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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.


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) 

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)
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)

Wednesday 17 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021 - Day 2

Onto Wednesday, and another quality racecard.
Before that, a look at yesterday's results and performance.
We had a bad start to the day when METIER just didn't perform. 
We didn't have a wager on SHISHKIN but what an exciting horse he is.
Going into the Ultima Handicap Chase I really felt confident, but MILAN NATIVE ran no sort of race; he jumped well but showed no zip and the "wind" operation hasn't worked. My other selection PYM did everything right, but ran out of juice about half-a-mile out and probably was in need of a race.
Thankfully, we were on HONEYSUCKLE and saw the performance of the day.
CONCERTISTA being caught on the line was bad enough, but DAME DE COMPAGNIE ran no sort of race; Henderson's horses are in & out. 
We nearly had the day rescued by NEXT DESTINATION but he was flat-footed at an important moment on the run-up to the final fence. 
The blog selections start the day at £12.50 down to recommended stakes.
Today (unfortunately), most of the races are dominated by an odds-on fav so the "without the fav" markets may be the best place to wager. However, I'm not tempted to chase my losses, and we've Thursday and Friday ahead of us.
My antepost wagers going into today are:-
4:15pm ASHUTOR - £5 eachway = £10 staked @ 25/1 (5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5)
Also: £3 win treble on
Monkfish @ 5/6; Chancun Pour Soi @ 5/6 and Easysland @ 2/1 

1:20 Ballymore Novices Hurdle over 2-mile & 5 furlongs
Possibly the best novice hurdle race of the Festival, and winners are always top-drawer.
The betting is a very good indication, and in the past 13 years there's only been one winner at odds longer than 10/1 (2017 Willoughby Court @ 14/1). The winner will almost certainly have been running at graded level. My preference is for graded winners over 2-mile rather than 2m4f+ as this course is quite tight and does not put some much emphasis on stamina. You have to go back to 1998 (French Holly) for a 7yo winner, and the last 7 winners (and 9 of the last 10) were all 6yo's.
No antepost selection for me in this race.  Given the way Appreciate It won the "Supreme" you must think that Mullins has a good idea how good his GAILLARD DU MESNIL is and his form looks very strong. However, there are a lot of good rumours about KESKONRISK: this is a no bet race for me.

1:55 Brown Advisory Novices Chase over 3-mile
The winner of this race is usually a proper staying chaser, bred to do the job. 
Again, LTO winners to the fore with 10 of the previous 19 winners having won LTO.
7 of the last 10 winners ran within the past 40-days.
Since Willie Mullins won this in 2004 with Rule Supreme at 25/1, only 4 subsequent winners have started at 10/1 or longer.
If anything beats MONKFISH then I will be very surprised, and I'm not even going to oppose him. I've included Monkfish in my antepost doubles and trebles, but there is no value in the odds now.  The horse I expect to follow Monkfish home and give him most to do is Sporting John, his win LTO at Sandown was very impressive, and odds of 11/4 w/o Monkfish looks good to me. 
Suggested wager:
SPORTING JOHN - £10 win @ 11/4 in the w/o Monkfish betting

2:30 Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle over 2m5f
This is a race that I've avoided in the past, and with 26 runners it looks as difficult as it always is. 
What's interesting is that 7 of the last 11 winners have carried 11st or more. Only 3 of the last 10 winners won their previous race, and only 1 of the previous 10 winners ran off a break of under 39 days - the "mean" being 57-days which is only shorter than the County Hurdle (66-days).  Winners of this race come here fresh. With none of the last 12 winners having raced more than 4x since 1st May, and you should be able to have a narrow short-list.  I'm not selection one in this race, but I will be watching Heaven Help Us who is the only runner for trainer Paul Hennessy this week, and the horse ran 7th in last years "Supreme" Hurdle.

3:05 Queen Mother Champion Chase over 2-miles
With last years race being a complete non-event, what with non-runners (Altior and Chancun Pour Soi) and the red-hot fav Defi Du Seuil just not performing on the day, and he hasn't done so since. This year, the form again points to CHANCUN POUR SOI to be the champion, but he's not raced at Cheltenham before, and I'm sure some of the old hands wont give him a fee ride.  I've included Chancun Pour Soi in my antepost doubles and trebles, but the only value in the odds now looks to be in the "w/o the fav" betting.  The pair that look interesting are Nube Negra @ 5/1 (Bet Victor) and Cilaos Emery at 15/2 (Paddy Power).  That CILAOS EMERY had a run 17-days ago suggests he'll be ripe for this and he's a top-class chaser in his own right
Suggested wager:
CILAOS EMERY - £10 win @ 15/2 in the w/o Chancun Pour Soi betting

3:40 Cross Country Chase over 3-mile and 6-furlongs
Not a race that I think should be run at the Festival, and this year is no different. 
Last year, the race was torn apart by EASYSLAND and I rely cannot see anything getting anywhere near him if he's with 10lb of the same level of form.  I've included Easysland in my antepost doubles and trebles, but there is no value in the odds now. 

4:15 Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase over 2-miles 
The race has been transferred from Friday to take over the slot vacated by the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (now on Day-1).  This isn't a race that I have reviewed in previous years, so a new one for me. It's on the Old Course so that will likely be an advantage to the prominent runners in the race.  On interesting stat I've found is that 20 of the last 22 winners ran in no more than 12 chase races. I've have an antepost wager on Ashutor who I feel has been laid-out for this race; he's a prominent runners, and holds a good profile for the race.  ASHUTOR is available at 28/1 (5th odds placed 1,2,3,4,5,6) and I think he's well-worth an eachway wager.

4:50 Champion Bumper over 2-miles and 87 yards
This is a race for those "in-the-know". Not much form to go on, and what there is, is tricky to interpret.  It's not unusual for a horse to win this race off a very long break, but recent winners have usually run within the previous 42-days. The last horse to win this that wasn't a LTO winner, was Liberman in 2003.

Tuesday 16 March 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021 - Day 1

Pull-up a chair, make sure that the door is locked and the phone is on silent. You need to have lunch ready in the fridge next to a couple of beers - this is going to be a Cheltenham Festival like no other! 
You are at home, so I hope you have managed to link-up with a few racing buddies online for a bit of banter.  My advice - you cannot hope to find the winner of every race, so don't even try.  
Some simple tips to avoid the losing wagers: 
Over 55% of all the Festival races are won by a last-time-out winner (LTO), and another 25% are won by a horse that ran 2nd, 3rd or 4th last time - that is 80% of all the winners over the past 10 years. Team this up with the fact that only a few races are won by a horse off a break of more than 84-days; the average period since a recent run by a winning horse is 49-days.
I've posted numerous blogs over the past few weeks with my thoughts on the Festival, and some more detailed analysis, so please take a look at the earlier blogs by scrolling down the page. 
There you will find my early antepost wagers, which are:- 
1:20pm METIER - £5 ew & 5 win @ 6/1 (total stake £15.00 - 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4)
2:30pm MILAN NATIVE - £5 ew & £5 win @ 9/1 and 
               PYM - £4 ew & £4 win @ 16/1 (total stake = £27.00 - 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5)
3:05pm HONEYSUCKLE - £20 win @ 5/2 (total stake = £20.00)
3:40pm DAME DE COMPAGNIE - £10 ew and £5 win @ 14/1 (total stake = £25.00 - 5th odds a place 1,2,3)
4:50pm NEXT DESTINATION - £7.50 ew @ 8/1 (total stake = £15.00 - 5th odds a place 1,2,3)
Also: 4 x £3 win trebles and a £3 win accumulator (£15 staked) on
Concertista @ 6/4; Monkfish @ 5/6; Chancun Pour Soi @ 5/6 and Easysland @ 2/1 
After the Final race of the day = £12.50 Loss 

1:20 Supreme Novices Hurdle (2-miles & 87 yards)
Stick with LTO winners: 16 of the last 19 winners won LTO; and don't stray too far from the market leaders. 
The average period since a last run is 42-days, and some good winners (Altior, Douvan, Summerville Boy) have won from breaks of over 60 days.  
Last years winner Shishkin was the first not to have run at least 4x over hurdles since Captain Cee Bee in 2008.
The last 7yo to winner was Captain Cee Bee in 2008. 
You do not get surprises in this race, and with only 8 runners the winner is likely to come from the 1st-3 in the betting. My view is the fav Appreciate It is a resolute galloper, but he may lack gears for this race, and he's no value at the odds - so I've taken a chance with METIER who is unbeaten and is Harry Fry's only runner at the Festival.  We took the 6/1 ew antepost, but for new readers today, the 4/1 odds are fair. 

1:55 Arkle (novice chase) over 2-miles
This was looking like being one of the classic races of the entire Festival: but Energumene went lame last week. SHISHKIN looks a chaser of the highest level, and while Allmankind isn't far behind in ability, it's difficult to see him winning. 
One like Captain Guiness may be able to nick 2nd placed and he's possibly worth a wager in the "withou the fav" betting market for which he's 5/2. 
Allmankind will be leading early-on, with Shishkin sitting just behind; when they head down the hill towards the 3rd-last fence we should know which will be the likely winner of the race.

2:30 Ultima Handicap Chase over 3-miles & 1 furlong
I reviewed this race in-depth on Sunday,  The field is not as strong as usual, but it is competitive.
Avoid horses that were unplaced or did not complete LTO.
Pay attention to horses wearing head-gear, especially for the 1st-time.
Only 3 horses aged 10yo or older have been placed in the 1st-4 in the past 10 years.
Those carrying 11st or more have filled 15 of the 20 1st-4 places in the past 5 years.
The 2 that I've chosen to carry my money are: MILAN NATIVE who won the 3m2f Kim Muir handicap chase, and PYM who has always looked a top-class chaser in the making, but had had some issues - however, he always runs best when fresh so I've no worries about him coming here off a long break.
If you are not already on, I would not put you off having a wager on this pair, eachway obviously.

3:05 The Champion Hurdle over 2-miles & 87 yards
This race looks a cracker of a Grade 1 race.
The winner is usually (but not always) one that ran well at the previous Festival, preferably winning.
We have last years winner Epatante, as well as last year's Mares Hurdle winner Honeysuckle, and what could have been last years Triumph Hurdle winner but for falling at the final flight when well clear, Goshen.
And you cannot ignore Silver Streak, who will be thereabouts if all goes well. 
Outside of these, there are some others (Sharjah and Abacadaras) with possible chances on paper, but with Goshen likely to set a searching pace, I expect only Honeysuckle to be able to go with him. With the benefit of the mares' 7lb allowance, Honeysuckle should be able to stay-on up the hill and win - but there may not be much in it! 
I'm already on HONEYSUCKLE (antepost) at 5/2 and she's also in a number of doubles and trebles.

3:40 the Mares' Hurdle over 2-mile 4-furlongs
With the mares Honeysuckle and Epatante contesting the Champion Hurdle, the race should be taken by CONCERTISTA who is much better than anything else in the race. If Honeysuckle does take part then I think she will start odds-on and be unbeatable.  I was hoping to suggest a wager in the "without-the-fav" market, but there isn't much value there either.  A few weeks ago, I took longer odds (antepost) about Dame De Compagnie, but to be fair, that was more hope that Concertista would run in the Champion Hurdle; the mare has the ability to be in the 1st-3 but does she had the aptitude?

4:15 Juvenile handicap hurdle over 2-miles & 87 yards
The novices handicap chase over 2m4f has been lost to the Festival, and transferred to Sandown, which I think was the wrong decision. To replace it on the card, the Juvenile handicap hurdle has been moved from Day-2. This is a very tricky race to fathom, and 6 of the last 10 winners had 
SP's of 25/1 or more - be warned! One advantage is that if you fancy one at extremely long odds, it's worth a punt. 
If you ignore 2016 winner Diego du Charmil, all the other winners in the past 10 years ran within the past 38-days, and in the 16 year history of this race, 10 have won off a break of under 26-days!
8 of the 16 winners were LTO winners; and 5 were unplaced LTO
One that looks interesting is BALKO SAINT who won LTO only 13-days ago and he's 25/1 with some bookies.

4:50 National Hunt Chase over 3-mile 6-furlongs
One of my favourite races of the Festival, but this year there will be no amateur riders. 
This race invariably goes to the highest-rated horse in the race, it is as simple as that, so proven chase form is essential. Remember, this race is for novice chasers, and 5 of the last 11 winners (including Ravenhill last year) were in their 2nd season as a novice - again, experience counts.
This time last week my intuition told me the race would cut-up and I took 8/1 about NEXT DESTINATION, and he's the highest-rated chaser in the race at OR153 and comes here fresh off a 59-day break; he's now the fav.  If you want to play the race, and want something at more tasty odds, an eachway wager on the mare Snow Leopardess should pay-off .

Monday 15 March 2021

Countdown to the Cheltenham Festival - Monday 15th March (1 day to go)

This is it - it's Jump Racing's Christmas Eve, the day before the Festival.
Unfortunately, this year is looking like the party has been raided.
The numbers lining-up for the Championship races is down a lot, and even in the handicaps the numbers are reduced. I'm starting to look at revised plans for horses that are not running tomorrow or Wednesday: what are their new targets? Who will be the most likely to line-up on Thursday and Friday? If you can find a definite starter with half-a-chance, you could be able to secure decent odds.

Looking at my selections for the Ultima Handicap Chase that are now running in other races.  Paint The Dream has 2 entries on Thursday, the Grade 1 Marsh Novices Chase in which he has virtually no chance, and the Handicap Plate over 2m4f & 127 yards.  He's 33/1 for the "Plate" and while I think that's a bit short for him if he runs I will be looking for some decent place odds. The current 8/1 fav for the "Plate" is Farclas, and I'm not surprised at this; he will go close.  It looks like Tout Est Permis is running at Down Royal (Ireland) later this week. 

for me, the race of the opening day (in my opinion) is the NH Chase: we have some top novice chasers lining-up in Galvin, Escaria Ten, Next Destination and Remastered, and don't overlook the mare (with that 7lb allowance) Snow Leopardess who won the "Rowland Meyrick" handicap on Boxing Day, no less! She's 16/1 and you can get 4-places for this 13-runner race.

Unfortnately, Mengli Khan is a non-runner in the Grand Annual handicap Chase on Wednesday, but the other selection ASHUTOR is still in there and - as expected - stable-companion and top-weight Duc Des Genievres goes and that keeps the weight down for Ashutor.
It looks like I will be playing some of the "without the fav" markets on the Championship races, and in this respect, I quite like Captain Guiness in the "Arkle" at 5/2 w/o Shishkin. 

In the Ultima Handicap, I really cannot see the merit behind Happygolucky at 7/2, if he wins then so-be-it, but on-form the fav should be Aye Right, and the only reason I've not tipped Aye Right is that I feel he's not improving but he is consistent. As such, I'm happy with my current selections of Milan Native and Pym, and I will await any market offers in the morning. 

Day-3 Thursday is always my favorite day of the Festival, and hopefully the handicaps will hold up on that day and we can get a decent wager in. 

Sunday 14 March 2021

Countdown to the Cheltenham Festival - Sunday 14th March (2 days to go)

At 11am this morning we had the 48hr declarations for Tuesday, the 1st day of the Cheltenham Festival, and immediate reaction was "what a disappointment".  Just 8 runners in the "Supreme" Novice Hurdle, and only 6 in the "Arkle".

However, it is still the Festival and we should make the best of it. I've walked the dog, and reflected on what might have been (ie worst case scenario = total cancellation), and the main thing is "the show must go on!"

I'm glad that my individual antepost wagers in the "Supreme" (Metier), the Mares' Hurdle (Dame De Compagnie), and the NH Chase (Next Destination) are still live and we have the value.  I'm confident of all 3 going close and - fingers crossed - we will have at least one winner.  In the "Arkle", the most likely winner of the race Shishkin is now the 1/2 odds-on fav.   I've included him in a few small multiple wagers, but that took no particular skill. I also have Honeysuckle (Champion Hurdle) and Concertista (Mares' Hurdle) in small multiple wagers, and hopefully I will go into Day-2 with some reasonable profit.

Todays blog revolves around the Ultima Handicap Chase over 3m1f to be run at 2;30pm on the opening day.  I've had some good fortune in recent years and found the winner in 2019 and 2020, and with just 16 runners I'm fairly confident of finding the winner this year. Only 3 runners aged 10yo or older have managed to be placed in the past 10 years, so I'm happy to strike them from the calculations. That's OK Corral, Admiral's SecretVintage Clouds, Fingerontheswitch, and Soupy Soups; and of those the most likely to be placed is Admiral's Secret as he ran a cracker LTO but as he's never raced beyond 2m4f we know nothing of his stamina.  

The fav is Happygolucky, but he's only run 3-times and his last race was on 11Dec, and I really don't think that form is good enough. Very few horses win at the Festival off a run before Christmas. The 2nd-fav is One For The Team who has yet to win a chase race! He's run a couple of good races and I was particularly impressed with his run at Newbury on 28Nov when 2nd, but LTO at Doncaster in the SkyBet Chase he was disappointing. The 3rd-fav is Aye Right and I've followed his form since his seasonal debut when an impressive run in the G2 Charlie Hall Chase set him up for a good 2nd in the Ladbroke Chase behind Cloth Cap.  He was giving Cloth Cap 14lb that day, and if they met next week he'd be receiving 8lb; that is the best recent form in the race. Unfortunately, I feel he's not improving but he is consistent.

Of the remainder, Alnadam is another who has not raced beyond 2m4f, as is Nietzche; and the Irish-trained Discordantly looks to be on a tough handicap mark at OR142 and hasn't completed his last couple of races. Cepage ran well in this race last year off OR155, but he faded on the run-in. He's now rated OR158 and his best form is all at trips under 3-mile so while he should again run well, I can't see him winning this. The 8yo Delire D'Estruval is well-handicapped on OR143 but his recent experience is on right-handed tracks and at trips around 2m4f, so stamina is in doubt. The Wolf ran in last year's "Albert Bartlett" and was 7th of 19 in that race, but was probably flattered as the fron-4 pulled well clear; he's not shown the required form to win this as a chaser.

The 2 in this race that really interest me are: Milan Native and Pym.
Milan Native won last years Kim Muir over 3m2f, and that was his first race beyond 2m7f.  If he runs to that level on Tuesday he will be very hard to beat. He showed the win was no fluke when beating Discorama in October, but having run poorly in his most recent couple of races he's had wind surgery.  That the stable have left him in the race as their only representative is a big plus in my opinion. He's 9/1 (5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 with paddy Power & Betfair)
Pym hasn't been seen since 28Nov, but that's not too much a problem for a horse that goes well fresh.  When he's good, he's very good - and a mark of OR154 is workable.  He is clearly well though of, as an entry in the RSA (now Brown Advisory) Chase last year won by stablemate Champ, shows. He could go very close, and I'm sure Nicky Henderson will have him cherry-ripe. He's 16/1 (5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 with Paddy Power & Betfair)

Suggested wager:
Day-1: Ultima Handicap Chase
MILAN NATIVE: £5 eachway & £5 win = £15 staked @ 9/1 (5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 with Paddy Power & Betfair)
PYM: £4 eachway & £4 win = £12 staked @ 16/1 (5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 with Paddy Power & Betfair)

Saturday 13 March 2021

Countdown to the Cheltenham Festival - Saturday 13th March (3 days to go)

We are stating to see horses being withdrawn due to set-backs in preparation now, and yesterday we lost Energumene from the Arkle, which was a bit of a blow to my personal doubles and trebles, but as I also had Shishkin in a number of multiples I'm not too bothered overall. 

What these withdrawals mean is the Novice Championship races are now headed by very short odds-on chances, and that (in my opinion) is not good for horseracing: we want to see the best compete against the best.  It would be terrific if Envoi Allen were in the Arkle instead of heading for the Marsh Novice Chase on Thursday, which he will almost certainly win comfortably. 

That's pretty much my final take on the Championship races, they've been done and the real interest at the Festival is in the handicaps. The Ultima Chase on Tuesday has lost Lieutenant Rocco, so now we have a new 4/1 fav in Happygolucky. To be honest, the betting market for this race is serious poor value, we have 6 horses at 10/1 or less, and 2 of those 6 (Remastered and Coko Beach) have multiple race entries, so we won't know what race they run in until the 48hr decs come out, and before I recommend another wager in this race, I will wait till then and keep my fingers crossed that Farclas is declared.

The other handicap on Tuesday is the Juvenile Handicap Hurdle over 2-miles and I'm not going near this race - it looks capable of giving me nightmares! So onto Wednesday which has the Coral Cup (handicap) Hurdle over 2m5f and the Grand Annual Handicap Chase over 2-mile. The Coral Cup still has 55 runners in it, so I'll wait for the 48hr decs, but the Grand Annual is looking more interesting.  I have already recommended a wager on Mengli Khan, and the more I look at this horse, the more I think this has been his target since the day he was bought at the sales on 15the Sept.  Remember, we were in Covid then, and the onerous travel restrictions for horses from Ireland (due to Brexit) had yet to be imposed. But even the best-laid plans can go astray, so for handicaps like this I look at the other ploys the top trainers use: such as "top & tailing" - sacrificing a top-weight to guarantee a "racing-weight" for the proper stable fancy.  The old tricks are the best tricks!  What is interesting about this race is Paul Nicholls, who has won this race twice in the past 5-years, has Duc Des Genievres at top-weight (11st 12lb) and his other entry ASHUTOR races with 10st 7lb, and I'm not expecting Duc Des Genievres to be withdrawn. 
Ashutor ran 4x between July-September last year, then had a long break before reappearing on 28Feb at Fontwell were he ran well, but will obviously improve for the run. He looks a real dark-horse stable gamble as Nicholls has nothing else in the race other than this pair.

Advised wager: Day-2 (Wednesday) Grand Annual Handicap Chase

ASHUTOR - £5 eachway = £10 staked @ 25/1 (5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5 with Skybet, PaddyPower, William Hill and Betfred)

Friday 12 March 2021

Countdown to the Cheltenham Festival - Friday 12th March (4 days to go)

A busy day yesterday, as I watched the London Racing Club Cheltenham Preview on "zoom".  A great preview with Lee Mottershead, Lydia Hislop and Matt Tombs providing their unique views and opinions.  I really enjoyed it, and thought it worked a lot better than the "live" version, as there was no background chatter, and I had more space to work in - so I was able to make notes, refer to form, and concentrate.

I will be honest, I gleaned little from the evening that affected my betting plans, but I did learn a bit more about some of the horses that I've fancied to do well there - one being PAINT THE DREAM.  He was pulled-out of the Ultima Handicap Chase in which he had a mark of OR147 and he's entered in the Marsh Novices Chase on Thursday over 2m4f.  He's no chance of winning that race, but I expect there to be a significant number of defections from the current 33 confirmed.  If he runs, he may be worth a wager on the day if there are enhanced terms offered. While on the Marsh Nov Chase, it was noted that LATEST EXHIBITION is entered for the race. He was pulled-out of the NH Chase amid rumours he was heading for the Irish National, but if the "Marsh" does end-up with fewer than 10-starters and he lines-up, he would be of interest. Another to keep an eye on. My own view is I will be wagering on SPORTING JOHN in whichever race he takes part in, and the "Marsh" looks perfect for him (and his trainer Phil Hobbs won the race in 2019). 

I'm more of a handicap stalker, and with the "Grand Annual" moved from its old Friday slot to a new slot as the 4:15pm on Wednesday (Day-2) brings it into my view.  I normally give this race a miss, and 2-mile handicaps are not really my 'cuppa', but there's a horse in this that I've been keeping an eye on all season and wondering what's being planned. Last September, Gigginstown had a bit of a dispersal sale and one of those sold from Gordon Elliott's yard for £65,000 was MENGLI KHAN. He was sent to join Nicky Henderson by his new owners, and in his stable-debut he was disappointing. Since then, he's twice run on the AW over 2-miles and both times he's run well.  Essentially, he's coming to the Festival race-fit and under the radar - and this is a horse that has twice come 3rd at the Festival: in the 2019 "Marsh", and in the 2018 Supreme Novices hurdle. He lost his way in the 2019-20 season, but his final race for Elliott showed he still can perform when he easily beat Livelovelaugh, at level-weights over 2m3f, and that horse has run well since in good handicaps. In the Grand Annual, Mengli Khan runs off OR148 and I think he could be 10lb well-in: he ticks a lot of boxes and I've taken the odds eachway. I've split my wager to take advantage of the different terms.
Suggested Wager:
Day-2 Grand Annual Handicap Chase: MENGLI KHAN - £5 eachway @ 25/1 (NRNB generally available; 5th odds a place 1,2,3,4,5)
Also - £5 WIN @ 33/1 with Bet365 NRNB (Note: Bet365 are only 4-places eachway)
Total = £15 staked