Welcome to my Cheltenham guide for 2018!
A brief rundown on me if you haven’t come across me over the years. My name is Richard and I have been betting on horses since I was legally old enough (Almost 20 years ago!) though have always had a fascination with horse racing and the conundrum of breaking down a race to find the winner. I have been trialling systems since I was 13, keeping all the copies of my parents Daily Mirror to try and find correlations between form and the eventual winner. Whilst I am less into systems I do believe strongly in trends; repeat patterns happen for a reason many of the time. I also spend many hours studying the form of runners and races and have a very good idea as to what represents ‘value’. To me it takes many years of experience to get the value aspect into your head. Having seen thousands of races you do get a feel for when something is a good price or undervalued. This is what leads me now to providing profitable tips for this service and an additional income on a semi professional basis.
My Cheltenham previews has seen a great number of success stories in the past, none more so than when giving Western Warhorse to win the Arkle in 2014 at 100/1 (SP 33/1). A combination of trainer/jockey/owner along with previous history with the three led to me recommending a bet at a massive price which was richly rewarded.
Last year was the best yet with ante post winners at 20/1, 4 * 16/1 winners and a 14/1 winner. From 38.5pts stakes we returned 111pts giving a Return On Investment of 233.87%!
The value wasn’t just found early though as from my advice recommended the night before saw us stake 50.5pts with a return of 72.42pts, a more modest yet very acceptable 57.68%
If you have been following my selections previously you will already know that we have a few
handsome ante post bets, most notably:
Supreme – Kalashnikov @ 20/1 (Currently 5/1)
Arkle – Petit Mouchoir @ 12/1 (Currently 3/1)
Cross Country – Tiger Roll @ 14/1 (Currently 5/1)
Stayers – Supasundae @ 16/1 (Currently 5/1)
Foxhunters – Wonderful Charm @ 10/1 (Currently 6/1)
There are still plenty more races and winners to pick out, though I may recommend further bets in races we already have investments in. This is because that horse may no longer represent value in my eyes to recommend a bet at its current price but something else may do now, whether it be through trends or form study since.
This guide will run through the graded races at the Festival, the handicaps I will cover at a later date when we have a clearer idea what weights horses have and what races they will go for.
So, enough with the talk, lets find the winners!
Two mile hurdle race for novices kicks off the Festival which is usually run at a good gallop as the roar of the crowd gets the horses and jockeys adrenaline going whilst an early decline sees the horses build up plenty of speed. Key to this race in the past is experience. Not just in number of races but also in a high grade. The last 9 winners had all raced at least 4 times over hurdles, a fact which stood up last year when the once raced favourite could manage only second, whilst we head into this race with a favourite who has only been seen twice in hurdle races. However, Getabird as a Willie Mullins horse who won last time out and looks to be the main string according to betting then it looks to have a significant chance. In the 6 races the trainer has saddled a single figure price in the race amongst two or more entrants, it is the single figure horse who has always done best. All in all Getabird shapes as a favourite who looks to have a very solid chance though like last years runner up its lack of experience could be telling at the finish and therefore cannot be bet at the price. Saying that it did quicken in good fashion to beat a decent field last time and so could just be anything. Not really been the same vibes though like we heard about Vautour and Douvan prior to this race however.
We are in the fortunate position of already holding 20/1 with Kalashnikov from an ante post bet advised prior to its win in the Betfair Hurdle. Now clear 5/1 second favourite it seems to fit the trends very well. Generally you are looking for a horse that has won at least half of its hurdles runs, was a winner last time out and last ran within 59 days. It is that last fact that is the worry now for me. The Betfair hurdle was run on declared soft ground but it was clear how the field was strung out that the ground was bad and very hard work. Horses were struggling to gallop through it. It was an improvement in form, something it has done in every race to date and enough to put it top on Racing Post Ratings from the likely runners, ahead of Getabird. My concern is whether the horse will feel the effects of such a hard race just 31 days later. Normally three weeks is enough recovery time between races, however, a very hard race can leave a lasting impression that will stay with the horse throughout the season, just look at what happened to Bristol De Mai who never recovered from demolishing Cue Card at Haydock on heavy ground. The question we have to ask is whether Kalashnikov is capable of producing another performance as it did in the Betfair. It is quite possible with this years race not looking as strong as past renewals. Ballyandy when winning the Betfair hurdle ran to an RPR of 150 which is exactly what it matched when fourth to Labaik last year. Kalashnikov ran to an RPR of 153 so fractionally better but therefore not unreasonable to think it couldn’t produce a repeat performance which would surely be good enough for at least a place.
This is where the idea of value then comes in. In a stronger race Ballyandy went off as the 3/1 joint favourite. Kalashnikov is almost double that price yet has arguably more impressive form. Therefore that 5/1 could still be a price worth taking, especially if prepared to go e/w. Quite possibly the fact it is from a smaller yard could be why it is still a big price in that respect. There is also the argument though that the smaller yards don’t win races like this! However, its stallion Kalanisi has a good record at the Festival in 2m hurdle races, is a graded winner last time out who has won at least 50% of its hurdle starts and who is running within 59 days of last start. With also having four starts over hurdles to its name it is also the best fit for the race on trends. The biggest concern regarding trends is the history of last time out handicap runners going into graded races at Cheltenham. Of the last 100 graded races run 96 have been won by horses than ran in a non handicap last time out. Graded form seems so much stronger these days and plays a large part. On the positive side there are not many correlations between handicaps and graded races where they are closely matched. Taking all the non novice graded races at Cheltenham, you are looking at the best horses at that distance. Trainers would rather give their horses an easy run in generally uncompetitive graded races then stick it in a handicap where it would carry a lot of weight and have a much harder race. Slightly different with novices though as running in handicaps, often against older horses gives the novice a great learning experience. We saw it with Ballyandy last year who won the Betfair then was fourth in the Supreme. Kalashnikov is taking the same route though was rated higher going into the Betfair , won more convincingly and now goes into this race rated higher. I don’t see why it cannot go three places better and win.
Mengli Khan will be popular with some having been useful on the flat. However, I am happy to take it on at this level as I feel it was a horse who was always going to impress at a lower level if able to jump as it boasted some solid form on the flat on soft ground. Give it faster conditions and a bigger field and it should get found out.
If we rate the chances of Kalashnikov then we have to consider Summerville Boy for the race. This actually beat Kalashnikov in a grade 1 at Sandown by four lengths though admittedly it was on heavy ground. Does seem to relish those conditions and it is a concern that it fails on a couple of keys trends (11/11 won at least 50% of races & run within 59 days (10/11))
History of late tells us that it is worth taking on a Mullins favourite in the Supreme if it doesn’t boast the necessary experience to win a race like this. With that in mind the best bet is still Kalashnikov who is the only horse to fit the majority of the trends including the fact three of the last four winners had been clear top rated on official ratings (Kalashnikov 154 to Getabird 152) yet is still considerably bigger in price. Expect Kalashnikov to go off shorter. Doesn’t matter if you are on at 20/1, I suggest you invest some more at a good price.
1pt win Kalashnikov @ 5/1 widely available
Another race and another good price we have ante post in the 12/1 for Petit Mouchoir who is trading at a best price 3/1 for the race now. Unlike Kalashnikov above though I am not fully convinced on its chances and so am happy to add another bet to the portfolio.
Petit Mouchoir is out of Al Namix, whose progeny have a very disappointing record at the Festival. In fact they have yet to have a winner from the last 23 times to have visited and only three placers, including this horse in the Champion hurdle when third last year. Its lack of experience is a concern also with the season not going to plan having been injured after its first start of the season. Finally trends say that this race tends to go to a horse who won last time out. The last 8 winners all have a 1 on their most recent run. On the positive side it jumped really well when winning at Punchestown and it finished in front of the favourite three times over hurdles. Horses with an RPR over hurdles of 160+ are 8/16 in the last 16 runnings of the race with this horse being the best of these over hurdles.
Unusually, this year we could have four horses lining up who achieved an RPR of 159 or higher over hurdles last season, thus making Petit Mouchoir susceptible in a strong line-up. All four are in the first five of the betting with only Saint Calvados who hadn’t attained that level over hurdles spoiling the party.
Saint Calvados has an RPR equal to that of Footpad having won three small field novice chases on soft ground culminating in a grade 2 last time out. Has jumped well and looked to have plenty of speed, galloping its rivals into the ground from the front. However, with the ground likely to be quicker than it has faced and taking on some very fast horses I just can’t have it at the price in this field. It still has too much to prove though it will be fascinating to see.
The favourite is Footpad who is unbeaten over fences and rarely runs a bad race. Has jumped really well though having been 4/6f twice and 4/9f it seems hard to justify the 11/8 best price against such a high standard of opposition. Has been able to do what it wants in its three runs whereas here it will be a massive test. Could well win, fits the trends but the price just isn’t for me.
That leaves Brain Power and Sceau Royal from the five that dominate the betting. Brain Power I can quickly rule out though it will be one I will kick myself if it does win. Always had it down as a horse who was better going right handed which is why they have kept it to clockwise tracks this season. Failed to complete the last twice and hit the deck pretty hard when beat last time. However had impressed me a lot with the way it jumped first time up so am prepared to forgive it last time. Can’t forgive it on a left handed track though.
Since I have written this Sceau Royal has been declared a non runner. With that in mind I cannot recommend a bet in the race at this stage.
With Sceau Royal a non runner the market has tightened significantly and took one of the interesting aspects out of the race. Can’t have Saint Calvados considering its lack of hurdle form in comparison and determined that Brain Power is better right handed, the race looks between the front two in the market.
A race that looks at the mercy of Buveur D’air if it is able to reproduce anything close to what it is capable of. Fits all the trends and unlike many races it is possible for horses to follow up with another victory in this. Tipping up odds on shots though is firstly not my style and secondly is not what you want to read! It doesn’t take a genius to figure out it has the best chance of winning.
This race can be open to shocks though with 5 winners priced at 9/1 or bigger in the last 10 years (4 of the remaining 5 were won by the favourite) and given the nature of trials being steadily run affairs compared to the general strong pace of the Champion, it may pay to find a bit of e/w value against the favourite, especially if you find a big price that you can take advantage of the e/w terms in the without Buveur D’air market.
To do this though means to ignore all trends. Trends are largely based on picking the winners and don’t apply to the places the majority of times which is what we are looking at.
Faugheen is the second favourite and at its best it would give the favourite plenty to think about. However the betting clearly suggests that Faugheen is nowhere near its best and as a 10yo now many have compared it to the great Istabraq who after injury wasn’t the same at the age of 10. Third favourite is then the 11yo My Tent Or Yours who relishes a strong test and has excelled in this race in the past, but as I said, is an 11yo and so would be disappointing if there wasn’t a couple of horses below it in the betting that could finish ahead of it.
Yorkhill is still not a certainty for the race with the trainer quoted as being 60-40 in favour of this over the Ryanair. At the start of the season it was a Gold Cup horse so I just cannot be convinced on its chances here when even the trainer doesn’t know what its best distance is.
Wicklow Brave may have an outside chance, travelled really well in last years race despite having completely blown the start. Didn’t quite have anything left at the finish last year and faded back to 7th though showed what it really was capable of when winning the Punchestown Champion Hurdle a few weeks later. Not been seen over jumps since and though this isn’t the normal kind of preparation, Mullins is a master at getting a horse spot on for the big occasion. With its tendency to be slowly away, as we saw last year, I don’t mind taking a pop at a big price as there are many doubts still remain. A best price 14/1 though is still on the short side to me. I would want to be hitting 20/1+ before it interested me.
One of my first ante post tips for the Festival back at the end of November was Melon at 14/1 and that price is still generally available now. Unlike most of those mentioned so far, it is still open to improvement. Second in the Supreme last year on only its second jumps start was a great performance and started the season with a cosy win at Down Royal in a race that doesn’t look particularly strong now. Gained vital track experience when third behind My Tent Or Yours and The New One on soft ground before a poor run last time. Excuses have been made though for this season. My Tent Or Yours and The New One are very battle hardened rivals who put their experience to good use here. Melon was unable to quicken on the soft ground off a moderate pace having taken a pull all the way round. It was no wonder it couldn’t match the pair at the finish. Mullins has already come out and suggested the first time hood tried last time didn’t get the reaction he hoped for, though I would also put forward the very slow pace of the race was also against Melon with the winner getting a topspeed rating of just 93. As a comparison Buveur D’air got a topspeed rating of 160 when winning the Champion hurdle last year so chances are the two races will be run completely different. Melons record in double figure fields including its French flat career reads 112, the defeat in the Supreme. Its only win in France from four runs was the time it ran in a 14 runner race. I believe this horse needs a big field and/or strong pace and decent ground, things its likely to get at Cheltenham, whilst still being unexposed compared to many.
As a real outside tip then I think John Constable is worth a go at 50/1 outright or 20/1 e/w in the without market. If it was trained by Henderson then I think it would be a lot shorter. An impressive winner last May of a Haydock handicap, demolishing the field by 14 lengths which saw it incur a 16lb rise in the weights to 150. Even that wasn’t enough to stop it as it then took a Market Rason handicap in the summer by a few lengths, travelling really well and quickening nicely despite jumping left at a few hurdles and getting hampered by a faller early in the race. Not many handicap hurdles are won off a mark of 150. As a slight comparison though, Brain Power won a handicap by a similar distance off 149 which saw it go off at 13/2 for this race last year. Admittedly it was rated higher at 162 compared with 156 for John Constable for beating a stronger field and in a more impressive fashion, though John Constable was easily on top in its race. 13/2 or 50/1 there wasn’t that great a difference between the horses in my view. Not disgraced on first try in graded company behind the likes of My Tent Or Yours, The New One and Melon on ground softer than ideal. Held up out the back, when the race turned into a sprint it was left behind a bit trying to come from last place though still only beat just over 4 lengths. You can also completely ignore its last run behind Buveur D’air who was allowed to dictate the pace in a three runner race on soft ground. Trainer has said the horse is a much better horse on decent ground and though the weather hasn’t been great of late I am confident that come race time they will have the track at the favoured good to soft. As a hold up horse in a strongly run race on decent ground this horse could well have perfect conditions and looks an ideal candidate to run on into a top four position. Either way it won’t be putting it up to the favourite and ruining its chances later in the race.
Buveur D’air will take all the beating here and arguably this looks an easier race than last year, depending on which Faugheen turns up. My Tent Or Yours is another year older and it doesn’t make sense if they really thought Yorkhill was a champion hurdle horse then why run it over different trips and over fences? Hopefully a couple of e/w punts in a race that will likely cut up should give us a bit of fun.
0.5pt e/w Melon @ 16/1 1/5th odds 3 places WillHill
0.75pt e/w Melon without Buveur D’air market @ 7/1 Skybet and Paddy Power
0.25pt e/w John Constable @ 50/1 1/5 odds 3 places widely available
0.5pt e/w John Constable without Buveur D’air market @ 20/1 Skybet and Paddy Power
Not a race I particularly like from a betting perspective even if I did give the winner last year in my day before preview. Unfortunately that horse isn’t available at 9/2 again like it was last time, with a best price 4/6 available now on Apples Jade. Unbeaten since winning this race last year, her form is very strong for this grade including beating Supasundae when last seen. However (and I always have a however when it comes to a favourite) it is interesting to note that her lowest RPR from her last 8 runs was when winning this last year. The year before she was second in the Triumph hurdle here, though stepped up markedly on RPRs on next two runs that season including turning around the form comprehensively with the winner of the Triumph. What I am getting at is that I have a suspicion, despite form figures of 21 on her two runs at Cheltenham is that she just doesn’t perform to her best here. There is a good chance that her best isn’t going to be needed here anyway to win but is does at least give us a little bit of hope if betting against her. Interestingly the topspeed rating Apples Jade got for winning the race last year was just 91 suggesting the cream rises to the top in a race like this.
Lets Dance has not even come close to the level of what Apples Jade has achieved on RPR and may be somewhat overrated on that basis.
Le Bague Au Roi is an interesting one. She has really excelled since stepped up to 3m and the talk was for her to go for the stayers, however money today suggests she may go for this race instead. The problem for me is that she improved for the 3m and this being run over shorter even on soft ground may not be enough of a test for her.
The one horse I feel who is a little underrated in this is Jers Girl. Travelled really well in the race last year before falling three out. Ran to a good level before that race kept to a couple of grade 1s where it wasn’t disgraced. Arguably been given easier assignments this year in a grade three (Though had to give weight to Jezki) and grade 2 (2nd to Apples Jade) both performances on her unfavoured soft/heavy ground. Then went to Kempton to race at 3m and finished behind Le Bague Au Roi who is set to bypass the mares in favour of the stayers event instead and is improving all the time. Put away since then for a mid winter break, all reports are promising from the camp. Also holds a couple of other entries including the Coral cup though I am hopeful this will be the route. Either way it is worth backing with non runner no bet.
In a race which the favourite will take a fair bit of beating there still seems to be a little value in Jers Girl to upset the apple cart, so to speak. Having been saved with Cheltenham in mind and has plenty of ability, admittedly not matching that of Apples Jade, given a clear round then I think it can at least take a place especially in the without Apples Jade market.
1pt e/w Jers Girl without Apples Jade @ 10/1 Bet365
A favourite race of mine though a bit of a sod to bet early as you have no idea who is actually going for the race. As I am finding to my cost, a horse who may initially be lined up for this race can show improved form and therefore bypass it in favour for the RSA such as Presenting Percy for which I had advised a bet at 33/1 for this at the beginning of December and Black Corton. Invariably of late this race goes to the classier horses who can jump well and get into a good rhythm. Staying is obviously a major benefit over 4m but with very few runners racing over anything like this trip then I find class is the most important factor at the end of the day, like when 2m 4f horses were considered best for the 4m 4f National.
Rather than run you through a load of horses who may not even turn out for the race I will try and concentrate on those that are more likely to run.
According to the betting the current likely favourite is Dounikos for last years winning trainer/owner combination in Elliott and Gigginstown. As I have mentioned in a previous ante post email though, this horse hasn’t followed the usual preparation that the trainers previous winners of the race have done. Its beating of Monbeg Notorious reads well though and it was not disgraced in 4th behind RSA candidates Monalee, Al Boum Photo and Invitation Only. Likely to be well up there on the RPR once the final declarations are known, my biggest concern is its lack of experience, having raced just three times over fences. Only once has a horse won this since it became a level weights race off just 3 runs. In fact in half of those eight years the winner had raced 9 or more times in chases. This has since been superseded in the betting by Jury Duty.
From the same yard is Jury Duty who could well top the RPR with a rating of 165. Has Cheltenham form having been third in the Pertemps last year behind Presenting Percy. Five chase runs but all of them in graded company including a grade 2 win when beating Shattered Love at Punchestown. Trainer announced before its last run that this was an intended runner for the NH Chase so much was made when it was left in the lead at the last over 3m at Navan. It was therefore disconcerting to see it fade on the run in, almost to a walk and get claimed by Moulin A Vent. The hard race and questionable stamina along with it missing an intended run because it was ‘off its feed’ doesn’t convince me that the horse is worth backing.
The third for the yard and one I have already recommended a bet is Fagan. Has taken the usual route of gaining experience at Cheltenham earlier in the season just like his previous winners Tiger Roll, Cause Of Causes and Chicago Grey all did. Has been put away by the yard, saving it for the better ground, the yard did the same with Tiger Roll who won this after 134 days off, Fagan will be absent for 137 days. Price hasn’t changed, but the reports are that everything is fine with the horse. If have not backed it yet then get a point on, if you are on already then sit tight.
Just off the top RPR for the race is Ms Parfois and with the likelyhood of this race and the betting market falling apart she is worth adding to our bets so far. Confirmed for the race and due to run as long as the ground isn’t good which at the point of writing is highly unlikely to happen! Connections were weighing up whether to go for this or the Midlands National so they have no doubt that she will stay this type of trip. Has experience with five chase runs and a bit of class as well. Point to point winner who has risen through the ranks, taking a couple of listed chases before runner up to RSA fancy Black Corton when the race wasn’t enough of a test for her on her graded chase debut. Has a course win to her name when winning a handicap chase off 123 and with Will Biddick, one of the leading amateurs declared for the ride then I can only see this starting shorter, barring several missing the RSA in favour of this, which is very unlikely.
Others worth a mention include No Comment who based on being the only McManus horse in the race at the moment could well get the number one amateur jockey Derek O’Connor who has won the race twice and been placed a further four times. However, just the one chase run for No Comment doesn’t fit the usual profile of a winner here where experience is key.
Rathvinden is possibly the most interesting. Willie Mullins runner who wants to win the race as a family affair with their son on board. Also a second season chaser who has plenty of experience with 10 runs over fences to its name. Was good enough over hurdles to finish third to Faugheen in a Neptune also. However, was off the track for over 1000 days and though has graded wins to its name over the larger obstacles, it really didn’t jump very well last time when making several mistakes before unseating. That was on the back of being brought down at Leopardstown prior to that. As a 10yo it is too old for me also. Only one winner has been aged 9 or older from 29 to try.
With Dounikos possibly taking in the RSA instead then this race opens up some more and is perfect for getting on something that will run e/w as it is sure to be shorter come race time. Fagan could well become the second string of Elliott which is no bad thing and if you are not on that e/w then I recommend you do so. For all of you though, add in Ms Parfois to your ante post portfolio as I am extremely confident this will be starting at a single figure price come race time!
1pt win Ms Parfois @ 11/1 Paddy Power, Betfair and Sportingbet
A race which is being dominated in the market by Samcro who has been very impressive in his three runs to date and will take a fair bit of beating considering we have yet to get to the bottom of its ability. On the positive side though the Racing Post Ratings only have it marginally clear here suggesting the horses it has been beating have not been to a very high standard as the ease of victory is factored into that rating. Next Destination, second favourite in the betting is just 2 points behind on RPR along with On The Blind Side. With better ground likely and the stiff track, along with other unexposed rivals, there may just be some value going against the crowd.
The best of these could be On The Blind Side who is also unbeaten, but boasts three wins all on good to soft including one importantly over course and distance, improving with every run. Fits all the trends of the race, the Cheltenham win has worked out particularly well with five of the six horses that finished behind it having gone in since including a grade 1 for Poetic Rhythm.
Next Destination is another that warrants respect though it is unclear which race it will go for with connections also keeping one eye on the Albert Bartlett after the favourite was pulled out injured in Cracking Smart who it had beaten twice. Unbeaten over hurdles including a grade 1 win last time it has course experience having run in the champion bumper finishing fourth last year. I suspect connections may now go for the Albert Bartlett after the horse it beat twice is no longer running.
As an outsider it is worth looking at Vision Des Flos. May of been flattered by its 31 length win last time on heavy ground when the yard were just turning the corner with regard a cough in the yard. However, this is a horse that went straight into the Punchetown bumper, a valuable race taking on top horses and beat them all… on its debut! Unsurprisingly it was chucked into the deep end in a couple of grade 2s at Chepstow then Cheltenham when it was found out for its lack of experience especially in its hurdling, which was to its undoing in a novice at Hereford where it happened upon a well regarded Emma Lavelle horse who has been touted as an outside bet for the Festival. Was a length up before a bad stumble at the last cost it its chance. Given a wind operation and a couple of months off it then blew the opposition away at Exeter in what was a listed hurdle. Clearly has plenty of ability as seen with its bumper win and last time out whilst the yard has said the horse has plenty of pace as well, also holding a Supreme entry. However, it does look the ideal type for this race and could go well at a price.
I’m not going to argue that Samcro isn’t a worthy favourite. It has solid form in the book and is actually living up to the hype for which it has fallen upon it. However, there are a couple of horses in opposition equally as unexposed as Samcro is, just without the hype behind it. Proven in the ground and at the track it is a little surprising to see On The Blind Side the bigger price of the three and so that is what I would prefer to go with.
1.5pt win On The Blind Side @ 6/1 Skybet, Paddy and Coral
Like the Albert Bartlett shaped to being one of the races of the Festival last year, which in my view it turned out to be, several of those runners now head to the RSA to once again make what looks a fascinating race. Set to run include the Pertemps winner last year (Who did so off a mark of 149), Monalee, runner up in the Albert Bartlett as well as Elegant Escape who was 7th but improved no end for fences. Then we have Black Corton, the winner of 8 of his 11 chase starts (2nd the other three times!) including grade 1 and 2 victories and is the top RPR in the race. We also have Al Boum Photo, the best Mullins has for the race who was a close 2nd to Monalee last time and will appreciate the step up to 3m. That’s not including highly rated Mia’s Storm, the mare who fell last time, Ballyoptic for Nigel Twiston Davies who was rated 162 over hurdles along with the Elliott and Gigginstown pair of Shattered Love and Dounikos who has been the subject of a market move across the board for this race and is losing favouritism in the NH Chase. So, lets crack on.
Presenting Percy is a horse who owes me nothing having advised it as an early ante post for the Pertemps last year. Personally I thought the hike of 16lb (5lb of that added on by the British handicapper) was extremely harsh for winning a normal Fairyhouse handicap by just over 3 lengths on heavy ground. The handicapper knew best though as the horse stayed on strongly for victory and has since won a grade 2 hurdle in preparation for the Festival. Knowing the yard like to set their horses up for Cheltenham, when I saw this horse was due to run in the Porterstown, run over 3m 5f my initial thought was the horse was being plotted up for a tilt at the NH Chase and advised my followers to take the 33/1 about it for the NH Chase run over 4m. The horse duly stayed brilliantly, winning the race by 11 lengths and was cut into favouritism. However, the horse won so well that the RSA was then mentioned which looks subsequently justified after pushing Our Duke all the way over 2m 4f in a grade 2 chase at Gowran Park. That run was a little disconcerting to me. A hard race on heavy ground just 25 days before Cheltenham having had 5 races already this season. Interestingly from a trends point of view, its last prep run actually put it outside of the regular number of races a previous winner has had with 10 of the last 11 winners having raced 6 to 12 times over hurdles and chases combined. Given its lack of a graded win over fences then I cannot have this as value in such a competitive race.
Monalee is not a cert to run with connections also mooting the possibility of the JLT if the ground was to come up soft. However, does seem to fit many of the trends including the fact that runners from the previous years Albert Bartlett have won five races from just 20 qualifiers in the last 10 years. Also boasts a grade 1 win for which those to have done so are 3/15 in the last 9 renewals. Despite that win it hasn’t achieved an RPR of 160 who do well in the race also and I am a little concerned it is not ‘battle-hardened’ enough with just two completed chase starts. Horses to have had 5 or more chase starts are 5/31 in the last 8 runnings. A solid selection but at 10/3 best price NRNB I would be hopeful we can get bigger nearer the time, barring Presenting Percy missing out on the race.
Black Corton is a horse I have spoken about numerous times and fits the stat on those to have raced 5 or more times over fences, though all that experience along with 8 hurdle runs means it has raced 19 times in total, well above the 12 seen by the majority of winners. Has achieved an RPR of 160 and has a grade 1 win to its name though and with few questions to answer with regard the course and trip this is the horse that sets all the standards.
Elegant Escape is a shorter price for the NH Chase but that is due to the less competitive nature of the race in comparison to the RSA. Even then the prices seem a little out of kilter in that respect. Currently Dounikos for example is a best price 7/1 for NH Chase and best 12/1 for RSA, yet Elegant Escape is 8/1 for NH Chase and 20/1 RSA! Seems to fit plenty of the criteria I look for in a winner of this race with 5 races over fences to its name, including a grade 2 win to its name over 3m on good to soft and a close 2nd to Black Corton in a grade 1. Ran in the Albert Bartlett last year and has a total of 11 runs under rules over obstacles. Hasn’t quite hit an RPR of 160 though with two at 159 and a 158 I am not worried about that fact as the horse has plenty of class. Interestingly, as a pointer it was a close second behind Samcro who has been highly touted as a superstar. To me this horse seems a little underrated.
If we like Elegant Escape we have to consider Ballyoptic who beat it by 13 lengths in early November and attained an RPR of 161. Never matched that level afterwards though did win a grade 2 last time out. A few negatives about this horse though. Firstly I’m not sure its jumping can stand up to the demands likely of this race. Often makes mistakes which it found to its cost on its visit here behind Black Corton when only 4th. It has 15 runs under rules to its name whilst the fact it raced for two seasons over hurdles and achieved an RPR over those obstacles of over 160 are again negatives in the trends with all 10 runners this century to have reached an RPR of 160+ over hurdles being beaten despite several starting at shortish prices.
Al Boum Photo, like Monalee has just the three chase runs yet failed to complete on the second attempt when falling. Mullins has a very good record in this race but I do feel in a very competitive race this year that it has yet to reach a good enough standard to justify being almost double the odds of Elegant Escape for example. An adjusted RPR of 164 leaves it 8lb behind Black Corton, which is also a serious issue for Dounikos (163) and Invitation Only (164). Of the latter pair I much prefer Invitation Only who has a grade 2 chase win to its name, seemed to learn from a fall in its first race and has four runs to its name. Betting on the exchanges suggests it is more likely to go for the JLT however.
The last one I want to mention is Mia’s Storm who ranks very well with an adjusted RPR of 171 allowing for her mares allowance. Likes decent ground, she beat Elegant Escape on her chasing debut jumping really well and followed that up with a listed victory at Market Rason demolishing the field to earn a 154 RPR (A 7lb allowance adjusts that to 161). However, she didn’t seem herself making uncharacteristic errors when eventually falling on Boxing day in a race won by Black Corton and she hasn’t been seen since. Whilst I am not keen on horses who fell last time out going straight into Cheltenham, at a good price I am prepared to chance it. However, another to have only completed 2 starts over fences and importantly there has been only 1 winner in the last half century not to have had a run in the calender year!! A prep run seems crucial to this contest.
The more and more I look at this race the more I like the chances of Elegant Escape. I have already tipped it up for this race back in the middle of February at 20/1 NRNB, the best NRNB you can get now is 12/1. All of the fancier prices are gone but I still feel it is value in this race and is worth backing again even if you are already on at the 20s.
0.75pt e/w Elegant Escape @ 12/1 ¼ odds 3 places Bet365
A race in which we have another short priced favourite in Altior, winner of the Arkle last year and well fancied to do what many have done and follow up in the Champion Chase. In opposition the main rival looks to be Min, who is rated 3lb off Altior on RPR along with Politilogue and quite possibly Douvan.
Previous winners of the Arkle that run in the Champion Chase the following year are 5 from 9 this century which clearly bodes well for the chances of the favourite Altior, whilst the shortest price of the second season chasers to run in the race have also won 8 in this century. This race is primed for horses to sit up with the pace and to go on from the home turn which is likely to be the plan with Altior once more. Had its injury concerns but looked as good as ever when winning at Newbury 32 days ago, matching its highest RPR attained at Sandown at the end of last season. Could be considered a candidate to bounce though that tends to happen when a horse performs to the maximum of its ability, which i’m not sure it did at Newbury despite beating one of its main rivals by 4 lengths. A worthy favourite though not one I will be backing or tipping at its price.
Min gained its highest RPR on its last run when giving a 12 length beating to solid yardstick Simply Ned, though the runner up would have preferred better ground. Clearly has a bit of class, it has started favourite for all of its races since joining Willie Mullins yard including for the Supreme two years ago when beaten by Altior. The biggest worry here is its lack of experience. Got found out a bit when Simply Ned pushed it all the way at Leopardstown and was awarded the race in the stewards room and I am sure it learnt a lot from that. However, goes into the championship race with just five chase runs to its name and only once has it been given a race. The last 11 winners of the race had at least 7 chase runs to its name and i’m concerned is that it will get found out in a race run always at a good speed.
Douvan is one I think has to be taken on. Went lame when a short price favourite for this race last year and not been seen since. Was scheduled to run at Christmas but was found to be lame again. Now you are asking a horse to produce something close to its best after these injury problems after a year off the track and a poor preparation. No. It would be an incredible performance and would applaud the horse and trainer if able to bring it back to such a condition, but as a betting man I would rather bet it doesn’t happen.
The other horse to consider is Politilogue, who seems to have become the forgotten horse of the race. Fourth in the JLT last year to Yorkhill it seemed better than ever this year when winning three on the bounce, two grade 2s and the grade 1 Tingle Creek. Was second to Altior though and seems to have hit a barrier in its ability with three 170’s in a row in RPR. I’m not so sure on the track for the horse either. For a horse who has 7 wins and 3 seconds from just 14 runs since leaving France, its record in three races to date at Cheltenham reads U04. It could even be a case of a left handed track. Its record going anti clockwise is U20124F2 – Just 1 from 8. Whereas when we look at it right handed it reads 111111 – 6 from 6. I’m not sure that Cheltenham brings out the best in Politilogue.
With concerns about Douvan and Politilogue and Min lacking the experience there are grounds for looking at the bigger prices with the places in mind. Last years winner Special Tiara is now an 11yo and a regular in this race. It is clearly not any better a years older and it is a concern it may not get its ground with soft very likely to feature in the description. Entitled to take its place but feel this may be somewhat of a swansong for the horse.
The last two winners of this race have been 10 year olds and Gods Own is bidding to make it three. Don’t think it will happen though as it is at its best on good ground which it is safe to say it wont get. It is also starting to show its age I feel with its last run its worst RPR since December 2014 and three of its last four runs have seen it record its three lowest RPR figures since its novice chase days. Sad to say I don’t see it being the horse it was either.
As an e/w bet, or again on the without Altior market I think there can be a bit of value in Charbel. Always been highly regarded by its owners and trainer it was still travelling well in last years Arkle until getting too close and falling two out. Wouldn’t of beaten Altior that day but wouldn’t have been far behind I suspect either. Like many in the race it could probably do with reasonable ground though it wasn’t disgraced on its sole chase start this season when fourth at Sandown behind Politilogue. Taken a similar prep to last year, it goes well fresh and unlike many in the race it is open to a bit of improvement, though also lacks experience like Min. At a price though I don’t mind taking a chance.
This looks there for Altior to win but is no price to be getting involved at personally. With Min also a short price, concerns about the fitness of Douvan, the track suitability for Politilogue and an ageing Special Tiara and Gods Own then a small bet on Charbel could be rewarded, especially if it cuts up like it often does. Was tempted to get involved in the without Altior market also but sadly only two firms have it priced up at the moment. Will have to wait till nearer the time for that.
0.5pt e/w Charbel @ 25/1 ¼ odds first 3 Bet365
Many people dislike this race whereas I am the opposite as it takes a certain type of horse to win this whilst these type of races here often goes to horses at the front of the market. I am still aggrieved from two years ago when I had three winners in an accumulator going on to Josies Orders, who finished second to Any Currency, only for the winner to get disqualified a few months later due to a positive post race test! That is the past though, it is the future which we are interested in!
Cause Of Causes is the current favourite and has a terrific record at the meeting, winning for the last four years, though not all the same race! This has clearly been the target again though I do somewhat feel they will be holding something back as to me the Grand National is the main aim, especially when even the trainer is happy with the mark it has been alloted for the race. May not get that chance again so it will be all guns blazing for Aintree.
The trainer also has another horse in the race, one that I have been all over since the middle of December when I saw Tiger Roll had been entered in the Cross Country that month. Didn’t show much when 5th of 9th but then neither had Cause Of Causes on its sole cross country run before it was the subject of a fair bit of money prior to last years race. A very similar pattern is followed here as having given the horse back in January at 14/1 it is now down to a best priced 11/2 despite not having seen the track, just like last year and Cause Of Causes. Also peaks this time of year at Cheltenham having won the Triumph and the 4m National Hunt Chase, there is no doubt about its stamina at the trip. Should be prominent throughout, this is still one of my biggest fancies of the meeting!
Josies Orders shouldn’t be far away on form though the yard, famed for their cross country horses are actually 0/23 in the last 8 renewals of the race. The same could be said of Auvergnat for the same yard who i’m not sure has got the hang of the track yet being U4F at Cheltenham.
Actually leading the way on the RPR’s is The Last Samurai who was second in the National in 2016 and ran really well when 4th in a good grade 2 chase of late. This will be its first run in a cross country though and with horses 1/53 having their first run in this it doesn’t bode well at all.
If wanting an e/w bet then I would be looking at the French horses of which the best is probably Urgent De Gregaine. First and third around here, though both in handicap affairs. May of found the ground too quick for it last time and with plenty of form on soft if it was to come up on the easy side then it could go well.
As you can tell I am very keen on the chances of Tiger Roll and with it following a very similar pattern to Cause Of Causes including the schooling session a couple of weeks before the festival as well when reported doing very well, it is the horse I want to be on and already am. I can’t suggest an e/w bet due to the race having a solid look to the runners, with both Josies Orders and Auvegnant coming into this in form. If wanting to bet the French horse e/w then I doubt it will be much different come race time.
1pt win Tiger Roll @ 5/1 widely available
Not a race I normally worry too much about though having given the winner ante post at 16/1 last year, only to see it go off at 7/1 then I am quickly gaining an affinity towards it. Ideally I am looking for a horse to have won last time out as well as having won in a double digit field in its career and to have won by a decent distance last time out.
The favourite with most bookmakers is Blackbow for Willie Mullins who has won the race a record 8 times, the last of those coming in 2013. The horse also tops the RPRs, two points ahead of its nearest rival. Won a strong looking race last time and is justified in being favourite though with there set to be any number of unexposed rivals in opposition I am never keen to be taking a short price in this type of race.
Hollowgraphic is one I have had my eye on all season after Mullins stated this was one of his best bumper horses in a seasonal stable tour. 2nd last year in the Punchestown festival bumper run on good ground it then romped away to win a ten runner field by 13 lengths on heavy ground showing its versatility in any conditions. Meets the criteria I am looking for and its no bad thing not to have been seen out since December as 7 runners this century had not run in the calender year. Since been declared a non runner.
Didtheyleaveuoutto looks the best of the British on the back of two wins though is also also by JP McManus. The winner of a valuable bumper at Ascot, beating 13 rivals bodes well though the fact it went straight into flat runs is a little disconcerting. 9 of the last 16 winners had ran in points or bumpers the previous year. That ties in with the fact that 6 of the last 7 winners had been beaten in a bumper or point and that 11 of the last 15 winners had run 3 or 4 times in points and/or bumpers. This suggests that experience is gained not just under rules.
Acey Milan will be well flagged up getting weight from the field despite having won three times this season. As a 4yo though it has a major task on as only Cue Card has won the race when that age from 54 to have tried this century. That’s not to say it can’t place, five have managed it but it seems to take a special horse to win this when only a 4yo.
I have already advised a bet on Carefully Selected and I see no reason to doubt that selection now. Beaten in a point to point it quickly put that behind it to win by over 30 lengths where it was then seen in a bumper in December in which it beat its 11 rivals by 8 lengths. Interestingly they decided to run it again just 17 days before this race where it won well by over 4 lengths. Patrick Mullins was quoted as saying he always rated the horse, even if the trainer hadn’t whilst it would be a positive therefore if he was to get the leg up for the ride having won the race twice before on Cousin Vinny and Champagne Fever. The former is a good one to refer to as it won the bumper having last raced 22 days ago. With the last two winners having been off for 32 and 39 days, maybe things are swinging more towards a recent run for horses when an absence has been a positive for so long.
This race is looking very competitive and is always tricky to be betting at this stage without throwing several darts in the hope of hitting a couple that run and will shorten up. Mullins has several entries all which have their own merits as usual. I think it is a case of if you are not on Carefully Selected yet then get on now. If you have already backed it then sit tight once more whilst we wait and see what happens to jockey bookings etc.
JLT Novices Chase
The ‘middle-distance’ chase is always a nightmare for ante post punters as so many seem to get entered. You have the 2 milers that may get an entry in case the Arkle looks too competitive or if the ground comes up soft. Then you get the 3 milers entered just in case the ground is fast or the pace looks too strong in the RSA. Clearly this makes it difficult to narrow the fields down initially when trying to find the value selections.
This is a race that Mullins has dominated since its inception in 2011. Think that could be a little misleading though as it is down to the dominance of the yard more than anything. With the likes of Yorkhill, Vautour and Sir Des Champs if they were trained by anyone else then they could well have gone RSA or Arkle route instead, but with the yard having even stronger runners in those divisions then their ‘second-string’ wind up in this, which they have often won on class. Once again they have the favourite currently in Invitation Only, though also have Al Boum Photo plus several other entries already in the RSA so it comes here.
Taking the current list of horses based on RPRs then Invitation Only ranks only tied 13th! However, of the 12 above it, maybe only three or four will actually run in this race. Yet to visit Cheltenham which is a big negative for this race. All 7 winners had run at the Festival before so it seems important that a horse has shown its class in the past and shown the right requirements to be a Festival horse. Has a graded win to its name and wasn’t disgraced in third behind Monalee last time. But, with five of the seven victors all winners last time out and Black Hercules winning this on the back of a fall having won on its two runs before that then showing recent winning form seems important.
Terrefort is one that is creeping into the race having initially been unlikely to run. Trainer has stated that ground is crucial as the horse needs it soft and with the snow followed by rain forecast then there is a chance it may get its wish which is why its options are being kept open. Has looked useful so far as well and boasts an RPR of 171 which could well top this if running. Only a five year old though and so only gets a 1lb weight allowance for it, which is nothing really in this context. This is a tough race with several graded winners competing against each other. This may be too soon for a young horse at this level.
The British have only won this race once though I feel they have a strong chance with Modus for Paul Nicholls. Been to the last four Festivals, its best position was 2nd in the Bumper of 2015. Rated 156 over hurdles though did record a 159 RPR, it has a grade 2 win over fences when winning at Wincanton. Did hit the deck next time at Exeter though came out at Kempton and won well when dominating the race. All been small field affairs however and though well rated over hurdles it didn’t hit that grade 1 level. From those likely to run, not many achieved an RPR as highly as this did. Snow Falcon managed it but is more likely to be taking advantage of a chase mark considerably lower than that over hurdles.
Grade 1 winning hurdlers are 4/11 in the race suggesting that form over the smaller obstacles matters and there may well be just the one qualifier this year in the enigmatic Finians Oscar. Was a winner of a grade 1 at the National meeting at Aintree last year over hurdles having missed Cheltenham due to injury, its chase career started well with a couple of wins including here in November. Went to pot after though when well beat at Sandown before being narrowly touched off by Benetar who is well regarded itself though arguably not up to grade 1 standard. Finally a hurdles career beckoned only to flop again, eventually pulling up. Since then the horse has undergone a wind operation and connections say it is working well. Having once been favourite for the race it will be fascinating to see how it goes again.
At the prices though I think it is worth chancing Shattered Love for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown. Has plenty of racing experience, she was third in the grade 2 Aintree bumper at the National meeting before embarking on a hurdles career which saw her win at grade 3 level though flopped when tried in the Ballymore. From five chase starts she has done very little wrong, with defeat only coming when narrowly beaten by Jury Duty, prominent in the betting for the NH Chase and having Presenting Percy the RSA favourite back in third. Her form has culminated with getting revenge over that rival in a grade 1 at Leopardstown just after Christmas. A significant stat is that eight of the eleven grade 1 winning chasers to run in this race have placed. Having raced at the Festival before and as a last time out winner she fulfils many of the criteria we look for in a winner based on trends. Has won a grade 3 on heavy over 2m and a 3m grade 1 on yielding to soft. She looks an ideal type for this race.
A pretty open looking race this year with different angles into it. I feel Invitation Only is a short price for this on form, with it being at the head of the betting more to do with the trainer and his record in the race. Take it on with Shattered Love e/w who looks to maintain the fine record in the race of grade 1 chase winners. Though her previous experience of the Festival wasn’t good she can certainly put that behind here and continue her fine progression in chases. Does still hold an RSA entry but the betting suggests she will be going for this.
1pt e/w Shattered Love @ 12/1 ¼ odds first 3 Bet365
Top Notch missing out due to injury is a shame as it looked a genuine 2 1/2m horse unlike some of these. However, we could see Waiting Patiently run after all especially if the ground was to come up soft. This horse has looked a superstar and would be well suited to a trailblazing Un De Sceaux setting the race up. That’s without considering the stalwart Cue Card and Balko Des Flos trying to win it for the sponsors.
Starting with the favourite Un De Sceaux. Held on last year to win by 1 ½ lengths in what will probably turn out to be a considerably weaker race than this year. That was run on good ground and though thought to be considerably better on soft ground, if it was to come up on the easy side then I don’t see why its stamina will last out against genuine grade 1 horses at this trip. In fact it won the race last year under a good ride when kicking on turning for home and stretching its rivals who took longer to find their feet and stay on late. Since then it has been kept to 2m races including its two runs this season. This is a grade 1 two miler running over 2m 5f. If taking the RPRs of the likely runners then Un De Sceaux would still only rank third behind Waiting Patiently and interestingly Frodon. I don’t see Un De Sceaux finding it so easy to outclass this opposition like it did last year and could well be vulnerable at this trip.
I have already spoken a little about Waiting Patiently and I would love to see it turn up as I think it is a potential superstar. However, it bothers me a bit why connections keep coming out with excuses for it not to go to Cheltenham. Firstly it was the ground with it rare to see genuine soft ground there in March. With that now looking a possibility they say the track won’t suit it, being more of a flat track bully. Not been the most straight forward to train, they have done an excellent job with it to bring it along gradually. Now is not the time to bottom the horse out when it had a very bright future ahead of it. Heart says I hope they run it but head says otherwise. At this stage I would rather have a watching brief. Has since been confirmed it won’t be running.
Moving on to Cue Card, I can only apologise that I never passed on my keenness for the horse to run in this race. I have even mentioned it in previous posts about us being on at 20/1+ when in fact I had never posted it. An oversight on my part that I am ensuring doesn’t happen again. Could still be value even now though, the problem is that no matter what your opinion is on its chances, you are hoping that a grade 1 race of any code can be won by a 12yo! Something that hasn’t happened in the last 10 years and has not even been seen in the Foxhunters despite several ‘old-timers’ participating in the past. The only horse to have won a graded race at the festival is Any Currency in the Cross Country and even then it was subsequently disqualified. The argument against the age factor is how many horses have shown grade 1 form as a 12yo, very few if any I would suspect and there is no doubting this horse achieved that when running to an RPR of 170 behind Waiting Patiently. Always felt it never really stayed the 3m 2f trip of the Gold Cup and would be much better suited to the Ryanair which it won back in 2013, finally they are prepared to give it another go. A strong traveller it will be running on all the way to the line. May also pick up the sentiment votes from punters on the day and so would be no surprise if it started at a shorter price come race time. However, back to the head and heart argument, my head says a 12yo can’t win this race and I have to go with that, certainly considering the strength of the race this year.
Balko Des Flos is the one doing it for Gigginstown and Michael O’Leary the owner of Ryanair who sponsors this race. They have been trying to win it for several years but just no luck. This time they turn to Balko Des Flos to see if it can change. It is trained in the right place as De Bromhead has an excellent record with his chasers at the Festival. The problem for me is that though it won the Galway Plate off 146 (Yet still carried only 10st 10lb as Ballycasey topped the weights off a mark of 160) it got bumped up to 158 rating which pretty much ruled it out of handicap company. Been solid in graded races since though and did best of all last time when second to Gold Cup hope Road To Respect. However, was a 66/1 fancy that day and showed an improvement in form fully 13lb above anything else it had ever done. I like the fact they haven’t raced it since as it has given the horse plenty of time to recover from its exertions. I’m not convinced it can repeat it though and its price is based more on being the connections number 1 string in the race more than anything else.
Yorkhill I would be put off just on its preparation in general. How can you be 60-40 over whether a horse runs over 2m hurdles or 2m 5f chase? Seems very surreal to me though does highlight the depth that the Mullins yard has. Whichever race it does go for doesn’t take away from the fact that at the start of the season it was a Gold Cup horse! If you are unsure what it is best at then I don’t see it being value at its price for such a competitive race.
I mentioned earlier about Frodon being the second highest RPR in the race. That is based on its handicap win over course and distance when carrying 11st 7lb to victory on heavy ground to demolish a good field by 17 lengths. An extraordinary performance. A bit like Balko Des Flos though, its run was 11lb better than anything it had achieved previously according to RPR and it subsequently bounced in my opinion when finishing 18 lengths behind Waiting Patiently and Cue Card, racing just 21 days after its handicap win. Its no wonder it never got home that day. Will have had another break of a month since then, it has shown it is capable of a grade 1 performance though with 9 out of 10 winners already having won a grade 1 chase then this may be a year to early for the horse.
While it would be great to see Cue Card win a second Ryanair Chase, it would bring the roof down and tears flowing, it is such a big ask to do it at the age of 12. However, I also feel that Un De Sceaux is vulnerable. With doubts about the participation of Waiting Patiently then I would rather advise a small bet on Frodon e/w. From the Nicholls yard, if the vibes became positive its price could contract a fair bit. Could also attract the money with him likely to be ridden by Bryony Frost who did me a favour at last years festival when winning on Pacha De Polder. The horse put up a performance that exceeded what Un De Sceaux got for winning this race last year. Frodon is capable as long as it is fit and ready to do justice. That is an unknown but at the price is worth chancing.
0.75pt e/w Frodon @ 14/1 ¼ odds 3 places Bet365
Having already advised a bet on Supasundae when it was 16/1 then we are sitting very pretty as it is the general favourite for the race with a best of around 9/2 as I type. Yanworth as a runner has added another element to the race whilst Sam Spinner is the big hope for the north. We also have last years Albert Bartlett winner plus the likes of The New One who finally steps up.
Although I advised Supasundae, the one concern I had was its lack of proven class. Of late class has been a big factor in this race. Nichols Canyon last year was a prime example, stepping up in trip but was a multiple grade 1 winner over shorter. To prove my point, eight winners this century had recorded an RPR of 165+ over 2m 5 1/2f or shorter from just 23 qualifiers. Its win over 2m last time when beating Faugheen gave it exactly that mark of 165 whilst also meaning it was now a grade 1 winner. Proven at the course having won the Coral Cup last year as well, the obvious concern is that he is yet to win at 3m. Narrowly beaten on both attempts though it sets a very solid standard.
Sam Spinner seems to have been plenty hyped up for this race. Never reached anywhere near the level some of these have over shorter, it was the step up to 3m that has really brought about improvement, firstly when taking the stayers handicap at Haydock on heavy ground, which is often very bad ground by 17 lengths. Thrown in at the deep-end it then won the grade 1 Long Walk hurdle. Takes a good horse to go straight from handicap company into grade 1 and win, especially on different ground as well. However, just how good is ‘the best of British’ this year? Unowhatimeanarry has been disappointing the last twice whilst L’Ami Serge is a horse I like but is always the nearly man. The big worry though is that he lacks any course experience, let alone Festival form. 9 of the last 11 winners had previously run at the Festival though that stat is partly distorted by repeat wins for Big Buck’s and Inglis Drever. Like most grade 1 races at Cheltenham though, course form is still significant. That could be forgiven if the horse had the experience of racing but he has still only run 7 times over hurdles and this is going to be far tougher against this opposition.
Yanworth is the other towards the head of the market for this race. Like Yorkhill though previously its plans have never been set as to what race it will go for having been novice chasing all season before they now throw it into the stayers hurdle. Clearly not had the right prep for this race and may take a while for the horse to become accustomed to hurdling again. I wonder whether they have half an eye on retaining its stayers crown at Aintree which it won last year, beating Supasundae. Another to have achieved an RPR of 165 over shorter it has one big stat to overcome though as the last 88 grade 1 hurdles at the Festival had been won by a horse who had prepped over hurdles. 47 horses have tried to win a grade 1 hurdle on the back of chasing last time and only two of them got a place! Considering at the start of the season this wasn’t the plan, I am happy to follow the trend.
We have two from the older brigade due to run in The New One and Unowhatimeanarry. Both have serious work to do to win at the age of 10 as you have to go back to 1986 to find the last 10yo+ to win this race and some very good horses have tried including Baracouda and Big Bucks. The New One has easily reached the level often found in winners over shorter but recent form when stepped up beyond 2m hasn’t been great and with ease in the ground over this trip in a race likely to be run at a good gallop I’m just not sure it will see it out against some good and younger rivals. Unowhatimeanarry was turned over in this race last year having been in fine form and like the Gold Cup, horses to have already been beaten in the race don’t go and win it next year. 35 horses have tried in the last 13 runnings and all were beaten again. Not shown the same level this year, it was hoped a return to decent ground may spark a revival but it is looking very unlikely it will get ground not on the soft side.
Penhill and Wholestone are trying to follow up a win and third place in the Albert Bartlett last year and though horses with the Festival experience do well here it is not from racing in the 3m novice. They are currently 0/16 to try the double including 6 of those to have won the novice race.
If looking for e/w value then the two to concentrate on I feel are L’Ami Serge and La Bague Au Roi. The former as I mentioned is a bit of a tinker. Many a time it has come there to win its race but not gone through with the effort, or not found as much as expected and got beat. A proper hold up horse who needs to be ridden patiently and brought there as late as possible it should get the race run to suit though it is looking at a place at best more than likely as another to have prepped over the larger obstacles! La Bague Au Roi had the option of the mares hurdle but she has really come into her own for the step up to 3m which is why connections are leaning towards this as opposed to the 2m 4f option. Gets the mares allowance and she did run in the mares novice last year so has Festival experience. However, yet to race in a grade 1 and did win a rather moderate grade 2 mares hurdle last time. This is a significant step up in class and though she is unexposed this is a much higher standard of opposition than she has faced so far. It now appears she may well go for the Mares hurdle according to latest market moves!
The more and more you look through the form the more negatives you find against several of the opposition to Supasundae and Sam Spinner. With concerns about the track and big time experience for Sam Spinner then I have to favour Supasundae considering they are a similar price.
1.5pt win Supasundae @ 5/1 Betfred
Mares Novices Hurdle
Little in the way of trends to go on here with the race only been going a couple of years. Both times they have been won by a short price Mullins horse and there is another candidate this year in Laurina who is a best price 5/6 as I write. As usual my approach for a race like this is to start with the RPRs so it is interesting to see an odds on favourite that isn’t even top. That spot is taken by a 4yo filly for Mullins in Stormy Ireland. A French recruit who has had just the one run in Ireland but duly sluiced up by 58 lengths to take a Fairyhouse maiden. However she is more likely to go the Triumph hurdle route.
Laurina looks a solid favourite. Mullins has dominated novice races at the festival as well as the mares race. He knows what these take to win and when he has a strong favourite then invariably they win. Dotted up in the grade 3 Solerina in Ireland to record her topr RPR. The concern would be any quicker ground as she hasn’t run on anything faster than soft. However, her trainer knows the time of day with his runners especially in a race like this and if the market suggests this is the one then it has an exceptional chance.
She may not have everything her own way though. Maria’s Benefit has an equal RPR though has far more experience with 6 runs under her belt over hurdles. That includes a grade 2 win against the same sex when last seen against some of the best mares we have in England. She has had her problems but her shrewd trainer is quite underrated, he sent out the winner of the Kim Muir last year at 40/1.
Looking at those at a double figure price then the first to catch my eye is Cap Soleil. The winner of three bumpers including a couple of listed races, she debuted with a good win over Countister over 2m before then getting found out when second to Dame Rose. Was always going to improve for a step up in trip and seemed to do so when winning a Haydock listed mares race. Has course form having won a bumper here last year and connections have been sure to have one eye on this race.
At an even bigger price my eye was drawn to the Gigginstown runner High School Days who seemed a big price considering she won three in a row earlier in the year. On closer inspection she is a second season novice with 9 runs over hurdles to her name. Graduated from handicap company winning her last one off 122, it was more her performance when upped to graded class when finishing fourth in one of the hottest Irish novices of the season. Admittedly she was beaten 17 lengths but the race was won by Supreme favourite Getabird with Mengli Khan, another grade 1 winner in second. Third was filled by Carter McKay for Mullins who went and finished a close third in a grade 1 next time. Quite possibly the strongest form on offer amongst opponents here barring the favourite. It should be remembered, this was a mare competing against the opposite sex. Admittedly she was getting weight allowances but it was still a very good performance. Doesn’t hold any more entries, she is worth a small e/w bet as I can see her starting much shorter on the day.
The race is dominated by Laurina in the betting and it is understandable why. She has the form in the book and comes from connections that have won this race the two times it has been run. However, I think there can be a little value had e/w, especially if the race cuts up on the day. High School Days possesses the right people in charge though seems slightly underrated considering what she did last time behind top class horses. Not going to get carried away but a small e/w bet is recommended.
0.5pt e/w High School Days @ 25/1 ¼ odds first 3 Bet365 and Betfred
A race where we have had a long term favourite in Apples Shakira though even then she has been a little weak in the market as Redicean has made a very solid claim after his win last time out.
Apples Shakira as a 4yo filly had numerous entries at the festival where she could claim a fair bit of weight and I did take a couple of punts on her in other races knowing with non runner no bet there was very little to lose. Those plans never came off and she goes here. Only just about holds top spot on RPR from the interesting Stormy Ireland who we have mentioned before. All three wins have come over course and distance and on soft ground so won’t mind the rain we have been getting. This horse seems to tick all the boxes, with those unbeaten including a grade 1 or 2 victory proving very profitable to follow. French-bred which is of significance lately with 8 of the 9 places being filled by a similar type in the last three runnings. It is also trained by Henderson who has won this race 6 times in the past so knows exactly what it takes. To me she sets a very good standard and is the one they clearly have to beat.
Redicean was talented on the flat, rated in the mid 80s at one stage though looked rather novicey at its hurdles on its first two attempts. Much improved display last time with its hurdling far more fluent. However, had all three wins at Kempton, an easy right handed course, the opposite of the stiff left handed track of Cheltenham. Being an Irish bred that started on the flat it doesn’t ring as a typical type that has been performing of late. 5 of the last 6 winners had all raced by the middle of November however this wasn’t seen over hurdles until the 27th December. The horse just doesn’t fit as a winner and so I am happy to take it on.
Stormy Ireland has the RPR but the fact she is coming into this after a 90 day absence is a concern. The last ten winners had all run within 55 days and for such a tough race for these 4yos the lengthy absence can see a horse too fresh and keen in the race. Has been racing over hurdles for almost a year now in her three runs having begun early in France. But, just the one run since moving to the Mullins yard, it is hard to think she has had the best of preparations for this.
Mr Adjudicator has the grade 1 win to its name obtained at the beginning of February, however, another latecomer to the game having begun life on the flat. Once more it doesn’t seem to follow the pattern of the type of horse who performs in this race. Surprisingly this is a race in which Willie Mullins struggles in with just four placers from 16 runners in the last 10 years.
Interestingly, Henderson also boasts another exciting prospect for this race in We Have A Dream who has won its last four races. Prior to that it began in France, tackling its first hurdle back in April last year. Grade 1 winner who handles any ground and fits the trends we have been looking for. That is no surprise as the yard will often recruit horses early for this race. Started as odds on favourite for all four of its runs and officially is only 1lb behind Apples Shakira.
Of the outsiders, the only one to really interest me is Mitchouka for Gordon Elliott and Gigginstown. Ran 8 times on the flat in France before moving to the Elliott yard in September and was hurdling by October. Has since had 7 runs over hurdles, winning four of them including a grade 3 last time. Maybe lacks the class necessary to win this, but anything can happen with these young horses and it can certainly put its experience to good use. Countrywide Flame won the race on the back of 6 wins and last years winner had raced five times. Against some of these with only one or two runs to its name that experience could see it run on into a place.
With only one winner priced above 10/1 in the last 10 years then it doesn’t usually pay to look much further than the head of the betting and with the race having a couple of strong candidates then I am reluctant until we know more to be betting something at a big price. Instead I will have a win bet on We Have A Dream. Impressed me earlier in the season, fits the profile and may just be undervalued on the basis of being the yard ‘second string’
1pt win We Have A Dream @ 10/1 Paddy Power
One of the graded races which is still looking quite open with most firms betting 4/1 the field. Favourite is a twice raced runner for Nicky Henderson who is already officially rated 150 and includes a victory at the track. Henderson also has another prominent in the betting in Chef Des Obeaux who has the same owners as Duc De Genievres who has a couple of engagements. With many still engaged though the race has a good feel to it from a punting perspective.
Santini is the favourite at the moment. In its two wins it has looked a potential star. It is going to need to be to win this as well on the back of just two hurdles starts. 34 horses have tried to win this race on 2 or less starts and all of them were beaten. This is a race where experience pays off. Horses that are second season novices and/or have raced 6+ times over hurdle both have fair strike rates and are profitable to follow. Not seen over hurdles until December is another negative. Only 3 winners have ever won this race having not run over hurdles before the end of October. Is sure to be popular as an unbeaten Henderson runner but generally this isn’t the type that wins this race.
Chef Des Obeaux is another that wasn’t seen over hurdles until December, debuting in the same race as Santini. Was obviously beaten by that rival but has gone from strength to strength since then recording an impressive RPR on the last of them to take a grade 2 at Haydock on heavy. All its run have been on soft or heavy so anything quicker would be a concern. Would favour this over Santini but I still feel there is stronger value elsewhere.
Duc De Genievres has the same owners as Chef Des Obeaux so it is no guarantee it will run here. From the Mullins yard is also a concern as his record is a very poor 1/29 considering how many fancied runners he has had in the race and that many of his selections can be over bet at the head of the market. A French recruit who had his first hurdle race last May, it wasn’t disgraced over 2m when second to Samcro clearly getting outpaced. Still has a pair bit of improvement to find here according to RPR though.
Chris’s Dream romped away to victory last time putting it in the picture for this race when previously it hadn’t even been considered. Would need the ground to come up very soft though as it relished the heavy ground last time, another not to race over hurdles before November and it is hard to imagine it getting such an easy time of things. Big distance winners may impress for certain races but when looking for the victor of this it just isn’t the style or trend.
Poetic Rhythm is more like what I am looking for. Second season novice who actually ran in the Ballymore last year as a 66/1 outsider. Didn’t run much of a race as he got badly hampered early on. Has loads of course experience and has taken its form on to the next level this year with grade 2 and 1 wins. The problem for me is that it has been campaigned again around the 2m 4f trip which seems strange for a horse with so much experience if they thought it was a three miler. To me it just seems like they are avoiding the classier Ballymore in favour of the winable Albert Bartlett.
I have already advised a bet on Enniscoffey Oscar for Emma Lavelle. She does so well improving this type over further like this has done, winning a grade 2 last time out on its first try over 3m. Five hurdles runs to its name, a graded win and began over hurdles before the end of October. Does fit the trends well in that sense for a winner though a lot of the talk from the yard is more about their other runner Paisley Park. Maybe it is because the latter has a flashier profile, but only the three runs and not seen out until the middle of December isn’t in the profile of previous winners.
With Santini having so many trends to overcome if it is to win then I feel it is worth getting involved in the race again. If you are not on Enniscoffey Oscar then I advise you do so. It is still available at 20/1 which I advised it at a few weeks back and I still feel it has a solid chance. I also want to add Poetic Rhythm to my bets on the race. Second season novice with bags of experience of the track including in the Ballymore last year. Has clearly improved this year and having watched a few preview nights it has been well touted by people connected to the horse. With the experience it has I am prepared to put aside my concerns over the lack of a run so far at 3m hoping that a good round of jumping should put it into contention at the finish.
0.75pt e/w Poetic Rhythm @ 14/1 Willhill and Paddy Power
The curse lives on as we learn that Sizing John, last years winner misses out on the race. This will be three years in a row that the previous winner doesn’t compete in the race and confirms that the title will not be retained, something that hasn’t been done since Best Mate in the early 2000s despite several class horses trying. This year we have a favourite in Might Bite who has bags of class but has shown itself to be rather quirky. None more so than when leading the RSA last year only to pull itself up and hang, for it then to pick up again and win.
If you believe in the age stats, like I do then this is the year for Might Bite to win the race. As a 9yo it is the same age as Don Cossack, Synchronised, Imperial Commander and Kauto Star the second time he won. No horse this century has won the race as a 10yo+ despite all of the champion three mile two furlong horses trying. Like in many of the graded races at Cheltenham, age is a barrier and in this race that barrier is at 10 years of age. Fits many of the trends that we see in a winner of this race. Joint top rated on RPR it has the course form as the RSA winner and eight of the last ten winners all won last time out. Also 15 of the last 17 winners had run in 12 chases or less. Whilst experience helps in this race, too much can bottom a horse out for the right combination needed of stamina and speed. As we are about to see with several of the opposition, they have some big trends to overcome. Soft ground would be a bit of a concern for the horse as it probably helps the opposition more than it would Might Bite who looks best on better ground. Apart from that it has a very strong chance on form and trends,
The one that fails the most trends towards the head of the betting is Native River who it has been suggested may even go off favourite for the race. But, as a 10yo (0/67 this century) who was beaten on its first run in the Gold Cup (0/66), has raced over further than the Gold Cup trip under rules (1/80) and has raced with cheekpieces on for its last 8 runs (0/42 in headgear this century) and you can see just how many different trends it will need to break if it was to win. Has certainly shown the ability to win this race and actually equals Might Bite on RPR but at its price with all these trends which so many good horses have failed to overcome I just can’t back it.
Our Duke now takes third place in the betting. However, that has its own significant trends to overcome. Having raced on heavy ground just 27 days ago it needs to break the cycle that the last ten winners had at least a 33 day break between races whilst those to have raced on heavy that season are 0/79 from the last 20 renewals. I’m a fan of Our Duke but as an Irish National winner it also fails the trends mentioned with Native River to have raced over a trip longer than the Gold Cup. Another I am happy to take on.
One that does fit the trends is Road To Respect which I have already recommended. A 7yo from Ireland, like last years winner, this is arguably in an even better position having won at the Festival last year and is a grade 1 winner last time out. Unlike Might Bite, Road To Respect is an improving type who looks to have the perfect match of stamina and speed for this test. What stops me from getting too heavily involved is the concern over the ground. Its best runs have come on yielding or better so with the forecast of rain it does raise an issue. This has been well highlighted by the owner of Gigginstown Michael O’Leary stating that soft ground would really hinder the horses chances. Whether this is just bluster trying to offer excuses early, or whether he thinks the weather gods will listen and not cause too much rain at the track, who knows! Its second best RPR was on soft ground at Down Royal on its second last run this year when narrowly beaten by Outlander. If it comes up good to soft I would be very bullish about its chances.
Killultagh Vic has plenty of potential but is a big ask to win this on the back of a fall having only completed two chase runs to date. Though a grade 1 winner over hurdles, all 17 winners this century had won a grade 1 chase previously. Fancied in the betting though even Ruby Walsh has said he may well favour Djakadam over it. Seems too short a price for my liking with it having everything to prove.
Definitely Red will be popular after its win last time suggested it had the ability to take a hand here. That was still a grade 2 though and lacks that grade 1 win over fences, whilst its thirteen starts over the larger obstacles have to undo a trend that has seen 15 of the last 17 winners having run in 12 or fewer chases. Twice raced on heavy ground this season as well as having raced in the 4m here and the Grand National, thus run over further than the Gold Cup trip.
If I was to pick one out at a big price then I would be inclined to go with Edwulf. Only fails on the raced over further trend and that was in the 4m last year when travelling well but going wrong and pulling up. An improver who won a grade 1 last time out and has avoided heavy ground this season. Would benefit from a strong pace to set it up for this hold up performer. As a second season chaser though it is open to that bit of improvement.
For me this race is a match on trends between Might Bite and Road To Respect. Might Bite has the proven form in the book but Road To Respect is an improver. At the bigger prices I have already tipped Road To Respect and I am not one for putting up favourites, however, a the current odds it is still possible to back both horses and make a decent profit. From an ante post perspective though I think it is more likely that the price of Road To Respect will contract than Might Bites as layers could well want to get the favourite. Therefore I suggest you back Road To Respect a second time if you got on when I first advised (and at a bigger price before Sizing John was ruled out), or if not then make sure you back him now.
1pt win Road To Respect @ 9/1 Skybet, Betfair and Paddy Power
Anyone that has been following my advice would know that I am all over Wonderful Charm for this race, having been running on strongly at the finish last year when given too much to do, before being bought into by the Waley-Cohen family with the intention of their son to ride in the big one. Thankfully that still looks the plan. However it seems to have a strong competitor in the Irish horse Burning Ambition whose form looks very good indeed. Ireland also have the ex grade 1 placed Foxrock qualified for the race so it has a strong look to it this year.
Burning Ambition is the favourite and rightly so on its 2nd place to Gilgamboa who a little over a year ago was second in a grade 2. Pushed it all the way only to go down late on. As a 7yo it is not the negative you may think it is with those aged 9 or younger having won 8 of the last 12. Admittedly 24 of the last 31 had won their last start but that can be forgiven I feel as it is still the best form on offer this year. Recently experience has been key however with the last 5 winners all having 14 or more runs under rules. Personally I can forgive some of the stats if it wasn’t for the fact the horse is favourite. Only the two runs under rules and just five starts in point to point. This is a big ask for such an inexperienced horse possibly ridden by an inexperienced jockey. Fine if you got on at bigger prices but now I think the value is gone.
Wonderful Charm as I mention before has been campaigned with the intention of winning this race having caught the eye in the previous years race. That worked last year where Pascha De Polder had been given a very considerate ride with Victoria Pendleton on board and in my opinion with a better jockey could have finished a lot closer to it. Last year it had Bryony Frost on board who has gone on to bigger and better things since winning. Wonderful Charm was the eye catcher last year having been given far too much to do but staying on very well to just be denied. A jockey who will be more familiar with the horse will be riding this time whilst it prepped well for the race. Couple of concerns though. 25 of the 29 winners began in points or hunter chases whereas this was hurdling in France. Also horses that were rated over 140 at their peak are just 1/62 from the last 12 renewals. I am also worried about the ground as the horse seems to be at his best in decent conditions and it could well be soft come race time.
Another to fail the rated over 140 test is Foxrock. On a line through Gilgamboa it also has a several lengths to find with Burning Ambition, however it does possess plenty of experience including twice around here in the 4m NH Chase and the Ryanair, though its 9th place finish in the NH Chase was its best finish from both races. With only 1 winner this century coming off an absence of longer than 41 days, being off the course for 54 is enough to put me off.
Horses aged 11 or older are just 3/209 since 1990 which would rule out previous winners Pacha De Polder and On The Fringe along with several others.
Nicholls still holds a strong hand in the race though with converts Virak and Unioniste whilst he also used to train Caid Du Berlais, now with Rose Loxton. All three were rated well over 140 at their best so fail that trend though looking at this years race I wonder whether this race may be drifting more that way especially with the likes of Paul Nicholls taking the race very seriously. What I think is more important is recent form so with a joint highest RPR of 145, attained twice this year as well then Unioniste is worth a small e/w bet. Another to have been bought with this race in mind it has demolished the opposition in its last to hunter chases. At last years Festival though it was a creditable 9th in the Kim Muir off a mark of 141 when the ground may have been too fast for it. Ease in the ground suits well, has bags of experience yet is still a 10yo. Jockey is experienced in the point field, I like the fact that as a prominent runner it can hold a good position away from any trouble and so able to jump its race. Trip no problem, though it may not of been rated as high as some of Nicholls runners I think it has a very good chance.1
0.75pt e/w Unioniste @ 25/1 WillHill