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Friday 26 February 2021

Countdown to the Cheltenham Festival - 26th Feb (18 days to go)

After posting the previous blog, I was asked why I'd opposed Sire Du Berlais in the Stayers' Hurdle when he's proven over C&D having won the Pertemps Handicap Hurdle for the past 2 years run over the same C&D and earlier o the same day as the Stayers' Hurdle.  The main reason is the horses age:  Sire Du Berlais is a 9yo, and since Galmoy won his 2nd Stayers Hurdle back in 1988, the only other winning 9yo's have been Inglis Drever (2008) when winning for the 3rd time, and Big Bucks (2012) when winning for the 4th time.  There's only been one winner of the race winning for the first (and only) time as a 9yo - since the 11yo Crimson Embers in 1986 - and that was Solwhit in 2013.  What you have to remember about Solwhit was the 14 of his 16 races prior to winning in 2013 were at Grade 1 level  an he won 6 of those; so he was not out of place competing at Grade 1 level, albeit at shorter trips than 3-mile.  Sire Du Berlais has only run at Grade 1 level once, and that was when he was 3rd in the Christmas Hurdle behind my antepost selection the 6yo Flooring Porter.  The current fav for the race Paisley Park is also a 9yo, but he has won the Stayers Hurdle before (as a 7yo in 2019), so he's not completely discounted as he is proven at this level, but he's not improving.

The next race I'm looking at is the Ryanair Chase, run over 2m5f on Day-3 (Thursday). This race tends to go to specialists at the trip, horses not quick enough for the QMCC run on Wednesday, and without the stamina to contest the Gold Cup run on Friday. Of all the "senior" Grade 1 races, the Ryanair has fewer LTO winners taking this race, only 5 of the past 10 winners won LTO.  That's probably because they were running in races too far away from the 2m5f trip of this race, so I'm happy to accept a good run and a 1,2,3 finish LTO.

There's no qualms about the fav Allaho, who won LTO beating talented stable-companion Elimay over 2m4f on 27Jan.  That pair pulled miles-clear of the 3rd-placed horse which makes rating the race tricky, but I've given Allaho a rating of 160 for that win. Third in last years RSA behind Champ, Allaho was also 3rd in the Albert Bartlett novice hurdle over 3-mile, and so this reduced trip is probably in his favour.  Only a 7yo, there should still be improvement in him, and he's trained by the "master", Willie Mullins.  

The 2nd-fav is Imperial Aura, and this is one I don't quite get. Sure, he's improved with every run in his completed races to-date over fences. He won the Novices Handicap Chase (now transferred to Sandown) off OR143 last year, running prominently throughout. Unfortunately, he unseated his rider LTO at the 2nd fence, but had he completed and won, beating Master Tommytucker in the process, then I could see why he is the 6/1 2nd-fav; but for me, he has to prove he's a Grade 1 chaser.

Last year, I tipped Min to win, and he did - but it was a close-run thing.  He's run only twice since then, and when reappearing in the Grade 1 "John Durkan" on 06Dec he looked as good as ever.  However, for his Festival "prep" race, he ran in the Ladbrokes Dublin Chase over 2m1f at Leopardstown on 06Feb (he was 2nd in this race in 2020) and threw-in the towel mid-race having to be pulled-up. Although he is a 2-time winner of the Dublin Chase, both of those wins were against inferior rivals to the level of Chancun Pour Soi, and Min has always looked a better horse at 2m4f. However, he is also now a 10yo, and he may just not be the horse he once was.

Last year, Min was just head of Saint Calvados and, when you watch the race again, with 2 fences to jump Saint Calvados looks the most likely winner as he's going so well. However, a poor jump at the last fence and having to be switched-out on the run-in to challenge Min must have cost him more than the margin of defeat. I thought he was an unlucky loser last year. Saint Calvados has also only had 2 runs this season, his reappearance being in the "King George" on Boxing Day, and what a run he put in. It was his first attempt at 3-miles, and I thought the trip found him out, so no disgrace in defeat there.  Personally, I would have liked him to run in the 2m5f Ascot Chase next (that was won by Dashel Drasher) but he went for the rescheduled Cotswold Chase at Sandown, and was just making his move from the rear when hitting what looked like false ground on landing, slipping and un-shipping his rider. So, while we have to take his form and fitness a little on-trust, he is only 8yo, and his two best runs have been over C&D of the Ryanair Chase (he was only beaten a nose in the PaddyPower Handicap on 01Jan20 off OR157 giving 15lb to Oldgrangewood, now rated OR146). At odds of 9/1 NRNB he look fair value to me. 

In a recent interview, Willie Mullins appeared to want to send Kemboy for a 3rd attempt at the Gold Cup, but he has an able deputy in Melon, who was 2nd in the "Peter Marsh" novice chase over 2m4f last year. that was the 4th time he's been in the frame at the Cheltenham Festival (2nd in the "Supreme" novices hurdle; 2nd in the 2018 and 2019 Champion Hurdle, and 2nd in the "Peter March") he clearly loves Cheltenham. This season, he was well beaten in the "John Durkan" (see Min above), but ran much better in the 3-mile Savills Chase on 28Dec where he led from the 12th fence until headed at the last but he only went down by 2-lengths, the trip possibly being his undoing. His subsequent run in the Irish Gold Cup on 07Feb (won by Kemboy) was disappointing, but if you can forgive him that run, he has a chance in this should he go for it - he would certainly make the race a stamina test. With stamina not an issue at this trip, odds of 9/1 NRNB he look good value to me. 

Of the others, Fakir D'oudairies doesn't look good enough and this trip is an unknown for him at this level.  I like Mister Fisher, but he'd be trying to win from a break of 97-days as his last run was when winning on 11Dec at Cheltenham over 2m4f, and lack of a recent run is not in his favour at this level. And Kemboy is most likely to go for the Gold Cup.

My advised selection is MELON at 9/1 NRNB with Betfred and/or Boylesports.

Advised wager: Ryanair Chase - MELON - £5 ew & £5 win @ 9/1 (5th odds a place 1,2,3)

And I'm putting him in an eachway double with Flooring Porter for the Stayers Hurdle on the same day (see earlier blog for the narrative).

Advised wager: Ryanair Chase & Stayers Hurdle (double):
MELON @ 9/1 (5th odds a place 1,2,3) and FLOORING PORTER @ 12/1 (5th odds a place 1,2,3) 
£2.50 eachway double with Boylesports

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