- Dodging Bullets never looked like being involved in the finish of the Arkle.
- King Massini fell early on in the h'cap chase and then Tour Des Champs just failed by a neck to recapture 4th spot and a return on the eachway wager.
- Hurricane Fly was finally overshadowed, with Jezki surprisingly taking the Champion Hurdle on the run-in from My Tent Or Yours.
- Shotgun Paddy only just failed by a neck to take the 4-mile NH Chase.
- Persian Snow looked like being in the 1st-4 till being squeezed on the home-turn and unbalanced when jumping the final fence, while Present View (my other shortlisted runner) went on to win the race.
1:30 Neptune Investment Novice Hurdle (Grade 1) over 2 miles & 5f
Possibly the most important novice event (chase or hurdle) of the Festival meeting, if not the entire NH calendar and it seems inappropriate to have moved this race to open the 2nd day of the meeting.
· 24 of the previous 26 winners had run in at least 3 hurdle races;
· 18 of the last 21 winners to have won at least twice coming into the race;
· 19 of the last 23 winners had won LTO;
Personally, I would ignore all those outside the 1st-6 in the betting on the day, as this is not a race for shocks. All the market leaders meet the major criteria, apart from Rathvinden who did not win LTO. It seems almost certain that the winner will come from Faugheen, Red Sherlock or Royal Boy (now a non-runner: lame) - but this could be an odd year. I don't like the fact that Faugheen has not run in 2014, and so my preference is for RED SHERLOCK, tho' I will not be surprised if an outsider wins.
This is a no-bet race for me. too many variables.
· The last 14 winners had raced at least 3 times over fences.
· 18 of the last 21 winners had at least 9 NH starts (hurdles and chases count, but not bumpers).
· 18 of the previous 21 winners were a novice hurdler the previous season;
· 7yo’s have provided 12 of the previous 13 winners;
· 14 of the last 24 winners had won a 3-mile+ chase before winning this (tho’ the last 2 winners, Lord Windermere & Bobs Worth, both failed this stat);
· It is nearly 50 years since a horse won the race without a run since 31st December;
· No winner in 22 years had been placed in a Graded or Listed hurdle over less than 2m3f – for instance; 2013 winer Lord Windermere had run in a Grade 1 hurdle over 2m2f and came 4th of 7 runners.
The winner of this race will have been born to be a 3-mile and it’s likely that the eventual winner will have not run on the flat (except in a “bumper”) and will have only been novice hurdling. Chasing experience is what counts here not potential ability and Irish horses do well in this race. The winner is likely to have run in a Grade 1 novice chase already and, in Ireland, that means the Dr PJ Moriarty Chase run at Leopardstown. The last 4 Irish winners –Lord Windermere (2013), Boston’s Angel (2011), Weapons Amnesty (2010) and Cooldine (2009) - all ran in the PJ Moriarty Chase. As such, pay close attention to the form of Ballycasey, Don Cossack and Carlingford Lough, altho' Ballycasey does not have enough experience, despite great talent.
For such a talented field, only the following meet all the major criteria:
Annacotty, Corrin Wood, Many Clouds and Samingarry.
The one that catches my eye most is the unbeaten CORRIN WOOD at 11/1, as he should be joint-fav. Of the Irish, Don Cossack could be the best over this 3-mile trip.
CORRIN WOOD, £5 eachway & £5 win @ 11/1 (Stan James & Bet Victor)
· 15 of last 20 winners had already won a race earlier in the season;
· 12 of the last 14 winners were aged 7yo or younger;
· Only 2 of the last 8 winners came into the race of a break of less than 42 days.
· 11 of the last 13 winners had only won one previous handicap.
It is not unusual for runners with big weights to do well in this race.
This is a competitive handicap, so usually a horse with no more than 3 runs this season (9 of last 17 winners had run no more than 3 times that season) are the most likely to be on the upgrade. The are a few that interest me on the trends: the LTO winners Waaheb and Calculated Risk, and also Vendor. Waaheb may struggle on this ground, but is very lightly raced. Calculated Risk does not have Costello in the saddle and that is a negative for him. While VENDOR was not beaten far LTO in the Betfair Hurdle and he goes well here having run 3rd in the Fred Winter in 2012. He followed that run with a win off OR136 and he runs off OR138 in this. He can go close and odds of 16/1 look fair as the sponsors (Coral) go 5-places eachway.
VENDOR, £5 eachway @ 16/1 (Coral pay 5-places)
· 9 of the last 13 winners have contested the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.
· 31 of the last 32 winners had an SP of no greater than 11/1.
· 11 of the last 12 winners won a Grade 1 chase prior to winning this race
Race-fav Sire De Grugy is rated by me 163 at best, which puts him with striking distance of Sizing Europe if he runs to his best at a track he loves. The next best rivals are the Irish trained Arvika Ligeonniere and Benefficient. Of that pair, I prefer Benefficient but he’s yet to better 160 on my ratings and so the advantage remains with Sire De Grugy. Last year, KID CASSIDY ran a cracker in the Grand Annual to be 2nd and well clear of the 3rd. He could be placed at long odds and may even give the fav something to think about.
KID CASSIDY, £5 eachway @ 12/1 (Bet Victor & Stan James)
Previous experience of Cross–Country chases is a plus. Last year I suggested avoiding horses aged 8yo or younger due to their poor record in the race, and then the 8yo Big Shu went and won. As he’d run 2nd in a Cross-Country chase LTO he had the experience required and, as he followed-up at the Punchestown Festival in April, he looks to be the one to beat. Big Shu returned on 2nd Feb 14 with a decent 2nd in a Cross-Country chase at Punchestown which should have him primed to defend his crown.
This is a no-bet race for me.
4:40 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (2-miles & 110 yards)
Being one of the more intriguing races of the Festival, I am disappointed that it has been pushed back further into the afternoon to accommodate the Cross-Country Chase. This is a race which has some trends similar to the Centenary Novices Chase.
Your looking for a horse that fulfils these 3 factors:-
· less than 5 hurdle runs and;
· less than 2 hurdle wins;
· a winning run coming LTO.
This is the 3rd edition of my Festival Bulletin and for the previous two editions I’ve written: “I’ll be looking for a lightly-raced, LTO winner… … If it’s a filly, more the better”.
Only 3 fillies went to post in 2012, one of which was UNE ARTISTE who won @ 40/1. There were no fillies entered in 2013.
· 5 of the last 7 winners won LTO (neither of the last two winners won LTO);
· Only 2 of the 9 winners of this race had won more than once over hurdles;
· 7 of the 9 winners had run in 3 hurdle races or less;
· Fillies have provided 4 of the 9 winners; 2012 winner Une Artiste was 1 of only 3 fillies in the race, and 2011 winner What A Charm was one of only 2 fillies.
· This race has the shortest average period since a run of just 20.90 days with 5 of the 9 previous winners last running less than 21-days before winning this.
Paul Nicholls must have felt cheated as not only did he send out the 2nd & 3rd in 2013, but he also supplied the 6/1 fav Saphir Du Rheu who has since developed into an OR160+ hurdler.
This race is always a potential “bookies benefit” being even more difficult to predict than the other handicaps as it consists of a large field of unexposed 4yo’s.
In the 9 years this race has been run, only 10 horses at odds under 10/1 have finished in the 1st-7 home. While none of the 3 runners at odds under 10/1 ran well last year; in 2012 two of the 3 at odds under 10/1 ran 3rd and 4th; and in 2011, 3 of the 5 runners at odds under 10/1 finished 1st, 4th and 7th. In 2010, just 2 of the 24 runners were under 10/1 and they finished 1st & 2nd.
This year there is a filly in the race: Azza @ 20/1 trained by David Pipe.
There are a few ex-French horses having their UK debut. This race is just too "dark" for me.
This is a no-bet race for me.
5:15 Weatherby’s Champion Bumper “open” NH Flat Race (2-miles & 110 yards)
This isn’t one of the races that I look forward to at the Festival as usually “bumper” form is thin on the ground.
· 12 of the 21 winners (race 1st run in 1992) were unbeaten in bumpers;
· 9 of the last 13 winners were no longer than 14/1 in the betting;
· Only 2 winning fav’s in the last 13 renewals;
· Irish-based trainers have supplied 16 of the 21 winners.
· This race has been won three times recently (in 2003, 2007, and 2009) by a horse coming off a break of more than 84 days.
For the 2nd year in succession, Willie Mullins won the race in 2013 with a horse that was NOT his stable 1st-string. This was a prime example of not seeing the wood for the trees by becoming too wrapped-up in race-trends. Mullins has now won this race 8 times in its 21 year history, and 6 of those winners came to the Festival having run in just one bumper beforehand. This year, Mullins has 3 runners in this race - Black Hercules, Killultagh Vic and Shaneshill - but I cannot favour one over the others.
This is a no-bet race for me.
After the Festival is over, I will be preparing a review of the Festival and looking for performance pointers for Aintree and next season.