Cue Card – Truly Exceptional

With the Grand National being covered extensively by the boss, I decided in today’s piece to turn my attention to the exceptional talent that is Cue Card.

His performance in the Betfred Bowl Chase was truly stunning, and at the age of 10 he has become one of the most popular horses in training. The Willie Mullins pair of Djakadam and Don Poli did their utmost to run the sting out of Tizzard’s star, but Paddy Brennan had all angles covered and when he asked Cue Card to turn on the turbo’ at the third last, the response was devastating. He swept clear to win by nine lengths, with Don Poli battling on for second.

The Gold Cup is the ultimate test for a top-class staying chaser, and trainer Colin Tizzard will know that he had his horse ready to win at Cheltenham. However, it wasn’t to be on this occasion and his relief at some form of redemption was clear when he said: “I have been saying all season he is in the form of his life and he showed it again today. He has got such an engine on him now, there is no bottom to him. This was fantastic. It was so disappointing at Cheltenham and I am just proud of the horse. It is a brilliant day.”

Tizzard also confirmed that his horse would now head to Punchestown, making a mouth-watering clash with Don Cossack a realistic proposition. “The real big one escaped us this year, but that just shows what a horse he is at the moment,” added the trainer. “He is 10 now and is better than he has ever been. He will go to Punchestown. I entered him yesterday, it was always going to be on the cards. He hasn't had a hard race; he is 10 so there is no reason not to go there.”

It’s clear that whilst Cue Card is in rude health his trainer is keen to allow him to run. There’s been periods during his career when that was simply not possible. Breathing issues, pulled muscles and a stress fracture of his pelvis, are just some of the ailments that have laid him low over the years. However, when on the track, fit and well, he has proven to be an outstanding racehorse.

He exploded onto the scene as a four-year-old in 2010 when romping to victory in the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham. He was sent off a 40/1 outsider and had Al Ferof eight lengths back in second. That stunning success ensured that he entered his first season over hurdles as one of the leading novices, with many anticipating a bold show in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle back at the Cheltenham Festival. He was duly installed as race favourite, but in a stellar renewal could only manage fourth behind Al Ferof, Spirit Son and Sprinter Sacre.

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He was campaigned over the minimum trip for much of his novice chase year, culminating in a second place finish in the Arkle behind the exceptional Sprinter Sacre. He finished seven lengths adrift that day, a performance that can now be reflected upon with great pride.

The 2012-13 campaign saw him step-up in trip, after initially winning the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter. Still only a six-year-old, he was sent to Kempton to contest the King George, but failed to spark under ‘hold-up’ tactics in testing ground. He bounced back to form in the Ascot Chase when thrashing Captain Chris; a horse that had finished well ahead of him in the King George just a month or so earlier.

The Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham became the logical target after such an impressive win over 2m5f at Ascot, and that decision was justified when Cue Card ran out an impressive winner by a yawning nine lengths. That victory set up a clash with Sprinter Sacre at Aintree in the Grade 1 Melling Chase, a race that will live long in the memory, and a race that he probably failed to get due recognition, as it was probably one of his greatest performances.

It was Sprinter Sacre that received the accolades for his stunning victory at Aintree, in a truly dazzling display, yet for Cue Card to get within five lengths that day is testament to just how exceptional he is. The two pulled 20 lengths clear of Flemenstar and Finian’s Rainbow. It was an outstanding display by both horses.

The following winter saw him campaigned as a staying chaser. He took the Betfair Chase at Haydock, running away from Dynaste and Silviniaco Conti, giving hope that another crack at the King George would prove successful. Kempton’s showpiece looked sure to go his way until he appeared to run out of gas late on, with Silviniaco profiting.

A spell on the side-lines prevented him from running at Cheltenham in 2014 and when he returned for the 2014/15 season he looked a shadow of his former self. Tizzard discovered the reason for the loss of form when the horse was found to have a trapped epiglottis. The successful operation has allowed the horse to see out the extended trips and has resulted in a truly incredible winter for both horse and trainer.

Victory in the Charlie Hall Chase was followed by success at Haydock in the Betfair and then, rather ironically, a last gasp victory in a thrilling King George. No-one knows what would have happened at Cheltenham had he stood up, but one thing we do know is that Cue Card is now undoubtedly an outstanding staying chaser.

He’s always been a terrific racehorse, but for much of his career failed to get the credit he probably deserved. During this winter he has been physically able to give his best, and that best has proved to be something very special indeed.

Ryanair Chase 2015 Preview, Trends, Tips

Ryanair Chase Preview and Tips: Can Dynaste win a second Ryanair?

Can Dynaste win a second Ryanair?

Ryanair Chase 2015 Preview, Trends, Tips

It's now just 35 days - or five weeks in old money - until Cheltenham Festival 2015 kicks off, and it's time for another ante-post preview. With the World Hurdle, Gold Cup, and Arkle already in the can; the Champion Hurdle looking bereft of value; and the Champion Chase still impossible to call, I'm taking a swipe at the Ryanair Chase...

Ryanair Chase Trends

Last year was the tenth running of the race in its current guise, having previously been run as the Cathcart Challenge Trophy, a Grade 2 for first or second season chasers only. So we have ten years' worth of data to go on...

106 horses contested those ten Ryanair Chases, and we'll be looking at the runners to winners ratio in the below.

Age: Although six and seven year olds have only won two of the ten Ryanairs, they've done it from just sixteen runners. That's 20% of the winners from 15% of the runners. Not a huge sample size, granted, but ballast is applied with the fact that eight of the thirty win and placed horses (27%) were this age, from the same 15% of runners.

Eight to ten year olds were responsible for the remaining eight winners, from 79 runners - 80% wins from 75% runs, so not massively material.

The eleven horses aged eleven or above failed to win and secured a single placed effort between them.

Last time out:

Finishing Position: Six (60%) of the 45 horses (42%) to finish first or second last time won. Given that a further 14 were placed (67% win/place), these may be reliable propositions upon which to focus.

Grade: Seven (70%) of the 47 horses (44%) to have run in a Grade 1 last time took Ryanair gold. The other three ran in Grade 2 (two) and Grade 3 (one) company the last day.

Distance: Quite interesting is this one. With just one (10%) of the 39 horses (37%) to have run at two and a half miles or less last time winning the Ryanair, a prep over a reflective trip looks a banker.

Days since a run: All ten winners had run last between 26 and 90 days ago. The 24% of runners who historically hadn't run in that time, and couldn't get it done in the Ryanair, may be a portent to the long absent and the quick returning this time around, too.

Odds: Given the fairly 'obvious' nature of most winners - i.e. youngish horses who won or nearly won last time out - it is little surprise that this has been a 'chalky' (i.e. top of the market) race. Indeed, nine of the ten winners were priced between 3/1 and 6/1, from just 21 to fall in that price range.

90% winners from 20% runners is clearly an attractive stat, but using market price as a means to qualify a bet is precarious at best. Nevertheless, it is testament to a general lack of depth in the Ryanair. With that said, this year may yet prove an exception in that regard.

Official Rating: Although the first three winners of the Ryanair were rated in the 150's, it is a race which has attracted better horses as the years have worn on. Last year, Dynaste was the highest rated winner yet, on 169; and the average of the last four winners has been 167.

Other: Seven of the ten winners (70%) had previously won at beyond the 2m5f Ryanair trip, from 47% of the runners, again doffing a statistical cap to the advantage of proven stamina.

Ryanair Chase Form Preview

There are 39 still entered at time of writing, and a number of them may yet go shorter (Champion Chase) or longer (Gold Cup). With only one bookmaker offering the 'non-runner money back' concession at this stage - well done Boylesports - we need to tread carefully or wager with that safety net firm.

The top of the market is a two way go between last year's winner, Dynaste, and Irish up-and-comer, Don Cossack.

STOP PRESS: 4th February: A day after publishing this post, Dynaste has been ruled out for the season.

Let's start with the champ.

As he did last year, Dynaste looks set to enter the Festival arena without a win this season. However, that is to take little away from his credentials. Indeed, it can be argued that in defeat he has achieved more than any other in the field, so close has he got to the Gold Cup favourite, Silviniaco Conti, in both the Betfair Chase and the King George.

If it was felt that those two races - run at around three miles - stretched his stamina, that looked to be confirmed last month when Dynaste was outstayed up the Cheltenham hill by Many Clouds and Smad Place, two horses about which there are no such range reservations.

The drop back to the Ryanair trip looks a no-brainer and, while connections have yet to finally commit, it would surely be an act of lunacy to go long, and into the Gold Cup itself.

Another consideration with Dynaste is that in those beaten runs in the past two seasons, four of the five were on soft ground. Without saying David Pipe's son of Martaline doesn't act on soft, it is probably fair to say he's a slightly better horse on slightly better ground.

It's likely to be slightly better ground in mid-March and, with trip and grade proven by last year's win, Dynaste is a solid favourite.

Interestingly, then, in some books he's not the jolly, that privilege being afforded to the Don, Cossack. Or Don Cossack to give him his proper un-punctuated name.

Gordon Elliott's eight year old has improved a stone or so on ratings this season in a four race unbeaten streak which included the Grade 1 John Durkan in early December, and the Grade 2 Kinloch Brae Chase in mid-January. Whilst difficult to crab a horse with figures of four out of four, it is still possible to pick holes in the form of his runs.

The two key efforts are those alluded to above, in the first of which he benefited from his main market rival - Boston Bob - suffering material interference; and in the second of which his main market rival - Champagne Fever - fell at the last.

In the Don's defence, he would probably have won both races anyway, albeit by relatively fine margins. But it must be beyond question that in that pair of two-and-a-half-milers he took on horses unsuited by the distance: Champagne Fever looks a certainty for the Champion Chase over two miles, and Boston Bob will go the full Gold Cup trip (which I suspect might test his stamina too far - he looks a three miler these days, dead on).

The Cossack will go on any ground, and the Ryanair looks his ideal range. There remains an unanswered question about the specific - and significant - demands of Cheltenham, with his fall in the RSA Chase last year the only attempt. So, while he comes into the race on an upward curve, I'm not personally convinced he can improve from his Irish rating of 166 to the approximate 170 I suspect will be required to win this year's Ryanair. Not at Cheltenham anyway.

Cue Card, the 2013 winner, is third choice in all books at an almost uniform 8/1. Promoted from 165 to 170 after that fine effort almost two years ago, Cue Card went as high as 174 after claiming the 2013 Betfair Chase fifteen months back.

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Since then, it has largely been a tale of regression, his fine second in the 2013 King George aside. Indeed, having started favourite in his first two starts this season, Colin Tizzard's stable star finished fourth both times, with double digit distances 'twixt himself and the race winners. His thirteen length fifth in the 2014 King George was disappointing enough to warrant  an eight pound easing in his official rating, and he does have a lot to prove on this year's form.

It is worth reminding readers that Cue Card was off for the best part of a year after suffering a stress fracture of the pelvis so, while it is dangerous to write off a yard as talented and targeted as Tizzard's, it might be that we've seen the best of this former Cheltenham Champion Bumper winner.

Champagne Fever, himself a former Cheltenham Champion Bumper winner, remains in many lists at around 10/1, but the only bookmaker to play this horse with is Boyle and their non-runner money back insurance. He is very likely to go the shorter route and, in any case, the evidence is that he doesn't stay this far.

That brings us to one of the most interesting runners in the field, Jonjo O'Neill's Johns Spirit. It has been mentioned elsewhere on this site what a brilliant Cheltenham Festival target trainer Jonjo is, so an absence since Boxing Day is of little concern.

Johns Spirit has improved right through the handicap ranks, winning a Class 2 chase and then the Paddy Power in late 2013, and then running a fair fourth in the Byrne Group Plate at last year's Festival. That was off a mark of 148, and he kicked this season off with a 2m4f win in a Class 2 handicap chase, again at Cheltenham.

Next stop was a title defence in the Paddy Power in November, where he was just collared on the line. That day he lugged top weight, and was ceding two stone less a pound to his vanquisher, Caid Du Berlais. It should be added that the Paddy Power form has worked out pretty poorly so far, with none of the 26 subsequent runs of horses that competed there yielding a win, and only four making the frame.

Away from his beloved Cheltenham, Johns Spirit was upped to championship class in the King George and ran respectably. His 16 length sixth reads better than Cue Card's slightly narrower defeat on the basis that both track and trip were probably against him.

I'm not sure Johns Spirit is good enough to win the Ryanair, but there is some juice in his 12/1 quote to find out.

There follow a pair of 14/1 chances, headed by Balder Succes. Alan King's seven year old has won three times at around this distance, all on pan flat tracks (twice at Kempton, once at Warwick), and his Cheltenham record is comprised of letters rather than numbers: FUF.

If that's not enough to put you off, then it is worth noting that he would probably have won - albeit over two miles - when falling two out in the latter 'F', and he has completed in all ten starts since. But I'd be fairly confident that the combination of distance and stiff finish will find him out, even if the fences don't.

Al Ferof is the other 14/1 shot, and he's an interesting player in whichever Festival race he's pitched at. I've had - and recommended - a small tickle on him (NRNB) for the Gold Cup here. And I'm happy to take a small slice of 12's when 14/1 is generally available to avail of the same non-runner no bet insurance as I have in the Gold Cup.

Third in the King George, that gives him the jump on a few in this field if a strict lateral interpretation is made. Depending on how you viewed that race, he was either outpaced and plodded on, or he was outstayed. The balance of his form suggests he was probably outstayed, but that's by no means unequivocal.

For a start, he's been in the first three in all of his trio of three mile runs, two of which were in the King George. But at around two and a half miles, he has form of 3131151. He is a Grade 1 winner and a quadruple Grade 2 winner, and he won the Paddy Power in 2012 over this distance but on the Old Course at Cheltenham (the Ryanair is run on the New Course).

Detractors will point to his fifth place in last year's Ryanair, where he was beaten less than eight lengths. But here's what I believe the key to be with Al Ferof: he goes best fresh. To wit, his record after a break of 60 days or more is 1F1111, a sequence which takes in all four of his Grade 2's, as well as his Paddy Power win, where he hauled close to top weight.

In short, I think a rested Al Ferof is a threat in his connections' chosen Festival engagement, and I suspect the Ryanair is the perfect spot for him.

A gaggle of possibles lurk in the 16/1 to 20/1 range, including Ballycasey, Taquin De Seuil, Hidden Cyclone, Ma Filleuile and Uxizandre.

Ballycasey seemingly had few excuses when lapped at Leopardstown at Christmas, and a rating of 153 gives him a stone and more to find.

Taquin De Seuil is more interesting. He won the JLT Novices' Chase over two and a half at the Festival last year, touching off the gallant front runner, Uxizandre, that day. He's not been seen since pulling up in the Betfair Chase in November and, even with Jonjo's healing hands, it's a leap of faith to see the horse coming back not just right but ten pounds better than ever.

Uxizandre on the other hand had looked an improver this season, before a desperate showing in desperate ground in the same race as Ballycasey at Leopardstown over Christmas. That performance might have been down to the ground, but it might not have, and in any case there's a fair chance he'll run in the Champion Chase rather than the Ryanair.

One thing to note: he's currently 14/1 to win any race at the Festival with Hills, and that looks better than either 20/1 for the Ryanair or 16/1 for the Queen Mother. I made that bet before the Christmas copybook blot and my 10/1 looks less than shrewd now...

Hidden Cyclone must be a player. After all, he comes to Cheltenham on the back of a good win in the Tied Cottage Chase, and he was second in the Ryanair last year. He'll probably be moved up to 164 or so by the Irish handicapper for his win on Sunday, but he was punch drunk on the run in last year.

The suspicion is that he won't quite get home, and that's backed up by connections likely opting for the shorter Champion Chase option.

Ma Filleule has taken good support this week for this race, and it's unclear to me why. It's been suggested that Mark Howard nominated her as a player, but I wouldn't have thought his sphere of influence was sufficient to move the market (25's into 16's, one remaining spot of 20's) thus. It was also mentioned that a write up in The Times had said she was in great form, but plans were still undecided between this race and the Gold Cup.

Anyway, be all that as it may, the issue is that she is no better than 20/1, and her form gives her seven pounds to find. Although she's won over three miles - in a Kempton handicap chase - this looks her optimal trip and her two most recent efforts can be forgiven for over-stretching her range elastic.

With two second places from four Cheltenham starts, one of them in the Festival Handicap Chase behind Holywell last term, she will have no issue with the race parameters and it's 'merely' a question of whether she's good enough. I could envisage her making the frame, but she'd have to take a big step forward and a fair number fail to go as well as they can for her to win.

The highest rated of all the UK runners, and still a 25/1 shot in one book, is Menorah. Ten year olds have won this - Fondmort, Our Vic and Albertas Run - so age is not an issue. His rating has elevated from 161 in April 2014 to its current 169, and he's been rated in the 160's since 2012. That's a figure that, being frank, a number of the better fancied horses in the market will never achieve; and this is Menorah's only Festival entry.

So why the big price? I imagine it is mainly down to the regression in his course form. Since winning the 2010 Supreme Novices' Hurdle, he added a couple more Graded hurdles at the track before being weighed down by my financial support in the 2011 Champion Hurdle, finishing a fair fifth behind the unparalleled Hurricane Fly.

Defeat to Grandouet in the following season's International Hurdle saw a career change to fences, the first season of which culminated in a respectable third to Sprinter Sacre in the Arkle. It should be noted he was beaten nearly thirty lengths that day, however, and since then has run lamentably in both Festival starts.

They were both in the Ryanair, and read Po. Another such performance would render a Ryanair form string of PoP or Poo, either of which illustrates why Laddies are happy to take a 'pony' chance with him. At the price, I'll admit, I'm tempted for small money.

Ryanair Chase 2015 Tips

In what looks at first glance to be an open race, a combination of preferred engagements and official ratings soon pares things down to a more manageable number.

Dynaste has an obvious form chance and looks to be in the same sort of fettle as he was last year. He's 5/1 in places and that's fair enough without being exciting. My issue is I can't back him at 4/1 NRNB, and I can't back him at 5/1 without the concession. So, at this stage, I can't back him!

In order to derive value from any market, we have to be prepared to allow something near the head of the field to beat us. For me, it is Don Cossack. His unbeaten run this term has been more due to the poor placement and/or jumping of others than his own efforts, and if he's good enough to win, so be it, and fair play.

Cue Card has a Ryanair on his palmarès already, but on current form - even factoring in my huge respect for the stable - he's hard to back at a single figure price.

Johns Spirit is interesting, and a possible on both trainer and track form; but not as interesting to me as Al Ferof. I really like this fellow and think he's been under-rated for a lot of his career. That's why he's the price he is - as well as his multiple engagements muddying the waters - and if he goes straight to the Festival now, that will be perfect. 12/1 non-runner no bet looks good.

Uxizandre to win any race at 14's with Hills isn't the worst bet in the world either, especially back on better ground. But I couldn't recommend him solely for this race because he's still a possible for the Champion Chase.

That leaves Menorah and that 25/1. He's as likely to run a 'P' or an '0' as he is to run a 123 - more likely in the eyes of one firm's traders - but that's factored into the price. Between those two howlers, Menorah did run second in a Grade 2 handicap, giving lumps of weight away, at Cheltenham. And this season, he's finished second in the Betfair Chase as well as winning the Grade 2 Charlie Hall on good ground. The price makes the bet - always - and 25/1 is too big, for a sliver.

1pt win Al Ferof 12/1 Boylesports NRNB (14/1 general, all in run or not)

1/2 pt win Johns Spirit 11/1 Boylesports NRNB (12/1 general, all in run or not)

1/2 pt win Menorah 25/1 Ladbrokes all in run or not


Also previewed for Cheltenham Festival 2015

Gold Cup Preview, Trends, Tips 2015

World Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips 2015

Arkle Chase Preview, Trends, Tips 2015

Ryanair Chase Preview, Trends, Tips 2015

A Saturday Trixie (plus free bets)

It's Saturday, there's some excellent racing, and so it would be rude in the extreme not to have a little piece of the action. In this post, I've found three that show up well on various Gold reports and/or tools, and I'm going to hurl them in a trixie bet (three doubles and a treble). It's more than likely ambitious, but faint heart never won fair maiden.

I've also got news of some more vastly inflated prices being offered to attract new customers, a couple of which look as close to free money as you can get.

But we start with the trixie.

The first of the trio to run will be HUMOUR in the 1.25 Lingfield. He's a 6/1 shot with bet365 as I write (Friday night) but only 7/2 with PP and BetVictor.

Humour appears near the top of my Hot Form report with the filters I have set up - see image below - and ran a good second last time at Wolverhampton behind a well handicapped sort. The race is working out quite well as you can see, with two winners and three placed horses emerging from the eight subsequent starts.

Humour's form is no laughing matter

Humour's form is no laughing matter

Humour also emerges well on the place part of Instant Expert, though this will be his first run at Lingers.

Humour offers plenty to smile about

Humour offers plenty to smile about

And those snippets of form are enough to make the ticket.

For leg two, I'm nipping round the M25 to Ascot for the 2.05 race, the Amlin Chase. AL FEROF is a favourite of mine, and he's very well suited by conditions here, despite  not being 'officially' best in.

He sits proudly atop The Shortlist, with a line of green profile and a full 15 points scored.

Alf is in the green...

Alf is in the green...

I was a little concerned by his absence of 254 days, but then I checked the Full Form Filter tab on the race, and hit the '60+ days' button to see how he'd fared after a break of at least two months. As you'll see,especially if you click on the image below, I was suitably encouraged:

Alf benefits from time off...

Alf benefits from time off...

Four completed starts off a layoff have yielded four wins, and he is on my team. Good old Alfie...

We'll have a bit of a wait for leg three, should we actually have any wagering strings left to our bow, and for the literal out there it would be possible to get from Ascot to Wolverhampton in time for the 8.45 race, a claiming stakes over a mile and half a furlong.

There to greet us, hopefully, will be NAOISE. Ollie Pears' chap is bidding for a course and distance hat-trick having won his last couple in handicap company. A close run Class 6 effort was followed by a more clear cut Class 5 margin of victory, so it might be a bit of a niggle that he drops to claiming class here.

Still, there are grounds for optimism, as follows. First, Ollie and his main jockey, Jacob Butterfield, have a cracking record at Wolverhampton, as illustrated on the TJ Combo report.

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Pears and Butter for supper?

Pears and Butter for supper?

And second, like Al Ferof, they are one of five horses with a perfect 15 score on The Shortlist.

We'll make some Naoise if this lands the treble

We'll make some Naoise if this lands the treble

No prices available on Naoise at the time of writing, but I'm happy to allow the starting price market govern my fate, should it even be needed!

So there's my ticket. I've sided each way, in the hope that I at least have a chance of a place double rolling into leg three, and we'll see how we go. Coward, moi? (Yes!)

A little Saturday trixie dabble...

A little Saturday trixie dabble...


Now then, I've received a plethora of bookmaker specials for this weekend, and a number of them merit consideration if you qualify (which basically means if you don't already have an account with that firm).

The New One offers

I'll start with the 'close to free money' offers, of which there are three, all revolving around The New One in the 1.50 Haydock.

This Champion Hurdle aspirant is 1/3 in the early market skirmishes and that looks appropriate on the balance of form, despite some progressive hurdlers in opposition.

Coral are offering new customers 3/1 for £10 max on The New One - click that link if you don't have a Coral account. (separate from normal totesport) are also offering new customers 3/1 for £10 max on The New One - click that link if you don't have a account. NB You must sign up either via or via the totesport app to get this concession.

And SkyBet have their money back if the favourite wins concession on The New One's race. This applies to all customers, and stakes are returned in the form of a free bet on bets of between £5 and £25. So if you fancy something against TNO, this is the place to wager. I'm a big fan of Melodic Rendezvous and might just chance him with SkyBet.

Here's the link for that all customer offer.

Other Enhanced Prices

sportingbet have two decent enhanced offers for new customers. If you like either Cue Card or Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase (3.00 Haydock), you can have 5/1 your pick via this link.

And if you've a fancy for Volnay De Thaix in the Fixed Brush Hurdle, a top priced 9/2 generally, you can have double those odds - 9/1 - via this link. This again is a new customer offer, so if you're not with sportingbet already, one or other of these offers might work for you.

And if you like Cue Card in that 3.00 Haydock race, Winner Sports are offering 6/1 about this top priced 4/1 shot. New customers again, and here's the link.

Finally, for all customers, racebets are returning stakes as a free bet if your pick finishes second in the 3.00 Haydock. Here's the link for racebets.

Whatever you fancy, and with whoever you're backing, have a great day, and good luck!


p.s. don't forget you can see the racecards here.

And check out our 'all on one page' (as well as easy to access recent/historical) results here.

Double Dutch is free to all and is now online for you here (last two Saturdays have produced 40+/1 doubles, so no doubt we'll clunk out this week!)

And free registered users have access to that brilliant Trainer/Jockey Combo report today, as well as a Race of the Day (marked in yellow on your cards when you're logged in).

If you're not yet a member, sign up for Gold here.

Or register for a free account here. It's time to raise your game with Gold! 🙂

2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

Is Sprinter Sacre a cert for the Champion Chase?

Is Sprinter Sacre a cert for the Champion Chase?

2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

The Queen Mother Champion Chase is the highlight of the second day of the Cheltenham Festival, and one of the showpieces of the entire week. This year's race looks intriguing, with defending champion Sprinter Sacre bidding to overcome that uncharacteristic blip on his last start, and clear second choice Sire de Grugy with course questions to answer.

It's double figures any other horse you like, so this could be a belting wagering opportunity. In this post, I'll look at the Champion Chase trends, preview the form, and offer a tip or two for the race. Let's start with the trends...

2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Trends

Horses of all ages, from five through to eleven, have won this race in recent years. However, the percentage play, in terms of strike rate is to ignore horses with double digit ages.

Since 1997, of the fourteen horses to complete on their previous start, eleven won, another was second, and the other two were third. Two of the seven horses to fall or unseat last time went on to win the Champion Chase. None of the six that pulled up last time has finished better than fifth  - a sextet which included Florida Pearl and Flagship Uberalles. A certain Sprinter Sacre pulled up last time...

Since 2000, of the ten winners to have an official rating, all were rated at least 160. Tilting at this prize may be wishful thinking then for Module, Astracad, Hinterland and, erm, Wishfull Thinking.

All of the last ten winners had their final prep race in the previous 30-60 days. Favourite Sprinter Sacre has not been seen for 75 days, when he pulled up after a mile...

2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Form Preview

Those are the trends then and, aside from a couple of strikes for favourite, Sprinter Sacre, there's little of utility in whittling the field. However, that is quite a significant 'apart from', so let's inspect the case for the reigning champion.

Sprinter Sacre began the 2013/2014 season as the biggest certainty of the Cheltenham Festival. He was in possession of a ten race unbeaten record over fences, and had scored stratospheric Timeform, Racing Post and Official figures. He was just 2/9 to extend that sequence to eleven at the principle expense of his main Champion Chase ante-post rival, Sire de Grugy, in the Grade 2 Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas.

But it didn't go to plan. Oh boy, did it not go to plan. Sprinter Sacre was pulled up after running little more than a mile and jumping little more than half of the dozen fences. In Sprinter's absence, Sire de Grugy galloped to a workmanlike four length victory over Oiseau de Nuit.

It was subsequently discovered that Sprinter Sacre had suffered a heart irregularity, which appears to have righted itself. Now, I don't know about you, but that's not the sort of thing I want to hear when I'm mulling pulling on the punting boots at even money or shorter.

The facts with Sprinter Sacre are that he has easily the best form in the race, but in the past eleven months he has completed only about a mile of a single contest. Medical fitness, as well as match fitness, have to be taken on trust. Of course, if he is medically sound and he is pitch perfect for Cheltenham Wednesday, he'll be very hard to beat. And I will be prepared to cheer with the rest if we have our champion back on the big day.

But that's sentiment. When it comes to betting, I wouldn't touch Sprinter Sacre with a very long bargepole.

The obvious one against him is Sire de Grugy, a horse that has won eight of his eleven chases and been second twice more. I have to declare an interest here: I backed him - and recommended readers back him - when he was 16/1. Here's what I wrote on December 9th 2013:

I was taken with the way Sire De Grugy won at Sandown, having not been a huge fan of his in the past, and I backed him each way for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, a race which is seriously lop-sided.

Here’s my rationale: Sire de Grugy is likely to go for the Queen Mum. Sprinter Sacre is too, assuming he can be got fit, and his current issue is resolved. We all hope that will be the case. If it is, Simonsig will surely run in the Ryanair, having won the Neptune over the longer trip a good bit more impressively than he did the Arkle over the shorter trip.

Cue Card may tilt at the Gold Cup itself if running close in the King George and, at any rate, would surely go at the Ryanair if not quite getting home around Kempton on Boxing Day.

Flemenstar could go for the Queen Mum, but is more likely to race over two-five in the Ryanair. Certainly his racing history suggests that’s the place for him. Kid Cassidy may be aimed at the Grand Annual again, though he’d have a stone-plus more to carry than when second last year.

Arvika Ligeonniere got found out in the Arkle last term, and will probably go Ryanair. And that leaves the third of the Henderson horses, Captain Conan. It was far from a disastrous run in third behind Sire De Grugy and, while expected to be fit enough to go close, he’s sure to come on for the run. But he does have ten pounds to find with SdG on official ratings, which are unlikely to change much as a result of the Tingle Creek outcome.

So, basically, if Sprinter Sacre runs in the Champion Chase, I contend that a fair number of others will dodge him and go for what could be one of the races of the Festival, the Ryanair. Sire De Grugy will not. He will stand his ground, and 16/1 (quarter the odds the first three) in what could be a small field of few realistic chances, seemed fair enough to me.

If Sprinter Sacre doesn’t run for whatever reason, Simonsig and a good few of the others might line up in the Champion Chase instead. In that case, it will likely be a much more competitive race, improving Sire de Grugy’s win chance whilst arguably diminishing his place prospects.

Still with me? OK, well that was the rationale.

A nice looking voucher, but will Sire de Grugy win?

A nice looking voucher, but will he win?

If we could back Sire de Grugy now at 16/1, we obviously would. But we can't. He's now a top price of 11/4 and, given his course record, that's no better than a bit tight. Specifically, SdG has run twice at Cheltenham and finished second twice.

Both were chases, both were at two miles, and both saw him upsides at the last and then outpaced up the hill.

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16/1 each way is still a great bet, not least because I (and others) have 4/1 about the place 1,2,3 - and there may not even be enough runners for three places!

But 11/4 about the win is hard to recommend, even without an ante-post voucher.

So, the good news is that if we're against both Sprinter Sacre and Sire de Grugy, it's 10/1 bar that pair. The bad news is that picking and choosing between the remaining fifteen engaged at time of writing is not that easy.

First of all, I am happy to put a line through any horse with an established level of form and a rating below 160. That means arrivederci to Wishfull Thinking and Astracad.

Module is difficult to dismiss completely, as is Hinterland. Both are progressive and both have scope to run to 160+. Module won the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase last time, beating Dodging Bullets a neck. Dodging Bullets is a fine novice and was giving the winner three pounds, but that's hardly Champion Chase-winning form.

The other thing with Module is that he seems to want deep ground. His three chase wins have all been in heavy ground and, though he did bag a handicap at the course on good to soft, it's likely he simply outclassed his rivals that day on his first British start. If the ground is heavy on the day, he is better than a 20/1 shot, his current price. Otherwise, he's not. He also has an entry in the Ryanair.

Hinterland is still a novice and, as such, is more likely to go the Arkle route than take on the big boys here. If he did line up, he'd still need another leap forward after a leap forward the last day, when he won the Grade 1 Henry VIII Chase at Sandown. He's ground agnostic at least, so no worries on that score, but he's unlikely to be good enough even if he runs.

Benefficient is the third choice in the betting for the Champion Chase, and he's another for whom the Ryanair is a compelling alternative engagement - he won the novice equivalent at last year's Festival. But he's not short of pace, as two Grade 1 wins at Leopardstown demonstrate. Whether he's got the sort of gears needed to prevail in this is another question and, even with the non-runner no bet concession, I'd not be drawn to his chance especially.

Captain Conan is a general 12/1 chance, and also has a Ryanair entry. He's rated 161 and has a verdict over Sire de Grugy at Cheltenham to his name, over this trip. That was in the November Novices' Chase of 2012, and both horses have improved markedly since. Captain Conan was found a bit wanting in the Jewson (now JLT) last year, but was a good third to Sire de Grugy at Sandown on his seasonal bow this term.

The problem is that he hasn't run since that race, on 7th December, meaning he has an absence of 95 days to overcome. History screams that very few horses win at the Festival in any race after such an absence and it's the scratch treatment for him on the back of that alone.

And then comes the enigmatic Arvika Ligeonniere. I love this horse. On his day, he's a proper sort. The Irish handicapper has him at 166 and he's a four-time Grade 1-winning nine-year-old. He has the toe for two but has plenty of form at two and a half too (did you like all those toes and two's?!). So it won't surprise you that he's also entered in the Ryanair Chase, over 2m5f.

True, he was awful when pulling up (carrying my money) in the Arkle last year, but he was a 15/2 chance that day and, if that was a blip, then 12/1 non-runner no bet (or 14/1 all in run or not) is a fair win only wager.

Al Ferof is still quoted in the Champion Chase, despite his trainer previously saying they were aiming him at the Gold Cup. That was before he looked to fail to stay the three miles of the Denman Chase last time, and he's probably more likely to go for the Ryanair now. He's a very strong traveling horse and, again with the non-runner no bet concession in our corner, he's worth a small interest at 16/1.

Winner of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle of 2011, having been second in the Champion Bumper the year before, he disappointed in the 2012 Arkle (fourth) before missing last year's Festival. The balance of his form suggests 2m5f might be optimal but he's got the speed for this, if re-routed.

We're still in the realms of the 16/1 pokes, and Kid Cassidy is next on the casting couch for the Champion Chase. So that's KC on the cc for the CC. He's a very in and out horse. When he's good, he's very good, as when trumping Sire de Grugy at Cheltenham in November; or when finishing second in last year's Grand Annual. Whether that's enough to claim this coveted prize is another question and, on balance, I imagine it's probably not.

Somersby has been called plenty of names over the years, and has often looked like a horse without a trip. But he has just the one entry - in this - at the Festival, and he's performed with merit going all the way back to the Supreme of 2009 (3rd of 20 behind Go Native that day). He was then second in the 2010 Arkle, 5th in the 2011 Champion Chase, 7th in the 2012 Ryanair, and unseated in the 2013 Champion Chase.

Somersby also unseated last time out, behind Sire de Grugy, but between those jockey exits, he won the Grade 2 Haldon Gold Cup and was second in the Grade 1 Tingle Creek. He retains a good bit of speed and class and, if he can iron that recent tendency to decant Dominic Elsworth from his back, he's not a forlorn place hope in a potentially open year.

Sizing Europe deserves a mention. Now twelve, he's won an Arkle (2010) and a Champion Chase (2011), and eighteen other races in a stellar career. He's more likely to head to the Ryanair (where have you heard that before?) but a Cheltenham Festival Arkle/Champion Chase record of 1122 is impressive even given his advancing years. After all, he was eleven when finishing second last year.

It would be truly amazing if he was win the Champion Chase at his veteran age, but stranger things have happened and 25/1 non-runner no bet is another tempting snippet, perhaps even each way this time.

2014 Queen Mother Champion Chase Tips

It's a real head-scratcher is the Queen Mother Champion Chase of 2014. With doubts about the pair which dominate the market, it's worth firing a few bullets further down the lists, especially with the non-runner no bet concession in play. I'd spread four points as follows:

1 point win Arvika Ligeonniere (12/1 non-runner no bet, general - check your bookie offers NRNB!)
1 point win Al Ferof (16/1 non-runner no bet, BetVictor)
1/2 point each way Somersby (20/1 Best Odds Guaranteed, non-runner no bet, SkyBet)
1/2 point each way Sizing Europe (25/1 non-runner no bet, BetVictor)


Ryanair Chase 2014 Preview Trends Tips

Ryanair Chase Preview Tips

Ryanair Chase Preview Tips

Ryanair Chase 2014 Preview, Trends, and Tips

One of the newer races in the expanded four day Cheltenham Festival, the Ryanair Chase is rapidly making a name for itself as a coronation procession for middle distance chasing champions. Run over two miles and five furlongs, and with seventeen fences to jump it is a true test of speed, stamina and athleticism, and the tapes go up at 2.40 on Thursday 13th March.

At the time of writing, the race looks to be an excellent betting contest, mainly because the ante-post favourite and reigning Ryanair champion, Cue Card, has been declared by his trainer to be "85 per cent likely" to run in the Gold Cup and, therefore, miss this race.

Moreover, there is a good chance that third favourite, Al Ferof, will run in the Gold Cup rather than the Ryanair as well, although this will not be decided until after the Denman Chase, scheduled for 8th February.

That leaves only Benefficient, last year's Jewson Chase winner (for novices' over the same course, and distance), at single figures for the contest, and he too is also engaged in the Queen Mother Champion Chase. It's then 11/1 bar this trio of uncertain entries, which underscores my keenness to have a bash at the contest.

Let's first see if there is anything to be gleaned from the past runnings of the race...

Ryanair Chase Trends

First run in 2005, there are now nine years' worth of data to trawl, and the key points from it include the following.

Just three of 23 last time out winners followed up in the Ryanair, with another three (from 19) winning having been second on their previous start. 19 of the 42 horses to have finished 1-2 in their last race were placed in the Ryanair, at a rate of 45%. That was from 44% of the runners, making the 67% win rate noteworthy.

Eight- to ten-year-olds have claimed seven of the nine Ryanair's, and 19 of the 27 place positions (70%), though that is only in line with their numerical representation, having been responsible for 72% of the runners.

Only 14/1 Albertas Run has won at a bigger price than 6/1, so whichever horse we back at a bigger price, we should be looking for it to truncate in the betting before the big day. With the possibility of two or three of the main fancies swerving the race, there's every chance of finding a 'shortener'.

In such a classy race as the Ryanair, it is hardly surprising that ten of the 25 runners officially rated 165 or higher were placed, with four of them winning. That's 44% of the winners, and 37% of the placed horses from just 26% of the runners.

As with all Cheltenham races, it takes an exceptional horse to defy a significant layoff, and all nine Ryanair winners ran within 90 days of their Festival success. 25 of the 27  (93%) placed horses did too, from 84% of the runners. Aside from Quevega, it is good sense to exclude any horse without a run in the previous 90 days at the Cheltenham Festival.

The most interesting trend with regards to the Ryanair however may be that eight of the nine winners of the race so far had already won at Cheltenham beforehand, though not necessarily at the Festival. That's 89% of the winners from just 52% of the runners.

Placing even greater emphasis on track form is the fact that eight of the nine winners (89%), and 19 of the 27 (70%) placed horses, had been placed at least twice before around Cheltenham. And that from just 51 runners (54%).

Six of the nine Ryanair winners were previous Grade 1 winners, with another two having already notched in Grade 2 company.

Those which fit the profile closest include Dynaste, Menorah, and First Lieutenant.

Ryanair Chase 2014 Preview

Cue Card is the defending champion and ante post favourite for this year's Ryanair Chase. He obviously handles conditions fine, and has been in excellent form this year, including when winning the Grade 1 Betfair Chase over about three miles at Haydock in November. Since then he's run a game second in the King George VI Chase at Kempton, and comes to the Festival in top form.

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The problem for punters is that he's more likely - much more likely according to his trainer - to go for the Gold Cup than the Ryanair and, as such, the 3/1 BetVictor (non-runner free bet) is far more appealing than the 6/1 Paddy Power, where you'll lose your cash if Cue Card doesn't start in this race.

Benefficient is more likely to take in this event, though he too is engaged elsewhere, and he underlined his credentials firstly by winning the novices' equivalent of the Ryanair, the JLT (was Jewson), and secondly by fending off all-comers last time in the Grade 1 Dial-A-Bet Chase at Leopardstown.

The problem here is that Benefficient's Grade 1 score the last day was over two miles and on soft ground and, despite the persistent rain that continues to fall, it is expected to be quicker than that - and will certainly be further than that - in middle March. In any case, his form is probably half a stone or more behind that of Cue Card.

Al Ferof, a 7/1 chance, is another that may take the Gold Cup route. His King George third, eleven lengths behind Cue Card, left suspicions that he doesn't truly stay the three miles there - and therefore would struggle to get the almost 3m3f of the Gold Cup trip. There are some, however, that believe he was outpaced at Kempton, and was staying on at the finish.

My take is that he didn't stay, a perception which is at least partially supported by no previous rules effort beyond the 2m5f Ryanair trip. In fact, the only two runs at that distance culminated in a Grade 1 third in a novice hurdle at Newbury, and a win the Paddy Power Gold Cup over the course, and distance, of the Ryanair.

He's entered in the three mile Denman Chase on 8th February, and a call on which Festival target to tilt at will be made subsequently. If Al Ferof lines up here, he has a very good chance - form figures of 2F1141 at Cheltenham, and 214 at the Festival underline that. 6/1 non-runner no bet with bet365 is the logical play, especially with trainer Paul Nicholls hinting that the Gold Cup is slightly preferred at this stage.

First Lieutenant is yet another horse with multiple entries, and which might go the Gold Cup route. He ran second to a resurgent Bobs Worth at Leopardstown over Christmas, though the form of that race is hard to quantify. To wit, the winner had run a stinker in the Betfair previously; the third, Rubi Ball, was bidding to replicate smart French form but hasn't won for two years and eleven starts; the fourth, Sir Des Champs, was essentially having his first start of the season after a very early (and crashing) fall the time before. He ran a bit flat, and has been withdrawn for the remainder of the season.

Of the remainder, nothing was rated higher than 154, and only the veteran Prince de Beauchene was distanced from the field. In other words, it was a muddling race.

In First Left's defence, he has an extremely consistent profile - 14 places from 17 chase starts - but against him are just three wins from that number. Given that he was readily outpaced in the Ryanair last year; and that his five subsequent starts have all been at within a furlong of three miles; and that Sir Des Champs (same owner) is out of the Gold Cup... I'd say he's more likely to go the Gold Cup route. Betting of 11/1, but only 6/1 non runner no bet tells a tale, and he's not for me. Too many chances, too few wins.

Next in is Dynaste and, after a disappointing performance in the King George, he's receiving specialist treatment at home. The latest bulletin from trainer David Pipe was far from fulsome, with the trainer noting, “He is improving steadily (but is not yet 100 per cent) and is still receiving regular treatment from [physiotherapist] Mary Bromiley."

Dynaste plugged on quite well behind Benefficient in the Jewson/JLT last year, but he was expected to win that day, so the silver medal can still be marked a tad disappointing. Overall then, the price doesn't really offer too much for value punters.

The best backed horse of recent days is Willie Mullins' Marito, a faller when starting to make ground in Benefficient's Cheltenham win last year. He's had a low key prep since, with a close second to an under-par Hurricane Fly in the Morigana Hurdle followed by a straightforward conversion in a Listed chase at Tramore.

Marito did have the 162-rated Roi Du Mee three lengths back in that contest, but he doesn't look good enough even off a revised rating of 154. He may also want deeper turf than he's likely to encounter at Cheltenham in March.

Although there are still a number of contenders priced at 20/1 or shorter, most of them have serious questions to answer currently: the likes of Riverside Theatre (inconsistent, unseated last time), Module (lightly raced and a stone below what's needed), Captain Conan (stamina doubt on this stiff track and maybe more likely to contest Queen Mother Champion Chase), and Arvika Ligeonniere (may be better right handed and disappointed badly in the Champion Chase last year).

Of the oily rags, Menorah has plenty of course form and has been in the first three in nine of fourteen career chases, including three Grade 1's. The problem for his fan club is that he's also pulled up twice in his last four starts, including when running a clunker in last year's Ryanair.

If his mid-February prep goes all right, he is at least solely entered in the Ryanair at the Festival. He's 20/1 non-runner free bet with BetVictor and that's not the least tempting offer on the bookies' table.

Ryanair Chase 2014 Tips

Betting of 6/1 the field attests to the wide open nature of this year's Ryanair and, with lingering doubts about which race several of the leading candidates will contest, this is a minefield for punters. With some bookmakers offering either non runner no bet or non runner free bet, we can take a chance on a couple against the top of the market.

Cue Card does have BY FAR the most compelling profile for the race, and is a model of top class consistency. He definitely merits some sort of insured investment, as he could be a 7/4 chance on the day if lining up in this (and, of course, it's free bet time if he runs in the Gold Cup instead).

Al Ferof at 6/1 is also a price with a bit of scope assuming he lines up. I think he will and, therefore, I think the 6/1 non runner no bet is worth taking.

The rest are varying degrees of unpalatable, and the best outsider could be course veteran, Menorah. His Cheltenham form is 111543P2 and he does have talent on his going days.

Ryanair Chase win selection: Al Ferof 6/1 bet365 (non-runner no bet)


Ryanair Chase saver: Cue Card 3/1 BetVictor (non-runner free bet)

Best Ryanair Chase outsider: Menorah 20/1 BetVictor (non-runner free bet)

Double blow for Nicholls sees Big Buck’s and Al Ferof out for season

Big Buck's - No fifth World Hurdle this season

Big Buck's - No fifth World Hurdle this season

The Cheltenham engraver can probably inscribe the name Big Buck’s in his sleep, but he’ll have no need to write it at all when the Festival comes round next March. The horse has an injury, which has ruled him out for the rest of this season. Read more

Sprinter Sacre out of Cheltenham’s Shloer

The final day of Cheltenham’s Open meeting tomorrow has lost the star of the show, after heavy rain caused the withdrawal of Sprinter Sacre from the Shloer Chase. Read more

Trainer Stats: 8th March 2012

Have the Hobbs Horses Turned A Corner?

With just days now till the tapes go up on the 2012 Cheltenham Festival see which trainers are heading to Prestbury Park in top form. Read more

Monday Mish Mash: From Ascot to Cheltenham

Al Ferof bids for Arkle Trophy 2012 glory

Al Ferof bids for Arkle Trophy 2012 glory

Another weekend passes in the run up to Cheltenham, and below are my thoughts on those who pressed their Prestbury Park claims, as well as news on a sartorial storm in a teacup at Ascot...

But let's start with the racing.

Ascot staged the Victor Chandler Chase, a two mile one furlong Grade One, as the feature on their card. Finian's Rainbow had been favoured all week, but had to share market leadership with classy novice, Al Ferof, come post time.

In the event, the two joint favourites both ran creditably but gave best to a horse who has been called a few names (by me!) over the years, Somersby. There was no fluke about the result, Somersby traveling best and mostly flawless with his jumping (aside from one error a couple of fences from home).

A horse who has hitherto not seemed to have an optimum trip, Somersby battled on well to pass Finian's Rainbow on the run in and score by a length and a quarter. Just five lengths back from the winner was Al Ferof, having only his third start over fences, and coming under pressure before the other two.

The rest came in at fits and starts, with the regressive Forpadydeplasterer six lengths further back, and then I'm So Lucky another eight lengths behind that one. Wishfull Thinking ran a stinker, beaten another fifteen lengths and Gauvain took a tumble after leading early.

So what of this gang and their respective Cheltenham Festival 2012 targets? Well, let's start with the winner. Somersby was beaten by Gauvain in the Peterborough Chase earlier in the season, a race that his trainer - Hen Knight - has ruthlessly exploited down the years.

Facts about Somersby. He is a hard horse to catch right. Fact. He is very good on his day (second in the 2010 Queen Mother Champion Chase). Fact. There is speculation about which race he will go for at Cheltenham. Fact.

On balance, then, for me he's a swerve. There are some horses which, if they beat you, you just have to say I knew that was a possibility but I couldn't have him. Somersby for me is one and, even if there was a definite race earmarked for him, I'd still struggle to believe he could see off all-comers.

As such, quotes of 14/1 for the Queen Mother Champion Chase, and 7/1 for the Ryanair make no appeal.

The second horse home, Finian's Rainbow, will definitely head for the Champion Chase. He's a high class beast, and fast too. But he was beaten at Cheltenham last year by Captain Chris in the Arkle, and he's failed to improve his form figures since then.

Certainly, it's difficult to see him outpointing both of Big Zeb and Sizing Europe, and the Irish look to hold the whip hand for the big two mile event on Festival Wednesday. 13/2 may be reasonable for each way ticklers, but I'll not be playing.

Al Ferof ran a blinder. I was surprised he was joint favourite, on the basis of two novice wins, and to my eye he should have been at best third or fourth choice on form. (Obviously, he had more improvement capacity than most of his rivals).

To finish five lengths behind the winner in a race that may not have been run to suit - he does tend to hit a flat spot and then barrel on, as he did when winning the Supreme last year - was a very, very good performance. If I was a connection (I wish!), I'd be absolutely delighted with that as a prep for the Arkle.

Unsurprisingly, Al Ferof has been cut for that two mile novice event, and I'd now make him favourite personally. That he is available at 13/2 with Coral is a pleasant surprise, and I've had some this morning. If you read my Arkle 2012 Preview, you'll know I'm not a fan of Sprinter Sacre, and I think being double handed with Al Ferof (13/2) and Peddlers Cross (5/1) is a very strong wagering position in the race.

At least, that's how I've played it... 😉


Elsewhere, there was plenty of interesting action across the Irish Sea. On Saturday, the highlight of Willie Mullins' treble was undoubtedly the continued resurgence of Mikael d'Haguenet. As mentioned here last year, he clearly hated chasing and is now unbeaten in his last three tries at the smaller obstacles.

Granted, those three wins have been in relatively modest company, culminating in Saturday's besting of three rivals in a Grade 3, the pick of whom was rated 150. That's a very far cry from either Champion- or World Hurdle-winning form and, whilst an easy win is an easy win, it doesn't necessarily set the horse up for the lickety-split of a championship event across Cleeve Hill.

I have a huge soft spot for the horse, but I couldn't back him for a Cheltenham race.

Sunday saw more Graded action over at Fairyhouse, and more wins for Willie Mullins. As if three notches on Saturday wasn't enough, Mullins bagged four pots on Sunday: the first three and then the closing bumper.

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Vesper Bell won the opener at odds on, and is mooted for the Albert Bartlett. He's plenty to achieve before being mentioned in the same breath as Fingal Bay or Boston Bob, which is the main reason I put so many words into this sentence...! 25/1 is about right, and for speculators, he will improve. Whether it's even nearly enough to hit the board in Cheltenham's three mile novice race is another question entirely. Not for this scribbler.

The Normans Grove Chase, a Grade 2 over two miles and a furlong, was a belting little contest. Noble Prince, last year's Jewson winner at the Festival, was favoured over Blazing Tempo and Tranquil Sea, with a couple of others making up a classy enough quintet.

In the event, Blazing Tempo outgunned the Noble Prince by less than a length. But that tells only part of the story. Blazing Tempo cruised into this but was all out to hold the runner-up at the line. He, Noble Prince that is, was under the pump from the turn, and Davy Russell gave him an 'Irish ride' (as opposed to a 'British ride' under the new legislation) to galvanise his mount for a prolonged challenge.

That effort - conceding seven pounds as well to the winner - marks the runner up down as the one to be on in the Ryanair, a race whose extra three furlongs in trip plays strongly in favour of the Prince. As with Al Ferof, connections must have been mightily chuffed with this effort, and he's worthy of  more than a second glance in the Ryanair wagering. Currently a best priced 15/2 with sportingbet, and that appeals considerably more than the 7/1 about Somersby in the same contest.

The bumper at the end of the day went to Willie and son Patrick Mullins, as Champagne Fever bolted up at interest rate odds of 1/4. He's now been made favourite for the Cheltenham Festival Bumper, and good luck to you if that's your idea of a robust Cheltenham wager..! In fairness, that is still 12/1 favourite, such is the impossible nature of that race, especially when the winner maybe hasn't even run yet.


Back at Haydock on Saturday, Donald McCain was lording it in a Mullins-esque fashion, with his very own four-timer, the greedy blighter.

Cinders And Ashes got the ball rolling with a win in line with his odds of 8/13, and McCain was very complimentary about the horse afterwards. He's bound for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the Festival, and is a general 12/1 chance, though Coral and Boylesports go 14/1.

It's hard not to worry about his ability to see it out at Cheltenham though, given that all of his winning (bar his debut bumper success at Fontwell) has been on flat tracks, and that he did bomb out when traveling well in the bumper around Chelters last year.

True, as his trainer says, he has strengthened up this term, but so have his rivals. A nice horse, but probably more at home at Aintree than Cheltenham.

Celestial Halo continued his 'testimonial season' by rolling back the years with another Graded success in the Champion Hurdle Trial. In truth, it wasn't much of a trial for the Champion Hurdle, as the Halo's three rivals were all rated 16 pounds or more inferior to the winner. Odd then, that he was available at 6/5, which looks tasty with hindsight. (Things often look tasty, and more often look very stupid, with hindsight).

It's hard to make a case for Celestial Halo in the Champion Hurdle itself, that race shaping up to be an absolute corker, but Paul Nicholls will continue to place this excellent stable servant to good effect, allowing him to mop up more minor Graded contests. He's still only eight, though, so another tilt at the Champion is not out of the question.

He's 80/1 in a place for the Champion Hurdle and, if he goes for that race, there will be worse value offers. Still, I couldn't sensibly recommend him as a medallist there, alas. Very, very likeable beast all the same.

Whilst on the subject of the Champion Hurdle, the previous second favourite for the race, Spirit Son, has been declared a very doubtful runner. He's been removed from most lists, meaning that Hurrican Fly - another horse we've yet to see this term - has hardened to 6/4 with bet365. Paddy Power however are offering 2/1, which is the biggest price for some time on that one.

Hurricane Fly is due to run in the Irish Champion Hurdle next Sunday, and if he misses that engagement, he'd surely struggle to get to the Festival. Of course, a run and a win there would strengthen his position at the top of the market.

All of which means that I remain happy with my Champion Hurdle ante-post pick of Binocular at 16/1 (now best priced 10's), and I still hold out hope that Nicky Henderson might revert Oscar Whisky (33/1, now best 20's) to the shorter trip as Spirit Son, one of his main contenders, is unlikely to run.

Brampour still looks like a bit of a reckless wager for the race (25's, now out to 50's). Ahem.


And that was the weekend racing! Management summary as follows:

 - Somersby deserved success but won't be on my Cheltenham betting slip.

 - Al Ferof definitely one to be on in the Arkle.

 - It's hard to see Finian's Rainbow scalping both Zeb and Sizing in the Queen Mum

 - Noble Prince ran a fine Ryanair Chase prep and looks a bet.

 - Cinders And Ashes more of interest at Aintree than Cheltenham for me.

Now then, following on from an interesting post, and some even more interesting comments on Ascot's new dress code, it seems the track is determined to unpick all the fine work it has done in recent years, and return to something close to the infamously despised 'bowler hat brigade' era of Stasi-like patrols.

For those who don't know, racegoers who 'fell foul' of the new dress restrictions on Saturday were given a little orange sticker to wear to identify them as such. Here's Ian's take on Ascot's 'Dress Dummies'.

The arrogance of the racecourse administration beggars belief, and this kind of 'outing' leads to alienation and accusations of classism/bullying. Whilst I may agree with the former (classism), I think the latter (bullying) is a tad far-fetched.

However, the underlying thoughtlessness - putting the track first and the paying punters nowhere (or surely they'd have realised how ostracising and offensive such a move would be) - is a serious concern from a racecourse administration that is heavy-handing its way to owning as many of the top flat races as it can; one which does little to control the more obvious issue of excessive drinking on race days; and one which is happy to pack the facilities to the rafters, rather than work on things like liaison with rail companies to ensure more trains on racing days..

We have a new Chief Exec of the BHA in Paul Bittar, and we're supposed to be ushering in a new dawn for racing along with the New Year. But yet again, it seems that those same old ugly legacy edifices insist on dragging the sport away from the necessary populism that will engage it with a new breed of racegoers and sustain it beyond the next ten years.

What a pity.


p.s. feel free to 'tweet', 'share', rate and/or comment on the above. Your thoughts are always welcome! 🙂

Sat TV Trends: 21st Jan 2012

Nicholls Has A Great VC Chase Record

It’s the 25th Anniversary of the Victor Chandler Chase this Saturday, but can trainer Paul Nicholls win the race for a fourth year in a row - this time with Al Ferof? Read more

Cheltenham Festival 2012: Arkle Trophy Preview

Arkle Trophy 2012 Preview

Arkle Trophy 2012

Arkle Trophy 2012

The Arkle Trophy on the opening Tuesday of the Cheltenham Festival 2012 is one of the key championship novice events at the meeting. Arkle winners have a fantastic record in subsequent two mile champion chases, meaning this is not just a race to savour in its own right but also a leading trial for future events.

In this post, I'm going to preview the Arkle Trophy 2012, and I don't mind telling you, there's a horse I really like the look of, and at a nice enough price too.

Arkle Trophy 2012 Trends

There are some quite strong profile pointers when looking at the past winners of the Arkle. Here are the key elements I uncovered, when looking at the last eleven renewals, going back to 2000 (no race in 2001)  :

Age - All Arkle winners were aged between five and eight years old. The two five year old winners both started their careers in Europe, and were reasonably experienced with eleven (Well Chief) and fourteen (Voy Por Ustedes) prior runs under their belts.

Eight of the last eleven Arkle Trophy winners were aged seven or eight, including the last five.

The average age of the last eleven winners of the Arkle was 6.73

Odds - The Arkle is not a race where outsiders do especially well. In fact, Flagship Uberalles was the only horse to win at double figure odds since Waterloo Boy's 20/1 shock back in 1989. And even Flagship was only 11/1! So don't be looking for a rag here, as it likely won't serve you well.

Despite that, it's been a pretty miserable race for the jolly old favourite, with just a solitary market leader obliging since 1995... and that was the 5/4 poke, Azertyuiop. Not a lot of jam on the bread for uninspired punters here. In fact, not a lot of shirt left on back over the years!

The next three in the betting have had it pretty much between them, with ten of the last fourteen winners from this zone, and a very healthy thirty points profit to boot. So, history suggests we should look to the top of the market, but be wary of the jolly.

The average odds of the last eleven Arkle winners is 6.16/1

Well Chief Arkle Trophy

Well Chief: Arkle Trophy winner

Experience - Well Chief managed to win the Arkle off just one chasing run, and that a no name Taunton novice event. Tiutchev, in 2000, won off two chase starts, both fairly low grade affairs. Clearly, in profiling terms those are somewhat anomalous and, aside from the Chief and the 'chev, all the other nine recent winners had between three and five prior chase starts.

Interestingly, perhaps, the last seven winners had all run four times over fences prior to winning their Arkle.

Form - All of the last eleven Arkle Trophy champions had won a chase start. Duh! But there is, I believe, an undertone in the respective form lines of Arkle winners. And it is this: the last six, and nine of the last eleven, Arkle winners had all won or been second at 2m1f or further.

Quite simply, the Arkle rides like a 2m3f event. Out and out speedsters are undone by its punishing layout and murderously long run in. Consider Sprinter Sacre's wilt when apparently having the Supreme at his mercy last term, and ask yourself if you really want to take 5/2 about him being more resolute this time around.

Last year, Captain Chris had won around two and a half miles of Sandown's testing tracking; in 2010, Sizing Europe had won a 2m1f Leopardstown contest in a bog; 2009 saw Forpadydeplasterer beaten three lengths in a Grade 1 over 2m5f! And so it goes on.

All recent unbeaten chasers (of which there have been five), except Well Chief and his one chase start, have won at 2m1f or beyond.

Sprinter Sacre has won at Ascot, Ayr, Ffos Las, Doncaster, and Kempton. Their respective constitutions are as follows: flat, flat, flat, flat, flat. He's been beaten at Ascot the only time he went beyond two miles and a few yards (that was 2m4f) and Cheltenham. 5/2? Are you sure?

The last six winners had all finished 1st or 2nd on all completed chase starts. And, barring Contraband's 3rd place on very heavy ground, all of the last eleven winners had finished first or second on all completed starts. That's a strong stat, and I'd be striking a line through anything that finished 3rd or worse, unless they fell or unseated.

Course form around Cheltenham does seem important, but it's very hard to quantify. Two of the last eleven winners were having their first spin around the track (Moscow Flyer and Voy Por Ustedes), but all the others had form on the course, many of them in Festival hurdle races.

Other Factors - Ireland has supplied three of the last eleven winners; UK has the other eight. This is a race generally favoured to the home team, and the betting this time is very lop-sided towards British entries.

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Hurdle ratings don't really give much of a clue except to say that most Arkle winners were high class hurdlers, and some were very high class hurdlers.

The time since last run of Arkle winners varies a fair bit, from Sizing Europe in 2010 who didn't race after Boxing Day (or St Stephen's Day, as he raced in Ireland), to Captain Chris last year who raced just seventeen days before.

The Arkle Trophy 2012 Contenders

Sprinter Sacre is the favourite, at a best priced 5/2. He is a six year old French bred with a penchant for flat tracks. He's unbeaten in two chase starts and will likely have one more before the Festival, making him less experienced than the last seven winners, but not by much.

He was beaten when coming to win the race in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and I can see him travelling beautifully again before being found out on the run in. He's been involved in three close finishes: when just nosing out subsequent good hurdler, King Of The Night, on debut; and then in his two defeats.

This chap might have the highest cruising speed of any horse in training, but he looks a massive in-running lay to me, as he finds nothing off the bridle, and is a doubtful stayer around Cheltenham in a championship race, to my eye.

Arkle Trophy 2012: Peddlers Cross

Arkle Trophy 2012: Peddlers Cross

Peddlers Cross is the horse for me. Yes, he was beaten by Sprinter Sacre in a three horse race at Kempton. He was beaten in a sprint up the straight in a slow run race on an unsuitably flat track over a trip short of his best, and apparently he was a sick horse afterwards.

Am I making excuses for him?


In two previous runs over two and a quarter miles round the - granted - League Two standard Bangor circuit, he'd bombed home. The runner up in the second of those runs, Minella Class, was going just about best of all when unshipping next time in a race that Cue Card won at Newbury.

From a profile perspective, Peddlers is a seven year old, with course form, has won beyond 2m1f, is high class, is yet to be out of the first two over fences, is in the right odds range, and - if he gets another run before the Arkle itself - will have had the magic four chase starts beforehand.

On hurdle form, Peddlers Cross was the only horse able to serve it up to Hurricane Fly in the Champion Hurdle last year, and I am always prepared to forgive a horse one bad run, such as the 'too bad to be true?' effort behind Sprinter Sacre the last day. The balance of Peddlers' form makes 5/1 pretty tasty to my punting palate, and I'm on.

Al Ferof is next in, at 7/1 third favourite. He's another seven year old, unbeaten in two chase starts, including a Grade 1 at Sandown last time. He also won the Supreme Novices' last year - Sprinter Sacre in third - having been outpaced turning in but then fair barrelling up the hill to brush them all aside in the manner of a horse who could have gone around again!

This chap is respected, but here's my problem with him. As I write, he's entered in the Victor Chandler Chase, a Grade 1 for seasoned fencers. It's a bold bid, but in my opinion it could be the undoing of ante-post ticklers. If he runs badly, he may drift in the Arkle betting or, worse, injure himself. If he runs well, he'll be surely be considered for the Champion Chase itself, a race which  - Sizing Europe and Big Zeb aside - looks desperately shallow this term.

So, assuming Al Ferof ran a respectable second or third at Sandown in the Victor Chandler Chase, and the trainer delivered reassuring post-race utterances regarding his Festival target, I'd be happy to take a shorter price on him for the Arkle. Having just watched his Supreme win again, he looked brilliant in the closing stages: everything that Sprinter Sacre didn't.

The rest, headed by Cue Card and Menorah, don't really count on what they've done so far. Cue Card is another who finds little off the bridle, and he's been unmasked in top company several times now. Not for me.

Menorah is a classy beast, for sure, but his jumping is laboured and unprofessional. Unless and until he can show me he's capable of jumping with fluency and alacrity, I'd be happy to take the hit if he's been saving it all up for the big day itself.

Of the Irish... well, there aren't many contenders for this from over the sea in truth. Blackstairmountain took full advantage of Notus de la Tour's pace-pressing and Bog Warrior's fence-mutilating when winning a fair Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas.

He does have some reasonable form, including when staying on well until hitting the hill in the County Hurdle last year. On balance, that doesn't look good enough to win this, and place prospects may be the best he can hope for.

Arkle Trophy 2012 Final View

In what is generally a race which goes to form, and what is specifically this year a race which looks pretty shallow, I'd say it lies between the top three in the betting.

I have outlined my reasons for swerving Sprinter Sacre. This horse has a lot of class, and it's perfectly possible he can win an Arkle. But... he won't find much off the steel, and you'll be soiling your undergarments if you've gone 'all in' at 5/2 or less as they climb that hill.

The value lies further down the bookie lists, but not much further. Peddlers Cross is a very, very good horse, and has a Champion Hurdle silver medal already stowed in his trophy cabinet, as well as a Neptune Hurdle. Clearly, track and trip hold no perils. Fences seem to be of little consequence either, as he's jumped every one with panache... with the exception of the first at Kempton which may well have caused his dethroning that last day.

I like the Peddler a lot. And I think he has an outstanding chance in this race.

Al Ferof is another very taking sort. All National Hunt stock, he's by Dom Alco, the same daddy to Grands Crus, Silviniaco Conti, and Neptune Collonges. He bounded up the hill last term over hurdles, and he's another who has taken to his fences like I take to my burgers: with relish.

I am worried about his running in the VC Chase this weekend, as I always fret about inexperienced novices being pitched in against seasoned (how I like my fries) pro's.

If he comes out of that race unscathed, and Mr Nicholls intimates that the Arkle is the first item on the agenda, then I shall reload my wagering potato gun and take aim at those pesky bookies once more.

Arkle 2012 Tips

As you will have guessed, I believe the 5/1 about Peddlers Cross to be comfortably the best value in the race, and he is my selection.

I also feel that Al Ferof is a very lively runner, IF he doesn't come a cropper this weekend.

I've backed Peddlers Cross already at 5/1 (6.4 on Betfair), and I will have a bit more than a saving investment on Al Ferof after the weekend, all other things being equal.

Click here for the latest Arkle Betting Odds.

Click on the below to see my 'working out' spreadsheet...

Arkle 2012 Trends

Arkle 2012 Trends

Monday Mish Mash: Sizing Up Cheltenham Prospects

In today's Monday Mish Mash, we'll take a look back at the weekend racing, I'll offer an apology for a missing item, I'll offer another apology for an incorrect link, I'll reveal my 6000 moments of hell from this weekend, and I'll introduce you to two new buttons on the website.

Bog Warrior was impressive at Fairyhouse

Bog Warrior was impressive at Fairyhouse

First, let's take a look back at the weekend's racing highlights. The undoubted pick of the pile on this side of the pond was Sandown's Grade 1 Tingle Creek Chase, in which Sizing Europe fair bounded away from his opposition to claim a decisive victory from the potentially high class Kauto Stone.

In terms of being a Champion Chase trial, it's hard to knock what Sizing did here. But one needs to be clear about the strength of the opposition. Coming into the race, Sizing Europe was rated 177, which was 13 pounds superior to his closest rival on official ratings, Wishfull Thinking (164).

That horse underperformed for whatever reason, but the runner up, Kauto Stone, probably ran close to his official mark of 162. The rest had no right to give Sizing Europe a race... and didn't!

In the Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, Sizing will be up against all or some of Big Zeb (official rating 176), Master Minded (178), Noble Prince (163), Golden Silver (165) and the rest.

He may still win, but it will be a far sterner test.

And then there is perhaps a bigger fly in the ointment. Trainer Henry de Bromhead seems hellbent on trying to make Sizing Europe into a Gold Cup horse. Whilst I accept his reasons for the two second place finishes in the Grade 1 at Down Royal these last two seasons (ridden to get the trip first time, and heavy ground second time), I still think he'd be short of the required stamina for three and a quarter miles round Cheltenham, even if it came up like a road (again).

The Ryanair might be a 'penalty kick' for Sizing Europe, but let's be clear: it doesn't have the cachet of either the Champion Chase or the Gold Cup, and connections are unlikely to go that route. He's 40/1 for the Gold Cup with Stan James, but I'm still not tempted.

Of those in behind, Gauvain fell when still in with a chance, and Kauto Stone probably improved on his last run. He might improve again, but at the moment he's no better than a Grade 3 / borderline Grade 2 horse in my opinion, and all the talk about him is based more on relatives and reputation than the reality in the form book.

In the Henry VIII Novices' Chase, Al Ferof did just enough to repel the game For Non Stop. This race has not been a great trial for the Arkle over the years, but Al Ferof certainly has 'back class' (won Supreme Novices, second in the Champion Bumper) at the Festival, so he's likely to be a better horse there.

For those looking to add strings to their Festival ante-post bow, 7/1 looks fair enough without standing out. Peddlers Cross remains the 4/1 favourite.

Elsewhere, impressive handicap hurdle winner Poungach now has a problem, as he's likely to be hiked up to around 145 for this romp. That will mean he'll lug topweight in most handicaps, and he might not yet be up to Graded class, though he certainly deserves the chance.

Of course, connections also have the option to put him before a fence and see how that pans out. Overall, he's a very nice prospect for his owners, and it will be interesting to see where he turns up next.

Cantlow was comfortably 'next best' and has been largely consistent without having the winning habit. He should continue to go close.

Up at Aintree, there was much to like about West End Rocker's romp in the Becher Chase with a view to the Grand National itself on the first Saturday in April.

Although less than half the field finished on the testing ground (God help us if that happens in April - they'll probably remove the fences and make it a four and a half mile bumper race!), the right horses were still there at the death.

Always Waining, a course specialist, was just run out of the frame, costing me and my associate, 'Scottish Paul' (former owner of and internet genius), two lines of the place part of the Scoop 6. In fairness, it wouldn't have returned much more than we invested, but still.

More pertinently, the runner-up, Niche Market, is an Irish National winner and mainstay of such races as these. West End Rocker may have been in receipt of nine pounds from that one, and may well be additionally burdened by the handicapper's discretion for this facile victory, but must still have a decent chance in the big April showpiece.

The one thing that worries me from a punting perspective is that he races some way off the pace generally, which is not a trait normally associated with National winners. That said, if it came up boggy, he'd love it. 20/1 generally is fair, again without being spectacular in my opinion. He'll surely be shorter on the day... if he gets there.


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At Fairyhouse on Sunday, there were three Grade 1 races, although none revealed a great deal more than was already known.

In the Royal Bond Novices' Hurdle, Sous Les Cieux gave jolly-backers a palpitation or two, as he went from cruising to 'found nought' in a couple of strides. Sure, he got the job done, but I'd be very wary of backing him in a Championship race until he proves he's got guts to match his visible class. 8/1 for the Supreme wouldn't be for me. Not at all.

A far more likely type for the Festival is the brilliantly named Bog Warrior. True, his task in the Drinmore Novices Chase was made much easier by the bungle and subsequent burst blood vessel of First Lieutenant. But still, this was an impressive rout of some aspirant animals.

Tony Martin, whose handicap coups imply he knows a thing or two about the merit of his horses, suggested before Sunday's win that Bog Warrior was probably the best he's had. He's 10/1 in places for the RSA Chase, a race which is shaping up beautifully, and that looks decent enough to me.

Ladbrokes go just 6/1, which is always a tell tale sign that I look for. True, there are the likes of Grands Crus and Bobs Worth in there, but has either raced in a Grade 1 yet? No is your answer. The one with the proven class is Bog Warrior. I'm in for a few quid, win only, on Betfair (14.5/1 available if you're prompt).

In the main event of the afternoon, the Hatton's Grace Hurdle, kudos to Irish Big Race Trends' Tony Mac for napping the winner, Voler La Vedette. She easily saw off the challenges of Mourad, The Real Article and Final Approach, all of whom look to have no chance of top honours in the two mile hurdling division.

For V la V, she's likely to head to the Mares Final at the Festival, where she'll probably having to eye up Quevega's cute little behind once more. Poor thing. It's a bit like being Fatima Whitbread and having to share the stage with... actually I've no clue what the buxom Aussie on I'm A Celebrity was called... but you get the idea.

Cloughmile 2/1, Smoking Aces 4/1, and Venture Capital 9/4, all won as favourites in the last three races to make it something of a Black Sunday for Irish bookies, with five jollies and two second best's landing the spoils for the punters throughout the afternoon. I imagine it was a fun night in the drinking holes of Fairyhouse last evening, and there may be slightly more absenteeism than normal in the workplaces of Fairyhouse this morning..!


Now then, a couple of apologies are in order.

Firstly, please accept mine and Mal's apologies for the lack of a 'Well I Declare' article this week. Mal has succumbed to the dreaded 'man flu' and wasn't able to provide his usual excellent copy. I'm extremely hopeful that he'll be up to the job this Wednesday, so normal service should be resumed. Get well soon, Mal.

Secondly, I have to apologise for another bout of technical ineptitude over the weekend, when I emailed some subscribers who hadn't opened my Thursday missive. Unfortunately, being an idiot, I put some extra spaces in the link which meant it didn't work. Doh.

So, for those who clicked, got nothing, wondered what all the fuss was about, but got on with their Sunday, here's that link again... Partners in Profit.

Incidentally, a very nice win in a great race to watch yesterday for PiP followers (and me!) at 6/1.

For my part, I promise to try harder not to be such a klutz when it comes to the button pressing part of my job in future. 😉


Santa Run

The London Santa Run 2011

So... what did you get up to at the weekend? Shopping? Racing? Football? Hanging out with the (grand)kids? Me, I donned a Santa suit and ran twice round Battersea Park.

Now I might like to play footy, and indeed if there's an inflated pigskin within five metres of me woe betide the fool who tries to prevent my access to it (midfield enforcer, I think they call it!). But this running mallarkey is clearly sadistic.

I have to say that I was a broken man by the finish, and my (rather pathetic) time of 37 minutes and a few seconds was no more than I deserved. After a short puke break, I had to endure the laughter of Mrs Matt, who is a personal trainer in Hackney, and who lobbed round in thirty minutes or so, and seriously contemplated doing another lap!

That's my head to the left of Carole (#768) in the photo. Click the image for an extreme close up (or at least a bigger image).

It's fair to say I won't be taking part next year...


And finally, I think it's time we thrust our collective self into the social media mainstream. No, I don't know what that means either, but I believe it's something to do with clicking buttons and having accounts.

On that basis, then, if you have a Twitter account, click the 'retweet' button up to the left (hopefully). For those of you watching in black and white, it's the green one.

And if you've got fabulous facebook, click the old 'share' button to spread the word.

Gosh dang it, if you're on the newfangled Google +1, you can even 'plus one' the page. Most people haven't got this as it was by invitation. Bizarrely, I do have it! I think it's being rolled out more generally some time soon, but I've no idea what the point of it is. (If you know, leave a comment!)

If you believe that buttons should exist on shirts and cardigans, then I'm with you for the most part, but I'm trying to drag my Luddite self into the 21st 'social' century, albeit kicking and screaming. So do join me. It might even be fun!

Happy Monday to one and all.


p.s. Which was your pick of the weekend performances (excluding my Satan run of course..!)? And did anyone get up to anything more self-destructive than the parks run? Share your pain in the comments below. 🙂

Sat TV Trends – 3rd Dec 2011

Will Nicholls Make It Nine Tingle Creeks?

Can Paul Nicholls land the Tingle Creek for a seventh year on the spin? See all the trends ahead of Saturday’s TV races......... Read more

Cheltenham: Who can leap from Open Meeting to Festival Glory?

Well, that got the pulse racing for the National Hunt season, did it not? Three days of top drawer sport on Cleeve Hill drew to a close on Sunday late afternoon, and left us with acquaintances and re-acquaintances: new friends and old.

Fingal Bay will head to Cheltenham, but for which race?

Fingal Bay heads to Cheltenham, but in which race?

But of these primarily Premier League players in November, which of them are likely to be contesting top honours come middle March and the Festival 2012? That's what I set out to do by comparing the Open meeting race records with those of their Festival counterparts, and looking for synergies, disparities and anything else I reckon is worthy of mention.

So, with our objective set, let's see what we can discern...

We'll start with the quirky cross country chase, which may not be to everyone's tastes but, along with the December version run at the International meeting, has proved instructive with regards to the Festival Glenfarclas Cross Country chase winner... though not in a conventional manner.

In the last five years, all of the Festival Cross Country Chase winners ran in either the November or December 'rehearsals'. But only one of them won, and even that one - Garde Champetre - was beaten in November before winning in December.

Last year, Sizing Australia was third in the November race before winning at 13/2 in March; in 2010, A New Story was 7th in December's trial before winning at 25/1 (!); 2009 saw the aforementioned GC (Garde Champetre) atop the GC (general classement) having run up in the November version; in 2008, the same horse fell in December's race before winning March's main event; and, in 2007, Heads Onthe Ground could only muster a bronze medal performance in December prior to a gold in the early Spring.

So, the message is clear: course form is imperative, but not (at all) necessarily course winning form. Look for experience and look for value when considering the runs of Festival protagonists who raced either in the November or December cross country trials, and don't be afraid to counter the conventional view.


Next up was the Sharp Novices' Hurdle, a two miler which is seen as a Supreme Novices' Hurdle trial. Last year, Cue Card won this and was sent off the 7/4 jolly for the opening race of the 2011 Festival. He managed a respectable fourth, but was no match for Al Ferof, who started out by falling when odds on in Cheltenham's December meeting two mile novice hurdle race.

Unfortunately for Steps To Freedom, impressive victor here, no winner in recent years has gone on to score at the Festival the following Spring. Whilst that doesn't mean it cannot be done, of course, I would be apprehensive about accepting odds of 10/1 on such an eventuality.


The final race on Friday was the intriguingly named Steel Plate and Sections Novices' Chase, which has been a fine springboard for Cheltenham winners of the future. In 2007, Imperial Commander won but injury caused him to miss his intended Festival engagement: the RSA Chase. He then went and won the Paddy Power Gold Cup at the same meeting in 2008, prior to landing the Gold Cup itself at the 2009 Festival.

In 2009, Weird Al won, but he was another who wouldn't make the Festival that season. When he did line up, in March of this year, he was pulled up in the Gold Cup.

Time For Rupert won last year here, and then went off the 7/4 favourite in the RSA Chase, only to be beaten into fifth with a suspected burst blood vessel.

Going further back, Denman won here, and in the RSA Chase, and in the Gold Cup.

So the messages may be these: Grands Crus, this year's winner after his only serious rival, Cue Card, came down, is likely to go for a shorter race: most probably the Jewson (2m5f) race.

Time For Rupert, on the comeback trail and beaten by Weird Al at Wetherby, may be worth a speculative punt, given a) the lop-sided look of the Gold Cup market (5/2 Long Run, 14/1 bar one) and b) the record of Steel Plate winners going on to Gold Cup glory two years after the former.

In fact, extending out that logic, and with Grands Crus' known stamina from his hurdling career, a cheeky fiver on that horse to win the 2013 Gold Cup might not be worst wild wager one's ever struck!


The opening juvenile novices' hurdle on Saturday was won in good style by Hinterland, a Paul Nicholls' French import making his British debut. This was the same race in which Nicholls introduced another French import, Sam Winner, last term. That chap ended up a creditable fourth in the Triumph Hurdle at the Festival, beaten by a later-arriving stablemate in Zarkandar.

And that is the key here. Whilst both Katchit (2006) and Katarino (1998) took this en route to Triumph Hurdle honours, it is generally the case that we have yet to see the Triumph winner race this side of the pond. Zarkandar for instance made his first hurdles start in late February in Kempton's Adonis Hurdle, the pre-eminent trial for the Festival race three weeks later.

In 2010, Soldatino had his first UK start in the Adonis, having raced in France beforehand. 2009 winner Zaynar at least had the common courtesy to race in December of the previous year in Britain, having also been a graduate from the French provinces.

2008's winner didn't race before 29th December the previous year, and so it goes on.

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Essentially, whilst Hinterland is clearly a good horse and one to follow, he is unlikely to be the best come March. The best so far, yes. But he probably won't be the best when the tapes go up on Festival Friday's first frenetic foray.


Galaxy Rock was a facile winner of the staying handicap chase and whilst connections stopped short of nominating him as an Aintree type, I've had a small ante-post for bet for the Grand National, just in case. The price, 33/1, and the ease of his victory here were too much to resist.


The Paddy Power Gold Cup, the feature race of the meeting, is a bit of a conundrum, with more winners having already won at the Festival (L'Antartique, Great Endeavour) than subsequently winning at the Festival (Imperial Commander). However, Exotic Dancer did go on to finish second and third in Gold Cup's at the Spring meeting.

It's difficult to draw any firm conclusions on the contest with regards to the Festival and, perhaps fittingly, far better to enjoy the race as an end in itself rather than a means to an end four months later.


Paul Nicholls has farmed the November Novices' Steeple Chase in recent seasons, and his Tataniano and Ghizao were well fancied for the Festival itself. However, as it transpired, the former bypassed the meeting and won a Grade 1 at the Aintree Festival a few weeks later; and the latter only managed to blunder his way into fifth place.

Perhaps taking a shortish price about Al Ferof, for all that he is a Supreme Novices' Hurdle winner and ran second in the Cheltenham Bumper the year before, is not such a smart move after all. If you disagree, there's plenty of 7/1 available.


Brampour under-rated for the Champion Hurdle?

Brampour under-rated for the Champion Hurdle?

The Greatwood was won in fine style by Brampour, who bounded away from a competitive field under his 17-year-old jockey, Harry Derham. Many have been quick to crab the form, saying it was a sub-standard renewal and that Brampour is not Champion Hurdle class.

Well, let's look at the raw figures before we jump on (or off) the bandwagon.

Firstly, Brampour raced off an official figure of 149. That is just two pounds lower than Menorah won off last year. Menorah was subsequently sent off the 3/1 second favourite in the Champion Hurdle and not beaten too far in fifth.

In 2009, Khyber Kim won off 143, and went on to be second in the Champion Hurdle. In 2007 and 2008, the winners were rated 137 or less (although the 2007 winner, Sizing Europe, was sent off favourite for the Champion Hurdle before disappointing, and subsequently won the Arkle and the Champion Chase in 2010 and 2011).

In 2006, the ill-fated Detroit City won this off 148, before being sent off the 6/4 favourite in the Champion Hurdle.

In other words, whilst it is true that Brampour would need to improve from where he is to challenge the likes of Hurricane Fly, it is far from impossible to envisage that one being injured and missing the Festival (as he has done in the past).

Moreover, there is little evidence in the book thus far that gives Spirit Son, Zarkandar and company the beating of Brampour. The former was rated 149 (the same as Brampour's winning mark in the Greatwood) and the latter 154 (surely less than Brampour's mark when he is reassessed).

Brampour came from a long way off the pace, and was value for further than the winning margin over horses in second and third who were professionally ridden and receiving in excess of half a stone. He went up ten pounds for winning a competitive Listed handicap hurdle at Ascot, and he'll have to take another hike off the back of this.

Calling Moon Dice unlucky is throwing money away in my opinion. Sure, he couldn't find a way through, but let's be clear: Brampour came from further back. Brampour finished further in front even after Moon Dice got the split. And Olofi was finishing better than Moon Dice. In other words, I don't believe Moon Dice would have won under any circumstances in this race.

Hurricane Fly is rated 172 and, if he turns up, will be very hard to beat. Brampour, for all that he will be a five year old and that Nicholls thinks he has better in the yard, is at least reasonably priced at 25/1 in my opinion. The Bula is next on the agenda at the December meeting here, and there will be no 25/1 left should he clear those hurdles in the style he did on Sunday. Obviously, that's a step up in class, but this chap has earned it.


Rangitoto won the Intermediate Hurdle - backed from 11/2 to 9/4 in the process, and landing the seemingly ambitious shout of William Hill's PR rep, Kate Miller, in the process - with something in hand at the line.

Never going better than when storming up the run in, there was something of the Denman in this monster of a horse. Wearing the same Paul Barber silks as that old warrior, this fellow will now go chasing, and quotes of 25/1 for a horse who has yet to publicly clear one of the bigger impediments may not be as daft as they initially appear.

Certainly the RSA requires abundant stamina, and the way Rangitoto bludgeoned his way out of a mid-race flat spot strongly implied that twelve miles in a quag would be right up his alley.

Horses like Grands Crus (doubtful runner in the race) and Bobs Worth (very good animal, might be more finesse than pure guts) look less well made for the RSA at first glance, to my eye at least.


The Hyde Novices Hurdle won by Fingal Bay is a good trial for the staying novice hurdles at the Festival. But the problem with this chap is second guessing which event he'll end up aimed at. What is beyond doubt is that he's a very, very fine prospect and, despite demolishing the second last flight, he was still on the bridle and able to also demolish some justly aspirant opposition.

When Philip Hobbs, a man who has looked after the likes of Rooster Booster, Detroit City and Menorah, says this might be the best horse he's had, it is sensible to take note. He'll be well fancied wherever he shows up at the Festival, with the 2m5f race (the Neptune) perhaps the likelier target. 10/1 would be great if you were sure that he was being aimed at that. As it is, you're looking at something like 6/1 when you factor in the uncertainty... not tempting for me at this point.

And there you have it.

There were trials aplenty across the Irish Sea at Navan as well, and there will be more this weekend at Punchestown, when the likes of Hurricane Fly, Thousand Stars and my favourite race mare of the moment, Unaccompanied (2nd in the Triumph, won the Alleged Stakes in the Spring), are entered in the Morgiana Hurdle.

Yes, I love this time of year... 😀


P.s. which horse(s) did you take out of the weekend as beasts to follow, either at the Festival or just generally?

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2011 Preview

Supreme Novices Hurdle winner, Menorah

Supreme Novices Hurdle winner, Menorah

The first race of the Cheltenham Festival 2011 is the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, run over two miles and a half furlong, for horses aged four or older. In recent seasons it has been dominated by the Irish, so it is interesting to see that this year's ante-post lists contain a proliferation of British-trained horses at the head of affairs, with just the occasional Emerald Isle interloper.

Perhaps this presents an opportunity to find some value, and to give us a flying start for the toughest, funnest, bestest, four days racing anywhere in the World. [Hyperbole? Actually, no, I don't think so...]

Last season's Supreme winner, Menorah, bucked a couple of pretty strong trends, with his victory coming off the back of a runner up finish the time before and also given that he was trained in the UK.

Let's take a look at the Supreme Novices' key profile angles, and see if we can't pare down the ante-post lists to a likely candidate at a fat, juicy price to give us a ticket on which to weave a dream of a winning start to the 2011 Cheltenham Festival.

First up, I mentioned a couple of points in relation to Menorah: the Irish have dominated in recent years, bagging seven of the last ten runnings of the Supreme Novices. And, eight of the last ten (and twelve of the last fourteen) Supreme winners won last time out.

If we extend the last time out performance to previous winners' entire hurdling careers at that stage, it's interesting to note that seven out of the ten had never been out of the first two. That stat includes Menorah. So we might very well say that we're mostly interested in a last time out winner, but we'll consider runners up if they've never been out of the first two.

Five and six year old's rule supreme in the Supreme. Although Captain Cee Bee won as a 7yo in 2008, and Like-A-Butterfly as an 8yo in 2002, only five horses older than six or younger than five have claimed the Supreme Novices' glory since 1974.

A really interesting point - at least, I think it's interesting - is that half of the last ten winners had never won better than a Class 2 novice hurdle and, whilst there's a hatful of last time out winners claiming the spoils in the Supreme, only one horse - Brave Inca in 2004 - actually won a Grade 1 event last time out. In other words, I suspect that the Supreme Novices Hurdle is typically won by a horse who has been brought along gradually; one undoubtedly with more potential than it has thus far demonstrated; and, consequently, one which usually pays a better odds multiple than the favourite (who is normally the horse with the best public form).

Eight of the last ten winners had between two and four runs over hurdles, with one of the exceptions - Go Native - having had five hurdle starts in 2009. Too bad for Toubab, then, who has already had six starts, and actually only managed to win one of them.

Perhaps lending some credence to my 'hiding their light under a bushel' notion is the fact that, perversely perhaps, nine of the last ten winners of the Supreme Novices have failed to run a previous Topspeed figure above 126. Whilst it is obviously harsh to penalise a horse for performing to a higher level, this does suggest that each year the winner runs a good bit faster than they previously have.

Moreover, horses who have shown only slow races prior to turning up at Cheltenham on a Tuesday in mid-March, do not win the Supreme. The Topspeed bracket for winners' previous best speed figure has seven of them in a range between 107 and 126. For the purposes of this study, I have elected for a range of 105 to 130.

On the other hand, Racing Post Ratings have more clearly pointed to the potential of Supreme Novices winners, by recording a rating of 137+ against the names of eight subsequent winners prior to their Cleeve Hill success. Indeed, seven of those eight had notched a 143 or better.

Stallions preclude no runners, with an even split of jumps and flat sires amongst the last ten winners. But Irish bred horses hold the upper hand, having grabbed seven to UK bred runners' three wins in the last decade.

An interesting sidebar on breeding is that Frenchies have a moderate (at best) record, with just the exceptional Hors La Loi III (subsequently Champion Hurdler) winning for the French-bred's from 42 starters in the last fourteen years. He was a 9/2 chance...

My penultimate pointer is that ten of the last eleven Supreme Novices Hurdle winners had their final prep race within 45 days of lining up at Cheltenham. Given that there are currently 48 days until tapes up in the Cotswolds, I'm expecting the winner to have another run between now and then.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Finally, and as a neat enough segue into this year's contenders, let's remind ourselves of the abominable record of Cheltenham Champion Bumper runners in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. I researched this last year when pondering the case of early 2010's Pegasus, Dunguib (where are they now?!).

He won the previous Champion Bumper in a similar fashion to Cue Card's rout last March. At that time, I mentioned that only Montelado had won both the Bumper and the Supreme Novices, making him the only horse ever to have won back-to-back Cheltenham Festival races. Of course, the Bumper is no longer that last race on the card, so Montelado will hold that unique position in history forever.

Casting aside the anorak momentarily, the material point in all this is that Montelado, way back in 1993, remains the only Bumper winner to have won the Supreme. AND... only Back In Front has joined him from the full casts of the previous year's Cheltenham Champion Bumper. Of course, these stats are made to be broken, but I'd be very cautious about piling into Cue Card at best odds of 5/2 in light of the above.

So, to the rest of this year's contenders and how they shape up against the profile we've created. It should be clear that there are currently more question marks in this puzzle than your average university entrance exam, and the ethereal nature of this conundrum is akin to the proverbial attempts to nail jelly to a wall. That's why those generous bookie types are still offering 14/1 bar two in the race! 🙂

Cue Card is a standout form horse at this stage, but may not have as much improvement as others (may not need any improvement). But... he is up against the Bumper stat. And... he might still go for a different race. And... he's highly unlikely to be shorter on the day given his unfashionable connections and the strings of 1's adorning many contenders' form lines cometh the hour.

So, politely decline the Cue Card for now, with a view to possibly taking a 3/1 saver on the day, should he turn up. (Remember the clamour to 'give Dunguib away' last year? Many bookies would pay you back if Dunguib won - I'm sure there will be some doing likewise this year).

Next in, and the only other in single figures is Ireland's leading light - according to the odds board at least - Zaidpour. He's a Frenchie, which doesn't preclude him from winning, but does put me off, given their weak overall record. He's done little else wrong, being beaten a fag paper in a muddling race last time, and he's entered in the Deloitte Novices, a Grade 1, on February 6th.

He'll be around 5/1 for the Supreme if he wins that, and both Brave Inca (2004) and Like-A-Butterfly (2002) won that prior to Supreme Novices glory. Still, I'm looking for value with so many unanswered questions at this stage, so my quest continues, into the deeper double-digit depths of the oddsmakers.

The third choice with some books is Backspin, who ranges from 12's to 14's where offered. On Betfair, he is a 45 shot, which bears reference to the fact that he's probably going to run in the longer Neptune Investments' hurdle. Apart from that, all his wins have been in slow times, and his Grade 1 victory may actually count against him in the context of the Supreme. No thanks from this quarter.

The Neptune may also be the preferred destination for Rock On Ruby, and indeed Minella Class as well.

This leaves Hidden Universe as the only other contender in the top six in the betting more likely to run in the Supreme than the Neptune. On that score alone, Skybet's 14/1 may appeal. Factor in his trainer's 'softly, softly' approach so far and he's tempting. But... he ran in last season's Champion Bumper, and he's yet to reach the requisite speed and form figures, albeit off just the one hurdle run.

Hidden Universe has two entries later this week, which will tell us more about the horse. On the basis of what he's achieved, his current price seems to factor in quite a lot of what he might be projected to do going forward. So, reluctantly, no thank you.

From the chasing pack of potential protagonists emerges Spirit Son. With just two runs, one of which was in France, he 'could be anything' (couldn't they all?!). Nicky Henderson has a pretty poor record in this race in recent years, and hasn't won since Flown in 1992, despite saddling plenty of fancied runners (including Binocular, Khyber Kim and Oscar Whisky in the last three years).

And he's a Frenchie with their accompanying poor record, and he's got more to prove on the ratings - which he likely will do.

I could go through the top 22 in the betting with cases for and against (as I have done in the document at the bottom of this post), but you might be getting bored of all this dessert decoration (jelly-nailing, if you prefer), so let me cut somewhat belatedly to the chase and tell you who I like at the prices and with all foregoing caveats in situ.

Prince Of Pirates, a Henderson inmate, was traveling as well as the leader, Al Ferof, when that one fell at odds on last time, and won cosily up Cheltenham's hill on his only hurdle start so far. As a McManus-owned horse, you can expect money for this one on the day should he line up. A possible but 33/1 is only fair in my view (57 on the Betfair site).

Gibb River may be yet another Henderson hoss, but he's had a very covert preparation so far. Two wins in Class 4 big fields at short prices offer hope that he's got more in the tank, and I'm very keen to see where he turns out next. The 25's generally (44 Betfair) looks worth a speculative couple of quid, as he's likely to be half those odds if winning next time.

Extremely Tentative Selection: Gibb River

Below is the 'working out', and below that, my current ante-post portfolio.


Supreme Novices Hurdle 2011 [Open Office Document - download Open Office free here.]

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2011 [Excel file]

Ante-Post ups and downs...

Ante-Post ups and downs...