Monday Musings: Hearing is believing

Spectacular! Scintillating! Jaw-dropping! Eye-opening! All of the above, except for Paisley Park’s owner Andrew Gemmell who, of necessity, merely listened to the brilliant performance of his fast-improving hurdler as he romped to victory in Saturday’s Cleeve Hurdle at Cheltenham, writes Tony Stafford. The Emma Lavelle-trained gelding is deservedly now favourite for the Sun Racing Stayers Hurdle back at the track in March.

Andrew, blind from birth, had his loyal friend Tony Hunt and some other regulars in Paisley Park’s fan club close at hand as he reacted with increasing optimism as the race unwound.

Before racing Gemmell admitted to being “Nervous, more nervous than Ascot”, presumably remembering the disappointment of his horse’s 13th place in the Albert Bartlett Hurdle at the Festival last March. Afterwards the soft ground was attributed principally to what was a below-expectations effort. In retrospect Paisley Park, a 33-1 chance, previously had only a small Hereford novice win among only three hurdle races on his record.

Now a seven-year-old, he has fully matured and Saturday was his fourth win of an unbeaten season. Starting in handicaps at Aintree and Haydock, he then polished off Ascot’s Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle before this emphatic victory.

I stood a yard or two away from Mr Gemmell in the paddock as, with back to the big screen, he strained to hear. When commentator Ian Bartlett observed soon after the fourth-last that Paisley Park had not immediately responded to his rider’s urgings, his face gave away inner doubts.

Until then, the jumping had been fast and accurate and the first few strides after each jump, fluent and constantly resulting in net gain. Bartlett’s attention had been drawn to the only occasion when a slight misjudgement altered the status quo, instant recovery translating to a few sluggish strides.

From the downhill third last, which he jumped in eighth, to the home turn, at which point he was still in that same grouping but a few lengths nearer, Aidan Coleman had him level with Unowhatimeanharry. He was on the outside, but as they turned for home the jockey manoeuvred him between horses at which point it was obvious he was going best, with just a slight worry of potential crowding.

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At Ascot, off level weights, he had needed to catch the Colin Tizzard-trained 40-1 shot West Approach, which he did to the tune of two lengths. Here, conceding 6lb for that Grade 1 win, he again had West Approach as the final horse to overtake. This he managed easily before the last this time. By the line, three lengths there had been stretched to a dozen with another two to Black Op in third and Sam Spinner a further ten away in fourth.

This field, which contained most of the home candidates for the Stayers Hurdle, had been blown away. Unowhatimeanharry, a multiple Grade 1 winner and, like Sam Spinner a Long Walk faller which caused many to question the worth of Paisley Park’s win there, was 30 lengths behind at the finish, all lost in the last quarter-mile.

A strict interpretation of the two runs through the runner-up, suggests an improvement of at least a stone in barely a month and with the ground riding softer than the official pre-race verdict, any going and course fears can be consigned to the rubbish bin.

Before and after the race Andrew, who has shares in 20 horses including in Australia, unsurprisingly was the target for interviewers and he clearly gets a large kick out of owning such a good horse. I remember when Tangognat won the corresponding opening race on the same card 33 years ago to set up his illusory Triumph Hurdle prospects – he was a very disappointing second favourite – I could think of nothing else for the next six weeks. Let’s hope Andrew has other matters to concentrate on. I know he’ll never tire of listening to the commentary of the last part of Saturday’s race.

A couple of weeks back Joseph O’Brien was quoted as saying he’d just taken charge of a number of  horses bought from France for J P McManus. One of them, Fine Brunello, made his debut for the stable with a very promising second in the JCB Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle which opened proceedings.

A 25-1 shot, he will have pleased connections but while comfortably beating off the seven home defenders, he was nowhere near good enough to cope with stable-companion Fakir d’Oudairies, a son of Kapgarde, who sluiced in by 13 lengths in the manner of a potential champion.

Five jump races between April and August of his three-year-old season for top trainer Guy Cherel did not provide a win, and he fell in the second of two chases – that’s right, they can run over fences there while our backward Flat racers are just getting going!

But since joining O’Brien he already had a win in a 22-runner juvenile race at Cork and now dominated stronger company going ahead of the field three from home and winning by 13 lengths. With five French and one German import in this nine-runner field, the domination in jumping at the top end for owners wealthy enough to buy these horses is ever more obvious. The winner here was owned by M L Bloodstock Ltd, interestingly the breeders of the runner-up!

In all, 25 French-breds helped swell the wonderful Cheltenham card and one of them, Frodon, provided another highlight when making all under an inspired Briony Frost to deny Elegant Escape in the Betbright Cotswold Chase. He’ll give it everything if he turns up for the Gold Cup and if he does, Frodon will be the darling of all the non-racing media at the meeting. They’ll love Briony for sure. Who doesn’t?

Three weeks back I gave a mention to the former Andrew Balding trainee, now called Ka Ying Star, after his lucrative first run and win at Sha Tin. He made a big step up in class there in Sunday’s Hong Kong Classic Mile worth £570,000 to the winner and after a brave front-running effort compromised by having to go very fast from a wide draw to get the lead, held on for a good third. He earned his new owners £115,000. Hong Kong Derby here they come!

The proper Derby, run at Epsom, is one of the 43 Classic or Group 1 races that have fallen to products of David and Diane Nagle’s Barronstown Stud in Co Wicklow. Their Epsom winner was Generous, but they will rarely if ever have had a better weekend than early last September when Kew Gardens won the St Leger at Doncaster and Flag of Honour the Irish St Leger at The Curragh the following day.

In that context it is hardly surprising that their achievement has been officially recognised by their being inducted into the Irish Thoroughbred Breeders’ Hall of Fame. The slight surprise is that after more than 30 years’ excellence, and with horses of the calibre of Yeats which Diane owned with Sue Magnier, they were not already in it! Well done indeed!

Mrs Magnier, as part of the Coolmore team, had a nice pay day in the US on Saturday. Magic Wand, winner last year of the Ribblesdale, was shrewdly sent by Aidan O’Brien to run in the first Turf Pegasus Invitational race at Gulfstream, which hosted its third year of the main event won previously by Arrogate and Gun Runner, both earning more than £5million for their trouble.

Now track owner Frank Stronach has decided to split the overall money three to two in favour of the Dirt race, but that still left $6 million to be divvied up in the Turf race and $9 milllion against the previous $15 million for the dirt, won easily on Saturday by City of Light. Stronach also offered the incentive of a 7lb allowance for any horse not using Lasix. Originally Magic Wand was due to carry 8st 7lb and Ryan Moore, who had been preparing himself for his lightest weight with rides on the all-weather.

In the event, O’Brien, who usually uses Lasix for his US runners, decided to take advantage of it and with Wayne Lordan in the saddle at 8st, Magic Wand ran home well into second place behind easy winner Bricks and Mortar, who conceded 12lb. Without the 7lb kicker, she would probably have been no better than fourth – a difference of almost £250K in prize money. Smart work!

Social Discourse – 28th January 2019

Another crazy seven days has given us two new Festival favourites, the world’s richest turf race as well as the second richest dirt race, and the extraordinary achievements of five brilliant women... and that is where we start this week.

As always, seek me out on @KeejayOV2 or write something in the box below for all your comments, good and bad.


  1. Who Ride The World? Girls.

As one of the few sports in which men and women compete on equal terms, some would argue it has taken too long for top female talent to break onto the big stage of racing. That is no longer the case.

  • There are now top jockeys plying their trade in top races on both sides of the Irish sea: in Britain Bryony Frost and Lizzie Kelly have been responsible for a host of Saturday winners in front of the TV cameras.
  • In Ireland, Rachael Blackmore has ten Graded wins, 73 total wins, and €1,135,265 in prize money for the season, at the time of writing.
  • In France, Mickaelle Michel was atop the French Jockey’s Championship for 83 days until a certain Christophe Soumillon overtook her. 
  • Don’t forget Emma Lavelle, who has brought tremendous improvement out of Paisley Park this season, and Kayley Woollacott, who has the Arkle contender Lalor under her wing. And they’re just two of the numerous women flying high in training.

 Kelly and Frost showed themselves at their very best with wins on Siruh Du Lac and Frodon on Saturday's Cheltenham Trials Day. The former produced a powerful drive to get the better of Daryl Jacob and favourite, Janika; whilst Frost reprised her beautiful bond with Frodon to take yet another Saturday Cheltenham feature as the son of Nickname, only just turned seven, valiantly held the late charge of Elegant Escape in the Cotswold Chase.

TV and Social Media quite rightly absolutely loves these new stars, with fans responding with joy to their winners.


Meanwhile in Ireland, Blackmore has struck up a very promising link with the exciting novice Honeysuckle, who won impressively at Fairyhouse on Saturday.

Don’t forget the flat too, with Josephine Gordon a leading light who is getting a better class of horse to sit on with each passing season, whilst in France the weight allowance gives a small platform, even if that allowance was cut after a 165 per cent increase in the number of winners ridden by women there. Seems they didn't really need it!


  1. Ladies and Gentlemen, May I Present Percy

It had been a long time between drinks for fans of Presenting Percy. The wide margin 2018 RSA Chase winner had been off the track for 316 days until his return in the Galmoy Hurdle last Thursday, in which time he’d found his Gold Cup price shortening and his reputation growing in the interim.

So it was no surprise to see a huge crowd turn up to Gowran Park to watch him retain his Galmoy title, travelling well before finding plenty when Davy Russell asked him to get the better of the Willie Mullins-trained trio of Bapaume, Killultagh Vic and Limini with his ears pricked.

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Market reaction was instantaneous and positive: he was cut into a top-priced 100-30 (from 9-2) to record a third consecutive Festival victory, in the biggest race of them all, the Gold Cup.

However, there was a twist in the tale, as connections suggested that they might head to the Stayers’ Hurdle rather than the Friday showpiece. Here’s owner Philip Reynolds speaking to the Racing Post: “Stayers'? He jumps a hurdle every bit as slick as he jumps a fence. We've been talking all year about 'what ifs' because of the ground. Is it my preference? Of course it's not. I'd like to get him back here in three weeks' time for the Red Mills Chase.”

Jockey Davy Russell was also floating the alternative in a post-race interview: "He has the Stayers' Hurdle as an option now as well. If the Gold Cup turned out to be very competitive or if he didn't get a run over fences beforehand, he has that option anyway.”


  1. Trials and Tribulations

Cheltenham’s Trials Day is always an important event on the racing calendar, and this year’s edition was no different, with a number of Festival clues as well as some compelling stories.

We saw huge performances change the landscape for two of the Festival’s feature races:

  • Fakir D'oudaries tore the Triumph Trial apart with a superb performance under JJ Slevin, beating his stablemate Fine Brunello by 13 lengths, the 5/4 favourite Adjali well beaten in third, to give Joseph O’Brien his first Cheltenham winner and the now Triumph favourite, as he was cut to as short as 4/1.
  • Paisley Park confirmed himself as the leading British stayer with a wide margin win in the Cleeve Hurdle, doing all his best work up the straight before he pummelled West Approach by a staggering 12 lengths up the hill. He’s now 7/2 generally for the Stayers,from a quote of 12/1 before the day's events.

Those weren’t the only things of note on the card either...

  • Birchdale was handed the Ballymore trial as Brewin'Upastorm crashed out at the last flight when narrowly in front, with both horses surely having more to give. The exchanges had Brewin'Upastorm winning at the time, as he was 1-4 in running, but the real winner from the race is probably the form of Champ, who beat Brewin'Upastorm by four lengths in the Challow Hurdle.
  • Siruh Du Lac just edged out Janika in a pulsating finish to the Trophy Handicap, with Lizzie Kelly earning deserved plaudits for a brilliant drive to hold off Daryl Jacob on the runner up.
  • Jacob didn’t go home empty handed however, as he gave Kildisart a fine ride to take the Timeform Novices' Handicap Chase, travelling quietly into the race and getting the better of the strong travelling Highway One O One. He’s now a best price of 16/1 for the Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase.
  • Fergal O’Brien and Paddy Brennan also took something from the day, as Benny’s bridge was a remarkable winner of the Steel Plate and Sections Handicap Hurdle, in a victory that truly has to be seen to be believed.


  1. Away From Prestbury Park…
  • Dynamite Dollars made it three Graded wins with a with an all-the-way success in Doncaster's Lightning Novices' Chase, giving 8lbs and a workmanlike beating to Ballywood, who had previously won two handicap chases over Christmas.
  • Lady Buttons overcame a late scare as she beat Indefatigable by a neck in the Yorkshire Rose Mares' Hurdle, also at Doncaster.
  • Nadaitak sprang a 12-1 surprise with a convincing 22 length win in the Albert Bartlett River Don Novices' Hurdle, atoning for a blip at the course last time. However, at this stage he is not certain to go to the Festival.
  • Real Steel, who danced every dance in last season’s novice hurdles, broke his duck over fences in really impressive style at Fairyhouse, winning by 10 lengths and atoning for his late fall on debut at Leopardstown.
  • Honeysuckle was a deeply impressive winner of the Solerina Mares' Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse, setting herself up for a tilt at the Cheltenham Festival equivalent.
  • At Naas yesterday, Ballyward was left in front in the Naas Racecourse Business Club Novice Chase after a fall from Discorama at the last, setting himself up for a potential charge at the NH Chase. A winner at the 2017 Cheltenham and Punchestown Festivals but not seen since, Champagne Classic travelled like the best horse in the race after that monster lay-off, and looks to retain at least most of his old level of ability.
  • On the same card, Espoir D'Allen took the Limestone Lad Hurdle, where he gave 7lb and a two and a half-length beating to Wicklow Brave despite some sloppy jumping. He’s now as short as 14/1 for the Champion Hurdle.


  1. Go Green

Last week I wrote a small bit about Debbie Matthews, the Altior superfan who overcame severe anxiety to see her star win the Clarence House Chase. Here she gets a lot more space, as she deserves.

Matthews has been at it again, this time handing out green ribbons  – think the pink ribbons for cancer, but different – in the crowd at Cheltenham’s Trials Day to raise awareness of mental health and to share a message that shows the best of this great sport.

Here she is, in her own words, speaking to the Racing Post’s Bruce Jackson: "Green is the colour of the mental health ribbon and if anyone is there on their own it's a sign that I'm one of those people who they can come and say hello to. Even others going in a group who wanted to wear one, saying people could join in with them, could."

As you can see, the results are inspiring. A special shoutout to friend of (and many others), Rory Delargy, who wrote a brilliantly candid article on the subject in the Irish Field:


All credit due to Fergal O’Brien, who reached out as early as last April to Matthews when her blog had just started, and Nicky Henderson, who let her see Altior in the flesh after the Clarence House Chase. 


  1. Pegasus The Wonderhorse(s)

Big Money was on offer in America, where the third running of The Pegasus World Championships took place on a filthy evening and a sloppy track at Florida's Gulfstream Park.

The weather, and its effect on the track, definitely hindered some of the contenders, but so impressive was City Of Light in the Pegasus World Cup that it may well not have mattered. The five-year-old son of Quality Road, trained by Michael W.McCarthy and ridden by Javier Castellano, was always moving well and put away Accelerate in a matter of strides at the top of the stretch before he powered away to a five-length win. Seeking The Soul gave his connections a huge payday by pipping the Breeders’ Cup Classic winner for second, benefiting from a strong pace and doing best of those held up.

Accelerate ran with credit to be third, and Bravazo was a fine fourth ahead of Audible, though there was no joy for Frankie Dettori on Mexican Triple Crown winner, Kukulkan.


Michael W.McCarthy, trainer of City Of Light, spoke afterwards to the Daily Racing Form: “To have a horse like this come into your life, honestly, I can’t describe the emotion that goes along with something like this,” he said, hesitating to recover his poise, while his 8-year-old daughter, Stella, touched him on the shoulder in support.

“Winning the Breeders’ Cup was incredibly special. To follow it up with something like this, I don’t know if it’ll ever happen again, and if it doesn’t happen, I’ll be okay with it.”

Accelerate’s trainer, John Sadler, told NBC: "I will always remember his honesty, he would always run a good race. We enjoyed him for a good three years and he is just a really good, solid racehorse. He ran well in tough conditions and we are going to walk out of here with our heads high." 

What’s Next: Both City of Light and Accelerate will be heading to Lane’s End Stud to take up stallion duties, initially standing at $35,000 and $20,000 respectively.


Earlier on the card, Chad Brown’s skill and patience was rewarded once again with Bricks and Mortar romping in the inaugural Pegasus World Cup Turf, the Aidan O'Brien-trained Magic Wand finishing well to claim a very good second from the Frankie Dettori-ridden Delta Prince in third. Catapult, who made a big move down the backstretch, hung on for fourth.


It was a fine display of training from Brown, who had brought the winner back from over a year off; and Aidan O’Brien will be very happy with Magic Wand’s second given the rain that hit the track. We can expect plenty of good things from her if she builds on that and maintains her form.

Side Note: O’Brien’s night was a satisfactory one that could have been better had the rain stayed away, with Hunting Horn finishing fast for third but not having the tactical speed of the former Dermot Weld-trained Zulu Alpha who won the Grade 3 W L McKnight Stakes. Still, he’ll be sending plenty more horses across the Atlantic in 2019.

A disappointing night was had by William Mott, whose Pegasus World Cup favourite, Yoshida, failed to get into the race from a rear position early, whilst Channel Maker could only finish fifth. Japanese runner Aerolithe bombed.

Chad Brown, trainer of Bricks and Mortar, related to NBC: "I'm so proud of this horse. We managed to get him back after a couple of issues which required a lot of time and patience". Expect to see his campaign geared towards the Breeders' Cup in Santa Anita in early November, though whether he's aimed at the Mile or the Turf is still in question, this victory being achieved at a range of nine and a half furlongs.

- William Kedjanyi

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.


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.


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.


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!


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.


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.


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.


Double Dutch, 25th January 2014

Double Dutch

Double Dutch

Double Dutch, 25th January 2014

Chris is taking a well earned weekend off, and so it's me (Matt) in the chair for a couple of days. No joy on Friday, so let's look with fresh eyes towards Saturday's excellent fare.

Yesterday's results were as follows:

Atlantic Roller : 3rd at 13/8
Tornado Bob: 4th at 3/1 
Electric Qatar : 2nd at 11/4
Shawkantango : 3rd at 3/1

Results to date:
127 winning selections from 448 = 28.35%
41 winning doubles in 120 days = 34.17%

Stakes: 238.00pts
Returns: 248.04pts

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P/L : +10.04pts (+4.22% ROI)

Here's Saturday's suggested play:

12.55 Doncaster:

A cracking novice chase featuring 2012 Champion Hurdler, Rock On Ruby, and four unexposed exciting sorts in opposition. Rock On Ruby has been a stable star for Harry Fry, a man who has a 31% strike rate since taking out a license in late 2012. Compare that with Nicky Henderson's 24% and Paul Nicholls' 22% and you can see what a staggering achievement that is.

The horse, for his part, was foot perfect bar one minor incident in a nothing race at Plumpton on his fencing bow. The thing I loved about that was how clever he was when getting in close, and that - allied to his obvious speed as a former Champion Hurdler - will stand him in good stead here. 6/4 could look a smidge generous by ten-past-one.

Of the rest, though I fear a few, the one I like is Valdez, who looks a much better chaser than hurdler already. Rated 135 at his peak over timber, he's perched on 152 over fences after just two impressive spins. He likes the good to soft ground, and deserves to test his mettle in this better grade now. 4/1 looks about right.


3.35 Cheltenham:

The Cleeve Hurdle, and the return of Big Buck's. I'm actually sorely tempted to oppose the champ, on two counts. Firstly, he's having his first run back after 420 days off, and this is a hot race. And secondly, he's now eleven years old - was nine officially when last seen - and this is a hot race. Also, he's evens and this is a hot race.

But... he's eighteen from eighteen since 2009, and that's a monumental effort unparalleled by any horse, let alone any horse in this field. At the prices, I'm going to oppose him. You might not want to, and that's your choice, but I think he's too short in deep ground after a long layoff aged eleven.

Against him, I get two bullets, which helps, and I'm siding with Reve de Sivola and Boston Bob, though I fear a back-to-form At Fishers Cross too. Reve de Sivola loves jumping up and down in muddy puddles (as Peppa Pig's narrator might say), and he'll have his hooves caked in quag this day for sure. He's normally needed the run on seasonal debut so it was a fair enough effort when third to Celestial Halo two starts back. Last time, he showed the benefit of that run by putting ten lengths between himself and the decent Salubrious in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.

His record on heavy is 211121 and there's a good chance of it being officially heavy by the time the tapes rise for the Cleeve, as it's tipping down on Friday night (as I write).

Boston Bob loves the mud too, and he looked very good when reverting to hurdles after a couple of bungled leaps over the bigger obstacles last Spring. The first probably cost him victory in the RSA Chase, and he has a second in the staying novice hurdle at the 2012 Festival too. That was on good ground, and on heavy (or soft to heavy) his record is 311111. He needs to improve on the bare form of his hurdling runs to date, but is capable of that, and 7/2 is reasonable.

4 x 0.5pt BOG doubles as follows:
Rock On Ruby / Reve de Sivola @ 11.5/1 (SeanieMac)
Rock On Ruby / Boston Bob @ 10.34/1 (Paddy
Valdez / Reve de Sivola @ 19.25/1 (Bet365)
Valdez / Boston Bob @ 
19.25/1 (BetVictor)

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

Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2013: Preview, Trends, Tips

Reve De Sivola goes for World Hurdle glory at the Cheltenham Festival in March

Can Reve de Sivola fulfil World Hurdle dream?

Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2013: Preview, Trends, Tips

With the sad defection of Big Buck's due to injury, the Ladbrokes World Hurdle has become one of the most interesting betting races of the entire 2013 Cheltenham Festival.

The top of the ante-post market is dominated by horses which may or may not run in this race, and that has to open up the prospect of value elsewhere in the bookmakers' lists. Let's start, as tradition dictates, with the trends for the World Hurdle, before looking at the current levels of form for the main contenders, and then finally I'll offer a World Hurdle tip or two. OK?

Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2013: Trends

The first thing to say is that the winner's roster for this race has featured numerous multiple winners. This is mainly because the staying hurdling crown has historically been one of the less sought after prizes at the meeting, with a perception (not wholly unjustified) that this is a place for slow hurdlers and failed chasers. Even the mighty Big Buck's himself would not have taken this route if it wasn't for some shoddy fencing in the Hennessy Gold Cup of 2008.

Nevertheless, it's hardly a bad race, and with the way clear of previous victors, it's a wide open punting affair, with bookies offering 7/1 the field!

Age: Every single winner bar one since 1972 has been aged six to nine. If you like a horse older or younger than that bracket, history is avalanching against you. Indeed, the only nine year olds to win since Gaye Chance in 1984 were repeat winners. In that context, and with no repeat contender this time, I'm inclined to side with those aged six to eight.

That would count against any of Tidal Bay, Solwhit, Quevega and Thousand Stars, who might line up here.

Last time out: All bar two of the World Hurdle winners since Nomadic Way in 1992 finished in the first two on their prior start. As I write (23rd January), there's a good chance of many of the contenders having another run before the Festival. Proceed with caution if they fail to register a gold or silver finish, irrespective of the ground conditions. History is against such beasts.

Indeed, even 40/1 Anzum matched this requirement. (Actually, he was probably one of the biggest 'gimme's' in the history of Cheltenham: second in the race the year before, right age, second last time, and went on the ground. 40/1!!!)

Official rating: Although four of the last fifteen winners were unrated, all bar one of those with a mark were rated 157+. That excludes a lot of potential runners this term and, even in what may turn out to be a moderate renewal, it's hard to fancy the likes of Oscara Dara and Coneygree on what they've done so far, in that context.

Days since a run: Cyborgo in 1996 was the last horse to have been off the track for longer than ninety days prior to winning the World Hurdle. In what was a brilliant training performance, he was having his first run since finishing second in the previous year's running of what was known then as the Stayers' Hurdle.

At this stage, those who need to race soon in order to defy this negative omen are Quevega (though she has an exceptional record fresh, and I wouldn't eliminate her solely on this basis. Saying that, she is also older than ideal); Peddlers Cross (entered on Saturday, but not run since the last Cheltenham Festival); Rite Of Passage (also goes well fresh, but not as reliably as Quevega); and, Wonderful Charm (who is a five year old, in any case).

Class: Nine of the last sixteen winners had previously won a Grade 1 hurdle. Of the other seven, five had won a Grade 2; and five (overlapping but not the same five) had placed second in a Grade 1.

If your fancy hasn't won or run second in a Grade 1 hurdle, it's going to struggle here.

Track form: Thirteen of the last fifteen World Hurdle winners had at least placed previously at Cheltenham. The two exceptions were My Way de Solzen, who ran down the field in the Supreme, but went on to win twice more at the track; and Baracouda, the crack Frenchie, who was having his first sight of the Festival course.

If you like one without a course placing, you're probably barking up the wrong birch.

Form: Fourteen of the last fifteen - exception being Anzum - had won one of their last three starts. Anzum had finished second (and was second in the previous World Hurdle) last time. Although most of the main contenders sail through this, there are a few highly rated horses - Peddlers Cross, Celestial Halo, Smad Place, Get Me Out Of Here - who have two strikes to their name and would be a wobbler if losing again before tapes up in March.

Distance: The last fifteen Ladbrokes World Hurdle winners have included ten three mile winners. Of the five who had failed to get their nose in front over the World Hurdle distance, all were unexposed at greater than two and a half miles (four had won from a handful of tries at 2m5f or 2m6f, and Bacchanal was a neck second due to a bad last flight blunder on his only try at 2m6f).

Look for either proven three mile stamina, or a strong indication that three miles is within the horse's range.

World Hurdle Trends Summary: On the basis of recent history, the ideal profile for a World Hurdle winner is a horse aged six to eight; with a run in the three months prior to mid-March; a win in its last three starts (and first or second last time); Grade 1 winner or second place already in the book; placed form at Cheltenham already; officially rated 157+ (or no rating); and, either proven at the trip or unexposed at slightly shorter.

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That gives me a shortlist of Oscar Whisky, Monksland, Reve De Sivola, and Get Me Out Of Here (needs a 1-2 finish in Betfair Hurdle on 9th February).

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Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2013: Form

The trends are instructive and probably point us well on the way towards the winner. However, this year does look 'non-standard' in a number of respects:

Firstly, the enormously dominant staying hurdler of the past four years will not be competing. His record casts a shadow over plenty of contenders whose Grade 1 second places may well have been first places, were it not for the brutish Big Buck's.

Secondly, the state of the ground for the entire National Hunt season proper has been soft to boggy, and there's no guarantee that Cheltenham will ride so in middle March.

Thirdly, a few of the main form contenders may well take in other races. This means we have to play the non-runner no/free bet (NRNB/NRFB) card, and we may want to take a punt on a big priced horse in the hope that a) it runs, and b) some of the big guns don't!

With that in mind, let's review the current form in the book...

Favourite in most lists is Quevega, despite the fact that she is almost certainly headed for the Mares' Hurdle, a race she's won for the past four years. It is possible that she could take in both races but, given that the Mares' race comes on the Tuesday and the World Hurdle on the Thursday, there's very little recuperation time. She surely couldn't be much shorter even if winning the first named. No, no, no. Not even with non-runner no bet.

Next in is Oscar Whisky. I love this horse. I've lost plenty on him, generally because he goes for different races than I believe he should, but it's impossible for me not to feel affection for such a high class trier as him. He might still go for the Champion Hurdle, and I've backed him for that. But if he turns up here, ignore his poor show last term, and keep him in your wagering thoughts.

Put simply, he's a winning machine, especially on deeper ground. If it comes up soft or worse, I think he'll cruise round and win. On soft or softer ground, his record is 11111, including two Grade 2 contests at the intermediate distances.

He's a dual Grade 1 winner, acts on good (but I think better on soft), and - despite the majority saying he 'flopped' - he was only beaten thirteen lengths in last year's World Hurdle. The first two from that renewal won't run, meaning that Smad Place is the one to beat from last year. I'd bet OW over SP any and every day.

Monksland comes next in the bookie odds at around 8/1, and Noel Meade's second season hurdler has consistent high class form, including when third in last year's Neptune Hurdle at the Festival, when second in a Grade 1 over an inadequate trip, and when winning a three mile Grade 2 last time.

Although it was behind a very high class horse in Simonsig, that Neptune bronze was fairly distant, and was on the fastest ground he's encountered (except for when he ran out on even faster ground in a point-to-point). As such, I suspect he's ground dependant and wants it softish. On form, he has a bit to find with Oscar Whisky, but then so do the rest. And, with improvement likely after just six hurdle starts, he could make the frame though is not too tempting a proposition at the current odds.

We then come to the trio of Tidal Bay, Reve De Sivola, and Peddlers Cross, all at around the 10/1 mark. Tidal Bay will surely go for the Gold Cup, is surely too old, and surely flatters to deceive too often (despite a 'fell in his lap' win in the Lexus Chase last time).

Peddlers Cross hasn't run since bring royally tonked in the Jewson last term. In truth, chasing didn't look natural to him but, that defence aside, there has to be a serious stamina reservation about him staying three miles. He's not won beyond two miles five furlongs, and he's taking in a jumpers' bumper on Friday (25th) rather than the Champion Hurdle Trial, for which he was also entered, on Saturday.

I'm not sure where they're going with him, but it will probably be a shorter trip than the World Hurdle. No thanks, not even with NRNB.

Which brings me to Reve De Sivola. This chap stays. And he goes on any ground. And he's quite high class. He has an entry in the Cleeve Hurdle and seems sure to run well on the prevailing soft turf. In his last five hurdle starts, his form is 12121, a string which includes three Grade 1 successes.

He is perhaps the archetypal example of the failed chaser reverting to staying hurdles (if Big Buck's is not), and I think he's a decent bet for the race.

I'm not really interested in Rite Of Passage, who is older than optimal and has a layoff to overcome; nor do I like Solwhit or Thousand Stars, both of whom are probably better at two and a half miles. Of this trio of Irish nags, Thousand Stars is comfortably the most appealing.

Further down the lists, and into the realms of the speculative, cases of sorts could be made for Smad Place, Get Me Out Of Here, Kauto Stone, and Lovcen.

Smad Place was, as I've alluded to, third in last year's World Hurdle. He's very consistent, having been 1-2-3 in nine of his eleven completed hurdle starts. He does seem to have a preference for decent ground and, if it were to firm up a bit between now and seven weeks hence, he'd have place prospects again at around the 20/1 mark.

Get Me Out Of Here is one of the more interesting runners in the race. His Cheltenham record of 26222 marks him down as a one-pacer, but that's harsh. It's fairer to highlight the merit of some of those runs: just failed behind Menorah in the 2010 Supreme Novices Hurdle; mugged on the line in the County Hurdle, carrying 11-7; less than two lengths behind Oscar Whisky in the Relkeel Hurdle; and, second in the Coral Cup lugging top weight of 11-12.

Those are all excellent efforts, and the last two were over two miles and five furlongs. He's a horse at his best on better ground - though he has won on softer - and if he takes the World Hurdle route from a range of options, he could run a fine race on decent ground. Non-runner free/no bet the way forward here, for sure, at around 16/1.

Kauto Stone was last seen when duffed up in the King George at Kempton. Before that, he'd won a weakish Grade 1 chase at Down Royal. All his hurdling form is over shorter trips, but he might stay all right now he's a year and a bit older. Certainly, his stable has to find a successor to Big Buck's, irrespective of whether he returns next season or not, and this chap might match up to the part.

Certainly, French bred horses have done well in this race in recent times, having won seven of the last eleven, and been second in the other four. Kauto Stone is in the Cleeve Hurdle on Saturday, and that race looks like being instructive with a view to the World Hurdle over (approximately) the same course and distance.

He's the sort to shorten if running well at the weekend, and may appeal to the traders amongst you as a back to lay opportunity.

And finally, Lovcen is a bit of a forgotten horse. Ostensibly for good reason, after four poor runs this term. But, look more closely and you'll note that he was seriously disadvantaged by a pathological dislike of both mud and fences. See that failed chaser theme emerging once more?

Anyway, if you can legitimately excuse a horse a poor run (or a sequence of them), then you can find value, based on the inherent recency bias which afflicts all betting markets (due mainly to the fact that they are closely aligned to weight of money, and human nature is such that we place most weight on what happened most recently, irrespective of the 'bigger picture').

Anyway anyway, all that blah-blah pop-psychology mumbo-jumbo is long hand for me thinking Lovcen has a chance at a big price. He wasn't the most fluent hurdler historically, so it's little surprise that he hated steeplechasing. But he's a Grade 1 winner over the smaller obstacles on good ground, and was doing his best work at the end of the potato race (Albert Bartlett) at last year's Festival.

In short, back over hurdles and on better ground, he can be expected to run a much improved race at a big price. That big price is 66/1 non runner free bet, with BetVictor.

Ladbrokes World Hurdle 2013: Tips

So those are the trends and form pointers, such as they are to date. But where does that leave us in terms of finding a bet? Well, the horses which interest me at the prices are Oscar Whisky win only at 6/1 Non Runner Free Bet (BetVictor); Reve De Sivola, win only, who is highly likely to run in this, at 8/1 (Boyle, PP, Lads); and, for those of you who like to tilt at windmills, Get Me Out Of Here at 16/1 each way, Non Runner Free Bet (BetVictor); and, Lovcen at 66/1 each way, Non Runner Free Bet (BetVictor).

Those of you of a trading bent might like to take a back-to-lay chance on Kauto Stone, who will definitely shorten from current odds around 25/1 if running well in the Cleeve Hurdle on Saturday.

Win Selections

Oscar Whisky 6/1 BetVictor NRFB
Reve De Sivola 8/1 Boylesports, Paddy Power, Ladbrokes

Each Way Alternatives

Get Me Out Of Here 16/1 BetVictor NRFB
Lovcen 66/1  BetVictor NRFB

NB: BetVictor's offer, unsurprisingly, has a few terms, the most high profile of which is probably that there is a £100 cap per race. You can review full chapter and verse here.

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