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I Know What You Did Last Spring: Making Long Range Cheltenham Festival Projections

As late March heralds longer days and flat racing fiestas in the coming weeks and months, those of us with a Cheltenham Festival-sized gap in our hearts and minds (and, perhaps, wallets) are already projecting wistfully forward to fifty weeks hence and the 2023 Cleeve Hill jamboree. If that sounds about 85% of the way along the tragic-desperate continuum, it is mitigated by the fact that such far-reaching forward-looking is not mutually exclusive with more impending matters on the level.

The focus of what follows, then, is a last lingering look back - and forward - with the aim of trying to isolate an ante post ticket (or two) whose value might subsequently be enhanced. No sooner had the Festival winners been hosed down than odds for possible return targets were chalked up; most such offers will look pretty thin when the time comes but some will not. Emboldened as I am always by the prospect of a punt at a price, I've looked back at the last decade to see if there were any clues from the previous year's spring festivals that we ought to have heeded. If that doesn't yet make sense, it will do soon enough.

Where next for the Champion Bumper winner?

I'll start with a 'what happened next' for those Cheltenham Festival winners that typically didn't have a previous spring campaign under their belt, the ones emerging from the Champion Bumper.

 

 

The first thing to say is that five of the prior nine Champion Bumper winners did not even get to the following year's Cheltenham Festival. The second, an aside, is to apologise for references to the Albert Bartlett as 'Spuds': it's a lazy shorthand so forgive me, please.

Facile Vega, the very good winner of this year's Champion Bumper, is no bigger than 3/1 for next year's Supreme; that looks ungenerous given only one of the previous nine winners even contested that race, Ballyandy finishing fourth in 2016 - as a 3/1 chance. That ten year time span is more unhelpful than disingenuous in that, a year earlier than the snapshot, in 2012, Champagne Fever completed part two of the Bumper-Supreme double.

More interesting, if indeed anything is interesting when fishing for patterns (which may or may not be mirages) in shallow pools, is that two of the previous three Champion Bumper winners - Envoi Allen and Sir Gerhard - went on to win the Ballymore as odds on shots. Facile Vega is a top-priced 6/1 for that longer novice hurdle and, if there's a bet here, that must be it. After all, his mum, Quevega, couldn't win in Graded company at two miles (from two tries, 3rd and 9th) but was almost unbeatable at two-and-a-half and three; and sire Walk In The Park's best strike rate is comfortably at around two and a half miles.

In the slightly longer grass, a few of the placed horses from the Festival flat race have won the opener twelve months later, so perhaps a second glance at American Mike, 14/1 in a place, is merited. (I believe James's Gate, as he's owned by the owners of Ballymore Properties, will go to that race so he, too, might figure in considerations if only because we know what his target will be, all other things being equal).

Observations:
Champion Bumper to Supreme is generally not a path trodden by winners of the former, but to the Ballymore has been a recent 'thing'. 6/1 about Facile Vega for the Ballymore might look too big if he can actually get to next year's meeting.

Placed horses in the Champion Bumper have a fair record in winning the Supreme. American Mike's 14/1 quote in a place likely won't last but there is general 12's available.

Supreme Novices' Hurdle

For all races that follow there is typically at least one season's previous form with which to work; as such, the format laid out for the Supreme will be replicated for all of the remaining Festival Grade 1's. Here's how it looks:

 

 

We can now see Champagne Fever in the bottom row of the table - see, I told you I wasn't being 'convenient'! We can also see that Appreciate It (and we cannot see that in 2011 Al Ferof) won the Supreme having been second in the Champion Bumper. But what is most striking if you're desperate to bet this race now is that almost none of the Supreme winners in the past decade were on the mainstream radar a year earlier.

This table is, at least partially, the inverse of the Champion Bumper bit above and, as such, not much else needs saying, except tread very carefully: we may not have even heard of next year's Supreme winner yet!

Observations:
We quite possibly do not even know of the existence of next year's Supreme winner right now. American Mike is possibly the one for pin-stickers with a chance to replicate two recent Champion Bumper runners up who scored in the Supreme.

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

The intermediate distance Grade 1 novice hurdle and usually a classy affair, at the front end at least.

 

 

On top of the already made point about the pair of Champion Bumper winners who rocked up here as shorties a year later and got it done, the key takeaway is to keep a close eye on winning Irish bumper favourites away from the Festival spotlight. The thinking - and I do appreciate how tenuous some of this stuff is - is that they're favoured because of a level of ability already demonstrated, either at home or on the track; and they've been brought along relatively steadily out of the glare of wider perception. Related, perhaps, is that four of the five to fit this blueprint had also already won a point to point.

Both Yorkhill and Bob Olinger emerged from the same Gowran Park bumper won this year by Kalanisi Star. He won easily but recorded a lesser rating and is trained by the unfashionable (though eminently capable) Oliver McKiernan. Similarly, City Island (a winner for the race sponsors) and Faugheen both progressed from Punchestown's late May meeting, so that's a fixture to keep onside.

Observations:
Aside from maybe betting Facile Vega for the 2023 Ballymore, keep an eye on well-touted winners of spring bumpers in Ireland outside of the Punchestown Festival, especially if they already have a point to point verdict on their scorecard.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle

The potato race, as it is affectionately - and effectively, because who knew Albert Bartlett was a producer of starchy tubers beforehand? - known, is the staying division for novice hurdlers. Here's what recent AB victors were doing a year or so prior.

 

 

It may be more correct to say, here's what recent AB victors were not doing a year or so prior. They were not running in the Champion Bumper (though Briar Hill fell as 2/1 favourite for this in 2013) and they were not running in the Aintree bumpers. They might, however, have been on the podium in one of the non-Grade 1 National Hunt Flat races at the Punchestown Festival; and all the more interesting if they'd recently changed hands having won a point to point.

That ostensibly (and quite possibly actually) contrived route to potato riches was trodden by all of 33/1 Very Wood, 50/1 Minella Indo, and 5/1 Monkfish since 2014. A fourth winner in the sample, 33/1 Kilbricken Storm, also emerged as a point winner the previous spring. That's hardly surprising considering that, firstly, the vast majority of point to points are run at three miles, the same range as the Albert Bartlett; and, secondly, maiden races between the flags usually place a premium on jumping ability in young horses.

Observation:
Have a look at those emerging from points to make the frame in non-Grade 1 Punchestown Festival bumpers. They'll be a price, though history suggests they might be a bigger price on the day next March!

Champion Hurdle

After some middling attempts to find order in perfect randomness around the novice hurdle cohort, we move to the relative structure of the two mile Championship hurdle race, aptly known as the Champion Hurdle.

 

 

The column upon which to focus attention here is 'Prev Cheltenham' - it will not be a surprise that nine of the last ten Champion Hurdle winners were present a year earlier, nor particularly that they ran - generally placed - in a mixture of the novice hurdles, Mares' Hurdle and Champion Hurdle itself.

When contemplating such folly as an ante post bet a year out it is important to think about the shape of the race, in terms of how much is known already and how much is still to emerge. In the novice events, next to nothing is known at this stage while in the Champion Hurdle we probably have the vast majority of intel available, barring the maintenance of form and fitness.

What I am trying to say is that asking for both Honeysuckle and Constitution Hill to either regress materially or produce sick notes is a big request. Of the other potentials suggested by previous spring form, none appeal as capable of getting even much beyond the level of an Epatante or a Zanahiyr, let alone the champ and the champ elect. Of course, stuff happens, but we're already going out on more limbs than a millipede has in its possession and this, friends, is a bridge too far.

Marie's Rock has next to no chance in the Champion Hurdle, likewise the aforementioned Champion placed horses and, from the novice ranks, only Sir Gerhard looks a credible threat. He's 8/1 and he ain't sufficiently credible to legitimise that as an exciting punt. State Man and Vauban are unexposed sorts but we're back to Katchit in 2008 for the previous Triumph Hurdle winner to double up, and no horse has emerged from a handicap to win the big one a year later; Katchit, it should be added, had nothing of the immensity of Honeysuckle or Constitution Hill in his way.

Observation:
Not one to be getting too far ahead of ourselves about. Two seriously talented, career unbeaten, including in multiple Grade 1, horses - a race to hope they both show up for, and savour when they do. They're probably fair enough prices and there are more interesting (it's all relative) wagering options elsewhere.

Stayers' Hurdle

The Stayers' Hurdle, a Championship (nominally, at least) three-miler, is one of the more inscrutable - or less scrutable - open races at Le Fez. Its roll of honour reads more 'who?' than who's who, and there is very little in the previous spring Festival form from which to piece together even the most circumstantial of cases. And yes, I do appreciate that hasn't stopped me above and below this segment!

 

 

Podium finishers in the staying novice races at Aintree - the Sefton - and Punchestown - Irish Mirror - have provided four winners since 2015, and that's the best I have.

Observation:
This is akin to trying to sculpt water.

Arkle Challenge Trophy

And so to the Grade 1 steeplechases, the first of which is the Arkle, a two mile test of speed and jumpcraft (not a word, should be). In the last ten years, Willie's won four and Nicky has won three. That's as good a starting point as any.

 

 

Three of that Hendo/Mullins septet won the Supreme while the third Seven Barrows scorer won the Ballymore. The only beaten horse from a Festival novice hurdle to win the Arkle twelve months on in the last ten years was Duc Des Genievres and I'm still unable to explain how that happened.

We also know stuff like five-year-olds have struggled since their allowance was removed; the last of that vintage was Voy Por Ustedes, in receipt of five pounds weight for age, in 2006. So we can ignore those at this stage.

The obvious one is Sir Gerhard, comfortable winner of the Ballymore and already a point winner. Talk of his jumping frailty looks overplayed to my, granted somewhat untutored, eye and he is likely to take high rank in the novice chase division next term. I do worry that, as his flag form - and the Ballymore - implies, he could go towards the Golden Miller (Marsh/JLT/Turners) rather than the shorter race; and any early fencing blemishes will be amplified in the media which might make connections twitchy. That's enough to swerve him at the price, 5/1 tops, for now.

At double those odds is Appreciate It, nine lengths back in the Champion Hurdle after a year off the track. He ran a fair bit better than his finishing position suggests and I think we'll see a much improved performance, and subsequent contraction in his Arkle odds, after Punchestown. Even if he beats Honeysuckle there, which I don't really expect, he's likely to dodge Con Hill and go fencing next term. Footpad's was a not dissimilar profile for the same trainer, Willie Mullins, in 2018.

Zanahiyr might be another worth a thought, though he's not generally priced up: there's a good chance I don't know something I should do about the chances of his Arkle participation.

Observation:
The key is to work out who will be avoiding the perceived strength in next year's Champion Hurdle field while still being good enough to contest an Arkle. Appreciate It is a double figure price and may shorten for all sorts of targets if getting close to Honeysuckle at Punchestown.

Golden Miller Novices' Chase

Formally known as the Golden Miller, we'll stick with that for a race that in its short life has had as many sponsors/names (Jewson, Centenary, JLT, Marsh, Turners) as the Festival wants days. It's an intermediate distance novice chase, which means that even more guesswork is required in terms of horses being suited to its conditions rather than simply avoiding the level of competition in either the Arkle or RSA/Brown Advisory/Broadway. Quirkily, this year's Golden Miller had two of the very hottest novices around, Bob Olinger and Galopin Des Champs, and scared away another, L'Homme Presse, who was originally mooted to take this middle path.

That kind of double bluff is commonplace in a race whose ante post waters are further muddied by the vast array of talent in certain yards, many of which trainer and/or jockey and/or owner are eager to see in separate divisions in March.

Perhaps the previous spring will shed some much needed luminescence on these murky cogitations. [Why use one syllable when many more are available?!]

 

 

The Ballymore is the one, isn't it? Three Golden Miller winners were doubling up on a Ballymore score a year before; three more ran down the track in the same race. The winner, we know, was Sir Gerhard and I increasingly feel this is where he'll wind up - and with an obvious chance, of course.

But perhaps it's worth looking down the field for another arrow at a price that accommodates at least some of the additional risk. In that spirit, I offer up Three Stripe Life,  beaten by Sir Gerhard thrice in six career starts. But stay with me a minute, because he actually got closest - within four lengths of Sir G in the Ballymore - when everything else, bar the last flight tumbler Journey With Me, was waiting for a bus home - and connections would surely have been emboldened by his finishing effort on a first try beyond two miles. He might be playable at 14/1 for an interest.

Journey With Me, too, is not impossible. He might take a different tack, as might the others mentioned, but that is surely factored into a quote of 25/1 with one joint. He was unbeaten in a point, a bumper and two novice hurdles prior to being booked for third in the Ballymore; and he represents the same owner, trainer and, presumably, jockey as this year's Golden Miller winner, Bob Olinger (for all that we know how lucky he was).

Observation:
Look to the Ballymore form. Sir Gerhard is obvious but this has been a race for apparent rather than obvious winners as the abundance of those returned 3/1 and 4/1 attests; so perhaps TSL or JWM offer a sliver of value.

Broadway Novices' Chase

Familiarly known as the RSA Chase, but now sponsored by Brown Advisory, who used to sponsor one of the handicaps - this sponsorship lark is important but it really is getting very confusing - this is the three mile novice chase championship. Below are the last ten winners and what they were up to a year or so prior.

 

 

Most of the Broadway winners ran at Cheltenham the previous year and ran well there. What is interesting, to me at least, is that three of the seven to dance at the Chelto party a year prior did so in a handicap rather than a Grade 1. Don Poli won the Martin Pipe, Presenting Percy won the Pertemps Final, and Topofthegame was second in the Coral Cup. The last named was actually the highest rated of the trio, on 150 at the time and a second season hurdler - the other pair novices - and 143 was the lowest rating of them.

No horse from the top two in the handicaps this year fits the Broadway profile, but third placed Hollow Games ran on well over the two and a half miles of the Martin Pipe to be third, carrying 11-09, second top weight. Rated 143, it's far from impossible the £255,000 sales buy could emerge as an RSA contender.

The lazy route into the Broadway is the Albert Bartlett winner but, as can be seen, only the exceptional (I think, would like to see more of him) Monkfish doubled up in the last ten years. Two beaten horses from that race, O'Faolains Boy and Blaklion, prevailed in the fencing equivalent but trying to work out which, and why, from this year's potato crop (see what I did there?) is beyond me. That said, there are reasons to believe that Hillcrest is a lot better than he showed in the Al Barty and will improve for a fence, and he's priced attractively.

A final word of caution - one can never have too many words of caution in a post like this - is that three of the most recent ten Broadway winners were unsighted at any of the Spring Festivals. Might Bite and L'Homme Presse were particularly progressive during their chase campaigns: there's always time, and space in the ledger, to back another one or three 'twixt now and then!

Observation:
Three winners that were unheralded a year earlier mean this is a race to play small at big prices, or (probably) not at all. The pick of the handicap form, ideally from a novice with a decent rating and carrying a commensurately lumpy weight, isn't the worst way to tilt at it, so have a look at 20/1 Hollow Games. And perhaps Hillcrest at a similar quote.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

The last three races under consideration are the Championship chases, starting with the two mile division.

 

 

Two races from the year before dominate, and they're predictable enough, too. The novice version of the Champion Chase, the Arkle, and the Champion Chase itself are kingmakers (or queenmaker in the case of Put The Kettle On) having hosted eight next year Champion Chasers between them; no other race has featured even a single QMCC winner. Those Champion Chase winners have all been 11/1 or shorter, which surprised me when I recall how many of them I "couldn't have"!

Thinking about the logical contenders, this has been a race notable for absenteeism, either pre-race or during: in Politologue's victory year, both Altior and Chacun Pour Soi withdrew on the day; last year, CPS threw in a clunker; and this year, Shishkin did that while CPS tucked and rolled. I mention this by way of context as I'm about to overlook Energumene and Shishkin in the ante post market.

Energumene was undeniably electric in beating what stood up and got round, but the pick of those was the 165-rated 11-year-old Politologue. But he didn't run to 165; his performance rating from the BHA was just 148. That form is hollow for all that Energ waltzed by the residue of his field. Actually, that's not the concern. Rather, it's whether or not we can trust him to turn up twelve months down the line. If we can, and he does, he will be a major player, but a top price of 7/2 is not for me.

Shishkin is brilliant. Was brilliant. He now has a question to answer: did Ascot vaporise his verve for the game? Was Cheltenham really all about the ground? I so want to believe he'll be back, and I'll cheer him as though I'm all in if/when he does come back, but I definitely do not want to wager a year out at 5/1.

Bob Olinger and Galopin Des Champs will find ways to avoid each other without taking in the Champion Chase, I expect; and Ferny Hollow could be a runner for all that his form was not far clear of Riviere d'Etel's - and that one was no match, no match at all, for Edwardstone in the Arkle. True, it was a weak enough renewal, Eddie's pre-race 159 pick of the field ascending to 161 post-race; but he did it well and with more to give. He'll go into open company next season as second in after Shishkin of the domestics, assuming Shishkin returns to his former glories. And he's 12/1 to join the three previous Arkle winners to double up in the QMCC a year later, the most recent of which was the similarly underappreciated Put The Kettle On.

Observation:
The two mile Grade 1 chases from the previous year dominate the QMCC winners board. This is a race where the obvious often comes to pass but it can still be played at a square price, perhaps through the conduit of Edwardstone, a far better chaser than hurdler who retains upside in a division of fragile commodities.

Ryanair Chase

The much-maligned Ryanair is a race I love, and it's produced more than its share of good winners, including the current two-timer Allaho. It also has a trio of predictable components, namely Golden Miller, Willie Mullins, and Aintree form.

 

 

In fact, the Golden Miller angle, while not quite a chuck out, has gone a bit cold. Not since Balko Des Flos won the Ryanair in 2018 a year after falling in the Golden Miller as a 16/1 chance has a runner from that race won the Open version. There is a very good chance, however, that one of Bob Olinger and/or Galopin Des Champs will run in next year's Ryanair, and either would hold strong claims for all that Allaho is a worthy champ.

Galopin Des Champs, a stablemate of Allaho, is still more likely to go Ryanair as things stand: he jumps well (in spite of his last fence misfortune in the Golden Miller) and has a fantastic cruising speed. 6/1 is at the unexciting end of the acceptable spectrum, I feel, because there looks to be a huge amount of dead wood in the betting lists right now - this could end up being next year's version of the Turners match up: never mind the width, feel the quality. Galopin and Allaho both tick the Willie Mullins box - the Closutton guru has won five of the last seven Ryanair's and has a half nelson around the 2023 renewal at time of writing.

Aintree form is an interesting sneak into the ante post markets, for all that we don't yet know how that plays out. Winners of the two G1 novices chases, the Mildmay and Manifesto, prevailed in the following Ryanair in 2014/15, and Min won the Melling Chase, an Open Grade 1, en route to 2020 Ryanair glory.

Observation: 
Trained by Willie Mullins, and/or exiting either of the Golden Miller/Turners or an Aintree G1 (as a winner) all embellish the prospects of a Ryanair contender. At this stage, Galopin Des Champs is a fair enough play at 6/1 in what might end up a shallow race - Allaho notwithstanding - next term. But keep a beady on events in Liverpool the week after next, too. There might be a play at a price emerging from the action there.

Cheltenham Gold Cup

And finally, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, the Blue Riband. A proper test over three and a quarter miles, plus a few more yards, it's a legitimate proving ground for our sport's champions.

 

 

Placed Gold Cup horses can and do win the following year, as demonstrated most recently by Native River (2018), Al Boum Photo doubling up in 2020, and A Plus Tard this year. And, like the Arkle/QMCC and Golden Miller/Ryanair couplings, the Broadway is a natural springboard for the Gold Cup. Witness Bobs Worth, Lord Windermere, Al Boum Photo (first time around), and Minella Indo. Those two angles account for seven of the last ten Gold Cup winners.

A shortlist, then, might be A Plus Tard, Minella Indo, Protektorat, L'Homme Presse and Ahoy Senor.

Some have Stattler making a claim but the National Hunt Chase has made zero inroads into the Gold Cup picture, even since cutting back in distance, Galvin the latest to possess the stamina but not the class for the main gig. Others proffer the talented Monkfish but he has not been seen on the course since April last year and has plenty to prove as a result. He might enter the frame after we've swooned over his comeback but he's no kind of long-term conveyance at this point.

There is no sign of a Golden Miller runner winning the Gold Cup a year after in recent history and, besides, Galopin Des Champs is only 5/1 and has other - some say, better - options. Nor am I personally convinced of the Cheltenham credentials of Bravemansgame, for all that he may shorten if winning at Aintree.

Of the quintet on the shortlist, Minella Indo will be ten next year - too old - and Protektorat looked some way shy of what's required for all that he can certainly improve from his current mark: he'll only be eight next year. A Plus Tard was imperious this time and is unquestionably the one to beat; but he's scheduled to face two rising stars off Broadway, as it were, next year. That's just as well because it's hard to see anything behind him a couple of weeks ago reversing places.

L'Homme Presse had stamina questions to answer going into the Broadway; not only did he respond with a win, he did it going away from a strong stayer at the finish. It was a performance that quietly but confidently, erm, pressed his Gold Cup claims, though 8/1 reflects that pretty much fully. So what of his vanquished rival, Ahoy Senor? His jumping was a little sketchy, more than that at one point, and if brushing up as he's entitled to for a second season over fences, he could maybe bridge the gap; but it's a stretch to imagine a reversal of form even with a clear round.

If Royale Pagaille ever gets a swamp on Gold Cup day, he'd have a great chance, and is still young enough to be a player in twelve months' time; but that is a big 'if' as evidenced by the 'going' column in the above table. Still, 50/1 is a tad rude, I'd say.

Observation:
Look to the podium spots in the previous Gold Cup, and the 1-2 from the Broadway. The problem is that the market has looked there already meaning value appears pretty thin on the ground.

*

So that's that, a route into most of next year's Cheltenham Festival Grade 1's based on activity this spring. If you're ambitious enough to try a few of these so far out - we all have to survive another fifty weeks through uncertain times for a start (mind you, if we don't, I guess it won't really matter whether we've made good bets or bad) - then it could be worth some uber-optimistic permed doubles. Catch one and it will apologise for a lot of misfires from the scattergun!

One other thing to keep in mind is price volatility over time. The ante post markets overreact in both directions, so horses that fit the bill above but are skinny enough in the betting right now will still fit the historical profile if/when they ease out a point or three. The brave investor buys when others are selling, as long as her fundamentals are close enough to their mark.

Good luck. With a favourable spin of the wheel, we'll have a few tasty tickets on the back burner while those flat race bunnies are haring about the place.

Matt

2022 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY FOUR (Fri 18th March 2022)

Each day of the 2022 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 2022 Cheltenham Festival for you!

Onto 'DAY FOUR' and it's Gold Cup Day - did you know, all of the last 19 Gold Cup winners were aged 9 or younger?

 


Friday 19th March 2022 (New Course)

Cheltenham Festival Trends

 

    1.30 - JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 179y ITV

2021 Winner: QUILIXIOS (2/1)
Trainer – Henry de Bromhead
Jockey – Rachael Blackmore

Pluses…..

  • 22 of the last 28 winners won last time out
  • 9 of the last 13 winners were unbeaten over hurdles
  • Irish have won 6 of the last 9 runnings
  • French-breds have filled 11 of the last 19 places (last 7 runnings)
  • 12 of the last 17 came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 11 of the last 14 winners returned 13/2 or shorter in the betting
  • Respect Henderson (7 winners), Nicholls, Hobbs and King-trained runners
  • The Spring Juvenile Hurdle is a good guide
  • 9 of the last 12 winners ran in the Finesse, Adonis or Spring Juvenile Hurdles (6 of the last 10) last time
  • 8 of the last 10 winners had raced by Christmas time
  • 5 of the last 7 winners began their careers in France
  • Nicky Henderson has trained 7 winners of the race
  • Gordon Elliott has had 2 wins and 2 seconds in the last 8 years

Negatives….

  • Take on horses that have won at 2m2f or further in the past
  • Avoid horses that last ran 56 days or longer ago
  • Avoid horses that had run 3 or more times over hurdles
  • Just 2 of the last 17 winner returned bigger than 12/1
  • Be careful of horses rated 138 or lower – no winner in the last 13
  • Willie Mullins has fairly poor record despite winning the 2020 race – currently 1-from-31
  • Last 7 Adonis Hurdles winners have all lost  (all unplaced)

 

2.10 – McCoy Contractors County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 179y ITV

 

2021 Winner: BELFAST BANTER (33/1)
Trainer – Peter Fahey
Jockey – Kevin Sexton

Pluses….

  • The Irish have won 10 of the last 15 runnings
  • 6 of the last 7 winners were trained by Willie Mullins (3) or Dan Skelton (3)
  • Willie Mullins has won 5 of the last 12 runnings
  • 17 of the last 21 winners were novices or second season hurdlers
  • 14 of the last 16 winners were rated in the 130’s
  • 8 of the last 14 winners returned 20/1 or bigger
  • 6 of the last 13 winners had run in 6 or less hurdles races
  • 12 of the last 16 winners were aged 5 or 6 years-old
  • 11 of the last 23 winners aged 5
  • 6 of the last 8 winners had run at Cheltenham before
  • 10 of the last 15 winners Irish-trained
  • 8 of the last 14 winners started their careers in France
  • 13 of the last 16 winners were priced in double-figures
  • 13 of the last 18 winners began their careers on the flat
  • Look for Mullins, Martins & Nicholls-trained runners
  • Respect the Imperial Cup (Sandown Park) winner
  • 9 winners since 2002 ran in the Ladbrokes or Betfair Hurdles that season
  • 11 of the last 21 winners came from the top 5 in the betting
  • 12 of the last 15 winners DIDN’T win last time out
  • 5 of the last 6 winners hadn’t raced in the last 72 days
  • Paul Nicholls is 4 from 31 (+15pts)
  • Willie Mullins is 4 from 43 (+42.5pts)
  • Trainer Dan Skelton has trained 3 of the last 6 renewals

Negatives….

  • Strangely, previous course winners have a bad record
  • Only 2 winners since 2000 winning with a mark of 150+
  • Since 1960 only 5 winners carried more than 11st 2lb
  • Since 1961, only 9 winners had run at the Festival before
  • Since 2005, just one winner rated 140+ (158 runners)
  • Avoid runners that hadn’t raced at least 4 times that season
  • Avoid horses making their handicap debuts, although last year’s winner defied this trend
  • Horses aged 9+ are 0-from23 in the last 10 years
  • 1 of the last 8 winners ran no more than 4 times that season
  • Just 2 of the last 14 winners returned a single-figure price
  • Nicky Henderson has a poor record (0-from-33) since 2000
  • Gordon Elliott has a poor record (0-from-17) last 11 years

 

    2.50 - Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 7f 213y ITV

2021 Winner: VANILLIER (14/1)
Trainer – Gavin Cromwell
Jockey – Mark Walsh

Pluses….

  • 9 of the last 17 winners had run at Cheltenham over hurdles before
  • 15 of the last 17 winners contested a Graded Hurdle last time out
  • 15 of the last 17 winners won or placed in a Graded Novice before
  • 7 of the last 10 winners had won a Point
  • 6 of the last 8 winners trained in Ireland
  • 10 of the last 13 winners had won at least twice over hurdles
  • 8 of the last 11 winners had won or been placed in a bumper
  • 9 of the last 17 came from the top 5 in the betting
  • 10 of the last 17 winner ran 47 days (or more) ago
  • 14 of the last 17 had run in a race over 3m
  • 14 of the last 17 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old
  • 13 of the last 17 winners were 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 15 of the last 17 winners finished in the top 3 last time out
  • 12 of the last 17 winners had 4+ runs over hurdles
  • 14 of the last 16 winners finished in the top 3 last time out
  • 4 of the last 16 favourites won
  • Respect Jonjo O’Neill runners (2 wins, from 2 runners!)
  • Trainer Willie Mullins has won 2 of the last 5 runnings

Negatives….

  • Horses that ran in the last 23 days haven’t fared well
  • Avoid horses that DIDN’T finish 1st or 2nd last time out
  • Be wary of horses that have raced less than 3 times over hurdles
  • Willie Mullins is 2 from 40 in the race, but has won 2 of the last 5
  • Gordon Elliott is 0-from-7
  • Nicky Henderson is 0-from-14 in the last 10 years
  • 5 year-olds have a poor record
  • Only 4 of the last 17 winners hadn’t raced that calendar year

 

    3.30 - Boodles Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1) 3m 2f 70y ITV

 

2021 Winner: MINELLA INDO (9/1)
Trainer – Henry de Bromhead
Jockey – Jack Kennedy

Pluses….

  • 18 of the last 22 winners ran in the Savills Chase or King George that season
  • 18 of the last 21 finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 18 of the last 22 winners were 2nd or 3rd season chasers
  • 11 of the last 16 winners had run 9 or less times over fences
  • 21 of the last 22 winners were Grade 1 winners
  • 17 of the last 21 had won or placed at the Festival before
  • 17 of the last 21 winners hailed from the top 3 in the betting
  • 20 of the last 22 winners had raced no more than 12 times over fences
  • 12 of the last 14 winners ran 3 or less times that season
  • 17 of the last 25 winners were bred in Ireland
  • 16 of the last 21 winners won last time out
  • 9 of the last 19 winners were favourites
  • 13 of the last 17 winners yet to win beyond 3m 1/2f
  • ALL of the last 22 winners were aged 9 or younger
  • 21 of the last 22 winners aged between 7-9 years-old
  • 20 of the last 22 winners were in their first three seasons over fences
  • Horses placed in a previous Supreme Novices’ Hurdle have a good record

 

Negatives….

  • Non-Grade One winners have a poor record
  • No winner older than 10 years-old since 1969 (0 from 73)
  • Just one winning 6 year-old since 1964
  • Horses rated 166 or less are only 6 from last 35
  • Avoid horses that had run on ‘heavy’ ground that season
  • Horses wearing headgear have a bad recent record
  • Willie Mullins has only won the race twice (2020, 2019), 2 from 33 (had 4 of the last 9 seconds and the 2019 & 2020 winner though)
  • Only 3 winners since 2000 returned 9/1 or bigger
  • Just 2 of the last 14 winners had raced more than 3 times that season
  • Horses that were beaten in their first Gold Cup don’t fare well
  • Only 2 winners since 2000 had previously been beaten in the race
  • No winner since 2000 ran in that season’s Cotswold Chase

 

 

   4.10 - St James's Place Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase 3m 2f 70y ITV

 

2021 Winner: PORLOCK BAY (16/1)
Trainer – Will Biddick
Jockey – Lorcan Williams  

Pluses…..

  • 27 of the last 31 winners were aged under 11 years-old
  • 25 of the last 36 won last time out
  • 18 of the last 19 winners Irish or French bred
  • The last 15 winners were yet to win over this trip
  • 6 of the last 12 winners finished in the top 5 in the race last year
  • 8 of the last 13 winners came from the first 4 in the betting
  • 29 of the last 33 started out in point-to-point races
  • 12 of the last 16 winners ran 34 days or less ago
  • Respect the Irish runners (won 7 of last 11)
  • 5 of the last 10 winners ran in the Leopardstown Inn Hunters’ Chase
  • 11 of the last 16 winners were aged 8-10 years-old
  • 8 of the last 13 winners returned 15/2 or shorter
  • 12 of the last 14 winners finished in the top 3 last time out
  • 10 of the last 12 winners rated 134 or higher (6 of last 9, rated 138+)

Negatives….

  • Horses that ran in a handicap race that season haven’t got a good record
  • Avoid horses that hadn’t won a race under rules
  • Just 2 winners in the last 45 years aged 12 or older
  • 27 of the last 29 horses aged 11+ (priced in single figures) have lost – but the 2019 winner – Hazel Hill – defied this trend
  • Just one 6 year-old winner in the last 34 runnings
  • Only 2 winners aged 7 since 2000
  • Avoid ex-handicappers rated 140+ in their careers
  • Avoid horses that raced 35 days or longer ago
  • British bred horses are 0-84 (last 19 runnings)
  • Just 2 winners since 2000 hadn’t run within the last 53 days
  • Horses aged 11+ are just 5 from 251 since 1990
  • Just 4 winners since 2000 didn’t finish in the top 3 last time out

 

    4.50- Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase 2m 4f 127yds ITV

2021 Winner: COLREEVY (1st 9/4)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Paul Townend

  • Willie Mullins trained the 1-2 last season
  • Willie Mullins has won 15 of the 21 mares’ only races at the Festival

 

    5.30 - Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (0-145) 2m 4f 56y RTV

 

2021 Winner: GALOPIN DES CHAMPS (8/1)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Sean O’Keeffe  

Pluses….

  • 12 of the last 13 winners were 2nd season-hurdlers
  • 9 of the last 11 winners placed in the top 3 last time
  • All of the last 13 winners carried 11-1 or more
  • 3 of the last 4 winners had top-weight
  • All 13 winners aged 7 or younger
  • 8 or the last 10 winners rated 139+
  • 11 of the last 13 winners had 8 or less runs over hurdles
  • 5 of the last 8 winners were Irish-based Novices
  • Irish have won 7 of the last 11 (6 making handicap debuts)
  • 36 of the 38 win and place horses were 1st or 2nd season hurdlers
  • Look for Henderson, Nicholls, Mullins, Elliot-trained horses
  • 10 of the 13 winners were placed in the top 4 last time out
  • 6 of the 13 winners won last time out
  • 6 of the last 8 winners had run over a longer trip that season
  • 7 of the 13 winners were rated 133-139
  • 8 of the 13 winners returned at a double-figure price (10 of the last 13 were 16/1 or less)
  • 5 and 6 year-old have won 11 of last 13 runnings
  • Look for jockeys that have ridden 20+ winners
  • Willie Mullins is 4 from 20 runners in the race (won 4 of the last 11 runnings)
  • Respect any Gigginstown House Stud-owned runners (4 winners, 5 places)
  • Paul Nicholls has won the race twice in the last 9 years
  • Gordon Elliott has won 2 of the last 5 runnings

Negatives….

  • Despite being named after his father the David Pipe stable has a poor record so far (0 from 23, inc 3 favs)
  • Horses aged 8+ are 0-from 56
  • Just 1 winning fav in the 13-year history (8-11 returned in double-figures)
  • Horses in headgear are currently 1 from 71
  • Only 4 winners have previous Festival experience
  • Horses with 11st or less are currently 0-from-91

 

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day Four Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day Four Preview, Tips

We're onto Friday, Day Four, and traditionally the least fathomable of a quartet of largely inscrutable afternoons punting. But if we can unearth a winner or two we'll likely be well rewarded so let's work in that optimistic spirit...

After an unforeseen monsoon on Wednesday (it was a miserable day at the track), the going changed to heavy and much of what follows was based on an expectation of very different ground conditions. Do check whether the horse you fancy (or I've suggested) handles conditions!

1.30 Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m1f)

A dozen horses searching for Triumph triumph, the first four in the betting hailing from Ireland. Favoured is Vauban, trained by Willie Mullins to win the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. There he beat Gordon Elliott's - or, more correctly, Caldwell Construction's - Fil Dor by a relatively comfortable three lengths; but Vauban was previously second to another horse with the same connections as Fil Dor, Pied Piper. Vauban was rumoured not to be ready that day but the evidence of the form book is that Pied Piper beat him fair and square.

Pied Piper has run once since, in the Cheltenham Triumph Trial (G2) on trials day in late January, easily accounting for Moka De Vassy and six others, none of whom re-oppose. That fact implies a degree of hollowness to the win but it's hard to lay blame at the hooves of Pied Piper. He's unbeaten and on literal form reading should probably be favourite.

Fil Dor had notched a hat-trick before conceding only to Vauban last time, that trio being achieved in a novice, then a Grade 3 and then a Grade 2. Very much heading in the right direction until undone by Vauban, then, and another obvious contender.

Less obvious is the third from that Spring Juvenile, Il Etait Temps, who did all his best work at the finish and surged past the two in front of him at the jam stick. That was a first run for the Mullins yard having been acquired from France and he looks tailor made for a stern stamina test at the trip.

First of the British challenge is Porticello, whose excellent season in the care of Gary Moore has seen him win three of four, most notably the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow. He has plenty of experience and his best form is all on soft turf (has won on good to soft in Listed grade).

Porticello's sole defeat was to Knight Salute, himself unbeaten in five hurdle starts of which the last three were in Grade 2 fields. All of that quintet were on good to soft or good ground so no worries there, and one of them was at this track. The question is simply, is Knight Salute good enough, given he's unlikely to have the progression of some of his rivals after so much relative experience. He's a flagship horse for the resurgent yard of Milton Harris, and I very much hope he runs well. I feel he's entitled to be first home of the UK entries.

One of my ante post "probably gone west" vouchers is on Icare Allen, who was well beaten in the Spring Juvenile two back before getting on track, after a fashion, in a Grade 3 at Fairyhouse. He may have a little more to show yet though probably not as much more as at least one of the four atop the market.

Dan Skelton will saddle Doctor Parnassus, two from two over hurdles and a close second to the very good mare Indefatigable when last seen on the flat. This lad looks all about stamina: he's won over 2m3f already and was staying on in the soft before that. I just feel he'll not be fast enough even if he's good enough (and I doubt that, also).

The other four have limited claims on what they've achieved at this stage.

Triumph Hurdle Pace Map

Not masses of obvious early pace, with Lunar Power and perhaps Ages Of Man seeking a name check before the proverbial taps are turned on.

Triumph Hurdle Selection

The top of the market looks about right if you, like me, believe the Irish are stronger than the British. The one who has some juice still in his price potentially is Il Etait Temps, who looks an each way bet on that Spring Juvenile debut. Connections will know more this time and he'll not leave his challenge so late. Porticello has G1 form on wet ground and might hit the frame.

Suggestion: Try 11/1 Il Etait Temps each way.

*

2.10 County Hurdle (Grade 3 Handicap, 2m1f)

This is way above my punting pay grade though I did once tip and back the 50/1 winner, Silver Jaro when the County was the Friday night cap. What a day that was! Still, we can't live on former glories.

These days, it seems, you want an unexposed handily-weighted and classy animal. My shortlist, which should be treated with extreme caution, is State Man, First Street, I Like To Move It, Top Bandit, Cormier and Jesse Evans.

Few horses at this year's Festival have been as well touted and widely entered up as State Man, who lands here as the likely jolly. A five-year-old novice, he was second in France before falling on his Irish debut and then bolting up in a nothing maiden hurdle. All his form is on soft ground and that's a concern as is that jumping frailty/inexperience. I certainly believe that he's a very talented horse but at the price he's opposable.

First Street, in comparison, is relatively battle hardened after three wins from five hurdle starts, three novices and two handicaps. Most recently he was third to Glory And Fortune in the Betfair Hurdle (handicap) at Newbury, and that one ran a mighty race to be a nine length fifth in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday. Betwixt Glory And Fortune and First Street that day was I Like To Move It whose chance is also well advertised by the winner's subsequent effort. At Newbury, he just failed to close the remaining head deficit with the winner and has gone up four pounds as a result. This likely fast pace should bring the front of the race back to him sooner and he rates a definite danger.

Brian Ellison has played many a fine tune on Cormier, a veteran of 31 races, though only ten over hurdles, four of those wins. That record includes Class 2 handicap victories the last twice, one of them at Cheltenham, though his record in large fields is a concern for me.

Gordon runs Top Bandit, well named some might say, and this fellow has been progressing nicely over hurdles. After a debut third on soft at Limerick, he's rattled up a treble of novice hurdle scores. This will be his handicap debut and he's got the right combination of relative experience and a total lack of exposure to the assessor.

Meanwhile, trying to pretend he's not as good as he is has taken a different form for the Noel Meade-trained Jesse Evans. Meade saddles last year's Fred Winter bomb, Jeff Kidder, at 80/1 so he knows the way to do it. Jesse was sent off favourite for the Greatwood handicap hurdle in November (14 length ninth of 19), since which he's not been seen. His previous run over timber was when a two length fourth in the extremely valuable Galway Hurdle and before that he'd won an 18-runner handicap hurdle at Killarney. He looks a tempting price though wouldn't want it to get too wet.

Lorna Fowler trains Colonel Mustard and plenty thought he should have gone in one of the Grade 1's. He's been second to Jonbon and third to Sir Gerhard in his last two starts and that reads very well, as well as does the fact he handles all ground.

Many more can win, natch.

County Hurdle Pace Map

The charge looks set to be led by Felix Desjy and I Like To Move It principally, though there are bound to be others who want a piece of it. Likely to be rapid from the get go.

County Hurdle Pace Map

County Hurdle Pace Map

County Hurdle Selection

Devilishly difficult. Willie's certainty in the Fred Boodles was beaten on Tuesday and I don't want to be with State Man at the price, for all that he could be fantastically well handicapped. Top Bandit is not much bigger but has more concrete claims on the form book if not the rumour mill. But I'll swing with two at double figure odds in I Like To Move It and Colonel Mustard. They both have proven form, in top class handicaps and Graded conditions races respectively, and retain upside for this ultra-test.

Suggestion: Back 14/1 I Like To Move It and/or 12/1 Colonel Mustard each way with all the extra places.

*

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

This goes one of two ways, in terms of the market: it's either won by a classy well-fancied runner, or by an unconsidered rag with a street fighter's attitude. The last two winners, Monkfish and Vanillier, fit more or less in the first category; before that, we had 50/1, 33/1 twice and 16/1 within six years. Probably the way to play, in Countdown terminology, is one from the top and two from anywhere else.

The top is made up of Ginto and Hillcrest, strong and classy stayers from either side of the Irish Sea. Ginto (pronounced 'Jinto', I think) is a Gordon runner that is unbeaten in three over hurdles, taking in a maiden, a Grade 2 and the Grade 1 Lawlor's of Naas. 4 1/4 lengths is the closest a rival has got to date, in that G1, and he will likely again be front rank from the start. Whether he can see it out in this bigger field I don't know but he deserves his primary perch in the punting pecking order.

So, too, does Hillcrest, top of the domestic pops after four wins over hurdles in as many completed starts. While they've been largely achieved on wet ground, his first two were good to soft and he ought to go fine on that. Representing the Henry Daly team he'd be something of a throwback to an age before the mega yards and, as a soppy old romantic, I'll be cheering him on for that alone.

Back in the real world, Willie has the next one in the lists, Minella Cocooner who, rather marvellously, got the better of Minella Crooner last time. That was a good race at the DRF but it was over a shorter trip and he'd not have beaten the other Minella at this distance that day. He's lightly raced and is another who races very prominently.

Bardenstown Lad has lots of top of the ground form, and a similar profile to last year's third, Streets Of Doyen, for the same connections. He won easily, and as expected, at Musselburgh last month and looks like he'll stay well. He, too, is a front rank racer.

Willie's The Nice Guy steps up in both trip and grade after three wins, including a romp in a 22-runner maiden hurdle. That is his sole spin over timber, though, so his inexperience has to be a reservation.

From a personal perspective, I'd love Stag Horn to win. Along with Ron Huggins and Pete Williams, I own a horse called World Of Dreams, who was second to Stag Horn on that one's hurdling debut, giving him seven pounds and coming out best at the weights. Our lad is unfortunately sidelined just now but we're cheerleading for the Stag, who has elevated his claims for the 'spuds race' with a second hurdle win, in Grade 2 at Warwick. His previous career as a flat horse earned him a triple-digit rating, which confirms the class and substance of his profile.

At the big-priced bomb end of considerations is a horse like Idas Boy. He's run to a good but not great level in three mile novices behind the likes of Gerri Colombe, and if they 'go a million' placing a later premium on extreme stamina, he's the type to plod on into the picture. Of course, he might not be even nearly good enough: such is life.

And a word for Dermot Weld and his entry, Falcon Eight. Like Stag Horn, he's a classy flat horse - he won the Chester Cup off top weight last May - but, unlike Stag Horn, his price is still quite fat. Never in it on hurdle debut over two and a half miles (yielding to soft), he was able to get to the front eventually in a 2m7f maiden at Thurles last month on yielding ground. His best form is on good to soft or yielding and he looks the type to keep running. Indeed, his profile is quite similar to Stag Horn's where his price is 2.5x that one's.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

Stag Horn might take them along, though there are plenty of others who want to be close to the lead if not on it.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Selection

Like all of Friday's races, this is trappy. I do like Ginto but not his odds, likewise Hillcrest. I'm after a bit more latitude for making a mistake and so will tilt at a windmill in the form of Idas Boy, who might just appreciate an out and out slog, and Falcon Eight, whose classy flat form may have been a bit under-rated.

Suggestion: Try a couple of big-priced guesses in the form of 25/1 Falcon Eight and 50/1 Idas Boy each way, extra places obvs.

*

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

This year's Gold Cup is an interesting race though not a vintage one, on looks at least. I covered it in some detail in my Gold Cup preview here, and don't have much to add now the final preparations have been completed. Written on 11th January I felt Minella Indo was big enough to bet at 8/1 (now 5/1) and Chantry House was worthy of a small dabble at 16's (still 16's).

I'm not inclined to add anything much to those opinions, the reasons for which are to be found at the above link if you're minded. One horse who does need marking up, however, is Royale Pagaille, for whom the Wednesday rain moves him from unlikely to quite possible. He's been backed accordingly but remains a double figure price at time of writing.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Pace Map

Not clear where the pace will come from if not from Santini. And if from Santini, it may not be that fast early.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Selection

A competitive but not outstanding renewal of the Gold Cup, and one in which I respect Galvin's chance greatly but would rather bet Minella Indo at similar prices. Trying to guess on a longer priced horse led me to Chantry House, whose winning habit is more admirable than it often looks and whose clunk in the King George needs overlooking to rate his chance here. Trainer Nicky Henderson is having a very good week.

Suggestion: Back Minella Indo to win at 5/1 or maybe Chantry House each way at 16/1 if you're feeling fearless/reckless enough. Don't forget 16/1 Royale Pagaille loves it wet.

*

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

This is a race for people who know about point to point and hunter chase form, and I am not among their number. So there will be better places to go for an insight than what follows. Nevertheless, and caveats firmly in situ, here goes...

Second for the past two years, the chance of Billaway is obvious. Trained by Willie Mullins (really?), he's been in similar form this term and has a similar chance. Sent off at evens and 2/1 in that pair of silvers, he's a slightly bigger price this time but not enough to get me interested.

Dangers abound, perhaps most notably Winged Leader, who beat Billaway on his most recent start. With his best form on a good or yielding surface, as long as it's not too soft this eight-year-old probably holds strong claims.

David Maxwell rides Bob And Co, who unseated when still in with every chance last year. There he was ridden by Sean Bowen in the absence of amateur riders but, reunited with his regular rider, he's a chance of hitting the board, though recent second places when a short priced favourite temper enthusiasm for the win a touch.

I'm sure there's a reason he's this price and I'm a layman as I've said when it comes to this discipline, but Cousin Pascal looks big to me. He won the Aintree Hunters' Chase last year and beat Bob And Co last time - that one less than half his price - he also bolted up, granted in maiden hunter company, over further than three miles from a big field in very wet ground. This set up looks spot on and his sole defeat in recent times was on good ground which may not have suited.

I probably haven't mentioned the lively outsider that the hunt fans are all over, so apologies for that.

Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase  Pace Map

Pinch of salt pace map because we don't have point form so these are Rules races only.

Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase Selection

I obviously don't know, so feel free to skip this next bit. But I've had a bit of Cousin Pascal each way at 16/1, and the other half of my stake each way four places at 14/1. Winged Leader should go well as a win play.

Suggestion: Back 5/1 Winged Leader to win and/or 14/1 Cousin Pascal each way with four or more places.

*

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

The least interesting race of the meeting for me. I accept that, in the grand scheme of the breed and all, there may be a place for it; but I'm unexcited by the prospect. Anyway...

Top rated is Elimay, second in last year's inaugural running to stable mate Colreevy. She's since won at Fairyhouse and Naas but, in between times, has been beaten by both Zambella and Mount Ida who lock horns again this time. Elimay handles all types of underfoot and is commendably consistent, but she's very short against a series of credible rivals.

Chief among them may be Mount Ida, winner of the Kim Muir last season, and 1-1 versus Elimay since. She was apparently a little wrong physically when taking the Kim Muir, hence the erratic looking jumping at times and the tailed off early run style. That remains a niggle when considering this six-furlong shorter trip but she's a very good mare.

Zambella handles deep ground and two and a half miles is her range. She has a comprehensive score against Elimay in last season's Houghton Mares' Chase (2m4f, soft, exhibit A) and could be the value.

A mare who has had a few problems since winning the 2020 Dawn Run is Concertista. When she's good, she's very good, though, and her second to Black Tears in last year's Mares' Hurdle would be about enough to win here if she could reproduce it. She's a novice taking on seasoned chasers and that tempers enthusiasm.

Course specialist Vienna Court has been having a great season, winning a couple of handicaps here, the second of which was against the boys. Back in mares only company last time, she was picked off by Pink Legend on the flatter pastures of Huntingdon. It is likely Vienna needed a slightly greater stamina test, which she'll get, but I'm not convinced she's good enough. Pink Legend has since fallen in a race won by Zambella but was struggling at the time.

Scarlet And Dove has won on heavy and was not far behind Mount Ida two back before pulling up in the Thyestes Chase. Her overall profile is patchy though she does have some occasionally solid form in defeat.

Mares' Chase Pace Map

Zambella will be near the front, along probably with Elimay. Should be an even gallop, no more than that.

Mares' Chase Selection

Mount Ida and Elimay look very likely to be on the premises but the one that stands out at the current odds is Zambella. This race could have been framed for her and, though she hasn't quite the class of the first named pair, that optimal setup could see her competitive. She's a definitely each way bet with the firm paying four places.

Suggestion: Back Zambella each way with extra places if you can find them.

*

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

The getting out stakes is for masochists! Conditional riders and 26 of them aboard largely unexposed and/or jobbed up horses over two and a half miles.

Langer Dan is trained in Britain by a Dan, Skelton, and was second in the Martin Pipe last year to Galopin Des Champs. Only two pounds higher now, having been nudged up five for the Martin Pipe silver then straight back down three for a limp effort at Taunton on his only intervening run has been widely observed as generous handicapping. Be that as it may, the missed point may be that this race has the potential for a lurker of the quality of a Galopin Des Champs. Or a Killultagh Vic, or a Don Poli, or a Sir Des Champs (strong trend for winners to have the suffix 'Des Champs'!)

So, if Langer Dan is not a blot, then who are the likeliest lurkers? Each of those mentioned was sent of 12/1 or shorter so I'm not going deep into the bowels of the form book.

Hollow Games heads the chasing pack, market wise, and is trained by former Martin Pipe conditional, Gordon Elliott, as are five others in this field. He was third in a brace of Grade 1's in his most recent starts and has form on deep ground. Of his others, Chemical Energy has won a maiden and a novice hurdle either side of beating all bar My Mate Mozzie in a Grade 3; he's quietly progressive. Likewise, The Goffer has more to give after a Grade 3 score last time at Thurles (soft). In fact, similar comments apply to all of Gordon's and I'm not even sure they're confident of how the hierarchy shakes down.

Willie Mullins saddles only two, so he's either happy he'll have won the trainers' title before 5pm on Friday or he quietly fancies one or both. They are Adamantly Chosen, winner of a big field bumper and a big field maiden hurdle, and second twice in between, including to the decent Gringo d'Aubrelle; and Five O'Clock, not seen since being hampered before staying on into a four length seventh in this race two years ago. Now four pounds better in, we know Mullins can get one ready off a layoff and this fella is a fan of the mud.

I can't resist a mention for Freedom To Dream, who has been second in a G2 and fourth in a G1 in most recent racecourse visits. He seems to handle all ground conditions and his trainer Peter Fahey knows the job (Royal Kahala, Belfast Banter, Suprise Package at Sandown, etc).

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Pace Map

Expect this to be fiercely contested from the outset, with what looks like one each of Willie's and Gordon's vying early. If it's not them it will be some others in a race that will take some getting.

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Selection

There's a good chance something at a single figure price will win this, perhaps even Langer Dan. But I'll have very small guesses on Five O'Clock and Freedom To Dream with the extra places.

Suggestion: Have a punt each way on 16/1 Five O'Clock and 25/1 Freedom To Dream with extra places aforethought.

*

The rain changed everything on Wednesday and hopefully you were able to pivot your punting accordingly. Regardless of wins or losses accrued in the toughest betting week of the year, the sport generally comes out in front and, with a following wind, will do again after the Gold Cup.

Be lucky.

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day 3 Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day 3 Preview, Tips

And so to the second half. No matter how up or down your punting yoyo has been through Tuesday and Wednesday, we are only at halfway and there are fourteen further fiendish sudokus still to unravel.

After an unforeseen monsoon on Wednesday (it was a miserable day at the track), the going changed to heavy and much of what follows was based on an expectation of very different ground conditions. Do check whether the horse you fancy (or I've suggested) handles conditions!

1.30 Turners Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4f)

A small field as has been the feature of many novice Grade 1's this week so far, but this uber-exclusive four-runner party is going to get people wailing and gnashing their teeth.

Still, never mind the width, feel the quality.

Here, in what looks a match to all intents and purposes, is the gallant galloper Galopin Des Champs up against the barrelling Bob Olinger. The tale of the tape shows that both have a Festival hurdle gold to their names, and both have two easy chase verdicts under their belts, too.

Bob Olinger first. He waltzed home in last year's Ballymore, a race which comprised just seven runners; and has similarly come clear of his fields in a beginners' and a Grade 3 chase. There were some good horses well beaten off in those fencing assignments but nothing remotely of the calibre of Galopin Des Champs.

Naturally enough, similar comments apply to Galopin, whose Festival win was in the Martin Pipe, a 22-runner rush that bears no resemblance to the matter at hand this time. In between, he's looked absolutely electric in a couple of Leopardstown chases, first when strolling 22 lengths clear of his closest pursuer in a beginners' chase and most recently when hacking up in a Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Both Bob and Galopin would prefer to take a lead but neither is averse to making the running if necessary. And both can be expected to stride on from what they've displayed so far in this sphere.

The other two - El Barra and Busselton - don't really count for win purposes though a few wily judges have El Barra each way with three places ante post. Good luck keeping that account open!

Turners Novices' Chase Pace Map

This could be tactical between the big two, and could end up with a sprint to the line from a couple of fences out. I'd not be at all confident about that, however.

Turners Novices' Chase Selection

There is not much in the way of betting angles in this year's Turners, it appearing a straight shootout between the top two in the market. I favour Galopin Des Champs but not by a lot.

Suggestion: Sit this one out from a betting perspective and enjoy what will hopefully be a right dingdong between two very high class horses.

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2.10 Pertemps Final (Grade 3 handicap, 3m)

Another contest where I'm cutting to the chase and using historical profiles to make that incision. My shortlist is Winter Fog, Alaphilippe, Tullybeg and Born Patriot.

Winter Fog hails from the shrewd, very shrewd, yard of Emmett Mullins. A second season hurdler who was a big price when breaking his maiden at the third time of asking for former trainer Daniel Murphy and, after a single further run for Murphy, transferred to Emmett Mullins. For his new conditioner, he was a big eyecatcher in the Leopardstown qualifier, where he finished second having been backed from 22/1 into 8/1. He showed plenty there, and was clearly expected to be involved, but that cost him a ten pound rise in the weights.

In fact, he kind of needed that sort of elevation to guarantee a berth, as his prior mark of 128 would not have got a run. He's unexposed, represents smart connections, has shown he can handle a big field and looks a big player.

Alaphilippe has, like Winter Fog, had just the one run this season, in the Warwick qualifier; and, despite being sent off short enough at 7/2 he was a no show in fifth, eight lengths behind the winner. The first six in the qualifiers are eligible to race here so that was a job well done by connections. Looking back to last season and, as a novice, Alaphilippe - trained by Fergal O'Brien - was good enough to be fifth in the Albert Bartlett with a BHA rating at that time of 143. That has declined to 138 now and this is the day for the horse named after a cyclist to show what he has if he can.

All Gordon Elliott Festival handicap entries command respect and only his third choice according to current betting is Tullybeg. That may be because the seven-year-old Sholokhov gelding has rather shown his hand with a couple of wins on good ground in the autumn. He then ran fifth in the Cheltenham qualifier and hasn't raced since. That could be a sign that the trainer was happy that the job of qualifying was done allowing sole focus on preparing for the big day. So many handlers leaving something to work on - doesn't make it easy, does it?

Peter Fahey runs Born Patriot, the trainer bidding to win a Festival handicap for the second season running after Belfast Banter claimed the County Hurdle a year ago. This fellow has a similar profile: also a six-year-old and lightly raced in handicap company, he was second in the Cheltenham qualifier before a quiet effort in a Sandown handicap in early February. That last run might have been to ensure the British handicapper was happy with Born Patriot's rating and didn't do anything rash in terms of extra poundage. And it might not, of course. He looks interesting at a price.

And, though the trends say he's too old, it is impossible to ignore Sire Du Berlais. Not just because he is the current favourite for this race but also because he has an awesome Fez record: he's attended the last four Festivals, something not many of us can claim, and has finished fourth in the 2018 Martin Pipe, first in this race in 2019 and 2020, and second in the Grade 1 Stayers' Hurdle last season. Naturally, a record like that brings plenty of ballast for his saddle but it's earned by the classiest horse in the line up. He shouldered top weight of 11-12 to victory two years ago and will bid to do the same again now.

In the same colours is Dame De Compagnie, whose case is slightly less easily made. She was sixth, beaten 96 lengths, in the Wincanton qualifier - remember sixth is the minimum placing to get a run here - and had endured an abortive chase campaign. But go back a little further, to March 2020, and you'll note that DdC won a handicap hurdle at the Festival when easily accounting for Black Tears et al in the Coral Cup off a mark of 140. She's off 139 this time and, though time waits for no man, woman, gelding or mare, nine is certainly not too old for another hoorah.

So many more with a chance.

Pertemps Final Pace Map

Potentially the thrill of a lifetime for Victoria Malzard as her mount, Kansas City Chief, looks most likely to lead this big field. She'll be chaperoned, doubtless, by a few, including potentially Dallas Des Pictons and Remastered. I'm expecting a relatively even gallop.

Pertemps Final Pace Map

Pertemps Final Pace Map

Pertemps Final Selection

This is very tough. The 'obvious' answer is Sire Du Berlais and he looks sure to give a run for your money but he's no sort of a price. Likewise, Winter Fog; but the one with some flesh on its odds still is Born Patriot and there are lots of extra places being paid here.

Suggestion: Try 22/1 Born Patriot each way, and/or the shorties Sire Du Berlais and/or Winter Fog at bigger than 5/1 win only

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

Nine go in the intermediate Grade 1 chase, the Ryanair, and they are headed by last year's winner and this year's strong favourite, Allaho.

Now eight, Allaho has won four of his last five races, the only horse to lower his colours being an on song Chacun Pour Soi over an inadequate two mile trip at last year's Punchestown Festival. At this sort of range and on this sort of going, he looks very strong as his price implies. So where are the credible dangers? Good question. The honest answer is that there may not be any, though I need to show my working out.

Conflated was a shock winner of the Irish Gold Cup over three miles at Leopardstown last month and runs here rather than the Gold Cup, which means the owner got his way rather than the trainer. I tend to agree with Michael O'Leary in that this greater relative speed test is probably more up Conflated's street than the stamina required for the Blue Riband, but can see Gordon Elliott's "there's only one Gold Cup" point, too.

Conflated was a good but not top class hurdler and has been chasing for two seasons now, but had shown nothing prior to that last day to suggest he was of this calibre. Was it a flash in the pan? Can he beat Allaho even if he's able to repeat that level? I'm not sure, but his price suggests he can.

Shan Blue was a legitimate Grade 1 novice performer last season but his sole start this term was when falling and injuring himself in the Charlie Hall with the race in the bag. 138 days have passed, it always being the plan to bring him back for a spring campaign if he recuperated in time. Seemingly he has, but this is a big ask off that preparation.

The horse to get closest to Allaho over this distance in recent seasons is Janidil. A Grade 1 winner last April at Fairyhouse, he was only two lengths behind the favourite here in the John Durkan in December. He appeared not to get home over three miles at Leopardstown twice since and this drop back in trip is a plus. Fair place chance.

Second season chaser Eldorado Allen has some very good runs to his name: as well as five wins, three at Grade 2 level, he's been the nearest at the finish to Shishkin twice, albeit at a respectful distance. A strong stayer at 2m5f, as his 2m7f Denman Chase verdict last time confirms, he looks mildly progressive and has a rating to get close to the frame. It is hard to see him challenging the jolly unless that one has a shocker, though.

Ten-year-old Melon has been a stalwart in the Graded races at the Cheltenham Festival, finishing second to Labaik in the Supreme (no, I didn't back the winner), second to Buveur d'Air in the 2018 Champion Hurdle, second to Espoir d'Allen in the 2019 Champion Hurdle and, you guessed it, second to Samcro in the 2020 Marsh/Turners. Last year in this, however, the seconditis was cured, Melon instead pulling up. He did win a Grade 2 in heavy ground last time out but the likelihood is his best is in the past. Lovely old stick, definitely deserved to have won one along the way.

The rest are even bigger prices. I'm not a fan of Mister Fisher, another who pulled up in an attritional renewal behind Allaho last season; nor especially of Saint Calvados who hasn't won since 2019. He was second in this in 2020 and ran a good race in the King George before running a bad race in the Ascot Chase. His 'A' game could threaten for minor podium honours. Fanion d'Estruval was fifth in this last year and has improved his rating a few pounds since, without hinting that he might be in the shake up now.

Ryanair Chase Pace Map

Allaho normally leads and I expect him to do that here, controlling the pace. Those closest to mount a challenge may be Conflated and Shan Blue while Janidil and Saint Calvados will more likely turn up fashionably late.

Ryanair Chase Selection

Allaho looks to have very sound prospects of a follow up, something which bookmakers consider more likely than not. I tend to agree. But after that they and I differ in terms of the next best: I think Janidil, two lengths behind Allaho in December, has a good chance to again get close and he can be backed either in forecasts or without the favourite.

Suggestion: Back Janidil each way without the favourite at 6/1.

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3.30 Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)

The Stayers' Hurdle is a Grade 1 run over three miles. That much is known. Thereafter it gets trickier to be confident about anything. Every horse in the field has a question to answer, most of them a series of questions. Which makes wagering difficult. It's a race to sit out from that perspective in truth but let's push on, just in case.

The reigning champion is Flooring Porter, who has done less wrong than many of his rivals since last year's Festival. He did pull up next time, at Punchestown's Festival, and fell when likely to win at Navan; and most recently he was two lengths behind Klassical Dream in the G1 Christmas Hurdle. And yes, that is still doing less wrong than most of these!

Klassical Dream looked relatively robust before running lamentably in the Galmoy Hurdle last time. Rumours are that Willie Mullins, his trainer, ran only to support his local track etc etc. If that's true, and the real Klassical Dream shows up, he's the one to beat, no argument. He'd previously beaten Flooring Porter as we know, and before that had dotted up in the Punchestown Stayers' Hurdle, another Grade 1. And those are his only three races at this trip. Assuming the Galmoy is a chuck out, which we're invited to believe, KD is the one to beat.

Best of the British might be Thyme Hill, who has been around quite a while now. He's mixed wins against the likes of Paisley Park and Roksana with defeats to the likes of Champ and, erm, Paisley Park. I quite like him as a horse but I don't really want to bet him.

So what of Champ? Intended for the Gold Cup even after beating Thyme Hill in the Long Walk Hurdle, he was diverted here even after losing to Paisley Park in the Cleeve Hurdle. Ultimately he looks to be somewhat 'of no fixed abode' in terms of appropriate Festival targets having been a less than fluent chaser even when winning the RSA Chase two years ago. He's another who could win, but probably won't.

Paisley Park is fifth favourite but in my book four of these could be co-second favourites behind Klassical Dream. He's been a fantastic story horse for his blind since birth owner, Andrew Gemmell, and it would be amazing if he could roll back the years. Since his emotional win on that unforgettable Thursday three years ago, he's been third mostly and seemingly regressive; that was before bashing Champ and 2020 Stayers' winner Lisnagar Oscar after completely blowing the start. He's just got too many negatives to be a bet, but he'll be a hugely popular winner if that can happen.

The mare Royal Kahala gets seven pounds from the boys and comes here on a hat-trick, better winning form than most. But the wins were in minor Graded races for all that the most recent was that Galmoy where she turned away Klassical Dream among others. That was her first try at three miles so she's unbeaten at the trip and as a winner of five of her ten career starts she has fewer knocks than most of her rivals.

The others are 40/1+ and deserve to be, even though Lisnagar Oscar is a former winner. That Championship score is, unbelievably, the only win in his last 17 races!

Stayers' Hurdle Pace Map

Should be an even gallop with any of three (Flooring Porter, Klassical Dream, Lisnagar Oscar) expected to be front rank. Klassical Dream is perhaps most likely.

Stayers' Hurdle Selection

Not a very attractive betting heat, though it could be quite the spectacle. If you insist on having a win bet, Klassical Dream requires only the forgiveness of a below par run last time; prior to that he was a proper Grade 1 stayer. At bigger prices, KD's vanquisher in the Galmoy, Royal Kahala, has been a trifle overlooked, I feel.

Suggestion: Small bet on 4/1 Klassical Dream perhaps, or 9/1 Royal Kahala each way.

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

Another handicap, another lunge for the trends in a half-cooked bid to find one that at least runs creditably. Thanks again to Josh Wright for doing the dirty work on racingtoprofit.co.uk, where I learned the following:

14/14 were at least 5lb higher than for their last win (were not: 0/115, 12p)
14/14 had 0-4 runs at track previously (5+ : 0/88, 18p)
14/14 had 0-3 runs in G3s (4+ : 0/81, 10p)
14/14 had 0-1 career wins over further (2+ : 0/54, 11p)
13/14 top 2 at least once last three starts (were not: 1/113, 14p)
13/14 had placed at least once last three starts (had not: 1/78, 8p)

That doesn't help especially and this is a very poor race for me historically. As such I'll spare you a deep dive in favour of a couple I think might be interesting. Simply The Betts, Celebre d'Allen, Imperial Alcazar, and Pistol Whipped all show up well and I think I'll split one point win only between them.

Festival Plate Pace Map

There's likely to be a good pace on early though front runners have done OK even in big fields at this trip. Wishing And Hoping will be doing just that about tactics, though he'll not be left alone in front.

Festival Plate Selection

This is too difficult for me. I'm having small interests on Simply The Betts, Celebre d'Allen, Imperial Alcazar, and Pistol Whipped. But I mean small! If one of them wins, I'll have been lucky, not good.

Suggestion: Good luck.

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

Another race where I don't have any special interest or awareness. Actually, I do have one view. I think Brandy Love should be a bigger price and, related, Dinoblue should be a shorter price.

Expanding a little on that, both are trained by Willie Mullins and, while Brandy Love has been beaten twice in four starts, Dinoblue was a striking winner - by 15 lengths - of her maiden. After that, Willie decided he'd seen enough and has prepared her for this since. He knows what he has and I suspect we're soon to find out, too. Meanwhile Brandy Love was beaten in a Grade 3, which is not an ideal prep for a Grade 2, for all that it's a higher level of form than achieved hitherto by Dinoblue.

Gordon Elliott saddles Party Central, winner at only 7/4 of a 15-runner Grade B handicap hurdle last time. She has experience in her corner and has only been beaten when the ground was wet wet wet. Here it will be dry dry dry. Grangee is another spoke in Willie's wheel, highly tried behind Mighty Potter et al in a Grade 1 at Christmas before falling when just starting to look interested in a mares' Grade 3 last time. She has a fair level of form but not much upside.

Similar comments apply to Statuaire, another Willie wunner. She won a muddling Royal Bond (Grade 1, Impervious back in fifth)  but was then thumped in similarly lofty company at the DRF. Still, this is a lot easier and it might be that she didn't appreciate the soft ground last time. After three wins, and one top class clunk, she might be a bit of value at around 20/1.

Love Envoi is very game and has made hay in an unbeaten string of five, one bumper and four hurdles, most recently on heavy in the Grade 2 Jane Seymour at Sandown. She's progressive but has been climbing the ranks in hock deep mud, a very different terrain from that which she'll encounter here. It would clearly not be a surprise if she won again but I will let her beat me if she can.

I'm not especially excited about the rest, though Nurse Susan looked very good at Leicester before finding Love Envoi better than her in the mud at Lingfield.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

Hard to be conclusive though it does look as though Brandy Love will try to make all, perhaps assisted or harried by Tweed Skirt. The pace is expected to find plenty out.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Selection

I don't normally bet in this race but I get the impression that Dinoblue might be pretty good. As such, I've had a small play at 11/4 which I think is reasonable for an interest. Statuaire can be forgiven her defeat last time and might be a touch of each way value if you can get loads of extra places.

Suggestion: Dinoblue could be special and I've bought a ticket to find out. Statuaire is a Grade 1 winner and that entitles her to each way respect at 20/1 with five places.

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

Can trends be our friend? I very much hope so.

14/14 had 2-6 runs this season (did not: 0/65, 10p)
14/14 had 0-4 runs in Class 2's (5+ ; 0/84, 12p)
13/14 aged 7-9 (6: 0/16,2p, 10+ : 1/80, 12p)
13/14 sent off 16/1 or shorter SP (bigger: 1/187, 14p)
13/14 within 8lb of top rated (9lb or lower: 1/123, 12p)
13/14 carried 11-4 or more (exc jockey claims) (11-3< : 1/129, 12p)
13/14 had 0-2 chase wins (3+ : 1/129, 15p)
13/14 ran in races for 5yo+ and 6yo+ LTO: (did not: 1/93, 10p)
12/14 official rating 137+ (136< : 2/175, 18p)
12/14 had 0-7 runs in handicap chases (8+ : 2/132, 17p)
11/14 had run at G1 or G2 level in careers (had not: 3/132, 15p)

The shortlist includes both of the Irish plots, Frontal Assault and School Boy Hours. The former has top weight as a result of his strong novice chase form and tries a handicap chase for the first time. He was only 8th of 22 in the Martin Pipe behind Galopin Des Champs last season as a 16/1 chance and rates a good bit shorter here at a trip which ought to suit better than last season's Festival tilt. He represents the Gordon Elliott (and alter ego, Denise Foster) team who have won this the last two years, and three times in the last six.

School Boy Hours won a valuable handicap chase at Leopardstown last time which, conventional wisdom has it, is not the way to get the right mark to score at Chelto. But last day winners can double up in the Kim Muir, as Ballabriggs, The Bushkeeper, Honey Mount and Celtic Giant prove. The only one of those to do it since 2002 was Ballabriggs and that was in 2010, so it's not a positive for all that nor is it the home time bell to his chance.

Nicky Henderson is having a great meeting and one who fits the impossible to find historical profile is Janika, who has done the square root of foxtrot oscar in terms of advancing his case this campaign. A career record of 1 from 15 in Britain is hardly exciting but this horse was rated 166 in 2019/20 when he won a Grade 2 and ran second in a Grade 1; and he was fifth of 26 in the Coral Cup last season off a nothing prep. It's a Grand Canyon-esque leap of faith to back him on his current form but still, why not?

More obvious from the Hendo barn is Mister Coffey, on whom the galloping dentist, Sam Waley-Cohen, takes the ride. A non-winner of three this season, he's peppered the target without affecting his handicap mark one scintilla. A novice, he was last seen chasing home L'Homme Presse in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown. That was two and a half miles, this is three and a quarter, and the obvious stamina question remains unanswered. He's not really bred to go this far but it would only need to bring out a smidge of improvement for him to be a player: he'll travel easily at this more leisurely meter and then we'll see.

Henry de Bromhead saddles Ain't That A Shame, second to Galopin Des Champs and third to Stattler this season, granted at a daylight distance. Still, this is no Grade 1 and those are top class staying novices, so he can be expected to play a part if his stamina lasts out over a quarter mile further than he's raced before.

One proven at the trip is Omar Maretti, who has been progressive and looked better the further the race distance. Jockey Dale Peters may be a new name to some - he was pretty much to me - but he's won on four of his nine Rules rides this season, and on eight of 29 (28% strike rate) all told, so can be trusted in this context. Omar is ascendant from a lower base than some classier rivals but he brings proven stamina, a winning attitude, and is a square price. Interesting.

And no consideration of a Festival amateur riders' race is complete without a review of the mount of the professional's professional amateur, Mr Jamie 'JJ Codd-father' Codd. He's up top on Smoking Gun, whose Porterstown Chase win in November showed he both stays and handles quicker ground. He's a bit more exposed than your average Elliott handicap runner these days but his chance is clear enough.

Kim Muir Pace Map

It's hard to be confident on how things will go, with so many amateurs (for all that they're the best, most experienced in their peer group). Mindsmadeup is a perennial forward goer and he may be joined by any/all of Almazhar Garde, Red Infantry and Fakir d'Alene. Likely to be run at a testing lick.

Kim Muir Pace Map

Kim Muir Pace Map

Kim Muir Selection

Tricky. Obviously. I think Frontal Assault has to be on the shortlist though he's a dreadful price. Smoking Gun is hardly a sexy price either, though has a strong claim and both Omar Maretti and Mister Coffey are solid home team players.

Suggestion: Back a couple for small change with loads of places. Maybe Omar Maretti will continue his progress for the Alex Hales yard.

*

It's a very tough card is Thursday's, even if you've found the previous two days challenging, but every race has a winner and perhaps we'll land butter side up somewhere through the afternoon.

Good luck!

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Day two, Wednesday, takes us from the end of the first quarter to halfway and, en route, we will savour four Grade 1's, a circuitous Cross Country jaunt, and a National Hunt race without any obstacles: all the fun of the fair. Matters commence at half past one with the...

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

There were only seven runners in last year's Ballymore (Neptune) and this year there are nine. Not great, but better at least.

It's six years and a dozen runners since Willie Mullins last clapped his germans on the Neptune pot, that 2016 triumph recorded by the subsequently quirky Yorkhill. Two years before Yorkhill came the machine, Faugheen, and then it was back as far as 2008/9 for Mullins' other two Neptune winners, Mikael d'Haguenet and Fiveforthree. The long and short of it is that Willie has trained four winners of this race but from 28 runners, 18 of which were sent off single figure prices. More positively, three of the six horses he saddled at odds of 3/1 or shorter won; and Sir Gerhard is by far the shortest priced runner he's had in the Ballymore, likely to be sent away as an odds-on chance.

Sir G's Rules career to date has comprised six races and five wins, the defeat being when only third in the Punchestown bumper behind Kilcruit. In two hurdles efforts thus far he was the easy winner of first a maiden hurdle (runner up is two from two since, including in a Grade 3 on Sunday) and then a Grade 1 novice hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival. On that latter occasion, he was six lengths too good for Three Stripe Life, who renews rivalry. Critics point to Sir Gerhard's less than perfect jumping while supporters counter that the longer trip will enable him to hurdle more fluently and, in any case, didn't he win his Grade 1 easily despite that imperfect technique? Sir Gerhard has to prove his stamina under Rules but he did win a three mile point to point so it is more than fair to assume he'll see the trip out.

Three Stripe Life has no such proof of stamina though is bred stoutly enough to feel he'll get home; what is more of a reservation is that he's been beaten by Sir G twice and there is no obvious reason why that would change in round three.

Henry de Bromhead has been at least the third best trainer at the Cheltenham Festival in recent seasons and he is represented here by Journey With Me, unbeaten in a point, a bumper and two novice hurdles. The six-year-old son of Mahler was impressive in beating Minella Crooner and Kilcruit, both serious Grade 1 horses, in a very hot maiden before looking a touch laboured when following up under the penalty. This will be the quickest turf he's raced on, which is an unknown, and also is a step up in grade - at least nominally, because his maiden was peppered with G1 animals - but he too is a threat to Sir Gerhard.

Unquestionably the pick of the British challenge is Stage Star, trained by Paul Nicholls and owned by Owners Group's fractional ownership club. His is another high class form profile, most notably his latest effort when comfortably collecting in the Grade 1 Challow at Newbury. That form has yet to be fully tested, though third placed Gringo d'Aubrelle, beaten ten lengths by Stage Star, was 19 lengths behind Dysart Dynamo next time. Stage Star is tractable with regards ground and run style, the question being simply, is he good enough? I'm not sure, but he certainly deserves a crack and what a craic it will be for his enthusiastic owners. [Those who crab fractional ownership don't really get it, do they? It clearly works for thousands of racing fans, and if the crabs are not in that number, so what? *puts soap box away*]

Nicky Henderson runs I Am Maximus, whose form when winning a warm Newbury novice and running close to Hillcrest over this course and distance is solid but slightly below spectacular. He did beat My Drogo in a bumper here at the start of last season so clearly relishes this track. He'd be a shock winner but could push for the podium.

Whatdeawant's form behind Ginto in the Grade 1 Lawlor's of Naas last time leaves him with something to find, but he travelled very powerfully for a long way there before not quite getting home in the testing ground. It's possible that this sounder surface can help him finish off better but he still has plenty to find with the best of these.

The remaining trio are all maiden hurdlers - Scarface, Haxo and Hemlock - and look highly tried.

Ballymore Pace Map

Plenty of forward goers in the field though most are versatile enough to rein back as needed. Haxo and Journey With Me, and possibly even Sir Gerhard, are the likeliest for the lead and a sensible tempo is expected.

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Selection

On the face of it this is Sir Gerhard's to lose. He is the Champion Bumper winner, and he has been impressive in his two hurdle starts in spite of some less than electric leaping at Leopardstown. But he's terribly short and there is at least one credible threat in the form of Journey With Me, whose form may look better or worse after Kilcruit has finished his Supreme challenge 24 hours prior. He has to prove he handles quicker turf but he's an each way price and that'll do for me.

Suggestion: Back Journey With Me each way at 13/2 or bigger.

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

Widely remembered as the RSA Chase, and officially as the Broadway Novices' Chase, the Brown Advisory is the Grade 1 staying novice chase at the Festival. It has, however, lost a touch of its draw in recent years with the reduction in distance of the National Hunt Chase and the emergence of the Turners/Marsh/Golden Miller at an intermediate range.

This season, we might have expected Stattler from the NH Chase and either or both of Galopin Des Champs and Bob Olinger from the Turners to tackle this contest but all three of those Irish runners chose alternative paths. Such is the way of things now.

As it happens, the Brown Advisory looms as a strong chance for the home team with the first three in the betting being UK-trained. They are headed by Kauto Star/Feltham winner, Bravemansgame, who has since followed up off a big weight in a small field Newbury handicap. It is a well worn statistic that no Kauto Star winner has followed up in this from, I think, 22 to have attempted it. That's a withering trend and attests to the stark difference between the two challenges. It should be noted that Coneygree won the Gold Cup after winning the Kauto Star, which was a remarkable double from a freakishly talented novice.

What is more notable still, perhaps, is that five beaten horses from that Kempton Christmas contest have won the RSA/Brown Advisory. They include the likes of Bobs Worth, and that brings in Ahoy Senor. The Lucinda Russell-trained novice was seven lengths too good for Bravemansgame in the G1 Sefton at last year's Aintree Festival, but was beaten by a similar margin at Kempton (soft). His best form is on top of the ground and if his jumping stands the test - a comment that applies to a lesser or greater degree to all of them - he may reverse form with the Paul Nicholls runner.

There are a few contenders for the early lead, Ahoy Senor principle among them, but also L'Homme Presse and Threeunderthrufive potentially. The first named has the tactical speed as a result of being campaigned over shorter trips, including when taking the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown. That is usually a precursor for a tilt at the Golden Miller but perhaps the stern opposition there has encouraged connections to take the scenic route. Regardless, L'HP's unbeaten quartet of chases to date have seen him largely unflustered to record double digit margins in the most recent three including a bloodless verdict over The Glancing Queen at Cheltenham.

The first of the Irish contingent in the markets is Capodanno, who was second to Bob Olinger before unseating behind Galopin Des Champs in his last two runs; unsurprisingly, he swerves a rematch with that duo and instead takes on a different cohort entirely. He did have Gaillard Du Mesnil 27 lengths back in the Bob O race and surely has the measure of that one. A 140-odd rated hurdler, we probably have yet to see his top performance.

Threeunderthrufive is a win machine as demonstrated by his nine 1's from twelve starts. He's four from five over fences including a track score and, though only sixth in last year's Albert Bartlett, is another expected to make a bold bid from the front. He's won Grade 2's in that manner the last twice, and has led in all of his five chase runs.

One we've not seen a lot of is Ronnie Bartlett's Dusart, trained by Nicky Henderson. With just four runs to his name, three of them wins, his best effort was likely in defeat when a close up third to Belfast Banter in the Grade 1 Top Novices' Hurdle at the Aintree Festival last spring. Two easy wins over fences at this sort of trip and on this sort of ground put him in the right post code, but from there who knows?

Meanwhile, back in Ireland, Farouk d'Alene has been quietly racking up a solid form portfolio: in four chase races so far, he has two wins and two seconds, the runners up spots being when pipped on the line in a Grade 1 over 2m4f and when headed on the run in over an extended three miles in a Grade 3. His vanquishers were the smart Master McShee and Stattler and he doesn't look far off the best of his countrymen in this field.

Fury Road, in the same ownership and also for Gordon Elliott, beat Run Wild Fred eight lengths in a three mile Grade 1 at Christmas, but fluffed his lines big time when trailing home the length of the straight behind Galopin Des Champs at the Dublin Racing Festival. His is a veritable mixed bag of form figures, though some hope comes in the fact that the G1 score was over this trip and on this sort of ground while his defeats were at shorter.

One of Fury Road's defeats was to Beacon Edge, who in turn has been seen off by Farouk d'Alene since. This third Gigginstown wheel  is not the most obvious stayer in the field, to my eye at least.

Streets Of Doyen was third in last year's Albert Bartlett and fourth in the Sefton at Aintree but has been largely AWOL over fences since. He's 100/1 if you want to take a massive flyer on him getting back close to his best. I don't.

RSA Chase Pace Map

Lots of early dash here on the face of it, which probably means the winner will jump well under pressure and doubtful stayers need not apply.

RSA Chase Selection

A really good race in prospect and my inclination is to field against the favourite. Ahoy Senor is a gallant and very capable alternative but his jumping may be a little sketchy for a searching examination such as this. L'Homme Presse has to prove he stays but he's finished off his races well, while Capodanno doesn't look an obvious single figure player in here to me. Fury Road looks a bit over-priced if you're prepared to overlook that pasting last time out. At 16/1 and with four places, he's in my shake up.

Suggestion: Consider 7/2 L'Homme Presse for the win and Fury Road each way at 16/1+ with four places. Should be a very exciting watch.

*

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

A big field handicap hurdle is not the sort of race in which I should be wasting your time or mine, but I have sifted through some trends and come up with a shortlist of Saint Felicien, Fastorslow, Indigo Breeze and Good Risk At All.

Of those, I backed Saint Felicien last week after Matt Tombs made a very strong case for the horse fitting a Gordon Elliott-trained Festival handicap winner's profile. Seeing the broader trends profile fitting as well, he's as good an arrow as any in an obviously open race. His form only amounts to three lines in the book: a win in a big field at Auteuil, a win in a small field at Gowran Park, and a mark-qualifying fair second in a Grade 3 at Naas. His price has shortened from the 10/1 I felt was fair enough but his chance is the same as it was.

Elliott also has Indigo Breeze (amongst others) who, like Saint Felicien, will be making his handicap debut. The winner of a bumper and a hurdle, and runner up in two of three further hurdles races, including last time, the six-year-old son of Martaline has bundles of upside though was well beaten (7/4 SP) on his only try at this sort of trip.

Good Risk At All had been ante post favourite since the entries came out for this. A scopey sort yet to finish out of the first two, he bolted up by nine lengths on his handicap debut last time and now moves up in trip to something more closely aligned with his pedigree. It would be a great occasion for young trainer Sam Thomas if he could land this coup though he did show the 'capper plenty at Ascot last time.

I was surprised to see how strong Fastorslow had been in the ante post markets even though that early momentum has steadied in the past week or so. His form has been disappointing in two spins after a promising Irish debut second last April. But perhaps that was the plan given he won two of three French starts beforehand. Trainer Martin Brassil won the Ballymore in 2019 with City Island for these connections but he's had a couple of fancied handicappers flop at the meeting, too.

One non-trends type who caught my eye was Drop The Anchor, trained by Pat Fahy. Proven in top class big field handicaps, this eight-year-old won a valuable such race at the 2021 Dublin Racing Festival and was subsequently a staying on three-and-a-half length seventh of 25 in the County Hurdle. Most recently seen keeping on under minimal urging in that DRF handicap hurdle he comes here three pounds lower for an attempt at four furlongs further than the County. His best form seems to be on soft but I think he'll get away with good to soft, in fact he might even need it to allow his stamina to last out.

And a Brit to hurl into cogitations is McFabulous, who has been anything but in recent Graded spins. As a consequence his mark has drifted south from 158 to 150. His only previous role in a handicap was when bolting up by better than six in an 18-horse charge at Kempton (Grade 3 novices), and a pair of January jogs around this circuit suggest a plan was afoot. I'm happy to buy a bit of 20/1 to find out.

As ever, there are at least a gross more with chances.

Coral Cup Pace Map

Loads of runners and loads playing their hands late from midfield or further back.

Coral Cup pace map

Coral Cup pace map

Coral Cup Selection

I've backed Saint Felicien and, now there are all those extra places to work with, I'm minded to have a small crack at Drop The Anchor, too, for whom this has surely been the plan. McFabulous would be a brilliantly Keeganesque "I'd love it" moment for his trainer, Paul Nicholls, were that one able to do a job on the raiders.

Coral Cup Suggestion: If you can stomach the prices in such a big field, consider 10/1 Saint Felicien and 10/1 Drop The Anchor. At bigger odds, 20/1 McFabulous could be the pick of the home defence. Eight places are available with at least one firm, which gives us a fighting chance of getting something back.

*

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

For many, this year's Champion Chase is the race of the meeting. It's easy to understand why when you see the headline acts Shishkin, Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi. The fact that the first two named met so recently in a classic encounter at Ascot, with the result in the balance even after the last fence, adds to the anticipation for this deeper contest.

At Ascot, in the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase, Energumene attempted to make all, an endeavour he very nearly completed: jumping slickly on the front and enjoying a rail-scraping trip, Paul Townend did the right things at the right moments and was overhauled only in the shadow of the post over the two mile and a furlong race distance.

Contrast that with Shishkin's transit, where Nico de Boinville had him wide and in clear daylight but with the partnership enduring some untypically scrappy leaps en route. Despite travelling further and showing less fluency at his fences, Shishkin was able to prevail. So what hope Energumene in the rematch?

Well, plenty as it happens. Firstly, the Queen Mother Champion Chase distance is a full furlong shorter than the Clarence House, a factor Energumene's supporters maintain gives their pure speedster the edge. The counter is that, in a field with bundles of possible pace angles, they will surely go a lick quicker than at Ascot which ought to allow Shishkin to travel and pick up so many pieces from the second last.

Those closest to the challenger insist he doesn't have to lead, and that may be correct; but the evidence of the form book is that he has led in every one of his seven races over obstacles and in one of his two bumpers. His only career defeat? When he didn't lead, on his first Rules start. At this point, we cannot know if that is coincidence or something more material; but knowing that we cannot know means the uncertainty must be factored into his price.

Prior to Ascot, both Shishkin and Energumene had shown themselves to be the dominant domestic players in their respective jurisdictions, though their ratings (Shishkin 177 in UK, Energumene 175 in Ireland) have an interloper betwixt and between. Step forward the 176-rated Chacun Pour Soi, stablemate of Energumene and a third large cog in the 2022 Champion Chase machinery.

Chacun Pour Soi's Irish form is incontrovertibly top class: four straight Grade 1 chase wins and six G1's in all. But, in two visits to Blighty, he double clunked: first when sent off 8/13 for last year's Champion Chase ("we rode him all wrong", they said) and then when returned that same price in this season's Tingle Creek ("too bad to be true", they said). Fact is, UK CPS is a pale imitation of Irish CPS on, granted, a limited evidence base to this point. In a 'normal' year, when he wasn't up against not one but two superstars, he might be worth chancing - and the price may be enough to make the play for some this time around - but for me he's very much up against it.

Even allowing for the strength at the head of the table, there are still worthies lower down the order. Take Nube Negra for example, a course winner in the the Grade 2 Shloer Chase in November and last year's Champion Chase runner up. Of course, last year, he had neither Shishkin nor Energumene with which to contend, and he did rather fluff his lines in the Tingle Creek albeit when different (wrong?) tactics were deployed. Nube Negra is a strong-travelling hold up type who comes home well; there might be an optimal setup for him here and, if so, the frame may again witness his presence.

It's pretty big prices on the rest, and understandably so. Envoi Allen has seemingly been 'found out' since tipping up in the Marsh (now Turners) last season. A current rating of 161 gives him a stone to find with three rivals and something pretty unexpected would need to transpire to bridge that apparent ability deficit. Put The Kettle On has been an unbelievable Cheltenham stick for connections, winning last year's Champion Chase in a remarkable conclusion. But she's been beaten 21 lengths, half that distance and double that distance in her three subsequent starts. Even allowing for a non-staying effort last time over 2m6f, she's hard to fancy against the strength and depth assembled this time around. Awesome mare, though.

The other form champ in the field is Politologue, whose Champion Chase record is very good indeed: fourth in 2018, second in 2019 and winner in 2020. He didn't contest last year's renewal but is back for another tilt this time. Aged eleven, he's knocking on a touch now, but what he certainly does bring is front end speed. He'll be a thorn in the side of whichever of Energumene and Chacun Pour Soi goes forward and that ought to make for a fascinating race, potentially favouring Shishkin and a late runner like Nube Negra.

A horse I like a lot, though not necessarily in a cauldron like this, is Funambule Sivola. A moderate novice hurdle campaign two seasons ago blossomed into deep progression last term when sent handicapping straight over fences. Wins in that sphere ensued, off 112, 124, 133 and 141, before Graded competition was embraced. The Venetia Williams-trained seven-year-old had his first taste of Grade 1 action at Aintree last April, ceding only to Shishkin and, even then, giving him a race.

This term, it looked very much as though connections wanted to swerve Shishkin at any cost, pursuing an abortive two-and-a-half mile chase campaign: first, when not getting home in the Peterborough Chase and then when midfield in a valuable Cheltenham handicap in January. Reverting to two miles in a brace of spins since has seen as many gold medals most recently in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase at Newbury. This horse wins a lot and does it at two miles; his full trip record in chases is 12121 and it is not inconceivable that he could continue that pattern.

Champion Chase Pace Map

Only eight runners but three of them are want the lead types. Two of those are stablemates so it's hard to know how the front of the race will go, or rather who will be at the front of the race. My guess is one of the Mullins pair of Chacun Pour Soi and Energumene will lock horns with Politologue. Shishkin will travel kindly in the next rank and Nube Negra will be sniffing around in the late furlongs for some podium action.

Champion Chase Selection

This looks a humdinger. We said that before the Clarence House at Ascot and it fully delivered. Asking for reality to match the hype a second time, whilst mixing in two former champions and Chacun Pour Soi - and Nube Negra and Envoi Allen - is asking for a lot; but let's hope we get a bag full of hum and ding.

I think Shishkin will win. There, I've said it. He's just going to travel beautifully through the race, might hit a flat spot but will have a strong finish when the pace pugilists have thrown in the towel. If you want a more exciting wager, or at least one at a bigger price, Nube Negra without Shishkin looks a bet. There's a pace-driven case for thinking the Mullins pair may be susceptible to the finishers and, bar the jolly, none finishes better than NN.

Suggestion: If you haven't got enough fives to try and win some fours via Shishkin, who will probably win, consider backing Nube Negra each way without the favourite at around 11/2, a quarter the first two.

*

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

The Festival's yeast extract spread of a race. Love it or hate it, the Cross Country - Glenfarclas Chase to give it its correct nomenclature - is here to stay, and this scribe is delighted for that. Apart from anything else, how could the peerless Tiger Roll have so emblazoned his palmarès without it?

The mighty midget - he's only 15.2 hands - has a Cheltenham Festival record that very few can match even going back to the dawn of battle engaged on Cleeve Hill. Not just the winner of three Glenfarclas Chases, but also a National Hunt Chase and, as far back as 2014, a Triumph Hurdle, little old (he is small and he is relatively aged) Tiger bids for a sixth Festival win spanning eight years. Chuck in a couple of Grand Nationals for kicks and, oh boy, what a joy. Unbelievable, Jeff, as Kammy would have it.

He's twelve now, is the Tiger, but word has it that the fire remains aflame and he doubtless knows his way around the ever-decreasing circles of Cheltenham's inner course better than any of the pilots. If this is to be his swansong (and let's not sully our chat with the National handicapping phoney war), then praise be if Tiger can Roll once more into the winner's enclosure. He'll take the blooming roof off!

Don't worry too much about his form away from the Festival in the context of the Festival; this (and Aintree's Nash) is the only one that counts, the rest mere cobweb removal.

Against him is a soupcon of interesting horses and a grab bag full of dead wood. Let's zero in on those of interest, starting with Prengarde, a young upstart from the French provinces who has decamped to Enda's in the livery of JP. That's Enda Bolger, and J P McManus, for the avoidance of doubt and, before and betwixt the Tiger King's domination, those connections enjoyed their own hedge-mony (see what I did there?!).

Indeed it's 3-3 between Giggy's Tiggy and JP's assortment. McManus has owned seven of the 17 winners of the race since its inception in 2005 and his most recent victor, in 2020, was also a jeune from the other side of La Manche, Easysland. More on that one anon but back to Prengarde, whose reputation for disrespecting his elders across the varied impediments of Compiegne's cross country piste grew with each of his five consecutive scores in the discipline. He was well enough beaten in the midst of that quintet in a hurdles spin, so we ought not perhaps to get too flustered about his nothing run at Naas a little over a fortnight ago. Still, his price is tight enough considering he's yet to officially traverse the Cheltenham bushes and barrels.

And back we go to Easysland, 17 length router of his opposition two years ago - closest rival, Tiger Roll, going soft (not good is no good for the Lord of this manor) - but beaten by the same margin, plus a length to remind him who is the daddy, a year later. That distant silver was Easy's last run for David Cottin before a move to Jonjo's Jackdaws base. From there he has so far amassed two letters and no numbers in his form profile; to wit, a pair of P's at 50/1 and 66/1 in strong handicap hurdle company implied plenty regarding expectation those days. Now he is a 12/1 chance and tepid enough in the early exchanges. Perhaps it's a language barrier thing, perhaps not; one thing we can rely on is the application of cash in the hours leading up to the race as a portent of prospects. No blue on the grid, likely no chance.

But these are not the only Gigginstown and McManus runners atop the market. Dear old Mr Ryanair (whose banter, whisper it, is so so good for the game, emotive and divisive as it typically is) has quintuple Grade 1 winner, Delta Work, as his second string! If that's the good news, he's looked a fair whack below that since the last of those five, in February 2020. Yet he's still a mere whipper snapper in cross country terms at the age of nine - Prengarde and Easysland are barely potty-trained - and was only beaten 15 lengths in the G1 Irish Gold Cup last time. That, like most of his other 'not beaten far' recent races, was a steadily run affair, and he could travel all over these until the kick for home as they straighten up on the course proper.

Old 'green and gold' also has the 1-2 from the PP Hogan, a banks race hosted at Punchestown which has traditionally been the key prep for this. There, Midnight Maestro bested Shady Operator, yet the market vibes suggest tables will be turned in this rematch, as indeed they were in their previous meeting, again over the Punchy banks in the Risk Of Thunder Chase in November. Shady will be having his first race over this track while the Maestro had a sighter in last December's handicap (6/1, never in it). That local knowledge edge allied to a bit more meat on his price means he's the value in a match bet.

Diesel d'Allier is a dual winner of the handicaps on these slopes and has a fourth placed finish behind Easysland in the 2020 Glenfarclas. That's enough to expect him to threaten the first half dozen but insufficient to consider even an each way play.

In the context of this race, the rest are akin to the cast of the Star Wars bar (*braces for aggrieved owner response) though Brahma Bull's rating at least affords him a name check. He was third in the Ladbrokes Trophy in November, but as an unexpected 40/1 poke. He'd not be the biggest shock ever, but he would be a big shock.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Pace Map

Whilst there is no guaranteed pace, they always go a crawl anyway so it doesn't really matter too much.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Selection

It's hard to know where to turn for a bet here. Tiger Roll is not really much of a price but it'll be fun cheering him home if he's still engaged as they face up to the stuffed hurdles. I've backed him in novelty wagers - biggest winning margin of the week, win by 10 lengths, that sort of thing - on the basis that maybe he either wins by miles or doesn't win; but of course he might just win by a little bit.

Against Tiger - such heresy - Prengarde was very strongly touted initially though that confidence has subsided since and he's been ousted as crown prince by Delta Work. I favour the former's subject matter expertise over the latter's back class, but both have much to answer.

Easysland looks a bit of a busted flush, though is young enough - and Jonjo is both talented enough and wily enough - to bounce back. Of the Punchy pair, Midnight Maestro may have a sliver of value in his price, but I'm nowhere near sure enough to suggest he's a bet.

Indeed, I can't find a bet here. Small win play on Prengarde perhaps?

Suggestion: Back whatever you like, or enjoy the theatre of it. Or, if you're one of them, go make a pot of tea or grab a beer. 😉

*

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

Impossible. Just. Impossible. Let's try a few of RacingtoProfit.co.uk Josh's profile pointers to try to whittle things more manageable.

14/14 had run at G1 or G2 level previously: (had not: 0/73, 13p)
14/14 had 7< career wins (8+ : 0/49, 4p)
14/14 ran 26+ days ago (25<: 0/48, 3p)
12/14 had 13< chase runs (14+ : 2/106, 14p)

That's unfortunately not a huge help, but it does eliminate some. I still have eleven on my shortlist and I don't think I've ever backed the winner of this race, so I won't waste too much more time. It goes without saying you want a strong travelling, sure-footed jumper and ideally one that has not shown too much already - or at least not recently.

The novice Embittered was rated a bit higher over hurdles and has yet to run in a handicap chase, instead rocking up and taking it on the chin in many of the best Irish two mile novice events. As with a goodly number of his rivals, this looks like a bit of a plan. And that'll do.

[Sorry not sorry if you were expecting more in this section]

Grand Annual Pace Map

For Pleasure is in here, and so is Editeur Du Gite; Exit Poll also. Chuck in Global Citizen and Before Midnight and this cannot be anything other than a tear up from tape up. Don't come from too far back, mind, as you'll need fortune in transit aplenty.

Grand Annual Handicap Chase pace map

Grand Annual Handicap Chase pace map

Grand Annual Selection

I don't know, simple as that. But I do know that Embittered looks like a horse who ought to relish this sort of test, and I'll probably have a throwaway voucher (which is very likely to get thrown away) in his direction.

Suggestion: Get your prayer mat out and try tuppence win and place Embittered. Don't feel that way when the inevitable comes to pass.

*

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

And we close with the only race less scrutable - or more inscrutable if you prefer - than the Grand Annual. Actually, the Fred Boodles is another runner. Anyway, what I mean to say in my typically verbose way is that this is usually deeper than the betting suggests. Consider this epic snippet from Matt 'the Stat' Tombs:

12 of the last 13 times Willie Mullins has had multiple entries in the Bumper, the most fancied has failed to be the first Mullins horse home. That is not a positive for Facile Vega, which is a shame because yours true has a tidy ante post ticket on the early talking horse. In fairness, he's done everything right since popping out of Quevega five or so years ago, his latest form line - of two - being a breath-taking smash up job in a hot-looking Leopardstown bumper.

He deserves to be favoured on that performance, but the reason for the Tombs-tone stat is that the Champion Bumper is a race in which most have yet to peak and many are unbeaten to this point. Consider this: since 2008, Willie has had four unbeaten winners of Cheltenham Flat Race. Sir Gerhard was 85/40 (ugh) last year, but in 2018 Relegate was 25/1; and in 2013 Briar Hill was 25/1; and in 2008, Cousin Vinny was 12/1.

The message is this, I think: if you've a tasty ticket on Facile Vega, bully for you and bonne chance. If not, look elsewhere because Willie had ten horses that fitted the above profile beaten at odds of 7/1 or shorter.

Mullins also saddles third choice, Redemption Day, winner of his only start to date. Paul Townend rides that one. But in the longer grass are Houlanbatordechais (easy for you to chais), James's Gate, Madmansgame, and Seabank Bistro, all of which are unbeaten in one or two starts and some of which are pronounceable. Who knows what the hierarchy is among them? Not Willie, as he's keen to share; history tells us we should take the hint and take a flyer on a 'could be anything' at a price.

Houlanbatordechais - did I spell that right? - will be ridden by Rachael Blackmore and is currently 50/1. Really? Madmansgame gets Danny Mullins and is 40's in a place. Brian Hayes partners Seabank Bistro and he's 40/1. Those are darts I'm more than happy to fling.

Meanwhile, back up top, I've failed to mentioned American Mike, Gordon's fly in the Mullins ointment. Spoken of in bullish terms he's been a facile, ahem, winner of two small field bumpers, the latter of which was in Listed company. This is wider and deeper than that but they know a good'un at Cullentra and they're fair sure this lad is a good'un. His price leaves zero margin for error, however.

The obvious truth is that I have no divine 'in' for this race, but the fact that King Willie has won it multiple times with a double didge-priced runner makes my wagering bed for me. I'm happy to lie there.

Champion Bumper Pace Map

Pinch of salt pace map below. They may very well run in a completely different formation from that suggested, such is the amorphous nature of their profiles.

Champion Bumper pace map

Champion Bumper pace map

Champion Bumper selection

One of these will step forward more than all the others, but which one is a total unknown. Facile Vega is a fair and obvious favourite, likewise American Mike second choice. But there's depth here that has historically rewarded a big odds guess. So let's guess!

Suggestion: Try a tiny tickle of Houlanbatordechais (I'll be cheering for 'the Mongolian' in case you're wondering), Madmansgame and/or Seabank Bistro and/or James's Gate. It's that sort of a race.

*

This second quarter brings us to the half time show. It will have been a roller coaster, as ever, and fingers crossed we'll have enjoyed more luck than losers.

Good luck!

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day One Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2022: Day One Preview, Tips

We're back! After the weirdness of a behind closed doors Cheltenham Festival last year - did that really happen? - and the hand-wringing and recrimination that followed the 'super spreader' 2020 variant, we are finally back live on Cleeve Hill for the 2022 renewal of the greatest meeting in the calendar. Whoop, whoop, and woohoo!

The opening day always majors on speed, quality, and drama from the get-go, with a double-barrelled Grade 1 two-mile novice volley to kick us off. It's the hurdlers first, in the...

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

The traditional pipe opener restored to its 1.30 tapes up slot and, after much hokey cokeying amongst the mega stable entries we have our list of runners and riders fixed. It's a yes for Dysart Dynamo, Constitution Hill and Jonbon but a 'see you tomorrow' for Sir Gerhard.

A smallish field of nine sets the tone for a week where the non-handicaps are expected to be shallow affairs runners wise in the main, with the dominance of those aforementioned superyard chickens perhaps coming home to roost a little. Anyway, macro questions like that don't belong before an obstacle has been cleared so let's get back to business.

In spite of the small field the Supreme remains a competitive race with five horses at single figure prices. They are headed by inmates of the unofficial Prestbury Cup team captains Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins and, more pertinently, their A and B players, Constitution Hill and Jonbon (NJH) and Dysart Dynamo and Kilcruit (WPM). Mullins also lobs a third dart in Bring On The Night.

Let's start on home shores and Constitution Hill has looked all class in a pair of facile Sandown scores to date, trouncing a field of maidens before treating his Grade 1 Tolworth rivals with similar disdain. The merit of that heavy ground G1 form is unclear with the second and third getting thumped next time, but the winner could have done no more. He is clearly a very classy recruit whose maiden win offers hope that the quicker Cheltenham turf won't be a problem. We have to yet to see what he'll find off the bridle, though, and it is hard to imagine any horse taking this 'on the snaff'.

Vying for favouritism is the first of the Closutton triumvirate, Dysart Dynamo, a buzzy front-running type who is quick, very quick. Winner of all four starts to date - two bumpers, a maiden hurdle and a Grade 2 hurdle - it is worth noting that while never seeing a rival in the two hurdle starts he took a lead in both of his bumpers before strolling home unchallenged. It may be further worth noting that the first of those was a soft ground near two-and-a-half miler, so stamina is assured. It's hard to know exactly what he beat in the G2 but second-placed Gringo d'Aubrelle had previously been a ten length third to Stage Star in the G1 Challow over further.

For all of the obvious upside of those 'opening batsmen', their second picks have arguably more substance in the book. Jonbon, representing Seven Barrows, is also unbeaten in four, a bumper and three hurdle races, most recently a couple of Grade 2 contests. The first of those was a steadily run small field heat, but the second, the Rossington Main at Haydock, was well contested and Jonbon came home in a good time. He's not been nearly as flashy as those shorter in the market but he's highly effective and has been well on top each time in spite of narrower margins of victory. Jonbon cost £570,000 after winning his point to point, a price based as much on being a full brother to Douvan as to the manner of his win between the flags. Nothing looks value at that sort of a price, but owner J P McManus has met his objective of getting to the Festival with a chance.

Second pick for Willie is Kilcruit, beaten by the race tactics in last year's Champion Bumper and subsequently reversing form with his conqueror, Sir Gerhard, in the Punchestown equivalent. Hurdling has not been a straightforward discipline for Kilcruit heretofore however: it took him three attempts to get off the mark, something he only achieved in middling maiden company last time out. If that's the not great news, the positives are that he won that twenty-runner race by 21 lengths, and that he did it in a manner which impressed the time and sectional watchers. He has looked a little ungainly on occasion, even appearing to lose his action, but that may just be his way of going.

The Mullins third string is an unbeaten-in-one 'could be anything' type called Bring On The Night. A progressive three-year-old when trained in France by Andre Fabre, it was nigh on two years thereafter that he made his timber debut at Naas. Impressive he was, too, coming right away from a large field of maidens in spite of bungling the final flight. It should be remembered that a maiden in late February will be easier to win than one in late November, most of the runners already multiple non-winners by then. Willie was quite bullish about his ability in recent stable tour chat but I thought he might have gone Ballymore rather than here.

And no Festival party is complete - 2021 excepted - without a Gordon Elliott-trained invitee. His sole Supreme entry is Mighty Potter, whose Grade 1 form stands up against what his rivals have achieved thus far. Outpaced in a tactical Royal Bond in late November, he showed his true self a month later in the Future Champions Novice (G1). A more truly run race such as this looks right up his street and he is a definite place player at least in a tough betting puzzle.

That leaves a trio of British-trained hopes, the word 'hope' used loosely. Shallwehaveonemore was beaten 26 lengths by Constitution Hill in the Tolworth but has improved a fair bit since. His best form is on decent ground so that's a plus, and he may have been a little outpaced at Kempton last time when second in Grade 2 company. He could run quite well without challenging the podium places.

Jpr One was just about last in the Betfair Hurdle last time and that doesn't bode well for his prospects here; while Silent Revolution is inexperienced but beat a well regarded horse last time at Newbury.

Supreme Novices' Pace Projection

Likely to be at least truly run, and potentially a little fast early; the winner will need to travel and jump at top speed as well as possess sufficient stamina to see it out after the last.

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Selection

This is tricky. We've got to balance the style and potential of Dysart Dynamo and Constitution Hill against the substance of Jonbon, Kilcruit and Mighty Potter. Given the prices, where style is in the realms of win only wagering, and substance comes with each way potential, I'll let the pin up boys beat me if they can. The more I look at the Supreme, the more I feel like Mighty Potter should get a lovely lead into the business end and will get the end-to-end gallop that suits him best. He's the biggest price of the fancied quintet and that seems a little unfair.

Suggestion: Back Mighty Potter each way at 8/1 or better, ideally with a bookie offering extra places or money back if beaten.

*

2.10 Arkle Challenge Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

The first chase of the week is the Arkle Challenge Trophy, a two mile event for novices. If it perhaps lacks a little star quality this year - there can't be a Shishkin/Altior/Douvan every time - it remains competitive from a betting perspective.

Edwardstone tops the pile on just about every ratings compiler's list, and he heads the betting, too. Brought down on fencing debut, that inauspicious introduction has long been forgotten as he has subsequently strung four straight chase wins together, three of them in Graded company, one a Grade 1. He jumped very well at Warwick in the Grade 2 Kingmaker last time but, prior to that, had put in the odd clumsy one. With a versatile run style and the best form in the book, he has a very obvious chance to add to trainer Alan King's two previous Arkle scores.

The best fancied of the Irish party is the Willie Mullins-trained Blue Lord, whose hitherto unbeaten trio over fences culminated with Grade 1 success in the Irish Arkle at the Dublin Racing Festival. His hurdles form was better than respectable - he'd have been comfortably closest to Appreciate It in last year's Supreme but for tumbling at the last - and he's looked assured in his leaping thus far. He was being closed down by Riviere d'Etel, who had led to the last fence before blundering, but was conceding nine pounds to that five-year-old mare. Saint Sam, who had led until the second last, was a further four lengths back while the quietly fancied Haut En Couleurs was an early faller.

Trying to unpick that form line with a view to the Arkle is difficult: Blue Lord can probably be expected to come on for the run and has proven himself at Cheltenham albeit when unshipping - he is also the top-rated hurdler (148) from the Irish Arkle cohort; Riviere d'Etel was only a 134-rated hurdler but is 150 over fences already and has looked good this season, but her age and weight pull with Blue Lord will be reduced from nine pounds to seven; Saint Sam is likewise a far better fencer than hurdler (152 versus 143), while Haut En Couleurs was the best of the five-year-olds over timber and has most scope to progress chasing after just two starts and one completion.

In his sole chase effort before the last day fall, Haut En Couleurs had easily accounted for Gentleman De Mee and Mt Leinster, the former hacking up twice since, most recently in Grade 3 company at odds of 1/5. It is worth noting that five-year-olds have failed to win since their allowance was removed, though some of the fancied ones (Allmankind, Saint Calvados) have been given, erm, interesting rides from the front. Nevertheless, that's a reservation for now, even though the pre-eminence of the same age group in the Champion Hurdle market says a fair bit about the older generations in the two-mile division currently.

The lightly-raced mare Magic Daze has been fairly well supported but I'm struggling to see her case. She was second in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle last season before finishing only fourth in a Listed mares' event at Punchestown. Over fences, she's one from three so far and she lacks obvious upside to my eye. Perhaps more interesting of the longer-priced Irish runners is Coeur Sublime, who ran in open Grade 1 hurdles last year and was rated 152 in that sphere. True, Coeur was beaten a number of lengths by Riviere d'Etel when that one was a length and a half behind Ferny Hollow in the G1 two mile novice chase at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival, and he's done no more since than ease home in a nothing beginners' chase at Gowran Park; but he brings 'back class' and fencing upside to the Arkle party.

War Lord is also worth a mention. Trained by Colin Tizzard, his sole defeat in four progressive chase starts was when well seen off, but still best of the rest, behind Edwardstone in the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown in December. It's fair to say that the Tizzard stable was in poor form at that moment and is firing much better now; if that was a factor in War Lord's defeat, he might be over-priced.

Gavin Cromwell runs Gabynako, whose last race was a shocker. That was on heavy and he quite possibly didn't handle it. On his previous start, in the Grade 1 Drinmore, he was narrowly beaten having made a mistake at the last; and prior to that he beat Fury Road in a beginners' chase. All that form is over further so, if his jumping can hold up in what looks set to be a fast early tempo, he'll stay well and could sneak into the frame.

Brave Seasca, who has progressed through soft ground handicaps but was no match for Edwardstone last time, is probably a little out of his depth.

Arkle Pace Projection

Saint Sam and Magic Daze are the most likely leaders, but Blue Lord and Riviere d'Etel have led or pressed the pace in at least two of their most recent four starts as well. Should be an honest, perhaps, fast gallop.

Arkle Chase Selection

The furlong shorter trip compared with the Irish Arkle might be a benefit to Blue Lord, whose credentials look most apparent of the Irish runners even though the eye was naturally drawn to Riviere d'Etel's unlucky runner up effort there. Haut En Couleurs has plenty of untapped potential and could usurp the finishers from that race if standing up.

Of the home team, Edwardstone's case dwarfs his compatriots, though it is possible that War Lord may significantly reduce the margin by which he was beaten in December. Coeur Sublime is another dark horse at a price, and Gabynako a third, in a trappy and open-looking Arkle.

Suggestion: Back Haut En Couleurs to win at 8/1, ideally with a bookie offering faller insurance. 20/1 Gabynako may outrun his price and could be a little each way value with four places.

*

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

The first handicap of the week and one that normally goes to a runner close to the head of the market. A few trends may help the route to a shortlist.

Josh Wright from racingtoprofit.co.uk tells us that

14/14 had 1+ run at track previously (had not: 0/44,7p)
14/14 had been ridden by today’s jockey at least once (had not: 0/42, 3p)
14/14 0-4 chase runs at the track (5+ : 0/53, 6p)
14/14 top 6 on last start (7th>: 0/99, 14p)
13/14 had 10 or fewer runs in handicaps (11+ : 1/120, 12p)
13/14 were 5th or lower in the weights (Top 4: 1/67, 13p)
13/14 had run at Grade 1 or 2 level in career (had not: 1/79, 9p)
13/14 had 14 or fewer chase runs (15+ : 1/83, 9p)
13/14 ran left handed last start (RH: 1/107, 14p)
12/14 had 1 or 2 runs this calendar year (did not: 2/105, 17p)
12/14 had 0-1 handicap chase wins (2+ : 2/116, 13p)

That leaves eight - Does He Know, Floueur, Tea Clipper, Fantastikas, Grumpy Charley, Kiltealy Briggs, Full Back and Oscar Elite.

And Matt Tombs in his excellent matchbook content added that five of the 14 runners to start with a chase rating 7lb+ lower than their hurdle mark managed to win in the last 13 renewals. Interesting, almost like they found improvement for the atmosphere of the Festival...

Putting all of that together gives me a single horse, Oscar Elite. I'd backed him prior to the kingmaker race for the Festival handicap chases, the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase at Cheltenham's Trials Day, and am consequently on very good terms with myself. The case is thus: he was second to Vanillier in last year's Grade 1 Albert Bartlett and then third behind Ahoy Senor in the staying Grade 1 novice hurdle at Aintree. A switch to fences has failed to produce a win in four starts but there was the promise of more in three of them, all at Cheltenham. This will have been the plan from the outset.

Of the others on the shortlist, Does He Know's trainer, Kim Bailey, has had a winner (in 1999) and two places from four Ultima starters, including last year's second, Happygolucky. And Tea Clipper is interesting with first time cheekpieces and first run after a wind operation. He was no match for Bravemansgame in the Grade 1 Kauto Star (Feltham as was) but this will be more his cup of, well, you know. Full Back won at the New Year's Day fixture and was probably looked after a little at Taunton in his only race since.

The last Irish winner of the Ultima was Dun Doire in 2006 but they've had very few runners since. In fact, their runner form string from 2007 is 02222121233422. This year, there will be as many as seven Irish-trained runners, so they have a commensurately greater chance of winning!

Ultima Pace Projection

It will be quick and there will be some trouble in transit for a few. Hopefully Frodon gets them spaced out behind and all have their chance.

Ultima Handicap Chase Selection

I backed Oscar Elite at 28/1 in January and I think he's still value at 20/1 now, especially with loads of extra places. Of the rest, Does He Know and Tea Clipper are possibles.

Suggestion: Back Oscar Elite each way at around 20/1 with as many extra places as you can find.

*

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

The main event on Day One is the Champion Hurdle, a two mile Grade 1 where the reigning champion, Honeysuckle, will bid to defend her crown. Not only is Kenny Alexander's mare the reigning champ but she is also unbeaten in 14 career starts under Rules and, before that, a single point to point.

I previewed the Champion Hurdle in mid-January and nothing has materially changed since then. Honeysuckle won the Irish Champion Hurdle easily enough; Appreciate It has still not been sighted; and the five-year-olds are still loitering on the periphery with intent.

Of that last named cohort, maybe Teahupoo has advanced his claims since the turn of the year. He's still yet to race in Grade 1 company, but has been dominant in winning a brace of Grade 3's either side of a Grade 2 score. He's looked like there is plenty more to come but his potential is more than factored into quotes of 8/1 especially when noting his lack of form on a sound surface (for which, granted, he could improve, though I don't expect him to).

I also didn't mention Tommy's Oscar in that earlier preview, Mrs Ann Hamilton's flag bearer well worthy of the name check having waltzed away with the Haydock Champion Hurdle trial shortly after publication. He's been aggressively ascendant, rising from a rating of 139 at season start to his current 156; but that still leaves him with a stone and more to find when Honeysuckle's mares' allowance is incorporated.

Champion Hurdle Pace Projection

It looks like this year's Champion Hurdle may be run at an even to quick tempo, with both Appreciate It and Teahupoo generally going forward. However, both took a lead on their most recent starts so perhaps we'll be erring towards just an even gallop, in which case all should be able to run their races.

Champion Hurdle Selection

In that earlier preview, I found it impossible to oppose Honeysuckle. I still do, though after an electric gear change to settle the race last time she didn't really stretch away as it appeared she might. As a consequence, I went fishing for a wager in a different pond, the 'without the favourite' market. There I plumped for Epatante each way at 11/2. She's now as big as 7/1 in that market, and in all honesty I've cooled on her prospects of running second to Honeysuckle (and therefore winning that bet) a little, though she still has grand claims of being in the first four.

I'm not keen on backing Appreciate It at around 6/4 in the 'without' market either, nor the untested in Grade 1 or on fast ground Teahupoo, or any of his five-year-old contemporaries. No, if I was having a swipe right now, it might be Not So Sleepy without Honeysuckle at 33/1+ each way. He was 5th last year at 125/1 outright, and has dead heated with Epatante in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth this season.

But, on balance, I'll stick with what I have and cheer the champ to repeat and remain unbeaten.

Suggestion: Consider Not So Sleepy each way without Honeysuckle at anything above 25/1. Not really a betting race now.

*

4.10 Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m4f)

The Mares' Hurdle had been dominated by Willie Mullins almost since its inception in 2008. Mullins was actually unrepresented in that inaugural running, but then went on to win nine of the next ten editions, six of them with the fantastic though only occasionally seen Quevega. However, more recently, the omnipotent Closutton barn has enjoyed success in the Mares' Hurdle only once in the last five years, and not at all in the last three.

Related, and perhaps more remarkable, is that the last five favourites in the race - all of them short - were turned over. Limini was 3rd at 6/4 in 2017, the same position occupied by 1/2 Apple's Jade in 2018; Benie Des Dieux fell in 2019 when sent off 10/11 and she was beaten by Honeysuckle a year later at odds of 4/6, before most recently 10/11 Concertista was run out of it by Black Tears in the shadow of the post.

There's no shortie in the betting this time, current prices being 3/1 and upwards your pick. Tenuously top of that pile is Telmesomethinggirl, trained by Henry de Bromhead and running in the Kenny Alexander colours of Honeysuckle, meaning it could be quite a 45 minutes or so for connections. This mare won the Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle at last year's Festival over two miles, but has been beaten in all three starts since. If that's the unpromising news, her most recent effort - when a staying on third to Royal Kahala at Leopardstown - was definitely her season best and she comes here perhaps sitting on a big one, as they say.

In front of Telmesomethinggirl but largely whacked before and since this term was Heaven Help Us, winner of the Coral Cup a year ago. Like the favourite, she brings Festival-winning form to the party and her form string at this intermediate distance is 12. She seems better going left-handed and with just a little ease in the ground, conditions she'll get here. This has presumably been the target for Paul Hennessy's charge; he also owns and bred her.

Queen's Brook will be Gordon Elliott's hope for the race, the mare having run third in the 2020 Champion Bumper behind Ferny Hollow before skipping last year's Festival. Her recent form is consistent and ties in with the likes of Burning Victory but she's won only once from five starts over hurdles since her maiden score.

Burning Victory was the beneficiary of Goshen's black swan event at the last in the Triumph Hurdle of 2020 and she's travelled all over the place since. Specifically, she's taken in the Galway Hurdle (7th), a Deauville handicap (1st), the Cesarewitch (2nd), a Navan handicap hurdle (tailed off), the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle (3rd) and that defeat of Queen's Brook last time. There are plenty of top class efforts in that sequence, a positive which has to be balanced against the busy campaign; that said, she's had only the one run in 2022.

It's hard to know what to make of Stormy Ireland, who has won a lot for Willie Mullins either side of a curiously disappointing sojourn at Paul Nicholls' yard. She was fortunate to win the Relkeel Hurdle here on New Year's Day but that showed the track holds few fears, and she was a Grade 1 winner at this trip and on this sort of ground at Punchestown last May. Still, she's not getting any younger - this will be her third run in the race having finished second in 2019 and fifth in 2020.

Mrs Milner, like Heaven Help Us, was a handicap hurdle winner at last year's Festival, her score coming in the three mile Pertemps Final. This is a different test, more about speed than stamina, though she had the gears to win a couple of lower grade two mile hurdles earlier in her career.

Nicky Henderson saddles Marie's Rock, who ran a nice race without troubling the judge in the Greatwood Hurdle in November. Subsequently stepped up to this range, she won either side of a non-completion when badly hampered by a faller. On ratings she has a few pounds to find with some of these but her trainer is making optimistic noises (for whatever that is worth).

Yet another former Festival winner is Indefatigable whose 2020 Martin Pipe win was a red letter day for trainer Paul Webber but also for geegeez-sponsored then conditional rider, Rex Dingle. Rex came with the proverbial wet sail there, weaving through tiring rivals up the run in to present the mare on the line, a style which has proven more difficult to pull off in smaller field, more steadily run contests since. There is a good bit of pace projected for this one, however, perhaps allowing her to finish a little better, and almost all of her best form has come at Cheltenham including when fourth in this last year and fifth in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle in 2019, either side of that Martin Pipe score.

Echoes In Rain enjoyed a purple patch last spring where a hat-trick of wins was capped by Grade 1 honours in a Punchestown Festival novice hurdle. At the top table this term, she's found life tougher, twice getting a distant view of Sharjah's tail before finishing closer to Honeysuckle albeit in a steadily run contest. This is shallower than those meetings with Champion Hurdle aspirants, actual and absent, and it wouldn't be a total shock if she were to bounce back. She will also have to prove her stamina on this first attempt beyond two miles, her pedigree not guaranteeing she'll stay.

And an honourable mention for the admirable Martello Sky, whose habit of winning must be delightful for connections. To wit, she has eight first places from just twelve career starts, among them a brace of Listed Hurdles. This will be tougher though the extra distance should mean she'll be able to get into a better rhythm than was the case when midfield in last year's Mares' Novices' Hurdle. Both Western Victory and Nada To Prada look to be pitching above their level.

Mares' Hurdle Pace Projection

This could be pretty quick but possibly not overly strongly run, with Stormy Ireland and Western Victory going forward and Heaven Help Us close up. Telmesomethinggirl and Echoes In Rain will be amongst those looking to affect the outcome with a late rally.

Mares' Hurdle Selection

This is a really tricky race with if's and but's about most of them. In the absence of a reliable option, I'll take a chance on Heaven Help Us being trained for the day in what seem to be her favoured conditions. Indefatigable looks like getting her optimal conditions for the first time in a while and may be over-priced for hail mary each way players.

Suggestion: Try Heaven Help Us at 12/1. Give Indefatigable a second glance at 28/1 or bigger.

*

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

A feature of the handicap hurdles this year is the almost total dominance of the top end of the handicap by Irish runners. This is as a direct result of the recalibration of ratings in the British hurdling division and, depending on your perspective, it either shows how much better the Irish horses are or it gives Team GB (ugh) a better chance. My opinion is that those two perspectives are not mutually exclusive and both hold water.

Looking down the weights, the first British-trained runner is actually the top weight, ex-French Petit Tonnerre, who perhaps shouldn't have won on British debut! Next in is the Paul Nicholls entry, Bell Ex One. Closer scrutiny reveals he's not raced since qualifying for this for his previous trainer, in Ireland! The next UK-trained entry is Saint Segal, number 14 in the weights (!), trained by Jane Williams. Jane is married to Nick Williams, who won the Fred Boodles (Winter as was) in 2017 with Flying Tiger having trained third-placed Coo Star Sivola a year earlier. Five further swings at this prize since have come up dry, but Saint Segal looks a legit contender: he was second in the Grade 1 Finale Hurdle having pulled too hard early and is unbeaten in a pair of spins sandwiching that G1. The likely quicker pace ought to suit well.

Meanwhile, further up the weights, Gordon Elliott seems to be the main man for the occasion. Uninvited last year, he saddled five in 2020 and, of the 22 who set off, his quintet finished 1-3-4-8-9. In 2019, one of his trio of entries ran second; and in 2018 he scored at 33/1 from just two runners. A pair of runners in each of the 2014-2017 renewals yielded no more than a single fourth-placed finish, but Flaxen Flare was a 25/1 winner in 2013.

This year, Elliott has five entered up. His main chance appears to be The Tide Turns, whose three qualifying races were a comfortable victory in a 20-runner maiden hurdle (2nd, 4th and 5th both won their only starts since), fourth to Triumph Hurdle favourite Vauban in a Grade 1 at the Dublin Racing Festival, and another fourth against elders in the Red Mills Trial won by Teahupoo. That third dance was hastily arranged to facilitate qualification for the Boodles though I'm not sure 137 is a gimme of a mark considering he was only a mildly progressive mid-70's handicapper on the level for Sir Mark Prescott.

As mentioned, Elliott has twice won this with a lesser fancied runner, 33/1 Veneer Of Charm in 2018 and 25/1 Flaxen Flare in 2013, so his others deserve consideration. That pair both won their hurdle debuts before finishing second and then nowhere in two subsequent pre-Boodles runs. This year, Britzka and Ebasari both won before failing to follow up twice, as did the aforementioned The Tide Turns. The market is currently a little more circumspect - both Britzka and Ebasari are around 16/1 - though the play book is there for all to see.

The favourite, and very short at that, is trained by Willie Mullins and owned by Mrs S Ricci, and he is called Gaelic Warrior. Still a maiden after three hurdle starts in France he has a mark of just 129 which compares very favourably with his French peg of 63kg (multiply by 2.2 to get 138.6 pounds, making GW ten pounds 'well in'). In his most recent start, Gaelic Warrior was outpaced on heavy ground before finishing strongly to take third of 14. The second horse, Golden Son, has since won a Grade 2 before claiming runner up honours in a G1; while the winner, Sans Bruit, has won a Grade 3 and been third in a Grade 2.

He's undeniably well treated, then, but hitting a serious flat spot on heavy ground doesn't translate brilliantly to the rough and tumble of a fast ground 22-runner charge across Cleeve Hill. Luck in running is needed by all; most have a little more meat on their price than this lad. Willie is 0/14 in this race but went very close last year when Saint Sam was second (Ciel De Neige 3rd in 2019, too).

Joseph O'Brien won this in 2019 with Band Of Outlaws, and saddles Champion Green this time. A relative slow starter he broke his maiden at the fourth time of asking, over nine furlongs at Punchestown. The second won next time and was rated 89 when taking on handicappers for the first time, the third - also trained by Joseph - has won a couple of minor hurdle races, and the fourth won a Leopardstown maiden next time. That's a verbose way of saying he probably achieved a 90-odd level of form on the flat before sights were switched to timber.

In three completed starts over hurdles, he was a close up fourth in a big field on debut, 2nd of 15 having drifted from 8/11 to 5/4 the next day and, after a slipped saddle led to pulling up two back, he made all and bolted up at 4/6 in a Naas maiden hurdle. That maiden score, like his flat maiden win, was on good ground and, with the drying forecast, conditions look to be in his corner.

In the last twelve years, every winner of this race was either a single figure price (five winners) or 25/1+ (seven). Last year's 80/1 bomb was only a minor outlier on a recent history that includes a 40/1, three 33/1's and two 25/1's - so maybe this is the race to turn the form book upside down. If that's your thing, let's mess about with the concept for a minute.

Of those seven bombs, all ran in a non-handicap last time out (four of them in G1 or G2 company), all had four or fewer UK/Irish hurdle starts (though three had raced in France before), and five of seven were beaten 15 lengths or more last time. I think that's the one that puts punters off the scent. The only one really fitting the bill from a price perspective is Tanganyika who is second reserve. He is quite interesting on his run behind subsequent Grade 1 1-2 Kyrov and Golden Son in France. Now with Venetia Williams, Tanganyika was beaten eight and a half lengths in that Auteuil race. Kyrov is currently rated 75kg (165), Golden Son 71 (156) and Tanganyika's mark in France is 61.5 (135). Here, he has just 121, a full stone below his French rating. If he gets a run, he might be better than a 66/1 poke.

Gordon's Britzka and Ebasari both measure up on this 'interesting rag' angle but are shorter than ideal to take the chance. I might be tempted if either slid out to 25/1 or bigger.

Boodles Handicap Hurdle Pace Projection

Fast, frantic, furious, frenetic, ferocious and other adjectives beginning with 'f'. Doubtful stayers need not apply. Note that neither Gaelic Warrior nor Milldam have raced in UK or Ireland to this point. Their French form suggests both will be waited with to varying degrees.

Boodles Handicap Hurdle selection

It's a really tough heat with even fewer clues than your average Festival handicap. The British handicapper seems not to be on the same page with his European counterparts, ranking Irish form more highly and French form lower. On that basis, it's easy enough to bypass Gaelic Warrior at such cramped odds and I don't really want to be with The Tide Turns at not much bigger, though naturally I respect the chance of both.

Rather, I'll take a small swing at Champion Green and Saint Segal, both of which ought to be suited by this setup and both of which come from yards that know how to win the Fred Boodles. Jockeys are important at this meeting, however, and the experience of Rachael Blackmore versus the exuberance of Chester Williams tilts the pendulum in favour of Champion Green if having to choose between them. 

Suggestion: Try Champion Green at 12/1 or perhaps 16/1 Saint Segal, and watch the betting on Ebasari and Britzka. Get lots of extra places. Prepare to sigh if/when either Gaelic Warrior or The Tide Turns prevail.

*

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

The nearly-four-miler as it has become known is in many ways the bellwether for the meeting and indeed the sport. Once (a long time ago) the most important race at the Festival, rank amateurs have given best to crack amateurs (there was a cheaper pun comparator which I'm proud to have resisted!), the distance has been truncated, and the quality and experience thresholds have been elevated.

In other words, this is a completely different race from the one which carried the same name 15 years ago. Back then, journeyman Corinthians on massive-priced pigs in a poke in huge fields played a version of 'last man or woman standing'. Now, field sizes are smaller, the quality of bipeds and quadrupeds alike is higher, and it is consequently a far more predictable affair. Note, not predictable, only more predictable.

On field sizes, in 2016 there were 20 runners; over the next three years there were 18, 16 and 18 runners; but, since the distance was reduced to 3m6f and it has become more about class than out and out stamina, field sizes have reduced to 14 and then 12 last year... and now just seven horses are slated to go to post. That is not a good look. To the septet...

Experience has counted for a lot in recent times, with nine of the past ten winners having four-plus seasonal runs and four-plus chase starts. That's a potential knock for the strong Willie Mullins-trained fancy, Stattler, who is unbeaten in two fencing contests. In 2013, Mullins won with the unbeaten-in-three Back In Focus, but more recently both 9/4 Ballyward (fell) and 10/11 Carefully Selected (unseated) have succumbed to their inexperience at the obstacles. Still, Stattler's form credentials are robust and his stamina is assured if his leaping holds up at the expected quicker tempo on quicker turf.

Fitting the historical profile more snugly is the Gordon Elliott inmate, Run Wild Fred, who represents Gigginstown and is ridden by Jamie Codd. Codd has piloted the winner in three of the last six renewals where amateur jockeys contested (professionals last year due to Covid), two of the three coming for Elliott.

Run Wild Fred has almost as much experience as his rider, being a veteran of ten chases, the same number as Cause Of Causes (Codd/Elliott), Tiger Roll (Elliott), and Rathvinden; and second place finishes in the Irish Grand National and a Grade 1 novice chase attest both to stamina and class. He does finish second unnervingly frequently - he's allowed one to pass in five of his last six chases - but otherwise is a strong box-ticker for all that he's no Prestbury Park previous.

Next in is another Irish-trained horse, last year's Albert Bartlett winner, Vanillier. Apparently a spring horse, he improved on a February drubbing last year to win at the Festival and trainer Gavin Cromwell will hope that sizable deficits behind Fury Road, Run Wild Fred and Stattler in his two runs in 2022 can be overcome. It's taking plenty on faith at his price.

Ontheropes is a slight rarity in that he's a Cheveley Park Stud entry, and trained by Willie Mullins, that is not favourite. He has had plenty of experience, however, which is definitely the way to go in the National Hunt Chase, and breeding suggests this trip is within range. The form of his fourth in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury in the autumn is strong and if quicker ground ekes out a pound or two, he could cause a minor surprise.

Gordon also has Braeside, whose two career wins have come on heavy ground, as Profiler handily highlights. He's slow enough for the old four-miler but probably not quick enough for this classier, shorter iteration of the race.

The best of the two trained by Rebecca Curtis - the only two British entries to stand their ground - should be Pats Fancy, who has risen through the handicap ranks this season but was comprehensively hammered at both Cheltenham and Aintree in Grade 1 novice hurdles a year ago. On his latest outing, Pats Fancy was a three length second to Bravemansgame in receipt of 16 pounds. That form is not good enough here. His stable mate, Beatthebullet, is more than two stone 'wrong' with the top rated of these and appears to be the much maligned 'social runner'.

National Hunt Chase Pace Projection

No sign of an out and out burn up, and just a couple that might want to lead. Most are fairly versatile regarding run style so this looks like being run at a fairly even gallop, at least in the early part of the race.

National Hunt Chase Selection

I'm not totally sold on Stattler for all that he can obviously win. Run Wild Fred looks the one, especially with the striking booking of Jamie Codd. And last year's Albert Bartlett winner, Vanillier, must also be a contender on that evidence though not on much evidence since.

Suggestion: Back Run Wild Fred to win at around 9/4.

*

It's a first day light on runners but brimming with class, and it may be sobering to remember that the opening stanza is often the best chance for us punters to get a few quid up on those bookie types. Regardless, there will be 21 more opportunities hereafter so keep some powder dry!

Good luck!

Matt

London Racing Club Cheltenham Preview Notes

Last night I had the pleasure of attending the London Racing Club's Cheltenham Preview night. Always a considered evening, refreshingly bereft of "this is a certainty" and "will win" bluster, the panel comprised the notable nag noggins of Matt Tombs (MT), Lydia Hislop (LH), host Lee Mottershead (LM), and Unibet's Ed Nicholson (EN), who does a lot of media work with Nicky Henderson. Here's what they had to say...

Tuesday - Day 1

Supreme Novices' Hurdle

EN - Nicky is really very hopeful for Constitution Hill and favours him over Jonbon, but Ed prefers Jonbon's battle tested form to CH's bridle work.

LH - Would personally run Sir Gerhard in the Ballymore and the buzzy Dysart Dynamo in Supreme. Kilcruit could be a touch underestimated, while a strongly run race would suit Mighty Potter. Not betting until the final field is known.

MT - It should be a no brainer to split Sir G and DD as Lydia suggested. Constitution Hill not tested off the bridle, who knows if he'll find? Have some doubts about Kilcruit, who has perhaps had a physical issue. Feel Mighty Potter is over-priced based on the Grade 1 Christmas form beating Three Stripe Life. He could shorten between now and off time.

Arkle

LH - Edwardstone is a sold favourite but short enough at 2/1, though would be a bet if drifting as far as 3's. Great jumper. Saint Sam might finish in front from the trio out of the Irish Arkle. Haut En Couleurs retains 'could be anything' status.

MT - Might take a chance on HeC: in a race lacking obvious star potential, he has untapped upside.

EN - Bookies will probably want to try to lay Edwardstone.

Ultima Handicap Chase

MT - Oscar Elite should be on your shortlist.

Champion Hurdle

EN - Epatante has been hurdling really fluently in her schooling work and the Henderson team hope she can make the frame again.

MT - Honeysuckle about the right price. Too much made of her unremarkable but still clear cut win last time. Appreciate It has a mountain to climb trying to beat her first time out off a year's layoff.

LH - AI and Paul Townend should probably force matters and try to put Honey's jumping under pressure. Still think Honey will win, but struggling to find a betting angle into the race. Maybe if strongly run, Zanahiyr without the favourite is a play.

Mares' Hurdle

LH - Telmesomethinggirl the likeliest winner but short enough now. Queen's Brook could be a danger, and Burning Victory may be interesting at a price. Stormy Ireland is probably past her best now.

MT - Want to take Burning Victory on. She's been on the go for a long time.

EN - Marie's Rock has come back to form in her work and Nicky thinks she could be his best outsider of the week.

Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

EN - Champion Green and Brazil are both better value options than Gaelic Warrior and his mysterious handicap mark.

LH - Saint Segal looks like he has a lot of ability.

Wednesday - Day 2

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

MT - Sir Gerhard looks like he'll have too much toe for this field and could go off something like 4/6 in the end.

LH - Agree with Matt

EN - Agree, likely to shorten

Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (formerly RSA)

LH - Not sure Bravemansgame likes Cheltenham. Ahoy Senor could be a Gold Cup player next season but unconvinced about his chance on the tighter track in this novices' race. L'Homme Presse was previously going to the Turners but now heads here: he might just be the optimal runner in the field as he should stay the longer trip and might even improve for it - he's been hitting the line strongly in his races. Gaillard Du Mesnil might be a little value as a street fighting slugger, the sort that often fares well in this race.

EN - Also favours Ahoy Senor over BMG, reversing Kempton Grade 1 form.

MT - 22 Kauto Star/Feltham winners have been beaten in the RSA, no Kempton G1 winner has won RSA; beaten horses from that race have won RSA numerous times. If Ahoy Senor gets into a jumping rhythm he will be tough to beat but only if he jumps well enough. If Capodanno is declared he could be the danger.

Champion Chase

LH - Thought Energumene should have beaten Shishkin last time at Ascot where seemingly everything was in his favour. On Shishkin's home patch, the Arkle winner will be tough to beat. Not sure Chacun Pour Soi likes the track and worried that Willie Mullins says he has to train him at only 95%. Nube Negra each way or without the favourite is interesting because don't really like Energ or CPS and NN will finish strongly.

MT - Would rather back Energ at 7/2 than Shishkin at 8/11 but worried about him potentially jumping right at his fences.

EN - Nicky Henderson has won with all eight of his odds on shots at the Festival to date. Shishkin bids to extend that sequences.

Grand Annual Handicap Chase

LH - Coeur Sublime, if coming here rather than Arkle, has the right profile to be very competitive.

EN - Paul Nicholls very sweet on Thyme White, who he feels may appreciate the fast tempo to the race.

Coral Cup

MT - Saint Felicien is a Grade 1 horse in a handicap. Had a very similar prep to other Elliott handicap winners and was still in the Champion Hurdle until quite late in the day.

Champion Bumper

LH - "Not a race for me, because I just don't know enough about the runners"

MT - 12 of the last 13 times Willie has had multiple entries in the Bumper, the most fancied has failed to be the first Mullins horse home. Not a positive for Facile Vega.

Thursday - Day 3

Turners Novice Chase

LH - Could be a VERY small field. Not sure Bob Olinger has improved for the switch to fences, for all that he was a very high class hurdler; but feel Galopin Des Champs is a better horse for chasing. Henry de Bromhead horses are always well schooled but GdC looks "the real deal".

Ryanair Chase

LH - Eldorado Allen interesting against (or without) the favourite, Allaho. Shan Blue is a negative: think he wants a flat track.

MT - Mister Fisher, if he runs here, might be ridden to pick up the pieces.

EN - Not sure Mister F is running here.

Stayers' Hurdle

MT - The race is "a muddle". Might take a chance on Klassical Dream even after his Galmoy Hurdle clunk. Have also backed Royal Kahala, as believe the Galmoy form has been under-rated a touch. She's progressive while plenty in this field look regressive.

LH - Backed KD because, at his best, he's the best in the field. Might bomb out but if bringing his A game, he is the one. Also wouldn't underestimate Royal Kahala who receives a 7lb mares' allowance.

Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle

LM - Sire Du Berlais is my bet of the meeting. Has a good amateur jockey in Rob James, who will claim 7lb, and SdB is a proper Cheltenham Festival horse.

Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle

LH - Dinoblue the bet of the meeting after Willie decided to send her straight here following a single run and win. Strongly against Brandy Love who is an awful price. Party Central may be more of a danger.

Friday - Day 4

Gold Cup

LH - Wide open race. A Plus Tard is not getting away from his fences with any momentum whereas Minella Indo is made for this job. Respect Galvin who has a nice progressive second season chaser profile but is short enough. Don't think Protektorat is good enough. Would definitely be more interested in MI if Jack Kennedy gets reunited as he may force things from the front and draw out the horse's stamina.

MT - Feel like those to have run in previous Gold Cups don't have the progressive profile needed, while also think Galvin is short enough. Getting interested in Tornado Flyer given the possible steady pace.

EN - Chantry House has been a little hard done by. He is a pacey horse with an excellent win record including at the Festival last year. Granted, the Cotswold Chase is not a strong trial for Gold Cup generally.

Triumph Hurdle

MT - Trainer vibes vs form here: Willie is bullish about Vauban and Gordon about Fil Dor. But Pied Piper has the better form in my view. Spring Juvenile is the key trial though not necessarily the winner from that race. Pied Piper the play for me.

LH - Il Etait Temps must be highly regarded to have made his debut in the Spring Juvenile. Finished that race very strongly and could step forward notably from first to second run for the trainer (WPM). Willie is bullish about Vauban but I'm not so sure about that. IET a really good e/w bet in that he has strong place claims and could win.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle

MT - Like Hillcrest but want to bet a price in this race. Two of interest are Eric Bloodaxe, who bombed out last time but is a proper slogger, and Grand Jury who ran well over 2m4f and looks like he'll be suited to the longer trip. Win only at big prices.

LH - Against Matt's two! Love Hillcrest but kind of wish he was being saved for the Sefton at Aintree. Experience is a key requirement for the Albert Bartlett, and Stag Horn's flat catalogue as well as slick jumping and stamina make him of interest.

County Hurdle

MT - My Mate Mozzie could be another Group horse in a handicap. Crying out for a fast run, fast ground two miler.

Others

Gordon Elliott to be top trainer at 3/1 a great bet to keep the entertainment going for the week. Has bundles of entries and favoured horses in both conditions races and handicaps.

Good luck!

Matt

2022 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY TWO (Weds 16th March 2022)

Each day of the 2022 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 2022 Cheltenham Festival for you!

The 'day two' feature is the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase - a race trainer Willie Mullins is yet to win!

Cheltenham Festival Trends

Wednesday 16th March (Old Course & Cross Country)

 

1.30 - Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 5f ITV

2021 Winner: BOB OLINGER (6/4 fav)
Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
Jockey – Rachael Blackmore


Pluses….

  • 15 of the last 17 winners came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 5 of the last 8 winners were unbeaten over hurdles
  • 11 of the last 13 winners came from the top two-rated on BHA ratings
  • 17 of the last 21 winners returned 17/2 or shorter
  • 21 of the last 27 winners won last time out
  • 26 of the last 27 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • The Irish have won 12 of the last 19 (7 of last 8)
  • Horses rated 150+ do well
  • 10 of the last 13 winners had won a Graded Novice Hurdle
  • 22 of the last 27 winners (including last 11) had won at least one bumper race
  • All of the last 16 winners were aged 5 or 6 years-old
  • 10 of the last 11 winners were aged 6
  • In the last 10 runnings Irish-trained horses have filled 18 of the 30 top 3 places
  • 21 of the last 23 were NH bred
  • 15 of the last 23 had won a graded race before
  • Look for past Irish point-to-point winners (8 of the last 12 had won an Irish Point)
  • Respect Willie Mullins – 4 winners and 9 placed in last 16 years
  • Gordon Elliott has won 2 of the last 4

Negatives….

  • Only one winner aged older than 6 has won since 1974
  • Avoid 4 year-olds too – just one winner since 1991
  • Horses aged 7 or older are 0 from 56 (since 1988)
  • Only two of the last 35 winners came from outside the top 5 in the betting
  • The last 18 Challow Hurdle winners have all been beaten
  • Avoid ex-flat horses (since 2005 all have been beaten. 0 from 30 in the last 16 years)

 

 

2.10 - Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (Grade 1) 3m 80y ITV

2021 Winner: MONKFISH (1/4 fav)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Paul Townend  

Pluses….

  • 5 of the last 13 winners ran in the Flogas Chase (Leopardstown, 6th Feb) that season
  • The last 20 winners had run in a Graded Novice Chase
  • 14 of the last 15 winners finished 1st or 2nd in a G1/G2 over fences
  • 24 of the last 27 winners had only one previous season over hurdles
  • Respect 7 year-olds – won 12 of the last 15 (17 of last 22)
  • 10 of the last 16 winners won last time out
  • 7 of the last 12 winners were beaten on their chase debut
  • 8 of the last 14 winners had won a bumper before
  • 7 of the last 15 favourites won
  • The last 7 winners were rated 150+
  • 9 of the last 10 winners returned single-figures in the betting
  • 19 of the last 21 winners had run between 3-5 times over fences
  • Every winner since 1997 had their chase debut the previous year
  • Irish bred horses are 21 from the last 25
  • 10 of the last 15 winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 Chase
  • 7 of the last 13 winners were trained in Ireland
  • Trainers Nicky Henderson, Willie Mullins and Paul Nicholls often do well in the race (11 of the last 18 between them)
  • 24 of the last 29 were novice hurdling last season
  • 6 of the last 12 winners ran in the Albert Bartlett the previous season
  • Look for horses that ran that same calendar year (53 of the last 55 winners had)
  • 12 of the last 15 winners had raced at the Festival the previous year
  • The last 7 winners came from the top 3 in the betting market

Negatives….

  • No winner aged 9 or older since 1992
  • Just 4 winners younger than 7 since 1978
  • Avoid horses that had had 2 full seasons over hurdles prior
  • Just 2 of the last 22 winners had run less than 3 times over fences
  • No winners of the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (Feltham, Kempton 26th Dec) have won gone onto win this race
  • French bred horses are 0-from-36 (last 15 years)
  • Colin Tizzard is 0-from-10 over the last 10 years
  • Avoid unbeaten horses (only 2 of the last 22 winners)
  • Mares are currently 0-from-11 in the race
  • Horses in headgear are currently 0 from 30

 

    2.40 - Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) 2m 5f ITV

 

2021 Winner: HEAVEN HELP US (33/1)
Trainer – Paul Hennessy
Jockey – Richard Condon

Pluses….

  • 12 of the last 17 were 2nd season hurdlers
  • 18 of the last 21 winners raced less than 10 times over hurdles
  • 10 of the last 12 winners had run at the Festival before
  • 9 of the last 13 winners hailed from the top 8 horses in the weights
  • 9 of the last 13 winners were rated in the 140’s
  • 14 of the last 22 winners aged 6 or 7
  • 8 of the last 12 winners DIDN’T win last time out
  • 12 of the last 16 winners hailed form the top 7 in the betting
  • 20 of the last 27 winners won earlier that season
  • Respect JP McManus-owned runners
  • Respect trainers Nicky Henderson & Gordon Elliott (6 wins in last 12 years)
  • 10 of the last 20 winners were FRENCH-BRED
  • 15 of the last 28 won last time out
  • Respect Irish-trained runners (6 of the last 13)
  • Look for horses that had raced 4 or less times that season (12 of last 13 winners)
  • 15 of the last 17 winners had run 32 days or longer ago (look for horses that have had a small break)
  • Trainer Gordon Elliott is 2 from 11
  • 5 year-olds do well from the small % that have run (win and place)
  • The last 3 winners wore headgear

Negatives….

  • Just one winning favourite in the last 18 years (2020)
  • Only 3 winners since 2000 had run in 10+ hurdles races
  • Horses aged 10+ are just 3 from 308 to even place since 1999
  • Just 4 winners since 2000 aged 8+
  • Horses rated 150+ don’t have a great record, although the 2019 winner was rated 151
  • Only 3 winners since 2000 had run more than 9 times over hurdles
  • Willie Mullins won the race in 2018 and had the second in 2019, but overall has a bad record – 45 runners – just two placed inside the top 2 (1 from 42 since 2010

 

    3.30 - Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) 1m 7f 99y ITV

2021 Winner: PUT THE KETTLE ON (17/2)
Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
Jockey – Rachael Blackmore

Pluses….

  • 13 of the last 21 winners ran in the Tingle Creek Chase that season
  • 4 of the last 9 winners won the Clarence House Chase (Ascot) that season
  • 24 of the last 37 had won at the Festival before
  • Paul Nicholls & Nicky Henderson have won 9 of the last 14 between them
  • Nicky Henderson has won 5 of the last 10
  • 27 of the last 35 winners aged between 7-9
  • 14 of the last 20 winners won last time out
  • 16 of the last 19 winners had run that calendar year
  • 38 of the last 40 winners returned 10/1 or shorter
  • 15 of the last 22 winners returned 5/1 or shorter
  • 7 of the last 15 winners were French-bred
  • 11 of the last 19 winners were second season chasers
  • 15 of the last 17 winners had run 2 or 3 times that season
  • 19 of the last 23 winners came from the top 3 in the betting
  • 16 of the last 22 winners ran in the previous season’s Arkle or Champion Chase
  • 7 of the last 11 Arkle winners (previous season) to run have won
  • Past champions do well – 13 horses have won the CC more than once

Negatives….

  • Only two winners priced 11/1 or bigger in the last 38 years
  • Just 1 winner in last 17 had run 4+ times that season
  • Horses that didn’t run in that calendar year are 3-from-31
  • Top Irish trainer, Willie Mullins, is yet to win this race (0-from-12)
  • Just 1 of the last 20 winners hadn’t won a Grade 1 Chase before
  • 12 of the last 16 winners had run in no more than 16 chases
  • Be wary of horses older than 10 – just 2 winners since 1977
  • Only 3 winners aged 6 or younger in the last 47 years
  • Just one 11 year-old winner in the last 43 years
  • Just one Mare has ever won the race (Put The Kettle On, 2021)

 

    4.10 - Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase 3m 6f 37y ITV

 

2021 Winner: TIGER ROLL (9/2)
Trainer – Denise Foster
Jockey – Keith Donoghue  

Pluses….

  • The Irish have won 14 of the last 17 runnings
  • Respect Enda Bolger-trained runners (won the race 5 times)
  • 20 of the last 24 winners came from the top three in the betting
  • 9 of the last 17 ran in the December Cross Country race here
  • 14 of the last 17 winners had run on the course before
  • Respect Keith Donoghue (3 wins) and Davy Russell (2 wins)
  • 13 or the last 17 winners were aged 10 or younger
  • 7 of the last 11 winners were aged 8 or 9
  • Trainer Philip Hobbs is 2 from 11 (5 placed in the top 5 too)
  • Trainer Gordon Elliott has won 3 of the last 5 runnings
  • 7 winners since 2005 owned by JP McManus
  • 9 of the last 17 winners had run in the NH Chase before
  • 4 of the last 7 winners were owned by the Gigginstown Stud House
  • The last 6 winners all wore headgear

Negatives….

  • Debutants over these fences/course have a poor record
  • Horses aged 7 or younger are only 3 from 99, but the 2020 winner was 6
  • Trainer Willie Mullins is 0 from 15
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls is 0 from 13

 

    4.50 - Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3) 2m 62y ITV

 

2021 Winner: SKY PIRATE (14/1)
Trainer – Jonjo O’Neill
Jockey – Nick Schofield

Pluses….

  • 7 of the last 8 winners carried 11st or more
  • 15 of the last 18 winners had run at the Festival before
  • 8 of the last 18 winners ran in the previous renewal
  • Irish have won 4 of the last 9 runnings
  • 8 of the last 12 winners came from outside the top 5 in the betting
  • 9 of the last 13 winners novices or second season chasers
  • 11 of the last 16 winners aged between 6-8
  • 12 of the last 18 winners were aged 8 or older
  • Henderson, Nicholls, King-trained horses are respected
  • Paul Nicholls has won 4 of the last 18
  • Respect JP McManus-owned horses (4 winners, 10 placed)
  • The last 11 winners were rated at least 138
  • 5 year-olds have a good record (from few runners of that age that have run)
  • Novices have won 6 of the last 13 runnings
  • 5 of the last 7 winners won after a 91+ day break
  • 9 of the last 11 winners were rated between 138-147
  • 10 of the last 11 winners rated between 138-150
  • 8 of the last 11 winners carried 10-11 or more in weight
  • 19 of the last 22 winners had run no more than 12 times over fences

Negatives….

  • Horses aged 10+ are just 2 wins from the last 26 runnings
  • Horses that last ran 45 days or more ago have seen just 8 winners since 1990
  • Last time out winners are just 1 from last 15
  • Horses aged 6 or younger (from top 3 in the market) are just 1 from 30 since 2005
  • Only 2 of the last 16 winners were favourites
  • Just 2 winners since 2000 had run in more than 12 chases
  • Horses that won a handicap chase that season have a bad recent record

 

    5.30 - Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1) 2m 87y RTV

 

2021 Winner: SIR GERHARD
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Rachael Blackmore

Pluses….

  • 27 of the last 29 had won last time out (all of last 18)
  • 22 of the last 29 winners trained in Ireland
  • Respect Irish-trained runners (22 from 38)
  • 20 of the last 29 came from the top 6 in the betting
  • 22 of the last 29 were Irish-bred
  • 11 of the last 21 winners were second season horses
  • 15 of the last 16 winners were aged 5 or 6 years-old
  • 18 of the last 29 winners aged 5 years-old
  • 18 of the last 20 had their debut runs in Ireland
  • 12 of the last 19 had been beaten in a race before
  • 6 of the last 12 winners returned between 14/1 and 40/1
  • Respect Willie Mullins (11 winners) – also had first three in 2018 and first and second in 2020 and 2021
  • The Irish lead the British 23-7 in the race history
  • Trainer Gordon Elliott has won 2 of the last 5 runnings
  • 10 of the last 19 winners came from the top 3 in the betting
  • Mares are 3-18 in the last 18 runnings
  • 5 of the last 6 winners had run in February
  • Last 3 winners owned by Cheveley Park Stud

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses with 4 or more NH Flat runs
  • Just 2 winners failed to win last time out
  • Just 2 of the last 11 winners hadn’t run that calendar year
  • 4 of the last 11 winners were won by UK-based trainers
  • 4 year-olds are 1 from 64 since 2000 (Cue Card)
  • Gigginstown, Paul Nicholls & Nicky Henderson don’t often focus on the race

 

 

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2022 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY ONE (Tues 15th March 2022)

Each day of the 2022 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 2022 Cheltenham Festival for you!

The 'day one' feature is the Grade One Unibet Champion Hurdle - a race in which 32 of the last 38 winners won last time out.

Cheltenham Festival Trends

Tuesday 15th March 2022 (Old Course)   

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

2021 Winner: APPRECIATE IT 8/11 fav
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Paul Townend

Pluses…..

  • 22 of the last 25 winners won their last race
  • 14 of the last 18 winners had raced in at least 4 hurdles races before
  • 10 of the last 12 winners came from the first 4 in the market
  • 9 of the last 10 winners have all won a graded Novice Hurdle before
  • 21 of the last 27 winners ran in the last 45 days
  • Irish-trained horses have won 17 of the last 30 runnings
  • 5 & 6 year-olds have the best record – winning 15 of the last 17 runnings
  • Willie Mullins has won the race 7 times in total and for 5 of the last 9 years
  • 25 of the last 27 winners had raced that same calendar year
  • Owner Rich Ricci & trainer Willie Mullins have won 3 of the last 9 runnings
  • 6 of the last 8 winners had been rated 153 or more
  • 9 of the last 10 winners had won a graded Novice Hurdle before
  • 8 of the last 9 winners returned a single-figure price
  • 9 of the last 13 winners were previous bumper winners

Negatives…..

  • Horses that FAILED to win last time out before coming here are just 3 from the last 25. In other words, look for horses that won last time out!
  • Since 1992 all horses (38) wearing head-gear have been beaten
  • We’ve seen just two ex-flat horses win since 2008
  • Just 2 of the last 19 winners came here unbeaten
  • Just 1 of the last 19 winners aged 7 or older
  • Just 2 outright winning favourites in the last 17 runnings
  • Betfair Hurdle winners are 0-from-8 in the last decade
  • Nicky Henderson is 2 from 39 since 1993 (Shishkin (2020) and Altior (2016) his two winners for this period)

 

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

2021 Winner: SHISHKIN (4/9 fav)
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Jockey – Nico de Boinville

Pluses….

  • 14 of the last 17 winners had won (or been placed) at Cheltenham before
  • 16 of the last 22 winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 chase before
  • The last 12 winners won last time out (plus 17 of the last 21)
  • 20 of the last 22 winners returned 9/1 or shorter
  • 12 of the last 16 winners had won at least twice over fences before
  • 14 of the last 15 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old
  • 15 of the last 19 winners had run 3 or 4 times over fences
  • 13 of the last 18 winners at run at the previous year’s Cheltenham Festival
  • 12 of the last 21 winners were the top or second top-rated hurdler in the field
  • 8 of the last 10 winners were unbeaten over fences
  • Nicky Henderson has won the race 7 times
  • Willie Mullins has won 4 of the last 7 runnings (all French-bred)
  • 8 of the last 10 winners trained by Willie Mullins or Nicky Henderson

Negatives…..

  • Only 2 of the last 35 winners failed to win of finish second last time out
  • Just 3 of the last 31 winners started 11/1 or bigger in the betting
  • Only 3 of the last 30 winners were older than 7 years-old
  • The last horse aged 9 (or older) to win was in 1988
  • The last 29 ex-flat horses to run have all lost
  • Only 1 winner since 2000 won with headgear
  • 5 year-olds are 0-13 in the last 13 years
  • Shishkin (2021), 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

 

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

2021 Winner: VINTAGE CLOUDS (28/1)
Trainer – Sue Smith
Jockey – Ryan Mania
 

Pluses….

  • 17 of the last 22 winners were officially rated 143 or less
  • 15 of the last 21 came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 17 of the last 21 winners returned 11/1 or shorter
  • 15 of the last 21 were novices or second season chasers
  • 8 of the last 14 winners were rated between 142-146 (7 between 142-145)
  • Horses rated 140+ have won 13 of the last 21 runnings
  • 9 of the last 19 won last time out
  • Horses that have run well in the race before have a good record
  • 3 of the last 12 winners ran in the Cleeve Hurdle that season
  • 9 of the last 10 winners wore headgear
  • 9 of the last 12 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 7 winners ran at Cheltenham’s January meeting
  • 4 of the last 8 winners ran in the Ladbrokes Trophy that season
  • 11 of the last 13 winners had run at the Festival before

Negatives….

  • Be a bit wary of horses carrying 11-04 or more in weight – 11 of the last 17 carried 10-12 or less, although the 2017 winner carried 11-12 & the 2019 winner won with 11-8. The 2020 winner, Vintage Clouds, carried 10-11
  • Horses aged 11 or older are just 3 from 52 to even get placed (but last year’s winner was an 11 year-old)
  • Be wary of Paul Nicholls-trained horses – he’s currently 0 from 23
  • Only 2 winners in the last 13 hadn’t raced at a previous Festival
  • Only 5 winners since 2000 have returned bigger than 11/1
  • The Irish have won just 2 of the last 53 runnings (since 1967)
  • Irish-trained runners are 0-28 in the last 15 runnings

 

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

2021 Winner: HONEYSUCKLE (1st 11/10 fav)
Trainer – Henry De Bromhead
Jockey – Rachael Blackmore

Pluses….

  • 32 of the last 38 won last time out
  • Horses unbeaten that season often do well (9 of last 11)
  • The Irish and Nicky Henderson have won 19 of the last 23 runnings between them
  • 9 of the last 13 winners came from the Henderson or Willie Mullins yards
  • The Irish have won 14 of the last 23 runnings
  • Owner JP McManus has won 6 of the last 12 (10 in total)
  • Trainer Willie Mullins has won 4 of the last 11 runnings
  • 27 of the last 32 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old (11 of last 15)
  • 13 of the last 23 winners had won at the Festival before
  • 24 of the last 37 winners were placed in the first 4 at the previous season’s festival
  • The Fighting Fifth Hurdle is a good guide (4 winners, 5 places in last 14 runnings)
  • 14 of the last 26 winners started as flat horses
  • The last 7 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 5 years
  • 6 of the last 13 winners contested the Christmas Hurdle (Kempton)
  • Mares are currently 3 from the last 6

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses that failed to finish in the top three last time out
  • 5 year-olds are just 2 from 108 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 39 runnings)
  • Just 1 of the last 15 winners had raced more than 12 times over hurdles
  • Christmas Hurdle (Kempton, 26th Dec) winners are just 4 from 31, but – Epatante 2020) – did the Christmas Hurdle/Champion Hurdle double.
  • Just 2 horses have regained the race since 1975
  • International Hurdle winners are 0-from-13 (last 18 runnings)
  • Only 2 of the last 23 winners hadn’t raced at the Festival before

 

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

2021 Winner: BLACK TEARS (11/1)
Trainer – Denise Foster
Jockey – Jack Kennedy

Pluses….

  • Follow Irish-trained mares (12 of last 14)
  • The favourite (or 2nd fav) have won 11 of the last 14 runnings
  • 8 of the last 14 favourites have won
  • 13 of the last 14 winners had won over at least 2m4f
  • Willie Mullins has trained 9 of the last 13 winners
  • Look for Willie Mullins, Nicky Henderson, Paul Nolan & Alan King runners
  • Novices generally do well
  • 10 of the last 14 winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 before
  • 6 of the last 10 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 14 winners returned 6/1 or shorter
  • 12 of the last 14 winners had won (or placed) in a graded race against the males

Negatives….

  • Avoid front-runners
  • British-bred mares are currently 2-81
  • Just one winner from last  31 runners to wear headgear have won
  • Be wary of Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs and Noel Meade runners
  • Benie De Deaux is the only ex-flat horse to win the race

 

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

2021 Winner: JEFF KIDDER
Trainer – Noel Meade
Jockey – Sean Flanagan

Pluses….

  • 10 of the last 17 winners had run just 3 times over hurdles before
  • French bred horses have a good record
  • 9 of the last 17 winners started their careers in France
  • Respect Fillies
  • 8 of the last 17 winners won last time out
  • 8 of the last 11 winners all came from the bottom half of the weights/handicap
  • 11 of the last 17 had run in the last 25 days
  • David Pipe, Paul Nicholls, Gordon Elliot (3 of last 9) and Alan King-trained horses often do well
  • 6 of the last 10 winners returned between 25/1 and 40/1 (7 of the last 10 priced 25/1+)
  • 11 of the last 17 winners returned a double-figure price
  • Respect horses wearing headgear
  • 13 of the last 17 winners were rated between 124-134
  • 8 of the last 14 winners were British-trained
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls has won 3 of the last 12 runnings
  • 12 of the last 17 winners had won no more than once over hurdles

Negatives….

  • Just 2 recent winners had last raced in January or further back
  • Trainers Willie Mullins, Philip Hobbs and Venetia Williams are 0 from 36 between them
  • Just 2 of the last 17 winners rated 135+
  • Horses bred in Britain are 0-55 (last 123 years)
  • Willie Mullins runners are 0 from 16 (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 just 2 from 17

 

    5.30 – National Hunt Chase (Amateur Riders' Novices' Chase) (Grade 2) 3m 5f 201y RTV

2021 Winner: GALVIN 7/2
Trainer – I R Ferguson
Jockey – Jack Kennedy

Pluses…..

  • 12 of the last 20 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 11 of the last 16 winners were aged 7 or 8 years-old (22 of the last 31)
  • Favourites have won 3 of the last 12 runnings
  • 9 of the last 12 winners had run 5+ times over fences
  • 4 of the last 11 winners were top-rated
  • 10 of the last 12 winners had run in a Graded Novice chase
  • 5 of the last 11 winners had run in a Grade One Novice Chase that season
  • 8 of the last 15 had run in a chase at Cheltenham before that season
  • 8 of the last 12 winners had run at a previous Cheltenham Festival
  • 8 of the last 11 winners returned a single-figure price
  • Note horses wearing headgear
  • 8 of the last 11 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-22)
  • 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 11 (3, Codd, 2 Mullins, 2 O’Connor)
  • Jockey Jamie Codd has won 3 of the last 7
  • Gordon Elliott has won the race 4 times from just 8 runners

Negatives….

  • 5 and 6 year-olds are just 2 from 81 since 1989
  • Just 2 of the last 31 winners were aged 6 years-old
  • Trainer Paul Nicholls has NEVER won this race - he’s currently 0 from 19
  • 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 12)
  • Just 2 winners in the last 14 returned bigger than 12/1

 

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2022 Cheltenham Festival Trends: DAY THREE (Thurs 17th March 2022)

Each day of the 2022 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 2022 Cheltenham Festival for you!

Day Three at the Cheltenham Festival features the Grade One Ryanair Chase - a contest that 13 of the last 17 winners had won at Cheltenham before. While we've also got the Grade One Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle - a prize we saw the Irish-trained Flooring Porter land in 2021.

 

Thursday 17th March (New Course)

Cheltenham Festival Trends

 

    1.30 - Turners Novices' Chase (Grade 1) 2m 3f 166y ITV

2021 Winner: CHANTRY HOUSE (9/1)
Trainer – Nicky Henderson
Jockey – Nico de Boinville

Pluses….

  • 9 of the 11 winners were Irish-trained
  • 10 of the last 11 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old
  • Willie Mullins has trained 4 of the last 11 winners
  • 8 of the last 11 winners had won a Graded Chase before
  • 10 of the last 11 winners ran in a Graded Novice Chase last time
  • 8 of the last 11 winners won a Graded Novice Chase last time
  • 8 of the last 11 winners had 7 or less runs over hurdles
  • 9 of the last 11 past winners had run at the Festival before (5 had won)
  • 10 of the 11 winners came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 8 of the last 11 winners came from the top 2 in the betting
  • 10 of the last 11 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 9 of the last 11 winners returned 7/1 or shorter
  • 8 of the last 11 winners returned 4/1 or shorter
  • 3 outright winning favourites in the last 7 runnings
  • 8 of the last 11 winners won last time out
  • 10 of the last 11 winners French (4) or Irish (6) bred
  • 5 of the last 11 winners ran at Leopardstown last time out
  • 6 of the last 11 winners ran between 47-54 days ago
  • 7 year-olds have won 7 of last 11 renewals
  • 6 of the last 7 winners rated 151+
  • 3 of the last 11 winners owned by Gigginstown House Stud
  • Gordon Elliott is 2 from 4
  • McManus has owned 2 of the last 3 winners

Negatives….

  • Be careful of horses rated 146 or less
  • Just 3 British-trained winners so far (0-9)
  • The top-rated horse is just 1 from 11
  • Since 1990 all Festival Novice Chase winners have been aged 8 or younger
  • 4 winning favourites in 11 runnings (1 co)
  • 5 year-olds are 0-from-6
  • Just 1 of the last 11 winners had less than 3 career chase starts
  • Just 2 winners had been off for more than 54 days

 

    2.10 - Pertemps Network Final (Handicap Hurdle) (Grade 3) 2m 7f 213y ITV

 

2021 Winner: MRS MILNER (12/1)
Trainer – Paul Nolan
Jockey – BJ Cooper

Pluses….

  • 9 of the last 12 winners started their careers in bumpers (6) or points (2)
  • Irish have won the last 6 runnings
  • Last 10 winners aged 8 or younger
  • Last 6 winners trained in Ireland
  • Sire Du Berlais has won 2 of the last 3 runnings
  • 9 of the last 14 winners placed in their last race (5 won)
  • 10 of the last 21 winners were from outside the top 5 in the betting
  • 10 of the last 11 winners were rated 138 or higher
  • 10 of the last 15 winners were rated between 132-142 (inc)
  • 9 of the last 11 winners were rated between 138-148
  • 10 of the last 17 winners had won over at least 2m7f
  • 9 of the last 10 winners had run 10 or less times over hurdles before
  • 6 of the last 9 winners ran 7 or less times over hurdles
  • 7 of the last 8 winners returned 12/1 or shorter
  • 8 of the last 21 winners won their last race
  • 5 of the last 6 winners ran at Leopardstown last time out
  • 3 of the last 13 winners finished in the first 5 in the Betfair Hurdle
  • Look for Jonjo O’Neill, Twiston-Davies, Mullins and Pipe-trained runners
  • Respect JP McManus-owned horses – won it again in 2019 and 2020
  • Trainer Gordon Elliott has won 3 of the last 4 runnings
  • Jockey Davy Russell has ridden 3 of the last 6 winners
  • Respect horses with headgear (7 since 2000)

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses with less than 6 runs over hurdles
  • Horses that have won 3+ times that season have a poor recent record
  • Since 2000 only 1 winner didn’t have a run that calendar year
  • 5 year-olds have won just twice since 1973
  • Just 1 horse rated 150+ since 2000 has finished in the top 2
  • Only 2 winning favourites in last 16 years
  • Just 1 winner in the last 39 aged 10+
  • Paul Nicholls is currently 0 from 19 (One third and two 2nds in the last 8 runnings)
  • Horses aged 7 or younger and priced in single-figures are just 3 from 47

 

    2.40 - Ryanair Chase (Grade 1) 2m 4f 127y ITV

 

2021 Winner: ALLAHO (3/1 fav)
Trainer – Willie Mullins
Jockey – Rachael Blackmore  

Pluses….

  • 13 of the 17 winners had won at Cheltenham before
  • 7 of the last 9 winners were 2nd season chasers
  • All 14 winners (since getting G1 status) had won over 2m4f
  • 10 of the last 14 winners had won a Grade 1 Chase before
  • 11 of the last 14 had won or placed at the Festival before
  • The King George VI Chase is often a good guide (7 from 28)
  • The previous year’s renewal is often a good guide
  • 14 of the last 17 winners returned 6/1 or shorter
  • 8 of the last 10 winners were aged 7 or 8 years-old
  • 13 of the last 14 winners were rated 161+
  • 4 of the last 17 winners were placed in the top 3 in the Ascot Chase last time out
  • 13 of last 17 winners were fav or 2nd fav
  • 10 of the last 14 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out
  • 15 of the last 17 winners came from the top 3 in the betting
  • 8 of the last 10 winners had 11 (or less) runs over fences
  • Trainers Jonjo O’Neill, David Pipe & Nicky Henderson are respected
  • Respect first time headgear (3 from 10)
  • 9 of the last 14 winners DIDN’T win last time out
  • Last 8 winners were French-bred
  • All winners ran 4 or less times that season
  • 4 of the last 6 winners trained by Willie Mullins

 

Negatives….

  • The Irish are 5 from 62 runners in this race
  • Avoid horses priced 7/1 or bigger
  • No winner aged 11 or older
  • Just one winner rated 160 or below
  • Just 5 of the last 14 won last time out
  • No winner was having their Festival debut

 

    3.30 - Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1) 2m 7f 213y ITV

2021 Winner: FLOORING PORTER (12/1)
Trainer – Gavin Cromwell
Jockey – Danny Mullins   

Pluses….

  • 13 of the last 17 won last time out
  • 7 of the last 8 winners were second season hurdlers
  • 29 of the last 32 winners aged between 6-8 years-old
  • 17 of the last 21 winners came from the top 4 in the betting
  • 8 of the last 20 were French Bred
  • Respect the Cleeve Hurdle and Long Walk Hurdle form
  • 8 of the last 15 ran in the Cleeve Hurdle
  • 19 of the last 22 winners finished 1st or 2nd in all their hurdling runs that season
  • 13 of the last 17 winners started 10/1 or less in the betting
  • Respect past winners of the race
  • 16 of the last 25 winners had won 7 or less times over hurdles
  • 3 of the last 4 winners ran in the Albert Bartlett the previous season

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses that didn’t finish either 1st or 2nd last time out
  • A 5 year-old is yet to win the race
  • Horses that have lost previously in the race don’t fare well
  • Trainer Willie Mullins has only won the race twice
  • Avoid front runners
  • The Irish are have won the race just 4 times since 1995
  • Avoid horses that were beaten in the race before
  • Previous Albert Bartlett winners have an overall poor record (1 from 16), but horses that ran in the race have won the last 3
  • Horses wearing headgear are 0 from 71
  • Horses aged 10 or older have all been beaten since 1986 (0 from 59)

 

4.10 - Paddy Power Plate (Handicap Chase) (Grade 3) 2m 4f 166y ITV

2021 Winner: THE SHUNTER (9/4 fav)
Trainer – Emmet Mullins
Jockey – Jordan Gainford

Pluses….

  • 28 of the last 34 winners were officially rated 140 or less
  • 11 of the last 13 winners carried under 11-0
  • Look out for French-breds
  • 13 of the last 17 winners had run from 25th Jan onwards
  • 11 of the last 18 winners had won a race in Feb or March
  • Venetia Williams & Pipe-trained runners should be noted
  • The Pipe yard have won 7 of the last 24 runnings
  • 16 of the last 21 winners returned at double-figure odds
  • 21 of the last 30 winners had run at the Festival before (but 8 of last 11 were having Festival debut)
  • 21 of the last 22 winners had run in no more than 16 chases
  • 9 of the last 12 winners had 9 or less chase runs
  • 17 of the last 22 winners came from outside the top 4 in the market
  • The last 6 winners were novices or second season chasers
  • 16 of the last 18 winners had raced that calendar year

Negatives….

  • Avoid horses that are yet to win at Class 3 or better
  • The Irish have only sent out 5 winners since 1951
  • Only 2 of the last 18 winners had run more than 12 times (fences)
  • 4 winning favourites in the last 16 years
  • Only 4 of last 27 won with 11st+
  • Winners of a chase at Cheltenham before have an overall poor record, but the 2019 and 2020 winners did defy this trend.
  • Only 2 of the last 18 winners hadn’t run that calendar year

    4.50 – Mares' (Dawn Run) Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2) 2m 179y ITV

2021 Winner: TELLMESOMETHINGGIRL
Trainer – Henry de Bromhead
Jockey – Rachael Blackmore

Pluses….

  • A new race (Just 6 renewals)
  • All 6 winners trained in Ireland
  • Favourites have won 3 of the 6 runnings
  • 3 of the last 6 winners won last time out
  • 4 of the 6 winners were French-bred
  • 4 of the last 6 winners were top or 2nd top rated
  • 5 of the last 6 winners returned 5/1 or shorter
  • 5 of the last 6 past winners started their careers in France
  • 3 of the 6 winners were unbeaten that season
  • Sullivan Bloodstock owners have won 2 of the 6 runnings (just 4 runners)
  • 4 of the 6 winners have been aged 5 years-old
  • Willie Mullins won the race in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020
  • Owner Mrs Susannah Ricci has won 2 of the last 6 runnings


Negatives….

  • Irish bred mares are just 2-from-45
  • British trained runners are 0-from-43
  • British bred mares are 0-from-17
  • Nicky Henderson is currently 0-from-8
  • JP McManus owned are 0-from-7
  • 7 year-olds or older are 0-from-16

    5.30 - Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Amateur Riders' Handicap Chase 3m 2f RTV

2021 Winner: MOUNT IDA (3/1 fav)
Trainer – Denise Foster
Jockey – Jack Kennedy

Pluses….

  • Respect 8 and 9 year-olds
  • 11 of the last 14 winners failed to win earlier that season
  • The last 10 winners ran off a mark of 137 or more
  • 9 of the last 12 winners returned 9/1 or shorter (top three in the betting)
  • 9 of the last 12 winners carried 11st 5lbs+
    9 of the last 13 winners ran in February
  • Look for Elliott, McCain, Pipe and Henderson-trained runners
  • Look for horses in the top half of the handicap
  • 18 of the last 22 winners ran over at least three miles in their last race
  • Look for non-claiming amateur riders
  • 10 of the last 11 winners wore headgear
  • 11 of the last 13 winners came from the top 6 in the market
  • Jockey Jamie Codd has ridden 4 of the last 13 winners
  • Jockey Derek O’Connor 2nd 3 times and 1st in 2019
  • Owner JP McManus often does well in the race (3 of the last 10)
  • 18 of the last 19 winners DIDN’T win last time out

Negatives….

  • Just 5 Irish winners in last 38 years (but have won 5 of the last 8)
  • Horses that fell or unseated that season have a poor record
  • Avoid Paul Nicholls-trained horses – he’s just 1 placed horse from his last 23
  • Trainer Willie Mullins has a poor record in the race
  • Horses carrying less than 10-10 have a poor record
  • French breds are 0 from 68 since 2005
  • Avoid claiming jockeys – 2 from 96 since 2009
  • Just 1 of the last 19 winners won last time out

 

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Champion Hurdle 2022 Preview, Trends, Tips

The opening day of the 2022 Cheltenham Festival can boast four Grade 1 contests, with the undisputed highlight of that quartet being the Champion Hurdle.

Run over an extended two miles, the Champion Hurdle is the ultimate test of speed and agility and its roll of honour is a veritable who's who of the great and good of the winter sport: the likes of Persian War, Bula, Sea Pigeon, Comedy Of Errors, Night Nurse, Monksfield, See You Then, Hardy Eustace, Hurricane Fly, Buveur d'Air and, of course, Istabraq, are all multiple winners of the Champion Hurdle. And, this year, Honeysuckle will bid to add her name to that illustrious list.

An interesting fact is that, between the Champion Hurdle's inception in 1927 and Flakey Dove's win in 1994, there were just three triumphant mares; and, since 2016 - six seasons - there have also been three victorious mares! Annie Power won that year, followed by Epatante in 2020 and Honeysuckle last term. The last named is bidding to make it an incredible four from seven for girl power, and she is currently considered by those lovely bookie types to be more likely than not to do just that.

But is Honeysuckle unstoppable? And, if she is, is there another way to access this mouth-watering contest from a wagering perspective? Let us begin by taking instruction from the recent past.

Champion Hurdle Trends

Such is the fluid nature of training patterns and Anglo-Irish primacy that delving too far back can become counter-productive. So we'll keep that in mind while pondering results since 2008, the last fourteen years.

Age

You can win a Champion Hurdle aged ten. Or eleven, or twelve. But it's now 41 years since Sea Pigeon recorded back-to-back victories as a double-digit aged veteran. No horse older than nine has won since, and only three nine-year-olds have scored in that time, too. So this is a young horse's game.

Indeed, as the table above demonstrates, 12 of the last 14 Champion Hurdlers were aged five, six or seven. Honeysuckle (and also Epatante, Appreciate It, and Abacadabras) are eight, Sharjah is nine, and good old (really quite old now) Buveur D'Air is eleven.

Looking deeper down the pecking orders reveals that in place terms, six is the sweet spot while seven-year-olds also hold their own against numerical representation at least. Those aged six managed to return a profit at starting price for both win and each way bets.

Official Ratings

The average winning official rating (OR) of the last 14 Champion Hurdlers is a shade under 164. But the chart below shows that, after a period of relative strength in the division between 2008 and 2015, elite performances have since been hard to come by.

It might be that the seven pound gender allowance mares receive from colts and geldings impacts these trendlines but the fact is that low 160's horses have been very competitive in recent Champion Hurdles.

Starting Price

There are a few surprises in terms of the odds of Champion Hurdle winners but it is also true that the expected ones generally prevail.

Natural selection dictates that the shorter odds brackets equate to green blocks on the right hand side: so far, so what? Perhaps what this table really brings home is how often it proves to be folly taking on a strong fancy at the head of the market. It may well be the case in 2022.

Happily, even if that does come to pass, there are other ways to play the race as we'll get to.

UK vs Ireland

Irish eyes were smiling last year as Honeysuckle landed odds of 11/10 by an easy six-plus lengths. And Irish-trained horses filled out the next four positions, too, a lop-sided result that might have been even worse had Abacadabras, Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle scorer on his next start, not fallen early in the race.

In 2020, things were brighter for the home defence, with favourite Epatante winning. But the Irish were massed thereafter, filling out positions second to fifth and seventh. 2019 saw an Irish 1-2-4, but in 2018 Buveur D'Air restored a little pride for the British team. Of course, Ireland's squad claimed second, third and fourth.

Almost every year, the Irish raiders outperform their physical numbers; again, there is selection bias in that the expense of traveling must be vaguely vindicated by a horse's prospects in a race not typically infiltrated by the dreaded 'social runners'.

Since 2008, Irish-trained horses have won six of 14 renewals (43% of winners) and placed on 16 occasions (38% of placers), from 41 starters (24% of starters). Ireland is dominant in the Champion Hurdle just now and that trend is very likely to continue.

Who fits the bill?

History suggests we're looking for a young - seven or younger - Irish-trained hurdler with a rating at least in the lower 160's and priced up as having some sort of a chance. Given that the first four in the ante post betting lists fail on at least one of these criteria makes me nervous but, for what it's worth, here are those that seem to fit...

Incredibly, none of the 23 entries tick those boxes.

The five-year-olds are all rated below the requisite standard at this stage: when Katchit won aged five in 2008 he was officially rated 159 and when Espoir D'Allen scored in 2019 he was 162 OR. Zanahiyr is actually rated 159 by the Irish handicapper so might be the pick. Or maybe Aspire Tower, last seen trailing in as lanterne rouge in the Punchestown Champion Hurdle nine months ago, and a precarious wagering conveyance outside of the odds range. Or, more realistically, we're looking at an older than usual winner, one of Honeysuckle, Appreciate It, Sharjah or Epatante.

Frankly, the trend does not appear to be our friend on this occasion...

Champion Hurdle Pace Scenarios / Pace Map

As I demonstrated in this Cheltenham Gold Cup preview, the way a race is run can make a huge difference to the chance of its competitors, in either a positive or negative way. Here's how the 23 entries shape up run style wise, based on an average scoring of their early position in their most recent three UK/Irish starts.

The likelihood is of an even to strong gallop with each of the trio in the 'Led' column capable of sitting behind the speed if it's too frenetic.

Historically, only Ruby Walsh has managed to take his rivals tape to lolly, a feat he achieved in consecutive renewals in 2015/16. Since then, more patient tactics have been the order of the hour, all subsequent winners except Buveur D'Air (tracked leaders) and almost all placed horses (Darver Star, tracked leaders, Melon and Petit Mouchoir, both led, aside) coming from midfield or further back.

Appreciate It may try to dominate from the front but an even tempo ought to inconvenience very few. If they go a beat quicker, the finish will likely be played out by the more patiently ridden runners.

2022 Champion Hurdle Form Guide

After a sizable dollop of conjecturing, I feel we're largely back where we started with neither trends nor run styles/pace expected to be the kingmaking component: the best horse should win. And, though one or two have mildly ascendant profiles, the best horse can be judged from the pages of the form book.

The best horse in this field, in receipt of seven pounds anyway, is indubitably Honeysuckle. She is one of those mares about whom the feeling is that she doesn't really need the weight concession, and that if she didn't get it, she'd be a step closer to the pantheon of the sport. She's a winter game Enable.

Honeysuckle is a winner of all fourteen of her lifetime starts - a point to point and then, under Rules, thirteen hurdle races - the last eight straight of which have been in Grade 1 company, seven of them against the men. She sometimes doesn't win by far but she does always win; and, barring incident or accident, hint or allegation (to butcher Paul Simon), she will win again. Her record is incredible, from two miles to two and a half, good ground to heavy, big fields or small fields, geldings or mares; and, though I cannot back her at 4/6, I certainly don't want to lay her.

Even if you, like me, think Honeysuckle is comfortably the most likely winner and not necessarily the wrong price in the context, there are ways to bet the Champion Hurdle. Each way is probably not optimal given that there's a fair to good chance we'd be lobbing half the stake - the win half, for the avoidance of doubt - in the bin. No, I don't want to bet each way; I want to bet in the 'without Honeysuckle' market.

Take out this queen and we are left with a fascinating puzzle where they bet bigger than 3/1 the field and each way three places. Game on!

There may be a dearth of credible rivals to Honeysuckle, but within the ranks of the (presumed) minor podium contenders we have two groups: those which need to step forward and may be capable of so doing, and those for whom excuses must be proffered and accepted.

In the "progressive?" camp are those glam rockers, Appreciate It and the Five Year Olds. All sparkle and shouty 1's to their name and form profiles, and with fan boys and girls aplenty; but, like the lyrics of a Kiss song, how much substance can be found when you get past the eye liner and leotards? [Sorry, I genuinely have no idea where that analogy went, or why]

Appreciate It is a substantial creature, and he did blitz his opposition when barrelling clear in last year's Supreme. He was also second in the Champion Bumper of 2020, so no fears about track or trip or ground. But where has AI been hiding? We've not seen him since day one of Cheltenham last year, though he is entered in the Irish Champion Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival (DRF) early next month. Even if he ran very well there, perhaps getting close to Honeysuckle - assuming she runs, too - he can't shorten much from his current 7/1 quote unless beating the champ.

The five-year-olds in the CH picture are a bigger crew than normal this season, at this stage at least, and it seems likely that some will be shaken out of the reckoning 'twixt now and then. Zanahiyr, as mentioned already, is the most plausible on ratings. He's 159 on Irish official figures, and has mixed it with Sharjah on his last two starts, finishing second each time. He did get closer to the dual Champion Hurdle runner up on the more recent attempt, within a neck no less, and may have a third tilt in the Irish Champion.

But Zanahiyr was only fourth in the Triumph Hurdle last term when sent off 11/8 favourite, that being his only overseas jaunt. It's hard to say whether it was the travel or the course constitution or both, or if he just had an off day; but what is easier to level is that he has looked a touch exposed against established open Grade 1 sorts this season for all that he's narrowing the gap and steadily elevating his rating at the same time.

Quilixios won the Triumph last year and is in the frame for the Champion this campaign, having been 'Pricewised'. But last year he arrived at Cheltenham unbeaten in three spins, while since then he's been beaten in three spins. I have huge respect from trainer Henry de Bromhead as a target trainer, and Quilixios is another who could advance his claims in the Irish Champion, but he's not improved since the Triumph, from which level of form a stone or so is normally needed to challenge on the biggest stage.

The horse to bash him the last twice is Teahupoo (no, me neither; actually, I just googled it and, apparently, it's a village on the southwestern coast of Tahiti - so now we both know). He's four from four for Gordon Elliott - was beaten into second when trained by Sneezy Foster, if you believe that was a different regime - and has looked a better horse than Quilixios this term for all that he made hard work of it on heavy at Limerick. He's also not raced on quicker than yielding and we're not seeing torrents of rain this year to date. The Irish 'capper has him on 149, Quilixios on 150, at time of writing: neither mark is good enough, but one or both may improve after DubFez (that's seriously not a cool amalgam).

For the Brits, the five-year-olds are headed up, I think, by Triumph runner-up Adagio, who ran a bold race that day, and again twice subsequently, at Aintree (G1) and Cheltenham (Greatwood Handicap). A three-time bridesmaid in his most recent efforts, then, but all of them admirable. The Festival run needs little explanation, the Aintree effort could have been better but for a howler at the last hurdle, and the Cheltenham silver, off top weight in a 19-runner skirmish on seasonal bow, was valiant. Still, he's only rated 152 by the British handicapper and that leaves him a good bit to find even allowing for the more lenient marks which are a feature of this season in Blighty.

Adagio's vanquisher at Aintree was the theretofore unbeaten Monmiral; but that chap blotted the notional copybook big time when miles off the pace in the G1 Fighting Fifth. That was his seasonal starter and first try against seasoned Grade 1'ers, but still, he has a fair bit to prove at this juncture and no immediate entries in which to prove it.

Tritonic has a mountain to climb to reverse form with Epatante on their Christmas Hurdle running; and the novices Saint Felicien and six-year-old My Mate Mozzie don't look good enough yet, though both will have a chance to further their claims before the Festival.

And then we have the Aging Rockers - the "talented but fallible" group - headed up by Sharjah and Epatante. Sharjah is nine now, something that couldn't prevent Hurricane Fly claiming a second Champion Hurdle or Rooster Booster a first; but it was at least a contributory factor in the defeats of Harchibald, Binocular, My Tent Or Yours and The New One, all of whom had podium 'previous' in the race. From that list, only My Tent Or Yours was able to finish higher than fifth, running up to Annie Power in 2016.

Sharjah is a strong travelling sort but occasionally a bit quirky at the serious end as his reluctant (to these peepers) score in the Matheson showed; there he tanked up to the girths of Zanahiyr before cocking his jaw somewhat and sticking his head in the air somewhat. Nevertheless, he did win that Grade 1, and for a record fourth time. Moreover, in his time he's amassed most of a million quids in prize money - around £838,800 to be fairly precise, which is only about forty grand shy of Honey's total pot - and must have given his owners untold joy. And, since his 2020 Matheson success, he's been beaten only by Honeysuckle (three times) and Abacadabras. It's hard not to be impressed with his overall record in spite of a few niggling doubts.

Epatante is a former Champion Hurdler, beating Sharjah into second two years ago. She was arguably a little below par last season but still ran third in the Champion, this time Sharjah winning their personal duel. Her usual Grade 1 Christmas romp went to plan this term, where last campaign it did not, and she goes to Cheltenham still only an eight-year-old: that may be knocking on a touch in the context of this race's profile but she's no old-timer. She's a little bit the forgotten horse in spite of winning two Grade 1's this season (one, in the Fighting Fifth where possibly under-cooked, a dead heat, and, granted, not really taking the eye out at Kempton with her finishing effort); and she has improved on her earlier season form in both of the last two seasons in the Champion Hurdle. I expect she will again bring her best to the Festival party.

Another in this camp is Abacadabras, also eight, though one whose campaign hardly screams podium finish, ostensibly at least. Good enough to win the Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle after an uncharacteristic capsize in the Champion Hurdle twelve months ago, the Gordon Elliott-trained son of Davidoff has form of 435 since. But a closer inspection shows that the '4' was when very possibly over the top at Punchestown's Festival having already danced in the Cotswolds and in Liverpool that spring; the '3' was a creditable first run of term behind Honeysuckle, and the '5' last time was when appearing not to stay upped to three miles in the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle.

Lest we forget, Abacadabras was only a neck behind Shishkin in the Supreme of 2020 and looked a proper G1 horse at Aintree a year later. His overall profile may be a tad patchy but on his day he's very good.

Finally, I think Aspire Tower deserves a mention. Last seen when apparently injuring himself in the Punchestown Festival Champion Hurdle in April 2021, he'd previously run fourth in the Cheltenham equivalent, as a five-year-old. As a four-year-old at Cheltenham, he'd run second to Burning Victory (would have been third, of course, but for Goshen's uber-misfortune). It's a long old absence to overcome but the fact he retains this entry means he must be close to peak fitness; that said, he doesn't feature in the entries for the DRF and presumably connections would want to get a run into him before the big March Tuesday.

2022 Champion Hurdle Tips

The win market is rightly dominated by Honeysuckle, whose race this is to lose on all known form and in what looks a relatively weak division currently. Because she has such an overwhelming hold on the probabilities, each way betting makes little appeal. Better, I think, to play in the 'without Honeysuckle' market. That makes it a 3/1 the field affair and, in truth, fiendishly difficult. It is also the case that the betting order and shape will likely take an almighty shakeup after the Irish Champion Hurdle, the entries for which are below.

An over- or under-performance by any of these will see their odds fluctuate and, while current wisdom implies a Honeysuckle-Sharjah-Appreciate It and/or the Five-Year-Olds 1-2-3, reality may paint a different outcome.

Meanwhile, back at Cheltenham, plenty of the Champion Hurdle entries are simply not rated at the level that suggests prospects in all but a black swan scenario. The ones who are, Honeysuckle aside, are Sharjah, Epatante, Appreciate It, Zanahiyr, Aspire Tower and perhaps Abacadabras.

The logical play, and favourite at 10/3 in this market, is Sharjah and I couldn't argue that his chance of winning with/without Honeysuckle is less than 23%. It might be a little more than that without screaming value, I just didn't really like the way he finished his race at Leopardstown last time.

Epatante's back class and effective if unspectacular Grade 1 form this term, allied to the seven pound mares' allowance, makes her interesting at 11/2. She's lacked a bit of sparkle so far but could be sitting on a better effort: she's already achieved more than many of her rivals.

Appreciate It is the unknown having not raced since the Supreme Novices' Hurdle ten months ago as I write. If he shows up at the DRF next month that will be highly instructive, and I'd rather take a shorter price after that race than speculate on him before it. Moreover, his usual bold front-running style won't necessarily lend itself to the projected race setup.

Zanahiyr's talent is fully priced into his quote of 6/1. It's about the same odds as are available for Epatante and she's won two Grade 1's this season and run 1-3 in Champion Hurdles. Aspire Tower is not really playable in anything but a non-runner no bet market (and might be the exception to the 'don't bet each way against Honeysuckle' mantra at 40/1 NRNB, Betfred).

Abacadabras keeps drawing my eye, daftly perhaps, but he's a price to legitimise a bob or two each way in the without's. He's a strong stayer at the trip and will introduce himself quite late in the drama if he's good enough. 20/1 each way without the favourite isn't the worst approach to a borderline inscrutable puzzle, though it is possible he might skip Cheltenham and head to Aintree. As such, I'm waiting for the non-runner no bet proviso (and potentially a shorter price) to play.

Things will be a lot clearer after the Irish Champion Hurdle on 6th February, and wagering any Irish runner prior to that risks devaluing the position several weeks before Cheltenham. The one horse whose price will not move much, if at all, is Epatante and she looks a most logical and reasonable each way 'bet to nothing' (if only such a thing existed).

2022 Champion Hurdle Suggestion

1pt e/w Epatante without Honeysuckle at 11/2 (1/5 1-2-3) Hills

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2022 Preview, Trends, Tips

With just two months to go until the Cheltenham Festival 2022, thoughts begin to turn to those high class clashes, none more so perhaps than the Blue Riband itself, the Cheltenham Gold Cup. A number of contenders that ran over the Christmas and New Year period are slated to head straight to Cheltenham so now seems an opportune time to have a rifle through recent - and slightly less recent - history in search of an ante post play.

In this post, I'll cover some Gold Cup trends, potentially favoured run styles, and of course the actual form of those with chances and a few without much hope!

Let's start with some historical context.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Trends

Trends seem to have acquired something of a bad rap in recent years, perhaps because factoids are taken out of context a little too often. But the reality is that history is our best guide to the future and, especially in top class races, a certain profile tends to come to the fore time and again. The Gold Cup is a race that places a premium on stamina, class, jumping and a touch of speed. Given the undulating nature of Cleeve Hill, against which the racecourse is set, contenders need also to possess balance: not for nothing is this considered such a champion's test. What follows will flesh out the importance of some of those attributes in numbers.

Official Rating

The best staying chasers in training tend to line up for the Cheltenham Gold Cup and only those towards the peak of the ratings pyramid normally prevail.

With the exception of 152-rated Lord Windermere, who just got the best of a bizarre five-way scrap up the hill in 2014, every other Gold Cup winner since 2007 has been rated at least 164. The average winning rating in that time, bar Lord Windermere, was a touch over 171.

 

Starting Price

The trouble with highly rated winners of the Gold Cup is that their rating is testament to their ability and that, naturally, is not missed by the market. So it is that, again excepting the impostor Lord W, every other Gold Cup scorer this century has returned 12/1 or shorter. The average winning return has been just under 5/1.

 

Age

Championship racing is a young man's game, the Gold Cup being a case in point. Aged ten, Cool Dawn was a shock 25/1 scorer in 1998. Since then, I make it 75 double-digit aged horses have faced the starter, none passing the post in front; eight did place, however. It seems to be a less frequent occurrence that older horses take their Gold Cup place these days and, when it does happen, it is often a star of previous years enjoying a(n unplaced) swansong.

Denman and Kauto Star fair monopolised the podium before and shortly after 2010, but as ten- and eleven-year-olds they could do no better than Fell-2nd-3rd-2nd between them in 2010/11. The other 13 times a double-digit aged horse has been sent off a single figure price since [at least] 1997, they managed a solitary fourth place between them (See More Business at 9/4 in 2000).

Meanwhile, more materially, the sweet spot is, well, any horse younger than ten. From micro representation this century, a six-year-old has won (Long Run, 2011), while the majority of winners are aged seven to nine, as are the majority of runners.

 

It is hardly a surprise that no age group was profitable to back blind but we can see from the colour coding the folly (or boldness, if you prefer) of siding with a veteran.

 

UK vs Ireland

Last year's overall pasting for the home team was reflected in the Gold Cup itself as Irish runners filled out the medal positions, Britain's top performer being the valiant eleven-year-old Native River in fourth. It is worth further noting that there were only four Irish runners in the field of twelve.

In 2020, Ireland's trainers saddled seven of the dozen runners, again taking top honours but this time ceding the consolation spots to the domestic quintet. Irish runners finished 1st, 4th, 5th, 6th, 7th, 10th and fell.

A year earlier, the first of Al Boum Photo's brace of GC's, an Irish-trained horse also ran second, with the remaining five raiders faring no better than 8th (three non-completions). Native River beat Might Bite for a British 1-2 in 2018, but prior to that it was Irish eyes smiling in both 2017 and 2016, where Team Green bagged the first four places home.

All that means is Ireland have won five of the last six renewals of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and current market sentiment points to a sixth pot in seven years.

 

Trainers

In 2014, the novice Coneygree recorded a memorable Gold Cup success for the small clan at Mark Bradstock's Old Manor Stables; a year later, Jim Culloty unleashed Lord Windermere from his handful of horses to bag glory. These days, most of the equine power is housed in just a few whale stables and romance, even relative romance, is in short supply. But then, perhaps it has been thin on the ground for a while longer: Nicky Henderson won a couple before Lord Jim, and prior to that was a spell of Paul Nicholls dominance.

We are unlikely to see an unfamiliar name engraved into the annals of Festival history this term.

 

Repeaters

A test as unique as the Cheltenham Gold Cup makes it something of a specialist's race. Best Mate famously reeled off a hat-trick of wins early in the century and, since then, both Kauto Star and Al Boum Photo have doubled up. More than that, the same horses seem to have hit the frame with regularity.

The 56 1-2-3-4 positions since 2008 were filled by just 38 individual horses. Names like Native River and Kauto Star and Denman and Long Run and Al Boum Photo return instantly to mind; but a little more noggin-rummaging is required to recall the triple-placed sticks Djakadam and The Giant Bolster. Hardy perennials all, and expect further familiarity nine weeks hence.

 

Identikit Gold Cup Winner

So where does that leave us? Not much further forward in truth: the challenge with markets like the Gold Cup is that there are few lights dimmed under bushels. We know we're most likely seeking a younger horse, prepared by a mega-trainer, probably in Ireland; and we know that horse will have a top rating and may have run well in last year's Gold Cup.

It's desperately obvious and yet, at the same time, there are a few pretenders who don't really fit that bill.

Of the 30 entered, a dozen don't have a 160+ rating, another four are aged ten (including Al Boum Photo and Champ), and Allaho is almost certain to run in the Ryanair barring the same owner's A Plus Tard's absence from the final declarations for this one. From those remaining it shouldn't be too hard to whittle a good few more:

 

Gold Cup Run Styles

The way races are run suit some horses and, at the same time, compromise others; it is always worth trying to figure out which side of that argument your wagered conveyance is likely to be. Attempting to project from this far out is not straightforward but we still ought to give it a lash. First things first: how have recent Gold Cups played out pace wise?

Last year, Minella Indo tracked a steady enough pace. He was never more than two or three lengths off the lead. In 2020, Al Boum Photo raced midfield but never more than about five lengths from a lead shared without contest; and the previous year, the same horse was ridden more patiently after a number of rivals battled for early primacy.

The story of these three winners? Right place, right time each time.

In 2018, Native River won from Might Bite, the pair engaging in a ding-dong skirmish from flag fall; in theory, both should have wilted and been passed. This was definitely not a winner I could have found as it looked on paper beforehand that they'd have at it exactly as they did, an approach in this sort of cauldron which typically spells c-u-r-t-a-i-n-s. Fair play to both.

Sizing John in 2017 was trying a longer trip and was ridden accordingly, with patience. That panned out ideally with, again, Native River disputing the lead at a fast tempo; back they came at the bizzo end on quick turf.

O'Faolains Boy set a fair but not searing tempo, aided and abetted by Smad Place, in 2016, the beneficiary of which was the handily-ridden Don Cossack. Remember him? And in 2015, Coneygree made every yard under an inspired ride from Nico de Boinville. de Boinville's measurement of pace there was brilliant, saving enough to repel a brace of Irish challengers up the hill to the line.

 

The message, in case it isn't clear enough yet, is that situation dictates optimal position: if it's steadily run, be close to the front; when there's a more contested gallop, a more patient ride is best. Regardless of how things pan out from an early speed perspective, out back is likely not a favoured position. The only time since 2009 when 'in rear' prevailed? That weird, wonky, bizarro Lord Windermere episode in 2014.

 

2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup Pace Map

So let's attempt to nail some jelly to the wall. Specifically, we'll try to conjecture a) which horses will run in the 2022 Gold Cup, and b) how they might be expected to assemble themselves through the first mile - and at what sort of an overall speed. Quackery? Here? How very dare you...

What we do have here on geegeez are future big race fields and, as a result, we can put our tools to work, including the PACE tab. Removing horses I perceive as unlikely to line up, the field looks this, based on an average of their most recent three run style scores:

 

Remastered and Conflated are the two who typically press on. They are also two of the lesser-rated animals in the entries: as such, the chances of them not lining up or simply not being quick enough against this calibre of opposition are high. Run Wild Fred, a novice likely heading elsewhere, is another who could have been trying to nose an advantage over the first few fences. Which is a verbose way of saying this field is not obviously loaded with early dash given the more probable starters.

As such, a prominent run style might be an advantage, which could be a positive for the likes of Minella Indo and Chantry House. Fancied runners such as Protektorat and A Plus Tard would do well not to gift easy lengths to talented rivals by lagging behind in the first half of the race. At least, that's my reading of this vaguest of vaguenesses.

 

2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup Form Guide

And so, enfin, let us peruse the past performances, in approximate market rank order.

The favourite, at around 7/2, is A Plus Tard, whose Betfair Chase demolition job at Haydock propelled him to the top of the lists. A model of consistency, APT has yet to finish outside of the first three in 13 Rules starts. Three of those races have been at the Festival where he has the full set of medals; his only gold, mind, came in a handicap, and he's since finished third in the 2020 Ryanair and runner up in last season's Gold Cup. Defeat was unexpected in the G1 Savills Chase over Christmas, but it might be that he had a harder race than it appeared in the Haydock mud; and it might simply be that that self-same Warrington sticky stuff has flattered to deceive once more, as it has done in the Gold Cup context with Bristol De Mai and Royale Pagaille in recent renewals.

For all that iffing and butting, A Plus Tard is the right favourite and almost certain to offer a run for the pennies. But he's no bargain, especially if his jockey - presumably Rachael Blackmore though she has another option - allows others a head start.

The one to deny APT a year ago was stable mate Minella Indo, himself falling cruelly short on the same sward twelve months earlier. Run down by Champ in the Festival Novices' Chase as a seven-year-old, he resisted Blackmore's persistent attempts to repeat the feat up that withering hill aged eight. We already know repeat winners are relatively commonplace, and that Indo usually figures prominently from tapes up, is theoretically in his pomp as a nine-year-old and, if we add in that he also won his sole other Fez spin, the G1 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle of 2019, what's not to like?

Well, P is for 'potato race' and also for 'pulled up', which was the fate that befell the reigning champ on his most recent outing. That scrabble tile on the scorecard came by way of Bryony's goading aboard Frodon in Kempton's King George: the preeminent female riders of their generation - heck, any generation pretty much - set a gallop way too hot to handle and paid the price. The race looks a 'chuck out' but it does follow a middling seasonal debut behind that pesky Frodon at Down Royal, too.

Looking again to the upside, Minella Indo has one target this season as he has had for the last few seasons: Cheltenham's Festival. He arrived in Gloucestershire last term with recent form of F4 and, unless taking in the Dublin Racing Festival between now and his return visit to England, he'll arrive this time with 3P as the last two efforts. He's 8/1.

A niggle with both of these Henry de Bromhead inmates is the form of the yard; while there's plenty of time for that to shake itself right, a 6.5% strike rate in the past month (28% placed) compares unglamorously with historical hit rates a smidge more than double the win and another five or six points on the place.

The third and final single figure price is offered about the chance of Galvin, trained by Gordon Elliott, and vanquisher of A Plus Tard in the Savills last time. An eight-year-old second season chaser, Galvin is another previous Festival winner: his big day came on the Tuesday last year when he saw off all-comers in "the four-miler" National Hunt Chase, which is of course no longer staged over four miles. Stamina is not in doubt then, nor is the quietly ascendant trajectory of his form; but he does tend to struggle more when it's wet.

The evidence is a form string on yielding or quicker of 111121111111 and on soft or heavy of 16F4222 (credit to Tony Keenan for highlighting this). I'm not really into long-range forecasts, nor do I know about water tables, evapotranspiration or turf husbandry; but I do know that, since 1997 - 24 Gold Cup renewals - the official going has been good to soft or quicker on all bar three occasions.

Next in the lists, at 10/1, is Al Boum Photo, winner of the 2019 and 2020 Gold Cups and third last year. That seemed to signal a changing of the guard, an impression that recently turning ten has done nothing to dispel. The substance of his Punchestown second to Clan Des Obeaux and his annual trot around Tramore on New Year's Day has corroborated the perception of this brilliant fellow yielding just a touch to the passage of time.

On the same price, and figuratively passing Al Boum in the lift on the way up, is Protektorat, Dan Skelton's great white (bay, actually) hope. A seven-year-old son of Saint Des Saints, he was a good but not great novice hurdler - won a Listed, beaten three times in Grade 2's - but seems to have taken a solid stride forward over fences. To wit, a novice chase season of 11221, the last win of which was a four length score in the Grade 1 Manifesto at Aintree; and, hitherto this campaign, a staying on close second over a trip seemingly too short under top weight in the Paddy Power, and a facile romp in the Grade 2 Many Clouds Chase at an extended three miles. The form of that latter race is seriously open to question: Native River ran his last race and was spent much further out than usual, and everything else bar Sam Brown failed to complete.

Protektorat has been Pricewise'd in the last couple of days, that value vacuum cleaner meaning he's a rum price for us Johnny Come Lately's, but he's not really one I'm yet persuaded by anyway. I do admire his upwardly mobile profile, though.

After that we move towards the longer grass, where contenders morph into pretenders in the main. Take 14/1 Tornado Flyer for example: a shock winner of a bonkers King George that culminated in a pace collapse. His only other effort at three miles was when 37 lengths (count them) behind A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase of 2020. His best run in the interim was when staying on into third in another mental burn up for last season's Ryanair; if they go a million, and if he stays, and if he can cut out the mistakes which are a feature of his performances, he might make the frame. As referenced earlier, at this early juncture the race looks unlikely to set up for him even assuming those other boxes got ticked.

What of 18/1 Chantry House then? Another rocking up after a last day 'P', assuming he doesn't stop off 'twixt now and then, this eight-year-old Seven Barrows green-and-golder was a fine winner at the Fez twelve months back, and an even finer winner in Liverpool three weeks later. That brace of novice G1's, the second of which was at beyond three miles, advertised his prospective Gold Cup claims, something a facile match score over The Big Breakaway did little to rebuke. And then, when it was all going so well, along came that King George; never going the pace there and succumbing to a couple of - these days - uncharacteristic blunders and pulling up.

If one can overlook that disappointment, Chantry House's Chelto form is strong: as well as the Marsh score last campaign he was also a fair third to Shishkin in that one's Supreme. But, with reference to the PU, and this applies equally to Minella Indo unless/until they bid to usurp it as their pre-Gold Cup form figure, the last horse to pull up prior to the Gold Cup and still get it done was... Cool Dawn in 1998. The 15 who attempted to overcome that stat since were all massive prices with the exception of 10/1 Lostintranslation two years ago: he managed third in spite of his trainer's lamentable form at the time, so all may not be lost. Lies, damned lies and statistics...

Asterion Forlonge - not on his feet for longe [harsh] - is a really talented horse who is probably just a bit soft. There's a fair argument that three of his four falls/unseats were because he is a wuss, scaring himself on the landing side when not foot perfect. I doubt he'll iron that out before March but, if he could take off and land adroitly throughout, he'd be interesting for all that it's (very) hard to forget his errant transit in the 2020 Supreme. He's 18/1 tops.

20/1 bar these, the first of which is Champ, now ten and last seen winning well in a Grade 1 hurdle. His last chase sighting was when pulling up after only six fences in the Gold Cup a year ago. Connections are publicly pointing towards this gig but I wonder if he might go t'other way in a very open looking and winnable Stayers' Hurdle section. Oh, and he's only had four runs in two years.

Of the rest, Allaho almost certainly goes Ryanair, Royale Pagaille has plenty to prove away from Haydock, Fiddlerontheroof has most of a stone to find on ratings though does have some good placed form at staying trips, Mount Ida surely goes to the Mares' Chase, and Lostintranslation pulled up in last year's GC and is now ten. The rest are almost impossible to fancy.

 

2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup Tips

Plenty to chew on in the above ahead of what looks an open and fascinating betting puzzle. No horse comes without some downsides and, as ever, the challenge is to weigh the negative against the prevailing odds. In my view, and that of most of the rest of the world, easily the three most likely winners are the trio at the head of the market; but their credentials are largely reflected in their prices.

A Plus Tard has been exposed a couple of times in Festival G1 company now and is short enough for all that he's hugely talented. Galvin may still be improving but 5/1 readily acknowledges that. He'll likely be a similar price on the day if it's good to soft ground, and then might be worth a saver; he'd probably be opposable on softer.

The one who might still be a little on the fat side is Minella Indo. Yes, we have to overlook a no better than fair first day of term and a very flat effort at Kempton; but there are credible excuses, and Indo's previous - as he arrived at last year's Gold Cup - offers hope he'll be a different horse in two months' time. 8/1 is all right, I think.

Of the remainder, I'm slightly tempted to have a little throwaway each way bet on Chantry House. Again, it was a bad one in the King George last time but, prior to that, he was 1113131111 including a win at last year's Festival. He has a rating that fits (just about), upside at the trip, handles the track, goes on most ground and usually races prominently. And he's 18/1. Or 16/1 NRNB and best odds guaranteed (if you still have it) with bet365. That latter option is playable small each way, I think.

2022 Cheltenham Gold Cup Suggestion

1 pt win Minella Indo 8/1 Paddy, Hills, Victor

½ pt e/w Chantry House 16/1 bet365 (NRNB, BOG) or 18/1 Skybet, Unibet

Good luck,

Matt

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.

*

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).

*

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.

*

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!

*

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)

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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? 😀

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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.

*

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

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