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Friday, 9 April 2021

The 2021 Grand National - final thoughts

The Grand National.
A race with a history entwined in not just horseracing, but the nation.
This blog is to try and find the winner from the final 40 horses declared to run on Saturday.
When I looked at this race last week, I arrived at the following selections based on what horses were expected to run.
The Storyteller:  22/1 generally 5-places 5th-odds (William Hill)
Acapella Bourgeois:  33/1 qtr-odds 5-places generally
Anibale Fly:  33/1 qtr-odds 5-places generally
Takingrisks:  40/1 qtr-odds 5-places generally
Lord Du Mesnil:  33/1 qtr-odds 5-places generally
The Storyteller was withdrawn at the 48hr declaration stage, so my £3 ew stake was refunded.
I have £3 ew on the remaining 4 selections.

Most bookmakers will be offering 6-places to 5th odds a place.
Bet365 have a great offer to existing clients in offering a 50% immediate cash-back on ew wagers up to a maximum of £125, but they are only paying 5th odds on the 1st-5.
I'm looking for potential 1st-6 finishers.
Top-weight with 11st 10lb will be Bristol De Mai: He will have no problems with the ground (good-to-soft) and being a prominent runner he should go well.  I just worry about the weight and the trip. Since the distance was revised, there have been 7 GN's and 11 horses carrying 11st or more have finished in the 1st-6 (most bookmakers will be paying on the 1st-6 places) from the 42 places available, which is 15.2%. The number of horses in those 7 years carrying 11st or more is 77, or 28% of the total runners (which was 276): so horses with 11st+ are good to go. However, only 3 of those 11 carried more than 11st 5lb. If you combine that with the fact that in the 3 longest races he's run in he's not seen out the trip, he might struggle over the final half-mile.
Chris's Dream is on a tough handicap mark of OR164, and while he's won over 3-miles I think that's his limit, and the jockey doesn't inspire confidence.
Yala Enki needs soft ground and while he will stay all day long, he's a bit of a plodder, but he could make the 1st-6 finishers, and Bryony Frost gets the best out of him, at 33/1 he's interesting.
This will be the 2nd GN for Ballyoptic, and I can't see him winning, or finishing, as he appears to have lost his sparkle this season.
Ditto Definitly Red: he's not the horse he once was, he's unlikely to finish.  
The same for Lakeview Lad, his career is going backwards, and is unlikely to be in the places. 

That's everything with more than 11st to carry, and the only one likely to be in the 1st-6 is the 33/1 chance Yala Enki . Of those with under 11st to carry:-
Burrows Saint (10st 13lb) won the Irish GN in Apr19, and has been aimed at this race all season. He ran a good prep race LTO, and the ground & trip will suit him. He'll go close, and he's 8/1.
Magic Of Light was 2nd to Tiger Roll in 2019, and she could well run another good race, but she's been campaigned much differently this time, and I feel she's had her chance.
Acapella Bourgeois is a prominent runner who will be "in the van" throughout, he comes here in good form and has a fair weight (10st 12lb) and he's interesting, latest odds 20/1.
I don't think Talkischeap is good enough, he's certainly not OR155 level. 
Tout Est Permis was one of my Cheltenham Antepost's that didn't run and he then went and fell LTO (blood found in nose post-race), he's not one I'm confident over.
Another aimed at this race is Anibale Fly: twice placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and twice placed in the GN, he looks "chucked-in" off OR155 with 10st 12lb. He looks a place certainty, and odds of 25/1 look attractive.
Mister Malarky is a right-hand track specialist, and I think he'll not enjoy this race; he's the sort who cold be in the 1st-3 or pull-up after 3 fences, and I'm more inclined to the latter.
Kimberlite Candy handles this course well having come 2nd twice in the December "Becher" Chase over 3m2f. He runs best off a long break and he's sure to go well, he's 10/1.
Any Second Now is one that's been aimed at this race, and as a "Kim Muir" winner over 3m2f he should be capable of being involved, but he's looked one-paced in other races of 3-mile or more. 
Balko Des Flos hasn't won a race since March 2018, he's been highly tried though and will stay this trip, so he may well complete, but in his own time. 
Alpha Des Obeaux is another who has seen better days, and I doubt he will complete.
One horse I've never rated is Ok Corral and while he's won at 3-miles, I really can't see him winning this as he finished lame LTO.
He may be a 12yo, but Takingrisks is in top form this season, and he's won a Scottish GN, so the ground and trip hold no worries. He won competitive handicap LTO and I'm happy I took 40/1 on him as he's now 25/1 and that looks decent still, as he should be in the 1st-6. 
I was surprised to see Shattered Love declared for this race, as this mare isn't good enough. 
Jett is another who may struggle in this race, and is not likely to complete. 
When I saw the weights published for this year, the first horse on my list was Lord Du Mesnil, and he duly went and won the GN Trial at Haydock over 3m4f on 20Feb. His 2nd in the NH Chase over 3m6f at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival showed that he stays the trip at top-level, and while he would prefer softer ground, he's going to take some beating: he's 33/1.
The December 2019 Welsh National winner Potters Corner loves these marathon races, and he's not very many miles on his clock for an 11yo. He'd probably prefer soft ground on the day, and he's not going to be far away if he completes, but that's debatable.
Class Conti is on a tough handicap mark considering his last win was as a novice chaser over 2m5f. However, he should stay this trip but at his own pace, and may make the 1st-6.
Milan Native, who I had a wager on when disappointing LTO, should be capable of going well; but I'm not a fan of winners of the "Kim Muir" chase in this race.  In his favour he has the top amateur rider Mr JJ Codd in the saddle, and he will make sure this horse gets the best of the opportunity: at 33/1 he looks interesting.
There's been a lot of money for Discorama and he was the 2nd horse on my list (there were only 2) when the weights came out: I wish I had followed my instinct as both Lord Du Mesnil and Discorama were 40/1 at the time. Discorama has only won once by he's run some great races in defeat, I just feel OR149 is a bit high for him to be able to win this race, but he looks a good place chance at 14/1. 
Vieux Lion Rouge has had his chance, he loves this course but he doesn't stay the 4m2f trip.
Cloth Cap is the 9/2 fav, and looks chucked-in off OR148 considering his win LTO which suggests he's 10-14lb well-in.  But remember, he could only come 3rd behind Takingrisks in the Scottish GN off OR134, and he only meets that rival on 1lb better terms now when you compare the form via Aye Right who has been 2nd to both of them this season. 
I was surprised to see Cabaret Queen in this race, as I'm not confident of her staying the trip. 
Minellacelebration has run once over these fences and didn't shine. 
Canelo is an interesting horse, he may have been flattered to win the Rowland Meyrick handicap on Boxing Day as his OR147 rating is tough, but he's only an 8yo. He carries just 10st 4lb, and if he enjoys this race he could go well, there are much worse 40/1 chances.
The Long Mile ran well LTO which was the longest trip he's raced over, but whether he can step-up to this distance considering he's raced mainly over 2m4f is debatable.
The 11yo Give Me A Copper has had lots of problems so this will only be his 10th chase race. Winning this would be a miracle.
Farclas is another of my recent Cheltenham Festival anteposts, and he went close in the 2m4f handicap there.  Being a 7yo, history is against him as there hasn't been a 7yo winner since 1940, but I think he's a touch of class about him. 
Minella Times. There's nothing much between him and Farclas as they've met a couple of times this season; but whereas I feel Farclas has potential to stay 4m2f, I can't say the same about Minella Times, but you never know.  Odds of 9/1 are tight. 
Sub Lieutenant will be ridden by Tabitha Worsley who won the Foxhunters Chase over these fences in 2019. He's won over 3m1f but I feel this 12yo will struggle to complete
Hogan's Height qualified to run in this when winning the Grand Sefton Chase over these fences in Dec19, but his recent form is poor, and he will be lucky to complete.
Double Shuffle was a top-class chaser, but it's a long time since he was rated 160+ and he pulled up in the GN of 2017 when he was a much better horse than he is now.
Ami Desbois is interesting; this 11yo does stay well, and jumps well, and while he may not win he could be in the 1st-6: odds of 100/1 are attractive.
Blaklion was going well in this to be 4th in 2017, but he's been a shadow of himself in 3 runs this season (after 18 months off the track), unlikely to complete.

From the above, with the fav CLOTH CAP looking a sure-thing, we should concentrate on finding value in the places, and those worth considering are:-
Yala Enki  @ 33/1 - given number of contenders, he's too slow
Burrows Saint @ 8/1 too short in the betting
Acapella Bourgeois @ 20/1 - already on at 33/1 for £3 ew
Anibale Fly @ 25/1 - already on at 33/1 for £3 ew 
Kimberlite Candy @ 10/1 too short in the betting
Takingrisks @ 25/1 - already on at 40/1 for £3 ew 
Lord Du Mesnil @ 33/1 - already on at 33/1 for £3 ew
Milan Native @ 33/1 with Skybet 6-places 5th odds a place
Discorama @ 14/1 too short in the betting
Ami Desbois @ 100/1 with Skybet 6-places 5th odds a place

To my 4 existing £3 ew wagers, I'm adding MILAN NATIVE @ 33/1 and AMI DESBOIS @ 100/1
Making a total of 6 wagers @ £3 eachway = Total staked = £36

Aintree 2021 - Friday 9th April

After starting the day full of enthusiasm, I was quickly brought down to earth and (thankfully) didn't bet as strongly as I was going to.  
In the opening race, Protektorat was back to the form he showed last November, which is good but not "proper" Grade 1 winning form. If the handicapper is tough on him then he is going to find life extremely difficult next season. Not so The Shunter, who seemed to hit everything and still stayed in with a chance at the final fence; he could still be well-handicapped based on this run. As for Hitman, thankfully he's only a 5yo and has time to improve.  In the Juvenile Hurdle, we saw that Adagio has still not learned how to jump a hurdle but, even so, he came to the final flight looking to be going the best - before demolishing it! That was his chance gone, and Monmiral ran-on a fair winner, and on this form would have gone close in the Triumph Hurdle had he taken part.
As expected, the Betway Bowl Chase (Grade 1) did not take much winning. Only 5 finished the race, and three of those (Native River, Tiger Roll, and Aso) were well outclassed. It would not surprise me to see Native River retired now, he just does not have the pace for these "proper" Grade 1 races. The obvious disappointment was Mister Fisher, who appeared to be going very well till a bad mistake at the 11th fence, that rattled him.  He hadn't settled by the next, blundered through it, and lost his rider - game over. He's going to be hard to place now as he's obviously not Grade 1 standard, but is rated OR162. He could be hurdling next season like his stablemate, Top Notch.  Briefly, Clondaw Castle looked about to make a race of it, but Clan Des Obeaux showed the gulf between him - a two-time "King George" winner - and a decent handicapper at level weights.  On his day, Clan Des Obeaux is a very smart staying chaser and on this form he'd be well-capable of winning a 3rd King George next Boxing Day - so long as Monkfish, A Plus Tard, Minella Indo, Envoi Allan and Allaho don't make the trip over from Ireland!  Some pundits described this as a "monstrous" performance, but I doubt a repeat in the recent Gold Cup would have put him in the 1st-3.  Clan Des Obeaux is the UK's current best staying chaser but he might struggle to get into the Irish-trained top-10.
The Aintree Hurdle was another poor race for me; but it's difficult to know how Jason The Militant would have done had he not unseated his rider mid-race as until then he was going well. I'm not sure what happened with Song For Someone, he never settled and was pulled-up; but then he's had a long season and perhaps he's jaded and in need of a break. The race was won by Abacadabras who won a "slow-motion" finish beating handicapper Buzz into 2nd. Finally, RP Ratings have agreed with me on assessing a race, as normally they look at a horse like Buveur D'Air in 4th and use that horses rating as the benchmark. By careful placement, Abacadabras won his 2nd senior Grade 1 race here, but grade 1 performance it wasn't.

Friday looks another tricky card, opening with a 22-runner handicap hurdle.  The Grade 1 novices hurdle over an extended 2-miles looks another tricky contest, not least because Nicky Henderson sends Dusart from off a 155-day break. I would be tempted to oppose this 2/1 fav; but what with?   

The 3m1f Grade 1 novices Chase is next, and I'm tempted to go with Fiddlerontheroof who showed he stayed 3-miles in the "Brown Advisory" Chase at the Festival and looks to be one of the better UK-based novice chasers. He's been very consistent through his career, and given his improvement at recent races at 3-mile, his form as a novice hurdler last season around 2-mile is seen in a better light. I don't think he had a tough race at Cheltenham behind Monkfish, and he looks under-rated - but so far, Cheltenham Festival runners haven't done well here at Aintree. 

The Queen Mother Champion Chase was run without defending champion Politologue last month, as blood was seen in his nostrils in the paddock before the race and he was withdrawn. Given he pulverised stablemate Greaneteen in the Tingle Creek in December, and Greaneteen was only btn 2-lengths in the QMCC, you have to think that Politologue is just about the best 2-mile chaser in training at the moment.  The question is the trip: he's won this race before in 2018, and he's won over 2m5f at Ascot, but he's about 7lb better at 2-mile than he is at 2m4f. Remember, he was easily swept aside in this race in 2019 the winner Min. There's another C&D winner in the race and that's Nuts Well: he beat Clondaw Castle over 2m4f here in October, and before that he beat Aye Right over an extended 2-mile at Kelso - and both of those beaten horses have promoted the form since then.  Yes, he's a 10yo and he'd never win a QMCC, but he comes here fresh and capable of running a cracker. The other horse coming here fresh and in form is Dashel Drasher, and he's improved with every run this season and there's no reason why Master Tommytucker who he beat LTO should reverse the placings. The fav is the Irish-trained Fakir D'oudairies who has a rating of OR162, but for the life of me I don't know why! He had a hard race LTO at Cheltenham, and he's never looked much better than a 155-rated 2-miler to me who always seems to find one better in the race - and he was beaten 12-lengths by Notebook last November! The Henry De Bromhead team seem to have gone off the boil with 1 win from 36 runners in the past 14-days, and so I have to pass-over Notebook.  I'm looking at Nuts Well and Dashel Drasher to fight out the finish, with Politologue coming in a gallant 3rd: and as I can't split the pair, I will be putting them in a reverse forecast.  

The Topham Trophy Chase is one to watch, although I may have a small wager on Storm Control who loves to bowl along in front and is a bold jumper of a fence, he may take some catching. 

The Sefton Novices Hurdle (Grade 1) over 3-miles is headed by Bravemansgame trained by Paul Nicholls who has his horses in great form. However, this one was exposed at the Cheltenham Festival over 2m5f and there's nothing in his pedigree to suggest that he's a better horse at 3-mile. As such, I'm going for the Irish raider of Emmet Mullins in Cape Gentleman who has won over 2m4f on heavy ground, and looks under-exposed.  He's a decent price too at 11/2; but this isn't a race to get heavily involved in as there are too many imponderables and unexposed horses trying a new trip.

As I'm giving the 22-runner handicap hurdle the closes the meeting a swerve, I can continue to delve into the Grand National runners and will likely post up my blog on the great race later this evening.

Suggested wagers:
3:25 Marsh Chase
DASHEL DRASHER and NUTS WELL
2 x straight-forecasts: £6 Dashel Drasher to beat Nuts Well  
and £4 Nuts Well to beat Dashel Drasher
Total staked = £10
  

Wednesday, 7 April 2021

Aintree 2021 - Thursday 8th April

I was going to hold this blog until the morning, but such is the gamble on one of my selections that I'm posting it now (Wednesday 6pm).  

The Aintree Grand National meeting is a strange one for me, as the air is thick with excitement for the big race on Saturday, but the early days of the meeting can sometimes struggle to meet the expectation. I tend to look at the meeting on the Thursday and Friday as just a normal day at the races, and this year with what looks like a much reduced Irish-trained contingent we possibly won't be seeing the quality of racing that we saw at Cheltenham recently.  

I don't have the historical race records for this meeting like I have for the Cheltenham Festival, so any trends and stat produced I have skimmed from other sources; but there are lots of stats sites in the internet. Remember, it's how you interpret the stats and trends that makes them of value.  his past week, I have been re-reading Nic Mordin's "Betting For a Living" and even though it was first published in 1992 it is a great read with lots of solid lessons for the punter. Nic has a relaxed, easy-to-read writing style, and I'm sure that I've styled my own selection procedure from the techniques he's used in his books. There's only one winner of a race, so find the likely losers and eliminate them from your race assessment: that's what stats and trends are best at - finding and eliminating losers.

The day opens with the Manifesto Novices Chase over 2m4f, and the UK-trained novice chasers were exposed as over-rated at the recent Festival, so we have to query the ratings of OR151 for the 5yo Hitman (earned for 2nd to Allmankind on 05Dec), and OR150 for Protektorat (earned for winning a 4-runner race at Cheltenham on 13Nov).  The Cheltenham winner The Shunter is worthy of OR153 and he could be the answer if in similar form.  I marked Fusil Raffles as one for the future when 2nd at Cheltenham to his stablemate Chantry House; but that pair were fortunate to benefit from the fall of Envoi Allen. A rating of OR155 for Fusil Raffles suggests the handicapper has rated the race and not the performance. Eldorado Allen tackles a trip further than 2-miles for the first time and he is improving with every run. If any takes my eye, it's the David Pipe runner Umbrigado who gets the trip and has won his last 3 races, he looks one to include on the forecast's with The Shunter and Eldorado Allen (as he has the best speed rating).

The Juvenile Hurdle over 2m1f is dominated by the Triumph Hurdle 2nd Adagio, and Monmiral who did not race at the Festival. I will be surprised if any of the other 4 runners get close to this pair, and for me Adagio is the one with the potential to improve as he was let-down by his hurdling LTO and if he hurdles better this time then we could see a much better performance. It is not unusual for those that have run well in the Triumph Hurdle to run well and win this race, and Adagio is the one for me.

The Betway Bowl Chase is a Grade 1 race that's been on this card for decades. This year looks like being a disappointing vintage as only 2 of the 9 runners are younger than 9yo, and while we do have a Gold Cup winner in the race, it is 11yo Native River who won that in 2018 (3 years ago). The race fav is Clan Des Obeaux, and this two-time winner of the "King George" at Kempton over 3-mile has raced  6-times beyond 3-miles (twice in this race) and not won: the trip of 3-miles seems to be his limit. Trainer Paul Nicholls has him in 1st-time cheek-pieces to see if they can galvanise him.  If Native River wins this race after a hard slog at Cheltenham, then I will cheer him home and wish him a happy retirement, but sentiment does not win races. The last time dual Grand National winner Tiger Roll ran on a standard chase course, way back in Nov2017, he was rated OR151.  Sure, he's been a better horse than that since - but not much better - and I'd want 20/1 about him for this race. There are 3 other most unlikely winners of this race: Militarian (totally outclassed), Aso who is well-past his best, and Real Steel who will one day get his act together, but when?  That, in my opinion, leaves 3 potential winners: Waiting Patiently, Clondaw Castle and Mister Fisher. 
Some trends for this race: 
28 of the last 30 winners had winning form over 3-miles; 
19 of the last 28 winners had won a race over 3-miles earlier in the season 
10 of the last 13 winners had at least 10 chase races prior to this
Waiting Patiently: hasn't won at 3-miles, and hasn't won this season; but ran a good 2nd in the "King George" on Boxing Day. He won some good novice chases going left-handed as a novice chaser, but all best form since has been on right-handed tracks. This years "King George" form hasn't worked-out well, and when he ran here in 2019 as an 8yo, he ran poorly.
Clondaw Castle: won over 3-miles at Kempton LTO which is a positive, but on 11Dec he was outclassed by Mister Fisher who was giving him 3lb.  He is also prone to minor jumping errors, and lacks tactical speed which is required for Grade 1 racing. He was race-fit for the 11Dec race having won at Newbury on 27Nov, so no excuses there. He doesn't look good enough to win a Grade 1 chase.
Mister Fisher: hasn't won at 3-miles, and has only run in 7 chase races - so the trends say he's no chance! However, he's run his last 5 chases at graded level, winning twice. His dam is a half-sister to Frascati Park who won his only completed race at 3-mile in his brief chase career, so Mister Fisher should stay the trip. He also didn't run between 11Dec and the Ryanair Chase on 18Mar, so he's race-fit for this. At the odds, he's 8/1, he looks a good wager. 

The Grade 1 Aintree Hurdle over 2m4f is another permanent fixture with a great history. This year, not a single horse with a rating over OR160 is entered, which is disappointing [Correction: Silver Streak is rated OR163]. In 2019, there were 3 of the 7 starters rated OR160+, as there was in 2018 and 2017.  As such, this race should not take much winning. Nicky Henderson must think Buveur D'Air still has some zip, but I really don't expect him to win this race, as he couldn't win it in 2019 when much better prepared. To be honest, I can't work out why McFabulous is the fav, and I don't know why he has an OR158 rating, as his limitations were exposed at Fontwell on 28Feb. He was beaten that day by Brewin'upastorm but they meet on level weights this time, and there won't be much between them.  The 2020 Supreme Hurdle winner Abacadabras has not progressed this season and his OR158 rating is based on his novice hurdle form. The 6yo Song For Someone has been a late developer since arriving at Tom Symonds yard in Nov18 as a 3yo, and it took a year for him to grow into his frame, but he's always shown ability. In winning the Grade 2 International Hurdle at Cheltenham on 12Dec as a 5yo beating seasoned campaigner Silver Streak (who rec 2lb), he showed he was worthy of a place at the top table. Yes, he was put in his place by Goshen LTO, but forget that margin of defeat, he is more than worthy of his OR158 rating.  PaddyPower offer 12/1, 4-places ew and that looks very generous to me. Finally, the Henry De Bromhead trained Jason The Militant: I'm already on him at 7/1 taken as soon as the declarations came out.  "Jason" first showed his ability winning a Grade 2 hurdle on 23Feb2020, beating Beacon Edge (4th in the Stayers Hurdle last month).  After a couple of indifferent races in the autumn, he won a Grade 3 on 27Feb beating good yardstick Petit Mouchoir easily.  That suggested he was capable of a 160+ performance, but will he stay 2m4f? Tough question, and we will likely have to wait until the result of this race to find out.  For me, the only two worth considering for the race are Song For Someone and Jason The Militant, and that's the pair I'm putting in a forecast.

Suggested wagers:
2:50pm Betfair Bowl: MISTER FISHER, £5 eachway & £5 win @ 8/1
A proper Grade 1 chaser, possessing pace and class, comes here race-fit and unexposed

3:25pm Aintree Hurdle: JASON THE MILITANT, £5 win @ 3/1
Improving and unexposed, has Grade 1 potential

Straight Forecasts:
£3 Jason The Militant to beat Song For Someone
£2 Song For Someone to beat Jason The Militant

Total staked = £25.00 

Friday, 2 April 2021

Grand National - early thoughts

The Grand National.
A race with a history entwined in not just horseracing, but the nation.
It wasn't run last year due to covid; but it's back next week and the race looks like being a cracker.  The field is packed with decent horses.
This blog is to try and find a few interesting antepost wagers that give us a chance of having a decent win. If I have time then I will add a few notes on the Irish Grand National run on Easter Monday.
As you can see, I'm starting this with a clean slate, no pre-formed ideas - I find writing the blog helps me assess the form in an unbiased fashion.
Top-weight with 11st 10lb will be Bristol De Mai, as he's guaranteed a run and in trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies who won the race with Bindaree, he's in good hands. He will have no problems with the ground (good-to-soft) and being a prominent runner he should go well.  I just worry about the weight and the trip. Since the distance was revised, there have been 7 GN's and 11 horses carrying 11st or more have finished in the 1st-6 (most bookmakers will be paying on the 1st-6 places) from the 42 places available, which is 15.2%. The number of horses in those 7 years carrying 11st or more is 77, or 28% of the total runners (which was 276): so horses with 11st+ are good to go. However, only 3 of those 11 carried more than 11st 5lb. If you combine that with the fact that in the 3 longest races he's run in he's not seen out the trip, he might struggle over the final half-mile.
The Storyteller is interesting; he's a top-class chaser but I feel the handicapper has been a bit tough on him with OR165. That and he likes to be covered-up in his races and he may need a bit of luck, but I expect him to stay the trip well.
Chris's Dream is another on a tough handicap mark of OR164, and while he's won over 3-miles I think that's his limit.
Yala Enki needs soft ground and while he will stay all day long, he's a bit of a plodder.
This will be the 2nd GN for Ballyoptic, and I can't see him winning.
Ditto Definitly Red: he's not the horse he once was.  The same for Lakeview Lad, his career is going backwards. 
That's everything with more than 11st, and of those the only one that tempts me is The Storyteller.
Burrows Saint (10st 13lb) won the Irish GN in Apr19, and has been aimed at this race all season. He ran a good prep race LTO, and the ground & trip will suit him. He'll go close.
Magic Of Light was 2nd to Tiger Roll in 2019, and she could well run another good race, but she's been campaigned much differently this time, and I feel she's had her chance.
Acapella Bourgeois is a prominent runner who will be in the van throughout, he comes here in good form and has a fair weight (10st 12lb) and he's interesting.
I don't think Talkischeap is good enough. Tout Est Permis was one of my Cheltenham Antepost's that didn't run and he then went and fell LTO (blood found in nose post-race), he's not one I'm confident over.
Another aimed at this race is Anibale Fly: twice placed in the Cheltenham Gold Cup and twice placed in the GN, he looks "chucked-in" off OR155 with 10st 12lb. He looks a place certainty.
Mister Malarky is a right-hand track specialist, and I think he'll not enjoy this race.
Beware The Bear is too slow - he's need to be at his very best to win this. His stablemate Pym is more interesting, as he's a prominent runner and was going well till blowing-up 4-out at Cheltenham. That was his first run since November, and he will be a lot fitter next week.  I like the look of Pym.
There are many Irish-trained entries and some look speculative. Any Second Now is one that's been aimed at this race, and as a "Kim Muir" winner over 3m2f he should be capable, but he's looked one-paced in other races of 3-mile or more. Balko Des Flos hasn't won a race since March 2018, and Alpha Des Obeaux is another who has seen better days. I'll be surprised if Brahma Bull starts the race, but if he does he needs he will need to have recovered his novice chase form to go well. 
One horse I've never rated is Ok Corral and I really can't see him winning this as he finished lame LTO.
He may be a 12yo, but Takingrisks is in top form this season, and he's won a Scottish GN, so the ground and trip hold no worries. 
I will be surprised if Shattered Love lines-up and this mare isn't good enough. Ditto Jett. As for The Jam Man, he'd an interesting entry, and just the sort who might be thereabouts coming to 2-out.
When I saw the weights published for this year, the first horse on my list was Lord Du Mesnil, and he duly went and won the GN Trial at Haydock over 3m4f on 20Feb. His 2nd in the NH Chase over 3m6f at the 2020 Cheltenham Festival showed he stays the trip at top-level, and he's going to take some beating.
Dec19 Welsh National winner Potters Corner loves these marathon races, and he's not many miles on the clock for an 11yo. He'd probably prefer it soft on the day, but he's not going to be far away.
Class Conti is on a tough handicap mark considering his last win was as a novice chaser over 2m5f.
Milan Native, who I had a wager on when disappointing LTO, should be capable of going well; but I'm not a fan of winners of the "Kim Muir" chase in this race.
There's been a lot of money for Discorama and he was the 2nd horse on my list (there were only 2) when the weights came out: I wish I had followed my instinct as both Lord Du Mesnil and Discorama were 40/1 at the time. Discorama has only run once by he's run some great races in defeat, I just feel OR149 is a bit high for him to be able to win this race. 
I feel Vieux Lion Rouge has had his chance, he loves this course but he doesn't stay the 4m2f trip.
Cloth Cap is the 7/2 fav, and looks chucked-in off OR148 considering his win LTO which suggests he's 10-14lb well-in.  But he could only come 3rd behind Takingrisks in the Scottish GN off OR134, and meets that rival on 1lb better terms now, and that is confirmed on a line thru' Aye Right who has been 2nd to both of them this season. 
I will be surprised if Cabaret Queen and Minellacelebration line-up for this race.
Canelo is an interesting horse, he may have been flattered to win the Rowland Meyrick handicap on Boxing Day as his OR147 rating is tough, but he's only an 8yo and may enjoy this race.
The Long Mile ran well LTO which was the longest trip he's raced over, but whether he can step-up to this distance considering he's raced mainly over 2m4f is debatable.
The 11yo Give Me A Copper has had lots of problems so this will only be his 10th chase race. Winning this would be a miracle.
Farclas is another of my recent Cheltenham Festival anteposts, and he went close in the 2m4f handicap.  He also holds an entry in the Topham Trophy earlier in the meeting, and I expect this 7yo will go for that, but if he runs in this race, I have high expectations as I think he's a touch of class about him.
That's the top-40 in the entries, so any others with lower handicaps require some of those above to withdraw. From my notes above, possibly 8 will not run, but I can't see anything lower being worth a mention; not even Minella Times. There's nothing much between him and Farclas as they've met a couple of times this season; but whereas I feel Farclas has potential to stay 4m2f, I can't say the same about Minella Times 
From the above, the latest odds on those that are worth considering are:-
The Storyteller: is 22/1 generally 5-places 5th-odds (William Hill)
Burrows Saint: is 12/1 qtr-odds 4-places (Skybet) and 10/1 generally
Acapella Bourgeois: is 33/1 qtr-odds 5-places generally
Anibale Fly: is 33/1 qtr-odds 5-places generally
Takingrisks: is 40/1 qtr-odds 5-places generally
Lord Du Mesnil: is 33/1 qtr-odds 5-places generally
Personally, I think 12/1 about Burrows Saint is a bit on the short-side, so for now I'm going to pass on him. But the other 5 horses all have scope to be placed in the 1st-5 and I could find a winner.
It's £3.00 eachway on all 5, which is £30 staked.

Thursday, 1 April 2021

Cheltenham Festival Review - what we learned (Part 4)

The final day of the of the Cheltenham Festival started as the previous 3-days had: with a Grade 1 race with fewer than 10 runners. Thankfully the fav for the Triumph Hurdle was not odds-on, but he was Irish-trained.  Zanahiyr arrived with a lofty reputation, but he hadn't seen a racecourse since Boxing Day (26Dec) and, to be fair, that Grade 2 race wasn't very strong. He was caught for pace in the race between the final 2 hurdles and the way he ran-on from the last suggests he wants 2m4f. The race was won by Quilixious who also arrived as an unbeaten hurdler, but he'd shown his progress when winning at Leopardstown on 07Feb. What is interesting about the Triumph result is that both the 1st and 2nd Adagio were German-bred and we are likely to see more German-bred horses over fences in future: certainly breeders should take note as the sires stud fees look reasonable. Quilixious looks an exciting prospect for the future. It was great to see David Pipe provide Adagio, as his win at Chepstow on 09Jan suggested he had every right to be there. Adagio has improved with every run this season, and I was impressed by his tenacity as he lost ground at nearly every hurdle yet briefly led on the run-up to the final flight. Adagio could be a very good when he perfects his hurdling. A big surprise was Haut En Couleurs who was having his debut for Willie Mullins as his only previous run was in France on 01Oct. Sired by Saint Des Saints who is a top-class NH sire, Haut En Couleurs looks to have a big future. The disappointment was Tritonic, and I don't accept the "ground" excuse as he won on soft ground at Ascot on 23Jan: he ran flat, and I think he was just simply out of his depth in this race.

The County Hurdle is a monster of a handicap, and a real headscratcher to solve. The winner Belfast Banter was having his 15th hurdle race and he'd proved tricky to win with in the past having found little at the business end - but he found plenty in this race! My thoughts are the field size of 25 helped to keep him covered-up, and he loved the ground. It would not surprise me to see him run well in this next year.   The old-boy Petit Mouchoir (2nd) ran right up to his best, and again I think the ground helped him as well as talented 7lb claimer Jordan Gainford.  In hindsight, I reckon Milkwood (3rd) has been aimed at this race since running a good 4th in the Welsh Champion Hurdle on 18Oct, he certainly looked like he was about to win as they approached the final flight, but he lack that winning effort. The handicapper has raised him 2lb to OR142 and he looks well-handicapped to me.  Eclair De Beaufeu (4th) ran well again at the Festival (was 2nd in the Grand Annual Chase in 2020, and was going well in the "County" in 2019 when unseating his rider at the last) and looked well-handicapped on OR139 which was 14lb below his chase rating (and also only 3lb higher than his rating when running well in this race in 2019). He's due to run at Fairyhouse on Saturday off OR138 - take note. I'm sure he will be back again next year as an 8yo.

The Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle over 3-mile is a great showcase for future staying chasers, and this year looks no exception.  The race was won in emphatic style by the 6yo Vanillier and he became the 2nd winner of the Festival for trainer Gavin Cromwell (who also sent out Flooring Porter).  This was a return to the form of his run at Limerick on 28Dec when 2nd to Farouk D'alene, and it may pay to may a note of that one as he's not run since and is clearly smart. The quality of winner of this race has really picked-up in recent years and there must be high-hopes for Vanillier next season.  I was also impressed with Oscar Elite (2nd) who looks every inch a staying chaser and excelled himself finishing in the frame in this race as his dam is a half-sister to top-class chasers Lord Windermere and Sub Lieutenant. It's difficult to know what to make of the remainder, as they were all well beaten off a fairly ordinary pace; although Threeunderthrufive was running-on in the final half-mile.

The feature race was next, the Cheltenham Gold Cup, and I have already looked at this race in some depth earlier. I would expect A Plus Tard (2nd) to be back next year as an 8yo to seek recompense, whereas Minella Indo may not be able to recapture this lofty form then when he will be a 9yo - time waits for no-one. Dual Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo will likely have a busier campaign next season as he's unlikely to be capable of winning the race again as a 10yo next season. Nothing else managed to get in a blow over the final half-mile: Native River stayed-on as expected into 4th, passing rival Frodon on the run-in.  Frodon's lack of stamina at this level was exposed and I would expect him to return to 2m5f next season.  As for the novice Royal Pagaille, he is going to find life mighty tough after this: he was clearly flattered at Haydock when winning the "Peter Marsh" handicap chase.

The Festival Challenge Hunter Chase is a light reprieve, and a race made more interesting by having professional jockeys (no amateurs allowed due to covid restrictions). The race was run at a fair pace reflecting the ability of the horses, and the form looks stronger than last year. Billaway was 2nd last year, and he was 2nd again, but this time there was just a short-head in it. He looked a better horse coming into the race, and it took a decent one to beat him.  That was Porlock Bay, and he was a terrific purchase from France last year. Brought smoothly into the race by jockey Lorcan Williams, he looked the most likely winner jumping 2-out but Billaway battled-back.  Staker Wallace (3rd) sets the bar for this race as he's very consistent, but not quite good enough to win. Last years emphatic winner It Came To Pass was very disappointing as he was given every chance, but faded rapidly after jumping the 3rd-last with the leaders. He should have been in the mix, but maybe he wasn't fit enough. The 2nd-fav Bob And Co was going well when stumbling and losing his rider 3-out, and had he completed then he would likely have been 3rd - but his jumping is untidy and he is prone to making mistakes.

We had the first running of the Mares' Chase over 2m4f & 127 yards, and it was no surprise to see the race dominated by Willie Mullins who sent the 1st-2 home. It was a ding-dong battle and the 8yo Colreevy came out on top, outstaying her rival and beating the 7yo Elimay by half-a-length.  There may not be much more improvement to come from Colreevy, but she's competent.  I'm more interested in Elimay, who is a half-sister to Goshen - it's remarkable that the dam Hyde (Fr) has produced 2 high-class jumps horses, and there's a 4yo sister to Goshen (Harrisburg) in France. Elimay jumped well throughout the race and led on the run-in; I feel she's a much better horse at trips under 2m4f, and I look forward to her meeting the mare Put The Kettle On.  Shattered Love (3rd) sets the standard for the race, and she was staying-on well just lacking speed between the last couple of fences.

The Conditional Jockeys Handicap hurdle wrapped-up the Festival, and provided Willie Mullins with another winner in Galopin Des Champs. He is improving rapidly, and this level of performance would have seen him go close in the "Ballymore" on the 2nd-day of the Festival. He could be an interesting and exciting horse next season. Langer Dan (2nd) tried to follow-up on his Imperial Cup (hurdle) win with a 5lb penalty and would have been successful in a "normal" year as there's not been a winner of this race of the quality of Galopin De Champs since Mullins (again) won it with Don Poli in 2014 and he developed into a 160+ chaser

Those going onto my alert list are:
One For The Team: possible Welsh National winner.
James Du Berlais: potential Grade 1 hurdler (in Ireland).
Escaria Ten: has Gold Cup potential in 2022.
Bob Olinger: potential "Brown Advisory" novice chase winner in 2022.
Eklat De Rire: looks unexposed at top-level.
Blue Sari & Monte Cristo: both are potentially well-handicapped hurdlers.
Greaneteen: right-handed tracks only
Entoucas: looks well-handicapped
Milliner: looks well handicapped.
Beacon Edge: potential Grade 1 hurdler at 3-miles.
Vinndication: potential Ladbrokes Trophy Chase winner.
Farclas: will win a "National" in the next 12 months.
Mount Ida: also a potential Ladbrokes Trophy Chase winner.
Adagio: could be top-class hurdler.
Elimay: top-class chaser at trips <2m4f.
Galopin Des Champs: Champion Hurdle in 2022?

Tuesday, 30 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival Review - what we learned (part 3)

The 3rd day of the Festival opened with yet another single-number runner race, and another odds-on fav.  The Marsh Novices Chase, run over a trip just-shy of 2m4f, was expected to be a near "walk-over" for Envoi Allen.  He was one of the Cheveley Park contingent that had recently moved to Henry De Bromhead, and went to the start unbeaten in his previous 11 races.  This race had a bit of depth to it though, with top handicapper Chatham Street Lad providing a good yardstick, and the 7yo's Chantry House and Shan Blue looking potentially better than their Official ratings. Unfortunately, Envoi Allen only reached the 4th fence as there it looked like he jumped a bit early with his front legs brushing through the fence and his back legs hitting the fence causing him to crumple on landing: it looked a novice mistake to me, possibly due to him not getting a clear view of the fence. That left the "raters" with a conundrum: rate the race or rate the winners' performance? Shan Blue was allowed to set a fierce pace for the next 10-furlongs taking some bold, and perhaps reckless, jumps; but he was a spent force by the time he turned into the home stretch with 3-furlongs and 2 jumps left. I've no idea what Harry Skelton was thinking with this tactic. Coming to 2-out I thought Asterion Forlonge was going the best (see below), but he didn't stay-on as strong as the Henderson pair of Chantry House and Fusil Raffles. As such, Chantry House ran-out a strong race and became the 3rd winner at this Festival to progress from last years Supreme Hurdle (alongside Shishkin and Heaven Help Us). This was only the 7th race for Chantry House, so there's plenty of scope for improvement, but you could not rate that win at 165 which is the rating RPR gave him - a rating bettered by only Yorkhill (166), Vautour (175) and Sire Des Champs (168) in recent years - unless you think Envoi Allen is already a 175+ chaser (I don't). I was more impressed by Fusil Raffles who jumped really well, and the 6yo will surely mature well, and he looks a potential top-class staying chaser. To give the form some perspective, Asterion Forlonge was btn 18-lengths into 4th in the "Flogas" Chase over 2m5f by Monkfish. Remember: rate the performance, NOT the race.

The Pertemps Handicap Hurdle is one of the great "gambling" races of the Festival, and one that I enjoy having a go at, and this year I was successful in selecting the winner, Mrs Milner.  Trainer, Paul Nolan, only sent one horse from Enniscorthy, Ireland to the Festival (he was also expected to send Latest Exhibition for the NH Chase), and the mare was a ready winner. Prior to running at Cheltenham on 14Nov last year she hadn't shown much worthwhile form, but that day she was just beaten by On The Blind Side over 3-miles and was only raised 4lb by the BHA handicapper to OR134.  She followed that run by qualifying on 28Dec, and then would surely have gone close in the Mares' hurdle at Leopardstown (won by Festival winner Heaven Help Us, with another Festival winner in Telmesomethinggirl in 3rd) had she not fallen at the 5th flight.  Confidently ridden by Bryan Cooper, she met a lot of trouble before the 2nd-last, but had enough in the tank to burst through in the straight and win by a clear margin.  Watching the race, the fav The Bosses Oscar was also ridden with confidence by 7lb claimer Jordan Gainford, but did not respond. I can't quite work out why when Mrs Milner and The Bosses Oscar met on 28Dec, there was only 9lb separating then in the handicap, but in this race there was 17lb.  Of the others, Milliner finished with a storming run, and I'd be interested in that one next time out. 

The Ryanair Chase over 2m4f & 127 yards has developed into a Grade 1 chase worthy of the Festival, and this year it provided possibly the most spectacular performance of the Festival: quite simply, Allaho took this race apart.  The race was all over bar the shouting at the 3rd-last fence when the only serious challenger Min dropped-out exhausted and was pulled-up.  Mister Fisher made a bad mistake at the 3rd last which indicated his tank was empty and he was also pulled-up. Kalashnikov tried to keep up, but was outclassed, and the rest never came close to getting in a blow. Via Fakir D'oudairies, I've rated Allaho's run at 162 but he must be good for another 7-10lb as he coasted home over on the run-in. There's nothing else in the race that comes out with any kudos, other than Kalashnikov who probably showed his best trip is not a yard more than 2m4f.  Given that Mister Fisher gave Kalashnikov 3lb and a beating when they met on the "New" Course over 2m4f, he was disappointing.

The Stayers' Hurdle saw 15-runners go to post in what many thought was an open race: but not readers of this blog! Back on 24th February I advised taking the 14/1 about about Flooring Porter, and I wish I'd advised adding to the wager when Thyme Hill was withdrawn. The Cheltenham Festival advertised the disparity of the official ratings between Britain and Ireland, and this race is a great example of that. The Irish-based trainers provided 4 of the 1st-5 home, yet the highest-rated horse by 5lbs was 2019 winner Paisley Park on OR165.  The 4th highest was 2020 winner Lisnagar Oscar who unfortunately fell when going well, and even the 66/1 Sam Spinner held a rating of OR157 which suggested he should have beaten the 4th placed Beacon Edge rated OR155!  I tie my ratings to the Official Ratings, and I've no idea what Racing Post Ratings (RPR) does. Being the ratings provided by the UK's only daily racing paper, it is vitally important that RPR are both realistic and reliable. I understand ratings are not the be-all and end-all, if they were finding winners would be a piece of cake; but if they don't stack-up then - to the casual punter - the integrity of horseracing comes into question. I've found in recent years that once a horse reaches OR150+ in ability, ratings are increasingly unreliable; so I stick with my own. I reckon Flooring Porter is the best winner of the Stayers' Hurdle since Thistlecrack in 2016, and he should be back to win again next year.  He wont have things all his own way though, as I was impressed with Noel Meade trained Beacon Edge in 4th as this 7yo was having his 1st attempt at 3-miles and showed his close 3rd (btn under a length) to Honeysuckle over 2m4f on 29Nov was no fluke. Before 2-out he looked like going close, but just didn't stay well enough; maybe next time he will. Noel Meade sent only 3 horses to Cheltenham: Beacon Edge, the Juvenile Hurdle winner Jeff Kidder, and Curious Bride who was well beaten in the Juvenile Hurdle, but won a competitive maiden hurdle on 18Jan - definitely one for the alert list. Make note of Noel Meade's horses next year.  The other horse to make a note of is Vinndication who ran a cracker. Having given Champ 6lb and a beating when a novice hurdler, we should have expected a good effort, but his was better than good, and I will be keen to be on him when he's back over fences, which could be in the Ladbrokes Trophy at Newbury.

The "Plate" handicap chase over 2m4f & 127yards saw a massive successful gamble on winner The Shunter who became the 3rd winning fav in 4 years after 5 years of double-figure odds winners. The handicapper has raised The Shunter 9lb for the win to OR149 but that was only his 6th chase race, and I think we will see him back here for the Paddy Power handicap chase in the Autumn. Readers of the blog will know I tipped Farclas for the Ultima Handicap Chase on the opening day, and having watched his performance in this race staying-on strong over what I think is an inadequate trip to be 2nd: then I'm fairly sure had he run in the Ultima, he would have gone very close. If Farclas goes for the Grand National on 9th April, I'm sure he will go close. This was a good handicap chase, and I'm sure a lot of future winners will come out of it. In 5th Assemble ran a cracker and it showed why he'd been highly tried in Grade 1 novice company in Ireland. Staying the trip is imperative in these Festival handicaps, and any stamina doubts are exposed: A Wave Of The Sea didn't get the trip. And some horses do not enjoy the hustle & bustle of a big field, and we will see a different horse when they race against fewer than 10 rivals: Caribean Boy and Sully D'Oc AA are better in smaller fields.  

The Mares' Novices Hurdle confirmed the rise of Henry De Bromhead as a trainer at the top of his game.  This race had only been won by Willie Mullins' trained horses in the past, but De Bromhead provided the 1st-2 in this race. My impression is that this was a poor year. The winner Telmesomethinggirl is improving, but is 12-15lb behind last years' winner Concertista. Most of the field are no better than OR130 hurdlers.  The Alan King trained The Glancing Queen is the yardstick, as she was a OR124 "bumper", and appears to be no better than that as a hurdler.  She was given a mark of OR131 when 3rd to Bravemansgame in the Grade 1 Challow hurdle on 29Dec, but I've already written about the inflated rating he has after being outclassed in the Ballymore Hurdle behind Bob Olinger.  Our official handicapper should rate the performance, not the race.

The "Kim Muir" handicap chase over 3m2f is one of my favourite races of Festival; a proper staying handicap.  My selection Storm Control ran a grand race, leading until 2-out and staying-on to be 5th. Old-campaigner Shantou Flyer ran his customary gallant race to be 3rd, and while the 11yo isn't as good as he was, he usually shows his best here at Cheltenham.  The 8yo Cloudy Glen is tricky to catch right, but when he's on a going day he's a very capable chaser - unfortunately, he can just as easily throw-in the towel, so it was no surprise to see him start at 33/1, and he probably would have won this race were it not for Mount Ida being a blot on the handicap!  Mount Ida had shown little form as a hurdler, but was entered in the Mares' Novice Hurdle (won by Concertista) last year, finishing 10th, so maybe there was promise on the gallops. On her chase debut on 22Nov at Cork, she was 3rd of 9 over 2-miles; and improved on that effort NTO on 06Dec when winning over the same C&D. For her 3rd chase, and final run before the Kim Muir, she ran in a Grade 2 novice chase over 2m4f which was won by Colreevy (who went on to win the Mares' Chase at the Festival). That 2nd place was nothing to write home about, and to be fair, I could not understand why Mount Ida was the 3/1 fav for the Kim Muir on that form; but it seemed all Ireland knew she was a winner-in-waiting.  Mount Ida trailed the field for the early part of the race and looked like being pulled-up - she traded at 1000 on the exchanges - but despite continually lurching right at every jump so plugged-on.  In the final mile, she picked-up the leaders very easily and the further they went the better she looked.  She's a half-sister to Sizing Tennessee, last seen winning the Ladbrokes Trophy handicap at Newbury in 2018, and I expect we will see her trying to emulate that win later in the year.  This race was run at a strong pace for the 1st 2-miles, and it showed as a lot pulled-up late in the race. Plan Of Attack, 4th in the race in 2020, fell 3-out when going well and I expect he'd have finished alongside Cloudy Glen in 2nd or 3rd. Plan Of Attack holds a Grand National entry and he's currently 66/1 - but if he'd run 3rd in this race, he certainly wouldn't be those odds - very interesting, but he does need 20+ horses above him in the handicap to come out.
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Friday, 26 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival Review - what we learned (part 2)

The 2nd day of the Festival opened with another 7-runner novice race, the Ballymore Hurdle.  This was a disappointing turnout as the "Ballymore" is a great shop-window of talent for the punter to savour, and apart from the 1st-2 home - Bob Olinger and Gaillard Du Mesnil - there's nothing else in the race that came out well. Certainly, Bravemansgame and Bear Ghylls had their limits cruelly exposed as hurdlers at this level, and novice chasing beckons for them next season. So, how good is Bob Olinger? He's a good winner, but the lack of competition in the race stops me from making him a great winner, and I rate his performance at 152 (Racing Post Ratings (RPR) have him at 163). That puts him below the last couple of good winners Envoi Allen (159) and Samcro (158): however, RPR think Bob Olinger is better than Envoi Allen, and I find that hard to accept. It will be interesting to see him up against older hurdlers, but he's probably going novice chasing next season. 

I'm more impressed with Gaillard Du Mesnil who is only a 5yo, and who stayed on very well looking like a step-up to 3-mile would be right up his street. He would be my long-range pick for the 3-mile "Brown Advisory" Novice Chase next year for which he's currently 33/1.

The performance of Monkfish when winning the 6-runner Brown Advisory was, in my opinion, indifferent - he certainly looked a better horse when winning the "Flogas" LTO at Leopardstown over 2m5f. I was particularly disappointed with his jumping, there is a lot of improvement required. However, he totally outclassed his rivals in this race, although Sporting John made a serious error which virtually put him out of the race, and Eklat De Rire unseated his rider at the 12th before the race became interesting. Losing Eklat De Rire removed a lot of competition as he'd beat Escaria Ten at Naas over 3m1f, and that horse ran well in the NH Chase to be 3rd; I'm not suggesting he'd have beaten Monkfish, but he would have given him a race. Before I wager on Monkfish to win the next Gold Cup, I will wait to see how he runs against more experienced chasers.

The Coral Cup handicap hurdle was a disaster for me, as having highlighted the chance of last-time-out winner Heaven Help Us, and that she'd also run 7th in the previous years Supreme Nov Hurdle, I then didn't put her up as a selection - and she duly won at 33/1 having made all. If you were a reader of my Festival bulletins a few years back (too much work to continue) you will know that about 8 years ago I advised making note of any mares running in the hurdle races as they do very well, and there were only 2 mares in this race, and last years winner was a mare. I'm not sure what it is, maybe its the time of year, but mares are good value.  The 6yo gelding Blue Sari - 2nd in the Champion Bumper at the 2019 Festival behind Envoi Allen, was flying on the run-up to the final flight and had he not fallen there, who knows - he may have caught the leader.  He has an entry at Fairyhouse on the 3rd April. Another that caught my eye was Monte Cristo: this Henderson-trained 5yo was badly impeded by the fallen horse at the last, and looks like being a lot better than his OR145 handicap rating. 

I've watched the QMCC a number of times, and there were a few hard-luck stories in it: but Chancun Pour Soi wasn't one of them - he was beaten fair'n'square.  There was always a nagging doubt that he might have been flattered having won 6 of his previous 7 races in Ireland repeatedly beating the same rivals, and while I have him 10lb below the "fantasy" rating of 173 the official handicapper has him on, I still thought he'd be good enough to beat a fairly ordinary set of rivals.  He wasn't, and I doubt we will see him in the UK again.  Winner Put The Kettle On merely had to run to her rating of OR156 to win this as she had the benefit of the 7lb mares allowance - which effectively put her on 163.  She is a game mare though, no denying that.  Runner-up Nube Negra confirmed his promise (and also showed that a fit Altior would have gone close even at 11yo), and the 7yo is the one who could give Shishkin a lot to think about next year. He was 3rd in the Juvenile Hurdle at the Festival in 2018, and but for a poor run at Warwick in Feb20 he's progressed well as a chaser and this ex-Spanish flat racer has turned out to be an excellent purchase by Dan Skelton. A couple of others worth noting: Greaneteen hit just about every one of the 1st-9 fences losing a length each time, then jumped great for the final 4 fences - his best form appears to be on right-handed tracks and he can be followed at Sandown and Ascot. For Sceau Royal this may have been his last throw of the dice at this level, as when he's good he's very good, but when he's not he's awful. Considering he was beaten just under 4-lengths having been almost floored 3-out suggests with a clear run he'd have bettered his 2019 effort when 3rd (behind Altior and Politologue).  The Celebration Chase at Sandown at the end of April could be a cracker!   

I'm not bothered about the Cross-Country Chase, but I have rated it via 3rd-placed Some Neck who I reckon ran fairly much to the rating he held when winning the Cross-Country Chase (handicap) on 11Dec20 over the same C&D, which is 135.  That suggests Easysland ran about 25lb below what he ran to when winning the race last year, and that matches his performance when we saw him run over C&D last November. So what has happened to Easysland?  Has he really gone backwards by 25lb?  Whatever, my assessment suggests Tiger Roll ran to about 155, and that means he will have to improve another 10lb or so to win the Irish Grand National on 5th April. 

The Grand Annual handicap chase over 2-mile was a new race for me to assess, and it had been moved from the Old Course to the New Course. Sky Pirate won by getting his head in front on the line, beating by inches Entoucas - this was galling for my brother as he had Entoucas in a double with 33/1 winner Heaven Help Us (as he'd read my blog and took advantage!).  The handicapper has raised Sky Pirate 8lb for that short-head winning margin, whereas I thought he merely ran to his official rating of OR152. The runner-up Entoucas has only been raised 2lb (eh?), and I would be keen to follow him in handicaps over his next few runs.  In 3rd was Ibleo and this 8yo has improved with every run this season.  Why he went up 3lb to OR157 is beyond me, and he may struggle to win another handicap from that rating.  What is interesting is that his sire is the 14yo Dick Turpin who was a Group 1 winning miler in 2010-11 and stand with the National Stud for just £3,000.  He could be worth visiting by breeders in the UK looking for a NH Sire.  The 1st-3 pulled a few lengths clear of the field on the run-in and there's none behind who I thought suffered ill-luck.  

With a couple of 6yo's dominating the Champion Bumper, and both being trained by Willie Mullins, there isn't much to say about the race as I doubt either Sir Gerhard or Kilcruit will prove top horses next season.

Cheltenham Festival Review - what we learned (part 1)

Taking a time-out and reflecting on the results of the Cheltenham Festival when the dust has settled is a good idea as you can see things you possibly overlooked (deliberately?) before the race in a new light.

This was a very different festival mainly due to the reduced numbers of entries and, in some cases, runners in the races; however the competition and quality of the race winners was not affected materially. That was evident right from the opening race when the smallest field in decades lined-up for the Supreme Novices Hurdle.  There is no doubt that Appreciate It is as good a winner as we've seen of this quality novice hurdle, but the rest were found wanting.  My immediate impression was that Appreciate It could be a Champion Hurdle winner, but on 2nd-thoughts, his future likely lies over fences, as he'd have to improve another +12lb to challenge Honeysuckle and (at 7yo already) that's unlikely.

The Arkle was another race with a tiny field, but we've come to expect this now, and Shishkin became the 7th odds-on winner of this race in the past 10 years. It's more of a showcase nowadays than a race. How good is Shishkin? The Racing Post have rated him at 174 which is just 2lb below Sprinter Sacre at the same stage, and 4lb better than any other winner since 2012. I've gone back through my ratings, and I had Cue Card (2nd to Sprinter Sacre) at 3lb better than Shishkin; so I think there's still a lot to prove from the Arkle winner.

I've already looked at the Ultima Handicap Chase result, and the only thing to add is that 7yo One For The Team stayed on very strong over the final half-mile, and his granddam Elaine Tully produced Grand National winner Rule The World and Ballymore Hurdle 2nd Venalmar, and we could see plenty of improvement if he steps up to marathon trips: he looks a Welsh National possibility. 

The Champion Hurdle was dominated by the mare Honeysuckle and if she returns next year as an 8yo then she will be tough to beat.  I've not yet given up on Goshen, but he clearly has bad memories of his Triumph Hurdle experience at Cheltenham.  It was interesting to see the 5yo James Du Berlais run in this race.  Trained by Willie Mullins, he's obviously a lot better than he looked, and one to keep an eye on - expect to see him run well at Punchestown next month.

The Mares' Hurdle was a decent race, the form worked out well - although Concertista ran a tad below her best; but you cannot fault the winner Black Tears or her rider Jack Kennedy who was hard-at-work from the 3rd last flight. Where Black Tears goes now, I'm not sure as I don't think there' much improvement left in her as a hurdler. Roksana had her limitations exposed, she's a rock-solid 150 hurdler, and super consistent, but she's at her limit and it is remarkable that she has garnered £250,000 in earnings 

I'm not sure how punters allowed Jeff Kidder to start at 80/1 for the Juvenile Hurdle. Trainer Noel Meade may not have sent many winners out at recent Cheltenham Festivals, but he's one of the best trainers in Ireland. The Mullins-trained Saint Sam was clearly laid-out for this race, with a rating of OR139 looking lenient, but Jeff Kidder was btn less than 3-lengths by Saint Sam at "levels" when they met on Boxing Day in a Grade-2 hurdle won by Zanahiyr (after which the winner was made fav for the Triumph Hurdle). If connections thought Saint Sam was well-in on OR139, I hope the lads who owned Jeff Kidder had a decent "touch" on their gelding, as based on that Boxing Day run he should have been on OR135 at least, so he was chucked-in off OR125 and won like it too!  In 5th was Dermot Weld's first runner at the Festival in a few years, so he clearly thought Coltor had a chance off OR127. And the presence of Elham Valley in 3rd and Houx Gris in 4th should have pointed us towards the chance of Adagio in the Triumph Hurdle on the final day, as he beat them both easily on 09Jan21..

The opening day ended with the NH Chase over 3m6f and again, the form worked out really well.  My selections Next Destination just lacked a bit of speed in the final quarter-mile to gain a winning advantage, and that looked the only thing that split him and the winner Galvin.  We first saw Galvin when 6th in the 2019 Ballymore Hurdle. He was back again in 2020 when 2nd in the Novices Handicap Chase (now run at Sandown) over 2m4f, and he was kept racing thru' the summer winning his next 4 races including an extended 3-mile chase at Cheltenham on 23Oct. I have to admit I did not think he was good enough to win this race, and if his rating goes up from OR152 then he could struggle. Ditto Next Destination who has the extra burden of being 9yo, and he's going to have to run in marathon chases with lumps of weight next season off OR153. The 3rd-placed Escaria Ten looks to have a better future as this trip was beyond him (he looked like winning coming to the final fence) and a drop back to 3-mile should see him win a decent race. It's not beyond the imagination to see him lining-up in the Gold Cup next season, and he's firmly on my alert list.

Monday, 22 March 2021

The 2021 Cheltenham Festival - a lookback

What a Festival of horseracing!
Yes, it was dominated by the Irish-based trainers, but it's the horses that race, and it's the horses that win - it is all about the horses!
There were some phenomenal performances from horse, rider and trainer, and I will touch on some of them here - as well as my own performance as a punter and tipster.
For me, the best performance of the entire Festival came in the premier race - the Gold Cup from MINELLA INDO.  Before the race, I was disparaging about the horse, considering him not to have developed from his novice chase season. But before I go into that, I have to say it's hard to believe that he made his racing debut as a 5yo in a maiden hurdle at Limerick on 29Dec2018, not much more than 2 years ago - and despite starting the 5/4 fav he could only run 3rd to the lowly Small Farm who is now with Charlie Mann and rated just OR122. Humble beginnings, but then Minella Indo was the 10th foal of his dam who, to be honest, had only produced one horse of note in Benatar (a 9yo with Gary Moore rated OR135). "Indo" was bred by the Rathkenty Stud in Ireland, and they sell their mares' produce as foals at the sales, so anyone with foresight could have bought this future Gold Cup winner when he went to the Tattersalls Ireland November NH Sale on 16th November 2013 as Lot 309 out of 1464 horses being offered for sale. The high-class hurdler Thomas Darby was Lot 307, and top handicap chaser Pym was Lot 349.  There's been a lot of talk about British trainers lacking the horses to compete, but they are all there for sale if you look for them: unfortunately, my view is that UK trainers are trying to buy the finished product for prices north of £300,000 when they should be buying these "stores" and investing in the future. 
Back to Minella Indo, and after his racing debut he progressed extremely quickly into a top-class horse winning the "Albert Bartlett" G1 novice hurdle on only his 3rd start a the 2019 Cheltenham Festival.  His trainer Henry De Bromhead tried to maintain the same electrifying progress in his novice chasing season, and almost succeeded in winning the G1 RSA (now Brown Advisory) Chase at the 2020 Festival, but "Indo" just failed after using all his strength in a head-to-head duel with Allaho (who won the Ryanair Chase this week with an immense display of speed and jumping).
De Bromhead wisely gave "Indo" a long break after that run, and I expect he will do the same again after this weeks Gold Cup win. We next saw Minella Indo winning a couple of minor graded races comfortably, but he beat in the process a couple of Cheltenham winners in Milan Native and Ravenhill, so the form - if not sparkling - was solid. 
We have to wonder now, just what would have happened in the G1 Savills Chase on 28Dec20 had Minella Indo not fallen at the 8th fence - would he have won? Almost certainly, and had he won that race he may not have run in the Irish Gold Cup on 07Feb over the same C&D. With the benefit of hindsight, it would seem that the latter race was used as a confidence builder.  Personally, I read too much into the form of that race, and what I should have done was focused on his previous Cheltenham Festival performances and the way he had been campaigned in his 2nd season as a chaser, and not the results achieved.  However, jockey Rachael Blackmore must have also read too much into that race, as she rode "Indo" when he fell in the Savills Chase (won by A Plus Tard), and then swapped to A Plus Tard for the Gold Cup. 
Last week, Minella Indo didn't just win the Gold Cup, he set the bar very high putting over 5-lengths between himself and 2x Gold Cup winner Al Boum Photo in 3rd and another Gold Cup winner in Native River in 4th. My assessment of the performance is 170 (RPR179) which is the best since Coneygree, who I assessed at 172 (RPR178).
The Festival riding performance was from Rachael Blackmore, as she was rightly propelled to the top of the tree of NH jockeys winning 6 races from her 20 rides. She certainly pushes her horses fully to get the best from them, and that does seem to result in mistakes when they are taken out of their comfort zone, with 4 of those rides resulting in a fall or her being unseated following an error. I will be interested in those 4: Plan Of Attack, Embittered, Balko Des Flo, and Eklat De Rire when they run next time. It was a superb week for Blackmore, just the good news story that horseracing needed.
Trainer Henry De Bromhead sent 23 horses to race at the Festival, resulting in 6 winners, and 1st & 2nd in 2 races.  Of those that completed their race, only one (Champagne Gold) had an SP of under 10/1 and didn't run well: overall, it was a remarkably consistent performance.
What about my performance as a tipster?  Well, for the 3rd year in a row, I posted a profit on the week, and this year it was £183.50 profit on total stakes of £237.00; that's 77.47% Return on Investment.
Obviously, the highlight of my betting week was FLOORING PORTER advised at 14/1 winning the Stayers Hurdle just as I expected him to: making-all.
There were a few downsides, and also some lessons learned - you are never too old to learn!
The downsides were staking too much on a couple of tenuous wagers, for instance Metier on the Supreme Novices Hurdle: it quickly became obvious that the UK-trained novice hurdlers were no match for the Irish-trained novices, and were about 7-10lb behind despite having comparable Official Ratings. Our handicapper needs to start awarding ratings that are more realistic to the novice hurdlers, and Metier is a prime example. Prior to the "Supreme" he was rated OR148, while I rated his best performance to-date at 139. Being essentially "flat-bred", I expected him to improve on his 139 rating on the better ground at Cheltenham (his LTO win was on heavy ground) but no, he was even more exposed. 
Another lesson was in the Ultima Handicap Chase on the opening day.  My selection process is based on trends to create a shortlist, and then on form to hone a selection.  However, this years Ultima had a number of runners that were unlikely to stay the 3m1f or were proven vulnerable at the trip (ie Alnadam, Nietzche, Cepage, and Delire D'Estruval) or were out of form; and that should have alerted me to a proven stayer like Vintage Clouds who had run 2nd & 3rd in this race previously and therefore had scope to be placed (at least) in the 1st-5 at long odds. Trends are not the be-all & end-all, they are a tool - don't forget that.
My final lesson was being a bit braver; and I did learn this during the Festival after I spotted - and then ignored - Heaven Help Us in the Coral Cup handicap hurdle and then watched him win at 33/1.  I did follow my instinct on Day-3 by posting a selection advice on Mrs Milner who won at 12/1.
Overall, a great Festival for readers of the blog, and for all horseracing fans, and I really hoped that you enjoyed my writing and benefitted from my advice.
Roll on Aintree!

Friday, 19 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021 - Day 4 & the Gold Cup

Well then - that was more like it!

We went into the 3rd day losing £45.50 and finally banked a winning selection in MRS MILNER at 12/1 in the 2nd race.  I'd actually written the blog the night before and taken 14's, but only 12's was available when the blog went online. Profit on the £5 ew wager was £72.00 which completely obliterated the loss over the initial 2-days of the Festival.
The Ryanair Chase was a fantastic race to watch, and Allaho was spectacular, but a disaster for my selection MELON who eventually pulled-up due to the incredible pace set by the winner. That was a £20.00 loss on advised stakes.
However, there was more good news when FLOORING PORTER made-all (as expected) on ground he loved to take the Stayers' Hurdle, and we were on him at 14/1 for £7.50 ew and £5 win. The profit on those wagers was £196.00
We dropped £10.00 on the disappointing Gauloise in the Mares' Hurdle, but bounced back with a placed-run from STORM CONTROL @ 16/1 in the last race (the Kim Muir Chase) which provided a profit of £11.00 on the £5 eachway wager.  It was a pity that I didn't combine Mrs Milner, Flooring Porter and Storm Control in 3x EW doubles and an EW treble - lesson learned!
So we ended the day £203.50 in profit, on total stakes of (Day-1 = £117; Day-2 = £30; Day-3 = £70) 
£217.00 

I have no more antepost wagers placed for the remaining day.   It looks a tough card to me.
I'm not interested in the Triumph Hurdle, it will almost certainly go to one of the Irish-trained 4yo's as they look miles ahead of our novice hurdlers. If I had to plump for one it would be QUILIXIOUS, as he looks the best of them to me.
The County Hurdle has not ever been a favourite race of mine, so I'm passing it over.
The "Albert Bartlett" Novice hurdle over 3-miles is an interesting race as these horses tend not to show much speed, it's all about stamina. Novices can progress quickly and one that I have kept an eye on since he won his hurdle debut is THREEUNDERTHRUFIVE.  What I like about him is he's bred to stay 3-mile but was quick enough to beat the speedy and promising Valleres at Ludlow in November. He also stepped-up to win his first attempt at 3-mile on 10th March, just 8-days ago, so we know he's very much race-fit and that run will have him cherry-ripe for this.
Is he worth a wager?
Given there are so few strong formlines in this race (it looks like we are going to have 3x 5/1 co-fav's), and his stablemate Barbados Bucks is in the race at 7/1, probably not: but you really never know with a race like this, especially as the ground is riding really quick and favouring those front-runners. 
Certainly, odds of 11/1 look interesting.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup at 3:05pm is the pinnacle of the Festival, and this year we have Al Boum Photo attempting to emulate Arkle and Best Mate and complete a hat-trick of victories. Can he do it?  It's possible, as he's still only a 9yo, and in Willie Mullins he has a trainer who is 2nd-to-none. My worry is that this race is possibly the most competitive of the last 3 years and also the most complex to assess. The Henderson challenge is spear-headed by Champ and there are a couple of issues I have with him: a) he's a 9yo and that's old for a chaser to win his 1st Gold Cup, and b) he's not enough top-class chase form in his career. For example, when Native River won in 2018 as an 8yo he already had five 160+ performances recorded (my ratings) at graded level; Champ hasn't done that once! There's no doubt he will be well prepared, but I just don't think he's good enough, and we'll likely see that when the chips are down. His stablemate Santini is just slow. Sure, he stays forever and will be going best over the final half-mile, but he could be starting from 20+ lengths behind the leaders. Frodon is an enigma: he just keeps on surprising us and seems to have been around forever, but he's still only a 9yo. By comparison with Champ, since 1st Jan 2018 Frodon has recorded 7 performances of 160+ but only one of those (his recent King George win on Boxing Day) was at 3-miles or more. I don't think he will be allowed to dictate this race, and when he can't dictate he does tend to throw in the towel.  I'm sure he will have his supporters, but there are many "King George" winners that haven't followed-up in the Gold Cup: Clan Des Obeaux, Might Bite, Thistlecrack, Cue Card, Silviniaco Conti, and even Long Run didn't follow-up his 2nd win. 
Native River is a much better horse when the going is soft or worse, and while he was able to cope with good ground when he was younger (when he was 3rd in the GC to Sizing John in 2017 when he was a 7yo) he could not cope with it when he ran 4th in 2019.  That said, he's in good form and I can see him running very well, possibly better than Champ and Frodon. 
Minella Indo just hasn't shown he's good enough for a race at this level; his 3 chase wins have been against inferior opposition and all were at long odds-on. He's a 25/1 chance in my book.  Others without a chance on form are Black Op, Aso, and Lostintranslation who possibly needs a change in stable. The form of Royale Pagaille has taken  few knocks, and while he's a talented 7yo - possibly more talented than Champ at the same age - the ground is certainly against him based on what we've seen.  However, we've never seen him run on anything better than soft-ground, so he could be anything.  
We are left with 3 horses to consider: Al Boum Photo; A Plus Tard, and Kemboy.
I'm growing to like Kemboy: between 28Dec18 - 01May19 he won all 3 completed G1 chases over 3-mile (he unseated at the 1st fence in the Gold Cup won by Al Boum Photo). Then he lost his way for 12 months, and was down the field in last years Gold Cup, but I wasn't happy about him being ridden by an amateur jockey before that race, and he can do better than that.  He pulled his act together when caught close home, having looked the winner on the run-in, by A Plus Tard in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown on 28Dec.  After that, he was ridden much more positively in the Irish Gold Cup on 07Feb and won well.  He can make mistakes, but the 2 worst mistakes he's made in 17 chase races has been at the 1st fence, so if he gets over that we can breathe easier.  I think he's overlooked in the betting market and should be a lot shorter than 20/1.  
That run on 28Dec was the last time we saw A Plus Tard, and that was the 1st (and only) time he's run over 3-mile as a chaser since being beaten by Delta Work as a novice chaser in Apr19. He's a top-class horse, that is without doubt, but is he top-top-class enough to win a Cheltenham Gold Cup?  He might be, but odds of 3/1 are far too short for the amount of doubt, and he should be more like 7/1 or more.   
Al Boum Photo has been there and has the T-shirt, is he still good enough? Possibly, and showed versatility last season to win what was essentially a six-furlong sprint from the 3rd-last fence.  The year before was a stiff stamina test (thanks to Native River setting a good pace) and so we know there are no holes in his resume.  He was 3/1 last year and, before that race, I thought it was tougher than in 2019.  I think he should be the clear fav in this race, and anything longer than 9/4 is value in my opinion.  I think he would be the 2/1 fav if the betting market had not gone into a frenzy over Rachael Blackmore and Henry De Bromhead.  He's my idea of the winner, but the horse I think may give him most to do - and could well nick the race - is Kemboy.  
My idea of the 1st-4 is
1st Al Boum Photo; 2nd Kemboy; 3rd A Plus Tard; 4th Native River 
Suggested Wager:
AL BOUM PHOTO - £10 win @ 3/1 (available generally)
KEMBOY - £5 eachway @ 20/1 (Bet365, PaddyPower, Betfair quarter-odds a place 1,2,3,4)
 
The renamed Hunter Chase at 3:40pm gives the jockeys a chance to celebrate after the Gold Cup, or it did when it was for amateur riders. No amateurs this year, so if there's a decent professional riding, take note. The Willie Mullins trained Billaway was expected to win this last year, but was beaten by the well-prepared It Came To Pass.  They both run again, but this time Billaway should be in the 1st-2 again, but will he be 1st or 2nd?  The horse that has caught my eye is CHAMERON, an 8yo trained by the Loxton's in Somerset, who were sent the horse by the owner Paul Nicholls (there's a name). Nicholls bought the horse after seeing it beat Lord Du Mesnil in France in Oct2016, but he couldn't get the horse to settle, so sent it to the Loxton's. After a long break, Chameron went pointing, and won both P2P's last Spring.  Another year off, and he ran at Leicester on 18Feb on a hunter-chase and hacked-up.  There may be a problem with the ground in this race, but the quick ground will affect a lot of these horses, and (as usual) it will pay to race prominently and not get left with too much to do.
I expect Billaway to win, but at 3/1 there's not much wiggle-room in the odds considering he was beaten as the 11/4 fav last year, so no recommended wager for me.

The Mares' Chase at 4:15pm is the first running of this new race. There's only two mares capable of winning based on the form, both are trained by Willie Mullins, and they are ELIMAY @ 4/5 (odds-on) and Colreevy @ 7/2. Personally, I don't think there's much in it, but Elimay is the better mare but only by a couple of pounds, but they are both a lot better than the others in this race.

I'm not bothering with the last race on the card, and by then the crowds (!?!) will have gone home.
It's been a great week, please look out for my review of the Festival results with pointers for antepost wagers over the next few weeks.
 

Thursday, 18 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021 - Day 3

This Cheltenham Festival isn't going well for me!
We went into Day-2 having lost £12.50 on Day-1, and then none of my recommended wagers was successful, so another £33.00 lost, making the loss for the week so far £45.50.
What is worse is after spotting what looked a "plot" horse in the Coral Cup handicap hurdle in Heaven Help Us (the only runner for trainer Paul Hennessy this week, and the horse ran 7th in last years "Supreme" Hurdle) I didn't recommend a wager and the horse duly won with an SP of 33/1 (having been 40/1 when I posted the blog).
Thursday: and the 3rd day of the Cheltenham Festival is my favourite day.
I have already posted a number of antepost wagers, and the hope is that they will be successful..
My antepost wagers are:
2:30pm MELON - £5 ew & £5 win = £15 staked @ 9/1 (5th odds a place 1,2,3)
3:05pm FLOORING PORTER - £7.50 ew & £5 win = £20 staked @ 14/1 (5th odds a place 1,2,3)
plus:
MELON and FLOORING PORTER in £2.50 ew double (£5 staked)

1:20 Marsh Novices Chase (Grade 1) over 2-mile & 4-furlongs
This is a race in which Graded race-winning form is important. 
ENVOI ALLEN is the odds-on fav, and there looks to be nothing in the race capable of beating him.  We've seen a few hot-fav's beaten this week, but trainer De Bromhead has struck with all his top horses, and I'm not expecting a surprise result in this race. The horse that may follow him home in 2nd is SHAN BLUE who has been progressive and consistent all season. 

1:55 Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle over 3-mile   
A front-runner that stays, that's the ideal horse for this race, and I can't see one that fits the bill. 
I'm not going to do what I did yesterday in spotting a "plot" horse and then not tipping it, but one that seems to fit the bill is the lightly raced MRS MILNER, who was just beaten a neck here at Cheltenham by consistent 3-mile hurdler On The Blind Side last November.  After qualifying in December (race 4th of 20), she fell in the race won by Heaven Help Us (yesterdays winner of the Coral Cup) in February. She looks unexposed at 3-mile and will be trainer Paul Nolan's only runner here this week.   Odds of 12/1 (5th odds 7-places with Skybet) look fair to me.
Suggested Wager:
MRS MILNER - £5 ew = £10 staked @ 12/1 (5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5,6, 7 with Skybet)

2:30 Ryanair Chase over 2-mile 4-furlongs & 127 yards
One of my favourite races.
This year looks a super-competitive race, and the one I'm on antepost is MELON.
I think he is the class horse in the race, and he will likely try and make-all as he's a bold front-runner.  There was a chance that he may have gone for the Gold Cup, but he's not the stamina for 3-miles so would not have much chance in the Gold Cup, and this trip should be perfect for him. I'm on at 9/1 antepost, but there's plenty of 15/2 about and that looks value to me.

3:05 The Stayers Hurdle (Grade 1) over 3-mile
Last year's race was a poor renewal as none of the main challengers were on form on the day.  Paisley Park, who won this in 2019, has been running well but at 9yo looks vulnerable. As does Sire Du Berlais, and there's no value in either of those. My antepost wager is on FLOORING PORTER @ 14/1 and he has improved considerably this season, and is only a 6yo.  Although he's run his last couple of races on soft ground, he's won on good ground before at Galway in July, so he should have no ground issues. There is some 11/1 available, but most bookies are offering just 9/1 and I can't see him finishing outside the 1st-4 and I think he has a hell of a chance.

3:40 The Paddy Power Plate Handicap Chase over 2-mile & 4-furlongs & 127 yards
As always, a tough handicap to fathom, and 23 runners go to post.
One of my antepost wagers for the Ultima Handicap was FARCLAS, and he's running in this instead. 
Course form is very important for this race, and Farclas has it having won the Triumph Hurdle here in 2018. However, this race is competitive and there are a number that have been aimed at this race; notably Mister Whitaker, who was 3rd in this race last year and has run just twice since. Another is The Shunter, who comes here in top form, as does A Wave Of The Sea.  It's not unusual for the winner to come into this race off a long break, and Sully D'Oc AA comes into this category, he looks a better chaser than his OR137 rating.
I'm going to give this race a miss, not because I don't think FARCLAS holds a winning chance, but the odds of 6/1 do not represent value in a race like this - as we saw in the Grand Annual Chase yesterday, there could be 6 of 7 in with a chance at the final fence. 

4:15 Mares' Novice Hurdle over 2-mile 1-furlong
Not a race I usually look at, but just following the Willie Mullins 1st-choice pointed me to Concertista last year. 
Mullins dominates these Mares' hurdles and if he thought GAULIOISE stood no chance of reversing the form of 3rd behind both Roseys Hollow and Royal Kahala LTO then I'm sure he'd aim the mare elsewhere. Odds of 7/1 and 4-places eachway look fair, and she's worth an eachway wager.  . 
Suggested Wager:
GAULIOUSE: £5 eachway = £10 staked @ 7/1 (PaddyPower, William Hill, 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4)


4:50 The Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir h'cap Chase over 3-mile 2-furlongs
One of my favourite races but no amateur riders this year, which makes selection trickier.
William Greatrex won this with Missed Approach in 2018, and Bob Mahler went close last year, coming in 3rd. 
However, there is a C&D winner in the race who looks well handicapped and sure to make a bold attempt: STORM CONTROL.  His run LTO exposed his stamina on soft ground at Warwick, but this reduced trip and better ground will be in his favour.  Odds of 16/1 with 5-places available look value. 
Suggested Wager:
STORM CONTROL: £5 eachway = £10 staked @ 16/1 (5th odds a place 1st-5 with Bet365, William Hill and Betfred)