Posts

UPDATED: Cheltenham Festival 2016: Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

We're away and, after a first day of Annie-Mull magic and Min mayhem, there are still three more to go. Don't get too high if Tuesday was good to you; don't get too low if it was cruel to you. We need our wits about us for the long haul: leg two of our quadruped journey starts here...

1.30 Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle Preview

One of the strongest novice contests at the Festival, and historically a good portent of future Champion Hurdlers. Indeed, this was the Cheltenham launchpad for Messrs. I 'braq and H. Eustace to claim multiple blue riband titles, as well as Faugheen, who may yet improve on his score of one. Last year's event has yet to prove its worth but there is every chance that the 2016 renewal will revert to vintage type.

It has also been a punter-friendly contest down the years with every winner bar Massinis Maguire (20/1) returning 12/1 or shorter going all the way back to Danoli in 1994.

I previewed this race on 9th March here, and I nominated A Toi Phil without Yanworth, and a small bet on O O Seven each way. Since I wrote that, a certain Yorkhill has snubbed his Supreme invitation and gatecrashed the Neptune party. He's a huge runner here and, if he acts on quicker ground and it becomes a foot race up the hill (as opposed to a drawn out slog from further out), he could just gobble the whole enchilada.

Certainly he's a very nasty thorn in the side of our 'without' wager, Yorkhill now trading at 5/6 on bet365 in that market. This race is in danger of getting away from us in an ante post context, so below are two suggestions IF the prices become available (they are not at time or writing, and if they don't manifest, I'll be sitting tight on what is already invested and waiting for race two).

Likely Pace Angles:

Yala Enki and It'safreebee should roll along in front ensuring an honest gallop. I expect Yanworth to sit quietly until the second circuit and start moving up along the back straight.

Tipped already: 

1 pt win A Toi Phil 'without Yanworth' 7/2

0.25 pts e/w O O Seven 25/1 1/4 1-2-3

Tips:

There's very little juice in the early prices, so here is a couple of 'contingent' suggestions, based on if the price becomes available.

1 pt Yanworth IF he becomes available at 7/4

1 pt Yorkhill IF he becomes available at 3/1

Best Neptune Novices' Hurdle offers:

I've highlighted those I think are especially interesting for this race... particularly if you like either of the top two in the market

SKYBET - Money back as a free bet if you back a loser (max £25)
BET365 - Back 4/1+ winner on live C4 race, get a risk-free bet on next C4 race (max £25)
PADDY - Money back as a free bet if your horse is 2nd (max £25)
HILLS - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in this race (max £25)
CORAL - Money back as a free bet if your horse falls  (max £25)
BETFAIR SPORTS - Back a winner at 3/1+, get a free bet to same stake (max £25)
BETVICTOR - Money back as a free bet if 2nd to Mullins horse (max £25)
LADBROKES - Money back as a free bet if the Fav wins (max £25)
BOYLE - Money back as a free bet if 2nd or 3rd to SP Fav (max £25)
BETBRIGHT - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any Cheltenham race (max £25)

**

2.10 RSA Chase

Another early preview race - view the RSA Chase Preview here - and one in which I fancied No More Heroes to win, and Vyta Du Roc as a reasonable each way chance. Both line up in a select field of eight, with More Of That - former World Hurdle winner - shading favouritism.

It is easy to see why More Of That would be favourite: he was the best of these over hurdles (rated as high as 169) and his chase mark is still a stone below that, 154. If he can step forward to within hailing distance of his chase figure, he'll take a lot of beating. It is a sizeable 'if', however, based on, granted, limited, chasing evidence. He's not been seen much since that famous day in 2014 when he fended off Annie Power and the rest (that form rather franked yesterday - ahem!); and his better chase run was over the shorter of the two races he's had so far over fences. Still, that was on soft ground with his best form on quicker. He has a clear chance on ground that is certainly quick.

No More Heroes has the most in the book over fences, courtesy of a pair of Grade 1 victories this winter. He was one of the most unlucky horses at last year's Festival when having the door shut on him up the inside rail as he made his charge for Albert Bartlett glory. He was the value at 9/4 and remains the value in my opinion, at around the same price, though there is an unanswered question about fast ground.

This looks a shallow race and there is a good chance of Vyta Du Roc making the frame, with no such turf doubts in his case. He was in the process of running closest to Windsor Park in last year's Neptune when absolutely howitzing the last and, if jumping clear, his Reynoldstown form looks solid.

The ante post picks are still around the same price, and I'd be happy enough with them - I certainly won't be adding any arrows now. But if you're not on already, I wouldn't put you off joining the No More Heroes/Vyta Du Roc party.

Likely Pace Angles:

Seeyouatmidnight has one way of running: all guns from the front, and he should get his way there. That said, More Of That went on last time and might bid to stay out of trouble again. Expect No More Heroes to be more patiently ridden, sitting in behind the pace setters.

Tipped already: 

1.5 pt win No More Heroes 9/4
0.75 pt e/w Vyta DuRoc 12/1

Day of Race Pick:

None

Best RSA Chase offers:

Most appropriate (in my opinion!) offers in this race are highlighted...

BET365 - Back 4/1+ winner on live C4 race, get a risk-free bet on next C4 race (max £25)
PADDY - Money back as a free bet if your horse is 2nd (max £25)
HILLS - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any Cheltenham race (max £25)
CORAL - Money back as a free bet if your horse falls  (max £25)
BETFAIR SPORTS - Back a winner at 3/1+, get a free bet to same stake (max £25)
BETVICTOR - Money back as a free bet if 2nd to Mullins horse (max £25)
LADBROKES - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any C4 race (max £25)
BOYLE - Money back as a free bet if 2nd or 3rd to SP Fav (max £25)
BETBRIGHT - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any Cheltenham race (max £25)

**

2.50 Coral Cup

A race where 26 are scheduled to face the starter in one of the most competitive handicaps of the season. This is trophy wagering stuff, and I'll mostly be trying to get through the placepot. But I'll probably have a cheeky bet on something, so let's look at some who might go well.

Big field form is very important in races like this, as is Festival form. Call The Cops beat all in the Pertemps over three miles last year, thus scoring highly on both counts, and was entitled to need his first run since Aintree last April when blowing up in a recent Musselburgh handicap. That was over six furlongs further than this too. 33/1 about a horse proven in the conditions is fair, if not spectacular, on the basis of a stone hike in the weights for last season's endeavours.

Out in front isn't a bad place to be with scrimmaging behind assured, so Baron Alco might offer hope 'til he runs out of rope. He's been progressive this season, moving up from 116 to 140 in the ratings, and may not be done with yet. I doubt anyone would begrudge trainer Gary Moore a winner at this Festival after the rotten luck he's had with Violet Dancer, Ar Mad and Traffic Fluide all missing the gig. At least two of them will have fine chances next term, albeit perhaps against each other (and Un De Sceaux and Douvan in what could be the mother of all Queen Mother's!)

Back to Baron Alco, and he's a hard horse to pass, eventually giving best to Rock The Kasbah last time, but with fifteen others fended off. That one re-engages here, on two pounds worse terms, so his quote of 14/1 compares unfavourably with Baron Alco's 25/1, on the face of it at least. In fact, Rock The Kasbah may be the more progressive, though both have ten runs on the board. Philip Hobbs' lad has won five of his ten, including his last two, and will be close to the pace.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Diamond King, in the same ownership as Rock The Kasbah - that of the Whateley's - is trained in Ireland by Gordon Elliott. He's been characteristically shrewdly campaigned at around two miles, his breeding suggesting the step up to this trip is what he's been screaming for. For all that, Elliott has won just two handicap hurdles at the Festival, from 28 tries. Not a bad strike rate but not sufficient to excite me to take 8/1.

One thing worth noting in the Coral Cup is the record of French-bred's. Since 1997 - 18 renewals - they've won eight, from 88 runners. That's 44% of the winners, including the last three, from 18% of the runners.

Politologue, representing last year's winning trainer, Paul Nicholls, fits the bill well and, like that one (Aux Ptits Soins), is a handicap debutant. He's raced on soft surfaces exclusively thus far, and I'm not totally convinced by his breeding. Nicholls himself was scoring his maiden Coral Cup at the 17th time of asking in this race last term, so 8/1 is resistible.

In the same stable, and another French bred, is Baoulet Delaroque, aged five. That age group, capable of most improvement all other things being equal, have been responsible for three of the last six winners (six year olds took two of the other three), and I like this fellow. On his first start in a handicap, he skipped away from The Geegeez Geegee and co in a Class 3 event at Wincanton. He then followed up a week later in a better race at Huntingdon, a penalty for which has enabled him to creep in at the bottom of the weights here. Boyle's 16/1 and five places is attractive.

It is way too early to be writing off Willie Mullins' Blazer, who made a great impression at Leopardstown before flopping in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury. He may not have been suited by the lack of pace there, so this likely quicker tempo should enable him to show his true colours. Given that those colours are the green and gold of J P McManus, he may go off somewhat shorter than the current offer of 16/1 and again, he's playable at that price point.

There are roughly twenty more with chances, so don't take this as a full precis of the race, but rather a few possible options.

Likely Pace Angles:

Baron Alco should be on the speed, as might Avant Tout and Mister Fizz in a race with a nice shape to it. Big fields like this inevitably lead to hard luck stories, so caveat emptor.

Tentative picks:

0.5 pts e/w Baoulet Delaroque 16/1 Boylesports 1/4 1-2-3-4-5

0.5 pts e/w Blazer 16/1 Skybet 1/4 1-2-3-4-5

Best Coral Cup offers:

Look for a bookie paying five, or preferably six, places. Sponsors CORAL are paying SIX places; most others are paying five, except sportingbet, 888sport and Hills.

BET365 - Back 4/1+ winner on live C4 race, get a risk-free bet on next C4 race (max £25)
PADDY - Money back as a free bet if your horse is 2nd (max £25)
HILLS - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any Cheltenham race (max £25)
CORAL - Money back as a free bet if your horse falls  (max £25)
BETFAIR SPORTS - Back a winner at 3/1+, get a free bet to same stake (max £25)
BETVICTOR - Money back as a free bet if 2nd to Mullins horse (max £25)
LADBROKES - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any C4 race (max £25)
BOYLE - Money back as a free bet if 2nd or 3rd to SP Fav (max £25)
BETBRIGHT - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any Cheltenham race (max £25)

**

3.30 Queen Mother Champion Chase

One of the earliest previewed races, I looked at the Champion Chase on 26th January. In that preview, I confidently nominated Traffic Fluide as a great alternative to the favourite, Un De Sceaux. As you may have read above, that went west with the unfortunate injury to Gary Moore's runner. As usual, we protected our bankroll with NRNB, but we were denied a fine chance of a return in the process.

This is a race in which I was trying desperately to get Un De Sceaux beaten but, ultimately, I think he is likely to prevail. From a sporting perspective, I'm looking forward to that very much. From a wagering stance, odds on is generally unplayable for a man of my limited means.

There are so many question marks over the field, as I alluded to in my preview, that I'm going to sit this one out.

I can report that there is a lot of stable confidence behind Sprinter Sacre, who is apparently back to somewhere close to his best. If that turns out to be even remotely true, then he'll be hard to kick out of the frame and 5/1, a quarter the odds, means you'll be able to buy a cup of tea with the profit.

Felix Yonger stays further, something which might be advantageous if there's a ferocious early meter, and he's been well touted by the Mullins camp along with his more established stable mate.

Special Tiara, if not thrust into a speed duel with UDS, is another who could hit the board. But I'm looking forward to watching this one, not wagering on it.

Likely Pace Angles:

Special Tiara and Un De Sceaux are the clear pace angles, with Just Cameron (if he can get close to them) and Sizing Granite other possible for the early lead. That should make for a frenetic gallop, and the prospect of jumping errors. It should also ensure that you need a strong stayer at the trip to prevail.

Interest bet, if I must:

0.25 pt e/w Felix Yonger 14/1 general

Best Champion Chase offers:

Lots of ways to get a free bet if your pick runs close to Un De Sceaux, and Boyle especially looks tempting (if you can get on!)

BET365 - Back 4/1+ winner on live C4 race, get a risk-free bet on next C4 race (max £25)
PADDY - Money back as a free bet if your horse is 2nd (max £25)
HILLS - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any Cheltenham race (max £25)
CORAL - Money back as a free bet if your horse falls  (max £25)
BETFAIR SPORTS - Back a winner at 3/1+, get a free bet to same stake (max £25)
BETVICTOR - Money back as a free bet if 2nd to Mullins horse (max £25)
LADBROKES - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any C4 race (max £25)
BOYLE - Money back as a free bet if 2nd or 3rd to SP Fav (max £25)
BETBRIGHT - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any Cheltenham race (max £25)

**

4.10 Cross Country Chase

I love this race, though I'm unsure what effect the move to a conditions race - it has thus far always been a handicap - will have on results. Despite that uncertainty, I've played Josies Orders for my biggest ante post stake. He's two from two over these fences, giving the impression on both occasions that he had more in the tank.

Josie was rated as much as 18lb 'wrong' with some of his rivals when he won here the last day, and he's still nine pounds amiss with Third Intention (cross country debut) and five awry with the king, Balthazar.

These races tend to turn into sprints up the home straight, however, and in that context we know Josies Orders has what it takes. He will be spot on after a spin over hurdles a month ago, and he'd be my idea of the nap of the week (ignoring the really short stuff). The 11/4 currently available is very generous. I reckon Josies should be about 7/4.

The absence of Foxrock from the final entries helps, but there are still dangers. The Balthazar King of two years ago would be the horse to beat, but he had an horrific fall at Aintree a year or so ago and has had some major surgery to repair that. Trainer Philip Hobbs reports that BK is going well but he's got a dent in his ribcage as a memento of that Liverpool crash, and Hobbs is unsure whether that will impact his ability to get as much oxygen as he used to. A more everyday concern would be the lack of a run for a year. If my wager has to come unstuck, I hope it is at the hooves of this fellow, but that's my heart speaking. My head can't really see it.

I've written some rude things about perma-loser (see, there I go again), Quantitativeeasing, but there's little doubt he's a talented fellow in these races. He showed that ability when winning the Risk Of Thunder Chase, a cross country race that has been a great portent to this race, at Punchestown in November; and he was then down the field with barn mate, Josies Orders, at Navan last time.

The Risk Of Thunder looked a sub-standard renewal to my eye, and I would hope that the favourite has too many guns for QE, even if that one brings his A game and doesn't find his usual poor luck in running. Again, the Risk Of Thunder was his first win for 22 starts. I think we all know how this ends. Sigh.

It is difficult to envisage the likes of hardy perennials Sire Collonges and Any Currency having the boot to usurp Josie, nor can I foresee Rivage d'Or rolling back the clock (or turning back the years, if you prefer that mixed metaphor) to repeat last year's win. But they are mostly all credible place players in a race I love to watch. Others are less keen, shame on them!

Likely Pace Angles:

Pace? What pace? This is the Cross Country race! Valadom and Ballyboker Bridge, a pair of non-stayers, should go on. But, in all probability, they'll bimble round until the inner circuit and then dash up the hill.

Cross Country Bet:

3 pts win Josies Orders 11/4 general

Best Cross Country Chase offers:

BEWARE: Paddy and Hills only a 1/5 1-2-3, all others 1/4 1-2-3. Again, Boyle is a great option here if you fear Josies Orders but fancy something else.

BET365 - Back 4/1+ winner on live C4 race, get a risk-free bet on next C4 race (max £25)
PADDY - Money back as a free bet if your horse is 2nd (max £25)
HILLS - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any Cheltenham race (max £25)
CORAL - Money back as a free bet if your horse falls  (max £25)
BETFAIR SPORTS - Back a winner at 3/1+, get a free bet to same stake (max £25)
BETVICTOR - Money back as a free bet if 2nd to Mullins horse (max £25)
LADBROKES - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any C4 race (max £25)
BOYLE - Money back as a free bet if 2nd or 3rd to SP Fav (max £25)
BETBRIGHT - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any Cheltenham race (max £25)

**

4.50 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

Probably the most impossible handicap of the week, and that is some back-handed compliment! 22 runners, 17 of which are making their handicap debut, and all of which are capable of improving on what is in the book already.

Despite the folly of this race, I have an ante-post position on Diego Du Charmil and, if I'm honest, I haven't got a clue about him. I heard the news that he worked well with Triumph Hurdle second favourite, Zubayr, and a literal interpretation of that gives him obvious claims in a handicap where he carries nine pounds less than the top weight. Sadly, that is all I can tell you about a horse yet to win in three starts in France. Actually, it's not quite all. I can tell you I wouldn't touch it with a bargepole at odds of 6/1.

This is a guessers' race, and there is at least a touch of certainty about the form of top weight, Fixe Le Kap. We know he's good because he, unlike most of his rivals, has already demonstrated as much with two juvenile hurdle wins and second place in the Victor Ludorum Hurdle.

I'd imagine a French bred horse will win this, but given that narrows things only down to thirteen, it doesn't really help. Go mob handed in the placepot and repair to the bar!

Likely Pace Angles:

On what we know - not a lot - Duke Of Medina and Romain De Senam might lead. But then again, any number of horses hitherto hiding lights under bushels may suddenly decide front rank is the place to be.

One moderate value guess amongst guesses:

0.25 pt e/w Fixe Le Kap 14/1 Coral, Hills

 

Best Fred Winter offers:

bet365 are the only bookie paying FIVE places...

BET365 - Back 4/1+ winner on live C4 race, get a risk-free bet on next C4 race (max £25)
PADDY - Money back as a free bet if your horse is 2nd (max £25)
HILLS - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any Cheltenham race (max £25)
CORAL - Money back as a free bet if your horse falls  (max £25)
BETFAIR SPORTS - Back a winner at 3/1+, get a free bet to same stake (max £25)
BETVICTOR - Money back as a free bet if 2nd to Mullins horse (max £25)
LADBROKES - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any C4 race (max £25)
BOYLE - Money back as a free bet if 2nd or 3rd to SP Fav (max £25)
BETBRIGHT - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any Cheltenham race (max £25)

**

5.30 Champion Bumper

This is another guessers' paradise, and I'm afraid I just don't know. I really, honestly, genuinely don't know.

Coeur Blimey wants softer ground, but as the full brother to a horse geegeez readers own, called East Wing (unraced to date), I hope he wins. The one to get closest to him last time was Ballyandy, and he probably has the best form in the book. Then there are 22 others in the race, all of whom are lovely sorts who will have big futures.

Watch the race, take notes, and have a nice cup of tea.

Likely Pace Angles:

Seriously, I just don't know.

Tips:

Don't have a bet in this race.

Best Champion Bumper offers:

Plenty of firms paying 1/4 1-2-3-4 (so they should!) including bet365, skybet, totesport, betfred, BetVictor, Ladbrokes, Coral, winner, betfair sports and racebets.

BET365 - Back 4/1+ winner on live C4 race, get a risk-free bet on next C4 race (max £25)
PADDY - Money back as a free bet if your horse is 2nd (max £25)
HILLS - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any Cheltenham race (max £25)
CORAL - Money back as a free bet if your horse falls  (max £25)
BETFAIR SPORTS - Back a winner at 3/1+, get a free bet to same stake (max £25)
BETVICTOR - Money back as a free bet if 2nd to Mullins horse (max £25)
LADBROKES - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any C4 race (max £25)
BOYLE - Money back as a free bet if 2nd or 3rd to SP Fav (max £25)
BETBRIGHT - Money back as a free bet if 2nd in any Cheltenham race (max £25)

**

p.s. how's the Festival going for you so far? Good luck? Bad luck? Sporting highlights? Leave a comment on the blog to let us know!

2016 Queen Mother Champion Chase: Preview, Trends, Tips

The Cheltenham Festival Day 2 highlight is the Queen Mother Champion Chase, a ferocious test of speed, stamina and jumping ability where only the classiest prevail.

Shortcut to 2016 Champion Chase Trends
Shortcut to 2016 Champion Chase Form Preview
Shortcut to 2016 Champion Chase Tips

In this post, we'll review the main trends (attempting to ensure there is at least a scintilla of statistical significance), look at the key form lines, and arrive at a selection that is a bigger price than its chance implies. At least, I hope we will...

Champion Chase 2016 Trends

Sifting through the trends, gratitude is due to horseracebase.com from where I source a lot of the raw data which is then cooked and crunched into the tables and inferences hereafter.

Champion Chase Age Trends

As can be seen from the chart below, younger horses have consistently out-performed their numbers. In the 18 renewals since 1997 (foot and mouth wiped out 2001's Festival - whatever did we do that year?), the sole five-year-old runner - the brilliant Master Minded, who was simply electric that year - won.

The 13 six-year-old entries have claimed two victories - Master Minded again and Voy Por Ustedes - as well as four further places. And those a year older than that won thrice from 21 starts and nabbed four more places.

Each individual age group took both more wins and more places than their pro rata representation; and collectively they won six Champion Chases from just 35 entries. 33% winners, and 27% placers, from 21% runners.

What is particularly noteworthy is that five of the six winners, from 23 of the 35 runners, aged seven or younger were bred in France. 83% winners from 66% runners.

Age Trends for the Champion Chase

Age Trends for the Champion Chase

 

Champion Chase Trends: Horse Origin

And that leads me nicely on to horse origin/breeding. While seven of the 18 Champion Chase winners since 1997 were French bred, from 53 runners (39% winners, 31% runners), there were actually more Irish bred Champion Chasers during this period.

Eight winners (44%) were conceived in Ireland, from 78 runners (45%). Dead on what might have been expected based on weight of numbers. And, let's face it, there have already been a lot of numbers in these opening salvos: stick with it, the words are worth the wait (perhaps - I'll let you be the judge of that).

The other three winners (17%) were GB-bred, from 28 runners (16%). Again, that's about par for their representation.

Germany (0 wins, 3 places, from 7 runs), USA ("ofer" 5 as they say, or zero wins and places from five runs as we say), and New Zealand (one runner, no show) make up the dataset.

Champion Chase Last Time Out Trends

Last day form figures can be a little misleading, but not always. For most big heats, be it a heritage handicap or a Championship Graded race, a solid recent run is a must. The Queen Mother Champion Chase is no exception, as the table below illustrates.

36% of QMCC runners won their previous start, and they accounted for 72% of the winners - twice as many as might have been expected on numerical representation. They also claimed exactly half of the podium positions on offer. Perhaps most remarkably, they were good for a level stakes profit at Starting Price.

With 10/1 Big Zeb and 16/1 Newmill in the midst of the more fancied last time out victors, don't be too hasty to write one off at a price if it beat all the last day.

Whilst none of the 28 horses to finish outside the first four or pulled up last time even made the frame, horses that fell or unseated on their most recent start accounted for two wins and two further places from just eight runners. Plenty of the best 'speed chasers' get very low at their fences - it's part of what makes them so fast, Moscow Flyer perhaps being the best example - so while it might be a heart in mouth ride, backing a last day faller could still pay off, if your ticker can handle it!

Champion Chase Last Time Out Position trends

Champion Chase Last Time Out Position trends

Champion Chase: Seasonal Runs

How many races prior to Cheltenham is optimal? According to the evidence of the last 18 renewals, more than none and less than five, with all winners bar the five-time seasonal starter, Sire De Grugy, fitting that bill.

Of course, it is important to note that most runners will sit in that camp: 75% in the period under scrutiny.

Those to have had three or four runs in the season to date claimed eleven wins (61%) and 32 places (62%) from 86 runners (50%), and that could be a fertile middle ground between match fitness and over-exposure.

Champion Chase Seasonal Runs Trends

Champion Chase Seasonal Runs Trends

 

Champion Chase: Other Trendy Notes

Whilst not exactly a trend, it is worth being aware that 11 of the last 15 Champion Chase winners ran in Sandown's December showpiece, the Tingle Creek. Dodging Bullets was the latest, winning there and following up in the Clarence House before proving too good for Somersby (recommended each way at 40/1 in this preview last year) and the rest in the big one.

Dodging Bullets hasn't been seen since, having had a splint injury (whatever that is), but is being targeted at Newbury's Game Spirit Chase on 13th February.

This year's Tingle Creek saw Sire de Grugy steal Special Tiara's racing line at the last and claim a narrow victory over him, with Vibrato Valtat, Somersby and Mr Mole well beaten off.

*

Your first 30 days for just £1

In the last 35 years, only Newmill (16/1) has started bigger than 11/1 and prevailed in the Champion Chase.

****

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2016 Form Preview

The roll of honour for the Champion Chase is as long and distinguished as you might expect, and includes National Hunt greats such as Fortria, Flyingbolt, Hilly Way, Badsworth Boy, Viking Flagship, Moscow Flyer, Azertyuiop, Master Minded and, most recently, Sprinter Sacre.

Those are big hoof prints in which to follow and, while Dodging Bullets was the best of his peer group last year, the feeling persisted that this was a division in transition, a sense lent ballast by Un De Sceaux's romp in the novice equivalent, the Arkle Trophy.

That said, both Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy - winners in 2013 and 2014 respectively - were present, and indeed headed the market at 9/4 and 5/2 respectively. Neither could make the frame, Sire de Grugy's ten length fourth the better of the pair. Both have returned for another crack this season.

Sprinter Sacre put the disappointment of pulling up in that Champion Chase behind him with a defiant second to Special Tiara in the season-ending Celebration Chase at Sandown, and he's two from two this season.

First up was an easy victory over Somersby in the Shloer Chase at Cheltenham, before a narrower verdict over Sire de Grugy at Kempton. Both of those wins were in Grade 2 company, and that looks shrewd campaigning by connections for a horse probably on his lap of honour.

Whilst the visual impression was joyful as he bounded clear of the noble but aging Somersby up the Cheltenham hill, it was a shallow contest in behind with Mr Mole looking at odds with the game and Savello and Simply Ned 17 lengths and more not good enough last year in the main event.

Sprinter Sacre is the second favourite at a top price of 5/1 and, for me, he's easy to strike a line through, even though there are ramifications of so doing. It will be as pleasing to the eye as it will be painful to the wallet if I'm wrong, so at least sport will win if I/we don't.

Those ramifications are to be found in the incestuous form lines surrounding Hendo's Sprinter. The two mile chasing fraternity is small at the pinnacle, which means meetings between its number are frequent. So far this season, Sprinter Sacre has beaten Sire de Grugy by a fine margin; Sire de Grugy has beaten Special Tiara by a fine margin; and everyone has beaten Vibrato Valtat, Savello, Mr Mole, and Simply Ned.

The point here is that if you like Sprinter Sacre at 5/1, you really ought to be betting Sire de Grugy or, more likely, Special Tiara at three times the price, each way.

Gary Moore was pretty honest about having Sire de Grugy 'off for his life' (my words, not his) in the Clarence House last weekend. In the event, he was good enough to run Un De Sceaux to five lengths and nab second. Just good enough. More of that anon.

That tempers enthusiasm considerably, and having watched him miss the frame last year, I am happy to watch him miss the frame again this. That said, he's another where pain in the wallet would be significantly eased by warmth in the heart were he to roll back the (two) years since he claimed the Champion Chase crown.

From those three hoofed musketeers, that leaves Special Tiara. Hovering around the same 14/1 mark as SdG, this one is easier to like, for me at least. His best form seems to be on top of the ground, and there has to be a better than even money chance of good to soft or quicker come middle March.

His recent runs offer hope of a medal, too. A three length third in the Champion Chase last year, when leading for much of the race, he was six lengths too good for Sprinter Sacre in the Celebration Chase six weeks later. This season he has yet to fire, though knowing Henry de Bromhead as I unquestionably don't, I'd imagine he's targeting his lad for one day only.

The Tiara was too bad to be true when whacked in the Fortria Chase, a race he was also whacked in - albeit slightly less resoundingly - last season, on his seasonal bow. He was a different proposition in the Tingle Creek and might have won but for the aforementioned mid-air barging march, from which he came off far worse.

Beaten three-quarters of a length there, it was still a fine performance, and he could have another run before the Festival, ground depending. The weather looks to have scuppered plans to compete in the Tied Cottage this weekend, however, so he may be a beat shy of concert pitch at the Fez.

In any case, I do have another reservation with Special Tiara, and that is his hunger for the lead. As we'll see, he won't get the unpestered pace-making position he did last year. So, while he has battled back to the front in the past, that's a concern.

It's probably about time we discussed the elephant in the room. Actually, Un De Sceaux is anything but pachydermous on the evidence of a couple of high speed collisions with the birch on his autumnal début in each of the last two seasons.

That buzzy early frailty - call it premature ejaculation if you will - has only fleetingly rendered flaccid the beast of a lover that is UdS. Indeed, though rather messing up my clumsy (and crude) metaphor, those two tumbles are the only times in a twelve race career he hasn't come first. Guffaw.

Most recently, he was a casual five lengths too good for Gary Moore's pair, Sire de Grugy, and Traffic Fluide, who finished second and third respectively. Having watched the finish several times, I didn't feel Un de Sceaux had bundles more to offer, though he may be 'tighter' physically for Cheltenham.

Moreover, he made no headway from the last on the third, though it's right to say that neither did he lose ground, and for him the job was done.

The other point to note with regard to Un De Sceaux is that he loves to lead. So does Special Tiara. They can't both lead. It is more likely that UdS will get the lead, but how readily Special Tiara cedes it, and how much energy the favourite exerts in his quest for pole position, is a key consideration.

If there remains a niggle that he can be beaten, either by the fences or an upwardly mobile rival, there is grudging acceptance that even money and a shade of odds on across the market is entirely reasonable. UdS is a most obvious candidate for Champion Chase primacy.

Vautour is a dangerous floater and, for the purposes of this preview, I am assuming he will take up an engagement elsewhere. He seems to be entered for everything from this to the Gold Cup to the Wimbledon Ladies' Singles. If he does line up here, his chance is very good - certainly better (in my opinion) than the 3/1 non-runner money back that tops the insurance markets.

Moving back to the likely runners, and specifically that former French fencer, Fluide, Traffic Fluide. I remember thinking he cost a lot of money when I saw him win a novices' handicap chase at Plumpton this time last year. €90,000 (about sixty-eight grand) doesn't look too bad now.

After Plumpton, he took in Esher (easy Sandown win) and Aintree (solid third in Grade 1). And then he went to Ascot for that Grade 1 against UdS and SdG (excuse the acronyms, I'm in the early throes of RSI - there I go again - and can't rein in this verbosity).

He was a stride away from bagging second at Ascot, and that when he was expected to need the run according to his trainer before - and after - the race. In his last three contests, he's improved from 135 to 166 in leaps of +13, +6, +12. As a lightly raced six year old, there has to be every chance of at least another five pounds of improvement, taking him to around 170+.

That would give him the beating of almost all of this field. And here's another thing; two actually. First, he probably wants it a bit quicker than the soft at Ascot on Saturday. And second, his versatile off the pace run style looks ideally suited to a race where there will be at least two hellbent on getting on with it.

The 2016 Champion Chase sets up for a closer, and this lad is that. He is also young (we've seen how well youth, especially les jeunes Francaises, have performed), progressive and comes from a trainer with some serious two mile chase talent in his barn - as well as this fellow and Sire de Grugy he has the exciting novice, Ar Mad.

The 25/1 has gone, the 20/1 has gone, the 16/1 is going. And, on the basis of the above, it's no surprise. In a race with plenty on the down escalator, this is a highly credible ascender.

But what of the champ? Dodging Bullets proved himself the best of his bunch three times in succession last season: in the Tingle Creek, the Clarence House and the Champion Chase. If he comes through his prep race at Newbury well, he'll likely shorten in the market, and he looks to hold robust if unexciting place claims.

This year is deeper than last year, where he beat the fantastic octogenarian Somersby and Special Tiara, who had done plenty earlier and was screaming for an oxygen mask up the hill. Somersby sadly looks to have conceded defeat to Old Father Time (not entered this year), meaning even the most optimistic of fans (that would be me) has to reluctantly let him pass.

[But, should the moment present itself, I will holler with the raucous abandon of an 'all in' heads up WSoP winner if the doddery old bugger can clamber up that incline in front].

Who's left? God's Own? Here is another I tipped last year, for the Arkle then, and at 33/1. He ran second to the current even money (and shorter) Champion Chase jolly that day, and he is a capable fellow. Very lightly raced this season on account of the ground, he's not been sighted since the Haldon Gold Cup where he ran a fair third on softer than ideal turf.

He needs it quick, which he will probably get; but his form looks to have plateaued at around the 160 mark (official rating). That's not good enough to win a Champion Chase even in a moderate year - which I don't think this is - and I doubt it's good enough to make the frame, even allowing for the fact that he's relatively unexposed and his trainer has his team in rude health.

Simonsig? He's a joker in the pack on his best form, for sure. But his best form was three years ago now, and the only sighting on a race track since was when beaten by fellow lengthy Hendo absentee, Bobs Worth, in a hurdle heat at Aintree back in November. The clock is ticking for this lad in more ways than one, and his top price of 16/1 (10/1 in a place, really, Corwwle?!) offers little wriggle room for the rigours of three years off injured. I can't honestly say I'll cheer if this one does me up, but I'm sure someone somewhere will. Good luck to 'em.

Josses Hill? Can't jump, won't jump. Didn't jump in the Tingle Creek where he ejected at the fourth. Not seen since. No tah. Felix Yonger? He's not getting any Yonger (groan) at ten and, though he won the Grade 1 Champion Chase at the Punchestown Festival last season, he beat an abject field for such a valuable and prestigious race.

The balance of his form gives him plenty of a stone to find, and he's hardly progressive after 22 career starts. Fine servant, as they say, but ain't winning a Champion Chase.

****

Queen Mother Champion Chase 2016 Tips

Un De Sceaux has an outstanding chance of following up his Arkle win last year with a Champion Chase title this time around. And, if you're in the business of backing probable winners that will eventually send you skint - but will provide for many tales of punting derring-do in between times - that chap is for you. He's classy and we might not have seen the best of him yet.

But if you want a bit more jam on your bread, albeit at the risk of winding up sans pain, then Traffic Fluide is the garçon. He is on a rapid upward curve, his trainer knows how to make this gig happen, and his run style looks perfectly suited to the race make up. Anything between soft and good should be dandy so, despite the fanciest prices having already gone, 16/1 is still tasty enough, each way and non-runner no bet. I'd guess he'll be close to a single figure price on the day.

If you want to take more of a chance, or potentially less of a chance, Skybet, Paddy and Betfair are betting without Un De Sceaux. It's more of a chance because this is not a non-runner no bet market, so if he fails to show, you've done your dough. It's less of a chance because he's 9/1 and 8/1 for the win and 2/1 or 9/5 for the place. [Stop Press: Skybet are NRNB on this market too]

Un De Sceaux could, deities forbid, come down. If he does, who would you wager to finish second. If he doesn't, with this option you've still got down to fourth place for an each way play. I prefer to back him to win only in the without market and each way in the 'with'.

Bonne chance, mes amis!

Champion Chase 2016 Selection

1 pt e/w Traffic Fluide 16/1 NRNB Skybet, Boyle, Betfair Sports, Racebets

0.5 pt win Traffic Fluide without Un De Sceaux 9/1 NRNB Skybet

[Further Stop Press: Traffic Fluide has suffered an injury and will not run at Cheltenham. We get our money back but we lose out on what promised to be a super spectacle.]

**

Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews

All of our in-depth previews, trends and tips can be found here:

Cheltenham Festival 2016 Race Guide

Cheltenham Festival 2013: Day Two Preview/Tips

Cheltenham Festival Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival Day Two Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2013: Day Two Preview

Day two (Wednesday) has good news and bad news for us. The good news is that there are still twenty races to go at. The bad news is that Day One is traditionally the easiest on which to find winners. Hmm, hope you had a decent start.

OK, no time for reflection, so let's push on with the first of the septet of Wednesday's fiendish equine sudoku's, the...

1.30 JOHN OAKSEY NATIONAL HUNT CHASE (Amateur Riders´

Novices´ Chase ) (CLASS 2) (5yo+) (4m)

Four miles. Amateur riders. Novice chasers. When deconstructing the ultimate safe wagering conveyance, it's Sprinter Sacre odds that you'd have any of that trio of conditions, let alone all three!

This is a stupid race, let's be clear about that from the outset. Even now they've made it a classier affair, you still see most of them fall over. Stupid. Hard luck punting stories are more abundant here than in a home for retired poker players. It's just stupid.

But... it does form the lead off leg for the placepot. And it has been won by the jolly old favourite for the past two years. So let's give it a lash.

National Hunt Chase Key Trends

Last two favourites won

8/11 finished 1-2 last time out

11/11 3+ chase starts

10/11 6-8yo

National Hunt Chase Form Preview

Back In Focus to win NH Chase?

Back In Focus to win NH Chase?

Back In Focus has had a great season so far, winning three novice chases, including a Grade 2 and a Grade 1 last time out. That's extremely strong form in this race. But the ground is a factor with him. He's done all his winning on soft or heavy, and when he came up against decent oppo on good turf at Aintree, he was stuffed senseless by Saint Are and most of the rest of the field. Lucky for him then, that it's on the soft side of good here.

Rival d'Estruval has been well backed for this, but I can't see it myself. He's been beating up mainly inferior rivals in the North and mostly on flat tracks. At the very least, he has to show he can win a Festival race on a seriously testing circuit, and the price doesn't allow for any wriggle room in that regard.

David Pipe's Buddy Bolero is filed firmly in the 'could be anything' dossier, and with all five of his runs to date having been on soft or heavy, his price acknowledges that he must have a great chance. Connections are obviously respected hugely,  and he ought to run very well if standing up, especially as his breeding lends credence to the notion that he's an out and out stayer.

Godsmejudge ran a blinder to be second in the Grade 3 Warwick staying handicap chase, but he was running on fumes at the death, and this is three furlongs further up a big hill in sticky ground. It's hard to crab a horse which has almost won over further than the vast majority of his rivals for being a doubtful stayer... but I do have a stamina niggle with him, after he showed his hand somewhat that day.

With five starts to his name, Godsmejudge is experienced, and he jumps pretty well in the main too. If he's not taken on for the lead early, and he stands up, he should still be involved at least until they turn for home. After that, the 'judge may well run out of juice.

Of the remainder, I'm far from confident that Tofino Bay will stay this far; Highland Lodge looks a really hard horse to catch right and is maybe a bleeder (previously nominated by me for the RSA, alas); and Hawkes Point could plod on into a place.

National Hunt Chase Tips

Not a race to get seriously involved with, unless you're currently very rich and don't mind being only quite rich by day's end. The Mullins runner obviously has the class if he can put in a clear round, and Buddy Bolero may be best of the rest.

Best value for National Hunt Chase: Back In Focus
Other likely contenders: Buddy Bolero
Longshot if on a going day: Highland Lodge

Betfred will give you the place part of your e/w bet back as a free bet if your horse finishes fourth here.

2.05 NEPTUNE INVESTMENT MANAGEMENT NOVICES´ HURDLE (Registered Baring Bingham Novices´ Hurdle) Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (2m5f)

A small field this year, with just ten slated to meet the starter, and a warm favourite in Pont Alexadre. He's very well regarded at home, so is it really a one horse race?

Neptune Novices' Hurdle Key Stats

14/15 were aged five or six

12/15 won last time (15/15 1-2-3 last time)

14/15 unrated or rated 138+

14/15 ran 16-60 days ago

Neptune Novices' Hurdle Form Preview

Pont Alexandre bidding to make Willie's day

Pont Alexandre bidding to make Willie's day

Pont Alexandre has a perfect profile for this, and comes from the extremely powerful Willie Mullins yard. He is three from three over hurdles, a hat-trick which includes a Grade 1 and a Grade 2 score. Clearly, there's a bundle of improvement possible.

But... he's a 6/4 shot, and his jumping has looked less than perfect so far. It's for that reason that I'm prepared to take him on at the price, despite his otherwise robust credentials.

The New One has been the apple of his trainer's eye for a while now, and he thinks this fellow might even be better than his Gold Cup winner, Imperial Commander. That's as maybe, but it's his credentials for this contest we're interested in, and they look good. He ran a fine race in the Champion bumper here on this day last year, and he again ran well here when just headed by At Fisher's Cross the last day.

Lest you think he's not quite good enough on these slopes, let me assure you that he's won twice here as well, in a Listed bumper and a decent novice hurdle. The ground will be no issue as it's what he's raced on for the most part this season, and his current form level puts him right in the mix.

Moreover, it was widely held that his jockey went too soon that day, and he's likely to be played later here, if he's still pitching with prospects.

Taquin de Seuil is the third musketeer at the top of the market, and he's an ex-flat racer from France. This contest is almost always won by a National Hunt type - that is, a more stoutly bred horse - and that's a negative for TdS. However, a four race hurdle career which has only one - small margin - defeat, and that to My Tent Or Yours, reads well enough.

He ought to be fine on the ground too, and ran on very nicely in a Grade 1 last time despite a novice'y leap at the last. He's clearly got a chance, but I just have a niggle about his flat breeding (by a ten furlong horse out of a miler) for such a stiff stamina examination.

Rule The World was something of a shock winner last time, but he was a facile one too and, though the form is suspect with long odds on Champagne Fever (winner of the Supreme Novices Hurdle on day one) running a clunker, it's hard to discredit the winner. His form profile looks quite solid too, with progression from race to race, and Minsk - a well beaten second last time - is a decent enough form stick.

With the turf not too distance a relation to the hock-deep quags he's been swimming though, and being that he's by a sire whose progeny have a marked preference for making a mark in the turf, Sulamani, he's sure to cope with the conditions. Whether he's good enough remains to be seen, but he should travel for a long way.

Chatterbox is the sort of 'now' horse which can do well in these type of events. Evidently not highly rated by his trainer when sent to contest a Huntingdon bumper in April last year, he was never in front until the line. Since then, he's won twice more and remains unbeaten.

The first of those two victories was eye-catching, because he beat none other than My Tent Or Yours by nearly five lengths. Now it's highly likely that the bare form flatters Chatterbox - a flatterbox, if you will - but nevertheless, you need to be good to even nick a race off My Tent.

He has since confirmed his upward form curve by beating the highly regarded Lac Fontana in a race which looks like it's going to work out well. Charlie Morlock, assistant trainer at Hendo's yard, reported that Chatterbox has improved a fair bit recently and, allied to a step up in trip - which looks ideal based on the way he's finished his races - this fellow could get on the podium.

Two Rockers is progressive and has been winning easily, including in Grade 2 company at Haydock last time, and he might get into it if not getting outpaced, but I doubt it.

I don't see the rest being quite good enough.

Neptune Novices' Hurdle Tips

Most Likely Winner: Pont Alexandre
Best Alternative: The New One (if not bitten by the bug at Twiston-Davies' yard)
Interesting at a price: Chatterbox

2.40  RSA CHASE (Grade 1) (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (3m 1/2f)

A decent race for me down the years, and I've a couple of strong-ish views again, which I've supported financially, natch! You definitely want a horse that stays here, and a grinder too, as they go at it from a long way out.

RSA Chase Key Stats

Last ten won or placed in a Grade 1 or 2 chase

14 of the last 15 finished first or second last time out

It's fifty years since a horse won this without a run in the same calendar year (!)

Your first 30 days for just £1

All of the last fifteen winners ran between 16 and 60 days prior

Every Feltham winner to run here has been beaten.

RSA Chase Form Preview

So it looks like a recent run and a good one at that, allied to a proven level of class, are pre-requisites here. Despite that sounding obvious, not all of the entries fit that fairly broad bill.

Dynaste, for instance, hasn't run since Boxing Day last year. He won the Feltham there too, which is a completely contrasting race to this, with speed favoured over guts and grinding. He's surely better suited to the Jewson, which is where he's headed.

Boston Bob is next in the betting and this boy is a classy plodder: just the attributes you need to win an RSA Chase. Last year, he was many people's 'banker' (if such a thing even exists), but got beaten by the late Brindisi Breeze. Since he's gone chasing, he's two from two, the latter in a Grade 1 which has been a very good trial for this.

But, despite winning both chase starts, he was all out and seriously laboured each time. The first day, he scrambled home by half a length from an above average (though nothing special) type called You Must Know Me, over two and a half miles.

Entitled to come on a lot for that - indeed, entitled to feel that race afterwards - Bob didn't surface again until 9th February, where he again got home by the skin of his teeth. But this time, the performance should be marked up considerably on the bare winning distances. He was outpaced as the field made a break for the line, and looked set to trail home in fourth place. In fact, he traded as high as 620 in running on Betfair!

But, in an impressive rally, Boston Bob made up five lengths from the last fence to nut Texas Jack on the line. Like I say, the bare form isn't good enough to win an RSA. But I expect him to improve considerably for the extra three furlongs here, perhaps by as much as seven to ten pounds. After all, he's only had the two chase starts to date.

My one concern with Boston Bob is that he does get outpaced in his races but, if he can hang on to the flailing tails of the leaders just before the home turn, he'll quite probably catch them and pass them up the hill.

Unioniste is also well fancied in the market, but he's not well fancied by me. Firstly, he's a five year old, and the allowances have long since stopped being dolled out from the days when Star de Mohaison won for that age group back in 2006. That day, Star got ten pounds from his rivals. Here, Unioniste will get just two pounds.

More telling than that, though, is that I'm just not sure he'll stay. Yes, he won the December Gold Cup well enough over two miles five here at Cheltenham, becoming the first four year old to win a handicap chase at Cheltenham in the process. But it's an extra half mile, give or take 100 yards here, and he was flat-out-all-out to hold the bungling Hadrian's Approach at Newbury. For me, he's far too short and I can see him possibly missing the frame here.

That rival, Hadrian's Approach, has a really tasty profile for the RSA. He's had four goes at chasing: a winner from the useful The Druids Nephew on debut, he then fell four out when going well behind the useful Harry Topper in a Grade 2.

After that, he went to the Feltham where he was no match for Dynaste, but he was the clear second best that day. If the Feltham winner struggles in the RSA, it's interesting that those who laboured behind the trailblazer there have gone on to win SIX RSA Chases, and three in the last eight years. Bobs Worth last year was the latest to achieve that.

And on his most recent start, Hadrian's Approach was beaten just a short head by Unioniste over Newbury's three miles. He absolutely horlicksed the second last and, but for that shuddering mistake, would surely have won by three lengths and been close to favouritism for this subsequently. I feel strongly that Hadrian's will finish his RSA race better than Unioniste, and I think he's the biggest danger to Boston Bob.

I really like this horse and, if his jumping holds up, he's got to go close.

RSA Chase Tips

Most Likely Winner: Boston Bob
Best Each Way: Hadrian's Approach

3.20 SPORTINGBET QUEEN MOTHER CHAMPION CHASE GRADE 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m)

Likely to be a coronation procession this year, Sprinter Sacre looks unopposable. He's still only a second season chaser so has yet to claim a Champion Chase. Surely that will no longer be the case by 3.30pm on Wednesday.

Queen Mother Champion Chase Key Stats

13/15 had previously won at Cheltenham

13/15 finished 1-2-3 last time out

Queen Mother Champion Chase Form Preview

Sprinter Sacre has strong Champion Chase claims

Sprinter Sacre looks a lock

There's little point going into too much detail here. Sprinter Sacre will win and some other horses will finish second and third, presumably at a very respectful distance. Actually, there's only seven runners and therefore two places, so that rather buggers up things for place players... unless some very generous bookie type offers three places in an act of benevolence bordering on business suicide.

In truth, it's bar a fall stuff, and if Coral are still offering their £20 at evens on Sprinter Sacre, you should gladly accept. It's not money in the bank, but if he jumps round, the 100% interest rate is as close to that as you get in equine investment terms.

For the places,it's quite tricky to envisage Sizing Europe being more competitive this time aged eleven than he was last year aged ten, and against a far better horse.

We're then into the realms of 16/1 Mail de Bievre, a French import who looks capable on his best form, and might well make the frame if he doesn't bounce (only one starts since September 2011).

It's 20/1 the rest, and perhaps 25/1 Somersby is the place answer. This chap has good form at Cheltenham: he was third in the 2009 Supreme; second in the 2010 Arkle; fifth in the 2011 Champion Chase; and a non-staying seventh in the 2012 Ryanair Chase.

I'd rather cheer my even twenty quid on Sprinter Sacre than bet anything else, but Somersby could nick the place payout at a price which rewards taking the chance.

Queen Mother Champion Chase Tips

Most Likely Winner: Erm... Sprinter Sacre
Best Each Way: Somersby

Best Queen Mother Champion Chase Bookie Offer

Sprinter Sacre at even money? Really?! Yes! (£20 max stake)

 

4.00 Coral Cup Grade 3 (CLASS 1) (4yo+) (2m5f)

A trappy but not impossible handicap hurdle over an intermediate distance, and the market has generally had at least some view on the race with nine of the last ten winners being 16/1 or shorter.

Coral Cup Key Stats

11/12 Carried 11-02 or less

7/15 won last time out (12/15 top six last time)

14/15 aged five to eight years

14/15 Rated 127-142

Only two horses from 180 to try won this within 30 days of their last race.

Thirteen horses from 202 to try won this off a break of between 31 and 120 days.

Coral Cup Form Preview

The two I like are Barbatos and Meister Eckhart, both as big priced speculatives in a wide open race where they bet 7/1 the field.

Meister Eckhart is my first choice, and Alan King’s five year old was a smart novice last year that is well regarded by his handler.

A winner of only one of his quartet of hurdles runs, he been second and third in Grade 2 races, and a respectable fifth in the Albert Bartlett here last March.

His stamina ran out over those three miles, so this drop back might be ideal. Being lightly raced, he has scope to improve and this is a race which has favoured unexposed second season hurdlers in recent times (six of the last eight winners). A general 16/1 looks good.

Barbatos is worth a second glance. He's only run once this season, behind Mr Watson, on ground he would have hated and after a year off. Last season, he was a very nice novice, finishing second and third in Grade 2 races at around this trip behind Fingal Bay. He finished that season with a course and distance win on good to soft, and I'd expect him to be spot on for this, though he may not want it super-sticky underfoot.

Dangers are everywhere. Trying to name all of them is a fool's task, but key amongst them may be Pendra, and Mr Watson.

Pendra is very lightly raced, and highly regarded by the Charlie Longsdon team. In four starts, he's won three and was second to the very good Melodic Rendezvous in a Grade 1 at Sandown most recently. Although unlikely to have beaten much (or indeed anything) in two Plumpton novices, the Grade 1 form looks rock solid with all three of the horses to have come out of the race (winner, fifth and seventh) winning their subsequent starts.

Pendra quickened up smartly there and just got outspeeded by the winner. The pair pulled seven lengths clear of the rest, and the way Pendra jumped the last - quick and athletic - suggests he'll stay at least some of the extra trip of the Coral Cup.

Mr Watson absolutely bolted up at Cheltenham last time, and I for one was surprised with the facile nature of that win. He'd been allotted a mark of 127 there, and now has 139. He'll probably need to improve another seven pounds to win here, and that's certainly possible. Before his two race winning run (which has coincided with the application of a hood - he wears it again here), he was beaten by Melodic Rendezvous, and the margin of defeat there was similar to Pendra's, which implies Mr Watson might have a similar chance to the favourite at a slightly bigger price.

Coral Cup Tips

Clearly, luck in running as well as being favoured by race conditions and having a workable handicap mark are all required to get to the jamstick in front here. That's an unfathomable combination to crack, so it makes sense to side - small stakes - with horses at a price.

Decent Each Way play: Meister Eckhart
Other possible each way plays: Barbatos, Mr Watson

Most firms are going five places here. Click here to check who is and who isn't.

4.40 FRED WINTER JUVENILE HANDICAP HURDLE GRADE 3 (CLASS 1) (4yo) (2m 1/2f)

One of the new races, the Fred Winter is growing in class but remains a very trappy puzzle, largely because of the ability lights being hidden under handicap mark bushels. Or, to put it another way, trainers trying to get their horses well handicapped!

Fred Winter Key Trends

7/8 winners had run twice since January 1st

5/8 winners won last time out (+29.50 to level stakes)

7/8 winners had run within 30 days

8/8 winners made British/Irish debut after 30th November

7/8 winners failed to win until at least their third run

Fred Winter Form Preview

This, like the novices handicap chase on the first day, is a plotters' race. Those who show their ability to the handicapper too early get whacked with an uncompetitive weight, and the winner of this race usually improves about ten pounds on what they've previously achieved (publicly). There's also a really interesting trend towards the best flat rated horse running very well.

Only one winner was rated higher than 130, and I'll use that as a ceiling here, with those capable of that (and more) but rated much lower my focus.

Last time out winners have also performed extremely well, and using the key trends above my shortlist is Saphir Du Rheu, Ptit Zig, Another Sensation, Habesh, and Ibsen.

Let's start with the Nicholls pair. Saphir Du Rheu and Ptit Zig have similar profiles, both having been acquired from France, and both having had just the one run this year. Saphir Du Rheu was impressive when slamming God Of The Kop, while Ptit Zig put the useful bumper horse, New Years Eve in his place.

The form of neither race has worked out so far however, with Ptit Zig's contest seeing twelve horses race since, none win and only two place. Saphir's race can at least boast one winner from the ten subsequent runners.

Another Sensation is a really interesting one. Apparently working very well, his form is nothing to speak of. But... he was only about four lengths down and closing when unseating at the last at Sandown last time, having been a good ten lengths back at the second last. That burst of speed marks him up as a contender here, if his jumping holds up.

Habesh would have been seriously interesting on decent ground. A winner of a heavy ground juvenile hurdle on his third start last September, he's not been seen since in National Hunt circles. But he has had two runs on the flat at Dundalk and improved nicely from the first to the second of those. His trainer is adamant that he's way better on good ground and it looks like the plot might have come unstuck with the rain. Nevertheless, he's a better chance than his price implies.

And lastly, my eye is drawn to a horse rated in the 50's on the flat, Ibsen. Yes, I appreciate that might sound daft, but Mysilv was only rated 63 on the flat and she was able to win a Triumph, so it is possible. Anyway, this fellow was a late developer, not winning until his seventh flat start, and that in a field of sixteen. He proved that was no fluke by doubling up next time in higher class, and a field of nine.

But I suspect he needs a strong pace to go at, as his previous best performance had been when fifth of 23. In three runs over hurdles, he's yet to win. But he's also yet to be lower than second, and I'm pretty sure he'll be sticking on up the hill like a good'un, especially if they go fast early.

Obviously, not many of these picks are sexy top stables, which means the prices should hold. And of course, there's a chance they all run clunkers and my plot theory unravels. But, in a wide open race, I'd rather take a punt on a price than row in with a shortie, whichever beast history may record as the winner.

Fred Winter Tips

Clearly, not a straightforward race to handicap. I've elected to ignore the top ones, as history has shown that they have a heck of a lot to do here. And, in any case, if they were that good, they'd be running in the Triumph Hurdle, and not the consolation race.

Thereafter, it's a plotplotplot for me please.

Most interesting towards the top of the market: Another Sensation
Possible Irish jobs, and worthy of each way tickling: Habesh, Ibsen

5.15 WEATHERBYS CHAMPION BUMPER Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4-6yo) (2m 1/2f)

Always a good test of raw horses, and very tricky to find a winner from so many unexposed 'could be anything' beasts generally.

Weatherbys Champion Bumper Key Stats

Big field experience seems crucial. Champagne Fever became the first horse not to have previously won a bumper with at least thirteen runners. And he was second in one!

The last nine winners all won last time out, and thirteen of the last fifteen did too.

11/15 won by five year olds, with three won by six year olds and the 4yo Cue Card completing the last fifteen years.

11/15 won by the Irish (six for Willie Mullins)

Weatherbys Champion Bumper Form Preview

Sheesh, where do we start here? It's a race where every horse could be nice in future, and it's not a race in which I'll be betting, truth be told. If you must have a bet, then here are some thoughts, for what they're worth.

The obvious place to start is with Willie Mullins, given that he's won six of the last fifteen runnings. Of his trio of entries, Union Dues might be the pick, but all of them have been running in small fields and this is a different story.

Golantilla is the highest rated on official figures, and he has won both a point-to-point and his bumper in easy fashion. He was 'expected' when winning at Cork the last day, and has since changed hands for a bundle of cash. Sure to be a lovely chaser in due course, the form of the bumper hasn't worked out yet, though it's not the fault of the thirteen length victor.

Regal Encore is trained by Anthony Honeyball, who trains a horse for the geegeez syndicate, and I'd absolutely love it (in Kevin Keegan parlance) if this fellow - snapped up by JP McManus - could give Anthony a maiden Festival winner. Certainly, he's murdered all-comers in his two runs to date, the latter an eight length battering of Be Bop Boru at Chepstow.

That win was every bit as impressive as Golantilla's, and that's why he's second top rated, a pound behind the Irish horse. It's a race which has worked out well too, with the second and sixth winning three races between them, and the third, fourth and fifth all making the frame since.

Le Vent d'Antan ran green as grass on debut, but was still six lengths too good for the rest, and he's another lovely big chaser-in-the-making (apologies for the cliche, I've used hyphens to accentuate the point!). But he took his time to pick up there, and the five horses to come out of the race have managed just one place between them.

Yes, it seems the pick of the form might be with Mr Honeyball's beast, and I'll be screaming the place down if that's clambering the hill with McCoy in full drive. Good luck, Anthony!

Weatherbys Champion Bumper Tips

Not a race to go mad in, but Regal Encore sets a good standard, and a layoff is no bad thing in this contest. Golantilla and Union Dues head the 'respected' category, but it's one of those races where whatever wins will make sense after the event, so don't go too mad here.

Best (and most wanted) each way selection: Regal Encore
Others with obvious chances: Golantilla, Union Dues

Plenty of firms offering four places on this race, so click here to check your bookie is!

And that brings us to half way. It will have been a challenging run so far, and very well done if you get to the half time oranges level or, heaven help you, in front. But there will be many more battles to come over the final two days, and geegeez will be right there with you. So stay tuned. And the very best of luck for your day two Wednesday wagers.

Matt