2014 Triumph Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips

2014 Triumph Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips

Calipto bids to triumph in the Triumph

Calipto bids to triumph in the Triumph

The Triumph Hurdle is the four-year-old Championship event, a novice hurdle over two miles and a furlong that has announced the arrival of such as Our Conor, Katchit, Celestial Halo and Zarkandar in recent seasons.

It is one of the hardest races in which to assimilate the respective Irish and British form against each other, especially as several of the horses have been running in France until very recently.

2014 Triumph Hurdle Trends

Last time out: Thirteen of the last sixteen Triumph winners also won their previous race. Two more were second and one was third. Horses finishing fourth or worse last time are 0 from 100 since 1997. 44 of the 48 placed horses ran within 60 days, and every winner since 1992 had run within 55 days of their previous race.

Betting: The top four in the betting have won eleven of the last sixteen renewals, and all bar one since the introduction of the Fred Winter. That race has helped to thin the Triumph field, so hard luck stories are rare.

Key trials: The key race in Ireland has been the Spring Novices' Hurdle, which has been the Spring-board (geddit?!) for the last two Triumph Hurdle winners. This year, Guitar Pete beat Tiger Roll and Plinth. In Britain, Kempton's Adonis Hurdle has long been the main trial: since 2005 Penzance, Soldatino and Zarkandar all won that en route to Triumph victory. This year, Activial (misses Cheltenham) beat Commissioned and Solar Impulse.

2014 Triumph Hurdle Preview

The long-term presence of soft and heavy ground is a real fly in the ointment for form students of this race, as most of the main contenders will be facing very different turf than in recent starts.

Calipto heads the betting at 5/1 and that looks entirely fair. After all, this thrice-raced ex-Frenchie had Adonis winner Activial over three lengths behind when winning a Newbury juvenile hurdle. Moreover, that was on good to soft, a rare piece of evidence on a sound surface. He then turned up at the same venue a month before Triumph day and won a heavy ground novice hurdle.

So, we know he goes on the quick; we know he's got some class; and we know he's in decent form. Although he's not been tested above Class 3, he has raced against Graded stakes opposition, and the form of that first UK run is arguably the best juvenile hurdle form of the season, certainly on goodish ground.

After all, runner-up Activial won the Grade 2 Adonis; fourth placed Dawalan has won twice since, and is favourite for the Fred Winter; sixth placed Baradari also won next time; and seventh home, Shalianzi, won a Lingfield all weather maiden last time out!

The fact that Calipto recorded that form on good to soft is key. He may be beaten in the Triumph but he has revealed more clues about the race's suitability than many of his rivals.

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Le Rocher is second choice in the ring, and Nick Williams' charge began his UK career by winning the Grade 1 Finale at Chepstow in heavy ground. That was a real stamina test, and he followed up in the heavy ground Triumph Hurdle trial here at Cheltenham, also on heavy. Although he won a hurdle in Dieppe in June on good to soft, it would appear he has a preference for more ease. Further, the form of those two races cannot be said to have worked out, and I think he'll run below his market rank.

Guitar Pete is next and, while it's hard to crab his hurdles form - after all, he won the Grade 1 Spring Novices' Hurdle last time - this former 60-rated flat horse was beaten readily enough by Royal Irish Hussar at Cheltenham three months ago, on good ground. He seems better on easier, and is another I'll discount, rightly or wrongly.

Behind Guitar Pete that last day were Tiger Roll and Plinth. Tiger Roll was having only his second career start after winning a Market Rasen novice event on soft and, for one so inexperienced, ran a blinder. He's flat bred (by Authorized out of an Entrepreneur mare), and might improve for the better ground. In any case, he has more scope to improve past Guitar Pete's current level of form, given their respective experience (two hurdles runs versus six, and twelve runs in total, for GP).

The third that day is interesting at a price. Plinth is a cumbersome jumper and, if he kicks the timber from the turf as he did the last day, he'll do well to even get round let alone win. But the fact he ran within six lengths of Guitar Pete with such a woeful display of hurdling speaks volumes for his engine. He could well jump better on decent ground and, if he did, I'd fancy him to beat both Guitar Pete and Tiger Roll. The 25/1 with Hills appeals to small money.

Coming back to the UK form, Broughton has been perhaps the best backed horse of the last week. Formerly trained by Mark Johnston and rated 89 on the level, he made a fine start to his John Ferguson-handled National Hunt career when a head second behind Fox Norton in a Grade 2, with Royal Irish Hussar sixteen lengths back in third. That was on good ground, going on which he also has plenty of flat form; and he followed up by winning a Listed event on soft at the start of February.

He's tough, experienced at racing, and progressive over hurdles. He might just have what it takes to claim a Triumph, though he did show a bit of tail-flashing attitude when asked to close at Doncaster that first hurdling day. Moreover, O'Regan would not be my first choice jockey, even of the pair at Bloomfields...

Far back in third that day, and absent since, is Royal Irish Hussar. He needs quick ground, which he'll get, but those ninety days away mean he'll be bidding to do something no horse has done since 1992: win after more than 55 days off. He's been well backed but he's not for me, not on form and not on layoff.

Willie Mullins has Gitane du Berlais amongst other options here, and this filly has improved a good bit since her Irish hurdling debut third to Guitar Pete. First, she won an Aintree Listed event by eight lengths, and then she followed up in Grade 3 company at Fairyhouse by five lengths. Both of those wins were against her own sex, and this will be tougher against the boys, but she does receive the seven pound ladies' allowance, and that could help tip the balance in her favour.

Rutherglen is unbeaten in three hurdle starts, and warmed up for the Triumph in unconventional fashion by winning a flat handicap on the all-weather at Kempton. Despite his upside potential, the form he has demonstrated to date gives him plenty to find with some of these, and he ought not to be good enough.

Stablemate Pearl Castle looks much more likely, having won his last two on good to soft, both at Doncaster. He was more visually impressive on the first of that pair, when trouncing  Dubai Prince, Varom, Area Fifty One and the rest; but he performed to a higher level - form-wise if not aesthetically - when seeing off the game Zamoyski by two and a half lengths.

That form gives him a bit to find with Guitar Pete, but he'll travel better off a more searching gallop, which is almost assured in the Triumph Hurdle. He can run into the frame, and perhaps even emulate trainer John Quinn's 2012 winner, Countrywide Flame.

The rest won't be good enough.

2014 Triumph Hurdle Tips

I think the favourite, Calipto, looks pretty solid. He's progressive, has form on a sound surface, and represents the barn of 2008 and 2011 Triumph winner, Paul Nicholls. 5/1 may not be a sexy price, but this chap looks almost certain to go close and, in that light, is a decent bet.

At more speculative odds, Broughton, Pearl Castle and Plinth could go well. Broughton, at 10/1, is a classy ex-flat fellow and, though somewhat 'attitudinous', he does have a high cruising speed and jumps pretty well. Pearl Castle has little to find to trouble the best of these and looked capable of better two starts back when thumping a decent field. 16/1 is entirely fair.

And if you're prepared to take a leap of faith which may turn out to be as tenuous at the literal leaping of Plinth, you may be rewarded. He looked to hate the ground in the Grade 1 Spring Novices' Hurdle last time, and yet was only beaten six lengths in third.

Two years ago, Countrywide Flame went over for the Spring Hurdle, and finished third. A month later, he won the Triumph Hurdle. At 33/1. There is a smidge of 25/1 about lightning striking twice in the form of Plinth and, if better ground leads to better hurdling, he could far outrun those odds.

Most Likely Triumph Hurdle winner:
Calipto 5/1 bet365 (BOG / NRNB)

Best Each Way Bet in Triumph Hurdle:
Pearl Castle 16/1 bet365 (BOG / NRNB)

Best Outsider in Triumph Hurdle:
Plinth 25/1 Hills (all in run or not)

bet365

 

2014 Champion Bumper Preview, Trends, Tips

2014 Champion Bumper Preview, Trends, Tips

Mr Champion Bumper: Willie Mullins

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.

3 or 4 previous runs
Dunguib - 211 - 102/132/146- 151
Cork All Star - 111 - 109/119/136- 138
Hairy Molly - 2131 - 113/103/127/131- 133
Missed That - 011 - 85/103/134- 136
Total Enjoyment - 311 - 108/116/122- 135
Liberman - 2112 - 97/111/93/127- 142
Monsignor - 134 - 113/121/116- 138

Average improvement from best to Champion Bumper winning RPR: +8

2 previous runs
Champagne Fever - 21 - 126/138- 142
Cheltenian - 21 - 115/118- 138
Pizarro - 11 - 126/127- 152

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

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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

 

bet365

2014 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips

2014 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips

Briar Hill seeking a second Festival win in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle

Briar Hill seeking a second Festival win


The Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle is run over three miles, and was added to the Festival line up in 2005. It already has an illustrious alumni with RSA Chase and Gold Cup winner, Bobs Worth, the probable pick of the pile. Known affectionately as 'the potato race' (Albert Bartlett supply over 20% of the UK's spuds), it is a race for thorough stayers.

2014 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Trends

As with all of the newer races, data are limited so trends should not be used as alpha and omega. However, there are some strong patterns emerging.

Age: All bar the first winner - a precocious French-trained, bred and raced five year old - were aged six or seven. However, there is a fairly even spread of placed horses from five to eight, so it may be dangerous to infer too much into the win stats.

Last time out: Eight of the nine Albert Bartlett winners were first or second on their final outing before lining up at Cheltenham, with only 33/1 Berties Dream's cap not fitting. He was fourth in a Grade 2.

Curiously, all nine winners had run in a Grade 2 event last time, despite only 51 of the 162 (31%) runners matching that profile.

Experience: Berties Dream had already had an incredible fourteen hurdle races before carving his name into the trophy. That compares with seven of the nine winners who had either three or four hurdle starts in  their career to that point.

All had won at least one hurdle race, with six of the nine winners (67%) having won three or four races from just 35 qualifiers (22% of the runners).

All had won a Graded race, except Listed winner Moulin Riche, and seven of the nine had won a Grade 2 race or better.

Days since a run: Only the unbeaten even money favourite, Black Jack Ketchum, has been able to defy an absence of longer than 60-ish days (Nenuphar Collonges was off for 61 days when winning). None of the 29 horses to be racing within 25 days of its last start has even placed.

Horses to map best to this type of profile are Deputy Dan, Urban Hymn, Blakemount, Sure Reef, Apache Jack, and Masters Hill.

2014 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Preview

As with most of the other novice events at the Festival, we are looking for a potential winner of the race to surpass anything it has shown previously. It is perhaps for that reason that there has only been one previous Grade 1 winner to claim the prize, whereas horses with Grade 2 winning form have often leapfrogged to the ascendancy.

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The favourite for this is yet another Willie Mullins animal, last year's Champion Bumper winner, Briar Hill. He's now unbeaten in five rules starts - two bumpers and three hurdles - and, but for a slightly longer than ideal absence, would be a perfect profile fit.

That the absence of 68 days is almost exactly the same as he'd been off before ambling home in the Champion Bumper suggests it is of little consequence, and this fellow will likely be tough to beat. He's won his last two despite the small fields, not because of them, and the quicker they go, I feel the better he will perform.

He was held up in the bumper here last year and joined the leaders turning in as though he'd only just started. He'd put seven lengths between himself and Regal Encore by the finishing line.

Briar Hill reminds me of a sort of equine Yaya Toure, looking a bit cumbersome and laboured until asked to do something, and then responding with speed and acuity. 9/4 is an unexciting price, but he is surely the most likely winner.

Next best according to the prices is David Pipe's Kings Palace. He's unbeaten in his last three hurdles runs, the last two of which were at Cheltenham, and the last one of which was in a Grade 2. Although he did it nicely there, it looked a fairly shallow race, and he had fourteen lengths to spare over Masters Hill.

3/1 comfortably factors in his level of form, and I'd be uncertain how he'll respond in a much stronger contest, likely to be run at a much truer gallop. The issue with Kings Palace is that he's yet to actually run in a fast-run race. It's possible of course that he could be even better in such circumstances, but 3/1 allows little scope to be wrong on that score; especially as he's been off the track for 90 days.

So it is that Captain Cutter, a nag I've backed non-runner money back for the Neptune, may line up here. He is the third market choice currently, at around 8/1, and is one of a number also entered in the shorter Neptune Novices' Hurdle, run on Wednesday. For most of them, the situation is that if it's soft ground, they'll go Neptune, while drying ground leads to 'the potato race'.

Absent since Christmas, Captain Cutter was last seen winning the Grade 1 Challow Novices' Hurdle over the Neptune distance but in heavy ground. That implied a reserve of stamina necessary to get competitive in the Albert Bartlett, and he's a progressive type.

Incidentally, though I wouldn't read too much into it, he did beat Kings Palace in a bumper on his debut last season.

That 76 day hiatus may be sub-optimal but the trainer is making quite positive noises and, if he lines up here, I think he may again finish in front of Kings Palace. Whether that will be good enough is another question, but 8/1 looks a robust each way play, if you're happy he'll be match fit after a break.

Faugheen may still turn up here but is more likely to run in the Neptune, and is ignored for the purposes of this preview. Likewise, Red Sherlock.

Champagne West and Deputy Dan are a pair of 16/1 chances for this who locked horns in an above average maiden hurdle at Warwick in early December. In a great tussle - the pair well clear of the rest - Champagne West just got the better of Deputy Dan to trigger a hat-trick of hurdling wins, none of them above Class 2.

It might well be that, of the two, Deputy Dan has improved more, and he's another I like for whichever engagement he assumes. Given the likely drying ground, he may well show up in this three-miler, and he looks a thorough stayer with a great hurdling technique.

He had nine lengths to spare over Masters Hill, with subsequent Betfair Hurdle winner, Splash Of Ginge, back in third that day. Rathvinden also ran in the race, but fell when coming under pressure after a third consecutive hurdling error down the back.

Deputy Dan looks a fair each way bet.

Flat-bred Sure Reef is another of the Mullins battalion and I understand he's more likely to go the handicap route (County Hurdle over two miles, curiously).

Urban Hymn and Blakemount are both 20/1 chances, and were separated by the proverbial cigarette paper at Donny last time, the former just getting the verdict. That was a slow-mo finish, and it's unlikely that either is quite quick enough - even over three gruelling miles of the Cheltenham oval - to bid for gold.

Apache Jack, second to Briar Hill last time, may be best of the rest, but should not be good enough.

2014 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Tips

Briar Hill demands huge respect, and he is the most likely winner. He could be really short as well if the Mullins horses are firing, and the current 9/4 might look value come race time. Still, he's worth opposing each way at least, and those that appeal most are Captain Cutter and Deputy Dan.

I've backed both horses for both this and the Neptune, non-runner money back, as I think they're progressive types and perhaps a bit under-estimated by the market. They should at least give us a good run for our money.

Whilst Kings Palace is a dual Cheltenham winner, he hasn't really beaten much of merit and I'm against him, though he may make me eat my words.

Most likely Albert Bartlett winner:
Briar Hill 9/4 bet365 (Best Odds Guaranteed, Non Runner Money Back)

Best Albert Bartlett each way alternatives:
Captain Cutter 8/1 SkyBet (Best Odds Guaranteed, Non Runner Money Back)
Deputy Dan 14/1 (Best Odds Guaranteed, Non Runner Money Back)


 
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2014 JLT Novices’ Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

Felix Yonger: the pick of the Mullins novices?

Felix Yonger: the pick of the Mullins JLT novices?

2014 JLT Novices' Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

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.

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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)


 

2014 Neptune Novices Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips

Will it be a repeat for Red Sherlock and Rathvinden in Neptune?

Will it be a repeat for Red and Rath in Neptune?

2014 Neptune Novices Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips

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.

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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:
Captain Cutter e/w 14/1 Ladbrokes (Non-runner money back)
Deputy Dan e/w 16/1 BetVictor (Non-runner money back)



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2014 Supreme Novices Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips

Can Nicholls win the Supreme again?

Can Nicholls win the Supreme again?

2014 Supreme Novices Hurdle Preview, Trends, 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.

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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.

In truth, there are more attractive betting races - like the ensuing Arkle Chase - but there may still be something to go at in here, especially if using the very generous bookmaker concessions.

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 finishes second, 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)

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Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014 Preview, Tips

Gold Cup 2014 Preview/Tips

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014 Preview/Tips

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014 Preview, Tips

It's the big race of the entire meeting, and rightly so. No other race puts such a premium on stamina, class, and jumping ability - especially not the Grand National with its modified fences.

It's extremely rare that an outsider wins the Gold Cup, such is its combined demand. Even 100/1 Norton's Coin in 1990 has been claimed by many as a winner and, who knows, some of them may actually even have backed it! 😉

To this year's race, and first the trends...

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014 Trends

My thanks for horseracebase.com for these data.

In the last sixteen years, of the fourteen winners to have completed last time, ten won and two more finished second. A further Gold Cup winner was third (See More Business) and one was fifth (Imperial Commander). The non-completion winners pulled up (Cool Dawn) and fell (Mr Mulligan) respectively.

Put another way, every winner this century aside from Imperial Commander finished first or second last time out.

When Long Run won in 2011, he was the first six-year-old since Mill House to prevail. At the other end of the age range, Cool Dawn was the last double digit aged horse to win the Gold Cup, as a ten-year-old in 1998. It used to be more frequent, with four ten-year-old winners between 1988 and 1998.

But, with the growing fashion for precocity, and the increased influence of French-bred horses on the winter sport, the average age has dropped from nine (1988-99, twelve renewals) to 7.85 (2000+, thirteen renewals).

Of the dozen Gold Cup winners with an official rating coming into the race, none was lower than 166. This year, only Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti have the requisite level of established 'official' form.

Seventeen of the last twenty winners came from the first three in the betting.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014 Preview

Some reasonable pointers in the Gold Cup trends, most of which point to the top of the betting lists. Let's now consider the form book, starting with reigning champion and favourite, Bobs Worth.

Bobs Worth is a very good horse indeed. And he absolutely loves Cheltenham and specifically the Festival. In 2011, he won the 'potato race' (Albert Bartlett). In 2012, he won the RSA Chase; and last year, he won the Gold Cup itself. That took his Cheltenham tally to five out of five, and he will again be very hard to beat.

Nicky Henderson's charge comes here off the back of two starts this season, which is one more than he managed last year prior to taking this prize. After a dismal too-bad-to-be-true pasting in Haydock's Betfair Chase, Bobs Worth reverted to type in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.

Hendo's horses have been a bit in and out this season, but they do seem to be back firing on all cylinders now, just in time for Cheltenham. Bobs Worth has the highest level of form in the race - rated 180 - and ran a rock solid prep last time. He loves Cheltenham, and the ground ought to be just right for him: anything between good and soft will suit.

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He looks certain to run his race.

Next in, and the only other horse with a rating above the historical benchmark, is Silviniaco Conti. Trained by Paul Nicholls, this could be a right good Hendo-Pumpkin set-to up the run-in, as this eight-year-old son of Dom Alco looks tailor-made for a Gold Cup. [Is there a prize for most hyphens used in a sentence?]

Silviniaco Conti went into last year's race on a four-strong unbeaten run, and was travelling extremely well when coming down three from home. It was much too early to say whether he would have won, because a) Bobs Worth is a very strong stayer, and b) Silviniaco Conti is a slightly doubtful stayer.

All of Silviniaco Conti's best form has been on flat tracks. But that's primarily because, with the exception of a third place hurdle start and that Gold Cup stumble/tumble, all of his form full stop has been on flat tracks.

That's a niggle here. It would have been fascinating to witness what Ruby might have conjured from his tanking mount after the turn for home, after the last, and up the hill. I think he'll probably stay. But I'm not sure. And that uncertainty is about the only thing that stops me from piling into him as one of the bets of the meeting.

My rationale? I reckon this is as close to a two horse race as you'll find across the four days. There is nothing in opposition to the top two that has demonstrated anything like the level of form needed to win an up-to-par Gold Cup.

"Hang on", I hear a few of you cry, "what about Last Instalment?". Good question, and perfectly fair, so let's examine his case.

Last Instalment, trained by in-the-dock but innocent-until-proven-guilty Philip Fenton, has enjoyed a return to the big time this season after two years out injured. His win in the PJ Moriarty Chase of 2012 set him up as one of the horses to beat in Bobs Worth's RSA Chase. Then it all went wrong.

27 days shy of two years later, he resurfaced in the Kinloch Brae Chase, a middle order Grade 2 run at Thurles. Sent off the 9/4 jolly that day, he ran well to finish a length and a quarter third to Texas Jack. But, improving significantly for that, he made most to bolt up in the Hennessy at Leopardstown in early February.

The going was on the dead side that day, and most races were won from the front. As such, Last Instalment may well have been flattered by how it panned out. Moreover, his trainer is on record as saying this horse wants deep ground.

Given a drying forecast, he might not even take his chance on the Gold Cup. And, if he does, that chance must be compromised on anything faster than good to soft (despite a 'good' ground win in the Topaz Novices Chase of 2011 - a questionable going description).

Last Instalment was awarded a peg of 169 for that Hennessy win, which puts him 'just' eight pounds behind Silviniaco Conti, and a further three behind Bobs Worth. In other words, he has half a stone and more to find.

If he's got a lot to find, the rest look varying degrees of (hopelessly) outclassed. Captain Chris is fourth in the list, on 16/1, and he'll surely need a bus ticket to complete this trip in front. His rating of 172 puts him in the mix, but his lack of a win beyond two miles six, and his recent Cheltenham form of P46 take him straight back out again.

I'm actually quite surprised they're not running in what looks a very winnable Queen Mother Champion Chase this year, as he was the Arkle winner in 2011.

First Lieutenant is a very good horse with a losing habit. Just one win in his last fifteen races tells the tale, even though twelve of them were Grade 1 affairs. Besides, he's more likely to run in the Ryanair unless Last Instalment absents from the Gold Cup.

The Giant Bolster is a 20/1 chance and that will buy you a run for your money if he decides to jump with any adequacy. He was fourth in last year's Gold Cup and second the year before, and he'll again plod on without being good enough to win.

Triolo d'Alene and Rocky Creek are 20/1 and 25/1 respectively, and they each have something to recommend them from an each perspective at least. First of all, they're trained by those men Hendo and Pumpkin respectively, and secondly they were first and second in the Hennessy Gold Cup last November where each lugged eleven stone-plus to beat off lighter weighted rivals.

Triolo had four pounds less than Rocky, and made that count by two and three quarter lengths at the line. Triolo has not been seen out since, and this for him is a Grand National prep run. A fair number of horses have made the frame in that context, but I wouldn't be backing him to receive 'kitchen sink' assistance from the pilot seat in a scrap for third place.

Rocky Creek is also prepping for the National, and has a likable profile. Just seven chase starts, all of them in the first three and including three wins, have demonstrated both jumping alacrity and stamina. He was giving The Giant Bolster five pounds the last day, and may not have enjoyed the heavy ground either.

On a sounder surface, and with further progression to come, I can see him going close to making the frame and 25/1 is more appealing than the prices about some of his supposedly more fancied market rivals.

It's nigh on impossible to make a case for much else, though Boston Bob is a seriously slow horse who stays well. He could plod into the medals. Perhaps.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014 Tips

There are likely to be all sorts of bookmaker concessions on the day for this race, as the layers scramble and scrap to claw as many pennies back into their virtual satchels as they can.

From a win perspective, I'm only interested in two horses: Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti. Quite frankly, I'll be gobsmacked if one of the pair doesn't win. And it's very tempting to back them 'coupled' at 8/11. But I don't really have enough elevens to be stealing eights, so I'm going to wait for the day and get as much 'bookie value' as I can.

As I read the form, the prices on the front two are at least fair, and perhaps a sniff of value, as they are. And when those cut-throat sales start on Friday morning, I'll be ready to get as much of both as I can.

Each way burglars might be tempted by Rocky Creek, who has more improvement than most, stays and jumps well, and could run into the frame.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014 Advice

Back Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti at the best prices available on Friday (Gold Cup day) morning. They're almost sure to be bigger than 2/1 and 3/1 respectively, albeit for restricted stakes.

For those who like to play for more, I think 8/11 the pair is one of the bets of the meeting. It's not bombproof - after all, the odds are 8/11, not 1/11 - but these two are far and away the most likely winners of the race in my opinion.

Rocky Creek is 25/1 Best Odds Guaranteed and Non Runner No Bet with bet365, and that's worth taking now, each way.

Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

Can Tammy's Hill give Ireland another Foxhunters win?

Tammy's Hill to give Ireland another Foxhunters?

Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

The 'amateur Gold Cup', as it's known, is run straight after the Gold Cup and over the same testing course and distance. It is always a thrilling spectacle - though not necessarily for the right reasons - as jockeys variously hail cabs, knit pullovers, and otherwise make life difficult for their generally experienced hacks.

Last year was different, though still eventful. Poor Jane Mangan, one of the best amateurs around, set off up the run in aboard Oscar Delta with the race at her mercy. Alas, the horse was spooked by the thin tape which marks the run in from the arc of the bend, and jinked violently giving Jane no chance. She was unshipped and Salsify doubled up.

There's no Salsify this year, but Oscar Delta and Miss Mangan return, and this scribe wishes them well.

Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase Trends

There are a couple of reasonable trends for the Foxhunters, as follows.

Age: Despite the presence of plenty of veteran sorts, just two winners since 1990 were older than ten. There was also just one six-year-old, Kingscliff, winner in that time. If history is to repeat itself this year, the likes of Palypso de Creek, Oscar Delta, Berties Dream and Pearlysteps - all well fancied - look to have it to do.

Rules form: Since 1997, only Cappa Bleu (2009) came directly from the point fields to win without a run under rules (i.e. in hunter chases). Of those racing under rules during that time, ten of the fifteen winners had won on their last rules start.

Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase Preview

Winners of the Foxhunters at Cheltenham tend to be either established top hunters, or rapidly improving youngsters. They are generally relatively young, in hunter chase terms; and they often race prominently, thereby avoiding both the carnage in behind and the need for their pilots to use strength to make up ground.

If I sound cynical, it's because I've seen plenty of these races. On the other hand, of course, I'm a wagering interloper and so - if I don't like what I see - I can bet elsewhere. All fair enough!

This year, the established top drawer hunters are On The Fringe, Tammy's Hill (if he travels), Oscar Delta and, to a lesser extent, Divine Intavention.

In the rising star camp are Harbour Court, Shy John, and Certain Flight.

On The Fringe has been lumbered as favourite by default to some degree, with the enforced absences of both hat-trick-seeking Salsify and expensive purchase, Mossey Joe. But he has clear form credentials to put him on the rarefied market perch.

Twice a winner of the Punchestown Champion Hunter Chase, a race won by Baby Run en route to Festival glory; and also a winner of the Raymond Smith Memorial Hunter at Leopardstown, the pre-eminent Irish trial; On The Fringe was a precocious talent.

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Indeed he was just five when scoring in the first of that brace of Punchy Hunters. He's raced sparingly since, and this season won a strong hunter chase at Down Royal on Boxing Day (beating Tammy's Hill and Salsify), before just ceding to Tammy's Hill in this year's Raymond Smith.

That form is arguably the best on show and On The Fringe will be a lot better equipped to finish his race off than he was when fourth in the 2011 renewal as a six-year-old. Though this may be made to look folly after the race, he's placepot banker material in the green and gold of JP McManus.

An obvious danger then is his last day vanquisher, Tammy's Hill, who was slated to run at last year's Festival before a pulled muscle scuppered the plan. This nine-year-old is very closely tied in with both On The Fringe and Salsify and, given the latter won the last two Foxhunters' and the former is favourite for this one, he looks a fair bet at around 6/1 non-runner money back (he's 7/1 in a place but if he doesn't get on the boat the game is up).

I have a slight niggle about the ground - he'd certainly prefer it muddy - but his form on good is, well, good and he may well have been unsuited by Stratford's tight turns in the summer hunter championship event.

Oscar Delta and Divine Intavention were the moral winner and fairly distant third horses last year (though, as the race record shows, the form failed to complete and the latter was second as a consequence).

Oscar Delta's record in the race is impeccable: third in 2011, third in 2012, and looking a certain winner in 2013. He'd been thumped behind Salsify in the Raymond Smith before all but reversing form with that one on the day that mattered, and has had a similarly low key prep this term.

My issue with him is that he's eleven now, and he's had a few tries. Last year was surely his year and, though it will be an awesome story if he - and Jane Mangan - can win, they're not for me at 10/1.

Divine Intavention was what Salsify received when Oscar Delta ditched La Mangan, and meant this chap ran a twenty length second. He's since run second to smart hunters Rumbury Grey and Hawkeye Native and, more recently, has been winning Class 4 handicap chases. now in the care of Martin Keighley, a trainer local to Cheltenham, he'll probably take some support on the day, and may have improved a bit since the switch.

The rising stars are much harder to quantify. Harbour Court trumpeted his arrival on the main drag with wins in the Intermediate Champions Hunter at the Cheltenham May meeting and the Champion Novices' Hunter at Stratford in the summer. He was a very unlucky early faller in a Kelso hunter, but has since landed a point by five lengths at Cottenham, beating the useful Nikos Extra.

That does leave him with something to find and, though he'd be far from a shock winner, I'd much rather be on 7/2 On The Fringe than 4/1 Harbour Court.

Shy John is an experienced pointer with thirteen runs between the flags - five wins and six further places - to his credit. In three hunter chase efforts, he's improved upon his only race last year to win both times this season, beating decent marker Richard's Sundance in the process. It's possible that he was flattered there, as both Richard's Sundance (now twelve) and third placed Coombe Hill (thirteen) could be on the downgrade.

All that said, he is a strong traveller, and if he's raced close to the pace, will see the trip out without a bother.

Perhaps the most interesting of the nominated trio of aspirants is Certain Flight. I was at Huntingdon for his first race under rules - he's had 23 point-to-point starts - and he absolutely bolted up, the official margin being fifteen lengths. His rider that day, Will Biddick, said afterwards, "He's a nice horse and has yet to be tested".

Biddick is one of the more experienced amateurs, so those are comments worthy of note about this 20/1 chance.

True, it was a weak race and main market rival, Qualviro failed to fire (carrying my cash!), but he couldn't have done it any more impressively.

Of the older guard, Pearlysteps and Berties Dream appeal most. The former is a strong stayer who has won both starts in hunter chases this term. I would have a reservation about the big field for a horse that has only ever won in single figure fields, and who has been beaten on eleven occasions when facing double-digit rivals.

Berties Dream has plenty of Festival form, including when a surprise winner of the 2010 'potato race' (Albert Bartlett). On his last rules outing, he ran a massive fifth of 24, beaten less than seven lengths, in the Pertemps Final as a 33/1 shot. He lagged up in the Ladies' Open at North Carlton by 20 lengths, and will likely again have experienced amateur Gina Andrews on board.

For a horse with such excellent Cheltenham credentials (he was also an eight length sixth in the 2011 World Hurdle), Berties Dream is a tempter at 20/1.

Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase Tips

It's a wide open and compelling renewal of the Foxhunters, and I'm going to take one from the top and two at big prices. Although it's tough to choose between On The Fringe and Tammy's Hill, the latter is twice the price of the former, and I just can't understand why. That represents a clear value selection, though I'd obviously fear On The Fringe greatly.

At bigger prices, Berties Dream has a lot in his favour: he's been in fine form, has a top lady rider in Gina Andrews, and loves Cheltenham and specifically the Festival. At eleven, he's not getting any younger but he'll go on any ground and 20/1 is too big (16/1 non-runner money back probably the more prudent play).

And Certain Flight is a left field speculative. I was very taken when I saw him in the flesh at Huntingdon on his first rules outing, and he annihilated his rivals that day. Clearly, this is a huge step up in class, but he's earned the right to tilt at so many equine windmills, and I think 20/1 is again fair enough for this 'could be anything' type.

Foxhunters Selection:
Tammy's Hill 6/1 BetVictor NRNB / 7/1 William Hill all in run or not

Big Priced Alternatives:
Berties Dream 16/1 bet365 NRNB BOG / 20/1 888sport all in run or not
Certain Flight 20/1 Betfred NRNB

[NRNB = Non-Runner No Bet; BOG = Best Odds Guaranteed]

Champion Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

2014 Champion Hurdle preview

2014 Champion Hurdle previewWho can beat the 'Fly this winter?

Champion Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

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.

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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 twice the price IF he's untroubled by that injury scare.

It's a race in which I'll be waiting until the day to back up my Melodic Rendezvous ante post ticket. But, when the day comes, I'll most certainly be using Ladbrokes' 'Money Back as a free bet if Hurricane Fly finishes first or second' offer. 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 in order not to at least get a second bite of the Cheltenham cherry.



2014 Mares’ Hurdle Preview, Tips

Quevega - on a Mares' Hurdle six-timer

Quevega - on a Mares' Hurdle six-timer

2014 Mares' Hurdle Preview, Tips

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.

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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.

Betfred Horse Racing

 

 

 

 

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

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.

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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. 6/1 is a solid enough play.

Next come More Of That and Rule The World at around 8/1. 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.

Quevega is quoted around 6/1 in the betting, but she'll surely go to the Mares' Hurdle if over a recent slight setback, so she's ignored.

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 physical form, 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 6/1 BetVictor NRNB
World Hurdle Alternative: Rule The World 8/1 SkyBet BOG NRNB

2014 RSA Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

2014 RSA Chase Preview & Tips

2014 RSA Chase Preview & Tips

2014 RSA Chase Preview, Trends, 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.

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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)

1 pt win Carlingford Lough 12/1 BetVictor (Non-Runner Free Bet)

Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

Is Big Shu a good tip for Cross Country Chase? Full preview, trends and tips here

Big Shu a good tip for Cross Country Chase?

Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

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

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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: Pasquini Rouge 16/1 BetVictor (non-runner free bet)
Glenfarclas Cross Country Minor Interest: Sizing Australia 16/1 Betfred / Quantitiveeasing 12/1 bet365

2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

Is Sprinter Sacre a cert for the Champion Chase?

Is Sprinter Sacre a cert for the Champion Chase?

2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

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 Sire de Grugy win?
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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)

Betvictor.com

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Arkle Chase 2014 Preview Tips Trends

Rock On Ruby: Arkle winner?

Rock On Ruby: Arkle winner?

Arkle Chase 2014 Preview Tips Trends

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.

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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 Valdez being 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

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