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Grand National 2021 Preview, Tips and Runner By Runner Guide

What race is there to cover this weekend other than the Aintree Grand National, which will be run at 5.15pm and shown on ITV.

Once again I’ll be using Geegeez Gold to highlight some of the best angles into the race. Don’t forget that you can get your first 30 days of Geegeez Gold access for just £1.

This is the race of the year for trends fans and they are a great way of narrowing down this massive field. Andy Newton has already done the hard work for you if you are after Grand National trends, click here to visit his brilliant Grand National trends blog.

Pace

Making up ground isn’t easy on this course despite the runners having more than four miles to do so. In such a big field hold up performers can not only find themselves some way off the early lead, they also run more of a risk of having their rivals fall just in front of them. Those that are closer to the pace are far less likely to have to dodge fallen horses or unseated riders.

Let’s see what the data says about this race:

Aintree Grand National Pace Bias

Historic pace bias in the Grand National

It’s important to first acknowledge we only have limited data here. This is the only race each year run here over this distance and I’ve excluded heavy ground renewals as they come with their own micro pace biases.

The place data is the most telling here as this gives us the most data for the time period and the place percentages suggest a fairly strong bias towards those who race prominently. A very decent 20.48% of prominent runners place in the Grand National and that would probably be a lot more impressive if the data included 5+ places that you often get with the bookies.

Comparably, mid division is next best with an 11.29% place ratio, followed by front runners who have a 9.09% place strike rate and then there are the hold up performers who have a shocking place percentage of just 2.74%.

We can’t always tell exactly which runners are likely to be dropped out in the rear. It doesn’t take a drastically different ride to see a hold up performer to race in mid division for example. However it’s pretty clear that those who tend to race towards the rear and/or can be outpaced early on are not the ones to be with here.

Grand National 2021 Pace Map

A huge amount of runners makes constructing a pace map difficult, unless of course you have a Geegeez Gold subscription.

Grand National 2021 Pace Map

Grand National 2021 pace map based on the last two runs of each entrant.

We should have at least three runners happy to contest the early lead, including hot favourite Cloth Cap. Over this test they aren’t going to be taking each other on for the lead though, we’ll most likely just see all three disputing the early pace at a sensible gallop.

The runners you’d be most concerned about are those bottom nine contenders who all seem most likely to be dropped in at the rear. Recent history suggests they’ll have to be very good to win from there, or even place.

Instant Expert

Instant Expert should be able to highlight the runners who are more proven in conditions than others. The flip side of this is that those who are most proven are probably going to be amongst the most exposed runners but at the very least we can highlight some each way bets with Instant Expert.

Instant Expert showing win data for the 2021 Grand National field

Instant Expert showing place data for the 2021 Grand National field

You’ll find the win and place data above, win data first. A strong Grand National trend is the requirement to have won over at least 3m and to have placed over at least 3m4f so those two distances have been used for the win Instant Expert and place Instant Expert respectively. Both tables have been sorted by distance strike rate.

It’s worth noting that fifteen of these (including reserves) have so far never won on good or good to soft ground. Those runners include the well fancied Kimberlite Candy. Farclas and Cloth Cap are amongst the most consistent placers on this sort of ground, with Burrows Saint also up there but from only one try.

Nine runners that are guaranteed to make the final field have never won over 3m or further so it may be best to put a line through those. Burrows Saint, who is amongst the favourites, has the best win strike rate (67%) at 3m+. Eleven runners have a 33% win strike rate or better at 3m+ and that figure will drop to nine if the reserves don’t get in.

A whopping twenty seven of these, including the reserves, have never placed over 3m4f before which could be a convenient way of ruling out over half of the field. Yala Enki stands out as a runner that is consistently good over marathon trips with eight places from nine attempts over 3m4f+. Lord Du Mesnil and Potters Corner also bring a good place strike rate at marathon trips into this from more than one run so you’d fancy them to stay the trip at the very least.

With such a big field here form in 16+ runner races could be even more important than usual. Twenty eight of these, including reserves, have never won in a 16+ runner race before. Potters Corner is the only one to have both a 50%+ win strike rate and more than one win in these big fields. Twenty runners have at least a 50% place strike rate in big fields including the majority of the fancied runners.

If you wanted to build a shortlist of the most solid contenders from a win perspective using Instant Expert who have very few negatives you’d probably be looking at the following runners:

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Burrows Saint (good but limited data)
Secret Reprieve (good but limited data, 2nd reserve)
Takingrisks (lots of proven form)
Potters Corner (solid but ground a concern)
Cloth Cap (likeable profile)
Minellacelebration (some decent stats in his favour but has to prove stamina)

Grand National 2021 Runners

Here is the complete Grand National 2021 field in order of odds, most fancied to least fancied.

Cloth Cap

Pretty much everything to like about this one except the price. He’s a stone well in, ran a good 3rd in the Scottish equivalent two years ago, since cheekpieces were fitted he’s won easily on both occasions and enjoys this kind of ground. He’ll be out of the way of any incidents behind. He wouldn’t want to race as enthusiastically as he often does in this and there will definitely be better 4/1 shots on the day in other races but he looks the most likely winner.

Burrows Saint

Won the Irish equivalent in 2019 (aged just 6) which goes a long way to proving his stamina. That victory came on good to yielding and although most of his runs have come on softer, his three career victories came on either good to yielding or good. He’s raced over hurdles more than fences since the Irish National win, clearly protecting his handicap mark, and he put up a more than respectable effort in a Grade 3 chase last time out on ground softer than ideal.

Minella Times

A good jumper with form on a range of going types. He’s never gone further than 3m and has been beaten on both attempts at that distance. He shapes as if he will stay a little further but my preference is for something with far more proven stamina, especially at this sort of price.

Any Second Now

Enjoyed a step up to 3m2f to win the 2019 Kim Muir at Cheltenham before falling in the Irish Grand National behind Burrows Saint. He’s been campaigned with this in mind since but with his last two wins coming over 2m he’s potentially got a little too much speed for this and the fact that he’s falled or unseated on three occasions doesn’t bode too well, for all the fences aren’t what they once were.

Kimberlite Candy

A wide margin winner of Warwick’s Classic Handicap Chase in 2020, a race that worked out particularly well. That win suggests his new handicap mark shouldn’t stop him from winning and two 2nd places in the Becher Chase give plenty of hope that he’ll complete the course once again. This season’s 2nd in the Becher was his only run this season with leaves him with a longer than is often ideal break heading into this, although he does go well fresh. His best form is with plenty of cut in the ground and he was disappointing in the 2019 Midlands Grand National on good to soft which is a concern.

Secret Reprieve

Second reserve. On the upgrade in testing conditions at Chepstow the last twice. He’s lacking the usual experience of a Grand National and the likelihood of missing the cut here may do him a favour in the long run. He’ll be of interest next year, especially if the ground came up testing.

Discorama

No stamina concerns having placed in the 2019 National Hunt Chase on soft ground. Given a wind op since disappointing last time out so well being has to be taken slightly on trust but he’s run well after a wind op and an absence in the past, when 3rd at last year’s Cheltenham Festival behind The Conditional in the Ultima. His run style isn’t likely to do him any favours around here and most of his form is on softer.

Magic Of Light

Runner up in this in 2019 behind Tiger Roll so few question marks about the suitability of this test. As a 10yo she’s entitled to have a better crack at it this year but she’s 5lbs higher and it’s extremely difficult to win a National having run so well in defeat in the race previously. Poor run last time out but over a much shorter distance so that’s not a major concern. Much more appealing for place purposes than win purposes.

Farclas

Recent Cheltenham form behind The Shunter somewhat franked on Thursday but he’s been largely campaigned over 2m and although he ran well enough on his only attempt at 3m this is a massive step up again. Interesting from a handicapping perspective but has to be one of the least likely stayers in the field.

Potters Corner

Stays all day and loves testing conditions. He hasn’t been in the best of form on his last two starts and whilst he would have still made plenty of appeal on soft or heavy ground here, he might still find things happening too quickly in this. Perhaps the first time blinkers will help with that but there are certainly some risks involved for all it would be no shock if he won this.

Bristol De Mai

High class stayer whose best form has come at Haydock. He does have form on better ground but there is plenty to prove stamina wise and his best chance of defying top weight would have been if the race was moved to Haydock. Not difficult to oppose.

Anibale Fly

Finished 4th in this in 2018 on heavy ground and 5th in 2019 on better ground. Now 4lbs and 9lbs lower than those efforts respectively. He’s placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup in 2018 and 2019 too so is clearly a high class contender. He hasn’t shown much since the 2019 renewal and would have only appealed as a winner on soft ground anyway so whilst he could place if bouncing back, a win at a third attempt is a tall order.

Milan Native

Has won over as far as 3m2f when taking the 2020 Kim Muir but failed to shine when pulled up over 3m5f in November. He’s been largely out of form on his last three runs and didn’t jump well on reappearance at Cheltenham after wind surgery. Opposable based on current form, jumping and stamina.

Mister Malarky

Not the most consistent but his run style should serve him well around here and the ground should be fine. He ran well after wind surgery in February so perhaps that will sort out his consistency but he still has stamina to prove. Definite chance if stamina holds out.

Some Neck

First reserve. Run well twice over 3m6f in cross country races at Cheltenham and finishing 3rd behind two runners rated 20lbs+ behind him no disgrace even if well enough beaten. Jumping hasn’t always been the best and needs to improve for this test to figure if getting a run.

Takingrisks

Won the 2019 Scottish Grand National, beating Cloth Cap in the process. Versatile with regards to ground having won that race on good whilst gaining his most recent win, last time out, on soft. He’s got a good strike rate for a pretty exposed runner and although he’s now 12, it’s hard to argue his win last time out wasn’t a career best. He may improve again for this step back up in trip and although he’s fallen a couple of times, he’s gone eighteen runs without doing so. Certainly one of the more interesting contenders at a price.

Acapela Bourgeois

Gave Burrows Saint 6lbs and a beating last time out in a small field Grade 3 and now gets 1lb from that rival so interesting at the weights. He wouldn’t beat that rival on their meeting in the Irish National a couple of years ago though when Acapela Bourgeois was 3rd behind his stablemate. Should stay this far and jumps okay but he tends to need to dominate to win and those tactics will be a bit harder to pull off in this big field.

Lord Du Mesnil

A strong enough stayer who won a decent race last time out but he loves Haydock and very testing conditions. He’s fallen or unseated five times in his career including his French form and that’s a concern over these fences.

Yala Enki

Extremely consistent in staying chases but he was a faller here at the first in the Becher and eight of his eleven wins have come on either soft or heavy ground. The higher he’s gone in the handicap, the more he has relied on smaller fields to get his head in front so he’ll have to put in some weight carrying performance to win this. Likely to be well placed but whatever happens should find at least a few too good.

Canelo

Didn’t look to be crying out for further last time out over 3m2f and has arguably been nailed by the handicapper now. His run style might not be ideal here either and it would be a surprise if he was good enough, for all there are relatively few miles on the clock.

Definitely Red

A staying on 4th in 2019 Becher and was sent off 10/1 for the 2017 Grand National before he was pulled up having been badly hampered. Took well to cheekpieces when they were applied in a 15 length win at Kelso just over a year ago but he’s struggled for form since then. Might bounce back but it’s possible age has caught up with him.

Give Me A Copper

Very lightly raced for an 11yo and he’s largely run well on better ground. A solid 4th in the bet365 Gold Cup in 2019 but he’s not always the best jumper. Not without a hope in this at a price but even if his jumping holds up he’ll need to improve for the step up in trip.

Lake View Lad

Pulled up in the 2019 Grand National with connections stating they would have liked a softer surface. He beat Santini here in December but has been out of form since and hopes of a revival are pinned on a wind op and first time cheekpieces. Something to prove on this ground too.

Shattered Love

She’s been in fair form this year but most wins have come in small fields on testing ground over much shorter trips. Far too many question marks to consider.

Blaklion

Finished 4th in the 2017 Grand National before winning the Becher in the same year by a wide margin. Hasn’t really threatened to win a race since then though so all hopes pinned on the return to this venue.

Chris’s Dream

Ran in the Ryanair last time out but was pulled up after jumping errors. Has several wins at 3m but hasn’t looked like staying beyond that trip and this is a lot of weight to carry when stamina is in serious doubt.

Class Conti

Nothing particularly wrong with his handicap mark but it certainly seems he needs to improve for the step up in trip rather than simply stay the extra distance. He lacks a win at 3m+ though and the ground may be livelier than ideal.

Vieux Lion Rouge

Well suited by these fences having completed in every single one of his nine runs over them and was a wide margin winner of the Becher Chase this season, defeating Kimberlite Candy by 24 lengths. Yet to get within 27 lengths of the winner of this in four attempts and has looked a non stayer each time. Great bet to complete the course, poor bet to win.

Alpha Des Obeaux

Fell in the 2018 Grand National but was a good 3rd in the 2019 Becher. Hasn’t got within 13 lengths of winning since then but ran a decent 4th in the Cross Country Chase last month, just behind Some Neck. Ground and trip are probably okay but run style leaves him needing plenty of luck here. Better chance than odds suggest though.

Fagan

Fourth reserve. Comfortable heavy ground winner last time out and had looked in need of further at Ludlow previously over an extended 3m1f. Pulled up previously in the 2018 Scottish Grand National but beaten before stamina really came into play that day. Been hit hard by the handicapper for latest win and unlikely to get a run anyway.

Hogan’s Height

An impressive winner over these fences in the Grand Sefton in 2019 but not shown much since then, pulled up on penultimate start and beaten 124 lengths last time out in the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham. Has form on a range of going types but couldn’t be arriving in much worse form.

Jett

Hasn’t run well in over a year and was beaten over 100 lengths in this season’s Becher. Stays at least 3m1f but form as much of a worry as anything.

Ok Corral

Found to be lame after he was pulled up following a 416 day break when running in the Ultima at the Cheltenham Festival. He’s only run four times on good or good to soft ground and he’s won three of those which is a possible angle but a lot has to be taken on trust.

Sub Lieutenant

Stayed on nicely to finish 2nd in the 2019 Topham Chase and tends to run well on better ground. Not disgraced in two runs for the current trainer and jockey Tabitha Worsley has already won over these fences in the past in the Foxhunters’ Chase. Questionable stayer but better chance than the price suggests.

Talkischeap

Impressive winner of the 2019 bet365 Gold Cup (Give Me A Copper in behind) but only real sign of life since then came in a national hunt flat race at Lingfield in February. He reverted to type though when well beaten at Kempton on his next start. Enjoys fast ground (60% strike rate on good or better) but this might not be quite quick enough and needs to bounce back regardless.

The Long Mile

Stayed on well behind Acapela Bourgeois and Burrows Saint last time out but was very much ridden to get the trip that day. Similar tactics here would leave him a hostage to fortune and given the bulk of his form he’d still be a doubtful stayer.

Balko Des Flos

Barely run well for two years now and has to prove stamina and well-being amongst other things.

Ballyoptic

Has fallen in two out of three attempts at these fences and was well beaten in the other. He was actually in the process of running a decent race in the 2019 renewal when hitting the deck. He’s had no real respite from the handicapper though and hasn’t been in the best form recently so a win would be a shock.

Cabarat Queen

Best form has generally come when leading early but was always in rear last time out when eventually pulled up. Has form on a variety of going but something to prove at present and stamina far from assured.

Double Shuffle

He's been in decent form at Kempton on his last three starts and this course will suit his run style. Versatile when it comes to the ground but he didn’t seem to enjoy this test when trying it in 2017 and doesn’t look to stay further than 3m

Minellacelebration

Three time winner at Aintree but has yet to shine in two attempts over these fences. Won well in October here but hasn’t been in the same form since and has had a wind op since his last run. Wasn’t stopping when victorious over 3m2f at Uttoxeter last July and would be a major player if able to transfer his Mildmay course form to these fences. Very risky but more upside than most at these odds.

Ami Desbois

Runner up on his last three completed starts, behind fellow outsider Double Shuffle on his penultimate start. Tends to perform better in smaller fields which is no surprise given his run style and he’s going to struggle to dominate in this. May show up well for a while but stamina likely to give way later on.

Kauto Riko

Third reserve. Ran well in the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November but not seen since. He was seen to good effect that day but still only managed 4th and on ground that is likely to be faster than ideal over a trip that looks much further than ideal it’s unlikely we’ll see him figure in the unlikely event he gets a run.

Tout Est Permis

Hasn’t been in the best of form this year and he didn’t look a strong stayer when a well beaten 8th behind Burrows Saint in the 2019 Irish Grand National. Ground no issue but recent form and distance are likely to cause problems.

Verdict

Not as many with outstanding claims in this as you might think. As usual there are a few in with a great form chance but with some serious stamina question marks and I definitely prefer some proven stamina on my side in this.

Cloth Cap is the obvious one. He’s a crazy price though, especially if some of his recent improvement has been down to the aggressive riding tactics. He should run well but you can’t back him at that price.

BURROWS SAINT hasn’t been able to advertise his claims as much as he’d like as Willie Mullins has clearly been protecting his handicap mark with this race the aim since last year. He seems to have the perfect mix of speed and stamina for this and should be ideally placed just off the lead.

There are a few at very big prices that can interest the each way punters. The least risky of those could well be Magic Of Light and Takingrisks. The former arguably finds herself in a weaker race than when she was 2nd in the last running of this whilst the latter is still unexposed at extreme trips, despite being proven at them, and ran a career best last time out. Man Of Light is the more likely to place and Takingrisks the more likely to win of that pair.

Of those at the more extreme prices Give Me A Copper, Sub Lieutenant and Minellacelebration make a little bit of appeal but I wouldn’t consider more than the tiniest of each way bets on those, if anything.

Four against the field:

1. Cloth Cap
2. Burrows Saint
3. Takingrisks
4. Magic Of Light

All Weather Championships Finals Day 2021 Preview: Analysis And Tips For Every Race At Lingfield

This is normally a one race column but with it being All Weather Finals day at Lingfield where there are going to be many shared course biases I’m going to look at every race on the card. I won’t be going into quite so much depth as usual on each race but hopefully covering every race makes things a little more interesting with some excellent Good Friday racing in store.

As usual, I’ll be using plenty of tools, data and racecard features from Geegeez Gold. Click here to get your first 30 days of Geegeez Gold for just £1.

2.00 – All Weather Marathon Championships – 2m

Pace

Just the 7 runners involved here over the longest distance Lingfield race over on the all weather.

In this sort of small field scenario it seems the longer distance cancels out any inherent front runner advantage with those coming from mid division performing best across all recorded metrics above. Those that are held up or race prominently have very similar stats and neither run style seems a disadvantage. The same can’t be said about front runners who perform worst of all across a decent sized sample. Early leaders win less often and place less often than their more patiently ridden rivals.

The data above doesn’t denote a strong advantage though so we certainly shouldn’t rule out front runner per se, however it certainly seems as though being taken on for the lead would potentially make life difficult for any front runners here.

Draw

With such a small field and long distance it’s unlikely there is much draw advantage, but let’s check to make sure.

Much of the data seems to suggest a low draw is a negative here with middle and high closely matched and seemingly more advantageous.

Individual stall data fluctuates a fair bit from stall to stall, there is no really strong trend other than stalls 2 and 3 not performing brilliantly. With this race being for the slower horses it’s possible those that are drawn low could be running into more trouble in running than those drawn higher and they maybe lack the gears to recover from that.

A low draw seems nothing to worry about but perhaps being drawn slightly higher is preferable.

Pace Map

A possible contested speed here with Australis and Ranch Hand both capable of getting on with things. Lucky Deal and Island Brave are likely to be patiently ridden with the other trio fitting between.

Analysis

In this race we’re probably going to be after a relatively patiently ridden runner with a decent turn of foot for a stayer as Lingfield doesn’t really suit those slow grinders.

The last four winners of this have been rated between 103 and 105 so Rainbow Dreamer sets a high standard with his 110 rating. He boasts 6 wins from 10 all weather starts but has yet to race at Lingfield which is a slight concern. He is unbeaten in four starts on Kempton’s polytrack surface though. He’s tactically versatile, very capable in small fields and beat a decent yard stick on his last run a month ago.

Ranch Hand is his main rival on form. He won a three runner handicap at Chelmsford last time out, ideally placed, taking his record at this trip on the flat to two from two. The other win came at listed level. He’s also three from three on all weather surfaces but he too has never run here at Lingfield.

Amtiyaz has plenty to find on ratings but is lightly raced enough to prove ahead of his official mark still. He has been beaten in handicaps off marks in the 80s on two of his last three runs. Lucky Deal gave him plenty of weight and a beating in January at Kempton. That rival likes a well run race at this trip but is another who hasn’t yet run at Lingfield.

Rock Eagle was narrowly beaten by Ranch Hand last time out in receipt of 3lbs so has a little bit to find whilst all weather specialist Australis needs to continue improving to figure. There isn’t a lot between him and outsider Island Brave based on a fast track qualifier in December at Newcastle.

I’m a fan of Ranch Hand and he’s unexposed on artificial surfaces and at 2m. He’s led on his last three runs on all codes though and that might not be the best tactic here. There is a distinct lack of course form here which is the only negative that can be levelled at RAINBOW DREAMER (9/4). He may be the favourite but he’s a fair price given his earned his rating time and time again. His absence of 55 days is a very slight concern given he’s not always best fresh but he should be able to win this.

2.35 – All Weather Fillies’ And Mares’ Championships – 7f

Pace

The first of the 7f contests here and another small field with just the six entries.

Smaller fields can often mean less front runners and less pace but it also means the field is likely to be more closely packed and those that are patiently ridden have less ground to make up than they would do in a bigger field.

This is potentially why we aren’t seeing a strong bias above. Front runners and prominent racers do have better win and place percentages than those nearer the rear of the field and place percentages do steadily fall the further back you are placed early on in the race but the 0.8 IV for hold up performers isn’t a massive worry and hold up performers do generate the second most amount of wins so it’s not like it makes life impossible for them.

Draw

Win percentages point to a potentially strong bias here with just 10% of low drawn runners winning and 20% of high drawn runners winning. However we have limited data here and the place percentages give us more data and PRB gives us even more data again. Those metrics point to a much fairer draw over this trip in this field size. Those metrics do favour the middle draw ever so slightly but not enough to make any individual draw a concern here.

Something to note is that high drawn front runners produce a PRB of 0.63, the best PRB for any draw/pace combination. Conversely low drawn hold up performers have a PRB of just 0.38. Smaller fields produce less reliable PRB data than bigger fields so take it with a pinch of salt but it is a trend we often notice at Lingfield so it’s not a freak result either.

Pace Map

Despite the small field we should get a fair pace in this race with Fizzy Feet and Nirodha likely to be close up. Pholas and Shimmering Dawn are likely to be ridden cold. There don’t really seem to be any prominent runners so if the leading duo don’t battle for the lead that pair could be tactically advantaged as everything else will probably be happier near the rear than near the pace.

Analysis

This should be a relatively fair contest where everything has it’s chance.

Indie Angel isn’t the clear pick on ratings that her odds suggest but she does set the standard on her listed course win last time out. She’s probably better over a mile though and could be vulnerable if this gets tactical.

Shimmering Dawn has shown her limitations over the winter, even when winning, but she has won small field races over course and distance. Below par last time out at Wolverhampton but that race didn’t suit those patiently ridden.

Fizzy Feet has won four times here and has countless other placed efforts at what has to be her favourite course. She could be close to the pace but will be having her first crack at 7f here so may be ridden a little more patiently than usual. Form is fine but suspect stayer.

The remaining trio have more than a stone to find on official ratings. Arafi had looked well ahead of her mark on recent starts and it was probably the mile that beat her last time rather than the handicap mark. She still has plenty more opportunities to prove much better than this rating and isn’t without a chance. Nirodha hasn’t been the most consistent and was well beaten on her last try here, further at Wolverhampton probably suits. Meanwhile Pholas is probably well handicapped still but he’s rated just 78 and has looked much better at a mile than this 7f.

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This race might not take much winning and Indie Angel is unlikely to have to live up to her rating to take this. She’s no guarantee to even run to a mark in the 90s in this setup though and with Shimmering dawn perhaps a little flattered by her rating and Fizzy Feet probably better over shorter ARAFI (8/1) might not have as much to find as it seems. She should yet prove a 90s horse at least over 7f on artificial surfaces and she’s looks the value bet in a questionable field.

3.10 – All Weather Sprint Championships – 6f

Pace

The first of our speed tests here and a bigger field with twelve runners set to go to post (a maximum field).

A much more pronounced pace bias over this shorter trip in a bigger field. Remarkably both front runners and prominent racers have been profitable to follow to level stakes for both win and each way purposes.

Pretty much all metrics point to a fairly strong front runner bias here with a successful outcome being less and less likely the further from the pace you are ridden. A win percentage of less than 6% would be a big worry for backers of any runners likely to be held up here.

Draw

A PRB of 0.54 for low drawn runners and 0.46 for high drawn runners suggests there is definitely a draw advantage in bigger fields at this trip. Not all low draws are created equal though, stalls 3 and 4 are statistically amongst the best looking at PRB but 2 and 1 are less successful. Stall 5, which counts as a ‘middle’ draw, has the second best PRB of 0.55. A draw from 3 to 5 looks absolutely ideal here. These three stalls are winning almost 40% of races in these conditions between them despite making up just 25% of the runners - a clear over performance.

Pace Map

There are three potential front runners in this and they are all drawn in the three lowest stalls which will make it an interesting battle for the early lead. It would be no surprise to see some fast fractions for the first furlong.

The prominent runners are drawn wider here but it’s possible Brian The Snail manages to slot in behind the trio of leaders from stall 6. Exalted Angel was ridden a bit more forward than usual last time and he too could be well positioned from stall 5 if the same tactics are used here.

Gulliver’s running style and draw means he’ll probably have to be completely dropped out and that’s unlikely to benefit him here, even if they do go a good pace early.

Analysis

You generally want to be as close to the pace as possible here but with three front runners likely to take each other on we could see the next group of runners become the beneficiaries here. A low to middle draw is ideal and anything that could be prominent from stalls 3 to 5 would be of interest.

There is very little between many of these and it’s going to come down to which runner is best suited by conditions and gets the required luck in running.

Harry’s Bar has won both starts here, albeit in handicap company. He’s had an unusual prep for this going to Saudi Arabia and then running over a mile and he’s short enough from stall 12. Summerghand is well fancied but this isn’t the ideal track for him, although he won in first time cheekpieces last season so perhaps the first time visor will help him win here.

Two against the field though are Exalted Angel and Lampang. Exalted Angel has done most of his racing over 5f on the all weather and has an extremely consistent profile on artificial surfaces, albeit at a slightly lower level than this. On his only run over this trip, that also came at this venue, he was a winner at listed level, albeit a slightly weaker listed race than you’d often see here. He had Summerghand and Aberama Gold behind that day. He’s no superstar by any means but he’s well drawn for a horse that will hopefully sit prominently if breaking alertly (has been slow at the start in the past).

Lampang has managed just the seven career starts and he has a stand out piece of form from November where over course and distance he finished not far behind Good Effort who would have been a good thing for this and a head ahead of 108 rated On The Warpath. He was below par in December back over 5f but back to form at Southwell a month ago when everything went wrong for him. The draw could have been kinder though and that’s just about enough of a put off in this case, leaving EXALTED ANGEL (13/2) as the sole each way selection.

3.45 – 3 Year Old All Weather Championships – 6f

Pace

The only race for the classic generation and a nice sized field for another 6f contest.

A strong bias towards front runners here with an IV of 1.75. A 44.27% place strike rate and 111.59 win PL suggest pace is key here. There is a fairly steep drop in performance when you look to the prominent runners, although they still perform well, whilst the performance of those from mid division and held up are much less impressive.

Draw

It's easy to assume that when low draws are favoured and high draws are not favoured that the middle draw data will be close to half way between the two. However this is a good example of that not being the case as low draws are only very slightly favoured over middle draws with both massively favoured over higher draws.

Stall 7 doesn’t perform badly at all but stalls 8, 9 and 10 definitely should be avoided for betting purposes unless housing a runner who would ordinarily be expected to win comfortably.

Pace Map

A decent sized field here but Mighty Gurkha is likely to get an uncontested lead in this from a relatively wide stall. The lower draws and prominent racing styles of Zamaani and Diligent Harry should ensure they track the pace.

Yazaman could be the worst positioned from a wider draw.

Analysis

Front runners with an easy lead are likely to be dangerous here if they have form chances. The highest three stalls could be disadvantaged against their lower drawn counterparts.

An unexposed field here so ratings are largely irrelevant. It’s early days for Diligent Harry but it’s slightly disappointing he was beaten in handicap company last time out His tactics last time out were probably dictated more by an awkward start than by design and if reverting to front running here he’d be quite interesting, but she’s short enough.

If Diligent Harry doesn’t try to lead that’s great news for the more exposed Might Gurkha. He scorched the earth here when winning a maiden last June and followed that up with a Group 3 win at Kempton. He had to give 7lbs to Victory Heights when going down by just a short head in December at Wolverhampton and Victory Heights is one of the leading fancies here off level weights. Mighty Gurkha then gave 5lbs and a beating to Zamaani (who is also one of the leading fancies here) next time out. He’s drawn fairly high but stall 7 still performs well enough and he showed a likeable attitude to battle back last time out. He should be ideally placed and it will take a good one to beat him.

Victory Heights and Zamaani both have to improve to beat him whilst Apollo One is interesting but his form here last time out can’t be taken literally given the pace that race was run at. He is capable though.

Plenty of others may run well but MIGHTY GURKHA (7/2) is three from four on the all weather and his only defeat was by the narrowest margin when conceding weight. He’s capable of blowing this lot away if allowed his own way in front.

4.15 – Easter Classic All Weather Middle Distance Championships – 1m2f

Pace

The only race over this trip on the card and a relatively small field with just the 6 runners.

Possibly the fairest race we could see all day in terms of potential pace bias. A small field over ten furlongs gives all runners a fair chance assuming an even pace with less than 2% difference between any of the win percentages and the place percentages pretty closely matched too. It’s probably slightly advantageous to be nearer the pace than further from it but not by much and a lot will depend on the individual setup of the race.

Draw

The figures here probably suggest a bigger draw advantage than is actually in existence. A middle draw seems to do very well but in such small fields there is no reason why both low and high would be disadvantaged compared to the middle. The fact that stalls 4 and 6 have a much better PRB than stall 5 is another anomaly and there is no real reason why most of this field won’t be able to get their preferred early position from their draws.

Pace Map

Sky Defender is more of a natural front runner than Bangkok so we could see Sky Defender cross over from the widest draw with Bangkok happy to take a lead and settle behind him. Assimilation might find himself at the back of the field by default with no out and out hold up performers seemingly to be found in this field.

Analysis

There is no reason why this should be a fair contest tactically. Slight preference would be for something nearer the pace but the best horse should be able to win this.

A disappointing turnout for the feature race of the day. Favourite Bangkok swerved the Winter Derby here in favour of an unsuccessful trip to Saudi Arabia. His absence was Forest Of Dean’s gain in the Winter Derby but he rather stole the race that day and had previously been beaten twice by Bangkok fair and square so Bangkok will likely have to underperform for Forest Of Dean to win this.

Assimilation is a likable sort but it would be disappointing if long time handicapper was capable of winning this, for all he’s been in decent form over the winter winning three of his last five. Palavecino always runs his race on artificial surfaces but he’s looked a little short of this level on his two course and distance runs in recent months.

Sky Defender has little to find with all but the favourite here and he’ll presumably be allowed to stride out in front here. He’s been disappointing on his last two starts but could easily finish 2nd or 3rd if returning to form. Byford is lightly raced and probably still ahead of his mark, but he’ll need to be well ahead of it to win this. His last handicap win, over course and distance, worked out pretty well and he wasn’t disgraced over further last time out but it’s a slight stretch to think he’ll win this.

Based on previous form BANGKOK (5/4) should be winning this from Forest Of Dean by a length or so. Assuming the travel hasn’t done him any harm he’d be a relatively confident selection to take this, but not exactly a value play at the price.

4.45 – All Weather Mile Championships – 1m

Pace

A ten runner field for the sole mile race on the card.

Positive tactics can be a big advantage over a mile in bigger fields here with all metrics clearly favouring front runners. One again we are seeing that there isn’t much between prominent and mid division so it’s worth remembering that whilst front runners can be marked up, prominent runners don’t necessarily enjoy an advantage over those slightly more patiently ridden.

There isn’t even a massive drop off in stats when it comes to hold up performers. Yes they perform less well than those ridden further forward but ruling anything out here just because it’s a closer would be a dangerous game. Upgrade front runners but respect the rest still.

Draw

Despite the bigger field here there is surprisingly little draw advantage on offer. The PRB data is very even, as is much of the other data on offer. The fact that stalls 1 and 10 are both in the top three individual PRB performers backs up the idea that there is no draw advantage. Stall 4 performs very well across all metrics but there is no real reason why that should be much more advantageous over stalls 3 or 5 so it’s probably just an anomaly.

Pace Map

Both Khuzaam and Canagat are happy bowling along in front but neither completely rely on leading. Khuzaam may end up getting the lead simply through being drawn five stalls lower.

Silver Quartz often tracks the pace but isn’t ideally drawn to get the best position possible, he could end up a little wider than ideal. Mum’s Tipple was ridden prominently last time but he’s up in trip but so might ridden a little more patiently with that in mind so Fox Duty Free is likely to get a decent position near the rail just off the leaders.

Intuitive is normally held up but was given more of a forward ride in a four runner field last time out. Expect him to be a little further back than the pace map suggests, although his good draw should ensure one or two end up behind him early on.

Analysis

A lone front runner can be difficult to peg back here whilst those coming from the rear can struggle. The mile trip can favour speedier hold up performers with a nice turn of foot though, especially if there is a good early gallop.

This should be a really interesting race. Khuzaam is the obvious starting point. He should be well placed and has finished either 1st and 2nd on all starts at a mile or shorter and he’s gone very close in a couple of mile listed races at Kempton. He tends to idle close home though and he’s not really one to be taking short prices on. He’ll almost certainly be in the first two home but yet another 2nd could be the more likely of the two positions.

Mum’s Tipple is difficult to weigh up at a mile. He ran well enough over 6f on his first start after a break in February and then won a listed race over 7f easily next time out. He was very well positioned in that race and isn’t guaranteed to run to the same level up to a mile but Lingfield is hardly the toughest track.

I gave Intuitive a good write up on here when he won over course and distance in January, beating Mission Boy (been in good form and reopposes here) comfortably. He wasn’t seen to best effect last time out in a very small field but that run was certainly no disgrace off a mark of 106 in a handicap and any improvement on that effort, which is likely, gives him a good chance here.

Fox Duty Free has won three from three here over the winter and still looks to be progressing. He got a stone from Via Serendipity last time out over course and distance and although value for more than the 1.5 lengths between them, Via Serendipity could be deemed better value at a bigger price of level weights here.

Documenting and Silver Quartz were both poor in this two years ago so best of the rest is probably the aforementioned Via Serendipity who wasn’t at his best last time at Kempton but is generally pretty reliable on the all weather.

Any of the first four in the betting could win this but INTUITIVE (15/2) each way could be the best play. He’s seen to best effect when held up and although that isn’t normally ideal here, he has twice run very well with those tactics at this venue. It might be worth including Khuzaam in a forecast.

5.15 – All Weather Championships Apprentice Handicap

Pace

We drop into handicap company for the final race on the card and we have a maximum field of fourteen for the second race over 7f on the card and we could see some strong biases in this one.

The win PL for mid division here has probably been influenced by a very big priced winner or two as most other metrics point towards a pace bias towards the front of the pack over 7f once again. Front runners perform best in terms of win percentage and place percentage as well as EW PL and IV. A place strike rate of more than 40% certainly suggests good front runners should command plenty of respect, especially if getting an easy lead.

Prominent and mid division are fairly closely matched again and they aren’t too far off front runners, especially for win percentages. Hold ups perform relatively poorly though as they are clearly left with too much ground to make up more often than not in this big field.

Draw

The middle of the draw seems to be the ideal place to be here with a PRB of 0.54 and superior win and place percentages. A lower draw isn’t too far off but it certainly seems as though you want to avoid the high draws if possible with the PRB falling to 0.46.

We must remember that not all low, middle or high draws are created equally, especially in big fields. The individual stall data suggests stalls 3 to 9 are maybe ideal, although 1 and 2 certainly aren’t bad and stall 10 isn’t dreadful either with a PRB of 0.49. The highest two or three stalls are certainly ones to be wary of though, anything above stall 11 is going to struggle to win unless very well handicapped on the day.

Pace Map

Harrison Point would ordinarily be capable of challenging the early pace but his draw in stall 13 is going to make that much more difficult than usual. It is possible to get a good position from a wide draw but there are seemingly a lot of lower drawn prominent racers here and very few that will receive a pull of the reigns early which could lead to a bit of early congestion whilst they sort themselves out. The speedy Lord Of The Lodge should lead though from stall 7.

Oh This Is Us and Lethal Lunch would probably end up in the last two places early whatever the draw so the low draws are likely to be wasted on that pair.

Analysis

Front runners clearly have to be respected whilst those that are at the back early or in the very highest stalls are likely to be disadvantaged, although not completely ruled out.

Ayr Harbour is going to be popular here under claiming sensation Benoit De La Sayette. The horse has a very likeable all weather profile and his form is undeniably really solid. The fly in the ointment is stall 14. I’d love to say he can’t win from there but Goring won this from the same draw two years ago. It’s still a disadvantage though and he’s too short at around 4/1 from there.

Much has also been made of Laura Pearson’s worth for her claim and she’s an interesting booking for Amber Island who looks as though he needs to step up to win this. Count Otto has been in good form recently but is very much exposed and doesn’t look well handicapped anymore.

Lord Of The Lodge is the most likely leader here and Mum’s Tipple winning the previous race would be a form boost. He did comfortably best of the pace horses at Newcastle two starts ago in a good race and despite being rated 103 here, he’s still relatively lightly raced and was 2nd in a Group 2 as a 2yo so he could still prove well handicapped. All his all weather runs have come on tapeta but he’s also run well on turf so polytrack should be no issue.

Gabrial The Devil is weighted to beat Count Otto on a recent meeting and although not obviously well handicapped, he’s been extremely consistent recently and could place again. Total Commitment is closely matched with that pair and absolutely loves it here. A more solid pace than last time should suit him and it would be no surprise to see him place again.

Magical Wish has won over course and distance after a break before, isn’t badly handicapped and should be well placed from a decent draw. He’s more interesting than Revolutionise who seemed to find Lingfield a bit quick on his last try here. An honourable mention goes to Oh This Is Us who goes well here and is fairly handicapped but he’s surely better at a mile at this course.

Ayr Harbour is the obvious and interesting one and the jockey booking may be enough to cancel out the poor draw. In a competitive handicap like this he’s too risky at the price though. Total Commitment, Gabrial The Devil and to a certain extent Magical Wish have decent place claims at prices but LORD OF THE LODGE (13/2) could be just as interesting as anything else. He probably won’t get an easy lead but he’s much better drawn than the rest of the pace which will help. He’s been gradually coming to the boil having disappointed back on turf last summer and time will probably tell he faced an impossible task last time when still defeating a 108 rated rival by 1.75 lengths who seemingly ran his race.

Pierre-Louis Jamin is fair value for his claim and he’s just one of five jockeys in this who have previously ridden their mount. The other runners who have jockeys who have previously ridden them are Magical Wish, Revolutionise, Total Commitment and Oh This Is Us.

Doncaster Spring Mile Preview: Two Big Prices Against The Field

The Lincoln is the most obvious race to cover this week with Saturday signalling the return of flat racing. However there is lots of filler in that race and it looks a case of pick the ‘group horse in a handicap’ from the first few in the betting – all of whom look short enough. A few of those fancied runners could also be withdrawn if the heavens don’t open so the short prices on the remaining runners of interest would get even shorter.

I’ll therefore look at the consolation for the Lincoln here, the Spring Mile Handicap. This race looks much more competitive and one in which we can hopefully find an each way edge, using the amazing suite of tools and data on offer with Geegeez Gold of course. Don’t forget that you can get your first 30 days with Geegeez Gold for just £1 by clicking here.

Plenty of the draw and pace data in this article should still be relevant for the Lincoln itself as an added bonus.

A note on the ground before we get stuck into this. This tweet circulated earlier in the week highlighting some very firm looking ground at Doncaster. At the time of writing on Friday the ground is officially described as good, good to firm in places with maybe a couple of millimetres of rain forecast on Friday. A few of the trainers were quoted during the week that it could easily end up good to soft but that might just be wishful thinking on their part.  We probably won’t know the exact going until the jockeys give their opinions after the first race. I wouldn’t be surprised if they suggest it’s on the good to firm side but for the purpose of this preview, I’m going to assume very fair, good ground.

Draw

It wouldn’t be the start of the flat season without a discussion on the draw. Unlike many courses where there can be a clear draw advantage, Doncaster is one of those courses where the draw can be much discussed and debated. Let’s take a look at the data:

Only ten big field races have been run over this course and distance on good ground since 2009 which is a relatively small sample size. The limited data suggests high draws have been preferable with low draws earning a PRB of 0.47, middle draws having a PRB of 0.51 and high draws having the best PRB of 0.53.

If we include good to firm ground as well as good ground we see a very slight shift further towards high draws with the PRB moving from 0.53 to 0.54.

If we include good to soft ground as well as good ground, we see a slightly different set of results:

This time there is very little difference between the draws with low and middle draws generating a PRB of 0.50 and high draws having a PRB of 0.51.

So potential advantages can definitely switch depending on the ground here. Going back to the good ground data, we see 3 wins apiece for low and high draws and 4 wins for middle draws. This suggests you can win from anywhere. For place purposes though low draws are much less favoured with a place percentage of 13.85%. That doesn’t compare favourably with 23.61% for middle draws and 21.54% for high draws.

Looking back at replays of the Lincoln and the Spring Mile renewals from recent years, they have often come up the middle of the track which explains the above data. The horses on the wings of the field, from very high or very low draws don’t seem to perform quite a well as those in the middle, from a place percentage perspective at the very least. But for win purposes all draws have a chance if they don’t favour one side and come up the middle and that is what the data confirms.

The above data is grouping 7 or 8 stalls into ‘low’, ‘middle’ or ‘high’ and we should get further insight from looking at the individual stall data, which of course we can do through Geegeez Gold.

This data is sorted by PRB3, which takes into account the immediately adjacent stalls to each individual stall, making it less prone to data anomalies.

The first trend that stands out is the lowest five stalls are all amongst the worst performing eight draws. However, they’ve generated 30% of the wins so whilst they can be a disadvantage more often than not, they clearly can’t be used to rule horses out.

Now whilst the lowest five stalls have some of the worst PRB3 figures, stalls 6 to 10 produce five of the top seven results. This is historically the best performing area of the entire draw.

The line graph included with the above data is extremely useful in that it shows the areas of the draw that may be most favoured. It seems that you ideally want to be drawn in the area where low draws and middle draws meet. If you can’t be drawn there you probably want to be where the middle draws meet the high draws. If they come up the middle this makes perfect sense. Those on the flanks might see too much daylight. Those in the very centre of the draw are probably more likely to meet traffic problems. The runners that are either side of the centre probably get the best of both worlds.

Overall though we can’t be 100% sure where they’ll go and we can’t rule anything completely in or out based on the draw. Either side of the middle does seem favourable though.

Pace

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A nice straight mile course and a big field, often a perfect recipe for getting the best out of hold up performers. Is that the case here though?

I’ve included all races on ground ranging from good to firm down to good to soft here. The going can affect the pace bias just like it can affect the draw bias but these aren’t extremes of going and the data appears to be pretty uniform across the different going types.

We see a massive underperformance from front runners here. With bigger fields likely to contain more front runners and a nice fair straight to run over this isn’t a huge surprise but just how badly front runners have performed from a place percentage point of view is interesting with just 9.09% of pace horses even holding on for a place.

According to the data the further back you are in the field early, the more likely you are to win. We get more data from the place percentages than the win percentages though and they suggest mid division is slightly favoured over being held up, but with figures of 23.44% and 22.31% respectively for these run styles there is very little in it. A place percentage of 18.80% is a fair enough performance, you couldn’t really argue they are favoured but it’s clearly a much better position to be in than front rank.

The fact that mid division and held up are both profitable to level stakes for each way bets, with prominent and front runners both unprofitable definitely suggests we ideally want to be on the more patiently ridden runners.

Pace and Draw Combination

I have already speculated some reasons on why the central draws and very wide draws might be slightly underperforming when the runners come up the middle. The pace and draw combination heat map could potentially shed more light on this.

The fact that there is such a huge drop in hold up runner performance for central drawn runners compared to their lower and higher drawn counterparts strong suggests these runners are meeting trouble in running.

There is no obvious reason why high drawn prominent racers perform much better than the lower drawn prominent racers or why low drawn mid division seems so much better than higher drawn mid division but that data is still worth bearing in mind given it’s based on PRB which takes into account much more data than win or place percentages.

Spring Mile Pace Map

As usual, the individual pace make up of the race will be very important, especially in this cavalry charge.

There should be a good pace on here and the fact that the majority of it seems to be amongst the middle draws again suggests that they’ll come up the centre of the course.

A strong pace here, combined with the historic pace bias towards those held up, strongly suggests that the winner, and possibly the majority of the placed horses, will come from the rear half of the field.

The likes of Ledham, Badenscoth and Queen’s Sargent will need luck on their side as they are the most centrally drawn hold up performers and they seem more likely than most to encounter traffic problems. Home Before Dusk may be another who gets trapped in the middle.

Profile

You always get a mix of horses returning from breaks against horses that are fit from all weather campaigns in this. This year exactly half the field have already had a run in 2021. Some of those have had a very active winter and others have had a quite obvious prep run ahead of the return of the flat season.

It’s very much worth noting that seven of the last ten winners of this had not run at all since the previous flat turf season. Of the three winners who had a previous run, one had run on the all weather in late November so could be considered yet another winner returning from a break. Of the other two winners one had been running over hurdles over the winter and the other had a single all weather prep run for this. Horses that have been busy on the all weather over the winter do not have a good record in this at all.

It’s also worth noting that eight of the last ten winners of this were 4yos. That age group will generally be the least exposed in this so it makes sense they do best of all. Ten of this field are 4yos, seven of which make up the first eight in the betting at the time of writing.

The Runners

I’ll run through the main contenders for this, in early odds order, and a few interesting ones at bigger prices.

Acquitted

An unexposed 4yo who had just three runs last year. The piece of form that stands out was his 2nd to Palace Pier in a Newcastle handicap. He was beaten over 3 lengths on that occasion, getting 9lbs, which is no disgrace at all but Palace Pier won more comfortably than the winning margin suggests and the fact that he turned up in a Newcastle handicap strongly suggests he was going to improve significantly on the run. So whilst Acquitted remains with potential, I wouldn’t take that run remotely literally and the form wasn’t franked in the rest of the field.

Acquitted didn’t beat a rival home on his next two starts and hasn’t been seen since July. He’s been gelded since and he could suddenly improve for a good trainer but his only turf win was on heavy and he has a lot of questions to answer given his price but strong market support may be significant.

Arctic Vega

Another unexposed 4yo representing powerful connections. He ran poorly in December on his first start for 167 days but came on for that run and won next time out, on his first run at this distance, at Newcastle in January. The 2nd and 3rd have failed to place in five runs combined since then which is a worry, as is the fact that both his wins have come on artificial surfaces. He has run just about okay on good ground previously though.

The fact that he hasn’t run in two months could be a slight concern. It’s entirely possible he was put away for this after that but if they think he’s really well handicapped why not try and win another race to get into the Lincoln which has twice as much prize money on offer?

Artistic Rifles

Two wins from three starts at Doncaster and ran well enough last time out on his first start for 161 days. The form of that run has been let down a little though, all his wins have come in much smaller fields and he’s often close to the pace which is likely to be a negative here. Add to that he’s fairly exposed now and is drawn very high which might not be ideal.

Mascat

A consistent contender, his form figures outside of Group company at 10f or shorter read 213323. He was 2nd to Palace Pier as a 2yo but his only win came in maiden company and he does turn out to be the bridesmaid too often.

He’s interesting on his mile form, which is probably his best distance, especially if he improves for better ground having had his last two runs on heavy. He’s been gelded since those runs and must have an excellent chance of placing in this, for all he’s perhaps slightly vulnerable for win purposes. It's also possible he’ll be a bit too close to a strong pace. A good run here would be a boost for Brentford Hope in the Lincoln later on.

Poet’s Lady

Another of the lightly raced 4yos. She’s never run a bad race in five starts and is proven over this trip on ground ranging from soft to good. She’s fairly handicapped on what she has done to date, especially her 2nd in maiden company last June. She was beaten 6 lengths on handicap debut but she was only receiving 5lbs from a subsequent listed winner that day so that was certainly no disgrace.

She did look as though she was ready to go a little further last time though and she probably won’t be far off the pace here which might not help her chances but she’s handicapped to be competitive and has a nice draw in stall 8.

Amaysmont

Consistent performer and the shortest priced of those that have been kept busy over the winter. He’s gone up 6lbs over the winter and had previously failed to win in six handicap starts off lower marks than this. He handles any ground and given he is fit from his all weather campaign he’s capable of giving his running plus he’s unexposed at this trip on turf but he doesn’t look well enough handicapped to win this. Richard Fahey has won this twice in the past ten runnings (and has won the Lincoln twice in the same period) and this is his only runner in either race today. Very low drawn.

Dubai Souq

A well beaten last of four runners when last seen in July running over a mile and a half. He’s been gelded and off the track since. His best performance came when a wide margin winner on soft ground over ten furlongs as a juvenile and his only run since was that poor run last time out. He should handle the ground but we don’t know if he’s trained on since his 2yo days, how he’ll handle the drop in trip or how fit he is here.

We’d have to guess at the first two issues but it’s worth noting that Saeed bin Suroor has a 19.12% win strike rate and 33.82% place strike rate with 4yos in handicaps over the past two years with his UK runners and those figures drop to 4.55% and 18.18% respectively when returning from breaks of 60+ days so there is every chance that he won’t be anywhere near cherry ripe here even if he has trained on.

Global Esteem

His form tailed off last season after a good couple of runs in the summer but he changed moved from Gaye Kelleway to Chris Dwyer over the winter and put up a fairly encouraging reappearance over just 6f earlier this month in what looks a clear prep run for this.

He made a highly encouraging reappearance last season when runner up in a race where the winner, 4th and 6th all won on their next starts. That run came over 7f and he finished well looking ready for a step up in trip and he was the only runner to finish in the first five in that race to have been held up. He followed that up with a win on his first start at a mile next time out, winning easily by 2 lengths (the runner up went close against a progressive rival two starts later) and a 5lb rise seemed fair for that. He was well beaten on his next start (possibly ridden too prominently) and then ran very poorly on his final two starts of the season.

He was only 5th at Wolverhampton last time out in a class 4 handicap but he was surprisingly dropped to 6f for that and he ran well considering he was trapped wide the whole way round. He’ll be seen to best effect if he can settle in the rear off a strong gallop here but he’s possibly drawn a bit wider than ideal in 18.

Home Before Dusk

A multiple winner on artificial surfaces but yet to win on turf and has only run once on grass since the summer of 2019. This sort of pace set up suits him ideally and he has finished runner up on ground ranging from good to soft and good to firm but he definitely seems a better horse on the all weather. He’s 10lbs lower than when beaten 11 lengths in the Royal Hunt Cup consolation last season so still needs to improve on that form.

Mostawaa

One of the likely pace angles, he won last time out at Kempton in December but has been freshened up since then. He showed some decent turf form last year on a range of going descriptions but he’s on a career high mark and faces plenty of competition for the lead, even from the nearest couple of stalls.

Queen’s Sargent

Reached a career high mark last season and versatile these day ground wise but all his winning has been done over shorter and he may struggle to fully get home off the back of a good gallop here. He’s generally ready to go early in the season (1st, 3rd, 3rd on his last three season debuts) and is likely to be seen travelling well a few furlongs from home but vulnerable to the less exposed mile specialists.

Spiorad

Ran consistently well in three all weather efforts this winter following wind surgery but was below par last time out at Newcastle a month ago. He’s fairly lightly raced for a 6yo but he’s required wind surgery a couple of times and hasn’t always been the most consistent so he’s not necessarily the type to bounce back instantly from a poor run. He’s also 6lbs above his highest winning mark.

Into Faith

An interesting, lightly raced contender at a price. Five of his nine starts have come in France, including a 2yo win on very soft ground at Longchamp. He’s 4lbs higher than when last seen in the UK courtesy of a couple of 2nd places from four attempts across the Channel. Both of those runners up efforts were behind horses that won next time out at listed level and it’s worth noting the first of those saw him finish just half a length behind Ziegfeld who was 2nd to subsequent QEII Stakes winner The Revenant in a Group 2 two starts later.

He put in two solid, staying on efforts on these shores last summer, admittedly well enough beaten in both. He was only beaten 4.5 lengths at the July meeting though in a hot mile handicap. The winner has since won in Hong Kong, the runner up is one of the favourites for the Lincoln and the 4th and 7th both won on their next starts. Into Faith actually did 2nd best of those held up in the rear in that race.

As an added bonus, his trainer David Menuisier has a better strike rate in handicaps in the past five years with runners returning from a 60+ day break than he does with all of his runners in handicaps. It’s probably fair to say Into Faith has improved for a run both seasons he has been in training but we at least know Menuisier can get them fit if need be.

Ledham

Not the most reliable betting proposition having finished last on his only start since leaving Sir Michael Stoute but he certainly doesn’t deserve to be the price he is for this. He’d be one of the favourites for this based on his form for his previous handler and although a lot has to be taken on trust with just one run in just under two years, his stable debut a week ago was better than it seemed. It was his first run in 693 days and he was dropping back to 6f for the first time in his career. He ran as though still retaining some ability over a trip that was clearly too short and wasn’t given a hard race. Such a quick turn around after that layoff is a major concern and he’s certainly very risky but there are worse 66/1 chances running this weekend.

The Verdict

Arctic Vega is probably most interesting of the favourites but it would have been preferable for some of those behind him last time out to advertise that form since. It’s not his fault he won a poor race though and he’s definitely interesting.

Mascat is capable of running well but he’s probably a place proposition once again. Meanwhile Poet’s Lady is one we haven’t seen the best of but she might end up outpaced in this.

All these shorter priced runners come with plenty of risks attached though so the value is surely found at bigger odds. Two against the field are GLOBAL ESTEEM and INTO FAITH at around 14/1 and 25/1 respectively.

The former seemed back to form last time out over too short a trip and his strong run at Sandown last year came on fast ground whilst his win came on soft ground so he has plenty going for him. His form is in a lower grade but a repeat of that Sandown effort would put him in the mix.

Into Faith is higher in the handicap now than he was last summer which is slightly frustrating given he was well beaten twice but the Newmarket race in which he ran creditably was a better contest than this and he earned his extra weight in France. He also has the handy 5lb claim from Rhys Clutterbuck.

Both are perhaps drawn a little wider than ideal but they should be ridden to best effect given how this is likely to be run.

My Way Or The Highway In Kempton Handicap

Any live racing on Saturday is going to be an anti-climax after Cheltenham but there is still some pretty good racing on offer. The Midlands Grand National will be the big betting heat of the day but as usual it’s going to be a guessing game as to which horses will last out stamina wise. I’m going to play it slightly safe this week and look at the 3.15 at Kempton (also live on ITV4), a class 3 handicap chase over two and a half miles.

As usual, all the information and tools used below are available with Geegeez Gold – click here to get your first 30 days of Gold for just £1.

Pace

It’s fairly widely known that the Kempton chase course tends to favour those ridden nearer the pace, but how much of an advantage is there?

The majority of winners here are ridden prominently, as are the majority of the placed horses. However it is front runners who have the best win percentage. Leaders have achieved a win percentage of 20%, just ahead of prominent racers who have a 16.13% win ratio. These figures fall steadily the further back in the field a horse is ridden and it’s a pretty similar story as far as the place percentages go, although mid division performs slightly better than prominent this time around. Front runners once again have the best performance and hold up performers once again have the worst performance.

Both front runners and prominent racers have been profitable to back blindly for win purposes in these conditions, prominent racers were more profitable than front runners though with an impressive win PL of 26.13. Front runners have the best IV though of 1.7, ahead of 1.37 for prominent, 1 for mid division and 0.4 for held up.

The above data suggests that in general here, the closer you are to the pace the better. Racing prominently or even in mid division isn’t a huge negative but being held up should certainly be considered a negative, it’s going to be difficult to come from off the pace unless they go really hard up front here.

Pace Map

Here is the pace map for this race, courtesy of the pace tab:

It’s possible we’ll see a contested speed here with Mellow Ben and Princeton Royale likely to dispute the early pace. The former has led on his last three starts, all in bigger fields than this, so it seems highly likely he’ll be sent to the front early. The latter had led on all five starts this season until last time out where he tracked the pace.

It’s also worth noting that My Way has gone from the front on four of his last five starts. He was held up three starts ago which is why the above pace map only considers him to be a prominent racer (the pace map takes an average of the number of runs selected, in this case it is four runs).

So for a relatively small field there is a fair amount of pace in there. It won’t necessarily mean there is a burn up but it should ensure nothing gets a very easy lead.

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If it does prove difficult to come from off the pace again here that could inconvenience Domaine De L’Isle and also the well fancied Smarty Wild who are likely to be the most patiently ridden pair in the field.

Instant Expert

Let’s take a look at the Instant Expert in these sorts of conditions for win purposes.

Sorted by odds order, we see that the first few runners in the betting have a a fairly solid profile, from a superficial look. Outsiders Manofthemountain and Domaine De L’Isle also have data going for them.

Manofthemountain has a strong record on good ground, his only chase defeat coming when 4th at Cheltenham over further (the 3rd won his next two starts). The distance is a question mark for him though, as is his well being after being pulled up last time out.

Domaine De L’Isle seems better over this trip than further and has a good record in this sort of field size but he seems better on slightly slower ground and his form this season isn’t up to it.

My Way and Smarty Wild all have nice profiles in Instant Expert it seems. My Way has won over course and distance on good ground which certainly scores him some points. Smarty Wild is another course and distance winner which gives him some advantages in Instant Expert. He’s slightly unproven on this ground but four of his five wins came on good to soft ground so it’s unlikely he’ll be inconvenienced by good, good to soft in places.

The Runners

A quick rundown of each runner’s chances, sorted by from shortest price to longest price according to the early betting.

My Way

Made all over course and distance last time out with first time blinkers added to his usual tongue tie. He’s been pretty consistent throughout the season with generally more aggressive riding tactics employed this season. His two wins have come on his two runs that have come close to this distance on good ground, his defeats have come over 3m+ or on heavy ground.

The team of Paul Nicholls and Bryony Frost have an excellent record at Kempton in the past five years. They have a 33.33% strike rate and a place percentage of 60%.

He’s got a good record on this ground at this sort of trip, he took well to the blinkers last time and it’s possible a 9lb rise underestimates him if connections have finally found the key.

Falco Blitz

Another comfortable last time out winner but he’s previously failed to win here at Kempton in two starts. He may have finished 2nd here two starts ago and he has won right handed in the past but given he has often jumped left it’s debateable if this course suits him that well.

The winner of the race in which he was 2nd at Kempton almost went in again on his next start and he’s definitely amongst the best handicapped runners in this race with plenty of improvement left to come but that tendency to jump left could leave him vulnerable here.

Smarty Wild

Smarty Wild is fairly versatile regarding underfoot conditions but possible doesn’t enjoy extremes too much. He won over course and distance two starts ago and the 3rd came out and won a handicap on his next run. He went up 7lbs for that win but has been dropped 1lb after finishing 5th last time out.

He’s often patiently ridden, although was sensibly given a more prominent ride when winning here. If he’s held up again he could find himself poorly placed, even with a decent pace on offer.

Mellow Ben

A good ground lover (all four career wins have come on good ground) who has done most of his winning at Fontwell. He has good form elsewhere though, his run three starts ago at Newbury would give him an excellent chance here.

The 2nd and 9th won next time out, the 10th and 11th won shortly after and the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 8th all finished at least 4th next time out. That’s a pretty strong piece of form in the context of this race. He’s more exposed than the market leaders and hasn’t run nearly as well on his most recent couple of starts but those runs both came over 3m so this drop in trip should suit. A record of zero wins from six career runs at Kempton doesn’t inspire confidence though.

Vinnie The Hoddie

A faster ground specialist whose only two wins came on good and he finished 2nd on his only run on good to firm. His record when completing on good or faster reads 12142. He wasn’t in good form last time out but that was on good to soft in a listed handicap and this represents a drop in grade.

His previous run is more relevant in the context of this race (a class 3 handicap on good ground) and although he ran respectably, he’ll probably need to improve to win this.

He’s been off 121 days which is a risk but his trainer Oliver Sherwood does have a good record with fresh runners in handicaps. An A/E of 1.19 with handicap runners off a 60+ day break and an IV of 1.89 is very respectable.

Whatswrongwithyou

Ran respectably over course and distance a year ago but has only run once since and that was when unseating at the first in November. A further 113 day absence is definitely a concern. The majority of his wins have come on softer ground which is another worry and he’s clearly the stable second string behind Falco Blitz so enough to put most off him.

Manofthemountain

All his 4 wins have come over further and this drop in trip is perhaps an attempt to spark some life into him after he was pulled up last time out at Newbury. He was 4th in a good race at Cheltenham in October but he was beaten 53 lengths. If he could return to his Bangor form from September he’d have a chance but he’s still 5lbs higher and looks opposable.

Domaine De L’Isle

Hasn’t run well since January 2020 but has been given a wind op after his last run so there is a chance we see a better performance here. Just over a year ago he was completing a hat trick and he’s 3lbs lower here so isn’t handicapped out of things. His three wins in the UK have come on soft or heavy and his well-being has to be taken on trust.

Princeton Royale

The complete outsider and easy to understand why. He’s beaten three rivals home in his last four starts. Eight of his nine wins have come on good ground so this will clearly suit but his poor run has included runs on better ground so it hasn’t just been the ground bothering him. Difficult to see him bouncing back in this.

Verdict

An open contest and one in which Mellow Ben and Vinnie The Hoddie can outrun their odds without winning.

Preference though, unoriginally, is for MY WAY who probably isn’t quite the most progressive in the field but he’s one of a few that could be ahead of their mark still and he seems to have absolutely everything in his favour here. Both his wins have come when making all so other pace options are a slight concern but he’s finished runner up with contrasting rides so can run well however he is ridden.

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day Four Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day Four Preview, Tips

And so to the fourth quarter of a unique Cheltenham Festival, and Gold Cup day. The main event looks a cracker, Al Boum Photo facing a strong challenge in his bid for a Gold Cup hat-trick not seen since Best Mate in 2002 to 2004. But we start at the polar opposite end of the jumping spectrum with the four-year-old hurdlers in the...

1.20 Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m1f)

Fields have been smaller for this race since the inception of the Fred Boodles but this Covid-19 behind closed doors chapter sees the smallest entry for many a long year - certainly since 1997. Like many races at the Festival, the Triumph represents a crossing of the Anglo-Irish swords and, this year, the evidence of Tuesday suggests that Ireland has the upper hand. Not only did their older novices run 1-2 (and would have been 3 but for a last flight unship) in the Supreme, more pertinently their four-year-olds ran 1-2 in the Boodles/Fred Winter.

On that, granted, limited evidence, then, it seems as if Irish horses might be favoured. A battle for market leadership since the Adonis between Tritonic, winner of that Kempton race, and Zanahiyr, long-term ante-post jolly, seems to have finally settled in favour of the latter, the punting pendulum having briefly swung in Tritonic's direction.

Zanahiyr, trained out of Cullentra House, has won his last four, beginning with a maiden victory on the flat and ending with a Grade 2 win on St Stephen's/Boxing Day (does nothing have a single identity any more?). Any concerns about the longish absence since Christmas are partially dispelled by the seventh and last placed runner from that race, Jeff Kidder, who hadn't raced since but still managed to win the Boodles.

But this lad, a son of Nathaniel, had already advertised his top table credentials with a scintillating performance on the clock when, according to Simon Rowlands in his ATR Sectional Spotlight piece, he ran close to ten seconds - around fifty, 5-0, lengths - faster than Ballyadam (second in the Supreme) over the same Fairyhouse course and distance. In case you think that may have been a function of Ballyadam's race being slow, there were two other events over the same trip that day: the £38k handicap was won by Advanced Virgo off a mark of 121 (carrying just 9-04 allowing for his rider's claim) seven seconds (about 35 lengths) slower and the next time out 13 length Grade 3 winner, Grand Paradis, won his maiden hurdle by nine lengths in a time 4.5 seconds (circa 22 lengths) slower than Zanahiyr.

If that is verbose, consider this: the second horse there was Saint Sam, beaten in the Boodles only by Jeff Kidder giving that one a stone. Saint Sam got closer in the Boxing Day Grade 2 but was still 7 1/2 lengths in debt to Zanahiyr whilst also getting three pounds.

Let me be more succinct: Zanahiyr is the best four-year-old novice in Ireland, and the Irish four-year-old novices appear to be a fair bit better than the British ones. He ought to win this all other things being equal.

The Brits were a ramshackle crew - relatively speaking of course, I'd love to own the worst of them! - until Tritonic dished up twice against Casa Loupi, latterly by ten lengths. Casa Loupi let the team down a bit when failing to win at Stratford earlier in the week as an odds on shot, his rider losing his irons when he had probably already lost the race.

Sometimes you have to take a view, and my view is that Zanahiyr is different league to Tritonic, for all that the latter has a good turn of foot. This looks like it will be run at a pretty honest pace in spite of the small field - both Quilixios and the rag Talking About You generally lead - and I expect that to suit the Irish challenger.

It's not a two horse race, though. Quilixios himself has won all four career starts, the first of which was in France before changing hands privately to Cheveley Park Stud. A recent stable switch to Henry de Bromhead won't check his momentum but he does have a tough task holding Zanahiyr at bay. Still, he should have first run on that one turning in.

Adagio ran a fine race when doing plenty in a pace meltdown affair before conceding to Duffle Coat, a stable mate of Zanahiyr and, formerly, Quilixios. He'd won once before and twice since, including in the Grade 1 Finale at Chepstow, and may be best of the home team.

Willie Mullins has Haut En Couleurs, a leftfield entry making his debut for the stable having won a big field Auteuil 3yo hurdle in early October. Not seen since, it's impossible to know what to expect though such races at the Paris track are not easily won.

The rest are unlikely to trouble the judge.

Triumph Hurdle Pace Map

Talking About You will lead, Quilixios will follow, and Zanahiyr will win.

Triumph Hurdle Selection

Zanahiyr.

Suggestion: Back Zanahiyr at 6/4. He's a very good horse on any reading of times or collateral form.

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1.55 County Hurdle (Grade 3 Handicap, 2m1f)

This one is far too difficult for me. However, incredibly, three trainers have collectively won twelve of the last 17 County Hurdles! They are Willie Mullin and Dan Skelton (who have won the last six between them, 3-3) and Paul Nicholls. That, to me, is quite astonishing. Their horses comprise the shortlist!

They are Third Time Lucki (Skelton), Thyme White (Nicholls), and Buildmeupbuttercup, Ciel De Neige, Ganapathi, Getaway Gorgeous and Captain Kangaroo (all Mullins).

Third Time Lucki bids to be the fourth County Hurdle winner in the last six years for his trainer, and he had a proper claim in the Supreme before connections opted for this. His fourth behind Ferny Hollow and Appreciate It looks outstanding after the second routed the Supreme field; and his defeat to For Pleasure was franked when that one finished third at a massive price, also in the Supreme. This has obviously been the plan.

Thyme White's case is less clear cut and looks pace dependent: he doesn't seem to have much of a gear change but is a strong traveller. Happily for him, the field has bags of speed courtesy of the likes of Petit Mouchoir, Gowel Road and Mengli Khan. He cruised through the Betfair Hurdle before finding little and, if he can move through this crowd with similar facility, might hit the board.

Where to begin with the Mullins quintet? With the favourite, I guess. Ganapathi is a lightly raced novice who was second in a Grade 2 and then a non-staying fifth over two miles six in the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lacy. He's yet to race on quicker ground, which is a slight worry given how short he is in the market. Ciel De Neige is a third season novice, breaking his duck at the tenth time of asking in a Limerick maiden at Christmas. He was third in the Boodles two years ago, and down the field in this last year off a pound lower mark. He doesn't scream handicap plot having been sent off 6/1 twelve months ago.

Captain Kangaroo sneaks in at the bottom of the weights, which is not a place where County Hurdle winners are typically found; while Buildmeupbuttercup has been admirably busy and successful but has no secrets from Mr Capper. That leaves Getaway Gorgeous, who is a 33/1 shot. She's another at the wrong end of the handicap, though if this has been a plan she might run better than her form suggests.

If a different trainer is to get their name on the roll of honour, it might be Martin Brassil who saddles You Raised Me Up, a highly progressive novice that has won his last two having previously run third of 22 in the Grade B Ladbrokes Hurdle at last year's Dublin Racing Festival. Relatively old but still lightly raced, he handles big fields and better ground which is what he'll have here. Player.

County Hurdle Pace Map

There are enough runners to be virtually certain of a fast pace; but it might not be a meltdown. Mengli Khan, Gowel Road and Petit Mouchoir are the most forward-going and, with luck in running, every horse should have its chance.

County Hurdle Selection

Clearly tough. Third Time Lucki's form has been very well advertised this week and his trainer has a peerless record in the race. Less fashionably, You Raised Me Up may go close to notching his third win in a row.

Suggestion: Back 15/2 Third Time Lucki and/or You Raised Me Up 10/1 each with as many extra places as possible (8 places with Sky).

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2.30 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)

A race that has provided plenty of shocks, some of them more predictable than others. The reason, I've contended on these pages for many years, is that the nature of the Albert Bartlett - often a mad scramble from start to finish, is very different from the small field Graded dawdles which largely precede it through the season. When the race is run more evenly, the result better fits the form book. Pace is the kingmaker in 'the potato race'.

This year's race looks an even tempo affair and, as such, might align with what we know. Stattler, performing this season without Waldorf (I know, what a muppet!), was a little outpaced in a 2m6f Grade 1 last time, so this longer trip ought to suit. All of his form so far is on soft ground, however.

Torygraph, trained out of Cullentra House, looks a likely type for a strong stamina test, doing his best work at the end of his most recent pair of races, the only two at which he's raced around three miles. He has a good run on good ground also. From the same stable is Fakiera, well fancied but with a bit to prove, not least affection for terra firmer and stamina. On the latter point, he's finished his races at shorter as though he needs this extra distance, but he's a tight enough price having not yet demonstrated he actually does need it.

Pick of the domestic challenge, in a year where that challenge has often felt token at best, might be Adrimel. But he was all out to hold on at 2m5f (heavy), and has to improve again on sounder footing and at a longer trip. Alaphilippe has less to prove having already easily won a three mile Grade 2. That was on heavy and he too has yet to race on anything better than soft.

There's been some chat about the Paul Nicholls-trained Barbados Buck's, who does have form at three miles and on a sound surface... but novice hurdles at Southwell (twice) and Kempton don't very well answer the class element of the Bertie Bartlett equation. On the same team, Threeunderthrufive ticks a number of boxes but is twice the odds of his stablemate. He's won his last four - a bumper and three novice hurdles - coping with a variety of ranges and terrains, and has been strong at the finish in his races. It's a tad disconcerting that his mate is so much better fancied as I quite like the one with the golfing name.

Another of my errant ante post tickets has the name of N'Golo on it. I have him to win any race at the Festival and this would not have been the one I'd have chosen (Coral Cup since you ask). He's got loads to prove in this group.

And circumstances have conspired against The Cob, supplemented for this having won a bruising Grade 2 at Doncaster on soft. Only half of the dozen starters even finished there and if this became attritional he'd come into my reckoning; but I don't think it will.

The forgotten horse might be Streets Of Doyen. He's a fast ground horse who did all his winning in the autumn. A sequence of four wins, all at three miles, all with good in the going description, was ended by defeat in a two mile soft ground event that could only be considered a late sharpener (in late Feb) for this. His winning sequence included a five length verdict over Stayers' Hurdle third favourite, Flooring Porter, and a Class 2 novice win at this track in October. He's a 25/1 shot I'll be playing.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

Stattler is likely to make a bold bid from the front; there are not many other standout pace horses, though a few led last time (Oscar Elite, Beatthebullet).

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Selection

An interesting race not expected to be run at a fierce gallop. The top of the market looks fair enough, with perhaps Torygraph the pick of them. But I'm going to risk two proven on the expected quicker ground, Threeunderthrufive and Streets Of Doyen. Both are win machines and both may have more to offer yet.

Suggestion: Try 14/1 Threeunderthrufive or 25/1 Streets Of Doyen each way, four places better than three.

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3.05 Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1, 3m 2 1/2f)

This year's Gold Cup is all about the threepeat (as they say across the pond)-seeking Al Boum Photo and his bid for a slightly larger spot in the history books. But he'll face a strong challenge from a variety of top class opposition: all as it should be.

In his two Gold Cup triumphs to date, Al Boum Photo has won off a searching gallop (2019) and he's won off a steady, tactical pace (2020). This year seems considerably more likely to be akin to the 2019 renewal pace wise with fast early horses like Native River, Frodon and Kemboy. ABP has had his by now traditionally quiet prep: he's run only six times in the past three years. That freshness, taken from the previous GC hat-trick hero Best Mate blueprint, has served connections well for all that us lusty race fans would have craved plenty more sightings of the star.

Since April 2018, then, and removing a defeat when over the top at Punchestown after his first Gold Cup, the pattern has been Tramore, Cheltenham, Tramore, Cheltenham, Tramore, Cheltenham, with victories written in the first five lines of that sexain. And so to line six. What do we know? As much as we did last year when the path was the same. Then, as now, we must judge him on his Cheltenham form because the Tramore races prove little more than he retains the same leg-in-each-corner physique as a table.

That Cheltenham form is obviously tiptop class; he does hit a few on the way round but doesn't generally look like coming down, and he handles quickish ground well. It could be good, rather than good to soft, this time which must be taken on trust but he clearly sets the standard for all that his price fully reflects that.

Last year's RSA winner, Champ, is the main danger. A drifter in the betting for much of a season where he was absent for one reason or another, he catapulted into second choice after an excellent second place in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase. That was over two miles, no sort of appropriate test for a stayer, and the way he travelled there was particularly taking. He will have come on fitness-wise for the run and matches Al Boum's one race preparation. He'll need another step forward to become the, erm, champ and, on his second start after a wind op, that's eminently plausible.

Henry runs A Plus Tard and if he is still in the mix for the Top Festival Trainer by then, I'll be giving this one the big one! His form is consistent for all that he was only third in the Ryanair last season; since then, he looked for all the world as though a good test was what he needed when only just getting up over three miles in the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Christmas. Not sighted since, he's another coming in off the fashionably light prep. As a seven-year-old versus two nine-year-olds mentioned already, A Plus Tard perhaps has more scope.

The other seven-year-old in the field, and a hard horse to fathom, is Royale Pagaille. A novice still, in spite of this being his twelfth chase start (six more than Champ, one more than A Plus Tard and only one less than Al Boum Photo), it won't be inexperience that beats him! But it might be the drying ground, his blitzkrieging barreling belligerence this season coming in hock deep mires. In fact, Royale Pagaille - who I backed to win this - has a lot to prove given he's never raced on faster than soft turf in a 15-race career and given this will be his first foray into Grade 1 company. In the most respectful way imaginable, he has something of a Bristol De Mai feel about him. Anyone want to buy a Gold Cup wager?

Minella Indo is flirting with a single figure price. Having hung tough until the shadow of the line, he was passed by the rallying Champ in last season's RSA, a race where Indo did a chunk of work early and just got very tired. He's generally on or close to the pace and that doesn't look a positive in what may be a searching gallop over a searching trip. Besides which his form just doesn't appear good enough this season. He's not for me here, as much as I am a fan generally.

Then come the populists: Frodon, Native River and to a lesser extent Santini. Frodon is younger than he seems, still nine, and in possession of an outstanding course record: he's won half of his twelve Cheltenham spins, including two Caspian Caviar Gold Cups (the second when carrying 11-12 off a mark of 164, crikey), a Cotswold Chase, that memorable Ryanair and a second handicap chase off 164 carrying 11-12. What's more he's done most of that wearing his heart on his sleeve from the front, and partnered by that faintly bonkers - but tactically excellent - Bryony Frost, whose eulogy to her partner after the 2019 Ryanair was a thing of PR beauty for a sport continually in need of such public validation.

That's the past for Frodon; what of his present? Sad to say I can't see it, as he'll likely need to be ridden forcefully and, while, he'll have the toe to usurp Native River on the speed it is quite hard to envisage him having the stamina to finish that off after the early skirmishes. All that said, there can't be too many horses to have proven so many people wrong as often as this partnership, and it would be absolute public relations manna from heaven for our beleaguered sport should he grab the whole pineapple. Hope he runs a stormer.

Native River is the veteran grinder, his own Gold Cup triumph immediately preceding the ABP era. Now eleven it won't be easier than it was then, but he looked in good form when wearing down the resilient Bristol De Mai in the Sandown redirect of the Cotswold Chase last month. He has won on good ground, in last year's Denman Chase, but I can't see him having the legs of some of these. Another story horse for the race, though.

The pantomime horse - metaphorically, not literally - is Santini. A gallant plodder in the eyes of many ("He's behind you? Oh no he isn't"), he just failed to reel in Topofthegame in the 2019 RSA and just failed to reel in Al Boum Photo in the 2020 Gold Cup. A goodly distance behind Native River in the Cotswold, this quicker ground and faster pace might actually be an optimum combination for the nine-year-old. I'm not especially excited about his chance in relation to those of the top three in the betting, but he could easily be fourth over the line, perhaps better if they went bananas up top in the first half of the race.

I'm not expecting a shock from the rest, though Kemboy deserves a mention as a horse within half a length of being a dual Grade 1 winner at three miles in his last two races (one of which he won). His problem is that Cheltenham really doesn't seem to be his track, his form figures being 54U7 at the last four Festivals.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Pace Map

Fast and furious. Frodon, Kemboy, Native River all go forward.

 

Cheltenham Gold Cup Selection

A cracking Gold Cup in prospect, though not an easy one to unravel. The top three in the betting could fill the podium. And I think Santini will run well.

Suggestion: Back your own fancy!

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3.40 Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase (Class 2, 3m 2 1/2f)

Hard to peg many of these, and I won't spend too much time trying. Last year It Came To Pass won as an unheralded 66/1 chance, though shocks of that outlandish nature are fairly rare in recent times. That said, 25/1 (and 16/1) Pacha Du Polder, 33/1 Zemsky and Amicelli, and 20/1 Drombeag and Whyso Mayo have all won since 2006, so perhaps a swing at a price is not a terrible idea.

In the land of the more likely, Billaway heads the betting. Trained by... Willie Mullins?!... the nine-year-old got closest to It Came To Pass last year. Closest, yes, but still ten lengths behind that one. With last year's winner showing no form in two runs this season, his retained ability requires plenty of faith and, though dual scorers are common - Pacha Du Polder, On The Fringe and Salsify since 2012 - they typically arrived with more visible credentials. Billaway has a good chance of course but his best form is on softer ground.

The same comment applies to Bob And Co, who has traded the corinthian David Maxwell for the professional Sean Bowen in the plate. Moreover, after a wind op prior to his most recent run, he fair bolted up by 17 lengths in a Haydock Hunter Chase on his first run with Bowen steering. Bob And Co skipped the race last year when Maxwell opted to ride Shantou Flyer and it will be bittersweet for his owner/regular jockey if his horse scores during a time when Covid prevents amateurs from riding.

Staker Wallace has a little - two lengths - to find with Billaway on recent Naas running, but a bit more on last year's Foxhunters' form where he finished fourth. A very consistent horse, he may again make the frame especially if you can find four places.

Red Indian is harder to gauge. He's run in a couple of point to points this season, winning both naturally, and ran acceptably in midfield when last seen under Rules in the Peter Marsh of 2020. He looks like he wants mud on his hooves to perform best.

Stand Up And Fight, like Staker Wallace trained by Enda Bolger (of On The Fringe fame), has a three mile verdict over Billaway this season, though was soundly beaten by that one subsequently over two miles five furlongs. It could be that Bolger's horse is the stronger stayer - a prospect given further credence by his staying on close second to Jury Duty over 3m1f last time - in which case he may be overpriced.

An interesting British contender is Late Night Pass, who won the intermediate hunter chase over course and distance two years ago. Next seen under Rules when winning at Warwick last month, he handles this track, good to soft and stays well.

Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase  Pace Map

Lots who will want to be to the fore and out of trouble. Will be quick but perhaps not crazily so given these more experienced riders.

Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase Selection

A few with chances but not all of them at the top of the lists. Bob And Co looks better value than Billaway and will nearly win if handling faster turf. But it might be worth swinging at either or both of Stand Up And Fight and/or Late Night Pass. Both stay well, the former is with the right man and the latter has going/track/trip form.

Suggestion: Back 9/2 Bob And Co to win, and/or 14/1 Stand Up And Fight or 20/1 Late Night Pass each way, extra places if you can find 'em.

*

4.15 Mares' Chase (Grade 2, 2m 4 1/2f)

The new race, taking the place of the Novices' Handicap Chase. As ever, some are pleased about this, others not so much. Me? I wouldn't be getting excited about either though I can far more readily see the need for a race like this in the Festival programme than the one it's replaced.

A smallish field and a strongish favourite in Elimay. One of four Willie Mullins entries, she has only once been out of the first two in nine runs since moving from France. That was in the 2019 Mares' Hurdle where she was only sixth; and, if that's a niggle, so too is her propensity for nearly winning: six times first, six times second in 15 jumps races. That consistency might be considered an asset if she was 8/1, but it's a liability in my book about a 6/4 shot. (To prevent a detailed explanation in the comments about how 40% wins equates nicely to being a 6/4 shot - even if that faultless mathematical logic was appropriate when judging her second toughest gig to date, she is still only 'the right price' rather than a value price).

Not always when Mullins runs amok with a mob in a mares' race does his best fancied prevail. Think Eglantine Du Seuil (50/1) in the inaugural Dawn Run, Glens Melody (6/1) in the Mares' Hurdle and, though it was an open race, Relegate (25/1) in the Champion Bumper. Colreevy has little to find with Elimay on figures, and what she lacks in the ratings department she makes up for with her win record - three from three since going chasing this term. She was a fair fifth in the Dawn Run last season, and has won a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 in her most recent starts.

Colreevy may not quite enjoy quicker ground as much as Elimay - I'm not sure about that either way - but at twice the price of her stable mate she's better value as I don't believe she's half as likely to win. She races front rank which, in a field packed with pace pressers, is a reservation; on the flip side, her win two back was when tracking until five out so perhaps she's tractable enough.

The back class of the field is Shattered Love, now ten but a former JLT/Marsh winner who was only a 20/1 chance in the 2019 Gold Cup itself. She was a staying on second to Elimay over an inadequate two miles last month and this two-and-a-half-miler might have been ideal for her had the ground not dried out. It still may be ideal.

It's tougher to make cases for the rest. Magic Of Light wants further and probably softer, too; Salsaretta needs to raise her game though will have come on for what was effectively her first run of the season last time, this trip and ground being optimal; the rest not having (yet) displayed the requisite class for a gig like this.

Special mention for Really Super, a syndicate horse in which friend of geegeez.co.uk, Josh Wright, owns a nostril. She has a, well, a really super win record in all disciplines: since summer 2019, she's won over hurdles, fences (including the Summer Plate at Market Rasen), in a flat race on the all weather and in a jumpers' bumper. The figures say she's not nearly good enough for this, but she will relish quick ground where some others won't, and the trip is close to optimal. Fingers crossed she runs well and maybe sneaks into the frame.

Mares' Chase Pace Map

This looks like being fast with loads of confirmed front-runners taking each other on.

Mares' Chase Selection

Elimay is too short for me though she has strong enough claims. I backed Shattered Love ante post but it's dried up enough for her price to be only fair. That leaves Colreevy as a progressive frequent winner in the right class bracket to challenge the other two. But she may be compromised if trying to make all as she generally does. Salsaretta is better than her recent runs but will need to step up to win, less so to make the frame.

Suggestion: It's quite hard to find a value play in a race where the top of the market may dominate. If you really want a tepid suggestion, 18/1 Salsaretta could make the frame if wheeling back to her best, but I'll not be going in again here.

*

4.50 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m 4 1/2f)

Good luck with this project!

Gentleman De Mee is the Exhibit A of 'could be anything' and given that his trainer, Willie Mullins, has won this three times with fancied horses in its twelve year history, I'm not going to try any harder.

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Pace Map

Gentleman De Mee shows as forward, but he's only had the one run in UK/Ireland, so he could be ridden differently. A good bit but not a huge amount of expected pace, so should be a nice even tempo.

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Selection

Most of us will know our fate by now, smashing out of trouble here the most ill-advised form of attempted recuperation. A small bet on Gentleman De Mee may at least stem some bleeding, though there'll be half a dozen jumping the last and finishing with a flourish.

Suggestion: Have a tickle on 5/1 Gentleman De Mee - win only, don't lose twice! - but don't go mad. The week's races have been run now, and we must accept whatever fate we have created for ourselves.

*

What a week. One of the best sporting events of the year, very likely the best racing event of the year. Never easy, always captivating, with bad beats galore; that's what keeps us coming back for more. I hope you've made a profit. Much more than that, I hope you've had a blast. Next year, it will be different. Better. But this year has still been amazing (and I'm writing this during Day 2!)

Be lucky.

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day 3 Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day 3 Preview, Tips

Day three, Thursday, at the Cheltenham Festival is the first half of the second half, or the third quarter, or just plain old Day 3. Those in good shape after the opening two days shouldn't get too far ahead of themselves, and there is plenty of time for those behind the eight ball to make a meaningful break. After all, there are still fourteen races to go!

1.20 Marsh Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4f)

We start day three with the Marsh Chase, an intermediate distance novice event where those lacking the speed for the Arkle and with doubtful stamina for the Brown Advisory/RSA/Broadway can combine what they have of each of those commodities over two and a half miles. In spite of that vaguely insulting introduction, the roll of honour for the Marsh, registered as the Golden Miller (all very confusing with so many sponsorship changes), is impressive enough: the likes of Sir Des Champs, Vautour, Yorkhill, Defi Du Seuil and Samcro decorate its honours board.

But, tellingly perhaps, none of those winners - or any other Marsh/JLT/Gold Miller winner - has gone on to win one of either the Gold Cup or Champion Chase. Vautour did triumph in the Ryanair but, if you fancy Envoi Allen to double up in the Gold Cup next season, you might ask why he's not having a crack at Monkfish this time around. Anyway, I digress...

Envoi Allen is the big dog in this field. He is unbeaten in eleven Rules starts (and a point to point, where he had Appreciate It back in third) and he won the Ballymore (formerly the Neptune, registered as the Baring Bingham, sigh) last year and the Champion Bumper the year before. I was surprised - perhaps I shouldn't have been - to discover that the Marsh has been won by any number of previous Festival novice hurdle winners: Samcro, Defi Du Seuil, Yorkhill and Vautour had all won either the Triumph, Supreme or Ballymore, and Sir Des Champs won the Martin Pipe. When you consider there have only been ten renewals of the Marsh, that's a strong pointer and Envoi checks that box.

His chase form has been solid if unspectacular to this point although he has never faced a proper challenge. On the one hand, that's testament to his class but, on the other, one wonders whether he'll give as generously off the bridle as on it. Or, indeed, whether he will come off the snaff at all! If you're on at a fancy price, you'll be happy enough to accept your fate as it comes; but if you're toying with the odds on - as a single or part of a multiple - it is a possible fly in the ointment. And, being brutally honest, there are not many others I could find.

Envoi Allen seems to handle any ground, is fully effective at the trip, has bundles of Grade 1 winning form to demonstrate his class, has won at the track, and is tractable in terms of run style. He has very recently changed stables and maybe that's a tiny concern, but Henry de Bromhead is a master at readying one for this Festival (I've backed him as a bit of value to be top trainer) so I'm not at all concerned about that.

Who might give Envoi most to ponder? Shan Blue was impressive at Kempton in the Kauto Star (Feltham as was) at Christmas, his electric jumping a sumptuous feature of his win. And that athleticism will stand him in good stead here for all that Cheltenham is less about rhythm and more about stamina than Kempton. His defeat by Sporting John in the Scilly Isles was still good form: he led or disputed for most there at a fast pace and was softened up for the late run of Sporting John, himself ridden very quietly throughout.

Blackbow has a chequered history over fences thus far: after an easy beginners' win on chase debut he then fell when lobbed in deep in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase at Christmas. A distant third to Energumene in an ungraded (in name) novice chase next time, the stewards enquired as to the extreme waiting tactics deployed. The response was that he'd taken a heavy fall the time before, which I think was reasonable. Most recently, he again had a cut at Grade 1 company and again finished behind Energumene, but this time at a more creditable ten length distance.

This will be a first attempt at beyond 2m1f and, as a keen goer who wears a hood, it's not guaranteed he'll stay; but the slightly steadier tempo should put his jumping under less pressure, and he clearly has a touch of class.

Talking of Mullins novices with chequered histories, the chequered colours of yellow and black carried by Asterion Forlonge have twice hit the deck this season. He ran all right but not great at the Dublin Racing Festival behind Monkfish, but was errant in the extreme here in the Supreme last year. A talented horse, no doubt, he's a few quirks that make him as big a swerve as he did at most of the hurdles twelve months ago!

Chatham Street Lad rose to prominence with a course and distance romp in the Caspian Caviar Handicap Chase, blowing apart a 17-runner field by fully fifteen lengths. That was a massive effort and, while he didn't back it up next time over two miles in a Grade A handicap chase at Fairyhouse, the return to a proven track and trip is a plus. The problem for backers of this Lad is that he doesn't have another piece of form within ten pounds of the course and distance procession, leaving a doubt as to whether he can back it up. If he can, he'll get close to a concert pitch Envoi Allen; as a nine-year-old with 21 races under his belt, I'm far from convinced. It would however be a great story for trainer Michael Winters, who campaigned Rebel Fitz and Missunited so well a decade or so ago: he knows what to do with a good'un, that's for sure.

I had hoped that Fusil Raffles would go the Arkle route, having backed him for that race before I converted to Shishkinism. But this longer trip - and avoidance of Shishkin if not Envoi Allen (you can't dodge them all) - looks right based on a course and distance novice chase win in December. He had Lieutenant Rocco, very well fancied for the Ultima before handing in his sick note, and fellow Seven Barrows inmate Chantry House behind that day and the form looks robust. He was a Grade 1 winning juvenile hurdler and is three from four over fences. Interesting contender.

Chantry House re-opposes, having dotted up in a little race at Wetherby since the Cheltenham race. That was more experience for him and, on his Supreme third he has the class to again make the Festival frame. I have an inkling that he might win the Henderson match bet this time.

Last year's Champion Hurdle third, Darver Star, has not looked a natural over fences but his class got him into contention in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novices' Chase at Christmas. He was walloped by Energumene - and most of the rest of the field - in the Irish Arkle and comes here with plenty to prove.

Marsh Chase Pace Map

Envoi Allen may bid to make all, though Shan Blue and, when he stands up, Asterion Forlonge also go forward frequently. Could be pretty fast.

Marsh Chase Selection

Envoi Allen probably wins. But there are each way and without the favourite markets if that's not enough/appropriate for you. In those arenas, take your pick of Chantry House and Blackbow. If siding with the latter, look for a bookie that offers 'faller insurance'.

Suggestion: Back Chantry House and/or Blackbow each way or 'without the favourite'.

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1.55 Pertemps Final (Grade 3 handicap, 3m)

I'm not going to waste much of your or my time on this, it's simply too tricky for me. Saying that, eight of the last nine winners returned 14/1 or shorter so perhaps I'm being too lily-livered. Last time out winners have a good record - 10/103 in the last 23 years, +16 at SP - and the Irish have won the last five. During those last five years, only one of the 25 last day winners has prevailed... which probably means a UK-trained last day winner or an Irish-trained last day loser. Tying myself in knots already.

The Bosses Oscar got a tough trip in the Martin Pipe last year but still finished fifth there; representing the Elliott/Foster team he's an obvious player and looks sure to be thereabouts again though he is off a 13lb higher mark. Willie runs Dandy Mag, up a stone since beating The Bosses Oscar into second in the December Pertemps qualifier at Leopardstown. Dandy was then well beaten in another Leopardstown three mile handicap since: he might have too much weight now. Mrs Milner wasn't far behind Dandy and Oscar in the qualifier and this will have been the plan.

Brinkley has been going great guns on soft and heavy - three from four since a wind operation - for David Pipe and, if he can convert that progression to quicker turf, he'll have a chance of being involved. And Paul Nicholls' Storm Arising has stepped forward plenty this term and finishes off his races well; he's another player in an uber-competitive contest.

Pertemps Final Pace Map

Likely to be a good test, with Bushypark a confirmed front runner and plenty of others who normally race up top.

Pertemps Final Selection

Use your lucky pin. The Bosses Oscar is a safe option to be in the first six and maybe the first one. Mrs Milner and Storm Arising are more risky but also offer more reward.

Suggestion: Good luck!

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2.30 Ryanair Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4 1/2f)

Your first 30 days for just £1

The oft-maligned Ryanair is the open Grade 1 version of the Marsh and, in my opinion, it is usually a very good race. Maybe not having the class of a Champion Chase or a Gold Cup but with a lot more depth and offering an appropriate top table seat for plenty of horses that, as in the Marsh, either don't get the longer Gold Cup trip or are not fast enough for the shorter Queen Mother. If you're happy not to hold that against them - and I am - then you have a legitimate race full of legitimate Grade 1 horses. And as good a betting race as there is at the meeting in my view, not that that makes it easy to solve, as 5/1 the field implies!

Where to start? With A is for Allaho, I guess. He's one of the plethora vying for favouritism and represents powerful connections in Willie Mullins and Cheveley Park Stud. Allaho's chase record is a racing curate's egg: good to soft, good in places. As a novice he thumped Milan Native en route to getting in that memorable/gut-wrenching* (*delete as applicable, Champ/Minella Indo backers - I was in the latter camp, sigh) photo for last year's RSA. Actually beaten two lengths, that was a stand up performance in a race where no quarter was sought or ceded.

Since then, a trio of chases this term have been largely underwhelming: defeats to Min and A Plus Tard look excusable on the face of it, but by 34 lengths and 20 lengths? Not so much. Redemption, to some degree, came in his most recent run, a Grade 2 score from Mares' Chase favourite Elimay. Elimay is 6/4 or so for that new Friday race but she'd be a double figure price in here. I'll let him beat me.

Min won this last year and is here again this time around. A Festival standing dish he ran second-second-fifth to Altior in the 2016/18/19 renewals of the Champion Chase before connections got the message and gallantly bagged last year's Ryanair. As it happened, with big guns dropping out left and right, he might have won the Champion Chase last year if he'd gone that way! This season has left his fans scratching their heads: it began with 'yay' as he beat all in the John Durkan, Grade 1; but was more recently 'nay' (or maybe 'neigh') with a big P - not a Timeform one, a non-completion one - in the Dublin Chase behind the imperious that day Chacun Pour Soi.

In Min's defence, the John Durkan is two and a half miles, and the Dublin Chase is two miles. He tried to make all, got into a speed duel, and basically did way too much way too soon. A line can easily be put through that effort. He's ten now and, while Albertas Run, Our Vic and Fondmort all won at that veteran stage in their careers, the most recent of that trio was ten years ago. It's only a minor niggle for me and I think he has definite prospects: certainly I prefer him to his aforementioned stablemate.

But I like another Mullins stablemate more than Min, although I don't think I'd back him to win. That one is Melon. The perma-bridesmaid has been more unlucky than canine and, for those who see him in the former light, his Festival efforts are heroic: second to Labaik in the 2017 Supreme, second to Buveur D'Air in the 2018 Champion Hurdle, second to Espoir D'Allen in the 2019 Champion Hurdle, and second to Samcro in the 2020 Marsh. This season he's run third-third-fifth, but he's had excuses. Yeah, yeah, I know, he's had a lot of excuses down the years. But hear me out.

A 22/1 shot when third to Min in the John Durkan, he was clearly a touch under-cooked that day. Thereafter connections upped him to three miles where he first ran third to A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Christmas, and then, on softer ground, he was a nine length last of five to Kemboy in the Irish Gold Cup. Here's the thing: he doesn't stay three miles. As much as I am a Melon fan - don't be messing with my Melon, man - he has won only three of 21 races since Mullins took him on, and only one of four on the flat for Nicolas Clement in France previously. He's a great place bet!

There is a spicy blend of British and Irish runners in this, and the home team's skipper might be Imperial Aura. Three-length winner of the novices' handicap chase at last year's Festival, he's stepped into Graded conditions company like an old hand this term. First was a comfy verdict in the Colin Parker at Carlisle, then a dominant win in the Grade 2 1865 Chase at Ascot, and then... ooh, fluffed lines in the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase at Kempton where he horlicksed the second and bade adieu to David Bass. So there's that to overcome, but he did look progressive and is rated second best of the Brits.

Top of the British pops, on official figures, is Saint Calvados, a close second to Min in last year's race. Since then, he ran very well in the King George when just failing to see out the three miles before a fairly lamentable effort in the Sandown version of the Cotswold Chase: never really travelling he ended up dumping Gavin Sheehan into the very forgiving heavy turf. His numbers give him a squeak but his recent win record is not exciting and there's just something about him I don't really like from a betting angle. (Such unsubstantiated fluff should never be part of a preview like this, so apologies for any offence caused!)

And what about Mister Fisher? The Nicky Henderson-trained seven-year-old has a fine Cheltenham record, winning over course and distance 15 months ago and in the diverted Peterborough Chase over a similar course and distance here in December. Only fourth in the Marsh last season, he perhaps could have been a little closer to the sharp end a little sooner; he raced prominently in both the Peterborough and that course and distance win and I imagine he will do so again this time. If he does, he too has his chance.

Fakir D'Oudairies is yet another horse quoted at a single-figure price in an extremely well-contested race. Second in last year's Arkle, it might be fair to say that connections were unsure which way to go this season, an assertion whose supporting evidence includes runs over two miles and three miles in his last two starts. The three mile spin resulted in pulling up in the Grade 1 Savills Chase, where he probably just didn't get home. The two mile run was a fair second to Chacun Pour Soi in the Grade 1 Dublin Chase. This slot feels like acknowledging that two miles is his better trip while also conceding that he cannot beat CPS. Although he won the Grade 1 Drinmore Novice Chase over two and a half last season in a small field, I'm not fully convinced he'll get the trip here. He's a player if he does, however.

Another of the many pace angles is Dashel Drasher, a Grade 1 winner at this trip last time at Ascot. That looked a fairly hollow G1 in truth, but he won it nevertheless, rounding out an upwardly mobile hat-trick this season in the process. As much as I'd love to see him win for his brilliant trainer, Jeremy Scott, I think trying to lead all the way against this crew will be a bridge too far.

The 25/1 about Chris's Dream will take some of my money. He was highly progressive last year before palpably failing to stay in the Gold Cup, where he ran a massive race until stamina gave out. This season he was a neck second to The Storyteller in a Grade 1 chase before disappointing in the John Durkan, another G1, at Punchestown last time. One has to be prepared to forgive that flop at a trip which ought to have suited but, in a race which might set up for a closer he's of some interest to me.

Real Steel is another who ran really well before stamina snapped in last season's Gold Cup; but he's done now't since. He was a Willie Mullins horse last term, but a Paul Nicholls horse this; that's been material in a number of cases with that particular trainer switch for whatever reason... Still, if he came back to that Gold Cup run, and on better ground at a shorter trip that's not impossible, he'd have a chance.

This time last year, Samcro was winning the Marsh, the novice equivalent of the Ryanair. We've not seen much of him since and, what we have seen has not been encouraging. It wouldn't be a shock if he won - almost no horse in this race would be a shock winner - but he's not for me. In that spirit, none of Kalashnikov, Tornado Flyer or Fanion D'Estruval can be entirely discounted.

Ryanair Chase Pace Map

Lots of speed or potential speed. Dashel Drasher and Min are very likely to go on, so too quite possibly Imperial Aura and maybe Melon or Allaho. Might set up for a more patiently ridden horse.

Ryanair Chase Selection

Probably the most difficult puzzle of the entire meeting. I think the projected pace sizzle will cook a few of the front-rankers, and I'd take a couple of closers against that perceived early heat. Chris's Dream could be a complete no show, but he's a good horse on his day and this setup might fit. The same comments exactly apply to Real Steel and he's a small each way for the same reason.

Suggestion: Bet any horse you like in this. Bookies should be paying eight places, so fiendish does it look! I'll speculate that either or both of Chris's Dream and Real Steel can wheel back to their excellent but non-staying 2020 Gold Cup runs and get involved over the shorter trip.

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3.05 Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)

A race robbed of some of its appeal by the late withdrawal of Thyme Hill, who had been close to favouritism for some time. Further shorn of Roksana, who contested Tuesday's Mares' Hurdle, the main man is currently Paisley Park, the 2019 winner. The Emma Lavelle-trained, Andrew Gemmill-owned nine-year-old has a fantastic winning record and only saw his halo slip a year ago due to a fibrillating heart.

2021 seems to have dispelled any concerns about that medical blip, a good second in the Grade 2 Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury followed up with a battling success in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. His late run style, and famous 'flat spot' - a moment when he is changing gear but appears to be struggling - can't be good for his legion of supporters, or for his equally famous blind owner: he has to rely on the commentary which must make for very difficult listening sometimes, for all that it often ends in joy unbounded!

If Paisley seems back to his best, the numbers suggest he's been a few pounds shy of his 2019 pomp. Then, a pre-race Racing Post Rating of 172 was career-high, almost matched by a 170 in the Stayers' of that year. Last season, he was running low 160's before the March disappointment; and this season he's earned a couple of mid-160's to date. So, it is perfectly possible a) that he can step forward to high 160's and/or b) that a 165 might just about be enough to regain his crown.

Against him is a phalanx, headed by the Irish pair of Sire Du Berlais and Flooring Porter. Sire is a regular Festival fixture, having won the Pertemps Final for the past two seasons, most recently off a mark of 152. That official figure, which was upped to 158, compares with Paisley Park's OR of 165. Apologies for RPR/OR confusion - the two are not interchangeable - but it is worth saying that when Sire won his second Pertemps he recorded an RPR of 164. A small step forward from that, which he has not achieved in less satisfactory race setups twice since, would get him in the photo finish.

Flooring Porter is another Stayers' story horse: he was rated 95 when winning his maiden hurdle, at Bellewstown in August 2019. It's fair to say that nobody at that point expected him to be a Grade 1 winner and legitimate contender for a main Festival prize 18 months later. That's where we are, courtesy of a string of excellent handicap efforts - usually from the front - prior to that 'made all' six length stroll in the Christmas Hurdle. But he is unlikely to get things all his own way in front this time. Both Lil Rockefeller and Fury Road, stablemate of Sire Du Berlais, are habitual leaders. So, too, occasionally, the current Stayers' champ, Lisnagar Oscar.

Lisnagar Oscar was a shock winner last year, but had only been four lengths behind Paisley Park in their prep race, the Cleeve Hurdle. He's a strong stayer and probably needs soft ground; with the pace in the field it looks like being more of a test than is sometimes the case but the ground is drying out.

Fury Road is another who perhaps won't have his optimal conditions: soft is his forte and a soft lead if he can get it, too. He's unlikely to get either here and is not for me as a result. The second string to Gigginstown's bow is Beacon Edge, one of the more progressive in the field. Only seven, he beat Fury Road in the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle last time, having previously got within a length of Honeysuckle in the Hatton's Grace, a Grade 1. That's top form but at two and a half miles, and this longer trip is a question mark for all that he's been finishing off his races well. If he improves a little for it, he'll have a chance at a huge price.

The most versatile horse in the field, for all that he probably won't be quite good enough, is The Storyteller. Now ten, he won the Festival Plate in 2018 and was second in the 2020 Pertemps, getting three pounds from the winner, Sire Du Berlais. Here, off levels, Sire is 9/2 while The Storyteller is 10/1. He's danced plenty of dances this year, winning at Galway, Punchestown and Down Royal (Grade 1 chase), and running second at Gowran and Leopardstown twice (both Grade 1 spins, one each hurdles and fences). He'll leave it late, a tactic suited to the projected run of the race, and should not be under-estimated.

I don't give the rest too much hope.

Stayers' Hurdle Pace Map

Flooring Porter is a pace presser. Lil Rockerfeller and Fury Road like to go on as well. This should be a truly run affair.

Stayers' Hurdle Selection

This feels like a race to take a swing at. Paisley Park was unexpectedly beaten last year and has been below his 2019 form since. Sire Du Berlais has a good chance, reflected in his price, but I want to have a crack at a couple each way, especially if I can get bonus places. They are The Storyteller, whose Festival form is excellent, has been in brilliant form and will be played late against wilting rivals; and Beacon Edge, who if improving a little for the longer range is the progressive horse in the line up.

Suggestion: An open race on my reading. Try The Storyteller and/or Beacon Edge each way with extra places if you can get them.

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3.40 Festival Plate (Grade 3 handicap, 2m 4 1/2f)

The Plate, a race of many names in recent times, currently under Paddy Power's banner. It's a handicap chase and it has a lot of runners. As such, it is twicky, as Jonathan Ross might say.

Anyway, some numbers. Top five last time out, ran within 60 days, Pipe and Venetia positives. In truth, horses of all ages, positions in the weights and market, and from UK and Ireland have won this.

Mister Whitaker won the novices' handicap chase at the 2018 Festival, pulled up in the Ultima in 2019, was third in this last year and is now two pounds lower than that bronze medal. That'll do.

[Obviously, I could have written another thousand words but it wouldn't have helped me frame a more compelling case for a loser than the sentence above - so I've saved us both a bit of time!!]

Festival Plate Pace Map

Just an even gallop expected here.

Festival Plate Selection

This is for the wagering masochists.

Suggestion: 5p e/w Mister Whitaker with a firm paying twelve places.

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4.15 Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m 1f)

15 are due to post in the Dawn Run, and it's a foggy top of the market.

Four mares vie for favouritism as I write, just headed by Pat Fahey's Royal Kahala. She's been busy, running in a couple of bumpers and three hurdle races before this and winning the middle three races, most notably when beating Hook Up by five lengths at Fairyhouse. Her prep was a good second to Roseys Hollow in a Grade 3 on heavy ground over a slightly longer trip, and the first two winners of the Dawn Run were also beaten in their prep runs.

Roseys Hollow has won her last two, including that defeat of Royal Kahala, and comes here on the up. Indeed that Fairyhouse effort represented a stone increment on her Racing Post Ratings and she, like all in here, can go forward again. Gauloise was third there, closing well but given enough to do. It's very hard to choose between the three of them on that line of form.

The form of Hook Up was extremely well advertised on Tuesday; her fourth against the boys in the Grade 1 Chanelle Pharma already looked good, but after runners from that race finished 1-2 (and would have filled out the podium had Blue Lord not tipped up at the last) it looks the best piece of these if taken at face value. I say that because Hook Up closed from out back there and might have been flattered a touch; still, it was an excellent run. She was well beaten in last year's Triumph Hurdle, so we'll have to see which Hook Up shows.

There are a lot of others in here with chances but honestly I don't have much of a read on them. One that is probably a touch over-priced is Perfect Myth: she's better on good ground so would want it to dry out, but has strong handicap form off 136 and gets five pounds from the Graded winners. Harry Skelton will ride and I think 40/1 is a touch unfair.

Lots of others not mentioned with prospects.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

This will be pretty quick but not searing is my guess.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Selection

I've backed Hook Up on the strength of the Chanelle Pharma form because it's the best line in the field. I'm just not quite sure I believe it! If she can reproduce it here, she'll nearly win; on much of her other form she'll be off the ticket. Perfect Myth is playable in the each way extra markets as she's not a 40/1 chance, I don't think.

Suggestion: Pass. Or risk Hook Up or Perfect Myth.

*

4.50 Kim Muir Challenge Cup Chase (Class 2 Handicap, 3m2f)

11 of the last 23 winners of the Kim Muir, an amateur riders' race contested by professionals this year, finished in the first three last time. A further three winners were pulled up last time. Aged seven to nine is the sweet spot. More weight has typically been at least not a disadvantage and often a positive, as is a run in the same calendar year. Elliott/Foster, McCain, Henderson and Pipe are the trainers with the best records; Mullins and Nicholls are 0/29 combined.

Hold The Note was third in the novices' handicap chase last year and is now five pounds lower. He needs to prove he gets the trip but he is very attractively weighted if he does. And Mount Ida looks to have been crying out for this sort of distance: she was readily outpaced in the Dawn Run last year and was running on - never nearer, look after the mark - in a Grade 2 novice chase last time.

There are many other alternatives.

Kim Muir Pace Map

This will almost certainly be truly run, maybe overly fast as each of Hold The Note, Milanford and Morning Vicar perennially lead in their races; loads of others often do, so hold on to your hats!

Kim Muir Selection

Tricky but two with rock solid chances are Hold The Note and Mount Ida. They're not sexy prices but they might be hard to keep out of the frame, faller insurance a bonus if you can get it.

Suggestion: Back Hold The Note and/or Mount Ida each way a pleasure, sir.

*

The second half of the week is usually tougher than the first, but IF you can find a winner or two you'll have a good time of it. Hoping, though not really expecting, there will be a couple of nice priced successes in the above.

Good luck!

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Day Two, Wednesday, at the Cheltenham Festival has a cast of stars, none bigger than last year's last minute absentee, Chacun Pour Soi, who, with Altior again an eleventh hour scratch, will have Champion Chase star billing to himself. Earlier on the card the ascendant star Monkfish will bid to enhance his stellar credentials in the Brown Advisory Novices' Chase. We start, at the slightly earlier time of 1.20, with the Ballymore.

1.20 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m5f)

Small fields are again a feature of the novice divisions, just seven lining up for the opening Ballymore Novices' Hurdle; despite that there are a few with chances. The Irish have their traditionally strong representation - they've won six of the last seven - headed by Bob Olinger.

Trained by Henry de Bromhead, Bob's sole defeat in four Rules starts (and a point to point race) was when a length second to the sidelined Ferny Hollow in a maiden hurdle last November. Since then, he has won his maiden and then easily beat Blue Lord in the Grade 1 Lawlor's of Naas Hurdle. That was two and a half on heavy, this will be less testing; but he won there very easily indeed. He has made the running in the past, but that last day setup of tracking the leader before making his bid might be optimal. There are a couple in the field who led last time so he ought to get his way.

Another Irish Grade 1 winner is in opposition, Gaillard Du Mesnil, who took the Nathaniel Lacy at the Dublin Racing Festival in good fashion. What struck me there was his galloping style: it was a performance more about stamina than speed, whereas Bob Olinger looks to have gears. Crucially, it seems probable the Ballymore will be at least somewhat tactical. That may not play to Gaillard's strength, assuming I have him right (a dangerous assumption at best!).

One feature of both of the Irish contenders is that all of their form has been recorded on deep surfaces. Compare that with Bravemansgame, whose form has largely been achieved on good turf. A close second to Betfair Hurdle winner and Supreme contender Soaring Glory on hurdling debut was followed by easy novice wins at Exeter and Newbury, the latter over this trip. Faced with soft ground in the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle last time, he routed the closest of his four rivals by ten lengths.

Bravemansgame led pretty much throughout that contest and he may bid to make all again; the form has worked out okay, with a couple of rivals running 1-2 in a Listed hurdle subsequently. The British handicapper has taken a very positive view of the Challow form, giving the winner a mark of 150, the same mark he's awarded Bob Olinger, the pair a pound behind Gaillard Du Mesnil on BHA ratings. He might be right but I feel that this Paul Nicholls runner, who is spoken of in glowing terms by the yard, is definitely more of a stayer than a speed horse - and the epitome of the proverbial "chaser in the making". He could set things up perfectly for Bob (or Gaillard).

Bear Ghylls heads the remainder, betting wise at least, and this raw talent has found obstacles only a minor irritant on his way from start to finish in a trio of ungraded novice hurdles. He's not the slickest but he sure has an engine, the form of his Ffos Las beating of Gowel Road being well advertised by the two subsequent wins of that one. Still, he looks to have a fair bit to find with the three already mentioned and, if he replicates his careless jumping it won't help him bridge the gap.

Does He Know was a course and distance Grade 2 winner of the Hyde Novices' Hurdle in November but then ran out in the Challow and has since been whacked in handicap company. He's plenty to prove in this grade.

At prices, the most interesting might be Keskonrisk. A very expensive (£370,000) sales purchase after winning a non-descript bumper in grand style, he then just got up to win a two mile maiden having been hampered when trying to make ground in a big field. That's all no better than promising in the context of a race like this, but his third to Appreciate It in the Christmas Grade 1 at Leopardstown reads much better. Not seen since, this longer trip could bring out improvement and so, where some of these are pegged at their level, Keskonrisk remains in the improver camp.

Optimise Prime looks out of his depth after an eleven-length third in the Listed Sidney Banks.

Ballymore Pace Map

Expect Bob Olinger to be on or close to the lead; likewise Bravemansgame. Don't expect it to be frenetic, though.

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Selection

A fascinating race which brings together as yet uncrossed form lines from both Britain and Ireland. As interestingly, it brings together relatively speedy types (Bob Olinger, Keskonrisk) with more stamina-laden types (Gaillard Du Mesnil, Bravemansgame). If they go at no faster than an even tempo, which must be the percentage projection, it ought to set up for speed. In that case, Bob Olinger looks the one. He's been impressive this season, jumps very well for a novice, and looks to have that crucial change of pace. It wouldn't surprise me if Keskonrisk was in the first three so he might be playable in extended place markets or without the favourite.

Suggestion: Back Bob Olinger to win; or have a look at Keskonrisk in the exotic markets.

*

1.55 Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 3m)

Formerly the RSA and, before that, the Broadway Novices' Chase, apparently. Now it's the Brown Advisory (registered as the Broadway) Novices' Chase. But I might just stick with RSA for a bit...

Anyway, for a good while it has looked like a cakewalk for the mighty Monkfish, last year's Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle winner, and this year's superstar staying novice chaser (with the possible exception of Royale Pagaille, in the same ownership and headed to the Gold Cup). And that may be how it pans out for the horse famously referred to by Nicky Henderson as Fishcake (in a further ironic twist, Henderson now has Monkfish's sister in training, and she has been named Fishcake!).

Monkfish, trained by Willie Mullins, has won his last six races and all three of his chase starts, most recently a brace of Grade 1's. He jumps well, travels powerfully, and looks the clear pick of the Irish contingent. If there's a potential Achilles heel - and I'm not remotely convinced there is - it could be quicker ground.

Best of the British might be The Big Breakaway. Trained by Colin Tizzard, he was impressive in defeat in the Kauto Star (formerly Feltham) Novices' Chase at Kempton last time; impressive inasmuch as he absolutely ploughed through a number of the fences - including a howler at the last - and yet still finished second. That sort of a speed test was clearly not his bag and it remains the case that no winner of the Kempton Grade 1 has gone on to win the RSA/Brown Advisory/Broadway while a number of beaten horses from Kempton have gone on to score in this, including Bobs Worth, Might Bite and Topofthegame since 2012.

The Big Breakaway was fourth in Envoi Allen's Ballymore Novices' Hurdle last year, and then returned to Cheltenham to win on chasing debut in November. Since then he's been second twice, and jumped really poorly on both occasions. That's obviously a worry for a race like this but it is also an opportunity to step forward if he can correct the mistakes. He handled the quicker ground better than the quicker tempo at Kempton last time, so any drying of the turf ought not to be an issue for him.

Eklat De Rire is another from the powerful de Bromhead squad, his form hard to gauge as it has been achieved at ungraded level. Nevertheless, he's beaten the likes of Escaria Ten and Pencilfulloflead readily enough in the manner of a highly progressive type. He looks to have a lot to find to trouble the favourite though he is unexposed so it's not impossible. All form to date has been on heavy ground.

Sporting John put a limp effort in an Exeter Beginners' Chase behind him when cutting down Shan Blue late in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles play: he benefitted from a strong meter there, something that could be reprised here if Monkfish and Eklat De Rire take each other on early. He looks a stayer, with his best form on muddy turf in a truly run race, so these three miles - while unknown territory - ought to suit.

We haven't seen a lot of Dickie Diver since his good fourth to Minella Indo in the 2019 Albert Bartlett. In fact, we've seen him just once, when running up in a decent novices' handicap chase at Newbury in late December. He's a mature horse, at eight the oldest in this field, has low mileage and class, and wouldn't be a total shock winner for all that he's not especially for me wagering-wise.

Nor is Fiddlerontheroof, an expensive flop in last year's Supreme when the Tizzard horses weren't right. The problem is that, since then, they've often not been right, a one year strike rate of below 9% not really acceptable given how many very expensive purchases they accommodate. Fiddler's chase form of 21222 is a touch misleading, too, as it has been achieved in fields of 3-6-3-5-3. I wish the Tizzard team luck but I won't be backing many of theirs this week.

RSA Chase Pace Map

Likely to be run at an honest, though probably not all out, gallop. Eklat De Rire may take them along with Monkfish and Fiddlerontheroof close up. The Big Breakaway may track from midfield with the McManus pair likely to be produced late.

RSA Chase Selection

Monkfish is a very strong favourite and deserves to be. There are a couple - Eklat De Rire and Sporting John - who can be considered unexposed, and The Big Breakaway is a possible improver if his jumping holds together. But, barring accidents, the jolly should win.

Suggestion: Put Monkfish in a double with anything else you fancy to add 50% to your winnings! [Terms and conditions apply, the main one being caveat emptor 😉 ]

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2.30 Coral Cup (Handicap, Grade 3, 2m5f)

Oh heck. 26 runners in a handicap, many of the more fancied ones having at least partially hidden their best side in recent times. Even allowing for that sort of chicanery, four of the last ten Coral Cup winners also won their prior start and another two were second. And eight of the ten winners in that time shouldered 10-12 or more (seven lugged eleven stone-plus).

Incredibly, and highly satisfactorily for yours truly, that leaves just two: Grand Roi and Monte Cristo.

Grand Roi is the Elliott/Foster runner, the Cullentra House squad having won this in 2011 and 2016. Symmetrists will like this one for 2021, then, and his form chance is obvious. A very close fourth in a junior bumper at Cheltenham's New Year's Day 2020 fixture, he won a Grade 2 hurdle a year less two days later, and has peppered the target before and in one run since. Five-year-olds novices have a good record in the race, to which Grand Roi may add further.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Nicky Henderson will saddle Monte Cristo, bidding for his fifth Coral Cup triumph in total and third in a row. Have that, Gordie and co! Monte fair bolted up in a 15-runner Kempton handicap on Boxing Day, and has not run since. That 81-day layoff should be seen as a positive: Dame De Compagnie was off 88 days before her Coral Cup last year and William Henry absented for 77 days before winning the year before. This is the Henderson Coral Cup blueprint, and Monte Cristo is a box-ticker of the highest order.

Coral Cup Pace Map

A massive field but no out and out front runner. Grand Roi may be near the front, with most of the field not too far away in what could potentially be a muddling affair.

Coral Cup Suggestion: Obviously close to impossible, but Grand Roi and Monte Cristo represent the most established recent 'firms' in the race and both should go well. I will Count on Monte Cristo - see what I did there? 😀

*

3.05 Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

Wednesday's headliner is the Champion Chase, a race that has crowned the likes of Moscow Flyer, Master Minded, Sprinter Sacre and Altior in recent years. Last term, the day of race withdrawals of both Altior and Chacun Pour Soi left Defi Du Seuil with what appeared to be a penalty kick; alas for Defi backers, he skied his effort from twelve years (extended metaphorically speaking), trailing home fourth of five at odds of 2/5.

Here we are a year later and, lo, there is no Defi Du Seuil but both Altior and Chacun Pour Soi are on the team sheet. Or were, before Altior's late defection. Here, too, is Politologue, who won the race twelve months ago, and Put The Kettle On, who scored in last year's Arkle Chase. Throw in Rouge Vif, Nube Negra, Notebook, Cilaos Emery and First Flow and you have the makings of a great race. If they all get to the start line. Which they didn't last year.

The odds on favourite, deservedly so, is Chacun Pour Soi. A winner of six of his seven starts for Willie Mullins, the now nine-year-old has been a little flaky in seasons past but seems the real deal this time around. Easy scores in the Grade 2 Hilly Way, and then a brace of Grade 1's at Leopardstown, have rendered him the undisputed champion of Ireland. But now he must come to Blighty and race, a task he only partially managed last year. On form, he has little to answer: a few have questioned his ability to get up the hill but I have no such reservations. He does so much squeezing of throats in the middle part of his races that he's entitled to not barrel through the line - it has recently always been the case that those behind have finished considerably more limply.

But he will have to handle Cheltenham as well as he's handled Leopardstown. Both have a climb to the finish, but the Irish Grade 1 track is a lot less undulating and rhythm there more easily found. Pace wise, CPS is normally handy but not on the speed. In a field including trailblazers like Politologue, Put The Kettle On and maybe First Flow, he should be able to find a position just off the keenest of those and raise the tempo when he's ready. If he actually gets to the start line, and stands up in the race (no reason to believe he won't), I think he will win.

The second favourite was eleven-year-old Altior. But, for the second year in succession, he's a very late no show. It's a sad way to bow out if that is what transpires but, aged twelve next year, it's hard to see him getting competitive, especially against either or both of Chacun and Shishkin. He wouldn't have been for me from a betting stance anyway, but I'd have loved to see him in the race - as I'm sure would everybody.

Altior was readily passed last time by Nube Negra, a good horse - and one of promise - but not a great one, at Kempton. Nube Negra didn't quite run away in the Kempton race like his transit through suggested he would. Tellingly, his official chase rating, which had gone from 135 to 142 to 146 to 153 in his career to that point, then leapt almost a stone to 165 for his win there. I just don't believe it. It remains fair to say that Nube Negra is progressive and, only recently turned seven, probably has more to offer yet; but I'm betting he was flattered by that run. In any case, I'd have taken NN in a match against the old master who I couldn't easily see being in the trifecta. So who else might be on the podium in this deep deep deep QMCC?

A slightly overlooked horse is the reigning champ, Politologue. It may be fair to suggest he took advantage of absence last year but, if that is true, he did what Defi Du Seuil should have done and didn't. Moreover, the Paul Nicholls-trained ten-year-old has previous in the race and at the Festival: no better than a back marker in the 2016 Coral Cup, fences saw him improve to fourth in the 2017 JLT, fourth in the 2018 Champion Chase, second (less than two lengths behind a near top form Altior) in the 2019 Champion Chase, and then that memorable win in the 2020 Champion Chase. He's knocking on a little but he knows this road very well indeed.

I do worry whether he might have left his best finishing effort at Ascot in late January; there, he and First Flow had a rare old tussle from a good way out. It was a brilliant spectacle - probably my favourite race of the season to date - but it wasn't an easy race for either of them. First Flow did well to prevail but the softer turf there was in his corner.

Henry de Bromhead has brought Put The Kettle On over to Cheltenham three times, and they have gone home winners three times including, as mentioned, in last year's Arkle. Each win was on soft ground and she was either tapped for toe or outclassed by Chacun Pour Soi on yielding last time. Whichever interpretation you have on that defeat, it is hard to see her reversing form with the favourite.

Henry also runs Notebook, second then third to CPS, at widening margins, in consecutive Grade 1's in Ireland. Notebook was a multiple Grade 1-winning novice on better ground, and it might be that drying good to soft will narrow the gap. He has slightly more of a chance than the market gives him credit, without especially exciting as a wagering proposition.

The interesting one at a price might be Rouge Vif. True, I backed him ages ago and am thus predisposed to his chance; but allow me to share the case. He won in the manner of a progressive horse on his seasonal debut at this track carrying 11-07 in an open handicap, putting more than seven lengths between himself and the second to whom he gave a stone and a half. Stepping back a touch, last season he'd beaten Nube Negra by seven lengths at Warwick on good to soft in the Kingmaker before running a game third to Put The Kettle On in the Arkle on soft ground. He then ran third to Politologue in the Tingle Creek and fourth to Nube Negra in the Desert Orchid, both on soft.

I was surprised he ran in both of those races given his trainer stated straight after Cheltenham that the key to him is good ground and that he wouldn't run on softer. Regardless of what has happened in between he now gets better ground for the first time since and may resume his trajectory as a result.

First Flow deserves another column inch: he's won seven of eleven over fences, including his last six. Though, in contrast to Rouge Vif, his key seems to be very deep turf. The six timer was achieved on heavy, heavy, heavy, soft, heavy, soft. Indeed, he's not even raced on quicker than soft since running fourth in a bumper 17 starts ago!

Sceau Royal has been busy, mixing hurdling and chasing with a large degree of success. To that end, he accumulated more than a hundred 'bags' (of sand, grand) in prize money this term, courtesy of G2 pots at Wincanton (hurdle) and Newbury (chase) as well as a G1 second in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle. Betwixt and between he came down early in the Nube Negra-Altior race at Christmas. He'd be an incredible horse to own - versatile and sound - but is expected to come up a touch short in this quality field of specialist two mile chasers.

In the longer grass, Greaneteen looked a horse of great promise a year or so ago, and was fourth in last season's Grand Annual. Two fair runs in Grade 1 and 2 events since, behind a number of today's rivals, have either put him spot on or demonstrated his level, depending on your perspective. My view is in line with most people's: that he has a bit to find.

And that leaves Cilaos Emery to round out ten fascinating runners in a top class Champion Chase. He should have run in this last year - pocket talk - but instead, bizarrely, went for the Champion Hurdle in which he finished a good fourth. This season he's been second to Bachasson and danced away from Daly Tiger in a Grade 2 and a Grade 3 respectively. That most recent effort was eye-catching for all that it was at a significantly lower plane to this. He has sometimes struggled with his fencing, any such frailties likely to be thoroughly exposed here, but he's a very talented horse.

Champion Chase Pace Map

Every chance Politologue goes forward, a fair chance Put The Kettle On and First Flow follow him closely, and not impossible that either or both of Notebook and Rouge Vif seek a piece of the action, too. Chacun Pour Soi is expected to be played from midfield.

Champion Chase Selection

What a race. Having previously felt this would be an open and shut case for Chacun Pour Soi - and with various ante post positions supporting that contention - I now fear pretty much all of his nine rivals to one degree or another! There will be little margin for error, and almost any horse putting together a perfect performance could win this. That said, if Chacun puts in a 95% performance he should win. His Irish form this season is peerless for all that it was achieved in softer turf. He needs to handle Cheltenham, and potentially tacky ground, and he has to jump.

Finding an each way alternative is hard because of the depth to the race.

Suggestion: I hope Chacun Pour Soi underlines his form this season by winning here, but he's only about the right price. After him, it's not difficult to make place claims for most and, as such, it's every man and woman for themselves. Gun to head, Notebook might be the best value each way/ without the favourite option. Should be a brilliant watch.

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3.40 Glenfarclas Chase (Cross Country, Class 2, 3m6f)

Not for everyone is the Glenfarclas Chase, aka the Cross Country, but I'm a fan. It doesn't have quite the same predictability as in the good old Enda domination days but it remains a compelling spectacle and a welcome break from main course championship or big field handicap action. And it has advertised the claims of past Grand National winners (and maybe future Grand National winners) to boot.

The ante post market for the race has seen more shuffles than a Vegas black jack table with first the two French chevaux noirs and then the new Enda kid on the black, Shady Operator, skipping the gig this year. Meanwhile, at the head of affairs, Easysland and Tiger Roll, winners of the past three renewals between them, have been on the bookies' 'get' list as a combination of expected drying ground (Easysland) and bad juju vibes (Tiger Roll) have seemingly conspired against their optimal chances.

In spite of all that, Easysland is no bigger than 11/10 to record his own double in a race whose alumni includes three dual winners. When ambling away a year ago from a flailing Tiger Roll, 17 lengths in the French raider's debt, it looked as though David Cottin's then seven-year-old star was destined for a long reign over the kingdom inside the main tracks. He'd already emerged as a contender on his sole previous Cheltenham cross country run, and win, in December 2019.

But, on better ground and up a chunk in the weights, Easysland was unable to reduce much of the margin lent to pace-setters Kingswell Theatre and Beau Du Brizais here last November. That pair had enjoyed an unpestered time of it on the sharp end throughout and pressed on before the turn for home, catching a number of their pursuers a tad unawares. It was Potters Corner who got closest to smashing the cartel up front, but he had to settle for third. Meanwhile, Tiger Roll - never travelling - was pulled up.

All of these, bar Beau Du Brizais, will re-engage, the market predicting a notably different finishing order off level weights. But is that right? After all, the weight changes are often an irrelevance, or at least of diminished relevance, in the type of 'bimble then sprint' setup that characterizes most cross country races.

Easysland was sent off at 8/11 for the November handicap on this course. He closed quite well but never looked like reeling in the leaders. His trainer has expressly stated that the good ground was against him; so, if the forecast dry days manifest and given the fact that there is no capability to water the cross country track, he could be vulnerable. Add in an interrupted preparation, where he missed two intended engagements, and evens or so looks a potential opportunity to oppose. But with whom?

Tiger Roll is closest in the betting but, since winning this and the Grand National in that glorious 2019 pre-Covid spring, he's run 52P6. The '5' and the '6' were to some extent by design, both prep races in the last two Boyne Hurdles, the '2' was that 17L silver in this race last year, and the 'P' in the November handicap here. Are those runs forgivable in the context of the Tiger's overall form?

When he won this in 2019, he had finished a five length 4th of seven in the November handicap version and then won - albeit as a shock 25/1 shot - the Boyne Hurdle. When he won this in 2018, he'd been a well beaten (42L) fifth in the December handicap version and then trained up to the race. So the pattern in finishing position terms is the same, but he was pulled up never going in the November handicap and then 65L last of six in the Boyne Hurdle. His price requires a Grand Canyon-esque leap of faith off the back of recent efforts even when cognisant of the Tiger Roll blueprint. It is worth saying that, although 'only' eleven, he's danced a LOT of dances since winning the Triumph Hurdle in 2014.

A similar price is Potters Corner, who did best of the late runners in the November handicap. He is a Welsh National winner, on heavy ground, and all of his best runs do seem to be when it's hock deep and a test. This quicker ground and relative foot race probably isn't ideal for Christian Williams' stable star. Moreover, there is every likelihood his main target is the Aintree showpiece, for all that Tiger Roll has shown the two races are not mutually exclusive.

The December cross country handicap was won last year by Some Neck, who had preceded that victory with a third place in the Risk Of Thunder Chase on Punchestown's banks course. He'll handle the presumed quickish ground fine and has done well for a relatively inexperienced banks horse but this is a deeper and classier contest than either of his previous two for all that there are question marks against the top three in the wagering.

Balko Des Flos has not won since 2018. March 2018. In the Ryanair Chase. Since then, the ten-year-old has run occasionally with minor credit mainly in Grade 1 company. This is a big class drop, and it might be that the infield discipline rejuvenates him. The drying ground would also be in his favour but reservations are stamina - even in a typically tactical race such as this it's still most of four miles and 32 obstacles - and the dearth of encouraging efforts since the Ryanair.

A third Gigginstown wheel is provided by Alpha Des Obeaux, second in a Stayers' Hurdle and fourth in an RSA way back when. He's long in the tooth now so, while he has oodles of back class, he's probably too mature.

But there might be some interesting contenders in the long grass. Take Le Breuil, for instance: winner of that National Hunt Chase in 2019, he has twice been second in smaller field tactical affairs on good ground here. This looks a good race for him for all that he lacks cross country experience, and he ought to give his followers a run for their money as a prominent racer with more than a dash of grit and class.

Or what about the aforementioned Kingswell Theatre, twice a winner of handicaps over course and distance? He obviously handles conditions just fine, but a Glenfarclas record of 06P is less exciting. If it came up rattling quick (and I really hope it doesn't) he'd probably lead them a dance until at least the home turn but on good to soft or slower, he won't have the class.

And still there's one more I want to mention. Horses often get a sighter of the course in November or December prior to running much better in the March 'final'. Tiger Roll did it; Cause Of Causes did it; and, this season, both Potters Corner and Kings Temptation have done it.

The latter, in training with Ben 'Croco Bay' Case and wearing the same owner's silks as that late lamented Grand Annual legend, came home not far behind Potters and Easys in November having never been anywhere near the front rank throughout. He's won six of 18 chase starts, one on good to firm and the other five on good, so quick is how he rolls; and he rattled off a Uttoxeter hat-trick in that context last summer at between three and three and a quarter miles. Since the November sighter, he's had a spin in a jumpers' bumper and now here he is. I quite liked that quiet effort over course and distance and, though there's every likelihood he's simply nowhere near good enough, he looks very well suited to the conditions of the race.

I'm not much keen on the chances of the rest.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Pace Map

Odds on that Kingswell Theatre will lead. Easysland will probably be played from midfield, though connections may be mindful not to get too far back after the November episode (de Giles replaces Plouganou in the saddle). Hopefully Kings Temptation will be ridden in a much more 'interested' position this time.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Selection

Backers of Easysland do have a few things to take on trust, fitness and ground being soft enough (can wait until nearer the time) principally. At around evens, I'd rather bet each way against him or without the favourite. Potters Corner ought to show up well if connections don't have one and a half eyes on the Grand National and, at a mad price, I've had a quid or two each way on Kings Temptation at 50/1. If you follow me in, don't whine if he's never even mentioned!

Suggestion: Back 6/1 Potters Corner each way. Hail Mary players might risk a shilling win and place on Kings Temptation at 50/1.

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4.15 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m)

Impossible stuff, and often attritional stuff, too, with the field tearing all guns blazing from the start. Mercifully, it looks on paper to be slightly less rapid early than is generally the case. This has been won by some massive prices including 66/1 shot Croco Bay two years ago, but that winner was sandwiched between 'obvious' 15/2 Le Prezien and 7/2 (!) Chosen Mate, both unexposed novice or second season chasers.

It makes sense to have a crack at a few against the field, and I'll take one novice and two more experienced. My first experienced guess is Us And Them, second in the 2019 Arkle and third in this race last year. He's been biding his time for the repeat bid and, for a few no shows, gets one pound back off the handicapper. This has been the plan, no question.

A second non-novice guess is Moonlighter for that shrewd Nick Williams team. Since 2017, the yard has had three winners from 15 Festival handicap runners - one a year from 2017 to 2019. Just two runners last year included the reigning champ, Siruh Du Lac, which fell two out when still in the lead. Moonlighter was fifth in the handicap on Scilly Isles day at Sandown responsible for five previous winners of the Grand Annual. Ibleo won that day and re-opposes on a stone worse terms. Ouch. It might not stop him of course, but it probably will.

Moonlighter followed up that fifth with a win over the same Sandown course and distance and has his first run at Cheltenham. He looks to have better than a 20/1 chance.

Of the unexposed novices at the top of the market, easily the most compelling to my eye is Embittered. The Joseph O'Brien-trained Gigginstown entry was third in the County Hurdle last season and has been running with credit in Grade 1 novice chases against the likes of Energumene and Franco De Port this time around. A mark of 146 should enable a bold showing granted the safe passage and luck in transit that all contestants will need.

Grand Annual Pace Map

Not as mad a gallop on the cards as is sometimes the case, though On The Slopes, Us And Them and Glen Forsa ought to be front rank from the start. Hopefully be a nice even tempo.

Grand Annual Selection

Your guess is very likely better than mine. I think each of Us And Them, Moonlighter and Embittered has its chance; but so, too, do 17 others!

Suggestion: Try 16/1 Us And Them, or 6/1 Embittered each way; and add in 20/1 Moonlighter if you are happy to take three against the field, with as many extra places as you can lay hands on. Then get the prayer mat out.

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4.50 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1, NH Flat, 2m 1/2f)

A great race in prospect, with many stars of the future in the field. But who knows which will further advertise their nascent ability against this particular examination? Not most people if the market is anything to go by. Mucklemeg, Liberman, Missed That, Moon Racer and Envoi Allen are the only five jollies to justify favouritism since the race was incepted in 1992. Crikey. Why do favourites have such a poor record? Simply because there are so many unexposed horses stepping into Grade 1 from lower level facile wins that nobody really knows which way to turn.

This year it's tight at the top between an established Mullins inmate and a recent arrival courtesy of the Cheveley Park axis of the Gordon Elliott fallout: by name, Kilcruit and Sir Gerhard.

Kilcruit is my pin up boy, the more so since he's been torched by some sections (word used advisedly) of the press. He's won his two races this year in impressive fashion, most recently in the Grade 2 Future Stars bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival. He was simply much too good for a field of theretofore upwardly mobile opponents that day. But they went hard and they walked home, say the timing boys. Well, guess what? They'll probably go hard here and walk home, relatively at least. More material may be that this is going to be run on a very different surface and Kilcruit's grinding style may be compromised by that. But he's a very high class grinder who deserves to be favourite on what he's achieved; whether that's a blessing or a curse given the history of the market leaders is moot.

Threatening to usurp Kilcruit atop the wagering tree is Sir Gerhard, whose winning Rules form was when trained by Elliott. His profile is quite different - more about style than substance at this point - but he, like all of this field, is doubtless capable of plenty more yet. That's the challenge in betting the Bumper: we have to project by how much each horse might improve. On the clock Sir Gerhard regressed from first to second bumper run, but the manner of his win knocked the eye out. Style or substance? You pays your money, your takes your choice.

This is never a two horse race, depth a perennial feature. Three Stripe Life lines up for Mrs Foster, Elliott's super sub, and he was an easy winner on heavy ground in his sole run. That form hasn't been especially well advertised but stable confidence is high, the same stable having recently claimed this prize with Envoi Allen and the sadly ill-fated Fayonagh.

Mr Mullins meanwhile also deploys Ramillies, who travelled like a high class horse in Kilcruit's race before failing to pick up in the very deep ground. It wouldn't be a huge shock if he turned tables on less punishing terrain.

It is harder to make cases for the rest, though the mare Elle Est Belle's form has been well advertised albeit at a relatively ordinary level in the frame of this Grade 1. And, though I don't like four-year-olds in the Champion Bumper, Super Six surprised at Chepstow last time, winning easily as an 11/2 chance. His sectionals reveal a very fast finish off a fair early pace that day so, if he can travel with these, he might have a little to offer at the business end. He'd perhaps need to be in the Cue Card ability range to prevail as a four-year-old, mind. Unlikely, perhaps, but not impossible. Little is, least of all at the Cheltenham Festival.

Champion Bumper Pace Map

Hard to know what might happen here. Based on recent form, Fine Casting might take them along, from the likes of Ramillies, Shearer and Sir Gerhard. But I wouldn't bet on it.

Champion Bumper selection

I'm into Kilcruit for a bit and, as time passes, I get more apprehensive. Usually there are any number of unexposed types in opposition, though this year - as with other races - it seems less deep. Still, the likes of Sir Gerhard and Three Stripe Life retain similar 'could be anything' potential, while Ramillies is worth another chance in a fascinating renewal.

Suggestion: The obvious pair are the class of Sir Gerhard and the relentlessness of Kilcruit, but at the available odds it could be worth chancing Three Stripe Life or Ramillies each way.

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Some fantastic racing, most notably a vintage Champion Chase, bring us to the halfway stage. It's a long week, though, and we've still to do as much again before the weekend.

Good luck!

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day One Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day One Preview, Tips

After what has been as non-standard a run-up to the Festival as any in history, we are here, finally, and it is time for the talking to end and the racing to begin. Hallelujah.

Whether the micro of the constant buzzing of trainers who have "never had him better" or the macro media onslaught in light of the Elliott saga, racing fans have endured a put upon few weeks. But we're not here to talk about that; no, we're here to ponder the prospects of a pod of perfectly pristine quadruPeds. So let's get to that, pronto!

1.20 Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 1/2f)

Nothing is usual in 2021, not even the start time for the first roarless Supreme ever. Tune in at 1.30 and you'll likely be watching socially distanced post-race interviews, so that's perhaps the best tip you'll find in the following several thousand words: be ready at twenty-past-one!

Just eight go to post and, as is often the case in recent years, we've a strong favourite from the Willie Mullins stable to kick the week off. This time it is the seven-year-old Appreciate It, bidding to get the perma-champ off to a winning start. What? Seven years old, you say? Too old according to the trends. Erm, not really, no. You see, of the 17 seven-year-olds to run in the race since 2008, only four were priced at 14/1 or shorter: they finished first (17/2), third (4/5), fourth (14/1), fifth (14/1). Not bad at all.

It won't be age that beats Appreciate It. But it might be quicker turf, a theme which will apply to many runners this week. His entire career to date has been conducted on yielding or softer so good to soft is taken somewhat on trust. In fairness, the son of Jeremy's more visually impressive performances have come when the ground was less testing so there's a case to be made that he'll be better for less mud. I certainly am not looking to make a ground-based case against Appreciate It, whose dual Grade 1 scores in Irish novice hurdles are supported by running up in last season's Champion Bumper here: he has a rock solid chance for all that his price tells as much far more succinctly than I have.

His win in the Chanelle Pharma is probably the best piece of form coming into this, and the second there, Ballyadam, is a player here, too. He travelled up to within a length of Appreciate It but was then outstayed by the winner having bungled the final flight; but the way he travelled into contention suggests a sounder surface will be a plus to his chance. Ignoring a below par effort at Christmas, he is already a Grade 1 winning hurdler having taken the Royal Bond in late November. He's one of the Cheveley Park runners inherited by Henry de Bromhead from the Elliott yard.

The third from that Leopardstown Grade 1, Blue Lord, also lines up with a plausible chance. He was ridden 'cold' that day, making up a fair bit of ground but under heavy pressure to do so. That felt more of a staying performance, or else one where an all guns blazing early tempo over two miles would suit; this may not be that, and the County might have been a better option. What is worth saying is that if the Chanelle Pharma form works out here, Hook Up (fourth) will be an interesting contender in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle on Thursday.

One place behind Hook Up, in fifth, was Irascible. Beaten nine lengths by Appreciate It both here and in his previous start, in the Christmas Grade 1 over the same Leopardstown course and distance, he'd need to improve for the sounder surface to turn tables with that one. It's not impossible, but it does look unlikely.

The best of the British, on known form at least, looks to be Harry Fry's Metier. An easy winner of the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle on heavy ground, he'll bid to replicate Summerville Boy's 2018 Tolworth-Supreme double. But it was heavy at Cheltenham in 2018, and Metier has yet to race on anything this quick over hurdles. His flat form was good but the pick of that was also when the wet was rife. For all that he's won his three hurdle races by five lengths-plus each time in the manner of one capable of more, I'm not convinced by the strength of his form and want to take him on at the price.

The second UK runner in the betting, Soaring Glory, is perhaps the more ascendant form wise. He won the Betfair Hurdle, a competitive 23-runner affair, by three easy lengths last month, travelling smoothly from mid-division and scampering clear. A very decent bumper horse last season, he took his time to get his jumping together as a novice hurdler this term, but is improving and might be one that needs a strong pace to run at. Whether he gets that in this short field is unclear, though For Pleasure and possibly Appreciate It and/or Grumpy Charley may make it a fair test.

Grumpy Charley and For Pleasure are both worthy entries in this representing smaller owners and trainers, and I hope they run creditably. But I can't see them winning even though I did back the latter for this on Boxing Day. He was 50/1 then and will be that price on the day!

Supreme Novices' Pace Projection

For Pleasure is the confirmed front runner in this field, but both Appreciate It and Grumpy Charley have led more often than not recently. It ought to be an even tempo given the smaller field and run style versatility of most participants.

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Selection

I don't especially rate the home challenge in this - and might well be proven wrong on that - so it's all about the Chanelle Pharma form for me. Appreciate It is the right favourite and, if handling the quicker ground, ought to win. But I'm backing Ballyadam each way. He's a stronger traveller than the jolly, something likely to be more of a factor on good to soft than soft to heavy and, though his jumping is a slight concern - as is what he finds off the bridle - he looks quite hard to keep out of the frame.

Suggestion: The Supreme is the 'load up' race where all bookies want you to deposit to your betting accounts and play with them. To that end, offers abound and you should take advantage of any and all of them. It's worth putting some time into it because, honestly, nobody able to access concessions should lose on the Supreme. Read the T's & C's, caveat emptor, et cetera.

A few of note are Skybet's £10 max stake money back as cash if you lose (first bet only), MansionBet's paying out as a winner if your horse is second (£10 max stake, £250 max return), and Hill's £10 max stake money back as cash if second (first bet only).

I'm backing 11/2 Ballyadam, and may have a tiny e/w on 25/1 Irascible who probably did too much on the front last time.

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1.55 Arkle Challenge Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

The Supreme looks a fascinating and classy race, but the Arkle looks a blinding screamer, or a screaming blinder if you prefer. Or 'looked'. Shishkin, unbeaten in seven completed starts under Rules, versus Energumene, unbeaten in his last five, versus Allmankind, unbeaten in three over fences. Throw in cameos from the likes of Captain Guinness and Franco De Port and it's a race to truly savour. But... the withdrawal of Energumene due to a minor setback has robbed this Arkle of a major part of its lustre.

In the absence of the pick of the Irish novice speed chasers this season, it looks a more straightforward cat and mouse affair between the pace horse, Allmankind, and the class horse, Shishkin.

Allmankind has got one way of racing and that's hard on the front end; if another horse tries to lock horns with him, the balance of probabilities is that the other horse, or both duellers, will be spent before the final climb to the jam stick. It would have been fascinating to see how Energumene, also a confirmed front-runner, would have handled that sort of a challenge.

In the revised line up, where just six go to post, what is most compelling about is that, if Allmankind gets an 'easy' on the lead, he may be more of a danger to Shishkin than if Energumene had been present and had taken him on; in that latter scenario, which I think was most likely - to some degree at least - the dial moved in favour of Shishkin, who will bide his time behind whatever speed plays out in front of him. But now Allmankind may get his way a little more easily up top and, as a result, will likely get closer to the winning line before getting overhauled, if indeed he is overhauled.

But still, I feel this sets up perfectly for Shishkin, who has shown he can take a position wherever and outclass his opposition. True, his Grade 1 form is over hurdles, but that was here in last season's Supreme; and he's yet to face more than three runners in three chase starts. But his form got a reasonable boost when Tamaroc Du Mathan, 13 lengths in his debt at Kempton at Christmas, won a Grade 2 last month.

And what of the rest? Captain Guinness and Franco De Port both add depth.

Captain Guinness has arguably run his best two races when failing to get round: first when brought down at the second last while still well in contention in last year's Supreme, and then when challenging Energumene for the lead and taking a soft fall - again at the second last - in the Irish Arkle last month. But there's also the pulled up effort when found to be clinically abnormal post-race on chasing debut, and that combination of misfortunes makes for a Scrabble rack of form: B-P12F and a growing list of excuses. Regardless, assuming he stands up, he has strong podium claims.

Franco De Port is the wise guy 'pieces play'. He got the whole lot when Felix Desjy and Benruben blasted off in front in the Leopardstown Grade 1 Novice Chase at Christmas, and he was good enough to come through for a respectful second to Energumene in another Grade 1 over the same course and distance last time. There was no pace collapse for him to run at there and his case is largely based on a searing early gallop, which looks less likely since the withdrawal of Energumene.

Eldorado Allen is interesting: as Colin Tizzard was confirming on Racing TV he was running in the Grand Annual, declarations closed and he'd been left in the Arkle. Oops. He was easily brushed aside by Shishkin at Doncaster last time and, though Tizzard claims the horse "was wrong" that day, it is very difficult to see a reversal of placings especially given this was apparently not the plan anyway.

That leaves Numitor, who has a lot to find on form but who may have a part to play in the race as a confirmed front-runner. I'm not sure he can live with Allmankind given he's rated 32 pounds inferior to that one, but he might set the Skelton horse alight over the first couple of fences. Still, the likelihood is that Allmankind should be able to swat the attentions of that pace-pressing interloper without too much ado.

Arkle Pace Projection

It will be quick early but possibly not mega-quick. That depends on how long Numitor can lay up with Allmankind (or whether the former will be ridden more conservatively in a bid to finish his race off). Regardless, Shishkin and Captain Guinness will take a lead with Franco De Port and Eldorado Allen likely to be played later.

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Arkle Chase Selection

It's quite possible that I've underrated Allmankind who does a lot early in his races but still has a bit left late on and who is a Grade 1 winner over fences. But I see this going readily to Shishkin and the exacta being completed by either Captain Guinness or Franco De Port, probably the Captain.

Suggestion: Back Shishkin to beat Captain Guinness in an exacta, or Captain Guinness without the favourite..

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2.30 Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3 handicap, 3m1f)

The first of the Festival handicaps is historically one of the more predictable puzzles to unravel. Indeed, while Gold Chieftain, Chief Dan George and Joes Edge each returned between 28/1 and 50/1 when prevailing, the other 17 winners this century returned 14/1 or shorter, with 15 of them at 10/1 or shorter.

Tony Martin won this in 2006, Francois Doumen in 2005 and Christy Roche in 2003, but generally speaking this is for British-based trainers. Jonjo O'Neill and David Pipe have each won it thrice, Nicky Henderson twice.

Applying a few weighting factors (don't ask), my shortlist is Happygolucky, Aye Right, One For The Team and Nietzsche.

Kim Bailey trains Happygolucky. Bailey has saddled three runners in the Ultima since 1997, Bettys Boy winning in 1999 and Vinndication running fourth last year. Somewhere in between was an outsider that pulled up. This chap is lightly raced and has excellent track form including a Festival fourth of 23 in last year's Martin Pipe handicap hurdle. That ticks the big field, class and course boxes, and a novice chase win at this distance - on the New Course here, this is the Old Course - is another feather in his cap. He's a rubbish price but should go very well.

Aye Right is a better price, almost double Happygolucky's, and has excellent handicap form including seconds in the Ladbroke Trophy (Hennessy as was) and Sky Bet Chase this season. He's inched up the handicap eight pounds for not winning which seems harsh but he's earned those increments for nearly winning multiple times. He might nearly win again here - was a fair fifth of ten in last year's RSA at the track - and I backed him after my mate Gavin Priestley of nagnagnag and Festival Trends fame told me I ought to. Think I'll probably do the field to beat Aye Right exactas...

One For The Team is seemingly a bit less obvious, but he does represent the shrewd Festival handicap firm of Nick Williams. Four starts in chase company this term, three in novices/beginners' and last time in the Sky Bet mean he's an upwardly mobile novice. While his Sky Bet fifth was a touch underwhelming (sent off 5/1), all of his best form is on a sounder surface than the soft turf that day. Prior to Doncaster last time, he was close to top novices in Graded company.

Nietzsche is a lot more left field. He's never run over this trip and was last seen chasing home Sky Pirate at a distance in third over two miles. Clearly pacier than many in the field, he's the sort that if he stays could hit the board. He's a 25/1 shot which feels reasonable enough.

As always in the handicaps, though slightly less so this year given the smaller fields, plenty more with chances.

Ultima Pace Projection

A good even gallop looks likely. Aye Right, Happygolucky, Pym and The Wolf could be to the fore, so too possibly Milan Native and Vintage Clouds. But none of these is an out-and-out need the lead type so expect common sense to prevail. All the fancied runners should be in the front half of the field early to mid-race; some of them will still be there at the end!

Ultima Handicap Chase Selection

Suggestion: The prices have collapsed on the top few. Happygolucky, Aye Right and One For The Team are only about 11/10 combined but that's perhaps not a terrible price given they all come here with strong credentials and, in two cases, upside to boot. SkyBet are paying seven places - a fifth the odds - in this. Use them if they're price competitive and you're able to get a bet on there. Nietzsche is the seven places play.

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3.05 Champion Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 1/2f)

The day one highlight is the Champion Hurdle which, this year, features a shoot out between two top class mares who both won on this day last year and a five-year-old gelding who should have won by half the track a year ago last Friday. They are, respectively, reigning champ Epatante, Mares' Hurdle winner Honeysuckle, and the desperately unlucky Triumph Hurdle last flight faller, Goshen.

Since last March, the trio have taken divergent paths. Epatante was a facile scorer in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle at Newcastle in November but was then surprisingly beaten (at odds of 1/5) in Kempton's Christmas Hurdle in late December. She's not yet been seen in 2021. Trainer Nicky Henderson insists he has isolated whatever the issue was when she under-performed at Christmas and, if he has, Epatante remains the one to beat: she's a pure two-miler who handles good to soft well and she has bundles of class.

But she's not the favourite. That honour is Honeysuckle's, the Henry de Bromhead-trained mare's unbeaten career now extending to ten races, six of them in Grade 1's and five of them against males. If that's the good news - and it is very good - then the reservations are twofold: trip, and ground. Honeysuckle has only raced over the minimum three times, scoring by 3 1/2 lengths in a good ground Listed hurdle, by half a length from Darver Star in last year's Irish Champion Hurdle on yielding, and by ten lengths from Abacadabras on soft to heavy in this year's Irish Champion Hurdle.

So she's a dual Grade 1 scorer at two miles, what's the problem? The problem - if indeed it is one - is that she was entitled to win the Listed contest, she scraped home against Darver Star, and it was very deep ground when she won last time. The combination of quicker ground and the shorter trip might - only might - find her out. And, at 9/4 or so, that's enough to put me off a touch. On the flip side, this does look like being a proper test with three confirmed trailblazers in the field, and she has proven class and stamina.

Goshen has been both the Messiah and a very naughty boy in the past twelve months. Fate conspired horribly against him in the Triumph Hurdle last year when, with the race in bar-a-fall safekeeping, he got his hooves tangled together on the landing side of the final flight and came down. It was such a freak incident and devilishly unfortunate. After that, Gary Moore's stable star went missing in action for a while: beaten a couple of times on the flat when better was expected and then completely flunking in the International Hurdle in December.

He could have been backed at 25/1 after that minor catastrophe but was no bigger than 9/2 after romping away with the Kingwell Hurdle last month. So which Goshen will we see this time? It's hard to say, particularly as a literal reading of the 22-length margin at Wincanton seems ill-advised. I am a massive fan of this horse, but from a value perspective cannot bet him at his current price. An interesting side note is that Champion Hurdle day will be Goshen's fifth birthday.

One I did back, at 6/1 (current odds 8/1, sigh) shortly before he notably under-performed, was Abacadabras. Second to Shishkin by a small margin in the Supreme last season, he's since run second to Aspire Tower, beaten Saint Roi, clunked behind Sharjah, and finished those ten lengths behind Honeysuckle. In spite of all that, he's flirting with a single figure price as I write. Why? Well there's that course and distance run last year, and there is also the contention that he will prefer this better ground and, crucially, more pace to run at.

The under-rated horse in the field is Silver Streak. I am as guilty as anyone of picking holes in his form, but he just keeps on turning up and running with enormous credit. Third in Espoir D'Allen's 2019 Champion Hurdle, he was only sixth in the race last year (on soft); but to that he can add a win and a second in the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle and third in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth. His best form appears to be on better ground and he ought to produce another bold effort.

Last year's runner up, Sharjah, tries again and the Willie Mullins-trained four-time Grade 1 winner has a squeak on his best form; but his best form is pretty much all at Leopardstown, ignoring that fine effort in this race a year ago. Naturally, we should not ignore that effort and he is yet another runner who cannot be discounted.

Mullins also saddles the unknown quantity, to British and Irish audiences at least, James Du Berlais. Second in two French Grade 1's, most recently when chinned by the width of a waffery-thin mint, the drop back to two miles on quickish ground is far more of a speed test than the two and a half on heavy he's been facing all season. Regardless, he has a high cruising speed and some class; whether he can lay up with these, I don't know, but he's probably about the right price if you wanted to invest in the answer to that question.

Aspire Tower's form ties in with Goshen, Abacadabras and Sharjah and, on those form lines he has a mountain to climb with an on-song Goshen but nothing at all to find with the other pair. I'm still generally wary of five-year-olds in the Champion Hurdle and he wouldn't be my idea of the winner.

Although a dual Grade 1 winner, Saldier is very hard to fancy off the back of two last place beaten out of sight efforts.

Not So Sleepy is occasionally not so fussed about being a racehorse but, on his day, he's pretty good. A front-runner normally, he adds to the pace of Goshen and Aspire Tower to ensure it will be a truly run affair. He was pulled up in this last year on soft ground and a similar outcome looks probable given the perceived early speed contention.

Champion Hurdle Pace Projection

Fast. Each of Goshen, Not So Sleepy and Aspire Tower has led in three of their prior four starts, and raced prominently on the other occasion. Silver Streak also led last time though is generally happy to be handy.

Champion Hurdle Selection

I love Goshen but I don't see him winning this. The mares at the head of the market deserve to be there and they may dominate. Which wins is tougher: I do harbour concerns about the trip on quickish ground for Honeysuckle whereas Epatante looked bombproof before her Christmas flunk. If she's back, she's definite value at north of 3/1 - obviously you have to factor that 'if' into the price. If there is one with which to take them on, it might be Abacadabras who ran his best race in the Supreme on the same day last year and for whom the strong pace will be a plus.

Suggestion: The bookies look to have this about right in the win market, but 8/1 Abacadabras is a reasonable each way or place only play. Epatante at 7/2 is perfectly fair enough as a win proposition although, as mentioned, there is little value to be had in this very mature market.

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3.40 Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m4f)

The fact that this was won last year by Honeysuckle and that there is a perennial debate about the favourites ducking either the Stayers' or Champion Hurdles is a testament to the quality of mare who shows up here. As we know, Honey goes the Champion route this time, leaving last year's Mares' Novices' Hurdle winner, Concertista, with an open goal. Or at least it might have been had not Roksana decided to swerve the Stayers' and, erm, Rok up in opposition.

That's good for the race, which has featured some terrific head-to-heads in recent years, including Honeysuckle versus Benie Des Dieux last term, and which was looking a little one-sided until Roksana routed here. Still, it remains a shallow enough heat and a shock is unlikely.

Concertista had been a fair but not great flat filly for Christophe Ferland in France, winning once in a ten furlong handicap, before changing hands at the Arqana summer sale for €75,000. Not a snip at the time but neither was it a king's ransom, especially with the benefit of hindsight as we now know that this is the game for which she was made. On her debut for Willie Mullins, after 620 days off the track, she ran a fantastic second in the inaugural Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle at the 2019 Festival.

The plan after that was clearly to come back in 2020 for the same race, and she duly danced home by a dozen lengths in a field of 22! Since then she's won a couple of minor Graded stakes with this day in mind throughout. Willie Mullins is a peerless target trainer with his mares - see Quevega, Benie Des Dieux, Annie Power - and Concertista looks the next on that particular conveyor belt of female stars.

She's probably not achieved a lot in beating the same rival - Minella Melody - twice, although the well beaten third from the second of those wins, Black Tears, has won a Grade 3 since and re-opposes here. Black Tears herself has Festival back class having run second in the Coral Cup last season. She's a strong travelling sort who handles big fields well - a pity then that this is the third smallest field in the (short) history of the race.

Returning to Roksana, the Dan Skelton-trained mare has looked superb at three miles this season, improving her official rating, her Racing Post Ratings, and her Topspeed ratings. Strange that connections have opted for the two and a half mile Mares' rather than the three mile Stayers', and a bit of a shame in my view. Still it does make for an interesting battle: Concertista is arguably better at two miles, Roksana at three, and here they both are compromising at two and a half.

Black Tears is a two-and-a-half miler but not at the level of the other pair, a comment which applies equally to the failed chaser, Dame De Compagnie. Failed chaser is a little harsh as she won her first fencing start and was all but brought down on her only other attempt. Still, redirection into the Mares' Hurdle field looks a fair move given she won last year's Coral Cup, in which Black Tears was second, and she won it going away. Her Cheltenham record is three wins from five starts and she's trained by Nicky Henderson, who is Champions League class at the Festival. She may actually prove a more potent threat to Concertista than Roksana given her affection for the trip and her change of gear.

It is very difficult to make a case for the remainder, though Indefatigable also has great Cheltenham form including when winning the Martin Pipe last time under an inspired withering run from geegeez-sponsored jockey, Rex Dingle. She has little to find with Dame De Compagnie on an old line of form but she does have to overcome a lamentable effort last time. Minella Melody has, as mentioned, run second to Concertista twice this term so it wouldn't be a shock if she finished in the same parish for a third time; and Great White Shark has some excellent handicap form, both on the flat (three-length winner of the Cesarewitch) and over hurdles (won the Guinness Handicap Hurdle at the Galway Festival, third to Indefatigable in the the Martin Pipe last year).

Mares' Hurdle Pace Projection

A good even gallop looks most likely with Floressa and Minella Melody front rank, followed by My Sister Sarah and Black Tears. Concertista and Roksana are expected to be played late.

Mares' Hurdle Selection

Concertista looks the most likely winner by far, something a very quick glance at the betting would tell you. I liked the way Dame De Compagnie ran through the line over this trip at the Festival last year and, reverting to hurdles, she might be the each way thievery play. I've loved Roksana throughout her career but she has looked so good over three miles this term that it's a surprise she drops back down here, especially after getting beaten a dozen lengths in the race a year ago. You can't bet them all and she's the one I'd take on here (though I'd have backed her in the Stayers').

Suggestion: Bet Concertista to win if you like, she ought to at least nearly do that. Or play Dame De Compagnie each way or without the favourite.

*

4.15 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Fred Winter, Grade 3, 2m 1/2f)

Wednesday's placepot nightcap is now Tuesday's placepot leg six and it's not easier for the change of day. I'm not going to get too stuck in to the form here. It's a guess up, plain and simple, a case of who can deceive the handicapper the best. Or, more politely, who has most scope to improve from their current mark. The sportsman in me wants Cabot Cliffs or Saint Sam to win as they've been campaigned with their light out front; the cynic in me sees something like Coltor going in.

But, in all seriousness, I haven't a clue. Tough race to close out the placepot.

Boodles Handicap Hurdle Pace Projection

Fast, frantic, furious, frenetic, ferocious and other adjectives beginning with 'f'. Doubtful stayers need not apply.

Boodles Handicap Hurdle selection

In the spirit of almost anything being capable of winning, I'll chuck a fiver at Longclaw, whose history is fascinating. A juvenile on the flat for Gordon Elliott, he ran third in a minor Stakes race at Keeneland, USA, worth a quarter of a million quid in August 2019. After one further run in the States, for Brad Cox, he shipped back to Elliott where he signed off his flat career with a six length maiden verdict. A few weeks later he recorded the first of back to back hurdle successes before a slightly disappointing effort in a Listed hurdle at Wetherby. That was in late October and he's not been seen since, now running for the John McConnell yard.

Interesting back story and some class make 33/1 worth that cheeky fiver for all that the French-bred's will probably run amok.

Suggestion: Ask Mr Felt Tippy.

*

4.50 National Hunt Chase (Grade 2, 3m 6f)

The closing line of the opening stanza of this year's Cheltenham Festival belongs to the National Hunt Chase. Two years ago, the race made headlines for all the wrong reasons; as a result of that, some sensible changes were introduced, most notably a reduction in distance by a quarter mile. This year, because of the pandemic, there will be no amateur riders either. A welcome relief in some cases, though most of those getting the leg up in recent years have been somewhere between competent and excellent horsemen and women.

The Gold Cup-bound Royale Pagaille had added some interest to the five-day entries but his absence leaves the door ajar for Galvin et al. Galvin, heretofore trained by Elliott, has moved to Ian Ferguson. "Who?", you might ask. Ferguson has trained a Festival winner for Galvin's owner, Ronnie Bartlett, Zemsky first past the post in the 2011 Foxhunters'. And, apparently, he also did the pre-training for this chap. Let's talk about Galvin's form.

A very good novice he was a regular visitor to Britain during his bumper and early novice hurdle days, before getting a chase mark by being beaten three times in Irish novice races. The handbrake was off in the final running of the Novices' Handicap Chase - gone but not forgotten, making way this year for the inaugural Mares' Chase - but he couldn't catch Imperial Aura up the hill. A non-winner in his first season over fences, then, he's since won four on the bounce, all in small fields at trips between two and a half and three miles, all on decent ground. The last of them was at Cheltenham in October, 144 days ago; so, while dodging the worst of the ground is understandable for one who likes it 'on top', fitness must be taken on trust. A positive to that end is that he'd been off for 105 days prior to the silver medal in the novices' handicap chase a year ago.

Next Destination, representing Paul Nicholls, was expected to line up in the RSA - sorry, Brown Advisory - but, wisely swerving Monkfish, lands in here. Galvin backers thrilled at the absence of Royale Pagaille will have been less pleased at the presence of this fellow. He's a nine-year-old, which is more a plus than a minus on recent evidence: two of the last three winners were aged ten, with Midnight Legend in 2014 aged nine. That's from a far smaller representation of runners than the younger age brackets.

Good enough to win a couple of Grade 1's for Willie Mullins in 2018, he switched to Nicholls after a protracted layoff and his new trainer has conditioned him to win consecutive Grade 2 novice events. The balance of his form is better than Galvin's and yet he is twice the price.

Another whose expected Festival target was different from his actual slot is Escaria Ten, hitherto presumed for a handicap. A progressive type he's yet to test his mettle in official Graded class but has run in beginners' and novice chases against established Grade 1 horses like Monkfish and Eklat De Rire. He has to show both that he can win in Graded class and that he handles quicker turf, and that combination is enough for me to think he's not excitingly priced.

Similarly, all of Lord Royal's Irish form to date is on very soft ground; but the Willie Mullins inmate did finish second in a mile and a half maiden on good ground on his sole flat run in France. He was a talking horse after putting up a  massive effort on time figures at Clonmel in January last year, and was threatening to do the same when coming down late in his chase debut at Thurles. He was well enough beaten next time over a shorter trip but, upped to three miles last time, kept on best and just failed to reel in the leader. This longer trip looks sure to suit and, if his jumping holds together, he's a player.

David Pipe has a few live ones this Festival, and Remastered could be one of them. Unbeaten in three chases, most recently the three mile Reynoldstown, a Grade 2, he has performed almost exclusively in soft and heavy turf. While it may not be a prerequisite it remains hard to peg his ability on faster terrain given he's now had 16 races. He probably doesn't have the upside that some of these do for all that he'd not be a shock winner.

Snow Leopardess usually runs well, but usually in defeat and, in spite of her seven pound allowance, she is not for me. The rest look to have plenty on their plates.

National Hunt Chase Pace Projection

This should be run at an even to strong tempo, probably more even than strong, with Remastered and Lord Royal expected to be front rank. The Malcolm Denmark pair of Next Destination and Soldier Of Love may be close up along with Snow Leopardess. Galvin and Escaria Ten are typically waited with a little more.

National Hunt Chase Selection

Galvin looks to have a fair chance but the combination of his price, a five month layoff and a lack of Graded form put me off. Next Destination on the other hand has a run this year, strong Graded form and a nice profile - and he's double the odds of Galvin. He looks a bet.

Suggestion: Back Next Destination to win or each way if you prefer, at 4/1. Hills will refund up to £10 stake in cash if your pick finishes second (3/1+) so if you fear Galvin, or another, that might be worth considering.

*

A fascinating first day, light on numbers but not at all in terms of interest or class. It gets trickier as the week progresses and personally I'll have a fair idea of my four-day fate at the end of the first quarter.

Good luck!

Matt

2021 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY ONE (Tues 16th March 2021)

Each day of the 2021 Cheltenham Festival our horse racing trends experts will give you all the quick-fire positive and negative stats for EVERY race. Apply these to the final cards and you will build up a picture and a profile of which horses have historically done the best in recent renewals.

We hope they help narrow down the fields and also help pin-point plenty of winners at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival for you!

The 'day one' feature is the Grade One Unibet Champion Hurdle - a race in which 31 of the last 37 winners won last time out.

 

Cheltenham Festival Trends

Tuesday 16th March (Old Course)   

 

1.20 - Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 87y ITV

 

2020 Winner: SHISHKIN 6/1
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Jockey – Nico de Boinville

Pluses…..

  • 21 of the last 24 winners won their last race
  • 14 of the last 17 winners had raced in at least 4 hurdles races before
  • 9 of the last 11 winners came from the first 4 in the market
  • 8 of the last 9 winners have all won a graded novice hurdle before
  • 20 of the last 26 winners ran in the last 45 days
  • Irish-trained horses have won 16 of the last 29 runnings
  • 5 & 6 year-olds have the best record – winning 15 of the last 16 runnings
  • Willie Mullins has won the race 5 times since 2007 and for 4 of the last 8 years
  • 24 of the last 26 winners had raced that same calendar year
  • Owner Rich Ricci & trainer Willie Mullins have won 3 of the last 8 runnings (5 of the last 14)
  • 5 of the last 7 winners had been rated 153 or more
  • 8 of the last 9 winners had won a graded Novice Hurdle before
  • 7 of the last 8 winners returned a single-figure price
  • 8 of the last 12 winners were previous bumper winners

Negatives…..

  • Horses that FAILED to win last time out before coming here are just 3 from the last 24. In other words, look for horses that won last time out!
  • Since 1992 all horses (37) wearing head-gear have been beaten
  • We’ve seen just two ex-flat horses win since 2008
  • Just 2 of the last 18 winners came here unbeaten
  • Just 1 of the last 18 winners aged 7 or older
  • Just 1 outright winning favourite in the last 16 runnings
  • Betfair Hurdle winners are 0-from-7 in the last decade
  • Nicky Henderson is 2 from 39 since 1993 (Shishkin (2020) and Altior (2016) his two winners for this period)

 

1.55 - Sporting Life Arkle Novices' Chase (Grade 1) 1m 7f 199y ITV

2020 Winner: PUT THE KETTLE ON 16/1
Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
Jockey – Aidan Coleman

 

Pluses….

  • 13 of the last 16 winners had won (or been placed) at Cheltenham before
  • 15 of the last 21 winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 chase before
  • The last 11 winners won last time out (plus 16 of the last 20)
  • 19 of the last 21 winners returned 9/1 or shorter
  • 13 of the last 14 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old
  • 14 of the last 18 winners had run 3 or 4 times over fences
  • 12 of the last 17 winners at run at the Cheltenham Festival previously
  • 11 of the last 20 winners were the top or second top-rated hurdler in the field
  • 7 of the last 9 winners were unbeaten over fences
  • Nicky Henderson has won the race 6 times
  • Willie Mullins has won 4 of the last 6 runnings (all French-bred)
  • 7 of the last 9 winners trained by Willie Mullins or Nicky Henderson

Negatives…..

  • Only 2 of the last 34 winners failed to win of finish second last time out
  • Just 3 of the last 30 winners started 11/1 or bigger in the betting
  • Only 3 of the last 29 winners were older than 7 years-old
  • The last horse aged 9 (or older) to win was in 1988
  • The last 28 ex-flat horses to run have all lost
  • Only 1 winner since 2000 won with headgear
  • 5 year-olds are 0-12 in the last 12 years
  • Douvan (2016) and Altior (2017) were the first Supreme Hurdle winners (prev season) that have followed-up in this race since 1965
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls has had 12 unplaced from his last 13 runners

 

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2.30 - Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 3m 1f ITV

2020 Winner: THE CONDITIONAL 15/2
Trainer – David Bridgewater
Jockey – Brendan Powell

 

Pluses….

  • 16 of the last 21 winners were officially rated 143 or less
  • 15 of the last 20 came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 17 of the last 21 winners returned 11/1 or shorter
  • 15 of the last 20 were novices or second season chasers
  • 7 of the last 13 winners were rated between 142-146 (6 between 142-145)
  • Horses rated 140+ have won 12 of the last 20 runnings
  • 9 of the last 18 won last time out
  • Horses that have run well in the race before have a good record
  • 3 of the last 11 winners ran in the Cleeve Hurdle that season
  • 8 of the last 9 winners wore headgear
  • 9 of the last 11 winners had run at Cheltenham that season
  • Jonjo O’Neill, Alan King, Nicky Henderson, Tony Martin & David Pipe are trainers to note
  • All winners since 2000 had won over 3m+ before
  • 5 of the last 6 winners ran at Cheltenham’s January meeting
  • 4 of the last 7 winners ran in the Ladbrokes Trophy that season
  • 10 of the last 12 winners had run at the Festival before

Negatives….

  • Be a bit wary of horses carrying 11-04 or more in weight – 10 of the last 16 carried 10-12 or less, although the 2017 winner carried 11-12 & the 2019 winner won with 11-8. The 2020 winner, The Conditional, carried 10-6
  • Horses aged 11 or older are just 2 from 49 to even get placed
  • Be wary of Paul Nicholls-trained horses – he’s currently 0 from 23
  • Only 2 winners in the last 12 hadn’t raced at a previous Festival
  • Only 4 winners since 2000 have returned bigger than 11/1
  • The Irish have won just 2 of the last 52 runnings (since 1967)
  • Irish-trained runners are 0-26 in the last 14 runnings

 

 

3.05 - Unibet Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 87y ITV

 

2020 Winner: EPATANTE 2/1 fav
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Jockey – Barry Geraghty

Pluses….

  • 31 of the last 37 won last time out
  • Horses unbeaten that season often do well (8 of last 10)
  • The Irish and Nicky Henderson have won 18 of the last 22 runnings between them
  • 9 of the last 12 winners came from the Henderson or Willie Mullins yards
  • The Irish have won 13 of the last 22 runnings
  • Owner JP McManus has won 6 of the last 11 (9 in total)
  • Trainer Willie Mullins has won 4 of the last 10 runnings
  • 26 of the last 31 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old (10 of last 14)
  • 12 of the last 22 winners had won at the Festival before
  • 23 of the last 36 winners were placed in the first 4 at the previous season’s festival
  • The Fighting Fifth Hurdle is a good guide (4 winners, 4 places in last 13 runnings)
  • 14 of the last 25 winners started as flat horses
  • The last 6 winners were unbeaten that season
  • Look for horses that have raced at least once that calendar year
  • Trainer Nicky Henderson has won the race 8 times, including 3 of the last 4 years
  • 6 of the last 12 winners contested the Christmas Hurdle (Kempton)

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses that failed to finish in the top three last time out
  • 5 year-olds are just 2 from 105 since 1985, but the 2019 winner was a 5 year-old
  • Since 1927 we’ve only seen 2 winners aged 10 or older (0-29 in the last 38 runnings)
  • Just 1 of the last 14 winners had raced more than 12 times over hurdles
  • Christmas Hurdle (Kempton, 26th Dec) winners are just 4 from 30, but last year’s winner – Epatante – did the Christmas Hurdle/Champion Hurdle double.
  • Just 2 horses have regained the race since 1975
  • International Hurdle winners are 0-from-13 (last 17 runnings)
  • Only 2 of the last 22 winners hadn’t raced at the Festival before

Key Cheltenham Festival Champion Hurdle Betting Trends

 

17/18 – Finished in the top 3 last time out
16/18 – Had raced at Cheltenham before
16/18 – Aged 8 or younger
15/18 – Had raced within the last 7 weeks
15/18 – Rated 159 or higher
14/18 – Won last time out
13/18 – Had finished in the top 4 in a Cheltenham Festival race the season before
13/18 – Had won 6 or more times over hurdles before
12/18 – Placed favourites
11/18 – Aged 6 or 7 years-old
10/18 – Had won at Cheltenham before
10/18 – Irish-bred winners
10/18 – Irish trained winners
10/18 – Winning distance – 2 1/2 lengths or more
8/18 – Came from outside the top 3 in the betting
8/18 - Winning favourites (1 joint)
6/18 – Ran in the previous season’s Champion Hurdle
6/18 – Had won a race at the Cheltenham Festival the previous season
4/18 – Trained by Willie Mullins
5/18 – Trained by Nicky Henderson (has won the race 8 times in all)
The average winning SP in the last 18 runnings is 8/1

Other Champion Hurdle Stats:
5 year-olds are just 3 from 106 since 1985
31 of the last 37 winners won their previous race
23 of the last 35 winners were placed in the top 4 at the previous season’s Cheltenham Festival
22 of the last 25 winners had a race that calendar year (i.e we are looking for horses that have run in 2020)
27 of the last 30 winners hailed from the first 6 in the betting market
Just 4 of the last 30 Christmas Hurdle winners has gone onto win the Champion Hurdle that season
Irish-trained horses have won 13 of the last 22 renewals

 

Champion Hurdle – UK vs Ireland (Last 23 Years)

13/23 – Irish-trained winners
10/23 – British-trained winners

 

 

3.40 - Close Brothers David Nicholson Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 3f 200y ITV

2020 Winner: HONEYSUCKLE 9/4
Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
Jockey – Rachael Blackmore

 

Pluses….

  • Follow Irish-trained mares (11 of last 13)
  • The favourite (or 2nd fav) have won 11 of the last 13 runnings
  • 7 of the last 13 favourites have won
  • 12 of the last 13 winners had won over at least 2m4f
  • Willie Mullins have trained 9 of the last 12 winners
  • Look for Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson, Paul Nolan & Alan King runners
  • Novices generally do well
  • 10 of the last 13 winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 before
  • 6 of the last 9 winners had won over 2m6f+ before
  • Horses that began their careers in bumpers have done well
  • Respect French-bred mares – won 9 renewals
  • 11 of the last 13 winners returned 6/1 or shorter
  • 11 of the last 13 winners had won (or placed) in a graded race against the males

Negatives….

  • Avoid front-runners
  • British-bred mares are currently 1-80
  • All 28 runners to wear headgear have been beaten (just 1 placed)
  • Be wary of Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs and Noel Meade runners
  • Benie De Deaux is the only ex-flat horse to win the race

 

 

4.15 - Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle (Handicap Hurdle) 2m 87y) ITV

2020 Winner: ARAMAX 15/2
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Jockey – Mark Walsh

Pluses….

  • 10 of the last 16 winners had run just 3 times over hurdles before
  • French bred horses have a good record
  • 9 of the last 16 winners started their careers in France
  • Respect Fillies
  • 8 of the last 16 winners won last time out
  • 7 of the last 10 winners all came from the bottom half of the weights/handicap
  • 11 of the last 16 had run in the last 25 days
  • David Pipe, Paul Nicholls, Gordon Elliot and Alan King-trained horses often do well
  • 6 of the last 9 winners returned between 25/1 and 40/1
  • 10 of the last 16 winners returned a double-figure price
  • Respect horses wearing headgear
  • 12 of the last 16 winners were rated between 124-134
  • 8 of the last 13 winners were British-trained
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls has won 3 of the last 11 runnings
  • 11 of the last 16 winners had won no more than once over hurdles

 

Negatives….

  • Just 1 recent winner had last raced in January or further back
  • Trainers Willie Mullins, Philip Hobbs and Venetia Williams are 0 from 33 between them
  • Just 2 of the last 16 winners rated 135+
  • Horses bred in Britain are 0-54 (last 12 years)
  • Willie Mullins runners are 0 from 14 (just 1 placed in top 5 too)
  • Only 3 winners had run in a handicap hurdle before
  • No winner had raced at Cheltenham before
  • Horses with 2+ wins over hurdles are 1 from the last 11 years
  • British-bred runners are currently 0-51

 

4.50 - Sam Vesty National Hunt Chase (Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase) (Grade 2) 3m 5f 201y RTV

 

2020 Winner: RAVENHILL 12/1
Trainer – Gordon Elliott
Jockey – Jamie Codd

 

Pluses…..

  • 11 of the last 19 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 10 of the last 15 winners were aged 7 or 8 years-old
  • Favourites have won 3 of the last 11 runnings
  • 4 of the last 10 winners were top-rated
  • 9 of the last 11 winners had run in a Graded Novice chase
  • 5 of the last 10 winners had run in a Grade One Novice Chase that season
  • 7 of the last 14 had run in a chase at Cheltenham before that season
  • 7 of the last 11 winners had run at a previous Cheltenham Festival
  • 7 of the last 10 winners returned a single-figure price
  • Note horses wearing headgear
  • 7 of the last 10 winners were rated 145 (or more)
  • Look out for JP McManus-owned runners (6 winners)
  • Jonjo O’Neill has trained 6 winners in the race (5-from-21)
  • Jockey Derek O’Connor has 2 wins / 4 places (from 15 rides)
  • Derek O’Connor, Jamie Codd & Patrick Mullins have won 7 of the last 10 (3, Codd, 2 Mullins, 2 O’Connor)
  • Jockey Jamie Codd has won 3 of the last 6
  • Gordon Elliott has won the race 4 times from just 8 runners

Negatives….

  • 5 and 6 year-olds are just 2 from 80 since 1989
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls has NEVER won this race - he’s currently 0 from 18
  • Trainer Nicky Henderson has NEVER won this race
  • Horses with less than 3 chase starts don’t fare well
  • Horses rated in the 130’s have a poor record (1 from 9)
  • Just 2 winners in the last 13 returned bigger than 12/1

 

Lincoln Trial 2021 Preview: Eye-Catching Partnership Can Win Again

As we warm up for Cheltenham this weekend there is a nice mix of all weather and jumps in the ITV schedule. The contest that seems to strike the sweetest balance between being solvable but still competitive enough to get a decent price looks to be the Lincoln Trial, scheduled for 2.40pm at Wolverhampton.

As usual, all the tools and information referenced below can be accessed with a Geegeez Gold subscription – click here to get your first 30 days for £1 PLUS £36 worth of Cheltenham bonus reports.

Draw

A maximum field of 13 for this race so hopefully we can find a potential draw advantage using the Draw Analyser tool.

Slightly surprisingly (and disappointingly!) there doesn’t appear to be a strong draw advantage here. The PRB figures for the draw give us the most accurate information and according to the Draw Analyser the PRB for a low draw is 0.50, middle draw is 0.52 and high draw is 0.48.

The majority of other metrics back up the PRB data with middle draws coming out best, high draws coming out worst and a low draw being somewhere between the two.

There isn’t a huge difference in any of the data when looking at each section of the draw but maybe looking at each individual stall will highlight some stronger advantages or disadvantages.

The above table is sorted by PRB3, which accounts for the stalls either side of the stall in question. This metric is great for helping ignore any individual data anomalies.

It seems to show that anywhere between stalls 3 and 7 is probably absolutely ideal and advantageous, with double figure stall numbers a definite negative. The overall PRB for high draws here was 0.48 but for the highest two stalls here individually it is 0.47 and 0.45.

It’s also worth noting that most of the metrics point towards the lowest stall also being a negative.

Pace

We often see some fairly strong pace biases on the all weather, even over slightly longer trips, so let’s take a look at the Pace Analyser for Wolverhampton.

Plenty of data here which is great and it seems that there isn’t much of a pace bias. The win percentages for front runners and prominent racers are better than the same data for mid division and held up but we tend to see this at most racecourses so it certainly isn’t unique to Wolverhampton.

The place percentages follow a similar trend to the win percentages with front runners and prominent racers producing place percentages of 28.92% and 29.77% respectively compared to 21.49% and 20.72% for mid division and held up.

Prominent racers have been profitable to back blind when going each way (each way PL of 35.35) but front runners have been best to back win only. They’ve still produced a loss though with a win PL of -156.24.

Ideally you want to be handily placed here in this sort of field size but no run style should be deemed a huge disadvantage here.

Draw and Pace Combination

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The pace data tells us that it’s slightly advantageous to be closer to the pace. The draw data tells us that middle to low is slightly favoured. Something that is great about the Draw Analyser tool is that we can combine the draw and pace data into an easy to digest heat map.

Yet again there are no really strong biases to note but that’s not to say we should disregard this information.

What we are seeing is no run style for a low drawn runner is a big negative, but a prominent run style probably sees low draws to best effect. If you are drawn in the middle stalls you’ll benefit most from being prominent or front running (mid division is no disadvantage though) whilst high draws tend to fare best the more aggressively they are ridden.

The data over this distance at Wolverhampton is some of the fairer data you’ll see at a UK flat course and no stall or run style results in a huge advantage or disadvantage but it’s pretty clear that certain positions are going to see runners seen to best effect and others won’t be.

Lincoln Trial Pace Map

The all important pace map which should bring the above data to life.

Hardly a lot of pace here and Born To Be Alive seems likely to get an easy lead which could nullify any slight disadvantage from his high draw - high drawn early leaders have a PRB of 0.54. The Gill Brothers may well be the one who tracks the pace, also from a high draw.

The worst draw and pace combination was held up from a high draw and the well fancied Mission Boy will have to overcome both factors if he’s to win for Ryan Moore. A lack of pace in the race will make his task even harder and he’s going to have to be very well handicapped to win this one.

With the majority of these seemingly most comfortable held up there is likely to be very little pressure on the lead. Some of those that are likely to be patiently ridden could end up racing quite wide, potentially making a low draw more important than ever for hold up performers, unless a fair few of them are ridden a little more aggressively here.

The Runners

In early market order, starting with the most fancied, here are the runners for the 2021 Lincoln Trial:

Mission Boy

Two decent runs since moving to Marco Botti over the winter in decent enough races. He was 2nd at Lingfield, put well in his place by the winner (with not a lot of strength in behind) and then 4th at Kempton behind Born To Be Alive. Mission Boy is 6lbs better off for a 3 length defeat so needs to improve to reverse that form, which may be difficult if he’s held up from the highest stall.

The extra half furlong should definitely be in his favour (he was a close 2nd in the Italian Derby over 11f two years ago) but he seems very short based on his last two runs. The booking of Ryan Moore has probably been overreacted to in the market and unless this has been a plot and the horse wasn’t fully wound up on his last run he may find a few too good.

Man Of The Night

One of two for Richard Hannon here and certainly the more interesting of the pair. He hasn’t been seen since finishing 2nd in a hot Newmarket handicap at the July Meeting and fitness will definitely have to be taken on trust on his first start for 246 days. He did win first time out as a 2yo and ran well on his 3yo debut so there are promising signs in that regard and Richard Hannon has a decent record with fresh horses. In the past five years his handicap win strike rate is 11.20% and it falls only slightly to 10.28% when only accounting for runners that are returning from a 60+ day break.

Besides the absence, we are looking at a very lightly raced 4yo for a top trainer who put in a good performance when last seen, splitting a pair of next time out runners up. He is up 4lbs for that effort though. He’ll be dropping back 1.5f in trip compared to his three 3yo starts which is probably more of a concern but he’s definitely a horse to be interested in over the coming weeks and months regardless of what happens here. Untried on the all weather.

Born To Be Alive

The most likely pace angle in the race and a winner on his last start at Kempton. Connections have had to be hugely patient with the horse having missed 897 days of racing before returning over a furlong further here at Wolverhampton on Boxing Day. That was a solid 2nd in a decent race. He was slightly out of depth next time out away from handicap company but won for the first time since June 2017 at Kempton last time off a 5lb lower mark. The form of that race has taken a couple of knocks since but he was much the best that day.

He’s very much at home on artificial surfaces (all weather form figures read 2231) and this distance is probably just about perfect for him.

Tadleel

Winner of this last two starts, Tadleel is developing into a bit of a Newcastle specialist where he has a 100% win record from 3 starts. Those wins all came at 7f but he has won over a mile at Kempton and finished runner up over a mile at York so he doesn’t have a huge amount to prove in terms of stamina.

He has run on Wolverhampton’s tapeta surface previously, he was a running on 3rd (over 7f) in first time blinkers. He’s almost certainly better over that distance at Newcastle than Wolverhampton but having looked well suited to a mile last summer, he could enjoy the stiffer test at this track around a turn. Three of his four poor efforts from eleven tries on the all weather came at Chelmsford, a course that he clearly struggles at. Take that course away from his record and he has an extremely likeable profile and he’s only up 4lbs for winning a class 2 handicap last time out.

It’s also very interesting that Laura Pearson, who is saving her claim for the flat season, returns for her only ride on the card here. Her 5lb claim could be vital in such a warm race. Her partnership with Richard Fahey has yielded three winners and a close 2nd from five runners so he clearly knows which rides to send her way.

On A Session

A stable debutant for David Barron, his career best run seemed to come last time out and coincided with a drop back to 7f. He was 3rd on soft ground at Galway and the two who finished in front of him have both won since so he’s not handicapped out of this.

Barron does have a respectable 16.12% strike rate with runners making their debut having transferred from other yards over the past five years and those runners have been profitable to follow (win PL of 24) so there are some interesting trainer stats in his favour.

The main concern here has to be the distance with all his best form at 7f or shorter. Given he’s proven on soft ground he’ll be interesting in good 7f handicaps on bad ground at the start of the flat turf season but this might just be a bit too far for him. He’s also never run on the all weather which is another question mark.

Oh This Is Us

The less fancied Richard Hannon runner seems much happier on polytrack than tapeta. He’s been beaten in all four starts here (and also on one start at Newcastle) whereas he is 4/10 on polytrack. He’s feasibly handicapped still and does act on this surface (even if he's not at his best on it) but he’s going to be far more interesting on All Weather Finals day in the mile race, a contest he has previously won.

The Gill Brothers

Lightly raced and previously consistent, The Gill Brothers hasn’t been in the same form on his last two runs where he has been well beaten and only finished ahead of one rival. Three starts ago, over a mile at Kempton, he was 2nd in a particularly warm race.

The Geegeez Future Form tab on the results page shows that the winner won again two starts later and the 4th won on his next start whilst several others in behind placed next time out. A reproduction of that effort should see him involved, especially as he’s likely to be well placed off a probable steady gallop. We just don't know what sort of form he'll turn up in though.

Milltown Star

He paid for winning a French listed contest on his final start as a 2yo as he was unable to reach the frame in three handicap starts as a 3yo. He looked likely to improve for the step back up to a mile on his latest start in September but finished well held – perhaps the absence since indicates that wasn’t his best form.

He did cut the figure of a horse that was badly handicapped last season but it’s worth noting his all weather form has seen him finish 1st and 2nd. They were admittedly novice races but his sole start here did result in a 4+ length victory. Mick Channon has a decent record with horses returning from a break and Milltown Star is potentially better on artificial surfaces than turf. The percentage call though is to oppose on the grounds of him not being well enough handicapped but he'll be capable of picking up a race when he drops a few more pounds.

Zwayyan

The winner of this race two years ago and 4lbs lower than that winning mark this time around. That was actually his last win which is disappointing but it’s very much worth noting that he has a 14.29% win strike rate on turf and a 50% win strike rate on all weather. Considering that difference it’s remarkable he’s only run on artificial surfaces four times in his career.

Since his win in this he has finished 4th at Chelmsford off a 6lb higher mark, doing best of those held up, and he’s also finished 4th in a very hot Kempton handicap off 3lbs higher where the 2nd and 3rd both placed since and the 5th won soon after.

Two points to note are he wears no headgear here, having often worn it in the past. His win in this two years ago was without headgear and his last run without headgear saw him finish 4th at Sandown (1st and 2nd won next time out, 3rd and 5th won two starts later) so that’s of no concern and may even be a positive. The other point is he’ll be ridden by 7lb claimer Callum Hutchinson. The combination of Balding and Hutchinson have only won one of the fifteen races they have teamed up in so that’s not the best strike rate.

He did win this off a similar break two years ago so the absence shouldn’t be deemed a negative.

Al Muffrih

His only two wins have come at 10f. He was developing into a decent 12f horse for William Haggas last season but has generally run over shorter distances since moving to Stuart Williams. He’s been slowing coming to hand for his new trainer and in doing so has come down 5lbs in the weights. He wasn’t beaten far here over a furlong further two starts ago but found this distance too sharp three runs ago and without a guaranteed strong gallop here be may lack the required pace to figure.

Scottish Summit

Equally effective over a mile and ten furlongs so this trip should suit nicely. His comfortable win at Newmarket in September may have left him badly handicapped though, he’s now 7lbs above that winning mark and was well beaten last time out in a tough York handicap. He’s run okay a couple of times at this sort of distance on the all weather but is perhaps a little better on turf and this may well be a prep run for the real thing at Doncaster in a couple of weeks time.

Pinnata

A five time all weather winner who hasn’t run to his best on his last three starts. He’s failed to place in this race in the last two renewals and a 5lbs drop in the weights since those two efforts is unlikely to be enough to see him get his head in front.

Rise Hall

Makes his stable debut for Geoff Oldroyd and all weather debut at the age of 6 on his first start since September. He has only run in two handicaps at distances shorter than 10f twice and those runs have yielded a win and a 2nd place so he’s perhaps overpriced dropping back in trip again, especially as he didn’t run at all badly in a decent race last time out. Fitness and suitability to this surface have to be taken on trust though but he’s not without a shout.

The Verdict

Plenty in with chances here, as you’d expect looking at the market, but the trio to make most appeal are Born To Be Alive, Tadleel and Zwayyan.

The former should be seen to best effect from a pace perspective and is clearly as good as ever. He’s backable at each way prices and seems pretty certain to be in the first four home with most bookies paying four places (SkyBet are even offering five places).

Zwayyan seems massively overpriced at around 14/1 given his all weather profile. He’s undoubtedly well handicapped and although this seems a better renewal than the race he won two years ago he looks a cracking bet if you can get paid out on five places (still a good bet at four places).

I’ll probably have a couple of singles on this race and some small forecasts and tricasts for a speculative interest but my main fancy here is going to be TADLEEL. He’s clearly been loving running at Newcastle but his form isn’t completely dependent on running at that venue and I still think this horse is going to be better suited by a mile than shorter. This is an extended mile but it’s unlikely to be a severe test given the lack of pace and his speed at shorter could be the decisive factor here. The extra 5lbs that Laura Pearson claims is also a nice boost.

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Trainer Form

We're just a week away from the biggest gathering in jump racing, the Cheltenham Festival, and what a chaotic lead in it has been this year. As if a pandemic wasn't enough, we have subsequently had to endure reservations about ease of transit for Irish- (and French-) based runners post-Brexit, the shocking Gordon Elliott revelations, and rumours of a pan-European equine herpes outbreak potentially throwing a further spanner into the works. On top of all that, now we have the Meghan Markle story!

OK, so that last one, and probably/hopefully the last two, are of no consequence to Cheltenham, mercifully; but the others have each caused some degree of consternation in the weeks and months preceding the Festival. With six days until tapes rise on the Supreme, we can hope that all will hereafter be more serene, barring the perennial raft of late scratches and shock race switcheroos. So we can get down to business, the business of this post being to review current trainer form for the big guns heading into Cheltenham Festival 2021.

How to quantify trainer form?

This presents an immediate and obvious question: what actually is trainer form? When referenced in general - "xyz is in flying form" - it normally means xyz has had a couple of winners recently. Is that 'in form' or merely the happy end of the variance spectrum? How can we even things out and judge trainer performance more broadly? And should we even bother given that winners are winners and losers are losers, right? Plenty to chew on here.

Let's start with a pretty much unarguable contention: trainer form is how well or poorly a given trainer is faring at a point in time. So far so meh. The challenge is isolating an agreeable metric (or metrics) against which to vaguely scientifically measure form; and to then further layer on the wagering component of profitability (and, of course, how best to measure that).

Happily, geegeez.co.uk publishes a few metrics that cut through the thorny thicket of quantifying these data, namely Impact Value, Percentage of Rivals Beaten, and Actual vs Expected. We do also display win and place percentages but, in truth, these are the equivalent of answering the question, "What time is it?", with "Tuesday afternoon".

Let's (very) quickly recap what the numbers mean.

Impact Value (IV) is a measure of how frequently something happens for x in relation to how frequently it happens for all. For instance, how often the going is good to soft on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival compared to how often the going is good to soft over all days of the Cheltenham Festival.

A figure of 1.00 means the 'thing' - Cheltenham day one good to soft, in this case - happens the same amount as in the wider set of data. A figure above 1.00 means it happens more often, below 1.00 signifies that it happens less often. The further away from 1.00 the IV the more or less something happens in relation to the round.

Still here? Topper, PRB next.

Percentage of Rivals Beaten (PRB) is a means of applying a sliding scale of merit to every finishing position, and doing it in relation to the field size in which that finish was achieved. For instance, 2nd of four has less merit on this metric than 2nd of 40 - and rightly so, of course.

In this case, 2nd of four beats two horses and loses to one horse, so has a PRB score of 67% (or 0.67) for beating two out of three of its rivals.

2nd of 40 beats 38 horses and loses to one, so has a PRB score of... gets calculator... 38 beaten divided by 39 total rivals = 97%, or 0.97.

When looking at a combination of events - say, all trainer's runners over a period of time - we can derive an overall PRB figure and use that for comparative purposes.

Actual vs Expected (A/E) is the betting number. It works as an index where, like IV, 1.00 is a par figure and better or worse than 1.00 is a degree of good or bad respectively. It's calculation requires a little unpacking and, rather than do that here, you're encouraged to look at this racing metrics article where I explain and exemplify each of IV, A/E and PRB in more detail. The key here is that north of 1.00 is good, south of 1.00 not so much.

How to quantify trainer form pre-Cheltenham?

So we'll use IV, PRB and A/E as way points to navigate to a conclusion; but against which period(s) should we measure performance? It probably makes sense to compare a longer period pre-Cheltenham with a shorter period pre-Cheltenham with performance at the Festival itself.

Willie Mullins

The following table has performance data for Willie Mullins-trained runners (WPM) for three different periods in each of the previous five seasons:

- The four days of Cheltenham
- The four weeks prior to Cheltenham
- The four months prior to the four weeks prior to Cheltenham

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Looking for correlation is difficult in what is, granted, a crowded table. And it is still more confusing when noting that comfortably Mullins' poorest win strike rate (6.78% in 2019) produced his best ROI (+30.51%).

The message there is simple enough: the microcosm of win strike rate - and indeed Impact Value - in tiny sample sizes is misleading. At the same 2019 Festival, Mullins could boast a 25% each way strike rate, in line with placed efforts at the two preceding Festivals. In PRB terms, 2019 only ranked third of five.

Below is the same information but with the key metrics ranked, e.g. Mullins' 2020 Festival win percentage was his second best of the past five Festivals; it was his best of five Festivals on each of EW%, PRB, IV, and A/E.

 

Looking for correlation is tricky. It can be said that the 2018/19 season was not great for Mullins, and that was something which manifested almost across the board at the Festival - with the counter-intuitive exception of ROI. Closer scrutiny reveals that Willie backers were saved by the 50/1 success of Eglantine Du Seuil in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle as well as, to a lesser degree, Al Boum Photo's 12/1 maiden Gold Cup score. Take out the big priced winner and it's -29 and ROI rank 4.

One thing that is reasonably clear in relation to Mullins is that in the past two years he's found things more competitive, not just at the Festival but generally, a number of his top rankings being largely accumulated between the 2015/16 and 2017/18 seasons.

 

Gordon Elliott

It is fair to say that nobody really knows what to expect of the Cullentra House yard, currently fronted by Denise Foster while Gordon Elliott serves out his suspension. What we do know is that flagbearers like Envoi Allen have been moved to other yards and that has to have a negative bearing on overall figures this time around. To frame this year's expectation, we need to look backwards.

 

Elliott's Festival record, in terms of scale and punter-friendliness, has been unrivalled. Apart from a big blip in 2019 - same as Mullins, interesting? - his performance has been off the chart by almost any measure.

Using the ranking approach gives us the following.

 

Here there appears to be quite strong correlation between Elliott's four-month form and his Festival form.

 

Nicky Henderson

The Irish haven't (quite) had it all their own way in the past five years at Cheltenham, and Britain's top man - sometimes persisting in the wind - has been Nicky Henderson.

 

Four-win hauls in the last two Festivals help to explain the mini-lull, relatively, in the fortunes of Messrs. Elliott and Mullins, and represent a welcome return for Seven Barrows, in the shadow of the Irish challengers for the prior few years.

 

Paul Nicholls

It has been slim pickings for the former multiple Champion Trainer who has failed to record more than a pair of victories in the last four Festivals. However, in the 2019 and 2020 renewals, Nicholls' three wins were all at Grade 1 level: quality over quantity he might say.

 

Looking at the rankings shows a loose, perhaps tenuous, link between four-month form and Festival form in recent years.

 

2021 Pre-Festival Form and Predictions

At this point, you'd be forgiven for thinking "so what?". So let's try to review recent form approaching this year's Festival in the context of previous years.

In the table below, I've included four-week form up to 7th March (not quite up to Festival Eve, obvs, as I'm writing this a week earlier); and performance in the four months prior to that.

Specifically, from 8th February to 7th March, and from 8th October 2020 to 7th February 2021.

Willie Mullins has the same 75% PRB figure as he did in 2018: that year he won seven races from 62 runners. His four-month form is also the best it's been since 2018. And yet, Cheltenham Festival 2020 was arguably Mullins' best in recent seasons in spite of coming into it off the back of his second-worst recent form of the past five.

Elliott's team, meanwhile, has been in top form despite the challenging circumstances. Who knows what impact the loss of key horses and the absence of the hitherto licence holder (and the new named holder) will have? Likely some, but probably not a huge amount is my best guess. Elliott has had three phenomenal CheltFests in the past four years, 2019 being a sharp reminder of the perils of blind backing a yard; and he's had at least three winners in each of those years - 27 in all during that time.

Paul Nicholls has enjoyed enjoyed a relative resurgence in the last two renewals courtesy of that hat-trick of Grade 1 scores. He comes to Cheltenham Festival 2021 in similar form to 2019.

Most interesting is probably Nicky Henderson, whose form this season is notably lower than in each of the previous four seasons (current season four-month PRB of 0.57 vs ultra-consistent 0.65 in 2016/17, 2017/18, 2018/19 and 2019/20). In the past four weeks he's been pitching at 58% PRB which again compares unfavourably with far higher PRB figures for the run-up to the past couple of Festivals. It will be fascinating to see how Team Henderson fares next week, with Shishkin an early barometer.

 

Cheltenham Festival Trainer Form Conclusions

Sometimes you can spend a lot of time looking for something which, in the end, only tells you that there is probably nothing to be found. This may be one such occasion. Indeed, the writing was on the wall when I mulled the research overnight, came back to my computer this morning and discovered Windows had decided to undertake a forced update and, further, had corrupted the open - and, naturally, unsaved - spreadsheet document containing all of the data. Ugh.

Ignoring my computer woes, what can be seen from the above is that there is little to no strong correlation between various preceding periodicities and the meeting itself; and sometimes it is useful simply to know that. Of course, that won't stop a swathe of "he's in form" or "she's out of form" observations casually lobbed into the chat next week, the kind of positive/negative reinforcement, generally delivered after the fact, that adds now't but sounds knowledgeable.

It may ultimately be the case that the best gauge of Festival trainer form is from previous Festivals. In that regard, we should expect each of Mullins, Elliott/Foster, Henderson and Nicholls to hit their mark, and at least three of them to do so multiple times.

At the last five Festivals, they have collectively bagged 82 of the 140 races. Four trainers responsible for 59% of the winners. Throw in Henry de Bromhead - whose team is bolstered by the high profile addition of the Cheveley Park bluebloods - and Dan Skelton and you have six handlers responsible for two-thirds of the Festival winners in the last five years. Between them, they'll be long odds-on to take at least half of the 28 prizes on offer next week.

Go West In Veterans’ Chase At Newbury

With Cheltenham so close, Saturday’s live racing is understandably a little short on quality but there are still some interesting betting heats. One of those interesting races is the Veterans’ Handicap Chase (1.15pm) at Newbury. It’s only open to 10yo+ so we don’t have to worry about any unexposed lurkers, we can simply sift through the proven form and find the best bet in conditions.

Don’t forget that all the info below is available through a Geegeez Gold subscription – you can get your first 30 days with Geegeez Gold for just £1 by clicking here.

Pace

The Pace Analyser tool will show us any likely pace bias in conditions over this sort of distance.

We often see a front running bias at many courses, across many trips, and marathon distances at Newbury are no different. Front runners over 3m+ at Newbury on good or good to soft ground have the best win percentage, place percentage, win PL, EW PL and IV of any run style. Front runners have been profitable to back blind, producing a win PL of 8.25, and it’s difficult to argue that they aren’t favoured here.

The place percentage data carries most weight in this data sample and although the success rates increase the closer to the pace a horse is ridden, it should be noted that the place percentage for front runners is 35.71% and the place percentage for horses that are held up in the rear is 28.74%. That’s not a huge difference and the pace bias at Newbury should be considered relatively minor, but still worthy of consideration.

With only a slight pace bias here the pace setup of the individual race is probably going to have a bigger impact on a pace bias in this race.

It's looking pretty likely that we’ll see a contested pace here with three potential front runners (Strong Pursuit, Valadom and also Present Man). Even The Kings Writ has led early in a race this season.

This pace setup here is likely to swing things in favour of those that are patiently ridden. There are plenty of well fancied runners that should be nearer the rear of the field early, including Sir Ivan, Shantou Village, West Approach and Singlefarmpayment.

Instant Expert

In a race full of exposed handicappers Instant Expert is likely to be more insightful than ever. First let’s look at the place data to establish the more solid contenders.

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A surprisingly average set of contenders above, despite being fairly flexible with the filters. On the face of things, Present Man, West Approach, Valadom and The Kings Writ all look pretty solid and interestingly three of those might be inconvenienced by the pace set up, whilst West Approach was noted as perhaps being advantaged by the pace setup.

Form on better ground is going to be important and Valadom, Present Man and Singlefarmpayment all do relatively well on this kind of ground. West Approach and Shantou Village have also done okay on this kind of ground but the remaining five runners have a worrying record on the ground, especially the well fancied Sir Ivan who has failed to place in five of his six chase runs on good or good to soft ground.

Amazingly these runners have had a combined eleven runs at Newbury over fences and not one of those has resulted in a place.

There are some serious distance question marks amongst the shorter prices with Shantou Village, Sir Ivan and Strong Pursuit all having failed to place at either this distance or slightly further. The Kings Writ, West Approach and Valadom have all performed far better.

Sir Ivan and Strong Pursuit are negatives in this field size too but that’s only in chase handicaps, they are proven in this field size in other races.

Now let’s look at the win data, tightening up a couple of the filters.

The very few positives are Present Man’s win record in this class, Valadom’s win record at this trip and Shantou Village’s win record in this field size.

The list of major negatives might be a bit longer! Six of this field have not won a handicap chase on either good or good to soft ground. The majority of these have never won a class 2 chase and what is more worrying is only three of these runners have ever won over this trip. Despite these runners largely being past their prime, only three of these runners are below their most recent winning handicap mark. Sizing Codelco is 13lbs lower, Shantou Village is 11lbs lower and Strong Pursuit is 9lbs lower than his last winning mark. Present Man, Sir Ivan and Singlefarmpayment are all just 1lb above their last winning marks so aren’t necessarily particularly well handicapped whilst the worst handicapped runner could be The Kings Writ who is 15lbs above his last winning mark.

The Runners

Let’s take a look at each individual runner, in current odds order.

Present Man

Clearly capable off this sort of mark having scraped home by a nose in October off a 1lb lower mark, on this ground. He hasn’t been in the same form on his last two starts though, including in Veterans’ company last time out. He’s won first time out in four of the last five seasons so clearly goes well fresh and it may be significant here that he’s been given a 108 day break.

He’s never quite convinced with his stamina over this far but that’s generally been in tougher races than this. However, being taken on for the lead over this trip could have consequences.

Sir Ivan

A poor scorer on Instant Expert but he’s well fancied in the betting because he’s coming here in much better form than many. He does have some decent form on a range of ground conditions but his trainer has previously stated he doesn’t want it firmer than good to soft. He’s also only gone further than 3m twice and he failed to complete on both attempts. That clearly doesn’t prove a lack of stamina but stamina does have to be taken on trust. For a horse that hasn’t won over fences for 3.5 years and has stamina to prove he’s a very short price.

Shantou Village

He ran well behind Present Man in October but like that horse, hasn’t done as well in two runs since. He unseated his rider at the first on the following start which is forgivable and was below par on his most recent run but that was on soft ground. Eight of his nine wins have come on good ground and the other was on good to soft so it’s fair to say the ground was against him on that occasion but will be with him here.

The main question mark here is the distance according to Instant Expert. He’s never won over further than 2m7f under rules and he was tailed off when pulled up on his only try over course and distance. It’s possible this race just falls apart and he could win despite likely stamina limitations but he may struggle to get home once again.

West Approach

In good form over a furlong shorter on good ground in October, he’s another who struggled in soft ground over the winter months. He has previously won on soft and heavy though so the ground isn’t a completely valid excuse this time around. He did run better on slightly better ground just 10 days ago but still needs to step forward from that form.

Stamina is no issue whatsoever, nor is the ground. He went close off a 2lb higher mark in October so he’s not badly handicapped. The question mark with this runner is his consistency. All his wins have come in field sizes of 7 or less but he has finished runner up in a 15 runner handicap so it can’t all be put down to field size.

Singlefarmpayment

No wins since December 2016 for this runner and despite being an 11yo he’s never won a handicap chase. It’s also worth nothing the bulk of his best form has come at Cheltenham.

Stamina is no issue with this runner but current form certainly is. He’d make some sort of appeal if this race was at Cheltenham but away from that venue he just doesn’t look good enough – and that’s saying something in this company.

Strong Pursuit

Fairly interesting here on the basis of a 1st and a 2nd in three runs here, albeit the better two runs were outside of handicap company. He’s comfortable on good to soft ground but he was withdrawn because of good ground in October. His better runs have come over shorter too so there are plenty of negatives here, especially as he’s likely to be taken on for the lead.

Valadom

A winner on his last run over fences and ran fairly well over hurdles in December last time out. He’s been running over shorter this season but did win over 25f a year ago on soft so he certainly has stamina. He’s a sound jumper who has won four times on good ground and he definitely has one of the more solid profiles coming into this. His best runs have generally come when getting a soft lead though and he looks very unlikely to get that here.

The Kings Writ

Both wins (and one 2nd) have come at Exeter and he has suffered defeat in nine straight handicap chases since winning off a mark of 124, a mark 15lbs lower than the one he carries here. The trip is no problem and he’s been in decent enough form this season but he looks far better going right handed and his better form is also on softer ground so he’s easy enough to take on.

Colorado Doc

Hasn’t completed a race in over a year and has been pulled up in two of his last three starts which is a big worry. His best form is on softer ground over slightly shorter trips so he doesn’t appeal here, even on his best form.

Sizing Codelco

He's only beaten three runners home across six races since May 2018 and clearly has issues that delve deeper than his handicap mark. He has been okay on this sort of ground over this kind of distance in the past but he looks unlikely to run anywhere near his best having had few excuses in suitable races over the past year or so.

The Verdict

You rarely get a perfect runner in one of these veterans’ races and that’s certainly the case in this contest where all runners have at least a couple of question marks hanging over their heads.

Valadom would have been very interesting with an easier lead but he’ll almost certainly be taken on for a lead here and might struggle to get home in the circumstances.

I’m going to take a slight chance on West Approach here. He does need to pick up his form a little but unlike the majority of the field the distance AND the going is fine and he’s shown this season that the handicap mark isn’t beyond him. Because of his inconsistencies he doesn’t appeal as an each way bet but should be worth a small win only wager in this contest.

Cheltenham Festival 2021: 7 NRNB ‘Free Hits’

With  just a fortnight to go until the Cheltenham Festival 2021, a number of bookmakers are now offering the 'non runner no bet' (money back if your horse doesn't run) concession. This is great news for punters, especially when allied to one bookmaker's - bet365 - best odds guaranteed concession. In this article, I've found seven horses that can be backed for 'the wrong race at the right price': stars which are expected to line up elsewhere but which would likely shorten from currently available odds if doing a late switcheroo.

They're presented in race order, starting on Tuesday, Day 1...

Honeysuckle - Mares' Hurdle - 11/8 bet365 (NRNB, BOG)

"She's running in the Champion Hurdle", all my friends tell me. And they're probably right. But she's the reigning champ in this race and the drying ground will make the two mile Champion more of a speed test than this two and a half mile contest. She's the classiest mare in the entries for this race by at least seven pounds, and there's a chance that drying ground sees Roksana re-routed to the Stayers' Hurdle. There will still be Concertista to deal with, but Honeysuckle will be more 8/11 than 11/8 on the day if she runs here. If she doesn't, you'll get your cash back a fortnight hence.

Royale Pagaille - National Hunt Chase - 5/2 bet365 (NRNB, BOG)

Venetia Williams' wildly experienced novice, Royale Pagaille, looks to have stamina as his strong suit. I was so taken with his outright demolition of a solid Graded handicap field in the G2 Peter Marsh at Haydock that I backed him for the Gold Cup. He's rated in the Gold Cup ball park off that run, too, though I don't fully trust it, given his main market rival, Sam's Adventure, came down too far out to judge whether he'd have been an actual threat in the race; and the third favourite, Acey Milan, also exited at a fence.

It is also true that RP has been dishing up in deep ground and it remains to be seen how he handles quicker terrain. For all of those reservations, he has been ultra-impressive visually, and his stamina combined with fluent jumping makes him a natural for a staying test like this. There are other credible contenders in the field, not least Galvin, but if Royale Pagaille lines up here rather than his other entries, he'll take some beating. If not, no damage done, money back.

Ballyadam - Ballymore Novices' Hurdle - 14/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG)

Slightly more speculative, this one, but with the same 'second choice race' angle in play. Ballyadam has hitherto raced exclusively at around two miles, but has been beaten the last twice at the trip. In his defence, those defeats were in Grade 1 company against tip top opposition, and he got closest to Supreme favourite Appreciate It in the Chanelle Pharma last time. Closest, yes, but there is no real reason to believe he ought to reverse form with that one; so why not take on a different group of horses over a slightly longer trip?

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Breeding - by Fame And Glory out of a Bob Back mare - suggests he'll stay the Ballymore range without a care, and in a race that is 3/1 the field, he has Grade 1 credentials. 14/1 looks a very playable each way proposition, with the NRNB proviso.

Shady Operator - Glenfarclas Chase - 10/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG) or 10/1 Fred (NRNB)

Shady Operator could be an apt winner for players of this slightly snide angle. The horse is banks king Enda Bolger's latest McManus project, and was revitalised by a first spin over ditches, wedges and all in the PP Hogan Memorial Chase - a key prep for this - last time. There he won in a field of 17 which contained plenty of dead wood; so, too, will Day 2's Cross Country field. He was effective rather than eye-catching in winning but that was his first cross-country effort in public. As an eight-year-old he's oodles of upside in this sphere and is clearly with the right man.

He is not a guaranteed runner, hence the insurance caveat of NRNB, but this race is looking less and less clear cut by the day. Easysland was expected to bolt up before flopping at the November meeting; he was then expected to race in France as a preparation but skipped that, too, so comes in off that solitary, below par, effort. He could easily bounce back but is not the 'gimme' he looked going into the November meeting.

What of Tiger Roll? Who knows? But he looks a shadow of his past self even allowing that a spring campaign will have always been the plan. Then come the French pair of Ajas and Uniketat: the former is trained, like Easysland, by David Cottin and is well fancied by his yard; the latter is a banks specialist who won a very good race at Pau last time, electric jumping a feature of his victory. Uniketat may apparently be done for the season, so one less to feature.

It's hard to get excited by the rest which makes Shady Operator a compelling each way proposition at 10/1 with the BOG and NRNB concessions aforethought.

Energumene - Marsh Novices' Chase - 2/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG)

He's running against Shishkin in the Arkle! Yes, that's very likely the case; but he is still entered here and, given current uncertainty about what will happen with horses trained heretofore by Gordon Elliott - which therefore extends to strong Marsh favourite, Envoi Allen - this could end up a desirable slot for the Arkle second choice.

Energumene would not necessarily be a bigger price than 2/1 if both he and Envoi Allen line up, but he will certainly be a shorter price if he does and the current ante post favourite does not. The balance of probabilities are that this will be a money back job, but he'll look great value if those things do come to pass: that's the whole point of this article!

Roksana - Stayers' Hurdle - 7/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG) or 8/1 Sky/Fred (NRNB)

Dan Skelton trains this mare and she's looked very good either side of a two length third to Paisley Park and Thyme Hill in the Grade 2 Long Walk Hurdle in December. That run leaves her very little to find with the pair who beat her, especially as she was given a lot to do that day; and, if the ground dries as looks likely, connections may opt to go for the stronger test of stamina this represents rather than the half mile shorter Mares' Hurdle (which could look as deep a race as this in any case).

Her price represents a very solid each way bet in an open section and, as you know by now, if she doesn't run it's money back.

Put The Kettle On - Mares' Chase - 5/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG) or 11/2 PP (NRNB)

Last year's Arkle winner has excellent Cheltenham form, being three from three at the track including that Festival score. Whether she has the stamina for this is uncertain - her best form is at two miles and she was beaten in a Grade 3 over this trip in late 2019; but there's little question it's an easier slot than the Champion Chase in which she is more obviously scheduled to participate.

Put The Kettle On doesn't need to lead, which is just as well in a field that could have plenty of early goers, but her ability to lie handy and her battling qualities, as well as no little class, mean she'd be very competitive if she ran here rather than in the Queen Mother. At an each way price, she is the final leg of this magnificently sneaky seven.

**

It can be no bigger than 4/1 that none of the above take up these engagements, in which case you've lent your money to bet365 (other books are available) for a fortnight or so. But considering any or all of this septet, perhaps in multiple perms, feels like a wise guy play with plenty of upside and limited downside. Given that four or more non-runners must be odds-on, I've permed them in each-way five-, six- and seven-folds. Declarations day will be interesting!

Matt

Hever Sprint Preview: Consistent Runner Could Be Lord Of The Lings

The Eider Chase at Newcastle is probably Saturday’s big betting race but there is also some nice live racing from Lingfield on Saturday including the Winter Derby and the Hever Sprint. We are sure to find some course biases in the latter (2.05 Lingfield) and they may well end up setting us up for a decent bet.

Draw

Around a sharp 5f there isn’t a lot of time to recover a poor position so the draw data here should be enlightening.

There isn’t a huge difference in win percentage or place percentages across the board, most likely because of the small field size. Even for a small field size, it’s slightly surprising to see the highest win percentage go to the highest draws. The flip side of that is the place percentage, which has twice as much data, sees high draws come off worst. It’s the PRB (percentage of rivals beaten) that gives us the most data though and a low draw PRB of 0.52, middle draw PRB of 0.51 and high draw PRB of 0.47 suggests a low to middle draw is still preferable, although only slightly.

Over a few different trips at Lingfield stall 1 performs poorly but in this field size over this trip stall 1 actually has the best PRB (0.55) and highest win percentage (24.07%). Stalls 5 and 6 are the worst performers according to PRB and it looks as though you ideally want to be in the lowest four stalls.

Pace

The minimum distance tends to be one where we see the strongest pace bias at many courses and Lingfield is no different.

There looks to be a strong edge towards front runners over this course and distance in similar field sizes. Front runners have been ridiculously profitable to follow with a win PL of 250.05! The IV for front runners is 2.06, almost twice as large as that of the next best run style and almost four times as big as the IV for hold up runners.

The win percentage, place percentage, win PL, each way PL and IV all steadily fall the further back in the field you look at which strongly points to an extensive bias here. It’s also worth noting that 142 winners from the races in the data set have been won by front runners of prominent racers whilst just 67 winners have been placed in mid division or held up early. There were slightly more runners from the latter group so you can certainly expect most winners to be near the pace here.

Pace and Draw Combination

The pace and draw combination heat map can sometimes put a different spin on any potential draw or pace bias or can show any micro advantages there could be over course and distance.

There is some really interesting data in this heat map. The draw data tells us that a high draw isn’t much of a disadvantage, if any. However we can now see that high drawn front runners perform well, better than any other draw/pace combination in fact. The consequence of that is that high drawn prominent racers, mid division runners or hold up performers all perform worse on average compared to their lower drawn counterparts.

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We also see that the worst performance at all comes from low drawn hold up horses. The PRB is almost half of what it is for low drawn front runners. This goes to show that not all low drawn horses are created equal here.

It’s pretty clear to see you either want to be a front runner from any draw or a low to middle drawn prominent racer or mid division runner.

Hever Sprint Pace Map

Let’s take a look at the pace map for this contest to see the likely pace setup:

Ornate is the main pace angle here but it’s possible Lord Riddiford could contest that pace. What stands out here is that all the pace is in the lowest two stalls. Ornate is normally pretty quick from the gates so he may be able to get across Lord Riddiford but it seems likely Lord Riddiford won’t make life easy for Ornate on the front end.

We’ve established that anyother kind of ride than front running is a big disadvantage for high drawn horses so there certainly have to be some question marks over Royal Birth and Rocket Action, and also Blue De Vega to a certain extent. Rocket Action is fairly well fancied here and his run style and draw combination could be a problem.

Belle Anglaise has plenty to find on form and her run style isn’t going to be much help here despite a decent draw whilst hot favourite Moss Gill is quite tactically versatile so P J McDonald would be sensible to track the pace from an okay draw in stall 4.

The Runners

Only seven runners to go through, let’s look at them in market order.

Moss Gill

It's no great surprise to see Moss Gill hovering around even money for this contest. He’s got 7lbs or more in hand of the rest of the field, he’s never been out of the first two in three runs on artificial surfaces and he’s already a listed winner. He also won off a similar break this time last year, albeit in a lower grade.

The bad news is he’s never run on polytrack and he’s been held up on two of his last three starts. If similar tactics were to be employed here he could end up forfeiting the 7lb+ advantage he has over this field based on official ratings. If you wanted to be even pickier you could ignore his runs at York, which seems to be his favourite track (form figures of 12233 there). He’s been well enough beaten at other venues at listed level twice and Group 3 level once which is a slight concern.

His best run to date was a 3rd in the Nunthorpe behind Battaash last year and if able to replicate that form he’d be almost impossible to beat here against this field.

Rocket Action

Rocket Action is returning from a similar kind of break as the favourite and he too has a very good all weather record. He’s one of just three runners in this who bring a triple figure official rating into the race and he ran a solid 4th in a competitive Group 3 at Dundalk last time out.

He’s another who hasn’t yet run at Lingfield though. His run style would be a big concern from any draw and it’s a particular concern from the widest stall. He may well end up finding this test too sharp and he would have made far more appeal at Wolverhampton where he has won all three of his starts.

Blue De Vega

Blue De Vega is the other runner to be rated 100 or over in this and he’s arguably the stable second string, despite being rated 1lb higher than Rocket Action. He’s another who hasn’t been seen since the tail end of the flat turf season but he has at least run well after a break before.

He’s a past Group 3 winner and has been rated 110 previously but he is 8 now and perhaps a bit past his prime. He has won on artificial surfaces before but he’s yet another to have never run here and he certainly doesn’t look an all weather specialist like Rocket Action. He generally raced prominently last season so might not be badly placed but he would need to improve on last season’s form to win this.

Lord Riddiford

This speedy prominent racer/front runner has now hit a career high rating signalling the fact that he’s been as good as ever this winter. He has a better win ratio on sand compared to turf and he’s won three times on Chelmsford’s polytrack course but he’s never run here. It’s a course that should suit his style and as a winner at courses like Goodwood and Windsor he’s no stranger to a speedy or sharp 5f.

In fact if you use the ‘General Config’ filter on his form you can see he does very well on courses with a similar configuration to Lingfield.

He's unlikely to beat Ornate to the lead in this but he is comfortable just tracking the pace, tactics employed when he won at Wolverhampton in November. He’ll be better placed than most here, is in the form of his life and only has 4lbs to find with the second highest rated runner. He’s also fit having run all winter and he could be the main threat to Moss Gill.

Ornate

The likely front runner in this is the shortest priced runner who has actually run here at Lingfield. He hasn’t won in three runs here but he did get within a short head of victory over course and distance in December off a rating of 95. He ran less well here last month though and was also below par when sent off favourite at Southwell last time out, a course at which he is a three time winner.

He's closely matched with Royal Birth on both his previous two runs here but doesn’t seem good enough right now or in good enough form to pose a real threat. At best he’s a back to lay option but if Lord Riddiford pesters him on the front end he probably wouldn’t even appeal even for trading purposes.

Royal Birth

The only course winner in the field and the winner of this race all the way back in 2017. The 10yo isn’t quite at that level anymore but he’s still a relatively consistent performer having chalked up two more wins here at the turn of the year, taking his Lingfield tally up to five wins from thirteen at this trip.

He was put in his place at this level recently but that was over 6f, a distance he has never excelled over. Another point to note is the horse’s record for Richard Kingscote.

The horse has finished 1st once and 2nd twice from four 5f runs under this pilot. He needs to improve on his recent form by several pounds to win this but his form in this race does read 1522 over the past four years and he’s entitled to outrun his odds. He’s more than capable of finishing 3rd in this but with only 7 runners he still doesn’t appeal as an each way option.

Belle Anglaise

The youngest runner in the field and the only female meaning she gets a useful 5lbs from the others. She’s rated 90 so does have to improve but not by as much as the ratings might suggest. Is she capable of running beyond 90 though?

She hasn’t run in this country since her 2yo campaign where she was last seen being well beaten in the Oh So Sharp Stakes over 7f. She’s since been running in Germany but she failed to get her head in front as a 3yo. Her only win came on her only start on an all weather surface (at Chelmsford) so the return to polytrack is definitely an interesting angle but this will be her first run at the minimum distance so in all probability she’ll be seen to best effect in the coming months over a little further on this kind of surface.

The Verdict

Moss Gill looks the most likely winner of this race but doesn’t appeal in the slightest as a single at the price given there are some doubts, notably fitness and record away from York.

Lord Riddiford is the solid but unspectacular choice from the plum draw. He’d be a pretty decent each way bet with an extra runner in here and three places on offer but looks less interesting with just two places on offer. Therefore the best option may be a small single on Lord Riddiford at a general 7/1 but a slightly largely straight forecast on Moss Gill to win and Lord Riddiford to finish runner up. That bet pays around 9/1 with bet365 at the time of writing.

A braver punter might be willing to add Royal Birth to make up a trifecta but that’s not a bet that will appeal to many for decent stakes, especially with Royal Birth faring slightly unluckily with the draw.

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Favourites – Bankers or Blowouts?

Pretty much the last spectator-attended action of last year was the Cheltenham Festival and, regardless of the 20/20 hindsight about whether or not it should have had the green light for crowds, this year's event will be contested behind closed doors. That it will be contested at all, and that the entirety of the preceding seasonal narrative has played out - weather notwithstanding - is a cause for celebration during these times where not a great deal has been worthy of such emotional uplift.

With just 21 days until tapes rise for the opening skirmishes of the 2021 renewal of #CheltFest (I can hear the grinding of traditionalists' teeth as I pen that incendiary soshul shorthand!), time is nigh to fix mental bayonets and consider, in the round, what may transpire three weeks hence.

In this piece, we'll look at the shorties: those favourites whose current top quote is 5/4 or tighter. Using the age old hackney of 'banker or blowout', and mindful that for geegeez readers (and value players everywhere) the very notion of a banker is anathema, I'll offer a view as to which side of the back/lay divide I'd currently like to pitch my punting tent.

A recent history of short priced favourites at the Cheltenham Festival

First up, a short history lesson. The main lesson of history is "don't believe the hype", a message that resonates far beyond Festival jollies but which was poignantly reprised twelve months ago when, of the six favourites sent off at 5/4 or shorter, five were beaten. Ouch.

If that was a storm in the 2020 teacup, how does a more extensive tract of past performance influence our appetite for piling in at the sharp end?

As can be seen from the table and summary row above, there have been good times and bad times since 2009, with the management summary being that this is one of the less bludgeoning methods of wagering self-harm. But, of course, not all shorties are made equal; so is there anything to be gleaned from dividing what is already a very small dataset still further?

Despite the answer to that question almost certainly being 'no', for the record here are a couple of logical splits:

A lot of data manipulation and a very short read later we can now say the answer is certainly 'no'; which is unsurprising given the maturity of, and liquidity in, these markets. Nevertheless, when the media cries "certainty" and the market posits 4/6, punters are well served to beware.

The full list of qualifying runners is below, and may bring back painful memories for some, yours true included!

2021 Cheltenham Festival Shorties: Banker or Blowout

There is a quintet of ante-post shorties for this year's renewal of the Fez (yet more trads reaching for 'off' switch!) and they shape up price wise like this:

Time to consider each horse's respective merits...

Arkle Challenge Trophy: Shishkin

Form this season

Unbeaten in three facile wins in novice chases, most recently in a brace of Grade 2's, with no horse yet landing a glove on him. In spite of the small fields - he beat a trio of rivals in each - the form is solid and the times have been good. His fencing style is economical and comfortable: he has barely put a foot wrong thus far.

Shishkin is now unbeaten in seven completed starts, having fallen on his hurdling debut.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Sent off 6/1 joint-third favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year, he was hampered by a faller as the race was hotting up, but overcame that impediment to hold the late charge of Champion Hurdle fancy, Abacadabras. That was his only race at Cheltenham.

Obvious dangers

For a while this looked a matter of 'how far' assuming good health and a clear round, but the emergence of Energumene - an energumence? - as comfortably the best of the Irish has livened up the pre-race debate immeasurably.

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On form, Willie Mullins' charge is a serious threat. But he does have a lot more questions to answer: how will he handle Cheltenham? Does he need to lead and, if so, how will he handle Allmankind? If he doesn't need to lead, he has yet to prove his effectiveness from further back. And how will he handle drier ground if indeed it pans out that way?

None of these are of concern to Shishkin, who looks sure to get his favoured lead - either from Allmankind, or that one and Energumene - and who will have every chance having dealt with all underfoot terrain, longer trips, and the Cheltenham contours already.

If Energumene and Allmankind lock horns on the speed, they may both pay for those exertions in the manner that Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir did in the 2018 renewal of this race, setting things up for a 14-length rout for Footpad. Shishkin is undeniably more of a horse than Footpad, and a tear up on the front end could see him record the largest winning distance of the meeting.

But if Energumene is ridden more conservatively, there are two possible dangers. The more obvious is that, in a fair fight, the Irish raider is simply better than the domestic challenger; the less obvious is that, by marking each other, the top two grant Allmankind - a very good horse in his own right - an easy and unassailable lead.

The other fly in the Shishkin ointment is the form of the Nicky Henderson yard, on the face of it at least: a single winner since 10th February, from 28 runners, is not the sort of record a Champion Trainer needs going into the biggest gig of the year. But, of course, we're not yet at the eve of Cheltenham and, in any case, that headline figure masks what have been largely acceptable (if not altogether pleasing) efforts from his Seven Barrows squad.

A place strike rate of 36% is more compelling, and a majority of runners have performed at least close to market expectation. Notably, the big guns - Chantry House, Champ - have run very well. Still, better will have been expected overall and better will be needed if Shishkin's price is not to flirt with odds-against between now and mid-March.

Verdict

Shishkin looks a superb athlete and a very fast horse. His trainer is having a wobble just now but knows better than anyone - even Willie M - how to campaign a precocious two-mile chaser. Having ticked the race conditions boxes, and with a pace setup almost certain to play to his A game, he looks a 'banker' (relatively speaking).

*

Mares' Hurdle: Concertista

Form this season

Lightly raced, as is often the modus operandi with Willie Mullins' better mares, Concertista has run just twice this term. She beat the same mare, Minella Melody, by nearly two lengths in a Grade 2 in November and then by more than six lengths in a Grade 3 at the turn of the year.

The hallmark of those runs, and indeed her run style generally, is being held together off the pace before cruising through to prevail comfortably. In so doing it is hard to peg the level of her form exactly, always leaving the impression there is more in the tank.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Presented off a layoff of eighteen months prior to the 2019 Mares' Novices Hurdle, Concertista saw off all bar Eglantine Du Seuil as a 66/1 chance that day. She had twenty rivals behind her and only a short head to the one in front. That singular race in the 2018/19 season meant she retained her novice status the following campaign and, lining up in the same race last March, she outclassed a similar 22-strong field by an emphatic dozen lengths.

This will be her third visit to the Festival and she offers very solid credentials on that score.

Obvious dangers

It very much depends who lines up on the day. If the ground dries out, it might be that connections of Honeysuckle decide to run over this two-and-a-half mile trip rather than the extended two of the Champion Hurdle. That would change the complexion markedly.

Likewise, though to a lesser degree, if Roksana stepped this way rather than to the Stayers' Hurdle, she would present a fierce challenge.

But there is very little depth to this field beyond the aforementioned three: they bet 9/1 Dame De Compagnie (who has been chasing, has four entries, and is far from a certain runner in this), 14/1 Verdana Blue (more likely for the County Hurdle, I think), and 20/1 bar (including Elimay, who more likely goes to the Mares' Chase).

Verdict

If Honeysuckle goes to the Champion Hurdle and if Roksana goes to the Stayers' Hurdle, Concertista could be the shortest priced favourite at the meeting. If Honeysuckle comes here, she may be 4/7 or so.

This is a ground dependant conundrum: drying ground would increase the chance of Honeysuckle running here, but decrease the chance of Roksana doing likewise. Concertista is expected to run here regardless (though she is still entered in both the Champion Hurdle and the Mares' Chase).

The way to play this, if you're so inclined, is to back Concertista at 6/5 and Honeysuckle at 5/4, both non-runner no bet. Most likely, you'll have 6/5 about an odds-on shot and money back on the other; second most likely is that you'll have 5/4 about a 4/7 shot and a poor value back up ticket. That may not sound exciting right now but it is odds on to look value on the day.

*

Brown Advisory (ex RSA): Monkfish

Form this season

Another Willie Mullins inmate, Monkfish has been imperious this season in brushing aside talented opposition with relish. Monkfish with relish: tasty!

Lousy puns aside, he won his beginners' chase in a canter before being merely pushed out to record a pair of Grade 1 successes in recognised trials, by three lengths and then eleven lengths from the talented Latest Exhibition. He is by some margin the pick of the Irish challengers.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Not only is Monkfish unbeaten in three chase starts this term, he is also the reigning Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle champ, earning a hard-fought verdict over... you guessed it, Latest Exhibition. That was his only visit to Cheltenham so he is unbeaten in one both at the track and at the Festival.

Obvious dangers

It is quite hard to find 'obvious' dangers to Monkfish. He has blitzed the best of the Irish this season, and he did the same to the best of the British and Irish here last season over hurdles.

Of course, he's a novice and the fences have to be jumped, so that's a possible issue.

In terms of potential rivals, Royale Pagaille has looked a mud machine this winter, but that one has numerous other possible engagements, principally the Gold Cup itself. Moreover, the two horses are in the same Ricci ownership and will surely attempt to divide and conquer.

The only other possible issue is ground: good to something would present a challenge met only once previously, when Monkfish was beaten into second on debut in a 2m2f bumper at the Punchestown Festival in May 2019.

Verdict

It's double digits bar Fishcake - as Nicky Henderson once flippantly (and very amusingly, imho) labelled the jolly - and Royale Pagaille; and, with options over longer and shorter for shying rivals, this could cut up dramatically. Monkfish looks very strong in this division.

*

Champion Chase: Chacun Pour Soi

Form this season

Three runs, three wins, in Grade 2 and Grade 1 (twice) company, beating the right horses with nonchalance. He travels like a dream, jumps very well and, if he faces the starter at Cheltenham, will have managed more runs this season than in the previous two combined.

His form this campaign is well clear of any other two mile chaser on either side of the Irish Sea.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

It was all going so well, but then... Chacun Pour Soi was pulled out at the eleventh hour last year and, as such, has yet to race outside of Ireland. That leaves question marks not just over the track but also about travelling generally: he did come over on the boat last year but was withdrawn with a foot abscess.

Whilst it may very much be a case of abscess making the heart grow fonder (sigh), it also nods to this fella's hitherto fragility. Against that we do have a trio of scores, and an absence of scares, so far this term. But we have still to conjecture about his ability to handle the idiosyncrasies of Cleeve Hill.

Obvious dangers

He himself is the obvious danger. Will he stay in one piece? Will he handle the travel? Will he handle the track?

Of the other horses in the race, each has eroded his or her case at some point: Arkle winner Put The Kettle On was bashed by Chacun, albeit after what was a very hard race at Cheltenham first up this season, and she may bounce back training up to the race; Altior is patently not the horse he was; Politologue has a rock solid Champion Chase profile but not against the calibre of CPS; and Defi Du Seuil is a binary chap, more zeros than ones in recent times.

The leftfield option is First Flow, who was exhilarating at Ascot last time. He'd need supplementing, very likely, but he'd also need to improve another eight pounds on current ratings - less likely.

Verdict

Chacun Pour Soi has to contend with himself. His form is in another postcode to his rivals in a market still trying to get him beaten with the wonderful but past his best Altior and a sizeable group of second division chasers. A horse like Fakir D'Oudairies, who is 20/1 NRNB in a place because he's more likely to fly Ryanair, might be a feasible hail mary in a race loaded with if's and but's.

Those imponderables extend to the favourite which makes him unplayable outright at the prices for all that he is the outstanding logical choice. [I did flag him in a derivative market at more appealing odds, as I don't really seeing him finishing second or third. He will win, or something will have happened between now and the finish line, is my wagering opinion.]

*

Marsh: Envoi Allen

Form this season

Three runs, three wins this campaign have meant Envoi Allen is now eleven from eleven lifetime under Rules (plus one point to point), all of them as favourite and only once at odds-against (the 2019 Cheltenham Champion Bumper). The middle leg of his 2020/21 hat-trick was a comfortable verdict in the Grade 1 Drinmore, and it was little more than a schooling round against Grade 3 rivals last time. I wasn't as impressed as some with that most recent effort for all that he still bolted up.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Two tries at the track, both at the Festival, have yielded two victories; the Bumper score was by a narrow margin, his Ballymore victory more unequivocal. He beat 13 rivals the first day and eleven the second and, well, he just keeps winning.

Obvious dangers

This looks another case of getting to the start line. Unlike CPS, EA has been slated to start twice and has started - and finished first - twice. He's had an incident-free prep thus far and has jumped really well in his three chase races to date.

Still, those fences need to be jumped, and he has to arrive pristine at Prestbury. It is hard to nominate dangers thereafter.

Verdict

The Brown Advisory would have meant a likely clash with Monkfish, the Arkle a ding dong with Shiskin, Energumene and Allmankind. The Marsh feels a bit like the coward's route for a horse boasting his CV. More generously, it is the best opportunity to extend the winning sequence.

You can bet double figures any other horse likely to run in this race - single digit quotes about Energumene and Monkfish don't even appeal NRNB especially - and there has to be some each way value, though I've yet to go through the fine detail to find it.

What is clear is that, on form, Envoi Allen is different kit.

**

Summary

Last year, five of the six horses sent off at 5/4 or shorter were beaten. This year, we look set to have at least five runners priced in that same bracket. Mishaps aside, it is hard (for me, at least) to make credible cases to oppose any of the quintet.

But mishaps do happen: in 2020, Paisley Park had a palpitation, Patrick Mullins was carelessly ejected from Carefully Selected (very harsh on the jockey, apols, poetic license for a play on words), Tiger was Roll'ed over by a heretofore unconsidered French assailant, Defi did the Defi thing, and 'mon dieu' Benie was beaten by Honey.

Any horse could come down or have a heart murmur in the heat of combat; Shishkin could get beaten by Energumene; a previously unsighted dark horse could emerge in one of the novice chases (though that feels unlikely).

In short, stuff could - and at some point probably will - happen. But I'd be hard pushed to bet against any of this quintet in the win slot if they trotted round at the start. That's my view, uncontroversial as it is. What about you? Which horse(s) would you hang your hat on? And where are you looking to get a hotpot beaten? Leave a comment and let us know.

Matt

 

 

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