Six Trainers and the Cheltenham Open Meeting

Something of a round up post today, dear reader, as I have an apology to make; a glimpse into the future; and a comment or two on the weekend Williefication...

First, an apology. On Friday afternoon, Gold users experienced issues accessing the race cards and form tools. The reason for this was a million to one double whammy which compounded to knock the server which houses all of our data over.

Specifically, we were testing some heavy load traffic at precisely the same time that our (excellent award-winning) web hosting company were having an (extremely rare) issue with 'load balancing'. The problem was exacerbated by the fact that our load testing should have been happening on a different machine entirely but, due to a cock up our end, the traffic got routed to the 'live' box.

Blah blah technical blah. Long and short, it was partly our fault and partly out of our hands, but it is wholly unacceptable. As a result, we are looking into having a 'fail over' setup: a different box which is ready to step in if things go quonky on the main one.

We take uptime, i.e. your ability to access the Gold content when you want/need to, super seriously. And incidents like Friday are keenly embarrassing and frustrating for me personally. We will work harder to ensure reliability is a given for Gold subscribers. If you were trying to access the cards, tools and reports during those 90 minutes on Friday afternoon, I'm really sorry for the inconvenience that outage would have caused.

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Onwards from there, and you will have noticed that, over the last couple of weeks, the site has had a bit of a spruce up. It is looking much more polished and professional whilst still housing the same great content from a growing team of high class writers.

We've also changed the font (the look of the lettering) to make it, hopefully, more legible. That has led to a bit of a contrast with the racecard fonts, so we've been testing a new look on those.

When we first changed the racecard font in test, I found it a bit hard to get my head around (having spent over three years looking at the current lettering). But within a couple of days, I preferred the new style we're using on test. Now, a few more days later, it looks weird to see the old font and I'm actually using the test site to find my bets!

But that's me. And our community is not a dictatorship. So here's what I'm proposing. Some time in the next 24 hours, we'll amend the fonts on the racecards, reports, etc. We'll leave the revisions there for a week or so, and then I'll ask for your feedback. If you prefer the new style, we'll keep it. If you prefer the old style, we'll go with that. Ultimately, this won't please everyone perfectly - that's life - but we will go with what the majority favour.

Here's a sneak peek ahead so you can see what we're going to be doing (click the images to view full size).

Now, to the weekend racing. A big weekend of Cheltenham trials was on the cards, and it went largely only one way: the way of Willie, as Nigel Keeling observed here.

This Mullins domination has a lot of people vexed, on both sides of the bookmakers' counter - at least if Twitter is to be believed. Casually scrolling through my timeline last night, I found:

- Bookies bemoaning the glut of shorties and the pounding they (the bookies) would inevitably take

- Punters whining that there is nothing for them to go at because of the Closutton machines

- A perception that "the glorious uncertainty" has become "the inglorious certainty"

Let's take a moment to ponder this.

Yes, Douvan won a three horse race against horses priced before the race at 33/1 and 66/1 for his Cheltenham target. So he did what he should have done - in emphatic, taking style, granted.

Yes, Faugheen beat Arctic Fire and Nichols Canyon in a manner predicted in my Champion Hurdle preview. Arctic Fire usurped Nichols Canyon as suggested, with the former likely to be much better suited by better ground at Cheltenham.

Yes, Vroum Vroum Mag won easily in a mares' race at Ascot, where the places were filled by 33/1 and 40/1 shots. That suggests the most likely rivals on prior evidence under-performed maybe?

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And yes, Un De Sceaux won the Clarence House at Ascot, beating a fully fit Sire De Grugy and a young upstart called Traffic Fluide by five lengths.

So what?

Douvan is now a similar price to that which Un De Sceaux was when he won last year's Arkle. But he has already had a few jumping issues, and he'll come under significantly more scrutiny from his peers in March. That's not to say he won't win - I think he probably will - but it's not the foregone conclusion being posited in many corners of the tweetosphere.

Faugheen faced his closest battle in last year's Champion Hurdle, and if the ground rides quicker, I think Arctic Fire - who probably needed it more than either of his main market rivals yesterday - can give the champ a race. There are also unexposed types like Identity Thief and, potentially, Camping Ground in the field come March.

Who knows where Vroum Vroum Mag goes next, or how good she is? What we do know is that, on her form so far, she hasn't done enough to win a World Hurdle nor even a Mares' Hurdle. Again, that's not to say she can't step forward enough to get one of those jobs done; but it's no fait accompli.

And Un De Sceaux continues to win whilst always leaving a suspicion that he can be beaten. That suspicion used to be that he could only beat himself, by horlicksing one or two; but he wasn't far clear of a largely middling field on Saturday and will face sterner challenges in the Champion Chase. Traffic Fluide is the big improver from the race, but those watching on wouldn't have been quaking in their metal shoes from what they witnessed.

As for the long absent Annie Power, she didn't win the Mares' Hurdle last year when coming into the race with race fitness on her side. And she may yet reroute to the World Hurdle, which she didn't win two years ago when coming into the race with race fitness on her side. She's one from three at Cheltenham, nought from two at the Festival, and still not a certainty to even line up.

Then there's Min in the Supreme Novices' Hurdle, the first race on Day One. He'll be facing a much different task at Cheltenham: different ground, a bigger field, different course constitution, a higher class and deeper field of rivals, and a massive crowd which could unsettle a fairly buzzy horse. He, like all the others above, may still win. May well still win. But he too is no certainty.

Here's the thing: if you think these are done deals, you can help yourself to 10/1 about Min, Douvan, Faugheen and Annie Power all winning their Day One targets. You can have better than 3/1 leaving Min off the slip; and you can still get around 6/4 for Douvan and Faugheen.

If you love them, there might be a sliver of value in those prices. If you don't then it's most of 10/1 bar whatever you fancy.

And that's the bottom line: you either think the hotpots are value/will win, or you don't. The fundamental concept remains the same. Punters have no problem backing 4/7 Manchester City to win, so why do people think they'll have an issue taking the same price on Faugheen.

Punters have no problem putting that 4/7 Manchester City in a multiple with 4/6 Arsenal and 11/8 Spurs. So why will they struggle to do the same at Cheltenham? Answer: they won't.

Bookies will be making some bold promotions based around Mullins multiples on Day One, knowing that they can get accounts loaded up and that, after the middle of Day Two, it gets bloody hard for punters.

Make no mistake, Cheltenham will be as tough this year as it ever has been. And, at the end of the day, if you really can't find a value case for or against those shorties, there are 23 other races to go at.

Let's celebrate these wonderful horses, mindful that it is at least 1/10 that an equine spanner will be hurled into the Mullins works at some point on Tuesday March 15th. And if we don't like to bet with them in the race, then let's bet without them.

I took some 3/1 Arctic Fire yesterday in the 'without Faugheen' market. He's a hold up horse who won't contend the pace, he loves Cheltenham and two miles, and he'll finish off his race better than most if not all of his rivals. If Faugheen wins, chapeau, and it makes no difference whatsoever to my bet. If he doesn't, maybe Arctic Fire will return on the win part of my each way bet as well. Or perhaps Identity Thief will surge over the top of both of them.

Bookmakers - and punters - need to start getting creative rather than painting themselves into a corner of fatalistic acceptance.

It's as compelling - perhaps more compelling - as/than ever. Lovely stuff! 🙂

Matt