Thursday's race didn't go exactly to plan, but a satisfactory outcome nontheless. I said I fancied the 2/1 Zambella and she won by the best part of four lengths at 9/4, which funded my two forecasts involving Midnightreferendum and Pink Legend. The latter finished fourth having faded on the run-in, conceding third place in the process, but Midnightreferendum ran a great race to finish second, completing a nice 10.3/1 exacta for all the exotics backers.
And so, after a much-needed profitable afternoon, I approach Friday with renewed vim and vigour and the feature of the day is the wonderful Horses for Courses (H4C) report, whilst our free racecards are for the following contests...
- 1.15 Cheltenham
- 1.35 Punchestown
- 3.00 Cheltenham
- 3.45 Bangor
- 5.15 Southwell
- 6.45 Southwell
And like many spectators, I'm always fascinated by the cross country events at HQ, so I'm going to cast my eye towards the 3.00 Cheltenham, the 11-runner, Class 2, Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase over 3m6f on Good to Soft ground for a top prize of £17,517.
First up, here's the racecard...
And like yesterday, I'm going to approach the race in a different way to usual and here's why. There's really no other races like these events at Cheltenham with the different types of fences and the routing etc. Yes, there are other long-distance chases, but this is a different kettle of fish altogether and I don't think your "normal" way of race reading would be enough here, we need something extra in addition to the tools I always use.
I want to start by saying that on first glance, my initial preference is for Step Back who seeks a hat trick but more on his shortly. The extra tool I want to use today is historical data, because in the past the horses that have won this race have tended to fit most if not all of the profile...
- top 4 in the market
- top 2 finish LTO
- 14-35 days since last run
- aged 7+
- 4 to 7 runs in the last year
- ran here at Cheltenham LTO
Applying those filters, we are left with the top four in the market who tick some if not all of those boxes and it's those four we'll now consider in more detail. All were first or second LTO 17-33 days ago and all are aged 8-11. Step Back has only run three times in the last year, but was a non-runner due to the going on another occasion, whilst the other three have been seen four times. Both Beau de Brizais and Kingswell Theatre ran here LTO four weeks ago.
That was in the November Cross Country event here when KT and BDB were the first two home, separated by five lengths and the runner-up is 5lbs better off here today.
Now back to the tools after my shortcut to a 4-runner shortlist...
As you'd expect for such a unique race, the pace tab isn't going to offer us much of an inssight, so we'll press on by looking at our four possibles...
Step Back has the ideal going for his action here and is 3 from 4 on Good to Soft ground. He also has a win and a place from three efforts over 3m5f and was deemed to have enough about him to take a crack at the 4m2f Grand National, so stamina shouldn't be an issue here. he's a former Grade 3 winner and goes well in cheekpieces, so he looks set fair for a big run.
Back to back wins in the last seven weeks seem to have sparked him into life and if this becomes attritional, it'll play right into this old boy's hands (hooves?)
Neverushacon has just the one run on Good To Soft when fifth in this race last year, but has raced in Ireland sixteen times on ground varying from Good to Yielding through to Yielding to Soft and has only won one of the, He has, however, won 5 of 19 on ground deemed Soft or worse. He was impressive when winning the Risk Of Thunder Chase at Punchestown over 3m on heavy ground by some 11 lengths 17 days ago and has completed both runs on this track, finishing fifth and eighth.
Of obvious interest from a stats/trends perspective, but has never won beyond 3m1f, so has something to prove here on ground a little quicker than he'd prefer.
Kingswell Theatre was a winner around this circuit just four weeks ago, just as he was in the November 2017 running. Clear by five lengths having made all, he was his usual bullish self. He stays all day (has won at 3m7f), jumps well (no fall in 30 races) and can win on any ground ranging from Good all the way through to Heavy.
He won off 145 last time out, but is rated 140 here so there are very few reasons why he won't go well again here, other than his age (getting no younger at 11) and the fact that second time out he isn't always as good as his seasonal reappearance.
Beau du Brizais was the runner-up in that C&D contest here four weeks ago, making him the only one of the four not to win LTO, but that doesn't mean he can't win this. He's now 5lbs better off than his rival, Kingwell Theatre, has won on good to soft and has completed over 4 miles in a Grade 3. He does tend to run well at this time of year (3 from 6 in December), but I'm concerned about the jockey booking. BdB has just a 10% strike rate (2 from 20) under Michael Nolan who is currently on a 50-race losing streak, whilst the horse is 3 from 16 (18.75%) wih other jockeys.
I was rather hoping Richard Johnson would be booked for this contest if I'm honest.
Any of the four could win, I expect one of the four to win and I expect that if all four get round, then three of them will be the first three home.
Do I have to stick my neck out? If so, I'm backing Step Back at 7/1. I think that aside from conceding weight all round that he's the one to beat if maintaining his recent form and 7/1 is a terrific price. Kingswell Theatre would be my next best, but his current odds of 4/1 offer no real value.
I don't have much between Neverushacon and Beau de Brizais to be honest. The former is possibly slightly better, but the latter receives plenty of weight and is a better pick from a value (13/2 vs 10/3) perspective.