Last night was the London Racing Club Cheltenham Festival preview and, as ever, it was a compelling, engaging, insightful affair.
The panel comprised Phil Smith (PS), BHA chief handicapper; Lydia Hislop (LH), Racing UK; Lee Mottershead (LM), chief correspondent at Racing Post (and compere for the evening); Claude Charlet (CC), bloodstock agent and RUK presenter; and Martin Chapman (MC), Star Sports bookie.
Most of the comment was focused on the Grade 1 action, and these were the notes I scribbled...
Tuesday, Day 1
Supreme Novices' Hurdle
PS: Last 3 years it's taken a high 150's performance to win. Current BHA ratings are Min 153, Bouveur d'Air 154, Altior 155, Yorkhill 156. "It would therefore be no surprise to see any of those four winning"
LH: Altior each way, as he is probably best suited to this particular task.
LH: At a preview earlier in the week, Tony Calvin flagged the chance of Zamdy Man, 100/1 shot (and 50/1 in the without Douvan market), if it comes up very soft.
PS: Last 3 winners: 168, 162, 169. Douvan currently 161, The Game Changer 155 (LH: "and has had a wind op since last seen")
PS: Looks like a race for a shock. Annie Power top rated with the sex allowance, but reservations remain. Maybe Old Guard can get involved. "I'd be amazed if the winner isn't the worst since Hors La Loi" (2002)
LH: Annie P no price at 2/1. Identity Thief a possible. "Expect My Tent Or Yours to pull his head off". Value in the market now, if there is any, could possibly be Peace And Co.
CC: Best Henderson horse might be Hargam, but likes Camping Ground.
LM: A shout for Top Notch
MC: Old Guard each way, based on his Cheltenham form on better ground
MC: Vroum Vroum Mag wins
CC: VVM wins
LH: VVM has not been placed like a good horse, but rather like an understudy to Annie Power. Jumps a hurdle like a chaser. Bitofapuzzle a reasonable e/w claim.
PS: VVM +5lb on her field, rated 154 hurdles vs 155 chase. "She's the one I'm most confident of from the Mullins 1st day horses"
Tuesday Other Races
MC: Holywell, Ultimate - plenty of money for him; Southfield Royale, NH Chase - Neil Mulholland bullish about his form.
LH: Pont Alexandre interesting if running in the NH Chase (jumps well, stays well); Native River for NH Chase too. Believes Minella Rocco was flattered in the Reynoldstown (when a closing 2nd to Vyta Du Roc).
PS: "I handicap the Ultima Chase, so I hope it's a close finish!"
In the NH Chase, there are 12 horses rated higher than Minella Rocco's 143. Vicente is top rated on 153, though that rating has not been replicated since it was achieved.
Wednesday, Day 2
Neptune Novices' Hurdle
PS: Yanworth 158, and has also run 156. "I've been super impressed by Yanworth".
LH: Look for negatives when tempted to bet at 5/4. In this case, Yanworth's sire, Norse Dancer was a quirky soul, and it is possible that Yanworth himself may have shaped to run out in a recent race.
A Toi Phil a solid each way shout, though also by a stallion who was quirky when racing! If the ground came up quick, Bachasson has lots of ability, and might be an each way bet without the favourite.
CC: Yanworth is the banker of the whole meeting.
CC: Black Hercules a horse he really likes, and interesting if running here. Plenty of improvement in him and a "wonderful each way bet".
LH: More Of That "not that good" jumping. Loves Blaklion as a horse but he had a hard race in the Towton Chase at Wetherby (heavy ground). Seeyouatmidnight another horse she likes, but with reservations. Roi Des Francs interesting, but ultimately favours the street fighting credentials of Vyta Du Roc.
PS: No More Heroes 159, More Of That 154 (but was higher over fences and if running to chase mark c.160), Vyta Du Roc 145
But note that More Of That's best chase run was over 2m4f with a poorer run over 3m. "Quite sweet on No More Heroes"
Queen Mother Champion Chase
LH: "Special Tiara may challenge Un De Sceaux on the front, which would be interesting". Felix Yonder without UDS at 7/1 each way might be the bet.
PS: UDS 172, Sprinter Sacre 170 (as high as 190 in his pomp), Sire De Grugy 169, Special Tiara 168, Dodging Bullets 168 (but with a ?). "Andrew Tinkler, one of the very best judges in the weighing room, said SS is working amazingly well".
CC: UDS can be a bit exuberant which might be a concern.
MC: Money has been for Felix Yonger and God's Own each way.
Wednesday Other Races
PS: Foxrock "highest rated EVER to run in the Cross Country Chase" - could be significant now the race is a conditions event rather than a handicap, for the first time.
CC: Utah De La Coquais will be in the first four IF it comes up very soft.
MC: Bundles of cash for Diego Du Charmil in the Fred Winter.
Thursday, Day 3
JLT Novices' Chase
CC: Black Hercules, if he runs here (or wherever he runs) is an each way bet.
MC: Outlander has taken solid support
LH: Garde La Victoire can get very low at his fences, which might be a worry. Three Musketeers could run well. Zabana also interesting, and well touted in Ireland.
PS: Bristol de Mai 153 (and is consistent), Black Hercules 152, Garde La Victoire 151
[I was eating a cheese and ham sandwich, and glugging a Guinness, at this point which precluded the taking of notes! As a moderate substitute for the far more considered views of the panel, my preview of this race is here]
LH: Cole Harden best of the older group and prepared to take Warren Greatrex at his word that this has been the only target all season. But second season hurdlers look the most likely ones, and think Thistlecrack will win.
MC: Thistlecrack is the one we're wary of.
CC: Colin Tizzard is in form, can't see Thistlecrack being beaten.
PS: Colin Tizzard is a very smart man who occasionally plays the bumpkin (to good effect). Thistlecrack is 168+, Big Buck's was 174. Kilcooley is rated to run well at a big price.
Thursday Other Races
LH: Smart Talk is the "bet of the week" in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle.
Friday, Day 4
CC: The first two, Ivanovich Gorbatov and Zubayr, are beatable. Zubayr may get a shock in the hurly burly of a Triumph. Really like Sceau Royal for this, and feel that Clan Des Obeaux will make a lovely chaser.
MC: Sceau Royal has been strong
LH: IG is a "terrible favourite", like Sceau Royal. Footpad's is the best form in Ireland. At bigger prices, Clan Des Obeaux 16/1 and Protek Des Flos 20/1 NRNB (trainer says won't run, but has very strong Cheltenham form from the Finesse Hurdle)
PS: For a change, the UK horses look better than the Irish in this race. Connetable could be the one, already rated 150, which is decent. Sam Twiston-Davies rides, 12/1 NRNB
Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle
PS: Barters Hill not classy enough
LH: Like Shantou Village to win, on the Yanworth form; Gangster is interesting and perhaps the pick of the Irish; Unowhatimeanharry also interesting and runs here in favour of a handicap, LH believes.
MC: Mulholland very hopeful about Shantou Village; feels Barters Hill is beatable
CC: Barters Hill another who seems an unhappy horse - getting more difficult to cajole race to race, and had some hard races.
PS: Probably too classy to win (reservation about guts for the job). Really likes Djakadam - feels he's a bit careless "because it's all so easy for him" rather than a bad jumper. "Sure he will be in the first three". Last year's Coneygree would win this year's race on that form. This season, Cue Card and Vautour both ran to 176 in the King George, but Don Cossack is a potential 180 horse (fell two out in King George). "I feel he's a great horse waiting to happen"
LH/CC: [agreed] If Vautour goes for Gold Cup, and Ruby rides, he will be a very short price. Back now if you like his chance (NRNB)
CC: I feel Don Cossack "is not a happy horse. He runs like he has a bit of a physical problem".
LH: Smart Talk
PS: "Bleu Et Rouge should win on next start - he's very very good" / "Different Gravey should also win on next start - he's up 13lb for that last day win"
In relation to TK's post about the Irish handicap horse weights, I asked Phil Smith what the BHA rationale was for the higher average differential this year. His reply was circuitous to say the least - taking in most of world handicapping - but did eventually return to Ireland, his great respect for Noel O'Brien (undoubtedly true, I'm sure), and the fine record of Irish raiding teams in recent years vindicating the slightly elevated marks they have collectively been apportioned.
I should add that his thought processes were sound and reasonable in my opinion! [Irish horses don't have a divine right to win Cheltenham Festival handicaps, and we can only really judge the merit of BHA handicapping decisions with hindsight]
Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews
A dozen more in-depth big race Cheltenham previews, trends and tips can be found here: