2016 Ryanair World Hurdle Preview

2016 Ryanair World Hurdle Preview, Trends, Tips

The staying hurdle crown at Cheltenham has a new sponsor this year, Ryanair stepping into the space vacated by a bookmaker failing to sign up to ABP. That detail out of the way, it promises to be an enthralling race, as always, with a young second season hurdler carrying all before him thus far this term.

Thistlecrack, trained in the south west by Colin Tizzard, has followed a proven path to the World Hurdle as we'll discover. First, though, some trendage...

Ryanair World Hurdle Trends 2016

Eighteen years of history to go at, courtesy of, encompassing all renewals since 1997 (2001 no race due to foot and mouth).

Last time out finishing position: Only one of the 64 horses to have finished out of the first four last time even managed to place here. Meanwhile, 10 winners also won last time from 72 runners (out of the 239 in total to contest since 1997). That's 56% of the winners from 30% of the runners... but a level stakes loss from backing the blindingly obvious of 21.42 units.

57% of the places were comprised of last day winners too, from the same 30% of runners, but again it would have made you poorer as a lone strategy.

Age: Horses aged six to nine have monopolized the win positions but the place story is a little more interesting. In fact, five- to seven-year-olds have won 11/18 (61%) and placed 36/54 (67%) from 56% of the runners. Eight- and nine-year-olds claimed the other seven wins and 15 of the remaining 18 places, from 80 runners (39% wins, 28% places, from 33% runners).

Days off: Whilst those to have run within two to four weeks of the World Hurdle have bagged four of the last 18, they've under-performed against numerical expectation (22% wins/26% places from 38% runners).

Those to have raced between one and two months ago took 56% of the available races (10/18) and 59% of the places (32/54) from 45% of the runners... but were still unprofitable to back.

All 18 winners since 1997, and all 54 placed horses in that time, had run within 90 days. The likes of Aux Ptits Soins, More Of That (if running here) and Kilcooley all have their work cut out, on the basis of history at least.

Distance: The World Hurdle is run over three miles, a fairly common race distance. It is somewhat surprising then to discover that eight of the last 18 winners had failed to win at that trip.

What makes this more surprising is the number of multiple winners during that time. Big Buck's won four times, Inglis Drever thrice, and Baracouda twice. Inglis Drever's initial win was his first at the trip; last year's winner, Cole Harden, had won at beyond three miles but never at that distance, and he was completing a hat-trick for first time three mile winners.

Put another way, ignoring the six times a previous World Hurdle winner (and therefore a distance winner) won again, first time three mile winners have won eight of the other twelve World Hurdles since 1997.

It's a quirky stat, but hardly a trend. Interesting, and probably of absolutely zero utility. If there is some value it is probably in not underestimating horses stepping up from around two and a half miles.

To that end, looking at horses whose previous race distance ceiling was between two and a half and two and three-quarter miles shows six winners (33%) and four further placed horses (19% placed) from just 15% of the runners in the review period. Moreover, that group was worth +31.5 units of profit, suggesting their chances are somewhat overlooked.

Irish: The lads from across the water will have plenty of winners - perhaps even one in this race - but their record since 1997 is a solitary victory (Solwhit, 2013) from 57 runners. That includes six beaten at 4/1 or shorter, and 13 overturned at 8/1 or shorter.

TRENDY SYSTEM ANGLE: Pulling a few of these together, backing a British-trained runner that finished top four last time, was aged six to nine, and ran between 31 and 60 days ago, produced nine winners from 44 runners (50% total wins from 18% total runners) and a profit at starting price of 38.21. Backing them each way when 5/1 or bigger saw 13/27 hit the frame for a profit of 40.2 units.

This year, excluding any possible supplementary entries, there are just two qualifiers: Thistlecrack and Un Temps Pour Tout. The former is favourite at around even money, while the latter has been chasing. If it came up soft and he reverted to hurdles, his price of 33/1 (non-runner no bet) would look fair value.


Ryanair World Hurdle Preview 2016

So much for the trends, what of the form book? I suspect it may lead us unequivocally to the same Thistly Cracky place, but let's roll with the punches and see if there might be some value in the each way or 'without' markets.

We can only start in one place, that aforementioned prickly crevasse...

Colin Tizzard is a bloody good trainer, everyone knows that. His Cheltenham CV includes a Champion Bumper winner, Cue Card, who was a four-year-old at the time (rare feat, the only 4yo winner since Dato Star in 1995), and three other Cheltenham Festival wins from 64 runners.

So he knows what it takes to win at the Festival. But what of Thistlecrack? Brought on slowly by Tizzard, he'd managed just three wins in his first seven starts. However, as with many at this range, a step up in trip seemed to be his making.

Since moving up to three miles-plus, Thistlecrack has won four from five, and finished a close second in the other race. The wins in that sequence included Aintree's Grade 1 Sefton Novices' Hurdle and Ascot's Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.

It could be argued he's been beating sub-Grade 1 horses this season - the likes of the late Deputy Dan, Ptit Zig and Reve De Sivola (on ground too quick for that one's tastes) - but it cannot be argued that he's been unimpressive.

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No, he's duffed them all up out of sight, and has shown improved form each time. His official rating of 168 is ten pounds superior to that of the pre-race rating of last year's re-opposing winner, Cole Harden, and - Big Buck's aside - is higher than eight of the other ten winners since 1997 (and the same as one of the other pair).

In so doing - winning the Long Distance Hurdle, the Long Walk Hurdle and the Cleeve Hurdle - he has emulated the path trodden to victory by Big Buck's three times (or 2.67 times to be precise); and his impersonation of the great stayer may not yet be complete.

So the questions perhaps should be a) can Thistlecrack run to at least 168 again and, if he can/does, is there anything in the field that can surpass that mark? The answer to a) is yes, the answer to b) is probably no. Whilst not being in possession of enough tens to try to pilfer some elevens, it is very hard to bet against the Thistlecracker.

Happily, there is a 'without' betting market and, while Paddy are the only ones to have priced this up to date others are sure to follow, most likely after a decision on Annie Power's Festival destination is made.

Annie Power is second choice in the 'non runner no bet' lists and, with her holding multiple alternative engagements, that would surely be the only way to consider her chance. She's an incredible mare, having won 13 of her 15 starts. But it is noteworthy and likely not coincidental that her two defeats were at the last two Cheltenham Festivals.

In 2014, she gave More Of That a good scrap before ceding. More Of That was rated 160 beforehand and was a wildly progressive unbeaten horse going into the race (as was Annie P). He earned a rating of 169 after that effort, just a pound above Thistlecrack's current figure. Although still quoted in the World Hurdle lists, More Of That is far more likely to take in one of the novice chases in March.

Getting back to Annie Power, and we've only seen her once since May last year. That was a week ago when she did little more than prove she retains a leg in each corner by putting less than seven lengths between herself and a mare rated 130. Granted, she was eased, but maybe not so much as some might have you believe.

That she was made ante-post favourite for the Champion Hurdle on the back of that effort is borderline laughable and, regardless of whether she runs in and wins that race, her price of circa 2/1 is an attempt by bookmakers at daylight robbery.

Whichever way you cut it, Annie Power could win this race (on the basis that any horse can win any race), but her odds far outweigh her chance making her rank poor value in my book, for both this and the Champion Hurdle. Let's move on.

Of the probable runners, Alpha Des Obeaux is 7/1 in a place. His price owes everything to the horses by which he's been beaten, in my view. A record of three wins from nine starts, two on heavy and a very shallow maiden hurdle, is backed up by SIX second placed efforts.

Those runner-up positions included defeats to Douvan (who was heavily eased), Nichols Canyon (who won "comfortably"), Arctic Fire (who "eased clear" and won comfortably), and Prince Of Scars ("ridden out, kept on well").

As well as those efforts - little of note running under favourable conditions in behind each time - he fell in Thistlecrack's Aintree Grade 1 when not definitely beaten; and he won last time out. There he beat At Fishers Cross, a good horse on his day - which is normally at Cheltenham, incidentally - but that hasn't won for three years, on heavy ground.

I'm not sure the ground will be right for Alpha, I'm not sure what he's beaten that has much substance, and I do not like his price one bit.

8/1 generally is last year's World Hurdle winner, Cole Harden. He was 14/1 that day and was awarded a rating of 166 when winning; he was also having his first start after a wind operation. He stays fine, jumps well and has reportedly undergone similar surgical intervention since his run in the Cleeve Hurdle on New Year's Day.

If the ground comes up on the quick side, he looks a likely podium finisher again, making 9/2 without Thistlecrack quite appetizing. His trainer, Warren Greatrex, remains in good form and the record of former winners offers further hope.

Vroum Vroum Mag is as short as 4/1 in the non runner no bet lists, and as long as 7/1 in the same (she is 12/1 all in run or not). With multiple entries elsewhere she can only be entertained with the money back safety net, but despite being unbeaten in eight UK/Irish starts, she's rated no better than 155 by the Irish 'capper. That's a stone below what's needed for this job and, though she's highly likely got more in the tank, her price is too short considering she needs to step forward so much.

Subject of plenty of money after an upbeat bulletin yesterday is Paul Nicholls' failed chaser, Saphir Du Rheu. That's a touch harsh on last year's World Hurdle second, and his trainer was in bullish mood at the annual pre-Cheltenham media morning, saying, "Saphir Du Rheu will be seen in a completely different light on better ground and is a big player. We haven't seen the best of him."

Given the horse has high class form on heavy, including when beating Whisper in the Welsh Champion Hurdle, I'm not sure I'm buying that appraisal. At the same time, his silver last season gives him a more credible chance than some at similar prices. It would be far from a shock if he makes the frame and he is one of the more legitimate middle 160 hurdlers in the field.

I'm not interested in the chance of Coral Cup winner, Aux Ptits Soins from the same stable. Given an initial UK mark of 139, he showed that was too lenient by stealing one of the most competitive handicaps of the season; but he's not been seen since and needs to show a stone and more improvement to get involved.

That's not impossible for one so unexposed - just four career starts - but I like a bit more evidence to work with and that year long absence is something very, very few horses are able to overcome to win at the Festival.

[Only Young Spartacus - 2003 - has managed to defy a layoff of 350+ days from 81 horses to try in that time. 13 of the 81 placed, however]




Moving on down the lists, and we're into the realms of the 20/1 shots. The World Hurdle has been a race for the top of the market in recent times, but that doesn't mean we should ignore 'the field' completely. Kilcooley, for instance, has an interesting profile despite being off since the end of October.

The seven year old son of Stowaway might need some cut in the ground to show his best and, if it does come up muddy he has a chance of making it four from four in completed UK starts since bolting up in a decent Haydock handicap in December 2014. His last two UK runs - and wins - have been in Grade 2 company, the latter over three miles at Wetherby when cantering home 13 lengths clear of former Champion Hurdler, Rock On Ruby.

Even allowing for the fact that Ruby was a questionable stayer there, the form looks reasonably solid. The Wetherby win was his first start for seven months so we know he can go well fresh, and that race - the West Yorkshire Hurdle - was won last season by Cole Harden en route to World Hurdle glory.

Trainer Charlie Longsdon has reported a few niggly injuries earlier in the year, but Kilcooley seems to be over those now, his handler suggesting it's 50/50 that he will be ready in time. At 25/1 non runner no bet, this looks a bit of each way value about a horse already rated 164 - joint second highest in the field - and one that has improved from 137 in four starts.

With a lingering doubt over his participation, 10/1 in the 'without' market - which is all in run or not - makes zero appeal.

At a massive price, At Fishers Cross is not without hope. Highly impressive when winning the Albert Bartlett over course and distance at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, he's had plenty of issues since. But he's still been nursed back to sufficient health to be beaten less than seven lengths in the last two World Hurdles, finishing third in 2014 and fourth last year. With Cheltenham form of 111234, it would be no shock to see him hit the board again and he looks over-priced at 50/1.


2016 World Hurdle Tips

Thistlecrack has a perfect profile for this, and it is very hard to crab his form. He's 11/10 but if he was trained by Willie Mullins he'd be nearer to 1/2, I guess. We know Colin Tizzard has a winning knack at Cheltenham and I think he'll win. He's obviously the most likely winner.

But if you want a bit of jam on your bread - I do - then there are other ways to play the race.

First, although the 'without Thistlecrack' market is still maturing - just one firm priced up as I write - there looks a whiff of value about Cole Harden's 9/2 there.

Then, for windmill-tilters - I'm one - there are a couple of forgotten sorts who look the wrong prices. Kilcooley will be 12/1 or so if he lines up, I'd guess; and he'll only line up if he's spot on. Otherwise connections will wait for one of the later Festival meetings. As such, 25/1 about an unexposed upwardly mobile type who is proven when fresh is perfectly playable, non runner no bet.

At the other end of the exposure spectrum, At Fishers Cross has danced with merit in this dance the last two years, and 50/1 rather overlooks that fact at a meeting where course form is perennially advantageous. Again, each way NRNB is worth a shekel or a bob, just for fun.

Most likely winner: Thistlecrack (duh!)

World Hurdle Selections

1pt win Cole Harden 'without Thistlecrack' 9/2 Paddy Power

0.5 pt e/w Kilcooley 25/1 general (ensure you bet with non-runner no bet bookmaker)

0.25 pt e/w At Fishers Cross 50/1 Skybet (non-runner no bet)


Other Cheltenham Festival 2016 Ante-Post Previews

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

Cheltenham Festival 2016 Race Guide


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World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

Despite including the historically significant Big Buck's within its field, the 2014 Ladbrokes World Hurdle is a very strong contender for worst Championship race at the Cheltenham Festival.

Whilst such an opening statement may seem harsh, it is rooted in the reality that Big Buck's is favourite as a venerable eleven-year-old, despite having only run once since 1st December 2012. And that run was a defeat.

So, does this possible weakness atop the betting pile offer value further down? You bet your booties it does; the only slight issue is in trying to identify just where further down we ought to be snooping. Perhaps the recent history of the race can guide us...

World Hurdle 2014 Trends

The trends for this race are rather skewed by the fact that three horses - Big Buck's, Inglis Drever, and Baracouda - are responsible for nine of the last twelve winners of the race. Nonetheless, they did have plenty in common aside from being multiple World Hurdle winners.

Age: Every winner since 1987, and every winner bar Crimson Embers since the race changed to its present format in 1972, has been aged six to nine. Crimson Embers was eleven, like Big Buck's, and was winning for the second time having previously scored as a mere whipper snapper aged seven.

Recent form: Seventeen of the last twenty World Hurdle winners finished first or second last time. Two of the other three finished third, and one finished fourth. All of the last sixteen winners were returning to the track within three months. Of the handful (14) absent for longer, they've failed to make the frame between them.

Rating: Of the dozen World Hurdle winners since 1997 with an official rating, all bar Anzum in 1999 and Solwhit last year were rated at least 157.

This would give us a trends shortlist of At Fishers Cross, Rule The World, Zarkandar, Annie Power, and More Of That.

World Hurdle 2014 Form Preview

The market is dominated by two horses with serious question marks over their chance. Big Buck's, as mentioned, is eleven, and has raced just once in the last sixteen months. That was a game third place in the Cleeve Hurdle and it might be argued that he performed admirably to finish so close after such a long absence. It could, however, also be argued that he had a hard enough race that day after the long break.

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Most pertinently from my perspective, it can be argued that he ran some way below his best. There will be plenty of sentimentalists who want to back Big Buck's, and he unquestionably retains a chance in a race that he's made his own in recent seasons, winning on each of the four times he's contested it. But the price does not allow for sentiment. Not one bit.

While the sponsors' quote of 5/4 is offensive in any language, the more sensible 2/1 generally available is still not even remotely tempting. Sure, Big Buck's can win. And he's one of those lads you'd be happy enough - or at least grudgingly accepting - if he nutted your pick in a photo.

The other market leader is the unbeaten Annie Power, whose winning streak now extends to ten. What it does not extend to is a victory beyond 2m5f, and that in a three horse dawdle. Will she stay? Probably. Will she stay and win at Championship pace? Possibly. Is she any value at 5/2? Not really. Although there is a further question - will she even run in this race (she's also quoted in single figures for the Champion Hurdle and the Mares' Hurdle, the latter of which she's odds on 'with a run') - that is mitigated by the non-runner no bet concession widely available.

It's hard to quantify the level of ability of horses yet to be beaten, and she's won by clear daylight in each of those ten races. But... she does have to prove she will stay, and that's enough - just - to ensure this scribe looks elsewhere.

So if that's the top pair with questions to answer at short enough prices, where does the value lie against them?

At Fishers Cross is the third market choice - just - and is also the choice of Tony McCoy for his guv'nor JP McManus. At Fishers Cross was unbeaten in six races last year, including the Grade 1 Albert Bartlett at the Cheltenham Festival, and the Grade 1  Sefton Novices' Hurdle at the Aintree Festival. He's a horse that has had well documented back problems, and they seemed to plague him in the early part of this season.

But, after a break, his last run - in the Cleeve Hurdle - was much better: a staying on short head behind shock winner Knockara Beau. At Fishers Cross would have won in another stride, and was staying on stoutly, an ideal attribute for the World Hurdle.

Just three-quarters of a length behind was Big Buck's but, if At Fishers Cross' back issues continue to be managed, I can't see why the form will be reversed. The latter is progressive at just seven years old and the former is surely on the wane now, aged eleven. 6/1 is a solid enough play.

Next come More Of That and Rule The World at around 8/1. More Of That has had just the four runs, winning all of them, and has progressed into a very promising horse. He was last seen three months ago, however, and although the form of his two length defeat of Salubrious in the Grade 2 Relkeel reads well enough, that's a long absence to defy. Moreover, he has to prove that he sees out this longer trip. It's possible that he'll improve for it, but he'd need to. As progressive as he undoubtedly is, that combination of time off and unproven stamina is enough for me to overlook him, especially as Tony McCoy has done likewise. A lovely prospect, all the same.

Rule The World has been first or second in eight of his ten career starts, and won five of them including a Grade 2 and a Grade 3. But... all his winning has been on a soft surface, and almost all of it - a facile maiden hurdle win aside, when he likely totally outclassed his opposition - has been in small fields. He ran his best race, though, when second in last year's Neptune to The New One, and his low key prep has been geared totally to the World Hurdle.

Rule The World has improved from race to race this term and, if the ground is soft, I think he'll have a good chance in what looks to me to be an open race.

It is quite hard to believe that 10/1 shot Zarkandar is only seven years old, as he seems to have been around for a good while. Paul Nicholls' charge is a model of consistency, with twelve of his fifteen hurdle runs finishing in gold or silver medals. He's a triple Grade 1 winner too, including the Triumph Hurdle of 2011, and has finished fifth and fourth in the last two Champion Hurdles.

The step up to three miles is taken on trust, as with a number of his rivals but, unlike some of them, he acts on any ground. It is easy to envisage Zarkandar running a nice race, but - for me, at least - it is hard to see him out-staying all of the field, especially if nemesis Annie Power shows up (she's beaten him comprehensively twice already this season).

It's 16/1 bar those, which brings in Noel Meade's Monksland. That trainer's lamentable record at the Cheltenham Festival (2 from 87 since 2003) is widely known, but of more concern must be the 440 day absence Monksland bids to overcome. Surely not.

Of the remainder, Fingal Bay would be mildly interesting at 25/1 or bigger. He won nicely on his first start after fifteen months off and didn't look to have a hard race there, so any fears of the dreaded 'bounce' (when a horse runs poorly on second start after a long break, having run well in a battle on that first run back) should be unfounded. There is a more pertinent question regarding whether Fingal Bay is anywhere near good enough, and connections have another option in the Pertemps. Should he line up here, that would be a positive sign, and non-runner no bet allows for absence.

Quevega is quoted around 6/1 in the betting, but she'll surely go to the Mares' Hurdle if over a recent slight setback, so she's ignored.

World Hurdle 2014 Preview, Trends, Tips

The 2014 World Hurdle is a really tough race to unravel with so many if's and but's. It is not a race I will be piling into, and I cannot recommend any horse with confidence. However, I do feel the top of the market looks a bit suspect and, consequently, I'm happy to take a couple against Annie and Buck's.

At Fishers Cross showed far more of his previous zest last time out, implying his back problems have been resolved. If he gets to the Festival in the same physical form, then he can be expected to improve a notch or two on that last run, which might be good enough.

If the ground is on the soft side, and at time of writing (2nd March), it's still too early to say (though the official line is soft currently), then Rule The World comes into it. He's a relentless galloper who would benefit from as much mud as possible, where others may struggle to get home in such conditions.

World Hurdle Selection: At Fishers Cross 6/1 BetVictor NRNB
World Hurdle Alternative: Rule The World 8/1 SkyBet BOG NRNB

Cheltenham Festival 2013: Day Three Preview/Tips

Who will take Big Buck's crown on day 3?

Who will take Big Buck's crown?

Cheltenham Festival Day Three (Thursday) Preview, Trends and Tips

And so we kick off the second half, with still much to play for irrespective of your punting performance over the first two days. Six races to go at on day three, and we start with one of the newest contests, the...

1.30 JEWSON NOVICES´ CHASE Grade 2 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m4f)

Only two year renewals of this Grade 2 so far and, I'd expect, after this year it will be a Grade 1 contest. Certainly there are no penalties to be carried by Grade 1 winners here, which implies they're trying to attract Grade 1 winners.

Jewson Novices Chase Key Trends

Both winners were Irish

Both winners had four legs (seriously, there can be no key trends after two years!)

Jewson Novices Chase Form Preview

With the late enrollment of Dynaste to this race, it revolves around him. Quite simply he's achieved a heck of a lot more than any of the rest, and he deserves his status as favourite. He's unbeaten in three chase starts, including the Grade 1 Feltham last time, and the Steel Plate and Sections Novices' Chase over this trip here.

His Feltham win was in heavy ground, and his other two chase victories were on good to soft, so there shouldn't be any going concerns. And, excepting a fall, time off the course might be the only other cause for concern. That layoff is potentially mitigated by the fact that he has won first time up in competitive races for the last two seasons, so he still looks like going very close to winning here. I'd backed him at 5/2 non-runner no bet, and that looks a very fair price now.

The main - and perhaps only - danger could be Captain Conan, himself unbeaten in three starts over fences. He's also a triple Grade 1 winner, all three of which were at Sandown, and two of them over fences. As well as that, he won a Grade 2 novices' chase here back in November, so he's clearly a smart horse.

Although most of his form is at or around two miles, I think he'll have no problem with this longer trip, but I do wonder whether he'll have the speed to seriously challenge a horse like Dynaste. That's my only reservation, though, and he ought to make the frame at least.

The only other one of interest to me is Aupcharlie, a horse who simply isn't a three miler. He's been beaten a half length or less over that trip on his last two starts - finishing second both times - and that was in Grade 2 and Grade 1 company. Previously, at around the two and a half mile mark, he'd won both his races, a maiden hurdle and a beginners chase.

Although the merit of those two contests wouldn't amount to much in the context of a Jewson, he's unbeaten at the trip, and the extra stamina he has looks sure to be valuable in what could be quite a slog in the last quarter of the race. He is another who should run very well and challenge for the podium positions.

It's hard to get excited about many of the rest, but Texas Jack has been mixing it with the top tier of Irish chasers, and this is his trip and ground. He might go best of the bigger priced nags.

Jewson Novices Chase Tips

Dynaste is the class act here, and should win.

Most likely Jewson Chase winner: Dynaste
Frame prospects: Captain Conan, Aupcharlie
Interesting at a bigger price: Texas Jack


2.05 PERTEMPS FINAL (Listed Race) (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (3m)

A massive field of very good, largely experienced handicappers cross blades for the Pertemps Final, over three miles. To run here, you need to have been declared for one of the qualifiers run both sides of the Irish Sea throughout the season. And all of the last nine renewals have gone to a horse priced 10/1 or bigger.

Pertemps Final Key Trends

13 of the last 14 winners carried 11-02 or less

13 of the last 15 winners were rated 142 or less

Repeat winners Willie Wumpkins and Buena Vista are the only horses aged 10+ to win

The only five year old winner was Pragada in 1988

The Haydock, Cheltenham and Leopardstown qualifiers have been responsible for seven of the last ten winners

Pertemps Final Form Preview

Although this is wide open, there are a couple of very short priced horses at the top of the market in the shape of Sam Winner and Shutthefrontdoor. Connections of both are hugely respected, though Paul Nicholls has yet to win this race from eight runners in the last fifteen years, and one of them - Alfie Sherrin - went off 11/4 favourite! Jonjo on the other hand - who now trains Alfie Sherrin - has won it twice in the past decade.

Sam Winner was a precocious juvenile, being good enough to run fourth in the Triumph Hurdle behind none other than Zarkandar, having been given a lot to do. Of course, that's old news but it does at least show he handles the track and it may also imply he's very nicely weighted, give that Zarkandar is now rated 167, and the second and third are rated 155 and 166. Sam Winner has a rating of just 140!

An abortive chasing career was abandoned after two falls in two starts, and he then had a year off the track before returning in December 2012 with an encouraging fifth of twelve in a good Sandown handicap. In his only start since, he won a jumper's bumper, and it's certain that the stable has been holding off running him in case they buggered up his handicap mark. Although he may not be as battled hardened as some of these, he's got oodles of class, and a gimme weight. He has an obvious chance, but is very short.

Shutthefrontdoor comes from very highly regarded connections and is hard to quantify. He's won all bar one of his seven races (I was there the day he lost at Folkestone!), but he rarely wins by much, meaning the handicapper can't do anything with him. He's a novice with just four hurdle starts and that's less than any of the last fourteen winners.  With a rating of 146 and a weight of 11-06, I don't think he can overcome inexperience, no matter how much he's liked at home. On that basis, I'm happy enough to be wrong if he's good enough to prove me wrong.

So which of the field match the winner's profile and look to be favoured by conditions? My metaphorical notebook has the following names scribbled in it: Action Master, Stonemaster, and Jetson.

Action Master won the qualifier here back  in October, and has since been nicely 'managed' with two runs in handicap chases to keep him fit without impacting his hurdles rating. He's trained by the shrewd Dessie Hughes, obviously goes on the track, and loves a decent pace in big fields. But he's probably a bit better on quicker ground, and that's enough for me to look elsewhere this time.

Stonemaster and Jetson are the interesting pair. Both ran in the Leopardstown qualifier last time, finishing third and sixth respectively. Stonemaster was more prominent throughout, and he should make a bold bid here in a race which might just stretch his stamina to breaking point. If he gets the trip all right, after a running on sixth in last year's Coral Cup, he'll run well.

As for Jetson, well, his run the last day in that qualifier has to be seen to be believed. It's a blatant non-trier job: eleventh turning in (and still on the bridle), he was steadied almost to a walk at the last flight, before staying on to be sixth of thirty, beaten ten lengths. He won that race last year, and is now rated 135 in his bid to add the Final this year to the Qualifier last.

Jetson loves big fields, loves soft ground (but acts perfectly well on good), has a viable rating, and bags of experience. He should run a cracker.

Pertemps Final Tips

Most likely (Sam) Winner: Sam Winner
Best each way value plays: Jetson, Stonemaster


2.40 RYANAIR CHASE Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m5f)

The middle distance championship is starting to grow up now, and it has been responsible for one of the great stories of the Festival in recent years: Albertas Run. Winner in 2010 and 2011, he was a half length runner up last year and bids to regain his crown aged twelve!

Ryanair Chase Key Trends

Seven of the eight winners came from the top three in the betting.

Seven of the eight winners had won over this specialist trip.

Seven of the eight winners had won at the course previously.

Ryanair Chase Form Preview

A small field this year, and arguably a disappointing turn out for a race that provided perhaps the spectacle of last year's Festival, with three horses exchanging the lead on the run in, having been in the air together at the last.

Disappointing turnout or not, there's a winner in there somewhere, and the most likely candidate is First Lieutenant. 'First Left' has been running some blinding races this season, getting barged out of it late doors in two Grades 1's either side of a third place in the Hennessy at Newbury.

He's dropping back in trip a little here, to a distance which might well be optimal for him. He was a 2m5f winner of the Neptune at the 2011 Cheltenham Festival, and was then second to Bobs Worth in the RSA Chase last year.

First Left's last three wins have all been at around the two and a half mile mark, and I think he will relish the drop back. Hopefully, Davy Russell will sit just behind the lead and then aim to stretch them from the turn, with stamina assured and the ground no problem.

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Against him are last year's 1-2, Riverside Theatre and Albertas Run. The former seems to have 'gone' a bit, and assistant trainer Charlie Morlock explained that they've had a lot of trouble trying to get him healthy, let alone fit. The latter comes here without a prep run and is now twelve years old. Surely even the most romantic of punters couldn't expect him to win here. If he does, it will be a fantastic story, and all credit to connections. But he is certainly not for me.

Cue Card has been hovering around the top of the market all winter, but he's never actually achieved a rating which would have been sufficient to win a Ryanair, and he looks pretty exposed nowadays. He does go well on soft, and this is his trip, but I suspect he'll find at least one too good in this company.

Champion Court would be a popular local winner, but four second places in his last five starts tell their own story. He's just not quite up to a race like this.

He and Cue Card will probably try to lead here, and they ought to set it up for First Lieutenant, the balance of whose form is a little better in my view.

Two at bigger prices worth a second glance are Menorah and For Non Stop. Menorah won the Supreme Novices' Hurdle here in 2010, and has been a consistent - if slightly below top class - sort ever since. His last two runs - a win against Hunt Ball and a fair third to Silviniaco Conti over a trip too far - are reasonable in the context of this field, and he could hit the board if his jumping stands up (or, more correctly, if he stands up to/from his jumping).

For Non Stop seems to have got his preferred ground, though he was also a Grade 1 winner on soft last term, and ran third in Sir Des Champ's Jewson here subsequently. He's been off since Christmas, which is a concern, but his price allows for a small stakes interest play if you're that way inclined. He will certainly love the trip and has a touch of class about him. It could be a staggering 45 minutes for Nick Williams if this fellow and then Reve de Sivola in the next prevail.

Ryanair Chase Tips

Best Ryanair Chase bet: First Lieutenant
Each way possible: Menorah
Reasonably interesting outsider: For Non Stop



No Big Buck's this time, and that's a real shame. In his absence, though, the race looks wide open, and if we can hit the winner, we'll get paid out at a fair rate of return. If...

World Hurdle Key Trends

Big Buck's has won the last four renewals. Inglis Drever won three of the four before that. As such, trends are fairly redundant here.

World Hurdle Form Preview

This is a bit of a messy race. Basically, I don't think Oscar Whisky can stay this far in soft or tacky ground, and am happy to field against him unless times indicate it is riding quick. I have backed Reve de Sivola, but the vibes about him are not good, and nor is the drying ground helpful. And the senior handicapper - who knows a thing or two about form - reckons their ding-dong last time out scrap doesn't amount to much. Hmm.

So where do we go from there? Well, waiting in the wings are some talented, and perhaps 'forgotten horses'. This has always been the logical home of failed chasers, and the likes of Peddlers Cross and Bog Warrior (and Reve de Sivola himself) join the roster here. Mind you, Big Buck's himself falls into that 'failed chaser' category so we perhaps ought not to be too harsh!

Basically, it could be a wide open contest with reasons to doubt the  top two, so I'm looking for some jam on my bread here. Bog Warrior is relatively inexperienced with just five hurdles runs to his name, four of them wins. He started off this season falling at the last fence in a Grade 2 chase, which is when connections reverted to hurdles.

Since then, he's gone three unbeaten: a handicap hurdle of a rating of 122 (!!); an ungraded hurdle where he beat Solwhit more than six lengths (that one was returning after a long layoff); and, an easy Grade 2 success from Zaidpour last time.

Bog Warrior needs soft ground, which is why he skipped last year's Festival. So he may not have quite come up trumps on the turf front this time either. He's progressive and has scope to improve again. That would give him a fair chance here, but I do have a couple of reservations with him. First, he usually leads and might not be granted that concession today. Second, his jumping - even over hurdles - leaves something to be desired. And third, he has looked a weak finisher on occasion. Collectively, they lead me to look elsewhere.

Solwhit was behind the Bog Warrior on his first start since January 2011, but followed that up with a nice win from So Young last time. His overall record, which includes SIX Grade 1 wins from a career total of thirteen wins, is impressive in the context of this race, and the ground won't be an issue, though he'd probably prefer a bit more juice in it. But the big problem here is that he's never raced beyond two and a half miles, and he's been beaten on two of the three occasions he went even that far. I just don't expect him to stay the trip.

Peddlers Cross is another classy hurdler, but doubtful stayer. True, he at least won the Neptune over 2m5f here, back in 2010. But his only win beyond that trip since was when beating a 130-rated horse by less than two lengths. He might well take them along, if he can get the better of Bog Warrior and perhaps Solwhit early, but with the doubt about his stamina, he's not for me.

Wonderful Charm ought not to be good enough. He beat Ballybough Pat of Anthony Honeyball's last time, and Anthony has no illusions about the ceiling of that one's ability. Whilst Wonderful Charm is capable of better, and will go in the ground, he too has to prove he stays, as his longest distance win to date was over two and a half miles. It's also the case that a five year old has NEVER won this race, and it's been run for the last forty years!

Get Me Out Of Here really doesn't like soft ground, and I can't entertain him on that basis alone. However, if it is genuinely good ground, he has to come into calculations. And that brings us to Smad Place. He's well suited by good to soft ground, and he's young and improving, and he finished third to Big Buck's in this last year.

Beaten just under nine lengths there as a five year old, that was an extremely meritorious performance. Since then, he unseated in the Aintree staying hurdle at the Grand National meeting when travelling well; he was a slightly disappointing third on his seasonal debut behind Tidal Bay; and then he ran up to Reve de Sivola on heavy ground last time in the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle.

He was fourteen lengths behind Reve de Sivola there, but on less testing ground here, I'd expect him to be closer, and with his liking for the track proven, he rates a good each way prospect in a race where most runners have big questions to answer.

World Hurdle Tips

Most Likely World Hurdle Winner: Reve de Sivola
Best each way wager: Smad Place


4.00 BYRNE GROUP PLATE (A Handicap Chase) Grade 3 (CLASS 1) (5yo+) (2m5f)

Byrne Group Plate Key Trends

French breds have an excellent record: six wins and four second places in the last 13 years.

11 of the last 12 winners were at odds of 12/1+

14 of the last 15 winners carried 11-03 or less

23 of the last 25 winners were rated 141 or less

17 of the last 21 winners recorded a top four finish last time

17 of the last 21 winners had run previously at the Festival

Byrne Group Plate Form Preview

A very interesting race, and one which for a number of reasons is not a decent betting prospect for me. That said, I do have one I like against a couple of horses fancied by the market (but not especially by me). Let's deal with the market first, and the first point to make is that it generally gets this race wrong. Indeed, just two winning favourites in the last three decades tells its own story!

One of them was last year, however, when the Pipe plotters pilfered the pot with Salut Flo. The same connections are attempting the same feat this year with a horse called Ballynagour, and he's a warm favourite. On the evidence of his bolt up on British debut in a decent class handicap chase at Warwick last time, he's a seriously good horse. But the balance of his form is a little in and out, and he might not get his own way here. If he does, and wins, fair enough. But 4/1 or so is extremely short in a race like this, even for a Pipe hotpot.

Next up is Hunt Ball. The wonderful Hunt Ball. The highly weighted Hunt Ball. The Hunt Ball which wants better ground. No thanks, not this time.

The thing to note in this race is that historically north of 141 has been a hard rating to win from. This year, all bar the bottom eleven are above that figure. In a summary and swingeing cut off, I'll make those my 'starting eleven', with the exception of the 143-rated Cantlow.

Cantlow had multiple entries and I thought this would be the last place he'd end up. But, barring the Pipe plot, it looks an easier (note, not easy) race than his other possibles. He was third in the Pertemps Final last year on good ground, and has been doing is chase winning on heavy turf. So, no worries on that score. He's also looked progressive, beating the useful Oscara Dara and then smashing Dare Me in a pair of small field novice chases.

Obviously, this is a different game entirely, but he showed with that Pertemps run that the hurly-burly holds no fears, and he's expected to run very well in a race which has favoured lightly raced types recently.

Venetia Williams has had a field day in this race in recent years, and she's double handed with lightweights, Kapga de Cerisy and Carrickboy this time. I'm very sweet on the former and tipped him in an ATR piece I wrote a week or so ago.

He's progressive, as you need to be to win this, has battling qualities, goes in any ground, and has decent form. I think he's got an excellent each way chance.

Carrickboy is more exposed but has run two decent races round here. First, he unseated when travelling very well when unshipping four out; and then at the Festival last year, he was sixth of twenty in the Novices' Handicap Chase.

In truth, I think he's a bit to find with some of these, but his price of 33/1 reflects that and is acceptable in each way terms.

Domtaline has a rock solid trends profile for this, and allied to his trainer being Paul Nicholls, 25/1 looks a juicy price. He does have to prove he handles a big field, but the trip and ground could be plum. I'd be happy to take a chance at the odds.

And finally, Divers, a winner of the Novices' Handicap Chase in 2011 is just three pounds higher here. Seeing as we know conditions are optimal, he too is a big price.

Byrne Group Plate Tips

Obviously, Ballynagour could smash them all up, and Cantlow is a dangerous improver too. But at the prices, and with five places to go at, there's plenty of each way value towards the bottom of the handicap.

Most likely winners: Ballynagour, Cantlow
Each way three against the field: Kapga de Cerisy, Domtaline, Divers


4.40 FULKE WALWYN KIM MUIR CHALLENGE CUP HANDICAP CHASE (Amateur Riders) (CLASS 2) (5yo+ 0-145) (3m 1 1/2f)

Kim Muir Key Trends

15 of the last 20 renewals have been won by a horse aged eight or nine

All of the last twelve Kim Muir winners raced over at least three miles last time out

Only three of the last ten winners made the frame last time out, but all had done so in at least one of their last four runs

Kim Muir Form Preview

Three favourites have won this in the last six years, and all of them at decent prices, so the clear starting point is Super Duty. He's tough, consistent, goes on all ground, and stays well. These are strong credentials in a race like this, and he's ridden by top amateur Derek O'Connor. He ought to go close, but he has been beaten into second in four of his last five runs, so I'll look elsewhere for a possible pick.

Right down towards the bottom of the weights, Alfie Sherrin catches the eye. There's a strong chance that this is a prep race for the Grand National, and how ready he is for this needs to be taken on trust, but at 10/1, it's clear that a strong run is expected. He's a Festival winner (JLT Chase last year), and has a very good pilot in Alan Berry.

Prince Of Pirates is another which catches my eye, from the Hendo stable. Nico de Boinville, an amateur who is going pro next season, is an excellent jock, as he's shown on Petit Robin this season. The horse goes well on top of the ground, has won over hurdles in a big field round here, and is extremely lightly raced. He should get the trip ok, and a clear round ought to see him in the shake up.

There are plenty of others for which I could make a case, including Harry The Viking, Becauseicouldntsee, and Chartreux.

Kim Muir Tips

It's not a race I'll be looking to do anything more than get through the placepot in (if still going, natch!), and selections below are accorded token status.

Two against the field: Alfie Sherrin, Prince of Pirates


5.15 GLENFARCLAS HANDICAP CHASE (A Cross Country Chase) (CLASS 2) (5yo+) (3m7f)

Re-programmed after Tuesday's frosty course put paid to its original slot.

A looooong race, and one for specialists. I covered this recently in my Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase preview, and haven't changed my mind since then.

In a nutshell, then, this is a specialists' race where weight is less important than experience.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Key Stats

7/8 winners have been Irish-trained (the one 'failure' was when A New Story failed by a head to win last year)

8/8 8-12yo

8/8 had experience of the cross country course

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Form Preview

Three horses vie for favouritism here: Arabella Boy, Outlaw Pete, and Uncle Junior. They're followed in close proximity in the market by Bostons Angel, Sizing Australia and Big Shu. But I don't make the race anywhere near as competitive as that! In fact, I reckon there are only four which can win, and only three which I think might win...

Last year's winner, Balthazar King, just clung on from the fourteen-year-old, A New Story, but is a late non-runner due to the soft ground. In my view, both of them benefited from the losses of Garde Champetre and Scotsirish, two classy horses who were almost certain to have played a hand in the finish.

He wasn't my idea of the winner, especially not on soft ground. Firstly, he hadn't run since mid-November and that had to be a concern. And secondly, he was beaten by the very slow Uncle Junior on that last run when he (Balthazar) was match fit. He'd had three months off prior to winning last year, so may go best fresh, but this is a long way to last out in the mud if you're only 98% ready. Anyway, he doesn't now go, so it's all immaterial.

The first of my trio of possibles is Outlaw Pete. He's really come to himself since trying cross country, and is a Festival virgin. Despite that, he's competed in both the course trials in November and December last year, finishing third on his first sight of the track and winning the other attempt by seven lengths from Bostons Angel (Uncle Junior and Arabella Boy both uncharacteristically unseated riders that day).

He's been kept on the boil since, with two runs in conventional handicap chases, where he's performed respectably, and I think he'll take a lot of beating on a course he now knows well enough. He looks nailed on for the frame, bar a fall or a 'wrong course' farce.

Arabella Boy is the latest off the Enda Bolger production line - Bolger's won this race four of the eight times it's been run - and as such is sure to have been extremely well drilled. The Boy has become something of a Punchestown cross country specialist, but unseated on his only attempt so far round Cheltenham's tied shoelace circuit. The ground has come right for him, as all his five career wins have been on soft or heavy going.

And the last one I'm drawn to is that old warhorse, A New Story. Yes, he's FIFTEEN years old. And what a story it would be if A New Story could win. If you think it's fanciful, then consider that he was beaten the length of a betting slip last year, and has a full record in this race of 34132. That's more impressive than any other runner, and though he could be regressive now, he's a big enough price to take a chance, off a similarly low profile build up to previous years.

Uncle Junior, Bostons Angel, and Sizing Australia are all too slow to win this; and Big Shu will be having only his second start outside of hunter chase/bumper fields, and his first sight of Cheltenham's track. That's enough for me to say 'no way'.

Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Tips

Arabella Boy will have everything to suit and looks the most likely winner, and at a fair price (around 5/1) as well. Outlaw Pete should also go very well. A New Story is a huge price and that - coupled with his race record - merits a throwaway investment.

Most likely Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase winner: Arabella Boy
Other strong contender: Outlaw Pete
Best each way bet: A New Story

Best Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase Bookmaker Offer

If your horse is fifth, BetFred will refund the place part of each way bets as a free bet. (Not great, but better than nothing!)


And that concludes Thursday's action. It's normally the weakest day of the four, and after the last all roads will lead to Friday and the Cheltenham Gold Cup itself. There's a stellar supporting card and, of course, I'll be back with my thoughts on those races in due course.

Until then, best of luck with your Day Three wagers, and may your next bet need collecting.