Just a place from Bright Forecast at 25/1 started the day off well, but couldn’t follow it up with anything else. Most frustratingly, William Henry was removed from the shortlist at the very last minute and was available at 40/1. One that got away.

On to Thursday where we have plenty to go at and we’re confident of a much better day.

THURSDAY

1:30 – 0.75pt e/w Mengli Khan @ 16/1 Bet365 1/4 odds first 3

2:50 – 1.5pt win – Road To Respect @ 9/2 Ladbrokes, Coral, Boylesport and 888Sport

3:30 – 0.5pt e/w – Wholestone @ 33/1 Ladbrokes & Betfred 1/5th odds 4 places

0.5pt e/w – West Approach @ 33/1 Betway 1/5th odds 4 places

4:10 – 1pt win – Spiritofthegames @ 8/1 widely available

0.75pt e/w – Azzerti @ 16/1 WillHill & BetVictor 1/5th odds 5 places

0.75pt e/w – Doitforthevillage @ 20/1 1/5th odds 5 places widely available

4:50 – My Sister Sarah – 1pt win @ 17/2 Unibet

5:30 – 0.75pt e/w Rogue Angel @ 25/1 1/5th odds 5 places widely available

Already advised:

Pertemps Network:

1pt win First Assignment @ 11/1 Betfair Sportsbook NRNB

1pt e/w Boyhood @ 25/1 Betfred 1/4 odds 4 places NRNB

0.75pt e/w Not Many Left @ 16/1 Unibet, Coral and Boylesport 1/4 odds 4 places NRNB

Ryanair:

1pt win Un De Sceaux @ 10/1

Mares Novice:

1pt win Posh Trish @ 14/1

Kim Muir:

1pt e/w Captain Chaos @ 20/1 1/4 odds first 4 widely available NRNB

Analysis

1:30 JLT Novice Chase

This is a race where I just find it hard to get away from the favourite, certainly on trends. Grade 1 winning hurdlers are 4/12 in the race, the front two in the market have won 6 of the 8 renewals and finally horses that had won last time out are 6/37. With six winners also a graded chase winner and all 8 winners having run at the Festival before and the stats speak well. Form also reads well, its comfortable defeat of Topofthegame looks even better after that ones victory in the RSA. The Arkle was considered at one stage after Le Richebourg was ruled out but they seem to have made the sensible option to continue here.
The highest on Official ratings and RPR is Real Steel for Willie Mullins who has a very good record in the race. Didn’t seem to have it at graded level over hurdles and has remained outside of graded company over fences. Considering no winner of this was having their first try in a graded chase then I am happy to take it on, despite connections.
Lostintranslation looks to be the main danger and there hasn’t been much between that and Defi Du Seuil on previous races between the pair. For me it is a worry that it seems to find at least one too good a little too often. Over hurdles it was just 1 from 6 and over fences is now 1 from 4. Yes it has bumped into some good horses but this is a grade 1 chase. I cannot be convinced at its current price that it is value to win.
Kildisart is another that has yet to contest a graded chase along with Pravalaguna and Capeland. Vinndication has been off and on for this race and having been ruled out, the trainer at the weekend decided it was working so well that they would run it. Only has a little to find with Defi Du Seuil and Lostintranslation and reason to think it wasn’t its true running. However, hasn’t run at the Festival before and previous experience has proved so crucial in this race in the past. Castafiore is another that can be ruled out having not raced at the Festival before.
This leaves a couple more to look at in Voix Du Reve and Mengli Khan. Both have similar profiles having originally started in flat races before hurdling and now chasing. Both also have a top 3 finish in a grade 1 chase at around 2m or 3m. Horses that have done that are 5/17 in this race. Mengli Khan also fits the trend of a grade 1 winning hurdler, doing so last season at Fairyhouse. I have to admit I am inclined to back both e/w here. If one places then I get my money back and we still have the chance of the win. Mengli Khan looks to be the classier type and was third in the Supreme last year, but its last couple of runs have been poor. Voix Du Reve has been in better form, has more experience over fences and is an improver. Fell last time out when still in contention with Le Richebourg and though that would likely still have won, the form still looks good. The problem is I still think Defi Du Seuil is the one to beat and if that is the case then Lostintranslation shouldn’t be far away either. In which case the value just isn’t there by backing two.
I have to admit that I have had Mengli Khan in my mind for a while for this race, ever since I read the fact that 3 of the 8 winners had raced on the flat. I think the horse has been crying out for a step up in trip, getting outpaced over 2m in chases. Does need to put that bad run behind it, not the kind of form I would hope coming into this race, but at its price I am prepared to chance that this class hurdler can show what it is really capable of over the larger obstacles.
1:30 – 0.75pt e/w Mengli Khan @ 16/1 Bet365 1/4 odds first 3

2:10 Pertemps Network Final

Three ante post bets advised (First Assignment 11/1, Boyhood 25/1 & Not Many Left 16/1) and all three are running. Surprisingly they are all at around the same price as well. Both horses rejected that had made the shortlist are also in the race though both have been on the drift in the betting. Because I already have three bet in the race then I don’t want to add any more. Instead I will just copy and paste what I originally sent a week ago regarding the race:
“A race I generally like having backed both Presenting Percy and Mall Dini, but not because of trends and it was a buster last year with Delta Work becoming the first 5yo since 1988 to win as well as being the first French bred horse since 1994 and only the 2nd aged 7 or younger to start at a single figure price and win in the last 13 renewals. Interestingly I had narrowed the field down to seven but with 6 of the last 7 winners having run in the last 32 days it immediately took it down to just the one! It seems after the weather this year and the Flu epidemic that recent runs may become less significant this year.

The last eight winners have been Officially Rated 138 or higher – No reason to look any lower in the ratings therefore.

Aged 8 or younger (7/7) – Buena Vista was a bit of an anomaly winning it two years in a row aged 9 and 10. Excluding him 9yos and above over the last 10 years would have just 4 places from 47 runners.

10 of the last 12 winners had run between 6 and 10 times. The last 6 had run either 6 or 7 races over hurdles – There seems to be a significant balance gained from experience gained without being over raced and is probably recognised by trainers now when targeting this race.

Top 4 finish last time out (8/10) – Once more Buena Vista is the exception with both its wins though qualification rules have changed since then with regards this race. It is not a race you want to be entering on the back of a poor performance.

These leave me with a shortlist of five:

Boyhood – The one horse who has had a recent run, it has yet to finish outside the first four in all 11 completed starts under rules, 9 of which have been over hurdles. A course and distance winner last year on heavy ground, it confirmed its liking for the course when a good second to race fit First Assignment in a listed handicap for which it now gets a 12lb weight pull along with it being Boyhoods first run of the season. First Assignment did win easy but Boyhood wasn’t given a hard time and ran on into second under hands and heels. Qualified for this race last time out finishing 3rd at Exeter. Race wasn’t run to suit with the early pace slow, it badly lost its position and jumping the third last was only 8th. However, plodded on really well under a big weight to finish third. It was carrying 10lb more than the winner, 17lb more than 2nd and 12lb more than 4th. It has done exactly what was needed to qualify for the race without damaging its mark any further, especially when it was always guaranteed to get into this off its mark. maybe not from the flashy trainer, who has only run one in this in the last ten years, but invariably runs its race, a course and distance winner and handles any ground.

First Assignment – Already mentioned above having won easily over Boyhood and a course winner. The latter does get the weight pull but this did win easy. Since then it was beaten just 1 1/2 lengths behind Paisley Park and Shades Of Midnight. Both have won twice since with Paisley Park a short price for the Stayers whilst Shades Of Midnight won a novice chase before easily taking a grade 2 hurdle and is rated 11lb higher now. First Assignment has gone up a further 7lb for that but could be leniently treated. It qualified for this last time out at Warwick when third of ten behind Keeper Hill and Oh Land Abloom. Jumped really well but just got a bit done for speed at the finish I think. Certainly wasn’t knocked about suggesting they had one eye on this knowing a top six position would qualify the horse. Improving all the time and could still be well weighted off 142 considering what both Paisley Park and Shades Of Midnight have gone on to do since.

Black Mischief – Harry Fry runner who has had three starts this season, though fell on seasonal debut. Showed it had no effect though as it went and won next time showing a good quickening burst to take the race. Qualified last time at Wincanton when finishing fourth over 2m 5 1/2f and been off the track since. That is the furthest it has raced and I do find it difficult to be backing horses in a race like this who hasn’t proved itself at close to the trip. Also holds a Coral cup entry, it just doesn’t convince me at this stage.

Not Many Left – Pleased to see this also qualify on the trends having flagged it up as a trend horse in the Coral Cup. Sent over from Ireland for a qualifier at Huntington which is duly landed, it had shown some solid form previously behind some useful types. It easily beat Mortal and Cuneo in a maiden hurdle before finishing third in a grade 2 behind Blow By Blow who went on to win the Martin Pipe. He followed up by splitting useful mares Pravalaguna and Good Thyne Tara at Punchestown. Returned this year with a disappointing run at Limerick when never in the race but proved that wasn’t its true ability, winning at Huntingdon rather cosily despite the race not really being run to suit. Four pound rise in the weights isn’t harsh as suggested there could be more to come. Interestingly it was due to run at Carlisle for its first run, in another Pertemps qualifier but travel problems meant it couldn’t make it over, suggesting that the Pertemps has long been the season aim for the horse. Considering it has competed at a higher level in the past this horse may remain well treated and could win it for the fourth time in a row for Ireland.

Theclockisticking – Interesting one for Stuart Edmunds as it qualified early, back in October finishing 4th of the 20 runners having been backed into favouritism despite stepping up in trip by over half a mile. Since then it has had two runs, both in chases, meaning it has maintained its handicap mark, suggesting they believe it is one the horse can win off. Been turned over on its last seven hurdle starts though with its handicap mark remaining similar, give or take a pound or two which makes me wonder whether the horse just has a habit of finding one or two too good. Doesn’t seem as well handicapped as some of these.

Conclusion

There are three that interest me at the moment, Boyhood, First Assignment and Not Many Left. Considering they are all at a double figure price then I am happy to back all three now to varying stakes. First Assignment is half the price of the other two so will play that as a win only.”

2:50 Ryanair Chase

Another race where we have an ante post voucher, having recommended Un De Sceux for the race at 10/1, where we now have a best price of 6/1. Always thought of as a soft ground horse, though at this trip it may just need things a bit faster, so ground should be ideal having been drying out throughout the day. Goes against my principles, backing an 11yo to win a grade 1 but has been well protected this season and did run a career best equalling RPR of 174 when runner up to Altior at Sandown. If it can remain settled pre race, having got worked up last season then I am confident we are in with a shout.
I was hoping Footpad would go for the Champion Chase, mainly because of the trends that point towards Arkle winners performing so well in the race. Turned over twice at short prices I wouldn’t want to be backing it as favourite once again at a trip it has never tried. May have the class to win but we have yet to see it this season and until it does I can’t take it at its price.
Highest on RPR is Frodon who I fancied for the race last year but never travelled and then disappointed in its follow up race as well. However, it had a hard season last year, its run in this was its 7th start and had arguably started to show signs of tiredness in its run prior when its RPR dropped by 20lb. This season it has been kept fresher, just the four starts, well spread out and achieving a minimum RPR of 164 with the last three at 170 and above. Compare that with Monalee who is a shorter price yet hasn’t recorded an RPR in the 170’s yet, though did set a best of 167 last time out. The problem for Frodon is that it has been found wanting at grade 1 level in the past. Its record reads 8F535. Possible that the horse just performs so well bullying weaker opposition but struggles to put a strangehold on races against the best horses. As mentioned, Monalee still has plenty to prove at this level. Yet to win at the course, in which only two previous winners hadn’t done, I just don’t see it as value.

Road To Respect is vying for favouritism in the race for Gigginstown who looks to target this race somewhat. It is joint top on official ratings and a multiple grade 1 winner who was 4th in the Gold Cup last year having won the Brown Advisory the previous year. Despite having raced at 3m ever since then and having the Gold Cup to suggest it is worth another try, they have gone for the Ryanair instead. For me I do think it has the ability to outclass the opposition unless Footpad was to return to what it did last year. Balko Des Flos won the race last year but has been nowhere near that kind of form in three starts this season.

With Un De Sceaux in the book already, the one that looks most likely to win for me is Road To Respect. It is 4lb superior over Footpad on official ratings and has been in better form. For an owner that seem to be looking at sending their best horses for the race, I see this between the two.

2:50 – 1.5pt win – Road To Respect @ 9/2 Ladbrokes, Coral, Boylesport and 888Sport

3:30 Stayers Hurdle

Having been an advocate of an 11yo winning the Ryanair, we may be in for a quick double with the chances of Faugheen in the Stayers. I’m less than convinced and feel this could be the horses swansong. Has a great chance on its Punchestown win last year, but that was almost a year ago. It was turned over at a short price on seasonal debut and fell when beat behind Apples Jade. That leaves a further imponderable on how the 11yo will react to falling for the first time since it began racing in 2012. Many horses struggle to return to their ways, certainly more cautious at their fences etc. An 11yo that has been racing all this time may decide enough is enough. Purely on its form of this year I cannot back it at its price. That leave Paisley Park as a strong candidate for the race and fully 10lb clear of the third highest on RPR. I can’t disagree it has beat all before it this year including many the best the UK has to offer when trouncing the field here at the end of January. That is my one main worry however. This horse had a high of 143 RPR coming into this season. Last time out it ran a 172, fully 16lb better than it had achieved the previous two times. It has improved a massive amount. Often when that happens, when a horse puts in a ‘super human’ effort, above and beyond its normal capabilities, it can struggle to repeat it. The exertions take their toll on a horse and may not recover for months. An example I often refer to is Bristol De Mai last year. When it won the Betfair Chase at Haydock, it recorded an RPR of 182, 10lb above anything it had achieved before and making it the leading jumps horse of the season. When it then ran in the King George a month later on ground it enjoys, it blew up. When it ran at Cheltenham on heavy ground it was 21lb below that rating it achieved at Haydock. To me the horse to such a high level that it hadn’t fully recovered. For the greats this is less of an issue, they run at the level they are capable of and more natural to do. When something that has never got close to that level before does it, they may take a long while to get near to it again. I think Paisley Park could be like that. Saying that, it doesn’t mean it can’t win. Penhill won it last year running to a 163, 9lb below what Paisley Park last ran to and if Faugheen doesn’t perform at its best then that may be good enough to win once more. If it can win to that level again though so soon then maybe it is the next Big Bucks!

I’m happy to take it on with a couple of horses each way that I have had my eye on for a while. The first is an old favourite for my sins in Wholestone. Has a fantastic record at this track but you can forgive that last start when we backed it. Made a glaring error two out when just moving into contention behind Paisley Park knocking it back from 5th down to 9th, eased off when the chance had clearly gone. Now I’m happy to be realistic and say it would never of won, but with a clean jump then it was definitely in with a shout of a place at 8/1. 3rd in this last year, 6 of its top 9 performances on RPR have come at this track and it handles any ground. Stays ok, though the slightly better ground may be in its favour making it less of a slog. If the last run hasn’t left a lasting effect then it can easily outrun its odds. A little surprised to see Daryl Jacob jump ship to Top Notch. Possibly has more potential than Wholestone though I feel that has a better chance of running its race.

The other I want to back is West Approach. Doesn’t win often enough for a horse of its ability but I can forgive that at its price. Possibly underrated here as well. Take out Paisley Park from its last two runs and it would have won grade 1 and 2 races and be much shorter in the betting. Does have Paisley Park to contend with again but the suggestion is that it will be ridden more patiently and less of a target for PP. It had some solid Cheltenham form as a novice and Tizzard knows how to ready one.

3:30 – 0.5pt e/w – Wholestone @ 33/1 Ladbrokes & Betfred 1/5th odds 4 places

0.5pt e/w – West Approach @ 33/1 Betway 1/5th odds 4 places

4:10 Brown Advisory

Both ante post selections bypassed the race, Ben Dundee instead running and placing in the Close Brothers. Janika is the favourite and looks to have a bit of class about it. Could easily have run in a graded race but instead tries to win a handicap off a mark of 156. Could run well but I can;t have it winning a handicap off that kind of mark here, it is almost unheard of. From all of the horses I had shortlisted for the race, the only one to actually run is Spiritofthegames. Consistent hurdler who has taken its form on to another level in chases. Won a listed chase on debut before outclassed behind La Bague Au Roi on form likely to get franked even further in the JLT. Then was third in a novice handicap here behind Kildisart and Highway One O One who ran well for a long way the other day. Was 5th in the County last year and is a point winner so after just three starts over the larger obstacles there could well be improvement to come. The yard have already got off the mark here this week and though that was a little fortuitous, this could well give them a good chance of doubling their victories.

Another I want to back is Azzerti. Unfortunately just got balloted out of the Close Brothers missing by just one place having tipped it for the race ante post. Gets in here though off a low weight, which prior to last year was a prerequisite. Likely to be ridden patiently so will need plenty of luck in running, it was well fancied two starts ago here when falling despite still being in contention. Had a confidence booster since which would have done the horse the world of good whilst on the positive side it has done no harm to its handicap mark. Will have to avoid the trouble but a smart jockey on board, it will be a case of keeping our fingers crossed.

Finally I have to back Doitforthevillage to make it a hat trick of bets in the race. 6th last year off a 1lb lower mark in the Grand Annual despite enduring a nightmare passage. Prior to its last start its form looks really strong. Third to Lady Buttons at the beginning of December, the winner is now rated 9lb higher. It won well at Chepstow before it was runner up behind Cyrname in a race working out very well. The winner obviously won a grade 1 next time and is rated 28lb higher, whilst the third won a mares listed race. Doitforthevillage did seem to disappoint on last start when never getting into the race though the fast ground may not of suited it. Should get the race run to suit it is another that will be brought along gradually and will need some luck in running. But if doing so I doubt there will be many finishing stronger.

4:10 – 1pt win – Spiritofthegames @ 8/1 widely available

0.75pt e/w – Azzerti @ 16/1 WillHill & BetVictor 1/5th odds 5 places

0.75pt e/w – Doitforthevillage @ 20/1 1/5th odds 5 places widely available

4:50 Mares Novice

Not a race I want to spend too long on as we already have a good bet on Posh Trish at 14/1 who is now trading at a best of 6/1. Has a very solid chance as well against a favourite who has been beating trees and yet to have a serious race. A worry as well that connections have turned to a hood on this inexperienced mare.

With that in mind I am happy to add one more in the race in an attempt at making a profit from it. That is My Sister Sarah for Willie Mullins and the selection of Ruby Walsh. Always been well regarded, it was pinpointed by the trainer in his stable tour at the beginning of the season as the one most likely for this race. She hasn’t done much wrong since then either yet is still a fair price, though has come in for some support of late. Doesn’t have to carry the penalty and has been kept fresh, she has started favourite for her four career runs to date. Hasn’t run to as high a level like many of Mullins do before this but she could be the type that just does enough. Considering he has seven in the race and this is the one for Ruby speaks volumes I hope.

4:50 – My Sister Sarah – 1pt win @ 17/2 Unibet

5:30 Kim Muir

One of my more confident ante post handicap bets was had here on Captain Chaos. Surprisingly that is still not reflected in the market as it is the same price of 20/1 that I advised. A little surprised by that. Gina Andrews won the race two years ago so knows what it takes and as mentioned earlier, the Skeltons have already had a winner here this week. I’m guessing it is because there are more fashionable connections in the race that are pursueding punters to look their way. The front two in the betting are the amateurs Derek O’Connor and Jamie Codd, whilst the third is trained by Gordon Elliott for the same owner as Presenting Percy. Nothing has put me off the form of Captain Chaos, in fact it has only been franked by Lake View Lad finishing 3rd in the Ultima. With a good round of jumping it must have an excellent chance.

At an even bigger price I am prepared to give Rogue Angel a chance, trained by Gordon Elliott and ridden by Lisa O’Neill, who has a course victory to her name having won the NH Chase on Tiger Roll. This is a race in which horses often are rejuvenated by the conditions. They have little form in the season yet turn up and produce the goods when needed off a lower mark then it had largely been racing off. That could well be the case here. Horses who have run their best at a trip beyond 3m 3f are 6/33 in the 10 races on the new course (Rogue Angel won the Irish National in 2016). Seven of the last eight winner ran in headgear, this will be accompanied by blinkers and a tongue tie. Ground is no problem and well handicapped on best form. Is an 11yo but The Package managed to win this as a 12yo so it can be done. Likely to race prominently and out of trouble, a tactic well worked last year with Missed Approach, a horse I tipped to win. Ground should be fine, it is worth a play with 5 places on offer.

5:30 – 0.75pt e/w Rogue Angel @ 25/1 1/5th odds 5 places widely available