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Festival Reflections 2019

The stands have once again fallen silent after four breathless days of racing on Cleeve Hill, and the Cheltenham Festival 2019 is now confined to the memory banks and the history books. It was a captivating, challenging, emotional roller coaster of a week; these are my Festival reflections.

Champion Hurdler?

In the build up to the opening day, pundits and punters alike were relishing a duel between Apple's Jade and Buveur d'Air - or in some cases a three-way-go including Laurina - but what came to pass was one of those everyday 'you couldn't script it' scenarios for which racing's glorious uncertainty is known.

First, Apple's Jade was taken on at a helter-skelter lick by Melon, her chance seemingly compromised by this manoeuvre as she faded tamely into sixth. Meanwhile, reigning two-time champ, Buveur d'Air - with his trademark slick low jumping - took a liberty, and a consequential tumble, at the third flight. In so doing, he brought down Sharjah.

With the top two out of the race, as well as one of the key form line horses, surely it was Laurina's Champion Hurdle to lose? Lose it she did, the talk of her ascendancy proving some way wide of the mark. She was the only one of the supposed main three that had the chance to run her race, and she failed big time on this step up in grade. No obvious excuses there.

For Apple's Jade, it was a fourth visit to Cheltenham and a third defeat at a track where she seems to be beset by misfortune whether it's being in season, getting compromised on the lead or something else. It is not unreasonable to assume, given the full body of her work, that she is unsuited by the track.

And what of the winner and the placed horses? Espoir d'Allen, a progressive five-year-old bringing an eight-from-nine career record to the party, enhanced that to nine out of ten on this second attempt at Grade 1 company. He was soundly enough beaten in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle, his sole previous G1 effort, in February last year but may have been unsuited to the steady pace there.

This was fiercely run. Mark Walsh sat in midfield, away from the crazy tempo up top and, avoiding the fallers, came through almost in his own time to saunter fifteen lengths clear of a gallant but spent Melon, with 80/1 poke Silver Streak back in third.

Handicapping the race is difficult, especially for those intent on literal interpretations. Fortunately, some clever bods - notably Simon Rowlands in this piece on the ATR website - have confirmed what the peepers were suggesting: that they went way too fast early and slowed up dramatically late.

To contextualise that, Rowlands notes that the Champion Hurdle was run four seconds - about twenty lengths - faster to the third flight, and yet the differential at the line was a mere two-and-a-half lengths. Pace collapse territory. That enabled Mark Walsh and Espoir d'Allen to record even fractions throughout in a sort of tortoise and hare setup - if it's not beyond rude to refer to a Champion Hurdler as a tortoise!

The fact that Melon, spoiler-in-chief for the favourite, was able to cling valiantly to second in spite of running remarkably inefficiently anchors the form in my book. Five-year-olds have a notoriously weak record in the Champion Hurdle and, while that alone is far from sufficient to crab the victor, the nature of the run of the race with - as Rowlands again notes - the first six home in the Supreme bettering the Champion Hurdle runner-up's time leads me to downgrade the race in form terms.

Projecting to this time next year, Espoir can certainly win another Champion Hurdle: he'll be a year older and stronger, and he has that crucial track experience to boot. But he's a lousy price at 7/2 in a place (6/1 tops still not enticing). Buveur d'Air will be nine next year, an age that didn't stop Hurricane Fly or Rooster Booster this century, and won't stop him if his appetite is undiminished after this spill. Apple's Jade will surely not contest this again; ditto Laurina. Melon at 25/1 could be interesting each way though he's shown himself to be beatable, albeit in very different setups and where he's run above himself both times.

But the one which might be most appealing for long-range forecasters is City Island. The Ballymore winner has a much better record than the Supreme winner in the Champion Hurdle, and Martin Brassil's six-year-old was comfortably the best with all the right horses close enough behind to suggest there was no fluke to the performance. Enthusiasm for the 33/1 is tempered markedly by connections referencing the Stayers' Hurdle (for which he is 20/1) as his target in post-race debriefs; with that in mind, splitting stakes may be more sensible (if taking a price 359 days before an event is ever sensible).

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National Hunt Chase 'Disgrace'

The National Hunt Chase is the second oldest race at the Festival, after the Grand Annual, but it has been run the most times due to the latter named being dropped for a chunk of the late 1800's - so wikipedia tells me, anyway. I also learn there that the race was considered the second most important, after the Grand National, in the calendar until the 1930's.

It is a four mile race for novice chasers ridden by amateur riders. For as long as I've been blogging and previewing Cheltenham - which is eleven years now, gulp - I've made mildly condescending noises about it. That's because I'm not a traditionalist, you see; I view most races through the prism of the sport as I see it and, naturally, as a wagering conduit.

This year, with welfare and good intentions aforethought, a number of jockeys in the race - notably Declan Lavery, who rode third placed Jerrysback - got into hot water with the stewards for persisting when their horses were considered by the arbiters to be too tired. These decisions have been roundly lambasted by horsemen of all vintages.

I am neither a traditionalist, as mentioned, nor a horseman, and additionally I have sympathy with the less militant parts of the welfare lobby, which leads me to an often conflicted head space on jump racing, a pursuit I love more deeply than flat racing. In that confused context, here's where I've got to: there WAS a problem in the National Hunt Chase - there simply has to be when, despite changes to attract a better class of horse and despite amateur jockeys being closer to their professional counterparts in ability terms than at any other time in history, eighteen horses set out and only four finished.

Of the fourteen non-completions, eight fell, one of which sustained fatal injuries.

Quite frankly, that is bullshit.

I happened to watch the race with a fairly senior member of the BHA, and we both audibly winced when the wonderful mare Atlanta Ablaze came down two out. It was a bridge too far for a pair of hardened NH spectators.

Here's the thing: this race is hideously anachronistic. It is probably twenty years past its sell by date, hence the ongoing tinkering with its conditions.

I know that the trads will lobby for its retention and I understand the reasons why. But it cannot be countenanced for another year in its current format. Blaming the jockeys for trying their best in a race which makes extraordinary demands of both humans and equines, each group inexperienced in the context of the meeting as a whole, is big-time deflection.

The issue here is the race, or rather its conditions. Here is a suggestion, not intended as a 'we should do this' blueprint, but as a strawman starting point to be discussed, pulled apart, iterated and refined.

The National Hunt Chase should be run over three and a half miles. It would still be the longest main track race at the Festival but it would be one-eighth less attritional. It should be contested only by horses with a defined level of experience and also, potentially, with an approved level of jumping ability. It should have a ratings ceiling to prevent the dilution of the RSA Chase, and a floor to prevent horses being outclassed and put at risk. Horses should be six or older (almost all are), and carry eleven stone rather than 11-06 (and jockeys will have to be able to do the weight without wasting/fasting). Jockeys should have a defined level of ability/experience to ride.

All of the above would make the race less testing; none of the above would make the race less compelling. Let's sort this crap out and stop blaming jockeys for the errors of history and the programme book.

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Joyful Thursday

If racing has a propensity to shoot itself in the foot, it also continues to produce human (and equine) interest stories of almost universal appeal. Last Thursday's racing looks set to be as enduring as it was endearing - it truly was one of the great days of racing.

Victory for the resurgent former Triumph Hurdler, Defi Du Seuil, was a terrific start. JP McManus is one of the more likeable of racing's mega-rich, for all that he is domiciled in Switzerland for tax efficiency purposes (he does distribute funds across a number of sports in Britain and Ireland which, I guess, is a more expedient direct contribution to racing), and his colours were worn to victory three times on this day.

Defi is a bit of a forgotten horse in a way. Considering he's won eleven of his sixteen races, and five of seven races at Cheltenham, he has been spoken of in somewhat disrespectful tones in the lead up to the JLT Chase. But he showed his usual class and some of his more occasional mettle to repel a regular rival, Lostintranslation, and confirm the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase form. This was the first winner of the Scilly Isles to double up in the JLT, breaking a sequence of second places.

That was but an amuse bouche for a couple of scintillating main courses. Before those, there was the Geraghty master class on Sire du Berlais, a horse that was sent off 4/1 favourite but traded as high as 240 in running. He looked cooked but BJG conjured a magic ride to get by one challenger and repel another in a tight finish.

Then came those delicious appetisers, starting with the Ryanair. This is a race which has been - rightly, in my view - called out in the past as a hiding place for second tier Champion Chase or Gold Cup prospects; but the 2019 renewal was a proper horse race, one packed with legitimate two-and-a-half-milers and legitimate Grade 1 horses.

From the veteran Un De Sceaux to Gold Cup non-staying fourth, Road To Respect, to Arkle victor, Footpad, to Cheltenham specialist, Frodon, all were worthy players for whom, with the possible exception of Footpad, this was undoubtedly the right race. Chuck in last year's winner Balko des Flos and another winner from Festival 2018, The Storyteller, as well as high class second season chaser, Monalee, and it was truly a deep and classy field.

Sometimes such setups disappoint, runners failing to show their true ability left and right. Not this time. It was a super race from start to finish, with a fairy tale outcome.

Frodon, incredibly, has only recently celebrated his seventh birthday and yet seems to have been around forever. Since joining Paul Nicholls he's made Cheltenham home, winning five of nine chase starts at the track. That palmarès was rounded off prior to Joyful Thursday by a huge performance off 164 (and top weight) in handicap company, and a battling victory in the Grade 2 Cotswold Chase over a trip beyond his comfort zone. Here he added a first Grade 1 success in typical front-running heart-on-sleeve style.

In the aftermath it was left to Frodon's rider, Bryony Frost, to speak for her horse. Her affection for their partnership, her joy at what they'd just achieved together, and her youth and exuberance are the sorts of PR racing can't buy. Her post-race anthropomorphism of Frodon to any microphone that was turned on was beautifully sincere, faintly bonkers and, frankly, absolutely bloody marvellous. That Bryony adorned many of the newspaper front pages as well as their other covers on Friday morning was a much-needed shot in the arm for a sport sometimes struggling for relevancy in a world that increasingly fails to 'get it'.

And, if that wasn't enough, Cheltenham Thursday - so often the poor relation of the four day meeting - was able to sustain the Festival feel-good factor through the day's other championship event, the Stayers' Hurdle. This time it was Andrew Gemmell, a racing nut who has been blind since birth, who was the centre of attention.

His Festival had already been noteworthy when Discorama, a horse he part owns, ran a brave second in the National Hunt Chase. But this lad, owned outright and a strong favourite for the long distance hurdle crown, was the one that carried his hopes and dreams. Trained by Emma Lavelle and ridden by Aidan Coleman, both seeking their first Festival Grade 1's, those who could watch the race were left in no doubt from some way out about who would win; at least not until a horlicks at the last which would have floored a more fatigued horse.

Gemmell, reliant on the on-course commentary, would also have heard a cacophony of gasps to attest to the late drama which unfolded at the final flight. But Paisley Park, and Coleman and Lavelle, and Andrew Gemmell were not to be denied this joyful moment on Joyful Thursday.

What a day of racing that was. Alas, racing is never all 'up'.

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Triumph and Disaster

If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same

Kipling's these days almost trite verse about the journey to manhood will rarely have been more apposite than in the case of the boy-man Joseph O'Brien and the emerging brilliance of his four-year-old, Sir Erec. O'Brien is more than a chip off the old block, he is a carbon copy of the determination, diligence and intelligence of his father, Aidan.

Not 26 until May and rider of the winners of two Derby's, a 2000 Guineas and a St Leger, he already has a Classic victory and a Melbourne Cup win as a trainer. Although not named on the license at the time of Ivanovich Gorbatov's Triumph Hurdle win of 2016, he was widely rumoured to have been the trainer then; this was his chance to get a first Grade 1 win at the Festival.

But disaster tragically did strike. On the landing side of the fourth flight, Sir Erec broke a leg - I'm not sure how, I haven't been able to bring myself to watch the recording yet - leading to his inevitable euthanizing.

As I've already said, I'm an animal lover and a fan of the sport. In these days of heightened sensitivity in all walks of life - it sometimes feels like we're returning to a 17th century puritanical era - harmonising those two attributes, animal lover/NH fan, is increasingly difficult to explain to those who don't follow the game.

How can you love a sport where horses of the quality, beauty and, yes, purity of Sir Erec are allowed to be sacrificed? It's a deep and nuanced question, and it has different answers depending on who is asking. It's a huge issue, maybe for another day, but suffice it to say that I was reminded of Our Conor and that difficult day, and the nausea in the pit of the stomach remained through the rest of Friday afternoon.

But there is more to life. Indeed, JPOB probably couched it better than anyone when he was quoted as follows:

Horse racing in the moment is everything, but when we pull our heads from the trough and see the stuff going on outside...

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Gold Cup win no silver lining

We need to talk about Willie. Again. Some won't hear of such as what is to follow, but the evidence is growing and only faintly masked by the excellent performance of Al Boum Photo in winning the Gold Cup. At a time when, as mentioned already, racing is fighting a battle against a rising tide of animal welfare sympathisers, faller - and especially fatality - rates are something which are going to be closely scrutinised.

Any horse can fall of course, and misfortune is as accepted as it is unwelcome in the winter game. But some incur greater levels of misfortune than others. To paraphrase the peerless Oscar Wilde (without intention to belittle the subject),

To lose one horse may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness

The Mullins stable saddled two of the three horses fatally injured at last week's Festival.

Obviously that's a tiny number and could easily be noise. Indeed it is very likely noise in and of itself. But, when looking at larger datasets, we see a similar pattern. Here, for instance, are the fall/unseat rates at this year's Festival:

Total Fall/Unseat - 32/498 (6.4%)
WPM Fall/Unseat - 5/59 (8.5%)

That's still a tiny sample, so let's expand to 2009+ at the Festival, eleven years and all of the data in geegeez.co.uk's Query Tool:

Total Fall/Unseat -  368/5315 (6.9%)
Total Fall/Unseat excl WPM - 327/4852 (6.8%)
WPM Fall/Unseat - 41/463 (8.9%)

Regardless of how many more competitive runners the trainer has, this is a significant outlier at the top of an unwelcome chart. Comparing with his most immediate Cheltenham Festival peers - Messrs. Elliott (14/181, 7.7%), Henderson (19/401, 4.7%) and Nicholls (23/321, 7.2%) - fails to improve the picture by relativity.

And yet still some may contend that the samples are too small. So, as one final set of data, here are the fall/unseat figures (chase races only) for all starters in UK and Irish races since 1st January 2015 for a select group of top trainers:

 

 

The obvious next question is, "Why?".

It is not for me to answer that: I don't have any 'in' on the yard nor do I think value is added by speculating on the basis of nothing. However, I will reference this quote from the trainer regarding Cilaos Emery, a horse who missed the Festival, that might just offer a window on this world:

He pulled a muscle schooling in Navan the other day. That's why you didn't see him this morning. We'll have to wait and see how he's going to come out of it. If he doesn't come out of it in the next seven days, then I think we might have to draw stumps for Cheltenham. That's a disappointment, but when you school them you take your chance.

When you school them you take your chance...

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Give Back Friday

On a wagering note, the week went well for me personally, and also for keen followers of the previews I penned on here. 40/1 advised William Henry was an obvious highlight from an odds perspective, though I was far more invested in shorter-priced runners, including my biggest bets of the week on Road To Respect - who blew his chance by bungling all of the last three fences - and Native River, who ran a creditable race which was only good enough for fourth. I'd had an overstaked each way bet on Anibale Fly at 33/1 which took some of the heat out of the Gold Cup situation but that, and small nibbles at big prices on Hazel Hill, could not quite cover the Friday losers elsewhere.

The County Hurdle (We Have A Dream 2nd at 25/1), Grand Annual (failed to have a small bet on the 66/1 winner, first time I've not backed him in four spins in this race) and Martin Pipe (over-staked bet on Dallas Des Pictons 2nd at 7/2) are races where you're not supposed to pick up. In fact the first and last of that trio were perfectly gettable - just not by me.

Adding into that a personal and perennial inability to identify the winners of either the Gold Cup or Triumph Hurdle, and the crap shoot that is the Albert Bartlett and oftentimes the Foxhunters as well, you'll see why I consider it 'Give Back Friday'; though of course that assumes that you've borrowed some off those lovely bookie types from Tuesday to Thursday.

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How was it for you? Feel free to leave a comment below - I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Matt

 

Sat TV Trends: 16th March 2019

It's always a bit quiet this weekend with the Cheltenham hangovers, but there is still ITV Racing to take in with the cameras heading to Uttoxeter, with the Midlands National the feature, while they are also at Kempton Park.

As always, we are  on hand with all the key trends and stats for the LIVE ITV races. Use these to whittle down the runners and find the best profiles of past winners.

Uttoxeter Horse Racing Trends

2.25 - Brit Plant Direct Novices' Handicap Chase Cl2 3m ITV

12/15 – Aged 8 or younger
12/15 – Carried 10-9 or more
11/15 – Had raced within the last 4 weeks
10/15 – Had won between 1-2 times over fences before
10/15 – Had won over at least 3m (chases) before
10/15 – Placed last time out
10/15 – Never raced at Uttoxeter before
10/15 – Returned 7/1 or less
8/15 – Unplaced favourites
9/15 – Came from the top 3 in the betting
7/15 – Aged 7 years-old
5/15 – Won last time out
2/15 – Trained by Alan King
2/15 – Trained by Harry Fry (last two runnings)
2/15 – Ridden by Daryl Jacob
2/15 – Winning favourites

 

3.00 - Marston's Pedigree Handicap Hurdle Cl2 2m4f ITV

Only 7 Previous Runnings
7/7 – Carried 10-13 or more in weight
6/7 – Returned 10/1 or shorter in the betting
3/
7 – Winning favourites
3/7 – Aged 8 years-old
Clyne (10/1) won the race in 2018

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3.35
- Marston's 61 Deep Midlands Grand National Chase Handicap (Listed Race) Cl1 4m1f110y ITV

14/15 – Aged 9 or younger
13/15 – Had won between 1-4 times over fences before
13/15 – Carried 10-12 or less
13/15 – Had won over at least 3m (fences) before
12/15 – Had raced within the last 8 weeks
11/15 – Won by an Irish bred horse
11/15 – Had never run at Uttoxeter before
11/15 – Unplaced favourites
10/15 – Officially rated 133 or less
10/15 – Carried 10-9 or less
10/15 – Finished in the top 3 last time out
8/15 – Aged 7 or 8 years-old
8/15 – Came from the top 3 in the betting
8/15 – Returned a double-figure-price in the betting
5/15 – Won last time out
4/15 – Trained by David Pipe
3/15 – Won by an Irish-trained horse
2/15 – Winning favourites

Kempton Park Horse Racing Trends

2.05 – Get Switched On With Matchbook Chase (A Novices’ Limited Handicap) Cl3 2m ITV

11/12 – Returned 7/1 or shorter in the betting
10/12 – Finished in the top 3 last time out
8/12 – Carried 11-0 or less
8/12 – Ran in the last 5 weeks
8/12 – Won at least once over fences before
7/12 – Winning distance – 2 lengths or less
5/12 – Unplaced last time out
5/12 – Aged 8 or 9 years-old
5/12 – Won last time out
5/12 – Won 3 or more times before over fences
4/12 – Winning favourites
2/12 – Trained by Tom George (2 of last 6)

2.40 – Matchbook VIP Silver Plate Handicap Hurdle Cl2 2m5f ITV

Only 5 previous runnings
Nicky Henderson has won 2 of the last 4 runnings
No winning favourite yet from the last 5 runnings
All 5 previous winners carried 11-12 or more
Kildisart (5/1) won the race in 2018 (Ben Pauling)

 

3.15 – Matchbook Silver Bowl (A Handicap Chase) Cl2 2m4f110y ITV

Only 5 previous running
1 winning favourite (co) from the last 5 runnings
4 of the last 5 winners carried 11-2 or more
Trainers Venetia William, Tom George, Ian Williams, Paul Nicholls, Tom George and Jonjo O’Neill have won the race so far
Cepage (14/1) won the race in 2018

 

 

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Cheltenham Festival 2019: Day Four Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2019: Day Four Preview, Tips

And so to day 4, Friday, Gold Cup Day, the last of the quartet. If you're in front, well done; if you're behind, there's still time. Either way, the last day is traditionally the trickiest so keep that in mind as you peruse the prose below.

1.30 Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m1f)

The four-year-old hurdle championship is often a confused competitive affair. But this time it might just be a tad lop-sided. That is certainly how the market perceives things, with Sir Erec heading the betting at even money. Plenty of horses arrive at this race off the flat and/or after earlier starts to their hurdling careers in France. This fellow has an extremely high class flat profile, evidenced most obviously by a third place finish behind Stradivarius in the Group 2 Long Distance Cup on British Champions' Day last autumn. He was sent off just 5/1 that day suggesting there was no fluke to that run. He jumps proficiently, stays well and has oodles of class.

If there is a reason to take him on, and I'm not convinced there is, it might be in a faintly interrupted prep where he was the victim of a stone bruise. But the vibes - #thevibes - seem to be that he is completely over that and he's unlikely to have missed any work as a consequence. I think he will win and win well. But I cannot bet him at even money.

So where to from here? Betting without the favourite is our friend: it offers fair odds without having to do half the stake on an unlikely win prospect. Away from Sir Erec, it's a fascinating betting race. Fascinating, but not easily deciphered.

Tiger Tap Tap was very close to Sir Erec on their respective Irish hurdling debuts, but further back when they re-engaged last time. He may step forward for a more truly run race and represents the Mullins/Walsh axis.

Best of the Brits is probably the, erm, French horse, Quel Destin, who has experience aplenty and comes here unbeaten in five small field races. Although it's hard to crab a horse that just keeps winning, it feels to me as though the Irish juveniles are a cut above their British counterparts; if that's correct then the likes of Tiger and Gardens Of Babylon are worth a second glance in the without market. Gardens Of Babylon won a big field maiden hurdle before getting chinned on the line next time; he then got closest to Sir Erec at Leopardstown on his most recent outing.

The je ne sais quoi factor is brought to the race by Pic d'Orhy, a high class French import yet to race here. He was second in an Auteuil Grade 1 last November before being snapped up by owner Johnny de la Hey. Whilst it is often difficult to project how such horses will fare on their UK debuts, and this is hardly a quiet jog round in which to get started, new trainer Paul Nicholls has 'previous' for getting this job done: he has effected it at least twice, with Diego du Charmil and Aux Ptits Soins, in the Fred Winter and Coral Cup respectively.

Adjali looked to have limitations exposed first by Quel Destin and then by Fakir d'Oudairies, the latter a form line suggesting Irish primacy in these ranks. Pentland Hills won his only hurdle start but is rated more than two stone inferior to Sir Erec on the level.

Willie Mullins also runs French Made, and she could be better than a 40/1 shot. She won her only start for Mullins in a big field maiden hurdle where the second and third have both won since.

Triumph Hurdle Pace Map

 

Triumph Hurdle Selection

I think, and indeed hope, Sir Erec wins, because he's as classy a recruit to the juvenile hurdling division as we've seen in a long time. He's capable of winning this, the Ascot Gold Cup in June and maybe even a Champion Hurdle one day.

But evens is not generally my thing. The without market is a place to play, and in that context both Tiger Tap Tap and Pic d'Orhy appeal more than Quel Destin. French Made may go better than a 40/1 shot, too.

Suggestion: Back either Tiger Tap Tap (Victor 11/2 1/5 123) and/or Pic d'Orhy (Victor 11/2 1/5 123) each way without the favourite. And perhaps have a tiny each way in the same market on French Made (Victor 18/1 1/5 123).

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2.10 County Hurdle (Grade 3 Handicap, 2m1f)

Too difficult for me, so token thoughts only. But then I did manage to back 40/1 William Henry on Wednesday and I've tipped a 50/1 winner in this before (Silver Jaro - oh, the scenes..!). Small stakes obviously. Runners aged seven-plus have won six of the last 21 so it's hardly the death knell but the percentage play is to side with younger, less exposed types. Five year olds have an incredible record, and those a year older have also gone well.

My shortlist, which comprises those youths with Graded form, is We Have A Dream, Mr Adjudicator, and Due Reward.

Mr Adjudicator is the shortest of the three, at around 16/1. He has finished 11222 in hurdle races, including a victory in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle last season, beating subsequent Triumph winner, Farclas. Last time out he was beaten eleven lengths by Espoir d'Allen, a performance which would have got him closer to the subsequent Champion Hurdle winner than the runner-up in that race, Melon, if taken literally. Whilst one should not take that literally it was nevertheless a very good effort.

We Have A Dream is also a Grade 1 winner, in last year's Finale Hurdle at Chepstow, and also makes his handicap debut. He stays further and has obvious class, but whether he's quite battle hardened enough for a scrap like this, I don't know.

The trio is rounded out by Due Reward, an experienced handicapper who was found out in a small field G1 two starts back. Given a rehearsal ride at Leopardstown last time, this is gala night and Henry de Bromhead will have him ready to roll.

Whiskey Sour is the favourite and for good reason. He ran a tidy race when third in this last year on his first handicap spin, and has plenty of Grade 1 form, including a win in novice company last term. He's commensurately short in the betting but his case is easy to make.

County Hurdle Pace Map

County Hurdle Selection

Obviously impossible, so the guesses are as presented above. Whiskey Sour will surprise nobody if winning, but bigger prices are available about equally talented - if less handicap proven - alternatives in We Have A Dream and Mr Adjudicator. Due Reward is also interesting.

Suggestion: Small interest each way on any or all of We Have A Dream (25/1 general), Mr Adjudicator (16/1 general) and Due Reward (25/1 general)

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2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)

The potato race. A war for relatively inexperienced horses where the ability to stay stay and stay is aforethought. The last five winners were all sent off at double figure prices, two of them at 33/1, so this is not a race in which to be all in on the jolly.

The thing here is that this big field slog is a far greater test than the five- and six-runner bimbles horses encounter earlier in the season, and it demands a tougher - often less classy - animal to see it out. Experience is a crucial factor with twelve of the 14 winners having had four or more (and as many as ten!) races in the previous year.

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If we use that experience criterion we immediately remove three of the top five in the market and, while there's a fair chance we've lobbed the winner, I'm happier taking a flyer at a price in a race which has rewarded such ambition in recent years.

And I'm also focusing on those to have already won over at least three miles, as nine of the 14 winners had. That truncates the field from twenty to seven. Nice. Potentially.

The shortest of my remaining squad is the uneasy favourite, Lisnagar Oscar. Trained by Rebecca Curtis, whose At Fishers Cross won this in 2013, this son of - you know it, Oscar - was second over course and distance in December and has since won a big field novice hurdle at Chepstow and a three mile Grade 2 at Haydock. He deserves his position in the market and would certainly be shorter if trained by a more fashionable handler.

Derrinross is next on my list but his wins have come in a brace of six-runner fields and he's exactly the sort I want to be against. Doesn't mean he can't win - his soft ground score in a Grade 2 last time is obviously decent form - but this will be run at a very different clip, making 10/1 unattractive.

Gordon Elliott's Dinons ticks the experience box in spades - he's had ten runs, and five wins, in the last year - but he got whacked on his first step into Graded company last time and would prefer a sounder surface. That said, he did bolt up in a Class 2 novice hurdle over course and distance (on the other track) in October. Small field of six. He's not been seen for 110 days.

Nadaitak hacked up as outsider of four last time out in the Grade 2 River Don at Doncaster. That was on good ground as is most of his form, and it was in a small field - not what he'll encounter here. Ben Pauling is having a brilliant Festival (Le Breuil winning, Bright Forecast third in the Ballymore) so no worries on the stable form score, but I don't think he's quite shown enough mettle for this challenge.

And then we get to the interesting ones, from a price perspective at least. Noel Meade saddles Cap York, who got outpaced before staying on in Derrinross's Grade 2 two starts back. Last time out he raced in open handicap company in a bigger field over three miles, and won comfortably. That kind of race setup is far more akin to an average Albert Bartlett than the small field G2's which seem to abound, and I think this seven-year-old could go well. He does have slightly less experience than is ideal in terms of number of recent runs.

Colin Tizzard won this last year with Kilbricken Storm, and he has a similar profile type this term in Rockpoint. The six-year-old son of Shirocco has had a dozen hurdle starts, improving significantly in recent runs for the step up to three miles. He won the three mile Grade 2 over course and distance in which favourite Lisnagar Oscar was second, and yet he's 33/1 in places. True, he's since finished behind the same horse at Haydock, but that was on good ground and a flat track in a race run at a dawdle - this sort of attrition is much more his condition.

Plenty at the head of the market with proven class but unknown levels of fortitude, that latter attribute the primary requirement for the gig.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Selection

In a race where outsiders go well, I'm taking two against the field. Cap York could be the pick of the Irish, in terms of stamina and resolution at least; and Rockpoint, a Grade 2 winner over course and distance, looks a forgotten horse for last year's winning trainer. They'll do for me.

Suggestion: Back Rockpoint (33/1 Victor 1/5 1234) and/or Cap York (25/1 Victor 1/5 1234) each way

*

3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1, 3m 2 1/2f)

The Blue Riband. I previewed the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2019 here, and nothing in my perspective has changed since.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Pace Map

 

Cheltenham Gold Cup Selection

I nominated Native River at 6/1 on 5th March in the above preview. He's now a top priced 9/2 which is still reasonable in my book, if not spectacular. Bellshill was my other suggestion: he was 14/1 and is still available to back at 12/1 in spite of Ruby Walsh riding. I'd imagine he'll shorten and is probably the bet if you're not on something already.

Suggestion: Think about Native River at 9/2 (888sport) and also Bellshill at 12/1 (Victor 1/5 1234)

*

4.10 The Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase (Class 2, 3m 2 1/2f)

We're into 'after the Lord Mayor's Show' territory now. If you're not in front, it will be pretty difficult to claw a result from here on out.

My handle on the point/hunter chase form is limited, but I was extremely taken by the performance of Hazel Hill when he routed a strong field at Warwick in late January. A prolific point winner, he is now three from three in hunter chases, nothing getting within ten lengths of him in that discipline. One firm went 25/1 about his chance here in the immediate aftermath; sadly, they only stood me £8.80, but still that was better than nothing and, in truth, will probably save me a quid or two when he runs a gallant second!

Two Irish horses head the market, Stand Up And Fight and Ucello Conti. They have very different profiles, the former being a lightly raced seven-year-old who placed in staying Graded novice hurdles two seasons ago; the latter a seasoned ex-handicap chaser who was second in the Paddy Power Handicap Chase at Leopardstown during their 2017 Christmas Festival. Ucello was running a bold race in last year's Grand National until unseating his rider four out and I'd be inclined to take that form over the class and youth of Enda Bolger's favourite. Young horses have won this race in the recent past - think Salsify and Cappa Bleu and Kingscliff - so don't let me put you off if you like the jolly.

Road To Rome is a winning machine. He's on a current streak of seven - three points and four hunter chases - but it has all been on flat tracks. He's an admirable horse, no doubt, though this looks a bridge too far.

And what of Pacha Du Polder? He's 20/1 having won this for the last two years. And if you think that price says he has no chance, keep in mind that those two wins in the race were returned at 16/1 and 25/1. His full record in the race is 511. No twelve-year-old-plus has won this since Earthmover in 2004, trained by... Pacha Du Polder's trainer, Paul Nicholls. Nicholls has won the Foxhunters a record-equalling four times and relies on Pacha in his bid for sole primacy.

Foxhunter Chase Pace Map

[Note that this pace map only features races run under Rules, i.e. no point to point pace figures are included]

 

Foxhunter Chase Selection

A fascinating race but, unless you're a bit of a judge of such things - I'm not - it's one to watch more than wager. Small interests on any of the top three in the market - Stand Up And Fight, Ucello Conti, Hazel Hill - should give you a run for your money. And if you want to cheer a big-priced story horse, Pacha du Polder is the one.

Suggestion: Back any of the top three and try a tiny each way on Pacha Du Polder (20/1 general)

*

4.50 Grand Annual Chase (Grade 3 Handicap, 2m 1/2f)

The last two races are not really my thing. I'll be nicely inebriated by this point, in the Brown Bear on Leman Street as Gold Cup day tradition dictates. This was a very difficult watch last year with a number of equine fatalities as the riders went hell for leather from the outset. Moving it from the last to the penultimate race is unlikely to positively affect the early speed which will almost certainly be set by the rapid Gino Trail.

Kerry Lee's lightning bolt clung on valiantly for second in last year's Grand Annual and has the same mark this time around. It's a very big ask to go wire to wire in this, mind.

The horse to beat him in 2018 was Le Prezien, who again locks horns. He is a mere pound higher now and ought to again get on the premises granted safe passage. But Le Prezien's trainer, Paul Nicholls, has been making bullish noises about another of his runners, Magic Saint, throughout the preview circuit. This lad is only five, was formerly trained in France by Guillaume Macaire, and has progressive form here. He'll not have seen anything like this kind of set up previously, however, and is awfully short. Palarshan won as a five-year-old in 2003, and six of the dozen that age hit the frame.

Bun Doran could be suited to conditions though he's up a chunk in the weights for an easy win two back. Trainer Tom George has been quiet in the past fortnight, too.

This race is named in honour of Nicky Henderson's dad, so we can be sure that Whatswrongwithyou will be an emotional winner. He comes here on a hat-trick having beaten two rivals twice; this will be a somewhat different experience.

Gary Moore's progressive novice, Not Another Muddle, was impressive at Sandown last time and is likely not done improving yet. He has a nice light weight and appeals as the type to finish through a lot of tired horses. That sort of run style demands a ton of luck in the run, however, something which may not be fully factored in to a price of 8/1.

The Irish have out-performed their numerical representation in recent years, scoring three times and hitting the board with another five, from 28 runners. Only Mind's Eye lines up for the away team, Henry de Bromhead's seven-year-old bidding to replicate the feat of A Plus Tard in the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase on the opening day. The son of Stowaway has been running in Grade 1 novice chases so is clearly considered capable of a classy performance.

Grand Annual Pace Map

 

Grand Annual Selection

Magic Saint has been well touted by his trainer who saddled last year's winner, Le Prezien. I prefer the latter at the prices, and I also quite like Not Another Muddle if he can get an untroubled trip - a big ask of any horse in this field. But perhaps the pick of the prices is the sole Irish entry, Mind's Eye, a novice who has been jogging round in small field Grade 1's and who might just find this more rapid tempo right up his street.

Suggestion: Try Mind's Eye each way at 14/1 (Victor 1/5 12345)

*

5.30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m 4 1/2f)

A very difficult looking finale for the 'lucky last'. That said, recent renewals have been notable for the class their winners have subsequently shown over fences. Don Poli, Killultagh Vic, Ibis Du Rheu, Champage Classic and Blow By Blow all showed themselves to be Graded performers, most of them at Grade 1 level.

Thus I'm only interested in an unexposed potentially very high class horse. To that end, Dallas Des Pictons - who is priced at just 7/2 - looks just the man for the job. Winner of a Class B handicap hurdle last time, he was second off level weights to Ballymore Novices' Hurdle winner, City Island, prior to back-to-back big field wins. He may be a short price but he already has Grade 1 form on that City Island line.

Defi Bleu, Getareason, and Early Doors all fit the ascendant Graded class runner mould, though less snugly than Dallas. That is reflected in their prices, all of which are 8/1+.

But my Festival will be over by this point, and I'll simply be looking to identify the right cap colour on the favourite (it's the purple one).

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Pace Map

 

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Selection

Not a race in which to go mad. Keep your powder dry for the Midlands Nash on Saturday! I'll be having a bet on the obvious horse, Dallas Des Pictons, who looks the best animal in the race and can be supported at 7/2 to back up that contention. Unexciting, but we're in 'a winner is a winner' pub chat territory now...!

Suggestion: Back Dallas Des Pictons (7/2 general) and cheer it home with everybody else.

2019 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY THREE (Thurs 14th March 2019)

Each day of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival our horse racing trends experts here at GeeGeez.co.uk will give you all the quick-fire positive and negative stats for EVERY race. Apply these to the final cards and you will build up a picture and a profile of which horses have historically done the best in recent renewals.

We hope they help narrow down the fields and also help pin-point plenty of winners at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival for you!

 

DAY THREE: Thursday 14th March 2019

13:30 JLT Novices' Chase   2m 4f

2018 Winner: SHATTERLED LOVE (4/1)
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Jockey – Jack Kennedy

Pluses….

  • 7 of the 8 winners were Irish-trained
  • Willie Mullins has trained 4 of the last 8 winners
  • 6 of the last 8 winners had won a Graded Chase before
  • All 8 past winners had run at the Festival before
  • 7 of the 8 winners came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 6 of the last 8 winners came from the top 2 in the betting
  • 7 of the last 8 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 7 of the last 8 winners returned 7/1 or shorter
  • 5 of the last 8 winners won last time out
  • 5 of the last 8 winners ran at Leopardstown last time out
  • 6 of the last 8 winners ran between 47-54 days ago
  • 7 year-olds have won 6 of last 8 renewals

Negatives….

  • Be careful of horses rated 146 or less
  • Just one British-trained runner so far
  • The top-rated horse is just 1 from 8
  • Since 1990 all Festival Novice Chase winners have been aged 8 or younger
  • 3 winning favourites in 8 runnings (1 co)
  • Just 1 of the last 8 winners had less than 3 career chase starts
  • Just 1 winner had been off for more than 54 days

14:10 Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle   3m

2018 Winner: DELTA WORK (6/1)
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Jockey – Davy Russell

Pluses….

  • 7 of the last 13 winners were aged 8 or older
  • 8 of the last 9 winners started their careers in bumpers (6) or points (2)
  • 10 of the last 18 winners were from outside the top 5 in the betting
  • The last 8 winners were rated 138 or higher
  • 9 of the last 12 winners were rated between 132-142 (inc)
  • 9 of the last 14 winners had won over at least 2m7f
  • 9 of the last 12 winners had run 10 or less times over hurdles before
  • 8 of the last 18 winners won their last race
  • 3 of the last 10 winners finished in the first 5 in the Betfair Hurdle
  • Look for Jonjo O’Neill, Twiston-Davies, Mullins and Pipe-trained runners
  • Respect JP McManus-owned horses

Negatives….

  • Just 4 Irish-trained winners in the last 13 runnings
  • Avoid horses with less than 6 runs over hurdles
  • 5 year-olds have won just twice since 1973
  • French-bred horses are currently on a run of 1-80
  • All horses rated 150+ since 2000 have failed to finish in the top 2
  • 1 winning favourite in last 13 years
  • Paul Nicholls is currently 0 from 18 (One third and two 2nds in the last 5 runnings)
  • Horses aged 7 or younger and priced in single-figures are just 2 from 37

14:50 Ryanair Chase   2m 5f

2018 Winner: BALKO DES FLOS (8/1)
Trainer – Henry de Bromhead
Jockey – Davy Russell

Pluses….

  • 19 of the 27 winners and runners-up had won at the course before
  • 5 of the last 6 winners were 2nd season chasers
  • 9 of the last 11 had won at Cheltenham previously
  • 9 of the last 11 winners had won a Grade 1 Chase before
  • The King George VI Chase is often a good guide (7 from 25)
  • The previous year’s renewal is often a good guide
  • 10 of the last 13 winners returned 6/1 or shorter
  • 6 of the last 7 winners were aged 7 or 8 years-old
  • 10 of the last 11 winners were rated 161+
  • 4 of the last 14 winners were placed in the top 3 in the Ascot Chase last time out
  • 10 of last 14 winners were fav or 2nd fav
  • Trainers Jonjo O’Neill, David Pipe & Nicky Henderson are respected
  • Respect first time head-gear (2 from 7)
  • 8 of the last 11 winners DIDN’T win last time out
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Negatives….

  • The Irish are 3 from 43 runners in this race
  • Avoid horses priced 7/1 or bigger
  • Avoid horses aged 11 or older
  • Just one winner rated 160 or below
  • Just 3 of the last 11 won last time out
  • All winners ran 4 or less times that season
  • No winner was having their Festival debut

 

15:30 Sun Racing Stayers’ Hurdle 3m

2018 Winner: PENHILL (12/1)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Paul Townend

 

Pluses….

  • 10 of the last 14 won last time out
  • 16 of the last 18 winners came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 8 of the last 17 were French Bred
  • Respect the Cleeve Hurdle and Long Walk Hurdle form
  • 14 of the last 17 winners finished 1st or 2nd in all their hurdling runs that season
  • 12 of the last 14 winners started 10/1 or less in the betting
  • Respect past winners of the race

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses that didn’t finish either 1st or 2nd last time out (2 from 19)
  • A 5 year-old is yet to win the race
  • Trainer Willie Mullins has only won the race twice
  • Avoid front runners
  • The Irish are have won the race just three times since 1995
  • Avoid horses that were beaten in the race before
  • Previous Albert Bartlett winners have an overall poor record (1 from 16)
  • Horses wearing headgear are 0 from 63
  • Horses aged 10 or older have all been beaten since 1986 (0 from 52)

16:10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate   2m 5f

2018 Winner: THE STORYTELLER (5/1 fav)
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Jockey – Davy Russell

Pluses….

  • 26 of the last 31 winners were officially rated 141 or less
  • 9 of the last 10 winners carried under 11-0
  • Look out for French-breds
  • Venetia Williams & Pipe-trained runners should be noted
  • The Pipe yard have won 7 of the last 21 runnings
  • 16 of the last 18 winners returned at double-figure odds
  • 20 of the last 27 winners had run at the Festival before (but 6 of last 8 were having Festival debut)
  • 18 of the last 19 winners had run in no more than 16 chases
  • 17 of the last 19 winners came from outside the top 4 in the market

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses that are yet to win at Class 3 or better
  • The Irish have only sent out 4 winners since 1951
  • 2 winning favourites in the last 13 years
  • 3 of last 24 won with 11st+
  • Winners of a chase at Cheltenham before have poor records

16:50 Dawn Run Mares’ Novices Hurdle 2m1f

2018 Winner: LAURINA (4/7 fav)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Paul Townend

A new race (Just three renewals)
Favourites have all three runnings
All three past winners won last time out
All three winners have been aged 5 years-old
Willie Mullins won the race in 2016, 2017 & 2018
Ruby Walsh has ridden the winner in 2016, 2017
Owner Rich Ricci has won 2 of the last 3 runnings

17:30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase   3m 1½f

2018 Winner: MISSED APPROACH (8/1)
Trainer – Warren Greatrex
Jockey – Mr N McParlan

Pluses….

  • Respect 8 and 9 year-olds
  • 3 of the last 8 winners ran in the BetVictor Handicap Chase (Open Meeting)
  • The last 7 winners ran off a mark of 137 or more
  • 7 of the last 9 winners carried 11st 5lbs+
  • Look for McCain, Pipe and Henderson-trained runners
  • Look for horses in the top half of the handicap
  • 17 of the last 19 winners ran over at least three miles in their last race
  • Look for non-claiming amateur riders
  • 7 of the last 8 winners wore headgear
  • 8 of the last 10 winners came from the top 6 in the market
  • Jamie Codd has ridden 4 of the last 10 winners
  • Nina Carberry placed 6 times, Derek O’Connor 2nd 3 times

Negatives….

  • Just two Irish winners for 35 years (but have won 2 of the last 5)
  • Horses that fell or unseated that season have a poor record
  • Avoid Paul Nicholls-trained horses – he’s just 1 placed horse from his last 20
  • Trainer Willie Mullins has a poor record in the race
  • Horses carrying less than 10-10 have a poor record
  • French breds are 0 from 56 since 2005
  • Avoid claiming jockeys – 1 from 85 since 2009

 

 

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Cheltenham Festival 2019: Day 3 Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2019: Day 3 Preview, Tips

And so to the second half, historically the trickier segment of the meeting. After two fiendishly trappy days on Tuesday and Wednesday, that does not bode well! Typically the weakest of the four days, though that of course is relative, Thursday brings us the Stayers' Hurdle, Ryanair and JLT Chases, as well as a trio of impossible handicaps and a mares' novice hurdle (all lower case) that has no place at the Festival in my opinion.

Finding winners should be faintly possible in the Grade 1's, and that is where the bulk of the words that follow will be focused.

1.30 JLT Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4f)

A curious little contest which revolves in large part around the form of the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase, a Grade 1 over this sort of trip run at Sandown in early February. That day, Defi Du Seuil beat Lostintranslation and Vinndication, the trio now comprising 60% of the top five in the betting and 100% of the top two.

Defi was a very good winner of the Triumph Hurdle, or so it seemed at the time, but he subsequently got stuck in the mire of Philip Hobbs' stable virus last season. This campaign has been better, highlighted by that Scilly Isles win and also featuring a defeat of Topofthegame (though that one had excuses). Moreover, the record of the winner of the Sandown race in this contest is 35F222, beaten the last thrice by an Irish runner.

Lostintranslation is closely pegged to Defi Du Seuil on his last two runs. He's a consistent horse with second placed efforts in two Grade 1's, but is a bit of a bridesmaid. Contrast him with Vinndication, who was expected to miss the Festival due to injury but has apparently been working the house down in recent days. Kim Bailey's Vinnie Roe gelding had won all six career starts prior to his close third in the Scilly Isles and he is entitled to improve a little more still.

The front three at Sandown were close together and I'm prepared to take a chance that the Irish will prevail again: they've already shown their two mile brigade is best, with a 1-2-3 in an eventful Arkle. They have a four-pronged attack with which to fork the home team, the highest rated of which is Real Steel. He's won his last two, in ungraded company, and wasn't good enough as a hurdler to make the frame in four attempts at G1 company.

Stablemate at the Willie Mullins yard, Voix Du Reve, interests me: he was third to Le Richebourg and Us And Them in the Racing Post Novice Chase, form advertised in the absence of the winner by the second who filled the same spot in the Arkle on Tuesday. He was in the process of running a bigger race than that, Us And Them and Mengli Khan behind, when tipping up at the last in the Irish Arkle: that form looks decent in this context. His jumping is a bit of a worry but he also has a Grade 2 verdict over beaten Arkle favourite, Hardline, to his name so is clearly near the head of the Irish chasing ranks. He's an appealing price.

Mengli Khan has been good enough to win a Grade 1 novice hurdle and to place in last year's Supreme on heavy ground; but he's not shown enough in three chase starts to suggest he can be the best of the Irish. As a son of Lope De Vega, he also has to demonstrate the requisite stamina having never raced beyond seventeen furlongs in twelve National Hunt starts. Pravalaguna, a third string to Willie's bow, rounds out Team Ireland (not that they're a team at all, obviously). She comes here on a hat-trick, her two chase wins achieved in Listed grade or lower, and looks to have a bit to find.

I'm struggling to see the appeal of classy handicapper Kildisart. He was getting weight from the second and (errant-running) third in a novices' handicap chase on Trials Day and that looks below what is required.

JLT Chase Pace Map

JLT Chase Selection

This boils down to whether you like the British or Irish form, and I like the Irish based on Tuesday's Arkle. On that basis, I'm siding with Voix Du Reve to add to Willie Mullins' tally (he's won four of the eight renewals to date). He has experience, he has classy chase form and, though he fell last time, he looks a very big price at 14/1 (or 20/1 if you can get on with Boyle).

Suggestion: Back Voix Du Reve each way at 14/1

*

2.10 Pertemps Final (Grade 3 handicap, 3m)

Another impossible handicap which will probably be won by an Irish novice that has run in a Grade 1 or 2 earlier in the season. Using that lazy man's route in - well, I could do the work and find a loser, too? - brings me to a shortlist of ... none.

Do some work I must, as yoda might say. A slightly different tack is to look for the 'not off' horse from the Leopardstown qualifier. That angle screams the chance of the Gordon Elliott-trained Sire Du Berlais, who jogged around before picking off enough of the beaten horses to bag sixth place and thus qualification for this final.

The lightly raced seven-year-old was fourth in the Martin Pipe last season off a mark of 144 and races here off just a pound higher. 6/1 is a horrible price in a race like this but his case is easily made.

Ian Williams' First Assignment has been consistent and progressive this season, including when winning a three mile handicap hurdle at the track in November. He's since given Paisley Park a race and will not be fazed by soft ground. Arguably more exposed than some, his conditioner is a wonderful target trainer. Again, though, he's well found in the betting.

At a massive price is Coole Cody. Michael Blake is unfashionable, but his runner has a Cheltenham handicap win on soft ground in a big field to his name. Just three pounds higher here, and coming in off the back of a fine second in a big field soft ground Grade 3 handicap hurdle, 50/1 is bigbigbig for smallsmallsmall money. He may try to make all, a trick which has proved surprisingly effective in such races: I can immediately recall Buena Vista doing that here, and Fountains Windfall doing it at Aintree.

If you like something else, fair play. I'll be going 20 deep in the placepot.

Pertemps Final Pace Map

Pertemps Final Selection

The favourite, Sire du Berlais, has his chance on the form of his fourth place in a handicap at last year's Festival; and I'd love to see Ian Williams win with First Assignment. I'll have a tiny tickle on that one and also on Coole Cody, who is over-priced even if he is probably also over-faced.

Suggestion: Back First Assignment (10/1 general) and Coole Cody (50/1 general) each way for very small money.

*

2.50 Ryanair Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4 1/2f)

Lots of old friends line up for what should be an enthralling renewal of the Ryanair Chase where they bet 4/1 the field. Clinging on to favouritism is last year's Arkle winner, Footpad. He was the beneficiary of some bonkers riding up top that day and shouldn't have been beaten by the capable old stick Simply Ned last time. Even given the form Willie is enjoying, I can't have him on my mind against a deep field although he's likely to be suited by softish turf.

Monalee is one of a group challenging for market primacy, and looks a more reliable place play at least. He beat stout stayer Anibale Fly last time and has form with the likes of Kemboy, Presenting Percy and Al Boum Photo that would put him close to the Gold Cup picture. I like him but I think he might just lack a gear.

Un De Sceaux is eleven now, and that's a big 'x' in my book. 11 year olds just don't win Festival races (Moscow Flyer in 2005 is the only horse older than ten to win a Grade 1 at the Cheltenham Festival, from 75 to try, since at least 1997), and this is very far from a penalty kick. The going, trip and track are all in his favour, but age is significantly against him. He'd be a tremendous winner but I can't see it in spite of some high class form as a ten-year-old last year.

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The gallant and superb Frodon also lines up. He produced one of the weight-carrying performances of recent times when lugging 11-12 off a mark of 164 in the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup and even managed to win over a trip-too-far extended three miles last time. His Cheltenham record reads 3801150211. That said, he was well beaten in last year's Ryanair and also on his only other Festival appearance, in the 2016 Triumph Hurdle.

The one I like - actually, the one I love - is ROAD TO RESPECT. He travelled off a fast pace like the winner in the Gold Cup last year before failing to stay so this shorter trip looks spot on. Soft ground will suit him better than the quicker surfaces he's been racing on which, allied to a Grade 1 win at the trip, and a pace setup that looks tailor-made, and a price of 5/1, makes him just about nap material.

It's 20/1 bar this group, a price which brings in last year's winner, Balko Des Flos, and the Brown Advisory winner, The Storyteller. The latter gets his ground which might make him more competitive than he's been most of the season, but he's probably a touch shy of what's needed to lift this pot; the former has been AWOL all campaign but may again be at least partially revived by wetter turf. Neither are for me, mind.

Ryanair Chase Pace Map

Ryanair Chase Selection

I got a bit carried away when wagering this race and have convinced myself that Road To Respect is one of the bets of the meeting. It's a race which will define my Cheltenham, so here's hoping Noel Meade's eight-year-old brings his A game. If he does, he'll take all the beating in what is a competitive race for the places.

Suggestion: Back Road To Respect at 5/1 (bet365, Boyle)

*

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)

I previewed this race here.

To that I'll add the pace map, which shows Faugheen may get some contention from Sam Spinner but perhaps not much else and might just be able to dictate the fractions:

*

4.10 Festival Plate (Grade 3 handicap, 2m 4 1/2f)

The Plate. Any chance of gravy? Not really, no...

Although not saddling a winner in the last four years, Venetia Williams, David (and before him, Martin) Pipe, and Nicky Henderson have excellent records in this race. Between them they run five this time: Eamon An Cnoic (Pipe), Gardefort, Didero Vallis (both Venetia), Janika and River Wylde (both Henderson).

Eamon An Cnoic - Eamon hereafter - was ninth in last year's Ultima. That's typically a better race than this and it is run over a longer trip, one which he appeared to fail to see out. Back in distance, with a win last time out over two miles and a prior course spin this season he'll be on plenty of tickets.

The six-year-old Didero Vallis has snuck in at the very bottom of the weights and comes here looking for a third win of the campaign, having prevailed twice at this range on soft before coming unstuck over further and on quicker last time. Perfect preparation in many respects. This ex-Willie Mullins-trained chap has plenty of upside, no weight and comes from the right trainer.

La Williams also runs Gardefort, whose mark has been moving in the opposite direction thanks to a Scrabble rack of form figures this term. 0PU is hardly the sort of sequence to get the pulse racing, and it's not the sort with which Venetia has got it done previously either, but a rummage a little deeper into Gardefort's profile reveals that he was second in the 2017 Grand Annual (two miles) at the Festival. Very lightly raced since, he was 142 then and is 137 now. Back class is the angle if you want to make a case for him.

Then there's Nicky's pair. Janika is just about favourite, the six-year-old running second on both UK starts since notching a hat-trick at Pau and Auteuil. He looks a pretty classy sort though he'll need to be to lug top weight and at least six pounds more than the rest. Obviously he wouldn't be a surprise winner but 6/1 is tight enough.

Second in the weights is the other Hendo horse, River Wylde. He's been plying his trade in Grade 1 and 2 hurdle and chase company and makes his handicap debut here. Third in Labaik's Supreme (2017), he was leading when coming down at the last in a graduation chase over a little further than this at Haydock last time. Good to soft would be fine for him though I don't think he'd want it too wet; with the ground drying out currently he could be interesting at twice the price of his stablemate.

The Irish have won the last three renewals, from very few entries, after an extremely long drought previously. They bring just two ten-year-olds to the table this time: Valseur Lido and Polidam. The former gets a drop in Festival grade having run third in the 2015 JLT and second in the 2016 Ryanair, both at around this trip. A mark of 145 is 16lb lower than his career top, though it's more than two years since he won. He represents the A Plus Tard connections of de Bromhead and Blackmore.

Polidam is a Willie Mullins runner that has been rattling around his current mark for a couple of years. He doesn't obviously have anything in hand of the 'capper though he's been fairly consistently in defeat.

Festival Plate Pace Map

Festival Plate Selection

It's another deep handicap where I've probably failed to mention the winner. Janika will go close if able to carry his big weight, but at the prices I'm more drawn to the chances of Eamon An Cnoic and River Wylde, as well as perhaps Didero Vallis. All represent savvy connections.

Suggestion: Take your each way pick of Eamon An Cnoic (20/1 Hills), River Wylde (14/1 Hills), and/or Didero Vallis (25/1 general).

*

4.50 Mares' Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m 1f)

A more competitive renewal this year, but not a race I believe should feature at the Festival. Personal prejudices aside, it is a decent wagering heat.

For the first time since its inception Willie Mullins doesn't have the favourite this year. That honour goes to Epatante, a French import trained by Nicky Henderson. She's bolted up on her two UK starts and won an AQPS Grade 1 bumper in France, though quite what that means in the context of this race is anybody's guess. It was a super-impressive victory, however, and she's not been troubled by anything to this point. She might just be a superstar.

Others have done more on the track and deserve a mention, most notably Posh Trish. She's had five runs this term, winning four of them, but this is a fair step up in grade; she was found out a little in Grade 2 bumper company last spring but had had a long season by then. Similar comments could apply this term.

Mullins may not saddle the favourite, but he is represented by SEVEN mares, the most prominent in the betting being My Sister Sarah. Winner of three of her four starts in ordinary company, she has a stone to find on ratings. But these are highly progressive youngsters and one has to respect the trainer. Pick of his septet at the prices might be Sancta Simona, who chased home Aramon in a Grade 1 against the boys last time. She was 5/2 there and is 16/1 here - that looks too big about a Grade 3 winner that handles any ground.

Second to Posh Trish at Newbury, having beaten her over the same course the time before, is Lust For Glory. She looks above average but may have a little to find against some of these. For fans of chat, her owners, Grech and Parkin, were talking her up as their best horse at the start of the season. She's not done much wrong.

In the same yard as Lust For Glory and Epatante is Elusive Belle. She has a tendency to find one too good but has posted some decent time figures. And Stuart Edmunds' Queenofhearts was a good winner of a Grade 2 at Sandown last time. She has been racing over further but, if they go quickly (and they probably will), she might not be out of it; she handles any ground.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Selection

In spite of myself I am drawn to the favourite, Epatante, on potential more than track performance. It is the manner of her victories that takes the eye. Her French G1 score was achieved with panache, nonchalance and other words which have been adopted into the British idiom, and I suspect this lass is going to be one about whom we speak in revered terms in future. Her name translates as 'amazing', though in an old-fashioned context (there's a French journo sitting next to me!), so perhaps more like 'spiffing', and she is probably just that. I'll take a rare chance at the top of the market on her.

Suggestion: Back Epatante to show that she's the real deal at 2/1 general

*

5.30 Kim Muir Challenge Cup Chase (Class 2 Handicap, 3m2f)

Amateur riders. Three and a quarter miles. Two dozen horses. Fences. Yikes.

The best jockeys tend to fare best, a cause and effect symbiosis where success breeds success. Jamie Codd has won this four times, and he rides Gordon Elliott's Measureofmydreams. Supported from 33/1 into about 5/1 now, the connections certainly wouldn't put you off; his three prior Festival jaunts have ended 830, the 3 recorded in the National Hunt Chase. A stout stayer who has had plenty of time off - just one run since spring 2017 - he is ten pounds below his peak rating and will get the ice cold Codd patient ride.

Only one of the last ten winners has been sent off bigger than 16/1 so it's not a race in which to get too gung ho. Others at the head of the market include the aptly named It's All Guesswork, Any Second Now, No Comment and Sky Pirate. Dealing with the Guesswork first, he's a second string to the Elliott bow who has been consistent all season but perhaps isn't as well handicapped as some as a consequence.

Any Second Now is quite interesting. He seemed to be outpaced in the Close Brothers last season and has been staying on in his three mile races this term. The extra range here and the booking of the excellent Derek O'Connor looks a beneficial combination.

No Comment has been very lightly raced though has run creditably at the last two Festivals, finishing seventh in the Martin Pipe in 2017 and sixth in the National Hunt Chase last year. Clearly seen as a stayer, this will be his first handicap chase spin.

Sky Pirate was travelling like the winner when coming down over a similarly extended three miles here at the November meeting. A warm up spin at Exeter last month will have put him spot on for this main challenge, and he's another that is interesting if not missed in the market.

At bigger prices, Se Mo Laoch would appeal if getting a run. The second reserve has been first or second in each of his last six races, and in the first three in each of his last nine. Incredibly, he's elevated from a mark of 82 (!) to 130 and seems to handle big fields and long distances with aplomb.

And there's just room for an honourable mention for Squouateur, perhaps the unluckiest horse in training, certainly in terms of his Festival performances. With a name made for Scrabble, his form figures of BPP0F also fit that bill. But he was (an unlucky in running) 3rd in this race last year off a 3lb lower mark, and was just getting into it when unseating three out in the Kim Muir of 2017. With a clear round, something that, granted, seems fairly unlikely, he might be a 'forgotten' horse. Faller insurance would be a smart concession to avail of if you otherwise like his chance.

Kim Muir Pace Map

 

Kim Muir Selection

As with all the handicaps, it's no more than a token pick in another deep deep heat. I'll plump for Any Second Now, for whom the trip might be ideal.

Suggestion: Back Any Second Now each way at 10/1 (1/5 12345 Hills, Victor, Unibet)

*

That's the shape of Day 3, Thursday. My fate for the day, and maybe the week, will be sealed by the Ryanair Chase; so please think of me regardless of the result of there!

Good luck

Matt

2019 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY FOUR (Fri 15th March 2019)

Each day of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival our horse racing trends experts here at GeeGeez.co.uk will give you all the quick-fire positive and negative stats for EVERY race. Apply these to the final cards and you will build up a picture and a profile of which horses have historically done the best in recent renewals.

We hope they help narrow down the fields and also help pin-point plenty of winners at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival for you!

 

DAY FOUR: Friday 15th March 2019

 

13:30 JCB Triumph Hurdle   2m 1f

2018 Winner: FARCLAS (9/1)
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Jockey – Jack Kennedy

Pluses…..

  • 19 of the last 25 winners won last time out
  • Irish have won 4 of the last 6 runnings
  • French-breds have filled 9 of the last 12 places (last 4 runnings)
  • 11 of the last 14 came from the top 4 in the betting
  • Respect Henderson (6 winners), Nicholls, and King-trained runners
  • 7 of the last 15 first ran over hurdles by November (5 of the last 7 by mid-Nov)
  • 10 of the last 13 winners returned 13/2 or shorter
  • The Spring Juvenile Hurdle is a good guide
  • 6 of the last 10 winners had run in France before
  • Nicky Henderson has trained 6 winners of the race

Negatives….

  • Take on horses that have won at 2m2f or further in the past
  • Avoid horses that last ran 56 days or longer ago
  • Avoid horses that had run 3 or more times over hurdles
  • Be careful of horses rated 138 or lower – no winner in the last 11


14:10 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle   2m 1f

2018 Winner: MOHAAYED (33/1)
Trainer – Dan Skelton
Jockey – Bridget Andrews

Pluses….

  • The Irish have won 8 of the last 12 runnings
  • 4 of the last 11 winners ran in that season’s Coral.ie Hurdle (Leopardsotwn)
  • The last 13 winners were rated in the 130’s
  • 7 of the last 11 winners returned 20/1 or bigger
  • 5 of the last 10 winners had run in 6 or less hurdles races
  • 10 of the last 13 winners were aged 5 or 6 years-old
  • 11 of the last 13 winners were priced in double-figures
  • 11 of the last 15 winners began their careers on the flat
  • Look for Mullins, Martins & Nicholls-trained runners
  • Respect the Imperial Cup (Sandown Park) winner
  • Ruby Walsh has ridden 4 winners in the last 15 years
  • 10 of the last 18 winners came from the top 5 in the betting
  • 13 of the last 15 winners were 1st or 2nd season hurdlers
  • 10 of the last 12 winners DIDN’T win last time out
  • Paul Nicholls is 4 from 27 (+19pts)
  • Willie Mullins is 4 from 30 (+49pts)

Negatives….

  • Strangely, previous course winners have a bad record
  • Since 1960 only 4 winners carried more than 11st 2lb
  • Since 1961, only 8 winners had run at the Festival before
  • Since 2005 134 runners rated 140+ have lost
  • Avoid runners that hadn’t raced at least 4 times that season
  • Avoid horses making their handicap debuts

 

14:50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle   3m

2018 Winner: KILBRICKEN STORM (33/1)
Trainer – Colin Tizzard
Jockey – Harry Cobden

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Pluses….

  • 9 of the last 14 winners had run at Cheltenham over hurdles before
  • 8 of the last 14 came from the top 5 in the betting
  • 9 of the last 14 winner ran 47 days (or more) ago
  • 12 of the last 14 had run in a race over 3m
  • 11 of the last 13 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old
  • 12 of the last 13 winners finished in the top 3 last time out
  • 4 of the last 13 favourites won

Negatives….

  • Horses that ran in the last 23 days haven’t fared well
  • Avoid horses that DIDN’T finish 1st or 2nd last time out
  • Be wary of horses that have raced less than 3 times over hurdles
  • Willie Mullins is 1 from 32 in the race
  • Only 3 of the last 14 winners hadn’t raced that calendar year

 

15:30 Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase   3m 2½f

2018 Winner: NATIVE RIVER (5/1)
Trainer – Colin Tizzard
Jockey – Richard Johnson

Pluses….

  • 15 of the last 19 winners ran in the Lexus or King George that season
  • 16 of the last 18 finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 13 of the last 18 had won or placed 2nd at the Festival before
  • 16 of the last 18 winners hailed from the top 3 in the betting
  • 17 of the last 18 winners had raced no more than 12 times over fences
  • 10 of the last 11 winners ran 3 or less times that season
  • 16 of the last 22 winners were bred in Ireland
  • 10 of the last 13 winners won last time out
  • 5 of the last 13 favourites won
  • ALL of the last 19 winners were aged 9 or younger

 

Negatives….

  • Non Grade One winners have a poor record
  • No winner older than 10 years-old since 1969 (0 from 70)
  • Horses rated 166 or less are only 4 from last 24
  • Avoid horses that had run on ‘heavy’ ground that season (0 from 80)
  • Horses wearing headgear have a bad recent record
  • Willie Mullins is yet to win the race, 0 from 26 (had last 4 of the last 6 seconds though)
  • Just 1 of the last 11 winners had raced more than 3 times that season
  • Horses that were beaten in their 1st Gold Cup are 1 from 67 when running again

 

16:10 St James’ Place Foxhunter Chase   3m 2½f

2018 Winner: PACHA DU POLDER (25/1)
Trainer – Paul Nicholls
Jockey – Miss Harriet Tucker

Pluses…..

  • 25 of the last 28 winners were aged under 11 years-old
  • 24 of the last 33 won last time out
  • 7 of the last 10 winners came from the first 4 in the betting
  • 26 of the last 30 started out in point-to-point races
  • 11 of the last 13 winners ran 34 days or less ago
  • Respect the Irish runners (won 6 of last 8)
  • 5 of the last 7 winners ran in the Leopardstown Inn Hunters’ Chase
  • 9 of the last 13 winners were aged 8-10 years-old
  • 7 of the last 10 winners returned 15/2 or shorter
  • 10 of the last 11 winners finished in the top 3 last time out

Negatives….

  • Horses that ran in a handicap race that season haven’t got a good record
  • Avoid horses that hadn’t won a race under rules
  • 26 of the last 27 horses aged 11+ (priced in single figures) have lost
  • Avoid ex-handicappers rated 140+ in their careers
  • Avoid horses that raced 35 days or longer ago
  • Horses aged 11+ are just 4 from 221 since 1990

 

16:50 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase   2m ½f

2018 Winner: LE PREZIEN (15/2)
Trainer – Paul Nicholls
Jockey – Barry Geraghty

Pluses….

  • 15 of the last 19 winners carried 11st or less
  • 13 of the last 15 winners had run at the Festival before
  • 7 of the last 15 winners ran in the previous renewal
  • Irish have won 3 of the last 6 runnings
  • 7 of the last 9 winners came from outside the top 5 in the betting
  • 10 of the last 15 winners were aged 8 or older
  • Henderson, Nicholls, King-trained horses are respected
  • Keep the Irish horses on your side (won 3 of the last 6)
  • Respect JP McManus-owned horses (4 winners, 8 placed)
  • The last 8 winners were rated at least 138
  • 5 year-olds have a good record (from few runners of that age that have run)
  • Novices have won 5 of the last 10 runnings
  • 6 of the last 8 winners were rated between 140-147
  • 6 of the last 8 winners carried 10-11 or more in weight
  • 18 of the last 19 winners had run no more than 12 times over fences

Negatives….

  • Horses aged 10+ are just 1 win from the last 23 runnings
  • Horses that last ran 45 days or more ago have seen just six winners since 1990
  • Last time out winners are just 1 from last 13
  • Horses aged 6 or younger (from top 3 in the market) are just 1 from 27 since 2005
  • Just 2 winners rated 147+ since 1992
  • Horses that won a handicap chase that season have a bad recent record

17:30 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle   2m 4½f

2018 Winner: BLOW BY BLOW (11/1)
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Jockey – Donagh Meyler

Pluses….

  • 9 of the last 10 winners were 2nd season-hurdlers
  • Irish have won 5 of the last 8 (all making handicap debuts)
  • 28 of the 30 win and place horses were 1st or 2nd season hurdlers
  • Look for Henderson, Nicholls, Mullins, Elliot-trained horses
  • 8 of the 10 winners were placed in the top 4 last time out
  • 5 of the 10 winners won last time out
  • 7 of the 10 winners were rated 133-139
  • 7 of the 10 winners returned at a double-figure price (8 of the last 10 were 16/1 or less)
  • 5 and 6 year-old have won 9 of last 10 runnings
  • Look for jockeys that have ridden 20+ winners
  • Willie Mullins is 3 from 14 runners in the race (won 3 of the last 8 runnings)
  • Respect any Gigginstown House Stud-owned runners (4 winners, 3 places)
  • Paul Nicholls has won the race twice in the last 6 years

Negatives….

  • Despite being named after his father the David Pipe stable has a poor record so far (0 from 19, inc 3 favs)
  • Just 1 winning fav in the 10 year history (7/9 returned in double-figures)
  • Horses in headgear are currently 1 from 48
  • Only 2 winners have previous Festival experience

 

Trainers Quotes

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Cheltenham Festival 2019: Day Two Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2019: Day Two Preview, Tips

On to Day 2, Wednesday, and another septet of teasers the highlight of which is the Queen Mother Champion Chase and that lad, Altior. That is but one of four Grade 1 shemozzles, those four tiptop treats supported by two impossible handicaps and the good old Cross Country Chase.

1.30 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m5f)

The intermediate novices' hurdle but one where speed is usually at more of a premium than stamina. Naturally, class remains a prerequisite.

The favourite and top rated horse is Champ, who brings a most progressive profile to the party. Winning at Perth in May last year hardly hinted at what was to follow, as Nicky Henderson's McManus-owned novice rattled off a four-timer most recently by strolling to victory in the Grade 1 Challow Novices' Hurdle. Prior to that he'd put a big field of high class handicappers to the sword off a mark of 139 and now has a perch of 152, the best in the field by fully five pounds.

He hurdles well, travels well and clearly has an abundance of class. With all his winning at around the two and a half mile range, however, there's a slight niggle as to whether he quite has the speed for this. Yes, I do know the distance of the Ballymore but it tends to go to a horse with a bit of two mile form. He's not run at the shorter trip so it's unfair to say he doesn't have the toe for it. He's a worthy favourite.

The pick of the Irish is presumed to be Battleoverdoyen, Gordon Elliott's unbeaten son of, you guessed it, Doyen. He was good in a Grade 1 novice hurdle over two and a half miles at Naas last time and, after just three starts, retains plenty of upside. He's rated 146, joint third best.

Interestingly, given how good a guide official ratings have been in this race, the second top-rated, on 147, is City Island. Martin Brassil may be a somewhat unfashionable trainer but he's a very good one, and his four time winner (including a disqualification for a banned substance, arsenic, apparently present in a seaweed-based supplement the horse was taking) has been achieved from two miles to this trip. He's yet to face Graded company but that's the sort of thing, allied to his 'no name' connections - though his trainer has saddled a Grand National winner - that makes for a price.

Brewin'upastorm rounds out the single figure odds horses. Olly Murphy's inmate looked set to perhaps get the better of a duel with Birchdale when taking a heavy tumble at the last here on Trials Day. The trainer is convinced Brewin' is not the sort to dwell on such a pearler, but he also has to reverse Challow form with Champ. There he was beaten four lengths, though again Murphy feels he gave the wrong instructions to his jockey on the day. That's a lot of what Lydia Hislop would call 'yak' (i.e. chat or conjecture) but Olly knows the horse better than anyone else and he will have the tactics spot on this time. He has speed and class and might just be his fledgling trainer's best chance of a Festival winner this season, assuming he hasn't already bagged the Supreme by the time you read this!

Elliott runs Galvin as well, a horse which has been running exclusively at two miles and is unbeaten in five bumpers and novices hurdles both sides of the Irish Sea. The form has worked out quite well despite the lesser courses at which it's been achieved; this son of Gold Well could improve for the extra distance and might have sailed under the radar a little hitherto.

The rest have a stone or so to find on ratings but there are a couple who could be better than their current marks. The first is Ben Pauling's Bright Forecast, who made a striking impression on his debut when running on through a field of twenty to win going away. That was a deep-looking Newbury heat which has worked out well and he followed up at Leicester before finding only Supreme-bound Mister Fisher too good in the Rossington Main at Haydock. The longer trip looks sure to be in his favour though I'd not want him to adopt his recent front-running tactics. A more conservative ride early could see him on the premises up the hill. I like him, regardless of the result here.

The other to catch the eye is Sams Profile for Mouse Morris. Winner of a two mile maiden hurdle early in the season, he's since been second in a Grade 3 over three miles and then in a Grade 1 over two and a half behind Battleoverdoyen. There was sufficiently little between the pair to make Sams Profile of interest at 12/1 if you like the winner that day at 3/1 this day.

Ballymore Pace Map

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Selection

It's a trappy betting heat where most of the field still have improvement to come, and where some of the marks allocated at this stage could be awry. Champ looks best of the British, and he's a worthy favourite who looks sure to give backers a run for their money if not getting too far back.

At a bigger price, both City Island and Bright Forecast look capable of getting involved. The former has plenty of speed and no little class, the latter looks a horse with a future.

Suggestion: Back City Island (10/1 Coral) each way. A small nibble on Bright Forecast (33/1 Betfred) could reward Hail Mary players.

*

2.10 RSA Chase (Grade 1, 3m)

Almost always a terrific spectacle, the RSA Chase is the race for next season's Gold Cup aspirants. The top of the market had long looked sewn up between Delta Work, Santini and Topofthegame but all three are suddenly surprisingly easy to back.

Clear jolly remains Delta Work, the Gordon Elliott-trained son of Network that won the Pertemps Final at last year's Festival. He then stepped into Grade 1 company to run second at Punchestown. This season has been about fences and, after scoring in the obligatory beginners' chase, he's added back-to-back Grade 1 victories to his impressive CV.

The form of his Drinmore win (2m4f) looks very decent, more so than his three mile chase win last time, but he continues to offer cause for concern with some sticky leaps. He has little - nothing, in fact - to spare on ratings so, while he can win (of course), he's skinny enough and it is easy to see why bookies want to 'get' him.

The flip-flopping pick of the Brits is Topofthegame, Paul Nicholls' Kauto Star Novices' Chase runner up. A maiden over fences after a brace of silver medals, he was also second in the Coral Cup at the Festival last term. He doesn't seem to lack resolution in spite of that string of 2's, his jumping is accurate and he stays well. But he does always seem to bump into one...

My long range fancy for this was Santini. Third in the Albert Bartlett last season and a fine winner at Grade 1 level at Aintree subsequently, he won a Grade 2 chase on his fencing bow before getting predictably outpaced on the speed strip that is Kempton. He rallied best of all from the last there, suggesting the stronger test of the RSA was bang on for him.

Alas, since then it's all gone wrong. First he missed his intended prep in the Reynoldstown due to having to get a booster jab, and then he got a foot problem which wasn't immediately poulticed and took a day or two longer to repair. It probably leaves him under-cooked for this big gig, though his price has drifted from 5/2 to 4/1 and that may overstate his preparation problems. On the other hand, it may not!

Nicky Henderson saddles Santini and he also runs On The Blind Side, a dual Grade 2 scorer over hurdles but found out when upped to G1 company. He was last of four in the Dipper at this track, but has since beaten a 145 chaser three lengths in receipt of six pounds at Kempton. That doesn't add up to an RSA winner in my book.

If the top of the market is to be taken down, then perhaps Tom George's The Worlds End might surprise. He was making a potentially race-winning move in the 2017 Albert Bartlett before coming down at the second last, and that seemed to have left a mark on him in open staying hurdle company last term. But, now chasing, he's looked classy if inconsistent in winning twice and losing twice. First the good: he turned the tables on Ibis Du Rheu two runs back over this course and distance (but on the other, New, track) by some margin, making all and easing clear. Now the not so good: he made mistakes aplenty when taken off his feet in the Kauto Star at Kempton.

That race has famously not yet produced a winner to double up in Cheltenham's RSA. Equally well known is how many beaten horses at Sunbury have prevailed at Cheltenham, the slower tempo and stronger emphasis on stamina allowing horses to get into a better jumping rhythm and grind it out. Though he'd perhaps not want it too heavy, and though he's a Jekyll and Hyde performer, if the good The Worlds End shows up, he's going to look an enormous price at 25/1.

Drovers Lane has had a wind op since winning over 2m5f here and he's won three of his four chase starts. It would be fantastic for Rebecca Curtis, whose yard have had a few seasons in the doldrums since the At Fishers Cross days, if he ran well; he doesn't have a heap to find on official ratings.

RSA Chase Pace Map

RSA Chase Selection

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It's a tricky race in which a clear round would probably see Delta Work go close; but that's only what the market is saying. I'd be worried about Topofthegame's propensity to bump into one for all that I don't think he's ungenuine; and Santini's interrupted prep is very far from ideal. No wonder the bookies are looking to get a result here!

I'm going to roll with that theory and take a pony (25/1) punt on The Worlds End who might be considered unlucky not to already be a Cheltenham Festival winner. He probably wouldn't want it too soft but if the worst of the rain misses the course he'll look overpriced come post time.

Suggestion: take a chance each way on The Worlds End (25/1 Unibet, Coral; 22/1 1/5 1234 Victor)

*

2.50 Coral Cup (Handicap, Grade 3, 2m5f)

26 runners. In a handicap hurdle. Sponsored by a bookmaker. Seriously? You want to bet in this?

I'm not going to pretend I've ever backed the winner of this race or ever expect to. However, I'm told classier unexposed horses do best, so what about the long absent Diamond Cauchois? He had a little spin round Punchestown in a non-rules race in November and has otherwise been kept away from the track. But a G2 score at this trip last season says he's got the class for the gig if fit enough. Noel Fehily, with the best hands in the business, steps in to ride. The 20/1 will be gone before you read this, and I can't get it anyway (thanks, Fred), but perhaps 14s is still worth a small passing interest.

Brio Conti is another without too many miles on the clock and he will have come on for the run, and win, last time at Ascot. 12/1 is worth a dabble perhaps. And William Henry bids to improve on last season's fourth place off the same mark. He's had a wind op since last seen (Nicky Henderson 12 from 32, +12.92 with W1's according to Query Tool) and seems to love the hurly-burly of a big field. 40/1 looks massive.

But, honestly, I don't profess to have any 'in' to this race whatsoever.

Coral Cup Pace Map

Coral Cup Suggestion: leave well alone, or back your own judgement! Diamond Cauchois (16/1) and William Henry (40/1) are my guesses. And, let's be clear, that's all they are. Maybe we'll be lucky...

*

3.30 Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

And so to the Royal Procession that looks likely to be the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Altior, a perfect 17 from 17 over hurdles and fences, is solid odds on to make it 18. Until a couple of weeks ago, when he was usurped by an upstart called Cyrname, he was the highest rated chaser in training. There are many unhappy about Altior's deposing and it might be that impressive victory here returns the Nicky Henderson superstar to his golden plinth.

Be all that as it may, this is a horse race and we must consider the merit of the favourite in the context of his field as well as the race conditions. Dealing with the latter first, it will be two miles at Cheltenham on rain softened ground, exactly the medicine he drank so stoically at the Festival last year. There, after an interrupted preparation, he looked momentarily in trouble before rattling home in trademark fashion from the high class Min.

So, no dramas on the race conditions score; what about the field? The truth is, with the exception of the re-opposing Min and the unpredictable Politologue, he is miles clear of the others. In another year, a year when Altior didn't show up, Min would have been an eleven length winner last year. His margin over God's Own, Politologue a further five back lengths back in fourth - of five finishers - was decisive. He again looks set to do battle with the 2018 also rans for the honour of runner-up, a performance he is odds on to reprise.

Champion Chase Pace Map

Champion Chase Selection

In truth, it looks a shallow contest, notwithstanding the sumptuous cherry on top of the somewhat flimsy cake; and those looking for a bet might do worse than Saint Calvados each way without Altior. He was utterly compromised last year in the Arkle when taking on Petit Mouchoir for the lead, both of them collapsing to the rear of the field and allowing Footpad to saunter home in his own time.

But here he might get his favoured solo on the front. God's Own is eleven now, Politologue is deeply unreliable and Sceau Royal, the other in front of him in the market aside from Min, was behind him on soft ground in the Tingle Creek.

Suggestion: Try Saint Calvados at 16/1 without Altior each way (1/4 123 bet365)

*

4.10 Glenfarclas Chase (Cross Country, Class 2, 3m6f)

The 'marmite' race. Some people love it, some hate it. Me? I'm a fan: it's something different, it often showcases some of the old warriors, and it's a damn fine prep for the Grand National to boot. It is a race dominated by the Irish - only Philip Hobbs' Balthazar King, twice, has wrested the prize from the Emerald Isle since its inception in 2005 - and they again have a strong hand this term, spearheaded by last year's winner, Tiger Roll.

The Tiger's palmarès is one of the most brilliantly eclectic in racing. A winner on his juvenile hurdle debut for Nigel Hawke in 2013, he was snapped up at the sale that December for £80,000 and sent to Gordon Elliott. With Elliott, Tiger Roll has since won a Triumph Hurdle, a Munster National, a National Hunt Chase, a Cross Country Chase, a Grand National, and a Boyne Hurdle. I mean, just, WOW!

He's still only nine and could have this in the palm of his hand if in the same form as he was when winning the race last year. That day he had two lengths to spare over the French cross country expert, Urgent De Gregaine, now eleven and returning for another crack. Emmanuel Clayeux's veteran has run three times over course and distance, adding a win and a third in handicaps to that silver medal last March. He's been very lightly raced in recent seasons making the 144 day layoff less of a concern; but I want to be against him I think, even though older horses had a decent record in the race in its formative years.

More likely are the Enda Bolger contingent of Auvergnat and Josies Orders. Auvergnat was fourth in this last year before winning the Le Touche Cup at Punchestown, and is a banks specialist. He's rated within a pound of Tiger Roll in this discipline, and comes here in great form off the back of a valuable big field handicap chase win at Leopardstown at Christmas.

Josies Orders is eleven now, but seems to have found a new lease of life this season, winning the cross country race here in November and the PP Hogan at Punchestown, a major trial for the Glenfarclas. He's a four time winner over course and distance, including the 2016 renewal of the Festival race and his full record over these banks reads 1113613, the bold figures representing Festival races. Granted, he was a little out of form last term when finishing only sixth, but he looks close to his best again now.

Jamie Snowden saddles Fact Of The Matter, winner of the December handicap and second in the November handicap both over course and distance. He's far worse off at level weights with a number of these but handicap ratings have been no sort of indicator down the years and, as a horse proven to relish this unique test, he looks a reasonable each way play. He's had a wind op since that December victory.

Hurricane Darwin, twice closest to Josies Orders in the past year, most recently in the PP Hogan, is worthy of mention, as perhaps is the other French entry, Amazing Comedy, fourth in the December handicap here and fifth in this race last year. 40/1 may marginally downplay his place prospects.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Pace Map

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Selection

A cracking renewal - deeper than normal - so, whilst I thoroughly respect Tiger Roll (what a horse!), I have to look elsewhere for a bet. Auvergnat and Josies Orders should both go well and maybe dutching the pair at around 3/1 is a way to go. Fact Of The Matter is tempting each way at 16/1.

Suggestion: Split your stake 60/40 between Auvergnat (6/1 general) and Josies Orders (9/1 Paddy) for an approximately 3/1 dutch.

*

4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m 1/2f)

The Fred Winter as was. My crikey - this is not my jurisdiction! Last year, Gordon Elliott won with a 33/1 shot. He's won it before, too, but Paul Nicholls' three wins - and six further places - from 18 runners is exceptional: 50% placed horses in a ferocious handicap.

Nicholls saddles just one, the 25/1 shot Dogon, whose profile deserves closer inspection. Experienced in France, he actually won a two and a quarter mile 3yo chase at Fontainebleu in November, prior to pulling up in the Triumph Hurdle trial at this track in January. Since then he's run an eye-catching second at Wincanton, pulling hard and giving the impression that this stiffer test of stamina and faster pace will suit better. He's not an obvious contender, but then neither was Veneer Of Charm or Flying Tiger or Qualando or Flaxen Flare or Hawk High or Une Artiste, all of whom won this race at 25/1 or bigger in the last ten years.

Clearly, then, this is a race in which to take a small chance at a big price. Elliott runs three, two of which are single figure prices and they can beat me if they're able; but the other is Coko Beach, available at 20/1 in a place. He won a French hurdle race before running down the field in Grade 2 company at Leopardstown at Christmas and then receiving a tender enough ride in a novice hurdle last month. Ex-French runners have a great record in the race, a note in support of both Dogon and Coko Beach.

Obviously, a score more with chances, including three more ex-French that have yet to race in Britain, one of them - Fox Pro - trained by the Nick/Jane Williams axis, successful in 2017 with Flying Tiger and with 3rd and 5th places as well from just seven runners.

Boodles / Fred Winter Pace Map

[Gaps represent runners yet to race in UK or Ireland]

Boodles / Fred Winter Selection

I could analyse this contest in great detail but I'd likely be unable to add much to the above. It's a race which generally hasn't gone to the head of the market and in which I'll take a little punt on the three named above.

Suggestion: Back any or all of Dogon (25/1 bet365), Coko Beach (16/1 Hills 1/5 12345) and/or Fox Pro (25/1 general)

*

5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1, NH Flat, 2m 1/2f)

Really tricky, and I don't have any idea what might win. Gordon Elliott talks about Envoi Allen as a future Gold Cup winner, the unbeaten five year old finding plenty for pressure in a Grade 2 last time. He's top rated on official figures, an angle which has been a good predictor of Champion Bumper winners, and he's also favourite.

The value against him might just be Abracadabras, who almost clipped heels with Envoi Allen inside the final furlong before running through the rail. That incident demonstrates how close to the favourite he'd got, and he looked to still have a bit more to give. With the wide open spaces of Cheltenham sure to preclude a repeat sob story, and perhaps a little less greenness as a result of that run, the Gigginstown-owned stablemate can turn the tables at three times the price.

Most of these are unexposed and can/will step forward markedly on what they've shown so far, most notably perhaps the four-year-olds Blue Sari and Cascova.

Champion Bumper selection

An interesting race to watch rather than wager, though Envoi Allen had little in hand of Meticulous, Abracadabras, and a couple of others last time. In the circumstances, my interest wager will be the unlucky one from Leopardstown and his rider Lisa O'Neill.

Suggestion: Try Abracadabras each way at 10/1 (1/5 1234 Victor)

*

And that concludes a somewhat briefer (relatively, at least) spin through Wednesday's Day 2 action. Plenty of races in which it's hard to take a strong view, and where we may have to be both good and lucky to come out in front I feel.

Good luck!

Matt

2019 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY ONE (Tues 12th March 2019)

Each day of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival our horse racing trends experts here at GeeGeez.co.uk will give you all the quick-fire positive and negative stats for EVERY race. Apply these to the final cards and you will build up a picture and a profile of which horses have historically done the best in recent renewals.

We hope they help narrow down the fields and also help pin-point plenty of winners at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival for you!

 

DAY ONE: Tuesday 12th March 2019

13:30 – SkyBet Supreme Novices' Hurdle   2m ½f

2018 Winner: SUMMERVILLE BOY 9/1
Trainer – Tom George
Jockey - Noel Fehily

Pluses…..

  • 19 of the last 22 winners won their last race
  • 13 of the last 15 winners had raced in at least 4 hurdles races before
  • 7 of the last 9 winners came from the first 4 in the market
  • 18 of the last 24 winners ran in the last 45 days
  • Irish-trained horses have won 15 of the last 27 runnings
  • 5 & 6 year-olds have the best record – winning 13 of the last 14 runnings
  • Willie Mullins has won the race 4 times since 2007 and for 3 of the last 6 years
  • 22 of the last 24 winners had raced that same calendar year
  • Owner Rich Ricci, Trainer Willie Mullins & Jockey Ruby Walsh have won 3 of the last 6 runnings.

Negatives…..

  • Horses that FAILED to win last time out before coming here are just 3 from the last 22. In other words, look for horses that won last time out!
  • Since 1992 all horses (35) wearing head-gear have been beaten
  • We’ve seen just two ex-flat horses win since 2008

 

14:10 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase   2m

2018 Winner: FOOTPAD 5/6 fav
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey - Ruby Walsh

 

Pluses….

  • 12 of the last 14 winners had won (or been placed) at Cheltenham before
  • 12 of the last 14 winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 chase before
  • The last 9 winners won last time out (plus 14 of the last 18)
  • 18 of the last 19 winners returned 9/1 or shorter
  • 11 of the last 12 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old
  • 11 of the last 15 winners at run at the Cheltenham Festival previously
  • 11 of the last 18 winners were the top or second top-rated hurdler in the field
  • Nicky Henderson has won the race 6 times

Negatives…..

  • Only 2 of the last 32 winners failed to win of finish second last time out
  • Just two of the last 28 winners started 11/1 or bigger in the betting
  • Only 3 of the last 27 winners were older than 7 years-old
  • The last horse aged 9 (or older) to win was in 1988
  • The last 28 ex-flat horses to run have all lost
  • Only 1 winner since 2000 won with headgear
  • Douvan (2016) and Altior (2017) were the first Supreme Hurdle winners (prev season) that have followed-up in this race since 1965
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls has had 12 unplaced from his last 13 runners

14:50 Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase  3m 1f 

2018 Winner: COO STAR SIVOLA 5/1 fav
Trainer – Nick Williams
Jockey - Lizzie Kelly

 

Your first 30 days for just £1

Pluses….

  • 15 of the last 19 winners were officially rated 143 or less
  • 13 of the last 18 came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 15 of the last 19 winners returned 11/1 or shorter
  • 14 of the last 18 were novices or second season chasers
  • 7 of the last 11 winners were rated between 142-146
  • Horses rated 140+ have won 11 of the last 18 runnings
  • 8 of the last 16 won last time out
  • 3 of the last 9 winners ran in the Cleeve Hurdle that season
  • 6 of the last 7 winners all wore headgear
  • Jonjo O’Neill, Alan King, Nicky Henderson, Tony Martin & David Pipe are trainers to note
  • All winners since 2000 had won over 3m+ before

Negatives….

  • Avoid any horses carrying 11-04 or more in weight – 9 of the last 14 carried 10-12 or less, although the 2017 winner carried 11-12
  • Horses aged 11 or older are just 2 from 48 to even get placed
  • Be wary of Paul Nicholls-trained horses – he’s currently 0 from 22
  • Only 1 winner in the last 10 hadn’t raced at a previous Festival

 

15:30 Stan James Champion Hurdle   2m ½f

2018 Winner: BUVEUR D’AIR 4/6 fav
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Jockey - Barry Geraghty

 

Pluses….

  • 29 of the last 35 won last time out
  • The Irish and Nicky Henderson have won 16 of the last 20 runnings
  • The Irish have won 12 of the last 20 runnings
  • Trainer Willie Mullins has won 4 of the last 8 runnings
  • 9 of the last 12 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old
  • 23 of the last 34 winners were placed in the first 4 at the previous season’s festival
  • The Fighting Fifth Hurdle is a good guide (4 winners, 4 places in last 11 runnings)
  • 14 of the last 23 winners started as flat horses
  • Look for horses that have raced at least once that calendar year
  • Trainer Nicky Henderson has won the race 7 times, including the last two years

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses that failed to finish in the top three last time out
  • 5 year-olds are just 1 from 101 since 1985
  • Since 1927 we’ve only seen 2 winners aged 10 or older
  • Just 1 of the last 12 winners had raced more than 12 times over hurdles
  • Christmas Hurdle (Kempton, 26th Dec) winners are 3 from 26

 

16:10 OLBG Mares' Hurdle   2m 4f

2018 Winner: BENIE DES DIEUX 9/2
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey - Ruby Walsh

 

Pluses….

  • Follow Irish-trained mares
  • The favourite (or 2nd fav) have won 10 of the last 11 runnings
  • 7 of the last 11 favourites have won
  • Willie Mullins have trained 9 of the last 10 winners
  • Look for Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson, Paul Nolan & Alan King runners
  • Novices generally do well
  • 6 of the last 8 winners had won over 2m6f+ before
  • Horses that began their careers in bumpers have done well

Negatives….

  • Avoid front-runners
  • All 25 runners to wear headgear have been beaten (just 1 placed)
  • Be wary of Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs and Noel Meade runners
  • Just 1 winner of the race to date began their career racing on the flat

 

16:50 The Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase   2m 4½f

2018 Winner: MISTER WHITAKER 13/2
Trainer – Mick Channon
Jockey - Brian Hughes

 

Pluses….

  • 10 of the last 14 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 13 of the last 14 winners raced in the last 45 days
  • Respect 7 year-olds
  • Look for any horses wearing first-time headgear
  • 6 of last 10 won last time out
  • 12 of the last 14 winners returned 12/1 or shorter
  • Respect JP McManus-owned runners (1 win, 2 2nds, 1 3rd)
  • Look for Henderson, O’Neill & Hobbs runners

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses outside the top five in the betting
  • Avoid horses with less than 4 starts in the last 12 months
  • The Irish are just 2 from the last 14 runnings

17:30 National Hunt Chase   4m

2018 Winner: RATHVINDEN 9/2
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey - P Mullins

 

Pluses…..

  • 11 of the last 17 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 9 of the last 13 winners were aged 7 or 8 years-old
  • Favourites have won 3 of the last 9 runnings
  • 4 of the last 8 winners were top-rated
  • 5 of the last 8 winners had run in a Grade One Novice Chase that season
  • 6 of the last 12 had run in a chase at Cheltenham before that season
  • 6 of the last 9 winners had run at a previous Cheltenham Festival
  • Note horses wearing headgear
  • 6 of the last 8 winners were rated 146 (or more)
  • Look out for JP McManus-owned (6 winners) runners
  • Jonjo O’Neill has trained 6 winners in the race
  • Jockey Derek O’Connor has 2 wins / 4 places (from 13 rides)

Negatives….

  • 5 and 6 year-olds are just 2 from 78 since 1989
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls has NEVER won this race - he’s currently 0 from 18
  • Trainer Nicky Henderson has NEVER won this race

 

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Follow Andy Newton Here - @NewtsDailyLays

Cheltenham Festival 2019: Day One Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2019: Day One Preview, Tips

The waiting is over and it's showtime for the 2019 Cheltenham Festival: four days and 28 top class races split evenly from Tuesday to Friday. Day One, Tuesday, is set to be run on soft ground and features a cracking renewal of the Champion Hurdle as well as three further Grade 1's, a Grade 2 and - of course - two impossible handicaps. What a start!

1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 1/2f)

A race which has been won by some very good horses in recent years. But, as things stand, the 2019 renewal doesn't look the strongest as we head into the Supreme; of course, that is not to say that we won't be hailing an emergent powerhouse at around 1.35pm on Tuesday. Regardless, there will be a winner and it is the job of this post to try to find it.

There are a few common threads in recent Supreme winners, including last day triumph, not ex-flat, not unbeaten over hurdles, and bringing experience of at least four hurdles races to the party.

That narrows things down nicely to a shortlist of six: Elixir De Nutz, Felix Desjy, Grand Sancy, Klassical Dream, Thomas Darby, and Fakir d'Oudairies. Naturally, it won't preclude another winning but, in a year where the race looks absolutely wide open, one needs to take any route in one can...

Klassical Dream may be considered the 'now' horse: he's won his two starts for Willie Mullins and is the chosen mount of Ruby Walsh, who could have plumped for stablemate Aramon. There was a head between the pair in the Grade 1 Chanelle Pharma (formerly Deloitte) last time and that historically strong trial suggests both should be taken seriously. That race was run on good ground and none of Klassical Dream's winning form to date, including in France, has been on anything slower than good to soft (P324P on softer). It is perfectly possible that Mullins has improved the horse out of all recognition but that lack of soft ground winning form makes him too short for me.

The deserted Aramon has finished 312 in Grade 1's this season and won a handicap on the flat in Germany on soft. Whilst this hasn't been a race for ex-flat horses in recent seasons, he brings proven top tier hurdles form to the table and has shown he handles cut. Ruby rarely chooses incorrectly, but the discrepancy between the two horses' price - 9/2 vs 16/1 - is bonkers based on that last day form if nothing else.

Another Irish player on the shortlist is Fakir d'Oudairies, a four-year-old not required for the Triumph Hurdle due to his owner's and trainer's Sir Erec lining up in that Friday curtain-raiser. This fellow fair romped his Cheltenham prep over the distance on the other track (the New Course, Supreme run on the Old), though that form looks only OK, as does his maiden hurdle win previously. The eight pound weight-for-age allowance will help but I don't see him being good enough.

Felix Desjy rounds out the raiding party om the shortlist. A winning pointer, he also scored twice in bumpers before a decent sixth in the Champion Bumper at last year's Festival. He's shown mixed form over hurdles with his prominent run style leaving him out there to be shot at.

Of the British challenge, Elixir De Nutz and Thomas Darby have collateral form. They clashed in a maiden hurdle at the course in October with Olly Murphy's runner coming out on top. Since then, however, the Colin Tizzard-trained Elixir has rattled off a hat-trick culminating in a soft ground verdict in the Grade 1 Tolworth at Sandown, where he beat Grand Sancy half a length. Each of that hat-trick was achieved in five runner fields where he made all, and that pace-setting approach may be harder to replicate in a field of 18, especially given the presence of possible contention for that position from Brandon Castle and Felix Desjy.

Thomas Darby will be ridden more patiently and he, like the rest of the field, will be trying to pass the trailblazers up the hill. His form is on good ground and outside of Pattern company making it a stretch to envisage him being good enough. In a sub-par year, however, who knows?

Also from the Murphy stable is Itchy Feet, another to have raced exclusively on good ground. He had a verdict over Grand Sancy before running Elixir De Nutz closest in the November Supreme trial at the course. If he handles the ground, he might surprise and 28/1 (SEVEN places with Hills) is a price about which taking the chance is tempting.

Back to the trendy shortlist and the remaining name is Grand Sancy. As will already be evident, his form ties in with others towards the head of the market, with the Paul Nicholls inmate already having run a remarkable eleven times over hurdles. He'll not lack for experience, then, and has faced open handicap company as well as fellow novices. His fourth in a Grade 3 handicap hurdle represents solid form but it also potentially pegs the level at which he can be competitive: he was beaten six lengths off a mark of 136 that day. A win in a slowly run Kingwell ought not to be taken too literally, though he looks quite likely to be in the first seven for those availing of the generous place terms offered by Hills.

Meanwhile, away from the 'trends' list are others with prospects, notably a couple of 'A' teams, Al Dancer and Angels Breath. The first named has been progressive in winning two novice hurdles and two handicap hurdles, most recently the re-scheduled Betfair at Ascot. He has form on soft and looks as though he stays further than two miles, which is a good indicator to winning a Supreme. There are few chinks in his armour aside from the absence of Graded hurdle competition on his CV. He's clearly ready for the step up in grade but whether he's able remains to be seen.

Angels Breath is both lightly raced (i.e. inexperienced) and was beaten last time. Given the Seven Barrows connections it is easy to make excuses on both counts - too easy, perhaps. Even if only 90% he should still have beaten Southfield Stone, a horse without pretensions of being at this level, last time even allowing for spotting that one five pounds. And even though he was considered good enough to be lobbed into Grade 2 company on his hurdling bow, a race which he won readily, he'll find the depth and breadth of this field another game entirely.

Mister Fisher has been winning well enough on flat tracks and in small fields, form which doesn't entitle him to be a single figure price in places to my eye. His Boxing Day win at Kempton ties in with Thomas Darby but he's a good few pounds off the best of these on official ratings at least. Whoever wins will need to improve, but he has to find more improvement than many.

If there's to be a shock on the cards it could come from Gordon Elliott, and Vision d'Honneur. Elliott won this with 25/1 Labaik a couple of years ago and this lad, tongue tied for the first time, could be interesting. On the face of a six length defeat by Klassical Dream and Aramon, he's a bit to find - though not a huge bit - but the case is made due to the difference in underfoot conditions.

In Ireland, Vision d'Honneur has run three times, all on good (good/yielding once). Having finished around six lengths behind Klassical Dream in a maiden hurdle on Irish debut, he won a similar 21 runner event at Punchestown next time, before chasing home Klassical and Aramon in the ex-Deloitte.  But before that, in France, his sole run there was on soft ground in an 18 runner bumper. A fairly well run race by French standards, he came off the bridle relatively early but kept finding and looks to have plenty of stamina. He's tempting.

The rest are probably not good enough, though there could be a shock in the opener.

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Selection

A very open and trappy first act of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, and one where it makes sense to shop around for the pick of the bookie offers which prevail on the race. Hills' seven places is an obvious contender, as is Skybet's money back as cash if you lose in this race (first bet, up to £20, check terms!).

The Chanelle Pharma Grade 1 run last month could hold the key here so, while Ruby has sided with Klassical Dream, the 5/1 tops there looks tight for a horse that had nothing to spare over Aramon in second, and little to spare over Vision d'Honneur in an eased off third. The change in going could eke out a change in the finishing order making both the placed horses - each of whom has winning soft ground form - more tempting at longer odds than the winner there.

Suggestion: back Aramon 16/1 betfred (14/1 Hills 7 places) and/or Vision d'Honneur 16/1 bet365 (12/1 Hills 7 places) each way

*

2.10 Arkle Challenge Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

The first chase of the meeting, a two mile novice Grade 1, and again it looks a touch below standard, with a number of runners missing the gig due to injury or illness. That lack of star quality has made for a greater quantity of runners than usual and thus for a competitive race where they may bet 5/1 the field on the morning of the race.

The last ten winners all finished in the first two on all completed chase starts; the last nine winners all won last time out; and the last eight were aged six or seven. But then, an odds on favourite has won six of the last seven Arkle's and there's nothing of that relative degree of certainty hereabouts.

The highest rated horse in the field, Hardline, was only third last time. But that was over the JLT trip of two miles five and on good ground; the drop in trip and softer turf are positives for Gordon Elliott's Gigginstown contender, as is his previous Grade 1 score over Getabird at Limerick. Rated only 140 over hurdles, he has a bit to find with some on that measure but he has achieved more over fences so far than most of his rivals.

The best of these over timber was Kalashnikov, second in last year's Supreme on heavy, and a horse crying out for softer ground than he's raced on most of this season. He may, however, also be crying out for a longer trip though my judgement is clouded on that point having backed him for the JLT as early as last November: dough done.

That said, the easier turf will help, and he wasn't as bad as he appeared at Sandown where I'm convinced he was unable to jump out of the very sticky ground there.

It is another example of why we need a 'holding' going description to separate proper wet ground (i.e. when it has been raining) from drying ground which is like trying to pull a welly out of squelchy gluepot turf. These two goings are markedly different and yet both are called soft, sometimes heavy. The only way to tell them apart is to be aware of the weather in the lead up to each race and to mark your own copy of the form accordingly. That's inadequate in my book, though achieving change on that one is likely to take years if indeed it ever happens. Rant over.

Getting back to the Kalash, it's possible he was outpaced at Kempton in the Grade 2 he contested at Christmas; whilst making excuses for horses in Grade 1 races is not a smart idea, there is a credible case to be made for this stiffer test on wetter ground suiting far better. He's gone out of fashion pretty quickly and 10/1 looks big.

The horse to beat him last time was Glen Forsa, a seriously progressive beast but likely flattered by that form line for reasons expounded upon above. Prior to that rinsing of a Grade 1 stick he'd hosed up in a brace of novice handicaps, an unconventional route to favouritism for an Arkle. That's mainly because he failed to break maiden in three novice hurdle starts and never faced Graded company until the last day in what was the re-scheduled Kingmaker. I really like the horse but I don't believe my eyes from that Sandown spin and can't have him at 7/2.

Lalor was a few pounds behind Kalashnikov on hurdling form, though still good enough to win a Grade 1 at Aintree. He's a story horse, and it's impossible not to root for Kayley Woollacott and her team but, absent since early December where he was beaten into third, he too looks plenty short enough.

Paloma Blue was rated a few pounds in front of Duc Des Genievres over hurdles, and he looks a little bit of a forgotten horse in here. In fact, he was around the same level as Lalor but comes here nearly three times the price. Fourth in the Supreme, close up behind Kalashnikov, he has had just two ungraded starts over fences, winning the most recent of them. While that was only a beginners' chase, it featured the JLT 3rd fav, Real Steel (a faller at the last when upsides) as well as a couple of rock solid 135-ish hurdlers beaten further back. It was a Grade 2 strength race and I reckon if it had been called that, Paloma Blue would be no more than 7/1. He's 11/1 in a couple of places.

Duc Des Genievres was rated 146 over hurdles and is felt to be a 151 horse over fences at this stage. That's on the basis of a 15 length win from a 'not off' Tower Bridge, who heads to the Close Brothers with a good chance, and a previous six length defeat by the sadly (because I backed him without NRNB) absent Cilaos Emery. He handles soft ground, he represents last year's winning stable of Willie Mullins, and he has a fair chance.

I couldn't bet Knocknanuss without a faller refund concession: he's a headcase, albeit an extremely talented one. The Irish 'also rans', Us And Them and Ornua, are not without a squeak. The former has run second in small fields on good ground the last thrice, beaten only by the absent former ante post favourite, Le Richebourg, the last twice. On that basis, 20/1 looks pretty big, particularly given his form on deep ground. A mauling in the Supreme last season tempers enthusiasm but even so he's likely over-priced relative to some in the field.

I had a beer with the owner of Ornua earlier in the week, and I confess to not having been aware of his horse's form credentials at the time. A chase debut at Killarney followed by wins at Wexford and Newton Abbot can be viewed as non-standard Arkle preps though Henry de Bromhead has taken a more conventional passage since, winning a Grade 3 and running second in two more, as well as splitting Dynamite Dollars and Lalor in the Grade 1 Henry VIII last time. That's a long absence (early December) to overcome, however, and others have more scope. All the same, he'd not be a shock winner and I wish his connections the very best of luck.

Arkle Chase Selection

Your first 30 days for just £1

It's a wide open affair. I've backed Hardline at 9's but I think he's short enough at 6/1 now. Glen Forsa is likeable but surely limited, Lalor would be one of the stories of the week but has big challenges to overcome, and Duc Des Genievres looks susceptible to one of the better hurdlers showing a similar level of form over fences.

All of which leads me to Kalashnikov (10/1 general), Paloma Blue (11/1 Coral) and Us And Them (20/1 Hills). I think they're all over-priced in a wide open race, though picking between them is tricky.

Suggestion: back your choice of Kalashnikov (10/1 Victor 1/5 1234), Paloma Blue (11/1 Coral) and Us And Them (20/1 Hills) each way.

*

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3 handicap, 3m1f)

I may sometimes appear clueless when poring over the form of the conditions races at the Cheltenham Festival, but there are no such doubts when it comes to the handicaps. I am guessing, plain and simple. So please take anything scribbled in the handicap race sections with that note foremost in mind.

A bit of trendage relates that 8 of the last 10 were 7 to 9 years old; 8 of the last ten had won over three miles or more; previous Festival form is a plus as is a prep over hurdles. Notable trainer performances emerge from David Pipe, Jonjo O'Neill and Alan King.

Horses of interest thus include Minella Rocco (trained by Jonjo), Beware The Bear, Coo Star Sivola, Royal Vacation, and Vintage Clouds. I'll add to that list three whose hurdle marks suggest their chase marks are workable: Give Me A Copper, Flying Angel and Shantou Village.

There having not been a repeat winner of the race in living memory until Un Temps Pour Tout doubled up in 2016/17, Coo Star Sivola returns with credible claims of making it back-to-back back-to-back wins, if you see what I mean. Only three pounds higher than last term, it's safe to ignore all of his form since, though the absence since mid-December is probably sub-optimal.

The likes of Shantou Village and Royal Vacation are probably too exposed to be able to win a Festival handicap, where those who have hidden at least some of their light under a bushel tend to fare best, though the latter is tough and consistent and feels like one of the better 33/1 shots.

The third and fourth from last year, Vintage Clouds and Beware The Bear, re-oppose with Vintage on identical terms with the winner while the Bear is two pounds better off for nine lengths. At 25/1 and 20/1 respectively they ought to again offers runs for the pennies.

Higher up the market rank is Minella Rocco, whose Festival credentials are impeccable. He beat reigning Gold Cup champ, Native River, in the 2016 National Hunt Chase (the 'four miler') and then ran second in the Gold Cup of 2017. Lightly raced since, a perch of 152 is a full stone below his peak rating and this will surely have been the plan for a long time. Trip, track, and ground hold no fears and the under-rated Richie McLernon keeps the ride. I'm indebted to Matt Tombs - doubtless not for the last time this week - in relating that horses which prepped over hurdles are 4/19 in the last eight years, for a 21 point profit. Minella Rocco was last seen jogging round Exeter in a Pertemps Hurdle qualifier. He'll do for me.

Ultima Handicap Chase Selection

Suggestion: I'll be keeping stakes small in the handicaps but I've talked myself into backing Minella Rocco each way at 8/1 (1/5 six places Skybet).

*

3.30 Champion Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 1/2f)

A belting renewal of the Champion Hurdle, and one where the dual Champion, Buveur d'Air, faces his strongest challenge yet from a brace of extremely talented mares in receipt of a seven pound weight allowance. Such is the prowess of the top two in the market - Buveur and Apple's Jade - let alone third in, Laurina, that it is extremely difficult to envisage anything else winning. At least, that's how the words which follow will present it.

Let's talk about the champ: Buveur d'Air has a record befitting of a dual Champion Hurdler, a second in a prep and third in the 2016 Supreme the sole blemishes in a 14 race timber-topping career. His Festival record is 311, and he handles any ground. True, he was unimpressive last season but he still managed to win when looking beaten - that's a sign of grit as well as class.

He's likely to be waited with, which will make for a fascinating clash with Apple's Jade whose run style is to go out front and try to stay out front. She's a versatile and top class mare, as ten Grade 1 wins between two and three miles attests. Her recent form has earned her a UK official rating of 166, six pounds below Buveur d'Air's. But... when you factor in the mares' allowance, she comes out a pound in front. Interesting.

There are a couple of potential flies on the Apple's Jade ointment. First, she's not the only one who likes to get on with things: Ben Pauling's Global Citizen is a confirmed front-runner, too, and Laurina can also race handily. In all probability Laurina will stalk Apple's but the Citizen might very well ask Jade to do a little more than she'd wish to in the first half of the race.

And then there's the JP McManus second string, Espoir d'Allen. Now I'm sure that Mr McManus is far too much of a sportsman to use his eight-from-nine lifetime beast as a 'spoiler' but, who knows?, maybe Mark Walsh takes it upon himself to lay up alongside Apple's Jade early doors. It probably won't happen, but it might. You know what I'm saying?

The other question mark about Apple's Jade is that she has been beaten in two of her three visits to Cheltenham and the Festival. First she was runner-up to Ivanovich Gorbatov in the 2016 Triumph Hurdle, a run which preceded her absolutely blitzing her field in the Aintree equivalent. In fact, she turned the tables on her Triumph vanquisher by the small matter of 41 lengths - and he was still good enough to be second in that rematch!

She then scrambled home from Vroum Vroum Mag in the 2017 Mares' Hurdle before being beaten not only by Benie Des Dieux, but also by Midnight Tour in the same race last year. The word was that she was in season at the time of the race last year, and that may be correct. But the balance of her Cheltenham form is simply not as good as elsewhere. I love her, like just about everyone else, but I couldn't back her at 2/1 to overcome the pace and track questions.

So what of Laurina? She's six from six since moving to Willie Mullins, a sequence which includes facile victory in last season's Mares' Novices' Hurdle. She 'could be anything' and hasn't been seriously tested yet; but therein lies the problem: she WILL be tested here and who knows what she will find? A beating of 145 and 130-odd rated horses last time was only what she ought to have done, and the race was set up for her by stablemate, Stormy Ireland; prior to that she won a match, and before that she won a ridiculously soft Grade 1 beating 120-something fillies. The second there has run five times since, and the third three times since, collectively without making the frame. I'm ready to be wowed but I'm not wagering that outcome at 7/2.

Is anything lurking in the long grass? Almost certainly not, but if you have a bookmaker paying four places or you want to bet without the top two then Sharjah has a progressive profile. His ultimately quite dominant win in a Galway handicap hurdle off 145 in a field of 20 is rock solid, and a literal interpretation of subsequent defeats of Faugheen and then Supasundae, both in Grade 1 races, puts him near the front pair. He'll be patiently ridden so any shenanigans on the front end should play in his favour and he's easily the pick of the each way prices to my eye, notwithstanding that this doesn't look a terrific each way race.

Champion Hurdle Selection

This has some fantastic racehorses lining up, but whether it works out a fantastic horse race I'm not convinced. If Apple's Jade brings her A game and is largely unpestered on the lead, she'll prove an elusive hare for the whippets, Buveur d'Air and Sharjah, to chase down. It obviously wouldn't be a surprise if Laurina featured, too, but she's the worst value in my book, so if she wins, I'll have to suck it up.

I think Buveur d'Air will probably win, and I hope he does because he's almost certainly not received the credit he deserves - and I say that as someone who has not historically given him enough credit! He's no price in a race where the bookies have it sewn up so, unless you can find an exotic route in - perhaps Sharjah place only - it's a race to watch and enjoy. Saying that, if his price touched 3/1 Buveur would have to be a bet.

Suggestion: Watch the market and back Buveur d'Air if any fools offer 3/1 about the dual Champ defending. Sharjah at 3/1 or better for a top 3 finish is also playable.

*

4.10 Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m4f)

Little more than a slow puncture after the helium-filled Montgolfier flight of the previous race, the Mares' Hurdle has singularly failed to capture my imagination and has more typically been accused of stealing a leading lady from the Champion or Stayers' Hurdle than providing a highlight in its own right. Still, it is now here and it is here to be won.

The man who does the winning is wily winning Willie, Mr Mullins of Closutton. Indeed he has held an almost monopolistic grasp on the Mares' mantle since its inception in 2008. Donald McCain actually won the inaugural running, Willie unrepresented, and Gordon Elliott won the 2017 renewal with Apple's Jade. The other nine have all gone Willie's way: a preposterous SIX of them went to Quevega - so good she now has a bar named after her at the course - and there has been one each for Glens Melody, Vroum Vroum Mag and Benie Des Dieux.

The last named bids to double up having, in true Quevega style, not been seen since winning at the Punchestown Festival a month after Cheltenham 2018. Her fitness has to be taken on trust, but if we can trust one thing it is that Willie Mullins knows how to get this won off a layoff. Benie may be no Quevega - yet - but she ground it out well last term, having been campaigned over fences up to that point. She's a shade of odds on - 10/11 - virtually across the board, testament perhaps to how little the bookies know and how much safety there is in numbers.

What I find interesting in a race that I generally don't find interesting is that this year Willie saddles not one, not two or three, but five of the fifteen runners. He couldn't have won that first running of the Mares' Hurdle because he didn't have a runner; since then he's saddled the following number of runners: 1112122222 - and now FIVE.

There are any number of ways to interpret this, including perfectly plausible ones like the owners want to run (not that WPM has ever been a man to kowtow to his owners). The conspiracy theory I like is that Benie Des Dieux is not Quevega and, if that is the case, it's 9/1 bar one. Game on!

Adding ballast to that contention is her UK rating of 151, within three pounds of which are four other mares. They look the ones on which to focus our snide each way assault, especially given Mullins himself trains three of the four (Alan King rounds out the quartet).

Stormy Ireland was the hare for Laurina to catch last time, and she's been consistent in defeat in recent starts. She looks a legitimate 145 or so, something some of these may not lay claim to being. She is likely to be afforded a largely uncontested lead, not that it is easy to lead here, still less in a big field.

Against her from the same squad is Good Thyne Tara, most of whose winning form is on quick ground but whose best form is arguably on softer (five length third to Shattered Love, half length second to Samcro in a pair of bumpers). She's been aggressively campaigned by Willie and has won a nice few quid for her owners, but it's hard to peg her optimal conditions. It's possible two and a half on soft might stretch her.

Limini, who can hardly have been said to have lost her way given she won a £78k heritage handicap on the level last autumn, has nevertheless not been winning under National Hunt rules. But she's run well in defeat all three times, against solid opposition. First there was a third place behind Apple's Jade. Respectfully behind Apple's Jade. Then there was a closer third to Good Thyne Tara; and most recently she was two lengths fourth to Presenting Percy in the Galmoy Hurdle. I can't decide whether she's slightly lost her form or her fight in recent spins but, either way, it doesn't seem to be quite all there at the moment over hurdles.

Britain won that 2008 opening version of the Mares' Hurdle but has not been atop the podium since. Probably the best of the somewhat piecemeal home challenge this time is Mia's Storm. She's won eight of her last ten completed starts, two chasing tumbles last season bringing about a reversion to the smaller obstacles. Alan King's nine-year-old has won both races this term, the second of which was in late November. That's a heck of a spell on the sidelines, somewhat mitigated by her excellent record fresh. She is a high 140's mare but comes with risk attached off the layoff.

Looking further down the ratings, all the while trying to retain a credible leap of improvement, is difficult. Both Jester Jet and Lady Buttons have been mixing hurdles and fences to good effect this season, but it is hard to see either of these likeable nine-year-olds finding the step forward required.

The one that vaguely interests me is Roksana. Only rated 142, to Benie's 151, she ostensibly has a mountain to climb. But she was highly progressive last term, elevating from 120 to 142, and she was entitled to need the run on her seasonal bow last month. There she was eleven lengths behind Buveur d'Air over a trip short of her best (she was second to Santini in a Grade 1 novice at Aintree over three miles against the boys last April), and I can see her improving seven pounds to around 150. That would put her bang in the mix.

She's a strong-travelling uncomplicated mare and has less miles on the clock than most of her rivals as a second season hurdler.

Mares' Hurdle Selection

A race which revolves around the defending champion, Benie Des Dieux. But her trainer, who has never saddled more than two in the race, lines up five this time, which could imply he is not that strong on the champ. Of course she can win, and she may well do, but at 10/11 it's a pass from me. Instead, I'll take Roksana each way at a double figure price.

I've seen worse 33/1 pokes than Good Thyne Tara, too: she's danced a lot of dances and stayed up late in most of them. She might just do so again.

Suggestion: Back Roksana each way at 10/1 general.

*

4.50 Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase (Listed, 2m 4f)

Not my thing, though I do have an ante post bet in the race this year and a half decent ticket at that. Go me! Tower Bridge was never put into the race behind Duc Des Genievres in a beginners' chase last time, staying on when it was all over to be second of 17 (a few decent sorts behind). Rated 142 over hurdles, he's a pound lower over fences at this stage and, while hardly a bargain, he looks to have a decent chance in a wide open race.

Others whose chase mark is below their hurdle perch are The Russian Doyen (-3) and Solomn Grundy (-4). Both are interesting.

Last time out winners have a pretty good record, which brings in Lough Derg Spirit (been winning on flat tracks), the fully exposed Militarian, the experienced Walt, that lad The Russian Doyen again, good ground specialist Roaring Bull, favourite and (well beaten) third in a Grade 1 Riders Onthe Storm, and the exposed Huntsmans Son and Quamino.

Looking at Graded form as a hurdler would draw one to the claims of Tower Bridge and Riders Onthe Storm.

The big name handlers have a poor record in here, so it might be that Tom Taaffe's Riders Onthe Storm or Joseph O'Brien's Tower Bridge could give their trainers a timely fillip: Taaffe has had three Fez winners including Gold Cup scorer Kicking King and Finger Onthe Pulse in this race but not since 2010, Joseph is still looking for the first (though he was apparently training Ivanovich Gorbatov in all but name).

Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase selection

The top of the market tends to fare well in this race, and it will be no surprise if Riders Onthe Storm prevails. Having backed Tower Bridge at 20's, I'm happy though I still think there's a squeak of juice in his 9/1 quote. But maybe The Russian Doyen will give those chase specialists Tizzard and Cobden a day one win. He looks to have been expertly campaigned for his mark, with two and a half miles on soft ground expected to be a potent combination. At 25/1 in a place, he's too big.

Suggestion: Back The Russian Doyen at 25/1 each way (1/5 12345 Hills). Or if you want something more probable side with either 7/1 Rider Onthe Storm or 9/1 Tower Bridge.

*

5.30 National Hunt Chase (Grade 2, 3m 7 1/2f)

A long race and, these days, a classy one. A number of changes to the race conditions in the last twenty years have increased the quality and reduced the randomness such that it now often goes to the highest-rated runner in the field. Those with demonstrable experience, stamina and class are the ones upon which to focus. They tend to inhabit the top of the betting lists for obvious reasons.

The favourite, however, is one to field against in my view. OK Corral is a nine-year-old who has won his two chase starts. Two chase starts. That's inexperience right there. He looked a strong stayer over hurdles but he's only raced in four-runner fields over fences so the 18 who line up here will be a significantly different test. At 3/1, he's a nothankyou, even if he is the highest rated in the field.

Ballyward has also had just two chase starts and hails from a stable where, allegedly, schooling over fences is considered optional. Be that as it may, if it's not enough experience for the jolly it's not enough experience for the second in either.

Chef Des Obeaux is s-l-o-w, but this might be his kind of thing. He's high class slow and, though his jumping isn't brilliant, that has been when he's been out of his comfort zone at a mile shorter. With a faller concession he might be worth a small play.

The wise guy horse is Atlanta Ablaze. On ratings, she's exposed as not good enough; but she has the experience - ten chase starts, four wins. She drew me to her, but then I noticed all her best form is on a sound surface, which it is very unlikely to be. If I've got her ground predilection wrong she could go well but I don't think I have.

Discorama is another short one in the betting with whom I struggle. He's got class, but his stamina and experience are both open to question - or at least have yet to be shown. Jamie Codd has been snapped up to ride Le Breuil, a horse yet to race at three miles let alone four; but he does have plenty of experience, he has a touch of class and he will be ridden as cold as ice by the chef de lanterne rouge, Mr C. Even so he's not for me. Another wise guy play, I'd say. Good luck to the wise guys.

Impulsive Star has had six chase starts, including when not quite getting home in this race last year, eventually finishing 24 lengths fourth. He may again not quite have the stamina for the gig but equally should give the galloping dentist, Mr Samuel Waley-Cohen, a great spin round. Less interesting is Jerrysback, in spite of the money around for him. He's a son of Jeremy for crying out loud, who took four goes to get off the mark in point to points and who's never raced under rules beyond 2m5f. The sire's progeny are 0 from 33 beyond 2m6f.

Gordon Elliott saddles Gun Digger, a horse with at least a modicum of stamina, class and experience. Not much more than a modicum but in a race where I'm really struggling to find a contender that ticks those three boxes, this one comes closest.

But wait, what about Whisperinthebreeze? Six chase starts, a win and three further places, goes on most ground, seemed to stay well when second over 3m1f, and a mark of 146 puts him within hailing distance of the pick of these. Definitely one of the more appealing prospects.

National Hunt Chase Selection

There are reasons to swerve most of these one way or another, and it might be that one last trip to the bar is a better call than a final first day wager. That said, if we think the top of the market is there to be taken on, should we not tilt at a windmill or two? I feel we probably should.

Two at prices with fine riders are Gun Digger, ridden by Lisa O'Neill, and Whisperinthebreeze, steered by Fin Maguire. Both have hinted at the  trinity of requirements - class, stamina, experience - and in a race where most fall down (hopefully not literally) to some degree on one or more of the three, they're worth a go at decent double digits. Chef Des Obeaux wouldn't be the worst play at a price either.

Suggestion: Back Gun Digger (16/1 1/4 123 bet365, 14/1 1/5 1234 Skybet) and/or Whisperinthebreeze (20/1 1/4 123 bet365, 16/1 1/5 1234 Skybet)

*

Nobody said this would be easy. Though the Tuesday usually has a more straightforward look to it than the rest of the week, this Day One card feels fraught with danger and, therefore, opportunity. Go well, and remember to save some powder for the following three days!

London Racing Club Cheltenham Preview Notes

The below notes have been provided by excellent Cheltenham judge and good friend, "Hammer".

Another very enjoyable evening hosted by Lee Mottershead bringing a wealth of knowledge to the table in the form of ex Senior Handicapper Phil Smith, whose betting pot now represents his life force. ("Once it's gone, you're gone" according to Mrs Smith), Maddie Playle from Racing Post podcast, author and pundit Matt Tombs and Martin Chapman representing Star Sports and providing the market movers and shakers.

 

Tuesday

Supreme

PS All need to improve on current ratings to get near the level of a poor winner. One of them surely will do so but hard to be confident whom. Al Dancer has the added confidence of handicap form giving substance to his rating. Interested in Angel's Breath who will stay further.

MP given Elixir De Nutz profile, Thomas Darby's form earlier in season provides hope that he may be some value.

MT Fakir De D'oudaries has it all to do if he turns up here as 4yo old form is a gulf short of all age form. Front runner Elixir De Nutz nominated as a very solid each way play.

Summary: Elixir De Nutz each way

 

Arkle

PS Hardline highest rated and good price for progressive profile. Preferred to Duc Des Genevres.

MP Glen Forsa uncomplicated and stays further. Strong handicap form.

MT Lalor may like freshness angle but big ask for K Woollacott. Preferred Hardline through smashing up of Us And Them when race wouldn't have suited Hardline.

Summary: Hardline each way

 

Champion Hurdle

PS Buveur D'air 2/1 "wow".

MP Buveur D'air will get good tow from Apple's Jade.

MT Closutton confidence in Laurina. "The Vibes” are strong with this one! However came down strong on Apple's Jade whose Leopardstown form was "so good". In Istabraq/Faugheen class if weight allowance factored in.

Summary: No obvious standout. Star Sports did offer 5/2 price push about the reigning dual champion. There will be worse bets.

Other Tuesday snippets:

PS Dounikos would have been of interest in Ultima given his handicap mark in UK untypically more favourable than his Irish mark. He doesn't run unfortunately (may be worth a sneak in the Grand National though..). However General Principle who finished close behind him does run and his mark is on a par with his Irish mark which is effectively a bonus.

MP keen on Mister Whittaker in Ultima for step up in trip with festival form. Also name checked Impulsive Star for NH chase. Fourth last year and form of Rathvinden and Sizing Tennessee working out well.

MT liked Red Indian in Close Brothers.

PS Tower Bridge could have lenient mark in Close Brothers on line through Duc Des Genevres who he would rate higher than 153.

 

Wednesday

Ballymore

PS Champ just looks like a winner. Others were less convinced worried about him settling in a race they typically go steady.

MT worried slow pace may also make Battleoverdoyen susceptible to a speedster stepping up from the 2m ranks. He nominated Klassical Dream (if runs) over Brewinupastorm who needs to overcome bad fall last time out.

MP liked City Island and Beakstown.

Summary: Take on the top of the market. Klassical Dream favoured if runs.

 

RSA

MP Delta Work solid

PS Delta work "bombproof". Topofthegame preferred over Santini also.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Summary: Delta Work worthy favourite.

 

Champion Chase

PS Altior wins. Not seen bottom of him yet.

MT Un De Sceaux value NRNB at 12/1 if soft (won't run otherwise). Also available NRNB at 4/1 without Altior

Summary: Altior wins. UDS in alternative markets NRNB.

 

Other Wednesday snippets

MT Whiskey Sour lobbed in for Coral Cup

PS No horses get lobbed in!

PS Back an Irish horse in the Boodles that has had only 3 runs

MT liked Get In The Queue and Sempo for Bumper

PS preferred to dutch the McManus pair over Tiger Roll in the Cross Country

MT concurred re Auvergnat who has massively improved. He also noted that Chic Name travelled favourably last year and could be worth a small each way.

 

Thursday

JLT

MP liked Lostintranslation. A horse she is coming to fall in love with. Stays further.

MT liked Voix Du Reve of the likely runners. (Travelled well for long way in Coral Cup last year). Could get own way in front too and find rhythm. But do watch out for a switcheroo from big yards. With NRNB Topofthegame or Hardline are likely non runners but will massively shorten if their current plans changed.

PS liked Reel Steel. Rated 152 that should be good enough for a JLT.

None of the panel were warm on Defi.

Summary: Split opinions

 

Ryanair

PS Frodon top rated

MP Frodon probably won't be good enough but likes the combo with Bryony

MT Watch out for concerted Footpad support. If not Monalee soundest option.

Note Road To Respect now going Ryanair

Summary: Nothing conclusive. Wait for "the vibes" with Footpad?

 

Stayers

Nobody over bullish on Paisley Park but it might be a case of is there anything to beat him?

PS Originally said Faugheen would beat him on 3 legs but he didn't have the updated PP rating since the Cleeve.

MT hoped Ifthecapfits might get supplemented as this test would suit.

Summary: Paisley Park or Faugheen will provide a story either way

 

Other Thursday snippets:

MP Queenofhearts in Mares Novice

MT/MP Eamon An Cnoic travelled really well at festival last year. 25/1 poke for Plate

MT also liked River Wylde in Plate. Could be the proverbial group horse in a handicap

PS shared some trends. Irish Novices in Pertemps. Plate Mullins/Elliott graded form. Even if 4th of 4. Some will be on good marks especially Gordon's.

 

Friday

Triumph

Not a race to look for big prices. 10/14 winners from Top 3 in market.

Summary No obvious value. Sir Erec could go off odds on. Should have plenty of time to recover from the stone bruise

 

Albert Bartlett

MT Split stakes on Derrinross (better soft) and Defi Bleu

Summary: Defi Bleu won't be 33/1 if Gordon's had a good few days (which I expect he will!)

 

Gold Cup

PS Native River was good Gold Cup winner and is the one to beat. Best bet of week.

MP Shattered Love might be best outsider

The panel merited Clan Des Obeaux's improvement but lingering doubts about jumping right and whether may be too classy to tough it out.

MT if good ground it is a speed test. This will suit Kemboy who has not got enough credit for Savills run as he pulled hard and ran inefficiently. Presenting Percy the reluctant selection if soft.

PS/MT showed visible disliking to Pat Kelly's contemptible treatment of the racing public as the sport has moved on since the 90's. Percy certainly not likely to be the most popular winner in these quarters at least.

Summary: Pat Kelly is not nice. Native River if soft, Kemboy if good.

 

Other Friday snippets

MT Foxhunter Hazel Hill a proper pointer who has been smashing up opposition for years. Caid Du Berlais (good)

PS Foxhunter Stand Up And Fight/Ucello Conti

MP loves Finawn Bawn wherever runs.

 

Enjoy next week folks. Will be craic'ing week as ever!

- Hammer

Stayers’ Hurdle 2019: Preview, Trends, Tips

Stayers' Hurdle 2019: Preview, Trends, Tips

Thursday's flagship race at the Cheltenham Festival is the Stayers' Hurdle, a Grade 1 run over three miles. It is a strong test of class and stamina, as well as speed quite often, and has an impressive roll of honour which includes the likes of Big Buck's, Inglis Drever and Baracouda - all multiple winners this century. With Penhill unable to defend his crown we'll have a new name on the list of winners; working out which one is the challenge faced in the words that follow.

 

Stayers' Hurdle 2019 Trends

There's plenty of dead wood in your average Stayers' Hurdle line up. A brace of barometers to that end are recent form figures and starting price. In the last ten years, Stayers' Hurdle winners collectively recorded 21 victories in their previous three starts and added another five second places; put another way, they were placed 1-2 in 26 of 30 preceding runs. Whilst that sequence includes Big Buck's' memorable four-timer, there have been six further individual winners in the past decade.

When Anzum won the Stayers' at 40/1 in 1999, he was rounding out a trio of consecutive big priced winners; thereafter, the next 14 victors were returned at 8/1 or shorter. However, most recently, three of the last four winners were between 10/1 and 14/1. But even that recent trio arrived at the race as follows:

- Penhill was unraced that season but had run 112 on his previous three starts (including winning the Albert Bartlett at the Festival the year before)
- Nichols Canyon ran 12F, all at two miles
- Cole Harden might be considered the sole shock, having arrived with form of 234 in the established British trials. He was some way down the official rating pecking order and benefited from a wind op and being able to control steady fractions from the front. He can be seen as a rare outlier to the profile.

Those at sensible prices whose recent form puts them into this pattern profile include favourite, Paisley Park, Supasundae, and Faugheen.

A further interesting, and perhaps emerging, trend is the record of the Irish. After Dorans Pride's popular success in 1995 there was a wait of 18 years before Charles Byrnes saddled Solwhit for his triumph in 2013. Since then, however, Willie Mullins has won the last two Stayers' Hurdles.

Since 1997, Ireland has run 71 horses in the race, out of a total of 278 - so just about bang on a quarter - and has claimed only three of 21 (14%) Stayers' titles in that time.

Since the race was reinstated in 1972, only Crimson Embers (1986) has won at an age outside of the range of six- to nine-year-olds. This is a significant knock against the classy Faugheen, with the likes of Big Buck's, Baracouda (twice) and Limestone Lad failing in recent times when aged ten or more.

Although not a trend as such, it is worth saying that horses which have demonstrated high class form at lesser distances have a fair record in this race. Nichols Canyon, More Of That, and Solwhit are all examples of such horses in the post-Big Buck's era.

 

Stayers' Hurdle 2019 Form Preview

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One horse towers above the field - the expected runners for the field at any rate - in this year's renewal of the Stayers' Hurdle. Paisley Park has looked a different horse since his nondescript effort in last year's Albert Bartlett. That race, famously attritional, saw him eased off in deep ground; since then he's never looked back, recording a four-timer and showing himself to be much the best of the British staying hurdle contingent.

Wins in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot and the Cleeve Hurdle on Trials Day at Cheltenham have seen him stride forwards in performance terms from 147 in his seasonal debut to 168 last time, according to the British handicapper. Given that only Thistlecrack (168) had a rating that could match Paisley Park's since Big Buck's' final victory, and that none of the other five winners in that time came in with a rating greater than 161, this may simply be an open and shut case.

However, the pick of the Irish handicap figures puts Faugheen on 169 - gasp! I don't know when that master figure was recorded but it remains four pounds higher than Apple's Jade and that looks tenuous at best. In his pomp in Britain, when winning the 2015 Champion Hurdle, Faugheen recorded a performance figure of 171, just three pounds higher than Paisley Park notched last time. That was over two miles and four years ago.

But wait, there's more. The Irish 'capper also has Supasundae on 163, a mark which would have won five of the last six Stayers' Hurdles. Not seen over three miles since running up to Penhill in last year's renewal, he's had a quiet prep finishing second three times over shorter distances in Grade 1 company.

Getting back to Paisley Park, my feeling is that talk of his 'flat spot' is somewhat overplayed. Sure, he got niggled at one point during the Cleeve, but it was for no more than ten or twelve strides; later on, Coleman got busy again but that might be put down to the rider being apprehensive about what he had under him. He gave him one smack and Paisley was back on the bridle before travelling to, and running by, the leaders with ease.

There is no reason to believe Paisley Park has finished improving, with his most recent run his best - over three miles at Cheltenham - and I think he'll take a world of beating.

The fly in the ointment, which would likely play to the superior speed of the above named Irish pair, is if there is little or no pace in the race. Paisley's impressive wins this season have come when front-runners have blazed a trail: in the Cleeve, Sam Spinner and Lil Rockefeller locked horns from the outset; the early speed was less marked in the Long Walk Hurdle, and so was the winning distance and the performance rating. Andrew Gemmell, the blind owner of Paisley Park, whose story has been recounted by Tony Stafford on these virtual pages, will be hoping Sam and Lil Rock re-oppose next week.

If they don't, Faugheen and Supasundae become more interesting. The former has been a very classy animal, good enough to win a Neptune and a Champion Hurdle amidst a haul of nine Grade 1 scores in Britain and Ireland; but at age eleven, and with just two defeats on his card since an impressive victory at Punchestown last April, I have to let him beat me at a top price of 9/2.

Jessica Harrington's Supasundae has more appeal. He's more consistent, albeit that he's never been the star that Faugheen ("the machine") has been, and he looks like he's been trained all season for this. His Festival record is solid, too: 6th of 23 in the Champion Bumper, 7th of 14 in the Supreme, 1st of 25 in the Coral Cup, and 2nd of 15 in last year's Stayers' Hurdle. He's been predictably outpaced over two miles this season, as he was in those early Festival skirmishes, but upped in trip he looks sure to be competitive again and is a far more reliable each way proposition than 'the machine'.

This preview presumes Apple's Jade goes to the Champion (or the Mares') Hurdle rather than here, though she'd obviously be a massive player with her seven pound allowance if she did re-route in this direction (9/2 NRNB is a very snide wager if you're that way inclined - most likely money back but you'll have at least two points on the market if she did run).

Of those likely to line up, Black Op was a good second to Samcro in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle in the mud last year; but he was no match for Paisley Park last time and his jumping continues to be a cause for concern. Top Notch is a brilliant little horse but far more likely to go Ryanair, and another already put in his place by the Park.

If it came up wet and turned into a war, Kilbricken Storm is the sort which could pick up pieces. That is what happened in his Albert Bartlett last year and, though the abortive chase campaign is not ideal, 'potato race' winners have a good record in the Stayers' - see for example Penhill last year.

After that, we're in wise guy territory for a race which has not historically played to wise guys. Bacardys has more F's to his name than a Scrabble bag but he wasn't out of last year's race when coming down at the last and a more truly run affair than that one could see a prominent showing, though he may be bigger than the current 16/1 on the day.

It really would be a shock if anything else was good enough.

Stayers' Hurdle 2019 Tips

It may be unoriginal, but in a race full of if's and but's, the case for PAISLEY PARK is overwhelming. He's unbeaten this season, he's won the major trials, he's proven at the track and over the trip, he's beaten many of his likely rivals by wide margins, and he may very well still be progressive. I'd certainly be happy that, barring mishap, there is nothing in Britain that will beat him. He's a short price at 7/4 and that lacks sex appeal, but he's a very likely winner.

Of the Irish, despite his former class it is hard to overlook Faugheen's age, a barrier which proved beyond horses of similar 'back class' at a similar vintage. A strong gallop would also count against him.

Supasundae by contrast relished the stronger pace in the Coral Cup and, while this is clearly a different level of opposition, he was able to operate off the steady fractions in last year's race. With ground versatility and an uninterrupted preparation further positives, he looks the each way bet in the race.

For those who like more exotic - which is to say longer priced and less likely - wagers, Bacardys offers more appeal than many. He has class and Festival form: 3rd in the 2016 Champion Bumper, hampered in the 2017 Neptune, staying on from an impossible position when falling at the last in the 2018 Stayers'. He also has obvious jumping issues which must be factored into your wager. Maybe a bookie will be offering a money back concession on those that tumble; that would be well worth taking a couple of points shorter about in my view. And, in any case, I think he's a day of race play as he's likely to be a little longer than 16/1 unless the wise guys hitch their smartypants cart to his chance.

 

2019 Stayers' Hurdle Selection: Paisley Park at 7/4 NRNB Betfair Sports

Best each way: Supasundae 8/1 Hills (all in, run or not) or 7/1 Betfair Sports, PP, blacktype, Boyles NRNB

Bigger priced alternative: Bacardys e/w at 16/1 NRNB BOG 1/4 1-2-3 bet365 (though he may be available at bigger on the morning of the race)

2019 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY TWO (Weds 13th March 2019)

Each day of the 2019 Cheltenham Festival our horse racing trends experts here at GeeGeez.co.uk will give you all the quick-fire positive and negative stats for EVERY race. Apply these to the final cards and you will build up a picture and a profile of which horses have historically done the best in recent renewals.

We hope they help narrow down the fields and also help pin-point plenty of winners at the 2019 Cheltenham Festival for you!

 

DAY TWO: Wednesday 13th March 2019

 

13:30 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle   2m 5f


2018 Winner: SAMCRO (8/11 fav)
Trainer –Gordon Elliott
Jockey - Jack Kennedy


Pluses….

  • 12 of the last 14 winners came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 14 of the last 18 winners returned 17/2 or shorter
  • 13 of the last 19 winners won last time out
  • The Irish have won 8 of the last 13
  • All of the last 13 winners were aged 5 or 6 years-old
  • In the last 8 runnings Irish-trained horses have filled 14 of the 24 top 3 places
  • 18 of the last 20 were NH bred
  • 13 of the last 20 had won a graded race before
  • Look for past Irish point-to-point winners (5 of the last 9 begin their careers in Irish points)
  • Respect Willie Mullins – 4 winners and 7 placed in last 14 years

Negatives….

  • Only one winner aged older than 6 has won since 1974
  • Avoid 4 year-olds too – just one winner since 1991
  • Horses aged 7 or older are 0 from 54 (since 1988)
  • Only two of the last 33 winners came from outside the top 5 in the betting
  • The last 16 Challow Hurdle winners have all been beaten
  • Avoid ex-flat horses (since 2005 all have been beaten)

14:10 RSA Chase   3m ½f

2018 Winner: PRESENTING PERCY (5/2 fav)
Trainer – Patrick Kelly
Jockey – Davy Russell

Pluses….

  • 4 of the last 10 winners ran in the Flogas Chase (Leopardstown, 4th Feb) that season
  • Respect 7 year-olds – won 9 of the last 11
  • 9 of the last 13 winners won last time out
  • 6 of the last 12 favourites won (50%)
  • Irish bred horses are 18 from the last 22
  • 8 of the last 12 winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 Chase
  • 6 of the last 10 winners were trained in Ireland
  • Trainers Nicky Henderson, Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls often do well in the race
  • 22 of the last 26 were novice hurdling last season
  • 5 of the last 9 winners ran in the Albert Bartlett the previous season
  • Look for horses that ran that same calendar year (51 of the last 52 winners had)
  • 9 of the last 12 winners had raced at the Festival the previous year

Negatives….

  • No winner aged 9 or older since 1992
  • Just 4 winners younger than 7 since 1978
  • Avoid horses that had fallen before over fences
  • Avoid unbeaten horses over fences
  • Avoid horses that had had 2 full seasons over hurdles prior
  • Just 1 of the last 19 winners had run less than 3 times over fences
  • All 21 winners of the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (Feltham, Kempton 26th Dec) have lost
  • Avoid unbeaten horses
  • Horses in headgear are currently 0 from 24

14:50 Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle   2m 5f

2018 Winner: BLEU BERRY (20/1)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Mark Walsh

 

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Pluses….

  • 11 of the last 14 were 2nd season hurdlers
  • 8 of the last 10 winners hailed from the top 8 horses in the weights
  • 11 of the last 13 winners hailed form the top 7 in the betting
  • 18 of the last 24 winners won earlier that season
  • Respect JP McManus-owned runners
  • Respect trainers Nicky Henderson & Gordon Elliott (2 wins each in last 9 years)
  • 9 of the last 17 winners were FRENCH-BRED
  • 13 of the last 25 won last time out
  • Respect Irish-trained runners (5 of the last 10)
  • Look for horses that had raced 4 or less times that season (last 10 winners)
  • 12 of the last 14 winners had run 32 days or longer ago (look for horses that have had a small break)
  • Trainer Gordon Elliott is 2 from 9

Negatives….

  • No winning favourite in the last 15 years
  • Horses aged 10+ are just 2 from 301to even place since 1999
  • Horses rated 150+ don’t have a great record
  • Only 4 of the last 18 winners had raced at the Festival previously
  • The last 74 horses wearing headgear have been beaten
  • Only 3 winners since 2000 had run more than 9 times over hurdles
  • Willie Mullins won the race last year, but overall has a bad record – 29 runners – just one placed inside the top 2

 

15:30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase   2m

2018 Winner: ALTIOR (Evs)
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Jockey – Nico de Boinville

Pluses….

  • 11 of the last 18 winners ran in the Tingle Creek Chase that season
  • 3 of the last 6 winners also won the Clarence House Chase (Ascot) that season
  • 22 of the last 34 had won at the Festival before
  • Paul Nicholls & Nicky Henderson have won 7 of the last 11 between them
  • 15 of the last 16 winners had run that calendar year
  • 35 of the last 37 winners returned 10/1 or shorter
  • 14 of the last 19 winners returned 5/1 or shorter
  • 6 of the last 12 winners were French-bred
  • 11 of the last 16 winners were second season chasers
  • 16 of the last 20 winners came from the top 3 in the betting
  • 14 of the last 19 winners ran in the previous season’s Arkle or Champion Chase

Negatives….

  • Only two winners priced 11/1 or bigger in the last 36 years
  • Top Irish trainer, Willie Mullins, is yet to win this race
  • Just 1 of the last 17 winners hadn’t won a Grade 1 Chase before
  • 12 of the last 13 winners had run in no more than 16 chases
  • Be wary of horses older than 10 – just 2 winners since 1977

16:10 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase   3m 7f

2018 Winner: TIGER ROLL (7/1)
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Jockey – Keith Donoghue

Pluses….

  • The Irish have won 12 of the last 14 runnings
  • Respect Enda Bolger-trained runners (won the race 5 times)
  • 17 of the last 21 winners came from the top three in the betting
  • 8 of the last 14 ran in the December Cross Country race here
  • Respect Nina Carberry, Richard Johnson and Davy Russell-ridden horses (8 from 15 between them)
  • 11 or the last 14 winners were aged 10 or younger
  • Trainer Philip Hobbs is 2 from 10 (5 placed in the top 5 too)

Negatives….

  • Debutants over these fences/course have a poor record
  • Avoid horses aged 7 or younger – they are only 2 from 97
  • Horses rated 126 or less have a very poor record
  • Trainer Willie Mullins is 0 from 12
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls is 0 from 16

16:50 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle   2m ½f

2018 Winner: VENEER OF CHARM (33/1)
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Jockey – Jack Kennedy

Pluses….

  • 10 of the last 14 winners had run just 3 times over hurdles before
  • French bred horses have a good record
  • Respect Fillies
  • 7 of the last 8 winners all came from the bottom half of the weights/handicap
  • 10 of the last 14 had run in the last 25 days
  • David Pipe, Paul Nicholls, Gordon Elliot and Alan King-trained horses often do well
  • 6 of the last 7 winners returned between 25/1 and 40/1
  • Respect horses wearing headgear
  • The last 13 winners were ALL rated between 124-134
  • 8 of the last 11 winners were British-trained
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls has won 3 of the last 9 runnings

 

Negatives….

  • Just 1 recent winner had last raced in January or further back
  • Trainers Willie Mullins, Philip Hobbs and Venetia Williams are 0 from 29 between them
  • Willie Mullins runners are 0 from 12 (and all not placed in the top 5 either)
  • Only 3 winners had run in a handicap hurdle before
  • No winner had raced at Cheltenham before

 

17:30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper   2m ½f

2018 Winner: RELEGATE (25/1)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Katie Walsh

Pluses….

  • 24 of the last 26 had won last time out
  • Respect Irish-trained runners (19 from 35)
  • 4 of the last 9 winners were won by UK-based trainers
  • 17 of the last 26 came from the top 6 in the betting
  • 20 of the last 26 were Irish-bred
  • 10 of the last 18 winners were second season horses
  • 12 of the last 13 winners were aged 5 or 6 years-old
  • 16 of the last 18 had their debut runs in Ireland
  • 11 of the last 16 had been beaten in a race before
  • 6 of the last 9 winners returned between 14/1 and 40/1
  • Respect Willie Mullins (9 winners) – also had first three in 2018, but is just 3 from last 34 runners
  • The Irish lead the British 20-7 in the race history

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses with 4 or more NH Flat runs
  • 4 year-olds are 1 from 58 since 2000
  • Gigginstown, Paul Nicholls & Nicky Henderson don’t often focus on the race

 

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Cheltenham Festival: Avoiding the Bad Bets

This article was originally written ahead of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, and has been updated prior to the 2019 Cheltenham Festival.

The Cheltenham Festival is almost upon us and soon we'll be faced with the unenviable - though highly enjoyable - task of trying to find winners in 28 deeply competitive races. Many sensible players will focus on a subset of the full four-day card but, regardless of your plan of attack, there are some rules of thumb worth keeping in mind.

I've broken the races down into four categories: open Grade 1's, novice Grade 1's (excluding the Bumper and Triumph Hurdle), handicap hurdles (excluding the Fred Winter), and handicap chases. The following races, in addition to the trio mentioned above, are also excluded: NH Chase, Mares' Novice Hurdle, Cross Country Chase, and the Foxhunters' Chase.

That leaves 21 races spread across four groups upon which to focus. For each I was looking for negative angles: in so doing, I'm happy to forego a small percentage of winners if it means there is a far more workable residue of runners who comprise most victors and, crucially, a value edge.

The sample covers the last eleven Festivals, going back to 2008, with commentary on the updated figures and performance at the 2018 Festival appended.

Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1's

The open Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival are the Champion Hurdle, Mares' Hurdle, Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase, Stayers' Hurdle, and the Gold Cup: six in total. Across the ten years to 2017, that equated to 53 winners (Mares' Hurdle upgraded during the sample window) and 158 placed horses, from 635 runners. To that we add six winners and 17 placed horses from 2018.

Headgear

Those wearing no headgear won 50 of the 53 open Grade 1's in the last decade, from 521 runners. That's 94% of the winners from 82% of the fields.

Just one of the 94 runners sporting blinkers or cheekpieces won - Our Vic in the 2008 Ryanair - and such horses' place strikerate is poor, too.

Be wary of horses wearing headgear, especially blinkers or cheekpieces, in Open Grade 1's at the Festival.

2018 Festival Update: Native River won the Gold Cup wearing cheek pieces, with just one of the other twelve headgear-accoutred runners making the frame. So that's 55 of 59 open Grade 1's now: 93% of the winners from 82% of the runners.

Those wearing headgear can win (QED) but are 4/127 (3.15% SR) with an A/E of just 0.46.

Age

Horses aged five to nine won 49 of the 53 open Cheltenham Festival Grade 1's in the last decade. The other four were aged ten. From 45 runners, 11+ year-olds have failed to win. These include such sentimental veterans as Cue Card, Big Buck's and Kauto Star, all of whom were sent off at 9/2 or shorter since 2012.

Avoid backing horses aged in double digits in Festival Open Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: Two more 11+ year-olds ran in last year's Festival, including the wonderful Cue Card. Wonderful he may be but, sent off at 9/2 and pulled up, he was another mug punt for many. Worse than that, though, was the ten-year-old Un De Sceaux, who was turned over at 8/11. He was one of six ten-year-olds beaten last year.

Horses aged ten-plus are now 4/112 since 2008 (3.57% SR), A/E 0.45.

[As an aside, the four winning ten-year-olds did so in the Champion Chase (two) and Ryanair Chase (two).]

Starting Price

None of the 238 horses sent off at 25/1 or bigger managed to win an open Grade 1 at the last ten CheltFests. Moreover, only three priced bigger than 14/1 scored, from 335 to face the starter, with this group losing 274 points at SP. Meanwhile, those priced at 14/1 or shorter won 50 races from 300 starters, and lost just two points at SP. That converted to a BSP profit of 51.75 points.

Ignore horses priced at 16/1 or bigger in Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: Another blank for 16/1+ horses, who went 0/31 in the Grade 1 open races. Of the four who placed, only one was second - Midnight Tour in a lop-sided Mares' Hurdle - with the other three good enough for no better than third.

Overall, then, this group is now 3/366 (0.82% SR) with a loss at SP of 305 points (-83.33% !) and an A/E of just 0.28

Trainers

Paul Nicholls is still the winning-most Open Grade 1 trainer in the past decade, with ten such victories to his name. Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins each have nine, and the next best of Jonjo O'Neill, with four.

But... the denizen of Ditcheat has led just one beast - Dodging Bullets in 2015 - into the winner's enclosure since 2012, with none of his eight such runners at the last two Festivals reaching the first four. Notwithstanding that all bar one of that octet was sent off a double-figure price, he's a trainer about which to be apprehensive in this context.

Philip Hobbs is 0 from 17 in this type of race in the review period, and has only had one horse placed. That was Fair Along, third in the 2008 Champion Chase, and Hobbs tends to fare better at Aintree, though he's had a wretched season blighted - one suspects - by a touch of the virus.

Noel Meade has an infamous record at the Festival and, while he's 0 from 13 in this section of races, his Road To Riches was third in both the 2015 Gold Cup and the 2016 Ryanair Chase.

Nevertheless, Messrs. Hobbs and Meade are 0 from 30, three places, which is hard to overlook. Nicholls' 1 from 30 record since 2013 is equally difficult to excuse.

Tread carefully around Cheltenham open Grade 1 runners trained by Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs and Noel Meade.

2018 Festival Update: Both Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson have usurped Nicholls at the top of the pile, each having now secured 11 such wins since 2008. Last year, Messrs. Nicholls, Hobbs and Meade went 0/4 (three Nicholls, one Meade) though two of them ran fairly well in fourth. Caution remains the watch word.

Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1 Micro System

Pulling all of these negative stats together makes for a nice little micro system. Specifically:

- No horses wearing blinkers or cheekpieces
- No horses trained by Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs or Noel Meade
- No horses priced at 16/1+
- No horses aged 10+

That would have netted 36 winners from 180 runners (20% strike rate, 69% race win strike rate) and a level stakes profit of 46.48 points at Starting Price. That bloats to +69.95 at BSP. Moreover, the approach was profitable in eight of the ten years, exceptions being 2016 and 2009.

2018 Festival Update: The above 'dodge the negatives' angle would have netted you five of the six open G1 winners (excluding the cheek pieced Native River) from just 25 bets. It would have been enough to make you a profit of 6.17 points at SP or a very tidy 13.82 points at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: The mini system had a fine week with wins for Al Boum Photo, Paisley Park and Altior in the big four races, as well as Roksana in the Mares' Hurdle. That was worth a profit of 5.74 points at SP and 6.95 at BSPEspoir d'Allen was 16/1 and therefore just outside the range.

**

Cheltenham Festival Novice Grade 1's (excl. Bumper & Triumph Hurdle)

The novice Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival are the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Arkle Chase, Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle, RSA Chase, JLT Novices' Chase, and Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle: six in all. Across the ten years, that equates to 54 winners (JLT upgraded during the sample window) and 159 placed horses, from 723 runners. To that we add six winners and 17 placed horses, from 76 runners, in 2018.

The Bumper is excluded because it has no obstacles, and the Triumph Hurdle because it is for four-year-olds only.

Here are the negatives...

Headgear

Those wearing no headgear still account for the vast majority of wins - 57 of 60 from 2008 to 2018 - but perform little better than expected, 95% of the wins coming from 93% of the runners.

Age

Again, little of note here except that those novices aged nine or more running in Grade 1 novice races at the Festival have done poorly. They are 0 from 22, though then nine-year-old Whisper nearly benefited from Might Bite's errant course up the hill last year in the RSA Chase. It is worth noting that nine of those 22 were priced at 7/1 or shorter.

Avoid novices aged nine and up in the novice Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: No 9yo novices ran at the Festival last year.

Starting Price

There is the occasional shock result in Cheltenham Festival novice Grade 1's. But four, out of 54, is not a percentage on which to hang one's wagering hat. Interestingly, perhaps - or maybe just coincidence - two of the four winners at bigger than 16/1 in the last decade came in the Albert Bartlett. It does seem a race where all of the preceding trials have been run on different ground and/or under very different pace scenarios.

Even allowing a little latitude in the 'potato race', the four rags came from a total population of 336 horses sent off greater than 16/1. They were 'good' for a loss of 208 points at SP.

Naturally, then, the other 50 winners came from horses priced at 16/1 or shorter, the 381 such runners losing just 31 points at SP, and breaking even at BSP.

Be wary of horses sent off a bigger price than 16/1 in novice Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival. (With the exception of the Albert Bartlett)

2018 Festival Update: I think I got some sums wrong in the original above. The 16/1+ brigade were 6/379 (1.58% SR, -217, A/E 0.53) going into last year's Fez. Those priced at 16/1 or bigger were 1/42 at last year's Cheltenham Festival, and it was again the Albert Bartlett that provided the shock, with 33/1 Kilbricken Storm prevailing.

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And that's now four of seven winning G1 novice rags since 2008 scoring in the spud race, so I'd be even more apprehensive around that event. Indeed, I might even be tempted to actively target outsiders therein. (Those priced 16/1 to 33/1 in the Albert Bartlett are 4/65, 12 places, +54 SP and +104 at BSP since 2008!)

The overall figures now stand at 7/421 (1.66% SR, A/E 0.56) since 2008. Ignoring the Albert Bartlett, horses priced 16/1+ in novice Grade 1's are now 3/293 (1.02% SR, -216 at SP) since 2008.

Official Rating

Despite being novices, most horses running in the Festival novice races have an official rating. The 39 in the last decade which didn't were all unplaced bar one. Indeed, horses rated 140 or below, including those without a rating, are a combined seven from 308 for a loss at SP of 185 points.

Those rated higher than 140 won 47 races and lost a relatively small 54 points at SP and 2.75 points at BSP.

Avoid horses rated 140 or below.

2018 Festival Update: Those unrated added another three duck eggs to their collective card, though all of the trio were 20/1+. Meanwhile, those unrated or rated 140 or less went 24 spins without so much as a place at last year's Festival. Overall since 2008, then, they're now 7/332 (2.11% SR, A/E 0.58). There have only been three such winners since 2010, and none since 2016.

Trainers

Willie Mullins is the dominant player in this sphere over the last decade, his fifteen winners almost double that of the next man (Nicky Henderson has eight). No other trainer has more than two novice G1 wins in the past decade, excluding as we are the Bumper and Triumph Hurdle.

Paul Nicholls is again a man to treat with caution: his one winner, Al Ferof, from 43 starters came in 2011. In PFN's defence, he only had one runner last year, and just two in 2016.

Other handlers to be given a wide berth may include Colin Tizzard (0 from 15, 2 places), Warren Greatrex and Charlie Longsdon (both 0 from 9, no places), and Venetia Williams (0 from 8, no places).

Keep in mind that Paul Nicholls does not have the firepower he once did in this category (and indeed many others).

2018 Festival Update: Nicholls ran two novices in this context last year, Modus (8th of 9 at 12/1) and Black Corton (5th of 10, 5/1).

 

Cheltenham Festival Novice Grade 1 Micro System

Again, we can fashion something of a micro system by dodging these negative angles, thus:

- No horses aged nine-plus
- No horses rated 140 or lower, or unrated
- No horses sent off greater than 16/1
- No horses trained by Paul Nicholls

44 of the 54 winners in the sample came from avoiding these negatives, from just 38.5% of the runners. They were collectively worth a profit of 7.57 points at SP, and a slightly more worthwhile 31.15 points at BSP.

2018 Festival Update: If you'd followed this angle last year, you'd have found five of the six winners, 14 places (exception, Kilbricken Storm - see above) from 46 bets. That would have yielded a profit of +9 at SP and +17.41 at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: Not such good news here, as loads of runners and some short odds winners meant the angle lost 16 points at SP and 7.28 points at BSP.

**

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Hurdles (excluding Fred Winter)

Let us now take a look at the handicap races, beginning with the handicap hurdles but excluding the four-year-olds-only Fred Winter (which will be won this year by geegeez.co.uk syndicate horse, Oxford Blu... we wish!!)

Fred Winter aside, there are four handicap hurdles at the Festival: the Coral Cup, Pertemps Final, County and Martin Pipe. The last named was introduced in 2009, meaning we have a sample size of 39 races with which to work. Those races were contested by 964 runners.

Gender

The fairer sex have recorded just one placed effort from 27 starters in the ten year review period. That 3.7% place strike rate (and 0% win rate) compares with a 16.4% place rate for the boys.

It may be safe to exclude fillies and mares in all age Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdles. (Incidentally, fillies have an excellent record in the Fred Winter).

2018 Festival Update: Fillies and mares were 0/9 (1 place) last year. Overall since 2008, that now reads 0/36, 2 places.

Headgear

Cheekpieces are again a negative. This time, 84 horses have worn them without a win, and just six places. Conversely, 11 of the 84 blinkered horses (one also wearing a hood) made the frame, and four won. Two of the 45 hood wearers also won, another eight placing; while the visor went 0 from 21, no places.

Cheekpieces or visors appear to have no positive impact on Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdlers. (This is in line with overall Cheltenham Festival statistics, where visor use has a 2.86% win rate in the last decade, compared with cheekpieces 3.15%, hood 4.92%, blinkers 5.57% and no headgear 5.96%)

2018 Festival Update: Nine more cheek pieced losers last year, and two more visored losers. Blinkered runners were 1/7 last year.

Age

Handicap hurdling at the Festival is a young man's game. Of the 964 runners in such races in the past ten years, 842 (87%) were aged five to eight (ignoring the Fred Winter). They won all bar two of the races (95%), and claimed 92% of the places.

But it is worth further squinting at the data, because it relates that those aged five or six notched 27 of the 39 wins (69%) from just 49% of the runners. Those victories were worth 94 points profit at BSP.

Chuck out horses aged nine and above, and be unforgiving with those aged seven and eight.

2018 Festival Update: All four handicap hurdle winners in this context last year were aged five to seven, with twelve 8yo's beaten, and eleven 9yo+ horses also seen off.

Starting Price

506 of the 964 starters in all-age Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdles since 2008 have been sent off at greater than 20/1. Five have won, at a collective loss of 343 points.

It follows then that the other 34 victors were priced at 20/1 or shorter, of which there were 458 runners. Remarkably, backing all such runners returned an SP profit of 35 points. That mushroomed to 127.5 points at BSP.

Only five of the 102 horses sent off shorter than 9/1 prevailed, for a 66 point loss at SP (60 points at BSP).

Make 20/1 your cutoff in all-age handicap hurdles, and beware the shortie.

2018 Festival Update: There was a 33/1 winner last year (Mohaayed in the County Hurdle), but the other three were 20/1 or shorter. Even allowing for the County winner, those priced at bigger than 20/1 were loss-making at SP (though an enormous BSP of 70 ensured a profit for intrepid exchange punters). Overall, the 22/1+ brigade are now 6/554 since 2008 in handicap hurdles at the Fez (Fred W aside).

Trainers

Willie Mullins has a fantastic record in open handicap hurdles at the Fez, scoring seven times from just 60 starters in the past decade. He's also added another ten placed horses for a brilliant 28% place strike rate. Gordon Elliott has performed even better in place terms, hitting the frame with twelve of his 34 such runners (35%). He also has a win and two places in the Fred Winter, from 11 starters.

Paul Nicholls has a very good record in handicap hurdles, too, in contrast to his Grade 1 performance in recent seasons. But the likes of Evan Williams and Charlie Longsdon (0 from 31, 0 places, between them), Noel Meade and Dr Richard Newland (0 from 27, 3 places, collectively) are probably best passed up.

Approach Messrs. Evan Williams, Longsdon, Meade and Newland with caution.

2018 Festival Update: Only the 40/1 shot Prime Venture represented this angle last year; he ran well enough in 8th of 23 in the Pertemps Final.

 

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Hurdle Micro System

Throwing all of the negatives into a mixer gives the following:

- No female horses
- No horses wearing cheekpieces or a visor
- No horses aged nine or above
- No horses sent off at greater than 20/1
- No horses trained by Evan Williams, Charlie Longsdon, Noel Meade or Dr Richard Newland

Applying those negative filters would have left 375 qualifiers. They collectively won 32 of the 39 qualifying races, for a profit of 80 points at SP, and a tasty 165 points at BSP.

2018 Festival Update: Even missing out on the County Hurdle last year, meaning there were only three winners to get, this angle made a profit at SP. In fact, it nailed three winners from 36 runners for +4 at SP and +18.07 at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: More losses on this angle with well backed winners spoiling the party. Still, figures of -13 at SP and -5.61 at BSP were not terminal.

**

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Chases

That leaves us with the handicap chases: Festival Handicap Chase, Novices' Handicap Chase, the Festival Plate, the Kim Muir, and the Grand Annual. With all five races having been run throughout the review period, that gives us fifty races to go at. (I've excluded the Cross Country, which has been run as a handicap but is currently framed as a conditions race).

A whopping 1,086 runners have contested these handicap chases.

Gender

As with the handicap hurdles, it's been hard work for the girls. Only 19 have shown up but, while they have failed to win, they have recorded an impressive five placed efforts (26.32% place rate vs 18.18% for the boys).

Nothing especially of note.

2018 Festival Update: Just one unplaced female last year.

Headgear

Bizarrely given what we've seen hitherto, the fitting of any kind of headgear has outperformed the large 'no headgear' group in terms of win percentage. Cheekpieces, up until now shunned as a universal negative, have been worn by no fewer than seven of the fifty winners, at a rate of 5.26%. Blinkers have been worn by nine handicap chase winners, a 7.5% clip; and the visor and the hood were responsible for a win apiece from 22 and 23 runners respectively. Crikey!

Those unaccessorized won 32 handicap chases from 786 runners (4.07%, the lowest in the sample).

I'll stop short of saying that no headgear is a negative (!), but suffice it to say that the sporting of any kind of 'go faster' kit has not been a portent of failure.

2018 Festival Update: A blinkered runner, Missed Approach, again scored last year and, while cheek pieces went 0/14, four of them made the frame. Allied to Native River's Gold Cup win, I'm warming to the idea of cheekies on a chaser.

Age

Although most winners were clustered in the six to nine years bracket, neither youth nor experience has been a killer blow in handicap chases. Winners have emerged from across the spectrum, with the winning-most ages from a number of victories perspective being the losing-most from a betting perspective.

2018 Festival Update: Last year was non-standard in that all five handicap chase winners were aged six to eight. You'd have still lost money even focusing on that age bracket.

Starting Price

Again we see winners up and down the odds boards, with the sweet (but highly unpredictable and potentially coincidental) spot being north of 25/1 and south of 80/1. Those unconsidered athletes have bagged nine of the 50 races for a profit of 23 points at SP and 331 points at BSP (thanks almost entirely to one enormous return).

Just too unpredictable to work with.

2018 Festival Update: Incredibly, all five handicap chase winners last year were priced at single figure SP's. That's probably never happened before and will probably never happen again!

Trainers

David Pipe has a terrific 8 from 75 record in the last decade in Festival handicap chases, for a small SP profit. On the flip side, Nicky Henderson's two winners have come from 83 runners (-45 at SP); Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Philip Hobbs are an aggregate of five from 153 (-68 at SP); and poor Charlie Longsdon is 0 from 23 (two places, -23 at SP) to make the cold list once more.

Steer clear of the volume boys: Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon.

2018 Festival Update: A good strategy this, as between them they saddled 30 runners in handicap chases, with just 15/2 Le Prezien in the final race of last year's Festival doing the business. Six of the 30 hit the frame.

 

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Chase Micro System

Very little to go at here. We have some negative trainers, and we could try ignoring those:

- No horses trained by Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon

That gives a fat 827 qualifying runners for a loss of 104 points at SP. A bumper profit at BSP was secured courtesy of Mister McGoldrick's 66/1 victory which returned 310 on the exchange!

Perhaps, just for kicks, we could add a long-odds SP range:

- No horses trained by Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon
- No horses shorter than 28/1

We now only have eight winners, from 291 runners, but an SP profit of 40 points. At BSP, for the reason highlighted above, it becomes a juicy 341 points.

But we all know that there's nothing really of use in this section. The handicap chases are a crap shoot and, in negative elimination factor terms, should be avoided at all costs.

2018 Festival Update: The comment directly above was spot on. Just for the record the long-odds angle suggestion went 0/18 at last year's Cheltenham Festival.

2019 Festival Update: Surely nobody in their right mind would have followed this approach. But, if there was a contrarian nuts enough to have at it, he or she would have comfortably recouped last year's losses thanks to 66/1 winner, Croco Bay. He paid 180 at Betfair SP. That meant a profit of 32 points at starting price, and a monstrous one hit wonder return of 146 points at Betfair SP.

**

Summary

Ignoring the highly unpredictable handicap chase segment, there are some consistent negative factors worth keeping in mind throughout Cheltenham Festival week.

Firstly, don't get too gung ho by ploughing into the longshots. Unless you fancy one to shorten to 20/1 or less, there is a strong likelihood you've done your money.

Secondly, favour unexposed youth over established age/experience.

Thirdly, cheekpieces have been more about futility than utility outside of handicap chases.

Fourthly, beware Paul Nicholls outside of handicap hurdles, and Charlie Longsdon and Noel Meade universally.

The micro-systems above will provide plenty of action for those who like a mechanical approach. Better yet, they may assist in whittling fields to more manageable numbers with a view to poring over the form on the remaining runners.

However you choose to use this information - indeed, whether you choose to use it or not - enjoy the Fez. There's nothing quite like it!

2018 Festival Update: Nothing to add to the above, which pretty much nailed it at last year's show and may again provide valuable guidance this time around...

Good luck!

Matt

Tony Keenan: Cheltenham Festival Reprise 2018 (Take Two)

I had a look back at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival right after the meeting last March but eleven and a half months on we know a lot more so let’s see what has changed and if there is anything that might be of use in two weeks’ time.

 

  1. Festival Form

Year on year, the best guide to Cheltenham winners is regarded as the previous year’s Festival. The test provided by the meeting is unique and horses that respectively thrive and wilt there can be expected to do the same again. Yet while last season’s Festival form generally worked out for the rest of 2017/18 campaign, it hasn’t carried through quite so well into 2018/19.

Of the 28 horses that won at Cheltenham 2018, eleven have won a race of some sort in the current season which seems on the low side. More than that, few have won a race of consequence with only three winning at Grade 1 level: Buveur D’Air, Altior and Delta Work. Two of the 28, Benie Des Dieux and Penhill, have not run at all.

Their under-performance as a group is likely ground-related. The winter and spring of 2017/18 was an aberration for its extreme wet weather, this past winter has been an aberration for its mild and dry weather. It seems reasonable to question how well the soft and heavy ground form will translate to watered good-soft next month given it hasn’t done so for much of the campaign,

 

  1. Exception One: The RSA

In isolation though, the form of racing’s bay pimpernel, Presenting Percy, in the RSA might be working out best of all. Last year’s staying novice chasers are a strong crop and from the first four in this race alone we have had Monalee finish second in a Grade 1 at Christmas before winning the Red Mills Chase, Elegant Escape land the Welsh National, and Ballyoptic come second in a Scottish National.

Al Boum Photo fell when likely to come third, and won a Grade 1 subsequently at Fairyhouse and should have had another at Punchestown before looking better than ever at Tramore on New Year’s Day. Even those Irish novices indirectly related to Presenting Percy’s form like Snow Falcon, Dounikos, Invitation Only and Rathvinden have won valuable races in 2018/19.

Presenting Percy looked much the best of that crop last season so this is exactly what you’re looking for if you’re backing him, allowing that there are other concerns with him, particularly his lack of chase experience.

 

  1. Exception Two: Delta Work

While allowing that a batch of form may not be working out on the whole, one still needs to judge each horse on its individual merits. The Pertemps Final has not proven a strong race on balance but the winner might be the most successful of all last year’s Festival winners relative to expectations (though we’ll get to Altior anon).

Since his Festival win, Delta Work has been narrowly beaten in a Grade 1 novice hurdle before winning thrice over fences, two of them Grade 1s, the form looking strong as he beat Le Richebourg. All told, he seems to have a leading chance in the RSA where he will have a slight experience edge over Santini.

There is one niggling concern and that is the lack of a recent run. Historically a horse being without a run in the calendar year was a negative in the RSA but this is likely more to do with the individual than profiling the typical race winner. Delta Work has come off a break three times since joining Gordon Elliott and the improvement has been clear: Timeform have him improving 12lbs, 1lb and 18lbs for those runs while Racing Post Ratings have those figures at 4lbs, 14lbs and 28lbs.

None of those breaks came mid-season which may negate the concern a little while one can also argue that he was all ready to run in the Flogas at the Dublin Racing Festival so should have been kept plenty fit at home. As a backer though, it remains a worry.

 

  1. Exception Three: Altior

Altior is Altior and he just wins as he has again done through three starts this season. On those rare occasions he does look vulnerable, it seems down to pace and specifically not getting the strong gallop he wants, as in the 2017 Arkle when he traded at 8/11 in-running having been sent off 1/4.

Looking back at last year’s Champion Chase, the most striking thing is that there is now a Special Tiara-sized hole in the race, that stalwart setting the gallop in the last five runnings of the race and invariably at a generous pace. There is no such horse among the 18 entries for this year’s race with Un De Sceaux likely to go the Ryanair route.

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That would leave a horse like Saint Calvados potentially making the running and, realistically, he can’t go the pace Altior ideally wants on decent ground. There is also the possibility of Altior making his own running as he did at Ascot last time but that may bring its own problems as he jumped left there, so a race that hitherto looked a foregone conclusion may actually be tactically fascinating.

 

  1. The Gold Cup

Despite only two horses really getting into the race, last year’s Gold Cup was an epic with Native River becoming the first horse this century to win the race having been beaten in it on his first attempt previously (Kauto Star won, then was beaten, then won again); 66 others had tried, thank you Matt Tombs and your excellent Cheltenham Guide for that stat. With the race run on heavy ground and at a strong gallop, it actually suited the experience and toughness that the winner had in spades as the race developed into an old-school Gold Cup slog with the best stayer coming out on top.

That has not been the way in most recent Gold Cups however as younger horses typically come to the fore, often second-season chasers and it is worth remembering that the three that chased Native River home last year fit that category. With the race very likely to be run on better ground this year, it might be more prudent to expect more of a new-style Gold Cup with the winner being a Sizing John rather than Synchronized type.

All of this may make life tough on Native River who is in danger of being outpaced on better ground as he has been in his runs at Haydock and Kempton this season; the stiffer track will help but will it be enough to compensate for the going? This might be a race where the younger horses like Presenting Percy, Clan Des Obeaux and Kemboy to come to the fore.

 

  1. The Samcro Problem

In his weekly Irish Field column on time analysis, Simon Rowlands rated Samcro’s Ballymore win as the best hurdling performance at last year’s Festival and the form stacks up too, with the placed horses going on to win Grade 1 novice events at Aintree and Punchestown. It was visually impressive too with Jack Kennedy’s mount travelling best all the way and the horse finding himself in front sooner than ideal.

That was his best performance to date, better than anything he has done dropped to two miles in four starts since, and it was also the race in which his stamina was most drawn out over 21 furlongs on soft ground. Originally pegged as a future Gold Cup horse, the two-mile experiment has palpably failed but Gordon Elliott seems to have been leaning toward the stamina route for a while now, entering him in the Long Walk back in December when all the chat about him was Champion Hurdle.

In general, the comment that a horse wouldn’t run in a race unless it is flying at home is trite but it might just apply here; he remains one of Gigginstown’s great hopes and is off a troubled season so they are unlikely to run unless he can deliver a big performance. With that in mind, we could get Ballymore Samcro in a few weeks and that would put him right in the Stayers’ Hurdle mix.

 

  1. Mullins and the Gold Cup

Willie Mullins has never won the Gold Cup in 22 attempts (again, stat courtesy of Matt Tombs), six of his finishing second, and it seems likely he will go four-handed at the race this year with Bellshill, Kemboy, Invitation Only and Al Boum Photo. All have it to prove on the track however judged on last year’s evidence and that of previous Festivals.

That applies to Bellshill more than most having been beaten a combined 58 lengths on his three course starts. The first two of those came in the Champion Bumper and the Supreme so it could be argued that the trip was too sharp for him in both cases but he did quickly bounce back at Aintree afterwards which is concerning. His run behind Might Bite in the RSA was better though again the downhill part of the track may not be for him but he did at least give the lie to his preferring a right-handed track by winning a Grade 1 at Leopardstown last time.

The evidence for the other three not operating at the track is more flimsy but none were at their best here last year. Neither Kemboy nor Invitation Only jumped well enough in the JLT, though the argument can be made they needed further, while Al Boum Photo fell when looking set for third in the RSA.

 

  1. Mullins and Fallers

The jumping of the Mullins horses attracted plenty of comment last year with ten of his runners falling across all races; when looking at the last three Festivals, his total number of fallers at the meeting is 14 with Gordon Elliott a distant second on five, Colin Tizzard, Venetia Williams, Jonjo O’Neill and Paul Nicholls with four each.

Those numbers are raw and from a small sample size but there are all sorts of layers to this. Unseats, say, are not included and are mainly caused by jumping errors nor are pulled up efforts that may have been brought about by mistakes. Some trainers may have more runners over fences than hurdles which would produce more fallers and so on.

Yet faller rate is something the BHA seem to place plenty of stock in as their report on the 2018 Cheltenham Festival included the following recommendation:

individual trainers…who have an incidence of fallers significantly higher than the historical average will be required to engage constructively with the BHA to consider the drivers of, and actions to improve, high incidence rates.

Perhaps it’s just me but that does sound like the authority is telling trainers how to train their horses which is a particularly grey area but they are the regulator after all: their racing, their rules. One wonders if Willie Mullins has been ‘engaged with’ on this and what that ‘engagement’ would be.

It is easy to question what right have the BHA to tell the all-time leading trainer at the Festival how his horses need to jump but there are two other factors here. First, Mullins has said that neither Douvan nor Rathvinden had schooled much ahead of last year’s meeting while comments from some associated with the yard suggest nothing has changed this term; owner Colm O’Connell saying after Bachasson’s New Year’s Eve win that ‘he hadn’t seen a hurdle or fence since [he fell in] the Gold Cup.’

And second, Mullins does have the highest fall rate when compared to similar trainers. Looking at those trainers who had the most runners in all UK and Irish jumps races between the 2015/16 and 2017/18 seasons, Mullins comes out worst with a fall rate of 4.7%. Colin Tizzard is next with 4.1% followed by Evan Williams on 3.9% and Henry De Bromhead on 3.6%. The average for that entire group which takes in a sample of 31,917 runners is 3.1%.

I suspect that the jumping of his horses will be under close scrutiny in a fortnight’s time and this might be one of the most interesting aspects of the meeting especially given quite a few of his horses won’t have had the racecourse practice they might have had in a previous season with the weather as it is.

 

  1. The Irish in Handicaps

I’m just going to leave these two tables out there for anyone who wonders about Irish horses being badly treated in the Festival handicaps. Also, there were a record number of Irish-trained horses entered in Cheltenham handicaps this season.

 

Festival Handicaps 2018

Trained in… Winners Runners Strikerate Places Place Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/

Expected

Ireland 5 53 9.4% 13 24.5% +27.00 1.21
Elsewhere 5 166 3.0% 27 16.3% -101.00 0.56

 

Festival Handicaps 2014-2017

Trained in… Winners Runners Strikerate Places Place Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/

Expected

Ireland 17 222 7.7% 57 25.7% +20.50 1.11
Elsewhere 25 741 3.4% 111 15.0% -338.00 0.62

 

 

  1. Gordon Elliott in Handicaps

Of the 22 Irish-trained handicap winners since 2014, nine were trained by Gordon Elliott. That is some going. Elliott has won a wide variety of handicaps with different types of horses but one approach he used to great effect last year was running novices, an approach he uses with some success at home too, the likes of Duca De Thaix (twice), Dallas Des Pictons and Roaring Bull winning examples this season.

Since 2014, his open handicap runners that were novices at the time have a finishing string of 20975PU3111001. That doesn’t include runners in confined races like the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase and the Fred Winter Novices' Handicap Hurdle, the latter of which he has won twice and may well have had a third had Campeador not fallen at the last in 2016.

Three of his winners last season were novices running in open handicaps (Delta Work, The Storyteller and Blow By Blow) and he has a number of options that could do the same this year among them the aforementioned Duca De Thaix and Dallas Des Pictons.

- Tony Keenan

My Cheltenham Ante Post Portfolio 2019

We're now less than three weeks away from the 2019 Cheltenham Festival, and it is time to start ramping up the Fez-related content here on geegeez.co.uk.

To kick things off, allow me to share my ante post portfolio as it stands right now. It's a little sparser than has been the case in recent years, and perhaps I'm a little less confident about the plays than in recent history, too: truth is, life (family, geegeez, HBF, syndicate horses) keeps getting in the way. And, on balance, I like that, so no dramas or complaints from my side.

I've included staking as well as selections so, as always, take that in the context that some will bet more, some will bet less, and that bet size is not really the point: we all operate in our zone and this just happens to be mine. Make sense? Good, let's crack on.

Tuesday

Arkle

Cilaos Emery £20 e/w 13.08/1 William Hill

A 'boosted' price from Hills, up from 12/1, hence the quirky number. This Willie Mullins inmate was hugely impressive in brushing aside subsequent facile scorer Duc Des Genievres amongst others on his first start for more than a year. The third and fourth have won since, and the second replicated that effort on his next start, giving the form a solid look. Fifth in the 2017 Supreme was followed by a win in the G1 Punchestown Champion Novice Hurdle, and a hurdle rating in the 150's puts him right in the mix for the Arkle.

Alas, he picked up a knock schooling at Navan the other day, and is now an injury doubt for Cheltenham. In any case, a single race over fences is probably sub-optimal. Current top price 'all in run or not' - 10/1

Novices' Handicap Chase

Tower Bridge £25 e/w 20/1 NRNB bet365

I've no idea really why I have an ante post bet in a handicap, still less the novices' handicap chase, but I have. And it looks over-staked to boot. At least the non-runner no bet concession offers me the consolation of a run or a refund.

In fairness, this lad, who was a Grade 1 scorer at the Dublin Festival this time last year before running a close fifth in the Albert Bartlett, ran a cracking trial when never really put into the race behind Duc Des Genievres last time. It looks as though he'll contest a handicap rather than a Graded chase at Cheltenham, though perhaps the Kim Muir's extended trip will be the slot he lands in. If that's the case, it's money back and no harm done; he should get competitive in whichever handicap he contests. Current top price NRNB - 20/1

Wednesday

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

Acey Milan £20 e/w 50/1 Unibet

A bit of a daft loyalty bet, I suppose. He has the class to contest this on his form from last year, where he was the best British bumper horse of the season. But injuries and illness this year mean he's not had a chance to show his true ability. A welcome win last time over two miles at Plumpton was not in the style of a horse harbouring Festival aspirations, but he rallied well from the turn in there and will be very hard to beat off an opening mark of just 127 when upped in trip. But that won't be at the Festival, sadly. No NRNB here so these quids look spent. Current top price - not quoted

RSA Chase

Santini £200 win 9/2 bet365

That's more like it. Or it was until equine flu and vaccinations got in the way of his intended prep in the Reynoldstown at Ascot. Prior to that little episode, I was feeling very smug with the inflated price taken about a horse whose chance was, to my eye at least, significantly enhanced by an outpaced-but-staying-on-best-of-all three length third in the Feltham on Boxing Day. The winner of that race has notoriously never won the RSA, though a number of beaten horses - including former Seven Barrows resident and Gold Cup winner, Bobs Worth - have turned defeat there into RSA victory.

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The much stiffer test at Cheltenham will be right up Santini's street and I think he has a very good chance. Well, I did until he missed his prep. He'll presumably have a spin round Kempton at the weekend, but it's not the same thing, is it? Current top price - 3/1

 

Thursday

JLT Novices' Chase

Kalashnikov £25 win 16/1 Skybet

A top novice hurdler on wet ground last year, I took a bit of a punt on this fellow for the intermediate novice chase at the Fez this time around. He's not looked a natural so far, but that could conceivably be down to being out of his comfort zone at the speed the best horses race over two miles. Moreover, I'd certainly forgive his Sandown effort where the ground was filthy tacky and he didn't look to jump out of it at all.

That's a lot of excuses for a horse who probably wants a wet March and who probably won't get it; and who will probably go the short route even though he's demonstrated he likely doesn't have the pace for it. In my view, this is the right race for him but, even then, whether he's good enough is another matter entirely. Current top price - 18/1

Winter Escape £50 e/w 12/1 NRNB Skybet / £10 win 20/1 NRNB Paddy Power

I really liked this fellow when he won a deep Grade 3 at Punchestown last month, but he was sub-par at Leopardstown earlier this month. It turned out he broke a blood vessel there, which probably means he's not going to the Festival. I'd bet him NRNB on the basis that a good run at Leopardstown would book his ticket while a poor one would probably rule him out, and that looks a rare moment of prudence in a fairly trigger-happy portfolio overall.

 

Friday

Triumph Hurdle

Carlo Biraghi £25 e/w 16/1 NRNB bet365

I wanted to back Fakir after his Chelto romp, but didn't. Good job as talk is that he's Supreme-bound. I was tempted by Sir Erec but not by the top price of 6/4. And so I landed on this wildly impressive 22-runner maiden hurdle winner with more than a touch of class as an each way alternative. In truth, I didn't think he could beat a concert pitch Sir Erec, so I'm kind of happy (with apologies to connections of course) that he has been held up in his preparations and may now be saved for the flat. Money back, no damage done. Thank the Lord for run or refund! Current top price - not quoted.

Gold Cup

Native River £200 e/w 9/2 NRNB bet365

I placed this bet on the morning of the Galmoy Hurdle, where I thought Presenting Percy might be undercooked or unimpressive. In fact, he was probably both, but that didn't stop Pat Kelly's not-jumped-a-fence-in-public-this-campaign second season chaser from shortening up for the Blue Riband. Meanwhile, Colin Tizzard's reigning champ has eased out to 6/1 in a place (all in, run or not).

He had a hard race in the Gold Cup last year, there's little doubt about that. But he's the wrong price here in a race that lacks the depth the market currently suggests, in my view at least. I'll expound upon that in a full preview next week but, for now, know that Kempton ain't Native's track - he's been outpaced on both visits there - and know that running Bristol De Mai to four lengths around Haydock probably constitutes a rating of about 210 in the microcosm of that inexplicably idiosyncratic track.

Native River has had a quiet campaign geared towards this race, and I think he's a very solid each way play indeed, as evidenced by comfortably my biggest ante post stab of the meeting. I just wish I had a bigger price about him! Current top price - 11/2 NRNB

Anibale Fly £50 e/w 33/1 Black Type

Another over-staked wager, this should have been £25 e/w. But I really like this horse. I thought he was a tad conservatively ridden last year when third in the Gold Cup, though it's possible - probable, perhaps - that he was outpaced and ran on. He ran a taking prep behind Monalee over a mile-too-short two and a half mile trip in the Red Mills Chase and has only eight lengths to find with Native River on last year's Gold Cup form.

The worry is that the GC is a prep for the GN - Grand National - but that's bonkers if you have a horse potentially good enough to win the former. There's something of Synchronised, JP McManus's 2012 Gold Cup winner, about Anibale Fly: obviously the green and gold livery but also the doughty staying nature of their run styles. Synchronised was somewhat Jim Furyk in his jumping style whereas Anibale Fly is a tad more 'trad' with his athleticism, and in a race full of if's and but's he comes to the party dressed as himself and ready to roll. He's still a fair price, I think. Current top price - 25/1 NRNB

Foxhunters' Chase

Hazel Hill £8 win 25/1 Paddy Power / 80p win 25/1 Betfair / £9.70 e/w 12/1 bet365

A weird race fittingly couched in my portfolio with some weirdly staked bets. 25/1 was a rick, plain and simple, after Hazel Hill demolished a good class field of hunters at Warwick last month, and I got all I could, which wasn't very much at all as you can see. He'd previously won his two other hunter chases by a similarly wide margin and, while he may not have the class of some of the ex-Rules horses, he is a beast at the top of his game.

If I'm in desperate need of a draw by this point on Friday - I'll be fairly well oiled by then - perhaps this chap will get back 350-odd notes. But, in truth, it's a pig in a poke of a pot where you need to be lucky as much as good. Current top price - 7/1 NRNB

*

That's the story so far. For those who prefer spreadsheets, feast your eyes on the tale of the tape / tale of woe* (*delete on 16th March as applicable) below. There will be many more wagers to strike, and we'll start the big race previews next week: they're overdue! [Click on the image to view a bigger version]

Matt

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