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Cheltenham Festival Day One Preview / Tips

Cheltenham Festival Day One Preview / Tips

Can Nicholls win the Supreme again?

Can Nicholls win the Supreme again?

1.30 Supreme Novices Hurdle

The opening race of the 2014 Cheltenham Festival is the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and the collective exhalation of breath as the tapes rise after 361 CheltFest-less days at Prestbury Park might be enough to create its own micro-weather system in the Gloucestershire hills.

The Supreme is always a strong race, bringing together the cream of the novice ranks from both sides of the Irish Sea; and that convergence of form lines has often seen lofty reputations lowered a peg or two. This year may be no different, as the market is dominated by two horses - one British, one Irish - and if both are beaten there will be jam aplenty on winning punters' bread.

This is also a race where the bookmakers focus a disproportionate number of their concessions, keen to get cash in virtual wallets, and I'll incorporate that into my tip suggestions at the close.

2014 Supreme Novices Hurdle Trends

Age: Thirteen of the last sixteen winners were aged five or six. But, from much smaller entry sizes, horses aged four, seven and eight have also won a Supreme during that time. The data is somewhat inconclusive as to whether there is a favoured age group, despite what some trends peddlers may tell you. In fact, five and six year olds won 81.25% of the races from 81.6% of the runners, meaning they very slightly under-performed against numerical expectation.

Last time out: Fourteen of the last sixteen winners also won their previous race, and it has been a profitable angle to follow progressive form displayed by under-rated horses against the 'reputation horses'. Indeed, backing all last time out winners during that period (from 1997) was worth a profit of 22.25 units at SP. Last time out winners have won 87.5% of the Supremes, from just 40% of the runners.

Days since a run: Fourteen of the sixteen winners (87.5%) under review last ran between 16 and 60 days prior to claiming their Supreme Novices' crown. They accounted for 73% of the runners. Not one of the 31 horses to be returning within two weeks even placed.

Experience: Fourteen of the sixteen winners (87.5%) had had between two and four hurdles starts, from 61% of the runners. The most inexperienced winner since 1997, in terms of total races run, was Menorah with five starts. This counts against the likes of Gilgamboa, Josses Hill, and Valseur Lido. This is a tough race, often with a lot of scrimmaging, and street smarts is a most desirable attribute.

UK vs Ireland: The Irish lead 9-7 in the period under scrutiny, and from far fewer runners. Their success computes to 56.25% of the wins (and 37.5% of the places - eighteen) from 31.75% of the runners, exactly a hundred.

Those trends point to the top four in the betting - Irving, Vautour, Wicklow Brave, and Vaniteux.

2014 Supreme Novices Hurdle Preview

The logical place to begin the form preview is with the trends horses, especially as they spearhead the betting lists too. Before that, though, it will pay to keep in mind the average improvement Supreme winners found from their previous run.

Using Racing Post Ratings as a guide, each of the last ten winners found significant improvement from their last run, and all bar Menorah scored a career top in the race. The range of improvement from last run to winning Supreme run was +6 to +36. The average was +14 and, even removing the outliers (+6 and +36), the average improvement from last run was +12.25.

What does this mean, and how can we use it? In a nutshell, it means that the winner can be expected to record a significantly higher performance figure in this race than he has previously, and most likely in the 7-14 range on RPR's.

The average winning Racing Post Rating was 152.9 in the past decade, so it is reasonable to expect an unadjusted (i.e. Racing Post card RPR minus seven pounds - trust me on this!) of 139 - meaning a published figure of 146 - to be the minimum to achieve the likely required improvement.

You know when you start trying to explain something, and you wished you hadn't... Let's move on!

The favourite, at around 5/2, is Irving. This decent flat horse in Germany - a son of Singspiel out of a staying German mare - has made a blemishless start to his hurdling career. In his four wins from four runs, he has won two Grade 2 events, both in taking style, and has been awarded a handicap rating of 149.

Aside from the form, Irving has no marked ground preference, which is one less thing to worry about if you're a fan. On the downside, he does still look a bit novicey at his hurdles, a comment which applies to plenty of his rivals too, of course.

Vautour is pushing him for favouritism as a 3/1 shot, and will be the first of many Willie Mullins-trained horses to run during the week. Since coming over from France, where he was second on both starts, Vautour has rattled off a two month hat-trick of wins, culminating in a cheeky defeat of The Tullow Tank in a Grade 1 event.

That last success earned him a rating of 154 from the Irish handicapper, which is a few pounds higher than Irving. I wasn't all that taken by the manner of his victory that day, as I felt the second was given plenty to do. The time before, Vautour just outgunned Western Boy when a 1-4 shot.

Overall, whilst I have no doubt he can win, I don't think he's any value whatsoever so to do, and my quest for a bet continues.

Stablemate Wicklow Brave took a little time to come to hand, finishing mid-division in a bumper on his first career start. That was at the Punchestown Festival and a month later he ran a very close second in a big field back at the same track.

The next stop on Wicklow Brave's Irish tour was the Galway Festival where he broke his maiden at the third attempt, again in a big field and this time on good ground. Since that day, he's been unbeaten in four further races, two bumpers and two hurdle contests.

The last of those was a Listed affair, where he strolled away from Lieutenant Colonel in the style of a most progressive animal. Indeed, his Racing Post Ratings have improved from 105 to 110 to 120 to 131 to 146, and that most recent number gives him little to find with the top pair.

I like this chap - he travels extremely well in his races - but I do have a concern about his hurdling, which was sloppy at the finish of the Listed win. If he can improve that side of his game, he's a major player in the Supreme at around 7/1.

Vaniteux has been the recent springer in the market, and that's primarily on the basis of improvement in his work at home, which is said to be scintillating. This Nicky Henderson inmate was looking like the stable second choice, after Josses Hill, but the indications are that Barry Geraghty will ride him now, and strong support has seen his price cut from 25/1 a week ago to a top offer of 12/1.

But for a blunder at the last in a good novice hurdle on Boxing Day, he might well be unbeaten in three starts since switching from point to points, and he has verdicts over Vibrato Valtat and Portway Flyer (effortlessly) either side of that last slithered landing.

His easy last day success was over two and a half miles and that strong staying aspect to his game - hinted at in his pointing career - will be a solid asset in a very fast race such as the Supreme. If his jumping holds up, there's a chance Vaniteux can find the required improvement to land those recent wagers.

Stablemate Josses Hill is on 16/1 alongside Gilgamboa and Valseur Lido, two Irish raiders. Josses Hill was comprehensively outpointed by Faugheen in a Punchestown bumper on his debut, but won well on his next two starts.

He was elevated to Grade 1 level last time out and just found wanting by half a length to another stablemate, Royal Boy. Josses Hill looked likely to prevail jumping the last and had the rail to guide him to the line, but was outbattled by his more experienced, and seemingly stronger staying, team mate.

I don't feel Josses Hill has the necessary combination of experience and class to beat all in a Supreme, though that was a significant career best last time out. It's a bit disconcerting, too, that he was beaten by a stable mate last time and has a better fancied stable mate entered in this.

Gilgamboa is a really interesting one. Although he's only had four career runs, they include wins the last twice in handicap hurdle company, the latter of which was the highly competitive Grade B Boylesports Hurdle. There he beat Flaxen Flare, himself a Festival winner last year, by an assertive length and a quarter, the pair a couple and more clear of some lightly weighted rivals.

Flaxen Flare was spotting the winner five pounds, taking his rider's claim into account, and was officially rated a stone better. Gilgamboa has been nudged up from 128 there to a new mark or 140, which seems sensible based on the figure and proximity of his nearest neighbour in the Boylesports.

That number gives him exactly a stone to find on Vautour, according to the Irish handicapper, and who am I to argue with him? The fact is, if the handicapper is even nearly right, it's asking an awful lot of Gilgamboa to improve not just the stone or thereabouts to catch Vautour, but also the extra seven pounds on top which is the usual improvement demonstrated by Supreme winners.

Valseur Lido was bought privately from France by Gigginstown's bottomless fund, after a narrow but comfortable win in a Lyon Parilly flat race. The second that day has won since, at Pau, and the form looks fair. His Irish contract has begun well with easy back-to-back victories over first Voluptueux and most recently King William.

I say "most recently", but it was in fact before Christmas, and that's a major concern. The balance of history - and common sense - says that a fairly recent run, and probably in higher class, is usually required to win a Supreme. Although he's 16/1 that's not enough to tempt me, given the big negative.

The rest don't look good enough, but there is one wild card left in the pack. If the aforementioned Faugheen was to show up here, he'd have a huge chance befitting his huge frame. This is a horse that walks over his hurdles rather than having to jump them, and he's a serious player for whichever race his connections pitch him.

He's won from two miles to three, from good ground to heavy, and in fields ranging from seven to 22. His cruising speed is so high, as a consequence of that massive stride, that he'd surely have no problem if rocking up here. But he is still more likely to take in either the Albert Bartlett or the Neptune.

2014 Supreme Novices Hurdle Tips

Plenty of unexposed material here, as you'd expect, and sifting through the strings of 1's by horse's names is a tricky task. It will clearly be no surprise if either Vautour or Irving win the 2014 running of the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, but nor does it look a value route to take into the race.

In truth, there are more attractive betting races - like the ensuing Arkle Chase - but there may still be something to go at in here, especially if using the very generous bookmaker concessions.

I quite like the look of Wicklow Brave, and he's worth backing with either SkyBet or Paddy or both, at 13/2.

If you back him - or any other horse in the race - with SkyBet, and the favourite wins, you'll get your money back as a free bet, up to £25.

And if you back him - or any other horse in the race - with Paddy, and your horse finishes second, third or fourth, you'll also get your money back as a free bet, up to £25.

Tentative Supreme Tip:
Wicklow Brave 13/2 SkyBet (money back as free bet if favourite wins) / Paddy (money back as free bet if selection finishes 2nd, 3rd or 4th)

Each way choice:
Vaniteux 12/1 Paddy (money back as free bet if selection finishes 2nd, 3rd or 4th)

skybet.com

 

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2.05 Arkle Chase

Rock On Ruby: Arkle winner?

Rock On Ruby: Arkle winner?

The second race on a stellar opening day of the Cheltenham Festival 2014 is the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy, a novice chase run over two miles. This is a serious test of speed and there's no hiding place for frail jumpers or doubtful stayers, as they'll set off fast and maintain the gallop all the way to the finish.

It's a race that has been the springboard for many a Champion Chase winner, and even in recent times has heralded the arrival of the likes of Sprinter Sacre and Sizing Europe, Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop. Make no mistake, it takes a tip-top birch-bouncer to bag the Arkle.

In this post we'll consider the recent Arkle trends, as well as the form profiles for the main contenders, before honing in on a tip or two. Let's start then with the trends.

Arkle Chase 2014 Trends

Age: The Arkle tends to be a race for young upwardly mobile types, and established hurdlers looking to break into the top echelons of chasing have struggled at the sharp end. The last 24 Arkle winners were aged five to eight, with a notable number of fancied older horses turned over.

In 2002, Barton could only manage seventh at 9/2; a year later, Adamant Approach fell when a 7/1 shot; and, more recently, Captain Cee Bee was only eighth as the 5/2 favourite in 2010; and, last year, Overturn was turned over at 7/2, finishing no better than fourth.

It's a young nag's game, and Rock On Ruby (nine) will be bidding to become only the second horse aged older than eight to win the Arkle since Sir Ken way back in 1956.

Experience: Although Simonsig had just two chase starts to his name last term (and Champleve and Tiutchev likewise at the turn of the century), and Well Chief had just a single outing over the big'uns in 2004, the general level of experience for Arkle winners has been three (three winners) or four starts (eight winners) since 1997. The brilliant Moscow Flyer had already run in five steeplechases when he lined up for, and won, the 2002 Arkle.

Form: Since 1997, only one of the 57 horses to finish outside of the first two in their prior start has won. Contraband, a 7/1 shot and possibly the worst Arkle winner in living memory, was that horse. Indeed, Contraband's previous third place was the ONLY placing outside of the first two that any Arkle winner since... well, as far back as Racing Post records go, which is at least 1988. The strong percentage play is to demand a 1-2 finish the last day.

UK or Irish? The Irish have saddled 58 runners since 1997 in the Arkle, with just three winning (5% srtike rate). The British have saddled 13 winners from their 142 runners (9% strike rate) in the same time span. Looking only at those horses priced 12/1 or below, the figures come down to Ireland 3-23 (13%) and UK 13-76 (17.1%). Thus, the UK trained runners have enjoyed an edge, but perhaps not as marked as first meets the eye.

Arkle Chase 2014 Form Preview

For what is normally a fairly well established market, the 2014 Arkle looks wide open at time of writing. Champagne Fever, winner of the Cheltenham Bumper and Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the last two Cheltenham Festivals, heads the betting at 4/1. He's closely followed by Trifolium and Dodging Bullets, both 6/1 shots, and Rock On Ruby, an 8/1 play.

It's then 10/1 Valdez, 11/1 Hinterland, and 16/1 bar those.

Champagne Fever deserves to be favourite. After all, we know he loves that Cheltenham hill, using it twice now to winning effect, having been beaten earlier in both seasons. This term, he has also been bested, and into third place too, by Defy Logic and Trifolium. Whilst he'll not be beaten by Defy Logic at Cheltenham - that one struggling with injury - the fifteen length margin of defeat and that significant trend he has to overcome are concerns.

However, on the plus side, if the ground at Cheltenham comes up good to soft, as it normally does, his record on that sort of quick turf reads 111. On balance, whilst I hugely respect Champagne Fever, I can't bring myself to bet him at 4/1. He was 16/1 when winning the Cheltenham Bumper, and was available at 16/1 shortly before winning the Supreme (returned 5/1).

He is entered in the PJ Moriarty Chase, a Grade 1 over 2m5f, on Sunday.

Trifolium has a more traditional Arkle profile, with chase form of 1221, the latter two efforts in Grade 1 company. He was a slightly unlucky third in the 2012 Supreme on good ground, but was nine lengths too good for Felix Yonger in the Grade 1 Irish Arkle, and eleven lengths in front of Champagne Fever when second to Defy Login in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase. He is the form choice and, with no doubts about the course or the ground, looks a solid bet at 6/1.

Dodging Bullets is another whose chase form is hard to crab. He's three from three over fences, including Grade 2 victories the last twice. One of that pair was at Cheltenham, but the worry with this chap is that he's twice come up short at the Festival - 9th in the Supreme last year and admittedly a respectable fourth in the Triumph in 2012. Dodging Bullets is entered in the Kingmaker at Warwick on Saturday, if it beats the weather, but with Paul Nicholls' thirteen Arkle runners in the past decade yielding no wins and just two in the frame - a list which includes five horses at 4/1 or shorter - he's not for me.*

*My thanks to Gavin Priestley's Cheltenham stats book for that nugget

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Rock On Ruby is a horse I love. He's a Champion Hurdler as recently as 2012, and was second in last year's Champion Hurdle. But he's nine now, and was hurdling a long time. Whilst he has been very clever on the rare occasion he's missed a fence, and he has undoubted class, I just feel that there's no coincidence in the stats about nine-year-olds here, and have to reluctantly overlook him. If there's one to beat me, I hope it's Harry Fry's Rock On Ruby.

Valdez is unbeaten in three over fences, and saw off Irish raider, Arnaud, last time. He was entitled to, though, off level weights and officially rated ten pounds his superior. Still, Valdez was coming back from a break and stayed on very takingly up the pan flat Donny run-in, implying he'll enjoy the stiffer circuit and sharper match fitness in the Arkle. At 10/1, he offers a bit of scope for each way players, and trainer Alan King is massively respected.

Hinterland has been off the track since winning the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown in early December, and he's not currently got any entries. That's just too long a layoff for me to entertain and, while he could run between now and the Festival, he's no value to win the Arkle as things stand, especially given his trainer Paul Nicholls' aforementioned bad record in the race.

We're then in the realms of the 16/1 bar brigade. While Felix Yonger is a top priced 16/1, he might well go to the longer JLT Novices' Chase, and the best price with a non-runner concession is 10/1 which makes little appeal.

Grandouet is mildly interesting. True, he has been blighted with jumping issues throughout the big days of his career, and true, he's looked a bit off colour this season. But he was going like the winner in the Champion Hurdle last year when coming to grief - albeit a fair way out - and he is capable of a big run. 16/1 non-runner free bet isn't the worst wager in the Arkle.

Arkle Chase Trophy 2014 Tips

It will be clear from what you've read so far that I think Trifolium looks a very solid bet for the 2014 Arkle. He's got a perfect profile - seven year-old with four chase starts, all in the first two, and a win in Grade 1 company last time. He goes on any ground, though may be best on the easy side of good. He jumps well and should be able to race prominently. 6/1 non-runner free bet is the bet in the race for me.

Of the British squad, whilst I fear and respect Rock On Ruby, I'm happy enough to take a chance on the unbeaten Valdez being able to improve enough to make the frame. He looks like he'll stay well and is generally a decent jumper. 10/1, again non-runner free bet, is fair each way value.

Arkle Challenge Trophy 2014 Selection:
Trifolium 6/1 BetVictor Non-Runner Free Bet [advised 6th February 2014]

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2.40 Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase

The first of the handicaps, and I'll be taking a less comprehensive form view on these races, on the basis that almost every runner has a bit of a chance and I could cover 80% of them and still miss the winner! Nevertheless, there will be pointers aplenty for each of them. Let's get started...

Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase 2014 Trends

The following trends are since 1997 (16 renewals) and are courtesy of horseracebase

Age: 15/16 - 94% - (and all since Flyers Nap in 1997) were aged between seven and ten, as were 55 of the 59 (93%) placed horses during that time, from 77% of the runners. Exclude the youngest and oldest competitors.

Form: 10/16 (62.5%) won at least once in their last three races, from 44% of the runners; 14/16 (87.5%) were 1-2-3 during that time, from 79% of the runners. Six of the 54 last time out winners claimed this prize, and they were profitable to back blindly. So much for handicap plots!

Weight / Rating: Only one winner carried more than 11-02 to victory, and just 13 of the 59 places went to horses weighted higher too. Since the turn of the century, all bar one winner had a weight of 10-12 or less. The highest rated winner since 1997 was Unguided Missile (149, 1998) and no subsequent scorer has been rated above 143.

Market: Just one favourite has scored in the last sixteen runnings, and only two second favourites. Don't be afraid to take a price about a couple!

Experience: Like a number of the Cheltenham Festival handicaps, those with limited experience - and therefore more scope to improve - have dominated. Since 1997, 13 of the 16 winners (81%) had ten or fewer chase starts, as did 36 of the 59 placed horses (61%), from 154 runners (52%).

Combining these elements, we're looking for a lightly-raced, low rated seven- to ten-year-old, that finished in the first three in at least one of its last three starts.

Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase 2014 Preview

It's a sequence that will be broken at some point of course, but the fact that the last fifteen winners were rated 143 or below looks telling. That equates to a weight of 11-04 this year, but those carrying more than eleven stone have struggled. I want a horse which has won in its last three starts, too, which means I'm focusing my attention on a shortlist of King Massini, Standing Ovation, Wrong Turn, Muldoon's Picnic, and Green Flag. Relax is excluded from consideration as I'm sure he wants it softer.

Green Flag is a novice and a winner of three races this year, two of them on good ground, and the last two in novice handicaps. He then ran a fine second to Annacotty in the Feltham before unseated on the flat last time (clipped heels). He is a safe jumper for one so inexperienced, and the combination of decent ground and a fair weight makes him of at least some appeal at 14/1.

Muldoon's Picnic is a far bigger price - 33/1 - and yet he stays well and handles good ground. He too is a novice that has won in a handicap, but that small field Class 3 victory was quite a different prospect to what he's facing here.

Wrong Turn is likely to shorten in the betting from his current 16/1 for two reasons: firstly he's trained by Tony Martin, a man with a fine Festival record and a dab hand at placing handicappers to optimal effect; and second, he's won his last three completed handicap chases. Given he's fallen in two races during that sequence, Coral's offer of money back on fallers might be worth availing, though they are shorter than other firms, presumably for that reason.

Standing Ovation was protecting a four race unbeaten record when well enough beaten in a similar race at the November meeting here, but they may have been a 'sighter' for this. Moreover it came just six days after he'd won a Listed handicap chase at Wincanton, which might have taken more out of him than first met the eye. His recent run on soft ground at Kempton can be forgiven, as all his form is on quicker, but that will have blown the cobwebs away and he's a contender if he can track the early pace.

And King Massini is another novice on the upgrade. He too ran within a few days of a win here in an attempt to take advantage before a big hike in the ratings, and was successful in so doing. However, he's not run since mid-December and that is enough to count him out for me.

As with all Cheltenham Festival handicaps, there are loads of others with chances, but I like those key trends, and will take my chances on that basis.

Baylis & Harding Affordable Luxury Handicap Chase 2014 Tips

The betting is suggesting that one of either the age (Alfie Sherrin) or weight (Holywell, Hadrian's Approach) stats will take a beating this time, but a big chunk of recent history points to taking a chance elsewhere.

I'll side with Green Flag, a most progressive sort that has been first of second in twelve out of thirteen completed starts. He clipped heels and came down the last day when going well as the even money favourite, and his second place in the Feltham - albeit ten lengths behind the winner - showed he has some class to go with his battling qualities.

If Green Flag is right at the historical ratings threshold for the race, and peering over the weight threshold with 11-04, then Standing Ovation and Wrong Turn are snug fits on all historical counts, and both are serial winners, having each scored thrice in their last five starts. At 20's and 16's respectively, they are worthy of each way attention with a bookie paying five places.

Selection:
Green Flag 14/1 Coral (money back on fallers)

Best each way options:
Wrong Turn 16/1 Skybet
Standing Ovation 20/1 general

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3.20 Champion Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

2014 Champion Hurdle preview

2014 Champion Hurdle previewWho can beat the 'Fly this winter?

It's the fourth race of 27, and arguably the best. Yes, this year's Champion Hurdle is a chuffing howitzer of a speed scrap, featuring established class versus rising stars in a battle of the generations. It's also a fiendishly difficult punting puzzle, and in this post I'll attempt to piece together the key known elements.

Champion Hurdle 2014 Trends

Age: The only two double-digit aged winners since the Champion Hurdle was first run in 1927 were Hatton's Grace (won aged 9, 10 and 11 1949-51) and Sea Pigeon (aged 10 and 11 1980-81). Hurricane Fly bids for a third Champion Hurdle aged ten.

At the other end of the age spectrum, Katchit was the only five-year-old to win the Champion since the first of See You Then's hat-trick in the race in 1985. Katchit, like Our Conor - who bids to win as a five-year-old this time, was returning to Cheltenham as the winner of the previous year's Triumph Hurdle.

Six to nine year olds have won 28 of the last thirty Champion Hurdles.

Last time out: 41 of the 48 win and placed horses since 1997 finished first or second last time out. They also accounted for fifteen of the sixteen winners during that time. The other winner finished third the last day.

Cheltenham Form: Twelve of the fourteen winners since 1997 to have previously raced at Cheltenham had a place record of at last 75% at the track. Ten of them had a 100% place record at the track. The New One was 'only' sixth in the Champion Bumper.

Days since a run: Only Rock On Ruby, absent since Boxing Day, had failed to run earlier in the same year as when winning the Champion Hurdle since 1997. The New One has been absent since the same day as Rock On Ruby was.

Champion Hurdle 2014 Preview

In truth, there's very little to glean from the trends except that Hurricane Fly's age negative is mitigated by the feat of other serial winners. Likewise, Our Conor is bidding to emulate Katchit in following up a Triumph Hurdle win with victory in the Blue Riband. The New One has a couple of minor knocks, but it would be careless to omit him from consideration on those grounds alone. Jezki finished fourth last time out, which is worse than any winner this century, but again, context is needed there.

What about the form book then? Where does established form suggest we should cast our wagering net? Let's start with the veteran champ...

Hurricane Fly missed his first intended engagement at the Festival back in 2010 after a late injury ruled him out. He made up for that in 2011 by repelling the valiant Peddlers Cross in the Champion Hurdle.

In 2012, some folks - including me - feel he should have won again. Given plenty to do at the top of the hill, it seemed that Ruby Walsh on the Fly was exclusively preoccupied with what Tony McCoy - aboard Binocular - was doing. Walsh was looking to cover McCoy's every move, and so he did. Unfortunately, the bird had flown in front of them, with Overturn setting the race up for Rock On Ruby. Hurricane Fly was a never nearer five length third, besting Binocular into fourth in the process.

Last year, there was no such error (if indeed you subscribe to the notion that jockeys - contrary to what some of them bleat - actually can, and do, make mistakes). Walsh shovelled on the coal at an appropriate juncture, and his willing mount reversed form with Rock On Ruby to claim Champion Hurdle number two.

The Hurricane is now unbeaten since that Ruby reversal in 2012, which was his only defeat since November 2009. True, he's often duffed up the same nags in short fields in Ireland. But if that's crabbing the champ, then it's hard to argue with his record when he's ferried over to Gloucestershire.

However. How. Ever... He is a ten year old now, and in the likes of The New One, Our Conor, My Tent Or Yours, and Jezki, he faces a brand new battalion of fleet-footed aspirants. Allied to that, his form this season - whilst undeniably progressive from race to race - has been at a lower level than last season.

Indeed, according to Racing Post Ratings, his best run this year (RPR 168) fails to measure up to his worst run last year (RPR 169). I love Hurricane Fly. I have a deep reverence for him too. But it would be disappointing for the near future of the Champion Hurdle if at least one of his young upstart rivals wasn't good enough to do him for toe.

But which one?

The New One has been a talking horse for a long time. And, in his defence, he's done plenty of talking on the track too, with a record that shows only one run - the 2012 Champion Bumper - outside the first two. But that's a sequence which does include three - granted, narrow - defeats in his last six races.

And, having failed to pierce the 170 Racing Post Rating barrier to date, as well as having a longer than ideal absence to overcome, I think he's terribly short atop the market at 11/4.

The next pair in the betting, at 9/2 or so, are Our Conor and My Tent Or Yours. Our Conor was a breathtaking fifteen length winner of the Triumph Hurdle last year. That race hasn't worked out brilliantly, and he's been beaten in three starts since.

First, he finished fourth in a big field flat handicap at Naas; then he ran third - beaten six lengths behind Hurricane Fly in the Grade 1 Ryanair Hurdle at Christmas; and last time, he was just a length and a half behind the fly in the Grade 1 Irish Champion Hurdle.

Dessie Hughes has brought him on slowly this year, as undoubtedly has Willie Mullins with the Fly, and I think it will be very close between the pair on the opening day of the Festival. Our Conor bounded up the hill last year, and it's not hard to see him doing the same again this term. He too has something to find on the numbers, though.

That hill would be the question mark with My Tent Or Yours who, a slight wilting behind Champagne Fever in last year's Supreme Novices' Hurdle aside, has a good looking profile for the race. He sneaked a prep race in a jumpers' bumper a month before the Festival and that should have him cherry ripe to give his best.

Whether that is quite good enough, against rivals who may finish their races better remains to be seen. He does have the beating of The New One on Christmas Hurdle form, though, and it's quite hard to see why he's a bigger price than that rival. [Note, as I write, there seems to be some unease in My Tent Or Yours' price, and an announcement from Henderson's yard should illuminate further].

Assuming Annie Power goes for the World Hurdle, Jezki is next at around 10/1. He was undeniably disappointing last time when fourth of four in a tactical scrap with the Fly, Our Conor, and pacemaker, Captain Cee Bee. If that run can be ignored - and I'd suggest it can, as it hardly compares to the full tilt of a Champion Hurdle - then he has little to find with both My Tent Or Yours and Hurricane Fly.

Little to find, yes; but he does have to find it, and that's a leap of faith I'm not really prepared to take.

Un De Sceaux is another expected absentee, which is a pity, because his heart-on-sleeve bamboozling front-running style would have been a fascinating sub-plot to the race.

Ignoring the outsiders Grumeti, Ptit Zig and Thousand Stars, the only remaining possible is Melodic Rendezvous. And, if it came up boggy on day one, he'd be a very interesting contender. Let's be clear, despite being a 20/1 shot, he's a Grade 1 and triple Grade 2 winner. Moreover, he's won six of his eight hurdles starts, and was plainly 'wrong' when down the field in the Fighting Fifth, a race in which recent Champion Hurdler Binocular was also turned over.

He's a very good horse, and managed second to Champagne Fever in the Punchestown Champion Bumper on just his second lifetime run. Coming here off the back of a workmanlike performance when seeing off Zarkandar in the Kingwell Hurdle - itself a strong trial for the Champion Hurdle - Melodic Rendezvous had plenty of 'tightening up' to do in the intervening four weeks, and trainer Jeremy Scott seemed quietly excited at his charge's prospects at a recent London Racing Club event.

Champion Hurdle 2014 Tips

The 2014 Champion Hurdle is a really trappy race. It's not clear from where the pace will come, and it's not clear what the ground conditions will be. The best guesses are that the supplemented Captain Cee Bee will lead, and that the ground will be good to soft.

If that comes to pass, then the value - such as it is in a race where the bookies have a strongarm grip on the form - might be with Melodic Rendezvous, who can go on good to soft, at 20/1. My Tent Or Yours has, I think, a better chance than The New One at a bigger price IF he's untroubled by that injury scare.

It's a race in which I've been waiting until the day to back up my Melodic Rendezvous ante post ticket. But, now the day is here, I'll most certainly be using Ladbrokes' 'Money Back as a free bet if Hurricane Fly finishes first or second' offer to back My Tent Or Yours. That is a cracking concession as the old boy looks nailed on to run his race, and we'd need two to get by him, one of which is not My Tent Or Yours, in order not to at least get a second bite of the Cheltenham cherry.

Champion Hurdle selection: My Tent Or Yours 4/1 Ladbrokes (money back as a free bet if Hurricane Fly is first or second)



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4.00 Mares' Hurdle

Quevega - on a Mares' Hurdle six-timer

Quevega - on a Mares' Hurdle six-timer

The Mares' Hurdle is now in its sixth year and, since Whiteoak won the inaugural running, there has only been one further name etched on the pot: Quevega. That fragile but immensely talented lass has bagged the last five renewals and, as such, has made trends analysis somewhat pointless, for the win part at least.

Quevega bids for an almost imponderable six-timer in the 2014 Mares' Hurdle and, if age has yet to catch up with her, she'll be very hard to beat once more. So, from a trends perspective, I thought I'd look at the profiles of the placed horses - as well as Whiteoak and Quevega in winning year one - to get a flavour for what's required to go close in the Mares' Hurdle.

[Clearly, it's far from a scientific basis from which to strike a wager, but it should be indicative at least.]

Specifically, then, we've got the first three from 2008 and 2009 (Quevega's first win - we'll include her once only); and the placed horses from 2010 onwards, for a total of fourteen in the sample.

The majority of win and placed horses were aged six and seven, with nine of the fourteen in the sample being in that group. Two five year olds have won it, Whiteoak and Quevega first time, but they've failed to add a placed effort to that.

On official ratings, of the thirteen in the sample with a rating, just six were rated 140+, with five of those rated 150+. The remaining seven were 139 or less, and they may offer some value as they include some big-priced beasts.

Only three of the fourteen had failed to win or place in Graded company previously, and two of those had Listed form. Ten of the fourteen had run over hurdles nine or fewer times.

Stamina is a key requirement here too, with twelve of the eighteen win/placed horses (including Quevega all starts) having won at further than the two and a half mile trip. Backing  two-milers in this may not be a smart move. And that's interesting, because two of the next three in the betting - Cockney Sparrow and Down Ace - have yet to race beyond an extended two miles. Indeed, all of Cockney Sparrow's hurdle form is on flat tracks and Cheltenham's undulations will be a further - literally - challenge. She looks a place lay to me.

Down Ace does at least have a three mile point win in the bag, and looked to need every yard of it when just nailing Blue Buttons in a decent Listed novices' hurdle at Taunton last time. She fluffed the last two flights there, though, and will need to be better. If she is, she has place prospects. Too much of an 'if' for me.

Vying for second favouritism, and a much more robust option than the Sparrow in my opinion, is the French raider, Sirene d'Ainay. She almost nicked it from the front last year, as Quevega got caught in traffic after four out. It was a most impressive effort from the champ to get up that day, and Sirene d'Ainay may have been flattered by her proximity. Nevertheless, she was two lengths and more too good for the rest, and comes over in equally good heart this term. Hers is an obvious podium prospect.

The trip will hold no fears for Glen's Melody either and, if she lines up, this Grade 1 winner could give her Mullins stablemate something to ponder. She does seem to need soft ground to give her best but, with the rain still falling, that's a possibility on the first day of the meeting.

I'm against any mare - except Quevega - coming into this off a break of longer than two months. A couple have made the frame, but absences longer than three months have proved insurmountable for all bar the mighty Mullins mare. So it is that Cailin Annamh gets the bullet, and she also has to have fast ground to show her best.

There'd be no such ground, fitness or stamina worries about Highland Retreat, and Harry Fry's seven-year-old mare has been a star player for Team Seaborough this term, notching a hat-trick sealed with a Grade 2 win over three miles on heavy ground. Prior to that she'd won a Listed race over a similar trip on good ground and, though she may get outpaced mid-race, she'll stay on far better than most. 20/1 is tempting, though that is without the non-runner money back concession.

Swing Bowler ran a better race in the Betfair Hurdle last year than she did this term before clunking in the Mares' Hurdle at Cheltenham and, while that might have been a blip - she was off for almost the whole year afterwards, implying injury - it's hard to recommend her.

And then, of course, there's the ten-year-old five-time winner, Quevega. As well as a nap hand here, she's also registered Grade 1 successes at the last four Punchestown Festivals and, if she turns up within seven pounds of her best, she'll win. She's won this race by 14 lengths; 4 1/2 lengths; 10 lengths; 4 lengths; and a hampered-in-running one and a half lengths. She's ten now, and that won't make life any easier, but she has yet to show any sign of regression, and just might be value at 8/11.

I don't have enough elevens to win a meaningful amount of eights, and for that reason wasn't going to play this race at all. But then I saw Betfred's refund offer (see below), and now I will be backing either Sirene d'Ainay (8/1) or Highland Retreat (16/1) win only, with Quevega on my side.

I may also place an exacta sort of bet, with Sirene d'Ainay and Highland Retreat (and perhaps Glens Melody) to grab silver. I may further play the trifecta, throwing a number of big priced 'oily rags' underneath.

Unless you have deep pockets and a strong nerve, this was a race to savour, as it may be the sixth coronation procession of the Queen of Cheltenham, HRH Quevega. But with the Betfred money back offer, we can both savour it and cheer for something else. Nice work, baldy!

Betfred - Money Back if Quevega Wins

Betfred are refunding all bets (as a free bet) up to £25 on the Mares' Hurdle if Quevega wins. Offer applies to win stakes and the win part of each way bets, and it's a bloody good one! Applies to new and existing customers. Click the link below to register if you don't already have a Betfred account.

Betfred Horse Racing

**

4.40 National Hunt Chase

I've got to be honest. I can't stand this race. It's cost me a placepot on too many occasions. A four mile novice chase for amateur riders is about as close as I can think of to how NOT to frame a Cheltenham race. I do accept that others have a different view and, despite the success in the last three years of the top of the market, this is a contest where you are taking a heck of a lot on a wing and a prayer.

It used to be the worst betting race of the meeting, but has improved with the latest ruling allowing novices of all ratings in. The last three winners were the highest rated horses, and that 'all rating' concession is only four years old.

National Hunt Chase 2014 Trends

Ignoring my own disdain, there are some interesting trends, as follows. Thanks again to horseracebase for these.

Last time out: 14 of the last 16 National Hunt Chase winners (87.5%) finished in the top four on their prior start, and 39 of the 48 placed horses (81%) did likewise, from 73% of the runners.

Rating: Since the rule was changed to allow any novice in, as opposed to imposing a ceiling rating, the cream has risen to the top. The last three winners all had a rating above 145 and two of them were rated 150+. They were also all market leaders, and this may be material.

Layoff: None of the 48 runners to race within two weeks of the National Hunt Chase won, and only two placed.

National Hunt Chase 2014 Preview

This will be a short preview. I'm going to look only at the top four in the ratings. They are Shotgun Paddy, Shutthefrontdoor, and Foxrock.

Shotgun Paddy earned his 151 rating by winning the Betfred Classic, a Grade 3 handicap chase, beating Carruthers et al. He is a thorough stayer and may be the best horse in the race, as his rating implies. However, all his form is on testing ground, and that just might be his unpicking here.

Shutthefrontdoor represents trainer Jonjo O'Neill and owner JP McManus. Jonjo has won this five times in the past and he has a very good chance of getting a sixth this year. Shutthefrontdoor has looked an out and out stayer on more than one occasion and, if his jumping holds up, he ought to be bang there. A top price of 4/1 may not be enormous value but this could be a thinned out field by the time they start their second circuit and, if he's still standing, he'll plod on well.

Foxrock is the fly in the ointment. Winner of a big field beginners' chase over 2m6f in late November, he's since run third to Carlingford Lough in a Grade 1 and won a Grade 2, both at three miles. He has some form on decent-ish ground and as such has a fine chance.

Midnight Prayer is rated twelve pounds below Shotgun Paddy, but only seven beneath the best of the rest, and he loves to hear his hooves rattle. Alan King's nine-year-old ought to stay and was unlucky to unseat when hampered three starts back, and might be the best each way bet, if such a thing exists in a race like this.

National Hunt Chase 2014 Tips

Some people like this race more than me. Actually, most people like this race more than me. Still, it does look between the top four in the ratings, and I'm against Shotgun Paddy on the basis of the ground. Of the two favourites, I prefer Shutthefrontdoor.

And as a win and place option, Midnight Prayer offers more hope than most.

Selection: Shutthefrontdoor 3.8/1 Betbright

Best each way: Midnight Prayer 10/1 Seanie Mac

5.15 Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase

A new race introduced in 2005, and one which has quickly seen a 'profile type' emerge.

Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase 2014 Trends

Eight of the nine winners were first (five) or second (three) last time out.

Seven year olds have won six of the nine renewals, though the placed horses have strong representation from six to ten!

There has been a strong upward trend to the winners' ratings. The inaugural winner was rated 123, nine pounds lower than any subsequent winner. Since then, three of the last four winners were rated 139+.

This is a race in which lots of horses are desperate to 'get a run'. As such, there is usually a compressed handicap. Put another way, most of the horses with the highest weights take up their option to run. All bar that first winner have been carrying 10-11 or more. The last three winners carried 11-04 or more.

All nine winners ran 16-60 days ago, as did 30 of the 36 placed horses.

Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase 2014 Preview

I'm looking for a recent runner that finished first or second last time out, and has form in a similar contest.That still leaves about half the field, headed by top weight, Ericht. He finished fifth in the Coral Cup last year, when rated 134 over hurdles. Although this shorter trip is not certain to suit, he comes here in good form, goes in the ground, and has some track history.

Manyriverstocross is one of the more interesting players. Second to a laboured Oscar Whisky last time in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices' Chase, a literal interpretation of that form would make him a snip. Good enough as a hurdler to win a Grade 2 over this kind of trip, the guts of Manyriverstocross' form is on top of the ground. He's not a frequent winner, but he has a touch of class and could be nicely handicapped on that last run, for which he was unchanged in the ratings.

Present View is a consistent type and recorded a career best when sluicing up last time in a Kempton handicap chase over this trip (Class 3). He's been whacked by the 'capper for that and this will be much tougher. It's also quicker ground which may not suit as well as the soft turf that last day.

Dursey Sound has finished second on his last two starts but, in so doing, has beaten just one horse! Prior to that he unshipped twice in a row, and would be - at best - an unreliable proposition.

Ahyaknowyerself is an interesting one. He's actually been dropped five pounds for winning by seven lengths last time! A 147 rated hurdler - finished less than five lengths third to Melodic Rendezvous - he gets in here off 135, and that looks generous. I'm not saying he'll win this - I'm not saying any horse will win it! - but he's well in against the pick of his hurdle form and he's a consistent fellow to boot. He does have to prove he stays, but 25/1 could be fun.

Ex-hunter Festive Affair and lightly-raced Buywise have both raced almost exclusively on deep ground and, while that doesn't mean they can't act on quicker, it's a bit of a leap of faith. Meanwhile, Buthelezi beat former Fred Winter winner, Une Artiste, last time on good ground and sneaks in at the bottom the list. He's probably not that well handicapped however, and I'd prefer a couple further up the lists.

Of the trends busters, Attaglance and Up To Something are most appealing. The former won the Martin Pipe here two years ago and, though he's yet to win over fences, there's an arguement that he's been waiting for precisely this day and this race. Track and trip should be fine, and he's two pounds lower than that Festival-winning handicap mark, if you like to assume parity in ratings across the disciplines (a dangerous game at best!)

The latter is joint top weight on the basis of a fine run behind JLT fancy, Wonderful Charm. His mark has been nicely protected since by running first on too soft, and then over too far. Noel Fehily has been booked, and both he and trainer Charlie Longsdon are in good form.

Ohio Gold represents the wily Tizzard team, who won two handicaps last year. They also had this boy finish third in this race, and he may again get onto the podium.

Rewards4Racing Novices' Handicap Chase 2014 Tips

Very tricky, but a couple with decent-looking chances are Manyriverstocross and Up To Something. More speculatively, Ahyaknowyerself might go well for a long way unless/until his stamina runs out.

A couple of things to keep in mind here are 1) if yours is a dodgy jumper (this is a novices' race, after all) bet with Coral if they're price competitive, and 2) try to bet with a bookie paying an extra place if you can find one. I'll flag them on twitter in the morning @geegeez_uk

Ohio Gold, 3rd in this last year and two pounds better in, may make the frame again.

Selection:
Manyriverstocross 10/1 888sport (five places)

Each way alternative:
Ohio Gold 25/1 general

Two at huge prices:
Up To Something 40/1 Betbright
Ahyaknowyerself 33/1 Betbright

£30 Risk Free Bet - Betbright partners

Monday Mish Mash: Get Ready For The Fez 2014!

It's almost time for the Cheltenham Festival 2014. Almost. And in the midst of the marketing melee it pays to keep a clear(ish) head.

In today's post, I'll outline what geegeez will be doing to support your Cheltenham success; and also what you can do to get the best from it. Below, I'll be covering more new stuff on the racecards; more previews; and, bookie silly season.

First, if you're not already a Gold subscriber, then we've added one more reason to give it a whirl. Actually, there's (sort of) three more reasons. Let me explain...

As mentioned last week, Stat of the Day and the Race Analysis Reports are now inside the premium area. It's my opinion that each of these is comfortably worth the £12 a month subscription fee alone. When added together, along with the growing number of other components of that Gold sub, I feel it's exceptional value.

To remind you, we already had overview horse, trainer, profile and head to head reports. We also already had unique pace analysis not available on any other popular racecards; and, a horse/trainer/jockey search and tracker tool.

And last week we added inline trainer and jockey form on the main cards; head to head information; expert comments; and, breeding summaries. We also added a simple icon bar to the top of the card which enables users to open/close all instances of that icon on the page.

For instance, if you want to read the comments, click the speech bubble at the top and all comments will open. Click it again to close. Nice!

And today I'm pleased to introduce the five day view, showing the declarations as they come in for the next five days. Do note that this is 'work in progress'. I really wanted to get this future view online ahead of the Cheltenham Festival, but there was a problem because my web developer is away skiing this week!

So, he built the web 'front end' code before the database 'back end' code was in place, and we 'hoped' they would line up. Luckily, in the main, they have. I guess it's a bit like when they drilled the Channel Tunnel from both ends, and hoped they'd meet in the middle. Sort of...!

The fully featured Geegeez Racecards

The fully featured Geegeez Racecards

**

Your first 30 days for just £1

As well as the racecards, you'll get Stat of the Day, free systems and trainer stable tours on the Gold page, and plenty more besides. We're always looking for ways to add more value to the package, so if you've any suggestions, do leave a comment below.

If you're not yet a Gold subscriber, you can trial it for 17 days for free, and if you'd like to continue your subscription, it's 40p per day.

If you currently have a free subscription, you can upgrade here.

If you're not currently subscribed at all, you can register here.

****

More on the Cheltenham Festival now, and I'm trying to preview as many big races as I can before the tapes rise on the first day. So far, I've covered the Ryanair, the Champion Chase, the Arkle, the Cross Country Chase, the RSA Chase, and yesterday I added the World Hurdle.

You can view them all, plus other related Cheltenham content, on geegez' special Cheltenham Festival page.

I'll be adding more previews every day this week, and won't necessarily be able to email you each time to notify you. So, either check back to http://www.geegeez.co.uk/cheltenham-festival/ regularly, or follow @geegeez_uk on twitter.

If you're not on twitter because you don't like that sort of thing, you can simply use it as a sort of online diary, to be notified of things of interest as they happen. All geegeez posts, including Stat of the Day, Double Dutch and The Shortlist, are immediately flagged on twitter thanks to a clever auto-publish-thingummyjig gromit.

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As well as the previews, I've started to pull together a 'Best Bookie Offers' page for the Festival. We all know that bookmakers are half-killing themselves to get us to bet with them during Cheltenham. And some of the offers and concessions they dream up present excellent opportunities for punters.

I'll try to flag the best of them as I become aware of them, so again, this is a page you might want to bookmark and check back on regularly. Here's the skeleton 'Best Cheltenham Festival Bookie Offers' page.

The top two at the moment are both from Paddy: new customers can get 12/1 on Quevega (currently 8/11) to win the Mares' Hurdle in a double with Sire de Grugy (currently 2/1) to win the Champion Chase. The actual double odds are a little over 4/1, so 12/1 is clearly a very strong offer. That one is for new customers only, and you can view it here.

If, like me and many others, you already have a Paddy account, you can still profit from the 'money back if your horse finishing 2nd, 3rd, or 4th in the Supreme Hurdle' offer. This is a cracking concession, and it gives you the standard one chance to win, but couples it with three opportunities to get your cash back.

For sure, the Supreme is a competitive race - as ever - but getting three 'draw no bet' places behind the win slot is a lot of power to the punter's elbow. I haven't been through the Supreme form yet, but when I have, I WILL be using the Paddy offer. It's plain daft not to!

Here's that Best Cheltenham Bookie Offers link again - remember, I'll be updating it as often as I get new information which we can hopefully all benefit from.

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The previews come thick and fast this week, with Champion Hurdle and Mares' Hurdle today; Supreme Novices' Hurdle and Foxhunters' Chase tomorrow; and the Cheltenham Gold Cup on Wednesday.

I'm hoping to get the Neptune and Albert Bartlett completed on Thursday, and the JLT Novices' Chase on Friday. The Triumph Hurdle will be sorted on Saturday most likely, which will 'just' leave the handicaps.

It's my intention this year not to focus too much on the handicaps. I've found through great cost and bitter experience that I lose plenty on these races - Cross Country Chase aside - and I intend to 'penny play' them this year. I do have a couple of angles for them, which I'll be sharing, but if you want to bet on these you'd be better off  making your own picks, or signing up to something like the Cleeve Racing Festival package.

All my previews can be seen on the Cheltenham Festival page.

2014 RSA Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

2014 RSA Chase Preview & Tips

2014 RSA Chase Preview & Tips

2014 RSA Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

The RSA Chase has been a very good dress rehearsal for the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself in recent times, with both Bobs Worth and Denman going on to win the big one since 2007.

Run over three miles and half a furlong, this novice chase is often a war of attrition and, as well as being a stepping stone to greater things for some winners, it has also been the last hurrah for others.

Indeed, since Denman landed the spoils in 2007, only Alberta's Run and Bobs Worth have gone on to win further races. Cooldine, Weapon's Amnesty, Bostons Angel and, so far, Lord Windermere have all failed to record a subsequent success at any level.

So who are the likely movers and shakers for the 2014 RSA Chase? As usual, I'll highlight what I consider to be some of the more material trends before ploughing into the form book, then finally I'll offer my idea of the best value in the RSA Chase market.

We start with the RSA Chase trends...

2014 RSA Chase Trends

Age: Seven-year-olds have a phenomenal record in the RSA. Since 1999, they've won twelve of the fourteen renewals, from just 80 runners for a profit of £43.95 to a £1 stake. Just two of the 62 runners aged eight-plus have won.

Form: All of the last 24 RSA Chase winners finished in the first three on their prior start, with 22 of them running first or second the last day. Only Denman and Florida Pearl have won the RSA Chase having been unbeaten over fences since Miinnehoma in 1992. 31 have tried since 1997.

Experience: Only the brilliant Florida Pearl (two) has won the RSA with less than three chase starts to his name since 1997. Apart from the very experienced Rule Supreme (eight), the other fourteen winners since 1997 had between three and five prior chase runs.

Layoff: All of the last sixteen RSA Chase winners had between 16 and 60 days off the track since their last run.

Breeding: Irish bred horses have taken fifteen of the last seventeen RSA Chases, with French-bred nags claiming the other two. The last British-bred winner was Brief Gale in 1995, and they've managed just five places since.

The trends shortlist includes Black Thunder, Many Clouds, O'Faolains Boy, and Smad Place.

2014 RSA Chase Preview

And so to the form book. Before we look at individual horses, the following races have been key pointers to the likely RSA Chase winner in recent times.

In Ireland, the Dr P J Moriarty Chase has showcased RSA Chase winners Cooldine (won both, 2009), Weapon's Amnesty (2nd 2010), Bostons Angel (won both 2011), and Lord Windermere (3rd, 2013). This year, Ballycasey beat Don Cossack, with Carlingford Lough an unlucky faller at the last.

Your first 30 days for just £1

In Britain, the two key prep races are the Feltham Novices' Chase and the Reynoldstown. The Feltham is noteworthy for the fact that no winner has gone on to win the RSA Chase in its history. This year, Annacotty bids to lay the Feltham hoodoo to rest. Beaten horses have prevailed in the RSA however, most recently Bobs Worth in 2012. The placed horses in this season's Feltham were Green Flag and Third Intention, though both were beaten far enough.

The Reynoldstown, run at Ascot, also saw Bobs Worth beaten in 2012 and, whilst it is a stiffer test than Kempton's Feltham, it is less of a challenge than the RSA Chase itself. Albertas Run won this en route to Cheltenham glory in 2008. This year, O'Faolains Boy beat Many Clouds.

So, since 2008, all six RSA Chase winners have exited one of those three races. I will focus primarily on them.

The RSA Chase requires a combination of stamina, guts and a scintilla of class. Usually, however, an abundance of the first two will suffice. When looking for a bet in this race I want to be on a horse that was finishing to some effect in one of the key trials the last day.

The beaten horses in their preps which went on to win the RSA all showed a finishing effort: according to the Racing Post, Lord Windermere "kept on well under pressure" when a half length third in the Moriarty; Bobs Worth "stayed on to take 2nd [at the] last"  in the Reynoldstown; Bostons Angel " stayed on well under pressure from last, led close home"; and, Weapon's Amnesty "went 2nd after last, kept on run-in".

None of them were backing out of their race at the end, and this is crucial. We want a horse that can stay. And stay. And stay.

In the Reynoldstown, O'Faolains Boy and Many Clouds finished in that order, separated by two and a half lengths. The winner outpaced the second, and looked as though he might run away in the closing stages. But Many Clouds plugged on  well or, as the Racing Post put it, "outpaced by winner soon after 2 out, kept on again near finish".

I doubt there will be much between them at Cheltenham, and they both jumped the last in attractive fashion, suggesting there was at least a bit more in the tank if needed. O'Faolains Boy has raced exclusively on soft or heavy under rules so far, and there would be a slight niggle if it came up quicker than that on the day, but his profile - which includes a very good fourth to At Fisher's Cross in last year's Albert Bartlett - has plenty of appeal.

Despite that, I am drawn to Many Clouds as the probable preferred plodder of the pair. A useful hurdler, he was second in a Grade 3 novice handicap at Sandown under top weight before getting tapped for speed at Aintree. Since going chasing, Many Clouds has won two and finished second twice. In both the silver medal races, he's "kept on" having been outpaced. This slightly longer trip and considerably stiffer test looks tailor made, and I like him at 16/1.

Ballycasey, the favourite for the race, is harder to assess. He's only had two chase starts - winning both - and that is less than all bar Florida Pearl in recent times. Is he capable of being a Florida Pearl? Time will tell, but the more pertinent question is whether he'll have the stamina to see this out.

In his first chase run, he won a beginners' chase beating Mount Colah, a 135 animal, by eight easy lengths over a two mile trip. On his only subsequent start, he saw off Don Cossack over two miles five in the Grade 1 Dr P J Moriarty Chase. Don Cossack was well enough held, and I'd have reservations about his getting the three miles-plus of the RSA.

Ballycasey on the other hand might improve for better ground and hasn't proved he can't stay. Nor yet has he proved that he can and, allied to his inexperience, 5/1 is extremely unattractive for all the promise he might have. He's also had a couple of training niggles this season, which is less than ideal.

Carlingford Lough is a horse I've backed. I admit that I'd not really gone through the form at that time, but he was a standout 14/1 when everyone else was offering 10/1. At time of writing now, there is a range from 8/1 to 12/1, and that's based on his form.

Bizarrely for a novice, Carlingford Lough has had thirteen chase starts! That sequence includes a Galway Plate win last summer, a second in the Drinmore (Grade 1, two and a half miles, beaten by Don Cossack), and a win in the Grade 1 Topaz Novices Chase over three miles. He beat Morning Assembly there, staying on at the finish, and that again is key to his chance. He sees the trip out well and has bags of experience allied to a touch of class. He might not be quite good enough, but with McCoy doing the steering we should get a run for our money.

The Feltham was won by Annacotty in clear cut fashion, and it's tough to see anything coming from out of the pack in that contest to be good enough for an RSA Chase win. Annacotty's own claims are rather let down by his staying form away from Kempton, where he's two from two at the three mile trip. He's been beaten multiple times in handicaps - as has Carlingford Lough for that matter (though some will argue that was by design rather than accident!) - and didn't look to have too much more to give over two miles five at Cheltenham last time out. He could surprise - I know one keen form student who likes this fellow - but he's not for me.

The others at the top of the betting are attempting to win this having swerved the major trials, something which has not happened since Denman, second in a Grade 1 hurdle at the previous Festival, won in 2007.

Smad Place has Festival credentials having been third in two World Hurdles. He has won his two completed novice chases in good style, but has yet to be tested in Graded company. The last horse to win the RSA Chase having dodged Graded chasers previously was Lord Noelie in 2000. It does happen, but 7/1 has no fat in it for a hungry scribe such as me. I'd expect Smad Place to run an honest race, maybe even win, but I don't think he's value given he unseated on chase debut and hasn't really put his jumping under much pressure so far.

Morning Assembly emptied out quickly last time when beaten by Carlingford Lough, and he looks to have more of a chance at Punchestown than Cheltenham to my eye.

And Donald McCain's Corrin Wood was rated just 130 over hurdles, and yet is allotted 156 after three non-Graded chase wins beating a cumulative eight rivals. Granted, he has stayed well in those races, and he's shown an ability to handle different going conditions. But the overall performance of unbeaten horses that swerve top company is poor. Indeed, the last winner to take the RSA as an unbeaten and untested in Graded chases horse was Miinnehoma in 1992. Not for me, thanks.

If there's any value lurking in the lower end of the lists, it might be with Paul Nicholls' Black Thunder. He was two and a half lengths behind Corrin Wood turning in at Warwick last time, and the same margin away at the finish. He'd won a Grade 2 in three previous chase wins, and 25/1 offers a bit of value, given his vanquisher last time is no better than 10/1.

2014 RSA Chase Tips

The RSA Chase is a compelling race, as ever, and my tips are made in a quest for value. Ballycasey can win - of course - but he's inexperienced and I'm not convinced by his stamina yet. Smad Place looks like he'll be thereabouts if his jumping holds up, but he's no price for a race like that.

Many Clouds looks exactly the sort for an RSA Chase, and 16/1 is a perfectly fair, borderline generous, price in my opinion. Carlingford Lough has been around the blough (see what I did there?) and he's a strong stayer with a bit of class. He'd have been within a couple of lengths of Ballycasey but for unseated at the last in his previous race, and so he ought not to be around three times the price.

And for a real outsider, maybe nibble Black Thunder, though I much prefer the chance of the two above at the prices.

RSA Chase Selections:

1 pt win Many Clouds 16/1 bet365 (Non-Runner No Bet, Best Odds Guaranteed)

1 pt win Carlingford Lough 12/1 BetVictor (Non-Runner Free Bet)

Arkle Chase 2014 Preview Tips Trends

Rock On Ruby: Arkle winner?

Rock On Ruby: Arkle winner?

Arkle Chase 2014 Preview Tips Trends

The second race on a stellar opening day of the Cheltenham Festival 2014 is the Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy, a novice chase run over two miles. This is a serious test of speed and there's no hiding place for frail jumpers or doubtful stayers, as they'll set off fast and maintain the gallop all the way to the finish.

It's a race that has been the springboard for many a Champion Chase winner, and even in recent times has heralded the arrival of the likes of Sprinter Sacre and Sizing Europe, Moscow Flyer and Azertyuiop. Make no mistake, it takes a tip-top birch-bouncer to bag the Arkle.

In this post we'll consider the recent Arkle trends, as well as the form profiles for the main contenders, before honing in on a tip or two. Let's start then with the trends.

Arkle Chase 2014 Trends

Age: The Arkle tends to be a race for young upwardly mobile types, and established hurdlers looking to break into the top echelons of chasing have struggled at the sharp end. The last 24 Arkle winners were aged five to eight, with a notable number of fancied older horses turned over.

In 2002, Barton could only manage seventh at 9/2; a year later, Adamant Approach fell when a 7/1 shot; and, more recently, Captain Cee Bee was only eighth as the 5/2 favourite in 2010; and, last year, Overturn was turned over at 7/2, finishing no better than fourth.

It's a young nag's game, and Rock On Ruby (nine) will be bidding to become only the second horse aged older than eight to win the Arkle since Sir Ken way back in 1956.

Experience: Although Simonsig had just two chase starts to his name last term (and Champleve and Tiutchev likewise at the turn of the century), and Well Chief had just a single outing over the big'uns in 2004, the general level of experience for Arkle winners has been three (three winners) or four starts (eight winners) since 1997. The brilliant Moscow Flyer had already run in five steeplechases when he lined up for, and won, the 2002 Arkle.

Form: Since 1997, only one of the 57 horses to finish outside of the first two in their prior start has won. Contraband, a 7/1 shot and possibly the worst Arkle winner in living memory, was that horse. Indeed, Contraband's previous third place was the ONLY placing outside of the first two that any Arkle winner since... well, as far back as Racing Post records go, which is at least 1988. The strong percentage play is to demand a 1-2 finish the last day.

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UK or Irish? The Irish have saddled 58 runners since 1997 in the Arkle, with just three winning (5% srtike rate). The British have saddled 13 winners from their 142 runners (9% strike rate) in the same time span. Looking only at those horses priced 12/1 or below, the figures come down to Ireland 3-23 (13%) and UK 13-76 (17.1%). Thus, the UK trained runners have enjoyed an edge, but perhaps not as marked as first meets the eye.

Arkle Chase 2014 Form Preview

For what is normally a fairly well established market, the 2014 Arkle looks wide open at time of writing. Champagne Fever, winner of the Cheltenham Bumper and Supreme Novices' Hurdle at the last two Cheltenham Festivals, heads the betting at 4/1. He's closely followed by Trifolium and Dodging Bullets, both 6/1 shots, and Rock On Ruby, an 8/1 play.

It's then 10/1 Valdez, 11/1 Hinterland, and 16/1 bar those.

Champagne Fever deserves to be favourite. After all, we know he loves that Cheltenham hill, using it twice now to winning effect, having been beaten earlier in both seasons. This term, he has also been bested, and into third place too, by Defy Logic and Trifolium. Whilst he'll not be beaten by Defy Logic at Cheltenham - that one struggling with injury - the fifteen length margin of defeat and that significant trend he has to overcome are concerns.

However, on the plus side, if the ground at Cheltenham comes up good to soft, as it normally does, his record on that sort of quick turf reads 111. On balance, whilst I hugely respect Champagne Fever, I can't bring myself to bet him at 4/1. He was 16/1 when winning the Cheltenham Bumper, and was available at 16/1 shortly before winning the Supreme (returned 5/1).

He is entered in the PJ Moriarty Chase, a Grade 1 over 2m5f, on Sunday.

Trifolium has a more traditional Arkle profile, with chase form of 1221, the latter two efforts in Grade 1 company. He was a slightly unlucky third in the 2012 Supreme on good ground, but was nine lengths too good for Felix Yonger in the Grade 1 Irish Arkle, and eleven lengths in front of Champagne Fever when second to Defy Login in the Grade 1 Racing Post Novice Chase. He is the form choice and, with no doubts about the course or the ground, looks a solid bet at 6/1.

Dodging Bullets is another whose chase form is hard to crab. He's three from three over fences, including Grade 2 victories the last twice. One of that pair was at Cheltenham, but the worry with this chap is that he's twice come up short at the Festival - 9th in the Supreme last year and admittedly a respectable fourth in the Triumph in 2012. Dodging Bullets is entered in the Kingmaker at Warwick on Saturday, if it beats the weather, but with Paul Nicholls' thirteen Arkle runners in the past decade yielding no wins and just two in the frame - a list which includes five horses at 4/1 or shorter - he's not for me.*

*My thanks to Gavin Priestley's Cheltenham stats book for that nugget

Rock On Ruby is a horse I love. He's a Champion Hurdler as recently as 2012, and was second in last year's Champion Hurdle. But he's nine now, and was hurdling a long time. Whilst he has been very clever on the rare occasion he's missed a fence, and he has undoubted class, I just feel that there's no coincidence in the stats about nine-year-olds here, and have to reluctantly overlook him. If there's one to beat me, I hope it's Harry Fry's Rock On Ruby.

Valdez is unbeaten in three over fences, and saw off Irish raider, Arnaud, last time. He was entitled to, though, off level weights and officially rated ten pounds his superior. Still, Valdez was coming back from a break and stayed on very takingly up the pan flat Donny run-in, implying he'll enjoy the stiffer circuit and sharper match fitness in the Arkle. At 10/1, he offers a bit of scope for each way players, and trainer Alan King is massively respected.

Hinterland has been off the track since winning the Grade 1 Henry VIII Novices' Chase at Sandown in early December, and he's not currently got any entries. That's just too long a layoff for me to entertain and, while he could run between now and the Festival, he's no value to win the Arkle as things stand, especially given his trainer Paul Nicholls' aforementioned bad record in the race.

We're then in the realms of the 16/1 bar brigade. While Felix Yonger is a top priced 16/1, he might well go to the longer JLT Novices' Chase, and the best price with a non-runner concession is 10/1 which makes little appeal.

Grandouet is mildly interesting. True, he has been blighted with jumping issues throughout the big days of his career, and true, he's looked a bit off colour this season. But he was going like the winner in the Champion Hurdle last year when coming to grief - albeit a fair way out - and he is capable of a big run. 16/1 non-runner free bet isn't the worst wager in the Arkle.

Arkle Chase Trophy 2014 Tips

It will be clear from what you've read so far that I think Trifolium looks a very solid bet for the 2014 Arkle. He's got a perfect profile - seven year-old with four chase starts, all in the first two, and a win in Grade 1 company last time. He goes on any ground, though may be best on the easy side of good. He jumps well and should be able to race prominently. 6/1 non-runner free bet is the bet in the race for me.

Of the British squad, whilst I fear and respect Rock On Ruby, I'm happy enough to take a chance on the unbeaten Valdez being able to improve enough to make the frame. He looks like he'll stay well and is generally a decent jumper. 10/1, again non-runner free bet, is fair each way value.

Arkle Challenge Trophy 2014 Selection: Trifolium 6/1 BetVictor Non-Runner Free Bet

Monday Mish Mash: What a Week!

This past week was the one where racing finally awoke from its Christmas and New Year excesses, and burst back into life. It ended with some superb racing, including tough tests for a couple of champions; but that's not where it began...

Things sprung into life on Wednesday, when control freak and coup-lander extraordinaire, Barney Curley, played his plunge card for the first time since 2010. He had four horses lined up, and they were wagered from various outposts of Ireland (predominantly) in multiple bets. As you probably know, three of the four had little to no recent form, but all of the quartet won their races, landing some good bets in the process.

It's unclear to what extent bookmakers were hit, but the general consensus is that those internet firms which price up overnight bore the brunt of the coup, with more cautious trading rooms able to incorporate the breaking news and truncate their prices accordingly. The most plausible of the various estimates is that about £2 million was taken out by the winning quad.

Social media and the racing rags were awash with cheers and jeers in almost equal measure. Each corner pilloried the other as though they must be wrong, whereas in reality it is probable that both were correct to some degree. Let's take a quick look at the respective views.

In the blue corner, representing the values of honesty and integrity are... the bookmakers?! Yes, the bookies boohoo'ed about the unfairness of it all, with the four horses not being obvious choices and the connections of those horses clearly cheating.

In the red corner, those who idolize Barney for his clever tactics in landing an unseen rabbit punch on those nasty bookie types.

Well, as I say, for my money, both are right and both are wrong. It's just not as cut and dried as that.

Firstly, the system in UK currently allows ostensibly regressive animals too much latitude too quickly. So it was that Eye Of The Tiger was dropped fully half of its April 2012 mark of 112, to just 56 when reappearing in the second race at Lingfield, and scampering away to a nine length verdict. It took just six runs and less than two years' patience to achieve that ratings collapse.

Indus Valley, a sprinter once rated 90, was down to 72 in July 2011. He was rated 54 when last seen over a mile and three furlongs in February 2012. Just less than two years later, he appeared last Wednesday off a perch of 45 in a Class 7 dog race. Over six furlongs! He won by half a length, with four back to the third.

Sophie Leech ran Seven Summits, a horse that at least had form to win his race. He was third in a novice handicap hurdle (Class 4) on his previous run and now raced in Class 5, the basement tier for National Hunt handicaps.

And Low Key, a horse ironically named and with form figures of second to last, second to last, second to last, last, completed the yankee-doodle-dandy when scoring by a length off 60, having been 88 just five runs previously.

The key points for me are as follows:

1. The handicapper shouldn't be dropping any horse in chunks like this, regardless of how regressive the animal looks. It is simply wide open for abuse, hindsight confirms. The handicapper should also retrospectively punish the trainers of these horses by ensuring that any horse in their care is dropped in ones henceforth. If other owners in those stables don't like that, they know what to do.

2. Punters who applaud such coups generally, though not exclusively, have little regard for the merit of the form book. Whilst it could be readily argued that all of the horses in the four were perfectly capable of scoring in today's company, without the aid of inside knowledge or a crystal ball, it would have been impossible to foresee that 'today is the day'.

3. That most bookies were relatively unscathed is testament to the systems in place now, and the accountancy nature of the bookmaking business, in preventing what may ten years ago have been a bloodbath with far deeper recriminations.

4. Arguments about bad racing and poor prize money are wide of the mark. These horses could have won in the next grade up. And you only get a few grand for winning a Class 3 race. Racing does, I think, have an issue with too much racing and - as a direct consequence - a lot of poor racing and bad prize money. But it's hardly the case that in Ireland, where prize money is a bit better and there is a bit less racing, coups are unheard of. For me, then, this is a red herring.

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The very next day, another horse was gambled from 20/1 into 6/4. Pipers Piping also had connections to Barney Curley and was treated as a good thing by bookmakers. My ineptitude enabled me to receive a whisper on the race and back the wrong one of its trainers' two entries. That 'the wrong one' won, at 16/1, merely highlights that value can exist against plot horses. I had backed it at 7/1, best odds guaranteed. If you don't bet best odds guaranteed (assuming you can), then you really do deserve to lose. (Sorry, but that's how strongly I feel about such things).

Tony Stafford recounted an excellent tale of a 'nearly' coup in the late 80's in yesterday's Sunday Supplement. If you've not read it, it's well worth five minutes, and you can find it here.

****

Last week also saw the return of the geegeez.co.uk racing colours to the winners' enclosure. Slipper Satin was an unexpected and most welcome victor, as she splished and sploshed her way to a sixteen length margin over Nicky Henderson's odds-on hotpot in what was a desperate contest, truth be told.

The difficulty of pinning the form down has been highlighted even before the official handicapper offers his opinion tomorrow. Racing Post Ratings have Slipper Satin on a respectable 119, whereas Timeform have her at just 97p.

Considering there is usually a fair amount of parity between the ratings of these form factories, the vast divergence is noteworthy. Let's see where the handicapper's figure falls.

For her part, Slipper Satin is clearly a better hurdler than flat horse, and she definitely loves the mud. She would have barely blown out a candle after her Fakenham win, testament to the ease with which she distanced herself from the rest, and we'd be very hopeful that she can follow up somewhere.

Where, though, is an interesting question. She was entered in a claimer on Wednesday, where she would almost certainly have been nabbed for £6,000. In fact, the image below shows how likely she would have been to win that race, according to the Racing Post at least.

36 pounds clear on Racing Post Ratings!

36 pounds clear on Racing Post Ratings!

But she'll not go there as we don't want to give her away. We're still not sure where next, but there is a 2m2f race at Fontwell in mid-February that might fit quite well. The undulating nature and tight turns are not dissimilar to Fakenham, even if the figure of eight is. We should have some more fun with Sprinter Splatter before the season's out.

You can read about that day in full if you didn't already, here.

Another horse in which I - and Counsellor Jim - own a share is Vastly, trained by Julia Feilden. He's a very well bred son of Mizzen Mast who has had more than his share of problems so far. He races tomorrow in a maiden at Southwell (3.20), comprised of just five runners.

Thatchmaster is the one to beat according to official figures. His rating of 80 is twelve clear of Vastly's 68, with two more horses within a couple of pounds of our boy's number.

But we have reason to believe that Vastly can be better than he's shown so far. He began very brightly, before an abscess on his back troubled him out of contention in his last two starts. He's since been 'decoupled' and has come back a fitter horse this year. As such, although we have a stone to find with the favourite, we're hopeful of a very nice run.

As a USA bred, he has every chance of acting on the quirky strip at Southwell, which is the British oval most akin to US dirt racing, and fingers are firmly crossed.

The Geegeez Geegee, meanwhile, is still sidelined with a bit of a cough. He's probably not going to be suited by the very wet turf anyway, so we're not missing too much, but we do very much look forward to seeing the latest - and hopefully greatest - geegeez.co.uk syndicate horse strut his stuff in the not too distant future.

Anthony Honeyball, who trains him, has eased off on his string after some poorer than expected results at the start of January, and may not be making further entries for another fortnight or so.

****

And then there was the weekend racing. Festival Trials days at Cheltenham and Leopardstown saw many champions and potential champions on display. I'll be kicking up the Cheltenham Festival coverage on here this week, and it's all systems go to the big meeting now.

Big Buck's, the four time World Hurdle winner, made his long-awaited comeback in a hot-looking Cleeve Hurdle on Saturday. He was beaten less than a length in third there, and was given a proper workout. That could put him spot on for Cheltenham. Or it could be as good as he is now. Or he could bounce from the exertion after an extended layoff. In my opinion, those three possibilities are almost equal in likelihood, so quotes as short as 5/4 are of no interest to me, and he'll surely be much bigger on the day.

Those who took the 6/4 available with Coral on Saturday should congratulate themselves despite not collecting. Beating the market is THE way to make betting pay, and getting 6/4 about a 6/5 shot is ALWAYS a smart move. I've written reams on value on this virtual platform over the years, and this fairly recent value post is worth a (re-)read.

Those who took the advice and availed of 3/1 Hurricane Fly also had stellar value. He won, but that is not the point. 3/1 about a 4/7 chance is ridiculously good value and, no matter what you know - or think you know - you simply cannot be that much smarter than the biggest betting markets when you have such a cushion in your price.

Of course, he snuck home in a messy race, with Our Conor taking second as suggested in my preview post. So even if you weren't eligible for the 3/1 Fly, I hope you got some better than 11/4 on the exacta (it paid £3.84).

As if that wasn't enough blatant self-promotion, there's more!

On Saturday, I had the pleasure of assuming the warm Stat of the Day chair vacated by Chris immediately after he'd flagged 17/2 winner, Pearl Castle. Thankfully my (slightly better than) wishful thinking was vindicated when Wishfull Thinking won his race, at odds of 9/1.

The key thing with him was that his trainer said that the ground was probably softer than ideal, a comment which caused his price to drift. But the evidence of the form book disagreed. Indeed, on soft ground, Wishfull Thinking had won four from six races.

Whist it obviously makes sense to listen to trainer (though often not jockey!) sound bites, it can pay to corroborate what you've heard with the form book. Philip Hobbs is unquestionably a far better judge of horses than me, but he may have said what he said out of a perception rather than anything as objective as lines of print.

Stat of the Day is guaranteed another winning month for January, and is now 150 points up since we started it in November 2011. Just over two years and 150 points profit. All our results are tracked, and can be found here. This is a free service to registered users, and one which we're very proud of. Chris is the main man in the operation, and I take my hat off to him for the excellent job he's done with that service.

That's all for today. I hope you had a great weekend, and I'll be back later in the week with the first of the Cheltenham race previews. 🙂

Matt

p.s. if you're still waiting on your Winner system bonus, please email me at info@geegeez.co.uk so I can check you against my list. Thanks and sorry for the delay on this.

Cheltenham 2014 Ante Post Portfolio

Having written about my betting year earlier in the week, and referenced some Cheltenham ante-post action, I thought I'd follow that up by sharing who I've backed and why. So far, I've only had a handful of bets and, in each case, I'm looking for a horse that has the potential to improve considerably on what it's shown already, whilst already having shown a good bit of class.

Most of my bets are struck with BetVictor, who offer the non-runner free bet concession* on all Cheltenham Festival races up to £50 per horse and £100 per race.

*If your horse doesn't run in the selected engagement, your stake is returned as a free bet to use on that day's Cheltenham racing.

So, here goes:

Tuesday

Supreme Novices' Hurdle - £50 win Dubai Prince 25/1

Rated a whopping 116 on the flat and a dual Group 3 winner in that sphere, John Ferguson referred to this one as "my secret weapon" in a recent interview. The bare form of his facile hurdling debut win is nothing special, but he jumped very well for his first race, and obviously has an engine. His trip on the level was nine furlongs, so he has every chance of getting the Supreme distance in a Championship contest.

It's clearly a speculative wager but, with non-runner free bet in my corner, 25/1 win only was too tempting to resist.

Champion Hurdle - £50 win Annie Power 16/1, £50 win Melodic Rendezvous 20/1

The market is quite tight at the top, and there's absolutely zero value in the prices of The New One, Our Conor, My Tent Or Yours, Jezki or Hurricane Fly. The New One could conceivably go for the World Hurdle, his Cheltenham novice win coming over 2m5f before he was beaten in more of a speed test by Zarkandar at Aintree.

Our Conor is an extremely talented four year old, who will battle with the five year old stat next year. He could overcome it, for sure, but at 5/1, he's no value for one so immature.

Hurricane Fly surely cannot win aged ten. Surely?! Especially against such a strong group of up and comers. My Tent Or Yours looked all mouth and no trousers when cruising into the Supreme last year and then getting outgunned by Champagne Fever; and Jezki's form is almost exclusively on soft ground.

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Annie Power came into this season unbeaten in seven, and she extended that run to eight in the Coral Hurdle, a Grade 2 over two and a half miles, last weekend. She beat Zarakandar five lengths there, in receipt of eleven pounds and, to my eye at least, wasn't that impressive all things considered.

Her hurdling went to pot in the second half of the race, which is a worry. It's perfectly possible she'd jump better in a truer run affair, and the bookies seemed impressed enough, as they cut her to a best priced 12/1 (8/1 with Ladbrokes and Boylesports).

She too could go to the World Hurdle, or even the Mares' Hurdle, where she'd be up against stablemate, Quevega.

This selection was recommended by shrewdie, Nicky Doyle at 20/1 a couple of weeks ago.

My other Champion Hurdle pick, which could look very clever or very stupid by tomorrow night, is Melodic Rendezvous. He was good enough to win a Grade 1 novice event last year, beating the very highly thought of Pendra, and then hacking up from a possibly sub-par Puffin Billy in Listed company in February.

Injury saw him miss the Cheltenham Festival, but he got straight back on track this term when winning a Grade 2 at Wincanton from Far West, the horse which finished closest to Our Conor in the Triumph Hurdle. True, Far West was fifteen lengths behind Our Conor and only two behind Melodic Rendezvous. But Melodic Rendezvous was reckoned to be only 80% fit that day, and was easy to back all morning.

He slipped on the turn into the straight, and then whacked the second last flight, but was still too good for his rivals. He faces a sterner test tomorrow in the Fighting Fifth, a Grade 1 at Newcastle, where he'll have My Tent Or Yours amongst others in opposition.

But My Tent Or Yours represents the same connections - Henderson, McManus, McCoy - that were beaten in three successive Fighting Fifths with the same short-priced favourite, Binocular, who was simply never fit enough to win the race. There's every chance that My Tent Or Yours will be similarly under-cooked and, if he is, Melodic Rendezvous has an even better chance of beating him.

If that comes to pass, whether it will be repeated at Cheltenham is another question. But one thing is for sure: Melodic Rendezvous will be half the price he is now. He's currently a 16/1 shot generally.

BetVictor ante post wagers to date.

BetVictor ante post wagers to date.

Friday

Gold Cup - £40 win Boston Bob 25/1, £20 win Lord Windermere 25/1

The Gold Cup was opened right up after the Betfair Chase last weekend, when reigning champ Bobs Worth ran a listless clunker. He's better than that, no doubt, and the fact he's now 5/1 (from 5/2) is tempting in itself. But it's always the second season chasers that catch the eye for this one - as Bobs Worth was last year.

Boston Bob was unlucky to fall at the last in the RSA Chase when leading his field, and he again tumbled at Punchestown when rallying, having been outpaced. In that somewhat unwieldy sentence are the key concerns with this fellow: his jumping can let him down, and he can hit a flat spot in his races.

Despite that, he's a classy animal and has two Grade 1's in the bag already, as well as a second to the ill fated Brindisi Breeze at the Festival. Whether he'd have won the RSA is a subject of some conjecture, and the horse that eventually benefitted from his departure was Lord Windermere, my other ante-post 'arrow'.

Greed got the better of me this time, and I struck the (admittedly, relatively small) wager with bet365 because I wanted the price - Victor was only 20/1.

My reasoning here is that RSA Chase winners tend to either get ruined (Boston’s Angel, Weapon’s Amnesty) or head to the very top (Bobs Worth, Albertas Run, Denman). As Lord Windermere runs in the Hennessy tomorrow, and his trainer has been quite bullish about his chance, he deserves a 'hail mary' punt, because I'd rather have the big price about the Gold Cup than the small price about the Hennessy, for better or worse.

Lord Windermere's form is closely tied in with Boston Bob's, so a win - or a strong effort - for him would actually be a collateral vote for Bob too.

In a race where I'm not that keen on Sir Des Champs (looked a non-stayer last year), Cue Card (definite non-stayer), or Dynaste (non-stayer), there has to be value further down the lists. I won't have long to wait to learn more on that front..!

What have you backed so far, and why? Leave a comment below, and clue us in! 😀

Lawd Windy-beer

Lawd Windy-beer