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Cheltenham 2009: Day Three Notes, Day Four Thoughts

Enough of war analogies, dear reader, today was more akin to the fairground roller coaster. I've rarely experienced more highs and lows in a few short hours.

Before I consider tomorrow's action, these are my notes from today (as is now customary, feel free to skip down to the *******'s if you just want to know what to back / swerve on Gold Cup Day).

1.30 Jewson Novices' Handicap Chase

The day started on the dodgems, as the aim of the game was to avoid the bad jumpers. In fairness, most of them jumped very well, with a couple of exceptions (including my Exmoor Ranger). The winner, Chapoturgeon, was a strong trends horse, except that as a 5yo I didn't think he'd be mature enough. Yet another French import proves that wrong.

Pancake in 7th was the best I could do on the placepot, so it was my second early bath of the week. Perhaps this alternation means I'll cop the 'pot again tomorrow. Hmm, hope springs eternal.

2.05 Pertemps Final

A race in which a win last time out has been a strong pointer. Only three could boast that today, and one of them won at 16/1 (available at much bigger earlier in the day).

A tenner on the winner at 34.something set me up nicely for the rest of the day... and I could have had the trifecta from my placepot perm (but didn't of course).

Kayf Aramis Gets Me Going

£300 odd quid up (actually £200 odd quid after errant placepot), and bring on the next race.

2.40 Ryanair Chase

I'd never previously backed the winner of this race, and I have still never backed the winner of this race. Which is curious considering the longest priced winner was today's 6/1 second favourite.

Imperial Commander traveled supremely well, and readily saw off all-comers. Voy Por was arguably disappointing, but he has done that a few times now. I was glad to swerve at the 4/5 on offer.

In behind, Schindler's Hunt has run some fine races at the Festival, and Tidal Bay ran a very odd race - totally outpaced before staying on with some fortitude into a never nearer 4th.

Our Vic was poor, and Gwanako will be stronger next year. This should revert to being a Grade 2 in my opinion.

3.20 World Hurdle

My bet of the meeting, Kasbah Bliss, was uneasy in the morning and had drifted out to 11/8 in a place. Come the pre-race market though, and he was smashed in to, eventually sent off the 10/11 favourite. Thankfully, I only lost £300 on the horse.

According to the recorded bets, there were plenty of £10,000's lost, and one £20k up in smoke. The full tale of punting woe is below:

£7500-£6000 £5000-£4000 £3500-£2000 £6000-£5000 (x3) £3600-£3000 £2400-£2000 £1200-£1000 (x2) £11000-£10000 £4400-£4000 £2200-£2000 (x2) £1650-£1500 (x2) £1000-£1100 (x3) £20000-£20000 £10000-£10000 (x2) £8000-£8000 £5000-£5000 (x11) £3500-£3500 £2500-£2500 £2000-£2000 (x8) £1500-£1500 £1380-£1380 £1200-£1200 £1000-£1000 (x20) £10000-£11000 £5000-£5500 £2000-£2200

On the back of Voy Por's failure in the previous race, the smell of singed digits must be all over Gloucestershire tonight.

Big Buck's was a worthy winner (and an apt one for the bookies, who attracted just that); Punchestowns ran his race; Powerstation ran a gallant but distant third, and the French will return to Paris to contemplate.

4.00 Freddie Williams Festival Plate

After a real downer - every time I put multiple hundreds on a horse, it gets beaten (and I mean, literally, every time I've done it) - I need something to get me back on track. And frankly two 20+ runner handicap chases did not fill me with the much needed confidence I was after...

But it's a funny old game, as Greavsie would say, and every race gives us a chance to find a winner (and many more chances to find losers).

Gavin had put a horse up as his strongest handicap fancy of the week, and the trends for it were strong. He had said:

We here at Nag3 HQ strongly fancy Something Wells today in the 4.00. Ladbrokes go 33/1 about
the Venetia Williams trained 8-y-o and he is recommended as our best handicap each way bet of the
meeting.

Wow! Now that's tipping! Ok, so the Nag blog didn't find a 50/1 winner this year (yet!), but it's banged in a 33/1 poke.

I really hope some of you got to yell that thing home like I did (and Gavin did). I only had a little tickle, but Gavin fancied it strongly and backed it accordingly. I swear I heard him cheering it from Wales!

Well played buddy - top drawer tipping.

This punter only had £7.50 at 55, but that still paid for the bungled Gallic raid that preceded it.

winning betfair ticket

winning betfair ticket

Incidentally, Le Burf was going very nicely when coming down four out and, though Gavin won't thank me for saying it, he might have given the winner a race. I had a £1 e/w double from Kayf Aramis running onto that fella (but not Something Wells, alas), which would have paid nicely enough. No matter.

4.40 Kim Muir Handicap Chase

A clear winner in Character Building, despite the apparent short distances between the first eight home. Character Building was way too good for them, and cruised home virtually on the bridle.

Bowleaze in fourth repaid my place wager, though not my win wager, and I finished the day in front by around £400 despite taking a big kick in the plums earlier on. A (very) good result, all things considered.

********

To tomorrow, the climax of the week. Not in a porn star kind of way, but rather a symphonic ascent to the very zenith of the sport (I wonder if the words 'porn', 'symphonic' and 'zenith' have ever been used in a sentence before... well they have now - twice!)

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Gold Cup day is upon us, and whither will the Geegeez cash be flung?

Before I share my thoughts, I need to tell you that Night Orbit makes his debut over hurdles tomorrow in the 5.30 at Fakenham. He's schooled well apparently, but I'm not expecting too much (and nor should you if you choose to follow me in!). Back to business:

1.30 Triumph Hurdle

Not exactly an easy start to the day, but then there never is at Cheltenham. Let's get trending!

I'm looking for a winner last time out, who has also won at least one more race, and run at least three times over hurdles. This gets rid of both Zaynar and Master of Arts at the top of the market, as well as many other less fancied runners. In fact, it leaves just six of the eighteen starters.

Form over at least 1m4f is required for this fair test of stamina, and (a bit of) class from the flat transfers pretty well in this contest.

The two that best fit the bill are Starluck and Walkon. Slight preference is for the latter. Although Silk Drum has a bit to find, he's overpriced at 60 on betfair.

Selection: Walkon, Silk Drum (e.w)

Placepot: Walkon, Starluck, Jumbo Rio

2.05 County Hurdle

Traditionally, the last act. And last year, Silver Jaro had us cheering from the rooftops at 50/1. Nigh on impossible to top, or even replicate that, but let's have a crack anyway!

Stats were upheld last year, so I'm going to use the same rationale again:

5-9yo; 11-01 or less in weight; 4+ runs this season; placed last time out.

The shortlist thus is: Fisher Bridge, Farringdon, Sunnyhill Boy, Bedlam Boy, Nortonthorpe Lad.

On form, Dave's Dream will win. And if he's not knackered from his win in the Imperial Cup on Saturday, that's probably what will happen (netting connections a healthy bonus cheque in the process).

If he is knackered, things are altogether more difficult. Despite the 50/1 winner last season, it normally pays to side with a horse somewhat more fancied in the market (the other nine winners this decade were 16/1 or shorter, with four favourites - or joint fav's - obliging).

This brings in AP McCoy and his Sunnyhillboy. Although it may be heresy to say it, McCoy nearly messed it up last time at Sandown, when just getting home by a short margin. He won't exaggerate the deferral so much this time, and he looks primed for a very strong run. The 'boy galloped relentlessly up the Sandown hill, and I can see him doing the self same thing up the Cheltenham hill. He's quite a strong fancy.

Selection: Sunnyhillboy, Farringdon (e.w)

Placepot: Sunnyhillboy, Fisher Bridge, Farringdon

2.40 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle

One of the new races, but we're definitely looking for a horse who has stamina, class and won or was 2nd last time out.

The three that catch my eye are Alpha Ridge, Pride of Dulcote and Weapon's Amnesty (after I tried to get rid of the war theme!). Paul Nicholls' horse is too short for my tastes, though he may win, so I'll take the other two each way.

Selection: Alpha Ridge (e.w), Weapon's Amnesty (e.w)

Placepot: Alpha Ridge, Weapon's Amnesty, Pride of Dulcote

3.20 Cheltenham Gold Cup

The main event. This is what it's all about. A fiendishly difficult race this year, with question marks again every single contender:

Is Kauto Star back to his best, and will he stay again? (quite possibly)

Will Neptune Collonges stay, and jump? (No, and maybe)

Is Denman 80% of the horse he was? (I hope so, I suspect not)

Can Exotic Dancer bridge the class gap required to win? (I doubt it)

Can Madison du Berlais improve again? (Possibly, but front running to win a Gold Cup?!)

Is Barbers Shop anywhere near good enough? (I wouldn't have thought so)

Will the real Alberta's Run please stand up? (He'll probably stand up, but he might not be good enough)

Are any of the rest of them good enough to cause a shock? (Doubtful, but not impossible).

I've reviewed this race elsewhere, and honestly I think it's a nightmare. It wouldn't surprise me if any of them won it (with the exception of Cerium), and we could be looking at a Norton's Coin-type shocker. Equally, Kauto Star could jump properly and give his connections a week to remember.

The ground is right for Kauto, and he has undoubted class. It is only history and statistics that he has to defy. The most likely winner for sure, but the actual winner?

I just don't know who will win this race. As such, I'm going to prey my ante post vouchers perform with a modicum of merit, and give me the chance of a cheer...

Gold Cup Place Bet Ante PostGold Cup Ante Post Bets

Selection: Albertas Run (but only because it will give me a very nice payout if it obliges)

Placepot: Kauto Star, Albertas Run, Madison du Berlais

4.00 Foxhunter Challenge Chase

Not so difficult a race as you might think to find the winner in, despite the presence of 20/1 (twice) and 33/1 winners in the last three seasons.

We're looking for a horse aged 9 or younger, who won last time out; and lightly raced (less than three runs this season) please.

Taking these things into account, and preparing for egg on face, my four against the field (at 33/1 or bigger!), are:

Baby Run, Chief Oscar, Robbers Glen (unluckily brought down when going like the winner last time), and You Do The Math.

I think Charlie Longsdon is a very good trainer, and - gun to head - his You Do The Math would be my pick of the four.

Selection: Baby Run, Chief Oscar, Robbers Glen, You Do The Math (all e.w, look for a bookie paying 4th place)

Placepot: Chief Oscar, Robbers Glen, You Do The Math, Amicelli, Royal Auclair

4.40 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle

A new race, with nothing to go on. Suffice it to say that David Pipe will want to win this!

Looking generally at Festival handicap hurdles, it pays to side with a horse that won last time out and has less than eleven stone to lug. Alas, they all carry eleven stone or more here!

In what is a fiendishly tough end to a murderously challenging placepot riddle, Big Eared Fran must run well for the Pipes. Mamlook has the look of a job horse, but Buena Vista - if running again tomorrow - could also run well.

I'll not be betting in this race. Instead, I'll be hoping I've got something in the placepot to cheer. But, honestly, I could pick ten in here and not be confident of finding the winner.

Selection: ask Mystic Meg!

Placepot: Penn Da Benn, Presenting Copper, Hangover (a most appropriate winner!!!), Big Eared Fran

1620 x 10p = my biggest placepot perm ever at £162, but hell, it should be worth winning!

5.20 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase

We might be preying for the final whistle, or a ceasefire, or an end to any of the other analogies I've used this week by now. Assuming we're not, let's look for some comfort in the 'lucky last' (excluding our tickle on Night Orbit in the 5.30 at Fakenham of course!!)

A brilliant stat from Paul Jones over at attheraces is that horses officially rated 130-134 have finished 1st and 2nd in this race in 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008 (last year). Blimey, there's only three in the race: Jigsaw Dancer, Tramantano, and Valain.

Let's dig deeper and revert to this in due course, as necessary. No winner has lugged more than 10-11 to win in more than a decade. Indeed, five of those winners carried either 10-00 or 10-01. The Irish have a good record in the race, with four wins (40%) from far less runners than that.

Eight of the last ten winners have been sent off at single figure odds, so it's not a bad race for the 'getting out stakes'.

Valain is a seriously interesting contender. A novice, he's won two of his four starts over fences, was 2nd on another occasion, and pulled up once. His prep race was on the all-weather at Dundalk, where he was 2nd to high class hurdler Al Eile.

He has all the right boxes ticked, and looks to me like a plunge horse tomorrow. (I might be completely wrong of course!).

Selection: Valain (e.w)

It's been getting progressibly tougher as the week has worn on, and tomorrow may be a bridge too far, after Kayf Aramis and Something Wells today.

Whatever you're on, good luck.

No post from me tomorrow. As I have been slaving over this all week, I hope you'll forgive me a glass or eight of the black stuff to celebrate another stunningly brilliant four days racing on Cleeve Hill.

Cheers!

Matt

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?!

Cheltenham Day One Preview: Let Battle Commence!

I know it's sad, dear reader, but to me this morning is like Christmas morning. In fact, it's better than Christmas morning. The anticipation is often not matched by the actuality, but at this juncture every second Tuesday in March, I feel the same anxiety, excitement, nervousness and schoolboy hysteria for what is to follow. Yes, folks, Cheltenham is upon us once more!

As you may know, my preparations have been rushed somewhat this year, and as such I'm still playing catch up. Confidence therefore is not what it could be, and I will be using all the tools available to me to supplant my limited research (Gavin's guide, Timeform, ATR website, Racing Post form).

Let's see what I reckon today:

1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle

An Irish benefit in recent years, with 10 of the last 17 (and 7 of the last 10) winners coming from across the pond. Those boys in green are very well represented again this year, with Cousin Vinny heading the pack. Vinny is a full eleven pounds clear on Timeform ratings, which for a race like this is massive. However, concerns about how he's travelled must be taken seriously and they put me off lumping on him, as he ticks all the right boxes.

Funnily enough, it's not always the Irish first choice who brings home the bacon, so I'm siding with Kempes here. Lightly raced, and winner of both starts this season, he comes from the stable of Willie Mullins (responsible for the 2007 winner). This makes him a stable companion of Cousin Vinny, but like I said the Irish often win with one of the less fancied horses.

Interestingly, according to ATR website, 8 of the last 16 runnings of this race have been won by a horse who'd had two runs over hurdles that season and won last time out. Kempes fits this bill too.

Of the British challenge, I like Michael Flips most. A winner of two of his three hurdles starts, he's got plenty of speed and - if his stamina can match it - he may prove a tough nut to crack.

Selection: Kempes

Placepot: Kempes, Cousin Vinny, Michael Flips

2.05 Arkle

I've nailed my colours to the I'msingingtheblues mast previously and, whilst not supremely confident, I reckon he'll give us a grand run for our money. At around 10/1, he looks a solid each way tickle. (He's also top rated by five pounds in Timeform).

Selection: I'msingingtheblues

Placepot: I'msingingtheblues, Calgary Bay

2.40 William Hill Handicap Chase

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The first handicap of the meeting, and not the last!

Strongish trends: 10-12 or less in weight (in the handicap though), aged 7 to 10, winner over 3 miles or more, a classy chaser, ideally with previous Festival form.

One that ticks all those boxes at any price you like (well, actually, he's 50/1 - bigger on the exchanges) is Ferdy Murphy's Hot Weld. Murphy is the handicap master at Cheltenham and was responsible for 50/1 Joes Edge in this race two years ago. We backed it on the blog, and I'll be hoping that lightening strikes twice!

(He's won the National Hunt Cup at the Festival, the Scottish National, AND the Betfred Gold Cup. Ok, he's coming here off a long break and a pulled up last time out, but if the horse is near the horse he was, he's no 50 shot!)

Stacks of challengers, headed by Possol, Nenuphar Collonges, and Wichita Lineman, and also look out for improved runs from Patsy Hall and Oedipe representing the powerful stables of Tony Martin and Nicky Henderson respectively (both of whom have saddled the winner since 2000).

Selection: Hot Weld

Placepot: Hot Weld, Nenuphar Collonges, Oedipe, Possol

3.20 Champion Hurdle

Again, I've covered this race elsewhere, and have sided with Osana, whom I've backed ante post at 28/1 (win only).

Incidentally, you could have layed Binocular at 5/4 when I did my preview - he's been matched at 2.98 this morning (now shorter however).

Selection: Osana

Placepot: Osana, Sublimity, Binocular

4.00 Cross Country Handicap Chase

A race that seems to be the Enda Bolger benefit, with three of the four winners coming from his omnipotent stable. All four winners have been Irish (and a staggering eleven of the twelve placed horses too!), and I see no reason why that stat will change today. The 4/9 that Paddy Power offer about Bolger winning the race looks very tempting, as he has four of the first six in the market, and this race doesn't go to outsiders.

However, you want to know the winner, so I will tell you that my nap of the day is L'Ami. He's also (carelessly?) my placepot banker.

Selection: L'Ami

Placepot: L'ami

4.40 David Nicholson Mares Hurdle

If Whiteoak had run in this race, rather than the Champion (where I fear her tenacity will not be enough), she'd be a confident selection. Alas she doesn't. There is no trends form to go on, as the race was first run last season.

Instead let's concentrate on the placed horses last year. Chomba Womba seemed to run out of gas when fading to third (albeit not beaten far), but the one I prefer is the fourth placed mare from last year, Gaspara.

She had also won at the Festival the season before, completing the big bonus Imperial Cup - Cheltenham win double. She will try to make the running, and will have many of these on the stretch some way out.

However, my selection didn't run in this race last year, but is an exceptional race mare. Her name is United, and seeing as they are winning everything this season, why not a race at Cheltenham too?!

I can't have Quevega, the favourite. Whilst I respect connections, an Irish horse was sent off 7/2 last season and stuffed out of sight. This one has a lot to prove (don't know what happens when she comes off the bridle, as she surely must here; done all winning on soft surfaces; won off a funereal gallop in Ireland - they'll go far quicker here), and I'd sooner take form in the book.

Selection: United

Placepot: United, Gaspara, Chomba Womba

That then is me for today - whatever you're on, I wish you good luck. And remember, it's a four day marathon, not a one day sprint. So keep at least half of your powder dry!

BRING IT ON!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Matt

Playing Catch Up, Plus a Brilliant Offer…

With hindsight, dear reader, taking last week off to jolly around southern Poland and Northern Slovakia was not a good idea. Not because the company wasn't excellent, nor because I didn't eat and drink at a rate that - if sustained - would see me become two NHS statistics pretty rapidly. Not even because the weather was bad.

No, the problem is that the week before Cheltenham is a ridiculously busy time, and I am now ridiculously behind schedule. The rest of this month will be a real challenge to catch up.

So, in this post, please review a few despatches, before - either later today, or worst case, tomorrow morning - my Day 1 Cheltenham Preview post. There are a couple I have my eye on, which you may want to look out for too.

Enough of that for now.

********

Now, three things I need to tell you about, as follows:

Your first 30 days for just £1

1. I've just learnt that one of my favourite products, Racing Secrets [Exposed] (RSE), has been relaunched, and is selling for the princely sum of.... seven quid! Now, as ever, there is a catch. Signing up automatically gives you 30 days free access to the lays for RSE. That's no catch, I hear you cry. Well, no indeed. However, if after 30 days, you wish to continue receiving the lay selections, you will be charged a reasonable enough £27 per month thereafter.

So here's what to do: sign up for Racing Secret Exposed for £7 here. Mark the date of 6th April in your calendar. Make a decision on that day whether or not to persist with the service. If you decide not to, just cancel your membership and you'll only ever pay the seven quid. NOTE, you will have to choose a paid subscription as part of the signup process, but you will only be billed £7 at this time, and nothing further until the end of 30 days, and even then, only if you didn't cancel beforehand. Phew, that was a mouthful, but important detail to share, I think.

Oh, and of course - as with any product I recommend, you either get a free trial or a money-back guarantee (or both). In this case, it's both. So if you don't like it, you can even get your seven notes back. Can't say fairer than that!

I gave RSE one of the highest ratings I've ever awarded a product when I first reviewed it back in May 2007 (see that review here), and now it's available again for considerably less than a tenner, I strongly recommend you check it out.

2. Gavin's brilliant Cheltenham guide is now complete, and runs to a whopping 102 pages. He's also giving away a bunch of bonus content on his Festival Trends website. If you don't have a copy, you either won't be betting at Cheltenham or prefer betting at least partially blindly. That's my (admittedly, somewhat biased) view any road.

Check it here: Festival Trends

3. After the success of the last 'betting giveaway', it was only a matter of time before another one followed. And so it is that a similar event will take place in about ten days time. I can't vouch for the quality of all of the freebies, and I believe that there was quite a wide quality range last time around.

What I can tell you is that my giveaway will be great (of course!!!), and that you should always keep in mind that any list you sign up to, you can always sign out from as well by using the unsubscribe link in each email sent to you. This makes it risk free: sign up, check out the product, if you don't like it, then unsubscribe. It's as easy, and fair, as that.

I'll be back later, with my thoughts on the first day of the awesome amazing phenomenal brilliant superb unsurpassed unique racing extravaganza that is the Cheltenham Festival. If you're half as excited as I am, you'll need a clean pair of undergarments on standby!!! 😉

Ciao for now,

Matt

p.s. Although this post is something of a pitchfest, I think you'll be pretty hard pushed to find a betting way to spend less than £22 on racing information. I hope at least some of you agree with that.

The Gold Cup Winner Is In This Post…

Continuing my series of looking at the major Championship races at this year's Cheltenham Festival, dear reader, today I'm going to take a view on the Gold Cup. And, as the title suggests, I'll leave no stone unturned. (Essentially, if I mention every horse in the race, the statement will be true...!)

As usual, I'll be relying heavily on history to help me read the future, so let's get stuck in:

- 26 left in, as Nozic is not going to run.

- All of the last ten winners, and 14 of the last 15, were aged 7-9. Here, we lose Arteea (no hoper), Big Buck's (going for the World Hurdle), Knowhere, Our Vic, The Listener and, perhaps most notably, War of Attrition (former winner, but now ten).

- The last 11 winners had all raced between 2 and 5 times that season. No hoper Cerium is joined by slightly more serious contender Denman, in failing this stat. Others to stumble here are Milan Deux Mille, My Will and Snoopy Loopy, for whom it's been a long and memorable season, but this is a bridge too far.

- 9 of the last eleven winners had won or placed at a previous Festival. The two who didn't were Kauto Star (fell as favourite for the Champion Chase, would surely have placed bar a fall); and See More Business, who was carried out by an errant horse the previous year. This takes out my Halcon Genelardais (4th last year in the race), Imperial Commander, Notre Pere, and State of Play. Just ten left now.

- Now, consider this. No horse previously placed in a Gold Cup has gone on to win the race the following year since 1983. We lose Kauto Star and Neptune Collonges.

- If you don't like that, then consider this: no previous winner has EVER regained his crown after losing it the following year. Can Kauto Star be the first? Possibly, but he's not for this stats man. Eight still in.

- All of the last ten winners had won one of their last three races. This excludes my other ante-post fancy Albertas Run, as well as Air Force One, Snowy Morning, and Star De Mohaison.

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The final quartet then are: Barbers Shop, Exotic Dancer, Madison du Berlais and Roll Along.

Roll Along has entries elsewhere and is unlikely to line up here. The other three will all take their chances.

Exotic Dancer was beaten fair and square the last two years (3rd in 2007, 4th in 2008), so I can't have him.

Barbers Shop would be a very popular winner, trained as he is by Tony Hancock, erm, I mean Nicky Henderson (am I the only person who thinks the brilliant trainer is a dead ringer for the, er, brilliant dead comic?); and owned by Her Majesty the Queen. But he's never won better than a Listed chase, and this is a huge step up in class.

Which leaves the enigmatic Madison du Berlais. He had a horror season last year, when he may have been suffering the effects of a very heavy campaign in 2006/7. However, this season, he's won both the Hennessey Gold Cup (which Denman won en route to Gold Cup glory last season); and the renamed re-routed Aon Chase (which Denman also won en route to victory last season).

At around 8/1 (9/1 on Betfair), he looks a belting each way bet. With doubts (in my mind at least) about the Nicholls trio at the head of the market, I reckon we could be in for an upset this year. Although Madison would hardly be that, he would mark an end to the Nicholls stranglehold that's seen him win the last two renewals, and secure a podium clean sweep last year.

Outsiders with a squeak for a place are many and varied. I've nailed my ante post colours to the masts of Albertas Run (for whom all will be in his favour on the day and - though not a fully fledged trends horse - has a great chance as last year's RSA winner) and the slogger Halcon Genelardais (4th last year, will run his race again, but will likely be too slow for these).

One that might be interesting for a small each way bet is Star de Mohaison (e/w). Very lightly raced over fences, he's only been out of the frame once in 9 chase starts (including five wins), and that was when 4th in a quag here in January. The problem is that he is entered in the William Hill Chase as well and may not run here. It would not be the greatest shock however, if the Nicholls 'fourth string' was the one to keep the Cup on the mantlepiece at Ditcheat.

Gold Cup Ante Post BetsGold Cup Place Bet Ante Post

********

Onto matters nearer to now, and Night Orbit (in whom I own a small share) races at Wolverhampton again today (2.50). He's getting a little disappointing and the jockey booking is not inspiring. At the price, I'll be having a small bet, but only because I'll fume if he wins. I couldn't recommend that you wager the beast, though stranger things have happened. [It's certainly an ordinary enough race!]

Julia also runs Sand Repeal in the opener - it looks a warmer race, and again I'd not be rushing to bet the horse.

********

Finally, I'm taking advantage of a friend's generosity and have bagged myself a very cheap ski deal (only had to pay for budget airline flights and a lift pass), so posts may be few and far between until next Monday. However, I will have my laptop with me, for email support and - mainly - because I am kneedeep in data for the impending flat turf season (starts March 30th, in case you didn't know). More when I'm back.

Hoping your Monday is somewhere between tolerable and glorious - weather here in London is veritably vernal today!!

Matt

p.s. There's some excellent comments on the Champion Hurdle post (click the February archive on the right hand side, and it's 24th Feb); what are your thoughts on the Gold Cup? Do you agree with me about Denman, Kauto and Neptune? Or am I talking through my number-laden hat? Who wins the Blue Riband?

Cheltenham Festival Trends: Last Plug…

For those who haven't yet taken advantage of the fifteen quid bumper Cheltenham package yet, I just wanted to quickly show you what's on the inside...

This image highlights all the goodies you get for your single payment of about 50p a race.

Get it here - it's the best value guide anywhere. Guaranteed.

Festival Trends Content

Matt

Cheltenham World Hurdle: Bliss For Kasbah?

The World Hurdle, dear reader, was formerly known as the Stayer's Hurdle. Why? Because it's for horses with stamina, natch! Run over 3m, a new champion will be crowned this year, due to the absence of three time winner, Inglis Drever.

Who will fill the considerable void left by that venerable veteran? Let's use some statistics to have a look...

There are 23 possible starters, though I reckon no more than 16 will actually line up.

- Gavin's Cheltenham Trends Book's killer stat is that the last 21 winners finished in the first 4 last time out. This eliminates nine, including Afsoun, Blazing Bailey, Mighty Man and Hardy Eustace.

- Aside from the Drever last season, this has been monopolised by 6-8 year olds. We'll lose another two (Lough Derg and Powerstation, probably both headed for handicaps anyway)

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- This is a terrible race for the Irish with no winner for 14 years. Five more bite the dust, including Aitmatov and Catch Me.

Seven left now: Big Bucks, Duc de Regniere, Fair Along, Kasbah Bliss, Mobaasher, Punchestowns, and Tazbar.

Alas, this list includes six of the first seven in the betting!

- Lightly raced sorts have it, with all ten of the last winners running thrice or less that season prior to Cheltenham. Duc de R, and the valiant Fair Along are overexposed for the season.

- Again, thanks to Gavin's Cheltenham guide for this stat: the last eight winners were 1st or 2nd on all runs that season. Big Bucks (unseated), Mobaasher (3rd), and Tazbar (5th and 3rd) fail this stat.

So, that leaves us with Kasbah Bliss and Punchestowns, the favourite and second favourite. This is heartening, given that the winner has come from the top four in the betting for each of the last eight runnings.

Kasbah Bliss laughed at some decent rivals last time out, and was the only one to make a race of it with Inglis Drever in the corresponding event last year. Punchestowns has been beaten in two of his three Cheltenham starts, and I confidently take Kasbah to add to Francois Doumen's excellent race record (2 wins, 3 places, from 9 runners in recent seasons).

11/8 may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I believe this horse to be a real star and still improving. Bar a fall? He's my nap of the meeting... and I reckon he'll be odds on come March 12th.

Matt

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.

********

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

Champion Hurdle Preview: Cheltenham 2009

Continuing my look at some of the major races at the 2009 Cheltenham Festival, dear reader, let's have a sideways squint at the Champion Hurdle, for which you may or may not need Binoculars to find the winner...

It's now just two weeks until the curtain rises on the greatest four days of racing in the calendar (for this fan of the sport at least). The Champion Hurdle is the Blue Riband hurdle race in UK, and the roll of honour is long and hugely distinguished. Multiple winners are a feature of that list, so let's see what chance Katchit (2008 winner) and Sublimity (2007) have, amongst many others.

So let's get to the numbers, and see what we see:

- All of the last ten winners were 1st or 2nd last time out (in fact, 9/10 won). Of the 34 pre-entries, this reduces the field to 15, and strikes out such as Punjabi, Crack Away Jack, Jered (who I don't think can possibly win), Sizing Europe (thank God - the horse has cost me a fortune!), and the aforementioned past winners Katchit and Sublimity (and dear old Hardy Eustace).

- Previous Cheltenham Festival form is extremely beneficial, with 9/10 having already won at Cheltenham in March. This discounts Ashkazar (who was 2nd last season); 6/4 ante post favourite, Binocular (who was also 2nd last season); Catch Me (3rd in 2007); Cybergenic (who is 750/1 anyway!); Harchibald (2nd in this race in 2005); Hurricane Fly (the novice is a Cheltenham debutant, and unlikely runner in this race); Jazz Messenger (7th in 2006); Muirhead (12th last year); Osana (2nd in this race last year); Sentry Duty (stuffed out of sight last year); and, Won In The Dark (3rd in the Triumph last year).

- In fact, on this stat, there are only four possible winners: Brave Inca, Celestial Halo, Ebaziyan, and Whiteoak. For the purposes of the research, I will include any horse that has finished in the first 3 at a previous Festival, which means reinstating Ashkazar, Binocular, Catch Me, Harchibald, Osana, and Won In The Dark.

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- No winner of the Champion Hurdle in the last ten years had more than two months off the track prior to running at Cheltenham. Strike out Binocular (again, and we haven't even got to the five year old stat yet!); Ebaziyan; Harchibald (again, though he is entered in an AW flat race at Dundalk on Friday - incidentally, this race will be well worth watching based on the five day declarations, as there are at least FIVE Cheltenham entries in there!!); and, Won In The Dark.

Revised shortlist then becomes: Ashkazar, Brave Inca, Catch Me, Celestial Halo, Osana, and Whiteoak. Hmm, interesting.

- Although Katchit won as a 5yo last season, he was the first since 1985. Every year, many try. Whilst I think that there are more precocious animals entered these days, I will not deviate from such a strong trend, and will drop Ashkazar, Binocular (again!), and dark horse Celestial Halo.

We are now down to Brave Inca, Catch Me, Osana, and Whiteoak.

- 9 out of the last 10 winners were aged 7, 8 or 9 (as I mentioned, Katchit defied this stat last year). Brave Inca, at 11, simply doesn't have the gears any more - he's been a fine race horse but can't win a Champion now; and Whiteoak is a 6yo (6yo's won four on the trot from 1995 to 1998, but anyway she'll likely take in the race she won last year), so I'll eliminate those two.

We are left with Osana and Catch Me.

Osana found only Katchit too good last season in the race, and only Celestial Halo too good this season in his one run to date. As a bold front running sort, he looks pretty good each way value at around 10/1 (I'm already on, win only, at circa three times those odds - see below).

Catch Me is interesting. He was heavily supported in the run up to the race last season (sent off at 10/1), and this year looks to have improved, winning four from four. However, his trainer, Edward O'Grady, has made life difficult for us by saying that he would run in the Champion only if the ground was soft or heavy. He is also entered in the World Hurdle, and has form over further than 2 1/2 miles.

IF he runs in the race, he is v-e-r-y interesting, and a small disposable wager at 50/1+ is attractive to me (so much so that I've had a cheeky tickle).

The five year old fly in the ointment is not three times excluded Binocular, but Celestial Halo. He comes from the Nicholls yard, won the Triumph last season (as did Katchit prior to winning the Champion as a 5yo), and has arguably the best form in the race. He looks the pick of the 'statsbusters', and I recommend a saver on this fellow.

Champion Hurdle Ante-PostSo that's what I fancy for the Champion Hurdle. But what about you? Leave a comment and let me know which horse you like, and why. I'd really like some form students to tell me why Binocular is a fantastic bombproof banker bet at the evens available with Ladbrokes, totesport and Betfred (although he's as big as 6/4 elsewhere).

Matt

Racing Post Chase & Tote Eider Winners

What with one thing and another (and another and another), dear reader, I've somewhat neglected to preview any of the big Saturday races for a while now.

So let's put that straight, with a look at today's two features, the Eider at Newcastle and the Racing Post Chase at Kempton.

Let's start in the North East. Last season, the race was won by Comply Or Die, who went on to win the Grand National, so it ranks as a decent trial for the big Aintree showpiece.

8-10 year olds have held a monopoly on this race since 1999, so I can't comfortably have a younger or older horse. The favourite, Jass, is a 7yo and is hesitantly passed over at the first fence. Also falling here are Chabrimal Minster, Fair Question, and Toy Gun.

This is increasingly contested by classy horses, and the last six winners all lugged eleven stone plus to victory. I'll happily exclude Stagecoach Diamond on this criterion, and reluctantly scratch Pass Me By (two pound shy of 11-00) and I Will Remember You (1lb shy).

Recent form is a big plus for this contest, and eight of the last twelve winners had finished 1st or 2nd last time out. Top class hunter, Natiain, bids farewell here, as do Minster Shadow and Rimsky.

This leaves us with: Harmony Brig, Morgan Be and Merigo.

Proven stamina is a must here for the marathon 4m 1f trip. None of the trio above has won at more than 3m 1f, so there is something of a leap of faith required.

The winner in 1997 was a 7yo, and the likeliest trends winner must be the precocious Jass. He has won over 4 miles, fits all other trends, and comes from the top stable for the race (the Reveley's).

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At 3/1, I won't be backing him, but I can't find anything I'd recommend against him either.

********

Over at Kempton, the Racing Post Chase has attracted a bumper and classy field for it's tidy £57,000 prize. We've twenty contenders to wade through, so let's get cracking!

Three VERY strong trends have emerged in the last decade in this race, and it would be churlish to ignore them:

- 9/10 winners carried eleven stone or more

- 9/10 won last time out

- 9/10 had won in a Class 2 race or better prior to victory here

Applying this information to today's field reduces it to a more manageable TWO. So there you have it, the winner will be either Big Fella Thanks or Nacarat!

I was mindful of the fact that the top weight Nozic actually forces all the other horses to carry at least six pounds less than they would if he wasn't present. But even then, there's only one other last time out winner in the field: Nicky Henderson's Fleet Street (who lugs 10-10).

It's not a race that springs surprises too often, as testified by the fact that the last ten winners were all in single figure odds.

With these things in mind, I'm going to side with Nacarat, with a saver on the Big Fella Thanks. (I couldn't possibly tip a horse named after a catchphrase of that arch-buffoon, Derek 'Thommo' Thompson).

The 'Nac' comes from the savvy Tom George stable, is an 8yo (won 5 of last 10 runnings), and has a certain triple milennium-winning jockey aboard (Mr AP McCoy). He'll give us a run for the Cheltenham shekels.

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Talking of Cheltenham, I hope you've grabbed your copy of the Festival Preview guide. If not, go check it out here.

If you have secured your copy, and you've had a chance to look through it, please leave a comment below to tell me what you think. (I reckon it's brilliant, but I'm interested in your thoughts!)

Good luck today,

Matt

Cheltenham Festival 2009 Preview Video

Short Friday post, dear reader, to tell you that from midday today you can get THE best Cheltenham Festival 2009 Preview Guide at this link:

http://www.festivaltrends.co.uk/

To see what's in it, and what all the fuss is about, take a look at this sneak preview video that I made (and I didn't tell Gavin I was doing!).

Sorry for the poor audio quality, but that's just how I sound!

Doors open at midday Friday 20th February, i.e. TODAY, and you can get a 20% discount if you enter this code:

7BDC2

But ONLY if you're one of the first 25 customers to sign up.

So, at midday, log in here and sign up to get the whole shooting match for just twelve quid. Personally, I reckon he should have charged double! (Still would have been a bargain).

Have a great weekend, and enjoy the Cheltenham Preview Guide,

Matt

Cheltenham: The Arkle. Have I Found The Winner… Again?!

It's time, dear reader, for us to put on our collective thinking caps (etymology: from 'considering caps', as in "...a considering Cap, almost as large as a Grenadier's, but of three equal Sides; on the first of which was written, I MAY BE WRONG; on the second, IT IS FIFTY TO ONE BUT YOU ARE; and on the third, I'LL CONSIDER OF IT."; 'The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes, 1765).

All three of those possibilities will apply at the end of this piece, when I reveal my likely winner of the Arkle Chase...! So, without much further etymological ado, let's get to the meat of the matter...

Just before we do however, I want to point out that the brains at Nag Nag Nag (the same brains behind the Cheltenham Preview guide you'll have heard about recently) posted an article this time last year, entitled, 'The Arkle: As Easy As This?!', which correctly and confidently nominated a 10/1 shot called Tidal Bay.

Check out this season's Cheltenham Festival Preview Guide here...

Ok, plug over, and let's see if we can't repeat the dose, by reviewing the trends which were reinforced so emphatically last March.

There are 52 entries currently. Time to cut to the (Arkle) chase...

- 10 of the last 11 winners had finished no lower than 2nd in all completed UK chase starts. That eliminates all but sixteen of the entries, which is a fair start.

- 10 of the last 11 winners were aged 5-7 years old (four 5yo's, two 6yo's, and four 7yo's). We can strike out three more, including the fancied Kalahari King, who is eight years young.

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- Although sponsored by the Irish Independent, runners from the Emerald Isle have been successful just once in the past eleven runnings, with the other ten winners being UK-based. Just nine left in now (As well as the Irish raiders, I also struck out the interesting Frenchie, Original).

- Nine of the last eleven winners had run between two and four times over fences prior to Arkle glory. Just two fallers at this stat, leaves seven.

- Two final price-based trends to consider: ALL of the last eleven winners were 11/1 or shorter - this is not a race won by outsiders; and, only ONE favourite from eleven has won. Taking these things into account does for likely ante-post jolly, Calgary Bay (though he is challenged for market leadership by Tatenen), as well as Jigsaw Dancer, Palomar, Cornas, and Sa Suffit.

So, there we are: the winner will be one of Tatenen, Calgary Bay, and I'msingingtheblues. The first two named are vying for favouritism, and we know the market leader has a poor record. But usually the market leader is a stronger fancy than this season.

Last season, I wrote:

So we're looking for a 5-7yo, whose not finished lower than 2nd over fences, lightly raced, fancied in the betting but not the 'jolly', and came from the home team.

Step forward, Tidal Bay.

He won at 10/1.

My trumpet suitably tootled, and put away, I'll side with I'msingingtheblues. A winner of three of his four chase starts, his only defeat came at the hands of the classy Briareus (finished fourth in the King George on his only subsequent start). He also has a verdict over Calgary Bay from earlier in the season, when he was spotting the Bay six pounds in weight, and there is no obvious reason why the latter should reverse that running.

Tatenen is more difficult to dismiss than Calgary, as it's harder to crab a horse who's won two from three. Beaten just a short head on the other occasion, he may well have been done up by the slow pace that day, although he was in receipt of nearly a stone from the winner.

At the prices, I make I'msingingtheblues the one to be on.

Of course, I haven't considered pace angles here; or trainer patterns; or any number of other elements which appear in Nag Nag Nag's brilliant Festival Trends publication. If you haven't taken a look at the free sample (full preview of the Triumph Hurdle) already, you absolutely should!

Check out the Cheltenham Festival Preview Guide here...

That's all for today - remember the full preview guide is available THIS FRIDAY from midday.

Ciao pronto,

Matt