Welcome to the World of Horseracing
Between March 2010 and April 2017, this blog recommended wagers on 520 individual races on Jump Racing in the UK, resulting in a PROFIT of £1,525.39 on cumulative stakes of £5,726 - this is equivalent to a Return On Investment of 26.60%.
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Thursday, 13 September 2018
For the Champion Hurdle over 2-mile it can be safely said that the 2017 & 2018 winner Buveur D'Air does not look to be the strongest contender going into 2019, and he could well succumb to a challenger. My immediate thought was that the horse he just beat at Cheltenham last March MELON could well step-up and find another 5-7lb to make him a realistic challenger, however he is yet to win a Grade 1 hurdle. As such, it is likely that the winner of the 2019 Champion hurdle will be one of last season's top novices, and the Cheltenham Festival winning pair of SUMMERVILLE BOY and SAMCRO come immediately to mind. On official ratings there is not much between them with Samcro on OR158 and Summerville Boy on OR156. What may be more informative is that Samcro won his Cheltenham race with a speed figure of 133 whereas Summerville Boy recorded a speed figure of 142. Both have only run 5 times and their current odds for the Champion Hurdle are: Samcro @ 7/1, Summerville Boy @ 14/1. I think they both have tremendous chances at this point, and a 60/40 split-stake on the pair taking those odds looks a decent ploy.
When considering the Cheltenham Gold Cup the first place to start is with the previous running - not to find the winner but to identify those unlikely to win in 2019. Winning a Gold Cup takes a superlative effort and only a very special horse is able to return and repeat the feat. Since Arkle won his hat trick of victories, only 2 horses have done it - L'Escargot and Best Mate (who did it twice). Kauto Star won 2 Gold Cups but not in successive years. As much as I like NATIVE RIVER he will do well to repeat the feat as we've not yet seen whether this enormous effort will have left its mark. MIGHT BITE will be a 10yo in 2019, and that's too old to win a Gold Cup. As for the 3rd placed ANIBALE FLY he just doesn't look good enough. So, who are the possible contenders? The obvious place to start is with PRESENTING PERCY; he looked easily the best staying novice chaser of last season, he is currently the 6/1 fav and he loves Cheltenham. Certainly, Presenting Percy looked the part when winning the RSA Novice Chase at Cheltenham, and my only concern about that race is the speed figure, which suggests it was a bit slow. Also in that race was AL BOUM PHOTO who fell 2-out when certainly not out of the race, and subsequent efforts suggest he'd have pushed the winner. At the moment Al Boum Photo is 33/1 and that looks very interesting, as I cannot see any of the other novice chasers from 2017-18 stepping-up into serious Gold Cup contenders at this stage - and I include his stablemate FOOTPAD in that assessment. So far unbeaten as a chaser, the Arkle winner Footpad did not look like he stayed 3-mile in his only attempt at the trip as a hurdler, and I think he looks too good at 2-mile to contemplate a step-up in trip unless he is uncompetitive when facing 2-mile Champion Chaser ALTIOR. It could be that this season is another when we see a novice chaser come to the fore in the manner Coneygree did in 2014-15. The horses that have the potential to do that are BLACK OP and TOPOFTHEGAME, but looking for a potential Gold Cup winner from a novice chaser at this time of the season is a real guessing game. Getting a horse to the Cheltenham Festival is a feat in itself, so I have no problem in taking odds about 2 or 3 in any of the championship races at this stage, and the 6/1 about Presenting Percy looks decent if he continues to progress, and the 33/1 about Al Boum Photo looks very generous.
My bread & butter profits will be made on the staying handicap chasers and looking at the results towards the end of last season, I'm warming to the chances of BEWARE THE BEAR. He ran 4th in the Ultima Handicap Chase over 3m1f which was a great effort as he was a long way off the pace at one stage. His 8yo peer-group are a tremendous set of handicappers, but Beware The Best is very lightly raced for his age with just 8 chase starts and only 13 races in all under rules. The Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury could be too quick for him to win as he's likey to fall too far behind, but if he goes for it he's sure to be staying on strong. A better race for him could be the 3m3f Grade 3 Chase run at Cheltenham on Bet.Victor Chase day in mid-November. That would set him up for another bid in the Welsh National. He does go well off a long break having won both his seasonal debuts as a chaser. I can see him going well at Aintree in the Grand National in 2019 (currently 50/1 for that) as the fences are much easier to jump these days which will compensate for his (sometimes) erratic jumping. He starts the season on OR148 and that's a generous mark for him as he has a bit of class, and he could easily end the season rated 155+.
Another who could do well this year is LABEL DES OBEAUX who ran 6th in the Scottish National last April of OR147. Although he's not won since April 2017, last season he raced mostly off OR151+ and now he has slipped down to OR146 which is 2lb below his last winning rating. He didn't really stay 4-mile LTO, but he ran well enough to suggest he has a good win in him off OR146. Dropped to a 3-mile trip on a RH track (Ascot) so long as the ground is not soft he should have a winning opportunity. His trainer Alan King reckons he goes best right-handed and as he showed when he won at Ayr in April 2016 and the Ascot meeting on the 1st Saturday in November has the Grade 3 Sodexo 3-mile handicap chase which could be perfect for him.
Wednesday, 5 September 2018
Last year I was reflecting on a difficult 2016-17 season when I advised only 6 winners from 55 selections - and of those selections 9 ran 2nd. As a result, my performance resulted in the 1st losing jumps season for the blog since I started writing it in March 2010. It wasn't a huge lose, just £40.87 on stakes of £609.00 or 6.70% - but a loss is a loss. My thoughts at the time attributed the loss as due to struggling to find the time to conduct the form study, and then to write the blog, to make it all worthwhile. As such, I decided to scale back and reduce the burden by writing the blog only once or twice a week during the jumps season.
Overall, I think the strategy worked well, and during the season I advised a number of good winners. Because of the reduced number of blogs that I intended writing, I did not take any donations for the blog email service. Also, as I was not seeking donations for the regular emails, I made the blog free to all, with the option for the reader to make a donation for any winners should they occur or if the reader thought the blog was worthy of a donation. For the jumps seasons 2010-11 to 2016-17 all the selections were recorded and the performance noted: the performance is under the title of the blog:
"Between March 2010 and April 2017, this blog recommended wagers on 520 individual races on Jump Racing in the UK, resulting in a PROFIT of £1,525.39 on cumulative stakes of £5,726 - this is equivalent to a Return On Investment of 26.60%".
In my opinion, that says it all - my betting strategy results in a long term profit.
For the coming season, the blog will remain "free-to-all" and when published I will advice the fact via twitter. As the reduced blogging strategy worked well last season, that will also continue. I think I've as good, if not one of the best, handles on the form of the top staying chasers in the UK and Ireland and I will be endeavouring to make use of that knowledge on the antepost lists throughout the season.
If things pan-out as I expect, this could be the last jumps season for the blog as regular readers know it. Life moves on and I'm getting older. Maybe it's me, but I think 2019 will be a very testing year for everyone in the UK. My profession is as a Quantity Surveyor in the construction industry and I've been doing the job since March 1980 - that's over 38 years. In that time the job has changed almost completely, and my daily tasks now are unrecognisable from my daily tasks when I was in my early 20's. With each new contract (I am a freelancer, and have been since 2002), the role I fulfil becomes more and more isolated with the main form of communication being just the laptop on my desk. As someone who loved the banter, chat and personal relationships of the "old-style" construction site, I'm starting to feel like a fish out of water, and I really cannot see me staying in this industry much longer. That 2019 will likely be such a year of turmoil (and I will not mention the "B" word for fear of offending some readers), and construction is already starting to feel the strain of the changes that are coming, it could be that my movement out of the industry will be forced upon me.
If that happens (and I reckon it is odds-on) then, following the 2019 Grand National, it will be my intention to create a website featuring my thoughts, opinion, ratings and advice on horseracing - but some of those elements will only be available (before the event) to subscribers.
I'm really excited about the coming jumps season, we could be in for a cracker!
Sunday, 15 April 2018
I only looked at the Grand National, and even though I'd already placed wagers on eventual winner TIGER ROLL and on Warriors Tale (who ran well, but lacked the stamina to finish and pulled-up before 2-out when beaten) because of the ground I felt I still wasn't sure that I had a good enough handle on the race. So, I awoke at 6:30am on Saturday morning, powered-up the laptop and poured myself a giant mug of tea and started looking at the race afresh.
In a race worth £500,000 to the winner, £200,000 to the 2nd and £100,000 to the 3rd and in which even the 10th placed horse wins £5,000 you know that the race is too competitive to be won by an "also-ran". And so I gave myself some "rules" to reduce the field of 40 down to something more manageable. One of these rules was nothing aged 12yo or older and I nearly came unstuck as the 13yo Bless The Wings ran right up to the form which has twice taken him into 2nd place in the Irish National, the latest time last April and before that in March 2016. This old campaigner has certainly earned an honourable retirement. The only other "older" horse to finish was the 12yo Aintree specialist Gas Line Boy who would have been in the 1st-5 but for his stamina running out after jumping the 2nd-last fence. I had thought he was capable of making the 1st-5 (see my blog of yesterday) as he did last year, but age has caught up with him.
Because of the testing nature of the ground, I also looked for form at trips beyond 3-mile and that put my antepost wager on Warriors Tale in doubt. When I placed the wager, I expected the ground to be the "usual "good-to-soft" but the rains continued and heavy ground was the last thing the horse needed. Even so, he ran well, and I expect he will back in the winners enclosure when racing over a suitable trip on better ground NTO.
Due to the ground, I wasn't expecting more than 10 to finish and in the end only 12 did finish the race and of the non-finishers 13 were pulled-up. Only 2 of those 12 to finish carried over 11st in weight: Anibale Fly who had run 3rd in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month, and Valseur Lido who had missed most of 2017 due to injury but had been rated OR169 after winning a Grade 1, 3-mile chase in November 2016. Beyond 4-mile and on this sort of ground, weight carried over 11st is a heavy burden and it takes an exceptional horse to win the National with more than 11st in the saddle. Even finishing the race with 11st-plus in the saddle is a considerable effort, and something to take into account next year.
The heavy ground certainly played to the strengths of Pleasant Company (just as I expected, see my blog assessment) and, in my opinion, he ran right up to the form which won him the 3m1f Bobbjo Chase in Ireland last February. He was beaten by the good-to-soft ground in this race last year, and this is what a lot or "experts" overlook when appraising the form - horses will not run to their best on ground which does not suit them. Yesterday, Pleasant Company ran a cracker, setting a strong pace for much of the final couple of miles and was only beaten by a horse that, in my opinion, could have been placed in this years Cheltenham Gold Cup had he been aimed at that race instead of this.
What can I say about the performance of the winner, TIGER ROLL? He was perfectly placed throughout by his jockey Davy Russell, and that brings its own luck - just ask Sam Twiston-Davies whose mount Blaklion was brought-down at the 1st fence when he collided on landing with the stricken Perfect Candidate who had over-jumped and crumpled on landing. And Davy Russell lost his irons as they headed out on the 2nd-circuit, but he kept his cool and sorted himself out without interrupting the motion of the horse.
In the end, I think TIGER ROLL ran to about the same level as he did when winning the 4-mile NH Chase at the Cheltenham Festival in 2017. He is probably not up to Gold Cup winning standard, but he's certainly a lot better than his current OR150 rating, and should he drop back to an extended 3-mile trip for his next race then he will be worth following-up. However, I expect he will be aimed at a return to Aintree next year as he is still only an 8yo.
If you read the Grand National blog and followed my advised wagers, you would have emerged from the race with a profit of £82.50 for your £25 stake money on the 4 advised horses from the shortlist. The 4th horse on my list was Final Nudge who fell at Canal Turn on the 1st circuit before the race got going.
That's it for this jumps season.
You can still follow me on twitter on @wayward_lad and I'm usually watching the horseracing on a Saturday afternoon throughout the flat season. It is now time for me to take a break, refresh the batteries, enjoy the summer (if we get one) and then look at building an alert list for the 2018-19 jumps season. Don;t forget, I will be posting my Cheltenham Festival blog on the pages to the right and adding to the notes there as I review each race in turn so that we can hit the ground running when we return to jump racing in October.
Good luck, and keep racing!
Saturday, 14 April 2018
I really thought MIN had the Melling Chase won but he just didn't have enough to beat Politilogue. It wasn't the ground or the trip that beat him - Politilogue is one of those talented horses that once a season shows just how good he is and, for the rest of the season, he frustrates us.
First-up today, I'm going to concentrate on the Grand National as that is the race most readers will want me to advise on. I've already had an antepost wager at 50/1 on Warriors Tale and also a small win wager on Tiger Roll at 11/1. However, I think this years' race is one of the trickiest I've come across and I'm not yet "hooked" on any one horse that I think holds a proper winning chance. Obviously with 40 horses and 30 jumps you need a bit of luck, but the best horses with the best chances will make their own luck. So I'm having a fresh run through the runners, starting at the bottom and omitting any old horses (I really cannot see a 12yo or 13yo winning) and anything without any form at 3-mile-plus. I also think the soft/heavy ground will make a big impact, and I wont be surprised to see less than 10 finish the race, so able to act on soft/heavy ground is something that I will look for.
Delusionofgrandeur 10st 5lb - ran 3rd over 3m5f at Sedgefield carrying 11:12 last November and he's won 4 from 10 chase races run over 3-mile-plus. However, he didn't stay the 4m1f on soft at Musselburgh on 03Feb and he's not on my shortlist.
Thunder And Roses 10st 5lb - Won the Irish National in 2015, and was 4th in it in 2017, he was unseated last year, and could run into 6th or 5th place as he does act on heavy ground.
Final Nudge 10st 6lb - His 3rd in the Welsh National carrying 11st 6lb was a great effort, and he ran well LTO without troubling the leaders. He could be a big surprise in this race at 50/1.
Milansbar 10st 6lb - His win in the Warwick Classic over 3m5f in January showed he's capable, and he's also twice run 2nd in a Midlands National over 4m1f. Sure to be bang there among the leaders throughout, and at 33/1 is a good eachway chance.
Baie Des Iles 10st 8lb - Ran 5th in the Welsh National as a 5yo, and then won in Ireland over 3m4f but could not win the same race last month which suggests she's not improving. Odds of 14/1 too short for me and I can't see this horse winning.
Pleasant Company 10st 11lb - Was the big Irish hope last year but the ground that day was probably too quick for him. He's been aimed at this race all season, and todays' ground will be perfect. He could run a big race and odds of 33/1 are fair value.
The Dutchman 10st 11lb - Won the Peter Marsh Chase at Haydock in some style, he flopped NTO on similar ground off a 13lb higher rating of OR148 which he races off here. May not be up to this.
Gas Line Boy 10st 11lb - Ran 5th in this race last year with 10:7, and won over the fences in December, he loves it here. The ground will suit him better than last year and I'm expecting a big race. Odds of 25/1 are very fair as he should at least make the 1st-5 finishers.
Warriors Tale 10st 12lb - Has been in top form all season, and handles soft ground. He's not raced beyond 3-mile except in hurdle races, but he's not shown he can't stay this trip. He's 50/1.
Chase The Spud 10st 12lb - His win in the 4m1f Midland National was off OR130 and he runs off OR149 in this. His recent form isn't great and he may not be up to this class of race.
Tiger Roll 10st 13lb - Has been aimed at this race and having won the 4-mile NH Chase at the Cheltenham Festival, he has the CV of a winner. Can be an indifferent performer but he does have the class and ability. Odds of 12/1 are about right as should be in the 1st-4 home.
Perfect Candidate 11st 3lb - Pulled-up last year but the ground was too quick for him. Even so, he ran well for a long way and this softer ground will suit him. No stamina doubts and odds of 66/1 very generous for a horse that should finish.
Total Recall 11st 5lb - Won the Ladbroke Trophy Chase at Newbury in the autumn and ran well till falling in the Cheltenham Gold Cup last month. Obviously a classy horse but OR156 looks a high enough mark for him on what he's shown to date.
The Last Samuri 11st 8lb - it will be tough on this ground for a horse with this weight to win, but he went close on similar ground when 2nd in 2016. I can see him running a big race, but another who should be in the places and odds of 20/1 are fair.
Anibale Fly 11st 8lb - 3rd in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and he will need to repeat that form and better it to win this race off this weight. It's possible, but (in my opinion) unlikely.
Blaklion 11st 10lb - ran a bold race in this last year to be 4th, and he can carry big weights to win as he showed here in December winning with 11st 6lb. Another bold show expected, but his odds of 12/1 leave no room for error.
With some bookies paying 6-places (Betfred, Boylesports, Totesport) it may pay to have some long-odds eachway wagers with those and, in a race like this with such terms, I have no problem placing wagers on 4 runners in the race.
My "four-against-the-field" are:-
Perfect Candidate @ 66/1
Tiger Roll @ 12/1
Warriors Tale @ 50/1
Final Nudge @ 50/1
The horse that I think has the best chance of being the winner is TIGER ROLL, as he will stay the trip, he will handle the ground, he comes here in top form having won LTO, and in Davy Russell he has one of the best jockeys in racing to steer him around the track. He's a classy horse that could probably have run in better quality races since winning at Cheltenham in 2017 but he's been aimed for this instead of a having a "Gold Cup" campaign this season.
My suggested wager is 4 x £2.50 eachway wagers on the 4 in the shortlist, plus £5 win on TIGER ROLL - total staked £25. Good Luck!
Friday, 13 April 2018
I thought MIGHT BITE ran to a higher rating than he achieved in the Gold Cup, and he benefited from running over a shorter trip on this flatter track. The strong pace set by Bristol De Mai also helped Might Bite set, in my opinion, a personal best.
The Grand National course looked fantastic and possibly not as testing as was expected. So long as the rain stays away (and that is the expectation) we should have perfect racing ground on Saturday. Yesterday I suggested having a wager on topweight Minella Rocco, and there are rumours that he may be withdrawn from the race. Hopefully, if you placed a wager you did so with a "non-runner, no bet" bookie.
Friday is a trickier card and I'm going to ignore the opening couple of hurdle races and go straight to the Novices Chase run at 2:50pm over 3m1f. This is a race which is usually won by a top, if not the top, staying novice chaser of the season that's trained in the UK. If Terrefort - 2nd in the JLT Novices Chase over 2m4f last month - can improve for this step up in trip then he will be hard to beat. However, I think Terrefort may struggle over this trip and I'm looking at other proven stayers. With the mares 7lb allowance Ms Parfois is technically rated 153 and she will have no problem with the trip having just failed to win the 4-mile NH Chase. A very game mare, she should be thereabouts at the end. If the other mare in the race Mia's Storm had had a recent run (she last ran at Xmas) then I would be very interested in her in this race, but not having had a recent run is a worry. The rest of the opposition is just as talented, however I think the 6yo's Coo Star Sivola and Elegant Escape will appreciate a break and be better in the autumn. A horse that I admire but who ran poorly at Cheltenham is Black Corton, and if he can return to his best (he easily beat Ms Parfois at Ascot in February over 3-mile) then I'd be on him in a flash. This is a tough race, but when push comes to shove I think the 6/1 about Ms PARFOIS is fair value as she ticks all the boxes.
The JLT Melling Chase over 2m4f run at 3:25pm looks to be between MIN and Balko Des Flo, and I have no doubt that MIN is the better horse, it is just this trip which may catch him out. This 2m4f trip is perfect for Balko Des Flo, but I felt he was at the limit LTO and it may be that he was flattered by the way the race panned out. The horse that may run a lot better than his odds is Le Prezien but I cannot see him beating Min even if he improves 10lb. At odds of 5/4, MIN could be the wager of the day as I think he should be odds-on, probably about 4/7.
There is a full compliment of 30 runners for the 2m5f Topham Trophy run at 4:05pm, so to be involved at the finish the winner of the race will need some luck. After the Cheltenham Festival when writing up my notes, one horse caught my eye with regards this race and I placed a wager on him - BALLYALTON. The 11yo has slipped from OR149 to OR138, but has run well without winning as his rating has dropped. He was 4th LTO at Cheltenham in the 2m5f Grade 3 handicap chase and he was "in-the-van" throughout the race, which is where you want to be in a race like the Topham. Available at 14/1 for this, he is as good an eachway wager as any other in the race.
I will give the remaining hurdle and "bumper" a miss as chases are my speciality.
2:50pm Ms PARFOIS - £5 eachway @ 6/1 (available generally)
4:05pm BALLYALTON - £5 eachway @ 14/1 (available generally)
Thursday, 12 April 2018
Wednesday, 4 April 2018
In those early days, some of the stalwarts of twitter and horseracing blogging quickly lent their support to the new kid on the block, people like Ben Aitken (@narrowthefield) and Steve Mullington (@mulldog), and that support was much appreciated. Blogging took a bit of getting used to: finding something to write about, then finding the time to do it and, most importantly, writing the blog early enough in the day for the information to be useful to the reader. Although my first blog was written in March 2010, the blog became more regular in May of that year, as I became caught up in the excitement of the flat season in the run up to the Derby and Royal Ascot. When I look back at those early blogs the writing is simple and the messages short, but the information I am sharing with the reader is 1st-class: on 13th May 2010 I make subsequent Derby and Arc de Triomphe winner Workforce my selection for the Dante Stakes at York on the back of his solitary win in a maiden as a 2yo. The next day I suggest that 2000 Guineas 3rd Canford Cliffs can be this seasons top miler - and he was, winning a string of Group 1 races over a mile.
Over the years I have tried to vary how the blog is presented and, during that first summer, I tried to give the blog a "bulletin" feel as I considered at the time starting an alternative newsletter sent out by email to subscribers, but that idea never fully flew - however, I did write and issue a Cheltenham Festival Bulletin for several years until the volume of work required to put it together became too much.
In the Autumn of 2010, the first selections for the 2010-11 jumps season were posted, and I decided to record my performance, and a record of that performance - and that of subsequent years - is available to review on the blog. That first season I managed to record a small 10pt profit on 109.50pts staked, but it was touch-and-go until the Grand National when I tipped the winner Ballabriggs at 16/1 the evening before the race - and (to put that tip into context) not a single tipster in the Racing Post named Ballabriggs in their "four-against-the-field". That Grand National blog holds the all-time record for readers: 610 on the day - and did I receive any donations for tipping the winner? No, not a penny.
Do I have a selection for the 2018 Grand National? This year looks a tricky race (as always) and given the weather, much will depend on the state of the ground on the day: if it is soft, then stamina will be at the forefront, and luck. The horse that I have taken antepost odds on is WARRIORS TALE trained by Paul Nicholls. The horse stays 3-mile well and is, in my opinion, well handicapped on OR149 as it should mean he has less than 11st to carry. I also think that as he's recently been bought by Trevor Hemmings (who won the race with Ballabriggs and Many Clouds) connections think the horse has a better than 40/1 chance in this race. The ground could be an issue if it is soft on the day, not because he cannot handle soft ground (he can) but because it could make the race a bit more unpredictable. But I think he should be half his current odds and, given he's been recently bought to run in the race, it will only be an injury sustained on the gallops that prevents him from running, and on the day he will be amongst the market leaders at between 12/1 - 16/1.
The season 2011-12 was when I first came to know Cue Card. When running in the Arkle in March 2012, I had suggested readers take the 3/1 without the fav (Sprinter Sacre) and Cue Card had pushed the winner all the way. After that run, Cue Card was rated OR157 - can you believe that now? At the time, I thought he was exceptionally well handicapped and - if he'd been mine - he would have gone straight for the Paddy Power Gold Cup in November, a race won by Al Ferof off OR159 - and Al Ferof had been hammered by Cue Card in the Arkle at Cheltenham.
The summer of 2012 was when I first took a summer vacation from blogging, returning for the 2012-13 jumps season in the November. The break did me good, as I was able to assemble an "alert list" of well-handicapped and improving horses, and go into the season fresh and confident of success. On reflection, it was probably the most successful jumps season I've had as a blogger as I finished over 50pts ahead. Not only was I able to capitalise on my confidence about Cue Card - who I tipped at 5/1 antepost to win the Ryanair Chase - I also tipped Monbeg Dude to win the Welsh National at 12/1.
For season 2013-14 the winners continued, he highlight being spotting the well-handicapped John's Spirit who I tipped to win twice at Cheltenham at 14/1 and then at 9/1 to win the Paddy Power Gold Cup. But the highlight of that autumn was Midnight Appeal on 13th November 2013, who I tipped to win at Bangor at 25/1. The winner resulted in the largest amount of individual donations that I have ever received for posting a winner.
However, the blog is not just about donations (although they are welcome) it is about the joy of horseracing and jump racing in particular. For me, there is nothing that beats standing at the course, feeling a chill in the air from the breeze, listening to the sound of the hubbub of the crowd, feeling the sense of anticipation. I do not think there is an experience that beats it, and when a crowd comes together to witness and support both winner and loser in a race such as this year's Cheltenham Gold Cup which contained bravery and excellence in equal measure, there is no superlative to describe it.
I love writing this blog, I love being able to witness jump racing and be a part of the fabric, and long may it continue. If you appreciate this blog, I would be very pleased for you to make a comment.
Saturday, 31 March 2018
I had already made NATIVE RIVER my selection for the race, but when I learnt on-course that the rails had been moved opening-up a strip of fresh ground I knew the lead horse would have a distinct advantage, and I knew that lead horse would be Native River – as such I doubled my stake on-course. Can Native River return and win again next year? It is possible as he’s young enough to do so, but as we’ve seen with his stablemate Thistlecrack, keeping chasers fit to win and absent from injury is a difficult task in itself apart from winning the race itself. My own formlines worked out well with regard to Might Bite who is possibly a better horse at 3-mile on a flatter track, but has yet (in my opinion) to show he can justify his current (inflated) rating of OR172. In 3rd, the 8yo Anibale Fly has improved rapidly this season and he was staying-on well in the final quarter-mile. He holds a Grand National entry and running well in the Gold Cup has been a good preparation for that race in the past so he could do very well at Aintree. Staying the trip wasn’t what Road To Respect did, and he will enjoy a drop back to 3-mile; in fact I think he’d do better trying for the Ryanair Chase next season as 2m5f could be his optimum trip.
This was only the 3rd run under rules for Cousin Pete, who has won all 6 of his 10 completed races in the PTP field, and he also won at Cheltenham back in 2016, so we knew he could handle the track. Along with Caid Du Berlais, Cousin Pete has every possibility of coming back next year to win this.
As for PACHA DU POLDER, you have to wonder that if he’d had a proper rider and not Victoria Pendleton back in 2016, then he could have secured a hat-trick of wins in this race. He goes well at Aintree and the Foxhunters there must be the next target.
Tuesday, 27 March 2018
Regarding this review of the Cheltenham week, I've decided that when it's finished I will cut and paste all the pages together and have a permanent tab for it (on the right) so that readers can easily refer to the notes. I've also decided that during the course of the next 12 months I will add more notes to it so that readers are able to have a more complete reference going into the 2019 Festival.
JLT Novices Chase run over 2m4f
There is no doubt that this race has had stronger fields in the past, and last years field of 8 had 5 runners with on official rating above OR150. This year a field of 9 runners included only 4 with a rating above OR150 so, for my race selection, I went with the horse with the highest official rating in Modus (OR154) as he'd run well at the 2017 Festival in the 2m5f Coral Cup (handicap) hurdle and I thought he had the "class" to succeed - I was wrong. Despite winning 3 of his 4 novice chases (fell in the other one) he'd only beaten 6 horses in the process and, in this race, he was outclassed completely. The same could be said for Invitation Only (OR152) who made a serious error 4-out that cost him any chance, but he was in last place when that happened anyway. Finian's Oscar (OR152) is well thought-of at home but the 6yo is yet to show sufficient ability on the course as a chaser and he was another that was outclassed. The only other horse rated OR150+ was Henderson's Terrefort, who arrived from France and had quickly won 2 races over this 2m4f trip and was a worthy 3/1 fav. Unfortunately (for him) he came up against a proven stayer, and Grade 1 winner, in the mare SHATTERED LOVE. Normally, I would suggest ignoring a horse with winning form over 3-miles for this race, but Shattered Love relished the soft/heavy ground and stamina was necessity. Prior to this race, her only defeat was by stablemate Jury Duty last November, but 12-lengths back that day was non-other than Presenting Percy who had won the RSA Chase so easily on Tuesday - the form was in the book! She was brought to challenge 2-out by her jockey Jack Kennedy (this was his only ride of the day, and the 2nd-leg of a unique treble over 3 days of the Festival for Jack) and never looked like not winning. Being a mare with a 7lb allowance she was effectively running off 151 (her OR144 plus 7lb allowance). The future looks bright for Shattered Love, and the 5yo Terrefort should also develop into a top-class chaser.
Pertemps Network Final (handicap) Hurdle run over 3-miles
Never the most easiest race to fathom for the punter, but they got it right this year as the fav and 2nd-fav were 1st and 2nd and could only be split by a nose on the line. What's more, both horses were trained by Gordon Elliott - the man of the moment. The race winner was DELTA WORK a 5yo who'd looked nothing out of the ordinary until stepped up to 3-mile on 29Dec where he ran 2nd in a Grade 2 novice hurdle. He ran 3rd for the qualifier at Punchestown and to be the 6/1 2nd-fav for this he must have been showing good form on the home gallops. Beaten a nose into 2nd was stablemate Glenloe
who had run well without winning this season and came here off a break of 77-days. Typically, the winner of this race comes off a break of 35-days and having not had a run since 28Dec may have cost this horse the race. That Elliott could proved the 1st & 2nd in such a competitve hanndicap demonstrates the strength in-depth at his disposal, and English trainers Nicholls, Pipe and King - all capable of providing a handicap coup - must be pulling their hair out. Connetable in 3rd is a good yardstick and this was his 18th hurdle race, but he's not won a hurdle since Feb16 and is one-paced. While David Pipe's 8yo Taj Badalandabad ran out of his skin to be 4th, the foiled coup must be that of Alan King's Who Dares Wins who came into this race off a break of 122-days since running in the qualifier on 13Nov. He led jumping the final flight but could not stay up the hill on ground that was a bit too soft for him. Back in September, Who Dares Wins won the Cesarewitch Trial over 2m2f at Newmarket on the flat and going back to last years Festival, he was 3rd in the Coral Cup. He is much improved and I expect he will now go for the Chester Cup, a race he was 4th in last year after that Coral Cup run.
Ryanair Chase run over 2m5f
On paper, this looked a stronger race than last year when it was won by Un De Sceaux who was virtually unopposed. This year, we had the 12yo Cue Card in the field who had shown he wasn't far off his best when chasing home Waiting Patiently in the Ascot Chase over 2m5f on 17Feb. I thought that race was the strongest form on offer, and made Cue Card my selection on that basis. Personally, I think Un De Sceaux has led a charmed life as a chaser but when he's met a true Grade 1 performer he's not been up to it - beaten by Fox Norton at Punchestown, twice beaten by Sprinter Sacre. Sure, he's beaten Sire De Grugy twice, but he was past his best when they met. Unfortunately, we never found out whether Cue Card was capable of winning this race, as he never looked happy from the off and pulled-up with 6 fences still to jump.At that point, Un De Sceaux took up the lead jumping exuberantly, but I've always thought his stamina as a chaser was suspect as apart from his win in this race last year (and that was a very weak race) he's not won another chase race over a trip longer than 2m1f. Sure enough, BALKO DE FLO who had chased home Road To Respect in the 3-mile Grade 1 Christmas Chase on 28Dec (with a good few top-class staying chasers behind them) was eased into the race taking-up the running 3-out after which his stamina ensured he was in command and Un De Sceaux had no response. The winner did make a mistake at the final fence but he never looked like losing on the run-in. The good yardstick Cloudy Dream stayed-on into 3rd and I've rated the race via him as he is - in my form book - a rock-solid 150 performer. That puts Un De Sceaux on 158, which is exactly the same rating I gave him for winning the race last yera, and Balko Des Flo is rated 163 (I awarded him 160 for his 2nd in the Christmas Chase). I cannot see BALKO DES FLO everr winning a Gold Cup except in a weak year, and this 2m5f trip seems to be his optimum, so I expect he will be back again to defend his title next year.
SunBets Stayers' Hurdle run over 3-mile
Since this race was dominated between 2005-12 by Inglis Drever and Big Bucks who won on 7 out of the 8 years in the period, this race has had a fairly open look about it, mainly as top-class 3-mile hurdlers are thin on the ground. The race this year looked more competitive (than last year) and there were 6 horses of the 15 runners with ratings of OR160+. Unfortunately, two of them (The New One on OR161 and Yanworth on OR163) had earned their ratings over shorter trips than 3-mile, and a third (the 10yo Unowhatimeanharry on OR163) had undoubtedly seen better days. The remaining trio however, all looked strong contenders: Sam Spinner (OR164), Supasundae (OR164), and Wholestone (OR161). As it happened, none of those won the race as the winner of last year's Albert Bartlett novice hurdle over 3-miles - PENHILL - took the race despite having been off the track since 26 April last year. The horse was held-up in last place for much of the race and clearly benefitted from the slow pace set by the 9/4 fav Sam Spinner as when the pace quickened for the final 6-furlongs, Penhill (a top handicapper over 12-furlongs on the flat) easily picked-up the leaders and led going into the final flight. Because of the slow pace of the race, I don't think we saw the best of Sam Spinner who could not quicken on the run-in and came home in 7th, but the 6yo was only having his 8th hurdle race; he will be a better horse next year. The very consistent Wholestone was 3rd, but I felt he wasn't helped by the slow pace either, however he did stay-on strong on the run-in when he saw some daylight as he looked boxed-in on the run-up to the final flight. I'd expect Wholestone to go chasing next season. Possibly the unluckiest horse was the runner-up Supasundae (who won the Coral Cup handicap hurdle at last years Festival) and came to win the race before the final flight, but the winner had too much stamina. This was his 3rd try at 3-miles and each time he's run 2nd, but this 8yo has not stopped improving since joining Mrs Harrington in Nov16 and he could be one to follow at either Aintree or Punchestown on better ground. This is not an easy race to rate because of the slow pace for the first couple of miles, and I've given the winner PENHILL a rating of 160.
B A & M Stable Plate handicap chase run over 2m5f
As with the other handicap at the Festival, this race is gradually getting better in quality. Last years' winner was Road To Respect who was rated OR145 at the time (and is now rated OR168 and finished 4th behind Native River in the Gold Cup). I doubt this years' winner The Storyteller can repeat that feat, even though he came into this race rated OR147 however, this was only his 4th chase race so we could see plenty of improvement and he's bred to be a 3-mile chaser. What, in my opinion, holds the form back is that we had 3 older horses in the 10yo Splash Of Ginge, 9yo King's Odyssey, and 11yo Ballyalton filling the minor places. The trip and ground were perfect for Splash Of Ginge who ran to his form when winning here in November, and that suggests The Storyteller ran to a rating of 152 (Racing Post rates him at 161). In 3rd, King's Odyssey again demonstrated his love for Cheltenham and I remember seeing him win the Timeform Novices Chase over C&D in Jan16 but he's not come close to matching that run since but he's not far off it now and if he stays on this mark of OR139 he could find a handicap before the season ends. Ballyalton won the Novices handicap chase over 2m4f at the 2016 Festival, but was then off for 18-months due to injury. He also loves Cheltenham and he is very consistent. I note that he holds an entry for the Topham Trophy at Aintree over 2m5f and that race looks perfect for him especially as he stays on OR138.
Mares' Novices Hurdle run over 2m1f
The winner of this race LAURINA completely dominated proceedings, and ran away a very easy 18-length winner. I've rated the race via the runner-up Cap Soleil and that puts Laurina on 153, but she could easily be 160+. The disappointment of the race (for me) was Maria's Benefit, but she had already disputed the lead with another Mullins' trained mare Cut The Mustard and that tactical manoeuvre did for her chances.
Fulke Walwym Kim Muir (Amateur riders) handicap chase run over 3m2f
This race is one of my favourite's of the Festival and I've had some good luck in it. I've been following MISSED APPROACH all season, and though he's run well, he hasn't won in over a year. He did though run well to be 2nd in the 4-mile NH Chase last year, and I've since thought this trip of 3m2f would suit him best. Sure enough, he made all - although when he hit the last fence I had my doubts that he'd last up the hill. This run was as good as his effort in the NH Chase last year and Missed Approach could win again this season. In 2nd was Mall Dini who won the 3-mile Pertemps Final handicap hurdle in 2016. He ran a cracker and is also handicapped to win NTO.
I didn't know what to make of Squouateur coming into the race as although he started fav for this last year, and was running off the same OR135 rating, he had yet to win from 10 chase races. He does have some good form in the book and his rating was fair, but I'd say he's a grinder and a bit one-paced. Old timer, the 12yo Double Ross ran a cracker, up with the pace throughout and this was his best run since coming 3rd to Native River in the 2016 Hennessy Gold Cup at Newbury. He's entered in the Grand National and while that trip may be beyond him as a likely winner, he could hang on to be in the places. Finally, the 7yo mare Actinpieces was given a cracking ride by the jockey on last years winner of this race, Gina Andrews. This trip is probably a tad longer than she wants but a return to a 3-mile trip should see Actinpieces back in the winners' enclosure.
As usual, jockeyship is key in this race and it was no surprise to see JJ Codd (3rd), Zac Baker (4th), Gina Andrews (5th) and Sam Waley-Cohen (6th) involved in the finish.
Wednesday, 21 March 2018
Ballymore Novices Hurdle run over 2m5f
The day opened with one of the most anticipated races of the meeting - to find out whether SAMCRO was the "real deal" or not. Starting the 8/11 fav, Samcro travelled strongly throughout, led after jumping 2-out and never looked in danger after that. I've rated the race via the 3rd-placed Next Generation who I thought ran to his rating of OR150, he certainly didn't better his rating as he didn't seem to handle the course. As such, I've given 6yo Samcro a rating of 158 but he could be a lot better than that. We won't be seeing him again before the autumn and connections are deciding over the summer whether to have a go at the Champion Hurdle or to go chasing in 2018-19.
I was very impressed with the runner-up Black Op as he looked a bit "green" despite this being his 4th hurdle race. He took a bit of time to respond to Samcro leading from 2-out but, when he got going, he motored - so much so, he demolished the final flight. Even with a cleaner jump at the last he would not have beaten Samcro, but we would have seen Samcro pushed more. The downside with Black Op is he's a 7yo and he must go chasing next season - he cannot afford to hand around.
The form of this race looks top quality and it's likely the 1st 3 will all go onto better things.
RSA Insurance Novices Chase run over 3-miles & 80 yards
On paper, this field of 10 looked one of the strongest of recent years for this race with 7 of the 10 rated OR150 or higher; and the 3 weakest runners either fell when beaten or pulled-up. The Irish challengers dominated the race and it's likely they would have provided the 1st-3 had Al Boum Photo not fallen 2-out. The race was won by the 7yo PRESENTING PERCY who had won the 3-mile Pertemps Final handicap hurdle at last years festival off a rating of OR146. As such, this trip was not a problem for him, and he's already won over 3m5f in Ireland. The more I look at this race, the more I think it was one of the best RSA Chases we've seen since Denman won in 2007. My only doubt is over the race-time of 6m 32.40 which was very slow even for soft ground, and it could mean that the form of the race could be a bit dodgy - time will tell. We've not had a soft ground RSA since 2002 (in 2001 the Festival was cancelled due to the outbreak of Foot & Mouth disease) but, on good-to-soft ground Denman ran the race in 6m 06.80 and last year Might Bite won in 6m 08.80 - it leaves food for thought. On a plus-point for trends followers, Presenting Percy ticked every good trend for this race. However, Monalee was easily brushed aside by the winner when challenged, but he ran 3rd in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle last year and I expect he will be a better horse on good-to-soft ground or better.
Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle run over 2m5f
While the trends for this race (being a handicap hurdle) are not as strong as some races, the winner BLEU BERRY did not meet many - if any - of the main trends. He wasn't a LTO winner, he hadn't won a race earlier this season (this was only his 2nd race since running at the Punchestown Festival last April), and he had only won 3 novice hurdles before this - albeit one was a Grade 2. As such, although carrying 11st 2lb off OR143 he was, if fit and in form, more than capable of winning. Possibly the reason for his 20/1 odds was that, due to the injury to Ruby Walsh, Paul Townend had opted to change from this horse onto the race-fav Max Dynamite who ran no sort of race at all and came in last of the 22 finishers - which goes to show that even those closest to the horse don't really know how it will perform in the race. Bleu Berry is likely to go chasing next season.
To be beaten by a 20/1 chance was bad luck for Topofthegame (who was my blog selection @ 9/1) who led from after the 2nd-last and was only caught close home. Such was the domination of the Irish trainers this year, trainers like Paul Nicholls have to really go the final mile to have any chance of a winner, and this looks top form for the 6yo. Unlike the winner, Topofthegame did tick all the trend-boxes but, in doing so, was more exposed, and he was an unlucky loser having to concede 6lb to a dark-horse like the winner.
In 3rd was the 7yo mare Barra who clearly loves it here as she was 2nd in the Mares' Novices hurdle last year and appears to be very consistent, if one-paced. She will not do any better than this, and I expect she's headed for the breeding paddocks soon.
Queen Mother Champion Chase run over 2-miles
On paper the field for this race looked top-class, as it contained last years QMCC winner in Special Tiara, and two previous "Arkle" winners in Douvan and Altior, plus a "Tingle Creek" winner in Politologue - however, too many of this field of 9 were either too old, or long out of form to be serious contenders; and that showed in the final quarter-mile.
I thought the pace for this race was ordinary and that opinion is given substance by the manner in which Ordinary World - who was beaten 15-lengths into 3rd in last years Arkle - picked-up the leaders on the run to the 3rd-last when he was out with the washing half-a-mile earlier.
The character and complexity of the race changed at the 4th-last fence when long-time leader Douvan, took-off too early and hit the fence hard giving horse and rider no chance. Had Ruby Walsh been in the saddle would he have leapt with such reckless abandon? This left Politologue in a reluctant lead but he really does not have the pace for these top-class 2-mile chase's and would be best stepped-up to 2m4f and he certainly would not have been beaten by Cloudy Dream had he contested the Ryanair Chase, and he may even have pushed the winner.
Both Ordinary World and Politologue quickly conceded ground on the run to the 2nd-last and the lead was taken up by 10yo God's Own who has seen better days but he's always been a consistent performer here over C&D. In the 2015 Arkle, I rated him at 158, and in the QMCC of 2016 it was 155, in 2017 it was 153, and this year I've rated him 157 for coming home 3rd beaten 18-lengths.
Before the turn into the straight, the fav ALTIOR looked to be in trouble, as he was hating the ground and - if you can recall - he didn't seem to enjoy winning the Arkle here last year. As such, the Willie Mullins trained Min looked like he may make it 5 wins from 6 chase races as they approached the 2nd last - but that feeling was quickly put to bed by the winner. ALTIOR looked like he sprouted wings as he turned into the straight, and in just a couple of strides he moved from a "struggling" 4th and into a decisive lead at the final fence, then it was race-over. I've rated the performance at 175 such was his superiority over this field at the end. Douvan has come nowhere near that level of form, and those who think he can beat Altior need to have a sit down.
Connections of Min must feel hard-done by as in any "normal" year, Min would have been a good winner with a rating of 168 - in fact, on my ratings he would have won the last 4 QMCC's. He can be followed with some confidence over 2-mile on the Irish circuit.
The Cross-Country Chase run over 3m6f
Not a race to linger over, is this one. But, with a bit of forethought you could have had the winner if you were a cynic. Gordon Elliot trained Cause Of Causes to win this last year after he cantered around over C&D earlier in January (a race won by Urgent De Gregaine). This year, the horse chosen for the canter was TIGER ROLL, and the experience set him up well to win this race fairly comfortably. You have to remember that he won the 4-mile NH Novices Chase at the 2017 Festival, before quickly throwing-in the towel in the Irish National at Fairyhouse in April 2017. Personally, I think Tiger Roll is a horse best caught fresh off at least a break of 100-days and he would not be on my shortlist for anything this side of October.
Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap hurdle run over 2-mile & 87 yards
The profile I have of a potential winner of this race is a horse with no more than 5 hurdle runs of which no more than 2 have been winning runs. The eventual winner VENEER OF CHARM (who ran off OR129) ticked those boxes, with this being his 4th hurdle race and though he'd won his debut hurdle in the manner of a horse that should be rated 130+ he'd looked a less than ordinary horse in two subsequent runs. His SP of 33/1 was no surprise in the circumstances, and you have to wonder why he even took part in this race. If you found him, well done, but I think the winning jockey would have told his own dad to bet on something else in the race. By comparison to the winner, the runner-up Style De Garde also won his hurdle debut, but at Newbury and (unfortunately) syndicate manager Harry Herbert talked of the horse going to Cheltenham and being in the Triumph Hurdle after that win - and those comments have probably resulted in a rating of OR137 when (given his subsequent run) his rating should have been about 131-133, and that would have made a big difference in this race, about £25,000 of difference in prize-money.
Weatherbys Champion Bumper run over 2-mile
I knew very little about bumper form before this race, and I know very little about it now. Willie Mullins supplied the 1st-3 home and 5 of the 23 runners. His "worst" horse ran 7th. Unfortunately, the stable money was not on the winning mare RELEGATE, but I expect they will have plenty of opportunity to recoup the losses - and I expect to see the winner back here next year probably winning one of the Mares' only races.
Monday, 19 March 2018
Supreme Novice Hurdle over 2m & 87 yards
The betting market sent off the Irish trained Getabird as the 7/4 fav but, with only 2 previous hurdle races, Getabird did not have enough race experience for this event and faded into 11th place. We will hopefully see the horse have better days. The race was won by SUMMERVILLE BOY and the form between him and the runner-up Kalashnikov worked out very well. The pair had met at Sandown in January when Summerville Boy beat Kalashnikov by 4-lengths at level weights, and while there was only a neck between them in this passing the post, Summerville Boy was very nearly taken out of the race at the 2nd-last flight and showed great courage to recover from that position. Kalashnikov had already shown his worth in winning the Betfair Handicap Hurdle at Newbury in February, and he repeated that form in this race. With luck, both horses should have a great future ahead of them. In 3rd place, Mengli Khan was the best of the Irish challenge and he ran better than expected, finishing a length ahead of Paloma Blue, who has strong form-links with Samcro who won the Ballymore Novices hurdle on Day 2 of the Festival. Overall, the novice hurdlers this season look a very strong bunch and we could well see next years Champion Hurdler emerge from them.
Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase over 2-mile
A very poor turn-out of just 5 runners for the premier novice chase at the Festival but we may have seen a good winner of this race in FOOTPAD. I've rated Footpad 8lb better than Altior's winning performance in 2017 but, as we saw with Altior winning the Queen Mother Champion Chase this year, it may be that Altior doesn't handle Cheltenham well but he has the class to win here anyway. This performance from Footpad was, in my opinion, comparable with the win in the race by Douvan in 2016. Before the race, I could not understand the reason behind the support for the 5yo Saint Calvados: while he looks a capable novice chaser, nobody in the UK or Ireland sought to buy the horse as a hurdler and since his late UK chasing debut on 30-Dec he's not really been highly tried and it was disappointing that the ill-fated North Hill Harvey could not hold hit jumping together when they met at Warwick on 10-Feb as - based on this run in the Arkle - Saint Calvados would have been exposed. As for Petit Mouchior, the horse barely stays 2-mile as a hurdler and on this heavy ground and having to jump fences (not hurdles) his stamina was always going to be suspect. Even so, I expect Petit Mouchior to eventually be a 160+ 2-mile chaser. I expect that Brain Power will need to step-up in trip to justify his OR156 rating as he's not a top-class 2-mile chaser.
Ultima Handicap Chase run over 3m1f
Always a very competitive handicap chase and one in which the trends-players can find a lot of answers. Handicap chases, in my opinion, are very simple - you are looking for unexposed horses who have demonstrated ability but have yet to be fully assessed by the handicapper. To fit this criteria, they are essentially young (no older than 8yo), LTO winners with less than 10 chase races. This years winner - COO STAR SIVOLA - fitted the bill exactly, being a 6yo novice chaser, having only his 6th chase race, and being a LTO winner over 3-mile. He had also won on soft ground, and won at Cheltenham as a hurdler, plus he'd run well enough to be placed 3rd (in 2016) and 4th (in 2017) and two previous Cheltenham Festivals. He was on my shortlist of likely winners, alongside Vintage Clouds who race 3rd and Singlefarmpayment (5th). Others on my shortlist were Minella Daddy (12th) and Gold Present (PU - broken blood vessels). The manner in which Coo Star Sivola won suggests he could end up a 155+ chaser and he should be followed. The big surprise for me was the performance of the 8yo Shantou Flyer in 2nd as this was his 24th chase race, and while he was a winner of a 3-mile chase at Cheltenham as a novice, he was only rated OR133 then, and he was racing off OR152 in this race. All his other 5 career wins have been at around 2m6f and he looked well exposed and handicapped to the hilt. However, in this race everything fell into place: he loves Cheltenham, all his best form has been on soft or heavy ground and he came into the race having run well (without winning) in 3 races since 1st Jan. In 3rd, Vintage Clouds showed he appreciated the testing ground as he's essentially a grinder, but I think he needs further than 3m1f. And I think you can say the same about Beware The Bear, and as he does not appear to have any ground preference he looks set for a win over a marathon trip this Spring.
A field of 11 runners went to post, headed by the OR169 rated BUVEUR D'AIR who won the Champion Hurdle last year. Personally, I thought this was a poor renewal as 6 of the 11 had official ratings of 156 or lower and, of the others, Wicklow Brave (OR164) hadn't jumped a hurdle in 11 months (since he won the Punchestown Champion Hurdle); Elgin (OR161) had been supplemented after winning a poor Kingwell Hurdle; Faugheen (OR167) was now a 10yo and it was debatable just how much ability he retained and if he was worthy of that rating; and while Melon (OR160) ran a cracking race over C&D in December he had flopped LTO in the Irish Champion Hurdle in February and so was on a recovery mission. All in all, the race was Buveur D'Air's to lose - and he very nearly did that! As they turned for home, I thought the eventual 3rd Mick Jazz was going the best but, when asked, he found little and merely stayed on up the hill. It was Melon who came closest to taking the crown and (when you consider this was only his 7th hurdle race) this 6yo with another year of improvement could be a potential champion in March 2019. The plan is for Buveur D'Air to remain a hurdler in 2018-19 and defend his crown next year but, on this display, he's going to find winning a 3rd Champion Hurdle extremely tough.
Mares' hurdle run over 2m4f
This race revolved around the odds-on chance Apple's Jade who had won this race last year and run 2nd in the Triumph Hurdle as a 4yo. She held every chance before 2-out but quickly came under pressure and it may have been the ground that stopped her as she was beaten when odds-on the last time she raced on heavy ground. The winner BENIE DES DIEUX missed all the festivals last season, but then she's raced as a chaser since joining the Mullins yard and is unbeaten. They clearly thought she had the speed to get involved in this race on this heavy ground, and the plan is to return her to chasing, but that may be revised now. Midnight Tour ran a cracker to be 2nd and, in retrospect, her odds of 33/1 were an insult seeing as she won a Listed race over this trip on the "new" course last April. While 3-mile may be beyond her, she is certainly at her best around 2m4f and is very consistent. Perhaps the biggest disappointment was La Bague Au Roi who found litttle once headed on the run-up to the final flight at which she made a significant error which effectively took her out of the race. It's very likely the 6yo Apple's Jade will stay in training and on better ground next yeart she will be hard to beat, as she's well up to competing in the Champion Hurdle when at her best.
National Hunt Challenge Cup (amateur riders) Novices' Chase run over 4-mile
In recent years this race has been the most significant staying novice chase at the Festival, much more influential than the RSA Chase run over 3-mile. Whether this race will be as significant this year is debateable as it was won by the 10yo RATHVINDEN who just beat the 7yo mare Ms Parfois with another 10yo in Sizing Tennessee in 3rd.
This is a race which is invariably won by the horse with the highest official rating and so it proved again as Rathvinden started with a rating of OR150 (joint highest with Mossback who fell at the 18th fence and was unfortunately, fatally injured). Rathvinden ran 3rd in the Neptune Hurdle (now Ballymore) won by Faugheen in 2014 but missed a couple of years through injury before starting his chasing career in earnest last May as a 9yo. He won 4 races before the 1st October and had been competing in top-class novice chases since then. Prior to this race, Rathvinden had run in the top-class Flogas Novices Chase (used to be the Dr PJ Moriarty Chase) and wasn't out of it when losing his rider. You have to think that, but for injury, he could have been a Gold Cup horse, and I reckon he will now be aimed at the 2019 Grand National.
Technically, Ms Parfois was the highest rated as she benefitted from a 7lb mares' allowance which, when added to her rating of OR146, put her 3lb ahead of anything else in the field. Her trainer aimed her at this race after she won at Warwick over 3-mile in January, and although she isn't top-class she should make a good staying handicapper next season in the marathon chases.
Only 6 finished this race from the 16 starters and other than the 1st-2 the remainder were outclassed apart from the 7yo No Comment who was having only his 2nd chase race. He was thereabouts half a mile out, but didn't stay this trip and a return to 3-mile should see him do better.
Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase run over 2m4f & 74 yards
Always a very competitive race and this years event was no different with just 8lb covering the entire field. The 1st-3 pulled clear of the remainder, and the winner MISTER WHITAKER had previously won the Novices Chase run here over 2m5f on "Trials" day in January. He looked to win that race with a tonne in-hand and although he was raised 8lb for that win, most judges thought that was nowhere near enough - and so it proved. In 3rd that day was Sizing Tennessee, so his good 3rd in the earlier NH Chase over 4-mile franked the form. Mister Whitaker has improved with every run as a chaser, and he could be capable of running in a higher grade than this, but I think he will be a top-class 3-mile handicapper next season, as he's a better horse than his 10yo half-brother Broadway Buffalo.
The runner-up Rather Be hadn't tried this trip in his previous 3 starts as a chaser, but he had won over 2m4f as a hurdler at the Aintree Festival last April after which he was rated OR143. As such, running off the same mark in this chase, he looked well handicapped. He is certainly unexposed at this trip and could be very exciting, just like the winner.
There didn't seem to be any hard-luck stories amongst the beaten horses and the 5/1 fav Any Second Now was over-rated and running off a mark of OR145 which he hadn't justified on the track.
I will be continuing this review of the Festival over the coming week.
Saturday, 17 March 2018
Like many others, I thought the race was wide open beforehand, but from the off there were only two horses in it, the rest of the field were like the 70,000 crowd in the stands, just spectators.
I've never seen a race like it, Native River and Might Bite were at it from the start, trading blows and daring each other into increasing the pace and spectacular leaps at every fence - I don't think either horse made a single jumping error. As they jumped the "water" on the back straight of the 2nd-circuit and started to run up the hill, only the leading pair were not under a shove from their jockey - and this field was chockablock full of proven top-class 3-mile chasers. As they jumped the 17th fence (open-ditch) Killultagh Vic was already tailed-off and not long after Saphir Du Rheu and Our Duke pulled-up .
At the 3rd-last fence Native River and Might Bite were 5-lengths clear of Road To Respect, Djakadam and Anibale Fly with the remainder having no chance. Coming to the 2nd-last fence, Might Bite made his move - if he was going to win this race this was the time to seek the advantage. Upsides at the 2nd-last, they jumped and landed together and then ran head-to-head to the final fence - no quarter given nor asked. Again, they jumped and landed together but, this time, Native River picked-up better and stayed-on strong up the famous hill that had seen so much action during the week and was churned-up like a ploughed field. While the stride of Might Bite shortened, that of Native River never faltered, he was loving the mud and, with the race won, he flashed his tail at his rival.
What a race - and Native River is a year younger than Might Bite.
Going into the race, I thought if NATIVE RIVER could repeat his Welsh National performance (my ratings 169) then he would win the Gold Cup. I've rated this years race via the 3rd placed Anibale Fly who I thought ran to his OR159 rating - and that puts Native River on 169, exactly what he ran on my ratings when winning the Welsh National over 3m5f on soft ground. On the way to the races, I was sat in Pittville Park having a coffee and I chatted with a couple of other racegoers and explained to them that horses are very consistent; they don't suddenly "find" 10 or 15lb of improvement - what happens is that they run to their best when in their optimum conditions.
At the course, stood amongst the crowd, I chatted with other punters about who they were on, and the majority were on Might Bite. What about Native River, I asked? He can't win as it is against the trends - no horse placed in the previous Gold Cup has won it the following year, not in ages. Eh, what about Kauto Star (won 2009), what about The Fellow (won 1994)? But he's only had one race this season, that's a negative - and what about Bob's Worth (won 2013)? As I remarked to one punter, if trends were so successful at finding the winner, the bookmakers would be out of business.
Were does that leave Might Bite? I have him rated at 164, which compares favourably with his win at Aintree last April (162) and his win in the RSA Chase at the 2017 Cheltenham Festival (160). He could possibly run better on a flatter track and on better ground, but he is a 9yo and he's not going to find any more improvement at his age.
The 4th placed Road To Respect is rated 156 by me, and that fits in well with his ratings for winning at Leopardstown on 28Dec (161) when he beat Balko Des Flos, and his rating for beating Yorkhill in the Ryanair Gold Gold at Punchestown last April (155). He is a long way short of his official rating of OR168, and I've no idea how he was given that rating (perhaps the handicapper had too much sherry at Xmas).
Overall, it was a great Festival for me and followers of the blog selections. I was a bit disappointed with the ride given to SANTINI yesterday in the 3-mile Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle, and I felt he was given far too much to do on the ground. I think it will be shown that he should have won yesterday.
My recommended wagers for the week were:-
2:10pm FOOTPAD - £10 win @ 5/4 - WON profit £12.50
and SUGAR BARON £5 win @ 12/1 - Lost £5.00
Total Profit = £133.35
Return on Investment = 98.70%
Cost of this advice = Nothing, free. only your time - unless you want to make a donation which will be gratefully received.
Next stop - AINTREE