Posts

Cheltenham Festival 2021: Favourites – Bankers or Blowouts?

Pretty much the last spectator-attended action of last year was the Cheltenham Festival and, regardless of the 20/20 hindsight about whether or not it should have had the green light for crowds, this year's event will be contested behind closed doors. That it will be contested at all, and that the entirety of the preceding seasonal narrative has played out - weather notwithstanding - is a cause for celebration during these times where not a great deal has been worthy of such emotional uplift.

With just 21 days until tapes rise for the opening skirmishes of the 2021 renewal of #CheltFest (I can hear the grinding of traditionalists' teeth as I pen that incendiary soshul shorthand!), time is nigh to fix mental bayonets and consider, in the round, what may transpire three weeks hence.

In this piece, we'll look at the shorties: those favourites whose current top quote is 5/4 or tighter. Using the age old hackney of 'banker or blowout', and mindful that for geegeez readers (and value players everywhere) the very notion of a banker is anathema, I'll offer a view as to which side of the back/lay divide I'd currently like to pitch my punting tent.

A recent history of short priced favourites at the Cheltenham Festival

First up, a short history lesson. The main lesson of history is "don't believe the hype", a message that resonates far beyond Festival jollies but which was poignantly reprised twelve months ago when, of the six favourites sent off at 5/4 or shorter, five were beaten. Ouch.

If that was a storm in the 2020 teacup, how does a more extensive tract of past performance influence our appetite for piling in at the sharp end?

As can be seen from the table and summary row above, there have been good times and bad times since 2009, with the management summary being that this is one of the less bludgeoning methods of wagering self-harm. But, of course, not all shorties are made equal; so is there anything to be gleaned from dividing what is already a very small dataset still further?

Despite the answer to that question almost certainly being 'no', for the record here are a couple of logical splits:

A lot of data manipulation and a very short read later we can now say the answer is certainly 'no'; which is unsurprising given the maturity of, and liquidity in, these markets. Nevertheless, when the media cries "certainty" and the market posits 4/6, punters are well served to beware.

The full list of qualifying runners is below, and may bring back painful memories for some, yours true included!

2021 Cheltenham Festival Shorties: Banker or Blowout

There is a quintet of ante-post shorties for this year's renewal of the Fez (yet more trads reaching for 'off' switch!) and they shape up price wise like this:

Time to consider each horse's respective merits...

Arkle Challenge Trophy: Shishkin

Form this season

Unbeaten in three facile wins in novice chases, most recently in a brace of Grade 2's, with no horse yet landing a glove on him. In spite of the small fields - he beat a trio of rivals in each - the form is solid and the times have been good. His fencing style is economical and comfortable: he has barely put a foot wrong thus far.

Shishkin is now unbeaten in seven completed starts, having fallen on his hurdling debut.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Sent off 6/1 joint-third favourite for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle last year, he was hampered by a faller as the race was hotting up, but overcame that impediment to hold the late charge of Champion Hurdle fancy, Abacadabras. That was his only race at Cheltenham.

Obvious dangers

For a while this looked a matter of 'how far' assuming good health and a clear round, but the emergence of Energumene - an energumence? - as comfortably the best of the Irish has livened up the pre-race debate immeasurably.

Your first 30 days for just £1

On form, Willie Mullins' charge is a serious threat. But he does have a lot more questions to answer: how will he handle Cheltenham? Does he need to lead and, if so, how will he handle Allmankind? If he doesn't need to lead, he has yet to prove his effectiveness from further back. And how will he handle drier ground if indeed it pans out that way?

None of these are of concern to Shishkin, who looks sure to get his favoured lead - either from Allmankind, or that one and Energumene - and who will have every chance having dealt with all underfoot terrain, longer trips, and the Cheltenham contours already.

If Energumene and Allmankind lock horns on the speed, they may both pay for those exertions in the manner that Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir did in the 2018 renewal of this race, setting things up for a 14-length rout for Footpad. Shishkin is undeniably more of a horse than Footpad, and a tear up on the front end could see him record the largest winning distance of the meeting.

But if Energumene is ridden more conservatively, there are two possible dangers. The more obvious is that, in a fair fight, the Irish raider is simply better than the domestic challenger; the less obvious is that, by marking each other, the top two grant Allmankind - a very good horse in his own right - an easy and unassailable lead.

The other fly in the Shishkin ointment is the form of the Nicky Henderson yard, on the face of it at least: a single winner since 10th February, from 28 runners, is not the sort of record a Champion Trainer needs going into the biggest gig of the year. But, of course, we're not yet at the eve of Cheltenham and, in any case, that headline figure masks what have been largely acceptable (if not altogether pleasing) efforts from his Seven Barrows squad.

A place strike rate of 36% is more compelling, and a majority of runners have performed at least close to market expectation. Notably, the big guns - Chantry House, Champ - have run very well. Still, better will have been expected overall and better will be needed if Shishkin's price is not to flirt with odds-against between now and mid-March.

Verdict

Shishkin looks a superb athlete and a very fast horse. His trainer is having a wobble just now but knows better than anyone - even Willie M - how to campaign a precocious two-mile chaser. Having ticked the race conditions boxes, and with a pace setup almost certain to play to his A game, he looks a 'banker' (relatively speaking).

*

Mares' Hurdle: Concertista

Form this season

Lightly raced, as is often the modus operandi with Willie Mullins' better mares, Concertista has run just twice this term. She beat the same mare, Minella Melody, by nearly two lengths in a Grade 2 in November and then by more than six lengths in a Grade 3 at the turn of the year.

The hallmark of those runs, and indeed her run style generally, is being held together off the pace before cruising through to prevail comfortably. In so doing it is hard to peg the level of her form exactly, always leaving the impression there is more in the tank.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Presented off a layoff of eighteen months prior to the 2019 Mares' Novices Hurdle, Concertista saw off all bar Eglantine Du Seuil as a 66/1 chance that day. She had twenty rivals behind her and only a short head to the one in front. That singular race in the 2018/19 season meant she retained her novice status the following campaign and, lining up in the same race last March, she outclassed a similar 22-strong field by an emphatic dozen lengths.

This will be her third visit to the Festival and she offers very solid credentials on that score.

Obvious dangers

It very much depends who lines up on the day. If the ground dries out, it might be that connections of Honeysuckle decide to run over this two-and-a-half mile trip rather than the extended two of the Champion Hurdle. That would change the complexion markedly.

Likewise, though to a lesser degree, if Roksana stepped this way rather than to the Stayers' Hurdle, she would present a fierce challenge.

But there is very little depth to this field beyond the aforementioned three: they bet 9/1 Dame De Compagnie (who has been chasing, has four entries, and is far from a certain runner in this), 14/1 Verdana Blue (more likely for the County Hurdle, I think), and 20/1 bar (including Elimay, who more likely goes to the Mares' Chase).

Verdict

If Honeysuckle goes to the Champion Hurdle and if Roksana goes to the Stayers' Hurdle, Concertista could be the shortest priced favourite at the meeting. If Honeysuckle comes here, she may be 4/7 or so.

This is a ground dependant conundrum: drying ground would increase the chance of Honeysuckle running here, but decrease the chance of Roksana doing likewise. Concertista is expected to run here regardless (though she is still entered in both the Champion Hurdle and the Mares' Chase).

The way to play this, if you're so inclined, is to back Concertista at 6/5 and Honeysuckle at 5/4, both non-runner no bet. Most likely, you'll have 6/5 about an odds-on shot and money back on the other; second most likely is that you'll have 5/4 about a 4/7 shot and a poor value back up ticket. That may not sound exciting right now but it is odds on to look value on the day.

*

Brown Advisory (ex RSA): Monkfish

Form this season

Another Willie Mullins inmate, Monkfish has been imperious this season in brushing aside talented opposition with relish. Monkfish with relish: tasty!

Lousy puns aside, he won his beginners' chase in a canter before being merely pushed out to record a pair of Grade 1 successes in recognised trials, by three lengths and then eleven lengths from the talented Latest Exhibition. He is by some margin the pick of the Irish challengers.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Not only is Monkfish unbeaten in three chase starts this term, he is also the reigning Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle champ, earning a hard-fought verdict over... you guessed it, Latest Exhibition. That was his only visit to Cheltenham so he is unbeaten in one both at the track and at the Festival.

Obvious dangers

It is quite hard to find 'obvious' dangers to Monkfish. He has blitzed the best of the Irish this season, and he did the same to the best of the British and Irish here last season over hurdles.

Of course, he's a novice and the fences have to be jumped, so that's a possible issue.

In terms of potential rivals, Royale Pagaille has looked a mud machine this winter, but that one has numerous other possible engagements, principally the Gold Cup itself. Moreover, the two horses are in the same Ricci ownership and will surely attempt to divide and conquer.

The only other possible issue is ground: good to something would present a challenge met only once previously, when Monkfish was beaten into second on debut in a 2m2f bumper at the Punchestown Festival in May 2019.

Verdict

It's double digits bar Fishcake - as Nicky Henderson once flippantly (and very amusingly, imho) labelled the jolly - and Royale Pagaille; and, with options over longer and shorter for shying rivals, this could cut up dramatically. Monkfish looks very strong in this division.

*

Champion Chase: Chacun Pour Soi

Form this season

Three runs, three wins, in Grade 2 and Grade 1 (twice) company, beating the right horses with nonchalance. He travels like a dream, jumps very well and, if he faces the starter at Cheltenham, will have managed more runs this season than in the previous two combined.

His form this campaign is well clear of any other two mile chaser on either side of the Irish Sea.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

It was all going so well, but then... Chacun Pour Soi was pulled out at the eleventh hour last year and, as such, has yet to race outside of Ireland. That leaves question marks not just over the track but also about travelling generally: he did come over on the boat last year but was withdrawn with a foot abscess.

Whilst it may very much be a case of abscess making the heart grow fonder (sigh), it also nods to this fella's hitherto fragility. Against that we do have a trio of scores, and an absence of scares, so far this term. But we have still to conjecture about his ability to handle the idiosyncrasies of Cleeve Hill.

Obvious dangers

He himself is the obvious danger. Will he stay in one piece? Will he handle the travel? Will he handle the track?

Of the other horses in the race, each has eroded his or her case at some point: Arkle winner Put The Kettle On was bashed by Chacun, albeit after what was a very hard race at Cheltenham first up this season, and she may bounce back training up to the race; Altior is patently not the horse he was; Politologue has a rock solid Champion Chase profile but not against the calibre of CPS; and Defi Du Seuil is a binary chap, more zeros than ones in recent times.

The leftfield option is First Flow, who was exhilarating at Ascot last time. He'd need supplementing, very likely, but he'd also need to improve another eight pounds on current ratings - less likely.

Verdict

Chacun Pour Soi has to contend with himself. His form is in another postcode to his rivals in a market still trying to get him beaten with the wonderful but past his best Altior and a sizeable group of second division chasers. A horse like Fakir D'Oudairies, who is 20/1 NRNB in a place because he's more likely to fly Ryanair, might be a feasible hail mary in a race loaded with if's and but's.

Those imponderables extend to the favourite which makes him unplayable outright at the prices for all that he is the outstanding logical choice. [I did flag him in a derivative market at more appealing odds, as I don't really seeing him finishing second or third. He will win, or something will have happened between now and the finish line, is my wagering opinion.]

*

Marsh: Envoi Allen

Form this season

Three runs, three wins this campaign have meant Envoi Allen is now eleven from eleven lifetime under Rules (plus one point to point), all of them as favourite and only once at odds-against (the 2019 Cheltenham Champion Bumper). The middle leg of his 2020/21 hat-trick was a comfortable verdict in the Grade 1 Drinmore, and it was little more than a schooling round against Grade 3 rivals last time. I wasn't as impressed as some with that most recent effort for all that he still bolted up.

Cheltenham / Festival Form

Two tries at the track, both at the Festival, have yielded two victories; the Bumper score was by a narrow margin, his Ballymore victory more unequivocal. He beat 13 rivals the first day and eleven the second and, well, he just keeps winning.

Obvious dangers

This looks another case of getting to the start line. Unlike CPS, EA has been slated to start twice and has started - and finished first - twice. He's had an incident-free prep thus far and has jumped really well in his three chase races to date.

Still, those fences need to be jumped, and he has to arrive pristine at Prestbury. It is hard to nominate dangers thereafter.

Verdict

The Brown Advisory would have meant a likely clash with Monkfish, the Arkle a ding dong with Shiskin, Energumene and Allmankind. The Marsh feels a bit like the coward's route for a horse boasting his CV. More generously, it is the best opportunity to extend the winning sequence.

You can bet double figures any other horse likely to run in this race - single digit quotes about Energumene and Monkfish don't even appeal NRNB especially - and there has to be some each way value, though I've yet to go through the fine detail to find it.

What is clear is that, on form, Envoi Allen is different kit.

**

Summary

Last year, five of the six horses sent off at 5/4 or shorter were beaten. This year, we look set to have at least five runners priced in that same bracket. Mishaps aside, it is hard (for me, at least) to make credible cases to oppose any of the quintet.

But mishaps do happen: in 2020, Paisley Park had a palpitation, Patrick Mullins was carelessly ejected from Carefully Selected (very harsh on the jockey, apols, poetic license for a play on words), Tiger was Roll'ed over by a heretofore unconsidered French assailant, Defi did the Defi thing, and 'mon dieu' Benie was beaten by Honey.

Any horse could come down or have a heart murmur in the heat of combat; Shishkin could get beaten by Energumene; a previously unsighted dark horse could emerge in one of the novice chases (though that feels unlikely).

In short, stuff could - and at some point probably will - happen. But I'd be hard pushed to bet against any of this quintet in the win slot if they trotted round at the start. That's my view, uncontroversial as it is. What about you? Which horse(s) would you hang your hat on? And where are you looking to get a hotpot beaten? Leave a comment and let us know.

Matt

 

 

First Flow building towards Champion Chase

Kim Bailey is gradually building First Flow back to his peak for a crack at the Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

The nine-year-old has had a relatively easy time since booking his place in the two-mile showpiece with last month’s victory over reigning champion Politologue in the Grade One Clarence House Chase at Ascot.

With the Champion Chase now less than five weeks away, Bailey is preparing First Flow for the big day.

“He’s good. He’s started cantering this week, so I’m happy with him,” said the Cotswolds trainer.

“I won’t be taking him for an away day. He’s an easy horse to get fit.”

First Flow is a top-priced 14-1 for Festival honours, with Chacun Pour Soi a shade of odds-on after extending his unbeaten season to date with an impressive victory in the Dublin Chase at Leopardstown on Sunday.

It was another eyecatching performance from Willie Mullins’ charge, for which he has rightly been lauded – but all Bailey and others can do is prepare their contenders for the challenge ahead.

Asked for his reading of Chacun Pour Soi’s latest win, Bailey said: “I don’t think I need add to the accolades people have given him.

“Getting our horse there in one piece is the most important thing.”

Chacun Pour Soi cruises to Dublin Chase repeat

Chacun Pour Soi produced another imperious display to dominate his rivals in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown.

The Willie Mullins-trained nine-year-old was the 2-5 favourite to successfully defend his crown in the two-mile-one-furlong contest, having proved too strong for stablemate Min – winner of the race in 2018 and 2019 – in last year’s renewal.

Min was once again in opposition, but two bad mistakes racing down the back straight led to him being pulled up by the trainer’s son Patrick, leaving Chacun Pour Soi travelling strongly in behind Notebook and Fakir D’oudairies.

Odds-on backers would have been happy as Paul Townend’s mount moved powerfully into the home straight, before taking command on the run to the final fence.

A huge leap sealed matters, and it was impossible to be anything but impressed by the way he pulled right away on the run-in to beat Fakir D’oudairies by eight lengths.

Coral cut Chacun Pour Soi to 4-6 from 11-10 to provide Mullins with a first victory in the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, after being forced to miss the race last year following a minor setback on the morning of the race.

“It was a very good performance. I was a little bit worried going to the third-last if Paul had anything left in the tank, as he seemed to be niggling,” said Mullins.

“After the second-last I thought he wasn’t putting the race to bed or anything. Paul felt that he was in command at all stages.

Paul Townend and Willie Mullins celebrate with Chacun Pour Soi
Paul Townend and Willie Mullins celebrate with Chacun Pour Soi (Niall Carson/PA)

“He just wanted to get down to the last, jump it, and then go. The end result was very good.

“I was worried over the third- and second-last, but Paul said he was just asleep underneath him.

“They didn’t hang around. Min set off to make the pace and then Notebook joined him. Notebook was probably just slicker in the air and Min paid the penalty for that later on.”

He added: “Min seems to be fine, Patrick got off and thought he was fine. It didn’t work out for him today, but the other guy was awesome.”

Chacun Pour Soi primed to defend Dublin Chase title

Chacun Pour Soi puts his huge reputation on the line once again in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown.

Willie Mullins has never made any secret of the regard in which he holds the nine-year-old, who has been beaten just once in five starts since arriving in Ireland.

Having impressed in winning this Grade One contest 12 months ago, Chacun Pour Soi was strongly fancied to provide the most successful trainer in Cheltenham Festival history with his first Queen Mother Champion Chase, only to suffer a minor injury on the morning of the race.

He is already favourite to right that wrong in the Cotswolds next month, following wins at Cork and Leopardstown this season, but first has top-level business to take care off at the Dublin Racing Festival on Saturday.

“I’m hoping he’ll come on again after his run at Christmas and keep improving,” said Mullins.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“A lot of our horses missed the spring because there was none of the big festivals, so they are all a little bit heavier and not as fit as they would have been – because they had such a long Covid break.

“Chacun Pour Soi missed the early part of his career, but we have had no problems since then.

“We’ve always held him in huge esteem. His work at home has always been very good, and the first day that he schooled around Leopardstown with Danny (Mullins) on was awesome to watch.

“He’s a horse that commands a lot of respect around here.”

Chacun Pour Soi (left) and Min during last year's Dublin Chase
Chacun Pour Soi (left) and Min during last year’s Dublin Chase (PA)

Chacun Pour Soi’s biggest threat appears to be his stablemate Min, who claimed this prize in both 2018 and 2019, but had to make do with the runner-up spot 12 months ago.

The 10-year-old was last seen bagging a third win in the John Durkan at Punchestown and is using this weekend’s race as a stepping-stone to the Ryanair Chase at Cheltenham, which he won last season.

Mullins added: “After the John Durkan we said we were going to miss Christmas, run him here and then go to Cheltenham, hopefully.”

The Closutton handler has a third string to his bow in Tornado Flyer, who drops almost a mile in trip after finishing fifth in the Savills Chase in December.

Tornado Flyer also represents Mullins
Tornado Flyer also represents Mullins (Niall Carson/PA)

“I went and ran him in the three-mile race at Christmas. He jumped so badly early on. He ran well to finish fifth, considering what he did over the first mile,” said the champion trainer.

“He has plenty of stamina in his pedigree, and if he could just learn to harness that speed he’d be ideal for three miles.”

Henry de Bromhead’s Notebook won the Irish Arkle over the course and distance at this meeting last year, but has six and a half lengths to make up on Chacun Pour Soi on their meeting over Christmas.

The Joseph O’Brien-trained Fakir D’oudairies and Sizing Pottsie, from Jessica Harrington’s yard, complete the line-up.

Sharjah to headline Willie Mullins’ Saturday Leopardstown team

Sharjah is set to head Willie Mullins’ three-pronged attack on the Chanelle Pharma Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on Saturday.

The eight-year-old won the Grade One Matheson Hurdle at the Dublin track for the third successive season at Christmas and will be accompanied by stablemates Saint Roi and Saldier this weekend.

They finished fourth and sixth respectively behind him last time.

“I’m very happy with them and hoping Saldier will run a lot better than he did at Christmas. He seemed to need the run,” said Mullins.

“Saint Roi was a little disappointing, but I think he will improve on that too.

“Sharjah does not need to improve. I hope he doesn’t do what he did last year and make a mistake at the first hurdle down the back, which threw him completely for the rest of the race.”

Your first 30 days for just £1

Chacun Pour Soi will be out to repeat last year’s victory in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase following his Grade One triumph there over Christmas.

“I was delighted with him at Christmas. We got a run into him down in Cork and that paid off well,” Mullins told a Dublin Racing Festival zoom press call.

“I think he’s in great shape and I’m hoping he’ll be just himself in that race.

“We still have Min there and Tornado Flyer.

“We’ll probably let Min take his chance, but we haven’t fully decided which direction we’re going with Tornado Flyer yet. We’ll see how he works during the week.”

The exciting Energumene heads six Mullins’ entries in the Patrick Ward & Company Solicitors Irish Arkle Novice Chase.

The seven-year-old has created a big impression in winning both his starts over fences.

“He looks a natural chaser. He easily went back to two miles, so I think he has to take his chance here,” said the Closutton trainer.

“Of course we’ll have Franco De Port who won at Christmas as well. Was he a lucky winner? We don’t know. They went a ferocious gallop that day.

“Unexcepted is a good horse over two miles as well, so it will be interesting to see if he turns up.

“Janidil is in the same ownership as Unexcepted, so he might go for a longer race.

“Asterion Forlonge probably won’t go there, even though he was a Grade One winner on the track. As for Blackbow, we’ll see.”

Mullins has yet to finalise his runners for the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50K Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle over two and three-quarter miles.

He has 10 entries out of a total of 36 possibles and they include Gaillard Du Mesnil, who was impressive over two and a half miles on this course in late December.

“He’s been very good. I think the horse he beat (Mr Incredible) won at Naas on Sunday, so the form is working out well.”

Ganapathi, Shadow Rider, Stattler and Blue Lord may join him in the line-up.

Two Cheltenham Festival Side Bets to Consider

February is upon us and, with it, the focus on the Cheltenham Festival becomes more intense. Regardless of the debate about the middle March showpiece overpowering the National Hunt calendar's narrative, there is no denying it offers a rich range of options from an ante post perspective. So, during this short hiatus from decent turf action, I thought it might be worth looking at a couple of the more interesting 'side bets'.

The growth of 'request a bet' type functionality has been a boon for bookmakers, with ambitious punters adding more and more elements which must occur in an event in order to trigger the cumulative payout. These are largely to be avoided though the related contingency (i.e. one element having a direct bearing on another element within the wager) factor can occasionally make such plays of interest. Here are two which might appeal - they did to me!

Arkle Chase - Shishkin to win by six lengths-plus (10/3 Skybet)

On first inspection, I was apprehensive of this. Not because I think the horse in question is poor value: on the contrary, I think he's a very, very likely winner where the biggest dangers are expected to be the form of his stable and the 13 fences between the rising tapes and jam stick.

Of stable form, it can be seen from the right hand part of the chart that the Henderson hordes have not been firing at their highest rate in recent months. Nor, mind you, has the win percentage been anything other than aspirational for most other yards.

Moreover, there is plenty of time for an uptick should such a thing even be necessary: it's not prevented Shishkin from strolling home in his three chase runs this season, most recently by eight widening lengths from a 150-odd-rated animal on Saturday.

And in terms of jumping acuity, he has yet to make a serious mistake in three chases. True, all were small field affairs, but the Arkle, too, will quite likely cut up to a handful of contenders.

The opposition looks a rung below Shishkin, with perhaps Energumene the only credible danger. A fortnight ago, he beat a rival of similar ability by the same margin as Shishkin won on Saturday; if that was a parallel performance, there is little doubt about the 'remaining gears' differential in my view. Moreover, Willie Mullins' charge was a little novice-y in places that day for all that he was entitled to be on just his second fencing start. One further slight question mark is whether Energumene needs to lead in his races: he has led or disputed in all four of his starts over obstacles though whether that was a function of class and staying out of harm's way, or is a tactical prerequisite, is moot. What is clearer is that, if he does go forward, he will very likely face a challenge from Allmankind who appears to have no plan B when it comes to run style.

All of the above verbosity is by way of suggesting that Shishkin will probably win assuming he turns up in one piece (never a given). But a top priced 8/11, whilst still very far from offensive in value terms, is unexciting for those of us with limited elevens to risk in the pursuit of eights. And here is where the winning distance comes in.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Skybet are actually offering prices on winning margins of 2+ lengths (10/11), 4+ lengths (2/1), 6+ lengths (10/3), 8+ lengths (5/1) and 10+ lengths (7/1). I'm interested in 6+ as the optimal value play. And here's why.

Last year, Put The Kettle On was a 16/1 chance when winning by a length and a half. There were 18 lengths back to the third placed horse. In the five previous renewals, the race went more in keeping with the form already in the book as 5/1 Duc Des Genievres was the only one of the quintet of Arkle winners between 2015 and 2019 to score at odds against. His winning margin was 13 lengths. The four odds-on scorers, in reverse chronological order Footpad, Altior, Douvan and Un De Sceaux, scored by, respectively, 14 lengths, six lengths, seven lengths and six lengths.

The tl;dr (bit late now, I realise) is that five of the last six winners - four of them, like Shishkin, odds-on favourites - won by six lengths or more. In that context, Shishkin - who has won all of his completed starts, by 8L, 11L, 11L, a neck, 23L, 13L, and 8.5L - looks very fairly priced at 10/3 to win the Arkle by six lengths or more.

The link to this market is here.

**

Queen Mother Champion Chase - Chacun Pour Soi to win by four lengths-plus (4/1 Skybet)

Suggesting an ante post position on a hitherto infamously infrequent racecourse attendee may seem a tad gung-ho, all the more so when said runner was withdrawn on the morning of the race last year. But there is a growing belief, in the heart and mind of this scribbler at least, that the 2020/21 Chacun Pour Soi model is a more robust one.

Exhibit A to that end are the two races - both comfortable victories, in Grade 2 and Grade 1 company - in one month, the final month of last year. If that's the good news, the less good news is that Exhibit B must likely follow this weekend at the (outright excellent) Dublin Racing Festival; and Exhibit C requires him to cross the Irish channel in mid-March sans sicknote.

That's a risk and there are no two ways about it: if you don't like that risk, don't make this bet. Indeed, don't make any bet on CPS without the 'non runner no bet' concession.

But if, like me, you think 4/1 more than accommodates the chance of his non-participation, then let's talk about the opposition and the winning margin, oppo first.

This season, I've been a Put The Kettle On fan and a Politologue fan and a Chacun Pour Soi fan. The first two have bombproof Cheltenham form while the headline act - in the context of this proposed wager - has had a look around Cleeve Hill but not yet galloped there in anger. If anything was to happen to CPS, I'd split my stake between the other two named here, and might chuck in Rouge Vif in the unlikely event we get a six week drought henceforth. I can't have Altior, as much as my heart wrestles my head to consider him: he's just too long in the tooth now, before we even consider the depth of the Kempton form behind Nube Negra (a horse arguably a good bit better suited to Aintree than Cheltenham, though he has run well at the Festival).

Chacun was imperious at Christmas, value for plenty more than the official six and a half lengths. He will again face the second horse from that Grade 1, Notebook, if both stand their ground at the weekend, and the fact that Notebook is circa 5/1 third choice for Dublin's Festival Chase speaks of the paucity of opposition once more. There is the not inconsiderable frame of Min betwixt and between in the weekend market but, in the same ownership as Chacun Pour Soi, it is unclear what might be gained from that pair locking horns. Mind you, they did last season, CPS prevailing by most of four lengths.

Put The Kettle On jumped poorly under Sean Flanagan when slammed by CPS and Notebook last time but can be expected to improve both for a return to Cheltenham and the presumed return of Aidan Coleman to the saddle. In that light, she's of minor interest at 14/1 each way and also worth at least a second glance when the 'without the favourite' market emerges. But it is hard to see her turning tables with her last day vanquisher.

Of the home team, Politologue had been under-rated a touch in my view: his Festival record is excellent and he is the reigning champ. He'd looked good this season before being undone by an absolutely terrific performance from First Flow at Ascot ten days or so ago. Kim Bailey's charge reminded me of something between Denman's belligerence and the young Master Minded's panache: he has some way to go ratings-wise to be within a half furlong of that pair but his Ascot performance was, visually, everything jump racing should be.

In terms of race tactics at Cheltenham, if First Flow and Politologue again have at it a mile and more from home, as they did at Ascot, they'll be spent when CPS presents arms at the turn in, and that one ought to run away from them thereafter, assuming he handles the track.

The margin of victory of Champion Chase-winning favourites in recent years is thus: Altior 2019 (1 3/4 lengths), Altior 2018 (7 lengths), Sire De Grugy 2014 (6 lengths), Sprinter Sacre 2013 (19 lengths), Master Minded 2009 (7 lengths).

If Chacun Pour Soi runs and wins at the Dublin Racing Festival this weekend - he's currently a best priced 4/9 so to do - he'll be shorter for the winning margin bets and odds on for the Champion Chase. If he doesn't run, he'll be circa evens on the day assuming he shows up. If he runs and gets beaten, who knows? But, like I say, I think he's a more robust animal this season, and I'm prepared to back that perception.

So here's the rub: if Chacun Pour Soi wins the Champion Chase, I believe he'll win by a 'fresh air' margin. And if he doesn't... well, you might as well have 4/1 as 6/5 about the same loser.

The  link to this market (at the bottom, in the 'lengthen the odds' section) is here.

**

There will be lots of to and fro in the six weeks from now until the Cheltenham Festival gets underway. A few positions on shorties at fancier prices, for all that the spectre of our picks winning but not by far enough looms, may help to wile the worst of these remaining Covid days.

Matt

Chacun Pour Soi impresses with Leopardstown verdict

Chacun Pour Soi produced a dominant display to rout his rivals in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown.

Odds-on backers had their fingers burnt when the Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old was beaten by A Plus Tard in the same race last season, but he bounced back to get the better of stable companion Min over the course and distance at the Dublin Racing Festival back in February.

He was then a late withdrawal from the Queen Mother Champion Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in March after suffering a stone bruise on the morning of the race.

But having made a smooth return in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork three weeks ago, Chacun Pour Soi was a 4-7 shot to follow up in the feature event on day two of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival – and ultimately got the job done with relative ease.

Your first 30 days for just £1

After initially taking a lead from stable companion Annamix, Chacun Pour Soi hit the front racing down the back straight under Paul Townend, with Rachael Blackmore covering the move aboard Notebook.

However, it was clear from before the home turn that the market leader had far more to give and he galloped all the way up the straight for a six-and-a-half-length verdict.

Paddy Power cut Chacun Pour Soi to 7-4 from 11-4 for the Champion Chase, with Coral going 6-4 from 5-2.

Chacun Pour Soi (right) proved too good for his Leopardstown rivals
Chacun Pour Soi (right) proved too good for his Leopardstown rivals (PA)

Mullins said: “I was really pleased with that. He showed a great spring in his jumping and really attacked his fences. After the last fence, he flew around the final bend and was then idling a bit. His ears were pricked and I’d say he’d plenty in reserve.

“He’ll probably come back here for the Dublin Racing Festival. I hadn’t intended going to Mallow (Cork) with him until I saw what we had left in the John Durkan. It was a good opportunity to go to Mallow and it worked out perfectly and left him just right for today.

“It was frustrating what happened to him at Cheltenham, but these things happen with horses every day.

“We had to pull Klassical Dream out of the beginners’ chase today. I’m hoping it’s just a muscle problem and nothing too serious.”

Chacun Pour Soi takes centre stage on day two at Leopardstown

Chacun Pour Soi is the star attraction in the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown on Sunday.

Odds-on backers had their fingers burnt when the Willie Mullins-trained gelding was beaten by A Plus Tard in last year’s renewal of the Grade One contest.

He rewarded those who kept the faith when seeing off esteemed stablemate Min at the Dublin Racing Festival, though, before an eleventh-hour setback ruled him out of the Queen Mother Champion Chase at Cheltenham.

With a return to the Cotswolds top of the agenda for the spring, Chacun Pour Soi made a successful start to the new campaign in last month’s Hilly Way Chase at Cork, and Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, expects him to prove hard to beat this weekend.

He said: “He obviously got beat here last year when he went there without a run. We gave him a run this year, and again it looked like he needed it in Mallow (Cork) as he got tired.

“On official ratings he has 9lb in hand over Notebook. On a line through Cash Back, who was just behind Notebook in the Irish Arkle in Leopardstown last season, we’d like to think Chacun will be able to take care of him.

“You’ve got Put The Kettle On in there as well, but if Chacun Pour Soi runs to his rating of 172 he should win, and that’s what we’re hoping he’ll do.”

Chacun Pour Soi is one of two runners for Mullins and his principal owners Rich and Susannah Ricci along with outsider Annamix.

“He’s very brave to jump and likes to get on with it, so we’re coming back to two miles in the thinking that his jumping might well keep him in it. If he can run into the prize-money, that would be a great run,” Mullins junior added of the latter.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Rachael Blackmore has high hopes for Notebook
Rachael Blackmore has high hopes for Notebook (Niall Carson/PA)

Notebook won his first four starts fences last season – and while he disappointed in the Arkle at Cheltenham, he bounced back to form on his seasonal reappearance in the Poplar Square Chase at Naas.

The seven-year-old will be ridden by Rachael Blackmore, who said: “We couldn’t have been happier with him after Naas and he’s going to come on fitness-wise from that run.

“It gives you a big thrill riding a horse like him. He has incredible scope and extremely good use of himself – even when he’s in tight, he’s able to get from one side of a fence to the other very efficiently at speed.”

Notebook’s trainer Henry de Bromhead also saddles the Arkle winner in Put The Kettle On after travel restrictions between Britain and Ireland prevented her from taking on Altior in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton.

The field is completed by Pat Fahy’s Castlegrace Paddy and the Joseph O’Brien-trained Le Richebourg. The latter can be expected to improve for his first run since February 2019 when pulled up in the John Durkan Memorial Punchestown Chase three weeks ago.

The other Grade One on day two of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival is the Paddy Power Future Champions Novice Hurdle, which throws up an intriguing clash between the Mullins-trained Appreciate It and Gordon Elliott’s Royal Bond winner Ballyadam.

Appreciate It was runner-up to currently-sidelined stablemate Ferny Hollow in last season’s Champion Bumper and made a successful hurdling debut at Cork last month, but has always been considered more of a stayer by connections.

Patrick Mullins said: “He’s a very good horse over two miles on decent ground, but whether it’s going to see him at his very best, I’m not so sure. I think he’s probably more of a horse for two and a half miles plus.

“He won around Leopardstown twice last year, so he obviously handles the track and the type of ground that the track brings.

“Might he get caught for a gear here? Maybe. Those real good horses can probably win over most trips and it will be a fascinating race, without doubt.

“If he does get caught for toe, we won’t be too disappointed. We can always go up in trip then.”

Mullins is also expecting a bold showing from Royal Bond third N’Golo, adding: “He shouldn’t be forgotten. I think the race will really suit him and he was not far behind Ballyadam in the Royal Bond, when he maybe didn’t get the run of the race.”

Ballyadam and Jack Kennedy after winning the Royal Bond
Ballyadam and Jack Kennedy after winning the Royal Bond (PA)

Elliott is hopeful the Cheveley Park Stud-owned Ballyadam can make it three from three over hurdles.

He told Betfair: “Ballyadam looks to have a leading chance having won his first two runs this season which included the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse last month.

“He didn’t jump wonderfully in the Royal Bond, but Jack (Kennedy) was keen to get in amongst horses and teach him something that day so the experience he picked up there should help him sharpen up with regard to his hurdling.

“He’s a very talented horse who I hope will be up there with the top novices at the end of the season, but this race should tell us plenty more about his prospects as he is taking on some very smart types. I’m expecting him to be right there at the finish.”

Elliott also runs Call Me Lyreen, and added: “He is a lovely horse who has yet to be beaten and has answered every question asked of him so far. After winning at Tramore and Sligo he coped well with a big rise in class to win a Grade Two in good style at Naas last month.

“I think he can improve again and the switch to decent ground will help him. He is stepping up in class once more, but he’s coming forward all the time and he is certainly worth his place in the line up. I could see him running another big race.

High hopes for Champion Chase favourite Chacun Pour Soi at Christmas

Chacun Pour Soi is firmly on course for another shot at the Paddy’s Rewards Club Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas.

The Willie Mullins-trained Champion Chase favourite suffered a surprise reverse in the Grade One contest last season, on what was his seasonal bow, before showing his class at the Dublin Racing Festival.

A late setback on raceday morning meant he missed Cheltenham in March, but he returned with victory in the Hilly Way Chase at Cork on Sunday.

Speaking at the launch of Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival on Wednesday, the trainer’s son and assistant Patrick Mullins said: “Chacun Pour Soi went straight to Leopardstown last year and got beaten by A Plus Tard when he just blew up.

“I think that’s why Willie was keen to give him a run this year prior to Christmas. I’d imagine that will be his aim.

“Min waited until the Dublin Racing Festival last season and that seemed to work well for him with regards to going on to the Ryanair.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“Willie is usually a creature of habit and I’d imagine they’ll do a similar thing this year.

“I’d be disappointed if A Plus Tard could beat Chacun Pour Soi this time. We have no excuse this year having had the run in Cork.

“Notebook is the one you’d be wary of. He’s a horse with an awful lot of talent and has won well around Leopardstown before.

“We think the world of Chacun Pour Soi and think on his day there are very few horses that would beat him.

“He came out of the race in Cork very well and I’d imagine all being well he’ll go back to Leopardstown.”

In the staying division the Savills Chase is shaping up to be another cracking renewal and Kemboy could bid to repeat his victory in the race two years ago.

Mullins junior said: “Kemboy was disappointing last season. He just blew up in Thurles last month after running well for a long way.

“A couple of years ago when he had a real good season it was a particularly dry winter and perhaps he needs that really dry ground to be at his best.

“I’d be concerned that the more rain there is the worse for him.

“I’d love to see Melon have a go over three miles. He was good in the John Durkan and Brian Hayes said he got tired at the end.

“He’s also in the King George and there is the option of the Kinloch Brae as well. We’ll see when Willie decides that he wants to try him over three miles, he could wait for the Dublin Racing Festival.

“Allaho is in it as well. I’m not convinced he really wants three miles but maybe on good ground at Leopardstown he might be OK.”

Assessing the potential Savills Chase opposition, Mullins said: “Minella Indo and Champ are the two young up and coming horses. There are only two fences in the last half-mile at Leopardstown and that will probably suit Champ.

“Minella Indo has had two runs and for me he’d be the one to beat with the runs under his belt.”

Delight for Willie Mullins as Min and Chacun Pour Soi make perfect returns

Willie Mullins may not have been able to see much of Min’s third successive win in the John Durkan Memorial Chase due to thick fog – but he was thrilled by the outcome.

Mullins fielded four runners in the Grade One feature at Punchestown and while it was no surprise Min’s biggest threat emerged from his own stable, not too many would have predicted it would come from Tornado Flyer.

The only Mullins runner not making his seasonal debut, his fitness told because while Allaho and latterly Melon dropped away, Tornado Flyer was still upsides jumping the last.

But Min, ridden by Patrick Mullins, pulled out even more and the Ryanair Chase winner became the first horse to land the John Durkan three times.

Your first 30 days for just £1

“To win it first time out was a big effort. He was very brave and did everything right,” said Mullins.

“He had to fend off a late challenge from his stablemate, who also ran very well.

“He’s won three John Durkans now which is brilliant, and each one under a different jockey which is a record in itself. I’m very happy with him.

“I’d imagine we’ll do whatever we did last year with him, which was the Dublin Racing Festival after this.”

Mullins was also able to celebrate Chacun Pour Soi’s comeback victory in the Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase at Cork.

Like Min owned by Rich Ricci, he was among the favourites for last season’s Queen Mother Champion Chase only to be ruled out on the morning of the race and Mullins is plotting a route back to Cheltenham.

Last season he began his campaign with a defeat at Leopardstown over Christmas before returning to winning ways at the Dublin Racing Festival in February.

While perhaps not at his exuberant best, he did not need to be and had the race won when stablemate Cash Back fell at the last, bringing down Djingle.

“With Chacun Pour Soi it was a case of trying to get a clear round in before the Grade Ones later in the season,” said Mullins.

“When the opportunity arose, at the last minute we decided to head down there and it was nice to get a Grade Two and a run under his belt.

“He did what he had to do, he wasn’t impressive or anything, but he just did what he had to do.

“He could run at Christmas and the Dublin Festival, but I haven’t any firm plans made. We’ll see how he comes out of this.”

Chacun Pour Soi makes no mistake at Cork

Chacun Pour Soi justified long odds-on favouritism to make a winning return to action in the Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase at Cork.

Trained by Willie Mullins, the eight-year-old does not have many miles on the clock and showed his class when beating stablemate Min in the Dublin Chase last season.

He was among the favourites for the Queen Mother Champion Chase but missed the race at the 11th hour with a minor setback and was having his first run for 309 days.

With stable jockey Paul Townend staying loyal to Chacun Pour Soi rather than riding Min in the John Durkan Memorial at Punchestown, the 1-5 market leader was settled in third as Djingle and Cash Back forced the gallop.

Just briefly Townend had to give his mount a shake of the reins to take closer order entering the straight, but he was soon back on the bridle and a good leap at the last sealed the deal.

Stablemate Cash Back looked booked for second but took a crashing fall at the last, bringing down Djingle. Thankfully both horses and jockeys escaped unhurt.

While Betfair trimmed the winner into 11-4 from 3-1 for Cheltenham in March, Coral went 3-1 from 7-2.

“It was a great start for him. He was fairly asleep early on in the race and got a good blow into himself,” said Townend.

“He had the other two well beaten when they fell at the last and was entitled to win. Thankfully he did and it’s good to get him back on the track.”

Paul Townend with Chacun Pour Soi after victory at Cork
Paul Townend with Chacun Pour Soi after victory at Cork (Thomas Weekes/PA)

Regarding his jumping, Townend added: “Touch wood, he’s deadly – I don’t want to put the mockers on him. He’s very good.

“The other two have to show their hands earlier with the way they race, he just had that bit of class.

“He took a good blow and I think he’ll come on plenty for it.”

All eyes on returning Chacun Pour Soi at Cork

Chacun Pour Soi begins a campaign connections hope will culminate with a belated tilt at the Queen Mother Champion Chase in Sunday’s Kerry Group Hilly Way Chase at Cork.

The Willie Mullins-trained eight-year-old was considered Ireland’s leading hope for last season’s Champion Chase after beating esteemed stable companion Min at the Dublin Racing Festival at Leopardstown in February.

However, while the French import travelled to Cheltenham, he had to be withdrawn on the morning of the race due to a stone bruise, while the coronavirus outbreak prevented him bidding for compensation at either Aintree or Punchestown.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Chacun Pour Soi will be all the rage to make a successful return in a race Mullins has already won 10 times, with Douvan and Un De Sceaux among the equine stars to feature on the recent roll of honour.

Patrick Mullins, assistant to his father, said: “Chacun Pour Soi is in great form at home. The Hilly Way has been a very lucky race for us and this looks an ideal opportunity to start his season.

“Hopefully all roads lead to the Champion Chase at Cheltenham in March.”

Chacun Pour Soi carries the familiar colours of Rich Ricci, who would surely love to provide Mullins with his very first Champion Chase success next spring.

Speaking on the Nick Luck Daily Podcast, Ricci’s racing manager Joe Chambers said: “The situation is he’s in very good form at home and worked very well on Tuesday.

“Last year he started off at Leopardstown at Christmas and it was pretty evident in his subsequent run at the Dublin Racing Festival that he had improved a lot fitness-wise for that. Willie is happy enough to let him take his chance under a penalty at Cork on Sunday.

“He’s obviously got a lot of ability, but it was a kick in the nether regions on the Wednesday morning of Cheltenham when Willie called to say he couldn’t run in the Queen Mother.

Chosen Mate is among Chacun Pour Soi's rivals
Chosen Mate is among Chacun Pour Soi’s rivals (Tim Goode/PA)

“I’d like to think he’s up being extremely competitive in a Champion Chase – I think he has demonstrated he has a bit of a ‘wow’ factor about him.

“We’d love to have a clear run with him and not be in any doubt where we stand.”

Chacun Pour Soi is joined by stable companion Cash Back in the Grade Two contest, while Gordon Elliott’s Grand Annual winner Chosen Mate and Darasso from Joseph O’Brien’s yard also feature in a seven-strong field.