Willie Mullings: 5 Festival Reflections

The ratio of post-Festival reviews to preview nights is likely in line with the ratio of sense to nonsense spoken at said preview evenings though I do include myself in that having attended three such events this year, writes Tony Keenan. Reflecting on the meeting, it is hard to get away from Team Mullins who generated most of the big stories on and off the track but that is the nature of the national hunt scene now so I apologise in advance for such a Closutton-centric piece.


  1. Making the right decision?

When Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh reflect on their Festival and more specifically on how they placed their horses in their respective races, I am sure they will believe played their cards at the correct time. They kept some of their main talents apart and went mob-handed in other races which maximised their chances of having winners; for them this was the right decision.

But there is more than one right decision and it depends on your perspective; owners have a different point-of-view and may want their horses kept apart or perhaps would prefer to go all-in and have multiple runners in the championship races rather than the less prestigious ones. There is the right decision for racing too and this will always be to have the best horses competing against each other, something that palpably hasn’t happened in the Mullins era with the likes of Quevega kept to her own sex and Ruby pointed out quickly after the Champion Hurdle that Annie Power and Faugheen would never race against each other.

This is not to crab Mullins; rather he is working within the parameters racing has set him where an inflated graded race programme and a four-day Festival have allowed him to keep his best horses apart; and, if anything, this will be exacerbated in the future with a five-day Festival as inevitable as it is regrettable. With avoidance of competition, there is a cost however and that is Mullins’ continued failure to win an open Grade 1 chase at the Festival. One could argue the Ryanair has that status but it’s in name only and most racing people rightly look down on the Thursday race with even the sponsor only grudgingly running his best horses in it. Mullins may have been looking on regretfully as Gordon Elliott got the Gold Cup parade through Summerhill last Saturday while Bagnalstown was notably quiet.


  1. Is Ruby Walsh the smartest man in racing?

When you look at the placing of the Mullins horses at Cheltenham, not just this year but previous years too, it is hard not to see Ruby Walsh’s hand behind them; he is the one who seems to get what he wants regardless of ownership concerns and perhaps even those of the trainer – it’s worth pointing out that, unlike Willie Mullins, Ruby has multiple Gold Cup and Champion Chase wins on his CV. That’s not good for the competitive side of the sport as Ruby has commented often about his desire to win as many of these big races as possible but there is something admirable in it.

In contrast to almost every jockey through history, Ruby has got player power; in a way he reminds me of basketball’s LeBron James who not only pulls the strings on the court for the Cleveland Cavaliers in the NBA but does the same with the team’s management too. And though sporting and racing heritage may say this is wrong, it isn’t if Ruby’s is the biggest brain in the room and there’s every chance it might be. Unlike Willie Mullins, who claims not even to watch replays of his horses race, Ruby has an intimate knowledge of both his own mounts and, importantly, the opposition.

He and Willie have a tremendous record with horses switching races; Yorkhill, Black Hercules and Vautour all won last week while Shaneshill ran very well and in the past the likes of Fiveforthree and Champagne Fever have done similar. These are high-risk decisions that will draw flak if they fail but they have the confidence to carry them out. Every owner wants Ruby on their horses and is willing to compromise their own interests to have this but it is not only for his obvious physical gifts at race time but also his highly intelligent, perhaps even genius, input into where they should run.


  1. Vautour-gate

The handling of the decision to switch Vautour to the Ryanair was horrendous and left a sour taste. Clearly every owner has the right to run their horses where they wish – though even that is questionable for owners in the Mullins yard – but there is a responsibility to inform the people about a public horse like Vautour, an animal I believe to be the most talented in training. This is not some 70-rated handicapper switching from a Kempton handicap on Wednesday to a similar race at Wolverhampton on Friday but rather the Gold Cup favourite or second favourite changing target at the last possible moment.

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Punters’ money is not the issue here either as the majority of bets struck on Vautour would have been with the non-runner no-bet proviso, though bettors who played in the Ryanair Chase market in the belief that he wouldn’t run would argue otherwise. This is an information issue and punters lost out in terms of how they were treated – with contempt in case you were wondering – rather than financially.

Rich Ricci has taken most of the heat for this decision and the reason is obvious; no one is going to take the side of multi-millionaire fat cat banker with a hand in the financial crisis against two of racing’s heroes. But the truth is likely that Willie and Ruby made the Vautour call and decided to tell nobody about it: their ability to face down a wealthy owner like Ricci shows the power they have within their own fiefdom.

Of course, both Ruby and Willie could argue that they ride and train for owners and not punters. If I need to explain to you that they ride for both you’re probably reading the wrong website – punters fund racing and so on – and Ruby would do well to remember that the vast majority of those people who he’s waving his whip at as he crosses the line at Cheltenham are punters, as would Willie and other trainers recognise that their owners were or are gamblers on some level. You can’t have the adulation with at least a little of the scorn.


  1. What’s the point in betting Mullins horses ante-post?

I’m as bad a judge as there is of where Mullins horses might run at the Festival; this past meeting I managed to back Long Dog, Shaneshill, Bellshill and Black Hercules (twice) for the wrong races. Betting these horses ante-post is as difficult as it is pointless and the risk/reward ratio seems well out of sync with what it might be with other yards; even when you find yourself on at a big price early that horse may switch late on as so many of them did this year.

Prior to the Festival, I wrote an article about how well the short-priced Mullins horses do at the meeting and that continued in 2016; of the seven Closutton horses sent off 3/1 or shorter, five won which is incredible. The sensible thing here is simply to back them on the morning of the race when the firms are pushing them out to attract business or if you must play early then wait for the non-runner, no-bet concession and play the few that have multiple targets in more than one race.

Another point worth making is that whoever is punting the Mullins horses ‘knows’ how good they are. In other circumstances, I am very sceptical of ‘them’ backing a horse but with this firm the record is there and it also makes sense that they would know where their horses stand relative to one another; not only do they have many of the best horses but they also make extensive use of schooling races. Take Yorkhill in the Neptune as an example. He had good form coming into the race but not so much that he should have been as short as he was relative to talented stablemates like A Toi Phil and Thomas Hobson but not only did he justify the support he did it in some style.


  1. A changing betting landscape?

I lost money betting on Cheltenham which, contrary to what some of the layers might tell you, was not impossible! Punters looking for something at a double figure price and hoping that one or two of those horses would win had a rough meeting as a lot of the shorties won and I was probably guilty of overthinking my betting over the four days.

Rather than years past when the bankers were overbet, the opposite was true in 2016 and there are a few reasons for this. The brilliance of Willie and Ruby plays a big part as does the relative weakness of some of the big English trainers, notably Paul Nicholls. The four-day Festival is a contributing factor too as it has weakened some of the races.

But more than that, there has been a cultural shift in betting where it is dominated by the idea of value. We’ve become conditioned to oppose the front of the market and this message is reinforced no matter where you turn in the racing media. Seemingly every racing page and broadcast mentions the jolly being too short while favourite backers are derided by those who know better. That clearly does a disservice to the true idea of value, the sense that a 1/10 shot can be overpriced if it ‘should’ be 1/25, but for most of us raised on the Pricewise concept it means double-figure odds.

Perhaps the pendulum has swung a little too far the other way and this is only being reinforced by how the bookmakers operate during Cheltenham week. Not only are they betting to nigh-on unprofitable over-rounds but they also offer over-broke place books and a host of money back offers as well as fancied horses being pushed out. It seems they were almost intent in losing last week – a Cheltenham sprat to a long-term mug mackerel, perhaps – and hitting the front end of the market might be the best way to exploit this next year.

- Tony Keenan

p.s. if you enjoyed this post, here are five more takeaways from Cheltenham worth noting.

Five Cheltenham Festival Takeaways

It was, as it always is, a stirring whirlwind of happenings. Stories - fairytales, plots, sub-plots, familiar formulas - were more prevalent than a rap battle between Hans Christian Andersen and Edgar Allan Poe. This was the good stuff. Mostly.

Below are five Cheltenham Festival sub-plots that caught my attention...


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Willie and Ruby: an unstoppable force in Grade 1's

1. Wullie is #1, Ruby is his #1. Bet their #1

Whichever way you look at things - be it from a sporting or betting perspective - Willie Mullins casts the longest shadow across proceedings. In the last five Cheltenham Festivals, Wullie has amassed 27 wins, the equivalent of winning every single race at the 2015 Festival. That figure represents 20% of all Festival races in that time, and is one more than Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls have mustered between them in the same timeframe.

In 2012, Mullins scored a respectable trio of victories at Cheltenham's hallowed March meeting; in 2013 it was five Wullie winners; and 2014's record shows four triumphs for Team Closutton. But it is the last two seasons - where the yard has notched eight and then seven scores - that implies a near Mullins monopoly.

From a betting perspective there is much to be gleaned. Ostensibly a 2016 record of 7 from 61, and a loss of £41.85 to £1 level stakes looks like car crash wagering territory. But this is a mise en abyme, a story within a story, and one where right (punters) defeats wrong (bookies) in the most classical sense.

One jockey has ridden 19 of Mullins' 27 Festival winners in the last five years. And he rarely chooses the wrong one. In fact, Ruby Walsh has an almost unblemished record in sitting on the right horse: the eight Wullie winners without Walsh were as follows:

Sir Des Champs, Don Poli x 2 (Gigginstown retained riders)

Back In Focus, Killultagh Vic (amateur or conditional riders' race)

Glens Melody (Ruby fell at the last on Annie Power)

Wicklow Brave (handicap, Ruby 4th)

Champagne Fever (Champion Bumper, Ruby 3rd)

In other words, in the last five seasons, but for a last gasp tumble, the only times Ruby has failed to win when a Wullie horse he was eligible to ride has won, was in the County Hurdle and the Champion Bumper - where he finished placed on both occasions, at 14/1 and 12/1 respectively.

If you'd backed Ruby for Wullie in Grade 1's you'd have won 15 from 48, for a level stakes profit of £20.02 at SP. That owes everything to the 25/1 victory of Briar Hill in the 2013 Champion Bumper, however.

Here's another way of looking at Willie's dominance. He is a trainer with a lot of Grade 1 horses: he actually ran seven in the Albert Bartlett! For all that volume, there is a clear hierarchy and it tends to be well understood by Mullins and his team.

So much so that, excluding the Champion Bumper and Annie P's last flight fluff, the last time Wullie won a Cheltenham Festival non-handicap with a horse not his market first choice was Rule Supreme... in 2004! Rule Supreme was a 25/1 shot when he won, beating his marginally better fancied 20/1 stable mate!!

This is a team who have most of the best cards, and know how to play them. It is also a team who will split their best pairs - as with Yorkhill and Vautour both re-routing late in the day last week. Second guessing the Mullins operation ahead of the day is a mug's game; likewise betting against their first choice in non-handicaps, the Bumper aside.


Gordon Elliott: Handicap King

2. Phil Smith hates Gordon Elliott!

Not personally, of course, but the ongoing professional battle between the pair is another compelling story within a story at the Festival. It is Phil Smith's job, as head of the official handicapping team, to give all horses in each race a notionally equal chance of winning. This is as impossible as it sounds, and the task is rendered still more impossible (were gradations of absolutes, erm, possible) by the fact that a large raiding party of horses are not handicapped under his team's jurisdiction.

The Irish squad is handicapped for Irish races by Noel O'Brien, Smith's oppo, and his team. However, Smith and co. have license to adjust the ratings of their Irish colleagues as they see fit. Clearly this is somewhat of a balancing act: on the one hand their duty is to give all horses in the Festival races a fair chance, on the other they have to manage a relationship with their handicapping peer group.

So it was that, as Tony Keenan reported here, Smith whacked the Elliott handicap squad with increased ratings, and therefore weight, burdens. For all of the trash talk regarding Diamond King's rating, the fact is he didn't just win the Coral Cup, a 26 runner (normally) ultra-competitive handicap hurdle, he - excuse me - pissed up.

Diamond King had a rating of 149, five pounds above his Irish perch of 144. That has now been elevated most of a stone by O'Brien to 157.

But that was as nothing to the victory of Elliott's Cause Of Causes, in the Kim Muir. Rated 146 when winning the (non-handicap) National Hunt Chase at last year's Festival, he was in here off 142, two pounds higher than his Irish mark of 140. He won by twelve lengths, the biggest winning distance of the entire Festival, having been hunted in last of the 22 runners for much of the race. He was so far the best that he could have been rated 160 and probably still won (except of course that it's a 0-145 race, and one which Mr Smith personally handicaps. How he must wish he'd given him 146 and had done with it!).

Elliott's team performed with staggering aplomb - we haven't even mentioned his Don Cossack winning the Gold Cup comfortably, nor shall we in this piece - and from 19 runners, he managed a form string of 44F413F440612197090.

Three winners, ten finishing in the first four. That is remarkable. Elliott is the coming man, a fact that seems yet to be fully reflected in the market. His trio of victories were worth a profit across the 19 runners, while focusing on those best fancied - 12/1 or shorter - gave a three from ten win rate, one more placed, and a profit of £11.75 to a £1 stake.

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Yup, I think it's certainly fair to say that Smith - who had a bit of a Festival shocker* with his other chase, the Ultima Business Solutions, where the first two home, both handicap plots, were seven and nine lengths too good for the rest - retains a professional loathing for Gordon Elliott!

*In fairness to Smith, Festival handicaps are akin to a burglars' convention and he has clear parameters within which to operate. They don't adequately cope with the likes of Un Temps Pour Tout, The Holywell or, to a lesser extent, the Irish raiders.

**As a footnote, it is worth noting that while British-trained handicappers took six of the ten 'caps, they did so from 183 runners (3.28% strike rate). 27 won or placed, 14.75% place rate. The Irish claimed four handicap wins from 50 runners, an 8% hit rate (13 won or placed, 26%). There is a fairly strong case for being even harsher on Irish handicappers next season.


3. Too many horses died

While some will disagree, it is easy to sympathise with the view that one horse death is too many. There can be few who fail to concur that seven fatalities is far too many.

Probably the most remarkable aspect of that figure is that four of the seven were injured, leading to death, on the flat. Put another way, a minority of the fatalities were caused by falls.

Without wishing to second guess anything in such a sensitive and important area as equine welfare, it would be remiss not to mention that a course record was broken on day one, a day when the going was officially good to soft, soft in places.

Regardless of new methods of timing the races or new positions of the flights, there seems a fundamental disconnect between the reported going and the race times. That this is nothing new has been a source of wry and/or knowing smiles in the professional fraternity since forever. Generally it is an irritatingly predictable sideshow before racing commences on the opening day, and a true gauge of the firmness of the turf can be established from the Supreme race time.

But this year, it is possible that the clerk of the course's 'poetic license' with regards to official going statements has been a factor in the loss of those chaps who broke down on the level last week. It is for others to decide that. However, after the Zabana starting farce whitewash, expect public declarations of support - and hope for a private 'drains up' leading to improvements.

Irrespective of whether or not there was a disparity between the official going and actual state of the turf, the responsibility is not solely with the clerk of the course. Whilst it makes it more difficult for trainers to recommend to their owners to withdraw horses when the official going doesn't hint at a problem, each handler should have walked the course daily when they have runners and made the right decision on that basis.

Of course, that won't stop all injuries, but it might have prevented some. At the end of the day, horse racing - and National Hunt racing in particular - is a dangerous sport with inherent risk to all participants. But that risk needs to be managed, by owners, trainers, jockeys and, fundamentally, ground staff.

Jenny Hall, Chief Veterinary Officer for BHA, has her work cut out to understand why this happened. And if the state of the track is a factor, there should be no shirking with regards to making sure it doesn't happen again. In this context, it should be remembered that two similar 'on the level' fatalities were incurred in the 2012 Cross Country Chase when that track was acknowledged as being firm, with no ability to water the turf there. (I still miss my old mate, Spot Thedifference).

Let us hope that the investigation is strongly led, with open and candid co-operation from all parties, and that recommendations are implemented promptly.


Victoria P before the big Festival gig...

Victoria P before the big Festival gig...

4. Go Pendo!

The very fact that Victoria Pendleton's on/off affair with the Foxhunters' Chase had been so divisive within racing nodded unequivocally to its PR value to the sport. Indeed, taking into account the seven equine fatalities, it could be argued that it saved Cheltenham Festival 2016 from being dragged through the mainstream media mire.

I must first confess to not having been a fan of the Pendleton show. Actually, that's not quite true: initially I thought it was a great idea. But, between then and last week, I changed my mind, worried that VP might be involved in some frightful pile up with the inevitable front page bad news that racing only ever seems to get.

Her tumble at Fakenham - some said her foot was knocked from the stirrup, others that she ought to have stayed aboard - seemed to confirm that a 24 runner amateur riders' race over Cheltenham's feared fences was a challenge too far.

In truth, it has been a high stakes PR exercise, the bookies making it something of an 'each of two' scenario that Pendleton would or would not complete the course.

But, in the manner of the refreshing current fortunes of the sport, it was a high stakes gamble that paid off. Pendo, aboard an expert horse - albeit one known to not quite see out this exacting stamina test - rode the perfect waiting ride. For those who suggest she might have won, they may be right; but that needs to recognize that horses running over trips for which they have questionable stamina are "ridden like non-stayers" every day of the week.

In the context of this race - for amateurs, all of whom had more experience than Pendleton, but probably only two had more professionalism - she rode a blinder. I was reminded of Aidan Coleman's quote on the subject, when he said,

"There’ll be at least 10 worse riders than her in the field. Definitely."

Well, he wasn't wrong. Pendo was paid a lot of money to do this, and she applied herself with a dedication that few in her corinthian peer group could match - she is, after all, a multiple Olympic gold medallist.

But the thing that wins you over - at least, the thing that won me over - is her eloquence in front of the camera. Her unbridled enthusiasm for the sport. Her ability to take something 'we know' and transmit its appeal to the wider world in a way that racing insiders simply cannot do, for lack of gravitas, lack of public appeal, and, frankly, lack of concern.

Fair play to Betfair; fair play to Paul Nicholls, Andy Stewart and, especially to Lawney and Alan Hill. But, most of all, fair play to VP. She couldn't have played it any better, throughout, in terms of a classic riches-to-rags-to-riches narrative, the kind on which we've been nourished since the dawn of storytelling.

The knives were out for her on Friday but, three days after the Ides of March, Pendleton rode fearlessly into fifth place. Here's hoping she pushes on with her pointing career, and maybe rides in this race again next season. It will be very hard to top what she achieved here.


Cheltenham Festival: THE Greatest Show on Turf

Cheltenham Festival: THE Greatest Show on Turf

5. Cheltenham IS the Greatest Show on Turf

From the moment the tapes rose on Altior's Supreme Novices' Hurdle, and that famous raucous roar...

Through Min's bursting bubble; Douvan's demolition derby; some Annie-Mull magic; and Mags' vroom vroom...

Through Yorkhill's glorious diversion; the heroics of No More Heroes and a (Blak)lion's bite; and the unforgettable Sprinter's stupendous time machine...

Through Vautour's vindication; and the magnificence of a Dorset dairy farmer's Thistlecracker...

To 'Russian Friday', Ivanovich Gorbatov and the Don, Cossack...

At every turn, class abounded. The facilities, newly opened earlier this season and heaving with record numbers of racegoers, matched the quality of the action.

In spite of an itch - the sort somewhere in the middle of the shoulder that can't quite be scratched either under- or over-arm - about the overshadowing of almost all that comes before in the National Hunt season, it is hard to shake the perception that this, truly, is the perfect closing chapter.

Regardless of the epilogues and spin off series at Aintree and Punchestown, Cheltenham in middle March is the ultimate convergence of form lines and plot lines. It is a final act in 28 parts, infectiously pleasurable with or without favour from the punting gods.

How to choose a single highlight? Very difficult. Very, very difficult.

For me, it's a coin toss between the old and new: Sprinter Sacre rolling past softened rivals warmed every sinew, but Thistlecracker's (yes, I know that's not his name, but I can't call him anything else) utter deconstruction of a credible World Hurdle field by wide margins in a race where plenty threw a punch and all were left sat on the canvass... well, that was really something wasn't it?

Bloody marvelous!


p.s. what were your highlights of the week? Betting wise? Sports wise? Any thoughts on VP? Leave a comment and get it off your chest 😉

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

Cheltenham Festival 2016: Day Four Preview, Trends, Tips

Day Four, Gold Cup Day, the home straight. As with many a race this week, the complexion of wagering fortune can change rapidly in this last quarter; and, as with most of the handicaps, it is a perilous place to be 'all in'.

Tradition dictates that I'll be imbibing in the Brown Bear, Aldgate, as this story unfolds. My fate will be aligned to the bluster below - the very best of luck to you regardless of whether you follow me in or plough your own punting furrow.

Friday is historically a bookies' day, so keep that in mind.

The show commences, as ever, at 1.30pm, with the...

1.30 Triumph Hurdle

A race that has changed complexion in recent seasons, with the emergence of both the Fred Winter, a handicap for four-year-olds, and a battalion of expensively bought ex-French racers. Fourteen go to post this time, ten of them having raced at some point across La Manche, but the favourite - tentative as he is - is an Irish lad with a Russian name.

Ivanovich Gorbatov was a Russian post-impressionist painter as a human, and is now a hardy middle distance race as a horse. Such is the random nature of reincarnation. On the level, he was last seen readily winning a big field handicap off a mark of 97. Over hurdles, he was last seen finishing fourth of eight as an odds on favourite.

Despite that reverse, he retains uneasy favouritism, most probably due to the fact that his best flat form was on good to firm and his defeat the last day was on soft to heavy. The quicker turf will be right up his ulitsa. He was the best of these on the flat and, if you like that angle, he'll be of interest to you. He's short enough, however, all things considered.

Easier to like, albeit on the basis of a single run, is Zubayr. He was a very expensive - like, €380,000 - purchase from Alain de Royer-Dupre, and justified at least the buyers' commission on that fee when winning the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton on his hurdling bow. That race is a key prep for this and he was expected to benefit greatly from the run there.

His galloping companion, Diego du Charmil, won the Fred Winter yesterday and that's a ready pointer to this fellow's chance. Comparisons have been made with Zarkandar, and time will tell on that, but for now this regally bred garçon (by a Derby winner out of a Dalakhani mare) still has plenty to prove. He may prove it here.

Sceau Royal is the first of three Alan King runners, the trainer having a good record in the Triumph Hurdle. He is rated 144, and perhaps lacks the scope of some to step forward from that after five UK runs. In the same barn, the highest rated is Who Dares Wins, a progressive 85-rated flat runner whose best form was on quick turf. He wasn't beaten far at Cheltenham in the Finesse (heavy) and promises to be better on the prevailing going this time. He's a player at a bit of a price.

Completing the King trident is Gibrilfaro, who vied for favouritism prior to disappointing in the Adonis behind Zubayr. Before that he'd beaten the re-opposing Connetable fair and square in an above average juvenile hurdle at Ascot. If you can overlook that Adonis blot, you can have 25/1 for your money. It's tempting...

Alan King's three runners are matched by Willie Mullins, whose trio are Footpad, and the ladies, Apple's Jade and Let's Dance. The boy's form is solid, his beating of Ivan Gorbs reading very well; but it has all been achieved in the mud so he must prove he can be as effective on faster. If he can, he has a chance in a very open renewal.

Apple's Jade actually beat Footpad by eight lengths when last seen in a Grade 2 on Boxing Day. As a filly, she gets a seven pound allowance from the boys, and she is another possible if acting on better ground.

Let's Dance is a maiden after three starts and has already finished close to, but behind, Apple's Jade and Ivano Gorbie. Collateral form gives her a fair chance then, but I just don't like backing horses that don't win/haven't won.

If Wullie and Alan are mob-handed with three apiece, then Paul Nicholls is sending the cavalry: he actually runs five!

That normally means a trainer hasn't got anything outstanding, a suggestion that would lead you away from Zubayr if you were previously a fan. The other four in the race are headed by Connetable, whose defeat of the older Rayvin Black reads pretty well. He was second to Gibrilfaro before that and is another whose past is incestuously and indecisively linked to the spider web of Triumph form lines.

Clan Des Obeaux, second in the Finesse, is yet another caught in that tangle, and yet another for whom we are asked to project as to whether good ground will mean improvement, regression or stasis. It's a tough old race in that regard.

Also with track form, from a handicap hurdle this time, is Frodon. He caught the eye, as expressed in this post, when third to Solstice Star, and fulfilled some of the promise with a bubble-bursting beating of Fixe Le Kap in the heavy at Haydock. He is something of a forgotten horse, and 20/1 possibly offers a hint of value if, like me, you're keen to escape the overlapping form lines in search of something unequivocal - notwithstanding that it might end up being inferior to what is needed.

Tommy Silver, the Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial winner, completes Nicholls' entry. He was an eleven length winner there, though against what who knows?

It's a hell of a difficult race to decipher, with so many form lines contradicting each other, and most of them on muddy turf and many of them from French tracks. In the circumstances, I'll be taking a tiny punt on Frodon, who has impressed me in his two UK runs. If he can handle quicker ground, he'll outrun 20/1 odds.

Likely Pace Angles:

Leoncavallo might lead, though Tommy Silver and Let's Dance could be close up. This looks a fairly-paced race where excuses ought not to be required.

Triumph Hurdle Tips:

0.25 pts e/w Frodon 20/1 general

Best Triumph Hurdle offers:

Stan James are betting 1/4 1-2-3-4, Paddy are betting 1/5 1-2-3-4

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


2.10 County Hurdle

26 runners in a handicap hurdle. Recent history may help to manage the field down...

Five and six year olds have won ten of the last twelve County Hurdles, and I will pick only from their number. Ten down.

The winner was Irish trained in seven of the last nine years. An Irish-trained horse for me. Five left.

Arbitrary? Somewhat. But in a race like this, I make no apology for that. We're left with a shortlist of Dicosimo, Henry Higgins, Great Field, Blue Hell and Ivan Grozny, three of which are trained by Wullie - he's bagged three of the last six County's.

Great Field got an opening mark of 147 from the UK handicapper after a romp on his Irish debut. He pulled most of five lengths clear of his field over two and a quarter miles in soft ground. That ability to stay a bit further has been a feature of most County Hurdle winners, such is the stiffness of the track and the pace and the opposition.

He'd previously won a couple of 3yo hurdles in 2014 and was having his first run for fifteen months at Leopardstown the last day. He is a 'could be anything' horse and I'd want him in my corner at 9/1. Barry Geraghty rides for this handicap first time outing.

Ruby is aboard 25/1 near top weight, Dicosimo, easy winner of a Listed contest over Christmas and a faller since in the Betfair Hurdle. He went up a stone for that heavy ground win, a rise that looks harsh in the context of this race. Still, Dicosimo retains upside potential after just five UK/Irish runs, one of which was 8th in last year's Triumph Hurdle.

The Mullins trio is completed by Ivan Grozhny, who won a Grade 3 hurdle this time two years ago. He had a long break after before a couple of well beaten efforts in big handicaps on soft ground. Given that his best form is on quicker, and that he's now third start back off the layoff, he's mildly interesting at a huge price.

Charles O'Brien's Henry Higgins won one of the most competitive handicaps of the season at Leopardstown last time, a performance which has seen him go from 131 to 147 in the ratings. That was on soft, where his best efforts have come, and he may just struggle from this revised perch.

Alan Fleming's lightly raced Blue Hell completed the 'trendy' quintet, and his form looks bombproof. A three length defeat of Diamond King was given a huge boost when that one bolted up in the Coral Cup on Wednesday; but Blue Hell has incurred a 22lb impost for his cheek. That may stop him following up here, though the extended layoff could be seen as a positive given he was having his first start for six months there. He's still worth chancing at around 10/1.

Of the non-trends horses, Starchitect was fourth in the Fred Winter last time and was second in the Betfair Hurdle last time. He'll handle the big field, the track and the ground, and is a young progressive sort. And, accounting for his jockey's claim, Francis Of Assisi is actually two pounds lower than his last winning mark. He's three from three on good ground and has run two solid races in defeat on softer since. 40/1 is probably too big.

Likely Pace Angles:

Sternrubin and Sizing Tennessee will be in the front, as may Zamdy Man, Starchitect and Dicosimo. The late closers could include Modus, Henry Higgins, Kayf Blanco, and All Yours in a race where the complexion is expected to change significantly in the last quarter mile.

County Hurdle Tips:

1 pt win Great Field 9/1 bet365

1 pt win Blue Hell 9/1 bet365

0.25 pt e/w Starchitect 14/1 bet365

0.25 pt e/w Dicosimo 25/1 Skybet


Best County Hurdle offers:

Look for a bookie paying FIVE places. Most are, but these are NOT: sportingbet, 888sport, Hills

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


2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle

'The potato race' as it's known, the Albert Bartlett sees a big field of twenty go to post over three miles. Barters Hill has been favourite for a while, his workmanlike visual impression possibly belying a heart of stone and a titanium gut. I say 'possibly' because he's looked increasingly difficult to galvanise and was all out to get the better of a 28/1 shot - 100/1 chance in third - when scraping home in a Grade 2 on his first try at three miles.

That was also his first run on good ground - which might be expected here - and he looks a more vulnerable jolly than many this week. I'm against him.

Neil Mulholland's Shantou Village is now as short as 9/2, a price which owes much to some fast ground small field demolition jobs. We know he goes in the conditions then, and if he can stay out of trouble in midfield, he looks sure to run a big race. His second to Yanworth in heavy was franked when that one ran a fine second - daylight back to the rest - in the Neptune on Wednesday.

Willie Mullins runs SEVEN (!), the pick of which could be Long Dog, Gangster and Bleu Et Rouge. The first named is the choice of Ruby Walsh, and this winning machine - seven victories in eight races, second in a big field the other run - has form on fast. He's a dual Grade 1 winner on soft and heavy, too. But... his G1 wins were at two miles, and the furthest he's raced is two and a half, meaning he has stamina to prove at this three mile trip.

Ruby couldn't ride Gangster - as a Giggingstown horse, Bryan Cooper retains that privilege - but he might have liked to. A three mile winner in a Grade 3 last time, he's won three of four starts to date, the defeat coming on Galway's quirky slopes. He has something to find with some of these on form but is capable of stepping forward. It might sound an odd thing to say but I always respect a Gigginstown horse on Gold Cup day, so no surprise if this lad prevails.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Bleu Et Rouge looks a horse of great promise for the luckless JP McManus. A winner over two and a quarter miles last time, he looked to need every yard of that trip to assert from Tombstone - disappointed on quick ground in the Supreme on Tuesday. He ought to stay, though it's difficult to be definitive, and he ought to act on the ground, with a similar caveat.

Harry Fry runs Unowhatimeanharry, a remarkable horse. Having won a bumper on his first start for Helen Nelmes, he then went a dozen runs without a win. A switch of stable worked the oracle, Fry eking out four straight wins, the last two of which have been at around this trip. 'harry has also won on quicker ground, and is hardy enough to have won a big field handicap hurdle. In short, he'll be fine with the conditions if he's classy enough. That is the big question mark.

Some big priced boats have won this since its inception, including two 33/1 chances. If we're to have another shock this time, it might be Balko Des Flos. Another 'Jiggy' (Gigginstown) horse, he has won both times he's led - so expect him to be out front - and he's capable of plenty more than he's demonstrated so far, with the ground expected to suit (half-brother to Festival-winning Salut Flo).

And the combination of faster ground and a solid pace is expected to show Fagan in a far better light. Gordon Elliott's Fair Mix gelding is unexposed and could pick a pocket or two without necessarily being good enough to win.

Likely Pace Angles:

This will be hard work for many. Lots of pace: Barters Hill, Atlantic Gold, Long Dog, Solstice Star, Champers On Ice, Jonniesofa, Balko Des Flos and Hit The Highway are all trail blazers as a rule. Something has to give.

Albert Bartlett Hurdle Tips:

A race that could descend into carnage with so many front runners, so many unproven on the ground, and so many unproven at the trip. As such, it might be worth a small 'guess' on a big price, as well as a solid option from the top of the market.

1 pt win Shantou Village 4/1 general

0.25 pts e/w Fagan 33/1 general


Best Albert Bartlett Hurdle offers:

totesport, betfred 1/4 1-2-3-4, Paddy 1/5 1-2-3-4

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


3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup

As fascinating a Gold Cup as I can remember, even without the re-routed Vautour. I previewed this on 4th February, and nominated Smad Place each way and Don Poli to win. Although the ground may be quick enough for Don Poli, I retain the view that it is a very tricky heat and could go the way of at least five horses.

My full Gold Cup preview is here.

Likely Pace Angles:

Smad Place will probably try to lead, though Road To Riches - if he runs - is a danger there. On His Own can also trail blaze, as can O'Faolains Boy. This should be run at a strong but not suicidal gallop.

Already Advised:

0.5 pt win Don Poli 6/1 (now 9/2)

0.25 pts e/w Smad Place 12/1 (now 10/1)


Gold Cup Tips:

On fast ground, Don Cossack might be the one...

Best Gold Cup offers:

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


 4.10 Foxhunters' Chase

I cannot really explain to you why I love the Foxhunters' Chase. But I do. The same stamina-sapping track and trip of the Gold Cup, but for amateur riders on amateur horses. It's a pretty good trends race, and those historical patterns - as well as the form - can be found in my Foxhunters' Chase preview.

Despite his age, I'd like to add Paint The Clouds to my portfolio on this fast ground. It's what he wanted last year, and he didn't get it. He looks sure to go well, granted a clear passage (far from a given!)

Likely Pace Angles:

Cave Hunter, Alskamatic and Camden have all led in most of their recent races and should again be near the head of affairs, as might Current Exchange. I would imagine Victoria Pendleton will want to be out of trouble too, so expect her to try to get a prominent position. Marito and On The Fringe may be taking the brave route from further back...

Already Advised:

0.5 pt e/w It Came To Pass 14/1 (still 14/1)

0.25 pt e/w Current Event 33/1 (now 25/1)


On the day play:

1 pt win Paint The Clouds 6/1 general


Best Foxhunters' Chase offers:

bet365, Skybet, Ladbrokes, Coral, betfair sports, Racebets all 1/4 1-2-3-4

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


 4.50 Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle

"The boys' race" as it's known, this is a 2m5f handicap hurdle, and it takes some winning. Seven renewals to date, but some strong trends emerging. Firstly, all seven winners were aged five (two) or six (five), and all were second season hurdlers. In fact, all bar two of the win and placed horses were either first or second season hurdlers. In other words, they were lightly raced and progressive.

Secondly, all carried more than eleven stone. This is less of a trend than it appears, however, due to the clustering of the weights in a 'compressed handicap'. Put another way, lots of similarly rated - and therefore, weighted - horses have competed against each other.

Interestingly, perhaps, four of the last five winners won their previous starts, though Killultagh Vic broke that sequence last season. However, the placed horses don't back this factoid up, so it's one to be wary of, I think. Of more interest, I think, is that five of the seven winners were trained by Messrs. Henderson, Mullins or Nicholls, THE main men in handicap hurdles at the Cheltenham Festival.

Indeed, last year, that trio of trainers saddled the 1st, 3rd, 6th, 7th, 8th and 11th from the 21 runner field!

This year, they collectively saddle Laurium, Bivouac (Henderson), Buiseness Sivola, Childrens List, Whiteout, Urano (Mullins), Qualando, Mr Mix and Ibis Du Rheu. Nine of the 24. Hmm.

Qualando is well suited to conditions as he showed when winning the Fred Winter last season so, while a little more 'known' to the handicapper, his mark of 139 may not be insurmountable under the very promising Harry Cobden. Although he's far from the only one in the field, he's been laid out for this.

Of Wullie's mob, Childrens List is worth a second look. Consistent in defeat with cut in the ground, he has form on firmer footing and is still feasibly weighted after a nine pound hike for a good second last time.

But they might all have to go to beat one of the Irish handicap bankers of the week, the Gordon Elliott-trained Squouateur. A winner of three of his last four, he's gone up to a mark of 141 as a consequence. Clearly, that will make life tougher but any improvement on account of the better ground (won on yielding only try on quicker) and he will be involved. If any in this field is a potential Grade 1 horse - as recent winners have been - it is this guy.

From the same yard, Jetstream Jack makes his handicap debut having scored for the first time at Musselburgh last time. He couldn't go with the field in last season's Champion Bumper but this is a couple of rungs below Grade 1, and a couple of furlongs beyond that flat test. He's an interesting runner at an attractive price.

As always, loads of others with chance...

Likely Pace Angles:

There's actually not a huge amount of pace on here, so it may be a good plan to remain handy in what might be a packing field. Jetstream Jack and Qualando are a pair who race forwardly as a rule.

Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle Tips:

1 pt win Qualando 8/1 general

0.5 pt e/w Jetstream Jack 16/1 bet365 (1/4 1-2-3-4-5)


Best Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle offers:

bet365, totesport, betfred, winner, and racebets are all 1/4 1-2-3-4-5

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


 5.30 Grand Annual Handicap Chase

And so to the lucky last. You'll have been lucky if you manage to find the winner in this race, that much is for sure. I won't insult your intelligence by suggesting I know how this will play out, except that it will be very fast (see pace below).

I want a horse who can travel off a fast pace, and that might be one of Croco Bay, Pearls Legend and Savello.

The last named actually won this in 2014 off a three pound lower mark. With Bridget Andrews' five pound claim, he's two pounds below that rating, and is obviously proven in conditions. Ignore his pulled up effort in a Grade 1 over 2m5f on soft last time - that's not his setup - and instead look at his two mile good ground form. In that context, he's run consistently well, and Bridget will be playing her hand late if avoiding mishap.

Croco Bay was third last year on soft going off a two pound higher mark. Arguably better on top of the ground, this year's good turf may improve him a couple of places. He's well equipped to run a bold race.

A bit more left field is Pearls Legend. This chap has plenty of placed form at the trip and on good ground, and he might be perfectly suited by the speedier tempo of the Grand Annual. At 33/1, he's worth a tiny tickle, win and place.

A word too for The Saint James, who was given a very quiet ride in third in last year's Fred Winter. He could just be chucked in here off 142, and I have to have a little bit on, win only.

Likely Pace Angles:

Pace-o-rama led by Next Sensation, the speed of the speed. He'll be challenged by Arthurs Oak, Germany Calling, Red Spinner, Dunraven Storm and perhaps Pearls Legend. The Saint James and Croco Bay should be midfield with Savello waited with. This race can have a fair number of fallers due to the mad gallop they go, so you'll need to be both lucky and good!

Grand Annual Challenge Chase Tips:

0.5 pt win Savello 25/1 totesport, betfred

0.5 pt win Croco Bay 20/1 general

0.5 pt win The Saint James 16/1 general

0.25 pt e/w Pearls Legend 33/1 general


Best Grand Annual Challenge Chase offers:

bet365 are 1/4 1-2-3-4-5

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


Right, that's my lot. As tradition dictates, I shall be imbibing in the Brown Bear, Aldgate, tomorrow afternoon, and will look forward to re-connecting with the world after a rest and a recovery from a certain hangover!

Do leave a comment to let us know where your cash is going for the last day, and how you've been getting on this week. Winning? Hard luck stories? Share your joy/grief!

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

Vautour Flying High

Vautour Flying High

Cheltenham Festival 2016: Day Three Preview, Trends, Tips

Half way home in the greatest show on turf. We head into the tougher hemisphere of the Cheltenham Festival with warmth in our hearts after the genre-defining sight of Sprinter Sacre bulging past a flagging Un De Sceaux.

Thus, with hope outstripping expectation, but a couple of classy heats to potentially stave off the inevitable handicap losses, it's on to Thursday's septet of equine sudokus.

1.30 JLT Novices' Chase

There have only been five renewals of this intermediate novices' chase, and this will be the third as a Grade 1 contest. Last year's winner, Vautour, was its best, and he bids for Ryanair glory later on the card, having been diverted from his original Gold Cup destination.

It might be interesting to note that Irish-trained runners have won all five JLT's so far, from a third of the runners; and their only three representatives in the race last year finished 1-2-3.

It makes sense then to start with the Irish challenge, which this year is headed by Willie Mullins' Outlander. Winner of his last three, at intermediate distances, including the Grade 1 Flogas Chase last time, the trip will be spot on. But he was readily outpaced in the Neptune last year on good ground and he's short enough given that there are plenty with more toe in this field of ten.

Black Hercules hails from the same yard, and has similar form claims from similar runs on wetter turf over intermediate trips. He too though has been caught for speed on both visits to the Festival, though he was a creditable fourth in the 2014 Champion Bumper. I was impressed with the way he jumped and stuck on when beating Definitly Red at Warwick over three miles two back, and he might have been better suited to the RSA Chase.

There are two other Irish runners, and the one of most interest - to me at least - is Andrew Lynch's Zabana. This fellow has been pleading for quicker ground ever since he was second to Aux Ptits Soins in the Coral Cup at last year's Festival. He then ran a good third over three miles in the Punchestown World Hurdle before a brace of chasing starts.

Having won his beginners' chase on heavy, he was not knocked about behind Outlander in the Flogas, and has a chance to reverse placings at almost three times the price. You have to buy into the ground factor to make that wager. I have, and I have.

Bristol De Mai runs in the Munir/Souede colours, and appears to be first string. He's only been passed by two horses in six chase starts, one of which is the re-opposing Garde La Victoire. That was on soft ground but this quicker surface could truncate the seven length verdict there, and I'd not expect much between them.

Best of the rest of the Brits look to be the two Arkle defectors, L'Ami Serge and Garde La Victoire. The former has good form at shorter but is stepping up to this trip for the first time. The latter, who can be described as 'economical' at his fences (i.e. he gets pretty low), is unbeaten in three chase starts and has a highly admirable career record of ten wins from 16 runs. He's my idea of the pick of the home team if he stands up.

An honourable mention goes to Pat Fahy's Mount Gunnery. This is an Irish trainer in superb form, and it seems rather a long way to come for no reason. He's only won a beginners' chase but he definitely wants better ground and he's 150/1. Clearly, he has a huge amount to find on the book, but at the price, for a pound each way, he might outrun those odds by a big margin in a race where he's expected to be close to the pace from the start.

Likely Pace Angles:

Both Bristol De Mai and L'Ami Serge like to race from the front, though it would be folly for them to take each other on, being as they're in the same ownership. Mount Gunnery could be prominent too, along with Outlander, in a race with a fairly pacey look to it.

JLT Chase Tips:

0.5 pt e/w Zabana 12/1 Ladbrokes, BetVictor

0.1 pt e/w Mount Gunnery 150/1 Racebets

Best JLT Chase offers:

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


2.10 Pertemps Final

Two dozen runners over three miles in a devilish handicap hurdle. A touch of trendage may assist...

Older (aged eight to ten) horses have won eight of the last twelve renewals. And the younger winners have tended to carry more weight (i.e. classy improvers). That said, last year's winner, Call The Cops, was only six and carried only 10-12.

Last time out winners have a very strong record, taking nine Pertemps Final's since 1997, from just 78 runners.

The six last day winners in the field are Flintham, If In Doubt, Arpege d'Alene, Missed Approach, Cup Final, and Saddlers Encore.

If In Doubt also ticks the older horse box, being eight now, and he's a logical place to start. As a McManus horse, the Festival will have always been the target, and his campaign has been interesting to say the least. Fifth in last year's Grade 1 RSA Chase, he reverted to hurdles off a mark of 140 last time out. A win there, comfortably, in a Class 2 event delivered a six pound impost, meaning a racing weight here of 11-04. Richard Johnson rides for Philip Hobbs.

Hobbs' other runner, Saddlers Encore, was also a last day winner, and in higher class to boot. He's closely weighted with If In Doubt, more progressive as a novice of just five hurdle runs, and a better price.

McManus also has Leave At Dawn, the favourite, trained by Charles Byrnes. This fellow won a 2m5f handicap hurdle here in November (good to soft) and has clearly been laid out for the race. However, he's a stone higher in the weights this time, so will have to have improved a lot since his previous visit.

More appealing is Missed Approach. Warren Greatrex's six-year-old has won three of his four career starts to date, so what he lacks in experience he makes up for with potential. A facile win in a Newbury handicap last time cost him a whopping twenty pounds penalty from the 'capper but, such was the ease of that victory, it is impossible to suggest he can't overcome the hike.

Cup Final is a third string to the McManus bow, lining up here in search of a hat-trick after ready wins at Sandown and Musselburgh. They were on soft, but his good ground form is solid in defeat. Trainer Nicky Henderson has had a fine start to the week so here is another with prospects.

McManus actually runs SIX in the race, and another worth touching on is the Jonjo-trained Box Office. Campaigned like many Jonjo Festival handicappers, this lad should appreciate the better ground. He was sent off favourite for the Fred Winter last year, so expect an improved performance, especially if there's any cash around for his chance.

Hendo might have another with a chance in the mare, Broxbourne. She was second behind The Govaness at the April meeting last year, and will relish the terra firmer.

Likely Pace Angles:

Not heaps of early dash, I don't think, with perhaps Flintham the most likely to go on. He could be joined by Missed Approach, Saddlers Encore, and perhaps Rolling Maul, but a position near the front might be a good thing in what will be a packing field.

Pertemps Final Tips:

0.5 pt e/w If In Doubt 11/1 general

0.5 pt e/w Box Office 20/1 Coral

Best Pertemps Final offers:

Look for a bookie paying five places. Most are with the exceptions of sportingbet, 888sport, and William Hill.

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




2.50 Ryanair Chase

The Ryanair Chase was previewed on geegeez on 17th February. Since then, there has been a major change to the shape of the race with the news that, despite his owner saying Vautour "goes for the Gold Cup or nowhere", that high class chap will indeed run in this race.

It's the right race in my opinion, though Mr Ricci probably needs to reconsider opening his mouth without getting official sanction from Wullie the Guv'nor in future.

Enough of the politics and on to the form. Vautour is the best horse in this race, he is running over the right trip (in my view) and I think he'll win.

On official ratings he has eleven pounds in hand of the next best, the 11yo Al Ferof. That probably doesn't overstate his superiority.

If you like shorties, this one fits the bill as 'bar a fall' material to me, with the slight niggle that the vibes from his stable haven't been super strong. If you don't like shorties, the 'without' market is your friend. There, you can bet 4/1 the field in a 14 runner race. I am personally looking for a closer, to pick up perceived pieces off a frenetic gallop, and that could be Taquin De Seuil.

Jonjo's chaser won the novice version of this, the JLT, in 2014 and, after a spell in the doldrums, came back to life with a handicap chase win at Warwick last time. His jumping let him down when midfield in this race last year - and that is a concern again - but a clear round could see him run into the frame. He's 20/1, 9/1 without Vautour, both each way a quarter the odds.

I'd already advised an each way bet on a couple - Josses Hill and Dynaste - before Vautour re-routed. At least those who followed the advice to bet with bet365 are on Best Odds Guaranteed, because both horses have drifted as a predictable consequence of the interloper interloping!

Your first 30 days for just £1

In truth, it's a messy race, with negatives against pretty much all of the field, so good luck whichever way you decide to play.

Likely Pace Angles:

This should be quick. All of Road To Riches, Vautour, Smashing, Village Vic and Josses Hill could go on, and often have done in the recent past. Jumping will be critical then, as will stout stamina. Oh, and speed and class!

Suggested day of race play:

0.5 pt e/w Taquin De Seuil without Vautour 9/1 bet365 1/4 1-2-3

Already advised:

2pts win Don Cossack 6/1 NRNB bet365 (Money back)
1 pt win Vroum Vroum Mag 6/1 NRNB bet365 (Money back)
0.5 pt win Josses Hill 14/1 NRNB BOG bet365
0.5 pt win Dynaste 16/1 NRNB BOG bet365
0.5 pt win God's Own 25/1 NRNB bet365, Coral (Money back)

Best Ryanair Chase offers:

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




3.30 Ryanair World Hurdle

Another of the early previews, 25th February this time, and I sided with Cole Harden without Thistlecrack; and Kilcooley and At Fishers Cross each way. I think and hope that Thistlecrack wins, but am really happy with the ante post advices (probably means they're doomed), and don't care to add anything further to what I wrote then!

Likely Pace Angles:

Cole Harden will bid to run trap to line, like last year, and he may be harried early by Knockara Beau, and possibly Martello Tower. This should be run honestly without compromising any runner, and it looks a really exciting race - one of the best of the week in my opinion.

Suggested day of race play:

The ante post selections are still available within hailing distance of the advised prices, and retain a degree of value against a solid favourite.

Already advised:

1pt win Cole Harden 'without Thistlecrack' 9/2 Paddy Power

0.5 pt e/w Kilcooley 25/1 general (non-runner no bet)

0.25 pt e/w At Fishers Cross 50/1 Skybet (non-runner no bet)

Best World Hurdle offers:

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


4.10 Festival Plate

The Festival Plate, known this year as the Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate (gulp), is a 2m5f handicap chase. It's been a Pipe benefit down the years, with father Martin winning it four times, and son David already possessing three Plates of his own in the last six years and narrowly failing to add a fourth last term.

It has been a race for huge shocks in recent times, with 9/2 Salut Flo a brief respite for punters in the teeth of a storm of 66/1, 50/1, 33/1 twice, 25/1 and 18/1 winners just since 2008!

Bad news then that I really fancy the 6/1 favourite, Johns Spirit. I noted him in this post when he was 25/1 and he is comfortably my best result of the week as a consequence. As you'll note from the returned SP's of recent winners, these things rarely go to plan, so while I'm excited about his chance - he's a stone lower than when winning better races having had his mark expertly massaged by his judge of a trainer, Jonjo O'Neill - I am resigned to glorious failure!

With him in the bank, however, we can go looking for a likely fat priced winner as well. David Pipe runs three, the pick of which might be Kings Palace. A decent novice last term, he races prominently (and therefore out of trouble), and he's slipped to a workable mark of 150. It wouldn't be the first time this week that Pipe out-plotted Jonjo.

Salubrious won the Martin Pipe in 2013, and has dropped a stone since then. Still with Paul Nicholls, it would be no surprise to see this 33/1 shot bounce back in a race where shocks are the norm.

Venetia Williams also has a great record in the Plate, with three winners since 2007, including 50/1 and 33/1 pokes. She's four-handed this time, and the pick of the quartet could be Niceonefrankie, for whom the better ground is a big plus. Only three pounds higher than his Grade 3 handicap chase over (the other) course and distance here, 25/1 is tempting.

And Kings Lad, a 50/1 shot running for Colin Tizzard, is the sort of wild guess that could run well if on a going day, a comment which applies to a large tranche of this field.

Likely Pace Angles:

Expect Niceonefrankie and Tenor Nivernais to be near the front, a good place to be in this race of thrills and spills. Sew On Target, Kings Lad and Baily Green are others who could be in the driver's seat early. Johns Spirit will be held up, and will need all the luck from there. .

Suggested Festival Plate play:

0.5 pt e/w Niceonefrankie 25/1 Skybet 1/4 1-2-3-4-5


Best Festival Plate offers:

Look for enhanced place terms. bet365, Skybet, totesport, betfred, Coral, winner and racebets are paying FIVE places.

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


4.50 Dawn Run Mares' Novices' Hurdle

A new race, and one where there is a bundle of confidence behind favourite, Limini. She has a big engine, and the stable clearly have plenty against which to gauge her ability, but she does have a flaw: she has jumped moderately. If leaping like the last day, she'll probably be beaten. If she can be remotely professional she will probably win. Probably, but not definitely, making odds on quotes unexciting.

Against her is a rock solid each way option in Smart Talk. Brian Ellison's lass beat a proven good class handicapper in a Grade 2 on good ground last time, notching a fourth win in five races in the process. She's the highest rated of the British runners, though she may be more exposed than some of these.

Nicky Henderson has a couple of unrated mares in the field, Chocca Wocca and Bloody Mary, both nicely progressive. The former was unimpressive when winning at Market Rasen in an ordinary novice mares' event last time while the latter won well on his British debut (heavy) having run up a five timer in France in provincial NH Flat races (four) and an Auteuil hurdle. It's hard to know what to make of that form except that she clearly has a winning attitude, and that she has winning form on top of the ground.

Likely Pace Angles:

Smart Talk should be close to the lead, with Girly Girl, Tea In Transvaal and Bantam. Expect Limini and Bloody Mary to be mid-division.

Suggested Dawn Run play:

This looks a race for the head of the market making Smart Talk a good option against the favourite, and in the 'without' market

1 pt e/w Smart Talk 7/1 bet365

1 pt Smart Talk 'without Limini' 11/4 bet365


Best Dawn Run offers:

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


5.30 Kim Muir Handicap Chase

Three and a quarter miles, amateur riders. Sound the klaxon! Actually, this race isn't so bad as it used to be, with some very capable non-pro's getting the leg up. A point worth keeping in mind is that eight of the last ten winners were ridden by non-claiming jockeys, from about half of the runners.

This is a race in which the older boys tend to do well, eleven of the last eighteen winners being nine or more.

Younger and classier than most winners is eight-year-old Cause Of Causes, who bids to follow up last year's NH Chase win. Clearly the course holds no fears, and nor does the distance. Jockey Jamie Codd knows this quirky fellow well having been aboard last year, and a weight of 11-09 may not stop him following up. 11/2 is an unsexy price in a big field of amateurs, but Cause Of Causes is a serious player.

So too is the other joint-favourite, Doctor Harper. David Pipe's handicap chase debutant got a yellow card from the official handicapper when awarded a mark of 141, one too high to run in the novices' handicap chase, and this extra distance may find out a thoroughly unexposed runner. If it doesn't, and his jumping holds up, he will be in the frame I think.

Wouldn't it be great to see The Giant Bolster win here? Second, third and fourth in Gold Cups, this is a steep drop in class for a veteran who may not be quite as good as he was. Still, he wouldn't need to be, a mark of 139 a whopping 25 pounds below his pomp. I couldn't really back him but it would be lovely to see. Lovely. 🙂

Katie Walsh has been booked for David Pipe's Top Wood, a last day winner. Despite the excellent rider, the horse's two Cheltenham runs have been awful, so it's a big leap of faith to back him in this big field.

At a huge price, 33/1, Corrin Wood is of mild interest. He's had more P's than Bird's Eye lately, but if a run close to his best can be coaxed from him, he has the speed and the talent to get involved for a yard that's won this twice since 2007.

Plenty of others that 'could' win, as with all the handicaps.

Likely Pace Angles:

Waldorf Salad, Capard King and The Giant Bolster will lead between them. Corrin Wood should be close as well, staying out of trouble hopefully.

Suggested Kim Muir play:

1 pt win Cause Of Causes 11/2 general

0.25 pts e/w Corrin Wood 33/1 bet365, Betfair Sports 1/4 1-2-3-4-5


Best Festival Plate offers:

Look for enhanced place terms. bet365, Ladbrokes, Winner, Betfair Sports and Racebets are all paying FIVE places.

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


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

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

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

1.30 Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle Preview

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

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

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

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

Likely Pace Angles:

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

Tipped already: 

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

0.25 pts e/w O O Seven 25/1 1/4 1-2-3


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

1 pt Yanworth IF he becomes available at 7/4

1 pt Yorkhill IF he becomes available at 3/1

Best Neptune Novices' Hurdle offers:

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

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


2.10 RSA Chase

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

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

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

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

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

Likely Pace Angles:

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

Tipped already: 

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

Day of Race Pick:


Best RSA Chase offers:

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

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


2.50 Coral Cup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your first 30 days for just £1

Likely Pace Angles:

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

Tentative picks:

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

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

Best Coral Cup offers:

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

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


3.30 Queen Mother Champion Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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

Likely Pace Angles:

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

Interest bet, if I must:

0.25 pt e/w Felix Yonger 14/1 general

Best Champion Chase offers:

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

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


4.10 Cross Country Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Likely Pace Angles:

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

Cross Country Bet:

3 pts win Josies Orders 11/4 general

Best Cross Country Chase offers:

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

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


4.50 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

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

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

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

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

Likely Pace Angles:

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

One moderate value guess amongst guesses:

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


Best Fred Winter offers:

bet365 are the only bookie paying FIVE places...

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


5.30 Champion Bumper

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

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

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

Likely Pace Angles:

Seriously, I just don't know.


Don't have a bet in this race.

Best Champion Bumper offers:

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

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


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

LRC Cheltenham Preview Notes

Last night was the London Racing Club Cheltenham Festival preview and, as ever, it was a compelling, engaging, insightful affair.

The panel comprised Phil Smith (PS), BHA chief handicapper; Lydia Hislop (LH), Racing UK; Lee Mottershead (LM), chief correspondent at Racing Post (and compere for the evening); Claude Charlet (CC), bloodstock agent and RUK presenter; and Martin Chapman (MC), Star Sports bookie.

Most of the comment was focused on the Grade 1 action, and these were the notes I scribbled...

Tuesday, Day 1

Supreme Novices' Hurdle

PS: Last 3 years it's taken a high 150's performance to win. Current BHA ratings are Min 153, Bouveur d'Air 154, Altior 155, Yorkhill 156. "It would therefore be no surprise to see any of those four winning"

LH: Altior each way, as he is probably best suited to this particular task.

Arkle Trophy

LH: At a preview earlier in the week, Tony Calvin flagged the chance of Zamdy Man, 100/1 shot (and 50/1 in the without Douvan market), if it comes up very soft.

PS: Last 3 winners: 168, 162, 169. Douvan currently 161, The Game Changer 155 (LH: "and has had a wind op since last seen")

Champion Hurdle

PS: Looks like a race for a shock. Annie Power top rated with the sex allowance, but reservations remain. Maybe Old Guard can get involved. "I'd be amazed if the winner isn't the worst since Hors La Loi" (2002)

LH: Annie P no price at 2/1. Identity Thief a possible. "Expect My Tent Or Yours to pull his head off". Value in the market now, if there is any, could possibly be Peace And Co.

CC: Best Henderson horse might be Hargam, but likes Camping Ground.

LM: A shout for Top Notch

MC: Old Guard each way, based on his Cheltenham form on better ground

Mares' Hurdle

MC: Vroum Vroum Mag wins

CC: VVM wins

LH: VVM has not been placed like a good horse, but rather like an understudy to Annie Power. Jumps a hurdle like a chaser. Bitofapuzzle a reasonable e/w claim.

PS: VVM +5lb on her field, rated 154 hurdles vs 155 chase. "She's the one I'm most confident of from the Mullins 1st day horses"

Tuesday Other Races

MC: Holywell, Ultimate - plenty of money for him; Southfield Royale, NH Chase - Neil Mulholland bullish about his form.

LH: Pont Alexandre interesting if running in the NH Chase (jumps well, stays well); Native River for NH Chase too. Believes Minella Rocco was flattered in the Reynoldstown (when a closing 2nd to Vyta Du Roc).

PS: "I handicap the Ultima Chase, so I hope it's a close finish!"

In the NH Chase, there are 12 horses rated higher than Minella Rocco's 143. Vicente is top rated on 153, though that rating has not been replicated since it was achieved.

Wednesday, Day 2

Neptune Novices' Hurdle

PS: Yanworth 158, and has also run 156. "I've been super impressed by Yanworth".

LH: Look for negatives when tempted to bet at 5/4. In this case, Yanworth's sire, Norse Dancer was a quirky soul, and it is possible that Yanworth himself may have shaped to run out in a recent race.

A Toi Phil a solid each way shout, though also by a stallion who was quirky when racing! If the ground came up quick, Bachasson has lots of ability, and might be an each way bet without the favourite.

CC: Yanworth is the banker of the whole meeting.

RSA Chase

CC: Black Hercules a horse he really likes, and interesting if running here. Plenty of improvement in him and a "wonderful each way bet".

LH: More Of That "not that good" jumping. Loves Blaklion as a horse but he had a hard race in the Towton Chase at Wetherby (heavy ground). Seeyouatmidnight another horse she likes, but with reservations. Roi Des Francs interesting, but ultimately favours the street fighting credentials of Vyta Du Roc.

PS: No More Heroes 159, More Of That 154 (but was higher over fences and if running to chase mark c.160), Vyta Du Roc 145

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But note that More Of That's best chase run was over 2m4f with a poorer run over 3m. "Quite sweet on No More Heroes"

Queen Mother Champion Chase

LH: "Special Tiara may challenge Un De Sceaux on the front, which would be interesting". Felix Yonder without UDS at 7/1 each way might be the bet.

PS: UDS 172, Sprinter Sacre 170 (as high as 190 in his pomp), Sire De Grugy 169, Special Tiara 168, Dodging Bullets 168 (but with a ?). "Andrew Tinkler, one of the very best judges in the weighing room, said SS is working amazingly well".

CC: UDS can be a bit exuberant which might be a concern.

MC: Money has been for Felix Yonger and God's Own each way.

Wednesday Other Races

PS: Foxrock "highest rated EVER to run in the Cross Country Chase" - could be significant now the race is a conditions event rather than a handicap, for the first time.

CC: Utah De La Coquais will be in the first four IF it comes up very soft.

MC: Bundles of cash for Diego Du Charmil in the Fred Winter.

Thursday, Day 3

JLT Novices' Chase

CC: Black Hercules, if he runs here (or wherever he runs) is an each way bet.

MC: Outlander has taken solid support

LH: Garde La Victoire can get very low at his fences, which might be a worry. Three Musketeers could run well. Zabana also interesting, and well touted in Ireland.

PS: Bristol de Mai 153 (and is consistent), Black Hercules 152, Garde La Victoire 151

Ryanair Chase

[I was eating a cheese and ham sandwich, and glugging a Guinness, at this point which precluded the taking of notes! As a moderate substitute for the far more considered views of the panel, my preview of this race is here]

World Hurdle

LH: Cole Harden best of the older group and prepared to take Warren Greatrex at his word that this has been the only target all season. But second season hurdlers look the most likely ones, and think Thistlecrack will win.

MC: Thistlecrack is the one we're wary of.

CC: Colin Tizzard is in form, can't see Thistlecrack being beaten.

PS: Colin Tizzard is a very smart man who occasionally plays the bumpkin (to good effect). Thistlecrack is 168+, Big Buck's was 174. Kilcooley is rated to run well at a big price.

Thursday Other Races

LH: Smart Talk is the "bet of the week" in the Mares' Novices' Hurdle.

Friday, Day 4

Triumph Hurdle

CC: The first two, Ivanovich Gorbatov and Zubayr, are beatable. Zubayr may get a shock in the hurly burly of a Triumph. Really like Sceau Royal for this, and feel that Clan Des Obeaux will make a lovely chaser.

MC: Sceau Royal has been strong

LH: IG is a "terrible favourite", like Sceau Royal. Footpad's is the best form in Ireland. At bigger prices, Clan Des Obeaux 16/1 and Protek Des Flos 20/1 NRNB (trainer says won't run, but has very strong Cheltenham form from the Finesse Hurdle)

PS: For a change, the UK horses look better than the Irish in this race. Connetable could be the one, already rated 150, which is decent. Sam Twiston-Davies rides, 12/1 NRNB

Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle

PS: Barters Hill not classy enough

LH: Like Shantou Village to win, on the Yanworth form; Gangster is interesting and perhaps the pick of the Irish; Unowhatimeanharry also interesting and runs here in favour of a handicap, LH believes.

MC: Mulholland very hopeful about Shantou Village; feels Barters Hill is beatable

CC: Barters Hill another who seems an unhappy horse - getting more difficult to cajole race to race, and had some hard races.

Gold Cup

PS: Probably too classy to win (reservation about guts for the job). Really likes Djakadam - feels he's a bit careless "because it's all so easy for him" rather than a bad jumper. "Sure he will be in the first three". Last year's Coneygree would win this year's race on that form. This season, Cue Card and Vautour both ran to 176 in the King George, but Don Cossack is a potential 180 horse (fell two out in King George). "I feel he's a great horse waiting to happen"

LH/CC: [agreed] If Vautour goes for Gold Cup, and Ruby rides, he will be a very short price. Back now if you like his chance (NRNB)

CC: I feel Don Cossack "is not a happy horse. He runs like he has a bit of a physical problem".


Festival BANKERS

MC: Thistlecrack

CC: Yanworth

LH: Smart Talk

PS: Thistlecrack


Other Snippets

PS: "Bleu Et Rouge should win on next start - he's very very good" / "Different Gravey should also win on next start - he's up 13lb for that last day win"

In relation to TK's post about the Irish handicap horse weights, I asked Phil Smith what the BHA rationale was for the higher average differential this year. His reply was circuitous to say the least - taking in most of world handicapping - but did eventually return to Ireland, his great respect for Noel O'Brien (undoubtedly true, I'm sure), and the fine record of Irish raiding teams in recent years vindicating the slightly elevated marks they have collectively been apportioned.

I should add that his thought processes were sound and reasonable in my opinion! [Irish horses don't have a divine right to win Cheltenham Festival handicaps, and we can only really judge the merit of BHA handicapping decisions with hindsight]

Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews

A dozen more in-depth big race Cheltenham previews, trends and tips can be found here:

Cheltenham Festival 2016 Race Guide

Neptune Novices’ Hurdle Preview, Tips, Trends

2016 Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle Preview

The Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle, or Neptune for short, is the opening race on Day Two of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival. Its roll of honour is illustrious and includes future Champion Hurdlers such as Istabraq, Hardy Eustace and Faugheen, as well as other luminaries of the turf like Sabin Du Loir, Danoli, Brown Lad and multiple Festival winner, Willie Wumpkins.

Indeed scanning the full list of past winners reveals that there is rarely a moderate animal claiming the spoils in a race that often takes more winning than the Supreme. That the shorter novice heat is the opening salvo of the Festival ensures it always has a greater focus than might be deserved, but this event can pay to follow the form: backing every horse in every subsequent run from the last four Neptunes would have returned 56.76 points of profit.

Moreover, three of the four Neptunes have been profitable to follow, and even The New One's 2013 race has only leaked 2.35 points since. Yes, make no mistake, the Neptune is usually a deep and high class heat.

Neptune Novices' Hurdle Trends

To the historical patterns, based on 18 renewals since 1997 - 2001 excepted (no race, foot and mouth) - and with thanks to for much of the data.

We start with the bleedin' obvious: last time out winners have a good record. They actually have a better record than their numerical representation would expect - 13 winners (72%), 34 placed (53%) from bang on half the runners.

Sadly, as a group, they've been cripplingly unprofitable to follow blindly, mainly due to the top of the market holding a near monopoly on the Neptune in recent times.

On the negative side, those outside the first three last time managed no wins since at least 1997 and just three places (one of which was by a horse that unseated its rider last time).

The age of Neptune entries is of mild interest. While none of the 13 four-year-olds to have a cut at this made the frame, and five-year-olds performed in line with their numerical representation, the six'ers did well: eleven winners (61% of the available wins in the sample period) and 30 places (56%) from 44% of the runners.

Where there are winners there must inevitably be losers, and in this case if you like a horse aged seven or above, history is against you. The last horse older than six to win the Neptune was French Holly in 1998, and the only other one was eight-year-old Brown Lad in 1974.

Good luck then if you like any of Vigil, Up For Review and Open Eagle - all 7yo's and, in fairness, all 33/1 shots currently.

15 of the 18 winners since 1997 were priced in single figures, and only 20/1 'mild shock' Massini's Maguire won at bigger than 12/1 during that time. We're not really looking for a huge outsider to suddenly step forward.

Moreover, of the eleven horses priced 9/4 or shorter, six won - for a small profit overall - and all eleven were placed.

Days since a run has no meaningful impact on performance, though it remains an almost universal negative in the Grade 1's to have raced as recently as the previous fortnight. Just two places from 25 runners in this sample, which is half what would have been expected on population (very small sample size, however).

42% of Neptune runners since 1997 had failed to win over at least two and a half miles. Between them, they claimed just four wins (22%) and 14 places (26%). One of those wins was by a horse who had won over a trip 100 yards shy of 2m4f.

Those to have won over at least two and a half miles, then, won 78% of the Neptunes since 1997 from 58% of the runners, and hoovered up 74% of the places. Proven stamina seems a pre-requisite.

A trendy type might have won last time, and be aged six, fancied in the market with proven stamina. Yanworth anyone? Hardly earth-shattering stuff, I concede, but don't shoot the messenger!

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Neptune Novices' Hurdle Preview

One horse holds its field in a half nelson with a week to go until tapes up: that lad is Yanworth, unbeaten in four this season and a runaway victor at Cheltenham when last seen. As a bumper horse, Alan King's son of Norse Dancer was good enough to run a close fourth in the Champion Bumper at last year's Festival. Checked on the home turn there, he stayed on best of all.

Kept to around two miles in his first three races this season, Yanworth oozed class in cosy wins over some fair opposition, most notably Charbel in a Grade 2 at Ascot. But it was when stepped up to the Neptune trip last time that he stamped his authority on the middle distance novice hurdle division.

A seven length verdict over the previously unbeaten Shantou Village with another almost unbeaten horse - Champers On Ice - ten lengths further back in third is outstanding form. If one can crab it, it could be argued that the heavy ground may have accentuated the margins and also could have been more to Yanworth's strengths than his rivals.

Perfectly true, of course, but he has plenty of top of the ground form to support this exciting visual impression, particularly that Champion Bumper run. His best NH Flat run and his best novice hurdle run have both come at Cheltenham and, with his versatility with regards riding tactics, it is very hard to see past him here, in a race where the cream has generally risen to the top.

If Yanworth is to taste defeat for the first time over timber, it will most likely be at the hooves of an Irish raider (given how far clear of his British rivals he's been). A Toi Phil, something of a 'now' horse for the Mullins juggernaut, could be the one. After an ignominious exit on his Irish debut just before Christmas, he was sent off at the juicy (hinidsight) price of 7/2 just after Christmas in a similar maiden hurdle event.

Value for more than the two lengths by which he beat Don't Touch It - two more back to Vigil in third, both winners since - he then bolted up in a Grade 2 at Leopardstown in late January from a horse called Acapella Bourgeois. That one franked the form in style by doing likewise in another Grade 2, at Thurles, under very similar conditions.

The question mark with A Toi Phil, apart from whether he's good enough, is whether he'll act on presumed quicker ground. Wins so far have been on soft and heavy, but his ol' man, Day Flight, has had winners on fast turf in a fairly truncated stallion career to date. Wullie's lad is open to stacks of improvement - more than most - and if he acts on the track and in the ground (rounded action offers plenty of hope) he looks a big player.

The Mullins stable has a phalanx of others entered here - twenty of the remaining 56 at time of writing are housed in Closutton - and attempting to form a Neptune hierarchy is complicated by owners and other race options. It looks like Yorkhill will go for the Supreme, and Bleu Et Rouge, in the same ownership as Yanworth, is presumed for the Albert Bartlett.

Bellshill looked wrong when labouring home behind Bleu Et Rouge in the Grade 1 Deloitte, but he'd previously bagged a top level prize over two and a half miles. He's 10/1 in a few places, which is not terrible value given he's likely to run here if anywhere at the Festival, but I'd want a little more meat on the bone after the Leopardstown capitulation.

Long Dog may also run here, and Willie might have to ride it himself such is the depth of cavalry he's loading up! A tough one to peg, he looked to be gobbling up some penalty kicks last summer, but has gone on to record back-to-back Grade 1's in the Royal Bond and Future Champions Novice Hurdles. That's not middling form, though the extended absence is a mild concern even after what was a hard campaign in 2015.

Ultimately, it has generally been the case that those at the top of the Wullie crop of entries have prevailed, in the Grade 1's at least. In fact I think it's the case that, excluding three runnings of the Champion Bumper (Briar Hill, Champagne Fever and Cousin Vinny) and Annie Power's last flight fall when set to win last year, the last Graded non-handicap that was not won by the stable first string was 25/1 Rule Supreme in the 2004 RSA Chase, a race in which the Wullie first choice was a 20/1 shot!!

In plain English, the best ranked of the Mullins horses in the market almost always wins when it's not a handicap or a flat race. That is a shortcut to defer delving deeper into the (relative) dregs of Team Closutton, and to hasten moving on.

O O Seven is a horse I've mentioned in passing in my Supreme preview. Nicky Henderson's six-year-old Flemensfirth gelding has allowed just one horse past in four hurdle starts. That one was Yorkhill, who I like a lot for the Supreme (given the game away there, no need to click that link now!). Yorkhill was only a couple of lengths the better of the Hendo hoss, with eight back to subsequent comfortable Betfair Hurdle winner, Agrapart.

At 25/1 NRNB, O O Seven could reward each way support, even though he has a lot to find with Yanworth on a literal view of the Champion Bumper form - like the jolly, he's come on in bounds since then.

Neptune Novices' Hurdle Tips

This may very well be the open and shut case it looks. Yanworth was a promising novice before a last day annihilation of a select field propelled him to the front of the market. He was actually available at 7/2 in the immediate aftermath of the race - well done if you got any of that - and now trades at a top price of 5/4.

That is at least fair, but as with all of the novice events, where form lines converge and most step forward on what they've displayed publicly previously, it is not banker territory (as if such a thing exists, Douvan aside, at the Festival).

Paddy has a 'without Yanworth' market in which A Toi Phil is 7/2 behind possible/probable non-runner, Yorkhill. I'm definitely interested in that, more so than the 8/1 each way. And O O Seven might be worth a very small dabble each way at 25/1 in a race that could cut up markedly between now and post time.

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

0.25 pts e/w O O Seven 25/1 NRNB 1/4 1-2-3 888sport, racebets, Betfair sports


Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews

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

Cheltenham Festival 2016 Race Guide

Foxhunters’ Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

2016 Foxhunters' Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

The Amateurs' Gold Cup, as it is known, is run directly after the Blue Riband, and this year looks set to have added focus with the announcement on Monday that Olympic cycling gold medallist, Victoria Pendleton, will ride just a year after first climbing into this type of saddle.

Purists wail that Pendleton's presence detracts from the Festival, but horsemen (and women) insist she's good enough to take her place in a race where, let's face it, there are generally one or two whose enthusiasm outstrips their ability by some margin.

Foxhunters' Chase Trends


Some really interesting data here with much of it pleasingly counter-intuitive, in terms of the market at least. Let's start with age in a race where 37% of runners since 1997 have been 11+.

All bar two have failed that 11+ age examination, which is to say just 11% of winners came from that 37% of runners. 28% of the placed horses were aged 11+, twelve of the fifteen being aged exactly 11 (from 45 in that age group).

At the other end of the age spectrum, six- and seven-year-olds have a striking record from a handful of runners. Five winners (28%) from just 38 runners (9%) is a remarkable effort. This year, It Came To Pass is a fascinating six-year-old representing form from what has recently been the best trial for the Foxhunters' - more on that shortly.

The in-betweeners - aged eight to ten - have claimed 61% of the win (and 61% of the place) positions, from 53% of the runners.

The Irish

It is a well known issue in National Hunt racing that the British point-to-point scene is in decline right now, and that has been reflected in this race in recent seasons. Irish-trained horses have won the last five Foxhunters' Chases, and claimed another four places (60%), from just 27 runners (23%).


Of the 16 winners to have previously raced under Rules since 1997, all had won over at least three miles, albeit that 83% of runners historically qualified.

In what can be an extreme test of stamina with the pace often searching and the distance longer than most hunter chases, it makes sense that those to have won over further would perform well. To wit, the 14% of runners that previously raced under Rules and won at three and a half miles or beyond have claimed 31% of the wins and 23% of the places: marathon wins are worth marking up.

Ex-Handicapper vs Pure Pointer?

With thanks to Matt Tombs (@thespieler) for pointing out that 24 of the last 27 Foxhunters' Chase winners started their careers in point-to-points or hunter chases.


From a trends angle, then, we might be looking for a young Irish-trained horse that started racing in the fields and has proven stamina. It Came To Pass looks a very interesting candidate.


Foxhunters' Chase Form Preview

The market for this race is interesting, very interesting. It has a default favourite in On The Fringe, wide margin Foxhunters' Chase champion last season, and it's then 7/1 bar.

It is reasonable to expect justification of a statement calling On The Fringe, the 'triple crown' (Cheltenham, Aintree, Punchestown) Champion Hunter, a default favourite. Here, then, is my rationale: OTF has run just once since his Punchy win on 1st May last year, and that was a moderate 24 length tonking in the Leopardstown Inn Hunters' Chase, a key trial for this race.

Last season, he was less than a length second in that race, having already run second in the St Stephen's Day Hunter Chase at Down Royal. In an eighteen race Rules career, he had not previously finished out of the first four when completing (one fall).

Moreover, he's eleven now, and we've already read about the uphill struggle such 'experienced' horses have in winning the Foxhunters' at Cheltenham.

It is reasonable to presume that his tardy seasonal bow was down to some sort of issue and, on balance, these elements are enough to overlook a horse trading no bigger than 11/4 in what will be a field of two dozen or so. Of course, he can be expected to improve markedly on that Leopardstown outing, and his form in the race reads 431. I just don't like the price.

The rising star of the Irish point ranks this season has been Marito, formerly rated as high as 153 when trained by Willie Mullins. Colin McBratney, his new trainer, trained Carsonstown Boy to run 2nd and 4th in the last two editions of the Foxhunters' Chase so he has a good handle on what is needed.

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Since switching yards and heading between the flags, Marito has won three of his four point and hunter chases, the winning sequence coming to an end when beaten by Aupcharlie in an Open Point four weeks ago.

Reservations about Marito are numerous. He's out of a mare whose sire was a dirt sprinter. He started over middle distances on the flat. He's regressed rather than progressed to the hunter chase scene. And he has stamina to prove in quite a big way. Oh, and his hold up style may not be suited to a race of such hurly burly potential.

Aupcharlie, who lowered Marito's colours at Oldtown that last day, was also a decent chaser and was also rated as high as 153 in his pomp. Similar comments thus apply about regressing to this world, and about stamina reservations (though not as much as Marito). He may want some cut in the ground to show his best, too, but a third in the Champion Bumper of 2011 further attests to his former class.

Paint The Clouds is the same price as Aupcharlie, 8/1. I fancied him quite strongly last year when he was undone by soft ground, eventually running a gallant race in third. He's a year older now, eleven, and he didn't really have many excuses when outstayed by Moroman in Stratford's Champion Hunter Chase in May.

In his prep for this he won the same Doncaster hunter chase that he won last year, though by a smaller margin against a less talented rival. If it was genuine fast ground on the day, I'd be prepared to roll the dice with him but, given that dependency and his age, 8/1 doesn't float my boat.

Philip Hobbs is Mendip Express's fourth west country trainer, and this lad actually raised £75,000 at the sales last May having run second in the Becher Chase in December 2014. Connections have him entered in the Grand National, a gig that appears to have been the driver behind stumping up a huge chunk of change for a veteran aged ten.

Still, he doesn't have many miles on the clock - just a dozen Rules starts - and has an impressive 50% win strike rate. Winner of a course and distance handicap chase on good to soft, we at least know he stays and can handle the track. And, importantly, his form appears to be at least as good now as it was when he won that race two years ago. He's a thorough stayer and has a good chance, reflected in a top price of 8/1 with the NRNB bookies (10/1 in a place if you don't mind risking his absence).

It Came To Pass is 14/1, presumably on account of his inexperience. The Cheltenham Foxhunters' will be only his fifth start, and only the ill-fated You Must Know Me has been good enough to beat him in three completions (pulled up on point-to-point debut), in the aforementioned Leopardstown kingmaker trial. It Came To Pass had better than four lengths daylight on dual Foxhunters' winner, Salsify, there with On The Fringe eased off over twenty lengths back.

This son of Brian Boru is only six, but similar youth didn't stop Robert and Sue Alner's Kingscliff winning in 2003 and it might not stop this fellow either. Victory for It Came To Pass would be yet another noteworthy chapter in the curious tale of Jim Culloty's training career.

Winner of three Gold Cup's as the jockey of Best Mate in the early 2000's, Culloty has recorded annual winners since he started training in 2006 of 1,3,1,3,2,7,9,7,3,2 and zero so far in 2016. And yet, amidst those numbers, he can boast THREE Cheltenham Festival winners, including a Gold Cup!

All three - Lord Windermere twice and Spring Heeled - were owned by Dr Ronan Lambe, as is It Came To Pass, and the potentially heart-warming tale doesn't stop there. Culloty actually bought this horse as a yearling for €12,000 (about nine grand sterling)!

That seems incredibly cheap given he's out of the same mare as Lord Windermere and is a full brother to the high class novice chaser, Sub Lieutenant (that one costing €58,000 at the same age).

He jumps brilliantly, stays very well, and has any amount of improvement in him. He does have to prove he acts on quicker turf, but both his family tree and his action offer hope on that score. 14/1 NRNB 1/4 123 looks attractive each way.

Mr Mercurial has come the point/hunter chase route, and is trained by Sheila Crow, famous for winning the Foxhunters' with Cappa Bleu in 2009. This son of Westerner looks to have plenty to find on bare form, but connections are respected and his win over further in a big field Cheltenham hunter chase last April on good to soft says conditions will be fine.

At 16/1 he has his chance and it's not a bad one at that.

If It Came To Pass would be a story, Pacha Du Polder would be the story. The nine-year-old will be ridden by Victoria Pendleton, an eleven time World and Olympic gold medal winner, converted from two wheels to four legs and a heartbeat just a year ago.

It is an incredible story, and one that has understandably reached way beyond racing's somewhat incestuous fraternity into the general consciousness. That is no mean feat of PR, regardless of what individuals within the sport may say (me included on occasion, I am honourbound to add).

In terms of her chance in this race, that has to be taken in two parts, horse and jockey. Pendleton's mount was second in the Aintree Foxhunters' and third in the Stratford Champion Hunter - flat tracks both - but he's never been especially at home around Cheltenham. Moreover, he may not quite stay this far, plugging on in both of those placed efforts.

As a jockey, Pendo almost certainly won't be the worst in the field, but nor is she comparable to the likes of Nina Carberry, Derek O'Connor or Jamie Codd. That is not meant as a slight. Rather it is cold punting fact. Those guys and girls have been doing it for way longer and have way more experience. I want experience on my side in this race, from the jockey more so than the horse.

Good luck to Victoria - I hope she gets round, it will likely be the thrill of her life - but she's not a bet for me. She may yet have her day on him at Aintree. How amazing would that be for the sport, with the eyes of the world on the Grand National too?

We're in the land of the 25/1+ pokes now, and there may still be a couple worth a second glance. Current Event had a crack at this last year and didn't run too badly. He was another for whom the soft ground probably counted as a negative.

Here's the interesting thing, though. He was sent off an 8/1 shot there and yet, despite showing improved form since, is now available at 33/1 NRNB in a place. He's 14/1 elsewhere and the fatter end of that odds spectrum is worth a nibble, each way.

Finally, Impact Area, a 25/1 shot, is lightly raced, had been winning Open points at Larkhill before just getting chinned by Mendip Express at Fontwell last time. On a literal reading of that form, he shouldn't be three times the price.


Foxhunters' Chase Tips

Luck is always a key component in this race, and it often pays to side with a well ridden proven stayer placed handily. While On The Fringe is expected to improve on a moderate seasonal bow in his title defence, he's seriously opposable at shy of 3/1.

Marito, too, makes little appeal and the pick of the top of the market might be Mendip Express. But I think I'll take a couple of flyers a bit further down: I want to be with It Came To Pass, the youngest in the field by two years but clearly talented and capable of plenty more than he's shown so far. 14/1 each way is spot on.

And I am prepared to have a tiny bite of Current Event, bidding to follow up a midfield effort last term when well fancied. If the turf is quick, he'll have a far better chance than 33/1.

0.5 pt e/w It Came To Pass 14/1 totesport, Betfred NRNB 1/4 1-2-3

0.25 pt e/w Current Event 33/1 Coral NRNB 1/5 1-2-3


Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews

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

Cheltenham Festival 2016 Race Guide


Supreme Novices’ Hurdle Preview & Tips

2016 Supreme Novices' Hurdle Preview, Trends & Tips

As the tapes rise for the opening race, the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, it will be as a pin prick to a balloon of anticipation that has been relentlessly inflating for 362 days.

But will it also signal the bursting of the Min bubble, or shall we witness the further elevation of another's upward trajectory? Enough with the hot air, let's take a look at the Supreme trends...

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Trends

As ever, we'll use that fine resource at and focus on the 18 renewals since 1997 (reminder, no race in 2001, due to foot and mouth).

Back in 1998, 30 runners contested the Supreme. Four years later, 28 lined up. The field size has been smaller comparatively in recent times, but the average of the last five years is still just north of 15 starters. In spite of that, class tends to win out: the winner has emerged from the top three in the market in four of those five years.

The record of last time out winners is exceptional, for all that their claims are often obvious. 16 of the 18 winners (89%) also prevailed in their prep, from just 41% of the runners. Last day scorers also accounted for 70% of the places. That they were profitable to back blindly owes everything to the 40/1 triumph of Ebaziyan in 2007 for a bloke called Willie Mullins.

The other two Supreme winners finished second (Menorah, 2010) and third (Arcalis, 2005) on their prior starts. Keep it simple seems to be the message here: whilst it likely won't be profitable on its own, filtering out last time non-winners is a good way to whittle a packing field. Exactly half of the 46 horses still engaged won last time out.

A horse's age has had virtually no bearing on its Supreme prospects, with each of four-, five-, six-, seven- and eight-year-olds performing broadly in line with numerical expectation. Five- and six-year-olds may have won 15 of the 18 renewals since 1997 (83%) but they were responsible for 82% of the runners! Beware those telling you these age groups have a great record.

Those rested between two weeks and two months since their last race also have a good record in terms of winners, but in relation to the number of runners they too perform largely as expected. Days since a run seems to be immaterial, with the exception of those to have raced in the previous fortnight. That group is 0 from 33 (no places either) since 1997.

Irish-trained horses have won eleven of the last 18 Supreme Novices' Hurdles (61%) from just a third of the runners (32%). They've also bagged 41% of the places.

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Form Preview

There are often two established form hierarchies - the British and the Irish - coming into this race, and that is the case again in 2016. The Irish have had the best of it in recent times, and they will be confident of adding to that strong record, courtesy of a chap called Min.

Before even looking at his form, we need to consider his connections. The mildly nauseating silks colour combo of pastel pink with lime green spots has been worn to victory in this race for the last three years - Champagne Fever, Vautour, Douvan - so owner Susannah Ricci, and more specifically her bloodstock advisor, know what they're looking for.

Willie Mullins trained all three of course, and brings Min in a quest for what would be an historic four-timer. Not since Vincent O'Brien bagged an astonishing nine Supremes in six years between 1954 and 1959 - back when there were two divisions of the race - has a handler been so dominant. So Team Min know better than everyone what it takes to make this happen.

What of Min's form? Two runs in France, neither in the first two home, are a touch misleading; but the overall context of his race record is insufficient to legitimize his cramped odds. A 14 length drubbing of Gurteen (two low grade wins since) was followed by a Grade 2 score over Attribution and Ball d'Arc. Whilst the former failed to fire on his next start, Ball d'Arc has won both his races since, including in Grade 2 company last time.

Min has also raced a little inefficiently - with the choke out, as the cliché goes - to date so, while the pace in the Supreme might aid that tendency, if it doesn't he'll need to be very smart to get home in front.

His bare form is probably some way behind the pick of the entries, but that man Wullie has a whole raft of two mile novices and he believes Min to sit atop the pile. If that can be taken at face value, then Min's merit can be raised by association. What I'm trying to say is that it is nigh on impossible to peg his true talent based on racecourse evidence.

It almost always requires a horse to step forward on what it has previously shown to win the Supreme - and indeed any Festival novice event - so the question is around how much more there is in the Min tank. Those closest to Closutton have been barking about this lad since the start. They're not often wrong.

On the other side of that little slip of water separating Dublin and Holyhead, the top local dog is undoubtedly Altior. Hendo's head honcho is unbeaten in four hurdle starts, the pick of which might have been his last day demolition of Open Eagle in a Class 2 novice at Kempton. What was taking that day was the way he responded when looking like he might be beaten. A kick in the belly from Nico de Boinville and away Altior scooted for a clearcut 13 length verdict, seven more back to the third.

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Open Eagle ran a good second in a Grade 2 next time, with the third placed horse, Marracudja, doing likewise, also in Grade 2 company. That form has a robust look to it, but the Cheltenham G2 Altior won is perhaps a cause for concern. On the upside, he won the race having been hampered by a loose horse.

However, the verdict was narrow over an ex-flat racer, Maputo, who sadly didn't race again. The third horse, Simon Squirrel, has done little since too. Perhaps it was the proximity of the Cheltenham race to his previous pair - three races in 35 days is a lot - and in his defence, he has a very good response when challenged. I'm just not sure I want to be involved at 9/2.

If Wullie and Hendo look to have a tight grip on the Supreme's destiny with the first two in the market, then that stranglehold becomes suffocating with news that the next pair in the betting are also housed one apiece between the two.

Wullie's second runner is Yorkhill, unbeaten in four Rules starts - two bumpers and two novice hurdles - culminating in a Grade 1 victory in the Tolworth. That was on heavy ground but this son of Presenting is arguably bred to go better on a sounder surface. Even if he's only as good on, erm, good, that Tolworth run looks the best piece of form to my eye (others disagree) and it has been franked twice since.

Runner up O O Seven stepped up markedly in trip to win a Class 2 over three miles on his next start, and third placed Agrapart also won next time, bolting up in the Grade 3 Betfair Hurdle, normally a highly competitive handicap. That was O O Seven's only defeat in four hurdle runs, and Agrapart's only defeat in his last three.

Yorkhill's bumper form is working out well too, his win at the Punchestown Festival having been franked by the third horse winning a Grade 2. Yup, it's easy to like this fellow. I'm not entirely sure how much he finds off the bridle - or maybe he's just idling a bit in front - but he looks a player.

Buveur d'Air has done less, but done it well. Second and fourth placed bumper finishes behind the stout stayer, Barters Hill, implied promise; and those portents were manifested in a brace of novice hurdle wins, at Newbury and Huntingdon. However, the form is a little hard to quantify. Second placed Wait For Me has won twice since, in egg and spoon races and at long odds on; the third, Big Chief Benny, was beaten the same distance by Charmix next time, that one having previously been beaten by Modus, a 33/1 shot for the Supreme.

The form of his most recent run - an extremely straightforward win - has been let down eight times out of eight subsequent starters. Of course, it is hard to fault the winner for cantering all over his field, but it does rather check the ocular impression. He's too short for my tastes at 7/1 despite obvious upside potential: after all, he's far from the only one in the Supreme with that in their corner.

While Tombstone might be a better horse on better ground, I can't entertain a last day loser - still less a last two days loser - so he's readily struck out. Cue egg on face?

Supasundae is more interesting. Henry de Bromhead is just a fantastic trainer, and he has all sorts of live ones at the Festival this year. This fellow was good enough to beat Yanworth in a bumper and ran a seven length sixth in the Champion Bumper at last year's Festival, that race normally offering solid pointers to this one.

The problem with Supasundae is his jumping. Sloppy at best on his hurdling bow, it was a bit sticky early at Leopardstown last time too. Still, he warmed to that task sufficiently to put 13 lengths between himself and the 2014 Champion Bumper winner, Silver Concorde (re-opposes).

Both he and Dermot Weld's runner should improve for better ground. The Concorde was more of a 1920's biplane in the mud that last day and he's better than that, potentially a lot better. A flat rating of 97 was earned via a win in the November Handicap on good to yielding, and easily his best of three hurdle runs was when fourth to Nichols Canyon in last year's Grade 1 Deloitte Novices' Hurdle on yielding. If it comes up good, he has place claims.

This year's Deloitte winner was Bleu Et Rouge, who beat Tombstone there. Bleu Et Rouge, who perversely runs in the vert et or of JP McManus, shaped like a stayer over that two and a quarter miles on heavy ground, and his trainer is talking about more demanding distances as a Cheltenham target. McManus also has Winter Escape as a possible for this, that one being unbeaten in three including a Grade 2 verdict last time in the Dovecote; and Modus, who looks an attempted plot for the County Hurdle.

The Pipe camp are making bullish noises about last year's Champion Bumper winner, Moon Racer, but it is hard to fancy a horse yet to top timber in public and who was last seen on the track 370 days ago. Whilst the Wellington boys can get one ready after a break, this isn't your average race: it would be a truly stunning training performance.

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Tips

A very difficult race to call being as it is a confluence of Anglo-Irish form lines, many of them uncharted against each other. Moreover, improvement has to be factored into most of the runners' hitherto demonstrated ability, though not an equal amount. In such circumstances, I am happy to look to the horse with the most in the book, still more so when that one can be expected to step forward again.

For me, that horse is Yorkhill, whose verdict over O O Seven in the Tolworth, Agrapart further back, reads very well. He's bred to be better on a firmer lawn and has a very high cruising speed. With Paul Townend likely to ride (I presume), and that another positive in my book, everything looks set for a big run.

There remains a concern that Min is different gear, but he's no price to be finding out at sub-2/1. The likable Altior ran his least visually impressive race at Cheltenham, albeit in Grade 2 company and when possibly feeling the effects of a hard micro-campaign, and he too is short enough despite having form claims.

The likes of Supasundae and, on top of the ground, Silver Concorde could challenge for places, but Yorkhill looks a robust alternative to the very top of the market.

2 pts e/w Yorkhill 6/1 Skybet, bet365 NRNB BOG 1/4 123 (7/1 available without NRNB, BOG and at 1/5 123)

NB Skybet are offering a free bet to the same stake (max stake £25) if your selection fails to win the Supreme. If you don't have a Skybet account, click the banner below to get started.



Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews

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

Cheltenham Festival 2016 Race Guide

Mares’ Hurdle Preview, Tips

Mares' Hurdle: Can anything beat Vroum Vroum Mag?q

Mares' Hurdle: Can anything beat Vroum Vroum Mag?

Cheltenham Festival: Mares' Hurdle 2016 Preview and Tips

One of the newer races at the Cheltenham Festival, the Mares' Hurdle has already provided more than its fair share of thrills and spills. From the six-time winning Quevega to last season's final flight drama of Annie Power crashing out, to be usurped as the winner by stable mate Glens Melody, this has been Willie Mullins' race for the last seven seasons.

And, this year, even if Annie Power is re-routed to the Champion Hurdle as expected, Mullins has a super-sub in the shape of Vroum Vroum Mag, unbeaten in eight in Britain and Ireland.

With the same mare winning six of the eight renewals, there is little point in looking at trends, so instead we'll plough straight into the form book.

Mares' Hurdle Form Preview

If Annie Power does indeed sidestep the race she, erm, foxtrotted last year, then this season's Mares' Hurdle will look a sub-standard affair, even for a heat still searching for a depth to match its star turns thus far.

Vroum Vroum Mag, hereafter VVM, has assumed the mantle of favourite in the wake of her yard mate's presumed absence. While that looks reasonable based on form, her price of just shy of even money at time of writing requires some substantiation.

As I wrote in my introduction, VVM has won all eight UK and Irish races so far, a sequence that takes in six chases and just two hurdle events. In her defence, the hurdles were on her most recent outings and demonstrated her versatility: the penultimate run was two miles on heavy ground; the final prep was over three miles on soft ground.

While some crabbed the manner of her victory there - by three and a half lengths from the exposed 138-rated Jennies Jewel - there are some points worth noting.

First, she was racing over three miles for the first time and it may be that her stamina was tested beyond its limits. Second, although the runner up was rated 138, there were six mares in the field rated 140+, and it seems unlikely that they all under-performed.

Thirdly, she seems to be as effective over hurdles as she is over fences, with her Irish rating in the latter discipline a loftier 155. And fourth, she has yet to be seriously tested at the business end of a race, so who knows how much more there is in the tank?

So far so good for the Mullins' Tuesday acca backers - they'll be in a dandy place if still live by the time she lines up - but what of the negatives?

All of VVM's runs since signing for Team Wullie have been on soft or heavy ground meaning she'll need to prove she's as competent on presumed quicker turf. Moreover, she is yet to race in Grade 1 company. And further, she is being asked to tackle a task for which she may not have been prepared until a few days ago.

Despite all of that, she's already rated about the best of these and has obvious residual upside; the two and a half mile trip might just be perfect; and it is possible that she will improve for a sounder surface (she won a bumper in France on good to firm; progeny of Voix Du Nord appear to do at least as well on good ground).

On balance, 11/10 is a fair reflection of her chance, and perhaps even offers a modicum of value. At the very least it gives those previously mentioned Wullie Acca Backers a fighting chance if all has gone to plan to this point.

Of course, all of the above - and indeed the below - is predicated on Annie Power going a different path. If she turns up here, she wins.

Last year's winner, Glens Melody, is now retired but the 2015 form is expected to be defended by Polly Peachum, who was beaten just a head that day. Nicky Henderson's eight year old mare loves the intermediate trip, can perform on all types of turf, and has Pattern form of 12 at Cheltenham.

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She comes here in good fettle after another head verdict went her way on heavy at Sandown early in the year and she's been freshened up nicely for this. If anything Polly should be marked up for getting the job done in the quag as her trainer affirms that she prefers faster conditions. The official handicapper has suggested she's five pounds below her best now but I'd expect her to run to close to her peak mark of 155 on better ground over two and a half miles at Cheltenham. If she does, she'll be very hard to keep out of the frame.

Harry Fry's talented mare, Bitofapuzzle, takes high rank in the betting, at around 14/1. I am happy to overlook her chance for three key reasons: 1. she returns to hurdles after an abortive chasing season, 2. she had a hard race (ultimate pulled up) at Wetherby last time, and 3. she might just want further and/or softer.

She was a close up third in this last term, but that was off a solid preparation, something even the most optimistic Fry fan wouldn't suggest has been the case this time around. Those Fry fans may yet have something to cheer, however, as we'll come to.

Aurore d'Estruval represents trainer Rebecca Curtis, having switched from John Quinn before this season. Since then she's run fourth to Camping Ground in the Relkeel Hurdle and ninth to VVM in that one's Grade 2 win last time.

That form is not good enough to get competitive here, so her shortness in the market commands closer scrutiny. Prior to her year off, she was a progressive mare and actually ran second in the Grade 1 Fighting Fifth Hurdle. That was over two miles, a distance at which the pick of her form has been recorded.

She will appreciate the drop back from three miles and she will perhaps enjoy the sounder sod, but she has plenty to do to justify her current odds in my opinion.

Of more interest is The Govaness, recently moved from Fergal O'Brien to Richard Newland. Now seven and in her third racing season, she has always been a mare of promise, as she demonstrated by winning twice in bumpers, the second one in a Listed affair at Cheltenham.

That was a 15 runner heat where she beat a mare called Lily Waugh, more of whom shortly. Since being asked to leave the ground, The Govaness has run consistently well at a Listed level, winning twice and running second to Polly Peachum. However, she has just found things tougher when upped in grade and that could be her undoing in this top class race despite admirable course form.

We are already into the realms of the 20/1 shots, and the recent money for Paul Nicholls' Tara Point suggests she's winning her battle for fitness. With just four runs on the board, the last one in December 2014, she has a lot to prove in that regard and also in the regard of heart for a battle such as this.

Her last official rating was 135, roughly twenty pounds shy of what's needed here, so even factoring in significant improvement it is hard to see her winning, regardless of the trainer sound bite that "if she gets there, she'll run well".

One that makes a dollop of appeal - appeal granted a hearing by quotes of 25/1 - is Desert Queen. Harry Fry's eight year old was a very late developer, not seeing the track until exactly a year ago. She won there, easily, making all over two and a half miles on good to soft, and that seems to be the key with her.

On ground with the word "good" in it, she is 1112, whereas on soft - the balance of her runs - she is PP7. With every chance of getting her ground, she might lead the mares a merry dance, her modus operandi being to go from the front.

She already has an official rating of 147, all of the steps to which she's achieved on top of the ground. And she wouldn't need to bound forward too far in optimal conditions to make the podium so, at the price, she's playable for small potatoes.

It would be remiss not to mention the gorgeous mare, Lily Waugh, trained by Anthony Honeyball, whose stable is sponsored by Lily was a very promising bumper mare, finishing - as I've mentioned - second to The Govaness at Cheltenham.

She seemed to lose her way a little after that, but this season won three before running up to a very smart novice called Smart Talk in a Grade 2 at Doncaster. That one is now rated 149 and Lily is 140 which, in truth, is unlikely to be good enough to win even a weak renewal of the Mares' Hurdle.

She has other entries, in the handicaps, but if running here I'll be cheering whilst clutching a small loyalty voucher before Lily heads off to the paddocks and her new career.

Mares' Hurdle Tips

This is a race with a strong favourite who looks to have a very solid chance. If you were backing something short earlier in the day, I wouldn't put you off including Vroum Vroum Mag in a double (or even, gulp, treble - perhaps with Min and Douvan, just for fun). But I'm not going to tip her here.

She's certainly the most likely winner but you probably didn't need to read the 1750 words in this preview to know that. No, the value of the preview is to find any potential lurkers; so, while Polly Peachum has strong place claims and will return more than is invested if snatching bronze or better, I'm going to roll the dice further down the lists.

Specifically, I'll chance a half point each way on Harry Fry's Desert Queen. She's less exposed than most of these and more highly rated too. Her worst runs have all been on soft ground - including an eased-down-when-beaten ride last time - so if, as expected, it is terra firmer for the opening day of the fixture, she won't need to improve too much from what she's achieved already to figure. And she's 25/1...

0.5 pts e/w Desert Queen 25/1 bet365, Skybet NRNB BOG (1/4 1-2-3)


Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews

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

Cheltenham Festival 2016 Race Guide

2016 Arkle Preview, Trends, Tips

Arkle Preview: Douvan to beat all?

Arkle Preview: Douvan to beat all?

2016 Arkle Challenge Trophy: Preview, Trends, Tips

The second race on the opening day of the Cheltenham Festival, the Arkle is a novice chase run over a helter-skelter two miles. It is usually a fiercely run event with speed, class and no little stamina required to see out victory. The roll of honour is of the highest class and the Arkle has been, perhaps unsurprisingly, the best pointer to future Champion Chase winners.

In this post, we'll review the trends, form of the leading contenders, and I'll offer a suggested bet - heck, let's call it a tip - in the race.

2016 Arkle Trends

A race for class horses, with all four runners returned at 5/4 or shorter since 2003 obliging. Douvan looks set to be a shorter price than any of them - Simonsig was 8/15 in 2013 - and will probably make it five out of five for the shorties.

Arkle Age Trends

Five-year-olds had a good record in the race between 1998 and 2006, winning four times. Their 0 from 10 record since masks the fact that a trio were placed and only two have even run since 2009. Pain Au Chocolat may represent them this time.

[Side note: 5yo's used to get a weight for age allowance, but that was scrapped in 2008. This coincides with the subsequent paucity of runners from that age group]

Six-year-olds can also claim four wins since 1997, including two in the last four years. That, however, is little more than they'd have been expected to achieve on numerical grounds, and there's little in the age data save that the youngest have over-performed overall.

Arkle Age Trends

Arkle Age Trends: Nothing much ado

Arkle Days Since Run Trends

As with most races at the Festival, a rest of between two weeks and three months is the norm, and brings in a majority of the runners. One point of possible note is the record of those absent between two and three months: this group has won five times since 1997 and added a further six places.

In context, that is 28% of the winners, and 21% of the places, from 13% of the runners. Garde La Victoire and Sizing John fit this profile at exciting prices.

Arkle Days Absent Trends

Arkle Days Absent Trends

Other Arkle Trends

All 18 winners since 1997 had won over at least a furlong further than this two mile trip. The ability to stay on such a demanding track is pivotal. Those not to meet this criterion are 0 from 51 since '97, and have just 7 places to their name. That is, from almost a quarter of all Arkle runners, no winners emerged and just 13% of the places.


2016 Arkle Preview

On the face of it, this race is all about one horse: Douvan. His trainer, Willie Mullins, has suggested he's the best he's ever trained, and that from a man who has won 159 Grade 1's in Britain and Ireland since 2003!

If the animal is anywhere near as good as his hype, then he's very good. Happily, we don't need to rely on the sound bite because the form book records its own compelling evidence of Douvan's superstar status.

Beaten just once - on debut - in a nine race career to date, he already has four Grade 1 successes on his palmares. That quartet comprises the Supreme Novices' Hurdle at last year's Festival, the equivalent at Punchestown six weeks later, and back to back novice chases in Ireland on his most recent starts.

Douvan was the best of these over hurdles and he is the best of these over fences. His front-running style could be seen as a potential issue but, bluntly, I very much doubt anything will be able to live with him on the speed for long; and any horse that does try to match early strides is likely to seriously compromise its own chance in so doing.

Douvan is 'bar a fall' material. Put another way, he wins or doesn't finish the race. I think, and hope, he wins.

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But odds of 4/11 NRNB (4/9 all in, run or not) won't excite many. So what to do? The uninformed and/or unadventurous will say, "just watch the race". And, in fairness, it ought to be some spectacle. But there is more than one way to skin a cat, and there is more than one way to win a bet.

If you like exactas, what might follow Douvan home? If you'd rather take a flier on the early markets - exactas being 'day of race' bets - then how about a little 'without' action? I'll write about 'without' betting another day, but suffice it to say it is a tremendous source of value in markets that otherwise looked drained of such punting nourishment.

You do need a view on a horse at the top of the betting. Actually, you need two. By definition if one is looking at this market one feels the jolly is solid but unexciting punting-wise. That perception of solidity will often also betray a feeling of weakness about the chance of another near the top of the list. (Alternatively, you may simply believe the book is spot on and that there's no edge at all. In my experience, this does happen, but it is rare).

So, Douvan wins bar a fall. But what finishes second (or third or fourth - you can bet each way in the without markets too)?

The clear Arkle second favourite is Vaniteux, Nicky Henderson's seven-year-old. Wins at Kempton and Doncaster either side of a second to Ar Mad read well enough... but not strikingly. In Grade 1 company over hurdles, Vaniteux was third in Vautour's Supreme, last in Faugheen's Champion Hurdle, and second last in Jezki's Aintree Hurdle.

In other words, he wasn't good enough to be a top class hurdler, with a rating in the mid-150's. Importantly, he looked exposed over hurdles, perhaps even a touch regressive; and the switch to fencing has come later than for many who rise to the top of the chasing tree.

The Kempton novice chase he won fell into his lap somewhat with two credible rivals falling, and he was then beaten when returning to the same track three weeks later. The gap between himself and Arzal truncated to just three lengths at Donny in a Grade 2, and that form shouldn't be good enough to get second in an Arkle. It shouldn't be good enough to legitimize quotes of 5/1, and 7/4 in the 'without Douvan' market either.

If I'm wrong on that, fair enough, but he looks a very beatable favourite in that latter book and, given it is 4/1 bar, there may be some fun to be had.

That 4/1 without price, and 14/1 all in (12/1 NRNB), is offered against the prospects of Sizing John. His form is good, pretty equal to that of Vaniteux on ratings, and yet he is around three times the price. An overall form string of 6412132112 reads well enough; but if we take out that lad Douvan, it reads 6411121111.

Put another way, only one horse besides Douvan has beaten Sizing John in his last eight starts. That was Shaneshill in last year's Supreme - the likes of L'Ami Serge behind - and Shaneshill looks to be headed for the JLT.

Sizing John hated the ground last time, according to his trainer, and will be better suited by quicker turf. His approach looks likely to be to sit close to Douvan and try to make a move mid-race to take that one on. Of course, if Douvan has already gone clear, he'll be bidding to pick up pieces and, as you'll have guessed, I like his place chance.

L'Ami Serge retains an entry here, and in the JLT, with the Arkle looking more probable. As short as 6/1 a fortnight ago, his odds doubled after a lacklustre defeat by the sadly subsequently ill-fated Violet Dancer in the Kingmaker Chase at Warwick. He was readily outpointed there, but earlier facile trumpings of Doctor Harper (probably not off that day) and Run Ructions Run (rated 135) hinted at a bold showing in the Cheltenham showpiece.

A Grade 1 winner over hurdles, if you can forgive the apathetic Warwick effort, he's a fair price. But he's not a generous price and, after such a poor turn, this eye is cast elsewhere in search of a wager.

Garde La Victoire is a very likable horse, and talented too. There is a strong rumour that the JLT is his Fez destination, so on that basis he's passed over here.

One that could be quite interesting is Gordon Elliott's The Game Changer. He holds other entries, too, but has the benefit of experience over all of his rivals. Shrewdly campaigned, he was invited to lose his maiden tag over fences in May of last year and has since racked up six chase wins in eight starts (running second the other twice).

He may not have had to improve much from the start of that sequence to the end, and the fact that he's not raced in a bigger field than seven, and in an average field size of 4.375, attests to the cheap nature of some of those plundered pots.

Each run in that chasing octet was on good ground or faster. This lad loves it rattling but if there's one day when it probably won't be that - due to either the weather or the watering policy - it is Arkle Tuesday. For that reason, as they say on Dragon's Den, I'm out.

The joy of a very short favourite is that we are now in the realms of the 33/1 shots. In fact there is but one such horse, Outlander, and he is said to be JLT-bound. 40/1 bar brings in Tell Us More, who would have won a couple of weeks ago but for unshipping at the second last. Prior to that he'd won an ordinary beginners' chase and had run third to Zabana at Leopardstown over Christmas.

He was a promising novice hurdler last season - sixth in the Supreme, when a touch outpaced - but the ground might be too fast for him again at Cheltenham.

One who could outrun his price of 50/1 - or 33/1 NRNB - is Arzal. He's run against Vaniteux twice this season, and been beaten five lengths and then three lengths. Vaniteux is 5/1, Arzal is 50/1.

Anything between soft and good should be fine for Harry Whittington's progressive fellow, and there was plenty to like about the way he conceded four pounds and stuck on when Hendo's Arkle second favourite went by him at Doncaster in a Grade 2 last time (Fox Norton and Shaneshill well beaten). Available at 33/1 (20/1 NRNB) in the 'without' market, which would reward each way support down to fourth place assuming Douvan is in the top three, that's not the worst option in the race by any manner of means.

2016 Arkle Tips

Douvan looks very likely to win the 2016 running of the Arkle Challenge Trophy, and at prohibitive odds to boot. But, even if you don't have a big wad of elevens to risk in search of 'easy' fours, there are bets to be struck.

Sizing John is one, and he might be worth playing at 4/1 with Boylesports (if you can get on) or at 7/2 non-runner no bet with bet365.

Elsewhere, Arzal is the sort I'm happy to have a couple of optimistic pounds on. If Arzal runs here, he may get involved in a battle for the lead and that might be a problem. More sensibly, though, his jockey might track the pace and attempt to pick up the pieces, a ploy which would surely thrill his syndicate owners. Rated just three pounds behind Vaniteux, he's worth a speculative each way at 33/1 in the 'without' market.

2 pts win Sizing John without Douvan 7/2 bet365 NRNB (4/1 Boyle)

0.25 pts e/w Arzal without Douvan 33/1 Betvictor 1/5 1-2-3 (20/1 bet365 NRNB 1/4 1-2-3)


Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews

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

Cheltenham Festival 2016 Race Guide

RSA Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

2016 RSA Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival's RSA Chase is the staying novice chase championship race. One of the best Gold Cup trials for the following year, the RSA Chase has sent winners onto glory in the main event three times in the last eight seasons (Denman, Bobs Worth, Lord Windermere).

Don Poli, last year's RSA champ, is vying for Gold Cup favouritism this time around, and in this post we'll look at who might assume that role next term as the reigning 2016 RSA Chase winner. We start, as is customary, with the trends.

RSA Chase Trends

Eighteen years of data to work from, going back as far as 1997 (excluding 2001, no meeting), and it is thanks to our friends at for some of the key information summarized here.

Field size has varied quite a lot in the last few years, with Denman beating 16 rivals in 2007 and Hussard Collonges prevailing in a field of 19 in 2002. At the other end of the spectrum, there were just eight runners last year when Don Poli took the prize and there have been nine starters five times since the turn of the millennium.

At time of writing, there are still 35 horses engaged, so we could be looking at one of the bigger fields. When the field has been 12 or bigger, the average winning odds have been 12.6/1, and that includes scorers at 6/5 and 9/4! That said, most have at least on alternative engagement so time will tell how many actually go to post.

The Irish have an excellent recent record in the RSA, winning in five of the last seven years. Those five winners came from just 29 runners (79 raced in total), so it may not be a surprise to see an Irish horse at the head of the market. What might come as a shock is that the next horse from that country in the betting is a double figure price.

All 18 winners finished in the first three last time, with ten winning and six more running second. However, the ten winners (56%) came from roughly half the runners, and that group collectively stepped onto the podium just better than half the time (54%) as well. In other words, they did no better than their representation implied.

Last day runners-up, however, over-performed. Perhaps because they were not quite at concert pitch on that last day, perhaps because they ran in a less gruelling race such as the Feltham/Kauto Star, this squad of 42 horses represented 19% of the runners but 33% of the winners/24% of the places. They were also profitable to back blind, to the tune of 46 points, mainly thanks to 25/1 Rule Supreme (trained by a then lesser known Willie Mullins) and 33/1 Hussard Collonges.

In terms of age, older horses - nine year old and up - have a lamentable record of no wins and a single place from, granted, a fairly small sample of 23 entries since 1997. Miinnehoma, subsequent Grand National winner, was the last 9yo winner in 1992.

Younger horses, notably those aged five to seven, have thus outscored their numbers. Specifically, from 71% of the runners, they've won all bar two of the 18 RSA Chases since 1997, and also snaffled 85% of the places.

Despite these somewhat 'obvious' angles in, winners have come from all parts of the betting market. Five favourites have won since '97, but so too have five horses priced 14/1 or bigger. This is a race that takes most entrants into uncharted territory with regards to class and stamina, and resolution too; and it is often the one that can reveal most improvement in that context who prevails.

Other points of interest include the need for a run in the calendar year (one one winner in half a century has been rested longer), and the fact that the Feltham winner has been beaten every time it has run in the RSA Chase (though this season's winner, Tea For Two, is not entered).

Ideally, then, a trends type might be looking for an Irish-trained horse that was first or second last time, is seven or younger, and has run this year. More experience is generally better, too, meaning that the likes of Roi Des Francs, Ballychorus, or most notably perhaps, No More Heroes, will be in such players' focus.

2016 RSA Chase Preview

This looks like a great race at which to take a flier now that some of the firms are going non runner no bet (NRNB). We'll get to that in due course, but must start with the clear favourite, No More Heroes. Gordon Elliott's seven-year-old son of Presenting probably has the pick of the form, starting with an unlucky-in-running third in the Albert Bartlett at the Festival last year.

He would have gone mightily close that day but for getting no run up the inside rail, and he looked a strong stayer at the trip. Whilst his chase form is limited to three starts, two of those have been wins in Grade 1 company and it is hard to envisage the beaten horses - such as Monksland and Rule The World - getting close to reversing form.

As well as that Festival third, he had an excuse when beaten in the Punchestown equivalent: he was surely still reeling from a hard race a few weeks before. Given a clear round, he looks a very solid and worthy favourite, although his price of 9/4 NRNB reflects that. Still, he'll take some beating.

The next few in the market are British, possibly reflecting No More Heroes' perceived dominance in Ireland. Pick of the home guard is More Of That, according to the betting, but recent noises from the McManus camp suggest this fellow may go to the JLT rather than here. In that context, NRNB is a must if you fancy his chance.

His chance is easy with which to sympathise if he does show up here. Wildly progressive as a hurdler, he went from winning a maiden event to scalping Annie Power in the 2014 World Hurdle in the space of just five runs. Things haven't gone completely to plan since, however, with just a trio of races spanning the intervening two years.

Two of those were novice chases, and both were wins, but both were in ungraded heats and both were late last year. As such, he has to show he retains all of his class and he has to show he is match fit. At a top price of 10/3 NRNB, I will let him beat me. He'll surely be at least that on the day, should he show up.

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Although there may be more substance to Blaklion's chase form - a ready defeat of Definitly Red reads well - his prominent racing style does rather make him a hostage to field size. All of his seven wins have come in races of eight or fewer runners, and he pulled up when competing against some of his likely RSA rivals having raced too close to an attritional gallop in the 'run for the spuds' (Albert Bartlett) last year. He's a likeable sort - plenty of these fit that bill - but unless the entry cuts up markedly I think his chance is compromised.

Another for whom a small field is a definite advantage is likely pace setter, Seeyouatmidnight. This fellow is a serious tool, and already has a verdict over Blaklion at Cheltenham on New Year's Day. Since then, he had a livener at Newcastle where he got it done at odds of 1/8. I like this chap, I really do; but his sort of heart-on-sleeve front rank galloping leaves him wide open late in the play.

Again, a record of six wins, the five of which since a novice hurdle victory against ten rivals have been achieved in fields of seven or less, tells a tale. That said, he seems to jump better out of soft ground, so if it was wet for the Festival, he could get into a nice rhythm and take some passing. 10/1 NRNB is not completely lacking in appeal.

Nicky Henderson has crept into this year's Festival almost unnoticed but he arguably has a better team than last year when he won two Festival races. Vyta Du Roc is a nearly horse, and one must keep that in mind when considering an investment in his RSA chance. He was the main danger to Windsor Park in the 2015 Neptune, only to make a calamitous blunder at the last. Remarkably, he was regathered and nursed home for a close fourth, beaten just five lengths.

Since then he ran closest to Thistlecrack over hurdles in a G1 at Aintree before embarking on his chasing career. Three starts over fences have yielded two wins either side of a close second where he may have been outpaced over a sub-optimal trip. He was a gallant winner of the Reynoldstown at Ascot last month, outstaying some fair horses and just hanging on from Minella Rocco, who looks destined for the NH Chase. That four miler hasn't been totally discounted as Vyta's Festival destination, but the RSA is favoured and I think he has a decent each way chance at 12/1 NRNB.

Black Hercules, like many in the list at the moment, has other options; and his trainer admits, "He's the one that I'm thinking most about. He's favourite for the four-miler, but I'm thinking of changing". It will be no surprise then that you can get 14/1 in a place but the best price NRNB is just 8/1. Hercules was really impressive when duffing up Definitly Red at Warwick - a sharp track - over three miles. That easy win suggested he has plenty of boot, as did a win over Sambremont over a shorter trip the time before. Both of those races were on heavy ground, however.

Of more concern is a Grade 1 record of 407 that suggests he might not quite be up to the very top level. His jumping is another niggle: he can clatter one, as he did when falling at the last under Ruby Walsh on his most recent outing. For all sorts of reasons, then, he's not for me. (Cue easy win)

Roi Des Francs is "going four-miler or RSA, depending on what Gigginstown want to do. Stamina is not an issue with him. He's good." That's a quote from Willie Mullins on, and it suggests strongly that NRNB is the only route in if you like this fellow. There is, in fact, a fair bit to like.

His chase record is 211, the most recent win coming in a three mile Grade 2 event. Just three runners went to post there but he beat his better fancied and Ruby-ridden stable mate, with the same six lengths to Sub Lieutenant he'd bested that one by on his previous start. He looks set to run a big race if he lines up, especially if the ground comes up soft, and 12/1 e/w NRNB is reasonable.

Pont Alexandre must be a way down the Willie Mullins pecking order, and he has to prove he retains the ability that saw him run third in The New One's 2013 Neptune. In fact, he'll probably need to be slightly better than that to win this, and I don't think he is.

It's quite hard to see Out Sam winning, even allowing for him being a good bit better than he's shown so far; while Outlander would have been interesting if his first preference wasn't for the JLT. Sadly, it is.

At fancy prices, Drumacoo hit the front early enough in the Reynoldstown and wasn't beaten far at the end of a contest when they were racing from a long way out. That was his first sight of Graded company and he acquitted himself well. He could outrun his odds without especially floating my boat, even at 'double carpet' (33/1).

(Slightly) more appealing is Southfield Royale. Neil Mulholland's six-year-old has entries in this and the NH Chase and, should he line up here, he has a compelling profile. We know young horses go well in the RSA; we know horses that were second last time out have a market-beating record; and we know that beaten horses in the Feltham can win this (think Bobs Worth).

Southfield Royale did look tapped for toe approaching the last there and, when Tea For Two went by him, he knuckled down to close the gap, albeit steadily. A more recent run than Boxing Day would have been preferable, but at 25/1 NRNB he might be worth the tilt. Again, his trainer is leaning towards the NH Chase (what's the matter with these trainers?!)

Down in the long grass lurks a horse with very good Cheltenham Festival form, and reasons to forgive an ostensibly below par effort last time. Zabana, trained by Andrew Lynch, was a neck second to Aux Ptits Soins in the Coral Cup last season, and has had just three runs since. The first of those was a good third in the Punchestown World Hurdle, a Grade 1 over three miles, where he was beaten 11 lengths by Jezki.

He's gone chasing since, winning a reasonable beginners' chase over an intermediate distance on heavy ground, before beating two of his five rivals home in the Grade 1 Flogas Novices' Chase. His trainer says he's a better horse on better gound and, importantly, the form book concurs. Expect that Flogas effort to have blown away the cobwebs so, whether he goes for the RSA Chase or the JLT, he's interesting. He's 33/1 for the longer race and 14/1 for the shorter, both NRNB, and both are worth an interest.

I have to mention my mate, Native River. He's headed for the four miler, almost certainly (sigh) and he's probably not good enough for this race anyway, but if he did line up here, he's not definitely not good enough. 33/1 NRNB is all right about a horse representing a trainer - Colin Tizzard - with an excellent Festival record. I'm hoping for my ante post investments a) that he runs here and b) that he simply got bogged down in the heavy ground last time. Hope is probably all I have left with those vouchers...

While we're fumbling in the dark, how about Ballychorus? This mare has three entries, one of which is the RSA Chase, and she's more interesting than many 66/1 shots. Rated only 141, she's won three of her four completed chase starts, but it is the two non-completions that draw the eye. Last fence falls in both the Troytown and Paddy Power Handicap Chases left her rating largely unchanged (cursory three pound penalty both times).

But the winner of the Troytown, who she might have beaten, went up seven; and the winner of the Paddy Power, who she might have beaten, went up twelve. She is versatile with regards to trip and ground, three miles on soft or good being within her compass, and she's a bit of a trendy sort too. A top price of 50/1 NRNB might tempt a throwaway dabble.

2016 RSA Chase Tips

There are a lot of horses still engaged in this race but most of them have at least one alternative engagement, and many have stated preferences elsewhere. The favourite, No More Heroes, looks sure to run here, and he looks sure to run well. Although 9/4 won't excite everyone, it looks a fair price relative to his chance, especially when the field is whittled back to those who are intended for the RSA Chase.

Despite myself, I'm drawn to the prospects of Vyta Du Roc, and 12/1 looks playable each way, non runner no bet. His trainer says he's flourished recently and, though I tend to ignore most of what his trainer says, that Reynoldstown win backs up Hendo's assertion.

Roi Des Francs and Southfield Royale are not without interest if turning up here - take NRNB and you'll get your dough back if/when they head elsewhere - and the same comment applies to Zabana who is the most compelling of the trio, to this eye at least.

Entering the realms of the hopelessly optimistic, perhaps, Ballychorus could go better than 50/1 if she can stand up.

1.5 pt win No More Heroes 9/4 NRNB BOG (Skybet)
0.75 pt e/w Vyta DuRoc 12/1 NRNB (Betfair Sports)
0.25 pt e/w Zabana 33/1 NRNB BOG (Skybet)
0.25 pt e/w Ballychorus 50/1 NRNB BOG (Skybet, 1/4 odds)


Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews

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

Cheltenham Festival 2016 Race Guide

2016 Ryanair World Hurdle Preview

2016 Ryanair World Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips

The staying hurdle crown at Cheltenham has a new sponsor this year, Ryanair stepping into the space vacated by a bookmaker failing to sign up to ABP. That detail out of the way, it promises to be an enthralling race, as always, with a young second season hurdler carrying all before him thus far this term.

Thistlecrack, trained in the south west by Colin Tizzard, has followed a proven path to the World Hurdle as we'll discover. First, though, some trendage...

Ryanair World Hurdle Trends 2016

Eighteen years of history to go at, courtesy of, encompassing all renewals since 1997 (2001 no race due to foot and mouth).

Last time out finishing position: Only one of the 64 horses to have finished out of the first four last time even managed to place here. Meanwhile, 10 winners also won last time from 72 runners (out of the 239 in total to contest since 1997). That's 56% of the winners from 30% of the runners... but a level stakes loss from backing the blindingly obvious of 21.42 units.

57% of the places were comprised of last day winners too, from the same 30% of runners, but again it would have made you poorer as a lone strategy.

Age: Horses aged six to nine have monopolized the win positions but the place story is a little more interesting. In fact, five- to seven-year-olds have won 11/18 (61%) and placed 36/54 (67%) from 56% of the runners. Eight- and nine-year-olds claimed the other seven wins and 15 of the remaining 18 places, from 80 runners (39% wins, 28% places, from 33% runners).

Days off: Whilst those to have run within two to four weeks of the World Hurdle have bagged four of the last 18, they've under-performed against numerical expectation (22% wins/26% places from 38% runners).

Those to have raced between one and two months ago took 56% of the available races (10/18) and 59% of the places (32/54) from 45% of the runners... but were still unprofitable to back.

All 18 winners since 1997, and all 54 placed horses in that time, had run within 90 days. The likes of Aux Ptits Soins, More Of That (if running here) and Kilcooley all have their work cut out, on the basis of history at least.

Distance: The World Hurdle is run over three miles, a fairly common race distance. It is somewhat surprising then to discover that eight of the last 18 winners had failed to win at that trip.

What makes this more surprising is the number of multiple winners during that time. Big Buck's won four times, Inglis Drever thrice, and Baracouda twice. Inglis Drever's initial win was his first at the trip; last year's winner, Cole Harden, had won at beyond three miles but never at that distance, and he was completing a hat-trick for first time three mile winners.

Put another way, ignoring the six times a previous World Hurdle winner (and therefore a distance winner) won again, first time three mile winners have won eight of the other twelve World Hurdles since 1997.

It's a quirky stat, but hardly a trend. Interesting, and probably of absolutely zero utility. If there is some value it is probably in not underestimating horses stepping up from around two and a half miles.

To that end, looking at horses whose previous race distance ceiling was between two and a half and two and three-quarter miles shows six winners (33%) and four further placed horses (19% placed) from just 15% of the runners in the review period. Moreover, that group was worth +31.5 units of profit, suggesting their chances are somewhat overlooked.

Irish: The lads from across the water will have plenty of winners - perhaps even one in this race - but their record since 1997 is a solitary victory (Solwhit, 2013) from 57 runners. That includes six beaten at 4/1 or shorter, and 13 overturned at 8/1 or shorter.

TRENDY SYSTEM ANGLE: Pulling a few of these together, backing a British-trained runner that finished top four last time, was aged six to nine, and ran between 31 and 60 days ago, produced nine winners from 44 runners (50% total wins from 18% total runners) and a profit at starting price of 38.21. Backing them each way when 5/1 or bigger saw 13/27 hit the frame for a profit of 40.2 units.

This year, excluding any possible supplementary entries, there are just two qualifiers: Thistlecrack and Un Temps Pour Tout. The former is favourite at around even money, while the latter has been chasing. If it came up soft and he reverted to hurdles, his price of 33/1 (non-runner no bet) would look fair value.


Ryanair World Hurdle Preview 2016

So much for the trends, what of the form book? I suspect it may lead us unequivocally to the same Thistly Cracky place, but let's roll with the punches and see if there might be some value in the each way or 'without' markets.

We can only start in one place, that aforementioned prickly crevasse...

Colin Tizzard is a bloody good trainer, everyone knows that. His Cheltenham CV includes a Champion Bumper winner, Cue Card, who was a four-year-old at the time (rare feat, the only 4yo winner since Dato Star in 1995), and three other Cheltenham Festival wins from 64 runners.

So he knows what it takes to win at the Festival. But what of Thistlecrack? Brought on slowly by Tizzard, he'd managed just three wins in his first seven starts. However, as with many at this range, a step up in trip seemed to be his making.

Since moving up to three miles-plus, Thistlecrack has won four from five, and finished a close second in the other race. The wins in that sequence included Aintree's Grade 1 Sefton Novices' Hurdle and Ascot's Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.

It could be argued he's been beating sub-Grade 1 horses this season - the likes of the late Deputy Dan, Ptit Zig and Reve De Sivola (on ground too quick for that one's tastes) - but it cannot be argued that he's been unimpressive.

No, he's duffed them all up out of sight, and has shown improved form each time. His official rating of 168 is ten pounds superior to that of the pre-race rating of last year's re-opposing winner, Cole Harden, and - Big Buck's aside - is higher than eight of the other ten winners since 1997 (and the same as one of the other pair).

In so doing - winning the Long Distance Hurdle, the Long Walk Hurdle and the Cleeve Hurdle - he has emulated the path trodden to victory by Big Buck's three times (or 2.67 times to be precise); and his impersonation of the great stayer may not yet be complete.

So the questions perhaps should be a) can Thistlecrack run to at least 168 again and, if he can/does, is there anything in the field that can surpass that mark? The answer to a) is yes, the answer to b) is probably no. Whilst not being in possession of enough tens to try to pilfer some elevens, it is very hard to bet against the Thistlecracker.

Happily, there is a 'without' betting market and, while Paddy are the only ones to have priced this up to date others are sure to follow, most likely after a decision on Annie Power's Festival destination is made.

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Annie Power is second choice in the 'non runner no bet' lists and, with her holding multiple alternative engagements, that would surely be the only way to consider her chance. She's an incredible mare, having won 13 of her 15 starts. But it is noteworthy and likely not coincidental that her two defeats were at the last two Cheltenham Festivals.

In 2014, she gave More Of That a good scrap before ceding. More Of That was rated 160 beforehand and was a wildly progressive unbeaten horse going into the race (as was Annie P). He earned a rating of 169 after that effort, just a pound above Thistlecrack's current figure. Although still quoted in the World Hurdle lists, More Of That is far more likely to take in one of the novice chases in March.

Getting back to Annie Power, and we've only seen her once since May last year. That was a week ago when she did little more than prove she retains a leg in each corner by putting less than seven lengths between herself and a mare rated 130. Granted, she was eased, but maybe not so much as some might have you believe.

That she was made ante-post favourite for the Champion Hurdle on the back of that effort is borderline laughable and, regardless of whether she runs in and wins that race, her price of circa 2/1 is an attempt by bookmakers at daylight robbery.

Whichever way you cut it, Annie Power could win this race (on the basis that any horse can win any race), but her odds far outweigh her chance making her rank poor value in my book, for both this and the Champion Hurdle. Let's move on.

Of the probable runners, Alpha Des Obeaux is 7/1 in a place. His price owes everything to the horses by which he's been beaten, in my view. A record of three wins from nine starts, two on heavy and a very shallow maiden hurdle, is backed up by SIX second placed efforts.

Those runner-up positions included defeats to Douvan (who was heavily eased), Nichols Canyon (who won "comfortably"), Arctic Fire (who "eased clear" and won comfortably), and Prince Of Scars ("ridden out, kept on well").

As well as those efforts - little of note running under favourable conditions in behind each time - he fell in Thistlecrack's Aintree Grade 1 when not definitely beaten; and he won last time out. There he beat At Fishers Cross, a good horse on his day - which is normally at Cheltenham, incidentally - but that hasn't won for three years, on heavy ground.

I'm not sure the ground will be right for Alpha, I'm not sure what he's beaten that has much substance, and I do not like his price one bit.

8/1 generally is last year's World Hurdle winner, Cole Harden. He was 14/1 that day and was awarded a rating of 166 when winning; he was also having his first start after a wind operation. He stays fine, jumps well and has reportedly undergone similar surgical intervention since his run in the Cleeve Hurdle on New Year's Day.

If the ground comes up on the quick side, he looks a likely podium finisher again, making 9/2 without Thistlecrack quite appetizing. His trainer, Warren Greatrex, remains in good form and the record of former winners offers further hope.

Vroum Vroum Mag is as short as 4/1 in the non runner no bet lists, and as long as 7/1 in the same (she is 12/1 all in run or not). With multiple entries elsewhere she can only be entertained with the money back safety net, but despite being unbeaten in eight UK/Irish starts, she's rated no better than 155 by the Irish 'capper. That's a stone below what's needed for this job and, though she's highly likely got more in the tank, her price is too short considering she needs to step forward so much.

Subject of plenty of money after an upbeat bulletin yesterday is Paul Nicholls' failed chaser, Saphir Du Rheu. That's a touch harsh on last year's World Hurdle second, and his trainer was in bullish mood at the annual pre-Cheltenham media morning, saying, "Saphir Du Rheu will be seen in a completely different light on better ground and is a big player. We haven't seen the best of him."

Given the horse has high class form on heavy, including when beating Whisper in the Welsh Champion Hurdle, I'm not sure I'm buying that appraisal. At the same time, his silver last season gives him a more credible chance than some at similar prices. It would be far from a shock if he makes the frame and he is one of the more legitimate middle 160 hurdlers in the field.

I'm not interested in the chance of Coral Cup winner, Aux Ptits Soins from the same stable. Given an initial UK mark of 139, he showed that was too lenient by stealing one of the most competitive handicaps of the season; but he's not been seen since and needs to show a stone and more improvement to get involved.

That's not impossible for one so unexposed - just four career starts - but I like a bit more evidence to work with and that year long absence is something very, very few horses are able to overcome to win at the Festival.

[Only Young Spartacus - 2003 - has managed to defy a layoff of 350+ days from 81 horses to try in that time. 13 of the 81 placed, however]




Moving on down the lists, and we're into the realms of the 20/1 shots. The World Hurdle has been a race for the top of the market in recent times, but that doesn't mean we should ignore 'the field' completely. Kilcooley, for instance, has an interesting profile despite being off since the end of October.

The seven year old son of Stowaway might need some cut in the ground to show his best and, if it does come up muddy he has a chance of making it four from four in completed UK starts since bolting up in a decent Haydock handicap in December 2014. His last two UK runs - and wins - have been in Grade 2 company, the latter over three miles at Wetherby when cantering home 13 lengths clear of former Champion Hurdler, Rock On Ruby.

Even allowing for the fact that Ruby was a questionable stayer there, the form looks reasonably solid. The Wetherby win was his first start for seven months so we know he can go well fresh, and that race - the West Yorkshire Hurdle - was won last season by Cole Harden en route to World Hurdle glory.

Trainer Charlie Longsdon has reported a few niggly injuries earlier in the year, but Kilcooley seems to be over those now, his handler suggesting it's 50/50 that he will be ready in time. At 25/1 non runner no bet, this looks a bit of each way value about a horse already rated 164 - joint second highest in the field - and one that has improved from 137 in four starts.

With a lingering doubt over his participation, 10/1 in the 'without' market - which is all in run or not - makes zero appeal.

At a massive price, At Fishers Cross is not without hope. Highly impressive when winning the Albert Bartlett over course and distance at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, he's had plenty of issues since. But he's still been nursed back to sufficient health to be beaten less than seven lengths in the last two World Hurdles, finishing third in 2014 and fourth last year. With Cheltenham form of 111234, it would be no shock to see him hit the board again and he looks over-priced at 50/1.


2016 World Hurdle Tips

Thistlecrack has a perfect profile for this, and it is very hard to crab his form. He's 11/10 but if he was trained by Willie Mullins he'd be nearer to 1/2, I guess. We know Colin Tizzard has a winning knack at Cheltenham and I think he'll win. He's obviously the most likely winner.

But if you want a bit of jam on your bread - I do - then there are other ways to play the race.

First, although the 'without Thistlecrack' market is still maturing - just one firm priced up as I write - there looks a whiff of value about Cole Harden's 9/2 there.

Then, for windmill-tilters - I'm one - there are a couple of forgotten sorts who look the wrong prices. Kilcooley will be 12/1 or so if he lines up, I'd guess; and he'll only line up if he's spot on. Otherwise connections will wait for one of the later Festival meetings. As such, 25/1 about an unexposed upwardly mobile type who is proven when fresh is perfectly playable, non runner no bet.

At the other end of the exposure spectrum, At Fishers Cross has danced with merit in this dance the last two years, and 50/1 rather overlooks that fact at a meeting where course form is perennially advantageous. Again, each way NRNB is worth a shekel or a bob, just for fun.

Most likely winner: Thistlecrack (duh!)

World Hurdle Selections

1pt win Cole Harden 'without Thistlecrack' 9/2 Paddy Power

0.5 pt e/w Kilcooley 25/1 general (ensure you bet with non-runner no bet bookmaker)

0.25 pt e/w At Fishers Cross 50/1 Skybet (non-runner no bet)


Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews

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Cheltenham Festival 2016 Race Guide


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Ryanair Chase 2016 Preview

Cheltenham Festival 2016: Ryanair Chase Preview, Trends, Tips

The newest of the open Grade 1 chases at the Cheltenham Festival, the Ryanair Chase has its detractors. But, with eleven years' worth of form in the book - eight of them as a Grade 1 event, the roll of honour tells a different story.

Imperial Commander was the most noteworthy winner, scoring here a year prior to claiming victory in the Gold Cup itself; and, last year, the highest rated chaser in training, Don Cossack, finished third. Cue Card, former Cheltenham Bumper winner and second in the Arkle, also won this, in 2013. He, like Don Cossack, is vying for Gold Cup favouritism this time around.

But there's another reason to love this race: as an ante-post betting proposition it offers all sorts of opportunities. Falling as it does between the Champion Chase and Gold Cup, in terms of distance as well as chronology during Cheltenham week, many horses are quoted in the market that won't actually line up.

If that presents a risk to the futures bettor, then non-runner no bet is the safety net allowing us to take a chance on a horse that may or may not line up, happy in the knowledge that it's cash back for no dance. Nice.

The scene now set, here follow some commonalities between Ryanair winners. One might even call them trends...

Ryanair Chase Trends

Age: Horses aged from six to ten have won this, though it's worth noting that the six-year-old winner was in the pre-Grade 1 days of the race. That said, the form string for that age group is 41353, all of them French-bred's.

At the other end of the age spectrum, though ten-year-olds have a solid record, the handful of veterans beyond that have fared poorly, with a single placing from twelve who lined up (dual winner, Albertas Run, ran second in his bid for a hat-trick).

Ryanair Chase Age Trends

Ryanair Chase Age Trends

Days since a run: Not too much to note aside from the obvious: horses returning after short (less than a fortnight) or long (more than three months) breaks have a poor record.

Those to have last been seen in the King George have a very good record, however. Imperial Commander, Albertas Run (2011) and Dynaste all took that route to victory, from 13 such starters. The trio's Kempton efforts were 6P5, so keep an eye on any runner emerging here direct from Surrey track's Christmas feature.

Ryanair layoff trends

Ryanair layoff trends

Wins over further: One of the more interesting snippets is the record of horses who have never won beyond the 2m5f Ryanair trip. It makes sense that this would be an exacting test of both speed and stamina, given the stiff track and the general fast pace in the race. As such, the fact that just three horses who had failed to win over further than the race distance -  from 62 who matched that bill - have won is logical and a material negative trend: just 27% of the winners from 52% of the runners.

Or, if you prefer, 73% of the winners (and 58% of the places) came from the 48% of runners who had won over further than 2m5f. Though I'm certainly not saying he can't win, it should be pointed out that Vautour, as short as 4/6 in non-runner no bet markets, has not won beyond this distance.

Ryanair distance trends

Ryanair distance trends

Taking that a step further, we can see that those to have won at beyond three miles have an excellent record: 45% of the wins and 30% of the places from just a fifth of the runners.

Ryanair Chase max distance win trends

Ryanair Chase max distance win trends

English versus Irish: Despite having saddled more than a quarter of the runners, the Irish are still to win a Ryanair Chase, all the more ironic given the race sponsor hails from the Emerald Isle and has had two beaten favourites in recent years (5/2 Don Cossack and 2/1 First Lieutenant).

Again, it won't stop Vautour winning if he shows up, but it's something to be aware of, especially as Irish-trained horses reside in five of the top six ante-post betting spots currently.


2016 Ryanair Chase Form Preview

So much for the patterns, what of the form book? Before diving into that it is worth reiterating that the final field for this race is very fluid at time of writing (with four weeks to go), and wagering without the non-runner no bet concession is discouraged.

Vautour is favourite in all books, though the spread ranges from 4/6 to 9/2 illustrating the fact that he's considered a more likely runner for the Gold Cup. I concede that he'd be a solid favourite for the Ryanair Chase, with the trip looking ideal, but I do have reservations.

Although he's not won at a longer trip - he was touched off in the King George on Boxing Day over three miles - he scored over the Ryanair range at Ascot in November, and won the JLT Novices' Chase over a furlong shorter at last year's Festival. His stamina is suspect for the Gold Cup test, as I've written here, and there are other points in that post which would be a concern.

Allow me to précis the key pair here. 1. The JLT form looks moderate. 2. His Ascot win, in a Grade 2, was narrow and against a below top class opponent (Ptit Zig).

To balance that, his head second in the King George is probably the best form line in the race, and this 2m5f will feel not dissimilar to that three miler given the undulations.

If Vautour runs, he is clearly the one to beat. But, given he may be more likely to go to the Gold Cup, it makes sense to look elsewhere for a bet.

Next in the 'non runner no bet' books is Road To Riches, last year's Gold Cup third. Beaten just three and a half lengths there, he didn't look short of stamina, and it may be that he would only run in the Ryanair if the going was soft or deeper. He's a super consistent sort, having finished on the podium in his last ten races, going back two years, but he's found at least one too good in three of his last four spins - mainly with conditions in his favour - and he's not a big enough price to wager each way.

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Dan Skelton has not declared Al Ferof for the Gold Cup leaving this race as his only Grade 1 target (he may yet be entered in a handicap). As such, he's a more likely runner than some at the head of the market and can be backed at 6/1 as I write.

This is a horse who is unquestionably best fresh - his form when racing after a break of 60+ days is 1F111151 - and he's finished third in the last three King George's. That level of performance gives him a good chance, but his Grade 1 chase form - 134335353 - tells a tale of tertiary tribulation. He may again play out for minor placings.

Another of the Irish runners with multiple Festival options is Valseur LidoThird in last season's JLT, 15 lengths behind Vautour, he's run five times since and largely without merit. However, the shining form line in that quintet was when winning the Grade 1 Champion Novice Chase at the Punchestown Festival last April.

His key may be the ground. That Punchy score was on good to yielding, similar conditions to his Chelto bronze. On that sort of sod, he's also run second to Faugheen in a Grade 1 novice hurdle and a very close second in a Grade 1 novice chase. It is probable that he's better than his recent muddy turf form, but at odds no better than 5/1 NRNB, he's unexciting as a voucher.

A fourth Irish lad at the top of the betting lists is SmashingHenry de Bromhead's seven year old is likeable and progressive, but it should be noted that five of his six wins, and all four of his chase victories, have come on heavy ground. That's very unlikely to be the state of the lawns for the Festival.

In any case, he's probably still shy of what's needed in spite of a rise of twelve pounds from the Irish handicapper for a duffing up of a couple of formerly useful horses at the weekend. Now rated 159, no winner of the Ryanair has been less than Uxizandre's 161 last year since the race attained Grade 1 status. I like this lad but I don't think the race sets up for him.

Rounding out the top six in the betting is another Willie 'Won't he' Mullins inmate, Vroum Vroum Mag. Pinning down this mare's ability level is trappy: she's unbeaten in eight runs over hurdles and fences since moving from France a year and a half ago. Her official rating in Ireland is 155, though she may be at least seven pounds better than that and remains open to improvement.

Although she has done all her Wullie winning on soft or heavy turf, she had won races in France on quicker so it should not be assumed that she needs give underfoot. Indeed it is not impossible that she may improve further for a sounder surface. If she did, she could take a hand in a Ryanair, especially considering the seven pound sex allowance she'd receive.

However, Wullie's Cheltenham Cabinet reshuffle following the sad news that Faugheen will miss the Festival may mean that Annie Power goes to the Champion Hurdle (or the World Hurdle) rather than the Mares' Hurdle; and that could mean that VV Mag goes to the Mares' Hurdle.

If that's a confusing picture, here's the bottom line: she's 6/1 in a place non-runner no bet, and that looks a smidge of value, safe in the knowledge that if she takes up an alternative engagement, it's cash back no harm done.

We move into double digit odds offerings now, and Vibrato Valtat - by the same stallion as VVM (Voix Du Nord) - takes high order, in that part of the market at least. He's a talented horse, albeit one with a propensity for placing (4241334 in recent runs), and his rating of 161 looks on the generous side to me. In any case, he has to prove stamina for this gig, having not won beyond 2m1f (second only try at two and a half miles).

I never thought I'd be writing this, but Josses Hill is interesting, in the win only context at least. A very high class hurdler - second to Vautour in the 2014 Supreme - he was initially a shocking jumper of chase fences, likened by many to various large items of furniture.

He is still capable of horlicksing one, as he showed when bailing spectacularly in the Tingle Creek in December, but he is also still capable, as he showed when cantering home in a graduation chase last weekend, and when third in the Arkle last year.

That most recent effort should be put into a little context: the second, God's Own, has a known preference for faster than the soft ground they raced on there, and was also expected to need the run. Still, Josses Hill's form does look pretty solid and, though he too has other options (Champion Chase most notably), 14/1 NRNB is not without appeal, win only.

Dynaste is interesting too. He has no other Festival entries and his profile suggests he's best fresh, with form off a 60+ day layoff of 6112213. He has reportedly had a wind operation since trailing in last of eight behind Thistlecrack in December and, if that has helped in any way, the 2014 Ryanair winner - now ten - would have repeat prospects.

The fly in the ointment is an entry in the Ascot Chase this weekend, for which he is an intended runner. With just 26 days between that race and the Ryanair, I'd rather he headed straight to the big day. Still, a small win bet at 16/1 NRNB can't do much damage.

Along with Vroum Vroum Mag, Ma Filleule is the other mare entered and, therefore, the other in the field to avail of a seven pound allowance. Nicky Henderson's lass was second in the race last year but has run mostly moderately since, a Listed mares' chase win over Christmas being the exception. She too is entered in the Ascot Chase this weekend, but she's dropped almost a stone from her peak mark of 162, including a two pound reduction for that last day win. She probably has a bit to find on the balance of her recent efforts.

We're into the land of the 20/1+ chances now in a race that has never been won by a horse bigger than 16/1 and where nine of the eleven winners were 6/1 or shorter. Indeed, only two of the 33 placed horses were bigger than 20/1. Of course, with the expected raft of defections, the starting price market will look quite different from today's book, so it remains worth the time looking for a possible shortener lurking in the deep.

I don't like Gilgamboa (wants it soft, doubtful stayer, not good enough), but three of at least mild interest are Village Vic, Champagne West and God's Own.

Village Vic has been one of the most progressive chasers of the season, elevating from a perch of 120 this time last year to one of 157 now. He's won his last four, all in handicap company and two over course and distance. His aggressive front-running style will come under close scrutiny, but that approach didn't stop Uxizandre from winning last year, and who is to say this fellow is done improving yet?

Realistically he'll need to step forward another five pounds to claim the spoils and it is just possible that the handicapper over-reacted to his last day heavy ground effort by raising him a pound shy of a stone. He'd make a bold bid if swerving the handicaps for this race, though he's probably destined for gallant failure.

Stablemate Champagne West, on the other hand, could be leniently rated off 154. Ignoring a pulled up effort in heavy ground at the track last month (made an almighty blunder when 7/4 favourite), he looked to be staying on nicely when second to Village Vic the time before. His four length beating by VV was treated nine pounds more kindly by the handicapper and, in a true run race on better ground, he'd have a chance.

The worry with him is his jumping. A blunder in the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase last year led to a fall which led to absenting from Festival season; and he again made a serious error when second to Vic two runs back. He'd been less than convincing with his leaping before the howler that ended his prospects last time, and that's a lot of errors to overlook.

If I'm going to take a chance on a dodgy jumper at a price, I think it will be Josses Hill.

God's Own is not a dodgy jumper but he is 25/1 NRNB. That's the wrong price despite an entry in the Champion Chase as well. Although he has a slight stamina question to answer, there's little doubt that he needs top of the ground and that he's a high class animal when he gets it.

He won a Grade 1 novice chase at Punchestown's Festival in 2014, and ran closest to Un De Sceaux in last year's Arkle at the Festival. A rating of 159 gives him a bit to find but not much, and if he goes this route he ought to be the same price as Josses Hill in my book.

One completely free go in the race is Don Cossack, who is 6/1 non runner no bet. He's very likely to go for the Gold Cup, but not a certainty, and his owner, Mr Ryanair, has pulled switcheroo stunts before. If he was to line up here, and Vautour did not, Don Cossack would be 6/4 or thereabouts.


2016 Ryanair Chase Tips

It's a real conundrum of a race, and my first piece of advice, generally speaking, is do not get sucked into taking a bigger price without 'non runner no bet' (NRNB) insurance. Plenty of these will show up in other races, or not at all, and all you'll have to show for your fancy price is a bit of (virtual) paper.

With that in mind, I'm happy to fire a few bullets with most of them likely to be money back blanks.

At the prices, I want Vroum Vroum Mag, and (I think) I want Josses Hill, and I want God's Own. I'll even take Dynaste despite the reservation about two runs inside four weeks. The prices on these will all look generous if they line up in the Ryanair (with the possible exception of Dynaste if he flunks at the weekend and still runs in this).

And then there's Don Cossack: at 6/1, cash back if he doesn't run, he's way too big. Buy the insurance at least.

Realistically, as few as one of the five could line up (Dynaste), but there is no harm in playing the others if you can afford to set aside the pennies for a month. Remember, ONLY back these with a bookmaker offering the 'non runner no bet' concession.

2pts win Don Cossack 6/1 NRNB bet365
1 pt win Vroum Vroum Mag 6/1
NRNB bet365
0.5 pt win Josses Hill 14/1 NRNB bet365
0.5 pt win Dynaste 16/1 NRNB bet365
0.5 pt win God's Own 25/1 NRNB bet365, Coral


Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews

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Attrition Rate in Irish National Hunt

Killultagh Vic a High Profile Casualty

Killultagh Vic a High Profile Casualty

Killultagh Vic was the first high-profile Irish horse to miss Cheltenham with injury but you can be sure he won’t be the last, writes Tony Keenan. We are in that horrible space between the conclusion of most of the trials and the start of the Festival where owners, trainers and, yes, punters live in terror of hearing that their horse will miss the meeting with a late setback.

It makes sense that injuries should occur at this time. No more than a human athlete getting ready for a career-defining event, the revs are being cranked up to the max in preparation and it is inevitable that a gasket or two will blow in the process. Some trainers has succeeded more than others in avoiding – or preventing – the last-minute injury; Willie Mullins stands out in terms of getting his Cheltenham horses to end point and punters can rightly have faith in backing one of his runners ante-post at a short price in the relatively safe assumption that they will get to post. But other handlers have not been so fortunate (though perhaps fortunate is the wrong word as it is surely a skill to keep horses sound).

Predicting which trainers’ runners will make or miss Cheltenham by looking at data is difficult if not impossible and it makes more sense to look at a more global sense of how successful they are in keeping their horses sound from season to season. In the table below, I’ve focussed on the top 15 Irish trainers in terms of winners sent out in the six seasons from 2009/10 to 2014/15, leaving out those who are no longer training, i.e. Dessie Hughes and Charlie Swan.

I found every horse they had in that period that acquired an Irish official rating of 130 or more and went through their racing career in totality regardless of whether it began before 2009 or continued beyond 2015. I was looking for how many ‘full seasons’ they had in their careers and I took a very loose definition of what a full season was: a season in which a horse ran twice or more in the Irish National Hunt campaign which takes the Punchestown Festival as its start and end point.

To my mind, this is quite a lenient definition of a full season – many owners would want their horses to run far more regularly – but I was giving trainers the benefit of the doubt and I didn’t penalise for a horse only running once in their first season as trainers often want to start them off slowly. With the number of full seasons and missed seasons I worked out a figure called ‘attrition rate’ which expresses as a percentage how often a trainer’s horses miss a season in relation to their career as a whole.

Take Tony Martin as an example. In the period covered, he has 131 full seasons from his 130-plus rated horses and six missed seasons; I add the two together to get a total season figure which is 137 and then divide the missed season number into it to leave an attrition rate of 4.4%. As a back-up figure, I also added in how many runs a trainer’s horses averaged per season over that period.

This methodology is far from perfect. Firstly, it looks only at horses rated 130 or more, but the data was so overwhelming that were I to look at them all I’d struggle to have it finished for Cheltenham 2017! It also supposes that every National Hunt horse threads the same campaign trail, starting its season in the autumn and running through to the late spring/early summer. This is not the case with summer jumpers and many horses will have a winter break to avoid the worst of ground.

Using my method, horses could miss two calendar years but only one racing season. Monksland, say, missed 730 days between December 2012 and December 2014 but raced three times in the 2012/13 season and the same in 2014/15 campaign so is only penalised for being absent in 2013/14.

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Furthermore, trainers are not penalised for horses having a short career of a season or two but they are hit for getting a horse back off an absence of a season or two for just one run, despite the fact that this could be a major achievement if that horse has had serious problems. Despite all this, I think there is enough in the data to make it interesting to look at, if not necessarily of vast predictive value.

Trainer Horses Rated 130 Plus Attrition Rate Average Season Runs
C. Byrnes 19 15.9% 5.4
C. Murphy 13 10.3% 4.5
N. Meade 53 8.8% 5.0
W. Mullins 171 7.0% 4.2
R. Tyner 6 6.7% 4.7
M. Hourigan 16 6.5% 7.3
M. Morris 17 5.6% 6.0
T. Martin 39 4.4% 5.4
G. Elliott 58 4.3% 6.1
H. De Bromhead 36 4.1% 4.7
P. Nolan 22 3.2% 5.2
E. Doyle 7 2.6% 6.3
J. Hanlon 8 2.4% 5.6
E. O’Grady 27 1.6% 5.4
J. Harrington 31 1.6% 6.1


We’ll start with Willie Mullins as we generally do. He has a highish attrition rate and the lowest average season runs so comes out quite badly on these numbers though I doubt Rich Ricci, Graham Wylie et al will be moving their horses in light of them! In fairness, he has improved recently with most of his absentees coming in the early part of the period covered though it must be said that he has quite a few horses that are in danger of missing this campaign, the likes of Abyssial, Jarry D’Honneur, Champagne Fever and Analifet all on the easy list at the moment.

Charles Byrnes has a very high attrition rate, 5.6% higher than the next highest, so perhaps landing gambles takes its toll! His achievement in bringing the nine-year-old Solwhit back to win at Cheltenham and Aintree in 2013 was a notable one but it seems significant that so many of his best horses have missed chunks of time, the likes of Mounthenry, Pittoni, Trifolium, Weapons Amnesty and Our Vinnie all having stop-start careers.

Colm Murphy is another that comes out poorly on the numbers, having not only a high attrition rate but also a low average runs per season, though the reason behind this could be one discussed in a previous article of mine on fall/unseat rate where he came out as one of the highest in the country. Falls and unseats will clearly cause plenty of injuries.

One trainer who does quite well is Gordon Elliott, his horses generally sound and running often, and it needs to be pointed out that he gets quite a few stable switchers. That can be viewed positively or negatively; either someone else has done all the hard work or you have to rectify another trainer’s mistakes.

Noel Meade is having a torrid season in terms of injuries, with Road To Riches having a curtailed campaign and Apache Stronghold out for the year. His attrition rate, third overall, would suggest this is not uncommon. One thing to admire with Meade is that no one else comes close in terms of openness around his horses’ health and he must be praised for that.

In terms of positives, Jessica Harrington stands out as having a low attrition rate and a high average number of runs. I would put this down to two things: she tends to mix flat and jumps campaigns, the former clearly less attritional than the latter; and she will often give her horses mid-winter breaks to avoid the worst of ground, something she frequently references in stable tours.

Edward O’Grady has the name of being hard on his horses but the numbers suggest otherwise, coming in the equal of Harrington in attrition rate. Henry De Bromhead has relatively a low attrition rate too, albeit with not many average season runs, and tends to do well in keeping older horses sweet. Sizing Europe is the daddy of them all but the likes of Sizing Australia and Darwins Fox are further feathers in de Bromhead’s cap.

Finally, mention must go to Michael Hourigan. His attrition rate percentage is only average but he is brilliant in terms of getting runs into his horses, his average of 7.3 a full run per season better than anyone else. I won’t say his horses are always in form but at least they’re out there competing and it is notable that eight of his 16 horses rated 130 plus raced at least 30 times. There are some real heroes in there like Dancing Tornado and Church Island and of course A New Story who ran an amazing 110 times, often over staying trips, and was still racing at fifteen.

- Tony Keenan