Read all sorts of commentaries and tips across a range of racing disciplines on the most popular horse racing blog in Britain, from staff and guest writers.

In the week that Lord Derby’s much-hated Hatchfield Farm plan has finally been given approval in its latest scaled-down form, Newmarket’s own Member of Parliament has indicated that there will be further irritations to come for some of his most celebrated constituents, writes Tony Stafford.

Matt Hancock, Secretary of State for Health as well as West Suffolk MP, said that “in the coming weeks, people aged over 70 would be required to stay at home in self-isolation for four months” with the aim of protecting that vulnerable group from the ever-growing threat of Covid 19.

Sir Michael Stoute is one of the trainers who will need to work out feasible working patterns within his yard to fulfil those conditions. Nick Rust, outgoing Chief Executive of the BHA, indicated that within a very short time, the UK would echo most other racing authorities around the world by imposing the “no-spectator” format, with one groom and one owner only allowed for each participating horse.

I was looking forward to Huntingdon on Thursday but that no longer seems an option. Even if Waterproof is allowed to run, I’m in the soon-to-be-barred age group. Last night my wife, who doesn’t drive, confirmed that our local shop where I’ve bought my Racing Post each morning for the past 17 years had run out of toilet rolls in the manner of the supermarket we visited late on Friday after my return from Cheltenham. Yesterday morning, the Turkish-born owner laughed as he pointed to very full shelves of the largely-missing product. I don’t think the people that sanctioned the seemingly-annual price-rise in that publication, now £3.50 daily and £3.90 on Saturday, might experience a reader backlash!

It’s a fast-moving situation.

We knew we were on borrowed time in Gloucestershire (or across the border in Worcester where Harry Taylor and I stayed in the wonderful Barn B and B, Pershore) last week. Thankfully for the racing industry and racegoers, but more especially the local community, as the Racing Post headline put it, it was a Last Hurrah. See you, hopefully, sometime in July. Just how much damage in human and commercial terms will have been done by then is a terrifying prospect.

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Every day since 1962, the best part of 60 years, I’ve been obsessed by horse racing. I still find it hard to accept that almost everyone else has no conception of Hethersett, the 1962 St Leger winner who a month earlier at York was the agent of my first big win as a 16-year-old in a Bournemouth betting shop, part of a treble with Sostenuto (Ebor) and Persian Wonder.

In jumping, contrarily, it wasn’t ever Arkle: I was a Mill House adherent in their clashes in the mid-1960’s. It was his compatriot, L’Escargot, a few years on, twice winner of the Gold Cup and the horse that prevented Red Rum from a Grand National hat-trick in 1975 when the weights and the ground turned the tide in his favour. Rummy’s third win was delayed for two years, Rag Trade similarly denying the Ginger McCain star in 1976. These heroics from L’Escargot came five years after his first of two successive Gold Cups.

Last week Al Boum Photo joined the select group of dual winners of Cheltenham showpiece, with Kauto Star’s two victories being separated by success for that great horse’s equally eminent stable-companion and contemporary, Denman. Triple winners in the modern (post 1945) era have been restricted to Cottage Rake, Arkle and Best Mate, whose trainer Henrietta Knight was busily autographing copies of her latest book in the Shopping Village last week.

On Gold Cup Day I believe we were in the process of witnessing the best performance ever by a four-year-old at the Cheltenham Festival when the final flight intervened to halt Goshen’s serene progress. Veterans, like me, will have been recalling a similar blunder by Attivo back in 1974, but he and rider Robert Hughes recovered. The Cyril Mitchell-trained and Peter O’Sullevan-owned favourite kept going to win by four lengths as his owner commentated with his usual unflappable calm on BBC television.

In 2013 - is it really seven years ago? - Our Conor won the race by 15 lengths, his final victory in a career ended a year later with a third-flight fall in the Champion Hurdle. Four horses have achieved the feat of following the Triumph Hurdle win in the next year’s Champion Hurdle. The first was Clair Soleil, in the race’s Hurst Park days. That track, between Kempton and Sandown, closed in 1962, the race transferring to Cheltenham three years later.

The Hurst Park years were generally a French benefit and some of that country’s top trainers targeted it. Francois Mathet, Derby winner Relko’s handler, trained him as a four-year-old but it was in Ryan Price’s care that he won the Champion Huirdle, Fred Winter the jockey both times. Alec Head was another to win the race during that era. At Cheltenham, the great Persian War preceded three consecutive Champion Hurdles with his Triumph victory and the others were Kribensis, trained for Sheikh Mohammed by Michael Stoute all of 32 years ago and Katchit (Alan King).

I’m convinced that had the understandably distraught Jamie Moore managed to retain his balance after his mount’s single error in an otherwise flawless performance, Our Conor’s margin would have been superseded. It was a display of raw power that the handicapper Dave Dickinson would have been hard pushed to keep below 165 at a minimum.

It was a week for the clever trainers, that is those with yards full of horses that they can engineer to enable them to target big races without giving away too much in the build-up, and some spectacular results were achieved. None was more striking than Saint Roi, a horse who had been fourth in his sole run in France, in an Auteuil Listed race in September. Transferred to Willie Mullins plenty was expected, but certainly not the 23-length fifth of 17 at 1-3 at Clonmel in December. He atoned by winning a maiden by nine lengths on New Year’s Day at lowly Tramore.

He’d obviously improved more than a touch in the intervening ten weeks under Mullins’ tutelage as the torrent of money told on Friday morning and, off 137, Saint Roi won the County Hurdle as he liked. McFabulous on Saturday at Kempton, a superb bumper horse the previous season, but surprisingly lack-lustre in his first couple of hurdles, also managed a timely win at the third attempt for Paul Nicholls at Market Rasen last month. That (minimum three runs) qualified him for the EBF Final. Off an undemanding 132, McFabulous strolled home as the 5-2 favourite in an 18-runner supposedly-competitive race where they went 10-1 bar one in the re-scheduled-from-Sandown event.

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I keep intending to give Coquelicot a bigger mention in these jottings and she certainly deserves a stage of her own after a third win in a row on Saturday. Her victory came with some elan in the also re-staged from Sandown EBF Mares’ Final, a Listed National Hunt Flat race which makes the geegeez.co.uk-owned filly a very valuable proposition.

Do I sense a move in her direction by someone whose horses run in green and gold colours and who has horses in the Anthony Honeyball stable? She certainly has the profile of a JP horse! By the time we get the answer to that, Sir Michael and me will almost certainly be in lock-down. This time a week ago we inhabited a very different world.

Saturday's pick was...

4.00 Fontwell : Jimmy @ 3/1 BOG PU at 7/4 (Chased leaders on inside, switched outside before 4th, reminders and not travel well after next, reluctant and dropped out quickly after 9th, soon pulled up)

Monday's pick runs in the...

3.40 Kelso :

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection between 8.00am and 8.15am and I then add a more detailed write-up later within an hour or so of going "live".

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.

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Who?

Calle Malva @ 4/1 BOG

...in a 7-runner, Class 4, Mares Novices Handicap Hurdle for 4yo+ over 2m6½f on heavy ground worth £4,289 to the winner...

Why?...

This 5 yr old mare has won one of her four starts to date, another Class 4 hurdle on heavy ground at relatively nearby Hexham, so conditions won't be too unfamiliar today. That win is the only win recorded by any of the runners in this contest, as her six rivals have only mustered a combined 4 places from 21 runs to date.

Regular jockey Blair Campbell  is the saddle again today, once more hoping to use his 3lb claim effectively enough to land another Kelso winner for trainer Lucinda Russell, who is 30 from 117 (25.6% SR) for 60.5pts (+51.7% ROI) with horses sent off in the Evens to 8/1 price bracket in handicaps at this venue since the start of 2015. These include of relevance today...

  • 28/103 (27.2%) for 67.1pts (+65.1%) at Classes 3 & 4
  • 18/74 (24.3%) for 46.7pts (+63.2%) with horses unplaced last time out
  • 18/74 (24.3%) for 33.6pts (+45.3%) at Class 4
  • 18/56 (32.1%) for 54.7pts (+97.6%) in fields of 6-8 runners
  • 14/43 (32.6%) for 29.9pts (+69.5%) during March to May
  • 13/45 (28.9%) for 46.1pts (+102.4%) with a jockey claiming 3-6lbs
  • 12/36 (33.3%) for 41.3pts (+114.6%) over hurdles
  • 9/31 (29%) for 9.6pts (+31%) on heavy ground
  • 8/18 (44.4%) for 19.9pts (+110.8%) in March
  • 7/20 (35%) for 17.7pts (+88.5%) with Blair Campbell in the saddle
  • and 7/16 (43.75%) for 31pts (+193.9%) with female runners...

...whilst risking diluting the data too far...those unplaced LTO and now running at Class 3/4 in fields of 4-7 in March are 5 from 9 (55.6% SR) for 15.66pts (+174% ROI) profit...

...giving us...a 1pt win bet on Calle Malva @ 4/1 BOG as was available from Bet365, BetVictor & Hills at 8.00am Monday with plenty of 7/2 BOG elsewhere, but as always please check your BOG status. To see what your preferred bookie is quoting...

...click here for the betting on the 3.40 Kelso

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 above are to Betfair SP, as I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you. I always use BOG bookies for SotD, wherever possible, but I use BFSP for the stats as it is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns I use to support my picks. If that's unclear, please ask!

So, as intimated last weekend, I was right to swerve Cheltenham for SotD purposes (in fact, I only had 2 bets all Festival, a 5/2 win on Min and a defeat for Easy Game), but my results here were no better than many of you fared at Chelts, sadly.

It was largely a tale of woe with few excuses. No winners, 6pts dropped : Nexar, Gorgeous General & Jimmy all ran poorly, Roxyfet got a bum ride from a usually reliable rider and Subliminal/Premier D'Troice couldn't last the trips faced. All in all, just poor.

This obviously puts me on the back foot for March and I'm not sure how much time I'm going to be given to turn it around (Corona, not the boss!), but here's something...I'm still very happy with the selection process, despite poor results!

I'll explain briefly and it might not give many of you comfort, but let's try...

A while back I shared some of my selection process and told you that from my final daily shortlist, I send one pick to SotD and up to three picks per day to my standalone service www.statpicks.co.uk , a limited membership subscription service (some, but not many spaces available) and all that seems to have happened of late is that the winners haven't been spread around equally.

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The last 40 Stat Picks selections (over the last 3 and half weeks) have produced 20 winners (50% SR) and 51.8pts (+129.5% ROI) profit, from exactly the same selection process as SotD! So whilst I understand and share any frustrations you've got, I insist that the MO is sound. This is not a sales push for the other service, but if you do want more info on it, just drop me an email at the usual address.

Chris

Selections & Results : 09/03/20 to 14/03/20

09/03 : Nezar @ 7/1 BOG 9th at 11/1
10/03 : Roxyfet @ 9/2 BOG 2nd at 11/4
11/03 : Subliminal @ 13/2 BOG 4th at 7/2
12/03 : Premier D'Troice @ 11/4 BOG PU at 2/1
13/03 : Gorgeous General @ 7/2 BOG 5th at 9/2
14/03 : Jimmy @ 3/1 BOG PU at 7/4

09/03/20 to 16/03/20 :
0 winning bet from 6 = 0.00% SR
P/L: -6.00pts

March 2020 :
1 winner from 12 = 8.33% SR
P/L: -7.00pts
ROI = -58.33%

2020 to date :
9 winners from 61 = 14.75% SR
P/L: -14.17pts
ROI = -23.23%

Overall:
665 winners from 2527 = 26.32% S.R
P/L: +517.70pts
ROI: +20.49%

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
The full story from 2017 can be read here.
Whilst the yearly review for 2018 is right here

And here is the overview for 2019

Stat of the Day is just one component of the excellent package available to all Geegeez Gold Members, so why not take the plunge and get involved right now?

Click here for more details.

You can't win 'em all, as the saying goes. And that was certainly true of my wagering week at the biggest meeting of them all, the Cheltenham Festival, writes Matt Bisogno.

In the spirit of openness, I've produced a short video review of my book, warts and all. In fairness, it is pretty much all warts!

 

Much more Festival fallout next week.

Here's hoping you fared better than me! Leave a comment and let us know how you did: good or bad, we're all in this together!

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2020: Day Four Preview, Tips

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

1.30 Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m1f)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Triumph Hurdle Pace Map

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

Triumph Hurdle Selection

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

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

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2.10 County Hurdle (Grade 3 Handicap, 2m1f)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As usual, lots more with chances.

County Hurdle Pace Map

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

County Hurdle Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

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

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cheltenham Gold Cup Pace Map

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

Cheltenham Gold Cup Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Foxhunter Chase Pace Map

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

Foxhunter Chase Selection

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grand Annual Pace Map

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

Grand Annual Selection

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Pace Map

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

Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle Selection

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

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

Cheltenham Festival 2020: Day 3 Preview, Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Marsh Chase Pace Map

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

Marsh Chase Selection

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

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

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

*

2.10 Pertemps Final (Grade 3 handicap, 3m)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pertemps Final Pace Map

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

Pertemps Final Selection

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

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

*

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

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

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

Your first 30 days for just £1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ryanair Chase Pace Map

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

Ryanair Chase Selection

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

Suggestion: Back Min at 11/4 general

*

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle (Grade 1, 3m)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stayers' Hurdle Pace Map

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

Stayers' Hurdle Selecton

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

Loads more with chances. Obviously.

Festival Plate Pace Map

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

Festival Plate Selection

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Pace Map

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

Mares' Novices' Hurdle Selection

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

Kim Muir Pace Map

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

Kim Muir Selection

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

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

*

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

Good luck!

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2020: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ballymore Pace Map

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

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Selection

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

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

*

2.10 RSA Chase (Grade 1, 3m)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RSA Chase Pace Map

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

RSA Chase Selection

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

They are my two wild guesses against the field.

Coral Cup Pace Map

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

Your first 30 days for just £1

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Champion Chase Pace Map

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

Champion Chase Selection

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Pace Map

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

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Selection

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Boodles / Fred Winter Pace Map

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

Boodles / Fred Winter Selection

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Champion Bumper Pace Map

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

Champion Bumper selection

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

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

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

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

*

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

Good luck!

Matt

I’ve not had much to say about Cheltenham 2020 until now, writes Tony Stafford. Normally I would be preparing, as I have for almost all of the last 20-odd Festival Eves, for a trip up the A1 to the Bedfordshire Racing Club, but it has always meant a 12.30 a.m. arrival home and therefore a mad rush to get organised for the ride west the following early morning.

I reluctantly ducked out this time and I trust the rather more youthful replacement – I assume whoever he or she is, must be! - will add some vigour to proceedings. It has been a lovely privilege to see the members every year and as I sit down to dinner tonight in Pershore, I’m sure my thoughts will drift off to Langford a time or two.

Poor Nicky Henderson, newly-adorned with a well-deserved honour, has yet another ticklish issue with Altior. In a season where the best chaser of recent times – never mind Cyrname’s rating and defeat of him at two miles, five furlongs this season - now there’s an old splint flaring up to put Wednesday’s participation in doubt in the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase.

For the past four years Altior has been a standing dish at the Festival. Initially as a 4-1 shot he beat Min by seven lengths in the 2016 Supreme Novice Hurdle. Then with a Champion Hurdle seemingly a future penalty kick, he was immediately switched to chasing and the following year he was 1-4 when winning the Arkle. His first Queen Mother Champion came the next year at even-money with a replica seven-length demolition of Min and then last season it was 4-11 as he swooped late after looking likely to be beaten by Politologue in his second Queen Mum Chase.

Now, Nicky OBE is wrestling with the will he?, won’t he? dilemma he’s faced a number of times before with Altior. The problem has been that a requirement to provide copy for the bookmaking firm that sponsors his yard brought negative publicity earlier in the season over another Altior issue. Now he clearly feels obliged to detail every step his horses take, so while other trainers would be quietly hosing down the culprit limb in total privacy, Henderson is duty bound to keep the betting public in the loop.

In any case, Altior at 3-1 seems no bargain to me in a year when there are two truly top-class opponents in Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi. I don’t think I’d want to run him in these circumstances, especially as Hendo’s and Mrs Pugh’s sporting instincts clearly took over in face of public clamour before his sole jumping defeat in that ill-judged clash at Ascot with a fitter and stamina-proven Cyrname.

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Henderson and Willie Mullins have been the overwhelming powers at Cheltenham this century and there seems no reason to think that they will not continue to dominate the four days at Prestbury Park. They have six between them in the 17-runner Unibet Champion Hurdle, Henderson’s quartet headed by Christmas Hurdle heroine, Epatante.

It is rare enough for a mare to head the Champion Hurdle market. She is the only female in tomorrow’s line-up as her stable-companion Verdana Blue has been withdrawn, presumably owing to the very soft ground, as has the unbeaten Honeysuckle, who has been switched to a mouth-watering opening-day clash with Benie Des Dieux in the Close Brothers Mares’ Hurdle.

In the 93-year history of the Champion Hurdle – four since 1927 have not been staged – only four mares have won the race. Even I can’t remember African Sister in 1939, but since then only Dawn Run (1984), Flakey Dove ten years later and Annie Power in 2016, have beaten their male counterparts.

Two of those four were of the highest class and if Epatante is to equal their achievements, she would need to be special, even if by common consent this might not be an up-to-standard championship race. In an open year I’m looking for a little each-way bet on Darver Star to help Gavin Cromwell gain closure for the understandable feeling that last year’s surprise winner Espoir D’Allen would have been the one to beat again had he not suffered a life-ending injury on the gallops late last year.

Darver Star’s rise echoes in many ways his predecessor’s arrival at Cheltenham last March, and while the 20-1 I should have taken is long gone, around 12’s is not too bad in this line-up.

I’ve been nagged ever since I’ve got to know him by a recently-acquired friend, Scott Ellis, who also makes the trek west today and in his case has done for 25 years, boy and man. He has been saying The Conditional, trained by David Bridgwater, is a certainty for the Ultima Handicap Chase, the race that precedes the Champion Hurdle. It is run on the Old Course’s version of the Gold Cup distance, so slightly less but just as severe a test and we have a full field of 24.

Scott was paranoid that the horse, originally in the 60’s in the first entry list, would not make the cut, and even on Sunday morning when at 9.30 there were still only 22 declared and 24 could run, he was worried The Conditional might not make it. In the event there are seven below him.

A course and distance winner in the autumn and then good enough to finish second to De Rasher Counter in the Ladbrokes Trophy (Hennessy) back in November, The Conditional then ran fourth over what proved a few furlongs too far at Warwick when favourite for the Classic Chase. I’m surprised considering it was stamina rather than ability that caused his defeat, that he was dropped 3lb to a rating of 139. I agree with Mr Ellis, he looks a big threat to all.

Solo on Friday in the JCB Triumph Hurdle has Gary Moore’s Goshen to beat among others, and I have to side with the latter, who could win by a cricket score. Solo won the race in which Ray Tooth’s Waterproof was being tested at Kempton. A burst blood vessel when apparently still well placed coming to the home turn ended Ray’s hopes.

Happily, after reassuring signals from the stable and the vet, he is being lined up for the Silver Cup on Friday at Fakenham, where he won his maiden. Last year there were eight runners in the race so we were hopeful when the entries came out on Saturday morning even though rated 127 in a 0-125 he’ll be the first to be eliminated. Depending on total entries on the day, the race can accommodate between ten (minimum) and 16. Thirty-two were nominated and I fear it won’t be like the Ultima. Instead it looks like a novice at Ludlow next week where he cannot be eliminated.

Great news that the mares’ bumper, lost to Sandown last weekend and the intended target of Geegeez’ smart filly Coquelicot, will be moved to Kempton on Saturday. If that track falls victim to the weather, I’ll give up. There’s more chance of being struck by lightning, or its modern-day equivalent, the CV!

- TS

Cheltenham Festival 2020: Day One Preview, Tips

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supreme Novices' Pace Projection

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

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Selection

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

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

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

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

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2.10 Arkle Challenge Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arkle Pace Projection

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

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Arkle Chase Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ultima Pace Projection

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

Ultima Handicap Chase Selection

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

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

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

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

Champion Hurdle Pace Projection

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

Champion Hurdle Selection

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

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

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4.10 Mares' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m4f)

This looks a match between Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest are not good enough.

Mares' Hurdle Pace Projection

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

Mares' Hurdle Selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

17 others with some sort of a chance!

Novices' Handicap Chase Pace Projection

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

Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase selection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

National Hunt Chase Pace Projection

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

National Hunt Chase Selection

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

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

*

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

Matt

It was a consistent, if frustrating start to the new month, as after a fourth place finish on Monday, the next five picks all made the frame. The frustration came in the form of just one winning, whilst three finished as runners-up. Thankfully, we got on the winner at 4/1 to keep the losses small, whilst wondering "what if..." about the three silvers.

That said, it's always about small margins in this game and hopefully next week we'll be the other side of a tight call. Cheltenham beckons now, but most (if not all) of my selections will be from elsewhere, I leave the big important meetings to those best placed to make selections there. After all, a 3/1 winner in a 6-runner Class 6 A/W handicap pays the same as a 3/1 winner in a 20-runner chase at HQ.

Just a thought 😉

Chris

Selections & Results : 02/03/20 to 07/03/20

02/03 : Casual Cavalier @ 4/1 BOG 4th at 8/1
03/03 : Ballybreen @ 10/3 BOG 2nd at 7/2
04/03 : Will To Win @ 3/1 BOG 2nd at 11/4
05/03 : Le Boizelo @ 4/1 BOG WON at 3/1
06/03 : Krazy Paving @ 11/4 BOG 3rd at 5/1
07/03 : Emma Beag @ 4/1 BOG 2nd at 11/4

02/03/20 to 07/03/20 :
1 winning bet from 6 = 16.66% SR
P/L: -1.00pts

March 2020 :
1 winner from 6 = 16.66% SR
P/L: -1.00pts
ROI = -16.66%

2020 to date :
9 winners from 55 = 16.36% SR
P/L: -8.17pts
ROI = -14.85%

Overall:
665 winners from 2521 = 26.38% S.R
P/L: +523.70pts
ROI: +20.77%

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
The full story from 2017 can be read here.
Whilst the yearly review for 2018 is right here

And here is the overview for 2019

Stat of the Day is just one component of the excellent package available to all Geegeez Gold Members, so why not take the plunge and get involved right now?

Click here for more details.

Saturday's pick was...

4.15 Ayr : Emma Beag @ 4/1 BOG 2nd at 11/4 (Held up mid-division, tracked leaders after 6th, challenged 3 out, soon ridden, kept on and every chance last, but no extra on flat

Monday's pick runs in the...

5.40 Wolverhampton :

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection between 8.00am and 8.15am and I then add a more detailed write-up later within an hour or so of going "live".

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?

Nezar @ 7/1 BOG

Your first 30 days for just £1

...in a 9-runner, Class 5, A/W Apprentice Handicap for 4yo+ over 7f on tapeta worth £3,429 to the winner...

Why?...

On a day where racing seems to have gone for quantity rather than quality, I'm fairly disinterested, but I do think this one is too big a price not to consider, even if he drifts further in the market!

He was only headed very late on and subsequently beaten by a short head at 10/1 last time out, when racing over today's 7f trip at Kempton 34 days ago, but comes here with the benefit of some rest and a drop in class. His overall record isn't brilliant, but isn't bad for a 9 yr old approaching the 70-race mark, having won 7 of 65 so far.

The resultant 10.77% strike rate is respectable, but does improve under conditions faced today ie...

  • 33.33% (6/18) at Class 5
  • 30.77% (4/13) here at Wolverhampton
  • 25% (2/8) over course and distance
  • 20.69% (6/29) in fields of 5-10 runners
  • 16.28% (7/43) without headgear (0/22 with!)
  • and 11.54% (6/52) after a break of less than 5 weeks...

...whilst without headgear in 5-10 runner, Class 5 contests less than five weeks since he last ran, he is 4 from 9 (44.4% SR) for 16.2pts (+180% ROI) including 3 from 4 here at Wolverhampton and 2 from 3 over course and distance.

Also, since the start of 2016, his trainer, Dean Ivory's handicappers sent off at odds ranging from 7/4 to 12/1 when dropping down a class are 26 from 139 (18.7% SR) for 35.8pts (+25.8% ROI), including the following of relevance today...

  • 23/103 (22.3%) for 54.5pts (+52.9%) from males
  • 22/101 (21.8%) for 51.8pts (+51.2%) over trips of 6f to 1m
  • 19/77 (24.7%) for 51.3pts (+66.6%) at 16-60 days since last run
  • 18/92 (19.6%) for 40.7pts (+44.2%) in races worth less than £4,000
  • 15/65 (23.1%) for 30.8pts (+47.4%) in fields of 9-11 runners
  • 6/16 (37.5%) for 17.7pts (+110.4%) here at Wolverhampton
  • and 4/14 (28.6%) for 2.63pts (+18.8%) in March

The bulk of the winners appear to fall in the first four categories listed and SotD wouldn't be SotD if I didn't attempt to put a composite angle together for you, would it?

So, here goes...males at 6f to 1m for £0-4k at 16-60 dslr = 13/29 (44.8% SR) for 66.3pts (+228.5% ROI), from which 8/16 (50%) in fields of 9-11 runners, 3/7 (42.9%) at Wolverhampton and 2/4 (50%) in fields of 9-11 at Wolves...

...giving us...a 1pt win bet on Nezar @ 7/1 BOG as was available from Bet365, Hills & Ladbrokes at 8.10am Monday, but as always please check your BOG status. To see what your preferred bookie is quoting...

...click here for the betting on the 5.40 Wolverhampton

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 above are to Betfair SP, as I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you. I always use BOG bookies for SotD, wherever possible, but I use BFSP for the stats as it is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns I use to support my picks. If that's unclear, please ask!

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

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

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

Graded Race Form

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

Rating the Triumph

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

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

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

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

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

Your first 30 days for just £1

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

The trainers

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

 

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

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

 

 

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

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

 

 

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

Race Composition – Pace to Burn

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

 

Summary and conclusions

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

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

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

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

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

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

- JS

This article was originally written ahead of the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, and was updated prior to the 2019 Cheltenham Festival. It has been further updated ahead of the 2020 Cheltenham Festival as most of the themes have gained strength since first publication.

The Cheltenham Festival is almost upon us and soon we'll be faced with the unenviable - though highly enjoyable - task of trying to find winners in 28 deeply competitive races. Many sensible players will focus on a subset of the full four-day card but, regardless of your plan of attack, there are some rules of thumb worth keeping in mind.

I've broken the races down into four categories: open Grade 1's, novice Grade 1's (excluding the Bumper and Triumph Hurdle), handicap hurdles (excluding the Fred Winter), and handicap chases. The following races, in addition to the trio mentioned above, are also excluded: NH Chase, Mares' Novice Hurdle, Cross Country Chase, and the Foxhunters' Chase.

That leaves 21 races spread across four groups upon which to focus. For each I was looking for negative angles: in so doing, I'm happy to forego a small percentage of winners if it means there is a far more workable residue of runners who comprise most victors and, crucially, a value edge.

The sample covers the last eleven Festivals, going back to 2008, with commentary on the updated figures and performance at the 2018 and 2019 Festivals appended.

Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1's

The open Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival are the Champion Hurdle, Mares' Hurdle, Champion Chase, Ryanair Chase, Stayers' Hurdle, and the Gold Cup: six in total. Across the ten years to 2017, that equated to 53 winners (Mares' Hurdle upgraded during the sample window) and 158 placed horses, from 635 runners. To that we add six winners and 17 placed horses from 2018, and a further six winners and 18 places from last year.

Headgear

Those wearing no headgear won 50 of the 53 open Grade 1's in the last decade, from 521 runners. That's 94% of the winners from 82% of the fields.

Just one of the 94 runners sporting blinkers or cheekpieces won - Our Vic in the 2008 Ryanair - and such horses' place strikerate is poor, too.

Be wary of horses wearing headgear, especially blinkers or cheekpieces, in Open Grade 1's at the Festival.

2018 Festival Update: Native River won the Gold Cup wearing cheek pieces, with just one of the other twelve headgear-accoutred runners making the frame. So that's 55 of 59 open Grade 1's now: 93% of the winners from 82% of the runners.

2019 Festival Update: 15 headgear runners across the sextet of open G1 races, and no winners. In fairness, three were placed (Melon, Politologue, and Sam Spinner) at solid prices.

2008-2019 Picture

Those wearing headgear can win (QED) but are 4/142 (2.82% SR) with an A/E of just 0.43.

Age

Horses aged five to nine won 49 of the 53 open Cheltenham Festival Grade 1's in the last decade. The other four were aged ten. From 45 runners, 11+ year-olds have failed to win. These include such sentimental veterans as Cue Card, Big Buck's and Kauto Star, all of whom were sent off at 9/2 or shorter since 2012.

Avoid backing horses aged in double digits in Festival Open Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: Two more 11+ year-olds ran in last year's Festival, including the wonderful Cue Card. Wonderful he may be but, sent off at 9/2 and pulled up, he was another mug punt for many. Worse than that, though, was the ten-year-old Un De Sceaux, who was turned over at 8/11. He was one of six ten-year-olds beaten last year.

2019 Festival Update: Nine double-digit aged runners in these big six races in 2019, and no winners. Just the still quite mighty Faugheen - who will bid to defy the stat again next week - made the frame, running third in the Stayers' Hurdle.

2008-2019 Picture

Horses aged ten-plus are now 4/121 since 2008 (3.31% SR), A/E 0.42.

[As an aside, the four winning ten-year-olds did so in the Champion Chase (two) and Ryanair Chase (two).]

Starting Price

None of the 238 horses sent off at 25/1 or bigger managed to win an open Grade 1 at the last ten CheltFests. Moreover, only three priced bigger than 14/1 scored, from 335 to face the starter, with this group losing 274 points at SP. Meanwhile, those priced at 14/1 or shorter won 50 races from 300 starters, and lost just two points at SP. That converted to a BSP profit of 51.75 points.

Ignore horses priced at 16/1 or bigger in Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: Another blank for 16/1+ horses, who went 0/31 in the Grade 1 open races. Of the four who placed, only one was second - Midnight Tour in a lop-sided Mares' Hurdle - with the other three good enough for no better than third.

2019 Festival Update: The bad news is that there was a winner. 16/1 Espoir D'Allen won the Champion Hurdle as the race fell apart. The good news is that there were also 49 losers! Saying that, nine of the 50 made the frame, so these horses (obviously, duh) can win.

2008-2019 Picture

Overall, then, this group is now 4/416 (0.96% SR) with a loss at SP of 338 points (-81.25% !) and an A/E of just 0.32. Even at Betfair SP, the loss is 322.9 points. I remain happy to let these beat me.

Trainers

Paul Nicholls is still the winning-most Open Grade 1 trainer in the past decade, with ten such victories to his name. Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins each have nine, and the next best of Jonjo O'Neill, with four.

But... the denizen of Ditcheat has led just one beast - Dodging Bullets in 2015 - into the winner's enclosure since 2012, with none of his eight such runners at the last two Festivals reaching the first four. Notwithstanding that all bar one of that octet was sent off a double-figure price, he's a trainer about which to be apprehensive in this context.

Philip Hobbs is 0 from 17 in this type of race in the review period, and has only had one horse placed. That was Fair Along, third in the 2008 Champion Chase, and Hobbs tends to fare better at Aintree, though he's had a wretched season blighted - one suspects - by a touch of the virus.

Noel Meade has an infamous record at the Festival and, while he's 0 from 13 in this section of races, his Road To Riches was third in both the 2015 Gold Cup and the 2016 Ryanair Chase.

Nevertheless, Messrs. Hobbs and Meade are 0 from 30, three places, which is hard to overlook. Nicholls' 1 from 30 record since 2013 is equally difficult to excuse.

Tread carefully around Cheltenham open Grade 1 runners trained by Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs and Noel Meade.

2018 Festival Update: Both Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson have usurped Nicholls at the top of the pile, each having now secured 11 such wins since 2008. Last year, Messrs. Nicholls, Hobbs and Meade went 0/4 (three Nicholls, one Meade) though two of them ran fairly well in fourth. Caution remains the watch word.

2019 Festival Update: Four more qualifiers last year, including a Nicholls winner (lovely Frodon), and two further placed horses. The other finished fifth, and I think rather than the 201-mentioned caution being the watchword, I'd be happy to lose this particular element. It will be expunged from the 2021 preview!

2008-2019 Picture

Overall the figures of 11/112 (-65.07) look like keeping on side. But, while there is normally a premium to be paid for siding with Paul Nicholls especially, he seems to have largely overcome a hiatus in fortunes of a few years ago and, as such, should not be opposed lightly. This one is about to be consigned to the dusty bin.

Cheltenham Festival Open Grade 1 Micro System

Pulling all of these negative stats together makes for a nice little micro system. Specifically:

- No horses wearing blinkers or cheekpieces
- No horses trained by Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs or Noel Meade
- No horses priced at 16/1+
- No horses aged 10+

That would have netted 36 winners from 180 runners (20% strike rate, 69% race win strike rate) and a level stakes profit of 46.48 points at Starting Price. That bloats to +69.95 at BSP. Moreover, the approach was profitable in eight of the ten years, exceptions being 2016 and 2009.

2018 Festival Update: The above 'dodge the negatives' angle would have netted you five of the six open G1 winners (excluding the cheek pieced Native River) from just 25 bets. It would have been enough to make you a profit of 6.17 points at SP or a very tidy 13.82 points at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: The mini system had a fine week with wins for Al Boum Photo, Paisley Park and Altior in the big four races, as well as Roksana in the Mares' Hurdle. That was worth a profit of 5.74 points at SP and 6.95 at BSP. Espoir d'Allen was 16/1 and therefore just outside the range.

2020 Festival Angle: We'll remove the trainer element from the above for 2020. Results will be published in due course...

**

Cheltenham Festival Novice Grade 1's (excl. Bumper & Triumph Hurdle)

The novice Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival are the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, Arkle Chase, Ballymore Properties Novices' Hurdle, RSA Chase, JLT Novices' Chase, and Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle: six in all. Across the ten years, that equates to 54 winners (JLT upgraded during the sample window) and 159 placed horses, from 723 runners. To that we add six winners and 17 placed horses, from 76 runners, in 2018.

The Bumper is excluded because it has no obstacles, and the Triumph Hurdle because it is for four-year-olds only.

Here are the negatives...

Headgear

Those wearing no headgear still account for the vast majority of wins - 57 of 60 from 2008 to 2018 - but perform little better than expected, 95% of the wins coming from 93% of the runners.

2019 Update: Headgear is a slight negative seemingly among the novice ranks. In the 12 years from 2008 to 2019, although there were only three winners (from 72 runners), two of them - both in 2014 - returned 33/1, for a profit of 6 points. The starting price A/E of 0.77 suggests these are still types about which to be wary, a feeling which has added credence in the form of two beaten favourites in 2019, Delta Work at 15/8 and Hardline at 10/3.

Age

Again, little of note here except that those novices aged nine or more running in Grade 1 novice races at the Festival have done poorly. They are 0 from 22, though then nine-year-old Whisper nearly benefited from Might Bite's errant course up the hill last year in the RSA Chase. It is worth noting that nine of those 22 were priced at 7/1 or shorter.

Avoid horses aged nine and up in the novice Grade 1's.

2018 Festival Update: No 9yo novices ran at the Festival last year.

2019 Festival Update: Two older novices ran, and were beaten, last year: Articulum ran well to be third at 25/1 in the Arkle (albeit beaten 17 lengths), and the ill-fated Knocknanuss was fifth in the same race.

2008-2019 Picture

These older lads and lasses are now 0 from 24, though Faugheen looks a live chance in a novice chase, probably the Marsh (former JLT) this time around.

Starting Price

There is the occasional shock result in Cheltenham Festival novice Grade 1's. But four, out of 54, is not a percentage on which to hang one's wagering hat. Interestingly, perhaps - or maybe just coincidence - two of the four winners at 16/1 or longer in the last decade came in the Albert Bartlett. It does seem a race where all of the preceding trials have been run on different ground and/or under very different pace scenarios.

Even allowing a little latitude in the 'potato race', the four rags came from a total population of 336 horses sent off greater than 16/1. They were 'good' for a loss of 208 points at SP.

Naturally, then, the other 50 winners came from horses priced at 16/1 or shorter, the 381 such runners losing just 31 points at SP, and breaking even at BSP.

Be wary of horses sent off at 16/1 or bigger in novice Grade 1 races at the Cheltenham Festival. (With the exception of the Albert Bartlett)

2018 Festival Update: I think I got some sums wrong in the original above. The 16/1+ brigade were 6/379 (1.58% SR, -217, A/E 0.53) going into last year's Fez. Those priced at 16/1 or bigger were 1/42 at last year's Cheltenham Festival, and it was again the Albert Bartlett that provided the shock, with 33/1 Kilbricken Storm prevailing.

And that's now four of seven winning G1 novice rags since 2008 scoring in the spud race, so I'd be even more apprehensive around that event. Indeed, I might even be tempted to actively target outsiders therein. (Those priced 16/1 to 33/1 in the Albert Bartlett are 4/65, 12 places, +54 SP and +104 at BSP since 2008!)

2019 Festival Update: One more 16/1+ winner last year, and guess which race it happened in... yup, 50/1 (FIFTY!) Minella Indo emerged victorious in the Albert Bartlett. Aside from that race, the numbers were 0 from 29 for bigger-priced horses in the novice Grade 1's.

2008-2019 Picture

The overall figures now stand at 8/467 (1.71% SR, A/E 0.58) since 2008. Ignoring the Albert Bartlett, horses priced 16/1+ in novice Grade 1's are now 3/327 (0.92% SR, -251 at SP) since 2008.

The Albert Bartlett picture since 2008 is thus: 5/140 +30 at SP (+183 at BSP!)

Official Rating

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Despite being novices, most horses running in the Festival novice races have an official rating. The 39 in the last decade which didn't were all unplaced bar one. Indeed, horses rated 140 or below, including those without a rating, are a combined seven from 308 for a loss at SP of 185 points.

Those rated higher than 140 won 47 races and lost a relatively small 54 points at SP and 2.75 points at BSP.

Avoid horses rated 140 or below.

2018 Festival Update: Those unrated added another three duck eggs to their collective card, though all of the trio were 20/1+. Meanwhile, those unrated or rated 140 or less went 24 spins without so much as a place at last year's Festival.

2019 Festival Update: Three unrated horses ran last year in novice G1's, Minella Indo winning and Allaho running second in the same race. The Albert Bartlett does seem to be a special case.

Those with a rating below 140 were 0/22 last year, just two placed.

2008-2019 Picture

Overall since 2008, then, they're now 8/361 (2.22% SR, A/E 0.62, -187 at SP). But...

Minella Indo was the first such winner since Martello Tower in 2015. Before that, Very Wood in 2014, Weapons Amnesty in 2009 and Nenuphar Collonges in 2008 made it five Albert Bartlett winners from the eight winners to be rated 0-140. The Albert Bartlett usually asks horses to do something they've not done before and, in trying, the pack gets shuffled with slower-but-stronger-staying types able to show mettle beyond the classier horses that had been winning therebefore.

Trainers

Willie Mullins is the dominant player in this sphere over the last decade, his fifteen winners almost double that of the next man (Nicky Henderson has eight). No other trainer has more than two novice G1 wins in the past decade, excluding as we are the Bumper and Triumph Hurdle.

Paul Nicholls is again a man to treat with caution: his one winner, Al Ferof, from 43 starters came in 2011. In PFN's defence, he only had one runner last year, and just two in 2016.

Other handlers to be given a wide berth may include Colin Tizzard (0 from 15, 2 places), Warren Greatrex and Charlie Longsdon (both 0 from 9, no places), and Venetia Williams (0 from 8, no places).

Keep in mind that Paul Nicholls does not have the firepower he once did in this category (and indeed many others).

2018 Festival Update: Nicholls ran two novices in this context last year, Modus (8th of 9 at 12/1) and Black Corton (5th of 10, 5/1).

2019 Festival Update: Again, Nicholls was resurgent in 2019, with Topofthegame winning the RSA Chase at 4/1. This doesn't look an angle worth persevering with and will be dropped for the 2020 update.

Cheltenham Festival Novice Grade 1 Micro System

Again, we can fashion something of a micro system by dodging these negative angles, thus:

- No horses aged nine-plus
- No horses rated 140 or lower, or unrated
- No horses sent off greater than 16/1
- No horses trained by Paul Nicholls

44 of the 54 winners in the sample came from avoiding these negatives, from just 38.5% of the runners. They were collectively worth a profit of 7.57 points at SP, and a slightly more worthwhile 31.15 points at BSP.

2018 Festival Update: If you'd followed this angle last year, you'd have found five of the six winners, 14 places (exception, Kilbricken Storm - see above) from 46 bets. That would have yielded a profit of +9 at SP and +17.41 at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: Not such good news here, as loads of runners and some short odds winners meant the angle lost 16 points at SP and 7.28 points at BSP.

2020 Festival Angle: We'll again remove the trainer angle but caution is advised with this micro generally. I'll not be following it this year.

**

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Hurdles (excluding Fred Winter)

Let us now take a look at the handicap races, beginning with the handicap hurdles but excluding the four-year-olds-only Fred Winter.

Fred Winter aside, there are four handicap hurdles at the Festival: the Coral Cup, Pertemps Final, County and Martin Pipe. The last named was introduced in 2009, meaning we have a sample size of 39 races with which to work. Those races were contested by 964 runners.

Gender

The fairer sex have recorded just one placed effort from 27 starters in the ten year review period. That 3.7% place strike rate (and 0% win rate) compares with a 16.4% place rate for the boys.

It may be safe to exclude fillies and mares in all age Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdles. (Incidentally, fillies have an excellent record in the Fred Winter).

2018 Festival Update: Fillies and mares were 0/9 (1 place) last year.

2019 Festival Update: The females were 0/6 (1 place) last year.

2008-2019 Picture:

Overall since 2008, that now reads 0/42, 3 places.

Headgear

Cheekpieces are again a negative. This time, 84 horses have worn them without a win, and just six places. Conversely, 11 of the 84 blinkered horses (one also wearing a hood) made the frame, and four won. Two of the 45 hood wearers also won, another eight placing; while the visor went 0 from 21, no places.

Cheekpieces or visors appear to have no positive impact on Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdlers. (This is in line with overall Cheltenham Festival statistics, where visor use has a 2.86% win rate in the last decade, compared with cheekpieces 3.15%, hood 4.92%, blinkers 5.57% and no headgear 5.96%)

2018 Festival Update: Nine more cheek pieced losers last year, and two more visored losers. Blinkered runners were 1/7 last year.

2019 Festival Update: Two headgear-clad winners last year, both in cheekpieces, though those otherwise accoutred were 0 from 17, wiping out the SP profit from the cheeky brace.

2008-2019 Picture:

There have been ten headgear-wearing winners of all aged handicap hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival since 2008, from 293 runners. That's a 3.41% strike rate for a loss of 119 points (ROI -40.61). Those without headgear won 37 from 865 (4.28% SR, -256 at SP, ROI -29.6%).

Headgear seems to be a negative, though ignoring such runners hardly helps the pursuit of winner isolation!

Age

Handicap hurdling at the Festival is a young man's game. Of the 964 runners in such races in the past ten years, 842 (87%) were aged five to eight (ignoring the Fred Winter). They won all bar two of the races (95%), and claimed 92% of the places. The two wins were both achieved by the same horse, Buena Vista, in the same race, the Pertemps Final.

But it is worth further squinting at the data, because it relates that those aged five or six notched 27 of the 39 wins (69%) from just 49% of the runners. Those victories were worth 94 points profit at BSP.

Chuck out horses aged nine and above, and be unforgiving with those aged seven and eight.

2018 Festival Update: All four handicap hurdle winners in this context last year were aged five to seven, with twelve 8yo's beaten, and eleven 9yo+ horses also seen off.

2019 Festival Update: The four winners in 2019 were aged six, seven, eight and nine. Those aged nine-plus were 1/19 for an SP profit of 10 points. William Henry it was who did the business (tipped at 40/1 in this preview), at 28/1.

2008-2019 Picture:

Age remains a factor, younger horses have much more improvement potential than their elders. William Henry was the first winner for the older battalion since that Buena Vista brace in 2010/11. Overall, the numbers read 3/148 (2.03% strike rate, -55% ROI, A/E 0.6).

Compare that with those aged eight or younger: 44/1006 (4.37% SR, -29% ROI, A/E 0.77).

And, further, with those aged five or six: 30/560 (5.36% SR, -8.7% ROI, A/E 0.83).

Starting Price

506 of the 964 starters in all-age Cheltenham Festival handicap hurdles since 2008 have been sent off at greater than 20/1. Five have won, at a collective loss of 343 points.

It follows then that the other 34 victors were priced at 20/1 or shorter, of which there were 458 runners. Remarkably, backing all such runners returned an SP profit of 35 points. That mushroomed to 127.5 points at BSP.

Only five of the 102 horses sent off shorter than 9/1 prevailed, for a 66 point loss at SP (60 points at BSP).

Make 20/1 your cutoff in all-age handicap hurdles, and beware the shortie.

2018 Festival Update: There was a 33/1 winner last year (Mohaayed in the County Hurdle), but the other three were 20/1 or shorter. Even allowing for the County winner, those priced at bigger than 20/1 were loss-making at SP (though an enormous BSP of 70 ensured a profit for intrepid exchange punters). Overall, the 22/1+ brigade are now 6/555 since 2008 in handicap hurdles at the Fez (Fred W aside).

2019 Festival Update: William Henry was again the blot on the copybook, he being the one bigger than 20/1 poke, from 47 to run, to win.

2008-2019 Picture:

Even with William limiting losses last year, outsiders continued to struggle. The long term picture now reads 7/602, 1.16% strike rate, -62.5% ROI, A/E 0.45. Compare that with 20/1 or shorter horses: 40/556, 7.19% SR, +0.18% ROI at SP (!), A/E 0.86.

Trainers

Willie Mullins has a fantastic record in open handicap hurdles at the Fez, scoring seven times from just 60 starters in the past decade. He's also added another ten placed horses for a brilliant 28% place strike rate. Gordon Elliott has performed even better in place terms, hitting the frame with twelve of his 34 such runners (35%). He also has a win and two places in the Fred Winter, from 11 starters.

Paul Nicholls has a very good record in handicap hurdles, too, in contrast to his Grade 1 performance in recent seasons. But the likes of Evan Williams and Charlie Longsdon (0 from 31, 0 places, between them), Noel Meade and Dr Richard Newland (0 from 27, 3 places, collectively) are probably best passed up.

Approach Messrs. Evan Williams, Longsdon, Meade and Newland with caution.

2018 Festival Update: Only the 40/1 shot Prime Venture represented this angle last year; he ran well enough in 8th of 23 in the Pertemps Final.

2019 Festival Update: Another barren year for the quartet with four mostly quietly fancied (16/1, 2 x 20/1, 33/1) runners finishing no nearer than 14th.

2008-2019 Picture:

That's now 0 from 63, just three places, with a remarkably even split between them: Longsdon and Meade are 0/15 each, Newland is 0/16 and Williams 0/17.

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Hurdle Micro System

Throwing all of the negatives into a mixer gives the following:

- No female horses
- No horses wearing cheekpieces or a visor
- No horses aged nine or above
- No horses sent off at greater than 20/1
- No horses trained by Evan Williams, Charlie Longsdon, Noel Meade or Dr Richard Newland

Applying those negative filters would have left 375 qualifiers. They collectively won 32 of the 39 qualifying races, for a profit of 80 points at SP, and a tasty 165 points at BSP.

2018 Festival Update: Even missing out on the County Hurdle last year, meaning there were only three winners to get, this angle made a profit at SP. In fact, it nailed three winners from 36 runners for +4 at SP and +18.07 at BSP.

2019 Festival Update: More losses on this angle with well backed winners spoiling the party. Still, figures of -13 at SP and -5.61 at BSP were not terminal.

2020 Festival Angle: A great angle down the years, I'll be rolling the dice for small stakes on this approach once more.

**

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Chases

That leaves us with the handicap chases: Festival Handicap Chase, Novices' Handicap Chase, the Festival Plate, the Kim Muir, and the Grand Annual. With all five races having been run throughout the review period, that gives us fifty races to go at. (I've excluded the Cross Country, which has been run as a handicap but is currently framed as a conditions race).

A whopping 1,086 runners have contested these handicap chases.

Gender

As with the handicap hurdles, it's been hard work for the girls. Only 19 have shown up but, while they have failed to win, they have recorded an impressive five placed efforts (26.32% place rate vs 18.18% for the boys).

Nothing especially of note.

2018 Festival Update: Just one unplaced female last year.

2019 Festival Update: Three more unplaced mares in 2019, all at big prices.

2008-2019 Picture: The handful of girls to run in Festival handicap chases are 0 from 23 but there's nothing really to write home about.

Headgear

Bizarrely given what we've seen hitherto, the fitting of any kind of headgear has outperformed the large 'no headgear' group in terms of win percentage. Cheekpieces, up until now shunned as a universal negative, have been worn by no fewer than seven of the fifty winners, at a rate of 5.26%. Blinkers have been worn by nine handicap chase winners, a 7.5% clip; and the visor and the hood were responsible for a win apiece from 22 and 23 runners respectively. Crikey!

Those unaccessorized won 32 handicap chases from 786 runners (4.07%, the lowest in the sample).

I'll stop short of saying that no headgear is a negative (!), but suffice it to say that the sporting of any kind of 'go faster' kit has not been a portent of failure.

2018 Festival Update: A blinkered runner, Missed Approach, again scored last year and, while cheek pieces went 0/14, four of them made the frame. Allied to Native River's Gold Cup win, I'm warming to the idea of cheekies on a chaser.

2019 Festival Update: Another cheekpieced chaser scored at huge odds, this time the veteran Croco Bay at a monster 66/1 (180 BSP). Two blinkered runners joined in as well, Any Second Now (6/1) and Beware The Bear (10/1) making it a great Festival for the headgear fencers.

2008-2019 Picture: Without getting too gung ho, it remains the case that chasers sporting headgear should not have their chance belittled on the basis of accoutrement.

Age

Although most winners were clustered in the six to nine years bracket, neither youth nor experience has been a killer blow in handicap chases. Winners have emerged from across the spectrum, with the winning-most ages from a number of victories perspective being the losing-most from a betting perspective.

2018 Festival Update: Last year was non-standard in that all five handicap chase winners were aged six to eight. You'd have still lost money even focusing on that age bracket.

2019 Festival Update: The full spectrum was again covered, with Croco Bay's win at 12 being counter-punched by A Plus Tard's score as a five-year-old. The other three winners were aged six, seven and nine.

2008-2019 Picture: Very little in this angle, from a handicap chase collective perspective at least.

Starting Price

Again we see winners up and down the odds boards, with the sweet (but highly unpredictable and potentially coincidental) spot being north of 25/1 and south of 80/1. Those unconsidered athletes have bagged nine of the 50 races for a profit of 23 points at SP and 331 points at BSP (thanks almost entirely to one enormous return).

Just too unpredictable to work with.

2018 Festival Update: Incredibly, all five handicap chase winners last year were priced at single figure SP's. That's probably never happened before and will probably never happen again!

2019 Festival Update: After 2018's chalky quintet, 2019 largely followed suit with winners at 9/2, 5/1, 6/1, 10/1... and 66/1!

2008-2019 Picture: Backing all handicap chasers at 10/1 or shorter in the last two years would have won you nine of the ten main track races, and a profit of 20.5 points at SP (30+ at BSP). But longer term, since 2008, this no-brainer angle would have lost 10% ROI at starting price, though it would have made a small profit at exchange odds.

Trainers

David Pipe has a terrific 8 from 75 record in the last decade in Festival handicap chases, for a small SP profit. On the flip side, Nicky Henderson's two winners have come from 83 runners (-45 at SP); Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies and Philip Hobbs are an aggregate of five from 153 (-68 at SP); and poor Charlie Longsdon is 0 from 23 (two places, -23 at SP) to make the cold list once more.

Steer clear of the volume boys: Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon.

2018 Festival Update: A good strategy this, as between them they saddled 30 runners in handicap chases, with just 15/2 Le Prezien in the final race of last year's Festival doing the business. Six of the 30 hit the frame.

2019 Festival Update: Again swerving this high profile quintet would have saved you money: their 21 runners yielded one winner - Beware The Bear (10/1) for a loss of 11 points.

2008-2019 Picture: Overall these chaps have nine handicap chase winners between them since 2008, from a whopping 310 runners! That's a 2.9% strike rate, an ROI of -54% and an A/E of 0.46. Compare that with all other runners in the handicap chases in the same period: 5.2% strike rate, ROI of -15% and an A/E of 0.87. Dodge these chaps.

 

Cheltenham Festival Handicap Chase Micro System

Very little to go at here. We have some negative trainers, and we could try ignoring those:

- No horses trained by Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon

That gives a fat 827 qualifying runners for a loss of 104 points at SP. A bumper profit at BSP was secured courtesy of Mister McGoldrick's 66/1 victory which returned 310 on the exchange!

Perhaps, just for kicks, we could add a long-odds SP range:

- No horses trained by Nicky Henderson, Paul Nicholls, Nigel Twiston-Davies, Philip Hobbs and Charlie Longsdon
- No horses shorter than 28/1

We now only have eight winners, from 291 runners, but an SP profit of 40 points. At BSP, for the reason highlighted above, it becomes a juicy 341 points.

But we all know that there's nothing really of use in this section. The handicap chases are a crap shoot and, in negative elimination factor terms, should be avoided at all costs.

2018 Festival Update: The comment directly above was spot on. Just for the record the long-odds angle suggestion went 0/18 at last year's Cheltenham Festival.

2019 Festival Update: Surely nobody in their right mind would have followed this approach. But, if there was a contrarian nuts enough to have at it, he or she would have comfortably recouped last year's losses thanks to 66/1 winner, Croco Bay. He paid 180 at Betfair SP. That meant a profit of 32 points at starting price, and a monstrous one hit wonder return of 146 points at Betfair SP.

2020 Festival Angle: Nothing much really, though swerving the five named trainers will make life more manageable.

**

Summary

Ignoring the highly unpredictable handicap chase segment, there are some consistent negative factors worth keeping in mind throughout Cheltenham Festival week.

Firstly, don't get too gung ho by ploughing into the longshots. Unless you fancy one to shorten to 20/1 or less, there is a strong likelihood you've done your money.

Secondly, favour unexposed youth over established age/experience.

Thirdly, cheekpieces have been more about futility than utility outside of handicap chases.

Fourthly, beware Paul Nicholls outside of handicap hurdles, and Charlie Longsdon and Noel Meade universally.

The micro-systems above will provide plenty of action for those who like a mechanical approach. Better yet, they may assist in whittling fields to more manageable numbers with a view to poring over the form on the remaining runners.

However you choose to use this information - indeed, whether you choose to use it or not - enjoy the Fez. There's nothing quite like it!

2018 Festival Update: Nothing to add to the above, which pretty much nailed it at last year's show and may again provide valuable guidance this time around...

2019 Festival Update: These principles - they are guidelines rather than hard and fast rules - still largely hold true. I'd not be so negative about Paul Nicholls any more, with the exception of his (and those four other named trainers') handicap chasers; and I'm very interested in that emerging them in the Albert Bartlett: of all the Festival races at which to have a swing at a long price or three, that one is tops in my book.

However you play things, enjoy the ride, and be lucky!

Matt

Michael Tabor has seen many amazing and unexpected things – more positive than negative – in his long association with horse racing around the globe, but I’d be willing to wager that the one-time King of the Punters would never have expected to see his colours carried in a race in Saudi Arabia, writes Tony Stafford. That happened (twice) on Saturday night in Riyadh and Maximum Security came out on top while sporting them in the world’s richest-ever horse race.

His friends in London could only marvel – “Typical Michael!” they said – when his Thunder Gulch won the Kentucky Derby as a near 25-1 shot coincidentally 25 year ago. That win was the forerunner to Tabor’s teaming up with John Magnier at Coolmore Stud, and Thunder Gulch stood throughout his stallion career at Ashford Stud, Coolmore’s Kentucky breeding arm, albeit without ever producing anything near his own eminence.

Now his friends back home are no longer shocked with anything achieved by the Coolmore triumvirate – Derrick Smith, like Tabor a former London-based bookmaker, was the latest addition - and he has shared in the last six (since Pour Moi in 2011) of the eight Epsom Derby wins for the team.

As time has gone on, M V Magnier, John’s son, has been increasingly visible, at the sales especially. He was the on-site presence on Saturday after Maximum Security came with a sustained run up the straight at the King Abdulaziz racecourse near Riyadh to win the inaugural Saudi Cup over nine furlongs of the dirt course. Modest and measured as ever, he embodies the Coolmore reserve in the face of their coruscating triumphs.

To say that recent events on the world stage have made for tensions in western countries’ attitudes to the Kingdom is an under-statement, but KSA (as it likes to be known) has hit on the idea of using sporting events to counter that negativity.

Whether it works or not is questionable but the fact that last year, by paying a handful of top golfers massive appearance fees (far beyond the actual winner’s prize) for a Saudi golf tournament, they did persuade them to come. One or two, indeed, didn’t make the cut for the last two days of the tournament, but never mind, they came and had a lucrative little jolly.

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They certainly came from all around the world for the Saudi Cup with its world record prize fund of £15million – yes that WAS sterling! – easily outstripping previous record holders the Breeders’ Cup Classic, the Pegasus (briefly) and the Dubai World Cup where you might expect some of Saturday’s principals to reappear.

Whether four weeks would be deemed sufficient for Maximum Security to go again must be doubtful. He had a tough enough race in chasing down early leader and old rival Mucho Gusto up the straight and, once getting past the weaving-around leader, he then had to resist the vigorously-ridden US mare Midnight Bisou in the final half-furlong.

The riders of three of the first four home were given suspensions, all for whip offences. Mike Smith on the runner-up, had 60 per cent of his share of the £2.6million second prize docked for hitting her 14 times (maximum ten) as she came from last to almost winning in the straight. Oisin Murphy, on the gallant third Benbatl, got a couple of days, but can shrug off whatever sanction he got when partnering the same horse in the World Cup.

The versatile six-year-old, a recent convert to dirt racing, will now assuredly go as Saeed Bin Suroor’s main chance of a tenth winner of his country’s principal race. The Americans will again provide the biggest threat to a home winner as they have ever since the great Cigar, trained by Bill Mott, was the first of their 11 victors in the inaugural running in 1996. American-trained horses filled four of the first five places, confirming that dirt is their playground.

The path to a Saudi win for the Tabor colours – Aidan O’Brien’s globe-trotting mare Magic Wand was the other, filling ninth spot and collecting an acceptable-enough £225,000 for her efforts – needed some understanding from Gary and Mary West, the breeders and, thereto, outright owners of the colt.

They had suffered the ultimate penalty back on the first Saturday in May last year when Maximum Security was “taken down” after crossing the line first in the Derby for an incident on the home turn when jockey Luis Saez was deemed to have caused significant interference. He was placed officially 17th of the 19 runners and the Wests’ mood at their misfortunate could hardly have been improved

when he failed when a 1-20 shot next time in a Monmouth Park Listed race. They could easily have dumped the jockey as a result and the new owners were wise enough to leave well alone.

Happily, consecutive wins in the Grade 1 Haskell back at Monmouth, a Grade 3 at Belmont and finally the Grade 1 Cigar Mile were enough to clinch the champion three-year-old colt Eclipse Award for the Jason Servis-trained colt. Coolmore stepped in for a half share, making it three recent “winners” of the Kentucky Derby to stand at Ashford. He will follow in the steps of American Pharoah (2015) and Justify (2018), the only Triple Crown winners since Affirmed in 1978.

New Year’s Day, Maximum Security’s sire, is a son of Sheikh Mohammed’s Street Cry, most famed for siring 37-time winner Winx. New Year’s Day raced only three times, all as a juvenile, winning the last two, a Del Mar maiden race and then the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile. In that race he beat Coolmore-owned Havana, previously unbeaten and sporting the Tabor colours.

There was a link to Justify in Saturday’s big race. Gronkowski, the mount of Frankie Dettori and running for Phoenix Thoroughbred III and Khalid bin Mishref, sent over from his present base in Dubai, met Justify in the Belmont Stakes, the final outing in a six-race unbeaten career for the latter. Previously with Jeremy Noseda he was being prepped for the Kentucky Derby and won four consecutive all-weather races for the now-retired (but no doubt probably to return) Newmarket trainer.

I’m pretty sure that the last of them was a win-and-you’re-in qualifier, but in the end Phoenix fell out with Noseda and switched Gronkowski to top US trainer Chad Brown. He didn’t take up the Derby engagement, but Brown aimed him at the Belmont and he finished a one-length second to Justify who retired as the only ever unbeaten Triple Crown winner among the 13 possessors of that distinction. Even Secretariat lost five times!

Noseda’s former wife Sally is a sister to Lady Cecil and also trainers Rae and Richard Guest. The family is largely based around Newmarket but Richard has been based for many years in the North, riding the winner of the Grand National for Durham-based Norman Mason, and then training from a yard in Yorkshire. This week comes news that he is coming to town to join his siblings, effectively as private trainer to construction businessman Simon Lockyer, who most recently had his team with Shaun Keightley.

Saturday's pick was...

6.30 Southwell : Charlie D @ 10/3 BOG WON at 9/4 (Made all, clear from 2f out, ridden over 1f out, stayed on strongly and won unchallenged by 2.5 lengths)

Monday's pick runs in the...

3.40 Wetherby :

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection between 8.00am and 8.15am and I then add a more detailed write-up later within an hour or so of going "live".

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?

Your first 30 days for just £1

Casual Cavalier @ 4/1 BOG

...in a 7-runner, Class 4, Handicap Chase for 4yo+ over 2m3½f on heavy ground worth £4,809 to the winner...

Why?...

This 12 yr old gelding was a winner last time out when scoring at today's class and trip under today's jockey on soft ground at relatively nearby Catterick 31 days ago and despite going up in weight, he still runs off a winnable mark today.

He now has 6 wins and 6 further places from 23 efforts over fences and today's conditions look ideal for him as those 23 races have yielded...

  • 6 wins, 5 places from 17 at odds of Evens to 5/1
  • 5 wins, 6 places from 20 at Class 4
  • 5 wins, 6 places from 19 in cheekpieces
  • 5 wins, 4 places from 14 after less than 5 weeks rest
  • 5 wins, 4 places from 14 off a mark (OR) of 100-110
  • 5 wins, 3 places from 11 at trips of 2m½f to 2m4f
  • and 2 wins, 2 places from 6 on heavy ground

...and Casual Cavalier is 4 from 6 (66.6% SR) for 12.12pts (+202% ROI) when sent off at Evs to 5/1 wearing cheekpieces in a Class 4 chase over a trip of 2m½f to 2m4f off a mark of 100-110 after less than five weeks rest, including 2 from 2 for 4.81pts on heavy ground.

His trainer Tristan Davidson has had an excellent last couple of years and has been profitably follow blindly across all three (Flat, A/W & NH) disciplines, a feat rarely achieved, but we're obviously just going to look at his record in this code today, because...

...his NH runners are 22 from 72 (30.6% SR) for 52.33pts (+72.7% ROI) over those last two years and here are just 10 of the ways he got those winners under conditions faced today...

  1.  21/61 (34.4%) for 59.8pts (+98%) in races worth less than £8,000
  2.  20/62 (32.3%) for 49.9pts (+80.5%) from male runners
  3.  20/52 (38.5%) for 64.4pts (+123.8%) within 65 days of their last run
  4.  18/60 (30%) for 50.9pts (+84.9%) with Harry Reed in the saddle
  5.  18/41 (43.9%) for 30.8pts (+75.1%) at odds of 5/1 and shorter
  6.  16/54 (29.6%) for 31.7pts (+58.7%) in handicaps
  7.  12/32 (37.5%) for 51.1pts (+159.8%) over trips of 2m½f to 2m6f
  8.  12/32 (37.5%) for 32.6pts (+101.9%) at Class 4
  9.  6/11 (54.6%) for 25.6pts (+232.4%) during March to April
  10.  and 5/14 (35.7%) for 8pts (+57.1%) over fences...

...whilst males sent off at Evens to 5/1 under Harry Reed for less than £8k within 65 days of their last run are 12 from 19 (63.2% SR) for 34.4pts (+181.1% ROI), including...

  • 10 from 16 in handicaps
  • 8 from 12 at Class 4
  • 6 from 8 over 2m½f to 2m6f
  • 5 from 5 in March/April
  • and 3 from 7 over fences...

...giving us...a 1pt win bet on Casual Cavalier @ 4/1 BOG as was available from BetVictor, Hills & Unibet at 8.00am Monday, with plenty of 7/2 elsewhere but as always please check your BOG status. To see what your preferred bookie is quoting...

...click here for the betting on the 3.40 Wetherby

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 above are to Betfair SP, as I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you. I always use BOG bookies for SotD, wherever possible, but I use BFSP for the stats as it is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns I use to support my picks. If that's unclear, please ask!