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Tuesday 12 March 2013

Cheltenham Festival 2013 - Day 1

It's what we've all been waiting for and it can't come soon enough.
At 1:30pm the roar of the crown will herald the start of the Cheltenham Festival!
There may be a few old friends and grizzled warriors missing from the rosta, but this year's festival has all the makings of being one of the most competitive we've had in recent years. We thought last year's novices were a decent bunch, but this year's novice hurdlers and chasers look a cut-above.
Before we get stuck into the runners & riders for Day 1 of the Festival a quick reminder that the most important Festival trends to take account of are:-
·         The performance of "Last Time Out" (LTO) winners;
·         Weight carried in handicaps;
·         The number of days since a horse last ran.
1:30 Supreme Novices Hurdle, 5yo's plus (2-miles & 110 yards)
This is always an eagerly anticipated race, and not just because it opens the Cheltenham Festival.
This race rarely goes to a horse with an SP longer than 14/1, so concentrate on those at the head of the market, tho' with only 12 runners (the smallest field in years) it'll be a right bookies-benefit if a rank outsider wins, especially as 2 of the 12 shouldn't be in the race.
The race-fay My Tent Or Yours has obvious claims and would not look out of place in the Champion Hurdle. But, we've had similar horses fail in this race before and 6/4 is skinny. Jezki has been off too long coming into this race (of the last 13 winners, 11 had run their previous race no more that 42-days previous (ie. on or after the 29th January 2013), and Un Atout is light on experience (in 2012, the 1st-4 all had the benefit of at least 3 previous hurdle runs). Dodging Bullets was my early selection @ 14/1 in my Bulletin and I'm on at ½pt eachway. I'm expecting a good effort from him but perhaps only placed as Ruby Walsh rides Champagne Fever. It's very disappointing that Melodic Rendevous does not take part in this race (the one older horse in 2012 was the 7yo Prospect Wells who came in 5th). I'm expecting Champagne Fever to be the best of the Irish challenge. Henderson's River Maigue just doesn't look good enough. It's not an easy race, and I'm not adding to my ½pt eachway @ 14/1 on DODGING BULLETS so - if you are not already on - take the 14/1 that's available this morning (Stan James & Bet365 are BOG).
2:05 Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase, (2-miles)
The "Arkle" is one of my favourite races, and I've had some good wins on Tiday Bay, Forpadydeplaster and Cue Card (yes, I was on him at 3/1 without Sprinter Sacre last year – huge value). Class as a hurdler pays dividends as a novice chaser and this year we will have 2 high-class hurdlers in the race: Simonsig (hurdle rating OR160), Overturn (Hurdle OR164).  Which will win? The Arkle is usually run at a searing pace and, on undulating track like Cheltenham, it is stamina sapping. As such, I also like my selection to have winning form in a chase further than 2-miles.
Only 7 runners for this, and I don't think there is much between the two favourites, but I reckon the value is with OVERTURN, mainly as he's a front-runner and will give Simonsig a severe jumping test, something I reckon he's yet to have.  In what effectively looks a "match" race, as I'd have these two as 6/5 joint-fav's on good ground, although on this soft going the advantage is just with SImonsig, at 4/1 you cannot ignore OVERTURN. The other 5 are just running for place money.
Selection: OVERTURN ½pt win @ 4/1 (available generally, use BOG bookmaker)
2:40 Festival Handicap Chase (3-miles & 110 yards)
This is perhaps my favourite handicap of the jumps season (excluding the Grand National) and I came very close to finding the winner last year nominating Fruity O'Rooney at 20/1 as my eachway selection on the morning of the race, and he ran 2nd having led over the final fence.
Including the 2012 winner, none of the last 13 winners have been rated higher than OR143 and, prior to Bensalem winning in 2011 with 11st 2lb, you had to go back to 1997 to find the previous winner of this race carrying a weight greater than 11st.
Those who received my bulletin will know that wagers in this on On Trend, Monbeg Dude and Chartreux are lost as they've chosen other targets. LOCH BA was named in the bulletin when he was 25/1 and he's best-price now at 12/1 and looks to hold a decent chance.
With 7 of the last 10 winners priced at odds under 8/1 it pays to look at those at the head of the market, but I don't like any of them. Our Mick (7/1) really should have had another run (or two); and Fruity O'Rooney (10/1) looks held by the handicapper. The Package (16/1) will be thereabouts but he always seems to arrive too late on the scene. Three has been a gamble on Merry King (7/1 from 12/1) but he may just be short on chasing experience having had only 4 runs, and the last of those was before Christmas! I do like the look of LOCH BA who won at Newbury LTO and looked a potential decent chaser, and tho' that form has taken a few knocks since, it still has an edge about it as he won so easily that day. 
There are 4 LTO winners in the race; Loch Ba, Cloudy Too (20/1), Nuts N Bolts (25/1), and Monkerty Tunkerty (20/1). The latter won the same veterans' race Chief Dan George did before winning this and he holds an eachway chance in this. Both Cloudy Too and Nuts N Bolts will need to prove their stamina for this trip, as they've both failed at 3-mile before.
Of the others, TOUR DES CHAMPS (28/1) has a great chance off OR139 if his jumping holds up as he looks a 150+ chaser in the making as he's not far off being in the RSA chase on Wednesday and will not fail for lack of stamina.
Those who received the Bulletin are on LOCH BA at 25/1, and he's worth a further ½pt eachway @ 12/1; and I'll also have a ¼pt eachway about TOUR DES CHAMPS @ 28/1.
LOCH BA: ½pt eachway @ 12/1 (Bet365 pay 5-places eachway & BOG)
TOUR DES CHAMPS ¼pt eachway @ 25/1 (Bet365 pay 5-places eachway & BOG)
3:20 Champion Hurdle (2-miles & 110 yards)
A small but select field for this race with only 9 runners declared, but 3 are Champion Hurdle winners – Rock On Ruby (2012), Hurricane Fly (2011) and Binocular (2010). For me, this race does not hang on whether Hurricane Fly really is one of the best hurdlers we've seen in the past 50 years, but which horse will cope best on the soft ground. Personally, I think Hurricane Fly managed to win in a year that was below standard in having only himself and Peddlers Cross of Champion Hurdle standard (Binocular had been withdrawn and stable companion Oscar Whisky ran 3rd) running.
Hurricane Fly will have no problem on the soft ground and any lack of pace will be in his favour. That said, in my opinion the best hurdler in the race is last year's winner ROCK ON RUBY. He comes into this race with proven ability (having won the race last year) but also having shown LTO that he's just as good as ever. The horse that may well follow ROCK ON RUBY home is the 5yo Countrywide Flame. Many statisticians reckon 5yo's have a poor record in the Champion Hurdle, and it is a big ask for a 5yo to win the race; but those that do compete usually run well and run better than expected, and I can see Countrywide Flame taking 2nd place. I recommended a 1pt win wager on ROCK ON RUBY to those who received my Bulletin when he was priced at odds of 6/1.  He's currently at odds of 5/1 but as the ground is possibly against him I'm not inclined to invest more.
4:00 Cross Country Handicap Chase (3-miles & 7-furlongs)
I make no secret that this is not my favourite race and it's one that I think has no place at the Festival.  If the authorities ever make the Festival 5-days, then we will have another 6 odd-ball races like this to put up with. If I had my way, I would lose this race altogether and pull the Centenary Novice Handicap Chase forward into the vacant slot.
No selection
4:40 David Nicholson Mares Hurdle (2-miles & 4-furlongs)
This is another race that is out of place at the Festival. Take out QUEVEGA and this race would be very ordinary in my opinion, and not up to Festival standard. Last year, the runner-up was Kentford Grey Lady with an official rating or OR134, and I'm expecting the same 1st & 2nd this year.
No selection in this race, but you may want to have a small forecast on QUEVEGA to beat Kentford Grey Lady.
5:15 Centenary Novices Handicap Chase (2-miles & 4½-furlongs)
I think it is a great shame that organisers have placed this as the last race on a 7 race card preceded by a couple of races that really should be run elsewhere. I would really like to see this race brought forward in the card and given more prominence. This is a very competitive race and a real head scratcher. No horse has won this at odds longer than 14/1 so the market is a good guide. As such, I feel it is between 2 of those at the head of the market; THE DRUIDS NEPHEW @ 7/1 and SHANGANI @ 8/1. I really cannot split them and it would not surprise me to see them fighting-out the finish. SHANGANI is the in top-form, yet THE DRUIDS NEPHEW has huge potential being a year younger at 6yo. There is another factor: JOHNS SPIRIT who ran a clunker LTO at Cheltenham over this trip on heavy ground but, before that, ran a cracker when beaten only by Katenko over 3-mile at Sandown on soft ground. At 16/1, he could be staying-on strong in a race where stamina may be a winning asset. This is to tricky to split them and I may "perm" all 3 in Tote "swingers".
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