I can’t believe it’s Cheltenham again and we have been counting the days for it to begin for months. The hard work was done throughout the season and let’s hope we are as successful as we were in the last couple of years. I am really looking forward to four days of top quality racing in what will be a terrific spectacle. There will be joy, tears,tantrums etc but what we must remember is to have fun too. Let’s all enjoy the greatest showpiece on earth.
Be prepared to see a few big favorites getting turned over as it’s the case every year. Always be gracious in defeat and remember jockeys/horses lives are more important than the money you have gambled. We won’t win every single race so do accept this already. There are many ways to make profit during the festival. You don’t have to win a race to make profit these days. You can make good profit if you bet in place market ,w/o fave market (if you hate backing short priced/odds on fave or missed the good ante post prices),to bet in top 3 etc.
There will be some good bookie offers throughout the festival and make good use of them. Also I can’t stress the importance of NOT doing too many multiples and relying on them during the festival. The odds are stacked against you in multiple bets hence why i have always been telling people to bet singles as it’s the only way you make consistent profit over time. Of course it’s nice to land a lucky or acca but it doesn’t happen too often and no need to bet big if you doing multiple bets. Do cover your bets so you always come out with profit if 1 or 2 don’t win in your multiple bet.
There will be many rumours/info flying too but always trust your own judgement and brains. Don’t get sucked into believing everything you read on twitter. Everyone want to win a race at Cheltenham whether owners,trainers,jockeys etc so they will be all trying to win for the prize money and prestige.
I will put up a daily blog during the evening . I have taken some ante post prices on a few horses that we have backed throughout the season. Those who follow ,chat with me regularly or read my blog would have taken good ante post prices. I wish everyone the very best of luck and do enjoy the 4 days of quality racing whether we win or lose.
Day 1 Tuesday 13th March
1.30 Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle
This is the race that kick off proceedings at the festival with the famous ‘roar’. The Irish have an outstanding record in race having won 15 out of last 26 proceedings. Labaik was the surprise winner last year at 25-1 considering he didn’t start five of his seven races previously. Ten of the last 13 favorites to be sent off at 2/1 or shorter in the Supreme were beaten. Four of the last 15 winners finished in the first five in the previous season’s Champion Bumper making it the best guide in recent seasons.
Willie Mullins has an outstanding record in race having won it 3 times in the last 5 years with the likes of Champagne Fever, Vautour and Douvan. He has the favorite again this year in Getabird. He was one of our bumper horses last year but his season ended after suffering an injury. He won his maiden hurdle at Punchestown last December and he made all in the Grade 2 Moscow Flyer beating the well regarded Mengli Khan and his stable mate Carter Mckay. The latter did give the form a little boost by running well in the Grade 1 at Leopardstown on his next start.
Getabird travels well in his races and is a fluent jumper. He attacks his hurdles like a very good horse.I have been reading stuff like he hates left handed tracks which is reason why he ran out 2 yrs ago. This is total bullshit since it happened in his point to point debut after ducking out when he was still learning the game. Another nonsense is that his sire Getaway has had no Cheltenham winner but he only had one runner before. He has no trouble racing left handed. He was already a talking horse last year before his injury and Ruby will give him a positive ride. He has been my main ante post bet in the race for months and i am happy with my position.
There are a few horses in race that could provide stiff opposition. Kalashnikov represents the Amy Murphy stable and he’s won four of his last five races. His only defeat came in the Tolworth when he was beaten on unsuitable ground by Summerville Boy. He then went on to land the Betfair Hurdle in impressive fashion. I think this horse chance will depends on the ground. If the ground is like it was at Sandown then he will struggle. He will want better ground or longer trip in future. Horses who travel the route from handicap to this Grade 1 have a poor win record. Before winning the Tolworth that Summerville Boy was well put in his place by Western Ryder and Slate House. That form is a little suspect to me and no he isn’t the second coming. I would be more worried about If The Cap Fits but he is out for the season.
Claimantakinforgan is one that impressed me last time when I was at Ascot where he won the Trial Novices Hurdle there. He traveled really well that day and jumped superbly throughout. Slate House was 4th that day and Coeur Blimey 5th. The latter went on to finish 4th in the Betfair Hurdle on his next start. He was then sent for the Scottish Trial race at the beginning of January where he disappointed in 3rd. I still believe he was only running in race to get fit for Cheltenham so Nico de Boinville smoke a fat cigar on him. He is currently 16-1 on Betfair and I wouldn’t put anyone off having a few quid on him.
Mengli Khan started his season at Navan in September and won his first three starts impressively. He then ran out in the Future Champions Novice Hurdle before getting destroyed by Getabird. I cant see him reversing the form with Getabird. Paloma Blue is one that has an each way squeak in race. He has some solid form in the book behind the likes of Next Destination and Samcro this season. He also finished 2nd in the Bumper race at Punchestown behind Fayonagh last year. But I will stick with Getabird to win the Supreme as I think he is the best horse in the race. You might get better odds the night before or on the day with bookies concessions.
Selection – Getabird ( 16-1 Ante Post)
2.10 Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices Chase
This could be one of the races of the festival. It’s a race for novices over the 2 mile distance on the old course. It is a race designed to test horses ability to jump efficiently and go as fast as possible. There will be so much pace up front with the likes of Footpad, Saint Calvados and Petit Mouchoir who all like to race prominently. Cheltenham form is crucial since 9 of the last 15 winners had won there before.
Footpad will try to emulate the likes of Sprinter Sacre, Simonsig, Un De Sceaux, Douvan and Altior. He was 4th in the Champion Hurdle last year behind Buveur D’air ( Petit Mouchoir was 3rd) and he has been a revelation this season by winning all his 3 races to date. He destroyed the Racing Post Novice Chase at Leopardstown and then won another Grade 1 at the track by beating Petit Mouchoir by 5 lengths.
His jumping is electric and he has a high cruising speed too. He has shown himself to be an exceptional jumper of a fence. His transition to fences has arguably been one of most impressive by any horse this season with his efficiency and speed through the air being a pleasure to watch. He reminds me of a certain Azertyuoip in that he gains lengths on his rivals everytime he jumps. He is one of the main players in this race and it will take a good one to beat him if he is in the same form as last time.
Petit Mouchoir is a live danger and was impressive when he won his beginners chase. He then got injured and made his re appearance in the Grade 1 race where he made few jumping mistakes. It was a good run considering how long he was out and he was making ground in Footpad at the end. With a run under his belt I expect him to improve and can see him powering up that hill. But i still think he doesn’t have enough jumping experience and he is prone to making mistakes that could cost him a few lengths if the likes of Footpad and Saint Calvados go off at a crazy pace upfront.
Saint Calvados won his three starts this season and has been jumping for fun. I was impressed by his jumping at Newbury and he made mince meat of North Hill Harvey in the Kingmaker at Warwick. He has been winning on soft /heavy ground and if we get good ground it might be a slight concern. He will also have to overcome the 5 year old stats in the race. Only 4 five year olds have won between 1998-2006 but none since their age allowance was dispensed with. At 11-2/5-1 I think he is an each way bet to nothing in race now the ground will be softer than expected on the day.
Sceau Royal represents the Alan King stable for Munir/Souede connections who also own Footpad. He has won 4 out of his 5 races this season with his only defeat coming at the hands of North Hill Harvey at Cheltenham when he went down by a neck. He won the Lightning Novice Chase at Doncaster where his jumping was very good. His most impressive win though was in the Henry V11 Novice Chase at Sandown where he smashed North Hill Harvey by 11 lengths. Daryl Jacob waited patiently before pouncing 2 out and the horse won going away. (NON RUNNER)
Brain Power is another one in race but I can’t see him challenging the above mentioned horses as he is always prone to mistakes or keeps falling. I wouldn’t trust that type of horse around Cheltenham where he has a bad record too. I will stick with Footpad that I have been backing over the months for the winner though. He is one that can light up Cheltenham on Tuesday with Ruby doing steering.
Selection – Footpad ( 6-1 Antepost )
2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase
This is one of the toughest and trickiest handicap races of the festival. It’s been the graveyard of favorites as only 2 of them have won since 1977. It’s also important to note that nine of the last 20 winners had finished in the first four at this meeting before and to respect last time out winners as they have provided the winner on seven occasions in the last 15 years.
Do take note also when the Irish send fancies runners as they have a good record in race. Jonjo O’Neil has a good record in race having won 3 times in last 9 years ( especially if owned by JP McManus). Other trainers that like targeting this race are David Pipe , Alan King and Neil Mulholland. My last winner in that race was in 2009 when Wichita Lineman under a terrific AP McCoy ride cane to win the race on the line. It’s still among the best ever rides I’ve ever seen in racing. I will decide on my bets nearer time.
Selection -Gold Present 11-1 & Ramses De Teillee 12-1
3.30 Unibet Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy
This is one of the most anticipated races of the festival and most eagerly awaited. It’s one of the most prestigious in the racing calendar and one I look forward to every year. To be honest there are only 3 horses that can potentially win that race. We have Buveur D’air, Faugheen and My Tent or Yours.
I will immediately discount My Tent or Yours like I do every year but he is a horse that will be good value in the place market. The age stat is a big factor in me dismissing him ( he is 11 ) again since only two horses have won aged 10+ in Champion Hurdle history and significantly they were defending champions. He won the International Hurdle at Cheltenham last December but he was receiving 6lb from The New One that day. The New One went to finish 2nd to Buveur D’Air in the Christmas Hurdle but the 3rd that day Melon disappointed in the Irish Champion Hurdle. If you take the form literally I don’t think it was a strong race.
Buveur D’air is the class horse in the race and reigning champion. He won the Fighting Fifth and the Christmas Hurdle without breaking sweat. He hasn’t looked back since he won for us last year at Cheltenham. I actually saw him in the flesh at Kempton and he is a much stronger horse this year. The speed at which he jumped his hurdles was frightening. His ability to move through the gears and quicken puts him ahead of the rest. He has been super slick in all his races so far and he has a progressive profile. It will take a very good one to beat him.
His main challenger will be one of our other favorites in Faugheen. It was great to see him back on track after a length injury. He was simply breathtaking in the Morgiana when beating Jezki by 16 lengths. He then ran in the Ryanair Hurdle but was pulled up. He was already beaten at this stage but he wasn’t travelling with the usual zest as we knew he was capable of. Nothing came up after he was tested. He put up a much improved display in the Irish Champion Hurdle when he was beaten by a strong stayer in Supasundae.
He made the running that day but it wasn’t the same Faugheen we knew. He couldn’t accelerate and put the race to bed. He would normally burn his rivals once the turbo button was pressed before his injury. But he doesn’y possess this anymore which could hinder him winning race.He wasn’t 100% fit that day too and he only started doing fast work in the 2nd week of February. The application of cheekpieces could revitalise him.
It will take a huge effort for him to beat Buveur D’air but if there is one trainer that can do it it’s Willie Mullins. He has done the unthinkable with Hurricane Fly, Quevega or eveb Arctic Fire last year. These horses have all come back from injury to win at the festival. He loves Cheltenham and is unbeaten at the track. He isn’t getting younger though as he is 10. He will try to become the 3rd horse since Hurricane Fly and Comedy of Errors to regain his crown after losing it. The Irish have a great record in race too after winning it 13 times since 1998. The place will be rocking and we will be partying for rest of year if he wins. My brains say he can’t but my heart says otherwise. I am in a good position as I have backed both horses at decent odds Ante post but I can’t see any other horses that will trouble them.
Yorkhill has been added to the field and he is one that has lost his way this season. Even the trainer doesn’t know the horse best trip over fences or hurdles. He was ridden to lose in the Grade 2 Coral Chase last time at Leopardstown and was never put in race. He didn’t stay the trip in the Christmas Chase over 3 Miles too. He is on a fact finding mission here and they will be hoping Cheltenham and his surroundings can ignite him over 2 miles. He is also twice a festival winner and if he is back to his best then he will be thereabouts but its a big IF.
Wicklow Brave hasn’t run since getting beat by Rekindling in the Melbourne Cup. He won the Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown last April beating My Tent or Yours and was then campaigned over the flat. He is dark horse in race and he could cause an upset if the favorites have an off day. Melon is another one in the race but I don’t really rate him as he has been disappointing last 2 runs when he was pitched against Grade 1 animals. I wouldn’t give him any chance in race. For the winner I will side with Buveur DAir.
Selection – Buveur D’air 9-2 And Faugheen 6-1 ( both Ante post)
4.10 OLBG Mares Hurdle
This should be renamed the Willie Mullins race such is the dominance of the Irish trainer in the last 9 years. He goes in search of his 9th victory in the race and he has the choice of the three Rich Ricci owned mares to represent him in Vroum Vroum Mag, Let’s Dance and Benie Des Dieux.
Apples’s Jade put an end to the Willie Mullins domination last season by beating Vroum Vroum Mag and Limini in a thrilling finish last year. She is unbeaten this season and has won another 3 races in the style of a very good horse. She made her seasonal debut in a Grade 2 at Navan and despite giving 7lb away she won very easily. She then went on to win the Grade 1 Hatton Grace at Fairyhouse by trouncing stayers Hurdle winner Nichols Canyon by 9 lengths with Supasundae a further 2 lengths behind.
She was then stepped up to 3 miles for the first time in the Grade 1 Squared Financial Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown. They crawled and she only got on top close home to beat Supasundae by 1/2 length. She was doing all her best work at the end and it wasn’t a real stamina test. They have said all along this will be her race and she will be very hard to beat. She rates as one of the banker of the festival for me
Vroum Vroum Mag(Non Runner) hasn’t been seen in the track since finishing 7th in the Champhon Hurdle at Punchestown. She was retired but brought back into training recently. She might be rusty and might need the run against fitter horses. Not sure if Let’s Dance will run here or in the Stayers Hurdle. Benie Des Dieux is a fascinating addition to the line up. She has been campaigned all season over fences. She won on her seasonal debut at Carlisle in the listed race. She then added another listed race to her CV when winning at Naas and giving a beating to the likes of Dinaria Des Obeaux and Asthurua. She is a very good horse and will be the main challenger to Apples Jade in my opinion. She jumps fluently and travels well in all her races. I have her to win any race at 14-1 during the season as I thought she would be jumping fences at Cheltenham. I wouldn’t put off anyone to have a bet on her in the w/o market or to be placed.
Of the rest I will give chances to La Bague Au Roi, Cap Soleil and Kayf Grace. They all have place claims. La Bague Au Roi described by Warren Greatrex as one of the best horses he has ever trained is unbeaten in her last 4 races. She won the listed mares Hurdle at Wetherby by beating a good horse in Lady Buttons. She then followed up at Kempton beating Jer’s Girl despite giving weight away. It was a very good performance as once she was headed she rallied gamely towards the finish and pulled away. She then went on to win a Grade 2 race at Ascot where once again she jumped beautifully and won eased down. At odds of 12/14-1 at the time of writing she represents strong each way value.
Cap Soleil won on her seasonal debut at Newbury where she gave a good beating to a well regarded horse from the Henderson yard in Countister(won on her next 2 starts). She was then turned over at very short odds by Dame Rose but she got injured during the race. She came back to win the Listed race at Kempton where she battled well to win at the end. I can’t see her beating the top mares in the race but if they do disappoint then she will be thereabouts. Kayf Grace was 5th on her seasonal debut and then went on to win at Kempton in the style of a good horse. Her last race was in the Betfair Hurdle where she finished 12th behind Kalashnikov. I will give her a small chance in race.
But for the winner I will stay with Apple’s Jade. I think she is the form horse and the proven Grade 1 in the race that has been trained all year for this race. She is the defending champion and will be tough to beat.
Selection – Apples Jade 6-4/5-4 (Ante Post)
4.50 National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders Novice Chase
The National Hunt Chase is generally known as the 4 miler and is now contested by high class novices with strong form in graded races. Lots of experience over fences has proved crucial in such a tough attritional race. It is fast becoming a race for proven graded performers. Four of the last 7 winners had contested a Grade 1 Novice Chase earlier in the season and three of those were officially top rated.
From a betting point of view, punters are often quick to label horses bad jumpers and there can be some value in backing novices that have fallen out but learnt from that experience. That’s certainly been the case in this race with 7 winners this century including 4 of the 8 winners at level weights having fallen or unseated over fences. Just two wins for horses aged younger than seven since 1989 from 77 to try would suggest we stay clear but they finished 1-3-4 2 years ago. Six of the last 11 winners had experienced Cheltenham fences earlier in the season and another was placed in the Kim Muir the previous season.
Jonjo O’Neil has by far the best record in the race with 6 winners but has no entry this year. Mullins doesn’t have a good record but it’s worth paying attention to his runners as last 3 have all finished 3-4-3 despite going off at 9-1,10-1 and 33-1. Also note Gordon Elliott who has trained three of the last 7 winners including Tiger Roll last year. The Elliot/Gigginstown combo is one to keep an eye on and Thyestes winner Monbeg Notorious ( landed a huge gamble last time) is an interesting entry. Alan King is another one to note as he won the race twice in last 10 years. Paul Nichols has a shocking record in race as he is still 0/18.
I was told years ago to simply pick a horse ridden by Derek O’Connor or Jamie Codd especially in this or the Kim Muir where the horses are professionally ridden during the season and they often get on the best ones. Derek O’Connor won this race twice on Chicago Grey and Minella Rocco and been placed on 4 occasions. He fell 2 out on Rival D’Estruval who may well have won and the unfortunate Edwulf last year who went wrong when well in contention.Jamie Codd won this on Cause of Causes 3 years ago and could get the plum ride on Fagan.
Other trends to note are that the last 15 winners had run at least three times over fences( three of the last eight winners were second season chasers). Eleven of the 16 winners either won or finished second last time out and four of the last 11 winners arrived here having not run in same calendar year. Look out for horses coming fresh off a long break as their early season form can be forgotten as the division takes shape. Only 24 of the 197 horses that have contested the last 11 renewals hadn’t run in the calendar year. 4 have won , 3 of which had run at least 7 times over fences.
There are a few horses I am interested in this race as long as they run here namely Duel At Dawn, Barney Dwan, Ms Parfois.
Selections – Ms Parfois 7-1(Notebook) & Rathvinden 7-1
5.30 Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase
Recent renewals have been a handicap in name only as the weight spread is so narrow. The last 6 winners would have won at level weights and whilst the ratings ceiling has been raised 5lb to 145, it may remain a very compressed handicap.
We were lucky to have won this race last year with Tully East at 16-1 who was a good right plot for race. He became only the 2nd Irish trained winner in the last 13 renewals of the race. You need to have a bit of class to win this race as three of the last 6 winners carried top weight. Five of the last nine winners have been successful on their latest start. A good stat in this race is that a maiden over the larger obstacles has placed at worst in this race in each of the last eight years.
Also a nice trend that has served me well over the last few years is the wearing of any type of new headgear by horses in race. Irish Cavalier won this for us few years ago after being fitted with cheekpieces for first time and Ballyalton did the same 2 years ago. Another interesting stat is that 29 horses have contested this race in first time head gear with 2 winning and another 6 being placed ( 5 of those going off between 20-1 and 66-1). There can be decent each way value at decent prices on horses wearing headgear for the first time. Festival form has been also a fair pointer with 6 of the 13 winners having run at the Festival before.
Look out for small stables as they have a habit of winning this. Four of the last 6 winners have come from not so fashionable stables like Alan Fleming( Tully East), Ballyalton( Ian Williams), Preseht View( Jamie Snowden), Hunt Ball( Kieran Burke) and King Harald( Mark Bradstock). It’s a race where it’s hard for the big yards to plot a horse up for. Nicky Henderson has a good record in race having won it with Rajdhani Express and he has also saddled up four runners ups.
Selection – Any Second Now 7-1 & Divine Spear 14-1(Notebook) (Barney Dwan replacement)
Day 2 – Wednesday 14th March
1.30 Ballymore Novices Hurdle
This is a race for novices over two and a half mile.This is much more of a test of speed than might be expected at the trip. Horses need to settle and have a turn of foot at the business end. It has been a very punter friendly in recent years with the favorite winning on ten occasions in the last 27 runnings. Nine of the last 11 winners also won last time out. The Irish have a tremendous record in race having won it 19 times since 1971 and 7 out of those wins came in the last 11 years ( four for Willie Mullins). The main British trial is the Challow Hurdle at Newbury and all 16 winners of the Challow have all been beaten in the Ballymore so far. But 3 winners have come from the Leamington Novices Hurdle at Warwick with latest one being Willoughby Court last year when he nailed our horse Neon Wolf close home. The 2 main trials over in Ireland have been the Navan Novices Hurdle and the Lawllr’s Of Naas Novice Hurdle. Both were won by the Willie Mullins horse Next Destination.
Samcro heads the betting and is still unbeaten in his last 6 races. He won on his seasonal debut at Punchestown and followed up in the Monksfield at Navan. He was then sent to the Deloitte where he was ultra impressive in beating a really good field in Duc de Genievres, Paloma Blue( Supreme bound) and Sharjah. He is a smooth traveller and jumps fluently too. He has a fantastic turn of foot which reminds me a bit about Faugheen in his early days. After all they both have the same sire in Germany. If he was to run here then he will be one of the bankers of the festival. I really can’t see him getting beat and he should win this very comfortably. The only slight concern is he has no course form but that shouldn’t be an excuse as he is that good. He has been one on my radar 2 years ago and he could become a cash machine in the next few years if he stays free from injury. He is one of the best horses in training right now and has a progressive profile.
His main rivals will be Next Destination and On the Blind Side. Next Destination burst onto the scene when he ran really well in that Champion Bumper at Cheltenham won by the ill fated Fayonagh. He then went on to be runner up at Punchestown . This season he has won all his 3 races. That included winning a Grade 2 at Navan where he beat a good horse in Cracking Smart. He then went on to win the Grade 1 Lawlor’s Of Naas by beating the Dane rival by a diminishing margin this time and Duc De Genievres. Blow by Blow was 7th in race and has come out to win next time out giving the race a solid form boost. Jetz 4th in the tace narrowly failed by a neck on his next outing in the Grade 1 Nathaniel Lucy & Partners Sollicitors Novice Hurdle.
On The Blind Side represents the Henderson yard and he has been a cash machine for us this season. I was told to follow him before the season started and he didn’t disappoint. He won on his seasonal debut at Aintree back in October and followed up at Cheltenham a few weeks later. This day he stayed on really well up the hill after hitting his usual flat spot to win going away. It’s something I like to see in horses when they run at Cheltenham. This experience at the track will help him a lot next week. He was then sent to Sandown and won the Grade 2 trial by 9 lengths. He was very good that day and jumped beautifully throughout. Once Nico pressed the turbo he flew up the Sandown hill. It was one of the best performances we have seen in Britain. He was then sidelined because of injury and we haven’t seen him since. He represents good each way value in the betting and I can’t see him out of the top 3. He could even give Samcro a good run up that hill if he is 100% fit on the day. Only slight concern with him is that he has been off since mid December and no horse has won after such a lengthy absence in the race this century. (Non Runner ) . See Black Op write up in Albert Bartlett section if he runs here
I can’t make any case for the others as I can’t really see them winning if I am honest. Perhaps Duc De Genievres is a good ew shout too in race as he has run creditably well in his last few races but he is entered in other races at the festival.
For the winner though I would stick with Samcro that has been my Ante post bet over the months. I think we will see a special horse winning this and it could be one of the highlights of the festival
Selection – Samcro (16-1/7-1 /4-1 Ante Post)
2.10 RSA Insurance Novices Chase
This is a race over the standard 3 miles and there are 19 fences to be jumped. The standout guide to finding winners in this race in recent years has been to look at those horses who won the Albert Bartlett before. The latter has featured five of the last 8 winners. It could have been six if Ruby Walsh didn’t fall off Boston Bob when well in contention. I still have nightmares about last year’s race as watching replay I still think our beloved Whisper had won it but Might Bite did come back to nail him on the line. Horses that had been chasing for a long time have a strong record overall. 8 of the last 14 winners had run over fences by 31st October that season.
The best guide over in Ireland has been the Flogas that is run at Leopardstown as four of the last nine winners contested this race. Monalee won this year’s race by beating the Mullins pair of Al Boum Photo and Invitation Only in a thrilling finish. I was looking at that Flogas race the other night and I think we could have a few winners from this race at Cheltenham. Do take notice of the horses that have run in race few weeks ago. Willie Mullins is one that has a good record in race having won it on four occasions and also had 3 runners ups. Do take note of horses that will run for him. Five of his 17 losers in race have been placed and if you’d backed all his 21 runners to win, you’d have returned a nice profit. The Reynoldstown Chase run in Uk is also a good guide as three of the last nine winners finished either first or second. Black Corton won by 8 lengths last time at Ascot for Bryony Frost.
The Neville Hotels Chase has also featured three of the last seven winners that has finished in first two. It was won by Shattered Love this year where Monalee fell. One of the worst trends I know is that all 20 winners of the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices Chase have all been beaten in this race. Black Corton won this race last December and will have to defy this good stat.
Presenting Percy heads the betting. He won 3 of his 5 races this season and has been campaigned over both hurdles and fences. He won his beginners Chase at Galway before suffering a defeat in the Florida Pearl. He then won his next 2 races which include a Galmoy Hurdle at Gowran Park over 3 miles. He suffered a defeat on his last start in the Red Mills Chase despite giving away 7lb to Our Duke. He won the Pertemps Network Final at Cheltenham last year and he is again a serious contender in this race. He will have a stat to overcome though. In the last 20 renewals of the RSA there were 49 horses that had their warm up over a distance shorter than 2m4 and all 49 have been beaten. His main rivals will be Monalee( if he runs here), Black Corton, Al Boum Photo, Invitation Only. Due to the ground conditions this race could cut up as the main protagonists would prefer running in JLT.
Selection – Monalee 7-2
2.50 Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle
This is the only open Festival handicap where there isn’t a level weights race at a similar trip. It therefore tends to be won by a progressive horse en route to winning Grade 1 races. Whisper and Supasundae are some of the examples in last 4 years. Looking at some stats we note that ten second season hurdlers have won in the last 13 runnings and 13 of the 24 have won last time out. The Irish have a good record in race having won it on nine occasions.
We need to look for a horse that had a very light campaign as the last nine runners had run no more than four times earlier in the season. Four of the last 12 runners haven’t run in the same calendar year. Given the race favours speedy 2nd season hurdlers, it’s not surprising that French bred horses have done well. The last winner was Aux Ptits Soins Back in 2015 and he was well plotted for race for Paul Nichols.
The top yards have taken over the Coral Cup in recent years with 7 of the last 8 renewals shares between the 11 most successful current trainers at the meeting. Nicky Henderson and Gordon Elliot have each won 2 of these renewals. Gordon had only 8 runners in race out of which 2 have been placed and his horses often run well in race. The huge gamble on Tombstone last year was foiled though.
In contrast Willie Mullins has a shocking record in race and he is currently 0-24. Philip Hobbs has also won it twice in addition to posting five other top six finishers from 23 runners. It has been a bad race for favourite backers as none has won it in last 10 years. There has always been some big price winners in this race so look out for value. A few horses on my short list so far – Le Breuil, Ok Corral, Lagostovegas,Topofthegame.
Selection -Le Breuil 14-1 & Topofthegame 16-1 (Notebook)
3.30 Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase
This is one of the races of the festival and it is run over 2 miles. It is the ultimate test of jumping fences at top speed. Upsets are rare but the uncertainty over which of the speed horses will jump well on the day has caused favourites to have just a fair record. An interesting stat is that 12 of the last 18 odds on favourites have been beaten in the Champion Chase. Douvan added to this stat last year when beaten at very short odds. 15 of the last 16 Arkle winners ( only Douvan wasn’t placed last year) from previous went in to finish in the first 3 , of which 7 have won.
The Tingle Creek has always been a solid guide to this race over the past few years. This race was won by Politologue this season and the race has featured 11 of the last 17 winners. Three of the last five winners went on to win the Champion Chase after winning the Clarence House Chase en route. Other trends to note is that 11 of the last 15 winners won a graded Chase last time out. Till now I have no idea if Douvan will run or not. He hasn’t been seen since his injury in that same race last year. If he comes back to his very best then we will see a very competitive race.
In his absence Min has been flying the flag for Willie Mullins. He made his reappearance after injury at Gowran Park. He was then disqualified in the Grade 1 race over at Leopardstown for interference. But he was at his imperious best in the Grade 2 Dublin Chase by demolishing his conqueror of last time Simply Ned by 12 lengths. He was back to his best that day and jumped beautifully throughout. He showed that day he was a real contender for this race as he was visually impressive and never put a foot wrong. As he was well beaten by Altior in the Supreme I can’t really see him reversing the form over fences next week. Plus he will have to overcome the Mullins stat in race. Willie Mullins is still looking for his first win in that race.
Altior is the stand out horse in the race. He was injured for majority of the season too but won the Grade 2 race at Newbury by beating a very good horse in Politologue that day who was fit. His jumping was brilliant and we saw the old Altior back to his very best that day. He attacked his fences with precision and put daylight between him and Politologue when Nico de Boinville pressed the turbo button. It will take a very good horse to beat him next week.
In the absence of the big guns Politologue has been mopping the Grade races in Britain this season. He won the Haldon Gold Cup at Exeter before winning the Tingle Creek at Sandown beating the likes of Fox Norton , Ar Mad and Charbel. He then went on to win the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Xmas where his mIn rival , Special Tiara was a faller. His only defeat came at the hands of Altior. Though I love Politologue yet I still think he isn’t a proper Grade 1 horse. He is a joy to watch jumping those fences but against the very best he will come short.
Special Tiara is the defending champion but he will need good ground to excel and he isn’t sure of getting this next week. He normally comes to life in the spring. Since his winner in this race last year he has been beaten in all his four races since by the likes of Politologue, Min, Fox Norton and Altior. The age stats are against Special Tiara too being 11 now
Of the rest I wouldn’t give anyone a chance unless they improve dramatically or are on drugs. For the winner I can’t see past Altior. I think he is the class act in race and he should be winning this bar accident.
Selection – Altior 5-4 (Ante Post)
4.10 Glenfarclas Cross Country Chase
For the third time this is a conditions race rather than a handicap one. It should help the classier horses that have always been giving weight away in the past. Of the 10 winners of this race that didn’t win on their cross country debut ( 8 individual horses won this twice) all finished in the first 3 on their 2nd cross country run with Cause of Causes,Balthazar King, Garde Champetre and Spot The Difference winning. As you can see you don’t need much experience to win this specialist race. Previous form and course form is vital in the race. Cause of Causes won this last year and already had a fantastic festival form ( 7211). Favourites have a poor record in race and I think the last time one won was when Nina Carberry rode Heads Onthe Ground to victory back in 2007. Its a tough task for younger horses aged under right as only 3 have won from over 100 runners.
Of the two cross country races run at Cheltenham this season, it is the the one won by Bless The Wings that has proven to be a stronger guide rather than the conditions event run in November ( won by Kingswell Theatre). Enda Bolger used to dominate after winning 3 of the first 4 renewals for owner JP McManus who likes to target this race. But in the last 8 races his 23 runners have all been beaten on the day. Philip Hobbs has also won the race twice with the legend Balthazar King. The P Hogan Memorial race in Ireland used to be a good guide years ago ( delivered the first 3 winners) but in the last 9 years only one winner has come from the race. The La Touché Cup too is similar but the last winner to have come from the race was Sizing Australia in 2011.
Cause of Causes head the betting and is the defending champion. He only had 2 runs since his win and he was a good 2nd in the Grand National at Aintree behind One For Arthur. He ran at Leopardstown in a handicap chase but that was more like a preparation race. He is my main Ante post bet in race thanks to a friend who urged me to get on few months ago. If he is in the same form as last year he will be tough to beat.
His other rivals are the horses owned by JP in Josies Orders and Auvergnat. Josies Orders won this race for us in 2016 But was then injured. He had a nice preparation this year and was beaten by a nostril by Auvergnat in the P.P Hogan Memorial Cross Country Chase few weeks ago. Before that he was 3rd in the Cheltenham race won by Bless the Wings. He wasn’t too fluent that day and got outpaced at various stages in race but he rallied well on that hill that he loves. Auvergnat has been prepared for race too and was an unlucky faller in that Cheltenham race. He made amends at Punchestown and will be thereabouts.
Tiger Roll is another one from the Elliot yard that has been aimed at this race this year. He is twice a festival winner having won the Triumph for us back in 2014 and then won the 4 miler last year. He made a promising debut on his cross country debut at Cheltenham last Decembe and there have been whispers about him in last few weeks. He can be expected to be sharper over the obstacles next week and he has been well gambled as a result. Of the others I will give Urgent De Gregaine and Bless the Wings small each chances.
But for the winner I will stick with Cause of Causes in the hope he jumps as well as he did last year.
Selection – Cause of Causes (7-1/6-1 Ante Post)
4.50 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle
This has been a real lottery race in the last few years with 5 of the last 6 winners going off at 25-1 or bigger. Flying Tiger(33-1) Qualando(25-1), Hawk High (33-1), Flaxen Flare(25-1) and Une Artiste (40-1) are some of the winners since 2012.Diego du Charmil won this for us in 2016 at 13-2. Look out for French bred horses as they have won eight of the 13 runnings. In fact 26 of the last 40 win-and-placed horses were French bred. Lots of Trainers like to keep few secrets from the handicapper and only run them 1/2 times during a season to protect their handicap mark. 8 of the last 13 winners arrived having had the minimum 3 hurdles win.
Try to look for horses with obscure bits of form at small tracks that has left them ahead of the handicapper. Last time out winners have a good record in the Fred Winter. 8 last time our winners have been placed since 2010 including the 2nd and 3rd last year. Also note horses in headgear as they have a good record in race too. It was great to see Flying Tiger win for Nick Williams last year. He was emulating the likes of Paul Nolan, Charlie Egerton, Emma Lavelle and Tim Easterby. Nicky Henderson and Gordon Elliot also have won the race too in last 6 years.
But the one trainer that has a fantastic record in race with his French bred horses is Paul Nichols. As well as winning 3 of the last 8 renewals, he has had 4 seconds, a third, a fourth and a fifth from 15 runners. I was at a preview at Ascot and he was really sweet on Act of Valour in race ( we backed it when beaten by We Have A Dream when it hated the ground at Doncaster ). He also said Malaya has been aimed at race. Willie Mullins on the other hand has a shocking record in race with all his 12 runners finishing out of the places. I have my eyes on a few at this stage namely Style De Garde, Act of Valour, Lisp etc.
Selection -Act Of Valour 8-1
5.30 Weatherbys Champion Bumper
This should be renamed as the Irish Champion Bumper as they have won 10 of the last 13 renewals of this race. In total they have been victorious 17 times out of the 24 runnings. Willie Mullins will be looking for his ninth win in race and it’s one he likes to target. He hasn’t won it since Briar Hill ( how did this go off at 25-1 with Ruby on board lol) won in 2012. It is worth noting that Willie won it on 4 occasions when he had only one runner. On three of the other four occasions he won it it was normally the 2nd or 3rd string according to the betting that have won. The last 14 winners have all won on their previous start. Nine of the last 15 winners had run in at least three bumpers.
Someone once told me to avoid the hype horse and look out for wide margin winners of their last run at big prices. Hollowgraphic leads the betting and won his only start at Punchestown last December. He looked very impressive that day and showed a good turn of foot to win by 13 lengths. The 2nd that day Dunvegan won on his next start but was then beaten by Blackbow in the Bumper at Leopardstown ( Rhinestone 2nd).
Blackbow won his 2 bumpers in impressive fashion too and he is another one who travels well in his races. His win in the Grade 2 last time out was good form as he beat a well regarded horse in Rhinestone for Joseph O’Brien.The latter was well gambled but I think the winner had first run on him. He might have been ridden with a view to Cheltenham but he will need good ground to have a chance.
We also have Didtheyleaveuoutto who is a half sister to mighty Denman. I saw him win his maiden at Lingfield and he was very impressive. He then went to Ascot and demolish a very good field showing the usual turn of foot from last time. He travels really well in his races and his turn of foot will help him on that Cheltenham hill. I wouldn’t put off anyone backing him. At big prices Crooks Peak could represent some value at 25-1. He won for us at Cheltenham back in November when he won nicely. He hasn’t been seen since but he is another one that might have been aimed at race.
Acey Milan represents the Anthony Honeyball yard and has won his 3 races this season. He won the listed bumper race at Cheltenham too and made all that day before staying on strongly on the hill. He has course form which will help. He impressed me even more at Newbury by beating a very good field. He won by 11 lengths that day. The likes of good horses like Good Boy Bobby and Brewin’UpAStorm were all thrashed that day. He is nicely priced and will have a good chance next week. I can pass on a little whisper for Felix Desiy who is well fancied and connections think he will be placed minimum.
Selection – Blackbow 5-1 & Acey Milan 8-1 (Notebook)
Day 3 – Thursday 15th March
1.30 JLT Novices Chase
We don’t have many trends or stats about this race as it’s fairly new one. More emphasis is placed on speed rather than stamina. Five of the 7 JLT winners had won their previous start and the other 2 came close to doing so. You need to find a class horse with pure natural ability and one that can jump at speed too. In the last 3 years we have seen Vautour and Yorkhill jumping for fun to win this race. Festival form counts a lot for this race. All 7 winners so far ran at the previous festival and Yorkhill became the 3rd horse to have won at the Festival before when following up on the JLT a year after he won the Neptune( now Ballymore).
The Irish have a tremendous record having won 6 of the 7 renewals of this race. The only British trained winner was Taquin Du Seuil in 2014. Willie Mullins has won 4 of those with Sir Des Champs, Vautour, Black Hercukes and Yorkhill. At the time of writing there is confusion as which horses will run in this race due to uncertainty in the weather conditions.
Invitation Only might run here based on what Willie said last night. He was our Ante post selection for the Ballymore last year but he got injured and was put away. He fell on his chase debut at Punchestown in a race won by Monalee. He then went to Navan and won his beginners chase. He made all that day and jumped really well throughout. He was pressed 2 out but stayed on strongly to win going away. It was great to see him back to winning ways as he always had good potential.
Any Second Now ( whispers on this in the Close Brother on Tuesday) was 2nd that day. He won the Grade 3 race at Punchestown and again made all that day. He was then sent to run in the Grade 1 Flogas and he was only beaten in a thrilling finish with Monalee and his stable mate Al Boum Photo. Like I mentioned previously this Flogas race has a solid look to it. He made a jumping mistake at the last which eventually cost him momentum but he showed a great atttitude that day to fight back.
Monalee won 2 of his 3 races this season. He won his beginners chase very easily by thrashing Any Second Now. He fell in the Neville Hotels over Xmas but made amends in the Flogas. It remains to be seen where he will run. Modus has won 3 of his 4 starts this season in weak fields at short odds everytime. His only mishap was when he fell at Exeter. He was visually impressive at Kempton last time and it looks to me he is more settled this season and has improved his jumping too. He represents decent each way value in race in my opinion. Barry gets a good tune out of him and he attacks his fences brilliantly. Other plus for him is he has course form too which will help.
If Finians Oscar runs here then he will be first name to cross out. He is a high class horse but I feel he has been wrongly campaigned this season. He won his first 2 races over fences against moderate horses but his flaws were exposed big time against better horses when he was floored by Sceau Royal and Benatar. He simply cannot jump a fence at speed and I will be surprised if he wins this.
The one that could cause an upset is Terrefort if he runs here.He comes over from France and is a Grade 1 winner having won the Scilly Isles at Sandown. It’s one I was told to keep an eye on before he ran at Huntingdon where he made mince meat of his rivals. He then beat a solid yardstick in Cyrname ( won a Grade 2 on his next start). He jumped nicely that day and showed a great attitude and determination to fight back when challenged. He can jump at speed too which we saw at Huntingdon. If the race cut up he will be much shorter in the betting. Al Boum Photo will be another one with good chance if he runs here but so far we don’t know.
2.10 Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle
Despite the reduction in distance to 3 mile, this race is still a good test of stamina. These days it is attracting quality horses. The younger brigade seemed to have taken over as 4 of the last 5 winners were aged 6. 8 of the 11 winners between 2004 and 2014 were aged 8 or older. Nine of the last 11 winners did have between 6 and 10 runs over hurdles. It’s a very tough race to solve due to the fact it’s competitive and lots of trainers set up plots. I can’t remember the last favourite to have won this race. They have a very poor record in race. Call the Cops and Cape Tribulation were 2 of our winners in race at big odds.
Glenloe represents the powerful connections of Elliot- McManus and he heads the betting. He was 2nd in the Paddy Power Handicap Hurdle on his seasonal debut and again he finished 2nd to Red Devil Lads on his next start. He was then sent to the Pertemps qualifier where he finished 3rd. I don’t think he was ridden to win that day as they were protecting his mark. He could be a player in race as he is very versatile ground wise and his 2 placed efforts earlier in the season was good form.
Jonjo O’Neil has won this race on 4 occasions and 2 of those were owned by JP McManus and were priced at 50-1!! But he hasn’t won it for last 5 years. Keep an eye on Paul Nichols runners as he likes a handicap winner ( 7 of his 9 winners at the last 5 Festivals have come in handicaps). All his 17 runners in this race have been beaten but 6 have been placed. He has a nice horse in Forza Milan this year which has a similar profile to his winner Holywell few years ago. He was 6th to Holly Bush Henry on his seasonal debut but was then beaten by the rapidly improving Louis Van Pouch at Aintree. He was then beaten by The Organist in the Ladbrokes Handicap race st Newbury. He is nicely weighted too and can improve on his last run. At 14-1/16-1 I wouldn’t put anyone off backing him and he might shorten too.
I have been keeping an eye all season on a race which has delivered so many winners for me. It’s the Silver Trophy at Chepstow where Court Minstrel beat Sam Spinner( one of the Fave for Stayers Hurdle) by 1/2 length. Louis Van Pouch was 6th in the race and not beaten too far. He then went to Aintree and won his race. The likes of Beer Goggles ( winner of Long Distance Hurdle next time ) and Holly Bush Henry ( won next time out) were all behind that day. He hasn’t run since that day and I reckon he has been saved for the race by Philip Hobbs who won race with Fingal Bay few years ago. This could be a plot in my opinion.
Sort it Out is another one with solid claims. He has ran in some solid races this season. He was well beaten by Footpad, Petit Mouchoir and Al Boum Photo in his first three runs this season. On his last start in the Pertemps qualifier he was unfancied at 40-1 but he wasn’t beaten far in 3rd. It was an eye catching run fir shrewd connections. Who Dares Wins ran in another qualifier when he was 3rd behind Bags Groove and is another who could be well handicapped. Of the others I think Calett Mad and Le Breuil could be interesting if they run here at decent odds.
Selection – Forza Milan 14-1
2.50 Ryanair Chase
The Ryanair is run over 2m4f and has always been a very competitive race. The nature of the race is changing these days as we see more and more too class horses running. It’s nsinly due to the fact of the prize money increasing and it’s akso the feature race on Thursday. Twelve of the last 13 winners had won at Cheltenham before as had seven runners-up so previous course form is a prerequisite. It’s noteworthy how well front runners have done in this race over the years.
This has been a race totally dominated by the big stables. Willie Mullins won it last 2 years with Un De Sceaux and Vautour. Paul Nichols, David Pipe, Nicky Henderson and Jonjo O’Neil have all won it twice too. The key trial of this race has been the King George Chase which has produced 7 of the last 10 Grade 1 winners. The Betvictor Gold Cup and Ascot Chase have also featured 4 winners each.
Un De Sceaux heads the betting and is the defending champion. He has only been beaten once in his last 6 starts and that was at Punchestown at the end of season when Fox Norton won the Champion Chase over in Ireland. He made his seasonal debut in the Grade 2 at Cork and it was just a warming up exercise that day. He then made history at Ascot when he won the Clarence House for the 3rd time. He was brilliant that day and tracked leader till 3 out to then win going away. He traveled supremely well throughout and we saw a more mature horse these days. He attacks his fences brilliantly and it will take a very good horse to beat him again this year. The ground conditions will suit him and the more rain the better.
Waiting Patiently is one of my favourite horses in training but so far we don’t know if connections decide to run him in this race. He is unbeaten in his last 7 races. He only had 3 races this season and everyone he had been a joy to watch jumping those fences. He won easily at Carlisle despite giving a lot of weight away. He then won the Listed race at Kempton in January. His finest hour came when he won the Grade 1 Betfair Ascot Chase. He was patiently ridden at the back but was always travelling well. He jumped brilliantly throughout bar one mistake at the 6th. He went to challenge at the last and won going away repelling the challenge of a vaillant Vhe Card. That was breathtaking to see and it was one of the best races we have seen this season. If he lives up here then he will be a big danger to Un De Sceaux. Only slight concern is that he doesn’t have course form but he is a classy animal. (Non Runner)
Cue Card wasn’t disgraced in race too as he was ridden prominently in race but beaten by a younger horse on the day. He fell on his seasonal debut in the Charlie Chase Hall that Bristol De Mai won. He lost his crown in the Betfair Chase when he was comprehensively beaten by Bristol De Mai. He was then given a break and a drop in trip at Ascot told us that there was still life in the old Champion at the age of 12. I can’t see him winning but at 8/10-1 he represents some each way value.
Balko Des Flos is another one in race with a decent chance. He won the Galway Plate in the summer. He was then second to A Toi Phil in the Grade 2 Champion Chase at Gowran Park. He made a mistake 3 out that day which eventually cost him the race. He then ran a mighty race over Xmas in the Christmas Chase over 3 Miles won by Road to Respect. He is a sound jumper but is prone to the odd mistake when under pressure. He stays on strongly in his races which could help him if the race becomes a tactical one.
Little Top Notch runs in this race too but he was disappointing on his last start at Ascot when he was soundly beaten. Before that he won the Peterborough Chase and the Grade 2 Christy 1965 race at Ascot. He was simply brilliant with his jumping at Ascot. He travelled powerfully throughout and jumped his rivals into submission. The 3rd that day Frodon is no slouch as he demolished a good fiend at Cheltenham in January. He did reverse the form in the Ascot Chase though. I can’t see Top Notch win this race but he had place claims if he puts his best foot forward and is 100% on the day. Of the others I can’t see Min, Douvan or Yorkhill run in this race so we might have a small field next week.(Non Runner)
For the winner I will stick with Un De Sceaux who I have backed at 7-2 to win any race Ante post.
Selection- Un De Sceaux (7-2 /4-1 Ante Post )
3.30 Sun Bets Stayers Hurdle
This is one of the four Championship races of the festival. You tend to get 2 types of winner in this race. The most common oneis a horse that has a virtually unblemished record in the main graded 3m conditions hurdles. The second type is a class act at much shorter trips stepping up for the first time to 3m. Horses unbeaten over hurdles have a strong record. In the last decade,21 horses that were unbeaten have lined up on race and 7 have won. Eight of the last 14 runnings have seen the first five in the betting provide the 1-2-3. In recent years the Long Distance Hurdle over 3 m at Newbury has been the key trial producing 7 of the last 11 winners. Beer Goggles was the shock winner this year at 40-1. The Cleeve Hurdle ( Agrapart won this season) has produced 6 winners too.
Supasundae was 2nd to Apples Jade in the Christmas Hurdle over Xmas and this could be seen as the Irish trial for this race. He is st the top of the betting and he won the Irish Champion Hurdle over 2miles on his last start. It was a very good performance over that distance and he stayed on strongly at the end to repel the challenge of Faugheen. In the Hattons Grace he finished 3rd behind Nichols Canyon the defending champion and Apples Jade who destroyed the field. He won the Coral Cup at the festival last year and then got beat by a length by Yanworth in the Liverpool Hurdle. He travels well in most of his races and he is a good jumper too.
Yanworth is a fascinating entry as he has been campaigned over fences all season. He won 2 Mickey Mouse races at Exeter before he got well beaten by Willoughby Court at Newbury. He got his revenge at Cheltenham but he was receiving 5lb that day. He will be among one of the leading contenders but I don’t think I would want to back him at 4-1 right now. He has a touch of class about him when on song but he has been beaten twice at short odds at Cheltenham in last 2 years.
Sam Spinner has been a revelation this season and is the new kid on the block. He ran really well when second to Court Minstrel on his seasonal debut by going down by a neck in the Silver Trophy at Chepstow. He then destroyed the opposition in the Stayers Hurdle race at Haydock that was run on heavy ground. He jumped with enthusiasm that day on ground he relished. The 2nd that day The Dutchman went on to win the Peter Marsh at sane track later on.
He was then sent to Ascot and he won the Grade 1 Long Walk Hurdle. He showed a really good attitude that day and jumped fluently. He stayed on gamely to fend off L’Ami Serge with Unowhatimeanharry a further 10 lengths behind. I can’t see him out of the places and he is a serious contender in race. Only slight concern is he has no course form. But he will relish the conditions and the more rain the better for one of the horses that we followed this season.
Penhill hasn’t been since since last year when he finished 2nd to Champagne Classic at Pumchestown. Before that he won the Albert Bartlett race by beating Monalee and Wholestone. It will be another tremendous training performance if Willie can get him to win this. He represents decent value for each way backers.
The New One won the Welsh Champion Hurdle on his seasonal debut and was then beaten in the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham. He then finished 2nd to My Tent or Yours and Buveur D’air over Xmas. But he won the Champion Hurdle trial once again at Haydock last time. They have decided to run him here and I think he could be competitive in a wide open race.
The same can be said about L’Ami Serge. He was 2nd behind Sam Spinner and Lil Rockerfeller at Ascot. On his last start he was 3rd to Wakanda in the Sky Bet Listed race. He seems to find one too good everyone and once headed he doesnt like to get past them for some reason. I will give him an each way chance in race.
Unowhatimeanharry has been a disappointment in his last 2 races when he was well beaten by Beer Goggles and Sam Spinner. He doesn’t seem to be like the cash machine he was for us last year. He doesn’t seem to find much under pressure and looks like his turn of foot has gone too. He was like 6-4 for this race last year and he is now around 12–1. He has small place claims.
The other horse in race that can get placed at big odds is one of our favourites in Wholestone. He is a bit of a Cheltenham specialist this horse and he won there on New Years Day by beating Agrapart and Colin’s sister in the Grade 2 Relkeel Hurdle. In the Cleeve Hurdle Agrapart reversed the form and he was 3 lengths behind but he ran his usual good race but was beaten by the better horse on the day. He didn’t fire in at Newbury in the Long Distance Hurdle. I think he is well overpriced at 16-1 in the race considering his Cheltenham course record. He could well cause a small upset it a few at the top of the market have an off day.
Selection – Sam Spinner 5-1
4.10 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase
This is one of the trickiest handicap races in the festival and one that hasn’t been too kind to punters in recent years. It’s a big lottery race and you need some luck in running too.14 winners have been sent off at 20-1 or bigger in the last 30 years. Of the 17 renewals, 6 have been won by horses in their 3rd season over fences,2 by horses in their 4th and one by a horse in its 5th. In other words the we need to look for an experienced horse over fences.
Look out for French bred horses in race as they have a great record having been successful on 7 occasions since 1999 and they had 11 runner up positions when they have not won. Five of the last 22 winners were novices as were seven of the last 16 runners up. This is a good race to follow some trainers as they like to target this race. David Pipe and Martin Pipe have won 7 of the last 2 renewals.
David Pipe’s three wins have been in the last eight years and he has saddled the 2nd and 3rd in the last three years too. Try to look at horses that have been off the track for a while. Venetia Williams also has an outstanding record in race. She won it three times and had 6 other places horses from 21 runners. Most of her winners tend to go off at big prices too so it’s worth paying attention to what she runs here. Henderson also does well in race having won it four times while Paul Nicholls had only 3 places horses from 28 runners so far. Few horses on my radar in this race – Tully East ( our Close Brothers winner last year) Kings Sock, Movewiththetimes,Mister Whittaker.
Selection – Tully East 8-1
4.50 Trull House Stud Mares Novices Hurdle
This will be the 3rd time this race will be run at the festival and it could be another winner for Willie Mullins horses after Let’s Dance and Limini won in previous years. Laurina heads the betting this year and she has been so impressive. She won her maiden at Tranmore by 15 lengths. She was then sent to Fairyhouse and she bolted up in the Grade 3 Solerina. That’s when she catapulted herself into a very short priced Ante post favourite for this race. The 2nd that day Alletrix finished 12 lengths behind but went on to win a Graded race at Leopardstown during the Dublin Racing Festival. The 5th, Meri Devie won the Listed Quevega Mares Hurdle at Punchestown on her next start. The form is solid and Laurina has an outstanding chance to win next week. She is visually a strong mare and travels supremely well in her races. This is going to be one of the bankers of the festival and I can’t see her getting beat bar accident.
Her main challenger will be Maria’s Benefit. She has been a model of consistency this season and has won her last 5 races. She was beaten in her seasonal debut at Worcester but then racked up a sequence of victories. She won the Listed race for us at Taunton when landing a big gamble. She was sensational that day and won by 30 lengths. Her last win came at Doncaster in the Grade 2 Yorkshire Rose Mares Hurdle race. This is when she showed her battling qualities. She led all the way before being picked by Irish Roe at the final fence. She was headed but rallied gamely at the end to get on top. I like those type of horses with such attitude and she rages a good each way bet or one w/o.
I don’t know if Countister will run here for Henderson but she is another good mare. She has won 2 of her 3 races this season with her only defeat coming at the hands of Cap Soleil at Newbury. She will have deceht place claims if she takes her engagement here. For the winner though I will stick with Laurina and I think she is a good thing.
Selection – Laurina 6-5/5-4
5.30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders Handicap Chase
This race is the only one reserved for amateurs riding in a handicap. It’s another lottery race with a big field. It pays to look out for the top amateurs who normally get on the best handicapped horses. Jamie Codd has an outstanding record in race having won 4 ( twice for David Pipe including the 16-1 for ya on The Package) of the last 9 renewals. Derek O’Connor ( 3 times runner up) and Nina Carberry( finished in first 5 in 8 of her 11 rides) have hit the crossbar a few times recently. It’s more a race won by jockeys rather than horse. In fact 30 of the last 34 win and place positions were filled by non claiming amateurs as were ten of the last 12 winners.
Headgear is also important as it is in the Ultima. 6 of the last 7 winners have spotted headgear. Festival form has little impact in this race at the beginning as 7 of the first 10 winners had never run at Cheltenham before. But 6 of the 9 New Course renewals had run at the festival before. David Pipe has won 2 of the last 7 renewals ( do take note of his horses coming here after a break of over 3 months) while Nicky Henderson has won 3 of them but last one was way back in 2005.
Gordon Elliot struck with his Cause Of Causes 2 years ago but he had 2 seconds and a third in the previous three years before he won it. It looks like Mall Dini will be running here instead of the 4 miler and if he does then he has a very good chance. He has been campaigned all season to peak at Cheltenham just like when he won the Pertemps here in 2016. Other horses on my radar are – Missed Approach, Barney Dwan.
Day 4 – Friday 16th March
1.30 JCB Triumph Hurdle
This is a tough race for novice hurdlers and is ran at break neck speed over 2m1f. There is much less luck in running these days and the class horses with graded form have been dominating in last few years. 11 of the last 13 Triumph winners could be found in the first four of the betting. The Adonis Hurdle (won by Redicean) and the Spring Juvenile Hurdle ( won by Mr Adjudicator) have provided the winner of this race between them on 10 occasions in the last 18 years. Nicky Henderson has been the main man in this race having won it 6 times. The Irish have a good record in race too having won it 3 times in the last 5 years including a 1-2-3-4 in 2016. Philip Hobbs has a fine record too with 3 winners while Alan King has had 2 winners.
Apples Shakira heads the betting and is the one we have been following all season. I was given the nudge to back her Ante post and the 25-1 I took look good value now. She has won all her 3 races so far. On her debut in the Trial race at Cheltenham she won by 17 lengths and destroyed the Hobbs horse Gumball. She was very impressive that day and travelled like a really good horse. She followed up at the same track by beating Nube Negra ( highly regarded horse at Skelton and favourite for Fred Winter) that day. Again she drew clear of her rivals effortlessly and won easily.
She then went to win the Grade 2 race at Cheltenham where again she won nicely. In her races she normally hit a flat spot but once she gets going then she makes up ground rapidly. Being a full sister to Apples Jade she travels well in her races and has a very good turn of foot. She will be very hard to beat. Only 1 of the last 37 females that have lined up in race have won so she will try to beat that stat hopefully.
Next one is Redicean who was a flat horse last 2 years. He only had 3 races this season over hurdles and won all 3.He won over Xmas at Kempton where he made a few jumping mistakes but a good jump at the last helped him to put daylight between him and his rivals. He then won the Adonis Juvenile in impressive fashion. That day he jumped beautifully throughout and he was slick at all his fences. He has gears and he will be a serious rival for Apples Shakira.
Farclas came over from France and was 2nd on both his starts so far. He was sent to contest the Grade 2 Knight Frank Juvenile where he was beaten by Espoir D’allen. He then ran in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle when he was beaten by Mr Adjudicator. He improved his jumping that day but found one too good. He has sound place claims for Gordon Elliot.
Mr Adjudicator had a busy summer campaign on the flat. He was then transferred to Willie Mullins yard and win his last 2 starts. He won his maiden hurdle at Leopardstown and followed up on the Grade 1 at the same track. He showed a really good attitude that day and beat some good horses in the race. He is prone to making the odd mistakes but he would have learnt plenty during his races. Stormy Ireland is another in the race with solid place claims and they rate her highly at the yard too. She only had one run at Fairyhouse where she bolted up by 58 lengths. It was breathtaking to see her jump at speed but I don’t think she beat much that day. She was visually impressive and will improve for race.
We Have A Dream represents the powerful connections of Henderson/Munir/Souede. He is unbeaten in his 4 races to date and his firm has more substance than most of the above horses. He won his maiden hurdle at Warwick where he won very easily. He then won the Grade 2 Summit Juvenile Hurdle at Doncaster where he made all to piss it by 10 lengths on the bridle. He was then sent to the Grade 1 Future Champions Juvenile Hurdle. He had to battle a bit on heavy ground that he hated but still came out on top. His slick jumping and turn of foot was the reason why he managed to fend off a very good horse in Sussex Ranger.
His last win came in the Scottish Triumph Hurdle at Musselburgh turning the race into a procession after the last. He was strongly pressed by a very good horse in Act of Valour ( Nichols spoke highly of him recently and is one of the main players in Fred Winter) but he drew clear at the last before putting the race to bed. I am surprised he is available at 10-1 right now and I wouldn’t put anyone off backing him as he will win a big race. Of the rest Saldier, Eoline Jolie( supposed to be a good Mullins horse) and Mitchouka have small chances.
For the winner though I will stick with Apples Shakira. She reminds me a bit of Defi Du Seuil in the way she jumps and she will be a tough cookie to beat on the day especially with the 7lb mares allowance. Her Cheltenham experience will be of tremendous help and let’s hope she delivers the goods. I might bet another one closer to race time depending how my other bets have done so far.
Selection – Apples Shakira (25-1 Ante Post)
2.10 Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle
Punters used to like this race before as you could find the winner quite easily but it has become very tricky last ten years or so. Six of the last 10 winners have been sent off at odds of 20-1 and above. Wicklow Brave (25-1) and Arctic Fire (20-1) were 2 of the winners of last three years for Willie Mullins who can get one ready when it’s been off the radar. Novices with handicap experience have a fine record and Irish trainer runners have dominated winning 8 of the last 11 renewals including a clean sweep 3 years ago when they occupied the top 6 positions. 11 of the last 14 winners were aged five or six. Take particular note of 5 year olds with ten wins in the last 19 years.
You need to find a horse with speed and stamina. 11 of the 17 winners including 7 of the last 10 began life on the flat. Some trainers as usual like to target this race. One of which is Paul Nichols who has an excellent record in race. He has won it four times and could have won few more with a bit of luck. Philip Hobbs too has a sound record in race having won it twice and have 6 places from 27 runners so far.
The Coral Hurdle at Leopardstown has been the race that has featured 4 winners in the last 10 years. Five of the last 8 Irish trainer winners contested this valuable race. The Imperial Cup that is run tomorrow ( Saturday 10th March) should also be respected. There were six imperial Cup winners that have gone and won the following week at Cheltenham so do keep a close eye on Saturday’s result.
Few horses on my radar that could be well handicapped – Ivanovich Gorbatov ( forgotten horse), Max Dynamite, Flying Tiger.
2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle
This can be a war of attrition especially on rain softened ground. Stamina is a key issue in this gruelling 3 mike Novice Chase. You basically need a horse that stays all day, one that is a fluent jumper and one that travels well in his races. Lots of experience over hurdles has been a huge asset both in terms of number of hurdles runs and length of career. 2nd season novices have a good record and six of the last 13 winners had run over hurdles the previous season.
Cheltenham experience has been valuable in race as the Grade 2 events such as The Hyde( won by On The Blind Side who runs in Ballymore instead) , Bristol and Classic Novice Hurdles have all featured eight of the 13 Albert Bartlett winners between them. Santini won the Classic Hurdle recently for us and the winner of this race has gone on to win the Albert Bartlett four times in last 11 years. The Nathaniel Lacy & Partners Novice Hurdle in Ireland has been a good guide for Irish in recent years. The winner Tower Bridge is entered in the Ballymore. It’s been a poor race for favourite backers in the last few years. The last 4 winners have gone off at big odds like 16-1/11-1/33-1/14-1 all from outside the top 5 in the market.
We start off with two horses that we have followed all season in Santini and Chef Des Obeaux both from the Henderson yard. Santini has won both his starts this season. He made his debut at Newbury and beat Chef Des Obeaux by 5 lengths. It was a good learning curve for him that day as he chased the leaders, took the lead and stayed strongly on the run in. He made 1/2 jumping mistakes but that was to be expected.
He was then sent over to Cheltenham where he won the Grace 2 race beating a well regarded horse from the Tom George horse in Black OP. He was buried in the pack but made stealthy headway till the 2nd. It was then that his stamina kicked in and he stayed on powerfully up the hill to win by 1/2 length. It was a gutsy performance and I couldn’t believe he got up. He showed a fantastic attitude that day and proved he can get into a battle too which is what is needed in race. I remember I tweeted ‘ Wooooooah Santini’ as I had a good bet at 9-2 on him that day:) His experience at Cheltenham will be of help to him too.
I am surprised Black Op(runs in Ballymore) is currently 16-1 for this race and I was impressed with him when he won his maiden hurdle at Doncaster by 17 lengths. The fifth that day First Drift won a good race at Doncaster. I think he is overpriced right now considering Santini is around the 4-1/9-2 mark.
Chef Des Obeaux has been a model of consistency this season winning his last 3 races. He was beaten on his debut by Santini. He then won his maiden hurdle at Uttoxeter before destroying a good field at Kempton where he won with any amount in hand. He was visually impressive that day and jumped with fluency and accuracy. He then won the Grade 2 Trial at Haydock where he again showed his class to win easily on heavy ground. The rain softened ground we are expecting next week won’t be a problem for him and he likes a battle too. It will be interesting to see who rides him and he will be thereabouts.
I don’t think Next Destination will run here as he will run in Ballymore. Vinndication and Tower Bridge won’t run as well. Duc De Genievres could represent some value if he runs here. He has ran 2 solid races 2 Grade 1 races this year. He was 3rd to Next Destination on debut where he made good headway towards the end to get 3rd behind Cracking Smart ( the Fave for this race before it was withdrawn) and Next Destination. He then went on to finish 2nd in a very good Deloitte renewal that mighty Samcro won doing cartwheels. Paloma Blue was 3rd ( might have an idea of the form of this race after Supreme and Ballymore). He could be the main challenger to the pair of Henderson horses in my opinion as the race cuts up.
Fabulous Saga could nick some place money too for Willie Mullins so keep an eye on him if he runs here. He was well backed in the Grade 1 race but he didn’t run in race that day. Before that he was very impressive in the Grade 2 and Grade 3 races he won where he shown good battling qualities and jumped with great fluency.
For the winner though I would split my stakes between Santini and Chef Des Obeaux as I can’t decide and are two that have made me good money this season.
Selections – Santini 9-2 and Chef Des Obeaux 6-1 (split stakes)
3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase
This is one of the highlights of the festival and the feature race on the day. It’s one of those races that every jockey, owner or trainer want to win. It’s a unique test in that it brings together all the best staying chasers that are fit and well. 12 of the last 17 winners had finished first or second at the festival and 12 of the last 13 winners were running in this race for the first time. Djakadam will need to overcome this stat if he was going to win this year. All 67 horses ages 10 or older have been beaten in this race. Second season chasers have an outstanding record in race having won 14 of the last 28 runnings. Also do take note of festival form as 19 of the last 20 winners had run at the festival before with Coneygree being the exception.
The big yards have a good record in race with Paul Nicholls winning it 3 times, Nicky Henderson twice and Gordon Elliot once with Don Cossack. Funny how this race has always eluded Willie Mullins who has saddled as many as 6 runners-up from 18 runners to date. The King Georges at Kempton ( won by Might Bite) and the Lexus Chase ( won by Road To Respect) have been the best guides as 16 of the last 18 winners have ran in one of those races. 15 of the last 17 winners have been found in the top 3 of the betting.
Might Bite heads the betting and rightly so. Since his unlucky fall at Kempton 2 years ago he has won his last 5 races including the Cheltenham-Aintree double last season. He won on his seasonal debut at Sandown in the listed race where he made mince meat of the opposition and was foot perfect throughout and showing his usual zest. His big win came in the King George at Kempton where he really impressed me. I got the chance to see him close that day and he jumped really well. He looks more settled than last year and looks a proper horse.
He broke my heart twice last year when beating my beloved Whisper in the RSA after trying to run out and again at Aintree but I still think this is the best form we have. Whisper went on to run a belter off too weight in the Hennessy when failing by a neck to Total Recall. I reckon we will see another great performance from Might Bite next week. It’s a shame the defending champion Sizing John is out with a hairline fracture of the pelvis.
Native River hasn’t been seen since his 3rd in the Gold Cup last season but he made a winning re appearance at Newbury in the Denman Chase where he jumped brilliantly to win by 12 lengths. He is one that could get placed again in the race if in same form. Our Duke was injured on his appearance this season in the Champion Chase at Down Royal. He was never travelling and was jumping markedly to the left. He was out for few months and ran a solid race when 4th in the Irish Gold Cup during the Dublin Racing Festival. He jumped well that day until a bad mistake 2 out put an end to his challenge in a race won by the 66-1 horse Edwulf. He was then dropped in distance in the Red Mills Chase and despite giving 7lb away to a good horse in Presenting Percy he still battled gamely at the end to win going away. He improved a lot from his last run and his jumping was very good. I honestly can’t see him winning as I still think he will fall short against better horses on a track like Cheltenham.
Road to Respect won the plate at the festival last year and followed up at Fairyhouse in the Ryanair Gold Cup where he beat Yorkhill by a neck in a thrilling finish. He then was runner up in the Champion Chase at Down Royal where he got beaten by 1/2 length by Outlander. He made no mistake in the Christmas Chase when he won nicely at the end reversing the form with Outlander and Balko Des Flos ( runs in the Ryanair on Thursday). He is around the 10-1 mark and has decent each way claims.
Killultagh Vic was a winner at Punchestown after being out for nearly 2 years. He was then sent to the Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup where he was an unlucky caller as he was about to take the lead. He travelled really well after 1/2 mistakes earlier in the race. He could be the dark horse in race and provide Willie Mullins with his first win in race.
I don’t think Definitly Red is good enough at this level or is a Grade 1 horse. Edwulf is the miracle horse from last year’s festival where he suffered a bad injury when he fell in in the 4 miler. He caused a big surprise when he won the Gold Cup at Leopardstown when he came from miles to beat Outlander by a neck. He has a little chance to feature as long as the favourites all have an off day.
The same can be said about Djakadam who has finished runner up twice in the race before. He finished 4th last year when going off 3-1 Fave. He is a 33-1 shot this time and had a much better preparation. He was 2nd to Sizing John in the John Durkan But was soundly beaten. He was then pulled up in the Christmas Chase before finishing 3rd to Edwulf. If Ruby decides to ride him he won’t be a 33-1 shot that’s for sure.
Selection – Might Bite 9-2 , Killultagh Vic 10-1 (Notebook)
4.10 St James Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup Hunters Chase
This is a race reserved for amateur riders and is ran over the distance of 3 miles 2 furlongs. The key piece of Festival form has been the Foxhunter itself as 8 of the last 17 winners this century had ran at the meeting before. Of those 8 most had shown good form in the Foxhuntet before (3 won and 3 had placed). Horses aged over ten have won just three times in the last 27 runnings( 2 of those were previous winners of race). Last time out winners have won 24 of the last 32 runnings.
The Irish have been dominating the race by winning it 6 times till Paul Nichols put an end to this in last year’s renewal when he saddled the 1-2. In doing so he was recording his 3rd win in the race. Again pay attention to what he runs in race as he has been targeting it again and in few previews he mentioned Wonderful Charm ( beaten by stablemate Pacha Du Polder last year in race) as his best chance of the festival.
Burning Ambition heads the betting and he won easily by 13 lengths on his debut at Limerick in the Earl of Harrington Memorial race. He landed a big gamble that day. He was then beaten at Punchestown by a game Gilgamboa who was headed but rallied at the end to win by 2 lengths. The front 2 pulled well clear and it was a good performance from Burning Ambition and he will have a great chance next week as that race has been his target all season. The son of Scorpion will relish conditions too.
Wonderful Charm is one that has been on the go since 2012. Now aged 10 this son of Poliglote is still enjoying his races. I remember backing him for the JLT when he was 5th inna race won by the ill fated Tarquin Du Seuil. He was beaten by a neck in race last year and has been runner up at Cheltenham three times from 6 runs. He clearly loves the place and will have an outstanding chance to go one better this year. He won his hunter chase impressively at Musselburgh in early February when he outclassed the opposition despite the ground not being ideal for him that day. His trainer has been very bullish about him and at current odds he is an each way bet to nothing. He will be ridden by Sam Waley Cohen who is experienced enough.
Foxrock is another one with sound claims in race. He only ran once this season but was beaten by 10 lengths by Gilgamboa in race. He made a few jumping mistakes that day but Ted Walsh will surely have got him spot on for next week.
A special mention for a legend in On The Fringe.
At 13 years old the old boy is still racing and I will never forget his festival treble ( Cheltenham-Aintree-Punchestown ) in 2015. On all 3 occasions he was ridden by Nina Carberry. He has lost his way since last year but I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets into the places being twice a winner of this race. Of the others i think Pacha Du Polder the defending champion ( Nichols wasn’t too sweet on him in one of previews at Ascot) could May be sneak a place. For the winner though I will split my stakes between Burning Ambition and Wonderful Charm.
Selection -Wonderful Charm 11-2
4.50 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle
This is the handicap race that is ran over the distance of 2 miles 4 furlongs. The Martin Pipe is a race where the emphasis has firmly been on stamina at the trip. It’s not surprising to see plenty of winners stepping back down in trip. Last time out winners have been profitable to follow in many Festival races especially in the handicap hurdles. The 4 last time out winners to take this race were in consecutive years between 2011-2014. All nine winners of race were first or second season hurdlers. Seven were second season hurdlers with last year’s winner Champagne classic becoming the 2nd novice to win it. All winners have been aged five or six.
Willie Mullins has won this with his 3 star horses like Sir Des Champs, Don Poli and Killultagh Vic( runs in the Gold Cup earlier). Gigginstown also have a good record in race having won it twice and had 4 other placed horses. Paul Nichols too has won this race twice and had 3 other places from 3 runners in one year. Favourites have a bad record in race with none having won in last 9 renewals.
Selection – Diese Des Bieffes 10-1
5.30 Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Challenge Cup
It’s the final race and if you are still reading then fair play for sticking with my nonsense. We could either be enjoying Champagne and caviar or just having beans on toast. I am pretty sure it will be champagne after withdrawing our winnings 🙂 This is another tricky race for punters to solve but we won it last year with Rock The World at 14-1. There were nine double figure priced winners since 2006 of which seven were sent off at 16-1 or more. Seven of the last nine British trained winners had won at Cheltenham before but also respect last year’s renewal as six of the last 11 winners had run in race before.
The Irish have a fantastic record in race having won it seven times and they had 5 runner ups in last 18 runnings. Do take note of Irish trainer horses who ran over hurdles on their previous start like three of their last six winners. Nicky Henderson also like to win his Dad’s race and has won it twice and saddled the runner up four times. In total 11 of his 36?runners have hit the frame.
Also pay attention to what JP McManus has running for him since he has won it twice and had two runners up in last 6 years. Right now I can’t decide about this race so will be nearer time.