty weak look.
I imagine Bordini will be the pick of the Mullins squad, and I imagine he'll make the frame at least. I might have a small win bet, just for interest. But anything more than that is plain daft. After all, there's a full card from Kempton to come in the evening! 😉
The other worth a tiny push is Jetstream Jack. He won his only start, beating a horse called Anibale Fly by a length and a bit, with daylight back to the rest. The second has since won well - by more than six lengths - with a couple of well backed horses seen off. True, it was a very slowly run contest, but at the prices, I'm happy to throw a bean, win only, in his direction.
Likely Pace Angles:
Wouldn't be confident to say in a field of thoroughly unexposed, largely once-raced, types.
1/2 pt win Bordini 7/1
1/4 pt win Jetstream Jack 25/1
Best Champion Bumper offers:
Some bookies are paying four places, which attests to the toughness of the puzzle. bet365, Skybet, totesport, Betfred, PP, Ladbrokes, Betfair Sportsbook, Betway and Racebets are.
Betbright are paying 1/5 1-2-3 - don't bet each way with them!
p.s. how's the Festival going for you so far? Good luck? Bad luck? Sporting highlights? Leave a comment on the blog to let us know!