Form Guru – 13th March

FORM GURU – CHELTENHAM DAY 1
 
Ante-Post bets and daily bets can be seen here during the Festival: http://www.theinsiderail.co.uk/db/
 
This is in case we have any email issues, which can happen with the volume we send out during Cheltenham. Anyone who hasn’t looked at Richard’s Early Service Previews from yesterday, they are well worth a read (nearly 25,000 words) and contain some selections.
 
The first day of the Cheltenham Festival and ground conditions are softer than they have been for just over two decades.
 
1.30 – Cheltenham – Tuesday 13th March 2018:
Sky Bet Supreme Novices´ Hurdle Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+):
Distance: 2 miles half a furlong on the old course.
The traditional curtain raiser to the Festival run over the same distance as the Champion Hurdle and open to Novices four years old and upwards. Runners are required to jump eight flights and the race is noted for it’s fast pace.
10 year key trends:
9 of the last 10 winners had won at least 50% of their hurdle starts.
9 of the last 10 winners had run within the last 59 days.
8 of the last 10 winners won last time out.
8 of the last 10 winners had previously contested a Graded race, seven won.
8 of the last 10 winners were rated within eight pounds of the RPR top rated, only 2 winners were top rated.
7 of the last 10 winners started their career in Bumpers, earning an RPR of at least 110.
3 of the last 10 winners had previously run in the Champion Bumper.
Other trends to consider:
 
Willie Mullins has a 5 from 36 record.
3 of the last 4 winners were BHA top rated.
The last 9 winners had run in at least 4 hurdle races
7 of the last 16 winners had contested a Graded Bumper at Cheltenham, Aintree or Punchestown the previous Spring.
10 of the last 16 winners had contested a Grade One hurdle, five had won.
Ireland has won 15 times in the past 27 years.
Of the last 10 Irish winners, seven were the most fancied.
Since 2000 there have only been two winners aged seven or older.
Only 2 of the last 15 winners were unbeaten over hurdles.
Only 3 of the last 21 winners were beaten on their previous start.
In the past 26 years no horse has won in headgear, 34 have tried.
Horses given noticeable hold-up rides have only won 4 of the last 21 renewals.
Short priced favourites (3/1 or less) have a 4 from 21 record.
Analysis:
Backing horses in this race just because they are the highest BHA rated coming into the event has not always been a good strategy but it has produced three of the last four winners. One of those one was a favourite and one a joint favourite. Prior to that many of those top rated were backed into favouritism and failed at short prices. In a race such as this where most are very unexposed it may not be the horse that has produced the best form so far that produces the best performance on the day. The Irish have won 15 of the last 27 renewals of this race and, in recent seasons, it has been their main hope according to the market which has prevailed. Winners of top class Novice races invariably need a prep run and the trends for the Supreme support that theory. Only one winner in the past decade was absent for more than 59 days. Last time out winners have featured prominently in the winners enclosure of the vast majority of recent renewals and over half of those have won their two previous races. This is a race where it doesn’t normally pay to be held up. An ability to travel, race prominently, stay and jump proficiently are normally assets that give a horse it’s best chance. Younger improving horses are obviously suited to this race so it’s not surprising that since 1990 there have been eleven five year old winners and twelve six year old winners. The races which have been the best pointers to the winners of this race are the previous season’s Champion Bumper, The Delottie Hurdle at Leopardstown, The Royal Bond Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse, and The EBF Novices hurdle at this track. A race that seems to throw up horses that do not fare well in the Supreme Is the SkyBet Novices race here in November.
Given his record of winning this race five times and having saddled at least one horse to finish in the first two in the past five seasons the first port of call has to be Willie Mullins, in particular his most fancied runner. Not surprisingly it also happens to be the market leader, Getabird, who comes into the race having won all four starts, two over hurdles. An ex-Irish point winner, he made his debut over hurdles over 20 furlongs at Punchestown in heavy ground suggesting that he was seen as a stayer. In his early days at the yard the subsequently injured pair, Sayar and Annamix, were seen as sharper types. However Getabird was dropped back to two miles for his last start and his dispatching of the ex-flat horse Mengli Khan, getting six pounds, was both emphatic and visually impressive. He seemed to quicken up that day with the minimum of urging from his rider and seemed to prove that he has the pace for a race such as the Supreme. The proximity of Mengli Khan to those behind him does suggest that he was not at his best but that shouldn’t detract from the winners performance, such was the ease of his victory. Testing conditions can only help his cause having proven his ability to stay further and this could be the year where the ‘speedier’ types struggle. Being a short-priced favourite the stats are against him and there are a few notable negatives that he has to overcome. He doesn’t have the best conformation which makes him a fragile horse who doesn’t take much hard training. As such he comes into this race with less experience over hurdles than a typical winner and is right on the cusp of the preferable less than 59 day rest. This is also only his second attempt on a left handed a track and the first resulted in him running out in a Point race at the second obstacle. More of a worry are the rumours that his latest work has not been up to his best. It doesn’t take many negatives about a horse at a short price in a race of this nature to have you looking for alternatives.
Kalashnikov has shown that he is tough and his attitude off the bridle will always be an asset in Championship races. He eventually ran out an easy winner when he reverted to handicap company to win the Betfair Hurdle but he has few questions to answer. Prior to his victory in the Betfair connections had voiced their concerns concerning the soft ground and, although he overcame those fears, doing it against Graded performers proven in the condiitons is a different scenario compared to handicappers. He came off the bridle a long way from home and he could find it difficult to lay up with the faster horses here, even though he will probably be cutting their advantage back in the latter stages. His five races to date have come on galloping tracks, most of them flat, and this track poses a different problem. His racing style doesn’t suggest a ‘sharper’ track will suit and there are more than a few who may not be stopping fast enough for him to get his head in front.
Paloma Blue has improved with each of his four starts over hurdles and he set his stall out for this when finishing third at Leopardstown last time out. Despite running freely he was only overhauled in the latter stages by Samcro and Duc Des Genievres. He is said to prefer better ground but he has handled testing conditions adequately so far and he will get plenty of assistance from the saddle. He has been keen in a few of his races so the likely decent pace of this race could help in that respect and his prominent racing style has proved to be an advantage in the majority of recent renewals.
First Flow has arrived late on the scene, mainly due to ground conditions. He has proved a better horse over hurdles than he was a bumper horse, winning all three starts over the smaller obstacles. They all came in testing ground and culminated in a Grade Two victory in a race which has produced some good quality winners. However this year’s renewal hasn’t worked out well and First Flow’s presence here almost seems an afterthought. He is progressive and it’s difficult to know where the ceiling of his ability actually is but he will do well to win a race he doesn’t seem to have been aimed at.
Summerville Boy hasn’t been seen since winning at Sandown in early January and that means he come into this race on the back of a longer break than ideal. That last win was a four length victory over Kalishnikov and he showed a good attitude when he was put under pressure. Kalashnikov has improved since but there’s every possibility that Summerville Boy could do likewise and he has the added advantage of having experience of this track. He had excuses for two earlier defeats but he was seen in a different light given a true gallop and he is likely to get that here. His hurdling technique is one area where he needs to find some improvement but it’s unlikely that fact has been lost on his Trainer and he will have been well schooled since his last start.
Those to have been disappointing last time out include Claimintakinforgan, Sharjah and Slate House but each of them could get competitive if they resumed earlier progress. Mengli Khan was well beaten by Getabird last time out but a six pound pull and his Trainer’s knack of producing a horse to perform at his best when it matters means he cannot be written off. Western Ryder could do well of those at very big prices having run well in last season’s Bumper.
Summary:
Getabird will be on many ‘banker lists’ but the latest vibes from the yard have to be a concern. He could win this in a hack canter but he makes little appeal at 2/1 or less. Kalashnikov has some of the best form on offer. He is tough but it’s debatable whether this course will suit, he has the requisite pace and has the class to beat proven Graded performers in these conditions. First Flow is very progressive and conditions have come in his favour but the fact he wasn’t originally aimed at this race raises the question whether connections really believe he is good enough to win. Paloma Blue may have enough inherent ability to be involved, despite apparently having a preference for better ground, but slight preference is for Summerville Boy. His hold-up style isn’t suited to this race but the likely generous gallop will be to his liking and his attitude and potential for improvement make him appealing at his current price.
Selection: (Outlay – 1.5 pts)
 
Summerville Boy – 1.5 pts win. Available at 8/1. (Unibet, Sportingbet, 888Sport) or 7/1 ( Money back as a free bet if selection loses – Skybet (£20 Max)).
 
 
 
 
2.10 – Cheltenham – Tuesday 13th March 2018:
Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+):
Distance: 2 miles on the old course.
The Arkle is a chase open to Novices of five years and upwards run over two miles and is classed as their Championship race. It is normally highly competitive and to win a horse needs to be able to jump well at speed. Many good quality Novices over fences, and previously hurdles, have failed this test.
10 year key trends:
All 10 winners in the last decade have finished in the first two in all completed starts.
9 of the last 10 winners achieved a hurdle rating of at least 153.
9 of the last 10 winners started at no bigger than 8/1.
9 of the last 10 winners were aged six or seven.
9 of the last 10 winners were within six pounds of the RPR top rated (7 were top rated).
8 of the last 10 winners had three to five previous Chase runs (the other two had fewer).
Since the abolition of the weight for age allowance five year olds are 0 from 5 in the past decade.
Other trends to consider:
 
Since 2000 there have been 13 winners who won last time out, including the last eight.
13 of the last 16 winners had won a Grade 1 or Grade 2 Chase.
Since 2000 there have only been 5 runners to have had one start over fences, two of them won.
In the past 12 years horses that began their career on the flat are 0 from 28.
Only one winner has gone off greater than 9/1 in the last 17 years.
Only one winner this century has worn headgear (a hood).
12 of the last 13 runners to have represented Paul Nicholls have been unplaced.
Analysis:
 
This is not a race for those that fell short at the top level over hurdles. An ability to jump fences at a sustained high pace is of paramount importance and even small mistakes can put paid to a horses chances. This race tends to be dominated by a formerly high class hurdler who spent just the one season over the smaller obstacles. Previous experience is not always an asset as, of the five horses to have taken part after a sole start over fences this century, two have won. Class nearly always rises to the top in this race and the introduction of the JLT has made surprises in this division even more unlikely.
This year’s affair has, for one reason or another, cut up badly resulting in just five runners going to post. Those with A/P bets on any of the runners find themselves in an enviable position but, understandably, any value in the market has now been squeezed out and it makes very little appeal as a betting medium. On faster ground Footpad may have been one to oppose but his chances have been enhanced by the softening conditions. He is the class act here and the one to beat  but it’s a race to watch for us.
Selection – No Bet.
2.50 – Cheltenham – Tuesday 13th March 2018:
Ultima Business Solutions Handicap Chase Grade 3 (CLASS 1) (5yo+):
Distance: 3 miles half a furlong on the old course.
10 year key trends:
9 of the last 10 winners were aged 7-9.
9 of the last 10 winners ran no more than five times that season.
8 of the last 10 winners were Officially rated 132-148.
8 of the last 10 winners won over at least three miles.
8 of the last 10 winners had no more than 11 runs over fences.
8 of the last 10 winners had a top three finish on either or both of their last two starts
7 of the last 10 winners carried no more than 11st 3lb.
4 of the past 10 winners have been first season Chasers.
Other trends to consider:
 
The last six winners have all sported some sort of headgear.
Since 2000 there have been 13 winners from the first five in the betting.
10 of the last 17 winners were rated >140.
Every winner since 2000 has recorded their best RPR over an extended 23 furlongs or further.
14 of the 17 winners this century were in their first (4) or second season (10) chasing.
Horses ridden from off the pace have a good record.
Only 1 of the last 9 winners hadn’t run at the Festival before.
Only four winners since 2000 have gone off bigger than 11/1.
There hasn’t been a winner this century who hadn’t previously run over three miles plus.
Analysis:
 
Traditionally the first handicap run at the Festival. It’s open to horses five years old and upwards and is often used as a trial for the Grand National so it’s wise to be aware of horses being potentially aimed at that specific target. This is a demanding test of stamina due to the large field often leading to a fast pace as horses seek a good early position. Horses held up tend to do well. Thirteen winners this century have come from the first five in the market but in that time there has only been one winning favourite and only two in the last 32 renewals. Only eight of the races this century have had 23 or 24 runners and in three of those there were big priced winners (28/1, 33/1 and 50/1). This handicap lends itself to unexposed types. Prior to 2004 a Novice Chaser hadn’t won this race for nearly 40 years but Fork Lightning broke that trend and since then there have been four more. This century ten winners have been second season Chasers and eight of the last ten had run nine of less times over fences. Former Festival winning form has been in the resume of three of the last nine winners. The last six winners have all worn some sort of headgear and that has been the case in seven of the last nine winners. Only one of those seven winners was sporting headgear for the first time so it’s a race where a horse shouldn’t be excluded just because he is wearing blinkers, a visor, a hood, cheekpieces or a combination. Jonjo O’Neill (in particular) and Alan King are Trainers to note from these shores while the Irish, although not particularly targeting this race, have done well with the few runners they have entered and Tony Martin is one to keep an eye on from the Emerald Isle. It’s been a graveyard for Paul Nicholls who has had nineteen runners with only two placing. Proven stamina is a big asset with all seventeen winners this century having run over at least three miles, four of them had run over four miles. All seventeen had recorded their best RPR over an extended 23 furlongs or further. The Cleeve Hurdle over three miles on Cheltenham Trials day in January and the Sodexo Gold Cup Chase at Ascot in October have proved to the best trials for this race.
Analysis for the Festival handicaps will be confined to those horses which are selected for backing purposes.
Vintage Clouds wouldn’t be the best handicapped horse in the race and he certainly wouldn’t be the fastest. However he is very honest and he will see out every yard of today’s trip. His Achilles Heel has often been his jumping but when he does get it right he normally produces a performance of note. He has only won one of his eleven starts over fences but he was still in there pitching when coming down two out last season. He is running from a seven pound higher mark this year but this isn’t as good as last year’s renewal and he will be partnered by his regular jockey this time. His four best performances over fences have all come in his four outings this season, three of them in heavy ground. He fits many of the trends of a typical winner and, if he is in touch going into the latter stages, there won’t be many finishing better.
Selection: (Outlay – 3 pts)
Vintage Clouds – 1.5 pts e/w. Available at 8/1. (Generally available – 1/5 odds first 5)
 
 
3.30 – Cheltenham – Tuesday 13th March 2018.
Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+).
Distance – Two miles half a furlong on the old course.
The first of the four major races at the Festival, the Champion Hurdle is open to horses of four years old and upwards who have been allocated a rating of 130 or more.

10 year key trends:

 
The last 10 winners had an adjusted RPR of at least 163.
The last 10 winners were rated within eight pounds of the RPR top rated.
9 of the last 10 winners had no more than 12 starts over hurdles.
9 of the last 10 winners had won a Grade One Hurdle.
8 of the last 10 winners were aged between six and eight.
8 of the last 10 winners had run within the past 51 days.
7 of the last 10 winners won last time out.
7 of the last 10 winners had a Topspeed figure of at least 151.
Other trends to consider:
 
8 winners this century went off 9/1 or bigger.
12 of the last 19 winners were trained in Ireland.
Since 1995 five year olds are 1 from 100.
All 27 horses aged 10+ to have run since 1981 have been beaten.
4 of the last 14 winners made nearly all the running.
Horses unbeaten in handicaps that season are 3 from 26 this century.
Analysis:
This race normally doesn’t bear much resemblance to the Trials which are usually steadily run small field affairs. Horses need to have the ability to quicken off a fast gallop and it’s not surprising that the form book in this race sometimes go out of the window. Previous Cheltenham Festival form has been a bigger asset in this race than most other Festival races and upsets are more common in this race than either of the other three Championship races. Only two horses since 1992 have won this race without winning a Graded race prior to the Festival. Five year olds have an appalling record in this race with only one winning from 100 entries since 1985, but in recent seasons there have been a number who have placed. Horses that started their career on the flat have won 13 of the last 22 renewals, including 6 of the last 11. Surprisingly, given the normal fast pace of this race, prominent racers fare well. Key races to note are the previous season’s Champion Hurdle, Neptune Novices and Triumph Hurdle, The Ryanair Hurdle at Leopardstown, the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown, the Morgiana Hurdle at Punchestown, The Punchestown Champion Hurdle, the Hatton Grace at Fairyhouse, the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, The Fighting fifth at Newcastle, The Kingwell at Wincanton and the International Hurdle at Cheltenham.
We were fortunate to support Buveur D’Air Ante-Post last season and his classy win plus four successes since have seen the layers running for cover. His only defeat in 10 starts over hurdles came in the red hot Supreme Novices’ of 2016 won by Altior. Testing conditions are no barrier to his success and the only slight chink in his armour is his lack of a racing edge, having won all three starts this season without coming off the bridle. He seemed to race lazily last time out but he’s likely to be perked up by this better opposition and he is going to be very difficult to beat.
If Faugheen were back to his best then he would set a very high standard and he could even bustle up the favourite were he to repeat his victory in the Morgiana at Punchestown in November. However he hasn’t shown the same level of form in two starts since. He was pulled up in the Grade One Ryanair at Christmas and, although producing a solid effort in the Irish Champion Hurdle, he was readily beaten by a horse who is much better over further. Connections haven’t been radiating positivity and the fitting of the cheekpieces, an unusual move for this Trainer, seems to suggest that Faugheen hasn’t been setting the gallops alight. He has won both his races at the Festival, including this one in 2015, but the return to this venue and the spring climate will need to revitalise him to a significant degree if he is to get competitive with the favourite.
 
My Tent Or Yours has been an admirable servant. He has been second in four of the five Festivals he has competed in, including three previous renewals of this race. He is now an eleven year old but showed when winning his first race for four years on his reappearance here in December that there is no major sign of regression. He has won on soft but his best performances have tended to come on quicker ground. Given his record at this meeting he is likely to give his running and that could still be good enough to gain a place in a race which lacks much depth.
The enigma which is Yorkhill rocks up here and it’s anyone’s guess what he will produce. What cannot be disputed is the quality he showed in winning on both his previous visits to this meeting (winning the Ballymore in 2016 and the JLT Chase in 2017). He has stacks of inherent ability but he doesn’t always harness it in the right direction. He comes into the race without having run over hurdles for almost two years and having shown nothing in two outings over fences this season. It may be no coincidence that his best performances have come under Ruby Walsh and his absence could mean this task is beyond him.
There aren’t many horses who have won a Grade One over hurdles and a Group One on the flat but Wicklow Brave has. He hasn’t been seen since finishing in midfield in the Melbourne Cup last November. He came into last season’s race without having raced over hurdles for 17 months and, given he chucked away any chance he had at the start of the race he did quite well to get within 15 lengths of Buveur D’Air. His form in winning the Punchestown Champion Hurdle in first time blinkers last April puts him within hailing distance of the favourite but, although he handles testing conditions, quicker ground would’ve inconvenienced many of his rivals rather than him. The blinkers are re-fitted and it wouldn’t be the biggest surprise were he to run well.
Based on this season’s form it takes a leap of faith to support Melon. It’s not hard to make excuses for his three average performances in this campaign because they all came on soft ground, something he hadn’t encountered in previous starts. He was also said to resent the hood last time out and that’s disposed with today. He is bred to appreciate a quicker surface and that’s not something he is going to get here. He has the ability and probably the potential to get competitive but there’s the nagging doubt that there will be more than a few who handle conditions better than him. He was a good second in the Supreme last season on just his second start over hurdles and that experience will hold him in good stead.
Elgin was well beaten in the Supreme last season and started this campaign in handicap company. Having progressed in four starts in that sphere he took in the Grade Two Kingwell hurdle at Wincanton last time and ran out a two and half length winner giving Ch’tibelo four pounds. He has improved 21 pounds this season and he may be capable of better yet. He will need to be if he is to get competitive with the best of these but his current rating is higher than the second, fourth and sixth place finishers in last season’s race so he more than deserves his place in the field. He has a C/D win to his name and has proved to be versatile regarding ground conditions so far.
Of the others Mick Jazz has produced a Grade One winning performance and the tongue tie/blinker combination are applied for the first time in two and half years. He could run well but he has ground to make up with both Faugheen and Melon, even on this season’s form
Summary:
Buveur D’Air is by a fair way the most likely winner of this race unless Faugheen returns to former glories. That looks a tough ask at ten years old. Yorkhill has the ability to outrun his odds but he isn’t currently a betting proposition. It looks doubtful that any of the others have the current ability or enough potential for improvement to beat the favourite. That only leaves two places for e/w purposes if the ‘without favourite’ market is ignored. If there is one horse who is likely to run his race then it’s Elgin and he comes here on an upward curve. He may not be good enough but he is a big price and look worth a small investment.
Selection: (outlay – 1.5 pts)
Elgin –  0.75 pts e/w. Available at 20/1. (Betfair, Sportingbet).
4.10 – Cheltenham – Tuesday 13th March 2018:
OLBG Mares´ Hurdle (Registered As The David Nicholson Mares´ Hurdle Race) Grade 2 (CLASS 1) (4yo+)
Distance: 2 miles 4 furlongs on the Old Course.
Now one of two races at the Festival restricted to Mares (four years and upwards) and was elevated to Grade One status three seasons ago.
10 year key trends:
 
The 10 previous winners had a top three finish in a Grade One or Grade Two hurdle.
The 10 previous winners had at least nine career starts.
9 of the previous 10 winners had an adjusted RPR of 156.
8 of the previous 10 winners won last time out.
8 of the previous 10 winners were trained by Willie Mullins.
7 of the previous 10 winners were favourites
Other trends to consider:
 
Bar Quevega all four winners had between 3 and five starts that season and had run within the last 52 days.
7 winners had finished in the first two at the Festival the previous year.
Only the first winner of this race came from outside the first three in the betting.
No winner began their career on the flat.
Horses in headgear are 0 from 23.
Nine of the last ten renewals have seen a horse priced 16/1 or bigger finish in the frame.
Analysis:
 
This race looks at the mercy of last season’s winner Apples Jade. She has been beating the Geldings this season and, back against her own sex, she looks a class apart. She only has 4 pounds in hand on La Bague Au Roi on Official Ratings but she is eleven pounds and upwards better than the rest using the same figures. Having beaten the classy pair of Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag in last season’s race she has improved since and seemingly faces an easier task this time round. She hasn’t been out of the first two in 14 starts over hurdles and doesn’t look to have any weaknesses that her opposition can exploit. If there is one it’s her absence since December. She has been below her best when fresh a few times in the past but it was her trainer’s choice not to have a prep. run this time and he’s not one to lose a Championship race on account of fitness.
Benie Des Dieux is the second favourite having won all three of his races over fences since coming from Ireland. She is a very good jumper of fences but she is rated 147 both over hurdles and fences and that leaves her something to find with La Bague Au Roi. The ground is in her favour but her current price probably owes much to her Trainer/Jockey who have a good record in this race.
La Bague Au Roi has improved over three miles recently but the prevailing conditions have persuaded connections to go for this race rather than the more difficult option of the Stayers. A winner of seven of her nine races she has a very likeable progressive profile and her stamina could be a valuable asset if she has the basic speed to lay up in this grade. She is a better Mare than she was when tackling Grade One company last April and, although normally seen on faster ground, she has coped with soft conditions on the two occasions she has encountered them. A rating of 150 or above has seen 16 of 21 Mares either win or place in this race. Only the favourite and La Bague Au Roi qualify in this field.
Of the others Kayf Grace has some untapped potential and Jer’s Girl is capable of making the frame on a going day.
Summary:
 
This is not a race that holds much interest for us but the market continues to underestimate La Bague Au Roi. She has her work cut out to beat the favourite but it’s not impossible and it will be disappointing if she can’t at least make the frame. Bet365 have her at 7/1 (1/4 odds first 3) and that just about persuades us to back her e/w.
Selection: (outlay – 3 pts)
 
La Bague Au Roi – 1.5 pts e/w. Available at 7/1. (Bet365 – 1/4 odds first 3)
 
 
 
 
4.50 – Cheltenham – Tuesday 13th March 2018:
National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup (Amateur Riders´ Novices´ Chase) (Grade Two) (CLASS 1) (5yo+ )
Distance: Four miles on the Old Course.
The longest race at the Festival and one which is re-inventing itself after alterations in recent years. The penalties were removed in 2010 making this a level weights contest and it is now targeted by classy novices and Grade One form has infiltrated the form books in recent seasons. The restriction of not allowing winning hurdlers to take part was removed in 2002. Experience has proved a valuable asset  and a good jockey can mean the difference between winning and losing. The race was elevated to Grade Two status last season
10 year key trends:
 
The last 10 winners had run at least three times over fences.
The last 10 winners had a hurdles RPR of at least 118
The last 10 winners had finished first or second in a chase over at least three miles.
9 of the last 10 winners had a top five finish last time out.
9 of the last 10 winners had a top three finish on either or both of last two starts.
8 of the last 10 winners had won over at least three miles, be it hurdles or chases.
7 of the last 10 winners were aged seven or eight.
Other trends to consider:
 
Derek O’Connor has 2 wins and 4 places from 12 rides.
J.P. McManus has owned six winners.
7 of the last 8 winners at level weights  had run in a Chase by the end of October
5 of the 8 winners at level weights were in the top three on Official Ratings.
6 of the 8 winners at level weights came from the first five in the market.
Only one of the 8 winners at level weights hadn’t contested a Graded race.
No horse this century has won having less than three Chase runs.
Neither Nicky Henderson or Paul Nicholls have saddled a winner.
5 of the last 16 winners wore headgear.
The three winners from 2008-2010 had adjusted RPR’s of 135-145. The last seven were 154-163.
Analysis:
 
Since the change in race conditions the better horses have come to the fore. Horses that get into a good jumping rhythm and are prepared to battle in the latter stages are the types required in a race of this attritional nature. That lends itself to horses with plenty of Chasing experience and an early start in the season over fences is an advantage. In common with the Kim Muir the majority of horses will have been professionally ridden all season so the ability of the amateur on board has to be taken into account. Now the race is off level weights, the better horses are favoured and these attract the top amateurs. Three of the last seven favourites have won and three of the other winners were in the first four in the betting. The three that won were also top rated and the other four held Official Ratings in the top four. Under the current format six of the last eight winners had run in a Grade One or Grade Two Chase. Previous form at the Festival didn’t use to be important but that has changed since 2010 with five of the last eight winners having previous form at this Festival. As the quality of the race has improved and the penalties for winning races removed, last time out winners have done well. Four out of the last eight winners won on their previous start  but they did represent around a third of the runners. No winner this century had run beyond 29 furlongs over fences and only 2 had run beyond 26 furlongs. Assessing a horse’s potential to stay this trip is obviously crucial when trying to find the winner and the eyes are a better indication than the form book in this respect. 5 winners in the past 16 years sported blinkers or cheekpieces and none of them were wearing them for the first time. Certain trainers target this race whereas others seem to have little interest in it. Paul Nicholls has had many fancied runners but his record is 0 from 18 and only one of them placed. Willie Mullins likes to plot a horse up for this race for his son Patrick and Alan King has also done well in recent seasons. J.P McManus was winning this race for the sixth time when Minella Rocco wonin 2016. Key races include the Neville Hotels Novice race (Grade One) at Leopardstown over Christmas, the Kauto Star Novices’ Chase (Grade One) at Kempton on Boxing Day, the mallardjewellers.com Novices’ Chase at Cheltenham in November.
Ms Parfois is the only mare in the race but the seven pounds allowance she gets from her male counterparts could prove valuable. Progressive over hurdles last season, her improvement after switching to fences for this campaign has been even more marked. She is a fine stamp of a horse who gives the impression she will stay as far as you want her to. She can get worked up in the preliminaries and used to sweat during her races but that hasn’t been the case in her recent starts. She seems to be maturing and she doesn’t lack strength. She has limited experience of big fields but six of her seven victories have come in soft or heavy ground so conditions here will hold no fears. She comes into the race on the back of two career bests and has the assistance of a very experienced and competent Amateur. He has a 22% strike rate over fences for Paul Nicholls (5 from 23) and a 3 from 6 record on Harry Fry’s Chasers.
Selection: (outlay – 1.5 pts)
Ms Parfois – 1.5 pts win. Available at 7/1. (Ladbrokes, Coral, Betfair, Paddy Power, Boylesports) 
 
 
 
 
5.30 – Cheltenham – Tuesday 13th March 2018.
Close Brothers Novices´ Handicap Chase (Listed Race) (CLASS 1) (5yo+ 0-145).
Distance: Two miles four and a half furlongs on the Old Course.
The compression of the weights in Festival Handicaps is very evident in this race. Since 2011, when the JLT was introduced, the race has been over the extended two miles on the Old course. Prior to that (with the exception of 2008) the race had been over 21 furlongs on the stiffer New course so the emphasis on stamina is not as great as it used to be. Of greater significance was the ceiling rating of 140 that was introduced at the same time which has led to the aforementioned compression of the weights. The ceiling has been raised this year to 145 but it still means that only eight pounds separates the top and bottom weights.  Now that a mark in the 130’s is normally required to run in a Festival Handicap there is a very good chance that this will become a very limited handicap in the foreseeable future. This causes big headaches for the Irish trainers who face their horses being reassessed by the British handicapper and being either too high to qualify or too low to get in.
Ten year key trends:
 
The last 10 winners have been officially rated 132-142.
9 of the last 10 winners had a top three finish on their last completed start.
8 of the last 10 winners had won over at least 18 furlongs.
8 of the last 10 winners carried no more than 11st 8Ib.
7 of the last 10 winners were aged six or seven.
6 of the last 10 winners had finished in the first four in all completed starts over fences.
Other Trends to consider:
 
10 of the 13 winners have come from the first five in the betting.
12 of the 13 winners had run in the previous 45 days.
The last 2 winners had contested a Graded race.
4 of the last 6 winners were giving their Trainer their first Festival win.
No winner had won a Chase under rules over further than an extended 21 furlongs.
Only two winners have gone off bigger than 12/1.
4 winners had fallen at least once over fences.
4 winners ran over hurdles at a previous Festival.
3 winners had hurdle RPR’s of at least 140, 3 in the 130’s and two in the 120’s.
Analysis:
A field of 19 Novices wouldn’t normally be a reliable betting medium but 11 of the 13 winners have gone off 12/1 or shorter and were in the first five in the betting. This has been a good race for the smaller yards and J.P. McManus owned horses are to be noted. This is a race that has been dominated by the British horses and Maidens often perform well; their numbers are on the increase and plenty have been placed (two have won). Horses wearing first time headgear have a good place record, many at very big prices. Trial races of note are thin on the ground but include the Timeform Novices’ Handicap Chase on Trials day here in January and the Betbright Steeple Chase (Handicap) at Kempton in February.
This looks likely to be run at a decent pace with several horses present who like to lead. Given that pace scenario it’s likely that those held up off the early pace could come to the fore in the latter stages. The two that appeal most are Mister Whitaker and Le Rocher. Mister Whitaker makes his fifth start over fences here having won two of his previous four starts, including a Novice Handicap over 21 furlongs here last time out. That was his first encounter with soft ground and he gave the impression he won with a bit up his sleeve. The horse he beat into second is a reliable yardstick to judge the form upon. His subsequent eight pound rise in the weights has seen him creep into the bottom of this handicap and he looks a potentially significant improver. The booking of Brian Hughes who has a 28% strike rate on the yard’s Chasers is a positive one and the partnership are likely to make their move late on.
Le Rocher is a bigger price than a typical winner and lies eighth in the current betting list. He lost his unbeaten record over fences on his fourth start last time out when he made a race-ending blunder at the second last. He has only faced eleven rivals in total in his Chases to date but his Trainer is adamant he likes the hustle and bustle of horses around him so this is a scenario that won’t faze him if that’s the case. He makes his handicap debut from a mark of 144 and that looks manageable on the balance of his form without factoring in progression. His best performances have all come on soft or heavy ground and Tom Scudamore, who has partnered in all his starts as a Chaser, is retained. The yard are well capable of having a big priced winner at this venue as a very profitable 11% strike rate testifies.
Selections: (outlay – 3 pts)
 
Mister Whitaker – 1.5 pts win. Available at 8/1. (Betfair, Sportingbet)
 
Le Rocher – 0.75 pts e/w. Available at 16/1. (Ladbrokes, Sunbets, Boylesports – 1/5 odds first 5)