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Tickets For Troops initiative expanded

Lt-Col Evans-Freke, Leicestershire Yeomanry

The meeting at Leicester today stages the Leicestershire and Derbyshire Yeomanry Handicap Chase for amateur riders over a distance of 2 miles 4 1/2 furlongs. This territorial regiment of the British Army was formed in 1957, by merging the two separate county regiments, both of which had long records of service going back to the 18th century. Read more

Cheltenham faces challenge to provide good to soft going for Festival

The exceptionally dry weather this winter is testing the skill and judgement of Simon Claisse, clerk of the course at Cheltenham, to produce the good to soft going which is always the aim for the Festival. Read more

Facts and Figur(ativ)es

Next stop Cheltenham Festival 2012

Next stop Cheltenham Festival 2012

It was an evening of words and numbers last night, as a truly mixed panel of racing people convened around the top table for London Racing Club's Cheltenham Preview Night.

Hosted by Barry Faulkner, the panel was further comprised of George Primarolo (tote/Betfred PR man), Declan Rix, Lee Mottershead (Racing Post senior writer and current racing journalist of the year), Charlie Morlock (assistant trainer to Nicky Henderson), and Phil Smith (chief handicapper of the BHA, and arguably the most important man in racing... if you bet!)

Phew!

Here's what they had to say about the upcoming Cotswold jamboree...

Tuesday

Supreme Novices Hurdle - 

Lee Mottershead (LM) - An ordinary renewal. Gossip is for Darlan. But Prospect Wells at 25/1 non-runner no bet (NRNB) is interesting.

Charlie Morlock (CM) - Darlan has bounced back from his fall at Newbury, and schooled well since. We shouldn't ignore Tetlami but Darlan a better horse at home. Simonsig runs elsewhere. Cinders and Ashes interesting.

Declan Rix (D) - Jockey likes Steps to Freedom, but Midnight Game has a better chance. He's very sweet on Tetlami.

Phil Smith (PS) - It takes a 152 rated horse to win this generally. Thirteen (!) horses are currently rated within five pounds of each other at the top of the figures. Darlan rated 148, Tetlami 145. But PS was sweet on Tetlami. Winners galore coming from his races, unbeaten over hurdles, by Daylami (shaping up to be great National Hunt sire), and stoutly National Hunt bred.

Arkle -

CM - Can't see past Sprinter Sacre. "Sprinter can only be beaten by a clumsy jump"

LM - SS unopposable

PS - It takes a 160 horse to win an Arkle usually. Sprinter Sacre is currently rated 169, Peddlers Cross and Al Ferof rated 160. Doesn't like Peddlers and thinks he'll run in the Jewson. Memorable quote: "You could drive a coach and horses through Peddlers Cross' chase form".

Also believes this is the best Arkle we've had for many, many years.

D - Al Ferof offers the each way value.

JLT Handicap Chase (formerly William Hill Trophy) -

GP - Money for Hold On Julio

PS - 10/11 won over three miles-plus; 10/11 finished 4th or better in a race at Cheltenham (any race). Interestingly, Quantitativeeasing, who is favourite, hasn't won over three miles and needs to be in the first four to qualify for the Grand National.

Champion Hurdle -

PS - Generally takes a 170 to win the Champion Hurdle and only four here capable of that: Hurricane Fly, Binocular, Zarkandar and Rock On Ruby. Fly ran an 'adequate' race last time - form unreliable.

CM - McCoy was guarded in his TV interview, but delighted with Binocular last time at Wincanton. Could be back to best.

GP - Rock On Ruby the value. GP has backed him ante-post!

D - 'Hurricane Fly WILL win'

LM - Thinks Binocular will be shorter on the day.

Cross Country Chase -

? - Halley of Tom George's might be interesting [Editor's note: this one's a FIVE YEAR OLD!]

Mares Hurdle -

All - Quevega unopposable

Pulteney Land Investments' Novices Handicap Chase -

CM - Triolo d'Alene was given by Hendo to his former school's racing club as his best bet of the week!

 

Wednesday

National Hunt Chase -

LM - Teaforthree has the assistance of JT McNamara (fine jockey in the context of the race).

PS - Up The Beat was second in a Punchestown race that has worked out very well (Portrait King won it). "Up The Beat is going to win some really nice races in the future". [Note, he's entered elsewhere so take NRNB if you go with this chap.]

Neptune Hurdle -

D - Boston Bob a serious contender based on heavy ground form giving weight away. Liked Simonsig as well, but would be surprised if Batonnier had enough class to win. Two to note at bigger prices: Make Your Mark (16/1) and Aupcharlie (50/1 bet365 NRNB).

LM - Loved Boston Bob over Simonsig.

CM - Likes Sous Les Cieux. Believes he's better value at 14/1 than Simonsig at 7/2. Molotof is gritty but may not have the speed. [Editor's note: I want grit in this race!! 25/1 NRNB looks good]

PS - High 140's is the rating to win this. Simonsig 148, Molotof 145. Confident Boston Bob will win in whichever race he runs!

RSA Chase -

D - Willie Mullins wants to run Sir Des Champs  here, but Mouse Morris adamant this is the place for First Lieutenant, and they won't both run in the same race for the same owner. Grands Crus the selection if he runs.

PS - Grands Crus rated 159. Denman posted a 161 when winning. Grands Crus has been off the track a long time now. Invictus has a great each way chance, and Bobs Worth will stay all week.

CM - Bobs Worth can win. Can be sticky at his fences, but stays. Grands Crus is there to be beaten and Bobs Worth has a chance. Invictus respected as well.

Your first 30 days for just £1

LM - Bobs Worth the best value. Three from three round Cheltenham.

Queen Mother Champion Chase -

D - Sizing Europe hard to get away from.

CM - Hopeful for Finian's Rainbow, but Sizing Europe is very good. Aintree a better target.

LM - Sizing Europe hard to beat but no value. Kauto Stone at 20/1 NRNB looks a reasonable value play.

PS - Sizing Europe looks bombproof. "I expect him to win". Amazed he's not odds on. Somersby and Kauto Stone both interesting each way with the non-runner no bet (NRNB) concession.

Coral Cup -

D - Dare Me has a big shout. (20/1 NRNB with betVictor)

Fred Winter -

PS - Look for less exposed horses, who have kept their true ability from the handicapper!

Champion Bumper -

D - Irish not great this year. Moscow Mannon the best over there. Horatio Hornblower interesting each way (25/1 NRNB).

LM - Royal Guardsman from the Cue Card team interesting.

CM - No idea but they'll win Saturday's Newbury bumper with My Tent Or Yours!

PS - "I will be enjoying scones with real butter, jam and cream at this point"

 

Thursday

Jewson Novices Chase -

PS - This is a Grade 2, and cannot be upgraded until it's fourth year. It almost certainly will become a Grade 1 then. Cristal Bonus is rated 152, four horses (incl. For Non Stop) on 150. Bog Warrior is interesting with the NRNB concession.

LM - If Peddlers Cross turns up here, he wins. (9/2 NRNB with bet365)

D - Solix to turn around form with Champion Court.

Pertemps Final -

?? - Sergeant Guib's interesting

PS - "If Buena Vista wins again, the Pipe's deserve a medal". In other words, no chance. One horse has the following form comment: "held up, headway four out, kept on steadily three out, never reached leaders" [Editor's note: if you figure out which horse this is, let me know!]

Ryanair Chase -

D - Rubi Light has good chance, but ground an issue. Lay Riverside Theatre for a place. Forpadydeplasterer is a good each way at a price (33/1 NRNB).

PS - This is the best Ryanair so far. [Agreed!] Poquelin seems better giving weight to inferior horses. Somersby talented if he runs. Riverside Theatre has won on début all five seasons he's been in training, but only followed up once. A classic 'bouncer'? Rubi Light looks pretty solid.

GP - Noble Prince trained specifically for this. Great Endeavour has a chance. Kalahari King at 20/1 might be too big.

World Hurdle -

CM - "I wouldn't be backing Oscar Whisky to win the World Hurdle". [Editor's note: Coming from Nicky Henderson's assistant trainer, I got the impression that they don't like Dai Walters and, if I was Walters, I'd be moving my horses. There was a real 'old school' arrogance about Morlock, and I don't mind conceding I took an instant dislike to him. Too many silver spoons in 'The Chemist's' yard for me.]

PS - We don't know where we are with Big Buck's because he hasn't been seriously tested for ages.

GP - No bet, but Big Buck's should win.

LM - "Oscar Whisky and Thousand Stars have as much toe as Big Buck's". Believed Thousand Stars more likely to stay. (10/1 e/w NRNB betVictor)

D - Mourad e/w

Festival Plate -

GP - Salut Flo well backed.

Kim Muir -

PS - Higher weighted horses tend to win, "presumably because there's less chance of their amateur riders falling off the better horses". [Nice!]

 

Friday

Triumph Hurdle -

LM - Sadlers Risk is still liked by his yard, and by LM. Stays on well, has improvement and should like Cheltenham.

PS - Low 150's required to win this. Baby Mix might not get home in a true run race, a bit 'doggy' anyway, and perhaps more an Aintree horse. Liked Ranjaan.

County Hurdle -

no comments

Albert Bartlett Hurdle -

GP - Brindisi Breeze ran well last time, but this looks one for the Irish. Boston Bob wins if he runs. (10/3 NRNB betVictor)

Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup -

CM - Burton Port has a chance. "We thought he was slow, but he surprised us". He could bounce though. Believes Long Run will win.

LM - Long Run seems to have lost his 'wow' factor this season.

GP - Synchronised has a chance. (LM chimed in, "I like Synchronised too. But then I like my granny, and she's not going to win a Gold Cup!"). Spoiled it all by saying he liked Diamond Harry e/w.

PS - Gloria Victis was best novice in the Gold Cup. He was unlucky to fall, BUT he wouldn't have won anyway.  Long Run rated 178, Burton Port 166 for their race at Newbury. Grands Crus has a rating of only 159! Believed Long Run was idling and would improve 3lb by Cheltenham.

Kauto Star if he runs will have to repeat his 183 from Kempton to win, something he's only done at Cheltenham once in five tries.

Foxhunters -

GP - My Flora has been well backed by the tweed-touters (point-to-point brigade). Chapoturgeon a doubtful stayer. Monkerty Tunkerty interesting, and not just because of the name.

D - Cloudy Lane has a good chance.

CM - Barbers Shop not expected to win by the yard.

PS - Agreed, we dropped Barbers Shop 8lb for winning!

Martin Pipe Conditionals Handicap Hurdle -

no views

Grand Annual Handicap Chase  -

CM - Hendo has seven entries for the race named in honour of his dad. Kid Cassidy is interesting, as is Tanks For That.

And that, my friends, was that.

If you want more of the same, and you haven't looked already, then here's the Exeter Preview Night, featuring Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs, David Pipe, Nick Williams et al. And below are my ante-post previews to date.

Enjoy!
Matt

p.s. which of these do you think are going to win at Cheltenham?

[poll id="41"]

Cheltenham Festival 2012: Trainer Tips

Cheltenham Festival 2012 tips

Cheltenham Festival 2012 tips

So what do trainers actually know about tipping racehorses? Well, plenty of National Hunt's finest were congregated at the top table last night down at Exeter racecourse, and - with massive thanks to our mole in the room, Neil Dawkins - we have this report.

Please note, I've copied 'as is' due to work pressures today, but I think you'll find the content enlightening, to say the least. 🙂

Thanks a lot, Neil - top man!

Matt

CHELTENHAM PREVIEW 2012 EXETER

 

The Panel consisted of

Paul Nicholls

David Pipe

Philip Hobbs

Paul Binfield representing sponsors Paddy Power

Nick Williams

Andrew King (Racing Post)

Paul Jones (Cheltenham Trends)

Zoey Bird, Compère


DAY 1

1.30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2m 1/2f

This is clearly a very open race and there was no clear selection from the panel

Philip Hobbs stated Colour Sergeant was fine after his recent fall, and should go very well

Paul Nicholls says Prospect Wells is very classy at home, and goes there with a decent chance, allowing for poor effort last time

Paul Jones thinks Simonsig will run Neptune, but if running in the Supreme would win

Steps to Freedom has the best form, whilst Midnight Game is improving

Andrew King thought Darlan had a good chance

Paul Binfield thought Galileo’s Choice was the best of the Irish

2.05 Irish Independent Arkle Challenge Trophy Steeple Chase 2m

Paul Binfield said it was quite possible Sprinter Sacre could go off at odds on

Paul Nicholls thought Sprinter Sacre was by no means certain to stay as he has done all his top class form on flat tracks

Philip Hobbs says Menorah jumps well at home, but does make the odd mistake, which he will need to avoid on the day

Doesn’t think anything can beat Sprinter Sacre

Paul Jones says Sprinter Sacre is the one to beat, reminded us the best “hurdler” often wins the Arkle, and that would be Peddlers Cross

David Pipe thought Sprinter Sacre had too much pace for the rest

Andrew King wanted to oppose Sprinter Sacre big time, doesn’t think Cheltenham will suit, similar to the Supreme last year


2.40 William Hill Trophy Handicap Steeple Chase 3m 1/2f

Not a lot on this race

David Pipe said The Package should run well in this race, although the Grand National was his main aim

Massini's Maguire may also take his chance

3.20 Smurfit Kappa Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy 2m 1/2f

Paul Binfield thought Zarkandar had a decent chance of beating Hurricane Fly

Paul Nicholls thought he had a chance and would be better than he was at Newbury

Also said Zarkandar was on anti-biotics and would finish the course next couple days, but seemed OK

Also thought Rock on Ruby was way overpriced on form with Binocular

Brampour will run and may have EW squeak, Celestial Halo will take his chance

Andrew King thought Binocular was the EW bet, impressed with last win

4.00 Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Steeple Chase 3m 7f

Nothing on this race discussed in detail

Paul Jones asked Philip Hobbs about Balthazar King, and I thought he got quite a positive response to his chances 14-1 EW not the worse bet in this race

4.40 David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle Race 2m 4f

Nobody can see Quevega being beaten

However Nick Williams was very keen on Swinford Flame's chance Each Way

5.15 Centenary Novice handicap Chase 2m 4.5f

Again not a lot discussed although Criqtonic mentioned as having a decent chance


DAY 2

1.30 National Hunt Steeple Chase Challenge Cup 4m

Nothing mentioned

2.05 Neptune Investment  Novices’ Hurdle 2m 5f

Philip Hobbs said Fingal Bay was 50/50 after injuring a hamstring

Paul Jones thought Boston Bob had the soundest chance, indeed had the best novice hurdle form at the meeting

Also didn’t think Simonsig would win this if running

Andrew King thought it was between Fingal bay and Boston Bob

Paul Nicholls said he had been told this would be Boston Bob's target

2.40 RSA Steeple Chase 3m 1/2f

David Pipe said Grand Crus was in great form at home, probably wouldn’t decide on the race, until the 5 day decs.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Andrew king thought Bobs Worth would go well, but Grand Crus would win if running

Paul Nicholls said Join Together has won twice at the course, and would stay on as well as anything in the race

Paul Jones respected Invictus and Bobs Worth who is 3/3 at Cheltenham

Indeed thought Bobs Worth EW at 5-1 was one of the best bets at the meeting

3.20 Sportingbet Queen Mother Champion Steeple Chase 2m

Paul Binfield thought Big Zeb was the better bet at the prices

Philip Hobbs says Wishfull Thinking has breathing problems, not sure they are resolved still he is not quite right.

Paul Jones thinks Sizing Europe is the best chaser in training anything above Evens is a decent bet

Andrew King thought Wishfull Thinking at his best would be interesting

4.00 Coral Cup (Handicap Hurdle) 2m 5f

Lots of horses but no information specific to the Coral Cup, most horses are multiple entries

4.40 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 2m 1/2f

Hinterland will run in this race and hopefully go well

5.15 Weatherbys Champion Bumper (Open NH Flat Race) 2m 1/2f

Paul Binfield thinks Sword of Honour is a decent EW bet

Philip Hobbs thought Village Vic would run very well

Andrew King likes New Years Eve and Population

Paul Jones said that the top BHA rated horse on the flat do run well in this race, and Moscow Mannon would be the horse backed on the day

Nick Williams said Horatio Hornblower was nice horse and would run, if the going had “soft” in it

 

DAY 3

1.30 Jewson Novices’ Handicap Steeple Chase 2m 5f

Paul Nicholls said Cristal Bonus was running on Saturday and should go well, and then would run in this race, as long as going was soft enough

Nick Williams thought For Non Stop had a good chance but no more than that

Paul Jones thought he had never seen Ruby Walsh look happier than the last time he got off Cristal Bonus who jumps for fun, also likes Sir Des Champs, winner would come form one of these two

Andrew king thought For Non Stop could go off favourite and was the most likely winner

2.05 Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle) 3m

David Pipe expected Buena Vista to run well again, he had been concerned from two races ago, when he seemed to lose form, but last run was pretty good

Buena Vista still has a chance on official rating

Paul Nicholls was keen on Sonofvic, 20-1 seems a decent price

2.40 Ryanair Chase 2m 5f

Paul Binfield said Noble Prince is the selection here, last race, ground was too soft

Massive chance this time

David pipe thought Great Endeavour had a really good chance which would improve on better going

Andrew King thought it was between Somersby and Great Endeavour

Paul Jones thought Somersby was very good EW bet, but not sure he wouldn’t go for the Queen Mother Chase.

Great Endeavour and  Medermit needed to find around 7lbs

 

3.20 Ladbrokes World Hurdle 3m

Paul Nicholls said Big Buck's was Ok, no cough

Indeed he said the older horses all seem Ok, it’s just the younger ones who have shown some signs

Big Buck's has come on from last run

He did think Oscar Whisky would be his toughest challenger yet

David Pipe said Big Buck's was certainty and that Dynaste was playing for one of the places

Paul Jones wished they would run Thousand Stars in this race rather than Champion Hurdle

4.00 Byrne Group Plate Handicap Steeple Chase 2m 5f

Paul Nicholls said Crack Away Jack would run here, seemed quite keen on a decent run as well I thought

David Pipe said Salut Flo was entered in just about every race; there was some money for this one yesterday in this race

4.40 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Steeple Chase 3m 1 1/2f

No discussion on this race

5.15 St Patricks Day Derby (Charity race)

No discussion on this race {Editor's note - I should bloody well think not!! 😉   }


DAY 4

1.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle 2m 1f

Minsk is the favourite for this race, not run all season – unbelievable.

Philip Hobbs said Sadlers Risk runs this Saturday, very happy with him

Nick Williams said Urbain De Sivola would run if ground was on the soft side

Paul Nicholls said Pearl Swan has the best form so far of his horses, but also said Dildar runs this Saturday, against Sadlers Risk

I got the impression he has very high hopes for Dildar

Andrew king liked Grumeti and Pearl Swan

Paul Jones thought Minsk could go off as low at 2-1, as his flat form is far in excess of anything else

Paul Binfield likes Darroun

Paul Nicholls did say he wouldn’t be surprised if Minsk never ran either this weekend or at Cheltenham!

2.05 Vincent O’Brien County Handicap Hurdle 2m 1f

Philip Hobbs said Snap Tie is in good form, he reported this last year but the horse never got in, hasn’t run for two years, so you’d want a very big price, not sure 33-1 is big enough to tempt me

2.40 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle 3m

Paul Nicholls very keen on Rocky Creek

As mentioned earlier he believes Boston Bob will go to the Neptune

Andrew King thought Rocky Creek would go off 7-2 if Boston Bob was NR, so 10-1 at the moment was excellent

Paul Jones was not taken by Brindisi Breeze last run, not up to the standard to win this race

 

3.20 totesport Cheltenham Gold Cup Steeple Chase 3m 2 1/2f

Much of this was taken up discussing the merits of Long Run's last run, and whether Grand Crus would run

Paul Jones thought the front two were vulnerable, and that Weird Al was the best bet at 20-1

Andrew king thought What a Friend EW, although Paul Nicholls dismissed this saying 3rd was his best chance if everyone turned up

Paul Nicholls said Kauto Star was in top form at home, as good as he has seen him

Wasn’t sure Long Run had trained on, and that meant there was not a lot between them

Philip Hobbs was asked about Captain Chris, he said he has always jumped right, so that was not an issue as such, however he was not at his best IF HE RAN it would be Ryanair or Gold Cup, however then said he wouldn’t really want more than 3 miles, so I give him next to no chance of running in the Gold Cup, and I got the impression he was by no means certain to run at the Festival

4.00 Christie’s Foxhunter Steeple Chase 3m 2 1/2f

No discussion, although couple of tips at the end

4.40 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle 2m 4 1/2f

As usual; David Pipe gets questioned on this race, however he said it is very difficult to even get a horse in this race, he tried with Grand Crus a couple years ago, but couldn’t as he had an OR of only 124

A few mentioned and maybe the most likely is Salut Flo if this

5.15 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Steeple Chase 2m 1/2f

No discussion on this race

 

Charity Bets

Andrew King    Rocky Creek                 Albert Bartlett

Paul Jones        On The fringe               Foxhunters

Zoey Bird         Scotsirish                  Cross Country

Nick Williams   Swincombe Flame EW    David Nicholson Mares

Paul Nicholls    Chapoturgeon              Foxhunters

David Pipe        Alfie Spinner                National Hunt Chase

Paul Binfield     Salsify                          Foxhunters

Philip Hobbs    Sadlers Risk               Triumph

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle 2012 Preview

Supreme Novices' Hurdle 2012 Preview: Trends, Stats and Tips

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2012 preview

Field line up for Supreme Novices Hurdle

It's less than three weeks until the tapes go up on the opening race of the Cheltenham Festival 2012, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle.

And, after short priced defeats in the past two years for fancied runners (Dunguib and Cue Card), this year's race has a much more open feel to it... which should mean value if we can find the winner!

Looking first at the stats, then the form, and finally sharing my pick, is what I propose. So let's crack on. We start with 91 entries to work away at, and some will depart the 'likely candidate' scene more readily than others...

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2012 Trends

There are lies, damned lies, and statistics, of course, so you may favour some of these over others. However, in order of perceived significance, I offer the following:

1. All of the past fifteen winners were in the first three last time out, and thirteen of them won last time out. Although this might seem like a no-brainer, the facts are that - starting with 25/1 winner Indefence in 1996 - 87% of the winners have come from the 40% of the runners who won last time out.

For those of you tempted to sympathise with the cases of either Darlan or Colour Squadron (as I was), both of whom fell last time, note that none of the thirteen horses who failed to complete on their prior start have won the Supreme. A small sample, but you'd be wanting a reliable jumper in the hurly-burly of this two miler.

Demand a last time out winner.

2. Horses aged five or six have won eleven of the last fourteen renewals (78.6%). However, they have also provided 80.6% of the runners! Looking more long term, and my thanks to Gavin Priestley for this, 33 of the last 37 Supreme Novices' Hurdle winners were five or six years old at the time.

So, we're either looking at a recent blip to a robust statistic, or a changing trend. Given that two of the other winners were older, and one was younger (the brilliant and precocious Hors La Loi III), I'm happy to side with the percentage play, both in terms of overall runners and winners.

Five or six year olds only please.

3. All bar one of the last fourteen winners had between two and five hurdle runs prior to turning up in the Supreme. Again, this covers most of the entries. But... scratch a little deeper, and we can see that of the six UK winners, only Hors La Loi III ran less than four times over timber (he ran thrice).

Scratch further still, and you'll see that only Ebaziyan - beaten a short head on the first of two prior hurdles runs, and a 40/1 bomb in the Supreme - and Back In Front - 2nd in the Grade 1 Royal Bond on hurdling debut! - were beaten over timber from the less-than-four-hurdle-runs brigade.

So, I shall be looking for horses with four to five runs to their names; or unbeaten horses (and those who were 2nd on hurdles bow).

4. Of those six winners in the last seven years to have held an official handicap rating at the time of their win, all were rated 136 to 147. Since 1997, 22 horses rated 143 or higher have attempted Supreme glory, and only one has succeeded. Beware the highly rated beast in this contest.

So, I will look for an unrated horse, or one officially marked between 136 and 142 (as five of those six recent handicapped winners were).

5. If you like an ex-UK flat horse, you may have a problem. The last one to even make the frame was Straw Bear, who finished 2nd in 2006 (Sublimity, subsequent Champion Hurdler, was fourth that year too).

Indeed, the trend in recent times - as pointed out by Paul Jones - is for bumper sorts. Consider this: last year, the first four home had all previously run in National Hunt flat races. In the two years prior to that, it was the first FIVE home who fitted that profile.

In 2008, only Binocular - the subsequent Champion Hurdler - could prevent a 1-2-3 for the bumper horses. Both Binocular and fourth placed Kalahari King had cut their racing teeth in French flat races.

Emerging trend, or coincidence? I'm not sure but the percentage play is to favour bumper horses or those who previously raced on the flat in France.

6. The score for the last fifteen years is Ireland 8, UK 7; and for the last 22 years is 11-11 ! So no discernible bias there, alas.

7. Recency of a run seems material, with all bar two since 1993 winning within 45 days of their last racecourse outing.

8. The last eleven winners had all won in a field of sixteen or more prior to lining up at Cheltenham. The Supreme Novices' Hurdle will be a twenty-plus runner affair, and horses will need both physical presence and tactical speed - as well as flat out speed - to get a proper run.

So I'm especially interested in horses that have won in a field of fifteen or more.

******

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2012 trends

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2012 trends

All right, so those are the facts and figures, but how does that whittle our group of 91 contenders?

Let's firstly remove those who didn't win last time out. It is, of course, possible that one or more will run - and win - between now and Tuesday March 13th. In that case, we'll add them back in, should they tick our other short-list boxes.

Of those 91, only twenty-three won last time out, leaving me with a sense of unease around the likelihood that we just squashed the winner at the first port of call. Let's proceed on this basis for now, as we can always add nags back in when we come to the more purist form study section.

Now we'll excuse any horse not aged five or six from duties. Four-year-olds are more likely to run in the Triumph Hurdle, and older horses have a fair bit to do in speed terms against their younger, generally nippier rivals.

This leaves us with nineteen horses, who won last time out and are aged five or six.

Thirdly, we're looking for horses having run four or five times, and those who raced twice or more and are unbeaten (or only beaten by one on hurdles debut). Whilst that sounds contrived, it's actually quite reasonable on the basis of the form book: bar a losing head bob from Ebaziyan, the only beaten horse with less than four runs was Back In Front, who probably boasted the best form in the 2003 renewal of the Supreme.

At this stage, we lose Fourth Estate, Galileo's Choice, The Way We Were (entered on Sunday though, and a win would reinstate him), Molotof, Close House, Agent Archie, Trifolium and Ted Spread. This leaves us with eleven possibles.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Now we'll remove any horse with a rating outside of the band 136-142. Sympathy will be applied for higher cases, and a little latitude on the low side too.

Tetlami is the highest UK-rated horse in the field, with a figure of 149. He is followed by Simonsig (146). Seeing as there has been a winner of 147 in the recent past, it seems churlish to hurl any of these from consideration, and so I won't.

On the downside, no horses still on the shortlist are rated lower than 136.

All of this means there's been much ado about nothing, as a dozen or so remain standing.

Finally, I'm keen to side with ex-bumper or French flat horses, over Irish or UK flat types. Again, I'm afraid this rules nobody out, meaning we still have a trends shortlist of eleven.

Montbazon can win the Supreme Novices Hurdle 2012

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2012 tip: Montbazon

Looking at point 7., recent run, Felix Yonger would need to be taking up his weekend engagement to remain in the first eleven, as would The Way We Were (who also needs to win).

Meanwhile, Steps To Freedom looks like heading straight to the Supreme, and that's a big worry. He's scratched from our list as a consequence of a 123 day absence from racing.

Cinders And Ashes also will have been off for 52 days, which is too long for this stat-man. Ditto Midnight Game, Monksland and Divapour.

Those who remain look like this:

Felix Yonger (if running on Sunday), Allure Of Illusion, The Way We Were (if running and winning on Sunday), Simonsig, Tetlami, Montbazon, and It's A Gimme.

Of those, Simonsig is likely to run in the Neptune, I understand, which leaves six. From that sextet, only Tetlami and Montbazon have won in a field that big. It's A Gimme was second in a field of eighteen, and also won in a field of fourteen so is retained.

The trends trio then are Tetlami, Montbazon, and It's A Gimme.

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2012 Form

With so many horses racing on both sides of the Irish Sea, it's a conundrum attempting to pull together the respective form lines. But then, to a lesser or greater degree, that's true of any race anywhere. So let's apply ourselves and see where we end up.

In the absence of any of my own numbers, the logical place to start for a full list of figures is with the highest Racing Post Rating horses. This happens to be Royal Bond winner and second, Sous Les Cieux (actually, not certain to run: entered in the Neptune and a shorter price for that) and Galileo's Choice.

Sous Les Cieux is a horse I'm not especially keen on. Quite apart from the fact he's more likely to go for the Neptune than the Supreme, he also seems a weak finisher to me, as I mentioned on December 5th.

He's been beaten favourite on four of his last six starts and if you're still tempted to back him here, then good luck! If you'd followed my advice, you'd either have layed him in those two recent defeats, or at least backed something against him.

Galileo's Choice ticks all the trends boxes except that he's had less than four runs and was beaten after debut, and he's ex-flat. In fairness, that defeat - like Back In Front in 2003 - was when second in the Grade 1 Royal Bond.

His wins before and since don't tell us anything much and, whilst he was smart on the flat on a sounder surface than he's raced on over hurdles to date, he's an ex-Irish flat horse, which is a bad thing in the recent context of the race. Enough negatives for him to be respected as a possible 'frame' horse without expecting him to win.

Pearl Swan, a four year old, is next in and surely more likely to run in the Triumph Hurdle (in which he has a decent enough chance, I'd say).

Then comes the tumbling Darlan, who has been given his rating despite falling at the second last. A lot happened thereafter, and the rating is - in my opinion - presumptuous... especially when you consider it was a stone in excess of anything he'd done before.

The fall will leave its mark, and I'm afraid he probably won't come back to win the Supreme. Saying that, if he hadn't have fallen and had have won the Betfair Hurdle, he'd probably be favourite for the Cheltenham Festival opener. 12/1 pretty much factors in the 'what if' and leaves little upside for punters, in my view.

[Incidentally, connections' Get Me Out Of Here did win that race back in 2010 but were still picked off by Menorah in the Supreme at Cheltenham].

Can Midnight Game win the Supreme Novices Hurdle?

Can Midnight Game win the Supreme Novices Hurdle?

Ex-French flattie, Midnight Game, got a monster rating of 148 for winning a four runner ungraded novices hurdle at Naas. Whilst that is quite hard to fathom - for me at least - he did beat a 142-rated horse readily enough, which about justifies the Irish handicapper's perch of 145.

Willie Mullins (one winner from twelve runners in recent years) reckons Midnight Game will be better on better ground, which he'll get at Cheltenham. Given that he won on both good and soft in France, that's a matter for conjecture. Nevertheless, with a win in a field of sixteen he represents both an improver and most probably his trainer's best hope in the race this term. 10/1 is fair, despite reservations about time off the track since his last run.

Ignoring the four year olds, and Noel Meade's Dylan Ross (limited scope for progression from a mark of 142, and beaten in his last four starts), we arrive at Cinders And Ashes. Not beaten far in the Cheltenham bumper last year, and a winner of three of his four hurdle starts in small fields, I just feel the combination of time off (52 days), and the shrewd placement thus far which has inflated his rating above what it perhaps ought to be, he's not for me.

That brings us to Tetlami, Montbazon, It's A Gimme and Colour Squadron, and I have the feeling that the winner may be housed within that quartet.

The last named is a bit of a monkey, for sure, and he too fell at the second last at Newbury last Friday (like Darlan). But he's talented no doubt. The form lines between these lads make it hard to choose between It's A Gimme and Colour Squadron, with Montbazon and Tetlami possibly a length or two behind them.

But... Montbazon looks to be improving and more reliable. And... It's A Gimme might go for the Neptune rather than the Supreme (he's quoted at 33/1 for both)... And Tetlami is unbeaten over hurdles!

At the prices, I think It's A Gimme offers some value, despite his last two runs not being as good as when he saw off Colour Squadron. But I'm waiting for non-runner no bet concessions before availing of a sliver.

Tetlami is a horse I've backed already, after his cosy win from Vulcanite in a decent race at Kempton on Boxing Day. Obviously, he didn't achieve much when scoring in a 'jumpers' bumper last time, but he did it well.

And, in an ante post portfolio with more holes than a golf course (i.e. mine), I'm happy enough with a bit of 28's, win only (best priced 16's now).

I can't make a robust case for anything else from a form perspective, which means

The form shortlist is Midnight Game, Tetlami, Montbazon, Colour Squadron and It's A Gimme.

Supreme Novices Hurdle 2012 Tips

Tetlami has a chance in Supreme Novices Hurdle

Tetlami has a chance in Supreme Novices Hurdle

As befits a race where those generous bookie types are currently offering 8/1 the field, it's fiendishly difficult.

But there are reasons to be hopeful, if not confident, about a few.

I'd far rather side with Midnight Game than Galileo's Choice of the Irish contingent, and I feel that Willie Mullins - trainer of the former - knows what it will take to beat the latter, based on his Sous Les Cieux being responsible for stealing Galileo's unbeaten timber record.

From the home defence, I do believe that somewhere in that knot of Tetlami, Montbazon, It's A Gimme and Colour Squadron lies the answer. I'm not really sure where though!

It's easiest (though still not easy) to say that It's A Gimme hasn't trained on since beating Colour Squadron, and draw a line through him, especially with the doubt over his double engagement. But he could run well at a big price, if committed to the Supreme.

Montbazon was impressive the other day, and a strict line through Vulcanite gives him the beating of Tetlami, who is unquestionably progressive himself.

Colour Squadron is less reliable but brings Grade 1 form into the race, from a Tolworth Hurdle that he'd have won on another day. That race hasn't been a brilliant trial for the Supreme in any case, so perhaps I'll reluctantly eliminate this naughty chap.

All of which machinations and quackery lead me to the following...

Midnight Game, Montbazon and Tetlami against the field

Midnight Game is a general 10/1 shot; Montbazon a best priced 12/1 (7/1 favourite with Coral); and, Tetlami is still around the 16/1 peg.

In a wide open race, I'd encourage you to check out the latest odds here, before getting involved.

Matt

Final Festival ‘Fill In’

With just three weeks to go until the Cheltenham Festival 2012, virtually all runners (outside of the handicaps) have had their final prep races.

And this weekend just passed was chock full of such runs... but did it offer us any clues? And, if it did, what were they? Let's run through and try to sort the wheat from the chaff, starting with Newbury's Super Saturday... er, Fab Friday... card.

I was lucky enough to attend what turned out to be an afternoon of top class sport, which kicked off with unbeaten novice chaser - and Arkle ante-post favourite - Sprinter Sacre taking on more experienced, though less able, rivals in the Grade 2 Game Spirit Chase.

Sprinter Sacre has strong Arkle claims

Sprinter Sacre has strong Arkle claims

The Sprinter fair sauntered away with this affair, again not coming off the bridle to record a facile win from stable mate and seasonal debutant, French Opera. What did this tell us about Sprinter Sacre's Arkle chances?

Well, firstly, he jumped impeccably. And he could hardly have won more convincingly. But what did he actually beat? French Opera was six lengths down at the line - though a truer reflection might have been twelve to fifteen of the winner's superiority. But French Opera, as well as returning from 300 or so days off the track, was spotting SS five pounds.

It's very hard to argue it would have changed the result if French Opera was fit and they'd raced off levels. But it's not hard to suggest that this performance was more visually impressive than a shake up to the form book.

French Opera was rated 162 beforehand, and Sprinter Sacre 161. It is unlikely that FO ran a new personal best, especially with 150-rated I'm So Lucky only two and a bit lengths further back.

More likely is that I'm So Lucky ran to his mark (he's been plus or minus seven pounds of 150 for his last seven runs and looks a reliable yardstick), which means that French Opera probably achieved a rating of about 158 (when taking the weight concession of ten pounds to ISL into account).

Where does all this pseudo-science leave us? With the distinct impression that the only things we learned being that SS jumps well when not under pressure; oozes class on the bridle; and, still has a leg in each corner.

It is a trait of Nicky Henderson's to 'under-face' his horses prior to championship novice events and, I feel, this doesn't especially help their chances. (In fairness, in this case, Henderson did run SS against Peddlers Cross, and did for that rival compelling enough).

It is entirely possible that Sprinter Sacre will win the Arkle. However, it's my belief that this big, strong-galloping type will need to do it pretty much on the bridle... or he won't do it. Three times in his career, SS has come off the bridle. On his debut, he cruised all over the second, before finally prevailing by a nose in a desperate finish.

The other two occasions saw SS' only two defeats. In other words, barring that debut effort, if he doesn't win on the bridle, he doesn't win. He's a best priced 11/8, so well done to you if you have a ticket with 4/1 or bigger. And my advice is to lay it off, either now, or in running, because this chap has one gear: granted, it's a gear big enough to beat all but the best. But on Tuesday 13th March, he'll have to beat all of the best in what looks a strong year for the two mile novice chasers, to my eye at least.

500 words to cover the first of many races last weekend, and I promise to be more succinct subsequently, but there were plenty of points I wanted to make to counteract the visual impression of the Game Spirit Chase... and that was without even mentioning the insipid displays from second and third favourites, Hold Fast and Zaynar, giving the form an extremely shallow look.

Next, and rarely will there have been two better races to start a card. The Denman Chase followed, and Long Run was all the rage to open his seasonal account and prove that he's still 'the daddy' when it comes to the Gold Cup picture.

What he actually proved was that he is capable of beating Burton Port and What A Friend, but not by much. In truth, it was a muddling race, with The Giant Bolster messing about with the fractions - again, to my eye at least (I haven't seen the evidence of the clock to support or refute that notion) - and probably bouncing after running a monster race last time.

Moreover, Long Run was gasping for air at the end, as the long absent Burton Port clawed back all bar half a length of the deficit at the jam stick, with What A Friend emptying after travelling well to be beaten just over four lengths.

The Gold Cup Solution? And the problem?

The Gold Cup Solution? And the problem?

It's very hard to know what to make of this race. On the one hand, credit to Long Run for winning a stop-start (I think) affair, and for giving ten pounds to the second.

On the other hand, Burton Port must have been expected to come on a bundle for the run (drifted from 6/1 to 15/2 pre-race), and surely will do so. And it was BP who would have been in front over the Gold Cup trip, even if you fail to account for the greater stamina demands of Cheltenham's undulating big dipper of a track.

Long Run has been inconclusive all season, and punters piling in at prices shorter than 3/1 since the King George do not appear to understand the concept of value, at the very least.

Again, I'm not saying Long Run can't win. I'm simply saying he couldn't beat grandpa Kauto (twice); his jockey is clearly, erm, an 'enthusiastic amateur'; and he was all out to beat a seasonal debutant and hitherto 33/1 shot for the Gold Cup.

If that's enticing to you, then good luck. I'll be amazed if Long Run starts shorter than 3/1 on Cheltenham Friday, as his form this season just doesn't merit it.

And, at the risk of sounding (even more) preposterous, I actually think he might be a non-stayer and may not like Cheltenham. Yes, yes, obviously I know he won the Gold Cup last year. But he beat two eleven-year-olds - one of which has since beaten him twice, and the other, after whom this race was named, has since retired presumably to avoid further embarrassment to the reigning champ.

But Long Run has only won one of three Cheltenham spins. And he 'outstayed' a regressive Denman and a gallant Kauto Star.

The remainder of last season's Gold Cup field were has been's and (mostly) never were's.

I'd have to bet on him outstaying Kauto Star again this time, but surely something will barrel past both of them, no? My problem is that this season also looks sub-standard. I mean, Grand National types Burton Port and Synchronised are now fourth and fifth favourites. And the third favourite is a three race novice who may well go for the RSA Chase!

I have no clue where that leaves us, except with probably a high class handicap as the Gold Cup, and scratching around the outsiders to see who might challenge from left field. Or maybe Synchronised or, especially, Burton Port can step up. Maybe...

I'd have to say that I think the Ryanair looks a much smarter contest this term than the Gold Cup. But I've no clue who will win either!

Still reading? Have you nothing better to do?! OK, let's persist as I'm sure I'll find something under which to light an ante-post fire before this (inordinately verbose) post is out...

The Betfair Hurdle followed, and it was a veeeeerrrrrryyyyyy sssssllllllloooooowwwwwllllllllyyyyyyy run event. In the circumstances, I give huge kudos to Zarkandar for winning, for two reasons:

1. He wasn't as fit as many/most/all? of these, and got caught flat-footed before rallying stoutly

2. He is Paul Nicholls' only winning horse in February! From 31 runners in a weather depleted month.

On the 20th day of the month to be writing that is incredible, despite the fact that Team Nicholls was almost certainly held back a step a) by the weather, and b) by a training plan that leads to mid-March targets and not mid-February targets.

In any other race, I'd say Zarkandar had a chance of beating whoever was favourite. But that 'Fly is some beast and, if he turns up, I'll be cheering my ante-post opposition with a hope that a Hurricane blows by them. He's a champion and one to savour, and I really, really hope he proves that despite my money being laid out elsewhere. (I can still pick up a winning return off the place part of the 16/1 about Binocular advised here way back when... and so can you if you followed me in! More on the Bin in due course).

There are two other horses (probably more actually, but two that I'll call out) who ran extremely well in this race. Firstly, Darlan was travelling like the winner when bulleting McCoy into the turf at the second last. What he would have found is the subject of conjecture, but he enhanced his reputation in defeat here and reminded me of Get Me Out Of Here who won this race in 2010 before finishing second in the Supreme a month later.

Perhaps Darlan can pick himself up off the turf and go one better in the Supreme. Certainly, there are worse wagers.

Incidentally, Get Me Out Of Here ran another stonker to be - you guessed it - second here. His consistency is matched only by his misfortune as, but for one beast each time, he'd be a dual winner of this race, a Supreme Novices Hurdle winner, a County Hurdle winner, and probably in line for a tilt at the Champion Hurdle this term.

Such is the manner in which the biscuit breaks... or something like that.

The other horse to take from this race is ultra-consistent Raya Star. Winner of the Ladbroke at Ascot, and a close up third here at Newbury (albeit getting a fine weight concession), it's to be seen whether Cheltenham's helter skelters float his boat. But he deserves a chance in something like the County, and he wasn't stopping here.

The novice hurdle that followed also promised us Cheltenham clues. And it too failed to reveal all that it could have, as the cruising favourite, Colour Squadron, unshipped Dickie Johnson at the same second last flight which did for Darlan half an hour or so previously.

Both tumblers may have enhanced their Supreme prospects in diving defeat. Colour Squadron has some of the best form for the Supreme, his second in the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle behind Captain Conan. He probably should have won that day, and he does appear to be something of a quirky young thing.

But quirk is as talent does (what?!), and this fellow has plenty of the latter to go with his some of the former. He might well have won here, and would certainly have been the closest pursuer of ultimately impressive winner, Montbazon.

Montbazon will go for the Supreme Novices Hurdle

Montbazon goes for the Supreme Novices Hurdle

Montbazon himself has a most progressive hurdling profile, having kicked off in high class bumpers last term. Since his debut second (here, behind Colour Squadron) over timber, he's won well at Plumpton (at odds of 1/10) and here on Friday.

He had a decent horse still to beat after the exit of CS in Vulcanite, and he did it well enough. Alas, that looks like the end of the 40/1 fantasy I was indulging about Vulcanite winning the Supreme by way of a Betfair voucher struck back in early January.

All The Aces actually ran a blinder in third. He was badly outpaced and stayed on well. Again, it's hard to entirely write him off from the Supreme picture, though he's older than most in that contest.

Your first 30 days for just £1

I have a sneaking suspicion that at least one of Colour Squadron and Montbazon will trouble the Supreme judge, and their stats fit the race profile too. (More on that later in the week, when I start race by race previews - oh joy!)

At odds of 12/1 Montbazon and 16/1 Colour Squadron, I reckon there's a dribble of each way value there.

The Scilly Isles Novices' Chase, incredibly the only Grade 1 on the card, was the next affair of interest. And it was I who was made to look Scilly, as For Non Stop pooh-poohed my allegations of ungenuineness (sic) with a fine round of jumping and a clear cut verdict.

He's a horse with top class form and now comes right into Jewson Novices' Chase contention. To remind you, that's the new novice race over the intermediate trip, that isn't the handicap which used to be called the Jewson and is also for novice chasers... Ah, how ante-post punting has become a nightmare since the expansion of the meeting...

8/1 is the best price on him for that race which I'll be leaving well alone until final declaration stage.

Walkon was well beaten and will more likely now head for the novices handicap chase over the same trip as the Jewson (the one which used to be called the Jewson!), while Mossley must have gone wrong, and was pulled up.

And still we weren't done! The finale was a Listed bumper, and some promising beasties lined up. As it was, Lazarus aka Tony McCoy picked himself out of the self-made pothole this side of the second last to ride a brilliant race and get Shutthefrontdoor home by a short head from Village Vic.

Both will surely head for the Champion Bumper, and I'm not the sort of bloke who will recommend anyone backing anything in that race with a straight face.

I will say this though: the third horse will win a bumper before long, probably at woefully prohibitive odds. Horatio Hornblower is the name. Add it to the notebook. Winner.

Meanwhile, over at Sandown, there were further Festival clues. Kapga de Cerisy was 'expected' this day and won in a hard fought duel with Firefighter. The former is trained by Venetia Williams and the latter by Alan King. I'd not be at all surprised to see them both run well in the Fred Winter. Alas, I'd also expect some impossible to fancy Irish plot to beat them both.

Keep them onside, but save the powder for nearer the time. For info only, Kapga is 16's and Firefighter 20's for that race.

For those who like to bet in all Cheltenham Festival races - like me, for instance - Gwanako won the concluding hunter chase at Sandown and, in so doing, put himself in the frame for the Foxhunters. Or at least he would have if he'd been entered/qualified for that. As far as I can tell (i.e. by the absence of any bookie prices), he's not entered or qualified, so again, caution is advised at this time.

One who is entered in that race did the bizzo in style at, erm, Fakenham in a three runner hunter chase. Say hello to The Queen's Barber Shop, former Hennessey fourth. If you're tempted by the best odds of 20/1 on the back of that effort, then I'll offer you 22/1!!

And so to Saturday, and more instructive racing at Ascot, Wincanton, Haydock and Gowran Park.

Bobs Worth an RSA Candidate

Bobs Worth an RSA Candidate

To Ascot first, and the Reynoldstown Novices Chase, a Grade 2 over three miles won by some very smart sorts in the last five years (Burton Port, Carruthers, Albertas Run).

Invictus topped the podium this time, and in doing so earned a quote of 12/1 from Betvictor (as low as 6's with Boylesports). But I'd be more than happy to take runner up here, Bobs Worth, to beat him in the Cheltenham race. In fact, I ploughed into the 7's on Betfair straight afterwards.

Bobs is now a best priced 6/1, and this was a race brim full of promise if you like this chap. It was always going to happen a bit quick for him on the pan flat Ascot plains, but his proven predilection for Cheltenham's rather more interesting terrain (three from three there, including the Albert Bartlett at the Festival last year) means things will play to his strengths.

And his strengths are stamina, stamina and stamina. He wouldn't have the class of a Grands Crus probably, or perhaps even an Invictus, but he has more guts than both put together I'll wager (indeed, I have wagered), and I think this is a robust enough ticket for the RSA Chase.

Silviniaco Conti was yet another Paul Nicholls-trained horse to disappoint and, even allowing for the fact that they'll be aiming a month away, this was a shocker. It must be touch and go whether he gets to the Festival after this.

The 2.25, a Listed handicap chase, will likely make little to no indentation on the Cheltenham Festival. But I mention it here, as I put up the winner, Massini's Maguire on Stat of the Day. Available at 16/1 in the morning (with a small rule 4 subsequently being applied), he returned 9/1 but paid a fat juicy lovely delicious 15.5 on Betfair, where I may have topped up my original best odds guaranteed wager... 😀

Stat of the Day is well in front since inception, and has made nice profits most months. It's free, I rarely trumpet it, but you should check it out! You can find by hovering over the 'horse racing blog' button in the top menu, and clicking on 'Stat of the Day'.

Boast over.

Much more materially in the context of this post, the Ascot Chase which followed saw the much anticipated return to action of Riverside Theatre. And spectators were not to be disappointed, as the Theatre produced a polished seasonal debut to see off Medermit and Gauvain.

Riverside Theatre will likely head for the Ryanair, for which he was truncated to as short as 4/1 favouritism in a place. It's interesting to note that Ladbrokes, who usually know something, go stand out longest at 7/1.

Given that this race has the likes of Rubi Light, Noble Prince, Somersby, potentially Albertas Run, and others, I'm not surprised that 'the Magic Sign' are being bold. It's surely a race to savour rather than wager, and promises to be brilliantly competitive.

Medermit also has an entry here, but I'm not sure where they can go with him, as he seems to be not quite good enough to win another Grade 1 and too highly weighted to be competitive in the handicap division. Perhaps they should try the Gold Cup!

Meanwhile, Haydock Park was also getting in on the act of Cheltenham preps. In the Rendlesham Hurdle, a Grade 2 over three miles, Restless Harry relished the absence of long-time nemesis Big Buck's and recorded a hard fought and well deserved return to the relatively big time.

He's not going to beat Big Buck's, and nor - clearly - is anything that finished behind him this day. But he's a nice horse and one to put faith in just below top class.

Giles Cross won the National Trial in seemingly facile fashion. I say 'seemingly' because at the line the verdict was a neck. Also, I'm far from certain what he finds for pressure. But it's hard to argue with the following:

1. He won this on the bridle!

2. He won it from the front, perfect running style for the Grand National

3. He jumped brilliantly

4. He has 10-01 for the National, meaning he is in the handicap proper and has a sporting chance of getting a run (number 63 in the list, 40 will run)

There are certainly worse 25/1 shots for the big race, and I'm talking myself into a bet!

Wincanton staged the Kingwell Hurdle and, in typically misleading fashion, Nicky Henderson replaced the supposedly running Grandouet with the supposedly not running Binocular at the declaration stage.

Apparently, Grandouet has a problem and is taking medication. Given Henderson's track record, I'd make Grandouet about half his current 9/1 odds to even make it to Cheltenham. We've been here before with Henderson: last year with Binocular in point of fact.

I have my suspicions about the stable and their use of 'medication', but obviously this is all unsubstantiated substance discussion (if you see what I mean), so I'll leave it at that. Suffice it to say, I respect the presence of his runners but I try to bet elsewhere when it makes sense to.

Binocular best of British in Champion Hurdle?

Binocular best of British in Champion Hurdle?

Which leads me nicely on to Binocular. Sent off a very generous 5/6 (with hindsight at least), McCoy was a passenger here as his mount was impeccable over his hurdles, and laughed at some reasonable opposition in Celestial Halo (rated just a pound lower than Bin) and Starluck (rated 155).

Ladbrokes were most impressed, cutting Binocular to 9/2 clear second best for the Champion Hurdle. Whilst that might be defined as a swingeing cut, my own view is that he is the most likely horse to take advantage of an absent or off colour Hurricane Fly.

If you share that view and you're not already involved, you can still get 8/1 with both William Hill and Coral, which surprised me as I do think that's a pretty decent each way bet to nothing.

Across the Irish Sea, there were further preps for the raiders at Gowran Park. First, the Grade 2 Red Mills Chase over 2m4f was dominated by Rubi Light, and his sixteen length margin over Chicago Grey (himself a Festival winner in the National Hunt Chase... over four miles!) underlined his superiority.

Rubi Light does like to lead and it's unclear whether that will be a courtesy extended to him in the Ryanair, a race which - as I've already stated - is too hard for me at this stage of proceedings.

The Grade 2 Red Mills Trial Hurdle over two miles was won in equally simple style by Zaidpour. Willie Mullins said afterwards that he hasn't figured out whether they'll aim at the Champion or World Hurdle yet. Fair enough, as they do have a lot of horses to potentially run in both.

Looking at the way other form lines have panned out suggests he surely ought to go at the World Hurdle, in which Zaidpour would have robust place claims at the very least. Were he assured a run, the 20/1 with sportingbet would be tempting.

But again, it's 'bide your time' time until more info is available. Mullins currently has Mourad, Thousand Stars, So Young and Quevega at shorter prices in the World Hurdle betting!

The 4.25 had a brilliant result, as the winner and second - both 12/1 shots - were trained by two of my Irish Lucky 13. If that means nothing to you, it will do by tomorrow! You'll be able to get hold of a copy of this trainer report FREE, GRATIS and at NO CHARGE as part of an event I'm unveiling this week.

So do stay tuned for that! 🙂

And so to yesterday. Nothing of note in the UK, but over at Navan, the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle perhaps helped our Willie sort his hierarchy of hurdling hopefuls ahead of the Festival, as Mourad brushed Mikael d'Haguenet aside with aplomb.

Given that the winner was second favourite, and the second was odds on jolly, this will have been a head scratcher for connections at first glance. But the balance of Mikael's form this season is not in the same league as that of Mourad's (third to Big Buck's last time), and Mourad also had the higher official rating, albeit only by two pounds.

It's unlikely that either of these are the best of the Mullins millions, and the one I like is the aforementioned Zaidpour, who had previously beaten Voler La Vedette, who herself has twice recently beaten Mourad.

Whilst I'm not a huge fan of collateral form - on its own at least - it does seem to point firmly enough to Zaidpour having decent claims in the World Hurdle if that is the chosen route.

The other Grade 2, the Flyingbolt Novices' Chase over 2m4f, looked sub-standard and was won by Donnas Palm, who was all out to catch Foildubh on the line.

This was not Festival form to my eye, and the fact that Donnas Palm was barely in the same furlong as the likes of Last Instalment (now absent due to injury) and Sir Des Champs means he won't be on any of my tickets.

********

The last word on a dazzling weekend of Cheltenham Festival preparation must go to Cue Card's trainer Colin Tizzard. No, this has nothing to do with the Festival, nor even to do with Cue Card.

Rather, after eight horses running moderately for him on Saturday afternoon - the last of which was called Coup Royale - Tizzard proceeded to record five straight winners! An across the card quintuple, in which he also had the second placed horse TWICE with his two other runners.

Whether this was an orchestrated 'coup royale' or just happy circumstance is not known - at least not by this scribe - but blimey, that's some fancy placing there!

********

And finally finally, two reminders from above.

1. Check out the Stat of the Day feature. I don't advertise it with a daily email, but it's there every day. If you follow me on Twitter, you'll get a 'tweet' notification when the post is there. If not, just check the site. Old Skool! 😉

2. Look out for my email tomorrow, for details of how to get hold of the Irish Lucky 13 which is a very interesting report that has been performing splendidly well in recent days.

Finally finally finally, it's your turn! What was your best performance of the weekend, and what - if anything - have you backed for Cheltenham as a result of the weekend's racing?

Matt

 

 

 

Geraghty/Henderson treble helps clarify Cheltenham plans

Simonsig - Cheltenham bound, but which race?

Two years ago Barry Geraghty went to Kelso for his first ever ride there. It should have been nothing more than a gentle school for Nicky Henderson’s Zaynar on his way to the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. Read more

Mullins reaches fastest 100 with Soll

Soll was only doing the job he had been trained to do. He couldn't have known he was widely expected to win his race. He couldn't have known he was going to be part of Irish racing history. He couldn't have known that this was part of his preparation for a bigger prize next month. Read more

Monday Mish Mash: The Pre- Cheltenham Banquet Weekend

The Giant Bolster storms to Cheltenham victory

The Giant Bolster storms to Cheltenham victory

It was a weekend where the headline writers and Cheltenham executive got their prayers answered. Hurricane Fly and Big Buck's proved themselves every bit as good as when last seen, and both ready to defend their hurdling championships come middlemarch.

Elsewhere, dreams were shattered for many (Baby Mix, Broadbackbob, Unaccompanied), reinstated for a few (The Giant Bolster, Midnight Chase), and rudely awoken by harsh reality for those who probably already knew their fate (Tidal Bay, Diamond Harry, Poquelin).

So what are the pointers to take from a bumper weekend of top class action on both sides of the Irish Sea, as we look inexorably towards Cheltenham and March's Festival?

Let's take it from the top...

The opening juvenile hurdle promised to inform us on the Triumph Hurdle hierarchy but, in the end, served only to confuse and bewilder. Grumeti was the winner, albeit via the stewards' room, from a Nicholls' 'fourth string', Pearl Dawn under Ruby Walsh.

Pearl Dawn was brought into the race with a finely timed run, and bested his more famous rival by a short head at the line. However, in so doing, he'd cut across the second and, in the eyes of the stewards, caused enough interference for them to reverse the placings.

Personally, I always struggle with these situations, as when Jacqueline Quest was denied victory in the 1000 Guineas. But I defer to those who know, and am assured that justice was done.

In any event, the fallout for me is this:
1. A horse that has only actually come home first in one of three hurdle events shouldn't really be favourite for the Triumph. Yes, he was unlucky when he fell; yes, he was 'cruelly' denied victory on Saturday. But... winners win. No excuses. Not for me.

2. Paul Nicholls now knows exactly where he stands with his juvies, and the one he unleashes in the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton will be the one to be on.

3. Baby Mix ran no sort of race. Pulled too hard, jumped terribly, and gives serious instability to the form here.

I'd be very surprised if the Triumph Hurdle winner ran on Saturday, and even more so if it was at Cheltenham.

Next.

Bless The Wings was an exuberant winner of the novices' handicap chase, and if he jumps as well in the Centenary Handicap Chase (or whatever it will be called this time around), he'll have chances.

But he cannot expect so many of his rivals to throw their chances away with careless errors, and this effort will cost him his attractive handicap mark for sure. He'll likely run, and run well, in the Centenary, but something - probably trained by either Venetia Williams or Ferdy Murphy - will have hidden their light under a bushel better.

The next race saw one of the most taking performances of weekend where taking performances were a theme. The Giant Bolster has been called many things, mainly in relation to his 'can't jump, won't jump' attitude. However, a pre-race interview with his owner revealed that much schooling work had been done, and the name Yogi Breisner was uttered. The jumping guru has clearly worked his oracle once more, as The Giant Bolster was almost foot perfect, despite the intimations of commentator Richard Hoiles that he bungled half of them.

I thought Hoiles was extremely unfair to TGB, who did make one error in an electric round of front-running fluent leaping. At the line, he's put seventeen lengths between himself and the rock solid 2,5f Cheltenham chase yardstick, Poquelin, who ran his usual 'honest as the day is long' race.

Poquelin was spotting TGB a stone or thereabouts, but it would be hard to argue that the verdict would have been any different off level weights. Indeed, level weights is how they'd match up were the Ryanair to enter the Cheltenham conundrum. There is, though, one small issue with that: The Giant Bolster isn't entered in the race!

I'm not sufficiently up on whether a horse can be entered later at a premium but, if that is the case, then surely this is the route for him, rather than the Festival Plate. That latter race is a handicap, in which he'd highly likely lug top weight, plus he be in amongst twenty-five rivals and would struggle much more I feel to get the lead he so relished here.

Under similar circumstances, TGB is a horse to follow. He's likely to clout a few fences in any quest for glory, but this effort - in a very fast time - marks him out as an extremely talented beast.

Poquelin for his part can be expected to make a bid in the Ryanair, but he's gone there in far better form in seasons past and been seen off comprehensively. He's one of a number for whom the writing looks to be on the wall.

And then came the feature of the day. Captain Chris, Tidal Bay, Diamond Harry, Midnight Chase and the rest. Gold Cup trip. Proper trial. Sort of (no Irish, no Kauto Star, no Long Run, etc).

Captain Chris has inexplicably been favourite all day, despite being the most obvious non-stayer since I contemplated running a marathon. In the event, it wasn't stamina that scuppered him but bizarre jumping. To my untutored eye, he jiggered his back and was rightly pulled up.

None of this was of any consequence to Midnight Chase, a beast who adores Cheltenham like I adore Guinness. He got out in front, and stayed out in front. Leaping from fence to fence, allowing Little Josh to get close but not too close, and then kicking on from the turn in.

Tidal Bay was his closest challenger but never threatened to usurp the Prince of Cheltenham Chases (but not the King, alas for connections). Today was a day when connections of Captain Chris, Tidal Bay and Diamond Harry must all have called time on their Gold Cup aspirations, as they were found wanting to a rival who only finished fifth in the Gold Cup last year.

Midnight Chase himself will try to make all in the showpiece in six weeks time, and he'll give punters a bloody good run for their money, without I fear ultimately troubling the judge. Great performance, all the more so for carrying not just my cash but also the combined weight of the Stat of the Day followers fortunes!!

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But still there was much to follow on a card that had more players than an amateur dramatics convention. It was the turn of the staying novices next, and Broadbackbob - from the Henderson yard - was a very warm order. Unbeaten in two lesser events prior to lining up here, he jumped a little stickily in places, and was never going to be Batonnier, a horse who has been faced by stiffer competition than his shorter priced rival.

Batonnier traveled very well off a strongish pace, and looks a contender for either the Neptune or Albert Bartlett, whichever trainer Alan King fires him at. Of course, in those contests he may have to face either or both of Fingal Bay and Boston Bob, and those will offer a more robust challenge that Broadbackbob.

Hurdling retained centre stage as one of National Hunt racing's greatest stars, Big Buck's, strutted his stuff once more. Taking his unbeaten sequence to fifteen, he provided a few heard in mouth moments for punters who traded their fours for some ones (his odds of 1-4), especially the William Hill player who reputedly cashed a £256,000 wager.

Fair play, but you'll never get the stains out of those trousers!

In the finish, it was plain sailing, but there was at least a half furlong after they'd turned in when it looked as though BB might not quite get to Dynasyte, who ran a stonker.
Dynaste looks a strong contender for the World Hurdle podium, but with Big Buck's and Oscar Whisky in opposition, it's a tough ask for him. And it's impossible for any sane individual to suggest that there is a horse in training who can beat Big Buck's in the World Hurdle if he runs his race.

And it was hurdling to conclude the card as well, with a competitive looking handicap hurdle. There were also at least two dubious rides in here, but let's deal with the winner first.

Tom George's Module ran on very well and landed a few nice bets in the process, on his first UK start. I think he's come over from George's satellite yard in France, and he knows what he's got when it comes to comparative form between France and UK. (I wish I did!)

But it's the horses in behind that I want to talk about. Firstly, Hinterland - a short enough favourite - was never put into the race by Ruby Walsh. He still had eight horses in front of him at the final hurdle and did well to finish third.

I'm convinced he's being aimed at the Fred Winter, and this was a most definite handicap-protecting performance. It will be instructive to see if the handicapper takes the same view as me, and mullers the horse's mark as it deserves to be after this non-trier effort. If he doesn't, I'll be supporting him in the Fred Winter, for sure.

The other dodgepot was the winner's stable mate, Sivola de Sivola, who was given an 'eye-catching' ride to finish fourth. Again, there are Festival hurdle events (the County, most likely) for which he may well be attractively perched. He's one to keep on side, as he is clearly capable of significantly more than he showed here. Connections will have been delighted!

********

Elsewhere on Saturday, Menorah actually endeared himself to me more by falling than by winning up at Doncaster. As perverse as that may sound, this chap has a characteristic that the very best two mile chasers have: he hurdles his fences.

I recognise that might sound a bit ridiculous, but if you look at the record of the likes of Moscow Flyer and Big Zeb, you'll see that the big IF heading into Cheltenham for them was actually their form figures of 1F1F.

Am I saying Menorah can win the Arkle? Well, yes and no. In my opinion, like those two fine beasts (only one of which won the Arkle, Big Zeb having been kept at home a while longer), Menorah conserves energy in the style of an Arkle winner, and he has plenty of top drawer track form over hurdles (Supreme Novices' winner, Greatwood Hurdle winner, etc).

The fact that he's now a longer price means I'm taking a saver on my Al Ferof / Peddlers Cross investment, and the only horse that can beat me - I believe - is Sprinter Sacre. For reasons I've outlined elsewhere, I'm prepared to let that happen.

In Ireland, the Mullins bandwagon rolled on as Sir Des Champs continued his winning ways over fences. True, it was a relatively weak race. But he won 'like an odds on favourite should' as Thommo would unfortunately say, despite not being an odds on favourite for this contest (he was even money).

This was the son of excellent sire Robin Des Champs' sixth win on the bounce. That sextet includes the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Hurdle at Cheltenham as a novice, and two Grade 2's over fences. Clearly, he's a player over this sort of trip and deserves to be close to favouritism for the Jewson Novices over the same distance - though different obstacles - as the Martin Pipe.

He's a horse that is impossible to crab from a Cheltenham perspective, with Festival winning form, and a progressive profile both before and since (he was heavily backed that day at Cheltenham). 8/1 is about the best you can get and, if he's being fired at this race, that's a price to be interested in. I say 'if' because he probably has RSA and handicap options as well.

Surely, though, this is the optimum trip for him at this stage of his career. He's a horse that, should he continue to progress, might present himself as a Gold Cup candidate next season. Very exciting prospect.

The Boylesports Hurdle on the same card was a belting race, and was won by a good horse in Citizenship... But for Cheltenham punters, the 'juice' was in behind. I'm not entirely sure where in behind, but true form students will be looking for those beasts who raced out back, and stayed on to a midfield finishing position... especially if trained by a wily fox.

Here's a couple who could be of interest from a County Hurdle perspective: Peak Raider (never nearer than ninth and from a plotting stable in Thomas Carberry), Plan A (fourth in last year's Fred Winter, ran a nice trial here).

********

Sunday at Leopardstown was the most eagerly awaited affair of a very bright weekend of jump racing. Despite a horribly soggy afternoon, the return of 'The Fly' was well enough subscribed. The precipitated upon punters were not to be disappointed, but there was sport both before and after that, as I'll now relate.

First up, it was the turn of the novice speed fencers in the Irish Arkle. Flemenstar fair dotted up in the style of a good horse. His problem is the irritating feeling that he beat a lot of beasts which ran in the style of bad horses.

The Irish Arkle hasn't thrown the winner of the British Arkle for many a moon - Moscow Flyer was the last - and I'm afraid two good miles in a ppeat bog does not translate well to the undulating road of Cheltenham's unofficial good to firm on Cheltenham Tuesday... Flemenstar is clearly talented, but I'd not even consider him beating the others I've mentioned higher up this post... even if he runs (which he probably won't, for the self same reason mentioned - state of the ground).

As if the weather couldn't have got any worse, at just about Chinese dentist appointment o'clock (tooth hurt-y, oh dear), a Hurricane blew into and out of Leopardstown.

This was the big day and, after eight months, there were plenty of negative vibes about 'needing the run'. 4/7 opening show soon became 4/5. Like the horse knew! He absolutely murdered them in the most disdainful of ways, and is going to be plenty hard enough to beat in the Champion Hurdle.

In truth, the form is questionable, with clear chief danger, Unaccompanied, putting in a rare stinker. Regular readers will know the affection I hold for this mare, and yesterday was not her running. Not even close.

Oscar Wells was next best, despite his connections suggesting conditions would not suit. That lends itself to the prospect that this wasn't as good a performance as it looked.

Here's what I think from a punting stance: whilst I'd struggle to oppose the Fly, I couldn't possibly countenance wagering him at between 4/6 and evens. The Robin van Persie of racing (brilliant when fit) still has to get to the West country and, if/when he does, he's unlikely to be much of a shorter price.

If you can get non runner no bet, treat yourself if you like. Otherwise, wait for the day.

Let me repeat: he won this running backwards, and it is very hard to crab the effort. But he is a fragile horse and this form is open to question, due to the state of the ground and the limp effort from the clear second market choice. Caution advised.

Finally, on a weekend of saliva-spraying sport, Boston Bob's game win in the Grade 2 was almost unheralded after his stable mate sent all the journo's scurrying for the 'hold the back page' hotlines to the headlines.

But this was an attritional display from another Cheltenham contender. He was asked to scrap, and he was happy so to do. I do find it difficult to quantify this performance in the context of either of the Cheltenham novices, and I'd love to see him race so well on a sounder surface. If he can, and he faces off against Fingal (Bay), then that will be a tumultuous tussle, to be sure.

I am now approaching spontaneous combustion when it comes to the Cheltenham banquets of middle March. And if the last few weekends have been mostly uninformative, then this one has fair spurted Festival fancies forth. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrringiton!!! 😀

Matt

p.s. I'm away for the next fortnight (training in Newmarket this week - not as a jockey! - and skiing in Bulgaria next, so please be patient if you try to contact me. Neither place is blessed with abundant wifi... 🙁    )

Monday Mish Mash: From Ascot to Cheltenham

Al Ferof bids for Arkle Trophy 2012 glory

Al Ferof bids for Arkle Trophy 2012 glory

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

But let's start with the racing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

********

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

********

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

********

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What a pity.

Matt

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

Cheltenham Festival 2012: Arkle Trophy Preview

Arkle Trophy 2012 Preview

Arkle Trophy 2012

Arkle Trophy 2012

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

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

Arkle Trophy 2012 Trends

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Well Chief Arkle Trophy

Well Chief: Arkle Trophy winner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Arkle Trophy 2012 Contenders

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

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

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

Arkle Trophy 2012: Peddlers Cross

Arkle Trophy 2012: Peddlers Cross

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

Am I making excuses for him?

Yes!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arkle Trophy 2012 Final View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Arkle 2012 Tips

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

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

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

Click here for the latest Arkle Betting Odds.

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

Arkle 2012 Trends

Arkle 2012 Trends

Twelve Key Races From Christmas (part 2)

Twelve races of Christmas part 2

Twelve races of Christmas part 2

In the second and final instalment of my review of what I consider to be twelve key races from the festive period, we'll look at racing between 28th December and 1st January with a view to the Cheltenham Festival, which is but ten weeks away now!

Fort Leney Novices’ Chase, Leopardstown, 28th December

As with yesterday's opening part, we begin today with a Grade 1 novice chase, this time featuring some of the pick of the likely Irish contenders for RSA Chase glory.

First Lieutenant, a Festival winner last March when bagging the Neptune Novices' Hurdle over three miles, was favoured here in a bid to polish up his tarnished reputation over the bigger impediments. He ran probably his best race over fences, but that was still only good enough for second spot behind an impressive and improving horse in Last Instalment.

The winner, trained by Dunguib's trainer, Philip Fenton, and ridden by Dunguib's maligned rider, Barry O'Connell, was close to the pace throughout and quickened and stayed on well.

There was no fluke about this performance, and he's shown progression from race to race over fences. Moreover, he has now demonstrated his ability to act on good ground as well as soft and heavy, which had been the conditions of his previous wins.

Whether this is good enough form to win an RSA is the big question, and in truth I don't know the answer. What I would say is this: Last Instalment must be the best Irish chance on form over fences. But... First Lieutenant was closing a little at the end, will appreciate conditions at Cheltenham, and is proven on the track.

Last Instalment is a general 8/1 chance, which is about right, but offers no value. I'd be much more interested in First Lieutenant at 20's, given the scope for him to be better in March. Course form is a massive advantage at Cheltenham, and Festival winning form should never be taken lightly. If First Lieutenant gets to Cheltenham, I can't see him being bigger than 12's, and that's even if Grands Crus lines up against him.

If GC does go for the GC, then he'll surely be a single figure price on the day. As such, 20/1 has been taken and added to the portfolio, albeit for small stakes. At this stage, I'd still favour Bobs Worth over First Lieutenant (both Festival winners last term), but I prefer the odds on the latter!

Christmas Hurdle, Leopardstown, 28th December

Leopardstown's own Christmas Hurdle, and a race that made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Betfair's security was breached and a customer was able to offer £600m worth of liability to disbelieving punters.

Now let me lay my cards on the table here. I despise significant elements of the 'something for nothing' culture we live in, and the behaviour of some punters when told they weren't getting paid out on what is the most palpable of palpable errors, is pathetic.

To my mind, it's like someone seeing the owner of a corner shop pop next door for something and, while he's there, snaffling all the cigarettes, only to be spotted and asked to hand them back. Can you imagine the shoplifter legitimately taking umbridge at the request?

For sure, Betfair have to deal with this problem. But the kow-towing to a small group of spectacular opportunists was too much for my normally robust constitution.

Can we all be sensible this year, and try to win what is there to be won, and accept that occasionally people make genuine mistakes, from which we have no right to benefit? (Am I the only person who thinks like that?!)

OK, to the race, which is a fair trial for the World Hurdle (Stayers Hurdle, as was), the previous two winners running third in the Cheltenham contest.

Voler La Vedette was a very easy winner (rendering the wagering all the more preposterous), coming away by the best part of five lengths eased down in the end.

Mourad chased her home and he's a reliable stick in Irish distance hurdles, and he in turn was well clear of the third.

VLV has a number of options for the Festival, but in truth she's unlikely to win any of them, despite being a cracking mare. She'd likely give best to three or four in the Champion Hurdle, at least one in the World Hurdle (Big Buck's), and at least one in the Mares Hurdle (Quevega).

If she were mine, I might be tempted to use the Mares' Hurdle (decent money for the places) as a stepping stone to a Grade 1 at Punchestown, ideally over a trip of ground and where neither Quevega nor Big Buck's has shown up.

The one I would take from the race, and don't laugh please, is Powerstation. Yes, he's twelve years old. Yes, he was beaten fourteen lengths here. But if he were to run in the Pertemps Final over three miles, he'd be quite interesting.

Currently rated 141, he looks likely to drop to around 136 or 138 after this. Buena Vista, another old boy, won last year's Pertemps off a mark of 138 and, whilst it is a lot to ask to see Powerstation winning, he might run into a place at a monster price. His course form is very good, as two second place and two third place Festival Hurdle finishes suggest (Neptune, Coral Cup, World Hurdle x 2, respectively).

Obviously, he's long in the tooth, but he's a game old boy who would so deserve one last hoorah. (A bit like me!) He's not yet quoted for the race but I'll be keeping an eye out for it...

Lexus Chase, Leopardstown, 28th December

The disaster race of the Christmas holiday for me personally. I'd rowed in with Rubi Light and especially Quito de la Roque for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. So to see them both comprehensively outpointed by Synchronised, hitherto a high class plodder, was very disappointing.

Saying that, the handicapper has taken a literal view of the form (hard not to given that there seemed no fluke about this), and awarded Synchronised a revised figure of 168. That puts him bang there for the places in the Gold Cup.

Let's put that in perspective. The 'capper has Long Run on 182, and has advanced Kauto Star to a high of 183 (his previous high mark was 193!)

Grands Crus remains on 159, though I'm not sure why.

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Curiously, the Irish handicapper has taken the view that whilst Synchronised definitely improved, his two pursuers regressed. He awarded the winner a perch of 163, with Rubi Light getting 164 (down two) and Quito de la Roque 163 (down SIX!).

I actually think this is probably more realistic and it does imply that the Irish chasers have something to find in the Gold Cup division, much to my chagrin.

The question is, can you envisage Synchronised winning a Gold Cup? Answer: no. Could he run into the places? Answer: yes. He's an out and out stayer, with a smattering of class about him. Has he buggered up his Grand National handicap mark? Answer: probably, but we'll await the glorious discretion of Phil Smith, who gets to tinker with ratings for the big race.

I backed Synchronised for the National at 25/1 - now best priced 20/1, Ladbrokes go 10/1! - and of course I'm hoping he gets a reasonable weight. But a literal reading of his Lexus run means he ought to lug topweight, alas.

What of the rest? Rubi Light didn't stay, to my eye, meaning a tilt at the Ryanair is most likely. Odds of 8/1 for that are sensible but not exciting. Pass.

Quito de la Roque was out and out disappointing. I had really high hopes for him and, whilst one swallow doesn't make a summer, it does portend of the changing of the season. Leaving out the Cantona-esque cryptics, that run implies Quito has a glass class ceiling.

I'll look forward to the Hennessy in February more in hope than expectation, because this does look like an ante post wager which went west.

Festival Hurdle, Leopardstown, 29th December

This was Hurricane Fly's intended festive target. But the Fly - whose absenteeism record is abysmal - once again had a sick note from dad (Willie Mullins) and skipped class.

He's clearly a phenomenal hurdler when he's on the track, but he cannot be countenanced as an ante-post investment, as he must only be about 4/6 to actually turn up. Make no mistake, if he's not ready to win, Mullins will hold him back for Punchestown.

In the Fly's absence, Thousand Stars was sent off the even money favourite. But it was 10/3 second choice, and my favourite race mare of the generation, Unaccompanied, who prevailed.

This girl is just brilliant. She won the Listed geegeez.co.uk Alleged Stakes at the Curragh in April last year, beating off St Nicholas Abbey amongst others (and capping a great day for me personally as sponsor!); and she then went on to bolt up in a Listed hurdle before seeing off Grade 1 company here.

Thousand Stars would have wanted more of a test, and it could be argued that his pilot, Ruby Walsh, should have kicked on sooner to make it so. But this day belonged to Unaccompanied. I would love it (a la Kevin Keegan) if she were good enough to win the Champion Hurdle. But I can't see it, in truth.

Thousand Stars is a horse without a trip. She can't win a Champion Hurdle (not quick enough) or a World Hurdle (not classy enough). She might give Oscar Whisky most to do over 2m4f at Aintree again, and she might win a wealthy pot in France again. But another Cheltenham Festival race win is unlikely to my eye, despite her County Hurdle success in 2010 and a game fourth last year in the Champion.

Oscars Well has been well touted as a possible Champion Hurdle contender, but nothing in his defeats to The Real Article, Thousand Stars and now Unaccompanied lends itself to being even in the top three Irish horses. And that's before you consider a voluminous British challenge as well. No, no, no, I'm afraid.

The rest will be running in handicaps if they head to the Festival at all.

Novices Chase, Newbury, 31st December 2011

How do you solve a problem like Cue Card?, to bastardise a fine line from a fine film (tell me you don't love The Sound of Music!), is the issue here. Who can forget his sweeping run in the Champion Bumper at the Festival back in 2010. He was 40/1 that day!

His record since is actually top class, despite the apparent chinks to it. He has been first or second in nine of eleven career starts, and won six of them. But. But... his only Grade 1 success was in that bumper (flat race for those who don't know what a bumper is), and he's not won in a field bigger than eight over obstacles.

Neither of those points hint at a tilt at the Arkle Chase especially (currently 12/1). I just wonder if the Jewson (2m4f novice chase) at the Festival might be the answer. He's an 8/1 shot for that which is reasonable, though I'd definitely want to find a bookie offering the 'non runner no bet' concession as he might go for a different target.

This day, in a short field of four, he was too good for For Non Stop and Walkon. The faller, Minella Class, might have given him a fright, but I don't really like 'might have's' in novice chases. There is a suspicion that maybe he idles in front, as when beaten here by Bobs Worth earlier in the season. But there must remain a suspicion that he's not quite good enough to trouble the best of the best.

The Jewson is interesting, with a run, but the Arkle is not. For me, at least.

Challow Hurdle, Newbury, 31st December 2011

The elephantine Fingal Bay bagged this Grade 1 pot, but only by a length in the end, on ground described as soft. His record is now five wins from five runs, and that's hard to crab when it includes three Grade 2's and a Grade 1.

Philip Hobbs, his trainer and a man who thinks the world of this horse, remarked that he never wins by much. That is true enough, and I do like Fingal Bay. He's another in my ten to follow, and I've also backed him for the Neptune at the Festival.

That's the shorter of the two options open to him, and it was concerning to hear Hobbs suggest he'd go for the longer race (the Albert Bartlett) were it to be good ground at the Festival. It usually is, and it looks like I'll have to do a rain dance to get Fingal in the right race!

This was a muddling affair, and it's quite likely the winner would be better in a truer run contest. As such, it's difficult to be too excited about any of the performances emanating from it.

The second horse, Ballyrock, has only had two hurdle starts, having won on debut at 25/1 before running up here. He's liked by his trainer, Tim Vaughan, and this wasn't that big a surprise to connections. He might win at Aintree (Vaughan won the staying novice there with Saint Are last year), but I can't see him being good enough at Chelters.

The rest were well beaten off.

Non-handicap Hurdle, Cheltenham, 1st January 2012

My old mate Oscar Whisky was in here, against a very well touted Nicholls horse in Poungach. The quartet was completed by Cockney Trucker and Drill Sergeant, neither of whom are top class.

This was processional for the winner, Oscar Whisky, and he could do no more than win in such a manner. But these were optimal conditions, two and a half miles on a decent surface, and he was expected to win head in chest.

It told us little more than that he has a leg in each corner and a beating heart, and bookies cutting his odds are not too cute in my opinion.

Alas for me, he's now more likely to go for the World Hurdle when I've backed him cheekily and to small stakes for the Champion Hurdle. He was third in the Champion last year, and if the Fly didn't turn up, and Peddlers Cross (runner up last year) in the chasing ranks, I'm very surprised they're not having another tilt at the shorter race.

A lightning fast two miles might be almost as good as two and a half under normal conditions for him. But of course Henderson also has Grandouet, Binocular, and Spirit Son for the race, none of whom could be aimed at the World Hurdle with any confidence. Pity for me, though hope springs eternal.

Put it this way: I personally believe that Oscar Whisky has a better chance in the Champion Hurdle than the World Hurdle. His odds relate connections' leaning in my view, and that's a shame. Obviously, I'm talking through my pocket. 😉

Poungach disappointed connections here, but was still clear second best. He will be better when he learns to jump better.

And that concludes my twelve races of Christmas. Eagle eyed readers will note there were actually thirteen, but who ever heard of the thirteen anythings of Christmas?

So, what about you? Did you find anything to bet for Cheltenham from the Christmas and New Year racing? If so, put us onto it by leaving a comment below.

Also, tweet or facebook this post if you have the technology so to do.

Best Regards,
Matt

Monday Mish Mash: More Festival Pointers

It's Monday again, and time to look back on the weekend racing with a view to the future.

Friday's Cheltenham card was nothing special for the most part, but it was noteworthy for one thing. And that, unfortunately, was the carnage that transpired in the Cross Country Chase.

In case you missed, it, seven jockeys - riding the leading seven horses turning in for home - took the wrong course! In point of fact, this did have an unexpected bonus for me, as this race is one of the two pre-eminent Festival Cross Country Chase trials (the other being run at Punchestown), and the merit of one horse's performance was masked by the farce.

That horse is Scotsirish, and I'm convinced that he's better than stablemate Uncle Junior and will carry the weight here no problem in March. He's 11/2 with Stan James, which is a bit annoying as I took the 5's with Bet365 before the other bookie chalked up prices. A hundred pounds win only.

Scotsirish for the Cross Country Chase 2012

Scotsirish for the Cross Country Chase 2012

Moving on to Saturday, and I was lucky enough to be at the track, which was a welcome respite from some difficult times on the personal front, with my mum quite ill in hospital at the moment.

I'd bid in an auction about a year and a half ago for four seats in a box at the West Country track, and myself, Mrs Matt, Gavin and Mrs Gavin, were guests of Weatherbys four storeys up and overlooking both the finish line below, and the entire course as a panorama.

We were very well looked after by our hosts, and enjoyed some good wholesome grub, some equally wholesome vin rouge, and some even more wholesome National Hunt fare.

Baby Mix was a good winner of the Triumph Hurdle trial, but what this probably told us more than anything is that we definitely haven't seen the winner of that race yet.

It is generally the case that the Triumph winner comes over from France these days, and usually has its first British run in late December or January. Baby Mix wouldn't have been the best of the Frenchies and, whilst there was much to like about the way he quickened off a fairly pedestrian pace here, there will surely be something better which reveals itself in the next few weeks.

In the second race, I was extremely taken with the jumping of the winner, Join Together. Running in the Denman colours, he showed all the exuberance and a hint of the engine of 'The Tank', when barrelling clear up the run-in to record a decisive twelve length verdict over Mossley.

It was surprising to hear that Paul Nicholls, the winner's trainer, was contemplating the four miler at the Festival for Join Together because, while I've no doubt he'll stay (the brilliance of his leap at the last implied he could have gone round again, no problem), he has class and that edge of street fighter that you need for an RSA Chase.

He's 14/1 in a lot of places, only 10's with Ladbrokes, and despite horses like Grands Crus heading the market, I like this chap. He's won twice round here now so there are no reservations about course, distance, or going. It is then simply a question of whether the horse is good enough. In a race which often becomes attritional, and finds out many a 'class horse', Join Together is made of the stuff that could trouble the judge.

I'm not invested yet, but I almost certainly will be before the week is out. If you've not yet seen this race, take a look at the round of jumping the winner puts in. Phenomenal.

In the two mile handicap chase, Rileyev is clearly the horse to take with an eye to the Grand Annual Chase at the Festival. He was badly hampered by the bizarre fall of Tanks For That (himself a player for Johnnie Henderson Grand Annual, the race named after his trainer's father), and had to work hard to get back into it.

He was then only mugged on the line. Venetia Williams has few peers when it comes to readying one for a Festival handicap chase, and I'd be surprised if we don't see Rileyev lining up there with a big chance.

The Albert Bartlett was won by Deireadh Re, but he would have had no chance with Sea Of Thunder, who was well clear when crashing out at the last. Not sure whether this was Festival form: if it was, the only horse to consider in that context was the falling Thunder, who was having his first trip beyond two miles this day.

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Then came the big race. It seemed everyone in our box was on the same horse, Medermit. He ran a blinder to wear down the game front running Roudoudouville, but unfortunately, Quantitiveeasing fair flew between runners to get up by three quarters of a length, and uphold the form of the Paddy Power Chase, in which he'd finished second.

Whether that was a Ryanair run, or one for the handicaps (Festival Plate, I think) remains to be seen, but it was a cracking contest and a thrilling finish. Unless, like me, you were one of those mugs who backed the second win only...

And then came the International Hurdle, featuring Grandouet, Overturn, Brampour, Menorah and the rest. A mini-Champion Hurdle in many ways, and there are no chinks in the form. This was true run, as must be the case with Overturn being taken on early.

He ran another robust race, and showed real mettle to outstay Brampour for second. Both of these are high class beasts, without likely being good enough to win the Champion itself. Grandouet on the other hand, despite being a five year old next season, seems to have the maturity to match his undoubted ability.

He cruised into this, and galloped resolutely to the line in the style of a very good animal. Second favouritism (behind Hurricane Fly) was inevitable for the winner of this race, and 7/1 with William Hill is the standout best price now. He'll surely be jolly if the Fly is grounded come March.

Menorah has a little to prove at this stage, and it wouldn't actually surprise me if he ended up in the 2m5f novice chase that Noble Prince won last year. Whether he's good enough to win it is another question entirely.

The final race, the Relkeel Hurdle, looked a penalty kick for Oscar Whisky and, while the winning margin was less than two lengths, the style of victory was emphatic enough. Giving eight pounds to the runner up, a renaissance performance from Get Me Out Of Here at a track he enjoys, Oscar was eased down at the death.

I'm not sure he has a trip for the Festival over hurdles though, as I imagine they're too quick for him at two miles (where his trainer has plenty of other options), and he may well not stay the three miles of the World Hurdle. If I was owner Dai Walters, I'd be tempted to take in the Welsh Champion Hurdle again at Ffos Las (also owned by Walters), and then head to the two and a half mile hurdle at Aintree.

Missing Cheltenham is always a difficult decision for owners, but it might be the right one. Incidentally, full disclosure, I've backed Oscar Whisky at 33's for the Champion Hurdle, for which he is as short as 14/1 now, so I hope he does run there. I'm just not at all sure he will.

******

And finally, the prize draw entries close at 1pm this afternoon, so you might still have enough time to enter. One entry who will be less concerned about whether he cops the £250 first prize is Andrew R. Andrew opened a new sportingbet account and, with his free tenner bet, did this:

Free bet wins two grand

Free bet wins two grand

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Nigh on two grand for a tenner! Well done Andrew and, as always when geegeez community winners are kind enough to show their winning tickets, thanks a million for sharing. 😀

A quick reminder of the rules:

1. Choose a special offer with a bookie you don't currently have an account with here.

2. Register and enjoy your free bet.

3. Email prizedraw@geegeez.co.uk with your name and the account you opened.

I'll have checked all entries by this evening and will annouce the winner on the blog tomorrow.

As well as the £250 winner, there will be three runners up who bag a six month membership to my Winning Trainers, itself worth eighty quid.

There are now just about forty entries, so you've all got a roughly one in ten chance of winning as things stand.

Good luck, and I'll be back tomorrow with news of the winners.

Matt

p.s. what was your pick of the weekend performances? Maybe it wasn't at Cheltenham, but elsewhere. Leave a comment below.

p.p.s. If you've got facebook, please share this post by clicking the 'share' button to the left. Or re-tweet by clicking that button. Thank you.

Monday Mish Mash: Sizing Up Cheltenham Prospects

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

Bog Warrior was impressive at Fairyhouse

Bog Warrior was impressive at Fairyhouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Now then, a couple of apologies are in order.

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

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

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

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

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

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Santa Run

The London Santa Run 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Monday to one and all.

Matt

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

Champion Hurdle Preview 2012

Can anyone swat the Fly in the 2012 Champion Hurdle?

Who can swat the Fly in the '12 Champion Hurdle?

It may seem far into the future, but there are now only 33 days til Christmas, which means we'll soon be into 2012 proper and dreaming of Cheltenham Festival glory.

With that in mind, it's time to look at one of the (usually) more predictable ante-post races, the Champion Hurdle 2012. By predictable, I mean there are plenty of patterns that assist in the generation of a shortlist, and many of them are already available to us. So let's look at the profile, and then look at the horses, and see if we can't figure out a Champion Hurdle bet or two...

Back in August 2010, I wrote the following:

The most significant factor in identifying the Champion Hurdle shortlist is course form. And not just course form, but Festival course form. In the last nine years, since the foot and mouth epidemic in 2001, the winners had all either won at the previous year’s Cheltenham Festival (four Champion Hurdle winners); or, placed in the previous year’s Champion Hurdle (four); or, finished in the top four in a Festival Grade 1 race the year before (one).

And so obviously along came a horse who had never run at the track before (Hurricane Fly), to upset what was a rock solid pattern. I've two comments to make on that, as follows:

1. Hurricane Fly is a phenomenal animal and could have probably won the Gold Cup, Grand National, and Wimbledon that Spring!

2. The trend is still extremely sound, with the runner up (Peddlers Cross) being a previous Festival winner, and the third horse (Oscar Whisky, tipped at 50/1) having been 4th in the Supreme Novices Hurdle.

Here's that full breakdown:

Year     Winner         Best Run Season Prior
2011     Hurricane Fly   No previous Festival form
2010    Binocular    3rd Champion Hurdle (G1)
2009     Punjabi       3rd Champion Hurdle (G1)
2008     Katchit       WON Triumph Hurdle (G1)
2007     Sublimity     4th Supreme Novices Hdle (G1)
2006     Brave Inca     3rd Champion Hurdle (G1)
2005     Hardy Eustace     WON Champion Hurdle (G1)
2004     Hardy Eustace     WON RSA Hurdle (G1)
2003     Rooster Booster WON County Hurdle (G3 Hcap)
2002     Hors La Loi III   2nd Champion Hurdle 2000 (G1)
2001     No Race     Foot and mouth
2000    Istabraq      WON Champion Hurdle (G1)
1999    Istabraq      WON Champion Hurdle (G1)
1998    Istabraq      WON Sun Alliance Hurdle (G1)

Hurricane Fly won four straight Grade 1's en route to Champion Hurdle glory, so we'll obviously keep an eye out for any other exceptional horse that doesn't fit the Festival test. Failing that, though, we will limit the search to the following lists of probables and possibles:

Champion Hurdle 2012 Probables

Champion Hurdle 2011 1-2-3

Hurricane Fly
Peddlers Cross - novice chasing
Oscar Whisky - may go further (World Hurdle)

Cheltenham Festival 2011 Graded winners

Al Ferof - novice chasing
Quevega - targeted at the Mares Hurdle
First Lieutenant - novice chasing
Carlito Brigante - likely to go further
What A Charm - unlikely to run in the race (not good enough)
Big Buck's - will go for World Hurdle
Zarkandar
Final Approach - might need further
Bobs Worth - may go further (World Hurdle) or chasing

Champion Hurdle 2012 Possibles (placed in a Grade 1 Hurdle at the 2011 Festival)

Spirit Son, Sprinter Sacre, Rock On Ruby, So Young, Grands Crus, Mourad, Unaccompanied, Grandouet, Mossley, Court In Motion

From that superset, we next need to identify the subset who have any chance of lining up for the Champion Hurdle. That leaves us with these, by my reckoning:

Probables - Hurricane Fly (9/4), Oscar Whisky (33/1, may go for World Hurdle), Zarkandar (12/1)

Possibles - Spirit Son (12/1), So Young (33/1, likely to go for World Hurdle), Unaccompanied (33/1), Grandouet (14/1)

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Of the likely runners then, we have a shortlist of two probables and three possibles, making five in total. We'll leave the other two in sight for now, as they're 33/1 which might be worth a small interest...

The next point I want to consider is that of age. Katchit won the Champion Hurdle in 2008 as a five year old, and was the first since the multiple winners See You Then (1985), Night Nurse (1976) and Persian War (1968). In other words, it takes an exceptionally gifted five year old to win this generally.

At the other end of the scale, it's rare that a horse older than eight prevails. Sure, Rooster Booster did the biz in 2003. But prior to him, we go back to Royal Gait in 1992 and before that the remarkable Sea Pigeon in 1980 and 1981.

So the strong percentage call is six to eight year olds. Hurricane Fly will be eight next year, which is fine; Oscar Whisky will turn seven, also fine should he run. But Zarkandar will only be five on January 1st, and despite that precocity he's both inexperienced and very young.

When Katchit won the Champion as a five year old, he was having his 13th hurdle start. Thus far, Zarkandar has raced just three times over hurdles. His best Racing Post Rating is just 147, which compares unfavourably with the last placed horse in the Champion Hurdle last term, Mille Chief, who'd already recorded two 157+ ratings.

Obviously, Zarkandar can be expected to improve, but so can many others, and I'm more than happy to pass over a best price of 12/1 on that chap. Note also that the Champion Hurdle is a race that Paul Nicholls has never won...

Of the posssibles, Spirit Son will be six when the Champion Hurdle 2012 comes around, so no worries there; likewise, So Young; but both Unaccompanied and Grandouet will be only five years young.

Clearly, it may seem cavalier to strike two of the three main market rivals to Hurricane Fly off the list on the basis of age, but I'm happy to do that (and also the lady, despite a stated affection for the mare Unaccompanied, winner of the geegeez.co.uk Alleged Stakes last term), because so many have tried and failed when fancied as fledglings... with apologies for laboured alliteration there.

Taking that into account leaves us with Hurricane Fly, Spirit Son, and possibly Oscar Whisky and / or So Young.

Hurricane Fly is clearly the best two mile hurdler in training on the basis of what we've seen on a racetrack. But. But... he's made of glass. Always injured. Injured again now, and on the easy list. He is slated to run at Christmas, and he goes well fresh. He goes well whenever. But I'm not inclined to have a voucher saying 9/4 on a non-runner.

So, whilst the Fly has standout form claims, I'd sooner take shorter on the day, assuming he gets there fit and well. If he goes off 4/7 on the day, well something has to finish second and third.

Spirit Son was quite badly outpaced in the Supreme before staying on well, but not as well as the equally outpaced Al Ferof, to finish second behind that one. He proved that a longer trip was up his street when cantering home against Cue Card over two and a half miles.

Although he will be stronger this year, it's hard to see him being faster! So there we are. I've knocked another one of the main rivals off his perch.

Oscar Whisky had a nasty fall at Ascot on Saturday when in with a big chance against Overturn over two and a half miles. His jumping is a little less than hoof perfect, but I've never been convinced he wants further than two miles. I mean, sure, he won the Aintree Hurdle over a pan flat two and a half, and he might have got up at pan flat Ascot over the same trip but for falling.

But he's got plenty of toe, as a third in the Champion Hurdle proves. In any case, Cheltenham's two mile half a furlong trip rides more like two and a quarter as it's such a testing circuit. I'm pretty sure he wouldn't get as far as the three miles of the World Hurdle, which leaves him with either the Champion or waiting for Aintree.

At the prices, I'm tempted to risk a couple of quid on Oscar Whisky taking in the shorter race. Yes, I wouldn't take 9/4 on a horse that may not show up, but I'll happily risk a tenner each way at 33/1 on the same proposition.

Clearly, Nicky Henderson has other options, such as Spirit Son, Grandouet, and...

One horse I've yet to mention, Binocular, because he didn't run at the last Festival (still had drugs in his system... whisper it, but there's something of a pattern emerging from the Henderson yard in that regard. Nothing conclusive but he has 'previous').

Binocular obviously likes the track (2nd in the Supreme in 2008, 3rd in Champion Hurdle in 2009, winner of the 2010 Champion Hurdle), and will still only be eight next March. On his day, he's more than useful, and a truly run two miles is spot on for him. He's another who has suffered a bit too much injury proneness to be a ready pick, but 12/1 seems reasonable, and he'll halve if winning the Fighting Fifth on Saturday.

Saying that, he's been beaten in the last two renewals of the Fighting Fifth, so I'd be tempted to wait until after the race in the hope that the same thing happens again, and 16's or maybe even 20's becomes available. You can definitely expect a far fitter beast to line up at Cheltenham... if he is fit at that time! (if you see what I mean).

And that just leaves So Young. He might well go for the World Hurdle, and I have a soft spot for this horse, having backed him last year and also included him in my Geegeez ten to follow  this season. He duly slaughtered his two rivals at the weekend, winning hard held by eleven lengths from a horse rated 142. Connections do seem bent on running him over staying trips so on that basis I'll have to resist the ante-post temptation here, tough as it is. I'll back him for the World Hurdle instead, for which he's a standout 20/1 with Boylesports.

Willie Mullins (Hurricane Fly, Thousand Stars, So Young) and Nicky Henderson (Spirit Son, Binocular, Grandouet, Oscar Whisky) have something of a stranglehold on the ante-post market, ably supported by Paul Nicholls (Zarkandar, Brampour), of course.

With doubts about pretty much all of the contenders at this stage, because of either fitness, age or possible race target, it's a bit of a betting minefield, and far from the usual relatively predictable affair.

At the prices, then, I'm going to side tentatively with Binocular (after the weekend race) and Oscar Whisky (cognisant of the possibility that he won't run in the race).

I've also backed Brampour already for the Champion, and So Young each way at that juicy 20's for the World Hurdle.

Click here for the full Champion Hurdle 2012 betting menu.

Matt's Ante Post Wagers

Oscar Whisky Champion Hurdle 2012

Oscar Whisky Champion Hurdle 2012

So Young World Hurdle 2012

So Young World Hurdle 2012

Brampour Champion Hurdle 2012

Brampour Champion Hurdle 2012

Plus, I'll be backing Binocular IF he gets BEATEN on Saturday at, hopefully, around 16/1.