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Placepot Pointers – Wednesday March 29 – an apology

As early risers can witness, I am up in time to work but can hardly put one finger in front of the other I'm afraid. With the flat season and Aintree on the horizon, I'm taking out a 'protection order' for myself and going back to bed. See you tomorrow I hope - be lucky.....

Apologies offered again....be lucky.

Monday Musings: Arrogate, You Heard It Here First…

Thirty weeks is a long time in journalism, but my, does it fly by nowadays, writes Tony Stafford. It was that long ago when I began one of these wanderings with: “Have you heard of Arrogate? No neither had I, not until 5 a.m. yesterday morning, but he might well be the best racehorse in the world.”

The fact that he was a 1-3 shot for last Saturday’s Dubai World Cup suggests that pretty much everyone in the international horseracing firmament is now in agreement on that premise, not just because of the August Travers romp at Saratoga, but also two defeats of the admirable California Chrome since then.

First Arrogate overcame relative inexperience when beating the then five-year-old in the Breeders’ Cup Classic as the pair went 11 lengths clear of the rest at Santa Anita, before confirming his status in the “pay a million and you’re in” Pegasus Invitational at Gulfstream in late January when California Chrome seemed not to fancy a second bash at his new nemesis and trailed home with stud duties in mind.

Three’s-on shots are not meant to have to do much to bring home the bacon, or in this case the best part of £5 million converted to sterling. Maybe interestingly, especially if, like me,  you have an odd perspective on things, his earnings for Saturday were equivalent to 300,000 pork bellies, one of the more enduring of stock market commodities based on the part (13lb) of the pig that produces bacon.

In Arrogate’s case, and again like his Travers win, you need to see it to believe it. At Saratoga, he was an 11-1 shot after three small wins and a debut defeat and was more than double the price of his stable-companion American Freedom, who had been runner-up to Exaggerator in the Haskell at Monmouth Park. Yet he won by more than 13 lengths in the only 10-furlong Travers ever to be run below two minutes.

Here at Meydan, he missed the break and got into a tangle so that after a furlong he was the best part of 20 lengths behind the leaders. Among these, Travers and previously Kentucky Derby third Gun Runner, the second favourite, was looking to build on a flawless winning comeback at Oaklawn Park last month.

Jockey Mike Smith, now 51, could well have panicked and set off after them in a frenzy, but as he revealed afterwards, he had the experience of riding the great mare Zenyatta and got used to coming through late for unlikely victories.

So he allowed Arrogate to make stealthy progress, but they were still a fair way back turning in. By this time Gun Runner was in front, and the fact that he finished five lengths clear of another decent American colt in second cements Arrogate’s class. The champ got level a furlong out and drove clear in a few strides with remarkably little energy needed on his rider’s part.

In that August 29 story, I anticipated that because Arrogate is almost free of Northern Dancer blood, his mares will make ideal partners to Frankel, like the Bob Baffert colt, owned by Prince Khalid Abdullah. In the week leading up to the race, Baffert called his four-year-old, “the dirt Frankel” and that looks about right. Already rated the best in the world on official figures, he showed here he has the wonderful attribute of being able to overcome adversity in his races.

I might guess correctly now and then about the relative abilities of horses that win by 13 lengths in record time, but I’m not too clever at holding onto my own possessions. During Cheltenham, my phone disappeared into thin air between car and hotel room, but an even more mysterious occurrence ruined an otherwise serene weekend in the Stafford household.

A quintet of pre-2005 suits were reassessed as wardrobe space was deemed inadequate by the mistress of such matters. The trousers were found to be routinely too small, so the garments, apart from three of the jackets which by some peculiarity sort of fitted, were jettisoned.

As you will guess, I’m no expert, even though my late father was a tailor, but it seems for me to have got into said jackets, it required over-wide shoulders for my frame, to compensate for the mid-section. This area, too substantial for the trousers, owes more than a little to pork belly consumption over the years.

Not to worry, I still had the light grey costume which graced all four days of Cheltenham and the nearly black one, the newest and smartest of the lot. But hang on, where was it? Not in the wardrobe and after some initial telephone communication with the two dry cleaners I occasionally use, not there either.

Mrs Stafford sort of forgot – don’t think so, Ed! – that inexplicable loss of the phone she described as expensive when purchased in Russia, but as she also bought that suit, the bonhomie is wearing thin. How can you lose a suit? I’m the wrong man to ask.

Presumably, among the thirty or more one-time colleagues at last week’s Raceform reunion in a pub in Battersea around the corner from the old office in York Road, there would be some old gibbers prone to such accidents. But considering most were a few years either side of me in vintage, they are all wearing particularly well.

We had some celebrity guests like Jilly Cooper, Bob Champion and Derek Thompson on hand. The longer you know Tommo, he of the third-person alter-ego, the more you have to admire his qualities. Race reading, programme presenting and even the sometimes cringe-making public contacts on a meeting-long microphone-armed sweep of a racecourse are all done with total honesty. You don’t know what you had until it’s gone, as they say. The reunion’s organiser, Will Lefebve, who started at the PA a week before I did back in the late 1960’s, could have proved another Tommo had he got onto the telly instead of running a hotel in York in his prime years.

It was great that Prince Pippy could get there and contrary to my expectations, the Racehorse’s former Paris-based correspondent, who reported to me one spring morning 41 years ago that Lester Piggott would ride Empery in the Derby, stayed for the duration. Lester had ridden the Nelson Bunker Hunt, Maurice Zilber colt into third in the Prix Lupin, then the principal French Derby trial, the previous day behind stablemate Youth, on whom Yves Saint-Martin would resume his winning association in the French Derby.

I think we got 33-1 that Monday morning, and watched a few weeks later his becoming one of the easiest Derby winners of that era, even though in historical terms he was an ordinary victor of the Classic. If that had been the only benefit of my working a seven-day week, with double shifts on Monday and Tuesday as editor of the Racehorse and my main job at the Daily Telegraph, it would still have been acceptable, but last Wednesday proved otherwise.

There was of course the odd absentee, notably Howard Wright, my old Telegraph Deputy, signed up because of his immaculately-researched and framed weekly Racehorse articles. He was in Dubai, but at least for once he made the Bedfordshire Racing Club Cheltenham preview the previous week.

It might be a little early to put Arrogate-like possibilities on Aidan O’Brien’s opening day Naas mile maiden winner Orderofthegarter, but the Barronstown-bred colt drew 11 and then eight lengths clear of a 20-horse line-up which also contained two other apparently well-fancied Ballydoyle horses.

Orderofthegarter was building on two second places last year behind smart stable-companions, and the way in which he strode clear under Ana O’Brien, and in faster time than both the Group 3 fillies’ race and the 17-runner Irish Lincolnshire suggests a big one will come his way. By the way, he’s by Galileo. So’s Frankel!

- Tony Stafford

Stat of the Day, 27th March 2017

Saturday's Result :

3.25 Bangor : Cresswell Breeze @ 7/2 BOG 2nd at 9/4 Tracked leaders, led 6th, headed approaching last, soon rallied, no extra closing stages

Monday's pick goes in the...

2.10 Market Rasen...

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Norse Light3/1 BOG

Why?

Firstly an apology (thanks BT / SKY) for the tardiness of the write-up. Tech issues here in East Lancashire prevented me getting back online last night!

So, I'll keep it brief (but the research done was as usual!)...

A 6 yr old gelding racing over 2m5f on Good to Soft ground, trained by David Dennis.

David's hcp hurdlers at odds of 13.2 and shorter are 21/101 (20.8% SR) for 10.95pts (+10.84% ROI) since the start of 2014, including...

  • males : 21/98 (21.4%) for 13.95pts (+14.2%)
  • over 2m4f to 3m1f : 12/49 (24.5%) for 12.86pts (+26.2%)
  • on Gd to Soft : 7/22 (31.8%) for 15.66pts (+71.2%)
  • at Class 5 : 6/22 (27.3%) for 7.85pts (+35.7%)
  • and ridden by Sam Twiston-Davies : 3/7 (42.9%) for 12.09pts (+172.8%)

Furthermore, Norse Light is by Norse Dancer, whose 6/7 yr old offspring are 23/99 (23.2% SR) for 64.5pts (+65.2% ROI) since the start of 2015, from which...

  • Class 5 runners are 8/28 (28.6%) for 8.2pts (+29.2%)
  • over 2m 4.5 f to 2m 7.5f : 9/27 (33.3%) for 18.5pts (+68.5%)
  • and Class 5 runners over 2m 4.5 f to 2m 7.5f are 2/4 (50%) for 11.06pts (+276.5%)

...giving us...a 1pt win bet on Norse Light 3/1 BOG which was available in at least half a dozen places at 7.00pm on Sunday. To see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 2.10 Market Rasen

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

P.S. all P/L returns quoted in the stats are to Betfair SP, as (i) I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you and (ii) although inferior to the BOG odds we secure, BFSP is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns quoted.

SotD Update, 20th to 25th March 2017

OK, I suppose it was almost inevitable that I was due a bad week, my first for some considerable time, as we went 0 from 6.

Bad enough for some to cancel their Gold membership and bad enough to attract some unpleasant comments, but in my defence, March is still in profit at a strike rate on par with my historical performance and at an ROI far better than we tend to average.

2017's figures still look excellent and it's worth noting that even in a poor week, I still had a 50% place strike rate, the MO hasn't changed at all, I just fell a little short.

Selections & Results : 20/03/17 to 25/03/17

20/03 : Athassel (adv 4/1 BOG) : 3rd at 3/1
21/03 : State Residence (adv 4/1 BOG) : 10th at 7/2
22/03 : Spirit of the Vale (adv 7/2 BOG) : 2nd at 9/4
23/03 : Rosie Crowe (adv 5/1 BOG) : 5th at 5/1
24/03 : Scala Regia (adv 11/4 BOG) : 4th at 4/1
25/03 : Cresswell Breeze (adv 7/2 BOG) : 2nd at 9/4

20/03/17 to 25/03/17 :
0 winning bets from 6 = 0.00% SR
P/L: -6.00pts

March 2017:
6 winners from 22 = 27.27% SR
P/L: +8.88pts
ROI = +40.36%

2017 so far:
25 winners from 70 = 35.71% SR
P/L: +62.63pts
ROI = +89.47%

Overall:
465 winners from 1661 = 28.00% S.R
P/L: +435.36pts
ROI: +26.21%

P.S. The full month by month SotD story can be found right here.
P.P.S The review of SotD's 2012 performance is here.

Whilst the details for 2013 are now online here.
And the figures for 2014 are now available here.

Our review of 2015 can be found right here
Whilst 2016's details are right here

Stat of the Day is just one component of the excellent package available to all Geegeez Gold Members, so why not take your £1, 30-day trial right now?

Click here for more details.

Reviewing the Festival: 5 Things

2017 was a weird Festival, writes Tony Keenan. It began with Gordon Elliott winning novice races with Labaik and Tiger Roll, the former one refusal away from a lengthy ban on his previous start, the latter landing a National Hunt Chase run over nearly twice as far as his previous major win in the Triumph Hurdle. It ended with Paul Nicholls seemingly ecstatic at breaking his duck for the week in the Foxhunter with Pacha Du Polder, a far cry from his previous multiple Grade 1-winning Festivals. In between we had Willie Mullins draw a blank on Tuesday and Wednesday, his yard apparently out of form and his gallops all wrong, only for him to storm back with six winners across the final two days.

There are always things to be learned from these major meetings and while it’s important not to overreact to the evidence of just four days, there were certainly a few takeaways.

 

  1. Relative Sanity in the Betting Markets

By the standards of recent Cheltenhams, the offer culture among the big bookmakers wasn’t as prevalent; there was nothing close to the each-way five places offered by William Hill back in the 2013 Supreme. There were extra places on offer in obvious races like the Coral Cup, Pertemps Final and County Hurdle but not so much in the shoulder races; judging on the Pricewise tables from the Racing Post, there were just two firms that offered extended place terms in the Foxhunter as opposed to six in 2016.

The extra place concession is fine as a once-off – Coral going six places in the Coral Cup, say – but in the main it’s a losing proposition for bookmakers, where they are putting the maths in favour of the punter and conceding that they are willing to lose money in the race, all things being equal.

There were also reduced terms in the graded races from a long way out: where once these races were all a quarter the odds a place, now the universal terms seem to be a fifth. That’s clearly a negative for punters looking to bet each-way and find a solid horse to hit the frame and while there were a number of races during the week that set up well as ‘bad each-way’ events like the Arkle, Champion Chase and JLT, they would have been all the more appealing if it were a quarter the odds a place. Furthermore, there didn’t seem to be the wild push to be a standout top price everything on the odds comparison sites that there had been previously. The likes of Native River and Cue Card may have drifted on the morning of the Gold Cup to their biggest price in a few weeks, but that was more due to support for Djakadam than their weakness, and nor did price pushes on the Supreme favourites Ballyandy and Melon come to pass.

It’s difficult to say what the reasons for this might be. Last year’s results when one favourite after another went in clearly played their part; the firms didn’t get away with overly-generous offers then and may have learned from it. On the whole, this is good for racing as it is hardly ideal that the sport’s banner meeting be used as a loss leader for other betting products; the firms would be unlikely to do the same for a major football tournament. Hopefully such a sensible approach will continue next year.

 

  1. Competitive Irish Scene leads to Green-wash?

Michael O’Leary talked a whole lot of rubbish in the run-up to Cheltenham and it continued last week with his comments about the Irish/English rivalry and his dismissal of Martin Pipe winner Champagne Classic as ‘probably the worst horse I have.’ It seems he is just as successful at winding racing people up as he is with government ministers! Those at the top of Irish racing might want to drop him a little thank you card for his contribution to the record week for Irish trainers at the meeting however as his decision to move his horses from Willie Mullins (along with some rotten injury luck for that trainer) could well have played a part in Irish trainers doing so well.

It’s been the most competitive Irish national hunt season since the Mullins hegemony began but while the betting beforehand suggested Ireland would struggle at the meeting – Ireland were priced up at a general 7/2 for the BetBright Cup having been more like 7/4 last year – the opposite proved to be case. Gordon Elliott basically continued to do what he’s been doing at home all season while both Henry De Bromhead and Noel Meade backed up excellent home campaigns with Festival winners. Jessica Harrington had been quietly having a good run in Ireland all season but there was nothing quiet about her Festival where she had three winners. There was certainly a sense of what might have been with Willie Mullins however; to manage six winners off the back of the season he’s had was a deeply impressive effort.

 

  1. Slipping Standards in Championship Races, Handicaps more Competitive than ever

The rash of injuries among the top jumpers lowered the standard of the championship races and while these races were a spectacle – the Festival always is – it is doubtful that Buveur D’Air, Special Tiara, Nichols Canyon and Sizing John will echo down the halls of history in the same manner of Istabraq, Big Buck’s or Best Mate. I’m biased but Sizing John might prove about the best of those as he’s just a different horse this season, his sole defeat coming to Douvan when conceding fitness to that one on his first run of 2016/17, and I wonder if he might even give a healthy version of that horse something to think about over a strongly-run twenty furlongs now.

The handicaps were a different story entirely, proving ultra-competitive and over-subscribed in a season where races like the Betfair Hurdle and Imperial Cup struggled to attract decent fields. Unsurprisingly, they took plenty of winning with horses like Un Temps Pour Tout (Racing Post Rating of 164 in winning), Supasundae (RPR 155), Presenting Percy (RPR 155) and Arctic Fire (RPR 160) all looking like they could make an impact at Grade 1 level sooner rather than later.

 

  1. Riding their Luck

I wrote about luck, good and bad, in this space prior to the meeting and it’s worth briefly revisiting those figures for trainers over this year’s meeting.

 

Trainer Winners Seconds Places (2nd, 3rd and 4th) Places to Winners Ratio Sub-2.0 Trades
G. Elliott 6 3 7 1.16 0
W. Mullins 6 2 7 1.15 4
N. Henderson 3 6 13 4.33 2
J. Harrington 3 0 0 0.00 0
H. De Bromhead 1 2 4 4.00 0
P. Hobbs 1 1 2 2.00 1
N. Meade 1 0 2 2.00 0
J. O’Neill 0 2 2 0.00 0
H. Fry 0 1 3 0.00 2
A. King 0 0 4 0.00 0

 

Jessica Harrington looks to have benefitted from the perfect storm of things falling right though it would be hard to say that any of Supasundae, Sizing John and Rock The World were anything other than deserving winners and she did have Champion Bumper fancy Someday ruled out on the morning of the race. Her close friend Nicky Henderson was the unlucky one in terms of places to winners ratio, allowing that one of his seconds (Whisper) came in a race he won anyway. The in-running trades point to Harry Fry being a bit unlucky too.

 

  1. Excuse Obvious ‘Excuse Horses’

Plenty of us will have backed a horse that will have run terribly last week [I didn’t back many who didn’t run terribly – Ed.] and in the main Cheltenham is one of those unique tracks where you can probably forgive a bad run. There were a number of horses that stood out as obvious ‘excuse horses’ with bona fide reasons for not being able to run to form and if you liked them going into the meeting, it could be worth sticking with them for the rest of the spring.

That list includes but is not limited to: Ballyandy (troubled trip), Bacardys (badly hampered), Bon Papa (lost his action), Automated (found to be lame), Mister Miyagi (troubled trip), Douvan (injured) Linger (lame), Flying Angel (badly hampered), Potters Legend (jumped like his feet were tied together), Ex Patriot (got loose beforehand), and Constantine Bay (run stopped at a crucial time).

I’m not saying I like all these horses to win in the near-term – in fact I don’t – but they all had very legitimate reasons for not running to their best. I won’t do all the hard work for you however so get reviewing those replays and start trawling through the BHA post-race reports, painful though they may be!

- Tony Keenan

Eight Cheltenham Festival Takeaways: Notebook Horses

Notebook Horses From Cheltenham

As the Cheltenham Festival gradually begins to fade from the memory, racing writer and broadcaster Rory Delargy (@helynsar on twitter) offers an octet to keep in mind for the coming month, and early part of next season. Trackers and/or notepads at the ready...

Tuesday:

The Young Master (6th - Ultima Handicap Chase):
The early-season vibes weren't terribly positive about the prolific son of Echo of Light, and he was relatively weak in the market when falling in the Becher Chase on his belated return (beaten at the time). He predictably made no impact in the Cleeve Hurdle on his next start, but looked a picture in the Cheltenham paddock, and shaped as if back in good order in finishing sixth behind Un Temps Pour Tout. He raced in the mid-division along the inside, jumping accurately on the whole, and while he struggled a little with the pace, was able to dispute third at the top of the hill before being passed by half a dozen rivals on the downhill run to the third last fence. He looked sure to drop away from that point, but rallied to re-pass a few from the final turn, and he now looks like he needs a stamina test to be fully effective. It's easy to conclude that he doesn't handle the Grand National fences, but it's a lot more likely that he's been trained to peak again in the spring, and either the National or the Bet365 Gold Cup would be viable targets. As far as the latter is concerned, it should be noted that the handicapper has dropped him 2lb to a mark of 148, the same as when winning last April.

Powersbomb (4th - Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase)
Brian McMahon's chaser has caught the eye on a couple of occasions this year, rallying in some style after propping badly at the second-last fence at Leopardstown on his penultimate outing, and again looking a bit better than the bare result last week. In contrast to Leopardstown, he was held up by Jamie Codd (deputising for regular rider Mikey Fogarty), and made mistakes at the second and fourth fences. That made his chance look remote, and he was again untidy when making ground at the third last. Shaken up thereafter, he snapped back onto the bridle, and made sharp progress to get close at the turn, but had to race wide as a result, and while he got to the front between the last two, he was looking vulnerable when getting into  the bottom of the last. That he kept on for fourth was commendable as he looked to find the trip stretching him, but I spoke to Jamie straight afterwards, and he was unhappy with his ride and admitted that he'd hit the front too soon. In saying that, he is clearly effective at shorter, and would be of interest in the Red Rum at Aintree, which is usually run at a frenetic pace. He's been raised 4lb to 134 in Ireland, incidentally, but ran off 138 at Cheltenham, and there ought to be a race for him closer to home if that's what McMahon, who trains near Ennis in Co. Clare, would prefer.

Wednesday:

Scoir Mear (5th - Coral Cup)
Scoir Mear was my only ante-post bet at the Festival, so it was galling to see him finish fifth when most firms paid five places on the day (yet another reason to throw into the pot marked "why ante-post betting is dead"). But that doesn't begin to tell the story, as Tom Mullins' grey might easily have won with better luck/judgement in running. Jumped off at the rear, he was never more than a length ahead of the back marker for the first half of the contest, and despite travelling sweetly, still sat sixteenth as the field jumped the penultimate flight. In a strongly run affair this can potentially be an advantage (who can forget What's Up Boys and Big Strand coming from the clouds to win this race?), but the pace of the Coral Cup steadied down before halfway and the leaders weren't falling in a hole by any means. Switched to the inside on the final turn by David Mullins, he found a pocket of weakening horses, and had to take back and around to get a clear passage. Jumping the last in a dispute of thirteenth place, he again had to take evasive action to avoid Kalondra on landing, before flashing home for fifth. The negatives are that he wasn't always fluent at his hurdles, and did show a tendency to lug to his left, which explains the second piece of interference he met, but the positives far outweigh those niggles, and while Supasundae deserves full credit for winning, Scoir Mear looked second best on the day, and his form all season keeps getting franked. The Irish handicapper has raised him by a solitary pound for his effort at Cheltenham, and there must be a valuable prize in him before the season is through. On an incidental note, I was told on the eve of the race that the 5-y-o had not travelled over well, and didn't eat up on arrival. That wasn't the line given on the day by his trainer, but it came from a reliable source, and would make the performance even more meritorious if true.

Diable de Sivola (5th – Fred Winter Juvenile Hurdle)
The Fred Winter shaped like a very strong race for all the winner, Flying Tiger, was quite a big price. Runner-up Divin Bere is clearly a big talent, and Nietzche brought a solid profile and very useful flat form to the table. That trio should pay their way, but the one to take out of the race is the winner's stablemate, Diable de Sivola, who finished best of all in fifth, having been no closer than thirteenth jumping the last. It's dangerous to constantly mark up horses who finish fast from a poor position, and in doing so, it's important to establish why they found themselves in that position in the first place. In the case of Lizzie Kelly's mount, it's not entirely clear how, but he suddenly lost a good position on the run from the second and third flights, and was massively compromised by that scenario. Television pictures of that part of the race are very poor (wide angle shot with the low sun making detail hard to pick out), but it's likely that he got squeezed out and lost momentum, or simply failed to handle the downhill run at that point. Either way, he turned into the back straight in a good position, and somehow lost that spot completely by the time the field reached the fourth. Getting back into contention in a congested field was always going to be difficult, and Kelly had to wait until the final turn before cutting back to the inside and passing rivals. It's to his credit that he almost made the frame from an impossible position. He was reported by Nick Williams to have needed his prep run at Doncaster, and an earlier second to Defi du Seuil here looks better in retrospect, all of which suggests his unchanged mark of 132 is there to be exploited.

Thursday:

Top Notch (2nd - JLT Novices' Chase)
Pretty much all the talk after the JLT was about the brilliance of Yorkhill, or indeed the brilliance of his jockey, who somehow managed to make this headcase look a straightforward conveyance in winning, and he's as short as 8/1 for next year's Gold Cup, and the same price for the Ryanair. On the other hand, Top Notch goes through an impressive first season over fences with barely a ripple; already a Grade 1 winner over the bigger obstacles, he could arguably be called an unlucky loser here, as he lost considerably more ground with a rare mistake at the second last than he was beaten, and his jumping was an absolute joy to behold in the main, as it was when he won at Sandown. That mistake rather took the gloss off the finish, as it threatened to be a classic with both he and the winner travelling strongly at the time. The game is, as we're often reminded, all about jumping, so marking horses up for late errors is a dangerous precedent, but this looked a case of the rider needing to ask for a big jump at a crucial point and opting to sit still instead. Top Notch isn't one to stand outside the wings, but he has more scope than he's given credit for, as he showed when gaining ground with a brave leap at the final fence, and in my opinion he would have made Yorkhill pull out all the stops if he'd been asked to produce a similar leap at the previous fence. As such, his price of 16/1 for next year's Ryanair seems rather insulting, as that race looks by far his most likely long-term target. In the short term, the Manifesto at Aintree should be right up his street, with or without Yorkhill.

Ballymalin (7th - Pertemps Final)
One of the features of the week was how steadily run many of the handicaps were, although the Pertemps Final was an exception, and a couple of those who raced towards the front throughout can be marked up for their efforts. The bold-jumping Sutton Place looks a horse for the future, with fences beckoning next season, but if I had to pick just one to choose for the immediate future it would be Ballymalin, whose stable sent seventeen runners to the meeting but came home empty-handed. I'm not one to read too much into such figures given how hard it is to win any race at Cheltenham, and it was tactics rather than the form of his yard which saw Ballymalin out of the frame. All three of the Twiston-Davies runners took turns in the lead and the son of Presenting fared much better in the end than either Splash of Ginge or Arctic Gold, and five of those who beat him came from significantly further back in the field. This was just his second start in handicaps having finished third behind race favourite Impulsive Star in his qualifier at Exeter, and while he's clearly got the ability to run well off his mark (unchanged since Exeter), I envisage him being stepped up to Grade 1 company at Aintree, where he'd not look out of place in the Sefton Novices' Hurdle, a race won by the same connections with Ballyoptic last year. Nigel Twiston-Davies also trained King's Road (1999) and Pettifour (2008) to land the Sefton, both of whom arrived under the radar to some degree.

Friday:

Renneti (8th - County Hurdle)
Some horses find their way into your notebook with a mental asterisk next to their names to remind you not to be too easily fooled, and the temptation is to categorize the quirky Renneti like that.  He certainly hasn't looked in love with the game in the past year, but when on song he is very close to top class, and he had nothing go his way in a bizarre renewal of the County Hurdle, with Wakea allowed to set up a massive lead despite not exactly scorching off. As a result, the race only took shape on the long run to the final flight, and the form cannot be taken literally. Renneti would have preferred a bit more ease in the ground, for all the track was watered liberally overnight, and he stays beyond two miles, needing the emphasis on stamina at this sort of trip. Like Labaik on Tuesday, he set off quite sweetly at the back of the field, but his position soon became an issue, and his chance of winning evaporated when the field allowed the leader to do his own thing.  That said, he made up considerable ground from the penultimate obstacle, and finished about as fast as it was possible given the majority in front of him were also trying to quicken from the same juncture. He's never one about which to take short odds, and ideally needs a strongly-run race on soft ground to bring out his best, so opportunities to back him may be limited by conditions, but he's more than capable of making a mockery of his current mark, and could even get into the mix in something like the Aintree Hurdle.

Constantine Bay (4th - Albert Bartlett)
The Albert Bartlett was another race run at a much more pedestrian tempo than is the norm, and that certainly suited the winner, who has the turn of foot of a high-class flat performer, something he is likely to prove again in the summer. Those who got close to Penhill therefore deserve great credit, and while Constantine Bay was beaten over fifteen lengths in fourth, he was the biggest eyecatcher of the beaten horses having been stopped in his tracks when The World's End fell in front of him at the second last (Penhill also hampered in the incident, while the faller is also interesting for the future having moved up to dispute the lead at the point he capsized). He was knocked back to a poor ninth at that point, and did really well to stay on for fourth from that point. He is clearly a game and thorough stayer as he showed when winning at Doncaster on his previous outing, and it should be pointed out that he was at full stretch coming down the hill, so clearly wouldn't want a tactical race at this trip. But there are lots of options both this spring and into next season for one who has shown his blend of gameness and stamina, and he's another who appeals as a decent staying chaser in the making.

A Calamitous Cheltenham?

Sadly, that seemed to be the case for many of us punters relying on our own wits/judgement last week, but we weren't alone! The so-called professionals also toiled and this is reflected in the the Geegeez System Trials Roundup to 21/03/2017, as I'll now explain.

The following figures/results are from over a fortnight, as we didn't bring a review to you last week during the Festival (we thought you had enough other stuff to read!), so here goes...

I added three new reviews this week, so of the 10 products currently on our "leaderboard", backing every selection since my last roundup would have seen you lose the princely sum of £1027.86, WOW! And this is because only two (yes, two) made any profit and they only made £55 between them!

For the record, National Hunt Supremo came out on top with a profit of £33.75 after hitting 4 winners from 11, avoiding the Festival completely, whilst our other profitable service was JTs Racing who closed out the final 9 days of their review (which is right here) by adding £21.25 via 7 winners from 20 (0/3 at Chelts) to end their trial well in profit.

The other 8 trialists lost a grand total of £1082.86 with deficits ranging from a manageable £9.62 through to an eye-watering £338.04...

...as seen in the updated "league table"...

System Profit Service Days Trial days Weekly P/L Full Review
 JTs Racing £373.46 (at day 60) 60 £21.25 Click Here
Max Racing Partnership £232.79 (at day 60) 60 -£14.93 Click Here
National Hunt Supremo £161.79 (at day 42) 42 £33.75 Click Here
DG Tips £70.48 (at day 47) 47 -£293.98 Click Here
Bookies Enemy #1 -£9.62 (at day 6) 6 -£9.62 Click Here
Target Tips -£20.78 (at day 23) 23 -£177.99 Click Here
Big Race Bookie Busters -£64.12 (at day 7) 7 -£64.12 Click Here
The Snout -£73.71 (at day 48) 48 -£145.18 Click Here
PJ's Racing Bets -£226.09 (at day 43) 43 -£39.00 Click Here
High Rollers Betting -£338.04 (at day 7) 7 -£338.04 Click Here

As usual, clicking the name of a service takes you straight to their home page, whilst there are links to every review above.

The figures above are pretty self explanatory, but I want to briefly touch on a couple of reviews that ended since I last compiled a roundup.

JTs Racing had 156 selections spread across their 60 betting days, so it's not too busy to handle and with 57 winners providing a strike rate of 36.53% and a profit of £373.46 at an ROI of 23.94% from £10 level stakes, it really is a no brainer to recommend this one to you.

You can get involved with JTs Racing by clicking their name anywhere on this page or VIA THIS LINK. Subscriptions are set at £35.94 per month or £71.88 per quarter (3 for 2!) and using our link gets you your first month for just a fiver! (Those fees include VAT).

The other one I want to mention is Max Racing Partnership, who despite a small sub-£15 loss this time around ended their trial with a healthy profit of  66.5pts at an ROI of some 24.2%. This was achieved thanks to hitting 30 winners from 105 selections (28.57% SR) and not only are they one of the more selective services (less than 2 selections per day on average), they actually made a profit at Cheltenham with 3 winners from 8.

Max Racing Partnership is currently priced at £29.95 per month, but there are substantial discounts for those signing up for longer periods, as a quarterly subscription is offered at £69.95, saving you over 22% over the quarter. Best value of all is the Lifetime membership available for little more than 8 months' subs at £249.95

Geegeez readers can take 30 days for just £1 via this link and it's worth noting that as all MRP payments are handled via Clickbank, a full 60-day, no-quibble, money-back guarantee is offered.

And that's your roundup done for another week!

Thanks for reading,

Chris

The REAL Reason The Irish Dominated Cheltenham

Last week, British-trained horses received a 'doing' the like of which had never before been witnessed. The Irish minority rode, almost literally, roughshod over the vast numerical superiority of the domestic defences in a manner that suggested this was more than a mere perfect storm.

One leading Irish trainer has mooted that the root cause lies in British racing's infatuation with high value handicaps, but that feels wide of the mark. Others argue that the Irish are better at 'plotting one up': even if that's true, the extent to which they outmanoeuvred both the BHA handicapping team and the British training ranks also feels somewhat of a convenient pigeonhole.

No, as always, the answer is likely to be far more nuanced than 'this' or 'that'; more likely a combination of elements which have been brewing for some time. To understand what went wrong this time, a spot of historical context is required. Let's start with the most basic of barometers, the UK vs Ireland tally for the last five Cheltenham Festivals.

 

Trainer location of winning horses, Cheltenham Festival 2012-17

Year Races UK Ire
2012 27 22 5
2013 27 13 14
2014 27 15 12
2015 27 14 13
2016 28 13 15
2017 28 9 19

 

This chart tells the story rather more succinctly:

 

Ireland's dominance is no overnight shock

Ireland's dominance is no overnight shock

 

In terms of pure winners, Ireland has been improving its tally significantly since 2013, and actually only enhanced their win score by four this term. That, of course, equates to an eight race swing and the smallest number of prizes for the home team ever.

But win samples are typically small, however, and this one is restricted to just 28 (27 prior to the introduction of the mares' novices' hurdle last year) races. So what of the place data?

 

Trainer location of placed horses, Cheltenham Festival 2012-17

Year Places UK Ire
2012 91 58 33
2013 90 53 35
2014 92 56 36
2015 92 48 44
2016 93 48 45
2017 94 53 41

 

Here's the chart for the place data:

 

The place data is a little more equivocal

The place data is a little more equivocal

 

Notice how there is convergence in the place data but not the overlap of the win graph? This is significant because it suggests that the emerald dominance of 2017, while hardly a surprise, has been magnified somewhat by the microcosm of the winners dataset.

[Incidentally, I prefer places to percentage of runners beaten because, aside from the challenges of quantifying non-completions, many horses are eased off significantly when their chance has gone, thus further muddying what is already at best translucent water]

Before moving on, let us also consider the number of placed horses as a percentage of the number of runners from UK and Ireland. This obviously requires us to know the number of runners from each 'country' taking part, which gets interesting. Check this out:

 

Placed horses as a percentage of runners (right hand columns)

Year Runners UK Ire Places UK Ire UK% Ire%
2012 483 356 126 91 58 33 16.29% 26.19%
2013 464 355 106 90 53 35 14.93% 33.02%
2014 487 363 121 92 56 36 15.43% 29.75%
2015 468 321 146 92 48 44 14.95% 30.14%
2016 492 346 143 93 48 45 13.87% 31.47%
2017 488 325 160 94 53 41 16.31% 25.63%

*there have been a few non-UK/Irish runners as well, hence the small disparity between total runners and the UK/Ire aggregate

 

In case you missed it, let me help you out:

  1. The home team had a higher percentage of their horses placed last week than in any other Festival in the sample.
  2. Ireland registered its lowest percentage of placed horses to runners in the six year sample period last week.

 

Why? Simple. Ireland had their biggest raiding party since 2012 (at least), and Britain had very close to its smallest defensive battalion, 2017's 325 only surpassed by 2015's 321 (spread across one fewer race).

The graph of places as a percentage of runners looks like this:

 

Cheltenham Festival places as a percentage of runners: UK vs Ireland

Cheltenham Festival places as a percentage of runners: UK vs Ireland

 

In terms of the numerical strength of the Irish team, between 2012 and 2014 their runners amounted to circa 25%, against a British squad of 75%. From 2015 to 2017, that quarter to three-quarters was more like a third to two-thirds. Last week, Irish runners accounted for 32.8% of the entries, their highest figure as a percentage of runners in the sample, and fully ten per cent more in absolute terms than any other year (160 versus their next largest team of 146, in 2015).

So it may actually be the quantity as much as the quality of the Irish runners that is responsible for their huge margin of victory in everyone's favourite pointless contest, the Betbright Cup.

Why?

We now join the ranks of the hand-wringers to ask why the Irish are winning more Cheltenham Festival races. As noted above, the question doesn't relate solely to the most recent renewal, but to each one since 2013. What has changed during that time to bring about such an upturn in Irish fortunes? Let's consider three possible contributory factors:

- Prize money

- Handicap ratings

- Purchase price / source of acquisition

Prize Money

Willie Mullins posited over the weekend that perhaps owners want to have horses trained in Ireland due to the greater prize money, and because of the lesser programme book reliance on higher value handicaps. A quick review of last week's winners lends some credence to Willie's mullings: of the 19 Irish-trained winners, eight of them by my reckoning - Special Tiara, Supasundae, Sizing John, Yorkhill, Nichols Canyon, Let's Dance, Penhill and Rock The World - are owned by 'Brits'.

But with the exceptions of exiled Americans, Susannah Ricci and Mrs Rowley-Williams (now moved back to US), owner of Special Tiara, the others all have horses trained in Britain as well. True, the Wylies seem to be phasing out their Paul Nicholls team, but this looks more in the Gigginstown vein of performance-based decision-making rather than as a result of prize money, though a case can certainly be made for the latter...

The below table shows the five year prize money accrued by four of the top owners to have split their teams across UK and Ireland (figures derived from ownership data at RacingPost.com).

 

Owner Ire Prize Ire Runs Ire £/Run UK Prize UK Runs UK £/Run Differential
Ricci £4,262,102 545 £7,820 £2,462,702 116 £21,230 2.71
Potts £1,644,110 456 £3,606 £769,725 50 £15,395 4.27
Wylie £1,910,689 174 £10,981 £1,701,885 209 £8,143 0.74
McManus £8,960,364 4238 £2,114 £7,994,949 2669 £2,995 1.42

 

Although there is unquestionably some 'cause and effect' as a result of these owners having won at Cheltenham, that's precisely why they're included in the table. The 'Differential' column shows that, while the Wylies won only 74% as much from their UK endeavours compared with their Irish portfolios, Teams Ricci and Potts did much, much better with their British teams.

But probably the best barometer of this line of argument is JP McManus. Ol' Green n'Gold supports racing to a huge degree on both sides of the pond, and it can clearly be seen on which side his bread is best buttered. McManus' UK contingent net him 42% more per run than his Irish legion.

The fact is that Willie Mullins has performed incredibly well - peerlessly, in fact - at the Cheltenham Festival for a number of years. That success brings 'overseas investment', regardless of whether there are valuable Graded pots or handicaps in the run of things. Indeed, owners like Ricci are on record as saying that they are not interested in winning outside of Cheltenham in March, a week which is the alpha and omega of their involvement in the ownership game.

So whilst there is some smoke to Mullins' contention, it seems unlikely there is much in the way of fire generating those plumes.

Handicap Ratings

More interesting, perhaps, and going beyond the handicap races, is the allocation of handicap ratings. Much has been made - before, during and since the Festival - of the re-assessment of Irish horses for British races. The consensus beforehand from the Irish camp was that this was unjust. With the raiders claiming seven of the ten handicap prizes, there is less crabbing now than before, but the question remains: why were the Irish horses largely elevated from their domestic perches?

The answer may lie not in the errancy of the Irish handicapper's work, but perhaps in a general overstatement in the British figures. Put another way, it may be that the British horses are rated too highly by the BHA 'cappers rather than the Irish too low by theirs.

To be brutally honest, I struggled to think of an effective (and time-efficient) method to test this hypothesis, and so will leave it as a question that others of appropriate informational means may crunch and confirm/refute the suggestion.

I definitely have a 'feeling' that some horses, especially in the two mile divisions, both hurdle and chase, have been significantly over-rated. Such conjecture should have no place in a pseudo-empirical article, so I'll leave it at that.

UPDATE: I've been made aware of two articles from last year covering the inflation in UK ratings. This one is from Simon Rowlands, and this one from Kevin Blake, are both excellent corroboration of the perception which, it seems, is more than that.

Purchase Price / Source

One thing that fascinates me, as a jealous owner peering through the windows into the Tattersalls Cheltenham sale and the like, is how purchase price and source impact on Festival prospects. As more largely untested stock changes hands for north of £300,000 a head, is there any evidence of a correlation between purchase price and performance in the Cotswolds in March? Or are the winners arriving in the hands of their owners by other means than public auction?

To evaluate this, I looked at the winners of the last six renewals of each of the Champion Hurdle, Champion Chase, Stayers' Hurdle and Gold Cup. That's the same time frame used above for the UK / Ireland comparisons and gives us 24 horses - minus multiple winners - to look at. Remarkably, the only multiple winner in the period was Sprinter Sacre, whose story is an interesting one to which we'll briefly return shortly.

Of the 23 individual winners of the four main Championship races since 2012, 15 were acquired privately. The remaining eight including two home-bred's - Synchronised and Coneygree, both Gold Cup winners - and six purchased for or by their current owners at public auction.

The highest price paid at public auction for a winner of the Champion Hurdle (one), Stayers' Hurdle (two), or Gold Cup (three) was the £75,000 Jim Culloty (on behalf of Dr Ronan Lambe) gave for Lord Windermere.

This year's Gold Cup winner, Sizing John, was bought as a yearling for just €16,000, Thistlecrack cost €43,000, and Bob's Worth (RSA and Gold Cup winner) was a mere £20,000. Using 90p to €1 as a conversion metric, the six Championship winners sold at public auction averaged at £32,717. The median was £24,100.

We also know something of some of those acquired privately. For example, we know that Champion Chaser, Sire De Grugy, was bought for €50,000. And it is reputed that Sprinter Sacre, who won two Champion Chases, was part of a 'job lot' of 22 horses purchased from France for €300,000. While it may be unwise to apportion that price tag equally across the whole draft, we do arrive at a figure of €13,636, or £12,272 using the 90p/€1 conversion principle. For us small-time syndicateers there is something comforting in such mathematical folly.

Perhaps Cole Harden is worth a mention, too. He was led out not sold at £30,000 after winning his debut bumper. Acquired privately soon after, it is highly possible that the purchaser paid in the region of £35,000 given that the auctioneer will usually 'phantom bid' up to just below the reserve price.

It seems that only fools rush in via the sales ring and, although the auction houses probably don't want to admit it, they appear to be doing considerably better than purchasers from these multi-hundred thousand pound/euro deals over jumps: most of the best horses are either bought privately or snapped up for relative pennies.

In Summary...

There are a number of key takeaways from the data posted in this article. Probably the hardest to swallow is that Ireland actually under-performed against their numerical representation this year, in spite of 'winning' 19-9 in terms of race victors.

The natural selectivity of Irish runners - it's a long, expensive journey for a horse with no chance - is also a factor, though this year was one where expense was waived in favour of 'having a runner' more than ever before. This was supported by those higher Irish handicap ratings, meaning more of their horses actually got a run than would have been the case of their domestic pegs.

Tully East (Ire 133, UK 138), winner of the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase, was the most notable beneficiary as his Irish mark was insufficient to make the cut for the race.

There is unlikely to be anything material in the Mullins line about British fascination with a handicap-driven programme, certainly if the major owners are anything to go by. But I'm fascinated by the evidence published by Messrs Rowlands and Blake around potential inflation in UK handicap ratings: it looks like there may well be something in that.

And if you love the idea of owning a Cheltenham Festival champion, it would appear that your best chance is to either a) acquire privately, either from France or from a small stable out of an Irish bumper; or b) buy a relatively cheap ticket at the sales and hope that your luck is in!

So here's to next year, when I expect Ireland to have less winners, perhaps significantly less on the evidence of their overall performance rather than merely the microcosm of the winners' enclosure.

Matt

Monday Musings: Lost Phone, Failing Memory

To say the last seven days have been eventful for me would be an understatement, writes Tony Stafford. For most people slogging through all four days of Cheltenham it would be a similarly apt description, but I bet not many of them lost their phone, such is their constant adherence to it.

The week started as usual on Monday night at the Bedfordshire Racing Club where my performance in terms of results was possibly the worst ever. But the other regulars David Dickinson, the BHA handicapper for two-mile hurdlers, and the ever-informed Ian Wassell of Coral/Ladbroke provided much better input for the members.

Prompted from the chair by Howard Wright, Dickinson touched on the angry debate between the handicappers (headed by Phil Smith over his Grand National ratings for some Gigginstown horses) and also an issue between Dickinson over another Irish horse running over here.

Dickinson always stresses how he is not allowed to bet under the terms of his employment and then, quite early in the piece – we attempt to analyse the Grade 1 races first – declared there was a certainty in the Champion bumper on the Wednesday.

His selection was Fayonagh, beaten on debut but twice a winner making all since then. Dave said she was already top on his figures even before he added the extra7lb for the mares’ allowance she was entitled to as only two of her sex in the race.

As I said earlier, I lost my phone on Tuesday night, it disappearing into thin air, apparently between being stuck in the traffic for an hour after racing, talking on the car phone for a while and getting to the hotel 35 miles away. Having lugged the luggage – I suppose that’s where that word originates? – up two narrow flights of stairs and repairing to the bar, the discovery was made.

No, not in the car, in the room, nor even in the pitch black of the pub’s car park – it wasn’t until Friday that I realised we could have parked in the brilliantly-lit market square directly in front of the hostelry’s main entrance. Calls to the number suggested the device was still in the area – rubbish connection around there, said the landlord – but by Wednesday morning I had to cancel my two numbers (expensive dual-sim phone from Russia) and have been bereft ever since.

Friends I’ve tried to call almost to a man (and woman) seemingly refuse to answer strange numbers and even more so when on arriving home, I’ve attempted again on the land line. One good friend did answer but completely failed to recognise the voice and fearfully cut the connection.

The point made by the Irish is that their handicappers get unfair treatment over here. Ten handicaps were run at Cheltenham last week and there were 59 Irish runners from a total of 226 in those races, a proportion of just short of one in four. The Irish won seven of them (almost treble what they should have achieved pro rata), while they also collected 12 places (second to sixth), for which there was placed prizemoney.

They had a clean sweep of the three handicaps on the last day and the seven wins were shared between six trainers with Jessica Harrington securing two to go along with Sizing John’s epic Gold Cup triumph. Alan Fleming, Patrick Kelly and Noel Meade joined in, leaving just a single handicap success each for Willie Mullins and Gordon Elliott. The only handicaps that escaped the invaders were the Ultima Handicap Chase, where they had three of the 23 starters; the Fred Winter Hurdle, seven of 22 and the Kim Muir, four of 24.

Not that the big two were at all phased, even if Willie probably resented that Elliott, who now handles loads of his former stars, including Apple’s Jade for Gigginstown, won the Leading Trainer award. They were on six winners each but the Gordy hordes won on place countback. In all the Irish won 19 of the 28 races, leaving scraps pretty much for everyone else bar Nicky Henderson’s trio.

So now I must return to the issue of Fayonagh and the lost phone effect. Most of the day was spent trying to meet people by borrowing Harry Taylor’s mobile, using it to speak to someone else who might know the third party’s number. Then if that double improbability was survived, often going from one end of the track to the other, only sometimes with a satisfactory outcome.

Accidentally, I was actually in the paddock for that last race on the Wednesday and Harry told me that Anne-Marie O’Brien had told him that the Gordon Elliott people reckoned “their mare” was a flying machine. At the same time, a more usual Mullins/ Elliott contact told him he thought she wasn’t too well fancied. All the time I was blissfully unaware that it was she that Dave Dickinson reckoned a certainty plus 7lb, until hearing that Fayonagh was left. That finally resonated.

Thank God. That’s who I should have been on, and she had made all, the last twice, both on heavy ground. Surely she couldn’t win from there, could she, especially on this much faster ground? She could and did, finding as good a turn of foot even as Arctic Fire in the County Hurdle.

Now if the Irish moan at British handicappers in general and DD in particular, they have to take it back after that display.

Two runs ago, Arctic Fire had an Irish handicap mark of 169, but dropped to 166 after failing to stay three miles, before his second in a Mullins 1-2-3 in the Irish Champion Hurdle, 15 lengths behind Faugheen, but 13 ahead of the Stayers’ Hurdle winner Nicholls Canyon, rated 161 before Thursday.

I know the Editor of this publication had a lump [more a small interest – Ed.] on him ante-post for last year’s Champion Hurdle – he’d been second to Faugheen in it in 2015 and also second in the County Hurdle the previous year – but injury kept him out. For this belated (14 months nowadays is hardly a deterrent given the facilities the big stables offer for their inmates) return to allow him in on 158 was a gift, as it turned out, and he flew up the hill to win by a neck.

Watching him win was a minor irritation for me, and hopefully a joy for the Editor [no, sigh – Ed.], but the same day’s action provided an even greater cause of frustration than had Fayonagh two days earlier. I’d watched a three-mile race where Willie Mullins had a couple of runners recently, and the apparently less-fancied, trying a trip beyond two miles for the first time, bolted home.

That horse was Penhill, a decent Flat handicapper with first James Bethell and then Luca Cumani, with whom he achieved an official rating of 100. He won four of his first six starts before that three-miler, where he came from way back and spread-eagled a five-runner field by seven lengths and more. I remember making a mental note to remember him. I did, but only after an even more striking, but identical in composition, last to first effort on Friday. Fayonagh at 7’s was tolerable; Arctic Fire at 20’s was irritating, but Penhill at 16-1 broke what was left of my heart. Finally, I can tell someone!

Penhill is a son of Mount Nelson, newly-relocated to Ireland, having been sold by Penhill’s breeders Newsells Park to Boardsmill Stud as a jumping stallion.

The beautiful-looking Mount Nelson produces stock with plenty of substance, and that was the general opinion of onlookers at Clive Cox’s new season stable parade yesterday of the colt out of I Say, Ray Tooth’s nice winning mare. Many were surprised at his size, given he’s a first foal, but by all accounts he’s not backward: “He’s a big boy, so we’ll look after him,” said Clive.

Proper Flat racing starts at Doncaster on Saturday week. Can’t wait!

- Tony Stafford

 

Stat of the Day, 20th March 2017

Saturday's Result :

6.45 Wolverhampton : Amazement @ 11/4 BOG WON at 7/4 Chased leaders, ridden to challenge over 1f out, led approaching final furlong, ran on well to win by a length and a half.

Monday's pick goes in the...

5.30 Kempton...

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Athassel4/1 BOG

Why?

An 8yr old gelding who has thrived since a switch to David Evans' yard, winning 6 and placing three times from 10 starts (finished 4th on the other!), all in A/W handicaps with that 60% strike rate yielding profits of 22.25pts (+222.5% ROI), of which he is 4/4 at 6f, 2/2 at Class 5 and 2/2 over 6f at C5.

Impressive enough, but that's not why I've picked him!

Those who've read my "work" (and I use the term loosely) for some while now, will recall that I'm a keen note taker and saver of micro-systems and this horse cropped up several times tonight, but I'll just give you three (fairly short!) examples...

Firstly...David Evans / hcps / 12-1 max price / LTO winner / former C&D winner = 18/80 (22.5% SR) for 36.5pts (+45.6% ROI) since 2012 with runners at 5.5/6 furlongs winning 5 of 23 (21.7%) for 20.4pts (+88.9%)

Secondly...UK All-Weather / 2011-17 / LTO winners 1 to 5 days ago / now OR of 0 to 7lbs higher / same class & trip as LTO / now running at a venue where they've previously won over course and distance = 52/141 (36.9%) for 31.1pts (+21.1%)

And finally (for today, anyway)...David Evans / 1 runner all day / Class 3 to 6 handicaps / priced at Evens to 5-1 = 23/79 (29.1%) for 22.9pts (+29% ROI) since 2010.

...giving us......a 1pt win bet on Athassel 4/1 BOG which was offered by Betfair Sports, BetVictor & SkyBet at 6.10pm on Sunday. To see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 5.30 Kempton

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

P.S. all P/L returns quoted in the stats are to Betfair SP, as (i) I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you and (ii) although inferior to the BOG odds we secure, BFSP is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns quoted.

SotD Update, 13th to 18th March 2017

The amazing/consistent run of success achieved by SotD rolled on for another good week with three winners and two runners-up from our six selections.

The only blot on our record was Upavon on Thursday, who blew the start by rearing as the gates opened, instantly taking all chance of victory away.

But regardless of that, we added another 7.85pts to the bottom line and despite having another 11 more betting days to get through, we're already guaranteed to finish the month in profit.

Selections & Results : 13/03/17 to 18/03/17

13/03 : Rag Tatter (adv 3/1 BOG) : 2nd at 7/2
14/03 : Peachey Carnehan (adv 7/2 BOG 2.1/1 after R4) : WON at 2/1
15/03 : Brigadoon (adv 9/2 BOG) : WON at 6/1
16/03 : Upavon (adv 4/1 BOG) : 9th at 10/3
17/03 : Oor Jock (adv 7/2 BOG) : 2nd at 13/8
18/03 : Amazement (adv 11/4 BOG) : WON at 7/4

13/03/17 to 18/03/17 :
3 winning bets from 6 = 50.00% SR
P/L: +7.85pts

March 2017:
6 winners from 16 = 37.50% SR
P/L: +14.88pts
ROI = +93.00%

2017 so far:
25 winners from 64 = 39.06% SR
P/L: +68.63pts
ROI = +107.23%

Overall:
465 winners from 1655 = 28.10% S.R
P/L: +441.36pts
ROI: +26.67%

P.S. The full month by month SotD story can be found right here.
P.P.S The review of SotD's 2012 performance is here.

Whilst the details for 2013 are now online here.
And the figures for 2014 are now available here.

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Cheltenham Festival 2017: Day 4 Preview, Tips

And so to the final day of the 2017 Cheltenham Festival, Gold Cup day, and the last chance to emerge victorious from the bruising punting encounters. It's traditionally a tough day as evidenced by some stratospheric placepot dividends - remember the £91,774.50 just two years ago? - so caution is advised on the staking front, though one correct swipe can nullify a week of losses. We start as usual at 1.30 with the...

1.30 Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 179yds)

Not the competitive race it was before the introduction of the Fred Winter in 2005, it tends to be won by a horse towards the top of the market. Indeed, the three winners pre-2005 were returned at 20/1 twice and 16/1, whereas since that inaugural year only 33/1 Countrywide Flame has returned greater than 10/1. Still, 16 are scheduled to go to post.

The JP McManus-owned pair, Defi Du Seuil and Charlie Parcs, had a stranglehold on the top of the market for most of the winter, but a fall at Kempton in the Adonis - a traditionally strong Triumph trial - has pushed Charlie out to a more backable price. Of course, that's as a result of his newly discovered fallibility and, in any case, initial concerns appear to have dissipated in a market where punters are keen to be with horses trained by Nicky Henderson. Having been 8/1 post-Adonis, he's now into a top offer of 4/1.

Charlie Parcs had won in France before a debut defeat of Master Blueyes in a Kempton novice that has worked out very well. Importantly, that race was on good ground, as was the Adonis, so he's proven his affinity for quicker surfaces. But in the latter race he was going no better than Master Blueyes, the eventual winner, and arguably not as well. The stronger test of stamina of Cheltenham's New course could suit but the track remains an unknown.

Master Blueyes is battle hardened - he had ten runs on the flat and has now had five over hurdles - and progressive at the Winter game. Having taken four runs to get off the hurdling mark, he's now unbeaten in his last two, including in that Grade 2 Adonis, winning by an aggregate 29 lengths. I'd be concerned that all his form is on flat tracks and don't want to back him at 6/1.

Meanwhile, Defi Du Seuil, whose preparations were completed at Cheltenham on Trials Day with an emphatic but largely meaningless victory, comes here as favourite off the back of an unbroken five race winning streak. That sequence includes three victories at this track as well as a Grade 1 score in the Finale Juvenile Hurdle at Chepstow. He has won on ground ranging from soft to good and will prove hard to beat.

The pick of the Irish challenge is expected to be Mega Fortune. Trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Davy Russell is a brace of positives before even considering the horse's form, and that also stands scrutiny. Five runs over timber have resulted in two wins, culminating in an assertive verdict over re-opposing Bapaume in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle.

That was on soft ground and, despite winning a weak novice on good at Down Royal, there is a reservation about how Mega Fortune will perform on a sounder surface in top company. Similar comments apply to the runner up. An Irish runner who will appreciate faster underfoot is Landofhopeandglory. A winner of a Grade 3 on good to yielding when completing an initial hat-trick over hurdles, he's been beaten twice since on softer, including when sunk in heavy ground last time. He has a not dissimilar profile to stablemate, Ivanovich Gorbatov, who won last year's Triumph having been whacked on heavy on his previous outing.

There are three fillies in the race, the pick of which looks to be Gordon Elliott's Dinaria Des Obeaux. A winner of three of her four starts to date, she was beaten ten lengths by Mega Fortune in the G1 Spring Juvenile, which gives her a bit to find on the face of it. But she's won again since, and the faster ground might just enable her to get closer to her stablemate.

At the prices, while Defi Du Seuil looks solid, I'm tempted to side each way with Joseph O'Brien's runner, who can flip flop form with Bapaume on the expected sounder lawn.

Solid enough win bet:
Defi Du Seuil 9/4 Paddy, Betfair Sports

Each way play:
Landofhopeandglory 16/1 Ladbrokes, Coral

Skybet

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Coral

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**

2.10 County Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m 179yds)

A handicap for older horses over the same course and distance as the Triumph offers an immediate comparison of the merit of the former heat. It is, as are all Festival handicaps, a ferociously competitive affair where - as with most of the Festival handicaps - it may pay to side with the Irish raiders, who have won seven of the last ten County Hurdles.

The shortest priced Irish horse is Mick Jazz, trained by that man Elliott. He won a Listed novices' hurdle last time, having run very well in third in a big field Grade A handicap the time before. A mark of 143 might not stop him but it will make things difficult.

Five year olds have an incredible record in this race, winning ten times and hitting the board 25 times since 1997 from 120 runners. As such, last year's Triumph Hurdle winner, Ivanovich Gorbatov, demands even closer scrutiny. He's dropped four pounds from his peak rating of 154, and the drying ground on a course he has shown he loves propel him towards the top of my shortlist. He will find this easier than the Grade 1 company he's kept in his last four starts.

The 2016 Fred Winter winner, Diego Du Charmil, also lines up here, but he's only a pound inferior on current ratings and will struggle to beat Ivan G on very close to equal terms. More appealing is the very lightly raced over hurdles Mohaayed, trained by Dan Skelton. Rated around 100 on the flat when with Kevin Prendergast, this son of Intikhab was second on his debut behind Elgin. He followed that up with a fair fourth to Neon Wolf in the Rossington Main at Haydock, the winner advertising that form when all but winning again in the Neptune on Wednesday.

And he was off the mark at the third time of asking when waltzing away with a soft ground Taunton novices' hurdle five weeks ago. His best form on the flat was on good ground so, while he's inexperienced for a gig like this, 25/1 looks very big about his chance.

Karl Thornton's Wakea is another worth noting at a price. He was beaten behind Supreme winner, Labaik, last time but before that he'd won his prior three hurdle races, all on good ground. He was disqualified from the first of those, a 20 runner maiden hurdle, but showed he could handle the hustle and bustle of a big field in being first past the post that day. Trip, ground and likely fast pace are all in his favour making 33/1 appealing.

Favourite and stable mate of Mohaayed, North Hill Harvey, is well regarded, and it's easy to see why on his fourth to Champion Hurdle winner, Buveur D'Air, two starts back. He's since won his only race this season, the Greatwood over course and distance. That formline reads well enough, with second placed Modus winning the Lanzarote Hurdle since, and dual subsequent handicap winner, Brain Power, down the field. But the layoff is a bit of a niggle for me, as is the additional imposition of eight pounds in weight for that last day success.

The most fascinating runner in the field might be the other Gordy horse, Tell Us More. This lightly raced eight year old has been chasing in his last six starts but, prior to that, he was sixth in Douvan's Supreme Novices' Hurdle win on his final hurdles outing. He gets in here off a mark of 142 and could be well handicapped.

It's an obviously trappy race where I'm happy to hurl a couple of darts at big prices.

Three tiny tickles off the tee:
Tell Us More 16/1 Hills, Paddy
Mohaayed 28/1 Ladbrokes
Wakea 33/1 Victor (five places)

bet365, BetVictor, Ladbrokes, Coral all 1/4 1-2-3-4-5

Skybet, Paddy 1/5 1-2-3-4-5-6

Betfair Sports

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bet365

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Paddy

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Coral

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**

2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 7f 213yds)

Unlike the shorter Neptune Hurdle, which is often run at a relatively sedate pace - as evidenced by Willoughby Court's controlled front-running display on Wednesday, the 'potato race' is normally a war of attrition where horses that have been lobbing round in small fields before getting outpaced can suddenly blossom under the sterner examination they face here.

There is little doubt that Death Duty brings the best Irish form to the race, but it is form achieved in those bimbling heavy ground contests which typically contrast so dramatically with the Albert Bartlett. That's not to say Death Duty cannot win. Of course not. His form is rock solid, and so is that of his trainer, Gordon Elliott. But he'll probably be running on ground quicker and in a race run faster than he's previously encountered. At 2/1 or so, I'll probably let him beat me.

Wholestone looks good in many ways: he's won over the trip, at the track, and on good ground. His last day trial, though not the biggest field, was a true run race meaning he ticks plenty of boxes coming into this. That was a Grade 2 that is working out well and the only negative is the form of his trainer, Nigel Twiston-Davies. Nige has had just one winner from 57 runners in the last 30 days, and his seven Tuesday/Wednesday Cheltenham runners collectively failed to make the frame.

I'm preying for signs of a revival in stable form on Thursday because I really want to back this lad. But the cloud above Hollow Bottom appears large and pervasive just now.

The horse Elliott admitted to fearing at a recent preview night was Monalee, who finished a close second the Death Duty in a Grade 2 two starts ago. He's since won a Grade 3 on heavy and, by Milan, is expected to improve for better ground. He looks a strong staying type, and I've backed him ante-post at 10/1. Again demonstrating what a judge I am (ahem), the horse is still available at 8/1 generally. There are no such negative stable vibes with Henry de Bromhead's team and I'm hopeful of a big run from this one.

Tom George is due a change of luck after Singlefarmpayment added to his Cheltenham Festival near miss showreel on Tuesday, and he could just get it courtesy of The Worlds End. Unbeaten in three since a debut third over hurdles, he ran away with a Haydock Grade 2 on this sort of ground and over this sort of trip last time. He's been brought expertly to the boil and looks another player in what may be a more open race than the betting implies.

This might be too far for promising mare, Augusta Kate, though connections are naturally respected.

Most Likely Winner:
Death Duty 9/4 bet365

Two sporting alternatives:
Monalee 8/1 general
The Worlds End 10/1 general

Paddy 1/5 1-2-3-4

Betfair Sports

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bet365

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Paddy

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Coral

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**

3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup (Grade 1, 3m 2f 70yds)

See separate Gold Cup preview here...

 

**

4.10 Foxhunters' Chase (Class 2, 3m 2f 70yds)

The "Amateurs' Gold Cup", so called because it is run over the same distance directly after the Blue Riband, it bears little other resemblance to that great event. Still, it's a decent betting race, pitting as it does the ex-Graded racers on the wane against the rising stars between the flags. The Foxhunters' has been dominated in the last couple of seasons by the brilliant On The Fringe, who has achieved back-to-back Cheltenham/Aintree/Punchestown Champion Hunter victories.

That is unmatched in the history of the sport and is testament to the talents of trainer Enda Bolger - mainly known for his banks exploits - as much as those of the horse. On The Fringe comes here off the back of a narrow defeat in the same Leopardstown hunter chase in which he was beaten the two years he went on to record those auspicious trebles and, now twelve, he shows little signs of regression. He is far and away the most likely winner.

Wonderful Charm, second in a Grade 2 two years ago, looks a typically over-rated ex-Rules runner from the Paul Nicholls stable. His course record is largely uninspiring and, though he wouldn't be a shock winner, he looks a rubbish price.

More interesting, especially if there's any juice in the ground, is Ask The Weatherman. He was making his Rules debut in a warm Wincanton hunter when barrelling away from established stick, Rebel Rebellion. That was on heavy ground, however, and his liking for faster is taken on trust.

Paint The Clouds is twelve now but he loves to hear his hooves rattle, as the cliche goes. Only a length behind On The Fringe in this last year, he went on to win the Stratford Champion Hunter on good ground. That was his last Rules run prior to a warm-up at Doncaster last month - again on good - where he saw the 3m2f trip out well. He looks as though time has yet to catch up and is playable each way.

Outside of the favourite, the most eye-catching Irish runner could be point-to-point machine, Anseanachai Cliste. Don't ask me to pronounce it but the buzz is that this lad is useful and could shake up the more established Rules players. To offer some objective balance to those subjective whispers, he will have had to have improved enormously on his hunter chasing form from last season to be involved at the sharp end against these hardened old pro's. Still only nine, maybe he has.

Sam Waley-Cohen, Paint The Clouds' regular pilot, defects to his father's Black Thunder. His mount, a son of Malinas, suffered a shock defeat at Kelso last time when sent off the 1/8 favourite. More worrying than that - it was a prep after all - is that all six of his career wins have come on soft or heavy. He'll need to get his toe in to be a player.

Dolatulo is ten now, and bids to be a second winner on the week for Ben Pauling. A twenty length win in a Class 4 Hunter Chase last time show he's in excellent fettle, though that was on soft ground. He has plenty of good form on quicker, mind, and the 25/1 in a place is probably too big.

Solid favourite:
On The Fringe 6/4 general

Small each way pair:
Paint The Clouds 12/1 bet365
Dolatulo 25/1 Betfair Sports

BetVictor, Padd 1/5 1-2-3-4

Betfair Sports

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bet365

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Paddy

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Coral

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**

4.50 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (Class 2, 2m 4f 56yds)

If you're not in front by now, it's going to be difficult and, in truth, I have little to offer in the last two races, both of which are impossible looking handicaps. We start with the two and a half mile handicap hurdle for conditional jockeys.

Geegeez blogger, and champion conditional elect, Harry Cobden, rides Tim Vaughan's hat-trick-seeking Dadsintrouble. He was going well when falling in a course and distance handicap in the autumn and has moved 19 pounds up the handicap since then. How much progression he retains is the big question, with conditions likely to suit and one of the best - perhaps the best - jockey in the race.

I backed Willie Mullins' Battleford for the Albert Bartlett, figuring he needed a stiffer test. But they'll go fast here and that should suit. With the Mullins team back in the winners' enclosure on Thursday, he's a player.

Nick Williams had the Fred Winter winner with a handicap debutant earlier in the week and Coo Star Sivola - third in that race last year on his only prior handicap start - could make it a memorable week for the yard. They have a solid recent Cheltenham record too.

But, honestly, there's barely a horse in here you couldn't make a case for.

Partially sighted poke in the Pipe:
Coo Star Sivola 16/1 bet365 (five places)

bet365 1/4 1-2-3-4-5

Betfair Sports

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bet365

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Coral

Money back as a free bet on fallers (stake between £10 and £25)

**

5.30 Grand Annual Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m 62 yds)

The 'lucky last'? You have to be kidding. Two things I know about this:

  1. They will go pretty fast and you need a strong travelling sort
  2. There will be a huge amount of bad luck in running

That's the way it is in the Grand Annual. So, hoping we're lucky as much as good, a few that catch the eye are:

Le Prezien is a novice with more to come. He's normally ridden off the main speed and if his jumping holds up he should be on the premises. Croco Bay was third in this two years ago off an eight pound higher mark (fell last year) so is well in this time. Fourth in the Arkle last year, The Game Changer is five pounds below that rating now. Rock The World was third in this last year and has just a pound more to carry this time.

Last year's winner, Solar Impulse, is actually three pounds lower this time. He has also changed stables, from Paul Nicholls to Chris Kellett, and shown very little in four starts for his new yard. Granted two of those were over further and on softer turf, and we know he'll be suited by the setup if the fire still burns. It's a big if but he's 40/1.

And Pairofbrowneyes ran well over course and distance in November, beaten a neck. He's a strong travelling sort who handles quick ground and goes well in big fields. 25/1 is not bad then.

Loads of chances, take your pick.

Three win only 'guesses':
Le Prezien 8/1 Hills, Victor
Croco Bay 33/1 general
Pairofbrowneyes 25/1 general

Betfair Sports

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bet365

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Coral

Money back as a free bet on fallers (stake between £10 and £25)

**

Phew. So that will be that. 28 races of Cheltenham Festival 2017 will have been run by quarter-to-six on Friday, and I'll be in the pub for the afternoon. Don't try to call after four o'clock! 😉

I hope you've had a great week, best of luck with your Friday bets, and stay safe this St. Patrick's Day.

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2017: Day 3 Preview, Tips

A quick cup of tea, or metaphorical suck on an orange segment, as we change ends - or courses - for the second half of the Festival: it's out with the Old Course and in with the New for Thursday and Friday.

Thursday's highlight is the Stayers' Hurdle, supported by the Ryanair Chase, and it is a tough punting card. We commence proceedings with a novice chase, the...

1.30 JLT Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 2m 3f 198 yds)

This intermediate trip novices' chase has rather diluted the fields for the shorter Arkle and the longer RSA, but is beginning to establish itself as a quality race in its own right. Inaugurated as recently as 2011, the Irish have so far claimed five of the first six renewals and again have a strong hand.

Their main hope will be 2016 Neptune winner, Yorkhill, who bids to give Willie Mullins a third straight win and a fourth in all. Yorkhill was a very good hurdler, as shown not just by that G1 Neptune score but also by victory in the G1 Mersey Novices' Hurdle at the Aintree Festival. Over the top (that is, had too many hard races) when beaten at Punchestown he has returned this season with back-to-back novice chase wins, most recently in a Grade 3.

A record of eight from nine and an undefeated chase CV is impressive, but it doesn't quite tell the full story. You see, Yorkhill has a bit of a problem: he's not a very natural jumper. Clearly he's effective, as attested to by his record, but this will be a big step up into Grade 1 chasing territory. At odds around 6/4, I'm keen to take him on mindful that if he jumps proficiently he will probably win.

Top Notch is apparently not very big but he is well named as evidenced by a Grade 1 win on his most recent start in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase at Sandown over this sort of trip. Fifth in last year's Champion Hurdle was the pinnacle of a very good hurdling career, and he's now unbeaten in his last four over fences. With a versatile run style and, to date, an efficient jumping style he looks very hard to keep out of the frame granted a clear run.

Paul Nicholls' Politologue has the same chase rating, 152, as Top Notch. But whereas the latter has yet to 'grow into' his hurdle peak of 158, the former has already surpassed his timber-topping figure. Preference is for Top Notch.

Ireland's second choice, according to the market at least, is Noel Meade's Disko. His Grade 1 Flogas Chase win is high class form and probably makes him the highest rated chaser in the field. I say 'probably' because he doesn't have a published Irish mark despite being rated 151 going into that contest. If he handles good ground as well as he does the soft turf on which he's been plying his trade, he has a very strong place chance at least.

Flying Angel swerved the Arkle in favour of this but the form of the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard - just one win from 57 runners in the past 30 days - is a real concern.

If N T-D is in poor form, Nicky Henderson is bouncing after an excellent start to his Cheltenham. In such context, Kilcrea Vale can be expected to run at least to form. Outpaced in a three horse race at Fontwell over two miles he stayed on well to see off the questionable resolution of As De Mee. But it is his December defeat of Zamdy Man, by 19 lengths, that catches the eye. That horse has gone on to score twice more since, having also won his prior start so, while Zamdy Man may have run out of stamina (all wins at two miles, defeat at half a mile further), it is still a solid piece of form.

In truth, it's a stone or so below that of the best of these so it is more the price that makes him of interest. He's currently around a 25/1 chance. But five of the six winners of this race have come from the top four in the betting and I'd expect that 'trend' to continue this year.

Selection against Yorkhill:
Disko e/w 5/1 general

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bet365

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Paddy

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Coral

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**

2.10 Pertemps Final (Listed Handicap, 2m 7f 213yds)

A huge field of handicappers, most of whom will step forward today for one reason or another. Yikes. I'll not pretend I know what's going to happen except to say that Gordon Elliott is in great form and has a strong team.

Jury Duty may be the pick of the Elliott runners. He contested the Chepstow qualifier, where he was well enough beaten to only rise two pounds in the handicap. He was second in a similar race at the Punchestown Festival last April and, though 25 pounds higher now, he's obviously progressive and more will be expected here than the last day.

Debra Hamer's wonderful Tobefair heads the market. He comes here on a remarkable EIGHT-timer, having stormed up the weights from 81 to 143. And if you saw the way he fought back when challenged last time you'd be reckless to dismiss him. It's a terrific story and the romantic in me hopes he wins again. The hard-nosed punter in me cannot get involved at 7/1.

Second in the Exeter qualifier, and in his last three starts - and five of his last seven - was Rocklander. That's consistent form if not a great win record, and his handicap mark has predictably suffered as a result. At the start of the septet of ones and twos, Tom George's runner was rated 113. He is now rated 140. He is clearly still improving and travelling strongly off a quick pace might allow him to finally get his neck in front again. 16/1 is interesting.

Golden Doyen was value for more than the head by which he beat For Good Measure in the Cheltenham qualifier, showing his ability to handle track, trip and ground in the process. Still only six, this former Cheltenham Grade 2 winner should go well again.

And last year's winning connections bid to repeat the feat with Presenting Percy. I backed this a while back at 10/1, which is barely more than the price he's currently available at. His win last time was highly impressive, sauntering clear on heavy ground. Before that he'd run fourth in the Punchestown qualifier, but he's been shoved up sixteen pounds by the handicapper since. That's a lot and might just do for him in spite of a probable preference for the faster conditions he'll encounter here and a progressive profile.

Loads more to consider, as always.

Hopeful pair at prices against the field:
Rocklander 16/1 e/w
Golden Doyen 16/1 e/w

Betfair Sports

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bet365

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Paddy

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Coral

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**

2.50 Ryanair Chase (Grade 1, 2m 4f 166yds)

The 'dead eight' for this intermediate Grade 1. Un De Sceaux has long been favoured, but while the expected fast ground will be less of a challenge to his stamina, the expected fast ground will not suit him as well as softer. In truth, though he may win, he is crying out to be taken on. (I know I've said that a lot but seriously, this is not the Williefest it normally is. Hmm, that sounds wrong, but you know what I mean..!)

I quite like Uxizandre as a horse with a versatile run style and a former winner, but I don't like a top offer of 4/1 with questions to answer about how much ability he retains after almost two years off the track. He ran well to pick up the pieces last time behind Un De Sceaux but whether he's flattered by that, or whether the form is as good as first glance, or whether he will 'bounce' are imponderables not sufficiently factored into his price.

Between the pair in the market is the highly likeable Empire Of Dirt. Winner of the Festival Plate last term, he's stepped up into Grade 1 company since when a staying on second in the Irish Gold Cup. That was over three miles but was very much a sprint finish after they lolloped around for two and three quarters miles. The stiffer test here, on a circuit he knows and loves, ought to be perfect and I'm not concerned about the drop back in trip even though I would have loved him to take his chance in the Gold Cup itself.

I think a lot of the grief Josses Hill gets for his jumping is a little harsh. It's true that in his novice season he generally deserved his 'snooker table' monicker, but he still managed to finish third in the Arkle. Disappointing in two of his three starts last season, he's looked back to his best this term winning twice at around this range. Even his fifth of five last time is a fair effort, given that his stamina in that race - the King George over three miles at Kempton - ran out, and he was only beaten seven lengths.

Whilst I don't want to back him, I also don't think he's the wrong price. He has a decent chance of making the frame.

Sub Lieutenant is a key collateral player in the Gold Cup picture. He's beaten Outlander, and finished close up to both Djakadam and Sizing John in his last three starts. Effective on good ground, he'll stay all right but his liking for the track is an unknown. This will be only the second time Henry de Bromhead's 8yo has left Ireland, having finished fourth in a Grade 1 at Aintree two years ago.

The other three have plenty to prove just now.

Selection:
Empire Of Dirt 10/3 general

Betfair Sports

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bet365

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Paddy

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Coral

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**

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 7f 213yds)

I previewed this a week or so ago, and those thoughts - including trends, pace and tips - can be found here:

Stayers' Hurdle 2017 Preview, Trends, Tips

 

**

4.10 Festival Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3, 2m 4f 166yds)

The Plate is the race that refuses to be pigeonholed. Winners have been aged from five to eleven in the last 20 years, and from the top of the weights to out of the handicap. Most notable, perhaps, is that ten winners this century were returned at 16/1 or bigger and only one since 1999 was returned in single figures. Don't be afraid to have a swipe at a price, and tread carefully if you want to get stuck into a shortie. After that, I'm afraid I have little further to offer.

The one they're expected to come for is Gordon Elliott's Diamond King. A winner at the Festival over hurdles last year, he's been novice chasing this campaign including in Grade 1 company. With 158-rated Village Vic in the line up, and anchoring the weights, Diamond King has a 'racing weight' of 11-04 and will relish the fast ground. But he'll need luck in running and to progress to his hurdle mark to prevail again. He's a short price but probably not the wrong price.

Venetia Williams is a trainer to keep an eye on in this. She's won it three times since Idole First notched a 12/1 success a decade again, with the other two scorers being extremely punter-friendly prices (33/1 and 50/1). Venetia is doubly represented this time around, with a pair of French imports, Tango De Juilley and Cold March.

The former added further lustre to La Williams' Plate palmarès when running a game second last year (at 33/1) behind Empire Of Dirt. The winner there heads for the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase, for which he is second favourite, but Tango has not been sighted since. Only a pound higher than a year ago, he has an obvious chance of making the frame given reservations about the long absence are mitigated by his eleven month hiatus before that silver last term.

Cold March loves fast ground, and comes here off the back of a win at this sort of range in a Class 2 Musselburgh handicap chase. That flat right-handed track is nothing like Cheltenham's undulating left-leaner and, on the face of it at least, there is little in Cold March's form to suggest he'll be better suited to this test. Indeed, three prior visits to the Cotswolds have produced a form string of P65.

As unpromising as that might appear, he's actually stayed on well the last twice over two miles. The extended range then is very much in his favour and he might be worth a small chance at a big price.

Last year's winner was the first for a very long time - more than 25 years - to be trained in Ireland, so it may pay to remain apprehensive when considering one from that side of the Sea, particularly at shorter prices. Empire Of Dirt at least had the safety net of a 16/1 quote, a similar price to Road To Respect, in the same ownership. Still only six, Noel Meade's son of Gamut seems to have been around for a long time, and has contested a couple of Grade 1 chases this season.

Fourth to Coney Island and third to Min, beaten less than ten lengths both times, reads well enough in the context of a handicap from a mark of 145 and at 20/1. This will be his first trip outside Ireland, which is a question mark, and I'm also not completely sure he wants fast ground, but the price justifies the penny play.

The Pipes, father Martin and son David, have a peerless record in this - Martin won it four times and David has already scored thrice - so obviously anything they run must be respected. What is surprising is that only two of their collective septet were strongly fancied: 7/4 Majadou and 9/2 Salut Flo supported by winners at 25/1, 20/1, 18/1, 14/1, and 12/1. To this year, and Pipe Jr. saddles Starchitect, a lightly raced novice having only his fourth spin over fences.

He won his last hurdle race, a handicap, off his Plate perch of 143, and he looks capable of stepping forward on that. Ground and trip will be fine for a fellow that finisher fifth and fourth in handicaps at the last two Festivals, and he seems sure to go well granted luck in running. The team already have a handicap chase on the board this week, courtesy of repeat Ultima hero, Un Temps Pour Tout.

Many, many more with chances...

One from the top:
Starchitect 8/1 general

Two from anywhere else:
Tango De Juilley 20/1 general
Road To Respect 20/1 general

Betfair Sports

Back a winner where the SP is 3/1+ and get a free bet to the same stake (max free bet £25)

bet365

Back any single winner at 4/1 or more on ITV race and get risk-free bet to same stake on next ITV race (max stake £50)

Paddy

Money back as a free bet if you finish second (max £20/race)

Coral

Money back as a free bet on fallers (stake between £10 and £25)

**

4.50 Mares' Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2, 2m 179yds)

The newest and, perhaps, least welcome race at the Festival, this for many will be an excuse to get a beer or a bun. It's not my thing, as you may have gathered, but I might change my mind if I can find the winner. That man Mullins won the inaugural running last year with Mares' Hurdle third, Limini, and he again has a strong hand. Pick of his three entries looks to be the very talented Let's Dance, as reflected by a market price of 6/4.

She has a perfectly progressive profile, with wins in maiden, Listed, Grade 3 and most recently Grade 2 company, and comes here the choice of Ruby Walsh. He very rarely makes the wrong call, which is as much a vote of confidence for this mare as it is a negative for stable mates, Airlie Beach and Asthuria.

Let's Dance gets the extended two mile trip well - stays further in fact - and has form on top of the ground. She's been impressive the last twice and it will take a good one to beat her.

Airlie Beach has run up her own sequence of seven straight wins in an unbeaten start to her career. That magnificent seven is headlined by her most recent victory, against the boys in the Grade 1 Royal Bond. She's proven on good ground and will probably try to make all, something that will require her shaking off the early attentions of a couple of other habitual trailblazers. That's a knock against her otherwise very sound place credentials.

The trio is completed by Asthuria, who might just have had the better of a protracted battle with Shattered Love (ran poorly in Wednesday's Neptune) when taking a nasty looking fall at the final flight last time. That was a second fall in a row and, talented though she unquestionably is, her propensity to impersonate Eden Hazard when getting any sort of pressure 'inside the box' - or at the business end of a race if you prefer - is sub-optimal in the cauldron of a Festival heat.

Forge Meadow was 13 lengths behind Shattered Love in the above race so, while her jumping is better, you'd have to question whether she has as much raw talent even if she did pick up an average-looking Grade 2 last time.

The best of the home team might be Warren Greatrex's La Bague Au Roi. She's won six of her seven races to date, and is proven on fast ground and going left-handed. It's simply whether she's good enough. Actually, there is a second question: she likes to get on with things which, as previously mentioned, is a trait seen in a number of her rivals. It could be pretty quick on the front end.

Gordy's Barra has some interesting form, including an eight length fifth of ten in the Grade 1 Deloitte Novices' Hurdle. Racing against the boys there, she showed plenty before weakening out of things from the back of the last. The quicker turf and furlong shorter trip are in her favour, and we know her trainer is in great form.

Probable winner:
Let's Dance 6/4 general

Each way at a price:
Barra 16/1 Hills, BetVictor

Betfair Sports

Back a winner where the SP is 3/1+ and get a free bet to the same stake (max free bet £25)

bet365

Back any single winner at 4/1 or more on ITV race and get risk-free bet to same stake on next ITV race (max stake £50)

Coral

Money back as a free bet on fallers (stake between £10 and £25)

**

5.30 Kim Muir Handicap Chase (Class 2, 3m 2f)

We close day three with an amateur riders' handicap chase over three and a quarter miles. The usual comments apply about siding with an experienced jockey: Jamie Codd has won four of the last eight Kim Muir's (!), as well as yesterday's Cross Country Chase against the pro's, and only two claiming jockeys have won since 2005.

Last year's Pertemps Final winner, Mall Dini, will find this much more to his liking than the two and a half mile heats he's contested, and his trainer looks to have set him up with every chance off a mark just four pounds higher than that big Festival handicap victory twelve months ago.

Another that was 'jobbed up' last year is Squouateur (almost as difficult to type as to pronounce). He was sent off at the preposterous odds of 9/4 in last year's Martin Pipe in a field of 24. Trouble in running means his final position of seventh can be marked up a bit, but shame on you if you backed him at that price.

He's been brought to the boil quietly again this term and gets the first time services of that man, the Codd-father. A patient ride looks assured with his current price affording some cushion against poor luck in running.

At (much) bigger prices, Ian Williams' Forgotten Gold ticks plenty of boxes. A lover of rattling conditions - he won on firm last time - he's been second on three of his four visits to the course, including twice over course and distance. Sure he has plenty of weight, and yes, he's not hidden himself from the handicapper. But he's 33/1 and ought to run his race again for a trainer, Tom George, in great nick.

This is another race in which the Pipes have looked to get a gamble landed, and they have hit their mark enough times to pay for the losers. In 2003, 2004, 2011, and 2015, a Pipe-trained horse prevailed, the first two at huge prices. This time they're triple-handed with La Vaticane, Father Edward and Doctor Harper. The good Doctor was sent off 4/1 favourite last year but showed little before decanting his pilot two out. He's returned a couple of times since, including when second on New Year's Day, and is five pounds higher now than then. Crack amateur, Lisa O'Neill, who was seen to impressive effect when guiding Tiger Roll home earlier in the week, gets the leg up.

Father Edward is a conundrum: a winner on his stable debut four starts ago he has shown zero since. Clearly capable in the right circumstances I can't even bring myself to back him at 40/1.

The lightly raced mare, La Vaticane, is the third string to the Pipe bow. She's also good on her day, and less bad than Father Edward when it's not her day, but she does have a lot of weight to carry.

The local plot in the race is surely Neil Mulholland's Southfield Royale. Fourth in last year's National Hunt Chase when already awarded a rating of 147, he gets in here off just 141. This has been the target all along so, while he has to prove his fitness after just one (poor) run since last April, he is likely to go close.

Loads of others doubtless lined up for this day...

One from the top:
Squouateur 7/1 Skybet, Coral

Two bigger prices:
Doctor Harper 16/1 Coral
Forgotten Gold 33/1 general

Betfair Sports

Back a winner where the SP is 3/1+ and get a free bet to the same stake (max free bet £25)

bet365

Back any single winner at 4/1 or more on ITV race and get risk-free bet to same stake on next ITV race (max stake £50)

Coral

Money back as a free bet on fallers (stake between £10 and £25)

**

Three down, and just one to go after this hopefully lucky seven races. It's Gold Cup day next!

Matt

p.s. what are your Day 3 fancies? Leave a comment below and share your wisdom

Cheltenham Festival 2017: Day 2 Preview, Tips

Day 2 of the greatest show on turf, the Cheltenham Festival, is expected to feature a Royal Procession as its centrepiece. Douvan, long odds-on in the Queen Mother Champion Chase, will take some stopping but there are six other races where win betting may offer more appealing - if less secure - propositions.

1.30 Neptune Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m 5f 26yds)

An intermediate distance Grade 1 novices' hurdle features horses considered not to have the requisite speed for the Supreme or the necessary stamina for the Albert Bartlett. That is probably an unfair way to describe a race which has proven a pretty reliable barometer to the following season's Champion Hurdle.

This season's field is spearheaded by the exciting Neon Wolf, trained by Harry Fry. He's unbeaten in a point, a bumper and two hurdle races, the most recent of which was the Grade 2 Rossington Main Novices' Hurdle at Haydock. There he beat Elgin by nine lengths, pouring on the pressure from the top of the straight and eventually drawing clear.

That form looks fair, with runner up Elgin filling the same position behind River Wylde in another G2, and scheduled to run in Tuesday's opener, the Supreme.

Good ground, which it may be by post time, is an unknown for a horse that has raced exclusively on soft or good to soft, and if there is a chink in the Wolf's armour, it could be his ability to handle - and quicken - on faster turf. Still,  he's comfortably the most likely winner.

The leading man in the Irish challenge will be Bacardys, who stayed on well to run down stablemate Bunk Off Early in the Grade 1 Deloitte over two and a quarter miles last time. This extra three furlongs should suit and, as with Neon Wolf, the Supreme - Bunk Off Early's Festival target - will give us a line to the merit of the form.

Bacardys has previous Festival form, having been a two length third in the Champion Bumper last season and would likely be unbeaten over hurdles if not falling on his timber-topping debut.

Messire Des Obeaux is, like Bacardys, a Grade 1 winner, having scored in the Challow at Newbury on New Year's Eve. He's since found Keeper Hill a neck too good when collared close home in the Sidney Banks at Huntingdon. It's possible he was dossing in front that day, and/or that trainer Alan King had left a bit to work on, so MDO is a definite place player.

Keeper Hill, for his part, is progressing apace and was completing a hat-trick of novice hurdle wins in the aforementioned Sidney Banks, in receipt of eight pounds. He's quite stoutly bred so it wouldn't be any surprise if he continued his upward trajectory with a bold showing. 20/1 will be attractive to some.

Ben Pauling is a trainer quietly making a name for himself, and he has a couple of nice novices here this week. High Bridge runs in the Supreme on Tuesday before Willoughby Court, impressive winner of the Leamington Novices' Hurdle at Warwick last time, lines up here.

Fifth to Bacardys in the Aintree Bumper last April, he's two from three at this trip, the defeat coming on hurdles debut at Market Rasen. Even allowing for lack of fitness that day, he probably should have still got it done, and I have it in my mind that it may have been the quicker ground there which prevented him.

His form on soft reads 1151, while on quicker it is 321. That may just be coincidence but it's a niggle as is any horse being beaten at Market Rasen winning a Grade 1 novice race at the Cheltenham Festival.

The mare, Shattered Love, was only a half length behind win machine Airlie Beach in a good ground Grade 3 earlier in the season. More recently, had the well-regarded Forge Meadow some way behind over two and a quarter miles on soft, form that may flatter her given Asthuria would probably have beaten her but for tipping up at the last.

One general point, which I've touched on specifically a number of times above: look at the Supreme on Tuesday for a line on some of the horses who may have run just in front or behind them in the Festival opener; and consider runners in the Albert Bartlett in light of the performance of runners in this race. As Tony Keenan has written elsewhere on this site, these collateral form lines often work out very well.

Most Likely Winner:
Neon Wolf 2/1 Coral

Each way value play:
Keeper Hill 20/1 Hills

Skybet

SKYBET are MONEY BACK AS A FREE BET IF YOU LOSE ON THIS RACE (£20 MAX)

BetVictor

NEW customers: Bet £10, and get a free £2 bet on EVERY race at the Festival (21 of them remaining)

Betfair Sports

Back a winner where the SP is 3/1+ and get a free bet to the same stake (max free bet £25)

bet365

Back any single winner at 4/1 or more on ITV race and get risk-free bet to same stake on next ITV race (max stake £50)

Paddy

Money back as a free bet if you finish second (max £20/race)

Coral

Money back as a free bet on fallers (stake between £10 and £25)

**

2.10 RSA Novices' Chase (Grade 1, 3m 80yds)

A race which has been pilfered from somewhat by the rise to prominence of the 'four miler', the National Hunt Chase, the RSA has nevertheless historically proved a good pointer to Gold Cup aspirants of the future.

Clear favourite, though not at a short price in a confused market, is Might Bite. There is little doubt that this horse has demonstrated the best level of ability in the field, but that was when failing to complete in the Feltham at Kempton on Boxing Day. 'Failing to complete' demands a little additional clarity: a known nutcase, he was gunned into the final fence by Daryl Jacob and just belly flopped into it. Asked for a big one, he declined the request.

Jacob probably took more flak than was merited for the tumble: sure, he didn't need to roust Might Bite between the last two; but his conveyance almost tried to refuse such was the flimsiness of his attempted leap. He has 'previous' according to his trainer, and simply cannot be countenanced as a bet for all that he might run away with the race. If you want to be with him, look for a book offering faller insurance.

Second choice is last year's World Hurdle runner-up, Alpha Des Obeaux. He was clear second choice behind Thistlecrack that day but has had issues since. Those issues came to a head when a burst blood vessel led to him pulling up at Leopardstown's Christmas meeting. It was, so the rumour mill has it, a bad bleed and may have left an emotional scar. However, freshened up since, Mouse Morris has few peers when it comes to training a horse for a target, so that fact this lad boarded the ferry offers hope to his backers.

I don't like his patchy form or that last day incident so he won't be for me.

Likewise, Acapella Bourgeois is not for me. Even allowing for more talent than that with which he's been credited after Roger Loughran rode his rivals to sleep in a Grade 2 at Navan, he won't get a soft lead in this RSA. Any of Flintham, Marinero, Might Bite, As De Mee, and Delusionofgrandeur may take him on in what seems likely to be a stern test of stamina.

One who will appreciate the stamina test and who acts on good ground as well as softer, is Whisper. This is his second attempt at chasing after an abortive mission two seasons ago where he ultimately reverted to hurdles. Last term was a damp squib, his three winless efforts concluded with a drubbing in the World Hurdle.

He may have been rejuvenated by a second stint over the birch. His December win over 2m5f at this track has worked out well, with runner up, Baron Alco, winning a novice chase on his next start before claiming silver in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles, and other subsequent winners in behind. But I just wonder whether he's quite good enough these days, having had twenty career starts already. If he could match his hurdle rating of this time two seasons ago, in the low 160's, he'd be a penalty kick. But he's looked a stone below that form since.

Royal Vacation looked a plodder in the Feltham, but was the main beneficiary of Might Bite's purler. Elevated most of a stone to 143 after that fortuitous win, he proved it no fluke by winning a decent novices' handicap chase on Trials Day at Cheltenham. He's now on a mark of 152 with a progressive profile and grinder's attitude, just the sort to run well in this. He'd be the first Feltham winner to land the RSA, but then if Might Bite had stood up he'd have been beaten a dozen lengths in second there, and plenty of Feltham placed horses have won the RSA.

Of the rest, Bellshill could be interesting if lining up. Beaten out of sight in the Supreme last season, he's shown that a truer test of stamina suits better with a second placing in the Grade 1 Sefton at Aintree and a win in the Grade 1 staying novice hurdle at the Punchestown Festival, and over fences with a brace of two and a half mile victories. The latter was in Grade 2 company, but Bellshill was struggling when coming down behind Disko in the Grade 1 Flogas Novice Chase over 2m5f.

It might be that he needs more of a stamina test and, if that's right, he comes here fresh and proven as a spring horse, that Supreme disaster notwithstanding.

Two rags that I thought could outrun their odds in the four miler look like showing up here instead. Marinero was being backed for that National Hunt Chase before swerving that contest, and he'll love the combination of a trip and fast ground.

Aurillac has been doing all his best work late and with a bit more runway might have won three of his last four (ignoring a pulled up effort in the standing water at Hereford last time). In what looks set to be a searching examination of heart and lungs, he is no 80/1 poke, though he may still struggle to make the first four. I'd still expect plenty of others to cry enough before him.

It's an open race and I have no really strong opinions but there are a few worth consideration as value options.

Two against the field:
Royal Vacation 12/1 boylesports
Bellshill 9/1 general

Massive priced crackpot play:
Aurillac 66/1 Skybet [1/5 1-2-3-4]

Betfair Sports

Back a winner where the SP is 3/1+ and get a free bet to the same stake (max free bet £25)

bet365

Back any single winner at 4/1 or more on ITV race and get risk-free bet to same stake on next ITV race (max stake £50)

Paddy

Money back as a free bet if you finish second (max £20/race)

Coral

Money back as a free bet on fallers (stake between £10 and £25)

**

2.50 Coral Cup (Grade 3 handicap, 2m 5f 26yds)

This is not my idea of a betting race. Tombstone is very short but has obvious claims, being classy enough to finish fourth in last year's Supreme. A defeat of Jezki last time reads well enough regardless of which Jezki turned up that day, but you just can't be betting a 4/1 in 26 runner handicaps. Well I can't anyway.

I'd rather have a look at the next trio, all lurking around the 10/1 mark. Automated has been shoved up a lot for a last-to-first win in a Grade B handicap hurdle last time. Only a length in front of Scoir Mear, they pulled twenty clear of the third in what should have been a competitive handicap. Trained, like Tombstone, by Gordon Elliott, this strong-travelling closer should be fun to watch.

The novice Peregrine Run will relish this return to terra firmer after running very well in defeat in the Grade 2 Leamington Novices' Hurdle last time. It was soft bordering on heavy there, the Peregrine having flown home on his previous four starts on good ground. Trained by Pat Fahy, whose Morning Assembly - his first Festival handicap runner for a decade - ran fourth in the Ultima last year, Peregrine Run has a verdict over Albert Bartlett second favourite, Wholestone, in the Grade 2 Hyde Novices' Hurdle over course and distance.

And at bigger prices, Scoir Mear might go well. Automated looked set to swoop by this chap that last day but made heavy weather of it, and a return to faster conditions might be in Tony Mullins' horse's favour. He's two pounds better off with his vanquisher there, and two and a half times the price.

Not a race to get stuck into - not for me at any rate - but I'll take a small piece of...

One who could run well:
Peregrine Run 10/1 [check for extra place concessions, possibly first six]

Coral are paying 1/4 1-2-3-4-5-6

Skybet, Paddy are paying 1/5 1-2-3-4-5-6

bet365 are paying 1/4 1-2-3-4-5

Betfair Sports

Back a winner where the SP is 3/1+ and get a free bet to the same stake (max free bet £25)

bet365

Back any single winner at 4/1 or more on ITV race and get risk-free bet to same stake on next ITV race (max stake £50)

Paddy

Money back as a free bet if you finish second (max £20/race)

Coral

Money back as a free bet on fallers (stake between £10 and £25)

**

3.30 Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1, 1m 7f 199yds)

I've previewed this race in depth, here.

 

**

4.10 Cross Country Chase (Class 2, 3m 6f 37yds)

A race in which I traditionally have a strong opinion and in which this season I did not. Until about six weeks ago... I wrote then that I thought Cause Of Causes was a very big price at 12/1 NRNB in this post. He's now 4/1 top so I was right about the price at least. Regarding his chance, it depends on how well he's responded to the reported 'extensive schooling' he has undertaken since a listless sortie over the quirky course in January.

That he finished fifth that day was remarkable because, for most of the near four mile race, he was unsighted. That said, fifth was 42 lengths behind first. His Festival record in the last three seasons is 211, beating 59 of the 60 rivals he's faced in the process, and he loves quick ground. There is a niggle about his hold up run style and 4/1 barely factors that in, but rumours of an extended sabbatical at trainer Enda Bolger's yard offer hope, especially for those of us already on at the bigger prices (soz!).

First that day was Urgent De Gregaine, extremely confidently ridden by Felix de Giles despite his 50/1 quote that day. He's a late scratch for the Festival version leaving second home, Cantlow, as a slightly stronger jolly than before the French raider's confirmed absence.

Cantlow is not the sort to be relying on. He has won over course and distance, in the December handicap version, but has been beaten twice on these pistes, narrowly as mentioned last time but more heavily in the Festival renewal last term. As a pupil at Bolgers' famous banks academy he has every chance of going well, and as he eases out towards the 3/1 mark, he becomes worth the risk. But he's not there yet. Watching brief.

Any Currency is probably a bit long in the tooth now meaning the each way value might now lie with Auvergnat. Almost certain to be in the frame when unseating Rachel Blackmore at the 26th obstacle on Trials Day, Enda Bolger's seven-year-old was third in the Risk Of Thunder Chase last November and won the PP Hogan last month, both over Punchestown's banks course.

The PP Hogan has historically been the best trial for the Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase, and 8/1 in a couple of places is perfectly fair.

Yet another from the Bolger battalion is Quantitiveeasing, a horse which makes Cantlow look like German engineering-reliable. Third in the race last year, he then won the La Touche Cup at the Punchestown Festival and wheeled back two days later to finish second, both over the banks fences. Not seen since trailing his field in a Galway handicap hurdle in late October, 12/1 doesn't offer enough meat on his pretty flaky bone.

A better play might be Usuel Smurfer. He didn't look the most genuine at Punchestown last time, lugging in and then resisting Katie Walsh's urgings to go by Auvergnat, but the way he closed on the home turn was eye-catching and he's a 16/1 poke. That was his first run for Alan Fleming and his first for a year and a half, so perhaps he just ran a bit green. Either way, if he brings a similar level of form he could get on the premises.

Sausalito Sunrise is the highest rated British horse in the race but has no form over the fences, while Bless The Wings has been highly consistent in racking up a course and distance string of 3422. The latter is twelve now and will do well to hit the board again.

In summary, I like the chances of Cantlow and Cause Of Causes but the former's price is currently too short (would be interested at 3/1) and the latter's has truncated too much to be played. Auvergnat looks very solid each way, and Usuel Smurfer is the most interesting of the bigger prices.

Most likely winner:
Cantlow or Cause Of Causes

Value play:
Auvergnat 15/2 e/w Coral

Bigger price hopeful:
Usuel Smurfer 18/1 Skybet

bet365, Ladbrokes, Coral 1/4 1-2-3 (most others are 1/5 1-2-3)

Betfair Sports

Back a winner where the SP is 3/1+ and get a free bet to the same stake (max free bet £25)

bet365

Back any single winner at 4/1 or more on ITV race and get risk-free bet to same stake on next ITV race (max stake £50)

Paddy

Money back as a free bet if you finish second (max £20/race)

Coral

Money back as a free bet on fallers (stake between £10 and £25)

**

4.50 Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m 87yds)

You don't seriously want a tip from me in this, do you? A ream of ex-French and ex-flat four-year-olds, most of whose ability lights have been hidden under bushels, in a big field Cheltenham cauldron. Yuk.

Nobody can possibly know the exact, or even approximate, merit of a majority of the field so anyone finding the winner is more lucky than good. In my opinion. Still, it's the last leg of the placepot, and I did fluke the winner last year. Good old Diego du Charmil.

Divin Bere's form has been boosted by Master Blueyes and, curiously, his rating has not been reassessed in light of that one's Adonis victory. That is his first and only run in Britain to date, having previously raced in France where he was second in a couple of Auteuil three-year-old hurdles. Presumably off for two months since to protect his mark (139), he is an obvious candidate.

Dolos is another ex-Frenchie and though his UK form is a little more patchy, he was thought highly enough of to run in the Grade 1 Finale at Chepstow. A strong pace could be just what this Paul Nicholls-trained runner needs, his handler having won the race the last twice and three times since 2010.

Pick of the Irish is Tony Martin's Long Call, according to the betting at least. Whilst obviously deeply respecting money from such an uber-shrewd yard, I'm really struggling to see the case for this one.

There used to be an angle here in backing the highest rated flat horse. If that's to cop this year it will be Nicky Henderson's Percy Street, a general 25/1 shot. Rated 98 on the level, he's only 124 over hurdles which could allow for some upward expansion. Hendo won this with his second choice, Une Artiste, at 40/1 in 2010 so perhaps lightning can strike twice. Penny plays only if you fancy betting on it!

Impossible race.

One from the top:
Divin Bere 13/2 Betfair Sports

Two from anywhere else:
Dolos 12/1 general
Percy Street 28/1 Skybet

Betbright are 1/4 1-2-3-4-5 (if you can get more than 23p on with them)

Betfair Sports

Back a winner where the SP is 3/1+ and get a free bet to the same stake (max free bet £25)

bet365

Back any single winner at 4/1 or more on ITV race and get risk-free bet to same stake on next ITV race (max stake £50)

Coral

Money back as a free bet on fallers (stake between £10 and £25)

**

5.30 Champion Bumper (Grade 1, 2m 87yds)

Out of the frying pan and into the fire... If the Fred Winter field have generally declined the chance to show their hand to the 'capper, the Champion Bumper field have generally not progressed sufficiently in public to form a reliable hierarchy.

Historically this was an Irish benefit, the raiding party taking 14 of the first 17 renewals. But, since Cue Card's triumph in 2010, the score is 4-3 to the home team. This is most likely a product of the exorbitant fees British owners are prepared to pay for maiden point winners, but the fact is that things are a lot more equal these days. Thus, simply working through the Irish form, still less searching for Willie Mullins' best fancied runner, is no longer the shortcut it once was.

So let's start with the new vogue for the British players, principle among them perhaps being Western Ryder. Although beaten on his fourth and most recent start in National Hunt races, Warren Greatrex's five-year-old son of Westerner was giving the highly-touted runner up a stone and a half. There's a lot to like about this lad: he's game and he finds plenty off the bridle. Against that is that he's been beaten twice (soft ground both times, unbeaten on quicker) and he's not the kindest traveller. For what it's worth, only one of the 63 horses to finish second last time managed to win, 2/1 favourite, Liberman, way back in 2003. Since then, 42 last day runners-up have tried and failed to claim this prize.

That would count as a knock for Nicky Henderson's Claimantakinforgan too. Only sixth behind Western Ryder in a Listed Ascot bumper, he was then beaten by Black Op, giving that one seven pounds. And the same applies to Imperial Eloquence, in front of Claimantakinforgan when runner up to Western Ryder in that Ascot race.

A less fashionable runner but one boasting an unbeaten hat-trick is Peter Atkinson's Irish Roe. Owned by the trainer, this lass followed up easy wins at Perth and Sedgefield with a dead heat over course and distance in a Listed mares' bumper. That was a steadily run encounter and I expect she'll be better suited by the truer test of the Champion Bumper. Whether she's good enough is another question, but there was a lot to like about the way she forced herself into the photo that last day. She's been absent four months but, in receipt of seven pounds from the boys, she could give a run for your pennies at around 25/1.

So, after all that, the balance of probabilities is that the prize will be won by the Irish, but with which horse?

Carter McKay has long been favourite and is presumed to be the pick of the Willie Mullins pair. In winning his two bumpers to date, at Naas and Leopardstown, he has not impressed me particularly. He didn't seem to find a huge amount off the bridle having travelled much better than the re-opposing runner-up, Bakmaj.

That one has since franked the form, and bolstered his own credentials, with a comfortable five length win on good ground at Leopardstown. He won hands and heels that day, too, so was value for more than the official margin. 16/1, four times the price of Carter McKay, seems fair enough with more to come likely.

The likes of Someday and Fayonagh have won their bumpers impressively, though what the form is worth is hard to know. They both come here as unexposed and potentially top class.

Guesswork really but I'll take a small piece of some of the bigger priced unexposed ones.

Three unexposed at reasonable prices:
Someday 8/1 general
Fayonagh 12/1 Betway
Irish Roe 25/1 general

bet365, Coral, Ladbrokes are paying 1/4 1-2-3-4

Paddy, Skybet are paying 1/5 1-2-3-4

Ladbrokes

MULLINS Money Back: Money back as a free bet if Willie's Carter McKay or Next Destination wins (£25 max)

Betfair Sports

Back a winner where the SP is 3/1+ and get a free bet to the same stake (max free bet £25)

bet365

Back any single winner at 4/1 or more on ITV race and get risk-free bet to same stake on next ITV race (max stake £50)

Coral

Money back as a free bet on fallers (stake between £10 and £25)

**

And so ends the first half. The second half is usually tougher so hopefully we're a pound or two ahead of the game at this stage. If not, a good winner on Thursday or Friday will paper over plenty of cracks!

Matt

p.s. what are your day two picks?

 

Monday Musings: Confusion Reigns

All this Cheltenham stuff seems to be getting to a lot of people, writes Tony Stafford. Take Eddie O’Leary, brother to Michael and Racing Manager to his brother’s Gigginstown Stud. In yesterday’s Racing Post, Fast Eddie is quoted as insisting that a decision on whether their Empire of Dirt will run in either the Ryanair Chase or the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup will be delayed until next week.

In view of the litany of absentees from the meeting due to late injury, among them a handful of fellow Gordon Elliott inmates, such insistence – the word in one or other of its forms, got a couple of airings in Brian Sheerin’s page four piece – on pragmatism might be understandable, but next week, really?

It’s always tough to get weeks and years right. We talk about events in a jumps season as this year, when as with Moor Racer, now definite for the Champion Hurdle rather than a novice target, he might not have run since November 2016.

I’m finding it hard to distinguish this week from last, having set off at 4 a.m. on Saturday for Mark Johnston’s breeze morning where the most precocious batch of his juveniles set out on the road which might take one of them to the Brocklesby at Doncaster in three weeks’ time.

If that might seem too much time to allow for a 10 a.m. appointment you’re right, but Wetherby services offers an ideal opportunity for a Greggs breakfast special, bacon (three rashers) in a roll and a tea (my option) or coffee for £2.70. Anywhere else in that locale costs an arm or a leg. Thereafter, a wash and brush up, refuelling and an hour’s shut-eye were the perfect preparation for seeing third lot at Park Farm, Middleham.

Thirty or so of us were there to watch our particular interest, some intent on possible new acquisitions, others like me to appraise a possible early runner, as in Ray Tooth’s Tarnhelm. She has the distinction of being a regular partner for Deirdre Johnston and they were towards the back of a line of youngsters, some galloping, others like her doing a couple of canters – “maybe two weeks”, according to Mark, before joining them.

Anyway as they neared the onlookers, provided with a platform of rubber maps a fair distance away from the all-weather gallop, one distracted youngster veered left, hit the rail and ended on the other side. Luckily the rider took timely evasive action, and both she and her mount were unhurt.

Apparently, down at Richard Hannon’s last week, leading apprentice Hollie Doyle also came off, her mount spooking when several motor bikes sped past the string along a small road. She expects to be back race riding in a day or so.

Tarnhelm had to stop – she was the next one along – and if she can react with the same alacrity when asked to go faster, she could be all right. Time will tell, but Deirdre likes her.

Yesterday was the lull in the madness of Cheltenham week. Tonight I’ll have my usual pre-Festival night at the Bedfordshire Racing Club with Ian Wassell of Corals, BHA two mile hurdles handicapper, David Dickinson, and MC, Howard Wright – if he’s not in Bhutan or somewhere at the last minute – to run the final preview gathering of the year.

We might not be the best, but we are the last. Then after getting home at say 1 a.m. it’s up at 5 a.m. in order to collect Harry Taylor at Chigwell at 6.30, praying that the M25 will be kind to us for the first third of the trip west.

Howard has been an absentee a couple of times recently, I seem to remember Qatar as one lucrative alternative to his nice bottle of Bedfordshire RC wine, and Bhutan was a purely contrived possible destination. I knew Lennie Dorji, a great friend of Edward St George, and the pair spent every summer in England, betting in partnership and sometimes making money.

One year Edward had a successful time with David Loder horses, when I was a sort of advisor to the then young trainer, and even got a trip to Grand Bahama, which Edward basically owned with Sir (Union) Jack Hayward, that winter as a reward. He was totally disciplined. On hearing that Pat Eddery would be unable to ride the object of one potential 10 grand bet, he asked the trainer: “Who rides?” Upon hearing, “Paul Eddery”, he snapped back: “No bet!” It lost.

According to a comment made in the movie “The Lunchbox”, filmed a couple of years ago in Mumbai, Bhutan is the best place in the world to live: “you get five rupees there for one rupee here” one of the main characters says at one point.

Dorji was from that mountain nation’s Royal family and took important political roles, including I believe Prime Minister in his earlier days. If you saw the film on BBC2 last night, I bet you are still thinking about it and maybe like me quite affected. Try to see it.

Sorry Mr Editor, no more distractions. I started out talking about confusion for the Racing Post writer yesterday and in the same issue four pages later, my experiences on Champion Hurdle day eight years ago, when I was not there to see Punjabi win the big race, are recalled.

As with Chinese Whispers, even collaboration with the best of writers can be open to the odd confusion. If it seemed to read, therefore, that I drove there and back to Moorfields, “battling the London traffic”, I hasten to reassure that the 35 bus was my only conveyance option while recovering from a detached retina operation.

We’re not missing it this year, though, staying at a place called Highworth, between Swindon and Cirencester, and if 2016 is anything to go by, a better way into Cheltenham than from either A40 or M5. Starting as early as we do, there should be bags of time to see Punjabi and Rachael Kempster in the parade, unless like last year I’m forcibly prevented from the paddock by the security men.

Around New Year, I had a frustrating few days, wrestling with the apparent disappearance of the RCA despatched envelope which contained my new press badge for this year. I keep the robust, ideally-sized envelopes to contain such as driving insurance and car park documents and the like in the kitchen drawer.

When it came to taking it out possibly to go to Cheltenham on New Year’s day, I found to my consternation it wasn’t there and after a couple of lengthy searches, came to the conclusion I had erroneously thrown it out with the Christmas rubbish.

After a short correspondence with the RCA, I had no option but to part with £150 (£120 plus VAT) for a replacement. On Saturday night, returning at 10 p.m. after a stop-off at Chelmsford after the A1, I was met by a less-than-amused wife who said: “Did you lose this?” It was not the badge, but another RCA envelope with motoring documents. “That fell down behind the drawer”, she announced. “But I looked there a couple of times”, I whined. “Maybe there’s the one I wanted two months ago?” Two minutes later she retrieved another envelope, this one containing the missing press badge.

Saturday March 11. Hackney Wick, London. Dear RCA, I enclose the original 2017 press badge, issued to me, with car park label and use of badge instructions. Please send me the £150 so I can have a bet on Gordon Eliiott’s horses at Cheltenham next week.

Hope you all back plenty of winners, and maybe I’ll find one or two for the nice people of Bedfordshire tonight.