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Sat TV Trends: 16th Feb 2013

Silver by Nature

Can Silver By Nature Win Another GN Trial?

Another busy Saturday with LIVE C4 action from Haydock, Wincanton and Ascot - Andy Newton's on hand with all the trends and stats that matter...... Read more

World Hurdle Tipping Competition: Day 4

Who will replace Big Buck's as World Hurdle winner?

Who will usurp Big Buck's as World Hurdle winner?

And so to day four. A couple of double figure odds winners yesterday means nobody found both. But thirteen and fourteen of you spotted one or the other, and that has had a profound bearing on the leader board, with a clear leader. Below is the full story of all scoring players. Everyone else is on -5 or -6, depending on whether you nominated a non-runner at some point.

Today's races, as we get to the sharp end of the contest, are:

3.40 Kelso

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4.50 Thurles

Here's the leader board in full. Add your nominations for today's races in the comments on this page below. Remember, one good priced winner can still put you in the lead. And two or three of the last four race winners (two races today, two more tomorrow) might see you romp home even if you're not yet off the mark. 🙂

GOOD LUCK!

Matt

Day 1-1 Day 1-2 Day 2-1 Day 2-2 Day 3-1 Day 3-2 Total
Tony Derrick 5 -1 4.5 -1 -1 12 18.5
Daithi -1 3 -1 7 10 -1 17
Mike mallrats -1 -1 -1 7 -1 12 15
French Freddy -1 3 4.5 -1 10 -1 14.5
Chris A 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 12 13
Graham Ashford -1 -1 -1 7 10 -1 13
Steve Brown -1 -1 -1 7 10 -1 13
Phil Dawber 5 -1 -1 -1 10 -1 11
Ken Kennedy -1 3 -1 -1 -1 12 11
Denis Hatcher -1 -1 4.5 -1 10 -1 10.5
Joe Say -1 -1 4.5 -1 10 -1 10.5
Robert Stretch -1 -1 4.5 -1 10 -1 10.5
Brian Armstrong 5 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 8
Dave Tink 5 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 8
Gavin Priestley 5 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 8
James Dickson 5 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 8
Ray Clubbe 5 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 8
Ronnie Combo 5 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 8
David topmandj -1 -1 4.5 7 -1 -1 7.5
David Wagstaff -1 -1 4.5 7 -1 -1 7.5
David Walker -1 -1 4.5 7 -1 -1 7.5
Steve Morris -1 -1 4.5 7 -1 -1 7.5
Vince -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 12 7
Geoff Edwards -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 12 7
Tim R -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 12 7
The Monk -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 12 7
Iain MacMillan -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 12 7
Ian Barber -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 12 7
Watto -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 12 7
Henry G -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 12 7
Krish Kumar -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 12 7
Ian Stanley 5 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 5.5
David Green -1 -1 -1 -1 10 -1 5
Gill -1 -1 -1 -1 10 -1 5
John Spencer -1 -1 -1 -1 10 -1 5
Lee Altenor -1 -1 -1 -1 10 -1 5
Peter Crilley -1 -1 -1 -1 10 -1 5
Phil Morley -1 -1 -1 -1 10 -1 5
Mark Worthington 5 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 4
Paul Vicin 5 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 4
Denis Confrey -1 3 4.5 -1 -1 -1 3.5
Glenn Hussey -1 3 4.5 -1 -1 -1 3.5
Noel McPartland -1 3 4.5 -1 -1 -1 3.5
Terry Morey -1 3 4.5 -1 -1 -1 3.5
Andy Ace Racing -1 -1 0 7 -1 -1 3
Brian Ker -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Chris Baker -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Derek Pearson -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Derrick Wood -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Dion Penston -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
John Begg -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
John Murphy -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Ken Andrews -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Lawrence Hammond -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Mark Johnson -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Martin Fanning -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Mike Burch -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Nigel clevertrever -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Richard pbarlow -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Simon French -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Spadge -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Tony York -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Trevado -1 -1 -1 7 -1 -1 2
Adam Stevens 5 0 -1 -1 -1 -1 1
Debs 5 0 -1 -1 -1 -1 1
Finbarr 5 0 -1 -1 -1 -1 1
Ian Winfield 5 0 -1 -1 -1 -1 1
Kevin Hives 5 0 -1 -1 -1 -1 1
Matt P 5 0 -1 -1 -1 -1 1
Tony Cox 5 0 -1 -1 -1 -1 1
Andy hughonthehill 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Bob Gates 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Bob Smith 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Chris Worrall 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Dave Turner 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
David Groves 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Gordon 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Justin Griggs 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Ken Mason 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Michael Fell 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Mike D 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Mike Fleming 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Paul Lynch 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Paul Monaghan 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Richard Clane 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Sam Keeping 5 -1 -1 -1 -1 -1 0
Arfor Williams -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Bernard -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Chris Vaughan -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Dave Huxford -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Douglas Burbery -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
encytewins -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Eugene -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Gary msjm -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Harold White -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Iain Anderson -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Martin Ling -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Michael Donkin -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Mike A -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Puerto Rico Gary -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Robert Hartley -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Robert Henderson -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Ste Stel -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Step acrefare -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Terence Anthony -1 -1 4.5 -1 -1 -1 -0.5
Andy Howat -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2
Chris James -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2
Dazzler -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2
Flip Flop -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2
Gary bfd -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2
Ian Sumner -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2
Jim Wynn -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2
Joe Quirke -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2
Mark B -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2
Mick DD -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2
Paul Maiden -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2
Peter Lamont -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2
Robert Grubb -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2
Steve Barber -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2
Stuakbafc -1 3 -1 -1 -1 -1 -2

World Hurdle Tipping Competition: Day 3

Who will replace Big Buck's as World Hurdle winner?

Who will usurp Big Buck's as World Hurdle winner?

A fantastic response over the first two days of over 220 entries each day. The truth is I didn't expect such a bumper entry and I'm still wading through the selections to work out the leader board!

I'll have an update later today, and will append it to this post. As well as that, I'll have the full standings after day 3 (i.e. today) tomorrow.

Somerby 9/2 and Docofthebay 7/1 were the pair of winners from yesterday afternoon’s two races.

Well done to THREE David’s: Wagstaff, Walker and topmandj, and also to Steve Morris.

That quartet claim bragging rights, with a tidy return of 11.5 units on the day.

Day one had produced winners at 5/1 and 3/1 (after Rule 4).

Today's races are:

3.10 Musselburgh

4.30 Lingfield

(apologies some jockey colours are not displaying properly, we're still in beta mode there!)

GOOD LUCK FOR DAY THREE!

Matt

LEADERBOARD UPDATE

There might be a couple of non-runners in here, but I make the current leader board as follows:

Day 1-1 Day 1-2 Day 2-1 Day 2-2 Total
Brian Armstrong 5 -1 -1 7 10
Dave Tink 5 -1 -1 7 10
Gavin Priestley 5 -1 -1 7 10
James Dickson 5 -1 -1 7 10
Ray Clubbe 5 -1 -1 7 10
Ronnie Combo 5 -1 -1 7 10
David topmandj -1 -1 4.5 7 9.5
David Wagstaff -1 -1 4.5 7 9.5
David Walker -1 -1 4.5 7 9.5
Steve Morris -1 -1 4.5 7 9.5
Daithi -1 3 -1 7 8

Sat TV Trends: 19th Jan 2013

Sprinter Sacre

Sprinter Sacre runs at Ascot on Saturday

Weather permitting we'll have LIVE C4 action at Ascot, where Sprinter Sacre is on show in the Victor Chandler Chase....... 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

Sat TV Trends 1st Dec 2012

Can Carruthers win back-to-back Hennessys?

It's Hennessy Gold Cup day at Newbury this Saturday, while there's also LIVE C4 action up at Newcastle... Read more

Warner hopes to boost his Cheltenham score

Oiseau de Nuit bids for Grand Annual repeat

The black and yellow colours carried by Terry Warner's horses are no strangers to the winner’s enclosure at the Cheltenham Festival. In 2003 Richard Johnson wore them to victory on board Rooster Booster in the Champion Hurdle, and three years later he piloted Detroit City home in the Triumph Hurdle. Philip Hobbs trained both horses. Read more

Twelve Key Races From Christmas (part 2)

Twelve races of Christmas part 2

Twelve races of Christmas part 2

In the second and final instalment of my review of what I consider to be twelve key races from the festive period, we'll look at racing between 28th December and 1st January with a view to the Cheltenham Festival, which is but ten weeks away now!

Fort Leney Novices’ Chase, Leopardstown, 28th December

As with yesterday's opening part, we begin today with a Grade 1 novice chase, this time featuring some of the pick of the likely Irish contenders for RSA Chase glory.

First Lieutenant, a Festival winner last March when bagging the Neptune Novices' Hurdle over three miles, was favoured here in a bid to polish up his tarnished reputation over the bigger impediments. He ran probably his best race over fences, but that was still only good enough for second spot behind an impressive and improving horse in Last Instalment.

The winner, trained by Dunguib's trainer, Philip Fenton, and ridden by Dunguib's maligned rider, Barry O'Connell, was close to the pace throughout and quickened and stayed on well.

There was no fluke about this performance, and he's shown progression from race to race over fences. Moreover, he has now demonstrated his ability to act on good ground as well as soft and heavy, which had been the conditions of his previous wins.

Whether this is good enough form to win an RSA is the big question, and in truth I don't know the answer. What I would say is this: Last Instalment must be the best Irish chance on form over fences. But... First Lieutenant was closing a little at the end, will appreciate conditions at Cheltenham, and is proven on the track.

Last Instalment is a general 8/1 chance, which is about right, but offers no value. I'd be much more interested in First Lieutenant at 20's, given the scope for him to be better in March. Course form is a massive advantage at Cheltenham, and Festival winning form should never be taken lightly. If First Lieutenant gets to Cheltenham, I can't see him being bigger than 12's, and that's even if Grands Crus lines up against him.

If GC does go for the GC, then he'll surely be a single figure price on the day. As such, 20/1 has been taken and added to the portfolio, albeit for small stakes. At this stage, I'd still favour Bobs Worth over First Lieutenant (both Festival winners last term), but I prefer the odds on the latter!

Christmas Hurdle, Leopardstown, 28th December

Leopardstown's own Christmas Hurdle, and a race that made the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Betfair's security was breached and a customer was able to offer £600m worth of liability to disbelieving punters.

Now let me lay my cards on the table here. I despise significant elements of the 'something for nothing' culture we live in, and the behaviour of some punters when told they weren't getting paid out on what is the most palpable of palpable errors, is pathetic.

To my mind, it's like someone seeing the owner of a corner shop pop next door for something and, while he's there, snaffling all the cigarettes, only to be spotted and asked to hand them back. Can you imagine the shoplifter legitimately taking umbridge at the request?

For sure, Betfair have to deal with this problem. But the kow-towing to a small group of spectacular opportunists was too much for my normally robust constitution.

Can we all be sensible this year, and try to win what is there to be won, and accept that occasionally people make genuine mistakes, from which we have no right to benefit? (Am I the only person who thinks like that?!)

OK, to the race, which is a fair trial for the World Hurdle (Stayers Hurdle, as was), the previous two winners running third in the Cheltenham contest.

Voler La Vedette was a very easy winner (rendering the wagering all the more preposterous), coming away by the best part of five lengths eased down in the end.

Mourad chased her home and he's a reliable stick in Irish distance hurdles, and he in turn was well clear of the third.

VLV has a number of options for the Festival, but in truth she's unlikely to win any of them, despite being a cracking mare. She'd likely give best to three or four in the Champion Hurdle, at least one in the World Hurdle (Big Buck's), and at least one in the Mares Hurdle (Quevega).

If she were mine, I might be tempted to use the Mares' Hurdle (decent money for the places) as a stepping stone to a Grade 1 at Punchestown, ideally over a trip of ground and where neither Quevega nor Big Buck's has shown up.

The one I would take from the race, and don't laugh please, is Powerstation. Yes, he's twelve years old. Yes, he was beaten fourteen lengths here. But if he were to run in the Pertemps Final over three miles, he'd be quite interesting.

Currently rated 141, he looks likely to drop to around 136 or 138 after this. Buena Vista, another old boy, won last year's Pertemps off a mark of 138 and, whilst it is a lot to ask to see Powerstation winning, he might run into a place at a monster price. His course form is very good, as two second place and two third place Festival Hurdle finishes suggest (Neptune, Coral Cup, World Hurdle x 2, respectively).

Obviously, he's long in the tooth, but he's a game old boy who would so deserve one last hoorah. (A bit like me!) He's not yet quoted for the race but I'll be keeping an eye out for it...

Lexus Chase, Leopardstown, 28th December

The disaster race of the Christmas holiday for me personally. I'd rowed in with Rubi Light and especially Quito de la Roque for the Gold Cup at Cheltenham. So to see them both comprehensively outpointed by Synchronised, hitherto a high class plodder, was very disappointing.

Saying that, the handicapper has taken a literal view of the form (hard not to given that there seemed no fluke about this), and awarded Synchronised a revised figure of 168. That puts him bang there for the places in the Gold Cup.

Let's put that in perspective. The 'capper has Long Run on 182, and has advanced Kauto Star to a high of 183 (his previous high mark was 193!)

Grands Crus remains on 159, though I'm not sure why.

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Curiously, the Irish handicapper has taken the view that whilst Synchronised definitely improved, his two pursuers regressed. He awarded the winner a perch of 163, with Rubi Light getting 164 (down two) and Quito de la Roque 163 (down SIX!).

I actually think this is probably more realistic and it does imply that the Irish chasers have something to find in the Gold Cup division, much to my chagrin.

The question is, can you envisage Synchronised winning a Gold Cup? Answer: no. Could he run into the places? Answer: yes. He's an out and out stayer, with a smattering of class about him. Has he buggered up his Grand National handicap mark? Answer: probably, but we'll await the glorious discretion of Phil Smith, who gets to tinker with ratings for the big race.

I backed Synchronised for the National at 25/1 - now best priced 20/1, Ladbrokes go 10/1! - and of course I'm hoping he gets a reasonable weight. But a literal reading of his Lexus run means he ought to lug topweight, alas.

What of the rest? Rubi Light didn't stay, to my eye, meaning a tilt at the Ryanair is most likely. Odds of 8/1 for that are sensible but not exciting. Pass.

Quito de la Roque was out and out disappointing. I had really high hopes for him and, whilst one swallow doesn't make a summer, it does portend of the changing of the season. Leaving out the Cantona-esque cryptics, that run implies Quito has a glass class ceiling.

I'll look forward to the Hennessy in February more in hope than expectation, because this does look like an ante post wager which went west.

Festival Hurdle, Leopardstown, 29th December

This was Hurricane Fly's intended festive target. But the Fly - whose absenteeism record is abysmal - once again had a sick note from dad (Willie Mullins) and skipped class.

He's clearly a phenomenal hurdler when he's on the track, but he cannot be countenanced as an ante-post investment, as he must only be about 4/6 to actually turn up. Make no mistake, if he's not ready to win, Mullins will hold him back for Punchestown.

In the Fly's absence, Thousand Stars was sent off the even money favourite. But it was 10/3 second choice, and my favourite race mare of the generation, Unaccompanied, who prevailed.

This girl is just brilliant. She won the Listed geegeez.co.uk Alleged Stakes at the Curragh in April last year, beating off St Nicholas Abbey amongst others (and capping a great day for me personally as sponsor!); and she then went on to bolt up in a Listed hurdle before seeing off Grade 1 company here.

Thousand Stars would have wanted more of a test, and it could be argued that his pilot, Ruby Walsh, should have kicked on sooner to make it so. But this day belonged to Unaccompanied. I would love it (a la Kevin Keegan) if she were good enough to win the Champion Hurdle. But I can't see it, in truth.

Thousand Stars is a horse without a trip. She can't win a Champion Hurdle (not quick enough) or a World Hurdle (not classy enough). She might give Oscar Whisky most to do over 2m4f at Aintree again, and she might win a wealthy pot in France again. But another Cheltenham Festival race win is unlikely to my eye, despite her County Hurdle success in 2010 and a game fourth last year in the Champion.

Oscars Well has been well touted as a possible Champion Hurdle contender, but nothing in his defeats to The Real Article, Thousand Stars and now Unaccompanied lends itself to being even in the top three Irish horses. And that's before you consider a voluminous British challenge as well. No, no, no, I'm afraid.

The rest will be running in handicaps if they head to the Festival at all.

Novices Chase, Newbury, 31st December 2011

How do you solve a problem like Cue Card?, to bastardise a fine line from a fine film (tell me you don't love The Sound of Music!), is the issue here. Who can forget his sweeping run in the Champion Bumper at the Festival back in 2010. He was 40/1 that day!

His record since is actually top class, despite the apparent chinks to it. He has been first or second in nine of eleven career starts, and won six of them. But. But... his only Grade 1 success was in that bumper (flat race for those who don't know what a bumper is), and he's not won in a field bigger than eight over obstacles.

Neither of those points hint at a tilt at the Arkle Chase especially (currently 12/1). I just wonder if the Jewson (2m4f novice chase) at the Festival might be the answer. He's an 8/1 shot for that which is reasonable, though I'd definitely want to find a bookie offering the 'non runner no bet' concession as he might go for a different target.

This day, in a short field of four, he was too good for For Non Stop and Walkon. The faller, Minella Class, might have given him a fright, but I don't really like 'might have's' in novice chases. There is a suspicion that maybe he idles in front, as when beaten here by Bobs Worth earlier in the season. But there must remain a suspicion that he's not quite good enough to trouble the best of the best.

The Jewson is interesting, with a run, but the Arkle is not. For me, at least.

Challow Hurdle, Newbury, 31st December 2011

The elephantine Fingal Bay bagged this Grade 1 pot, but only by a length in the end, on ground described as soft. His record is now five wins from five runs, and that's hard to crab when it includes three Grade 2's and a Grade 1.

Philip Hobbs, his trainer and a man who thinks the world of this horse, remarked that he never wins by much. That is true enough, and I do like Fingal Bay. He's another in my ten to follow, and I've also backed him for the Neptune at the Festival.

That's the shorter of the two options open to him, and it was concerning to hear Hobbs suggest he'd go for the longer race (the Albert Bartlett) were it to be good ground at the Festival. It usually is, and it looks like I'll have to do a rain dance to get Fingal in the right race!

This was a muddling affair, and it's quite likely the winner would be better in a truer run contest. As such, it's difficult to be too excited about any of the performances emanating from it.

The second horse, Ballyrock, has only had two hurdle starts, having won on debut at 25/1 before running up here. He's liked by his trainer, Tim Vaughan, and this wasn't that big a surprise to connections. He might win at Aintree (Vaughan won the staying novice there with Saint Are last year), but I can't see him being good enough at Chelters.

The rest were well beaten off.

Non-handicap Hurdle, Cheltenham, 1st January 2012

My old mate Oscar Whisky was in here, against a very well touted Nicholls horse in Poungach. The quartet was completed by Cockney Trucker and Drill Sergeant, neither of whom are top class.

This was processional for the winner, Oscar Whisky, and he could do no more than win in such a manner. But these were optimal conditions, two and a half miles on a decent surface, and he was expected to win head in chest.

It told us little more than that he has a leg in each corner and a beating heart, and bookies cutting his odds are not too cute in my opinion.

Alas for me, he's now more likely to go for the World Hurdle when I've backed him cheekily and to small stakes for the Champion Hurdle. He was third in the Champion last year, and if the Fly didn't turn up, and Peddlers Cross (runner up last year) in the chasing ranks, I'm very surprised they're not having another tilt at the shorter race.

A lightning fast two miles might be almost as good as two and a half under normal conditions for him. But of course Henderson also has Grandouet, Binocular, and Spirit Son for the race, none of whom could be aimed at the World Hurdle with any confidence. Pity for me, though hope springs eternal.

Put it this way: I personally believe that Oscar Whisky has a better chance in the Champion Hurdle than the World Hurdle. His odds relate connections' leaning in my view, and that's a shame. Obviously, I'm talking through my pocket. 😉

Poungach disappointed connections here, but was still clear second best. He will be better when he learns to jump better.

And that concludes my twelve races of Christmas. Eagle eyed readers will note there were actually thirteen, but who ever heard of the thirteen anythings of Christmas?

So, what about you? Did you find anything to bet for Cheltenham from the Christmas and New Year racing? If so, put us onto it by leaving a comment below.

Also, tweet or facebook this post if you have the technology so to do.

Best Regards,
Matt

Monday Mish Mash: The Last Before Christmas

Big Buck's wins again

Big Buck's wins again

It's the final Monday Mish Mash before Christmas, and in something of a 'no news' update, I've got my take on the weekend racing action, and a look ahead to what's coming up. Plus prize winner Paul does the standard 'cheesy grin with cheque' pose for all. 🙂

So let's take a look at the weekend's racing just passed, and see if there aren't any pointers to the future. Well, to be honest, if there were, then I missed them.

Big Buck's extended his winning run to fourteen with another facile win over not much opposition. To his credit, he did it emphatically, and he can't do any more than that. But if we learned anything, it is that Dynaste is probably not a realistic contender for the World Hurdle.

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I believe that So Young is the each way bet to nothing. Sure, he has to improve at least ten pounds from his current mark of 149 to be in with a realistic chance. But the handicapper can only rate him on what he's done, and winning a three runner contest in facile fashion from horses rated in the low 140's is not World Hurdle form... yet. Those comments may also apply to a Navan Sunday winner, and more of that in a moment.

He's entered both in a Listed contest on Thursday over two miles, and in a Grade 1 on 29th. He'll surely go for the former, and will again have to win comfortably despite the trip being on the sharp side, even on the projected heavy ground.

Getting back to Ascot at the weekend, Five Dream and Restless Harry plugged on well for second and third, but neither was in the same county as the winner at the finish line. (For the record, Big Buck's was in the county of Berkshire, while the silver and bronze medallists were still making their way over from neighbouring Surrey...)

One notable performance was that of The Minack in the handicap chase on Ascot's Saturday card. He lugged 11-01 to a stout staying victory here, and might be an each way play at a fat price for the Gold Cup. He'll stay far better than many, and is still improving. In a year where there are few with robust credentials (barring the favourite, Long Run), places will be up for grabs.

Incidentally, I'll be bringing you a preview of the Gold Cup in the next few days, just in time for it to look potentially preposterous as many of the blue riband aspirants have their post-Christmas trial spins! That's how we roll here at geegeez 😉

Over at Fairyhouse, Blazing Tempo did the biz over 2m2f, and she'll be aimed most likely at the Ryanair Chase at the Festival, but connections are also talking about a possible hurdles tilt. If she turns up in a handicap hurdle at Cheltenham in March, she'd be of serious interest.

It was oh so hard going at Haydock in the Tommy Whittle, and Pearlysteps might well have got back up to beat the winner, Cannington Brook, had he not tumbled at the last. Cannington was ten lengths clear of Our Island jumping the last, but stopped to a walk on the run in and just held on.

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Whether he idled or was plain knackered is the subject of conjecture, but his record of seconds and thirds is a worry, and the way he finished off here did little to dispel the belief that this may be an expensive horse to follow in the main.

To Sunday and, aside from Stat of the Day getting off the cold list with a nice 6/1 winner (backed in to 9/2), there was little of note this side of the Irish Sea. However, over Navan way, things were of mild interest.

The opening Grade 2 hurdle was won easily by Zaidpour, who landed odds of 1/3 in the process. This was little more than a schooling round and proved little more than Zaidpour still has a leg in each corner. It will be interesting to see where he heads next and, like So Young, the World Hurdle is a realistic option down the line, with a fair bit to prove 'twixt the cup of now and the lip of then.

Boston Bob was a good winner of the Grade 1 Navan Novice Hurdle over 2m4f, and this puts him near the top of the tree for Irish novice hurdlers. From a punting perspective, it's hard to know whether he'll be pitched towards the 2m5f or the 3m novice at the Festival. Considering the state of the ground and the way he was going away at the finish, I'd think the greater test of stamina would suit better.

Boston Bob is 12's for the Albert Bartlett and 14's for the Neptune which reflects layers' uncertainty. For now, it's a watching brief, and I'd still favour Fingal Bay if the two were to cross hooves.

And that, dear reader, was that. Not a lot to get too excited about, and this week does little to allay the nagging contention that we are now amidst a brief lull: the doldrums of the week before Christmas, which will soon break into a storm of tip top racing from Boxing Day through to January 2nd.

To fill that hiatus, I'll be looking - as I said - at the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and trying to find one or two likely to shorten as a consequence of a good performance over the said festive period. Obviously, my primary concern for any selection is that they will be suited by the conditions of the March race, so we'll see how those deliberations pan out.

I'll also have news of a freebie betting system, and how you can get it. There are more than enough things to be spending cash on just now, so a spot of festive freeness might be welcome.

Talking of such things, step forward the ravishing Paul Whitworth, for it was he who copped the £250 of free readies for entering the geegeez Prize Draw. Below is a picture Paul was kind enough to take, and he even managed to get a shot of the website in the background! Above and beyond the call of duty. Top Man! 🙂

Geegeez Prize Draw winner, Paul Whitworth

Geegeez Prize Draw winner, Paul Whitworth

If you haven't already answered the question about how you'd like to see prizes distributed, please do so using the poll on the top right of this page.

And, if you liked this post and are one of those cool cats that use 'soshal meejah', please facebook 'share', twitter 'tweet', Google 'plus one', or otherwise tell your friends and acquaintances about it. Those buttons are to the left of these scribbles.

Thanks a lot, and I'll be back with that preview, most likely on Wednesday.

Matt

Big Buck’s To Stick To Hurdles

Big Buck's to stay over hurdles

Big Buck's to stay over hurdles

Owner Andy Stewart claims it's 'highly unlikely' his unbeaten hurdler Big Buck's is ever going to go chasing again.

The eight-year-old has won ten straight contests over timber and attempts his third Ladbrokes World Hurdle in the Cheltenham Festival in March.

The Cadoudal gelding was acquired to go chasing but trainer Paul Nicholls executed a masterstroke when reverting to the scaled-down obstacles following the horse unseating Sam Thomas in the 2008 Hennessy Gold Cup.

Often connected with going back to fences and considered the natural heir to stablemates Kauto Star and Denman in distance chases, Big Buck's appears set to be granted the opportunity to rule the long-distance timber department for many years to come.

Stewart told sportinglife.com: "I think it will be highly unlikely that while he's at the top of his game as far as hurdling is concerned you'll see him over fences.

"We're going to try and keep on winning the Ladbrokes World Hurdle and it's highly unlikely you'll see him chasing next year.

"I would say it would be 50-50 for him never to jump a fence again. There's only so many races in a horse and we're going to keep it down to four a season.

"As long as everything goes well we'll go to Cheltenham, we'll go to Liverpool and we'll start again next year at Newbury on Hennessy day."

Big Buck's is 4/7 with the sponsors to accomplish a hat-trick in the Ladbrokes World Hurdle in March.

Cheltenham 2010: Day Three Preview

Cheltenham 2010: Day Three Preview

(written on Monday, some runners have been balloted out)

Regardless of how your half time team talk was, dear reader, it's important to head into today's punting skirmishes cognizant of the fact that there remains much to do. Tuesday/Wednesday winners can easily become Thursday/Friday's humiliated losers, and early and ignominious defeat can be blown away by the favourable verdict of a single handicap hurdle or chase in the latter part of the week.

In other words, however kind or otherwise proceedings have been thus far - whether you had to give yourself the hairdryer treatment or just reflect on doing 'more of the same' over your half-time cuppa and orange quarter - your current predicament is not guaranteed to remain in situ thirteen races and two days hence (unless of course you're one of those uber-disciplined people who quit when they're ahead - spoil sport!).

Enough with the preambles, and let's hurtle headlong into day three of the Cheltenham marathon.

Jewson Novices Handicap Chase

First up is another of the newer races, the Jewson Novices' Handicap Chase, and it's not really an 'all in' type affair. By definition, these are inexperienced horses, and the weight has told in the five times this race has been run to date.

No horse has yet lugged more than eleven stone (or 10-12 to be precise) and prevailed. And all of the five winners so far were first or second last time they ran. Moreover, and as with all of the handicaps at the Festival, not surprisingly no winner had more than one prior chase victory to its name.

Rivaliste might go close, but does have a decent amount of weight to overcome. If you can overlook that - and many punters will - then Paul Nicholls' rising star looks set to contend, especially given Ruby's assistance from up top.

Hey Big Spender is another with lots of course form, and he too would have been a fancy were it not for the burden his form obliges him to haul. Colin Tizzard's beast may well run into a place, but I fancy something less encumbered will outrun him up the hill.

One I'm prepared to take a chance on here though is Alan King's Bormo. Lurking right at the bottom of the weights (if he gets in), and yet to get off the mark over fences (like 2008 winner, Fingeronthepulse), the conditions of the Jewson look spot on. He'll relish the step up in trip here, and looks to have been laid out for the race. In a recent 'Stable Tour' article, King highlighted this one as capable of improvement, and he might run a mighty race at a fat price (40's available at time of writing).

Pertemps Final (Handicap Hurdle)

It doesn't get much easier in this handicapped start to the second half of the meeting, as twenty-plus handicap chasers are replaced by twenty-plus handicap hurdlers, in a traditionally ferocious battle for the Pertemps Final.

Some of the stats for this race are interesting, and relate to horses who did (or did not) qualify through the Pertemps series of qualifiers, with many this season abandoned due to the cold and soggy weather we've 'enjoyed'.

This race has been a graveyard for five year olds since its inception, with just one winning in three and a half decades, so I'd be taking them on (Mr Thriller, Trenchant, Erzen, Silk Affair, Always Bold). And the only horse older than nine to win was the remarkable Willie Wumpkins, who won it three times in a row as a teenager! (Swerve Ballyfitz. Don't Push It and Chief Yeoman).

But the winner is highly likely to be aged six to nine, and it is there that I will focus my energies.

Recent form is also a key pointer with 80% of winners in the last decade having won or been second in their most recent two outings.

The two I like are Alfie Sherrin and Smoking Aces. The former is hardly imaginative, given that he's favourite, but the way he picked up and ran away from a high class competitive field at Newbury last time (including my own Night Orbit, who stumbled and unseated poor Hadden Frost when leading) was impressive.

Smoking Aces looks like he'll adore the extra trip here, comes over in great form, and comes from a yard with plenty of Festival handicap success to its name.

The main trainer to follow in this race has been Nigel Twiston-Davies, whose record includes two winners and a placed horse from just seven runners in the last ten years. His Ballyfitz and Kayf Aramis are both previous winners in Festival handicaps, but the weights they carry (and age of the former) reflect this and, even with the first named receiving a seven pound claim from his jockey, I'll reluctantly pass over them.

Further down the card, 'Twist and Shout' has Made In Japan entered and, whilst stable bookings might imply this is the third string, he's not without a chance.

Ryanair Chase

Next up is some respite from massive fields and weight-carrying conundrums (conundra?!) as we don our Graded stakes apparel for the Ryanair Chase.

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Another recent addition, this race - over an interim trip of 2m5f - has proved quite popular with both trainers and punters alike, with all of the five winners starting at odds of 6/1 or shorter.

The trends are starting to firm up, despite the lack of a great deal of history, and we should be siding with a horse that has proven class (all winners were rated upwards of 150); a combination of speed and stamina (four of the five winners had won over the specific trip of 2m5f); and, course form (all five were previous Cheltenham winners, though not necessarily at the Festival).

That bodes very well for both Poquelin and Tranquil Sea. I was a big Tranquil Sea fan, prior to his last run. And, whilst it might seem perverse to oppose him on the back of that bloodless victory, he does seem to be a horse who runs best fresh, and that might just have taken the edge off him.

Poquelin on the other hand comes from twice winning stable of Paul Nicholls, and won convincingly in the Boylesports here over the Ryanair trip back in December.

He was also beaten into second by Tranquil Sea over the self same course and distance in the Paddy Power back in November, but made so many jumping errors that day that the runner-up spot demonstrated just what a good horse he is.

He will need to fence better than that run and, assuming he does, he's going to be very hard to beat.

World Hurdle

I could spend a stack of time and words previewing this race, but I won't for two reasons:

1. I previewed it earlier in the year, and you can read that post here. World Hurdle 2010 Preview

2. Big Buck's should win, simple as that.

The two best alternatives seem to be the next two in the betting, Karabak and Tidal Bay, but they're surely playing for place money only behind the impressive and unbeaten in six hurdle starts, Big Buck's.

Festival Plate

If you've not found a winner yet today, it might be a long way home, as the Festival Plate is another eminently tricky handicap chase. That said, there are some decent trends, and those allowed followers of Gavin's Festival Trends guide to bag 33/1 winner Something Wells last season.

Let's see if we can repeat the dose (unlikely, but nothing ventured and all that).

This race might be renamed the 'Prix des Francaises' soon, with six French bred winners in the last decade, and the other four races seeing a 'Frenchie' take the silver medal.

I'm going to scratch any horse without the suffix (FR) and proceed from there.

Majadou in 1999 was the only winning favourite for nearly thirty years, and this race is certainly one to play a couple of long shots against the field.

With those two statements used to thin the field, my smallish stakes will be invested in the Gallic galloping of Chapoturgeon and Nomecheki. The first named is already a Festival winner, having bagged the Jewson Novices Handicap Chase as a fresh-faced and precocious five year old.

Now a year older and uglier, he clearly goes well round here despite an unconvincing performance in a Grade 3 handicap last time out. Before that, he was fourth in the Boylesports here and, assuming his sometimes erratic jumping holds up, he ought to go close even with the impediment of eleven and a half stone.

Nomecheki is another sketchy jumper (well, if you're going to gamble, you might as well gamble!) from the Nick Gifford yard, but he's got plenty of ability too. He ought to appreciate this stiffer test of stamina and as a very lightly raced two time winner, the 33's looks more than fair.

Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase

Concluding a quartet of handicaps, three of them over the bigger stumbling blocks, on the trickiest day's punting of the week, is the Kim Muir, a handicap chase over most of three and a quarter miles, and for amateur riders(!)

If you're in a hole at this stage, I strongly advise you limit your stakes in this race to the minimum. It's tough. And there will be easier 'get out stakes' on Friday.

Only three of the last ten winners were shorter than 12/1, so you might as well side with a rag here. Also side with proven jockeymanship (or whatever the right word is!). Seven of the last ten winners were ridden by above average pilots for the grade and - given the returned SP's - that is not necessarily reflected in the horses they're on.

Nicky Henderson and Ferdy Murphy are the hot trainers in the race, so look out for Galant Nuit, Poker De Sivola and Fleet Street. But it might be worth speculating with the Jamie Codd-ridden I'moncloudnine. He won this race last year aboard Character Building, and looks to have bagged himself a nice ride again this time.

The 'cloudnine has only been out of the frame once in nine chase starts, and has won five of them. He's normally a safe jumper and there's plenty of 20/1 available, which may not look too shabby come five o'clock tomorrow.

As I write this, I'm not sure which horse Richard Burton is riding but, as a two time winner in the last decade, he will definitely deserve a second look when the final declarations are available (i.e. when you read this!)

Small stakes only for me though in this one.

Despair not, wherever Thursday takes you, because Friday is the Gold Cup day. And it might also be one of the most memorable days our sport has ever had!

Kauto vs Denman - bring it on!!

Matt

Cheltenham 2010: World Hurdle Preview

The World Hurdle, dear reader, is the leading staying hurdle race in Europe, and is run on the Thursday of the Cheltenham Festival over a trip of three miles and two furlongs.

Formerly known as the Stayers' Hurdle, for obvious reasons, the race has a very high class role of honour, with Big Buck's prevailing last year. I've taken my customary ante-post trends look of the race, with a view to finding some value in the betting.

So, let's take a look at the trends...

Year Winner Best to End Dec Best Prev Year
2009 Big Buck's 1st Cl2 Hcap Hdle 1st G2 Nov Chs
2008 Inglis Drever 1st G2 Long Distance H 1st World Hurdle
2007 Inglis Drever 1st G2 Long Distance H 1st G2 Long Distance H
2006 My Way De Solzen 1st G1 Long Walk H 2nd Aintree G2 H
2005 Inglis Drever 2nd G1 Fighting Fifth H 1st 2xG2 Nov H
2004 Iris's Gift No run in season 2nd World Hurdle
2003 Baracouda 2nd G1 Long Walk H 1st World Hurdle
2002 Baracouda 1st G1 Long Walk H 1st Sandown G1 H
2001 No race No race No race
2000 Bacchanal 1st G2 Gerry Feilden H 1st Cl2 Nov H
Year Winner OR Age SP Trained?
2009 Big Buck's 170 6 6.00 UK
2008 Inglis Drever 172 9 1.38 UK
2007 Inglis Drever 163 8 5.00 UK
2006 My Way De Solzen 157 6 8.00 UK
2005 Inglis Drever 157 6 5.00 UK
2004 Iris's Gift 168 7 4.50 UK
2003 Baracouda - 8 2.25 France
2002 Baracouda - 7 1.63 France
2001 No race
2000 Bacchanal 163 6 5.50 UK
164 7 4.3611

Here's what we can note from those past nine runnings. Firstly, the age range is 6-9 years old, with the average being 7. However, factor into this the fact that only the exceptional pair of Baracouda and Inglis Drever have triumphed aged 8+, and you're probably looking for a 6yo or an exceptional horse.

Baracouda didn't have a British handicap rating, but the other seven winners ranged from 157 to 172, with the average smack bang in the middle at 164. I'd be reluctant to consider anything rated lower than 157.

The World Hurdle is not a race won by outsiders in recent years. The array of starting prices has ranged from 11/8 to just 8/1, with the average being around 7/2.

Seven of the last nine winners had won a Grade 1 or Grade 2 race, or finished second in a Grade 1, by the end of December in their World Hurdle-winning season.

Moreover, eight of nine winners had finished either first or second in a Grade 1 or 2 race the previous season. So we're not looking for something to suddenly arrive on the scene here.

The key races are the Long Walk and the Long Distance Hurdle - five of the last nine winners took either a gold or silver medal in one or other of these two contests.

Finally, aside from Baracouda's two triumphs from a base in France, all the other seven winners were UK-trained. Indeed, Ireland has not won the Stayers Hurdle since the beloved Dorans Pride way back in 1995.

So, what does that mean in the context of this season's contenders?

Odds Winner Best to End Dec Best Prev Year
4/6 Big Buck's 1st Long Dist /Long Wlk 1st World Hurdle
10/1 Karabak 2nd Long Walk 2nd G1 Nov H (Chelt)
12/1 Diamond Harry 3rd Long Walk 1st G1
16/1 Sentry Duty 1st Cl2 Chelt H (1/1/10) 1st Listed H'cap H
25/1 Lie Forrit 1st Listed H'cap H 1st Cl4 Nov H
25/1 Katchit 2nd Cl2 Chelt H (1/1/10) 6th Champion Hurdle
25/1 Mr Thriller 1st Listed H'cap H 6th G3 Fred Winter
33/1 Powerstation 1st G2 Hurdle 3rd World Hurdle
33/1 Whiteoak 1st Listed H'cap H 2nd G2
33/1 Mighty Man 1st Cl3 Nov Chase 5th World Hurdle
33/1 Time For Rupert 1st cl2 H'cap H (Chelt) 1st Listed H'cap H
33/1 Fair Along 1st G2 Hurdle 3rdx2 G2 (Chelt/Ain)
33/1 Cousin Vinny 2nd Nov Chase 2nd G1 Hurdle (Punch)
Odds Winner OR Age 1-2 G1, 1 G2? 1-2 G1/2 last yr? Train?
4/6 Big Buck's 174 7 Yes Yes UK
10/1 Karabak 163 7 Yes Yes UK
12/1 Diamond Harry 163 7 No Yes UK
16/1 Sentry Duty 153 8 No No UK
25/1 Lie Forrit 138 6 No No UK
25/1 Katchit 159 7 No No UK
25/1 Mr Thriller 160 5 No No UK
33/1 Powerstation 145 10 Yes No Ire
33/1 Whiteoak 150 7 No Yes UK
33/1 Mighty Man 164 10 No No UK
33/1 Time For Rupert 145 6 No No UK
33/1 Fair Along 162 8 Yes No UK
33/1 Cousin Vinny 146 7 No Yes Ire

What is striking is that Big Buck's looks an absolute cast iron, rock solid, nailed on, lay down, certainty!

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Winner of BOTH the key prep races; rated at the top end of the ratings bracket; the prime age; winner of Grade 1's in both of the last two seasons (including this race last year - repeat wins are a feature of the World Hurdle roll of honour); and trained in the UK by the Champion Trainer, Paul Nicholls.

It's not often you'll read an odds-on tip from me, but on all known form, Big Buck's should probably be around a 1/3 shot (and may be on the day!).

He is highly likely to win, and there's nothing in the field with even a remotely challenging profile. However, let's take a squint at the remainder and see where the most likely place players come from.

Firstly, I'm massively against Sentry Duty, who has a cross in just about every trend box. According to history, he cannot possibly win.

Karabak is second in the betting, and got closest to Big Buck's last time in the Long Walk. He is rated 163 after that run, which puts him on the average. He'll be ridden by a certain AP McCoy, and has ticks in the other boxes. Although I cannot see him beating Big Buck's, he is definitely the most worthy opponent, and has Cheltenham form with a win and second (in the Ballymore Novices' Hurdle last March) to his name from two tries. 10/1 each way looks very fair. (Stop press: since I researched this article last week, he's been backed into a best price 7/1 - less tempting but still reasonable value).

Diamond Harry has the same rating as Karabak, but looks to me like a horse who can bully lesser horses, but just finds it a little tough at the very top level.

Of the remainder, it's hard to make a robust case for any of them. Two who might give runs for a small speculative each way tickle are Katchit and Powerstation.

Katchit won the Champion Hurdle just two seasons ago, and was only beaten less than six lengths in last year's renewal. Forget his 2nd to Sentry Duty in a farcical three runner race last time. He'll finish in front of that one in March, if he takes the World Hurdle route.

Indeed, Katchit's record at Cheltenham is exemplary: FIVE wins (including the Triumph and Champion Hurdles), two second places, and that sixth in last season's Champion Hurdle.

The other wildman's poke at the race is Powerstation. He's ten now, which is waaaaay too old to be seriously entertained as the winner of the race... And yet, he was nine last season when finishing a meritorious third. He's unlikely to be getting any quicker, but he's probably going to run his race and looks good for the first five. It's around 8/1 he makes the first three, so on that basis he might reward a small place investment.

So that's it. To my eye, the most 'open and shut' case of the entire Cheltenham Festival. If he turns up on the day fit and well, it's Big Buck's bar a fall. Like I say, not an inspirational selection, but the profile of this horse is the very epitome of what you'd be looking for in a World Hurdle contender. If you've got big balls, you could do worse than go 'all in' on Big Buck's!

Selection: Big Buck's

Best Each Way: Karabak

Best Outsider: Katchit

What do you think? Can anything get close to Big Buck's? Leave a comment below with your take on the race.

Matt

Year Winner Best Prev Year OR Age SP Trained?
2009 Big Buck's 1st G2 Nov Chs 170 6 6.00 UK
2008 Inglis Drever 1st World Hurdle 172 9 1.38 UK
2007 Inglis Drever 1st G2 Long Distance H 163 8 5.00 UK
2006 My Way De Solzen 2nd Aintree G2 H 157 6 8.00 UK
2005 Inglis Drever 1st 2xG2 Nov H 157 6 5.00 UK
2004 Iris's Gift 2nd World Hurdle 168 7 4.50 UK
2003 Baracouda 1st World Hurdle - 8 2.25 France
2002 Baracouda 1st Sandown G1 H - 7 1.63 France
2001 No race No race
2000 Bacchanal 1st Cl2 Nov H 163 6 5.50 UK
Average: 164 7 4.3611

Cheltenham 2009: Day Three Notes, Day Four Thoughts

Enough of war analogies, dear reader, today was more akin to the fairground roller coaster. I've rarely experienced more highs and lows in a few short hours.

Before I consider tomorrow's action, these are my notes from today (as is now customary, feel free to skip down to the *******'s if you just want to know what to back / swerve on Gold Cup Day).

1.30 Jewson Novices' Handicap Chase

The day started on the dodgems, as the aim of the game was to avoid the bad jumpers. In fairness, most of them jumped very well, with a couple of exceptions (including my Exmoor Ranger). The winner, Chapoturgeon, was a strong trends horse, except that as a 5yo I didn't think he'd be mature enough. Yet another French import proves that wrong.

Pancake in 7th was the best I could do on the placepot, so it was my second early bath of the week. Perhaps this alternation means I'll cop the 'pot again tomorrow. Hmm, hope springs eternal.

2.05 Pertemps Final

A race in which a win last time out has been a strong pointer. Only three could boast that today, and one of them won at 16/1 (available at much bigger earlier in the day).

A tenner on the winner at 34.something set me up nicely for the rest of the day... and I could have had the trifecta from my placepot perm (but didn't of course).

Kayf Aramis Gets Me Going

£300 odd quid up (actually £200 odd quid after errant placepot), and bring on the next race.

2.40 Ryanair Chase

I'd never previously backed the winner of this race, and I have still never backed the winner of this race. Which is curious considering the longest priced winner was today's 6/1 second favourite.

Imperial Commander traveled supremely well, and readily saw off all-comers. Voy Por was arguably disappointing, but he has done that a few times now. I was glad to swerve at the 4/5 on offer.

In behind, Schindler's Hunt has run some fine races at the Festival, and Tidal Bay ran a very odd race - totally outpaced before staying on with some fortitude into a never nearer 4th.

Our Vic was poor, and Gwanako will be stronger next year. This should revert to being a Grade 2 in my opinion.

3.20 World Hurdle

My bet of the meeting, Kasbah Bliss, was uneasy in the morning and had drifted out to 11/8 in a place. Come the pre-race market though, and he was smashed in to, eventually sent off the 10/11 favourite. Thankfully, I only lost £300 on the horse.

According to the recorded bets, there were plenty of £10,000's lost, and one £20k up in smoke. The full tale of punting woe is below:

£7500-£6000 £5000-£4000 £3500-£2000 £6000-£5000 (x3) £3600-£3000 £2400-£2000 £1200-£1000 (x2) £11000-£10000 £4400-£4000 £2200-£2000 (x2) £1650-£1500 (x2) £1000-£1100 (x3) £20000-£20000 £10000-£10000 (x2) £8000-£8000 £5000-£5000 (x11) £3500-£3500 £2500-£2500 £2000-£2000 (x8) £1500-£1500 £1380-£1380 £1200-£1200 £1000-£1000 (x20) £10000-£11000 £5000-£5500 £2000-£2200

On the back of Voy Por's failure in the previous race, the smell of singed digits must be all over Gloucestershire tonight.

Big Buck's was a worthy winner (and an apt one for the bookies, who attracted just that); Punchestowns ran his race; Powerstation ran a gallant but distant third, and the French will return to Paris to contemplate.

4.00 Freddie Williams Festival Plate

After a real downer - every time I put multiple hundreds on a horse, it gets beaten (and I mean, literally, every time I've done it) - I need something to get me back on track. And frankly two 20+ runner handicap chases did not fill me with the much needed confidence I was after...

But it's a funny old game, as Greavsie would say, and every race gives us a chance to find a winner (and many more chances to find losers).

Gavin had put a horse up as his strongest handicap fancy of the week, and the trends for it were strong. He had said:

We here at Nag3 HQ strongly fancy Something Wells today in the 4.00. Ladbrokes go 33/1 about
the Venetia Williams trained 8-y-o and he is recommended as our best handicap each way bet of the
meeting.

Wow! Now that's tipping! Ok, so the Nag blog didn't find a 50/1 winner this year (yet!), but it's banged in a 33/1 poke.

I really hope some of you got to yell that thing home like I did (and Gavin did). I only had a little tickle, but Gavin fancied it strongly and backed it accordingly. I swear I heard him cheering it from Wales!

Well played buddy - top drawer tipping.

This punter only had £7.50 at 55, but that still paid for the bungled Gallic raid that preceded it.

winning betfair ticket

winning betfair ticket

Incidentally, Le Burf was going very nicely when coming down four out and, though Gavin won't thank me for saying it, he might have given the winner a race. I had a £1 e/w double from Kayf Aramis running onto that fella (but not Something Wells, alas), which would have paid nicely enough. No matter.

4.40 Kim Muir Handicap Chase

A clear winner in Character Building, despite the apparent short distances between the first eight home. Character Building was way too good for them, and cruised home virtually on the bridle.

Bowleaze in fourth repaid my place wager, though not my win wager, and I finished the day in front by around £400 despite taking a big kick in the plums earlier on. A (very) good result, all things considered.

********

To tomorrow, the climax of the week. Not in a porn star kind of way, but rather a symphonic ascent to the very zenith of the sport (I wonder if the words 'porn', 'symphonic' and 'zenith' have ever been used in a sentence before... well they have now - twice!)

Gold Cup day is upon us, and whither will the Geegeez cash be flung?

Before I share my thoughts, I need to tell you that Night Orbit makes his debut over hurdles tomorrow in the 5.30 at Fakenham. He's schooled well apparently, but I'm not expecting too much (and nor should you if you choose to follow me in!). Back to business:

1.30 Triumph Hurdle

Not exactly an easy start to the day, but then there never is at Cheltenham. Let's get trending!

I'm looking for a winner last time out, who has also won at least one more race, and run at least three times over hurdles. This gets rid of both Zaynar and Master of Arts at the top of the market, as well as many other less fancied runners. In fact, it leaves just six of the eighteen starters.

Form over at least 1m4f is required for this fair test of stamina, and (a bit of) class from the flat transfers pretty well in this contest.

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The two that best fit the bill are Starluck and Walkon. Slight preference is for the latter. Although Silk Drum has a bit to find, he's overpriced at 60 on betfair.

Selection: Walkon, Silk Drum (e.w)

Placepot: Walkon, Starluck, Jumbo Rio

2.05 County Hurdle

Traditionally, the last act. And last year, Silver Jaro had us cheering from the rooftops at 50/1. Nigh on impossible to top, or even replicate that, but let's have a crack anyway!

Stats were upheld last year, so I'm going to use the same rationale again:

5-9yo; 11-01 or less in weight; 4+ runs this season; placed last time out.

The shortlist thus is: Fisher Bridge, Farringdon, Sunnyhill Boy, Bedlam Boy, Nortonthorpe Lad.

On form, Dave's Dream will win. And if he's not knackered from his win in the Imperial Cup on Saturday, that's probably what will happen (netting connections a healthy bonus cheque in the process).

If he is knackered, things are altogether more difficult. Despite the 50/1 winner last season, it normally pays to side with a horse somewhat more fancied in the market (the other nine winners this decade were 16/1 or shorter, with four favourites - or joint fav's - obliging).

This brings in AP McCoy and his Sunnyhillboy. Although it may be heresy to say it, McCoy nearly messed it up last time at Sandown, when just getting home by a short margin. He won't exaggerate the deferral so much this time, and he looks primed for a very strong run. The 'boy galloped relentlessly up the Sandown hill, and I can see him doing the self same thing up the Cheltenham hill. He's quite a strong fancy.

Selection: Sunnyhillboy, Farringdon (e.w)

Placepot: Sunnyhillboy, Fisher Bridge, Farringdon

2.40 Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle

One of the new races, but we're definitely looking for a horse who has stamina, class and won or was 2nd last time out.

The three that catch my eye are Alpha Ridge, Pride of Dulcote and Weapon's Amnesty (after I tried to get rid of the war theme!). Paul Nicholls' horse is too short for my tastes, though he may win, so I'll take the other two each way.

Selection: Alpha Ridge (e.w), Weapon's Amnesty (e.w)

Placepot: Alpha Ridge, Weapon's Amnesty, Pride of Dulcote

3.20 Cheltenham Gold Cup

The main event. This is what it's all about. A fiendishly difficult race this year, with question marks again every single contender:

Is Kauto Star back to his best, and will he stay again? (quite possibly)

Will Neptune Collonges stay, and jump? (No, and maybe)

Is Denman 80% of the horse he was? (I hope so, I suspect not)

Can Exotic Dancer bridge the class gap required to win? (I doubt it)

Can Madison du Berlais improve again? (Possibly, but front running to win a Gold Cup?!)

Is Barbers Shop anywhere near good enough? (I wouldn't have thought so)

Will the real Alberta's Run please stand up? (He'll probably stand up, but he might not be good enough)

Are any of the rest of them good enough to cause a shock? (Doubtful, but not impossible).

I've reviewed this race elsewhere, and honestly I think it's a nightmare. It wouldn't surprise me if any of them won it (with the exception of Cerium), and we could be looking at a Norton's Coin-type shocker. Equally, Kauto Star could jump properly and give his connections a week to remember.

The ground is right for Kauto, and he has undoubted class. It is only history and statistics that he has to defy. The most likely winner for sure, but the actual winner?

I just don't know who will win this race. As such, I'm going to prey my ante post vouchers perform with a modicum of merit, and give me the chance of a cheer...

Gold Cup Place Bet Ante PostGold Cup Ante Post Bets

Selection: Albertas Run (but only because it will give me a very nice payout if it obliges)

Placepot: Kauto Star, Albertas Run, Madison du Berlais

4.00 Foxhunter Challenge Chase

Not so difficult a race as you might think to find the winner in, despite the presence of 20/1 (twice) and 33/1 winners in the last three seasons.

We're looking for a horse aged 9 or younger, who won last time out; and lightly raced (less than three runs this season) please.

Taking these things into account, and preparing for egg on face, my four against the field (at 33/1 or bigger!), are:

Baby Run, Chief Oscar, Robbers Glen (unluckily brought down when going like the winner last time), and You Do The Math.

I think Charlie Longsdon is a very good trainer, and - gun to head - his You Do The Math would be my pick of the four.

Selection: Baby Run, Chief Oscar, Robbers Glen, You Do The Math (all e.w, look for a bookie paying 4th place)

Placepot: Chief Oscar, Robbers Glen, You Do The Math, Amicelli, Royal Auclair

4.40 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle

A new race, with nothing to go on. Suffice it to say that David Pipe will want to win this!

Looking generally at Festival handicap hurdles, it pays to side with a horse that won last time out and has less than eleven stone to lug. Alas, they all carry eleven stone or more here!

In what is a fiendishly tough end to a murderously challenging placepot riddle, Big Eared Fran must run well for the Pipes. Mamlook has the look of a job horse, but Buena Vista - if running again tomorrow - could also run well.

I'll not be betting in this race. Instead, I'll be hoping I've got something in the placepot to cheer. But, honestly, I could pick ten in here and not be confident of finding the winner.

Selection: ask Mystic Meg!

Placepot: Penn Da Benn, Presenting Copper, Hangover (a most appropriate winner!!!), Big Eared Fran

1620 x 10p = my biggest placepot perm ever at £162, but hell, it should be worth winning!

5.20 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase

We might be preying for the final whistle, or a ceasefire, or an end to any of the other analogies I've used this week by now. Assuming we're not, let's look for some comfort in the 'lucky last' (excluding our tickle on Night Orbit in the 5.30 at Fakenham of course!!)

A brilliant stat from Paul Jones over at attheraces is that horses officially rated 130-134 have finished 1st and 2nd in this race in 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2008 (last year). Blimey, there's only three in the race: Jigsaw Dancer, Tramantano, and Valain.

Let's dig deeper and revert to this in due course, as necessary. No winner has lugged more than 10-11 to win in more than a decade. Indeed, five of those winners carried either 10-00 or 10-01. The Irish have a good record in the race, with four wins (40%) from far less runners than that.

Eight of the last ten winners have been sent off at single figure odds, so it's not a bad race for the 'getting out stakes'.

Valain is a seriously interesting contender. A novice, he's won two of his four starts over fences, was 2nd on another occasion, and pulled up once. His prep race was on the all-weather at Dundalk, where he was 2nd to high class hurdler Al Eile.

He has all the right boxes ticked, and looks to me like a plunge horse tomorrow. (I might be completely wrong of course!).

Selection: Valain (e.w)

It's been getting progressibly tougher as the week has worn on, and tomorrow may be a bridge too far, after Kayf Aramis and Something Wells today.

Whatever you're on, good luck.

No post from me tomorrow. As I have been slaving over this all week, I hope you'll forgive me a glass or eight of the black stuff to celebrate another stunningly brilliant four days racing on Cleeve Hill.

Cheers!

Matt

Cheltenham 2009: Day Two Notes, Day Three Thoughts

The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, dear reader, have once again been hurling their implements of destruction in the Four Day War that is Cheltenham 2009.

Let's review the victors and the vanquished of this second day, before projecting forwards 24 hours to the third leg of this most challenging of cerebral battles (scroll down to beyond the ********'s if you just want tomorrow's juice).

1.30 National Hunt Chase

After second places in the last two races yesterday, I felt like I was coming into a little form, and struck a placepot wager pretty much as per my post yesterday.

This race has the look of an impossible, and unworthy, conundrum, spanning as it does four miles, many fences and competed by novice chasers and even more novice-y pilots.

No matter, for a winner is a winner. And, having found Old Benny in the race last year, I may have to revise my disdain for the race, as I got back on track when one of my five tenners in the race was struck at 18.98 on Tricky Trickster.

My first blood of the day and indeed the 2009 Festival. Nothing much to report in behind, except that Coe was beaten when falling, Nine De Sivola seems to want eight miles on heavy, and Can't Buy Time didn't stay.

Placepot through with the winner and the third.

2.05 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

Dander in the up position, and confidence on the wax, I aggressively tickled (the term for this may be 'dutched') both Diamond Harry and Mikael D'Haguenet. The former still looks green, and the latter was a convincing and exciting winner. Mullins' nag way too good for the rest.

The stats were upheld neatly here.

For the placepot, I'd have much preferred the 25/1 4th, China Rock, to have touched off Harry (it was beaten a neck), as this would have whittled the pool down by much more than my ticket would have lost (I had Mikael and Harry here).

2.40 RSA Chase

Another to go to trends, and I was on the hat-trick. A confident wager on Cooldine never had a moment's worry. Cruised through, won easily to give Messrs. Walsh (R) and Mullins (WP) doubles.

Horner Woods was a massive shout for Gavin's guide followers, grabbing the silver medal at a fat 66/1, while Massini's Maguire did the decent thing and obliged place punters by staying on gutsily rather than strongly for bronze.

Placepot again double legged, with the winner and the third.

3.20 Champion Chase

Not a betting proposition, unless you're Harry Findlay or JP McManus, or fancied a place wager. Master Minded was too good, and - whilst not nearly so impressive as last year (the premature Marodima causing two false starts would not have helped) - he was still way too good for the rest.

The 'poursuivants' were led home by the brittle Well Chief, a most frustrating creature: bags of talent, legs of glass. At ten years young, despite the lack of miles on the tachometer, his chance looks to have gone.

Petit Robin survived a howitzer of a blunder to plug on for third, with former winner Newmill gallantly belying odds of 100/1 in 4th.

Briareus took a tired fall when on the retreat, but both Big Zeb and Twist Magic look like they need extra schooling. Both have become habitual tumblers, which is fine if you're a circus performer but less ok when your vocation is 'sprint' chasing.

Scotsirish was as close as I got to a 25/1 place (for my 100/1 each way ticket), finishing 5th at a nibbled 40/1.

No placepot worries as Master Minded stood up, and duly obliged.

4.00 Coral Cup

A ferociously competitive affair this one, and one in which I'd taken a view. Mirage Dore was a strong trends horse, and I hit it hard win only. Naturally, he got going too late and finished a length second. I could blame the jockey at this point, and I'm sure Mr McCoy would have won on the animal.

However, in Rose's defence, any other jockey probably would not, as the winner, Ninetieth Minute, looked to be saving a bit and might have been value for a length or two more than the official distance.

Incidentally, having backed Kempes (named after Argentinian World Cup winning captain of 1978), I'msingingtheblues (for Chelsea fans everywhere), and United (to redress the Reds balance), I really should have backed Ninetieth Minute!

The Polomoche appears to be a morning glory horse, and fair play to his trainer - the honest, no frills and ever so slightly loquacious Nicky Henderson - for saying as much.

Honourable mentions to Pause And Clause who finished third as a novice, and Kawagino, a horse whose proximity to the winner in Champion Hurdles and high class handicaps has deserved better. He finished fifth here (good enough for two grand in prize money to add to the £74k he's already won) at 66/1. He may never win the decent contest he deserves.

From my five in the placepot, I was grateful to Rosey for her podium finish, and four chances in the 'lucky' last.

4.40 Fred Winter Juvenile Novices' Handicap Hurdle

A stats busting winner, as Silk Affair - lugging just 10-04 - danced past the heavyweights to record a clear success. In behind, the next five home all carried 10-13 or more, suggesting this race is still one to look toward the top of the handicap for the likely winner.

Ski Sunday, a late sub for Simarian on my ticket when the latter was withdrawn, saved the placepot bacon. Alas for me - though not for a majority of placepot wagerers (including Gavin's guide followers, who copped the pot for the second day running) - the 5/2 favourite hung on for 4th place from the closing 5th horse (Indian Groom at 33/1).

Had those placings been reversed, the £753.20 dividend, of which I had 80p, may well have been triple that. No matter, for a return of £602.56 is not to be sniffed at.

Another decent punt on Amore Mio went west, when this one was about the first beaten (at least it wasn't my four grand each way, one of the recorded bets on this beastie). Not a great ride, but the horse clearly didn't fancy it today.

5.15 Champion Bumper

The seventh puzzle of the day looked one of the trickiest. Unless of course you backed facile winner, Dunguib. The time was quick, the form looks bulletproof, and this is a serious horse for the future. Assuming he can jump, he could be a Gold Cup winner in due course. If he can't, he might win an Ascot Gold Cup!

My choice, Shinrock Paddy, was another who suffered an amateurish ride from an amateur rider. He would have had no chance if ridden by Merlin McCoy, so no complaints here.

A great day's sport, and happily back in front again. So what of tomorrow?

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********

1.30 Jewson Novices' Handicap Chase

Just four previous runnings, so limited evidence to base trends on. However, all four winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out (indeed, such previous race form has been responsible for two podium clean sweeps and a further 1-2). Let's lose anything that didn't at least run-up last time.

All four winners were 7yo's, and the last three were officially rated 133-135, and carried either 10-11 or 10-12. Hard to be categorical, but I think we should be siding with a horse aged 6 or 7 (8yo+ 0 from 25), carrying enough weight to suggest a touch of class but not so much that he is bogged down (let's go with 10-09 to 11-00, and official rating of 131 to 137).

This brings us to Pancake, The Vicar, Exmoor Ranger and Slash And Burn.

Of these, clear preference is for The Vicar, who I take to (dog) collar his rivals (groan).

Selection: The Vicar

Placepot: The Vicar, Pancake, Exmoor Ranger, Slash And Burn (could be an early bath!)

2.05 Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle

You need a horse with strong recent form, as with all of the handicap hurdles at the Festival. Eight of the last 13 winners were coming here off the back of a win and, given that less than a fifth of the runners in those 13 renewals could say that, it's a strong stat.

Indeed, amazingly, there are only three last time out winners in the field: P'tit Fute, Kayf Aramis, and Synchronised.

It's tough for horses to carry big weights in any of the handicaps at the Festival (with the exception of the Fred Winter, which is akin to a flat nursery, where topweights habitually do well), and only one winner here carried more than 11-02 in the last ten years.

This puts me off P'tit Fute. Synchronised comes from the twice successful Jonjo O'Neill stable and is owned by the twice successful JP McManus - he looks nailed on for a big run and is a pretty bullish selection in an apparently wide open contest.

Indeed, the race he won last time out was won last year by... Pertemps Final winner, Ballyfitz!

Selection: Synchronised

Placepot: Synchronised, Kayf Aramis, Buena Vista, Pennek

2.40 Ryanair Chase

Another of the new races, just fours evidence to help. Still, we're looking for a former Cheltenham winner (as all four had been), and perhaps a horse with form in the two big early season handicap chases (Paddy Power Gold Cup) and the Boylesports (meeting abandoned this season).

Nothing bigger than 9/2 has won, so perhaps we shouldn't look too far down the odds boards. Paul Nicholls has won two of the four contests, including with a 6yo (Taranis), so the 6yo Nicholls entry Gwanako could be interesting.

Although last season's winner, Our Vic, is now eleven years young, the other three winners were 9 (twice) and 10 (Vic last season), so I couldn't discount him on age.

But it's Voy Por Ustedes that catches the eye. He absolutely oozed class when sauntering home at Ascot last time; and he's won at the Festival on his only two starts here, both in Grade 1 company (Arkle and Champion Chase).

My only slight reservation is his stamina, which could be tested in a true run race. Nevertheless, he remains the probable winner but not one I'll be steaming into.

Imperial Commander and Tidal Bay are both capable of winning at their best, but have become perhaps a little in and out.

Selection: Voy Por Ustedes, Gwanako (e/w)

Placepot: Voy Por Ustedes, Gwanako, Our Vic

3.20 World Hurdle

My bet of the meeting runs in this race. Regular readers will know that this has proven the kiss of death for many a star turn. No matter, for I am not superstitious, and don't believe that by sharing my confidence the horse's chance is any way undermined. (Think about it, such a feeling would be counterintuitive and - frankly - a bit preposterous!).

So, there you go. Kasbah Bliss to win. Ok, let's look a little closer at the race:

Form: Kasbah was 2nd to the mighty Inglis Drever in last year's race, was a close fourth in a Group 1 flat race at Longchamp in October, murdered the (admittedly second division) opposition at Haydock on his most recent start. Timeform top rated.

Trends: 6-8yo; Irish have a shocking record; first five in the market have monopolised the payout places for the last four years.

He's a 5/4 shot, and he does have to beat Punchestowns, who is readily preferred to Big Bucks, but he had any amount in hand at Haydock and, as a 7yo, is still on the upgrade. Punchestowns is also progressive, but in three runs here, has only won once and that in a Class 3 handicap. This clearly is a different kettle of kippers.

Selection: Kasbah Bliss (nap)

Placepot: Kasbah Bliss (obviously, bankers are designed to finished fourth...!)

4.00 Freddie Williams Festival Plate

Named in honour of one of the big layers at the track, you may know this race by its previous name, the Mildmay of Flete Handicap Chase. There are some strong patterns in this race, thus:

- just one winning favourite in 7 years, so let's spread our outlay over a few rag-tag nags

- Frenchies have been 1st or 2nd in the last nine renewals

- Ignoring last season's race, only two other horses have won carrying more than 10-09 in weight

- 15 of 17 winners had run previously at Cheltenham in March (at the Festival)

- Only one Irish winner since in over 50 years (!)

The only horse that ticks all of these boxes is Le Burf. He's been in the frame on 7 of 9 chase starts and comes here seeking a hat-trick. There are likely to be worse 33/1 shots this week.

I'll support him with some without Cheltenham Festival form, in the shape of Something Wells (33/1), Or Bleu (20/1) and Oceanos des Obeaux (22/1).

Although he doesn't tick trends boxes, look out for Ferdy Murphy's Three Mirrors, who has been threatening a big run for ages.

Selection: Le Burf (e/w), Something Wells (e/w), Or Bleu (e/w), Oceanos des Obeaux (e/w)

Placepot: Le Burf, Something Wells, Or Bleu, Oceanos des Obeaux, Three Mirrors(five choices and certainly no guarantee of making the last leg...!)

4.40 Kim Muir Handicap Chase

Another tough race to finish, the placepot should be worth having if we can get it. Especially as our financial fate is trusted to the sh-amateur riders again. Let's embrace the 'opportunity'.

We'll look to horses aged 8-10, rated less than 130. There's not been an Irish winner for quarter of a century, so they're out. Nicky Henderson has won the race three times, and twice since 2002 (he's also had the runner-up twice), so his Shouldhavehadthat is interesting. He's piloted by the capable Sam Waley-Cohen, who has won a number of Festival races, including the National Hunt Chase today.

In a race to dodge rather than savour, it's fitting that I look to a horse with the dreaded Timeform 'squiggle' (denoting unreliability). Step forward, Bowleaze, probably named after a cove in Weymouth (close to where I'm from), and trained by Dorset duo, Mr Robert and Mrs Sally Alner. I know it's sentimental and all the rest of it, but there really wouldn't be a dry eye in the house if Sally could pull this off for her recuperating hubby, who was so terribly injured in a car crash last year.

Le Duc is another 'squiggle with a squeak', and is added to the placepot perm. I'll be looking for an eye-popping ride from Mr I Popham!

I'll also chuck in Pretty Star, and the rank outsider Without A Doubt (about whom I have many doubts!).

Selection: Shouldhavehadthat

Placepot: Shouldhavehadthat, Bowleaze, Le Duc, Pretty Star, Without A Doubt

Perm: 1200 x 10p = £120

Wish me luck!

Matt

Cheltenham World Hurdle: Bliss For Kasbah?

The World Hurdle, dear reader, was formerly known as the Stayer's Hurdle. Why? Because it's for horses with stamina, natch! Run over 3m, a new champion will be crowned this year, due to the absence of three time winner, Inglis Drever.

Who will fill the considerable void left by that venerable veteran? Let's use some statistics to have a look...

There are 23 possible starters, though I reckon no more than 16 will actually line up.

- Gavin's Cheltenham Trends Book's killer stat is that the last 21 winners finished in the first 4 last time out. This eliminates nine, including Afsoun, Blazing Bailey, Mighty Man and Hardy Eustace.

- Aside from the Drever last season, this has been monopolised by 6-8 year olds. We'll lose another two (Lough Derg and Powerstation, probably both headed for handicaps anyway)

- This is a terrible race for the Irish with no winner for 14 years. Five more bite the dust, including Aitmatov and Catch Me.

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Seven left now: Big Bucks, Duc de Regniere, Fair Along, Kasbah Bliss, Mobaasher, Punchestowns, and Tazbar.

Alas, this list includes six of the first seven in the betting!

- Lightly raced sorts have it, with all ten of the last winners running thrice or less that season prior to Cheltenham. Duc de R, and the valiant Fair Along are overexposed for the season.

- Again, thanks to Gavin's Cheltenham guide for this stat: the last eight winners were 1st or 2nd on all runs that season. Big Bucks (unseated), Mobaasher (3rd), and Tazbar (5th and 3rd) fail this stat.

So, that leaves us with Kasbah Bliss and Punchestowns, the favourite and second favourite. This is heartening, given that the winner has come from the top four in the betting for each of the last eight runnings.

Kasbah Bliss laughed at some decent rivals last time out, and was the only one to make a race of it with Inglis Drever in the corresponding event last year. Punchestowns has been beaten in two of his three Cheltenham starts, and I confidently take Kasbah to add to Francois Doumen's excellent race record (2 wins, 3 places, from 9 runners in recent seasons).

11/8 may not be everyone's cup of tea, but I believe this horse to be a real star and still improving. Bar a fall? He's my nap of the meeting... and I reckon he'll be odds on come March 12th.

Matt