Ryanair Chase 2014 Preview Trends Tips

Ryanair Chase Preview Tips

Ryanair Chase Preview Tips

Ryanair Chase 2014 Preview, Trends, and Tips

One of the newer races in the expanded four day Cheltenham Festival, the Ryanair Chase is rapidly making a name for itself as a coronation procession for middle distance chasing champions. Run over two miles and five furlongs, and with seventeen fences to jump it is a true test of speed, stamina and athleticism, and the tapes go up at 2.40 on Thursday 13th March.

At the time of writing, the race looks to be an excellent betting contest, mainly because the ante-post favourite and reigning Ryanair champion, Cue Card, has been declared by his trainer to be "85 per cent likely" to run in the Gold Cup and, therefore, miss this race.

Moreover, there is a good chance that third favourite, Al Ferof, will run in the Gold Cup rather than the Ryanair as well, although this will not be decided until after the Denman Chase, scheduled for 8th February.

That leaves only Benefficient, last year's Jewson Chase winner (for novices' over the same course, and distance), at single figures for the contest, and he too is also engaged in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. It's then 11/1 bar this trio of uncertain entries, which underscores my keenness to have a bash at the contest.

Let's first see if there is anything to be gleaned from the past runnings of the race...

Ryanair Chase Trends

First run in 2005, there are now nine years' worth of data to trawl, and the key points from it include the following.

Just three of 23 last time out winners followed up in the Ryanair, with another three (from 19) winning having been second on their previous start. 19 of the 42 horses to have finished 1-2 in their last race were placed in the Ryanair, at a rate of 45%. That was from 44% of the runners, making the 67% win rate noteworthy.

Eight- to ten-year-olds have claimed seven of the nine Ryanair's, and 19 of the 27 place positions (70%), though that is only in line with their numerical representation, having been responsible for 72% of the runners.

Only 14/1 Albertas Run has won at a bigger price than 6/1, so whichever horse we back at a bigger price, we should be looking for it to truncate in the betting before the big day. With the possibility of two or three of the main fancies swerving the race, there's every chance of finding a 'shortener'.

In such a classy race as the Ryanair, it is hardly surprising that ten of the 25 runners officially rated 165 or higher were placed, with four of them winning. That's 44% of the winners, and 37% of the placed horses from just 26% of the runners.

As with all Cheltenham races, it takes an exceptional horse to defy a significant layoff, and all nine Ryanair winners ran within 90 days of their Festival success. 25 of the 27  (93%) placed horses did too, from 84% of the runners. Aside from Quevega, it is good sense to exclude any horse without a run in the previous 90 days at the Cheltenham Festival.

The most interesting trend with regards to the Ryanair however may be that eight of the nine winners of the race so far had already won at Cheltenham beforehand, though not necessarily at the Festival. That's 89% of the winners from just 52% of the runners.

Placing even greater emphasis on track form is the fact that eight of the nine winners (89%), and 19 of the 27 (70%) placed horses, had been placed at least twice before around Cheltenham. And that from just 51 runners (54%).

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Six of the nine Ryanair winners were previous Grade 1 winners, with another two having already notched in Grade 2 company.

Those which fit the profile closest include Dynaste, Menorah, and First Lieutenant.

Ryanair Chase 2014 Preview

Cue Card is the defending champion and ante post favourite for this year's Ryanair Chase. He obviously handles conditions fine, and has been in excellent form this year, including when winning the Grade 1 Betfair Chase over about three miles at Haydock in November. Since then he's run a game second in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, and comes to the Festival in top form.

The problem for punters is that he's more likely - much more likely according to his trainer - to go for the Gold Cup than the Ryanair and, as such, the 3/1 BetVictor (non-runner free bet) is far more appealing than the 6/1 Paddy Power, where you'll lose your cash if Cue Card doesn't start in this race.

Benefficient is more likely to take in this event, though he too is engaged elsewhere, and he underlined his credentials firstly by winning the novices' equivalent of the Ryanair, the JLT (was Jewson), and secondly by fending off all-comers last time in the Grade 1 Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown.

The problem here is that Benefficient's Grade 1 score the last day was over two miles and on soft ground and, despite the persistent rain that continues to fall, it is expected to be quicker than that - and will certainly be further than that - in middle March. In any case, his form is probably half a stone or more behind that of Cue Card.

Al Ferof, a 7/1 chance, is another that may take the Gold Cup route. His King George third, eleven lengths behind Cue Card, left suspicions that he doesn't truly stay the three miles there - and therefore would struggle to get the almost 3m3f of the Gold Cup trip. There are some, however, that believe he was outpaced at Kempton, and was staying on at the finish.

My take is that he didn't stay, a perception which is at least partially supported by no previous rules effort beyond the 2m5f Ryanair trip. In fact, the only two runs at that distance culminated in a Grade 1 third in a novice hurdle at Newbury, and a win the Paddy Power Gold Cup over the course, and distance, of the Ryanair.

He's entered in the three mile Denman Chase on 8th February, and a call on which Festival target to tilt at will be made subsequently. If Al Ferof lines up here, he has a very good chance - form figures of 2F1141 at Cheltenham, and 214 at the Festival underline that. 6/1 non-runner no bet with bet365 is the logical play, especially with trainer Paul Nicholls hinting that the Gold Cup is slightly preferred at this stage.

First Lieutenant is yet another horse with multiple entries, and which might go the Gold Cup route. He ran second to a resurgent Bobs Worth at Leopardstown over Christmas, though the form of that race is hard to quantify. To wit, the winner had run a stinker in the Betfair previously; the third, Rubi Ball, was bidding to replicate smart French form but hasn't won for two years and eleven starts; the fourth, Sir Des Champs, was essentially having his first start of the season after a very early (and crashing) fall the time before. He ran a bit flat, and has been withdrawn for the remainder of the season.

Of the remainder, nothing was rated higher than 154, and only the veteran Prince de Beauchene was distanced from the field. In other words, it was a muddling race.

In First Left's defence, he has an extremely consistent profile - 14 places from 17 chase starts - but against him are just three wins from that number. Given that he was readily outpaced in the Ryanair last year; and that his five subsequent starts have all been at within a furlong of three miles; and that Sir Des Champs (same owner) is out of the Gold Cup... I'd say he's more likely to go the Gold Cup route. Betting of 11/1, but only 6/1 non runner no bet tells a tale, and he's not for me. Too many chances, too few wins.

Next in is Dynaste and, after a disappointing performance in the King George, he's receiving specialist treatment at home. The latest bulletin from trainer David Pipe was far from fulsome, with the trainer noting, “He is improving steadily (but is not yet 100 per cent) and is still receiving regular treatment from [physiotherapist] Mary Bromiley."

Dynaste plugged on quite well behind Benefficient in the Jewson/JLT last year, but he was expected to win that day, so the silver medal can still be marked a tad disappointing. Overall then, the price doesn't really offer too much for value punters.

The best backed horse of recent days is Willie Mullins' Marito, a faller when starting to make ground in Benefficient's Cheltenham win last year. He's had a low key prep since, with a close second to an under-par Hurricane Fly in the Morigana Hurdle followed by a straightforward conversion in a Listed chase at Tramore.

Marito did have the 162-rated Roi Du Mee three lengths back in that contest, but he doesn't look good enough even off a revised rating of 154. He may also want deeper turf than he's likely to encounter at Cheltenham in March.

Although there are still a number of contenders priced at 20/1 or shorter, most of them have serious questions to answer currently: the likes of Riverside Theatre (inconsistent, unseated last time), Module (lightly raced and a stone below what's needed), Captain Conan (stamina doubt on this stiff track and maybe more likely to contest Queen Mother Champion Chase), and Arvika Ligeonniere (may be better right handed and disappointed badly in the Champion Chase last year).

Of the oily rags, Menorah has plenty of course form and has been in the first three in nine of fourteen career chases, including three Grade 1's. The problem for his fan club is that he's also pulled up twice in his last four starts, including when running a clunker in last year's Ryanair.

If his mid-February prep goes all right, he is at least solely entered in the Ryanair at the Festival. He's 20/1 non-runner free bet with BetVictor and that's not the least tempting offer on the bookies' table.

Ryanair Chase 2014 Tips

Betting of 6/1 the field attests to the wide open nature of this year's Ryanair and, with lingering doubts about which race several of the leading candidates will contest, this is a minefield for punters. With some bookmakers offering either non runner no bet or non runner free bet, we can take a chance on a couple against the top of the market.

Cue Card does have BY FAR the most compelling profile for the race, and is a model of top class consistency. He definitely merits some sort of insured investment, as he could be a 7/4 chance on the day if lining up in this (and, of course, it's free bet time if he runs in the Gold Cup instead).

Al Ferof at 6/1 is also a price with a bit of scope assuming he lines up. I think he will and, therefore, I think the 6/1 non runner no bet is worth taking.

The rest are varying degrees of unpalatable, and the best outsider could be course veteran, Menorah. His Cheltenham form is 111543P2 and he does have talent on his going days.

Ryanair Chase win selection: Al Ferof 6/1 bet365 (non-runner no bet)

bet365

Ryanair Chase saver: Cue Card 3/1 BetVictor (non-runner free bet)

Betvictor.com

Best Ryanair Chase outsider: Menorah 20/1 BetVictor (non-runner free bet)

Cheltenham Festival Day Four Preview, Trends and Tips

Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup Day Preview

Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup Day Preview

Cheltenham Festival Day Four Preview, Trends and Tips

It's the last day, and Gold Cup day, in the Cheltenham Festival 2013, and there are seven more races to make or break our punting weeks.

The last two are extremely hard, so hopefully we'll find a couple of winners earlier on to mitigate for the unlikelihood of getting out of jail later on!

1.30 JCB TRIUMPH HURDLE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo) (2m1f)

The better of the two four year old hurdles, and a race which has seen some very good winners in recent years.

Triumph Hurdle Key Trends

Barring 33/1 Countrywide Flame last year, sixteen of the last nineteen winners also won last time out. The other two finished second.

All of the last fifteen winners last ran between 16 and 55 days ago.

Apart from 33/1 Countrywide Flame last year, the other seven of the last eight winners were in the first four in the betting.

Triumph Hurdle Form Preview

In recent times, this has gone to a fancied runner, and it's long odds-on that that will be the case again in 2013. Quite simply, the three at the top of the market - Our Conor, Rolling Star and Far West - are a fair bit clear of the rest on form, with the possible exception of Mullins runner, Diakali.

Our Conor has been the best Irish juvenile hurdler this year, and is unbeaten in three easy wins, the last in Grade 1 company. He jumps superbly for one so inexperienced, and that lends credence to the notion that he may well have a bit in hand at the end of his races. That said, he's been doing all his winning on soft ground and, unless the rain comes, he's to prove he can perform to a similar level on quicker - and he's a short price so to do.

Rolling Star ambled past the very useful Irish Saint the last day on this track, though that too was a heavy ground effort. Indeed, his previous run in France - another win - was on heavy ground. So this fellow also has to prove his affection for likely quicker turf. His sire's progeny stats imply he'll cope fine with it, but it's always better to have seen that on the racecourse.

The third musketeer at the top of the market is Far West, which is unbeaten in his last four hurdle starts, all on soft or heavy. The merit of his form is not in doubt and he deserves to be near the top of the tree in this, especially after two of his trainer's horses ran 2nd and 3rd in the Fred Winter on Wednesday.

This trio deserve their places in the market, but they're all much of a muchness and picking between them is tough. As such, I'd rather find one each way, knowing that if just one of the three under-perform, I've a strong place chance.

My value play here is Willie Mullins' Diakali. Two starts back he made all to slam Fred Winter winner, Flaxen Flare, and was then only five lengths behind Our Conor. Whilst the former line of form shouldn't be taken too literally (it was a four horse race), it is at least decent form in the context of this affair; and the latter line is strong form.

Five lengths is roughly one bad jump and, with the change in going an unknown for all of the quartet mentioned, it's far from impossible Diakali could reverse the form with Our Conor. Whether that would be good enough to win this is a separate question, but it ought at least be good enough to see him make the frame.

Lac Fontana is bred for six miles in the mud. OK, slight exaggeration maybe, but I'd be very surprised if this test was up  his street.

The John Quinn pair, Hidden Justice and Kashmir Peak, have fairly similar profiles to each other and to the stable's Countrywide Flame, which won this last year at 33/1 (tipped on this blog).

Of the pair, Kashmir Peak's good ground form in a Grade 2 gives him a slight nod and, though he unseated last time, he is usually a fair jumper and might be better than the bare form he's shown so far.

Triumph Hurdle Tips

Realistically, this is a three - possibly four - horse race. And, at the prices, I'll take a punt on the longest of the four.

Most Likely Winner: Rolling Star
Best Each Way Alternative: Diakali

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2.05 VINCENT O´BRIEN COUNTY HANDICAP HURDLE GRADE 3 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m1f)

Run over the same distance as the opening race, this is a beastly test of speed hurdling, and is normally won by a young, upwardly mobile type.

County Hurdle Key Trends

The Irish have won five of the last six renewals (!)

Eight of the last ten winners were first or second season novices.

Eight of the last fifteen winners were five year olds.

Thirteen of the last fifteen winners carried 11-01 or less

Twelve of the last fifteen winners were rated 140 or less (two more rated 144 and 145)

County Hurdle Form Preview

Let's narrow things down a bit. We want a horse with a nice weight, and probably a sub-140 rating. Five year olds deserve a close look especially if they're Irish-trained (like Final Approach and Silver Jaro in the last five years).

The one which fits the profile perfectly is Discoteca, and he's the one I like most. We know all about Gordon Elliott's mastery in Festival handicaps (six of his sixteen runners placed prior to this year, and Carlito Brigante winning. Flaxen Flare also winning this year), so this chap deserves immediate respect.

He's a five year old, like eight of the last fifteen winners (53% of the winners from just 23% of the runners), and he's rated 140 with a weight of 10-12 to carry. So far, so very good. And he's had plenty of match fitness, as was the case with thirteen of the last fifteen winners, who had had between four and ten runs in the past year. Discoteca has run eight times in the last twelve months.

He's won and run well in soft ground handicaps this Winter, even though there's every chance his preference is for quicker (both flat wins, and two hurdle wins last year, on good or firmer). That means he's scope to improve for better ground. His last two runs have been in big field handicaps where he's finished 42, and I reckon he's spot on for this. 25/1 looks massive, especially if you find a bookie paying five places.

Of the more fancied runners, it's easy to make a case for Tennis Cap, who has emphasised his progression by winning three of his last four races, including when beating Discoteca last time. However, that does rather mean he's shown his hand to the handicapper, and in races such as these, that's not generally a good thing. Nevertheless, he's tough, resilient, acts in big fields and in form. But he did get quite well beaten on his only try on goodish ground, and he was a 5/4 shot that day. That would be a worry.

There are obviously plenty of others with chances, but I'm happy to pick from solid 'profile' horses at value prices.

County Hurdle Tips

Best each way bet: Discoteca
Other of interest: Tennis Cap

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2.40 ALBERT BARTLETT NOVICES´ HURDLE (Registered As The Spa Novices´ Hurdle Race) Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (3m)

Albert Bartlett Key Trends

All eight winners were NH bred

Seven of eight winners were first or second last time out

Seven of eight winners came from the top five in the betting

Albert Bartlett Form Preview

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A very good staying novices' hurdle. and a good field for it too. At Fisher's Cross is the favourite, and a literal interpretation of his beating of The New One makes him mightily hard to beat. Before that, he'd seen off Inish Island (the pair clear, Wednesday winner Medinas back in fourth) here at Cheltenham, and that form looks bulletproof.

The only reservation - and it is significant - is that At Fishers Cross has only raced on soft or heavy ground, and we have to guess how he will cope with this much faster turf. If he deals with it, he's hard to beat. 3/1 offers at least a modicum of latitude on that score.

Ballycasey is second in here, and he's another from the Mullins production line. He's been beating up inferior opposition, and his form to date wouldn't be as good as the favourite's. He does have a win on good ground to his name, though, so we can tick that box with him. I get the feeling that his price owes more to connections than form in the book, and whilst he obviously has upside potential, he's no value at all in a race like this.

We're then into the realms of each way prices, and Utopie Des Bordes is the sort of girl I like. She's game, consistent and just keeps on finding. Her form in beating Call Me A Star on good ground is reasonable enough, and her form when beating She Ranks Me is sound. She's 'chaser in the making' material (indeed, she's already had ten chase starts in France) for next season. Whether she's good enough for this, I'm not so sure, but she's a very likable lass.

African Gold has had six runs and only been beaten once, when Anthony Honeyball's Ballybough Pat (engaged 2.05, Thursday) was too good in heavy ground. He doesn't tend to win by much which makes it hard to know how good he is. But he does keep on winning, and the form of his last victory over Close Touch received a bumper boost when that one won a really competitive Grade 3 at Sandown last weekend.

The trip is a bit of a mystery - three furlongs further than he's raced over so far - but he'll go in the ground and looks nicely progressive, with his last run being his best so far. At around 8/1, and the Twiston-Davies horses running well this week despite virus rumours, he could be each way value.

Of the rest, Mullins' Inish Island is worthy of note. That he's won two of his three starts this year draws the eye, as does the fact that's the '2' in his '121' form string this season was achieved here, behind At Fishers Cross. But, all of his form is on soft or heavy ground and, unless it's really testing there has to be a doubt about him replicating that level, which may not be quite good enough in any case.

Albert Bartlett Tips

The favourite has a very good chance if he goes on the ground, and 3/1 is probably quite fair.

Most Likely Winner: At Fishers Cross
Each way value: African Gold

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3.20 BETFRED CHELTENHAM GOLD CUP CHASE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (3m 2 1/2f)

Ah, the Gold Cup. Always a great race, this year will be no different, and it looks more competitive than for some time. Eleven are set to line up, headed by the 2011 Gold Cup winner, Long Run, and the 2012 RSA and Jewson winners, Bobs Worth and Sir Des Champs.

Gold Cup Key Trends

Eleven of the last twelve winners finished first or second last time out

Eight of the last eleven winners failed to run in the same calendar year

The last twelve winners came from the top three in the betting

Gold Cup Form Preview

Ostensibly a competitive Gold Cup, but I've long fancied the favourite, Bobs Worth, and I've bet him accordingly. In fact, he's my bet of the meeting, so taken was I by his Hennessy win. It's instructive to note that in recent times, horses have habitually been winning this race off a layoff, and everything in Bobs Worth's profile suggests the track absence won't be a concern.

His RSA Chase and Hennessy form is rock solid, and he's four from four here at Cheltenham, including in the 2011 Albert Bartlett and - as I say - the 2012 RSA Chase. I think he'll win.

The chief danger is probably the other unbeaten Cheltenham horse, Sir Des Champs, who is also second in the betting. Sir Des Champs was actually unbeaten in Britain and Ireland before this season, but came unstuck against a match fit Flemenstar on his debut in a muddling race over two and a half miles. Since then, he bungled his way around Leopardstown in the Lexus and yet still finished a three-quarter length fourth; and he then won the Irish Hennessy in boggy ground.

He's better on quicker, and he's been trained to the minute for this all season. He has an excellent chance.

If there's one at the top of the betting I can't see winning, it's Silviniaco Conti. I just don't think he'll stay this far against the very best. That might turn out to be a bit unfair on a horse which has the highest official rating and the highest Racing Post Rating. But I suspect he's been favoured by conditions when beating The Giant Bolster twice and Long Run.

Of course, I could be wrong, but this game is about opinions, and mine is he's under-priced.

Long Run is next and I took a tiny morsel of William Hill's 'Silly Season' 10/1 each way, more because of the price than because I like him especially. If he were to bash up my (far bigger) bet on Bobs Worth, he'd at least pay for some of the stakes there. Clearly, he's got the ability to win this - he's done it already, after all - but I can see him placing again, with at least one of the second season chasing pair of Bobs and SDC being too good.

I don't get the Captain Chris plunge, and he's another I'll happily field against. Basically, he was completely knackered over a slick three miles at Kempton behind Long Run in the King George last time, and he'll need a taxi waiting for him at the turn in to get up the hill.

He was third in the King George the previous year, then went on to try a race here over three and a quarter miles on his favoured ground. Result? Pulled up. His Cheltenham record beyond two miles reads P4, and he will not stay this trip. WILL. NOT. STAY.

[Cue staying on victory...!]

Three which definitely will stay are The Giant Bolster, Cape Tribulation, and Sunnyhillboy. The Giant Bolster is a brilliant little horse and a flag-bearer for the extremely talented up-and-coming trainer, David Bridgwater. I've written about Bridgy's skills with handicappers elsewhere on these virtual pages, but I think he deserves a hell of a lot of credit for the way he's handled 'the Lobster's' career.

His jumping has improved with age, and he's always had a fantastic engine. He was only seven lengths behind Peddlers Cross in the 2010 Neptune, when a 200/1 shot; he unseated early in the 2011 RSA Chase; and then he was a brave second in the 2012 Gold Cup itself. All his chase wins have been on good to soft or quicker, and he'll have hated the ground all winter.

Now it's faster, and the trip is longer, I reckon he's an excellent chance of reversing form with Silviniaco Conti. Whether that will be good enough to trouble the second season boys is another question, but he's a lovely horse trained by a very smart bloke and I really hope he runs well.

Cape Tribulation is the other horse I've backed here, again for not nearly so much as Bobs Worth, but at 33/1. He stays. He has a touch of class (though not as much as plenty of these). And he stays. Oh, and did I mention he stays?

On deep ground, he'd have had a squeak at nicking this. On faster ground, I think he'll be dropped before picking up again. Whether he can make the frame depends on how fast they go, but he will be finishing best of all, and he's won his last two starts here (the Pertemps Final and the Grade 2 Argento Chase).

If he's within six or seven lengths turning in, you'll get a blinding run for your money. But I'm just not sure he will be that close on quicker turf, alas. He does stay though. 😉

Sunnyhillboy won a handicap here last year, and was then famously nutted on the line in the Grand National. The National will be his target again this term, but plenty of horses have run into the frame here before or after National glory (Mon Mome at 50/1, Hedgehunter at 16/1, to name a couple).

They won't want to leave too hard a race on him this time, with a short break between Cheltenham and Aintree, but he'll be sticking on towards the end, and is another with a touch of class and a bucket of guts.

Forget the Prince who is Wayward and the Dude who is, erm, Monbeg. They can't win, and they won't win.

Gold Cup Tips

Most likely winner (pleeeaaasseee!!!): Bobs Worth
Biggest danger: Sir Des Champs
Each way possibles at a price: The Giant Bolster, Cape Tribulation, Sunnyhillboy

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4.00 CGA FOXHUNTER CHASE CHALLENGE CUP (CLASS 2) (5yo+) (3m 2 1/2f)

Foxhunter Chase Key Trends (with thanks to Paul Jones)

All bar two of the last 22 winners were aged ten or less

All bar one of the last 19 winners had won under rules

21 of the last 24 winners started out in points or hunter chases

Foxhunter Chase Form Preview

I really like Salsify here. I backed him last year and, though I know it's very hard for a horse to 'double up' in this, he has the best credentials again. The ground has come right for him, and with a clear round, I think Rodger Sweeney's eight-year-old will be very hard to beat.

His early season form was excellent if you think that he hates soft ground, and he'll improve a bundle on this firmer footing.

Salsify's key market rival is the horse which came closest to beating him in this last year, Chapoturgeon. I'd suspected he was a non-stayer last year, but he plugged on pretty well there, which gives plenty of cause for optimism if he's the one you like this year. But I can't see him getting by the jolly.

Cottage Oak is next, and this fellow has won his last four - two in points and two under rules. He's sure to stay, goes well on decent ground and therefore has a chance here with his prominent racing style suited to such a big field (and amateur riders).

Backstage hasn't been seen on a racecourse since pulling up in the Irish National in 2011. He's won seven straight point-to-points since then, but I'd have loved to have seen him under rules before lining up here. Not for me, on balance.

Tricky Trickster won the four miler here back in 2009, and is still 'only' ten. He obviously stays, has course form and goes on the ground. Whether he's quick enough for this is another question, mind.

You can normally find one lurking down the lists to give a run for the pennies, and this year it might be Alan Hill's Dante's Storm. Given a shout by no less a judge than Phil Smith, the senior handicapper himself, Dante's has distance and ground form, and hacked up from a decent hunter stick in Rumbury Grey last time. He was fifth of 24 in this in 2011 and, while he's getting on a bit now, aged eleven, he's a 20/1 shot here.

At a ridiculous price, Benedictus might give a run for fantasist punters. This eight-year-old son of Alderbrook was going like the winner when coming down at the hunter chase meeting here last May over three and a quarter miles. He is a bit of a dicey fencer in truth, and may not be good enough, but he's improving and stays and goes on the ground... and he's 66/1!

Foxhunter Chase Tips

Most likely winner (please!): Salsify
Obvious danger: Chapoturgeon
Each way possible: Dante's Storm
Massive priced 'hope' job: Benedictus

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4.40 MARTIN PIPE CONDITIONAL JOCKEYS´ HANDICAP HURDLE (CLASS 2) (4yo+ 0-145) (2m 4 1/2f)

The boys' race, as it's known, is a new contest, and it takes some winning. There have only been four renewals so far, so trends are flimsy at best.

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Key Trends

All four winners were second season hurdlers

Look out for Hendo, Gordon Elliott and David Pipe (in his dad's race)

Three of the four winners were aged six (the other was five)

All four were rated 133-139

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Form Preview

This revolves around Gevrey Chambertin, who is a highly weighted class act. He won easily in a Wincanton handicap last time: I was there and I was impressed. I'm not sure he beat all that much there and, whilst he remains a horse of immense promise, this might be bagged by a lower rated (and weighted) nag with more proven tenacity.

The one I like most, and nominated in my ATR handicap piece here, is Edeymi, who was last seen in a two mile handicap hurdle at Leopardstown. About twelth and still pretty much on the bridle at the last hurdle there, he was ridden out hands and heels to stay on into sixth, and should have at least been placed there.

That was off 132, and the UK handicapper shares my view to some degree having whacked him with a 139 here. Still, that might be viable and there’s no doubt that this 2m5f trip is much more his bag than the two miles the last day. My only niggle is that he's currently due to be ridden by a boy who is yet to win a race, Shane Shortall, and who is extremely inexperienced.

It's a race with plenty of possibles, as you'd expect for a Festival handicap, most notably perhaps Ma Filleule, Imperial Cup winner, First Avenue, and Toner d'Oudairies, but I'm sticking with Edeymi.

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Tips

Most likely winner: Gevrey Chambertin
Best value: Edeymi
Each way at a price: Ma Filleule, First Avenue, Toner d'Oudairies

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5.15 JOHNNY HENDERSON GRAND ANNUAL CHASE CHALLENGE CUP (Handicap) Grade 3 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m 1/2f)

And so to the 'lucky last'. I can't remember ever backing the winner here, and in recent years, it's been very big priced horses which have nabbed it.

Grand Annual Chase Key Trends

The trends are all over the shop for this, and are more likely to lead up a blind alley than to a winner.

Grand Annual Chase Form Preview

Alderwood, winner of the County Hurdle, heads the market, and novices have a fair record too. But this is a race in which I want to take a price and cross my fingers. The horse I'm most interested in is Kumbeshwar, whose Festival record is excellent and whose recent form is too.

He was second in the Fred Winter of 2011 at 33/1, and third in the Grand Annual of 2012 at 25/1. Most of his best form is on quicker ground, and he could just be ahead of his current (granted, higher than a normal Grand Annual winner) mark of 150.

This season he's been running in Grade 1 company, and chased home Sprinter Sacre three starts back. Again, granted, he was a respectful distance behind that day, but he was closer than Sizing Europe got to Sprinter in the Champion Chase, and I love love love this horse! That Sprinter Sacre is now rated 188, Sizing Europe is rated 172, and Kumbeshwar is rated 150 means I've had a decent bet each way.

Old friends, Oiseau de Nuit and French Opera, also line up, as do a bunch of others. But this is a nightmare of a race, and I can't find a route in aside from old Kumb'y.

Grand Annual Chase Tips

Each way at a nice price: Kumbeshwar

********

And that's your lot. I do hope you've found some winners this week and, more than that, I hope you've enjoyed what is a fantastic festival of racing. I'll be back on Monday with a full review but, right now, I'm off to the pub!

Matt

Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup Day Pack

Your #1 geegeez Cheltenham Pack

Your #1 geegeez Cheltenham Pack

It's day four of the Festival, and that means the Gold Cup!

Here's what's on geegeez for you today.

Competition Day Four

A single person each managed to pick the three big winners yesterday: Medinas, Flaxen Flare and Briar Hill, and they lead the charge. But there is still plenty of opportunity to get a big-priced score on the board.

Pick three horses running at Cheltenham today, and enter them in the comments box here, along with your BetVictor username.

Cheltenham Festival Tipping Competition is here.

More Bookie Offers

Very little to warm punters' cockles yesterday, but Gold Cup day has some final chances to take advantage of rare bookie generosity. I've scoured them all to find what I think are the best, and you may want to avail yourself. They're at the link below if you do.

Cheltenham Festival Day Four Bookie Offers are here.

Day Four Preview, Trends and Tips

A slightly better day for me, though no winners. A couple of decent priced places and £1.50 of the placepot (paid £370 for a £1) salvaged something from what was a horror day for most punters, with no favourites winning. Here's how I think Gold Cup day might pan out.

Cheltenham Day Four (Friday) Preview, Trends and Tips are here.

The geegeez Cheltenham Festival One Stop Shop

Tying everything together for the Festival is this one little linkie.

Click here for all of geegeez' Cheltenham Festival coverage in one place.

And that's it from me. I will be assuming my customary Gold Cup position: on a bar stool in the Brown Bear, Leman St, and resting / cheering / crying into my beer after what's been a really busy week.

I hope you've enjoyed some of the coverage here on geegeez and, as ever, do leave a comment on what you liked and didn't like. We want to make this the site you want it to be, and your feedback is invaluable in that. So thanks!

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2013: Day Three Preview/Tips

Who will take Big Buck's crown on day 3?

Who will take Big Buck's crown?

Cheltenham Festival Day Three (Thursday) Preview, Trends and Tips

And so we kick off the second half, with still much to play for irrespective of your punting performance over the first two days. Six races to go at on day three, and we start with one of the newest contests, the...

1.30 JEWSON NOVICES´ CHASE Grade 2 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m4f)

Only two year renewals of this Grade 2 so far and, I'd expect, after this year it will be a Grade 1 contest. Certainly there are no penalties to be carried by Grade 1 winners here, which implies they're trying to attract Grade 1 winners.

Jewson Novices Chase Key Trends

Both winners were Irish

Both winners had four legs (seriously, there can be no key trends after two years!)

Jewson Novices Chase Form Preview

With the late enrollment of Dynaste to this race, it revolves around him. Quite simply he's achieved a heck of a lot more than any of the rest, and he deserves his status as favourite. He's unbeaten in three chase starts, including the Grade 1 Feltham last time, and the Steel Plate and Sections Novices' Chase over this trip here.

His Feltham win was in heavy ground, and his other two chase victories were on good to soft, so there shouldn't be any going concerns. And, excepting a fall, time off the course might be the only other cause for concern. That layoff is potentially mitigated by the fact that he has won first time up in competitive races for the last two seasons, so he still looks like going very close to winning here. I'd backed him at 5/2 non-runner no bet, and that looks a very fair price now.

The main - and perhaps only - danger could be Captain Conan, himself unbeaten in three starts over fences. He's also a triple Grade 1 winner, all three of which were at Sandown, and two of them over fences. As well as that, he won a Grade 2 novices' chase here back in November, so he's clearly a smart horse.

Although most of his form is at or around two miles, I think he'll have no problem with this longer trip, but I do wonder whether he'll have the speed to seriously challenge a horse like Dynaste. That's my only reservation, though, and he ought to make the frame at least.

The only other one of interest to me is Aupcharlie, a horse who simply isn't a three miler. He's been beaten a half length or less over that trip on his last two starts - finishing second both times - and that was in Grade 2 and Grade 1 company. Previously, at around the two and a half mile mark, he'd won both his races, a maiden hurdle and a beginners chase.

Although the merit of those two contests wouldn't amount to much in the context of a Jewson, he's unbeaten at the trip, and the extra stamina he has looks sure to be valuable in what could be quite a slog in the last quarter of the race. He is another who should run very well and challenge for the podium positions.

It's hard to get excited about many of the rest, but Texas Jack has been mixing it with the top tier of Irish chasers, and this is his trip and ground. He might go best of the bigger priced nags.

Jewson Novices Chase Tips

Dynaste is the class act here, and should win.

Most likely Jewson Chase winner: Dynaste
Frame prospects: Captain Conan, Aupcharlie
Interesting at a bigger price: Texas Jack

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2.05 PERTEMPS FINAL (Listed Race) (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (3m)

A massive field of very good, largely experienced handicappers cross blades for the Pertemps Final, over three miles. To run here, you need to have been declared for one of the qualifiers run both sides of the Irish Sea throughout the season. And all of the last nine renewals have gone to a horse priced 10/1 or bigger.

Pertemps Final Key Trends

13 of the last 14 winners carried 11-02 or less

13 of the last 15 winners were rated 142 or less

Repeat winners Willie Wumpkins and Buena Vista are the only horses aged 10+ to win

The only five year old winner was Pragada in 1988

The Haydock, Cheltenham and Leopardstown qualifiers have been responsible for seven of the last ten winners

Pertemps Final Form Preview

Although this is wide open, there are a couple of very short priced horses at the top of the market in the shape of Sam Winner and Shutthefrontdoor. Connections of both are hugely respected, though Paul Nicholls has yet to win this race from eight runners in the last fifteen years, and one of them - Alfie Sherrin - went off 11/4 favourite! Jonjo on the other hand - who now trains Alfie Sherrin - has won it twice in the past decade.

Sam Winner was a precocious juvenile, being good enough to run fourth in the Triumph Hurdle behind none other than Zarkandar, having been given a lot to do. Of course, that's old news but it does at least show he handles the track and it may also imply he's very nicely weighted, give that Zarkandar is now rated 167, and the second and third are rated 155 and 166. Sam Winner has a rating of just 140!

An abortive chasing career was abandoned after two falls in two starts, and he then had a year off the track before returning in December 2012 with an encouraging fifth of twelve in a good Sandown handicap. In his only start since, he won a jumper's bumper, and it's certain that the stable has been holding off running him in case they buggered up his handicap mark. Although he may not be as battled hardened as some of these, he's got oodles of class, and a gimme weight. He has an obvious chance, but is very short.

Shutthefrontdoor comes from very highly regarded connections and is hard to quantify. He's won all bar one of his seven races (I was there the day he lost at Folkestone!), but he rarely wins by much, meaning the handicapper can't do anything with him. He's a novice with just four hurdle starts and that's less than any of the last fourteen winners.  With a rating of 146 and a weight of 11-06, I don't think he can overcome inexperience, no matter how much he's liked at home. On that basis, I'm happy enough to be wrong if he's good enough to prove me wrong.

So which of the field match the winner's profile and look to be favoured by conditions? My metaphorical notebook has the following names scribbled in it: Action Master, Stonemaster, and Jetson.

Action Master won the qualifier here back  in October, and has since been nicely 'managed' with two runs in handicap chases to keep him fit without impacting his hurdles rating. He's trained by the shrewd Dessie Hughes, obviously goes on the track, and loves a decent pace in big fields. But he's probably a bit better on quicker ground, and that's enough for me to look elsewhere this time.

Stonemaster and Jetson are the interesting pair. Both ran in the Leopardstown qualifier last time, finishing third and sixth respectively. Stonemaster was more prominent throughout, and he should make a bold bid here in a race which might just stretch his stamina to breaking point. If he gets the trip all right, after a running on sixth in last year's Coral Cup, he'll run well.

As for Jetson, well, his run the last day in that qualifier has to be seen to be believed. It's a blatant non-trier job: eleventh turning in (and still on the bridle), he was steadied almost to a walk at the last flight, before staying on to be sixth of thirty, beaten ten lengths. He won that race last year, and is now rated 135 in his bid to add the Final this year to the Qualifier last.

Jetson loves big fields, loves soft ground (but acts perfectly well on good), has a viable rating, and bags of experience. He should run a cracker.

Pertemps Final Tips

Most likely (Sam) Winner: Sam Winner
Best each way value plays: Jetson, Stonemaster

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2.40 RYANAIR CHASE Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m5f)

The middle distance championship is starting to grow up now, and it has been responsible for one of the great stories of the Festival in recent years: Albertas Run. Winner in 2010 and 2011, he was a half length runner up last year and bids to regain his crown aged twelve!

Ryanair Chase Key Trends

Seven of the eight winners came from the top three in the betting.

Seven of the eight winners had won over this specialist trip.

Seven of the eight winners had won at the course previously.

Ryanair Chase Form Preview

A small field this year, and arguably a disappointing turn out for a race that provided perhaps the spectacle of last year's Festival, with three horses exchanging the lead on the run in, having been in the air together at the last.

Disappointing turnout or not, there's a winner in there somewhere, and the most likely candidate is First Lieutenant. 'First Left' has been running some blinding races this season, getting barged out of it late doors in two Grades 1's either side of a third place in the Hennessy at Newbury.

He's dropping back in trip a little here, to a distance which might well be optimal for him. He was a 2m5f winner of the Neptune at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival, and was then second to Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase last year.

First Left's last three wins have all been at around the two and a half mile mark, and I think he will relish the drop back. Hopefully, Davy Russell will sit just behind the lead and then aim to stretch them from the turn, with stamina assured and the ground no problem.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Against him are last year's 1-2, Riverside Theatre and Albertas Run. The former seems to have 'gone' a bit, and assistant trainer Charlie Morlock explained that they've had a lot of trouble trying to get him healthy, let alone fit. The latter comes here without a prep run and is now twelve years old. Surely even the most romantic of punters couldn't expect him to win here. If he does, it will be a fantastic story, and all credit to connections. But he is certainly not for me.

Cue Card has been hovering around the top of the market all winter, but he's never actually achieved a rating which would have been sufficient to win a Ryanair, and he looks pretty exposed nowadays. He does go well on soft, and this is his trip, but I suspect he'll find at least one too good in this company.

Champion Court would be a popular local winner, but four second places in his last five starts tell their own story. He's just not quite up to a race like this.

He and Cue Card will probably try to lead here, and they ought to set it up for First Lieutenant, the balance of whose form is a little better in my view.

Two at bigger prices worth a second glance are Menorah and For Non Stop. Menorah won the Supreme Novices' Hurdle here in 2010, and has been a consistent - if slightly below top class - sort ever since. His last two runs - a win against Hunt Ball and a fair third to Silviniaco Conti over a trip too far - are reasonable in the context of this field, and he could hit the board if his jumping stands up (or, more correctly, if he stands up to/from his jumping).

For Non Stop seems to have got his preferred ground, though he was also a Grade 1 winner on soft last term, and ran third in Sir Des Champ's Jewson here subsequently. He's been off since Christmas, which is a concern, but his price allows for a small stakes interest play if you're that way inclined. He will certainly love the trip and has a touch of class about him. It could be a staggering 45 minutes for Nick Williams if this fellow and then Reve de Sivola in the next prevail.

Ryanair Chase Tips

Best Ryanair Chase bet: First Lieutenant
Each way possible: Menorah
Reasonably interesting outsider: For Non Stop

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3.20 LADBROKES WORLD HURDLE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (3m)

No Big Buck's this time, and that's a real shame. In his absence, though, the race looks wide open, and if we can hit the winner, we'll get paid out at a fair rate of return. If...

World Hurdle Key Trends

Big Buck's has won the last four renewals. Inglis Drever won three of the four before that. As such, trends are fairly redundant here.

World Hurdle Form Preview

This is a bit of a messy race. Basically, I don't think Oscar Whisky can stay this far in soft or tacky ground, and am happy to field against him unless times indicate it is riding quick. I have backed Reve de Sivola, but the vibes about him are not good, and nor is the drying ground helpful. And the senior handicapper - who knows a thing or two about form - reckons their ding-dong last time out scrap doesn't amount to much. Hmm.

So where do we go from there? Well, waiting in the wings are some talented, and perhaps 'forgotten horses'. This has always been the logical home of failed chasers, and the likes of Peddlers Cross and Bog Warrior (and Reve de Sivola himself) join the roster here. Mind you, Big Buck's himself falls into that 'failed chaser' category so we perhaps ought not to be too harsh!

Basically, it could be a wide open contest with reasons to doubt the  top two, so I'm looking for some jam on my bread here. Bog Warrior is relatively inexperienced with just five hurdles runs to his name, four of them wins. He started off this season falling at the last fence in a Grade 2 chase, which is when connections reverted to hurdles.

Since then, he's gone three unbeaten: a handicap hurdle of a rating of 122 (!!); an ungraded hurdle where he beat Solwhit more than six lengths (that one was returning after a long layoff); and, an easy Grade 2 success from Zaidpour last time.

Bog Warrior needs soft ground, which is why he skipped last year's Festival. So he may not have quite come up trumps on the turf front this time either. He's progressive and has scope to improve again. That would give him a fair chance here, but I do have a couple of reservations with him. First, he usually leads and might not be granted that concession today. Second, his jumping - even over hurdles - leaves something to be desired. And third, he has looked a weak finisher on occasion. Collectively, they lead me to look elsewhere.

Solwhit was behind the Bog Warrior on his first start since January 2011, but followed that up with a nice win from So Young last time. His overall record, which includes SIX Grade 1 wins from a career total of thirteen wins, is impressive in the context of this race, and the ground won't be an issue, though he'd probably prefer a bit more juice in it. But the big problem here is that he's never raced beyond two and a half miles, and he's been beaten on two of the three occasions he went even that far. I just don't expect him to stay the trip.

Peddlers Cross is another classy hurdler, but doubtful stayer. True, he at least won the Neptune over 2m5f here, back in 2010. But his only win beyond that trip since was when beating a 130-rated horse by less than two lengths. He might well take them along, if he can get the better of Bog Warrior and perhaps Solwhit early, but with the doubt about his stamina, he's not for me.

Wonderful Charm ought not to be good enough. He beat Ballybough Pat of Anthony Honeyball's last time, and Anthony has no illusions about the ceiling of that one's ability. Whilst Wonderful Charm is capable of better, and will go in the ground, he too has to prove he stays, as his longest distance win to date was over two and a half miles. It's also the case that a five year old has NEVER won this race, and it's been run for the last forty years!

Get Me Out Of Here really doesn't like soft ground, and I can't entertain him on that basis alone. However, if it is genuinely good ground, he has to come into calculations. And that brings us to Smad Place. He's well suited by good to soft ground, and he's young and improving, and he finished third to Big Buck's in this last year.

Beaten just under nine lengths there as a five year old, that was an extremely meritorious performance. Since then, he unseated in the Aintree staying hurdle at the Grand National meeting when travelling well; he was a slightly disappointing third on his seasonal debut behind Tidal Bay; and then he ran up to Reve de Sivola on heavy ground last time in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.

He was fourteen lengths behind Reve de Sivola there, but on less testing ground here, I'd expect him to be closer, and with his liking for the track proven, he rates a good each way prospect in a race where most runners have big questions to answer.

World Hurdle Tips

Most Likely World Hurdle Winner: Reve de Sivola
Best each way wager: Smad Place

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4.00 BYRNE GROUP PLATE (A Handicap Chase) Grade 3 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m5f)

Byrne Group Plate Key Trends

French breds have an excellent record: six wins and four second places in the last 13 years.

11 of the last 12 winners were at odds of 12/1+

14 of the last 15 winners carried 11-03 or less

23 of the last 25 winners were rated 141 or less

17 of the last 21 winners recorded a top four finish last time

17 of the last 21 winners had run previously at the Festival

Byrne Group Plate Form Preview

A very interesting race, and one which for a number of reasons is not a decent betting prospect for me. That said, I do have one I like against a couple of horses fancied by the market (but not especially by me). Let's deal with the market first, and the first point to make is that it generally gets this race wrong. Indeed, just two winning favourites in the last three decades tells its own story!

One of them was last year, however, when the Pipe plotters pilfered the pot with Salut Flo. The same connections are attempting the same feat this year with a horse called Ballynagour, and he's a warm favourite. On the evidence of his bolt up on British debut in a decent class handicap chase at Warwick last time, he's a seriously good horse. But the balance of his form is a little in and out, and he might not get his own way here. If he does, and wins, fair enough. But 4/1 or so is extremely short in a race like this, even for a Pipe hotpot.

Next up is Hunt Ball. The wonderful Hunt Ball. The highly weighted Hunt Ball. The Hunt Ball which wants better ground. No thanks, not this time.

The thing to note in this race is that historically north of 141 has been a hard rating to win from. This year, all bar the bottom eleven are above that figure. In a summary and swingeing cut off, I'll make those my 'starting eleven', with the exception of the 143-rated Cantlow.

Cantlow had multiple entries and I thought this would be the last place he'd end up. But, barring the Pipe plot, it looks an easier (note, not easy) race than his other possibles. He was third in the Pertemps Final last year on good ground, and has been doing is chase winning on heavy turf. So, no worries on that score. He's also looked progressive, beating the useful Oscara Dara and then smashing Dare Me in a pair of small field novice chases.

Obviously, this is a different game entirely, but he showed with that Pertemps run that the hurly-burly holds no fears, and he's expected to run very well in a race which has favoured lightly raced types recently.

Venetia Williams has had a field day in this race in recent years, and she's double handed with lightweights, Kapga de Cerisy and Carrickboy this time. I'm very sweet on the former and tipped him in an ATR piece I wrote a week or so ago.

He's progressive, as you need to be to win this, has battling qualities, goes in any ground, and has decent form. I think he's got an excellent each way chance.

Carrickboy is more exposed but has run two decent races round here. First, he unseated when travelling very well when unshipping four out; and then at the Festival last year, he was sixth of twenty in the Novices' Handicap Chase.

In truth, I think he's a bit to find with some of these, but his price of 33/1 reflects that and is acceptable in each way terms.

Domtaline has a rock solid trends profile for this, and allied to his trainer being Paul Nicholls, 25/1 looks a juicy price. He does have to prove he handles a big field, but the trip and ground could be plum. I'd be happy to take a chance at the odds.

And finally, Divers, a winner of the Novices' Handicap Chase in 2011 is just three pounds higher here. Seeing as we know conditions are optimal, he too is a big price.

Byrne Group Plate Tips

Obviously, Ballynagour could smash them all up, and Cantlow is a dangerous improver too. But at the prices, and with five places to go at, there's plenty of each way value towards the bottom of the handicap.

Most likely winners: Ballynagour, Cantlow
Each way three against the field: Kapga de Cerisy, Domtaline, Divers

********

4.40 FULKE WALWYN KIM MUIR CHALLENGE CUP HANDICAP CHASE (Amateur Riders) (CLASS 2) (5yo+ 0-145) (3m 1 1/2f)

Kim Muir Key Trends

15 of the last 20 renewals have been won by a horse aged eight or nine

All of the last twelve Kim Muir winners raced over at least three miles last time out

Only three of the last ten winners made the frame last time out, but all had done so in at least one of their last four runs

Kim Muir Form Preview

Three favourites have won this in the last six years, and all of them at decent prices, so the clear starting point is Super Duty. He's tough, consistent, goes on all ground, and stays well. These are strong credentials in a race like this, and he's ridden by top amateur Derek O'Connor. He ought to go close, but he has been beaten into second in four of his last five runs, so I'll look elsewhere for a possible pick.

Right down towards the bottom of the weights, Alfie Sherrin catches the eye. There's a strong chance that this is a prep race for the Grand National, and how ready he is for this needs to be taken on trust, but at 10/1, it's clear that a strong run is expected. He's a Festival winner (JLT Chase last year), and has a very good pilot in Alan Berry.

Prince Of Pirates is another which catches my eye, from the Hendo stable. Nico de Boinville, an amateur who is going pro next season, is an excellent jock, as he's shown on Petit Robin this season. The horse goes well on top of the ground, has won over hurdles in a big field round here, and is extremely lightly raced. He should get the trip ok, and a clear round ought to see him in the shake up.

There are plenty of others for which I could make a case, including Harry The Viking, Becauseicouldntsee, and Chartreux.

Kim Muir Tips

It's not a race I'll be looking to do anything more than get through the placepot in (if still going, natch!), and selections below are accorded token status.

Two against the field: Alfie Sherrin, Prince of Pirates

********

5.15 GLENFARCLAS HANDICAP CHASE (A Cross Country Chase) (CLASS 2) (5yo+) (3m7f)

Re-programmed after Tuesday's frosty course put paid to its original slot.

A looooong race, and one for specialists. I covered this recently in my Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase preview, and haven't changed my mind since then.

In a nutshell, then, this is a specialists' race where weight is less important than experience.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Key Stats

7/8 winners have been Irish-trained (the one 'failure' was when A New Story failed by a head to win last year)

8/8 8-12yo

8/8 had experience of the cross country course

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Form Preview

Three horses vie for favouritism here: Arabella Boy, Outlaw Pete, and Uncle Junior. They're followed in close proximity in the market by Bostons Angel, Sizing Australia and Big Shu. But I don't make the race anywhere near as competitive as that! In fact, I reckon there are only four which can win, and only three which I think might win...

Last year's winner, Balthazar King, just clung on from the fourteen-year-old, A New Story, but is a late non-runner due to the soft ground. In my view, both of them benefited from the losses of Garde Champetre and Scotsirish, two classy horses who were almost certain to have played a hand in the finish.

He wasn't my idea of the winner, especially not on soft ground. Firstly, he hadn't run since mid-November and that had to be a concern. And secondly, he was beaten by the very slow Uncle Junior on that last run when he (Balthazar) was match fit. He'd had three months off prior to winning last year, so may go best fresh, but this is a long way to last out in the mud if you're only 98% ready. Anyway, he doesn't now go, so it's all immaterial.

The first of my trio of possibles is Outlaw Pete. He's really come to himself since trying cross country, and is a Festival virgin. Despite that, he's competed in both the course trials in November and December last year, finishing third on his first sight of the track and winning the other attempt by seven lengths from Bostons Angel (Uncle Junior and Arabella Boy both uncharacteristically unseated riders that day).

He's been kept on the boil since, with two runs in conventional handicap chases, where he's performed respectably, and I think he'll take a lot of beating on a course he now knows well enough. He looks nailed on for the frame, bar a fall or a 'wrong course' farce.

Arabella Boy is the latest off the Enda Bolger production line - Bolger's won this race four of the eight times it's been run - and as such is sure to have been extremely well drilled. The Boy has become something of a Punchestown cross country specialist, but unseated on his only attempt so far round Cheltenham's tied shoelace circuit. The ground has come right for him, as all his five career wins have been on soft or heavy going.

And the last one I'm drawn to is that old warhorse, A New Story. Yes, he's FIFTEEN years old. And what a story it would be if A New Story could win. If you think it's fanciful, then consider that he was beaten the length of a betting slip last year, and has a full record in this race of 34132. That's more impressive than any other runner, and though he could be regressive now, he's a big enough price to take a chance, off a similarly low profile build up to previous years.

Uncle Junior, Bostons Angel, and Sizing Australia are all too slow to win this; and Big Shu will be having only his second start outside of hunter chase/bumper fields, and his first sight of Cheltenham's track. That's enough for me to say 'no way'.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Tips

Arabella Boy will have everything to suit and looks the most likely winner, and at a fair price (around 5/1) as well. Outlaw Pete should also go very well. A New Story is a huge price and that - coupled with his race record - merits a throwaway investment.

Most likely Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase winner: Arabella Boy
Other strong contender: Outlaw Pete
Best each way bet: A New Story

Best Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Bookmaker Offer

If your horse is fifth, BetFred will refund the place part of each way bets as a free bet. (Not great, but better than nothing!)

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And that concludes Thursday's action. It's normally the weakest day of the four, and after the last all roads will lead to Friday and the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself. There's a stellar supporting card and, of course, I'll be back with my thoughts on those races in due course.

Until then, best of luck with your Day Three wagers, and may your next bet need collecting.

Matt

 

Cheltenham Day Three Live Blog

Cheltenham Live Blog

Cheltenham Live Blog

We're blogging live from day three (Thursday) of the Cheltenham Festival, right here, from 1.30pm this afternoon.

(Bear with me if I'm a few minutes late - train back from the West Country and commute across London give me very little (i.e. no) contingency..!)

So, the train was late, the tube was cancelled (points failure at Liverpool St) and the taxi was held up in terrible traffic. You've got to love London!

[PLEASE HIT REFRESH REGULARLY FOR THE LATEST UPDATES]

1810 Full result:

1st Big Shu 14/1
2nd Shakervilz 20/1
3rd Outlaw Pete 6/1
4th Bostons Angel 9/1

1800 Big Shu, on his course debut, does something that only one other course debutant has ever done, and wins. Shakervilz runs a blinder in second, and Outlaw Pete hangs on for third, to give me some place money back.

A New Story about sixth and ran an honest race.

That's all for today. Thanks for your company, and best of luck for Gold Cup day tomorrow.

Good night.

1751 They're (finally) off for the Cross Country.

1749 False Start! Ridiculous.

1742 They're delaying the race another five minutes!!

1740 They're at the start. Not long now. Come on my lot (and your lot too!) !! 😀

1738 Going down. Very hopeful that either Outlaw Pete or A New Story can win. Arabella Boy and a sliver on Sacree Tiepy. Cannot envisage anything else winning. Doesn't mean they won't, of course...

1733 Yay! Jockeys now aboard horses, and they'll be going down soon... I hope!

1726 Suggestion is that cross country will be off around 1740 now.

1725 JT McNamara in a bad way. Air ambulance landing on the course now. Jockeys now being sent back into the weighing room. A sobering end to Day Three. 🙁

1723 Will the Cross Country ever be run?! Charity race due off after that...! We'll not bother with the latter contest though... (if that's ok)

1720 Still not jocked up here. Arabella Boy now 9/4! Incredibly short in a race like this on ground like this. Desperate punters piling in. Sacree Tiepy also well backed, now 8/1 from 11/1.

1715 Delay to the cross country, as the ambulance was being used to treat jockey JT McNamara after a fall in the 4.40. I'm sorry to report that Matuhi was put down after a bad fall in the 4.00. Real shame for a horse which had run his heart out and looked booked for a place.

1712 Arabella Boy now into 5/2. Seems extremely short to me, considering all form is on soft or heavy ground. Punters trying to smash their way out of trouble here, methinks...

1710 Just gone in again on Outlaw Pete. I think he's a pretty big price and looks quite likely to be in the first four, barring a fall or wrong course incident...

1705 Cross Country Form and Fancies - who do you like?

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Key Stats

7/8 winners have been Irish-trained (the one ‘failure’ was when A New Story failed by a head to win last year)

8/8 8-12yo

8/8 had experience of the cross country course

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Form Preview

Three horses vie for favouritism here: Arabella Boy, Outlaw Pete, and Uncle Junior. They’re followed in close proximity in the market by Bostons Angel, Sizing Australia and Big Shu. But I don’t make the race anywhere near as competitive as that! In fact, I reckon there are only four which can win, and only three which I think might win…

Last year’s winner, Balthazar King, just clung on from the fourteen-year-old, A New Story, but is a late non-runner due to the soft ground. In my view, both of them benefited from the losses of Garde Champetre and Scotsirish, two classy horses who were almost certain to have played a hand in the finish.

He wasn’t my idea of the winner, especially not on soft ground. Firstly, he hadn’t run since mid-November and that had to be a concern. And secondly, he was beaten by the very slow Uncle Junior on that last run when he (Balthazar) was match fit. He’d had three months off prior to winning last year, so may go best fresh, but this is a long way to last out in the mud if you’re only 98% ready. Anyway, he doesn’t now go, so it’s all immaterial.

The first of my trio of possibles is Outlaw Pete. He’s really come to himself since trying cross country, and is a Festival virgin. Despite that, he’s competed in both the course trials in November and December last year, finishing third on his first sight of the track and winning the other attempt by seven lengths from Bostons Angel (Uncle Junior and Arabella Boy both uncharacteristically unseated riders that day).

He’s been kept on the boil since, with two runs in conventional handicap chases, where he’s performed respectably, and I think he’ll take a lot of beating on a course he now knows well enough. He looks nailed on for the frame, bar a fall or a ‘wrong course’ farce.

Arabella Boy is the latest off the Enda Bolger production line – Bolger’s won this race four of the eight times it’s been run – and as such is sure to have been extremely well drilled. The Boy has become something of a Punchestown cross country specialist, but unseated on his only attempt so far round Cheltenham’s tied shoelace circuit. The ground has come right for him, as all his five career wins have been on soft or heavy going.

And the last one I’m drawn to is that old warhorse, A New Story. Yes, he’s FIFTEEN years old. And what a story it would be if A New Story could win. If you think it’s fanciful, then consider that he was beaten the length of a betting slip last year, and has a full record in this race of 34132. That’s more impressive than any other runner, and though he could be regressive now, he’s a big enough price to take a chance, off a similarly low profile build up to previous years.

Uncle Junior, Bostons Angel, and Sizing Australia are all too slow to win this; and Big Shu will be having only his second start outside of hunter chase/bumper fields, and his first sight of Cheltenham’s track. That’s enough for me to say ‘no way’.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Tips

Arabella Boy will have everything to suit and looks the most likely winner, and at a fair price (around 5/1) as well. Outlaw Pete should also go very well. A New Story is a huge price and that – coupled with his race record – merits a throwaway investment.

Most likely Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase winner: Arabella Boy
Other strong contender: Outlaw Pete
Best each way bet: A New Story

1700 Cross Country next! Looks between Outlaw Pete and Arabella Boy if the latter can handle the ground. A New Story and Sacree Tiepy could be interesting. None of the rest are of note to me.

Where's your cash here?

1656 Same Difference was a 16/1 shot, and the full result is as follows:

1st Same Difference 16/1
2nd Super Duty 11/2 F
3rd Romanesco 8/1
4th Alfie Sherrin 9/1

1654 £1.50 of the placepot here. Looks like paying £371.10. £556.65 for me, I think. First draw of note since the first race.

1652 Sorry to favourite backers, but I'm very pleased that Twiston-Davies has had another winner at the Festival. Alfie Sherrin runs a brilliant Grand National trial back in fourth.

Placepot landed with Super Duty and Romanesco on C, and Alfie Sherrin on A.

1649 Photo! But Same Difference beats Super Duty on the bob! Thrilling finish. Romanesco and Alfie Sherrin fill out the places.

1642 They're off!

1640 The trends, such as they are. Plus form and tips. It's JP McManus horses for me...

Kim Muir Key Trends

15 of the last 20 renewals have been won by a horse aged eight or nine

All of the last twelve Kim Muir winners raced over at least three miles last time out

Only three of the last ten winners made the frame last time out, but all had done so in at least one of their last four runs

Kim Muir Form Preview

Three favourites have won this in the last six years, and all of them at decent prices, so the clear starting point is Super Duty. He’s tough, consistent, goes on all ground, and stays well. These are strong credentials in a race like this, and he’s ridden by top amateur Derek O’Connor. He ought to go close, but he has been beaten into second in four of his last five runs, so I’ll look elsewhere for a possible pick.

Right down towards the bottom of the weights, Alfie Sherrin catches the eye. There’s a strong chance that this is a prep race for the Grand National, and how ready he is for this needs to be taken on trust, but at 10/1, it’s clear that a strong run is expected. He’s a Festival winner (JLT Chase last year), and has a very good pilot in Alan Berry.

Prince Of Pirates is another which catches my eye, from the Hendo stable. Nico de Boinville, an amateur who is going pro next season, is an excellent jock, as he’s shown on Petit Robin this season. The horse goes well on top of the ground, has won over hurdles in a big field round here, and is extremely lightly raced. He should get the trip ok, and a clear round ought to see him in the shake up.

There are plenty of others for which I could make a case, including Harry The Viking, Becauseicouldntsee, and Chartreux.

Kim Muir Tips

It’s not a race I’ll be looking to do anything more than get through the placepot in (if still going, natch!), and selections below are accorded token status.

Two against the field: Alfie Sherrin, Prince of Pirates

1634 Big news! Leon and Mrs Matt are back from the Lakes! And the poor little fellow is teething and grumpy. Aw. Right, back to the racing now. 🙂 Anyone got anything remotely resembling a fancy in this race?

1627 Ray Placed to Win had 7.0 on the place for Tartak. Josh had a bit of Carrickboy. Lovely stuff.

1625 Onwards, to the last leg of the placepot. Six handed here, with On Trend, Prince Of Pirates, Alfie Sherrin and Chartreux; and Super Duty and Romanesco are on C (which is B in this context because it goes with all five A's so far).

1623 Here's the blog piece quote on Carrickboy, so I hope some backed it! I wish I had.

Carrickboy is more exposed but has run two decent races round here. First, he unseated when travelling very well when unshipping four out; and then at the Festival last year, he was sixth of twenty in the Novices’ Handicap Chase.

In truth, I think he’s a bit to find with some of these, but his price of 33/1 reflects that and is acceptable in each way terms.

1615 Good news on the placepot front, at least, with Hunt Ball keeping A tickets going, and both Vino Griego and Tartak on B. I still can't believe I didn't back the winner. Venetia in the Byrne Group Plate!!!

Your first 30 days for just £1

1612 Full result:

1st Carrickboy 50/1
2nd Vino Griego 11/1
3rd Tartak 20/1
4th Hunt Ball 8/1

1610 I honestly cannot believe how I haven't backed that. Gutted. Vino Griego second, and just couldn't get by the winner.

1608 Unbelievable!!! Venetia Williams AGAIN in the Byrne Group Plate! 50/1

1602 Standing start - and they're off!!! Mad Moose refuses to race. Little bugger.

1600 Vet has withdrawn Cantlow at the start. The remaining 23 are lining up... and they're off! No they're not! FALSE START.

1559 Well done to geegeez news writer, Ian Sutherland, who backed both Solwhit and Smad Place at 12/1 and 20/1 respectively.

1557 Cantlow IS bleeding from the nose! Vets will check him down at the start. Surely you wouldn't back him now.

1555 Blood coming from Cantlow's head apparently. McCoy has remounted, so the assumption is that he bit his tongue rather than burst a blood vessel. Has to be a worry if you're on him.

1548 Mister Hyde and Fingeronthepulse for Josh, due to their trainer's 18% record in chases here at Chelters.

1542 Hugh is bidding to follow up Benefficient earlier with Vino Griego here.

I'm just looking at some of the bigger prices here, and in particular the fact that Pipe has three other runners. Zaynar having his first run for a year could be mildly interesting for pennies and Gavin likes Shoegazer.

1540 Next up, the Byrne Group Plate. 24 handicap chasers going at it over two miles five furlongs. Here's the full skinny.

Which ones do you like?

Byrne Group Plate Key Trends

French breds have an excellent record: six wins and four second places in the last 13 years.

11 of the last 12 winners were at odds of 12/1+

14 of the last 15 winners carried 11-03 or less

23 of the last 25 winners were rated 141 or less

17 of the last 21 winners recorded a top four finish last time

17 of the last 21 winners had run previously at the Festival

Byrne Group Plate Form Preview

A very interesting race, and one which for a number of reasons is not a decent betting prospect for me. That said, I do have one I like against a couple of horses fancied by the market (but not especially by me). Let’s deal with the market first, and the first point to make is that it generally gets this race wrong. Indeed, just two winning favourites in the last three decades tells its own story!

One of them was last year, however, when the Pipe plotters pilfered the pot with Salut Flo. The same connections are attempting the same feat this year with a horse called Ballynagour, and he’s a warm favourite. On the evidence of his bolt up on British debut in a decent class handicap chase at Warwick last time, he’s a seriously good horse. But the balance of his form is a little in and out, and he might not get his own way here. If he does, and wins, fair enough. But 4/1 or so is extremely short in a race like this, even for a Pipe hotpot.

Next up is Hunt Ball. The wonderful Hunt Ball. The highly weighted Hunt Ball. The Hunt Ball which wants better ground. No thanks, not this time.

The thing to note in this race is that historically north of 141 has been a hard rating to win from. This year, all bar the bottom eleven are above that figure. In a summary and swingeing cut off, I’ll make those my ‘starting eleven’, with the exception of the 143-rated Cantlow.

Cantlow had multiple entries and I thought this would be the last place he’d end up. But, barring the Pipe plot, it looks an easier (note, not easy) race than his other possibles. He was third in the Pertemps Final last year on good ground, and has been doing is chase winning on heavy turf. So, no worries on that score. He’s also looked progressive, beating the useful Oscara Dara and then smashing Dare Me in a pair of small field novice chases.

Obviously, this is a different game entirely, but he showed with that Pertemps run that the hurly-burly holds no fears, and he’s expected to run very well in a race which has favoured lightly raced types recently.

Venetia Williams has had a field day in this race in recent years, and she’s double handed with lightweights, Kapga de Cerisy and Carrickboy this time. I’m very sweet on the former and tipped him in an ATR piece I wrote a week or so ago.

He’s progressive, as you need to be to win this, has battling qualities, goes in any ground, and has decent form. I think he’s got an excellent each way chance.

Carrickboy is more exposed but has run two decent races round here. First, he unseated when travelling very well when unshipping four out; and then at the Festival last year, he was sixth of twenty in the Novices’ Handicap Chase.

In truth, I think he’s a bit to find with some of these, but his price of 33/1 reflects that and is acceptable in each way terms.

Domtaline has a rock solid trends profile for this, and allied to his trainer being Paul Nicholls, 25/1 looks a juicy price. He does have to prove he handles a big field, but the trip and ground could be plum. I’d be happy to take a chance at the odds.

And finally, Divers, a winner of the Novices’ Handicap Chase in 2011 is just three pounds higher here. Seeing as we know conditions are optimal, he too is a big price.

Byrne Group Plate Tips

Obviously, Ballynagour could smash them all up, and Cantlow is a dangerous improver too. But at the prices, and with five places to go at, there’s plenty of each way value towards the bottom of the handicap.

Most likely winners: Ballynagour, Cantlow
Each way three against the field: Kapga de Cerisy, Domtaline [non-runner], Divers

1537 Placepot update. Still rolling with Smad Place in that last race. £14,209.58 still in from a pool of £879,798. Shaping up nicely.

I've got eight in this one, and still not confident!!

A has Hunt Ball, Ballynagour and Cantlow. B has Bless The Wings, Vino Griego, Kapga de Cerisy, Divers and Tartak.

1534 Mark B having a whale of a time there. Backed Solwhit and Smad Place, and laid Reve De Sivola. Sweet!

1533 Oscar Whisky never in it. Never put in it. Curious ride. Once again, I strongly believe that the owner should switch stables with his star horse.

1532 Stan James with the most offensive quote of the Festival so far: 6/1 Solwhit to win next year's World Hurdle. #disgrace

1531 Great waiting ride from Carberry. Classic Carberry. I couldn't believe that he could stay, but I guess they just didn't go very fast... did they?!

1529 Solwhit?! Never raced beyond two and a half miles, and beats the worst World Hurdle field in history!!!

1520 Goggles coming down... And they're off for the World Hurdle!

1515 Some of you hoping for Reve De Sivola. Will he go in the ground is the big (only?) question with him. It's a total 'no bet' race for me, and I've taken four horses more in hope than expectation on the placepot.

A has Get Me Out Of Here and Smad Place; B has Oscar Whisky and Reve de Sivola.

1512 Punters smashing into Oscar Whisky, now 11/4 from 7/2. It takes a lot of cash to move a horse that far in this market.

1508 Mondo Ray, the king of Placed to Win, is celebrating a fantastic Cheltenham week. He bagged Flaxen Flare yesterday (55 to win on Betfair) and doubled up today with Holywell (40 to win on Betfair) today. Well played, Ray. Excellent, excellent stuff!

1506 Joe is happy. He's finally bagged a winner with Cue Card. Well done, Joe. I had a winner this year too, in the very first race! It's been a long time since then and I've got Smad Place and Reve de Sivola trying for me. I'm not confident...

What are your World Hurdle fancies?

1504 Davy Russell has suffered a spontaneous punctured lung, apparently. I've no idea what that means, but it sounds very bad. Fingers crossed that he's ok.

1458 Here are the World Hurdle facts, form and fancies.

HOW ARE YOU GETTING ON SO FAR? BACKED A WINNER YET?

World Hurdle Key Trends

Big Buck’s has won the last four renewals. Inglis Drever won three of the four before that. As such, trends are fairly redundant here.

World Hurdle Form Preview

This is a bit of a messy race. Basically, I don’t think Oscar Whisky can stay this far in soft or tacky ground, and am happy to field against him unless times indicate it is riding quick. I have backed Reve de Sivola, but the vibes about him are not good, and nor is the drying ground helpful. And the senior handicapper – who knows a thing or two about form – reckons their ding-dong last time out scrap doesn’t amount to much. Hmm.

So where do we go from there? Well, waiting in the wings are some talented, and perhaps ‘forgotten horses’. This has always been the logical home of failed chasers, and the likes of Peddlers Cross and Bog Warrior (and Reve de Sivola himself) join the roster here. Mind you, Big Buck’s himself falls into that ‘failed chaser’ category so we perhaps ought not to be too harsh!

Basically, it could be a wide open contest with reasons to doubt the  top two, so I’m looking for some jam on my bread here. Bog Warrior is relatively inexperienced with just five hurdles runs to his name, four of them wins. He started off this season falling at the last fence in a Grade 2 chase, which is when connections reverted to hurdles.

Since then, he’s gone three unbeaten: a handicap hurdle of a rating of 122 (!!); an ungraded hurdle where he beat Solwhit more than six lengths (that one was returning after a long layoff); and, an easy Grade 2 success from Zaidpour last time.

Bog Warrior needs soft ground, which is why he skipped last year’s Festival. So he may not have quite come up trumps on the turf front this time either. He’s progressive and has scope to improve again. That would give him a fair chance here, but I do have a couple of reservations with him. First, he usually leads and might not be granted that concession today. Second, his jumping – even over hurdles – leaves something to be desired. And third, he has looked a weak finisher on occasion. Collectively, they lead me to look elsewhere.

Solwhit was behind the Bog Warrior on his first start since January 2011, but followed that up with a nice win from So Young last time. His overall record, which includes SIX Grade 1 wins from a career total of thirteen wins, is impressive in the context of this race, and the ground won’t be an issue, though he’d probably prefer a bit more juice in it. But the big problem here is that he’s never raced beyond two and a half miles, and he’s been beaten on two of the three occasions he went even that far. I just don’t expect him to stay the trip.

Peddlers Cross is another classy hurdler, but doubtful stayer. True, he at least won the Neptune over 2m5f here, back in 2010. But his only win beyond that trip since was when beating a 130-rated horse by less than two lengths. He might well take them along, if he can get the better of Bog Warrior and perhaps Solwhit early, but with the doubt about his stamina, he’s not for me.

Wonderful Charm ought not to be good enough. He beat Ballybough Pat of Anthony Honeyball’s last time, and Anthony has no illusions about the ceiling of that one’s ability. Whilst Wonderful Charm is capable of better, and will go in the ground, he too has to prove he stays, as his longest distance win to date was over two and a half miles. It’s also the case that a five year old has NEVER won this race, and it’s been run for the last forty years!

Get Me Out Of Here really doesn’t like soft ground, and I can’t entertain him on that basis alone. However, if it is genuinely good ground, he has to come into calculations. And that brings us to Smad Place. He’s well suited by good to soft ground, and he’s young and improving, and he finished third to Big Buck’s in this last year.

Beaten just under nine lengths there as a five year old, that was an extremely meritorious performance. Since then, he unseated in the Aintree staying hurdle at the Grand National meeting when travelling well; he was a slightly disappointing third on his seasonal debut behind Tidal Bay; and then he ran up to Reve de Sivola on heavy ground last time in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.

He was fourteen lengths behind Reve de Sivola there, but on less testing ground here, I’d expect him to be closer, and with his liking for the track proven, he rates a good each way prospect in a race where most runners have big questions to answer.

World Hurdle Tips

Most Likely World Hurdle Winner: Reve de Sivola
Best each way wager: Smad Place

1457 OK, half way through the placepot, and I'm still going, with lots (and lots) of chances in the last two races. Just need to get through the World Hurdle, a race in which they go 6/1 the field!

1455 Alberta's Run couldn't roll back the years, alas, and was pulled up. Champion Court ran his heart out, as ever, but wasn't quite good enough. Riverside Theatre ran a lot better than I thought he would, just failing to snatch third. Menorah was disappointing, and Ghizao dropped away towards the end, as many of Paul Nicholls' have so far this week.

It's now 8-8 Britain versus Ireland after sixteen races this year.

1452 Cue Card's Festival record now reads 1421. The second was to Sprinter Sacre, and they definitely did the right thing swerving that one by coming here. Well played, and I was wrong because I couldn't really have him here, but he was the meritorious winner.

1450 Full Result:

1st Cue Card 7/2
2nd First Leiutenant 2/1F
3rd For Non Stop 12/1

1448 The Tizzards are having a phenomenal meeting in chases (two wins and a third place), and I'm thrilled for them. Great lot. First Lieutenant hit a couple late on, but in truth he probably wouldn't have got to the winner, who did it really well. For Non Stop held third from the rallying Riverside Theatre.

Cracking race!

1446 Cue Card!!!

1440 Very stable market here. Money for nothing... Bryan Cooper taking over from Davy Russell on First Left. Davy is apparently suffering from a collapsed lung, which is serious. Best of health to Davy, and good luck to all here.

1437 Incidentally, lest you think First Left to place is an unambitious bet, it's my placepot banker, which probably means curtains... 😉

1434 Josh with Menorah here, and Johnners with Champion Court. (Hello to both, and yes, Andy, see you in the Bear tomorrow!) Me, I'm very hopeful that First Lieutenant can make the frame.

1432 Incidentally, Gavin Priestley of Festival Trends is here with me today, and he's looking for a rag to prevail here. He likes Menorah, Champion Court and For Non Stop here.

1430 Right, time for the Ryanair. Trends, form and my picks below.

Ryanair Chase Key Trends

Seven of the eight winners came from the top three in the betting.

Seven of the eight winners had won over this specialist trip.

Seven of the eight winners had won at the course previously.

Ryanair Chase Form Preview

A small field this year, and arguably a disappointing turn out for a race that provided perhaps the spectacle of last year’s Festival, with three horses exchanging the lead on the run in, having been in the air together at the last.

Disappointing turnout or not, there’s a winner in there somewhere, and the most likely candidate is First Lieutenant. ‘First Left’ has been running some blinding races this season, getting barged out of it late doors in two Grades 1′s either side of a third place in the Hennessy at Newbury.

He’s dropping back in trip a little here, to a distance which might well be optimal for him. He was a 2m5f winner of the Neptune at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival, and was then second to Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase last year.

First Left’s last three wins have all been at around the two and a half mile mark, and I think he will relish the drop back. Hopefully, Davy Russell will sit just behind the lead and then aim to stretch them from the turn, with stamina assured and the ground no problem.

Against him are last year’s 1-2, Riverside Theatre and Albertas Run. The former seems to have ‘gone’ a bit, and assistant trainer Charlie Morlock explained that they’ve had a lot of trouble trying to get him healthy, let alone fit. The latter comes here without a prep run and is now twelve years old. Surely even the most romantic of punters couldn’t expect him to win here. If he does, it will be a fantastic story, and all credit to connections. But he is certainly not for me.

Cue Card has been hovering around the top of the market all winter, but he’s never actually achieved a rating which would have been sufficient to win a Ryanair, and he looks pretty exposed nowadays. He does go well on soft, and this is his trip, but I suspect he’ll find at least one too good in this company.

Champion Court would be a popular local winner, but four second places in his last five starts tell their own story. He’s just not quite up to a race like this.

He and Cue Card will probably try to lead here, and they ought to set it up for First Lieutenant, the balance of whose form is a little better in my view.

Two at bigger prices worth a second glance are Menorah and For Non Stop. Menorah won the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle here in 2010, and has been a consistent – if slightly below top class – sort ever since. His last two runs – a win against Hunt Ball and a fair third to Silviniaco Conti over a trip too far – are reasonable in the context of this field, and he could hit the board if his jumping stands up (or, more correctly, if he stands up to/from his jumping).

For Non Stop seems to have got his preferred ground, though he was also a Grade 1 winner on soft last term, and ran third in Sir Des Champ’s Jewson here subsequently. He’s been off since Christmas, which is a concern, but his price allows for a small stakes interest play if you’re that way inclined. He will certainly love the trip and has a touch of class about him. It could be a staggering 45 minutes for Nick Williams if this fellow and then Reve de Sivola in the next prevail.

Ryanair Chase Tips

Best Ryanair Chase bet: First Lieutenant
Each way possible: Menorah
Reasonably interesting outsider: For Non Stop

1428 Well done Jonathan. Chose Captain Sunshine on the train this morning, and backed it each way accordingly. Nice work. Incidentally, former Albert Bartlett winner, Bertie's Dream, stuck on very well for fifth place if you bet with a firm paying out on that position.

1421 A few of you on Benefficient but not many words for Holywell, so I'm guessing that was less popular!

Onwards, and it's time for race three, the Ryanair Chase. Who's your fancy here?

1420 Jetson flying from a mile back. Slightly softer ground and he'd have won. :-S

1417 Great runs from Jetson, 'frontdoor, Captain Sunshine and, of course, Holywell. Jonjo thought it might have been too quick for the winner.

Disappointment was obviously Sam Winner, who couldn't cope with the big field, and may not have been so well handicapped as people said in any case.

1415 Full result:

1st Holywell 25/1
2nd Captain Sunshine 11/1
3rd Jetson 10/1
4th Shutthefrontdoor 6/1

1413 Well I've stopped backing seconds, as I backed a third there! Holywell wins the races!!

1405 They're off for the Pertemps!

1402 Just seen that Josh W backed Benny Fishn't. Well played, Josh! Looks like the Irish have the best novice chasers then, Simonsig apart...

1400 We're up and running. Who are your fancies in the Pertemps impossible Final? My previous thoughts are below, and I'm happy to stick with those (both put up by Pricewise too).

Pertemps Final Key Trends

13 of the last 14 winners carried 11-02 or less

13 of the last 15 winners were rated 142 or less

Repeat winners Willie Wumpkins and Buena Vista are the only horses aged 10+ to win

The only five year old winner was Pragada in 1988

The Haydock, Cheltenham and Leopardstown qualifiers have been responsible for seven of the last ten winners

Pertemps Final Form Preview

Although this is wide open, there are a couple of very short priced horses at the top of the market in the shape of Sam Winner and Shutthefrontdoor. Connections of both are hugely respected, though Paul Nicholls has yet to win this race from eight runners in the last fifteen years, and one of them – Alfie Sherrin – went off 11/4 favourite! Jonjo on the other hand – who now trains Alfie Sherrin – has won it twice in the past decade.

Sam Winner was a precocious juvenile, being good enough to run fourth in the Triumph Hurdle behind none other than Zarkandar, having been given a lot to do. Of course, that’s old news but it does at least show he handles the track and it may also imply he’s very nicely weighted, give that Zarkandar is now rated 167, and the second and third are rated 155 and 166. Sam Winner has a rating of just 140!

An abortive chasing career was abandoned after two falls in two starts, and he then had a year off the track before returning in December 2012 with an encouraging fifth of twelve in a good Sandown handicap. In his only start since, he won a jumper’s bumper, and it’s certain that the stable has been holding off running him in case they buggered up his handicap mark. Although he may not be as battled hardened as some of these, he’s got oodles of class, and a gimme weight. He has an obvious chance, but is very short.

Shutthefrontdoor comes from very highly regarded connections and is hard to quantify. He’s won all bar one of his seven races (I was there the day he lost at Folkestone!), but he rarely wins by much, meaning the handicapper can’t do anything with him. He’s a novice with just four hurdle starts and that’s less than any of the last fourteen winners.  With a rating of 146 and a weight of 11-06, I don’t think he can overcome inexperience, no matter how much he’s liked at home. On that basis, I’m happy enough to be wrong if he’s good enough to prove me wrong.

So which of the field match the winner’s profile and look to be favoured by conditions? My metaphorical notebook has the following names scribbled in it: Action Master, Stonemaster, and Jetson.

Action Master won the qualifier here back  in October, and has since been nicely ‘managed’ with two runs in handicap chases to keep him fit without impacting his hurdles rating. He’s trained by the shrewd Dessie Hughes, obviously goes on the track, and loves a decent pace in big fields. But he’s probably a bit better on quicker ground, and that’s enough for me to look elsewhere this time.

Stonemaster and Jetson are the interesting pair. Both ran in the Leopardstown qualifier last time, finishing third and sixth respectively. Stonemaster was more prominent throughout, and he should make a bold bid here in a race which might just stretch his stamina to breaking point. If he gets the trip all right, after a running on sixth in last year’s Coral Cup, he’ll run well.

As for Jetson, well, his run the last day in that qualifier has to be seen to be believed. It’s a blatant non-trier job: eleventh turning in (and still on the bridle), he was steadied almost to a walk at the last flight, before staying on to be sixth of thirty, beaten ten lengths. He won that race last year, and is now rated 135 in his bid to add the Final this year to the Qualifier last.

Jetson loves big fields, loves soft ground (but acts perfectly well on good), has a viable rating, and bags of experience. He should run a cracker.

Pertemps Final Tips

Most likely (Sam) Winner: Sam Winner
Best each way value plays: Jetson, Stonemaster

Cheltenham Festival Day Three Pack

Your #1 geegeez Cheltenham Pack

Your #1 geegeez Cheltenham Pack

It's day three of the Festival, and that means the World Hurdle plus the Ryanair Chase, as well as the Jewson and some fiendish handicaps!

Here's what's on geegeez for you today.

Cheltenham Festival LIVE BLOG!

Yes, folks! Back by popular demand, I'll be live blogging this afternoon for Day Three of the Festival. Your company is requested - and to some degree, required (as it'll be no fun on my own!) - for the seven races kicking off at 1.30pm.

One slight caveat is that my train from Gloucester doesn't get to Paddington until 1237, and I've to get across to Geegeez Towers for 1.30pm!

So, do bear with me if we're a few minutes late starting. Transport in London has a habit of frustrating...

The live blog will be happening here...

Competition Day Three

A single person each managed to pick the three big winners yesterday: Medinas, Flaxen Flare and Briar Hill, and they lead the charge. But there is still plenty of opportunity to get a big-priced score on the board.

Pick three horses running at Cheltenham today, and enter them in the comments box here, along with your BetVictor username.

Cheltenham Festival Tipping Competition is here.

More Bookie Offers

Various Sprinter Sacre specials will have beaten up bookies again yesterday, and there's a slightly muted look to the offers page today. However, we do still have plenty of five places action in the handicaps, and money back if second to the favourite with a couple of firms. If you like a horse but are worried about the likes of Dynaste, Sam Winner or Ballynagour, that's a nice insurance policy.

Cheltenham Festival Day Three Bookie Offers are here.

Day Three Preview, Trends and Tips

A really frustrating day for me personally with three decent bets just failing to come off: Boston Bob, Meister Eckhart and Regal Encore. But there's plenty more to go at today, and my thoughts, some hard facts, plus a tip or three can be found here.

Cheltenham Day Three (Thursday) Preview, Trends and Tips are here.

The geegeez Cheltenham Festival One Stop Shop

Tying everything together for the Festival is this one little linkie.

Click here for all of geegeez' Cheltenham Festival coverage in one place.

Cheltenham Festival 2013: Day Two Preview/Tips

Cheltenham Festival Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2013: Day Two Preview

Day two (Wednesday) has good news and bad news for us. The good news is that there are still twenty races to go at. The bad news is that Day One is traditionally the easiest on which to find winners. Hmm, hope you had a decent start.

OK, no time for reflection, so let's push on with the first of the septet of Wednesday's fiendish equine sudoku's, the...

1.30 JOHN OAKSEY NATIONAL HUNT CHASE (Amateur Riders´

Novices´ Chase ) (CLASS 2) (5yo+) (4m)

Four miles. Amateur riders. Novice chasers. When deconstructing the ultimate safe wagering conveyance, it's Sprinter Sacre odds that you'd have any of that trio of conditions, let alone all three!

This is a stupid race, let's be clear about that from the outset. Even now they've made it a classier affair, you still see most of them fall over. Stupid. Hard luck punting stories are more abundant here than in a home for retired poker players. It's just stupid.

But... it does form the lead off leg for the placepot. And it has been won by the jolly old favourite for the past two years. So let's give it a lash.

National Hunt Chase Key Trends

Last two favourites won

8/11 finished 1-2 last time out

11/11 3+ chase starts

10/11 6-8yo

National Hunt Chase Form Preview

Back In Focus to win NH Chase?

Back In Focus to win NH Chase?

Back In Focus has had a great season so far, winning three novice chases, including a Grade 2 and a Grade 1 last time out. That's extremely strong form in this race. But the ground is a factor with him. He's done all his winning on soft or heavy, and when he came up against decent oppo on good turf at Aintree, he was stuffed senseless by Saint Are and most of the rest of the field. Lucky for him then, that it's on the soft side of good here.

Rival d'Estruval has been well backed for this, but I can't see it myself. He's been beating up mainly inferior rivals in the North and mostly on flat tracks. At the very least, he has to show he can win a Festival race on a seriously testing circuit, and the price doesn't allow for any wriggle room in that regard.

David Pipe's Buddy Bolero is filed firmly in the 'could be anything' dossier, and with all five of his runs to date having been on soft or heavy, his price acknowledges that he must have a great chance. Connections are obviously respected hugely,  and he ought to run very well if standing up, especially as his breeding lends credence to the notion that he's an out and out stayer.

Godsmejudge ran a blinder to be second in the Grade 3 Warwick staying handicap chase, but he was running on fumes at the death, and this is three furlongs further up a big hill in sticky ground. It's hard to crab a horse which has almost won over further than the vast majority of his rivals for being a doubtful stayer... but I do have a stamina niggle with him, after he showed his hand somewhat that day.

With five starts to his name, Godsmejudge is experienced, and he jumps pretty well in the main too. If he's not taken on for the lead early, and he stands up, he should still be involved at least until they turn for home. After that, the 'judge may well run out of juice.

Of the remainder, I'm far from confident that Tofino Bay will stay this far; Highland Lodge looks a really hard horse to catch right and is maybe a bleeder (previously nominated by me for the RSA, alas); and Hawkes Point could plod on into a place.

National Hunt Chase Tips

Not a race to get seriously involved with, unless you're currently very rich and don't mind being only quite rich by day's end. The Mullins runner obviously has the class if he can put in a clear round, and Buddy Bolero may be best of the rest.

Best value for National Hunt Chase: Back In Focus
Other likely contenders: Buddy Bolero
Longshot if on a going day: Highland Lodge

Betfred will give you the place part of your e/w bet back as a free bet if your horse finishes fourth here.

2.05 NEPTUNE INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT NOVICES´ HURDLE (Registered Baring Bingham Novices´ Hurdle) Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (2m5f)

A small field this year, with just ten slated to meet the starter, and a warm favourite in Pont Alexadre. He's very well regarded at home, so is it really a one horse race?

Neptune Novices' Hurdle Key Stats

14/15 were aged five or six

12/15 won last time (15/15 1-2-3 last time)

14/15 unrated or rated 138+

14/15 ran 16-60 days ago

Neptune Novices' Hurdle Form Preview

Pont Alexandre bidding to make Willie's day

Pont Alexandre bidding to make Willie's day

Pont Alexandre has a perfect profile for this, and comes from the extremely powerful Willie Mullins yard. He is three from three over hurdles, a hat-trick which includes a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 score. Clearly, there's a bundle of improvement possible.

But... he's a 6/4 shot, and his jumping has looked less than perfect so far. It's for that reason that I'm prepared to take him on at the price, despite his otherwise robust credentials.

The New One has been the apple of his trainer's eye for a while now, and he thinks this fellow might even be better than his Gold Cup winner, Imperial Commander. That's as maybe, but it's his credentials for this contest we're interested in, and they look good. He ran a fine race in the Champion bumper here on this day last year, and he again ran well here when just headed by At Fisher's Cross the last day.

Lest you think he's not quite good enough on these slopes, let me assure you that he's won twice here as well, in a Listed bumper and a decent novice hurdle. The ground will be no issue as it's what he's raced on for the most part this season, and his current form level puts him right in the mix.

Moreover, it was widely held that his jockey went too soon that day, and he's likely to be played later here, if he's still pitching with prospects.

Taquin de Seuil is the third musketeer at the top of the market, and he's an ex-flat racer from France. This contest is almost always won by a National Hunt type - that is, a more stoutly bred horse - and that's a negative for TdS. However, a four race hurdle career which has only one - small margin - defeat, and that to My Tent Or Yours, reads well enough.

He ought to be fine on the ground too, and ran on very nicely in a Grade 1 last time despite a novice'y leap at the last. He's clearly got a chance, but I just have a niggle about his flat breeding (by a ten furlong horse out of a miler) for such a stiff stamina examination.

Rule The World was something of a shock winner last time, but he was a facile one too and, though the form is suspect with long odds on Champagne Fever (winner of the Supreme Novices Hurdle on day one) running a clunker, it's hard to discredit the winner. His form profile looks quite solid too, with progression from race to race, and Minsk - a well beaten second last time - is a decent enough form stick.

With the turf not too distance a relation to the hock-deep quags he's been swimming though, and being that he's by a sire whose progeny have a marked preference for making a mark in the turf, Sulamani, he's sure to cope with the conditions. Whether he's good enough remains to be seen, but he should travel for a long way.

Chatterbox is the sort of 'now' horse which can do well in these type of events. Evidently not highly rated by his trainer when sent to contest a Huntingdon bumper in April last year, he was never in front until the line. Since then, he's won twice more and remains unbeaten.

The first of those two victories was eye-catching, because he beat none other than My Tent Or Yours by nearly five lengths. Now it's highly likely that the bare form flatters Chatterbox - a flatterbox, if you will - but nevertheless, you need to be good to even nick a race off My Tent.

He has since confirmed his upward form curve by beating the highly regarded Lac Fontana in a race which looks like it's going to work out well. Charlie Morlock, assistant trainer at Hendo's yard, reported that Chatterbox has improved a fair bit recently and, allied to a step up in trip - which looks ideal based on the way he's finished his races - this fellow could get on the podium.

Two Rockers is progressive and has been winning easily, including in Grade 2 company at Haydock last time, and he might get into it if not getting outpaced, but I doubt it.

I don't see the rest being quite good enough.

Neptune Novices' Hurdle Tips

Most Likely Winner: Pont Alexandre
Best Alternative: The New One (if not bitten by the bug at Twiston-Davies' yard)
Interesting at a price: Chatterbox

2.40  RSA CHASE (Grade 1) (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (3m 1/2f)

A decent race for me down the years, and I've a couple of strong-ish views again, which I've supported financially, natch! You definitely want a horse that stays here, and a grinder too, as they go at it from a long way out.

RSA Chase Key Stats

Last ten won or placed in a Grade 1 or 2 chase

14 of the last 15 finished first or second last time out

It's fifty years since a horse won this without a run in the same calendar year (!)

Your first 30 days for just £1

All of the last fifteen winners ran between 16 and 60 days prior

Every Feltham winner to run here has been beaten.

RSA Chase Form Preview

So it looks like a recent run and a good one at that, allied to a proven level of class, are pre-requisites here. Despite that sounding obvious, not all of the entries fit that fairly broad bill.

Dynaste, for instance, hasn't run since Boxing Day last year. He won the Feltham there too, which is a completely contrasting race to this, with speed favoured over guts and grinding. He's surely better suited to the Jewson, which is where he's headed.

Boston Bob is next in the betting and this boy is a classy plodder: just the attributes you need to win an RSA Chase. Last year, he was many people's 'banker' (if such a thing even exists), but got beaten by the late Brindisi Breeze. Since he's gone chasing, he's two from two, the latter in a Grade 1 which has been a very good trial for this.

But, despite winning both chase starts, he was all out and seriously laboured each time. The first day, he scrambled home by half a length from an above average (though nothing special) type called You Must Know Me, over two and a half miles.

Entitled to come on a lot for that - indeed, entitled to feel that race afterwards - Bob didn't surface again until 9th February, where he again got home by the skin of his teeth. But this time, the performance should be marked up considerably on the bare winning distances. He was outpaced as the field made a break for the line, and looked set to trail home in fourth place. In fact, he traded as high as 620 in running on Betfair!

But, in an impressive rally, Boston Bob made up five lengths from the last fence to nut Texas Jack on the line. Like I say, the bare form isn't good enough to win an RSA. But I expect him to improve considerably for the extra three furlongs here, perhaps by as much as seven to ten pounds. After all, he's only had the two chase starts to date.

My one concern with Boston Bob is that he does get outpaced in his races but, if he can hang on to the flailing tails of the leaders just before the home turn, he'll quite probably catch them and pass them up the hill.

Unioniste is also well fancied in the market, but he's not well fancied by me. Firstly, he's a five year old, and the allowances have long since stopped being dolled out from the days when Star de Mohaison won for that age group back in 2006. That day, Star got ten pounds from his rivals. Here, Unioniste will get just two pounds.

More telling than that, though, is that I'm just not sure he'll stay. Yes, he won the December Gold Cup well enough over two miles five here at Cheltenham, becoming the first four year old to win a handicap chase at Cheltenham in the process. But it's an extra half mile, give or take 100 yards here, and he was flat-out-all-out to hold the bungling Hadrian's Approach at Newbury. For me, he's far too short and I can see him possibly missing the frame here.

That rival, Hadrian's Approach, has a really tasty profile for the RSA. He's had four goes at chasing: a winner from the useful The Druids Nephew on debut, he then fell four out when going well behind the useful Harry Topper in a Grade 2.

After that, he went to the Feltham where he was no match for Dynaste, but he was the clear second best that day. If the Feltham winner struggles in the RSA, it's interesting that those who laboured behind the trailblazer there have gone on to win SIX RSA Chases, and three in the last eight years. Bobs Worth last year was the latest to achieve that.

And on his most recent start, Hadrian's Approach was beaten just a short head by Unioniste over Newbury's three miles. He absolutely horlicksed the second last and, but for that shuddering mistake, would surely have won by three lengths and been close to favouritism for this subsequently. I feel strongly that Hadrian's will finish his RSA race better than Unioniste, and I think he's the biggest danger to Boston Bob.

I really like this horse and, if his jumping holds up, he's got to go close.

RSA Chase Tips

Most Likely Winner: Boston Bob
Best Each Way: Hadrian's Approach

3.20 SPORTINGBET QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m)

Likely to be a coronation procession this year, Sprinter Sacre looks unopposable. He's still only a second season chaser so has yet to claim a Champion Chase. Surely that will no longer be the case by 3.30pm on Wednesday.

Queen Mother Champion Chase Key Stats

13/15 had previously won at Cheltenham

13/15 finished 1-2-3 last time out

Queen Mother Champion Chase Form Preview

Sprinter Sacre has strong Champion Chase claims

Sprinter Sacre looks a lock

There's little point going into too much detail here. Sprinter Sacre will win and some other horses will finish second and third, presumably at a very respectful distance. Actually, there's only seven runners and therefore two places, so that rather buggers up things for place players... unless some very generous bookie type offers three places in an act of benevolence bordering on business suicide.

In truth, it's bar a fall stuff, and if Coral are still offering their £20 at evens on Sprinter Sacre, you should gladly accept. It's not money in the bank, but if he jumps round, the 100% interest rate is as close to that as you get in equine investment terms.

For the places,it's quite tricky to envisage Sizing Europe being more competitive this time aged eleven than he was last year aged ten, and against a far better horse.

We're then into the realms of 16/1 Mail de Bievre, a French import who looks capable on his best form, and might well make the frame if he doesn't bounce (only one starts since September 2011).

It's 20/1 the rest, and perhaps 25/1 Somersby is the place answer. This chap has good form at Cheltenham: he was third in the 2009 Supreme; second in the 2010 Arkle; fifth in the 2011 Champion Chase; and a non-staying seventh in the 2012 Ryanair Chase.

I'd rather cheer my even twenty quid on Sprinter Sacre than bet anything else, but Somersby could nick the place payout at a price which rewards taking the chance.

Queen Mother Champion Chase Tips

Most Likely Winner: Erm... Sprinter Sacre
Best Each Way: Somersby

Best Queen Mother Champion Chase Bookie Offer

Sprinter Sacre at even money? Really?! Yes! (£20 max stake)

 

4.00 Coral Cup Grade 3 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (2m5f)

A trappy but not impossible handicap hurdle over an intermediate distance, and the market has generally had at least some view on the race with nine of the last ten winners being 16/1 or shorter.

Coral Cup Key Stats

11/12 Carried 11-02 or less

7/15 won last time out (12/15 top six last time)

14/15 aged five to eight years

14/15 Rated 127-142

Only two horses from 180 to try won this within 30 days of their last race.

Thirteen horses from 202 to try won this off a break of between 31 and 120 days.

Coral Cup Form Preview

The two I like are Barbatos and Meister Eckhart, both as big priced speculatives in a wide open race where they bet 7/1 the field.

Meister Eckhart is my first choice, and Alan King’s five year old was a smart novice last year that is well regarded by his handler.

A winner of only one of his quartet of hurdles runs, he been second and third in Grade 2 races, and a respectable fifth in the Albert Bartlett here last March.

His stamina ran out over those three miles, so this drop back might be ideal. Being lightly raced, he has scope to improve and this is a race which has favoured unexposed second season hurdlers in recent times (six of the last eight winners). A general 16/1 looks good.

Barbatos is worth a second glance. He's only run once this season, behind Mr Watson, on ground he would have hated and after a year off. Last season, he was a very nice novice, finishing second and third in Grade 2 races at around this trip behind Fingal Bay. He finished that season with a course and distance win on good to soft, and I'd expect him to be spot on for this, though he may not want it super-sticky underfoot.

Dangers are everywhere. Trying to name all of them is a fool's task, but key amongst them may be Pendra, and Mr Watson.

Pendra is very lightly raced, and highly regarded by the Charlie Longsdon team. In four starts, he's won three and was second to the very good Melodic Rendezvous in a Grade 1 at Sandown most recently. Although unlikely to have beaten much (or indeed anything) in two Plumpton novices, the Grade 1 form looks rock solid with all three of the horses to have come out of the race (winner, fifth and seventh) winning their subsequent starts.

Pendra quickened up smartly there and just got outspeeded by the winner. The pair pulled seven lengths clear of the rest, and the way Pendra jumped the last - quick and athletic - suggests he'll stay at least some of the extra trip of the Coral Cup.

Mr Watson absolutely bolted up at Cheltenham last time, and I for one was surprised with the facile nature of that win. He'd been allotted a mark of 127 there, and now has 139. He'll probably need to improve another seven pounds to win here, and that's certainly possible. Before his two race winning run (which has coincided with the application of a hood - he wears it again here), he was beaten by Melodic Rendezvous, and the margin of defeat there was similar to Pendra's, which implies Mr Watson might have a similar chance to the favourite at a slightly bigger price.

Coral Cup Tips

Clearly, luck in running as well as being favoured by race conditions and having a workable handicap mark are all required to get to the jamstick in front here. That's an unfathomable combination to crack, so it makes sense to side - small stakes - with horses at a price.

Decent Each Way play: Meister Eckhart
Other possible each way plays: Barbatos, Mr Watson

Most firms are going five places here. Click here to check who is and who isn't.

4.40 FRED WINTER JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE GRADE 3 (CLASS 1) (4yo) (2m 1/2f)

One of the new races, the Fred Winter is growing in class but remains a very trappy puzzle, largely because of the ability lights being hidden under handicap mark bushels. Or, to put it another way, trainers trying to get their horses well handicapped!

Fred Winter Key Trends

7/8 winners had run twice since January 1st

5/8 winners won last time out (+29.50 to level stakes)

7/8 winners had run within 30 days

8/8 winners made British/Irish debut after 30th November

7/8 winners failed to win until at least their third run

Fred Winter Form Preview

This, like the novices handicap chase on the first day, is a plotters' race. Those who show their ability to the handicapper too early get whacked with an uncompetitive weight, and the winner of this race usually improves about ten pounds on what they've previously achieved (publicly). There's also a really interesting trend towards the best flat rated horse running very well.

Only one winner was rated higher than 130, and I'll use that as a ceiling here, with those capable of that (and more) but rated much lower my focus.

Last time out winners have also performed extremely well, and using the key trends above my shortlist is Saphir Du Rheu, Ptit Zig, Another Sensation, Habesh, and Ibsen.

Let's start with the Nicholls pair. Saphir Du Rheu and Ptit Zig have similar profiles, both having been acquired from France, and both having had just the one run this year. Saphir Du Rheu was impressive when slamming God Of The Kop, while Ptit Zig put the useful bumper horse, New Years Eve in his place.

The form of neither race has worked out so far however, with Ptit Zig's contest seeing twelve horses race since, none win and only two place. Saphir's race can at least boast one winner from the ten subsequent runners.

Another Sensation is a really interesting one. Apparently working very well, his form is nothing to speak of. But... he was only about four lengths down and closing when unseating at the last at Sandown last time, having been a good ten lengths back at the second last. That burst of speed marks him up as a contender here, if his jumping holds up.

Habesh would have been seriously interesting on decent ground. A winner of a heavy ground juvenile hurdle on his third start last September, he's not been seen since in National Hunt circles. But he has had two runs on the flat at Dundalk and improved nicely from the first to the second of those. His trainer is adamant that he's way better on good ground and it looks like the plot might have come unstuck with the rain. Nevertheless, he's a better chance than his price implies.

And lastly, my eye is drawn to a horse rated in the 50's on the flat, Ibsen. Yes, I appreciate that might sound daft, but Mysilv was only rated 63 on the flat and she was able to win a Triumph, so it is possible. Anyway, this fellow was a late developer, not winning until his seventh flat start, and that in a field of sixteen. He proved that was no fluke by doubling up next time in higher class, and a field of nine.

But I suspect he needs a strong pace to go at, as his previous best performance had been when fifth of 23. In three runs over hurdles, he's yet to win. But he's also yet to be lower than second, and I'm pretty sure he'll be sticking on up the hill like a good'un, especially if they go fast early.

Obviously, not many of these picks are sexy top stables, which means the prices should hold. And of course, there's a chance they all run clunkers and my plot theory unravels. But, in a wide open race, I'd rather take a punt on a price than row in with a shortie, whichever beast history may record as the winner.

Fred Winter Tips

Clearly, not a straightforward race to handicap. I've elected to ignore the top ones, as history has shown that they have a heck of a lot to do here. And, in any case, if they were that good, they'd be running in the Triumph Hurdle, and not the consolation race.

Thereafter, it's a plotplotplot for me please.

Most interesting towards the top of the market: Another Sensation
Possible Irish jobs, and worthy of each way tickling: Habesh, Ibsen

5.15 WEATHERBYS CHAMPION BUMPER Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4-6yo) (2m 1/2f)

Always a good test of raw horses, and very tricky to find a winner from so many unexposed 'could be anything' beasts generally.

Weatherbys Champion Bumper Key Stats

Big field experience seems crucial. Champagne Fever became the first horse not to have previously won a bumper with at least thirteen runners. And he was second in one!

The last nine winners all won last time out, and thirteen of the last fifteen did too.

11/15 won by five year olds, with three won by six year olds and the 4yo Cue Card completing the last fifteen years.

11/15 won by the Irish (six for Willie Mullins)

Weatherbys Champion Bumper Form Preview

Sheesh, where do we start here? It's a race where every horse could be nice in future, and it's not a race in which I'll be betting, truth be told. If you must have a bet, then here are some thoughts, for what they're worth.

The obvious place to start is with Willie Mullins, given that he's won six of the last fifteen runnings. Of his trio of entries, Union Dues might be the pick, but all of them have been running in small fields and this is a different story.

Golantilla is the highest rated on official figures, and he has won both a point-to-point and his bumper in easy fashion. He was 'expected' when winning at Cork the last day, and has since changed hands for a bundle of cash. Sure to be a lovely chaser in due course, the form of the bumper hasn't worked out yet, though it's not the fault of the thirteen length victor.

Regal Encore is trained by Anthony Honeyball, who trains a horse for the geegeez syndicate, and I'd absolutely love it (in Kevin Keegan parlance) if this fellow - snapped up by JP McManus - could give Anthony a maiden Festival winner. Certainly, he's murdered all-comers in his two runs to date, the latter an eight length battering of Be Bop Boru at Chepstow.

That win was every bit as impressive as Golantilla's, and that's why he's second top rated, a pound behind the Irish horse. It's a race which has worked out well too, with the second and sixth winning three races between them, and the third, fourth and fifth all making the frame since.

Le Vent d'Antan ran green as grass on debut, but was still six lengths too good for the rest, and he's another lovely big chaser-in-the-making (apologies for the cliche, I've used hyphens to accentuate the point!). But he took his time to pick up there, and the five horses to come out of the race have managed just one place between them.

Yes, it seems the pick of the form might be with Mr Honeyball's beast, and I'll be screaming the place down if that's clambering the hill with McCoy in full drive. Good luck, Anthony!

Weatherbys Champion Bumper Tips

Not a race to go mad in, but Regal Encore sets a good standard, and a layoff is no bad thing in this contest. Golantilla and Union Dues head the 'respected' category, but it's one of those races where whatever wins will make sense after the event, so don't go too mad here.

Best (and most wanted) each way selection: Regal Encore
Others with obvious chances: Golantilla, Union Dues

Plenty of firms offering four places on this race, so click here to check your bookie is!

And that brings us to half way. It will have been a challenging run so far, and very well done if you get to the half time oranges level or, heaven help you, in front. But there will be many more battles to come over the final two days, and geegeez will be right there with you. So stay tuned. And the very best of luck for your day two Wednesday wagers.

Matt

Cheltenham Festival Day Two Pack

Your #1 geegeez Cheltenham Pack

Your #1 geegeez Cheltenham Pack

It's day two of the Festival, and I really hope you're enjoying it so far. I am, despite a break even sort of Tuesday. (Actually I'm a very small amount down, but in the grand scheme that's ok!)

To Wednesday, and the beastly beauty that is Sprinter Sacre. He's an absolutely fantastic horse and if you ever get the chance to see him in the flesh, you'll know what I mean. Equine machine.

Here's what's on geegeez for you today.

Competition Day Two

No big leaders after day one, as both Golden Chieftain (28/1) and Randjhani Express (16/1) eluded everybody. That means the leader is on 6.63 points which is one modest priced winner in the context of the Cheltenham Festival. So, if you haven't entered already, you still can and there's £100 of bets up for grabs.

Pick three horses running at Cheltenham today, and enter them in the comments box here, along with your BetVictor username.

Cheltenham Festival Tipping Competition is here.

More Bookie Offers

Some of the bookmakers half killed themselves yesterday with offers around the Supreme Novices Hurdle and the Champion Hurdle. But there are still plenty prepared to offer no deposit free bets, extra places, refunds for seconditis sufferers, and a very innovative Sprinter Sacre handicap race!

Cheltenham Festival Day Two Bookie Offers are here.

Day Two Preview, Trends and Tips

After a modest day one - which is generally the case when the shorties win - and some frustration with Fruity O'Rooney, Kauto Shiny (100/1), and Colour Squadron all finishing fifth, we move on to day two.

And my thoughts, some hard facts, plus a tip or three can be found here.

Cheltenham Day Two (Wednesday) Preview, Trends and Tips are here.

Punting Confessional Cheltenham Special

Our man, Tony K, is back with another Punting Confessional, and he's honed in on the Cheltenham Festival this week.

You can read that here.

Tony's Cheltenham Punting Confessional is here.

The geegeez Cheltenham Festival One Stop Shop

Tying everything together for the Festival is this one little linkie.

Click here for all of geegeez' Cheltenham Festival coverage in one place.

Cheltenham Festival 2013: Day One Preview/Tips

Can Hurricane Fly regain the Champion Hurdle?

Can Hurricane Fly regain the Champion Hurdle?

Cheltenham Festival 2013: Day One Preview

It's here. It's finally here! Yes, race fans, Cheltenham Festival 2013 has arrived. And, at 13.30 on Tuesday afternoon, the roars from grandstand, pub and sofa will represent a huge collective exhalation after 361 days of holding our breath. Let it out. Let it all out. And now, let's bet!

Below are my Day One (Tuesday) thoughts.

1.30 WILLIAM HILL SUPREME NOVICES´ HURDLE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (2m 1/2f)

The first of twenty-seven races, and traditionally a cracker to raise the curtain on day one.

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Key Stats

13/15 won last time out

17/18 ran within ten weeks (70 days)

8/15 Irish-trained

1/31 horses rated above 142 in last fifteen years have won (highest, Cue Card, rated 159)

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Form Preview

The standout piece of form, and obvious starting point, is that of My Tent Or Yours' Betfair Hurdle win last time out. He sauntered clear there, to win by five lengths in the manner of a very high class animal.

The 'right' horses were close up there, implying that the form is very solid. Indeed, he gave seven pounds to the runner up, Cotton Mill, and he was in the betting for the Champion Hurdle (though now goes to the County Hurdle).

Quite simply, if he runs to that level of form - officially rated 162 - he WILL win. But. But... My Tent Or Yours has been beaten three times in his career already. Reasonable excuses could be made in each case, of course, but there can be no room for sick notes when pondering a 6/4 shot in the Supreme.

If you're not already on - I had a bit of 7/2 immediately after that Betfair romp - then you might be better advised to look for some each way value, especially as Skybet are offering four places and William Hill FIVE places. [Unless, of course you're using BetVictor's free bet if you lose offer].

Jezki leads the Irish challenge and, with the raiders having such a brilliant record in the race, he deserves a second glance. It's hard to crab the form of his three fairly easy wins in Ireland - two of them in Grade 1 contests - but I do have a few niggles.

Firstly, he's not run since Christmas, and that means he's bidding to defy the longest layoff since Captain Cee Bee won after four months off in 2008. Before him, you have to go back to Montelado in 1993 to find a winner which hadn't run in the same calendar year. (Cue Card was trying to overcome such a break when only fourth as 7/4 fav in 2011).

As well as the long absence, there is the fact that Jezki has also been beaten in both starts when there was a bigger field than twelve runners and, whilst that's too small a sample size to be conclusive, it suggests he might get bullied out of things in what will be a big turn out. For those reasons, as they say on Dragon's Den, I'm out.

Can My Tent Or Yours win the Supreme?

Can My Tent Or Yours win the Supreme?

Un Atout, Champagne Fever and Pique Sous are next in the Irish challenge, and all are trained by Willie Mullins. Un Atout could well be second favourite by tape rise, and this handsome son of Robin Des Champs is unbeaten in three starts outside of Graded company. All were on heavy ground and all were facile victories.

In fact, all three race comments from Racing Post conclude with the phrase "very easily". A Racing Post Rating for the last run of 153 is big (Jezki's best is 149), but he has yet to compete in this elevated company. More worrying perhaps, he has yet to race on quicker than heavy, though it is unlikely to be much less testing here.

He remains a horse of huge potential, and maybe he's the one to give My Tent Or Yours the most to think about. But he's short enough now, and again if you're not on already (I am, for interest money, at 16/1!), you may have missed the boat.

Pique Sous has run consistently well in nine races - five wins, a second and three thirds - but his best form is a stone shy of some of these, and he has far less scope to improve. He did run a cracker in the Champion Bumper last year, but even on that best piece of form, he has something to find with Champagne Fever. He is of mild interest if you're betting each way with William Hill, and their five places offer.

Champagne Fever is a horse I like a lot, and he's one which we know will go on any ground and we know will stay up the hill, because he did both in last year's Champion Bumper. His only really poor run was when stepped up to two and a half miles in heavy ground and, aside from that, he has lines of form to beat plenty of these.

Jezki beat him in a six runner race which would have played to that one's speed strengths. But Champagne Fever saw off that one - and Pique Sous - in the Cheltenham Bumper; and Melodic Rendezvous in the Punchestown Bumper. He'll try to make all, and will have plenty off the bridle turning for home.

Whether he's good enough to win is another matter, but under what ought to be optimal conditions, he's fair each way value.

The home defence is led by Dodging Bullets, Melodic Rendezvous and River Maigue. Dodging Bullets is one horse here which I find it hard to make a case for. I think he's been largely well placed, and well ridden, in small fields, and I believe his Christmas Hurdle rating flatters him.

Obviously, I might be wrong on that, and so be it. But on the balance of his form, I couldn't have him at the price. River Maigue was beaten a diminishing length and a half back in November and, in what will be a truer test of stamina, I'd be confident of him reversing placings this time around.

River Maigue was outsprinted last time, giving nine pounds to a younger (and very capable) rival in Far West, and he definitely needs a stiffer test like this will be.

Puffin Billy completes my ante-post portfolio on this race. I backed him at 12/1 and, after that defeat to Melodic Rendezvous, he was apparently lame. That news pushed his price out to 33/1, whereupon I had a 'just in case' fiver at 77.75 on Bet.fair, before support has moved him back in again.

If he was injured the last day, he ran pretty well. And if he is back to peak fitness, he's still over-priced.

I can't see anything else winning, though a quick word for the unraced over hurdles, Flying Cross. This nag is trained by David Pipe and is good enough to have a flat rating of 111. That rating was earned when a staying on third in the Irish St Leger, a Group 1, in soft ground. He's been off for almost two years and has never publicly jumped a hurdle, but given the ground, he could outclass many of these and maybe - only maybe - nab fourth or fifth at a monster price. Again, Skybet or William Hill with the deeper place markets are the places to go if that's a compelling enough case for you! (Caveat emptor, naturally).

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Tips

Most likely Supreme Novices' winner: My Tent Or Yours
Best each way: Champagne Fever
Other to consider: Puffin Billy
Monster outsider who might burgle a place: Flying Cross

Best Supreme Novices' Hurdle Bookmaker Offers

BetVictor will refund all losing bets on the race, up to £50.

Racebets will refund your day of race wagers on this race if My Tent Or Yours wins! And if you're a new customer, and enter 'geegeez' into the My Account > Bonus code box, they'll give you a completely free £10 bet. (Terms apply).

 

William Hill are offering FIVE places (quarter the odds) on this race, and they'll match you for £50.

William Hill Sports

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2.05 RACING POST ARKLE CHALLENGE TROPHY CHASE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m)

We step onto the chase course for the first time, and it's the speedy young guns to the fore in the Arkle Challenge Trophy. Hold on to your hats!

Arkle Trophy Key Stats

Last 23 winners were aged five to eight years (20 of them 5, 6 or 7)

Eight of last ten winners had either won at Cheltenham before, or been placed at the Festival

15/15 11/1 or shorter

Arkle Trophy Form Preview

Simonsig - going for a 2nd Cheltenham Festival win

Simonsig going for a 2nd Festival win in Arkle

The Arkle is a thrilling two mile chase contested by the fastest novice chasers around. Because they are inexperienced horses, spills can occur as well as thrills, and it's a brave man who gets stuck in at very short odds. Of the five horses sent off 2/1 or shorter in the last fifteen years, only Azertyuiop and Sprinter Sacre were good enough on the day to win. They were priced at 5/4 and 8/11 respectively.

This year sees another odds on shot line up in the formidable frame of Simonsig. Now, whilst he's no Sprinter Sacre (which horse is?), he's clearly a very talented animal, as seven wins from eight rules runs testifies.

He's only had the two chases and the merit of those can be questioned, as a) only five other horses have finished in those races (and only eight lined up), and b) they've collectively managed to win just one subsequent race.

On the bright side, Simonsig was a very classy hurdler, rated 157 when winning at Aintree, having already won the Neptune at the Festival last year. Former classy hurdlers do have an exceptional record in the Arkle, and clearly the favourite owes his price to his finesse over the smaller obstacles.

On the downside, he's not run since late December, and his trainer has been consistently frustrated by the weather when trying to get a run and/or a racecourse gallop into him. He will be fit, but will he be race fit? Odds on leaves very little margin for error.

The second favourite and, to many people, the only (or at least the chief) threat is Overturn, a nine-year-old trained by Donald McCain. The last horse his age to win this race was Danish Flight back in 1988. True, only three short priced horses of that age have run in the last fifteen years, but 5/2 Captain Cee Bee (8th), 7/1 Adamant Approach (fell), and 9/2 Barton (7th) give little cause for optimism.

In fact, only 10/1 Nipper Reed in 1999 was good enough to make the frame, from twelve older horses to try during that decade and a half period.

Overturn did run second in the Champion Hurdle last year, but there was a feeling that he stole a march on all bar Rock On Ruby - at least, I have that feeling - and he'll be trying to steal a march again this year. His hurdle rating nevertheless is a whopping 164, but again, his chase form leaves much to the imagination.

Specifically, he's competed in three four runner chases, and beaten little, with the exception of a 'not off' (going for a novices' handicap chase) Tetlami the last day.

That form is reasonable, with the latter having won since against some fair types, but he (Tetlami) definitely improved from the Overturn run to his Huntingdon win.

He's an out and out front-runner, and will bid to get out and stay out on a testing track. The first part of that bid looks a certainty. Whether he can stay out is a much tougher question to answer.

If there is another challenger in the race, then it is the horse which has shown most already over fences, Arvika Ligeonniere. This fellow has already won two Grade 1's in Ireland, and had a penalty kick for the hat-trick last time before taking a soft fall.

'Only' rated 140 over hurdles, he's a fair bit to find with the first two in the betting on that score, but he does have more experience over fences than that pair, and he will undoubtedly stay every yard of the trip. Actually, the main problem with him is that there's a good chance this triple two-and-a-half mile winner will be outpaced, perhaps badly outpaced.

He will be staying on up the hill - as he was when fourth in the 2010 potato race (Albert Bartlett) - but the front pair could be away and gone.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Nevertheless, something has to finish third, and he's by far the most obvious choice.

Arkle Trophy Tips

It's a really shallow race and there's not much to go at from a betting perspective. The most likely winner is Simonsig, but he's been off a long time. The next most likely winner is Overturn, but he's quite old and will have to make all, which is not easy round here.

And then there's Arvika Ligeonniere, who looks a fair each way bet to nothing.

Most likely Arkle winner: Simonsig
Next Best: Overturn
Best each way
: Arvika Ligeonniere
Others to consider: none especially

Best Arkle Chase Bookmaker Offer

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2.40 JLT SPECIALTY HANDICAP CHASE GRADE 3 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (3m 1/2f)

Race three, and the first of the handicaps. If the two shorties have obliged in the first two races, then this contest offers some respite for the bookies. It also offers punters a chance to make a big score and almost guarantee a profit from day one. Would that it was as easy as that!

JLT Handicap Chase Key Stats

Last 13 winners rated 143 or below

Last 14 winners aged 7-10

6/15 won last time out (10/15 1-2-3 last time out)

12/15 carried 10-12 or less (14/15 11-02 or less)

7/15 placed at Festival before

JLT Handicap Chase Form Preview

Although with most Festival handicaps, we're ideally looking for a horse with scope to post a new ratings high, the Festival Handicap Chase tends to be won by a horse with a good recent record, a nice weight and previous Cheltenham form (nine of the last fifteen winners had run at least three times at the track, and eleven at least once).

I'll use the historical bar to exclude any horse rated 143+, which takes out a few of the fancied horses, notably the favourite, Our Mick.

With the defection of my ante-post fancy, Duke Of Lucca, due to the ground, the first horse of interest is Fruity O’Rooney, who ran a cracker last year to claim silver off a notch of 140. This time he's one pound less to carry and a mark of 139. As a ten year old, he is the same age as recent winners, Chief Dan George and Joes Edge.

Clearly needing his seasonal debut this term, he improved considerably to finish a fair seventh of 19 in the Hennessy at Newbury. Since then, two placed efforts in similar class handicap chases at a respectful distance behind Katenko should have put him spot on for another crack at this pot.

If he can get maintain a prominent position in the early skirmishes, Fruity should give us a bold run for our money.

The Package has finished second and fourth in the last two renewals of the race, and has plenty of other track form. He was only beaten seven lengths last year off 139, but is now rated 146 which, with its commensurate weight-carrying requirement, looks likely to hold him.

Conversely, when Alfie Sherrin won this last year, he was off 129, and now has 135, which may not be enough to prevent another brave attempt. His main target this season is likely to be the Grand National however, and although Sunnyhillboy almost won the National having won here for the same connections last year, it's a rare feat and I'd bet against him being 100% tuned up for this. In any case, his best form is on quicker ground.

Merry King is a very interesting horse in this race. I was pretty sure he'd go for the National Hunt Chase, but now re-routed, he might run a big race. Sure, he's only six and they don't generally win the JLT, but he's got bags of stamina and comes from highly respected connections.

JLT Handicap Chase Tips

Super competitive, as almost all of the Festival handicaps are, and I'll be taking a couple against the field, mainly in hope rather than expectation.

Best each way value for JLT Handicap Chase winner: Fruity O'Rooney
Others to consider: Alfie Sherrin, Merry King

Best JLT Handicap Chase Bookmaker Offer

FIVE places with bet365, BetVictor, BetFred, Bluesq, Boylesport, SkyBet and totesport.

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3.20 STAN JAMES CHAMPION HURDLE CHALLENGE TROPHY GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (2m 1/2f)

The highlight of day one, the Champion Hurdle, is one of THE great races in the year. The first single figure field for 33 years will tussle to win the Blue Riband of hurdling, and the last three winners - Rock On Ruby, Hurricane Fly, and Binocular - represent an imposing bar for the remainder. They're joined by pretenders such as Zarkandar, Cinders And Ashes and Countrywide Flame in a race which more than makes up for in quality what it lacks in quantity.

Champion Hurdle Key Stats

24 of the last 30 winners won last time out

All of the last 15 winners were placed 1-2-3 last time out

17 of the last 20 winners were aged 6-8

Champion Hurdle Form Preview

This is a really tricky race to assess, due to the prevailing soft and heavy ground all winter; the unsatisfactorily slow gallops in the trials; and, the fact that three previous Champion Hurdle winners lock horns. Nevertheless, we still need to take a view!

Let's start with the ante-post favourite since last March, Hurricane Fly, a horse which has been surprisingly weak in the betting in recent days. He won this in 2011 and was third last year when he was given a fair amount of ground to make up. He closed up well before the turn in but couldn't make up the remaining ground up the hill.

There are plenty who are prepared to forgive that, as they claim that the Mullins stable was under a cloud at the time, and the horse didn't look himself before the race. Possible, for sure.

Rock On Ruby: going for a repeat Champion Hurdle in 2013

Rock On Ruby: repeat Champion Hurdle in 2013?

But I take the view that - as a nine year old - the Fly's best days are likely behind him, and I'd be a bit surprised if he was able to regain the crown which slipped twelve months ago. Luckily for me, there are bookmakers who will refund losing bets if I'm wrong about that (thank you Paddy Power, see below), so there's little point in taking a chance on him in any case.

Zarkandar is next in, and it's far easier for me to make a case for him. Winner of a very well contested Triumph Hurdle in 2011, Zarkandar returned last year in the Champion Hurdle as a five year old. Historically, a very tricky age (physical immaturity/inexperience) at which to win the Champion, Zark ran with huge promise to be fifth, beaten only six and a three-quarter lengths.

He was staying on really well at the end there, and another fifty yards would have seen him collect the bronze medal. That, allied to the fact that I retain a suspicion that the front pair - Rock On Ruby and Overturn - stole a march on the rest, and the far quaggier underfoot this time, give him every chance in my book.

Since then, Zarkandar has won his three starts this term and done it in impressive fashion, including when readily seeing off Grandouet, and Khyber Kim. He's a much more experienced and physically mature specimen this time around, and I expect him to run a blinder.

The main danger to him may be his ex-stable mate - nominally at least - and now Harry Fry's flag bearer, Rock On Ruby. I say 'nominally' because officially Rock On Ruby was trained by Paul Nicholls last season. However, he was trained at Nicholls' then satellite yard in Seaborough, by... Harry Fry. Fry now trains out of Seaborough under his own name and, well, he's doing a fantastic job of it. Indeed, to date, he's recorded a level stakes profit of 59.46 units from his first 55 runners as a trainer! And, if you think that's good, since the turn of the year half of his 22 runners have won for a profit of 42.46 points!!!

Anyway, back to Rock On Ruby, and it's true he was given a brilliant ride by Noel Fehily to win last year. But there was little fluke about it: he was travelling well for longer than most and took ground out of a couple of the first five home in the last furlong. By the finish, he was almost four lengths better than the next best, and he's had a really good preparation since.

Third on unsuitably heavy ground behind Zarkandar in mid-December, he then waltzed away from Countrywide Flame at Doncaster last time. It has to be said that the fatal fall of Darlan there probably saved him from defeat, and that horse would have been favourite for this race if he'd not met such a horrific and untimely end.

If there's another horse in the race with the scope to improve into a Champion Hurdler, it is probably Cinders And Ashes rather than Countrywide Flame. The latter won the Triumph Hurdle and the former the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year, so both have an affinity with track and trip.

But Countrywide Flame is probably a little shy of Champion class, despite an extremely admirable battling attribute. Whilst he may prove me wrong, I'm sweeter on Cinders And Ashes chance.

There was a lot to like about the way C&A travelled when winning that race, off a fevered pace, and he was always holding Darlan, who finished best of the rest, just over a length behind. However, Cinders did walk through the last hurdle there and a repeat of that would make it very hard for him to go to the ball.

Since then, this season has been disappointing, ostensibly at least. A remote second to Countrywide Flame in the Fighting Fifth last December was put down to the heavy, heavy ground, as was a laboured fifth in the Christmas Hurdle on similarly sodden turf 25 days later.

Cinders And Ashes hasn't been seen since, but is alleged to have worked very well in a recent racecourse gallop at Bangor. I'm not a huge fan of horses coming to the Festival off extended breaks, but in the circumstances, another run on seriously deep ground could have finished him for the year.

He still doesn't have ideal ground conditions now, and looks set for a minor role (alas for another of my ante-post 16/1 vouchers.

Binocular is nine now, the same age as Hurricane Fly, and he too looks a bit on the long-toothed side to be taking the headlines here. Although he was a long way out of his ground in last year's Champion Hurdle, he was being closed down rapidly by Zarkandar, who had more to give there, and who will finish in front of him here.

Since then, Binocular was well beaten under tender handling in the Irish Champion Hurdle. He should have been second there, but wouldn't have challenged Hurricane Fly, who was a fitter rival on the day, and who holds a 3-0 head to head record.

Champion Hurdle Tips

As you can see, the form lines are fairly incestuous, and it's not that easy to take a view on who is most likely to come out in front this time. There are some reservations about what sort of pace there might be in the race, and it could become tactical. As such, we ought to look for a bit of value, and that's how I'll play.

Champion Hurdle best bet: Zarkandar (I backed him over the weekend with the 'money back if Fly wins' offer).

Champion Hurdle Best Bookie Offer

Paddy Power will refund all bets on the Champion Hurdle if Hurricane Fly wins. They'll also match new customers' first deposit up to £50 with a free bet.

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4.00 GLENFARCLAS HANDICAP CHASE (A Cross Country Chase) (CLASS 2) (5yo+) (3m7f)

A looooong race, and one for specialists. I covered this recently in my Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase preview, and haven't changed my mind since then.

In a nutshell, then, this is a specialists' race where weight is less important than experience.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Key Stats

7/8 winners have been Irish-trained (the one 'failure' was when A New Story failed by a head to win last year)

8/8 8-12yo

8/8 had experience of the cross country course

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Form Preview

Three horses vie for favouritism here: Arabella Boy, Outlaw Pete, and Uncle Junior. They're followed in close proximity in the market by Bostons Angel, Sizing Australia and Big Shu. But I don't make the race anywhere near as competitive as that! In fact, I reckon there are only four which can win, and only three which I think might win...

Last year's winner, Balthazar King, just clung on from the fourteen-year-old, A New Story, but is a late non-runner due to the soft ground. In my view, both of them benefited from the losses of Garde Champetre and Scotsirish, two classy horses who were almost certain to have played a hand in the finish.

He wasn't my idea of the winner, especially not on soft ground. Firstly, he hadn't run since mid-November and that had to be a concern. And secondly, he was beaten by the very slow Uncle Junior on that last run when he (Balthazar) was match fit. He'd had three months off prior to winning last year, so may go best fresh, but this is a long way to last out in the mud if you're only 98% ready. Anyway, he doesn't now go, so it's all immaterial.

The first of my trio of possibles is Outlaw Pete. He's really come to himself since trying cross country, and is a Festival virgin. Despite that, he's competed in both the course trials in November and December last year, finishing third on his first sight of the track and winning the other attempt by seven lengths from Bostons Angel (Uncle Junior and Arabella Boy both uncharacteristically unseated riders that day).

He's been kept on the boil since, with two runs in conventional handicap chases, where he's performed respectably, and I think he'll take a lot of beating on a course he now knows well enough. He looks nailed on for the frame, bar a fall or a 'wrong course' farce.

Arabella Boy is the latest off the Enda Bolger production line - Bolger's won this race four of the eight times it's been run - and as such is sure to have been extremely well drilled. The Boy has become something of a Punchestown cross country specialist, but unseated on his only attempt so far round Cheltenham's tied shoelace circuit. The ground has come right for him, as all his five career wins have been on soft or heavy going.

And the last one I'm drawn to is that old warhorse, A New Story. Yes, he's FIFTEEN years old. And what a story it would be if A New Story could win. If you think it's fanciful, then consider that he was beaten the length of a betting slip last year, and has a full record in this race of 34132. That's more impressive than any other runner, and though he could be regressive now, he's a big enough price to take a chance, off a similarly low profile build up to previous years.

Uncle Junior, Bostons Angel, and Sizing Australia are all too slow to win this; and Big Shu will be having only his second start outside of hunter chase/bumper fields, and his first sight of Cheltenham's track. That's enough for me to say 'no way'.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Tips

Arabella Boy will have everything to suit and looks the most likely winner, and at a fair price (around 5/1) as well. Outlaw Pete should also go very well. A New Story is a huge price and that - coupled with his race record - merits a throwaway investment.

Most likely Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase winner: Arabella Boy
Other strong contender: Outlaw Pete
Best each way bet: A New Story

Best Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Bookmaker Offer

If your horse is fifth, BetFred will refund the place part of each way bets as a free bet. (Not great, but better than nothing!)

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4.40 OLBG MARES´ HURDLE Grade 2 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (2m4f)

OLBG Mares' Hurdle Key Stats

Quevega has won this race for the last four years, and there have only been five renewals.

OLBG Mares' Hurdle Form Preview

Quevega - on a Mares' Hurdle five-timer

Quevega - on a Mares' Hurdle five-timer

This is a race which, from a win perspective, is extremely Quevega-centric. Willie Mullins' fragile mare has been raced ever-so-sparingly in recent seasons. Indeed, for the past three years, she's had two runs per season: here and in the Punchestown stayers' hurdle. And she's won both races. All three times!

She bids for an impressive five-timer in this race and is about ten pounds clear on ratings. Without unnecessarily complicating the issue, Quevega will win barring accidents. She's a fair price at just north of 1-2, in my opinion (if you like trading two's to get one's).

So, the battle is for the places, and that's a much more open affair. Last year, although Quevega put four lengths between herself and the rest in the bunch sprint that concluded that race, the next nine home were separated by just three lengths!

The mare I like most to follow Quevega home is the one that got closest to her last time, Kentford Grey Lady. I really like this lass. She's a smashing sort and travelling well off a strong pace with a testing run for home suits her best, as she showed at the Festival last year.

She also demonstrated it when winning at Sandown, and when third behind Reve de Sivola and Oscar Whisky last time. Her two defeats - RdS/OW aside - this season were in slowly run small field contests which I don't believe play to her strengths.

In a race which seems always to have more quantity than quality, she's a rare mare with talent in there. And her battling attribute means she's a pretty decent bet for the places.

Une Artiste has been super-consistent and, with hindsight, was a knockout price when winning the Fred Winter last year at 40/1. She's won six of her eight hurdle races, and only a fourth against the boys in the Adonis Hurdle and a refused to race blot her copybook. Given that she's generally a reliable proposition to start her races, I'd not be unduly concerned by the latter incident and she looks sure to go close again.

One (fairly) lively outsider is Kauto Shiny. Obviously, any horse called Kauto gets a second look around here, and this French import is a typical Tom George type. He has a satellite yard out in France (I think), and only really brings the ones he believes could be Cheltenham prospects over. Why else would you travel when the prize money is generally so moderate in Britain?!

Anyway, Kauto Shiny ran a lovely prep race on her first UK start, when third to Ma Filleule, giving that one five pounds. She was staying on there, and that's something which must aid her on the more testing Cleeve Hill course.

OLBG Mares' Hurdle Tips

So, somewhat unspectacularly, I expect the first three in the betting to be the first three home, though I think the short favourite will win and I think Kentford Grey Lady offers better place value than Une Artiste. Kauto Shiny looks interesting at a big price to make the frame.

Obvious win selection: Quevega
Best each way/forecast option: Kentford Grey Lady
Lively outsiders: Kauto Shiny

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5.15 REWARDS4RACING NOVICES´ HANDICAP CHASE (Listed Race) (CLASS 1) (5yo+ 0-140) (2m 4 1/2f)

Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase Key Stats

A fairly new race this, with just eight runnings so far.

8/8 finished first or second last time out.

7/8 beaten on first two chase starts

7/8 from top five in the betting

6/8 aged seven

Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase Form Preview

This is a plotters' paradise, with good horses improving on apparently moderate chase form prior to their third run, in general. Copper Bleu won from three pounds below his hurdle rating; Chapoturgeon within two pounds of his hurdle rating; and Finger Onthe Pulse from a whopping thirteen pounds below his hurdle figure;

Horses which look ahead of the handicapper based on hurdle ratings or form profile are Colour Squadron, Carlito Brigante, Ohio Gold, and Restless Harry.

Carlito Brigante has previously won the Coral Cup here, and also bagged a novice chase in October last year, proving his liking for good ground and this course. He's been rated 137 as opposed to a hurdles rating of 153 but, because he won't want conditions too sodden, he's off the shortlist.

Colour Squadron might just be better on this softer ground, and he definitely has a decent rating here, having been rated a few pounds higher over the smaller obstacles, and he's been pretty tenderly handled in his races so far, presumably with a big day like this in mind. I've backed him at 10/1 already (win only) but am not entirely sure his jumping will stand this test.

Ohio Gold is a maiden chaser, as was 2008 winner Finger Onthe Pulse, and comes from the wily and respected Tizzard connections. He's been third on all three chase runs to date, and will be fine whatever the going. He's generally run well in bigger fields and was only twelve lengths behind First Lieutenant in the 2011 Neptune.

Restless Harry is another with an outside chance, given a chase rating nine pounds lower than his hurdle mark. His winning has all been in single figure fields though, and he might just get crowded out of it here. If he doesn't, he's rated to run well on the sort of juicy turf he loves.

Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase Tips

This is a race which almost always goes to a plot horse.

Best win option: Colour Squadron
Each way at a price: Ohio Gold
Massive outsider with a squeak: Restless Harry

********

And that's Monday. However it goes for you, remember this is only day one of four. There is much still to go at, but there are some tempting prospects on this first afternoon of the spectacular 2013 Cheltenham Festival.

Cheltenham Festival Preview Night: London Racing Club

There was a packed house of 240 National Hunt racing fans squeezed into a large room in Kensington's Holiday Inn last night, to hear the views of an excellent panel of experts.

They were, from left to right, Phil Smith (PS), senior handicapper at the BHA, and arguably racing's most influential man (in betting terms at least); Kate Miller (KM), William Hill's glamorous and knowledgeable PR lass; Lee Mottershead (LM), senior writer at Racing Post, and former racing journalist of the year; Barry Faulkner, ATR presenter and chair for the night; Charlie Morlock (CM), assistant trainer to winning-most Festival trainer, Nicky Henderson; and, Declan Rix (DR), ATR writer, and keen Irish racing fan.

Phew! Good, eh?!

CheltenhamFestivalPreviewNight

The assembled wisdom was invited to work through the championship races; then the key novice events; and finally, 'the rest'. And this is what they had to say:

Champion Hurdle 2013

LM - A messy race with a small field and they might go no pace. Against Hurricane Fly. Zarkandar has the best chance.

KM - Rock On Ruby on good ground; Zarkandar on soft.

CM - Grandouet has had a bad prep; Binocular is very well and head lad, Corky Browne, has placed "a substantial bet" each way.

DR - Likes Hurricane Fly, but not at his current price. Expected to be around 5/2 or 11/4 on the day.

PS - It's a very good Champion Hurdle. Hurricane Fly is not a likely winner on the form of his Irish runs this year. Binocular is being asked to regain the Champion Hurdle fully three years after winning it, which would be unprecedented. Loves Zarkandar, especially on soft. Likes Rock On Ruby too, which he thinks should be favourite on what he's done (i.e. current Champion Hurdler).

Champion Chase 2013

CM - Sprinter Sacre very well, and CM is extremely confident he will show again how good he is. Finian's Rainbow less so. Just seems out of form and hard to recommend based on his current well-being.

PS - SS currently rated 179, but we have no idea how good he is. His rating is based on historical context. Hope he wins by a big distance from reliable form horse, Sizing Europe, with a big distance to the rest, so that he can get a 'proper' rating.

DR - Mail de Bievre and Somersby are interesting each way.

Ryanair Chase 2013

CM - Riverside Theatre had problems, but has had a racecourse gallop and is in good nick. They don't want rain for his chance

DR - First Lieutenant is his nap of the meeting. Backed at all rates from 12/1 down and is very confident of a big run

LM - This race looks like cutting up. First Lieutenant has a good chance, and Ghizao could outrun 33/1 odds

KM - Albertas Run interesting at 20/1 or so, despite his age.

PS - Questions whether First Lieutenant has the speed for the Ryanair after running so well in three mile races (Hennessy, Lexus). Cue Card is not good enough on historical averages (you need a 170 horse, and he's currently 165). Albertas Run interesting at a big price.

World Hurdle 2013

LM - not sure Oscar Whisky will stay but he's the likeliest winner all the same. The Reve de Sivola vibes have not been great, despite trainer assurances that all is well. Celestial Halo and Get Me Out Of Here interesting.

CM - Oscar Whisky probably doesn't truly stay but he might get away with it on decent ground. Smad Place interesting.

DR - Bog Warrior is ground dependant and Smad Place is interesting each way.

KM - No money for Grands Crus with William Hill for this. Like Smad Place each way too.

PS - High 160's needed to win this. The form of the Oscar Whisky/Reve de Sivola race is not good. Bog Warrior has a nice imrovement profile (150/157/162). Grands Crus galloped the other day and looked fit, healthy and definitely still has four legs!

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2013

KM - Bobs Worth most likely winner, but she loves Sir Des Champs

PS - 182 was the sort of rating to win a Gold Cup when Denman and Kauto Star were dominant. 168 won it last year! Looking to 177ish to win it this time. Silviniaco Conti is top-rated on 175, but this will be very different from the flat track races he's been contesting in small fields. Bobs Worth is the most likely winner. Long Run fascinating, though he has to perform to around 182 to offset the five pound claiming jockey he has (who cannot claim in this Grade 1). He's rated 172 now, but was 182 when winning this two years ago. Cape Tribulation an interesting each way bet, as he'll be closing all the way up the run in.

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CM - it's easy to get Bobs Worth fit, for instance his Hennessy win off an eight and a half month layoff. No issues with him, he's been in full training all year, and goes there with every chance. Long Run has his chance at a price.

DR - Sir Des Champs has been trained up to the race so you can ignore his early season form. Bobs Worth the one to beat. The Giant Bolster and Cape Tribulation might be of interest each way.

LM - Sir Des Champs on decent ground. Willie Mullins thinks he'll win. Captain Chris of interest each way.

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2013

PS - My Tent Or Yours is easily the most likely winner. There are three or four other possibles in a very high quality year. Jezki, Un Atout, or Dodging Bullets on ratings.

CM - My Tent Or Yours settled very well in the Betfair, and his only worry is the track as all form so far is on flat tracks. Hendo yard LOVE this horse. (CM blamed the jockey quite clearly for when he was beaten by Chatterbox, a nice horse in his own right for the same stable)

DR - Against Jezki. Champagne Fever worked well this week. Un Atout is the unknown.

LM - My Tent Or Yours will probably win.

KM - odds compilers are interested in Pique Sous and Champagne Fever each way.

Neptune Novices Hurdle 2013

DR - It's a more competitive race than the betting implies.

CM - Chatterbox has very pleasantly surprised. He's dodging My Tent Or Yours, and has improved a lot recently.

LM - The New One would have been very interesting, but there's concern about any Twiston-Davies horse currently due to the bug in the yard.

PS - Couldn't be interested in The New One with the bug. Tacquin de Seuil has bad stats to overcome, though form is fair. Pont Alexandre the most likely winner.

Triumph Hurdle 2013

DR - Our Conor much the best of the Irish. Dessie Hughes says he's "the best we've had since [dual Champion Hurdler] Hardy Eustace".

CM - No negatives for Rolling Star. Slight lack of experience but the team are very hopeful. Ground will be no problem whatever it is.

LM - It's between the top three. Nicholls yard have been really surprised by how quick Far West is. No strong opinion on the race from LM

PS - Need a 151 or so to win this. Our Conor currently rated 150. Diakali might have been a little unlucky behind him last time and is a big price each way, at around 16/1.

Arkle Trophy 2013

CM - Simonsig is very fast, but he won't have his own way up front here with Overturn and Arvika Ligeonniere in the field too. Simonsig is the quickest horse they have! So much so that they're worried about the fences with him... If he stands up, he wins.

PS - Takes a low 160 performance to win generally. This year's winner looks sure to be rated higher. Hopes Overturn wins, though not confident.

KM - Two horse race, though Baily Green at 33/1 may be interesting for third.

LM - Simonsig

DR - Simonsig, maybe by a big margin.

National Hunt Chase 2013

DR - Back In Focus a good bet as he won't mind any ground.

PS - historically a race from which lots of winners come. Watch, and take notes. (Editor: I checked this in my database, and there were six, four and nine winners respectively within a year of each race, from a fair number of runners. This was not a profitable angle to follow)

RSA Chase 2013

KM - Unioniste has been very popular. Dynaste may well go for the Jewson.

LM - Dynaste probably too quick for an RSA, which is normally won by a scrapper. Boston Bob may not be quick enough. Unioniste the one, and Hadrian's Approach may chase him home.

DR - Ruby Walsh rides Unioniste rather than Boston Bob, who will be partnered by Paul Townend. (Editor: Townend two from two on him, including that last gasp win in a Grade 1 last time). Houblon Des Obeaux is an out and out stayer who might reward each way support. Hadrian's Approach also of interest each way.

CM - Hadrian's Approach has a good each way chance. Has had a lot of schooling to improve his jumping.

PS - Houblon Des Obeaux interesting each way.

Jewson Chase 2013

PS - Dynaste wins if he runs in this.

Mares Hurdle 2013

All - Quevega at the quintuple.

Foxhunters Chase 2013

PS - Salsify the most likely winner, but Dante's Storm, trained by Alan Hill, is an interesting runner at 20/1

Handicaps

PS - In the novice handicaps, look at horses which have only run three times, which is the minimum qualification to get a rating. Attaglance looks interesting, despite having had four runs (pulled up on first chase start).

Novices also have a great record in the Grand Annual.

In the Kim Muir, it's almost always a very compressed handicap (small range from top to bottom), so weight is not really an issue.

JLT is a race Smith handicaps, so he said sell the winning distance!

Plenty of winners have come from Haydock's trial days recently so maybe mark up runners who competed there.

CM - when asked what the 'Hendo hotpot' was, replied that they were hopeful for Anquetta in the Grand Annual (didn't seem confident)

DR - Close House in the Pertemps

LM - Alderwood (Grand Annual), Sam Winner (Pertemps, made a compelling case for it, based on ratings and lightly raced since)

Regarding Ballynagour, suspicion it might have burst blood vessels in the past, and may either win or pull up.

********

As if that wasn't enough excitement for one evening, I got a chance to speak to Phil Smith at half time, and I asked him how the handicap ratings were produced for Irish runners over here. He explained that the BHA keep their own rolling handicap of all Irish form throughout the year, and allocate weights according to that, for jump racing.

With the flat racing, the British and Irish handicapping methodologies are largely aligned, so BHA takes Irish flat ratings exactly as they are. However, there are differences in the jumps rating methodologies and, although the method has converged to a greater degree in recent years ("they do it more like us now"), there is still a differential.

********

It was a very thought-provoking evening, and my thanks to Kate Austin and the London Racing Club board for organising.

Matt

 

Cheltenham Preview Night 1: Billericay

Jack Quinlan was amongst the panel

Jack Quinlan was amongst the panel

In the first of two preview night reports this week (the second will appear on Friday after the London Racing Club's evening on Thursday), I'll relate the opinions of a panel of five who collectively covered most of the necessary elements of horse racing.

Indeed, in place of your butcher, baker and candlestick maker was seated a jockey, a trainer, an owner, a journalist and a bookmaker. By name they were Jack Quinlan, under-rated and articulate young jockey at John Ferguson's stables; Noel Quinlan, wily and shrewd Newmarket trainer and winner of the Fred Winter with Silk Affair in 2009; Tony Stafford, denizen of Fleet Street's racing fraternity; Barry Dennis, old Cap'n Bismarck himself; and, David Johnson, Grand National and Cheltenham Festival-winning owner.

The room was packed with a capacity hundred crowd, including Tony Gale (300 appearances for West Ham and nearly as many for Fulham) and Zinzan Brooke, a Rugby World Cup winner and holder of 100 caps for New Zealand.

As well as being informed by the panel, the audience were entertained royally by Ian Irving who is, I must say, a very funny bloke.

Anyway, enough with the scene-setting and onto the meat of the matter: what did our panel think would win at Cheltenham Festival 2013? Here is a potted review of their thoughts.

Supreme Novices Hurdle

Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a unanimous vote for My Tent Or Yours, the favourite. Jack, who had got closest to MTOY when running up aboard Cotton Mill in the Betfair Hurdle last time out, was very impressed with the horse which beat him. He's hopeful that Cotton Mill himself can run a big race in the County Hurdle, which looks the most likely of his three engagements at this stage.

Barry Dennis was the only other with a strong view (surely not!), and he reckoned MTOY would win "from here to the second last".

Arkle

There was a split decision here between the slight odds-on jolly, Simonsig, and the second favourite, Overturn. Most people were of the opinion that there was little between them and that Overturn represented better value.

My own view, for what it's worth, is that the fact that none of the first three in the market (Arvika Ligionniere is next in) have raced against each other, or against horses which have raced against each other, makes it a guessfest.

Champion Hurdle

Barry Dennis weighed in here, and felt that nine-year-old Hurricane Fly was opposable at short odds and should be layed at any price up to 5/2, which is the price he feels the Fly will be sent off on Tuesday next. In fact, at time of writing - and this may be a short-lived promo, William Hill go 3/1 about Hurricane Fly.


William Hill Sports

Against Hurricane Fly, there were a few opinions, none especially strongly held, though David Johnson and Barry Dennis were favouring Grandouet as an each way bet to nothing. Everyone respected the chances of the Fly though felt he offered no value at 7/4. (They might have felt differently if the 3/1 was on offer then!)

RSA Chase

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Again, a few opinions. Big bad Barry wanted to lay Dynaste at the price - too short at 2/1 he said - and David Johnson reported that Dynaste was not certain to go for the RSA, but more likely there than the Jewson. The Pipe team think Dynaste is the biz and are extremely hopeful of a big run.

Tony Stafford was also a fan of Dynaste.

The Quinlans were more interested in the chance of Boston Bob, last year's second in the Neptune Novices' Hurdle and a horse looking like he's crying out for the stamina test this normally is.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

There was no dissent in the ranks with regards to the prospects of Sprinter Sacre, who was considered 'bar a fall' material, with many of his prime ante-post market rivals possibles for other races.

As Dennis said, the second and third choices - Sizing Europe and Cue Card - may well go for the Ryanair, and then it's 16/1 bar. So, if you like ANYTHING here, you might get plenty of each way value.

David Johnson suggested buying the winning distance might be the play.

In other Wednesday races, Purple Bay, from the John Feguson team was reported to be a very nice horse which will "definitely get up the hill" in the Champion Bumper. He's a 25/1 shot, and it's a race full of completely unexposed 'could be anything' types. In that kind of caveat emptor setup, you could do worse than nibble each way at Purple Bay.

The Fred Winter also got a mention, for two reasons. Firstly, Noel told us that his Sky Khan would probably run there. He's entered on Wednesday at Fontwell and, if he acquits himself well and comes out of that fine, he'll go to Cheltenham a week later with bits of an each way squeak.

One for which there was more of a rumour was the plot job, Another Sensation. This was put up by David Johnson, who has the right connections to know that this fellow has a chance. His form of 28U doesn't immediately mark him out as winner material, but he was probably going to win his last race, and he's reportedly improved a bundle since last seen on the track. 16/1 is the general best price available, including with bet365 who are non-runner money back and best odds guaranteed.

Ryanair Chase

The panel was a little undecided here, due to some doubts about running plans, but the one which got a strong mention - and I'd have to agree - was First Lieutenant. Having been available at 12/1 as recently as early February, he's now a best priced 9/2, but the trip looks tailor made, and he's got plenty of top class form and Cheltenham Festival form (winner of the Neptune in 2011 and 2nd to Bobs Worth in the RSA last year).

World Hurdle

Three strongish views here: Tony Stafford was very sweet on the chance of Monksland, which he felt is guaranteed to stay where some are not, and has top class form over in Ireland and at the Festival (third in the Neptune last year).

David Johnson bought into the Monksland case as well, but was more interested in Wonderful Charm if it runs in this race rather than the Coral Cup.

Jack made a compelling case for Peddlers Cross as a horse which has won a Neptune, been second in a Champion Hurdle, and didn't like fences. I think he has a point and, with Peddlers still only an eight year old, he does seem to be something of a forgotten horse in here. He's a general 10/1 shot and that looks perfectly reasonable, as he's at least as likely to stay as Oscar Whisky, and has bags of class.

Triumph Hurdle

Onto Friday, and the panel made it a three way go between Rolling Star, Our Conor, and Far West. Noel was in the Our Conor camp, but respected Rolling Star too; Jack was Rolling Star after the way he quickened away up the Cheltenham hill in his prep race; and Messrs. Johnson and Dennis were Far West'ers, though DJ feared both of the other two.

Given that trio is around the 9/2 mark each, and it's 16/1 bar three, that was about right I guess.

Gold Cup

The Gold Cup saw big shouts for Bobs Worth and Long Run. The latter, Cap'n Bismarch declared, would be 3/1 if ridden by McCoy, Geraghty or Walsh. I'm not sure I completely agree with that, but I can see the logic around him being a longer price than he perhaps ought to be at around 7/1. That represents some sort of each way value if you think he can (or has) regain(ed) the effervescence of his Gold Cup-winning season.

Noel wanted a sentimental Gold Cup winner and was rooting for Imperial Commander.

In other races, David Johnson offered a few words of encouragement in the directions of Sam Winner in the Pertemps (5/1 favourite currently), and Gevrey Chambertin in which ever race he runs in. He's most likely to run in the Martin Pipe Conditionals' handicap, but it is still to be decided, so do bet with a non-runner no bet firm.

Noel Quinlan rowed in with Tricky Trickster in the Foxhunters', evidently feeling that the stamina test and better ground would play to his strengths more than than the flat heavy trip at Ffos Las last time. 12/1 is fair enough. DJ has the second favourite in the same race in the shape of Chapoturgeon, about which he is hopeful rather than expectant. My own feeling is there's a slight niggle about seeing out the trip, but he has to be a contender despite that.

Charity Bets

David Johnson - Gevrey Chambertin (whichever race he runs in)
Barry Dennis - Long Run (Gold Cup)
Tony Stafford - Monksland (World Hurdle)
Noel Quinlan - Imperial Commander e/w (Gold Cup)
Jack Quinlan - Rolling Star (Triumph Hurdle)

After the preview, Barry Dennis was asked about on course bookmakers and the lack of competition. He responded that it had become an arbing game for them now, as most have commission-free accounts with BetDaq and therefore are simply laying a short price than they can back on the exchange to guarantee a profit.

His own view was that he'd rather 'dig ditches' than do that for £200 a day... and yet that didn't stop him from doing it. So, ultimately, I got the impression that he'd lost some of his passion for the bookmaking side of the game, and that perhaps on course bookies' days are numbered.

My take is that if no bookmaker wants to have an opinion and take a stand against a horse, and if they want to burgle people with offensive place terms, then they get what they deserve: extinction.

The hackneyed 'the racecourse won't be the same place without bookmakers' argument is similar to the 'football team is too good to go down': it simply doesn't stack up to reality. Bookies need to grow their respective pairs back and start laying a proper bet on a horse against which they have a view. Until that time, they remain an endangered species, though not one that the World Wildlife Fund will be fighting to protect.

A very enjoyable evening, and one from which a few interesting insights were gleaned (not always the case at such events).

I enjoyed the experienced voices of Stafford, Dennis and Johnson; and was impressed most with the articulate, considered responses from young Jack Quinlan, a jockey who rides as thoughtfully as he speaks, and who deserves a lot more chances than he's currently getting. Perhaps a move away from Newmarket to a more mainstream NH community will see his career leap forward. I certainly hope so.

As a final point in support of that, I just arbitrarily asked my racing database to tell me how Jack has done on horses priced 6/1 or shorter. It was a mild surprise - and robust support of the notion that he's an underrated pilot - to see that he's made a profit of over 30 points at Betfair SP (over 15 at industry odds) just blindly backing all of his mounts priced 6/1 or less!

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Preview and Tips

Will it be A New Story in the Cross Country Chase?

Will it be A New Story in the Cross Country Chase?

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Preview and Tips 2013

Of the 27 races run at the Cheltenham Festival, the Glenfarclas Handicap Chase, or the Cross Country as it's better known, is perhaps the easiest to solve. Now, before you think I've gone mad, let me clarify: that doesn't mean it's easy to solve; just that it's easier than most of the other races.

Bold statement made at the top of the piece, let's look in more depth at what it takes to win this unique challenge, and which nags are best placed to plunder the prize.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Trends 2013

This will be the ninth time the Cross Country Chase has featured at the Festival, and the first five were all won by a horse priced 4/1 or shorter. Since then, things have got a little more random, with 25/1, 13/2 and 11/2 winners... or so it seems.

But closer inspection shows that the big-priced winner, A New Story, had finished 3rd and 4th in the two previous renewals, so knew exactly what was needed. 13/2 winner, Sizing Australia, had also run in the race before, finishing eleventh (but had three other placed finishes over the course outside the Festival).

And last year, I suspect that Balthazar King, though well fancied, profited most from the ugly and unnecessary (in my opinion) fatalities of Scotsirish - who I thought was banker material - and Garde Champetre. He too had had a previous look at the course, when running out in the comedy race run at 2011's December meeting here.

So, all winners had cross country experience, and that looks a stone cold certainty for a likely winner of the race.

The next thing to note is that Balthazar King was the first non-Irish-trained winner of the race and, again, I feel he wouldn't have won had Garde Champetre and Scotsirish completed the course. Let me put that another way: I will be strongly favouring Irish entries over British ones.

Indeed, A New Story - at fourteen years young - failed by just a head to match Balthazar King and retain the Irish stranglehold on the race. And ex-Irish Wedger Pardy was next best, back in third.

So look to the Irish entries for the most likely winner.

Enda Bolger is a specialist trainer in these types of races, and his reward is that he's trained four winners from the eight renewals, plus three runners up. With the loss of Garde Champetre, and the retirement of the likes of Spot Thedifference and Heads Onthe Ground, it seemed Enda's grip was loosening. But he's got some new names to go to war with this time around, most notable perhaps, Arabella Boy, who uncharacteristically unseated on his sole spin around this weird circuit.

Respect Enda Bolger's entries.

The nature of this contest on this course is different from any other race at the Festival. The Cross Country course is inside the Old and New Courses, and winds its way inside and out like a knotted shoelace. As such, whilst stamina is needed - it's most of four miles, after all - there's never an all out gallop because the tight turns and many and varied obstacles don't allow for too much use of the accelerator pedal.

The race does often look wide open turning in for the final quarter mile, before thinning out to just a couple of contenders, and so a turn of foot / something in reserve is crucial.

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A New Story was second last year, as I've written, aged fourteen. He won it aged twelve, as did Native Jack and Spot Thedifference. Ten year olds have also bagged a brace of Cross Country Chases at the Festival.

I do have a slight suspicion that the days of the veterans enjoying a last day in the sun are passing, and that this is - if not quite a young man's game - at least the province of the eight to ten year olds.

There are plenty of familiar names entered which are older than that - the likes of A New Story, Freneys Well, Double Dizzy, Wedger Pardy, Uncle Junior and Sizing Australia - but I'm happy (unless the price is too good to resist) to look towards the new breed and generally favour eight to ten year olds.

Weight is probably less important here than in any of the other handicaps at the Festival. Again, I suspect it's because of the tight track constitution, but the upshot is that the experienced cross country boys prevail over the seemingly attractively-weighted newcomer brigade time and again. Heads Onthe Ground was the only winner to carry less than 10-08, and he had already garnered plenty of cross-country experience, including when third over the course at the previous December meeting.

Ignore weight, and instead favour cross-country experience.

As a specialist sort of race, there are a few key trials for this. The previous year's renewal is a good place to start, with three winners - one repeater - coming back to claim the prize the following year. Also, the PP Hogan Chase at Punchestown in February has had a bearing with three winners of that coming on to win here. And the December meeting cross country chase is perhaps the best form guide of all, with fully six of the eight winners having run there.

A recent hurdle spin has been used by three winners too.

Favour horses which ran in one or more of last year's race, the December Cross Country here, the PP Hogan Memorial Chase, and/or a hurdle race last time.

********

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Preview 2013

OK, so that's the sort of profile we're looking for. Now how do the contenders shape up against it?

Well, the first thing to say is that they currently bet 6/1 the field so there is a nice enough return to aim at, whichever horse wins. Also, there are four places paid on the race as a handicap, so there might be a couple which look close to banker place material.

Sharing favouritism are last year's winner, Balthazar King; Arabella Boy; and, Outlaw Pete. Balthazar has a win and a place in his last two Cross Country starts here at Cheltenham, and won on the park course as well in between. He comes here in great form, we know the track holds no fears, and he is the right sort of age.

But it's difficult to follow up in this contest - only one repeater despite the specialist nature of cross country chases - and he was readily outpointed by Uncle Junior, albeit on ground which might have been too testing for him. In fact, the ground is likely to be on the soft side this time, having been like a road (criminally so, in my view) last term. That give will probably blunt Balthazar's speed and he's not for me, despite an otherwise robust profile for the race.

Arabella Boy is clearly held in high regard by the Bolger team, and is likely to be the pick of his possible quartet. He won the PP Hogan last time, having previously unseated at this course late in the race at the Grand National fence. He'll be spot on for this but must have it on the soft side to show his best.

Outlaw Pete won that last day when Arabella Boy unseated, and was given a very nice stalking ride before quickening away smartly. It's interesting that he's taken his chance in a couple of conventional handicap chases since, thus avoiding a clash with any of his rivals here. Outlaw Pete has form on all ground but prefers some cut. He'll probably get that, and ought to be thereabouts again if his jumping holds together.

Uncle Junior and Bostons Angel come next, and both have experience of this course. Uncle has won the November race here for the past two years, but has finished 78U on his three runs later in the season. He was a well held fourth to Arabella Boy in the PP Hogan and it's difficult to envisage him reversing the form here.

Bostons Angel was even further behind that day, having run up to Arabella Boy and Outlaw Pete on his previous two starts. He looks one paced and whilst likely to be thereabouts is also likely to find at least one too good.

Former winner, Sizing Australia, is a 14/1 shot but I feel fairly confident his best days are behind him now, and he'd need the going to be at least good to make the frame. The course is currently soft, good to soft in places.

A couple of interesting entries figure next, in Big Shu and Chicago Grey. The former was a length behind Arabella Boy at Punchestown last time, but in all his races he's given the impression that he barely gets three miles, let alone the (relatively easy, granted) near four miles here. He's also yet to have sight of this course and, on balance, he can beat me if he's good enough.

Chicago Grey has two wins at Cheltenham, including in the four miler at the Festival, and he also won last time out. But he's never even raced in a cross country chase, and that's a massive negative in a race like this.

The rest probably don't count, though A New Story is worth an honourable mention, with an incredible race record of 34132. Yes, he's fifteen now (!), but he was fourteen last year when beaten only a head, and twelve when he won the race. He goes on any ground and was given a lovely prep in a hurdle race last week. 33/1 (8.25/1 a place 1-2-3-4) is too big despite him being a serious veteran even in the context of a race like this.

Finally, Reste Demohaison is a mildly interesting French raider. Although only eight, he's a thoroughly experienced cross country horse, having already had seventeen races over fence, wall and birch in his native France. It remains to be seen who will ride, and that is a factor here, for sure. He stays the trip and has bundles of seasoning, so might just offer a run for your money.

********

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Tips 2013

Overall then, it's a race which is unlikely to be as competitive as the current 6/1 the field implies, which means there is value for us early birds before most people focus even remotely on the contest.

Arabella Boy retains a slight stamina doubt, but his jumping is usually assured and he'll get a grand ride from Nina Carberry, who I assume will continue her association. And Outlaw Pete must be thereabouts if he can carry the bigger weight this time.

But I am drawn to A New Story. He never seems to have much form coming into this race, and he's as old as Cleeve Hill itself. But. But... he's 34132 in this race, and was just a head shy of winning as a 14yo. That was a taking prep last time over two miles - ahem - and 33/1 offers plenty of throwaway value.

Most Likely Winner: Arabella Boy 6/1 general (5/1 NRNB BOG bet365)
Next Best: Outlaw Pete 6/1 BOG Paddy Power
Great Value Each Way Outsider: A New Story 33/1 Stan James 1/4 1-2-3-4

Good luck!

Arkle Chase 2013: Preview, Trends and Tips

Simonsig - top of the crop for Fair Mix

Simonsig - most likely winner if he shows up

Arkle Chase 2013: Preview, Trends and Tips

The Tuesday of the Cheltenham Festival is my favourite day. It has the best racing, it is the day which sates a year long anticipation and, in my opinion, it is the day when winners are easiest to come by. (Note, that does not mean they are easy to come by: merely that they are easier to come by!)

The day gets off to a bang with the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and boasts the Champion Hurdle as its afternoon zenith. And, sandwiched in between those two lofty championship timber contests, is a meaty old filling - and I'm certainly not talking in the Findus sense of the phrase! (apologies)

Yes, the Arkle Challenge Trophy is a serious speed chasing event and one of the most watchable of even the Cheltenham Festival's majesty of riches. Mix inexperience with danger, liberally sprinkle tip top talent and add more than a soupçon of jockeys' desire to get on the scoresheet, and you have a recipe for thrills, spills and high class equine skills.

This year's Arkle seems / seemed to be at the mercy of a horse of Nicky Henderson's called Simonsig. I use the present and past tenses to reflect the fact that, at time of writing, Simonsig is due to miss his intended prep race for Cheltenham due to a tracheal wash which was "only 95%". This wonderfully open-ended, and typically Hendo-esque, sound bite gives hope both to short-priced money buyers and value hunters alike.

Those who have many fives which they're prepared to risk for the addition of fours (yes, he's a 4/5 shot) will be praying that all is well enough for the 'sig to make the stage still. Those who sniff around for a less likely winner at a more lively price will be sensing the propensity for profit in the prospective absence of one of jump racing's most ascendant stars.

In this post, I'll look at the trends, the form as it stands, and project my likeliest - and best value - options for wagering ante-post on the Arkle.

Let's first look at the trends...

Arkle Chase 2013: Trends

The first obvious thing to note is the shortness of Simonsig's price. If you're a fan of his, then you'd surely want to be betting 'with a run', in case he doesn't make it. Taking slightly shorter (8/11) to insure the position, in light of this week's news, is surely a no brainer.

But what of previous shorties in this race? Since 1997, eleven horses have been sent off 3/1 or shorter. Nine of them have been beaten, including 11/10 Mulligan, 7/4 Decoupage, and 7/4 Noland. The two winners in that price range were Azertyuiop at 5/4, and Sprinter Sacre at 8/11 last year.

Now it's my opinion that Simonsig is not the second coming of Sprinter. Of course, he might turn out to be as good, but at 4/5, there's a heck of a lot to be taken on trust, even assuming he shows up!

For all that, the Arkle is a good race for the top end of the market. In fact, only once in the last fifteen years has a horse outside of the top quintet in the wagering outsped his better fancied rivals. That was the wonderful Flagship Uberalles back in 1999, and that was in one of the most open Arkles in many a long year (4/1 the field that term!)

Indeed, only five of the 44 win and place positions in those fifteen years have been claimed by horses outside of the top six in the betting, so the message is clear: don't get too cute here.

Last time out winners have claimed ten of the last fifteen renewals, with those finishing second (three) and third (one) making up the number. Of course, that only tallies to fourteen and we need to mention the brilliant, but occasionally too risky, Moscow Flyer, who fell prior to winning here. He was an iffy horse in the sense that his form tended to be 1F1F1F. 😉

So, don't be prepared to forgive a poor last time out run: it's highly unlikely the offender will be able to turn over a new leaf here.

The Arkle is a young man's game. The last nine year old-plus winner was Danish Flight in 1988, and before that Sir Ken in 1956. Now it's true that not many horses of that age take their chances here, but some do and this year the 9yo Overturn looks set to try to, erm, overturn the tide of history. (Well you try and come up with a better finish, given that open goal!)

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To put a little perspective on that, only one 9yo+ even made the frame from twelve triers in the last decade and a half. That was Nipper Reed before we became 21st century boys (1999). He was a 10/1 chance that day, but shorter gold-plated oldies have failed to hit the board, including Barton (9/2) and Captain Cee Bee (5/2) as recently as 2010.

Given that Overturn is the second favourite, we have a situation where it's possible (though not probable) the favourite won't run, and where the second choice is too old in the context of history. It's then double figures the rest in a race which often produces short fields (just five horses took Sprinter Sacre on last year, though that could be because they were scared off).

Five to seven year olds have won nineteen of the last 21 renewals, and it makes sense to focus energies there. In that context, it may interest you to know that Arvika Ligeonniere is eight, and is the third favourite! Do you see where I'm going with this?

It seems obvious that in a race like the Arkle, where there's nowhere to hide, chasing experience is important. The statistics seem to bear that out, with twelve of the last fifteen winners having had three to five chase starts (three had three chase starts, eight had had four chase starts, and one had five chase starts).

Those with five or more chase starts are one for 64. Those with two or less chase starts are three for forty. Simonsig has had two chase starts... Fago, the fourth favourite, has had eight chase starts...

Mulligan (11/10), Decoupage (7/4), War Of Attrition (11/4), Noland (7/4), and Somersby (4/1) were all short-priced horses to try - and fail - to overcome relative inexperience here.

Well Chief, Tiutchev and Champleve did all defy relative inexperience and all were priced between 13/2 and 9/1, so I guess the summary is demand a fair price if you're chancing a rookie fencer.

Pulling all of this together implies we would be well served to look for a horse which is in the top five in the betting; won last time (or was at least second in Graded company); aged five to seven years; and had two to four chase starts.

The trends shortlist would thus be the Hendo pair, Simonsig and Captain Conan.

Is Arvika a viable alternative?

Is Arvika a viable alternative?

Arkle Chase 2013: Form Preview

Trends are interesting enough, and they clearly help to sharpen the pencil around certain aspects of a horse's prospects. But it's form in the book - or promised to the book - which will identify the champ in the chaff.

Let's start at the only sensible place: with market leader, Simonsig. As I've said, he's had a small setback and misses his intended prep race tomorrow. All too often for my tastes, horses from the Henderson yard become late scratches from big races. The news from Seven Barrows this week is a concern, but it doesn't stop there for odds-on players either.

As a novice hurdler last season, Simonsig's Cheltenham and Aintree championship wins were over 2m5f and 2m4f respectively. In his two chase starts, he won over 2m3f first time out, and then hacked up in a two miler at Kempton. That last run showed he has speed, but it was extremely testing there and he nicked a few lengths at the start putting all others under a bit of pressure from the outset.

Now, let's be clear: if he shows up, Simonsig is the horse to beat. On soft ground, where his stamina would come into play, he's the likely winner for me. But if the ground is faster, there are a few questions to be answered: is he quick enough in a two mile championship event? Can he jump fluently enough for one so inexperienced? Is he fit enough after nearly three months off the track? Those are questions to which odds-on backers should know answers before pulling on the betting boots, to my mind.

But there are chinks in the armour of most of his rivals too.

Firstly, Overturn is nine now. You've seen the statistics, and yet here he is, a 7/2 chance. He's beaten seven finishers in winning three four-runner races. Sure, he's beaten them senseless, in the manner that a robust front-running sort might be expected to.

And that brings me onto the likely pace scenario in the Arkle. Now, we don't yet know who will show up but, assuming Simonsig and Overturn both do, we already have a possible speed duel on the front end. Overturn is a front-runner through and through, while Simonsig is more versatile. But if Hendo decided to try to make use of 'sig's stamina, it could compromise the chance of both market protagonists.

In reality, that's unlikely to happen, but there's a decent chance that another horse will take Overturn on for the lead. I just can't see him winning, and I think 7/2 is very, very short about that eventuality. Lay material for those of that bent.

Fago is next, and he's a seasoned chaser. Seven French chase runs and only one win is not that impressive and, despite a career high effort on his first run for Paul Nicholls, this fellow has surely not got much room for improvement after so many goes over the big brutes. Pas pour moi, as they'd have said over la Manche.

Arvika Ligeonniere is interesting, assuming you can spell and/or pronounce his name. Yes, he's eight, which is older than ideal. And yes, he fell last time, which doesn't bode well (unless he's another Moscow Flyer: possible but unlikely). But his form in winning three novice chases in Ireland this term is the best from over there, I feel. He does tend to want to lead, which might be interesting in the context of the aforementioned Overturn pace scenario.

But he's a dual Grade 1 chase winner, and arguably sets the form standard. I like him, especially at around 10/1.

Captain Conan is three from three, and if he turned up and the ground was soft, he'd be a player. Surely he'll go the Jewson route though, after his narrow win in the Scilly Isles Novices Chase last time.

After those five, it's 25/1 the field, which means there's probably some value in there somewhere. Oscars Well finished sixth in the Champion Hurdle last year, and fourth in the Neptune the year before - both top class efforts on good ground - and if it came up boggy he'd have a place chance.

But this is a race where few look to hold realistic prospects, and as stated at the outset, it makes sense to concentrate on the top few.

Arkle Chase 2013: Tips

Usually in a race like this, it's fairly easy to make cases for the top several in the market. But I'm really struggling to present a compelling argument for Overturn, the second favourite; and the same comments apply to Fago, the third favourite. Simonsig has an obvious chance, and his price reflects that. He might be a horse to back on the day as a saver if you're that way inclined.

Otherwise, there looks to be tremendous each way value in the race if you share my contentions about the top trio.

Thus Arvika Ligeonniere (Arr-vee-kuh Lee-jee-on-ee-air), with Ruby Walsh likely to ride, looks a belting each way tickle. It was a soft slithering fall the last day, and he was yet to be asked for any effort (nor, in fairness, were his two rivals), and the 10/1 with Paddy Power and Stan James is value for me.

He's 8/1 with BetVictor, non runner free bet. And it might pay to go that route if you're a more cautious type. But I reckon he goes in the Arkle and, despite the presence of other pace pressers, and the probable presence of Simonsig, AL is the value alternative to the favourite.

Selection: Arvika Ligeonniere 10/1 (Paddy Power), 8/1 Non-Runner Free Bet (BetVictor)
(Obvious) danger: Simonsig

 

 

Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2013: Preview, Trends, Tips

Reve De Sivola goes for World Hurdle glory at the Cheltenham Festival in March

Can Reve de Sivola fulfil World Hurdle dream?

Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2013: Preview, Trends, Tips

With the sad defection of Big Buck's due to injury, the Ladbrokes World Hurdle has become one of the most interesting betting races of the entire 2013 Cheltenham Festival.

The top of the ante-post market is dominated by horses which may or may not run in this race, and that has to open up the prospect of value elsewhere in the bookmakers' lists. Let's start, as tradition dictates, with the trends for the World Hurdle, before looking at the current levels of form for the main contenders, and then finally I'll offer a World Hurdle tip or two. OK?

Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2013: Trends

The first thing to say is that the winner's roster for this race has featured numerous multiple winners. This is mainly because the staying hurdling crown has historically been one of the less sought after prizes at the meeting, with a perception (not wholly unjustified) that this is a place for slow hurdlers and failed chasers. Even the mighty Big Buck's himself would not have taken this route if it wasn't for some shoddy fencing in the Hennessy Gold Cup of 2008.

Nevertheless, it's hardly a bad race, and with the way clear of previous victors, it's a wide open punting affair, with bookies offering 7/1 the field!

Age: Every single winner bar one since 1972 has been aged six to nine. If you like a horse older or younger than that bracket, history is avalanching against you. Indeed, the only nine year olds to win since Gaye Chance in 1984 were repeat winners. In that context, and with no repeat contender this time, I'm inclined to side with those aged six to eight.

That would count against any of Tidal Bay, Solwhit, Quevega and Thousand Stars, who might line up here.

Last time out: All bar two of the World Hurdle winners since Nomadic Way in 1992 finished in the first two on their prior start. As I write (23rd January), there's a good chance of many of the contenders having another run before the Festival. Proceed with caution if they fail to register a gold or silver finish, irrespective of the ground conditions. History is against such beasts.

Indeed, even 40/1 Anzum matched this requirement. (Actually, he was probably one of the biggest 'gimme's' in the history of Cheltenham: second in the race the year before, right age, second last time, and went on the ground. 40/1!!!)

Official rating: Although four of the last fifteen winners were unrated, all bar one of those with a mark were rated 157+. That excludes a lot of potential runners this term and, even in what may turn out to be a moderate renewal, it's hard to fancy the likes of Oscara Dara and Coneygree on what they've done so far, in that context.

Days since a run: Cyborgo in 1996 was the last horse to have been off the track for longer than ninety days prior to winning the World Hurdle. In what was a brilliant training performance, he was having his first run since finishing second in the previous year's running of what was known then as the Stayers' Hurdle.

At this stage, those who need to race soon in order to defy this negative omen are Quevega (though she has an exceptional record fresh, and I wouldn't eliminate her solely on this basis. Saying that, she is also older than ideal); Peddlers Cross (entered on Saturday, but not run since the last Cheltenham Festival); Rite Of Passage (also goes well fresh, but not as reliably as Quevega); and, Wonderful Charm (who is a five year old, in any case).

Class: Nine of the last sixteen winners had previously won a Grade 1 hurdle. Of the other seven, five had won a Grade 2; and five (overlapping but not the same five) had placed second in a Grade 1.

If your fancy hasn't won or run second in a Grade 1 hurdle, it's going to struggle here.

Track form: Thirteen of the last fifteen World Hurdle winners had at least placed previously at Cheltenham. The two exceptions were My Way de Solzen, who ran down the field in the Supreme, but went on to win twice more at the track; and Baracouda, the crack Frenchie, who was having his first sight of the Festival course.

If you like one without a course placing, you're probably barking up the wrong birch.

Form: Fourteen of the last fifteen - exception being Anzum - had won one of their last three starts. Anzum had finished second (and was second in the previous World Hurdle) last time. Although most of the main contenders sail through this, there are a few highly rated horses - Peddlers Cross, Celestial Halo, Smad Place, Get Me Out Of Here - who have two strikes to their name and would be a wobbler if losing again before tapes up in March.

Distance: The last fifteen Ladbrokes World Hurdle winners have included ten three mile winners. Of the five who had failed to get their nose in front over the World Hurdle distance, all were unexposed at greater than two and a half miles (four had won from a handful of tries at 2m5f or 2m6f, and Bacchanal was a neck second due to a bad last flight blunder on his only try at 2m6f).

Look for either proven three mile stamina, or a strong indication that three miles is within the horse's range.

World Hurdle Trends Summary: On the basis of recent history, the ideal profile for a World Hurdle winner is a horse aged six to eight; with a run in the three months prior to mid-March; a win in its last three starts (and first or second last time); Grade 1 winner or second place already in the book; placed form at Cheltenham already; officially rated 157+ (or no rating); and, either proven at the trip or unexposed at slightly shorter.

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That gives me a shortlist of Oscar Whisky, Monksland, Reve De Sivola, and Get Me Out Of Here (needs a 1-2 finish in Betfair Hurdle on 9th February).

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Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2013: Form

The trends are instructive and probably point us well on the way towards the winner. However, this year does look 'non-standard' in a number of respects:

Firstly, the enormously dominant staying hurdler of the past four years will not be competing. His record casts a shadow over plenty of contenders whose Grade 1 second places may well have been first places, were it not for the brutish Big Buck's.

Secondly, the state of the ground for the entire National Hunt season proper has been soft to boggy, and there's no guarantee that Cheltenham will ride so in middle March.

Thirdly, a few of the main form contenders may well take in other races. This means we have to play the non-runner no/free bet (NRNB/NRFB) card, and we may want to take a punt on a big priced horse in the hope that a) it runs, and b) some of the big guns don't!

With that in mind, let's review the current form in the book...

Favourite in most lists is Quevega, despite the fact that she is almost certainly headed for the Mares' Hurdle, a race she's won for the past four years. It is possible that she could take in both races but, given that the Mares' race comes on the Tuesday and the World Hurdle on the Thursday, there's very little recuperation time. She surely couldn't be much shorter even if winning the first named. No, no, no. Not even with non-runner no bet.

Next in is Oscar Whisky. I love this horse. I've lost plenty on him, generally because he goes for different races than I believe he should, but it's impossible for me not to feel affection for such a high class trier as him. He might still go for the Champion Hurdle, and I've backed him for that. But if he turns up here, ignore his poor show last term, and keep him in your wagering thoughts.

Put simply, he's a winning machine, especially on deeper ground. If it comes up soft or worse, I think he'll cruise round and win. On soft or softer ground, his record is 11111, including two Grade 2 contests at the intermediate distances.

He's a dual Grade 1 winner, acts on good (but I think better on soft), and - despite the majority saying he 'flopped' - he was only beaten thirteen lengths in last year's World Hurdle. The first two from that renewal won't run, meaning that Smad Place is the one to beat from last year. I'd bet OW over SP any and every day.

Monksland comes next in the bookie odds at around 8/1, and Noel Meade's second season hurdler has consistent high class form, including when third in last year's Neptune Hurdle at the Festival, when second in a Grade 1 over an inadequate trip, and when winning a three mile Grade 2 last time.

Although it was behind a very high class horse in Simonsig, that Neptune bronze was fairly distant, and was on the fastest ground he's encountered (except for when he ran out on even faster ground in a point-to-point). As such, I suspect he's ground dependant and wants it softish. On form, he has a bit to find with Oscar Whisky, but then so do the rest. And, with improvement likely after just six hurdle starts, he could make the frame though is not too tempting a proposition at the current odds.

We then come to the trio of Tidal Bay, Reve De Sivola, and Peddlers Cross, all at around the 10/1 mark. Tidal Bay will surely go for the Gold Cup, is surely too old, and surely flatters to deceive too often (despite a 'fell in his lap' win in the Lexus Chase last time).

Peddlers Cross hasn't run since bring royally tonked in the Jewson last term. In truth, chasing didn't look natural to him but, that defence aside, there has to be a serious stamina reservation about him staying three miles. He's not won beyond two miles five furlongs, and he's taking in a jumpers' bumper on Friday (25th) rather than the Champion Hurdle Trial, for which he was also entered, on Saturday.

I'm not sure where they're going with him, but it will probably be a shorter trip than the World Hurdle. No thanks, not even with NRNB.

Which brings me to Reve De Sivola. This chap stays. And he goes on any ground. And he's quite high class. He has an entry in the Cleeve Hurdle and seems sure to run well on the prevailing soft turf. In his last five hurdle starts, his form is 12121, a string which includes three Grade 1 successes.

He is perhaps the archetypal example of the failed chaser reverting to staying hurdles (if Big Buck's is not), and I think he's a decent bet for the race.

I'm not really interested in Rite Of Passage, who is older than optimal and has a layoff to overcome; nor do I like Solwhit or Thousand Stars, both of whom are probably better at two and a half miles. Of this trio of Irish nags, Thousand Stars is comfortably the most appealing.

Further down the lists, and into the realms of the speculative, cases of sorts could be made for Smad Place, Get Me Out Of Here, Kauto Stone, and Lovcen.

Smad Place was, as I've alluded to, third in last year's World Hurdle. He's very consistent, having been 1-2-3 in nine of his eleven completed hurdle starts. He does seem to have a preference for decent ground and, if it were to firm up a bit between now and seven weeks hence, he'd have place prospects again at around the 20/1 mark.

Get Me Out Of Here is one of the more interesting runners in the race. His Cheltenham record of 26222 marks him down as a one-pacer, but that's harsh. It's fairer to highlight the merit of some of those runs: just failed behind Menorah in the 2010 Supreme Novices Hurdle; mugged on the line in the County Hurdle, carrying 11-7; less than two lengths behind Oscar Whisky in the Relkeel Hurdle; and, second in the Coral Cup lugging top weight of 11-12.

Those are all excellent efforts, and the last two were over two miles and five furlongs. He's a horse at his best on better ground - though he has won on softer - and if he takes the World Hurdle route from a range of options, he could run a fine race on decent ground. Non-runner free/no bet the way forward here, for sure, at around 16/1.

Kauto Stone was last seen when duffed up in the King George at Kempton. Before that, he'd won a weakish Grade 1 chase at Down Royal. All his hurdling form is over shorter trips, but he might stay all right now he's a year and a bit older. Certainly, his stable has to find a successor to Big Buck's, irrespective of whether he returns next season or not, and this chap might match up to the part.

Certainly, French bred horses have done well in this race in recent times, having won seven of the last eleven, and been second in the other four. Kauto Stone is in the Cleeve Hurdle on Saturday, and that race looks like being instructive with a view to the World Hurdle over (approximately) the same course and distance.

He's the sort to shorten if running well at the weekend, and may appeal to the traders amongst you as a back to lay opportunity.

And finally, Lovcen is a bit of a forgotten horse. Ostensibly for good reason, after four poor runs this term. But, look more closely and you'll note that he was seriously disadvantaged by a pathological dislike of both mud and fences. See that failed chaser theme emerging once more?

Anyway, if you can legitimately excuse a horse a poor run (or a sequence of them), then you can find value, based on the inherent recency bias which afflicts all betting markets (due mainly to the fact that they are closely aligned to weight of money, and human nature is such that we place most weight on what happened most recently, irrespective of the 'bigger picture').

Anyway anyway, all that blah-blah pop-psychology mumbo-jumbo is long hand for me thinking Lovcen has a chance at a big price. He wasn't the most fluent hurdler historically, so it's little surprise that he hated steeplechasing. But he's a Grade 1 winner over the smaller obstacles on good ground, and was doing his best work at the end of the potato race (Albert Bartlett) at last year's Festival.

In short, back over hurdles and on better ground, he can be expected to run a much improved race at a big price. That big price is 66/1 non runner free bet, with BetVictor.

Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2013: Tips

So those are the trends and form pointers, such as they are to date. But where does that leave us in terms of finding a bet? Well, the horses which interest me at the prices are Oscar Whisky win only at 6/1 Non Runner Free Bet (BetVictor); Reve De Sivola, win only, who is highly likely to run in this, at 8/1 (Boyle, PP, Lads); and, for those of you who like to tilt at windmills, Get Me Out Of Here at 16/1 each way, Non Runner Free Bet (BetVictor); and, Lovcen at 66/1 each way, Non Runner Free Bet (BetVictor).

Those of you of a trading bent might like to take a back-to-lay chance on Kauto Stone, who will definitely shorten from current odds around 25/1 if running well in the Cleeve Hurdle on Saturday.

Win Selections

Oscar Whisky 6/1 BetVictor NRFB
Reve De Sivola 8/1 Boylesports, Paddy Power, Ladbrokes

Each Way Alternatives

Get Me Out Of Here 16/1 BetVictor NRFB
Lovcen 66/1  BetVictor NRFB

NB: BetVictor's offer, unsurprisingly, has a few terms, the most high profile of which is probably that there is a £100 cap per race. You can review full chapter and verse here.

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Supreme Novices Hurdle 2013 Preview, Trends and Tips

Supreme Novices Hurdles 2013 Preview & Tips

Supreme Novices Hurdles 2013 Preview & Tips

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2013 Preview, Trends and Tips

The opening race of the Cheltenham Festival 2013 will be the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, a high class event run over the two mile trip. It's a race typically won by a smart horse, and there are some fairly strong angles to go at, so let's get on with it.

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2013 Trends

- Last time out winners have won fourteen of the last sixteen renewals of the race, at a level stakes profit of over 25 points. During the last fifteen years, just two out of 183 horses which didn't win last time out scored here, for a 149 unit loss at level stakes. Last time winners included Indefence at 25/1,  Ebaziyan at 40/1, and Sausalito Bay at 14/1.

- Whilst one each of four year olds, seven year olds, and eight year olds have won the Supreme Novices in the last fifteen years, the other twelve winners were all five or six years old. Indeed, just five winners since 1973 were not five or six years old.

- Whilst eight of the last fifteen winners had yet to receive an official rating, six of the other seven were all within a fairly tight ratings band of 136 to 142. So unrated or 136-142 looks appropriate.

- Thirteen of the last fifteen winners had their last race between 16 and 60 days prior to the Supreme itself.

- Eight of the last fifteen Supreme winners were Irish-trained.

- No horse has won the Supreme Novices with less than two hurdles starts since Flown won off a single hurdles run in 1992. Thirteen of the last fifteen had between two and four prior hurdles runs.

- And fourteen of the last fifteen winners had had between one and three prior hurdles wins. Twelve of the last fifteen winners had two or three hurdle wins.

It is likely, given the 'days since a run' trend, that a number of key contenders will have another race before the Festival, and they'll need to win that to be considered contenders in the Supreme itself.

Making the assumption that all horses will race once more - and win that race (a precarious assumption, I admit) - the likely shortlist on trends looks like this:

Waaheb, My Tent Or Yours, Pique Sous, Don Cossack, Shutthefrontdoor, River Maigue, Chatterbox, Sizing Rio, Ned Buntline, Un Atout, New Year's Eve and Puffin Billy.

Although this list contains most of the top horses in the betting, it notably doesn't include likely warm favourite, Jezki; nor the relatively over-exposed Dodging Bullets; and nor the older than ideal Melodic Rendez Vous.

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2013 Preview

As with all races at the Festival, when betting ante-post, do try to take advantage of a bookmaker offering a non-runner concession. More frustrating even than your selection getting injured is the pesky 'wrong race scenario'. An example of this is my ante-post voucher on Puffin Billy, struck on 21st December after the horse had hacked up over two miles. On 8th January, his trainer stated Puffin Billy was more likely to go for the longer Neptune Hurdle than the Supreme. I now need to use my prayer mat each day to hope Billy goes Supreme.

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Had I used BetVictor's magnificent 'non-runner free bet' offer, I'd have been able to console myself with a free bet to the same value if my fellow doesn't line up in the Supreme. I didn't. More fool me.


OK, tale of woe aside, do look for a safety net where possible. At time of writing, only BetVictor have a non runner concession, but others will join that jamboree nearer the time.

To the preview, and the obvious place to start is with the shortish favourite, Jezki, a best-priced 7/2, and a possibility to be shorter on the day. Jezki has run four races over hurdles, and won all four, including twice in Grade 1 company. All runs have been on soft or heavy ground and, despite connections suggesting the horse will improve for quicker ground, there's simply no evidence to support that.

Indeed, his two runs on good produced a fairly workaday win in an ordinary bumper, and a relatively moderate eighth of twenty in the Cheltenham Festival Bumper. That latter run suggests either he's not as good on good as they're saying or he doesn't act around Cheltenham... or both!

Whereas plenty of his rivals on the day have more improvement to come, it's possible that Jezki has now revealed the full extent of his (in fairness, considerable) talent. Indeed, in his last three runs he's recorded Racing Post Ratings of 148, 149 and 149. It's probably reasonable then to assume he'll run no better than 150 in the Supreme itself.

Cinders And Ashes ran 151 when winning the Supreme last year; Al Ferof ran to 155 the year before; Menorah ran 150 in 2010; Go Native ran 152; Captain Cee Bee 159; Ebaziyan 150; and so on.

Basically, he will need to improve, and ratings suggest he won't, and that something else might. But which one?

River Maigue is the next in the betting, at around 10/1. This Hendo inmate was possibly done up by the slow pace when finishing second to Dodging Bullets on his first hurdle start in a Grade 2, and put that right when bolting up in a good novice at Kempton. He's got an entry at Haydock on Saturday 19th January, though he will need to improve by around a stone on what he's done so far to have a chance on Festival Tuesday. That's not out of the question, but there may be more likely candidates at this juncture.

Puffin Billy is next and, as I've intimated, he's more likely to run in the Neptune. If he were to show up here, his last time out Racing Post Rating of 150 (comment: 'cruised clear') would give him a serious chance. Whilst 12/1 is available, the only prudent option is to side with BetVictor's 10/1 with the non runner free bet concession. I wish I had...

My Tent Or Yours is as short at 7/1 in a place, and as long as 12/1 with Ladbrokes. Laddies don't normally get these things badly wrong, and the fact they're standout best price is a note in itself to my eye. MTOY has run a 149 RPR to date and is favourite for the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury on 9th February. He's got plenty of weight there and it's a big ask. If he wins that, clearly he's going to take some beating in the Supreme too. But that's a sizeable 'if'.

Again, I couldn't put you off the 12/1 but he wouldn't be for me... yet. If he wins the Betfair, or runs very well, I'd be happier taking a shorter price on the day of the Supreme Novices to shore up/insure my position on the race.

I can't really have the next two, Dodging Bullets and Melodic Rendez Vous. The former has had plenty of hurdle races (six) and it's rare for a horse to run in two novice hurdle events at the Festival: DB was fourth in the Triumph last term.

He seems best suited by a slower pace, as when scampering away from River Maigue earlier this term; and, subsequently, when grabbing third in the Christmas Dawdle... sorry, Hurdle, at Kempton.

MRV is trained by the upwardly mobile Jeremy Scott and seems to love deep ground. Three runs on heavy have yielded form of 211, including a Grade 1 bumper and a Grade 1 novice hurdle. He's got an entry in the Neptune and that would seem a more obvious place for him to me, though the trainer is veering towards the Supreme. As a seven year old, and in what looks a pretty good year, he's got it to do... unless it comes up bottomless at Cheltenham. (Surely we're due some respite from the weather soon..!)

Two interesting Irish entries are Un Atout and Waaheb. The former is unbeaten in a bumper and a novice hurdle and, whilst he'll need to improve his jumping, he has an opportunity to do just that in a competitive looking novice at Naas on Saturday. If he takes his chance, I'd expect him to go close there. If he wins nicely, I'd expect him to go close at Cheltenham on soft ground. His only entry is the Supreme, so at least if he does go to Cheltenham, it's highly likely it'll be in the opening race.

Waaheb is trained by the magnificent Dermot 'Wizard' Weld, and though Weld's record in this race is surprisingly poor (0 from 7, six of them priced 16/1 or shorter), I do like his fellow here. Waaheb has won four of his six starts in bumpers and hurdles, and finished second in the other two - both Grade 1's.

He travelled well into the race last time behind Jezki, but when he clouted the second last, that ended his rally. Again, jumping needs to be of a very high class around Cheltenham, but a clear round would put him in the shake up. Unlike plenty of these, he doesn't look to be ground dependant either, with decent form on both good and soft turf. If anything, he's expected to improve for better ground, and 20/1 with BetVictor looks fine. (He's a good bit bigger on the exchange if you don't mind betting without the safety net).

And finally, one which catches my eye at a bigger price is Noel Meade's Ned Buntline. Meade won this race with Go Native in 2009, and with Sausalito Bay in 2000, so he knows what's required. He also had the second in 2005, and fifth in 2006, so he knows what's required.

And Meade likes this fellow. A cosy winner last time on ground which was soft enough for him (and it was only soft), he will want things a bit quicker ideally. If he gets that, it ought to help him jump a bit better, and his high cruising speed should suit the licketty-split nature of the Supreme optimally. At 25/1 with BetVictor, I'm sorely tempted - and will likely be involved by the time you read this!

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2013 Tips

Although most of the market jostling is complete, there are still likely to be a few more skirmishes amongst the main Supreme Novices Hurdle contenders prior to the race, so we are at best taking a chance by wagering at this stage. Fortunately, BetVictor will bail us out if our nag fails to show in the race; and also we are getting a bit more jam on our bread if we're smart/lucky enough to find a shortener.

My fancies for the race are Puffin Billy (IF he runs - only bet with BetVictor); and the Irish trio of Un Atout, Waaheb and Ned Buntline, all at prices.

Win selection: Puffin Billy (10/1 BetVictor Non-Runner Free Bet only)
Each way possibles: Un Atout 20/1 betfred, sportingbet (16/1 BetVictor Non-Runner Free Bet); Waaheb 20/1 BetVictor Non-Runner Free Bet; Ned Buntline 25/1 BetVictor Non-Runner Free Bet


Who do you like here, and why? Feel free to leave a comment and share your views.

Matt

p.s. Please take a moment to answer my latest poll question (thank you).

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