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Friday 17 March 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - Day 4 (Friday)

We were most unlucky with TOP NOTCH yesterday in the opening race as, but for that one mistake at the 2nd-last fence which looked like it cost him about 5-lengths, he probably would have won well. He certainly looked the best horse in the race to me and he stormed up the hill on the run-in from the last fence almost catching eventual winner Yorkhill.
In the Ryanair, Josses Hill just wasn’t good enough. Eventual winner UN DE SCEAUX did not have to do much other than stay the trip, which I felt he only just did, and he was helped in that matter by his euphoric jumping display which nearly cost him mid-race when he landed on a fence. However, it looked a poor Ryanair to me with little depth as show by ASO running in 3rd place. By my ratings, the winner didn't have to top 160 to win this, and trainers really should start having a go at these short-priced horses.

My 3rd selection Champagne At Tara never looked like going and was soon pulled-up, which was disappointing. Of the others mentioned on the blog, Hadrian’s Approach fell and Sutton Manor (after some support on the betting market) ran a positive race to be 5th in the 3-mile handicap hurdle. 

In the Stayers’ Hurdle, Unowhatimeanharry disappointed, running about 7-10lb below his best form. The proven stayers Lil Rockerfella and Cole Harden ensured it was a true test and eventual winner Nichols Canyon looked more at home at this trip – his first attempt at 3-miles – than he had at 2-miles. The leading pair are young enough to dominate this 3-mile hurdle division for the next couple of seasons.
Onto the final day and we could do with a winner!
Todays opening Triumph Hurdle over 2-miles is dominated by the McManus owned Defi Du Seuil, Charli Parcs and Landofhopeandglory. However, I was most impressed by MASTER BLUEYES winning the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton LTO (Charli Parcs fell 2-out), and the ground today will suit this decent flat performer well who took his time to take to hurdling but looks top class now. Odds of 7/1 look generous for a race that may have little depth to it.
The County Handicap Hurdle looks like a real head-scratcher to me and I’m happy to leave that to others and so I will move onto the 3-mile Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle. This race takes some winning by a proper staying horse and the 2/1 fav Death Duty has yet to race beyond 2m4f so we are looking at opposing him. Augusta Kate hasn’t enough experience in my mind (only 1 completed hurdle race), however Monalee won over 3-mile LTO on heavy ground. But it is Wholestone who has won 4 of his last 5 races, winning at 3-mile and over C&D on “good” ground that ticks a lot of boxes. With The Worlds End and Constantine Bay evenly matched on form (via No Hassle Hoff), and the remainder looking outclassed, WHOLESTONE looks like being a worthy wager at 7/1 as there are not many in this race with winning form at 3-mile and on this ground.
Finally, the Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (3-miles and 2½ furlongs)
16 of the last 18 winners had already won a race that season;
15 of the last 16 winners were in the 1st-3 in the betting (exception was 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 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. There is a big field of 14-runners and this race looks like producing a surprise result to me as I just cannot see the 3/1 fav Djakadam winning a Gold Cup as he just isn’t good enough. On form this season I have Cue Card and Native River closely matched (and better than Djakadam) and age puts me on the 7yo Native River. The form of Sizing John took a hit yesterday when Empire Of Dirt was well beaten in the Ryanair. The form of Outlander isn’t strong enough (Don Poli is a 155 horse at best), but Champagne West is interesting as he handles Cheltenham well and is back to his best with trainer Henry De Bromhead – but is his best good enough?  Bristol De Mai has questions to answer after his run LTO, and the others look outclassed other than MINELLA ROCCO.  He won the 4-mile NH Chase last year, beating Native River into 2nd in the process, Scottish National winner Vincente in 5th and Vieux Lion Rouge in 6th – this was a “vintage” NH Chase. His season started at Cheltenham when 3rd to Viconte Du Noyer over 3m3f when I thought he looked most unfit beforehand. He then fell at the last fence when trying to beat the ill-fated Many Clouds at Aintree in December (and Many Clouds beat Thistlecrack NTO). LTO he unseated his rider at the 5thfence in the Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown in February. If he can get a clear round in today then I am sure he will be in the shake-up as he will strip a lot fitter than he did when here in November.  
I advised those on my email list and readers of the blog to take the 20/1 about Native River on the morning of the day he won the Welsh National, and he is the most likely winner of the race. So, if you are on at 20/1 then don't bother adding to that today, if not then the 9/2 looks fair as I'd have NATIVE RIVER at 3/1 for this race, maybe even a bit shorter.
Todays advised selections
Cheltenham 1:30pm MASTER BLUEYES, £10 win @ 7/1 (available generally)
Cheltenham 2:50pm WHOLESTONE, £10 win @ 15/2 (Paddy Power, with 7/1 generally available)

Thursday 16 March 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - Day 3 (Thursday)

1:30pm JLT Novices Chase (2-miles & 4-furlongs)
The day opens with the 7th running of this championship race for novice chasers. 
· All 6 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 6 previous winners contested a hurdle at the previous year’s Cheltenham Festival. 
Stick with LTO winners (although last year’s winner Black Hercules was a faller LTO) 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. 
Only 8 go to post, and for me there are only 2 in with a winning chance: TOP NOTCH and Yorkhill. Of the others, Disko has been trying trips which are (borderline) too long, and Politologue just does not look good enough. Of the leading pair, TOP NOTCH was the better hurdler, and he has more experience than Yorkhill. At the odds, TOP NOTCH at 4/1 could be the value wager of the Festival.
TOP NOTCH, £10 win @ 4/1 (Paddy Power)

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 as only 2 horses have won this at odds under 14/1 to win since 2005. This race is a tricky one for punters to solve. 
· 17 of last 24 winners carried between 10st 7lb and 11st 3lb;
· 12 of the last 25 winners won LTO.
A difficult race, however the 6yo SUTTON MANOR has only run 6 times and never finished worse than 4th. He was 2nd in the qualifier in Ireland on 5th Feb, then won LTO on 23rd Feb. Trained by Gordon Elliot, he could have any amount of improvement left in him and early odds of 25/1 look mighty interesting.

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 – 11 of the 12 winners previous winners had won at Cheltenham (Riverside Theatre in 2012 was the exception).
· Winning form in a Grade 1 chase – 8 of the last 9 winners (since the Ryanair became a Grade 1 chase) had previously won a Grade 1 chase (Imperial Commander in 2009 was the only exception).
This race hangs on whether Un De Sceaux can stay the trip as he has only raced around this trip in France. The 2nd-fav Empire Of Dirt won over C&D last year in the Novice handicap, but needs to find at least 7lb to match the fav. Uxizandre won this race in 2015 and has been off since then with injury returning to chase home the fav over 2-mile here in January. If he could find another 7lb of improvement then he has a chance. I cannot see Sub Lieutenant winning, and I am more interested in JOSSES HILL who if repeating his latest winning effort (ignore his King George run) may not be far away.  Odds of 9/1 look eachway value for a stable we know will have him fit to run to his best.
JOSSES HILL, £5 eachway @ 9/1

3:30pm World Hurdle (3-miles)
This race is dominated by Unowhatimeaanharry who should win this in authorative manner. 
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;·

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.
· 20 of the last 24 winners carried under 11st;
· 13 of the previous 19 winners came here off a break of no more than 39 days;
· 21 of the last 24 winners were rated between OR128 – OR141;
· Irish trainers have only won this race twice (Empire Of Dirt won it for Ireland last year) since 1951.
If you look only at those rated at OR141 or below then you omit all those carrying 10st10lb or more, which leaves 11 of the 24. Take out those who last ran more than 39 days ago, and that drops to just 6 horses; Ballykan, Rock Gone, Champagne At Tara, Mad Jack Mytton, Katachenko, and Thomas Crapper. Of those, I prefer CHAMPAGNE AT TARA a LTO winner who is at 25/1.
CHAMPAGNE AT TARA £5 eachway @ 25/1

4:50pm Mares’ Novices Hurdle (2m & 179 yards)
I’m going to give this race 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. 
· 8 of the last 12 winners have carried 11st 4lb or more
· No winner in over 20 years was younger than 7yo;
· Only 6 of the last 37 winners was a 7yo;
· There has been 2 Irish-trained winners in past 3 years (after a break of 31 years).
As all the riders are amateur you need to consider the talents of the jockeys, the best are Codd, (Katie) Walsh, Biddick, Legg, Waley-Cohen, Harding, and (Gina) Andrews.  I think the market leaders (Squouateur, Mall Dini, and Southfield Royale) look weak in this race and can be opposed. Doctor Harper is an interesting entry for David Pipe, but the best recent form in the race is that of HADRIANS APPROACH @ 18/1 who ran 4th in the Hennessey GC and trainer Nicky Henderson has booked the capable Biddick for the ride. 

Overall, 3 firm selections but I would not put you off having a small eachway wager on both SUTTON MANOR and HADRIANS APPROACH both available at long odds. This could be quite a day for Nicky Henderson - again!

Wednesday 15 March 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - Day 2 (Wednesday)

Onto Wednesday, and this is not my favourite day of the week, I'm not a fan of the Cross-Country Chase or the "Bumper", and the QMCC looks like it is a walk-over for DOUVAN again with the remainder of the field looking poor by comparison.

Unfortunately, the opening "Neptune" also has little value in the betting market, and the RSA Chase could well go to MIGHT BITE if he confirms his promise of his Boxing Day run at Kempton (fell at the final fence when 16-lengths in front) .

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 over 40 years;
-          25 of the previous 28 winners had run in at least 3 hurdle races (last year Yorkhill won this on his 3rd hurdle race);
-          19 of the last 23 winners have won at least twice coming into the race;
-          20 of the last 25 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.
A big field of 15 go to post, yet Neon Wolf (7/4) and Bacardys (3/1) dominate. Willoughby Court is possibly best of the rest, but do not underestimate well-bred and well-related Shattered Love trained by Gordon Elliot. 

2:10pm RSA Chase for Novices (3-mile & 110 yards)
This race seems to be going downhill as it is watered-down by the growing prestige of the 4-mile NH Chase on Day-1. Last years race, won by Blaklion, has not provided any class horses.
-          The last 16 of the last 17 winners had raced at least 3 times over fences;
-          21 of the previous 24 winners were a novice hurdler the previous season;
-          7yo’s have provided 14 of the previous 16 winners;
-          17 of the last 27 winners had won a 3-mile+ chase before winning this;
-          Only 1 of the last 50-odd winners had not run in the year of the race;
-          19 of the last 24 winners had at least 9 NH starts (hurdles and chases count, but not bumpers);
-          Last year’s winner Blaklion was the 1st in 24 years to have been placed in a Graded or Listed hurdle over less than 2m3f.
Chasing experience is what counts here not potential ability.
If we look for a 7yo (which omits 8yo Might Bite the 7/2 fav) with at least 3 chase runs, which was a novice hurdler last season, has had at least 9xNH races, and (hopefully) has won over 3-mile we have: Acapella Bourgeois and Royal Vacation.  Of that pair, I like Acapella Bourgeois  but the ground (he needs soft) looks to be against him. 

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.
-          9 of the last 14 winners won LTO;
-          18 of last 23 winners had already won a race earlier in the season;
-          14 of the last 17 winners were aged 7yo or younger;
-          12 of the last 16 winners had only won one previous handicap.
It is not unusual for runners with big weights to do well in this race, and 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)
When this race is competitive it is the most exciting and exhilarating spectacle of the entire Festival.
-          The last 15 winners of the previous year’s Arkle to take part in the QMCC have been placed at least.
-          11 of the last 16 winners have contested the Tingle Creek Chase at Sandown.
-          34 of the last 35 winners had an SP of no greater than 11/1.
-          14 of the last 15 winners won a Grade 1 chase prior to winning this race
I cannot see DOUVAN not winning this, but what comes 2nd is anyone’s guess.  Last year I was on SPECIAL TIARA in the "w/o the fav" market, but he came in 3rd, and that’s the position he has filled for the past 2 seasons.

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.

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;
7 of the 12 winners won LTO, but only 2 of the last 6 winners;
Only 2 of the 12 winners of this race had won more than once over hurdles;
8 of the 12 winners had run in 3 hurdle races or less;
Fillies have provided 4 of the 12 winners;
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 14 March 2017

Cheltenham Festival 2017 - Day 1 (Tuesday)

After the bookies took “one helluva beating” last year, for the 2017 Festival we have perhaps the most open Festivals in years.

1:30pm Supreme Novices Hurdle, 5yo’s plus (2-miles & 110 yards)
The quality of the field is usually exceptional, just look at the last 4 winners: Altior, Douvan, Vautour, and Champagne Fever. It invariably pays to play it safe and stick to tried and tested rules, but only to half-stakes if you are having a wager as this race is fiercely competitive.
LTO winners providing 13 of the last 15 winners.
This race is run at one helluva pace, especially over the first half-mile, so fitness is an important factor. Only 4 of the last 15 winners ran more than 40-days previously, so it may be beneficial 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 those aged 7yo and older have an awful record in this race.
Taking those 4 pointers into consideration we end up with a shortist of Ballyandy (7/2) and River Wylde (8/1) as the others that meet the criteria (Beyond Conceit, Capital Force, and High Bridge) in the market.  

2:10pm Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase, (2-miles)
Unfortunately, the “Arkle” hasn’t been much of a betting medium in recent years as 4 of the last 5 winners have started at odds-on.
It is almost an impossibility that current odds-on fav Altior will be beaten in this race, but that does not mean you cannot have a wager.  Back in 2012 when the race was won by the odds-on Sprinter Sacre, I had my largest profitable wager of that festival when taking 3/1 about Cue Card in the "without the fav" market.  As such, it may be best to focus on which horse will follow Altior home. 
In a "normal" year the winner will have finished either 1st or 2nd in every completed chase start, and top novice chasers capable of winning the “Arkle” will have usually shown their hand early in the season.   I consider that there are just 2 contenders for the runners-up spot: Charbel and Some Plan.  He may have been off the track since running 2nd (to Altior) in December, but if he's fit then CHARBEL could be the one to give the fav the most to do, and 11/4 without the fav is available.

2:50pm Festival Handicap Chase (3-miles & 1-furlong)
Possibly the most competitive handicap chase of the season and my favourite chase handicap (excluding the Grand National). Only 24 runners which has resulted in the race becoming more competitive with and 4 of the last 6 winners carrying more than 11st to victory.
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 9 winners were rated under OR142, and they were 14/1 winner Alfie Sherrin and 28/1 winner Golden Chieftain.
With 9 of the last 15 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 15 winners won LTO) and also those that were placed LTO (only 3 of the last 15 winners ran unplaced LTO).
Also look at those with a recent run. The “mean” period is 39-days, but 5 of the last 7 winner ran no more than 24-days previously (excepting those sent by David Pipe). 
Personally, I’d put a line thru’ anything which has not run in the past 45-days, and anything 10yo or older.
This is a race for proven 3-mile chasers, you have to stay the trip (and possibly a little bit more) to win this race.  Last year's winner Un Temps Pour Tout will be top-weight on 11st 12lb and he looks fair eachway value. Novice chaser Singlefarmpayment heads the betting at 7/1 (Hill go 8/1) and that looks fair to me as he is a worthy fav for this. Last season, Henri Parry Morgan was on of the top novice chasers and he looks value at 12/1 running off OR142 which is 8lb below his peak.
Another novice chaser worth a 2nd-glance is Label Des Obeaux who has won his last 2 races and is available at 16/1 with Coral and Hills.  Yes, he has something to find with Singlefarmpayment on their December meeting, but he has looked a much improved horse since then and I like that he is a prominent runner. There are a number of horses in this race with dodgy stamina or who perhaps will be wanting softer ground (eg Noble Endeavour), or are just too old.  And so we could find that this year those that race more prominently will be involved at the finish.  He may be at 50/1 but Coologue won over C&D last October and it looks like he has been aimed at this race since then as he has not been pushed.
Of those that I did not consider over the weekend and have sneaked into the race at the bottom of the handicap, and one who could do well is A Good Skin who was 2nd in the Kim Muir after disputing the lead for most of the race.  At his best he is certainly better than OR134, and it is very interesting that Richard Johnson is on A GOOD SKIN and there has been some money for this one since the declarations were known but, he may be wanting a longer trip than this.
I want to be on a form horse and the one that ticks all the boxes is LABEL DES OBEAUX.
LABEL DES OBEAUX,  £5 Eachway @ 20/1 (available with BetVictor & Stan James who go quarter-odds a place 1,2,3,4,5)

3:30pm Champion Hurdle (2-miles & 110 yards)
This Championship race looks very open as neither of the last two winners will start. I do not think the race-fav Yanworth is a potential Champion, as I rate him at 160 and that suggests he is a vulnerable fav.  Based on novice hurdle form, there is very little to split Buveur D’Air and Petit Mouchoir but I feel the former would prefer softer ground and 2m4f and that perhaps puts the advantage with Petit Mouchoir. 
Brain Power has potential but he will need to find 7lb and more on what he’s shown to date to be involved in the finish. I think Moon Racerwill be outclassed but The New One should be capable of running 3rd should one of the 3 market leaders not perform. Odds of 8/1 about Petit Mouchoir are available and that looks value.

4:10pm David Nicholson Mares Hurdle (2-miles & 4-furlongs)
Usually the weakest championship race of the Festival and (if I had my way) it wouldn’t be run here.  However, as Limini is heading here instead of the Champion Hurdle, it makes the race a half-decent one with Apple’s Jade and Vroum Vroum Mag in opposition. LIMINI should win.

4:50pm 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 6 years and I think the top-rated horses are the first place to start when looking for the winner – it really could be that simple. 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.
I think BEWARE THE BEAR (OR148) has a tremendous chance, as I’m not sure Edwulf (OR159) will stay this trip, and Missed Approach (OR145) has jumping issues. Tiger Roll (OR152) hasn’t run since October, and the 6yo A Genie In Abottle (OR148) does not look like a Cheltenham horse to me as he needs plenty of cajoling. Henderson does not usually send a horse for this 4-mile race, so he must consider BEWARE THE BEAR to hold a very good chance and so the 8/1 available looks generous.
BEWARE THE BEAR, £5 eachway @ 8/1 (Bet365, Coral & Ladbrokes offer 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 - look for something with:-
less than 5 chase runs; and...
less than 2 chase wins, and...
preferably having won LTO - a combination of these 3 factors will ensure that your selection is relatively unexposed and improving.  
This years race looks a cracker with only 5lb separating the entire field of 20 runners.
I reckon the current fav Foxtail Hill is vulnerable off OR140 as he didn't win LTO with a lot in hand and has gone up the handicap 7lb. Itsafreebee does not look a natural chaser, and Two Taffs does not look like he's improving. Gold Present seems to be on a fair handicap mark, but he perhaps wants a longer trip than this. One I like the look of is BUN DORAN who found himself in a tough contest LTO but was going well till he went for a big one 3-out and it didn't come off. He probably would have well beaten Itsafreebee that day had he continued (he pulled-up) and he could go well in this. Odds of 16/1 look more than generous as he'd probably be trading at about 8/1 if he had completed his latest race.  This is a very tricky handicap and I'm not recommending a wager in the race, but I will probably be on Bun Doran for small money.

Just 2 selections so far - but I would not put anyone off having a "without the fav" wager on CHARBEL in the "Arkle" at 11/4 or "place-only" on PETIT MOUCHIOR in the Champion Hurdle.