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advising selections on which to wager, since March 2010.

Friday, 5 April 2019

2019 Grand National - Final briefing

I've been watching the Grand National since 1965 when Jay Trump won, although my memory of that race is hazy (I was only 5yo), and so my earliest good memory of the race is 1967 when Foinavon won and there was the mass pile-up at the 23rd fence.
This year's Grand National looks more competitive than last year, and it will not be so easy for the 7/2 fav TIGER ROLL who attempts to become the first two-time winner of the race since Red Rum in 1974 (and Red Rum then went on to win the race for a historic 3rd time in 1977).  What further complicates the race is the recent rain, with the ground now soft and rain-soddened throughout.  We could have a race in which fewer than 10 of the original 40 starters will complete the race and, of those that complete, only 2 or 3 will be actually involved in the finish of the race. 
Unfortunately, the horse that I had decided was the most likely race winner, MALL DINI, was declared a non-runner on Thursday due to a leg injury. As such, I delayed the publication of this blog by 24 hours to Friday evening to a) make sure that my selection is a confirmed runner, and b) to see what effect the rain has,and is having, on the ground for the Grand National course.

ANIBALE FLY - was 4th in the race last year, and is possibly a slightly better horse now he's a year older at 9yo, but he's carrying 2lb more; however, the ground is on his side this year (was heavy last year) and he won't be far away, but I cannot see him winning.
VALTOR - bought from France to run in this race, and showed his ability when winning on his UK chase debut at Ascot, but he's been raised 12lb by the handicapper for that and with it have gone his chances.
TIGER ROLL - has won both his recent races, and looks better than ever, but he carries 6lb more than when winning this last year and he only just got home to win by a "head" that day. He should be at his peak, and will be thereabouts but he's more like an 8/1 chance in my book.
OUTLANDER - now 11yo and not the horse he was, but he's never run well outside of Ireland and his best form is behind him - also, he's for sale.
DON POLI - at once high-class 10yo who's better days are behind him, and he's also for sale. However, he could run better than his odds.
GO CONQUER - a chase winner at 3-mile, that looks to be his limit and most of his racing has been on right-handed tracks; but he will love the likely "good" ground, and will be in the front rank.
MALA BEACH -   has only race once in the UK when 2nd at Ascot over 2m5f in Dec-15. He was then off injured for nearly 2 years but won the 3-mile "Troytown" Chase in Nov-17. This has been his target, but he is a bit slow and will want soft ground.
MINELLA ROCCO - after pulling-up LTO he is on a recovery mission, and I don't think his heart is in this game anymore.
LAKE VIEW LAD - this 9yo grey will be one of the leading fancies for the race, but his best form has been on soft ground and he may not be able to get involved on the 2nd-circuit, but he is a safe jumper and stays 3-mile.
PLEASANT COMPANY - another who would prefer soft ground, which he got last year when just failing to win. However, in 2017 when he ran in this race, the ground was good-to-soft and it was too quick for him and he finished 9th. The recent rain will have helped his chances.
BALLYOPTIC - ran a career-best when 2nd in the Scottish National in April-2018 on "good" ground, and so I can forgive him his run on soft ground in the Welsh National in December, but his run LTO at Haydock when he pulled-up was disappointing. He could run a big race, or he may not enjoy it, and with 11st 1lb he's not off to a good start.

I believe those carrying more than 11-stone will struggle to win this years Grand National on this soft ground, and those horses named above all carry more than 11-stone.
DOUNIKOS -  last seen winning over 3m4f at Punchestown on 10th February, so we know he will stay this sort of trip, and the ground will suit, he has (in my opinion) an outstanding chance, so I've already taken 100/1 on Betfair last week. Was just short of being one of the top novice chasers of last season. Has been brought slowly to hand and comes here with one helluva chance.
RATHVINDEN - After he won the 4-mile NH Chase at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival, I said this horses would be aimed at this years Grand National, and here he is the 12/1, 2nd fav. When he won at Fairyhouse in February he looked top-class and he will take all the beating.
ONE FOR ARTHUR - since winning this race in 2017, he's not completed another race, and whether he still has the ability to be competitive is unknown. 
ROCK THE KASBAH - Champion jockey Richard Johnson has never won this race, but this horse should give him a great run - if he's in the mood! He has two-ways of running and will either go well, or throw-in the towel, but after a long break (an he last raced in December) he usually goes well. Could be thereabouts.  
WARRIORS TALE - didn't last the trip last year, and the ground was against him too. And now the ground will be against him (best on no softer than good-to-soft).
REGAL ENCORE - Was beaten a long way in the 2017 race, and there's no reason why he would do better this time.
MAGIC OF LIGHT - this mare does not look capable of winning off this mark of OR151.
A TOI PHIL -most racing experience is over 2m4f, and it's a leap of faith to expect him to stay this marathon trip.
JURY DUTY - was aimed at a 2m5f hurdle race in the Autumn in the USA worth £200,000 which he won; he then won his next chase over 3m2f on 16th March. What worries me about him is that he didn't stay 4-mile in the NH Chase won by Rathvinden, and he was well beaten in Kerry National. 
NOBLE ENDEAVOUR - Disappointed on latest run at Cheltenham and looks well below his best after nearly 2 years off the track.
MONBEG NOTORIOUS - Well beaten in all his recent races and you have to go back 12 months to find a decent effort .
RAMSES DE TEILLEE - The youngest horse in the field at 7yo, with need a superlative effort to win, but could be thereabouts, as he enjoys the mud and stays very well.
TEA FOR TWO - far too highly tried after coming 3rd (to Thistlecrack) in 2016 "King George", last seen pulling-up at Taunton in January when it looked like he'd gone at the game.
STEP BACK - Was on my initial shortlist, but his run LTO at Warwick suggests he likes to dominate from the front and doesn't like it when challenged. He's unlikely to get his own way in front in this and the soft ground could well find him out.
ULTRAGOLD - May divert to the Topham Chase over 2m5f which he won last year, has run four-times over the National fences and not finished worse than 3rd (with 2 wins), but if he goes for the "National" his stamina will be stretched. 
BLOW BY BLOW - In 4 chase races over 3-miles he's only beaten 3 horses, so it is difficult to see him being involved in this race for very long.
UP FOR REVIEW - Looked like being involved in the finish of the "Ultima" handicap chase at Cheltenham until his stamina ran out with 2 fences to jump, so difficult to see him being involved in the finish of this race.
SINGLEFARMPAYMENT - This horse has been called some names having finished 2nd no-less than 9 times - and on 4 occasions the margin of defeat has been only a few inches; but he jumps well, stays well, and has the ability to pick up the leaders from off the pace.  He will (hopefully) be avoiding early trouble at the rear and will take closer order as the field passes the stands before heading out on the 2nd circuit; could run a huge race as his most recent run at Cheltenham will have set him up for this.
VIEUX LION ROUGE - Didn't stay the trip when 6th (beaten 27-lengths) in 2017, and was well beaten again last year. Handles the course though (was 2nd in the Becher Chase in December and the best he can hope for is a distant 5th or 6th.
VALSEUR LIDO - Somehow won a Grade 1 chase over 3-mile in Nov16, but hasn't looked a 3-mile chaser since, most recently was easily beaten by Rathvinden in February.
VINTAGE CLOUDS -7th in the April-2017 Scottish National; 4th in the Jan-2018 Welsh National; and 3rd in the April-2018 Scottish National which all proves he stays well. Likely to be near the front-rank throughout.
GENERAL PRINCIPLE - won Irish National over 3m5f last April, but easily swept aside by stablemate Dounikos in February and has since disappointed at Cheltenham, needs soft ground.
LIVELOVELAUGH - hasn't looked like a 3-mile chaser, and best form shown on soft/heavy ground.
WALK IN THE MILL - Won the 3m2f Becher Chase over the National fences last December, but that was the 21st chase race for the (then) 8yo and he'd not looked a 3-mile chaser before then. Needs soft ground.
FOLSOM BLUE - if he runs he will just be making up the numbers. 
CAPTAIN REDBEARD - Fell last year (at the 7th fence) and as his jumping isn't great, he's unlikely to complete.
JOE FARRELL - the 10yo came late to chasing having his first chase race in October 2017. Just 6 months later he won the Scottish National over 4-miles. Is probably still improving and could be an interesting runner. 
JUST A PAR - wasn't good enough when at his peak, and now at 12yo and having his 3rd attempt at the race is unlikely to be involved for long. 

With the ground being "soft" those likely to be involved in the finish are;
The marathon trip and the speed at which this race is run - a unique feature of the Grand National - puts a greater emphasis on stamina, and although there have been winners of the race carrying more than 11st, there have not been many. Since Neptune Collonges (with 11st 6lb) won in 2012, there have been 52 runners in the race carrying 11st or more (2018 = 10; 2017 = 11; 2016 = 7; 2015 = 7; 2014 = 6; 2013 = 11), but only 5 have finished in the 1st-4  and only 19 in total completed the course. 
As such, if TIGER ROLL wins with 11st 5lb  on the soft ground, it is going to be one hell-of-an effort.
The weight angle also rules out BALLYOPTIC, but at 40/1 (Skybet 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5) he's worth an small eachway interest, but I'm inclined to pass him over.
I'm already on DOUNIKOS at 100/1 so I'm very happy that he's taking part.  He is just an 8yo so he could have plenty of improvement in him as he was very highly thought of as a novice chaser and his LTO win suggests he's back to his best. As such, at 40/1 (BetVictor and William Hill 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 & 6) he's worth an small eachway interest.
JOE FARRELL makes too many jumping errors for my liking and at 20/1 he does not represent value in my book.
And the same can be said for VINTAGE CLOUDS at just 14/1, as too often he's lacked the pace to win the race.
Both SINGLEFARMPAYMENT and RATHVINDEN will be held-up towards the rear early-on and you have to hope a) they don't get brought-down by a faller, and b) they don't get too far behind and are pulled-up. If they are taking closer order entering the 2nd-circuit then they could go close, and so they both interesting propositions, with SINGLEFARMPAYMENT at 66/1 (William Hill, 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 & 6). 
As for RATHVINDEN, he looks a very interesting horse over this marathon trip as he has abundant stamina and looks to me to be one of the most likely winners of the race.
This has been one of the trickiest races I've analysed for a long time, and in a race like the Grand National I can usually narrow my shortlist down to one horse; but this year it has been very difficult. However, every year I select one horse as the "most likely to win" and this year it's RATHVINDEN - having Ruby Walsh in the saddle and winning form over 4-mile on heavy ground suggests he will not be far away at the finih. 

My advised wagers (based on a £30 total stake)
RATHVINDEN, £5 win & £5 eachway @ 10/1 (BetVictor and William Hill 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 & 6) 
DOUNIKOS, £5 eachway @ 40/1 (BetVictor and William Hill 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 & 6) 
SINGLEFARMPAYMENT, £2 eachway @ 50/1 (William Hill 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 & 6) 

Aintree Grand National Meeting - Day 2

The rain at Aintree was an unwelcome guest yesterday, and it's immediate effect was a change in my plans for the Grand National. IT wsa combined with the news that there were 2 withdrawals from Saturdays race: first came PAIROFBROWNEYES and then in mid-afternoon came the news that MALL DINI was also a non-runner.  This was a particularly bitter blow for me, as I thought the horse looked exceptionally well-in on the formbook even though he is yet to win a chase race. I was going to make MALL DINI my main Grand National selection, and now I'm having to reconsider my strategy to take into account the rain-softened ground.

Yesterday, the racing was good, but not exceptional. In the Manifesto Novices' Chase over 2m4f, the fav La Bague Au Roi was below her best and KALASHNIKOV didn't have to find much win and, on a line through 3rd-placed Mengli Khan, neither Defi Du Seuil or Lostintranslation have anything to fear from this bunch. 

In the Juvenile hurdle, how PENTLAND HILLS was allowed to go off at 11/4 is anyone's guess.  What value! In my blog yesterday, I rated the horse a 7/4 chance and never expected the odds to lengthen so much, but maybe the rain-soaked ground put the majority of punters off him. I'm hoping readers of the blog noted the drift in the odds and saw the opportunity - that's why I write the narrative and not just give names of horses.

KEMBOY ran away with the Betway Bowl Chase over 3m1f and my initial reaction was it was a good performance. However, the proximity of Balko Des Flo in 3rd (splitting Clan Des Obeaux and Bristol De Mai) suggests this winning performance was well below the Gold Cup winning performance of stablemate Al Boum Photo last month.

Finally, Buveur D'Air ran right up to his form shown this season but couldn't beat SUPASUNDAE.  I've rated Buveur D'Air at 156-157 for each of his races this season, and he ran to 156 on my rating in this. The Champion Hurdle winner ESPIOR D'ALLEN looks so far ahead of the hurdling division that the 5/1 currently on offer for next years Champion Hurdle should be taken - I'm surprised bookies haven't priced him at 2/1.

On to today's racing at Aintree, and the result of the Novices' Hurdle at 2:20pm is likely to be affected by the soft ground. ITCHY FEET came 3rd (beaten 5-lengths) at Cheltenham on similar rain-softened ground, and given his previous run before that was in November, there must by some improvement in him today for race-fitness.  Odds of 4/1 look fair in this 7-runner race. 

In the Mildmay Novices' Chase over 3m1f at 2:50pm we have a very interesting clash between Topofthegame and Lostintranslation. Both are exceptional novice chasers, and it is tricky splitting the pair. One who could upset the party is Top Ville Ben who fell early-on in the RSA Chase won by Topofthegame LTO, but who has won since then, and at 18/1 he is worth a speculative "place-only" wager on finishing 2nd should one of the leading pair not be on their "A" game today.

The feature race today is the JLT Chase over 2m4f and we have a select band of 6 runners, including last year's winner Politologue and runner-up Min.  We also have a rare appearance from Waiting Patiently - but they will all have to step-up their game to match the performance of TOP NOTCH when he won at this trip in January at Kempton beating good yardstick Black Corton. Odds of 10/1 are generally available and I think he has a terrific chance on this soft ground - remember he was beaten less than 6-lengths over 3-mile by Paisley Park in December on similar ground. 

That's it for me, and I will see how the ground looks today before posting my Grand National blog at about 5pm tonight.

Just the one wager: 
Aintree 3:25pm, TOP NOTCH, £5 win & £5 eachway @ 10/1 (quarter-odds a place 1st or 2nd)

Thursday, 4 April 2019

Aintree Grand National meeting - Day 1

For me, the Aintree Grand National meeting is just as exciting as the Cheltenham Festival.  I've been watching horseracing since I was a toddler, and my earliest memory is watching Freddie - the 7/2 fav for the 1965 Grand National - beaten under a length in a close finish by Jay Trump. Watching the old black & white film of the race on YouTube, you are reminded of just how huge Bechers Brook used to be.
We've come a long way since then, and the National fences have been completely re-designed and remodelled, and the length of the race has been reduced, but - somehow - the magic pull of the race still captures the imagination of the public and, for 15 minutes, nothing else matters.
I have already written my appraisal of the big race on Saturday, and I was going to wait until Friday evening before posting it, but I think I'm going to post my Grand National preview this evening as I'm expecting some significant betting market moves in the final 24 hours before the race at 5:15pm on Saturday and I do not want readers to miss out on what could be some considerable value in the market.  My expectation is that the support for the fav Tiger Roll will subside and he will lengthen in the market from his current 4/1 odds, and that there will be major moves for several other entries. Over the past week, the more I've looked at the Grand National form, the more competitive a race I think it will be - it looks like being a cracker.  

On to today's racing from Aintree, and in the opening race at 1:45pm the Manifesto Novices' Chase over 2m4f, the mare La Bague Au Roi looks a worthy fav, and odds of 7/4 (with Paddy Power) look fair value. Long time readers of this blog know that I do not recommend wagers on horses that are under 9/4, that's not my angle, so while I expect the mare to run well and win I can't recommend having a wager on her. But she may not have things all her own way, and I reckon that BAGS GROOVE could push her all the way.  He ran a stinker at Kempton on Boxing Day when La Bague Au Roi beat him over 3-miles, but he's since won again over this trip at Kempton, and at his best he's not far off the level of the fav.  Before Cheltenham, I thought Glen Forsa needed to find 15lb to win the Arkle, and I think he will have his limitations exposed in this race today, and while Kalashnikov should run better going left-handed here, he also needs to find about 10lb of improvement to win this.  On known form, both Mengli Khan and Spiritofthegames look outclassed.  For me, BAGS GROOVE at 8/1 looks a fair eachway wager (quarter-odds a place 1st or 2nd).

At 2:20pm the Juvenile Hurdle over 2-mile & 1-furlong looks to be in the hands of Triumph Hurdle winner PENTLAND HILLS, and I'm surprised that odds of 9/4 are available, as he looks the best 4yo hurdler in this race.  Is he value? For that you have to reckon he should be considerably shorter in the betting than 9/4, and I don't as to be value I would have to rate Pentland Hills a 5/4 chance and I don't, he's probably a 7/4 chance. 
The Betway Bowl at at 2:50pm over 3-mile & 1-furlong has a select band of top class chasers. I'm discounting Balko De Flos and Elegant Escape as they just aren't good enough at this level. The grey Bristol De Mai never seems to run well after Cheltenham and was easily beaten in this race in 2017 and 2018. Maybe he's a better horse now, but I'm not so sure.  Road To Respect is one of the most consistent chasers in training, and this trip and track could be right up his street. He has to find over 7-lengths to beat Kemboy based on their meeting at Leopardstown over 3-mile on 28th December, but that race was run at a slow tempo, and the resultant quicker pace over the final half-mile perhaps suited Kemboy better than Road To Respect. As for Clan Des Obeaux, I think he had a hard race at Cheltenham and he was also beaten in this race last year (finished behind Bristol De Mai).  All things considered, I think ROAD TO RESPECT is the way to go in this, and odds of 5/1 look decent considering he has no questions to answer, while each of the other rivals does.

BUVEUR D'AIR won the Aintree hurdle over 2-mile & 4-furlongs in 2017 with perhaps the best performance of his career, and I cannot see him losing this race today. Nothing else comes close to him on ratings or likely performance, and he could well go off at odds-on.

I'm giving the Foxhunters Chase over the National fences, and the Red Rum handicap chase over 2-miles a miss, as well tas the closing bumper.

My best bet of the day is ROAD TO RESPECT @ 5/1 (available generally) in the 2:50pm Betway Bowl.

Friday, 29 March 2019

2019 Grand National - some early thoughts

There's been a massive gamble on TIGER ROLL, and judging by his last couple of wins he's better than ever this season however his win over the Cross-Country course at Cheltenham is difficult to evaluate (but it certainly looked good).
He's no sort of price for a race as competitive as the Grand National, and as I tipped him to win the race last year I think I'm better-placed than most to give a fair and impartial view of his ability to win the race for a 2nd time next week.
He made a few errors last year, notably resulting in jockey Davy Russell losing his irons, and he also wandered about in the final 200 yards of the run-in losing a significant advantage to just last out and hold on at the line.
With Bristol De Mai a definite non-runner the weights will go up 4lb, so Tiger Roll will carry 11st 5lb which is 6lb more than he carried last year, and weight does matter in these marathon races and especially so when in a race like the Grand National as the pace is unrelenting.
If he gets round (and there is always an "if" in a race like the Grand National), then he will be in there with a great shout.  With the likelihood of having 10-plus stablemates running in the race - it may look like a the Tour De France protecting the team leader - there may be one or more stablemates in with a chance at the 2nd-last fence, and at that point "team tactics" have to go!
Which ones that Gordon Elliott will declare to run is debatable, and it's unlikely Alpha Des Obeaux will run (has a bruised foot), and I'm not sure that The Storyteller should be in the race as his best form is at 2m4f.  Outlander looks seriously out of his depth in this off OR158. We have not seen much of Don Poli since he was 3rd to Sizing John (who went on to win the Cheltenham Gold Cup) in Feb 2017, but he would need to at his best to be in with a chance off OR157.
The 11yo Mala Beach looks to have his best days behind him and will struggle off OR156. Shattered Love is another who looks best at 2m4f, but he did win a Grade 1 novice chase over 3-mile - however, the front 2 in the betting (Monalee and Rathvinden) fell, so that form isn't strong. It was Jury Duty who was 2nd in that race and while he hasn't set the world alight, he looks fairly treated on OR151 and comes here on the back of 2 recent wins, the last one over 3m2f.
Noble Endeavour has had a couple of runs this season after a 2-year break, and this marathon trip looks to be in his compass, and this 10yo could well be staying-on strong  The ground will likely be too quick for Monbeg Notorious, but he is a staying chaser; and I really do not know why they've entered Blow By Blow (except as a "spoiler").  General Principle will likely be better aimed at the Irish National (a race he's already won) on 22nd April, that this.
It's doubtful that any of those rated lower than General Principle (Nr 46 on OR144) will get into the race, so the only other Elliott entry to consider is the 8yo DOUNIKOS who was last seen winning the Grand National Trial (handicap) over 3m4f at Punchestown on 10th February.  He was ridden that day by Davy Russell, but he's certain to take the ride on Tiger Roll. So we know he will stay this sort of trip, and the ground will suit, it's whether he will get a run. If he does, he has (in my opinion) an outstanding chance, so I've taken the 100/1 available on Betfair. If he doesn't then I will likely be able to recover my losses (and more) in the Irish Grand National later in April.   
Those entries not attached to the Elliott stable that (at this stage) hold a realistic chance are:-
Lake View Lad, although he would prefer soft ground, so if there is rain next week (unlikely) he could be worth a wager. But then, the same can be said for last years runner-up Pleasant Company as on good-to-soft ground in 2017 he was well beaten despite finishing. 
RATHVINDEN has been aimed at this race since winning the 4-mile novice NH Chase at the 2018 Cheltenham Festival. A top-class novice hurdler, he missed 3 years to injury before being brought steadily through the novice chase ranks in 2017. He probably would have contested the 2017 and 2018 Gold Cups but for the injury, and when he won LTO (respected Bobbyjo Chase) he looked like there was plenty of improvement in him and OR154 looks a very fair rating.
Rock The Kasbah will love the ground and stay this trip, but he does like things to go his way, and when they don't he chucks the towel in; so I get the feeling that he's one who will not enjoy this race. 
In the recent Cheltenham Gold Cup, trainer Patrick Kelly was given some criticism (including by me) for his preparation of Presenting Percy, and he can recoup his reputation if MALL DINI runs a big race.  A winner of the competitive 3-mile handicap hurdle at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, we know he stays well and he will handle the likely "good" going at Aintree. His trainer knows how to get him fit for a target race, and he will be well up for it next week, and I think he will be right there at the business end.
There are only two others that I think have a chance of winning the race and they are Vintage Clouds and Singlefarmpayment.
I'm sure there will be plenty scoffing at me including Singlefarmpayment, as he's been 2nd no less than 9 times and on 4 occasions the margin of defeat has been only a few inches. But the horse stays well, jumps well, is a very strong traveller, and he's unlikely to be worried out of the race if jumping the last fence well clear of the remainder.  His recent run will have prepared him well, and if this were any other handicap race he'd be trading at around 12/1 and not 66/1.
I've been saying for 12 months that Vintage Clouds will win a "National" and he's run 7th in the April-2018 Scottish National; 4th in the Jan-2018 Welsh National; and 3rd in the April-2018 Scottish National. He stays well, travels well and has a very similar profile to that of Singlefarmpayment, yet he's only 14/1 - which should make you realise what great value Singlefarmpayment is.
There was only one other horse that I was considering, but that was Blaklion, and he was declared a non-runner this morning.

A more detailed look will be posted on the evening before the race.

Friday, 15 March 2019

Cheltenham 2019 - Day 4 (Friday 15th March)

Another cracking day for the blog yesterday when top selection DEFI DU SEUIL won the JLT Novices Chase - what a start to the day.  I've been saying on my blog since January that Defi Du Seuil is the best novice chaser we've seen this season and he will win whatever race he's entered in at the Festival, and I was right. I do not often advise £20 win wagers, but I felt certain he was the real deal.
Then FRODON (one of my late antepost wagers) in the Ryanair Chase led from the front and battled up the stright for a hard-fought but decisive win.
The blog is now seriously in profit for the week, it's been one of my best Cheltenham Festivals since I started blogging (if not the best for me) and there is still a day to go.
Top Notch was poor yesterday, but do not take anything away from PAISLEY PARK. After he won at the Trials day in January I wrote that Paisley Park should be odds-on for the Stayers' Hurdle (and as readers know, I do not advise wagers on horses at odds under 9/4 - you can pick those winners yourself).
Both my long-odds handicap selections ran good races but just not good enough to get into the places.

1:30pm Triumph hurdle run over 2-miles & 1 furlong
If you look at the betting, this race is all about SIR EREC,  and how far he will win by.  Well, we've seen races like this before at Cheltenham and it doesn;t always go to plan. There are only 4 other horses to consider, as the long-shots have virtually no chance. PIC D'ORHY has not run in the UK or Ireland yet, nor has he run anywhere since early November. Our first sight of this horse will be in the paddock. QUEL DESTIN, also trained by Paul Nichols (like PIC D'ORHY) but with lots of experience winning a string of top hurdles in the UK. TIGER TAP TAP has been beaten easily by the fav SIR EREC on both his hurdle starts. GARDENS OF BABYLON trained by Joseph O'Brien who trains SIR EREC, and beaten 6-lengths by him when they last met. 
If you want to bet on the race, have a small eachway wager on QUEL DESTIN @ 10/1 (fifth the odds a place 1,2,3) which is available generally, but theis is a race I expect to go to SIR EREC and I will be watching only.

2:10pm County Handicap Hurdle run over 2-miles & 1 furlong
With 8 of the last 11 winners going off at odds longer than 20/1 - and last years winner Mohaayed went off at 33/1 - you need luck and a crystal ball to find the winner. You do not want a horse that has won over trips longer than 2m1f, and stick to 5yo and 6yo's or horses with no more than 2 seasons of hurdling if older. I'm going to have a play with the 5yo LISP @ 25/1 (quarter-odds to 5 places with Bet365) as he's a come 1st or 2nd in 6 of his completed 9 hurdle races (he fell at the 3rd in the Martin Pipe Novices H'cap hurdle last year when 10/1 for the race), he can carry weight and has a touch of class about him, with trainer Alan King confident of a good run.
Selection: LISP, £5 eachway @  25/1 (quarter-odds to 5 places with Bet365)

2:50pm Albert Bartlett Novice Hurdle run over 3-miles
This should be a good betting race as few horses stay a strong 3-mile over hurdles, but this race has now been won by a horse no shorter than 11/1 for the past 5 years, and in 2018 and 2014 the winner went off at 33/1. We are looking for a horse that has race experience (4 or more hurdle races) and shown the ability to stay 3-mile. There are 20 runners!
I am against the fave BIRCHDALE as he's only had 2 hurdle races, ditto ALLAHO and DICKIE DIVER, and DINONS hasn't run since November.
Of the market leaders LISNAGAR OSCAR @ 13/2 and COMMANDER OF FLEET @ 15/2 are interesting, but I'm going to take a stab with Noel Meade's CAP YORK, a 7yo who won over 3-mile  LTO and stays forever. The plan was to send him for the 3-mile Pertemps handicap hurdle (run yesterday) but they think he's good enough for this
Selection: CAP YORK, £5 eachway @ 25/1 (fifth odds to 4 places with Bet Victor)

3:30pm Cheltenham Gold Cup run over 3-miles, 2 furlongs & 70 yards.
This is the big one!
Right off, I am against PRESENTING PERCY.  His RSA winning form has been put to bed with Monalee running 4th in the Ryanair Chase behind Frodon yesterday, and ELEGANT ESCAPE being beaten by Frodon here at Cheltenham in January. He will need to have improved 7lb on his RSA winning form to win this, and off the back of a 3-mile hurdle race I would want odds of 10/1.
Last year I was on NATIVE RIVER, but this year in both his runs he's not looked the same horse, as hasn't the runner-up in last year's Gold Cup MIGHT BITE.  That race was a mighty battle, and has it left it's mark? NATIVE RIVER will need to match, and possibly surpass, last year's effort to win today and I just feel that the ground is not as testing as he would want it to be.
On my ratings, BELLSHILL is about 7-10lb below Gold Cup winning standard, but he is consistent and has the very capable Ruby Walsh in the saddle.
His stablemate, KEMBOY, is interesting as he appears to stay 3-mile very well and he is certainly worth his position in the market.
 I do not think ELEGANT ESCAPE is anywhere near good enough, but he is very consistent and stays forever, so he may well come on late for 3rd or 4th.
MIGHT BITE looks a busted flush, and the 10yo has age against him and a mountain to climb to recover his form. I expect he will be up with the pace on the 1st circuit but fade away in the final mile.  His last hurrah will likely come at Aintree where he won the "Bowl" last year.
I am surprised that Ruby Walsh is not riding AL BOUM PHOTO as I thought this horse would emerge this season as the Willie Mullins Gold Cup horse, and he has won his only start this season, albeit over 2m5f on 1st January. I'm assuming Walsh thinks this trip will stretch his stamina.
They say horses aged 10yo and more don't win the Gold Cup, but the 11yo THISTLECRACK is no back number based on his 2nd in the King George on Boxing Day, and he has every right to be among the market leader. As an eachway wager, there is no better value in my opinion, and he should be in the 1st 3 home, but I cannot see him winning.
ANIBALE FLY took advantage of the fierce pace set last year to steal 3rd passing beaten horses, and is doubtful to repeat the effort.
BRISTOL DE MAI and Cheltenham do not go together, and there has not been enough rain for him, and the others INVITATION ONLY, SHATTERED LOVE, DEFINITLY RED, SOUBLE SHUFFLE and YALA ENKI have next to no chance.
For me, the winner will be CLAN DES OBEAUX, as his win in the King George stamped his authority on the staying division, and the follow-up at Ascot confirmed his ability. Trainer Paul Nicholls sent Frodon out to win the Ryanair yesterday, and that horse would have been worthy of a place in the Gold Cup. CLAN DES OBEAUX has youth on his side, he is in form, he stays well, he jumps well, he has a lot of solid chasing experience.  For me, odds of 5/1 are generous as I would have him at 9/4 in this field as he has the beating of most of them this season - he has to run poorly or they they have to improve 7lb-plus to beat him - he holds all the aces.
Selection: CLAN DES OBEAUX, £15 win @ 5/1 (available generally)

That's it for me for this years Festival. It has been a great one so far with winners posted on the blog being DUC DES GENEIVRES @ 13/2,  BEWARE THE BEAR @ 20/1 (antepost),  TOPOFTHEGAME @ 5/1 (antepost), DEFI DU SEUIL @ 100/30, and FRODON @ 7/1 (antepost).
If you have enjoyed the blog please leave a comment, refer to it on twitter (and you can find me on instagram), and if you have won a few quid on the back of my advice don't be afraid to drop a "fiver"  via the donation button on the top right of this page.
All the best for now and I will be reviewing the Festival results so that we are ahead of the game for next year over the coming weeks.
Good luck from Wayward Lad.

Thursday, 14 March 2019

Cheltenham 2019 - Day 3 (Thursday 14th March)

It was a good day on Wsednesday, not quite as good as Tuesday, but good enough.  My antepost wager on TOPOFTHEGAME was successful (see Monday's blog for a recap of my antepost portfolio), and I feel vindicated - following the fantastic run from POLITOLOGUE in the Champion Chase - that my wagers on Politologue for the Ryanair was the right policy.  Judging by that performance, I think Politologue would have gone very close in the Ryanair Chase.
I am on the course (in the Best Mate enclosure) today and tomorrow.
It is a busy day today.

1:30 JLT Novices Chase run over 2m4f
Ideally, you are looking for a horse that has won a Graded race over hurdles or fences, and one that has also won at the Cheltenham Festival before.
A cracking race to start the day with, and I am very interested in the fav DEFI DU SEUIL who has won Graded races over both hurdles and fences, and has won at Cheltenham having won the Triumph Hurdle in 2017. By my ratings, he's the best novice chaser we've seen this season, not by much, but the best. I already have an antepost wagers on DEFI DU SEUIL and I'm confident they will be successful. Odds of over 3/1 look very generous about a horse who could be the best novice chaser of the season.
LOSTINTRANSLATION will not be far away, but I feel he would have been better placed in the RSA Novices chase over 3-mile instead of this race.  I rate the Irish trained REAL STEEL well behind this pair, and have more interest in VINNDICATION but again I feel he would have been better off running in the RSA Chase.
DEFI DU SEUIL - £20 win @ 100/30 Coral & Ladbrokes

2:10 Pertemps Network final Handicap hurdle run over 3-mile
Possibly the toughest handicap hurdle of the season to solve.  The winner will need to stay 3-mile at a strong gallop. Age is no barrier to success, combine that with LTO winners (if possible).
This is one of those races that you could spend a day studying the form and still not find the winner.  A good judge has suggested WALK TO FREEDOM, the 9yo trained by Mrs J. Harrington.  He carries top-weight of 11st 12lb but he is a decent handicapper who stays the trip and is unexposed at 3-mile having only raced the distance the once LTO when 2nd.
No bet race for me.

2:50 Ryanair Chase run over 2m4f & 166 yards
One of the best races for a wager, ideally you need a graded chase winner, a 2nd-season chaser, and horse that runs up with the pace. Hopefully, the horse should have won at Cheltenham before.
Although FOOTPAD won last years Arkle over 2-mile, he hasn't shown himself to be up to the usual standard since then and he looks a weak fav. The 2nd-fav ROAD TO RESPECT is normally seen over 3-mile, so dropping to 2m5f is interesting, and I wonder if he will be quick enough. MONALEE is his equal over 3-mile and probably better over 2m5f and looks to be the one to beat if FRODON is unable to repeat the form of earlier this season. FRODON flopped badly in this race last year after a busy season, and he's had fewer runs this time and maintained his form so far. UN DE SCEAUX has won this race before, but was easily swept aside by BALKO DES FLOS last year. It's a tricky race to fathom this year, but and I've already an antepost wager at 5/1 on MONALEE (a proven performer at this level) and also on FRODON @ 7/1 who I think may just struggle to hold-off these graded performers from the front.
No further wagers on this race from me as I was hoping that it would cut-up a bit more, and I'm sure had POLITOLOGUE run in this and not the Champion Chase yesterday, that he would have taken all the beating.

3:30 Sunbet Stayers' Hurdle run over 3-mile
The key to this race may lie in the race of 2018. 
SUPASUNDAE (who was 2nd) demonstrated that his best trip is 2m4f not 3-mile.  FAUGHEEN appears to have rekindled his career at 3-mile but do not forget that he is 11yo.  BACARDYS is no better now than he was in 2018 and looks outclassed. BLACK OP has a fair bit to make up to beat the fav, who he met here in January. KILBRECKEN STORM do not look good enough. However, TOP NOTCH could give the favourite a race as he loves this course and was a seriously top class hurdler as a novice, and this trip could bring out the best in him as he does enjoy coming off a strong pace. Don't get me wrong, I am expecting PAISLEY PARK to win and I think he should be 5/4 such is the form that he's shown this season, but TOP NOTCH at 16/1 ( he should pay his way.
TOP NOTCH £5 eachway @ 16/1 (5th odds a place 1,2,3,4 with Ladbrokes & Coral)

4:10 Stable Plate Handicap Chase run over 2m4f & 127 yards
This looks an incredibly tough handicap to fathom, and sometimes it pays to go on gut feeling. I think it was a bit tough on JANIKA to be raised 6lb by the handicapper for coming 2nd LTO to SIRUH DU LAC (who went up 7lb for a tiny winning margin) and I can't see either winning this race. In 2018, SPIRITOFTHEGAMES ran 5th in the 2-mile County Hurdle and he never seems to run a bad race. I do like horses with recent winning form in these handicaps, and Venetia Willams loves these handicaps here and right at the bottom with just 10st 5lb is DIDERO VALLIS who has only run in 4 chase races, won 2 of them, but failed to stay 3-mile LTO. Add that he's a prominent runner, and I like horses "in the van" and we have the makings of a wager - he's 25/1 with Bet365.
DIDERO VALLIS, £5 eachway @ 25/1 (quarter-odds a place 1,2,3,4 with Bet365)

4:50 Mares Novices hurdle run over 2-mile & 179 yards
I'm not going to bother with this race.  Some races you just have to pass over and as we saw with Apple's Jade and Laurina in the Champion hurdle, mares do have off days.

5:30 Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap (amateur riders) run over 3m2f
I found the winner of this race last year so let's have another go.
It's amateur riders again and jockeyship (or lack of it) will pay a part, so ignore all the claiming jockeys. 
YOUNG MASTER (Sam Waley-Cohen) was 6th in this race last year, but this horse is aimed for Aintree's Grand National.  
ANY SECOND NOW (Derek O'Connor) just does not look good enough on form and will he stay?
LIVELOVELAUGH (Mr P Mullins) is another with doubtful stamina.
MEASUREOFMYDREAMS is the ride of JJ Codd who has won two races already this Festival but he will need all his skill to get this one home as the 11yo looks past it.
CAPTAIN CHAOS (Miss Gina Andrews) could be the answer, as his 2nd LTO to Lake View Lad looks strong form now. A prominent runner who stays the trip well. 
ITS ALL GUESWORK (Mr B O'Neill) looks the best of the Irish challenge but he has little recent chasing form.
TOUCH KICK (William Biddick) looks an interesting entry from Paul Nicholls as he won over 2m7f LTO on soft ground, but all of his wins are when going right-handed.  
For me, it has to be... 
CAPTAIN CHAOS @ 20/1 £5 eachway (quarter-odds a place 1,2,3,4 with Bet365)

I am also putting
TOP NOTCH @ 16/1
and CAPTAIN CHAOS @ 20/1  in 3 x £1 eachway doubles and a £2 eachway treble
Good luck

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

Cheltenham 2019 - Day 2 (Wednesday 13th March)

What a day for the Blog!
The were 269 readers, quite a good tally, but no comments and no donations and yet WHAT ABOUT THE ADVICE?!?!
DUC DES GENEIVRES @ 13/2 never looked in any danger, wins by a street; 
and then
BEWARE THE BEAR, tipped-up on the blog on Sunday at 20/1, romps home. 

A few lads in the office joined me in combination doubles and trebles, and I'm sure there were a few of you out there who have been reading this blog for the past 9 years and know and appreciate the value of my racing experience and knowledge. It was a cracking start to the Festival, thanks for reading and it would be appreciated if you leave a comment.
It will be difficult to repeat yesterday's success, but I can only try my best - Good Luck.

Day 2 - Ballymore Novices Hurdle run over 2m5f run @ 1:30pm
Since 2001, 9 of the 17 winners won LTO.
The mean number of days since previous race (for the winner) is 52 days.
The last winner aged 7yo or older was French Holly in 1998 - stick to 6yo's and 5yo's. 
Possibly the best "novice" race of the season (chase or hurdle) and the horses that win this are seriously top-drawer and will usually already have won a graded hurdle. Most winners have their final prep run in February and a minimum break of 28-days is required coming into this race. Stick with the market leaders.

The "Ballymore" is the shop-window of future NH Champions. Whether CHAMP will make the grade is debateable as he would be the first 7yo to win since 1998. 
I also don't think BATTLEOVERDOYEN is good enough and he certainly lacks racing experience. CITY ISLAND is difficult to assess as winning at odds of 1/5 LTO suggests the test wasn't up to much. BREWIN'UPASTORM looked to be about to win the 2m4f Grade 2 hurdle here on Trial Day but clipped the final hurdle and went down.  Unless something comes out of the long-shots (doubtful) the race looks to be between CHAMP and BREWIN'UPASTORM and I favour the latter. 
Not a betting race for me as there are too many imponderables.

Day 2 - RSA Insurance Novices Chase run over 3-miles & 80 yards run at 2:10pm
Since 2001, 10 of the 17 winners won LTO.
The mean number of days since previous race (for the winner) is 31 days.
Only one recent winner (Don Poli in 2015) did not have their last prep race in mid-February. Horses that win this race generally have not been top-hurdlers as chasing is the game for which they have been aimed. Experience is the key and those starting chasing before 31st October is a good guide.

I thought last years field was strong, but this years looks even better! 
The 12 runners are headed by DELTA WORK, and he looks a worthy fav especially as he's proven at the trip and won over 3-miles at last years Festival. SANTINI looks light on experience with only 4 hurdle races and 2 chase runs, and he isn't good value in the betting. I prefer his stablemate ON THE BLIND SIDE who is also light on experience but has the benefit of a winning recent run. The most likely danger to the fav will be TOPOFTHEGAME, who like the fav, ran well over hurdles at last years festival when 2nd over 2m5f.  I'm expecting 3rd place to go to either MORTAL (who I hoped would have run in the 4-mile NH Chase on Tuesday) or MISTER MALARKY who could be one of those horses that never seems to give up.
The odds on DELTA WORK have drifted as his trainer Gordon Elliott has not had a good start to the Festival, and at 11/4 he is worth a wager as he ticks a lot of boxes. 
DELTA WORK, £10 @ 11/4 (available generally).

Day 2 - Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle run over 2m5f run at 2:50pm
Since 2001, 8 of the 17 winners won LTO.
The mean number of days since previous race (for the winner) is 50 days.
Don't overlook those running off a very long break, Aux Ptit Soins (2015) won off a 181 day break; Sky's The Limit (2006) won off 102 days; Naiad de Misselot (2008) won off 83 days; Ninetieth Minute (2009) off 80 days. Although the 2018 winner hadn't won a race that season, 14 of the last 16 winners had.  

You need a horse that has already won once this season and comes into this race off a good long break.
I can't have CANARDIER as he's been off the track too long at 138 days. Paul Nicholls has a good record in this race so BRIO CONTI is interesting, except he's a hold-up horse and on this tacky ground it is going to be difficult to get into the race from off the pace.  I'm not happy ERICK LE ROUGE is ridden by a 7lb claimer as this isn't a place to learn the ropes. VISION DES FLOS appears to be handicapped to the hilt off OR150. Both JOKE DANCER and ERAGON DE CHANAY look to not have enough pace for a race like this. However, HIGHEST SUN has been running in some decent races, and has improved with every run this season.  He is untried at this trip but he looks like he's capable of laying-off the leaders and coming with a run at the business end.
Other horses that have won this season (but are not LTO race winners) that we should consider are WICKLOW BRAVE who I feel he is a bit old now at 10yo, as is the 10yo MONBEG THEATRE.  BALLYANDY looks to be a bit high in the handicap at OR148, but he may be on the premises. One that jumps off the page is SCARPETA, who was 4th behind Samcro in the Ballymore last year. It looks like he has been aimed specifically at this race and his handicap rating of OR151 looks fair given the ability he has shown.
My 2 against the field are:
SCARPETA, £5 eachway @ 22/1 (Bet365, quarter-odds for 5 places)
HIGHEST SUN, £5 eachway @ 18/1 (Bet365, quarter-odds for 5 places)

Day 2 - Queen Mother Champion Chase run over 2-miles run at 3:30pm
Since 2001, 13 of the 17 winners won LTO.
The mean number of days since previous race (for the winner) is 49 days.
It will take a mighty horse to lower the colours of 2018 winner ALTIOR. This isn't a race in which to seek an outsider, stick to the market leaders which are already Grade 1 winners over this trip.

It is very difficult to envisage anything beating ALTIOR who seems to show just enough brilliance to win his races.  The Mullins trained MIN is a two-miler who would win 4 out of 5 Champion Chases, but he's been unfortunate to come up against a horse that is perhaps one of the best two-mile chasers that we've seen in modern days. The only horse that I may consider punting on is MIN but it is more in hope than certainty.
Another no-bet race for me.

At this point in the afternoon, I am leaving the office for the 3-hour drive to Cheltenham.  I have absolutely no interest at all in the Cross-Country Chase, and a race like the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle over 2-mile really should not be given house-room at the Cheltenham Festival, and while I think the "bumper" is a worthwhile race, finding the winner is not easy unless you are close to the winning stable.

Tuesday, 12 March 2019

Cheltenham 2019 - day 1 (Tuesday 12th March)

There has been no overnight rain, but there is a rainstorm over Cheltenham for a few hours before racing, so the ground could be softer than expected.  As such, I will be watcing the opening race to see what effect the weather has on the ground, even though I am expecting the 4yo FAKIR D'OUDAIRIES to win.
Remember, this is a 4-day Festival, keep to your staking plans, don't dwell on losses and bad luck, remain optimistic and enjoy yourself. BE LUCKY.

DAY 1 - Supreme Novice Hurdle over 2m & 87 yards run @ 1:30pm
Since 2001, 14 of the 17 winners won LTO.
The mean number of days since previous race (for the winner) is 39 days.
Since 2001; Labaik (2017) and Go Native (2009) won off a short 16-day break, and in all 12 of the 17 won off a break of 40 days or less - the others being Captain Cee Bee (2008) 115 days; Cinders And Ashes (2012) 52 days; Douvan (2015) 59 days; Altior (2016) 80 days, and Summerville Boy (2018) 66 days. 
On the day of the race it invariably pays to stick the the 1st-4 in the betting and that's the angle to play. The 2018 winner Summerville Boy was running in his 5th hurdle race, and that means that the last 10 winners have all had 4 or more hurdle races. 

The well-fancied ELIXIR DE NUTXZ is a non-runner (lame).
The race fav AL DANCER has the requisite 4 hurdle runs, unlike ANGELS BREATH (2 runs) and KLASSICAL DREAM (2 runs).  However, he has to concede 8lb to the 4yo FAKIR D'OUDAIRIES (4 runs) should he run in this race and not the Triumph Hurdle on Friday, and that looks too much to ask. GRAND SANCY is on the upgrade and there is not much between him and the 4/1 fav AL DANCER. 
At this stage of the older horses AL DANCER looks the one to beat, however with the 8lb 4yo allowance FAKIR D'OUDAIRIES (13/2 with Bet Victor) can win for the Irish.
A "no-bet" race for me.

Day 1 - Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices' Chase over 2-mile run @ 2:10pm
Since 2001, 13 of the 17 winners won LTO.
The mean number of days since previous race (for the winner) is 44 days.
Essentially you are looking for a high-class hurdler that runs a winning debut as a chaser with that debut coming before 7th December.  The 2018 winner Footpad had won a graded chase, and of the last 17 winners, 14 have won a graded chase before winning this - and there are not many such races for novice chasers. 

I am surprised that GLEN FORSA is as low 9/2 for this race, as he is - in my opinion - about a 145 chaser which is about 12lb below the level of usual "Arkle" winners. LALOR @ 6/1 did look interesting when winning his chase debut last year, but his run NTO at Sandown in December was very poor, and with no races since then he could be very ring-rusty on Tuesday, not one to take 4/1 about. Willie Mullins has not had much look with his 2-mile chasers, but his best representative is DUC DES GENIEVRES (13/2 generally) who looked much improved when winning LTO over 2m4f.  Do not underestimate this horse, he won LTO in a canter and in a quick time.  There has been a lot of good words recently for HARDLINE (5/1 generally) who comes from the Gordon Elliot stable and his form looks fair given he doesn't stay much beyond 2-mile. He was fortunate to beat Getabird at Limerick on 26Dec, as that rival made a bad blunder at the final fence when looking the winner, and he didn't have the stamina to compete with La Bague Au Roi over 2m5f at Leopardstown when he was last seen.
With doubts over the market leaders, what else is there in the race? PALOMA BLUE does not look good enough a chaser, and KALASHNIKOV needs to learn to jump a fence at speed. ORNUA was last seen (like LALOR) running at Sandown in December. The 9yo KNOCKNANUSS could have them all off-the-bridle and it's unfortunate that he fell when over in Ireland LTO.
About a week ago, I really fancied HARDLINE for this but, over the weekend, my opinion has favoured DUC DES GENIEVRES.
I've already placed £5 on HARDLINE @ 7/1 antepost
and will also have £10 on DUC DES GENIEVRES  @ 13/2 as I'm expecting him to win.

Day 1 - Ultima Handicap Chase run over 3m1f run @ 2:50pm
Since 2001, 8 of the 17 winners won LTO.
The mean number of days since previous race (for the winner) is 30 days - so it is imperative that your selection has had a good recent run. Since 2001, those that have won off the longest breaks were Joe's Edge (2007) off 114 days; Wichita Lineman (2009) 94 days; and Youllneverwalkalone (2003) 58 days - most winners had their "prep" race for this on the final Saturday in January.  
Look for a novice or 2nd-season chaser with less than 10 chase runs - you are trying to find a horse that is ahead of the handicapper. 9yo's plus are 2 wins from 102 in past 10 years; whereas 7yo & 8yo's are 7 wins from 100. 

The 2018 winner Coo Star Sivola ran off OR142 and only 2 of the last 11 winners have won from a rating under OR142. 

Always a very tricky to fathom as weight now appears to be no barrier to winning. Last years' winner COO STAR SIVOLA runs this year off only 3lb higher rating of OR145 but he does not come into the race on the same level of form as last year. I will be very surprised if current fav GIVE ME A COPPER wins as this will be only his 4th chase race. 

I posted an in-depth review of this race on Sunday afternoon, and my shortlist is:-
BEWARE THE BEAR @ 20/1: ran 4th in this race last year off OR150, races off OR151 and won LTO when in 1st-time blinkers he made all over 3m2f (6 of the last 7 winners of this race wore headgear) and with blinkers applied again, he can run a major race.
UP FOR REVIEW @ 14/1: Won a Grade 2 novice hurdle on 31Dec15, and was top-class novice hurdler in 2015-16. Injured for 2 years, was highly tried novice chaser last Spring (2018) and was only beaten by Grade 1 novice chasers at Fairyhouse last April. Off a long break, ran a great race to be 3rd in Thyestes Chase on 24Jan and looks on decent mark of OR148. 
OLDGRANGEWOOD @ 40/1: I did suggest this one on Sunday if the rain stayed away, but the soft ground has done for his chances. 
I've placed £10 win on all 3 on Sunday, but both UP FOR REVIEW (now 8/1) and BEWARE THE BEAR (now 9/1) have been gambled on so I cannot advise taking these reduced odds, but by all means take them if you are not already on.

Day 1 - Champion Hurdle over 2-mile & 87 yards run @ 3:30pm
Since 2001, 13 of the 17 winners won LTO.
The mean number of days since previous race (for the winner) is 49 days.
The best form for this race is usually the result of the previous year!  Ideally, you a looking for a horse that is already a Grade 1 winner over hurdles, and only one (Annie Power in 2016) winner had run in more than 11 hurdle races from the the last 12 renewals - so you do not want too many miles on the clock.

Is BUVEUR D'AIR (11/4 generally) about to become one of the all-time great hurdlers, or will we have another mare (with the 7lb mares' allowance) taking the title of Champion Hurdler? On the face of it, APPLE'S JADE (with 20 hurdle races on her CV) should win on known form, but have we yet seen BUVEUR D'AIR pushed to show his best? Regular readers will know that I've been on SHARJAH for a long time, mainly as I expect him to be the Mullins 1st-string and he could produce a turn-of-foot on the run-in that takes the race. We shall see. 
A "no-bet" race for me as I'm intending on laying-off my £20 on SHARJAH at some point as Ruby Walsh rides Laurina and the stable is not anticipating SHARJAH winning.
A "no-bet" race for me.

Day 1 - Mares' hurdle run over 2m4f run @ 4:10pm
Since 2001, 9 of the 11 winners won LTO (race was first run in 2008).
The mean number of days since previous race (for the winner) is 173 days, but this is distorted by 6-time winner Quevega who won 5 times off a break of over 300 days. Without Quevega, the mean number of days is 31 days. Personally, I think this race is increasing in quality. 

Ruby Walsh reckons BENIE DES DIEUX is his most likely winning ride and it's difficult tio imagine this mare being beaten.

Day 1 - Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase run over 2m4f &44 yards run @ 4:50pm
Since 2001, 8 of the 14 winners won LTO (race was first run in 2005).
The mean number of days since previous race (for the winner) is 33 days.
The 2018 winner Mister Whitaker was the 3rd winner in the last 6 years to come out of the Timeform Novice Chase run at Cheltenham on the last Saturday in January. 
This is a tightly-handicapped novice chase with only 9lb covering the field. You need an improving horse that won LTO - note that 7 of the last 10 winners WON LTO.

Always a very competitive race, I managed to find the winner last year, can I do it again?
Of the LTO winners, MILITARIAN with 10 runs is too exposed, ditto WALT (11 runs).  THE RUSSIAN DOYEN may be best at 2-mile, but ROARING BULL ticks all the boxes, as does RIDERS ONTHE STORM. There is probably not much improvement left in 9yo HUNTSMAN SON. The 6yo QUAMINO has a great race profile but will he stay? LOUGH DERG SPIRIT looks the best of the home team, or is he? I was at Cheltenham when HIGHWAY ONE O ONE was 2nd in the Timeform Novice Chase and a similar run here will see him on the premises. He is best-priced at 12/1 and is well worth an each way wager..

Day 1 - National Hunt Challenge Cup (amateur riders) Novices' Chase run over 4-mile
Since 2001, 6 of the 17 winners won LTO.
The mean number of days since previous race (for the winner) is 46 days.
In recent years, the official ratings has been the best guide, and 2 of the top-3 rated in 2018 finished 1st & 2nd (the other fell). Due to the 4-mile trip, chasing experience is a good guide to a horses chance, and 2018 winner Rathvinden was having his 11th chase race, and the 2nd Ms Parfois was having her 6th chase race.  One of the best betting races of the Festival once you know what is running at the 48hr declaration. 

In recent years this race has been the most significant staying novice chase at the Festival, much more influential than the RSA Novice Chase. The best horse on official ratings if OK CORRAL on OR153, but I feel this rating is inflated. Next best is BALLYWARD and for his last race, he won off a super confident ride by Ruby Walsh. A faller at the final fence that day was DISCORAMA and he was under a hard drive from a long way out, and I can't see him beating BALLYWARD. None of the 1st-3 in the betting have had more than 3 chase races, but IMPULSIVE STAR was 4th in this race last year and has shown himself to be an improved horse this year, He can be in the 1st-3 and is an eachway wager at 12/1. LE BREUIL has the best amateur in the business in the saddle in JJ Codd, but I can't see that advantage getting him home first.  Of the others, if JERRYSBACK can last out this trip he could be in the picture, and ATLANTA ABLAZE has the 7lb mares' allowance so she is effectively on 150 and she stays well. And I am surprised that CHEF DEC OBEAUX has not more support as he stays well and seems to have learnt to jump a fence.  For me, this is all about BALLYWARD and odds of 11/4 look decent. 

Advised Wagers:
2:10 - DUC DES GENIEVRES £10 win @ 13/2
4:50 - HIGHWAY ONE O ONE £5 eachway @ 12/1
5:30 - BALLYWARD - £10 win @ 11/4