Cheltenham Gold Cup 2013 Preview, Trends and Tips

Can The Giant Bolster go one better in the Cheltenham Gold Cup?

Can The Giant Bolster go one better?

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2013 Preview, Trends and Tips

It's just nine weeks until the Cheltenham Gold Cup will be the highlight of the final day of this year's Cheltenham Festival, and most of the major players have already run their 'serious' trials.

Yes, a number of them will run again between now and the Gold Cup itself, but they'll generally not be having hard races so close to the main event. So, with the form of the key trials safely in the book, what clues can we glean and - for those of us who struggle to resist the allure of the ante post market - where should we invest our folding?

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2013 Trends

There are some strong trends, underpinned by strong logic, for the Gold Cup. And, if you like a nag which doesn't pass muster here, you might want to re-evaluate your wagering strategy. Then again, there are lies, damned lies, and statistics, so you may not...!

In any case, here are the material facts and figures:

- Age: Old horses don't win the Gold Cup. In fact, the last horse older than ten to win was What A Myth in 1969. Tidal Bay is twelve now and, whilst his Lexus win is solid, there are reasons to believe he'll not finish in front of all of the beasts he bested there at Cheltenham. At the other end of the spectrum, although Long Run won as a six-year-old in 2011, you'd have to go back to Mill House in 1963 to find the previous horse of that age to prevail.

In essence, we need a horse aged seven to ten, and probably only seven to nine year olds need apply.

- Official Rating: In the last fifteen years, four horses have won without a rating (from 67 to try). The remaining eleven winners were rated at least 166. This counts against the likes of The Giant Bolster, Kauto Stone, What A Friend, Grands Crus and Hunt Ball amongst plenty of others.

- Days since a run: Of those same fifteen winners,  all had run between one and three months ago, with no fewer than ten Gold Cup winners having had between two and three months off the track. So, don't fear a layoff of 60 to 90 days.

- Odds rank: Twelve of the last fifteen Cheltenham Gold Cup winners came from the first three in the betting. So this probably isn't a race in which to get carried away with a long shot. Saying that, the other three winners were 16/1, 25/1, and 20/1 (but none was in the last dozen years).

- Last time out: Nine of the last fifteen Gold Cup winners also won on their prior start. Another three were second or third. One fell (Mr Mulligan), one pulled up (Cool Dawn), and one was fifth (Imperial Commander). All three of those unplaced last time out had been first or second at a previous Cheltenham Festival. Unsurprisingly, we'd be looking for a podium finisher last time, or a horse with proven Festival form.

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So, on trends, I want a seven to ten year old, which has raced within the last three months, but not within a month of the main event; and probably in the top few in the market (though I'm interested in horse who have competed well at previous Festivals as likely outsiders)

Those which tick all boxes are Bobs Worth, the current favourite (assuming he has a run between now and mid-February, which he is scheduled to do); Sir Des Champs, the current second favourite; and Long Run, the current third favourite.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2013 Form Preview

This is a race which often revolves around the top of the market, and I believe that it will again this year. Specifically, and apologies for the spoiler, I feel it's between Bobs Worth and Sir Des Champs, and I find it hard to envisage any other horse winning.

Bobs Worth won the RSA Chase last year in grand style and, in one run since, beat up a good field in the Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. The second horse there, Tidal Bay, was spotting the winner six pounds and only went down by three and a half lengths. But, for me, the winner was value for more than the official margin. First Lieutenant was another five lengths back in third that day, and the minor medallists went on to frank the form next time out.

Indeed, they finished first and second in the Lexus Chase, a race which is growing to pre-eminence in Gold Cup trial terms, and one in which the previous ante-post second favourite, Flemenstar, was 'outed' as a probably non-stayer.

Whilst one swallow may not make a summer - and one rapid emptying not make a stamina doubt - the evidence does suggest that the extra quarter mile on tougher terrain and in a likely faster-paced contest will undo Flemenstar, should he show up. For the record, he cruised and then emptied in the Lexus, eventually claiming bronze.

A short head back in fourth - beaten three-quarters of a length in total - was Sir Des Champs. This normally reliable fencer had bungled and blundered his way around Leopardstown in most uncharacteristic fashion, and yet was still staying on best of all. Assuming his jumping improves, this run screamed Gold Cup. At least, my eardrums were left ringing to that tune.

As for failing to register a 1-2-3 finish on his last start before Cheltenham, firstly, he may run again yet; secondly, he was denied that only by a fag paper verdict; and, thirdly, he won the Jewson at the Festival last year (and the Martin Pipe hurdle the year before), emphasising his taste for Cleeve Hill and its assorted impediments.

Let's get back to Tidal Bay. After all, he came out best in the Hennessy on strict pounds-for-lengths; and he won the Lexus from talked up horses; so, surely, we ought to take him very seriously for the Gold Cup.

Well, yes and no. Yes, that form puts him bang there. And yes, he does seem to be in rude health. But he's twelve. And I can't help but feel that it would be a damning indictment on the 'new generation' if he prevailed. Allied to my moral argument (which, clearly, is no way to wager) is a perception that things have to fall absolutely spot on - as they did in the Lexus - for TB to grab gold.

That Lexus - incredible race that it was - saw Flemenstar go from swaggering hero to stumbling zero in half a furlong. It also saw that other questionable stayer, First Lieutenant, battle on bravely but run out of puff. And it witnessed Sir Des Champs' jockey mightily relieved it wasn't a show jumping round.

In a nutshell, two stopped in front of him, and one rallied manfully after a woeful round of jumping and just fail to get up. No, I can't have Tidal Bay: the sort of horse who will send you skint and break your heart in equal measure, as your love and wagers are (generally) unrequited.

And what of Long Run? Well, this much maligned (often by me) horse has done next to nothing wrong. His jockey does ok - and it's his old man's horse, so who are we to question riding arrangements - but Long Run does tend to clout one or two (or three). Despite that, he has a Gold Cup and the most recent renewal of the King George to his name, as well as a third place in last season's Gold Cup - when beaten just three lengths.

So why don't I like his chance? Well, I do respect his chance. And he has form to go close. And I think he'll probably be a shorter price on the day. But. But... that pilot. Sam Waley-Cohen. Not for me. Not one iota.

And, of the top order in the market, what about Silviniaco Conti? He's surely a flatterer and has it all to prove to my eye. He's beaten up small fields on flat tracks, and was beaten the only time he came to Cheltenham (and outside the Festival at that). Yes, he beat Long Run, but he had match fitness on his side that day. I very much doubt he'll beat him in mid-March on Gold Cup Friday.

Of the outsiders with Cheltenham Festival form, First Lieutenant won the Neptune in 2011, and was second to Bobs Worth in last year's RSA Chase. On better ground, he's respected as a place chance again. The Giant Bolster proved a lot of doubters wrong with his gritty display in last year's Gold Cup, beating Long Run and finding the galvanised Synchronised only a couple of lengths too good. He's worthy of a second look at 25's, especially if the ground starts to dry up. He'll have hated this deep winter turf.

And then there's Hunt Ball. He's got to prove he stays this far, and that he's good enough. But he ran a nice second on bad ground in the Kempton running of the Peterborough Chase over Christmas and, on better ground, he'll probably run better than a 33/1 shot.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2013 Tips

So there you have it. Plenty of horses with ostensible chances, but a two horse race for me. Quite simply, I feel that if Bobs Worth doesn't win the 2013 Cheltenham Gold Cup, then Sir Des Champs will.

Long Run is respected, as is to a lesser degree Tidal Bay. Silvianiaco Conti is, I believe, the sheep in wolf's clothing: a toothless pretender in the context of this sort of a race. (And I hope I'm right because that sort of statement can make a person look really very silly indeed!)

Outsiders worth a second glance - and expected to improve on their seasonal showings to date on better ground - are The Giant Bolster and Hunt Ball.

Selection: Bobs Worth 3/1 general
Next Best: Sir Des Champs 5/1 general
Outsider: The Giant Bolster 25/1 general

Who are your fancies for the Gold Cup, and why? Leave a comment and let us know.

Champion Hurdle 2013 Preview/Tips

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

Rock On Ruby: repeat Champion Hurdle in 2013?

Champion Hurdle 2013 Preview, Trends and Tips

There are just 99 days to go until Cheltenham's 2013 Festival begins, and the big race of the opening day is the Stan James Champion Hurdle.

It's always a fantastic race and the roll of honour of past Champion Hurdlers is exceptional, as you'd expect.

But there is one key stat about the Champion Hurdle that is, for me, the number one statistic at the whole Cheltenham Festival meeting. And it's one which can help us to get an ante-post ticket nice and early, because all we need to know are the results from the previous year.

So, here it is: since Flakey Dove's win in 1994 (when she was only seventh the previous year), every single Champion Hurdler to have ran at the Festival in the previous year had finished in the first four.

Two finished fourth: Collier Bay in the Coral Cup, and Sublimity in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

Three didn't run at the Festival the previous year: two first season novices in Alderbrook and Make A Stand, and the injured Hurricane Fly.

The remaining twelve all finished in the first three at the previous Cheltenham Festival.

Looking at the top end of the betting, I'm immediately wary of Zarkandar, the current second favourite, despite his staying on fifth in the race in March 2012.

But rather than focus on who to be against, let's look at who fits the bill. And, to help with that, I'm going to incorporate another key statistic, related to age. It is this: quite simply, five year olds are almost always too immature to take on their stronger and fleeter elders; and nine year olds and up are generally past their best.

Specifically, in the last nineteen Champion Hurdles, only Katchit (five) and Rooster Booster (nine) have breached that statistic rule. The other seventeen were all aged six (six), seven (seven) or eight (four).

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So who are the podium finishers to consider?

Let's start with the Champion Hurdle: Rock On Ruby beat Overturn and Hurricane Fly. Overturn has already made his chasing debut and looks set to be running in one of the novice steeplechase events in March. The other two will be headed to the Champion.

But Hurricane Fly will be nine come March and, while he could win (and I might even take a saver on the day), he looked lucky to beat the ill-fated Go Native on his seasonal bow this term, and I suspect he might not be as good as he was.

In the Supreme Novices' Hurdles, Cinders and Ashes beat Darlan, with Trifolium back in third. The first two are certain to go down the Champion Hurdle route, with the third perhaps taking to chasing after a couple of disappointing runs this term over the smaller obstacles.

The Neptune - a surprisingly good nursery for the blue riband, given that it is run over two miles five furlongs to the Champion's two miles and half a furlong - returned a 1-2-3 of Simonsig, Felix Yonger and Monksland. I believe Simonsig will be going chasing, leaving the Irish pair, the former of which I suspect will go chasing too.

The Triumph Hurdle winner was Countrywide Flame, and no horse beaten in the Triumph in recent times (if ever) has come back to win the Champion the next year, so we'll park our considerations there. But of course, as last year's Triumph Hurdle winner, Countrywide Flame will only be five by March and that, for me, precludes an ante-post bet. Again, if he goes there with a strong chance he would likely be saver material.

The big handicap hurdle winners - Alderwood and Son of Flicka - are going chasing and too old respectively.

All of which 'thinking aloud' leaves us with a likely shortlist of Rock On Ruby, Cinders And Ashes, Darlan, and Monksland. To that short enough shortlist, I may add Grandouet, who hasn't run for a year, if he shows he's as good as he was when he re-appears at Cheltenham in a couple of Saturday's time (as I write, 3rd December).

But for now, it's a quartet only.

Rock On Ruby was a good, if perhaps fortunate, winner last year, having been in the right place when a couple of others (Hurricane Fly, Binocular and Zarkandar) were caught napping. Since then, he was beaten in the Aintree over two and a half miles, which is too far for him. ROR's form at two miles or two miles and a furlong since his first ever run (4th) reads 1111121.

He's 'now' trained by Harry Fry, who is unquestionably THE trainer to follow this season from the new kids. I say 'now' because Fry trained ROR last term as well, albeit at a satellite yard of Paul Nicholls and under that trainer's name. Fry has started with six winners from his first 23 runners and a profit of 27 units to level stakes as of 3rd December (including a 20/1 winner today!)

Cinders And Ashes was impressive in winning the Supreme, seeing off a determined Darlan, and there was no fluke about it. Since then, Cinders ran in the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in very heavy ground at the weekend and was beaten into second. He was also beaten on his first run last term, and as a punter, it's a blessing because it enhances this one's odds.

He looks to have a serious chance in the Champion Hurdle IF he can improve around ten pounds between now and Cheltenham in March. I think he has an excellent chance, and expect him to be around half his current 16/1 odds come the day.

Darlan has a closely related chance to that of Cinders And Ashes, but he's yet to run this season and he's six points shorter than his 2012 Cheltenham conqueror. Whilst it is possible for him to (have) improve(d) past Cinders, I wouldn't bet on it, and I certainly wouldn't take shorter on it. Saver only.

That leaves Monksland, who is an interesting fellow indeed. He was meant to go chasing this term, but has had two runs over hurdles already. The first was a Grade 2 at Down Royal, which he won easily over two miles; and the second was the Grade 1 Hatton's Grace at Fairyhouse over a soft two and a half miles, and he finished second.

That's pretty good form, and those dropping back in trip from the Neptune have won Champion Hurdles (Rock On Ruby, Hardy Eustance and Istabraq in the last fourteen years). If his trainer does run him in this race, he's got a better chance than Stan James' quote of 66/1 implies.

When it's nearer the time, it will be important for our fancy to have ideally won, but definitely finished in the frame in his last race; and for it to have run between 16 and 60 days.

But for now, fully three and a half months ahead of the Cheltenham Festival's opening day, I'm happy to side with those.

1 pt win: Rock On Ruby (9/1 Stan James, Sportingbet)
1 pt win: Cinders And Ashes (16/1 Boylesports, Stan James, Ladbrokes, Hills)
1/4 pt win: Darlan (10/1 Betvictor, non runner, free bet)
1/4 pt e/w: Monksland (66/1 Stan James)

p.s. here's some more stats...

Champion Hurdle Stats 2013

Champion Hurdle Stats 2013

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