Day two of the Cheltenham Festival with the highlight of the day being the Champion Chase featuring Douvan, Altior and Min.
1.30 – Cheltenham – Wednesday 14th March 2018:
Ballymore Novices´ Hurdle (Registered As Baring Bingham Novices´ Hurdle) Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+):
Distance: 2 miles 5 furlongs on the Old Course.
The Neptune Novice Hurdle is open to Novice Hurdlers of four years and upwards and is afforded Grade One status. It has a habit of producing classier horses than either the Supreme or the Triumph. Unlike the Supreme this race tends to be run at a steadier pace and suits speedier types who settle rather than stayers at the trip. It’s a race where the classier types tend to prevail and those toward the fore of the market are the best angle into the race. This race has been an excellent trial for the Champion Hurdle. Given they tend to go relatively steady this race is not suited to keen types who are better off in the Supreme. A speedy type who has shown high class Novice form is the ideal type.
10 year key trends:
The last 10 winners were aged 5 or 6.
The last ten winners were rated within 9Ib of the RPR top rated.
9 of the last 10 winners started their career in Irish Points or Bumpers.
9 of the last 10 winners had an adjusted RPR of at least 152.
9 of the last 10 winners had won at least half of their hurdle races
8 of the last 10 winners scored over at least 20 furlongs.
8 of the last 10 winners finished first or second on all completed starts over hurdles.
8 of the last 10 winners won a Graded hurdle.
7 of the last 10 winners had run at least 3 times over hurdles.
4 of the last 10 winners were trained by Willie Mullins.
3 of the last ten favourites have been successful and during that period only one winner has started bigger than 7/1.
Other trends to consider:
Over the past decade the top two according to BHA ratings are 7 from 22.
The front 5 in the market are 15 from 90 in the last 16 renewals.
5 of the last 8 winners began life in an Irish Point.
13 winners since 2000 have gone off at 17/2 or shorter.
12 winners this century won their previous race.
Challow hurdle winners are 0 from 16.
In the last 18 renewals horses aged 7+ are 0 from 52.
Horses that began on the flat are 0 from 29 in the past 12 renewals.
Key races include the Grade 2 Classic Novices’ Hurdle over an extended 20 furlongs here at the Trials meeting in January, and the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle at Sandown the same month.
Day 2 kicks off with the appearance of the ‘second coming’ in the shape of unbeaten Irish Novice Samcro. He has been visually impressive so far and the form of all three of his victories over hurdles have plenty of substance. What’s frightening is that the majority of his racing so far has been on testing ground and he is bred to be suited by faster conditions. He has won a three mile Point and been successful from 16-20 furlongs over hurdles. He has started odds on for all seven of his starts and that pattern will continue here. He jumps, travels, has speed, a change of gears and stays so he doesn’t seem to have any chinks in his armour. Officially he only has five pounds in hand of Black Op and Next Destination but your eyes tell you that the gap is bigger than that and will probably get bigger. He has yet to race outside Ireland and the Cheltenham Hill will be a new experience but he has travelled over well according to connections and it’s hard to imagine a stiff finish leading to his downfall. Odds on favourites are not commonplace at this Festival but they rarely represent much value and it’s often worth taking them on, if only for the fact that they make the market for the opposition. If there is any slight negative regarding Samcro it’s that he has yet to come off the bridle in any of his races over hurdles. That may well be the case again but, if he does, not every horse reacts generously or predictably when pressure is applied.
The one horse in opposition who arguably has the most potential for improvement is the Willie Mullins second string, Duc Des Genievres. He has just his fourth start over hurdles and he was chucked in at the deep end by his Trainer on his first two starts for him. He finished a four length third to stablemate Next Destination on his debut over 20 furlongs in January on the back of a 246 day break and followed that with a five and a half length second to Samcro dropping back to two miles the following month. Both of those races were at Grade One level in testing ground. He obviously has work to do if he is to reverse form with either of his conquerors but he promises to be well suited by this stiffer test of stamina. This is not a race which is normally run at a frenetic gallop but there is plenty of pace in this race and, the faster they go, the more it will suit Duc Des Genievres.
Black Op is the best of the home contingent on form but, at a bigger price (still fifth in the market), preference is for Vision Des Flos. He beat Hollowgraphic in a Bumper on his debut in Ireland after which he was an expensive purchase and sent to Colin Tizzard. After placing on his hurdling debut in a Grade Two on good ground at Chepstow in October he took backward steps on his next two starts, over this C/D in November and over an extended 19 furlongs at Hereford in December. That would’ve been disappointing to connections and he was duly sent for wind Surgery. That seemed to work the oracle because he subsequently ran out a facile winner at Exeter in heavy ground over 17 furlongs in the first time tongue tie. The form as it stands is nothing special but it was visually impressive and he could be open to all manner of improvement now he steps back up to a trip more in accordance with his breeding.
Selections: (outlay – 3 pts)
Duc Des Genievres – 0.75 pts e/w. Available at 14/1. (Betfair365 – 1/4 odds first 3)
Vision Des Flos – 0.75 pts e/w. Available at 16/1. (Bet365 – 1/4 odds first 3)
2.10 – Cheltenham – Wednesday 14th March 2018:
RSA Chase (Grade 1) (CLASS 1) (5yo+):
Distance: Three miles half furlong on the Old Course.
The RSA is afforded Grade One status and is open to Novice Chasers of five years old and upwards. The introduction of the JLT and the opening up of the four miler has led to field sizes shrinking in the RSA and it’s not as attritional as it once was. However horses still need to jump and stay well.
10 year key trends:
The last 10 winners did not run on the flat.
The last 10 winners had a top three finish last time out.
The last 10 winners contested a Graded Chase, seven won.
9 of the last 10 winners had an adjusted RPR of at least 160
9 of the last 10 winners had 6 to 12 hurdle and chase runs.
9 of the last 10 winners had run at least 3 times over fences.
9 of the last 10 winners last ran between 24 and 53 days ago
8 of the last 10 winners were aged seven.
8 of the last 10 winners were rated within 10Ib of RPR top rated (only one was top rated)
Other trends to consider:
9 of the last 12 winners had won their previous start.
All 10 runners this century to have recorded a RPR >160 over hurdles has been beaten.
Only 1 winner in the last 50 years hadn’t run in the calendar year.
Since 2000 horses unbeaten over fences are 2 from 28.
4 of the last 9 winners had run in the Flogas Chase.
5 of the last 11 favourites have won.
In the last 26 renewals horses in headgear are 0 from 23.
In the last 16 renewals horses that hadn’t contested a Graded Chase are 0 from 43.
8 winners had previously run at the Festival.
RSA winners tend to have a short career over hurdles, typically spending just the one season over the smaller obstacles. Horses that were earmarked as Chasers at an early stage tend to improve past those that spent an extended spell over hurdles. Graded form in Novice Chases is important. Horses need to have been in the heat of battle with good class horses prior to running in this race. It used to pay to ignore those with high hurdle ratings in favour of the slow maturing type that never showed much over hurdles and had been trained with a Chasing career specifically in mind, but the landscape is changing. None of the first six winners this century earned a RPR over hurdles above 134 but six of the last eleven winners had a hurdles RPR above 150. What hasn’t changed is the length of time RSA winners spend over hurdles. Only four winners this century had run in a hurdle race during more than one season. Winners of this race don’t see Chasing as something they do once they have reached their peak over hurdles but use their hurdling careers for experience before doing what they were bred for. Given that the typical winner has a short career over hurdles it follows that to get battle hardened, horses need to acquire plenty of experience over fences. The only Trainers to buck that trend have been Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson. Only one horse (Don Poli two years ago) in more than 50 years has won this race without having a run in the calendar year. It used to be rare for RSA winners to have had previous Festival experience but six of the last eight winners had run over hurdles at a previous Festival. Stamina for the trip is important but it’s not uncommon for horses to come into the race having only raced over shorter. 3 of the last 12 winners hadn’t run beyond 21 furlongs prior to being successful in this race. Proven jumping ability is important and only two winners in the past twelve years had previously fallen or unseated in a Chase. Five year olds are opposable now that they receive just two pounds but none from that age group line up this season. Graded form is important and seven of the last nine winners had run in a Grade One chase. Key trails include the Grade One Neville Hotels Novice Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, the Grade One Flogas Novice Chase at the same track in February, the Reynoldstown Novices’ Chase at Ascot in February and the Grade Two Fuller’s London Pride Novices’ Chase at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting.
It’s been 25 years since a horse who spent two full seasons over hurdles has won this race. That’s a stat which favorite, Presenting Percy, has to over come if he is to prevail here. Plenty of experience of jumping fences at pace in good races is normally a requirement of an RSA winner. In four starts over fences Presenting Percy has run in Graded affairs twice and has been beaten on each occasion. He had a harder race than ideal when losing out to Our Duke in the Red Mills at Gowran Park last time out and there’s a chance that may have left it’s mark. He will be suited by the return to three miles and, back in Novice company, he should be a major force. There’s no doubting his class but he’s begging to be taken on at his current price.
One of the stories of the season has been the rise of Black Corton under Bryony Frost and nobody would begrudge them victory here. The horse seems to respond to any task put in front of him and he will not go down for the want of trying. He has only been beaten once since last July and that was when narrowly losing out to Elegant Escape giving him three pounds. His eight length defeat of Ms Parfois over three miles at Ascot last time out was advertised by the runner up yesterday and a horse with his attitude deserves his place in a Championship race. It’s debatable whether he has the necessary class to win but he keeps on defying his doubters and you wouldn’t put it past him to do it again. Along with Monalee he is the only Grade One winner in the field and he is 2 from 2 at Cheltenham.
Monalee showed bravery in spades to come back from a nasty fall in a Grade One Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas and win the Flogas, making all, over 21 furlongs. He has won a three mile hurdle in heavy ground but he can over-race and he won’t get home if he demonstrates that trait here. There is not an obvious abundance of pace in this race and a moderately run affair in the prevailing conditions will not suit. He is probably the class act in the field but he may be undone by a stronger stayer.
Both Dounikos and Al Boom Photo have been dropping big hints that a test of this nature could suit. Al Boum Photo, after falling at Limerick on Boxing day, again made errors when narrowly failing to pick up Monalee in the Flogas. With a cleaner round of jumping he would be a danger to all here. Of the two, Dounikos is the safer conveyance over his fences and, although he needs to improve to win this, he has done so in his three starts as a chaser so far. He promises to be well suited by today’s step up in trip. He has proved to a much better Chaser than hurdler and that’s a trait many previous RSA winners have demonstrated.
Ballyoptic, like Presenting Percy, also spent two full seasons over hurdles which is a negative. He is still rated higher over hurdles than he is over fences and his jumping sometimes lacks fluency. Elegant Escape has proved much better over fences and he has the sort of progressive profile that it’s difficult not to like. He is a strong stayer and also had the four mile race on his agenda at this Festival. That begs the question whether he will have the basic speed for this.
Presenting Percy represents no value at his current price and a chance is taken that conditions will enable Elegant Escape to get competitive. He may lack the class of some of his opposition but he is progressive, tough and has a profile akin to many previous winners. Dounikos is also progressive and this stiffer test of stamina could unlock further improvement.
Selection: (outlay – 2.75 pts)
Dounikos – 1.5 pts win. Available at 8/1. (Generally available)
Elegant Escape – 1.25 pts win. Available at 10/1. (Generally available)
2.50 – Cheltenham – Wednesday 14th March 2018:
Coral Cup (A Handicap Hurdle) Grade 3 (CLASS 1) (4yo+):
Distance: 2 miles 5 furlongs on the Old Course.
The Coral Cup is a grade three handicap run over 21 furlongs and is open to horses four years and upwards.This is fiendishly competitive and, with a field of 26, there are likely to be more than a few hard luck stories. This is becoming a classy limited handicap favouring the better horses toward the top of the handicap. Winners more often than not come here in good form. In common with many Festival handicaps the mark required to get into the race is stiff nowadays, being mid to late 130’s in recent seasons.
10 year key Trends:
9 of the last 10 winners had not run in the previous 32 days.
9 of the last 10 winners won a race earlier in the season, five won last time out.
9 of the last 10 winners had no more than four runs that season
9 of the last 10 winners had no more than nine runs over hurdles.
8 of the last 10 winners had won between 18 and 22 furlongs over hurdles.
8 of the last 10 winners were Officially Rated 135 to 149.
8 of the last 10 winners were aged 5-7.
7 of the last 10 winners carried no more than 11st 3Ib.
Other trends to consider:
7 of the last 14 winners prepped in a Conditions race.
10 of the last 13 winners were second season hurdlers.
This century 9 winners were stepping up to 21 furlongs for the first time.
11 of the last 12 winners came from the first seven in the market.
7 of the last 9 winners came from the top 8 in the weights.
Willie Mullins hasn’t had a top two finish from 24 entries.
Only 4 winners this century had run at the festival before.
2004 was the last time a winner had previously won a Graded race.
Horses in headgear are 2 from 128.
This race has never been won by a first season Novice.
This handicap is very competitive and contains too many potential winners to list in detail so analysis will be confined to those horses selected for backing purposes.
Mount Mews has been performing well in Novice Chases this year but reverts back to hurdles from a three pound lower mark than when not beaten far in a Listed handicap at Newbury back in December. He wasn’t out of the first two in a five race Novice Hurdle campaign last season, a sequence that saw him win a Grade Two at Kelso and finish second in a Grade One at Aintree. They came over shorter trips but he has shown in his last two races over fences that he stays three miles so he has a good blend of both speed and stamina. This intermediate trip in testing ground in a well run race could be what he needs to bring out the best of him. He is normally held up off the pace and such tactics could leave him a hostage to fortune in a field of this size but his top Jockey has already shown his effectiveness at delivering a horse for a late challenge at this Festival. He has a few negative stats to overcome. Winning this race after winning a previous Graded race has not been achieved since 2004 and only one winner in the past decade has come into this race on the back of less than 32 days rest.
Selection: (outlay – 3 pts)
Mount Mews – 1.5 pts e/w. Available at 11/1. (Coral – 1/5 odds first 7)
3.30 – Cheltenham – Wednesday 14th March 2018:
Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+):
Distance: Two miles on the Old Course.
The highlight of day two, The Queen Mother Champion Chase is a Grade One Chase run over two miles and is open to horses five years and upwards.who have been allocated a mark of 130 or above by the BHA Handicapper. It is the ultimate test of jumping at top speed. Having the speed to go the gallop and the ability to quicken off that gallop in the latter stages are just two of the important assets required to win this race. Bold jumping at speed with very little or no error is just as important. It’s a myth that this race is won by 20 furlong horses, true 20 furlong horses are unlikely to be able to lay up with the pace of genuine two milers.
10 year key trends:
The last 10 winners all won over at least 17 furlongs
The last 10 winners all had at least 7 runs over fences.
The last ten winners all had an adjusted RPR of at least 170.
9 of the last 10 winners were all rated within 9Ib off the RPR top rated
9 of the last 10 winners had won a Grade One Chase
8 of the last 10 winners were aged 9 or younger.
7 of the last 10 winners won a Graded Chase last time out.
Other trends to consider:
The previous year’s Arkle winners are 5 from 9 this century.
The shortest priced second season chaser has won 8 renewals this century.
Last time out winners are 8 from 38 in the past 12 renewals.
Since 2000 there have been 13 winners who have gone off at 5/1 or shorter.
11 winners this century started from the first 2 in the market.
10 winners this century were in their second season over fences.
10 winners this century had won a race previously at the Festival.
11 winners this century were in front turning into the straight.
Since 1993 only 1 winner has gone off bigger than 11/1.
Only 1 of the last 11 winners had won a Chase beyond 18 furlongs, other than a Beginner Chase.
The dominance of speed horses is reflected by the form. 15 of the last 23 winners had never won any Chase over further than 18 furlongs and none of the last ten had won a Chase beyond 18 furlongs outside Novice company. Those that race up with the pace are favoured, fast horses that jump well don’t stop and it’s rare for a winner not to be in a challenging position coming down the hill. Given the importance of speed it’s not surprising that older horses have struggled.Only three winners aged older than 9 have won this race since 1998 but two of those have been in the last two renewals. 44 other horses aged ten and older have tried this century and all have been beaten. Big priced winners are rare but only 7 of the last 24 winners have started favourite. The previous season’s two mile Grade One Chases at the Festival are a good guide, the Arkle being the best of them. Key trials include the Betfair Tingle Creek Chase over two miles at Sandown in December, the Grade One Paddy Power ‘So Quick, So Easy iPhone App’ Chase over 17 furlongs at Leopardstown over Christmas, The Sodexo Clarence House Chase over 17 furlongs at Ascot in January, The Betfair Price Rush Game spirit Chase at Newbury in February, the Grade Two williamhill.com Desert Orchard Chase at Kempton in December, and the Grade Two Tied Cottage Chase at Punchestown in January.
The long awaited meeting of Altior and Douvan finally takes place. Add into the mix Min and you have a race to savour. However it’s not a race that’s of interest from a betting perspective.
4.10 – Cheltenham – Wednesday 14th March 2018:
Glenfarclas Handicap Chase (A Cross Country Chase) (CLASS 2) (5yo+):
Distance: 3 miles 7 furlongs on the Cross Country Course.
10 year key trends:
The last 10 winners had all won over at least three miles.
8 of the last 10 winners were trained in Ireland.
7 of the last 10 winners had won or been placed in a Cross-Country race at Cheltenham or Punchestown.
7 of the last 10 winners had run at least 13 times over fences.
6 of the last 10 winners had finished in the first four in their last completed start.
Other trends to consider:
8 winners had shown their best form over conventional fences at an extended three miles or shorter.
9 winners on the day cane from the front 3 in the market.
Every winner had run at least 3 times under Rules that season.
8 winners have been aged 10+, four were aged 12+.
5 of the last 9 winners had been off the track since Christmas.
Horses having their first run in a Cross-Country race are 1 from 53.
All 13 horses aged 7 or younger have finished outside the top 3.
Enda Bolger is 0 from 23 in the last 8 renewals.
Paul Nicholls is 0 from 16.
Willie Mullins is 0 from 12.
This has never been a race we have had a strong opinion on and we will do what we always do, sit it out and just enjoy the spectacle.
4.50 – Cheltenham – Wednesday 14th March 2018.
Boodles Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle Grade 3 (CLASS 1) (4yo).
Distance: 2 miles half a furlong on the Old Course
The Fred Winter Handicap Hurdle is a Grade Three handicap open to four year olds only. Another big field affair which is no easier than the Coral Cup for punters. First run in 2005 a horse has to have a minimum of three runs before it can qualify for this race. This is a bit of a lottery with five of the last six winners going off at 40/1, 25/1, 33/1, 25/1, 33/1. A field of 22 very lightly raced four year olds that have been campaigned with their handicap mark in mind means this is a very difficult race to assess. There is no rating ceiling for this race but the presence of the Triumph Hurdle means it is effectively a 0-145 handicap.
10 year key trends:
9 of the last 10 winners were Officially Rated 125 to 134.
9 of the last 10 winners had a top three finish in at least one of their last two starts.
8 of the last 10 winners had lost their maiden tag over hurdles.
7 of the last 10 winners had won at least one of their last two starts.
7 of the last 10 winners were Sired by a Group One winner on the flat.
6 of the last 10 winners had been beaten in their first two starts over hurdles.
Other trends to consider:
5 of the last 6 winners have gone off at 25/1 or bigger.
2 of the 5 penalised runners have won.
6 winners had run against their elders.
The 3 Irish trained winners had all contested a Grade One or Grade two last time out.
No winner had previously run at Cheltenham.
No winner has defied a mark higher than 134.
Only 2 winners had previously run in a Handicap Hurdle.
None of Willie Mullins’ 12 runners have been placed in the first 5.
4 of the 5 winners who had run on the flat had earned an RPR of at least 87.
4 winners were french-bred.
Juvenile form tends to be overrated compared with all aged novice hurdle form. Juveniles that have been running against their elders could get themselves well handicapped. 6 of the 13 winners so far had run over hurdles outside Juvenile company. It’s in the Juvenile events that the form is hard for the assessor to get a handle on. Horses that have run most or all of their races in France are amongst the most difficult to handicap. Only two of the thirteen winners had previously run in a handicap. 4 winners so far have sported headgear. The first 10 renewals were won by different trainers and there has been a mix of wins for both small and big yards. Paul Nicholls has targeted this race in recent seasons and he had the first two home in 205 and 2016. The Fred Winter isn’t the kind of race where it pays to take too much notice of where a horse is prepped.
As stated earlier, analysis will only be done for those selected for backing purposes in these large field competitive affairs.
The King Of May makes just his second start for current connections after finishing third of the five runners, beaten nearly seven lengths, at Musselburgh last month. The winner was a leading fancy for the Triumph Hurdle until injury intervened and the second, Act Of Valour, was just over two lengths in front and re-opposes on five pound worse terms here. That should bring them closer together but of more importance was the suggestion that The King Of may have needed that first outing. Based on that effort an opening mark of 128 looks very reasonable. He has the potential for much more for a yard who went very close in this race last season.
Oxford Blu has a few negative stats to overcome having already run in a handicap and falling short of the flat ability of previous winners but this stiffer test of stamina looks likely to suit. He was a stout stayer on the flat and has proven himself in testing conditions. Having run out a facile winner on his hurdling debut he was disappointing on his next two starts but he may have had his excuses. A slowly run race did for him at Wetherby in January and front running may not have suited him the time before at Fontwell. Whatever the reasons he put those efforts behind him when narrowly going down in a handicap at Market Rasen last time out. He was doing his best work late on over that sharp extended two miles and this track is likely to see him in a much better light. The booking of Richard Johnson, who has finished in the first two in 30 of his 57 rides for the stable takes the eye. He has been on board for the horses’ two best efforts over hurdles and was absent for the two lesser performances.
Nube Negra has won two of his three starts over hurdles in convincing fashion and was only beaten by Apple’s Shakira in between. He was probably flattered to get within three and a half lengths of his conqueror but there was five lengths back to the third, Knight Destroyer, who re-opposes here on eight pounds better terms. An opening mark of 135 looks harsh but he gives the impression he is capable of far more than he has shown so far and it looks worth taking the risk that he can find the improvement necessary. It’s one pound higher than any previous winner has defied but he is likely to handle the conditions and he falls into the ‘could be anything’ category.
Selections: (Outlay – 3.5 pts)
The King Of May – 1 pt win. Available at 12/1. (Bet365)
Nuba Negra – 1 pt win. Available at 12/1. (Paddy power, Betfair, Boylesports, Betvictor)
Oxford Blu – 0.75 pts e/w. Available at 18/1. (Marathonbet 1/4 odds first 5)
5.30 – Cheltenham – Wednesday 14th March 2018:
Weatherbys Champion Bumper (A Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race) Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4-6yo):
Distance: Two miles half a furlong on the Old Course.
Ten year key trends:
The last 10 winners all won last time out.
9 of the last 10 winners were aged 5 or 6.
8 of the last 10 winners had adjusted RPR’s of at least 126 (exceptions being Willie Mullins once raced winners)
8 of the last 10 winners had been off the track for at least 32 days.
7 of the last 10 winners had won a Bumper with at least 13 runners.
7 of the last 10 winners had won a Bumper worth at least £4000/4000 euros)
Other trends to consider:
9 of the last 16 winners ran in a Point or a Bumper the previous season.
7 winners this century hadn’t run in the calendar year.
8 winners this century were from the front three in the market
14 of the last 25 winners (including 6 of the last 7) had been in a Bumper or a Point.
15 winners this century made their racecourse debut in Ireland.
11 of the last 15 winners had run 3 or 4 times in Points/Bumpers.
12 winners this century were bred in Ireland.
Only 2 of the last 25 winners were beaten on their previous start.
Gigginstown, Nicky Henderson and Paul Nicholls don’t target this race.
4 year olds are 1 from 54 this century.
It’s almost impossible to tell which of these is likely to show the most improvement. Late market moves, especially in respect of the Irish challengers, are worth noting but it’s a race that’s best watched for future reference. It invariably produces top quality future hurdlers/chasers even among those to finish down the field.