Willie Mullins brought out another outstanding novice hurdler in Faugheen, but his novice chaser Ballycasey was outclassed in the RSA Chase, as was my selection Corrin Wood.
The Coral Cup again went to a runner in the Welsh Champion hurdle LTO in Whisper, which was a bit of a blow as he's been on my alert list all season. My selection Vendor scythed thru' the field but was caught-out by the sharp bend into the straight which held him up.
Nothing could stop Sire De Grugy winning the Champion Chase and an SP of 11/4 was a gift. My selection Kid Cassidy would never have won and looked out of sorts and outpaced.
We need a winner! I've been thinking that I've been trying too hard to find a long-odds winner, so just a couple of wagers today.
· All 3 winners have been rated (at one time) OR142 or better meeting the same criteria of Arkle winners and were above average hurdlers. As such, I’d give preference to those that have attained a rating of 142+ over hurdles.
· All 3 previous winners contested a hurdle at the previous year’s Cheltenham Festival.
I’d stick to the tried and trusted LTO winners (certainly no worse than 2nd) selection method.
This is a tough 2m4f, so your selection should have proven stamina over this trip but not, in my opinion, a win over trips in excess of 2m6f – that is a negative.
The market leaders look opposable with Wonderful Charm not having run since 13th December, and Felix Yonger not looking good enough and not (in my oinion)improving as an 8yo. Taquin De Seuil looks to have a great chance being just a 7yo and already looking a much better chaser than a hurdler, and he was 6th in the Neptune hurdle last year, so he wasn’t a bad hurdler either. I think he’ll prove better on the day than the 9yo Oscar Whisky who does not seem to ever run to his best at the Festival. On what we’ve seen to date, I can’t have Vukovar, and Djakadam is too young at 5yo. An interesting fact is that all 3 winners of this race (so far) have run at the previous year’s Festival, and this is where Double Ross scores, but I just have a fear that he’s not good enough with a rating of OR152 as he’ll need to find another 7lb+ to win this race. The race seems a perfect fit for the LTO winner Taquin De Seuil as he was rated better than OR142 as a hurdler, he ran at last year’s festival, and he’s not contested a chase race over 3-mile. He’s 9/1 and that seems fair value
TAQUIN DE SEUIL, £10 win @ 9/1 (generally available)
· 15 of last 21 winners carried between 10st 7lb and 11st 3lb (Holywell carried 11st 4lb);
· 10 of the last 22 winners won LTO.
This is a race which is targeted by certain trainers: with Jonjo O’Neill and David Pipe amongst the most successful. Due to handicap compression, it is possible that the 2014 winner will carry more than 11st 4lb. It should be noted that Phil Hobbs supplies both top and bottom weights – a tactic used by David Pipe in 2013 with success, so take note of SO FINE on 10st 13lb. Personally, I like my selection in this to be “in-the-van” and amongst the leaders thru’out. David Pipe’s Top Wood made-all to win LTO after 12-months off the track; and both Grand Vision (3rd in the 2012 Albert Bartlett) and Uncle Jimmy travel well. So Fine has been kept off the track since running 3rd here on 13th Dec.
2:40 Ryanair Chase (2-miles & 5-furlongs)
This race is now firmly established as a worthy Festival Championship race, and is producing winners of the highest order. I was fortunate enough to nominate last year’s winner CUE CARD as a 2pt win selection at the antepost odds of 5/1 in the 2013 Bulletin.
· Winning course form at Cheltenham – 8 of the 9 winners previous winners had won at Cheltenham (Riverside Theatre in 2012 was the exception).
· Winning form in a Grade 1 chase – 5 of the last 6 winners (since the Ryanair became a Grade 1 chase) had previously won a Grade 1 chase (Imperial Commander in 2009 was the only exception).
· The Irish have yet to win the race, and they supplied the 2013 fav First Lieutenant.
This race has only once been won by a horse at longer odds than 6/1, so stick to the market leaders. My main antepost selection on this race is AL FEROF and I’m on at 6/1 and I’m not deserting him now. This is his trip and ground and he’s a previous Festival winner too. Racing at 3-mile and dropping back to 2m4f did for Dynaste last season, and I’m expecting that to happen again – and he was behind AL FEROF when they met on Boxing Day. Irish challenger Benefficient is the only LTO winner in the race but he hasn’t shown himself good enough to win this and, I reckon, he would probably have done better in the 2-mile Champion Chase. I have already placed a wager antepost on AL FEROF, £10 eachway @ 6/1, and I'm not adding to that wager as at the time I expected Dynaste to go for the Gold Cup.
· The age of the winner should be between 6yo and 9yo;
· Good recent form is very important and the winner will likely have run 1st, 2nd or 3rd LTO;
· The betting market is usually good at highlighting the winner and it is unlikely that the winner will not be amongst the 1st-4 in the betting (certainly at odds less than 10/1);
· It is very likely that the winner will have run at last year’s Cheltenham Festival;
· The last horse to win this after taking part in a Champion Hurdle was Nomadic Way in 1992.
Can BIG BUCKS recapture his crown? The last two winners which did not run at the previous year’s Festival were both prevented from doing so by injury - Inglis Drever was injured in 2006 and won in 2007; and Solwhit was injured in 2012 and won in 2013. BIG BUCKS ran a tremendous race when returning from a 14-month layoff to run 3rd in the Cleeve Hurdle, and a repeat of that effort off level weights should see him win.
Any advised wager would be purely sentimental, no no wager advised.
· 17 of the last 21 winners carried under 11st;
· 13 of the previous 16 winners came here off a break of no more than 39 days (in 2013, Carrickboy won off a break of 43-days);
· 19 of the last 21 winners were rated between OR128 – OR141;
· In 2012, Salut Flo was the first winner in 13 years to win at odds of less than 12/1;
· Irish trainers have only won this race once since 1951.
· Trainers David Pipe, Venetia Williams and Nicky Henderson have great records in this race.
Last year I wrote: “whatever David Pipe sends for this has to be considered” and, having sent out the winner in 2012 and 2010, and capturing 4th in 2011, I’ll reiterate that. In 2013 the race was won by Venetia Williams who has now won this 3 times recently (in 2013, 2009 & 2007 plus supplying the runner-up in 2009, 2006 & 2005) and trainer Nicky Henderson (won it 2006 & 2005).
No wager advised.
As such, the overall interpretation of the long-term weight trends for this race are changing as most of the field will be carrying more than 11st.
· 5 of the last 9 winners have carried 11st 6lb or more
· No winner in past 20 years younger than 7yo;
· Only 5 of the last 34 winners was a 7yo;
· The last Irish trained winner was Greasepaint in 1983.
Another handicap usually targeted by David Pipe altho’ last year his 3 runners finished down the field. Also note Donald McCain’s entries (he won this race in 2007 & 2010) as he supplied the 2013 runner-up who was beaten just a head. Nicky Henderson (who won this race in 2005, 2002 & 1990 also usually does well. With 5 of the last 9 winners carrying 11st 6lb or more, this race is being won by the better class horses.
I fully expected BUDDY BOLERO to go for the Festival handicap chase on the opening day, but he's come for this instead and has talented Katy Walsh in the saddle. Odds of 16/1 look generous for this horse who ran 4th in the NH Chase last season.
BUDDY BOLERO, £10 each way @ 16/1 with Coral.