Monday Musings: Thoughts Turn to Winter

How Cheltenham ever managed to race for two days heaven only knows, writes Tony Stafford. As we – Steve Howard, a good friend whose mortgage-securing acumen helped me a couple of times in my financially-injudicious past, and me – followed directions to Fergal O’Brien’s new yard less than ten miles short of the track, water streamed or rather surged through the gulleys next to the road. Evidence of what it must have been like on Thursday, when the decision to abandon Friday’s card was made, remained all too visible.

Fergal’s brilliant start since his switch from alongside Nigel Twiston-Davies has been accompanied by the sights and sounds of extensive building work and on Sunday morning as a group of existing and prospective owners concluded their visit, the mud was testimony to the recent climatic excesses.

On a former working farm, non-descript barns have been imaginatively transformed to luxurious housing for the equine performers that have propelled O’Brien into the horse racing consciousness. He is one of the star names of this early phase of full-on jumping. As winter extends its grip, as by some forecasters’ accounts it may well do in this most capricious of years, you had to wonder how horse boxes will negotiate the gradients of the narrow roads by which you approach the farm.

Kim Bailey, just down the road from O’Brien posted pictures one day late last week of his snow-decked driveway, so there must have been some of that at his near neighbour’s place. The sign for “flood” showed where the worst had been, and Sally Randell, Fergal’s right-hand, still apparently believed it was a hazard, warning us while beaming us in that “your car will get through it okay”. It did because there wasn’t one, but we marvelled at the thought of how close to being flooded some of the properties along the way must have been on Friday.

The O’Brien team had a rare disappointing day yesterday, Benny’s Bridge never giving the slightest indication that he might replicate his last-to-first spectacular from the last meeting, and the two in the bumper finishing just outside the placings as a tag team.

Beneficiaries of the day were clearly the Pipes, with senior (Martin) accompanying son David to the sports. There were plenty of O’Neill’s there too, Jonjo senior and wife Jacqui, nephew Joe, who helps run the admin at Jackdaws Castle, and his dad over from Ireland for the weekend. Jonjo junior, recently back from injury, was the chosen one to steer the Pipe-trained and J P McManus-owned Duc De Beauchene in the opening conditional riders’ race – a benefit for Pipe in recent years – and he did that with style and exquisite timing.

If that success was predictable, 100-30 in a massive field the give-away, the last-race bumper win of Israel Champ was less so, as his 16-1 SP testified. Here it was supposed to be J P again with the once-raced course winner Times Flies By, who had given Barry Geraghty a comeback winner after his latest injury absence at the previous meeting, but that one was unable to peg back Tom Scudamore on the Pipe runner.

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Israel Champ, a wide-margin Irish point-to-point debut winner in the spring had been “expected” when running for the first time at Worcester less than a month ago, starting 13-8 favourite but, after setting what the race-readers observed was a very slow pace, faded into a modest sixth.

Up a good deal in class yesterday, and with Scudamore riding him for the first time, this was more traditional Pipe-Scudamore mode from a generation and a half ago. Now Tom orchestrated a sound gallop, one which none of the others, struggling to decide which portion of the by-now heavily poached terrain to choose for this last of 15 races over the two days, was able to counter.

Cheltenham very helpfully kept us appraised of the jockey standings and as we left the track after the last, the honours board listed a number of riders each with the number “1” alongside their names. In fact, possibly uniquely, especially with a couple of four-runner races yesterday, 15 different jockeys got into the winner’s position over the two days so there was no room for at least half the names to be displayed. I bet Richard Johnson, who won the first race on Saturday, never expected to share the spoils with 14 other riders.

Despite Time Flies By’s defeat in the bumper, J P will have been happy enough with his day’s work, present at Cheltenham to welcome Defi Du Seuil, who outpointed Politologue, Simply Ned and Saint Calvados up the hill to win an intriguing Shloer Chase. He also had doubles at Punchestown, initiated by Yanworth in his first try over the Banks course for Enda Bolger, and Cork where Joseph O’Brien chipped in with two young hurdlers with an obvious future.

There was no McManus winner at Fontwell where pride of place went to Gary Moore and his remarkable young stayer Goshen. After three runs as a juvenile, ninth of 12 at 40/1; eighth of 15 at 100-1 and tenth of 11, again at 100-1, beaten 21 lengths, Gary might have thought a 64 rating a shade defensive on the part of the officials.

Whether he realised just how ineffective that defence was when the horse showed up at Brighton early in June was not obvious from the betting, Goshen eventually strolling away to a 12-length win from a Mark Johnston odds-on shot. A week later I remember thinking him a mad short price to follow up at Sandown with other progressive young stayers in the field, but he won that by nine lengths off 70 (6lb penalty). After Sandown he again went missing until late October, reappearing at Nottingham, and again winning by a wide margin, this time seven lengths off a perch of 80, provoking a furrther 8lb rise.

Writing the Racing Post Analysis on that Brighton run back in June, Gary Savage made an intuitive point that Goshen is jumping-bred and the way he demolished his field by 23 lengths at Fontwell marks him out as exactly that. One downside was that he was showed exaggerated right-handed tendencies from the start and went markedly in that direction at the last two obstacles, between which Jamie Moore spent as much time looking back than forward. Goshen has to be a Triumph Hurdle candidate if the right-handedness, no use at all at Cheltenham, can be eradicated or at least tempered.

While Jamie was minding his father’s shop close to home in Sussex, big brother Ryan was continuing his world tour in Kyoto, Japan, along with new champion Oisin Murphy, William Buick and multiple former French champion Christophe Soumillon. They competed in the Mile Championship, worth a shade over £800k and won by Indy Champ ridden by local jockey Kenichi Ikezoe. Murphy did best of the visiting quartet, collecting his rider’s portion of the 200 grand his mount Persian Knight picked up for third in the 17-horse field. Oisin has ridden enough in Japan not to be impressed by the conversion of currency from pounds sterling to yen, but for you and me 140 yen to the pound would make an eye-opening sum.

Ryan, 16th of 17, and the other visitors would have had to be content with the appearance money one assumes they are paid for such jaunts. Meanwhile Ryan’s regular Ballydoyle team-mates, Seamus Heffernan and Wayne Lordan, were on Aidan O’Brien duty at Lingfield the day before, riding Simply Beautiful and Quote, fulfilling their Gillies Stakes engagements originally frustrated when Doncaster’s last day was washed out the previous weekend. Both were also out of the money, Lordan suggesting that Quote would have fared much better if able to run in the mud rather than fast Polytrack.

Meanwhile, Frankie Dettori checked in at Lingfield for two wins, starting with Scentasia for John Gosden, who was on the premises along with wife Rachel Hood and replete with US-style cap. With Lord North a non-runner, Frankie pulled rank on this year’s French champion and Arc hero Pierre-Charles Boudot, claiming back the ride on Crossed Baton when Lord North was withdrawn from the Churchill Stakes field.

It wasn’t a wasted trip for the Frenchman though, as in the opener he squeezed through on the William Haggas-trained Fruition, clearly enjoying his win in the Royal colours, and ran closest to Frankie on the Chrisophe Ferland-trained Velma Valento in the aforementioned Gillies Stakes.

My Law didn’t quite get her first win but a year on from her sale, Sod’s Law’s little sister gained her first second place in the opener for Jim Boyle, so promises soon to become a fifth winner for her dam Lawyer’s Choice after Dutch Art Dealer, Dutch Law and Highway Robber as well as Sod’s Law who was sold last month and will be racing in Ireland in the winter.

The day before Lingfield, I received WhatsApp messages from Joseph O’Brien, showing two fleeting sights of the latest of the family to go into training. Soon after came word from Joseph that this yearling colt has done well physically since starting exercise and is in the main training yard. This was a great fillip for everyone and I can’t wait to get to Pilltown to see him and the set-up. We’re trying for Gaelic Law which Ray Tooth agrees would be an appropriate name.

Many Clouds, and Two of the Best in the World

I finally got to see the entire ITV4 coverage on Saturday – in a pub - and considering the understandable outpouring of grief after Many Clouds’ collapse following his gallant defeat of Thistlecrack in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham, I thought they did rather well, writes Tony Stafford.

Luke Harvey is warming to his job alongside Mick FitzGerald and assured anchor Ed Chamberlain and, while they all gave suitable reverence to the horrific conclusion to an epic race, they left the tears for Oliver Sherwood’s close friends Warren Greatrex and Nicky Henderson.

Maybe they would have wanted to be a shade more emotional, but the races kept coming and there was Unowhatimeanharry on hand to register his claims as Thistlecrack’s probable successor as World (now reverting to Stayers’) Hurdle champion.

The snag with ITV (or indeed ITV4) is that they still miss a few races at the start of the meeting so the Triumph Hurdle Trial had long since been contested before the cameras rolled for live coverage.

Most people on the other side of the betting battleground find it hard ever to be sympathetic to the bookmakers, but in this they got a rare-old pants-down experience. Two J P McManus horses, Charli Parcs, set to be ridden by Barry Geraghty, and Defi du Seuil (Richard Johnson) were equal favourites in the morning, with the possible understanding that if one was to be withdrawn, it would probably be Johnson’s mount.

In the event, Defi du Seuil, the Chepstow Christmas winner, for all his erratic late course and iffy jumping that day might have made him vulnerable here, was the chosen one, ridden by retained rider Geraghty, and he dotted up. The evens that shrewdies took translated to 1-5 at the off, whereas Rule 4 designates a much smaller cut in such circumstances.

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On a weekend when the Willie Mullins hordes were so diminished, Faugheen and Annie Power both taken out of races and Nicholls Canyon falling – Ruby Walsh has been having a few of those - it was amusing to hear Rich Ricci quoted as saying: “We’re running out of horses!” Never mind Rich, you can send your man off to France and buy a wagon-load more.

What was remarkable on this particular weekend, was that both the outstanding American dirt horse and the supreme French trotting horse enhanced their already stellar reputations.

Ever since I fluked seeing Arrogate’s Travers Stakes romp – 13.5 lengths – last August, I have had no doubt that Bob Baffert’s now four-year-old is the best in the world. He beat the only feasible contender to the crown, California Chrome, in the Breeders’ Cup Classic last autumn, coming with a powerful late run to win by half a length.

That pair were always going to be the prime factors in the inaugural running of the $12 million Pegasus World Cup Invitational over nine furlongs at Gulfstream Park; and Arrogate (Mike Smith) always had the jump on Chrome, who faded – possibly injured – into the pack as his rival cantered to a near five-length win. The dropdown in form may have been a case of Arrogate’s looking Chrome in the eye late last year and telling him: “I’m best”: it was after eyeballing his foe down the back straight here that Victor Espinoza’s mount wilted.

Before Gulfstream, Baffert was sounding very negative about following on with the $10 million Dubai World Cup in two months’ time, but less so after this performance when presumably he considered how little risk and indeed opposition there is likely to be to his champion, outside the usual shipping/feed/track conditions concerns.

California Chrome retires with record earnings of $17m and Arrogate, beaten only on debut in a wonderful upwardly mobile career, is within $6m and surely will go to Dubai now to pinch the bit he needs to match his old rival.

The Pegasus Cup was an interesting exercise, 12 ownership groups contributing $1m each to have the right to run. Several, like Coolmore with nothing good enough to take the pair on, traded the slots, unsurprising in view of the fact the big two were both close to evens, and no doubt, there was a bit of a discount in some cases. Every horse got a pot, the numbers four to 12 collecting $250,000 while they were all promised a share in associated revenues.

If Arrogate is supreme in world dirt racing, the French trotter Bold Eagle is just as pre-eminent in his sphere, and he won his second successive Prix d’Amerique with a display of great superiority. He was a 3-5 shot in a 17-horse field and apart from a slightly sluggish start, was never questioned as he travelled up to the leaders in the straight and went well clear.

Bold Eagle, a six-year-old entire, was not the highest money-earner in the field. That distinction belonged to the 10-year-old Timoko before his 91st and last race and he certainly made a decent show, leading for the first mile of the 13-furlong distance before dropping away.

This was Bold Eagle’s second consecutive Prix d’Amerique win, and the champion could have four more attempts as trotters can run until the age of 10. The last dual winner was his sire, Ready Cash, in 2011 and 2012, interestingly after Bold Eagle was conceived. This was Bold Eagle’s 31st win in 35 starts and the French experts find it hard to see what can beat him going forward, like Arrogate. If he wins next year he will equal the achievements of the brilliant Ourasi, the best French trotter in the latter part of the last century.

Returning to Saturday, another of the Mullins hot-shots, Vroum Vroum Mag, was absolutely all out to win the mares’ race at Doncaster. Beforehand, with the Annie Power/ Faugheen issues in mind, the assumption was that Mag could step in for the Champion Hurdle, but it would take a big leap of faith to project forward from what was an ordinary performance.

Cheltenham – New Year’s Day TV Trends

Cheltenham – New Year’s Day TV Trends - A HUGE day of C4 action at Cheltenham this New Year’s Day as we begin 2017. It’s also a massive day for ITV as they take over from C4, with this being their first broadcast. As always, we are on hand with a look at all the televised races from Prestbury Park from a stats angle.




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1.25 – BetBright Dipper Novices´ Chase (Grade 2) Cl1 2m4f166y ITV

14/14 – Finished in the top 3 last time out
14/14 – Raced within the last 6 weeks
13/14 – Returned 6/1 or shorter in the betting
12/14 – Went onto run in a Cheltenham Festival race (1 winner)
11/14 – Came from the top three in the betting
11/14 – Won between 1-2 times over fences before
11/14 – Aged between 6-8 years-old
11/14 – Had won over fences at 2m3f or further before
11/14 – Raced within the last 4 weeks
9/14 – Placed favourites
9/14 – Irish bred
8/14 – Won last time out
7/14 – Returned 5/4 or shorter in the betting
6/14 – Aged 7 years-old
6/14 – Had won over hurdles at Cheltenham before
6/14 – Ran at either Sandown or Cheltenham last time out
6/14 – Winning favourites
2/14 – Won by the Pipe stable
1/14 – Went onto win the Arkle Chase (My Way De Solzen, 2007)
The average winning SP in the last 9 runnings is 4/1

2.00 - BetBright Best For Festival Betting Handicap Chase (Grade 3) Cl1 2m4f166y ITV

14/14 – Had run over fences at Cheltenham before
14/14 – Raced within the last 2 months
13/14 – Had won at least twice over fences before
12/14 – Either French (4) or Irish (8) bred
12/14 – Raced within the last 3 weeks
12/14 – Had won over 2m4f or further (fences) before
12/14 – Priced 8/1 or shorter in the betting
11/14 – Rated 138 or higher
11/14 – Aged 8 or older
10/14 – Carried 11-0 or less
9/14 – Went onto run at that season’s Cheltenham Festival
9/14 – Had won over fences at Cheltenham before
9/14 – Ran at Cheltenham last time out
9/14 – Unplaced last time out
8/14 – Came from the top 3 in the betting
8/14 – Unplaced favourites
4/14 – Winning favourites
2/14 – Won by the Nigel Twiston-Davies yard
1/14 – Went onto win the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival
The average winning SP in the last 9 runnings is 13/2

2.35 - BetBright Casino Handicap Hurdle Cl2 3m ITV

12/13 – Had raced within the last 4 weeks
12/13 – Aged between 5-7 years-old
11/13 – Had raced at Cheltenham before
9/13 – Went onto run in a race at that season’s Cheltenham Festival
9/13 – Rated 130 or higher
9/13 – Had won at least twice over hurdles in the UK before
9/13 – Had won a hurdles race over at least 2m4f before
8/13 – Carried 10-9 or more
8/13 – Came from outside the top 3 in the betting
8/13 – Unplaced favourites
8/13 – Unplaced last time out
7/13 – Ran at Cheltenham last time out
6/13 – Had won over at least 3m (hurdles) before
5/13 – French bred
4/13 – Had won over hurdles at Cheltenham before
3/13 – Won last time out
2/13 – Won by the Pipe stable
2/13 – Winning favourites
1/13 – Won by a mare
1/13 – Went onto win the World Hurdle later that season (Big Buck’s, 2009)
The average winning SP in the last 9 runnings is 17/2

3.10 – Dornan Engineering Relkeel Hurdle Cl2 2m4f110y ITV

11/12 – Went on run in a race at the Cheltenham Festival (no winners)
11/12 – Won by either a French (4) or Irish (7) bred
10/12 – Had raced at Cheltenham before
10/12 – Had raced within the last 6 weeks
9/12 – Priced 11/2 or shorter in the betting
9/12 – Had won at least 4 times over hurdles before
8/12 – Came from the top 3 in the betting
8/12 – Had won at Cheltenham before
8/12 – Had won over at least 2m4f (hurdles) before
6/12 – Went onto run in the World Hurdle later that season
6/12 – Raced at Cheltenham last time out
5/12 – Won last time out
5/12 – Winning favourites
4/12 – Trained by Nicky Henderson
4/12 – Ridden by Barry Geraghty
2/12 – Trained by the Pipe stable
The average winning SP in the last 8 runnings is 7/2


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Why Horses Fall (Part 2)

Last month, Tony Keenan offered a view on fallers in Irish chases in his excellent article here. In it, he showed which courses had the highest percentage of fallers, and which horsemen had had the most 'misfortune' in this regard.

That made for fascinating reading for Irish tracks, so it was a logical next step to conduct a similar exercise for UK tracks. For the purposes of consistency, I've used the exact same parameters as Tony did, though obviously overlayed against British courses, trainers and jockeys.

As a starting point, let's remind ourselves of the year-by-year faller rate in Ireland and UK, presented in a slightly different format from the Irish piece.


There has been a marked drop in the percentage of chase fallers in the sample period. A shrinkage in the average number of runners contesting chases is likely to be a significant factor here: less runners equates to a generally slower pace and to less crowding at fences.

In Britain, various measures have been taken to address ostensible welfare issues, most notably the redesigning of Aintree's Grand National fences.

And, looking at the data on a course by course basis, one can see that Aintree's fences have indeed taken a heavier toll than any other track in Britain (and Ireland for that matter). Not by a fine margin either. Aintree's chase fall/unseat percentage, covering both the Mildmay ('normal' chase fences) and Grand National courses, is above 20%.

The highest in Ireland is 'just' 15.2%, and the next highest in UK - Fakenham - is 12.85%.

Put another way, Aintree has a more than 60% higher faller/unseat rate in chases than any other UK track.


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If that is the overview of the theatres, what of the actors? The performance of trainer and jockey are often related, a point which should be kept in mind when perusing the following. Trainers first...


The first thing to note is that none of last season's top 25 trainers has a higher fall/unseat rate than 10% during the seasons 2009/10 to 2014/15. While the range within this relative peer group extends from 5.27% to 9.55%, it may be worth comparing the top end with their Irish counterparts. There, 13 trainers had a 10%+ fall/unseat rate, with the 'most unfortunate' trainer almost matching Aintree's 20% attrition.

The likes of Brendan Powell, Colin Tizzard, Tom George, Charlie Mann, recently retired Richard Lee, Peter Bowen, Jonjo O'Neill, and Venetia Williams deserve praise for the consistency of their jumpers' jumping; which is not to pass any negative judgement on the rest of the top 25, all of whom fall into the realms of relative acceptability when set against the most logical 'control', Ireland.

Finally, turning attention to jockeys, and again looking at the five season performance of last season's top 25 riders, we see a similar story of relatively acceptable fall/unseat rates.


As with trainers, the range is from roughly 5% (precisely 4.46%) to roughly 10% (precisely 10.05%). And as with trainers, the jockey figures compare favourably with their peer group across the Irish Sea; though this time the disparity is less marked.

While twelve of the 25 UK jockeys have a fall/unseat rate lower than Mark Walsh (6.4%), Ireland's most 'sticky' rider, Richie McLernon's UK sample high of 10.05% has just four Irish riders parting company at a more frequent rate, and none higher than 11.6%.


So much for the data, but what do they all mean?

Firstly, it is right to acknowledge that this two-dimensional glance at a three-dimensional puzzle is severely restricted by data limitations. There is no comparison with the wider riding/training communities, and no review of whether/how the figures have improved/regressed through the period, by course, trainer or jockey.

Despite those limitations, some inferences can be drawn.

For whatever reasons - likely a combination of field size, stiffness of fences, state of going, and yes, perhaps even horsemanship (whisper it) - fall and unseat rates in Britain are more palatable to the casual observer than the lateral snapshot from Ireland. Certainly they are lower.

The flagship racecourse - Cheltenham - has a commendable 9.55% fall/unseat rate over the course of the dozen seasons in the sample, a period where the average number of chase runners was 11.82. Given that the average chase field size in all UK chases during that time was just 8.08, all concerned deserve plenty of praise.

Of course, Britain has a louder and better (or, probably more correctly, more) accommodated animal welfare lobby. Looking at data from Aintree lends credence to the calls of many outside the sport (and, in fairness, some within) to act.

One, possibly coincidental, observation is the number of sharp tracks with higher faller rates. Fakenham, Windsor (no longer jumping), Catterick and Taunton all share the top (bottom?) five slots and all are nippy little tracks where the fences might be jumped at greater speed than other more galloping venues.

In terms of the UK horsemen and women, all within the sample can be content with their faller rates, with a solitary rider breaching the 10% threshold, and even then by a negligible 0.05%. James Reveley, from a fine racing heritage and a man who spends a lot of time riding in France (which may or may not be relevant), has the lowest fall rate of all at just 4.46% during the period.

And perma-champ, AP McCoy, was bested by just six riders on this count, his fall/unseat rate being an excellent 5.69% across over 1650 chase mounts during the five season period. That bare figure is better than all of the top 25 riders from Ireland, though again, caution is taken not to under-estimate the macro differences between the two jumping jurisdictions.

At the other end of this microcosmic spectrum, it may be more than coincidence that five of the seven 'fallingmost' jockeys in the list ride on the northern circuit. I have no obvious or logical suggestion as to why this might be, so it may not be more than coincidence!

In the finish, the charts are probably more interesting than actionable; and the conclusions almost certainly more conjecture than empirical fact. But it was a fun little exercise and perhaps there is some fiery utility amidst the number smoke and mirrors.

What catches your eye in the data? Leave a comment and share your thoughts.


Stat of the Day, 25th January 2014

Stat of the Day

Stat of the Day

Stat of the Day, 25th January 2014

Chris' parting shot before taking a weekend away was to nominate a 17/2 piledriver. Pearl Castle hacked up in a good race on Friday, and the half point each way call was a prudent one with such strength in depth. Of course, if we'd known then what we know now, it'd have been an all in play, but that's the beauty of hindsight!

It's Chelters for Saturday's selection, and the...

1.50 Cheltenham:

A hyper-competitive handicap chase is arguably a curious place to weigh the SotD anchor, especially one in which I'm rolling with an eleven year old carrying top weight on ground that the trainer feels is less than ideal. But hear me out, if you will...

Wishfull Thinking may be eleven, but he remains in fine fettle, as a game second to the precocious Unioniste at Aintree last time out demonstrated. He won this race back in 2011, so there are no concerns on course, distance or class scores.

As for that going niggle, well he's actually four from six on soft ground, so I'd have to take minor issue with Mr Hobbs, his trainer. In point of fact, Hobbs is in excellent form currently, with a 38% strike rate in the last fortnight (11 winners from 29 runners).

A mark of 156 for a horse that won a Grade 2 as recently as last February is fair, if not lenient, and I'm expecting him to run well under the big weight, something he's done many times before.

BetVictor offer 13/2 and that looks good to me, all in to win, but please feel free to...

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The Punting Confessional: Cheltenham Debrief

the Cheltenham Debrief

the Cheltenham Debrief

Prior to this year's excellent Cheltenham Festival, Tony Keenan gave us a fascinating insight into how he prepares for and ultimately tackles the UK's centrepiece of the jumping calendar. Today, Tony takes a retrospective look at how the festival panned out for him and he played it in...

...The Punting Confessional – 20th March, 2013


Cheltenham, March 15th

Cheltenham finished up well enough for me with a few winners, particularly in the novice races, despite not having much serious study done; I wasn’t at my most diligent for the meeting. It could have been better had Jetson got a competent ride in the Pertemps or had I not went off Ted Veale the night before the County but things did go my way with a decent bet on Back In Focus as he looked like coming off third best at the second last in the National Hunt Chase.

As pointed out by Coral odds compiler James Knight during the week, punting the Festival is probably harder than a typical Saturday and certainly more difficult than your average weekday meeting but there are still edges to be had and plenty of lessons to be learned from the four days.

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Firstly, one has to oppose hype at the meeting and there were many examples of reputation horses getting turned over during the week, notably Pont Alexandre, Dynaste and Sam Winner. In fairness to the first pair, they had the best form in the book for their respective races but were plenty short enough even allowing for that as there were doubts with both; Pont Alexandre had to prove his speed for the trip on decent ground while Dynaste was one that historically struggled to hold his form past the winter.

Their connections played a big part in their horses being overbet with the Willie Mullins/Ruby Walsh axis talking up the Neptune favourite as their banker of the week while David Pipe spoke in similar tones about Dynaste. Sam Winner was a different case, being more of a plot horse, but they’re the very type one needs to be opposing during the Festival and Paul Nicholls played his part in keeping him at the head of the market.

I think the market almost works off the philosophy of ‘the shorter, the better’ with such horses and it is as if punters cannot countenance defeat for them; it is the myth of the banker in full swing. The information overkill that exists in the weeks leading up the meeting, best seen in the ubiquitous preview nights, leads to a consensus that almost cannot be questioned but it is only by doubting it that one can profit.

The reverse of the idea of hype is also something to watch out for and by this I mean the way in which rumours become overrated by the market. The best example of this were the Twiston-Davies horses at the meeting, a stable that was supposedly under a cloud having had to withdraw a few runners in the days before the Festival. The trainer has openly stated that the sickness only affected a few of his inmates and he was proved right as a he had a terrific meeting with two winners and most of his horses outrunning their falsely inflated odds.

Another case of this was Reve De Sivola about whom gossip circulated that he had met with problems in his preparation; in the end he showed up and while not in peak form (perhaps the ground was against him), he was a hell of a price at an SP of 4/1 for one that had won both the key trials; a horse does not have to win for it to have been a value price.

Markets for the Festival races tend to be very mature by the time the races come around but there are still edges to be found, notably in horses that are only targeted at races near to the event or who have their aims changed at the last minute. Champagne Fever’s move to the Supreme was an example of this in 2013 and he was a big price for a three-time Grade 1 winner before finally settling down at 5/1 at the off; notably this is something his yard is wont to do and took a similar approach with Fiveforthree before his Neptune win of 2008 (As an aside, I backed Champagne Fever for the Neptune this year).

Perhaps an even more striking case was the late decision of Noel Meade to run Texas Jack in the Jewson, only announced the Sunday before the Festival, and he was plainly a rick at prices of around 20/1 at the time, regardless of the result.

Texas Jack brings up another angle that of the in-meeting form boost and this is where mature markets can be exploited as they are slow to react. Following the RSA Chase his form had clearly been enhanced by the runs of Boston Bob, Lord Windermere and Lyreen Legend but there was plenty of time to get on to him for the Jewson before his price shortened. There was however an even more striking line of form that emerged in the novice and handicap hurdles during the week and that involved Albert Bartlett winner At Fishers Cross.

It seemed every horse he ran against in his earlier races was running well at the meeting, the likes of The New One, Medinas, Inish Island and later Salubrious, and while the last pair named didn’t run until the Friday the wins of the first duo on the Wednesday meant At Fishers Cross was a great bet at 7/2 on Wednesday evening and finished off his right price at the off of 11/8, albeit aided by the defection of Ballycasey.

Thankfully I profited from this angle, doubling The New One at 5/1 and At Fishers Cross at 4/1 on Tuesday night and these linked form accumulators are worth a second look; thanks to Peter Kingston for putting me on to this.

A similar approach is to look for where the strong crops of horses at located and this year it was certainly the Irish novice chasers that held away. Simonsig may have won the Arkle for England but he was made work hard by Irish 33/1 shot Baily Green so the signs were there early and it was a harbinger of good runs for the likes of Back In Focus, Boston Bob, Lord Windermere, Lyreen Legend and Benefficient. I thought Alderwood was a rotten price by the off of the Grand Annual but he was another Irish novice who by the result merited his position at the head of the market.

Choosing when to bet is an important consideration and the non-runner, no-bet offer remains a fine concession, particularly about horses that have multiple targets; taking a NRNB price about the likes of Dynaste for the Jewson and Quevega for the World Hurdle in the week or two before the meeting certainly wouldn’t have been the worst move despite one getting beaten and the other not making the race as their prices were wrong at that time. In terms of backing a fancied horse for a feature race, the way to go was to hold fire until mid-morning as the layers were inclined to boost the favourites; both Reve De Sivola and Oscar Whisky were available at 6s for the World Hurdle while Sir Des Champs was the same price for the Gold Cup.

That none of the trio won is irrelevant. With bigger priced horses however, I suspect the best time to play is early in the afternoon the day before they run. After declaration stage the firms push out the runners and extra-place specials become available and one gets chance to get on before the big tipsters have had a go at the prices. One needs to be ahead of the game to get on at this time but the rewards are there as I found out by beating SP substantially on backing horses like Terminal, Houblon Des Obeaux and Jetson at this time.

Finally, remember Cheltenham is only another meeting. I don’t buy all this stuff about taking a break after the four days for all that I was tired as I was working at the same time. On Thursday night I studied the Dundalk Friday card in more detail than Cheltenham and thankfully it paid off. I would certainly have been going punting again at the weekend if only there had been any suitable racing but unfortunately there was no Irish flat racing on offer.

The Punting Confessional: at the Festival

PC at the Festival

PC at the Festival

Last week Tony Keenan set about showing us how he approaches the Cheltenham Festival and began to work out whether or not we should treat this meeting any different to the thousands of other meetings we see each year.

He concludes those thoughts this week by summing up his own feelings about the Festival in...

...The Punting Confessional – March 12th 2013

This week bookmakers will make a number of concessions around enhanced prices, money-back offers and extra-place specials; some of these are worth looking at, others are not. In terms of the championship races like the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup, the best time to place a bet may be on the morning of the race itself, unless you are banking on a late and significant withdrawal.

This particularly applies to horses at the front end of the market as the firms will be bending over back-ways to get punters’ money (and by extension future custom at less generous odds); provided you can get on with said company it’s logical to expect the likes of Hurricane Fly, Sprinter Sacre and Bobs Worth to be their biggest price in a few weeks on the morning of their respective races.

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Money-back specials on horses winning certain races can be good also; I’m thinking here of the Paddy Power offer on Hurricane Fly. He looks a pretty solid favourite to my eyes but if you’re of a mind that he’s not, it is probably best to back your fancy at bigger odds elsewhere as Powers will understandably be tight about his dangers. Extra-place specials, I’m not so convinced by because I fail to see the benefit of having a few percentage points in your favour in the place market if you don’t actually fancy a horse in the race.

I’m not really a maths-based punter, perhaps to my detriment, but I’d rather spot a rick, a horse at 14s that should be 7s, than bet into a slightly over-broke place market when I don’t have a strong view on the race.

As ever, trainers play a big part of the Festival and it’s important to note that some are Festival trainers and some are not. Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson and Willie Mullins are obvious positives at the meeting, having secured wins (though mainly in graded races) time and again at the track but more so one needs to be aware of trainers that do poorly at the fixture, Noel Meade being the standout example in this regard.

We have a peculiar situation in Ireland at the minute as national hunt racing is dominated by Mullins and there is certainly a dearth of meaningful runners from the traditionally strong Irish yards of Meade and O’Grady amongst others.

My thoughts on preview nights were covered here last week; I have little time for it and hate all this talk of trainers having a ‘glint in their eye’ and such like, perhaps a pint they were drinking just went down the wrong way. That said, one learns over time which trainers are spoofers and which are worth listening to; some can get very bullish at this time of the year, coming out with all sorts of fighting talk, which is strange as they are so reserved for the rest of the year.

Avoiding parochialism, where you focus solely on horses from your own jurisdiction should be avoided. Anything that submits to an availability bias of thinking and conforms to the line ‘I was there the day horse X won and he was impressive’ tends to paint an incomplete picture of a race. For instance, you may have been in Leopardstown the day Jezki sprinted from the back of the last to win at Christmas and said he was a Supreme winner in the making but you also have to have seen the rest of the contenders, notably English runners like My Tent Or Yours, so it’s time to get the video and formbook out.

That said, sometimes such ideals are unachievable and one cannot know everything about the form in Britain AND Ireland. Sometimes a strong view on a horse, either positive or negative that may not be apparent to all, is the best way into a race but be careful not to neglect the claims of the others.

I like the whole idea of linked form-lines at the Festival, the belief behind it being that if one horse from the race has been underrated then it is possible another has too. There are a number of examples at the meeting each year and one that has piqued my interest in particular is the At Fishers Cross/The New One race from Festival Trials Day over the course where Coneygree was well-beaten in third. Those horses have different targets at the Festival and tie back in with Inish Island also, an interesting rag in the Albert Bartlett.

Another way of exploiting this approach which was suggested by a bookmaker friend of mine Peter Kingston (they’re not all bad!) is to place such horses in doubles as they are in some way linked contingencies and it might be something worth exploring.

Finally, for all the talk of Festival form working out back at the meeting in the following years, I suspect there may be some value in backing horses that are unproven at the track as sometimes the whole course specialists approach is overdone. There is a big difference between horses that are proven failures around Cheltenham and those that are yet to run there; a number of Irish horses will fall into the latter category each year and can be underbet as a result.

Similarly, those with form at the track may be overbet as all Cheltenham meetings, and not just the four days at the Festival, tend to be high-profile and the form can sometimes be overrated. For all his obvious claims in the Gold Cup, Sir Des Champs may be slightly overdone on the back of his two Festival wins which were in lesser races than he faces now.

Cheltenham is only a racecourse after all, and this stuff about not coming up the hill while having some truth in it can be overdone by the betting market. One needs to be wary of damning a horse off the back of one poor run at Prestbury Park; it is one thing to knock the likes of Beef Or Salmon after a career of Cheltenham failures, quite another to be dogmatic about something like Jezki not acting there after a subpar run in the bumper last year.

That said, and with an eye to the future, there are some horses that just don’t seem to handle the test and there can be value in forgiving a poor run here and expecting the animal to bounce back at Liverpool or Punchestown.

Trainer Stats: 28th Feb 2012

N Richards

Look Out For Nicky Richards Runners

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Trainer Stats: 20th Feb 2013

Colin Tizzard

Look out for the Tizzard horses

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Trainer Stats: 13th Feb 2013


Mullins Horses Are In Tip-Top Order

A real mixed bag of trainers have made it onto Andy Newton’s 'HOT LIST' this week – see which ones here....... Read more

Sat TV Trends: 9th Feb 2013


Great Action At Newbury On Saturday

Plenty more Cheltenham clues on offer this weekend – Andy Newton’s got all the main races from Newbury, Warwick & Leopardstown covered for you...... Read more

Trainer Stats: 5th Feb 2013

Ron Harris

Ron Harris' Horses Are In Fine Form

See which trainers have made it onto Andy Newton’s Hot-List this week... Read more

Sat TV Trends: 26th Jan 2013


It's Cheltenham Trials Day!

It's Cheltenham Trials Day this Saturday at Prestbury Park and we've got the key trends and stats for ALL 8 races..... Read more

Sat TV Trends: 22nd Dec 2012

The C4 cameras head to Ascot and Haydock for the last weekend before Christmas – Andy Newton’s got all the key TV race trends..... Read more

Sat TV Trends: 15th Dec 2012


A great card at Cheltenham this Saturday

We've got all this Saturday's LIVE C4 action from Cheltenham and Doncaster covered from a trends and stats angle..... Read more