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advising selections on which to wager, since March 2010.

Thursday, 17 January 2019

Cheltenham Festival Portfolio Update

My Cheltenham portfolio so far:
Cheltenham Gold Cup
CLAN DES OBEAUX, £12 win @ 12/1
Ryanair Chase
POLITOLOGUE, £38 win @ 14/1 (average odds - current intention is to lay-off £28 at SP on the day)
POLITOLOGUE, £5 place @ 12/1
Champion Hurdle
SHARJAH, £20 win @ 12/1 (current intention is to lay-off £10 at SP on the day)

Following on from last weekend's racing and watching Top Notch out-stay Charbel over the 2m5f trip at Ascot, I've increased my wager on Politologue for the Ryanair Chase.  I've followed Top Notch since he ran in the JLT Novices Chase at the 2017 Festival (when he was 2nd to Yorkhill), and while he is a very capable chaser, but is he another who is possibly just below the very top-class
Back in 4th in that 2017 JLT Chase was Politologue, and he ran well that day but wasn't good enough. Right now, I'm wondering if I should be on Top Notch, as he certainly came up the hill chasing Yorkill best of all, but all his best efforts have been in races of 7 or less runners and I am expecting a field of over 10 to line-up for the Ryanair Chase in March
The current antepost fav for the Ryanair Chase is Min, however Politologue beat Min over 2m4f at Aintree last April and while Min is effective at that trip whether he can stay the 2m5f of the Ryanair Chase is debatable. I am fairly certain that Politologue will stay the 2m5f trip, my doubt with him is Cheltenham and whether he is truly "at-home" on the track; but he is certainly a better horse now than he was 2 years ago, whereas I feel Top Notch hasn't improved. he just wins when he gets his optimum conditions.
With the weather as it is making the ground too "quick" for Waiting Patiently to risk a run, I'm not expecting the horse to line-up at Cheltenham. If he does, then Waiting Patiently will start the fav, but let's see if connections are brave enough. It seems that Footpad isn't as good as we thought he was last season when he won the Arkle (but then he had very little to beat), but he still needs to show improved form for a step-up in trip from 2-mile if he's to win the Ryanair Chase. While Monalee won the "Flogas" Chase over 2m5f last February as a novice, he's shown much better form than that over 3-miles and he looks a horse that is just below top-level; and Un De Sceaux wasn't good enough to win last year.
An interesting contender would be the mare Shattered Love who won the JLT Novice Chase over 2m4f last year and I could see her going really well in the Ryanair Chase, but connections have confirmed today that the aim is to go straight for the Gold Cup, which I feel is a bit strange as she's not shown that she's good enough.
I think the winner of the Ryanair Chase will be one of either Min; Top Notch; Waiting Patiently; or Politologue and at this moment I'm happy with Politologue, but since the weekend he's taken a walk in the betting on the exchanges.

Tuesday, 15 January 2019

The Cheltenham Festival Novice Chases

My Cheltenham portfolio so far:
Cheltenham Gold Cup
CLAN DES OBEAUX, £12 win @ 12/1
Ryanair Chase
After Top Notch won at Kempton, I added another £20 to my stake on Politologue
POLITOLOGUE, £30 win @ 13/1 (average odds - current intention is to lay-off £20 at SP on the day)
Champion Hurdle
SHARJAH, £20 win @ 10/1 (current intention is to lay-off £10 at SP on the day)

This blog focuses on the four novice chases: the Arkle (2-miles), the JLT Novice Chase (2m4f); the RSA Chase (3-miles); and the National hunt Chase (4-miles).

In my opinion, it is important to look at four races together from an antepost point of view, as we have to establish were the horses are most likely to be aimed as many of the top-class novice chasers will hold multiple entries.
The market leaders in the Arkle – Lalor @ 6/1 and Kalashnikov @ 7/1 – are also both strong in the JLT Chase market at 12/1 and 14/1 respectively. For me, the best novice chase form over 2-miles that we’ve seen this season is from Dynamite Dollars when winning the “Wayward Lad” Chase at Kempton on 27Dec when he gave 5lb and a beating to Kalashnikov.  It was considered Kalashnikov ran below form that day, but prior to this he had won a couple of facile races and so, when push came to shove, he was exposed.  If he’s going to justify his position in the market, Kalashnikov will need to show better form soon.  The worry about Dynamite Dollars is that he wasn’t a top hurdler, he’s only rated OR132 in that sphere. Prior to winning on 27Dec, Dynamite Dollars was comprehensively beaten be Lalor on 18Nov at Cheltenham and it is the potential for further improvement on that run which propels Lalor to the head of the Arkle betting.
A horse than wasn’t lacking speed as a hurdler was Defi Du Seuil, who was rated OR157. If you forget his debut chase, he has run a couple of cracking races, LTO just failing to concede 3lb to Lostintranslation over 2m4f & 110 yards at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day which I rate the best novice chase performance seen so far this season. Defi Du Seuil should be the current fav for the Arkle in my opinion.
Personally, I’d like to see Lostintranslation run over 3-mile as I think he looks a potential winner of the RSA Chase, being a top novice hurdler rated OR149 when running his best race over 2m4f. He certainly lost nothing in defeat when trying to concede 7lb to the talented mare La Bague Au Roi on his chasing debut over 2m6f.
Based on her win in the “Kauto Star” Novices Chase over 3-mile at Kempton on Boxing Day, the mare La Bague Au Roi is going to take some beating with the advantage of the 7lb mares’ allowance.  However, I think her best chance is going to be in the 2m4f JLT Novice Chase, as her development appears to have stalled and a rating of OR146 wasn’t good enough for the mare Ma Parfois to win at either Cheltenham or Aintree last season, and the JLT is the weakest of the novice chase championship races. However, connections are stating their intention to miss Cheltenham and go straight to Aintree instead.
In 2nd place at Kempton on Boxing Day was Topofthegame, and you could see the notable difference in stature between the horses. Kempton played to the strengths of the mare, and the 3-mile of the RSA Chase at Cheltenham looks right up his street. The disappointment of the race (although there can only be one winner) was Santini in 3rd as he never looked happy going right-handed round Kempton. He is another who will be seen to his best at Cheltenham, although he could well have another run left-handed at somewhere like Newbury before then, and the potential remains that he’s capable of a 160+ performance.
Over in Ireland, we’ve seen a handful of top-class novice chase performances, and the best there (according to the betting markets) is Delta Work, trained by Gordon Elliott.  So far unbeaten in 3 chases, this winner of the 3-mile Pertemps “Final” handicap hurdle at last years Festival has gone from strength to strength this season.  
After winning his chase debut, Delta Work beat the highly rated Le Richebourg over 2m4f at Fairyhouse on 02Dec; and this looked a top-class display. Delta Work then went to Leopardstown and stepped-up to a 3-mile trip for a Grade 1 novice chase on 29Dec. Personally, I wasn’t as impressed with this performance as I was with the Leopardstown run as although he won, he looked like being beaten on the run to the last by the year-older Mortal. 
Unfortunately, Mortal was asked for a big jump at the final fence, when he may not have needed it, and met it wrong, nearly losing his rider as well as all chance in the race. 
Both Mortal and Le Richebourg are trained by JP O’Brien and this young trainer has made rapid progress in his short career out of the saddle.  While I cannot know for sure, I feel positive that were Mortal and Delta Work to meet again over 3-mile, that Mortal would finish in front.

From what I have seen so far; if I was going to have a wager it would be on:-
Arkle Chase (2-mile)
Defi Du Seuil @ 12/1 (available generally) a top-class hurdler and now a very capable chaser, he didn’t stay 2m4f against one of the best novices we’ve seen this season, but that was no disgrace. Lalor still needs to prove himself worthy of being the market leader, and Dynamite Dollars was not good enough as a hurdler.

JLT Chase (2m4f)
Le Richebourg @ 14/1 (Paddy Power) does not look quick enough to win an Arkle, but he does have a combination of speed and stamina that could see him be a real contender in this race, and with the mare La Bague Au Roi likely to miss Cheltenham and go to Aintree, the main rival at this stage is out of the way.

RSA Chase (3-miles)
This race looks wide open with about 5lb covering all the main contenders so far, and with the Irish having a good record in this race then we may see something emerge from there.  If push came to shove, I’d likely split my stake between Topofthegame @ 8/1 and Santini @ 3/1; but I do think the best chance of a home victory in this race lies with Lostintranslation who may be untried at the 3-mile trip but is worth taking a chance on with the 20/1 offered by Corals.

National Hunt Chase (4-miles)
This race has developed in recent years into the top staying novice chase and so far the one horse that looks the most exciting to me is Mortal @ 20/1 with Bet365. Had he not made his final fence error LTO I think he would be trading at under 10/1.

Don't forget to take a look at my review of my post-Festival review of last season's Cheltenham Festival (see pages on the right) as this includes valuable insights into the trends of the likely winners.

Finally, last Saturdays selections didn't run anywhere near as well as expected; not a winner amongst them.  Charbel ran just about to form and that puts Top Notch at 163 on my ratings; about 5lb behind Politologue. It would seem that Charbel does not stay a yard further than 2m4f at this level.
It looked like one visit to the well too many for Cogry as his run petered-out with over a mile to go.  The winner certainly stays well and he should win other marathon races in the next 12 months, but for the big one at Aintree in April, Calett Mad looks worth keeping an eye on.

Thursday, 10 January 2019

Saturday's Warwick Classic (handicap) Chase

An update on my blog from earlier in the week (see below).  
It is disappointing Waiting Patiently is not running today as that just leaves the 2m5f chase at Ascot next month to get him race-fit for Cheltenham.  Right now, I think CHARBEL should win this afternoon as Top Notch has always failed when racing against the very best. 
I'm happy having recommended COGRY earlier in the week (see below) and I hope you took the 8/1 or 9/1 available then (Thursday) as he's the clear 6/1 fav now.  It should be a good race.
Later in the afternoon at Kempton in the 3:15pm 3-mile handicap chase I am really surprised that BARNEY DWAN is not the fav.  We know he stays the trip and handles the ground, and on his day he is better than his OR141 rating. We don't know if Glen Rocco can stay this trip, and Ballykan is well exposed. Josses Hill has never looked a 3-mile chaser and the other 3 runners have something to prove.  For me, the odds of 7/2 (Bet365 & BetVictor) are very generous as I think he's more like a 9/4 chance. 
There are small fields everywhere and odds do not hold much scope for value, but I do think TREE OF LIBERTY should be the 5/4 fav at Wetherby in the 2-mile chase at 2:15pm.  He will take them along at a good clip and has that touch of class about him, so current odds of 9/4 should be taken.

I am researching the novice chases at the Cheltenham Festival, and I will be posting a blog tomorrow (or maybe Monday) and I am fairly sure I have found some tremendous value.

My Cheltenham portfolio is starting to take shape:
Cheltenham Gold Cup
CLAN DES OBEAUX, £12 win @ 12/1
Ryanair Chase
POLITOLOGUE, £10 win @ 12/1
Champion Hurdle
SHARJAH, £20 win @ 10/1 (current intention is to lay-off £10 at SP on the day)

This Saturday, the 32Red Chase is being run over 2m4f & 110 yards, and this race will likely have a significant effect on the betting market for the Ryanair Chase. Waiting Patiently (OR170) is currently available at 5/2 which - considering his closest rivals on ratings are Charbel (OR162), Top Notch (OR162) and Black Corton (OR155) – suggests there is some value available. The 11yo Hammersly Lake has a rating of OR157 but his best form is usually shown between June-September.
With all 4 of the main contenders race-fit and proven to act on a right-handed track, over the trip and able to handle the likely "good" ground (though it is possibly a bit too quick for Waiting Patiently and Top Notch), the form of this race should be strong. I thought that WAITING PATIENTLY would be the 6/4 fav for this race, as he is about 8lb better than his rivals on official ratings and on my own ratings.  The only issue is the ground, as he should be fit enough having run at championship pace for half the race in the 3-mile King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.  This looks a significant wagering opportunity at the current odds of 5/2.
At Warwick on Saturday, there is the 3m5f "Classic" handicap Chase.  The ground there is also "good" and I think this unusually quick ground for the winter months will have a significant effect on preparations for the Cheltenham Festival – remember, last year's festival was run on soft/heavy ground.  The 9yo Step Back will find this trip more to his liking than the 3-miles he ran over at Chepstow back in October, but whether he can win this off OR149 is debateable as he won the 3m5f Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown last April off OR135. I also think it is asking a lot to expect Un Temps Pour Tout to win this off OR158; yes, I know he held on to win the Ultima Handicap Chase on the opening day at last years' Cheltenham Festival off OR155 but that was over 3m1f.
There's no way I can consider Sizing Codelco off a 252-day break as he always needs a run; but it's interesting that his trainer Tizzard has booked Richard Johnson for stablemate Ultragold. The OR148 rating is a bit steep, but he's a bold front-runner and if he can last out the trip (usually seen over 2m5f, but ran well to be 3rd at Aintree LTO over 3m2f) he can sneak a place.
This race looks too much for Ibis Du Rheu as he's not convinced me yet that he's as good a chaser as he was a hurdler, nor does he suggest being able to stay this trip.
Not so the 7yo Calett Mad, he certainly stays this far and was unfortunate not to win at Kelso over an extended 4-mile LTO. He is improving with every run and looks a very capable horse, and I would much rather take the 7/1 offered about him than the same odds for Ibis du Rheu.
The 11yo Chase The Spud has seen better days, and would need to be near his peak to win this off OR143. However, the 10yo Cogry surprised a few punters, including me, when winning LTO over 3m2f at Cheltenham, and as he's run 2nd in the 4-mile Scottish Grand National on "good" ground (April 2017) this trip is well within his scope: at 9/1 (Bet365) he is one to consider.
Milansbar won this race last year off OR134 and while he subsequently ran 2nd in the Midlands National over 4m2f at Uttoxeter, both races were run on soft/heavy ground and I fear that the "good" ground at Warwick will be too lively for him.
Carole's Destrier bounced back to form LTO with a win over 3m2f at Newbury, the same C&D as when he was 2nd in the Hennessy (now Ladbrokes Trophy) Gold Cup in 2016. Unfortunately, he's never been the most consistent horse and it would be no surprise if he ran a stinker on Saturday.
Duel At Dawn is a very lightly-raced 9yo, this will be only his 12th race under rules. He was 2nd at this meeting last year when unable to concede 2lb to the talented mare Ms Parfois, and before that he was 2nd to Sizing Tennessee having been unable to concede the subsequent Ladbroke Trophy winner 5lb. He lost nothing when pulling-up in the 4mile NH Chase at the Festival (with Ms Parfois in 2nd and Sizing Tennessee in 3rd), and in his return to racing on 22nd December at Haydock he ran well for a long time disputing the lead until fitness took its toll. Unfortunately, I have missed the early 10/1 and he's best priced at 8/1 with William Hill (15/2 elsewhere); he looks primed to run well in this as the ground will be perfect for him.    
Crosspark did not stay the trip in this race last year, when running off OR136 and although he won over 3m2f at Uttoxeter in November that was off OR124 (he runs off OR135 on Saturday).  His limitations were exposed in the Rowland Meyrick (handicap) chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day over 3-miles, and I can't see him doing well in this.
Finally, Impulsive Star was 4th in the 4-mile NH Chase at the Festival last March finishing 2-lengths behind Sizing Tennessee, and that was fair form. In his only run since, he was 2nd at Plumpton staying-on well over the final half-mile to push the talented winner OK Corral. It was a slow time, but he remains a horse of potential (he's another 9yo having only his 2th race under rules) as he won a competitive handicap hurdle over 2m7f at Exeter in Feb2017. However, all his best form is in soft/heavy ground and he may need to wait for some rain.

All-in-all a tricky race to fathom, my shortlist is Calett Mad, Cogry and Duel At Dawn and COGRY is certainly in the form of his life - I'd take any odds longer than 8/1 about him.

Tuesday, 8 January 2019

Champion Hurdle market leaders

My early review of the Cheltenham Festival races continues.
The intention is to put together a portfolio of selections that will (hopefully) find the value in the antepost markets.
As with all the races at the Cheltenham Festival, the key to antepost wagers is to try and work out which horses will line-up at the start, and which horses have other targets.
So far, I have looked at the 
Cheltenham Gold Cup and taken £10 win at 12/1 about CLAN DES OBEAUX, 
and the 
Ryanair Chase and taken £10 win at 12/1 about POLITOLOGUE 
Both horses are trained by Paul Nicholls.
Yesterday, we learned that Waiting Patiently – who beat Politologue when they met as novice chasers at Haydock in January 2017 running over 2m4f – will now be aimed at the Ryanair Chase over 2m5f, and not the Gold Cup over 3m2f.  We shall see how much of a chance he has in the Ryanair Chase should he run this Saturday at Kempton over an extended 2m4f. Connections have always required plenty of “give” in the racing surface for this horse, who has only had 4 runs since that win at Haydock in January 2017, and the ground at Cheltenham in March may well be too quick for the horse to show his best, or even take part.   Waiting Patiently (OR170) will certainly have a test on Saturday as the field includes Charbel (OR162), Top Notch (OR162) and Black Corton (OR155); but if he’s fit enough (and he should be) then he should win easily. 

REMEMBER: Always rate the performance, NOT the race.

The Champion Hurdle run over 2m1f on the opening day of the Festival is usually a good betting race as the form is invariably solid and 5 of the last 8 runnings have been won by the favourite. 
Buveur D’Air has won the race for the last 2 years and endeavours to join the all-time greats by winning for a 3rd time this March. However, he will have to run a lot better than he did on Boxing Day when he was beaten in the Christmas Hurdle by stablemate Verdana Blue. Horses do not suddenly find 10lb of improvement unless tried for the first time over a completely new trip or on radically different ground; as such, I can’t have it that Verdana Blue went from being a mid-140’s handicapper in November to a high 150’s Grade 1 hurdler in December.  Last year, after Buveur D’Air won the Champion Hurdle in March, I rated that winning performance on heavy ground at 158.  Next-time-out he won the “Fighting Fifth” hurdle at Newcastle on 1st December, but the form of that race looks poor now as Samcro has obviously not trained-on, Vision Des Flo is probably no better than OR150, and Summerville Boy seems to have lost the plot. 
I’ve rated the performance of Verdana Blue on Boxing Day at 150, which puts Buveur D’Air on 157 (close to his Champion Hurdle rating of 158), and if Samcro ran to 150 in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle (which seems likely based on his run NTO in Ireland) then Buveur D’Air ran no better than 160 that day at Newcastle.
The Ryanair Hurdle run at Leopardstown on 29th December could be a decent pointer to the future winner of the Champion Hurdle. The race was won by Sharjah (trained by Mullins) who was well beaten into 8th in the Supreme Novices Hurdle last year, but then showed his potential when winning the Galway Hurdle, making-all, off OR146 (and he carried 11st 7lb – the heaviest weight carried to victory in the race since Quinze with 11st 12lb in 1999; and Sharjah was also, at 5yo, the youngest horse to win since Cuan Na Grai in 2006).  
Sharjah comprehensively beat the OR164 rated Supasundae into 2nd (he was also 2nd in 2017 to Apple’s Jade) and the only doubt over the form is that Tombstone in 3rd (beaten 5½ lengths) is no better than 150. As such, I’d rate this performance as no worse than 160, and considering the 6yo SHARJAH is on the upgrade I’m of the opinion that he should be the market leader for the Champion Hurdle, especially as his stablemate Melon (2nd to Buveur D’Air in the 2018 Champion Hurdle) appears to have stopped improving at around 160.  
The tricky part of the formbook is rating the performance of the mares in the race, as they are in-receipt of a 7lb allowance. I don’t think we will see Apple’s Jade running in the Champion Hurdle as the 3-mile Stayers’ Hurdle looks more preferable; and the Henderson-trained pair of Apple’s Shakira and Verdana Blue don’t look good enough even with the mares’ allowance. Laurina is the one we have to get a handle on, and such is her superiority over her gender rivals at 2-miles we can only speculate on the level of her ability.  Personally, based on her speed figure of 126 when winning the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham over 2m1f last March, and comparing that with the figures recorded by Verdana Blue (not entirely accurate but, hopefully, a good guide) then I would rate her at about 150, maybe 152 but no higher.  Unless she finds another 5lb (at least) she will need every ounce of her 7lb allowance to take the Champion Hurdle.
On that basis, I’m taking the 10/1 available (Ladbrokes, Bet Victor and William Hill) on SHARJAH for the Champion Hurdle, as I think the horse should be half those odds. 
Champion Hurdle: SHARJAH - £20 win @ 10/1 

The opening race of the Festival, the Supreme Novices Hurdle run over 2-mile & 87 yards, has been won for the last 10 years by horses that have run in 4 or more hurdle races, and 14 of the last 17 winners won their previous race (won last-time-out, LTO).
This isn’t good news for the current fav Angels Breath as he has only run in one hurdle race (which he won). His stablemate Champ looks a better prospect right now, although his age (he’s a 7yo) may be against him as he may not have too much improvement left in him. Personally, I doubt he’s worthy of his OR150 hurdle rating, and I prefer the horse he beat into 2nd in the Challow Hurdle on 29th December, Getaway Trump trained by Paul Nicholls, as he does not yet appear to have stopped improving. I was not overly impressed with the win of Elixir De Nutz at Sandown on Saturday 5th January, as he was clearly superior to his rivals and was not overly stretched; I like to see horses pushed as now we think he has potential improvement in him, but he may not.
The current leading Irish challenger is Quick Grabim, but he’s also a 7yo (the last 7yo to win this was Captain Cee Bee in 2008) and his last race is difficult to rate (only 4 rivals) and I prefer his stablemate Aramon who has improved with every run since joining the Mullins yard from Germany last July; he looks an exciting prospect. With Ireland providing 7 of the last 11 winners of this race, you have to give strong consideration to the Irish challenge.
Al Dancer won a 2m1f Class 3 handicap in mid-December, but his trainer (Nigel Twiston-Davies) thinks his best trip will be over 2m4f and it’s possible that he just stayed-on better than his rivals.  
It’s early days yet for this race, and we will likely see some more formlines appear in the next few weeks

Friday, 4 January 2019

My thoughts on the Ryanair Chase

Over the next couple of months, I'm taking a back-step from the day-to-day search for winners, and focusing in-depth on the Cheltenham Festival in March.  This is something that I have considered doing for the past couple of years but never come around to getting started until the eve of the Festival itself. 
I've been looking for a way of invigorating my love of horseracing and stimulating the brain-cells. So I will be looking at all of the major Championship races 1-by-1 researching the form of the likely runners, establishing the targets of the trainers, eliminating the "false" favourites that the bookies put up to whittle away at you cash, and (hopefully) finding some nuggets of information that allow readers to "bet like a professional!"
As with all the races at the Cheltenham Festival, prior to unilateral adoption of "non-runner, no bet" by the bookies, the key to antepost wagers is to try and work out which horses will line-up at the start, and which horses have other targets. There are some bookies going "non-runner, no bet" (Bet365, Paddy Power, and Skybet) but the odds they are offering are not the best.

The Ryanair Chase is one of the Festival races that I try and crack every year, but I’ve only once been successful and that was with Cue Card back in 2013.
This year, the race looks wide open and I think I’ve found some cracking value.
The market is currently headed by Road To Respect (OR169) at 5/1. I’ve already researched this horse with regards the Gold Cup (see yesterday's blog), and I struggle to see how Road To Respect has a rating of OR169 given how comprehensively he was beaten last March in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (won by Native River) and he was well beaten again, the following month, in the Punchestown Gold Cup.  That latter race was won by Bellshill, who previously had come only 5th of 8 finishers in a very scrappy running of the Irish Grand National; and based on those results I’d rate Road To Respect closer to 160 than 170. Admittedly, he won the Grade 3 handicap chase over this 2m5f trip at the 2017 Festival (Baron Alco was 2nd) and that was fair form, but I really can’t see him winning the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase.
Next in the betting is Min @ 7/1, but this horse is almost certain to go for the QM Champion Chase rather than the Ryanair.  Sure, he won a Grade 1 Chase over 2m4f in December but I’m not sure about that form as 3 of his 4 rivals were totally outclassed, and the other one (last year’s Ryanair Chase winner Balko Des Flos) is another horse more highly rated (in my opinion) than his form deserves.
Balko Des Flos may have exposed the stamina limitations of Un De Sceaux when winning the Ryanair last March, but he’s not really a Grade 1 chaser as he himself has been so readily beaten since then. Remember, both Min and Balko De Flos were beaten – outstayed – by Politologue at Aintree last April over 2m4f.
Since then, Politologue has given Charbel 6lb and a beating at Ascot in November, and then only lacked stamina to be involved in the finish of the King George VI Chase over 3-mile at Kempton on Boxing Day.  The Ryanair Chase looks ready-made for Politolgue, who was 4th over an inadequate 2-mile behind Altior in the QM Champion Chase at last year’s Festival.  
In my opinion, POLITOLOGUE and Waiting Patiently are the only horse’s in this race that look to be capable of a 170+ performance over this 2m5f trip (Altior will almost certainly go for the QMCC again).
For some reason, Thistlecrack is next in the betting, but I will be mighty surprised if he goes for this instead of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
On the 1st November, I would have considered Footpad as my idea of the Ryanair winner, but being beaten by Simply Ned (who is 5-years older than Footpad) on 27th December suggests that perhaps the younger horse isn’t as good over as we thought. He clearly isn’t a potential QMCC winner and it is possible that Mullins still feels irked at taking the Ryanair with Vautour in 2016 when his stablemate Djakadam wasn't good enough to win the Gold Cup.  I’ve a sneaky feeling we will see Footpad line-up in the Gold Cup and not the Ryanair Chase.
As per my Gold Cup assessment, Monalee is a model of consistency and I reckon the handicapper has this horse just about spot on at OR159; but he is a tad one-paced and may come to the fore when tried over marathon trips and 2m5f may expose his limitations.
Connections of Waiting Patiently are apparently intent on sending their horse for the Gold Cup, but whether he will take that race or this are up in the air.  He is a quality racehorse over this trip, but I’d like to see him race again. That could be the Grade 1 Ascot Chase over 2m5f which he won last February, or he may chance a match with Native River over the 3-miles of the "Denman" at Newbury.
Frodon was the first horse beaten (after Cue Card pulled-up injured) in the Ryanair Chase last year, and while he is exceptional over this course and trip, his form usually tails-off in the Spring.  
Al Boum Photo who fell in the RSA Chase when looking like he was going to finish 2nd, subsequently won over 2m4f at Fairyhouse. He has also run his seasonal debut in the past fortnight, winning over 2m5f at Tramore in Ireland beating stable companions Total Recall in 2nd and Invitation Only into 3rd. While the performance looked impressive, as an indication of his Festival potential it was inconclusive: Why?  For Total Recall (who won the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury on 02Dec2017) the 2m4f trip was wholly inadequate, and Invitation Only was clearly in need of the race. Unless he improves about 10lb, Al Boum Photo just does not look good enough to win.

In my opinion, the likely starters for the Ryanair Chase are:
Road to Respect (OR169) - my rating 161
Balko Des Flos (OR164) - my rating 163
Footpad (OR166) – my rating 164 (Mullins will likely decide closer to the Festival)
Frodon (OR169) – my rating 167
Politologue (OR168) – my rating 167(P)
Al Boum Photo (OR159) – my rating 163
Top Notch (OR162) – my rating 161
Charbel (OR162) – my rating 160
God’s Own (OR159) – my rating 160

Dependent on his next run Waiting Patiently (OR170) – my rating 168 – will go for either the Gold Cup or the Ryanair.

I’ve taken the current 12/1 (William Hill) about POLITOLOGUE for this race, and there is 10/1 available with Ladbrokes and BetVictor. If he goes for the Grade 1 Ascot Chase over 2m5f run in February and wins that (as I expect he will) then he will start the fav for the Ryanair Chase.

Thursday, 3 January 2019

Thoughts on the Cheltenham Gold Cup

A brand new year and – with the results of the Grade 1 races over Christmas and the New Year -  a changing of the guard! 
Boxing Day was eagerly awaited by all true horseracing fans, and the King George VI Chase at Kempton looked a mouth-watering spectacle on paper with last year's (2017) winner Might Bite, plus the winner in 2016 Thistlecrack, and the latest winner of the Cheltenham Gold Cup, Native River. Add the two-time winner of the Betfair Chase, Bristol De Mai and we were certainly looking at the best quality renewal of recent years. As we now know, the 6yo CLAN DES OBEAUX won in a very convincing manner, with the best-placed of the older brigade being Thistlecrack in 2nd.  I rated the performance at 167 which is amongst the best staying performance we've seen in the past 2 seasons (by my own ratings, not based on the opinions of others).  My ratings top-10 (since 25th December 2016)
1.      Native River                             169 when 1st in the 2018 Cheltenham Gold Cup
2.      Native River                             169 when 1st in the Welsh National (27Dec2016)
3.      Sizing John                               168 when 1st in the 2017 Cheltenham Gold Cup
4.      Clan Des Obeaux                      167 when 1st in King George VI Chase (26Dec2018)
5.      Might Bite                                167 when 1st in Aintree Betway Bowl (12Apr2018)
6.      Thistlecrack                              167 when 1st in King George VI Chase (26Dec2016)
7.   Definitly Red                            167 when 1st in Cotswold Chase (27Jan2018) 
8.      Bristol De Mai                          166 when 1st in Betfair Chase (24Nov2018)
9.      Native River                             165 when 1st in Denman Chase (10Feb2018)
      = Many Clouds                            165 when 1st in Cotswold Chase (28Jan2017)
   = Sizing John                               165 when 1st in the Punchestown Gold Cup (26Apr2017) 
   = Kemboy                                    165 when 1st in the Leopardstown Savills Chase (28Dec2018)

On 28th December in Ireland, Kemboy won the Grade 1 Savills Chase at Leopardstown beating a fairly ordinary bunch of rivals headed by Road To Respect (OR169). Personally, I struggle to see how Road To Respect has a rating of OR169 given how comprehensively he was beaten last March in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (won by Native River) and he was well beaten again, the following month, in the Punchestown Gold Cup.  The Punchestown Gold Cup was won by Bellshill, who previously had come 5th of only 8 finishers in a very scrappy running of the Irish Grand National; based on those results I'd rate Road To Respect closer to 160 than 170 especially as he failed to hold onto 2nd in the closing stages here on 28th December. 
Taking 2nd place (behind Kemboy) was Monalee and this horse is a model of consistency; as such, I reckon the handicapper has him just about spot on at OR159. Via Monalee, I rated the winning performance of Kemboy at 165: however, as he has won both of his completed races over a trip of at least 3-miles (he fell at the 1st-fence in the 2018 Irish National), he does have a lot of potential at staying trips.  
What of the others in the Cheltenham Gold Cup picture?
Presenting Percy certainly won the RSA (Novices) Chase last March in the manner of a potential future Gold Cup winner, but we've not seen him on a racecourse since. The form of the RSA Chase stacks-up well, as Monalee (in 2nd) has maintained his consistency, but Monalee is a tad one-paced and may come to the fore when tried over marathon trips.  Elegant Escape (3rd in the RSA) has since won the Welsh National off OR151.  
Al Boum Photo who fell in the RSA Chase when looking like finishing 2nd, subsequently won over 2m4f at Fairyhouse, and then looked like winning the Champion Novice Chase over an extended 3-mile at Punchestown in April (Monalee had fallen 3-out) when running-out at the last fence! Had Al Boum Photo won that race his performance would have rated about 160+, which is about 4lb behind Presenting Percy.  Al Boum Photo has also run is seasonal debut in the past fortnight, winning over 2m5f at Tramore in Ireland beating stable companions Total Recall in 2nd and Invitation Only into 3rd.  While the performance looked impressive, as an indication of his Cheltenham Gold Cup potential is was inconclusive to me: for Total Recall (who won the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury on 02Dec2017) this was a wholly inadequate trip, and Invitation Only was clearly in need of the race. For me, Al Boum Photo holds a better chance in the 2m5f Ryanair Chase rather than the 3m2f Gold Cup, but (even so) he just does not look good enough to win either race.
Given the way the form has worked out so far this season, if Presenting Percy returns in the form he was in last March when winning the RSA Novices Chase over 3-mile then he should be amongst the market leaders; but right now, for me, that is a big "if".  Possible chase targets between now and March are think on the ground, and it would not surprise me if connections sent him hurdling around Gowran Park, which is what he did last season prior to racing at the Cheltenham Festival, and such tactics would not inspire me with confidence.
Readers of the blog know that I'm on CLAN DES OBEAUX already, as I took the 12/1 that was on offer after he won the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day. There is plenty of 8/1 still available and those odds look more than fair to me. Kemboy is a general 7/1 chance, but I feel he's still a bit short on the strength of form to merit those odds and I'd have him more of a 12/1 chance.
Last March, I was on NATIVE RIVER at 5/1 when he won the Gold Cup, and his performance at Haydock in November behind Bristol De Mai looked very encouraging.  I am prepared to overlook his run at Kempton as he did not look happy on the right-handed track but still managed to come home in 3rd place.  I would expect Native River to beat his stablemate Thistlecrack in the Gold Cup this March, but whether he can make up the difference and beat CLAN DES OBEAUX is another question.  What I would say is that if Native River wins the Denman Chase in February at Newbury (a race he won prior to winning the Gold Cup last March) then he will surely start the fav on Gold Cup day.
The only other horse I'm considering is DEFINITLY RED; who beat Bristol De Mai into 3rd in January last year. He flopped when returning for the Gold Cup last March but that was probably due to the strong pace set by Native River and Might Bite. Definitly Red is not a quick horse, and it seems no coincidence that his 3 NH Flat wins came on soft/heavy ground; but he is a strong stayer and coming into the Gold Cup fresh might see him nick 3rd-place at very long odds as he's 33/1 with Hills and Boyles.
Right now, my idea of the 1st-3 in the Cheltenham Gold Cup are:
Clan Des Obeaux,
Native River