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Black Jack in a Dash – but sadly no Denman Clash

They arrived on the scene at the same time, but it was Black Jack Ketchum that landed a Cheltenham Festival victory in 2006, whilst Denman tasted defeat for the first time under rules.

Trained by Jonjo O’Neill, BJK was a diminutive son of Oscar out of a Supreme Leader mare. His pedigree suggested he’d make a decent stayer, but this classy racehorse was not short on speed. Having won a couple of bumpers in the summer of 2004, he opened his hurdling campaign with a low-key success at Uttoxeter, before comfortably outclassing a strong looking field at Cheltenham.

Just a few days later at Wincanton, the Paul Nicholls-trained Denman, made it two from two over hurdles, with an emphatic success. This huge and powerful son of Presenting was a completely different beast to Black Jack. O’Neill’s charge was small, neat and nimble and possessed destructive acceleration. Denman was all about prolonged, relentless galloping. Always likely to make a terrific chaser, he had huge presence to match the immense ability.

BJK returned to Prestbury Park in December and cruised to a comfortable victory in the Brit Insurance Novices’ Hurdle over three miles. A few weeks later it was Denman’s turn to travel to the Cotswolds. He took the Grade One Challow Hurdle (rerouted from Newbury) by a yawning 21-lengths, destroying several classy types in the process.

Jump racing fans couldn’t wait for the undefeated pair to meet on a racecourse, and that clash looked set to take place at the unlikely venue of Bangor in February. Denman duly lined up for the three-mile event, but racegoers were disappointed when BJK was confirmed a non-runner on the day. During a media event at his yard a month later, O’Neill admitted that the team had ‘ducked’ a clash with Denman, despite the track and perfect spring ground arguably favouring the diminutive star.

Nevertheless, the clash still looked likely as the pair headed the market for the SunAlliance Novices’ Hurdle at the Cheltenham Festival in March. A week prior to the event Jonjo said of his unbeaten seven-year-old: “A. P. loves him because he has a lazy style of running and, when he gets hold of him, he really responds. I don’t think he really wants to go three miles, and while we ducked taking on Denman for ten grand at Bangor recently, it looks like we might meet next week.”

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Despite the encouraging statement, a thrilling duel between the two outstanding young hurdlers failed to materialise. Denman again made the gig, lining up at the start of the SunAlliance (better known as the Neptune) at 2m5f, whilst Jonjo decided to run Black Jack Ketchum in the three-mile Brit Insurance.

Denman was to suffer a shock defeat, beaten for speed on ground plenty lively enough, by the talented Irish raider Nicanor. There was no such surprise in the three-miler where BJK put in a thrilling performance. Cruising into contention turning for home, he displayed that exhilarating acceleration after the last, scooting clear to win by nine-lengths. In hindsight, Nicholls would have been kicking himself for not running Denman over the longer trip. The sight of the mighty warrior pouring on the pressure, whilst tracked by the silky-smooth Black Jack would have been electrifying.

A career as one of the greatest staying chasers lay ahead for Denman. His demolition of Kauto Star in the Gold Cup of 2008 was arguably the highlight, though the pair of Hennessy victories lumping top-weight were no less extraordinary. He was a colossus.

For the enigmatic Black Jack the future proved less glorious than that memorable day in March 2006. A horrible fall in the Stayers’ Hurdle (then the World Hurdle) a year later may have been the reason for his loss of enthusiasm for the sport. He rarely looked the same animal as the one who had been so destructive as a novice. In April of 2008 the decision was made to retire him. O’Neill said of the pocket-rocket: “He just did not seem to be enjoying it anymore. He was a brilliant servant to the yard and a super little horse who will be very hard to replace.”

I’ve stood on the rails at the Cheltenham Festival for many years now and can say with ‘hand-on-heart’, that the sight of Black Jack scooting up the famous hill in 2006 remains one of my festival highlights. On that day, despite the disappointment of a thrilling duel never materialising, Jonjo’s classy little novice put in a spellbinding performance that will live long in the memory.

Hill can reach Gold Cup Summit for Twiston-Davies

All eyes will be on Cheltenham this weekend, and today’s piece focuses on Saturday’s BetVictor Gold Cup.

The Grade Three began life as the Mackeson Gold Cup and was first run in 1960. Starting as a two-mile chase, the trip was upped to 2m4f in the late 60s. Martin Pipe is the most successful trainer with eight victories, seven of those coming in a devastating spell from 1996 to 2005.

In recent years Jonjo O’Neill (3 wins), Nigel Twiston-Davies (2) and Paul Nicholls (2) have all enjoyed plenty of success in the race. Seven-year-olds have a terrific record of late, with six wins from the last 10. Indeed, the race tends to go to a progressive young chaser, often in their second season over the larger obstacles.

Despite the race often attracting a large field, upsets have proved rare. Only one of the last 10 winners could be described as unfancied, though in that period only one favourite has struck gold. As is often the case at the Home of Jump racing, previous track experience is a huge positive. Seven of the past 10 winners had previously won at Cheltenham. This racecourse is a unique test, and many horses fail the strenuous examination.

The favourite for Saturday’s renewal is top-weight Kylemore Lough, now trained by Harry Fry. Lumping just shy of 12 stone is often a reason to dismiss a horse in such handicaps, but last year’s winner carried 11-11, and four of the last 12 winners have coped with more than 11 stone on their back. This fella has enough Cheltenham experience, and appears to act on the track, though he’s finished fifth in his last two visits. He came close to winning the Caspian Caviar Chase last December (now 2lb lower), and a repeat of that performance would see him go extremely close. Can Fry get more out of him than Kerry Lee? I’m a fan, and I fancy he’ll run well.

The Alan Fleming-trained Tully East is next best in the betting. A second-season chaser, he won at the Cheltenham Festival in March, when ridden beautifully by Denis O’Regan. He travelled like a dream that day and appeared to win with something to spare. Nevertheless, he’s 10lb higher in the handicap, and though he has the right profile, he’ll find this race much tougher to win. He’s a player, though I worry about that handicap mark. Another concern is the poor record of Irish raiders.

Paul Nicholls has a couple of entrants, and both are prominent in the betting. Le Prezien has track winning form, though was runner-up on his last visit, when finding Foxtail Hill impossible to pass. The pair had a mighty tussle in October at two-miles, though the extra half-a-mile should prove no obstacle. The pair are handicapped to finish side by side again, and you’d fancy both will go close. They’re tough to separate.

Nicholls’ other hope is five-year-old Romain De Senam. He’s won his last two, but is up 6lbs and will find this tough. He was runner-up in the Fred Winter of 2016, and probably should have won that day. The track and trip look ideal, and Nicholls took this race in 2014 with Caid Du Berlais, also aged five. I can see him getting outpaced coming down the hill, but I fancy he’ll be finishing well. He has the right amount of experience, but I worry he’ll have too much to do turning for home.

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Ballyalton is an interesting contender. Back from injury, the Ian Williams-trained 10-year-old tuned up for this with a promising run over hurdles at Aintree. He won over course and distance at the Cheltenham Festival of 2016, and clearly enjoys his trips to Prestbury Park. He’s on a competitive mark, though his age is a negative based on the trends. Only three horses over nine have won the race.

The Pipe team have an outstanding record, though David has only managed the one success. Starchitect is two from seven over fences, and has a fair bit to find on Foxtail Hill, from their run at the course in April. Though talented, I don’t think this fella is quite good enough to win in this company.

One that is on a steep-upward curve is Jamie Snowdon’s Double Treasure. The six-year-old beat Two Taffs last time, though the runner-up was having his first outing of the campaign. He’s progressed dramatically over the Summer, but needs to find more if he is to be competitive here. Despite his four wins on the bounce, I fancy this could be a step too far.

There’s a couple I quite like at a price for the each-way punters out there. Theinval is trained by Nicky Henderson and was incredibly consistent during his first season over fences. He has some decent pieces of form to his name, especially the second-place finish to Cloudy Dream at Ayr in April. The sensational Fondmort won this race for Henderson in 2003, and this fella has a far better chance than his 25/1 odds suggest.

Another that interests me is the Twiston-Davies second string Splash Of Ginge. He rarely wins over fences, but his handicap mark has fell through the floor since the dizzy heights of 2015. He’s run well at Cheltenham in the past, and his last performance was encouraging. More rain would help, though I’m still tempted.

Greedy I know, but I’ll be backing three in the race. I fancy Nigel Twiston-Davies could have a day to remember, and I’ll be taking Foxtail Hill to win. He looks incredibly tough and is two from four in recent visits to the track. I’ll also have a little on Splash Of Ginge in the hope that the track and an eye-catching handicap mark spark a revival. Finally, I’ll be putting a couple of quid on Henderson’s seven-year-old Theinval. I’m convinced he’ll go close, though I do worry about his ability to cope with the famous hill.

Best of luck to all those having a punt.

Stat of the Day, 11th July 2017

Monday's Result :

3.15 Ayr : Braes of Lochalsh @ 9/2 BOG 5th at 5/2 Led, clear 10f out, reduced lead 6f out, ridden and headed over 1f out, no extra inside final furlong.

Tuesday's pick goes in the...

8.35 Uttoxeter...

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Terry The Fish3/1 BOG

Why?

A 5 yr old gelding on a hat-trick following back to back successes over this track and trip, the latest of which was a comfortable 11 lengths win 20 days ago. This horse has been flagged several times on my database report and interests me in plenty of ways, but in the interests of time/brevity, I'm just going to give you five things to think about...

  1. Jonjo O'Neill's horses ridden by Aidan Coleman here at Uttoxeter are 9/38 (23.7% SR) for 3.71pts (+9.76% ROI), from which handicappers are 7/27 (25.9%) for 7.95pts (+29.4%) with hcp hurdlers winning 3 of 9 (33.3%) for 2.93pts (+32.6%)
  2. From 2012-2017, male hcp hurdlers who won another hcp hurdle by 4 to 15 lengths LTO 3-45 days ago are 337/1277 (26.4%) for 250.9pts (+19.7%)
  3. Jonjo's hcp hurdlers who were LTO winners 16-30 days ago are 20/70 (28.6%) for 26.7pts (+38.%) since 2012
  4. Since 2008 in hcp hurdles, LTO winners with a previous C&D won are 338/1746 (19.4%) for 163.4pts (+9.4%) with those who won at the same course and distance LTO winning 242 of 1193 (20.3%) for 152.6pts (+12.8%)
  5.  And since 2012 in UK hacp hurdles, those horses being asked to carry 12-0 to 12-4 (inclusive) are 58/168 (34.5%) for 80.9pts (+48.2%), of which Class 4 runners are 31/81 (38.3%) for 55.8pts (+68.8%), those ridden by Aidan Coleman are 5/13 (38.5%) for 7.7pts (+59.2%) and those ridden by Aidan at Class 4 are 3/6 (50%) for 10.75pts (+179.1%)

...giving us...a 1pt win bet on Terry The Fish3/1 BOG which was widely available at 12.15am on Tuesday. To see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 8.35 Uttoxeter..

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

P.S. all P/L returns quoted in the stats above are to Betfair SP, as I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you. I always use BOG bookies for SotD, wherever possible, but I use BFSP for the stats as it is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns I use to support my picks. If that's unclear, please ask!

Stat of the Day, 25th May 2017

Wednesday's Result :

2.40 Lingfield : Hope is High @ 4/1 BOG 4th at 11/4 Prominent early, tracked leaders, went 2nd over 1f out, about 1 length down when tightened up and lost 2nd well inside final furlong, lost 3rd post

Thursday's pick goes in the...

5.05 Warwick...

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Bronco Billy5/2 BOG

Why?

A 7 yr old gelding who was a winner last time out, 27 days ago. That was over a slightly shorter trip, but he has won over today's trip as a hurdler.

His trainer Jonjo O'Neill has a steady, if unspectacular overall record here at Warwick since 2013 with 18 winners from 137 (13.1% SR) for 39.3pts (+28.7% ROI) profit, but his handicappers do considerably better at 13/80 (16.25%) for 44.8pts (+56%) and we'll focus on these 80 'cappers, who are also...

  • 9/48 (18.75%) for 43.6pts (+90.8%) at Class 4
  • 12/47 (25.5%) for 48.2pts (+102.5%) at odds of 8/1 and shorter
  • 6/38 (15.8%) for 33.1pts (+87%) within 4 weeks of their last run
  • 6/29 (20.7%) for 25.6pts (+88.3%) at 3m1f-3m2f
  • 6/26 (23.1%) for 15.2pts (+58.5%) on good ground
  • and 3/12 (25%) for 9.9pts (+82.5%) from LTO winners

In addition to the above, since the start of 2011 in Class 4 chases, males aged 6 to 9 who won a handicap chase by 2 to 10 lengths LTO 4 to 75 days earlier, went on to win again on 198 of 693 (29% SR) occasions for profits of 122.5pts (+17.9% ROI), with those racing over trips of 2m 4.5f to 3m 2f winning 104 of 347 (30%) for 138.3pts (+39.8%)

And finally, since 2010...Jonjo O'Neill's handicap chasers priced at 12/1 and shorter who were LTO winners in the previous 30 days are 26/118 (22% SR) for 16.63pts (+11.6% ROI) with those racing over 3m to 3m 1.5f winning 7 of 36 (19.4%) for 19.05pts (+52.9%)

...producing...a 1pt win bet on Bronco Billy5/2 BOG which was widely available at 6.25pm on Wednesday, but those able to grab the 11/4 BOG offered by Bet365 should do so! To see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 5.05 Warwick

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

P.S. all P/L returns quoted in the stats are to Betfair SP, as (i) I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you and (ii) although inferior to the BOG odds we secure, BFSP is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns quoted.

Festival Fever

The mighty ‘Cheltenham Roar’ is almost upon us, and as excitement reaches fever-pitch I thought I’d highlight some of the horses that are going to make us rich over those four glorious days.

I’m not on my own in fancying Holywell in the Ultima Handicap Chase on day one. Jonjo’s 10-year-old has a terrific Festival record, and took this race in 2014. He was runner-up last year and is handicapped to go close again. He comes to life at Cheltenham in March, and his indifferent campaign should put no-one off.

Altior looks a certainty for the Arkle Chase, but in Henry De Bromhead’s Ordinary World, we have a decent each-way proposition. The seven-year-old chased home Min in his last run at Leopardstown, and needs a sound surface to be at his best. He’s bred to get further than the two-mile trip, and that should serve him well for that final lung-bursting finish. The trainer has a wonderful record with chasers over the minimum trip, and this fella could prove a surprise package.

The RSA Chase looks a weak renewal, with arguably Ireland’s best two in Coney Island and Our Duke both missing. In their absence, I’d be all-over Disko if he heads for this. Trained by Noel Meade, the diminutive grey is a bundle of dynamite, and had Our Duke behind him last time when winning the Flogas Chase at Leopardstown. He may well go for the JLT, but would face a sterner test from the Mullins hotshot Yorkhill. This looks the easier option, and though the trip may stretch him, he has the class to get away with it.

In recent Festival previews, Gordon Elliott highlighted the chances of his Cross Country entry Cause Of Causes. Ultimately the horse is being aimed at the Grand National, but it seems he’s been over to Cheltenham for a few practice sessions in recent months, and his Festival record is formidable. He looks likely to get his ideal conditions (good ground essential), and I’ll be lumping on.

Those who follow my ramblings will know that I’m keen on Shaneshill for the Stayers’ Hurdle. He’s another with an exceptional Festival record, but also has the necessary credentials to run a huge race in this particular event. Quick enough to finish second in a Supreme, yet having the stamina to be runner-up in a RSA Chase last year, he’s sure to give Unowhatimeanharry a mighty fright.

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The Coral Cup is a tough nut to crack, but I’m sure Peregrine Run will go close. Trained by Peter Fahey in Ireland, he’s already a winner at the track, and travelled like much the best horse last time at Warwick, before floundering in the mud. I’d be amazed if he doesn’t go close off a mark of 142, though I do fear Nicky Henderson’s Hargam. The former Triumph Hurdle third may well turn up in this, though he’s also entered in the County. He’s been given a huge chance by the handicapper, running here off an eye-popping mark of 140. He’s been lumping top-weight in handicaps for a while, and I’d be surprised if he didn’t go very close in whichever race he contests.

Gordon Elliott’s Diamond King is the worst kept secret of the Festival, and looks to have a huge chance in the Brown Advisory Handicap Chase. He won the Coral Cup 12 months ago, and has been competitive against the best Irish novices on unsuitably soft ground over the winter. A sounder surface will suit this King’s Theatre gelding, and though his handicap mark is higher than ideal, he’ll still go close.

The aforementioned Hargam may head for the County Hurdle, but if he does he’ll face his stable-companion Peace & Co. They were first and third in the 2015 Triumph Hurdle, and though the latter has been in the doldrums since, Nicky Henderson believes he now has the horse back on track. Issues with his breathing have apparently been resolved, and if anywhere near his previous best, he’ll run a mighty race.

I can’t wait for the Festival to start. Hopefully we’ll have a few winners during the week. All the best to those having a punt.

Stat of the Day, 3rd March 2017

Thursday's Result :

5.25 Newcastle : Dark Side Dream @ 4/1 BOG u/p at 5/2 report to follow

Friday's pick goes in the...

3.50 Newbury...

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Beggars Cross 7/2 BOG

Why?

This 7 yr old gelding returned to form at Doncaster LTO, winning over 3 miles 22 days ago to take his 6-race formline to 145441.

Trained by Jonjo O'Neill, whose record with handicap chasers who won LTO within the previous 30 days stands at 36/143 (25.2% SR) for profits of 20pts (+14% ROI) with runners priced at 12/1 and shorter. And from these 143 LTO winners...

  • those racing over 2m2f to 3m1.5f = 31/113 (27.4%) for 30pts (+26.5%)
  • 7 yr olds are 11/42 (26.2%) for 21.5pts (+51.1%)
  • and those racing on Good to Soft ground are 7/26 (26.9%) for 23.1pts (+88.6%)

AND...more generally since the start of 2010 in UK NH handicap chases, runners priced at 11/8 to 11/1 running within 11-25 days of an LTO win that was preceded by a run of 3 or more unplaced efforts are 17/517 (22.6% SR) for 126.1pts (+24.4% ROI), including of relevance today...

  • males are 112/484 (23.1%) for 136.8pts (+28.3%)
  • 6 to 11 yr olds are 114/478 (23.9%) for 153.4pts (+32.1%)
  • those racing over 2m4f to 3m5.5f are 90/366 (24.6%) for 136.1pts (+37.2%)

WHILST...6 to 11 yr old males racing over 2m4f to 3m5.5f are 84/318 (26.4% SR) for 157.6pts (+49.6% ROI) and in the interests of showing I'm not relyin on old data to skew the figures, since 2014, these runners are 38/136 (27.9%) for 74.2pts (+54.6%)

...giving us...a 1pt win bet on Beggars Cross 7/2 BOG which was offered by Betway, Coral, Ladbrokes & Hills at 8.35pm on Thursday and to see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 3.50 Newbury

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

P.S. all returns quoted are to Betfair SP, as (i) I NEVER bet to ISP and neither should you and (ii) although inferior to the BOG odds we secure, BFSP is the nearest approximation I can give, so I actually expect to beat the returns quoted.

Cheltenham Festival Pointers – ‘Jonjo Joy’ a Festival Feature

Though his monopoly in Ireland has come under threat this winter, chances are that Willie Mullins will again dominate at the Cheltenham Festival in March.

Finding value in a Mullins contender is never easy, with his battalion often going off at restrictive prices. His Supreme Novice Hurdle contender, Melon, is a perfect example. The horse made his hurdling debut a few days back, beating an ordinary field in a 13 runner maiden. Though admittedly visually impressive, he’s now as short as 3/1 to take the Festival opener. The price is based on reputation rather than racecourse performances, and the handler’s outstanding Prestbury Park record of-course.

Success at Cheltenham for Mullins is pretty much nailed-on, but the same cannot be said for any other trainer. Many will be travelling to the Cotswolds full of hope, dreaming of that ‘big win’ on jump racing’s greatest stage. Anyone who doubts the magnitude of such a win should watch the reaction of trainers and owners as they return victorious to the winners’ enclosure during those fabulous four days.

One handler that knows the feeling all too well is Jonjo O’Neill. And he’s become something of a master at plotting the path to success, despite his team often looking to be ‘out of sorts’. He’s lifted major prizes at Cheltenham over the years, including the Gold Cup in 2012 with 8/1 shot Synchronised.

Jonjo’s had a steady flow of Festival winners since the turn of the century. Iris’s Gift was a hugely talented hurdler, finishing second in the Stayers’ of 2003 as a novice, before returning a year later to gain revenge on the mighty French hurdler Baracouda. Rated as high as 173 over the smaller obstacles, it came as a surprise when the powerful grey failed to make an impact over fences.

Though Black Jack Ketchum ultimately failed to reach the lofty heights many had anticipated, his victory in the Albert Bartlett of 2006, then the Brit Insurance, was possibly one of the most eye-catching the festival has seen for many a year. Travelling like a Ferrari among a field of Ford Fiestas, he cruised past his rivals, before scooting clear to win by nine lengths. AP McCoy’s face could not disguise the thrill of the ride on the wonderfully talented gelding.

McCoy had the pleasure of winning aboard Wichita Lineman and Albertas Run in the following years, with the latter winning three times at the Cheltenham Festival. In 2012 Synchronised captured the Gold Cup, and two years later, Jonjo celebrated a trio of festival winners, with Holywell, Taquin Du Seuil and More Of That.

The latter looked set to dominate the sport after his stunning success in the World Hurdle. That victory came as a raw six-year-old, and in More Of That, Jonjo appeared to have a future superstar. Unfortunately, injury struck during the following campaign, and despite finishing third in the RSA last March, the horse hasn’t yet reached the pinnacle over fences. Nevertheless, he remains a horse to follow when running at Cheltenham, having won four times at the ‘home of jump racing’. His festival target is yet unknown, but he should not be discounted.

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Taquin Du Seuil is another with festival pedigree, though he’ll find it tough in March. Despite looking like a horse that needed mud in his youth, his better performances in recent times have come on a sounder surface. His jumping remains an issue, but given a clear round in either the Ryanair or the Gold Cup, he remains an each-way proposition. He ran pretty well in the Lexus Chase at Christmas, and is as big as 66/1 for the ‘Blue Riband’.

Holywell has the look of a Jonjo plot, with a handicap mark almost back to the festival winning level of 2014. Expect him to run in the opening day Grade 3 handicap chase. He won it in 2014, and finished runner-up 12 months ago. A pair of 10-year-olds have won the race in the past decade, he could be the third.

He may well line-up against stable companion Beg To Differ, who was last seen running a cracker in the Welsh National. His last run at Cheltenham was poor, but he was second at the track in January 2016, and is on a competitive handicap mark. Still only a seven-year-old, he looks a progressive sort.

Another young chaser who looks to be heading in the right direction, is the JP McManus owned Another Hero. He’s a dour stayer, and was last seen finishing third in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster. He came down in the Irish National last March, and may well be one for the Scottish version in April. If he arrives at Cheltenham, the Fulke Walwyn Handicap Chase looks a possibility, a race the yard won with Sunnyhillboy in 2012. Jonjo had three in the race last year, with Upswing the best of the finishers.

Doesyourdogbite was a little disappointing last time in the Lanzarote at Kempton. He was sent off favourite for the race, but never looked like winning, staying on late for a sixth-place finish. He’s won three of his four hurdle starts, and may well still prove competitive off his current mark, if taking his chance at The Festival. Two and a half miles with a stiff finish may be ideal.

Finally, the horse that maintained Jonjo’s impressive festival record a year ago. Minella Rocco looks set to test his Gold Cup credentials when he goes to Leopardstown in a couple of weeks. He’s fancied to go well in the Irish version, though this will be only his third outing of the winter, following his fall at Aintree behind the ill-fated Many Clouds in December. He won the National Hunt Chase at last year’s festival, beating Native River in the process. That form looks a lot stronger now. I’ve watched that race several times since, and it’s noticeable just how powerfully he travels into contention. He could be a real contender in March, assuming he jumps well enough.

It’s been a tough season to date for Jonjo and his team, with a current strike-rate of just 10%. Don’t be too surprised however, should the master of Jackdaws Castle be stood in the winners’ enclosure during the biggest four days of the Jump racing calendar.

Stat of the Day, 28th December 2016

Tuesday's Result :

12.50 Chepstow : Pobbles Bay @ 9/2 BOG WON at 9/2 - Tracked leaders, lost place when not fluent 5th, headway 9th, 2nd 4 out, led next, edged left after 2 out, clear flat, stayed on well to win by four and a half lengths.

Wednesday's pick goes in the...

2.00 Leicester

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Foundation Man @ 4/1 BOG

Why?

This 9 yr old gelding comes here seeking both a hat-trick and also his 4th win in 6 starts to bolster an already impressive 5 wins from 23 over fences, which contain the following of interest/relevance today...

  • 5 from 19 in fields of 10 or fewer runners
  • 3 from 12 at 2m4f/2m4.5f
  • 4 from 11 without headgear
  • 4 from 10 at odds of 4/1 and shorter
  • 4 from 8 within 22 days of his last run
  • 3 from 8 this year
  • 3 from 6 under today's jockey
  • 2 from 4 running in December
  • and 1 from 1 here at Leicester

He won here two starts (and 20 days) ago when making all on the way to a 15 length victory in an admittedly weak contest, but then defied a 7lb rise to score again by 4 lengths just 2 days later, when once again making all at Doncaster. He now returns to Leicester after an 18-day rest, hopefully suitably refreshed and I expect the same tactics at a track that rewards front runners (23 wins from 99 @ 23.2% SR for 15.2pts at an ROI of 15.3%)

He's trained by Jonjo O'Neill, whose handicap chasers turned back out within 30 days of an LTO win are 19/103 (18.5% SR) for 21.1pts (+20.5% ROI) since 2008, including...

  • over trips of 2m3f to 3m1.5f : 17/78 (21.8%) for 32.2pts (+41.3%)
  • within 20 days of that LTO win : 11/47 (23.4%) for 32pts (+68.1%)
  • AND...over trips of 2m3f to 3m1.5f within 20 days of that LTO win : 10/36 (27.8% SR) for 36.7pts (+101.9% ROI), including Foundation Man LTO!

And in addition to all the above data, male Class 3 handicap chasers, aged 6 to 9 yrs old, who won a hcp chase by 2 to 10 lengths LTO 11 to 150 days ago are 118/569 (20.7% SR) for 100.1pts (+17.6% ROI) since 2010, with the following of note today...

  • those winning by 3-10 lengths LTO are 98/422 (23.2%) for 119.6pts (+28.3%)
  • those last seen 11-20 days ago are 54/185 (29.2%) for 136.6pts (+73.9%)
  • 9 yr olds are 21/105 (20%) for 28.7pts (+27.3%)
  • and those racing over this 2m4f trip are 16/55 (29.1%) for 35.5pts (+64.5%).

And, from the above : those who won by 3-10 lengths LTO 11-20 days ago are 45/133 (33.8% SR) for 125pts (+94% ROI), with those in the Evens to 11/2 price range winning 36 of 89 (40.5%) for 61.2pts (+68.7%).

...which provides...a 1pt win bet on Foundation Man at 4/1 BOG which was available from Betfair SB, BetVictor, Betway, Ladbrokes and/or Hills (so we should all be getting the same deal!) at 5.50pm on Tuesday. To see what your preferred bookie is offering, simply...

...click here for the betting on the 2.00 Leicester

Don't forget, we offer a full interactive racecard service every day!

REMINDER: THERE IS NO STAT OF THE DAY ON SUNDAYS

Here is today's racecard

 

Winter Jumpers Woven In Yeats’ Image

A one-time hot favourite for the Epsom Derby, Yeats went on to become the greatest stayer of his generation, arguably of all time.

Owned by Coolmore supremo John Magnier, the son of Sadlers Wells captured the Ascot Gold Cup four years in a row, during a period of total domination. His fourth success at the age of eight, was possibly his most impressive. The outstanding colt won 14 of his 22 career starts, earning more than a £1m in prize money. He was a powerful stayer who possessed gears, with the ability of producing a burst of acceleration, but then maintaining the gallop all the way to the line.

After that final success at Ascot, his trainer Aidan O’Brien spoke of the star’s physical qualities, saying: “It's been proven at home that his lung capacity is way greater than any other horse ... and he's not a gelding, so we can tap into those genes.”

He was duly retired to stud at the end of 2009, though there was concerns over the demand for a top-class staying stallion, in a breeding industry leaning towards speed over stamina.

Initially settled at Coolmore’s headquarters, his impact on the Flat racing scene proved nominal, and he now stands at their National Hunt breeding farm. It’s no surprise that his influence on Jump racing is set to be substantial, with his progeny making their mark in bumpers last season. This could be an exciting winter for Yeats followers, as several useful types embark on a hurdling career.

Plenty of powerful yards are investing in Yeats offspring, and the early signs are certainly promising.
One race that highlighted the potential, was the mares’ bumper at Aintree in April. Yeats produced three of the first six home, with Augusta Kate finishing runner-up for Willie Mullins, and Shattered Love third for Gordon Elliott. The latter has twice finished second over hurdles already this season, and looks sure to get off the mark soon.

Augusta Kate has also got her jumps career underway, and was impressive when winning comfortably at Thurles last week. Ireland’s champion trainer has a yard full of classy mares, and it’s difficult at this stage to assess where this useful five-year-old stacks-up among the rest. She was slick over her obstacles on debut, and looked to have the tell-tale Yeats engine. She’s an exciting prospect.

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One from the Yeats early production line, that is successfully plying his trade across the English Channel, is the French trained gelding Capivari. He has already struck at Grade 1 level, when winning the valuable Prix Renaud du Vivier Hurdle at Auteuil. The race will have been watched by many UK fans, due to the inclusion of various well known four-year-olds from Britain and Ireland. Footpad finished second for Willie Mullins, with the Paul Nicholls trained Adrien Du Pont back in third.

Jonjo O’Neill has a nice hurdling prospect owned by the ‘Coolmore Boys’, in five-year-old gelding Utility. He stepped up on his seasonal debut, when winning with plenty in hand at Chepstow recently. He travelled beautifully throughout, and though his jumping had been patchy, he was spring-heeled at the last when it mattered. He’s entered at Sandown this weekend, and it will be interesting to see if he can take a further step in the right direction.

Nicky Henderson has a pair of exciting Yeats progeny in the yard. Thomas Campbell looked to be coming off second best, or maybe third best at Ascot recently, before finishing with a flurry. He still looked green in running, but when Geraghty gave him a few cracks to get him going, the response was dramatic. He stormed to a four-length victory, and should improve markedly for the run.

His stable companion that caught the eye recently was the four-year-old Burbank. He was sensational in winning a bumper at Newbury. He also needed to be shaken-up, but once the penny dropped he shot clear. A slight reservation over the form, would be that the race was a rather slowly run affair. Nevertheless, he looked special, and is set to switch to hurdles, with an outing at Exeter or Sandown later this week. I can’t wait to see him again.

It’s interesting that many of the above travelled powerfully through a race, and found plenty when asked for maximum effort. A ‘chip off the old block’ one could say. This looks likely to be an exciting winter for the Yeats dynasty. It’s still relatively early days for the stallion, but it appears that Jump racing will be all the richer for his influence.

‘More’ to come from Jonjo’s Stable Star

Cheltenham’s three-day Open Meeting kicks off today, with the prospect of numerous top-class encounters at Jump racing’s premier venue.

On Saturday, a pair of World Hurdle winners will be looking to enhance their prospects of taking a shot at the Gold Cup back at Prestbury Park in March.

Thistlecrack is already favourite for the ‘blue riband’, despite having only had one run over fences. There’s no denying that Tizzard’s eight-year-old is an incredible racehorse, and his hurdling campaign last winter was nothing short of sensational. His chasing debut at Chepstow went perfectly, and he is expected to follow up in the three-mile novices’ chase tomorrow.

Little more than an hour later, the World Hurdle winner of 2014 will be looking for an incident free return, in the ultra-competitive BetVictor Gold Cup. More Of That appeared a natural over fences last season, and was sent off a short-priced favourite for the RSA Chase. However, he faded tamely up the famous hill, having reportedly burst a blood vessel.

Jonjo remains confident in the horse’s ability, and when interviewed recently he said: “I definitely think he is a Gold Cup horse. He is the best horse I have trained but unfortunately he has a few problems. This fella is special, really special. We are pretty hopeful and he is working as well as he has ever worked before.” O’Neill went on: “I think I have improved him a stone and half at least! He is in great shape and we have been delighted with him at home. It was annoying to miss the race at Carlisle, but that is just the way it is with the weather. He has done most of his winning over two and a half but he seemed to stay well when he won the World Hurdle over three miles.”

With the rain finally arriving, there now appears no doubt that he will take his place at the start, and his road to the Gold Cup in March will begin. He achieved a rating of 169 over hurdles, so his current rating of 154 over fences may well prove lenient, especially if fully fit and raring to go.

His main danger, at least as far as the markets are concerned, is the Paul Nicholls trained four-year-old Frodon. He won the Rising Stars Novices’ Chase at Wincanton last Saturday, producing a stylish jumping display in the process. His victories have come in small fields; indeed, he was the only horse to reach the finish last time. This race tends to go to improving sorts with few miles on the clock. Caid Du Berlais was only a five-year-old when winning this for Nicholls in 2014, though he had a little more ‘big field’ experience.

Seven-year-olds have the strongest record in recent times, and the winners are often second season chasers. Paul Nicholls has several others that fit the bill, in Art Mauresque, Bouvreuil and As De Mee. The former is at the top end of the handicap, and came sixth in this race last year. He has slightly less appeal than the other two.

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Bouvreuil looked something of a work in progress last season, especially in the jumping department. He is still only five, and there is plenty of scope for improvement. His bare form probably leaves him a little shy of winning this, but he will have strengthened over the summer, and has only five chase outings to his name. Gavin Sheehan is an interesting booking for the ride.

As De Mee finally got off the mark over fences at Fontwell last month. He ran consistently last season without looking particularly special. Though he did come a close second to More Of That in the Steel Plate And Sections at this meeting. He’s undergone a breathing operation during the summer, and is on an appealing handicap mark. Of all the Nicholls contenders, he’s the one that interests me the most.

Another that fits the second season chaser profile, though still only six, is Venetia Williams’ Aso. He’s another that will need to jump better to be in with a chance. He made several mistakes at both Cheltenham and Aintree in the spring, which accounted for poor performances. However, his final run of last season came at Newton Abbot, where he sauntered to an impressive victory on soft ground. With more rain forecast tonight, he may have conditions to suit, and is certainly not without a chance.

Should we get torrential rain overnight, and conditions change dramatically, it would come as no surprise to see Venetia’s other contender, Tenor Nivernais, run a huge race. He’s a completely different beast on soft ground, likes Cheltenham, and goes well fresh. Williams won this race with a nine-year-old back in 1999, and at 33/1 this fella would be an interesting each-way punt with conditions to suit.

It’s a hugely competitive renewal, as befits such a prestigious event. The best horse in the race is More Of That, and I think he’ll win. O’Neill appears bullish, and should the horse put his best hoof forward, he’ll be in a different class to these. I can’t have Frodon at the prices. He’s yet to truly prove his ability, especially in such a competitive race. He could be something special, but this is a huge test at such a young age.

As De Mee and Aso are most appealing of the remainder, and have the right profile to make an impact. Of the pair, I’d take As De Mee with the aid of a breathing operation to run a huge race. If soft or heavy appear in the ground description, I’ll be unable to resist a couple of quid on Tenor Nivernais.

Best of luck to all having a punt. It ought to be a cracker.

Haslam Goes Green and Gold

The sight of JP McManus green and gold colours, hurtling around tracks such as Ludlow and Hexham, remains a little scarce and somewhat unusual.

One of Ireland’s most influential owners is recognised for his team of horses with Jonjo O’Neill and Nicky Henderson, and their victories during prestigious meetings at Aintree, Kempton or Cheltenham. Yet in recent years, McManus has called upon an array of British trainers, and those famous silks can now ‘pop-up’ at venues throughout the UK.

One trainer who has followed in his father’s footsteps, in building a working relationship with McManus, is North Yorkshire based Ben Haslam. He took over from his father, Patrick Haslam, at Castle Hill Stables back in 2010. The Middleham yard is home to around 40 horses, trained for both the Flat and Jumps. Haslam was only 25 when taking over from his father, yet had managed to gather a fair amount of valuable experience before taking over the main job.

He moved to Middleham as a youngster, and when not at school was able to ride out for his father. He had a brief spell as an amateur, riding a handful of winners, but appeared focused on a career as a trainer. On leaving school he took the decision to travel in search of racing experience, heading to South Africa to work with top trainer Joey Ramsden.

A crucial part of his development came when gaining a scholarship with Sheikh Mohammed. The Darley Flying Start scholarship would allow him to travel around the globe, experiencing all aspects of the thoroughbred industry. Much was learnt at the likes of the Curragh, Kentucky and Dubai, and when returning to England he was fortunate enough to spend time with Sir Michael Stoute at Newmarket.

Finishing his course in 2006, he returned home and began work as assistant to his father. In 2010, he took over the reins, taking out his full training licence. A relatively small yard, Castle Hill Stables stands next to the castle in the historic racing town of Middleham. It’s a beautiful part of Yorkshire, and a terrific place to train racehorses. Renovated in 2009, the yard has 35 boxes, a couple of barns and that all important horse walker, used for ‘warming-up’ and ‘warming-down’.

Middleham’s famous training centre is a stone’s throw away, providing extensive facilities including a multitude of all-weather and grass gallops, along with an impressive schooling ground. The facilities are used by more than a dozen local handlers.

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It was back in 2014 that Haslam’s association with JP McManus began, though the Irishman had first sent horses to the yard back in 2006, when Monsieur arrived to be trained by Haslam Snr. A former Henderson inmate, Prince Of Pirates, along with Ever So Much, were Ben’s first in the famous green and gold. Though the former failed to regain the spark of his early career, Ever So Much has become a huge hit, winning seven times, including two of his last four outings.

The latest batch of McManus stock to arrive also has the potential to bring success to the yard. Dursey Sound won at Hexham on only his second start for Haslam. Held up at the back by Richie McLernon for much of the contest, he travelled powerfully into the race looking the likely winner, before being cajoled into doing just enough to win. He certainly looks capable of further success on the northern circuit.

Saint Charles arrived from Nicky Henderson’s yard, and duly won over fences at Southwell on his first outing for Haslam. He’s run well on a couple of occasions since, and is due out again today. He’s sure to pick up more prizes during the coming season.

The Doorman is another to arrive at the yard in recent weeks. He’d lost his way in Ireland, but is undoubtedly a talented sort. By King’s Theatre out of an Anshan mare, he had strong point to point form before switching to rules. He’s sure to win races, and may start at Ludlow today.

Haslam may have a small crop of horses over the jumps, but with a strike rate of around 33% so far this season, he’s worth a watch in the coming weeks. It’s an exciting time for the Yorkshire trainer, with the prospect of more green and gold capturing prizes in unexpected places.

Potential for another ‘Blue Day’ at Newcastle

A historic renewal of the Northumberland Plate takes place on Saturday.

The event was established back in the early 1800s and held at Town Moor. It moved to Gosforth Park in 1882, and famously became known as the "Pitmen's Derby", during a period when mining played such a huge part of the lives of local people, and indeed people throughout the land.

The Northumberland Plate is now one of the richest two-mile handicaps in the world, and tomorrow will take place on an all-weather surface for the first time. The issue of moving from Turf to Tapeta has been covered at length, but the track has now been widely accepted as a success. Trainer Mark Johnston, one of the most fierce critics, had to concede: “It’s exactly as I expected. I don’t think anyone doubted that with Michael Dickinson providing Tapeta and a layout like this, it would be a fantastic all-weather track.

Putting the running surface to one side for now, let’s take a look at known trends in an attempt to find a likely winner.

Five and six year-olds have become dominant in recent years, winning six of the last seven renewals. Last year’s race saw the first five home come from that age group. Jumps trainers are worth a close look, when searching for a potential winner. Donald McCain has won two of the last six, and Jonjo took the race in 2013. In last year’s race, the Willie Mullins trained Max Dynamite finished second at 16/1.

Weight has proved a strong trend over the years, with only Tominator carrying more than 9-4 to victory in recent times. However, the handicap from top to bottom has become compressed over the past few years, and Saturday’s lowest race weight will be 8-12. Indeed, 12 months ago the first five home all carried 9 stone or more. I’d therefore be less likely to dismiss any contender on account of weight being carried.

It also makes sense to look for horses that have experience of running in mid to long distance events. The last ten winners had all won at trips from 1m5f up to two miles.

Big-priced winners have been a common feature in the past decade or so, but in the last four years the winner has either been the race favourite or sent-off at 8/1 or less. This probably feeds into the narrative of stronger fields in recent years, with a compression of handicaps, giving top weights as much of a chance as those carrying less.

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The markets have taken something of a re-shuffle in recent days with ante-post favourite Dannyday failing to make the cut for Saturday's £150,000 handicap. Sir Michael Stoute's lightly-raced four-year-old had been the 8-1 favourite, but will not be among the 20 starters.

Steve Rogers has taken over at the head of the betting. Trained by Roger Varian, the five-year-old ran a stinker last time in the Chester Cup, having been sent off favourite for the race. He’d looked progressive prior to that run, and could bounce back, though there’s every chance that he is now in the grip of the handicapper. No Heretic took that race at Chester, but was then sent to Royal Ascot by Nicky Henderson, and ran poorly on ground that would have been unsuitable. It’s asking a lot for him to bounce back so quickly after such a poor run just over a week ago.

Iain Jardine’s Nakeeta, chased home No Heretic at Chester, getting within a short-head of victory at the line. Another five-year-old, he is currently second-favourite for the race, and appears to have been laid out for the event. Not out of the first two in his past five appearances, he has the right type of profile for this, and should run well. He clearly likes these big handicaps, and I’d be surprised if he’s not in the frame.

The Hughie Morrison trained Nearly Caught is fancied by many to go close. Third in the race 12 months ago, he warmed up for this with a run at Chelmsford in May. He’s on the same handicap mark as last year, and there’s no reason why he shouldn’t run well. It’s notable that George Baker takes the ride. He won the race last year aboard Quest For More, and is terrific in this type of event. Expect him to play his cards late.

Antiquarium is an interesting runner for Godolphin. As a three-year-old he got within two lengths of Dartmouth, giving the Hardwicke Stakes winner 8lbs. That form looks incredibly strong now, and with a warm-up run under his belt the four-year-old is sure to be open to plenty of improvement. I think he’ll run a huge race, and at 14/1 looks a very fair price.

Godolphin also have Polarisation in the race, and he’s another with a realistic chance. He ran a solid race at Epsom last time, showing his liking for these big field handicaps. He’s on a fair mark, and should go close.

As always, there’s plenty in with a chance. I’m putting my faith in Antiquarium for Godolphin, a team that are flying at the moment. I’ll also have a little on Nakeeta, who looks sure to be in the shake-up.

Jonjo hopes for More Of That in March

More Of That will miss Newbury tomorrow and now looks set to go straight to The Festival in his attempt to win the RSA Chase.

His lack of experience over the larger obstacles has to be a concern. Only two of the last 20 RSA winners have arrived at Cheltenham with just two outings over fences. Don Poli overcame such concerns last year in stunning fashion, and Florida Pearl did the same back in 1998.

That is the challenge facing Jonjo’s fella, though he was just as inexperienced when winning the World Hurdle in 2014. It’s interesting that he was given a similar three month break leading up to that famous victory. Though now an eight-year-old, he still has very few miles on the clock with just eight outings under rules. His record is hugely impressive, with only the one career defeat and a perfect four from four at Prestbury Park.

Frank Berry, the racing manager to owner JP McManus yesterday said: “He won't be running on Saturday because of the ground. We were hoping it would dry up a bit, but it's still soft, heavy in places on the chase track. He's in great form and Jonjo is very happy with him.”

He’s been impressive in his two chase victories this winter, though looks likely to go off second favourite in March with No More Heroes at the head of the market. The Gigginstown owned seven-year-old looks a classy chaser and the pair could provide us with one of the races of the Festival.

Jonjo O’Neill has had many a great day at Cheltenham over the years, both as a jockey and trainer. He famously took the Gold Cup aboard Ireland’s favourite mare Dawn Run, and in 2012 trained Synchronised to win the race when many so called experts considered him to be merely a decent handicapper.

After his now renowned quiet spell during a very wet winter, Jonjo is famed for having his team finely tuned as March approaches. More Of That, Holywell, Taquin Du Seuil, Albertas Run and of course Synchronised, are all part of the rich recent history at Jackdaws Castle. He’ll be hoping to build some momentum as the four day spectacular approaches.

He has several promising hurdlers set to take their chance in the Betfair Hurdle tomorrow at Newbury. Mad Jack Mytton, Matorico and Champagne At Tara are all capable of going well having run consistently throughout the winter. The former has only twice been out of the first three in 10 career starts, whilst Matorico was fourth in a competitive handicap at Kempton last time and prior to that ran the fast improving Duke Des Champs close at Market Rasen. Any or all could then head to Cheltenham as lively outsiders for the Coral, the County or the Martin Pipe handicap hurdles.

Jonjo is likely to saddle Compadre in Newbury’s closing bumper. Owned by Magnier, Smith and Tabor, this son of Yeats was very impressive on debut at Bangor back in November. Tomorrow’s race looks a real cracker with several high-profile contenders. A prominent finish should book his place for a trip to Cheltenham to take in the Champion Bumper.

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At Warwick there’s a chance that The Saint James may take up his entry in the Kingmaker Novices’ Chase. Now I’m not expecting him to get the better of L’Ami Serge, or in all likelihood get that close. I am however of the opinion that this horse has a bright future over fences.

He almost got the better of Vyta Du Roc back in December, and was putting in a promising performance behind Ar Mad over Christmas at Kempton before uprooting the eighth fence. He’s bred for the larger obstacles and is still only a five-year-old with the prospect of a huge amount of improvement to come. He came third in the Fred Winter at last year’s Cheltenham Festival, and is currently a huge price for the JLT.

One race at The Festival that Jonjo looks sure to target is the four mile National Hunt Chase. He has several contenders in a race that has brought him a great deal of success in the past. Upswing ran a belter at Cheltenham back in November behind Sausalito Sunrise, before struggling to cope with conditions in the Welsh National. He’s capable of a huge performance in March.

Jonjo may also run Spookydooky and Another Hero; both strong stayers though both relatively inexperienced over fences. The latter won at Ludlow last week, whilst the former chased home Seventh Sky in the Tommy Whittle Handicap Chase. He had the Peter Marsh winner, Cloudy Too, behind him on that occasion.

There’s little doubt that O’Neill’s outstanding staying chaser is Holywell. Fourth in last year’s Gold Cup, the nine-year-old is never at his best in deep winter ground. He may still be aimed at Cheltenham’s Blue Riband, however, his handicap mark continues to tumble, and this could tempt connections into a crack at the opening day three mile handicap chase. He won it in 2014 and the addition of a claimer on his back would surely give him every chance of repeating that success.

Finally I have to mention Minella Rocco; a horse that has proved incredibly disappointing since his switch to fences. Touted as a potential stable star as the season began, he was pulled up at Cheltenham in December after thumping the fourth fence, and then finished tailed off behind Seeyouatmidnight after another abstract jumping display. His intended Festival target is now unknown but he remains a talented horse with huge potential.

More Of That remains the flag-bearer as O’Neill’s team ‘warm-up’ for March. However, it would come as no surprise should Jonjo cause a few upsets during Festival week, and head back to Jackdaws Castle with a huge smile on his face.

Champagne And Caviar For Hobbs

Jonjo's Exotic Dancer

Jonjo's Exotic Dancer

Whether it proves a stepping stone towards a tilt at the Ryanair Chase in March or further handicap success during the winter, the Caspian Caviar Gold Cup is often won by an upwardly mobile young chaser.

Established in 1963, it has gone to numerous classy types over the years, but in 2006 one trainer in particular uncovered a gem that so nearly hit the very top of the sport.

Exotic Dancer had already swept to victory in the Paddy Power Gold Cup before lining up as an 8/1 shot for the race then known as the Boylesport.com Gold Cup. Adopting exaggerated hold-up tactics, he again sliced through the field late on, before storming up the famous Cheltenham hill to victory. Back in third that day was a Paul Nicholls trained five-year-old called Taranis. Three months later he would win the Ryanair Chase at the Cheltenham Festival.

Jonjo’s young chaser was to take a different path. His winter wins at Cheltenham had shown him to be a powerful stayer, and connections decided a shot at the King George was in order. Unfortunately he was to bump in to one of the all-time greats at the peak of his powers. Kauto Star lay in wait at Kempton, and when the two met again in the Gold Cup at Cheltenham, it was Nicholls’ superstar that once again gained the upper hand, beating Exotic Dancer in a memorable renewal.

Nevertheless, it had been a meteoric rise for O’Neill’s horse having won the Paddy Power off a handicap mark of 139 and ending the season rated a whopping thirty pounds higher.

Only three horses have managed to complete Cheltenham’s November-December Gold Cup double. Exotic Dancer was the last to win both and tomorrow’s renewal will see the Alan King trained Annacotty attempt to add his name to a rather select list. He won a thrilling Paddy Power Gold Cup on his first appearance for King and has to withstand a 5lb rise in the handicap. He renews rivalry with Evan Williams’ runner-up Buywise and third home Sound Investment.

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Notoriously frustrating, Williams’ eight-year-old is sure to go close once again. Despite finding it difficult to win one of these big winter handicaps at Cheltenham, he is nevertheless ultra-consistent. Those who decide to keep the faith are likely to get a good run for their money.

Sound Investment hauled top-weight to a creditable third place last month and is burdened with the same task once again. Should Paul Nicholls manage to squeeze a little more improvement out of his seven-year-old, he looks sure to go close again. I remain firm in the belief that he will develop into a Ryanair contender. Tomorrow will likely tell us for sure.

Champagne West is one of the most intriguing contenders as he returns from a spell on the ‘easy list’. His last completed finish was a fine effort in defeat to Ptit Zig at Cheltenham back in January. That form now looks pretty strong, with Nicholls’ young chaser having impressed already this winter. With such a favourable profile it is therefore noteworthy that Richard Johnson has chosen to ride Philip Hobbs’ other runner, Village Vic.

He sits at the bottom of the handicap, and has been progressing steadily since missing the 2013/14 season through injury. This son of Old Vic out of a Garde Royale mare looked impressive last time at Musselburgh, tanking along up front and having the field on the stretch from a long way out. This will of course be a much tougher proposition and he lacks that all important track experience having never jumped a fence at Cheltenham.

I remain a fan of Art Mauresque who finished sixth in the Paddy Power in November having faded late on. He was given a positive ride that day, and probably paid the price at the death. Still only a five-year-old, if he settles well enough and is ridden with slightly more restraint, I can see him going close.

It’s a hugely competitive event as always, full of promising young chasers likely to continue on an upward curve over the coming months.

Stat of the Day, 11th December 2015

Stat of the Day, 11th December 2015

Thursday's Result :

4.05 Chelmsford : Fable of Arachne @ 5/1 BOG 4th at 3/1 (Chased leaders, ridden over 3f out, effort over 1f out, every chance inside final furlong, held when not much room close home, beaten by a length)

Friday's selection runs in the...

2.55 Cheltenham :

Before I post the daily selection, just a quick reminder of how I operate the service. Generally, I'll identify and share the selection in the evening before the following day's race and I then add a detailed write-up later on that night/next morning.

Those happy to take the early price on trust can do so, whilst some might prefer to wait for my reasoning. As I fit the early service in around my family life, I can't give an exact timing on the posts, so I suggest you follow us on Twitter and/or Facebook for instant notifications of a published pick.

Who?

Monbeg Gold @ 9/2 BOG

Why?

1. Monbeg Gold is a lightly raced 5 yr old gelding who is clearly on the rise and comes here seeking a 38-day hat-trick after back to back wins over 2m7f on soft ground at Exeter, suggesting he'll handle conditions well enough here today.

He was a winner by 5 lengths 38 days ago beating a couple of subsequent winners and followed that up with an 18 lengths rout 8 days later, despite being eased right down in the closing stages.

Today's jockey Richard Johnson was on board both times (2/2 together) and the only slight negative from those last two runs was a tendency to jump to the left on occasions, so a left handed track might help cut out some wasted yardage.

2. Richard Johnson has, of course, been a major beneficiary of the retirement of AP McCoy, picking up rides from Jonjo O'Neill this year that he'd never have been offered and he has repaid that faith by winning 23 times from just 70 rides (32.9% SR) for level stakes profits of 35.7pts at an ROI of 51%.

3. Since 2009, Jonjo's handicap hurdlers who were winners last time out in the past 30 days are 49 from 146 (33.6% SR) for 58.5pts (+40% ROI) profit, of which...

  • those who last ran 16 to 30 days ago are 27/87 (31% SR) for 63.4pts (+72.9% ROI)
  • those competing at trips of 2m7.5f to 3m2f are 17/51 (33.33% SR) for 45.5pts (+89.3% ROI)
  • and those running at 2m7.5f to 3m2f, 16 to 30 days after their last run are 13/33 (39.4% SR) for 52.8pts (+160.1% ROI)

4. Since the start of 2012, male handicap hurdlers who won a handicap hurdle by 4 lengths or more last time out in the previous 3 to 60 days have won again on 263 of 1015 (25.9% SR) occasions producing level stakes profits of 232.3pts (+22.9% ROI), of which...

  • those running at trips beyond 2m6f are 66/267 (24.7% SR) for 75.7pts (+28.4% ROI)
  • Class 2 runners are 20/99 (20.2% SR) for 50.6pts (+51.1% ROI)
  • runners at Cheltenham are 8 from 52 (15.4% SR) for 62pts (+119.3% ROI)

5. And following on from the general stat above, we can be more specific by looking those male handicap hurdlers who were LTO winners 3 to 60 days ago who fit a more strict set of rules, ie those aged 4 to 8, carrying 9-13 to 10-13 and rated (OR) 81 to 130.

These pop up as winners very often and since the start of 2012 they are 180/860 (20.9% SR) for 136.2pts (+15.8% ROI) profit and as you'd expect from 860 qualifiers, there are plenty of different angles to explore, but with the clock ticking, I'm just going to give you the following five...

  • those priced at 10/1 or shorter are 173/712 (24.3% SR) for 148.3pts (+20.8% ROI)
  • those who last ran 16 to 30 days ago are 78/404 (19.3% SR) for 120pts (+29.7% ROI)
  • those carrying 10-11 to 10-13 are 62/288 (21.5% SR) for 59.3pts (+20.6% ROI)
  • on good to soft ground they are 30/151 (19.9% SR) for 47.3pts (31.3% ROI)
  • those trained by Jonjo O'Neill are 9/26 (34.6% SR) for 19.4pts (+74.7% ROI)

And my recommended bet, based on the above and at prices available at 10.10pm?

A 1pt win bet on Monbeg Gold @ 9/2 BOG with Hills BetVictor and/or Paddy Power, whilst Ladbrokes are matching that price, but won't go BOG until morning. However,  to see what your preferred bookie is offering...

...click here for the betting on the 2.55 Cheltenham

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Here is today's racecard.