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


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Sunday 5 March 2023

The final countdown to the Cheltenham Festival - part 1

We are down to the final week before the Cheltenham Festival, and over the next few days I'm going to be having a look at the races, noting trends, positives, negatives and hopefully a few winners along the way. I've been writing this blog since 2010, and I've followed horseracing since the late 1960's, and while this years' Festival has some intrigue in the championship races, overall this jumps season has been lacking in excitement. There now seems to be a distinct "gap" between Britain and Ireland in the quality and depth of the best horses.  It's not the ability of the trainers, as there are some talented young trainers out there who are doing an incredible job with what they have: but they are not going to get near winning one of the Grade 1 Championship races without having the owners putting serious investment in.  Horseracing, like just about everything in the UK, is lacking investment - and where it goes from here I've no idea.  

Onto the Cheltenham Festival, and on the opening day (Tuesday) we get straight into the thick of the action from the opening race. Remember, the two most important stats, doesn't matter which race, 1) An average of 55% of all Cheltenham Festival winners are LTO winners; 2) An average of 95% of all Cheltenham Festival winners ran their previous race no more than 84 days before - which is usually 25th December. 

Supreme Novices' Hurdle Grade 1 over 2-mile & 87yds
This race is usually won by a LTO winner, and a horse no older than 6yo; also, 7 of the last 9 winners started the race with a rating of OR150+
There is a major question-mark over the fav Facile Vega after the abysmal performance LTO. Trainer Willie Mullins laid the blame on the jockey (Paul Townend), and he will be trying to make amends. However, to do so I expect we will not see Facile Vega making the pace, but just being ridden prominently - will that suit, or won't it?  The 2nd fav is Marine Nationale, but he's not races since 04Dec and that - to be fair - isn't a good sign. Take in that he only just won that day, and the horse he beat (Irish Point) is rated OR142 - so, Marine Nationale has to find 15lb of improvement on that performance. Willie Mullins dominates this race: along with Facile Vega, he has Il Etait Temps, Gaelic Warrior, and Impaire Et Passe plus others (a total of 8 entries), and you cannot really ignore any. Personally, I think Impaire Et Passe will go for the Ballymore over 2m5f; his hurdle debut was over 2m3f, and I think his run on 15Jan over 2-mile was just to keep him ticking-over. Gaelic Warrior is interesting as his win LTO is one of the best formlines in this race, but it was in a handicap, and LTO handicap winners have an awful record trying to win graded races at the Festival.  I did think he was going for the County (h'cap) Hurdle, but he looks destined for this race. Readers of the blog have already been recommended to wager on Il Etait Temps, and this gelding has improved with every run - there's every possibility that he will improve again, and I note he holds a County Hurdle entry with a mark of OR148 and he's clearly better than that!  You can never ignore Henderson's entries in this race, and the mare Luccia is interesting but you will be placing your faith in potential, not form.  The form of "Tolworth" winner Tahmuras has been boosted by the placed horses, and he's better than his OR138 rating. The Frankel gelding Diverge (Mullins) could be anything. I can't imagine any other entry coming to the fore in this race, and at this stage I would advise hanging-on to the declaration stage before having a wager. That Mullins has so many entered, the cynic in me would not be surprised if Facile Vega doesn't run, in which case I'd expect Paul Townend to ride Gaelic Warrior and that one to start the fav at about 2/1.  

Arkle Novices' Chase Grade 1 over 2-miles
Last year, I made the expensive error of overlooking the obvious ability of eventual winner Edwardstone by focussing on his age. The top-rated on official ratings has won 9 of the last 13; and 21 of the last 25 winners won their previous race.  I have tried to not do the same this year by prioritising ability; and in this respect the two market leaders in El Fabiolo and Jonbon look much better than the remainder. As is the trend in recent years, I expect there to be fewer than 10 runners on the day, probably only 7 or 8. With Appreciate It and Banbridge almost certain to go for the "Turners" over 2m4f instead, and Saint Roi looking more of a handicap horse, it's possible that the final field will be El Fabiolo / Jonbon / Dysart Dynamo / Sir Gerhard / Boothill and maybe a couple of others. Dysart Dynamo is going to be some horse when he learns to settle-down, but he's only won 3 of his 6 races over obstacles at odds of 8/13, 4/9 and 2/5 and by 28-lengths, 19-lengths (twice); but when in Grade-1 races he flops. I think if he wins the Arkle, it will even Mullins by surprise! Sir Gerhard, who won the Ballymore last year, is much more interesting and is the type who could find a lot of improvement on his chase debut. It might be worth taking the 14/1 (NRNB) offered by Bet365 and Paddy Power.

Ultima Handicap Chase over 3-mile & 1-furlong
One of the most competitive chase handicaps of the season, and for a full review of the form I will wait until the declarations are out next weekend. A few interesting stats: 13 of the last 15 winners had won over 3-mile or more; and 10 of the last 13 winners had previously run at Cheltenham.  Another interesting factor is headgear: 8 of the last 10 winners wore some sort of headgear - that's an odd one, and it may pay to note any 1st-time applications.  Starting from the top-weight, who isn't going to run and how much are the weights going to go up? I don't think the top-4 in the weights will run, and the eventual top-weight will be Stolen Silver. Why does this matter? The top-weight will carry 11st 12lb, which means (as Stolen Silver is allocated 11st 9lb) the weights will go up 3lb.  In the past 10 years, 75% of the finishers in the 1st-4 places carried 11st or more. That means the top-rated 26 (Karl Philippe and above) will likely carry 11st or more.  All the market leaders fall into this category, and there are a couple that look interesting: Happygolucky who was 2nd in this race in 2021 off OR147, and Tea Clipper who was 4th in this race last year. It is Tea Clipper that interests me most, as when he was 4th last year that was only his 4th chase race. He came back off a long break to run a cracker at Chepstow in October, and followed that up with an excellent effort at Ascot, proving he stays 3-miles. The negative is that Tea Clipper hasn't won a race beyond 2m4f. I'm not that bothered that he hasn't run since November as his trainer a) planned to miss the heavy winter ground, b) this race has been his target for 12 months, and c) he goes well fresh. Odds of 16/1 NRNB are available generally, and that looks value to me.

Advised wagers:
Arkle: SIR GERHARD - £5 ew NRNB @ 14/1 (Bet365 & PaddyPower)
Ultima: TEA CLIPPER - £5 ew NRNB @ 16/1 (available generally, 5-places 5th odds)

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