1.30 – Cheltenham – Tuesday 10th March 2020:
 
Sky Bet Supreme Novices´ Hurdle Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+):
 
Distance: 2 miles half a furlong on the old course.
 
The traditional curtain raiser to the Festival run over the same distance as the Champion Hurdle and open to Novices four years old and upwards. Runners are required to jump eight flights and the race is noted for it’s fast pace. The race normally goes to a slick hurdler who has the ability to travel well and thoroughly see out the trip. 
 
Positive Trends to consider:
 
From just seven qualifiers 4 of the last 7 winners had won a Grade One Novice hurdle on their previous start.
Willie Mullins has provided 4 of the last 7 winners and they were all his shortest priced runner in the field.
In the past six years horses rated 154 or higher have a 4 from 7 record.
The past 8 winners had all won a Graded Novice hurdle.
The past 16 winners were British, Irish or French bred.
The past 16 winners had run 2-5 times in the current season.
The past 16 winners had two or more career victories.
The past 16 winners had won over hurdles at least once.
The past 16 winners wore no headgear or sported a tongue tie.
The past 16 winners ran between 16 and 18 furlongs in a non-handicap over hurdles last time out and started in that race at 12/1 or less.
23 of the last 25 winners had run in the same calendar year.
20 of the last 23 winners had won last time out.
14 of the last 16 winners finished in the first two last time out
19 of the last 25 winners had run within the last 45 days.
14 of the last 16 winners had run 2-5 times over hurdles.
14 of the last 16 winners had run at least 4 times over hurdles.
15 of the last 16 winners had run no more than 9 times in their career. (those with 10 or more are 1 from 85)
15 of the last 16 winners were aged 5 or 6.
12 of the past 18 winners had contested a Grade One Novice Hurdle earlier in the season, seven had won.
8 of the last 10 winners came from the first 4 in the betting.
Negative Trends to note:
 
Only three horses in the past 23 years have won this race on the back of a defeat in their previous race.
Ex flat horses have generally struggled in recent seasons. (just 2 winners since 2008)
Only two of the last 17 winners were unbeaten over hurdles.
In recent seasons the Betfair Hurdle winner/form has not held up in the Supreme Novices’. (0 from 7)
The last 37 horses to have worn headgear have been beaten.
Analysis:
Backing horses in this race based on the fact that they have the highest BHA rating has not always been a good strategy but in the past six renewals of this race only seventeen horses have been allocated an Official Rating of 150 or more ahead of the day. Five of those went on to win and there wasn’t a qualifier in 2017. There are four in this season’s field. Abacadabras (153), Asterion Forlonge (155), Shishkin (153) and Fiddlerontheroof (154).
 
Abacadabras was fourth in last season’s Champion Bumper at this Festival and has quickly made up into a very talented hurdler, winning three of his four starts. Ironically his best performance arguably came in defeat to Envoi Allen in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse. His one and half length defeat is one of the best pieces of form on offer in this race and he has subsequently been an easy winner of the Grade One Future Champions Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown. His absence since December 27th is a concern and he may not want the ground too deep but he has had Latest Exhibition (undefeated since) and Darver Star (subsequent close second in the Irish Champion Hurdle) behind him in two of his races and the former came in soft/heavy ground. 
 
Asterion Forlonge never made his debut over hurdles until January at Naas but a ten length Maiden win was followed by an easy victory by almost as far stepped up to Grade One Novice company in the Chanelle Pharma at Leopardstown. That race has proved a good trial for the Supreme having supplied three of the last seven winners. The second in that race was unbeaten on his first two starts over hurdles and was rated 146 so the form looks useful. Connections are of the opinion that he is a future stayer and, although that’s not a disadvantage in this race, he may get tapped for toe by a few. He’s likely to see the race out strongly but he lacks the experience of a typical winner, although coming from the Willie Mullins yard that may be of no consequence. A bigger worry is his tendency to jump to his right on left-handed tracks. At certain points on this track that could see him forfeiting valuable ground.
Shishkin gives his owner a serious two pronged attack on this race (also owns Asterion Forlonge) and he comes into the race on the back of two facile victories at Newbury and Huntingdon. He was visually impressive but only two have placed since (11 runs) from the Newbury race and the second at Huntingdon was rated just 139 and the fourth (rated 143) didn’t run his race. It was only a Listed race and his lack of form at Graded level is a concern. He will be the first horse in seventeen seasons to win coming from a prep. run at Huntingdon and 128 have tried. Beating horses easily on flat tracks is not an ideal preparation for the test he will face here and his Trainer’s record of 1 from 36 (Altior) in this race since 1993 is hardy a compelling argument to support a horse as short as he currently is. He may prove to have the tools for the job but he’s a very short price for what he has actually achieved on the track.
Chantry House, like Shishkin, also represents Nicky Henderson. He is unbeaten in two starts over hurdles but both have been Novice affairs here and at Newbury. He had to defy a penalty at Newbury but quickened up in impressive fashion without his Jockey having to make much effort. That effort has lead the Assessor giving him an Official Rating of 140 so he has work to do with the principals in this race. The lack of form against Graded class horses is a worry, although he has at least proved he will handle the undulations of this track. His best days will come when he tackles fences (maybe next season) and doesn’t appeal at his current price given his lack of experience and this marked step up in class.
Fiddlerontheroof was progressive in three Bumpers for John Walsh before being sold to current connections and joining Colin Tizzard. He was pitched into the Grade Two Persian War Novices’ on his hurdling debut and ran Thyme Hill to within two lengths in finishing second over an extended 19 furlongs. He filled the same position when losing out by just under a length to Edwardstone in a Wincanton Novice race over two miles next time out but has found improvement on his last two starts at Sandown. Both were in deeper ground and were truly run affairs over two miles. The first was only a Maiden but his six length victory in the Grade One Tolwort Novices’ gave him an Official Rating of 154. The second was only rated 136 but he was giving her seven pounds and dispatched her with the minimum of fuss. He is a physically imposing horse who will stay further but a strongly run race in soft ground on this track could suit him ideally.
Captain Guiness wasn’t seen until making his debut in a Maiden at Naas in December. After winning that race by seven lengths he was pitched into Grade Two company at Punchestown the following month. He was far too keen and pulled himself to the front at the fourth flight and continued to race with the choke out. He was entitled to drop away in the latter stages but, such is his engine, he was able to push the favourite all the way to the line and go down by less than a length. The winner has subsequently been beaten and misses this Festival but Captain Guiness did everything wrong and still managed to almost pull the rabbit out of the hat. He will need to find significant improvement to get involved here but the faster pace of this race may help him settle and, if it does, it’s possible he could bridge the gap to the principals if his inexperience doesn’t prove to be a barrier.
Edwardstone beat Fiddlerontheroof on his hurdling debut but that rival has improved significantly since and he had his limitations exposed in a four runner Grade Two at Haydock last time out. Probably better suited to the scenario he is likely to get here but he represents a Trainer who is 0 from 62 with his non-handicap hurdlers at this Festival over the past four years. Twelve of those did place so he is not without hope of picking up some minor honours.
 
Of the others:
Nothing makes much appeal for win purposes but with one bookmaker (William Hill) going seven places Allart and Elixir D’ainey will have their supporters.
Summary:
 
Over the past decade seven of the winners have either been held up or raced in mid-division and the former group have proved the most profitable to follow. Much depends on the pace generated but this race is typically truly run and something that can travel and jump while buried in the pack could fare best. Those tactics can be fraught with danger with those in front falling or dropping back into the laps of horses going better, but no scenario is bomb proof. However this year’s renewal looks to contain some strong stayers and it’s possible that if any of these get to the head of affairs they may not come back to the rest. This race tends to follow some strong trends with 5 or 6 year olds who won last time out, have had four or five runs over hurdles, have Graded form to their name, have run recently and don’t sport headgear being a typically strong group.  
Selections: (outlay – 3.75 pts )
 
Abacadabras – 2 pts win. Available at 13/2. (Betvictor, Coral)
 
Fiddlerontheroof – 1.75 pts win. Available at 7/1. (Coral, Sportinbet)
 
 
 
2.10 – Cheltenham – Tuesday 10th March 2020:
Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (5yo+):
Distance: 2 miles on the old course.
The Arkle is a chase open to Novices of five years and upwards run over two miles and is classed as their Championship race. The advent of the JLT meant field sizes in recent seasons have been smaller but eleven line up for this year’s renewal. A horse with form over further dropping back in trip for this was the typically a horse who would win but the JLT has seen those types taking in that race and leaving the speedier sorts to take in this race. Since 2011, five of the next eight winners had proven high class form over hurdles, winning at Grade Two or Grade One level. Seven of the eight were unbeaten in their completed starts over fences and six had proven themselves in Graded company over the minimum trip earlier in the season. 
 
Positive Trends to consider:
 
Willie Mullins has been responsible for 4 of the last 5 winners. All were French bred.
16 of the last 18 winners had won a Grade One or Grade Two over fences or hurdles.
14 of the last 20 winners had won a Grade One or Grade Two over fences earlier in the season.
Five of the past seven winners had won a Grade One or Grade Two over fences and hurdles.
15 of the last 21 winners were unbeaten over fences when completing.
The last 16 winners had 1-4 previous chase starts
The last 16 winners 2-5 starts in current season.
The last 16 winners had 1-4 previous chase wins
15 of the last 18 winners had run at least twice over fences before Jan. 1st.
20 of the last 27 winners went Chasing after just a single season over hurdles.
The last 16 winners had previously won over at least 17 furlongs.
The last 16 winners were ridden by a jockey that had rode the horse at least 3 times previously
19 of the last 20 winners returned 9/1 or shorter
The last 16 winners started at 9/2 or less in their last race.
The last 16 winners had run in a non-handicap Chase in their last race.
12 of the last 15 winners had won (or been placed) at Cheltenham before.
12 of the last 16 winners at run at the Cheltenham Festival previously.
14 of the last 16 winners had previously won at Grade One or Grade Two level.
12 of the last 15 winners had won a Grade 1 or 2 chase before.
14 of the last 18 winners had won a Grade One or Two over fences earlier in the season.
7 of the last 12 winners were Officially Top Rated.
12 of the last 13 winners were aged 6 or 7 years-old.
15 of the last 16 winners had won 1 of their last 2 starts.
The last 10 winners won last time out (plus 15 of the last 19).
15 of the last 16 winners had 1-2 starts within the last 90 days.
Nicky Henderson has won the race 6 times (respect those that spent only one season hurdling)
Negative Trends to note:
 
Since the age allowance was removed five year olds are 0 from 11.
12 of the last 13 runners to represent Paul Nicholls have finished unplaced.
Only two of the last 33 winners failed to finish in the first two last time out.
Just two of the last 29 winners have started at 11/1 or greater.
Only 3 of the last 28 winners were older than seven years old.
It’s been three decades since a horse nine or older was successful.
Ex flat horses have drawn a blank, 28 have tried.
There has only been one winner this century who wore headgear.
Analysis:
 
Notebook has proved to be a much better Chaser than hurdler. He came into this sphere with a hurdles rating of just 130 but an undefeated run of four Chases, one at Grade Two level and Two at Grade One, have seen him gain an Official Rating of 158 as a Chaser. He beat Fakir D’oudairies a length and a half giving him seven pounds at Leopardstown on Boxing day and followed that with a battling three quarter of length defeat of Cash Back in the Irish Arkle at the same track last month. The first of those performances makes him just about the form choice in this race and his sound jumping will prove an asset around here. He likes to race prominently but will face competition for that privilege.
Fakir D’oudairies was a good Juvenile hurdler last season and has improved for the switch to fences. A fluent jumper he beat Melon by three lengths on his Chase debut at Navan and followed that with a 22 length victory over 20 furlongs in the Grade One Drinmore where his main market rival, Samcro, departed two from home. However, reverting back to 17 furlongs he was readily outpaced by Notebook in receipt of seven pounds at Leopardstown on Boxing Day. Hasn’t been seen since and clearly needs to find improvement to turn the tables on the favourite. That’s not out of the question but arguably will be better served by further and could find some of these a bit quick for him.
Cash Back is an eight year old who wasn’t seen over fences until November but two easy wins in a Beginners Chase at Navan and a Novice at Naas set him up for a crack at the Grade One Arkle Novice Chase at Leopardstown last month. Gave a slightly below par Notebook a fright there and is not without a chance in this race. Led in all three of his starts over fences and will face plenty of competition on that front.
Brewin’upastorm leads the home contingent. He spent most of last season campaigned at around 20 furlongs and finished fourth in the Ballymore (Grade One) here and second in another Grade One at the Aintree Festival. Didn’t look the strongest of stayers over the longer trip and, after wind surgery, connections have embarked on a two mile campaign over fences. He did well to win on his Chase debut at Carlisle on the back of a 201 days absence and followed that with a four length defeat of the 142 rated Southfield Stone. Yet to tackle Graded company but the well beaten third and fourth at Carlisle have since won at Graded level. Has a 117 days absence to overcome but, if that doesn’t prove to a barrier, he could have the race run to suit.
Maire Banrigh is another who has proved to a much better Chaser than hurdler. Rated just 122 as a hurdler she has increased that mark 26 pounds in being unbeaten in her first four starts over fences. They include two starts in handicaps, one in a Novice and a Listed Mares’ race at Huntingdon last time out. That was only a three runner affair and the second and third have since been well beaten but she did it by eleven lengths from the front and even at odds of 1/4 she couldn’t have done much more. That was her first victory on soft ground but she will probably be better served by faster ground and won’t want too much further rain.  She has led in each of her Chases and she faces plenty who have done likewise here. It’s unwise to dismiss a progressive horse from this yard and, with the Mares allowance, she isn’t far short of the best of these on Official Ratings but she has yet to face Graded company and has to improve to figure.
Espit Du Large is rated just 131 as a hurdler but in winning two of his three starts over fences he has achieved a mark of 155 over the bigger obstacles. The last of those came when winning at Grade One Level in the Henry VIII Novice Chase at Sandown in December. Hasn’t been seen since and didn’t beat the second, Nube Negra, as convincingly as Rouge Vif subsequently did. Best of his form over both hurdles or fences has come in soft ground and he is a sound jumper so he is interesting at a price if his absence doesn’t count against him.
Rouge Vif won on his Chase debut in a Novice race at Market Rasen but was subsequently last of four stepped up to Grade Two company over this C/D in November. He was behind Put The Kettle On and Al Dancer and connections elected for wind surgery. That seems to have been beneficial because after going down by a length and a half to Global Citizen he beat Nube Negra by seven lengths in the Grade Two Kingmaker at Warwick. He was strong at the finish that day and the first time tongue tie he wore on that occasion is retained. Falls a bit short of the quality of a typical winner of this race over hurdles but has victories at Grade Two level over both hurdles and fences. Related to several Chase winners in France and, although he would probably prefer better ground, gives the impression he will leave it all out on the track.
Global Citizen was the best of these over hurdles having achieved an Official Rating of 156. He was well beaten by Brewin’upastorm on his Chase debut at Carlisle but improved significantly for that run when beating Rouge Vif by a length and a half in the Grade Two Wayward Lad Novices’ at Kempton in December. Hasn’t been seen since but goes well fresh. He was well beaten in last season’s Champion Hurdle and his two Chases to date have come on right-handed tracks. However his best performance over hurdles came at left handed Haydock and a bigger worry is the absence of good form on an undulating course. The yard have had their problems well documented this season and many of their string are still under-performing.
Of the others:
Al Dancer wasn’t far off Global Citizen as a hurdler but was well beaten in the Supreme Novices’ here last season after winning the Betfair Hurdle from a mark of 141. Won a Novice race over C/D on his Chase debut but has been beaten at Grade Two level on his last three starts. Behind Put The Kettle On, Rouge Vif and Global Citizen in two of those starts and form seems have to plateaued over fences already. The return to a stiffer track doesn’t put the chances of making the frame out of the question but needs to find improvement if he is to trouble the best of these for win purposes. Put The Kettle On has won four of her five starts over fences but the balance of her form leaves her a few pounds below the best of these. Trainer has a far more likely winner in the shape of Notebook.             .
Summary:
 
Only Brewin’upastorm, Global Citizen and Al Dancer have achieved the level of performance over hurdles as a typical winner of this is recent seasons, Fakir D’oudairies and Rouge Vif fall just short. On Chase form Notebook is a deserved market leader even if it is arguable whether he should be as short as he is. This race has gone to Ireland in four of the last five years (all to Willie Mullins) and three of their four representatives this season fill three of the first four places in the market. The best of the home contingent is priced up as Brewin’upastorm and, if his absence isn’t a barrier, he could be picking up the pieces late on if they go hard in front. However Rouge Vif comes here on the back of a career best and if wind surgery and the tongue tie continue to work the oracle it looks worth chancing that he can make the frame at least.
 
Selection: (Outlay – 2 pts)
 
Rouge Vif – 1 pt e/w. Available at 14/1.
2.50 – Cheltenham – Tuesday 10th March 2020:
Ultima Handicap Chase Grade 3 (CLASS 1) (5yo+):
Distance: 3 miles one furlong on the old course.
 
Traditionally the first handicap run at the Festival. The Ultima Handicap Chase is open to horses five years old and upwards and is normally competed by large fields. The jockeying for early positions means this race is normally truly run and it takes a strong stayer to prevail. Novices’ have a good recent record in this race and previous Cheltenham Festival form is becoming more influential. Four winners in the last eleven years had won at Grade One level over hurdles and having a prep run over the smaller obstacles has proved a popular and successful in recent seasons. Despite the large fields and competitive nature of this race there have been 12 single priced winners (and two more at 10/1 and one at 11/1) this century.
 
Positive Trends to consider:
 
Novices with previous Festival form are 4 from 19 in the past 11 years.
Grade One winning hurdlers are 4 from 14 in the past 11 years.
8 of the past 12 winners were officially rated between 142 and 148 (six between 142 and 145)
Horses rated 140+ have won 12 of the last 19 renewals
14 of the last 19 winners came from the top 4 in the betting
16 of the last 20 winners returned 11/1 or shorter
14 of the last 19 winners were novices or second season chasers
9 of the last 17 winners won last time out
9 of the last 10 winners had run no more than five times that season
8 of the last 10 winners were aged seven to nine.
8 of the last 10 winners had won over at least three miles.
8 of the last 10 winners had no more than ten outings over fences.
8 of the last 10 winners had finished in the top three on either or both of last two starts
Horses that have run well in the race before have a good record (as do horses with Cheltenham form in general)
3 of the last 10 winners ran in the Cleeve Hurdle that season
7 of the last 8 winners wore headgear
8 of the last 10 winners had run at Cheltenham that season
Jonjo O’Neill, Alan King, Nicky Henderson, Tony Martin & David Pipe are trainers to note
All winners since 2000 had won over 3m+ before
The last 5 winners ran at Cheltenham’s January meeting
Negative Trends to note:
 
Since winning the race in 2006, Irish trained horses are 0 from 24.
there has only been two Irish Trained winners in the past 51 renewals
Only four winners this century have gone off bigger than 11/1.
Only one winner in the past 11 years had failed to run at the Festival previously
Horses aged 11 or older are 2 from 48 to even place.
Paul Nicholls has a 0 from 23 record in this race
Only one winner in the past decade hadn’t run at the Festival before.
Only four winners have gone off greater than 11/1 this century.
Analysis for the Festival handicaps will be confined to those horses which are selected for backing purposes.
Analysis:
 
Not many of these satisfy the strong trends for this race. The likes of Cogry, Activial, Cepage, Vinddication, Elwood and Mulcahy’s Hill are likely to ensure there is a strong pace put to this race but it has been won in recent years by those racing both prominently and held up off the gallop.
The Conditional falls just short of the Official Rating of a typical recent winner of this race but he satisfies plenty of other trends. A second season Chaser he was a C/D winner of a 15 runner handicap in October and followed that with a one and half length second from a six pound higher mark in the Grade Three Ladbroke Trophy handicap at Newbury in November where he would’ve gone even closer had he been more fluent over the final couple of fences. Up a further five pounds he was made favourite for another Grade Three handicap at Warwick but a couple of costly mistakes and probably not seeing out the 29 furlong trip saw him finish a 22 length fourth. He travelled like the best horse in the race for much of the way and a drop back in trip and three pounds in the weights will be a big help here. He hasn’t been with his present yard for long and he looks capable of improving when he eliminates some of his jumping errors.
Selection: (Outlay – 3 pts)
The Conditional – 1.75 pts e/w. Available at 15/2. (Betfair, Paddy Power – 1/5 odds first 6)
3.30 – Cheltenham – Tuesday 10th March 2020.
Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy Grade 1 (CLASS 1) (4yo+).
Distance – Two miles half a furlong on the old course.
The first of the four major races at the Festival, the Champion Hurdle is open to horses of four years old and upwards who have been allocated a rating of 130 or more. 
 
Positive Trends to consider:
 
Unbeaten hurdlers in the current season have won the last five renewals from just twelve qualifiers.
13 of the last 24 winners were unbeaten during the current season, including seven of the last nine. 
The previous season’s Ballymore Novices’ hurdle front three has provided 4 of the last 21 winners from just nine runners.
J.P McManus has owned five of the last ten winners and eight overall.
9 of the last 10 winners had no more than 12 runs over hurdles.
9 of the last 10 winners were rated within eight pounds of the top RPR rated
8 of the last 10 winners had won a Grade One Hurdle
8 of the last 10 winners had run within the last 51 days.
12 of the last 21 winners had won at the Festival previously.
9 of the last 13 winners were aged six or seven years old 
25 of the last 30 winners won last time out. 
23 of the last 35 winners were placed in the first four at the previous season’s Festival
14 of the last 24 winners started as flat horses.
8 of the past 11 renewals have been equally shared by Willie Mullins and Nicky Henderson.
Respect previous champion hurdle form.
5 of the last 11 winners contested the Christmas Hurdle. 
 
Negative Trends to note:
 
Five year olds are 2 from 102 over the past 33 renewals.
Only 2 of the last 21 winners hadn’t run at the Festival previously.
in the past 37 renewals ten year olds are 0 from 28.
Avoid horses that finished out of the first three last time out.
Only one of the last 13 winners had raced more than twelve times over hurdles.
 
Analysis:
 
The highlight of day one and, for some, the highlight of the Festival. Since the Mares’ allowance was increased to seven pounds only six have taken their chances, the introduction of the  Mares race being the favoured race of many. Of the six to have raced with the seven pound concession only Annie Power made it count. The only Mare to take her chance this season is the Nicky Henderson trained favourite, Epatante. This looks likely to be run at a true pace with the likes of Petit Mouchoir, Not So Sleepy and Cornerstone Lad in the field. That could bring the stronger stayers into play in the latter stages but this race has been won by horses that have led/raced prominently and by those being held up.  
 
Epatante disappointed in the Mares Novices’ race here last season but she had an interrupted preparation and it may not pay to read too much into that effort. She has won both her starts since then (both this season) and was particularly impressive in beating Silver Streak by five lengths in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on Boxing day. Hasn’t been seen since so the lack of a recent run is a slight concern as are reports of a cough last month. She demonstrated plenty of speed at Kempton which favours such types but Cheltenham poses a different test. However she is related to horses who stayed further so she may be a Mare blessed with both speed and stamina. That would make her hard to beat if all is well.and her yard know all about preparing a horse to win this race.
 
Pentland Hills, a stablemate of Epatante, is second favourite for this race but that could owe much to the stable he represents rather than what he has achieved. He won the Triumph Hurdle at last season’s Festival but that race was weakened by the fatal injury to Sir Erec before halfway. He has been produced to win both his starts this season but hasn’t gone through with his efforts. Subsequent wind surgery and the promise of a sounder gallop are reasons given for the promise of a better performance here. He would have to be only the second horse from 94 qualifiers in the past 22 renewals to win this race without winning in the current season. The record of the yard with horses at the Festival yet to win in the current season is 1 from 109. 
 
Sharjah has won 6 of his 16 starts over hurdles but has been well beaten in the 2018 Supreme Novices’ and  brought down at third in this race last season. Won a Grade One Hurdle at Leopardstown in December but was easily brushed aside when an eleven length sixth of eleven in the Irish Champion hurdle at the same track last month. Therein lies the problem, which Sharjah is going to turn up here. Has some high class form to his name and it’s not impossible he could get involved in a much weaker renewal than normal. However one of the more exposed horses in the race and no longer has the potential of some of these. Has won on soft ground but his best form over hurdles has come under quicker conditions. 
 
Cilaos Emery was fifth in the 2017 Supreme and followed that with a one length win over Melon in a Punchestown Grade One the following month. Missed all of 2018 but returned to win his first three starts over fences, the last two at Grade Two level. Fell at the first in Grade One company at Leopardstown last month and reverted to hurdles when winning by nine lengths in the Grade Three Red Mills at the same track two weeks later. He has been supplemented for this by his powerful yard and that latest effort represented a career best over the smaller obstacles. May still have untapped potential as a hurdler.
 
Silver Streak has been in the frame in 14 of his 20 starts over hurdles winning six times. Three visits to this track have seen him placed on each occasion, including when a near sixteen length third in this race last season. Put in his place in the Christmas hurdle at Kempton by Epatante but that’s not to say that he can’t get closer to that rival given the likely better pace this race will generate. 
 
Darver Star was winning his first race over hurdles from a mark of 106 at Wexford. Four subsequent victories from August – December, three of them over 19-21 furlongs, saw him improve 26 pounds but it’s his two defeats in Grade One company over two miles that have earned him his chance in this field. A four length third to Envoi Allen in the Royal Bond was followed by a career best when running the unbeaten Honeysuckle to within half a length in the Irish Champion hurdle giving that rival seven pounds. That has seen his mark shoot up to 158, a full 52 pounds higher than when taking that Wexford race on handicap debut. Has a good jumping technique and is versatile regarding race tactics. Will probably have to improve again but is likely to relish a truly run race over this trip and his stamina reserves could hold him in good stead on the climb to the line. Doesn’t satisfy many of the strong trends for this race but such is his rate of progression that he could surprise a few of the more ‘flashy’ types. Seems versatile regarding ground conditions and represents last season’s winning yard.  
 
Of the others:
 
Ballyandy, Supersundae and Call Me Lord all stay further than two miles and could enter the picture if this turns into a slog. Cornerstone Lad has enjoyed a good season dictating from the front and, even at the age of nine, Petit Mouchoir has placed in his last three starts, all at Grade One level. 
 
Selection: (outlay – 2 pts)
 
Darver Star – 1 pt e/w. Available at 12/1.   
 
4.10 – Cheltenham – Tuesday 10th March 2020:
Close Brothers Mares´ Hurdle (Registered As The David Nicholson Mares´ Hurdle Race) Grade 2 (CLASS 1) (4yo+)
Distance: 2 miles 4 furlongs on the Old Course.
Now one of two races at the Festival restricted to Mares (four years and upwards) and it was elevated to Grade One status five seasons ago.
 
Positive Trends to consider:
 
Follow Irish-trained mares (won 10 of the last 12 renewals)
Willie Mullins has won 9 of the last 11 renewals
9 of the last 10 winners had at least nine career starts.
10 of the last 12 winners were trained in Ireland.
10 of the last 12 winners came from the front two in the betting.
French bred Mares have won nine renewals from just 20% of the runners.
The three Irish bred winners all ran in Bumpers (two won)
10 of the last 12 winners had won a Graded race against their male counterparts ( 9 were at Grade One or Two level)
Nine winners had already won at Grade One or Grade Two level.
The last 11 winners had won over a minimum of 20 furlongs.
All but 2 of the previous 11 winners went on to win over three miles proving that stamina is a big asset in this race.
Horses that started their careers in Bumpers have done well.
Negative Trends to note:
British bred Mares are 0 from 78, despite providing 40% of the runners.
Only seven British bred mares have placed
No ex-flat horse has won this race.
Only one winner had failed to at least place in a Grade One or Grade Two hurdle
Avoid front-runners.
All 27 runners to wear headgear have been beaten (just 1 placed).
Be wary of Paul Nicholls, Philip Hobbs and Noel Meade runners.
Analysis:
 
Benie Des Dieux should be on a hat-trick having won this in 2018 and falling at the last with the race at her mercy last season. Since that fall she has won all three of her starts, including a career best over three miles in a Grade Two at Gowran Park last time out. She has won all eights starts over both hurdles and fences for Willie Mullins and has nine pounds and upwards in hand of all bar the unbeaten Honeysuckle. Back in Mares’ company and barring mishaps it’s difficult to see her being beaten, even dropping back in trip. 
 
Honeysuckle is seven from seven over hurdles and should at least give the favourite something to think about. However the balance of her form is below that of the favourite and she may have to play second fiddle, although that is likely to secure her the runner up spot.       
With only ten runners going to post none of the layers are offering four places for e/w purposes. That makes the race unappealing from a betting perspective.
Selection: (outlay – 0 pts)
 
No Bet. 
 
 
 
4.50 – Cheltenham – Tuesday 10th March 2020.
Northern Trust Company Novices´ Handicap Chase (Listed Race) (CLASS 1) (5yo+ 0-145).
Distance: Two miles four and a half furlongs on the Old Course.
The compression of the weights in Festival Handicaps is very evident in this race. Since 2011, when the JLT was introduced, the race has been over the extended 20 furlongs on the Old course. Prior to that (with the exception of 2008) the race had been over 21 furlongs on the stiffer New course so the emphasis on stamina is not as great as it used to be. Of greater significance was the ceiling rating of 140 that was introduced at the same time which has led to the aforementioned compression of the weights. The ceiling was raised two years ago to 145 but it still means that only seven pounds separates the top and bottom weights.  Now that a mark in the 130’s is normally required to run in a Festival Handicap there is a very good chance that this will become a very limited handicap in the foreseeable future. This causes big headaches for the Irish trainers who face their horses being reassessed by the British handicapper and being either too high to qualify or too low to get in.
Positive Trends to consider:
 
12 of the 15 winners finished 1st or 2nd last time out.
14 of the last 15 winners raced within the past 45 days.
3 of the last four winners contested a Graded Novice race last time out.
9 of the last 10 winners won over at least 18 furlongs
8 of the last 10 winners carried no more than 11-8.
7 of the last 10 winners were aged six or seven.
6 of the last 10 winners had finished in the first four in all completed starts over fences.
11 of the last 12 winners had raced 3 or four times over fences.
14 of the 15 winners had won no more than twice over fences (11 no more than once)
3 of the past 7 winners had contested the Timeform Novices’ handicap chase.
6 of the 15 winners had contested a hurdle race at a previous Festival.
9 of the 15 winners were sent off at a single figure price.
8 of the last 13 winners ran in a Bumper earlier in their career
Five year olds are 2 from 12 in the past 11 years
Negative Trends to note:
 
Only two winners have started at greater than 12/1.
No winner had failed to run after the turn of the year.
Avoid horses that are outside the top five in the betting.
Avoid horses with less than four starts in the past 12 months. 
The Irish have won just two of the 15 renewals.
Only one horse rated below 141 has placed in the first four since the ceiling was raised
 
Analysis for the Festival handicaps will be confined to those horses which are selected for backing purposes.
Analysis:
 
The winners of this race are normally lightly raced types that are open to improvement and well found in the market. Imperial Aura and Hold The Note are the two that have been well supported in the ante-post market but, as much as the stats dictate, backing horses at single figure prices in a race of this nature goes against the grain. Although backing horses at bigger prices has proved to be a barrier somewhat to finding the winner, there have been plenty of fancy priced horses that have filled the frame. 
 
Knight In Dubai looks to be the Dan Skelton second string on jockey bookings but his other entry, Beakstown, hasn’t run this year and that could prove to be a disadvantage in a very competitive race like this. Harry Skelton is replaced by Connor Shoemark aboard Knight In Dubai and he has partnered the horse to his two victories from his four starts over fences. He was second in a Grade Two Novices’ Chase at Haydock last time out but the form has been let down by the winner, Sam Brown, subsequently. He faces a stiff task here at the weights with Hold the Line on a line through Sam Brown and Two For Gold if the Haydock form can be believed. However the balance of his form over fences suggests he is fairly treated on this handicap debut and he has proved to be a sound jumper in those three starts to date. He has been well beaten over hurdles (Ballymore Novices and Coral Cup) at the last two festivals but he was travelling well when falling four out on his Chasing debut over C/D back in November 2018.
 
Selection (outlay – 1.5 pts)
 
Knight In Dubai – 0.75 pts e/w. Available at 33/1. (Paddy Power, Betfair – 1/5 odds first 5)  
 
 
 
5.30 – Cheltenham – Tuesday 10th March 2020:
National Hunt Chase Challenge Cup (Amateur Riders´ Novices´ Chase) (Grade Two) (CLASS 1) (5yo+ )
Distance: 30 furlongs on the Old Course.
The longest race at the Festival and one which is re-inventing itself after alterations in recent years. The penalties were removed in 2010 making this a level weights contest and it is now targeted by classy novices and Grade One form has infiltrated the form books in recent seasons. The restriction of not allowing winning hurdlers to take part was removed in 2002. Experience has proved a valuable asset  and a good jockey can mean the difference between winning and losing. The race was elevated to Grade Two status three seasons ago.
 
Positive Trends to consider:
 
All of the last 10 winners had raced at least three times over fences.
9 of the last 10 winners had a top two finish in a Chase over at least three miles.
8 of the last 10 winners had a top three finish in either or both of their last two starts
7 of the last 10 winners had won over at least three miles (Hurdles or Chases)
5 of the last 10 winners were having their tenth start or more over fences.
3 of the past 5 winners had run ten times previously over fences.
9 of the last 10 winners had contested a Graded Novice Chase.
11 of the last 18 winners finished first or second last time out.
10 of the last 14 winners were aged 7 or 8 years old
5 of the past 8 winners had contested a Grade One Novice chase.
Horses rated 150 or higher are 4 from 10 in the past nine years.
7 of the last 9 winners were rated 145 or more.
7 of the past 10 winners had run at the festival previously.
Gordon Elliott has saddled three winners from just seven runners.
Focus on the leading Amateur riders.
Derek O’Connor, Patrick Mullins and Jamie Codd have each won the race two times in the past nine years.
4 of the last 9 winners had run in a Novice Chase earlier in the season.
Negative Trends to note:
Horses with less than three Chase starts haven’t fared well.
Only one horse rated in the 130’s (139) has won in the past 8 years.
Nicky Henderson has never won this race.
Paul Nicholls has never won this race.
5 and 6 years old are 2 from 80 since 1989.
 
Analysis:
 
Since the change in race conditions the better horses have come to the fore. Horses that get into a good jumping rhythm and are prepared to battle in the latter stages are the types required in a race of this attritional nature. That lends itself to horses with plenty of Chasing experience and an early start in the season over fences is an advantage. In common with the Kim Muir the majority of horses will have been professionally ridden all season so the ability of the amateur on board has to be taken into account. Now the race is off level weights, the better horses are favoured and these attract the top amateurs. As the quality of the race has improved and the penalties for winning races removed, last time out winners have done well. Certain trainers target this race whereas others seem to have little interest in it. Paul Nicholls has had many fancied runners but his record is 0 from 18 and only one of them placed. Willie Mullins likes to plot a horse up for this race for his son Patrick and Alan King has also done well in recent seasons. J.P McManus was winning this race for the sixth time when Minella Rocco won in 2016.
Carefully Selected is a short price favourite for this race but is 3 from 3 over fences, the last two victories coming in Grade Three company. The balance of his form strongly suggests he could be well weighted for this handicap debut and he has the assistance of Patrick Mullins riding for his father Willie but there are reasons for taking him on, even though he arguably has the best collateral form on offer. He lacks the experience of a typical winner of this race and has made mistakes in two of his three starts over fences. He has yet to race beyond three miles although he does give the impression that he may be a relentless galloper. He has led all the way in winning his last two races but he could face competition for that here with Springfield Fox in opposition. Lord Du Mesnil has been in rude health this season. He has not finished outside the first two in six starts, winning three times, a run which has seen his mark improve a massive 38 pounds. He has improved with each of those outings and produced a career best when finishing second over an extended 28 furlongs in the Grade Three Grand National Handicap Trial at Haydock last time out. He will appreciate any rain that falls and is one of only two horses to complete a Chase over 28 furlongs or more, the other being Clondaw Cian who was a well beaten last in this race last season. Spingfield Fox has only had two starts over fences but he has won them both easily and was three from three in Points. He has been elevated to a mark of 142 after dismantling a Novice handicap field at Exeter last time out. That leaves him with a bit to find with the principals but his mark must have entailed some guesswork on behalf of the Assessor and he could be much better than that. He takes a big hike in class but he has looked better the further he went in winning his two Chases in heavy ground under rules and promises to be even better over this extreme trip.
 
Selections: (outlay – 4 pts)
 
Lord Du Mesnil – 2 pts win. Available at 6/1. (Paddy Power, Betfair, bet365)
 
Springfield Fox – 1.75 pts win. Available at 7/1. (William Hill, Unibet, Boylesports)
All prices correct via oddschecker as of 19.25 hrs (9th March)