The National Hunt jamboree that is Cheltenham Festival 2013 draws ever closer, dear reader, and - at time of writing, there are just fifteen days and a few hours before tapes rise on the first of 27 championship events.
Excitement is bubbling up nicely, and in today's post I'll be covering a range of subjects, plenty of them related to Chelters' big Fezza (as I heard it referred to this morning!). So, in no particular order, I've got some thoughts on the weekend racing with Cheltenham/Aintree in mind; a Monday placepot; news of a special bonus offer later in the week; a quick tipping competition update; and, a Monday placepot!
Let's go to it...
We'll start with the weekend racing action just passed. Dan Kelly will have a more analytical take later in the week on some of the key events, but until then, here are my rather less scientific notes.
Friday saw the third favourite for the Arkle have his final prep race for Cheltenham in a three runner Sandown event. That he was beaten was unfortunate. That he was stuffed out of sight means he's surely a fair price to even make the Arkle field now. I'd already warned against backing a horse with nine chase starts under his belt for the Arkle, on the basis that there's very little improvement to garner from such a beast, and Fago ran like a horse which has seen too much action recently.
Indeed, he's had six races since mid-September, and four of them in very high class company. Allied to the fact he was returning to the track after just thirteen days - and a very hard race - and it's not altogether surprising he flopped. Nice horse, but not an Arkle winner.
Onwards to Saturday, and an interesting card at Kempton, though with surprisingly few Festival clues on offer, in my view. I was lucky enough to be in attendance, and as a guest of Tony 'Irish Big Race Trends' Mac in a hospitality suite (nice fellow, that Tony Mac!). Pie crust scoffed, it was to the action, and despite three Grade 2's and the feature Grade 3 Racing Plus Chase, there was just a smallish handful of horses to note.
In the opener, Triangular gave up the outside to no horse and, having been outpaced, stayed on well to be a never nearer thirteen length fifth. A stiffer track and slightly longer trip will see him in the winner's enclosure again, but he won't be going to the Festival. The third horse, Milarrow, looks the other to take from here. He had tried to make all before getting badly outpaced when the tempo quickened - dropping back like he'd be pulled up - but then rallying robustly to be less than nine lengths back in third. He's entered in a similar contest on Wednesday - as is Saturday's winner, Midnight Sail - but I'd want to see Milarrow over three miles now.
Irish Saint did well enough to win the Adonis - normally a strong Triumph Hurdle trial - from Vasco du Ronceray. Off what looked a dawdling pace (both the Dovecote and the bumper later on the card were a second or so quicker), Irish Saint found himself a few lengths from the leaders, but showed good acceleration to get to them, and then good tenacity to outscrap Vasco in the final furlong.
While I'd mark Irish Saint up on the bare form here, he was well enough tonked - albeit under a different, pace-setting ride - last time at Cheltenham, by Vasco's stable mate, Rolling Star. Indeed, it's fair to believe that both Nicholls (Far West) and Hendo (Rolling Star) have better options than they ran here.
Grandioso further polished the Denizen of Ditcheat's stellar record in the Pendil Novices' Chase. His form string in the contest now reads 112111311 since 2006. Crikey. Despite that, none of those managed to trouble the judge at the Festival, and it's unlikely that either Grandioso or Molotof, his closest pursuer here, will be wager material in two weeks time.
The Dovecote was next, a Grade 2 hurdle for all age novices, and it's a race that is hard to get a handle on. The winner, Forgotten Voice, was emphatic in victory. The second, Brick Red, probably ran close (ish) to his mark of 146. If we say he ran to 140, then Forgotten Voice - value for twice his five length margin - probably ran to around 150. That would put him in the shake up for the Supreme... if he was entered there.
In fact, he's in the County Hurdle only and, off a mark of 138 plus a penalty - and with stable mate Petit Robin likely to keep the Voice's weight down - he might be one of the more interesting contenders.
Certainly a stronger pace would help him settle (although he seemed to have overcome that problem on Saturday), and the way he travels - allied to his obvious class, being rated 113 on the flat - offers hope. He's a general 14/1 shot for the County, though Stan James were impressed, showing just 8/1 about his prospects.
The big race was a first big race success for a trainer I've been banging on about since he took out a license in his own right, Harry Fry. Lest you didn't know, he trained Rock On Ruby to win the Champion Hurdle last year. Whilst that was from Paul Nicholls' former satellite yard in Seaborough, Dorset - a training facility now managed by Fry - there is no doubt that the young Harry was directing Ruby's regime.
Opening Batsman was a well-weighted novice here, and he'll now be a less well-weighted novice. He's in four different handicaps at the Festival and, on that basis alone, I'd need a better steer from connections before taking close to single figure prices about his chances there. Progressive horse, but not a Cheltenham proposition until plans are known, if at all.
Meanwhile, over at Fairyhouse, the Bobbyjo Chase - a strong Grand National trial, in which all runners were entered for the Aintree showpiece - was won by in good style by the extremely progressive Roi du Mee from odds-on jolly and National second favourite, Prince de Beauchene. It's very hard to crab a horse which has won eleven of 32 career starts, and five of seven this term.
In truth, I'm not even remotely sold on the stamina of either of that pair for the Grand National, and I suspect that they simple outpaced the likes of Oscar Time, who was allowed to coast home some way back. From this field, if any are of interest to me at current prices, it is the fourth horse, Rare Bob, who is currently 80/1 (non-runner free bet) with BetVictor (same price Stan James, all in run or not).
He has bags of Aintree form, is clearly being trained specifically for the National (two runs this season, a handicap hurdle and the Bobbyjo), and he's trained by super shrewd Dessie Hughes. Whether he's good enough is another question, but he has a pretty sound profile for the race, and 80/1 each way is tempting: certainly more so than 10/1 Prince de Beauchene or 25/1 Roi du Mee (both French bred which is still a negative overall, for me).
Onwards, and now that some of the bookmakers are going non-runner no bet, it's time to start flagging the best priced horses with those bookies, as it clearly makes sense to bet with them if you fancy one that's top-priced with them. Victor is non-runner no bet; and bet365 is the same and also Best Odds Guaranteed. Unfortunately, the latter's BOG concession means they're offering pretty tight odds in most cases, though with a few exceptions.
The below is a list of top ten market contenders in each Championship race where one or both of BetVictor or bet365 are top (or joint top) price.
Supreme Novices Hurdle: Pique Sous 20/1 with both bet365 / BetVictor
Arkle Chase: Overturn 11/4 bet365
Champion Hurdle: Zarkandar 5/1 bet365; Cinders And Ashes 14/1 bet365; Countrywide Flame bet365 / BetVictor
Neptune Novices Hurdle: Un Atout 20/1 BetVictor
RSA Chase: Super Duty, Sire Collonges both 25/1 BetVictor
Queen Mother Champion Chase: Sprinter Sacre 1/4 (!), Sanctuaire 20/1, Somersby 33/1 all BetVictor
Jewson Novices Chase: Module 10/1 BetVictor, Argocat 16/1 BetVictor, Third Intention 16/1 bet365 / BetVictor
Ryanair Chase: For Non Stop 20/1 bet365
World Hurdle: Solwhit 12/1, Get Me Out Of Here 16/1 BetVictor
Triumph Hurdle: Diakali 20/1 BetVictor
Gold Cup: Bobs Worth 3/1 bet365, Captain Chris 20/1 bet365 / BetVictor, Katenko 25/1 BetVictor
Foxhunters: Chapoturgeon 5/1 BetVictor, Cottage Oak 10/1 bet365, Bold Addition 16/1 bet365, Dante's Storm, Goonyella both 20/1 BetVictor
Like I say, if you fancy any of the above, it'd be foolish to bet anywhere else, especially where bet365 are top price. In those cases, you'll get money back if the horse doesn't run, and bigger odds if the horse is sent off at... well, bigger odds!
A quick update on the tipping competition, as we start the second of its two weeks. Currently, Ian Friend has a healthy lead, thanks to four winners last week, including 12/1 and 20/1 scorers. He's on a superb 36.5 which means, even with a completely blank week, he'll have 26.5 at the end of the comp. So, if you want to catch him, you've lots of time but you need to start getting some nice priced winners!
Remember, too, that we have a prize for the top-priced tip in the competition which currently stands at 20/1, and is held by... Ian Friend! That's only on countback though, as both he and S Dhillon had the 20/1 scorer, plus a 12/1 scorer. Ian has a third winning pick at 13/2, but if S Dhillon finds an unanswered 7/1 or better winner, he'll leapfrog into the lead.
Of course, if any of you find a 22/1 or bigger winner, you'll overtake the pair of them! So, get tipping. Here's the link to the competition.
My sincere thanks to the 474 of you who have completed the Geegeez Survey. It's your feedback that makes Geegeez what you tell me you'd like it to be. I always share the survey results, and this year will be no different. So, do please take five minutes (or perhaps ten) to complete the survey, and I'll have an update on it later this week or early next.
And thanks a lot in advance. 😀
Couple more things: two things happening later this week, and a Monday placepot.
First, on Wednesday, I'll be back at Kempton for something I've not been involved with since 30th July 2001. That was the last time I had a share in a horse which was unraced, making its debut. The horse was called Tern Intern, and he was not very good. In fact, he was terrible. The highest rating he ever had was 54, when he was first handicapped, and he regressed down to a mark of 30...!
Well, on Wednesday, I'll have hope renewed that Vastly, the new nag, offers a glimmer (or perhaps a shaft) of light and hope for the future. The portents are fair: he was trained by none other than Sir Henry Cecil until the end of last year when, due to Vastly's size (yes, he's well enough named) it had not been possible to get him to the track.
Now, for Sir Henry to persist until the end of a horse's third year, without a run, implies the perception of at least some ability. Add to this the fact that Vastly's half-brother is none other than Await The Dawn, a winner of his most recent Meydan start plus five other races, and £285,074 in career prize money, and we are quite hopeful that our boy can at least win a race (or perhaps two) in due course.
Their mum, Valentine Band, also bred Putney Bridge, a Listed winner who is a full brother to Vastly; and Spruce, which Julia trained to win four races on the spin back in 2010.
So yes, we're very hopeful that he might be nice.
On Thursday, I'll have a special bonus offer for you. I can't say too much at this point, but suffice it to say that I've been tracking this little system since May last year, and it's a corker. Stay tuned for my bonus message on Thursday. 🙂
And finally, how about a bit of a bet on this dreary cold Monday? Let's try to plunder the Plumpton placepot. Now, as time has moved on, and I've work to do, we're going to take a few chances today. As a result, there's a fair prospect of a losing attempt, but better that than 'get' the placepot up but return less than we staked!
So, here goes:
Leg 1: Leviathan has two decent pieces of hurdles form, and won't mind the slight firmer footing. In a race with lots of runners but few with chances, he's a banker to kick us off.
Leg 2: It's bar a fall for Violin Davis and, whilst this is a novices' chase, she's looked assured in three runs over fences to date, and she's a banker too.
Leg 3: This looks tricky. Sir Fredlot is a big price but has a course and distance win to his name just four starts back, and has a number of other boxes with ticks in them. He'll go on A, despite his price. Tornado In Milan and Manshoor have both been well supported this morning and go on A, the latter with course/distance form too.
I'll bolster A with some B action, in the form of Right Stuff for local in-form trainer, Gary Moore, and Nemo Spirit. Engai, for David Bridgwater, sneaks in on that sole reason.
A: 2, 4, 6
B: 1, 7, 8
Leg 4: Jupiter Rex has the best form and the best jockey. But he's not been a fan of this quicker ground historically, and he's only had a short break (five days) since his last win. And this left-handed, slightly tighter circuit may not be ideal either. He's still the one to beat, and is the sole A runner.
But I'm firming up with a couple of B's too, in the shape of big-priced pair, Digger Gets Lucky and Sole Agent. Both have conditions to suit and could make the frame here, especially if Jupiter Rex under-performs.
B: 2, 3
Leg 5: Absolute Shambles started his career here 39 runs ago and looks to have a chance today, despite being 12/1. His form here is 4515214, and the quicker the ground the better. All seven of his wins have been on good to soft through to good to firm, so he could bounce back this afternoon. He gets a call on B.
Favourite Stop The Show looks opposable, despite AP McCoy taking the ride. He's twelve now and has only made the first two in four of his 26 chase starts, and only won once. True, this race is awful, but he's just a very slow horse, and I doubt he'll win and he could well be out of the frame.
Red Anchor is a lot less exposed and won last time. That's more than enough to make A here.
Lawney Hill is a trainer I admire, and her Champion Versions drops in class today. He's a contender on that basis, and joins the A crew.
And thrice-winning hurdler, Acosta, gets the B call up, due to being well backed this morning.
A: 2, 5
B: 1, 8
Leg 6: Wily Susan Gardner does well enough round here, and she steps handicap débutante, Southway Queen, up half a mile this afternoon. Obviously expected to improve for that, judged on plenty of cash around for her today, she's an A sort. McCoy gets back on Old Dreams here, having won and been placed on her on his two previous rides, and she's an A type too.
Lady From Geneva ran well on her handicap bow last time, and she completes the trio on A, and the placepot perm.
A: 3, 5, 11
A's only: 1 x 1 x 3 x 1 x 2 x 3 = 18 bets
A's and B's: 1 x 1 x 6 x 3 x 4 x 3 = 216 bets
And that's it for a marathon Monday musing. Hopefully you've found something of interest in the above, and do let me know your thoughts on any points mentioned there, or indeed on anything racing/betting related!
p.s. Particularly, is the best odds breakdown on the big non-runner no bet races useful? Leave a comment and let me know.