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Friday 9 March 2018

Early thoughts on Cheltenham Festival

Last night I was lucky enough to be able to go along to the "Cheltenham Forum" organised by the London Racing Club, and the panel included the (soon to retire) BHA handicapper Phil Smith; the brains behind the Weatherbys Festival Guide Matt Tombs; and the irreplaceable Lydia Hislop. Due to having to travel back to Brighton, I had to leave at the interval - so I'm hoping my mate "Big Al" (who I will be attending the Festival with next week) will share his notes of the 2nd-half. 

I will be writing a blog every day next week, although I'm not to sure just yet how much detail will be going down.  When I look back at what I used to do about 3 or 4 years ago, I have no idea where I found the time.  As always, my advice is to keep things simple and stick to the tried & trusted methods of what works, and what doesn't.
1) focus on "last-time-out" winners - year in, year out they represent 55% of the winners of all Festival races, horses don't win at the Festival off the back of a poor previous performance.
2) Make note of the days since that last run - horses need to be fresh but they also need to have had a run since Christmas Day.  Very few horses are capable of winning at the Festival having been off the track for more than 12 weeks (84 days) and the races in which horses can win from such breaks are usually the weak ones: the Mares Hurdle and the Champion "Bumper".  I look for horses whose previous run was between 21 and 49 days prior to the race.
3) Weight in handicaps - it used to be that horses could not win a Festival handicap carrying a weight of more than 11st, now it seems that a horse with less than 11st to carry is just not good enough to compete.  Do not be afraid of weight in handicaps.
4) Experience - essentially, you are looking for an improving young horse who "merit" has yet to be discovered, or whose potential has yet to have peaked.  Anything that has run more than 12 times in the sphere in which it is competing, is likely to be already exposed and the potential for further improvement is limited.
5) Do not ignore the obvious - in the "championship" races when every horse carries the same weight, finding the winner is usually no more difficult than focusing on the top-2 in the race with the highest official rating.  Handicapper Phil Smith reminded those at the forum last night of the "power" of known form over hype.

Some of my thoughts on the Festival races of next week:

The "Arkle" on Tuesday - it is possible that this race could well have no more than 6 runners and, if that is the case, FOOTPAD (currently best-priced at 11/8) could start at odds-on.  The race usually takes some winning, and the winner is usually a potential "Gold Cup" horse - and of the 3 market leaders only FOOTPAD could possibly become a future Gold Cup candidate.  Had FOOTPAD been a better rated hurdler then I think he'd be considerably shorter in the market.

Champion Hurdle on Tuesday - it was pointed out at the Forum last night that the highest-rated performance by a hurdler in the Champion Hurdle next week that had been run this season was by FAUGHEEN.  At the current odds, the 6/1 offered by Paddy Power looks an eachway wager to nothing.  There's something about the horse, especially as he's barely raced since January 2016, and while he may not be the horse he once was he isn't far short of it - and that could well be good enough in a Champion Hurdle that (in my opinion) lacks depth.

Ballymore Novices Hurdle on Wednesday - this is another race that could well cut-up, and so at this stage you should be looking for a horse that is a guaranteed runner in the race. The one horse that the panel thought had a decent chance now, but would have an enhanced chance if the race cut-up, was BLACK OP.  I was at Cheltenham in January when the horse was beaten by Nicky Henderson's Santini in what looked a hard-fought race on heavy ground. Next weeks ground is unlikely to be so testing and that will play to the advantage of BLACK OP whose 12/1 odds will surely be shorter come Wednesday afternoon.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase - will Douvan turn-up next Wednesday?  Even if he does, would he be capable of beating ALTIOR?  And is Min capable of mounting a serious challenge?  This race looks a shoo-in for ALTIOR, and the best value may be in the race to be 2nd, and once worth taking a chance on in the "without-the-fav" market is CHARBEL who was running a great race in the Arkle (won by Altior) last season before falling. 

I will be looking to write more notes over the weekend - good luck.    


  1. Good luck Iain, I hope you have an enjoyable festival, cheers, Jim

  2. Good insight as always Ian