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


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Thursday 31 January 2019

Lookahead to the weekends Dublin Festival

The cold breath of winter has blown across the nation and a heavy frost has resulted in several meetings being lost.  Musselburgh has already raised the "white flag" and surrendered to the weather, which means only Sandown and Wetherby remain available for jump racing on Saturday.
As I write (Thursday afternoon), it is not certain the Sandown will get the go-ahead and a decision is to be made on Friday afternoon. Losing Sandown will be a blow, as there is a good Class 2 handicap chase over 2-mile, the Listed hurdle race over 2-mile which Buveur D'Air usually uses as a 'prep' race for the Champion Hurdle, and then there's the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices Chase over 2m4f. To follow, there's a 3-mile Grade 3 handicap hurdle, and a 3-mile Class 2 handicap Chase – an absolutely cracking card.
I'm going to give it until Friday afternoon before taking a look at the runners on Saturday at Sandown (the Wetherby card does not look anywhere near as good), and instead look at Ireland.
Leopardstown, situated just outside Dublin, holds the 2-day "Dublin Festival", and many of the top Irish-trained horses are having their final run before the Cheltenham Festival on either Saturday or Sunday. The top trainers Gordon Elliott and Willie Mullins have many multiple entries for the races, and it remains to be seen which will actually take part: for instance, in the opening race on Saturday a Grade 1 novice hurdle over 2m6f, of the 25 entries Mullins supplies 6 entries and Elliott supplies 5 entries.
Because of the expected frost on Friday night, the course management has announced they are re-structuring the running-order of the races with the hurdles being run first and the chases later in the day to give the frost the opportunity to get out of the ground; so check race times before having a wager. 
On Saturday, the Dublin Chase run over 2m1f should see MIN confirmed as the top "2-mile" chaser trained in Ireland, but where will that will leave his stable companion Footpad?  It is probably too late now to target another race distance, so I'm expecting Footpad to head for the Champion Chase at Cheltenham (run over 2m1f) unless he's really well beaten, in which case they might pull-up stumps for the season and have a rethink.  The Irish "Arkle" novice chase over 2m1f (won by Footpad last year) looks a cracker, with 6 LTO winners amongst the 12 entries. This meeting will be a real test for the "prince" of trainers Joseph O'Brien, and his promising novice chaser LE RICHEBOURG will know he's been in a race after this.
The Irish Champion Hurdle over 2-miles has only attracted 6 entries, but I'm expecting all to go to post and this race should be won by MELON. I honestly think the mare Apple's Jade will not have the speed for this trip, and she will revert back to longer trips.  The interesting runner is Petit Mouchoir who won this race in 2017 before running 3rd at Cheltenham in the Champion Hurdle; he could be a live outsider as I'm sure his trainer would not persevere with hurdles if he did not think he had a chance.  
On Sunday, I will be very interested in the 4yo novice hurdle over 2-miles and the following "supreme" novices hurdle over the same trip. Then comes a race that could have a major impact later this Spring when RATHVINDEN runs in the 3-mile handicap hurdle.  I said after he won the 4-mile NH Chase last March that he was a long-term Grand National horse, and it looks like Willie Mullins is thinking along the same lines. Later in the afternoon come the 2 races we will all be interested in: the Grade 1 "Flogas" Novice Chase over 2m5f (this used to be called the Dr PJ Moriarty Chase) and the field for this looks top-class, followed by the Grade 1 Unibet Irish Gold Cup over 3-mile.  The novice chase includes Delta Work, La Bague Au Roi, and MORTAL and it is the latter who I think will win on Sunday and stamp his authority as the top staying novice chaser this season. I'm not sure which race he will run in at Cheltenham, so I've taken odds for both the RSA Chase (3-miles) and the NH Chase (4-miles).
The Irish Gold Cup will hopefully answer a few questions as we have not seen a top staying chaser emerge from Ireland since Sizing John who won the Gold Cup in 2017. The Mullins-trained pair of Al Boum Photo and Kemboy will both be trying to establish their credentials and one or the other should win as this field looks to lack depth in my opinion.    

Cheltenham Festival Portfolio
Cheltenham Gold Cup
CLAN DES OBEAUX, £12 win @ 12/1
Ryanair Chase
POLITOLOGUE, £38 win @ 14/1 (average odds - current intention is to lay-off £28 at SP on the day)
POLITOLOGUE, £5 place @ 12/1
Champion Hurdle
SHARJAH, £20 win @ 12/1 (current intention is to lay-off £10 at SP on the day)
RSA Chase (Novices 3-mile)
MORTAL, £11 win @ 16/1
NH Chase (Novices 4-mile)
MORTAL, £9 win @ 20/1

Monday 28 January 2019

A look-back at Saturdays racing - 26th Jan

It was a great day of racing on Saturday at Cheltenham, even if all my recommended wagers went astray, and meeting-up with old friends to dedicate a bench on the lawns and raise a glass to departed, but not forgotten friends, warmed the heart.
The weather was kind as I was expecting the wind to be bracing and the weather to be wet, and Cheltenham was rewarded with a good crowd, knowledgeable and friendly as always.
Finding a place to read the form inside, and to rest the legs, proved tricky as the racecourse management have decided to remove nearly every table and most of the chairs.  Those chairs that remain look to be on their "last legs" and I very much doubt that they will be replaced.
Racing is mainly about the social aspect for about 60% of the crowd, with 30% wanting to have a wager for the fun of it, and the remaining 10% truly interested in what is taking place on the course and place a "proper" wager. And the racecourse should not forget that 10% - who have no intent in propping-up the bar for 4 hours buying Guinness at £5.80 a pint, or paying £10.50 for a burger (chips are an extra £3.50) which you have to eat standing up – no plate, no table, no cutlery, no service.  I can get better quality food in my local pub for less cost and eat it sat at a table off a plate.  I understand the course is only used on race-days and running-costs have to be covered, but come on!
The racing fortunately, did not disappoint.
From the off there were Festival pointers, and that young man Joseph O'Brien sent only 2 horses over from Ireland for the day, and they finished 1st & 2nd in the opening Triumph "trial" hurdle; with winner Fakir D'Oudaires absolutely taking the race apart and leaving leading British hope Adjali left toiling. This was Joseph O'Brien's first winner at Cheltenham and it won't be the last; he looks a king-in-waiting likely to takeover residency of Ballydoyle from his father in due course. What I took from that opening race was that the ground was more testing than the description good-to-soft suggested. Some parts of the course looked soft to me, and having proven stamina led me to the winner of the 2nd race Kildisart in the novices handicap chase over 2m5f (race distance extended by 113 yards).
The softer ground turned me against Spiritofthegames as while I thought he'd stay the trip, he didn't have the look of a 3/1 fav to me, and so I swapped allegiance to the morning fav Kildisart who had eased to 9/2 in the betting (from 3/1). Kildisart had won twice over the trip including LTO at Ascot, and on soft ground in a Class 2 hurdle at Kempton last March; so no stamina doubts at all and he handled the ground.  He didn't jump particularly well, but he had enough in-hand to easily rein-in the leader and assert his authority on the run-in. There is scope for improvement and he looks a 150+ chaser in the making.  
I didn't have a wager in the 3rd race on the card, and the finish was disputed by the two 6yo's in the race; Siruh Du Lac and Janika. Daryl Jacob, who rode Kildisart, nearly had a 2nd winner on the day in Janika but was denied on the line. That Janika was having only his 2nd race for Nicky Henderson since arriving from France (where he won his last 3 races there, all chases) and he holds a Ryanair Chase entry was reason enough to make him the 5/2 fav for this, especially as he met defeat on his UK debut only due to a well-handicapped rival having a "going" day when everything came together. Unless he can find another 10lb of improvement, he isn't winning a Ryanair Chase in 6 weeks' time, but providing the handicapper isn't too tough (and he shouldn't be) he looks a very serious handicap horse come the Festival whichever race he contests.
Siruh Du Lac maintained his unbeaten run winning his 3rd race this season.  From an opening rating of OR114 in his debut chase (when he pulled-up), Nick Williams has guided this chaser to win 5 of his 7 races and on Saturday he won off OR134 – he looks very capable of being a 140+ chaser over this sort of trip. His only defeat in completed races has been on heavy ground.
The Cotswold Chase over 3m2f (the distance was increased by 151 yards) was intriguing for the punter: would the highly rated Frodon stay the trip, or would Welsh National winner Elegant Escape grind him down in a stamina battle. In the favour of Frodon was the ground, being good-to-soft meant that there was more likelihood of him staying. When I assessed the race earlier in the week, I thought Frodon had a favourites chance as he was clearly the best horse in the race by some margin and winning was dependent only on his stamina; as such I'm surprised to learn that he didn't actually start the race the fav as that went to Elegant Escape whose SP was 2/1.  Unfortunately, my judgement had been swayed by Minella Rocco who looked very fit in the paddock and I was expecting this old campaigner to show the younger horses a thing or two: how wrong I was.
Watching the race, it panned-out as I expected (if excluding Minella Rocco who threw-in the towel about a mile out) and after jumping the 2nd last fence in the lead, I thought I saw Frodon starting to tie-up on the run to the final fence. At that point I expected Terrefort to be the likely winner but he had little left for the run-in, and it was Elegant Escape - who was about 6-lengths off the leader jumping the final fence - who stayed-on best up the hill.
Personally, I don't think Frodon could have held on to the lead for much longer, and I can't see him winning a Gold Cup or even finishing in the 1st-3 against proper Grade 1 stayers like Native River, Thistlecrack, or Clan Des Obeaux.  However, Paul Nicholls knows how to market his training operation and on the run-up to the Gold Cup having "newspaper darling" Bryony Frost riding Frodon will ensure his stable is mentioned in just about every newspaper and television article!  Elegant Escape won't win a Gold Cup even if he starts running now as he's just too slow, and has no tactical speed to employ in the race. But I would be interested to know what the plans are for the 6yo Terrefort as I could see him winning a top-handicap chase off OR158.
How do I rate this race? The previous Cotswold Chase run on similar Good-to-Soft ground was in 2012 when OR158 rated Midnight Chase won in a time of 6m32.44; which was 3.16 secs quicker than Frodon but we do not have an accurate idea of the race distance.  If they ran over exactly the same trip (unlikely) then at 3-lengths per second, that's equivalent to about 10lb.  Midnight Chase was rated RPR166 for his 2012 win, so why is Frodon rated RPR170?  Surely, Frodon should be at about 156-158 if Racing Post Ratings are consistent?  When previewing the race last week, I suggested expecting Frodon to run to between 158-162 and I think that's what he did.  I thought we saw a career-best from Elegant Escape and I've rated him at 155, and that puts Frodon who carried 2lb more and beat him nearly a length, 3lb higher at 158. Rating a race isn't an exact science, much of it is opinion, but you should always rate the performance and NOT the race - that's my opinion.
Next on the card was the Ballymore Novices Hurdle over 2m5f (the race distance was extended by 132 yards) and I'm fairly sure Brewin'Upastorm would have won easily but for clipping the final hurdle and coming down. The race is difficult to rate in the circumstances, as LTO winner here Jerveys Plate ran a stinker and never looked happy, although the eventual winner Birchdale looks better than 140.  That suggests Brewin'Upastorm is 145+ but as he was unable to cope with OR150 rated Champ at Newbury on 29Dec then he's not quite at that level, but he does handle Cheltenham well.
The Cleeve Hurdle over 3-mile brought the performance of the day, when the 7yo Paisley Park destroyed a field that represented the best of the UK trained 3-mile hurdlers. I clearly vastly underrated his win LTO at Ascot in my assessment of that race. As it was , my selection Wholestone never ran his race on Saturday and was tailed-off nearly a mile-out, so I would draw a line through this run as he is usually very consistent. In 2nd was West Approach who also chased him home at Ascot LTO and who was 3rd in this race in 2017).  I thought West Approach matched his rating of that day at 145 (he was rated RPR155), which puts Paisley Park on 163. With Black Op even further back in 3rd, along with Sam Spinner (4th) and Lil Rockerfella (5th) it is no surprise that the early quotes of 7/2 for the Stayers' Hurdle have gone and he's a best-priced 11/4 (Boylesports) for the race. Remember, Unowhatimeanharry started the Stayers' Hurdle in 2017 as the 5/6 fav; and Thistlecrack went off the "evens" fav in 2016 – and I can see Paisley Park going off no longer than 7/4 in March at the Festival.
The final race of the day was won by Benny's Bridge off OR120 in the manner of a horse with tons in-hand. Whether he will be able to win from a revised mark will depend on the opinion of the handicapper, but he probably should be followed next time out.
At Doncaster, I couldn't quite work out what was going on as the ground was being reported as "good" but the good-ground horses took a walk in the market and there was something amiss with Warriors Tale as he was as low as 5/1 on Friday having been gambled on all week, yet went off friendless at 14/1. How the trainer's rep could not offer an explanation is beyond me as the ground was (on paper) even better for him this year than it was last year when he ran 2nd in the race.
As it was, Warriors Tale never went a yard in the race and was pulled-up well out. The question of the trainer's rep should have been "did you have a wager on Warriors Tale and, if not, why not?"
I was right to look closely at the 3-mile run at Ascot over 3-mile on 03Nov in relation to Art Mauresque, but I took the wrong one out of the race, as behind him in 3rd that day was Go Conquer. This horse has retained his consistency this season, and with other rivals either not performing (O O Seven, Art Mauresque,and Warriors Tale), or not really staying the trip, Go Conquer was able to virtually make all at his own pace leaving enough in the tank for a final effort to win well.  Doncaster suits horse that run prominently, so I'm not sure why tactics were changed on Dingo Dollar (the 3/1 fav) but the change didn't work. If he were mine, I would miss Cheltenham and aim for the 3m1f handicap chase at Aintree instead.
I'm fairly happy with my antepost portfolio for the Cheltenham Festival and I am considering doubling-up my stake on CLAN DES OBEAUX before he runs next at Newbury in the "Denman" Chase. Presenting Percy didn't really show much last week other than he is fit and well and can win a 3-mile graded hurdle, the performance didn't add anything to his chances of winning a Cheltenham Gold Cup, and there's plenty of value elsewhere.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
CLAN DES OBEAUX, £12 win @ 12/1
Ryanair Chase
POLITOLOGUE, £38 win @ 14/1 (average odds - current intention is to lay-off £28 at SP on the day)
POLITOLOGUE, £5 place @ 12/1
Champion Hurdle
SHARJAH, £20 win @ 12/1 (current intention is to lay-off £10 at SP on the day) 

Friday 25 January 2019

Saturday's Skybet Chase & Cotswold Chase

It’s an early start for me on Saturday, as I’m heading off to Cheltenham - not just for the races but also to meet a few friends as we dedicate a bench to some departed, but not forgotten, racing souls in the morning before racing starts.
I really love going racing, and I love being at Cheltenham even more.  The atmosphere, the anticipation of the crowd, it permeates your body, warms the heart, and makes you feel alive. We all need to make the most of the short time we are on this earth, and experiencing a day out at Cheltenham amongst friends is – in my opinion – as good as it gets.
So, I’m writing this on Friday afternoon and will post later this evening; the odds that I quote will be the best available at time of writing but you may be able to obtain slightly better on Saturday morning (depending on the generosity of the bookmakers).

Away from Cheltenham first, and at Doncaster it was disappointing to see my early antepost wager on Singlefarmpayment go astray when he wasn’t declared for the race on Thursday morning – the perils of the antepost wager! There are just 11 left in the race, and I guessed wrong about Paul Nicholls: I thought he’d pull-out Art Mauresque and leave in Favorito Bucks, but he’s gone t’other way round.
With Warriors Tale (best odds 11/2) needing a career-best to win off OR153 (and his season target is probably the 2m5f “Topham” Trophy at Aintree in April), I’ve had another look at Art Maureque (best odds 9/1 Ladbrokes) and it looks better than I expected. His run at Ascot over 3-mile on 03Nov showed he gets this trip, and he was good enough to chase home Top Notch at Sandown over 2m6f last April (with O O Seven toiling in his wake at level weights).
As such, O O Seven (the 11/2 2nd fav) who won over C&D LTO on his only run so far this season; looks held and will require a huge effort to win off OR152.
With Go Conquer (best odds 15/2) beaten into 2nd that day by 007, I can’t see him being capable of reversing the places.
This 3-mile trip will suit Dingo Dollar (the 5/2 fav) a lot more than the 3m3f of the Ladbrokes Trophy as Dingo Dollar faded dramatically over the final 3-fences of that race. As such, I’m not convinced he will truly stay this trip as he was beaten at this meeting in the novice hurdle race over 3-mile back in 2017, and he was beaten on the run-in when racing at Ayr over 3-mile last April.
It is a big ask against these proven stayers to send Willie Boy over 3-miles for the first time in this race, and I have to overlook him.  It’s the same for Calipto who has never looked like staying beyond 2m4f; and there is little to recommend the others – Brian Boranha, Monbeg River, or Federici.
For me, ART MAURESQUE @ 9/1 could be the one to take this and he looks good eachway value as I would have him at 5/1 for this based on his Ascot run in November.

I’ve already looked at a couple of the Cheltenham races earlier this week, and for the Cleeve Hurdle last year my money was on WHOLESTONE in this race, when he was outstayed by Agrapart on the heavy ground. That rival will not have the ground in his favour this year, and Wholestone also has the beating of Lil Rockerfeller, Uknowatimeanharry, Sam Spinner.  With no worries over trip, ground, or course he can reverse the places with Midnight Shadow - who beat him LTO over 2m4f -  as that horse, and Black Op who reverts from novice chasing, has stamina doubts at this trip.To me WHOLESTONE looks tremendous value in a race filled with “what if’s and maybe’s” at odds of 10/1 with Ladbrokes, Hills and Corals

The result of the 3m1f &56 yard (Grade 2) Cotswold Chase depends on whether course-specialist Frodon (the 9/4 fav) can stay the trip. He was 2nd over 3-mile at Ascot in December 2017, and followed up that run with an emphatic win at this meeting over 2m5f the following month. He beat some proper 3-mile stayers that day, so there are no holes in the form, it just wasn’t strong enough to win this race. I think Frodon is a better horse now than he was then, but there is still a doubt about him staying this trip as all the recent winners have been “proper” top-class stayers.
Valtor (best odds 11/2) won that same 3-mile Ascot race last month, but he had the run of the green that day and I can’t see that happening here.  His stablemate Terrefort (best odds (4/1) was odds-on to win his seasonal debut, but his usual slick jumping fell apart, and he is on a recovery mission here. His win over 3m1f at Aintree last April (with Elegant Escape and Black Corton well beaten) puts him in with a great chance in this race, but he will need a paddock inspection if he turns up to run.  To see two Henderson horses in a race like this suggests (and this is me reading between the lines) there is no confidence in either.  I’m going to upset a few people here as I reckon Elegant Escape (best odds 11/4) is not improving at all, he is merely a super consistent and reliable horse. He has run (to my ratings) between 150-153 in 7 of his last 8 races, the only dip in form being here in the RSA Chase, and if Cheltenham doesn’t suit him that is not a good omen; he will need a lot of luck to beat Frodon. 
Minella Rocco (best odds 10/1) has struggled since running 2nd in the Cheltenham Gold Cup behind Sizing John in 2017 (with subsequent Gold Cup winner Native River in 3rd).  He’s been off the track since last February, and this would be his 1st run since having a wind-operation after falling in the Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown. He is also entered for the Skybet Chase at Doncaster.  He can go well off a long break as, following his win in the 4-mile NH Chase in 2016, he reappeared here in November 2016 to run a cracker off OR155 (and I was at Cheltenham that day and noted that he looked most unfit in the paddock, so his effort was all the more remarkable).  If he can get into a good rhythm, he may run a cracker.  With Allysson Monterg is completely outclassed, the only realistic rival to the fav is MINELLA ROCCO and at 10/1 (available generally) he’s worth a small wager but, to be honest, this looks a race to watch from the sidelines.

The remainder of the Cheltenham card looks tricky, although I do like the look of the top-weight in the novice chase SPIRITOFTHEGAMES.

Cheltenham 2:25pm MINELLA ROCCO; £5 win @ 10/1 (available generally)
Cheltenham 3:35pm WHOLESTONE; £5 eachway @ 10/1 (Ladbrokes, William Hill, Corals)
Doncaster 3:15pm ART MAURESQUE £5 eachway @ 10/1 (William Hill)
£2.50 eachway double with William Hill – both 5th odds a place 1,2,3

Wednesday 23 January 2019

This Saturday's graded races at Cheltenham

We have a tremendous day of racing on Saturday, and I will be at Cheltenham for the “Trials” meeting.  The 3-mile “Cleeve” Hurdle (run at 3:35pm) looks a potential wagering race.
The current fav is Midnight Shadow, and this 6yo is improving with every run this season, and he dispelled of any doubts at handling the Cheltenham course after a poor run here on 18Nov with a good win over an extended 2m4f LTO.  The doubt over him is the trip and will he stay 3-miles? Prior to winning LTO, connections were contemplating a run in the Champion Hurdle, so I think he may be found out over this stiff trip.
The 2nd-fav is Paisley Park, and while he has no stamina doubts over 3-mile, I don’t think he is anywhere as good as his OR156 rating suggests as he was fortunate that the race he won at Ascot LTO fell apart. 
Black Op reverts to hurdles after not excelling as a novice chaser, and this 8yo was a top-drawer novice who we know handles Cheltenham (he was 2nd at this meeting to Santini last year) but, again, we don’t know if he will stay this trip, but he should.
Next in the betting is Aux Ptits Soins and back in 2016 he put up a grand effort after a year off the track, when 5th (btn 40-lengths) in the 3-mile Grade 1 Stayers’ Hurdle won by Thistlecrack. Sent chasing that autumn, he won a 3-mile chase in Dec16, but was then put in his place by Zarkandar over hurdles in a 2m7f race at Haydock in Feb17.  I appreciate he won a handicap hurdle on 1st Jan over C&D off OR141, but I very much doubt Dan Skelton has improved this 9yo by 15lbs to put him in with a chance of winning this.
Last year, my money was on Wholestone in this race, and he was outstayed by Agrapart on the heavy ground. That rival will not have the ground in his favour this year, and Wholestone also has the beating of Lil Rockerfeller, Uknowatimeanharry, Sam Spinner.  
With no worries over trip, ground, or course WHOLESTONE can reverse the places with Midnight Shadow, and looks tremendous value in a race filled with “what if’s and maybe’s” at odds of 8/1 with Ladbrokes and Corals.
The 3m1f &56 yard (Grade 2) Cotswold Chase will hang on whether course-specialist Frodon can stay the trip. He was 2nd over 3-mile at Ascot in December 2017, and followed up that run with an emphatic win at this meeting over 2m5f the following month. He beat some proper 3-mile stayers that day, so there are no holes in the form, it just wasn’t strong enough to win this race. So, has the 7yo Frodon improved since then? I rated that 3-mile Ascot run at 158, and then rated the Cheltenham win at 163; so, if my assessment of 167 when he won here last month is correct, then he’s improved about 4lb.  Add the 4lb to his 3-mile rating of 158 and that makes his revised rating 162.
Valtor won that same 3-mile Ascot race last month and recorded 158, but he had the run of the green that day and I can’t see that happening here.
I’m going to upset a few people here as I reckon Elegant Escape is not improving at all, he is "merely" super consistent and reliable. He has run (to my ratings) between 150-153 in 7 of his last 8 races, the only dip in form being here in the RSA Chase, and that is not a good omen. 
Black Corton was also well beaten in that RSA Chase, but at least he has the excuse of the run coming at the end of a long season, but he is also just not good enough.  Paul Nicholls reports entering him only as a back-up if Frodon bruised a foot or something, so he will likely not line-up.
Terrefort (stablemate of Valtor) was odds-on to win his seasonal debut, but his usual slick jumping fell apart, and he is on a recovery mission here. His win over 3m1f at Aintree last April (with Elegant Escape and Black Corton well beaten) puts him in with a great chance in this race, but he will need a paddock inspection if he turns up to run.
Minella Rocco has struggled since running 2nd in the Cheltenham Gold Cup behind Sizing John in 2017 (with subsequent Gold Cup winner Native River in 3rd).  He’s been off the track since last February, and this would be his 1st run since having a wind-operation after falling in the Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown. He is also entered for the Skybet Chase at Doncaster, but connections state this race is his target.  He can go well off a long break as, following his win in the 4-mile NH Chase in 2016, he reappeared here in November 2016 to run a cracker off OR155 (and I was at Cheltenham that day and noted that he looked most unfit in the paddock, so his effort was all the more remarkable).  If he can get into a good rhythm, he may be run a cracker.
With Allysson Monterg completely outclassed, the only other contender is American and he ran 2nd in this race after pulling-up in the Ladbrokes Trophy, and he tries to go one better with the same preparation but this year the ground will not be in his favour, and it’s quite possible he may miss this race.  
From this assessment, FRODON has a favorite’s chance and he could be as much as 7lb well-in at the weights.  The Henderson pair (Valtor and Terrefort) both have question-marks over them, but I expect Terrefort to run well. Elegant Escape and Black Corton really need the race to be a muddy slog, and both will require luck on their side to win. Odds of 9/4 could look huge come Saturday as FRODON may well line-up for this race at 7/4 or under.
Corals and William Hill offer 10/1 about Minella Rocco, and that is worth a "saver".

Monday 21 January 2019

Early look at the Skybet Chase on Saturday

I didn’t post a blog on Saturday, but I did issue a message on twitter mid-morning suggesting an eachway wager on BALLYDINE who I thought looked unexposed at the trip and had the ground in his favour in a race filled with mudlarks. 
With 5 fences to jump he looked the most likely winner, but was caught flat-footed when the pace quickened. However, as they came to 3-out he was back in the game, staying-on strong and was holding every chance when he hit that fence hard – so hard that I thought he’d be pulled-up. 
To his credit, his jockey kept him going and he really stayed on well after the final fence to be beaten just over a rapidly diminishing 4-lengths into 3rd.  This horse will have better days ahead.
Before I move on from this race, what a performance from the winner WAKANDA.  
Readers of the blog will know I have been a great fan of this horse going back to the autumn of 2015 when I tipped him to win his 1st-3 races of that campaign. Since then, whenever he has slipped below OR147 he’s been worthy of following coming 2nd (off OR144) in the 2017 “Rowland Meyrick” btn just a head; following that up with a win (off OR145) in the Skybet Chase at Doncaster last January; and then on Saturday he won off OR146. As such, he may struggle to follow-up NTO if he's raised more than 3lb by the handicapper.

This Saturday I will be at Cheltenham for the “Trials” meeting, but I will also be keeping an eye on the attractive meeting at Doncaster which features the Skybet Chase over 3-mile. Last year, I came within a smidgeon of pulling-off a mighty wager when my selection Warriors Tale was pipped on the post - after looking like having the race in the bag on the run-in – by Wakanda, no less (see above). 
Only 14 remain in the race at the 5-day stage, and Paul Nicholls sends 3 in Warriors Tale (bidding to go one better), Art Mauresque, and Favorito Buck’s
Personally, I think Art Mauresque will struggle to win off OR152 at this trip as he’s probably better at 2m6f.  I also think Warriors Tale will need a career-best to win off OR153 (he was beaten off OR147 last year) and I see him as more a winner of the “Topham” Trophy at Aintree in April. Favourito Buck’s is a young horse at 7yo, but he will also need to find some improvement off OR133, and he’s also struggled in field of 10 or more.
Of the others, top-weight with 11st12lb is Minella Rocco and he’s struggled since running 2nd in the Cheltenham Gold Cup behind Sizing John in 2017 (with subsequent Gold Cup winner Native River in 3rd).  He’s been off the track since last February, and this is his 1st run since having a wind-operation after falling in the Grade 1 Irish Gold Cup at Leopardstown.  He can go well off a long break as, following his win in the 4-mile NH Chase in 2016, he reappeared in November to run a cracker off OR155 (and I was at Cheltenham that day and noted that he looked most unfit in the paddock, so his effort was all the more remarkable).  If he can get into a good rhythm, he may be very difficult to beat.
When Nicky Henderson sends one to Doncaster, take note, and so his O O Seven – who won over C&D LTO on his only run this season – is worth keeping an eye on, however, this looks a big ask off OR152. Go Conquer was beaten into 2nd that day but I don’t think he’s going to be capable of reversing the places even on better terms.
This 3-mile trip will suit Dingo Dollar a lot more than the 3m2f of the Ladbrokes Trophy as Dingo Dollar faded dramatically in the final quarter-mile of that race. As such, I’m not convinced he will stay this trip as he was beaten at this meeting in the novice hurdle race over 3-mile back in 2017, and there is no way I could take the current odds of 5/2 offered about him for this.
It is a big ask against these proven stayers to send Willie Boy over 3-miles for the first time, and I have to overlook him and the same for Calipto who has never looked like staying beyond 2m4f, and there is little to recommend the others – Brian Boranha, Monbeg River, or Federici.
When he ran LTO, the only other horse I've not looked at was my selection, and moving away from running at Cheltenham could make all the difference for SINGLEFARMPAYMENT.  I thought he ran the race of his life LTO and it may be that the hill at Cheltenham did for him (again).  He should certainly have the strong pace in this race that he needs.  
If Dingo Dollar is 5/2 then Singlefarmpayment should be no longer than 3/1. Yes, he has been 2nd beaten a head or less 4 times (once as a hurdler) but the trip, ground, course and pace should all combine to give him an excellent chance, and odds of 10/1 (Paddypower and Betfred) are excellent value for an eachway wager if nothing else. 
For those more adventurous, 16/1 about Minella Rocco (William Hill and Skybet) also looks great value, as I'm expecting Willie Boy and Calipto to go for a 2m4f handicap at Cheltenham instead, which would mean only 12 go to post at Doncaster.

Thursday 17 January 2019

Cheltenham Festival Portfolio Update

My Cheltenham portfolio so far:
Cheltenham Gold Cup
CLAN DES OBEAUX, £12 win @ 12/1
Ryanair Chase
POLITOLOGUE, £38 win @ 14/1 (average odds - current intention is to lay-off £28 at SP on the day)
POLITOLOGUE, £5 place @ 12/1
Champion Hurdle
SHARJAH, £20 win @ 12/1 (current intention is to lay-off £10 at SP on the day)

Following on from last weekend's racing and watching Top Notch out-stay Charbel over the 2m5f trip at Ascot, I've increased my wager on Politologue for the Ryanair Chase.  I've followed Top Notch since he ran in the JLT Novices Chase at the 2017 Festival (when he was 2nd to Yorkhill), and while he is a very capable chaser, but is he another who is possibly just below the very top-class
Back in 4th in that 2017 JLT Chase was Politologue, and he ran well that day but wasn't good enough. Right now, I'm wondering if I should be on Top Notch, as he certainly came up the hill chasing Yorkill best of all, but all his best efforts have been in races of 7 or less runners and I am expecting a field of over 10 to line-up for the Ryanair Chase in March
The current antepost fav for the Ryanair Chase is Min, however Politologue beat Min over 2m4f at Aintree last April and while Min is effective at that trip whether he can stay the 2m5f of the Ryanair Chase is debatable. I am fairly certain that Politologue will stay the 2m5f trip, my doubt with him is Cheltenham and whether he is truly "at-home" on the track; but he is certainly a better horse now than he was 2 years ago, whereas I feel Top Notch hasn't improved. he just wins when he gets his optimum conditions.
With the weather as it is making the ground too "quick" for Waiting Patiently to risk a run, I'm not expecting the horse to line-up at Cheltenham. If he does, then Waiting Patiently will start the fav, but let's see if connections are brave enough. It seems that Footpad isn't as good as we thought he was last season when he won the Arkle (but then he had very little to beat), but he still needs to show improved form for a step-up in trip from 2-mile if he's to win the Ryanair Chase. While Monalee won the "Flogas" Chase over 2m5f last February as a novice, he's shown much better form than that over 3-miles and he looks a horse that is just below top-level; and Un De Sceaux wasn't good enough to win last year.
An interesting contender would be the mare Shattered Love who won the JLT Novice Chase over 2m4f last year and I could see her going really well in the Ryanair Chase, but connections have confirmed today that the aim is to go straight for the Gold Cup, which I feel is a bit strange as she's not shown that she's good enough.
I think the winner of the Ryanair Chase will be one of either Min; Top Notch; Waiting Patiently; or Politologue and at this moment I'm happy with Politologue, but since the weekend he's taken a walk in the betting on the exchanges.

Tuesday 15 January 2019

The Cheltenham Festival Novice Chases

My Cheltenham portfolio so far:
Cheltenham Gold Cup
CLAN DES OBEAUX, £12 win @ 12/1
Ryanair Chase
After Top Notch won at Kempton, I added another £20 to my stake on Politologue
POLITOLOGUE, £30 win @ 13/1 (average odds - current intention is to lay-off £20 at SP on the day)
Champion Hurdle
SHARJAH, £20 win @ 10/1 (current intention is to lay-off £10 at SP on the day)

This blog focuses on the four novice chases: the Arkle (2-miles), the JLT Novice Chase (2m4f); the RSA Chase (3-miles); and the National hunt Chase (4-miles).

In my opinion, it is important to look at four races together from an antepost point of view, as we have to establish were the horses are most likely to be aimed as many of the top-class novice chasers will hold multiple entries.
The market leaders in the Arkle – Lalor @ 6/1 and Kalashnikov @ 7/1 – are also both strong in the JLT Chase market at 12/1 and 14/1 respectively. For me, the best novice chase form over 2-miles that we’ve seen this season is from Dynamite Dollars when winning the “Wayward Lad” Chase at Kempton on 27Dec when he gave 5lb and a beating to Kalashnikov.  It was considered Kalashnikov ran below form that day, but prior to this he had won a couple of facile races and so, when push came to shove, he was exposed.  If he’s going to justify his position in the market, Kalashnikov will need to show better form soon.  The worry about Dynamite Dollars is that he wasn’t a top hurdler, he’s only rated OR132 in that sphere. Prior to winning on 27Dec, Dynamite Dollars was comprehensively beaten be Lalor on 18Nov at Cheltenham and it is the potential for further improvement on that run which propels Lalor to the head of the Arkle betting.
A horse than wasn’t lacking speed as a hurdler was Defi Du Seuil, who was rated OR157. If you forget his debut chase, he has run a couple of cracking races, LTO just failing to concede 3lb to Lostintranslation over 2m4f & 110 yards at Cheltenham on New Year’s Day which I rate the best novice chase performance seen so far this season. Defi Du Seuil should be the current fav for the Arkle in my opinion.
Personally, I’d like to see Lostintranslation run over 3-mile as I think he looks a potential winner of the RSA Chase, being a top novice hurdler rated OR149 when running his best race over 2m4f. He certainly lost nothing in defeat when trying to concede 7lb to the talented mare La Bague Au Roi on his chasing debut over 2m6f.
Based on her win in the “Kauto Star” Novices Chase over 3-mile at Kempton on Boxing Day, the mare La Bague Au Roi is going to take some beating with the advantage of the 7lb mares’ allowance.  However, I think her best chance is going to be in the 2m4f JLT Novice Chase, as her development appears to have stalled and a rating of OR146 wasn’t good enough for the mare Ma Parfois to win at either Cheltenham or Aintree last season, and the JLT is the weakest of the novice chase championship races. However, connections are stating their intention to miss Cheltenham and go straight to Aintree instead.
In 2nd place at Kempton on Boxing Day was Topofthegame, and you could see the notable difference in stature between the horses. Kempton played to the strengths of the mare, and the 3-mile of the RSA Chase at Cheltenham looks right up his street. The disappointment of the race (although there can only be one winner) was Santini in 3rd as he never looked happy going right-handed round Kempton. He is another who will be seen to his best at Cheltenham, although he could well have another run left-handed at somewhere like Newbury before then, and the potential remains that he’s capable of a 160+ performance.
Over in Ireland, we’ve seen a handful of top-class novice chase performances, and the best there (according to the betting markets) is Delta Work, trained by Gordon Elliott.  So far unbeaten in 3 chases, this winner of the 3-mile Pertemps “Final” handicap hurdle at last years Festival has gone from strength to strength this season.  
After winning his chase debut, Delta Work beat the highly rated Le Richebourg over 2m4f at Fairyhouse on 02Dec; and this looked a top-class display. Delta Work then went to Leopardstown and stepped-up to a 3-mile trip for a Grade 1 novice chase on 29Dec. Personally, I wasn’t as impressed with this performance as I was with the Leopardstown run as although he won, he looked like being beaten on the run to the last by the year-older Mortal. 
Unfortunately, Mortal was asked for a big jump at the final fence, when he may not have needed it, and met it wrong, nearly losing his rider as well as all chance in the race. 
Both Mortal and Le Richebourg are trained by JP O’Brien and this young trainer has made rapid progress in his short career out of the saddle.  While I cannot know for sure, I feel positive that were Mortal and Delta Work to meet again over 3-mile, that Mortal would finish in front.

From what I have seen so far; if I was going to have a wager it would be on:-
Arkle Chase (2-mile)
Defi Du Seuil @ 12/1 (available generally) a top-class hurdler and now a very capable chaser, he didn’t stay 2m4f against one of the best novices we’ve seen this season, but that was no disgrace. Lalor still needs to prove himself worthy of being the market leader, and Dynamite Dollars was not good enough as a hurdler.

JLT Chase (2m4f)
Le Richebourg @ 14/1 (Paddy Power) does not look quick enough to win an Arkle, but he does have a combination of speed and stamina that could see him be a real contender in this race, and with the mare La Bague Au Roi likely to miss Cheltenham and go to Aintree, the main rival at this stage is out of the way.

RSA Chase (3-miles)
This race looks wide open with about 5lb covering all the main contenders so far, and with the Irish having a good record in this race then we may see something emerge from there.  If push came to shove, I’d likely split my stake between Topofthegame @ 8/1 and Santini @ 3/1; but I do think the best chance of a home victory in this race lies with Lostintranslation who may be untried at the 3-mile trip but is worth taking a chance on with the 20/1 offered by Corals.

National Hunt Chase (4-miles)
This race has developed in recent years into the top staying novice chase and so far the one horse that looks the most exciting to me is Mortal @ 20/1 with Bet365. Had he not made his final fence error LTO I think he would be trading at under 10/1.

Don't forget to take a look at my review of my post-Festival review of last season's Cheltenham Festival (see pages on the right) as this includes valuable insights into the trends of the likely winners.

Finally, last Saturdays selections didn't run anywhere near as well as expected; not a winner amongst them.  Charbel ran just about to form and that puts Top Notch at 163 on my ratings; about 5lb behind Politologue. It would seem that Charbel does not stay a yard further than 2m4f at this level.
It looked like one visit to the well too many for Cogry as his run petered-out with over a mile to go.  The winner certainly stays well and he should win other marathon races in the next 12 months, but for the big one at Aintree in April, Calett Mad looks worth keeping an eye on.

Thursday 10 January 2019

Saturday's Warwick Classic (handicap) Chase

An update on my blog from earlier in the week (see below).  
It is disappointing Waiting Patiently is not running today as that just leaves the 2m5f chase at Ascot next month to get him race-fit for Cheltenham.  Right now, I think CHARBEL should win this afternoon as Top Notch has always failed when racing against the very best. 
I'm happy having recommended COGRY earlier in the week (see below) and I hope you took the 8/1 or 9/1 available then (Thursday) as he's the clear 6/1 fav now.  It should be a good race.
Later in the afternoon at Kempton in the 3:15pm 3-mile handicap chase I am really surprised that BARNEY DWAN is not the fav.  We know he stays the trip and handles the ground, and on his day he is better than his OR141 rating. We don't know if Glen Rocco can stay this trip, and Ballykan is well exposed. Josses Hill has never looked a 3-mile chaser and the other 3 runners have something to prove.  For me, the odds of 7/2 (Bet365 & BetVictor) are very generous as I think he's more like a 9/4 chance. 
There are small fields everywhere and odds do not hold much scope for value, but I do think TREE OF LIBERTY should be the 5/4 fav at Wetherby in the 2-mile chase at 2:15pm.  He will take them along at a good clip and has that touch of class about him, so current odds of 9/4 should be taken.

I am researching the novice chases at the Cheltenham Festival, and I will be posting a blog tomorrow (or maybe Monday) and I am fairly sure I have found some tremendous value.

My Cheltenham portfolio is starting to take shape:
Cheltenham Gold Cup
CLAN DES OBEAUX, £12 win @ 12/1
Ryanair Chase
POLITOLOGUE, £10 win @ 12/1
Champion Hurdle
SHARJAH, £20 win @ 10/1 (current intention is to lay-off £10 at SP on the day)

This Saturday, the 32Red Chase is being run over 2m4f & 110 yards, and this race will likely have a significant effect on the betting market for the Ryanair Chase. Waiting Patiently (OR170) is currently available at 5/2 which - considering his closest rivals on ratings are Charbel (OR162), Top Notch (OR162) and Black Corton (OR155) – suggests there is some value available. The 11yo Hammersly Lake has a rating of OR157 but his best form is usually shown between June-September.
With all 4 of the main contenders race-fit and proven to act on a right-handed track, over the trip and able to handle the likely "good" ground (though it is possibly a bit too quick for Waiting Patiently and Top Notch), the form of this race should be strong. I thought that WAITING PATIENTLY would be the 6/4 fav for this race, as he is about 8lb better than his rivals on official ratings and on my own ratings.  The only issue is the ground, as he should be fit enough having run at championship pace for half the race in the 3-mile King George VI Chase on Boxing Day.  This looks a significant wagering opportunity at the current odds of 5/2.
At Warwick on Saturday, there is the 3m5f "Classic" handicap Chase.  The ground there is also "good" and I think this unusually quick ground for the winter months will have a significant effect on preparations for the Cheltenham Festival – remember, last year's festival was run on soft/heavy ground.  The 9yo Step Back will find this trip more to his liking than the 3-miles he ran over at Chepstow back in October, but whether he can win this off OR149 is debateable as he won the 3m5f Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown last April off OR135. I also think it is asking a lot to expect Un Temps Pour Tout to win this off OR158; yes, I know he held on to win the Ultima Handicap Chase on the opening day at last years' Cheltenham Festival off OR155 but that was over 3m1f.
There's no way I can consider Sizing Codelco off a 252-day break as he always needs a run; but it's interesting that his trainer Tizzard has booked Richard Johnson for stablemate Ultragold. The OR148 rating is a bit steep, but he's a bold front-runner and if he can last out the trip (usually seen over 2m5f, but ran well to be 3rd at Aintree LTO over 3m2f) he can sneak a place.
This race looks too much for Ibis Du Rheu as he's not convinced me yet that he's as good a chaser as he was a hurdler, nor does he suggest being able to stay this trip.
Not so the 7yo Calett Mad, he certainly stays this far and was unfortunate not to win at Kelso over an extended 4-mile LTO. He is improving with every run and looks a very capable horse, and I would much rather take the 7/1 offered about him than the same odds for Ibis du Rheu.
The 11yo Chase The Spud has seen better days, and would need to be near his peak to win this off OR143. However, the 10yo Cogry surprised a few punters, including me, when winning LTO over 3m2f at Cheltenham, and as he's run 2nd in the 4-mile Scottish Grand National on "good" ground (April 2017) this trip is well within his scope: at 9/1 (Bet365) he is one to consider.
Milansbar won this race last year off OR134 and while he subsequently ran 2nd in the Midlands National over 4m2f at Uttoxeter, both races were run on soft/heavy ground and I fear that the "good" ground at Warwick will be too lively for him.
Carole's Destrier bounced back to form LTO with a win over 3m2f at Newbury, the same C&D as when he was 2nd in the Hennessy (now Ladbrokes Trophy) Gold Cup in 2016. Unfortunately, he's never been the most consistent horse and it would be no surprise if he ran a stinker on Saturday.
Duel At Dawn is a very lightly-raced 9yo, this will be only his 12th race under rules. He was 2nd at this meeting last year when unable to concede 2lb to the talented mare Ms Parfois, and before that he was 2nd to Sizing Tennessee having been unable to concede the subsequent Ladbroke Trophy winner 5lb. He lost nothing when pulling-up in the 4mile NH Chase at the Festival (with Ms Parfois in 2nd and Sizing Tennessee in 3rd), and in his return to racing on 22nd December at Haydock he ran well for a long time disputing the lead until fitness took its toll. Unfortunately, I have missed the early 10/1 and he's best priced at 8/1 with William Hill (15/2 elsewhere); he looks primed to run well in this as the ground will be perfect for him.    
Crosspark did not stay the trip in this race last year, when running off OR136 and although he won over 3m2f at Uttoxeter in November that was off OR124 (he runs off OR135 on Saturday).  His limitations were exposed in the Rowland Meyrick (handicap) chase at Wetherby on Boxing Day over 3-miles, and I can't see him doing well in this.
Finally, Impulsive Star was 4th in the 4-mile NH Chase at the Festival last March finishing 2-lengths behind Sizing Tennessee, and that was fair form. In his only run since, he was 2nd at Plumpton staying-on well over the final half-mile to push the talented winner OK Corral. It was a slow time, but he remains a horse of potential (he's another 9yo having only his 2th race under rules) as he won a competitive handicap hurdle over 2m7f at Exeter in Feb2017. However, all his best form is in soft/heavy ground and he may need to wait for some rain.

All-in-all a tricky race to fathom, my shortlist is Calett Mad, Cogry and Duel At Dawn and COGRY is certainly in the form of his life - I'd take any odds longer than 8/1 about him.

Tuesday 8 January 2019

Champion Hurdle market leaders

My early review of the Cheltenham Festival races continues.
The intention is to put together a portfolio of selections that will (hopefully) find the value in the antepost markets.
As with all the races at the Cheltenham Festival, the key to antepost wagers is to try and work out which horses will line-up at the start, and which horses have other targets.
So far, I have looked at the 
Cheltenham Gold Cup and taken £10 win at 12/1 about CLAN DES OBEAUX, 
and the 
Ryanair Chase and taken £10 win at 12/1 about POLITOLOGUE 
Both horses are trained by Paul Nicholls.
Yesterday, we learned that Waiting Patiently – who beat Politologue when they met as novice chasers at Haydock in January 2017 running over 2m4f – will now be aimed at the Ryanair Chase over 2m5f, and not the Gold Cup over 3m2f.  We shall see how much of a chance he has in the Ryanair Chase should he run this Saturday at Kempton over an extended 2m4f. Connections have always required plenty of “give” in the racing surface for this horse, who has only had 4 runs since that win at Haydock in January 2017, and the ground at Cheltenham in March may well be too quick for the horse to show his best, or even take part.   Waiting Patiently (OR170) will certainly have a test on Saturday as the field includes Charbel (OR162), Top Notch (OR162) and Black Corton (OR155); but if he’s fit enough (and he should be) then he should win easily. 

REMEMBER: Always rate the performance, NOT the race.

The Champion Hurdle run over 2m1f on the opening day of the Festival is usually a good betting race as the form is invariably solid and 5 of the last 8 runnings have been won by the favourite. 
Buveur D’Air has won the race for the last 2 years and endeavours to join the all-time greats by winning for a 3rd time this March. However, he will have to run a lot better than he did on Boxing Day when he was beaten in the Christmas Hurdle by stablemate Verdana Blue. Horses do not suddenly find 10lb of improvement unless tried for the first time over a completely new trip or on radically different ground; as such, I can’t have it that Verdana Blue went from being a mid-140’s handicapper in November to a high 150’s Grade 1 hurdler in December.  Last year, after Buveur D’Air won the Champion Hurdle in March, I rated that winning performance on heavy ground at 158.  Next-time-out he won the “Fighting Fifth” hurdle at Newcastle on 1st December, but the form of that race looks poor now as Samcro has obviously not trained-on, Vision Des Flo is probably no better than OR150, and Summerville Boy seems to have lost the plot. 
I’ve rated the performance of Verdana Blue on Boxing Day at 150, which puts Buveur D’Air on 157 (close to his Champion Hurdle rating of 158), and if Samcro ran to 150 in the Fighting Fifth Hurdle (which seems likely based on his run NTO in Ireland) then Buveur D’Air ran no better than 160 that day at Newcastle.
The Ryanair Hurdle run at Leopardstown on 29th December could be a decent pointer to the future winner of the Champion Hurdle. The race was won by Sharjah (trained by Mullins) who was well beaten into 8th in the Supreme Novices Hurdle last year, but then showed his potential when winning the Galway Hurdle, making-all, off OR146 (and he carried 11st 7lb – the heaviest weight carried to victory in the race since Quinze with 11st 12lb in 1999; and Sharjah was also, at 5yo, the youngest horse to win since Cuan Na Grai in 2006).  
Sharjah comprehensively beat the OR164 rated Supasundae into 2nd (he was also 2nd in 2017 to Apple’s Jade) and the only doubt over the form is that Tombstone in 3rd (beaten 5½ lengths) is no better than 150. As such, I’d rate this performance as no worse than 160, and considering the 6yo SHARJAH is on the upgrade I’m of the opinion that he should be the market leader for the Champion Hurdle, especially as his stablemate Melon (2nd to Buveur D’Air in the 2018 Champion Hurdle) appears to have stopped improving at around 160.  
The tricky part of the formbook is rating the performance of the mares in the race, as they are in-receipt of a 7lb allowance. I don’t think we will see Apple’s Jade running in the Champion Hurdle as the 3-mile Stayers’ Hurdle looks more preferable; and the Henderson-trained pair of Apple’s Shakira and Verdana Blue don’t look good enough even with the mares’ allowance. Laurina is the one we have to get a handle on, and such is her superiority over her gender rivals at 2-miles we can only speculate on the level of her ability.  Personally, based on her speed figure of 126 when winning the Mares’ Hurdle at Cheltenham over 2m1f last March, and comparing that with the figures recorded by Verdana Blue (not entirely accurate but, hopefully, a good guide) then I would rate her at about 150, maybe 152 but no higher.  Unless she finds another 5lb (at least) she will need every ounce of her 7lb allowance to take the Champion Hurdle.
On that basis, I’m taking the 10/1 available (Ladbrokes, Bet Victor and William Hill) on SHARJAH for the Champion Hurdle, as I think the horse should be half those odds. 
Champion Hurdle: SHARJAH - £20 win @ 10/1 

The opening race of the Festival, the Supreme Novices Hurdle run over 2-mile & 87 yards, has been won for the last 10 years by horses that have run in 4 or more hurdle races, and 14 of the last 17 winners won their previous race (won last-time-out, LTO).
This isn’t good news for the current fav Angels Breath as he has only run in one hurdle race (which he won). His stablemate Champ looks a better prospect right now, although his age (he’s a 7yo) may be against him as he may not have too much improvement left in him. Personally, I doubt he’s worthy of his OR150 hurdle rating, and I prefer the horse he beat into 2nd in the Challow Hurdle on 29th December, Getaway Trump trained by Paul Nicholls, as he does not yet appear to have stopped improving. I was not overly impressed with the win of Elixir De Nutz at Sandown on Saturday 5th January, as he was clearly superior to his rivals and was not overly stretched; I like to see horses pushed as now we think he has potential improvement in him, but he may not.
The current leading Irish challenger is Quick Grabim, but he’s also a 7yo (the last 7yo to win this was Captain Cee Bee in 2008) and his last race is difficult to rate (only 4 rivals) and I prefer his stablemate Aramon who has improved with every run since joining the Mullins yard from Germany last July; he looks an exciting prospect. With Ireland providing 7 of the last 11 winners of this race, you have to give strong consideration to the Irish challenge.
Al Dancer won a 2m1f Class 3 handicap in mid-December, but his trainer (Nigel Twiston-Davies) thinks his best trip will be over 2m4f and it’s possible that he just stayed-on better than his rivals.  
It’s early days yet for this race, and we will likely see some more formlines appear in the next few weeks

Friday 4 January 2019

My thoughts on the Ryanair Chase

Over the next couple of months, I'm taking a back-step from the day-to-day search for winners, and focusing in-depth on the Cheltenham Festival in March.  This is something that I have considered doing for the past couple of years but never come around to getting started until the eve of the Festival itself. 
I've been looking for a way of invigorating my love of horseracing and stimulating the brain-cells. So I will be looking at all of the major Championship races 1-by-1 researching the form of the likely runners, establishing the targets of the trainers, eliminating the "false" favourites that the bookies put up to whittle away at you cash, and (hopefully) finding some nuggets of information that allow readers to "bet like a professional!"
As with all the races at the Cheltenham Festival, prior to unilateral adoption of "non-runner, no bet" by the bookies, the key to antepost wagers is to try and work out which horses will line-up at the start, and which horses have other targets. There are some bookies going "non-runner, no bet" (Bet365, Paddy Power, and Skybet) but the odds they are offering are not the best.

The Ryanair Chase is one of the Festival races that I try and crack every year, but I’ve only once been successful and that was with Cue Card back in 2013.
This year, the race looks wide open and I think I’ve found some cracking value.
The market is currently headed by Road To Respect (OR169) at 5/1. I’ve already researched this horse with regards the Gold Cup (see yesterday's blog), and I struggle to see how Road To Respect has a rating of OR169 given how comprehensively he was beaten last March in the Cheltenham Gold Cup (won by Native River) and he was well beaten again, the following month, in the Punchestown Gold Cup.  That latter race was won by Bellshill, who previously had come only 5th of 8 finishers in a very scrappy running of the Irish Grand National; and based on those results I’d rate Road To Respect closer to 160 than 170. Admittedly, he won the Grade 3 handicap chase over this 2m5f trip at the 2017 Festival (Baron Alco was 2nd) and that was fair form, but I really can’t see him winning the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase.
Next in the betting is Min @ 7/1, but this horse is almost certain to go for the QM Champion Chase rather than the Ryanair.  Sure, he won a Grade 1 Chase over 2m4f in December but I’m not sure about that form as 3 of his 4 rivals were totally outclassed, and the other one (last year’s Ryanair Chase winner Balko Des Flos) is another horse more highly rated (in my opinion) than his form deserves.
Balko Des Flos may have exposed the stamina limitations of Un De Sceaux when winning the Ryanair last March, but he’s not really a Grade 1 chaser as he himself has been so readily beaten since then. Remember, both Min and Balko De Flos were beaten – outstayed – by Politologue at Aintree last April over 2m4f.
Since then, Politologue has given Charbel 6lb and a beating at Ascot in November, and then only lacked stamina to be involved in the finish of the King George VI Chase over 3-mile at Kempton on Boxing Day.  The Ryanair Chase looks ready-made for Politolgue, who was 4th over an inadequate 2-mile behind Altior in the QM Champion Chase at last year’s Festival.  
In my opinion, POLITOLOGUE and Waiting Patiently are the only horse’s in this race that look to be capable of a 170+ performance over this 2m5f trip (Altior will almost certainly go for the QMCC again).
For some reason, Thistlecrack is next in the betting, but I will be mighty surprised if he goes for this instead of the Cheltenham Gold Cup.
On the 1st November, I would have considered Footpad as my idea of the Ryanair winner, but being beaten by Simply Ned (who is 5-years older than Footpad) on 27th December suggests that perhaps the younger horse isn’t as good over as we thought. He clearly isn’t a potential QMCC winner and it is possible that Mullins still feels irked at taking the Ryanair with Vautour in 2016 when his stablemate Djakadam wasn't good enough to win the Gold Cup.  I’ve a sneaky feeling we will see Footpad line-up in the Gold Cup and not the Ryanair Chase.
As per my Gold Cup assessment, Monalee is a model of consistency and I reckon the handicapper has this horse just about spot on at OR159; but he is a tad one-paced and may come to the fore when tried over marathon trips and 2m5f may expose his limitations.
Connections of Waiting Patiently are apparently intent on sending their horse for the Gold Cup, but whether he will take that race or this are up in the air.  He is a quality racehorse over this trip, but I’d like to see him race again. That could be the Grade 1 Ascot Chase over 2m5f which he won last February, or he may chance a match with Native River over the 3-miles of the "Denman" at Newbury.
Frodon was the first horse beaten (after Cue Card pulled-up injured) in the Ryanair Chase last year, and while he is exceptional over this course and trip, his form usually tails-off in the Spring.  
Al Boum Photo who fell in the RSA Chase when looking like he was going to finish 2nd, subsequently won over 2m4f at Fairyhouse. He has also run his seasonal debut in the past fortnight, winning over 2m5f at Tramore in Ireland beating stable companions Total Recall in 2nd and Invitation Only into 3rd. While the performance looked impressive, as an indication of his Festival potential it was inconclusive: Why?  For Total Recall (who won the Ladbrokes Trophy Chase at Newbury on 02Dec2017) the 2m4f trip was wholly inadequate, and Invitation Only was clearly in need of the race. Unless he improves about 10lb, Al Boum Photo just does not look good enough to win.

In my opinion, the likely starters for the Ryanair Chase are:
Road to Respect (OR169) - my rating 161
Balko Des Flos (OR164) - my rating 163
Footpad (OR166) – my rating 164 (Mullins will likely decide closer to the Festival)
Frodon (OR169) – my rating 167
Politologue (OR168) – my rating 167(P)
Al Boum Photo (OR159) – my rating 163
Top Notch (OR162) – my rating 161
Charbel (OR162) – my rating 160
God’s Own (OR159) – my rating 160

Dependent on his next run Waiting Patiently (OR170) – my rating 168 – will go for either the Gold Cup or the Ryanair.

I’ve taken the current 12/1 (William Hill) about POLITOLOGUE for this race, and there is 10/1 available with Ladbrokes and BetVictor. If he goes for the Grade 1 Ascot Chase over 2m5f run in February and wins that (as I expect he will) then he will start the fav for the Ryanair Chase.