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Ejtilaab Has Plenty In His Favour In Chester Handicap

Not the greatest line up for the ITV cameras this weekend ahead of next week’s Epsom classics but some decent enough handicaps, complicated slightly by how much the ground will be drying during what we can finally call ‘summer weather’. One of the more interesting betting races of the weekend could be run at Chester, their 7.5f handicap at 2.40pm features several in form contenders and as you’ll expect at Chester, there will be a strong draw and pace bias.

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Everyone knows about the draw bias at Chester but it does vary depending on distance, how strong is it over this 7.5f trip?

A field of twelve go to post here (although a couple of high drawn withdrawals can never be ruled out at this venue) and we have a decent enough sample size on this sort of ground.

Unsurprisingly the low draws provide most winners but there is not as much between low and middle as you may think. Low draws have a win percentage of 11.18% compared to middle’s 9.72%. The place percentages are almost identical and there isn’t a massive amount between the PRB figures either (0.55 for low draws, 0.52 for middle).

The market clearly hasn’t reacted to the fact that middle draws perform only very slightly worse than low draws - middle draws have been profitable to back both win and each way and produce the best A/E figures.

What is also clear is that a high draw definitely is a disadvantage with a PRB of just 0.43.

There is bound to be a point at which a good draw starts becoming a bad draw so let’s take a look at the individual stall data.

Ignoring the data for stall 13 (small sample size and only 12 runners here), the best stalls appear to be 2, 6 and 8 when looking at the PRB figures. There is a massive drop off in performance when looking at stalls 9, 10, 11 and 12, which are the four worst stalls, and it looks like you certainly don’t want to be drawn any higher than 8. It’s interesting that stall 8 has a strong PRB figure of 0.55 yet has only produced a single winner from thirty-eight races. A horse can clearly run well from stall 8 but a place looks far more likely than a win from there.

Stalls 1 to 7 inclusive have generated 79% of the winners in this sample so unless you have found something you think could place at a big price or has a massive amount in hand of the handicapper you are best off concentrating on these seven stalls to find the likely winner.


Draw is rarely an underestimated factor at Chester but pace regularly is. How strong a pace bias is there over this trip?

The front running bias isn’t as strong as over some shorter distances here but it certainly still exists. Front runners have both the best win percentage (11.29%) and place percentage (38.71%). The success rate falls steadily for both win percentages and place percentages the further back in the field you go and it’s interesting that whilst there isn’t much between front running and racing prominently as far as win percentage goes, front running produces a far superior place percentage. Front running is the only style of racing that produces a profit here and it does so for both win and each way bets.

Pace Map

This is the pace map for this race, based on the last two runs of each runner.

Not a huge amount of pace in this one, with Ejtilaab looking a likely pace angle from stall 1. Alexander James and Hey Jonsey look likely to track the pace and be well placed from their favourable draws whilst the likes of Mission Boy, Another Batt, King’s Knight, Hayadh and even Azano would ideally want to be at least handy but the higher they are drawn, they better they’ll need to break to get their desired positions without being posted very wide.

With so many prominent racers in this field the higher drawn prominent racers risk going too hard to get to the front, being posted very wide if they race where they’d normally race or being positioned further back than they’d normally like.

A lot of Hayadh’s form is over further so whether he has the early pace to get across is open to debate. Azano would ordinarily try to lead, he missed the break a couple of starts back so had to settle for racing handily and he certainly won’t get near the lead if he misses the break here from stall 12.

Those in the rear are likely to struggle given the lack of likely breakneck pace around this course so the likes of Boardman, Tadleel, Via Serendipity and Gabrial The Wire are likely to be at a disadvantage.

Draw and Pace Combination

With such a strong draw advantage and pace bias it’s pretty likely the draw and pace combination heat map will show if these advantages and disadvantages are compounded when put together.

Unsurprisingly the combination of a low draw and early pace is very effective with a PRB of 0.60 for front runners from low draws. Being prominent from a low draw is also a big advantage but the advantage of being drawn low tapers off the more patiently a horse is ridden.

Being in mid division from a middle draw is surprisingly the best position according to these PRB figures, it’s also the third best place to be according to the win percentages. There aren’t any runners in this drawn in the middle that consistently race in mid division though.

A high draw can be overcome if the runner is able to reach the lead. Statistically the worst place to be is prominent from a high draw and there are definitely several contenders who seem likely to be stuck there.

The Runners

This is the full field, in early odds order.


A very obvious starting point given he ran well at Chester’s May meeting, over this course and distance, on this kind of ground. That run was better than it seems for several reasons. As discussed above, the very high stalls have a poor record here and he was drawn in stall 10. He was also ridden prominently, the worst kind of ride statistically for a high drawn runner.

The only two runners to finish in front of him from that race that have raced since have both won whilst the 6th and 10th have also won since and the 8th has finished runner up since. That’s extremely hot form.

The ground would also have been soft enough for Ejtilaab that day with all his best form coming on good or better ground. By race time it should be at least good here.

Ejtilaab looks likely to go forward from stall 1, putting him in the ideal position, and he has another good run at this course to his name having finished 2nd to Wild Edric last September. That runner is a bit of a Chester specialist with two wins and two runners up places there whilst the 3rd was Baby Steps, a horse that has finished placed at Chester in all seven previous runs there. Ejtilaab is 7lbs higher here but he’s evidently still improving and even his last win off a 4lb lower mark shows he is still well handicapped – the runner up won on his next start and the 3rd has won since too.

The main concern here is the form of the Ian Williams yard. In handicaps in the past three months Williams has a PRB of 0.50 and that has dropped to 0.43 in the past 30 days. In the last couple of weeks the majority of runners have been well beaten but there have also been a few winners too.

Another Batt

A comfortable winner last time out at Thirsk on soft ground having been 1.75 lengths behind Ejtilaab at Chester the run before when better drawn. As a result of that win Another Batt is now 3lbs worse off.

His last two runs have come at Thirsk but he did win here as a 3yo and he has previously won a handicap off a 9lb higher mark at Meydan in 2019. He’s probably not as good as he was back then and drying ground is almost certainly against him but he’s just about okay drawn in stall 7 and is capable on a going day.


An easy winner on his last two starts but now 10lbs higher than his last win. He was 2nd to Persian King as a 2yo and Tim Easterby seems to have finally found the key to him. He threatened to be a well handicapped horse last season, especially here when catching the eye when staying on from a hopeless position into 5th. That was off a 10lb lower mark and there is every chance he suffers the same fate here as he has been well suited by making headway on the bridle up long straights on his last two starts. Ejtilaab was over 4 lengths ahead of him in that race and is 3lbs better off in this.

King’s Knight

Lightly raced 4yo for Charles Hills who tends to race prominently. He’s only won one of his four handicap starts and that was in a class 4 Lingfield all weather race (3rd won since). He went up just 3lbs for that which seemed fair but has been raised 6lbs for finishing 2nd which seems harsh. It’s possible he’s improving enough to defy that but the yard’s horses seemed in better form the last time this horse ran. Charles Hills has a PRB in handicaps in the past 3 months of 0.59 but that’s dropped to 0.50 in the past 30 days. That's by no means poor form but it is a dip in form and since King’s Knight last ran Charles Hills has had twenty three handicap runners and just two winners at 5/1 and 13/8. Stall 8 isn’t ideal but he at least has the early pace to possibly get a good early position near the lead.


Was runner up behind Another Batt last time out, enjoying the soft ground, and although he’s 5lbs better off here that’s unlikely to be anywhere near enough to make him of interest from stall 12. He can be a touch slow from the gates on occasions and that would kill any chance he has of getting across from that draw early and the drying ground is against him too. Not badly handicapped but things have conspired against him here.

Hey Jonesy

The 2020 Wokingham Handicap winner hasn’t got closer than 6 lengths to a winner of his races in five starts since. He’s now just 1lb above his last winning mark but both his wins have come at 6f rather than this extended 7f and he’s surely being campaigned towards a repeat bid at Royal Ascot in a few weeks’ time. He can lead but more likely to be prominent from stall 3, especially with stamina concerns.

Mission Boy

He’s run some decent races since moving here from Italy during the winter but hasn’t been well enough handicapped to win a race and his handicap mark has only fluctuated by 1lb. If anything he needs to go up in trip on softer ground rather than down in trip on drying ground and it would be a small surprise if he had the tactical speed to land a serious blow in this contest.


Won a couple of 7f handicaps at Newcastle in the winter but was a big let down in the Lincoln Trial when poorly placed but not picking up at all. His best form has undoubtedly come on artificial surfaces although he seems to get on pretty well with Newmarket and York. His run style isn’t really best suited to this course and there is real proof of that as he’s finished 10th and 11th in two runs here off lower marks. Well enough drawn but plenty of question marks.

Via Serendipity

A better horse on the all weather but his split handicap mark reflects that. He’s won off a 7lb higher mark on turf in the past and certainly looks well handicapped again but his very best turf efforts have come at Ascot, unsurprisingly for a horse that is better on artificial surfaces. He’s raced handily in the past but tends to be held up these days and the booking of Jamie Spencer suggests those tactics will be employed again here. He was tried in a first time visor dropped back to an inadequate 6f last time out at Doncaster and he ran okay given the trip was too sharp, certainly suggesting he can win off this sort of mark over this sort of trip. Stall 9 and a hold up ride are pretty off putting here though and he’ll be more interesting elsewhere (preferably Ascot) on fast ground.

Alexander The James

Makes his debut for Mick Appleby having spent the first part of this year running poorly in France. He’d previously raced in this country for several trainers, often running on softish ground over a little further. He hasn’t shown much since September so a lot depends if Appleby can revitalise him. Appleby used to be a trainer to follow first time out when getting runners from other yards but he's had just one winner from his last thirty-eight qualifying runners according to the Trainer Change report. Appleby has had a further thirteen 2nd or 3rd places from those runners so he does still often have them firing. This runner looks likely to track the pace from stall 2 so has plenty in his favour if back to form and the market could enlighten us as to what kind of form he is expected to be in.

Gabrial The Wire

Owned by Dr Marwan Koukash so unsurprisingly knows his way around here. He’s gained three wins here and a further two places from fourteen runs, the most recent of those wins coming over this trip off a 2lb lower mark. He seemed to lose his form in August last year though and the fact he ran in September, then not again until November and then has been absent since suggests he’s had some training issues. He’s gone okay fresh in the past but form and well being are taken on trust and stall 11 is a big negative too.


Ran well off this sort of mark in 2018 over course and distance (only try here) and can be competitive off marks in the high 80s. Most likely didn’t stay when well beaten over 10f last time out and better judged on form at this sort of trip which includes close 4th in an average looking race at Redcar and a well enough beaten 7th when well placed in the Thirsk Hunt Cup. This trip is a little shy of his best though and he’s likely to be caught wide from stall 10 so whilst he’s likely to pop up in his next few runs it will probably be when his sights are slightly lowered and when he is better drawn.


This looks one of those races where we're not looking for anything wildly well handicapped, it’s a case of finding the runner with the least amount of negatives. Another Batt looked good last time out but he’s largely inconsistent and seemed to improve last time for very soft ground. Boardman is capable of defying his new mark but he’ll do well to win this and Chester’s tight turns won’t allow him to make up ground on the bridle as he’d probably like which could leave him poorly placed again when the inevitable sprint for home begins. King’s Knight is capable but is drawn wide than ideal and could find several lower drawn runners also wanting to race prominently. Jim Crowley would probably be best off trying to get the lead rather than tracking the pace.

The ground and draw are going against Azano, Hey Jonesy is wildly out of form and probably won’t stay, Mission Boy isn’t brilliantly handicapped and will probably find this test too sharp, Tadleel has run poorly twice here before, Via Serendipity is well handicapped but is likely to be poorly placed and likes very fast ground, Alexander James has been out of form, as has Gabrial The Wire, whilst Hayadh is poorly drawn and prefers a little further.

That leaves a slightly unoriginal choice of EJTILAAB. He’s happy leading but doesn’t have to lead and he should be close to ideally placed in this. He can hold the rail regardless, saving ground, and the bulk of his form gives him an excellent chance of winning this. Richard Kingscote has ridden the horse twice, when winning at Chelmsford and when finishing 5th from an almost impossible draw here last time in that hot handicap. He’s run well on both starts here and even the drying ground is in his favour too. He’s not a bad price at 4/1 when you consider all of this, even if the bookies do overreact to stall 1 around here. The stable form is a slight concern but Ejtilaab did run well just three weeks ago. King's Knight looks next best.

Headgear Return Gives Outsider Major Chance In Haydock Handicap

An interesting selection of live races this week and several appeal as betting races, none more so than the 1.55 at Haydock. This is a 7f handicap likely to be run in very testing conditions at Haydock. With rain forecast for most of the day on Friday we are almost certainly looking at heavy ground all round for this contest.

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Here’s the draw data for this sort of field size in testing conditions at Haydock over 7f.

Not a massive sample size but it seems a low draw is likely to be favoured here. A massive fifteen of the nineteen wins in this sample have come from either low or middle draws. The place data echoes this with low draws having a place percentage of 31.88%, middle draws having a place percentage of 27.40% and high draws having a 21.74% place strike rate.

Given we’ve got a smallish sample size here the PRB data could be most telling. Low draws have a pretty impressive 0.56 PRB, compared to 0.47 and 0.46 for middle and high draws respectively. This metric suggests there isn’t as much between middle and high draws as the win or place data indicated.

With some sharp swings in draw data between low, middle and high, hopefully we’ll get a clearer picture of where good draws become bad using the individual stall data.

Now the first thing we have to do here is look at the sample sizes. Stall 14 has provided just one runner and stall 13 has provided just two runners. It’s pretty remarkable that those three runs have produced two wins which is in direct contrast to the general low v middle v high draw data but given the small sample size with have to take it with a huge pinch of salt.

That’s especially the case given the next four best stalls according to the individual PRB data are 4, 1, 3 and 2 (in that order) and the worst three stalls are 11, 10 and 12. The larger data samples indicate low is good and high is bad, for all it’s clearly possible to win from very high stalls.

There will have to be some debate about the highest stalls but there certainly seems no debate that the lowest four stalls are advantageous in these conditions, despite the tendency for the runners to swing into the middle or nearside of the course in the straight on testing ground.


It can sometimes be hard work making up ground when conditions are testing, is that the case for a venue that seems to have more than it’s fair share of testing conditions?

In medium sized fields here the winningmost position is held up but given much more runners have been held up compared to other run styles, this is actually statistically the least advantageous position with a place percentage of just 19.66%. So you clearly can win from a waiting ride, it’s just a bit of a disadvantage to be ridden this way in most cases. In fairness this is a general trend in all horse racing and Haydock is amongst the fairer courses.

The highest place percentage of 41.07% belongs to those ridden in mid division, whilst there is very little between front runners and prominent racers with place percentages of 31.25% and 32.29% respectively.

Front runners actually have a far superior win percentage, admittedly from a fairly small sample. The value probably lies with those ridden in mid division though, this run style has been profitable to back blind both win only and each way, as have front runners to a lesser extent.

It’s difficult to make a case for front running and mid division to be an advantage but prominent not being an advantage so the main takeaway should be that whilst plenty of runners that are held up win, they offer the poorest value and win least often relative to the number of runners that are ridden that way.

Pace Map

The pace map for this race will give further clues about what kind of run style might be an advantage in this particular race.

We shouldn’t have to worry about a steady gallop here with Ffion leading early in all his three races to date plus Lincoln Park and Sunset Breeze also being happy to make the running if need be. It seems unlikely they’ll set a searching gallop on this ground given the latter two are both comfortable taking a lead but they probably won’t make it easy for each other either.

Moll’s Memory and Cold Stare seem most likely to be the back markers in this contest with Gabrial The Devil, Redarna and Tom Collins also likely to be given plenty to do.

Draw and Pace Combination

This heat map is great for figuring out the best run styles for each draw, hopefully it will give us some extra insight here.

This particular heat map is made up from a relatively small sample, although by using PRB data we at least get a data reading from every runner in every race. For leaders a low draw seems to be a disadvantage whilst early leaders drawn in the middle perform well above average.

Any other run style than front running is a positive for low drawn runners whilst middle drawn runners from mid division perform well, much better so than those held up from the same draw. Mid division is seemingly the best place for those drawn higher to be placed.

Given the small sample sizes above I also want to take a look at the data including non handicaps.

Now we see fewer fluctuations in the data with a bigger sample. Wider drawn front runners perform well again, prominent racers have good PRB figures, especially those drawn low, whilst if you are drawn in mid division the lower your draw the better and being held up from anything but a low draw also looks a disadvantage.

The Runners

Here is the full list of runners, in early odds order.


A sound starting point for this race given he finished 2nd over course and distance on heavy ground just two weeks ago. He looked fairly handicapped off 79 going into that race having beaten a reliable 69 rated yardstick on his previous run, giving that runner up 5lbs and an almost two length beating. That rating of 79 also marries up well with his debut performance too.

He was beaten last time out, and by 4.5 lengths, but the winner came out and won an 18 runner handicap at York under a 5lb penalty by a similar distance the following week so he clearly bumped into one on that occasion.

He’s drawn in stall 4 here, statistically the best draw of all, and his front running style is certainly no disadvantage on this ground. The one negative is perhaps the other pace angles could make him go faster than he wants early but other than that he looks tough to beat.

Sunset Breeze

Having looked well handicapped on his last two runs of last season he was perhaps a shade disappointing from a good draw at Ascot, not beaten far (3.75 lengths) but never looking likely to play a part in the finish. It could be argued he’ll come on for the run but Sir Mark Prescott’s horses have generally been running okay fresh. A simpler explanation was the ground was too soft at Ascot.

Now this horse does have a win to his name on soft ground, but that was off a 15lb lower mark with a winning margin of just a length against a now 17 race maiden. In two soft ground starts since he has finished 6th and 10th , whereas his two subsequent good ground runs have both resulted in 2nd place finishes.

I’d be keen to back this horse on good ground but I’m happy to oppose again on this ground.

Moll’s Memory

Certainly no ground worries for this two-time heavy ground winner, the more rain the better in fact. She also has wins on good to soft to her name and they came over 6f so she's not a slow horse either.

She’s looked in the grip of the handicapper in three runs this season so far but two of those came on good ground and the other was on the all weather (met trouble in running and did third best of the hold up performers that day). Those runs have seen her drop 3lbs in the handicap back to her last winning mark of 84. This is stronger than the race she last won though and stall 11 seems a slight negative for a hold up performer. With the ground now turning heavy she'll be popular in the betting having won both her heavy ground starts (off this mark and higher) but her draw and run style combination is a bit of a negative.

Tom Collins

A very hit and miss performer last year who was either beaten 7+ lengths (four times) or he either won (once) or got beat a head (once). The form of his win, in October, is very strong with the runner up rating 12lbs higher soon after and the 3rd winning twice since (admittedly on a different surface at Southwell).

A gelding operation and a switch to William Haggas’ stable seem two positive moves for the horse and in my Thirsk Hunt Cup preview, in which he made his seasonal debut, I stated that the ground would probably be too fast but he’d be interesting on softer ground, probably dropped in trip. Well here he is in softer ground down a furlong.

He's only 5lbs higher than his last win and although he finished 12th last time out, that was on fast ground, held up against a pace bias and he was beaten less than 6 lengths in a hot race, certainly running as if in form. His best form has come when held up and that’s potentially a problem here given his very wide draw in stall 13.

There is also a headgear question mark as he’ll be running in first time cheekpieces. The good news here is that William Haggas seems pretty adept at using cheekpieces his overall PRB in handicaps with and without headgear in the past five years is exactly the same (0.60). He’s a really interesting runner who will be wanting them to go hard up front to help him overcome his draw and pace combination bias, which is the most off-putting factor with this runner.

Cold Stare

Exposed mudlark who at the time of writing is entered at Goodwood on Friday but he’ll likely get softer ground here so for the purpose of this preview it will be assumed that he isn’t running on Friday.

David O’Meara’s runner has been in decent form this season, starting off his campaign with an eye-catching 5th on ground that was far too fast at Redcar. In three previous runs on fast ground he had faced fifty-three runners and beaten just two of them! He was beaten the best part of 7 lengths in soft ground in the Victoria Cup at Ascot on his penultimate start but he was drawn very low that day and ended up finishing 2nd in his group. He followed that up with a 2nd at Thirsk, dropped back to 6f on soft ground. The winner got the run of the race that day and the 3rd has come out and gone one place better since so that was a good effort.

The horse has a solid record at Haydock over 6f/7f on ground with the word soft in the description, producing form figures of 18912. He’s below his last three winning marks and if being held up is no disadvantage in this contest he comes here with a decent chance.

Lincoln Park

Pace angle that will love the ground. His effort last time at Chester, when beaten 13 lengths can be disregarded as he went very hard early to try to lead from stall 11. He’s a course and distance winner in heavy ground and his career form figures at this venue read 13752. Based on that 3rd, which came last summer, he’s handicapped to finish a couple of lengths behind Cold Stare in this.

His last win at 7f came two years ago and he’s arguably been getting quicker as time goes on (was placed over 5f last season). If he can repeat much of last season’s 7f form off a slightly lower mark here he is entitled to run well though but he seems likely to find a few too good though.


A lightly raced 4yo who did best of those that were held up last time out (and he was given an extreme hold up ride so can be marked up further) at Newcastle, ahead of Moll’s Memory. He’s entitled to come on for that and looks interestingly handicapped. All his turf runs have come on much faster ground to date and this much softer going has to be a concern.

All of the dams winners came on the all weather or fast ground whilst the sire’s two best place percentages in turf handicaps came on good to firm and firm ground according to the Profiler tool. The sire’s runners also perform very well on artificial surfaces so it’s no surprise he ran so well at Newcastle last time. He’d be of most interest if running on the all weather next time but would also take plenty of beating in the right company on fast ground.

Silver Samurai

Well beaten last time out from a poor draw at Chester but in good form before that in two runs at a mile at Kempton. He’s still lightly raced and has won on soft ground before – that was a wide margin maiden win against none other than the now higher rated Sunset Breeze. He also ran well here on good to soft ground over a mile last season but ran poorly on soft ground at Newmarket in August. He was below par on his next and final start last season on good ground so it might have been more than the soft ground that caused the poor performance at Newmarket but given he won his only start on good to firm well it does seem that faster ground probably suits better. He shapes like the drop back to 7f might suit but his best form is at a mile so that’s another question mark, as is stall 12.

Stone Soldier

Archie Watson’s runner was progressive at Southwell over the winter, winning three times, but he’s one from thirteen on turf and hasn’t threatened in two turf runs this season. His sole turf win did come in soft ground but that was at Chester, a course where his best two turf runs have come. Away from Chester on turf he’s never got within less than 5 lengths of the winner, even off lower marks.


Relatively lightly raced 4yo who landed a hat trick of handicap wins in earlier this year. The softest turf she has faced is good to soft and she was successful on it but she was rated 67 that day and is running off 90 here. She’s probably fairly treated off her new mark and this is definitely her trip but she was a bit below par last time out without an excuses and does have to prove herself on this ground. Nice draw though.

Lord Oberon

Was just ahead of Raatea and Moll’s Memory on his penultimate start (better placed than that pair) but he has a much better strike rate on artificial surfaces and wasn’t in the same form on turf last time out. His sole turf win came on soft ground at Doncaster when beating Cold Stare into 2nd and he’s weighted to confirm that form with his shorter priced rival, for all that run came the best part of three years ago.

Apart from that Doncaster win, his best turf form has come at Haydock producing form figures here of 228234. You could argue that he’s better at 6f as his last five turf starts at 7f have all been underwhelming but he finished 1st and 3rd on his last two runs at this distance on the all weather and he’s run well in two 7f handicaps on turf earlier in his career.

His latest turf effort was underwhelming but the ground wasn’t soft enough (only good to soft) and he raced away from the rest of the runners. If you can forgive that, returning to his favourite turf venue he looks overpriced.


Campaigned over a variety of trips in the past twelve months ranging from this 7f to 10.5f. He ran well for much of last season, winning twice, but hasn’t yet hit those heights this season. It’s worth noting that his form first time out between 2017 and 2020 was 5980 and his second time out form during the same period was 1171. The season he finished 7th on his second start he won both his 3rd and 4th start. It’s therefore a little disappointing he didn’t improve on an okay 5th on seasonal reappearance this season as he was last 6 here on his second start after a break but that run came on good to firm ground and he’s generally enjoyed a bit of cut in the ground, for all he has a couple of wins on faster ground.

Lack of headgear may also be to blame for the poorer runs this season. For the past two seasons he’s won the first time he’s worn them that season and they are back on here. In two years he’s gone from being rated 68 to 92 thanks to that headgear so it seems significant it is back on here.

What’s really interesting about this runner is his record at this 7f in cheekpieces. He’s finished 1st on three runs and runner up in the other. Admittedly the first two efforts came off much lower marks and the two more recent runs came at his beloved Ayr (form figures of 1111241 there).Whilst possibly not as good at other venues the ground would have been fast enough for all those 7f runs and he is two from two on soft ground at all venues. He’d be pretty much unbeatable off this sort of mark on softer ground at Ayr’s 7f but he can outrun his odds massively here too from the lowest stall.

Gabrial The Devil

Not the most consistent but he’s versatile with regards to underfoot conditions (won on good to firm and heavy) and he’s also won at this course. All his wins have come at 6f and whilst he has run okay at 7f it’s generally been a sharp 7f and this will be a proper test at 7f so he’s opposable based on stamina as well as recent form.

The Verdict

Certainly not the easiest contest to call. Of those nearer the head of the market Sunset Breeze still has to fully prove himself on this ground and seems relatively easy to oppose. Raatea should be in your trackers for all weather races and perhaps fast ground races but he too is opposed on this ground as are Silver Samurai and Arafi who both have other question marks. The trip, in combination with this ground should also catch Gabrial The Devil out, and he too is opposable on other grounds too.

Lincoln Park has it in him to run well but he’ll have to be at his best to get close to winning this so although he’s not completely ruled out for a place, he doesn’t make the shortlist. Stone Soldier’s only appeal as a turf runner comes at Chester.

That means the winner is most likely to come from Ffion, Moll’s Memory, Tom Collins, Cold Stare, Lord Oberon and Redarna.

Tom Collins is really interesting and is the sort who could overcome all the negatives here if things click in the first time cheekpieces. He’s inconsistent, probably poorly draw and likely to be poorly placed given his run style. He also has to prove himself at 7f and in the cheekpieces so there are just too many negatives to get involved. He was also reported to have been unsuited by heavy ground the only time he encountered it, for all that was in his 2yo days.

Lord Oberon and Cold Stare are old rivals and are closely matched on a couple of older bits of form. They are also very familiar with Haydock's heavy ground too. Cold Stare has held his form better over the years and most of this season’s form gives him an excellent chance. Both horses like it here but Lord Oberon seems slightly more in the handicapper’s grip currently so at similar prices Cold Stare is more preferred from the pair but both could run very well.

Ffion is the completely unexposed one here and he’s open to more improvement. He’s completely proven in conditions and surely has to run well. He didn’t beat a whole lot in behind last time though and if he was a stone or more well in he would have made more of a race if it with the easy winner. At the prices we can let him win.

Moll’s Memory is really interesting on heavy ground and has a good record at Haydock so seemingly has every chance of making it three from three on heavy ground. Her price has been contracting on Friday though and her draw and run style combination might leave her slightly disadvantaged. She also doesn't have that much in hand of Redarna on their meeting at Musselburgh earlier this season and Redarna potentially has more scope for improvement from that with cheekpieces refitted.

Given the odds it’s the far more exposed REDARNA who looks the more interesting bet here at around 20/1. He’s run poorly in two runs here but both of those came without cheekpieces on and on faster ground. This trip on this ground could be absolutely perfect for this runner and he’s well drawn and tactically versatile. Paul Mulrennan is three from five on the horse (only beaten on good or faster ground) and the kicker here is the stable form. In the past twelve months Dianne Sayer has a PRB in handicaps of 0.55 and in the past 30 days that has risen to 0.67. Redarna has won both times he’s worn cheekpieces having not worn them in the previous race, including off this mark in soft ground. If he does let us down we'll recoup losses when she next turns up at Ayr.

Newbury Preview: King Can Conquer Mile Handicap

The classic generation dominate the live action on Saturday with five of the seven terrestrial races limited to 3yos only. Those contests are going to be much more useful as a reference going forward rather than a betting medium this weekend so I’m going to go outside of the live offerings with this weekend’s preview, concentrating on the 4.45pm at Newbury. This is a mile handicap for older horses which brings proceedings to a close and hopefully we can make it the lucky last.

As usual, all the data and info below is available through Geegeez Gold, you can click here to get your first 30 days of Gold for just £1.

Let’s get into it.


There are enough showers around in the lead up to racing to ensure the ground doesn’t dry out. In all probability these races will be run on good to soft ground so we’ll use data either side of that going.

The data points towards higher draws, towards the near side rail, being a disadvantage. The higher draws have an astonishingly poor win percentage (2.94%) and also draw percentage (14.71%) and most concerning is the PRB, which is generated using more data than any other metric, showing just 0.41 for high draws.

Low and middle draws are much more closely matched with PRB figures of 0.54 and 0.55 respectively. All metrics point towards middle being slightly better than low.

So if middle is good, and high is very bad, there must be a point where good starts turning to bad. To examine this we look at the individual stall data.

Stalls 7 and 8 both have an above average PRB yet no stall higher than 9 has a PRB of above 0.44. It seems strange that there should be such a huge drop off from one stall to another, after all they are right next to each other, but stalls 8 and 9 are not often next to each other…

I’ve looked at several bigger field races here and it seems in the majority there is a two stall width gap between stalls 8 and 9 where one set of starting stalls is connected to the other. In some races stall 7 is the cut off and in other races stall 9 is the cut off but this potentially explains why there is such a big difference – stall 9 is often the equivalent of stall 10 in terms of distance from stall 8.

They do sometimes race middle to stands’ side on softish ground here so there is no guarantee that higher isn’t the place to be but it certainly looks as though the middle is the safest place to be drawn. Friday’s meeting will tell us more about any potential draw bias on this sort of ground with four double figure field size races on the straight course.


A look at pace in similar conditions.

Not a huge amount of data here to go on and that is possibly why we see some contrasting data. The win and place percentage datasets both favour front runners but the next best option appears to be being held up in the rear. The each way PL appears to back up that front runners do best off with each way bets on the pace setters producing a level stakes profit of 2.1 and that metric suggests the worst value is found the further back in the field you go.

There is a less than 9% difference in place percentage between front runners and hold up performers which suggests this is a relatively fair track and any pace bias in the race is likely to be determined more by the individual pace setup in the race than by the course itself.

Pace Map

So here is the pace map for this race, taking into account just the previous two efforts from each runner.

Vintager is the likely front runner in this and the fact that he is drawn fairly high could potentially result in the other runners tracking over, negating any possible bias against those drawn higher. Kenzai Warrior may contest that pace from stall 5 but he seems just as happy tracking the pace. Path Of Thunder is another possible pace angle but he is another who is more likely to slot in behind the leader or leaders.

Now Overwrite may not be shown as a potential leader on the pace map but looking at the pace data instead of the pace map shows that he is very likely to want to lead.

He has led on three of his last four runs but was oddly held up on one occasion (which didn’t suit). That was two starts ago and the average of the last two runs in the pace map suggests that he’ll be more patiently ridden than is likely. The fact that on his latest start he went back to forcing tactics means it’s very likely he’ll contest the pace with Vintager and potentially set it up for the closers.

Up to 6 of these could be very patiently ridden so even in just a medium sized field, there could be some traffic problems in behind if the majority of them seek a run at similar parts of the race.

The Runners

Here is the full list of runners, in early odds order.

Blue Mist

Often well fancied in big races, Blue Mist brings solid course form into this having finished runner up both time’s he’s visited Newbury. He won at Ascot last season off a 4lb lower mark on ground that was probably faster than ideal and he’s had a wind op over the winter. He’s not always the most resolute in a finish and he’s looked better over 6f/7f in the past two years so there have to be a few concerns here.

Another concern would be the form of Roger Charlton’s runners first time out this season. In the past 30 days his entire string has a PRB of 0.54 in handicaps whereas first time out (60+ days since last run) they have a PRB of just 0.39. Blue Mist looks massively opposable in this and it would be no surprise if he is a sizeable drifter as time progresses.

Path Of Thunder

Returning from a 91 break having had one race at Meydan in February. That was a creditable effort, 3rd to Easter World over 9f off this mark. Given he ran so well off a 240 day break the absence since shouldn’t be too much of a concern. The 1st, 2nd and 4th from that race in Meydan have all run well enough since in defeat to suggest that was fairly strong form.

His (smart) form as a 2yo came on fast surfaces and then he raced just once as a 3yo, finishing 10th in the Britannia Handicap on soft ground. It was no disgrace to be beaten 12.5 lengths that day given he was drawn lower than ideal but that run still suggested faster ground would suit. There is wiggle room still off this mark but he’ll want the ground to dry out. He might also be worth a try over 10f.

King Ottokar

An eyecatcher a couple of times last season and highly tried in the past. As a 3yo he got within 2.5 lengths of the now 114 rated Sangarius and a neck behind the now 113 rated Fox Champion. He was also less than 2 lengths behind Kick On who is now rated 108. These runs suggest he’s well handicapped off 97 and so do some of his efforts last season too.

He was a big eyecatcher when 5th behind Matthew Flinders at Doncaster on ground that would have been plenty fast enough. He cruised through the race, hit some traffic and then didn’t find as much as looked likely on the fast ground. He improved again next time at Ascot on dreadful ground when running extremely well from a dreadful draw in the Balmorral Stakes. The first five home were drawn 10 or lower and King Ottokar was drawn in 22 that day. What is quite remarkable is that those two runs came off marks of 102 and 100. Because he was beaten around 5 lengths in both races the handicapper was kind to drop him a total of 3lbs.

He’s been dropped another 2lbs thanks to a poor run in the Lincoln. He was badly drawn again that day, the ground was too fast and he was wearing first time cheekpieces. Whichever excuse you pick it’s an easily forgivable run and the fact that the visor is back on here suggests the headgear played a large part.

He’s run twice at Newbury before, getting his favoured soft ground on both occasions. He won first time up in a maiden beating Raise You (rated as high as 105) and then he beat Dashing Willoughby (rated as high as 112) on his next run here. The ground can’t really be soft enough for this guy and although the ground may be a little faster than ideal here on Saturday he’ll still be tough to beat if the ground is no faster than good to soft.

Fantasy Believer

A gradual improver for connections, Fantasy Believer ran a remarkable race at Kempton two starts ago. He lost at least 5 lengths at the start yet still ended up winning going away. That took his course and distance record to three from four. He’s yet to win on turf but certainly handles it, he was 2nd at Goodwood on soft ground over a furlong further and he was also runner up on his latest start at Windsor on good ground, breaking on terms this time.

A stronger gallop here will suit him much better, as will a little more cut in the ground, but he’s up another 2lbs here which makes life much more difficult. Capable of running into a place at least, especially with some doubts about the favourites in this.


Having his first run for 156 days, this relatively lightly raced 6yo still has more to offer after just twelve career starts. He’s almost certainly at his best at Lingfield, finishing runner up to two next time out winners on his last two runs there. He’s rated 4lbs higher on artificial surfaces than turf so in the context of this race it’s best to concentrate on his turf form.

All his turf runs have come on good or softer ground. He was well suited by Ascot when winning a conditions race there last September and then found life a little tougher off this mark on his next two starts, still running respectably. He was runner up to Hortzadar who is a fine benchmark and then 5th to Ouzo in a big field York handicap, running well against a slight pace bias. Based on those two runs he’s entitled to run well but probably in defeat.


Only three runs in this country for David Simcock, having made his yard debut in February. He was an easy winner at very short odds in novice company and then flopped when trying to follow that up at Newcastle, well beaten. He was subsequently given a two month break and ran much better over this trip at Ascot, finishing a close 3rd doing best of those held up.

He runs off the same mark here and will appreciate the likely strong early gallop. That run did come on good to firm ground though and he was well beaten on his final start in France on heavy. The ground won’t be that bad but it’s cause for concern. The offspring of Bated Breath perform similarly well in handicaps on ground ranging from good to firm to good to soft but there is a huge drop off in performance on ground that is any softer so he’ll be easier to put a line through if there is any more rain.


This is one that definitely wants rain, as much as possible. His best runs have come with plenty of cut in the ground and given that fact he ran pretty well on faster ground when a poorly drawn 9th in the Lincoln. He finished last on a recent start at Chester on softer ground through, reportedly unsuited by the tight nature of the track.

He’s yet to fully prove himself at a mile, although he probably stays it okay. It’s interesting though that a trainer as powerful as Roger Varian has just a 8.51% win strike rate here in handicaps. There isn’t a ‘Group 1 track’ in the UK where he performs worse from a win perspective.


A winner three runs ago, he ran as if in form when held up at Ripon next time but put in a much poorer effort in the Suffolk Stakes last time out. These Mark Johnston horses don’t need a second invitation to bounce back from a bad run so he’s best judged on his form as a whole. One of the most interesting bits of form he has here is a 2nd place (courtesy of the stewards) over course and distance, on good to soft ground against Tempus who followed that up with another win. He’s now 4lbs lower but he did get the run of the race that day and might have to work header, earlier here.

He has a good record at this sort of trip with cut in the ground, is well handicapped and is entitled to run well but he seems so much better when getting an uncontested lead so he could only be backed with any form of confidence in running if he does get that.


Another potential pace angle that could scupper Overwrite’s chances. He was in consistent and excellent form in 2018 on a range of going types culminating in a 4 length victory over a mile off a mark of 102 (rated 99 here). He managed to grab a French Group 3 and a German Group 2 the following year but was less consistent.

He then missed 430 days of racing and joined the Simon and Ed Crisford yard. He won in France first time out but has finished a comfortably beaten 4th in all three runs since. A visor made no difference on the latest two efforts (not retained here) and he hasn’t run to his current mark of 99 in any of those efforts. He got the run of the race last time out at Chelmsford too but was still disappointing. He's clearly not the force of old currently but he hasn’t raced on turf for new connections and it’s possible he’s a better horse on turf. It’s also highly possible he’s just not as good as he was but he’s not without a chance.

Accidental Agent

A Group 1 winner at Ascot just three years ago and he’s shown glimpses of that kind of form on occasions since whilst failing to get his head in front. He was just under 2 lengths ahead of King Ottokar at Salisbury in 2019 but has to give 10lbs to that rival here so is unlikely to confirm that form based solely on that run.

His best form has always come at Ascot (last two wins there) but he ran poorly there dropped to handicap company in September. He’s been given a wind op and a break since. Eve Johnson Houghton has a PRB of 0.44 with all handicap runners in the past 30 days but that drops to 0.32 when just looking at runners returning from 60+ days. That’s as big a worry as anything else. This may be a prep run for the Hunt Cup, for which he'd be an interesting contender.

Alternative Fact

In good form last season at a mile with cut in the ground, producing form figures of 312260. It could be argued that his form plateaued as he went up in the handicap (finished the season on a 7lbs higher mark) but that might not completely be the case. He wasn’t far behind the progressive Danyah off this mark at Haydock last season on ground that might have been a little livelier than ideal and that piece of form would give him a chance in this. When 6th at York on his next start he was running behind a slight pace bias and was only a neck behind Plantadream. Alternative Fact is 2lbs better off this time around. Then at Ascot, just like King Ottokar, he was drawn too high to make an impact, although King Ottokar was 5.5 lengths ahead of him that day.

The negatives appear to be his very best form has generally come at Haydock (did run well here over a trip too far previously though) and more worrying was his reappearance run where he was beaten 48 lengths at Chester. Needing the run doesn’t cause you to get beat that far and the stable’s runners have generally been going okay fresh so it does look as though something was seriously amiss that day and that was just eight days ago. Last season’s form gives him a chance but very difficult to back after his latest run.

Kenzai Warrior

Roger Teal’s runner was unbeaten as a 2yo (beat decent yard stick Ropey Guest) and ran relatively respectably in the 2000 Guineas on his first start as a 3yo, finishing a well enough beaten 9th after a slow start. He barely beat a rival home on his next three starts though, all over 9f or 10f including a handicap run here over two furlongs further off a 3lb higher mark. He’s been gelded since but the fact that connections are now reaching for cheekpieces suggests they aren’t convinced by him. He could bounce back to form after being gelded but only his 2yo form gives him a serious chance here.

The Verdict

I’m very keen to take on Blue Mist here, preferably before the market reacts by shortening the other serious contenders. Assuming good to soft or softer ground the shortlist for this race has to be King Ottokar, Fantasy Believer, Plantadream and Overwrite.

Path Of Thunder and Repertoire are opposed mainly because of the ground, Ascension, Vintager and Alternative Fact are possible winners who can’t really be backed because of their latest runs amongst other factors.

Overwrite is opposable based on his last run too but he’s more the sort to bounce back with conditions and handicap mark seemingly in his favour. Vintager’s recent front running efforts came with a now discarded visor on and it’s far from impossible he’ll accept a lead from Overwrite but Kenzai Warrior or Path Of Thunder are other possible pace angles so the percentage call is oppose Overwrite, for all he’s a great early price at double figure odds.

So that leaves King Ottokar, Fantasy Believer and Plantadream. The latter is definitely not badly handicapped but he doesn’t look brilliantly handicapped on turf either. Fantasy Believer is a little more interesting. He’s in excellent form and should have conditions in his favour plus he’ll get a better pace to aim at than last time. He’s been slowly away on more than one occasion though and he won’t be able to afford a slow start in this company.

KING OTTOKAR is the one who really stands out here. His course form is top notch, he reacted well to the visor last season running well when things didn’t go his way at all in two big handicaps and the recent rain is definitely in his favour (even more would be welcome!). The stable is in good form and the race will hopefully be run to suit. The big question mark, and probably the only question mark, is his seasonal reappearance. He was warm enough in the market so fitness probably wasn’t an issue but ground on the fast side of good and even more so the first time cheekpieces (which have quickly been dispensed with) could cause that kind of poor performance. Given his overall profile he’s probably a poor bet to place so my preference would be to go win only. If he replicates either of his last two runs in the visor he should be more than capable of winning this and looks a more than fair price at around 6/1 early.

Victoria Cup Preview: Roger Varian Fancied For Back To Back Success

Some nice racing awaits on Saturday but there is no doubt about the main betting race of the day, the Victoria Cup at Ascot which will be run at 3.40pm and shown live on ITV4. Just the 29 runners go to post and we haven’t had much soft ground this season so there is every chance the form book gets turned on it’s head.

On the subject of the ground, it’s good to soft at the time of writing with 10mm+ forecast for late morning and early afternoon on Saturday so there is every chance this will be run on proper soft ground.


First let’s take a look at a possible draw advantage on softer ground over this course and distance.

Not a massive sample of races but some big fields so the PRB (percentage of rivals beaten) should be pretty reliable. This suggests high (PRB of 0.53) is most favoured, followed by low (0.51) and then middle is worst of all (0.46). The Ascot draw bias can change from one side to another from race to race and meeting to meeting which is potentially why each wing performs better than the middle.

Every metric appears to reinforce that there is a bias towards high drawn runners here.

Looking back at recent runnings of the Victoria Cup, there was no race last year due to covid but in 2019 seven of the first eight finishers were drawn in double figures. In 2018 the race was run on good to firm but once again the double figure stalls dominated, producing eight of the first nine home. In 2017 the best placed single figure stall was 12th and 2014 was the penultimate time this race was run with cut in the ground and ten of the first eleven finishers were drawn stall 16 or higher. At this time of year it certainly seems a high draw can be very advantageous.

To add some balance though, the last Victoria Cup to be run on truly soft ground was in 2012 and the first four places were all filled by horses drawn 8 or lower, so we can’t be 100% sure high draws will be favoured.

Looking at the individual stall data it seems either very low or very high is often the place to be. Sorted by PRB3, which takes an average including the stalls either side of each gate, the top eleven performers are either 20+ or 5 or lower. Perhaps it’s just far easier to get a run if you are drawn on a flank.


Now let’s examine pace here at 7f.

This is probably the fairest data you will find over any course and distance, with no more than 3.2% between any of the run styles according to the place data, which considers more data than any other metric here. Racing prominently gives the best place percentage on this sort of ground (20.59%) whilst front runners do least well (17.39%). There is no surprise that front running is the least effective tactic here given it’s a straight, stiff 7f and we are only looking at big fields.

Both front runners and prominent racers produce a level stakes profit if backed each way, whilst mid division and held up produce a loss. There is clearly a slight overestimation of the effectiveness of the more patiently ridden types, who have perhaps caught the eye elsewhere finishing well.

Victoria Cup Pace Map

Given the even pace data we have, the pace map for this race could tell us which runners are likely to be most advantaged by the run of the race.

There is potentially pace spread evenly across the track but there isn’t a lot of it. Marshal Dan tends to lead and he is drawn in stall 3 whilst Jack’s Point (12) usually leads or slots in close to the leaders and Sunset Breeze, drawn highest of all, could take the high numbers into the race. None of the above are absolute trailblazers though and this race isn’t guaranteed to be run at a breakneck pace which could compromise the chances of those that come from the back or perhaps those who are better at a mile than 7f.

Draw and Pace Combination

One last thing to look at before we go through the runners. The draw and pace combination heat map shows us the best run styles for each draw, and the best draws for each run style.

It seems as though those that are drawn low are best off ridden as patiently as possible, with a very respectable PRB of 0.60 for low drawn hold ups. Prominent rides also do well from low draws but front runners from both low or middle seemingly do much less well than high drawn front runners.

Hold up performers drawn in the middle seem to perform a little below par. This makes sense as they either have to go through the most traffic or switch wide to get a clear run. Either way it's a disadvantage.

Meanwhile all run styles from a high draw overperform, with mid division or a prominent run style most favoured.

The Runners

In this section I will analyse the chances of the main competitors, whilst also pinpointing a few at bigger prices who might outrun their odds.


One I fancied to go well last week in the Thirsk Hunt Cup on the strength of his Spring Mile 2nd but he was withdrawn as the ground was too fast. To go over that Spring Mile form again, seven of the first nine home have run since and all but one of those has finished at least 2nd giving it a really strong look.

He’s handicapped to win a good race and the drop back to 7f here shouldn’t inconvenience, he’s a smooth enough traveller who has looked like winning a furlong out on a couple of occasions only to be caught close home.

There is a ground question mark though. He’s been withdrawn on fast ground and has won on heavy so most will assume he wants it soft. However when he won on heavy it was only a maiden and the jockey said he didn’t enjoy the ground. He flopped on soft ground here at Ascot last season, admittedly over 10f which was too far, but Hugo Palmer has also recently stated that he probably doesn’t want it softer than good. There is a fair chance this could be too soft for him in a race this competitive. Should be well drawn in 20.

Fox Champion

Back to form last time out having been gelded and switched yards over the winter. Ralph Beckett has a really strong record with horses he receives from other yards so whilst he could be expected to improve after 168 days off the track, that improvement might not be forthcoming.

He’s well handicapped on his old form and runs off the same mark as when a creditable 3rd in a strong enough handicap at Haydock last time but the ground is a bigger question mark for this runner than it is Acquitted. Fox Champion has run three times on ground that is good to soft or softer outside of novice company and he’s barely beaten a rival home in all three runs. Stall 2 could be a positive but also potentially a negative.

Raising Sand

Nine year old course specialist who has had fifteen of his last eighteen runs here. He’s arguably better over this 7f than a mile (last two wins have come over this distance and off higher marks than his mile wins) and his 7f record at Ascot away from fast ground reads 431410.

This will be his first run of the season but Jamie Osbourne’s runners in the past month that have returned from a 60+ day break have outperformed his runners who have had a run so fitness shouldn’t be an issue.

He has run relatively poorly on three of his last four starts though and it could be age is catching up with him. He did run well first time out last season in the Royal Hunt Cup, finishing 8th in a strong renewal and doing best of those drawn low. He’s also dropped to his last winning mark and has the useful Saffie Osbourne claiming 7lbs. She had a winner and a 4th on the straight track from two rides here recently. Potentially well drawn but might benefit from a stronger pace than seems likely.


A surprise winner of last season’s Wokingham here and followed that up with a staying on 4th back here over 7f in July. He’s now 1lb lower than that most recent effort here and although he has a mixed record on softer ground, he stayed on extremely well in soft at Doncaster in November over 6f proving he copes with this at the very least.

He reappeared at Doncaster in good enough form, getting a luckless passage again at listed level over 6f, looking in need of further or a stiffer track. Not badly handicapped and most things in his favour here but he’d want them to go hard up front and being drawn in the middle isn’t great for one that likes to be dropped out. He’ll need plenty of luck but is capable of running very well.


Winner of the Buckingham Palace Stakes last season so this course and distance is no problem for him. He followed that up with a win in the Bunbury Cup from Sir Busker, who has rated 9lbs higher since. He wasn’t in the same form in two more starts later in the season, not as effective over a mile but the distance not solely to blame.

Returned in good enough form this season when runner up to Toro Strike at Thirsk but almost certainly not quite running to his lofty mark of 111 on that occasion. He brings form figures of 12112 at 7f into this and should win a decent race this season but might not want it as soft as it ends up here if the forecast rain hits.


The highlight of his ten runs at Ascot was a success in the Balmoral Handicap in 2019, beating Lord North. His only two runs here since have come in Group 1 company. He ran well on his last two course and distance runs, seemingly finding the test a bit sharp on both occasions.

He has been largely out of form until finishing 3rd last time out at Haydock. That race lacked depth though and he needs to improve again to feature here. He’ll be of more interest in the Royal Hunt Cup next month.

Jumaira Bay

Relatively lightly raced, from a powerful yard and lots of interesting form angles. He started last season with a close 2nd to Nugget, who is now rated 21lbs higher (Jumaira Bay is now just 11lbs higher). On his next start he was 3rd to 2 runners who have won off higher marks since and perhaps his most interesting piece of form was his 2nd at York on his third run last season. He was just a short head behind Brunch (now rated 16lbs higher) and Jumaira Bay is only 5lbs higher than that effort.

He didn’t react well to cheekpieces later that season but seemed to take to blinkers better, firstly staying on well from an impossible position at Kempton over a mile to finish 3rd and then finishing a close 2nd in heavy ground at Newbury over 7f, ridden more prominently on that occasion.

There is a lot to suggest he’s well handicapped still but it’s disappointing he wasn’t able to win a handicap last season, for all he bumped into some well handicapped runners. He’s been gelded since and sports no headgear here so is perhaps considered more the finished article now. He needs to go up in the weights to get into any of the Royal Ascot handicaps so should be ready to go first time up.

Keyser Soze

Won for the first time in over two years last time out over course and distance, mastering a well handicapped runner late on. He’s up just 2lbs but this race is much tougher and he was very well placed in that contest. He’s not necessarily one you’d trust to follow up and has generally been best suited by decent ground so any extra rain is probably a negative.

River Nymph

A difficult runner to weigh up. He looked a big improver last summer when bolting up in two 7f handicaps. The first came over course and distance and the second when beating two subsequent winners.

His form in two runs since has been far less impressive though. He flopped badly in the Balmoral Handicap in October and didn’t run well in the Lincoln this season either. On both occasions it looked more than the distance that beat him which is worrying. If he came here off the back of his last win he’d be a very warm order but for all he could bounce back and bolt up, he’s extremely risky in his current form. Conditions in his favour though.

Sunset Breeze

Some excellent form to his name. Ran Double Or Bubble within a head over course and distance in September and that horse absolutely bolted up at Newmarket on his next start. Then bumped into A well handicapped Tranchee  (now rated 14lbs higher) at Doncaster. He’s proven on soft and over 7f but yet to prove he’s truly suited by 7f on soft, possibly a little speedy for this sort of contest. Undoubtedly well handicapped and probably well drawn too in stall 29.


He’s run well enough in three goes here on soft ground, finding the mile trip a bit far on his last attempt in the Balmoral Handicap. Nothing wrong with his reappearance when 2nd (well positioned) behind easy and progressive winner but difficult to make a case for him being well handicapped off a mark of 103. Probably well drawn but looks the type to finish just outside the places.


Progressive last season and still room for improvement. Doesn’t necessarily need to improve as his last 2nd has worked out well with the winner and 3rd both successful on their next starts. Big field scenarios suit but he has never raced on anything softer than good, which seems by design. The sire was a heavy ground winner and several of his offspring have won on heavy so there is hope he’ll cope with dig in the ground. Richard Hughes’ runners have a PRB of 0.59 in handicaps in the past 30 days and that goes up to 0.69 if only looking at runners having their first run in 60+ days so he should be ready to go and stall 18 should be fine.


Runner up to River Nymph over course and distance last summer, beaten two lengths but not seen to anywhere near best effect. Ran well again here over a mile behind Tempus a couple of runs later, probably didn’t stay in the Cambridgeshire and then below par on heavy ground on his final run of the season. Capable off this mark but took a couple of runs to get going last season. It's also worth mentioning this will be his debut for James Tate, who has a respectable PRB of 0.5 and a win strike rate of 16.67% with runners making their debuts having joined from other stables in the past five years according to the Trainer Change report.


Invariably runs well in defeat in these big handicaps. He was 2nd in a big field here over 7f on soft in October 2019 and then 3rd in the Balmoral Handicap last season but Marco Ghiani claimed 7lbs and 5lbs respectively in those races and now claims just 3lbs. He can run respectably again but difficult to see him winning.

On A Session

In good form in both runs for a new yard this year, 2nd in the Lincoln Trial and then 4th in the Thirsk Hunt Cup. Was well placed in both but that latest run came on ground that would have been plenty fast enough. He’d have a serious chance based on his most recent run over 7f on soft ground and looks overpriced from a potentially good draw with the likelihood he’ll be well placed yet again.

Ropey Guest

Has run some good races here in the past and was half a length behind Symbolize in the Jersey Stakes last season. He’s 5lbs better off here so whilst Symbolize has already proven his well being this season, Ropey Guest has every chance of finishing in front of that rival here. He’s one that could outrun his odds from what’s probably a good draw having been gelded over the winter.

Cold Stare

A massive eyecatcher at Redcar on seasonal debut on ground that would have been far too fast. Below par last time out (again on fast ground) but that’s no great surprise. He’s run poorly over course and distance three times on fast ground but was 7th two seasons ago here on soft and that came off a 9lb higher mark. He won off the mark and it’s a case of the softer the better for him. Slight question mark over stall 5 though, for all it has a decent record.

The Verdict

Where do you start? There’s the more progressive ones such as Acquitted, Jumaira Bay, Sunset Breeze and Karibana, all of whom ran well on their latest starts. Then there’s the course specialists Raising Sand, Chiefofchiefs and to a certain extent Greenside. There’s also On A Session who seems to have a lot in his favour, but he appeals more as a place only bet than an each way.

Raising Sand appeals most of the more exposed ones. He has pretty much everything in his favour here, it’s just a question of how much ability still remains at the age of 9. If he can reproduce his 2019 form he’d have an excellent chance but there has to be a little doubt about that.

It’s possible the ground could get too soft for Acquitted and he still has to prove himself at this trip so despite looking very well handicapped he’s too much of a risk at the price. Sunset Breeze and Karibana still need to prove 7f on soft ground is for them so they too are reluctantly passed over, for all Sunset Breeze has won on soft and has gone close over 7f. It may well seem stupid to have gone against him once the race has been run.

JUMAIRA BAY seems overpriced though in this at around 18/1 at the time of writing. Roger Varian knows how to get more out of these 4yo handicappers and he demonstrated several pieces of strong form last season that suggest he’s well handicapped still. He’s interesting having been gelded with the headgear taken off. Ray Dawson has won three of his last seven races at Ascot, including one of these big 7f handicaps last season so that’s a bonus too. There have to be some doubts about stall 11 but Roger Varian did win the last renewal of this race with Cape Byron who broke from stall 10.

Thirsk Hunt Cup Preview: Astro Set For Star Turn

It’s been a good couple of weeks for this column, not only in terms of finding the winner but also in predicting which horses will run well or not so well. The Geegeez data has been a huge help, as always, particularly with figuring out which trainers have their strings firing first time out and which are needing a run. Don’t forget, you can get your first 30 days of Geegeez Gold for just £1, just click here to take advantage of that offer.

The eyes are immediately drawn to Newmarket this weekend with the first classics of the season. As a punter that generally enjoys handicaps more than anything else the Suffolk Stakes, run over Newmarket’s 9f would ordinarily be a race I’d be very interested in. However there is a slightly disappointing turnout for the race this year and a much stronger field seems to have assembled for the Thirsk Hunt Cup, which will be run at 2.40pm on Saturday over a mile and be shown on ITV. Thirsk doesn’t often reach a terrestrial audience so let’s look at their feature handicap, with the help of the Geegeez Gold suite of tools and data.


A maximum field of 16 are set to go to post so any potential draw bias is  likely to be seen to maximum effect here.

The data above reveals a slightly surprising disadvantage for lower drawn runners. It’s surprising because they are going around a bend, and the lower drawn participants should, in theory, find it easier to get a better position. However it seems that either the ground closer to the rail is slower, or the runners on the inside struggle to get a clear run. Perhaps even a combination of the two.

A low draw PRB of 0.43 is very low for what should be a pretty fair course. It’s not necessarily a case of needing to be drawn as high as possible though, middle draws have a PRB of 0.53 and high draws have a PRB of 0.54 so it’s pretty even between the middle and high draws.

The win percentages suggest a middle draw is superior to a high draw but the win data has the smallest sample size. When you look at place data, which gives us three to four times more data, the high draws narrowly beat the middle draws (place percentage of 27.78% compared to 25.77%), backing up the PRB data.

The individual stall data should give us further insight here.

The above data is sorted by PRB3, which takes an average of the individual stall and the stalls either side in order to smooth the curve. What it seems to show is the absolute ideal draw is either 11 or 12. These stalls of PRB3 scores of 0.58 and 0.55. What is pretty clear from this data is that a double figure draw is a big advantage over a single figure draw.

Only one single digit stall makes it into the top eight using the PRB3 data and that’s stall 7 which is obviously one of the higher single digit stalls.

Five of the six worst PRB3 figures belong to the lowest five stalls which is a big worry for anything drawn very low. Stalls 6 and 7 have individual stall PRBs of 0.56 and 0.55, which are good, so it seems being drawn higher than five is hugely preferable.


Will there be as strong a pace bias as there seems to be a draw bias?

There appears to be a fairly strong pace bias, favouring those who are nearer the head of affairs early on. There isn’t much difference in the data between being prominent or racing in mid division but front runners are clear best here with a win percentage of 10.14% and place percentage of 30.43% compared to held up which is clear worst with a win percentage of 4.44% and place percentage of 16.83%.

The drop off in performance between mid division and held up is quite remarkable. The place percentage for mid division is 23.48% and that falls to just 16.83% for held up.

In the same way you don’t want to be in the lowest five stalls here, you also probably don’t want to be amongst the most patiently ridden five or so runners.

Pace Map

The pace map for this year’s Thirsk Hunt Cup will help us judge how strong a pace bias there could be in this individual race.

There is unlikely to be a strong gallop on with just Al Erayg as a recognised pace setter. This means that the course bias towards those nearer the pace is likely to stand up here and coming from way back could be extremely difficult.

There aren’t many in the field that seemingly want to be dropped out in rear. Queen’s Sargent and Hortzadar appear most likely to be the backmarkers early on in this.

Pace and Draw Combination

The pace and draw combination heat map may show us that a low draw isn’t a death sentence if a horse is ridden a particular way and that a higher draw isn’t that great with certain rides.

The first surprise here is that despite front runners doing well here, this actually appears to be the worst kind of ride to give a front runner. Not good news for Al Erayg! There doesn’t seem to be much difference between riding low drawn runners prominently, in mid division or holding them up in rear.

If you are going to be held up, a higher draw is a slight advantage according to the heat map but not as much of an advantage as with any other run style. Presumably as they end up at the back of the field and on the rail wherever they were drawn.

If drawn in the middle, it pays to be ridden prominently with an impressive PRB of 0.61. Mid division is next best for the middle draws with front running tactics and hold up rides slightly sub optimal.

For those drawn higher, the PRB of 0.69 for front runners really stands out. Hartswood could potentially try to lead from stall 12 but he’s more likely to track the leaders and there are no other real high drawn candidates to lead so that piece of data may end up irrelevant in this race. Mid division for high draws also has a high PRB (0.60) ahead of prominent and then held up.

Anything drawn fairly high or likely to be ridden positively should be marked up in this.

The Runners

Here are the  protagonists, in early odds order.

Astro King

Lightly raced 4yo representing Sir Michael Stoute. He only made his debut as a 3yo so should still be improving at a good rate in his second season of racing. He found the combination of 10f and soft ground too much on handicap debut back in October and enjoyed the drop back to this trip in November at Lingfield, winning narrowly but decisively. He resumed racing earlier this month in similar form winning at Nottingham off a 2lb higher mark.

He's gone up 6lbs for that victory, despite winning by just a short head, but there is plenty of strength to this form. The runner up, Finest Sound, won on his next start and the 3rd, Nugget, won the Spring Cup at Newbury next time out.

He's unbeaten in three runs at less than ten furlongs, has really solid form, looks to still be improving, is ideally drawn in stall 11 and has the ideal prominent racing style for a middle draw. It will take a big performance to beat him.


Closely matched with Astro King on Nottingham form. He was slightly unlucky in that race but still only beaten 1.75 lengths and he’s 1lb better off here. He won convincingly at Newbury on his next start, being other lightly raced, in form rivals giving that form a strong look. He’s gone up 5lbs for that but certainly looks one to still be interested in.

He's fairly flexible tactically but looks most likely to be held up in rear or mid division. That, combined with his low draw in stall 4, certainly seems to swing things in favour of Astro King if deciding between the pair.


Another lightly raced 4yo, as you tend to find near the head of the betting in this sort of contest. Last season ended with a relatively poor run at Sandown in July and he was gelded shortly after. He returned in good form though with a 2nd in the Spring Mile, the Lincoln consolation.

That form has worked out well and a 1lb rise underestimates Hugo Palmer’s runner. Artistic Rifles, just a head ahead of Acquited, came out and won by 4.5 lengths. The 3rd home was beaten just half a length this week at Ascot whilst the 5th, 8th and 9th have all finished 2nd since and the 6th has come out and won. He’s handicapped to win a decent race but is drawn lower than ideal here in stall 5. He’ll race prominently which will help his situation but the draw has to be a concern, for all he should still run well.

Tom Collins

Inconsistent performer making his debut for William Haggas, having been bought for 100,000gns by son Sam Haggas last autumn. He ran well on his only start on good to firm last season but both his wins to date have come on soft ground, including on his last run when victorious over a mile at Pontefract. The runner up from that contest, Dashing Roger, is now rated 12lbs higher and the 3rd has won twice since so he’s perhaps underestimated by a 5lb rise for all he’ll face very different conditions here.

He's been gelded since and is bred to be smart and to improve with age. He’s well drawn in 13 but his best runs have come when held up which might make his task difficult here if those tactics are repeated. Don’t be surprised if he goes down in trip this season and he’d be very interesting dropped in trip on softer ground.

On A Session

Ran well on his return and stable debut in the Lincoln Trial to finish 2nd but that form hasn’t worked out well and he was well placed in that race. He has strong big field form from Ireland but in six runs on either good or good to firm ground he’s beaten just 24 out of a possible 87 rivals. All three of his wins have come with cut in the ground and if there isn’t much rain this could be a tough task.


Seasonal debutant for Richard Fahey who has a PRB of 0.46 with all handicap runners in the past 30 days and a PRB of 0.33 with runners returning from a 60+ day break in handicaps in the past 30 days, suggesting improvement for this run is likely. He’s well drawn in stall 12, can race prominently and won on his only previous run here as a 2yo. He also ran in some top handicaps last season, particularly at York, including at the Ebor meeting when runner up to Brunch who has since finished 2nd in the Lincoln off a 9lb higher mark. Hartswood is only 3lbs higher here.

He ran well fresh last year but the trainer form is a slight concern, otherwise he’s capable of running well. Assuming he does improve for the run, he’s one to look out for in the mile handicap at the Dante meeting at York in a few weeks.


Winner of the last renewal of this race in 2019 and 3lbs higher here. Improved from his seasonal debut last time when a close 4th at Redcar. He was well drawn on that occasion and that was a much weaker race than this. He often races prominently but has been ridden with more patience on his two starts this season, perhaps with this target in mind. He's drawn lowest of all in stall 1 though, whereas he won a weaker renewal of this two years ago from stall 10. Needs to improve to land this.

Jean Baptiste

Runner up on both starts this season, both times beaten by lightly raced and well handicapped rivals. He deserves a change in luck but isn’t going to be bumping into less well handicapped rivals in this and although he’s seemingly well drawn in 16, he’s often patiently ridden which might not be the best tactics here. He’s gone up 1lb for his two recent defeats which is fair and he’ll win a decent enough race soon but this might be too deep.


A surprise 3rd in the Lincoln at 66/1 and then was unsuited by a slow pace and poor position at Newmarket next time out. He was 3rd over course and distance in July but that was off a 6lb lower mark and he needs to improve at the age of 6 to win a race this competitive off a mark of 97, having previously won off a mark no higher than 94 and being defeated in eight races off marks of 95 or more.

Queens Sargent

A steady improver over the years and one of the subsequent winners from the Spring Mile. He’s 4lbs higher now, taking him to a career high mark of 90 and on the face of it he’d have difficulty reversing form with Acquitted who was 2 lengths in front of him at Doncaster with that rival also now 3lbs better off. Given his run style, which generally sees him settled in the rear, you’d think he wouldn’t be suited to this course but his course record actually reads 2131. Three of those runs (including both wins) came over 7f and he does seem better at that distance having been beaten on all four runs at a mile. He was only beaten 0.75 lengths on his only course and distance run but that was off a 9lb lower mark in a weaker race. He might outrun his odds but he’ll be of much more interest back here over 7f.

Al Erayg

The likely pace in the race and he’s run well on two occasions here. He’ll be making his seasonal debut for Tim Easterby who has a PRB of 0.46 with all handicap runners in the past 30 days and a PRB of 0.43 with runners returning from a 60+ day break in handicaps in the past 30 days, suggesting he can be expected to resume racing in decent enough form. He also won on seasonal debut last year. Backing leaders here can be very profitable but Al Erayg’s best form is with plenty of cut in the ground and he’s never won off a mark this high.

Scottish Summit

He's already managed three runs this season and has run respectably each time, not beaten far in two of those. He has no excuses last time out and doesn’t seem well enough handicapped now to take this having been hit hard by the handicapper for a comfortable success at Newmarket last September. Stall 3 makes life difficult too.

Byron’s Choice

Making his seasonal debut for Michael Dods who has a PRB of 0.56 with all handicap runners in the past 30 days and a PRB of 0.51 with runners returning from a 60+ day break in handicaps in the past 30 days, suggesting he should return in good enough form. All his wins have come over shorter and he's 5lbs higher than when unplaced over course and distance last season. Stall 6 is okay but he’s very difficult to make a case for off this mark at this distance.

Global Spirit

Ran as though needing the run last time out at Redcar when behind Hayadh. He was half a length behind course specialist Queens Sargent over 7f here in 2019 and is is now 2lbs better off so he’s closely matched with that rival here, for all that form goes back a bit. His run style can be difficult to anticipate as he has been prominent and held up in recent starts but if he’s not given too much to do here he could definitely outrun his odds. He might not be well enough handicapped to place in a strong race like this but look out for him slightly down in grade, perhaps at York or Haydock. He seems to run particularly well around a left hand bend and if he fails to place here it will be the first time he has done so on good or better ground around a left hand bend on turf in seven runs.


Spent most of his career racing over further. He didn’t settle last time out when running okay at Newbury and probably isn’t badly handicapped. He may well find this too sharp a test on fastish ground at a mile though and he might not be ideally placed given how this seems likely to be run.


Ran poorly on seasonal debut over a couple of furlongs further (has form at that trip) after a 531 day break. David O’Meara’s runners generally have been improving for the run season but after such a long absence it’s possible he’ll need more than one run to get fit and at the age of 8, after a layoff, he might just have lost his ability. He’d have a chance on his best form but there is every chance he’ll never rediscover that.


Queen’s Sargent and especially Global Spirit are capable of running well at big prices but the market principles will have to underperform for one of those more exposed runners to win. I certainly wouldn’t put anyone off a place only bet on Global Spirit who seems best in big fields around a left handed bend.

Jean Baptiste could run well but his run style probably prohibits him from winning given others look better handicapped and Hartswood would be more interesting if he’d already had a run this season.

Unoriginally the three most interesting runners for this race are the three market leaders, Astro King, Nugget and Acquitted. The fact that ASTRO KING is so lightly raced, has such strong form, has a prominent racing style and crucially is so well drawn makes him a relatively confident selection for this.

Nugget and Acquitted have been done no favours by the draw but other than that look set to run well. The fact that Acquitted should be ridden more aggressively than Nugget makes him the next best for this and I’d have no hesitation in backing a forecast including both Astro King and Acquitted, maybe even including Nugget for a tricast despite his draw AND run style probably being negatives. He’s probably still well enough handicapped to overcome that to a certain extent, if he gets a clear run.

Charles Hills Has Strong Hand In Haydock Handicap

We seem to be seeing lots of small fields at the moment which aren’t making great betting contests but the 2.50pm at Haydock on Saturday, a class 2 7f handicap being shown live on ITV, has 13 entries and looks to have a nice shape about it from a betting point of view.

Remember, you can get your first 30 days with Geegeez Gold for just £1. This trial will give you access to all the tools used below.


A fairly big field, going around a bend, so let’s first take a look at the draw in this contest.

Looking initially at the low vs middle vs high data, It certainly seems as though a low draw is an advantage over middle or high. The most important data here is the PRB (Percentage of Rivals Beaten) as every single runner in every single race is producing data for us with this metric. The low draw PRB is 0.53 whereas for middle and high draws it is 0.48.

Low draws also have the best win percentage but high draws actually have the best place percentage. This is likely a slightly quirk of the fact that we have a relatively small sample size of nineteen races.

Looking at low vs middle vs high is great for an instant insight but digging into the individual stall data should tell us where a good draws starts to become a bad draw.

By sorting this table by PRB3 we are combining individual stall data with the data from each stall either side in order to avoid any data anomalies from single stalls. The fact that the ‘best’ six stalls are the lowest six stalls is pretty telling here. However we should also note that stalls 11 and 12 score well enough to suggest that whilst a lower draw (bottom six stalls) is almost certainly some advantage, a high draw isn’t the end of the world.


Pace is another crucial aspect to cover over the 7f at Haydock on decent ground.

We once again have a fairly limited data set here so place percentage is going to be most enlightening for us in giving clues about a pace bias.

The place data tells us that front runners are most likely to place here, all other things being equal, and they’ve racked up a pretty decent 31.03% place strike rate. However going all the way back to those held up, there is still a 25% place percentage for the most patiently ridden runners. With a relatively small difference in results for the most extreme types of ride it seems that this is one of the fairer courses as far as pace biases go.

Prominent racers seem to have performed relatively poorly but there is no reason why this should be the case so it’s probably just a symptom of having relatively little data.

Pace Map

With there not being much of a pace bias here (if any) the pace for this individual contest is likely to have a bigger bearing on how much of an advantage early position is. This is where the Geegeez pace map can be particularly useful and a real time saver.

Potentially two pace angles here with Gobi Sunset seemingly most likely to go forward from his fairly wide draw and Marshall Dan likely to keep on honest on the front end from an even wider draw. There isn’t an abundance of prominent runners in this but Admirality seems most likely to track the pace with Fox Champion, Dreamloper and Duesenberg (if he can get across from his very wide draw) potentially slotting in behind Admirality.

Amongst those seemingly likely to be most patiently ridden and therefore reliant on a strong pace here could be Mustarrid, Dulas, Cold Stare and Sir Maximillian.

Pace and Draw Combination

Now that we’ve checked out the pace map for this race it makes sense use one of my favourite tools from the draw tab and that’s the pace and draw combination heat map.

Not all draws and run styles are created equally, both have an effect on each other. What we can see above is that low drawn runners do extremely well from mid division and much less well when prominently ridden. That could be a positive for Firmanent and negative against Dreamloper and Fox Champion if recent riding tactics are repeated.

Those drawn near the middle seem best suited to more aggressive tactics, be it front running or going prominent. The closer they are to the pace the better and that’s good news for the Mark Johnston trained Gobi Sunset is the most likely early leader and potentially bad news from Dulas, Another Batt and Persuasion.

Higher drawn runners do well by leading or racing in mid division, with prominent tactics and to a lesser extent hold up tactics resulting in lesser performances. This would be good for Marshall Dan if he can get to the lead and is a slight concern for Cold Stare and Si Maximillian.

The Runners

Here is the full field, in early odds order, most fancied to least fancied.


Consistent, lightly raced performer for Ed Walker having her first run since 5th September. The first thing to check here is how Ed Walker’s runners have been performing first time out.

In the past 30 days Ed Walker has a win strike rate of 13.89%, a place strike rate of 41.67 and a PRB of 0.59 with all his runners, suggesting he is in pretty decent form. The above shows the same sample but only those who were returning from a 60+ day break. This now shows a 11.11% win percentage, 44.44% place percentage and a PRB of 0.61. Whilst the win percentage is down, we are dealing with a sample where one more winner would have increased that percentage dramatically. The fact that the place percentage and PRB figures are slightly better for fresh runners suggests there should be no issue with backing Ed Walker seasonal debutants at the moment.

So how does her form stack up? She’s only run once over this trip in a handicap and on that occasion he was 3rd at Kempton. The winner has done nothing for the form since but the runner up did win easily on her next course and distance start and subsequently went up 10lbs. She stepped up to a mile on his next start at Ascot and beat Perfect Inch by a neck off a 6lb lower mark. The runner up had looked well handicapped heading into that contest and is now rated 10lb than she was that day but she is difficult to win with. The 3rd home won two starts later (stepped up in trip).

She’s got a likeable profile and the fast ground will be perfect whilst she’s probably not badly handicapped. It’s slightly surprising to see her back at 7f though, other than for the fact she’s sometimes keen, and this is potentially a fact finding mission to decide if she heads for the Buckingham Palace Stakes (over 7f) or the Royal Hunt Cup (over 1m), although she’ll need to win in the next month or so to get a run in either. Likely to run well but might find one or two too good over this trip.


Charlie Hills’ relatively lightly raced 4yo was last seen finishing 2nd in heavy ground at Leicester, having started last season in the 2000 Guineas. He hasn’t run since October but like Ed Walker, Charles Hill’s seasonal debutants have been outperforming his race fit runners in the past 30 days. In fact his runners in handicaps in the past 30 days that are coming back from 60+ day breaks have a 45.45% strike rate at the time of writing which is very impressive and those winners have all been between 11/4 and 8/1.

The runner who beat Persuasion on his last start, Tomfre, finished the season with two wins in competitive Doncaster handicaps giving Persuasion’s form a solid feel, especially with the 3rd behind Tomfre and Persuasion finishing runner up on his next run.

The question here is the ground though. He barely beat a rival home on faster ground on his first two runs last season but one of those came in the 200 Guineas so is forgiveable and the next came when returning from a three month break, presumably having had an issue. As a 2yo he coped well enough with fast ground, he won a very strong maiden on good to firm at Goodwood beating at least three rivals now rated higher than him. If he copes with the ground here he’s a big threat.

Marshall Dan

Carried last season’s consistency into this season with a 2nd at Musselburgh three weeks ago on seasonal debut. He won over course and distance in September but that was on soft ground off a 9lb lower mark. He has form on faster ground too but he has seemed to improve for slower ground over the past year or so. The winner didn’t do anything for his last time out form when running next and in these conditions he looks more likely to finish around 4th or 5th than 1st. Drawn very wide too which won’t help.

Fox Champion

He's been largely out of form for some time now, although he did run okay over 6f on the all weather last summer before reverting to type back on turf on his next starts. His chance seems to largely hinge upon a change of scenery having brought him back to form. This will be his first run for the in form Ralph Beckett and he has a pretty amazing record in the past twelve months with runners who have come from other stables.

Beckett has won with a whopping 63.64% of his runners having their first run after joining from another stable in the past year. That’s 7 wins from 11 runners and if you were to ignore runners at 33/1+ that changes to 7 wins from 9 runners. Very impressive.

He's happy at 7f on fast ground so if he was able to bounce back he would potentially be a stone well in.

Gobi Sunset

Mark Johnston’s 4yo didn’t show much last season and was duly gelded and given a five month break. That seems to have done him the world of good as his form figures since are 2122. Those runs all came on the all weather but he won twice on fast ground on turf as a 2yo.

He has plenty of pace, he went off at a furious gallop over 6f two runs ago, finding only Dirty Rascal too good in the finish and Dirty Rascal won by 5 lengths on his next start. Last time out he once again found one too good, over 7f at Wolverhampton in a class 3 handicap. He’s clearly not badly handicapped and you can be pretty sure he’ll try and make all here. He’s been ridden by claimers on recent starts and perhaps Joe Fanning taking the mount will help ensure he gets the fractions right. He’s certainly capable but might just be vulnerable late on. Not a bad place bet at the very least though.


Consistent but ultimately difficult to win with. His best form generally comes at York but he was beaten just a short head at Doncaster over this trip late last season with a subsequent winner back in 3rd. He’s versatile regarding underfoot conditions and has often run well on seasonal reappearance. If he’s capable of defying a mark of 94 at the age of 9 it will probably be at York but he's entitled to run well enough.

Cold Stare

Twice a winner here and capable of this kind of mark but this horse wants the ground to be borderline unraceable. Having said that, he was an eyecatcher last time out on good to firm at Redcar over a furlong shorter and a repeat of that could see him go close but whether he can back that run up with another sound run on fast ground is open to debate. Certainly one to look out for when there is some cut in the ground soon.


A wide margin winner of the same Nottingham race two years running but other than that hasn’t won since 2017. He seems at his best with plenty of give in the ground and although he does have form on faster ground, he also seems better at a mile. He has been outpaced over this course and distance on fast ground before and is likely to suffer the same fate again. Plenty of Ian Williams’ flat string are needing a run too it seems.


A frustrating 7yo who has won just once in eighteen runs for Roger Fell but finished runner up on five occasions in that same period. He’s relatively versatile but is probably at his best over 7f on fast ground, his last nine turf runs on good or better at this distance have yielded form figures of 222133522. He won first time out two seasons ago but seemed to improve for the run last year. No seasonal debutant has even placed from this yard in the past 30 days from twelve runners which is a concern. He’s never one you can write off for a place but given the current trainer record and the horse’s difficulty getting his head in front he’s easily opposable for win purposes at the very least.

Another Batt

Had looked well handicapped on several occasions for previous trainers so no great surprise David Barron was able to get a win out of him on seasonal debut last year. That win was the first time the horse had even placed on good to firm ground and it perhaps left it’s mark with the horse not in the same form on his subsequent three runs. He’s run well enough on fast ground at this trip before off higher marks so can’t be ruled out because of the ground but we do have to take his wellbeing on trust. Stable are going okay first time up this season and not entirely dismissed for all he’s very risky.


Taken well to Newcastle’s tapeta surface on his last two starts and was a winner over this distance last time out, getting up by a nose in a small field event. He’s 6lbs lower than when midfield in a good York mile handicap for 3yos last season but he’s often looked a bit paceless, despite winning last time dropped in trip. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he needs deep ground to show his best and he’s opposable here over this test.


Was well enough thought of to start his 3yo campaign last season as 5/2 favourite in a pretty warm handicap but he was too keen and was well beaten. He ran much better dropped back to 6f at Newmarket on fast ground on his next start showing his mark wasn’t beyond him. He backed that up with another decent effort over 6f at Chelmsford, given no chance the way the race developed but making good late headway. He raced once since then, finishing well beaten and found to be lame afterwards. He’s been gelded since and seems to be the Charles Hills second string behind Persuasion. Wouldn’t be a big shock to see him run well.

Sir Maximillian

A second runner for Ian Williams and although he is relatively fit from racing on the all weather over the winter, he hasn’t run for 73 days so might need this given how some of Ian Williams’ are running after an absence. He was better than the bare form on a couple of occasions on artificial surfaces over the winter but never really threatened to win. He was in good form at this course last June in a hot contest and did win as an 11yo at Chester later in the summer. He’s going to find life difficult here from a wide draw but don’t be surprised if he gets his head in front again at Chester this season, a course where he has won four from nine and never run a bad race.


This is a really wide open contest with some sort of question mark over most of the contenders. The only ones I’d be confident of ruling out for win purposes (not that they can’t run well) would be Firmanent, Mustarrid, Admirality, Duesenberg and Sir Maximilian.

I think Marshall Dan is worth opposing on this ground whilst Cold Stare and Another Batt would also prefer more juice so I wouldn’t rely on those.

Fox Champion is difficult to weigh up but Ralph Beckett’s stable change record gives real hope that this horse could bounce back. I still prefer to not back such regressive runners but if he wins we’ll all kick ourselves for not following such impressive trainer change stats.

That leaves Dreamloper, Persuasion, Gobi Sunset and Dulas.

Dreamloper would be a bet at a mile and should run well but dropping back in trip he’s short enough for me. Gobi Sunset has found one too good on three of his last four starts and seems pretty likely to run well again but won’t get an easy lead and is no more than a fair price.

That leaves the Charles Hills trained pair Persuasion and Dulas. Both are making their seasonal reappearances which is no negative based on the trainer form and both are well enough drawn in stalls 6 and 7 respectively. Dulas is an interesting contender and worth a win only saver but he’s already been a non runner twice in recent weeks which is a concern and he may well end up being keen stepping back up to 7f.

That leaves PERSUASION as the token selection in a fiendishly difficult contest. He was probably just out of form when not running well on faster ground last season having run so well on good to firm on his racecourse debut and his trainer is on record last season as saying he should be better on faster ground which helps confidence slightly. His full brother Qeyaadah, also preferred faster ground.

Nugget Looks Tasty In Newbury Spring Cup

One of Newbury’s live races on Sunday is their Spring Cup, a big field handicap run over a mile at 3.20pm. This looks an ideal contest to get stuck into from a betting perspective.

Don’t forget, if you are new to Geegeez Gold you can click here to get your first 30 days for just £1.


Let’s take a look at the draw data for the Newbury mile.

There haven’t been a huge amount of big field races here in recent times so it’s difficult to be too confident about a potential draw bias. Looking at races on a variety of going conditions though there seems to be a disadvantage with the higher draws. Yes they have the best win % but PRB uses far more data and the PRB for high draws here is just 0.44, compared to 0.52 for low draws and 0.54 for middle draws.

Looking at individual draw data the five stalls with the best PRB figures are all positioned between stalls 6 and 12 inclusive. That suggests somewhere between low and middle is absolutely ideal. Stalls 16 and above perform worse than any others.

With relatively limited data on offer in such big fields it would be wise to not write anything off completely solely based on the draw.

Looking back at the last time this race was run, in 2019, five of the first six home were drawn in the lowest six stalls and the one high draw who ran well was subsequently proven to be 15lbs well in that day. The year before though, nine of the first ten finishers were drawn in double figure stall numbers.


Again we have slightly limited data on offer with bigger field sizes so we’ll have to take this with a slight pinch of salt.

The most telling data with a limited amount of races comes from the place %. Here we see 21.43% of front runners go on to place, 14.42% of prominent racers, 22.77% of the mid division and 18.75% of hold up performers. Overall that’s some very fair data and shows no significant pace bias at all.

Straight course races are often much fairer than races around a bend and any potential draw and/or pace bias could be determined more by where the pace for this individual race is drawn than anything else.

Pace Map

Here is the pace map for the 2021 Spring Mile:

There is plenty of pace on here, across both the lower and higher stalls. There seems to be a bit more pace higher than lower but we’ll probably see more runners end up in the middle of the course and there should certainly be enough pace on both sides to give more patiently ridden runners across the draw something to aim at.

Gin Palace and Bear Force One are also capable of contesting the pace so we could see even more pace from stalls 4 and 16 respectively.

Given the likely pace profile for this field it would be a slightly surprise if something doesn’t come from mid division or further back to take this.

The Runners

A look at some of the main contenders and those at bigger prices who could outrun their odds.

Troll Peninsula

Pulled clear with an odds Godolphin favourite on debut before winning his next two starts. Gave a short head beating and 5lbs to a now 82 rated rival when shedding his maiden tag and was more impressive when stepped up to a mile last time out, winning by 3.5 lengths. It’s difficult to weigh up his form to date given he’s yet to run in a handicap but the fact he has such a progressive profile for Roger Varian suggests he’s going to be operating off a mark much higher than 88 this season.


Another lightly raced 4yo with a nice profile. He seemed well suited by softer ground last year and was 4th in the Lincoln a few weeks ago on similar ground to this, seemingly with no excuses. Nothing wrong with that form and entitled to improve again. Probably still well handicapped but would make more appeal with a bit more cut in the ground.

Matthew Flinders

An impressive winner at Doncaster last season and had previously gone close in a warm Sandown handicap. Probably found soft ground against him on his latest start over an extended 10f at York in October and gelded over the winter. First run of the season but yard has had a couple of seasonal debutants come out and win already.


Another with a lightly raced profile and an extremely consistent one at that. He wasn’t seen after July last season beating Yes My Boy (who is now 11lbs higher) on his latest run last summer. A 5lb rise probably underestimated him and he emerged in good form last week when a slightly unlucky in running 3rd at Nottingham against two well handicapped rivals. Stable runners have generally been running to form first time out this season so not guaranteed to improve again but may not need to.


Finished just ahead of Matthew Flinders at Sandown last season and now 11lbs worse off at the weights. He was an impressive winner on soft ground over 7f at Ascot in October but paid for that with a 10lb rise. A smart performer but front running tactics over a straight mile might find him out here.

Imperial Command

Not quite as lightly raced as the 4yos ahead of him in the market but since joining Mark Loughnane he's won three from four, undone by a lack of pace and trouble in running on his only defeat. This is a big step up though and all his turf form is on very soft ground so he’s opposable in this.


Not obviously well handicapped having gone up to a mark of 105 courtesy of an easy victory when getting the run of the race at Chelmsford. Dominating here will be much harder and others are surely now better handicapped. Has won a decent race over course and distance though, albeit off a much lower mark.


Has found some consistency in recent starts and although Southwell form doesn’t appear massively relevant for this, he was beaten a head by Count Of Amazonia at Chelmsford in October and whilst Newbolt is 7lbs higher here, Count Of Amazonia has gone up 19lbs since. He’s won on turf previously and isn’t out of this at all, especially with Laura Pearson taking 5lbs off his back.


Outran his odds in the Lincoln when 6th and slightly better than the bare result. However this race perhaps has even more depth and he’s unlikely to have the requisite improvement to figure. Look out for him at Chester next month, a course where he has form figures of 1131 at distances of 7f+.

Gin Palace

Not the most consistent but did won off a 2lb lower mark last season and won on seasonal reappearance over course and distance in a race that worked out well. That took his course and distance haul to two wins from two runs. He can lead but doesn’t have to so will probably look to sit prominently here. He’s capable of outrunning his odds given his course record but this is much hotter than anything he’s previously contested.


Given the profile of many of those at the head of the market it would be a big surprise if at least two or three of these aren’t still very well handicapped. You’ll probably need a runner that has at least 10lbs in hand of his mark to win this and that probably makes the shortlist consist of Troll Peninsula, Matthew Flinders and Nugget.

The Roger Varian trained Troll Peninsula is the one that could be anything, but the flip side of that is he could be badly handicapped. He’s probably perfectly drawn in stall 8 and this may well be the last time you get to back him off a mark of 88 but his sole turf run came on soft ground so he still has a little to prove.

Matthew Flinders will be suited by the return to better ground but a mile is probably the minimum trip for him and although he should get a nice pace to aim at, any rustiness on his first run of the season could find him out.

NUGGET seems to be the solid each way in the field. He beat a good field on Doncaster’s straight mile last June before probably not staying 10f on his next start. He then finished a narrow 2nd at Windsor off a 5lb lower mark in a race where the 3rd won two of his next three. He had several future winners in behind when winning at Newmarket and there was absolutely nothing wrong with his Nottingham reappearance where he was squeezed out with half a furlong to go when challenging two horses that would be amongst the favourites for this contest. If stall 2 isn’t a hinderance he should at least finish in the places in what looks a really hot contest that should throw up future winners.

Grand National 2021 Preview, Tips and Runner By Runner Guide

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

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

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


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

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

Aintree Grand National Pace Bias

Historic pace bias in the Grand National

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

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

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

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

Grand National 2021 Pace Map

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

Grand National 2021 Pace Map

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

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

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

Instant Expert

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

Instant Expert showing win data for the 2021 Grand National field

Instant Expert showing place data for the 2021 Grand National field

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand National 2021 Runners

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

Cloth Cap

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

Burrows Saint

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

Minella Times

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

Any Second Now

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

Kimberlite Candy

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

Secret Reprieve

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


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

Magic Of Light

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


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

Potters Corner

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

Bristol De Mai

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

Anibale Fly

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

Milan Native

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

Mister Malarky

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

Some Neck

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


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

Acapela Bourgeois

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

Lord Du Mesnil

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

Yala Enki

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


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

Definitely Red

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

Give Me A Copper

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

Lake View Lad

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

Shattered Love

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


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

Chris’s Dream

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

Class Conti

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

Vieux Lion Rouge

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

Alpha Des Obeaux

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


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

Hogan’s Height

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


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

Ok Corral

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

Sub Lieutenant

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


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

The Long Mile

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

Balko Des Flos

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


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

Cabarat Queen

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

Double Shuffle

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


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

Ami Desbois

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

Kauto Riko

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

Tout Est Permis

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


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

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

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

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

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

Four against the field:

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

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

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

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

2.00 – All Weather Marathon Championships – 2m


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Pace Map

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


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

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

Pace Map

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

3.10 – All Weather Sprint Championships – 6f


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

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

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


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

Pace Map

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

3.45 – 3 Year Old All Weather Championships – 6f


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

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


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

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

Pace Map

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

Yazaman could be the worst positioned from a wider draw.


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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

Pace Map

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


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

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

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

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

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

4.45 – All Weather Mile Championships – 1m


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

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

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


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

Pace Map

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5.15 – All Weather Championships Apprentice Handicap


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

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

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


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

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

Pace Map

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Doncaster Spring Mile Preview: Two Big Prices Against The Field

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Pace and Draw Combination

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

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

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

Spring Mile Pace Map

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

The Runners

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


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

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

Arctic Vega

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

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

Artistic Rifles

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


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

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

Poet’s Lady

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

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


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

Dubai Souq

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

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

Global Esteem

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

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

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

Home Before Dusk

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


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

Queen’s Sargent

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


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

Into Faith

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

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

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


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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

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

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

My Way Or The Highway In Kempton Handicap

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

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


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

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

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

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

Pace Map

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

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

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

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

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

Instant Expert

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

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

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

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

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

The Runners

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

My Way

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

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

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

Falco Blitz

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

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

Smarty Wild

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

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

Mellow Ben

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

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

Vinnie The Hoddie

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

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

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


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


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

Domaine De L’Isle

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

Princeton Royale

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


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

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

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day Four Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day Four Preview, Tips

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

1.20 Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m1f)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest are unlikely to trouble the judge.

Triumph Hurdle Pace Map

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

Triumph Hurdle Selection


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


1.55 County Hurdle (Grade 3 Handicap, 2m1f)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

County Hurdle Pace Map

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

County Hurdle Selection

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

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

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Selection

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheltenham Gold Cup Pace Map

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


Cheltenham Gold Cup Selection

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

Suggestion: Back your own fancy!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase  Pace Map

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

Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase Selection

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mares' Chase Pace Map

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

Mares' Chase Selection

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

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


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

Good luck with this project!

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

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Pace Map

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

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Selection

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

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


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

Be lucky.


Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day 3 Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day 3 Preview, Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marsh Chase Pace Map

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

Marsh Chase Selection

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

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


1.55 Pertemps Final (Grade 3 handicap, 3m)

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

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

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

Pertemps Final Pace Map

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

Pertemps Final Selection

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

Suggestion: Good luck!


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryanair Chase Pace Map

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

Ryanair Chase Selection

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

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


3.05 Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don't give the rest too much hope.

Stayers' Hurdle Pace Map

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

Stayers' Hurdle Selection

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Festival Plate Pace Map

Just an even gallop expected here.

Festival Plate Selection

This is for the wagering masochists.

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of others not mentioned with prospects.

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

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

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Selection

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

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


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

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

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

There are many other alternatives.

Kim Muir Pace Map

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

Kim Muir Selection

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

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


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

Good luck!


Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballymore Pace Map

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

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Selection

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RSA Chase Pace Map

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

RSA Chase Selection

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Coral Cup Pace Map

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Champion Chase Pace Map

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

Champion Chase Selection

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Pace Map

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

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Selection

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Annual Pace Map

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

Grand Annual Selection

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Champion Bumper Pace Map

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

Champion Bumper selection

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

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


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

Good luck!


Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day One Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Day One Preview, Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Novices' Pace Projection

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

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Selection

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

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

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

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


1.55 Arkle Challenge Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arkle Pace Projection

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

Arkle Chase Selection

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ultima Pace Projection

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

Ultima Handicap Chase Selection

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Champion Hurdle Pace Projection

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

Champion Hurdle Selection

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

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


3.40 Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m4f)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mares' Hurdle Pace Projection

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

Mares' Hurdle Selection

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

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


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

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

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

Boodles Handicap Hurdle Pace Projection

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

Boodles Handicap Hurdle selection

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

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

Suggestion: Ask Mr Felt Tippy.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Hunt Chase Pace Projection

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

National Hunt Chase Selection

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

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


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

Good luck!


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