Previews, tips and trends for major horse racing fixtures across the UK. Detailed day-by-day reports and info on horses, races, courses, events and more.

Victoria Cup Handicap 2019: Video Preview

In this week's Geegeez Gold video showcase, I attempt to deconstruct the 27-runner Victoria Cup handicap at Ascot. Using a variety of tools in the Gold kit bag, I land on two horses which look to have robust each way prospects. Grab a glass/cup of something tasty, and click the video box below to tune in...

[Naturally, if you like what you see, you might want to JOIN GEEGEEZ GOLD]

Lingfield TV Trends: Good Friday (19th April 2019)

ITV4 are at Lingfield Park this Good Friday (19th March 2019) to show SIX races from the lucrative All Weather Championships Meeting – Finals Day – and here at GeeGeez.co.uk we’ve got it all covered for you!

There are plenty of the power-house flat stables bringing horses to the Surrey track and it’s no surprise with mouth-watering prize money on offer, including £124k for the winner of the feature race – the Easter Classic All-Weather Middle Distance Championship Conditions Stakes.

Like all big race days we take a look at all the LIVE races from a trends angle, including the best positive and negative trainer/jockey stats – we hope they help point you in the direction of a few winners!

 

LINGFIELD HORSE RACING TRENDS

 

1.30 – Sun Racing All Weather Championships Apprentice Handicap Cl2 (4 yo+) 7f SKY

Two previous runnings
Trainer Simon Dow won the race in 2017
Last two winners came from stall 1 and 5
Last two winners carried 8-13 or more in weight
Trainer Richard Spencer has a 40% record (4 from 10) with his 4+ year-olds at the track
Trainer Robert Cowell has a 27% record (8 from 30) with his 4+ year-olds at the track
Trainer Tom Dascombe has a 25% record (16 from 65) with his 4+ year-olds at the track
Trainer Nick Littmoden has a 23% record (7 from 31) with his 4+ year-olds at the track
Jockey Cameron Noble has a 27% (4 from 15) record riding 4+ year-olds at the track
2018 Winner: TAKE THE HELM (8/1)


2.00 - Betway All-Weather Marathon Championships Conditions Stakes Cl2 (4 yo+) 1m7f169y ITV4

Five previous runnings
All five winners aged between 4-6 years-old
4 of the last 5 winners came from stalls 8 or lower
3 of the last 5 winners had won at the track before
2 of the last 5 favourites have won
2 of the last 5 winners came from stall 8
2 of the last 5 winners ran at Lingfield last time out
All five past winners finished in the top 3 last time out
The favourite has finished 1st (twice) or 2nd in the last 5 runnings
Watersmeet was second in the race in 2017 and third in 2018
Trainer Neil King has a 42% record (5 from 12) with this older horses at the track
Trainer Seamus Durack has a 29% (7 from 24) record with his older horses at the track
Trainer James Fanshawe has a 25% (9 from 36) record with his older horses at the track
Trainer Nick Littmoden has a 23% (7 from 31) record with this older horses at the track
Trainer Mark Johnston has a 23% (22 from 96) record with this older horses at the track
Jockey James Doyle has a 29% (11 from 38) record riding older horses at the track
Jockey Joe Fanning has a 22% (+42) record riding older horses at the track
2018 Winner: FUNNY KID (7/2)

 

2.30 – Ladbrokes All weather Fillies’ and Mares’ Championships Conditions Stakes Cl2 (4 yo+) 7f1y ITV4

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Five previous runnings
Just 1 winning favourite in the last 5 runnings
4 of the 5 winners were aged 4 years-old
4 of the last 5 previous winners were Irish-bred horses
Horses from stall 3 have been placed in 4 of the last 5 runnings (2 winners)
Favourites placed in 4 of the last 5 runnings
3 of the last 5 winners had run at Lingfield before (2 had won)
4 of the last 5 winners finished in the top 4 last time out
Trainer William Haggas has a 27% record (7 from 26) with his older horses at the track
Trainer James Fanshawe has a 25% record (9 from 36) with his older horses at the track
Jockey James Doyle has a 29% record (11 from 38) with his older horses at the track
2018 Winner: DIAGNOSTIC (7/2 fav)

3.05 – Betway All-Weather Sprint Championships Conditions Stakes Cl2 (4 yo+) 6f1y ITV4

Five previous runnings
Trainer Richard Fahey won this race in 2014, 2016 & 2017
Two winning favourites in the last 5 runnings
3 of the last 5 winners were Irish-bred horses
4 of the last 5 previous winners had raced at the track before
4 of the last 5 winners came between stalls 5-9 (inc)
All five winners drawn in stall 7 or lower
Paul Hanagan has ridden 2 of the last 5 winners
2 of the last 5 winners came from draw 5
Trainer Tom Dascombe has a 25% (16 from 65) record with his older horses at the track
Trainer Robert Cowell has a 27% (8 from 30) record with his older horses at the track
2018 Winner: CITY LIGHT (8/1)

 

 

3.40 – Ladbroke 3 Year Old All-Weather Championships Conditions Stakes Cl2 (3yo) 6f ITV4

Two previous runnings
Last two winners came from stalls 5 and 6
Both previous winners were favourites
Trainers William Haggas (2017) and Archie Watson (2018) have won the race before
Trainer William Haggas has a 23% (15 from 66) record with this 3 year-olds at the track
Trainer Hugo Palmer has a 21% record (13 from 62) with his 3 year-olds at the track
Trainer Archie Watson has a 20% record (10 from 50) with his 3 year-olds at the track
Jockey Ryan Moore has a 36% (14 from 39) record riding 3 year-olds at the track
Jockey James Doyle has a 32% (18 from 57) record riding 3 year-olds at the track
2018 Winner: CORINTHIA KNIGHT (5/4 fav)

 

4.15 - Betway Easter Classic All-Weather Middle Distance Championships Conditions Stakes Cl2 (4 yo+) 1m2f ITV4

Five previous runnings
All five previous runnings went to the favourite (or joint fav)
All five previous winners returned 3/1 or shorter in the betting
All previous winners aged between 4-6 years-old
3 of the 5 winners were Irish-bred horses
All five winners ran at Lingfield last time out
All five previous winners drawn in stall 4 or lower
4 of the past 5 winners had won over CD before
Horses from stall 4 have won 3 of the last 4 runnings
Horses from stall 2 placed in 3 of the last 5 runnings
Ryan Moore has ridden 2 of the last 5 winners of this race
Trainer William Haggas has 27% (7 from 26) record with his 4+ year-olds at the track
Trainer Mark Johnston has 23% (22 from 96) record with his 4+ year-olds at the track
Trainer John Gosden has 22% (6 from 27) record with his 4+ year-olds at the track
Jockey Frankie Dettori has a 38% (5 from 13) record riding older horses at the track
Jockey James Doyle has a 29% (11 from 38) record riding older horses at the track
2018 Winner: VICTORY BOND (3/1 jfav)

 

4.45 – Sun Racing All-Weather Mile Championships Conditions Stakes Cl2 (4 yo+) 1m1y ITV4

No winning favourite in the last 5 runnings
All previous winners aged between 5-8 years-old.
All five past winners drawn 8 or lower
All five winners came between stalls 5-8 (inc)
4 of the last 5 winners didn’t win their last race
4 of the last 5 winners had run at the track before (2 won)
2 of the last 5 winners came from stall 8
Trainer Richard Spencer has a 40% (4 from 10) record with his 4+ year-olds at the track
Trainer Mark Johnston has a 23% (22 from 96) record with his 4+ year-olds at the track
Trainer Tom Dascombe has a 25% (16 from 65) record with his 4+ year-olds at the track
Trainer Roger Charlton has a 21% (4 from 19) record with his 4+ year-olds at the track
2018 Winner: LUCKY TEAM (40/1)

 

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2019 Aintree Festival Trends: DAY THREE (Sat 6th April)

As we head into the last day of the 2019 Aintree Grand National Meeting on Saturday 6th April 2019 we’ve five more LIVE ITV races to enjoy.

The Stayers’ Hurdle and Maghall Novices’ Chase are always decent contests, but really – it’s all about one race on the Saturday – the Randox Health Grand National.

Here at GeeGeez we've got all the key stats for the main LIVE ITV races – use these to help build-up the best profile of horses that have done well in each race over the years.

 

 

SATURDAY, 6th April 2019 (ITV/Racing TV)

2.20pm – Betway Mersey Novices´ Hurdle (Grade 1) Cl1 2m4f ITV

2018 Winner: BLACK OP (3/1 fav)
Trainer: Tom George
Jockey: Noel Fehily

15/16 – Won by a horse aged 5 or older
14/16 – Raced 39 days or less ago
13/16 – Won by a horse aged either 5 or 6 years-old
12/16 – Priced 9/2 or shorter in the market
12/16 – Placed in the top three last time out
11/16 – Raced in the Supreme (4), Neptune (6) or County Hurdle (1) last time out
7/16 – Favourites to win (2 joint) (6 of the last 9 favs have won)
6/16 – Won their last race
4/16 – Won by the Paul Nicholls yard
4/16 – Ridden by Ruby Walsh
2/16 – Trained by Willie Mullins
2/16 – Ridden by Barry Geraghty
2/16 – Won by the Nicky Henderson yard (inc two of last 8 runnings)
17 of the last 21 (81%) winners were either fav or 2nd fav
10 of the last 13 (77%) winners had won at least 3 times hurdles
14 of the last 20 (70%) winners ran at the Cheltenham Festival
15 of the last 22 (68%) winners finished 6th or better at the Cheltenham Festival
Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls or Nicky Henderson have won 8 of the last 15 (53%) runnings between them
6 of the last 9 runnings went to a 5 year-old

3.00pm – Doom Bar Maghull Novices´ Chase (Grade 1) Cl1 2m ITV

2018 Winner: DIEGO DU CHARMIL (5/1 odds)

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Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Jockey: Harry Cobden

16/16 – Won by a horse aged 8 or younger
16/16 – Winners from the first 3 in the market
16/16 – Priced 5/1 or shorter in the market
14/16 – Won by a horse aged 7 or younger
13/16 – Ran within the last 35 days
12/16 – Placed in the top three in their last race
10/16 – Ran in the Arkle Chase last time out
10/16 – Won by a horse aged 5 or 6 years-old
7/16 – Won their last race
6/16 – Favourites that won
5/16 – Won by the Paul Nicholls yard
5/16 – Ridden by either Ruby Walsh (3) or Barry Geraghty (2)
3/16 – Irish-trained winners
2/16 – Won by the Nicky Henderson yard (inc two of last 8 runnings)
2/16 – Won by the Henry de Bromhead yard (inc two of the last 6 runnings)
Since 1989 there have been just 3 Irish-trained winners – 2013, 2015 & 2016
Since 1999 trainer Paul Nicholls has had 7 winners and 7 runners-up
18 of the last 24 (75%) winners ran in the Arkle Chase that season
7 of the last 10 winners were French bred

3.40pm – Ryanair Stayers’ Hurdle (Reg as the Liverpool Hurdle) (Grade 1) Cl1 3m110y ITV

2018 Winner: IDENTITY THIEF (14/1)
Trainer: Henry De Bromhead
Jockey: Sean Flanagan

14/15 – Priced 11/2 or less in the market
14/15 – Ran within the last 30 days
12/15 – Won or finished 2nd at this meeting previously
10/15 – Placed 4th or better in that season’s Sun Racing Stayers' Hurdle (Cheltenham)
10/15 – Placed 1st or 2nd in their last race
10/15 – Won by a horse aged 6 or 7 years-old
8/15 – Won their last race
8/15 – Favourites to win (6 odds-on)
6/15 – Raced in that season’s Cleeve Hurdle
4/15 – Won by the Paul Nicholls yard
4/15 – Ridden by jockey Ruby Walsh
2/15 – Trained by Alan King
2/15 – Trained by Nicky Henderson
2/15 – Number of Irish-trained winners
Whisper won the race in 2014 & 2015
14 of the last 15 (93%) winners raced at that season’s Cheltenham Festival
14 of the last 15 (93%) winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 before
13 of the last 15 (87%) had run at this meeting before
13 of the last 15 (87%) were favourite or second favourite
7 of the last 10 winners won a race at that season’s Cheltenham Festival
6 of the last 10 winners won the Stayers’ Hurdle (Cheltenham) before winning this

 

4.20pm – Betway Handicap Chase (Listed Race) Cl1 3m1f ITV

2018 Winner: THOMAS PATRICK (3/1 fav odds)
Trainer: Tom Lacey
Jockey: Richard Johnson

14/16 – Carried 11-1 or less in weight
14/16 – Had run within the last 35 days
13/16 – Won by a horse aged 8 or older
10/16 – Priced 9/1 or bigger in the market
9/16 – Raced at the Cheltenham Festival last time out
9/16 – Unplaced in their last race
4/16 – Won their last race
3/16 – Favourites that won
3/16 – Won by the Philip Hobbs yard
2/16 – Won by the Nicky Henderson stable
2/16 – Won by the Jonjo O’Neill stable
1/16 – Irish-trained winners
Only 3 of the last 20 winners were aged 10+
Only 2 winners carried more than 11st in the last 15 years
Just 1 Irish-trained winner in the last 42 runnings
9 of the last 11 (82%) winners were rated between 134 and 140

5.15pm – Randox Health Grand National Chase (Handicap) (Grade 3) Cl1 4m3f110y ITV

2018 Winner: TIGER ROLL (10/1 odds)
Trainer: Gordon Elliott
Jockey: Davy Russell

Aintree Grand National Trends (Last 28 Runnings)
·  27/28 – Ran no more than 55 days ago
· 27/28 – Officially rated 137 or higher
· 26/28 – Had won over at least 3m (chase) before
· 25/28 – Had won no more than 6 times over fences before
· 23/28 – Aged 9 or older
· 23/28 – Returned a double-figure price
· 22/28 – Ran no more than 34 days ago
· 21/28 – Came from outside the top 3 in the betting
· 22/28 – Carried 10-13 OR LESS
· 19/28 – Had won between 4-6 times over fences before
· 16/28 – Carried 10-8 OR LESS
· 17/28 – Finished in the top 4 last time out
· 17/28 – Aged 10 years-old or younger
· 15/28 – Placed favourites
· 14/28 – Aged 9 or 10 years-old
· 15/28 – Won by an Irish-bred horse
· 10/28 – Ran at Cheltenham last time out
· 9/28 – Trained in Ireland (inc 6 of the last 13 years)
· 6/28 – Ran in a previous Grand National
· 5/28 – Won by the favourite or joint favourite
· 6/28 – Won last time out
· 2/28 – Trained by Nigel Twiston-Davies
· 2/28 – Ridden by Ruby Walsh
2/28 – Ridden by Leighton Aspell
· 0/28 – Won by a horse aged 7 years-old OR LESS

Aintree Grand National Facts

    • Since 1978, 124 horses have tried to win with more than 11-5 – with just two winners – Many Clouds (11-9) in 2015 & Neptune Collonges (11-6) in 2012
    • 10 of the last 11 winners were having their first start in the race
    • 15 of the last 20 winners were bred in Ireland
    • Only 2 horse that won at the Cheltenham Festival that same season has won since 1961
    • The last 7 year-old or younger to win was back in 1940
    • 12 of the last 22 winners had won or been placed in a National-type race before
    • No horse aged 13 or older has won since 1923 or placed since 1969
    • 3 of the last 10 winners ran in the Scottish National the previous season
    • 9 of the last 16 winners had run over hurdles at some stage earlier in the season
    • 5 of the last 17 winners had been unplaced in the National last year
    • Only four 8 year-olds have won the last 25 renewals
    • Just one past winner or placed horse from the previous year’s race has won for 34 years (76 have attempted)
    • 20 of the last 22 winners had fallen or unseated no more than twice in their careers
    • The last horse to win back-to-back Nationals was Red Rum in 1974

Aintree Grand National Betting Trends (16 Year)

15/16 – Had won over at least 3m previously
14/16 – Ran less than 50 days ago
14/16 – Officially rated 137 or higher
13/16 – Won by a horse aged 9 or older
9/16 – Won by horses aged in double-figures
9/16 – Winners from the top 8 in the betting
9/16 – Finished in the top 3 last time out
7/16 – Experienced the National fences
6/16 – Carried 11-0 or more in weight
6/16 – Won by an Irish-trained horse
5/16 – Won by a horse aged 10 years-old
4/16 – Won their last race
3/16 – Winning favourites (2 joint)
2/16 – Won by the McCain yard

 

 

 

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2019 Aintree Festival Trends: DAY TWO (Fri 5th April)

Into the second day of the Aintree Grand National Meeting on Friday 5th April 2019 the ITV cameras are on-hand to take in five more LIVE races.

The Mildmay Novices’ Chase, JLT Melling Chase and the Randox Health Topham Chase are the three feature contests as the 'must-see' action from Liverpool’s premier track continues.

As always, here at GeeGeez we've got all the main trends for the LIVE ITV races – use these to build-up a better profile of horses that have done well in each race over the years.

 

FRIDAY, 5th April 2019 (ITV/Racing TV)

2.20pm – Betway Top Novices´ Hurdle Grade 2 Cl1 2m110y ITV

2018 Winner: LALOR (14/1 odds)
Trainer: Kayley Woollacott
Jockey: Richard Johnson

15/16 – Raced no more than 31 days ago
10/16 – Finished first or second last time out
10/16 – Returned 7/1 or shorter in the betting
9/16 – Aged 5 years-old
8/16 – Ran in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Cheltenham) last time out
7/16 – Had raced on the flat before
5/16 – Won last time out
5/16 – Trained by Nicky Henderson
4/16 – Winning favourites
15 of the last 22 (68%) winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
21 of the last 28 (75%) winners came from the top 4 in the market
Just one Irish winner since 1978
9 of the last 19 (47%) winners were placed in the top 6 in that season’s Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

2.50pm – Betway Mildmay Novices´ Chase Grade 2 Cl1 3m1f ITV

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2018 Winner: TERREFORT (3/1 fav)
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Jockey: Daryl Jacob

16/16 – Returned 7/1 or shorter in the betting
16/16 – Raced no more than 55 days ago
13/16 – Aged 7 or younger
13/16 – Finished in the top 4 last time out
13/16 – Raced no more than 33 days ago
12/16 – Ran at the Cheltenham Festival last time out
7/16 – Ran in the RSA Chase last time out
7/16 – Winning favourites
5/16 – Won last time out
4/16 – Trained by Paul Nicholls
4/16 – Trained by Nicky Henderson (including last 2)
2/16 – Ridden by Ruby Walsh
2/16 – Ridden by Barry Geraghty
2/16 – Irish trained winners
5 of the last 6 winners ran in the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase
29 of the last 30 (97%) winners were priced 10/1 or less
24 of the last 28 winners had won over at least 3m before
34 of the last 38 (89%) winners had won twice or more over fences
14 of the last 17 (82%) winners raced at the Cheltenham Festival that season
Just one winner returned 11/1 or bigger since 1989

3.25pm – JLT Melling Chase Grade 1 Cl1 2m4f ITV

201 Winner: POLITOLOGUE (11/1)
Trainer: Paul Nicholls
Jockey: Sam Twiston-Davies

16/16 – Raced within the last 30 days
16/16 – Ran in either the Ryanair or Champion Chase that season
15/16 – Raced at the Cheltenham Festival last time out
13/16 – Priced 8/1 or shorter in the betting
13/16 – Aged 9 or younger
10/16 – Finished in the top three last time out
10/16 – Ran in the Queen Mother Champion Chase last time out
7/16 – Winning favourites
6/16 – Irish-trained winners
6/16 – Ran in the Ryanair Chase that season
4/16 – Won last time out
2/16 – Won by a previous winner of the race
2/16 – Trained by Alan King
No winners have been beaten in a previous running of the race
21 of the last 28 (75%) runners had won over at least 2m4f
30 of the last 33 (91%) winners were aged 7 or older
13 of the last 24 (54%) winners had finished third or better in the Queen Mother Champion Chase that season
15 of the last 24 (63%) winners were fav or 2nd fav
19 of the last 28 (68%) winners had been placed at the Grand National Meeting before
12 of the last 15 (80%) winners had won a Grade 1 Chase earlier that season
26 of the last 28 (93%) winners ran at the Cheltenham Festival that season

4.05pm – Randox Health Topham Chase Handicap (Grade 3) Cl1 2m5f110y ITV

2018 Winner: ULTRAGOLD (14/1 odds)
Trainer: Colin Tizzard
Jockey: Harry Cobden

15/16 – Raced within the last 34 days
15/16 – Aged 10 or younger
13/16 – Returned a double-figure price in the betting
10/16 – Carried 10-7 or less in weight
10/16 – Raced within the last 23 days
10/16 – Unplaced last time out
4/16 – Trained by Peter Bowen
4/16 – Trained by Nicky Henderson
3/16 – Ridden by Barry Geraghty
2/16 – Ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen
2/16 – Won last time out
2/16 – Ridden by Tom O’Brien
1/16 – Irish-trained winners
The last 5 winners ran at the Cheltenham Festival
8 of the last 13 (62%) winners raced in last year’s race
10 of the last 13 (77%) winners hadn’t won over fences that season
10 of the last 15 (67%) winners had raced over the GN-style fences before
14 of the last 26 (54%) winners had raced at least 7 times that season
Only 2 Irish-trained winners since 1979
No British or Irish-bred winner aged 7 or younger since 1985
Just one winner aged 11+ (109 have tried) since 1994

4.40pm – Doom Bar Sefton Novices´ Hurdle Grade 1 Cl1 3m110y ITV

2018 Winner: SANTINI (6/4 fav odds)
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Jockey: Nico De Boinville

14/16 – Had run within the last 35 days
12/16 – Won by a horse aged 6 or younger
10/16 – Returned 7/1 or bigger in the market
7/16 – Won their last race
4/16 – Favourites that won
2/16 – Won by the Jonjo O’Neill stable
2/16 – Won by the Nigel Twiston-Davies stable
1/16 – Irish-trained winners
11 of the last 12 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old (92%)
21 of the last 24 (88%) won at least twice over hurdles before
20 of the last 26 (77%) winners had won 4 times or more over hurdles
13 of the last 25 (52%) winners won over at least 2m7f previously
13 of the last 19 (68%) winners didn’t run at that season’s Cheltenham Festival

 

 

 

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2019 Grand National Anti-Preview, Trends, Tips

2019 Grand National Anti-Preview, Trends, Tips

It's the biggest race in the British racing calendar, the 2019 Randox Health Grand National at Aintree, and so it is the weekend where friends, family and those people you only hear from once a year request a tip in the most impossibly deep contest of the season!

As regular readers will know, I've long dispensed with sensible approaches to trying to isolate the winner, preferring instead to go full on guerilla contrarian. Results from this approach have been mixed, but then they would be whichever approach is taken and, at least this way, we're dealing in fat-priced contenders rather than the sharp end of the market. That's important in a race where the talk often overtakes the form, as evidenced by an average SP for the top six finishers in the last five years of 27.5/1. Yum!

Indeed, in spite of the last two winners averaging only 12/1, the previous five returned 33/1, 66/1, 25/1, 25/1, and 33/1. Clearly, bravery - likely mitigated by splitting stakes between two or three (or four or even five) runners - is the route forward.

2019 Grand National Trends

This is difficult. For a long time, the Grand National trends were sacrosanct: proven stayers, proven jumpers, proven in a big field, proven touch of class, aged 8 to 12, job done.

But the race has changed. Each of a reduction in the distance, a (necessary) softening of the fences, and the encroachment of discretionary handicapping (where the official handicapper gets to allocate a unique 'Aintree' rating to a horse, which is different from its rating for all other steeplechase races) has levelled the playing field. Where ten years ago we might have a fairly confident shortlist of eight or ten horses, now it is hard to categorically rule out that many runners.

Quite simply, and on many levels this is great for the broader appeal of the sport beyond us aficionados, in my opinion it has become the lottery that many once incorrectly claimed it was.

Allow me to repeat a now annual mantra: if you find the winner of the National, you'll have been at least as lucky as you are good. Do not revel too long in the happenstance of that outcome, but wallow in the fruitful returns all the same! 🙂

Getting back to the matter at hand, as I wrote, the race has changed markedly in complexion in the past seven or eight years. Below are some ten-year trends, but mostly five-year and even three-year (top six finishers) trends. That's because the distance has been shortened and the discretionary handicapping increased during that time.

Grand National Age Trends

Let's start with age. The ten year mean average winning age is 9.5. The ten year median (ranking the winners in age order and taking the mid-point) is also 9.5.

However, the five year average is just 8.8, and the median 8. That's because the last four winners have been aged 8, 9, 8 and 8. It's a tiny sample and it could very easily be coincidence. But that sample aligns with the reduced race distance and the height of discretionary handicapping.

And it's not just winners. In the last ten years, 9 of the 20 top two finishers were aged 8 or 9; in the last five years, seven of the ten top two finishers were that age. And yet eight-year-olds accounted for just 41 of 196 horses to line up in the Nash since 2014. That's 60% of the winners from 21% of the runners; and looking at 8-9yo's, it's 53% of the runners taking in 80% of the winners and 60% of the places. In short, I believe that youth is more material in the Grand National than before and I will happily cast aside any horse older than 10.

At the other end of the spectrum, horses aged six (now ineligible for the race) and seven have failed to register a placed effort from 64 to try since 1997. Ramses de Teillee is not for me.

From a whittling perspective, that only takes out roughly a quarter of the field (down as far as The Young Master, #44) and there remains a decent chance we've ditched the winner!

Grand National Ratings Trends

An interesting route in are official ratings. In theory, if discretionary handicapping has made a material difference, we should see winners and placed horses from all over the ratings scale.

The ten year average winning rating was 149.4, with the median 149. The five year average winning rating was 149.8, and median 148. But that doesn't tell the whole story, which is this: in the last six years, horses have won the Grand National from ratings as high as 160 (the magnificent Many Clouds) and as low as 137 (Auroras Encore).

Consider that, prior to discretionary handicapping, the highest winning rating since 1997 was Lord Gyllene's 149; and since it was introduced we've seen five winners rated 150+ since 2010 (nine years).

The ratings of the top two finishers in the last five renewals have been 150-148-148-150-148-149-160-143-143-150. Nine of the ten top two finishers were within a spread of eight pounds from 150 down. Bottom weight this year will be around 143 with half of the field or so rated 151+. Should we then be looking to the lighter weights? The data say so, but I'm not so sure...

Grand National UK vs Ireland Trends

The Irish had a good record in the National. From just before the turn of the century, the likes of Bobbyjo, Papillon, Montys Pass, Hedgehunter, Numbersixvalverde and Silver Birch gave them a near stranglehold on the great race. But then came discretionary handicapping and a relative drought, which in recent times led Gigginstown Stud and Ryanair supremo, Michael O'Leary, to an acerbic outburst aimed at the capo di 'capping. Given that O'Leary's colours have been worn to victory twice in the last three years, methinks the laddy doth protest too much!

But, after Silver Birch (2007) and before Rule The World (2016), the Irish went 0 from 32 (just two places). That has changed again now, in what might be an interesting way. Look at the top six finishers from the last three renewals of the Aintree Grand National. Focus on the UK/Ire column, but also on the Going column. See anything?

 

There appears to be a strong correlation between the state of the turf and nation that has fared overwhelmingly better. Again, this might be no more than a confusing coincidence; but it could be material. Frustratingly, the current going forecast is right on the cusp. I'm erring towards good to soft in my own mind, but the evidence of the track and the weather 'twixt now and race time will be a far better indicator.

Let's just tease out a couple of points from the above.

The first thing to say is that in each of the last five renewals one or other side of the Irish Sea has been dominant, taking at least five of the top six spots.

When the going has been good to soft, as it has been in three of the five renewals in the that time, UK-trained horses have claimed 16 of 18 top six positions; when it has been softer, Ireland has bagged ten of the 12 top six places. It's up to you whether you believe that's relevant or just a coincidence. I tend to think there might be something in it: after all, in a typical season (not that this has been a typical season), Irish-trained horses will race on much more deep ground than their British counterparts.

It is important to contextualise such observations in terms of the horses that ran. In the soft and heavy pair of Nationals, Ireland saddled 29 runners to UK's 48. Thus, their 83% of the places came from just 38% of the runners.

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In the good to soft trio of renewals, UK saddled 89 of 119 runners (one French entry, 29 Irish), which was 75% of the fields from which 89% of the top six emerged.

It might also be worth noting that when the ground has been at its softest, two 13-year-olds have snuck into the frame ramping up the average age of top six finishers to 9.7. When it's been drier, that average is just 9.2. Indeed, last year's heavy ground renewal has bumped up the overall age average notably.

Grand National Last Race Trends

Where did horses run prior to a big effort in the Grand National? Looking at the last five years and the top six placings - 30 spots - the following can be noted:

Cheltenham Festival Cross Country Chase: 1 win 2 seconds (all three won the Cross Country race)

Cheltenham Gold Cup: 1 win 1 4th

'Standard' handicap chases: 1 win, 2 2nds, 3 3rds, 2 4ths, 1 5th, 1 6th

Hurdle race: 1 win, 1 6th

Novice chase: 1 win, 1 5th (graduation chase)

Thyestes Chase: 1 2nd, 1 6th

UK or Irish Grand National Trial: 1 4th, 1 5th, 2 6ths

The Irish National, Midlands National, Ryanair, Bobbyjo and Cotswold Chases have all contributed a top six finisher in the last five years

From the above, there is absolutely no doubting the credentials of the Festival Cross Country Chase as the leading Grand National trial. Winners of that race have a superb record at Aintree.

Otherwise, the Gold Cup is a solid trial, last time hurdlers are noteworthy, and the form of more run-of-the-mill staying handicap chases should not be overlooked. The Irish and Haydock National trials have a fairly moderate record in recent times.

Grand National Last Time Finishing Position Trends

Two of the last five National winners also won last time out.

16 of the 20 top four finishers finished top six last time out.

Grand National Stamina Trends

All of the last five winners had run beyond three-and-a-quarter miles, and 18 of the 20 top four finishers had won beyond three miles.

2019 Grand National Trends Summary

Phew, and crikey. Where does all that leave us? From an identikit profiling perspective, we're looking for something like:

- A younger horse, aged eight or nine, preferably eight

- Ideally rated 150 (or so) or below

- A UK-trained runner if the going is not soft or heavy, an Irish-trained runner if it is

- May have been last seen at the Cheltenham Festival, in a hurdle race or in a 'standard' staying handicap chase

- A top six finish last time out, bonus points for winning last time

- A winner at beyond three miles that has also run beyond three-and-a-quarter miles

- A horse at a price!

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Grand National 2019 Preview

Who ticks the boxes? That's the obvious next question if you're prepared to believe the above: in the Aintree land of the blind and all that...

Every horse from Jury Duty up is rated 151+. Strictly speaking then they should be eliminated, but I think I'd want to include those rated 153 or lower, which still excludes the top 16 at the five day stage, including Anibale Fly (gulp) and Tiger Roll (double gulp).

Working through the other trends leaves me with eight horses including all weights, and just four in the ratings zone, as follows and displaying their current best odds (with bookies paying at least six places):

Rated/weighted too highly?

Anibale Fly (14/1), Tiger Roll (7/2), Lake View Lad (14/1), Dounikos (33/1)

In the zone...

Jury Duty (20/1), Monbeg Notorious (66/1), Vintage Clouds (14/1), Walk In The Mill (25/1)

 

There is a good chance that Tiger Roll just wins. He was imperious in the Cross Country and, as the data above relating to that race show, dismissing that as a form line is reckless in the extreme. You need luck to win a National and, if Tiger Roll gets past the Chair on the first circuit, the reigning champion will take a heck of a lot of beating. Plenty will want to oppose him - he's not exactly a working woman's or househusband's price, in a spin on the dated vernacular - but he has the most solid and obvious claims of any runner in this race for many a long year. He probably merits at least a saver bet.

Anibale Fly is a horse I love. Third in the Gold Cup last year, he seemed to flatten out a little when subsequently fourth in this race; but that was heavy ground and this will be less testing. He was second in the Gold Cup this time around, is six pounds well in according to the Irish handicapper, jumps and stays well and may again be on the premises. Lovely chap is this lad (not that Tiger Roll isn't adorable also!)

Lake View Lad would be a fantastic story for Borders trainer, Nick Alexander. His staying on second in the Ultima was eye-catching, but he lacks either a standout class piece of form or an attractive enough price to justify a bet. He can still be involved in the finish, of course, he's just not for me.

I think on good to soft or better ground, Dounikos is pretty interesting. Gordon Elliott's Grand National record is superb: his 16 runners in the race have yielded two winners, a second and a third - and a winner, second and third from six runners in the last two years! Elliott has plenty entered, not least of which is the jolly, but I think this fellow is over-priced as an eight-year-old last day winner.

As we move into what might be 'the zone', I really wanted to lob Monbeg Notorious; but the memory of Rule The World, a Gigginstown horse with a quirky back story who won in 2016, made me look again. This 8yo Milan gelding won the Thyestes Chase last season, as well as finishing second in a Grade 1 novice at the Punchestown Festival, before losing his way somewhat this term. That was high class form and, if he's been aimed at this all season (ran easily his best race last time, "kept on well, never nearer") and if he gets some luck in the run, he might be Rule The World mark II. He's exactly the sort of contrarian play this article needs!

More obvious is Jury Duty, who won on his travels in America in October and who also prevailed on his sole spin since, last month in a small field nondescript rated chase. He too fits the eight year old last day winner profile of the last two National victors, and he's getting backed.

Vintage Clouds' form ties in with Lake View Lad on their running behind Beware The Bear in the Ultima Handicap Chase at the Festival last month. The Sue Smith-trained nine-year-old is more stoutly bred and has more staying form. Both are owned by Trevor Hemmings, who has tasted National success with Many Clouds, Ballabriggs and Hedgehunter since 2005. He should run a bold race.

And that leaves Walk In The Mill, trained in Dorset by Robert Walford. Though I'd love a small trainer from the county of my birth to win the most famous race in the land, I'm not sure this Walk In The Park (who else?) gelding will stay and, besides, I'll be cheering another Dorset trainer's runner: Regal Encore from the Anthony Honeyball yard.

Naturally, there are about thirty others with chances..!

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Grand National 2019 Tips

Forty of 'em, running more than four miles, jumping thirty fences. Even in this mildly diluted variant of the fierce test of yore it is still a hugely demanding ask, and one which places a degree more emphasis on speed as well as abundant stamina and acceptable jumping ability.

If the ground is good to soft or quicker, I want to be with Anibale Fly, Vintage Clouds, Dounikos and Monbeg Notorious.

If the ground is soft or slower, I want to be with Vintage Clouds, Lake View Lad, Monbeg Notorious and Jury Duty.

But this is an anti-preview, so I'm just going to back the biggest priced horses from those lists and see where it gets me: Devil take the hindmost!

Grand National Betting Suggestion: Back either Monbeg Notorious (66/1) or Dounikos (40/1) with as many places as you can get. Chuck in Vintage Clouds (14/1) and/or Anibale Fly (14/1) if you want a more conventional contender.

Matt

p.s. if you want to spice up your Aintree interest, how about a bit of Colossus action? It's pool betting, with cash out, syndicates and consolations in the win pools. Check out this post to learn more about it.

2019 Aintree Festival Trends: DAY ONE (Thurs 4th April)

Another top week for jump racing fans as the three-day Aintree Grand National Meeting kicks-off on Thursday 4th April 2019 with the ITV cameras showing five races LIVE each day.

We get going on DAY ONE with the Betway Bowl, Aintree Hurdle and the Randox Health Foxhunters’ Chase are some of the key highlights so there is bundles to look forward to.

As always with the big meetings, here at GeeGeez we've all the main trends for the LIVE ITV races – use these to help build-up a better profile of horses that have done well in each race over the years.

 

 

THURSDAY, 4th April 2019 (ITV/Racing TV)

2.20pm – Doombar Anniversary 4yo Juvenile Hurdle 4yo Grade 1 (Class 1) (4yo) 2m1f ITV

2018 Winner: WE HAVE A DREAM (2/1 odds)
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Jockey: Daryl Jacob

14/16 – Ran at the Cheltenham Festival last time out
13/16 – Placed in the top three last time out
11/16 – Raced in the Triumph Hurdle (Cheltenham) last time out
10/16 – Returned 3/1 or shorter in the betting
7/16 – Winning favourites
5/16 – Won by trainer Alan King (4 of the last 12)
5/16 – Won last time out
3/16 – Won by trainer Paul Nicholls
2/16 – Ridden by Ruby Walsh
2/16 – Irish-trained winners
11/14 winners were placed at worst at the Cheltenham Festival
French-bred horses have won 11 of the last 20 (55%) runnings – including the last four.
13/19 winners raced in the Triumph Hurdle earlier that season
Just 5/29 winners hadn’t won at least twice over hurdles before

2.50pm – Betway Bowl Chase Grade 1 (Class 1) (5yo+) 3m1f ITV

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2018 Winner: MIGHT BITE (4/5 fav odds)
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Jockey: Barry Geraghty

14/16 – Didn’t win last time out
13/16 – Ran at the Cheltenham Festival last time out
10/16 – Ran in the Gold Cup (Cheltenham) last time out
9/16 – Placed in the top 4 last time out
6/16 – Aged in double-figures
4/16 – Won by the Pipe stable
4/16 – Winning favourites
4/5 – Won that season’s King George
15/35 (43%) winners were aged 10 or older
24/35 (69%) winners ran in that season’s Cheltenham Gold Cup
13/22 (59%) winners were placed fourth or better in that season’s King George VI Chase
2nd or 3rd favourites have won 13 of the last 26 (50%) renewals and 6 of the last 9 (67%)
4 of the last 8 winners had run in this race before
3 of the last 10 winners finished in the top 3 in that season’s Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury

3.25pm – Betway Aintree Hurdle Grade 1 (Class 1) (4yo+) 2m4f ITV

2018 Winner: L’AMI SERGE (5/1 odds)
Trainer: Nicky Henderson
Jockey: Daryl Jacob

16/16 – Aged 8 or younger
13/16 – Returned 6/1 or shorter in the betting
12/16 – Ran at the Cheltenham Festival last time out
11/16 – Placed in the top 4 last time out
9/16 – Ran in the Champion Hurdle last time out
8/16 – Irish-trained winners, plus 18 of the last 42
5/16 – Winning favourites (2 joint)
4/16 – Ridden by Ruby Walsh
4/16 – Won last time out
4/16 – Won by trainer Nicky Henderson (4 of the last 8)
3/16 – Ridden by Barry Geraghty
10 of the last 13 winners (including last 7) had won a Grade 1 before
9 of the last 18 (50%) winners had won at this meeting before
Only 5 Champion Hurdle winners since 1999 have run – but 3 won
Every British-trained winner had raced at the Cheltenham Festival that season
Just 1 of the last 18 Champion Hurdle runner-ups to race have won

4.05pm – The Randox Health Fox Hunters´ Chase (Class 2) (6yo+) 2m5f ITV1

2018 Winner: BALNASLOW (11/2 odds)
Trainer: Graham John McKeever
Jockey: Derek O’Connor

16/16 – Aged 9 or older (Just 2 of the last 33 winners were younger than 9)
13/16 – Returned 13/2 or shorter in the betting
13/16 – Aged in double-figures
11/16 – Placed in the top 3 last time out
7/16 – Won last time out
6/16 – Ran in the Cheltenham Foxhunters’ last time out
5/16 – Winning favourites (1 joint)
2/16 – Ridden by Sam Waley-Cohen
Irish-trained runners have won 4 of the last 5 runnings
11 of the last 14 winners went off favourite or second favourite
22 of the last 26 winners had won a race earlier that season
Only 2 of the last 35 winners were aged younger than 9
22 of the last 26 (85%) winners came from the top 4 in the market
10 of the last 14 winners had run over these National-style fences before
Ex-handicap horses have won 11 of the last 17 (65%) renewals


4.40pm – Red Rum Handicap Chase Grade 3 (Class 1) (5yo+) 2m ITV

2018 Winner: Bentelimar (10/1 odds)
Trainer: Charlie Longsdon
Jockey: Jonathan Burke

15/16 – Aged 9 or younger
14/16 – Carried 11-1 or less
11/16 – Carried 10-13 or less
11/16 – Priced 10/1 or shorter in the betting
9/16 – Ran at the Cheltenham Festival last time out
9/16 – Aged 7 or younger
10/16 – Unplaced last time out
4/16 – Winning favourites (1 co)
3/16 – Won last time out
1/16 – Irish-trained winner
10 of the last 18 winners were Novices
15 of the last 19 winners were rated 139 or lower
Only 2 winners older than 9 years-old since 1988
4 of the last 11 winners were ridden by conditional jockeys
The top 5 in the betting have won 14 of the last 21 (67%) runnings
17 of the last 19 (89%) winners carried 11-2 or less
3 of the last 12 winners raced in the previous year’s race
7 of the last 20 (35%) winners ran in that season’s Johnny Henderson Grand Annual (Cheltenham)

 

 

 

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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...

*

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.

*

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

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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)

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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)

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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)

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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

 

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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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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

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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.

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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)

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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!

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