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Cheltenham Festival 2019: Day Two Preview, Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2019: Day Two Preview, Tips

On to Day 2, Wednesday, and another septet of teasers the highlight of which is the Queen Mother Champion Chase and that lad, Altior. That is but one of four Grade 1 shemozzles, those four tiptop treats supported by two impossible handicaps and the good old Cross Country Chase.

1.30 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1, 2m5f)

The intermediate novices' hurdle but one where speed is usually at more of a premium than stamina. Naturally, class remains a prerequisite.

The favourite and top rated horse is Champ, who brings a most progressive profile to the party. Winning at Perth in May last year hardly hinted at what was to follow, as Nicky Henderson's McManus-owned novice rattled off a four-timer most recently by strolling to victory in the Grade 1 Challow Novices' Hurdle. Prior to that he'd put a big field of high class handicappers to the sword off a mark of 139 and now has a perch of 152, the best in the field by fully five pounds.

He hurdles well, travels well and clearly has an abundance of class. With all his winning at around the two and a half mile range, however, there's a slight niggle as to whether he quite has the speed for this. Yes, I do know the distance of the Ballymore but it tends to go to a horse with a bit of two mile form. He's not run at the shorter trip so it's unfair to say he doesn't have the toe for it. He's a worthy favourite.

The pick of the Irish is presumed to be Battleoverdoyen, Gordon Elliott's unbeaten son of, you guessed it, Doyen. He was good in a Grade 1 novice hurdle over two and a half miles at Naas last time and, after just three starts, retains plenty of upside. He's rated 146, joint third best.

Interestingly, given how good a guide official ratings have been in this race, the second top-rated, on 147, is City Island. Martin Brassil may be a somewhat unfashionable trainer but he's a very good one, and his four time winner (including a disqualification for a banned substance, arsenic, apparently present in a seaweed-based supplement the horse was taking) has been achieved from two miles to this trip. He's yet to face Graded company but that's the sort of thing, allied to his 'no name' connections - though his trainer has saddled a Grand National winner - that makes for a price.

Brewin'upastorm rounds out the single figure odds horses. Olly Murphy's inmate looked set to perhaps get the better of a duel with Birchdale when taking a heavy tumble at the last here on Trials Day. The trainer is convinced Brewin' is not the sort to dwell on such a pearler, but he also has to reverse Challow form with Champ. There he was beaten four lengths, though again Murphy feels he gave the wrong instructions to his jockey on the day. That's a lot of what Lydia Hislop would call 'yak' (i.e. chat or conjecture) but Olly knows the horse better than anyone else and he will have the tactics spot on this time. He has speed and class and might just be his fledgling trainer's best chance of a Festival winner this season, assuming he hasn't already bagged the Supreme by the time you read this!

Elliott runs Galvin as well, a horse which has been running exclusively at two miles and is unbeaten in five bumpers and novices hurdles both sides of the Irish Sea. The form has worked out quite well despite the lesser courses at which it's been achieved; this son of Gold Well could improve for the extra distance and might have sailed under the radar a little hitherto.

The rest have a stone or so to find on ratings but there are a couple who could be better than their current marks. The first is Ben Pauling's Bright Forecast, who made a striking impression on his debut when running on through a field of twenty to win going away. That was a deep-looking Newbury heat which has worked out well and he followed up at Leicester before finding only Supreme-bound Mister Fisher too good in the Rossington Main at Haydock. The longer trip looks sure to be in his favour though I'd not want him to adopt his recent front-running tactics. A more conservative ride early could see him on the premises up the hill. I like him, regardless of the result here.

The other to catch the eye is Sams Profile for Mouse Morris. Winner of a two mile maiden hurdle early in the season, he's since been second in a Grade 3 over three miles and then in a Grade 1 over two and a half behind Battleoverdoyen. There was sufficiently little between the pair to make Sams Profile of interest at 12/1 if you like the winner that day at 3/1 this day.

Ballymore Pace Map

Ballymore Novices' Hurdle Selection

It's a trappy betting heat where most of the field still have improvement to come, and where some of the marks allocated at this stage could be awry. Champ looks best of the British, and he's a worthy favourite who looks sure to give backers a run for their money if not getting too far back.

At a bigger price, both City Island and Bright Forecast look capable of getting involved. The former has plenty of speed and no little class, the latter looks a horse with a future.

Suggestion: Back City Island (10/1 Coral) each way. A small nibble on Bright Forecast (33/1 Betfred) could reward Hail Mary players.

*

2.10 RSA Chase (Grade 1, 3m)

Almost always a terrific spectacle, the RSA Chase is the race for next season's Gold Cup aspirants. The top of the market had long looked sewn up between Delta Work, Santini and Topofthegame but all three are suddenly surprisingly easy to back.

Clear jolly remains Delta Work, the Gordon Elliott-trained son of Network that won the Pertemps Final at last year's Festival. He then stepped into Grade 1 company to run second at Punchestown. This season has been about fences and, after scoring in the obligatory beginners' chase, he's added back-to-back Grade 1 victories to his impressive CV.

The form of his Drinmore win (2m4f) looks very decent, more so than his three mile chase win last time, but he continues to offer cause for concern with some sticky leaps. He has little - nothing, in fact - to spare on ratings so, while he can win (of course), he's skinny enough and it is easy to see why bookies want to 'get' him.

The flip-flopping pick of the Brits is Topofthegame, Paul Nicholls' Kauto Star Novices' Chase runner up. A maiden over fences after a brace of silver medals, he was also second in the Coral Cup at the Festival last term. He doesn't seem to lack resolution in spite of that string of 2's, his jumping is accurate and he stays well. But he does always seem to bump into one...

My long range fancy for this was Santini. Third in the Albert Bartlett last season and a fine winner at Grade 1 level at Aintree subsequently, he won a Grade 2 chase on his fencing bow before getting predictably outpaced on the speed strip that is Kempton. He rallied best of all from the last there, suggesting the stronger test of the RSA was bang on for him.

Alas, since then it's all gone wrong. First he missed his intended prep in the Reynoldstown due to having to get a booster jab, and then he got a foot problem which wasn't immediately poulticed and took a day or two longer to repair. It probably leaves him under-cooked for this big gig, though his price has drifted from 5/2 to 4/1 and that may overstate his preparation problems. On the other hand, it may not!

Nicky Henderson saddles Santini and he also runs On The Blind Side, a dual Grade 2 scorer over hurdles but found out when upped to G1 company. He was last of four in the Dipper at this track, but has since beaten a 145 chaser three lengths in receipt of six pounds at Kempton. That doesn't add up to an RSA winner in my book.

If the top of the market is to be taken down, then perhaps Tom George's The Worlds End might surprise. He was making a potentially race-winning move in the 2017 Albert Bartlett before coming down at the second last, and that seemed to have left a mark on him in open staying hurdle company last term. But, now chasing, he's looked classy if inconsistent in winning twice and losing twice. First the good: he turned the tables on Ibis Du Rheu two runs back over this course and distance (but on the other, New, track) by some margin, making all and easing clear. Now the not so good: he made mistakes aplenty when taken off his feet in the Kauto Star at Kempton.

That race has famously not yet produced a winner to double up in Cheltenham's RSA. Equally well known is how many beaten horses at Sunbury have prevailed at Cheltenham, the slower tempo and stronger emphasis on stamina allowing horses to get into a better jumping rhythm and grind it out. Though he'd perhaps not want it too heavy, and though he's a Jekyll and Hyde performer, if the good The Worlds End shows up, he's going to look an enormous price at 25/1.

Drovers Lane has had a wind op since winning over 2m5f here and he's won three of his four chase starts. It would be fantastic for Rebecca Curtis, whose yard have had a few seasons in the doldrums since the At Fishers Cross days, if he ran well; he doesn't have a heap to find on official ratings.

RSA Chase Pace Map

RSA Chase Selection

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It's a tricky race in which a clear round would probably see Delta Work go close; but that's only what the market is saying. I'd be worried about Topofthegame's propensity to bump into one for all that I don't think he's ungenuine; and Santini's interrupted prep is very far from ideal. No wonder the bookies are looking to get a result here!

I'm going to roll with that theory and take a pony (25/1) punt on The Worlds End who might be considered unlucky not to already be a Cheltenham Festival winner. He probably wouldn't want it too soft but if the worst of the rain misses the course he'll look overpriced come post time.

Suggestion: take a chance each way on The Worlds End (25/1 Unibet, Coral; 22/1 1/5 1234 Victor)

*

2.50 Coral Cup (Handicap, Grade 3, 2m5f)

26 runners. In a handicap hurdle. Sponsored by a bookmaker. Seriously? You want to bet in this?

I'm not going to pretend I've ever backed the winner of this race or ever expect to. However, I'm told classier unexposed horses do best, so what about the long absent Diamond Cauchois? He had a little spin round Punchestown in a non-rules race in November and has otherwise been kept away from the track. But a G2 score at this trip last season says he's got the class for the gig if fit enough. Noel Fehily, with the best hands in the business, steps in to ride. The 20/1 will be gone before you read this, and I can't get it anyway (thanks, Fred), but perhaps 14s is still worth a small passing interest.

Brio Conti is another without too many miles on the clock and he will have come on for the run, and win, last time at Ascot. 12/1 is worth a dabble perhaps. And William Henry bids to improve on last season's fourth place off the same mark. He's had a wind op since last seen (Nicky Henderson 12 from 32, +12.92 with W1's according to Query Tool) and seems to love the hurly-burly of a big field. 40/1 looks massive.

But, honestly, I don't profess to have any 'in' to this race whatsoever.

Coral Cup Pace Map

Coral Cup Suggestion: leave well alone, or back your own judgement! Diamond Cauchois (16/1) and William Henry (40/1) are my guesses. And, let's be clear, that's all they are. Maybe we'll be lucky...

*

3.30 Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1, 2m)

And so to the Royal Procession that looks likely to be the Queen Mother Champion Chase. Altior, a perfect 17 from 17 over hurdles and fences, is solid odds on to make it 18. Until a couple of weeks ago, when he was usurped by an upstart called Cyrname, he was the highest rated chaser in training. There are many unhappy about Altior's deposing and it might be that impressive victory here returns the Nicky Henderson superstar to his golden plinth.

Be all that as it may, this is a horse race and we must consider the merit of the favourite in the context of his field as well as the race conditions. Dealing with the latter first, it will be two miles at Cheltenham on rain softened ground, exactly the medicine he drank so stoically at the Festival last year. There, after an interrupted preparation, he looked momentarily in trouble before rattling home in trademark fashion from the high class Min.

So, no dramas on the race conditions score; what about the field? The truth is, with the exception of the re-opposing Min and the unpredictable Politologue, he is miles clear of the others. In another year, a year when Altior didn't show up, Min would have been an eleven length winner last year. His margin over God's Own, Politologue a further five back lengths back in fourth - of five finishers - was decisive. He again looks set to do battle with the 2018 also rans for the honour of runner-up, a performance he is odds on to reprise.

Champion Chase Pace Map

Champion Chase Selection

In truth, it looks a shallow contest, notwithstanding the sumptuous cherry on top of the somewhat flimsy cake; and those looking for a bet might do worse than Saint Calvados each way without Altior. He was utterly compromised last year in the Arkle when taking on Petit Mouchoir for the lead, both of them collapsing to the rear of the field and allowing Footpad to saunter home in his own time.

But here he might get his favoured solo on the front. God's Own is eleven now, Politologue is deeply unreliable and Sceau Royal, the other in front of him in the market aside from Min, was behind him on soft ground in the Tingle Creek.

Suggestion: Try Saint Calvados at 16/1 without Altior each way (1/4 123 bet365)

*

4.10 Glenfarclas Chase (Cross Country, Class 2, 3m6f)

The 'marmite' race. Some people love it, some hate it. Me? I'm a fan: it's something different, it often showcases some of the old warriors, and it's a damn fine prep for the Grand National to boot. It is a race dominated by the Irish - only Philip Hobbs' Balthazar King, twice, has wrested the prize from the Emerald Isle since its inception in 2005 - and they again have a strong hand this term, spearheaded by last year's winner, Tiger Roll.

The Tiger's palmarès is one of the most brilliantly eclectic in racing. A winner on his juvenile hurdle debut for Nigel Hawke in 2013, he was snapped up at the sale that December for £80,000 and sent to Gordon Elliott. With Elliott, Tiger Roll has since won a Triumph Hurdle, a Munster National, a National Hunt Chase, a Cross Country Chase, a Grand National, and a Boyne Hurdle. I mean, just, WOW!

He's still only nine and could have this in the palm of his hand if in the same form as he was when winning the race last year. That day he had two lengths to spare over the French cross country expert, Urgent De Gregaine, now eleven and returning for another crack. Emmanuel Clayeux's veteran has run three times over course and distance, adding a win and a third in handicaps to that silver medal last March. He's been very lightly raced in recent seasons making the 144 day layoff less of a concern; but I want to be against him I think, even though older horses had a decent record in the race in its formative years.

More likely are the Enda Bolger contingent of Auvergnat and Josies Orders. Auvergnat was fourth in this last year before winning the Le Touche Cup at Punchestown, and is a banks specialist. He's rated within a pound of Tiger Roll in this discipline, and comes here in great form off the back of a valuable big field handicap chase win at Leopardstown at Christmas.

Josies Orders is eleven now, but seems to have found a new lease of life this season, winning the cross country race here in November and the PP Hogan at Punchestown, a major trial for the Glenfarclas. He's a four time winner over course and distance, including the 2016 renewal of the Festival race and his full record over these banks reads 1113613, the bold figures representing Festival races. Granted, he was a little out of form last term when finishing only sixth, but he looks close to his best again now.

Jamie Snowden saddles Fact Of The Matter, winner of the December handicap and second in the November handicap both over course and distance. He's far worse off at level weights with a number of these but handicap ratings have been no sort of indicator down the years and, as a horse proven to relish this unique test, he looks a reasonable each way play. He's had a wind op since that December victory.

Hurricane Darwin, twice closest to Josies Orders in the past year, most recently in the PP Hogan, is worthy of mention, as perhaps is the other French entry, Amazing Comedy, fourth in the December handicap here and fifth in this race last year. 40/1 may marginally downplay his place prospects.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Pace Map

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Selection

A cracking renewal - deeper than normal - so, whilst I thoroughly respect Tiger Roll (what a horse!), I have to look elsewhere for a bet. Auvergnat and Josies Orders should both go well and maybe dutching the pair at around 3/1 is a way to go. Fact Of The Matter is tempting each way at 16/1.

Suggestion: Split your stake 60/40 between Auvergnat (6/1 general) and Josies Orders (9/1 Paddy) for an approximately 3/1 dutch.

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4.50 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3, 2m 1/2f)

The Fred Winter as was. My crikey - this is not my jurisdiction! Last year, Gordon Elliott won with a 33/1 shot. He's won it before, too, but Paul Nicholls' three wins - and six further places - from 18 runners is exceptional: 50% placed horses in a ferocious handicap.

Nicholls saddles just one, the 25/1 shot Dogon, whose profile deserves closer inspection. Experienced in France, he actually won a two and a quarter mile 3yo chase at Fontainebleu in November, prior to pulling up in the Triumph Hurdle trial at this track in January. Since then he's run an eye-catching second at Wincanton, pulling hard and giving the impression that this stiffer test of stamina and faster pace will suit better. He's not an obvious contender, but then neither was Veneer Of Charm or Flying Tiger or Qualando or Flaxen Flare or Hawk High or Une Artiste, all of whom won this race at 25/1 or bigger in the last ten years.

Clearly, then, this is a race in which to take a small chance at a big price. Elliott runs three, two of which are single figure prices and they can beat me if they're able; but the other is Coko Beach, available at 20/1 in a place. He won a French hurdle race before running down the field in Grade 2 company at Leopardstown at Christmas and then receiving a tender enough ride in a novice hurdle last month. Ex-French runners have a great record in the race, a note in support of both Dogon and Coko Beach.

Obviously, a score more with chances, including three more ex-French that have yet to race in Britain, one of them - Fox Pro - trained by the Nick/Jane Williams axis, successful in 2017 with Flying Tiger and with 3rd and 5th places as well from just seven runners.

Boodles / Fred Winter Pace Map

[Gaps represent runners yet to race in UK or Ireland]

Boodles / Fred Winter Selection

I could analyse this contest in great detail but I'd likely be unable to add much to the above. It's a race which generally hasn't gone to the head of the market and in which I'll take a little punt on the three named above.

Suggestion: Back any or all of Dogon (25/1 bet365), Coko Beach (16/1 Hills 1/5 12345) and/or Fox Pro (25/1 general)

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5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Grade 1, NH Flat, 2m 1/2f)

Really tricky, and I don't have any idea what might win. Gordon Elliott talks about Envoi Allen as a future Gold Cup winner, the unbeaten five year old finding plenty for pressure in a Grade 2 last time. He's top rated on official figures, an angle which has been a good predictor of Champion Bumper winners, and he's also favourite.

The value against him might just be Abracadabras, who almost clipped heels with Envoi Allen inside the final furlong before running through the rail. That incident demonstrates how close to the favourite he'd got, and he looked to still have a bit more to give. With the wide open spaces of Cheltenham sure to preclude a repeat sob story, and perhaps a little less greenness as a result of that run, the Gigginstown-owned stablemate can turn the tables at three times the price.

Most of these are unexposed and can/will step forward markedly on what they've shown so far, most notably perhaps the four-year-olds Blue Sari and Cascova.

Champion Bumper selection

An interesting race to watch rather than wager, though Envoi Allen had little in hand of Meticulous, Abracadabras, and a couple of others last time. In the circumstances, my interest wager will be the unlucky one from Leopardstown and his rider Lisa O'Neill.

Suggestion: Try Abracadabras each way at 10/1 (1/5 1234 Victor)

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And that concludes a somewhat briefer (relatively, at least) spin through Wednesday's Day 2 action. Plenty of races in which it's hard to take a strong view, and where we may have to be both good and lucky to come out in front I feel.

Good luck!

Matt

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Cheltenham 2009: Day Two Notes, Day Three Thoughts

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, dear reader, have once again been hurling their implements of destruction in the Four Day War that is Cheltenham 2009.

Let's review the victors and the vanquished of this second day, before projecting forwards 24 hours to the third leg of this most challenging of cerebral battles (scroll down to beyond the ********'s if you just want tomorrow's juice).

1.30 National Hunt Chase

After second places in the last two races yesterday, I felt like I was coming into a little form, and struck a placepot wager pretty much as per my post yesterday.

This race has the look of an impossible, and unworthy, conundrum, spanning as it does four miles, many fences and competed by novice chasers and even more novice-y pilots.

No matter, for a winner is a winner. And, having found Old Benny in the race last year, I may have to revise my disdain for the race, as I got back on track when one of my five tenners in the race was struck at 18.98 on Tricky Trickster.

My first blood of the day and indeed the 2009 Festival. Nothing much to report in behind, except that Coe was beaten when falling, Nine De Sivola seems to want eight miles on heavy, and Can't Buy Time didn't stay.

Placepot through with the winner and the third.

2.05 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

Dander in the up position, and confidence on the wax, I aggressively tickled (the term for this may be 'dutched') both Diamond Harry and Mikael D'Haguenet. The former still looks green, and the latter was a convincing and exciting winner. Mullins' nag way too good for the rest.

The stats were upheld neatly here.

For the placepot, I'd have much preferred the 25/1 4th, China Rock, to have touched off Harry (it was beaten a neck), as this would have whittled the pool down by much more than my ticket would have lost (I had Mikael and Harry here).

2.40 RSA Chase

Another to go to trends, and I was on the hat-trick. A confident wager on Cooldine never had a moment's worry. Cruised through, won easily to give Messrs. Walsh (R) and Mullins (WP) doubles.

Horner Woods was a massive shout for Gavin's guide followers, grabbing the silver medal at a fat 66/1, while Massini's Maguire did the decent thing and obliged place punters by staying on gutsily rather than strongly for bronze.

Placepot again double legged, with the winner and the third.

3.20 Champion Chase

Not a betting proposition, unless you're Harry Findlay or JP McManus, or fancied a place wager. Master Minded was too good, and - whilst not nearly so impressive as last year (the premature Marodima causing two false starts would not have helped) - he was still way too good for the rest.

The 'poursuivants' were led home by the brittle Well Chief, a most frustrating creature: bags of talent, legs of glass. At ten years young, despite the lack of miles on the tachometer, his chance looks to have gone.

Petit Robin survived a howitzer of a blunder to plug on for third, with former winner Newmill gallantly belying odds of 100/1 in 4th.

Briareus took a tired fall when on the retreat, but both Big Zeb and Twist Magic look like they need extra schooling. Both have become habitual tumblers, which is fine if you're a circus performer but less ok when your vocation is 'sprint' chasing.

Scotsirish was as close as I got to a 25/1 place (for my 100/1 each way ticket), finishing 5th at a nibbled 40/1.

No placepot worries as Master Minded stood up, and duly obliged.

4.00 Coral Cup

A ferociously competitive affair this one, and one in which I'd taken a view. Mirage Dore was a strong trends horse, and I hit it hard win only. Naturally, he got going too late and finished a length second. I could blame the jockey at this point, and I'm sure Mr McCoy would have won on the animal.

However, in Rose's defence, any other jockey probably would not, as the winner, Ninetieth Minute, looked to be saving a bit and might have been value for a length or two more than the official distance.

Incidentally, having backed Kempes (named after Argentinian World Cup winning captain of 1978), I'msingingtheblues (for Chelsea fans everywhere), and United (to redress the Reds balance), I really should have backed Ninetieth Minute!

The Polomoche appears to be a morning glory horse, and fair play to his trainer - the honest, no frills and ever so slightly loquacious Nicky Henderson - for saying as much.

Honourable mentions to Pause And Clause who finished third as a novice, and Kawagino, a horse whose proximity to the winner in Champion Hurdles and high class handicaps has deserved better. He finished fifth here (good enough for two grand in prize money to add to the £74k he's already won) at 66/1. He may never win the decent contest he deserves.

From my five in the placepot, I was grateful to Rosey for her podium finish, and four chances in the 'lucky' last.

4.40 Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Handicap Hurdle

A stats busting winner, as Silk Affair - lugging just 10-04 - danced past the heavyweights to record a clear success. In behind, the next five home all carried 10-13 or more, suggesting this race is still one to look toward the top of the handicap for the likely winner.

Ski Sunday, a late sub for Simarian on my ticket when the latter was withdrawn, saved the placepot bacon. Alas for me - though not for a majority of placepot wagerers (including Gavin's guide followers, who copped the pot for the second day running) - the 5/2 favourite hung on for 4th place from the closing 5th horse (Indian Groom at 33/1).

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Had those placings been reversed, the £753.20 dividend, of which I had 80p, may well have been triple that. No matter, for a return of £602.56 is not to be sniffed at.

Another decent punt on Amore Mio went west, when this one was about the first beaten (at least it wasn't my four grand each way, one of the recorded bets on this beastie). Not a great ride, but the horse clearly didn't fancy it today.

5.15 Champion Bumper

The seventh puzzle of the day looked one of the trickiest. Unless of course you backed facile winner, Dunguib. The time was quick, the form looks bulletproof, and this is a serious horse for the future. Assuming he can jump, he could be a Gold Cup winner in due course. If he can't, he might win an Ascot Gold Cup!

My choice, Shinrock Paddy, was another who suffered an amateurish ride from an amateur rider. He would have had no chance if ridden by Merlin McCoy, so no complaints here.

A great day's sport, and happily back in front again. So what of tomorrow?

********

1.30 Jewson Novices' Handicap Chase

Just four previous runnings, so limited evidence to base trends on. However, all four winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out (indeed, such previous race form has been responsible for two podium clean sweeps and a further 1-2). Let's lose anything that didn't at least run-up last time.

All four winners were 7yo's, and the last three were officially rated 133-135, and carried either 10-11 or 10-12. Hard to be categorical, but I think we should be siding with a horse aged 6 or 7 (8yo+ 0 from 25), carrying enough weight to suggest a touch of class but not so much that he is bogged down (let's go with 10-09 to 11-00, and official rating of 131 to 137).

This brings us to Pancake, The Vicar, Exmoor Ranger and Slash And Burn.

Of these, clear preference is for The Vicar, who I take to (dog) collar his rivals (groan).

Selection: The Vicar

Placepot: The Vicar, Pancake, Exmoor Ranger, Slash And Burn (could be an early bath!)

2.05 Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle

You need a horse with strong recent form, as with all of the handicap hurdles at the Festival. Eight of the last 13 winners were coming here off the back of a win and, given that less than a fifth of the runners in those 13 renewals could say that, it's a strong stat.

Indeed, amazingly, there are only three last time out winners in the field: P'tit Fute, Kayf Aramis, and Synchronised.

It's tough for horses to carry big weights in any of the handicaps at the Festival (with the exception of the Fred Winter, which is akin to a flat nursery, where topweights habitually do well), and only one winner here carried more than 11-02 in the last ten years.

This puts me off P'tit Fute. Synchronised comes from the twice successful Jonjo O'Neill stable and is owned by the twice successful JP McManus - he looks nailed on for a big run and is a pretty bullish selection in an apparently wide open contest.

Indeed, the race he won last time out was won last year by... Pertemps Final winner, Ballyfitz!

Selection: Synchronised

Placepot: Synchronised, Kayf Aramis, Buena Vista, Pennek

2.40 Ryanair Chase

Another of the new races, just fours evidence to help. Still, we're looking for a former Cheltenham winner (as all four had been), and perhaps a horse with form in the two big early season handicap chases (Paddy Power Gold Cup) and the Boylesports (meeting abandoned this season).

Nothing bigger than 9/2 has won, so perhaps we shouldn't look too far down the odds boards. Paul Nicholls has won two of the four contests, including with a 6yo (Taranis), so the 6yo Nicholls entry Gwanako could be interesting.

Although last season's winner, Our Vic, is now eleven years young, the other three winners were 9 (twice) and 10 (Vic last season), so I couldn't discount him on age.

But it's Voy Por Ustedes that catches the eye. He absolutely oozed class when sauntering home at Ascot last time; and he's won at the Festival on his only two starts here, both in Grade 1 company (Arkle and Champion Chase).

My only slight reservation is his stamina, which could be tested in a true run race. Nevertheless, he remains the probable winner but not one I'll be steaming into.

Imperial Commander and Tidal Bay are both capable of winning at their best, but have become perhaps a little in and out.

Selection: Voy Por Ustedes, Gwanako (e/w)

Placepot: Voy Por Ustedes, Gwanako, Our Vic

3.20 World Hurdle

My bet of the meeting runs in this race. Regular readers will know that this has proven the kiss of death for many a star turn. No matter, for I am not superstitious, and don't believe that by sharing my confidence the horse's chance is any way undermined. (Think about it, such a feeling would be counterintuitive and - frankly - a bit preposterous!).

So, there you go. Kasbah Bliss to win. Ok, let's look a little closer at the race:

Form: Kasbah was 2nd to the mighty Inglis Drever in last year's race, was a close fourth in a Group 1 flat race at Longchamp in October, murdered the (admittedly second division) opposition at Haydock on his most recent start. Timeform top rated.

Trends: 6-8yo; Irish have a shocking record; first five in the market have monopolised the payout places for the last four years.

He's a 5/4 shot, and he does have to beat Punchestowns, who is readily preferred to Big Bucks, but he had any amount in hand at Haydock and, as a 7yo, is still on the upgrade. Punchestowns is also progressive, but in three runs here, has only won once and that in a Class 3 handicap. This clearly is a different kettle of kippers.

Selection: Kasbah Bliss (nap)

Placepot: Kasbah Bliss (obviously, bankers are designed to finished fourth...!)

4.00 Freddie Williams Festival Plate

Named in honour of one of the big layers at the track, you may know this race by its previous name, the Mildmay of Flete Handicap Chase. There are some strong patterns in this race, thus:

- just one winning favourite in 7 years, so let's spread our outlay over a few rag-tag nags

- Frenchies have been 1st or 2nd in the last nine renewals

- Ignoring last season's race, only two other horses have won carrying more than 10-09 in weight

- 15 of 17 winners had run previously at Cheltenham in March (at the Festival)

- Only one Irish winner since in over 50 years (!)

The only horse that ticks all of these boxes is Le Burf. He's been in the frame on 7 of 9 chase starts and comes here seeking a hat-trick. There are likely to be worse 33/1 shots this week.

I'll support him with some without Cheltenham Festival form, in the shape of Something Wells (33/1), Or Bleu (20/1) and Oceanos des Obeaux (22/1).

Although he doesn't tick trends boxes, look out for Ferdy Murphy's Three Mirrors, who has been threatening a big run for ages.

Selection: Le Burf (e/w), Something Wells (e/w), Or Bleu (e/w), Oceanos des Obeaux (e/w)

Placepot: Le Burf, Something Wells, Or Bleu, Oceanos des Obeaux, Three Mirrors(five choices and certainly no guarantee of making the last leg...!)

4.40 Kim Muir Handicap Chase

Another tough race to finish, the placepot should be worth having if we can get it. Especially as our financial fate is trusted to the sh-amateur riders again. Let's embrace the 'opportunity'.

We'll look to horses aged 8-10, rated less than 130. There's not been an Irish winner for quarter of a century, so they're out. Nicky Henderson has won the race three times, and twice since 2002 (he's also had the runner-up twice), so his Shouldhavehadthat is interesting. He's piloted by the capable Sam Waley-Cohen, who has won a number of Festival races, including the National Hunt Chase today.

In a race to dodge rather than savour, it's fitting that I look to a horse with the dreaded Timeform 'squiggle' (denoting unreliability). Step forward, Bowleaze, probably named after a cove in Weymouth (close to where I'm from), and trained by Dorset duo, Mr Robert and Mrs Sally Alner. I know it's sentimental and all the rest of it, but there really wouldn't be a dry eye in the house if Sally could pull this off for her recuperating hubby, who was so terribly injured in a car crash last year.

Le Duc is another 'squiggle with a squeak', and is added to the placepot perm. I'll be looking for an eye-popping ride from Mr I Popham!

I'll also chuck in Pretty Star, and the rank outsider Without A Doubt (about whom I have many doubts!).

Selection: Shouldhavehadthat

Placepot: Shouldhavehadthat, Bowleaze, Le Duc, Pretty Star, Without A Doubt

Perm: 1200 x 10p = £120

Wish me luck!

Matt

Cheltenham 2009: Day One Notes, Day Two Thoughts

Not a vintage start for me to Cheltenham 2009, dear reader, with a couple of second places for my main bets of the day, and very little else to shout about.

Indeed, I am hoping that the remainder of the week will bring better fortune and, at this early point in the annual clash with the bookies, I remain cautiously confident.

These are my notes from today, and my thoughts for tomorrow (scroll down to the *******'s if you just want tomorrow's picks):

1.30 Supreme Novices Hurdle

Cousin Vinny was not himself, and will prove better than this. Expect him to win at Punchestown if he runs. Go Native won on merit, traveling very well through the race before asserting after the last. Medermit may have beaten him had Choccie Thornton got going a little sooner. Somersby ran a blinder and looks a ready made chaser for the Henrietta Knight stable.

Kempes was disappointing. Blundered early, and never got competitive. Placepot down on the first leg.

2.05 Arkle

Another frustrating ride on the second, Kalahari King, who failed by only a short head to wear down pace setter Forpadydeplasterer. Those who backed the King have every right to be disappointed with Graeme Lee, who will give horses better rides than this.

The winner has been consistent all season, and I thought he'd be a fair bet in the RSA Chase over further, but connections were spot on to go for this race.

Favourite Tatenen fell quite early on, and my hope I'msingingtheblues was just not good enough on the day.

2.40 William Hill Trophy Handicap Chase

I'd pinned my hopes to Hot Weld, a 40/1 shot from Ferdy Murphy's shrewd stable. Alas, he was never going, and pulled up. This race will be memorable for one of the best rides I've EVER seen by... who else?... A P McCoy, the horseman getting the better of a three mile argument with his steed (Wichita Lineman) only on the line, to prevail by a neck from the game and slightly unlucky Maljimar.

I'd put up Wichita Lineman on my Laying System service, and took a heavy hit personally when McCoy produced the kind of Siegfried and Roy magic that only he can. Forget rabbits out of hats: this was vanishing tigers stuff. As costly as it was personally, it was a bloody superb ride... I will not ever lay McCoy again.

As well as Hot Weld, I'd backed Nenuphar Collonges, but his gallant rally was only good enough for third.

Paul Nicholls is a very naughty man for blatantly withdrawing Star de Mohaison in order to ensure Dear Villez (4th) carried 7lb less than he otherwise would have been obliged to. Very cheeky (but at least I might get a run from Star in the Gold Cup on Friday!)

3.20 Champion Hurdle

Binocular came to win the race, but wasn't quite good enough. Punjabi cost me a tidy treble when he fell on Boxing Day, and added to my dislike of him by winning this race (although in fairness I had nothing behind him to merit my disdain).

Celestial Halo ran a belter, being the only horse close to the pace to hang tough turning in.

The old boys (Brave Inca, Hardy Eustace, Harchibald) should now be retired.

David Pipe is a buffoon for running his two in blinkers. Osana may well not have won, but those blinkers turned him into a dog, which belies his battling qualities (and did for my decent ante post ticket).

Crack Away Jack ran an excellent race, full of promise back in fourth. The first six home were three 5yo's and three 6yo's, and these - plus a couple from the Supreme - will be the new kids on the Champion Hurdle block for the next few years.

4.00 Cross Country Chase

Not a winner all day, and nothing better than third. No matter for my nap would bail me out. In at 3.35 on betfair in the morning, the expected money came for L'Ami, and he was sent off the warm 7/4 favourite. As predicted, Enda Bolger had another benefit day, saddling the first three home. Alas for me, Garde Champetre rolled over L'Ami, with Drombeag finishing 3rd. These three were so far clear of the rest (24 lengths plus) that it's barely worth anyone else running!

To add financial insult to injury my trifecta paid £17.60, while my drinking buddy's tricast paid £42.37. Cheers Jerry (and the Tote)!

4.40 Mares Hurdle

I had questioned the form of Quevega, the 2/1 favourite, and readily opposed her with rock solid second choice in the market, United. Quevega answered all questions, hacking around and scooting clear in the fashion of a very good horse. She was miles the best, and put 14 lengths between herself and the chasing United, who in turn got the better of a tight tussle with, in finishing order, Aura About You, Over Sixty and Gaspara.

Small salvation came in the shape of an each way bet on Over Sixty, which was honoured on 4th place by those fine chaps at William Hill (ahem).

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Well done to Gavin's guide for finding four of the six winners from his top three in the Nag ratings. Fine start.

********

So, a tad muddied, I begin day two in something of a pickle. Not a courgette chutney or anything alarming like that; more of a tame branston.

Battle lines will be rejoined, and I'll be ready with a new arsenal of equine ammunition (smothered in various marinades!), in the following forms:

1.30 National Hunt Chase

Four miles, amateur riders, novice chasers. Never was a race less befitting of risking euros, dollars or pounds. I mean, really, it's an absolute shambles of an affair with most of them ending up on the deck (8 from 20 failed to complete last season, 9 from 19 the year before, 9 from 22 before that, and so on). Yes, I know we had the winner on the blog last year, but still, this race is an abomination.

For the record, my thoughts are thus:

7 and 8yo's have won the last six runnings and 8 of the last ten. Four runs or more this season is a must, as is finishing placed (first 4) last time out. In fact, let's look only at those who finished 1st or 2nd last time out. The 'obvious' one rarely wins.

Taking that into account, although Can't Buy Time looks a likely lad, I'll pass over him for the selection and instead plump for Coe over Fair Point, Tricky Trickster and Nine De Sivola.

Selection: Coe

Placepot: Coe, Fair Point, Tricky Trickster, Nine De Sivola, Pangbourne, Parsons Pistol (six and still not confident!!!)

2.05 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

A cracking renewal with just fourteen runners but loads of unexposed 'could be anything' types. Strong trends are:

5 and 6yo's have won the last nine runnings; 9 of the last 11 winners ran in a Graded race last time out; 10 of the last 11 winners had won in their previous two outings.

This gives us Diamond Harry, Knockara Beau and Mikael D'Haguenet. The winner of the Challow Hurdle has failed to win this race in eleven attempts, a stat Diamond Harry attempts to defy. Nevertheless, I do believe that Harry is a fantastic prospect who would surely be shorter in the betting were he trained by a bigger name. 9/2 seems reasonable enough.

Selection: Diamond Harry

Placepot: Diamond Harry, Mikael D'Haguenet

2.40 RSA Chase

A classy race which has been won in the past two seasons by Denman and Albertas Run.

Stats to consider: 7 and 8yo's have won 12 of the last 14 renewals (excludes 7 of the 15 runners, including the 2nd to 4th favourites); must have been 1st or 2nd last time out; only two Irish winners in the last decade (both trained by Willie Mullins).

Shortlisted are: Cooldine, Killyglen, and Massini's Maguire.

The form of Cooldine's win over Forpadydeplasterer received a very handsome compliment today when the latter won the Arkle, and Cooldine is trained by two-time winner in the last decade, Willie Mullins. He will be a tough nut to crack.

Massini's Maguire's course record includes two wins and two thirds from five starts, and he is a very game contender who may well run for a place again.

Killyglen is improving but probably isn't up to winning a race of this magnitude.

Selection: Cooldine, Massini's Maguire (e/w)

Placepot: Cooldine, Massini's Maguire

3.20 Queen Mother Champion Chase

A race that revolves around the brilliant Master Minded. Bar a fall, it's hard to see him being beaten, and I think it will be great if he wins. His victory last season exhausted most superlatives as he was rightly accorded performance of the season status.

But horses do fall in this race. As I've mentioned previously, Well Chief, Kauto Star and Moscow Flyer have all fallen at odds of 2/1 (and favourite) or less, in the last five years! Bear in mind also that the last NINE defending champions have failed to win.

In the unlikely event that Master Minded fails to win, then - as previously alluded - the two I'd take against the field are Big Zeb and huge outsider, Scotsirish.

Selection: Master Minded

Placepot: Master Minded, Big Zeb, Scotsirish

4.00 Coral Cup

A handicap hurdle, requiring punters to be as resilient as their equine investments. Trends: 5 of the last 6 winners had won last time out (10 of the last 11 finished in the first six LTO); nothing has led and won in the past decade; 10 of the last 11 winners carried 11-03 or less (only Irish horses have won with more than 11 stone).

In what is an ultra competitive race, the shortlist is not all that short, but Mirage Dore ticks all the boxes, despite this scribe's reservations about the jockey.

Selection: Mirage Dore

Placepot: Mirage Dore, The Polomoche, Thundering Star, Ambobo

4.40 Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Handicap Hurdle

Won by a couple of decent sticks in the last two seasons (Crack Away Jack and Gaspara), horses higher in the weights seem to go well here. Other trends to mention - though there's only four years of data - are: top weight has placed three out of four times; 3 of the 4 won last time out; 3 of the 4 winners have been 14/1 or bigger; all four had run three times over hurdles (the minimum to get a handicap rating!). The Aga Khan's breeding operation has a great record (two wins and a 2nd in the four races).

Higgy's Boy hits all the marks, as does Amore Mio for last year's winning connections.

Selection: Amore Mio

Placepot: Amore Mio, Higgy's Boy, Mr Thriller, Simarian

5.15 Champion Bumper

The flat race of the Festival. An Irish benefit race, the challenge is to find the right one from the many entries. Trends tell us: all of the last 11 winners won a bumper with 15 or more runners; Irish have won 13 of the 16 renewals; look to horses who have not run this calendar year.

Any number of unexposed likely types, and the Bumper King, Willie Mullins, saddles no fewer than eight of the 24 runners (quite ridiculous - there should surely be a limit!).

I'll side tentatively with the unbeaten Shinrock Paddy, trained by shrewdie Paul Nolan. He's won a bumper over course and distance, and also a point to point over three miles, so the required stamina will be there. He should give us a decent run at 14/1, but there are numerous live opponents.

Selection: Shinrock Paddy (e/w)

The best of luck to you for Day Two - I'm hoping for one winner at least, and I don't mean Master Minded!

Matt

p.s. Feel free to leave a comment below with your fancy or fancies for the day. Can you do better than me?!

The Champion Chase: An Open and Shut Case?

One of the things about being opinionated, dear reader, is that the albumen on physiognamy (egg on face) situation is never far from occuring. And so it was that this time last year, I made extremely bullish noises about the fact that a horse called Master Minded could NOT win the Champion Chase.

As it transpired, I was wrong. Very, hopelessly, laughably wrong. Master Minded turned in one of the mightiest demolition job performances I've ever seen. It was a championship event, and the best of the best had turned out, trained to their minutes for the collective big day. But it was a man and boys story, with the boy (as a 5yo, he was the youngest ever winner of the race) becoming the man.

Master Minded goes to Cheltenham on the second Wednesday in March as the boiling hot favourite. Is there anything to beat him? Or is this a lap of honour for the returning king? On all known form, he's a cert (bar a fall). What do the trends tell us? There are 19 entered, most of whom won't run...

- The last ten winners had previously won that season. Strike through eight, including Twist Magic and unraced Well Chief

- 9 out of the last 11 winners were aged 6 to 10. (The two who weren't were Moscow Flyer, 11, and Master Minded himself, 5). Bye bye Ashley Brook and previous winner Newmill (who had failed the first stat too).

- 10 of the last 11 winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 chase in the Festival winning season.

That leaves just four: Master Minded, Big Zeb, Scotsirish, and Voy Por Ustedes. Voy Por is headed for the Ryanair Chase (openly swerving the Master), which leaves three. Indeed, both Scotsirish and Big Zeb are also entered in the Ryanair, but are more likely to run in this event.

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Although Master Minded is far and away the most likely winner, it is worth bearing in mind the following:

2007 Well Chief, Fell, Evens favourite

2006 Kauto Star, Fell, 2/1 favourite

2004 Moscow Flyer, Unseated rider, 5/6 favourite

Brilliant horses, who seemingly only needed to jump round to win, failed to do that. Personally, I hope Master Minded completes and wins in the style of the wonder horse he clearly is. He's still just a SIX year old!

But something has to finish 2nd and 3rd, and we'll get paid on both places, so each way is a pleasure on the two Irish horses, Scotsirish (prefers soft) and Big Zeb (needs to jump well).

Big Zeb (e/w) is a best priced 12/1 with Paddy Power, who are offering a quarter the odds 1-2-3. There might not be eight runners on the day, meaning there might not be three places, and there will almost certainly not be much quarter odds on the place, come the day. So get some of this now.

Scotsirish (e/w) has finished 1st and 3rd in Grade 2 races on his last two runs, but might defect to the Ryanair. Nevertheless, he is a massive price, so a tiny each way tickle at the available 100/1 (quarter odds 1-2-3; if he's a non runner, you'll get your money back) with bet365.

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Now for some Thursday Fun, and yours truly is actually featuring in an online women's magazine today. Of all things!

The link is here:

http://www.whispermag.co.uk/columns/209228/featured_man_matt_b.html

Shameful, shocking, shambolic. And that's just the photo!!!

Happy Thursday.

Matt