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Between March 2010 and April 2017, this blog recommended wagers on 520 individual races on Jump Racing in the UK, resulting in a PROFIT of £1,525.39 on cumulative stakes of £5,726 - this is equivalent to a Return On Investment of 26.60%.


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Monday 17 March 2014

Cheltenham 2014 - the aftermath (part 1)

The Cheltenham Festival opened with the spectacular destruction of the Supreme Novices hurdle field by race winner VANTOUR. This race looked well up to standard and we will be seeing plenty of those that contested the race winning next season. VANTOUR looks an immense propect; the race time compared favourably with the Champion Hurdle run later over C&D altho' he'll need to find another 12lb+ of improvement in the next 12 months if he's to take the Champion in 2015. That said, he wasn't pushed to win this race and trainer Willie Mullins has an abundance of hurdling talent at his disposal for next season. Connections suggested his future next season will likely be over fences, in which case the Arkle looks more like his next target than the Champion Hurdle. Of the others, for a 7yo Sgt Reckless finished very well to be 4th and he's very lightly raced for his aged. He was last and detached from the main group coming down the hill before the 2nd-last flight but, after that flight, he scythed thru' the field and could well have been 2nd with a better-timed run. Highly regarded at home, he could prove to be a very useful to follow as a novice chaser next season.

The Arkle was the scene for my 1st wager of the Festival on Dodging Bullets. Unfortunately, he didn't find the improvement I thought he might on the ground. He'd also run poorly at the 2013 Festival and that, combined with a lack of a win over 2m4f, in hindsight suggested he wasn't going to win an Arkle. The race turned out to be the first of a number of "turn-ups" for the bookies (with racing being conducted on heavy ground for most of the season, the good ground found at Cheltenham in March was always going to result in some surprise results) with 33/1 chance WESTERN WARHORSE winning on only his 2nd chase race. The horse looked beaten 3-out, but rallied in the final quarter-mile to lead on the line. Where he goes now is anyone's guess, but he'd only a 6yo and he coule just be the sort of odd-ball that succeeds at the very top of 2-mile chasing. The odds of 20/1 antepost for the Champion Chase look interesting from an eachway point of view as there's no guarantee Sprinter Sacre will come back to racing in the form he showed in 2012-13. The runner-up Champagne Fever ran a cracker, but just failed. He needs more experience, but so does the winner.

The "Festival" handicap chase was a terrific race, run a full 18 seconds faster than in 2013. Trainer, Jonjo O'Neill supplied the fav in Alfie Sherrin (who won the race in 2012), now an 11yo. This was totally against the trends with the last 11yo winner at the Festival being Mr McGoldrick in 2008 at 66/1. However, O'Neill also supplied the eventual winner HOLYWELL who broke the "trends" mould by carrying the biggest weight to victory in this race since Unguided Missile with 11st 10lb in 1998. A novice running in only his 6th chase, this performance matched his efforts as a hurdler, which were considerable. This was his handicap debut in which he ran off OR145 but, if you consider he split 2013 World hurdle winner Solwhit and 3rd-placed Smad Place in the Grade 1 Liverpool Hurdle at Aintree last April at level weights, and that Smad Place was just beaten in the RSA Novice Chase on Wednesday last week over C&D; then you've got to think he'd have gone close in that had he taken part. He could be a shoo-in for the Hennessy at Newbury on 29th November. In fact, the 50/1 offered for the Gold Cup in 2015 looks interesting too. I passed over Holywell to make Tour Des Champs one of my 2 selections in the race (the other being King Massini who fell at the 6th).  I also selected Tour Des Champs for this in 2013, and I was hoping he'd run better this year off a 10lb lower rating. Unfortunately, he ran to exactly the same rating - 131 - in my book, tho' he almost stayed-on again (after being outpaced coming down the hill) to take 4th. He looks set for another bold bid in the Scottish National (in which he ran 4th off OR134 last April). Chasing home the winner was the 6yo mare Ma Filleule trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by the talented 5lb claimer Nico De Boinville. Off the track since winning on 27-Dec, this was only her 3rd chase race in the UK (she'd run 5 times over fences in France) and she looks very progressive. Of the other couple I noted in the race, Buddy Bolero missed this and went for the Kim Muir instead; and Vintage Star did not look happy at all and fell at the 5th fence. He ran poorly on his only other visit to Cheltenham and this is clearly not his course, so the run is best ignored.

The feature race of the opening day was the Champion Hurdle and, this year, we said goodbye to one of the last of the previous generation of jumping stars - Hurricane Fly. Sentiment got the better of me, and I made him my selection which, on reflection, was silly. Sure, he'd beaten subsequent Champion Hurdler JEZKI in the Irish Champion Hurdle at Leopardstown on 26-Jan but that, on reflection, was a false run race. Since the 2013 Festival, Hurricane Fly had lost 7-10lb of ability, while we knew from the Christmas Hurdle run at Kempton on 27-Dec that The New One and My Tent Or Yours had both improved +7lb in the same period. In all his runs to date, JEZKI had not shown form at this level before, tho' the potential was always there. The improvement has been put down to the use of a 1st-time hood, but the use of more prominent tactics as well as improved hurdling is possibly more of a reason for the improvement.  I've rated the race thru' Hurricane Fly who I reckon ran about 7lb below his winning form of last year at 162. That puts JEZKI and My Tent Or Yours on 167 (compared with an RPR173 rating for the pair). Being just a 6yo, it's anticipated that JEZKI will be hurdling for the next couple of seasons and he looks the one to beat in 2015. Much was made of the interference suffered by The New One when the 5yo Our Conor fell fatally at the 3rd hurdle. However, he was quickly back on terms and tracking My Tent Or Yours 3-out. He lost most ground when outpaced coming down the hill and looked to be floundering before the into the straight. His forte is his stamina, and he ate up the rising ground, but I doubt he'd have won whatever had happened during the race.  Both The New One and My Tent Or Yours went on to Aintree last season, and The New One looks the horse they have to beat in the Aintree Hurdle over 2m4f which will suit him much better than the stiff 2-mile of Cheltenham.

There's not much to say about the Mares Hurdle won by QUEVEGA, other than Willie Mullins has the 3 of the best mares in training in his yard. Whether QUEVEGA would've beaten Annie Power in this (she ran in the 3-mile World Hurlde instead, and finished 2nd) is debateable, as we wont know the full strength of QUEVEGA until she's run at Punchestown. What you have to realise is that in order to win a race like the Mares Hurdle from a break of 320-days, the horse needs to be many pounds superior to the opposition. Last year she was 20lbs better than the runner-up, and this year she looked to hold the same superiority. There's not much between Annie Power and QUEVEGA based on the former's 2nd in the World Hurdle, maybe only a couple of pounds.

The 4-mile NH Chase for amateur riders very nearly gave me a winner on the opening day when my selection Shotgun Paddy - the highest rated horse in the race on OR151 - was beaten just a neck into 2nd by the underrated winner MIDNIGHT PRAYER. We have to consider Shotgun Paddy a near miss as he jumped very poorly thru'out the race and even a better jump at the final fence probably could have won him the race. As we were on at 5/1 it was particularly gutting as he had probably 7lb advantage over the winner on my own ratings (12lb advantage on official ratings). It was only the winners 5th chase, and he'd shown his potential when winning his chase debut on 31-Oct in a quick time. He unseated his rider NTO, and then bounced back with a good 2nd that showed his debut was no fluke. He won his 4th chase at Warwick on 08-Feb at very short odds (there being only 3 rivals) before winning this. Providing the handicapper is kind, MIDNIGHT PRAYER could have the Scottish National in his sights (trainer Alan King won that with Godsmejudge in 2013 after that one ran 3rd in this race). At just 7yo, Shotgun Paddy looks a very exciting handicap prospect once his jumping is sorted out.

The day ended with the Rewards4Racing novices' handicap chase which was wide open coming to the final fence. I'd reduced the 19-runners to a shortlist of 3, which included the eventual winner PRESENT VIEW. You cannot back them all, and I thought he was a tad high in the weightsafter winning at Kempton on 22-Feb, even tho' he needed to win that to guarantee an entry in this. There should be plenty of improvement to come from this 6yo who is expected to stay 3-mile, and it is great that trainer Jamie Snowden has won his first race (of hopefully many) at the Cheltenham Festival. The runner-up Attaglance, remains a maiden chaser tho' this course, trip and ground suit him best. He's failed to stay in his 3 starts beyond 2m6f. Soft ground is probably best for the 3rd-placed Pendra, who put his poor run in the Coral Cup hurdle behind him with this effort, and we can expect some improvement from the 6yo.  Buywise in 5th is another who wants softer ground than he got today, and this was a brave display in the circumstances. My selection Persian Snow looked like out-running his long odds and taking a place till he was badly squeezed for room on the turn-in for home, and then unbalanced when jumping the final fence, both of which cost him dearly.

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