Posts

VIDCAST: Early Cheltenham Festival Fancies

In this 48 minute video, myself and Cathryn Fry - ably compered by Alex Constantinou - offer some early thoughts on the four Cheltenham Festival Championship races.

We both like a 25/1 shot in one of them, though it's not the same 25/1 shot!

Also, we look a little closer into the future and the pick of the Christmas action, including the King George and Lexus Chases, the big novice chase from Leopardstown and their Grade 1 hurdle event.

See what you think...

**

There's a long way to go until the Festivals in March and April, and things will change markedly as a result of what happens in the rest of this month, so you may (or may not!) want to take a flyer now.

[We'll aim to do a few more of these - with a few more panellists - as time goes by. That is, of course, if you like them!]

Matt

Your first 30 days for just £1

p.s. here are my notes, made before the vidcast:

KING GEORGE
Three miler needed, but maybe more speed than stamina. That being the case, Cue Card and Don Cassock look the pair to go with. (Not at all sure Vautour will stay. At the very least he has to prove it and looks the wrong price). Cue Card at 9/2 a bit of value but may need it soft. Don ground agnostic and worthy favourite. Saver material.

RP NOV CHS
Douvan no sort of bet at 1/2 (Vautour stuffed at 1/4 for same connections last year). Winter ground and Wullie perhaps easing off them mid-season mean it might be worth having a cut at Sizing John at close to 5/1. He's a big improver for HdB, was only 7L behind Douvan twice over hurdles, and de Bromhead has a better record improving hurdlers into chasers than Mullins... than pretty much everyone (see Tony Keenan's post on geegeez).

Kitten Rock also progressive on soft ground, though has to show he's as good over fences as he was over hurdles. Ttebbob another progressive sort. I'd almost be happy to bet 6/4 the field against Douvan. Have backed Sizing John to win any Festival race at 10's, so hope he wins.

LEXUS CHASE
Sure to shake up the Gold Cup market, a cracking race is in prospect.
Don Poli is 5/2 with Ladbrokes and only 13/8 with Paddy. If the latter is too short the former may be too big for those wanting to bet ahead of time. But with Djakadam and Coneygree, 1st and 2nd in the Gold Cup in March, in opposition, the RSA winner has his work cut out.

Looks a fantastic race to watch and not one on which I'm inclined to wager.

RYANAIR HURDLE
With Nichols Canyon, Arctic Fire, Identity Thief, MTOY, and Windsor Park all quoted, this will be some race if most line up.
Assuming the ground is on the soft side - the forecast suggests it could be heavy - Windsor Park could be a bit of a bargain against the top of the market. He's a win machine who seems to act on any surface.
Wicklow Brave was pretty disappointing last time but he goes in deep ground and 20/1 e/w might not be an awful bet. I have no idea what runs here though and couldn't suggest a bet until the decs are in.

CHELTENHAM NOTES
Only Annie Power's last flight fall saved the bookies from a Mullins bashing last season.
Wullie has 7 of the first 8 non-handicap a/p favourites across days 1 and 2.
He's just 9/61 in non-handicaps at Festival in last 2 seasons - 15% SR, -55% ROI
6/1 or shorter: 9/21, 43% SR, 3-% ROI
Sustainable? Not in my view. Bookies will be even tighter about WPM runners, esp. at top of market.
Winners are pretty much assured, but the value has to be elsewhere.

Champion Hurdle
Faugheen looked to be at the end of his rope last year and, while Nichols Canyon (5x G1 winner) advertised claims by beating him the other day, Arctic Fire is quite appealing e/w 8/1 NRNB
Identity Thief - Henry de Bromhead's improver won Fighting Fifth, needs to jump better but big engine and improving fast. 25/1 NRNB with Skybet a very attractive e/w play

Champion Chase
Sprinter Sacre looked back to somewhere within a stone of his best at Chelters in November. UDS has to improve and a lot of improvement is factored into a quote of 6/4. Special Tiara same rating 168 as UDS, though less improvement. 3rd in the race last year, looks to be a stride better now. Solid option at 16/1 NRNB.

World Hurdle
Impossible race, as 9/1 the field demonstrates. You don't have to have a bet now. So don't!

Gold Cup
Coneygree impressive last year but hard to keep right apparently.
Not sure Don Cossack has the stamina for this, Ryanair a better though less glamorous option.
Djakadam high class and will stay, more mature this time around.
But RSA winner, Don Poli, a very strong stayer on an upward curve. OTT when beaten at Punchestown. Aside from that, he's unbeaten over fences. 7/1 NRNB
Cue Card was impressive in the Betfair but will be 10 next March. Hard to see him winning.
Would want to see Smad Place replicate his Hennessy effort and happy to take shorter if he can.
As a complete rag for £1 e/w Wounded Warrior could go well IF it came up soft. Very strong stayer who must have mud, and only beaten 7L (3rd) in the RSA. 50/1 NRNB - he probably won't run if it's good ground.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015 Preview, Trends, Tips

Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup Trends

Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup 2015 Preview

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015 Preview, Trends, Tips

It's not much more than two months until the tapes rise on the 2015 Cheltenham Festival, and so it's high time geegeez.co.uk kicked off its big race previews. In a curious year where the Champion Hurdle looks strangely uncompetitive, and the Champion Chase and World Hurdle have plenty more questions than answers right now, it's almost by default that we head straight to the big pot - the Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015 - for our first geegeez ante-post preview.

2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup Trends

These trends cover the last seventeen renewals of the Gold Cup, going back to 1997 (no race in 2001, due to foot and mouth outbreak), and are courtesy of horseracebase.

Age: Seven to nine-year-olds have a stranglehold on both the vast majority of winners and runners. But those at double digit ages have been well represented with little success. Specifically, Cool Dawn's 1998 triumph was the only one in the past twenty years.

The elder statesmen have notched ten places from 74 runners since 1997 (13.5%), which is again materially below the place strike rate of their younger counterparts (41/167, 24.5%).

Odds: Although this is something that cannot be judged until much nearer the time, there is plenty of cause for optimism for those who like to play at prices. Whilst Best Mate's second and third wins came at odds of 13/8 and 8/11; and Denman's 9/4 victory was the meat in a Kauto Star (5/4 and 7/4) / Paul Nicholls sandwich; there have also been winners at 16/1, 20/1 twice and 25/1 since 1997.

In a year with no outstanding candidate currently - with the possible, almost by default, exception of Silviniaco Conti - this is a race which looks ripe for a tilt at a price (or two).

Official Rating: It goes without saying that it takes a classy horse to win a Gold Cup, and Lord Windermere's victory last year off 152 was the lowest in the sample... by some way. That said, War Of Attrition had an official Irish rating of 157; and Cool Dawn - who was unrated at the time of his success - was around 150.

The fact remains that of the 13 winners since 1997 to have had a rating going into the race, all bar one were pegged at 166 or more. That is from a sample of just 47 horses (25% win rate), and was worth north of 20 points profit at SP.

It's a group that has included 7/1 Imperial Commander, 8/1 Synchronised, and 16/1 See More Business. Of the likely entries this year, only Silviniaco Conti and Bobs Worth are rated 166+.

Layoff: None of the 65 horses to have raced within a month of the Gold Cup was good enough to win the Gold Cup. Compare that with the 16 winners from the last 17 renewals to have run within 30-90 days. Of that group, clear pick from a rest pattern perspective are those returning off between two and three months away from the track.

They scored ten times from 40 runners (25%), and accounted for a further three placed efforts (32% place strike rate).

Distance: Although the Gold Cup is a test of stamina as well as class, only one winner since 1997 (Synchronised) had won beyond the Gold Cup distance of 3m 2 1/2f. That was from 80 runners to have raced over further. With just ten places to their name (12%), this was another under-performing group.

At the other end of the distance spectrum, none of the handful of horses to have raced exclusively at shorter than three miles was able to win, and only one placed.

Seven winners and 17 further placed horses had previously raced over the Gold Cup trip, most of them in previous Gold Cups.

Class: Every winner since Cool Dawn in 1998 had previously won a Grade 1 Chase.

Key Trials: The best pointers for the Gold Cup are the Lexus Chase, the King George VI Chase and the previous year's RSA Chase.

Four of the last seventeen RSA Chase winners have gone on to win the Gold Cup the following season. That quartet includes the last two Gold Cup winners - Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere - as well as Denman (2008), and Looks Like Trouble (1999). Sadly, O'Faolain's Boy misses the race due to injury.

The King George has heralded the Gold Cup winner six times since 1997, with Best Mate, Kicking King, Kauto Star (twice), Long Run and Silviniaco Conti all doubling up eleven weeks later. Of the RSA winners to claim Gold Cup glory the following season, only Looks Like Trouble ran in the King George (pulled up). Imperial Commander was beaten in the King George before winning the Gold Cup that same season, as

Silviniaco Conti was an easy winner of this season's King George.

The Lexus Chase run at Leopardstown over Christmas has emerged as a credible Gold Cup trial through the wins of Best Mate (2003), Denman (2007), and Synchronised (2011). Eleven lengths behind Bobs Worth last season in the Lexus was Lord Windermere, who won the Gold Cup. Likewise, War Of Attrition was behind Beef Or Salmon in the 2005 Lexus before winning the Gold Cup later that season.

This season, Road To Riches was an impressive winner of the Lexus on soft to heavy ground.

Running Style: Geegeez Gold has a pace tool which breaks horses run styles down into four main categories: led (4), prominent (3), midfield (2), and held up (1). Using those same groupings on the last dozen winners and placed horses in the Gold Cup gives us this picture:

1st 2nd 3rd
2014 1 3 1
2013 2 3 4
2012 1 3 3
2011 2 1 3
2010 3 3 2
2009 3 3 1
2008 3 3 4
2007 1 1 2
2006 2 1 2
2005 2 1 3
2004 3 1 4
2003 1 1 1
2 2 2.5

Although there is little about which to be categorical, we can see that those that keep their powder dry early - racing in mid-division or held up - have fared best, with eight wins from the twelve years.

Early leaders unsurprisingly find it hard to hang tough, and just three have clung on for bronze. If you like a perennial pace pusher, beware.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2015 Form Preview

Sill-vin-ee-arr-ko Kon-tee

Sill-vin-ee-arr-ko Kon-tee

The Gold Cup 2015 has a wide open look to it, with only Silviniaco Conti showing consistent top class form. Wins in the Betfair Chase and the King George, for a second year in a row, have propelled him to 3/1 favouritism and that looks absolutely fair.

His problem, for punters at least, is that he went into last year's Gold Cup off a similarly authoritative King George romp but curled up on the Cheltenham run in. It is hard to erase that memory and, though Noel Fehily may adopt more patient tactics this year - he took it up at the fourth last in 2014, plenty early enough - there's a persistent niggle about Silviniaco Conti's stamina.

To wit, his King George wins have been when beating doubtful stayers - Dynaste and Cue Card - at three pancake flat miles, let alone the punishing three and three-eighths in the west country. [I know at least some readers will feel Dynaste does stay, but even his connections don't trust him to last out the Gold Cup trip].

So here's the deal with Silvi Conti: he's comfortably the most credible favourite in the field, but he's not one I want to be with, given the stamina reservation. In an open year, it looks like being a big field, and thus every chance of a searching gallop.

The good news is that, if we overlook Signor Conti, it's 10/1 bar. Now you're talking!

Clear second choice in the market is the Lexus Chase winner, Road To Riches. His has been a steady progression through the chasing ranks, having started out as a thrice beaten novice at trips of up to 2m5f. In his defence, those were all Grade 1 events, and more recent evidence suggests they were all at sub-optimal distances.

In fact he's unbeaten in three chase starts at two and three-quarter miles or beyond. Importantly, Road To Riches is proven on a variety of different going, from heavy to good. True, he's yet to race beyond three miles, so there is a stamina question to answer. But, unlike Silviniaco Conti, he has yet to suggest he can't stay the Gold Cup trip.

Your first 30 days for just £1

Rather, he got tapped for toe in the Lexus before staying on best to see off On His Own, Sam Winner, Boston Bob, Carlingford Lough, First Lieutenant, Lord Windermere and Bobs Worth: all are in the frame to re-oppose in March.

Given the depth of that race, and even allowing for the fact it will have been a dress rehearsal rather than the big performance for a subset of the contenders, this was an impressive staying effort, and a career high. It was also a second consecutive Grade 1 win at three miles, and Noel Meade's eight year old looks a pretty solid option.

Our next task is to try to find legitimate excuses for the beaten Lexus horses to put them back in the Gold Cup frame. On His Own probably should have been awarded the 2014 Gold Cup in the stewards' room last year, and he ran a cracker again here, staying on doggedly when others were wilting.

In fact, I'd say he ran right up to his best, though he may have been suited by the slightly easier ground than he faced in the Gold Cup last year, and is likely to face again in the Gold Cup this year. He's just turned ten now too and, while that's not a death knell, it is a knock against his chance. One can't help but feel he's destined to rue the clemency of the on track beaks in March 2014 with regards to Lord Windermere's meandering, interfering passage.

Third placed Sam Winner ran a blinder on ground softer than ideal. He's a four time Cheltenham course winner, and he won over a furlong further than the Gold Cup trip there in November, lugging top weight of 11-12 in a Grade 3 handicap chase.

Not beaten far in the Lexus, he was also not beaten far in the RSA Chase last March, but that may be the story of his Grade 1 career: he wasn't beaten far in the G1 Finale Hurdle at Chepstow as a four year; he wasn't beaten far in the Triumph later that season; and he hasn't been beaten that far in those two G1 chases this term.

He's a phenomenally consistent lad and he might just have been bottomed by the February run in heavy ground prior to the RSA last year. This time, granted a slightly easier run to the Festival, he can make the frame. 33/1 non-runner no bet underestimates his chance.

Boston Bob is another about whom there are valid stamina doubts. He's a gutsy street fighter, with a stellar record at two and a half miles. Now a ten year old, he's another that might have to cede best to younger limbs, but he does stay better now than he did. On balance, though, I prefer the chances of others.

Only eight lengths behind the winner in the Lexus Chase was Carlingford Lough, a horse I admit to having backed speculatively at the start of the season. This was his seasonal debut, and in that context it was a very fair effort: he travelled well through the race, jumped better than he sometimes does, and just ran out of puff late on.

It might be that he doesn't quite stay the Gold Cup trip, in which case the Ryanair entry looks sensible. But he's a Grade 1 winner at three miles over both hurdles and fences, and he was actually sent off favourite for the 2013 Irish Grand National over 3m5f.

He's talented and quirky, but even if he puts in an absolutely foot perfect round, it is hard to see him beating them all off.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014 finish, with Lord Windermere just prevailing

Lord Windermere got best of a 3 way go last year...

That comment doesn't apply to Lord Windermere who showed last season that trainer Jim Culloty learned a lot from his guv'nor when riding, Henrietta Knight. Target training is an art, and Culloty's ability to notch a second Cheltenham Festival Grade 1 win with Lord W, having not been closer than sixth in any of the three intervening runs, was an object lesson in the art; and mirrored the careful planning of Hen for Best Mate's hat-trick of Gold Cups, all steered by Culloty.

So it is again that Lord Windermere has been no better than third in two runs since his Gold Cup triumph. Both those runs would have been on terrain at least a modicum softer than ideal, and both offered more promise than did the trio which preceded his Gold Cup win. He simply has to be a runner again, with conditions certain to be optimal.

Bobs Worth, on the other hand, has too many questions to answer. The 2012 RSA Chase and 2013 Gold Cup winner ran a screwy race in the Gold Cup last year, jumping the last upsides before weakening to fifth after covering more ground laterally than forwards. He was sent off the 6/4 favourite that day, and was again favoured - at 5/2 - in the Lexus, implying he wouldn't need it too much after nine months off the course.

In the circumstances then, especially as he's now turned ten, he's opposed.

Away from the Lexus, the challengers still come, and it might be that one of the less acclaimed horses sneaks up on those flashing their blades in the big Grade 1 contests. The most likely pair on that score are Holywell and Many Clouds.

The former was a comfortable enough winner of the Festival Handicap Chase last year, and followed that up with a demolition of Don Cossack and co in the Grade 1 Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree. But his jumping has generally been sub-par - typified by two notable mistakes before unshipping his rider at the eighth at Aintree the last day - and that's not an exciting attribute for a possible Gold Cup wager.

Many Clouds a solid Cheltenham Gold Cup contender on soft ground

Many Clouds a solid Gold Cup contender on soft ground

Many Clouds, however, has a pleasingly progressive profile, albeit still with something to prove. A close second to subsequent RSA Chase winner, O'Faolain's Boy, in the Reynoldstown last February, Many Clouds was still lobbing along when brought down in that rough renewal of the novice stayers' championship.

It may have been a blessing in disguise and, though he was a remote fourth to Holywell in the aforementioned Mildmay thereafter, he's looked an animal on the up this term. On his first run of the season, he was a taking winner of a Listed chase that also featured Holywell as well as Nicky Richards' 159-rated chaser, Eduard.

He stayed on best over that inadequate two and a half miles, aided doubtless by the soft ground. It was sodden underfoot once more when Many Clouds lined up for the Hennessy, itself a fair portent of Gold Cup prospects, as the 8/1 joint-fifth choice in the market.

Carrying 11-06 he was three lengths too good for the gallant top weight, Houblon Des Obeaux; and twenty-odd lengths-plus too good for all bar Merry King, himself a length behind Houblon in third. This was a fine performance from an ascendant stayer in a race in which both Denman and Bobs Worth have advertised their Blue Riband credentials earlier in their winning seasons, in the last seven years.

Coincidentally, Bobs Worth was also a seven year old when winning the Hennessy, as was Many Clouds; and carried 11-06, as did Many Clouds. I also backed Many Clouds, at a huge price, at the start of the season, and I'm happy enough with my ticket.

The most likely elements to beat him are, firstly, that he's still a tad shy of the normal level of ability required to win a Gold Cup. That is mitigated somewhat by it having the feel of a sub-par renewal and the fact he's on such a progressive trajectory.

More concerning to me personally is his predilection for precipitated upon pistes. That is to say soft ground. Indeed all victories bar a bumper win on good to soft three years ago have been achieved on soft or heavy turf. It could be soft or heavy for Gold Cup day, but realistically conditions will likely be a fair bit quicker than that.

Six of the last ten Gold Cups, including four of the last five, have been run on good ground. Three more were on good to soft, and just Bobs Worth's 2013 victory was achieved on soft going in the past decade. Perhaps the Bobs Worth comparisons will extend to the state of the ground too, but the balance of history suggests Many Clouds will need to perform under what may be skies bereft of many clouds.

Further down the lists we go in what is a market full of horses with hopes higher, and odds typically lower, than formbook chances. But, with the advent of a number of bookies going non-runner no bet, we might be able to have a pop at something with a money-back concession if it doesn't run.

One of mild interest on that score is Al Ferof. He's never raced beyond three miles and he's never won beyond two and a half. Moreover, whilst this ten year old winner of ten races under rules is older than I'd normally engage with, the price and bookie concession are mildly appealing in this case. Here's why...

Of that trio of t'ree mile losses, two were in the King George turning back after a month off. Both were staying on efforts behind his half-brother, Silviniaco Conti (both sired, like Unioniste and Neptune Collonges, by Dom Alco), and both followed wins in the Amlin Chase.

His third defeat at three miles was on heavy ground, and I'd excuse most horses defeat on heavy even when they've been classy enough to win against inferior horses in a bumper on it.

My case for Al Ferof rests on him never having proven he doesn't stay beyond three miles, and upon a rock solid contention that this is a horse who is best fresh. Indeed, here's his record (taken from Geegeez Gold form) when he's been turned out after 60 days or more.

Al Ferof has won all completed started after a 60+ day break

Al Ferof has won all completed started after a 60+ day break

If you're struggling to read the fine print in the image, you can enlarge it by clicking thereupon. Or, alternatively, I could simply tell you that Al Ferof is unbeaten in five completed starts after a break of 60+ days.

So yes, it's a bit of a punt that he'll get the trip. And yes, it's a bit of a punt that he's good enough (though he's actually the second highest rated UK-based horse in the race). And yes, he's a ten year old.

And, perhaps most materially of all, he's more likely to run in the Ryanair Chase. But that's where non-runner no bet comes in. If he does race in the Ryanair, or even the Champion Chase, we'll get our dough back, no damage done.

But as a 33/1 shot with a superb record fresh, and the non-runner no bet 'get out of jail free card' in our corner, he's another to tempt a few beans from the Bisogno bank.

2015 Cheltenham Gold Cup Tips

It's a fascinating betting race, and one where there's a big price - if not necessarily a value one - at every turn bar the jolly. As I've said, Silviniaco Conti's stamina is enough of a concern to look elsewhere, and there are a few I like against him to varying degrees.

I've already backed Carlingford Lough and Many Clouds at very big prices, and if it came up soft the latter would have a great chance.

More credible ante-post selections though are these, I hope:

2 pts Road To Riches 8/1 bet365, Skybet, totesport, Paddy all non-runner no bet (10/1 BetVictor all in run or not)

1 pt Lord Windermere 16/1 Ladbrokes (all in run or not) (12/1 general non-runner no bet)

0.5 pt Sam Winner 33/1 totesport, Betfred, Paddy non-runner no bet

0.5 pt Al Ferof 33/1 totesport, Betfred, Paddy non-runner no bet

**

Also previewed for Cheltenham Festival 2015

Gold Cup Preview, Trends, Tips 2015

World Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips 2015

Arkle Chase Preview, Trends, Tips 2015

Ryanair Chase Preview, Trends, Tips 2015

Sunday Supplement: The Great Irrelevance

Sill-vin-ee-arr-ko Kon-tee

Sill-vin-ee-arr-ko Kon-tee

Sunday supplement

By Tony Stafford

Who was Silviniaco Conti? We know who HE is, but who was he named after? For a start he’s a French-bred, yet it sounds as though he’s an Italian of some description.

I think it’s an important question. I know I used to struggle with his name – I’m sure I’ve spelt it wrongly in articles and pronounced the name incorrectly with either more or fewer syllables than required.

But this is a name that gets no easier in the repetition – and he did indeed repeat his 2013 King George win at Kempton with a flawless, front-running effort in Friday’s renewal in front of a massive crowd.

Commentator Ian Bartlett, normally the surest of declaimers – hence his frequent recruitment for obscure days on the Parisian circuit for Racing UK - got it about 50-50 during the three miles, with Silvianano vying with the proper version, and I think it was Steve Mellish who also stumbled over the name of Britain’s best staying chaser as he joined in the general praise of the big winner.

Watching Wolverhampton briefly on Saturday evening, I had a Damascan enlightenment, albeit one of minimal interest outside the confines of this particular sentence, when I realised that Swendab was not the name of a famous actor or mathematician, but simply Bad News backwards. So Silvianaco will bug me until I manage to ask his breeders, as Google has been absolutely no help.

Christmas is often a time when Cheltenham perspectives become clearer and Kempton was also just as emphatic as a potential Champion Hurdle puzzle solver as Faugheen strolled home in the Christmas Hurdle, one bright spot on an otherwise poor holiday for the Willie Mullins team.

Your first 30 days for just £1

He must have gone into the two big fixtures at Kempton and Leopardstown with the highest of hopes, in much the way that the Hannons seemingly assumed that most of the big domestic prizes in late 2014 and Toronado at the Breeders’ Cup were almost guaranteed. Several of the Mullins stars failed to win, but Faugheen’s authority, admittedly in a sub-standard Christmas Hurdle, will have kept the team’s spirits high.

But, as with the Hannon team, Mullins has a seemingly endless production line to help stave off any single disappointments, even more plentiful than the Paul Nicholls, Nicky Henderson and Philip Hobbs squads, which are also dominant on this side of the water.

I’ve given up convincing anyone else that my solo argument that disagrees with the common view that Kempton is a sharp track will ever be accepted. On soft ground and with good horses in opposition, particularly over the longer trips like the King George, it’s a matter of survival of the fittest almost as much as anywhere else.

On Friday the respective winning distances were race 1, 4.5l, 5l, 18l; race 2, 1.5l, 2.5l; race 3 40l, 0.5l; race 4 8l, 9l, 14l; race 5 (King George) 4.5l, 5l, 0.75l and race 6, nk, 12l, 1.75l. On Saturday it was race 1  0.5l, 12l, 3.25l; race 2 0.5l, 10l, 53l; race 3 2.25l, 19l, 9l; race 4 sh hd, 17l, 7l; race 5 3.75l, 8l, 55l and race 6 sh hd, 10l, 5l.

The mares’ handicap hurdle over three miles on Saturday was an unwatchable war of attrition. The Emma Lavalle leader came to two out still seemingly with a chance. Halfway between the last two she had stopped to such a degree that her rider had no alternative but to pull her up. Sharp track, Nicky!

Talking of Henderson, with £600k to make up on leader Paul Nicholls, it seems there’s little chance of his retaining his trainer’s title while those serious pundits who predicted this would be Jonjo O’Neill’s year must be sharing in the present gloom that must be enveloping the always cheerful master of Jackdaws Castle as he endures a losing run on the way to matching Mark Johnston’s late-season fruitless end to the 2014 Flat campaign.

My boss may not have had many runners in the second half of 2014, but the Ray Tooth colours, happily successful with Notnowsam at Catterick recently, will be out again at Lingfield this afternoon where Cousin Khee will have his third run of the winter all-weather campaign, thus qualifying him for the big Good Friday card there.

Of course it remains to be seen whether a mark in the high 80’s, or possibly higher should he win today’s joint feature, will be good enough to make the cut next April, but Hughie Morrison seems optimistic, although is as usual less so about today’s chance of beating Ted Spread.

The first week of 2015 is likely to resume the pattern of longer trips for your correspondent, with a flight to Scotland on New Year’s Day for Adrakhan at Musselburgh, although the eclipse of his Warwick conqueror Chatez at Kempton yesterday might put a dampener on his chance. You can trust Dan Skelton to keep the faith, though.

Then hopefully the Warren Greatrex newcomer April Dusk could be at Ffos Las the next afternoon, before Notnowsam follows his well-trod steps north to Catterick for the race that will determine whether he will get a sufficiently high mark to get into the Fred Winter. Don’t forget, the Quinlans know how to win this.

You can have a poor run with horses, but it only takes a little encouragement and the odd winner to remind you that horse racing is the greatest game in the world. If I can still retain my enthusiasm for the great irrelevance, what excuse can you have?

 

 

Kempton at Christmas – Jump Racing Fans Rejoice

King George Kauto

King George Kauto

While still digesting a mountain of turkey and sprouts, it’s now Read more

What happened to Long Run at Wetherby?

Long Run's Wetherby error

Long Run's Wetherby error

Long Run was an odds on favourite to win his first race of the season, the bet365 Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby ten days ago. He disappointed, coming back fifth of the seven runners. What happened? Read more

Double blow for Nicholls sees Big Buck’s and Al Ferof out for season

Big Buck's - No fifth World Hurdle this season

Big Buck's - No fifth World Hurdle this season

The Cheltenham engraver can probably inscribe the name Big Buck’s in his sleep, but he’ll have no need to write it at all when the Festival comes round next March. The horse has an injury, which has ruled him out for the rest of this season. Read more

King George on hold after Finian’s disappointing debut

Finian's Rainbow - last on seasonal debut

Nicky Henderson was so disappointed with the run of Finian’s Rainbow in Saturday’s Amlin 1965 Chase at Ascot that he has ordered a thorough health check for the horse from his veterinary team. Finian’s Rainbow finished last of the four runners, almost 25 lengths behind the winner, a rejuvenated Captain Chris. Only then will he decide if last years Queen Mother Champion Chase winner will contest the King George VI Chase at Kempton’s Boxing Day meeting. Read more

One last fling for Kauto?

After the Cheltenham Gold Cup last March, Clive Smith, owner of Kauto Star, said it was 90% certain that the horse would be retired and would not race again. And whilst that is still the most likely scenario, there is more than a glimmer of hope for a possible last race or two this season. Read more

Henderson thumbs up for Long Run and jockey Waley-Cohen

Trainer Nicky Henderson gave the ultimate thumbs up to Long Run and his jockey Sam Waley-Cohen at his media open day yesterday, ahead of the Cheltenham Gold Cup next month. Read more

Master Minded retirement 90% certain

Clive Smith, the owner of Master Minded, confirmed yesterday that it was very unlikely that his star chaser would ever return to racing. The tendon injury that he sustained in the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day last year is just too severe to risk the horse. Read more

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2012 Preview

Long Run bids for Cheltenham Gold Cup 2012 glory

Long Run bids for Cheltenham Gold Cup 2012 glory

In what might seem a crazily premature preview, I'm going to look at some of the trends and profiles associated with recent winners and placed horses in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Yes, I am going to do this in the week prior to the two biggest recognised trials for the Cheltenham Gold Cup!

My reasoning is this: if we can second guess what will happen next week based on history, then we have a chance of bagging the value before the trials are run. This gives us a) the chance of a nicely contracting horse on which to possibly trade out, 'green up' or otherwise sit upon smugly; and, b) security in the knowledge that even if the horse is beaten in the trial (or doesn't run there), plenty of big priced horses have hit the board in recent renewals of the Gold Cup.

So, enough preliminary bluster, and on with the show.

I've looked at various angles and aspects with relation to the Gold Cup, and I've especially looked at the winners' and placed horses' form before Christmas, i.e. up to now.

I've also looked at pointers which either will not be subject to change (such as age) or will be subject to not much change (such as official rating).

First, let's take a look at that age stat... Last year was truly anomalous, with the winner, Long Run, being the youngest - at six - since Mill House in 1963. And both placed horses, Denman and Kauto Star, being eleven - older than any placed beast since the magnificent twelve year old, See More Business, finished third in 2002.

On that basis alone, I might be prepared to consider Kauto Star as a 12yo (Denman now retired), but I'm more likely to look elsewhere, as See More Business was a 40/1 poke when placing. Kauto Star is a best priced 12/1.

Excluding last year's triumphs for youth and experience, it is generally the case that mature horses between the ages of seven and nine prevail.

Indeed, the previous eleven winners matched that age range, and with Long Run now seven, and Kauto surely not a realistic win proposition, it's heavy odds on that we'll revert to that three year parameter.

Again ignoring last year, and the previous 22 placed horses were aged as follows: 3 x seven year olds; 7 x eight year olds; 7 x nine year olds; 4 x ten year olds; and, See More Business as a 12yo.

So when looking for a value each way bet, I'd be fairly happy to consider anything aged seven to ten. Equally, I'm not expecting that to narrow things down too much!

However, there is merit in working at this, given that even though the last eleven winners all came from the first three in the betting, of those 22 placed horses, TEN of them were priced at 25/1 or bigger. A further four were 10/1 or longer.

Clearly, the available odds will contract and expand considerably between now and the Friday of Cheltenham week, when the Gold Cup will be run. But we can be fairly sure that as long as Long Run performs at least creditably and without injury at Kempton on Boxing Day, most contenders will be lining up at double digit prices for the blue riband.

OK, so far so good. Now let's put some form meat on these theory bones.

Firstly, let us consider the two pre-eminent trial races for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. They are the King George VI Chase, run at Kempton next Monday; and, the Lexus Chase, run at Leopardstown next Wednesday.

In fact, remarkably, we have to go all the way back to Cool Dawn, the ten year old winner of the 1998 Cheltenham Gold Cup to find the last winner not to race in either the King George or Lexus Chase earlier that season.

Finally, let me also tell you that the lowest official rating of a Gold Cup winner this century was Best Mate's first win, when he was rated a 'paltry' 169 (!)

So class prevails, and any horse currently rated lower than 160 is quite unlikely to make up the ratings ground to be a realistic contender in my view.

Of the eight in the King George (a pretty disappointing turnout for a race worth £180,000), neither Golan Way (rated 150) nor Nacarat (159) will cut it at Cheltenham in the Gold Cup. Perhaps surprisingly, the Gold Cup third favourite - Captain Chris - is the next lowest rated on 164, and will surely need to step up on that to win a Gold Cup. There's a good chance that Captain Chris would have won last time but for tipping up at the last, but the key concern here is that his only chase win at beyond two miles was over 2m5f over the pan flat Kempton circuit in a Grade 2.

He looks a questionable stayer to me, and there are surely better wagers for the Gold Cup than him. Obviously, if he routs 'em in the King George I'll be taking to my traditional slab of humble pie in a day or five! But it is instructive to note that pretty much every single win or placed horse in a Gold Cup in the last ten years had already won over three miles plus or finished second over that trip on ground softer than good.

Next in the King George official ratings are both Somersby and Diamond Harry, on 166. The former looks more likely to go for the Ryanair I'd have thought, but the latter will probably show up for the biggie and has the numbers to scrape into the 'contenders zone'.

That leaves the trio of Long Run, Master Minded and Kauto Star at the top of the ratings pile. Everything is known of Long Run and Kauto Star, in terms of their Gold Cup chances. This is reflected in the fact that Long Run is a general 5/2 shot for Gold Cup glory, and Kauto Star 12's despite being twelve when the tapes go up next March.

A saver on the jolly wouldn't be a terrible idea, but as a value proposition there's nothing of even remote interest in those two.

But what about Master Minded? Well yes, sure, he's a doubtful stayer. But did you see that run at Aintree last April in the Melling Chase, over two and a half miles? He was (according to me before the race - cue more humble pie) 'gone at the game', and he was a doubtful stayer. And he murdered Albertas Run, who was racing over his optimal trip and was the reigning Ryanair and Melling Chase champion.

Your first 30 days for just £1

So he definitely stays at least two and a half miles on a flat track. And I'd bet he will stay three on a flat track too, which makes Master Minded of some interest on Boxing Day. But three miles two and a half furlongs over the undulations of Cheltenham? That may be stretching the elastic of plausibility to snapping point.

Quito De La Roque has a decent Gold Cup 2012 chance

Quito De La Roque has a decent Gold Cup 2012 chance

Over in Ireland, the declarations for the Lexus Chase include Quito de la Roque and Rubi Light. Thirteen are declared there, with Rubi Light rated 166 and Quito de la Roque 169. Of the remainder, only Joncol (161) is rated above 160.

I've backed Quito de la Roque for the Gold Cup already at 20/1, but I have to concede that I really like Rubi Light. Like Long Run, he's only a six year old (seven next year), and he also comes out of the French provinces. At a best priced 20/1 currently, Rubi Light offers some value, though I'm not sure that the probable quickish ground or his front running style is ideal for his Gold Cup tilt.

Nevertheless, should he win the Lexus Chase, he'll probably be around 10/1 or shorter, especially if Master Minded and/or Kauto Star fail to fire in the King George.

In terms of the last eight winners of the Gold Cup, seven of them had won a Grade 1 Chase either the previous season, or before Christmas in their Gold Cup-winning season.

If we run our shortlist of Long Run, Kauto, Master, Diamond, Quito and Rubi through that filter, we discover that all bar Diamond Harry tick that box too and, in truth, the Gold Cup winner is likely to emerge from that remaining quintet.

I'm more than happy to exclude the amazing Kauto Star, as the last twelve year old winner of the Gold Cup was What A Myth in 1969. Even if Long Run was to fail to run or complete in March, I still couldn't envisage Kauto being the best of the rest. With all due apologies to the sentimentalists and respect for his achievements in a truly stellar career, he won't be winning the Gold Cup.

Master Minded has the aforementioned stamina reservations to answer to, but aside from that his profile is robust. He'll be nine next March, has plenty of winning form at the track and on the ground, and has bags of class (higher rated than any British or Irish chaser, bar Long Run and Imperial Commander, who is out for the season).

25/1 on him might just be worth a small interest, or at least a cover bet for stronger fancies.

My Gold Cup WIN recommendations are thus:

Quito De La Roque - 2pts at 16/1 Paddy Power, Ladbrokes, Coral, William Hill

Rubi Light - 2pts at 20/1 general

Long Run - 2 pts saver at 11/4 sportingbet

Master Minded - 0.5 pt saver at 25/1 sportingbet, VC, Stan James

Total of 6.5 points staked, and a minimum return of 7.5 points even if Long Run wins.

All the latest Cheltenham Gold Cup betting is here.

********

The place markets are something of a bugger's muddle, but there are still some interesting trends. How robust they are, only time will tell, but let's throw caution to the wind and see where we get to.

Of the last eight silver medallists, six had won either a Graded handicap chase or a Grade 1 before Christmas or in the previous season. And seven out of the eight lost at least once after Christmas.

That  brings in the likes of Diamond Harry, who won the 2010 Hennessy Gold Cup. But I'm looking for a 'real price' on one here, and the 25/1 is just not big enough!

Bostons Angel: outsider in the 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup

Bostons Angel: outsider in the 2012 Cheltenham Gold Cup

So how about Bostons Angel? Clearly best suited by attritional conditions - a long trip and a fast pace - he hasn't had that since winning last year's RSA Chase, a Grade 1 over three miles at the Festival. He probably dossed having got to the front there, and might be value for a length or two more over Jessies Dream, Wayward Prince and Magnanimity.

Wayward Prince is a good horse and will be on the comeback trail after a lacklustre start to his season when he heads to Wetherby on Boxing Day; and it's possible that Magnanimity will match hooves with Quito De La Roque and Rubi Light in the Lexus, a race also marked out for Bostons Angel.

But only Bostons Angel and the so far absent Jessies Dream have the demonstrable class of recent Gold Cup placed horses. 40/1 about the former is worth a couple of quid, I'd say.

Looking to those horses to have filled the bronze position in the last eight years shows that all eight either won or were placed in a Grade 1 or the Grand National before Christmas or the previous season. All bar one failed to score in Grade 1 company after Christmas.

So here we're looking at our contenders quintet (including Kauto Star), who do not win one of the two trials. And Ballabriggs would be worthy of the most speculative of support if I had any insight into running plans. Obviously, the long term target is the Grand National, but plenty of National contenders have warmed up in the Gold Cup.

Mon Mome was third at 50/1 in 2010, having won the 2009 National, and before falling in the 2010 version. And Hedgehunter was 2nd in the 2006 Gold Cup, in between winning the 2005 Grand National, and running up in the 2006 renewal.

Ultimately, this looks waaaaay too speculative even for me, though I did have a cheeky fiver on Ballabriggs to be placed in the Gold Cup at 36.4 on Betfair!

My Gold Cup PLACE recommendation is:

Bostons Angel - 1 pt e/w at 40/1 totesport, Betfred, William Hill 

OR 10.0 place only on Betfair

View the latest Cheltenham Gold Cup 2012 betting here.

By this time next week, the Cheltenham Gold Cup market will have firmed up considerably as a consequence of the results being known for both the King George and Lexus Chases. We can only hope for promising runs from ours, but even if that doesn't happen, as you'll have read above, all will not be lost...

Best,
Matt

Woops a Waley

Sam Waley-Cohen was hit yesterday by a 12-day ban when he took the wrong course at Fakenham. However, a little-known rule about the application of suspensions to amateur riders will enable him to keep the ride on Long Run in the King George on Boxing Day. Read more

Henderson fears Kauto will be King again

Nicky Henderson has had a change of heart about the William Hill King George VI Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day. Up until the 1965 Amlin Chase 10 days ago he had expected Paul Nicholls’ Master Minded to be the main rival to his stable star Long Run. But the manner of Master Minded’s victory at Ascot has changed all that. Read more

What Kempton Tells Us About Cheltenham

Can Binocular win the Champion Hurdle after winning the Christmas Hurdle?

Can Binocular win the Champion Hurdle after winning the Christmas Hurdle?

As must always be the case, dear reader, after big pre-season races, the ante-post markets for the Cheltenham Festival events receives a rare old shake down.

On Saturday, Kempton hosted its two premium Boxing Day fixtures, the Christmas Hurdle and King George VI Chase.

Favoured for the two events were Binocular, last season's Champion Hurdler, and four-time King George winner (as well as two time Gold Cup winner), Kauto Star.

History will have already dictated to you that Binocular won readily enough in the former, and Kauto finished a respectable third behind Long Run in the latter, Nicky Henderson's up and coming chasing import.

But what does Kempton's Christmas (or, in this case, January) form tell us with regards to the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup at Cheltenham in March? Let's mull the deeper lessons of history to learn more.

In fact, each of the Christmas Hurdle winners who went on to contest the Champion Hurdle in the last ten years were beaten in the latter race. This list includes Go Native, the last Christmas Hurdle winner, who was sent off 11/4 favourite at Cheltenham.

However, contrast that with beaten horses in the Christmas Hurdle who go on to win in the Blue Riband at the Festival.

Binocular was only third in the Christmas Hurdle last year, but was simply imperious up Cleeve Hill come March.

Before him, Punjabi fell behind Harchibald on Boxing Day 2008 before winning the Champion Hurdle in 2009.

We then have to go all the way back to 2001/2 find the next Champion Hurdle winner to have run in the Christmas Hurdle. Hors La Loi III could finish no better than third to Landing Light at Kempton before finally lowering Istabraq's crown at the Festival.

So the message is clear - be extremely wary of Christmas Hurdle winners in the Champion Hurdle. They often go off very short prices, but the totally different course constitution and pace in the race makes for a contrasting test of a horse's racing talents.

Placed horses in the Christmas Hurdle have a decent record in the Champion, which might imply a second glance at the form of Donald McCain's Overturn (25/1 for the March showpiece) and Alan Fleming's Starluck (50/1).

Your first 30 days for just £1

The latter does seem to be a poor battler but could run into a place off his high cruising speed, and the former will stay well, so McCain looks to have a strong hand for the race with Peddlers Cross in there pitching too.

**

Turning our attentions to the Gold Cup, and looking at previous King George and Gold Cup winners, we learn the following:

Best Mate, Kicking King and Kauto Star himself have all won both the King George and Cheltenham Gold Cups in recent years. In fact, between these three horses, they possess SEVEN King George's and SIX Gold Cups!

That's quite an incredible trivia stat, and leans heavily towards the fact that Kempton King George form does seem to transfer to Cheltenham.

Why might this seemingly counter-intuitive (in light of the hurdle contrast) situation be?

Well, I suspect the key determinant is the stronger pace at which the King George is typically contested. It could also be that we have borne witness to more than our fair share of superb chasing talents in that time. There's no doubt that both the King George and Gold Cup require a high class combination of speed and stamina and, whilst a fair few beasts own one or the other of these two attributes, it's a rare breed that has both.

Can Long Run be the new Kauto Star? And what of Kauto Star himself?

Well, the answer to the former question is a resounding 'yes', with a whispered 'but maybe not yet'. And to the latter, I suspect it may be the start of the inevitable decline that all of us endure when our limbs aren't quite as agile and our engine not quite as feisty as once was the case. Kauto owes nobody anything and whatever happens, I dearly hope that they make a decision to retire him sooner rather than later, when the times comes (probably after the Gold Cup).

Long Run, remarkably, is still a six year old and, while both Kicking King and Kauto Star won their first King George's at that age, in real terms they were a year older, as Long Run has only just turned six, whereas the two jumping legends were about to turn seven.

The last, and only, five year old to win the King George was Manicou in 1950!

A six year old hasn't won the Gold Cup since the majestic Mill House in 1963 and, even though Long Run is clearly a monstrously precocious talent, I'd be loathe to take a short price about him winning this year. That said, he's an obvious Gold Cup winner of the future, and I suspect 2012 may well be his year.

As I've written before, there are chinks in all the top runners' armour, and it could be a shock result in the Gold Cup. Certainly, I'd be against most of the top horses in the betting, with a small saver on the day on Imperial Commander.

Make of the weekend's results what you will, but the Geegeez management summary is this:

- Beware the Christmas Hurdle winner in the Champion Hurdle, but don't be afraid to play one of the placed horses with a touch more stamina for the Blue Riband

- Note the strong translation of King George winning form to the Gold Cup.

I'm away skiing in Borovets this week with my brother, missus, and some friends, but will be staying in touch, as best I can, and will even try to capture some mountain monkeying around for you in glorious high definition technicolour (or at least on video).

The pistes await me... 😀

Matt

King George VI Chase Trends

King George VI Chase Trends

In my last post of the year, I'm going to take a look at the King George VI Chase trends.

Kauto Star gets the better of Denman

Kauto Star gets the better of Denman

I've also got some Christmas merriment, mainly courtesy of arguably the best English football manager in the country right now (clue: not Harry or Woy).

First up, and with my thanks to Racecaller on the Racing UK forum for saving me many hours of time, I've amalgamated his King George VI Chase trends with a couple of my own to outline a profile horse... Let's see what the history of the last ten King George's tells us.

STRONG KING GEORGE VI CHASE TRENDS

  • All of the last ten King George VI Chase winners had already won a Grade 1 chase
  • All of the last ten King George VI Chase winners had run between one and four times that season
  • All of the last ten King George VI Chase winners had run within eight weeks of the race
  • Nine of the last ten King George VI Chase winners were aged between 6 and 9 years old
  • Nine of the last ten King George VI Chase winners won their last completed start.

OTHER KING GEORGE VI CHASE TRENDS

  • All of the last ten King George VI Chase winners were French or Irish bred (six French, four Irish)
  • The favourite has won seven of the last King George VI Chase's
  • Prior to Kauto Star's four year dominance, four of the six winners were trained overseas (three in Ireland and one in France)

Kauto Star and the King George VI Chase

Kauto Star is not just a two time winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. He is also a four time winner of the King George VI Chase, a record matched only by the equally popular Desert Orchid in the late eighties. Clearly, as a result of that, the trends are somewhat skewed (especially bearing in mind that Kicking King won the previous two runnings of the race, meaning that two horses are responsible for the last six victories!)

Kauto Star first won this race as a six year old, and is now a ten year old. Desert Orchid won the race as a 7yo, and then aged 9, 10 and 11. More recently, Edredon Bleu rolled back the years to also prevail as an 11yo. Whilst the bulk of history shows that younger horses generally win, Kauto Star is not a horse to be confined to 'the bulk of history'.

Kauto Star is a French-bred, and his four wins are added to by those of the aforementioned veteran, Eddie Blue,  and also Francois Doumen's fifth winner in the race, First Gold, way back in 2000. The remaining four - as previously stated - were all bred in Ireland. The last British bred winner was ex-hunter chaser, Teeton Mill, in 1998.

**

Let's apply those trends to this year's race.

Firstly, all entries have had one, two, or in Ollie Magern's case, three runs this season, so no fallers at the first. And all have run within the last 56 days (though Riverside Theatre would have been an unlucky disqualification having last raced 55 days ago).

But then, at the first open ditch (metaphorically speaking, of course), there's a pile up. A number of the field have yet to win a Grade 1 chase, which is something that the last eleven winners have achieved. (Again, it was Teeton Mill who previously won his first Grade 1 in the King George VI Chase).

Out go Burton Port, Madison du Berlais, Nacarat, Riverside Theatre, and The Nightingale, all of whom have won Grade 2 affairs, but none of whom have hit the bullseye at the Grade 1 oche (as it were).

Aside from Edredon Bleu, the last double digit-aged winner was Dessie in 1990. So, whilst we'll leave the redoubtable Kauto Star in, Ollie Magern at twelve gets the bus pass at this point. Quite simply, the first winner of this race, Southern Hero in 1937, was a twelve year old. He was also the last of that age or more to win.

I've said this before, and I'll say it again, please let Ollie run in hunter chases. He'd probably bag a nice prize there, which he thoroughly deserves as he retains enthusiasm if not the toe he once had.

At the other end of the scale, Long Run continues to be overfaced so early in his career. It's hard to fathom, but he's still only a five year old! That's younger than any winner of this race ever, and is enough for a big red line through his name on my racecard.

Only one winner of the King George had failed to win last time out when completing, since Algan in 1994. This is a big negative for Albertas Run, Noland, Forpadydeplasterer, Planet Of Sound, Sizing Europe, What A Friend, Burton Port and Long Run.

In fact, it would have been easier for me to say it's a big plus for Kauto Star, The Nightingale and Riverside Theatre. Alas for the latter two, they've already been struck through elsewhere, which leaves us with the shortest of shortlists: Kauto Star.

Now I know that's not a very original choice! 😉 That said, he's odds against, at 11/10, so there's a reasonable argument that he may represent value here. And he remains the likeliest winner. The question is, will Kauto Star regress quick enough for another horse here to progress past him?

Your first 30 days for just £1

And the somewhat boring answer is 'probably not'. But, for sport - despite it potentially being an academic exercise - let's try to figure out the horse for the forecast... and who maybe can turn over the Star.

**

Most of the other contenders, excepting dear old Ollie, fail only on one criterion. So why don't we reinstate them, and consider the secondary trends?

We're thus now looking for a French or Irish bred horse, who may well be trained overseas or by Paul Nicholls (successful twice with See More Business as well as four times with Kauto Star). This leaves two Irish-trained horses, both Grade 1 winners, and both second last time out, Forpadydeplasterer and Sizing Europe; and The Nightingale, bred in France and trained by the champ.

Forpady is a professional bridesmaid. Despite his trainer Thomas Cooper's protestations to the contrary, the fact remains that 'deplasterer has been second in eleven of his seventeen career starts! He's won five of the other six, and has never been worse than fourth. As such 11/1 looks strong value IF you believe he'll stay this far.

Again, his trainer sees no problems with the trip, but if you want a more reliable barometer of this requirement... like, oh, let's say, form in the book... it's instructive to note that Forpady's never won beyond 2m 2f, and he's had five goes at it. In fact, on one of the two occasions he went beyond 2m4f, in the 2008 Baring Bingham Novices' Hurdle at the Festival, he ran his worst finishing position of fourth. In fairness, it certainly wouldn't have been his worst run ever, and he wasn't beaten far.

Ultimately, I want to see him prove he can stay before backing him. That said, he'll likely travel very well for a long way and see off much of the competition in doing so.

The other chap from over the sea is last year's Arkle winner, Sizing Europe. He's got plenty of top drawer Grade 1 form, including two chase wins in the class. But, he also has stamina to prove. Unlike 'pady, Sizing Europe has at least run twice over the longer trip of three miles (or as near as damn it). And he's found one too good both times.

It's arguable that he needed the run first time out when second to a race fit China Rock. It is further arguable that he stayed on well enough when beating China Rock but yielding to Kauto Star last time. Both are reasonable arguments. Neither give him a chance to beat Kauto Star here.

The Nightingale has not won beyond Grade 2 company, nor beyond 2m5f, but that 2m5f win was at Kempton in the Grade 2 Pendil Novices' Chase. He's clearly on the upgrade, and is one of the more progressive looking types in the contest. Whilst his bare form isn't as solid as a number of the field, 40/1 reflects that and yet still offers a smidgen of value.

But, as forecast wagers, I'd be happy to play the Irish pair behind the main man. And I'd probably add Sizing Europe in for a place wager too. The best outsider looks to be The Nightingale, who might run a nice race at a nice price.

Let's hope that the race is as great as the favourite has been, and that they all come home safe, especially Ollie.

Most likely winner: Kauto Star

Best place bet: Sizing Europe

Best Outsider: The Nightingale

Forecast plays: Kauto Star to beat Forpadydeplaster or Sizing Europe

**

Now then, talking of Ollie, football fans will know that's the nickname of the brilliant Blackpool manager, Ian Holloway. And I do mean brilliant. His track record as a manager with no resources has few peers, and the performances of his Tangerines this season have been noteworthy for two facts: 1. they've not lost many, and 2. they've played some really good football.

Best of all though, Ollie is a West Country lunatic, and must be double-jointed, so often has he put his foot in his mouth. Here is just one classic excerpt:

Also on a football note, and a little, erm, fruitier - well it is Christmas - here are some managers being taken out of context for the merriment of viewers...

That's all from me here on Geegeez until the New Year. My salubrious travel agenda this Christmas takes in Barking, Knutsford, Liverpool (Airport) and Cork. And I'll be taking in far more food and drink than is good for me. But that's the drill isn't it? 😉

So, in the meantime, I want to sincerely thank you for taking time this year to pop by here and read my drivel, and to wish you and those dear to you the very best of the season.

Matt