In this 48 minute video, myself and Cathryn Fry - ably compered by Alex Constantinou - offer some early thoughts on the four Cheltenham Festival Championship races.
We both like a 25/1 shot in one of them, though it's not the same 25/1 shot!
Also, we look a little closer into the future and the pick of the Christmas action, including the King George and Lexus Chases, the big novice chase from Leopardstown and their Grade 1 hurdle event.
See what you think...
There's a long way to go until the Festivals in March and April, and things will change markedly as a result of what happens in the rest of this month, so you may (or may not!) want to take a flyer now.
[We'll aim to do a few more of these - with a few more panellists - as time goes by. That is, of course, if you like them!]
p.s. here are my notes, made before the vidcast:
Three miler needed, but maybe more speed than stamina. That being the case, Cue Card and Don Cassock look the pair to go with. (Not at all sure Vautour will stay. At the very least he has to prove it and looks the wrong price). Cue Card at 9/2 a bit of value but may need it soft. Don ground agnostic and worthy favourite. Saver material.
RP NOV CHS
Douvan no sort of bet at 1/2 (Vautour stuffed at 1/4 for same connections last year). Winter ground and Wullie perhaps easing off them mid-season mean it might be worth having a cut at Sizing John at close to 5/1. He's a big improver for HdB, was only 7L behind Douvan twice over hurdles, and de Bromhead has a better record improving hurdlers into chasers than Mullins... than pretty much everyone (see Tony Keenan's post on geegeez).
Kitten Rock also progressive on soft ground, though has to show he's as good over fences as he was over hurdles. Ttebbob another progressive sort. I'd almost be happy to bet 6/4 the field against Douvan. Have backed Sizing John to win any Festival race at 10's, so hope he wins.
Sure to shake up the Gold Cup market, a cracking race is in prospect.
Don Poli is 5/2 with Ladbrokes and only 13/8 with Paddy. If the latter is too short the former may be too big for those wanting to bet ahead of time. But with Djakadam and Coneygree, 1st and 2nd in the Gold Cup in March, in opposition, the RSA winner has his work cut out.
Looks a fantastic race to watch and not one on which I'm inclined to wager.
With Nichols Canyon, Arctic Fire, Identity Thief, MTOY, and Windsor Park all quoted, this will be some race if most line up.
Assuming the ground is on the soft side - the forecast suggests it could be heavy - Windsor Park could be a bit of a bargain against the top of the market. He's a win machine who seems to act on any surface.
Wicklow Brave was pretty disappointing last time but he goes in deep ground and 20/1 e/w might not be an awful bet. I have no idea what runs here though and couldn't suggest a bet until the decs are in.
Only Annie Power's last flight fall saved the bookies from a Mullins bashing last season.
Wullie has 7 of the first 8 non-handicap a/p favourites across days 1 and 2.
He's just 9/61 in non-handicaps at Festival in last 2 seasons - 15% SR, -55% ROI
6/1 or shorter: 9/21, 43% SR, 3-% ROI
Sustainable? Not in my view. Bookies will be even tighter about WPM runners, esp. at top of market.
Winners are pretty much assured, but the value has to be elsewhere.
Faugheen looked to be at the end of his rope last year and, while Nichols Canyon (5x G1 winner) advertised claims by beating him the other day, Arctic Fire is quite appealing e/w 8/1 NRNB
Identity Thief - Henry de Bromhead's improver won Fighting Fifth, needs to jump better but big engine and improving fast. 25/1 NRNB with Skybet a very attractive e/w play
Sprinter Sacre looked back to somewhere within a stone of his best at Chelters in November. UDS has to improve and a lot of improvement is factored into a quote of 6/4. Special Tiara same rating 168 as UDS, though less improvement. 3rd in the race last year, looks to be a stride better now. Solid option at 16/1 NRNB.
Impossible race, as 9/1 the field demonstrates. You don't have to have a bet now. So don't!
Coneygree impressive last year but hard to keep right apparently.
Not sure Don Cossack has the stamina for this, Ryanair a better though less glamorous option.
Djakadam high class and will stay, more mature this time around.
But RSA winner, Don Poli, a very strong stayer on an upward curve. OTT when beaten at Punchestown. Aside from that, he's unbeaten over fences. 7/1 NRNB
Cue Card was impressive in the Betfair but will be 10 next March. Hard to see him winning.
Would want to see Smad Place replicate his Hennessy effort and happy to take shorter if he can.
As a complete rag for £1 e/w Wounded Warrior could go well IF it came up soft. Very strong stayer who must have mud, and only beaten 7L (3rd) in the RSA. 50/1 NRNB - he probably won't run if it's good ground.
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/12/vidcast.jpg320830Matt Bisognohttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngMatt Bisogno2015-12-15 09:54:262016-01-20 02:05:03VIDCAST: Early Cheltenham Festival Fancies
Cheltenham Festival 2015: Day Four Preview, Trends, Tips
The final day of four, and history dictates that it is the trickiest, Gold Cup Day at the Cheltenham Festival is as tough a punting challenge as there is in the noble sport of horse racing. As a convenient and local barometer of that, consider that the placepot on Gold Cup day last year paid a whopping £44,616.30 for £1. And that was 'merely' to find six placed horses!
Even by Day Four standards, last year was something of a bloodbath for punters. And it may be no different this time either. For me, that means a lightish betting day - Triumph and Foxhunters' aside - and simultaneously pulling out the padlock for the wallet and the beer goggles at 4.15pm.
All that said, as always, I have some opinions and, perhaps more importantly, some data, to help you form your own opinions on 'play' or 'pass'.
The show commences, as ever, at 1.30pm, with the...
1.30 Triumph Hurdle
Not nearly as trappy a race as it used to be, with the inception of the Fred Winter Hurdle in 2005 thinning the field to quality over quantity and restricting the amount of hard luck stories. Of course, it's still a conundrum and is usually the first confluence of Anglo-Irish formlines at the top level.
As such, it makes sense to look at any trends from 2005 onwards, which gives us ten years to play with.
Aside from 33/1 Countrywide Flame in 2012 (tipped here, woohoo), the biggest priced winner in the past decade has been 10/1 Tiger Roll (last year, not tipped here, boooo). And only four of the 30 horses placed 1-2-3 have been priced higher than 20/1. Given that almost exactly half of all entries (93 of 187) were priced higher than 20/1, that looks material.
The pick of the trainers have been Alan King (two winners, four more placed, from twelve runners); Philip Hobbs (a winner and two placed from four runners); Nicky Henderson (two winners, two places, from twelve runners); and Paul Nicholls (two winners, two places, from 15 runners).
Willie Mullins has saddled eleven runners in the last decade, with just one making the frame.
Most notably perhaps, of the 78 horses to have run in a Grade 1 or 2 contest last time, seven won here, and a further 14 were placed. That group includes 33/1 scorer Countrywide Flame (and it's how I picked him out, woohoo) and 10/1 scorer Tiger Roll (boooo), both of which were placed in the Grade 1 Spring Hurdle prior to Triumph glory.
The 1-2-3 in that race this year was Petite Parisienne, Kalkir, and Prussian Eagle. The first two are in the Triumph with the last named declining his invitation to carry top weight in the Fred Winter.
All ten winners, and 29 of the 30 placed horses, finished 1-2-3 last time out.
So those are the trends, but what about the form?
The favourite is Nicky Henderson's Peace And Co, a position he's occupied in the market for a long time. Since coming over from France, he's won two Grade 2's in Britain in two starts: the Finesse Hurdle at Cheltenham and the Summit Hurdle at Doncaster. And he's done the job nicely enough. But around 2/1 in a field of unexposed types overstates his chance in my view. Beating the consistent but four-time bridesmaid (best man, perhaps?) Karezak three lengths is a solid but unspectacular piece of form, and I think there are at least two better lines at bigger prices.
Neither of them belong to second choice Hargam. Listed class on the flat, Hargam represents the same trainer - Henderson - as favourite Peace And Co, and has similar claims on a line through Karezak. He also has less compelling claims on a line through Starchitect, and though both are open to significant improvement, so are many/most of this field.
Hendo also saddles Top Notch, a likeable unbeaten hurdler, who has largely been serving up on soft ground. What he's beaten thus far is open to question, but the manner of his performances is not. He's duffed up his rivals to date, and comes here high on confidence if not collateral form. At the prices, he'd be an interesting play to be the pick of the Henderson three.
Back to those better form lines - or at least better value, in my view - and the first belongs to Beltor, a horse from an unheralded stable who would surely be vying for favouritism if trained by Mullins, Nicholls or Hendo. Beltor is trained by Welsh freshman handler, Robert Stephens, and he's looked a seriously good horse in two runs to date.
First, on debut in what the market made a match race, he pooped on the punters' protagonists by scoring on the bridle at 16/1. The second horse there, Arabian Revolution, ran all right in the Fred Winter on Wednesday, having won a Class 2 easily (with the 17L 3rd there winning a decent Sandown handicap since) in between times. And then, last time out, in the Grade 2 Adonis Hurdle - along with the Spring Hurdle, the other pre-eminent trial for this - Beltor absolutely hacked up by five lengths on the bridle from the re-opposing Bivouac.
All Yours, a well thumped five length second in the Adonis, was beaten less than that in the Fred Winter.
With just two hurdle starts to his name, he has bags of scope, and the manner of his wins suggest there's a fair bit more to come. He's a strong travelling sort, and is the wrong price here. Moreover, although his two hurdle wins have come on soft, the pick of his (granted, fairly moderate) flat form was on good ground. I'm on.
The other line I like is the Spring Hurdle, of course, won by Petite Parisienne, with stablemate Kalkir two lengths back in second, and Prussian Eagle (3L away) the only other horse within twenty lengths. The winner there is a filly and she gets a seven pound allowance for that, a concession that could prove most generous come 1.35pm.
Petite Parisienne had been notably weak in the market (though still sent off at 9/10 - was 8/13 in the morning) when beaten by the other Gigginstown horse in the race, Chatham House Rule, on debut. She improved markedly from that showing to the Spring Hurdle and was a slightly cosy victor at the finish that last day. She'll need to improve again, of course, which is likely rather than possible with so few hurdling miles on the clock.
Kalkir was talked up early in the season, and there were grounds for marking his form up the last twice in defeat (the first run when tanking for much of the early part of the race; and then he was in front plenty early enough in the Spring Hurdle, and stuck on resolutely enough). I'm not excited by his chance - and I have two vouchers with his name on - but he's a credible podium player still.
Stable mate Dicosimo makes up the Mullins trident, but he looks one for the future, and I'd think he'll be seen to better effect over three miles and with bigger obstacles in his way.
In case you missed the inference from the above waffles, it means that six of the first seven in the betting are trained by just two men: three each for Wullie and Hendo. Into that throng, Robert Stephens thrusts his potent weapon. Oo-er!
Further down the lists, there have been bullish noises about Alan King's Pain Au Chocolat. Given the stable record in the race, he could be a tasty (geddit?!) each way play, but his form makes him no more appealing than that. He's out of a sprint sire, and has yet to race in Britain over hurdles on anything other than soft ground, both of which are pertinent reservations in the context of a fast ground Triumph Hurdle.
The same yard's Karezak has, as mentioned, been seen off by four different horses and, while he's a solid yardstick, he has much less scope to step forward than the majority here. The race may be handicapped through his performance, but in many ways it would anchor the form were he to make the frame.
Likely Pace Angles:
There doesn't look to be bundles of early pace here, though Stars Over The Sea should be front rank. Officer Drivel may also get a call or two in the early furlongs.
Triumph Hurdle Tips:
1 1/2 pt each way Beltor 7/1 general
1/2 pt each way Petite Parisienne 10/1 Stan James (1/4 1-2-3-4)
Best Triumph Hurdle offers:
Stan James the only bookie so far paying four places. This might change, with others doing likewise, so do check before placing your bet.
2.05 County Hurdle
If it wasn't tricky enough, finding a winner just got a whole lot more difficult. The County Hurdle is a frighteningly open race every year and, though I nominated 50/1 scorer Silver Jaro here in 2008, it's been a long quiet haul since then. In the intervening six years, Wullie and the Denizen of Ditcheat (Paul Nicholls) have bagged a brace each, all at double digit odds; and Irish trainers have claimed the other two renewals as well.
Indeed, since 2003, the score reads Irish trainers 7, Paul Nicholls 4, The Rest 1. And the one was Martin Pipe! We'll keep that in mind as we shimmy through a few trends...
Last time out winners have won six County Hurdles since 1997, which equates to 35% winners from 17% runners. They were not profitable to back, unsurprisingly, and finishing position looks an unhelpful factor from a wagering perspective, as it largely nods to the top of the market.
Probably the most material consideration is age, with nine winners in the last sixteen renewals being five years old. As with so many of the Festival handicaps, we're looking at young progressive unexposed horses, capable of a good bit more than their current handicap mark gives credit.
To emphasise this point, five and six year olds have won twelve of the last sixteen renewals (75%) from around half the runners. Again, it's not enough in itself to make you rich - or even profitable - but it's a strong pointer towards the subset of runners likely to contain the winner.
Moreover, since Blowing Wind's victory as a five year old in 1998 carrying 11-08, all of the other eleven five or six year olds to win had eleven stone or less on their backs.
As a micro-system, five year olds carrying 11 stone or less, having won last time out are two from five in the last four years, courtesy of 10/1 Final Approach and 11/1 Lac Fontana. Gary Moore's Violet Dancer may add to that tally, though he'd likely be attempting to make all, which is a tough ask, and he carries 11-07 in what is a most compressed handicap.
To the form book, albeit briefly, as too much study in a race like this is likely to end in frustration and disappointment. There are easier fish to fry than the County Hurdle, the Festival's equivalent of Japanese fugu, and as we're not starving and don't need the questionable sustenance of a sushi repast, I'll leave it at that.
The Game Changer is close to the head ofthe lists and, while it has not been a good race for favourites (how could such a ferocious heat be a good race for any specific market rank?), his is an obvious chance. Trained by Irish handler Gordon Elliott, The Game Changer has been off the track for over five months since running third to Rebel Fitz in a Grade 2. Saved from the deep ground in Ireland through the winter, he'll likely not struggle for fitness given his yard, but still, pitching into this cauldron after 159 days off is a big ask.
The other at the head of the market is Quick Jack, for Tony Martin and owner John Breslin, who teamed up to win this with Ted Veale two years ago. Not seen over hurdles for 412 days, the magnitude of the required training performance is mitigated somewhat by a third in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket on the level a 'mere' 153 days ago. Again, connections offer every hope that the layoff can be overcome. And, with just six hurdle starts to his name, he fits the bill of a young lightly raced progressive sort perfectly.
Indeed, wins here and then a close third in a hugely competitive heat in Ireland last January point squarely to there being a LOT more in the tank. He must have a squeak granted luck in running, though his hold up style could lead to traffic issues.
Willie Mullins won this in 2010 and 2011. He didn't have a runner in 2012, and he was responsible for the second in 2013 and 2014 (as well as the 4th last year, too). Clearly then, whatever he runs is to be considered, but that doesn't help too much, as he has five declared!
That said, Max Dynamite and Sempre Medici are probably the pick, and should go close. Ignoring his last run where he was never in it in a Grade 1 - it could be argued he was never put in it... - Sempre Medici's form ties in closely with Jollyallan on Kempton running, and he was a facile winner of a maiden hurdle before that. Just three hurdle starts on the board gives him huge scope to progress, and the trainer's record says he will progress here.
Max Dynamite is the choice of Ruby Walsh, who has won this race four times, thrice for Paul Nicholls and once for Wullie. A Group 1 performer in France before switching to hurdles, he's had just three starts. A comfortable maiden hurdle win on debut was followed by second to Kitten Rock in a Listed event and finally a never-at-the-races fourth of five in a Grade 2 a month ago. That will have put him spot on for this and, given Ruby's first dibs on the quintet, it'll be a surprise if he's not the shortest priced of them come post time.
There are another twenty I could have mentioned but haven't, and I'll take my chances from those listed below.
Likely Pace Angles:
Strangely, not a huge amount of obvious pace, and it's possible that Violet Dancer will get a relatively uncontested lead. He might be dangerous in that scenario, as he was when making most in the Betfair Hurdle last time out. Orgilgo Bay, Lucky Bridle and Aso are others who could make it, and a prominent position will likely be an advantage.
County Hurdle Tips:
1/2 pt e/w Max Dynamite 20/1 (PP, paying FIVE places)
1/2 pt e/w Quick Jack 8/1 (PP, paying FIVE places)
Best County Hurdle offers:
Look for a bookie paying FIVE places
2.40 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle
'The potato race' as it's known, the Albert Bartlett has a mixed bag of future performers on its roll of honour. From RSA Chase and Gold Cup winner, Bobs Worth, to the barely heard of since likes of Berties Dream. Throw in At Fishers Cross, Wichita Lineman, Black Jack Ketchum and others, and it's a real head-scratcher of a heat historically.
It's also one where my own record is lamentable, and I will say right now that I don't have a strong handle on the form in the staying novice hurdle division. Perhaps some trendage will assist...
Just ten renewals to date, and winners have ranged from evens to 33/1 (twice). Whilst half the Albert Bartlett winners thus far also won last time out, they were horribly unprofitable to follow as a group, and those finishing second to fourth that last day have been more akin to punters' pals. Indeed, from less runners (68 compared with 80 last day winners), they've claimed the same number of prizes, and have notched an SP profit of 29 points in the process.
That is, of course, by dint of those two 33/1 pokes swelling their ranks, and it is worth taking a second to look at the Very Wood/Berties Dream angle in what looks an open renewal. Both were running on soft ground last time, both were running in Grade 2 company last time, and both were running at around two and a half miles last time.
Put another way, both were stepping up in trip and getting better ground under their hooves, having run respectably in decent class races under unsuitable conditions. But it gets better...
When I entered this quirky little angle into a system builder tool - last ran at around 2m4f, finished 2nd to 4th there on soft or deeper ground in Grade 1 or 2 company - I discovered that there were FOUR winners from just 13 qualifiers, and another two placed!
The other winners were Nenuphar Collonges and Weapon's Amnesty, at 9/1 and 8/1 respectively, and the placers were Powerstation 9/1 in 2006 and Apache Jack 20/1 last year. But it gets better still, as those unplaced horses often ran well too: Masters Hill was 5th at 66/1 last year, Le Bec was 6th at 28/1 in 2013, and Back To Bid was 4th at 33/1 in 2006. Yikes!
Qualifiers this time are... Value At Risk, Shantou Bob, and Milsean.
I do quite like Shantou Bob, and have risked a speculative on him at 33/1, the same price as that other pair of bombs in the race. And Milsean is 50/1 and has a similar profile to Very Wood, in the same Gigginstown ownership.
Meanwhile, at the top of the market, Irish runners dominate. Black Hercules is fighting it out for favouritism with No More Heroes, and Martello Tower is third choice in most lists.
I'm against Black Hercules. All his best (winning) form is on soft and heavy ground, and with it being good at the moment, there's a chance he'll be inconvenienced by that. Moreover, he's yet to win above Grade 3 level.
No More Heroes is at the same level as the Mullins runner, with his best so far being a Grade 2 win in a small field. He's likely to appreciate the longer trip, too, and he'd be interesting in a match with Black Hercules.
Martello Tower has won two Grade 3's, but he's been beaten both times he stepped up to Grade 2 company. First when he was arguably going to win but fell, and then when outpaced behind Outlander. On collateral form, there may not be as much between him and No More Heroes as the market suggests.
Value At Risk is the best of the British, according to the market at least. He too has a nice profile for this race, if improving for the quicker ground. In a race where I'm tilting at windmills for loose change, I'll reluctantly sidestep him, though I hope he runs really well for connections.
A horse I love is Fletcher's Flyer, and he'll be my third, well, flyer in this race. A wide margin winner of a Punchestown bumper last April, he's been running well all winter despite a suspicion that he'd prefer better ground. He'll get that here, so we'll be able to put the theory to the test, and at around 25/1.
So many unexposed horses, plenty of them encountering quicker ground for the first time in a while, and stepping up to three miles for the first time ever means it may be reckless to be bullish at the top of the market. As such, I'm happy to tickle three at prices, and try to get through the placepot.
Likely Pace Angles:
Wullie has three who could go on: Milsean, Black Hercules and Measureofmydreams. Teafortwo, Thomas Brown, Fletchers Flyer, Blaklion and Native River are other front rank sorts in a race loaded with pace. It will likely be very hard work in the last half mile, so a stout stayer that goes on top of the ground is key.
Albert Bartlett Hurdle Tips:
1/2 pt Shantou Bob 33/1 general
1/2 pt Milsean 50/1 general
1/2 pt Fletchers Flyer 25/1 Boyle, BetVictor
Best Albert Bartlett Hurdle offers:
3.20 Cheltenham Gold Cup
And so to the Gold Cup, the main event of the week. And what a race it is this year. The field is headed by the obvious form choice, Silviniaco Conti (note, for the hard of pronunciation, that's Sill-vinn-ee-arh-co Con-tee 😉 ). But he's been here before. Twice. And been beaten twice. First he was sunk by an errant leap before stamina came into play. And then he ran out of juice up the hill, plain and simple.
Various ailments were put forward as excuses, and no doubt Signor Conti has had several wind op's and got enough loyalty points from his local apothecary to fly business class around the world. Which is to say that he makes the market for everything else, and I don't expect him to win.
So... who will? Well that's no easier question to answer now than it was when I previewed the Gold Cup on 9th January. I personally have various interesting bets in place, including those tipped back at the turn of the year, and will not be topping up my portfolio. After all, I'm on most of them already!
As well as the advice below, I have these two very interesting 'flyers' from the start of the season. I'm not suggesting they'll win, but I really hope one of them does!
Small money, big priced, GC tickles
Likely Pace Angles:
Coneygree WILL attempt to lead. Road To Riches and On His Own may ensure that Coneygree is not on his own... This will be fast and furious and if your nag doesn't stay, you won't get your pay. 😉
2 pts Road To Riches 8/1 non-runner no bet [now 12/1]
1 pt Lord Windermere 16/1 all in run or not [now 18/1]
0.5 pt Sam Winner 33/1 non-runner no bet
0.5 pt Al Ferof 33/1 non-runner no bet (money back as doesn't run)
Gold Cup Tips:
Nothing to add to the above
Best Gold Cup offers:
A number of bookies are paying FOUR places. These include Skybet, Tote, Betfred and Ladbrokes
4.00 Foxhunters' Chase
Of all the amateur riders' races at the Festival this is the one I like most. The reason is that it's far less competitive than the others. And, even when an outsider - like Zemsky - wins, it's normally still gettable. All of the last ten winners have been aged ten or younger, despite only representing 63% of the runners.
That's as good as it gets trends-wise, although the two key trends race are the Champion Hunter Chase at Stratford, and the Raymond Smith Hunter Chase at Leopardstown.
In the Stratford race, Paint The Clouds was an easy winner from Shoreacres, Foundry Square and Pearlysteps. While in the Leopardstown race, Prince De Beauchene (not qualified for this) just beat On The Fringe, with a way back to Need To Know and dual Foxhunters' winner, Salsify.
Let's cut to the chase: I think Paint The Clouds is a great bet. I've backed him for my joint-biggest stake of the week and I'd be really hopeful that this normally sound-jumping prominent-racing good ground-loving ten year old will run them ragged, as he did in the Stratford Foxhunters' and, indeed, as he has done in all four of his hunter chases to date. No rival has got closer than the eight lengths margin Shoreacres ran him to at Stratford, and over that three and a half mile trip, Paint The Clouds may have been getting to the end of his stamina rope.
I have a slight niggle about the hill, and that something might be flying late. But, in truth, I'm hopeful he'll be away and gone by this point. He'll have the services of one of the best jockeys in the race, Sam Waley-Cohen, as well.
Shoreacres is twelve now, and it's very hard to envisage him winning, and they're the only two from the Stratford race slated to line up here, aside from Current Exchange, now trained by Gordon Elliott. That one looks to have a marked preference for soft ground, and has in fact side-stepped this race.
Meanwhile, from the Irish form, On The Fringe has run well in this twice before: 4th in 2011 as a six year old, and 3rd last year aged nine. He just doesn't seem to quite get home, and it would be a surprise if there wasn't a slightly stouter stayer in the field. Moreover, his middle to late running style is likely to be unsuited to the hurly-burly of a race such as this. He's not for me, talented though he undoubtedly is.
Need To Know was twelve lengths back in the Irish trial. Only seven, he has time and scope on his side, but this might just come a year too soon for him. Still, he's one of the more attractive outsiders on that line through On The Fringe, and he's a 50/1 poke.
Salsify is a joker in the pack. A dual winner of this race, he was incredibly fortunate when Jane Mangan was unshipped from Oscar Delta on the run-in when sure to win in 2013. He was beaten far enough behind On The Fringe and Need To Know, but that was on his comeback run after more than a year off the track. Sure to be fitter here, and with conditions known to be spot on, he might yet fare best of the Irish.
The main danger outside of the key prep races is probably Current Event, trained by Rose Loxton. This lad has been dishing up in the point fields all winter, and was as facile a winner as you'll see when cantering home over this trip on good ground at Musselburgh six weeks ago. Fast ground and trip look ideal for this ex-Paul Nicholls nag, and he's feared.
Carsonstown Boy could be a lively runner for Ireland too.
Likely Pace Angles:
Carsonstown Boy and Paint The Clouds are generally trail blazers or close up runners, but it's probable they'll be joined by exuberant horses under exuberant riders, and the first few fences could be pivotal. No Loose Change and Askamatic are two of the more likely candidates in that bracket. The worry with Current Event is that he does tend to close from the back and that might be sub-optimal in this type of fast run, big field contest.
Foxhunters' Chase Tips:
2 pts Paint The Clouds 5/1
1 pt e/w Current Event 11/1 PP (paying FOUR places)
1/4 pt e/w Need To Know 50/1 Skybet (paying FOUR places)
Best Foxhunters' Chase offers:
Some bookies are paying FOUR places on this race. They include bet365, Skybet, Tote, Betfred, and Paddy. And Racebets are paying 1/4 the first FIVE! (But they're not top price on any runner)
4.40 Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle
"The boys' race" as it's known, this is a 2m5f handicap hurdle, and it takes some winning. Only six renewals to date, but some strong trends emerging. Firstly, all six winners were aged five or six, and all were second season hurdlers. In fact, all bar two of the win and placed horses were either first or second season hurdles. In other words, they were lightly raced and progressive (are you spotting the theme in these handicaps yet?!)
Secondly, all carried more than eleven stone. This is less of a trend than it appears, however, due to the clustering of the weights in a 'compressed handicap'. Put another way, lots of similarly rated - and therefore, weighted - horses have competed against each other.
Interestingly, perhaps, the last four winners all won their previous starts. However, the placed horses don't back this factoid up, so it's one to be wary of, I think. Of more interest, I think, is that four of the six winners were trained by Messrs. Henderson, Mullins or Nicholls, THE main men in handicap hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival.
Indeed, last year, that trio of trainers saddled the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 6th, 8th and 11th from the 24 runner field!
This year, they collectively saddle Le Mercurey, Pearl Swan (Nicholls), Roi Des Francs, McKinley, Killultagh Vic (Mullins), Royal Irish Hussar and Full Shift (Henderson). Seven of the 24. Hmm.
McKinley has won a Grade 1 this season, and though he's a bit in and out, he has the services of crack Irish lad, Johnny Burke. That's a strong combination for Wullie, and I'd be happy enough to take a chance on him, albeit only for beans.
Full Shift is really interesting for Hendo: off for a year less a day, this lad has had just four hurdle starts, winning two of them. He was midfield in this race last year when sent off the 9/2 favourite, and he again gets the services of the peerless (in this context) Nico de Boinville.
And Pearl Swan has had his light hidden under a bushel for some time now. Second in a Grade 2 in January 2012, he was staying on into the frame in that year's Triumph Hurdle when bundling out at the last. Since then he's had just three runs in three years, the pick of which was second in a jumper's bumper. The other two runs were on soft ground, with all his decent form on good ground.
It's a leap of faith, but at 25/1 it's one worth taking, as there would have surely been easier options for Pearl Swan if he wasn't able to justify a place on the Ditcheat Cheltenham team. Jack Sherwood is another solid rider.
As always, loads of others with chance...
Likely Pace Angles:
Barizan is a good bet for the lead, and he'll be chased early by the likes of Balgarry, Shelford, Alderbrook Lad and Killultagh Vic.
Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle Tips:
1/2 pt win McKinley general
1/2 pt win Full Shift 11/1 BetVictor, Paddy
1/2 pt win Pearl Swan 25/1 general
Best Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle offers:
Plenty of bookies offering FIVE places if you're betting each way.
5.15 Grand Annual Handicap Chase
And we close with AP McCoy's last Cheltenham Festival ride, in the AP McCoy Grand Annual Chase. He rides Ned Buntline, that one is of obvious interest with such a poignant chapter in racing history coming to a close.
Nevertheless, it should be said that connections of all the other runners will not be feeling charitable and it's a fierce hard race to win... which is why it was moved to the last race of the meeting. (That said, the previous last race, the County Hurdle, was hardly a shoo in to find the winner!!)
It should also be said that if you still need a winner, good luck!!!
Here is a bit of pattern form to note:
14 of the last 15 winners carried less than eleven stone to victory. The exception was last year!
8 and 9yo's have won the last four, and nine of the last 15, from around half of the runners.
[Thanks to Paul Jones for this one] Seven of the last eight British-trained winners were previous course winners
[And for this one...] Just one of the last 16 winners had raced more than twelve times over fences.
That leaves a shortlist of... one - Bold Henry, who unseated last time out but won here easily in November. Just six chase starts on the board make him an obvious improver, and he's owned by JP McManus to boot.
He'll be the 'wrong' McManus horse if he wins though, due to the aforementioned AP McCoy bowing out at Cheltenham on the aforementioned Ned Buntline. Can you imagine if the pair jump the last together?! You only need to look at Box Office versus The Saint James in the Fred Winter on Wednesday to know that if Ned is in the first eight at the second last, Henry may not get maximum urging... (but you didn't read that here).
Ned Buntline could go off extremely short, and offers no value despite his form chance.
A third string to the McManus bow is Eastlake, but he'd like softer ground... and the same comments as above apply.
In all honesty, I'd be misleading you if I said I had any sort of opinion on this race, and I might just have a fiver each way Bold Henry, and a pound on Ned Buntline so I can cheer McCoy.
If you need a result here, keep in mind that it's the Midlands Grand National on Saturday, and the winner of that is Catching On 😉
Likely Pace Angles:
Pace-o-rama led by Next Sensation, the speed of the speed. He'll be challenged by My Brother Sylvest, Solar Impulse, and possibly Blood Cotil. Bold Henry will be held up and Ned Buntline will likely be mid-division early. This race can have a fair number of fallers due to the mental gallop they go, so you'll need to be both lucky and good!
Grand Annual Challenge Chase Tips:
1/4 pt win Ned Buntline 5/1 general (sentimental)
1/4 pt e/w Bold Henry 25/1 general (plain mental)
Best Grand Annual Challenge Chase offers:
A couple of bookies offering FIVE places if you're betting each way, including bet365, Betfair Sportsbook and Racebets.
Right, that's my lot. As tradition dictates, I shall be imbibing in the Brown Bear, Aldgate, tomorrow afternoon, and will look forward to re-connecting with the world after a rest and a recovery from a certain hangover!
Do leave a comment to let us know where your cash is going for the last day, and how you've been getting on this week. Winning? Hard luck stories? Share your joy/grief!
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.png00Matt Bisognohttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngMatt Bisogno2015-03-12 18:32:392015-03-12 19:02:17Cheltenham Festival 2015: Day Four Preview, Trends, Tips
Cheltenham Festival 2015: Day Three Preview, Trends, Tips
We're over the hump and past halfway in the 2015 Cheltenham Festival. And the bad news if you're behind at this point is that historically the last two days have been a lot tougher for punters than the first two...
The good news is that one decent winner can put us level, or back in front. So all is still to play for as we roll up for the first of six Thursday races, the...
1.30 JLT Novices' Chase
There have only been four previous runnings of this intermediate novices' chase, and this will be just the second as a Grade 1 contest. As such, race-specific statistics are largely meaningless.
It might be interesting to note that Irish-trained runners have won three of the four JLT's so far, from just 30% of the runners.
Paul Jones noted in his excellent trends guide that only four winners from the last 68 races held at up to 3m 1/2f in Festival novice chases failed to be first or second last time out. That is a negative for the tumbling Ptit Zig.
Let's get to the form book. Favourite is Vautour, a horse whose reputation probably precedes him somewhat. He was undeniably an impressive winner of the Supreme (and the Punchestown Champion Novices' Hurdle), but his fencing has not quite passed muster yet.
In fact, in three chase starts he was well beaten by Clarcam the only time he tackled Grade 1 company. That was at two miles and this is an extra half mile or so, which may play to his stamina forte. But still, I'd be wary of piling in at around 2/1 or less.
The best of the British is clearly Ptit Zig, on what's been achieved so far at least. He'd racked up a four race unbeaten sequence, including in the Grade 2 Dipper Novices' Chase here, before falling when tackling open Grade 1 company last time in the Ascot Chase.
He'll have been relentlessly schooled by trainer Paul Nicholls since then, and whilst such an error remains possible, Ptit Zig has looked pretty safe thus far. His form in the book is a way clear of Vautour's but the jolly looks to have the more scope to improve.
Noel Meade's Apache Stronghold is the one with the proven ability for this specific challenge, as he showed when beating Valseur Lido half a length in a Grade 1 over this sort of trip on yielding ground a month ago.
It was a fascinating race with Apache Stronghold looking one of the first beaten, but rallying boldly up the inside of Valseur Lido. He was reversing form with that one from their Drinmore Novices' Chase running in November, and there should again be little between the pair. Slight preference is for the Gigginstown horse, but it is a marginal thing.
I can't see anything else being good enough to win, and I find it hard to pick between the top four. As such, I've had a small interest bet on Valseur Lido only.
Likely Pace Angles:
Tango De Juilley and Vautour have both led in their races to date. And Irish Saint may also step forward.
A fiercely competitive handicap hurdle, run over three miles, and not a race I'm keen to get too involved with either. Still, as food for thought, here are a few trends...
Older (aged eight to ten) horses have won eight of the last eleven renewals. And the younger winners have tended to carry more weight (i.e. classy improvers).
Last time out winners have a very strong record, taking eight Pertemps Final's since 1997, from just 72 runners.
First up, let me say that I'd be delighted if Anthony Honeyball's Regal Encore could win this. He's a seriously nice horse trained by a seriously talented man, and after a second in the Champion Bumper here we know he acts on the track.
Regal Encore may not have progressed in the same way that Briar Hill, who beat him in the Bumper, has; but he's rated just 139, as opposed to Briar Hill's 150+. He has the talent to win a race like this, but things just haven't panned out for him yet. Hopefully that will change. It is worth noting that he has a fairly solid trends profile too, and as a JP McManus inmate, he's likely to take hefty support.
Call The Cops showed everyone what he was about when hacking up in a decent handicap hurdle at Doncaster a fortnight ago and he's clearly going the right way quickly. With the services of Barry Geraghty to aid his chance, Hendo's Presenting gelding looks sure to run well.
I'm not really a fan of 'plot' horses for Festival handicaps, and instead prefer progressive last day winners (as you can tell from the above). As such, I won't be with Edeymi, even though every man and his dog saw that he wasn't off a yard at Musselburgh last time out.
Tony Martin's charge has a rating of 135 for this and that looks no better than fair. Irrespective of how you cut it, Edeymi has won one of fifteen hurdle starts, and that a maiden hurdler at odds of 2/7. No thanks.
Big Easy and Katkeau represent the Haydock Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle form. That race has flagged the winner of this race within its first five in three of the last six years (thanks Paul Jones!), and Big Easy's second has been supplemented with a couple of nice runs since.
The problem is that he's elevated himself in the ratings from 136 to 145 and, even though he's a Cesarewitch winner on the flat, that should be enough to stop him from winning. He could still hit the frame, mind.
Katkeau looks a lot more interesting for the David Pipe team. A winner over three miles-plus here in November, he was a held up never dangerous fifth in the Fixed Brush. Having then pulled up on heavy ground, he needed a bit more to get into the race, so ran at Chepstow on 21st February.
A short head second there pushed his rating up to 137 and attested to his well being at the same time. He too has a very solid profile for a Pertemps, and he's more tempting than most.
There are of course countless others with prospects, but I'll play Katkeau with my head and Regal Encore with my heart.
Likely Pace Angles:
Closing Ceremony, Bygones Sovereign, and Brother Brian all race on the speed, and perhaps Haydock qualifier winner, Closing Ceremony will be the speed of the speed.
Pertemps Final Tips:
1 pt win Katkeau 33/1 Stan James
Best Pertemps Final offers:
Look for a bookie paying five places. Which is most of them, but not Paddy, Coral, Betway or Betbright.
Even as I was writing that preview, Dynaste was ruled out of the contest. More recently, Cue Card was scratched. And more recently still, Foxrock was supplemented for the race and Boston Bob threatened to stand his ground.
While Boston Bob was an interesting floater, and an obvious non-runner no bet play when a 25/1 shot (he doesn't run, so money back); Foxrock does merit a second glance. Rated 164 after a very close second to Carlingford Lough in the Hennessy Gold Cup, that's just two pounds below favourite Don Cossack. The 2m5f trip looks right up his street, and he showed in the four miler last year that he can handle Cheltenham. He didn't stay there - was sent off the 3/1 favourite - and this son of Flemensfirth is a live danger. I've added a point on him as I feel he could win this.
Otherwise, I'm happy with the preview pick of Johns Spirit, a horse that comes alive over this course, and distance. He's trained by Jonjo O'Neill, a man with few Festival peers, and he looks sure to give us a run for our money.
Don't entirely discount Uxizandre from coming back to form either. He's been running poorly on winter ground, but was a close second in the JLT Chase last year, and McCoy rides.
Likely Pace Angles:
Uxizandre and Hidden Cyclone both like to bowl along in front, and they should have the lead between them. The likes of Third Intention, Ballycasey and Foxrock normally race prominently, as does Ma Filleule. Likely favourite, Don Cossack, is indifferent to pace, having led, run prominently and been held up while winning this season.
Another of the early previews and, with the defection of More Of That, this truly is a wide open affair: very, very tricky from a betting perspective. The World Hurdle preview is here. In it, I nominated the three Henderson horses, one of which - Beat That - has failed to make the line up.
In an unfathomable race, I'm happy to let those slips ride, and have no interest in supplementing the portfolio. I think this is probably the toughest betting heat of the week (Champion Bumper aside), and good luck if you're playing!
Likely Pace Angles:
This looks like being fast and furious from the outset. All of Cole Harden, Seeyouatmidnight, and Reve De Sivola like to lead, as usually does Abysial, and there is probably going to be a contest for that dubious honour. In fact, for a staying hurdle, there's any amount of pace in this race with most of the rest habitual prominent racers.
Suggested day of race play:
2 pts Beat That 12/1 NRNB (stakes returned)
1 pt Whisper 20/1 Non-Runner No Bet
1 pt Blue Fashion 20/1 Non-Runner No Bet
Best World Hurdle offers:
New racebets customers can get 14/1 Paul Nicholls to train the World Hurdle winner (has favourite Zarkandar, and 2nd fav Saphir Du Rheu). Click here for this offer.
4.00 Festival Plate
The Festival Plate, known this year as the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate (gulp), is a 2m5f handicap chase. It's been a Pipe benefit down the years, with father Martin winning it four times, and son David already possessing three Plates of his own in the last five years.
As such, Monetaire warrants close scrutiny. Monetaire runs in the colours of Allan Stennett, successful with Salut Flo and Ballynagour in the the last three years, and this looks a very similar type of horse.
All three had fairly exposed levels of form in France, before moving to the Pipe yard. Each won a race before their intended Plate date, and each was rested noticeably before turning up to win at the Festival.
So, the blueprint is there, and we know the trainer knows just how to get the job done. Monetaire looks likely to make another bold bid for experienced connections, despite a twelve pound hike after his win in a Class 2 handicap chase in late November.
Buywise will be popular too. A winner of four of his seven chase starts, Evan Williams' ex-hunter chaser had a prep run in a novice hurdle to preserve his rating of 146, earned before a close up fifth in the Paddy Power and maintained by that run.
He's been jobbed up for this all season - as have plenty of others, of course - and should give supporters a run for their pennies, even allowing for his trainer's one from 41 record at the Festival.
A few other trends to lob into the melting pot include:
25 of the 27 Plate winners were rated no higher than 141
Only one Irish-trained horse has ever won this
18 of the last 20 winners carried eleven stone or less
French-breds have been first or second in twelve of the last fourteen renewals
Though he may have too much weight, don't rule out Rajdhani Express. A winner of the novices' handicap chase two years ago, over this trip on the Old Course, Nicky Henderson's eight-year-old son of Presenting has been carefully choreographed through this season with this in mind. A drop of six pounds from his career high looks only fair, not generous, but we know conditions will be spot on.
Let us not forget that Rajdhani Express was third in the Ryanair over course and distance at last year's Festival. So, if any horse can defy the weight/rating stats, he has a sound chance.
Likely Pace Angles:
Kings Lad is the clear pace angle, and may get an easy lead. Those likely to follow are Make A Track, Rawnaq, Un Ace, and perhaps Hunt Ball.
Suggested Festival Plate play:
1 pt win Monetaire 7/1 bet365
1 pt win Rajdhani Express 12/1 Stan James
Best Festival Plate offers:
Look for enhanced place terms, bet365, skybet, Paddy, Ladbrokes, Betfair Sportsbook, and Racebets are all paying FIVE places.
4.40 Kim Muir Handicap Chase
A 3m2f amateur riders' handicap chase, and interest for me will be reserved for trying to notch a line or two of the placepot... assuming I'm still rolling at this late juncture!
That said, there are some strong patterns in a race that is growing in terms of both the quality of both the horses and the horsemanship. On the subject of the latter point, and closely related to the former, the non-claiming jockeys have a stranglehold on the podium positions. Indeed, they've thrown their beach towels over no fewer than 21 of the last 24 available win and place positions. That's from around half the riders.
As I say, it follows that connections want to snap up the best pilots for the best horses, so there's some causal reciprocity here. The weights range is becoming increasingly compressed for the Kim Muir as more and more owners clamour to get their horses a run at the Cheltenham Festival, and this seems to be favouring the classier young horses.
To prove that point, in between the 'no race' years of 1978 and 2001, the average age of the winner was 8.95, and the average weight carried was 10-07. But since that foot and mouth interlude at the turn of the century, the 13 Kim Muir's have been won by a horse aged on average 8.38, and lugging an average of 11-03.
So yes, younger, classier, sorts.
Prior to Spring Heeled's win last season, the Irish challenge has been muted in recent years. In fact, Jim Culloty's lad was the first Irish-trained winner for over thirty years.
One I really like, though not that young, is Masters Hill. I had him marked down for the Festival Chase on Tuesday, but he's come here instead. His trainer, Colin Tizzard, knows exactly how to win handicap chases at the Festival, and he's booked top amateur, Harry Bannister. Masters Hill wants quick ground, and he was good enough to be fifth in last year's Grade 1 Albert Bartlett. That's the best piece of form in the race so, while he lugs almost top weight, I think he has a fine chance. In fact, I'm disproportionately hopeful, given the context of the race conditions!
It doesn't take a genius to know that The Package will be tuned to the minute for this. Third in the Festival Chase last season, he has also been fourth and second in that race previously. So yes, he loves Festival handicap chases. This is his first attempt at the New Course in March, and it might be that the slightly stiffer stamina test is what he now needs (the trip is a furlong longer as well). Obvious player, with the National Hunt Chase-winning jockey, Jamie Codd, booked.
And at a bigger price, Sue Smith's Vintage Star might have a bit more to offer. Placed on five of his six good ground starts, he's yet to complete in two Festival spins (pulled up in 2013 RSA Chase, fell in Festival Chase last year), but still looks feasibly treated off a pound lower than his last winning mark. 28/1 with Stan James is too big.
The Irish may have won - and finished second - last year, but their overall record in this race is pretty patchy. As such, I'm more than happy to let the likes of Champagne James and Gold Bullet make the market for a Blighty-based blunderbuss...
Lots of others with chances but I'll stick with this trio.
Likely Pace Angles:
Looks likely that Benbane Head and The Nephew will press on, with any of Grand Vision, Guess Again, Sixty Something and possibly Just A Par and Across The Bay joining in too. In other words, it will likely be frenetic in the early go, and stamina-sapping by the end.
Suggested Kim Muir play:
1 pt win Master's Hill 14/1 general
1/2 pt e/w Vintage Star 28/1 SJ
1/2 pt e/w The Package bet365, Coral, Racebets (paying FIVE places)
Best Festival Plate offers:
Look for enhanced place terms, bet365, Coral, and Racebets are all paying FIVE places.
p.s. how's the Festival going for you so far? Leave a comment on the blog to let us know!
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.png00Matt Bisognohttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngMatt Bisogno2015-03-11 09:30:402015-03-12 09:10:55Cheltenham Festival 2015: Day Three Preview, Trends, Tips
Cheltenham Festival 2015: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips
After a fantastic day of sport - and for yours truly on the punting front on Tuesday - we turn our attention to the second of four days of battle.
Day Two, Wednesday, at the Cheltenham Festival, and there are seven more top class contests to look forward to, spearheaded by the Queen Mother Champion Chase. I lost 3,500 words to a computer malfunction when first penning Wednesday's preview, so this second iteration will be a tad shorter than usual. Apologies to some and, no doubt, relief for others!
We get underway at the traditional 1.30pm start time with the...
One of the strongest novice contests at the Festival, and historically a good portent of future Champion Hurdlers. Indeed, this was the Cheltenham launchpad for Messrs. I 'braq and H. Eustace to claim multiple blue riband titles.
It has also been a punter-friendly contest down the years with every winner bar Massinis Maguire (20/1) returning 12/1 or shorter going all the way back to Danoli in 1994.
The Irish have won half of the last dozen renewals, and again have a strong hand this time around.
Going back as far as 1997, all winners bar Massinis Maguire finished first (13) or second (3) last time out.
Horses aged five and six have won every renewal since 1999, albeit from a majority of the runners.
The favourite for this year's Neptune is Nichols Canyon, formerly a high class flat horse with John Gosden. He finished on the level rated 111, and is already on a perch of 148 over hurdles having been unbeaten when standing up, including in two Grade 1's.
He did unseat, when a 4/6 shot, in the Future Champions Novices' Hurdle, a mistake that looked a classic novice blunder. Although untried at the two mile five furlong trip, his breeding (by Authorized out of a Dalakhani mare) suggests he'll be more at home at it than the shorter distances he's faced thus far.
The one concern I have with Willie Mullins' star is that he wouldn't want the ground too quick. On the level, his three wins came on soft, soft and heavy (from ten starts, beaten all five starts on good to firm); and over hurdles he's yet to encounter anything faster than yielding turf.
In truth, I doubt it will be worse than good, and he should be fine with that, but it is something to keep in mind, based on the Tuesday race times. If not inconvenienced by the ground, he has a very good winning chance, as his odds imply.
Parlour Games and Outlander, a pair of seven-year-olds, are next in the market. Both are bidding to do what only French Holly (1998) since Brown Lad in 1974, and win aged older than six. It's not enough to exclude them automatically but it does constitute a knock.
In the case of Parlour Games, there are more knocks. First, he hasn't won in a big field over hurdles, and he has tried: soundly beaten in the Galway Hurdle when favoured at the weights, and turned over at fives-on in a nine runner Stratford novice. In fairness, he did win a big field Melrose Handicap on the flat, but he's more exposed than most, and not for me.
Outlander is an interesting Gigginstown runner, but he's yet to run a fast time and the balance of his form is probably seven to ten pounds shy of some others, so it's a big leap needed to bridge the gap.
Windsor Park's form ties in with both Nichols Canyon and Outlander, though he's been beaten by both. The likelihood is that the combination of quicker ground and a longer trip will eke further improvement, but that could also be true for the pair that have beaten him (though perhaps not the ground in the Canyon's case). For me, there isn't a big enough disparity in their prices to make Dermot Weld's runner a more attractive proposition.
Vyta Du Roc has been well backed this last week and, if you like Parlour Games, you have to like this lad too. He probably has more to come than his last day vanquisher, but I just don't see that form as being as good as the Irish.
Two others worth a second look are Ordo Ab Chao and Beast Of Burden. The former is trained by Alan King, whose record in Festival non-handicap hurdles is very good (five wins, twelve places, from 60 starters). A win in the Grade 2 trial of the same name on good to soft suggests that trip and ground will be no issue, and he's of mild interest at 14/1.
Rebecca Curtis' Beast Of Burden is the same price, and he looks a highly progressive novice. A winner by almost a distance on debut, his only defeat came when the stable was going through a lean spell. Since then, he's won twice more, most recently when beating the smart (if possible bleeder?) Mendip Express eleven lengths. He's not been tried above Class 3 yet, but that's not to say he's not up to it.
Likely Pace Angles:
It's far from clear who will lead here, and there could be a muddling pace. Saying that, Wullie wuns two and it's possible that Outlander could cut out the donkey work.
1 pt win Nichols Canyon to win any Festival race 6/1 Hills
Happily, I at least previewed one race on this card previously, and my RSA Chase preview is here. I'd be fairly happy with the selections there. Deputy Dan doesn't run - half a point lost - and Apache Jack is around the same price now as he was when nominated. But Southfield Theatre has halved in odds, and looks a real threat to favourite Don Poli.
Now Don Poli's target is known, he's worth a saver if you followed my previous advice. That's because, despite his youth and inexperience, he has looked a classy animal to date. His staying on defeat of Apache Stronghold in the Grade 1 Topaz at Christmas is good form. Against that, he's not been seen since, and there are a few negatives gathering together. Like I say, a saver.
A couple of horses that have been beating handicappers and deserve respect as a consequence are The Young Master and If In Doubt. The former has been highly progressive in three mile chases, even though he's bred for a mile on the flat! Infamously deprived of a smooth win in the Badger Ales Chase, he bagged deserved compensation when taking a Listed handicap chase from hardened 'capper, Houblon Des Obeaux at Ascot.
That form puts him right in the picture, but there is a niggle about him not being seen since before Christmas.
If In Doubt has slipped under most people's radars, the Philip Hobbs-trained, JP McManus-owned, AP McCoy-ridden beast 'only' winning a Listed handicap chase to date. That SkyBet Chase win took him up to a rating of 149, however, and that makes him a player. He ran a solid race in defeat at the Festival last year, but the worry with him is that he's a moderate jumper: the fences at Cheltenham are good bit tougher than at Donny!
Likely Pace Angles:
Kings Palace, Southfield Theatre and Apache Jack all look to be on the front, so this could be a) fast, and b) interesting!
1 pt Southfield Theatre 14/1
1 pt Apache Jack 25/1
1/2 pt Deputy Dan 50/1 non-runner
Day of Race Pick:
1 pt win Don Poli 5/2
Best RSA Chase offers:
If you like any horse bar Don Poli, you can get a free bet to the same stake if your pick wins, with Betfair Sportsbook (applies to winners with an SP of 3/1 or more).
2.40 Coral Cup
Obviously really trappy, and my angle in is the fine performance of highly weighted young horses (i.e. class horses open to further improvement) in recent years. To wit, since 2006 five winners (from 56 runners) were aged five or six and carried eleven stone or more to victory. Moreover, a further eight were placed. Betting win only at SP was worth 37 points profit, and each way was worth 53.75 points profit (from twice as many staked units).
My shortlist then is Volnay De Thaix, Garde La Victoire, Lac Fontana, and Activial. In my original piece I argued the pro's and con's for all of them, but this time you'll have to believe me that the most credible case looks to be for Lac Fontana, though Activial is respected if short enough in the betting.
Lac Fontana won the County Hurdle last term, and did very well to overcome a troubled passage, and to wear down the game Arctic Fire, a horse that worked his way into Champion Hurdle contention this season. He's been given a perfect prep by trainer Paul Nicholls, with two runs in Graded company (behind Faugheen and Rock On Ruby) maintaining his mark of 151. His County win was off 148 so if he stays, he must have a fine chance again.
Activial was third in both the Betfair and Ladbroke Hurdles, and they are fiercely competitive heats. After just six starts, this lad obviously can give more, but whether the horse named after a probiotic yoghurt is worth playing at the price, only you can say. He's not for me because he's too short, but he could appreciate this longer trip.
Gordon Elliott had Tiger Roll in here, who I liked, but his sole representative will be Taglietelle, a horse which has been lightly raced and won a charity race as a prep for this (no penalties there!). Everything Gordon Elliott runs in a handicap hurdle has to be respected and this lad is no different.
And one really interesting horse on old form is Un Atout. A Grade 1 winner over hurdles as recently as three starts back, he's had two fluffed attempts at fences since his return from a long break, and might spark into life now reverting to timber-topping. At the prices, he's worth a small tickle in case.
Likely Pace Angles:
Plinth and Barizan are nailed on to go at it from the get go. As such, this could be a strung out field passing the judge first time.
1 pt win Lac Fontana 20/1
1/2 pt win Taglietelle 16/1
1/2 pt win Un Atout 16/1
Best Coral Cup offers:
Look for a bookie paying five, or preferably six, places. Sponsors Coral are paying SIX places - fair play to them - to bet with them if they're price competitive.
3.20 Queen Mother Champion Chase
I spent a good amount of time in my initial post pouring cold water over the chance of, well, basically all of the runners in this race for physically and mentally challenged equines.
The top two in the betting have both spent time in the sick house this season (and, in the case of Sprinter Sacre, last season too). Sprinter was rated 188 in his pomp, and ran to just 162 when second in the Clarence House Chase at Ascot on his comeback. If he can improve seven pounds on that he will probably win. But he finds nothing off the bridle - no issue when you're a 188 horse, but a bit of a concern when you're 26 pounds below that level in a Championship Grade 1, even one as porous as this - and he bled from the nose last time.
Even a "low level bleed" is an issue for me, because this is a horse with the most well-documented medical records in the world right now. Further ailments are not what he needs. No thanks.
Sire De Grugy is a great horse - like Sprinter Sacre (OK, not as great as that one was) - and he enjoyed a fantastic wide margin win over a poor Champion Chase field last year. He would appear to be more obviously over his early season setback, judging by his Chepstow victory in a handicap off a mark of 172. But he did little more than he was entitled to there, and he seems a more fragile proposition this year than last. Corns, special shoes, and other hoof-related miscellany are not the stuff of confident wagering, but then this is not a race in which any sane person can announce they've made a confident wager.
He could win it and, to my eye, he's probably the most likely winner. But he's not a bet at the price. Nothing is!
Dodging Bullets seems to regress through the season so, while he has indisputably the best form this season - back to back wins in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek and Clarence House Chases - he may not replicate that level and, even if he does, it may not be enough.
The chance of Champagne Fever hinges on his affection for the course: wins in the Champion Bumper and the Supreme Novices' Hurdle were supplemented with an 'all but' win in the Arkle last year. That was the closest he's got in four Grade 1 chase starts to a win and, even in the Sicknote Dodgepot Derby that this has become, he's not tempting at the price. (I've backed him at 16's for small money, but would be looking for around 8's now).
Mr Mole surely can't win a Champion Chase. Fifteen career starts and no Grade 1 runs, let alone wins. His victory over Upsilon Bleu (who?) was as hollow as the famous 'Bottom' establishment not five miles from Chelters, and I will be shocked if he's good enough, even against the crocks and the swerves lining up here.
If you're sufficiently psychotic to fancy a bet in this race, then here's a commensurately psychotic suggestion: back Somersby each way. Yes, he's 95 years old (well, eleven). Yes, he last won when results were relayed on 'the blower' (OK, November 2013, nine starts back). And yes, he's a bit of a clumsy fencer. But he has at least shown up for all the big dances in recent times, and been good enough to run second in the Tingle Creek this season (and, indeed, last season), and the Champion Chase last season.
Honestly, it feels like that sort of race...
Likely Pace Angles:
Special Tiara looks nailed on to lead, and Somersby may follow him round. If Mr Mole traps on terms, he'll be up there too, and Champagne Fever won't be far away. This should make for a solid tempo to the race, and offer the likes of Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy every chance to show their former colours haven't yet faded.
Outsider for pennies:
1/4 pt e/w Somersby 40/1 general
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Money back as a free bet if Sire De Grugy wins the Champion Chase. Max stake £50. Click the banner to get this offer.
4.00 Cross Country Chase
Normally one of the best betting races of the Festival for me, I have to concede to not having much of a clue this time around. Any Currency has a mountain to climb at the weights but has at least proven many times his fondness for the ever decreasing circles of this quirky course.
French raider Toutancarmont has inexperience to overcome: he's never raced on the course before and it's a rarity that such a nag prevails. But he has more than that to deal with, as he looks to be better suited to softer turf. Of course, it may just be that that's the racing surface he's forced to work with in France, and in fairness he has won on good to soft, when he beat Maljimar a length at Le Lions d'Angers.
The question is, does that level of form equate to winning a Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase? The answer is, unhelpfully, I don't know. It's tempting, in the face of so much "this can't win, that can't win" projecting to side with a sexy 'dark horse', and who knows, perhaps it's the right call. But I can't remember a French horse running better than third (Pasquini Rouge) in one of these, and I can't remember such a horse showing up for the Festival edition ever.
[OK, I checked. Sacree Tiepy (8/1) was 6th in 2013; and Quezac De La Roque (20/1) was 5th in 2011. So it's possible.]
Sire Collonges has had plenty of tries, and could win, though he's not brilliantly handicapped; while Duke Of Lucca is fairly handicapped but that doesn't account for his sloppy jumping and inability to quicken at the sharp end of his races.
Quantitiveeasing was beaten at odds on in the PP Hogan, a key trial, and hasn't won since December 2011 (twenty starts back!). A capable horse on his day, supporting this lad requires a leap of faith even accounting for the finest of connections: Mr Banks himself, Enda Bolger, trains; and Mr Green'n'Gold'nballs, JP McManus, owns.
One that might be worth a tiny tickle at a decent price is Ipsos Du Berlais. This fellow wasn't beaten far at Punchestown in the PP Hogan, and a stamina test on decent ground looks right up his street, something he demonstrated when second in a Grade C handicap chase over the Irish National course and distance. That was the last time he encountered ground with the word 'good' in it, and the 'good' time before that was when he was fourth in the Grade 1 Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree.
Now, true, that was a moon or two ago. But in a race full of swerve balls and the occasional curve ball, he could greet the conditions like a dearly loved and long lost friend.
Likely Pace Angles:
Pace? What pace? This is the Cross Country race! OK, probably Sire Collonges, Any Currency, and Master Rajeem. But, in all probability, they'll bimble round until the inner circuit and then dash up the hill.
Small each way play:
1/2 pt e/w Ipsos Du Berlais
Best Cross Country Chase offers:
4.40 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
I'm not going to spend a lot of time on this race. The last three winners have been 25/1, 33/1 and 40/1, and the last four winners failed to make the frame last time out between them.
However, I do have a couple of angles in. First up, flat form. The top rated flat runner has done well in this race (for instance, What A Charm and Dabiroun). Secondly, trainers. David Pipe has had a winner and four places from 11 starters. And Gordon Elliott had a win and a place from five starters. He would almost certainly have had at least another place if Clarcam had stood up last year.
That takes me to Unanimite, top rated on the level (94) and trained now by David Pipe; and Thunder Zone, for Gordon Elliott (former assistant to the Pipe's incidentally!)
Unanimite was a Listed performer in France before his acquisition to go hurdling. A winner on timber debut at Market Rasen, he's been beaten in both subsequent starts, and I suspect that was all part of the plan. A narrow defeat to Startichect on the flat plains of Aintree was followed by a perfectly respectable seven length fourth to Golden Doyen here in the Grade 2 Prestbury Juvenile Hurdle. After that, connections must have been happy with their mark because they went to the all weather for a spin around Wolverhampton back in December.
Not quite a racecourse gallop - he was quoted in the betting and it was an actual race - Unanimite was beaten less than four lengths there. The time off is a bit of a worry, but this is a handler who has few peers when it comes to readying one off a break, and I'd imagine the son of Kentucky Dynamite will be rock hard fit when the tapes rise. Owner Simon Munir won this with Une Artiste three years ago.
Gordon Elliott has a better fancied runner in the shape of Hostile Fire, but I prefer Graded form in defeat to winning maiden hurdle form in the context of a race like this. Hostile Fire won at the third time of asking in maiden company, beating the frustrating (screwy?) Zafayan, a nag that has now been second or third in its last five starts - and as favourite in the last two (odds on last time out - ouch).
That gives the form a questionable look: even though the team at Longwood know exactly the time to day, it wouldn't surprise me if Thunder Zone shows more. Rated 79 after his three placed runs on the flat - the same as Hostile Fire achieved after fourteen flat runs - it was interesting to note that, at the five day stage, Thunder Zone had first choice jockey, Bryan Cooper, booked.
That could comfortably be a red herring, but Thunder Zone's form looks a) better and b) open to more improvement. After all, he's had ten less career starts than Hostile Fire. Thunder Zone's best run on the flat was on good ground, and in four hurdle starts he's yet to encounter anything other than soft. Despite that, he's run seven lengths third to Dicosimo, and twelve lengths second to Kitten Rock, the latter in a Grade 2, and he looks very fairly treated for a trainer who specializes in this type of race.
The likes of All Yours, Zarib and Arabian Revolution could all run well, but I'll take the plotmeisters for small interests.
Likely Pace Angles:
Hard to be definitive in this one, though Golden Doyen and Sebastian Beach may make it. The Wallace Line, Buiseness Sivola, The Saint James, and Gwencily Berbas might be others to step forwards.
Two against the field:
1 pt win Unanimite 16/1
1 pt win Thunder Zone 20/1
Best Fred Winter offers:
Look for a bookie paying five places. Racebets may be the only one...
5.15 Champion Bumper
This is a guessers' paradise, and I'm afraid I just don't know. The best piece of form is probably Moon Racer's demolition of a decent looking field back in October. However, despite the impressive nature of his win, it's worth noting that just one of the 23 subsequent runners from that race has gone on to win since, which gives the form a pretty weak look.
I imagine Bordini will be the pick of the Mullins squad, and I imagine he'll make the frame at least. I might have a small win bet, just for interest. But anything more than that is plain daft. After all, there's a full card from Kempton to come in the evening! 😉
The other worth a tiny push is Jetstream Jack. He won his only start, beating a horse called Anibale Fly by a length and a bit, with daylight back to the rest. The second has since won well - by more than six lengths - with a couple of well backed horses seen off. True, it was a very slowly run contest, but at the prices, I'm happy to throw a bean, win only, in his direction.
Likely Pace Angles:
Wouldn't be confident to say in a field of thoroughly unexposed, largely once-raced, types.
1/2 pt win Bordini 7/1
1/4 pt win Jetstream Jack 25/1
Best Champion Bumper offers:
Some bookies are paying four places, which attests to the toughness of the puzzle. bet365, Skybet, totesport, Betfred, PP, Ladbrokes, Betfair Sportsbook, Betway and Racebets are. Betbright are paying 1/5 1-2-3 - don't bet each way with them!
p.s. how's the Festival going for you so far? Good luck? Bad luck? Sporting highlights? Leave a comment on the blog to let us know!
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.png00Matt Bisognohttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngMatt Bisogno2015-03-10 19:13:042015-03-11 09:37:48Cheltenham Festival 2015: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips
Cheltenham Festival 2015: Day One Preview, Trends, Tips
The biggest event in National Hunt racing is finally upon us once more, and the collective noisy exhalation as the tapes rise for race one - the Supreme Novices' Hurdle - will be enough to extinguish many an inferno, such is the joy and anticipation engendered by these four days in the Cotswolds.
Seven races make up the Tuesday card, four of them Grade 1 contests, and Willie Mullins has robust claims in all of that top notch quartet.
And there is a new bet which might be of interest to some (it is to me!). The Irish Tote are offering a Pick 4 on the first four races (Supreme, Arkle, Festival Handicap Chase, Champion Hurdle). Find out more here.
1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle Preview
I previewed the Supreme Novices' on 17th February, nominating a couple at huge prices in Seedling and Silver Concorde, both of which were 33/1 at the time. I also threw in 6/1 Nichols Canyon to win any race at the Festival, with his final target being unknown at that time. Two of those are now shorter propositions to hit their respective targets, though Silver Concorde has not been declared.
Douvan remains the most likely winner, his easy victories to date in decent times supplementing a home reputation where trainer Willie Mullins has called him "as nice a horse as we’ve ever had going to Cheltenham". Given that Mullins has 33 Cheltenham Festival winners already in the locker, that's some statement.
Now, of course, the run up to the Festival is renowned for enough hot air to fuel a transatlantic balloon race; but still, such a statement from the normally measured Closutton trainer needs respecting.
The plot is thickened by similarly bullish noises emerging from the Seven Barrows camp of second favourite, L'Ami Serge. His trainer, Nicky Henderson, has been quoted thus: "I am not saying L’Ami Serge is the best I‘ve ever had but he’s looked good in all his starts. He’s been very professional and has everything you look for and better ground will suit him.”
Sound bites can cloud judgement, and it is probable that both will have to record a career high to claim the opening race prize. But that's a comment which applies to the rest of the field too, and the top two in the market have to make smaller leaps than most.
In a race perennially typified by unexposed 'could be anything' types, and with bookmakers offering generous concessions to those backing losers - or losers behind Douvan - it's worth shopping around and taking a punt on whatever you like.
Likely Pace Angles:
A couple that like to get on with it, in Some Plan and one of Willie's four, Tell Us More. Douvan and Sizing John might also race up with the pace, and it looks likely to be a very stern test from the tape rise.
Suggested day of race play: Back Douvan for £25 with Hills and anything else for £50 with Paddy. If Douvan wins, you'll collect at Hills and get your money back (as a free bet) on the Paddy loser. If Douvan doesn't win, you have a chance with Paddy and get your money back (as a free bet) with Hills.
Place a £20 win or £10 each way bet on the Supreme, and get a free £5 bet for every winner Ruby Walsh rides on Tuesday. Click here to get this offer.
2.05 Arkle Challenge Trophy Preview
Another of the early preview races, the Arkle was considered on 26th January here, and Vibrato Valtat advised each way. He was nominated at 20/1, and is now around 5/1, so we have the value at the very least.
That value has long evaporated, and with Un De Sceaux hovering around the 4/6 mark, he's hardly an attractive proposition either, especially given that he bids to become just the second front runner in the last 34 Arkles to prevail.
Still, both have solid chances, particularly UDS, as any ratings agency will tell you. But Mullins' second hotpot of Day One has yet to race at Cheltenham, and this is a track where plenty of tall reputations are unhinged. He is the most likely winner - by some considerable margin - but he can't be a bet at the price, unless you have a lot of sixes that you're prepared to lose in pursuit of fours...
Each way a quarter the odds, or betting without UDS, are both interesting markets. And I'm tempted to top up my ante-post play on Vibrato Valtat with a day of race interest in Court Minstrel. He's unexposed, and can be forgiven his most recent defeat on account of the soft ground. Back on quicker turf, and with Cheltenham form in the book, 33/1 is attractive.
For pennies, Gods Own could come back to a bit of his early season form on spring ground, but it's a fair old leap of faith.
And the final option is to make an each way bet with Paddy, perhaps on one of those mentioned above, who offer money back as a free bet on the win part if Un De Sceaux scores, up to £50.
Likely Pace Angles:
Un De Sceaux will go from the tape according to all known thinking. But there are others that like to lead too: Dunraven Storm, God's Own, and Sail By The Sea have all been leading in their chase careers to date.
Suggested day of race play: Back your fancy (perhaps Court Minstrel) each way up to £50 with Paddy. If Un De Sceaux wins, you'll get your money back (as a free bet) on the Paddy loser. If Un De Sceaux doesn't win, you have a chance of the win as well as the place with Paddy.
The first handicap of the week, and I'm not ashamed to admit I find Cheltenham Festival handicaps a little beyond me. That said, with ten of the last fourteen runnings of this race going to a horse priced 10/1 or shorter, shy punters such as myself have a bit of a chance.
12/17 winners since 1997 finished 1-2-3 last time out, and last time out winners specifically have a very good record (seven winners from 60 runners, and a profit of 23 points at SP).
Horses aged seven to ten have won all bar one of those seventeen renewals (94%), from 77% of the runners.
Only one of the 75 horses rated above 145 has won.
Ned Stark is a leading fancy, and he ticks the boxes too. A novice - novices have a fine record - Alan King's seven year old has run just four times over fences, winning three of those events, including a Grade 2 over this trip last time. Most of his form is on soft ground, but he has won on good to soft.
He's open to further improvement, and looks a solid play, especially given King's record in the race: two wins and a third (plus Bensalem, who was travelling like the winner when falling two out) since 2004.
Jonjo O'Neill also has a great race record, with three wins from just eight runners since 2009. Even with that impressive CV, it's hard to get too excited about either Dursey Sound or Lost Legend, at 40/1 and 50/1 respectively. The former is four pounds lower than when second on fast ground in a Listed handicap chase at Market Rasen last September, form which is mildly compelling but doesn't look good enough; the latter has run as though this trip is beyond his stamina reach.
JP McManus loves a winner at Cheltenham - don't we all?! - and he's got more than just Dursey Sound in here. Indeed, the main plunge of the week has been on his Pendra, trained by Charlie Longsdon. Third in the novices' handicap chase that closes the Tuesday card last year, he's been held back for this since a fair - but no better than that - fourth of eight at Newbury in late November. That's a long break and, although the wind op has been levied since, he's too short to bet despite potential to step forward after just six chase starts.
More speculatively, The Druids Nephew stays well and has decent track form, and Barrakilla could improve for the step up in trip. But I'm happy to punt Ned Stark for small money.
Likely Pace Angles:
Annacotty, Azure Fly, Black Thunder, and What A Warrior all go from the front, but this has the look of a bit of a strung out field in the early part of the race. Those who race close to the pace could be favoured, and that brings in the likes of Ned Stark, Smart Freddy, The Druid's Nephew, Barakilla and Indian Castle amongst others.
Tips: Ned Stark 8/1 general
Best Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase offers:
Look for a bookmaker paying enhanced place odds. Winner Sports, bet365, BetVictor and Betfair Sportsbook are all paying five places at time of writing.
3.15 Champion Hurdle
The Champion Hurdle is the feature on Day One, and the pinnacle for a speed hurdler. In what has the look of a transitional season, Faugheen has seized the market initiative with a bulldozing dominance that has seen him win all eight of his careers starts without coming off the bridle.
That octet includes the Grade 1 Neptune Novices' Hurdle at last year's Cheltenham Festival, and that race has been a solid portent to future Champion Hurdlers, with the likes of Istabraq and Hardy Eustace going on to win multiple Blue Ribands.
Faugheen has a bit to find on the book, of that there is little doubt, but it is the manner of his wins as much as the horses he's beaten that really stands out. His wins include a trio of Grade 1 scores, where the in running comments concluded with the following phrases: "drew clear before last, ridden out", "very easily", and "impressive".
I am rarely taken with the manner of a horse's victories - just as well, because I wouldn't consider myself a judge of such things - but I did have the biggest bet in my portfolio for Cheltenham this year on Faugheen at 8/1 after that Punchestown demolition job.
He has been off the track a long time now - since Boxing Day - and he has to take on tougher opponents, but he clearly has more in the tank. If any bookie is brave enough to offer north of 6/4, he's a bet. At the moment, he's probably a bit skinny, though comfortably the most likely winner to my eye.
The New One is the horse I cannot have. If he wins, fair enough, I got it wrong. But I just don't think his form amounts to all that much. If Faugheen has been beating up inferiors, he's at least done it with zest. Whereas TNO's struggle to get by 149-rated Bertimont (who?!) gives him a stone and more to find with Faugheen on a line through Purple Bay.
Now I'm not for a minute suggesting that inference of collateral form is correct, but it does rather detract from the claims of the second favourite. Prior to that he beat Vaniteux less than five lengths in a race working out appallingly; and before that he won a Class 2 beating Zamdy Man, no better than a Grade 3 horse. Keep going back and he beat Hint Of Mint, 0 from 4 since, by just over two lengths.
Despite his ostensibly unlucky run in last season's Champion Hurdle, I simply cannot see how he is the 3/1 second favourite. That Champion Hurdle run showed that he probably wants more of a trip, as when winning the Neptune two years ago. He just doesn't have the pace of Faugheen, nor the class. At least, I don't think he does.
Jezki is hard to fathom. He's the reigning champ, and he's not had his conditions since. Fair enough, but he was the beneficiary of a brilliant Geraghty ride last year, and I don't believe that McCoy has the finesse to pull off some of the stunts that BJG and Ruby do. McCoy is more driven, and better at galvanizing horses, but Ruby and Barry are better horsemen and, dare I say it, better race riders. In my opinion.
Still, he looks highly likely for the frame, and 5/1 each way will show a positive return for a podium finish, with a bit of a chance of claiming top honours. If there is any value in this market - and I don't think there probably is - then he'd be it.
Hurricane Fly will not be quick enough. He's obviously an incredible horse: a horse of a generation. But aged eleven, against a tuned-to-the-moment Jezki and the machine called Faugheen, he's not going to win. Like Jezki, he might make the frame, but he's only the right price at 8/1 and not a value one.
I feel that Arctic Fire has been flattered by his proximity to the Fly and Jezki this season, and I don't expect him to hit the board, and the rest surely don't count. This really ought to be all about Fo-heeeeen!
Likely Pace Angles:
Faugheen can make his own running if necessary, though Kitten Rock does have the look of a spoiler with the aim to set things up for Jezki. Of course, Faugheen doesn't need to lead so may sit tight behind any trailblazing tactics.
Tips: Faugheen if 6/4 or bigger, otherwise watch a great race with a valueless (to my eye) market
Suggested day of race play: Look out for bookies trying to 'get' Faugheen, and take any 6/4+. Take your pick in the 'without' market especially if, like me, you're against The New One.
Get 4/1 Faugheen to win the Champion Hurdle (settled at SP in cash, enhanced odds paid in free bets). Min/Max stake £10. Click here to get this offer.
4.00 Mares' Hurdle
No Quevega this year but, even without the winner of six of the seven Mares' Hurdles, her trainer Willie Mullins has a ready-made replacement in the shape of Annie Power, who will win this barring accidents.
Her best trip is two and a half miles, she is rated half a stone and more superior to her field, and she's only been beaten once - when a close second in the World Hurdle last term. Whether she failed to stay or not is a moot point. What is clear is that she loves this trip and this ground, and she has proven she acts on the track.
She might add 50% to any other wager you care to strike during the Festival or beyond, or for the more loaded guns, she might be playable to win plenty, as she still retains a soupçon (or perhaps a scintilla) of value in my view.
Alternatively, we can bet each way, without the favourite, or have a cut at an exacta. Glens Melody is credible but terribly short at 7/2 despite a facile Listed race win at Warwick last time. She was flattered by her three-quarter length proximity to Quevega last year, that one being the recipient of a rare moderate ride from Ruby and having to work very hard to make up her ground.
One that I like, despite a 106 day absence, is the 2013 Aintree 4yo Hurdle winner, L'Unique. She was third in the race last year, having been given a fairly tender ride I felt. She is held up in her races and, with a few mares likely to push on from the get go, the race could fall apart nicely for her. 8/1 without Annie Power looks a fair bet.
Polly Peachum, who is above L'Unique in the market but below Glens Melody, has been off for as long as the suggested 'without' wager, having pulled up in the same race. She probably wants a bit further than this, and could be outpaced. Similar comments apply to Carole's Spirit, who might want cut underfoot too.
Likely Pace Angles:
A big field of 16 declared, and a few that habitually run from the front, including Annie Power. She's joined in the early pace group by Bitofapuzzle, Carole's Spirit (who I can see trying to make this as stern a stamina test as she can, given she wants three miles), and Sureness.
Tips: Annie Power looks very likely to win. And L'Unique may offer each way or 'without' value.
Suggested day of race play: L'Unique each way without Annie Power, at 7/1 Skybet (1/4 1-2-3)
Mares' Hurdle offers:
4.40 National Hunt Chase
Four miles, 25 fences, novice chasers, amateur jockeys: if your idea of a Cheltenham bet is in this race, you're a braver (or more foolhardy) man or woman than me!
That said, and despite the precarious race conditions, it has been a punter-friendly race since the class ceiling was relaxed. Changes in 2002, 2006 and 2010 have brought about four winners at 5/1 or shorter in that time.
That, however, needs to be balanced by the presence of a 40/1 winner, two more at 33/1 and a further victor returning 25/1 in the same period. The coin spins a final time to reflect the fact that the last four winners were priced 8/1 or shorter, and the last seven were 14/1 or shorter.
Grade 1 form seems to be more material now the race is open to classier animals, and interestingly young horses (specifically five- and six-year-olds) are one from 67 since 1989 (thanks to Paul Jones for that stat). That counts against Very Wood, Cogry and Vivaldi Collonges.
I have to be honest and say this race doesn't interest me a great deal, even now it's a classier affair. Very Wood was a bet I made for the RSA Chase non-runner money back, and I'm disappointed to see him turn up here. He does stay, however, and he won a Grade 1 last year, so if he can jump round he's an obvious chance, albeit one factored entirely into his price of 7/2. He absolutely needs quick ground and his form on deeper can be totally forgotten.
Alan King's Sego Success is next in the betting. Winner of his last two, the latter a Listed novices' chase on soft ground, he'll have the considerable services of Sam Waley-Cohen, the Gold Cup-winning amateur. But there are reservations for me. First, he's been winning on flat tracks, second he's been winning on soft ground, and third he's by Beneficial who doesn't get progeny that stay four miles. (In fact, he's had just two winners beyond 3m3f, from 106 runners, and one of those was at 3m4f - 6/4 chance Salsify in the 2012 Stratford Champion Foxhinters'. The other was Beneficial's very first runner at a marathon distance, GVA Ireland, in the 2006 Midlands Grand National).
Next in at around 8/1 are The Job Is Right and Cause Of Causes. Both are Irish-trained, and both have very good amateur jockeys aboard. The Job Is Right ran second to Very Wood in a fair Galway novices' chase on good to yielding, but that was over 2m6f. Despite winning on softer at three miles, this is an entirely different test. He did have decent quick ground form over hurdles, but it's not in the same league as Very Wood.
Cause Of Causes is very experienced, with 26 career starts, ten over fences. He was a close second to Spring Heeled in the Kim Muir last year at the Festival, which proves a) he goes on quick ground, b) he has some class, and c) he goes well for an amateur. As such, he has to be on the shortlist for this race.
The top official rated in the race is Sandra Hughes' Thunder And Roses. Third behind Very Wood in a Grade 2 last time, the problem with this potentially emotional winner (trained by the daughter of the late Dessie Hughes) is that all his best form is on softer.
Willie Mullins runs the King's Theatre gelding, Perfect Gentleman, and his son rides. But he doesn't look likely to stay this far, and is a bit of a sticky jumper in any case.
No, by a process of elimination, this does look good for the jolly. And the each way play, if such a thing excites you, looks very likely to be Cause Of Causes, who will probably be backed as a result of his form last year at the Festival.
Likely Pace Angles:
Royal Palladium and I Need Gold should force the pace. Perfect Candidate, The Job Is Right and Vivaldi Collonges could be in the next group, and possibly Perfect Gentleman if not held up to get the trip. Very Wood will likely not be too far from the pace as well. Cause Of Causes looks likely to play his hand fairly late in what might be an attritional affair, on the second circuit at least.
1pt win Very Wood
1/2 pt e/w Cause Of Causes
National Hunt Chase offers:
None so far, but look out for a bookie paying four places if you're betting each way.
5.15 Novices' Handicap Chase
One of the newest races at the Festival, the clamour for places in the field has led to a most compressed handicap in the past couple of years. In 2013, just eight pounds separated top and bottom weight; last year it was nine pounds; and this year it is a mere six.
As such, all horses can be said to have publicly demonstrated very similar levels of ability to date. The winner, though, will be the one best suited to conditions and, tellingly, who has kept the most talent under wraps.
It is therefore no surprise that eight of the ten winners of this race failed to score on either of their first two chase starts; that eight of the ten winners were first or second last time out; and that five of the last six winners were making their handicap chase débuts. Such is the nature of this race.
Those with attractive profiles in that context include Generous Ransom, Thomas Crapper, Horizontal Speed and Keltus.
Nick Gifford's Generous Ransom has won over the distance and at the course, and his best form is on the soft side of good. He failed to win on his first two chase starts, and was perhaps unsuited by the flat track test at Kempton betwixt soft ground victories at stiffer Sandown and Cheltenham. He looks an obvious player.
Mouse Morris runs the consistent Dromnea, winner of two of his six chases and third in the other four, the most recent of which was a Grade 2. He looks as though his best trip is two and a half miles, but he also looks like he needs soft or heavy ground to perform optimally.
This is a race the Irish have won just once, and I'd be thinking they'll still be looking for strike two when dusk shades the sky tomorrow evening.
Horizontal Speed looks a contender. Placed efforts behind Golden Hoof, Southfield Theatre and Saphir Du Rheu in his first trio of chases read well enough - though he was beaten miles in the middle run - and he got off the mark comfortably when slamming Red Devil Boys over this trip and on this ground in early January.
A 59 day absence is not insurmountable, and trainer Philip Hobbs has a fine recent Festival record, scoring with three handicap chasers since 2010. When you consider that Horizontal Speed was first or second in nine of ten bumpers and hurdle races earlier in his career, he becomes quite attractive.
Thomas Crapper has been well supported, and both he and Keltus have chances, sneaking in as they do at the bottom of the weights. Robin Dickin's lad is yet to win in five chase starts to date, but second place runs behind Vibrato Valtat, Three Kingdoms and Irish Saint, and a close third to Court Minstrel, read extremely well in the handicap context. This was his trip over hurdles, and he was second in the Martin Pipe handicap last season. Definite chance.
Keltus runs for Paul Nicholls, and has a similar profile. Fourth in the Fred Winter last term, he's been looked after in three novice chases this season, most notably when close up behind Court Minstrel. Although his trainer's record in Festival chases in recent seasons is lamentable, that's likely down to happenstance more than an ebbing of ability in the Ditcheat handler. Thus, Keltus merits serious consideration.
Likely Pace Angles:
Stellar Notion could get a soft lead even in a field this big. That said, Keltus, Killala Quay, Golden Hoof and Horizontal Speed are all capable of taking a turn on the front. Interestingly, perhaps, Thomas Crapper has led twice and been held up twice in his last four runs. On his winning runs he has assumed a variety of positions, and that pace agnosticism should help him.
1pt Thomas Crapper at 8/1 Coral
1/2 pt Horizontal Speed at 16/1 Skybet, Boyle, Betfair Sportsbook
1/2 pt Keltus at 12/1 Ladbrokes
Novices' Handicap Chase offers:
Look for a bookmaker paying five places.
BetVictor and Betfair Sportsbook are already five places, and there are sure to be more following suit.
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.png00Matt Bisognohttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngMatt Bisogno2015-03-09 15:44:462015-03-09 18:49:49Cheltenham Festival 2015: Day One Preview, Trends, Tips
With the 2015 Cheltenham Festival just a few days away, four racing experts (well, three and me!) got together on a video link up to discuss the big meeting. Below the video is a 'running order' so if you're pressed for time you can go to the races of most interest.
All the big races - Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, World Hurdle and Gold Cup - are covered in detail, and there are some really interesting shouts for the handicap races too. Lots of well reasoned Cheltenham Festival video preview content!
Cheltenham Festival 2015 Video Preview highlights:
00:00 Hyperbolic introductions!
04:30 Champion Hurdle
17:25 Queen Mother Champion Chase
39:35 World Hurdle
48:45 Cheltenham Gold Cup
1:01:45 Cheltenham Festival Handicaps
1:17:45 RSA Chase
1:20:30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle
1:22:20 Arkle Challenge Trophy
1:25:10 Mares' Hurdle
1:26:30 General Festival betting advice
1:27:30 Ryanair Chase
1:30:00 Life changing Cheltenham Festival acca!!!
And, if you prefer, here's an audio podcast version of the recording:
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.png00Matt Bisognohttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngMatt Bisogno2015-03-05 09:21:102015-03-05 09:33:19Cheltenham Festival 2015: Video Preview
Due off three weeks today, the first of 27 races at the Cheltenham Festival and arguably the most anticipated in the entire calendar, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle is a two mile half a furlong novice hurdle.
In recent times, it has been a great scene setter for the annual battle for supremacy between Britain and Ireland, with the Supreme score locked at 5-5 over the past decade.
Supreme Novices Hurdle Trends
With a little help from horseracebase.com, below are some trends which may help whittle the contenders from the pretenders in this year's Supreme. All relate to the last seventeen renewals going back to Shadow Leader in 1997 (no meeting in 2001 due to the foot and mouth outbreak).
Age: 14/17 winners (82%) were aged five or six, from... 82% of the runners! Age is unlikely to be a factor.
Last time out:
Finishing Position: 15/17 Supreme winners also won last time out. That represents 88% of the winners, from just 41% of the runners. Don't make excuses for a defeat the last day...
Days since a run: 15/17 Supreme winners last ran between 16 and 60 days ago. That's 88% of the winners from 74% of the runners. None of the 33 horses to run within a fortnight of the Supreme itself has even made the frame.
Class: Whilst 7/17 winners ran in Grade 1 or 2 races last time, it is well worth keeping in mind that nine ran in ungraded company in their final prep for the Supreme. Combining an ungraded prep with a last day win was sufficient to (marginally) beat break even at starting price, though it should be noted that 40/1 Ebaziyan contributes significantly to that factoid.
Seasonal Runs: 15/17 winners since 1997 had between two and four seasonal runs prior to their Supreme victory. Those 88% winners came from 62% of the runners. The other two winners during that time had five races that season.
Combining all of these snippets suggests a last time out winner, rested between two weeks and two months, with between two and four (five at a push) seasonal starts. Decent priced last day ungraded winners may be worth a second glance.
The trio of last day win, two to five runs in the past year, and a relevant break has netted nine winners since 1997, from 63 runners, for a profit at SP of 23 points.
Those who look likely to fit this loose identikit are Beast Of Burden, Black Hercules, Douvan, Glingerburn, Laser Hawk, Morning Run, Nichols Canyon, Outlander, Qewy, Seedling, Some Plan, and Velvet Maker. Five of those twelve are trained by Willie Mullins, who also led the last two Supreme winners in.
Supreme Novices Hurdle Form Preview
As with a number of races on the first day, a horse from the Mullins camp casts a long shadow across its field. In this case, it is Douvan, and it will royally set up the battle 'twixt bookie and bettor should he win. With Un De Sceaux, Faugheen and Annie Power all potentially to follow, that quartet could lead to a bloodbath in the ring.
Before such apocalyptic scenarios are considered, we ought not to get ahead of ourselves. The first leg of that quaddie is the Supreme, and Douvan - rock solid favourite though he is - still has some unanswered questions.
Since crossing the Channel after a win and a second, he's won both starts in Ireland: on his domestic debut, he sluiced home from Sizing John, himself good enough to win a Grade 1 the next time, albeit after Nichols Canyon tumbled. The form of the rest that day looks below top class, but that's hardly the fault of the easy winner. Douvan then went on to win a Grade 2, beating a small group of horses that would not have been entirely at home over two miles. The three to run subsequently have failed to make the frame between them, which gives the form a hollow look at this early juncture.
Nevertheless, ratings agencies have been impressed with the French import, and there will be plenty who want to pile in at short odds. For me, I've got to look elsewhere when the top offer is 2/1. In a race full of unexposed last time winners, it just doesn't make sense to back the shortest priced of them.
It is perfectly possible for a dozen horses to step forward during the Supreme on the limited evidence displayed so far and, while Douvan is one of that number, he's the least attractive financially, and the least imaginative. Moreover, this is a race in which ante post plays should be kept to horses that may shorten between wager day and race day, as there is sure to be an abundance of concessions offered up by bookmakers keen to have you load up your wallets with them.
Douvan has to show he can do it at Cheltenham - never a given - and he has to show he can do it on quicker ground. All the contentions and convictions in the world about a horse's liking for a sounder surface are as nothing when set next to a single form line evidencing unequivocally the same. Willie's Big D has yet to affirm his affinity for the firm... as it were.
To clarify, Douvan looks the most likely winner on what we've seen so far, but conditions at Cheltenham are expected to be some way different from those encountered to date, and 2/1 screams 'oppose'.
It's then only 9/2 L'Ami Serge and, while this lad was also undeniably impressive at Sandown last time, he too has racked up a trio of soft ground wins thus far. Moreover, a break of 66 days since that Tolworth triumph is longer than any winner since at least 1996, and he will be one of numerous Hendo horses hoping that a racecourse gallop is as effective a preparation as a decent trial.
(Side note: racecourses, surely it's in your interest that racecourse gallops happen under the auspices of an actual race, no?! Desist with this anti-sport, please!)
Serge has dominated his fields in three UK runs, and arguably has been more impressive than Douvan. If he'd had a more recent run, I might have been tempted, but with nine hurdle starts to his name already he likely has far less scope for improvement than... well, than all of his rivals.
Harry Fry's Jollyallan would be a popular winner, the young lad looking a fair bet for champion trainer honours one day (Jolly Harry, not Jollyallan). The fact is though that both times he's stepped into Pattern company, he's been beaten: first when only sixth in the Punchestown Bumper last April, and then when second in Listed company at Sandown. He is proven on a sounder surface, and he could challenge for minor honours, but last day losers very rarely get it done in the Supreme.
Nichols Canyon was good enough to win twice in Listed company on the flat for Johhny G and, barring a blotted copybook in the Christmas Grade 1 at Leopardstown, he's been an impressive recruit to the winter game. His jumping is a bit sticky - see previous sentence - but looked to be improving based on his comfortable Deloitte Grade 1 win, and that's a race where the winner went on to take the Supreme in both of the past two years.
At the prices, Nichols Canyon looks a pretty fair each way bet, though there remains a niggle that he could be routed to the Neptune. Perhaps a small bet now at 6/1 to win any race at the Festival is the play (William Hill), as he'll surely have a favourite's chance in the longer race if showing up there.
Alvisio Ville was behind the Canyon in the Deloitte - twelve lengths behind - and he was deserted by Ruby in favour of the winner, too. Given that Ruby will likely ride Douvan, that makes Alvisio third, perhaps even fourth, choice of the Mullins squad, final declarations notwithstanding. No thanks (though I did back him speculatively earlier in the season. Sigh).
The other Mullins horse at the top end of the betting is Shaneshill. Last year's Champion Bumper second and Punchestown Champion Bumper winner has done well over hurdles, without necessarily sparkling. There has to be a likelihood that he'll be targeted at one of the longer races - probably the Neptune - in any case, though he'd need to improve a fair bit in my view to win any of them.
Qewy has been a bit of a wise guy horse in recent days, thanks mainly to his nomination by Pricewise(guy). Although he's a son of US dirt sire Street Cry, his best form on the level was on deep ground, and his sole hurdling win from two starts was on soft as well. That's not to say he won't act on quicker but, like others, he has to prove he does. Moreover, the form of that Newbury novice hurdle win gives him at least a stone to find to catch up with his rivals. Assuming some of the better ones step forward - a solid assumption - I'd be a little suprised if Qewy was good enough.
Tell Us More will surely go further (and want deeper), and Seedling might need soft ground to perform to his best. Saying that, he was quite impressive on good to soft at Cheltenham last time out, and that form - like his two previous races - is working out well enough. Assuming the Greatrex team are in better nick come March, the 33/1 in a place on Seedling might look quite juicy, and he's the sort of potential shortener worth playing in a futures market where on-the-day gimmicks will be rife.
Silver Concorde has looked only slightly above average over hurdles thus far which, compared with his peer group-leading bumper form, has been disappointing. It's still possible that he's a spring horse, and he may also be a springer in the market given connections. 33/1 undoubtedly requires a leap of faith, but those odds have sufficient latitude to accommodate such a grope in the dark. However, a note of caution: he is not a certain runner at Cheltenham.
Finally, Bentelimar has taken plenty of support lately, and this improving sort ticks a fair few boxes. Proven on all ground, he won a Listed race last time out in taking fashion, and has stamina for further than the Supreme trip. He's not for me, due mainly to his relatively exposed level of form, but I can see why others have been drawn to him.
Supreme Novices Hurdle Tips
The Supreme is usually more of a guessing game than many of the Cheltenham Festival races and, in such a context, one (well, this one at any rate) has to demand a bit of flab in the price. Thus, the likes of Douvan and L'Ami Serge, while their chances are well advertised, offer scant reward for unadventurous wager.
Moreover, from an ante-post perspective, this market above all others at the Festival is rife for burglary on the day of the race, as bookmakers clamour for an early cut at punters' purses. The short pair will be available at (relatively) daft odds on the day for small money, so treat yourself then, not now.
For now, I quite like Nichols Canyon, though without the safety net of Non Runner No Bet, he's a precarious proposition. Better to play him at 6/1 in the 'to win any race at the Festival' market for half stakes, and lob the other half if/when bookies go NRNB.
Two that could shorten a fair bit from their current odds are Silver Concorde and Seedling. The former needs to step forward on hurdling form, but has proven class and Festival form. The latter has crept up the ranks, and didn't really look like winning until, well, winning last time on the other course at the Festival track. That stamina will be an asset in the Festival opener.
33/1 both is all right, and allows for being completely wrong to small money in what is, as I've suggested, a bit of a(n educated) guesser's race.
1 pt win Nichols Canyon to win any Festival race 6/1 Hills
0.5 pt win Silver Concorde 33/1 Stan James, Coral (might want to look at 20/1 Boylesports NRNB)
It's the staying novice chase championship, and the RSA Chase has been the portent of numerous future top notchers, most recently Lord Windermere and Bobs Worth, winners of the last two Gold Cups.
RSA Chase Trends
As usual, trends cover the last seventeen renewals going back to 1997 (abandoned in 2001 due to foot and mouth), and are provided with thanks to horseracebase.com
Age: 13 of the last 17 winners (76%) were aged seven. Indeed, 13 of the last 15 winners were, but let's not cherry-pick! Those 13 winners came from just 49% of the runners. None of the 23 horses aged nine or higher has won, and only one placed.
Last Time Out:
Finishing Position: All seventeen winners since 1997 finished in the first three last time out, with nine winning (53%, from 48% of the runners); six finishing second (35%, from 20% runners); and two finishing third (12%, from 11% runners).
Grade: Although the four winners from 41 runners to have raced in Grade 1 company last time broke about even to level stakes, the four winners from 52 runners to have competed at Grade 2 level the last day were deeply unprofitable to follow. That was despite both being roughly in line with their 'expected' number of wins.
Those horses coming into the RSA Chase from a last time run in an ungraded event won eight of 106 starts - again, about what should be expected from that number of runners. In other words, there is very little to be gleaned from the grade of race last time.
Distance: None of the 44 runners stepping up from a race distance below 2m5f last time was able to win, while those to have raced between 2m5f and three miles the last day moving less markedly to the stamina-sapping three miles half a furlong here bagged 14 of the 17 renewals from 116 runners (82% winners from 56% runners). They were also worth a profit at SP of 21.33 points.
This looks a material factor.
Days since a run: Although Hanakham wheeled back to the track twenty days after his previous race back in 1997, all of the subsequent sixteen RSA Chase winners have had between three weeks and two months off the track. Further, those absent for between one and two months have claimed eleven of the seventeen (65%) from 83 runners (40%).
Course of last run: Since 1997, RSA Chase winners last ran at Ascot (3 from 31); Exeter, Fontwell, Haydock, Huntingdon, Kempton, Newbury, Punchestown, Sandown, and Wincanton (one apiece); and Leopardstown (5 from 35).
The following look noteworthy :
- The three Ascot to RSA Chase winners all ran in the Reynoldstown Chase, two winning and one finishing second
- The five Leopardstown to RSA Chase winners all ran in the Dr PJ Moriarty Novices' Chase, three winning, one second and one third.
- The thirty runners to have competed last at either Kempton or Cheltenham have scored just once between them, that being Lord Noelie, who took in a run of the mill novice chase at the first-named track in 2000. Only one other horse was placed in the RSA having run at these two premier courses last time out.
This year's Reynoldstown Chase will be run on 14th February, and the first two home should be noted. The result of the 2015 Dr PJ Moriarty Novices' Chase was:
Experience: Those with more experience of fences have fared best. To wit, those with between three and five chase starts under their belt claimed 14 of the last 17 RSA Chases (82%), from 134 runners (64%)
Interestingly, perhaps, those coming into the RSA Chase unbeaten over fences are just two from 33 since 1997, for a huge 86% loss on stakes.
Breeding: 15 of the last 17 winners have been Irish bred.
At this stage, those with the best trends fits include Sausalito Sunrise, Apache Stronghold, If In Doubt and Deputy Dan.
RSA Chase Form Preview
This looks a cracking race, and it's one which is likely to be run at a very fast gallop with two of the first three in the betting confirmed front runners, and both of them unbeaten in three over fences.
We start with Kings Palace, who completed his fencing hat-trick with a hard fought win in a two horse novices' chase at Newbury on Saturday. While that was far from impressive, his two previous chase wins were: both of them typified by fluent jumping from the front, and comfortable margins over the same horse, Sausalito Sunrise.
He'd looked classy and a good jumper prior to the laboured effort at Newbury, where the ground could have been softer than ideal. Likely to be firmer turf at Cheltenham, my main worry is whether he can get his own way on the lead, which seems very important to Kings Palace. There is also the niggle about the way he folded in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival last year, and those two concerns are enough for me to overlook David Pipe's inmate at the price.
The other confirmed front runner is Coneygree, a novice who looks an absolute natural. Indeed, you'll be hard pushed to find a better round of jumping from a novice in a big race than his Denman Chase win.
Mark Bradstock's eight year old missed almost two years after a decent third to At Fisher's Cross in the Neptune Trial race in January 2013. Reappearing at the end of November last year, he's racked up three wins in Graded company: a Grade 1 (Feltham Novices' Chase) and two Grade 2's.
He is a most fluent jumper, and has a high cruising speed. Moreover, his beating of Houblon Des Obeaux and Unioniste in the Denman puts him on the fringes of the Gold Cup picture. Connections are reportedly very tempted by that race, but in my opinion it would be a mistake.
While I'll temper my feelings short of comparison with the ill-fated Gloria Victis, another impressive novice pitched in at the Gold Cup, I do feel that the RSA is the obvious race for Coneygree, and that there'd be nothing lost in waiting for next year for a tilt at the Blue Riband.
Still, I'm not the owner and it's easy for me to be dispassionate about somebody else's horse. At any rate, it's very hard to countenance a bet on Coneygree in the context of his potential absence, and also mindful that he may not get his usual free rein in front of a high class RSA Chase field (or indeed in the Gold Cup itself).
Don Poli trumps both of the aforementioned pair in the betting, by dint of his Grade 1 Topaz Novice Chase win at Christmas and, of course, of his Cheltenham Festival win last season in the Martin Pipe Conditionals' Handicap Hurdle. Unbeaten in two over fences so far, that's less experienced than all bar two of the last seventeen winners of the RSA Chase.
He too has alternative engagements, and there has been much chatter about Don Poli potentially going for the novices' chase (Toby Balding National Hunt Chase) so that trainer Willie Mullins' son, Patrick, can ride. Although that may be wide of the mark, it is a concern in a race where no bookmaker is yet non-runner no bet.
On the bright side, the horse he beat - and beat well - at Leopardstown was Apache Stronghold, himself winner of the PJ Moriarty Chase last weekend. The Moriarty is over three furlongs shy of the Topaz trip, and that looks to be Apache Stronghold's optimum, whereas Don Poli stays better, as he showed when looking set for defeat in that Christmas run.
I think Don Poli looks the most likely winner of the RSA Chase - largely in line with his ante post market position - but I'd far sooner wait until the day even though that probably means taking a shorter price. There's no sense in 9/2 about a non-runner when 7/2 or 4/1 may be available on the day!
It's 10/1 bar that trio, and that brings in the highly progressive The Young Master. Neil Mulholland's stable star has come from nowhere this year, having finished 9th of 11 in a Class 5 handicap hurdle in October 2013. That's the basement level but, since then, he's nabbed three handicap hurdles, two all weather handicaps on the flat, and four out of four chases.
He was disqualified from his win in the Badger Ales Trophy, due to having been ineligible to run, but that detracts not one iota from a tremendous performance. And The Young Master, still only six, looked progressive again when beating Houblon Des Obeaux in a Listed handicap chase at Ascot in December.
A strong stayer and most progressive - he's gone from a rating of 94 for that first hurdle win to a chase mark now of 151 - The Young Master would be more of interest to me if running again before Cheltenham, having not raced since before Christmas, and he's another I'd rather play at slightly shorter with fitness assured.
A trio of 14/1 chances follow: Valseur Lido, Southfield Theatre and Apache Stronghold. The last named looks quite likely to run in a different race and is excluded on that basis. Valseur Lido also has three entries, ranging from 2m4f to four miles, and his participation in the RSA Chase may hinge on which way stablemate Don Poli goes. If Don Poli goes the four-miler, Valseur Lido comes here. And if Valseur Lido comes here, he has a chance.
Although the Dr P J Moriarty was the furthest he's raced to date - 2m5f - he seemed if anything to be slightly outpaced by the winner when going down by half a length. He'd previously won the Grade 1 Drinmore Novices' Chase, although it should be said that race has been a poor form guide to Cheltenham Festival novice events.
Paul Nicholls trains Southfield Theatre, yet another with multiple entries as he is also in the four miler at this stage. Given that he's never raced beyond three miles over fences, it looks more likely he'll take in the RSA Chase. And I like his chance, despite it being possible to pick holes in his chasing form.
He's had four runs over fences, three of them wins, and they include a Grade 2 event. He was beaten in another Grade 2 at Newbury over three miles, but that was on soft ground. His best form is all on quicker surfaces.
Then, on 8th February, Southfield Theatre beat Melodic Rendezvous in a fair novice chase at Exeter. Although he wasn't fortunate to win that race, his main challenger fell at the last when upsides. That trial, over two and a half miles, would have been plenty short enough for the winner, with his Cheltenham race record showing a nose second to Fingal Bay in last year's Pertemps over three miles; and a short neck third in a 3m2f handicap hurdle, also last season.
So, we know he stays, we know he wants good ground (which he'll probably get), we know he acts on the track, and we know he's a sound jumper. In the circumstances, then, 14/1 looks good about a horse more likely than not to turn up, and with an almost perfect trends profile (he falls down on the last time out race distance stat, but should arguably be marked up for being able to win over a sub-optimal trip).
Ptit Zig comes next and looks more likely to run in the JLT where he has a very solid chance. We then go to the 25/1 shots, Apache Jack and Sausalito Sunrise.
Sausalito Sunrise fell behind Coneygree in the Feltham last time, and looks to have been foiled by an emphasis on speed over stamina in his last three runs. He's an out and out stayer, so chasing home Kings Palace twice in a sprint to the line; and then trying to hang on to Coneygree's shirt-tails around the more speedy Kempton Park was a tough ask. Three miles in a Championship event where they'll go mad from the tape rise looks ideal, and this normally sound jumper was sixth - albeit beaten far enough - in the Albert Bartlett last year.
The truth is he's probably not quite good enough to win. But, despite that, his form ties in well with two of the first three in the betting, and he's 25/1.
Apache Jack is a son of Oscar, sire of the last two RSA Chase winners, and was good enough to finish third in the Albert Bartlett last year. He definitely wants better ground than he's been racing on this season to date. Specifically, on ground described as soft or worse, his form is 76319231; on quicker turf, it reads 73134 (with the 34 being in Grade 1 Championship events).
Apache Jack would have been beaten last time but for the final fence fall of Gilt Shadow, but again that was on soft ground. With just two chase starts to his name, I'd like to see him race again before mid-March, but at the price I'm happy to take a fraction, given his proven good ground Festival form.
And, talking of big prices and that Albert Bartlett form, it might be worth hurling a couple of pence in the direction of 'potato race' second, Deputy Dan. His current odds of 50/1 are about right on the balance of his novice chase form, but he's surely better than he's shown to date.
I say "he's surely better than he's shown to date", but he actually might not be. However, here's the case for the defence: five chase starts in close proximity to each other may have over-taxed him; at least a couple of those were over shorter trips than ideal; and, none has been run at the rapid pace off which he seems to travel so well.
Making excuses for horses is an expensive habit but, at 50/1, I'm prepared to risk a tenner to a monkey that Oliver Sherwood might have two staying chase Festival hopes (Many Clouds being the other) capable of striking gold.
RSA Chase Tips
There are reasons to look away from the top of the RSA Chase market, at this stage at least. Kings Palace has questions to answer on Festival form and won't get a soft lead; Coneygree may run elsewhere, and even if he doesn't, won't get a soft lead; Don Poli may also run elsewhere, and is more inexperienced than most RSA winners; and, it's 10/1 bar.
Southfield Theatre will enjoy the ground and the trip, and has been brought to the boil nicely by trainer, Paul Nicholls. He looks very likely to take in this race. And, at the prices, I think Apache Jack has plenty of value meat left on his odds bone. Finally, for small money, Deputy Dan could truncate markedly for the RSA if taking up - and winning - one of his pair of Leicester engagements this week.
1 pt Southfield Theatre 14/1 general (all in run or not)
1 pt Apache Jack 25/1 general (all in run or not)
0.5 pt Deputy Dan 50/1 general (all in run or not)
It's now just 35 days - or five weeks in old money - until Cheltenham Festival 2015 kicks off, and it's time for another ante-post preview. With the World Hurdle, Gold Cup, and Arkle already in the can; the Champion Hurdle looking bereft of value; and the Champion Chase still impossible to call, I'm taking a swipe at the Ryanair Chase...
Ryanair Chase Trends
Last year was the tenth running of the race in its current guise, having previously been run as the Cathcart Challenge Trophy, a Grade 2 for first or second season chasers only. So we have ten years' worth of data to go on...
106 horses contested those ten Ryanair Chases, and we'll be looking at the runners to winners ratio in the below.
Age: Although six and seven year olds have only won two of the ten Ryanairs, they've done it from just sixteen runners. That's 20% of the winners from 15% of the runners. Not a huge sample size, granted, but ballast is applied with the fact that eight of the thirty win and placed horses (27%) were this age, from the same 15% of runners.
Eight to ten year olds were responsible for the remaining eight winners, from 79 runners - 80% wins from 75% runs, so not massively material.
The eleven horses aged eleven or above failed to win and secured a single placed effort between them.
Last time out:
Finishing Position: Six (60%) of the 45 horses (42%) to finish first or second last time won. Given that a further 14 were placed (67% win/place), these may be reliable propositions upon which to focus.
Grade: Seven (70%) of the 47 horses (44%) to have run in a Grade 1 last time took Ryanair gold. The other three ran in Grade 2 (two) and Grade 3 (one) company the last day.
Distance: Quite interesting is this one. With just one (10%) of the 39 horses (37%) to have run at two and a half miles or less last time winning the Ryanair, a prep over a reflective trip looks a banker.
Days since a run: All ten winners had run last between 26 and 90 days ago. The 24% of runners who historically hadn't run in that time, and couldn't get it done in the Ryanair, may be a portent to the long absent and the quick returning this time around, too.
Odds: Given the fairly 'obvious' nature of most winners - i.e. youngish horses who won or nearly won last time out - it is little surprise that this has been a 'chalky' (i.e. top of the market) race. Indeed, nine of the ten winners were priced between 3/1 and 6/1, from just 21 to fall in that price range.
90% winners from 20% runners is clearly an attractive stat, but using market price as a means to qualify a bet is precarious at best. Nevertheless, it is testament to a general lack of depth in the Ryanair. With that said, this year may yet prove an exception in that regard.
Official Rating: Although the first three winners of the Ryanair were rated in the 150's, it is a race which has attracted better horses as the years have worn on. Last year, Dynaste was the highest rated winner yet, on 169; and the average of the last four winners has been 167.
Other: Seven of the ten winners (70%) had previously won at beyond the 2m5f Ryanair trip, from 47% of the runners, again doffing a statistical cap to the advantage of proven stamina.
Ryanair Chase Form Preview
There are 39 still entered at time of writing, and a number of them may yet go shorter (Champion Chase) or longer (Gold Cup). With only one bookmaker offering the 'non-runner money back' concession at this stage - well done Boylesports - we need to tread carefully or wager with that safety net firm.
The top of the market is a two way go between last year's winner, Dynaste, and Irish up-and-comer, Don Cossack.
STOP PRESS: 4th February: A day after publishing this post, Dynaste has been ruled out for the season.
Let's start with the champ.
As he did last year, Dynaste looks set to enter the Festival arena without a win this season. However, that is to take little away from his credentials. Indeed, it can be argued that in defeat he has achieved more than any other in the field, so close has he got to the Gold Cup favourite, Silviniaco Conti, in both the Betfair Chase and the King George.
If it was felt that those two races - run at around three miles - stretched his stamina, that looked to be confirmed last month when Dynaste was outstayed up the Cheltenham hill by Many Clouds and Smad Place, two horses about which there are no such range reservations.
The drop back to the Ryanair trip looks a no-brainer and, while connections have yet to finally commit, it would surely be an act of lunacy to go long, and into the Gold Cup itself.
Another consideration with Dynaste is that in those beaten runs in the past two seasons, four of the five were on soft ground. Without saying David Pipe's son of Martaline doesn't act on soft, it is probably fair to say he's a slightly better horse on slightly better ground.
It's likely to be slightly better ground in mid-March and, with trip and grade proven by last year's win, Dynaste is a solid favourite.
Interestingly, then, in some books he's not the jolly, that privilege being afforded to the Don, Cossack. Or Don Cossack to give him his proper un-punctuated name.
Gordon Elliott's eight year old has improved a stone or so on ratings this season in a four race unbeaten streak which included the Grade 1 John Durkan in early December, and the Grade 2 Kinloch Brae Chase in mid-January. Whilst difficult to crab a horse with figures of four out of four, it is still possible to pick holes in the form of his runs.
The two key efforts are those alluded to above, in the first of which he benefited from his main market rival - Boston Bob - suffering material interference; and in the second of which his main market rival - Champagne Fever - fell at the last.
In the Don's defence, he would probably have won both races anyway, albeit by relatively fine margins. But it must be beyond question that in that pair of two-and-a-half-milers he took on horses unsuited by the distance: Champagne Fever looks a certainty for the Champion Chase over two miles, and Boston Bob will go the full Gold Cup trip (which I suspect might test his stamina too far - he looks a three miler these days, dead on).
The Cossack will go on any ground, and the Ryanair looks his ideal range. There remains an unanswered question about the specific - and significant - demands of Cheltenham, with his fall in the RSA Chase last year the only attempt. So, while he comes into the race on an upward curve, I'm not personally convinced he can improve from his Irish rating of 166 to the approximate 170 I suspect will be required to win this year's Ryanair. Not at Cheltenham anyway.
Cue Card, the 2013 winner, is third choice in all books at an almost uniform 8/1. Promoted from 165 to 170 after that fine effort almost two years ago, Cue Card went as high as 174 after claiming the 2013 Betfair Chase fifteen months back.
Since then, it has largely been a tale of regression, his fine second in the 2013 King George aside. Indeed, having started favourite in his first two starts this season, Colin Tizzard's stable star finished fourth both times, with double digit distances 'twixt himself and the race winners. His thirteen length fifth in the 2014 King George was disappointing enough to warrant an eight pound easing in his official rating, and he does have a lot to prove on this year's form.
It is worth reminding readers that Cue Card was off for the best part of a year after suffering a stress fracture of the pelvis so, while it is dangerous to write off a yard as talented and targeted as Tizzard's, it might be that we've seen the best of this former Cheltenham Champion Bumper winner.
Champagne Fever, himself a former Cheltenham Champion Bumper winner, remains in many lists at around 10/1, but the only bookmaker to play this horse with is Boyle and their non-runner money back insurance. He is very likely to go the shorter route and, in any case, the evidence is that he doesn't stay this far.
That brings us to one of the most interesting runners in the field, Jonjo O'Neill's Johns Spirit. It has been mentioned elsewhere on this site what a brilliant Cheltenham Festival target trainer Jonjo is, so an absence since Boxing Day is of little concern.
Johns Spirit has improved right through the handicap ranks, winning a Class 2 chase and then the Paddy Power in late 2013, and then running a fair fourth in the Byrne Group Plate at last year's Festival. That was off a mark of 148, and he kicked this season off with a 2m4f win in a Class 2 handicap chase, again at Cheltenham.
Next stop was a title defence in the Paddy Power in November, where he was just collared on the line. That day he lugged top weight, and was ceding two stone less a pound to his vanquisher, Caid Du Berlais. It should be added that the Paddy Power form has worked out pretty poorly so far, with none of the 26 subsequent runs of horses that competed there yielding a win, and only four making the frame.
Away from his beloved Cheltenham, Johns Spirit was upped to championship class in the King George and ran respectably. His 16 length sixth reads better than Cue Card's slightly narrower defeat on the basis that both track and trip were probably against him.
I'm not sure Johns Spirit is good enough to win the Ryanair, but there is some juice in his 12/1 quote to find out.
There follow a pair of 14/1 chances, headed by Balder Succes. Alan King's seven year old has won three times at around this distance, all on pan flat tracks (twice at Kempton, once at Warwick), and his Cheltenham record is comprised of letters rather than numbers: FUF.
If that's not enough to put you off, then it is worth noting that he would probably have won - albeit over two miles - when falling two out in the latter 'F', and he has completed in all ten starts since. But I'd be fairly confident that the combination of distance and stiff finish will find him out, even if the fences don't.
Al Ferof is the other 14/1 shot, and he's an interesting player in whichever Festival race he's pitched at. I've had - and recommended - a small tickle on him (NRNB) for the Gold Cup here. And I'm happy to take a small slice of 12's when 14/1 is generally available to avail of the same non-runner no bet insurance as I have in the Gold Cup.
Third in the King George, that gives him the jump on a few in this field if a strict lateral interpretation is made. Depending on how you viewed that race, he was either outpaced and plodded on, or he was outstayed. The balance of his form suggests he was probably outstayed, but that's by no means unequivocal.
For a start, he's been in the first three in all of his trio of three mile runs, two of which were in the King George. But at around two and a half miles, he has form of 3131151. He is a Grade 1 winner and a quadruple Grade 2 winner, and he won the Paddy Power in 2012 over this distance but on the Old Course at Cheltenham (the Ryanair is run on the New Course).
Detractors will point to his fifth place in last year's Ryanair, where he was beaten less than eight lengths. But here's what I believe the key to be with Al Ferof: he goes best fresh. To wit, his record after a break of 60 days or more is 1F1111, a sequence which takes in all four of his Grade 2's, as well as his Paddy Power win, where he hauled close to top weight.
In short, I think a rested Al Ferof is a threat in his connections' chosen Festival engagement, and I suspect the Ryanair is the perfect spot for him.
A gaggle of possibles lurk in the 16/1 to 20/1 range, including Ballycasey, Taquin De Seuil, Hidden Cyclone, Ma Filleuile and Uxizandre.
Ballycasey seemingly had few excuses when lapped at Leopardstown at Christmas, and a rating of 153 gives him a stone and more to find.
Taquin De Seuil is more interesting. He won the JLT Novices' Chase over two and a half at the Festival last year, touching off the gallant front runner, Uxizandre, that day. He's not been seen since pulling up in the Betfair Chase in November and, even with Jonjo's healing hands, it's a leap of faith to see the horse coming back not just right but ten pounds better than ever.
Uxizandre on the other hand had looked an improver this season, before a desperate showing in desperate ground in the same race as Ballycasey at Leopardstown over Christmas. That performance might have been down to the ground, but it might not have, and in any case there's a fair chance he'll run in the Champion Chase rather than the Ryanair.
One thing to note: he's currently 14/1 to win any race at the Festival with Hills, and that looks better than either 20/1 for the Ryanair or 16/1 for the Queen Mother. I made that bet before the Christmas copybook blot and my 10/1 looks less than shrewd now...
Hidden Cyclone must be a player. After all, he comes to Cheltenham on the back of a good win in the Tied Cottage Chase, and he was second in the Ryanair last year. He'll probably be moved up to 164 or so by the Irish handicapper for his win on Sunday, but he was punch drunk on the run in last year.
The suspicion is that he won't quite get home, and that's backed up by connections likely opting for the shorter Champion Chase option.
Ma Filleule has taken good support this week for this race, and it's unclear to me why. It's been suggested that Mark Howard nominated her as a player, but I wouldn't have thought his sphere of influence was sufficient to move the market (25's into 16's, one remaining spot of 20's) thus. It was also mentioned that a write up in The Times had said she was in great form, but plans were still undecided between this race and the Gold Cup.
Anyway, be all that as it may, the issue is that she is no better than 20/1, and her form gives her seven pounds to find. Although she's won over three miles - in a Kempton handicap chase - this looks her optimal trip and her two most recent efforts can be forgiven for over-stretching her range elastic.
With two second places from four Cheltenham starts, one of them in the Festival Handicap Chase behind Holywell last term, she will have no issue with the race parameters and it's 'merely' a question of whether she's good enough. I could envisage her making the frame, but she'd have to take a big step forward and a fair number fail to go as well as they can for her to win.
The highest rated of all the UK runners, and still a 25/1 shot in one book, is Menorah. Ten year olds have won this - Fondmort, Our Vic and Albertas Run - so age is not an issue. His rating has elevated from 161 in April 2014 to its current 169, and he's been rated in the 160's since 2012. That's a figure that, being frank, a number of the better fancied horses in the market will never achieve; and this is Menorah's only Festival entry.
So why the big price? I imagine it is mainly down to the regression in his course form. Since winning the 2010 Supreme Novices' Hurdle, he added a couple more Graded hurdles at the track before being weighed down by my financial support in the 2011 Champion Hurdle, finishing a fair fifth behind the unparalleled Hurricane Fly.
Defeat to Grandouet in the following season's International Hurdle saw a career change to fences, the first season of which culminated in a respectable third to Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle. It should be noted he was beaten nearly thirty lengths that day, however, and since then has run lamentably in both Festival starts.
They were both in the Ryanair, and read Po. Another such performance would render a Ryanair form string of PoP or Poo, either of which illustrates why Laddies are happy to take a 'pony' chance with him. At the price, I'll admit, I'm tempted for small money.
Ryanair Chase 2015 Tips
In what looks at first glance to be an open race, a combination of preferred engagements and official ratings soon pares things down to a more manageable number.
Dynaste has an obvious form chance and looks to be in the same sort of fettle as he was last year. He's 5/1 in places and that's fair enough without being exciting. My issue is I can't back him at 4/1 NRNB, and I can't back him at 5/1 without the concession. So, at this stage, I can't back him!
In order to derive value from any market, we have to be prepared to allow something near the head of the field to beat us. For me, it is Don Cossack. His unbeaten run this term has been more due to the poor placement and/or jumping of others than his own efforts, and if he's good enough to win, so be it, and fair play.
Cue Card has a Ryanair on his palmarès already, but on current form - even factoring in my huge respect for the stable - he's hard to back at a single figure price.
Johns Spirit is interesting, and a possible on both trainer and track form; but not as interesting to me as Al Ferof. I really like this fellow and think he's been under-rated for a lot of his career. That's why he's the price he is - as well as his multiple engagements muddying the waters - and if he goes straight to the Festival now, that will be perfect. 12/1 non-runner no bet looks good.
Uxizandre to win any race at 14's with Hills isn't the worst bet in the world either, especially back on better ground. But I couldn't recommend him solely for this race because he's still a possible for the Champion Chase.
That leaves Menorah and that 25/1. He's as likely to run a 'P' or an '0' as he is to run a 123 - more likely in the eyes of one firm's traders - but that's factored into the price. Between those two howlers, Menorah did run second in a Grade 2 handicap, giving lumps of weight away, at Cheltenham. And this season, he's finished second in the Betfair Chase as well as winning the Grade 2 Charlie Hall on good ground. The price makes the bet - always - and 25/1 is too big, for a sliver.
1pt win Al Ferof 12/1 Boylesports NRNB (14/1 general, all in run or not)
1/2 pt win Johns Spirit 11/1 Boylesports NRNB (12/1 general, all in run or not)
1/2 pt win Menorah 25/1 Ladbrokes all in run or not
The Arkle Challenge Trophy, or Arkle for short (!), is the second race on Day One of the Cheltenham Festival, and it's a two mile burn up for novice chasers. This year, it may also feature a perfect storm for each way punters, such is the strength of the favourite and so many are the doubts about other runners near the top of the market. The flip side is that we're not yet non-runner no bet, but as you'll discover, I think there are grounds for taking the chance...
Arkle Challenge Trophy 2015 Trends
The Arkle is a pretty strong trends race, as the below - gleaned mainly from horseracebase - will illustrate.
Age: 15/17 Arkle winners since 1997 were aged between five and seven. They won 88% of the races whilst representing 74% of the runners. Those aged eight and above are two from 55 in that time (12% winners from 26% runners).
Last Time Out: 13 of the last 17 Arkle winners also won last time out (76% winners from 51% of the runners). Another two finished second.
Layoff: Those lining up for the Arkle after more than two months off the track have an excellent record. Western Warhorse, Simonsig and Sizing Europe all won the Arkle after a layoff in the last five years; and, moreover, Champagne Fever, Baily Green, Cue Card and Somersby were all second off similar rest patterns during that time. That was from just twelve starters who had been rested that long.
Since 1997, five of the 17 winners (29%) had a 60+ day layoff, from just 34 runners (16%).
Hurdle Rating: A bit more of a manual search, this one, so I don't know from what subset of the runners, but all bar one of the fourteen Arkle winners since 1997 to have a hurdle rating were 142 or higher.
Number of chase starts: Winners since 1997 have had between one (Western Warhorse, Well Chief) and five (Moscow Flyer) prior chase starts, with the norm being between two and four.
Miscellaneous: All of the last 17 winners had already won a race of at least two miles and a furlong. Given that 24% of runners in that time have failed this criterion, it looks material.
Arkle Challenge Trophy 2015 Form Preview
I write this on the day that Un De Sceaux has impressively dismantled a pair of highly promising novices in the Irish Arkle, and been lauded unanimously by the press as a consequence. That takes UDS' record now to ten wins from eleven starts (fell as the 1/8 favourite the other time) and, crucially, a first Grade 1 victory has been achieved with the tenderly handled talent.
In fairness, he's needed tender handling, due to his voracious appetite for jumping and running. He is the Forrest Gump of the equine world, and consequently he is a sight to behold. It was interesting to note that in the Irish Arkle he ran far less freely than he can, ultimately sauntering away from his rivals.
To measure the performance, we must consider the other pair, Gilgamboa and Clarcam. The former was rated 140 over hurdles, but is likely a better chaser than hurdler: that makes sense given he's only had eight career starts, including today's run. Clarcam is rated 140 over hurdles (by the Irish assessor), too. But he already had a Grade 1 win to his name, accounting for Ted Veale and a woefully under-performing Vautour.
They are two of the best Irish novices, and they were beaten pointless. Fifteen lengths was the official margin of victory, UDS getting his usual lead and jumping accurately if a little high over his fences. It certainly didn't check his momentum and it's nigh on impossible to imagine either of the vanquished pair turning the tables at Cheltenham under similar conditions.
But there's the key: they darned well will not be similar conditions at Cheltenham. For a start, there's a fairly good chance that the ground will be quicker. Further, it's a certainty that he will face more rivals, though possibly not a hatful more. And he may not easily get his own way in front, though he is highly likely to lead. Finally, the lack of experience of the course means it's unknown how he'll handle it.
It is perfectly possible that Un De Sceaux will answer all of these remaining questions with aplomb, and bound clear in the manner of the superstar he's looked to date. But even money is not to my tastes, and certainly not when it renders the rest of the market 'game on' for the archetypal each way bet to nothing.
Although he is without question the winner 'on paper', the Arkle tends to be run on grass. Undulating, usually quicker-than-Irish-racing, deeply competitive grass. Oh, and did I mention that UDS has only ever won once on quicker than soft? And that on his career debut in a mile and a half bumper in the provinces.
To clarify, and (belatedly) summarize, the sportsman in me hope UDS wins and wins well. The punter in me has to find something with which to take him on, especially on each way terms.
Here's how the top of the market looks right now:
Un De Sceaux
Gitane Du Berlais
Working down the list, Vautour's best chance of running in this race is if Un De Sceaux gets injured, or connections decide to go for the Champion Chase itself. Given that Mullins has Champagne Fever for the latter race, it looks as though UDS will run here and the Ricci-owned pair will go JLT and Champion Chase respectively.
All of which leaves Josses Hill as the undisputed second choice in the book. Second to Vautour in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last season, Josses Hill has jumped really poorly on both fencing starts. First, he blundered his chance away against the very good Ptit Zig; and then he took a long time to get the better of Solar Impulse in receipt of two pounds over the relatively easy fences at Doncaster.
His hurdle rating of 150 makes him a player, but his jumping does not impress when looking to the cauldron of Cleeve Hill. Although the historical record of fresh horses is excellent, I'd actually like to see him run again before the Festival to give him a chance to brush up his technique under match conditions. As it stands, he'll be a hairy old ride for Geraghty.
Clarcam is next in at 16/1, but how can this lad beat UDS? True, he doesn't need to in order to pay 4/1 a place, but he does need to show up - not a given - and he won't be in receipt of the ten pounds weight for age he received there, instead having to race off levels. He'll probably appreciate good ground, but doesn't look good enough.
Vibrato Valtat is a credible each way play
Vibrato Valtat and Ptit Zig are the two horses priced at 20/1, and the latter would undoubtedly be the bet if he was lining up here. However, the strong likelihood is that he'll go for the longer JLT Novices' Chase and a clash with Vautour. If/when bookies go non-runner no bet in this race, he's a must play each way, though his odds will truncate significantly as a consequence.
Until then, stablemate Vibrato Valtat looks more interesting than most. 'Only' rated 140 over hurdles, he's improved plenty for chasing. Indeed, but for a fairly unspectacular ride by Sam Twiston-Davies, he'd be a perfect four from four over fences.
He ended up second on his other run, and showed that form to be all wrong by reversing the places with Dunraven Storm next time out in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase. He's since added a Grade 2 to his tally, and a decent Grade 2 at that.
The second, Three Kingdoms, overcame a howler on Saturday to chin Solar Impulse at Doncaster; Deep Trouble, who would have been third but for a last fence fall, is rated 147 over hurdles; and the possibly regressive God's Own and definitely regressive Grandouet were further back.
He jumps very well, does Vibrato Valtat, and he's more experienced than many at the top end of the betting. Furthermore, if he doesn't race again before Cheltenham, he'll have the 60+ day layoff on his side, with the form and match practice already in the bag. 20/1 appeals.
Gilgamboa, traveling well until a pretty bad mistake against UDS, is a 25/1 shot. He's still a tad unexposed after just seven starts, but he was stuffed out of sight in the Supreme last year, and he was last of three in the Irish Arkle, albeit coming out second best at the weights.
Sgt Reckless is eight now, but actually has very few miles on the clock. He's unbeaten in a single chase start - an everyday novice event at Uttoxeter - and has since run fifth to Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle, and won a Class 5 all weather maiden over a mile and a half. That could best be described as an unorthodox preparation, though he may run over fences again before March.
He is a talented lad, and his form ties in quite closely with Josses Hill on Cheltenham running (bit to find on Aintree running, a very different track). He is probably better than a 25/1 shot, but is less of interest than VV, to me at least.
We move to the 33/1 pokes, and Three Kingdoms, mentioned in dispatches already. His form ties in really well with Vibrato Valtat, on which basis you might think I'd be tempted by the price. The problem - and it's a big one - is that he's disappointed on both his Festival runs.
17th in the Fred Winter and 12th in the Supreme (albeit not that far back) does not give enough confidence even at the price, despite a third place finish in a big field handicap hurdle which represented the pick of the weight-carrying feats. There will be worse 33/1 shots, but I expect there to be better ones too.
Could Court Minstrel be a better one? Rated 154 over hurdles, and the same over fences prior to a last of four behind Vibrato Valtat, that run can be discounted on account of the soft ground. Trainer Evan Williams was quoted as saying beforehand that Court Minstrel wouldn't want it soft, and yet he still ran him.
It is unlikely to be soft ground at Cheltenham, and Court Minstrel won there on his previous start. A margin of less than three lengths to the second horse tells only part of the story as Williams' horse lagged up, jockey Paul Moloney taking a pull before the last and bounding away from his field when unleashed.
On top of the ground, he could make the frame. But, after that last day whacking, he's likely to retain his price until either a) he runs again, or b) the bookies go non-runner no bet. I'll be backing him with the NRNB concession when I can.
Apache Stronghold has done all his hurdling and chasing over two and a half miles or further, so a drop to two miles looks extremely unlikely, while fellow Irish entry Sizing Granite looks flattered by his defeat of Lieutenant Colonel (third favourite for the World Hurdle).
That leaves Willie Mullins' Gitane Du Berlais, who is more likely to contest the JLT if anything (all career runs on soft or heavy); and Alan King's Grumeti.
Third in the 2012 Triumph Hurdle and winner of the Grade 1 4yo equivalent at Aintree, Grumeti has not had a lot of racing since. He's still only seven, and is rated 151 over hurdles which is higher than most of his rivals. He has also won two of his three chase starts. The defeat was at the hooves of Vibrato Valtat, by less than four lengths, and on his reappearance after six months off course.
The merit of his last day win is probably under-rated. It was soft ground, on which just one of his eight prior wins had been recorded, and he was only third choice in a field of four. Jockey Wayne Hutchinson had to get serious with him some way out (probably on account of the ground) but Grumeti kept finding like the class horse he is, and he looks to be a lot better than his official rating of 142.
The problem for ante-post backers is that that is a very attractive mark with which to go at the Grand Annual Handicap Chase, a race in which connections (trainer King and owners the McNeil family) opted to run Kumbeshwar off a similar mark in 2012. Court Minstrel is quoted at 16/1 for the Grand Annual incidentally, despite being nine pounds higher. Grumeti is much better than a 40/1 shot, but not until his likely destination is known.
Arkle Challenge Trophy Tips
It's a race which revolves around Un De Sceaux, who could easily justify the hype that surrounds him. He has looked a very good horse to date, but as an even money chance with just one run in G1 company, and none in the Cheltenham Festival hotbed, I have to look elsewhere.
The problem is where, with the next best market rivals retaining deep reservations. Josses Hill is too inexperienced for such an unnatural fencer; Vautour is highly likely to run elsehwere; Clarcam and Gilgamboa ought not to get closer than the fifteen lengths they were beaten in the Irish Arkle; and Ptit Zig is more likely to face Vautour than UDS.
In the circumstances, I think VIBRATO VALTAT looks a very solid each way punt with Ladbrokes and 888sport both 20/1 and a quarter the odds 1-2-3. He might ideally want a bit of juice in the ground - and he's more likely to get that on day one than any other, meteorological intervention notwithstanding - and he has class, experience and perhaps a bit more to come.
Although I can't recommend them this far out, I will be keeping an eye on both Court Minstrel and Grumeti when the firms start offering non-runner money back, as well as Ptit Zig. They each have cases to be made for them, and the former pair look better than their bare ratings.
One of two highlights on Day Three of the Festival, the Ladbrokes World Hurdle is the stayers' crown and is run over a leg-loosening three miles.
The favourite this year is last year's winner, More Of That, a horse we've only seen once since, and that when a moderate third of six.
It makes for a wide open betting heat and a very attractive ante-post punting proposition.
Let's start with a bit of historical context, via the...
World Hurdle Trends
As ever, a majority of these trends are courtesy of the excellent horseracebase.com, and cover the 17 renewals since 1997 (no race in 2001 due to foot and mouth).
Age: You have to go back to 1986 to find the last double-digit aged winner of the race, Crimson Embers in fact being the only winner older than nine since the event assumed its current format, replacing the Spa Hurdle, in 1972.
Although those winners since 1997 have comprised 82% of the runners, it does make sense to expect younger legs to prevail given the very strong historical precedent.
Talking of younger legs, while none of the 16 five-year-olds to contest the World Hurdle since 1997 has won, six made the frame, making them the highest place strike rate age group. (The old guard finished out the back on this score, too, with just three of 24 runners hitting the board).
Previous Run: A good run coming into the World Hurdle is a pre-requisite. To that end, ten of the last 17 winners also won last time out, and another five were second the last day. The other two winners in the sample finished third and fourth. To further accentuate the point, only one of the 63 runners to finish outside the top four last time out even made the frame.
Days since last run: Although very few come to the World Hurdle off a layoff greater than three months, none has made the frame since at least 1996. That was from 15 to attempt it. By the same token, the small handful wheeling back within a fortnight are 0 from 7 (one place), and it looks worth arbitrarily eliminating both groups.
Distance Form: Seven winners since 1997 had not previously won at the trip, but six of those were yet to race over the three mile distance. Of the 58 to have previously run over the trip, only one prevailed - Anzum, at 40/1 - and he was backing up a silver medal in the race the previous year. That group of losers includes a 9/4 shot, two at 10/3, and runners at 4, 5, 6, 8, 10, 11, and 12/1.
The message: don't back a horse that has previously raced at three miles without winning!
Course Form: 15 of the 17 World Hurdle winners since 1997 had previously raced at the track. That's from 184 runners (out of 223) so is about right, i.e. it offers no statistical edge.
Other notes: None of the 56 horses to have raced more than half a dozen times in the past year could win, though seven were placed (14% of the places from 25% of the runners)
One key point with regards to the above: multiple winners have been a feature of the World Hurdle in recent times, meaning stats and trends need to be treated with a bit more caution than normal. Baracouda won twice, Inglis Drever won three times, and Big Buck's won four times, all since 2002. That means there have only been seven different winners of the thirteen World Hurdles since then. Will there be an eighth this time around? Let's delve a little deeper and think on...
Ladbrokes World Hurdle Form Preview
It's probably fair to say that the market is clueless at this stage. Default jolly is last year's clear winner, More Of That, at 7/2. Let's make the (dangerous?) assumption that Annie Power will take in the Mares' Hurdle (actually, I don't think it's dangerous as she looked a non-stayer in this, and would surely be a penalty kick if lining up sound in the shorter girls only race).
Looking at last year's result, Annie Power was a length and a half second, with five more back to At Fisher's Cross in third. Zarkandar was another two away in fourth, and it was five and more back to the rest. Let's start with some eliminations, then.
Annie Power, as I've said, is likely to go the shorter route and that's even if she's fit in time. She had an operation in late November, and though back in riding work, she has a lot on to make this gig. I'll take the chance and exclude her.
Zarkandar is another I'm happy to overlook. He's still a relatively young horse aged eight, but he just doesn't seem to be able to finish his races at the top level in Britain. True, he's won a three mile Grade 1 in France, but that was on a pan flat track, and where he may have got the run of the race (French favourite Gemix ran a stone below his best).
More pertinently, he should have won the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot recently but was out-battled by Reve De Sivola, a useful but far from top notch stayer these days (25/1 in most lists for the World Hurdle). Further, he could only finish fourth of seven in the Aintree Stayers' Hurdle last April (though that may have been 'after the Lord Mayor's Show' of Cheltenham).
In five races at three miles or beyond, he's won just one, and that was run to suit. I'm happy to believe he will be outstayed by at least one other, though which other remains a tough question to answer. At 8/1, he's not for me, in any case.
Further back in the 2014 World Hurdle were Rule The World, Medinas, Reve De Sivola, and Salubrious. Rule The World and Salubrious have gone chasing, and the other pair look to need soft underfoot to have any chance. Besides which, Reve De Sivola is ten now, and we know that makes things tough. Medinas has not even been entered.
At Fisher's Cross is harder to discount, partly because of his price (25/1), partly because he is a Festival winner, partly because he was third in this last year, and partly because he has credible excuses for two ostensibly poor runs this season.
A little more detail around AFC. Winner of the Albert Bartlett in 2013, he went on to double up in the Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree a month later. In eight runs since, he's been winless. But that winless streak includes a sequence of three runs last term with a back problem (you need to watch those races to wonder at how he even finished two of them), a bronze in last year's World Hurdle, a silver in the Aintree equivalent, and a bronze in the Punchestown equivalent.
Not only did he take in a lot of Championship racing, but he acquitted himself well throughout. This season, in two starts to date, he was third of three in a Wetherby Grade 2 on ground that would have been quick enough; and he was seven lengths fourth of eight in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.
The thing is that Rebecca Curtis's horses were in pretty poor form for the first of those runs, and the second was actually quite a good effort. Obviously, the World Hurdle is the target and, if Curtis can maintain the better form her stable is currently in, AFC is over-priced, as an each way option at least.
So that's last year's World Hurdle line up, but what of the many other potential runners in this year's renewal? The squad is headed by Saphir du Rheu, Paul Nicholls' smart hurdler cum failed chaser. In fact, this season, SdR has had three fencing starts, sandwiching a bloodless win between two jumping errors that led to non-completions.
So we go back to last season and a trio of victories, two in Class 2 events, for form clues. He was clearly progressive, and that was best evidenced by a narrow defeat of Whisper, a horse who went on to win the Coral Cup under a big weight and the Grade 1 Stayers' Hurdle at Aintree, beating At Fisher's Cross et al.
Saphir was giving six pounds to Whisper that day when jockey Harry Derham's claim is accounted for, but it must be said that the runner up there has progressed by more than a stone since. He too may come back to hurdling after a less than spectacular chasing debut - more of that in a minute.
If Saphir Du Rheu can maintain his progressive profile reverting to hurdling, then he has a chance, for sure. But he's priced as though that's a given and, for me, it isn't. It will be instructive to see where, if anywhere, he heads before the Festival.
At 10/1, we have Lieutenant Colonel, a horse that has improved into a dual Grade 1 winner since stepping up in trip. He's beaten the reliable if ten-year-old yardstick, Jetson, on both occasions, and he's done it on ground on the easy side of good. That's the niggle for me about this otherwise likable proposition: in three runs where the going had the word 'good' in it, he's been beaten all three times.
Now, true, two of those were against Vautour, and the other was behind Faugheen (and five others) in the Neptune, so they could be excused. But, with the likelihood of top of the ground in March, he might just be outkicked in the finish. That is also assuming he's not outstayed: his damsire was a sprinter, and it was a steadily run three miler in which he prevailed the last day. Again, there are enough doubts to swerve at the price when there are bigger offers elsewhere in an open race.
Beat That is an interesting contender. Prior to his last day defeat, he'd won back to back Grade 1 staying novice hurdles, at Aintree and Punchestown's Festival meetings. Dropping back in trip and on his first start since May, he was outpaced and, ultimately, disappointing behind Rock On Ruby at Cheltenham on New Year's Day.
But he is sure to come on for that run, and his overall form profile - as well as breeding - suggests he needs three miles in a true run race. He'll get that, and I think he's worth a dart at 12/1 NRNB.
Rock On Ruby by contrast, as admirable a lad as he unquestionably is, cannot be bet. He's now ten, and that's probably too old. More pertinently, he may need to use his pensioner's bus pass to stay this far. Despite him being eminently lovable, he's not for me in this one. Not at all.
Into the realms of the 16/1 shots now, and a pair of Irish horses returning from injury. First, Briar Hill, winner of the Champion Bumper in 2013, and a faller when only 2/1 to win the Albert Bartlett last term. Since then he's had just one run, when drifting in the betting as though a leg had come unstuck, and running similarly, trailing in eighth and last. He has an entry in the Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park on Thursday, and we'll know more should he take up that option.
We'll know still more if the other sick bay returnee, Monksland, also assumes his place in the Galmoy line up. Despite being off for two years to the day prior to facing the starter in the Christmas Hurdle, he finished a mighty fine third to Lieutenant Colonel, beaten less than six lengths. If that race hasn't left its mark, he ought to be favourite for the Galmoy, and if he wins that, he'll be a good bit shorter than 16's for the World Hurdle. This is a horse that was previously third in Simonsig's Neptune (2012), to remind you, and he's still only eight.
It's 20/1 bar those and, before picking anything relevant from that mob, it is high time we returned to the jolly. More Of That looked a monster while running up a sequence of five straight career wins, culminating in World Hurdle glory last March on his first attempt at three miles.
We've seen him just once since then, when a tame-finishing third of six, some 25 lengths behind Medinas. There's little doubt More Of That was 'under cooked' that day. Equally, there's little doubt it was a hugely disappointing run.
Trainer Jonjo O'Neill's stable were under a terrible cloud at the time, and have returned to form more recently, gives credence to the prospect of More Of That improving out of all recognition against that last day effort. That, naturally, is something he'd need to do, and the evidence of one poor run is a concern but far from a knockout blow. Still, I'd rather have a saver on him at shorter, having seen more evidence of his former self, than back him at 7/2 on something of a wing and a prayer.
To be clear, there is nothing in the field that has run to the level of More Of That's World Hurdle win, with the exception of Rock On Ruby (at two miles, two years ago).
Back to the longer shots, and there is one more I reckon that is worth a mention. Blue Fashion may well not run, so non-runner no bet is a must. If he does line up, however, he's a really interesting player who could have a fair bit more to come.
Bought from France in Summer 2013, he's had just the two UK runs, spaced a year apart. On the first of the pair, he ran a two length second in a two and half mile Haydock handicap hurdle, to... More Of That. It should be noted that he was spotting the subsequent World Hurdle winner six pounds, making him theoretically the best horse in the race that day.
Then, in November 2014, he ran just under four lengths second, to... Faugheen! The rest - of an admittedly sub-standard bunch, the third notwithstanding - were five lengths and more back, and Blue Fashion looks a horse capable of outrunning both his odds and his current rating of 152 if allowed to take his chance.
The rest probably need to take a huge step forward to figure.
World Hurdle 2015 Tips
Barring the jolly, it looks a wide open betting heat with a number of horses capable of stepping forward on their existing level of form. There are also plenty who could 'steal' a sub-par renewal.
I do fear the favourite, More Of That, but he can't be bet at 7/2 on what we've seen this season, so I'm happy enough to throw a couple of longer-priced darts, win only and non-runner no bet.
Regular readers will know I've already backed Whisper at 16/1 non-runner money back. The shrewdness of that call is best illustrated by the 20/1 currently available! Nevertheless, on form, he's closely matched with Saphir Du Rheu who is half Whisper's odds.
There's a fair chance Whisperwon't wun in the World, but if he does, he's no 20/1 poke. If he doesn't, you'll get your cash back if you wager with totesport or Betfred.
From the same stable, I also like Beat That, who is a lot better than he showed last time over an inadequate trip. Hendo will be desperate to get him to the start in top form for his old mate, Michael Buckley, and he has less to find than most in the field. 12/1 looks a smidge of value.
And, remarkably, from the same Seven Barrows barn for a third time, Blue Fashion is over-priced at 20/1 with the non runner concession. He had smart form in France, and his two runs in Britain have been admirable in defeat. He ought to have plenty of scope to step forward, and it would not take the biggest of strides to place him right in the World Hurdle mix.
Henderson's record in the race is unspectacular, but he did win it in 2000 with Bacchanal, and he's not had too many with genuine chances - Punchestowns aside - in the intervening period.
Away from Chez Nicky, I have to give a shout for At Fisher's Cross. I'll probably back him on the day, because I can't see his price changing that much between now and then, but he does have a case to be made and I think 25/1 is quite a bit too big.
2 pts Beat That 12/1 Paddy Non-Runner No Bet
1 pt Whisper 20/1 totesport/Betfred Non-Runner No Bet
1 pt Blue Fashion 20/1 Skybet/Paddy Non-Runner No Bet
It's not much more than two months until the tapes rise on the 2015 Cheltenham Festival, and so it's high time geegeez.co.uk kicked off its big race previews. In a curious year where the Champion Hurdle looks strangely uncompetitive, and the Champion Chase and World Hurdle have plenty more questions than answers right now, it's almost by default that we head straight to the big pot - the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015 - for our first geegeez ante-post preview.
2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup Trends
These trends cover the last seventeen renewals of the Gold Cup, going back to 1997 (no race in 2001, due to foot and mouth outbreak), and are courtesy of horseracebase.
Age: Seven to nine-year-olds have a stranglehold on both the vast majority of winners and runners. But those at double digit ages have been well represented with little success. Specifically, Cool Dawn's 1998 triumph was the only one in the past twenty years.
The elder statesmen have notched ten places from 74 runners since 1997 (13.5%), which is again materially below the place strike rate of their younger counterparts (41/167, 24.5%).
Odds: Although this is something that cannot be judged until much nearer the time, there is plenty of cause for optimism for those who like to play at prices. Whilst Best Mate's second and third wins came at odds of 13/8 and 8/11; and Denman's 9/4 victory was the meat in a Kauto Star (5/4 and 7/4) / Paul Nicholls sandwich; there have also been winners at 16/1, 20/1 twice and 25/1 since 1997.
In a year with no outstanding candidate currently - with the possible, almost by default, exception of Silviniaco Conti - this is a race which looks ripe for a tilt at a price (or two).
Official Rating: It goes without saying that it takes a classy horse to win a Gold Cup, and Lord Windermere's victory last year off 152 was the lowest in the sample... by some way. That said, War Of Attrition had an official Irish rating of 157; and Cool Dawn - who was unrated at the time of his success - was around 150.
The fact remains that of the 13 winners since 1997 to have had a rating going into the race, all bar one were pegged at 166 or more. That is from a sample of just 47 horses (25% win rate), and was worth north of 20 points profit at SP.
It's a group that has included 7/1 Imperial Commander, 8/1 Synchronised, and 16/1 See More Business. Of the likely entries this year, only Silviniaco Conti and Bobs Worth are rated 166+.
Layoff: None of the 65 horses to have raced within a month of the Gold Cup was good enough to win the Gold Cup. Compare that with the 16 winners from the last 17 renewals to have run within 30-90 days. Of that group, clear pick from a rest pattern perspective are those returning off between two and three months away from the track.
They scored ten times from 40 runners (25%), and accounted for a further three placed efforts (32% place strike rate).
Distance: Although the Gold Cup is a test of stamina as well as class, only one winner since 1997 (Synchronised) had won beyond the Gold Cup distance of 3m 2 1/2f. That was from 80 runners to have raced over further. With just ten places to their name (12%), this was another under-performing group.
At the other end of the distance spectrum, none of the handful of horses to have raced exclusively at shorter than three miles was able to win, and only one placed.
Seven winners and 17 further placed horses had previously raced over the Gold Cup trip, most of them in previous Gold Cups.
Class: Every winner since Cool Dawn in 1998 had previously won a Grade 1 Chase.
Key Trials: The best pointers for the Gold Cup are the Lexus Chase, the King George VI Chase and the previous year's RSA Chase.
Four of the last seventeen RSA Chase winners have gone on to win the Gold Cup the following season. That quartet includes the last two Gold Cup winners - Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere - as well as Denman (2008), and Looks Like Trouble (1999). Sadly, O'Faolain's Boy misses the race due to injury.
The King George has heralded the Gold Cup winner six times since 1997, with Best Mate, Kicking King, Kauto Star (twice), Long Run and Silviniaco Conti all doubling up eleven weeks later. Of the RSA winners to claim Gold Cup glory the following season, only Looks Like Trouble ran in the King George (pulled up). Imperial Commander was beaten in the King George before winning the Gold Cup that same season, as
Silviniaco Conti was an easy winner of this season's King George.
The Lexus Chase run at Leopardstown over Christmas has emerged as a credible Gold Cup trial through the wins of Best Mate (2003), Denman (2007), and Synchronised (2011). Eleven lengths behind Bobs Worth last season in the Lexus was Lord Windermere, who won the Gold Cup. Likewise, War Of Attrition was behind Beef Or Salmon in the 2005 Lexus before winning the Gold Cup later that season.
This season, Road To Riches was an impressive winner of the Lexus on soft to heavy ground.
Running Style: Geegeez Gold has a pace tool which breaks horses run styles down into four main categories: led (4), prominent (3), midfield (2), and held up (1). Using those same groupings on the last dozen winners and placed horses in the Gold Cup gives us this picture:
Although there is little about which to be categorical, we can see that those that keep their powder dry early - racing in mid-division or held up - have fared best, with eight wins from the twelve years.
Early leaders unsurprisingly find it hard to hang tough, and just three have clung on for bronze. If you like a perennial pace pusher, beware.
Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015 Form Preview
The Gold Cup 2015 has a wide open look to it, with only Silviniaco Conti showing consistent top class form. Wins in the Betfair Chase and the King George, for a second year in a row, have propelled him to 3/1 favouritism and that looks absolutely fair.
His problem, for punters at least, is that he went into last year's Gold Cup off a similarly authoritative King George romp but curled up on the Cheltenham run in. It is hard to erase that memory and, though Noel Fehily may adopt more patient tactics this year - he took it up at the fourth last in 2014, plenty early enough - there's a persistent niggle about Silviniaco Conti's stamina.
To wit, his King George wins have been when beating doubtful stayers - Dynaste and Cue Card - at three pancake flat miles, let alone the punishing three and three-eighths in the west country. [I know at least some readers will feel Dynaste does stay, but even his connections don't trust him to last out the Gold Cup trip].
So here's the deal with Silvi Conti: he's comfortably the most credible favourite in the field, but he's not one I want to be with, given the stamina reservation. In an open year, it looks like being a big field, and thus every chance of a searching gallop.
The good news is that, if we overlook Signor Conti, it's 10/1 bar. Now you're talking!
Clear second choice in the market is the Lexus Chase winner, Road To Riches. His has been a steady progression through the chasing ranks, having started out as a thrice beaten novice at trips of up to 2m5f. In his defence, those were all Grade 1 events, and more recent evidence suggests they were all at sub-optimal distances.
In fact he's unbeaten in three chase starts at two and three-quarter miles or beyond. Importantly, Road To Riches is proven on a variety of different going, from heavy to good. True, he's yet to race beyond three miles, so there is a stamina question to answer. But, unlike Silviniaco Conti, he has yet to suggest he can't stay the Gold Cup trip.
Rather, he got tapped for toe in the Lexus before staying on best to see off On His Own, Sam Winner, Boston Bob, Carlingford Lough, First Lieutenant, Lord Windermere and Bobs Worth: all are in the frame to re-oppose in March.
Given the depth of that race, and even allowing for the fact it will have been a dress rehearsal rather than the big performance for a subset of the contenders, this was an impressive staying effort, and a career high. It was also a second consecutive Grade 1 win at three miles, and Noel Meade's eight year old looks a pretty solid option.
Our next task is to try to find legitimate excuses for the beaten Lexus horses to put them back in the Gold Cup frame. On His Own probably should have been awarded the 2014 Gold Cup in the stewards' room last year, and he ran a cracker again here, staying on doggedly when others were wilting.
In fact, I'd say he ran right up to his best, though he may have been suited by the slightly easier ground than he faced in the Gold Cup last year, and is likely to face again in the Gold Cup this year. He's just turned ten now too and, while that's not a death knell, it is a knock against his chance. One can't help but feel he's destined to rue the clemency of the on track beaks in March 2014 with regards to Lord Windermere's meandering, interfering passage.
Third placed Sam Winner ran a blinder on ground softer than ideal. He's a four time Cheltenham course winner, and he won over a furlong further than the Gold Cup trip there in November, lugging top weight of 11-12 in a Grade 3 handicap chase.
Not beaten far in the Lexus, he was also not beaten far in the RSA Chase last March, but that may be the story of his Grade 1 career: he wasn't beaten far in the G1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow as a four year; he wasn't beaten far in the Triumph later that season; and he hasn't been beaten that far in those two G1 chases this term.
He's a phenomenally consistent lad and he might just have been bottomed by the February run in heavy ground prior to the RSA last year. This time, granted a slightly easier run to the Festival, he can make the frame. 33/1 non-runner no bet underestimates his chance.
Boston Bob is another about whom there are valid stamina doubts. He's a gutsy street fighter, with a stellar record at two and a half miles. Now a ten year old, he's another that might have to cede best to younger limbs, but he does stay better now than he did. On balance, though, I prefer the chances of others.
Only eight lengths behind the winner in the Lexus Chase was Carlingford Lough, a horse I admit to having backed speculatively at the start of the season. This was his seasonal debut, and in that context it was a very fair effort: he travelled well through the race, jumped better than he sometimes does, and just ran out of puff late on.
It might be that he doesn't quite stay the Gold Cup trip, in which case the Ryanair entry looks sensible. But he's a Grade 1 winner at three miles over both hurdles and fences, and he was actually sent off favourite for the 2013 Irish Grand National over 3m5f.
He's talented and quirky, but even if he puts in an absolutely foot perfect round, it is hard to see him beating them all off.
Lord Windermere got best of a 3 way go last year...
That comment doesn't apply to Lord Windermere who showed last season that trainer Jim Culloty learned a lot from his guv'nor when riding, Henrietta Knight. Target training is an art, and Culloty's ability to notch a second Cheltenham Festival Grade 1 win with Lord W, having not been closer than sixth in any of the three intervening runs, was an object lesson in the art; and mirrored the careful planning of Hen for Best Mate's hat-trick of Gold Cups, all steered by Culloty.
So it is again that Lord Windermere has been no better than third in two runs since his Gold Cup triumph. Both those runs would have been on terrain at least a modicum softer than ideal, and both offered more promise than did the trio which preceded his Gold Cup win. He simply has to be a runner again, with conditions certain to be optimal.
Bobs Worth, on the other hand, has too many questions to answer. The 2012 RSA Chase and 2013 Gold Cup winner ran a screwy race in the Gold Cup last year, jumping the last upsides before weakening to fifth after covering more ground laterally than forwards. He was sent off the 6/4 favourite that day, and was again favoured - at 5/2 - in the Lexus, implying he wouldn't need it too much after nine months off the course.
In the circumstances then, especially as he's now turned ten, he's opposed.
Away from the Lexus, the challengers still come, and it might be that one of the less acclaimed horses sneaks up on those flashing their blades in the big Grade 1 contests. The most likely pair on that score are Holywell and Many Clouds.
The former was a comfortable enough winner of the Festival Handicap Chase last year, and followed that up with a demolition of Don Cossack and co in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree. But his jumping has generally been sub-par - typified by two notable mistakes before unshipping his rider at the eighth at Aintree the last day - and that's not an exciting attribute for a possible Gold Cup wager.
Many Clouds a solid Gold Cup contender on soft ground
Many Clouds, however, has a pleasingly progressive profile, albeit still with something to prove. A close second to subsequent RSA Chase winner, O'Faolain's Boy, in the Reynoldstown last February, Many Clouds was still lobbing along when brought down in that rough renewal of the novice stayers' championship.
It may have been a blessing in disguise and, though he was a remote fourth to Holywell in the aforementioned Mildmay thereafter, he's looked an animal on the up this term. On his first run of the season, he was a taking winner of a Listed chase that also featured Holywell as well as Nicky Richards' 159-rated chaser, Eduard.
He stayed on best over that inadequate two and a half miles, aided doubtless by the soft ground. It was sodden underfoot once more when Many Clouds lined up for the Hennessy, itself a fair portent of Gold Cup prospects, as the 8/1 joint-fifth choice in the market.
Carrying 11-06 he was three lengths too good for the gallant top weight, Houblon Des Obeaux; and twenty-odd lengths-plus too good for all bar Merry King, himself a length behind Houblon in third. This was a fine performance from an ascendant stayer in a race in which both Denman and Bobs Worth have advertised their Blue Riband credentials earlier in their winning seasons, in the last seven years.
Coincidentally, Bobs Worth was also a seven year old when winning the Hennessy, as was Many Clouds; and carried 11-06, as did Many Clouds. I also backed Many Clouds, at a huge price, at the start of the season, and I'm happy enough with my ticket.
The most likely elements to beat him are, firstly, that he's still a tad shy of the normal level of ability required to win a Gold Cup. That is mitigated somewhat by it having the feel of a sub-par renewal and the fact he's on such a progressive trajectory.
More concerning to me personally is his predilection for precipitated upon pistes. That is to say soft ground. Indeed all victories bar a bumper win on good to soft three years ago have been achieved on soft or heavy turf. It could be soft or heavy for Gold Cup day, but realistically conditions will likely be a fair bit quicker than that.
Six of the last ten Gold Cups, including four of the last five, have been run on good ground. Three more were on good to soft, and just Bobs Worth's 2013 victory was achieved on soft going in the past decade. Perhaps the Bobs Worth comparisons will extend to the state of the ground too, but the balance of history suggests Many Clouds will need to perform under what may be skies bereft of many clouds.
Further down the lists we go in what is a market full of horses with hopes higher, and odds typically lower, than formbook chances. But, with the advent of a number of bookies going non-runner no bet, we might be able to have a pop at something with a money-back concession if it doesn't run.
One of mild interest on that score is Al Ferof. He's never raced beyond three miles and he's never won beyond two and a half. Moreover, whilst this ten year old winner of ten races under rules is older than I'd normally engage with, the price and bookie concession are mildly appealing in this case. Here's why...
Of that trio of t'ree mile losses, two were in the King George turning back after a month off. Both were staying on efforts behind his half-brother, Silviniaco Conti (both sired, like Unioniste and Neptune Collonges, by Dom Alco), and both followed wins in the Amlin Chase.
His third defeat at three miles was on heavy ground, and I'd excuse most horses defeat on heavy even when they've been classy enough to win against inferior horses in a bumper on it.
My case for Al Ferof rests on him never having proven he doesn't stay beyond three miles, and upon a rock solid contention that this is a horse who is best fresh. Indeed, here's his record (taken from Geegeez Gold form) when he's been turned out after 60 days or more.
Al Ferof has won all completed started after a 60+ day break
If you're struggling to read the fine print in the image, you can enlarge it by clicking thereupon. Or, alternatively, I could simply tell you that Al Ferof is unbeaten in five completed starts after a break of 60+ days.
So yes, it's a bit of a punt that he'll get the trip. And yes, it's a bit of a punt that he's good enough (though he's actually the second highest rated UK-based horse in the race). And yes, he's a ten year old.
And, perhaps most materially of all, he's more likely to run in the Ryanair Chase. But that's where non-runner no bet comes in. If he does race in the Ryanair, or even the Champion Chase, we'll get our dough back, no damage done.
But as a 33/1 shot with a superb record fresh, and the non-runner no bet 'get out of jail free card' in our corner, he's another to tempt a few beans from the Bisogno bank.
2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup Tips
It's a fascinating betting race, and one where there's a big price - if not necessarily a value one - at every turn bar the jolly. As I've said, Silviniaco Conti's stamina is enough of a concern to look elsewhere, and there are a few I like against him to varying degrees.
I've already backed Carlingford Lough and Many Clouds at very big prices, and if it came up soft the latter would have a great chance.
More credible ante-post selections though are these, I hope:
2 pts Road To Riches 8/1 bet365, Skybet, totesport, Paddy all non-runner no bet (10/1 BetVictor all in run or not)
1 pt Lord Windermere 16/1 Ladbrokes (all in run or not) (12/1 general non-runner no bet)
0.5 pt Sam Winner 33/1 totesport, Betfred, Paddy non-runner no bet
0.5 pt Al Ferof 33/1 totesport, Betfred, Paddy non-runner no bet
It's half way, and most will be either up or down by this point. For those up, the temptation to draw stumps and enjoy the profit is probably pretty weak; and for those down, there is certainty that other opportunities will manifest themselves just yet. Onwards, for we've work to do, on Day Three of the Cheltenham Festival jamboree...
Felix Yonger: the pick of the Mullins JLT novices?
1.30 JLT Novices' Chase
[Previewed 7th March]
The JLT Novices' Chase (formerly Jewson) will be run for just the fourth time, having been incepted in 2011. Clearly, then, trends are of limited utility. However, with top class chaser Sir Des Champs already on the roll of honour, the signs are that this event is deserving of its newly-elevated Grade 1 status.
It is run over the intermediate distance of two and a half miles.
2014 JLT Novices' Chase Trends
There is little to go so far, with just three runnings in the book, but a couple of things already spring out. Firstly, like the RSA Chase, it's been dominated by seven-year-olds so far. Seven of the nine podium positions have been claimed by this age group (78%) from just seventeen runners (50%).
The Irish have outperformed their numerical representation, with all three winners thus far (100%), from just ten runners (29%). Whilst it is foolish to get too carried away by these data, it is certainly not foolish to consider the Irish form in some detail, especially given the 20/1 success of Benefficient in the race last year.
Interestingly, all three had at least three chase races going into the JLT, and each had won or finished second in two Grade 1 or 2 races. 20/1 Benefficient actually won a Grade 1 on his previous start!
Felix Yonger, though an eight year old, makes plenty of appeal on the basis of these skeletal trends.
2014 JLT Novices' Chase Preview
Willie Mullins' Felix Yonger is the ante-post favourite for this race, and it is easy to see why. Good enough as a hurdler to finish second in the 2012 Neptune, he then missed a year due to injury. Now eight, he's a 'logical seven-year-old' with that absence in mind.
Unbeaten in his first three chases, including a Grade 2 where he trumped the leading Irish novice chaser this season, Defy Logic (injured, misses the Festival), he was expected to extend that sequence at Limerick on his penultimate outing.
Stablemate The Paparazzi Kid, something of a Limerick course specialist (3/3), lowered Felix's colours that, and he was beaten nine lengths on heavy ground by Trifolium in the Irish Arkle, a Grade 1, last time.
That form reads very well, especially when you consider his form on yielding or better ground reads 102111 - the 02 being unplaced in the Champion Bumper as a 66/1 shot, and second in the Neptune as mentioned.
Compare that to his form on softer - 2211522 - and this scribe is left with the impression that Felix Yonger's class has got him close that many times. His form with the best Irish novice chasers gives him every chance in this, and his track and trip form is an important bonus. 5/1 looks at least fair. I'd imagine he'll be a good bit shorter on the day.
The best of British come next, with Wonderful Charm and Oscar Whisky heading up the home offence. Wonderful Charm is trained by Paul Nicholls, Oscar Whisky by Nicky Henderson, and there is little between these two old adversaries, both equine and human! Indeed, last time out, Wonderful Charm failed by half a length to pass Oscar Whisky in a Cheltenham novice chase. The former was conceding eight pounds to the latter however, and comes out a good bit better on the ratings.
The negative for me, as in pretty much all cases, is that Wonderful Charm has been off the track for 90 days. It's tough to defy a three month layoff against tip top oppo.
Oscar Whisky has raced twice since meeting Wonderful Charm, winning both times in very small fields. First, he overcame Taquin de Seuil by three-quarters of a length; and then he saw off Manyriverstocross in workmanlike fashion. Whilst he's not been flashy in his four run novice chase career thus far, he has been effective.
At nine years old though, and with seventeen hurdle runs to his name, I've had an ongoing niggle about his jumping. Specifically, it seems to me that long-time hurdlers who convert to chasing make a different 'shape' at the fences. That, clearly, can be troublesome, and I have a similar reservation about Rock On Ruby in the Arkle.
Both Oscar and Ruby are obviously very talented animals, and it is far from inconceivable that they could both win their respective races. But, at the prices, and with the fencing niggle - as well as their age - I'm siding against the pair.
Vukovar and Taquin de Seuil are 8/1 chances, and it is probably fair to say that both would appreciate some dig in the ground. Vukovar was an expensive acquisition from France for the excellent Harry Fry. In two British efforts to date, he was beaten by the enigmatic Mr Mole on good to soft before waltzing away from Open Hearted over a longer trip and on softer ground.
Open Hearted is a decent marker, having been rated 145 at the time of that defeat, and Vukovar's demolition, albeit in receipt of a stone, was impressive. He too has not run since Christmas, though, and even though I have enormous respect for young Harry Fry and young Vukovar, there are enough reservations - time off, inexperience after two chases, ground preference - to overlook him here.
Taquin de Seuil did have an earlier verdict over Oscar Whisky, also at Cheltenham, and on good ground. That was a decent performance given his predilection for deeper underfoot, and he may have benefited from a less battle ready rival that day. I think the market has it spot on, with Oscar Whisky likely to come out on top between the pair if both jump round.
We then head into double figure prices, with Sizing Gold and Djakadam 12/1 pokes. All of Sizing Gold's form to date has been on soft or heavy, and good ground at Cheltenham would be a worry in that context. Although the trip should be ideal for this son of Flemensfirth, he's inexperienced with just a couple of chase runs thus far, and he fails to catch the eye from a value perspective.
Djakadam is equally inexperienced, but ran a scorcher to see off Bright New Dawn by four lengths in Grade 2 company on only his second chase run. He's a five year old, like inaugural winner Noble Prince, and though all his form is on soft or heavy ground, his action suggests he might actually improve for terra firmer. He looks a very dangerous 'floater' if he shows up here.
There's little to excite me in the remainder of the entries, with the possible exception of Double Ross, a wildly experienced eight year old with bags of course form. Trained locally by Nigel Twiston-Davies, he's had six spins around the Cheltenham circuit, all at intermediate distances and, though he has thirty lengths to find with Felix Yonger on 2012 Neptune form, he's improved a stone as a chaser compared to his official hurdle rating.
His chase form at Prestbury Park reads 112, all in Grade 3 handicap chases, and this boy is battle-hardened. He was only beaten a length and a bit by Wishfull Thinking last time, both carrying over eleven stone, and that's proper handicap form. If it becomes a street fight, Double Ross has more moves than most.
2014 JLT Novices' Chase Tips
Felix Yonger looks a strong favourite here, and I really like his chance. He's already achieved more on ratings than any of the three previous JLT winners did in claiming this prize, and he looks to have conditions perfectly in his favour.
The worry about Wonderful Charm's absence puts me off his chance, despite the fact that he's probably had legitimate reasons - waiting for better ground - for that. He may well come out best of the British, though at the prices I prefer Double Ross as an each way play.
The real wild card is Djakadam and, if he turns up and jumps as well as he has, he could improve past all of them. He looks a potential future Gold Cup winner, and reminds me a little of Sir Des Champs.
JLT Novices' Chase Selection:
Felix Yonger 5/1 Seanie Mac (Non Runner Money Back)
JLT Novices' Chase each way alternatives:
Djakadam 12/1 SkyBet (Best Odds Guaranteed, Non Runner Money Back)
Double Ross 14/1 SkyBet (Best Odds Guaranteed, Non Runner Money Back)
2.05 Pertemps Final Handicap
A three mile handicap hurdle, and a tricky trappy troublesome one at that.
Pertemps Final Trends
Seven winners since 1997 (16 renewals) won last time out. That was from 66 runners and was worth a profit of 25.5 points at SP.
15/16 winners since 1997 were aged six to nine. 5yo's are 0 from 36, though nine of them have made the frame. 10yo+ are 1 from 47 (repeat winner, Buena Vista).
Only two of those sixteen winners were rated above 142.
All sixteen winners in that period last ran between two weeks and three months ago.
Pertemps Final Preview
I'm not expecting to get the winner in this race. Just so you know. With that said, let's take a look at a few of the more likely lads.
Fingal Bay probably has too much weight, but that's because he has a largely very compelling profile. Hurdle form of 111121 is pretty impressive, the 2 coming in a Grade 1 hurdle at Aintree (and one of the 1's also in Grade 1 company). He was rated 153 and on the up over hurdles when he switched to fences, but then injury intervened. In the time he was off, the handicapper dropped him to 142 and Fingal Bay duly won with gratitude.
Now back to 148, although he has plenty of weight to carry, it's hard to say he's badly off at the ratings. After all, he travels so well on the front and he's five pounds lower than his top mark, without having done anything sub-standard to merit it. He is a very big horse so carrying weight is somewhat offset by that, and I'd expect him to run well for the in-form Hobbs team (winner and fourth in the Cross Country, with Balthazar King and Duke Of Lucca on Wednesday).
Grand Vision was good enough to be third in the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett of 2012 over course and distance, and gets in here off a mark of 142. Given trainer Colin Tizzard's Festival record with handicappers, that looks workable, and this chap has hit the frame in all three runs on a sound surface. Brendan Powell is the stable's job jockey these days, and I'd not be at all surprised to see Grand Vision run a very solid race.
At the other end of the field, Pateese is another Hobbs horse with a squeak. Second to Coral Cup winner, Whisper, two starts back, he was freshened up with a run down the field in a hot Newbury race in February. That was a livener for this, I suspect, and he did run in the race last year off the same mark. He's probably got a bit to find, as odds of 50/1 suggest, but there are reasons for a shard of optimism.
On The Bridge has been off the course since last October, and that's probably too long in truth, but trainer Jeremy Scott is a dab hand at bringing horses back fit and this chap looks to have an each way sniff, given a likely patient ride form Nick Scholfield. He'll love the trip and the ground, and was a good fourth to Trackmate last time.
McCoy's mount, If In Doubt, may struggle to beat stablemate, Fingal Bay, and his McManus-mate, Josies Orders, has been humped with an extra stone for his facile win 48 days ago.
I'm a fan of Jessie Harrington's Jetson, and what a week it would be for the yard if he could follow up Jezki's Champion Hurdle win of Tuesday. He won the Punchestown qualifier, and the Pertemps winners that emerge from that qualifiers have normally been 'looked after' in mid-division to preserve their ratings.
In that context, Seefood, second in the Leopardstown qualifier at Christmas, looks a player. Although something of a frustrating sort, with places galore but just three wins to his name - and none since November 2012 - Seefood has some cracking form in defeat. He goes on any ground, as a close up third to Foildubh illustrates, and trainer Dessie Hughes won this with Oulart in 2005.
As with all the big field handicaps, there's a fair chance I've not even mentioned the winner, such is the depth of the fields.
Pertemps Final Tips
Although he'd be a stats buster, I'd love to see the top weight, Fingal Bay, carry all before him in this. He's come back from injury seemingly as good as ever and, if that's true, then he still has upside potential off a mark of 148, and has the frame to lug the lead too.
Of the rest, Grand Vision is a tempter for the wily Colin Tizzard; and Seefood may prove best of the Irish. Pateese might run better than a 50/1 shot.
Pertemps Final selection:
Fingal Bay 7/1 bet365 BOG, FIVE places
Best Pertemps Final each way:
Grand Vision 14/1 bet 365 BOG, FIVE places
Seefood 14/1 PP BOG, FIVE places
Ryanair Chase Preview Tips
2.40 Ryanair Chase
[Published 29th January]
One of the newer races in the expanded four day Cheltenham Festival, the Ryanair Chase is rapidly making a name for itself as a coronation procession for middle distance chasing champions. Run over two miles and five furlongs, and with seventeen fences to jump it is a true test of speed, stamina and athleticism, and the tapes go up at 2.40 on Thursday 13th March.
At the time of writing, the race looks to be an excellent betting contest, mainly because the ante-post favourite and reigning Ryanair champion, Cue Card, has been declared by his trainer to be "85 per cent likely" to run in the Gold Cup and, therefore, miss this race.
Moreover, there is a good chance that third favourite, Al Ferof, will run in the Gold Cup rather than the Ryanair as well, although this will not be decided until after the Denman Chase, scheduled for 8th February.
That leaves only Benefficient, last year's Jewson Chase winner (for novices' over the same course, and distance), at single figures for the contest, and he too is also engaged in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. It's then 11/1 bar this trio of uncertain entries, which underscores my keenness to have a bash at the contest.
Let's first see if there is anything to be gleaned from the past runnings of the race...
Ryanair Chase Trends
First run in 2005, there are now nine years' worth of data to trawl, and the key points from it include the following.
Just three of 23 last time out winners followed up in the Ryanair, with another three (from 19) winning having been second on their previous start. 19 of the 42 horses to have finished 1-2 in their last race were placed in the Ryanair, at a rate of 45%. That was from 44% of the runners, making the 67% win rate noteworthy.
Eight- to ten-year-olds have claimed seven of the nine Ryanair's, and 19 of the 27 place positions (70%), though that is only in line with their numerical representation, having been responsible for 72% of the runners.
Only 14/1 Albertas Run has won at a bigger price than 6/1, so whichever horse we back at a bigger price, we should be looking for it to truncate in the betting before the big day. With the possibility of two or three of the main fancies swerving the race, there's every chance of finding a 'shortener'.
In such a classy race as the Ryanair, it is hardly surprising that ten of the 25 runners officially rated 165 or higher were placed, with four of them winning. That's 44% of the winners, and 37% of the placed horses from just 26% of the runners.
As with all Cheltenham races, it takes an exceptional horse to defy a significant layoff, and all nine Ryanair winners ran within 90 days of their Festival success. 25 of the 27 (93%) placed horses did too, from 84% of the runners. Aside from Quevega, it is good sense to exclude any horse without a run in the previous 90 days at the Cheltenham Festival.
The most interesting trend with regards to the Ryanair however may be that eight of the nine winners of the race so far had already won at Cheltenham beforehand, though not necessarily at the Festival. That's 89% of the winners from just 52% of the runners.
Placing even greater emphasis on track form is the fact that eight of the nine winners (89%), and 19 of the 27 (70%) placed horses, had been placed at least twice before around Cheltenham. And that from just 51 runners (54%).
Six of the nine Ryanair winners were previous Grade 1 winners, with another two having already notched in Grade 2 company.
Those which fit the profile closest include Dynaste, Menorah, and First Lieutenant.
Ryanair Chase 2014 Preview
Cue Card is the defending champion and ante post favourite for this year's Ryanair Chase. He obviously handles conditions fine, and has been in excellent form this year, including when winning the Grade 1 Betfair Chase over about three miles at Haydock in November. Since then he's run a game second in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, and comes to the Festival in top form.
The problem for punters is that he's more likely - much more likely according to his trainer - to go for the Gold Cup than the Ryanair and, as such, the 3/1 BetVictor (non-runner free bet) is far more appealing than the 6/1 Paddy Power, where you'll lose your cash if Cue Card doesn't start in this race.
Benefficient is more likely to take in this event, though he too is engaged elsewhere, and he underlined his credentials firstly by winning the novices' equivalent of the Ryanair, the JLT (was Jewson), and secondly by fending off all-comers last time in the Grade 1 Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown.
The problem here is that Benefficient's Grade 1 score the last day was over two miles and on soft ground and, despite the persistent rain that continues to fall, it is expected to be quicker than that - and will certainly be further than that - in middle March. In any case, his form is probably half a stone or more behind that of Cue Card.
Al Ferof, a 7/1 chance, is another that may take the Gold Cup route. His King George third, eleven lengths behind Cue Card, left suspicions that he doesn't truly stay the three miles there - and therefore would struggle to get the almost 3m3f of the Gold Cup trip. There are some, however, that believe he was outpaced at Kempton, and was staying on at the finish.
My take is that he didn't stay, a perception which is at least partially supported by no previous rules effort beyond the 2m5f Ryanair trip. In fact, the only two runs at that distance culminated in a Grade 1 third in a novice hurdle at Newbury, and a win the Paddy Power Gold Cup over the course, and distance, of the Ryanair.
He's entered in the three mile Denman Chase on 8th February, and a call on which Festival target to tilt at will be made subsequently. If Al Ferof lines up here, he has a very good chance - form figures of 2F1141 at Cheltenham, and 214 at the Festival underline that. 6/1 non-runner no bet with bet365 is the logical play, especially with trainer Paul Nicholls hinting that the Gold Cup is slightly preferred at this stage.
First Lieutenant is yet another horse with multiple entries, and which might go the Gold Cup route. He ran second to a resurgent Bobs Worth at Leopardstown over Christmas, though the form of that race is hard to quantify. To wit, the winner had run a stinker in the Betfair previously; the third, Rubi Ball, was bidding to replicate smart French form but hasn't won for two years and eleven starts; the fourth, Sir Des Champs, was essentially having his first start of the season after a very early (and crashing) fall the time before. He ran a bit flat, and has been withdrawn for the remainder of the season.
Of the remainder, nothing was rated higher than 154, and only the veteran Prince de Beauchene was distanced from the field. In other words, it was a muddling race.
In First Left's defence, he has an extremely consistent profile - 14 places from 17 chase starts - but against him are just three wins from that number. Given that he was readily outpaced in the Ryanair last year; and that his five subsequent starts have all been at within a furlong of three miles; and that Sir Des Champs (same owner) is out of the Gold Cup... I'd say he's more likely to go the Gold Cup route. Betting of 11/1, but only 6/1 non runner no bet tells a tale, and he's not for me. Too many chances, too few wins.
Next in is Dynaste and, after a disappointing performance in the King George, he's receiving specialist treatment at home. The latest bulletin from trainer David Pipe was far from fulsome, with the trainer noting, “He is improving steadily (but is not yet 100 per cent) and is still receiving regular treatment from [physiotherapist] Mary Bromiley."
Dynaste plugged on quite well behind Benefficient in the Jewson/JLT last year, but he was expected to win that day, so the silver medal can still be marked a tad disappointing. Overall then, the price doesn't really offer too much for value punters.
The best backed horse of recent days is Willie Mullins' Marito, a faller when starting to make ground in Benefficient's Cheltenham win last year. He's had a low key prep since, with a close second to an under-par Hurricane Fly in the Morigana Hurdle followed by a straightforward conversion in a Listed chase at Tramore.
Marito did have the 162-rated Roi Du Mee three lengths back in that contest, but he doesn't look good enough even off a revised rating of 154. He may also want deeper turf than he's likely to encounter at Cheltenham in March.
Although there are still a number of contenders priced at 20/1 or shorter, most of them have serious questions to answer currently: the likes of Riverside Theatre (inconsistent, unseated last time), Module (lightly raced and a stone below what's needed), Captain Conan (stamina doubt on this stiff track and maybe more likely to contest Queen Mother Champion Chase), and Arvika Ligeonniere (may be better right handed and disappointed badly in the Champion Chase last year).
Of the oily rags, Menorah has plenty of course form and has been in the first three in nine of fourteen career chases, including three Grade 1's. The problem for his fan club is that he's also pulled up twice in his last four starts, including when running a clunker in last year's Ryanair.
If his mid-February prep goes all right, he is at least solely entered in the Ryanair at the Festival. He's 20/1 non-runner free bet with BetVictor and that's not the least tempting offer on the bookies' table.
Ryanair Chase 2014 Tips
Betting of 6/1 the field attests to the wide open nature of this year's Ryanair and, with lingering doubts about which race several of the leading candidates will contest, this is a minefield for punters. With some bookmakers offering either non runner no bet or non runner free bet, we can take a chance on a couple against the top of the market.
Cue Card does have BY FAR the most compelling profile for the race, and is a model of top class consistency. He definitely merits some sort of insured investment, as he could be a 7/4 chance on the day if lining up in this (and, of course, it's free bet time if he runs in the Gold Cup instead).
Al Ferof at 6/1 is also a price with a bit of scope assuming he lines up. I think he will and, therefore, I think the 6/1 non runner no bet is worth taking.
The rest are varying degrees of unpalatable, and the best outsider could be course veteran, Menorah. His Cheltenham form is 111543P2 and he does have talent on his going days.
Ryanair Chase win selection:
Al Ferof 6/1 bet365 (non-runner no bet)
Best Ryanair Chase outsider:
Menorah 20/1 BetVictor (non-runner free bet)
World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips
3.20 World Hurdle
[Previewed 2nd March]
Despite including the historically significant Big Buck's within its field, the 2014 Ladbrokes World Hurdle is a very strong contender for worst Championship race at the Cheltenham Festival.
Whilst such an opening statement may seem harsh, it is rooted in the reality that Big Buck's is favourite as a venerable eleven-year-old, despite having only run once since 1st December 2012. And that run was a defeat.
So, does this possible weakness atop the betting pile offer value further down? You bet your booties it does; the only slight issue is in trying to identify just where further down we ought to be snooping. Perhaps the recent history of the race can guide us...
World Hurdle 2014 Trends
The trends for this race are rather skewed by the fact that three horses - Big Buck's, Inglis Drever, and Baracouda - are responsible for nine of the last twelve winners of the race. Nonetheless, they did have plenty in common aside from being multiple World Hurdle winners.
Age: Every winner since 1987, and every winner bar Crimson Embers since the race changed to its present format in 1972, has been aged six to nine. Crimson Embers was eleven, like Big Buck's, and was winning for the second time having previously scored as a mere whipper snapper aged seven.
Recent form: Seventeen of the last twenty World Hurdle winners finished first or second last time. Two of the other three finished third, and one finished fourth. All of the last sixteen winners were returning to the track within three months. Of the handful (14) absent for longer, they've failed to make the frame between them.
Rating: Of the dozen World Hurdle winners since 1997 with an official rating, all bar Anzum in 1999 and Solwhit last year were rated at least 157.
This would give us a trends shortlist of At Fishers Cross, Rule The World, Zarkandar, Annie Power, and More Of That.
World Hurdle 2014 Form Preview
The market is dominated by two horses with serious question marks over their chance. Big Buck's, as mentioned, is eleven, and has raced just once in the last sixteen months. That was a game third place in the Cleeve Hurdle and it might be argued that he performed admirably to finish so close after such a long absence. It could, however, also be argued that he had a hard enough race that day after the long break.
Most pertinently from my perspective, it can be argued that he ran some way below his best. There will be plenty of sentimentalists who want to back Big Buck's, and he unquestionably retains a chance in a race that he's made his own in recent seasons, winning on each of the four times he's contested it. But the price does not allow for sentiment. Not one bit.
While the sponsors' quote of 5/4 is offensive in any language, the more sensible 2/1 generally available is still not even remotely tempting. Sure, Big Buck's can win. And he's one of those lads you'd be happy enough - or at least grudgingly accepting - if he nutted your pick in a photo.
The other market leader is the unbeaten Annie Power, whose winning streak now extends to ten. What it does not extend to is a victory beyond 2m5f, and that in a three horse dawdle. Will she stay? Probably. Will she stay and win at Championship pace? Possibly. Is she any value at 5/2? Not really. Although there is a further question - will she even run in this race (she's also quoted in single figures for the Champion Hurdle and the Mares' Hurdle, the latter of which she's odds on 'with a run') - that is mitigated by the non-runner no bet concession widely available.
It's hard to quantify the level of ability of horses yet to be beaten, and she's won by clear daylight in each of those ten races. But... she does have to prove she will stay, and that's enough - just - to ensure this scribe looks elsewhere.
So if that's the top pair with questions to answer at short enough prices, where does the value lie against them?
At Fishers Cross is the third market choice - just - and is also the choice of Tony McCoy for his guv'nor JP McManus. At Fishers Cross was unbeaten in six races last year, including the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival, and the Grade 1 Sefton Novices' Hurdle at the Aintree Festival. He's a horse that has had well documented back problems, and they seemed to plague him in the early part of this season.
But, after a break, his last run - in the Cleeve Hurdle - was much better: a staying on short head behind shock winner Knockara Beau. At Fishers Cross would have won in another stride, and was staying on stoutly, an ideal attribute for the World Hurdle.
Just three-quarters of a length behind was Big Buck's but, if At Fishers Cross' back issues continue to be managed, I can't see why the form will be reversed. The latter is progressive at just seven years old and the former is surely on the wane now, aged eleven. 9/1 is a solid enough play.
Next come More Of That and Rule The World at around 10/1. More Of That has had just the four runs, winning all of them, and has progressed into a very promising horse. He was last seen three months ago, however, and although the form of his two length defeat of Salubrious in the Grade 2 Relkeel reads well enough, that's a long absence to defy. Moreover, he has to prove that he sees out this longer trip. It's possible that he'll improve for it, but he'd need to. As progressive as he undoubtedly is, that combination of time off and unproven stamina is enough for me to overlook him, especially as Tony McCoy has done likewise. A lovely prospect, all the same.
Rule The World has been first or second in eight of his ten career starts, and won five of them including a Grade 2 and a Grade 3. But... all his winning has been on a soft surface, and almost all of it - a facile maiden hurdle win aside, when he likely totally outclassed his opposition - has been in small fields. He ran his best race, though, when second in last year's Neptune to The New One, and his low key prep has been geared totally to the World Hurdle.
Rule The World has improved from race to race this term and, if the ground is soft, I think he'll have a good chance in what looks to me to be an open race.
It is quite hard to believe that 10/1 shot Zarkandar is only seven years old, as he seems to have been around for a good while. Paul Nicholls' charge is a model of consistency, with twelve of his fifteen hurdle runs finishing in gold or silver medals. He's a triple Grade 1 winner too, including the Triumph Hurdle of 2011, and has finished fifth and fourth in the last two Champion Hurdles.
The step up to three miles is taken on trust, as with a number of his rivals but, unlike some of them, he acts on any ground. It is easy to envisage Zarkandar running a nice race, but - for me, at least - it is hard to see him out-staying all of the field, especially if nemesis Annie Power shows up (she's beaten him comprehensively twice already this season).
It's 16/1 bar those, which brings in Noel Meade's Monksland. That trainer's lamentable record at the Cheltenham Festival (2 from 87 since 2003) is widely known, but of more concern must be the 440 day absence Monksland bids to overcome. Surely not.
Of the remainder, Fingal Bay would be mildly interesting at 25/1 or bigger. He won nicely on his first start after fifteen months off and didn't look to have a hard race there, so any fears of the dreaded 'bounce' (when a horse runs poorly on second start after a long break, having run well in a battle on that first run back) should be unfounded. There is a more pertinent question regarding whether Fingal Bay is anywhere near good enough, and connections have another option in the Pertemps. Should he line up here, that would be a positive sign, and non-runner no bet allows for absence.
World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips
The 2014 World Hurdle is a really tough race to unravel with so many if's and but's. It is not a race I will be piling into, and I cannot recommend any horse with confidence. However, I do feel the top of the market looks a bit suspect and, consequently, I'm happy to take a couple against Annie and Buck's.
At Fishers Cross showed far more of his previous zest last time out, implying his back problems have been resolved. If he gets to the Festival in the same physicalform, then he can be expected to improve a notch or two on that last run, which might be good enough.
If the ground is on the soft side, and at time of writing (2nd March), it's still too early to say (though the official line is soft currently), then Rule The World comes into it. He's a relentless galloper who would benefit from as much mud as possible, where others may struggle to get home in such conditions.
World Hurdle Selection: At Fishers Cross 9/1 BetVictor BOG World Hurdle Alternative: Rule The World 10/1 BetVictor BOG
4.00 Byrne Group Plate
A race for trainers as much as horses, with the Pipe's (Martin and David) responsible for six winners since 1997; Venetia Williams rowing in with three (including 33/1 and 50/1 shots); and Nicky Henderson bagging a brace. That's three trainers (counting the Pipe's as one) winning eleven of the last sixteen versions of this prize. Clearly, they require close scrutiny in the entries.
Byrne Group Plate Trends
Five last time out winners claimed this prize since 1997, and thirteen horses placed 1st to 5th on their previous start.
All ages from five through to eleven have won this.
Since 1987, only three horses have shouldered more than eleven stone to victory.
18 of the last 22 winners had run at the Cheltenham Festival before.
Byrne Group Plate Preview
Our three trainers to follow - Messrs Pipe, Henderson and Madame Williams - have seven runners between them, for most of which a credible case can be made. Last year's winner Carrickboy has just four pounds more this time and he's bidding to become the first repeat winner since Henderson's The Tsarevich won in 1985/6.
Whilst he's not out of it, and we know he's fine with conditions (though it was a bit softer when he won last year), I slightly prefer stablemate, Shangani. He'd run a string of good efforts in defeat before finally scoring in Grade 3 handicap company last time. A five pound rise for that is fair, and he could have more to come on a sounder surface - his French form including a win on firm. 20/1 is very attractive given his trainer's recent record. Venetia also runs Benny's Mist, which will probably win on the basis that I've not discussed it in any detail here!
Henderson's brace in the race are the formerly smart Nadiya de la Vega, and Giorgio Quercus. This trip and ground at Cheltenham (winner here on good to soft) could be right up her street, and she's slipped down to a perch two pounds below her last win. 20/1 is again most appealing.
Giorgio Quercus has run four stinkers around here, and I doubt even the services of top amateur Nico de Boinville (beat McCoy aboard Whisper on Wednesday) can get this fellow close to winning.
And David Pipe runs Ballynagour and Wetak. Ballynagour was a huge punt for this last year before finishing eighth, and he looks like a horse with bleeding problems to me. Such animals tend to run their best races fresh, so the 117 day layoff can be seen as a positive. On balance though, he's unlikely to get to the finish without over-exerting himself and I'm afraid that could mean another 'P' by his name.
Wetak has come over from France and ran a nice enough race at Ascot on his British debut before tipping up. The Cheltenham fences are not easier than their Ascot counterparts and he'd be hard to recommend.
Of the rest, Team Tizzard have Third Intention, and this super-consistent fellow has been running in Grade 1 and 2 events. This represents a significant step down in class and, with Champion Court keeping his weight below eleven stone, he has a chance to at least make the frame again. Track and trip look spot on, and ground is fine too.
The Irish have a lamentable record in this, and pretty much all of the Cheltenham handicaps, so Sraid Padraig is worth the swerve on that basis, despite his upward momentum. Getting whacked eleven pounds for winning last time hardly flags him as well rated either.
JP McManus' pair, Tap Night and Colour Squadron, don't look well enough treated either, despite the burglary job attempted with the former last time when McCoy just didn't make any effort. I'm prepared to go on record and say it's disappointing that he's allowed to get away with these sort of 'handicapping' rides, despite the undoubted largesse of his trainer towards the sport.
Changing the subject, John's Spirit should run a good race without being well enough handicapped to repel all opposition.
Byrne Group Plate Tips
Wide open and worth taking two or three at prices, win only. So that's what I'm going to do.
Three win bets against the field:
Shangani 20/1 Betfair Sportsbook BOG, FIVE places
Nadiya de la Vega 20/1 Betfair Sportsbook BOG, FIVE places
Third Intention 14/1 bet365 BOG, FIVE places
4.40 Kim Muir Challenge Trophy
Kim Muir Trends
In contrast to most of the other handicaps at the Festival, just four last time out winners were able to double up here since 1997. And just seven of those sixteen Kim Muir's were claimed by a horse that finished in the first FOUR last time out!
Seven to ten-year-olds have won 16/16 since 1997, though those aged eight or nine have won 15/20 since 1993.
Look for the best jockeys in this race, and favour the higher weighted horses.
Kim Muir Preview
A lot of my friends think Indian Castle is the bet of the meeting. I think a lot of my friends are barking for nominating a race like this in which to play the banker card. But, having seen my own 'banker' do no better than third (Big Shu), I'm going to take a good hard look at this fellow.
Indian Castle has a winning habit. He also has a winning jockey in Derek O'Connor. And he has an in form trainer in Donald McCain, whose horses came right just in time for the Festival. Trip and ground should be fine, and looks highly likely to run a most honest race. Whether something is a bit better handicapped is the question.
Spring Heeled is a sneaky one for the Irish, Jim Culloty's horse having run a couple of below par efforts since a sequence of pleasing ones. Consequently, he's slipped down the ratings a few pounds, and he also got a quick reccie of this course back in November. He's been off a while, though, which is not ideal but does have the services of Robbie McNamara (won the Bumper on Wednesday) in the saddle.
Last year's winner, Same Difference, has slipped back to a rating of 141, just four higher than when winning last year. He was all out to beat Sentry Duty then and, with no recent form to speak of, it requires a leap of faith to side with him, despite the pull of history.
Right at the bottom of the weights, a horse of Dessie Hughes' catches my eye. Hunting Party was running a sequence of fine races on top of the ground, before an early fall and a sub-par effort on soft ground. Back on good turf, and off a nice little break, I can see this chap outrunning odds of 25/1. In a race where horses with a last time out top four finish have failed to claim the pot more often than not, Hunting Party is the play.
Kim Muir Tips
Obviously not a race to be getting excited about unless, like my mates, you think Indian Castle is a cracking bet. I'll be certainly including him on the placepot, but at the prices I prefer the low-weighted Dessie Hughes-trained Hunting Party, who will appreciate a return to quicker ground, and will stay this trip much better as a consequence.
Kim Muir Speculative:
Hunting Party 25/1 Stan James BOG, FIVE places
More obvious Kim Muir pick:
Indian Castle 7/1 Betfair Sportsbook BOG, FIVE places
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.png00Matt Bisognohttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngMatt Bisogno2014-03-12 20:55:522014-03-12 23:06:23Cheltenham Festival Day Three Preview / Tips
One down, three to go, and still another twenty battles to be lost and won before the curtain falls on Friday's action. We kick off Wednesday with the Neptune...
1.30 Neptune Novices Hurdle
Will it be a repeat for Red and Rath in Neptune?
The Neptune, a novice hurdle over two miles and five furlongs, may have a case for the most under-rated race at the Festival. Often considered a second string event to the opening Supreme Novices' Hurdle, it actually has an excellent alumni that includes The New One, Simonsig and First Lieutenant in the past three years; and the likes of Barton, Monsignor and the mighty Istabraq going back to 1997.
It has been a decent race for punters, too, with six favourites obliging since Istabraq's Festival coronation. During that period, every winner bar 20/1 Massini's Maguire came from the top five in the betting.
2014 Neptune Novices Hurdle Trends
Aside from the strong market guidance, what other statistical pointers are there to aid us in trapping a Neptune-winning wager?
Age: All winners bar French Holly in the period under study were aged five or six. French Holly was seven. Four-year-olds are 0/13 and yet to record a placing better than fifth. Eight-year-olds-plus are 0/10, with a single placing in that group.
Days since a run: As with so many Festival non-handicap races, an absence of two weeks to two months seems optimal, with fifteen of the sixteen winners fitting that pattern. It does cover 76% of all runners, but accounts for 93.75% of the winners.
Last time out: Twelve of the last sixteen winners (75%) also won last time out, from 51.7% of the runners. Three of the other four winners were second (18.75%) from roughly the same proportion of runners (18.25%). Collectively, 93.75% of Neptune winners since 1997 finished first or second last time out, from 70% of the runners.
Class: All bar one of the last ten winners had finished at least second in a Grade 2 event. The exception, Fiveforthree, was fifth in the previous Champion Bumper.
2014 Neptune Novices Hurdle Preview
We're looking for a classy animal here, with proven stamina, and a reasonable rest period coming into the race. He will most likely be five or six years old.
Faugheen is favoured and, should he take up this engagement, he looks to have a big chance. No horse has yet got closer to him than four and a quarter lengths, though it should be said that he's not raced above Grade 3 level to date, and has been off since late December (74 days). Those knocks don't mean he can't win, but they might imply he's poor value at 3/1 against some smart sorts.
And a further niggle with Faugheen is that his preparation was interrupted when the horse was "a little disappointing", according to his trainer, Willie Mullins, at the turn of the year.
Red Sherlock has a similar unbeaten profile - his extending to six runs - and won the course, and distance (but not course and distance), Grade 2 in January which has been a springboard for both Massini's Maguire and The New One to win the Neptune.
Indeed, five of the eight horses placed in that race came on to place in this one. Red Sherlock led home Rathvinden (subject of strong support recently) with Aubusson a long way back in third. There were just a couple of lengths between the pair that day, and Rathvinden gave the impression he might have had a bit more to work on, despite being slightly favoured in the betting on that occasion.
Both come to the Neptune with strong chances, and at 5/1 and 8/1 respectively, they both look solid each way options.
Splitting the pair in the betting is the seven-year-old Royal Boy, vanquisher of Josses Hill last time out. If the last named runs a big race in the Supreme, that would clearly advertise the claims of Royal Boy. But there are two striking concerns for me with this fellow. Firstly, he's older than all bar two of all Neptune winners going back to its inception in 1971.
And secondly, his best form looks to be on a squishy surface. Indeed, his sole encounter with good ground under rules was a whacking defeat and by far his lowest performance 'figures'. He did win a point-to-point on advertised good ground, but it's very hard to know what that means in the context of a race like this. Certainly, it would have to be a question mark at least against Royal Boy's name.
This is one of those races where a fair few fancied horses have multiple engagements, occasionally coupled with the Supreme but more often with the longer Albert Bartlett, run over three miles. Briar Hill is a key example this term, and he probably has a more obvious chance in the longer race. That said, he'd certainly have a strong chance here too, as he showed the track holds no fears when cantering past Regal Encore to win the Champion Bumper last year. His trainer has implied they're leaning towards the potato race.
Captain Cutter, a stable companion to Royal Boy, has been nicely progressive this season, and won a Grade 1 over this trip at Newbury last time, in comfortable manner. He is another that may go long and to the Bertie Bartlett, but I can recommend him in this with the non-runner no bet concession. It's a bet to nothing and, on the evidence of that last effort, and the likelihood that McCoy will ride if Captain Cutter shows up here, 14/1 with Ladbrokes has tempted me.
Another likable sort with multiple entries is Deputy Dan. He won the same Warwick Grade 2 in which The New One scored last year before taking Neptune honours, and No Refuge also doubled up in 2005. Deputy Dan was perhaps a default winner there, as favourite Rathvinden fell when looking a threat. That said, it was Rathvinden's third error in succession and, though he was much better in defeat to Red Sherlock a fortnight later, the worry would be how he'd jump in a bigger, classier field (did outclass a large field of maiden hurdlers on soft ground).
Deputy Dan will take in this race if the ground is testing but if, as seems more likely, the course dries out, he'll go to the Albert Bartlett. Still, it's non runner no bet and he's another tempter at 16's with BetVictor.
The rest ought not to be good enough in a race typically won by a horse close to the head of considerations.
2014 Neptune Novices Hurdle Tips
With if's and but's about the participation of a number of Neptune Novices' entries, and a reservation or two about the favourite, Faugheen, it's worth taking a win bet and two each way shouts, all on the non-runner no bet premise.
To my eye, the likeliest winner is Red Sherlock. Although a touch quirky - he has a pronounced tail swishing kink - he jumps very well and is unbeaten in six, including twice here at Cheltenham. He looks as though he'll go on any ground, though a bit of juice would be ideal, and he's a solid bet at 5/1 with Paddy Power.
I'll add ballast to my book for the race with two each way shouts, neither of which may turn up. We'll get our cash back if they don't so no harm done in backing Captain Cutter and Deputy Dan, a pair of sons of the stallion Westerner, at 14/1 (Ladbrokes) and 16/1 (BetVictor) respectively.
Neptune Novices Hurdle Selection:
Red Sherlock 5/1 Paddy Power (Non-runner money back)
Neptune Each Way Alternatives: (both non-runners, money back, since first published) Captain Cutter e/w 14/1 Ladbrokes (Non-runner money back) Deputy Dan e/w 16/1 BetVictor (Non-runner money back)
2.05 RSA Chase
2014 RSA Chase Preview & Tips
The RSA Chase has been a very good dress rehearsal for the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself in recent times, with both Bobs Worth and Denman going on to win the big one since 2007.
Run over three miles and half a furlong, this novice chase is often a war of attrition and, as well as being a stepping stone to greater things for some winners, it has also been the last hurrah for others.
Indeed, since Denman landed the spoils in 2007, only Alberta's Run and Bobs Worth have gone on to win further races. Cooldine, Weapon's Amnesty, Bostons Angel and, so far, Lord Windermere have all failed to record a subsequent success at any level.
So who are the likely movers and shakers for the 2014 RSA Chase? As usual, I'll highlight what I consider to be some of the more material trends before ploughing into the form book, then finally I'll offer my idea of the best value in the RSA Chase market.
We start with the RSA Chase trends...
2014 RSA Chase Trends
Age: Seven-year-olds have a phenomenal record in the RSA. Since 1999, they've won twelve of the fourteen renewals, from just 80 runners for a profit of £43.95 to a £1 stake. Just two of the 62 runners aged eight-plus have won.
Form: All of the last 24 RSA Chase winners finished in the first three on their prior start, with 22 of them running first or second the last day. Only Denman and Florida Pearl have won the RSA Chase having been unbeaten over fences since Miinnehoma in 1992. 31 have tried since 1997.
Experience: Only the brilliant Florida Pearl (two) has won the RSA with less than three chase starts to his name since 1997. Apart from the very experienced Rule Supreme (eight), the other fourteen winners since 1997 had between three and five prior chase runs.
Layoff: All of the last sixteen RSA Chase winners had between 16 and 60 days off the track since their last run.
Breeding: Irish bred horses have taken fifteen of the last seventeen RSA Chases, with French-bred nags claiming the other two. The last British-bred winner was Brief Gale in 1995, and they've managed just five places since.
The trends shortlist includes Black Thunder, Many Clouds, O'Faolains Boy, and Smad Place.
2014 RSA Chase Preview
And so to the form book. Before we look at individual horses, the following races have been key pointers to the likely RSA Chase winner in recent times.
In Ireland, the Dr P J Moriarty Chase has showcased RSA Chase winners Cooldine (won both, 2009), Weapon's Amnesty (2nd 2010), Bostons Angel (won both 2011), and Lord Windermere (3rd, 2013). This year, Ballycasey beat Don Cossack, with Carlingford Lough an unlucky faller at the last.
In Britain, the two key prep races are the Feltham Novices' Chase and the Reynoldstown. The Feltham is noteworthy for the fact that no winner has gone on to win the RSA Chase in its history. This year, Annacotty bids to lay the Feltham hoodoo to rest. Beaten horses have prevailed in the RSA however, most recently Bobs Worth in 2012. The placed horses in this season's Feltham were Green Flag and Third Intention, though both were beaten far enough.
The Reynoldstown, run at Ascot, also saw Bobs Worth beaten in 2012 and, whilst it is a stiffer test than Kempton's Feltham, it is less of a challenge than the RSA Chase itself. Albertas Run won this en route to Cheltenham glory in 2008. This year, O'Faolains Boy beat Many Clouds.
So, since 2008, all six RSA Chase winners have exited one of those three races. I will focus primarily on them.
The RSA Chase requires a combination of stamina, guts and a scintilla of class. Usually, however, an abundance of the first two will suffice. When looking for a bet in this race I want to be on a horse that was finishing to some effect in one of the key trials the last day.
The beaten horses in their preps which went on to win the RSA all showed a finishing effort: according to the Racing Post, Lord Windermere "kept on well under pressure" when a half length third in the Moriarty; Bobs Worth "stayed on to take 2nd [at the] last" in the Reynoldstown; Bostons Angel " stayed on well under pressure from last, led close home"; and, Weapon's Amnesty "went 2nd after last, kept on run-in".
None of them were backing out of their race at the end, and this is crucial. We want a horse that can stay. And stay. And stay.
In the Reynoldstown, O'Faolains Boy and Many Clouds finished in that order, separated by two and a half lengths. The winner outpaced the second, and looked as though he might run away in the closing stages. But Many Clouds plugged on well or, as the Racing Post put it, "outpaced by winner soon after 2 out, kept on again near finish".
I doubt there will be much between them at Cheltenham, and they both jumped the last in attractive fashion, suggesting there was at least a bit more in the tank if needed. O'Faolains Boy has raced exclusively on soft or heavy under rules so far, and there would be a slight niggle if it came up quicker than that on the day, but his profile - which includes a very good fourth to At Fisher's Cross in last year's Albert Bartlett - has plenty of appeal.
Despite that, I am drawn to Many Clouds as the probable preferred plodder of the pair. A useful hurdler, he was second in a Grade 3 novice handicap at Sandown under top weight before getting tapped for speed at Aintree. Since going chasing, Many Clouds has won two and finished second twice. In both the silver medal races, he's "kept on" having been outpaced. This slightly longer trip and considerably stiffer test looks tailor made, and I like him at 16/1.
Ballycasey, the favourite for the race, is harder to assess. He's only had two chase starts - winning both - and that is less than all bar Florida Pearl in recent times. Is he capable of being a Florida Pearl? Time will tell, but the more pertinent question is whether he'll have the stamina to see this out.
In his first chase run, he won a beginners' chase beating Mount Colah, a 135 animal, by eight easy lengths over a two mile trip. On his only subsequent start, he saw off Don Cossack over two miles five in the Grade 1 Dr P J Moriarty Chase. Don Cossack was well enough held, and I'd have reservations about his getting the three miles-plus of the RSA.
Ballycasey on the other hand might improve for better ground and hasn't proved he can't stay. Nor yet has he proved that he can and, allied to his inexperience, 5/1 is extremely unattractive for all the promise he might have. He's also had a couple of training niggles this season, which is less than ideal.
Carlingford Lough is a horse I've backed. I admit that I'd not really gone through the form at that time, but he was a standout 14/1 when everyone else was offering 10/1. At time of writing now, there is a range from 8/1 to 12/1, and that's based on his form.
Bizarrely for a novice, Carlingford Lough has had thirteen chase starts! That sequence includes a Galway Plate win last summer, a second in the Drinmore (Grade 1, two and a half miles, beaten by Don Cossack), and a win in the Grade 1 Topaz Novices Chase over three miles. He beat Morning Assembly there, staying on at the finish, and that again is key to his chance. He sees the trip out well and has bags of experience allied to a touch of class. He might not be quite good enough, but with McCoy doing the steering we should get a run for our money.
The Feltham was won by Annacotty in clear cut fashion, and it's tough to see anything coming from out of the pack in that contest to be good enough for an RSA Chase win. Annacotty's own claims are rather let down by his staying form away from Kempton, where he's two from two at the three mile trip. He's been beaten multiple times in handicaps - as has Carlingford Lough for that matter (though some will argue that was by design rather than accident!) - and didn't look to have too much more to give over two miles five at Cheltenham last time out. He could surprise - I know one keen form student who likes this fellow - but he's not for me.
The others at the top of the betting are attempting to win this having swerved the major trials, something which has not happened since Denman, second in a Grade 1 hurdle at the previous Festival, won in 2007.
Smad Place has Festival credentials having been third in two World Hurdles. He has won his two completed novice chases in good style, but has yet to be tested in Graded company. The last horse to win the RSA Chase having dodged Graded chasers previously was Lord Noelie in 2000. It does happen, but 7/1 has no fat in it for a hungry scribe such as me. I'd expect Smad Place to run an honest race, maybe even win, but I don't think he's value given he unseated on chase debut and hasn't really put his jumping under much pressure so far.
Morning Assembly emptied out quickly last time when beaten by Carlingford Lough, and he looks to have more of a chance at Punchestown than Cheltenham to my eye.
And Donald McCain's Corrin Wood was rated just 130 over hurdles, and yet is allotted 156 after three non-Graded chase wins beating a cumulative eight rivals. Granted, he has stayed well in those races, and he's shown an ability to handle different going conditions. But the overall performance of unbeaten horses that swerve top company is poor. Indeed, the last winner to take the RSA as an unbeaten and untested in Graded chases horse was Miinnehoma in 1992. Not for me, thanks.
If there's any value lurking in the lower end of the lists, it might be with Paul Nicholls' Black Thunder. He was two and a half lengths behind Corrin Wood turning in at Warwick last time, and the same margin away at the finish. He'd won a Grade 2 in three previous chase wins, and 25/1 offers a bit of value, given his vanquisher last time is no better than 10/1.
2014 RSA Chase Tips
The RSA Chase is a compelling race, as ever, and my tips are made in a quest for value. Ballycasey can win - of course - but he's inexperienced and I'm not convinced by his stamina yet. Smad Place looks like he'll be thereabouts if his jumping holds up, but he's no price for a race like that.
Many Clouds looks exactly the sort for an RSA Chase, and 16/1 is a perfectly fair, borderline generous, price in my opinion. Carlingford Lough has been around the blough (see what I did there?) and he's a strong stayer with a bit of class. He'd have been within a couple of lengths of Ballycasey but for unseated at the last in his previous race, and so he ought not to be around three times the price.
And for a real outsider, maybe nibble Black Thunder, though I much prefer the chance of the two above at the prices.
RSA Chase Selections:
1 pt win Many Clouds 16/1 bet365 (Non-Runner No Bet, Best Odds Guaranteed)
A two mile five furlong handicap hurdle, the Coral Cup is the first such race of the week. Despite the big prices most winners are returned (Medinas was a 33/1 chance last year), there are some fair trends to assist.
Coral Cup Trends
11 of the last 20 Coral Cup winners also won last time, from around a fifth of the runners.
Horses aged five to eight have won fifteen of the last sixteen renewals (94%), and collected 59 of the 64 places (92%), albeit from 85% of the runners.
Only two horses rated above 144, and two weighted above 11-03, have won since 1997.
14 of the last 16 winners were rested for between one and four months. Those returning within a month are 2 from 187 (1%). Absences of longer than a month are also material for the places.
None of the 75 runners to have won over this trip previously were able to score in the Coral Cup since 1997.
11 of the last 13 winners had won no more than one handicap previously.
Coral Cup Preview
This is a not a race I have any sort of record of success in, so take the following brief notes in that spirit.
I'm going to focus my attentions on last time out winners which, despite all the chat of plots and the like, have an impeccable record in the Coral Cup. That, allied to other patterns which I reckon might be material, lead me to home in on the chances of Waaheb, and Calculated Risk. I'll add in an old warhorse with a new twist, Get Me Out Of Here. Let's start with the old boy.
Get Me Out Of Here (GMOOH) has run his best races at the Festival and been desperately unlucky in defeat twice. First, in the 2010 Supreme Novices' Hurdle, earning a subsequent rating of 150. The following March, he looked a certain winner before being nutted on the line by Final Approach in the County Hurdle. The margin of defeat was a nose.
2012 continued the hard luck theme, as he collected a third silver medal. This time, though, there was no head bob, and Son Of Flicka had three and a half lengths to spare in this race. Stepped up to the Grade 1 World Hurdle last year, he was never comfortable with either the trip or the grade and was pulled up.
He's down to the same mark - 148 - as when so cruelly denied in the County of 2011, and has something different this time. As well as his customary tongue tie, he has cheek pieces added for the first time. So what?, you might be thinking. Well, trainer Jonjo O'Neill has a rather interesting record with first time headgear on his Cheltenham Festival runners. Specifically, since 2003, twenty horses have sported first time headgear for him, and four have won. At odds of 25/1, 14/1, 20/1, and 50/1. So yes, GMOOH is worth one more try, despite having more weight than maybe ideal.
Of the trends types, Waaheb looks to have been 'readied' with this in mind. A very good bumper horse, he's never quite broken through in hurdles as expected: he seemed to regress after a fine second in the Grade 1 Future Champions Novice Hurdle.
However, he was still good enough to run World Hurdle-bound Rule The World to five lengths two starts back, and then to win a conditions hurdle beating the fair Turban. He's been off for two months since then and may have tightened up - read, been got properly fit - since then, and the market speaks in his favour at this early juncture.
Calculated Risk is just that: he's unexposed over hurdles, having won four of his nine starts; and he fits all the key trends. He also has a lovely low weight, sneaking into the race with just a pound to spare. Five year olds have won two of the last four, and three of the last eight, renewals of the Coral Cup, and he looks nicely progressive.
The step up in trip last time at Sedgefield seemed to eke out more, and his cruising speed will be an asset in a harum scarum gallop such as this. Trainer John Quinn can ready a hurdler for the Festival, as he showed with Countrywide Flame's Triumph Hurdle win in 2012. 40/1 with five places is too tempting to turn down.
Obviously there are lots and lots of other horses with chances, including Dell'Arca, Ifandbutwhynot, Vendor, Bayan, and 2012 winner, Son Of Flicka.
Coral Cup Tips
Hyper-competitive and not a race I'll be getting stuck in to. That said, I have backed Get Me Out Of Here, and also Calculated Risk for small money. Waaheb has a chance too. I am hoping for a good run rather than expecting to collect!
Coral Cup Pick:
Get Me Out Of Here 20/1 racebets
Coral Cup Attractive Each Way:
Calculated Risk 40/1 Coral (BOG, faller refund, FIVE places)
3.20 Queen Mother Champion Chase
Is Sprinter Sacre a cert for the Champion Chase?
[Preview written on 19th February]
The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the highlight of the second day of the Cheltenham Festival, and one of the showpieces of the entire week. This year's race looks intriguing, with defending champion Sprinter Sacre bidding to overcome that uncharacteristic blip on his last start, and clear second choice Sire de Grugy with course questions to answer.
It's double figures any other horse you like, so this could be a belting wagering opportunity. In this post, I'll look at the Champion Chase trends, preview the form, and offer a tip or two for the race. Let's start with the trends...
2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Trends
Horses of all ages, from five through to eleven, have won this race in recent years. However, the percentage play, in terms of strike rate is to ignore horses with double digit ages.
Since 1997, of the fourteen horses to complete on their previous start, eleven won, another was second, and the other two were third. Two of the seven horses to fall or unseat last time went on to win the Champion Chase. None of the six that pulled up last time has finished better than fifth - a sextet which included Florida Pearl and Flagship Uberalles. A certain Sprinter Sacre pulled up last time...
Since 2000, of the ten winners to have an official rating, all were rated at least 160. Tilting at this prize may be wishful thinking then for Module, Astracad, Hinterland and, erm, Wishfull Thinking.
All of the last ten winners had their final prep race in the previous 30-60 days. Favourite Sprinter Sacre has not been seen for 75 days, when he pulled up after a mile...
2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Form Preview
Those are the trends then and, aside from a couple of strikes for favourite, Sprinter Sacre, there's little of utility in whittling the field. However, that is quite a significant 'apart from', so let's inspect the case for the reigning champion.
Sprinter Sacre began the 2013/2014 season as the biggest certainty of the Cheltenham Festival. He was in possession of a ten race unbeaten record over fences, and had scored stratospheric Timeform, Racing Post and Official figures. He was just 2/9 to extend that sequence to eleven at the principle expense of his main Champion Chase ante-post rival, Sire de Grugy, in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas.
But it didn't go to plan. Oh boy, did it not go to plan. Sprinter Sacre was pulled up after running little more than a mile and jumping little more than half of the dozen fences. In Sprinter's absence, Sire de Grugy galloped to a workmanlike four length victory over Oiseau de Nuit.
It was subsequently discovered that Sprinter Sacre had suffered a heart irregularity, which appears to have righted itself. Now, I don't know about you, but that's not the sort of thing I want to hear when I'm mulling pulling on the punting boots at even money or shorter.
The facts with Sprinter Sacre are that he has easily the best form in the race, but in the past eleven months he has completed only about a mile of a single contest. Medical fitness, as well as match fitness, have to be taken on trust. Of course, if he is medically sound and he is pitch perfect for Cheltenham Wednesday, he'll be very hard to beat. And I will be prepared to cheer with the rest if we have our champion back on the big day.
But that's sentiment. When it comes to betting, I wouldn't touch Sprinter Sacre with a very long bargepole.
The obvious one against him is Sire de Grugy, a horse that has won eight of his eleven chases and been second twice more. I have to declare an interest here: I backed him - and recommended readers back him - when he was 16/1. Here's what I wrote on December 9th 2013:
I was taken with the way Sire De Grugy won at Sandown, having not been a huge fan of his in the past, and I backed him each way for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, a race which is seriously lop-sided.
Here’s my rationale: Sire de Grugy is likely to go for the Queen Mum. Sprinter Sacre is too, assuming he can be got fit, and his current issue is resolved. We all hope that will be the case. If it is, Simonsig will surely run in the Ryanair, having won the Neptune over the longer trip a good bit more impressively than he did the Arkle over the shorter trip.
Cue Card may tilt at the Gold Cup itself if running close in the King George and, at any rate, would surely go at the Ryanair if not quite getting home around Kempton on Boxing Day.
Flemenstar could go for the Queen Mum, but is more likely to race over two-five in the Ryanair. Certainly his racing history suggests that’s the place for him. Kid Cassidy may be aimed at the Grand Annual again, though he’d have a stone-plus more to carry than when second last year.
Arvika Ligeonniere got found out in the Arkle last term, and will probably go Ryanair. And that leaves the third of the Henderson horses, Captain Conan. It was far from a disastrous run in third behind Sire De Grugy and, while expected to be fit enough to go close, he’s sure to come on for the run. But he does have ten pounds to find with SdG on official ratings, which are unlikely to change much as a result of the Tingle Creek outcome.
So, basically, if Sprinter Sacre runs in the Champion Chase, I contend that a fair number of others will dodge him and go for what could be one of the races of the Festival, the Ryanair. Sire De Grugy will not. He will stand his ground, and 16/1 (quarter the odds the first three) in what could be a small field of few realistic chances, seemed fair enough to me.
If Sprinter Sacre doesn’t run for whatever reason, Simonsig and a good few of the others might line up in the Champion Chase instead. In that case, it will likely be a much more competitive race, improving Sire de Grugy’s win chance whilst arguably diminishing his place prospects.
Still with me? OK, well that was the rationale.
A nice looking voucher, but will he win?
If we could back Sire de Grugy now at 16/1, we obviously would. But we can't. He's now a top price of 11/4 and, given his course record, that's no better than a bit tight. Specifically, SdG has run twice at Cheltenham and finished second twice.
Both were chases, both were at two miles, and both saw him upsides at the last and then outpaced up the hill.
16/1 each way is still a great bet, not least because I (and others) have 4/1 about the place 1,2,3 - and there may not even be enough runners for three places!
But 11/4 about the win is hard to recommend, even without an ante-post voucher.
So, the good news is that if we're against both Sprinter Sacre and Sire de Grugy, it's 10/1 bar that pair. The bad news is that picking and choosing between the remaining fifteen engaged at time of writing is not that easy.
First of all, I am happy to put a line through any horse with an established level of form and a rating below 160. That means arrivederci to Wishfull Thinking and Astracad.
Module is difficult to dismiss completely, as is Hinterland. Both are progressive and both have scope to run to 160+. Module won the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase last time, beating Dodging Bullets a neck. Dodging Bullets is a fine novice and was giving the winner three pounds, but that's hardly Champion Chase-winning form.
The other thing with Module is that he seems to want deep ground. His three chase wins have all been in heavy ground and, though he did bag a handicap at the course on good to soft, it's likely he simply outclassed his rivals that day on his first British start. If the ground is heavy on the day, he is better than a 20/1 shot, his current price. Otherwise, he's not. He also has an entry in the Ryanair.
Hinterland is still a novice and, as such, is more likely to go the Arkle route than take on the big boys here. If he did line up, he'd still need another leap forward after a leap forward the last day, when he won the Grade 1 Henry VIII Chase at Sandown. He's ground agnostic at least, so no worries on that score, but he's unlikely to be good enough even if he runs.
Benefficient is the third choice in the betting for the Champion Chase, and he's another for whom the Ryanair is a compelling alternative engagement - he won the novice equivalent at last year's Festival. But he's not short of pace, as two Grade 1 wins at Leopardstown demonstrate. Whether he's got the sort of gears needed to prevail in this is another question and, even with the non-runner no bet concession, I'd not be drawn to his chance especially.
Captain Conan is a general 12/1 chance, and also has a Ryanair entry. He's rated 161 and has a verdict over Sire de Grugy at Cheltenham to his name, over this trip. That was in the November Novices' Chase of 2012, and both horses have improved markedly since. Captain Conan was found a bit wanting in the Jewson (now JLT) last year, but was a good third to Sire de Grugy at Sandown on his seasonal bow this term.
The problem is that he hasn't run since that race, on 7th December, meaning he has an absence of 95 days to overcome. History screams that very few horses win at the Festival in any race after such an absence and it's the scratch treatment for him on the back of that alone.
And then comes the enigmatic Arvika Ligeonniere. I love this horse. On his day, he's a proper sort. The Irish handicapper has him at 166 and he's a four-time Grade 1-winning nine-year-old. He has the toe for two but has plenty of form at two and a half too (did you like all those toes and two's?!). So it won't surprise you that he's also entered in the Ryanair Chase, over 2m5f.
True, he was awful when pulling up (carrying my money) in the Arkle last year, but he was a 15/2 chance that day and, if that was a blip, then 12/1 non-runner no bet (or 14/1 all in run or not) is a fair win only wager.
Al Ferof is still quoted in the Champion Chase, despite his trainer previously saying they were aiming him at the Gold Cup. That was before he looked to fail to stay the three miles of the Denman Chase last time, and he's probably more likely to go for the Ryanair now. He's a very strong traveling horse and, again with the non-runner no bet concession in our corner, he's worth a small interest at 16/1.
Winner of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle of 2011, having been second in the Champion Bumper the year before, he disappointed in the 2012 Arkle (fourth) before missing last year's Festival. The balance of his form suggests 2m5f might be optimal but he's got the speed for this, if re-routed.
We're still in the realms of the 16/1 pokes, and Kid Cassidy is next on the casting couch for the Champion Chase. So that's KC on the cc for the CC. He's a very in and out horse. When he's good, he's very good, as when trumping Sire de Grugy at Cheltenham in November; or when finishing second in last year's Grand Annual. Whether that's enough to claim this coveted prize is another question and, on balance, I imagine it's probably not.
Somersby has been called plenty of names over the years, and has often looked like a horse without a trip. But he has just the one entry - in this - at the Festival, and he's performed with merit going all the way back to the Supreme of 2009 (3rd of 20 behind Go Native that day). He was then second in the 2010 Arkle, 5th in the 2011 Champion Chase, 7th in the 2012 Ryanair, and unseated in the 2013 Champion Chase.
Somersby also unseated last time out, behind Sire de Grugy, but between those jockey exits, he won the Grade 2 Haldon Gold Cup and was second in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek. He retains a good bit of speed and class and, if he can iron that recent tendency to decant Dominic Elsworth from his back, he's not a forlorn place hope in a potentially open year.
Sizing Europe deserves a mention. Now twelve, he's won an Arkle (2010) and a Champion Chase (2011), and eighteen other races in a stellar career. He's more likely to head to the Ryanair (where have you heard that before?) but a Cheltenham Festival Arkle/Champion Chase record of 1122 is impressive even given his advancing years. After all, he was eleven when finishing second last year.
It would be truly amazing if he was win the Champion Chase at his veteran age, but stranger things have happened and 25/1 non-runner no bet is another tempting snippet, perhaps even each way this time.
2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Tips
It's a real head-scratcher is the Queen Mother Champion Chase of 2014. With doubts about the pair which dominate the market, it's worth firing a few bullets further down the lists, especially with the non-runner no bet concession in play. I'd spread four points as follows:
1 point win Arvika Ligeonniere(12/1 non-runner no bet, general - check your bookie offers NRNB!)
1 point win Al Ferof (16/1 non-runner no bet, BetVictor)
1/2 point each way Somersby(20/1 Best Odds Guaranteed, non-runner no bet, SkyBet)
1/2 point each way Sizing Europe (25/1 non-runner no bet, BetVictor)
Big Shu a good tip for Cross Country Chase?
4.00 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase
[Preview written 20th February]
One of my favourite races, and certainly the only handicap in which I'd contemplate betting ante-post is the Cross Country Handicap Chase. For some, it's a meaningless charade in the middle of the main arena. I certainly wouldn't agree with that: not from a sporting sense, and unequivocally not from a betting sense. For me, this is one of the best betting events of the week.
Why? Because it's the only handicap run all week where most of the entries cannot win. They're either too slow, or they don't stay, or they can't handle the course configuration, or they can't handle the fences. Lovely stuff. Get the red pen out and let's start striking lines through entries until we're left with a wager...
Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase 2014 Trends
Although this will only be the tenth renewal of the race, some key trends are manifesting themselves already.
Age: The Cross Country Chase has seen runners from age six to fifteen, but all nine winners have been between eight and twelve. However, horses aged eight to fourteen have placed. The youngsters have yet to make the frame, and are generally not strong enough to see out this marathon three-and-seven-eighths of a mile stamina test.
Last time out: Seven of the nine winners finished in the top four last time out. Of the other two, Balthazar King ran out over the same course when virtually certain to finish in the top four; and Sizing Australia finished eighth in a hurdle race over two miles (i.e. half this trip!) on his prior start.
Cross country course experience: Ever since the magnificent Spot Thedifference claimed the inaugural Cross Country Chase, winners have had previous experience of cross country races. Spot Thedifference had won the equivalent race at the November meeting on his previous run. The following year, Native Jack won the PP Hogan, Ireland's number one cross country race. Heads Onthe Ground and Garde Champetre also took the PP Hogan before the latter doubled up having this time claimed the November cross country race at Cheltenham. Spotting a theme yet? 😉
In 2010, A New Story, placed in the La Touche Cup - a similar 'banks' race over four and a quarter miles - won at 25/1. He wasn't a winner last time out of a key prep, but he had run seventh in the previous year's race. Sizing Australia landed the spoils in 2011 after placing in the November version; and in 2012, Balthazar King looked likely to go very close to winning before taking the wrong course along with a number of other horses. Last year, Big Shu was second in the PP Hogan before winning this event. He finished second again in the PP Hogan this year...
So... do NOT excuse a horse without cross country form. It has everything to prove.
Weight: Weight is generally a factor in all Cheltenham handicaps, with low weights favoured in most non-novice and/or non-amateur rider handicaps. Here, two top weights have won carrying a burdensome 11-12. The other seven lugged less than eleven stone.
Position in market: Seven of the nine winners were in the top three in the betting. And sixteen of the 27 horses in the top three in the betting have at least placed in this race.
It looks then like we're searching for a horse with top notch cross country form; aged eight to twelve; from the top of the market; and either a classy sort carrying top weight or a lightly weighted 'springer'.
The top three in the betting currently are Big Shu (Official Rating likely to be around 145), Balthazar King (Official Rating 150), and Love Rory (Official Rating 117, but subject to upward revision).
Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase 2014 Preview
When considering the form profiles for this race, it makes sense to focus on cross country experience. It is a feature, to a lesser or greater degree, in many of the runners' profiles, so we ought to commence at the head of the market.
Big Shu ran second on heavy ground in last year's PP Hogan Memorial Chase before going on to hose up in this. He won by four lengths, with fully ten back to the third horse, Outlaw Pete. To put that into perspective, fourteen lengths - the gap back to the third - covered the first six home in 2012, and in 2011 (OK, it was 15L then); and the first seven in 2010.
Only the lovable Garde Champetre, winner in 2008 and 2009, showed such dominance, and it may be no coincidence that Big Shu is going for a double this year.
After his win at Cheltenham, Big Shu went back to Punchestown and won their Festival banks race, the La Touche Cup. This time, despite being clear turning in, he clambered over the last a tired horse, and stopped to a walk on the run in, just holding on. That was under 12-03 and over four and a quarter miles on heavy ground, a more extreme test of weight, distance and going than he's going to face at Cheltenham.
He earned himself a good break after that, and only re-emerged on 2nd February for this year's PP Hogan. Fat as a pig, he drifted as though victory was out of the question, but - aided by a pedestrian gallop - was able to claim a noble second place, the exact position he took last year in the same race, to Love Rory. It was an extremely satisfactory prep for the defence of his Glenfarclas Cross Country crown and, while he's certain to have more weight this time, he has an absolutely bombproof profile and I like him. A lot.
With that potential spoiler for the rest of the form plot out in the open, allow me to demonstrate why I believe Big Shu has more robust claims than the rest, starting with Balthazar King.
I am a huge fan of Balthazar King, and his record at Cheltenham reads 22F42511PR11211. That string includes a win in the 2012 version of the Glenfarclas, and a second place in the November equivalent in the same year. He missed the race last year due to the ground not being fast enough, and I'm pretty sure the trainer will take the same decision this term if necessary. So, whilst he's a definite player on good to soft or quicker, he's a likely non-runner on soft or slower.
Funnily enough, the official going last year - after BK was pulled - was... good to soft! If he runs, he's a horse I will be saving on. If he doesn't, there's every chance Big Shu will be around the 5/2 - 3/1 mark. He's currently 9/2 at time of writing.
Love Rory is trained by Enda Bolger, a man with unparalleled skill at readying one for this race. Indeed, he's won it four times from 24 starters, with another five horses placed. This lad - Love Rory, not Enda - is the future, but there's a feeling this comes a year too soon despite his PP Hogan triumph the last day.
Still just a six year old, he has had four runs in cross country races already, with form figures of 0711. But he's yet to race beyond three miles, and this is the best part of another mile on top. Moreover, his two length margin over (very) Big Shu last time will surely be reversed with the latter stripping seven to ten pounds fitter this time.
In his defence, Love Rory has yet to prove he doesn't stay nigh on four miles, and he's clearly improving rapidly in this sphere. He looks Bolger's best chance in the race for a couple of years at least, since the tragic death in the race of Garde Champetre, something which still angers me now as it was avoidable (the course was like a road that year, and favourite Scotsirish also broke down and was killed). But I'm taking him on due my contention that Big Shu's greater fitness this time, and Love Rory's unproven stamina will reverse placings.
Sire Collonges was Paul Nicholls' first winner in a cross country race (I think), when winning the December race over course and distance. That was a race missing Big Shu and Balthazar King, and he'd been royally seen off by BK in his previous two starts, including over course and distance. That December contest looked shallow, and I'd be quite shocked if Sire Collonges was able to beat that proven pair. The one possible fly in the ointment is that soft ground might actually improve his level of form.
On the rare occasions he's run on sodden turf, he's performed with credit - second to Our Father in a novice event; third in a fair big field handicap hurdle; and an easy win on debut in France.
Any Currency comes next, and his form with Sire Collonges means he can't win either. More to the point, his form with Balthazar King means he can't win. He had no excuses when thumped 26 lengths by Big Shu last year either. Might plug on into the frame but highly unlikely to win.
Quantitiveeasing has changed stables and is now trained by Enda Bolger. On his first run for his new handler he ran a massive second in the Galway Plate behind RSA Chase-bound Carlingford Lough. Since then, he's had a very low key prep for this - unsighted in a big field Listowel handicap chase, then third of seven in a point-to-point. The fact that Bolger has the banks fences at his training facility mitigates a lack of cross country experience, and he's certainly one of the more intriguing runners. 12/1 might reward each way support.
Uncle Junior is too old and too slow, and it looks highly probable that he's a bleeder these days: confirmed burst blood vessel in one of three P's in his last six runs, alongside a fall, an unplaced effort, and a good second to BK after a six month layoff. Bleeders often perform best after a layoff. This fellow ran at the start of February and I'd imagine he's cast iron place lay material if he even lines up. I hope he doesn't: at thirteen, he owes connections nothing.
Star Neuville hasn't run since last April and has never run well first time after a break.
Sizing Australia is interesting. Winner of this race in 2011, he's also won the Irish Field Chase, a Punchestown cross country race. Now twelve, he actually won a two mile handicap hurdle last October, and was a good second to Love Rory in the Risk Of Thunder Chase (another Punchy cross country event). He's finished 11th, 1st, 4th, and 5th in this race in the last four years, and had a nice spin over hurdles the other day. 16/1 each way is all right.
Of the French contingent, Pasquini Rouge is filed under 'extremely interesting'. Third in the December race won by Sire Collonges, he was a sitting duck in front from a long way out and will surely be ridden with more restraint this time. There's also an argument to say that he'll be fitter in March, as that last time out effort looked to be a 'sighter' for the Festival. If I'm right about either of those two points, he could make the frame. If I'm right about both, he might even win. 16/1 is the best each way value in the race for me. He's a young horse - just six years old - but as a Frenchie, he's likely more mature than the Irish-bred's like Love Rory.
Wrong Turn is next in the betting, but this Tony Martin nag has never seen a cross country course, has raced mainly over 2m5f, and is entered in four other races at the Festival. Surely even the magician Martin can't conjure a debut cross country win from this fellow.
Quiscover Fontaine is another that won't stay and can't win.
Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase 2014 Tips
This is a race in which few can realistically win, and I expect it to rest between Big Shu and Balthazar King. If the latter doesn't run due to the ground, Big Shu will take an awful lot of beating. I've backed him accordingly.
Of the bigger priced horses, I think Pasquini Rouge is easily the most interesting runner. Third in the December race when in front a long way from home, he rallied gamely when others came to him and he will be wiser - and quite possibly fitter - in middle March. 16/1 is verging on generous, especially as BetVictor will give you a free bet to the same stake if he fails to get on the ferry.
Sizing Australia and, to a lesser degree, Quantitiveeasing make moderate each way appeal.
Glenfarclas Cross Country Selection: Big Shu 9/2 bet365 Glenfarclas Cross Country Best Each Way: Star Neuville 7/1 general
4.40 Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle
The Triumph Hurdle consolation race is a handicap, introduced in 2005. It's been a hiding place for plotters and burglars since inception, and this year looks like being no exception.
Fred Winter Trends
Just nine years to go on, but some fair trends emerging.
Last time out winners have taken five of the nine renewals (56%), and were profitable to back blindly. They've also claimed 16 of the 36 places (44%) from 57 runners (27%).
Seven of the nine winners have run within the last month (78%) from 57% of the runners.
Seven of the nine winners had just the three qualifying runs over hurdles (78%) from 47% of the runners.
Fred Winter Preview
Less runners but this is just as fiendish as the Coral Cup earlier in the afternoon. Weight has been a factor in recent times in this race, with lower weighted animals faring best, but this year just twelve pounds separate top from bottom in a compressed handicap.
Trainer angles might be interesting here. David Pipe has a win in the Fred Winter, Gaspara grabbing the spoils in 2007. More appealing though is his 50% place record from just ten runners in the race, and he saddles Azza this time. A Listed winner over hurdles in France, her best form is probably on softer. And she ran a nice 'handicapping' race when third, beaten 19 lengths, last time. That was here back in November, and she's been dropped six pounds for it.
If she's fit, Azza could run a big race. David Pipe can get them fit. Azza could run a big race.
Gordon Elliot has run three horses in the race, with two of them placing, one of which was last year's winner, Flaxen Flare. Obviously, he knows what is needed here. This time, he's responsible for Arzembuoy Premier, who was nicely tonked in a Grade 2 at Leopardstown before running well on soft at Gowran in January. He blew up there, as though fitness was an issue. That won't be the case here and, though he has a fair amount of weight, so do the rest in this squashed tightly rated heat.
Elliott also runs Clarcam, but he looks relatively exposed.
Ivan Grozny was probably the best of these on the flat. He didn't get a rating in France but was good enough to run third in a Group 3 at Longchamp before changing hands and disciplines. The higher rated flat horses have a decent record in the Fred Winter. He'll need to jump better than he has on this quicker ground, and he'll need to finish his race off better, so the fact his best flat form seemed to be on top of the ground is a plus. He was only beaten seven lengths in a Grade 1 last time.
Goodwood Mirage was rated 96 on the flat, ran in the best pre-Cheltenham juvenile hurdle (Adonis) last time, is trained by Jonjo O'Neill and ridden by Tony McCoy. He cost 380,000 Guineas at the sales (!), and may repay a small sliver of that here. Certainly, he can be expected to record a career best in this.
Fred Winter Tips
It's so hard reading between the various formlines in this race, and I'm far from convinced I've interpreted things correctly. That said, I do believe that the Pipe and Elliott horses especially are going to run pretty well and so they're my token selections, along with Ivan Grozny who is the class in the race and might improve enough on this quicker ground.
Fred Winter Selection:
Ivan Grozny 8/1 bet365 (BOG, 1/4 odds FIVE places)
Fred Winter Each Way Alternatives:
Azza 20/1 bet365 (BOG, 1/4 odds FIVE places)
Arzembuoy Premier 20/1 bet365 (BOG, 1/4 odds FIVE places)
5.15 Champion Bumper
Mr Champion Bumper: Willie Mullins
One of the hardest races of the Festival to unravel is the only one without any obstacles to clear: the Champion Bumper. The last race on day two, this is a contest between twenty-plus thoroughly unexposed talents, where potential ability is considerably more important than what the rookies have achieved on the track to date. Despite this seemingly unfathomable proposition, there are some fair trends to assist the whittling process.
2014 Champion Bumper Trends
16 of the 21 Champion Bumpers have been won by Irish-trained horses. Willie Mullins is singlehandedly responsible for half of those winners, including at odds of 12/1, 16/1 and 25/1 in his last three successes.
Fourteen of the last sixteen winners also won their previous start. The other two winners finished second and fourth last time out.
Cue Card was precocious enough to win this as a four-year-old, as were Rhythm Section (1993) and Dato Star (1995). There have also been four six-year-old winners. The other fourteen winners were aged five. In the past sixteen years, 5yo's have been responsible for 31 of the 48 placed horses (65%) from 58% of the runners.
Six of the last sixteen winners came here off a single previous run; three had two runs; five had three runs; and two had had four previous races.
All of the last sixteen winners and all bar two of the placed horses were sent off at 8/1 or shorter on their final start before contesting the Champion Bumper.
2014 Champion Bumper Preview
It takes a certain amount of progression to win the Champion Bumper, as you might expect. But how much? Again, as you might expect, this is one of those 'how long is a piece of string' type questions, but there is at least a pointer in the historical performances of Cheltenham Champion Bumper winners.
I looked at those winners with three or four previous starts; those with two previous starts; and those with a single prior race. The full data is below, based on Racing Post Ratings. Each line shows: horse name - form figures - RPR/RPR/RPR - Champion Bumper winning RPR.
Average improvement from best to Champion Bumper winning RPR: +16
1 previous run
Briar Hill - 1 - 115-141
Cue Card - 1 - 110-138
Cousin Vinny - 1 - 126-138
Joe Cullen - 1 - 118-149
Alexander Banquet - 1 - 115-142
Florida Pearl - 1 - 134-136
Average improvement from best to Champion Bumper winning RPR: +21
This is interesting, as it implies we can expect a twice-raced horse to improve twice as much as a more experienced entry if it is to win here, and we can expect a sole starter to mature by around a stone and a half on Racing Post figures.
These are benchmarks only, but they can help when looking at so many 'could be anything' types. In a race which has returned winners at 50/1, 40/1, 33/1, 25/1, 16/1 and 14/1 three times, I will begin the form preview at the 'raggy' end of the market...
...and the first horse to take my eye is David Pipe's Seven Nation Army, a 33/1 shot (86 on Betfair). This son of Rock Of Gibraltar flopped on heavy ground last time, having previously looked progressive on his first race of the season. Horses have overcome a last time out defeat to win the Bumper, and it's a race that owner Roger Brookhouse is fond of, having won it with Cheltenian in 2011.
I'm not suggesting that Seven Nation Army is the most likely winner, but he could run well at a huge price, given expected improvement for better ground, and his established level of form when winning a decent Listed bumper at Newbury on soft.
Another expected to enjoy the quicker turf is Stack The Deck. A son of Beneficial, he was outstayed by Black Hercules on soft the last day, but should travel better for longer on sounder footing.
Our Kaempfer took a big step forward when 3rd last time out on this course, and on good ground. It is not out of the question for him to improve the required amount based on his ratings, though there would be more likely candidates.
Definitly Red is unbeaten in two heavy ground runs, the second of which was a Listed contest, and his sire Definite Article gets plenty of good ground horses. With the prospect that decent ground could see him take another step forward, Definitly Red is interesting at 25/1.
Silver Concorde has obviously been hard to train, his three runs being spread over three seasons. Still a six year old, however, Dermot Weld's Dansili gelding traveled easily before extending away from Volvalien and the rest. That form looks fair and, though he hasn't run since late December, the Champion Bumper is a race where horses can win off a longer than normal absence.
Winner of his only start, El Namoose will be bidding to give trainer John Ferguson his first Cheltenham winner, and though the form of his Musselburgh win isn't working out amazingly, he could hardly have been more impressive there, strolling away for a four length verdict. He was moving away from his field at the finish, and is bred for this sort of job.
Golantilla was actually 3rd in this last year, though he was below that form when thumped by Killultagh Vic last time out. He will surely improve for that seasonal bow, but has less scope than many and looks susceptible to at least one of many potential huge progressives.
Value At Risk represents controversial trainer Philip Fenton, who is being investigated for possession of steroids. The BHA conducted their own tests on his Cheltenham-bound horses (a trio completed by former Champion Bumper winner, Dunguib, and Last Instalment) and found no traces of steroids, thus clearing the Fenton team to make the trip.
Ignoring the sideshow, Value At Risk boasts some strong form. He was second on his first and only start last season, in a race which has worked out very well. Behind that day were Western Boy (twice a winner since and less than a length behind Supreme second favourite, Vautour, in a Grade 2 last time), Wicklow Brave (a subsequent five time winner and third favourite for the Supreme), and Gambling Girl (winner of three since, including a mares' Grade 3).
Since that fine debut, he's won his other two races in workmanlike fashion, first when making all and holding on from Windsor Park (winner since), the pair clear; and last time when traveling well before quickening clear of Draco. His amateur pilot is a slight concern, but that didn't stop stable mate Dunguib claiming this prize in 2009.
Vigil could be a second entry from the Dermot Weld yard, and this two-time starter looks to have a lot more to come. A three length runner up on his debut (third has won since, winner not raced again), he followed up in good style in a Leopardstown bumper a month ago. He was extremely impressive there, traveling beautifully before extending away without coming under pressure, and on a line through solid yardstick Valvolien he must have a chance, especially granted average progression.
And that leaves a Willie Mullins trio, Shaneshill, Killultagh Vic and Black Hercules. The last named is currently favourite for the race, but that looks like it might change, as he wants more give in the ground. He took plenty of time to get going the last day and, though he eventually pulled eight lengths clear of the Montys Meadow and Stack The Deck, he looks an out and out stayer.
Shaneshill on the other hand should improve for better ground and could well go off favourite late on Wednesday afternoon. He looks a nice big sort and he finished his race off really well when beating The Herds Garden et al last time. That race has worked out poorly so far, with none of the dozen subsequent starters winning, but the victor could not have done any more. Shaneshill has been absent from the track since the end of November, most likely awaiting better ground.
Mullins was quoted on these two thus, "Black Hercules is a good horse and that was a good performance. He´ll be entered for the Cheltenham bumper but whether he´d be as effective on good ground remains to be seen. He might have another run before we decide. The same owners have Shaneshill and he might be a more suitable horse for the Cheltenham race"
Killultagh Vic might just be better than both. He bolted up by sixteen lengths from Golantilla in a performance that was visually stunning and earned a Racing Post Rating in accordance with what the eye saw. I do have a nagging doubt that the winner was flattered by the second 'blowing up' (lack of fitness telling, rather than exploding, mercifully), and it's enough for me to look elsewhere.
Finally, one well worth noting for the future is Royal Vacation, from the Cue Card connections of Mrs Jean Bishop and Colin Tizzard. Like Cue Card when he won the Champion Bumper, Royal Vacation is a four year old. Unlike Cue Card, he didn't win on his debut, but he did run an extremely eye-catching race. It would not be exaggerating to say he was tailed off turning in at Ascot, and yet, by the finish he was a closing four length fourth.
He earned an RPR of 104 for that and hinted at the sort of improvement Cue Card found with the manner of the performance. Cue Card earned a 110 for his Fontwell debut win before going on to notch a 138 in taking the Champion Bumper. A similar scale of improvement would put Royal Vacation in the shake up and it is interesting that connections are willing to pitch him into the race. A shilling each way at 50/1 could see a place return.
2014 Champion Bumper Tips
As you'll have gathered from the above, it's a wide open race. The nature of results historically attests to the borderline pointless ambition of trying to nominate a winner and, with that in mind, I'll take a couple of big prices and a shortie against the field.
I really like the look of what Vigil has done so far, and his run style - effortlessly cruising through his races - will be well suited to a test like this. Dermot Weld wouldn't have the best record at Cheltenham - 0 from 27 since 2003 - but he has seen one of his five Champion Bumper runners make the frame (Rite Of Passage), and Vigil could at least match that achievement. 10/1 is worth taking.
Of the Mullins triumvirate, I prefer Shaneshill, despite the 102 day absence and the ostensibly poor form of his last win. I think he traveled really well, a huge asset in this as I've alluded to already, and he could bounce off the expected goodish ground. He's 8/1 with Hills (all in run or not) and I can see him going off favourite on the day.
As a throwaway bet, Royal Vacation could offer an exhilarating thrill. He'll not be asked to do anything in a hurry, but if he can hang on to the shirttails of the main pack until they turn in, it's possible to envisage a swashbuckling dash up the Cheltenham hill. Of course, he may also fail to replicate that last day finish and/or show it to be moderate form in the context of this race. But 50/1 overstates that probability, in my opinion.
Most likely winner (tenuous):
Shaneshill 8/1 Hills
Each way alternative:
Vigil 10/1 bet365
Huge priced rag with a tiny squeak:
Royal Vacation 50/1 bet365
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.png00Matt Bisognohttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngMatt Bisogno2014-03-11 17:00:022014-03-11 22:41:27Cheltenham Festival Day Two Preview / Tips
The opening race of the 2014 Cheltenham Festival is the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and the collective exhalation of breath as the tapes rise after 361 CheltFest-less days at Prestbury Park might be enough to create its own micro-weather system in the Gloucestershire hills.
The Supreme is always a strong race, bringing together the cream of the novice ranks from both sides of the Irish Sea; and that convergence of form lines has often seen lofty reputations lowered a peg or two. This year may be no different, as the market is dominated by two horses - one British, one Irish - and if both are beaten there will be jam aplenty on winning punters' bread.
This is also a race where the bookmakers focus a disproportionate number of their concessions, keen to get cash in virtual wallets, and I'll incorporate that into my tip suggestions at the close.
2014 Supreme Novices Hurdle Trends
Age: Thirteen of the last sixteen winners were aged five or six. But, from much smaller entry sizes, horses aged four, seven and eight have also won a Supreme during that time. The data is somewhat inconclusive as to whether there is a favoured age group, despite what some trends peddlers may tell you. In fact, five and six year olds won 81.25% of the races from 81.6% of the runners, meaning they very slightly under-performed against numerical expectation.
Last time out: Fourteen of the last sixteen winners also won their previous race, and it has been a profitable angle to follow progressive form displayed by under-rated horses against the 'reputation horses'. Indeed, backing all last time out winners during that period (from 1997) was worth a profit of 22.25 units at SP. Last time out winners have won 87.5% of the Supremes, from just 40% of the runners.
Days since a run: Fourteen of the sixteen winners (87.5%) under review last ran between 16 and 60 days prior to claiming their Supreme Novices' crown. They accounted for 73% of the runners. Not one of the 31 horses to be returning within two weeks even placed.
Experience: Fourteen of the sixteen winners (87.5%) had had between two and four hurdles starts, from 61% of the runners. The most inexperienced winner since 1997, in terms of total races run, was Menorah with five starts. This counts against the likes of Gilgamboa, Josses Hill, and Valseur Lido. This is a tough race, often with a lot of scrimmaging, and street smarts is a most desirable attribute.
UK vs Ireland: The Irish lead 9-7 in the period under scrutiny, and from far fewer runners. Their success computes to 56.25% of the wins (and 37.5% of the places - eighteen) from 31.75% of the runners, exactly a hundred.
Those trends point to the top four in the betting - Irving, Vautour, Wicklow Brave, and Vaniteux.
2014 Supreme Novices Hurdle Preview
The logical place to begin the form preview is with the trends horses, especially as they spearhead the betting lists too. Before that, though, it will pay to keep in mind the average improvement Supreme winners found from their previous run.
Using Racing Post Ratings as a guide, each of the last ten winners found significant improvement from their last run, and all bar Menorah scored a career top in the race. The range of improvement from last run to winning Supreme run was +6 to +36. The average was +14 and, even removing the outliers (+6 and +36), the average improvement from last run was +12.25.
What does this mean, and how can we use it? In a nutshell, it means that the winner can be expected to record a significantly higher performance figure in this race than he has previously, and most likely in the 7-14 range on RPR's.
The average winning Racing Post Rating was 152.9 in the past decade, so it is reasonable to expect an unadjusted (i.e. Racing Post card RPR minus seven pounds - trust me on this!) of 139 - meaning a published figure of 146 - to be the minimum to achieve the likely required improvement.
You know when you start trying to explain something, and you wished you hadn't... Let's move on!
The favourite, at around 5/2, is Irving. This decent flat horse in Germany - a son of Singspiel out of a staying German mare - has made a blemishless start to his hurdling career. In his four wins from four runs, he has won two Grade 2 events, both in taking style, and has been awarded a handicap rating of 149.
Aside from the form, Irving has no marked ground preference, which is one less thing to worry about if you're a fan. On the downside, he does still look a bit novicey at his hurdles, a comment which applies to plenty of his rivals too, of course.
Vautour is pushing him for favouritism as a 3/1 shot, and will be the first of many Willie Mullins-trained horses to run during the week. Since coming over from France, where he was second on both starts, Vautour has rattled off a two month hat-trick of wins, culminating in a cheeky defeat of The Tullow Tank in a Grade 1 event.
That last success earned him a rating of 154 from the Irish handicapper, which is a few pounds higher than Irving. I wasn't all that taken by the manner of his victory that day, as I felt the second was given plenty to do. The time before, Vautour just outgunned Western Boy when a 1-4 shot.
Overall, whilst I have no doubt he can win, I don't think he's any value whatsoever so to do, and my quest for a bet continues.
Stablemate Wicklow Brave took a little time to come to hand, finishing mid-division in a bumper on his first career start. That was at the Punchestown Festival and a month later he ran a very close second in a big field back at the same track.
The next stop on Wicklow Brave's Irish tour was the Galway Festival where he broke his maiden at the third attempt, again in a big field and this time on good ground. Since that day, he's been unbeaten in four further races, two bumpers and two hurdle contests.
The last of those was a Listed affair, where he strolled away from Lieutenant Colonel in the style of a most progressive animal. Indeed, his Racing Post Ratings have improved from 105 to 110 to 120 to 131 to 146, and that most recent number gives him little to find with the top pair.
I like this chap - he travels extremely well in his races - but I do have a concern about his hurdling, which was sloppy at the finish of the Listed win. If he can improve that side of his game, he's a major player in the Supreme at around 7/1.
Vaniteux has been the recent springer in the market, and that's primarily on the basis of improvement in his work at home, which is said to be scintillating. This Nicky Henderson inmate was looking like the stable second choice, after Josses Hill, but the indications are that Barry Geraghty will ride him now, and strong support has seen his price cut from 25/1 a week ago to a top offer of 12/1.
But for a blunder at the last in a good novice hurdle on Boxing Day, he might well be unbeaten in three starts since switching from point to points, and he has verdicts over Vibrato Valtat and Portway Flyer (effortlessly) either side of that last slithered landing.
His easy last day success was over two and a half miles and that strong staying aspect to his game - hinted at in his pointing career - will be a solid asset in a very fast race such as the Supreme. If his jumping holds up, there's a chance Vaniteux can find the required improvement to land those recent wagers.
Stablemate Josses Hill is on 16/1 alongside Gilgamboa and Valseur Lido, two Irish raiders. Josses Hill was comprehensively outpointed by Faugheen in a Punchestown bumper on his debut, but won well on his next two starts.
He was elevated to Grade 1 level last time out and just found wanting by half a length to another stablemate, Royal Boy. Josses Hill looked likely to prevail jumping the last and had the rail to guide him to the line, but was outbattled by his more experienced, and seemingly stronger staying, team mate.
I don't feel Josses Hill has the necessary combination of experience and class to beat all in a Supreme, though that was a significant career best last time out. It's a bit disconcerting, too, that he was beaten by a stable mate last time and has a better fancied stable mate entered in this.
Gilgamboa is a really interesting one. Although he's only had four career runs, they include wins the last twice in handicap hurdle company, the latter of which was the highly competitive Grade B Boylesports Hurdle. There he beat Flaxen Flare, himself a Festival winner last year, by an assertive length and a quarter, the pair a couple and more clear of some lightly weighted rivals.
Flaxen Flare was spotting the winner five pounds, taking his rider's claim into account, and was officially rated a stone better. Gilgamboa has been nudged up from 128 there to a new mark or 140, which seems sensible based on the figure and proximity of his nearest neighbour in the Boylesports.
That number gives him exactly a stone to find on Vautour, according to the Irish handicapper, and who am I to argue with him? The fact is, if the handicapper is even nearly right, it's asking an awful lot of Gilgamboa to improve not just the stone or thereabouts to catch Vautour, but also the extra seven pounds on top which is the usual improvement demonstrated by Supreme winners.
Valseur Lido was bought privately from France by Gigginstown's bottomless fund, after a narrow but comfortable win in a Lyon Parilly flat race. The second that day has won since, at Pau, and the form looks fair. His Irish contract has begun well with easy back-to-back victories over first Voluptueux and most recently King William.
I say "most recently", but it was in fact before Christmas, and that's a major concern. The balance of history - and common sense - says that a fairly recent run, and probably in higher class, is usually required to win a Supreme. Although he's 16/1 that's not enough to tempt me, given the big negative.
The rest don't look good enough, but there is one wild card left in the pack. If the aforementioned Faugheen was to show up here, he'd have a huge chance befitting his huge frame. This is a horse that walks over his hurdles rather than having to jump them, and he's a serious player for whichever race his connections pitch him.
He's won from two miles to three, from good ground to heavy, and in fields ranging from seven to 22. His cruising speed is so high, as a consequence of that massive stride, that he'd surely have no problem if rocking up here. But he is still more likely to take in either the Albert Bartlett or the Neptune.
2014 Supreme Novices Hurdle Tips
Plenty of unexposed material here, as you'd expect, and sifting through the strings of 1's by horse's names is a tricky task. It will clearly be no surprise if either Vautour or Irving win the 2014 running of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, but nor does it look a value route to take into the race.
I quite like the look of Wicklow Brave, and he's worth backing with either SkyBet or Paddy or both, at 13/2.
If you back him - or any other horse in the race - with SkyBet, and the favourite wins, you'll get your money back as a free bet, up to £25.
And if you back him - or any other horse in the race - with Paddy, and your horse finishessecond, third or fourth, you'll also get your money back as a free bet, up to £25.
Tentative Supreme Tip:
Wicklow Brave 13/2 SkyBet (money back as free bet if favourite wins) / Paddy (money back as free bet if selection finishes 2nd, 3rd or 4th)
Each way choice:
Vaniteux 12/1 Paddy (money back as free bet if selection finishes 2nd, 3rd or 4th)
2.05 Arkle Chase
Rock On Ruby: Arkle winner?
The second race on a stellar opening day of the Cheltenham Festival 2014 is the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy, a novice chase run over two miles. This is a serious test of speed and there's no hiding place for frail jumpers or doubtful stayers, as they'll set off fast and maintain the gallop all the way to the finish.
It's a race that has been the springboard for many a Champion Chase winner, and even in recent times has heralded the arrival of the likes of Sprinter Sacre and Sizing Europe, Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop. Make no mistake, it takes a tip-top birch-bouncer to bag the Arkle.
In this post we'll consider the recent Arkle trends, as well as the form profiles for the main contenders, before honing in on a tip or two. Let's start then with the trends.
Arkle Chase 2014 Trends
Age: The Arkle tends to be a race for young upwardly mobile types, and established hurdlers looking to break into the top echelons of chasing have struggled at the sharp end. The last 24 Arkle winners were aged five to eight, with a notable number of fancied older horses turned over.
In 2002, Barton could only manage seventh at 9/2; a year later, Adamant Approach fell when a 7/1 shot; and, more recently, Captain Cee Bee was only eighth as the 5/2 favourite in 2010; and, last year, Overturn was turned over at 7/2, finishing no better than fourth.
It's a young nag's game, and Rock On Ruby (nine) will be bidding to become only the second horse aged older than eight to win the Arkle since Sir Ken way back in 1956.
Experience: Although Simonsig had just two chase starts to his name last term (and Champleve and Tiutchev likewise at the turn of the century), and Well Chief had just a single outing over the big'uns in 2004, the general level of experience for Arkle winners has been three (three winners) or four starts (eight winners) since 1997. The brilliant Moscow Flyer had already run in five steeplechases when he lined up for, and won, the 2002 Arkle.
Form: Since 1997, only one of the 57 horses to finish outside of the first two in their prior start has won. Contraband, a 7/1 shot and possibly the worst Arkle winner in living memory, was that horse. Indeed, Contraband's previous third place was the ONLY placing outside of the first two that any Arkle winner since... well, as far back as Racing Post records go, which is at least 1988. The strong percentage play is to demand a 1-2 finish the last day.
UK or Irish? The Irish have saddled 58 runners since 1997 in the Arkle, with just three winning (5% srtike rate). The British have saddled 13 winners from their 142 runners (9% strike rate) in the same time span. Looking only at those horses priced 12/1 or below, the figures come down to Ireland 3-23 (13%) and UK 13-76 (17.1%). Thus, the UK trained runners have enjoyed an edge, but perhaps not as marked as first meets the eye.
Arkle Chase 2014 Form Preview
For what is normally a fairly well established market, the 2014 Arkle looks wide open at time of writing. Champagne Fever, winner of the Cheltenham Bumper and Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the last two Cheltenham Festivals, heads the betting at 4/1. He's closely followed by Trifolium and Dodging Bullets, both 6/1 shots, and Rock On Ruby, an 8/1 play.
It's then 10/1 Valdez, 11/1 Hinterland, and 16/1 bar those.
Champagne Fever deserves to be favourite. After all, we know he loves that Cheltenham hill, using it twice now to winning effect, having been beaten earlier in both seasons. This term, he has also been bested, and into third place too, by Defy Logic and Trifolium. Whilst he'll not be beaten by Defy Logic at Cheltenham - that one struggling with injury - the fifteen length margin of defeat and that significant trend he has to overcome are concerns.
However, on the plus side, if the ground at Cheltenham comes up good to soft, as it normally does, his record on that sort of quick turf reads 111. On balance, whilst I hugely respect Champagne Fever, I can't bring myself to bet him at 4/1. He was 16/1 when winning the Cheltenham Bumper, and was available at 16/1 shortly before winning the Supreme (returned 5/1).
He is entered in the PJ Moriarty Chase, a Grade 1 over 2m5f, on Sunday.
Trifolium has a more traditional Arkle profile, with chase form of 1221, the latter two efforts in Grade 1 company. He was a slightly unlucky third in the 2012 Supreme on good ground, but was nine lengths too good for Felix Yonger in the Grade 1 Irish Arkle, and eleven lengths in front of Champagne Fever when second to Defy Login in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase. He is the form choice and, with no doubts about the course or the ground, looks a solid bet at 6/1.
Dodging Bullets is another whose chase form is hard to crab. He's three from three over fences, including Grade 2 victories the last twice. One of that pair was at Cheltenham, but the worry with this chap is that he's twice come up short at the Festival - 9th in the Supreme last year and admittedly a respectable fourth in the Triumph in 2012. Dodging Bullets is entered in the Kingmaker at Warwick on Saturday, if it beats the weather, but with Paul Nicholls' thirteen Arkle runners in the past decade yielding no wins and just two in the frame - a list which includes five horses at 4/1 or shorter - he's not for me.*
*My thanks to Gavin Priestley's Cheltenham stats book for that nugget
Rock On Ruby is a horse I love. He's a Champion Hurdler as recently as 2012, and was second in last year's Champion Hurdle. But he's nine now, and was hurdling a long time. Whilst he has been very clever on the rare occasion he's missed a fence, and he has undoubted class, I just feel that there's no coincidence in the stats about nine-year-olds here, and have to reluctantly overlook him. If there's one to beat me, I hope it's Harry Fry's Rock On Ruby.
Valdez is unbeaten in three over fences, and saw off Irish raider, Arnaud, last time. He was entitled to, though, off level weights and officially rated ten pounds his superior. Still, Valdez was coming back from a break and stayed on very takingly up the pan flat Donny run-in, implying he'll enjoy the stiffer circuit and sharper match fitness in the Arkle. At 10/1, he offers a bit of scope for each way players, and trainer Alan King is massively respected.
Hinterland has been off the track since winning the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown in early December, and he's not currently got any entries. That's just too long a layoff for me to entertain and, while he could run between now and the Festival, he's no value to win the Arkle as things stand, especially given his trainer Paul Nicholls' aforementioned bad record in the race.
We're then in the realms of the 16/1 bar brigade. While Felix Yonger is a top priced 16/1, he might well go to the longer JLT Novices' Chase, and the best price with a non-runner concession is 10/1 which makes little appeal.
Grandouet is mildly interesting. True, he has been blighted with jumping issues throughout the big days of his career, and true, he's looked a bit off colour this season. But he was going like the winner in the Champion Hurdle last year when coming to grief - albeit a fair way out - and he is capable of a big run. 16/1 non-runner free bet isn't the worst wager in the Arkle.
Arkle Chase Trophy 2014 Tips
It will be clear from what you've read so far that I think Trifolium looks a very solid bet for the 2014 Arkle. He's got a perfect profile - seven year-old with four chase starts, all in the first two, and a win in Grade 1 company last time. He goes on any ground, though may be best on the easy side of good. He jumps well and should be able to race prominently. 6/1 non-runner free bet is the bet in the race for me.
Of the British squad, whilst I fear and respect Rock On Ruby, I'm happy enough to take a chance on the unbeaten Valdezbeing able to improve enough to make the frame. He looks like he'll stay well and is generally a decent jumper. 10/1, again non-runner free bet, is fair each way value.
Arkle Challenge Trophy 2014 Selection:
Trifolium 6/1 BetVictor Non-Runner Free Bet [advised 6th February 2014]
The first of the handicaps, and I'll be taking a less comprehensive form view on these races, on the basis that almost every runner has a bit of a chance and I could cover 80% of them and still miss the winner! Nevertheless, there will be pointers aplenty for each of them. Let's get started...
The following trends are since 1997 (16 renewals) and are courtesy of horseracebase
Age: 15/16 - 94% - (and all since Flyers Nap in 1997) were aged between seven and ten, as were 55 of the 59 (93%) placed horses during that time, from 77% of the runners. Exclude the youngest and oldest competitors.
Form: 10/16 (62.5%) won at least once in their last three races, from 44% of the runners; 14/16 (87.5%) were 1-2-3 during that time, from 79% of the runners. Six of the 54 last time out winners claimed this prize, and they were profitable to back blindly. So much for handicap plots!
Weight / Rating: Only one winner carried more than 11-02 to victory, and just 13 of the 59 places went to horses weighted higher too. Since the turn of the century, all bar one winner had a weight of 10-12 or less. The highest rated winner since 1997 was Unguided Missile (149, 1998) and no subsequent scorer has been rated above 143.
Market: Just one favourite has scored in the last sixteen runnings, and only two second favourites. Don't be afraid to take a price about a couple!
Experience: Like a number of the Cheltenham Festival handicaps, those with limited experience - and therefore more scope to improve - have dominated. Since 1997, 13 of the 16 winners (81%) had ten or fewer chase starts, as did 36 of the 59 placed horses (61%), from 154 runners (52%).
Combining these elements, we're looking for a lightly-raced, low rated seven- to ten-year-old, that finished in the first three in at least one of its last three starts.
It's a sequence that will be broken at some point of course, but the fact that the last fifteen winners were rated 143 or below looks telling. That equates to a weight of 11-04 this year, but those carrying more than eleven stone have struggled. I want a horse which has won in its last three starts, too, which means I'm focusing my attention on a shortlist of King Massini, Standing Ovation, Wrong Turn, Muldoon's Picnic, and Green Flag. Relax is excluded from consideration as I'm sure he wants it softer.
Green Flag is a novice and a winner of three races this year, two of them on good ground, and the last two in novice handicaps. He then ran a fine second to Annacotty in the Feltham before unseated on the flat last time (clipped heels). He is a safe jumper for one so inexperienced, and the combination of decent ground and a fair weight makes him of at least some appeal at 14/1.
Muldoon's Picnic is a far bigger price - 33/1 - and yet he stays well and handles good ground. He too is a novice that has won in a handicap, but that small field Class 3 victory was quite a different prospect to what he's facing here.
Wrong Turn is likely to shorten in the betting from his current 16/1 for two reasons: firstly he's trained by Tony Martin, a man with a fine Festival record and a dab hand at placing handicappers to optimal effect; and second, he's won his last three completed handicap chases. Given he's fallen in two races during that sequence, Coral's offer of money back on fallers might be worth availing, though they are shorter than other firms, presumably for that reason.
Standing Ovation was protecting a four race unbeaten record when well enough beaten in a similar race at the November meeting here, but they may have been a 'sighter' for this. Moreover it came just six days after he'd won a Listed handicap chase at Wincanton, which might have taken more out of him than first met the eye. His recent run on soft ground at Kempton can be forgiven, as all his form is on quicker, but that will have blown the cobwebs away and he's a contender if he can track the early pace.
And King Massini is another novice on the upgrade. He too ran within a few days of a win here in an attempt to take advantage before a big hike in the ratings, and was successful in so doing. However, he's not run since mid-December and that is enough to count him out for me.
As with all Cheltenham Festival handicaps, there are loads of others with chances, but I like those key trends, and will take my chances on that basis.
The betting is suggesting that one of either the age (Alfie Sherrin) or weight (Holywell, Hadrian's Approach) stats will take a beating this time, but a big chunk of recent history points to taking a chance elsewhere.
I'll side with Green Flag, a most progressive sort that has been first of second in twelve out of thirteen completed starts. He clipped heels and came down the last day when going well as the even money favourite, and his second place in the Feltham - albeit ten lengths behind the winner - showed he has some class to go with his battling qualities.
If Green Flag is right at the historical ratings threshold for the race, and peering over the weight threshold with 11-04, then Standing Ovation and Wrong Turn are snug fits on all historical counts, and both are serial winners, having each scored thrice in their last five starts. At 20's and 16's respectively, they are worthy of each way attention with a bookie paying five places.
Green Flag 14/1 Coral (money back on fallers)
Best each way options:
Wrong Turn 16/1 Skybet
Standing Ovation 20/1 general
3.20 Champion Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips
2014 Champion Hurdle previewWho can beat the 'Fly this winter?
It's the fourth race of 27, and arguably the best. Yes, this year's Champion Hurdle is a chuffing howitzer of a speed scrap, featuring established class versus rising stars in a battle of the generations. It's also a fiendishly difficult punting puzzle, and in this post I'll attempt to piece together the key known elements.
Champion Hurdle 2014 Trends
Age: The only two double-digit aged winners since the Champion Hurdle was first run in 1927 were Hatton's Grace (won aged 9, 10 and 11 1949-51) and Sea Pigeon (aged 10 and 11 1980-81). Hurricane Fly bids for a third Champion Hurdle aged ten.
At the other end of the age spectrum, Katchit was the only five-year-old to win the Champion since the first of See You Then's hat-trick in the race in 1985. Katchit, like Our Conor - who bids to win as a five-year-old this time, was returning to Cheltenham as the winner of the previous year's Triumph Hurdle.
Six to nine year olds have won 28 of the last thirty Champion Hurdles.
Last time out: 41 of the 48 win and placed horses since 1997 finished first or second last time out. They also accounted for fifteen of the sixteen winners during that time. The other winner finished third the last day.
Cheltenham Form: Twelve of the fourteen winners since 1997 to have previously raced at Cheltenham had a place record of at last 75% at the track. Ten of them had a 100% place record at the track. The New One was 'only' sixth in the Champion Bumper.
Days since a run: Only Rock On Ruby, absent since Boxing Day, had failed to run earlier in the same year as when winning the Champion Hurdle since 1997. The New One has been absent since the same day as Rock On Ruby was.
Champion Hurdle 2014 Preview
In truth, there's very little to glean from the trends except that Hurricane Fly's age negative is mitigated by the feat of other serial winners. Likewise, Our Conor is bidding to emulate Katchit in following up a Triumph Hurdle win with victory in the Blue Riband. The New One has a couple of minor knocks, but it would be careless to omit him from consideration on those grounds alone. Jezki finished fourth last time out, which is worse than any winner this century, but again, context is needed there.
What about the form book then? Where does established form suggest we should cast our wagering net? Let's start with the veteran champ...
Hurricane Fly missed his first intended engagement at the Festival back in 2010 after a late injury ruled him out. He made up for that in 2011 by repelling the valiant Peddlers Cross in the Champion Hurdle.
In 2012, some folks - including me - feel he should have won again. Given plenty to do at the top of the hill, it seemed that Ruby Walsh on the Fly was exclusively preoccupied with what Tony McCoy - aboard Binocular - was doing. Walsh was looking to cover McCoy's every move, and so he did. Unfortunately, the bird had flown in front of them, with Overturn setting the race up for Rock On Ruby. Hurricane Fly was a never nearer five length third, besting Binocular into fourth in the process.
Last year, there was no such error (if indeed you subscribe to the notion that jockeys - contrary to what some of them bleat - actually can, and do, make mistakes). Walsh shovelled on the coal at an appropriate juncture, and his willing mount reversed form with Rock On Ruby to claim Champion Hurdle number two.
The Hurricane is now unbeaten since that Ruby reversal in 2012, which was his only defeat since November 2009. True, he's often duffed up the same nags in short fields in Ireland. But if that's crabbing the champ, then it's hard to argue with his record when he's ferried over to Gloucestershire.
However. How. Ever... He is a ten year old now, and in the likes of The New One, Our Conor, My Tent Or Yours, and Jezki, he faces a brand new battalion of fleet-footed aspirants. Allied to that, his form this season - whilst undeniably progressive from race to race - has been at a lower level than last season.
Indeed, according to Racing Post Ratings, his best run this year (RPR 168) fails to measure up to his worst run last year (RPR 169). I love Hurricane Fly. I have a deep reverence for him too. But it would be disappointing for the near future of the Champion Hurdle if at least one of his young upstart rivals wasn't good enough to do him for toe.
But which one?
The New One has been a talking horse for a long time. And, in his defence, he's done plenty of talking on the track too, with a record that shows only one run - the 2012 Champion Bumper - outside the first two. But that's a sequence which does include three - granted, narrow - defeats in his last six races.
And, having failed to pierce the 170 Racing Post Rating barrier to date, as well as having a longer than ideal absence to overcome, I think he's terribly short atop the market at 11/4.
The next pair in the betting, at 9/2 or so, are Our Conor and My Tent Or Yours. Our Conor was a breathtaking fifteen length winner of the Triumph Hurdle last year. That race hasn't worked out brilliantly, and he's been beaten in three starts since.
First, he finished fourth in a big field flat handicap at Naas; then he ran third - beaten six lengths behind Hurricane Fly in the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle at Christmas; and last time, he was just a length and a half behind the fly in the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle.
Dessie Hughes has brought him on slowly this year, as undoubtedly has Willie Mullins with the Fly, and I think it will be very close between the pair on the opening day of the Festival. Our Conor bounded up the hill last year, and it's not hard to see him doing the same again this term. He too has something to find on the numbers, though.
That hill would be the question mark with My Tent Or Yours who, a slight wilting behind Champagne Fever in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle aside, has a good looking profile for the race. He sneaked a prep race in a jumpers' bumper a month before the Festival and that should have him cherry ripe to give his best.
Whether that is quite good enough, against rivals who may finish their races better remains to be seen. He does have the beating of The New One on Christmas Hurdle form, though, and it's quite hard to see why he's a bigger price than that rival. [Note, as I write, there seems to be some unease in My Tent Or Yours' price, and an announcement from Henderson's yard should illuminate further].
Assuming Annie Power goes for the World Hurdle, Jezki is next at around 10/1. He was undeniably disappointing last time when fourth of four in a tactical scrap with the Fly, Our Conor, and pacemaker, Captain Cee Bee. If that run can be ignored - and I'd suggest it can, as it hardly compares to the full tilt of a Champion Hurdle - then he has little to find with both My Tent Or Yours and Hurricane Fly.
Little to find, yes; but he does have to find it, and that's a leap of faith I'm not really prepared to take.
Un De Sceaux is another expected absentee, which is a pity, because his heart-on-sleeve bamboozling front-running style would have been a fascinating sub-plot to the race.
Ignoring the outsiders Grumeti, Ptit Zig and Thousand Stars, the only remaining possible is Melodic Rendezvous. And, if it came up boggy on day one, he'd be a very interesting contender. Let's be clear, despite being a 20/1 shot, he's a Grade 1 and triple Grade 2 winner. Moreover, he's won six of his eight hurdles starts, and was plainly 'wrong' when down the field in the Fighting Fifth, a race in which recent Champion Hurdler Binocular was also turned over.
He's a very good horse, and managed second to Champagne Fever in the Punchestown Champion Bumper on just his second lifetime run. Coming here off the back of a workmanlike performance when seeing off Zarkandar in the Kingwell Hurdle - itself a strong trial for the Champion Hurdle - Melodic Rendezvous had plenty of 'tightening up' to do in the intervening four weeks, and trainer Jeremy Scott seemed quietly excited at his charge's prospects at a recent London Racing Club event.
Champion Hurdle 2014 Tips
The 2014 Champion Hurdle is a really trappy race. It's not clear from where the pace will come, and it's not clear what the ground conditions will be. The best guesses are that the supplemented Captain Cee Bee will lead, and that the ground will be good to soft.
If that comes to pass, then the value - such as it is in a race where the bookies have a strongarm grip on the form - might be with Melodic Rendezvous, who can go on good to soft, at 20/1. My Tent Or Yours has, I think, a better chance than The New One at a bigger price IF he's untroubled by that injury scare.
It's a race in which I've been waiting until the day to back up my Melodic Rendezvous ante post ticket. But, now the day is here, I'll most certainly be using Ladbrokes' 'Money Back as a free bet if Hurricane Fly finishes first or second' offer to back My Tent Or Yours. That is a cracking concession as the old boy looks nailed on to run his race, and we'd need two to get by him, one of which is not My Tent Or Yours, in order not to at least get a second bite of the Cheltenham cherry.
Champion Hurdle selection: My Tent Or Yours 4/1 Ladbrokes (money back as a free bet if Hurricane Fly is first or second)
4.00 Mares' Hurdle
Quevega - on a Mares' Hurdle six-timer
The Mares' Hurdle is now in its sixth year and, since Whiteoak won the inaugural running, there has only been one further name etched on the pot: Quevega. That fragile but immensely talented lass has bagged the last five renewals and, as such, has made trends analysis somewhat pointless, for the win part at least.
Quevega bids for an almost imponderable six-timer in the 2014 Mares' Hurdle and, if age has yet to catch up with her, she'll be very hard to beat once more. So, from a trends perspective, I thought I'd look at the profiles of the placed horses - as well as Whiteoak and Quevega in winning year one - to get a flavour for what's required to go close in the Mares' Hurdle.
[Clearly, it's far from a scientific basis from which to strike a wager, but it should be indicative at least.]
Specifically, then, we've got the first three from 2008 and 2009 (Quevega's first win - we'll include her once only); and the placed horses from 2010 onwards, for a total of fourteen in the sample.
The majority of win and placed horses were aged six and seven, with nine of the fourteen in the sample being in that group. Two five year olds have won it, Whiteoak and Quevega first time, but they've failed to add a placed effort to that.
On official ratings, of the thirteen in the sample with a rating, just six were rated 140+, with five of those rated 150+. The remaining seven were 139 or less, and they may offer some value as they include some big-priced beasts.
Only three of the fourteen had failed to win or place in Graded company previously, and two of those had Listed form. Ten of the fourteen had run over hurdles nine or fewer times.
Stamina is a key requirement here too, with twelve of the eighteen win/placed horses (including Quevega all starts) having won at further than the two and a half mile trip. Backing two-milers in this may not be a smart move. And that's interesting, because two of the next three in the betting - Cockney Sparrow and Down Ace - have yet to race beyond an extended two miles. Indeed, all of Cockney Sparrow's hurdle form is on flat tracks and Cheltenham's undulations will be a further - literally - challenge. She looks a place lay to me.
Down Ace does at least have a three mile point win in the bag, and looked to need every yard of it when just nailing Blue Buttons in a decent Listed novices' hurdle at Taunton last time. She fluffed the last two flights there, though, and will need to be better. If she is, she has place prospects. Too much of an 'if' for me.
Vying for second favouritism, and a much more robust option than the Sparrow in my opinion, is the French raider, Sirene d'Ainay. She almost nicked it from the front last year, as Quevega got caught in traffic after four out. It was a most impressive effort from the champ to get up that day, and Sirene d'Ainay may have been flattered by her proximity. Nevertheless, she was two lengths and more too good for the rest, and comes over in equally good heart this term. Hers is an obvious podium prospect.
The trip will hold no fears for Glen's Melody either and, if she lines up, this Grade 1 winner could give her Mullins stablemate something to ponder. She does seem to need soft ground to give her best but, with the rain still falling, that's a possibility on the first day of the meeting.
I'm against any mare - except Quevega - coming into this off a break of longer than two months. A couple have made the frame, but absences longer than three months have proved insurmountable for all bar the mighty Mullins mare. So it is that Cailin Annamh gets the bullet, and she also has to have fast ground to show her best.
There'd be no such ground, fitness or stamina worries about Highland Retreat, and Harry Fry's seven-year-old mare has been a star player for Team Seaborough this term, notching a hat-trick sealed with a Grade 2 win over three miles on heavy ground. Prior to that she'd won a Listed race over a similar trip on good ground and, though she may get outpaced mid-race, she'll stay on far better than most. 20/1 is tempting, though that is without the non-runner money back concession.
Swing Bowler ran a better race in the Betfair Hurdle last year than she did this term before clunking in the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham and, while that might have been a blip - she was off for almost the whole year afterwards, implying injury - it's hard to recommend her.
And then, of course, there's the ten-year-old five-time winner, Quevega. As well as a nap hand here, she's also registered Grade 1 successes at the last four Punchestown Festivals and, if she turns up within seven pounds of her best, she'll win. She's won this race by 14 lengths; 4 1/2 lengths; 10 lengths; 4 lengths; and a hampered-in-running one and a half lengths. She's ten now, and that won't make life any easier, but she has yet to show any sign of regression, and just might be value at 8/11.
I don't have enough elevens to win a meaningful amount of eights, and for that reason wasn't going to play this race at all. But then I saw Betfred's refund offer (see below), and now I will be backing either Sirene d'Ainay (8/1) or Highland Retreat (16/1) win only, with Quevega on my side.
I may also place an exacta sort of bet, with Sirene d'Ainay and Highland Retreat (and perhaps Glens Melody) to grab silver. I may further play the trifecta, throwing a number of big priced 'oily rags' underneath.
Unless you have deep pockets and a strong nerve, this was a race to savour, as it may be the sixth coronation procession of the Queen of Cheltenham, HRH Quevega. But with the Betfred money back offer, we can both savour it and cheer for something else. Nice work, baldy!
Betfred - Money Back if Quevega Wins
Betfred are refunding all bets (as a free bet) up to £25 on the Mares' Hurdle if Quevega wins. Offer applies to win stakes and the win part of each way bets, and it's a bloody good one! Applies to new and existing customers. Click the link below to register if you don't already have a Betfred account.
4.40 National Hunt Chase
I've got to be honest. I can't stand this race. It's cost me a placepot on too many occasions. A four mile novice chase for amateur riders is about as close as I can think of to how NOT to frame a Cheltenham race. I do accept that others have a different view and, despite the success in the last three years of the top of the market, this is a contest where you are taking a heck of a lot on a wing and a prayer.
It used to be the worst betting race of the meeting, but has improved with the latest ruling allowing novices of all ratings in. The last three winners were the highest rated horses, and that 'all rating' concession is only four years old.
National Hunt Chase 2014 Trends
Ignoring my own disdain, there are some interesting trends, as follows. Thanks again to horseracebase for these.
Last time out: 14 of the last 16 National Hunt Chase winners (87.5%) finished in the top four on their prior start, and 39 of the 48 placed horses (81%) did likewise, from 73% of the runners.
Rating: Since the rule was changed to allow any novice in, as opposed to imposing a ceiling rating, the cream has risen to the top. The last three winners all had a rating above 145 and two of them were rated 150+. They were also all market leaders, and this may be material.
Layoff: None of the 48 runners to race within two weeks of the National Hunt Chase won, and only two placed.
National Hunt Chase 2014 Preview
This will be a short preview. I'm going to look only at the top four in the ratings. They are Shotgun Paddy, Shutthefrontdoor, and Foxrock.
Shotgun Paddy earned his 151 rating by winning the Betfred Classic, a Grade 3 handicap chase, beating Carruthers et al. He is a thorough stayer and may be the best horse in the race, as his rating implies. However, all his form is on testing ground, and that just might be his unpicking here.
Shutthefrontdoor represents trainer Jonjo O'Neill and owner JP McManus. Jonjo has won this five times in the past and he has a very good chance of getting a sixth this year. Shutthefrontdoor has looked an out and out stayer on more than one occasion and, if his jumping holds up, he ought to be bang there. A top price of 4/1 may not be enormous value but this could be a thinned out field by the time they start their second circuit and, if he's still standing, he'll plod on well.
Foxrock is the fly in the ointment. Winner of a big field beginners' chase over 2m6f in late November, he's since run third to Carlingford Lough in a Grade 1 and won a Grade 2, both at three miles. He has some form on decent-ish ground and as such has a fine chance.
Midnight Prayer is rated twelve pounds below Shotgun Paddy, but only seven beneath the best of the rest, and he loves to hear his hooves rattle. Alan King's nine-year-old ought to stay and was unlucky to unseat when hampered three starts back, and might be the best each way bet, if such a thing exists in a race like this.
National Hunt Chase 2014 Tips
Some people like this race more than me. Actually, most people like this race more than me. Still, it does look between the top four in the ratings, and I'm against Shotgun Paddy on the basis of the ground. Of the two favourites, I prefer Shutthefrontdoor.
And as a win and place option, Midnight Prayer offers more hope than most.
Selection: Shutthefrontdoor 3.8/1 Betbright
Best each way: Midnight Prayer 10/1 Seanie Mac
5.15 Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase
A new race introduced in 2005, and one which has quickly seen a 'profile type' emerge.
Eight of the nine winners were first (five) or second (three) last time out.
Seven year olds have won six of the nine renewals, though the placed horses have strong representation from six to ten!
There has been a strong upward trend to the winners' ratings. The inaugural winner was rated 123, nine pounds lower than any subsequent winner. Since then, three of the last four winners were rated 139+.
This is a race in which lots of horses are desperate to 'get a run'. As such, there is usually a compressed handicap. Put another way, most of the horses with the highest weights take up their option to run. All bar that first winner have been carrying 10-11 or more. The last three winners carried 11-04 or more.
All nine winners ran 16-60 days ago, as did 30 of the 36 placed horses.
I'm looking for a recent runner that finished first or second last time out, and has form in a similar contest.That still leaves about half the field, headed by top weight, Ericht. He finished fifth in the Coral Cup last year, when rated 134 over hurdles. Although this shorter trip is not certain to suit, he comes here in good form, goes in the ground, and has some track history.
Manyriverstocross is one of the more interesting players. Second to a laboured Oscar Whisky last time in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase, a literal interpretation of that form would make him a snip. Good enough as a hurdler to win a Grade 2 over this kind of trip, the guts of Manyriverstocross' form is on top of the ground. He's not a frequent winner, but he has a touch of class and could be nicely handicapped on that last run, for which he was unchanged in the ratings.
Present View is a consistent type and recorded a career best when sluicing up last time in a Kempton handicap chase over this trip (Class 3). He's been whacked by the 'capper for that and this will be much tougher. It's also quicker ground which may not suit as well as the soft turf that last day.
Dursey Sound has finished second on his last two starts but, in so doing, has beaten just one horse! Prior to that he unshipped twice in a row, and would be - at best - an unreliable proposition.
Ahyaknowyerself is an interesting one. He's actually been dropped five pounds for winning by seven lengths last time! A 147 rated hurdler - finished less than five lengths third to Melodic Rendezvous - he gets in here off 135, and that looks generous. I'm not saying he'll win this - I'm not saying any horse will win it! - but he's well in against the pick of his hurdle form and he's a consistent fellow to boot. He does have to prove he stays, but 25/1 could be fun.
Ex-hunter Festive Affair and lightly-raced Buywise have both raced almost exclusively on deep ground and, while that doesn't mean they can't act on quicker, it's a bit of a leap of faith. Meanwhile, Buthelezi beat former Fred Winter winner, Une Artiste, last time on good ground and sneaks in at the bottom the list. He's probably not that well handicapped however, and I'd prefer a couple further up the lists.
Of the trends busters, Attaglance and Up To Something are most appealing. The former won the Martin Pipe here two years ago and, though he's yet to win over fences, there's an arguement that he's been waiting for precisely this day and this race. Track and trip should be fine, and he's two pounds lower than that Festival-winning handicap mark, if you like to assume parity in ratings across the disciplines (a dangerous game at best!)
The latter is joint top weight on the basis of a fine run behind JLT fancy, Wonderful Charm. His mark has been nicely protected since by running first on too soft, and then over too far. Noel Fehily has been booked, and both he and trainer Charlie Longsdon are in good form.
Ohio Gold represents the wily Tizzard team, who won two handicaps last year. They also had this boy finish third in this race, and he may again get onto the podium.
Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase 2014 Tips
Very tricky, but a couple with decent-looking chances are Manyriverstocross and Up To Something. More speculatively, Ahyaknowyerself might go well for a long way unless/until his stamina runs out.
A couple of things to keep in mind here are 1) if yours is a dodgy jumper (this is a novices' race, after all) bet with Coral if they're price competitive, and 2) try to bet with a bookie paying an extra place if you can find one. I'll flag them on twitter in the morning @geegeez_uk
Ohio Gold, 3rd in this last year and two pounds better in, may make the frame again.
Two at huge prices:
Up To Something 40/1 Betbright
Ahyaknowyerself 33/1 Betbright
https://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.png00Matt Bisognohttps://www.geegeez.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2018/09/geegeez_banner_new_300x100.pngMatt Bisogno2014-03-10 15:14:532014-03-10 15:26:32Cheltenham Festival Day One Preview / Tips