Previews, tips and trends for major horse racing fixtures across the UK. Detailed day-by-day reports and info on horses, races, courses, events and more.

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

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

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

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

 

Cheltenham Festival Trends

Tuesday 16th March (Old Course)   

 

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

 

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

Pluses…..

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

Negatives…..

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

 

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

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

 

Pluses….

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

Negatives…..

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

 

 

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

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

 

Pluses….

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

Negatives….

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

 

 

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

 

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

Pluses….

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

Negatives….

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

Key Cheltenham Festival Champion Hurdle Betting Trends

 

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

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

 

Champion Hurdle – UK vs Ireland (Last 23 Years)

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

 

 

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

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

 

Pluses….

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

Negatives….

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

 

 

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

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

Pluses….

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

 

Negatives….

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

 

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

 

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

 

Pluses…..

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

Negatives….

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

 

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

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

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

Draw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pace

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

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

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

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

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

Draw and Pace Combination

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

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

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

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

Lincoln Trial Pace Map

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

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

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

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

The Runners

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

Mission Boy

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

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

Man Of The Night

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

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

Born To Be Alive

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

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

Tadleel

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

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

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

On A Session

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

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

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

Oh This Is Us

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

The Gill Brothers

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

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

Milltown Star

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

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

Zwayyan

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

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

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

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

Al Muffrih

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

Scottish Summit

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

Pinnata

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

Rise Hall

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

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

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Trainer Form

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

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

How to quantify trainer form?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Still here? Topper, PRB next.

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

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

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

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

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

How to quantify trainer form pre-Cheltenham?

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

Willie Mullins

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

Gordon Elliott

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

 

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

Using the ranking approach gives us the following.

 

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

 

Nicky Henderson

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

 

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

 

Paul Nicholls

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

 

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

 

2021 Pre-Festival Form and Predictions

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cheltenham Festival Trainer Form Conclusions

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

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

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

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

Go West In Veterans’ Chase At Newbury

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

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

Pace

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

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

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

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

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

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

Instant Expert

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Runners

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

Present Man

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

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

Sir Ivan

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

Shantou Village

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

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

West Approach

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

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

Singlefarmpayment

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

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

Strong Pursuit

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

Valadom

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

The Kings Writ

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

Colorado Doc

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

Sizing Codelco

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

The Verdict

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

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

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

Cheltenham Festival 2021: 7 NRNB ‘Free Hits’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

**

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

Matt

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

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

Draw

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

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

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

Pace

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

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

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

Pace and Draw Combination

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

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

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

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

Hever Sprint Pace Map

Let’s take a look at the pace map for this contest to see the likely pace setup:

Ornate is the main pace angle here but it’s possible Lord Riddiford could contest that pace. What stands out here is that all the pace is in the lowest two stalls. Ornate is normally pretty quick from the gates so he may be able to get across Lord Riddiford but it seems likely Lord Riddiford won’t make life easy for Ornate on the front end.

We’ve established that anyother kind of ride than front running is a big disadvantage for high drawn horses so there certainly have to be some question marks over Royal Birth and Rocket Action, and also Blue De Vega to a certain extent. Rocket Action is fairly well fancied here and his run style and draw combination could be a problem.

Belle Anglaise has plenty to find on form and her run style isn’t going to be much help here despite a decent draw whilst hot favourite Moss Gill is quite tactically versatile so P J McDonald would be sensible to track the pace from an okay draw in stall 4.

The Runners

Only seven runners to go through, let’s look at them in market order.

Moss Gill

It's no great surprise to see Moss Gill hovering around even money for this contest. He’s got 7lbs or more in hand of the rest of the field, he’s never been out of the first two in three runs on artificial surfaces and he’s already a listed winner. He also won off a similar break this time last year, albeit in a lower grade.

The bad news is he’s never run on polytrack and he’s been held up on two of his last three starts. If similar tactics were to be employed here he could end up forfeiting the 7lb+ advantage he has over this field based on official ratings. If you wanted to be even pickier you could ignore his runs at York, which seems to be his favourite track (form figures of 12233 there). He’s been well enough beaten at other venues at listed level twice and Group 3 level once which is a slight concern.

His best run to date was a 3rd in the Nunthorpe behind Battaash last year and if able to replicate that form he’d be almost impossible to beat here against this field.

Rocket Action

Rocket Action is returning from a similar kind of break as the favourite and he too has a very good all weather record. He’s one of just three runners in this who bring a triple figure official rating into the race and he ran a solid 4th in a competitive Group 3 at Dundalk last time out.

He’s another who hasn’t yet run at Lingfield though. His run style would be a big concern from any draw and it’s a particular concern from the widest stall. He may well end up finding this test too sharp and he would have made far more appeal at Wolverhampton where he has won all three of his starts.

Blue De Vega

Blue De Vega is the other runner to be rated 100 or over in this and he’s arguably the stable second string, despite being rated 1lb higher than Rocket Action. He’s another who hasn’t been seen since the tail end of the flat turf season but he has at least run well after a break before.

He’s a past Group 3 winner and has been rated 110 previously but he is 8 now and perhaps a bit past his prime. He has won on artificial surfaces before but he’s yet another to have never run here and he certainly doesn’t look an all weather specialist like Rocket Action. He generally raced prominently last season so might not be badly placed but he would need to improve on last season’s form to win this.

Lord Riddiford

This speedy prominent racer/front runner has now hit a career high rating signalling the fact that he’s been as good as ever this winter. He has a better win ratio on sand compared to turf and he’s won three times on Chelmsford’s polytrack course but he’s never run here. It’s a course that should suit his style and as a winner at courses like Goodwood and Windsor he’s no stranger to a speedy or sharp 5f.

In fact if you use the ‘General Config’ filter on his form you can see he does very well on courses with a similar configuration to Lingfield.

He's unlikely to beat Ornate to the lead in this but he is comfortable just tracking the pace, tactics employed when he won at Wolverhampton in November. He’ll be better placed than most here, is in the form of his life and only has 4lbs to find with the second highest rated runner. He’s also fit having run all winter and he could be the main threat to Moss Gill.

Ornate

The likely front runner in this is the shortest priced runner who has actually run here at Lingfield. He hasn’t won in three runs here but he did get within a short head of victory over course and distance in December off a rating of 95. He ran less well here last month though and was also below par when sent off favourite at Southwell last time out, a course at which he is a three time winner.

He's closely matched with Royal Birth on both his previous two runs here but doesn’t seem good enough right now or in good enough form to pose a real threat. At best he’s a back to lay option but if Lord Riddiford pesters him on the front end he probably wouldn’t even appeal even for trading purposes.

Royal Birth

The only course winner in the field and the winner of this race all the way back in 2017. The 10yo isn’t quite at that level anymore but he’s still a relatively consistent performer having chalked up two more wins here at the turn of the year, taking his Lingfield tally up to five wins from thirteen at this trip.

He was put in his place at this level recently but that was over 6f, a distance he has never excelled over. Another point to note is the horse’s record for Richard Kingscote.

The horse has finished 1st once and 2nd twice from four 5f runs under this pilot. He needs to improve on his recent form by several pounds to win this but his form in this race does read 1522 over the past four years and he’s entitled to outrun his odds. He’s more than capable of finishing 3rd in this but with only 7 runners he still doesn’t appeal as an each way option.

Belle Anglaise

The youngest runner in the field and the only female meaning she gets a useful 5lbs from the others. She’s rated 90 so does have to improve but not by as much as the ratings might suggest. Is she capable of running beyond 90 though?

She hasn’t run in this country since her 2yo campaign where she was last seen being well beaten in the Oh So Sharp Stakes over 7f. She’s since been running in Germany but she failed to get her head in front as a 3yo. Her only win came on her only start on an all weather surface (at Chelmsford) so the return to polytrack is definitely an interesting angle but this will be her first run at the minimum distance so in all probability she’ll be seen to best effect in the coming months over a little further on this kind of surface.

The Verdict

Moss Gill looks the most likely winner of this race but doesn’t appeal in the slightest as a single at the price given there are some doubts, notably fitness and record away from York.

Lord Riddiford is the solid but unspectacular choice from the plum draw. He’d be a pretty decent each way bet with an extra runner in here and three places on offer but looks less interesting with just two places on offer. Therefore the best option may be a small single on Lord Riddiford at a general 7/1 but a slightly largely straight forecast on Moss Gill to win and Lord Riddiford to finish runner up. That bet pays around 9/1 with bet365 at the time of writing.

A braver punter might be willing to add Royal Birth to make up a trifecta but that’s not a bet that will appeal to many for decent stakes, especially with Royal Birth faring slightly unluckily with the draw.

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Favourites – Bankers or Blowouts?

Pretty much the last spectator-attended action of last year was the Cheltenham Festival and, regardless of the 20/20 hindsight about whether or not it should have had the green light for crowds, this year's event will be contested behind closed doors. That it will be contested at all, and that the entirety of the preceding seasonal narrative has played out - weather notwithstanding - is a cause for celebration during these times where not a great deal has been worthy of such emotional uplift.

With just 21 days until tapes rise for the opening skirmishes of the 2021 renewal of #CheltFest (I can hear the grinding of traditionalists' teeth as I pen that incendiary soshul shorthand!), time is nigh to fix mental bayonets and consider, in the round, what may transpire three weeks hence.

In this piece, we'll look at the shorties: those favourites whose current top quote is 5/4 or tighter. Using the age old hackney of 'banker or blowout', and mindful that for geegeez readers (and value players everywhere) the very notion of a banker is anathema, I'll offer a view as to which side of the back/lay divide I'd currently like to pitch my punting tent.

A recent history of short priced favourites at the Cheltenham Festival

First up, a short history lesson. The main lesson of history is "don't believe the hype", a message that resonates far beyond Festival jollies but which was poignantly reprised twelve months ago when, of the six favourites sent off at 5/4 or shorter, five were beaten. Ouch.

If that was a storm in the 2020 teacup, how does a more extensive tract of past performance influence our appetite for piling in at the sharp end?

As can be seen from the table and summary row above, there have been good times and bad times since 2009, with the management summary being that this is one of the less bludgeoning methods of wagering self-harm. But, of course, not all shorties are made equal; so is there anything to be gleaned from dividing what is already a very small dataset still further?

Despite the answer to that question almost certainly being 'no', for the record here are a couple of logical splits:

A lot of data manipulation and a very short read later we can now say the answer is certainly 'no'; which is unsurprising given the maturity of, and liquidity in, these markets. Nevertheless, when the media cries "certainty" and the market posits 4/6, punters are well served to beware.

The full list of qualifying runners is below, and may bring back painful memories for some, yours true included!

2021 Cheltenham Festival Shorties: Banker or Blowout

There is a quintet of ante-post shorties for this year's renewal of the Fez (yet more trads reaching for 'off' switch!) and they shape up price wise like this:

Time to consider each horse's respective merits...

Arkle Challenge Trophy: Shishkin

Form this season

Unbeaten in three facile wins in novice chases, most recently in a brace of Grade 2's, with no horse yet landing a glove on him. In spite of the small fields - he beat a trio of rivals in each - the form is solid and the times have been good. His fencing style is economical and comfortable: he has barely put a foot wrong thus far.

Shishkin is now unbeaten in seven completed starts, having fallen on his hurdling debut.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Sent off 6/1 joint-third favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year, he was hampered by a faller as the race was hotting up, but overcame that impediment to hold the late charge of Champion Hurdle fancy, Abacadabras. That was his only race at Cheltenham.

Obvious dangers

For a while this looked a matter of 'how far' assuming good health and a clear round, but the emergence of Energumene - an energumence? - as comfortably the best of the Irish has livened up the pre-race debate immeasurably.

On form, Willie Mullins' charge is a serious threat. But he does have a lot more questions to answer: how will he handle Cheltenham? Does he need to lead and, if so, how will he handle Allmankind? If he doesn't need to lead, he has yet to prove his effectiveness from further back. And how will he handle drier ground if indeed it pans out that way?

None of these are of concern to Shishkin, who looks sure to get his favoured lead - either from Allmankind, or that one and Energumene - and who will have every chance having dealt with all underfoot terrain, longer trips, and the Cheltenham contours already.

If Energumene and Allmankind lock horns on the speed, they may both pay for those exertions in the manner that Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir did in the 2018 renewal of this race, setting things up for a 14-length rout for Footpad. Shishkin is undeniably more of a horse than Footpad, and a tear up on the front end could see him record the largest winning distance of the meeting.

But if Energumene is ridden more conservatively, there are two possible dangers. The more obvious is that, in a fair fight, the Irish raider is simply better than the domestic challenger; the less obvious is that, by marking each other, the top two grant Allmankind - a very good horse in his own right - an easy and unassailable lead.

The other fly in the Shishkin ointment is the form of the Nicky Henderson yard, on the face of it at least: a single winner since 10th February, from 28 runners, is not the sort of record a Champion Trainer needs going into the biggest gig of the year. But, of course, we're not yet at the eve of Cheltenham and, in any case, that headline figure masks what have been largely acceptable (if not altogether pleasing) efforts from his Seven Barrows squad.

A place strike rate of 36% is more compelling, and a majority of runners have performed at least close to market expectation. Notably, the big guns - Chantry House, Champ - have run very well. Still, better will have been expected overall and better will be needed if Shishkin's price is not to flirt with odds-against between now and mid-March.

Verdict

Shishkin looks a superb athlete and a very fast horse. His trainer is having a wobble just now but knows better than anyone - even Willie M - how to campaign a precocious two-mile chaser. Having ticked the race conditions boxes, and with a pace setup almost certain to play to his A game, he looks a 'banker' (relatively speaking).

*

Mares' Hurdle: Concertista

Form this season

Lightly raced, as is often the modus operandi with Willie Mullins' better mares, Concertista has run just twice this term. She beat the same mare, Minella Melody, by nearly two lengths in a Grade 2 in November and then by more than six lengths in a Grade 3 at the turn of the year.

The hallmark of those runs, and indeed her run style generally, is being held together off the pace before cruising through to prevail comfortably. In so doing it is hard to peg the level of her form exactly, always leaving the impression there is more in the tank.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Presented off a layoff of eighteen months prior to the 2019 Mares' Novices Hurdle, Concertista saw off all bar Eglantine Du Seuil as a 66/1 chance that day. She had twenty rivals behind her and only a short head to the one in front. That singular race in the 2018/19 season meant she retained her novice status the following campaign and, lining up in the same race last March, she outclassed a similar 22-strong field by an emphatic dozen lengths.

This will be her third visit to the Festival and she offers very solid credentials on that score.

Obvious dangers

It very much depends who lines up on the day. If the ground dries out, it might be that connections of Honeysuckle decide to run over this two-and-a-half mile trip rather than the extended two of the Champion Hurdle. That would change the complexion markedly.

Likewise, though to a lesser degree, if Roksana stepped this way rather than to the Stayers' Hurdle, she would present a fierce challenge.

But there is very little depth to this field beyond the aforementioned three: they bet 9/1 Dame De Compagnie (who has been chasing, has four entries, and is far from a certain runner in this), 14/1 Verdana Blue (more likely for the County Hurdle, I think), and 20/1 bar (including Elimay, who more likely goes to the Mares' Chase).

Verdict

If Honeysuckle goes to the Champion Hurdle and if Roksana goes to the Stayers' Hurdle, Concertista could be the shortest priced favourite at the meeting. If Honeysuckle comes here, she may be 4/7 or so.

This is a ground dependant conundrum: drying ground would increase the chance of Honeysuckle running here, but decrease the chance of Roksana doing likewise. Concertista is expected to run here regardless (though she is still entered in both the Champion Hurdle and the Mares' Chase).

The way to play this, if you're so inclined, is to back Concertista at 6/5 and Honeysuckle at 5/4, both non-runner no bet. Most likely, you'll have 6/5 about an odds-on shot and money back on the other; second most likely is that you'll have 5/4 about a 4/7 shot and a poor value back up ticket. That may not sound exciting right now but it is odds on to look value on the day.

*

Brown Advisory (ex RSA): Monkfish

Form this season

Another Willie Mullins inmate, Monkfish has been imperious this season in brushing aside talented opposition with relish. Monkfish with relish: tasty!

Lousy puns aside, he won his beginners' chase in a canter before being merely pushed out to record a pair of Grade 1 successes in recognised trials, by three lengths and then eleven lengths from the talented Latest Exhibition. He is by some margin the pick of the Irish challengers.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Not only is Monkfish unbeaten in three chase starts this term, he is also the reigning Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle champ, earning a hard-fought verdict over... you guessed it, Latest Exhibition. That was his only visit to Cheltenham so he is unbeaten in one both at the track and at the Festival.

Obvious dangers

It is quite hard to find 'obvious' dangers to Monkfish. He has blitzed the best of the Irish this season, and he did the same to the best of the British and Irish here last season over hurdles.

Of course, he's a novice and the fences have to be jumped, so that's a possible issue.

In terms of potential rivals, Royale Pagaille has looked a mud machine this winter, but that one has numerous other possible engagements, principally the Gold Cup itself. Moreover, the two horses are in the same Ricci ownership and will surely attempt to divide and conquer.

The only other possible issue is ground: good to something would present a challenge met only once previously, when Monkfish was beaten into second on debut in a 2m2f bumper at the Punchestown Festival in May 2019.

Verdict

It's double digits bar Fishcake - as Nicky Henderson once flippantly (and very amusingly, imho) labelled the jolly - and Royale Pagaille; and, with options over longer and shorter for shying rivals, this could cut up dramatically. Monkfish looks very strong in this division.

*

Champion Chase: Chacun Pour Soi

Form this season

Three runs, three wins, in Grade 2 and Grade 1 (twice) company, beating the right horses with nonchalance. He travels like a dream, jumps very well and, if he faces the starter at Cheltenham, will have managed more runs this season than in the previous two combined.

His form this campaign is well clear of any other two mile chaser on either side of the Irish Sea.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

It was all going so well, but then... Chacun Pour Soi was pulled out at the eleventh hour last year and, as such, has yet to race outside of Ireland. That leaves question marks not just over the track but also about travelling generally: he did come over on the boat last year but was withdrawn with a foot abscess.

Whilst it may very much be a case of abscess making the heart grow fonder (sigh), it also nods to this fella's hitherto fragility. Against that we do have a trio of scores, and an absence of scares, so far this term. But we have still to conjecture about his ability to handle the idiosyncrasies of Cleeve Hill.

Obvious dangers

He himself is the obvious danger. Will he stay in one piece? Will he handle the travel? Will he handle the track?

Of the other horses in the race, each has eroded his or her case at some point: Arkle winner Put The Kettle On was bashed by Chacun, albeit after what was a very hard race at Cheltenham first up this season, and she may bounce back training up to the race; Altior is patently not the horse he was; Politologue has a rock solid Champion Chase profile but not against the calibre of CPS; and Defi Du Seuil is a binary chap, more zeros than ones in recent times.

The leftfield option is First Flow, who was exhilarating at Ascot last time. He'd need supplementing, very likely, but he'd also need to improve another eight pounds on current ratings - less likely.

Verdict

Chacun Pour Soi has to contend with himself. His form is in another postcode to his rivals in a market still trying to get him beaten with the wonderful but past his best Altior and a sizeable group of second division chasers. A horse like Fakir D'Oudairies, who is 20/1 NRNB in a place because he's more likely to fly Ryanair, might be a feasible hail mary in a race loaded with if's and but's.

Those imponderables extend to the favourite which makes him unplayable outright at the prices for all that he is the outstanding logical choice. [I did flag him in a derivative market at more appealing odds, as I don't really seeing him finishing second or third. He will win, or something will have happened between now and the finish line, is my wagering opinion.]

*

Marsh: Envoi Allen

Form this season

Three runs, three wins this campaign have meant Envoi Allen is now eleven from eleven lifetime under Rules (plus one point to point), all of them as favourite and only once at odds-against (the 2019 Cheltenham Champion Bumper). The middle leg of his 2020/21 hat-trick was a comfortable verdict in the Grade 1 Drinmore, and it was little more than a schooling round against Grade 3 rivals last time. I wasn't as impressed as some with that most recent effort for all that he still bolted up.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Two tries at the track, both at the Festival, have yielded two victories; the Bumper score was by a narrow margin, his Ballymore victory more unequivocal. He beat 13 rivals the first day and eleven the second and, well, he just keeps winning.

Obvious dangers

This looks another case of getting to the start line. Unlike CPS, EA has been slated to start twice and has started - and finished first - twice. He's had an incident-free prep thus far and has jumped really well in his three chase races to date.

Still, those fences need to be jumped, and he has to arrive pristine at Prestbury. It is hard to nominate dangers thereafter.

Verdict

The Brown Advisory would have meant a likely clash with Monkfish, the Arkle a ding dong with Shiskin, Energumene and Allmankind. The Marsh feels a bit like the coward's route for a horse boasting his CV. More generously, it is the best opportunity to extend the winning sequence.

You can bet double figures any other horse likely to run in this race - single digit quotes about Energumene and Monkfish don't even appeal NRNB especially - and there has to be some each way value, though I've yet to go through the fine detail to find it.

What is clear is that, on form, Envoi Allen is different kit.

**

Summary

Last year, five of the six horses sent off at 5/4 or shorter were beaten. This year, we look set to have at least five runners priced in that same bracket. Mishaps aside, it is hard (for me, at least) to make credible cases to oppose any of the quintet.

But mishaps do happen: in 2020, Paisley Park had a palpitation, Patrick Mullins was carelessly ejected from Carefully Selected (very harsh on the jockey, apols, poetic license for a play on words), Tiger was Roll'ed over by a heretofore unconsidered French assailant, Defi did the Defi thing, and 'mon dieu' Benie was beaten by Honey.

Any horse could come down or have a heart murmur in the heat of combat; Shishkin could get beaten by Energumene; a previously unsighted dark horse could emerge in one of the novice chases (though that feels unlikely).

In short, stuff could - and at some point probably will - happen. But I'd be hard pushed to bet against any of this quintet in the win slot if they trotted round at the start. That's my view, uncontroversial as it is. What about you? Which horse(s) would you hang your hat on? And where are you looking to get a hotpot beaten? Leave a comment and let us know.

Matt

 

 

Haydock Grand National Trial Preview: Achille Has Claims For Form Reversal With Favourite

On Saturday we have Haydock’s Grand National Trial Handicap Chase to look forward, a race in which Neptune Collonges finished runner up in 2012 before landing the big one just six weeks later.

The off time is 2.40pm for this contest and whether it throws up another Grand National winner or not it should be a great race and a real test of stamina.

As usual I’ll be going through this race using a range of tools and data that are available with a Geegeez Gold subscription.

Don’t forget you can get your first 30 days of Geegeez Gold for just £1 right here.

Pace

Pace is one of the most crucial (and overlooked) factors in racing. Using the Pace Analyser we can see any potential pace bias over staying trips at Haydock.

In this kind of field size there is an edge towards horses that race closer to the pace.

The most common racing style for a winner is prominent and it’s interesting to compare the win percentages of 18% and 14.29% for front runners and prominent racers respectively to those provided by mid division (5.06%) and held up (7.75%).

Place percentages follow a similar trajectory which adds to the impression that there is a fairly strong pace advantage here and both front runners and prominent racers have strong IV figures 1.71 and 1.36 respectively.

We might gain further insight from looking at races only run on soft or heavy ground given the current going at Haydock is soft, heavy in places.

It’s a similar story again with prominent racers providing the most wins but with front runners having the best win percentage. Prominent racers seem to enjoy almost exactly the same advantage they do in better conditions but it is notable that front runners seem to perform better in the more testing conditions.

The fact that when you only look at soft or heavy ground races front runners perform even better and hold up runners perform worse suggests that the pace bias might be exaggerated in softer ground.

The above information is best used in conjunction with the pace data for each individual race. Each runner is assigned a ‘pace score’ every time they run based on what early position they raced in and this data is used to create an interactive pace map.

It looks highly likely that The Two Amigos is going to get an easy, uncontested lead in this race with no other real pace options in the race. Achille tends to race fairly prominently and has led in the past but he was held up last time so looks likely to be handy at best.

If this race does end up suiting those up with the pace then Sojourn and Potters Legend could be the most inconvenienced by the pace setup.

Instant Expert

Instant Expert can give us a snapshot of each runner’s suitability to the important race conditions here. First let’s look at the place data.

Plenty of green on offer and very little red suggesting the majority of these are well proven in conditions. It’s worth noting that class data would include non handicap runs too which makes it a bit less relevant in the context of this race.

Sojourn and Notachance clearly go very well in this kind of ground whilst four runners come into this with a 100% place record at the course (Perfect Candidate and Lord Du Mesnil have both placed in all three runs here).

One of the more worrying red flags here is that Potters Legend has failed to place in two runs over this kind of distance. On closer inspection he has run well enough over a furlong shorter though.

Now let’s narrow things down for win purposes.

Another worry for Potters Legend, he’s just one from fourteen in these ground conditions. The Two Amigos and Achilles also have questionable win records on testing ground. Lord Du Mesnil and Perfect Candidate both score well across the board (disregarding race class) and that pair both have won two out of three here so the course clearly holds no fears for them. Based on Instant Expert alone they both seem decent each way bets.

The Runners

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

Notachance

A very exciting prospect. He’s finished 1st or 2nd in five of his six chase starts and he’s won his last two, including the Warwick Classic Handicap Chase over a furlong further last month. He tracked the pace at Warwick last time out and a repeat of those tactics should give him an advantage here.

He’s up 7lbs for that latest effort but he’s completely unexposed at this sort of distance so it’s not unfeasible that he’ll have improved that much since his last run. There is very little in the formbook to suggest he won’t run very well once again in this race ahead of a possible tilt at the Scottish Grand National.

The Two Amigos

A consistent front runner who has hit the frame in all four starts since finishing 4th in this last year. He's 2lbs higher this time around but should get the uncontested lead he didn’t get last year and that should see him improve. Finishing 2nd to Secret Reprieve in the Welsh National last time out was certainly a decent trial for this and suggests he is as good as ever.

He hasn’t won for over two years now though which is a major concern and although he’s entitled to give his running once again, he does look vulnerable for win purposes, especially at the current odds.

His jockey, James Bowen, has been in great form in the past 30 days, generating an IV (Impact Value) of 2.53.

Enqarde

Been in very good form since joining Dr Richard Newland, winning twice, finishing a neck runner up and unseating his rider on his other start. With only one completed chase start on these shores he’s potentially well ahead of his mark considering the style in which he won (and he beat two last time out winners). He also jumped left when winning at Ascot so this course should suit better.

He’s the shortest priced contender who is yet to prove his stamina but that does also mean he potentially has more secrets from the handicapper than much of the rest of the field.

The Profiler is great for telling us the likelihood of a horse staying based on sire stats and although this could be the limit of his stamina, his sire’s offspring do have a good record over this distance with a 44.44% place strike rate. This suggests there is a good chance he stays and if he does he should go very well. He should also race prominently which will suit.

Sojourn

Not seen since finishing 2nd last time out here before Christmas having previously won a hot handicap at Carlisle.

The runner up and 3rd both won next time out and the 4th was runner up on his next start so to beat those runners by 15 lengths is quite impressive.

Trainer Anthony Honeyball has previously stated that the horse is probably best fresh so the recent break should have done him so good. In fact Honeyball has an IV of 3.52 with handicap runners returning from a break of 60+ days so that’s another bonus.

He’s got very few miles on the clock and does have to prove his stamina over an extra couple of furlongs but it should be no issue. He’s tactically versatile and another very strong contender.

Lord Du Mesnil

A possible good each way place according to Instant Expert with some strong stats for the most important criteria. He has course form figures of 112 and that includes two course and distance efforts. He’s only 2lbs above his mark when 2nd in this last year.

He hasn’t been in quite the same form this season, having not run brilliantly in either run. This and/or the Grand National have probably been the aim all season so it wouldn’t be a surprise if he steps forward from that form but he does come with risks attached given those two runs so isn’t quite the each way play he might have looked.

Achille

Runner up behind Notachance on his latest start, which came off the back of a 427 day break. Given he could come on for that run and is 3lbs better off with the winner for a half length defeat he’d have a fair chance of reversing form and looks a possible value play at the odds given his form line with the favourite.

He’s clearly not been easy to train but he’s been consistent on the track when getting there in one piece so his problems shouldn’t be too off putting. Reverting to slightly more aggressive tactics than last time out should suit and he’s very much respected.

Potter Legend

Potters Legend looked like he may be unsuited by the way the race will be run in the pace map and there were also some question marks when looking at Instant Expert, namely the going. He has won three times in his career on soft but he hasn’t won in six runs on heavy so the heavy in places is a concern. He’s a previous course winner but he doesn’t look amazingly handicapped and is yet to fully convince at the more extreme trips so there are enough negatives to go against him.

Ramses De Teillee

Beat reliable yardstick Yala Enki in November but has struggled twice in similar contests to this on his last two runs. He’s a previous course winner in a small field so perhaps the return to this venue will spark a return to form.

It's worth noting that trainer David Pipe is in excellent form at the moment, notably producing an A/E of 2.57 in the past 14 days. It’s possible that helps him return to form too but on the whole he remains a risky proposition.

Perfect Candidate

Perfect Candidate also looked a fair each way shout according to Instant Expert but he’s the complete outsider in the field. He’s gone up 8lbs for winning a course and distance handicap by a procession in which not many handled the conditions. He’s never finished worse than 2nd in three course and distance runs and the only real negative is this is a very exposed 14yo against some well handicapped rivals. If the ground was to deteriorate further he’d look a very interesting each way option but he’s going to need at least a couple of these progressive rivals to fail to give their running to win this.

Verdict

If the going was predominantly heavy on Saturday then Perfect Candidate would be the value each way call.

Notachance, Enqarde and Sojourn are the most interesting trio longer term. Notachance is really solid and looks to have a really good chance, Enqarde has a bit more risk attached but still has plenty of upside (potentially even more than Notachance) and Sojourn still looks well handicapped but was beaten last time out and does still have to prove he stays this extra couple of furlongs.

The value against the favourite though is surely Achille at 9/1. With that last run under his belt and a change to more positive tactics than were used last time he could potentially improve past Notachance, in the short term at least.

Allmankind reigns in Kingmaker contest

Allmankind survived a scare at the penultimate obstacle to remain unbeaten over fences in the Agetur UK Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick.

Dan Skelton’s five-year-old adopted his usual front-running tactics, but Harry Skelton did not seem to be going out of his comfort zone in front.

A feature of his first two victories this season, including at Grade One level last time out, has been his accurate jumping but this time around there were a couple of scruffy leaps.

In testing ground, he was perhaps not quite as exuberant at his fences, but was still able to get away from the obstacles quicker than his rivals.

Cheddleton soon dropped away, but Sky Pirate was still in contention heading to the last fence in the back straight.

Allmankind (4-7 favourite) met that fence spot on and then got away quickly, but he still had to survive a blunder at the second last before victory was sealed.

Sky Pirate stuck to his task, but Allmankind galloped all the way to the line, coming home 17 lengths clear.

Dan Skelton said: “I was happy with the result, but all the way round it was a little concerning. The ground is testing here and he got stuck in the jumps a little.

“You can’t be asking for too many big jumps on this ground and that’s why he couldn’t get into a rhythm as he sometimes does.

“He showed a great attitude to get stuck in, he put his head down for the line. He won quite authoritatively in the end.

“He showed today he can get himself into some unusual positions at the fences and knows how to get out of he them and survive them. That is vital. That is something else he has learned today.

“I’ve no concerns about his durability or suitability, but we’re taking on two monsters (Shishkin and Energumene) in a month’s time (in the Arkle at the Cheltenham Festival).”

Harry Skelton said: “(I’m) delighted, job done. The ground is really hard work. We got stuck in it a bit, but he’s pulled right away going to the line.

“He’s a remarkable horse really. He just doesn’t know when to give in. He’s done brilliantly.

“At the second last, he was probably getting stuck in the ground. When you have frost covers down, that is what it does to it. It’s the toughest ground he’s run on, but he went away well at the line.

“To come off the Flat and achieve what he’s done is brilliant. Delighted for the owners. They will be happy.”

Quinn ‘gutted’ over Pink Sheets’ injury-enforced retirement

Mick Quinn has been left “gutted” after injury forced the retirement of his stable star Pink Sheets.

The seven-year-old hurdler had won her last four races, including a Listed event at Newbury in fine style in November.

Quinn and owner Kenny Bruce were dreaming of the Cheltenham Festival. But a problem – which Quinn believes manifested itself at Newbury – is serious enough to end her racing days.

“I’m gutted. It’s hugely frustrating for everyone, the owner, myself and the staff – we’d waited so long for another stakes horse,” said Quinn.

“It appeared after her last race – a suspensory has split, but it’s looped round to the fetlock. She’s sound now, but there’s a zero percent chance of her taking full training.

“It’s an unusual one, but funnily enough the vet had seen it in a decent Flat mare as well. So it’s not worth waiting a year, because it could go again and there was a chance she wouldn’t make a mare.

“We gave her three weeks after Newbury, then she was cantering for two weeks back in training but went lame again. So it was probably bubbling from the Newbury race.

“What makes it even more frustrating is she’s never had a lame day since we’ve had her. We’ve had to pick our chins up off the ground.

“When you get a nice horse every asks about her. She’s going to be covered by Jack Hobbs anyway, and hopefully her offspring jump as well as she did.”

No hurry to decide on Festival outing for Roseys Hollow

Connections are in no rush to decide whether to send Roseys Hollow to next month’s Cheltenham Festival following her impressive victory at Fairyhouse on Monday.

Bought by leading owner JP McManus after winning a Cork bumper on her racecourse debut last spring, the Jonathan Sweeney-trained seven-year-old was subsequently beaten on her first two starts over hurdles before making it third time lucky at Fairyhouse last month.

Roseys Hollow faced a step up in class for the Grade Three Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle, but proved too strong for hot favourite Royal Kahala, leading to several bookmakers promoting the winner to ante-post favouritism for the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle in the Cotswolds.

Sweeney said: “She seems fine since the race – I’m very happy with her.

“She’s the first mare I’ve trained for JP. I recommended her to Frank (Berry, owner’s racing manager) prior to her winning in Cork as we always liked her.”

Asked whether Cheltenham would be next on the agenda, the trainer added: “No decision has been made and no plans have been made yet.

“I had a runner in the Champion Bumper last year (Mahler Allstar). He was my first runner at the Festival.

“We’ll take it one day at a time with this mare and talk to the lads and put a plan together.”

Altior to bypass Newbury and take direct Festival route

Nicky Henderson has confirmed Altior will sidestep next Sunday’s rescheduled fixture at Newbury and head straight for the Cheltenham Festival, while stablemate Champ is set for a surprise outing in the Betfair Cheltenham Free Bet Pot Builder Game Spirit Chase.

The Seven Barrows handler had intended to let Altior bid for a fourth victory in the Game Spirit ahead of aiming to wrestle back his crown in the Queen Mother Champion Chase next month, while Cheltenham Gold Cup contender Champ was due to make his seasonal reappearance in the Betfair Denman Chase on the same card.

However, with the cold snap causing the entire meeting to be pushed back eight days, Henderson has revised running plans.

In a statement posted on his Twitter feed on Sunday, he said: “First of all I would like to congratulate Newbury, the sponsors, the BHA and ITV for rearranging yesterday’s Super Saturday card.

“They have done a fantastic job under difficult circumstances and we are keen to support the meeting as best as we can, so with that in mind, the intention is still for Buzz, Mister Coffey and now possibly Fred as well to take their chance in the Betfair Hurdle.

“With regards to Altior and Champ, under the current circumstances and having discussed the situation in detail with all connections involved, we have come to the conclusion that Altior will head straight to the Cheltenham Festival without a run beforehand.

“He is in excellent form, but he does tend to take his races quite hard and we have therefore decided to continue his preparation at home and almost certainly an away-day at some stage in the next 10 days.”

Champ will be taking a sizeable drop in trip to an extended two miles in the Game Spirit, but Henderson feels it is the correct call with a tilt at Gold Cup glory in mind.

He added: “We have to decided to change things around with Champ, very much for the same reason and our close proximity to the Festival.

Champ after winning at last year's Cheltenham Festival
Champ after winning at last year’s Cheltenham Festival (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“He will now drop back down to two miles and contest the Game Spirit, instead of the Denman Chase.

“He hasn’t run for a year, so we could be in danger that three miles may be slightly too far for his first run of the season. He is a fresh horse and can be quite free in his races, so it would be harder to curtail enthusiasm and you’re never going to take as much out over two miles as you are over three.

“He could be keen and do too much, so in the interest of the Gold Cup being his ultimate goal, it is preferable to run over a shorter distance, which could stop him having a harder race than necessary and also help eliminate the risk of the bounce factor.

“He was a very useful horse over two and two and a half miles last season and I think that the Game Spirit could suit him well, both in the short term and the long term.”

Nicholls expecting tough task against ‘nearly unbeatable’ Chacun

Paul Nicholls is under no illusions about the task facing defending champion Politologue in next month’s Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase – hailing red-hot favourite Chacun Pour Soi as “nearly unbeatable”.

Politologue provided the Ditcheat handler with a joint-record sixth victory in the two-mile showpiece at the Cheltenham Festival last March, and made a successful start to the current campaign by bagging his second Tingle Creek at Sandown.

However, the grey was beaten by First Flow on his latest outing in Ascot’s Clarence House Chase – and having witnessed the Willie Mullins-trained Chacun Pour Soi trounce his rivals at last weekend’s Dublin Racing Festival, Nicholls admits his charge has plenty on his plate.

Speaking on Racing TV’s Luck On Sunday programme, Nicholls said: “Chacun Pour Soi looks nearly unbeatable on his run at Leopardstown the other day.

“He has got to act at Cheltenham – it’s a slightly different track and that is the only question mark I can see.

“Politologue always gives his all and is the most genuine and tough horse. I think this year will be his sixth Cheltenham Festival.

“But if Chacun Pour Soi does turn up in really top form, he’s going to be hard for us all to beat.

“Politologue does like Cheltenham, which is a big plus, but I think he’s got plenty to do.”

Bravemansgame is one of Paul Nicholls' leading hopes for the Cheltenham Festival
Bravemansgame is one of Paul Nicholls’ leading hopes for the Cheltenham Festival (Alan Crowhurst/PA)

During an extensive interview, Nicholls confirmed his Challow Hurdle winner Bravemansgame firmly on course for the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle at next month’s Festival, while the improving Barbados Buck’s is “in the mix” for the Albert Bartlett.

Of Bravemansgame, he said: “He’s in good form and nice and fresh. He had four runs up to and including the Challow Hurdle at Christmas and we just decided to keep him fresh after that.

“He worked well on Saturday and is very fit. We’ll probably have an away-day somewhere with him and I couldn’t be happier with him.

“Physically, he just keeps on improving.”

Nicholls’ Cheltenham team also includes Cheltenham Gold Cup hope Frodon, of whom he added: “He’s an amazing horse. He’s gone and won a King George VI Chase now on top of a Cotswold Chase and a Ryanair.

“He’s definitely in the mix. Nobody will ever believe Frodon will win a Gold Cup, but he keeps on surprising people.”

The multiple champion trainer confirmed the National Spirit Hurdle at Fontwell followed by a trip to Aintree as “the plan at the moment” for McFabulous, although testing conditions at Fontwell may prompt connections to consider the Stayers’ Hurdle at Cheltenham.

More immediately, Nicholls is looking forward to saddling both Cyrname and Master Tommytucker in next Saturday’s Betfair Ascot Chase.

“Master Tommytucker would be fine getting a lead if Cyrname goes a real gallop. They’re both free-going kind of horses, but Master Tommytucker doesn’t need to lead,” said Nicholls.

“Cyrname doesn’t need to lead now either. They’ll probably help each other.”

Druid’s Altar cut for Cheltenham following Naas triumph

Joseph O’Brien will be hoping lightning can strike for a third time in the case of Druid’s Altar.

The previous two winners of the Naas Rated Novice Hurdle, O’Brien’s Band Of Outlaws and Gordon Elliott’s Aramax, have gone on to win the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival.

Sent off the 13-8 favourite, Druid’s Altar was hard pressed on the run-in by Zoffanien, but Hugh Morgan galvanised him and he ended up going away to win by two and a quarter lengths.

Betfair and Paddy Power cut the winner to 14-1 from 25s for the Boodles next month.

Assistant trainer Brendan Powell said: ““He has a good attitude and stays well. Hugh said he was better there with a bit of company, because he’s made it a few times.

“He was in top-class company on his last few races and it’s nice to get his head in front again. He’s done it nicely in the end and he seems to cope with most types of ground.

“He’s a big horse and will jump a fence some day.”

Owner JP McManus and jockey Mark Walsh enjoyed a treble on the card, instigated by expensive French purchase Gentleman De Mee (2-7 favourite), trained by Willie Mullins, in the second division of the Naas Business Club Members Maiden Hurdle on his Irish debut.

Mullins said: “He had a setback early in the season, so I hadn’t as much done as I would have liked. It was pure natural ability what he did there.

“He jumped well, a bit green looking at the Irish hurdles, even though he’s schooled over them before. Mark thought he was in control at all stages and I’m very happy with the performance.

“He’s in the Supreme and the Ballymore, and to me he’d be looking more like a Ballymore horse. I’ll see what connections want to do, but I think he’ll improve as he goes up in trip.”

Mullins and Walsh also teamed up to win the feature Opera Hat Chase with Elimay, while Walsh then rode Elliott’s Minella Till Dawn (12-1) to victory in the Naas Handicap Chase.

Elliott said: “He’s a bit of a monkey, but he has plenty of ability. Mark knows him well and gave him a good ride today. He’s a bit hot and cold and thankfully it worked out today.

“He missed the fifth-last and got a bit close to the last, but other than that he wasn’t bad. We’ll try to find something similar.”

Elliott also took the concluding bumper with Eyewitness (13-2), ridden by Jamie Codd.

The trainer said: “He’s come forward a lot from his first run. He was very green the last day and we could ride him the way we wanted to ride him today.

“He stays and is a nice horse. He probably doesn’t want real winter ground.

“He could mix it between the Flat and bumpers and will go over hurdles. He’ll do everything.”

Hurricane Cliff (13-8) floored the odds-on Captain Kangaroo in division one of the Naas Business Club Members Maiden Hurdle.

The pair jumped two out together, before the winner just began to assert and ultimately was always doing enough from the last to prevail by two and a half lengths in the hands of Rachael Blackmore.

Winning trainer Henry de Bromhead said: “I was a bit disappointed with him in Leopardstown at Christmas so we said we’d sit with him and wait a bit longer. He ran well at Punchestown and it’s lovely to see him go and do it here.

“He’s learning all the time and is a lovely big scopey horse. He should be good over a fence in time.

“We’ll aim for the festivals here later on in the spring.”

A gamble on the Charles Byrnes-trained Rough Terrain went astray in the Adare Manor Opportunity Handicap Hurdle, with the 2-1 favourite beaten when taking a tired fall at the last.

The race was won by Philip Dempsey’s Fou Diligence (7-1) under Tommy Brett.

“He’d been knocking on the door and you’d be hoping he hadn’t missed his chance. He was consistent last year and then got a knee injury and it took him a while to come back,” said Dempsey.

You Raised Me Up is already eight and had finished third in the Ladbrokes Hurdle at last year’s Dublin Racing Festival.

However, he only won for the first time over hurdles in September and followed up when finishing with a late flourish in the Connolly’s Red Mills Irish EBF Auction Novice Hurdle – a race the same connections won with City Island in 2019 who went on to win the Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle next time out.

“We were waiting for a bit of nicer ground and I didn’t think we were going to get it,” said Brassil after the success of his 9-2 chance.

“Anyway I wanted to run him here to qualify for the final in Punchestown and also a stepping stone to running in the County Hurdle in Cheltenham.

“Sean and Bernadine (Mulryan, owners) like to go to the festival meetings.”

Naas victor Elimay states Cheltenham case

Elimay booked her ticket to the inaugural running of the Mares’ Chase at Cheltenham with victory in the BBA Ireland Limited Opera Hat Mares Chase at Naas as she highlighted a treble for Mark Walsh.

The grey finished a creditable second to stablemate and Ryanair Chase favourite Allaho last time out – and with Willie Mullins seemingly having his strongest ever team heading to the Festival, Elimay made sure she will be on the list of many with a smooth display.

Mullins’ Yukon Lil and Gordon Elliott’s Shattered Love appeared keen to make it a test of stamina, as both have form over further than this two miles – but so does Elimay, and she was able to cruise into contention on the home turn.

The three jumped the second-last in line, but then Elimay was given just an inch of rein by Walsh and she put the race to bed before jumping the last.

Those who backed her at 8-15 had little to worry about as the JP McManus-owned seven-year-old strolled to a five and a half length win.

Coral trimmed Elimay into 3-1 from 4s for the Mares’ Chase, while Betfair go the same price from 7-2.

“That was a nice race to win and shows up Allaho’s form. It’s great to win the Opera Hat in honour of Valerie Cooper’s good mare and hopefully this mare might some day be as good as her,” said Mullins.

“Mark was happy to let the pace materialise up front and the ground is quite boggy down the back. The further the race went, the better she was going and Mark was very pleased how she finished.

“That’s a nice stepping stone towards Cheltenham. I’ll have a word with connections, but I would imagine that will send us towards the Mares’ Chase.”

Walsh also won the second division of the Naas Business Club Members Maiden Hurdle on Gentleman De Mee (2-7 favourite) for Mullins and the Naas Handicap Chase on the Gordon Elliott-trained Minella Till Dawn (12-1), both in the McManus colours.

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