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Social Discourse: 11th March 2019

Readers, friends, comrades in arms. We are here. There is just one day left before the 2019 Cheltenham Festival begins and, like all across this site, I can’t wait for the best that our sport has to offer.

It is a special edition of Social Discourse as we head into four incredible days, and as such there have been a few tweaks made to this particular edition.

If you’re headed to the home of Kings – and if you’re reading this, then there's a fair chance that you are – please give me a shout. You can do so via the same avenues that others use to complain about me lots - @KeejayOV2 on the Tweet Machine.

A big thanks to the hard work of Matt Bisogno on this and all the previous newsletters.

Let. The. Games. Commence.

  1. Do’s and Don’ts

It’s the greatest week of the year, but for most of us who take even half an interest, it is four days (or seven) that will have plenty of pitfalls as well as opportunities – no matter how you approach it. But what is the secret to a successful festival, both on and off the track?

I got in touch with the great and good to get some advice – and then gave some of my own anyway….

Do….

  • Watch races from different areas. Get different perspectives rather than just get a drink, or watch a race all in the same places. Go to the parade ring, watch near the second last fence, watch at the top after the winning post - @SteveRyder13, presenter of the On The Hunt Podcast
  • Think about how one race relates to another at the Festival. For example, as soon as they cross the line in the Supreme, think about what that race result has told you about the formlines for the Ballymore – and similarly for the Arkle and JLT/RSA. The result might just have unlocked a bit of value. - @jamesaknight, Coral/Ladbrokes
  • Dress weather appropriate! I never go inside at Cheltenham so will be outside the whole time on both days I am there. I am dressing smart but definitely layering up. - @novicefilly (Debbie Matthews), the founder of #GoRacingGreen
  • Get to the track early in the morning and see the Irish raiders exercising in the middle of the racecourse - @leemottershead, Racing Post
  • Remember the handicaps are impossible! - @MattBisogno, GeeGeez
  • Make it to the middle of the course. I had attended quite a few festivals before a friend took me to the middle of the course for a race. I had no idea you could do it! It is a totally different perspective to the racing though. First of all there is no big screen to watch the action on over there so when they go out to country, you are relying on the commentary to understand what is going on. Jowever there are two selling points to this little trip. The first is that it is a suprisingly different perspective to the course, you can take in the huge crowd in the stands from a relatively peaceful vantage point. The best thing about ding this though is being able to be mere metres from top national hunt horses taking the last fence. The sound of them brushing through the bitch is incredible. - @tdl123, Tim Larden, operator of themajorversusthebookieblog

Don’t….

  • Get so p***ed you can’t watch the racing. We’ve waited 361 days for this. @SteveRyder13, presenter of the On The Hunt Podcast
  • Be dogmatic about your selections before the festival. For example, you may want to be against Buveur D’Air at 9/4 in the Champion Hurdle (I know I do), but what if he drifts to 7/2? He’s probably a decent bet at those odds. It’s important to remember that betting is literally all about the price, so the advice is not to think in terms of ‘bankers’, and ‘lay of the festivals’ and any other b****cks that you might hear at preview nights and start to think about what price you need to get before you want to be with a horse (the other great thing about The Festival in this regard is that you don’t have to worry about non triers) - @jamesaknight, Coral/Ladbrokes
  • Back every odds on shot. - @UAE_Racing, editor of Racing Reflex
  • Don’t* bet on every race. Wait for extra places on the handicaps. The Irish are going to win all of the County, Coral Cup, Pertemps and Martin Pipe. Be aware of the super-rare moments where 'public money' and bookie multi liabilities actually create wonky markets - exploit them. – @GloriaVictis
  • Never chase out prices and compete with other Bookies around you. There is a lot of money in the ring at Cheltenham, and when it's your turn, at the right time, it'll come to you. Don't rush it or you can end up laying over the odds horses and you feel silly 3 minutes later. - @BenStarSports, owner of Star Sports
  • Be afraid to stick within your comfort zones. - @novicefilly (Debbie Matthews), the founder of #GoRacingGreen
  • Forget your folding stuff, as the queues for the cash machines might not move quickly. - @leemottershead, Racing Post
  • Don't forget the handicaps are impossible! - @MattBisogno, GeeGeez.
  • Speed drink between races! Gone are the days where I would take on the four day drinking test that the festival can be. I would emerge blinking into day four, confused and disorientated, trying to remember which form lines I was following into the Triumph. At any day at the festival, you have all day and all night to invoke the spirit of Bacchus. There is no rush. Especially if it is raining the bars can be busy, getting the round in can leave you little time between races. I enjoy the festival a lot more taking it easy and pacing the day out - @tdl123, Tim Larden, operator of themajorversusthebookieblog 

 

And some additional advice, from yours truly:

Do…

  • Bet before you get on course. Don’t rob yourself of the pleasures of the ring – the layers need your custom – but you will get the best positions and crucially place terms off course most of the time
  • Bet the night before – The best prices are nearly always found the night before, or in the morning
  • Take a portable charger – If you’re going, then you will earn your money back at some point with a powerful charger. £30 should get you a useful one that will last
  • Think outside the box – Only five of the festival’s 28 races have shown a profit for favourites over the last 10 years. There are routinely big priced winners at the Festival, and even more hit the place

 

Don’t….

  • Chase losses. It is the biggest betting week of the year and if things go wrong at some point, the temptation will be immense. Stick to your pace
  • Over-drink during the racing – As someone who loves a pint, yours truly is no stranger to a Guinness at the Festival. However, at no meeting all year will it take you longer to get served, and post 1.30 each trip is going to consume extremely valuable time. The day will fly by and refreshments after the last have always been beautifully thirst-quenching

 

  1. Whose Line Is It Anyway?

One race, one nose, two cameras. If it sounds too much like a sitcom, then that’s because it’s true; Welcome to British racing in 2019.

You know the scene by now. One For Rosie, having cruised into the lead of the European Breeders' Fund Matchbook VIP "National Hunt" Novices' Handicap Hurdle Final (try saying that without taking a breath), jumped to the front at the last. Sam Twiston-Davies punched and kicked for his life, and he just manages to get the better of the strong staying Third Wind, after a tense wait for the photo finish.

Or so we’d thought. Firstly it was all normal. We thought we’d simply seen another close Saturday finish. Punters got paid out and connections were being interviewed. And then we were told there was a delay. And then…

 

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That was just a flavour of the reaction. There are too many tweets to post, but

 

 

 

Fool Me Once: Amazingly, this wasn’t even the first time it had happened; this is the second occasion this year the wrong result has been called at Sandown, with the unique sprint course seeing Rio Ronaldo being announced the winner in a 5f handicap before the result was changed with Vibrant Chords handed victory.

 

Then, there was this interview:

 

The Official Response:  

  1. The Imperial Malaya

It’s just easier to ask what Paul Nicholls can’t do, the answer to which is nothing. His Malaya continued the stable’s brilliant form with victory in the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday.

The five-year-old mare looked to have a tough task on when trying to hop the second last and then just stepping through it, buckling in the process, but Harry Cobden kept his cool brilliantly to allow her to regather her momentum and slowly but surely she caught up with Monsieur Lecoq – who had made the best of his way home whilst going strongly from two out - jumping the last brilliantly when needing to and eventually grinding her way to a one and three-quarter-length win.

 

What about the Festival? Paul Nicholls has been open to running her at the Festival in a bid to take a bonus in post-race quotes, telling Maddy Playle of the Racing Post: "She's tough and won't need to do much work, it's definitely a possibility. We're not saving her for anything so we might look at it.”

Be Smart: Looking at the rest of the field: Call Me Lord ran a tremendous race under his huge weight, First Flow ran a fine race on his first run for nearly a year, and Benny’s Bridge will be much happier on a sounder surface.

 

  1. Fun In The Sun

In much sunnier climes, Meydan had their Super Saturday, a leadup to the Carnival ending Dubai World Cup night that takes place in just over three weeks’ time. Highlights included:

  • Capezzano’s arrival at Group 1 level with a wide margin victory in the third round of the Al Maktoum Challenge, trashing the returning Thunder Snow by nine and a half lengths. He will now head to the World Cup, as will the second, who will hope to strip much fitter in a couple of weeks’ time

 

https://twitter.com/Racing_Reflex/status/1104398441894068224

 

  • Dream Castle’s fine turn of foot to beat a heavy gamble on Wootoon in the Jebel Hatta, making it three from three in Dubai since being gelded

https://twitter.com/Racing_Reflex/status/1104411539086458881

 

  • Old Persian managed to catch stablemate Racing History with apparent ease to take the City of Gold, seeing him up for the Sheema Classic and a promising European campaign
  • Muntazah broke the track record in the Burj Nahaar, winning by 10 lengths to make himself the sure fire favourite for the Godolphin Mile

https://twitter.com/Racing_Reflex/status/1104379910657847296

  • Blue Point won the Nad Al Sheba Turf Sprint with the ease that odds of ¼ suggested, and will be hard beat regardless of the international raiders that might well come his way

https://twitter.com/Racing_Reflex/status/1104370818312798209

  • Divine Image put together a career-best performance to romp away with the Al Bastakiya, making her favourite for the UAE Derby

https://twitter.com/Racing_Reflex/status/1104367934498062341

 

  1. A King’s Pair

Willie Mullins – yes, that’s right, remember him? – had a perfect warmup for the coming week when he had a 1-2-3 in the Leinster National, led by Pairofbrowneyes.

If you’re thinking that name sounds familiar then yes, you’re right – Pairofbrowneyes won this last year, and it was almost a carbon copy of his win in 2018, with an impressive show of staying power down the home straight to eventually end up winning by five lengths.

This matters why? It’s yet another boost for the form of Invitation Only’s Thyestes Chase win, which has barely produced a bad result, including the winner and the third of the Leinster National yesterday, and the Wylies will be very happy with their position ahead of the Gold Cup.

Winning Jockey Paul Townend, to Sportinglife: "He's very likeable. It was like riding a handicapper. He made one mistake at the ditch down the back, but he sorted himself out and you couldn't be any more pleased with him.”

Something to note: The form of La Bague Au Roi got another boost as Kaiser Black, second to her in the Flogas Novices’ Chase, won the Naas Directors Plate Novice Chase by an 11 length margin. He could be a big player for the rest of the season in novice terms.

- William Kedjanyi

Tony Keenan: Cheltenham Festival Reprise 2018 (Take Two)

I had a look back at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival right after the meeting last March but eleven and a half months on we know a lot more so let’s see what has changed and if there is anything that might be of use in two weeks’ time.

 

  1. Festival Form

Year on year, the best guide to Cheltenham winners is regarded as the previous year’s Festival. The test provided by the meeting is unique and horses that respectively thrive and wilt there can be expected to do the same again. Yet while last season’s Festival form generally worked out for the rest of 2017/18 campaign, it hasn’t carried through quite so well into 2018/19.

Of the 28 horses that won at Cheltenham 2018, eleven have won a race of some sort in the current season which seems on the low side. More than that, few have won a race of consequence with only three winning at Grade 1 level: Buveur D’Air, Altior and Delta Work. Two of the 28, Benie Des Dieux and Penhill, have not run at all.

Their under-performance as a group is likely ground-related. The winter and spring of 2017/18 was an aberration for its extreme wet weather, this past winter has been an aberration for its mild and dry weather. It seems reasonable to question how well the soft and heavy ground form will translate to watered good-soft next month given it hasn’t done so for much of the campaign,

 

  1. Exception One: The RSA

In isolation though, the form of racing’s bay pimpernel, Presenting Percy, in the RSA might be working out best of all. Last year’s staying novice chasers are a strong crop and from the first four in this race alone we have had Monalee finish second in a Grade 1 at Christmas before winning the Red Mills Chase, Elegant Escape land the Welsh National, and Ballyoptic come second in a Scottish National.

Al Boum Photo fell when likely to come third, and won a Grade 1 subsequently at Fairyhouse and should have had another at Punchestown before looking better than ever at Tramore on New Year’s Day. Even those Irish novices indirectly related to Presenting Percy’s form like Snow Falcon, Dounikos, Invitation Only and Rathvinden have won valuable races in 2018/19.

Presenting Percy looked much the best of that crop last season so this is exactly what you’re looking for if you’re backing him, allowing that there are other concerns with him, particularly his lack of chase experience.

 

  1. Exception Two: Delta Work

While allowing that a batch of form may not be working out on the whole, one still needs to judge each horse on its individual merits. The Pertemps Final has not proven a strong race on balance but the winner might be the most successful of all last year’s Festival winners relative to expectations (though we’ll get to Altior anon).

Since his Festival win, Delta Work has been narrowly beaten in a Grade 1 novice hurdle before winning thrice over fences, two of them Grade 1s, the form looking strong as he beat Le Richebourg. All told, he seems to have a leading chance in the RSA where he will have a slight experience edge over Santini.

There is one niggling concern and that is the lack of a recent run. Historically a horse being without a run in the calendar year was a negative in the RSA but this is likely more to do with the individual than profiling the typical race winner. Delta Work has come off a break three times since joining Gordon Elliott and the improvement has been clear: Timeform have him improving 12lbs, 1lb and 18lbs for those runs while Racing Post Ratings have those figures at 4lbs, 14lbs and 28lbs.

None of those breaks came mid-season which may negate the concern a little while one can also argue that he was all ready to run in the Flogas at the Dublin Racing Festival so should have been kept plenty fit at home. As a backer though, it remains a worry.

 

  1. Exception Three: Altior

Altior is Altior and he just wins as he has again done through three starts this season. On those rare occasions he does look vulnerable, it seems down to pace and specifically not getting the strong gallop he wants, as in the 2017 Arkle when he traded at 8/11 in-running having been sent off 1/4.

Looking back at last year’s Champion Chase, the most striking thing is that there is now a Special Tiara-sized hole in the race, that stalwart setting the gallop in the last five runnings of the race and invariably at a generous pace. There is no such horse among the 18 entries for this year’s race with Un De Sceaux likely to go the Ryanair route.

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That would leave a horse like Saint Calvados potentially making the running and, realistically, he can’t go the pace Altior ideally wants on decent ground. There is also the possibility of Altior making his own running as he did at Ascot last time but that may bring its own problems as he jumped left there, so a race that hitherto looked a foregone conclusion may actually be tactically fascinating.

 

  1. The Gold Cup

Despite only two horses really getting into the race, last year’s Gold Cup was an epic with Native River becoming the first horse this century to win the race having been beaten in it on his first attempt previously (Kauto Star won, then was beaten, then won again); 66 others had tried, thank you Matt Tombs and your excellent Cheltenham Guide for that stat. With the race run on heavy ground and at a strong gallop, it actually suited the experience and toughness that the winner had in spades as the race developed into an old-school Gold Cup slog with the best stayer coming out on top.

That has not been the way in most recent Gold Cups however as younger horses typically come to the fore, often second-season chasers and it is worth remembering that the three that chased Native River home last year fit that category. With the race very likely to be run on better ground this year, it might be more prudent to expect more of a new-style Gold Cup with the winner being a Sizing John rather than Synchronized type.

All of this may make life tough on Native River who is in danger of being outpaced on better ground as he has been in his runs at Haydock and Kempton this season; the stiffer track will help but will it be enough to compensate for the going? This might be a race where the younger horses like Presenting Percy, Clan Des Obeaux and Kemboy to come to the fore.

 

  1. The Samcro Problem

In his weekly Irish Field column on time analysis, Simon Rowlands rated Samcro’s Ballymore win as the best hurdling performance at last year’s Festival and the form stacks up too, with the placed horses going on to win Grade 1 novice events at Aintree and Punchestown. It was visually impressive too with Jack Kennedy’s mount travelling best all the way and the horse finding himself in front sooner than ideal.

That was his best performance to date, better than anything he has done dropped to two miles in four starts since, and it was also the race in which his stamina was most drawn out over 21 furlongs on soft ground. Originally pegged as a future Gold Cup horse, the two-mile experiment has palpably failed but Gordon Elliott seems to have been leaning toward the stamina route for a while now, entering him in the Long Walk back in December when all the chat about him was Champion Hurdle.

In general, the comment that a horse wouldn’t run in a race unless it is flying at home is trite but it might just apply here; he remains one of Gigginstown’s great hopes and is off a troubled season so they are unlikely to run unless he can deliver a big performance. With that in mind, we could get Ballymore Samcro in a few weeks and that would put him right in the Stayers’ Hurdle mix.

 

  1. Mullins and the Gold Cup

Willie Mullins has never won the Gold Cup in 22 attempts (again, stat courtesy of Matt Tombs), six of his finishing second, and it seems likely he will go four-handed at the race this year with Bellshill, Kemboy, Invitation Only and Al Boum Photo. All have it to prove on the track however judged on last year’s evidence and that of previous Festivals.

That applies to Bellshill more than most having been beaten a combined 58 lengths on his three course starts. The first two of those came in the Champion Bumper and the Supreme so it could be argued that the trip was too sharp for him in both cases but he did quickly bounce back at Aintree afterwards which is concerning. His run behind Might Bite in the RSA was better though again the downhill part of the track may not be for him but he did at least give the lie to his preferring a right-handed track by winning a Grade 1 at Leopardstown last time.

The evidence for the other three not operating at the track is more flimsy but none were at their best here last year. Neither Kemboy nor Invitation Only jumped well enough in the JLT, though the argument can be made they needed further, while Al Boum Photo fell when looking set for third in the RSA.

 

  1. Mullins and Fallers

The jumping of the Mullins horses attracted plenty of comment last year with ten of his runners falling across all races; when looking at the last three Festivals, his total number of fallers at the meeting is 14 with Gordon Elliott a distant second on five, Colin Tizzard, Venetia Williams, Jonjo O’Neill and Paul Nicholls with four each.

Those numbers are raw and from a small sample size but there are all sorts of layers to this. Unseats, say, are not included and are mainly caused by jumping errors nor are pulled up efforts that may have been brought about by mistakes. Some trainers may have more runners over fences than hurdles which would produce more fallers and so on.

Yet faller rate is something the BHA seem to place plenty of stock in as their report on the 2018 Cheltenham Festival included the following recommendation:

individual trainers…who have an incidence of fallers significantly higher than the historical average will be required to engage constructively with the BHA to consider the drivers of, and actions to improve, high incidence rates.

Perhaps it’s just me but that does sound like the authority is telling trainers how to train their horses which is a particularly grey area but they are the regulator after all: their racing, their rules. One wonders if Willie Mullins has been ‘engaged with’ on this and what that ‘engagement’ would be.

It is easy to question what right have the BHA to tell the all-time leading trainer at the Festival how his horses need to jump but there are two other factors here. First, Mullins has said that neither Douvan nor Rathvinden had schooled much ahead of last year’s meeting while comments from some associated with the yard suggest nothing has changed this term; owner Colm O’Connell saying after Bachasson’s New Year’s Eve win that ‘he hadn’t seen a hurdle or fence since [he fell in] the Gold Cup.’

And second, Mullins does have the highest fall rate when compared to similar trainers. Looking at those trainers who had the most runners in all UK and Irish jumps races between the 2015/16 and 2017/18 seasons, Mullins comes out worst with a fall rate of 4.7%. Colin Tizzard is next with 4.1% followed by Evan Williams on 3.9% and Henry De Bromhead on 3.6%. The average for that entire group which takes in a sample of 31,917 runners is 3.1%.

I suspect that the jumping of his horses will be under close scrutiny in a fortnight’s time and this might be one of the most interesting aspects of the meeting especially given quite a few of his horses won’t have had the racecourse practice they might have had in a previous season with the weather as it is.

 

  1. The Irish in Handicaps

I’m just going to leave these two tables out there for anyone who wonders about Irish horses being badly treated in the Festival handicaps. Also, there were a record number of Irish-trained horses entered in Cheltenham handicaps this season.

 

Festival Handicaps 2018

Trained in… Winners Runners Strikerate Places Place Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/

Expected

Ireland 5 53 9.4% 13 24.5% +27.00 1.21
Elsewhere 5 166 3.0% 27 16.3% -101.00 0.56

 

Festival Handicaps 2014-2017

Trained in… Winners Runners Strikerate Places Place Strikerate Level Stakes Actual/

Expected

Ireland 17 222 7.7% 57 25.7% +20.50 1.11
Elsewhere 25 741 3.4% 111 15.0% -338.00 0.62

 

 

  1. Gordon Elliott in Handicaps

Of the 22 Irish-trained handicap winners since 2014, nine were trained by Gordon Elliott. That is some going. Elliott has won a wide variety of handicaps with different types of horses but one approach he used to great effect last year was running novices, an approach he uses with some success at home too, the likes of Duca De Thaix (twice), Dallas Des Pictons and Roaring Bull winning examples this season.

Since 2014, his open handicap runners that were novices at the time have a finishing string of 20975PU3111001. That doesn’t include runners in confined races like the Close Brothers Novices' Handicap Chase and the Fred Winter Novices' Handicap Hurdle, the latter of which he has won twice and may well have had a third had Campeador not fallen at the last in 2016.

Three of his winners last season were novices running in open handicaps (Delta Work, The Storyteller and Blow By Blow) and he has a number of options that could do the same this year among them the aforementioned Duca De Thaix and Dallas Des Pictons.

- Tony Keenan

Social Discourse – 18th February

What a weekend that was! 11 graded races, eight winners for Paul Nicholls, three for Rachael Blackmore, and a 17 length winning margin in one of the season’s top races – and that’s about the short of what was a truly remarkable weekend, recapped – as best as is possible, by me, William Kedjanyi.

But first things first, just look at the brilliant reactions of Sam Twiston-Davies yesterday, perhaps saving the life of Daydream Aulmes at Ascot on Saturday. Show it to people who say that anyone involved in this game doesn't care.

 

 

As always, hit the comments, or come bother me at Twitter – the handle’s @KeejayOV2.

 

1. What’s In A Cyrname?  

You’ve probably seen it, but if not, just watch the end of this magnificent performance and marvel that a horse can run that quickly and jump that smoothly.

 

Cyrname’s rout in the Ascot Chase is still barely believable even after the dust has settled, but one had better believe that it happened because Paul Nicholls’ seven-year-old really did smash Waiting Patiently by 17 lengths.

He arrived here after winning a competitive Ascot handicap by 21 lengths last month, but this was a far tougher test. He faced Waiting Patiently. He faced Fox Norton. His stablemate Politologue was a Melling Chase winner. Even Charbel, the outsider of the field, was a winner of the Peterborough Chase this season.

It simply did not matter. From the very start, Harry Cobden was in front and whilst he was always travelling sweetly, it was in the home straight when the taps were opened, Cobden sat motionless in the drivers’ seat for the most impressive performance of the season in my book.

 

 

Thinking Ahead: You would forgive connections for being speechless, but Paul Nicholls had plenty of thoughts on the future: “Aintree last year, he jumped out right, and those type of tracks don’t suit him. At least we will see if he gets three miles round Punchestown. It will be brilliant for him, because it is a big galloping track with proper fences. One day, we will go back left-handed.”

Waiting Patiently was a 17 length second, and Ruth Jefferson gave credit in defeat: “He has been beaten by a better horse on the day,” she said. "My instant reaction is he is probably a better horse on soft ground. That’s the quickest conditions he has run on since Kempton.”

Fox Norton, having his second run since coming back from injury, was third ahead of the slightly disappointing Politologue, who could have his wind operated on according to John Hales.

 

2. Dance, Dance, Dance!

Good things come to those who wait. Nobody would have been dancing last week, not least Dai Walters, but he had the last laugh as Al Dancer almost moonwalked to impressive victory in the rearranged Betfair Hurdle.

 

https://twitter.com/RacingTV/status/1096793154714587138

 

12lbs higher than he was for his win at Cheltenham in December, he could have carried double the weight and still won, and gave Sam Twiston-Davies a dream conveyance down the inside. Indeed, he would have preferred a faster pace but, come the straight, he was cruising into the race and after a good leap at the last he simply had too much for Magic Dancer and Blu Cavalier.

For those interested, main market rival Getaway Trump was back in fourth having made a fair amount of ground in the home straight – an eye catching display given he was second in the Challow Hurdle.

 

The effusive – is he ever anything less? – Nigel Twiston Davies, speaking to Matt Chapman on ITV: "He's a lovely horse, what a shame we weren't at Newbury but well done Ascot for putting it on. He's a championship horse, he'll be going to Cheltenham."

 

Don’t Forget: Getaway Trump is entered in the Ballymore still, but might the Coral Cup be a tempting option?

The Reaction: There’s nothing quite like a big race favourite and Cheltenham contender winning…..

 

3. The Winning Clan

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Paul Nicholls’ red letter day had some incredible moments, but one of the most satisfying must have been the 13 seconds it took Clan Des Obeaux to seal the rescheduled Denman Chase and set himself up for a big crack for the Gold Cup.

https://twitter.com/GBRacing/status/1096785770533277697

In what was a very uncomplicated four-runner affair, he tracked Terrefort into the race before the last, and with one big leap – his best of the day – he put what was essentially a match race, the pair being well clear of Ballyhill and Thomas Patrick by the home straight, to bed with aplomb.

 

Harry Cobden Jockey, speaking to the Racing Post: "He's got better all the time, he's maturing and he's more professional when he races. He's not as exuberant as he was, but if you light him up he takes off."

One To Note: Ballyhill, who was third, could go well in handicaps around 2m4f in the spring.

 

4. Over and Out 

This winter we have been reminded about just how valuable our champions are, and how blessed we are when we get to see them go out happy and healthy, so a hearty farewell – of the good kind – to Coneygree, who jumped with enthusiasm and style at Ascot in the Keltbray Swinley Chase, but who did not have the legs to keep up with faster opposition.

He was wisely retired by The Bradstocks after that, a move which brought about an outpouring of love from all in the jumping game. Enjoy.

 

 

https://twitter.com/rockonxruby/status/1096778764170813440

 

5. Meanwhile, at Haydock…. 

Robinsfirth swooped upon Ramses De Teillee to take the Grand National Trial at Haydock with a finely timed challenge from Sean Bowen, on a day where some idiots got involved in a punchup after the racing. Chef D’Oeuvre was third and Colin Tizzard also had the fourth in the shape of Royal Vacation who could be headed to Aintree

Shades of Midnight gave Paisley Park backers yet another form boost as he romped home in the Rendlesham Hurdle. Kilcooley ran a fine race returning from 1066 days off, although he was passed for second by Petticoat Tails. Yanworth, well backed on his seasonal debut, was a bitter disappointment and the stewards – even more perplexingly to this scribe – reported that nothing was amiss.

Quel Destin gave Paul Nicholls another Cheltenham contender with a wide margin win in the Victor Ludorum Juvenile Hurdle, winning by six lengths whilst Torpillo disappointed here

Jester Jet ended a run of seconds – five of them – with a rallying win in the Listed Mares' Hurdle at Haydock to defy If You Say Run, benefiting from a perfectly timed Tom Scudamore ride to get up by a head.

 

  6. May The Forsa Be With You

The weekend’s action was properly kicked off by the rescheduled Kingmaker Chase, which was turned into a procession by Glen Forsa, who took apart the very disappointing Kalashnikov by 19 lengths in a display that will now see Mick Channon’s charge head towards either the Arkle or the JLT at the Cheltenham Festival, rather than the Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase.

 

 

Glen Forsa, who had impressed with his bold jumping over the Christmas period at Kempton, was jumping better early on and made his advantage count when over the first of the Railway fences, as the odds on favourite was beginning to labour, perhaps struggling in the very tacky ground, with poor leaps at the second and third Railway obstacles getting in the way, and by the time the pair had reached the pond fence the race was basically over.

 

From Amy Murphy and Team:

https://twitter.com/almracing/status/1096482486668931073

 

7. Glee for Monalee...

We had no Presenting Percy, but we did have a big winner for Rachael Blackmore as she kicked Monalee home in the Red Mills Chase, a result that will probably make many of Percy’s backers pretty happy – the RSA form holds up better by the week. The four runner affair proved to be a fascinating race, with Monalee always happy in front but Killultagh Vic stopping quite quickly when we had the potential for a three-runner race as they turned for home.

Monalee found enough in front but just as eye-catching in second was the returning Anibale Fly, third in last year’s Cheltenham Gold Cup and set to head there again following a fine effort given that he’d had only one run this season – his sixth in a handicap chase back in November. Tony Martin will be a happy man, whilst Edwulf looks difficult to place now although he will be better when stepped up dramatically in trip.

 

Henry De Bromhead, speaking to the Irish Times: “He’s in the Ryanair and the Gold Cup and we’ll work it all out between now and then. I wouldn’t be leaning any way to be honest. I don’t know yet and I’d say the ground will be quite telling.

8. Elsewhere..... 

Grand Sancy got the better of Sceau Royal and Vision Des Flos in a tremendous battle for the Kingwell Hurdle, giving Paul Nicholls another of his eight winners on the day, and providing Harry Skelton with a first win for Ditcheat in six years. He considerably boosted the Tolworth form of Elixir De Nutz and gave a shot in the arm for the novice form this season as he now heads to the Supreme, with the runner up going for the Champion Hurdle.

Darasso bounced back from a poor run in the Galmoy Hurdle to dominate the Red Mills Hurdle, getting the better of a brief tussle with Forge Meadow to then win by 11 lengths, in a race where last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Farclas was a huge disappointment.

Mister Malarky took his record to three from four over fences with a game win in the Reynoldstown, fighting off Now McGinty. He was cut to 20/1 from 33s by Sky Bet for the Festival’s RSA Chase.

The incredible Tiger Roll bolted up in the Boyne Hurdle, sparking a joyous reaction from fans as he belied odds of 25/1. He was cut into 5/4 for the Cross Country Chase at Cheltenham and is now as short as 12/1 for the Grand National again. A shout out to Keith Donoghue, who rode him and had his first winner since he suffered a fractured eye socket and cheekbone after Christmas.

Rachael Blackmore gave Chris’s Dream a superb ride to land the Ten Up Novice Chase, only just holding on from Champagne Classic, on his second run off a long layoff to get very close.

 

9. What else you might have missed….

The last at Gowran, thanks to (or no thanks to) Racing TV. See the tweets below….

 

 

 

What happened? Daylight Katie won by eight lengths, giving Gordon Elliot yet another useful young horse.

How does this get fixed? The easy answer is for another channel, but things aren't that simple; the running costs alone to have two channels would presumably make such a project financially unviable.

So what then? Racing TV does have multiple channels online, although this is perhaps not all that comforting to Irish fans, many of whom have at best, faint internet access. Irish racing has the benefit of a slimmed fixture list which absolutely makes the product more valuable, but this comes at the cost of clashes such as this, especially on busy days.

On the bright side: The Punchestown Festival is run as an afternoon-evening card, so that should get pride of place come the end of April.

- William Kedjanyi

Social Discourse – 5th February

A weekend with so much action that even this bumper edition struggling to fit it all in, writes William Kedjanyi. We like a challenge here, however, so here goes with a round up of all the latest movers and shakers on the bumpy highway to the Cotswolds next month…

 

  1. How’d you like them Apple's?

She’s going: The brilliant Apple’s Jade, a wide margin winner of the Irish Champion Hurdle, is now more likely to head to the Festival’s first-day showpiece than not. In the aftermath of her brilliant performance at Leopardstown, where she stole the headlines on the first day of the Dublin Racing Festival, Eddie O’Leary, speaking on behalf of owner Michael, had suggested that she would still go the Mares' Hurdle route in lieu of a tilt at the bigger race.

"We'll go to the Champion Hurdle if you can run a gelding in the Mares'. Did she win the Mares' Hurdle last year? No." – Eddie O’Leary, speaking to Nick Luck on Racing TV in the aftermath of Apple’s Jade’s stunning win.

But overnight, trainer Gordon Elliott and owner Michael O’Leary appeared to have a change of heart.

 

Gordon Elliott, trainer, speaking to Luck On Sunday:  "Buveur D'Air is obviously a very good horse and just does what he has to do every day, but we’ll take him on. Nothing is concrete, but I'd say it's likely."

Michael O’Leary, owner: "If you are going to lose, I’d rather lose trying to win a Champion Hurdle than a Mares’ Hurdle, now that we know she can run a fast two miles."

Looking ahead: If she stays sound, then a delicious clash between Apple’s Jade and Buveur D’Air will be the highlight of the first day at Cheltenham.

Best of the rest: Supasundae ran well once again to be second, although his connections are between a rock and a hard place regarding Festival targets: he would be unlikely to reverse form with Apple’s Jade but the emergence of Paisley Park in the staying division makes life difficult there also.

 

  1. Anything you can do….

Dual Champion Hurdler Buveur D’Air responded in kind with victory in a hack canter in the Contenders Hurdle at Sandown, having to make some of his own running before easing clear of Vision Des Flos and winning the race for a third time.

Nicky Henderson’s charge has been following the same route as last season, albeit with a defeat in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, and aside from that sprint to the line where Verdana Blue beat him, he’s looked as dominant as ever. Slicker through the latter stages of the race this time than at the Sunbury venue last, he briefly looked under pressure before finding top gear and putting the race to bed.

https://twitter.com/Sandownpark/status/1091696804146630657

However, we know he is likely to face perhaps his biggest challenge since becoming the Champion Hurdler in the shape of Apple’s Jade, and we didn’t learn much about him here aside from his wellbeing.

Nicky Henderson, speaking to Sky Sports Racing: “It was a muddling old race. He led down the back and then Barry took a pull and let another horse take a lead. I thought he jumped a bit slicker than at Kempton where he made one howler, but I'm not saying that as an excuse. I'm very happy as he did need this race and the timing was perfect. I was very nervous when I thought it might be off and I had Kelso as an alternative.”

Battle lines are now drawn - Britain vs Ireland, girls vs boys, Henderson vs Elliott, champ vs contender - for a Tuesday in mid-March: bring on the show!

 

  1. Joseph and his Multi-Coloured Triumph Brigade
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Joseph O’Brien has quickly established himself as one of the leading National Hunt trainers in the game – on either side of the Irish Sea – and using his high-class resources, he has emerged with a fine team of juvenile hurdlers.

Sir Erec, strongly fancied for the race beforehand, was an impressive winner of the Spring Juvenile Hurdle at Leopardstown over the weekend when beating stablemate Gardens of Babylon by five lengths. In so doing, he launched himself to the head of the Triumph Hurdle betting, where he’s now 9/4 generally, from 7/1 before Sunday.

https://twitter.com/SportingLife/status/1090254314671689728

Joseph O’Brien, speaking to the Racing Post: "Making the running with Sir Erec wasn't ideal but he's very straightforward and he did it very well. Stamina is probably his forte but he quickened well from the second last. It was only his second run over hurdles, whereas Fakir D'Oudairies has more experience, if not quite the same engine as this fellow."

 

In winning convincingly here, he displaced the wildly impressive Cheltenham trial winner, Fakir D’Doudaries, from the top of the market. That was the second 1-2 for the stable in major Triumph trials, as Fine Brunello was a 13 length second at Cheltenham on Trials Day.

https://twitter.com/SportingLife/status/1090254314671689728

Be smart: Given his incredibly close proximity to high-class flat horses, O’Brien could have much success in this sphere, including with horses making their jumping debut. Also, with so many options – and the backing of JP McManus to help – we could still see some targets being switched.

 

  1. Defi-nitely Maybe

Onlookers at Sandown were treated to a thrilling tale of revenge, as Defi Du Seuil reversed Cheltenham form with Lostintranslation in a battling victory to take the Scilly Isles Novices' Chase.

 

https://twitter.com/TheJockeyClub/status/1091789376663838725

 

Flashback: Only ten weeks ago, Defi was being trashed by Lalor in the Racing Post Arkle Trial, ballooning each fence and looking like he’d confound Phillip Hobbs once again after his great juvenile hurdling season two campaigns ago.

But Hobbs has managed to coax the required fencing improvement from him on each run since that clumsy display, and he battled back determinedly under a fine Barry Geraghty drive. In so doing, he cast aside any lingering apprehensions about his finishing effort after Lostintranslation worried him out of the Dipper on New Year’s Day, albeit with a 3lbs weight turnaround.

Favourite Vinndication didn’t travel with any zest at all and stayed on fairly well to finish third, beaten just a couple of lengths. Kim Bailey reported that he didn’t like the ground – which was sticky 'holding' turf – so he adds further intrigue should the three re-engage in the JLT.

Philip Hobbs, after unsaddling Defi Du Seuil: “Barry was delighted with him, particularly with the way he jumped and coped with the ground. Where we go from here, a lot will depend on the ground, but he certainly saw the trip out well.”

 

  1. Here’s what else happened
  • Bellshill took a thrilling Irish Gold Cup, albeit in a decimated field, as he was driven home by a short head to beat Road To Respect under a great Ruby Walsh drive. He was cut to cut to a general 12-1 (from 16) for the Gold Cup at the Cheltenham Festival.

  • Walsh was just as good aboard Klassical Dream, who is now as short as 8-1 for the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle after a dramatic Grade 1 success in the Chanelle Pharma Novice Hurdle, just touching off his stablemate and past Grade 1 winner, Aramon.

 

  • La Bague Au Roi struck a notable success for Britain with a gritty front-running success in the Flogas Novice Chase, holding off 33/1 outsider Kaiser Black after Delta Work was withdrawn. It’s probable she’ll miss Cheltenham for Aintree, and it is also to be hoped that Winter Escape will bounce back after bursting a blood vessel.

  • Envoi Allen booked his Cheltenham ticket on Saturday, winning the Matheson (C&G) I.N.H. Flat Race at Leopardstown. The favourite stuck his neck right out to the line and beat the closing Meticulous, owned by Michael Tabour and trained by Joesph O’Brien, and is now being aimed at the Festival Bumper.

 

  • Commander Of Fleet proved himself a promising stayer with a battling victory over Rhinestone in the the Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Solicitors 50,000 Cheltenham Bonus For Stable Staff Novice Hurdle. He relished the step up in trip and might go further in the Albert Bartlett as Battleoverdoyen looks set for the Ballymore. Champion Bumper winner Relegate finished with a wet sail to take fifth but she must learn to jump better.

https://twitter.com/TimeformLive/status/1091683067209633792

  • Min repeated his 2018 win in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase at Leopardstown but the race was marred by a fatal injury to Special Tiara.

 

  • Le Richebourg cemented his claims as a leading player for what is now a very competitive looking Arkle with a smooth win in the Frank Ward Solicitors Arkle Novice Chase

 

  1. The Fast Show

The Dublin Racing Festival will mostly be remembered for performances on the track – as it should be – but the track itself was the subject of much attention as firm ground in places on the chase course led to a glut of non-runners on Sunday. 22 of the 26 non-runners with were withdrawn because of the ground, unusually quick for a jumps meeting, especially at this time of year.

The Irish Gold Cup was decimated, with Al Boum Photo, Balko Des Flos, Monalee, Edwulf, Noble Endeavor and Anibale Fly all withdrawn, leaving a four-runner heat that somehow still served up a fine duel, albeit a diminished one.

https://twitter.com/ODDSbibleRacing/status/1092007571341393920

 

Be smart: This was a perfect storm of weather conditions. Below average rainfall had led to quicker underfoot already, and then low temperatures trapped the ground staff with nowhere to go. This might continue to be the case in future, with higher average temperatures leading to drier and drier winters. However, we could still be in for a nasty shock when the spring comes, as wet weather could make for very soft ground at Cheltenham and Aintree, just as it did last year.

Lorcan Wyer, Leopardstown’s Clerk of the Course, speaking to the Racing Post’s Richard Forristal: "In the lead into this meeting, ten days before this fixture, we were given a forecast by Met Eireann of 40-50mm of rainfall. We got maybe 20mm of that, and we started off on the Monday of this week with a forecast of 20mm to 40mm of rain, sleet or snow, and sub-zero temperatures all week. Watering with that forecast, particularly with the sub-zero aspect, would be alien to me. I'm not sure any other track would go along those lines."

Being Sensible; Noel Meade, trainer of Irish Gold Cup runner up Road To Respect: "It's a Catch-22 situation. You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. The way it's turned out today, you would have loved if they had watered, but hindsight is a fine thing. They were in an impossible situation."

**

The countdown to Cheltenham's Festival continues apace, and next weekend the focus will be on Newbury, where the Betfair Hurdle, Denman Chase and Game Spirit Chase all offer Festival aspirants the chance to rehearse ahead of the big week in March. Join us early next week for another thrilling instalment of Social Discourse!

- William Kedjanyi

 

Monday Musings: Confusion Reigns

All this Cheltenham stuff seems to be getting to a lot of people, writes Tony Stafford. Take Eddie O’Leary, brother to Michael and Racing Manager to his brother’s Gigginstown Stud. In yesterday’s Racing Post, Fast Eddie is quoted as insisting that a decision on whether their Empire of Dirt will run in either the Ryanair Chase or the Timico Cheltenham Gold Cup will be delayed until next week.

In view of the litany of absentees from the meeting due to late injury, among them a handful of fellow Gordon Elliott inmates, such insistence – the word in one or other of its forms, got a couple of airings in Brian Sheerin’s page four piece – on pragmatism might be understandable, but next week, really?

It’s always tough to get weeks and years right. We talk about events in a jumps season as this year, when as with Moor Racer, now definite for the Champion Hurdle rather than a novice target, he might not have run since November 2016.

I’m finding it hard to distinguish this week from last, having set off at 4 a.m. on Saturday for Mark Johnston’s breeze morning where the most precocious batch of his juveniles set out on the road which might take one of them to the Brocklesby at Doncaster in three weeks’ time.

If that might seem too much time to allow for a 10 a.m. appointment you’re right, but Wetherby services offers an ideal opportunity for a Greggs breakfast special, bacon (three rashers) in a roll and a tea (my option) or coffee for £2.70. Anywhere else in that locale costs an arm or a leg. Thereafter, a wash and brush up, refuelling and an hour’s shut-eye were the perfect preparation for seeing third lot at Park Farm, Middleham.

Thirty or so of us were there to watch our particular interest, some intent on possible new acquisitions, others like me to appraise a possible early runner, as in Ray Tooth’s Tarnhelm. She has the distinction of being a regular partner for Deirdre Johnston and they were towards the back of a line of youngsters, some galloping, others like her doing a couple of canters – “maybe two weeks”, according to Mark, before joining them.

Anyway as they neared the onlookers, provided with a platform of rubber maps a fair distance away from the all-weather gallop, one distracted youngster veered left, hit the rail and ended on the other side. Luckily the rider took timely evasive action, and both she and her mount were unhurt.

Apparently, down at Richard Hannon’s last week, leading apprentice Hollie Doyle also came off, her mount spooking when several motor bikes sped past the string along a small road. She expects to be back race riding in a day or so.

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Tarnhelm had to stop – she was the next one along – and if she can react with the same alacrity when asked to go faster, she could be all right. Time will tell, but Deirdre likes her.

Yesterday was the lull in the madness of Cheltenham week. Tonight I’ll have my usual pre-Festival night at the Bedfordshire Racing Club with Ian Wassell of Corals, BHA two mile hurdles handicapper, David Dickinson, and MC, Howard Wright – if he’s not in Bhutan or somewhere at the last minute – to run the final preview gathering of the year.

We might not be the best, but we are the last. Then after getting home at say 1 a.m. it’s up at 5 a.m. in order to collect Harry Taylor at Chigwell at 6.30, praying that the M25 will be kind to us for the first third of the trip west.

Howard has been an absentee a couple of times recently, I seem to remember Qatar as one lucrative alternative to his nice bottle of Bedfordshire RC wine, and Bhutan was a purely contrived possible destination. I knew Lennie Dorji, a great friend of Edward St George, and the pair spent every summer in England, betting in partnership and sometimes making money.

One year Edward had a successful time with David Loder horses, when I was a sort of advisor to the then young trainer, and even got a trip to Grand Bahama, which Edward basically owned with Sir (Union) Jack Hayward, that winter as a reward. He was totally disciplined. On hearing that Pat Eddery would be unable to ride the object of one potential 10 grand bet, he asked the trainer: “Who rides?” Upon hearing, “Paul Eddery”, he snapped back: “No bet!” It lost.

According to a comment made in the movie “The Lunchbox”, filmed a couple of years ago in Mumbai, Bhutan is the best place in the world to live: “you get five rupees there for one rupee here” one of the main characters says at one point.

Dorji was from that mountain nation’s Royal family and took important political roles, including I believe Prime Minister in his earlier days. If you saw the film on BBC2 last night, I bet you are still thinking about it and maybe like me quite affected. Try to see it.

Sorry Mr Editor, no more distractions. I started out talking about confusion for the Racing Post writer yesterday and in the same issue four pages later, my experiences on Champion Hurdle day eight years ago, when I was not there to see Punjabi win the big race, are recalled.

As with Chinese Whispers, even collaboration with the best of writers can be open to the odd confusion. If it seemed to read, therefore, that I drove there and back to Moorfields, “battling the London traffic”, I hasten to reassure that the 35 bus was my only conveyance option while recovering from a detached retina operation.

We’re not missing it this year, though, staying at a place called Highworth, between Swindon and Cirencester, and if 2016 is anything to go by, a better way into Cheltenham than from either A40 or M5. Starting as early as we do, there should be bags of time to see Punjabi and Rachael Kempster in the parade, unless like last year I’m forcibly prevented from the paddock by the security men.

Around New Year, I had a frustrating few days, wrestling with the apparent disappearance of the RCA despatched envelope which contained my new press badge for this year. I keep the robust, ideally-sized envelopes to contain such as driving insurance and car park documents and the like in the kitchen drawer.

When it came to taking it out possibly to go to Cheltenham on New Year’s day, I found to my consternation it wasn’t there and after a couple of lengthy searches, came to the conclusion I had erroneously thrown it out with the Christmas rubbish.

After a short correspondence with the RCA, I had no option but to part with £150 (£120 plus VAT) for a replacement. On Saturday night, returning at 10 p.m. after a stop-off at Chelmsford after the A1, I was met by a less-than-amused wife who said: “Did you lose this?” It was not the badge, but another RCA envelope with motoring documents. “That fell down behind the drawer”, she announced. “But I looked there a couple of times”, I whined. “Maybe there’s the one I wanted two months ago?” Two minutes later she retrieved another envelope, this one containing the missing press badge.

Saturday March 11. Hackney Wick, London. Dear RCA, I enclose the original 2017 press badge, issued to me, with car park label and use of badge instructions. Please send me the £150 so I can have a bet on Gordon Eliiott’s horses at Cheltenham next week.

Hope you all back plenty of winners, and maybe I’ll find one or two for the nice people of Bedfordshire tonight.

 

Harry Cobden’s Blog: 10th March 2017

Wow. Has it really been four weeks since I last wrote? Time flies...

It's actually been a fairly quiet month, but I've still managed to put another five wins on the board. They were kicked off by The Geegeez Geegee for, as the name suggests, a syndicate created out of visitors to this website!

It was really great to ride a winner in the geegeez colours and with the geegeez logos on, too. Geegee jumped class that day and was always going to win. He just dossed a little on the run in, giving a hint to his moody side. That less cooperative part of his game was in full evidence when he didn't go a yard for me back at Fontwell a fortnight later.

I knew my fate pretty early, and no amount of pushing and shoving was going to change his mind. He's probably going to be best fresh so might be interesting again after a little break.

Zarkandar is one of the yard favourites at Paul's, and I was lucky enough to get the leg up in the Grade 2 Rendlesham Hurdle at Haydock. He was actually rated 168 in his prime and, though now on a mark of just 147, he's still showing plenty of zest. The handicapper raised him four to 151 for that, and he's headed to the Stayers' Hurdle next. With Noel Fehily booked to ride Unowhatimeanharry, there's a chance I'll keep the ride in the Stayers', which would be a fantastic opportunity. He's going well at home and might surprise a few people with a big effort.

Things stepped up a notch for me last Saturday with a nice double at Newbury, the first leg of which was Just A Par. The old boy stuck it out well to win the veterans' handicap chase, and was well on top at the line. I think he's going to the sales now and will be offered with an entry to run in the Grand National. He's gone up six pounds for the win last week but, because the National weights were already published, he can still run at Aintree off 146, so might be nicely handicapped! All he does is jumps and stays.

Then, in the last race on the card, I managed to break my bumper hoodoo on Anthony Honeyball's Sam Brown. I say hoodoo because this was my first National Hunt Flat winner, at the 26th time of asking! Sam is quite highly rated now - I think his RPR would be 130 if he was in the Champion Bumper. They went a good gallop and it rode like a good bumper. He repelled three separate challenges through the race, and it was more probably a fair bit more impressive than it looked.

The Sam Brown form has been franked in the last couple of days by Lalor and Daylami Kirk, who ran 1-2 on Thursday at Wincanton. Lalor was second to Sam Brown when Sam won his debut, and Daylami Kirk was well back that day. I rode him both times. I'd say he's a nice novice hurdle prospect for next season, and that was a good step forward this week.

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Coole Cody got his head in front at the fifth time of asking. He's a very nice horse that was only beaten three lengths by Neon Wolf on his second start. He needs to settle better and if he does, could be a smart novice chaser next season. He'll probably also improve for better ground. He's definitely one to keep on the right side.

Saturday

I've got four rides at Hereford this afternoon. My best chance might be Pearls Legend (4.00). He was fifth in the Grand Annual at Cheltenham last March, and has dropped eight pounds since then. He ran better last time on ground he'd have hated, finishing third, but still got dropped three pounds. Now on 130, I can either make it or take a lead, and if we go quick that will suit me fine.

Castarnie (1.40) is a little in and out. He needs to jump better than he has been and, if he does, he's got a squeak.

Shinooki (2.15) looks high enough in the handicap just now but he'll like conditions, so if he brings his Fakenham form another win is not out of the question.

Similar comments apply to Muffins For Tea (4.35). He's not obviously well weighted, but has a bit of a chance having run well here in a novice hurdle two back.

 

Next week

I'm down to ride Allchilledout at Chepstow on Monday. He hated the ground the last day and the track would have been sharp enough, but he's got good form round Chepstow, and should run his race.

Then it's Cheltenham. I have a few possibles though I won't know final running plans until nearer the time. Some might not get in and some might be ridden by other people! But this is how it looks at the moment.

I have one ride on Tuesday, in the Ultima Handicap Chase. I'm on a horse called Viconte Du Noyer, who won over a quarter mile further here at the BetVictor (Open) meeting. Ignore his last run, where he put two feet in a ditch in the Welsh National. He's actually only three pounds higher than his November win here, so has some sort of chance.

I can also pass on a good word for Romain de Senam. He galloped well the other day, and goes to the Novices' Handicap Chase (closing race on day one) in great fettle.

On Thursday, I'm scheduled to ride Mr Mix in the Pertemps. In truth, he's probably going to struggle a bit in this rarefied company, but he's unexposed at the trip and we're hoping that brings about some improvement.

Later that afternoon, with luck I'll get another chance on Zarkandar. The Stayers' is obviously a very hot race but, as I said earlier, I quietly fancy him to run into the first four or five.

Brio Conti is entered for the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' race on Friday. He has a hell of a chance if he scrapes him, but that looks unlikely at this stage, sadly. I'd be hopeful of picking up a ride though, fingers crossed..

 

SEASONAL SCORES

I'm up to 48 winners now for the season, closing in a maiden 50. That would be amazing but I'm certainly not counting my chickens. Dave Noonan is up to 30 now, and my closest rival, with Jamie Bargary on 29. It would be amazing if I could get a winner this weekend and then make 50 at Cheltenham next week, but that's probably a pretty wild dream! We'll keep kicking and hope to get those two I'm chasing before too long.

Until next time, I wish you the best of luck at Cheltenham next week, and let's hope all goes safely and well...

- Harry 

Monday Musing: Dream Season

As we get within a month or so of Cheltenham, the familiar forces are gathering, writes Tony Stafford. Over here the Nicholls and Henderson pulses quicken as expeditionary representatives travel far and wide to put down markers. In Ireland, the 1-14 shots that are Douvan and the rest toddle around to collect the odd €20k prize without breaking sweat on the way to Festival glory next month.

We’ve seen most of it before, so when something totally out of kilter with the norm confronts our vision, it is all the more enjoyable.

In Ireland, jumping especially is mostly about the Mullinses and the Walshes, leavened with increasing vigour by Gordon Elliott. All of the above were typically among the winners at Punchestown yesterday.

The scale of Willie Mullins’ and Elliott’s stable power must constantly frustrate would-be challengers for the major prizes, so when one of the lesser lights beats them at their own game, the satisfaction must be all the greater.

That sort of pleasure was clearly evident in the body language between rider Katy Walsh and trainer Ross O’Sullivan after Ruby’s sister made all with an enterprising and powerful ride aboard Baie Des Iles in the three and a half mile Grand National Trial. I would go so far as to say I reckon it was one of the best front-running rides I’ve ever seen in a long-distance chase, given depth of opposition and testing ground conditions.

The historical fact is that O’Sullivan, who happens to be Katy’s husband, was winning his third race of the season. His French-bred six-year-old mare is already building up a decent record, this being a second Irish victory following a Punchestown three-miler last season before a good second behind Bonny Kate in this event a year ago.

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Ruby Walsh rode her that time, but yesterday was required for Sambremont, trained by Willie. That gelding stayed on late to pass Bonny Kate for second close home, but for almost the entire trip, Baie Des Iles, jumping boldly and accurately, led a nice few lengths clear of her old rival, with the remainder of the 15 runners, all geldings, miles behind.

Ross O’Sullivan’s best score to date has been four, two seasons ago. In seven campaigns over jumps (latest first) his scores are 3, 3, 4, 0, 3, 0 and 0. On the Flat it’s 2, 2, 0, 1, 0. Both last year’s Flat wins came with the veteran Doonard Prince, who collected consecutive autumn sprints at their local track, the Curragh, in fields of 27 and 23!

This though was at the other end of the stamina spectrum and considering Baie Des Iles’ relative youth, the fact she stays so well explains the trainer’s relish for a challenge for Newcastle’s four-mile Eider Chase next month. She’s already been sixth to Rogue Trader in the Irish Grand National and fifth behind Gold Cup candidate Native River in the Welsh Grand National, in each case as the only five-year-old in either race.

Yesterday’s win will have earned the daughter of Barastraight – unfashionable in France where he stands - a hike towards the 150 mark, but seemingly the prospect of soft ground on the tough Newcastle track offers the potential of perfect components for Baie Des Iles and her determined ally in the saddle.

I often get a reminder of the Eider Chase and two or three other now otherwise fading memories of an old former Daily Telegraph colleague, especially when, as on Friday, I see Grand National-winning jockey Graham Thorner at the sales, where he has become a bit of an ace in picking up unexposed hitherto under-achievers from the big yards.

He regularly turns £2k ugly ducklings into nice jumping prospects, but there’s always time for a reminder, as on Friday, of the day at Kempton when he rode a winner for Noel Blunt’s father-in-law. My Mate won by 25 lengths and the next day, recounting the tale, Blunty added proudly that of course he had given the jockey, who’d become a bit of a pal to him and his wife, a present. “Yes,” said Noel, “I gave him two quid!” I don’t think Thorner ever declared it to the tax people.

Noel eventually went on to the Sporting Life as chief sub-editor and there enjoyed cult status with such headlines as “Scaling the Eider” and “The Hanging Baskets of Babylon” actually appearing in the paper. Even before he so helpfully engineered my recruitment to the DT when a racing desk member died suddenly, the funniest of all was the Kruggerand episode when John Oaksey mentioned the gold South African coins in his Sunday article. Scratching of heads all round, until Noel had a brainwave. “Ask Tony <I was doing minor sports results on the next desk>. “He knows Latin!” Still miss you mate.

This is the time of year that my week quickens with young horses getting going on the gallops and mares preparing to foal. Ray Tooth has one on the board already from Lawyers Choice who has a nice big colt by Garswood, whose foals made up to £75k despite his modest initial stud fee of around £6,000 (£4,000 this year).

Garswood, of course, is a Group 1 winning son of Dutch Art, who produced two nice winners from Lawyers Choice – Dutch Art Dealer and Dutch Law, the latter who did so well for us last year. Their brother, Highway Robber, is the likely favourite for a race at Newcastle tomorrow.

His trainer, Wilf Storey, won with Table Manners on the same track on Saturday night, so she became the third dual winner for her dam, Nine Red, who is about to produce to consistent Yorkshire-based sire, Monsieur Bond.

As Tattersalls’ newly expanded two-day sale showed, demand for British and Irish bloodstock remains high, and Ray’s policy of producing his own horses rather than pay what’s needed at auction with so much high-powered overseas investment has to be our way forward.

To that end, I got to see a nicely-made son of Equiano out of flying filly Catfish, who we still maintain might have carried the accolade “the world’s fastest racehorse” had her saddle not slipped at the start of her Vodafone Dash attempt at Epsom a few years back. She finished third behind the John Best-trained Stone of Folca in the fastest electronically timed five furlongs, so, mated with a fast stallion, could well produce a decent juvenile. Chris Wall likes what he’s seen of him so far.

In all there are eight juveniles (seven home-bred) going into training and no doubt I’ll be boring you with all the minor excitements as their training regimes proceed. After all, Flat racing on turf returns next month. What happened to the winter? We didn’t get one, just daily Festival updates from November onwards.

How Cheltenham Trials Day has pointed to the Festival

It's a stupendous nine-race card at Cheltenham tomorrow (Saturday), as the traditional Trials Day has inherited two races, most notably the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase from Ascot's abandoned fixture a fortnight ago.

Without wishing to belittle what is essentially a mini-Festival in its own right, this Trials Day card may offer pointers towards the chances of runners whose next engagement will be six weeks hence at the same venue. Here is how it has played out in recent seasons...

Finesse Juvenile Hurdle (Grade 2)

The Finesse Juvenile Hurdle kicked off a compelling afternoon last season, with 25/1 outsider Protek Des Flos outstaying his rivals on heavy ground. He led home a 123 for French-bred and -raced horses but did not take his chance at the Festival. However, the second and third, Clan Des Obeaux and Consul De Thaix both did run in the Triumph Hurdle, finishing sixth and tenth on much quicker ground.

A year earlier, Peace And Co had prevailed on soft ground on Trials Day and doubled up in a soft ground Triumph, albeit as the 2/1 favourite.

It came up heavy in 2013 and 2014 at this January meeting, so no real surprise that the Finesse winners, Rolling Star and Le Rocher respectively, failed to feature in the Triumph: Le Rocher didn't show while Rolling Star was beaten into sixth behind the brilliant but ill-fated Our Conor on good to soft ground.

In 2012, the ground was good to soft in January and good in March, and Trials Day victor, Grumeti, ran well in third on Festival Friday, again as favourite.

A year earlier, Steve Gollings' Local Hero claimed Finesse glory and, on similar ground, ran a reasonable ten-length eighth of 23 at 20/1.

Finesse Hurdle (Grade 2) Summary

Prior to Peace And Co, we have to go all the way back to 2007, and the loveable Katchit, for the previous Finesse/Triumph double winner. In the interim, Kempton's Adonis Hurdle and Leopardstown's Spring Juvenile Hurdle - both run in February - have emerged as the top trials for the Triumph Hurdle. However, when Trials Day has been run on decent ground, as it will be this year, the winner has tended to run very well on similar underfoot at the Festival.

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Novices' Handicap Chase

This competitive handicap chase, run over an extended two and a half miles, has offered numerous Festival pointers, though typically not from the race winner. Such is the game of cat and mouse between connections and the handicapper in the run-up to middle March!

Last year, Un Temps Pour Tout could muster only fourth, beaten sixteen-plus lengths. But, come Festival Tuesday, he romped seven lengths clear of Holywell, and nine and more clear of the other 21, to bolt up in the Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase on a quicker surface, at 11/1.

The year before, Generous Ransom won the January contest by small margins from Astigos and Irish Cavalier. Two months later, in the novices' handicap chase at the Festival, the Cavalier reversed placings, also at 11/1.

Nothing much of note in 2014, but in 2013 Vino Griego won the January contest before running a gallant second in the Byrne Group Plate on Festival Thursday (at, you guessed it, 11/1), and managed to sneak in an Ascot win in between. The third placed horse, Battle Group, skipped Cheltenham but actually won TWO races at the Aintree meeting of that year!

Further back, in seventh, was Rajdhani Express, who came back to win the novices' handicap chase at the Festival on soft ground, having been beaten 151 lengths on heavy. There, he beat Ackertac a neck. That horse was fifth at 40/1 on Trials Day before getting chinned at 66/1 in Raj Express's Festival win.

Novices' Handicap Chase Summary

The message here seems pretty clear. Plenty are having a prep run, with three horses placed second to seventh in the Trials Day novices' handicap chase winning at the Festival six weeks later. Two more ran second. Watch out for the also ran's using Trials Day for an, erm, trial.

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Grade 3 Handicap Chase

This has been won by some smart horses in recent times - Annacotty twice, Wishfull Thinking twice, and The Giant Bolster since 2011 - but how does it rank as a Festival prep?

Not very well is the short answer, and that makes sense when you think about it. Unlike the novices' race, where plenty are still able to mask their ability to some degree, here we are dealing with more established - and exposed - handicappers. The better ones have been aimed at the Ryanair, the poorer ones have not had enough in hand to get competitive against those campaigned more wilily (is that a word?!) in Festival handicaps.

Grade 3 Handicap Chase Summary

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A betwixt and between sort of race in terms of a Festival trial, and one where the form may generally be downgraded in March.

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Cotswold Chase (Grade 2)

This may be unfairly described as a plodders' paradise, but its bearing on the Gold Cup tends to support that unkind monicker. Last year, Smad Place was a good winner - after Djakadam departed mid-race - and I got suckered into an each way bet for the GC. Smad Place could do no better than sixth in the big race in March, continuing a run of beaten Cotswold Chase winners in the Gold Cup stretching back to Looks Like Trouble in 2000.

Djakadam however did run second in the Gold Cup, as he had done a year before, and a certain Thistlecrack - odds on favourite for the Gold Cup already - is scheduled to face the starter tomorrow.

Forgetting the future for a moment and focusing on this weekend's race, there look to be a couple who could take Thistlecrack on early - Smad Place and Silviniaco Conti - which could put the brilliant Colin Tizzard-trained horse under hitherto unasserted pressure. How he jumps in such circumstances will be fascinating.

This is also further than he's raced before, though he's never looked to have suspect stamina.

From a future form perspective, what may be more interesting is that two winners - Neptune Collonges and Many Clouds - have gone on to win the Grand National either the same, or the following, season.

Cotswold Chase (Grade 2) Summary

The balance of 21st century history suggests the Cotswold Chase is a poor trial for the Gold Cup. But rarely, if ever during that time, will it have been graced by a horse of such class and potential as Thistlecrack. He has to stand up this time to win, most likely, and perhaps the same again in March. It figures to be his sternest fencing examination to date given the battle-hardened stout-staying street fighters against which he'll line up. And I'm very much looking forward to it!

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Classic Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2)

The extended two and a half mile novices hurdle has only been in inception since 2005, and there was no race in 2006, meaning just eleven renewals to date. But during that time, it has established itself as a top class portender of Festival credentials.

Last year, Yanworth was highly impressive on Trials Day before running a quarter mile further than anything else under an 'artisanal' ride (think, botched improvisation on the big stage) in the Neptune at the Festival. He finished second, beaten less than two lengths, making it hard to avoid the suspicion that he ought to have won.

Back in second in that heavy ground Trials Day slog was Shantou Village, and he was sent off favourite for the Albert Bartlett (known affectionately as 'the potato race'). But the exertions of his prep run seemed to take their toll as Neil Mulholland's charge was pulled up on Festival Friday.

In 2015, Ordo Ab Chao was a surprise winner on soft ground. He could fare no better than seventh in the Neptune on quicker turf. Nothing else from the top six has done anything of note since. But, in seventh, was a certain Thistlecrack, who skipped Cheltenham's Festival to embark upon his new superstar career by romping away with the Grade 1 Sefton Novices' Hurdle at Aintree.

Another footnote from the race was Colin Tizzard's other entry, Native River, who fell two out when holding every chance. Like the winner, he too was a 16/1 shot that day, but is now no better than ten points shorter for the Gold Cup itself. Between then and now he ran midfield in the Albert Bartlett before his conversion to fences heralded that rapid elevation in rating.

The 2014 field was thin and weak, Red Sherlock seeing off Rathvinden, the pair mustering just three subsequent runs between them. In fairness, one of the trio was Rathvinden's third place finish in the Neptune six weeks later.

2013 was At Fisher's Cross's year. Rebecca Curtis's star beat a small but select field, with the next three places filled by, in order, The New One, Coneygree and Whisper. At Fisher's Cross doubled up in the potato race, and subsequently made the first four in the next two World Hurdles in spite of some terrible back problems.

The New One has run commendably in Grade 1 hurdles since, amassing most of a million quid in prize money; and Coneygree showed his superb talent when not injured by barrelling to an all-the-way pillar to post victory in the 2015 Gold Cup.

Neither of the first two in 2012 were seen at the Festival, and a big field offered testimony to the lack of a standout performer.

Classic Novices' Hurdle (Grade 2) Summary

A touch hit and miss, when this race - registered as the Classic Novices' Hurdle - has been good, it has been very good. Without the aid of the proverbial crystal ball, it is hard to say which way this renewal will go; but I have the suspicion that Wholestone might be pretty smart. And, if he wins, it's worth having a pound each way on Peregrine Run - the only horse to beat Wholestone in his last four starts - for the Neptune. Nigel Twiston-Davies' charge would be more feasible for the Albert Bartlett, I suspect.

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Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2)

A trial for the World Hurdle. Or the Stayers' Hurdle, nomenclature to which it will revert under sunbets' stewardship this season. Thistlecrack waltzed away with this last year before waltzing away with the stayers' crown less than two months later.

Cole Harden was only fourth in the 2015 renewal before a wind operation helped bring about the requisite improvement to claim World Hurdle glory.

The year before that was More Of That's stayers' crown, though that fellow completed his track preparation a month earlier in Cheltenham's Relkeel Hurdle. The Cleeve that season (2013/14) was a 'changing of the guard' as Big Buck's finally relented and George Charlton and Jan Faltajsek had a well deserved moment in the sun with the titanium tough Knockara Beau.

Big Buck's won the Cleeve in 2009 and 2012, the only two years prior to 2014 that he entered, normally wrapping up his winter business in the Relkeel in December.

In the pre-BB era, it was Inglis Drever who prevailed for a third time in the Stayers' Hurdle as he notched the Cleeve-Stayers' double in 2008, having run second in the previous Cleeve en route to his middle Stayers' crown.

Cleeve Hurdle (Grade 2) Summary

This is a very good trial for the Stayers' Hurdle. Most Stayers' winners to contest the Cleeve won it, but both Inglis Drever (second time around) and Cole Harden were beaten in the trial before reversing form in the main March event. So it is certainly worth considering those within hailing distance of the winner for a possible spot of Festival value.

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Trials Day Conclusions

Naturally we'll all be wiser after Saturday's mega card. In this post I've tried to flag a few under the radar runners who will emerge from the non-winners, and who might be expected to progress between now and the Cheltenham Festival itself.

I will be especially interested in the five or six behind the winner (who will succumb to an inevitable penalty) in the novices' handicap chase, though beware the dangers of trying to second guess in which heat they'll actually take part.

Elsewhere and we don't need history to tell us that strong performances from the likes of Unowhatimeanharry and, most notably, Thistlecrack give them big chances in the Championship events.

The Classic Novices' Hurdle looks hard to predict, while the Grade 3 handicap chase has not been a strong pointer to the Festival. And when the Finesse Juvenile Hurdle has been run on decent ground it has usually thrown up a solid contender for the Triumph Hurdle, though rarely at a value price.

I have not covered the Clarence House or the Cross Country race, both borrowed from other fixtures, though there will be strong Festival contenders emerging from the pair, perhaps particularly the Cross Country handicap chase.

Matt

Monday Moan: The Cheltenham Tetchfest

Monday moans

By Tony Stafford

What is it about the Cheltenham Festival that makes people tetchy? After three days there – we came back on Friday morning again - I had seen plenty of tetchiness around the place, enough to last me until next year.

It starts as you try to get into the main car park on the road coming in from the east. On Tuesday we – Harry and me – were there by 11.15, no chance. On Wednesday we made it 30 minutes earlier, are you joking? Once again we were half an hour earlier on Thursday with the same result. I’m tempted to go back again tomorrow, just for the reminder of how good it is in there.

The options we had were either lamely to follow the instructions of the car park jobsworths to “go down to the right”, thus ending at the foot of a hill and face the post-racing queue of queues, or swing back into the easy-getaway £15 a time private park in someone’s rather grand garden.

With each day the tetchy gene developed nicely. My day one highlight was always going to be getting to see Punjabi in the parade of ten former stars – Denman, Sizing Europe and Comply or Die among them. I did, but only just as after a succession of similar knock-backs for having the wrong ticket (Press Grade 3, no access anywhere, just through the doors), I caught a glimpse as he was about to pass from the bit where the unplaced horses are collected into the paddock.

An hour before the first race they thronged the parade ring, but I saw my chance to give him a pat. Just as I was about to land the affectionate touch, an old guy – yes even older than me but possessing the right armband – physically pushed me back, to Rachael Kempster’s obvious amazement.

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After the ruling out in the days coming up to the race of Faugheen, no other Champion Hurdle winner was at the place until Annie Power’s victory a couple of hours later. For officialdom to prevent anyone connected to the horses to get near, so far before the first actual race, suggests  over-the-top and unnecessary unhelpfulness.

But then, it’s all about the money. It’s hard to find accurate figures for days two to four, but it’s unlikely they will differ much from the opening day’s record of 67,770, making for a week-long figure well in excess of 250,000. [260,579 total for the four days. Ed.]

At £85 for Club admission which now gets you into some of the very swish new facilities, including parts of the new stand, it’s not cheap and the £55 for Tattersalls, where you might wish to go down to the Guinness enclosure and be so packed in that you struggle to lift your arms from your sides to consume said beverage, looks a bit of a take-on.

One pal, who makes his money in part from the totally illegal and equally accepted by the authorities market in tickets, reported he had a sale on Thursday when running into a quartet of lady racegoers looking for an alternative to the Best Mate enclosure (as far as I recall £30) which they’d entered and seen enough of long before racing started.

The course’s need to keep matters under control is understandable, but Michel Buckley, long-standing owner of a good few Festival winners, was not too chuffed when he found that for his two runners, one each on Wednesday and Friday, he could only enter the paddock for those races.

“I always like to go into the paddock every year to see my friends, but this time I had to make do with the races I was involved in”, he said. Buckley jointly owns horses with, among others, John Magnier, Mrs Susannah Ricci and Lord Vestey, former Cheltenham Chairman, who in Buckley’s opinion, with Johnny Henderson, Nicky’s late father, were the chief factors in the course’s rise from earlier darker financial times.

The effects of a new harsher regime even filtered down to impinge on the activities of two of the most prominent journalist/broadcasters of the last 30 years. Both John McCririck and Aussie Jim McGrath, neither doing actual broadcasts after the former’s demotion from Channel Four racing and Jim’s jettisoning out the Daily Telegraph door a couple of years back, were demoted from the real press box to the Media Centre. Would have sensed some degree of “tetchy” there, but Big Mac probably managed, with the help of the resourceful Boobie, his wife, to get into some desirable gigs and possibly earn some money.

Jim, happily, was OK, with his pal Steve Taylor getting him owner’s passes courtesy of John Ferguson. One day Steve was in the owners’ facility with its seafood counter, hot roast area and unlimited grub with three different badges all the same colour, entitling him to three goes in the paddock. I didn’t tell Buckers, he might have got a bit tetchy.

There was more than a little unpleasantness when Rich Ricci, the darling of the Cheltenham preview circuit, added to the Faugheen disappointment, by sanctioning the altered plans for Vautour from the Gold Cup to the Ryanair Chase because “he hasn’t been working at all well”. Having assured his admiring adherents from the previews that it was “Gold Cup or nothing for Vautour”, he looked a bit silly when Vautour paralysed a decent field in the shorter race.

All of a sudden the mid-Atlantic tones, the lengthy discourses on the prospects of the horses and the silly suits almost got on my nerves, God forbid, and made me a little bit tetchy – call me Titch Tetchy!

The football’s going well. In the way of the mainline sports, as against racing, media, all was as the big man intended. Many of the top names turned up for the annual once a year swill in the Cheltenham trough with the top accreditation and pontificated about racing as though they invented it. Nothing unusual there, and it gave them a few days’ break from slagging off Manchester City, Man U, Arsenal and their managers.

Meanwhile the racing fraternity was split over the Victoria Pendleton affair, although after she’d skilfully pointed the amazingly-accurate and willing Pacha de Polder around the course and finished a closing fifth, there was still condescension in the ranks.

I like Racing UK – you need to as they keep putting their prices up – but this was one time when some of the team might have been a little more generous with their compliments. Before the race, their collective view was that even an experienced rider would find it difficult as Pacha de Polder’s stamina was in question.

Afterwards, Jonathan Neesom described it as a great effort, but the normally shrewd Stuart Machin thought she’d given him a lot too much to do; but surely Stuart, if he’s a doubtful stayer that’s the way to get home. Another furlong and I’m sure they’d have won. McCririck on Attheraces’ Sunday Forum repeated his unwavering view that she shouldn’t have been allowed to ride, even after showing a degree of skill, amazing considering she’s only ever ridden one winner. The biggest thing for me, after she got within less than three lengths of the winner without ever once hitting the horse, was that she wasn’t even puffing, as befits an Olympic Gold medal winner.

Bet most of the other more practised but less talented amateurs in the race were blowing the house down after three miles, while the winner, Nina Carberry, on the favourite got home with the help of a very un-amateur like use of force, enough to win but also to earn her a seven-day ban. Maybe she’s a little tetchy, too. Wonder if you or anyone else you know had a tetchy moment during that momentous week?

Sat TV Trends: 12th March 2016

The excitement is building for the week before the Cheltenham Festival, but before that, this Saturday the C4 cameras head to Sandown, with the Imperial Cup their feature race, plus they are also at Wolverhampton for two races that include the Lincoln Handicap Trial.

tvtrends-300x73

 

 

 

 

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Sandown Horse Racing Trends (RUK/C4)

2.00 – 30th European Breeders´ Fund "National Hunt" Novices´ Handicap Hurdle Final (Grade 3) Cl1 2m3f173y CH4

13/13 – Had won no more than twice over hurdles before
12/13 – Aged 6 or younger
12/13 – Carried 10-11 or more
11/13 – Placed in the top 3 last time out
10/13 – Returned 8/1 or less in the betting
10/13 – Rated 128 or less
10/13 – Came from outside the top 3 in the betting
10/13 – Raced within the last 6 weeks
9/13 – Irish bred
9/13 – Unplaced favourites
8/13 – Aged 6 years-old
7/13 – Had won over this trip before
5/13 – Won last time out
2/13 – Won by Nicky Henderson
2/13 – Won by Paul Nicholls
2/13 – Won by the Pipe yard
1/13 – Winning favourites
1/13 – Winners that went onto run at Cheltenham (3rd Martin Pipe)
The average winning SP in the last 10 runnings is 9/1

2.35 - Kings Mistral Handicap Chase Cl3 3m37y CH4

12/13 – Had won over at least 2m4f (fences) before
11/13 – Carried 11-1 or more
11/13 – Returned 8/1 or shorter in the betting
11/13 – Had won between 1-4 times over fences
10/13 -  Rated between 125-134
10/13 – Came from the top 3 in the betting
10/13 – Aged 8 or older
9/13 – Placed favourites
8/13 – Unplaced last time out
8/13 – Raced within the last 4 weeks
7/13 – Irish bred
7/13 – Returned 7/2 or shorter in the betting
4/13 – Trained by Paul Nicholls
3/13 – Ridden by Ruby Walsh
2/13 – Trained by Oliver Sherwood
2/13 – Winning favourites (1 joint)
2/13 – Won last time out
The average winning SP in the last 10 runnings is 5/1

3.10 – Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) Cl1 2m110y CH4

13/13 – Had won no more than twice over hurdles before
12/13 – Carried 10-13 or less
12/13 – Had won between 1-2 times over hurdles before
12/13 – Had raced within the last 6 weeks
10/13 – Aged 6 or younger
10/13 – Rated 124 or higher
9/13 – Carried 10-7 or less
9/13 – Winners that went onto run at the Cheltenham Festival (1 winner, Gaspara - Fred Winter)
9/13 – Had won over at least 2m1f (hurdles) before
8/13 – Finished in the top two last time out
8/13 – Winning distance – 3 ½ lengths or more
6/13 – Raced at either Cheltenham (2), Sandown (2) or Ascot (2) last time out
6/13 – Aged 4 or 5 years-old
6/13 – Won last time out
6/13 – Returned a double-figure price in the betting
5/13 – Winning favourites
5/13 – French bred
5/13 – Had raced at Sandown (hurdles) before – 2 had won there before
5/13 – Won by the Pipe stable (have won it 9 times in all)
1/13 – Won by an Irish-trained horse
The average winning SP in the last 13 years is 11/1

3.45 – EBF Stallions/TBA Mares´ Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race (Listed) Cl1 2m110y CH4

12/12 – Had won at least one NH Flat race before
11/12 – 1ST or 2ND last time out
9/12 – Had raced within the last 8 weeks
10/12 – Returned 17/2 or shorter in the betting
9/12 – Had won just once before (NH Flat race)
8/12– Won last time out
6/12 – Aged 5 years-old
1/12 – Winning favourites
Won 12 months ago by Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh

Wolverhampton Horse Racing Trends (ATR/C4)

2.15 – Ladbrokes Lincoln Trial Handicap Cl2 1m141y CH4

13/13 – Had raced within the last 6 weeks
12/13 – Won over a mile before
12/13 – Aged 6 or younger
11/13– Won at least three times before
10/13 – Priced 9/1 or shorter in the betting
9/13 – Ran at Lingfield last time out
8/13 – Placed favourites
7/13 – Came from outside the top 3 in the betting
7/13 – Came from stall 9 or higher
6/13 – Aged 5 years-old
5/13 – Had won at Wolverhampton before
4/13 – Won last time out
2/13 – Trained by Richard Hannon
2/13 – Ridden by Jamie Spencer
3/13 – Winning favourites
The average winning SP in the last 10 runnings is 7/1

2.50 – Ladbrokes Lady Wulfruna Stakes (AW Championship Fast-Track Qualifier) (Listed Race) Cl1 7f32y CH4

8/9 – Returned 9/1 or shorter in the betting
8/9 – Had won over 7f before
8/9 – Had won at least 4 times before
6/9 – Drawn in stall 7 or higher
6/9 – Rated 105 or higher
7/9 – Placed favourites
7/9 – Had raced within the last 3 weeks
6/9 – Aged 6 or 7 years-old
5/9 – Unplaced last time out
6/9 – Raced at Lingfield last time out
5/9 – Had won at Wolverhampton before
3/9 – Winning favourite
2/9 – Trained by Marco Botti
The average winning SP in the last 9 runnings is 6/1
Sovereign Debt won the race 12 months ago
Chookie Royale won the race in 2014

 

 

Follow Andy Newton Here - @NewtsDailyLays

Cheltenham Handicap Weights: Irish Winners and Losers

Last week saw the release of the weights for the ten Festival handicaps and there was the expected consternation among Irish connections about their UK marks and the increased marks they were given by the UK handicapper Phil Smith, writes Tony Keenan. So who were the real winners and losers from the announcement of the weights?

Loser: Gordon Elliott

If we learned nothing else from the release of the weights, it is that Phil Smith hates Gordon Elliott. The pair staged a cold war through the winter about the handicapping of the ex-Donald McCain-trained Diamond King and that set the tone for the Elliott entries being largely hard done by here. Take the relative handicapping of Elliott’s handicap hurdle entries compared to those of Willie Mullins; where the former’s runners received an average of 5.6 pounds on top of their home marks, the latter’s hurdlers were raised just 2.7 pounds. That discrepancy is a little too large to be coincidence and it might be that the UK handicappers are simply sick of Elliott plundering their races at summer gaffs like Perth and used this opportunity to punish the trainer. Elliott’s chasers don’t seem to be any better treated, particularly those that debuted early in the jumps season proper; Nickname Exit (9lbs higher), Lord Scoundrel (7lbs) and Unic De Bersy (5lbs) all seem to be paying a toll for winning their chases early. As to Diamond King, he might be one that Smith has got to grips with now. If his trainer didn’t think he was well-handicapped enough to win the Ladbroke at Ascot back in December, then why would he have so much in hand off a higher mark now?

 

Winner: Willie Mullins

Relative to Elliott, the Mullins handicappers seem to have got in relatively lightly. Not only did his hurdlers remain relatively untouched but both his entries (McKinley and Sambremont) for the novice handicap chase on Tuesday got into the race off a mark of 139 when the rating ceiling is 140. That was in contrast to last year when a number of his entries, notably Blood Cotil and Jarry D’Honneur, weren’t allowed into the race. The concern now for Mullins is whether his horses might be too well-treated. The likes of Townshend (133 in Ireland, 135 in UK) and Clondaw Warrior (132 in Ireland, 134 in UK) could face a struggle to get into a race, Townshend being number 64 on the ballot to get into the County and Clondaw Warrior 71 in the same race and 81 in the Martin Pipe.

 

Loser: Noble Endeavor

Noble Endeavor is nowhere near the worst handicapped horse at the meeting as he’s rated just a pound higher in the UK than Ireland, 141 as against 140. But that’s a small discrepancy that makes a big difference as it disqualifies him from getting in the novice handicap chase that has likely been his target all season. That was a race that made sense for him after such a good run off 140 in the Martin Pipe last year and instead punters are being asked to take a single-figure price about him for the National Hunt Chase, a test that seems wholly unsuitable for this strong traveller. He might be the chief sufferer of the fatal one pound rise but he’s not the only one. Spring Heeled is another example; he’s rated 146 and is thus disqualified from the Kim Muir he won in 2014.

 

Winner: Squouateur

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There’s a long list of badly-handicapped Elliott runners at this meeting but one that might have slipped in light is Squouateur in the Martin Pipe, raised 4lbs from an Irish mark of 137 to a UK figure of 141 which guarantees him a run in the race. He won what looks the strongest handicap hurdle run over an intermediate trip in Ireland this season at Fairyhouse and wasn’t hard pressed to do so. The form of that race is already working out – the sixth won a similar race over the weekend at Naas – and he is bred to go on decent ground. With the top claimer Jack Kennedy likely to ride, he’s one whose price seems likely to collapse.

 

Loser: Tony Martin

Of the Irish trainers, only Willie Mullins has trained more handicap winners at the Festival since 2003 than Tony Martin, the Meath trainer sending out five in total including the likes of Xenophon and Dun Doire. That’s a tally he’s unlikely to add to this this year as his team of entries seems woefully thin with Guess Again (top price 16/1 for the Kim Muir) the shortest price of his possible runners. It’s not so much that the Martin runners have been hammered in the weights but rather that they are a mainly exposed bunch and it is difficult to see horses like Living Next Door, Mydor and The Plan Man having any secrets from the handicapper. The bigger issue may well be one of stable form as Martin has had a down season; since the start of September, his runners over jumps in Ireland and the UK are 8/148, a strikerate of 5.4% with an actual over expected of 0.41. There’s something wrong there.

 

Winner: Sandra Hughes

At the other end of the trainer form spectrum is Sandra Hughes who has won two Grade 2’s and a valuable handicap in the past month after a quiet winter. Her six handicap entries next week seem to have snuck in quite lightly relative to their Irish marks; the biggest hike was 5lbs, two were risen 3lbs, another a pound while two were left alone. There is unlikely to be any real buzz behind her team – Mullins and Elliott understandably hoover up most of the attention afforded to Irish trainers ahead of the Festival – but the likes of Art Of Payroll (County Hurdle) and especially Guitar Pete (Grand Annual, if he gets in) could well outrun their odds.

 

Loser: Michael O’Leary

He may be winning at life but I wouldn’t like to be footing the bill for Michael O’Leary’s handicap entries at Cheltenham, the owner having 57 initial entries across the 10 handicaps which is a massive number considering he claims to be only interested in winning Grade 1s. The Martin Pipe (11 entries), Coral Cup (9) and Kim Muir (8) have particularly high Gigginstown representation at this early stage. Gordon Elliott has a lot to answer for as he holds a large percentage of those O’Leary entries and he might be getting a call from the famously penny-pinching owner post-Festival. (Mr Ryanair had a brilliant line in a Racing Post interview last Sunday about how an interior designer offered to do a Google-style job on the Ryanair offices for €2.5 million so O’Leary did it himself for €25,000!) In that same interview he went on to point out that his horses are distributed on performance-related criteria with the trainers that do best for him getting new stock. No one has sent out more winners for him than Elliott in the last five years though the entry fees may be eating into the prize money. However, O’Leary was declared a first time billionaire in a recent rich list so this is all ‘drop in the ocean’ stuff.

 

‘Winner’: Home Farm

If you compare Irish marks and UK marks, then Home Farm is officially the best-treated Irish runner at the Festival being rated 149 at home but 145 across the water. That’s something the market seems to have ignored – he’s 50/1 for the Ultima Handicap Chase on Tuesday – but the layers probably have him about right as he simply looks a badly-handicapped horse that is out of form too. That’s the thing about handicap marks next week: punters can get too hung up on them and if an Irish horse is badly-treated at home a pound or two here or there won’t make a major difference. Sometimes it can be much more sensible to find a horse that is on the up and thriving who will be suited by conditions and not worry about the fact that Phil Smith has loaded on a lumpy penalty. Blue Hell is one that fits this mould.

 

Loser: Space Cadet

As for the theoretically worst handicapped Irish horse among the Festival handicappers, that dubious honour falls to Space Cadet who is 12lbs higher in the UK on a mark of 133. It’s a meaningless figure in truth as he’s highly unlikely to get a run in any race though Gordon Elliott might be heartened to think that Phil Smith rates him so highly. Perhaps Smith believes he’s another Elliott plot and has thus proceeded with caution but anyone watching his recent Irish races will know the truth of it as he’s become increasingly ungenuine and connections will be glad to win a race, any race, with him, not to mention a Festival handicap.

 

Winner: Irish Entries in the Grand Annual

Irish horses have a poor record in the handicap chases at the Festival; we have won the novice handicap only once since its inception, have had one winner in the Festival Plate since 1951 and are poor in the Kim Muir albeit improving of late. The one exception to this rule is the Grand Annual where we are 4 wins from 44 runners since 2003 (actual over expected of 1.25) along with five runners-up. It’s surprising then that across all the handicap chases, it is the Grand Annual where the Irish horses appear best-treated; the average discrepancy between the Irish and UK marks is 2.3lbs which is marginally the lowest of five handicap chases when it should be the highest judged on past results. Of course there is no certainty that history will repeat itself but looking at entries from the respective countries, many of the UK runners looked quite exposed whereas the Irish entries appear on the up with the likes of Velvet Maker, Rock The World and Guitar Pete all interesting. It might even be worth doing some small perms with forecasts and tricasts on the day around the Irish horses.

Updated Cheltenham Ante Post Portfolio

Something to appeal to the voyeur in you today, and a video as well. Before you go running for cover at the thought of watching me in a voyeuristic video, it's not that sort of video!

No, it's a walkthrough of my Cheltenham Festival ante post portfolio spreadsheet. Feel free to switch channels now if that's not your thing. And/or, if you prefer, I've included the spreadsheet in full beneath the video. [Click the video button bottom right to view full screen.]

I've now previewed ten of the 28 races in my normal succinct (ahem) way, and you can click through to the ones of your choice from this link: Cheltenham Race Previews

 

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Click the image below to view full size...

Cheltenham Ante Post Portfolio 2016, as at 8th March

Cheltenham Ante Post Portfolio 2016, as at 8th March

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If you're after the best bookie offers, then keep your peepers peeled on this page:

Best Cheltenham Festival Bookmaker Offers

What fancy prices have you got in your portfolio? Any horse you're especially looking forward to next week? Leave a comment and share... 🙂

Matt

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 horseracebase.com, 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.

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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.

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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.

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]

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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.

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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)

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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

Cheltenham Festival 2016 Race Guide

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.

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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.

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