10 Minute Preview: Cheltenham, Friday 23rd October

In this very quick (11 minute) video, I highlight a couple of horses I'm interested in at Cheltenham's Showcase meeting this afternoon. Both are proven in conditions and have a good chance to outrun their odds. Both are easy to find using Geegeez Gold's Instant Expert tool.

See what you think...

And don't forget our special Winter Season Ticket offer, which will give you access to all of these brilliant tools for the entire National Hunt season for just £149.

 

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Royal Ascot 2020: Day 4 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 4 Preview, Trends, Tips

The fourth day of five at Royal Ascot, and the last for which I offer my tuppence worth; Friday's highlights include the Group 2 Norfolk Stakes, Group 2 Hardwicke Stakes and the headline Group 1 Commonwealth Cup. Yum!

Proceedings commence a little more humbly, however, with the...

1.15 Palace Of Holyroodhouse Handicap (5f, Class 2, 3yo)

Yet another special race this year to start us off is this five-furlong three-year-old handicap. Draw and pace could be material, the map of both looking like this:

One of the features of this big field is the amount of forward-going types, even in the context of a sprint over the minimum. So, whilst early pace might normally be a key to winning, I'll be looking for a horse to finish off through tiring rivals: the race could change complexion markedly in the last half furlong.

The favourite, and a strong favourite at that, is Art Power. The Kingpower-owned, Tim Easterby-trained runner has won his last two in sensational style and might just be superior to handicap grade. But he's 2/1 or so in a field of a score and more.

Around about him in the high numbers are a couple that may be able to give us a thrill at a more working person's price. Keep Busy won one of those slightly sub-par French minor pattern events last backend and has already had two races since the resumption; as such, she's more match fit than most. She didn't seem to get home over Newcastle's straight six but ran well in second in the Listed Scurry Stakes over Sandown's five last time. She's 16/1.

And in the highest stall of all is Mighty Spirit, trained by Richard Fahey and ridden by Megan Nicholls. This Acclamation filly held her form really well in making the first two six times from nine runs, including the Listed Marygate Stakes, last season. She also ran fine races when sixth of 25 in the Queen Mary and third of 24 in the Weatherby's Super Sprint. She's tough and consistent and has a bit of class. She's also an 16/1 chance.

One other to throw into the pot at a big price is Flippa The Strippa. Trained by Charlie 'Battaash' Hills, her form tailed off towards the end of last season, but she was good enough early on to win the Listed National Stakes at Sandown. If she's benefited from the break she will be finishing on the far side better than many and is available at 28/1.

There are eighteen I haven't mentioned.

It's a good sprint handicap is this, with Art Power the obvious one who might just be too good for them. If he's not, I'll take a chance with two drawn high in Mighty Spirit and Keep Busy.

*

1.50 Albany Stakes (Group 3, 6f, 2yo fillies)

Six furlongs and two-year-old fillies, plenty of whom either won't get home or are not good enough. Wesley Ward's Flying Alaetha is the early favourite, but this turning five furlong dirt winner may not appreciate any rain. In any case it is impossible to quantify her form in the context of an Albany, though we know Ward is 0-for-10, just one placed, with seven of them sent off at single figure odds. Not for me.

Aidan O'Brien is only 1-for-15, though he has had four further placed runners. The winner, Brave Anna, was sent off at 16/1. APOB has had fillies beaten at 5/4, 11/8, 7/4, 2/1 twice and 5/2. Caution is therefore advised about Mother Earth, for all that the sins of her mothers should not necessarily be vested upon her.

Winners of this race have often come at prices, so it might pay to take a chance on something further down the lists. The one with form on the soft side is Golden Melody, trained by William Haggas and ridden by James Doyle. She won her sole start on Haydock's good to soft terrain, seeing off Star Of Emaraaty et al by more than two lengths. She is a natural for the shortlist having stretched away takingly there.

Mark Johnston won this two years ago with Main Edition, and he saddles Ventura Vision. Her sire, No Nay Never, has a fair record with soft ground two-year-olds running six furlongs; she can be expected to be a lot better under these conditions than a Chelmsford second might imply.

But perhaps the man to follow is Mick Channon. He of the windmill celebration of yesteryear has won three Albany Stakes and enjoyed another two placed runners from 16 sent to post. Thus, his entry Mahale commands respect. Only fourth on debut, she stayed on pretty well over five good to firm furlongs at Newmarket that day, a race which has already thrown three winners from four runners further back in the ruck. That great late work, allied to the extra furlong and her trainer's record makes 25/1 very interesting.

There are lots of other interesting candidates in a race where only the outsider has run more than once. But, given that half of the 18 Albany winners to date returned 10/1 or bigger, including 16/1 three times, 20/1 and 50/1, I'm playing 25/1 Mahale each way with four places. 8/1 Golden Melody may be the best value from the top shelf.

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2.25 Norfolk Stakes (Group 2, 5f, 2yo)

Another juvenile heat, this time the fast five of the Norfolk. If the Albany often goes to a price, this Group 2 has tended to be a top of the market affair, two-thirds of the winners since 1999 returning 6/1 or shorter. The race has been a platform for stallions such as Dutch Art, No Nay Never, Johannesburg and Approve, and perhaps another will promote his claims for the breeding sheds at this early career juncture.

This is a race in which Wes has gone well, with a pair of winners from seven starters. Likewise, Aidan, whose haul reads 3 from 20, 6 more placed, a run that started with the magnificent Johannesburg.

Favourite, and short enough at 6/4, is Eye Of Heaven. The Mark Johnston runner beat Get It - fourth in the Windsor Castle earlier in the week - on their respective debuts, and they had subsequent Windsor Castle winner Tactical behind them in third. It is fair to say that that was an above average novice. Eye Of Heaven did it comfortably enough there and probably deserves to be jolly in spite of ground conditions being potentially quite different here; whether you're excited by an offer close to evens is another question. I am not especially. It does mean that the rest are varying degrees of each way prices.

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Wesley runs Golden Pal, a son of Uncle Mo who didn't get home over four-and-a-half furlongs on debut at Gulfstream; how he'll handle the straight five is up for grabs. Although Ward has a solid history in the race, his recent Royal Ascot record is less good: a seven-runner washout last year and just one from nine in 2018. He is eminently capable of delivering winners on this stage, but they're all plenty short enough against the recent macro.

Like Golden Pal, Aidan's runner, Lipizzaner is also an Uncle Mo child: he's found one too good on both starts to date, but has shown both ground versatility and the ability to deal with a big field. His trainer won the Norfolk in 2015 and 2017 and should be on the premises once more.

The Lir Jet looked very good when romping his debut at Yarmouth and has since been acquired by Qatar Racing. Still trained by Michael Bell, whose two previous Norfolk entries ran second and third, but as far back as 2003 and 2006, the Jet will have to cope with better opposition and softer turf; but he is very quick and he might just do it.

From a very small sample, the juvenile progeny of Due Diligence have done really well on softish ground and that is a nod to Jo Jo Rabbit, a four-length winner on his second and most recent start.

This is a race that revolves around Eye Of Heaven who could be very smart and may just win. But his price offers nothing to value players given how many unexposed and well-bred rivals square up. In that spirit, I'll take a chance that 6/1 The Lir Jet can handle these conditions, and will have a small each way stab at 14/1 Jo Jo Rabbit, whose trainer Archie Watson can ready a rapid juvie. Four places, more if you can find 'em!

*

3.00 Hardwicke Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f, 4yo+)

A mile and a half Group 2 for older horses, and a race in which Sir Michael Stoute has a stranglehold: he's won no fewer than eight since 2006! Of course, that would be too easy... he doesn't have a runner this year!!

Mark Johnston is a four-time winner, though the last of that quartet was in 2005. He's only saddled four runners since, including Universal who was third in 2013. Communique was last a year ago. That one lines up again this time but it is his stablemate Elarqam who appeals more. That one, a Frankel half-brother to Maydanny, who ran earlier in the week, amongst others, just failed to peg back Lord North on his seasonal debut.

Lord North was a clear-cut victor in the Prince Of Wales's Stakes on Wednesday, beating Addeybb, who Elarqam had behind him when winning the York Stakes. In between times, he was third in the Group 1 Juddmonte International and, while stamina has to be taken on trust, his form looks as good as any in the field.

Last year's Derby winner, Anthony Van Dyck, is an obvious alternative. However, in six post-Epsom runs he's yet to revisit the winner's enclosure; and the fact that there was a mere three-quarters of a length covering the first five casts a further fog of doubt over the form. If that wasn't enough, he was also thumped in the King George over course and distance, though in his defence that may have come soon enough after two Derby efforts - he was runner up in the Irish Derby between Epsom and Ascot.

Defoe won this race last year, looking like a progressive horse in the process. Things haven't really panned out that way in three races since, however, including a further run over track and trip so he, too, has a little prove.

A winner over course and distance last October was Morando, and by six lengths, too, in a Group 3. This is a step up in grade with the ground likely to be a little less testing and he has a bit to find with an 'A game' Defoe on last year's Hardwicke form. That said, if it was very wet, he'd come into play.

Hamish steps into Group company for the first time, the William Haggas-trained four-year-old progressing through the handicap ranks last season. He needs to find nearly a stone with Elarqam.

Talking of progressive four-year-olds, Fanny Logan won a trio of Listed races last term, and then a Group 3 before running an excellent three-length fourth in the Breeders' Cup Filly and Mare Turf at Santa Anita. She was patently given too much to do on her seasonal bow at Haydock and, bred for the trip, is more interesting than many in receipt of her gender allowance.

Of the monster prices, Alounak's overseas form - in any of Germany, Canada or America - would give him an outside chance of making the first four. Remember, the Hungarian Nagano Gold nearly took the whole enchilada in last year's race, failing by only a half length at whopper prices.

At the risk of egg on face for a second time this week, I'm against a Ballydoyle favourite. I much prefer 3/1 ELARQAM to Anthony Van Dyck and have backed him accordingly. 17/2 Fanny Logan is playable each way and the big swingers might try 50/1 Alounak.

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3.35 Commonwealth Cup (Group 1, 6f, 3yo)

This newish race, now in its sixth year, has been a hit from the get go. Winners like Muhaarar, Caravaggio and Advertise (pictured, top) have scorched the Ascot turf in dazzling victories.

Top rated this year is the filly Millisle on 115. She was sent off 4/1 for the 1000 Guineas but clearly didn't stay the trip and this looks much more appropriate. She raced exclusively at five and six furlongs last term, winning the Group 1 Cheveley Park amongst others. Sprinting is her game and, if the exertions of two trips across the Irish Sea for two races in a fortnight don't fatigue her, she is the one to beat. Her profile mimics that of last year's winner, Advertise, who put a non-staying Guineas run to bed in this.

Favoured is Pierre Lapin, unbeaten in two including a Group 2 at Newbury last September. He's been off for nine months, though most of Roger Varian's have been forward enough on their first run of the year. He has a few pounds to find with Millisle on form though clearly has scope to progress after just two spins.

Golden Horde had a few goes as a juvenile, winning the Group 2 Richmond Stakes at Goodwood and running close up behind Earthlight twice, including in the G1 Middle Park last backend. Again, fitness must be taken on trust.

Wesley Ward has brought the rapid filly Kimari across. She was a head second to Raffle Prize in the Queen Mary here last June and a staying on fourth in the Breeders' Cup Juvenile Turf Sprint in November. She opened her account over six furlongs in April and certainly has credentials to get involved: unlike many of Wesley's she settles well so Frankie will have every chance.

Lope Y Fernandez is another who comes from an abortive Guineas bid, this time in the Irish 2000 where he was a trouble-making third to Siskin. His sprint form was good last year though not quite at the level of a couple of these.

France is represented by Wooded, a six-furlong Group 3 winner last month. As you'll know if you've been reading these previews all week, I'm not a big fan of the French flat form just now, and am carpet opposing this colt on that basis. His form is at lower Group level anyway.

Remember when Mum's Tipple blitzkrieged his field by eleven lengths at York last year? He's been whacked twice since, most recently when not at all at the races in the 2000 Guineas, but a repeat of that effort on the Knavesmire would likely be just about enough.

This is another cracking serving of the Commonwealth Cup with lashings of speed and more than a little spice. I think it might go the way of the fillies and, to that end, I like both 7/1 Kimari and 11/1 Millisle to show the boys the way home.

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4.10 Queen's Vase (Group 2, 1m6f, 3yo)

A recognised St Leger trial these days but it arrives ahead of the Derby in this topsy-turvy 2020. In point of fact, the Queen's Vase has actually become a top class rehearsal for future Cup horses, with all of Estimate, Stradivarius, Leading Light and Kew Gardens prevailing since 2012. What a National Hunt stallion Stradivarius is going to make! 😉

Since 1998, three trainers have operated a near cartel on the Vase: Mark Johnston has recorded seven scores, Aidan O'Brien six, and Sir Michael Stoute four. SMS is unrepresented this season as, remarkably, is 'Always Trying' (to win the Queen's Vase). Thankfully, APOB runs a pair.

Santiago is the choice of Ryan Moore, the son of Authorized stepping up from a mile and looking bred to appreciate it. He'll need to, though, as his form to date is only average.

Frankie Dettori is enjoying plenty of Ballydoyle partnerships as a result of the Irish/overseas riders having to go through quarantine, and he's on Nobel Prize, a brother to Highland Reel, Idaho and Cape Of Good Hope. He, too, steps up from a mile and he, too, has a pedigree that screams improvement. Those siblings really catch the eye and I expect this fellow to be a player.

Born With Pride is the favourite, trained by William Haggas. He won a Listed race over a mile on heavy ground on his career debut, testament to the esteem within which he is presumed to be held. It must have been a little disappointing, then, that he could only trail home seventh of nine on his next and most recent run 16 days ago; though that lifetime bow augurs talent, he's not much of a price on the recovery trail.

Godolphin's Al Dabaran was beaten in two back end runs in France so, while my casual dismissal of such form lines is going to go bad at some point, he's readily overlooked for all that he is the highest rated in the field and has a nice staying pedigree. He's had more tries than many of his rivals and my guess is that some will improve past him for this far greater test of stamina.

Berkshire Rocco is really interesting. Trained by last year's winning handler, Andrew Balding, he comes here from the Lingfield Derby Trial, a route trodden by four Queen's Vase winners since 2002. None of that quartet ran better than second at Lingfield, the position Berkshire Rocco occupied behind English King, himself favourite in most lists for the Derby. Rocco was seven lengths and more ahead of the rest of the Derby Trial field.

The remainder make limited appeal.

A fascinating race as always, and one in which the top three in the market have won 19 of the last 23 renewals. There are five horses vying for favouritism, the best backed being Born With Pride, Santiago and Nobel Prize. The weakness of Berkshire Rocco does put me off and, because of that, I'm siding with Nobel Prize, who comes from an excellent family, looks certain to stay well, handles give, and gets Mr Ascot, Frankie Dettori, on top. He's 11/2 in a few places.

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4.40 Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m4f, 3yo+)

Friday ends with a big field mile and a half handicap. Keep in mind the weird draw bias against the low numbers. This PRB3 chart illustrates things clearly, with the dark blue line representing big fields, actual draw, and ground between good and soft.

Three trainers have impeccable records: Mark Johnston, Sir Michael Stoute and Hughie Morrison.

Now't from Stoute once more, and just a single arrow for Mark Johnston, the poorly-drawn (stall three) West End Charmer. A four-time winner last season, all in smallish fields, this is a different task from a tough post.

Durston also has an ostensibly poor draw in four, though he too has form credentials. He actually won over nearly two miles last year and that leads me to wonder whether he'll quite have the boot for this, especially if needing to thread a passage on the inside.

Hughie, whose Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes record is three winners from six runners - wow - saddles Le Don De Vie. Exiting from stall ten - plum - he has Ryan Moore booked for the steering job, not that I'm saying it will be a steering job, you understand! Don was a three-time winner last season on the undulations of Epsom (twice) and Goodwood. This more conventional track shouldn't pose a problem, nor should a nearer-front-than-back run style.

Hereby, a misser of the cut earlier in the week, gets in this time and bids to extend her winning sequence to five. Again this is a much bigger field but she had the speed to win around Chester and the stamina to score in Listed company over 1m6f on soft ground during that victory roll so she's not underestimated. Trap nine is workable, though the last single digit stall winner was in 2008.

Frankie and Johnny partner with El Misk, ideally housed in 15 and with a prominent racing style. He has, however, done all his winning - three of them - on all weather surfaces, and has earned joint top weight in that process. He won't shock if he wins but he's not for me at the price.

At a much bigger quote, Indianapolis can outrun his odds. A course and distance winner off 95 last summer, he is just four pounds higher here; he has a wide draw in 19 - last five winners drawn 12, 14, 19, 19, 21 - and represents a trainer, James Given, with a fine record in staying races in the past two years (five wins from 25 runs, four more placed, A/E 2.34, IV 1.85). Jockey Ben Curtis is hardly a negative.

Sixteen more with chances!

Obviously a head-scratcher of a chin-stroker of a brow-furrower of a puzzle. At the prices, always at the prices, I'm settling on 12/1 Le Don De Vie for Le Don de D(ukeofedinburghstakes), Hughie Morrison; and 33/1 Indianapolis for another shrewd outfit, extra places aforethought.

**

And that's that for this week. Saturday's eight race jamboree will be a case of every many and woman for themselves. It might well be the case that such news is a merciful outcome after four days of reading through my losers. Regardless of win or lose, the effort and thought poured in is always the same: sometimes we are made to look good, more often to look somewhere between daft and imbecilic. Such is the folly of publicly nominating gambling outcomes. Happily, you, dear reader, are cut from the kind of considered cloth that takes the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as part and parcel of racing's wagering fabric. Or, in plain English, you get it.

I very much hope you've got it - or at least got some of it - this week.

Good luck!

Matt

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 3 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 3 Preview, Trends, Tips

Humpback Day at Royal Ascot, perhaps better known as Gold Cup Day, and another seven head-scratchers for punters to unravel. The feature is the Group 1 for stayers and there is a trio of handicaps, and a similar number of minor pattern events, in support.

1.15 Golden Gates Handicap (1m2f, Class 2, 3yo)

Another of the 'for one year only' races gets us underwat, this time the ten furlong three-year-old Golden Gates Handicap, a boon for those too slow for the Brittania and lacking the stamina for the Duke Of Edinburgh. The Royal Ascot Ryanair if you will. There is not much in the way of draw and pace data to go on for fields of this size though what there is suggests a largely fair go for all.

With horses qualifying for a mark after just two runs at the moment there is even less to go on than your average early season three-year-old handicap. Regular readers will know that these events are a weakness for me so what follows will be mercifully brief:

Maori Knight has shown he can handle a little cut in the ground, and that he stays. He may try to lead from the front, which won't be easy but you'll at least get a run for your money at around 9/1.

And the 20/1 Yoshimi might be generous if there is any further rain. He stayed on nicely enough into third behind Palace Pier at Newcastle over a mile last time and is bred more for this trip.

Let's move on...

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1.50 Wolferton Stakes (Listed, 1m2f, 4yo+)

An immediate comparison with the preceding three-year-old handicap is offered by the Wolferton Stakes run 35 minutes later over the same course and distance. The Wolferton at least has a historical profile for all that it's morphed from a handicap (from inception in 2002) to a pattern race since 2018. Indeed, it was won last year by none other than Addeybb, subsequent dual Group 1 winner.

John Gosden has a peerless record in the Wolferton, winning it four times since 2011, and he is doubly represented, by Dubai Warrior and Crossed Baton. The latter, winner of the Listed Churchill Stakes on the Lingfield all weather last autumn, is the chosen mount of Frankie Dettori. Second in last year's course and distance Group 3 Hampton Court Stakes, he probably wouldn't want it too soft but has otherwise fair credentials.

Rab Havlin reunites with Dubai Warrior, on whom he won twice before Christmas including in this grade. Frankie rode the Warrior last time when he added a Group 3 to complete an all-weather hat-trick but he was well beaten on his only turf run, in a French Group 3.

Top rated is Regal Reality, whose 119 figure is deserving of Group 2 company if taken at face value. Third to Enable and Magical in last season's Group 1 Eclipse, he also wasn't beaten far in the G1 Juddmonte International. With both of those top level races being the same range as this Listed event, Regal Reality has outstanding form claims. His trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, has won this twice in the past, and yet his runner is only the third choice in the betting.

Favourite at time of writing (Tuesday afternoon) is Fox Tal, a four-year-old son of Sea The Stars trained by Andrew Balding. He's got form on all ground, was third in a Saint-Cloud Group 1 at the trip and has Silvestre driving. He's been off for eight months, though, and is short enough to my eye.

Sandwiched between the Fox and Reality, in market terms at least, is Sir Dragonet, runaway winner of last year's Chester Vase. He was then a very close fifth in the Derby before flattening out a little in two subsequent 2019 outings. He has had a livener this season, when second at Naas in late March, and is a definite contender.

The rest are 16/1 and bigger and, of  them, King Ottokar will handle give better than most, as he did when third in the Hampton Court Stakes last year. He becomes interesting given the weather..

I fear Sir D and Crossed Baton but I think Regal Reality's form looks very strong for the grade. If he's straight enough and if it hasn't got too wet, which it might have, for this 2020 debut he should be bang there, and 15/2 is playable.

If the rain has come in any quantity, King Ottokar is value on his Royal Ascot run last year at 16/1, 5 places with sky.

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2.25 Jersey Stakes (Group 3, 7f, 3yo)

Another slightly betwixt and between sort of race is the Jersey: since the six-furlong Commonwealth Cup emerged as a powerhouse Group 1 alongside the established mile races for the Classic generation, the Jersey perhaps finds itself a tad marooned. Nevertheless, it will welcome another fullish field in 2020 and remains solidly worthy of its Group 3 status.

Richard Fahey has won this twice from just five runners, Ribchester in 2016 and Space Traveller last year. As such, his Ventura Lightning is interesting. This will be the grey son of No Nay Never's first attempt beyond six furlongs and, out of an El Prado mare, there is scope for improvement. Ventura enjoyed a satisfactory warm up in the Group 3 Pavilion Stakes at Newcastle a fortnight ago which ought to have brought him to concert pitch. He's a general 20/1 chance.

The market is headed by the unbeaten-in-two Gosden/Dettori entry, King Leonidas, a son of Kingman out of a black type-winning Galileo mare: nice! He's laughed at his rivals in a brace of Newmarket novices, the form of the first of which has worked out poorly and the second of which has yet to be tested. He is clearly talented; his street smarts for a big-field class elevation have to be taken on trust.

Second choice Molatham can count a seven-furlong verdict over Wichita amongst his four career starts. Trained by Roger Varian for Sheikh Hamdan, and ridden by Jim Crowley, he perhaps didn't get home when trying a mile for the first time on his final run of last term; the drop back to seven looks right though he will have to overcome a 250-day layoff.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Aidan O'Brien runs the American Pharoah colt, Monarch Of Egypt, just six days after his midfield finish in the Irish 2000 Guineas. That was a terribly messy race and the Monarch had no run at all. His form did tail off a little last season after a couple of close finishes with Irish 2000 winner Siskin, a level that would put him in the photo if reproduced two grades lower here.

With cross-channel interloper Celestin the question is whether you believe his run behind Victor Ludorum in the French 2000 Guineas. If you do, he's probably the bet, the winner's form being just about bombproof. But with second favourite Ecrivain running no sort of race, and most of the rest behind him unfancied, it looks a little questionable. What we can say is that Celestin can quicken off steady fractions and handles softer ground.

2019 Gimcrack second, Lord Of The Lodge, steps up to seven for the first time. That form behind Threat stands comparison but this straight test will ask questions of a fairly pacy pedigree (though he does have Cape Cross as mum's dad).

The Richard Hughes-trained Mister Snowdon is quite interesting at a bit of a price. He is unbeaten in two runs, a feature of both being how he has quickened from off the pace to win going away. The most recent of the pair was at Yarmouth - another straight seven - and, while this is a big step up, I like that sectional profile. There are many others to consider in a hard to call affair.

Having a bet in here is somewhere on the brave-foolhardy continuum and you'll better understand towards which end you reside once the result has been established. There would be few complete surprise winners and, as such, it might be worth tilting at a couple of windmills. Monarch Of Egypt can go well, but I'll chance Mister Snowdon and Ventura Lightning for beer tokens only. [I recognise the general weakness of my fancies in these previews, but it needs to be understood that they are a devilish set of conundrums, most of which constitute some form of vanity punting. To come out in front we'll need to be very lucky as well as pretty good]

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3.00 Chesham Stakes (Listed, 7f, 2yo)

The longest two-year-old race of the week is the seven-furlong Chesham Stakes. While the distance may be the same as the preceding Jersey Stakes, comparison across age groups make little sense. Nine once-raced juveniles - seven colts, two fillies - go to post.

The Charlie Appleby-trained Shamardal colt Modern News looks a worthy favourite based on the form seen to date. He needed almost every inch of Newmarket's six furlongs to get by the leader on debut and, with his trainer having an astonishing 33% strike rate second time out, he'll take a lot of beating. The fact that a certain Pinatubo scored for the same connections last season should not be overlooked.

But, naturally, it's deeper than one horse. Ballydoyle are represented by Battleground in a race they've previously won four times, including in 2016 (with subsequent dual 2000 Guineas scorer, Churchill) and 2017. Battleground, like Churchill, arrives here off the back of a debut defeat; and, like Churchill, was allowed to find his stride on that opening day and finish off his race. The first son of the outstanding race mare Found, he is certain to be much better than he's shown so far.

The Andrew Balding-trained Bright Devil was something of a shock debut scorer, coming home at 25/1 that day, but with his handler having a 20% second time out record, the son of Dark Angel can be expected to show improved form (like pretty much all of them, to one degree or another). He made all last time, which will be a difficult challenge over seven furlongs here.

Mark Johnston trained the Chesham winner three times in four years at the turn of the century, but has had little luck since: he's nought from twenty since 2003, just three places. That run includes nine at a single figure price, one of them sent off at 5/4. Tentatively stepping out of that shadow is Golden Flame, a son of Golden Horn who ran second on debut at Haydock. A second season sire, Golden Horn didn't have his first winner until July last year, and those are enough reasons for me to oppose this fellow at this stage of his career.

First Prophet, trained by Charlie Fellowes, is a son of first season sire New Bay, himself second in the French 2000 Guineas, winner of the Prix du Jockey Club and Prix Niel and third in Golden Horn's Arc. His five runners in UK and Ireland to date have yielded two winners and a further place. Regardless of how First Prophet performs, and he'll likely find one or two too good, New Bay is a sire to keep on side, for now at least.

Richard Hannon has enough juveniles to know which are the best in the yard, and Concessions gets the nod here. Winner of a three-horse race at Chelmsford (Seattle Rock last) on his sole spin thus far, it is not easy to quantify that form in the context of a Chesham: the trainer's five previous runners in this were all sent off at big prices, four of them running creditably in fourth or fifth of double-digit fields.

Hannon also saddles the New Approach colt, Clarendon Cross, who was doing his best work at the finish over seven panels at Haydock (March Law fourth). Although he bungled the start there, he was still beaten nearly four lengths and he has more improvement to find than most of these.

All of this nonet will end up better than they've had the opportunity to display hitherto; but the balance of probabilities is that the Godolphin and Ballydoyle colts are the smartest. I will take my chance with the longer-priced of the pair, Battleground, who is bred to be very good and who is certain to be straight for this second day at school. 7/2 seems fair enough.

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3.35 Gold Cup (Group 1, 2m4f, 4yo+)

The Gold Cup has been the province of multiple winners, most recently and perhaps most famously being Yeats' four-timer between 2006 and 2009. With owner Bjorn Neilsen in no rush to make a National Hunt stallion of his pride and joy, Stradivarius returns for a third tilt at the most prestigious staying race in the flat calendar.

Now six, the son of Sea The Stars saw his ten-race winning streak ended by Kew Gardens in the mud here last October, going down by a nose in an epic tussle. He was also beaten on his first start of 2020, though that was far less of a surprise as he took on a legit twelve furlong Group 1 horse over that one's trip. As a trial for this main event, it was better than good. With the ground not likely to be a concern and the opposition a notch below last season most likely, the hat-trick bid is a probable not a possible.

Who, if any of them, might give Stradivarius a race? The key player could be Cross Counter, the finisher in last year's renewal. He got to inside two lengths of Frankie that day, staying on; and if he can get less revved up beforehand this time, might give the champ something to think about. But he failed to get past Stradivarius twice last term and there's no real reason why form should be reversed now.

Technician, in the same ownership as Chesham runner Bright Devil, was a good staying three-year-old last term now stepping up into Cup company. His best form is on soft ground, but the son of Mastercraftsman has a bit to prove stamina-wise for me.

It's 12/1 bar that trio with Nayef Road perhaps making most (but still limited) appeal of the remainder. He was close to the pace at Newcastle when running away in the last quarter mile to record a two-mile Group 3 score; but this is a challenge of an altogether different kind.

For Hail Mary players, the outsider of the field, Mekong, may run better than a 66/1 shot. He was a six length fourth in the Champions Long Distance Cup in which Stradivarius was beaten last October, having completely missed the break. Since then he's picked up over £400,000 in prize money without winning, almost all of it for a second placed effort in Saudi Arabia in February. He is a habitual slow starter but if he can concede less ground at the stalls, he may hit the frame at a whopping price.

Ultimately, this looks STRADIVARIUS' race to lose, and I don't think he will. I hope he wins, and I hope Mekong might offer some sort of a run at massive prices for tiny stakes in a race that looks all about the favourite.

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4.10 Britannia Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m, 3yo)

Two impossible straight mile three-year-old handicaps to close, this one being as difficult a race as you'll find at the meeting. Winners have come from across the track, from all sorts of price points and from a plethora of different trainers; so there's not much to cling to from the historical.

There are three tenuous angles which I'm going to deploy for shortlisting purposes, taken from Andy Newton's big race trends here, fully cognisant that the winner has likely been discarded. Those dodgy differentiators are:

- A previous winner at seven furlongs or a mile
- Did NOT win last time out
- Did place last time out (I've used top four)

That gives me six horses: Verboten, Cherokee Trail, Shared Belief, He's A Keeper, Grove Ferry, and Enemy

Enemy is favourite in some lists after just two career runs, a debut first and a subsequent second. Trained by John Gosden - whose debut winners are well worth following, as Jon Shenton highlighted here - Enemy found only Mister Snowdon too good in a Yarmouth novice 15 days ago. That one bids for Jersey Stakes glory earlier on the card so will offer a nod to the value of the form ahead of the Britannia.

Gosden has three further runners in the field, of which Verboten is both better fancied than Eshaasy and on the shortlist; Cherokee Trail also makes the shortlist. Verboten, a Godolphin runner, went from a Yarmouth novice to the Group 1 Vertem Futurity last year such, presumably, was the way he was working at home. He was only 8/1 in that G1 but ran down the field behind 2000 Guineas winner, Kameko. On his first run this campaign, he stayed on into a close fourth over seven furlongs at Lingfield (all weather, turning track). This is a stiffer stamina test for a pedigree that offers mixed messages - speed from No Nay Never, resolution from a High Chapparal mare. Frankie Dettori rides, Oisin Murphy getting first dibs on Enemy who is in the Qatar Racing ownership.

It is testament to the pulling power and the political ability of John Gosden that he can train horses for all of Qatar Racing, Godolphin, Sheikh Hamdan and Coolmore, and run them all in the same race! Cherokee Trail represents the last named firm, with Ryan Moore doing the steering. More experienced than his stablemates, this son of War Front (Galileo is nearly always in the dam's blood, if he is not the sire) drops back to handicap grade after three spins in pattern class. He'll obviously find it easier, has proven stamina and the best connections; but he might just be marooned a little in stall two, with the pace possibly coming down the middle. At least he should get a clear passage from there.

Gosden is a three-time Britannia Stakes winner, albeit from 34 runners, so he certainly knows what is required.

Shared Belief would be the first winner not to have run in the same calendar year since, I think, at least 1997, but of course there are mitigating circumstances in this truncated pandemic-affected season. A handicap debutant for Archie Watson - whose two-year record with such horses is 24% from 108 starters, whose layoff stats are 23% from 105 starters and whose 14-day form at time of writing is 30% from 33 starters - he won't be lacking for preparation!

Since a seven furlong soft ground maiden win this time last year, Shared Belief has been highly tried in a trio of pattern races, most recently running behind Group 2 King Edward VII Stakes winner, Pyledriver. He has a middle draw, a 'get on with it' run style and is a 40/1 shot.

He's A Keeper is the same price, and in truth I find it harder to make his case. Beaten five lengths and more in his last three starts, he has at least had a spin this season, but I'm not sure he'll stay a mile in what ought to be a truly run affair.

More credible, perhaps, is Grove Ferry. Progressive last term, winning twice in novice company before finishing one place ahead of Verboten in their respective 2020 pipe openers. Team Balding was flying at that time, though so too was Team Gosden, and this son of Excelebration has a high draw and a waited-with style of racing. He is ridden by David Probert, in the geegeez 'lucky pants', so fingers crossed.

As ever, there are bundles more with fine prospects that I've failed to mention.

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4.40 Sandringham Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m, 3yo fillies)

For a fillies' version of the Britannia, this is typically a top of the market affair. Or was until recently. Three years ago, Con Te Partiro won at 20/1 for Wesley Ward, and was tipped in this preview. (I know, it was probably the last winner I flagged, hoo hoo hoo). And last year, 33/1 Thanks Be - not tipped here, or many other places for that matter - got the whole enchilada for Hayley Turner and Charlie Fellowes in that controversial finish. Second was a 7/1 chance who really should have been awarded the race. 19 of the preceding 20 winners had returned 12/1 or shorter, as did the 2018 victor.

It is not typically a race in which to be too cute.

What could be less cute than a 7/4 favourite in a field of 18? Step forward, African Dream. Johnny G's thrice-raced filly was a close second to Stylistique just a week ago, that one bringing genuine Group 2 form to the table. A mark of 80, when her nose vanquisher is rated 106, underscores the 'well in' factor, and she is ideally berthed in 14 with a patient run style and pace around her. If the race doesn't come too soon, she'll probably win.

Because Kieran O'Neill keeps the ride on the favourite (good job, well played connections), Frankie must 'settle' for Dubai Love, a 101-rated Nottingham maiden winner. She was beaten on her sole subsequent start, when trying to make all over a mile at Kempton, and she wouldn't be obviously well treated, particularly not in comparison with her barn mate.

Sir Michael Stoute saddles the twice-raced Soffika. A daughter of Zoffany out of a Sakhee mare, she's bred for middle distances for all that she's yet to win beyond three-quarters of a mile. However, that doesn't really tell her tale: she was a keeping on second in the Group 3 Sweet Solera Stakes over seven at Newmarket last summer and can be expected to progress as most of her trainer's projects do.

At bigger prices, the Richard Spencer-trained Odyssey Girl has been super consistent, running in the frame in her last five races. She is more experienced than her rivals and has performed well in big field sales races. She might outrun her 25/1 odds.

And perhaps Al Rasmah is better than she was able to show in a tactical race last time. She finished best of the seven at Haydock (one mile) and will be delivered late by Andrea Atzeni here.

There are some nice fillies in this field but it is rare that we see a horse so potentially well treated as AFRICAN DREAM. A literal interpretation of her run a week ago makes her almost two stone ahead of the handicapper!

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Good luck!

Matt

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 2 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 2 Preview, Trends, Tips

The second of five days of this alternative Royal Ascot experience sees another septet of top class tussles up for grabs. The feature of the day is undoubtedly the Group 1 Prince of Wales's Stakes, where Japan takes on Headman, Barney Roy, Addeybb and more. We are also treated to the first juvenile race of the week, the 20-runner Windsor Castle Stakes; but matters commence with this year's customary huge field handicap, this time it is the...

1.15 Silver Royal Hunt Cup Handicap (1m, Class 2, 3yo+)

The Royal Hunt Cup is so impossible that they decided to duplicate it with this consolation version. Two dozen 90-odd rated handicappers hurtling up the full Ascot straight is a sight to behold, but it's a devilish wagering ask. Thank heavens for extra places with at least five up for grabs with most firms and six with a few.

The aim of the game is probably to find a hold up horse that loves a big field straight mile. That would bring in Sir Busker, Home Before Dusk, Red Bond, Ouzo, and Maydanny, all of whom have good straight mile-winning form, many of whom have done it in big fields.

Sir Busker, as top weight, was the last to miss the main cut. He's trained by William Knight, who is enjoying a great time of it since moving to Newmarket; and was a winner 15 days ago at Newcastle over a similarly straight mile, albeit on the synthetic surface. A winner of four, and placed in four more, of his 15 starts, he knows how to get the job done. With a middle to high draw and a hold up run style, Oisin Murphy will try to swoop late.

Keith Dalgleish saddles not one, not two, but three runners, with two of them being ridden by geegeez-sponsored jockeys. Of course, the best profile fit is the third string to Dalgleish's bow, Home Before Dusk, who has made a habit of finishing best at Gosforth Park, progressing from a mark of 58 this time last year to his current perch of 96.

Callum Rodriguez has been on board for the most recent three of six wins but jumps across to Red Bond this time for the Middleham Park Racing mob. He, too, is progressive, stepping forward from 75 to 92 in the space of four runs. He's likely to be close to the speed and that makes him susceptible to the massed ranks of later runners.

Rounding out the Dalgleish triumvirate is the David Probert-ridden Universal Gleam. Stall one should ensure he gets a run, assuming they come down the middle, and he'll be delivered late. He is another straight track mile winner and I'll be cheering him without necessarily wagering him, a truism whenever one of the geegeez riders is steering.

Back to the shortlist, and the remaining pair on that sheet are the top two in the market, Ouzo and Maydanny. Ouzo has good form on the Newmarket straight and ran a taking trial for this ten days back, getting collared late on. Ryan Moore retains what is an eye-catching partnership.

Well supported in recent days is Maydanny, about whom the the fancy prices are now gone. It is not hard to see why: this 1.35 million guinea yearling is a son of Dubawi out of the brilliant filly, Attraction, herself a winner of five Group 1's. With just three starts to his name, the four-year-old has clearly had his challenges but he laughed at a field of solid if unspectacular Class 4 handicappers a fortnight ago, coming away for a facile four length score. There's a really good chance he's a fair bit better than his current mark of 90.

Clearly a very trappy race and I'll be trying to get one into the first three, the bizarre requirement this week for placepot purposes even in 24-runner handicaps like this. Maydanny might just about still be backable at around 7/1 and I'll also take 12/1 Sir Busker to be in my corner.

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1.50 Hampton Court Stakes (Group 3, 1m2f, 3yo)

A ten furlong heat for those staying on in the 2000 Guineas but probably not good enough for the Derby and those rising up through the ranks. Its roll of honour is good but not great with every likelihood of that being the prevailing perception post-race.

Favourite is Her Majesty's First Receiver. For the first time, as I understand it, in 67 years, The Queen will not be at Royal Ascot though she will doubtless be cheering this easy last day victor up the straight as though she was in her customary vantage high in the stands. That Kempton romp is hard to contextualise but First Receiver's trainer, Sir Michael Stoute, has won this race three times since 2009 so that's a clue. Mind you, Stoutey (if I might be so bold) has run 22 horses in this down the years which somewhat dilutes the still considerable merit of his achievement.

I was more taken with the effort of Juan Elcano last time when that one was a four length fifth in the 2000 Guineas. This represents a notable step back in grade which, allied to the extra quarter mile in trip, ought to see him go close if the exertions of a Classic run just 11 days ago have not left their mark.

Aidan O'Brien runs two, the better fancied of the pair being Derrinstown Derby Trial second Russian Emperor, a rare runner from the yard in non-Coolmore colours. In fact, as with all of the Ballydoyle horses it is a partnership, this time with Laurie Macri. Getting back to the horse, he was given plenty to do in a tactical race at Leopardstown that last day, finishing best but failing by a half length to reel in stablemate, Cormorant. You might say that the bird had flown. (sigh)

Eight days later and here he is in what may become another tactical affair, though Ryan Moore will have a match fit partner where Seamie perhaps was minded to tighten the bolts a little. That's all doublespeak for he'll be on his A game here and there will be no excuses.

Berlin Tango scored in Listed company under David Probert at Kempton last time, a beneficiary of trainer Andrew Balding's white hot form at the resumption. He's a progressive colt and showed a ready turn of foot about a quarter mile out which won him the race. He still has to show that his turf form is up to that level, however, and Oisin Murphy takes over from David.

Some way behind Juan Elcano at Newmarket was Kenzai Warrior, who completely fluffed the start. Whilst he is likely better than the bare form, I'm not sure the step up in trip is what he needs, or indeed whether he's good enough anyway. [We all know what happens now...]

Ralph Beckett's Zoffany colt, Mascat, looked to be crying out for the extra range after only just inhaling the leaders in a mile maiden at HQ last time. This is a leap and bound forward in class terms but he has reasonable credentials on both pedigree and form - he was second to the much-vaunted Palace Pier on his only other career start.

This is one of those races where I haven't really got a clue and, in that absence of idea, I tend to swing wildly for penny change. 20/1 Mascat is the horse to fit my requirements though he clearly has to improve some to get to the established level of some of these, and then a bit more to out-improve those other improvers, if you see what I mean. 7/2 Russian Emperor and 11/4 Juan Elcano are much more obvious, though commensurately shorter-priced, alternatives. But, it bears repeating, I have less of a clue than normal here.

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2.25 King George V Stakes (Class 2 Handicap, 1m 4f, 3yo)

Your first 30 days for just £1

The curious case of the mile and a half draw bias against low-drawn horses. It really does defy convention, except that perhaps those drawn low are either too far forward if they're quick at the gate, or stuck in a pocket if they're tardily away. Either way, the data bear out this counter-intuitive snippet which is a key to hoping to unravel a conundrum such as the King George V Stakes.

Here's a picture which shows the three-stall rolling average of percentage of rivals beaten (or PRB3 for short). 50% is the mid-point - where runners from a stall have beaten as many others as have beaten them - so north of 55% is a good figure and south of 45% is the converse.

The blue line is the filtered data - in this case good/firm to good going, 16+ runners, actual draw (accounting for non-runners) - which shows the poor record of inside boxes. As can be seen from the pink line, that disadvantage is regardless of going. We're dealing with small samples here so the usual caveat emptor applies, and one should note that horses from stalls three and six have won a race each; but those two scores are from 119 to exit logical (i.e. removing non-runners) traps seven or lower.

After all that, I'm sorry to report that the shortest-priced low drawn horse is 10/1 Kings Caper in stall five.

What else do we have to conjure with? Trainer Mark Johnston has saddled five winners but from 58 runners (-£8.50 at SP), Aidan O'Brien saddled his first winner last term from 14 starters to date, and Sir Michael Stoute is the king of the King George V with four winners and another seven placed from 28 starters.

Sir Michael, of course, is empty-handed this term, as is Aidan; but 'Always Trying' runs a quartet, three of which are drawn 1, 2 and 5. History says that may make life difficult; his fourth strand is Subjectivist from stall 15 and with Ryan Moore booked to ride. He drops from minor pattern company into a handicap for the first time, his open race form mixing it with the likes of Juan Elcano, Mohican Heights and Pyledriver, all of whom take on loftier pots this week. 25/1 may understate his prospects.

The favourite is Kipps, trained by Hughie Morrison and ridden by David Probert. This lightly-raced War Command colt is well thought of and was narrowly denied close home on his seasonal debut ten days ago. Ideally berthed in stall twelve he has an obvious chance for a trainer with a quietly impressive Royal Ascot record (7/76, 14 further places, +£17 at SP, which improves to 6/49, 15 further places, +£23 in handicaps only). Morrison has had two from five placed in this race and I obviously hope Kipps wins. But I can't back him at 4/1.

The Yarmouth race in which Bodyline was a strong-finishing second looks certain to work out well and Sir Mark Prescott's Australia colt ought to improve for the extra distance. Stall 17 is almost too wide, however, and tempers enthusiasm a touch.

John Gosden has had just one winner, from 18 runners (three more placed), in the King George V Stakes, but To Nathaniel has fair prospects of doubling his victory tally. No prizes for guessing his dad's name with stamina also imbued from the dam line, Sea The Stars being his maternal grandfather. To Nathaniel is unbeaten in two seven-runner lower-grade handicaps since stepping up to this sort of trip and since being fitted with cheek pieces. He can progress again.

Arthurian Fable is somehow still a maiden after just failing to get up on his fourth and most recent start. That was at ten furlongs, this is twelve, and the Brian Meehan yard are enjoying a good little spell. Jockey Martin Dwyer will, like all the car park lads (and the lass Hollie Doyle), need to negotiate a ground-saving passage; if he can, his mount could break his duck on the big stage.

There are lots more with chances, a universal truth in Royal Ascot handicaps.

Jeez, it's trappy. Better to be lucky than good, as they say, so I'm rolling the dice with 25/1 Subjectivist and 14/1 Arthurian Fable, for sticky bun stakes.

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3.00 Prince Of Wales's Stakes (Group 1, 1m2f, 4yo+)

The highlight of the day is the Group 1 mile and a quarter Prince of Wales's Stakes for older horses. Locking horns in a field where quality usurps quantity are the recent winners of Group or Grade 1's in Britain, France, Dubai and Australia.

Market leader at coin toss odds is Japan, third in the Derby, fourth in the Arc and a three-time winner in between, including the Prix du Jockey Club (1m4f) and the Juddmonte International at York over this trip. His form is the best in the race and he's likely to have strengthened up from three to four; but connections might just have an autumn campaign on their minds. I also wouldn't be completely sold on a waiting ride in what may be a tactical race, not at even money or so at any rate.

Second favourite is the Roger Charlton-trainer Headman, who won the always top-class London Gold Cup handicap before a brace of Group 2's in France, and finished off with a solid fifth in the Irish Champion Stakes. I'm just not at all sold on the French pattern form from last year with pretty much all of their black type races having been won by overseas raiders.

Barney Roy seems to have been around forever - indeed he won the St James's Palace Stakes in 2017 at this meeting, having run up to Churchill in the 2000 Guineas previously. More recently his best form has been in Dubai but, as a nine-furlong horse stretching out, he might have the tactical toe to outspeed rivals if it is a steadily run contest.

Officially rated the same as Japan - both on 122 - is Addeybb. He enjoyed a purple patch down under in the spring winning a pair of G1's; in beating the same horse twice, however, there may be reservations about the form. It is probably a lot fairer to say I am incapable of quantifying the Australian form. Historically, their best middle-distance horses have not been as good as ours. All that said, Addeybb was second to Magical in the Group 1 Champion Stakes on soft ground before leaving for Oz so he has rock solid course and distance form and any rain will support his cause.

John Gosden runs both the filly Mehdaayih and the progressive Cambridgeshire winner, Lord North. The former was sent off favourite for the Oaks last year: things didn't work out on that tricky track and she showed better form in a Group 2 in France subsequently. Despite getting closest to Japanese raider, Deirdre, in the G1 Nassau Stakes at Goodwood last summer, and even with her gender allowance, she doesn't especially appeal on here second spin against the men here.

Lord North has moved forward a stone, from a mark of 98 to 112. That gives him ten pounds to find with the best of these and he was perhaps a little fortunate to beat Elarqam last time. It would be a surprise and, from a form perspective a disappointment, if Bangkok was good enough.

The Prince Of Wales's Stakes is a difficult race to weigh up this year. On the face of it, Japan should win: ten furlongs looks optimal for an improving multiple Group 1-winning colt. But perhaps not a steadily run ten furlongs; and perhaps not on his seasonal bow. At the prices - always at the prices - I'm going to take him on with Addeybb. He too is a risky proposition: is he over his travel exertions? Is that form actually good enough? But he does like a bit of cut and his run behind Magical in the Champion Stakes last autumn is high class and over track/trip. At 10/1 in a place, that'll do for me.

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3.35 Royal Hunt Cup (Class 2 Handicap, 1m, 3yo+)

An impossible cavalry charge down the straight mile. As always in such races, I'm looking for a hold up or midfield horse with big field form, ideally here. My shortlist is Kynren, Raising Sand, Indeed, What's The Story, and last year's winner, Afaak.

Kynren is a season ticket holder in these kind of events, finally snaffling an overdue win in a heritage handicap at the track over seven furlongs last autumn. Therein may lie the key, though: he is probably slightly better at seven than a mile for all that a form string of 052516 in huge field Ascot handicaps marks him down as an extra place each way wager.

Raising Sand has a similar profile to Kynren. He, too, has been uber-consistent in the context: 143078164310 is his string, which at a mile goes to 1763 and a mile on soft side of good 163. The '3' was in this race last year but another five pounds hardly makes his task easier. I respect this chap but will let him beat me.

Dominic Ffrench-Davis doesn't have many superstars but he is clearly eminently capable of handling a good one when it comes along. Enter Indeed, second in a soft ground nine-furlong straight track Group 3 last season, ideal credentials for finishing off this furlong shorter mission. He's gone very well fresh in the past and, while his handicap mark is no 'gimme', he's feasibly weighted from a mid-track position.

What's The Story will be ridden by Callum Rodriguez, so naturally I'll be hollering for him out of loyalty. But his form profile stacks up, too. Although there are mixed messages about softish ground, he has handled a variety of underfoot conditions and stays as far as ten furlongs as well as being nippy enough for seven. In other words, he's versatile. Whether he is quite enough of a specialist for this gig, I'm not sure.

Afaak, or something very similar, is what I was screaming twelve months ago as Jim Crowley repelled Jamie Spencer's late Clon Coulis charge. That was on soft ground and, remarkably, Afaak had been second in this same race a year prior to that. 2nd of 30 (rated 103) and 1st of 28 (rated 103) screams contender, especially off a mere three pound higher mark mitigated entirely by Cieren Fallon's three pound claim. There can be little doubt this has been the target.

There are any number of less exposed, more fashionable profiles at the top of the market but this is a race that tends to go the way of a battle-hardened handicapper with a touch of class. With that in mind, Indeed and Afaak are my each way two against the field, both at around 16/1. Try for fifteen places!

Royal Hunt Cup 2020 pace map, ordered by draw

Royal Hunt Cup 2020 pace map, ordered by draw

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4.10 Windsor Castle Stakes (Listed, 5f, 2yo)

The first two-year-old race of the week, and as many as twenty of them go to post.

US trainer Wesley Ward is two from twelve in this race, most recently with Hootenanny in 2014. He's had a couple of shorties down the field since, and the soft ground is probably not optimal for Sunshine City. Although only midfield from the gate on her four-and-a-half furlong turning dirt track debut, she can be expected to bounce alertly here; but it won't be lost on many what a different proposition this will be. Of course, Wes has done it before and he might do it again. The price means I'll look elsewhere. Ward also runs Sheriff Bianco, beaten three lengths on debut and not on my wishlist.

Aidan O'Brien is the other obvious trainer in the race having saddled last year's victor, Southern Hills, and 2015 champ, Washington DC. He's also had a second, a third and four fourths from 16 entries. Chief Little Hawk, an impressive winner just a week ago, travelled well that day and quickened up readily. The ground will be a little softer here but he's feared.

The upstart in this juvenile sprint division is Archie Watson. He got the lot two years ago with Soldier's Call and has another live one in Mighty Gurkha. The cheaply bought Sepoy colt bossed things from the stalls on his sole jaunt thus far, a six-furlong Lingfield all weather spin. Soldier's Call also began on the Lingfield AW but he didn't scoot up by eight long lengths! Who knows what was behind Mighty Gurkha that day - the second has been disappointing since - but Watson's entry has both speed and relative stamina.

The Queen's Tactical, trained by Andrew Balding and ridden by James Doyle, has been backed recently in the manner of a horse that has come out of his debut well. That effort, 13 days ago, was a two-length third in a Newmarket maiden (Get It a length and a quarter ahead in second) where Tactical encountered a small amount of trouble in the run. Balding's horses invariably improve from first to second start - he wins second time out at 20%, first time out at 11%. He might be able to reverse the form with Get It, whose trainer Clive Cox scores at roughly 10% with horses on both their first and second starts.

At bigger prices, James Tate's Victory Heights and George Boughey's Astimegoesby are not without a chance, a comment which doubtless applies to several others unmentioned in these despatches.

Wagering the Windsor Castle is not for the faint-hearted, like most of what has preceded it, and Chief Little Hawk is an unimaginative though pretty solid suggestion. Mighty Gurkha could also go well at a bigger price.

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4.40 Copper Horse Handicap (Class 2 Handicap, 1m6f, 4yo+)

A one off this year is the mile and three quarters Copper Horse Handicap, for older horses. With very few handicaps run over this trip at Ascot, and none with sort of field size, it is difficult to know what will be the impact of draw and pace. The likelihood, however, is that it might follow the pattern of big-field mile and a half handicaps, with a middle to wide draw and a good trip being optimal. Below is the Instant Expert view of the world:

As can be seen in the above, which is displaying place data, Alright Sunshine, Shailene, Fujaira Prince and Here And Now all have green for those components against which they've previously raced.

Alright Sunshine drops down in class from a Group 3 last time, his first run of the year, and if that has blown away the cobwebs he'll bring progressive handicap form, including on softish ground, to the party. A four pound rise for that recent outing doesn't especially help, however; nor does an inside draw for a hold up type: he will need plenty of luck in the run.

Shailene has trap one but at least has Silvestre de Sousa to navigate her. They may go straight for the lead - the alternative is almost certainly a boxed-in transit and frustration; either way, it will be hard to get the run of the race with so many rivals ostensibly setting up better. On form, her third in a similar handicap at Goodwood last summer when held up and never quite getting there gives her a squeak.

The favourite is Fujaira Prince. Trained by Roger Varian, the son of Pivotal has stamina on the dam side being out of a Dalakhani mare. That offers hope on this first foray beyond a mile and a half, having stayed on in such contests the last twice, including most recently in the Duke Of Edinburgh Stakes at this meeting a year ago. His trainer has an excellent record with horses off a layoff - better than 21%, 50% hitting the frame - and Fujaira Prince has a wide draw to give jockey Andrea Atzeni options.

Here And Now is a massive price, largely because he hasn't run for two years. But I imagine he's well drawn in twelve and has a great profile fit on his old form. Those 2018 efforts include a five length score in a 16-runner two mile Class 2 York handicap. Harry Bentley is one of trainer Ralph Beckett's go-to 'handicap job jockeys' - according to one of my QT Angles anyway - so, while the layoff is clearly a huge question mark, he's worth a small chance at 33/1 or so. Beckett's record with handicappers off a 200+ day rest is 15%, though it is less impressive off an ultra-break like this.

Collide, Ranch Hand and Beckett's other entry and third reserve, Hereby, all have progressive profiles and winning form at this specific distance; as such all have clear chances.

A very trappy close to a fiendish day. Again, Fujaira Prince looks solid at the head of the betting; while I won't be able to resist a tiny tickle on Here And Now. But tiny is what it will be: there will be more feasibly winnable battles in the coming days.

**

Good luck!

Matt

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 1 Preview, Tips

Royal Ascot 2020: Day 1 Preview, Trends, Tips

Barely a fortnight after the start of the flat turf season, and Royal Ascot 2020 is upon us. Like everything else on the planet currently, this year's Royal meeting is trying to mend and make do in the face of enormous challenges. No crowds and no Royals are the most obvious absences; in their place are six additional races, one each Tuesday to Friday and two on Saturday's eight-race extravaganza.

The running order has also been rejigged, mainly to allow a little extra time for the juveniles between a debut and their big Berkshire date. We begin with an old friend, the Buckingham Palace Handicap, which was stood down in 2015 to make way for the (excellent) Commonwealth Cup; and also with a 75-minute earlier start time. Tune in at 2.30 and you'll be five minutes too late for the quadpot, let alone the placepot!

The going is good to soft. The forecast is warm with the possibility of thunder storms all week. In other words, it could dry out and it could get wetter - great!

1.15 Buckingham Palace Handicap (7f, Class 2, 3yo+)

A three-year-old-plus handicap with none of the Classic generation in attendance. Good news for form players as there are likely to be a few more lines in the book and a little less projection required.

In big fields over seven furlongs at Ascot, it pays to be waited with, but perhaps not in too exaggerated a fashion. Mid-div may be ideal. Middle to high may be best off from a draw perspective, but it's marginal and not worth lobbing an otherwise credible candidate for.

Big field seven furlong form, ideally here, is my route in and that offers the following shortlist:

Greenside, Kaeso, Cliffs Of Capri, Firmament

Greenside was second in a valuable course and distance handicap on his most recent start in early October last year. The drop back to a truly-run straight seven furlongs for the first time in a 17-race turf career looked to be a positive, and this strong-travelling type was more than three lengths too good for all bar the winner that day. Up five pounds doesn't make life easy, though he has a very good record fresh. Jockey Marco Ghiani, who rode him for the first time in that most recent run, keeps the mount; it will be only his second ride since the resumption (apprentices having not been eligible until 15th June).

Nigel Tinkler is a very shrewd trainer of handicappers and his Kaeso is as consistent as can be in this type of race. 3rd of 26 and 2nd of 23 in the Victoria Cup and International Handicap, both over course and distance, last season speak volumes for Kaeso's ability to handle the profile; and a cobweb-clearing canter down Newcastle's straight seven ten days ago should have brought him forward. Drawn in the middle, he'll be covered up in midfield most likely, and the booking of Oisin Murphy knocks the eye out.

Another profile type is Cliffs Of Capri, Jamie Osborne's globetrotter coming here off the back of a valuable handicap score in Dubai. Since then he ran second at Newmarket 12 days ago to prove his recovery from the travel. He's three pounds higher than when fifth of 20 in the Cunard Handicap in 2018 and would be far from a shock winner.

Firmament has been around a long while now. At least it seems that way; in fact, aged eight, he's a year younger than Greenside. A record of 0-from-14 at the track betrays some excellent efforts, including half a dozen top six efforts in 17+ runner handicaps. His consistency draws little favour from the handicapper, though, so while the booking of James Doyle again takes the eye, the balance of probabilities is that a place is a more playable proposition.

The market is headed by the lightly-raced and progressive Daarik, trained by John Gosden and ridden by Frankie Dettori. He is one of the most obvious handicap bets of the week and, as a direct consequence, will offer zero value (for all that he clearly has solid prospects). If you want a reason to oppose him, it is this: in five career starts, he's raced on turf only once - on debut when a 14 1/2 length last of ten. Of course there are counter-arguments - greenness, etc - but I don't typically want to bet a 4/1 chance in a 24-runner cavalry charge, thanks.

If I'm going to back a progressive blue blood, it'll be Roger Varian's gelded son of Dubawi, Mutamaasik. A winner of his last four starts, he's up just three pounds for a recent narrow verdict in a tactical affair. Drawn in the middle of the pack and probably in the middle of the pace will give Dane O'Neill options.

Clearly a wide open event to kick us off, keep in mind the advice about each way betting and extra places here. 8/1 Kaeso and 16/1 Greenside are the pair for me, each way, with all the extra places you can get.

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1.50 Queen Anne Stakes (Group 1, 1m, 4yo+)

The traditional curtain-raiser has its own warm up act this year, but still comes on stage 40 minutes earlier than usual. A sequence of 13 winners at odds of 15/2 or shorter came unceremoniously unstuck in 2018 when Accidental Agent recorded a 33/1 score. Last year was tricky, too, as 14/1 Lord Glitters got the better of a brace of 20/1 shots with a 25/1 poke in fourth.

The winners and runners-up, and indeed the next pair home last year, all raced in rear early: that's the tactic in big field mile races on the straight track as a rule, and so a quick squint at the pace map may be instructive.

As can be seen, there are not many out and out hold up types, exceptions being the 2018 winner (who planted in the stalls in last year's race); last year's 7f Jersey Stakes winner, Space Traveller; Bless Him, and Escobar.

In the midfield are likely to be such as the unlucky-on-the-round-course-last-year Fox Chairman, Skardu, Duke Of Hazzard and Mohaather.

The favourite is Circus Maximus, a good horse if a bit of a high-class grinder. This stiff test will probably be up his street but he is 0-from-3 on a straight track and he's another favourite I'll be opposing. I'm also against the progressive filly, Terebellum, a winner at Newmarket ten days ago but who is stepping back a quarter mile here. As well as the trip switch, she faces the boys and is up in class; all told, she's a poor price.

Fox Chairman was a big eye-catcher in the Hampton Court Stakes at Royal Ascot last season when getting no run before finishing best to be a respectful second, two big lengths behind Sangarius. He duly converted a penalty kick at Newbury next time out, in Listed company, but hasn't been sighted in the eleven months since. Trainer Andrew Balding has been in cracking form at the start of the turf campaign, and they've reportedly minded the Chairman after a slight setback last term. Still, this straight mile is a very different test and again represents a class elevation.

Mustashry had a rough passage last season in this race, eventually finishing seventh beaten less than four lengths. Jim Crowley jumps ship this time, instead opting for Mohaather, which can hardly be viewed as a positive for all that jockeys habitually choose wrong. Mustashry is a legit G1 horse, having beaten Laurens in the Lockinge last term, and with Dane O'Neill a more than able deputy, he looks a very fair price at around 12/1.

There is a good chance Mohaather has strengthened up since his three-year-old year in 2019, and a sole defeat on heavy ground - in the G1 Queen Elizabeth II Stakes over course and distance no less - is eminently forgivable. Trainer Marcus Tregoning has started in very good form, albeit from just a handful of runners, so the team will be excited about this lad.

William Haggas runs Skardu, another four-year-old in the line up. He wasn't beaten far in a trio of Group 1 events last season, all at a mile on similar ground. His straight track mile form includes third in the 2000 Guineas and fourth in the Irish equivalent, when perhaps a little fatigued from the previous engagement. Jockey James 'the Doyler' Doyle will have him wrapped up until the quarter pole most likely and I can see this one running a big race.

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It's a wide open race once more this year and not one in which to be going 'all in'. For small money, each of 12/1 Mustashry, 14/1 Mohaather and 14/1 Skardu have claims. I'll be dutching the three of them. Hills are going FIVE places in the race and are the place to bet if your fancy is top price there and you want to play each way.

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2.25 Ribblesdale Stakes (Group 2, 1m 4f, 3yo fillies)

The Ascot Oaks, as this race is generally not affectionately known, comes before the actual Oaks in this topsy-turvy season. Indeed, such is the timing of events that it is very likely the pre-eminent trial for the Epsom fillies' Classic, with the possible exception of the 1000 Guineas.

Plenty have had a run already in these formative days of the turf season, including the favourite, Frankly Darling. The daughter of, you guessed it, Frankel, bolted up on the opening day back: that was on the tapeta at Newcastle, and over a mile and a quarter, but trainer John Gosden has been happy to send some of his best to break their maiden there, including Enable and Stradivarius.

This filly has a long way to go to reach that level, but she might very well dismiss her rivals here in the manner of an Oaks winner-in-waiting. If you fancy her here, the play might be to back her ante post for the Oaks at 12/1. That appeals to me more than taking 7/4 in this at any rate: if she does score nicely here, she'll be second favourite for Epsom.

Second choice is Trefoil, trained by dual Oaks-winning Ralph Beckett. She caught the eye when running on at Newmarket over a quarter mile shorter, but while the trip may suit better the opposition is undoubtedly warmer.

Miss Yoda is a drifter, in spite of winning the Lingfield Oaks Trial. It wasn't her fault the race was a slowly-run muddling affair and, given her track position through the race, the even money favourite that day can probably be marked up just a smidge. That's not to say I want to bet her here, but she is a credible second string to Gosden's bow.

Gosden has a third string, too, in the form of Anastarsia, who was all at sea behind Miss Yoda (and Golden Lips and West End Girl and So I Told You, all of which re-oppose) on the Lingfield slopes. She probably won't reverse places with all of them but she certainly had the most excuses that day and might go better than a 40/1 chance.

The one I like, however, is Passion. Trained by Aidan O'Brien, she was given a 'welcome to 2020, onwards and upwards' introduction by Seamie Heffernan in the Listed Salsabil Stakes at Navan. She'll have needed that to be an easy pipe opener as it came just six days prior to this and, of course, she has to travel over. But she is bred for this job - by Galileo out of an Anabaa mare, a sister to St Leger / Irish Derby winner, Capri, amongst other stayers - and she will have Ryan Moore to assist.

This is a race that looks certain to shake up the Oaks betting. It could easily go to the favourite, Frankly Darling, and she is worthy of small pre-race support for Epsom; but the each way play is Passion, whose price is shortening but is still 7/1 with Victor and Paddy. She's 33/1 for the Oaks.

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3.00 King Edward VII Stakes (Group 2, 1m4f, 3yo colts & geldings)

After the 'Ascot Oaks' comes the 'Ascot Derby', an ostensibly shallower contest this year, though undoubtedly one with Epsom on its mind: the odds-on favourite here, Mogul, is a single-figure price already for the Derby.

Beautifully bred, by Galileo out of a Danehill mare, he's a brother to Japan amongst other Group race winners and cost 3,400,000 guineas (count 'em!) as a yearling. He himself is already a Group 2 winner having achieved that level of performance in the Champions Juvenile Stakes on Irish Champions Weekend last autumn. Arguably a little flat on his final start of 2019, when only fourth in the Group 1 Vertem Futurity, relocated to Newcastle, that was his fourth race in the space of three and a half months.

Ballydoyle sends a second runner to post, Arthur's Kingdom, perhaps as a pacemaker, perhaps to test his own Derby credentials. A mere snip at €240,000 compared with his stable mate, the son of Camelot - do you see what they did there? - has yet to win in pattern company but was quietly impressive on heavy ground when breaking his maiden at the third time of asking.

It is always so hard to guess at the O'Brien pecking order: with myriad royally-bred lightly-raced colts at their disposal, the yard's insistence that even they don't know the hierarchy until early summer of the Classic campaign is totally plausible.

Sandwiched between the Ballydoylers in the King Edward VII Stakes betting is the David Simcock-trained Mohican Heights. Unbeaten in two last term, including a Listed race over a mile, the son of Australia - who changed hands for £520,000 at the boutique pre-Ascot Goffs London sale last year - makes his seasonal reappearance. Stamina shouldn't be an issue though he will be having his first run for nigh on 300 days and only the third of his life.

The pace may be put to the race by Silvestre de Sousa atop Kingpower's Papa Power. Unraced at two, he was winner of the final two of three novice events on the all-weather earlier this year, putting them to bed long before the finish each time. It will be interesting to see how that works out here: an uncontested lead, kicking at the top of the shortish home straight would make him tough to reel in. That name as well: I don't know for sure, but it just might be a nod to the much-loved Vichai Srivaddhanaprabha, so tragically killed in that helicopter crash last year. If that's right, they must think a lot of this fellow.

Pyledriver and Sound Of Cannons are both more exposed, though both retain some appeal for another day, the latter - who ran  a better than it looked race in the Lingfield Derby Trial - especially.

This could quite possibly be a tactical race. It also features an odds-on favourite. As such, it is less than compelling from a wagering stance. I'm fairly sure Mogul is the best horse in the race, but I'm not convinced the set up is optimal and, in the circumstances, it might be worth taking a chance on 9/1 Papa Power. Despite the hiatus, he's had more racing this term than his rivals and he could get to boss things from the front: no better man for that job than his pilot, SdS.

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3.35 King's Stand Stakes (Group 1, 5f, 3yo+)

One of the day one features, the King's Stand is the province of the speedballs. This term it looked set to be a match between the brilliant sprinter Battaash and the exciting upstart Sceptical. Disappointingly - especially as I held a 20/1 voucher for him in this contest - Sceptical waits until Saturday and the Golden Jubilee Stakes. I felt the stiff finish here, for a strong-travelling horse with a withering gear change, was optimal. He'll probably go and win the Saturday showcase now, and in truth I hope he does. Sigh.

Back to the here and now, and it is Battaash's to lose. On ratings he is ten pounds clear of the next best, and that horse - Glass Slippers - has been duffing up second-tier dashers in France.

A procession for Battaash then? Probably, though not definitely. Of course not definitely: it's a horse race after all!

Charles Hills' champion has had his Achilles heel exposed at Ascot in the past and has a record here of 022. But that pair of silvers was against another champion, Blue Point, for whom Ascot's stiff finish was optimal. With the stable in form, and no Blue Point or Sceptical, there are no excuses this time. He'll very likely win and 8/11 is not the worst value odds-on bet I've seen.

A race like this sets up perfectly for the 'without the favourite' players. Hills are the only one to price it up as I write, and they are 11/10 Glass Slippers, 4/1 bar. I'm happy to field against Glass Slippers for reasons flagged above - if I'm wrong, I'm wrong - so it's an attractive route into a race where we can simultaneously cheer a champ and collect on the 'underneath'.

The three-year-old Liberty Beach ticks plenty of boxes in receipt of weight-for-age. She obviously gets that for her relative lack of physical maturity, but she's rapid as she showed when winning the Listed Dragon Stakes and the Group 3 Molecomb Stakes at this distance. She was also fourth (of 25) in the Queen Mary, and demonstrated her stamina credentials for this stiff finish when winning a Listed race over six furlongs on good to soft nine days ago. She'll not be too far off the speed.

The one at a price is Henry Candy's filly, Kurious. She has won her last two over five furlongs and has plenty of early speed. Not beaten far in the 2018 Queen Mary, she's been patiently handled since. 12/1 in the 'without' market makes some appeal.

Although he can get himself worked up beforehand, and although he's been susceptible in Ascot races to a spoiler in the past, I think BATTAASH will win. I hope he does because he's a bloody brilliant sprinter on his day. He's a sure fire 'on top' for exacta players and it might pay to select the two fillies Liberty Beach and Kurious underneath. They are sporting wagers in the 'without' market, too.

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4.10 Duke Of Cambridge Stakes (1m, Group 2, 4yo+ Fillies & Mares)

Formerly the Windsor Forest Stakes, this is a mile on the straight course for older fillies and mares. A couple of the features of the race are the record of the French and the record of held up runners.

The French have run 17 femmes in the race since its 2004 inception, with a form string of 42301005982391531. So that's three winners (17.6%) and eight top three finishes (47%).

Moving along to run style, and hold up horses have won all of the last five renewals. Going further back, a combination of midfield and hold up horses have won every renewal since Strawberrydaiquiri made all in 2010.

There is one French filly in the field, Wasmya, trained by Francis-Henri Graffard and ridden by... Frankie Dettori. Generally played from midfield, she's 10/1 currently but will surely shorten. The daughter of Toronado, out of a Danehill Dancer mare, is bred for the trip though she's having her first try since debut at it; she is also tongue tied for the first time. That breathing aid would not need to eke out massive improvement for her to have a squeak.

You'll have to take my word for Wasmya's general run style as we sadly do not yet have the French form in our database. Nevertheless, you can view the projected pace map for the remainder of the field below.

The unbeaten Miss O Connor will need to be good to repel her field given the historical advantage to waited with types, but she ought to be largely uncontested on the lead at least. The winner looks most likely to emerge from the later-running cluster drawn two to seven, with both Frankie and Jim Crowley, aboard favoured Nazeef, well berthed to track that early speed.

Nazeef is herself unbeaten in her last four races, most recently when seeing off the high-class Billesdon Brook in a Listed race at Kempton 13 days ago. If that turning all-weather strip bears no resemblance to the straight lawn here, her previous six-length romp in a Class 3 mile handicap at Newmarket (good to firm) showed such a configuration will not preclude an extension of her victory sequence to a nap hand.

Sir Michael Stoute has a peerless record in the race, with four winners from 17 runners, and nine in the frame in total (a 53% place rate). He saddles Jubiloso, third in the round course three-year-old Group 1 Coronation Stakes at this meeting a year ago. While three of Sir Michael's winners had had a seasonal run, this year's truncated beginning has meant Jubiloso arrives off a 290 day absence. The inaugural Duke Of Cambridge winner, Favourable Terms, overcame a similarly long layoff for the same trainer and the yard has been in great form since the resumption.

Jubiloso was a little disappointing after Ascot last season, however: only third as the even money favourite in a Goodwood Group 3 and one from last of eight when odds-on in a similar event at Sandown. That would be enough to dissuade me at the current prices.

Lavender's Blue was the winner of the Sandown race, her form at a mile looking solid. Indeed, she followed up that G3 score with a very good three-length fourth in the Group 1 Sun Chariot Stakes. With just five career starts to her name, proven top level form over a straight mile, and a midfield run style, Amanda Perrett's four-year-old daughter of Sea The Stars - owned by Abba's Benny Andersson - could hit the right notes here. (Mamma mia!)

The other interesting filly is Queen Power, also trained by Sir Michael Stoute. She was staying on over ten furlongs last time and drops back in trip here, not an obvious play to my eye. A daughter of Shamardal, whose is an excellent Royal Ascot sire, she won't want James Doyle on Miss O Connor to amble along too steadily in front. In any event, the balance of her form is decent but typically in defeat.

If you're looking for a rag to outrun its price, Agincourt may offer a run for pennies. She won a Listed race on Newmarket's straight mile, and has a straight track record (seven furlongs and a mile) of 1221. Her trainer David O'Meara won this in 2015 for the same owner, Sir Robert Ogden. She's 40/1.

It's a competitive affair with lots of interesting runners. Nazeef looks a reasonable favourite, and I'd personally favour her over Jubiloso at the head of the betting - though the latter is clearly pleasing the pre-eminent race trainer at home. Price preference is for 6/1 Lavender's Blue and 10/1 Wasmya, the former whose form may be a little under-rated and who should be able to progress further this year, the latter who represents similar potential and a Gallic gear change. Agincourt at 40/1 is a Hail Mary of mild interest.

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4.40 Ascot Stakes (2m4f, Class 2 Handicap, 4yo+)

The lucky last on the opening day is the Ascot Stakes, a staying handicap. No winner has returned a bigger SP than 12/1 since 2008 and, in a race where we need all the whittling we can get, that's a reasonable starting point.

The draw has been an irrelevance since the maximum field size was reduced to 20, but what has been significant is the dominance of jumps or dual-purpose trainers - winners of the previous ten Ascot Stakes, all with horses aged five-plus and all bar one of which had already raced over hurdles.

Slightly more tenuously, all - bar two of Willie Mullins' four winners in the past decade, and Ian Williams' 2019 winner - had won over further over jumps.

Using the more robust of those criteria helps to form this tentative shortlist:

Verdana Blue, Blue Laureate, Coeur De Lion, Quloob, San Benedeto

Verdana Blue is the favourite, at around 7/2. She is a high class hurdler trained by Nicky Henderson, but Henderson's record in the race is 1 from 23, just four placed. Giving weight all round she's hardly a 'gimme'.

Blue Laureate represents last year's winning stable, super shrewd Ian Williams. This man is arguably the best 'target trainer' in Britain and everything he runs in a big race commands a second, and a third, glance. A five-year-old who has improved for longer trips, he was third in the 2m2f Cesarewitch Trial at Newmarket last backend, and a keeping on second in a two mile Class 2 handicap on seasonal bow eight days ago. If this doesn't come too soon, he might just improve again for an extra half mile. Crack apprentice Cieren Fallon gets the leg up.

There are few horses more consistent than the well-named Coeur De Lion. This lad gets carried out on his shield every time he runs, for all that the scars of recent battles have seemingly taken longer to heal. Sixth and fifth in this race in the last two years, he runs off the same mark as a year ago but may struggle to get much closer this time around.

Quloob runs for the Heart of the South syndicate, and is part-owned by a regular geegeez.co.uk syndicateer, Graham W, so I wish this chap the best of luck. His trainer, Gary Moore, is a top-class dual purpose exponent, and Quloob deserves his place after a string of consistent efforts. Moore, however, has yet to saddle a placed horse in the Ascot Stakes, from eight runners to date.

Paul Nicholls makes a rare foray to Royal Ascot with San Benedeto (and 33/1 Ashutor). San B is unraced on the level since his juvenile season in 2013! He is high class over fences, rated in the 150's, and will have no problem with the distance. If they go fast early, it should allow him to plod through beaten horses though whether he's capable of getting past all of them is a far bigger question. It's a leap of faith to back him after so many years away from this discipline.

Of those not fitting the profile, last year's second, Dubawi Fifty, gets in off the same mark; but there looks to be a lot more pace contention this time if connections elect to revert to the front-running strategy they deployed twelve months ago.

There are another fourteen with a squeak!

For small money, I'll chance my arm with Ian Williams' Blue Laureate. As well as the winner last year, his other runner was third, so it's fair to say he's worked out what is required. At a general 14/1, including six places (1/5 odds) with Paddy if you can get it, he'll do for me.

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And that's Tuesday's card. There are four more days to follow, so keep some powder dry. Good luck!

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2020: Day Four Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2020: Day Four Preview, Tips

It's Friday 13th, Gold Cup Day, the last of four glorious afternoons in the Cotswolds for the 2020 Cheltenham Festival. As well as the Blue Riband itself, there are further Grade 1's in the form of the Triumph and Albert Bartlett Hurdles, devilish handicaps and a hunter chase! It all starts with the juniors in the...

1.30 Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m1f)

As fascinating a Triumph Hurdle as I can remember, with established Grade 1 horses, uber-impressive ungraded winners, and a Johnny Come Lately catapulted to favouritism.

Let's start with Johnny, or maybe Jeannie - the ex-French Solo. Trained by Paul Nicholls, he burst onto the scene with a visually stunning performance in the Grade 2 Adonis at Kempton last month. That recognised trial saw him put 13 lengths between himself and Fujimoto Flyer, the latter considered a Triumph contender when the tapes rose but perhaps not as they passed the jam stick.

So, yes, visually impressive; but the race time was the slowest of three on the card over that two mile trip, and there was little to encourage in Solo's sectional splits. He's entitled to improve and will shock nobody if he wins but I'm not quite believing it yet.

Vying for market primacy is the win beast, Goshen. In three goes over hurdles, he's won by 23 lengths, 34 lengths and 11 lengths. Prior to that he'd won his three flat handicaps by 12 lengths, nine lengths and seven lengths. The form of his most recent hurdle start was franked when the second, Nordano, waltzed home by 16 lengths in a competitive-looking Class 2 handicap at Ascot.

Goshen has yet to race in a Graded heat, and he does jump markedly right sometimes, but he's very, very good.

And then there's Allmankind, another talented but mild headcase. He won the Grade 1 Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow last time, but that was in late December. Here we are, eleven weeks later, and the Dan Skelton-trained son of Sea The Moon has not been sighted since. That won't necessarily stop him, of course, and he has a win at Cheltenham previously, too. He is a bold front-runner and, unlike Goshen - who also likes to go from the front, he probably needs to lead.

Aspire Tower is another who has both been ante post favourite for the Triumph, like all those mentioned so far, and generally races front rank, like all bar Solo of those mentioned so far. He was in a scrap when coming down at the last in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle but had previously looked very impressive in turning away Wolf Prince by 18 lengths in a Grade 2.

The chief beneficiary of Aspire's last day tumble was A Wave Of The Sea, who repelled Wolf Prince by just a length and a quarter. Given that he was 35 lengths behind Aspire Tower in that previous G2 and that Wolf was 18 lengths back that day, it is fair to assume that Aspire Tower did not bring his A game. If that's right, and his previous form can be believed, then he is a certain player in this field. A Wave Of The Sea meanwhile has had many tries and looks vulnerable in what is, ostensibly at least, a deep field.

Sir Psycho and the rest look to have a heck of a lot to find.

Triumph Hurdle Pace Map

Plenty of pace with Allmankind likely to prove the 'speed of the speed'. Goshen and Aspire Tower will be bang there if recent evidence is any guide.

Triumph Hurdle Selection

I've backed Goshen at a good price and I hope - obvs! - that he wins. I think if he can settle behind Allmankind in the early stages he'll have a solid chance, though I am a little concerned about the drying ground. I don't want to be with Allmankind for all that I respect what he's done so far and I think Solo is pretty short though he may improve again - which would see him take plenty of beating. Perhaps the forgotten horse, if there is one, is Aspire Tower, whose form prior to his last flight fall last time was much the best in Ireland. His trainer, Henry de Bromhead, is having a terrific Festival.

Suggestion: Consider backing Aspire Tower at 6/1 general.

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2.10 County Hurdle (Grade 3 Handicap, 2m1f)

Too difficult. Way too difficult. But there is an interesting stat relating to trainers of recent winners: since 2004, the surnames Nicholls, Mullins, and Skelton have won 13 of 16 renewals of the County Hurdle!

Paul Nicholls has four, Willie Mullins has four also, Dan Skelton has three (in the last four years), and Tom and Tony Mullins have one apiece in that time frame. Given how many runners there are in this race, that is a remarkable stat, to my eye at least.

Those vying for favouritism are trained by Willie (Ciel De Neige and Aramon, plus four others) and Dan (Mohaayed), with Paul Nicholls' pair, Christopher Wood and Scaramanga bigger prices.

Skelton's winners were 8/1, 12/1 and 33/1, the 33/1 shot - Mohaayed - being 9/1 this time in spite of no obvious recent form and looking a plot. Nicholls' winners were 4/1, 7/1, 11/1 and 20/1, while Willie's winners were 10/1, 20/1 twice and 25/1.

So I want to risk a Willie wunner at a pwice. It's that sort of wace.

His fancied horse, Aramon, sets the form standard on a fifth place in the Irish Champion Hurdle, form advertised since by both the winner, Honeysuckle - winner of the Mares' Hurdle, and the second, Darver Star - third in the Champion Hurdle. He has a lot of weight but that didn't stop Arctic Fire for the same team three years ago. Paul Townend, winner in 2017 and 2015, rides.

Ciel De Neige was second at Newbury in the Betfair Hurdle. Whilst he has more progression and fits the unexposed five-year-old route into the race, he's got a fair bit to find with Aramon. He might find it but Barry Geraghty, who presumably had the pick, has opted for Saint Roi, another in the Willie camp. That one was third in a Listed race at Auteuil on his second run and has since scored in maiden company to show the requisite level for a rating eligible for this. He's very much at the right end of the handicap but whether he quite has the experience for a County shemozzle I don't know: he's a player if he does.

Mohaayed has had a wind op since last seen 83 days ago. He was a nine length seventh in this last year off an 11lb higher mark and this has been the plan, plain and simple, for a team who have made this race their own in recent times. I'll be looking elsewhere though more fool me if he wins.

As usual, lots more with chances.

County Hurdle Pace Map

Not too intensive a pace by the look of things, but that can change in the cauldron of a race like the County. An even gallop is the percentage play.

County Hurdle Selection

Very tricky stuff, and I think I'll side - for beer money only - with Aramon. I like his class, that Irish Champion Hurdle form looking bulletproof if he can handle the war that is a County Hurdle scrap.

Suggestion: Back Aramon each way at 9/1 (six places) 888sport

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

The Albert Bartlett is the race at which to take a swing at the Festival. It is habitually won by horses who can travel and stay off a strong gallop, and the top of the market is habitually framed around horses that have shown class rather than stamina/resolution in small field jigjogs (relatively).

Since At Fisher's Cross in 2013, who won as the 11/8 favourite, we have now witnessed six double-digit odds winners in a row, including 33/1 and 50/1 scorers in the past two years, a 33/1 winner in 2014, as well as a 33/1 winner in 2010. Go long!

Naturally, there are obvious form cases to be made for those near the head of affairs, most notably perhaps Thyme Hill, who has hinted at wanting a greater stamina test throughout his novice hurdles career to date. Hinted at it but not yet proven his aptitude for it.

So here's a little micro angle: horses that finished top four in a Graded race last time and were priced between 16/1 and 50/1 for the Albert Bartlett won five from 31, placed another four times, and netted 139 points of SP profit. Four of them were trained in Ireland. Back-fitted? A bit. Vague underlying logic? Yes'm.

Those at double-digit prices roughly fitting the bill include Cobbler's Way, Fury Road and Ramses De Teillee. Cobbler's Way was second to Latest Exhibition in the Nathaniel Lacy last month: having led, he got outpaced before coming back at the winner after the last, going down by two lengths. This stiffer test looks up his street.

Fury Road, like Cobbler's owned by Gigginstown, was the winner of a heavy ground near-three mile Grade 2 prior to being outpaced in the same race as Cobbler's. He too will prefer this test.

Ramses De Teillee is a typically hard-knocking type who has largely plied his trade in handicap chases. This season, switching to timber, he's three from three, all at three miles, two of them on heavy ground, and two in Grade 2 company. A win on good to soft demonstrates versatility in terms of the going, and there are many who have long held a candle for his chance.

The one at bigger prices is House Island. I'm not sure he'll stay for all that he might have just got outpaced the last twice in Grade 2's; but most of his racing has been on flat tracks.

Latest Exhibition is a more obvious form chance, having beaten both Cobbler's and Fury last time; so too Harry Senior, who beat House Island last time. That, of course, is well reflected in their odds.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

This could be fast early, which would make for slow motion stuff at the other end. Any or all of House Island, Aione, Cat Tiger, Cobbler's Way and Ramses De Teillee are perennial pace pushers, with another five or so generally prominent. No hiding place looks the likely call.

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Selection

I want to take two at longer prices against those at the head of the betting, for all that it's a strategy that will fail at some point soon. My pair are Ramses De Teillee, for whom this test is demonstrably his cup of tea; and Cobbler's Way, who has more to come and might find it for the stiffer demands.

Suggestion: Back Ramses De Teillee at 12/1 and/or Cobbler's Way at 14/1.

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

A dozen head to post for a cracking Gold Cup where established players, including the defending champion, take on the next generation of aspirants.

The champ is Al Boum Photo, an eight-year-old trained by Willie Mullins. He gave Mullins a maiden Gold Cup win last term and won the same Tramore Grade 3 on New Year's Day as he did last year en route to victory. We know he's well and we know he's at the same level as last year. If he can traverse the obstacles error-free - a fair 'if' - he has a really good chance of doubling up.

The fact that no horse has won back-to-back Gold Cups since Best Mate rounded out a hat-trick in 2004 attests to the difficulty of defending the title, and there are plenty of legitimate rivals throwing their hats into the ring. Santini, last year's RSA Chase runner-up, is perhaps foremost among them.

Nicky Henderson's charge had an interrupted preparation ahead of last year's Festival but has sailed serenely to the starting line (so far) this term. He has enhanced his claims with a pair of small field wins, first at Sandown where he made hard work of despatching Now McGinty, and then in the Cotswold Chase across these undulations when barreling away from Bristol De Mai. That form showed that staying is Santini's strong suit, but it also showed that he can take a liberty or two on the way round.

A couple of lengths behind Santini in last year's RSA was Delta Work, whose 2019/20 campaign has seen him win the Grade 1 Savills Chase and Irish Gold Cup. With Al Boum Photo in absentia on both occasions, Delta Work has staked his claim to be the best of the rest of the Irish, seeing off the re-opposing Monalee, Kemboy and Presenting Percy.

But there were barely four lengths from first to fifth-placed Percy there, which equates to a single mistake out in the country during the more than three and a quarter miles of the Gold Cup trip; and that brings in those last day vanquished.

Monalee was closest, just a head behind, and that after jockey Rachael Blackmore lost an iron on the run in, a very rare missed cue from a brilliant rider. She'll be keen to make amends but Monalee may have stamina limitations over this test.

Kemboy has had an interesting year, with his ownership being disputed through the courts as a syndicate turned out to be a Ponzi scheme. On the track, he's twice been close behind Delta Work since winning at both Aintree and Punchestown last spring. All four of those runs were in Grade 1's, but he didn't get beyond the first fence in last year's Gold Cup where he unshipped David Mullins. The odd sticky jump is a feature of his game though he generally gets around and often wins.

Presenting Percy has looked a lost soul in the last couple of seasons but he came back to close to his best in that Irish Gold Cup, for all that he has five lengths to find with Delta Work. The proximity of the above quartet leads me to believe this year's Gold Cup will either be won by something else, or it's a very competitive renewal. Probably, though not definitely, the latter.

I'm a fan of Clan Des Obeaux, but not in the context of a Gold Cup. He's got plenty of speed, as shown in two King George victories, but he seemed to run out of puff as they passed the three mile marker in this last year. A different prep, with two fewer battles, this season may offer a touch more late-race energy but I feel there are stronger stayers in the field.

Colin Tizzard is always to be respected with staying types and he saddles Lostintranslation. Hailed by many as the most likely Gold Cup winner in the early part of the season, he has not run since pulling up in the King George. There he couldn't go the pace, something which may be less of a concern in a field not loaded with early sizzle; but he's bidding to be the first winner to have pulled up last time since Cool Dawn in 1998.

Henry de Bromhead's team are in excellent fettle and he runs Chris's Dream. A near ten length winner of the big field Troytown Handicap Chase advertised his top drawer credentials, which he's subsequently rubber stamped by winning the Red Mills Chase, a Grade 2 over an inadequate two and a half miles. A second season chaser, he'll have to improve a good bit again, but he's risen from 146 to 160 to 165 in his last three starts, stays and jumps well, and handles all ground.

For all that I don't want to back him, I wouldn't put anyone off a small each way tickle on Bristol De Mai. Second in the Cotswold Chase behind Santini, he was third in this last year, and second to Lostintranslation in between times. If you like either of Santini or Lostintranslation, you have to give this nine-year-old a place squeak at least.

Real Steel and Elegant Escape don't look good enough, though the latter is a strong stayer.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Pace Map

Kemboy is the most likely to lead but, given that he didn't get further than the first last year, Bristol De Mai could also be bang there. Clan may be ridden to get the trip which would see him less handy than is often the case, but Monalee and Santini are expected to be nearer first than last.

Cheltenham Gold Cup Selection

A compelling puzzle but not an easy one to solve. The first route in is to say that Al Boum Photo just wins. That's possible but he's got to be the first to do a 'Best Mate' in more than fifteen years. The second is to rate the form of the Henderson yard and the Henderson horse, Santini, as the most progressive. I quite like that though I worry he might blunder his chance away late. The third is to favour the Irish Gold Cup form, which gives Delta Work nothing of note on Monalee, Presenting Percy and Kemboy. A fourth is to believe in the more measured season of Clan Des Obeaux to provide that one some extra pep in the late furlongs; and a fifth might be to play the Hail Mary of Chris's Dream improving over the top of all of them at a huge price. It's a puzzle all right!

I've already backed Santini, and I'm going for the big hit - which I might need to get me out of jail by this point - on Chris's Dream, whose progression I like.

Suggestion: Back Santini at 4/1 general and consider a small Hail Mary play on Chris's Dream each way at 25/1 general.

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

The amateur riders' Gold Cup over the same track and trip as the main event 40 minutes or so earlier. It's a wide open contest this season, with bookies offering close to 5/1 the field.

One of those on or around 5/1 is last year's winner, Hazel Hill. He was brilliant at Warwick prior to Cheltenham glory in 2019, whereas this season - now twelve years old - he was beaten by the occasionally very talented Minella Rocco. I feel he retains most of his ability but he will need all of it to double up as the oldest winner since Earthmover in 2004.

Minella Rocco has seemingly been revitalised by the change to hunter chases, scoring not just against Hazel Hill but also in the Warwick race Hazel  took en route to Foxhunters' glory last year. He's not reliable, as form in 2019 of 59PPPP8 betrays, but this is a different game entirely. Perhaps it's the key.

Ireland's hopes are headed by the Willie Mullins-trained Billaway, winner of the Naas Hunter Chase in late January. Given connections, it's very likely he will be a) well backed and b) have a good chance, but the form of that defeat of Staker Wallace is difficult to weigh up. Willie ran three in the race between 2004 and 2012, Bothar Na finishing fourth in 2006.

David Maxwell, a pilot who gets plenty of practice by spending plenty of money on decent horses he then rides himself, will try to go one better than last year aboard Shantou Flyer. The Flyer has a phenomenal Cheltenham record: 1F142222. That string includes second places at the last two Festivals, initially in the Ultima and then in this race a year ago. He looked as good as ever last time, albeit in a weak Fakenham hunter chase which he took out by 23 lengths, and his owner/rider has plumped for this one over the smart Bob And Co, who waits for Aintree.

The other one worth a mention is Caid Du Berlais. Trained by Rose Loxton, like Shantou Flyer, Caid was fifth in this in 2018 and pulled up last year. He wasn't really travelling then and proved it to be a false measure of his ability by hacking up in the Punchestown Champion Hunters Chase. The track is the issue, though: since going chasing he's run 1P309F5P. That '1' was in the Paddy Power Gold Cup of 2014. It's 2020 now, in case you hadn't noticed and much muddy form water has passed under the bridge in the interim.

If the ground dried out, which it very well might, seven-year-old Law Of Gold commands a second glance. Winner of the Champion Novices' Hunter Chase at Stratford last May, he's run up a sequence between the flags in between. What that form is worth I don't know, but at 20/1 or so I might buy a small ticket to find out.

Foxhunter Chase Pace Map

Amateurs and rushes of blood are commonplace in the Foxhunters', and who can blame them? The map below shows only Rules form - your guess is as good as mine regarding how they've gone between the flags.

Foxhunter Chase Selection

Hazel Hill is not getting any younger - very few of these are - but he ought to be thereabouts. Minella Rocco has been on going days since hunter chasing and represents last year's winning prep race form. Billaway could sink me but I just can't weigh that form up, so I'm rooting for Shantou Flyer to finally convert a 2 into a 1. At any rate, he's an each way price and that's the way to back him. I'll have a tiny bit on Law Of Gold 'just in case' as well.

Suggestion: Back Shantou Flyer each way at 9/1 with as many extra places as you can find; likewise, and for smaller money, have a look at 20/1 general Law Of Gold.

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4.50 Grand Annual Chase (Grade 3 Handicap, 2m 1/2f)

I have backed the winner of this many times. Let me clarify: I had backed Croco Bay many times in this before he won at 66/1 last year!

Age is actually not a factor in this, two winners (from seven runners) having been twelve and one aged five since 1997. The last five winners have been rested at least 90 days; four of the last five winners had run in the race at least once previously, normally achieving a close up finish.

The one with the best fit is last year's winner, Croco Bay. Aargh. Now 13, he's looooong in the tooth but that didn't stop him winning twelve months ago when he was merely looong in the tooth. His record in the race is 3F51 and he's got to be backed, for pennies at least. Aged 13, racing on Friday 13th, he may come in 13th place... :-/

Marracudja ran down the field last year, but has some high class form since. As a result of that, however, he's now rated 15 pounds higher than a year ago. It will be some training performance if he wins.

Gino Trail pulled up in this last year, having finished second in 2018. A recent move to Fergal O'Brien elicited an easy win a fortnight ago and, while that's not the normal prep for this, he is another old-timer with prospects.

A relative young gun at just ten years of age, Theinval represents Nicky Henderson's bid to win the race named in honour of his old man. He sneaks in at the bottom of the handicap and fits the 90 day layoff angle. He was fourth in this in 2018 and third in 2017.

Grand Annual Pace Map

Gino Trail and Paddy Brennan, if he's fit enough to ride after a fall earlier in the week, are fast and they'll make a bold bid from the front. Close up are expected to be McGroarty, Jan Maat, Adrrastos and, if he gets a run from the first reserve slot, Delire d'Estruval.

Grand Annual Selection

I'm playing a couple of former placed horses against the field in Croco Bay and Theinval. I might chuck in Gino Trail, too, though I think that recent easy win may have taken more out of him than met the eye.

Suggestion: Try Croco Bay and Theinval both at 25/1 with five places

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

The last race. It's impossible. It has been an Irish benefit since 2013 when Paul Nicholls (twice) hasn't won it, and that looks a sensible focus. Gordon Elliott famously worked for Martin Pipe, in whose name this race is run, and his Column Of Fire, one of four he saddles in the race - five if the first reserve gets in - looks a player.

He was a closing third when given enough to do in a 28 runner handicap hurdle at Punchestown last time, having previously won an 18 runner maiden hurdle. The big field won't trouble him.

Joseph O'Brien won the race last year, chinning my Gordon Elliott bet, and he saddles a horse I had backed at massive prices for the Albert Bartlett called Assemble. Assemble has form with plenty of Grade 1 types, notably Latest Exhibition and Cobbler's Way. He's just the type dropping into handicaps from Graded races.

22 other possibles but this is a time for licking wounds/counting winnings.

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Pace Map

Similarly to the Foxhunters', there are plenty of inexperienced riders in the 'boys' race'. On known form, Espoir De Romay and Thomas MacDonagh are the two to take them along in what might be a contested pace battle. The winner will likely be minded until fairly late on.

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Selection

I want to back the two Gigginstown horses in the field. Their trainers have won the last three renewals so know exactly what is needed.

Suggestion: Back Column Of Fire to win at 13/2 Hills and Assemble each way at 25/1 Hills.

Cheltenham Festival 2020: Day 3 Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2020: Day 3 Preview, Tips

The second two quarters are upon us and, for many, the weakest day, from a quality perspective, is Thursday, Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival. But last year was a sizzler with that brilliant Frodon Ryanair and the equally emotional Paisley Park Stayers' Hurdle. Both are back to defend their crowns, each with numerous challengers. We start as always at 1.30 with a name change...

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

A new name but the same deal: horses lacking the speed for the Arkle and/or the stamina for the RSA; or, some might say, lacking the class for either. Looking at the roll of honour, which includes Defi Du Seuil, Yorkhill, Vautour and Sir Des Champs from just nine renewals to date, that seems like typical racing snobbery. This newish race is up to par already from a standing start.

All that said, it's a wide open race this season and might be one of the less compelling from a quality perspective. As ever, that tends to mean it's a fiendish betting puzzle.

Itchy Feet is the favourite, Olly Murphy's six-year-old arriving here off the back of Sandown Grade 1 Scilly Isles success, the same path trodden by last year's winner, Defi Du Seuil. Before Defi, Terrefort, Top Notch and Bristol De Mail all finished second in the Marsh/JLT having won at Sandown. Simply, it is a very strong trial for this.

Itchy's form isn't all about that one race, either, as he was third to Klassical Dream in last year's Supreme, and is unbeaten in his two chase starts. The horse closest to him at Sandown was Midnight Shadow, himself previously the main beneficiary of Champ's late tumble in the Dipper Novices' Chase. Things are nicely corroborated by that line and Olly's horse must have a great chance.

The one for money this past week has been Mister Fisher, trained by Nicky Henderson. The record of the master of Seven Barrows is not great in this: he's nought from ten, three places - silvers for Terrefort and Top Notch, and bronze for L'Ami Serge.

The case for Mister Fisher is made off the back of two small field novice chase wins, the latter in the Grade 2 Lightning Novices' Chase where he beat Al Dancer. That one was 20/1 in the Arkle while Mister Fisher is around a quarter of those odds for this. Strictly speaking that doesn't make him good enough. He had previously beaten Good Boy Bobby at Cheltenham, a race from which he is the only winner eight subsequent runs. He is also the only one to place from that race - not promising.

The Irish team are headed by Samcro, Faugheen and Melon. Ireland has won seven of the nine JLT/Marsh's to date so their entries have to be taken seriously. Samcro, once vaunted as being of invincible ability, has not been able to vindicate that reputation on the track. Indeed he's been sent off no bigger than 13/8 in a 14 race career that has yielded eight wins, but only one from his last seven starts. That was at 1/3 in a Down Royal beginners' chase.

In his defence, he was running a bold race in the Grade 1 Drinmore, falling at the second last when upsides Fakir d'Oudairies spotting that one eight pounds. A subsequent ten-length second to the resurgent veteran Faugheen pegs his prospects somewhat.

What of twelve-year-old Faugheen? The former Champion Hurdler has looked good, really good, in winning three novice chases, two of them Grade 1's. Most horses his age are lobbing around in hunter chases, the better ones in veterans' chases, and yet here he is a first season chaser, and winning the big pots! He's a legend of a horse and quite hard to write off. Most people will be sufficiently invested emotionally in his success: if there's one horse you'd let beat you and still cheer, it's surely this bloke.

So, while it kind of feels like he should be watching daytime TV in a retirement home somewhere, his track form has been a genuine joy to behold this season. He was unambiguous in slamming Samcro, and gallant in repelling Easy Game: in spite of his age, he has genuine win prospects.

Melon has looked a hurdler and he's looked a two-miler. While his record at the Festival is quietly impressive in defeat (222 in the Supreme and two Champion Hurdles), I'm not at all convinced his conversion to fences.

Marsh Chase Pace Map

Faugheen looks set to bowl along in front and he's going to be great fun to watch.

Marsh Chase Selection

As always it comes down to whether the Irish or the British are the better crop. At this stage (written before Tuesday's racing), it looks like the Brits might hold sway - in this interim distance division at least. The Scilly Isles is a rock solid trial for the Marsh and Itchy Feet was a good winner, beating a reliable yardstick. I quite like him.

As fine a story as Olly winning his first Festival race would be, how awesome would it be if former Champion Hurdler Faugheen prevailed? Well, although that question was initially rhetorical, let me tell you, in the words of Michael Caine: it would blow the bloody doors off!

Suggestion: Back Itchy Feet to win at 7/2 general. Consider a saver to allow you to scream home Faugheen at 6/1 general

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2.10 Pertemps Final (Grade 3 handicap, 3m)

Three miles, 24 runners, a handicap: let's keep this brief.

The last four winners were Irish-trained, the last two by Gordon Elliott. Davy Russell, as good a waiting rider as there is, has ridden three of the last four winners, which is quite remarkable, especially when you consider he didn't have a run the other year!

Last time out winners are 10/100 since 1997 and have by far the best win and place strike rate. What is surprising is that they've also been profitable to back at starting price. Those rested between one and three months have the best win and place strike rates.

Looking at well-rested last day winners leaves two: Third Wind and Skandiburg.

Skandiburg is up only a stone for a second and two wins in handicap company, the most recent of which was over course and distance. A win for him would make it the ultimate 'happy hour' for owners Kate and Andrew Brooks and trainer Olly Murphy.

Hughie Morrison's second season hurdler, Third Wind, hasn't looked back since an aborted a novice chase campaign. He won the novices' handicap hurdle final at Sandown this time last year (soft), and has most recently won a heavy ground qualifier on heavy. Clearly, then, juice in the turf is no issue. A rise of four pounds may also not stop him and, if it is deep on the New Course on Thursday, he looks set to run well.

The pick of the Irish could be The Storyteller. Trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Davy Russell, he has the right connections. A sixth place in the Leopardstown Pertemps qualifier last time was the optimal qualifying effort - you have to be sixth or better! - and he'd previously beaten Mary Frances, herself the winner of the Punchestown qualifier thereafter. The Storyteller won the Festival Plate in 2018 under Davy Russell, and was pulled up in the Ryanair last year.

Pertemps Final Pace Map

Not bundles of pace here, but a few likely to take things along at a good even gallop.

Pertemps Final Selection

Your first 30 days for just £1

7/1 about The Storyteller is not a massive bargain but he looks sure to run well. The above named pair of British-trained horses are all vaguely statistically interesting, and both are backable prices.

Suggestion: Back The Storyteller win only at 7/1, and either or both of Third Wind (16/1 general) and Skandiburg (12/1) each way with as many places as you can get.

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

Just eight go to post for this year's Ryanair. If that seems a little underwhelming, the clash between A Plus Tard, Min, and last year's winner, Frodon, is far from it.

Bryony's ride, and her subsequent interviews, when winning last season will live long in the memory. She was plastered all over the front pages of the next day's newspapers, something which is an all too rare occurrence - in a positive light at least - for the sport. Frodon came into that race off the back of two impressive course wins and was a slightly generous (especially with the benefit of hindsight) 9/2 chance.

This time he's about the same price but with no such recent form to support the case. Of course, he does have last year's triumph, which was against a deep-looking field. This term, Frodon has played away matches only, at Aintree, Haydock and Kempton, and not quite set the world alight. He was good enough to win the Grade 2 Silviniaco Conti Chase in his final prep and a return to the slopes of Cleeve Hill can be expected to bring about a chunk of seasonal improvement.

But here he faces two tough rivals - one emergent, the other established, both Irish - in the form of A Plus Tard and Min. The former was sent off 5/1 favourite in the novices' handicap chase at last year's Festival and duly obliged... by sixteen lengths! In a Festival handicap! An immediate class elevation followed, and A Plus Tard ran a respectable third to Delta Work in a Grade 1 at Punchestown.

This season he's been second to Ballyoisin in the Fortria Chase (G2) at Navan and then beat Chacun Pour Soi in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas. I, like everyone else, was spellbound by that novices' handicap chase win last March, but I've not been nearly so sold on his two runs since: I can't shake the perception that Chacun might have been undercooked at Christmas and that that form line may not be all it seems. There is also the fact that it was achieved at two miles, whereas this is two and a half.

Betwixt Frodon and A Plus Tard in the betting is Min, a Festival hardy perennial who steps up in trip for this fourth visit. Previously, Min was second to Altior in the 2016 Supreme, second to Altior in the 2018 Champion Chase, and only fifth to, you guessed it, Altior in last year's Champion Chase. Those races were all at two miles, but his form at this 2m4f range is 12111, a string that includes Grade 1 successes at Aintree and Punchestown twice. It feels very much like this is his trip.

He was recently beaten about the same margin by Chacun Pour Soi as that one was beaten by A Plus Tard at Christmas, which gives him six or seven collateral lengths to find; but I perceive that Willie's Dublin Racing Festival team was a lot closer to readiness than his Leopardstown Christmas team, a contention that makes me wary of these collateral lines. Regardless, I don't think there's much between them.

Of the rest, Riders Onthe Storm is unbeaten in his last four completed starts, though did fall behind A Plus Tard in the novices' handicap chase last season and pulled up in a similar race at the Fairyhouse Easter Festival thereafter. Soft ground suits but he has maybe seven pounds to find with the pick of these. As a progressive seven-year-old he may find them.

Aso has no such progress in him but he does have a fine record in this race. Last year, in spite of more feted rivals, he got closest to Frodon; and he was third in the 2017 Ryanair, too. Now ten years old, he might just have lost a bit of his ability, but he is a more interesting longshot than many across the four days.

Both Duc Des Genievres and Shattered Love are previous Cheltenham Festival winners, Duc in last year's Arkle and Shattered Love in the previous year's JLT/Marsh. The last named seems a touch lost in the wilderness and couldn't be countenanced, but Duc Des Genievres has not been so obviously regressive. That said, it is still too big a leap of faith to envisage a second Festival win.

Saint Calvados is a bit more credible than the two former winners, his new held up tactics proving more successful than the absolutely bonkers lead-at-all-costs approach taken in his abortive 2018 Arkle bid. He was most recently beaten the narrowest of margins, a nose, in a Grade 3 handicap chase over course and distance and, if Frodon and Min did here what Saint C and Petit Mouchoir did in 'that' Arkle, Harry Whittington's runner could hit the board. Owned by the Brooks' - who also have Itchy Feet and Skandiburg - it could truly be a red letter day for them.

Ryanair Chase Pace Map

Frodon will make a bold bid from the front again, with Min in close pursuit. There should be no hard luck stories from a pace perspective.

Ryanair Chase Selection

I've backed Min. I think it's taken connections a long time to realise his best trip, and I think he has the best form. So far. It is perfectly possible that A Plus Tard can improve past Min's level, though that eventuality seems well factored into his odds. Frodon will be a terrific result for the reporters - and for the sport - with a gushing Bryony a thing of beauty, but I have to let him, and her, beat me. Saint Calvados is probably the most credible of the rest, especially if ridden to pick up pieces.

Suggestion: Back Min at 11/4 general

*

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)

The Thursday feature, and another defending champion in the form of Paisley Park, trained by Emma Lavelle, ridden by Aidan Coleman, and owned by the excellent Andrew Gemmell. 'Double P' comes here unbeaten in his last seven, six of which have been by less than three lengths: he gives his rivals a sniff and then slams the door in their faces. What a devil!

He's a top price of 4/6 which implies he's a certainty, but is that really true? The level of his form in last year's Cleeve was much higher than the level he achieved in this year's renewal of the same race. That was in large part a factor of the way the race was run, comments which apply similarly to his previous start this season, in the Long Distance Hurdle at Newbury.

Of course, the argument goes, he won despite the steady pace and he can be marked up accordingly. That is entirely plausible but, as punters, we have to be forensic, all the more so when faced with what is ostensibly being presented as an 'open and shut' case. The fact is that, for whatever reason, Paisley Park's form this season is a seven pounds below his form of January and March last year. It doesn't mean he can't rediscover that prior level, it just means I don't want to take odds on about it.

The next question is who might be able to step in should PP come up short in the Stayers' Hurdle, this year sponsored by PP? That is a tougher one to answer, though the rewards for a correct response would be far greater. Those lovely bookie types have Summerville Boy and Emitom as the most likely pair to lower the champ's colours.

Summerville Boy got closest last time, in that steadily run Cleeve, and he'd previously beaten Roksana et al in the Relkeel over two and a half miles here. Like so many who end up in the Stayers' those form lines appear after a failed novice chase campaign.

Emitom is a horse I love. He's a strong travelling high class animal who was second to Champ in a Grade 1 novice hurdle at Aintree last spring. This season, he flunked desperately on his debut behind Summerville Boy but proved that to be all wrong when bolting up in the Rendlesham at Haydock. That was on heavy but he does not look ground dependent and is not slow.

The pace will likely be dictated by Apple's Jade, a mare whose popularity is well deserved but whose ability has been on the wane for some time. The horses she beat in the Grade 1 at Christmas - two of which, Penhill and Bacardys, re-oppose here - have looked shy of top class and/or regressive. She's been third and sixth at the last two Cheltenham Festivals and I don't see her on the podium.

Last year's Ballymore winner, City Island, arrives here off a failed novice chasing programme. In his favour he is a Grade 1 winner here, and he has the sort of tactical speed that is often the hallmark of a Stayers' Hurdle winner. But his last hurdle run was ten months ago.

Penhill is a dual winner at the Festival, first when scoring in the 2017 Albert Bartlett and then in this race two years ago. Having missed all of last season, Willie Mullins' nine-year-old has managed to race four times this term - the same as his last two campaigns combined - but he's yet to get his head in front. It seems clear that this has been the target all along, and Penhill has run acceptably in defeat; it wouldn't be the biggest shock if he went close but he's not for me.

It's 20/1 bar those, with the likes of Bacardys - who has suckered cash from me in this race in the past - usually giving himself too much to do from the back of the field. It's not impossible I will be mugged into another small bet but I couldn't possibly suggest anyone else do likewise!

Stayers' Hurdle Pace Map

Apple's Jade is very likely to lead but she may not have it all her own way with Summerville Boy and perhaps Donna's Diamond handy racers. Paisley Park will be ridden midfield probably.

Stayers' Hurdle Selecton

I want to be against Paisley Park but it's really not easy to find one to beat him. The way to play might be 'without the favourite' and in that context I'll happily have a go at Emitom and, less happily, at City Island.

Suggestion: Back Emitom and/or City Island without the favourite

*

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

The last two winners of this handicap chase were price 5/1 or shorter, the previous five were 12/1 or bigger. Ireland used to have a dreadful record but have won three of the last four, their sequence broken last year here their two runners, both 33/1 shots, were unsighted. They are represented sixfold this year, with Ben Dundee - another for the Elliott/Russell axis - the main market hope.

Third in the novices' handicap chase last year off 141, Ben Dundee ran top four in two valuable handicap chases since prior to an eye-catching effort when seventh of 25 in a two mile handicap hurdle. Wrong code, wrong trip, right prep and a mark of 147 doesn't look unduly punitive.

Nick Williams won this last year and he has an excellent record in Festival handicaps. Siruh Du Lac won this last year, the final leg of a handicap chase four-timer. Since then, his only seasonal start was when pulled up in the BetVictor Gold Cup over this sort of distance on the Old Course in November. Connections are respected but it's asking an awful lot to win off an extended layoff and from a nine pound higher mark than twelve months ago.

Loads more with chances. Obviously.

Festival Plate Pace Map

Last year's winner, Siruh Du Lac, will bid to make all again. There doesn't look to be much competition for the lead which should help him - and Lizzie - to stay there for a long way.

Festival Plate Selection

I haven't really got a clue in here, if I'm honest, and I'll have a small 'clueless' bet on Ben Dundee for a bunch of people who know far better than me how to find the winner of this.

Suggestion: Put the kettle on. Or back Ben Dundee for a small interest at 10/1

*

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

Won by Willie Mullins all four times it's been run to date, last year was a bit of a shock insofar as, for the first time, it wasn't the short priced favourite who passed the post first. Rather, 50/1 Eglantine Du Seuil beat the same stable's Concertista, herself a 66/1 chance. Epatante, Champion Hurdle favourite this year, was the beaten jolly in this last season.

Mullins is clearly the man then and he saddles four this time around. Colreevy is the shortest, her defeat of Abacadabras in a Grade 1 bumper reading very well. She's most recently been turned over in a seven-runner mares' Grade 3 by today's jolly, Minella Melody, but it is possible she didn't appreciate the steady tempo in that short field. With 22 runners here it's likely to be faster and that is likely to set up better.

Minella Melody has to be respected: she's won her last three, all in smallish fields, on varying ground. But she wasn't quite as good as the Mullins mare in bumpers and she's yet to score above G3 company.

Nicky Henderson saddles Floressa, a mare who has good form in open mares' company, for all that she too has to prove she handles the hustle of a big field over hurdles. That said, she was second of 15 in a Grade 2 bumper here last spring, and outclassed a field of modest maidens at Worcester in October.

Last year's second, and still a novice, Concertista returns to try to go one better. The pick of her form is in big fields, as evidenced by a good third in a 27-runner handicap hurdle last time. The slight drop in trip looks good for her, and she's a fair price given conditions are proven.

A handful of other interesting novice mares but this isn't especially a race that excites me.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

This is quite pacy and I'm hoping Colreevy doesn't take too much contention for the lead. If she does it will likely compromise her chance, but she'll be tough to beat if getting it nearly her own way.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Selection

Not one to go mad in, I don't think. Willie Mullins' record is clearly worthy of respect and there are grounds to believe Colreevy can reverse form with Minella Melody. Concertista, second last year, also looks set to run well again.

Suggestion: Back Colreevy 7/1 general and/or Concertista 12/1 each way.

*

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

Amateur riders in a 24-runner handicap chase. Ouch. The best riders tend to win this year after year, with Jamie Codd having an especially impressive record (three wins). Codd rides top weight and last year's National Hunt Chase winner, Le Breuil, who sneaks in here off 145 having dropped the requisite five pounds in two fair chase efforts this term. Lugging top weight won't be easy but Ben Pauling's charge has shown he handles the track and has class, and he looks fairly treated.

Derek O'Connor rides Champagne Platinum. Nicky Henderson trains, and J P McManus owns so he has the right connections. A promising novice hurdler last season, he ran a bold third to Itchy Feet in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles last time and drops into handicap company for only the second time. Cheekpieces for the first time and steps up six furlongs in trip. He's by Stowaway out of a Roselier mere, which is a good pedigree for stamina.

There are more than twenty further chances in a race where I'm not trying too hard to be clever.

Kim Muir Pace Map

A massive field and it could get messy. Not oodles of pace but enough for an end to end gallop. Derek O'Connor on Champagne Platinum will be playing late.

Kim Muir Selection

I've not looked deeply at the form, so even more caveat emptor than usual applies. I like the plotty look of Champagne Platinum, a horse who was third in a Grade 1 last time and who steps up markedly in trip for Champions League connections.

Suggestion: Back Champagne Platinum for a bit of interest at 8/1 general

*

It's a trappy Thursday and maybe not one to go mad for. But if we're lucky enough to get one and a half winners we should be close to level as we head into Friday, Gold Cup day.

Good luck!

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2020: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2020: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

One down, three to go. Days of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival, that is. 21 more races yet to unfold, seven of them on day two, the highlight of which looks sure to be a mouthwatering clash in the Champion Chase. We'll get to that in due course; first though, this...

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

You need to have speed and stamina for this intermediate test of the novices. You also need to be five or six years old, according to recent history, which relates that French Holly in 1998 was the last older or younger winner - he was seven. Six-year-olds have far and away the best win and place record. And, while Massini's Maguire did win this (on good to soft turf) after only finishing third (on heavy) in his final prep, every other winner since at least 1997 was first or second last time out.

As you might expect, that still leaves the vast majority of the field and all of the players at the head of the market. The race revolves around one horse, Envoi Allen, unbeaten in a point to point, four bumpers and three novice hurdles. That sequence takes in the Champion Bumper, and a brace of Grade 1 hurdles, the Royal Bond and the Lawlor's of Naas.

Although his hurdles form will come under scrutiny from Tuesday's Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Abacadabras and Elixir d'Ainay having run up in those two G1's, current thinking is that the Gordon Elliott-trained favourite will be extremely hard to beat. While he doesn't generally win by much, he usually gives the impression there is more if needed and, as he showed when held up in last year's Champion Bumper, he is tactically versatile.

But this is a Championship race and he will not have it all his own way. Sporting John has looked a brute in his own right, albeit in ungraded company. In spite of his lack of black type, JP McManus's unbeaten in three son of Getaway has collateral to put him towards the head of considerations, certainly in terms of the British team.

On his hurdling debut he beat Harry Senior, subsequent winner of the Grade 2 Classic Novices' Hurdle, before bolting up by eight lengths in a field of 18 in an Exeter novice. The second and third, who was beaten 16 1/2 lengths, have both won since giving a robust feel to that effort. And most recently, Sporting John turned away a small but select field of novices in a deep ground Ascot Class 2 event. He gives the impression this step up in trip will suit and is a worthy second favourite.

This race is 'watch your bets' territory as both The Big Getaway and The Big Breakaway are declared to run! The Big Breakaway, trained by Colin Tizzard, is a typical Tizzard staying type. He's yet to face serious competition in two easy novice wins to date and that does raise questions about his ability in a battle: it's not that he has shown he can't battle, but rather that he hasn't shown he can. If you see what I mean.

The Big Getaway is trained by Willie Mullins, winner of this race in 2008, 2009, 2014 and 2016. He is the prime mover of a proud recent Irish tradition in the Ballymore that has seen the raiding party claim nine of the last twelve renewals. This fellow is yet another exciting recruit owned by the Connolly's, of Al Boum Photo, Shishkin and Asterion Forlonge note. Like the other The Big, and Sporting John, he's yet to face Graded rivals but was ultra-impressive in despatching Foxy Jacks by 17 lengths last time. That one has since won a big field maiden, beating a horse which has itself subsequently won a maiden: the summary is he must take high rank among Irish novices, without it being clear just where in the hierarchy he currently sits.

Last year's winning connections saddle Longhouse Poet. Trainer Martin Brassil and owners the Mulryan's enjoyed success twelve months ago with City Island though this Yeats gelding has had a quite different route to the Festival. Whereas City Island was unbeaten in two novice hurdles away from the bright lights, Longhouse Poet has run bold races in Grade 1 defeat to Envoi Allen and Latest Exhibition the last twice.

Ballymore Pace Map

Loads of speed, perhaps headed by Easywork, but this looks set to be run at a strong gallop whoever takes them along.

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Selection

This is very likely to be between Envoi Allen and Sporting John but, with most of the favourite's rivals stepping up in grade, it might be worth backing one each way in the 'without the favourite' market. The one at a price of most appeal is Longhouse Poet. I'm guessing that he might again get close to Envoi Allen and his trainer knows what is needed having won this last year.

Suggestion: Back Longhouse Poet each way 'without the favourite'.

*

2.10 RSA Chase (Grade 1, 3m)

This year's RSA squad will be aspiring to next year's Gold Cup and, on that basis, it normally takes a very good horse to win it. Santini, the current Gold Cup joint favourite, was second last off an interrupted preparation and is a case in point.

While last time out winners have won 12 of the last 22 RSA Chases, that came from 128 runners (9% win rate, 28% place). Those finishing second or third on their previous start won the other ten since 1997 at a rate of 13.5%, second placers faring especially well (+49.5 to a 1 point level stake).

Seven-year-olds have the best win rate but are behind both five- and six-year-olds in terms of place rates, so I'd not read too much into age - except to add that 7yo's are +24.45 in the 22 year time frame (stats courtesy of horseracebase).

Those rested for between one and two months have the best win, place and profit records: 13/107 (12% win, 30% place, +43.08).

The vast majority of winners (18/22 - 82%) had three to five seasonal runs, though they also represented two-thirds of the runners (173/258 - 67%).

Trendy types include Minella Indo, Allaho, Easy Game and Aye Right.

In terms of the form, it's an interesting challenge to pick through. The top of the market has been the sole province of Champ all season, though increasingly uneasily it should be said. JP McManus' eight-year-old - bidding to be only the second of that age group to win the RSA since Rule Supreme in 2004 (Might Bite also won in 2017) - is quirky as well as talented.

He won his first two chases, both at Newbury, but almost took the wrong course on the latter of that pair, his rider taking urgent evasive action after the last. In fairness to Champ, it might be argued that it was the rider's fault rather than the horse; but there was no such shared responsibility when Champ walked through the second last at Cheltenham in the Dipper last time. Watching the race again, I noticed a little flash of the tail a couple of strides before the obstacle and he would have fallen at a hurdle let alone a steeplechase fence such was his effort there.

It's possible that he was feeling something, and it is also perfectly possible that I'm overstating things. But we must also note that Champ failed to win the Ballymore when sent off favourite last year; he did run an excellent second, so again balance is required. All things considered, while he has a clear chance granted a clear round, I'm wanting a bit more jam on my bread.

Second choice is Minella Indo, who announced himself on the big stage when springing a 50/1 shock in the 'shock race', the Albert Bartlett, at last year's Festival. He proved that was no fluke by following up in the equivalent Grade 1 at the Punchestown Festival and, though not impressive in two chase starts to date, the feeling is that this more searching gallop will again play to his strengths. He has obvious pedigree, as well as stamina, but is a short enough price as a consequence.

The springers in the market are Copperhead and Allaho. Copperhead has been all the rage since winning the Reynoldstown last month. Although neither of the top pair in the betting gave their running that day at Ascot, there was still little not to like about Colin Tizzard's 17-length winner. He is clearly progressive, and has won his last three of four chases. Prior to his Reynoldstown win, he bolted up in a good Class 3 handicap chase over three-and-a-quarter miles and he looks a danger to all if it comes up soft.

Willie Mullins saddles Allaho, third and second behind Minella Indo at Cheltenham and Punchestown last spring. He was an easy winner of a beginners' chase at Fairyhouse at the end of January but has only two chase starts to his name. Moreover, there is no obvious reason why he should reverse hurdles form with his double vanquisher of a year ago.

Gigginstown tend to major in staying chasers, which perhaps explains how they've mopped up Grand Nationals and the odd Gold Cup in recent years. Here they rely solely on Battleoverdoyen, unbeaten in three completed chase starts, including a Grade 1 at Leopardstown's Christmas Festival. If that's the positive, the main negatives are twofold. Firstly, he fell when beaten last time in the 2m5f Grade 1 Flogas Chase; and secondly, he pulled up when sent off favourite for last year's Ballymore Hurdle. The son of, you guessed it, Doyen has bundles of ability but he seems like he can strop a bit in the furnace of top class competition. He won't be on my tickets for all that he has the talent to win.

Easy Game also runs for Team Closutton, and he is interesting, from an each way perspective at least. He's inexperienced, with just two chase starts to date, but they were a win over Allaho in a beginners' chase and a staying-on half length second to Faugheen in the 2m5f Grade 1 Flogas Chase at the Dublin Festival. This extra distance looks ideal. Battleoverdoyen was labouring further back when coming down and I just can't see how they're the same price to win this.

RSA Chase Pace Map

Likely to be run at an honest, though probably not all out, gallop. The smallish field means every runner should have its chance.

RSA Chase Selection

I was very taken with Copperhead at Ascot last time. Having already backed Minella Indo, I think his price is now tight enough on what he's done, for all that he is a proven G1 animal; and I'm in the - seemingly very large - swerve Champ camp; but the one that looks the wrong price is Easy Game. His chase form reads very well and he is entitled to improve again on only his third start over fences.

Suggestion: Back Easy Game each way at 11/1 general

*

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

26 runners. In a handicap hurdle. Sponsored by a bookmaker. Seriously? You want to bet in this?

I managed to fluke 40/1 advised William Henry in this race last year, and that will likely be it for me for the next hundred years.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Since 2010, the mighty yards of Nicky Henderson (three times), Gordon Elliott (twice), Paul Nicholls, Willie Mullins, and Jessica Harrington (once) have dominated.

Dame De Compagnie, for Hendo, is a far less sexy price than William Henry but has an obvious chance. She's a course specialist and has not been harshly treated for an easy victory in a big field mares' handicap hurdle in December. Her layoff of 88 days is not uncommon in winners of this race and I expect she'll run a big race.

Willie's Bachasson is interesting: third in the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle last time on his first run since finishing fourth in the same race a year earlier, he'd previously beaten Darasso in a rated hurdle. That one runs in Tuesday's Champion Hurdle and, though Bachasson's Cheltenham form (unseated at the last when not out of it in the Albert Bartlett, fell at the 2nd in the Gold Cup) isn't great, the races he's contested were high class.

They are my two wild guesses against the field.

Coral Cup Pace Map

A massive field but no out and out front runner. Hordes of these want to be waited with and it could become quite messy in the closing stages.

Coral Cup Suggestion: Go for something to eat. If you must bet in a race like this, you're obviously into machismo punting. I'm trying to let that mostly pass me by these days, but will have small interests in the two flagged above, Dame De Compagnie 10/1 bet365 and Bachasson 16/1 general, but try to get 14 extra places!

*

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

The expected race of the meeting has lost just a hint of its sheen with the news that Altior was a touch lame on Sunday. It could be mind games, it could be something and nothing, or it could be material. Who actually really knows? The market immediately pre-race will be revealing. Until that time, we have to treat the race as though all three - the other pair being Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi - will run on their merits and the best on the day will win. So what of their respective merits? And are there any others we should consider?

Let's talk about Altior first. He's been the chaser of a lifetime for his owner, Patricia Pugh, and a horse the public have enjoyed since he burst on to the Cheltenham Festival scene as a novice hurdler in 2016. That year, he won the Supreme, the following year he claimed the Arkle, and for the past two years he's been the winner of the Champion Chase.

Rumours of his demise this season, after an arguably ill-judged early clash over a longer trip with Cyrname, have been grossly exaggerated as evidenced by an easy subsequent score in the Game Spirit Chase. Whether that translates into near favouritism in what is the warmest Champion Chase for a number of years is moot; what is not in doubt is that he showed at Newbury that trademark taunting of his rivals: momentarily looking to be paddling while his jockey depressed and released the clutch ahead of that perennial race-winning gear change either just before or just after the last.

It must be soul destroying to be a regular rival of Altior's because he's just so consistently brilliant whilst always offering the (false) hope that he's beatable. At two miles that has never been the case. Yet.

Here he faces the new guard, a pair of three-word French names with a gaggle of their own Grade 1's from which to play Top Trumps. Defi Du Seuil (DDS hereafter) has been a revelation since a moderate 2017/2018 campaign, thenceforth bagging a trio of G1's including the JLT Chase at last year's Festival. Much was made of his fall and rise but surely he was merely a victim of circumstance: a sick horse in a yard full of sick horses at that time. His form before and since seems to support that notion.

This term he beat Politologue in a tactical race over course and distance on his first start, then was all out to hold the now-retired Un De Sceaux in Sandown's Tingle Creek, before most recently repelling the same rival in more convincing fashion at Ascot in the Clarence House. I've been present for all three of those wins, and my on-track view is that he was quietly impressive at Cheltenham, a touch disappointing/fortunate at Sandown, and much the best at Ascot. On the form of his first and third wins he's about the right price, but on that Sandown run he's vulnerable.

Chacun Pour Soi (CPS next time) is the third in the top-knocking trio. He already holds a G1 verdict over DDS, at Punchestown last spring. The general theory is that DDS was OTT when CPS prevailed (too many TLA's - three letter acronyms?) there, and that might be true. But it might also be false. A literal reading of A Plus Tard's beating of CPS over Christmas gives the latter something to find, but that was his first spin of the season at a time when Willie Mullins's horses are often just a note shy of concert pitch.

He was pitch perfect at the Dublin Racing Festival when nearly four lengths too good for needs-further-these-days Min. They were the only two in the hunt from a long way out as Cilaos Emery and Duc Des Genievres capsized, the former at the very first fence. Min is a bombproof yardstick, however, and this line lost little lustre for it being a virtual match.

CPS is eight now, DDS seven, and it seems likely at this stage - given what we know of the Arkle class of 2020 - that the pair of them will have next year's QMCC between them. Whether that is true this time around remains to be seen: either way, I'd not have much between them in betting terms.

I'm not even going to try to make a case for the other four, with the betting - 20/1 bar the top three - telling all.

Champion Chase Pace Map

Hard to predict how this will be run, with Bun Doran and/or one of the Nicholls pair, Dynamite Dollars and Politologue, perhaps most likely to drive the peloton. Altior may even elect to cut out his own running as he did in the Celebration Chase last Aprill. Though it may not quite be tactical, it will probably not be frenetic either: a good even gallop with luck.

Champion Chase Selection

Tricky and probably not a betting race. If the vibes are good, or at least not bad, I might be tempted in to backing Altior at 5/2 or better (once I know he's fit and fine). I'd love to be cheering him home in a three-horse thriller and he's done nothing at all wrong over two miles, ever.

Suggestion: See how the pre-race vibes are and consider backing Altior at 5/2 or bigger. Otherwise, settle in and watch what should be a cracking race.

*

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

Not for everyone is the Cross Country Chase, but it is for me. It's a little midweek interval of something different: a time to pause for breath and enjoy some very good horses traversing non-standard barriers. And, of course, it features the dual Grand National winner, Tiger Roll.

Let's start with the Tiger. As well as winning the last two Grand Nationals, he has also won the last two runnings of this race; and the bookies have him as a 50% chance to win a third Glenfarclas Chase. His credentials are obvious, his CV peerless almost in the history of the sport. To remind you, Tiger Roll won the Triumph Hurdle in 2014, the National Hunt Chase in 2017, the Cross Country Chase in 2018 and 2019, the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle in 2019, and the last two Grand Nationals. He'd have probably won the mixed doubles at Wimbledon if he'd entered!

Now ten, he ran a solid trial when fifth in this year's Boyne Hurdle and comes into this race as the obvious horse to beat. But, a year older, this looks a stronger renewal.

Josies Orders, only a 15/2 chance when snatching second last year, is a 25/1 chance this time around. Urgent De Gregaine, the horse Josies chinned for silver, was 17/2 third choice there - where the market had it spot on, the first three in the betting finishing 1-2-3. Urgent is a 10/1 shot now.

The interloper, taking out a chunk of the percentages between Tiger Roll and the rest, is Easysland, trained in France by David Cottin and acquired by JP McManus since winning here in December. That was in the handicap version of the cross country, where he raced from 139. He's since won a Listed Cross Country at Pau to take his unbeaten run to six, and his unbeaten in completed starts sequence to seven.

He is a strong stayer in terms of this game though has tactical speed (has won over two and a half miles in the discipline), and the only slight reservation is his jockey, Jonathan Plouganou, who wouldn't be for the purists. But he does seem to get the job done as he showed in December.

Urgent De Gregaine is twelve now, still relatively young for a cross-country chaser some might say. But the days of the old guard winning might be over: no horse older than ten has won since 2010 and before that 2006. Seven of the last nine winners were aged eight or nine. Easysland is six!

Josies Orders is twelve, too, and it is time to look to younger horses. Eliminating those failing my eleven-plus examination reduces the field notably for all that such semi-arbitrary diktats can cross out the winner on occasion.

Despite plundering the November and December Cheltenham cross country races, the French are 0/11 in this event. They include Toutancarmont in 2015, who ran out when favourite (ridden by M. Plouganout); and Urgent De Gregaine, who has been second and third in the last two renewals.

Those two Urgent runs show the French are getting closer and, as well as that one trying again, they are represented by a duo of d'Alliers, Diesel and Arlequin. Diesel d'Allier easily won the November Cross Country here from Urgent De Gregaine, albeit in receipt of 22lb. He's since run second in a small field cross country at Pau and most recently fell when still full of run behind Easysland in that Listed chase. Only seven, he's entitled to improve in the next couple of years, and he's a cross country specialist.

The real dark horse in this year's renewal is Arlequin d'Allier, who was ridden from the front by Felix de Giles to win a 2m4f cross country conditions race last time. The trip is an unknown as, in truth, is his level of ability; but his trainer, Emmanual Clayeux, has two wins and six more places from a dozen runners on this course. Interestingly, or perhaps merely coincidentally, the two winners were having their first sight of the Cheltenham inner loops - as is Arlequin.

Indeed, Clayeux's Cheltenham debutants have finished 26F124451. His Cheltenham Cross Country runners are 61322P321. Arlequin d'Allier is a big price and his trainer deserves utmost respect.

Might Bite, 2018 RSA champ, merits a mention. He's been both wayward and brilliant, often in the same races - remember that RSA? Or the Kauto Star where he was a mile clear when destroying himself and the final fence? - and is the undisputed back class of this field; but at twelve it's probable he's had enough of this lark. Fair play if he wins - it'll be a tremendous watch!

Yanworth is one of the biggest swerves in racing. He has tons of ability but hates the game and will find a way to lose, as usual.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Pace Map

A hard one to second guess, not that it will matter much as the race generally changes complexion dramatically in the last half mile. On known evidence, Might Bite will roll along in front. He may be joined by Arlequin d'Allier, who led all the way when winning in Pau last time. Kingswell Theatre is a reliable front-ranker in these types of race.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Selection

Tiger Roll deserves to be favourite and he may well beat Easysland into second. That exacta is not the worst bet by any means, though it is also worth a small win bet on Easysland if you're comfortable with Plouganou doing the driving. I'm going to take the two d'Allier's - hopefully not dalliers - for pennies each way: their trainer is something like the French Enda Bolger and his record over these fences commands utmost respect.

Suggestion: Consider a Tiger Roll/ Easysland exacta. If you're feeling braver, back either Diesel d'Allier (22/1 Ladbrokes) or Arlequin d'Allier (40/1 Victor 1/5 4 places) each way with as many places as you can plunder.

*

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

The Fred Winter as was. With an average winning SP of 25/1 in the past eight years, it was arguably something of a surprise/relief when 7/2 Band Of Outlaws scored last season. He was trained by Joseph O'Brien, who joined Paul Nicholls (three), Gordon Elliott (two), and Nicky Henderson as winning trainers in the past decade. Another handicap race for big trainers then.

Nicholls has had nine placed from 23 since the race's inception, Elliott five from 16, and they look the pair upon which to concentrate. What is interesting is that Elliott's brace of winners were 25/1 and 33/1, and Nicholls also scored with a 25/1 shot as well as two much better fancied runners. So it is worth looking at the second- and even third-strings of these yards.

Although Irish-bred horses have won the last three, French-bred's have a fine record, with six victories in the fifteen-year history of the race.

If I'm going to have a bet in this race - and I am - then I'd rather back a loser at a bigger price than a loser at a short price so, while the cases for the likes of Aramax, Mick Pastor and Palladium are easily made, they're just not offering enough reward for the investment risk of a Boodles punt: for every Band Of Outlaws, there's a Veneer Of Charm, Flying Tiger or Qualando.

On that basis, I'll be siding firstly with Gordon's Saint d'Oroux. Looking very much 'not off' in a Leopardstown maiden hurdle over Christmas, after promising runs behind A Wave Of The Sea and Cerberus, he absolutely hacked up when the handbrake was released last time at Gowran Park, putting 24 lengths between himself and his, granted probably moderate, rivals.

As well as 33/1 winner Flying Tiger, Nick Williams has saddled 16/1 3rd Coo Star Sivola and 33/1 5th Diable de Sivola, from seven runners. As such, his 'brought along steadily' Galahad Quest, a Grade 2 winner here on Trials Day, is worth a go, too. Although beaten 66 lengths by the subsequent Grade 1 scorer and well-touted Triumph hope, Allmankind, he was actually sent off the 13/8 favourite for his debut that day at Warwick. Thereafter, he's clawed back his home reputation by running a neck second to the now 140-0dd-rated Buzz, and then achieving Grade 2 glory in his own right when scoring in the Finesse on Trials Day here in January.

134 seems on the lenient side given that the second, fourth and sixth from that Grade 2 have come out and won on their sole starts since, with just one other horse failing to win.

Boodles / Fred Winter Pace Map

The sensible play in this race is to focus on recent form - earlier efforts perhaps being 'for experience' - so the pace map below shows the last two runs only. It reveals that, unsurprisingly in such a big field, there are a good number who want to race prominently. An even to fast gallop would be my best guess.

Boodles / Fred Winter Selection

Two at fair prices against the 'well touted' runners at the head of the market. Saint d'Oroux is definitely better than he's shown so far, regardless of how he runs here; and Galahad Quest's form has probably been under-valued a touch. Both represent trainers with excellent 'Fred Boodles' credentials and both are solid double-digit prices.

Suggestion: Back Saint d'Oroux 25/1 Skybet and Galahad Quest 22/1 Hills with as many places as you can get.

*

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

Not a race to go all in generally, with 20-odd largely unexposed 'could be anything' types facing off against each other. Reputations form the market here and most of the runners can be expected to show more than they've done to this point. As such, backing Appreciate It at 6/4 or so is at the bonkers end of the brave/bonkers continuum.

Yes, he's looked good in winning his last two of three bumpers, most recently in a Grade 2 at the Dublin Racing Festival. And yes, he ran fairly close to Envoi Allen in his first point two years ago. He was fairly impressive in the Leopardstown bumper last time, cruising home. And the time was decent, for all that he didn't find an awful lot given how easily he travelled up to the leader, Risk Factor, in the straight.

He might well win but I can't be backing a 6/4 shot in a field of completely unexposed uncrossed form lines. Horses priced at 4/1 or shorter are 4/16 since 1997, a group that does at least include Envoi Allen, who was 2/1 when winning last year. So the question to ask is whether you think Appreciate It can be more of a horse than last year's winner, and the answer - granted, with the benefit of plenty of hindsight - is no.

The good news is that it's 7/1 bar, and I'll let the jolly beat me.

Appreciate It has had five runs, in points and bumpers, whereas the four-year-old filly Panic Attack has had just one. That was in a Listed bumper at Market Rasen where she took her field apart hard on the bridle to win by ten lengths. You'll rarely see a more impressive bumper winner and the fact that it was a debut against a bunch of winners in Listed class flags her as a serious prospect.

She'd apparently been balloted out of a similar race at Cheltenham earlier in the season so was obviously held in high regard. The trainer switch from Willie Mullins to David Pipe since Market Rasen is a minor cause for concern, though Pipe is having a far better time of it this term. Four-year-olds don't tend to win a race like the Champion Bumper - just Cue Card, Dato Star and Rhythm Section since the race's inception in 1992 - but fillies have a decent record, Fayonagh (2017) and Relegate (2018) winning from just nine to face the starter in recent years. The Glancing Queen was fifth last year as the only filly to line up.

Panic Attack gets a massive fifteen pounds in weight and sex allowances from the older geldings and, if she can handle the hurly burly, she could go close.

Ferny Hollow represents the same owner, Cheveley Park Stud, as last year's winner. Unlike Envoi Allen, who is trained by Gordon Elliott, Ferny Hollow is housed at Willie Mullins' Closutton barracks. Mullins knows better than anyone how to win this race, and he's often scored with his second-, third- or even fourth-string entries. This five-year-old son of Westerner cost £300,000 after winning his point but took three goes to get off the mark under Rules. He was close up behind some decent horses in defeat, but he doesn't scream bumper winner to me.

Queens Brook looks more credible: a five-year-old mare who won her sole bumper for Gordon Elliott by 21 lengths in a field of 17! Jamie Codd rode that day, as he did Elliott's other mare, Fayonagh, when she overcame a terrible start to bolt up a few years back. He'll be looking to reprise the Fayonagh playbook, albeit ideally with a better beginning.

Arguably the pick of the British form - I still love that Market Rasen line - is brought in by David Pipe's other entry, Israel Champ. This lad has won his last two, both in Listed company, both by a length and three-quarters. The wetter the better for him, too, his wins coming over course and distance on soft and at Ascot on heavy.

The Cheltenham form hasn't really worked out, nor yet has the Ascot race, and it wouldn't surprise me if he finished midfield. Naturally, it also wouldn't surprise me massively if he won, but I don't want to bet him.

Roger Teal has had his share of good horses, including Tip Two Win, and he now has a classy bumper runner in Ocean Wind. A four-year-old son of Teofilo, he was cheaply bought (£9,000) from the Godolphin draft at the Ascot July sale, and he's proved a bargain: in winning twice, most recently in a Newbury Listed event, he's already racked up £19,000 in prizes. His only defeat was a narrow neck verdict at Cheltenham over 1m6f in a tactical affair. He gets the four-year-old allowance but whether he's quite in the Cue Card bracket of four-year-old - or even Dato Star - I'm not sure.

There is an interesting lurker - actually, there are probably loads of interesting lurkers - down the betting list. Elliott saddles Eskylane as well as Queens Brook, and this one has the distinction of beating Appreciate It in a bumper earlier this season. There he finished a head second to Assemble, a wild card of note in the Albert Bartlett on Friday, giving that one a stone, with Appreciate It more than two lengths back in third.

The winner has won again since, the third has won twice since and is 6/4 jolly here, the fifth - sent off favourite this day - has won since, and Eskylane has himself won since, by eight and a half easy lengths in a Navan bumper. He's got a bright future.

A good number of others who might step notably forwards off last day wins, including Darling Daughter, winner of the same Grade 2 Mares' Bumper that Relegate won en route to Champion Bumper success. Elliott has saddled the winner of the last race on Wednesday twice in the last three years and he is well placed to add a third.

Lady Bamford's Adrimel, trained by Tom Lacey, cost £280,000 after romping away with a maiden point last spring, and he's two from two in bumpers since. The first win was facile but with nothing immediately of note in behind, the more recent victory was harder earned but against better horses.

And Five Bar Brian was a good winner on his first start for Willie Mullins after two years off. He was giving more than a stone to the second that day, with the Gordon Elliott-trained favourite a further 13 lengths back in third. There is also The Glancing Queen, fifth in this last year before winning the Grade 2 Mares' Bumper at Aintree, to consider.

Champion Bumper Pace Map

This is little more than finger in the air stuff given how scant the evidence is but, caveat emptor, the pace map looks something like the below. Israel Champ and One True King are two of the more likely to go forward, with Appreciate It probably not too far off the speed.

Champion Bumper selection

An up to par and competitive looking Champion Bumper. I'd certainly not have the favourite at the price he is for all that he can win. Lots of these have some sort of a claim if they can step forward seven or ten pounds. And, as most of them have had very few goes to this point, that's perfectly possible.

I backed Panic Attack at 22/1 after she won at Market Rasen - I know, lucky me, eh? - and I don't think she's any better than fair value now. I like Gordon Elliott's entries, all of which have to be respected given his recent record in the race.

Eskylane has form in front of Appreciate It, ad Elliot's other pair, Queens Brook and Darling Daughter, are in receipt of the mares' allowances.

Suggestion: Split stakes between the Elliott trio of Eskylane (20/1 Skybet), Queens Brook (8/1 Unibet) and Darling Daughter (20/1 general).

*

And that concludes a somewhat briefer (relatively, at least) spin through Wednesday's Day 2 action. Plenty of races in which it's hard to take a strong view, and where we may have to be both good and lucky to come out in front I feel.

Good luck!

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2020: Day One Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2020: Day One Preview, Tips

It's been wet wet wet and, apart from the state of the turf, the ongoing coronavirus saga had rendered day one an on/off 'sweet little mystery' in its own right for a while but, at this stage at least, it looks as though we're a go on ground expected to be testing.

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

Show time! The legendary roar is a real thing and unlike any other exhortation in the sport: it's a cocktail of excitement, anticipation and primal release from 361 (362 this year) days of waiting. And it's felt just as keenly - maybe more so - by the jockeys riding in the Supreme, some of whom can be guilty of going a shade too hard a shade too early.

The top of the market sees two horses split by the Irish Sea but united in ownership: both Shishkin and Asterion Forlonge belong to Joe Donnelly (as too does Gold Cup favourite, Al Boum Photo - lucky guy). What is perhaps strange is that the horse with much the better proven level of form has been the bigger priced of the pair throughout the ante post lead up.

Trained by Willie Mullins, winner of the Supreme five times since 2007 - four of them since 2013 - Asterion Forlonge was a clear-cut victor in the Grade 1 Chanelle Pharma Novices' Hurdle at the Dublin Racing Festival last month. There he was ten lengths too good for the 5/4 favourite, Easywork, a victory which took his record to three from three over hurdles. Add to that a maiden point win and the six-year-old son of Coastal Path is unbeaten in four.

As evidenced by Jon Shenton in this excellent piece, the Chanelle Pharma (formerly Deloitte) is the strongest novice hurdle run either side of the Irish Sea prior to the Festival, with Champagne Fever, Vautour and Klassical Dream all winning there en route to winning here, and all for Asterion's trainer. He should be favourite in my book and, by the time the tapes rise, he very well might be. His run style is from the front and he'll surely make a bold bid.

Currently favoured, however, is the Nicky Henderson-trained Shishkin, winner of the Listed Sidney Banks Hurdle at Huntingdon last time out. Shishkin's form has not worked out especially well, for all that he's been visually highly impressive. Specifically, in the Kempton bumper he won last March, his rivals have collectively run 22 times since without winning; from the Newbury novice in which he fell, his 19 rivals have run 29 times between them without winning; and in the Newbury novice that he won, his 13 rivals have failed to even make the frame from eight collective subsequent starts. Ouch.

In Shishkin's defence, he bolted up from some 140-ish rivals in the Sidney Banks; and Shakem Up'Arry, his closest rival at Newbury, was well fancied for the Imperial Cup before that race's abandonment.

The best British form is arguably brought to the table by the Colin Tizzard-trained Fiddlerontheroof. Bought from Ireland for £200,000, he took a little time to get going before running out a convincing winner of the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown last time. Notably, his form on soft or wetter reads 3111 and includes a defeat of the very well-regarded The Big Getaway while still trained in Ireland. Fiddlerontheroof is sure to relish a battle and stamina may be his strong suit; as such conditions set up perfectly, especially if he can control things from the front as he often likes to do.

If such a thing exists, the forgotten horse in the Supreme could be Abacadabras - easy for me to spell (see what I did there?!). A rock solid National Hunt Flat horse who was fourth in the Champion Bumper at last year's Cheltenham Festival, he was a close up second to Envoi Allen in the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novices' Hurdle and followed up with a win in the Grade 1 Future Champions Novices' Hurdle. Both those runs were in December, however, and Gordon Elliott's Gigginstown inmate has not been sighted in a race since.

That 74 day layoff is a worry, though Altior was off 80 days before winning in 2016 and Summerville Boy had 66 days between runs in 2018. Back in 2008, the mega-trendsbuster, Captain Cee Bee, was off 115 days prior to his Supreme victory, so it's far from a terminal knock.

Though he also runs Elixir d'Ainay, JP McManus's opening race hopes look to lie with Chantry House, unbeaten in four since tipping up on his point debut. Since then he's won his maiden point, then scored for the first time under Rules in a bumper exactly a year ago, and has added two ungraded novice hurdles to his CV. Each of his wins under Rules has been recorded as an odds-on favourite, testament to the regard in which he is held. He retains plenty of upside but it would represent a significant step forward were he to stride past this field.

If you want a wise guy horse - and who doesn't want a wise guy horse? - look no further than Edwardstone. Only a close second in the Grade 2 Rossington Main on Haydock's uniquely soupy surface, he'd previously won a couple of novice hurdles by narrow margins. Ostensibly not much to write home about in the context of a race like the Supreme. But... closer inspection reveals that in the first of them he beat the subsequent Grade 1 winner, Fiddlerontheroof, and in the second he beat subsequent Grade 2 scorer, Harry Senior. That pair are both single figure odds for Cheltenham novice hurdles and yet this chap can be backed at 20/1. It's simply too big about a horse who also has bumper form putting him very close to Chantry House, and who has yet to finish outside the first two in six career starts.

Supreme Novices' Pace Projection

Fiddlerontheroof has been on the front in three of his last four starts, though not when winning the Tolworth. That gives him a touch of versatility and it might be that he takes a lead off Asterion Forlonge, who has won from on or near the pace the last twice. More likely Elixir d'Ainay, Chantry House's owner mate and Asterion Forlonge's stable mate, will be at the head of affairs. Expect Shishkin to also be prominent though behind the front rank and Chantry House to be mid-division in the early furlongs.

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Selection

This looks a seriously good renewal of the Cheltenham Festival curtain-raiser, and all of Asterion Forlonge, Fiddlerontheroof, Abacadabras and, to a slightly lesser extent, Shishkin and Chantry House are perfectly credible winners. As such it's probably not a betting race at the current prices.

But there will be bookmaker specials galore on this opening heat of the meeting, meaning shopping around will garner significant value.

I think Asterion Forlonge is the most likely winner; I suspect Fiddlerontheroof will be the main beneficiary if it becomes a slog; but the one who is still the wrong price - for all that he's probably only the sixth or seventh most likely winner - is Edwardstone. His form ties in closely with a couple priced at a quarter of his odds.

Suggestion: Shop around for the best deals. Consider a small each way bet on Edwardstone at 16/1 with William Hill (1/5 1-2-3-4-5-6-7).

*

2.10 Arkle Challenge Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

A first sight of the chase fences as the two mile novices have at it in the Arkle. This looks like being quick, placing an emphasis on both stamina and accurate jumping at speed in the early part of the contest.

The uneasy favourite is Gigginstown's Notebook, trained by Henry de Bromhead. On form he looks to have an outstanding chance: his four chase runs have yielded four wins, the last pair in Grade 1 company. But... that probably leaves him with less scope to improve than some of his rivals for all that they still have to catch him up.

There are a number of causes for concern with this lad in spite of his G1 brace. First, his temperament: he bolted on the way to the start last time, antics which saw him prevail only by 3/4L from the re-opposing Cash Back. Whilst it could be argued he would have won by further if not for getting stressy, the counter-argument is that the cauldron of the Cheltenham parade ring is hardly likely to becalm a buzzy beast.

Secondly, there is the matter of his performance at the Festival last year. Granted, he was a 50/1 shot on the day, but a 51 length last of twelve finishers is hardly the sort of course form about which to get excited. He's clearly a different horse for fences, but those are two big negatives against a Festival favourite.

So what of Cash Back? He's eight years old, the same as that top class pair Moscow Flyer and Sizing Europe were when winning their Arkles. He was a decent but not top class hurdler, a comment that applies similarly to Notebook, so, while he has definitely improved a bundle there just might be a classier horse in the field. That said, I do think he'll see out the trip better than many and had backed him for small money after his Naas demolition job in January.

Fakir D'Oudairies is a five year old, the same age as four winners between 1998 and 2006, but none since. It used to be the case during those years that the additional maturity of the ex-French horses was a big plus, especially when allied to a healthy weight for age allowance. But the allowance was removed in 2009, and just four five-year-olds have appeared in this race since. They included 11/4 shot Saint Calvados, who was beaten by desperate tactics as much as anything else in 2018, and Tatenen, who fell as favourite in 2009.

Fakir has been beaten a length and a half by Notebook, meaning there is little theoretically between them. However, when one considers that there is still a weight for age allowance in such races in Ireland, and that Fakir was in receipt of seven pounds that day but runs off level weights here, it is quite hard to countenance a form reversal, for all that Notebook may burn some of his fuel before the race starts.

Fourth in the Ballymore and second in an Aintree G1 hurdle, both last spring, was Brewin'upastorm. This season, Olly Murphy's seven-year-old has cosily claimed two small field provincial novice chases, form which has worked out quite well without matching the other single-figure priced horses in the field. Olly's ability to get one ready for the Festival was shown last year when this horse finished a place behind the same trainer's Itchy Feet.

21 lengths behind Brewin'upastorm at Carlisle was Global Citizen. His trainer, Ben Pauling, was in lamentable form at the time (just two winners and four places from 55 runners between the end of June and early December), as well as which that was the horse's first run over fences and first run for 226 days. Nevertheless, as the highest rated hurdler in the Arkle, it was a disappointing seasonal bow.

Fast forward two months to Kempton at Christmas, and the real Global Citizen rocked up in the Grade 2 Wayward Lad to turn away Rouge Vif et al and re-establish his credentials for this gig. He's got the ability, clearly, but there are two reservations: first is that he might prefer flatter tracks, his only race at Cheltenham being when last of seven finishers - 45 lengths behind the sixth horse - in last year's Champion Hurdle; and second, he seems to want to bowl along in front. Here, so too does Cash Back, and potentially any of Fakir D'Oudairies, Put The Kettle On and Maire Banrigh. It could be pretty warm on the front end!

Your first 30 days for just £1

A Grade 1 winner at Sandown last time out, Esprit Du Large deserves a mention. The problem is that he's not been seen since that Henry VIII win in early December, 94 days being a longer absence to overcome than any winner this century.

The lovely mare Maire Banrigh has won her last six races since having wind surgery in early 2018, the most recent of which was an uncompetitive Listed Mares' Chase in which she was sent off 1-4 favourite. Her form isn't a million miles behind the best of these and she is able to receive a valuable seven pounds allowance. That said, she'll only be the third mare to run in the race in recent times, following I'm Delilah (unplaced in 2010) and Kruguyrova (2nd in 2008).

There are bits and pieces of cases to be made for the likes of the Kingmaker winner, Rouge Vif, but the one which makes a modicum of appeal in the long grass is Al Dancer. Winner of the Betfair Hurdle just over a year ago, he won a course and distance novice chase on his first start this campaign. He was caught for toe next time in the Grade 2 Arkle Trial behind Put The Kettle On, who had had plenty of practice by that point.

He's since run a little flatter at Kempton and Doncaster but comes here with the benefit of a good amount of experience, winning track form, and the prospect of a more truly run race suiting better. He could easily bomb out but at 20/1 or so he's playable for small money in what looks a very open race.

Arkle Pace Projection

Plenty of speed on based on recent form. Any/all of Global Citizen, Cash Back, and perhaps Fakir D'Oudairies, Maire Banrigh and Put The Kettle On might vie for the early lead. It'll take some getting with jumping over the first few fences likely to be closely examined.

Arkle Chase Selection

Notebook is in danger of becoming a backable price such is the concern over his pre-race temperament. Were he to handle preliminaries reasonably well he might be worth a saver, but this is a race in which I don't have a strong opinion. Perhaps Brewin'upastorm - presumed far back from the heat of early battle - can pass them all. He's got stamina and no little class. At bigger prices, Al Dancer may outrun 20/1 odds.

Suggestion: Have a look at Brewin'upastorm (6/1 Betfred) and maybe Al Dancer each way at 20's.

*

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

The first handicap of the week and we're into wild guess territory. A few general patterns might reduce the field a touch. It's usually a race for the British, with Ireland not scoring since Tony Martin's Dun Doire in 2006. They don't have a lot of runners in truth. Seven- to ten-years-old and a top six finish eliminate a few runners but we're still left with most of the field.

One of very mild interest at a fair price is the Dan Skelton-trained Cobra De Mai. He was given a 'never in it' ride in the Skybet Chase at Doncaster last time under a seven pound claimer. Harry Skelton gets back on for the first time this season, having won a course and distance handicap chase off this mark last April. There is a slight concern about the ground and about Cobra's jumping, but there are no such reservations that this has been the plan.

Towards the front of the market, a more obvious one is The Conditional. A non-stayer over 3m5f last time when dropping to fourth in the final quarter mile, the half mile less range will work better. His win over course and distance on soft ground in October has been well advertised since, and he's attractively weighted to go well here.

I'll not pretend I have a strong handle on the form here, so let's move on.

Ultima Pace Projection

Bags of pace on again here, most likely from Activial and Cogry; but any of Vinndication, Cepage, Elwood and Mulcahys Hill could help to force it.

Ultima Handicap Chase Selection

Suggestion: I'll have a wild guess at Cobra De Mai (20/1 Ladbrokes 1/5 5 places) and The Conditional (9/1 bet365, Hills).

*

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

I previewed this race on 14th February here - Champion Hurdle preview. Nothing much has changed in the interim except that I think it's an even more imponderable puzzle than I did then!

There are not many who cannot win, but there are not many about whom you'd have no reservations: it's a race in which to take a swing at a price and it won't surprise me if the bookmakers offer 5/1 the field on Tuesday morning.

Champion Hurdle Pace Projection

A solid gallop looks a certainty here, with neither Cornerstone Lad nor Petit Mouchoir having a Plan B. Not So Sleepy is another whose metier is to push on from the get go, notwithstanding that he missed the kick last time. Ballyandy and Coeur Sublime are another pair who tend to be on or close to the front while, at the other end of the field, the likes of Supersundae and Silver Streak are expected to be played late.

Champion Hurdle Selection

A wide open Champion Hurdle and your guess is as good as - quite possibly better than - mine. I tipped and backed Supasundae in mid-February and am happy enough to let him run for me. Both Darver Star and Ballyandy should offer a run for small money, though the price has gone somewhat on Darver now.

Suggestion: Back what you like. I'm hoping Supasundae, who is both old and slow in the context of a Champion Hurdle - but perhaps not in the context of this Champion Hurdle - can make the frame at around 12/1.

*

4.10 Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m4f)

This looks a match between Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle.

Benie Des Dieux was in the process of running away with the race when coming down at the last and handing it to Roksana a year ago. The Willie Mullins-trained mare is otherwise unbeaten in Britain and Ireland from seven completed starts since December 2016, to which she added the French Champion Hurdle last May. She's fairly lightly raced, then, perhaps attesting to a fragility; though Mullins famously minded Quevega in similar fashion and managed to conjure an astonishing six Mares' Hurdles from her. Her name now exists in perpetuity at Cheltenham with a bar named in her honour!

Benie is nine already so no such opportunity to rack up a sequence exists for her, though she would have been bidding for a hat-trick but for that last flight capsize a year ago. She's won her three starts since and comes here with rock solid credentials.

There is, however, a viable alternative in the form of Honeysuckle, herself unbeaten in seven Rules starts and a point to point. She looked a little workwomanlike when repelling Darver Star et al by just half a length at the Dublin Racing Festival, but that was over two miles. The shortest winning margins in her career have come at the minimum, while at two-and-a-half miles-plus no rival has got within 5 1/2 lengths of her.

Her ratings are closely aligned with Benie Des Dieux and, as a six-year-old, she has the greater scope to improve. Of course, Benie just keeps winning so we don't really know how good she is.

Stormy Ireland will probably force the pace, along with Honeysuckle's owner mate Elfile, meaning it will be a solid test. Stormy was good enough to claim silver behind Roksana last year and, if she gets an easy, she might cling on for a place, but it is hard to see her troubling the top pair if Elfile take her on as expected.

So what of Roksana? Dan Skelton's mare is a hard knocking type who has been a fantastic servant to connections, finishing in the first three in eleven of twelve hurdles starts. As well as winning last year's Mares' Hurdle, she has finished second to Santini in the 2018 G1 Sefton at Aintree, second in the Aintree Stayers' Hurdle, also a Grade 1, and, most recently, second in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle over course and distance. If they were betting on third place in this, she'd be about even money in my book.

The rest are not good enough.

Mares' Hurdle Pace Projection

Elfile and Stormy Ireland are confirmed front-runners, the former looking a potential spoiler working for Honeysuckle. and it is unlikely either will give the other any peace. As such, it is probable that they'll set the race up for those in behind. Honeysuckle tends to race prominently and will get a lovely tow into proceedings, while Benie Des Dieux will not be far behind in this short field if adopting her usual mid-division tactics.

Mares' Hurdle Selection

There are two very good mares in here, one pretty good mare, and some other less good ones. The two very good ones - Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle - should finish first and second, though I wouldn't be bullish about the order; and Roksana should finish third.

Suggestion: Play 65/35 forecasts and tricasts: 65% BdD-Honey-Roksana, 35% Honey-BdD-Roksana.

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4.50 Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase (Listed, 2m 4f)

Not my strong suit, but the trends are starting to form after 15 renewals, even allowing for some minor tinkering with the conditions.

Twelve of the fifteen winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out; 8yo+ have a moderate record; the top five in the market have won all bar three; all 15 winners ran between two weeks and two months prior to this; all bar one of the last twelve winners had run three or four times over fences.

The two box-tickers are Imperial Aura and Hold The Note.

Imperial Aura has finished second at Cheltenham on his last two of three chase starts, the form of his most recent run working out well enough. That was in the novices' handicap chase on Trials Day in January, a race which has provided the winner of this three times to date.

Mick Channon, he of the windmill arm goal celebration in a distant former life, saddled the winner of this two years ago with Mister Whitaker, and he trains Hold The Note for the same owner, Tim Radford, he of Timico Gold Cup fame in a recent former life.

This fellow has had a different prep - Mister Whitaker actually winning the aforementioned Trials Day novices handicap chase en route to his triumph - but has solid form in spite of being a maiden over fences. Maiden status failed to stop Ballyalton, Irish Cavalier or Finger Onthe Pulse from scoring.

Hold The Note was just run out of it in a three mile Grade 2 last time meaning he has both the class and the stamina for this; whether he quite has the speed remains to be seen, but connections obviously know how to get the job done.

One I like, as much as you can like a horse in a field of twenty novice handicappers, is Fergal O'Brien's Paint The Dream. He finished last of five last time out, but that was over a completely inadequate two miles on a not nearly testing enough track, Ludlow. Prior to that he'd chased home Midnight Shadow in the Grade 2 Dipper Novices' Chase, finishing from some way back to get to within a long length of the winner. He looks sure to appreciate the increased emphasis on stamina IF his jumping holds up.

17 others with some sort of a chance!

Novices' Handicap Chase Pace Projection

Torpillo will be front rank, and so too most likely Precious Cargo, Champagne Court, De Plotting Shed and, if he's quick enough, Paint The Dream. The speed they go early is likely to place strong emphasis on the jumping of these inexperienced chasers.

Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase selection

I fully respect the chances of the two 'trendy' horses, Hold The Note and Imperial Aura, but I want to take a small chance at a big price. In that spirit, I'm swinging at the maiden chaser, Paint The Dream.

Suggestion: Have a small bit each way on Paint The Dream at 25/1 1/5 1-2-3-4-5-6 Skybet.

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

An amended race distance and qualifying criteria for this year's National Hunt Chase after the attrition of the 2019 renewal. Just 3m6f this time around then, though that is unlikely to make it much less of a gruelling stamina test. Add in the fact this race is contested by novice chasers ridden by amateur riders and you have a precarious punting proposition.

A little surprising, then, perhaps, is that the favourite, Carefully Selected, is as short as 6/4. If his price is surprising - to me at least - his position in the market is not. He was a high class bumper horse, finishing a neck second to Relegate in the 2018 Champion Bumper; and a high class novice hurdler, finishing third to Minella Indo in the Grade 1 Punchestown staying novice hurdle last spring.

This season Carefully Selected is three from three over fences, most recently in a pair of Grade 3's over two and a half, and then three, miles. He ought to stay though this is a three-quarter mile journey into the unknown for him.

A massed rank in opposition as ever in a race where the smallest field this century has been 15. Ravenhill is an interesting one in spite of a fall last time. He's the same age, ten, as Rathvinden, winner in 2018, and Rith Dubh (2002), his age group having an 11% win and 22% place strike rate. Compare that with seven- and eight-year-olds, who have won 15 NH Chases since 1997 but from a whopping 290 runners (5% win, 14% place).

His form lacks the Graded lustre of Carefully Selected's but it has the unarguable substance of valuable handicap performance, most notably when second in the €118,000 to the winner Kerry National two back. He was travelling kindly in midfield when falling halfway through the Troytown Chase when last seen 107 days ago and, while both the absence and the tumble are concerns, he's just the sort of warrior for this job.

Willie Mullins (Carefully Selected) and Gordon Elliott (Ravenhill) have won four of the last seven NH Chases.

Eight of the last nine winners were rated 143 or higher, and that eliminates most of this field. One who passes that test and might be the pick of the home defence is Lord Du Mesnil. Acquired from France where he had solid handicap chase form, in the summer of 2018, he's improved 38 pounds this season so far. That improvement has coincided with deeper ground as can be seen from his form below, sorted by Racing Post Rating. Note the going for his better performances - soft and heavy - and for his least good efforts - faster turf. He will obviously enjoy things if it comes up very wet.

Another worthy of mention is Kim Bailey's progressive Newtide. Newtide has raced exclusively on soft ground and has won his last three, most recently the Grade 2 Towton Novices' Chase at Wetherby. With just seven races on the clock there's sure to be more improvement to come and a light campaign should see him fresher than many in the field.

Possibly the most progressive in the field is the Tom George-trained Springfield Fox. Beaten in three early season novice hurdles, the Fox was given an opening handicap mark of 117, from which he proceeded to bolt up by 12 lengths in a heavy ground three mile Chepstow novices' handicap chase. Reassessed to a ten pounds higher mark for his next and most recent assignment, he laughed at the handicapper's futile attempt to check his new found winning ways as he sluiced home by 17 lengths in a three mile Exeter novices' handicap chase.

He's up another 15 to 142 now, but that's clearly just a guess on the part of the handicapper: it is far from impossible that he steps forward another ten pounds from that mark - and if he did so he'd just about win this. The niggle with him is that he's gone from the front and, again, that might not be ideal with a number of other pace protagonists in opposition.

National Hunt Chase Pace Projection

The likes of Springfield Fox, who took a liberty at the first fence last time, and Carefully Selected are confirmed front runners. Lord Du Mesnil and Lamanver Pippin race close up, too. They could be sorted out with still three miles to go!

National Hunt Chase Selection

It's an open looking race, though the favourite's credentials are solid. Sadly, his price is terrible for a contest of this nature and I have to let him beat me if he can. Against him, I respect Ravenhill and Lord Du Mesnil, but the one I want to be with is Springfield Fox. If he can get into a nice rhythm over the first few fences then he looks as though he'll just keep rolling. He's highly progressive and is a tempting price.

Suggestion: Back Springfield Fox at 8/1 e/w bet365, Skybet, 888sport

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Good luck with your first day wagers. Remember, very few people have their last bet of the week on Tuesday, so whether you're in front or behind by 6pm, there's still a lot of pushing and pulling to be done over the remaining three days.

Matt

Punting Angles: The Triumph Hurdle

Stubbornness and occasional obstinacy are two of my less desirable characteristics, writes Jon Shenton. That may explain my historically neutral view of the Cheltenham Festival. Sure, I look forward to it, enjoy the seemingly 12-month build up to the next one and attend every year for at least one day.

However, I haven’t really “got it” in the same way that others seem to. I’m sure I’ve spouted the cliché of a winner at Southwell pays the same as a winner at Prestbury Park on more than one occasion to a non-plussed audience (and perhaps in one of these articles, too!). However, that’s all starting to change, mainly through penning my latest articles on the novice hurdling programme and linking it to Cheltenham. Now it all suddenly and finally makes sense.

Invigorated by that exercise, then, this article will focus on entirely on the Triumph Hurdle, which kicks off proceedings on the final afternoon, Gold Cup Friday, of the four-day fixture.

Graded Race Form

My first port of call was to evaluate the paths that previous winners have trodden on the way to a place in the history books at the Festival. Below is a table documenting each winner dating back to 2010, containing all same season graded hurdle races with the associated finishing position and the winning horse name from the latest renewal.

The table has two clear pointers. Firstly, the market is broadly a good guide in establishing the name of the likely winner. Seven of the last ten winners have returned a single figure price (and Tiger Roll only just a double figure one at 10/1). Countrywide Flame and Pentland Hills bucked the trend with their more exotic 33/1 and 20/1 SP’s.

Secondly, as well as the market pathfinding for punters, Graded form looks to be important, with every single champ having cut their teeth at Graded level apart from the aforementioned Pentland Hills. I make it nine graded wins in total from 15 starts between the last ten Triumph winners.

The Pentland question is still important to acknowledge, with Nicky Henderson's charge either a trend-buster or a potential new trend-setter.  Last years’ champion prevailed following a single run (and win) over hurdles in a £4k Class 4 event at Plumpton after an only slightly ascendant flat career.

I’d be inclined to conclude that the Pentland way is more likely to be an irregular occurrence. Moreover, due consideration needs to be paid to the specifics regarding last year's renewal. It was a difficult affair, with the ill-fated Sir Erec going wrong in the early stages of the race. The market, vibes and form all pointed to the Joseph O’Brien starlet running a big race and his exit changed the complexion, and perhaps the result of the 2019 edition. All ifs, buts and maybes but I see very little reason to deviate from the tried and tested form and/or the market as the starting point.

In terms of specific staging posts en route to a Cheltenham coronation, it’s of little surprise that the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown is a key pointer to the Triumph. No less than five of the ten winners listed have taken in this (sort of) Dublin race on the Festival trail. That may be a tick in the box for A Wave of the Sea, Aspire Tower and Cerberus in terms of the key market fancies.

Taking the UK angle, the Adonis is interesting. It's a race which was won by Soldatino and Zarkandar in 2010 and 2011 respectively. For both, it was their only UK run prior to their triumphs in the Triumph: exactly the same set of circumstances apply to Solo of the 2020 vintage.

Expanding on this theme, the table below shows the chief protagonists for the 2020 renewal, with their graded form to date.  It’s sorted in current ante-post market order.

 

If graded form is a key then Solo, Allmankind, Aspire Tower, A Wave of the Sea, Cerberus and Burning Victory have the potential to unlock the Triumph Hurdle door. That spells bad news for Sir Psycho, potentially Mick Pastor (6th in the Prestbury Juvenile Trial) and, most strikingly, Goshen. The Gary Moore-trained horse has a lofty reputation and is currently a general 4/1 in the market after three bloodless wins in lesser company. There is no doubt that the Triumph will be a big step up in class, one which he may well be perfectly capable of taking, but he doesn't fit the recent mould of winners of this race. Luckily there are ratings available which present tangible data on how big a leap might be required to take the spoils back down to Moore's Sussex yard.

Rating the Triumph

To ascertain if Goshen and his rivals have displayed “good enough” credentials to indicate competitiveness in the Triumph, I thought it’d be of interest to compare ratings of their past performances against the historic winners dating back to 2010. For this comparison I’ve used Racing Post Ratings (RPR), which as far as I can tell have been generated using a consistent methodology over the ten-year period (I’m happy to be corrected if otherwise).

Only races over hurdles have been included. The RPR is helpfully part of the geegeez.co.uk toolkit so obtaining this intel is relatively straightforward, albeit manual in nature.

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Prior to discussing the data, a quick explanation of the columns, in left to right order.

  • Win RPR – the Racing Post Rating given to the winner for their run in the Triumph
  • Price – Current Market Price for the 2020 Triumph contenders
  • 5LR to LR – 5th last run if applicable through to the last run (LR) RPR's
  • High – best RPR recorded over hurdles prior to the Triumph
  • Low – lowest RPR recorded over hurdles prior to the Triumph
  • Avg – the average RPR of all hurdle runs prior to the Triumph

It’s sorted by the last run (LR) column and I’ve signposted this year's crop with white rows, light blue relating to previous winners.

 

Laid out in this manner the table gives some valuable clues as to the likely shake up of the Triumph. The general shape reflects well on the class of 2020, showing that most of the main players have been pitching at a sufficient level over the course of this season to indicate that they have the potential to develop into Triumph winners.

Based on average RPR, three of the 2020 crop rank in the top five (Solo, Goshen and Aspire Tower). Although, it could easily be argued that there is a partial picture here, as it only includes winners from previous renewals, not the whole field. For example, Sir Erec ran to an RPR of 146 on his final outing prior to Cheltenham last year and, as he didn’t win, this is not included. However, even accounting for this it does indicate a high-quality renewal this year if all prospective runners make it to the starting tape.

It’s also logical to conclude that some of the longer shots (Mick Pastor, Sir Psycho, Burning Victory and Fujimoto Flyer) will have to improve significantly to prevail on Gold Cup Friday. Our old mate Pentland Hills’ Plumpton run gleaned an RPR of 128, demonstrating that a relatively low rating in a last run is not necessarily a barrier to onward success; but, PH aside, all other winners ran to at least 136 on their previous outing.

The lowest Triumph-winning RPR in the dataset is 144, and it belongs to household name Tiger Roll for his 2014 victory. This puts into context how much the animals with ratings in the 120’s or low 130’s last time out will have to improve. Notably, four of this year's field have already delivered RPR’s on or around that Tiger Roll winning rating and might be expected to improve further on the 13th March. It’s hard to see the horses at the lower end of the table improving beyond them if any of the main four take a step forward.

Solo’s 145 RPR from the Adonis is also noteworthy. The race was run just over four seconds slower than the Kingwell over the same course and distance on the same card. Perhaps the relatively high rating is a surprise, at first glance anyway. However, the RPR allocated to the winner of the Kingwell (Song for Someone) was a meaty 152 which gives a relative feel to the performance. It was visually impressive from Solo, and the RPR backs it up.

Arguably, Goshen is the most interesting in the RPR context given his lack of graded form. His RPR performance has metronomic consistency at 142 or 143 over the trio of his hurdle runs to date, having barely seen a rival in those three outings prevailing by a combined 68 lengths! Given his lack of experience at the higher level it should be of some reassurance to Goshen backers and fans that his race ratings are right on the money in these lower-class affairs. Based on ratings alone he is a very serious contender.

 

The trainers

Reviewing the trainers' record with juvenile hurdlers may offer another clue to the eventual winner. Using horseracebase the below table shows their complete records in juvenile hurdle events in the UK and Ireland.  It only includes trainers of horses that are 20/1 or shorter in the Triumph Hurdle ante-post market currently.

 

The data confirms that Gary Moore is a superb handler of juvenile hurdlers. There must be a couple of nice angles hidden within this table, perhaps for another time/edition of Punting Angles. The Nicholls operation, too, is meritorious and deserves closer inspection on another occasion.

Overall, it’s a nice insight but in terms of significant pointers for Cheltenham it doesn’t really help, so evaluating performance at the track should be an interesting and logical next step.

 

 

There are some astonishing numbers in the table above, one in particular: Willie Mullins’ 0-from-41 in juvenile hurdles at Cheltenham is the most extraordinary stat of all, although Gary Moore’s 1-from-40 is also equally startling. We’re fishing in small pools of data and the degree of relevance can be argued. That said, data are data and, consequently, a certain degree of bravery and belligerence is required to back Burning Victory or Goshen once you’ve digested these numbers.

To micro-analyse a little further, the table below shows performance only in four-year-old hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival. This includes data from the Triumph and the Fred Winter/Boodles.

 

 

All of Mullins’ 41 runners have been at 'the Fez' and include luminaries such as Footpad and Apples Jade. Moore hasn’t notched in 17 appearances, hitting the place crossbar only twice from those runs. Paul Nicholls' horses are obviously serious propositions; and Skelton, O’Brien and de Bromhead only have a handful of representatives between them, although it is worth noting that whilst Aiden O’Brien was the trainer of 2016 winner Ivanovic Gorbatov, it is widely rumoured that Joseph had a significant role to play in that victory. Overall though, trainer data points to negatives for Goshen and Burning Victory.

Race Composition – Pace to Burn

I’ve attempted to build a pace map of the chief protagonists below: it is constructed in line with the methodology and numbers deployed within geegeez pace maps.

  • 4 – led
  • 3 – Prominent
  • 2 – Mid-Division
  • 1 – Held up

 

Above is the individual race profile of each of the contenders in numerate form and below is a graphical representation of their average pace preference based on their hurdle runs thus far.

 

A lot of talk regarding this race is in relation to a likely pace burn up. The data backs that up with bells on. The top three in the market have all pretty much only ever cut out the running in their recent hurdles starts, with Cerberus and Sir Psycho preferring to race near the head of affairs, too. The addition of the other less fancied runners may further spice to the already fiery pace platter. It would be very, very surprising if this race is run at anything other than a fast and honest gallop.

Based on visual evidence, Goshen and Allmankind appear to be the ones that are most likely bolt on when the flag is dropped. There is a definite possibility of those two damaging each other by over-racing and it’ll be fascinating to see how they react to a bit of competition for the lead, although Goshen can take back as he did between the third and fifth flights last time.

Perhaps Aspire Tower gives the impression of being slightly the least headstrong of the trio which may mean he could pick up the pieces, but that equally could apply to any of the others. Despite the RPR numbers appearing to downplay the prospects of Burning Victory and Mick Pastor, maybe the race composition brings them into play a little.

 

Summary and conclusions

If you’re after a tip then you’re probably reading the wrong article! However, after evaluating each horse's path to the Triumph, their RPR performance, trainer records and the likely pace composition it’s fair to say that there are a plethora of pros and cons to evaluate, many of them ostensibly contradictory.

Of the four market leaders I favour Goshen the least: his lack of Graded form, Moore’s record at Cheltenham with juveniles, and his want-the-lead run style are all negatives in my view. Further, he has jumped markedly to the right in all three of his hurdle races, which is obviously sub-optimal in a Championship race at left-handed Cheltenham, and I do wonder how he will react under pressure as for the first time he is unlikely to get it all his own way, as the ratings and pace profile demonstrate.

Of the four I’d side with Aspire Tower, a perspective that’s driven by current prices as much as anything else. Along with Solo he has the best RPR from a previous hurdle race and I think he could be a good value play, although he is not the most likely winner and does have to bounce back from a fall in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown.

The pace composition holds the key for me: a furious gallop could easily leave the door ajar for horses at the lower end of the pace profile, and maybe not the most fancied in the field. Based on evidence to date it’s likely to be a mega burn up, but if I know that then of course all the trainers, jockeys and pundits know it too. That makes it even more intriguing and I wouldn’t be surprised to see a change in tactics attempted by at least one of the main pace pushers. Good luck holding Goshen and Allmankind back though!

If I was putting my money down today based on this analysis, I would side with Aspire Tower and maybe A Wave Of The Sea all things considered. Along with Solo they tick more of the boxes and possibly have more versatility regarding how the tactics play out. The unappealing price for Solo leads me to the other two, though it will be far from a shock should Solo win as he is the likely favourite.

It would also be no surprise to see Goshen or Allmankind break the field apart! Whatever happens, it’s a genuinely fascinating race: the more I’ve looked at it the more I can’t wait to see how things shake down. I’ll be there to watch it in the flesh, and I haven’t looked forward to a single race as much in my life.

- JS

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