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advising selections on which to wager, since March 2010.

Tuesday, 14 March 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - Day 1 (Tuesday)

THIS IS THE BIG ONE!
After the bookies took “one helluva beating” last year, for the 2017 Festival we have perhaps the most open Festivals in years.

1:30pm Supreme Novices Hurdle, 5yo’s plus (2-miles & 110 yards)
The quality of the field is usually exceptional, just look at the last 4 winners: Altior, Douvan, Vautour, and Champagne Fever. It invariably pays to play it safe and stick to tried and tested rules, but only to half-stakes if you are having a wager as this race is fiercely competitive.
LTO winners providing 13 of the last 15 winners.
This race is run at one helluva pace, especially over the first half-mile, so fitness is an important factor. Only 4 of the last 15 winners ran more than 40-days previously, so it may be beneficial to ensure your selection has had a run in the past 40 days.
This race rarely goes to a horse with an SP longer than 14/1, so concentrate on those at the head of the market And finally, don’t bother considering anything older than 6yo, as those aged 7yo and older have an awful record in this race.
Taking those 4 pointers into consideration we end up with a shortist of Ballyandy (7/2) and River Wylde (8/1) as the others that meet the criteria (Beyond Conceit, Capital Force, and High Bridge) in the market.  

2:10pm Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase, (2-miles)
Unfortunately, the “Arkle” hasn’t been much of a betting medium in recent years as 4 of the last 5 winners have started at odds-on.
It is almost an impossibility that current odds-on fav Altior will be beaten in this race, but that does not mean you cannot have a wager.  Back in 2012 when the race was won by the odds-on Sprinter Sacre, I had my largest profitable wager of that festival when taking 3/1 about Cue Card in the "without the fav" market.  As such, it may be best to focus on which horse will follow Altior home. 
In a "normal" year the winner will have finished either 1st or 2nd in every completed chase start, and top novice chasers capable of winning the “Arkle” will have usually shown their hand early in the season.   I consider that there are just 2 contenders for the runners-up spot: Charbel and Some Plan.  He may have been off the track since running 2nd (to Altior) in December, but if he's fit then CHARBEL could be the one to give the fav the most to do, and 11/4 without the fav is available.

2:50pm Festival Handicap Chase (3-miles & 1-furlong)
Possibly the most competitive handicap chase of the season and my favourite chase handicap (excluding the Grand National). Only 24 runners which has resulted in the race becoming more competitive with and 4 of the last 6 winners carrying more than 11st to victory.
This is a race for an improving horse, either a novice or 2nd-season chaser with fewer than 10 chase races.  Only 2 of the last 9 winners were rated under OR142, and they were 14/1 winner Alfie Sherrin and 28/1 winner Golden Chieftain.
With 9 of the last 15 winners priced at odds of 8/1 or under it pays to look at those at the head of the market. 
Pay attention to LTO winners in the race (7 of last 15 winners won LTO) and also those that were placed LTO (only 3 of the last 15 winners ran unplaced LTO).
Also look at those with a recent run. The “mean” period is 39-days, but 5 of the last 7 winner ran no more than 24-days previously (excepting those sent by David Pipe). 
Personally, I’d put a line thru’ anything which has not run in the past 45-days, and anything 10yo or older.
This is a race for proven 3-mile chasers, you have to stay the trip (and possibly a little bit more) to win this race.  Last year's winner Un Temps Pour Tout will be top-weight on 11st 12lb and he looks fair eachway value. Novice chaser Singlefarmpayment heads the betting at 7/1 (Hill go 8/1) and that looks fair to me as he is a worthy fav for this. Last season, Henri Parry Morgan was on of the top novice chasers and he looks value at 12/1 running off OR142 which is 8lb below his peak.
Another novice chaser worth a 2nd-glance is Label Des Obeaux who has won his last 2 races and is available at 16/1 with Coral and Hills.  Yes, he has something to find with Singlefarmpayment on their December meeting, but he has looked a much improved horse since then and I like that he is a prominent runner. There are a number of horses in this race with dodgy stamina or who perhaps will be wanting softer ground (eg Noble Endeavour), or are just too old.  And so we could find that this year those that race more prominently will be involved at the finish.  He may be at 50/1 but Coologue won over C&D last October and it looks like he has been aimed at this race since then as he has not been pushed.
Of those that I did not consider over the weekend and have sneaked into the race at the bottom of the handicap, and one who could do well is A Good Skin who was 2nd in the Kim Muir after disputing the lead for most of the race.  At his best he is certainly better than OR134, and it is very interesting that Richard Johnson is on A GOOD SKIN and there has been some money for this one since the declarations were known but, he may be wanting a longer trip than this.
I want to be on a form horse and the one that ticks all the boxes is LABEL DES OBEAUX.
Selection:
LABEL DES OBEAUX,  £5 Eachway @ 20/1 (available with BetVictor & Stan James who go quarter-odds a place 1,2,3,4,5)

3:30pm Champion Hurdle (2-miles & 110 yards)
This Championship race looks very open as neither of the last two winners will start. I do not think the race-fav Yanworth is a potential Champion, as I rate him at 160 and that suggests he is a vulnerable fav.  Based on novice hurdle form, there is very little to split Buveur D’Air and Petit Mouchoir but I feel the former would prefer softer ground and 2m4f and that perhaps puts the advantage with Petit Mouchoir. 
Brain Power has potential but he will need to find 7lb and more on what he’s shown to date to be involved in the finish. I think Moon Racerwill be outclassed but The New One should be capable of running 3rd should one of the 3 market leaders not perform. Odds of 8/1 about Petit Mouchoir are available and that looks value.

4:10pm David Nicholson Mares Hurdle (2-miles & 4-furlongs)
Usually the weakest championship race of the Festival and (if I had my way) it wouldn’t be run here.  However, as Limini is heading here instead of the Champion Hurdle, it makes the race a half-decent one with Apple’s Jade and Vroum Vroum Mag in opposition. LIMINI should win.

4:50pm National Hunt Challenge Cup for Amateur Riders (4-miles)
This race is the oldest race of the Festival.
The first point to note is that this is an amateur riders race, and so jockeyship and finding the right jockey is as much a part of winning as finding the right horse!
The second point of note is that this is a Challenge Cup were every horse carries the same weight (11st 6lb) excepting mares which receive a 7lb weight allowance.
The horse with the highest Official Rating (OR) has won this for 3 of the past 6 years and I think the top-rated horses are the first place to start when looking for the winner – it really could be that simple. This race is dominated by 7yo’s and 8yo’s.
No 5yo has won in 38 years, and there is only a single win for a 6yo in 26 years.
I think BEWARE THE BEAR (OR148) has a tremendous chance, as I’m not sure Edwulf (OR159) will stay this trip, and Missed Approach (OR145) has jumping issues. Tiger Roll (OR152) hasn’t run since October, and the 6yo A Genie In Abottle (OR148) does not look like a Cheltenham horse to me as he needs plenty of cajoling. Henderson does not usually send a horse for this 4-mile race, so he must consider BEWARE THE BEAR to hold a very good chance and so the 8/1 available looks generous.
Selection:
BEWARE THE BEAR, £5 eachway @ 8/1 (Bet365, Coral & Ladbrokes offer quarter-odds a place 1,2,3,4)

5:15pm Centenary Novices Handicap Chase (2-miles & 4½-furlongs)
I think it is a tremendous race, and it is a great shame that organisers have this as the last race on a 7 race card.  It should be swapped with the Mares Hurdle given the prominence it deserves.
This is a very competitive race and a real head scratcher. However, no horse has won this at odds longer than 14/1 so the market is a good guide.
Being a novice handicap chase, the statistical trends are fairly obvious - look for something with:-
less than 5 chase runs; and...
less than 2 chase wins, and...
preferably having won LTO - a combination of these 3 factors will ensure that your selection is relatively unexposed and improving.  
This years race looks a cracker with only 5lb separating the entire field of 20 runners.
I reckon the current fav Foxtail Hill is vulnerable off OR140 as he didn't win LTO with a lot in hand and has gone up the handicap 7lb. Itsafreebee does not look a natural chaser, and Two Taffs does not look like he's improving. Gold Present seems to be on a fair handicap mark, but he perhaps wants a longer trip than this. One I like the look of is BUN DORAN who found himself in a tough contest LTO but was going well till he went for a big one 3-out and it didn't come off. He probably would have well beaten Itsafreebee that day had he continued (he pulled-up) and he could go well in this. Odds of 16/1 look more than generous as he'd probably be trading at about 8/1 if he had completed his latest race.  This is a very tricky handicap and I'm not recommending a wager in the race, but I will probably be on Bun Doran for small money.

Just 2 selections so far - but I would not put anyone off having a "without the fav" wager on CHARBEL in the "Arkle" at 11/4 or "place-only" on PETIT MOUCHIOR in the Champion Hurdle.

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