Friday 17th March
1.30 – Triumph Hurdle
Jockey bookings was always going to be significant in this race when Willie Mullins had the front four in the betting. With Townend picking Lossiemouth over the others then she has hardened up again into favouritism, with Patrick Mullins taking the ride on Blood Destiny and Danny Mullins unsurprisingly retaining his position on Gala Marceau. What was surprising is the number of horses that are taking part with 15 set to line up. With the front three setting a good standard I would of thought it would put several trainers off, though admittedly four of those are also from the Willie Mullins yard. A couple of those are well worth watching for the future as they are still maidens over hurdles and so assuming they don’t win this they potentially could maintain novice status for next year, like Il Etait Temps did from last season to this. Both are from big owners and are fillies so would be eligible for the mares novice next season if they don’t win this term. Je Garde looks to be the best of the pair but Cinsa is from the same owners as Eglantine Du Seuil who won the mares novice in 2019. You can see how I am already looking ahead to early bets for next season! Anyway, I put up Gala Marceau and I see no reason to desert her now. Soft ground is not an issue and she stays well which you need to do in a Triumph. The big field is a concern though I don’t think she has to lead, however it could end up setting the race for a stronger finisher such as Lossiemouth. With most firms betting only three places and the front three all looking to have strong chances then there seems no value in betting anything at bigger prices.
1.5pt win – Gala Marceau @ 5/1 (Bet365) Already advised
2.10 – County Hurdle
Usual story, those aged 9 or older are 0/24 in last 10 years with 3 placed. 9 of the last 11 winners were rated 137 or higher so have drawn the line there. This is also a very hard race to win carrying weight though Arctic Fire did manage it with an incredible achievement. Sharjah would have been interesting in that perspective if he was running but he has since been withdrawn. Anyway, only 2 of the last 19 winners have done so carrying more than 11st 1lb. Finally 7 of the last 10 winners had single figure runs over hurdles though those 3 winners have come in the last 6 years. You could therefore argue that experience is becoming more important, except two of those to race less in that time came in with what was the minimum of 3 runs (Both for Willie Mullins). The rules have been changed so you must have at least 4 runs over hurdles to qualify but Mullins still has an interesting one in Hunters Yarn who has made it in. However, 11st 6lb to carry and a rating of 147 is a lot more than what his past inexperienced novices have carried!
Applying all these leaves me just four horses to consider. First is Filey Bay, the current favourite. Not a great thing in a race where the favourite has won only twice in the last 21 years. However, both those wins have come in the last 3 years (The two Mullins novices with just three runs to their name) so they can now win if fitting the right profile. Caught the eye in the Betfair hurdle when the only horse to make any ground from the back. He went down fighting to be beat 1 length, with the pair 11 lengths ahead of the third. That has meant the horse has been hit with an 8lb rise in the weights for it. However, it also means he gets into the race with the right profile for this. Mark Walsh takes over in the saddle and the trainer is very shrewd, knowing what it takes to win at the Festival. The concern is the ground as he has no form on soft, however, the ground is drying out and not much forecast now it seems so it wouldn’t be surprising if good to soft by tomorrow. Tongue tie also applied may just be enough to get that extra improvement, whilst his hold up style is well suited to the race. As long as the ground isn’t too soft then he is the one to beat, but that is reflected in the prices.
Next I have Path D’Oroux for Gavin Cromwell. One with the minimum of four runs to qualify but has been highly tried. Debut win then saw it go for the Royal Bond but pulled up quickly there. Proved that was a one off when a creditable 4th behind Facile Vega, Il Etait Temps and Ashroe Diamond albeit well behind though never put in the race at any point. Won a novice last time under a penalty but the race fell apart with the favourite brought down and the next two in the betting falling and pulling up due to injury. That makes it hard to assess just how good he is. Shapes as though will be well suited to being held up in a big field and all his form is on soft ground. He has the same mark as Filey Bay but does have a bit more to prove. Price seems fair though for an unexposed novice who could be capable of a lot more. A horse I have always thought capable of picking up a big handicap is Petit Tonnerre, who always seems to travel well but needs the field to come back to him which should happen here. Didn’t seem to stay at Ascot over 2m 3f when again travelling well into the race. Ground is no issue and did have the option of the longer handicaps but instead have gone for this which makes more sense on the ground. Was set to run in the Fred Winter last year but had to be pulled on the day when he wasn’t quite right. Instead they went to Aintree for the grade 1 for 4yos but made several early jumping mistakes and lost his confidence. Will need his hurdling to stand up here but the potential is there to run a big race. The last horse is a massive price in Highland Charge. Lightly raced considering he is an 8yo, he is a real soft ground horse according to form so the drying ground this season hasn’t done him any favours. Not taken to chasing either hence an aborted campaign and the switch back to hurdles. He is a grade 3 winner this time last year over hurdles so the ability is there. Chancing a bounce back but the price is right. However, drying ground won’t be a help and is trainer has not had a horse placed from 7 attempts in the last 10 years.
0.75pt e/w – Petit Tonnerre @ 22/1 (Skybet – 8 places)
2.50 – Albert Bartlett
Interesting after suggesting that Corbetts Cross may not run that they have declared it after all! Saying that it isn’t favourite any more with Three Card Brag taking over at the head of the betting. Rare for a winner of this not to have tackled any distance close to the three mile trip and with a maximum of 20 declared then you imagine this will be some test. Easy ground is no problem, has been improving in each of his runs and shapes as though further will suit. However, it is a short price now for a horse who hasn’t raced beyond 2 1/2m. The Nice Guy defied it last year but as an 18/1 outsider with just one run to his name then he hasn’t had much chance to prove himself at the trip. Connections of this horse have kept him at the medium trip instead, possibly so didn’t overwork him. Only 3 winners in the last 18 years hadn’t raced at 2m 7f or further so happy to pass the horse at its price.
I put three up Antepost in this… Favori De Champdou, Letsbeclearaboutit and Shanbally Kid. Surprisingly the former has drifted in price but looking at Oddschecker is getting backed in again now. Has the right profile that I am looking for of a winner of this race especially as this should be a significant stamina test. If you are not on yet then I would suggest betting it. Letsbeclearaboutit is a horse I have always liked and should be well suited to this. Handles any ground though not sure a big field will help it as does like to be prominent so will have some competition at the head of the field. Saying that, a solid gallop would be up his street as I just feel the horse is a strong galloper who lacks a turn of foot like Three Card Brag seems to have.
This looks an open handicap and any number of horses can be considered as having a chance. 8 of the last 9 winners have been a double figure price so with a maximum number of runners I wouldn’t want to be looking too far at those at the front of the betting.
1pt e/w – Favori De Champdou @ 10/1 (General – 3 places) Already advised
0.5pt e/w – Shanbally Kid @ 25/1 (Coral – 3 places) Already advised
0.25pt e/w – Letsmeclearaboutit @ 20/1 (Bet365 – 3 places) Already advised
3.30 – Gold Cup
No point going into too much here as can’t add much more that hasn’t already been said. De Bromhead has had a good start to the Festival with two winners place a 2nd with Captain Guinness in the Champion Chase. Three horses have run in the graded races so far with a 4th, a 1st and a 2nd with a few going on Thursday as a type. Good runs from them would be a major boost for the chances of A Plus Tard who on all known form (As a current champion and 6lb ahead on RPR). So much so that I feel he is worth betting now as a small win only bet as a repeat of last year could well see him win. 7/1 chancing that happens seems fair though wouldn’t want to get too carried away. I have also been talking up the chances of Protektorat who impressed me with his win in the Betfair Chase. May of needed the run in the Cotswold Chase last time when fading away a little before running on again. His trainer suggested so having left a bit to work with. 3rd in the race last year despite lacking experience, he looks more the finished article this year and the trainer has already got off the mark at the Festival with Langer Dan. He is my idea of an each way option in the race, we have him Antepost at 16/1 to 3 places, but if you are not on, take the 14/1 to 4 places, available with most firms.
Galopin Des Champs is still the one with the most potential but like I suspected we are set for a competitive 13 runner field. Interesting to see he is drifting out a bit with even 2/1 available in a place. May depends how the early races go but wouldn’t be surprised if he started nearer the 5/2 mark.
1pt win – A Plus Tard @ 7/1 (General)
1pt e/w – Protektorate @ 16/1 (General – 3 places)
4.10 – Hunters Chase
Gutted my strong fancy for the race hasn’t been declared with Dubai Quest ruled out. Explains why his prep had been different this year as clearly something not right with the horse. Surprisingly therefore it means one of the best amateur jockeys over these fences doesn’t even have a ride in the race. Vaucelet looks to have a very good chance as a class act in the point to point field and has been targeted at this race for the last year. Yard could have run any one of three or four horses in this but have stuck to Vaucelet who looks to have the right profile. However, 11/4 for a horse who has yet to race at the track is a little short from a tipping point of view in my opinion. Instead I would rather back a horse who has been there and done it before in Billaway who returns for a repeat win in the race. Not the easiest of rides, he is prone to mistakes but will have no problem with the ground and stays really well. He has won on both starts when trying new headgear and they are turning to blinkers this time along with the tongue tie which worked last time. The horse is a bit of a thinker so keeping things different is probably a good idea. A record of 221 in the race, comes in on the back of a win with a similar prep to last year. He looks a solid each way bet for an interest in the race.
1pt e/w – Billaway @ 8/1 (General – 4 places)
4.50 – Mares Chase
Allegorie De Vassy has strengthened at the head of the betting and whilst she may prove to be the best mare in the race you can’t ignore the fact that she jumps significantly to her right! Mullins was unable to iron out that tendency from Asterion Forlonges so no reason to think he can solve the issue here with this one. Jumps a bit high as well though I like the fact she will probably be racing prominently. Colreevy managed to get away with jumping a little to her right in this race but that was a much weaker race and was just a slight tendency. ADV jumps significantly to her right! Not what you want on a left handed track like this in what looks to be the strongest renewal of the race. Impervious has done little wrong, winning all three of her starts. Her win over Dinoblue was franked somewhat by that running a big race in the Grand Annual on Wednesday whilst her win over Journey With Me was franked by that winning a grade 3 at the weekend. Handles any ground, her jumping was less impressive as before last time out but that is sure to be worked on. She has a very good chance and though her price has drifted, it is starting to come back in with 9/4 the best available. She is one for the multiples!
I tipped up Jeremys Flame as an each way bet to nothing so surprised a bit to see it has drifted a little. Wouldn’t want the ground too quick which shouldn’t be an issue, she has took her form on to another level this year. I see no reason for the drift and so if you haven’t backed it yet then I suggest it is worth doing.
1pt e/w – Jeremy’s Flame @ 5/1 (General – 5 places)
5.30 – Martin Pipe
Last race of the Festival and the get out stakes, though not one that has proved very lucky for me in the past. I have said since October that I felt Imagine would be plotted up for this race and now we get here he is a best price of 5/1. The ante post prices I hold are much bigger than that! Looks short now though in what is always a competitive race with just three winners in the last ten years being at a single figure price (and no favourites, in fact only 2 favs have placed in the ten years). He does feature on my shortlist but that looks very predictable as I only have four horses and they are all in the front five of the betting! Maybe this race is too predictable?
Anyway, ruled out all horses aged 8 and older as they are 0/43 with just 1 placed. 9 of the 10 winners had raced just 8 or fewer times over hurdles. The last 11 winners had all been rated 135 or higher so have drawn the line there also. The four horses I am left with are Spanish Harlem, Imagine, Iroko and Might I. Both Imagine and Spanish Harlem have the most to prove still according to RPRs but then they represent the yards of Elliott and Mullins who have won this race 5 times in the last 9 years. Iroko is for a couple of young trainers but is owned by McManus so can’t be dismissed especially as money has already come for it. Get the feeling if he was owned by one of the bigger yards then he would be a shorter price. But, saying that, from the last 9 years the race has been one by four trainers at least twice with Webber and his mare Indefatigable the exception in 2020. Mullins, Elliott, Nicholls and Joseph O’Brien is some list of winning trainers. This is the same issue I have with Might I who looks well suited to this test and has always promised a lot more. Can Harry Fry break into the limited list of trainers to have won this in the last few years?
Coming to a bet for the race, I don’t like leaving out the last race of the Festival, especially as I love the handicaps. But, I get the impression whichever one I plump for would be the wrong one and if I was to back more than one then it would be the year something caused a shock. Therefore I have decided not to tip anything, hopefully we have made out money well before in the day! If you want an interest in the last race then a small stakes combination forecast and tricast on Spanish Harlem, Imagine, Iroko and Might I should provide a good bit of interest and potentially some excitement!