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Tuesday 29 March 2016

2016 Cheltenham Festival Day 1 - review

It can pay dividends to look-back at the Cheltenham Festival with a clear eye, and assess the results as fairly as possible. It was an exercise that I didn't so last year, so I'll hopefully make up for missing out last year.

The Festival opened-up with one of the most anticipated races of the day, as many had the 4 Mullins fav's on the first day in doubles, trebles and accumulators.  The Mullins fav for the Supreme Novices Hurdle was Min, who had run inly twice this season, and was coming into the Festival off a break of 66-days. At this point, I will refer you to an excellent free-issue stats breakdown that has been issued by PROFORM - it is well worth becoming a registered free member to this site just for the excellent free issue stats. This looks a particularly good "Supreme" even by recent standards, as there appears to be more strength in depth, as even Mister Miyagi in 6th came into this race off a 110-day break and should find improvement. The race was run in a time only 0.90secs slower than the Champion Hurdle later in the day, and that was won in a course-record time. The quick times throw some doubt on the ground description of good-to-soft, and it was likely a lot more "good" than soft. The race was run at a strong pace thanks to Charbel who was only headed after jumping 2-out and only just failed to hold-onto 4th (much to my chagrin). The pace suited both Min and the eventual winner ALTIOR, and it was the Henderson-horse who was the most impressive, quickly establishing a winning margin on the run-in. He looks sure to challenge Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle next season. Min is likely to go novince chasing next season; whereas Buveur D'Air (a half-brother of Punchestowns) could stay hurdling over trips of 20f+. In 4th, Tombstone is another likely to be better as a chaser next season over trips of 20f+. I was very impressed with Charbel who came in 5th as he led for a long way, and he could develop into a high-class horse if stepped-up in trip.

The "Arkle" was a shoo-in for the 1/4 odds-on fav DOUVAN once his only realistic challenger Vaniteux fell going for a big-one at the 2nd-last fence. While I doubt Vaniteux would have beaten Douvan, he would certainly have run 2nd and the horse that filled that spot, Sizing John, has looked very ordinary this season. Overall, this Arkle has no real strength in depth and, for me, the jury is out on Douvan - he should make a high-class 2-mile chaser but will he win a Champion Chase?  I can see Vaniteux making a useful handicapper next season, especially if he remains on OR152.

One of my favorite handicap chases of the year is the 3m1f Grade 3 chase on the opening day. It was a anti-climax this year (for me) as my selection lost his jockey mid-race when stumbling on the flat - he wasn't even jumping a fence! As such, I think Beg To Differ can be kept on the right side as he was progressing well to that point. This years race looks a cracker of a result, with high-class hurdler the 7yo UN TEMPS POUR TOUT winning a strongly run race.  Given he went into the race running off OR148 it was a great effort to win beating last years Gold Cup 4th Holywell fair and square. The winner has been raised 11lb to OR159 and I agree with that assessment, as Un Temps Pour Tout looks a potential Gold Cup horse.  This was, after all, only his 4th chase race, and LTO the trip of 2m5f was too short for him even though he was staying-on strong over the final half-mile (we should have paid more attention to that run). For his initial couple of chase runs he was just learning the trade after being a high-class 3-mile hurdler: he won the French Champion Hurdle over 3m1f (with Thousand Stars 10-lengths back in 2nd) and he ran well to be 6th in last years World Hurdle. He runs well at Cheltenham, stays well, and will be 8yo next season, and I'd rather take 40/1 about him for next years Gold Cup than many others quoted at shorter odds who (realistically) have next to no chance of winning. The runner-up Holywell always comes good at this meeting (he won the 3-mile Pertemps Final Hurdle in 2013; he won this handicap chase in 2014; he was 4th in the Gold Cup in 2015) and I'm surprised he didn't go for the Gold Cup. Had he run to this level in the Gold Cup, he would have run 3rd (based on my own ratings) and collected 3x the prize-money he won here. When you compare the race time with his winning time of 2014, it is bang there (remember, this year the race was extended by another 110 yards). This race was tip-top form.

Considering he started off running over 7-furlongs on the All-Weather at Wolverhampton, The Young Master has come a long way and he's only 7yo (seems to have been around for years). This was only his 2nd career-run in March and he's never run in the period April-August so we are unlikely to see him again before the autumn, so the suggestion is these were not his ideal conditions - but what a run! He's actually gone DOWN a 1lb in the handicap to OR148 and he has to go on the alert list for a race this autumn. The 4th home was Morning Assembly who actually beat this years Gold Cup winner Don Cassack when they met in November 2013. That was the last time he won, and he went on to run 3rd (behind O'Faolains Boy and Smad Place) in the 2014 RSA Chase. He missed last season entirely,  and was off the track 21-months before returning in January this year. He's entered in the Grand National (for which he's 33/1) and I'd normally say such a horse would be a good wager, but he tried to go with the leaders in this from 3-out and quickly emptied-out. He could be placed, but I could not see him winning a Grand National.  Nigel Twiston-Davies always aims a young stayer at this race, and this year he had two in Algernon Pazham (who readers of the blog know well) and Ballykan, and they both ran well. The good thing is that Algernon Pazham completed a race for the first time since running 2nd earlier in the season, this should be a huge confidence boost and he could run a big race NTO.  Ballykan is a lot better than this and he heads for Aintree and the "Topham" Chase.

The Champion Hurdle brought together possibly the weakest field for the race that I can remember. That a horse can come into the race not having raced in almost 2-years, and come 2nd says it all. Sure, Annie Power won well, but all she had to do was run to her rating (at OR162 she had the highest rating in the race) and, together with her mares' allowance, she was virtually unbeatable. Personally, I didn't think she was able to run to OR162 as my ratings had her at  about 160 over 20f+, but at 2-mile I had here at about 155.  There is talk of her returning next year to defend her crown, but I wouldn't bother as Faugheen is possibly 10lb better than her, maybe more.  I can't see any of this field returning next year and winning; and their only hope is to go chasing (which is what The New One should have done in 2014-15).

The Mares' Hurdle yet again went to a Willie Mullins trained horse (he's won every running bar the first one in 2008) in Vroum Vroum Mag, and I can't see another horse beating her next year (other than Annie Power, but that's unlikely).  My wager on The Govaness went astray when she fell at the final flight (and was fatally injured) when disputing 2nd and she'd probably have been placed.

The result of the National Hunt Chase was very interesting as there had only been one 6yo winner since Boraceva in 1989 (that was Tricky Trickster in 2009), yet the 1st-2 home were both 6yo's: Minella Rocco and Native River. This race has recently gone to the highest-rated runner (all horses carry 11st 6lb) and Native River was the joint 2nd-top rated at OR149 (the other was Pont Alexandre who pulled-up with a fatal injury). My money was on the top-rated Vincente (OR153) who was going very well till hampered by a loose horse 3-out. He's been dropped 7lb to OR146 which seems like an over-reaction by the handicapper.  It's fair to say that (prior to this race) Minella Rocco has not progressed well this season over fences, after looking a very decent novice hurdler last season. He finally got his act together LTO at Ascot over 3-mile when 2nd to Vyta Du Roc doing his best work that day in the 2nd-half of the race.  The same thing happened in this, as he was under pressure mid-race before making progress in the final mile of this 4-mile race.  There's talk of him being a potential Gold Cup horse, but his running style is more suited to marathon races.   Native River is more interesting, as he's had a busy season and this 2-mile (Listed) hurdle winner looks well handicapped if dropped back to 3-mile.  The Irish trained Measureofmydreams is tricky to weigh-up as he's a bit of a dark horse.  This trip looked like it stretched him and, again, a drop to 3-mile (a trip over which he won on 14-Feb) looks the right move to bring the best out of him.   This 4-mile trip certainly extended Southfield Royale, and this 6yo has time on his side.  He looks better than his half-brother (Southfield Theatre) and looks a potential 160+ chaser next season over trips around 3-mile.

The closing race of the opening day, the 2m4f & 110 yards novices' handicap chase, was run at a strong pace. The winner was the 9yo Ballyalton who was 2nd here to Faugheen in the RSA Novices Hurdle in 2014. He came into this race with potential and nothing more as his novice form this season over fences was nothing to write home about. He is very lightly race for a 9yo and I expect he will be highly tried over the coming months to make up for lost time (he was off the track for 20 months till returning last November). After winning in January at Doncaster, I noted Bouvreuil for this race and he did connections proud by only just failing to win. He was also 2nd in the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle here last year, so clearly loves Cheltenham and maybe next year he will get his head in front. It is possible that Double Shuffle went for home too early and paid the price.  As such, he escapes the attention of the handicapper and has been raised only 3lb to OR141, which looks a workable mark for this improving 6yo.

Reviews of the remainder of the Cheltenham Festival races are to follow over the next week before focus turns to Aintree and the grand National.

Tuesday 22 March 2016

Cheltenham - the autopsy

The Cheltenham Festival last week was a disaster for the bookies with (apparently) over £100 million lost by the industry as the favorites kept on winning - making the week a bonanza for the punters chasing the short-priced favs.  Ruby Walsh rode 3 winners for his trainer Willie Mullins on the opening day: Douvan @ 1/4; Annie Power @ 5/2; and Vroum Vroum Mag @ 4/6. The bookies had to thank Nicky Henderson for supplying one in Altior to beat the 15/8 fav Min in the opening race, or it may have been a bloodbath from which there was no recovery.
The 2nd day provided respite for the bookies as hot-fav Yanworth was beaten (after being given possibly the worst ride of the week) by another Walsh-ridden, Mullins-trained horse in Yorkill.
But on Day-3 (Thursday) the bookies were again running for cover as Walsh and Mullins combined to win the opener with the 4/1 joint-fav Black Hercules, and then to the days feature chase race, the "Ryanair" with the "evens" fav Vautour - who looked the easiest winner of the week, until Thistlecrack (also at "evens") won the World Hurdle in such emphatic fashion you thought it was a walk-over. The nail in the coffin for the bookies on Thursday was Limini (Walsh and Mullins again) winning the inaugural running of the "Dawn Run" Mares novices hurdle at 8/11.
Friday was another good day for the Irish but, this time, it was not Walsh and Mullins who provided Irish-trained winners Ivanovich Gorbatov @ 9/2; Don Cossack @ 9/4; and On The Fringe @ 13/8.

Where did this flood of short-priced winning favourites leave the "value" punter like me? Out in the cold, that's where.  A major weapon in my armoury is that the fav takes a huge chunk out of the market and (if the fav gets beaten) there is value to be found in the market if you can find the winner. That is not to say there is value in wagers placed on short-priced fav's.  When you consider Douvan had an SP of 1/4, you didn't need to be a betting aficionado to be able to form the opinion that Vautour and Thistlecrack (both with SP's of "evens") were value. And if they were value, then you could also consider the chances of odds-on winner Limini @ 8/11 was also better than her odds.

My 3 selections on the opening day (Beg To Differ, Vicente, and Five In A Row) were all beaten, producing a loss of £30 on the day to advised stakes although Vicente looked particularly unlucky in-running.
The 2nd day was no better, with my advised wagers in the RSA Chase (Seeyouatmidnight and Vyta Du Roc) being beaten, and Special Tiara in the Champion Chase running a cracking race to be 3rd but that wasn't good enough to return a profit for the blog as Sprinter Sacre showed his form this season really was better than any other 2-mile chaser.  As such I ended the day £20 down (and £50 lost on the week).
The 3rd day of the Festival is always a busy day for me and is the day that makes or breaks my Festival - and we came close to making it back. Time will show us (as it did with Wishful Thinking in this race a few years ago) that the best horse in the JLT Novices Chase was my selection Bristol De Mai, but the 5yo was just outstayed on the day by Black Hercules. I was correct in pointing out that Vautour would win the Ryanair Chase in a canter, but the policy for this blog is to NOT advise wagers on selections at odds under 9/4.  When Taquin De Seuil won the JLT Novices Chase here in 2014, I rated it at just 151 while RPR (Racing Post) rated the win at 164. Throughout last season he never looked like a 160+ chaser and I felt my assessment was vindicated.  However, he came out and won from a year off at Warwick in February and I thought perhaps he'd managed to overcome a problem during the break, and returned a better horse. But no, he's a 151-153 performer and he never got a look in.
The World Hurdle looked a shoo-in for the fav Thistlecrack, and I wrote as much in my assessment of the race. As such, I was looking for a horse who would come at least in the 1st-3 and perhaps challenge the fav if in the best of form. But, in Saphir Du Rheu, I selected a horse who was struggling fully a mile from the finish. At £45 down on the day, I was hopeful for Stilletto to recoup the losses as he was the subject of a gamble from 10/1 to an SP of 11/2 - but he fell at the 3rd fence!
The final race on the card, the Kim Muir Chase finally provided some respite, but still we could not find the winner.  Even so, both selections Silvergrove and A Good Skin ran great races to finish 3rd and 2nd (respectively). Had either horse won, then we'd have broken even on the day. Instead, we recovered £43.62 resulting in a profit of £28.62 on the race, but a loss of £31.38 on the day and £81.38 on the week, with the final day still to come.
Going into Friday, I was still hopeful of at least breaking even on the week, and maybe even securing a small profit.  As my strength is in my interpretation of chasing form, I decided to concentrate on the 2 major chase races of the final day: the Gold Cup and the Foxhunter Chase.  I made Cue Card my main selection of the day as he had (in my opinion) the strongest form this season, and really (in my opinion) he should have been the 9/4 fav for the race.  We all know now that he didn't win but, had he not fallen at the 3rd-last fence, I honestly cannot imagine that he would not have won.  He was going far the best of the front-3 and had taken-up the running. We all saw that Djakadam had nothing left in the tank, which was a result of an interrupted preparation and having not completed a race since 6th December 2015. As for the eventual winner Don Cossack, he had very little to do to win this race once Cue Card was out of it, and I rate his winning performance at 170 (using Don Poli as the base-mark at 155) which is 2lb behind Coneygree in 2015. As I wrote on the day, Cue Card had already run to 170+ six times in this career, and twice this season; and I've no doubt Cue Card would have won by at least 4-lengths had he stood up.
Before I leave the Gold Cup, I must state how disappointed I am at the ratings attributed to the race by the Racing Post (RPR). Don Cossack has been awarded a rating of RPR182 which is clearly bonkers given how the race collapsed with the fall of Cue Card.  The runner-up Djakadam was not the same horse this year as he was last year - and you don't need to be a racing professional to see that.  Yet RPR reckon this run was even better by 3lbs than his defeat (by Don Cossack) at Punchestown last April. Next, Don Poli, a horse who has struggled to top RPR160 but who (apparently) ran a career-best last week when he was never closer to the winner than the 14-lengths he was beaten at the post. Finally, Carlingford Lough who last year was awarded RPR151 when beaten 28-lengths by Coneygree but, this year was awarded RPR164.
This 164 rating is only 1lb below the rating RPR awarded him for winning the Irish "Hennessey" when beating OR158 rated Foxrock.

I'm very happy that my rating of the race is more realistic than that of the Racing Post.
There is no place in horseracing for "ratings inflation", and it should be stamped out.

My final selection of the Festival was Mendip Express in the "Foxhunters" and I was disappointed that the horse was not in the 1st-4 but he just wasn't pushed hard enough by his jockey.

Overall for the week, I ended up £111.38 down.

Over the next week I will be undertaking a complete review of the Festival results to see if we can unearth any value for Aintree, Punchestown and the Cheltenham Festival for 2017.

In the meantime, apologies for the poor performance of the selections last week.

Friday 18 March 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016 - Day 4

Yesterday was a disappointing day for me at Cheltenham, with one of my strongest selections of the week Bristol De Mai, being beaten into 2nd by the LTO faller Black Hercules.
From thereon, the day went downhill, with Taquin Du Seuil not showing the improvement I expected following his promising comeback run.
Then Saphin Du Rheu ran like a horse completely out of love for the game, being under pressure going up the hill over a mile from the finish and even being beaten by his stablemate.
There was a course gamble on my next selection Stilletto from 11/1 to 11/2 joint-fav, but he fell at the 3rd fence. He’s worth following next-time-out.
The final race of the day produced my best result with both selections A GOOD SKIN and SILVERGROVE finishing in the places, but they were beaten by the Irish plot horse Cause Of Causes. In my narrative I mentioned 5 horses, and 4 of them filled the 1st-4 places.

The performances of the day were from VAUTOUR and THISTLECRACK and the combined odds of 3/1 for the double looked (in hindsight) as the best value of the day as both horses never looked like being beat.  VAUTOUR looked like he was capable of winning todays Gold Cup, putting in a 170+ performance; and THISTLECRACK dominated his race so much it is likely owners will still to hurdles and scoop all the leading races next season.  Spare a thought for the last horse to beat Thistlecrack – Killultagh Vic who has missed Cheltenham and resides in the Mullins stable.

This is not a good festival for me and, on reflection, I’m spreading my resources too thin by trying to assess each race in turn. As such, I’m ignoring todays 3 opening hurdle races as they are outside my comfort zone.

3:30pm  Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (3-miles and 2½ furlongs)
15 of the last 17 winners had already won a race that season;
14 of the last 15 winners were in the 1st-3 in the betting (exception being Lord Windermere @ 20/1); 
 No winner aged 10yo or older since Cool Dawn (aged 10yo) won in 1998 (and he was a 25/1 outsider) and before that Cool Ground (also 25/1) who was also a 10yo when winning in 1992.

This horse is usually won by the best horse in the race, and there are rarely hard-luck stories.
I know readers of this will very likely have already formed an opinion on which horse they will be supporting in the Gold Cup. However, this is a race in which recent form is very important, and the horse with the very best recent form is CUE CARD. He beat LTO at Kempton non-other than Vautour who romped home yesterday looking every inch a 170+ horse. CUE CARD has run to 170+ six times in his career over fences, with two of those performances this season. The only doubt is will he stay this slightly longer trip, but for that we are able to obtain odds of 4/1.  Djakadam has had an interrupted preparation (suffered a deep cut requiring many stitches when he fell LTO), and Don Cossack ran like a non-stayer in my opinion when falling at Kempton 2-out in the race won by Cue Card. Don Poli is the fly in the ointment as he’s done nothing wrong this season, but he will need to improve about 15lb on what we’ve seen. Smad Place is another who will stay the trip but this will be his 6th race at the Festival and he’s yet to win here. I just cannot see him winning this. Based on this years’ form, CUE CARD should be the 9/4 fav.
CUE CARD, £20 win @ 4/1 available generally.

4:10pm Foxhunter Cup Chase (3-miles and 2½ furlongs)
For this race you need to look for a LTO winner that is no older than 10yo and, of the 9 that meet those criteria, I like the chance of MENDIP EXPRESS. On his day he is a 145+ chaser like when he won over C&D in January 2014 carrying 11st7lb, and when 2nd at Aintree in the Becher Chase in December 2014. He ran here last year in the handicap chase on the opening day off OR148 when he looked like being involved but the ground that day (and the pace of the field) were too quick for him. This field is nowhere near as competitive and if he can run near that form today then he will take some beating. Odds of 12/1 look good eachway value as he looks to have only the fav On The Fringe to beat based on known form, and that horse has to show he still has the ability to repeat last years win now that he’s an 11yo.

MENDIP EXPRESS, £5 eachway @ 12/1 (available generally)

Thursday 17 March 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016 - Day 3

1:30pm JLT Novices Chase (2-miles & 4-furlongs)
The day opens with the 6th running of this championship race for novice chasers.
· All 5 previous winners have been rated (at one time) at OR142 or better as hurdlers, thus meeting the same criteria of “Arkle” winners in being above-average hurdlers.. 
- All 5 previous winners contested a hurdle at the previous year’s Cheltenham Festival. 
Stick with LTO winners (certainly no worse than 2nd), and as this is a tough 2m4f, the selection should have proven stamina over this trip but not a win over trips in excess of 2m6f – that is a negative in my opinion. 
Those being discounted are: As De Mee; Mount Gunnery; and Zabana as all are not good enough.
Three Musketeers ran a stinker LTO and I’m not convinced he will improve to win this. King’s Odyssey looked every inch a 3-mile LTO when winning here on heavy ground, and his best form is on testing ground. L’Ami Serge may struggle to stay this trip and he’s not shown the class over jumps to win this.  Black Hercules has won over 3-mile on heavy ground. GARDE LA VICTOIRE easily beat BRISTOL DE MAI when they met over 2-mile last October, but he does not seem to have progressed since then, and there is a doubt about his stamina at this trip. OUTLANDER is unbeaten in 3 novice chases and won the old PJ Moriarty Chase at Leopardstown LTO (now the “Flogas”). That is top-class form. However, I was very impressed with BRISTOL DE MAI when he won LTO at Sandown to make it 4 wins from 5 since being beaten by Garde La Victoire, and odds of 5/1 look the value. I will also have a “saver” on Outlander at 9/2 to cover the stake.
BRISTOL DE MAI, £16 win @ 5/1 (available generally)
OUTLANDER, £4 win @ 5/1 (available generally)
Total staked = £20

2:10pm Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle (3-miles)
With only 1 winning fav since 2003 (Fingal Bay in 2014) this race is one where you can take a punt on an outsider.  Last year, Call The Cops at 9/1 was only the 2nd horse at odds under 14/1 to win since 2005. This race is a tricky one for punters to solve.
· 16 of last 23 winners carried between 10st 7lb and 11st 3lb;
· 12 of the last 24 winners won LTO.
One horse that appears to fit the bill is SADDLERS ENCORE.  He’s a LTO winner and carries 10st 7lb.  He’s won 3 of his last 4 races and for a 7yo is very lightly raced and this will be just his 8th race since his track debut in November 2013. Followers of the blog were on him when he won LTO, and he never gave up that day, he was very resilient. He has only been raised 6lb for that win and, at odds of 18/1 he looks tremendous value as I do like a horse that travels well, and prominently, in this handicap. However, I cannot advise a wager in a race like this.

2:40pm Ryanair Chase (2-miles & 5-furlongs)
This race is now firmly established as a Festival Championship race, and is producing winners of the highest order.
· Winning course form at Cheltenham – 10 of the 11 winners previous winners had won at Cheltenham (Riverside Theatre in 2012 was the exception).
· Winning form in a Grade 1 chase – 7 of the last 8 winners (since the Ryanair became a Grade 1 chase) had previously won a Grade 1 chase (Imperial Commander in 2009 was the only exception).
· The Irish have yet to win the race, and sent over Don Cossack last year who started the fav and finished 3rd.
This race is all about VAUTOUR who should win this race in a canter, much as he won the JLT Novices Chase last year.  For the runner-up, let’s remove those who haven’t won at Cheltenham: Gilgamboa; Josses Hill; Oscar Rock; Vibrato Valtat; Smashing; Road To Riches; and Valseur Lido.
Of those that remain, Captain Conan is a spent force, and I do not think Village Vic has the class, nor Annacotty and Champagne West. Much as I’d like them both to do well, age is against Al Ferof and Dynaste – which leaves TAQUIN DU SEUIL who came back from a year off with one of his best performances since he won the JLT Novices Chase in 2014 as a 7yo. He could make a very attractive wager at 9/1 without the fav Vautour.

TAQUIN DU SEUIL, £5 eachway @ 10/1 with William Hill without the fav Vautour

3:30pm World Hurdle (3-miles)
This race has developed into a very interesting betting race now that Big Bucks no longer dominates. This year, we have another hot fav in Thistlecrack. 
Likely trends:- 
· The age of the winner should be between 6yo and 9yo;
· Good recent form is very important and the winner will likely have run 1st, 2nd or 3rd LTO;
· The betting market is usually good at highlighting the winner and it is unlikely that the winner will not be amongst the 1st-4 in the betting (certainly at odds less than 10/1);
· It is very likely that the winner will have run at last year’s Cheltenham Festival; 
· The last horse to win this after taking part in a Champion Hurdle was Nomadic Way in 1992.

Last years 1st and 2nd Cole Harden and Saphir De Rheu return, but all the focus is on THISTLECRACK who has been a revelation this season. If he repeats the form of his win here in January then it is unlikely that he will be beat.  Last year I was on Saphir Du Rheu and he everything right then bar enough to beat the winner. He showed he was a serious top-class 3-mile hurdler NOT at Aintree, and I think he looks better than his 10/1 odds (he was the 5/1 fav last year). As I do not think Alpha Des Obeaux is good enough on what we’ve seen, for me the wager is SAPHIR DU RHEU.
Saphir Du Rheu, £5 win AND £5 eachway @ 11/1 (quarter-odds a place 1,2,3)

4:10pm Festival Plate Handicap Chase (2-mile & 4½-furlongs)
This race has had winners at odds of 25/1 (three times), 33/1 (twice), 50/1 and 66/1 in past 10 years, so don’t be afraid of backing your own judgement and opposing the market.
· 19 of the last 23 winners carried under 11st;
· 13 of the previous 18 winners came here off a break of no more than 39 days;
· 21 of the last 23 winners were rated between OR128 – OR141;
· Irish trainers have only won this race once since 1951.
If you look only at those rated OR128 – OR141 then you omit all those carrying 10st11lb or more. I’m prepared to bend that rule and include LTO winner STILLETTO on OR142. There is also another LTO winner in this group, the mare LA VATICANE trained by David Pipe, and she’s due to run off OR142 but (with her 5lb win penalty) runs off OR138.  Personally, I think STILLLETTO is a 150+ horse, and he’s going to be my main wager.
STILLETTO, £5 win @ £5 eachway @ 10/1
You places your money and you take you chance - good luck!

4:50pm Mares’ Novices Hurdle (2m & 179 yards)
A new raced and one that I’m going to give a miss.

5:30pm Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge (for Amateurs) Handicap Chase (3-miles, 1-furlong & 110 yards)
Unfortunately, this grand race has been put back 40-mins to accommodate the new Mares’ race.
This is another Festival race suffering from “handicap compression” and there are only 2 entries carrying under 11st. 

· 7 of the last 11 winners have carried 11st 4lb or more
· No winner in over 20 years was younger than 7yo;
· Only 6 of the last 36 winners was a 7yo;
· There has been only one Irish-trained winner since 1983, that was Spring Heeled in 2014.
As all the riders are amateur you need to consider the talents of the jockeys. Nina Carberry won here on Knock House last November, and that horse is well handicapped on that win. Cause Of Causes won this with JJ Codd in the saddle, and runs in this off a 4lb lower rating. Upswing has the services of Derek O’Connor, and this trip of 3m2f will suit him. I have been waiting for both A Good Skin and Silvergrove to run since they met last month, and both look to have excellent chances, and both have decent riders. Silvergrove at 14/1 looks decent value, but I will also be having a smaller wager on A Good Skin at 25/1. 
SILVERGROVE, £5 eachway @ 14/1 (available generally, quarter-odds a place 1,2,3,4)

A GOOD SKIN, £2.50 eachway @ 25/1 ( Bet365 who are quarter-odds 1,2,3,4,5) 

Wednesday 16 March 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016 - Day 2

No luck yesterday from the 3 selections.  Our first runner BEG TO DIFFER unseated his rider when going well after slipping on the bend opposite the stands - what are the chances of that happening? 1000/1? We looked like collecting with VICENTE who was looking like taking-up the running approaching the 3rd-last fence but, unfortunately, he jumped into the back of the loose horse which had virtually stopped at that fence. He recovered, and the way he ran on to just fail to be 4th suggests he would have gone very close indeed to winning. Our final selection FIVE IN A ROW ran no sort of race at all. So, we are £30 down going into the 2nd day.  I also had losses on CHARBEL who I wagered on in the place-only market to be 4th or better, but he missed out on that by just a head. And I was also on VANITEUX without the fav, and he probably would have been 2nd but for falling 2-out. 

Todays preview of the racing is below - Good luck.

1:30pm Neptune Novice Hurdle (2 miles & 5f)
Possibly the most important “novice” event (chase or hurdle) of the Festival meeting, if not the entire NH calendar.  The field for this race is exceptionally high-class and represents the cream of the crop - you should make a note of everything that runs in it for future reference.
-          There hasn’t been a winner older than 7yo in 40 years;
-          25 of the previous 27 winners had run in at least 3 hurdle races;
-          18 of the last 22 winners have won at least twice coming into the race;
-          19 of the last 24 winners had won LTO;
As this is not a race for shocks, it may not pay to go too deep and stick to the market leaders. Last year Windsor Park was the 9/2 3rd fav. The Irish challenge is sent by trainer Willie Mullins: Yorkhill, A Toi Phil; Bello Conti and Thomas Hobson. However, YANWORTH looks as good a novice hurdler that we’ve seen in the UK for some time, and if he were trained by Mullins he may well be odds-on, so odds of 6/4 could be value.
No advised wager as I do not wager at odds under 9/4.

2:10pm RSA Chase for Novices (3-mile & 110 yards)
Last year’s winner Don Poli may have won the Lexus last December, but he is unlikely to emulate the RSA winners Bobs Worth and Lord Windermere who went on to win the Gold Cup.
-          The last 15 of the last 16 winners had raced at least 3 times over fences (Don Poli who won last year, was having only his 3rd chase race).
-          20 of the previous 23 winners were a novice hurdler the previous season;
-          7yo’s have provided 13 of the previous 15 winners;
-          16 of the last 26 winners had won a 3-mile+ chase before winning this;
-          Last year, Don Poli became the first horse in nearly 50 years to win the race without a run in the year of the race (his previous run was on 29th December);
-          18 of the last 23 winners had at least 9 NH starts (hurdles and chases count, but not bumpers).  So neither Don Poli (2015) nor O’Faolains Boy (2014) match this stat.
-          No winner in 24 years had been placed in a Graded or Listed hurdle over less than 2m3f.
The winner of this race will have been born to be a 3-mile chaser. As such, it’s likely that the eventual winner will have only been novice hurdling in the previous season. 
Chasing experience is what counts here not potential ability.
Just a small field of 8, and Shaneshill does not look a 3-mile chaser.  More Of That lacks chase experience and does not hit any of the trends. The other Irish challenger No More Heroes has a better look about him, with a win over 3-mile in December. Blaklion won the 2m3f Grade 2 persian War Hurdle as a novice on soft ground, and his liking for the mud suggests this won’t be his day. For an 8yo Seeyouatmidnight is lightly raced, but we know he stays 3-mile well and handles Cheltenham. However VYTA DU ROC ticks every trends box, and his win at Ascot on 20Feb was impressive, and in 2nd was Minella Rocco who won here yesterday giving the form a big boost.  
I am having a split-stake wager on SEEYOUATMIDNIGHT and VYTA DU ROC as both are 10/1 or better.
SEEYOUATMIDNIGHT, £5 win @ 12/1 and
VYTA DU ROC, £5 win @ 10/1.

2:50pm Coral Cup Handicap (2-miles & 5 furlongs)
This race is a fiercely competitive handicap invariably run at a strong gallop. As such, it has some strong trends worth following, probably due to the large number of starters each year. Last year, Paul Nicholls produced Aux Ptits Soins to win this race on his UK debut having won twice from 3 races in France.
-          8 of the last 13 winners won LTO;
-          17 of last 22 winners had already won a race earlier in the season;
-          14 of the last 16 winners were aged 7yo or younger;
-          12 of the last 15 winners had only won one previous handicap.
It is not unusual for runners with high weights to do well in this race with Sky’s The Limit winning in 2006 with 11st 12lb, and Get Me Out Of Here running 2nd in 2012 also with 11st 12lb.  Finally, don’t be afraid of taking on the market. If you find a horse at odds longer than 14/1 that meets most, if not all, of the criteria above, then have a punt.

3:30pm Queen Mother Champion Chase (2-miles)
In recent years, the race has been dominated by some exceptional 2-mile chasers who have scared-off the opposition. When this race is competitive it is the most exciting and exhilarating spectacle of the entire Festival. This year, UN DE SCEAUX looks head & shoulders better than anything else in the race.
-          The last 14 winners of the previous year’s Arkle to take part in the QMCC have been placed at least.
-          11 of the last 15 winners have contested the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.
-          33 of the last 34 winners had an SP of no greater than 11/1.
-          13 of the last 14 winners won a Grade 1 chase prior to winning this race
Unless he fails to finish, I cannot see UN DE SCEAUX not winning this and current odds look generous, and I think he could start at 2/5. The race is on to be 2nd in my opinion, and the one to take that spot can be SPECIAL TIARA who was 3rd in the race last year but looks even better now.
Odds of 6/1 without the fav look very generous, as he may only have to beat Sprinter Sacre to take the runners-up place, and Sprinter Sacre was beaten by SPECIAL TIARA fair and square at Sandown last April.
SPECIAL TIARA, £10 win @ 7/1 in the WITHOUT Un De Sceaux market (see Bet365, Boylesports, and Corals)

4:10pm Cross Country Handicap Chase (3-miles & 7-furlongs)
This is not my favourite race and is not one that I will spend much time contemplating and, in its revised position on the card, I doubt many other will either.
Previous experience of Cross–Country chases is a plus, but as this is a race I don't think should be run at the Cheltenham Festival (why not have an Arabian-bred hurdle race?) then I do not spend much time on it. 

4:50pm Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (2-miles & 110 yards)
This is one of the more intriguing races of the Festival, this is a race which has some trends similar to the Centenary Novices Chase
-          less than 5 hurdle runs and;
-          less than 2 hurdle wins;
-          a winning run coming LTO – these 3 factors ensure that the selection is unexposed and improving;
6 of the 11 winners won LTO, but only 1 of the last 5 winners;
Only 2 of the 11 winners of this race had won more than once over hurdles;
7 of the 9 winners had run in 3 hurdle races or less;
Fillies have provided 4 of the 11 winners;
This race has the shortest average period since a run at just 21.09 days with 6 of the 11 previous winners last running 21-days or less before winning this.
This race looks a minefield of “dark-horses” and it may prove best to leave alone.

5:30pm Weatherby’s Champion Bumper “open” NH Flat Race (2-miles & 110 yards)
Another one of the races that I do not look forward to at the Festival as usually “bumper” form is thin on the ground. If you have a view then back it, but I will be using this time to look at the form for Thursday.

Tuesday 15 March 2016

Cheltenham Festival 2016 - Day 1

The roar of the crowd for the start of the opening race can’t come soon enough.
Last year, Mullins got off to a flyer taking 3 races on the opening day and sending bookies heading for the shelter.  Can he do it again?
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:-
A)     The performance of ”Last Time Out” (LTO) winners – over 55% of races are won by a LTO winner. In the past 10 Festivals of the 260 races run, 150 were won by a LTO winner, which is 57.70%.
B)      Weight carried in handicaps – it used to take an exceptional horse to carry more than 11st to victory in a chase handicap, it has been done but not by many, but that mould may have been broken.
C)      The number of days since a horse last ran – the average break from the last run is 35-days, and very few races are won by horses off a break longer than 84-days (12 weeks).
Since 2002, of the Only 32 races (from a total of 344) have been by a horse off a break of more than 84-days.  This is mainly in the “weakest” races: the “bumper” (x4 in ’03, ’07, 09, ‘15); the “Foxhunter” (x3 in ’07, ’08, ’09); the “Mares” hurdle (x5  in ’10, ’11. ’12, ’13, ’14) and the X-Country Chase (x4 in ’09, ’12, ’14, ‘15).

My stats go back to 2002, which was when the Festival re-started after we lost the 2001 Festival to the outbreak of Foot & Mouth disease.

1:30pm Supreme Novices Hurdle, 5yo’s plus (2-miles & 110 yards)
Always an eagerly anticipated race, and the quality of the field is usually exceptional. It pays to play it safe and stick to tried and tested rules, to half-stakes if you are having a wager.
LTO winners have provided 12 of the last 14 winners.
An interesting observation is that only 3 of the last 14 winners ran more than 40-days previously (Captain Cee Bee in 2008 @ 115-days; Cinders And Ashes in 2012 @ 52-days; and Douvan in 2015 @ 59-days). So it may prove to ensure your selection has had a run in the past 40 days.
This race rarely goes to a horse with an SP longer than 14/1, so concentrate on those at the head of the market.  And finally, don’t bother considering anything older than 6yo as 7yo’s and older have an awful record in this race.
Interestingly, that leaves a shortlist of just 2 and excludes the fav MIN who last ran:-
Charbel @ 25/1; and William H Bonney @ 66/1. Given that CHARBEL wasn’t beaten much by the year-older Yanworth in December, at 25/1 he looks the eachway value wager in the race.

2:05pm Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase, (2-miles)
The “Arkle” is one of my favourite races, but isn’t one that I’ve had much luck in.  The race 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.
You have to go back to Moscow Flyer in 2002 for a winner older than 8yo.
The likely winner will have finished either 1st or 2nd in every completed chase start.
Novice chasers capable of winning the “Arkle” have usually shown their hand early in the season.
This year’s race is all about DOUVAN and he looks the real-deal.  I thought the race may have only a handful of runners and there may be only 2 realistic rivals for DOUVAN: Vaniteux and The Game Changer.  We’ve not seen The Game Changer since October, but he looked potentially high-class then and comes into this race a relative “dark horse”.  I think Vaniteux will be a better chaser than hurdler and he may not be far behind DOUVAN in ability. It will not be the walkover the odds suggest, but it is difficult to envisage DOUVAN not winning this.

2:50pm Festival Handicap Chase (3-miles & 1-furlong)
This is perhaps my favourite chase handicap of the jumps season (excluding the Grand National), and this year the trip has been extended by 110 yards to 3m1f. We are seeing a shift in the quality of the race as it is heavily over-subscribed. As I write (Sunday) there are still 57 entered – but only the top 24 in the handicap can run.  This popularity has resulted in the race becoming more competitive, and 3 of the last 5 winners has carried more than 11st to victory – something that would be unheard of 5 years ago.
This is a race for an improving horse, either a novice or 2nd-season chaser with fewer than 10 chase races.  Only 2 of the last 8 winners were rated under OR142, and they were 14/1 winner Alfie Sherrin and 28/1 winner Golden Chieftain.
With 9 of the last 14 winners priced at odds of 8/1 or under it pays to look at those at the head of the market. 
Pay attention to LTO winners in the race (7 of last 14 winners won LTO) and also those that were placed LTO (only 3 of the last 14 winners ran unplaced LTO).
Also look at those with a recent run. The “mean” period is 39-days, but 5 of the last 6 winner ran no more than 24-days previously. 
Personally, I’d put a line thru’ anything which has not run in the past 45-days, and anything 10yo or older. I’m also questioning all those with a rating under OR140.
After applying those filters, THE YOUNG MASTER is interesting and still relatively unexposed.  BEG TO DIFFER is improving quickly and only 6yo, though his regular rider has been claimed by his trainer to ride Kruzhlinin. Another 6yo is BALLYKAN who loved the quicker ground LTO at Kempton, but he may have to settle for a place.  The 7/1 fav OUT SAM is also on my shortlist, but his experience doesn’t look strong enough.
BEG TO DIFFER, £5 eachway @ 14/1 (William Hill (4-places), others go 12/1 but offer quarter-odds a place 1,2,3,4,5)

3:30pm Champion Hurdle (2-miles & 110 yards)
This Championship has been thrown into turmoil with the withdrawal of last year’s winner Faugheen. His trainer, Willie Mullins, has supplemented Annie Power for the race, but I do not think the mare is good enough, even with a 7lb mares’ allowance.  If she runs to her rating of OR162 then she wins, but I have her at about 155.
As such, there looks to me to be a value wager opportunity amongst her rivals.  I don’t think the winner will be The New One as he hasn’t shown himself better than his OR161 rating.  Nicholls Canyon will not be far away and his defeat of Identity Thief in December is perhaps the best form this season in the race. It goes against the grain for many, but I like 5yo’s in the Champion Hurdle especially when they are good ones. For me, TOP NOTCH ticks a lot of boxes and I think he will go very well in this race. His only real failure was not staying 2m4f here in January when well beaten.  And that race points the way to another who could spring a huge surprise, as the winner CAMPING GROUND looked immense that day.

4:10pm David Nicholson Mares Hurdle (2-miles & 4-furlongs)
Possibly the weakest race of the Festival and if I had my way it wouldn’t be run here. .
Thankfully, it is more interesting this year as Annie Power is running in the Champion Hurdle.  However, Mullins has sent VROUM VROUM MAG and although not as good as Annie Power, she should be better than anything else in the race by some way.  At the official ratings, Polly Peachum trained by Nicky Henderson is the best of the British mares’, but do not ignore THE GOVANESS who didn’t stay the 3-mile LTO when beaten by Vroum Vroum Mag at Ascot but will really appreciated this trip and looks the value in the field at 16/1.

4:40pm National Hunt Challenge Cup for Amateur Riders (4-miles)
This race is the oldest race of the Festival.
The first point to note is that this is an amateur riders race, and so jockeyship and finding the right jockey is as much a part of winning as finding the right horse!
The second point of note is that this is a Challenge Cup were every horse carries the same weight (11st 6lb) excepting mares which receive a 7lb weight allowance.
The horse with the highest Official Rating (OR) has won this for 3 of the past 5 years and last year’s winner Cause Of Causes was only 2lb off being top-rated (in 2014, top-rated Shotgun Paddy was 2nd). I think the top-rated horses is the first place to start when looking for the winner – it really is that simple.  This year it is Paul Nicholls 7yo VICENTE.
This race is dominated by 7yo’s and 8yo’s.
No 5yo has won in 38 years, and there is only a single win for a 6yo in 26 years.
There is a bit of a worry that VICENTE has not run for 95-days but this is not usually a strong race, and he’s just below the ability to gain an entry in the RSA Chase for the top novices.  LOCAL SHOW is another sure to run well, but I worry he may not stay this 4-mile trip.
VICENTE, £5 eachway @ 16/1 (quarter-odds a place 1,2,3,4)

5:15pm Centenary Novices Handicap Chase (2-miles & 4½-furlongs)
I think it is a tremendous race, and it is a great shame that organisers have this as the last race on a 7 race card.  It should be swapped with the Mares Hurdle given the prominence it deserves.
This is a very competitive race and a real head scratcher. However, no horse has won this at odds longer than 14/1 so the market is a good guide.
Being a novice handicap chase, the statistical trends are fairly obvious;
less than 5 chase runs; and…
less than 2 chase wins; and…
having won LTO – these 3 factors ensure that the selection is unexposed and improving;
I’ve narrowed down the field of 20 down to 10, but this is still too many. Three of the list are at odds of 20/1 or longer and they are Katgary, Fine In A Row, and Fourth Act – as I like the latter couple, especially Five In A Row, I’m not sure excluding them solely on the odds is a good idea. The other 7 are Thomas Brown, Rezorbi, Bouvreuil, Javert, Double Shuffle, and Aloomomo.  If I leave out the 3 who last ran over 84-days ago (that is Double Shuffle, Javert, and Katgary), and it is FIVE IN A ROW who I keep coming back to.  He won a competitive race LTO just 17-days ago and has only been raised 6lb for that. I think he should be one of the market leaders and odds of 20/1 look much too long.

FIVE IN A ROW, £5 eachway @ 20/1 (quarter-odds a place 1,2,3,4)

Monday 14 March 2016

A time for quiet reflection and dreams of what might be

It is the week of the Cheltenham Festival, and let’s hope the cold blast of air that greeted me when I stepped outside this morning is blowing through the bookies satchels later this week.
I  spent a large part of Sunday looking through the runners for the opening day of the Festival but with 57 still entered in the 3m1f Ultima Handicap Chase on Tuesday working out which will be lining-up at the start is a tricky enough job, let alone finding the winner.
I will have to wait until the overnight declarations are released later today and spend the afternoon looking through the form.

Before that, Saturday’s selection DAWSON CITY ran a belter, and I thought he may be about to win as they ran towards the final fence, but then he was impeded by the loose horse and was virtually brought to a halt.  The eventual winner Mosspark was 2nd in the same race last year and he ran on strong so it’s unlikely that Dawson City would have caught and passed him; but we can out fairly unscathed.

For those on the email list, I will be sending out a draft of the final blog for tomorrow later on this evening, so keep the phone close to learn of the email landing.

We have some great racing ahead and it is unlikely that we will have Mullins winning so many on the opening day as he did last year.  I will be opposing MIN in the opening “Supreme” novices hurdle, as I feel he may not have the experience in what looks a good year for novice hurdlers. I’ve spotted one that is long-odds that looks worthy of a small wager.

I am looking forward to seeing DOUVAN, and he looks the likely winner of the Arkle but his odds are silly – far too short at 2/5.  There must be value in the “without Douvan” market.  The Champion Hurdle looks wide open, and I’m also looking at a long-odds wager in that race.

That’s it for now.  We’ve put together a mighty “bank” over the course of the season to go to war with and “fingers-crossed” we will come out on Friday with an even bigger one.

Saturday 12 March 2016

Calm before the storm

The final Saturday before the Cheltenham Festival starts, and we have 3 jump race meetings at Ayr, Chepstow and Sandown: and it's at Sandown where the day's feature race is being run - the Imperial Cup (handicap) Hurdle.

Hurdle races are not my thing, especially 2-mile handicap hurdle races and I much prefer hurdles over 2m5f or more.  So I'm giving this race a swerve and looking at the handicap chases on the same card.  At 2:35pm there is a Class 3 handicap chase over 3-mile which looks interesting. The last time he ran we were on Bertie Boru who looked very well handicapped on old form. He is a bit of a monkey as he drops himself out the back early then stays on strong - if he's in the right mind! That is exactly the way he won for the last time, back in November 2014 at Newbury when ridden by Richard Johnson who is in the saddle today. He was rated OR135 after that and runs off OR128 today. The current fav Benenden has gone up 10lb in the ratings to OR125 for a facile win LTO over 3-mile, but that looks an over-reaction by the handicapper. Relax was going well Last week in the Veteran's Chase won by Shotavodka till unseating his rider, and he's a C&D winner too. He will set a strong pace out from on a track that does suit his front-running style, but it may also be just the pace Bertie Boru needs to come good. Mosspark was 2nd in this last year, but came into the race in good form then.  This season he's only had one run last November when disappointing. And the winner last year, Financial Climate, hasn't come near repeating that form since, and he's racing off 6lb higher now from OR128.  The novice Dawson City looks very exciting judged on his good 2nd to Golden Chieftain at Wincanton.  The winner was running well and in command when coming down NTO, and DAWSON CITY could be a lot better than his OR129 rating. As the 7yo is also the youngest in the race, he has the most potential to find improvement today, and odds of 15/2 look very fair, as I think he should be joint fav with Relax on 4/1. He certainly would be if he were with a headline trainer and not with Polly Gundry.  But I've no concerns on that score, as I know the horse will come here in possibly the best condition of any in the race.

Value looks thin on the ground at both Ayr and Chepstow and I'm sticking with DAWSON CITY as my only advised wager of the day.

Sandown 2:35pm DAWSON CITY, £5 win @ £5 eachway @ 15/2 (Corals and Bet365 for quarter-odds a place 1,2,3)

Wednesday 9 March 2016

The countdown to the Cheltenham Festival has commenced

This is it!
With the issue of today’s Weekender with the advance runners for next Tuesday and Wednesday, preparation for the Cheltenham Festival is now in full swing. Before that, as I’ve not issued a blog since Saturday, let’s take a look at how racing went last weekend.

There were no selections advised, but the alert list was fairly successful on the day providing the winner of the Grimthorpe Chase in THE LAST SAMURI, of whom I wrote would not be lacking in stamina;  and UPSILON BLEU who I have always thought was an OR150+ horse but had been struggling to show that form this season. With Mountain King (another from my alert list) declared a non-runner, perhaps I should have lumped-on UPSILON BLEU as his race rivals looked very weak in the formbook - and so it proved as he ran out a very easy winner. There was a further bonus in the run from MASTERS HILL in the veterans chase who ran 3rd.  I expected this race to be won by one of the 4, 10yo’s in the race – and they came 1st, 3rd and 4th. I thought the 3m3f trip would be too far for eventual winner Shotavodka, but he ran away with the race.

Onto the Cheltenham Festival, and a look at the races next week.
The card for the opening day is unchanged, with the same order for the 7 races as last year. As with previous festivals, keep to “last-time-out” winners and horses that have run since Christmas Day but come to the Festival off a break of about 28-days. You want horses that are race-fit and fresh.
Given that MIN comes into the Festival off a break of 66-days; and only Captain Cee Bee in 2008 has won this race off a longer break, I will be looking to oppose him.
And the same for DOUVAN in the “Arkle”, the next race on Tuesdays card. Douvan comes to the Festival off a 51-day break and, with 5 of the last 14 winners running here off a break of under 28-days, it is possible that Douvan may not be on his “A” game.

The “Ultima” handicap chase on the opening day over 3m1f will be the ultimate test for me, never mind the horses, on Wednesday. This is one of the highlights of the season for me, the ultimate test of mind and “bottle” between the punter and the bookies. I’m surprised the top-weight Sausalito Sunrise isn’t going for the Gold Cup as, with an OR163 rating, he is among the best half-dozen chasers over 3-mile-plus in the country at the moment. I’m expecting quiet a few at the top of the handicap to drop out, and the weights to go up; so I will be hanging-fire for now. But there are a handful of young horses that I will be hoping get a run. Those on the email list will be having the names of those horses to ponder over. 

Unusually, the Champion Hurdle looks wide open. I know Annie Power has a 7lb mares allowance (why, this is supposed to be the Champion Hurdle), but this will be the toughest race she’s ever been in by a long way. If she is at her best then, with the 7lb allowance, she will take all the beating – but will she be? When 5yo’s run in the Champion Hurdle then I think it’s best to take notice. I know they don’t win very often, but they are never far away in a “normal” year and, with this year being potentially a weak renewal, I will most likely be looking at the 5yo’s for my wager.

The Mares’ Hurdle also looks an interesting race without ANNIE POWER, and the current highest-rated UK-trained horse in the race is Nicky Hendersons’ POLLY PEACHUM on OR150. Of course, the Irish entries don’t have official ratings, but we al know that VROUM VROUM MAG looks well capable of substituting Annie Power.

The National Hunt Chase is run over a trip just 50 yards short of 4-miles. Every runner carries the same weight of 11st 6lb in this amateur riders race, and a good ploy is just to wager on the top-rated horse in the race; end of! Those on the email list have been given the name of that runner.  

The first day ends with the tough novices handicap chase over 2m4½f which gives me brain-ache just looking at.  This is a tremendous race, and it is a great shame that organisers have placed this as the last race on a 7 race card.  I would really like to see this race brought forward in the card, and it should be swapped with the Mares Hurdle and given the prominence it deserves.

Saturday 5 March 2016

Busy day of horseracing

We have a busy day of horseracing ahead of us with meetings at Doncaster, Newbury, Kelso and Stratford.
With all the racing, we have a lot of runners from the alert list and I’m hoping that 1 or 2 will find themselves in the winner’s enclosure.
The highlight of the Doncaster meeting is the 3m2f Grimthorpe Chase, a Class 2 handicap run at 3:45pm that has attracted a high-class field which, unfortunately, has scared away most of the entries leaving just a select field of 8 runners. There are 3 from my alert list in the race: DROP OUT JOE, THE LAST SAMURI, and SEGO SUCCESS.  Without a doubt, Drop Out Joe could be 7lb better than his OR151 rating, and the ground and trip should not inconvenience him.  Whereas the 9lb hike for his LTO win has almost certainly scuppered The Last Samuri, although he will not be lacking stamina. It is SEGO SUCCESS who has the best form in the book on my ratings, but odds of just 4/1 in this competitive race are not attractive enough. 
Newbury looks an exciting meeting, and there is an interesting Veterans’ handicap chase over 3m2f at 2:15pm. This is a race which has been dominated by 10yo’s, they have won 6 of the last 7 runnings, and I think the winner of this race will again come from one of the 10yo’s.  There are only 4 10yo’s in the race: Masters Hill, Same Difference, So Fine, and Shotavodka.  Masters Hill hates soft/heavy ground, so it is no surprise that he’s struggled this winter to find his form, and the better ground he races on today could see a complete turnaround in his form.  On his day he’s a smart handicap chaser who stays 3-mile plus well.  Same Difference, who won the “Kim Muir” over 3m1f as a 7yo at the 2013 Cheltenham Festival, is also a smart horse on his day – but we haven’t seen that day for a long time and, after running 5th in the 2014 “Kim Muir” off OR141 he’s not completed in his 2 subsequent races. I think this 3m2f trip is too far for Shotavodka and as for So Fine he’s not jumped a fence in 3 years (tailed-off 3rd in a 3-runner race).  MASTERS HILL at 14/1 could be an interesting eachway play.

The Greatwood Gold Cup chase at 3:25pm looks a tricky race for the novice chaser Sametegal, but his trainer Paul Nicholls has farmed this race in recent years. Nicholls also has the fav Art Mauresque, but the value has gone and he's just 5/1.  

Finding value looks tricky today. It’s one thing finding a winning wager, but I’m not going to be tempted to chasing winners just to fill the blog. The opening race at Doncaster could be a wagering opportunity as this 2-mile Calss 2 handicap chase has an open look about it. Top-weight Upsilon Bleu has been on my alert list since this time last season when chasing home Mr Mole in a Grade 2 chase at Newbury. At his best, he’s better than OR140, and is probably more like 150+, but he’s struggled to show his form this season. Another on my alert list is MOUNTAIN KING and his form is more respectable, except LTO he ran a stinker at Ascot. He last won over 2-miles in April last year beating yesterday’s winner Ut Majeur Aulmes giving him 8lb. He ran off OR132 that day and is rated OR133 for this, so he looks well-handicapped.  I feel Pearls Legend is held by the handicapper, while Yorkist probably wants the ground to be even more testing.  Astigos won for the first time as a chaser LTO but I don’t expect him to repeat the feat in this; and Ulis De Vassy shows his best form in the summer months and hasn’t been seen since August.  MOUNTAIN KING is Phil Hobbs only runner at Doncaster and stable jockey (and champion-elect) Richard Johnson rides, so I’m expecting there to be a lot of stable confidence behind this one.  Current odds of 4/1 (BetVictor and Paddy Power) look too generous, and I think he’s more of a 9/4 chance.Unfortunately, after writing this last night, I've found out this morning that the horse is a non-runner.
It looks like today is a no-bet raceday.