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


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Thursday 28 March 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - horses for the alert list

Now that we've all had time to appreciate the horseracing, it's time to take a look back with fresh eyes and a clear view and find the horses that will be worth following in the next 12 months. Before we go there though, we need to pay attention to the ground over the Festival. 
This year, we started with soft (heavy in places) ground, and it's been soft (and near heavy) ground in 6 of the last 7 years (only 2022 was Good-to-Soft). Whether we like it or not, the rains come earlier these days and some of the trainers are going to have to relax a little and send out their horses to race on ground that is (perhaps) a little softer than they'd like.  Sometimes the horses quite enjoy it!  Take Twig who ran 2nd in the Ultima H'cap Chase at 28/1; his jockey commented post-race "this morning we debated even running Twig, he wants better ground; but we thought we could prep him for Aintree, and he's run like that - we're absolutely delighted!"

The Festival starts off with the Supreme Novices Hurdle and I thought this was a weak year, probably the weakest since 2019. There's possibly only one that may remain a hurdler; Mystical Power, who is bred to stay 2m4f+ but didn't get up the hill in this race after looking the likely winner jumping the final flight - only a 5yo, he could improve a lot over the next 12 months. Tullyhill was running a cracker till headed just before the final flight, and he may need a wind-op; I wouldn't give up on him.  It's a shame Asian Master is a 7yo as he's running out of time to make a decent chaser. Finally, considering it was only his 2nd hurdle race since joining Mullins, Mistergif  ran much better than his odds; and this 5yo could be anything; he's bred for the flat.

There can be no doubt now, that Gaelic Warrior is the best novice chaser we've seen since Douvan in 2016 (that means he's better than Shishkin), and could possibly be as good as Vautour - I cannot see this horse being beaten by anything in the next couple of seasons no matter what the trip.  And that makes Found A Fifty very interesting, as I think he's underestimated - he could be a 160+ chaser already, and he certainly will be if stepping up to 2m4f or more. Nothing else caught my eye in the "Arkle", but I will keep an open mind with Quilixios who was left at the start and ran no sort of race. The 6yo Il Etait Temps was in the wrong race, he should have been in the "Turners" over 2m4f, as his best run this season was when 2nd over 2m3f & 100yds to Gaelic Warrior with subsequent Festival winner Inothewayyurthinkin in 3rd

The Mares Hurdle run over 2m4f provided what was possible the wager of the day in Lossiemouth, and how we all missed combining her with Telmesomethinggirl.  She may be 9yo, but she loves running at the Festival, winning the Mares Juvenile in 2021; and brought-down when looking the likely winner of this race in 2022. The exacta paid £22 for a £1 stake. Regards Champion Hurdle potential of Lossiemouth, she may be capable of giving State Man a race (with the help of the mares allowance), but she's no chance of troubling Constitution Hill - or Ballyburn (in my opinion).

The Juvenile h'cap Hurdle over an extended 2-mile is difficult to assess, and the only one I take from this race is the Ndaawi who may have come 3rd but was 10lb better than anything else and was carrying 11st 12lb. 

The final race of the opening day was the NH Chase, and I'm not convinced by Corbetts Cross - if he's already OR157 then what must Grangeclare West be, OR164?  I'm not having that, as Flooring Porter is nowhere near as good a chaser as he is a hurdler, and he'd have to have run his best-ever chase performance when 3rd to that pair on 29-Dec to give them those high ratings. I expect we will see Corbetts Cross running in the "Charlie Hall" in the Autumn, but he doesn't look as good as the owners other top novice chaser Fact To File, who won the "Broadway" Novice Chase on the 2nd day of the Festival. 

The 2nd day started with another Willie Mullins trained winner: Ballyburn in the "Gallagher" Novices Hurdle. This winning performance was just a formality, as Ballyburn was much the best horse in the race. I will stick my neck out, and suggest that Ballyburn will be a match for Constitution Hill and will likely win the 2025 Champion Hurdle. Watching the replay, on the home turn every other horse in the race was under a hard-drive, whereas Ballyburn was just coasting: remarkable! There's the possibility that Ballyburn could go chasing next season, but he looks 10lb better than State Man (also trained by Mullins) and he will need to be to win the Champion Hurdle. Take the 10/1 currently on offer as Mullins wants a serious challenge for Constitution Hill  in 2025 - he doesn't want to win the Champion Hurdle by default.

The "Broadway" Novice Chase over 3-miles looked very good on paper (probably above average), and the winner Fact To File won in a manner that suggests he's a Gold Cup winner in the making, he certainly looks better than Corbetts Cross.  Unfortunately, the early odds available antepost are poor, just 4/1, and so I cannot advise taking those - but the 10/1 (Bet Victor) for the "King George" on Boxing Day looks tempting, and I'm on! Of the others, in 2nd was Monty's Star who showed improved form again, and he could be one to watch in a top handicap as he's been rated just OR150. And I was gutted when Giovinco was withdrawn from the Ultima H'cap Chase on the opening day, as this performance showed he would have gone mighty close to winning that had he run. He has been even better treated by the handicapper and will race off OR148 next time out.

I can see this post is going to be a long one: this is my 2nd update & addition to the original post. If you can access it, Paul Ferguson of Weatherbys has written a detailed review of the Cheltenham Festival (more detail than me) and it's a tremendous read. My blog isn't ripping-off that review - horseracing is all about opinions, and my opinion differs from Fergusons a fair bit.  

Suggested Antepost Wagers (28th March 2024)
King George Chase (Kempton): 
Found A Fifty (no odds offered yet - no idea why not); and Fact To File @ 10/1 (BetVictor)
Champion Hurdle (Cheltenham): 
Ballyburn @ 10/1 (Bet365)
QM Champion Chase (Cheltenham): 
Gaelic Warrior @ 9/2 (Coral & Betfred)
Ryanair Chase (Cheltenham): 
Found A Fifty @ 50/1; Il Etait Temps @ 33/1; Gaelic Warrior @ 5/1
Stayers' Hurdle (Cheltenham): 
Teahupoo @ 100/30 (Bet365)
Gold Cup (Cheltenham): 
Gaelic Warrior @ 25/1; and Galopin Des Champs @ 3/1

If you are interested in the wagers I've placed, (as of 28th March 2024) I've doubled-up the following:- 
Ballyburn with Gaelic Warrior (in Champion Chase, Ryanair, and Gold Cup)
Ballyburn with Galopin Des Champs (Gold Cup)
Galopin Des Champs with Gaelic Warrior (Champion Chase, Ryanair)
That's 6 x £2 WIN doubles.

Following the "Broadway" Chase on Wednesday, it was the Coral Cup (handicap) Hurdle, and what a tremendous achievement by Dan Skelton to bring Langer Dan back to complete a double in the race (having won it in 2023). Langer Dan is a Festival specialist (festival form is very useful in finding winners) and this was his 4th Festival, and he produced a career-best. It's worth noting that since 2010 this race has been won by Henderson (4 times), Elliott (3 times), Skelton (twice), and once for Mullins, and Nicholls, Other "top trainer" winners are Alan King and Jessica Harrison - as it's difficult to a small-time trainer to pull-off a coup with a rank outsider, consider the effort by Franciscan Rock in 5th sent by "Mouse" Morris at 50/1. He's been highly tried and could be interesting in a handicap, especially if reverting to chasing.  

There's nothing much to be said about the QM Champion Chase, other than perhaps the prize-money structure should be changed to try and have some more entries. Fair play to Venetian Williams who sent out her OR144 rated Funambule Sivola to be 3rd, collecting £54,826 in the process.

The 2-mile "Grand Annual" handicap chase is usually run at a frenetic pace, and isn't my cup-of-tea. Even so, I'm not sure how I missed Unexpected Party, as he's run well at Cheltenham before, and loves soft ground.  The winner is now the 4th 9yo or older to win in the last 8 years, which suggests this race favours experienced runners.  The ones to take from this race are Libberty Hunter who was 2nd as this was just his 3rd completed chase race; and Gemirande who possibly found the ground a bit to soft, and could find a handicap before his summer break.  

I've no idea what to make of the Champion Bumper, they all look decent on paper. So it's onto Thursday and the 3rd day of the Festival, and my favourite day - I just hope they don't change anything. The day starts with the Turners Novices Chase over 2m4f and looking at the list of past winners, there's not many that have gone onto better things. However, Grey Dawning may change that, as he's improved with every run this season, and his form on soft/heavy ground suggests he will be in his element in the autumn, and the Betfair Chase over 3-mile at Haydock must be on his radar.  In 2nd, Ginny's Destiny was beaten by a better horse (possibly outstayed), and while he's won on soft ground, I think he's better when there's "good" in the going description.  He's not one I'd expect to win the Ryanair next season; but he could win a couple of top handicaps at around 2m4f. 

Onto the 3rd, and hopefully, final leg of this monster blog.
The Pertemps H'cap Hurdle over 3-miles is a cracking race, and one I love to have a punt at.  I've said this before, and I will say it again: 3-mile hurdle races are (in my opinion) the best betting medium in NH Racing.  It takes a certain horse to have the stamina to stay 3-miles over hurdles and have the "speed" to win.   What was unusual about this years' winner Monmiral was that he'd not won a hurdle (or any other) race beyond 2m1f. I'm going out on a limb here, but this looks like a "Big Bucks" moment, and I'm expecting Paul Nicholls to think the same - so I'm taking the 66/1 currently offered by Bet365 for the 2025 Stayers Hurdle. Don't forget, Monmiral has won at Grade 1 level over hurdles already, and was 2nd in the G1 Aintree Hurdle over 2m4f in 2022. The form of the "Pertemps" looks strong to me: Kyntara in 2nd and Cuthbert Dibble in 3rd both ran a career-best - and what a run by the 50/1 chance Bold Endeavour sent by Henderson who's stable was under the cloud of a virus.  I'm putting the 1st-5 on my alert list as my selection in the race Emitom was 5th and he just couldn't match the front-4 over the final quarter-mile.

In the Ryanair Chase, I was right on the button with Protektorat who has been super consistent all season; I just wish I'd taken the 20/1 when it was confirmed he was a definite runner in the race. Even so, this was a weak Grade 1 race, and while occasionally there is a horse like Allaho that dominates over this 2m4f trip, invariably this race is for horses that are not good enough to compete in either the 2-mile Champion Chase or the 3m2f Gold Cup.  There's nothing from this race going onto my alert list.

The Stayers' Hurdle was again demonstrated to be a weak division. My money was on Flooring Porter who ran 2nd, and you have to wonder were it not for a training set-back last season, he's have won this race in 2023 making him a triple winner. Such is the lack of horses over the 3-mile trip that are "proper" Grade 1 level, you have to think that both Flooring Porter and the winner Teahupoo will be back again next year. The antepost odds offered on Teahupoo (100/30 from Bet365) are decent value given the lack of opposition. There is also plenty of 25/1 around for Flooring Porter and he may be a 10yo next year, but Sire Du Berlais won this race last year as an 11yo. There's plenty of room for new challenger, and Monmiral may be the one to disrupt the market.

The "Plate" Chase handicap over an extended 2m4f was an exciting race, but the only one I'm taking from it for my alert list is the runner-up Crebilly who was having only his 4th chase race - this 7yo has been highly tried this season, and could be one for the "Paddy Power" h'cap chase in the autumn.

The Grade 2 Mares' Hurdle is an anomaly to me, and that only 8 mares could be found to race in it suggests the BHA should have a rethink about its place in the Festival. Nothing took my eye.

There have been a few calls to remove the "Kim Muir" from the Festival, but not from me as I've found the winner a few times in recent years. Not so this year, as the winner Inothewayyurthinkin bolted-up to record its first chase win (won twice over hurdles) after an almighty gamble: going off as the 13/8 fav. How this horse remained a maiden chaser before coming here is beyond me, as he looks to have Grade-1 potential being just a 6yo. His full-sister Limerick Lace won the Mares' Chase the following day!  As such, you have to put Inothewayyurthinkin onto the alert list, but you wouldn't want to put anything else from the race on it; not even the 2nd Git Maker who tried to make a race of it but was quickly seen-off. 

Onto the final day of the Festival, which opened with the Triumph Hurdle - and I read this race completely wrong. These things happen, so it's best to try and learn from the mistakes. The stats indicate that whatever Paul Townend rides for Mullins in a G1 race, that's the one to be on, and he rode Storm Heart and he didn't shape like a "Triumph" winner when 2nd (to Kargesse) at the Dublin Festival. As such, I dismissed the form of that race almost entirely; as I did think Majborough needed 2m4f (and I still do!).  I'm adding the 1st-3 onto the alert list, as I can see Kargesse winning the Mares' Hurdle next season;  and Majborough could well in a G1 novice chase at Cheltenham (if he were mine, I'd keep him hurdling for another year); and Salver (a half-bro' of the top-class hurdler Saldier) could be a top-class hurdler next season. I shall be also keeping an eye-out for my selection in the race - Nurburgring - who eventually finished 4th having been held at the rear of the field until the final quarter-mile which, on the stamina-sapping ground, was entirely the wrong tactics. That the front-3 pulled so far clear should also take into account with the race time: this was 7.58sec FASTER over the same C&D as the next race on the card. 

The County handicap Hurdle was a run a "steady" pace, thus favouring those with a turn of foot, such as the winner Absurde. This was a tremendous performance by the winner considering his hurdling experience was sketchy coming into this race. The benefit of hindsight allows us the knowledge that the G1 Novice hurdle run at the Dublin Festival had 3 subsequent Cheltenham Festival winners in the 1st-4: Ballyburn, Slade Steel, and Absurde (keep an eye-out for Jit Langy; 5th in that race). I'd say that Absurde could be better than OR155 with more hurdling experience, but he may not be up to Grade 1 level.

It's been a significant effort putting this together, but we're in the home straight.
The Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle is a bit of an odd race, as sometimes if comes up with a top-class horse, but most of the time it doesn't. To be honest, I'm not sure about this years race. Why? The Jukebox Man should have won this having jumped the last so far in front. That he didn't, suggests that his best trip could be 2m6f; but then he is improving rapidly - so you never know. He is the best horse produced by his sire Ask in years, but that isn't a great recommendation.  The race winner, Stellar Story, probably should not have gone off at 33/1; he's beaten some good horses but has lacked-a turn-of-foot in recent races and has been crying-out for a stiff 3-miles on testing ground. I'm expecting this pair to go novice chasing next season, as will most of the rest in the race.

The Cheltenham Gold Cup is the highlight of the Festival, but this year I found the race underwhelming as the fav Galopin Des Champs is so much better than anything else in-training. Can anything beat him next year? So long as he stays fit, I really cannot see GDC being beaten next year by any horse not already residing the Mullins stable. If Gaelic Warrior steps-up to 3-mile, he has a good chance of beating GDC, that's why I've suggested having an antepost wager on him. I certainly can't see anything from this race beating GDC in 2025. The only other 2nd-season chaser to consider is Fact To File, but the current odds of 4/1 on him are poor. It may be worth having £5 on Fact to File and £20 on Galopin Des Champs, in the event that the champion doesn't run in 2025.

There was nothing worth noting in the Hunter Chase.
The Mares Chase was dominated by JP Mc Manus owned runners: with his Dinoblue now having started as the fav for 3 consecutive Festivals, but is yet to win a Festival race - how's that for a stat! Let's be honest: on ratings Dinoblue should have won this race by 10-lengths, which suggests she didn't stay 2m4f. The proximity of the 3rd placed Marsh Wren rated OR132 also suggests this form is unreliable. The Gavin Cromwell trained Limerick Lace is certainly consistent and holds a Grand National entry; but I doubt that she will improve enough on this to be involved in the finish of that race.

The Final race of the Festival, the Conditional Jockeys' handicap Hurdle over 2m4f has produced some very decent performers in the recent past. However, I'm not sure what to make of the winner Better Days Ahead, as his form coming into this wasn't special, and I'm more taken with the lightly raced 3rd, Quai De Bourbon - but at this stage I will just be watching the 5yo. 

That's it - I hope you have enjoyed reading this as much as I've enjoyed writing it.  Fingers crossed, we have found a few winners. I have opened-up the comments to anyone with a Google account, but if I get any "obscure" comments from Nigerian businessmen asking if they can deposit funds into my bank account, then I shall have to close the comments down (again).

Suggested Antepost Wagers (2nd April 2024)
Stayers' Hurdle (Cheltenham): 
Monmiral @ 66/1 (Bet365)

Horse's for the Alert List:
Asian Master
Found A Fifty - over 2m4f
Quilixios - untold potential
Il Etait Temps - over 2m4f.
Fact To File - looks the type who could win several Grade 1 chases at 3-mile next season
Monty's Star - handicaps at 3-mile or thereabouts
Giovinco - handicaps at 3-mile or thereabouts
Franciscan Rock - handicap at 2m5f to 3-mile either hurdles or chase.
Libberty Hunter - sure to improve as only run in 4 chase races
Gemirande - needs "good" ground to show best form
Crebilly - could be anything, exciting
Inothewayyurthinkin -may be a marathon horse, Welsh National type
Majborough - potential top-class novice chaser
Kargesse - could easily be the best mare in training next season (after Lossiemouth)
Salver - needs soft/heavy, potential top-class hurdler

Sunday 24 March 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - the post-meeting review

After a tremendous day of success in the betting-ring on Thursday, the final day of the Festival was a bit flat for me. 
In the Triumph Hurdle, Majborough made the most of his stamina to sit behind the leaders and stay-on strong to win. Stamina was a factor all through the Festival (due to the ground), and race winners had to be racing prominent: therefore it was so disappointing to see my selection Nurburgring held at the rear until the home turn, and then stay-on well passing beaten horses to be 4th - whoever thought those tactics would work clearly hadn't paid attentioni to the 1st-3 days of the Festival. 
My pair of selections in the County Hurdle were both affected by the ground, with Encanto Bruno (keep a lookout for him) being a non-runner, and King Of Kingsfield being right there at the final flight but not staying on.  Harry Skelton very nearly made it 5 winners for the week with L'Eau Du Sud, who went off the 7/2 Fav. The formbook suggested the Skelton horse was well handicapped, but the horse was certainly showing better form on the home gallops that on the course. Skelton was also responsible for last years fav for this race, Pembroke. You can take nothing away from the winner Absurde, or the training performance of Willie Mullins who has improved this horse with every run over hurdles - will he be as good as another "County" winner for Mullins: State Man?
For the Albert Bartlett Hurdle, my interpretation of the form was decent (in my opinion), with The Jukebox Man running 2nd - as he was 3rd LTO to my selection Captain Teague. It's likely that Captain Teague didn't stay the trip at this level, as the writing was on the wall over half a mile out. He was beaten over 2m5f in November in a Grade 2 when he started odds-on, and perhaps in hindsight I should have paid more attention to that race. I also should have paid a lot more attention to the to the 3-mile trip and the heavy ground on the day: as the race winner Stellar Story was by proven staying sire Shantou and looked sure to appreciate a step-up to 3 miles.
This was the first year I've not had a wager on the actual Cheltenham Gold Cup since I returned to the UK in 1997 after living and working in Hong Kong for 7 years. My antepost wager for the race was Shishkin, and I was on him after he ran a cracker in the "King George" at Kempton on Boxing Day. After Protektorat won the Ryanair Chase, thereby confirming the form of the "Denman" in February which Shishkin won, I'm convinced that Galopin Des Champs would have had to equal or better his 2023 effort to win this race; in the event, he merely cantered to victory having led 2-out.  I had a "place-only" wager on Bravemansgame, but the ground was softer than I expected it to be (the rails are moved and they race on fresh ground in the Gold Cup) and he was passed by a couple of plodders in Gerri Colombe and Corach Rambler. Right now it's difficult to see anything beating Galopin Des Champs next year, certainly none of this years best novice chasers seem capable of stepping-up; and it must also be taken into account that the best staying novice chasers - Corbetts Cross and Fact To File - are trained by Willie Mullins to trains Galopin Des Champs. 

Willie Mullins currently has the jumping game in a stranglehold, and he's absolutely dominating the entire programme.  There's nothing that can (or should) be done to change the rules to "level" the field, as doing that will destroy the integrity of the sport. When I was watching the Cheltenham Festival in the 1980's it was British trainers who dominated the sport, and that dominance was led by trainers like Michael Dickinson based in Yorkshire.  I can't remember the British suggesting back then that the rules of racing be changed to allow the Irish trainers to win a few more races at the Cheltenham Festival.  Horseracing is a "fashion" and always has been; it goes in-and-out of favour depending on who influences it, and where public opinion lies.  
What the BHA should be doing is avoiding shooting itself in the foot: and it does that by providing a template for the sport which exudes excellence and exclusivity. It has to do that as horseracing is incredibly expensive - to keep a horse in training, be it a selling plater or a Derby winner, cost in-excess of £100 a day. Sure, some trainers will offer their services for a bit less (and the more successful ones, a bit more), but the vet's bills, entry fees, transport, farrier, tack etc are the same for every horse.  
The structure of the racing calendar (which is controlled by the BHA) should be about promoting excellence, and if I could suggest one thing to the the BHA it would be to reduce the amount of races at the "bottom-end" and establish a cut-off rating to remove horses which are not good enough. 
The exclusivity of horseracing is essential to attract new owners into the sport and advertisers and race sponsors.  A casual wander through the shopping village at the Cheltenham Festival quickly informs you that the wealthy are there and they want to spend their money.  A few years ago, I spoke to some people who were associated with the Bentley outlet, and I learned that Bentley sold more of their vehicles at the Festival than at any other sporting event in the UK - has Bentley ever sponsored a race at the Festival? The BHA really need to up their game when it comes to race sponsorship, and if they don't have the skills then they should out-source the selection and negotiation of potential race sponsors.  

I expect most readers of this blog will say "what about the ordinary punter?" Horseracing has always been the great social mixing-pot, where people from all types of backgrounds meet on equal terms for one reason: to strike a wager.  That is the sole reason for horseracing; you can talk about improving the breed, but horseracing is about having a wager. If the BHA improve excellence, we have a more competitive sport, and with more competition we have a more opportunities of races without odds-on fav's. And with increased excellence, and emphasis on exclusivity we should see more prestigious race sponsors and increased prize-money. And with more prize money and exclusivity, that should attract new, wealthy owners. So long as the trainers are good enough on both sides of the Irish Sea, to attract the new owners to invest, then we should see the balance of power - currently in favour of Ireland - become more "equal". 

As for the Festival itself from a punters viewpoint, this was the 15th year for me. I first attended in 2004, then in 2007, 2011, and every year since (could not attend in 2021, the year of Covid). The worst year for attending was 2022, as the record attendance and subsequent crowds made the event virtually unbearable. The best year, was when the attendance was blighted by Covid, 2020; as for those attending it was a pleasant experience. If I had control of the Festival, I would limit tickets to 50,000 per day. I have used the "Best Mate" stand several times, and the view from there is superb - for me and a few other Cheltenham regulars, the view of the racing is better than from the "Club", as support pillars obscure a clear view (not so in the "Best Mate").  It just lacks the facilities of the Club/Tattersalls area. As such, I'd significantly reduce the admission charged for entry into the "Best Mate" and make it £20 for the 1st 3-days, and £25 for the Gold Cup. There was a lot of talk on the forums regards prices in the "Club" (to be honest, it's pointless buying a Tattersalls ticket as you cannot gain entry to about 75% of the stands area, and the walkways are so crowded it's near impossible to walk from the paddock to the Tattersalls viewing are during racing). In my opinion, the ticket prices are fair value considering the level of the sport that you have the pleasure of watching. The top price for the FA Cup Final in 2023 was £115, and for that game you are guaranteed only 90 mins of action; a day at the races is approximately 270 minutes long. If the prices to the "Best Mate" are reduced, I'd increase the price of entry to the "Club". 
To be honest, I don't go horseracing with the intention of eating; so if you haven't eaten before you get there, then you are going to have to pay the going price. I've already had a hearty breakfast, and possibly a sandwich or pie on the way to the course. Yes, I do like to have a pint when I'm there, but I'm there for the horseracing, not to get drunk - I can go to the pub and do that without paying an admission fee. As for getting to and from the course, I really cannot see a problem with parking somewhere away from the course and catching a shuttle-bus there and back. Using the shuttle-bus (£4 per per, per trip) was cheaper than a taxi from the centre of town (£21 = £5.25pp; 4 passengers), and also a lot quicker. 

I'm taking a look at the results over the next week or so, and producing a list of possible horses to follow and/or look out for in the coming weeks. So please keep an eye out for messages on "X" (twitter), and make a note to return to the blog over the coming weeks.  

Friday 15 March 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Day 4 (15th March)

What a cracking day it was yesterday. 
We started off with a winner in the opening race, when Grey Dawning stayed on best of all to win at odds of 5/2. Then we had a great ew wager on Emitom in the Pertemps Final at 28/1; the day was to get even better.  Protektorat, the selection in the Ryanair Chase, romped home at decent odds of 9/1 (recommended taking on the blog). Finally, we very nearly pulled-off a tremendous wager in the Stayers' Hurdle when Flooring Porter looked to be going on to win, only to be caught and passed on the run-in.

Let's look at Gold Cup day:
1:30pm Triumph Hurdle 4yo's only (2m1f)
This race isn't my usual hunting ground. 
This looks a tricky race for the punter. The fav is Majborough based on his promising debut when staying-on to be 3rd, and he's closely matched with Storm Heart who was 2nd in that race.  Personally, I don't think the winner of this is coming out of that race, which also cancels-out Kargesse who won, and Bunting who was 4th; these horses are too closely matched. I've had Nurburgring in my notebook since Xmas when he ran a cracker, giving weight away, to be 3rd to Kala Conti. Nurburgring is the horse with the most potential at today's trip and on the soft ground. I feel Majborough needs 2m4f already, and the others just aren't quick enough. 
William Hill offer 11/2 on Nurburgring, and there's plenty of 5/1 available; I'm having £5 win.

2:10pm County Hurdle (2m1f)
This is a difficult race. I was not happy Pied Piper (2nd in this race last year) didn't run in the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday, but he does run in this. It's a big ask to win this with 12st.  I feel trainer Gordon Elliott is using Pied Piper to allow a lesser-light a decent weight to run off. He has the race-fav King Of Kingsfield who has been running well in races similar to this and looks primed for a big run, but he's only 5/1. Dan Skelton, who won this last year with Faivoir, has had 4 winners this week, and is the handicap king at the Festival. Faivoir could emulate Langer Dan and become a double winner handicap winner, and the horses is in top form just failing to win the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday. Skelton also has L'Eau Du Sud who looks to have been aimed at this race. However, I'm going left-field and Encanto Bruno trained by Gavin Cromwell also looks to have been aimed at this race since winning here over 2m4f last October. Kept quiet since, we know Cromwell can produce one on the day, and so long as he handles the ground, he won't be far away: odds of 33/1 are generally available and I'm having £2.50 eachway (6-places, 5th odds a place).
I would not put you off have a few win wagers on those heading the betting.

2:50pm Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle (3-mile)
This looks like being another winner for Willie Mullins via the fav Readin Tommy Wrong, who looks a strong contender.  Personally, I don't think the 2nd-fav Gidleigh Park is the strongest of the British entries, I think it's Captain Teague, who has always been top-drawer, and looks sure to stay the trip well. There's 8/1 available (4-places, 5th odds a place) and I'm having £5 eachway; and I may well have Readin Tommy Wrong and Captain Teague in a Forecast.

3:30pm Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (3m 2f)
Now that Shishkin is a non-runner, I feel that Galopin Des Champs is a near certainty to win this. Shiskin would have given the fav a race, of that there's no doubt following the win yesterday in the Ryanair Chase by Protektorat (beaten easily by Shishkin at Newbury LTO). The 2nd horse home is likely to be Fastorslow, as he's been consistently good over the past 12 months. There are some "exotic" markets on this race, and several bookies have odds to finish in the 1st-3 - so not an eachway wager (win & place), but place-only. To come 3rd maybe Bravemansgame, who was a good 2nd last year, and has been running a bit below that level since then but he's the only horse other that the fav and 2nd-fav who is (in my opinion) capable of running a high 160+ rating. 
William Hill offer 3/1 on Bravemansgame to be in the 1st-3, and I'm having £10 on.

That's it for me. I will probably watch the Hunter Chase and have a small wager on something (probably Premier Magic); and then I will head for the exit and the drive home.  It's been a great week.

Thursday 14 March 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Day 3 (14th March)

It's the 3rd day of the Festival, and it's fairly obvious now that the quality of horse trained in the UK - Constitution Hill excluded - is at the poorest level in my lifetime. Maybe I'm being over-dramatic, but I don't know where it goes from here, but if horseracing isn't competitive - Willie Mullins saddled the 1st-5 in the Grade 1 Gallagher Novices Hurdle, from 7 starters - then the majority of supporters will lose interest. 
I had no luck on the day, with both selections not finishing in the places. And the remainder of the card didn't provide betting opportunities except for those fortunate with a lucky pin.

Let's try our hand on Day-3 (Thursday)
1:30pm Turners Novices' Chase (2m4f)
We have 11 runners going to post, which should provide some interest. The fav is Facile Vega, and I expect Mullins will be hoping the extra distance (all chase races have been over 2m1f) will bring about some improvement. Given how testing the ground is, Grey Dawning having won over 3-mile LTO should have sufficient stamina to be involved at the finish.  When they met as hurdlers last season, Grey Dawning got the better of Ginny's Destiny, and if the ground wasn't as soft as it is, I might fancy Ginny's Destiny - but on this ground a horse needs stamina. If Iroko - off the track since early November - wins it will be a helluva training performance, but I can't see that happening. Nothing else looks good enough. For me it's Grey Dawning, but the odds are not attractive enough to warrant advising a wager. However, do not ignore the chance of Letsbeclearaboutit, sent by Gavin Cromwell, ignore LTO as he didn't stay 3-mile on heavy ground but this trip will suit him well - and he wasn't far behind Found A Fifty (2nd in the Arkle this week) on 03Dec - he's worth a small ew at 33/1. 

2:10pm Pertemps Hurdle Final H'cap (3 mile)
One of my favourite races of the season. This is not an easy race to fathom, but you do need a horse that is a proven stayer at the trip, and there are not many of those.  And unless you find a bold front-runner (like Buena Vista) and the benefit of good ground, it's best to have a hold-up horse. 
I've narrowed it down to a couple, Emitom who runs off OR137 and won a decent handicap at Newbury last month, and Gabby's Cross who has been running well recently.  What I like about Emitom is he was 4th in the Stayers' Hurdle in 2020 when rated OR153, and Alan King has revitalised the horse since he started training him.  Gabby's Cross is an OR140 chaser running off OR127.  
Both are worth an eachway wager:
Gabbys Cross:  81 available generally - 6-places, 5th odds
Emitom: 28/1 with Paddy Power - 6-places, 5th odds

2:50pm Ryanair Chase (2m5f)
This race is looking one of the most open Grade 1's of the entire Festival. On the one hand, Envoi Allen won a stronger race last year, but hasn't done much in the past 12 months: should he be the fav? Hitman was 3rd last year and hasn't improved in the last 12 months. Banbridge, despite winning well LTO, does not have suitable ground, and may well be withdrawn. Stage Star won the Turners last year, but I'm not sure he's up to winning this race as you have to take his well-being (he pulled-up LTO when the fav) for granted. Capodanno and Conflated don't look good enough to win over this trip.  The horse that jumps out for me is Protektorat: he has been consistently good this season, running some of his best races in defeat as he's been giving away a lot of weight at times. He's a bold front-runner and this could be his day in the sun - there's plenty of 9/1 and 4-places at 5th odds a place.

3:30pm Stayers' Hurdle (3 miles)
Another race worth having a wager in. Teahupoo had his ground last season and couldn't win.  Is he a better, stronger horse this season? Noble Yeats does not lack stamina, but let's be honest, he was getting 6lb off Paisley Park and only just beat him. If I thought Sir Gerhard would stay this 3-mile trip on soft ground, he would be the selection, but he's never shown the required stamina before. I haven't thought Crambo as good enough to win this since his win at Ascot LTO, and nothing has changed that opinion. If Crambo isn't good enough, neither is Paisley Park; and lightning does not strike twice, so I'm putting a line through Sire Du Berlais as a 12yo. There's one horse who is a proven stayer, proven on the ground,  and ran well in this last season of a short preparation - Flooring Porter. He's had no problems this season with fitness, and he is the dark horse in this race, odds of 14/1 Paddypower look generous. I'm on at 25/1 as I never thought he'd make the grade as a chaser, and I've gone in again at 

I'm going to overlook the Plate at 4:10pm and the Mares' Hurdle at 4:50pm (lack of time), and go to the final race of the day:
5:30pm Kim Muir h'cap chase (3m2f)
Amateur riders are usually best avoided, but you can't do that in this race. The best amateurs ride the best horses, so you have to respect Derek O'Connor on Inothewayyurthinkin the 5/2 fav. The 8yo Amirite has McParlan in the saddle, and this decent stayer could go well. However, the one I like the look of is Bowtogreatness, ridden by Jack Andrews who knows his way around Cheltenham. Still a maiden chaser, he's mainly race over 2m4f but he's twice run at 3-mile coming 2nd at Aintree on 15Apr and 3rd LTO at Kempton which was probably his best effort to date - so he's in form.  He looks well handicapped on OR133.  
Bowtogreatness - £2.50 ew @ 16/1 Bet365 , 6-places 5th odds.

Good luck all.

Wednesday 13 March 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Day 2 (Wed 13th March)

Yesterday wasn't the best of days - we came close, but (in horseracing) 2nd isn't good enough.
We started the day fairly well, it was right to oppose the fav Tullyhill in the Supreme Hurdle, but we went for the wrong opposition. I think the testing ground did for Firefox, as he was cruising before 2-out but found nothing from there, staying-on to be 3rd (£5 ew advised @ 13/2, so nothing lost).  The soft/heavy ground requires stamina, and we should see a different Firefox on "good" ground.  Onto the "Arkle" and, as it happened, Gaelic Warrior is the best two-mile chaser we've seen in a few years, he ripped the "Arkle" field apart; my selection Found A Fifty was a gallant 2nd (£5 ew advised @ 15/2, again no money lost). After 2 races we had 2 selections placed at eachway, and we were still in the game. 
I had high hopes for the Ultima Handicap Chase, but my main selection Stumptown didn't appreciate the ground, and made errors. However, I did suggest placing eachway wagers on Twig and Monbeg Genius; and Twig ran a cracker to be 2nd at 28/1. For a moment  as the leaders approached 2-out, I thought he may go on to win, but no. Again, it was stamina that won out on the testing ground. 
That was the end of my luck, as I didn't have any meaningful wagers in the next 3 hurdle races, and in the NH Chase that closed the day, my selection Salvatore Ziggy ran a stinker.   

The 2nd day of the Festival starts with:
1:30pm Gallagher Novices' Hurdle (2m5f)
After Slade Steel won the Supreme Hurdle yesterday, you cannot look anywhere else but at Ballyburn as he easily beat Slade Steel last month. What will come 2nd? Possibly the 6yo Ile Atlantique.

2:10pm Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (3-mile)
Just 6 runners go to post, and yet another odds-on Mullins horse Fact To File is the fav. At the odds, I don't think he's value and I'm going to oppose with Stay Away Fay who we know will stay the trip and handle the track and ground; and I think this one has the stronger form going into this race.  It's particularly pleasing that trainer Paul Nicholls has not entered the horse in any other race; this has always been the target.  I thought this race may cut-up, but not this much, and now I'm wishing I'd had more on Giovinco ew last week at 33/1 (see blog dated 07Mar) as antepost offered 3-places. The 7/2 available for Stay Away Fay looks decent value, and I'm taking that: £10 win.

2:35pm Coral Cup H'cp Hurdle (2m5f)
This will be won by a horse with a lot of stamina, and a touch of class. It's a longshot but I like Benson; a 9yo who will handle the ground, can race up with the pace, or from off the pace, and was 11/1 to win this race last year (pulled-up, never travelling), and is 100/1 with Bet365 (6-places ew, 5th odds), and there's a lot of 66/1 about. Good luck 

3:30pm Champion Chase (2 mile)
There's only one winner of this race, and that's El Fabiolo; the only way he won't win is if he doesn't finish. It could be anything that comes in 2nd, apart from Boothill who only races right-handed. 

4:10pm Cross Country Chase (3m5f)
It's no secret that I'm no fan of this race; I'm not against the type of race, I just don't think it has a place at the Cheltenham Festival. Since becoming level weights, the winner has comes from the top of the betting, so most judges will say there's no point in considering anything at odds longer that 8/1. However, I think Foxy Jacks who won over C&D last November looks poised to run well. Of the market leaders; Coko Beach has been in top form recently.  This is not a betting race for me.

4:50pm Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase H'cp (2-mile)
This is a very competitive race, but the horse that I wanted to run in the race last year IS running in the race this year, and that Saint Roi. He ran 3rd in the Arkle instead, and then ran 2nd at Aintree when just beaten by Banbridge (now the fav for the Ryanair Chase tomorrow).  I think he's been laid-out for this race, and odds of 7/1 (generally available) look fair considering that he's a Festival winner (County Hurdle in 2020). 
£10 win on Saint Roi @ 7/1

5:30 Champion Bumper (2-miles) Flat race
To be honest, I haven't a clue in this race, but if push came to shove I think Jalon D'oudaries looks to have a decent chance and odds of 5/1 look fair.

Tuesday 12 March 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Day 1 (Tuesday 12th March)

Here we go! 
The most eagerly anticipated horserace meeting in the entire calendar. We will surely have competitive racing, highs and lows, and (fingers crossed) a few winners along the way. I've looked at a lot of the races already in the past week, so most of the form-study has been done. Let's get down to it and finalise the selections for the day ahead.

1:30pm - Supreme Novices Hurdle
Just 12 runners go to post, with Willie Mullins supplying half the field - and possibly his best novice hurdler runs tomorrow. Tullyhill made an immense step forward LTO, and Mullins must consider him good enough to win, but I feel Firefox who has been Gordon Elliott's chosen runner for some time to finish on top.  The trends will say a horse that won LTO is the way to go, but I'm expecting the trends to be distorted by the domination of Mullins; and that Tullyhill has had little competition in he races makes his true ability tricky to assess. Also, if Mullins thought Tullyhill was most likely to win, he wouldn't run Mystical Power.  
For me, it's Firefox to win, and I'm already on at 10/1; but the 13/2 looks attractive (Betfred pay 4-places) as an eachway wager: £5 ew @ 13/2 (4-place, 5th odds)

2:10pm - Arkle Novices' Chase
Only 10 runners go to post, with Willie Mullins supplying three (3). This all hangs on Gaelic Warrior who could possibly turn-out to be the best two-mile chaser we've seen in a few years, or (like Chancun Pour Soi) he may save his best for Ireland, and flop at Cheltenham.  
I'm on two in the race: Found A Fifty and Il Etait Temps; they fought out the Irish Arkle last month, and they look to have the best recent form going into this race. Mullins also has Hunters Yarn, but that horse wasn't good enough as a hurdler to suggest he has the speed for this race. There are another two that may be involved: Quilixios who won the Triumph Hurdle in 2021; and My Mate Mozzie who I thought would go for a handicap chase as he's clearly better than his OR150 rating.  
I'm already on both Found A Fifty and Il Etait Temps at 6/1, which I took after they ran LTO. Right now, this race looks too competitive, as I didn't expect Mullins to run Gaelic Warrior - so if you haven't already had a wager already, then I can't suggest one that looks "value" other than a £5 eachway wager on Found A Fifty at 15/2 with Paddy Power (3-places 5th odds a place)

2:50pm - Ultima Handicap Chase
With 23 runners going to post this should be a cracking race - it's one of my favourites in the winter calendar. Unusually, the Irish trainers are out in force this year, and I'm expecting one of them to win the race. The market leaders Meetingofthewaters, The Goffer, and Chianti Classico each have "issues" (see horse-by-horse assesment in yesterday's blog) and I'm expecting the experience of Stumptown, a winner over C&D,  to prove decisive. I've also suggested eachway wagers on Twig, and Monbeg Genius, as most bookies are paying 6-places eachway. 
For me, it's £5 ew Stumptown at 11/1 (William Hill) and £5 win if you are not already on.

3:30pm - Champion Hurdle
This looks a near certainty for State Man, and he is long odds-on - so long as he finished the race he will win.  If you are betting without the fav, then Iberico Lord at 3/1 is the way to go.

4:10pm - Mares' Hurdle (2m4f)
We have another odds-on Mullins-trained favourite in Lossiemouth, and she should win - however, she's never won over this sort of trip, and there's no guarantee that she will stay 2m4f especially with the notorious Cheltenham uphill finish to contend with. I've not had a wager in this race, but the 14/1 available about Love Envoi looks interesting as she is proven at the trip.

4:50pm - Juvenile H'Cap
Some races you just have to overlook, and this is one; good luck if having a wager.

5:30pm - NH Chase
It's disappoiting that there are just 7 runners in what was a great race. 
I'm expecting Gordon Elliott to cap a remarkable day with a win from Salvatore Ziggy @ 6/1 (Bet365) who he has kept under wraps all season. I was going to suggest a saver on Apple Away but the value has gone.

Good luck and back tomorrow.

Monday 11 March 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Ultima Handicap Chase (12Mar)

The weights are out, and the declarations are confirmed for the first of the major handicaps of the Festival: the Ultima Handicap Chase over 3m1f. Only 23 entries, one under the maximum, and there are a few surprise non-declarations: Annual Invictus and Giovinco.

If you have been reading the blog over the past week, you may have noticed that I've not been referring to any "trends" or stats. There's a couple of reasons; a) I believe the domination of the Festival by 3 or 4 trainers (and in particular, Mullins) has put a wrecking ball through the trends; and b) for me, trends only apply to races which are well supported and competitive, in other words, the handicaps.

I'm going to look at every runner in the Ultima Handicap, as you just cannot ignore any of them: we've had a couple of repeat winners (Corach Rambler and Un Temps Pour Tout), a veteran winner (Vintage Clouds); and a very young novice winner (Coo Star Sivola) in recent years. Right, let's go!

Eldorado Allen: 10yo, and you could describe him as a class horse, as he was in the Gold Cup last year (came 7th); he's not going to be far away based on his run in the old "Hennessey" on 02Dec; but he does find winning tricky (4 from 21). 
Run Wild Fred: 10yo, hasn't won since Nov21, and the handicapper hasn't given him much chance with OR149, as he'd need a career-best to win off that.
Highland Hunter: not the obvious type being an 11yo, and he's had 3 races since Xmas.
Stumptown: This 7yo ran 2nd in the "Kim Muir" (3m2f) last season, and won here on New Years Day; he looks the type to go close and Gavin Cromwell is no mug. 
Monbeg Genius: Nobody wants the owner to win this race, but this 8yo is running and his 3rd in the old "Hennessey" (beat Eldorado Allen) plus running 3rd in this races last year, puts him in the picture. Rated OR147, that's fair and odds of 12/1 put him on the shortlist.
The Goffer: the subject of a significant gamble so far, but I'm not convinced this 7yo is the one. Ran 3rd last season in this race off OR149, so running off OR144 suggests he could be well-in. However, he comes in off a 142 day break (last run on 22Oct) and that could be too much.
Meetingofthewaters: Bought recently by JP McManus, sure he won a decent handicap in Dec off OR130, but this is a lot more to ask of the 7yo especially off OR147, and he unseated his rider LTO.
Chambard: this 12yo won the "Kim Muir" in 2022, but surely won't figure in this race.
Minella Crooner: a top novice chaser, this 8yo has not set the world alight this season and may struggle, as recent run didn't suggest a change in form.
Kitty's Light: Loves Ayr, and the right-handed tracks of London; I can't see this 8yo enjoying Cheltenham, but could well stay on strong.
Gevrey: ran 4th in the "Plate" over 2m4f+ last season, then ran 2nd in the Irish National over 3m5f. Won the Munster National in October, but pulled-up twice since: OR145 looks tough.
Eklat De Rire: A top novice chaser in 2020-21, has had problems so is lightly raced for a 10yo, and if he retains any ability he has slipped to a very useful rating of OR144.
Victtorino: He didn't look suited to the track when racing here in
January, seems to handle right-handed tracks best.
Busselton:  Comprehensively beaten on 27Dec (race won by Meetingofthewaters), however ran 5th in "Hennessey" in 2022 off OR149, this 7yo likes to run prominently, so not without a chance. 
Trelawne: winner of a 3-mile hurdle, so could stay this trip, but stamina is unproven. 
Twig: this 9yo has never raced on ground worse than good-to-soft, however ran well when 2nd here on 28Oct. Didn't enjoy "Hennessey" on 02Dec, and not seen since; could be interesting.
Chianti Classico: this 7yo novice chaser looks the type to do well, but does make the odd error, and he's no experience of a big field like this.
Found On: this 9yo mare goes well off a break, but the ground may well be too soft for this "good" ground specialist. 
Lord Du Mesnil: this 11yo will stay the trip will, but likely in his own time.
Excello: this 5yo is tricky to gauge, he didn't look like he enjoyed the track in January, but his last race in France (before joining Henderson) suggests he should enjoy the trip and ground. Interesting.
Famous Bridge: this 8yo has winning form at the trip and on the ground, but trainer Nicky Richards tends to not do well when coming South of Birmingham. could stay on late.
Weveallbeencaught: a 7yo novice chaser, without looking a winner in 3 races to date.
Risk And Roll: a 10yo who probably should not be in the race, with just 3 wins from 19 chase races.

My shortlist is 
Stumptown: 10/1 with William Hill (6-places 5th odds a place);
Monbeg Genius: 14/1 (6-places, 5th odds a place) Bet365, William Hill, Betfred;
Twig: 20/1 (6-places, 5th odds a place) Bet365, William Hill, Coral;
I will also have a couple of "place-only" wagers on Excello and Busselton on the exchanges.

Sunday 10 March 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 update - 9th March

This is it, as of Saturday 9th March we have all the confirmed entries for the meeting, all we are missing is the final declarations; and for Tuesday that will come midday Sunday. We have few significant unanswered questions, such as which Mullins horse will Paul Townend ride in the Arkle? Now that Ballyburn is confirmed for the "Gallagher", just how many rivals will he face in that race and, of those that don't take up the challenge which race will they end-up in? Let's look at the entries for Gold Cup day.

Friday opens with the Triumph Hurdle for 4yo's; this can be a tricky race but the market usually gets this right. By Friday, we should know just how well the Henderson stable is firing, and that will determine what odds Sir Gino goes off at. He will start the fav, and if I can get 7/4 or longer then I'll be on him. Mullins currently has 7 still in the race, and I expect Townend to ride Majborough and this horse could be anything. A "dark horse" worth an ew wager is Nurburgring: he hasn't run since Boxing Day but that run was as good as anything else we've seen this season as although he didn't win he was conceding weight to smart horses. This isn't a race I tend to wager on until the day.

The 3-mile "Albert Bartlett" novice hurdle is another grade 1 race that I tend not to wager on until the day. Trainer, de Bromhead only has 33/1 chance Chigorin entered; Elliott has 5 entries, butt he shortest in the betting is My Trump Card at 20/1; Mullins on the other hand has 7 entries including the 3 heading the betting: Readin Tommy Wrong, Dancing City and High Class Hero. Right now, the Harry Fry trained Gidleigh Park ticks a lot of boxes, and is almost certain to run; for me, he's the most interesting. 

The final Grade 1 race of the Festival is the Gold Cup, run over 3m 2f & 70yds.
It's very difficult to look past last years winner Galopin Des Champs, who has showed with his last couple of races that he's as good, if not better, than last season. Personally, I'm amazed that odds of 5/4 are available, as he looks an odds-on chance to me. So I will be looking at using him as a "banker" in doubles and trebles. Martin Brassil seriously rates the chance of Fastorslow, and he does look better at the fences than GDC, but the champion has the edge on speed and stamina. In my eyes, Shishkin demonstrated at Newbury last month that had he not made the error 2-out in the King George at Kempton, he'd have won and probably won with something in hand. In 2nd, would have been Bravemansgame, as he lost at least 3-lengths (plus momentum) at the 2nd-last through no fault of his own, then stayed on strong. Without that interference, he would not have been caught and passed by Hewick, but I doubt he'd have beaten Shishkin. 
My 1-2-3 is Galopin Des Champs; with Shishkin 2nd, and Bravemansgame 3rd
There's not much between Bravemansgame and Fastorslow; but BMG has more 160+ performances and we know after running 2nd in the Gold Cup last season, that he handles the track & trip well. I don't think Gerri Colombe or Hewick will figure in the race - unless we have some fallers - and I can see why some are considering Grand National winner Corach Rambler as having an ew chance (Grand National winners tend to do well in the Gold Cup) but this year the Gold Cup looks more competitive than most years.  If there is a dark horse in the race, it's L'Homme Presse.

Friday 8 March 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 update - 8th March

We've not long to go now, and big news is coming thick and fast.
Ballyburn now has the confirmed race target of the "Gallagher" hurdle on Wednesday over 2m5f (and NOT the Supreme Hurdle). I've thought this would be the case for some weeks, and posted this on my blog on 12th February with a recommendation to take the odds of 2/1 NRNB that were on offer at the time. Ballyburn looks virtually 'bombproof' for the "Gallagher", and that's reflected in the current betting.
It is also certain that Gaelic Warrior is running in the "Arkle" and not the "Turners" on Day-3 of the Festival which, to be honest, I kind of expected as I think Gaelic Warrior has the potential to being the best 2-mile chaser that Mullins has trained - but he's to prove he can win going left-handed first.

I'm not getting too many readers of the blog - just 48 for yesterdays blog - but I'm not necessarily looking for readers; I'm doing this for myself. But if you do enjoy it, make it known on "X" (ex-twitter).

Wednesday at the Festival opens with the Turners Novices' Chase over 2m4f; and this year's race does not look like being as competitive as last year. This is one of the few Grade 1 "championship" races that I've not had a wager in yet. The current fav is Ginny's Destiny who is trained by Paul Nicholls who sent Stage Star to win this last year. This horse certainly looks the part on form, and deserves to head the market. But I like Grey Dawning a little more, and so does the official handicapper who has him 6lb higher on OR153.  The well respected Facile Vega would definitely win this were it a hurdle race, but his jumping lets him down, and I don't think he will stay this trip well enough to figure at the finish. If Iroko runs, then he has to be respected, but I'm not sure that's going to happen; and there's not many horses that can win a Grade 1 at the Festival having not run this side of Christmas. The rest of the entries look decidedly outclassed, apart from Giovinco who I think is well-handicapped on OR146 so if he skips this for a handicap I will be well pleased; and the 9yo Letsbeclearaboutit who has been in some decent races in Ireland. Trainer Gavin Cromwell is no mug and this horse has the pace and stamina to stay involved to the finish. I think I will wait until the day as I should be able to better the current 7/2 on Grey Dawning; but I'm taking the NRNB available on the latter couple mentioned: Giovinco at 25/1 and Letsbeclearaboutit at 40/1 (Paddy Power) - both ew. Unfortunately the 40/1 has gone, best now is 33/1 NRNB with Paddy Power.

The Ryanair Chase is a race that for some reason I always seem to read wrong - I think the only time I've been on the winner is when Cue Card romped home back in 2013. I've already taken 6/1 about Stage Star following his win in the Paddy Power Gold Cup last November. I also took the odds of 10/1 that were available last April after Envoi Allen won this race at the last Festival - yes, 10/1. He's been given a very light season by his trainer, de Bromhead; and as he won this race last season - beating Shishkin, no less - after being beaten out of sight in the "King George" at Kempton, that he's not run since just failing to win the Grade 1 Drinmore over 3-miles in November is no worry to me. The form of Banbridge is also strong, and you cannot fault his last 3 runs; he could be the best of these but, given how close they are matched, his current odds of 3/1 offer (to me) no value. The only other horse capable of mixing-it in this race is Protektorat: he's not won a race since being gifted the Betfair Chase in Nov22 (18 months ago), but his form this season has been his best ever and he's consistent. He was available at over 20/1 a few weeks ago, and I wish I'd availed myself of some, but 12/1 is available with Bet365 (he's 10's everywhere else).  I'm expecting Stage Star to win this race. Bit of late news that Ga Law has been supplemented, but he needs to find about 7lb on his recent win at Cheltenham in January to win this, and possibly a tad more. Had he run to form last season (when 5th in this race) he would probably have come 4th - but that's still 5 or 6 lengths off last years winner. 

One of my favourite races of the Festival is the Stayer's Hurdle over 3-mile, as I've found the winner a number of times in recent years. Last year was a complete blow-out, but then the form of this division had been erratic all season - which culminated in the 11yo Sire Du Berlais winning at 33/1 with the 10yo Dashel Drasher in 2nd at 40/1. That leads me to dismiss Teahupoo who, if he couldn't win last year with the ground in his favour (the softer the better for him) he's unlikely to win this year. The rumour is Irish Point will run in the Champion Hurdle (2nd pays £95k) and as he's not guaranteed to stay 3-mile at this level, I think he will run on Tuesday. Crambo just isn't good enough by a long way, remember he was 3rd in a handicap hurdle over 3-mile on 25Nov off OR139 - he should have won that by 15-lengths is he really is capable of winning this race on Thursday.  Horses don't find 15lb of improvement overnight as a 7yo. I can see why some think the answer is Noble Yeats, who has abundant stamina, but he merely ran to his rating of OR152 in the Cleeve Hurdle, but what he does have tho' is a turn-of-foot which can win a muddling race. If I thought Sir Gerhard would stay 3-mile he would be my choice, but that's a questionmark, although he will enjoy soft ground. If you are considering Monkfish after pretty much 3 years on the sick list, then you are dreaming. The more you look at this race, the more you see how weak it is and lacking depth - yet there's a proven horse at the trip and on the course: Flooring Porter. He had a lot of problems last season, and still ran 4th in this race last season beaten just over 3 lengths. He's looked very fit and well this season: he just isn't as good at jumping fences as hurdles. Gavin Cromwell has brought this horse along very quietly, and he could be in-line for  massive gamble on the Thursday. For me, it's Flooring Porter all the way; he's 12/1 NRNB.

Thursday 7 March 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - Update 7th March

An interesting development today, as a horse I have on my radar for the Ultima Handicap on Tuesday was expected to run in the Cross Country Chase on Wed, but is now not a confirmed entry for that race - Annual Invictus: last seen winning the Great Yorkshire Handicap Chase at Doncaster on 27th Jan, and did so by leading from the 2nd fence to the line. The form of that race is top notch, as Forward Plan went on to win the (Class 1) Coral Trophy at Kempton. I've taken 25/1 NRNB for the Ultima Handicap

The opening race of the 2nd day of the Festival is the "Gallagher" Novices Hurdle over 2m5f. The odds-on antepost fav for this race is Ballyburn, who is also the fav for the Supreme Novices Hurdle on Day-1. He can't run in both, so which is he likely to run in? Yesterday, I reasoned that Mullins is most likely to run Ballyburn in this race and I've not changed my mind overnight. I can see Mullins having a few in this race, as I'm expecting both Ile Atlantique and Mystical Power to run, and probably Readin Tommy Wrong too. What will be his 1st-string? That will be the one ridden by Paul Townend. The only other possible Mullins horse that could run is Predators Gold, but I'm expecting that one to run in the Albert Bartlett over 3-miles.
It is difficult to consider anything else other than Ballyburn for this race, but if he does run in the "Supreme" instead, then I will be looking at Ile Atlantique who is possibly a better horse than the one we saw beaten a neck LTO by Readin Tommy Wrong. Of the others, only Captain Teague looks capable of being involved at the finish, as his 3rd last year in the Champion Bumper shows he's a touch of class about him.  

The "Brown Advisory" Novice Chase over an extended 3-miles has developed into a proper race recently, after a period in the doldrums. Unfortunately, there are only 11 in the confirmed entries, and I doubt all will go to post. Embassy Gardens is almost certain to go for the NH Chase on the opening day, and I very much doubt Gaelic Warrior will run in this race over the "Turners" on Day-3.
The odds-on fav is yet another Mullins-trained horse, Fact To File; and he's interesting as he hasn't had a season hurdling. Is he an odds-on chance? Personally, I don't think he is, although he is a worthy fav. I think Stay Away Fay has even stronger form going into this race, and it's particularly pleasing that trainer Paul Nicholls has not entered the horse in any other race. The Skelton-trained Grey Dawning is another horse with strong formlines, and it would not surprise me to see this one leading at the final fence. Gordon Elliott has American Mike, but he doesn't look good enough and the horse he beat LTO (Nick Rockett) doesn't have a Festival entry. When you look at the race won by Broadway Boy at Cheltenham in December, beating Threeunderthrufive and Protektorat (it was a handicap), you have to wonder why he's not heading the betting. However, he doesn't like like being challenged for the lead like he was LTO by Grey Dawning, and there will be plenty of pace on in this race. If there is a horse that is under-estimated it's Giovinco: he's absolutely bred to win a Gold Cup (dam a half-sister to Rocky Creek who was rated OR163 at best), and he could be one to sneak 3rd or better and is available at 33/1 (Paddy Power and Skybet), and there may only be 7 or 8 starters come Wednesday! David Pipe has a complete unknown dark-horse in Jamaico who is yet to run in the UK or Ireland and is entered for just about everything with a fence to jump. This looks a race to watch and not wager, as there's no value in the fav, and there's no value in those likely to fill the places if the fav does win. If push comes to shove, to have an interest in the race, I'd have a small ew wager on Giovinco at 33/1

The Queen Mother Champion Chase (when are they going to rename this race, I wonder?) will almost certainly go to El Fabiolo barring a mishap. And to think there was a lot of doubt over this horse when novice chasing prior to winning the Irish Arkle! There's no doubt that Jonbon is the 2nd-best 2-miler in the field, and he won't make the mistake that he did LTO.

A few notes on the Grand Annual handicap Chase: this time last year I wanted Saint Roi to run in this rather than the Arkle, and he was handicapped OR153 then. Now he's on OR150 and his ability hasn't dimmed - this horse has won the County Hurdle (2021), come 3rd in the Champion hurdle (2022), and come 3rd in the Arkle (2023); he looks the perfect candidate for this race. However, if Found A Fifty wins the Arkle on Tuesday, expect the gamble of the Festival on My Mate Mozzie - he could go off at odds under 3/1.

Wednesday 6 March 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - update 6th March

An interesting day today (no, not the Budget) as the confirmed runners were named for the opening day of the Festival.  For me, the biggest disappointment was the continued demise of the NH Chase, which is the race with the longest history at the Cheltenham Festival. Was it the reduction of the trip for this race to 3m6f that was the nail in the coffin? I don't know, but what I do know is that there are only 10 potential runners in the race as of today; and I would not be surprised if only 7 or 8 go to post.

That's the same for the opening race of the Festival: the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Currently there are a potential 15 runners in the race; but I doubt Mullins will send 100/1 chances Gold Dancer and Supersundae to take part; and Kings Hill and Favour And Fortune are also outclassed and unlikely runners. Mullins is responsible for 7 of the remaining 11 potential runners, so let's look at the "non-Mullins" horses. My favourite is Firefox trained by Gordon Elliott: it looked like he didn't stay 2m4f LTO when fading after the final flight, but his run before that when he beat the current fav Ballyburn looked top class. It's probable that Ballyburn has improved since then, but then it's likely Firefox has too. Nicky Henderson has the 5yo Jeriko Du Reponet (owned by JP McManus), but I'm not sure that he's good enough, although you can never underestimate a Henderson entry. Henry de Bromhead has Slade Steel, who was comprehensively beaten by Ballyburn LTO. Ben Pauling sends the 5yo Tellherthename and he thinks a lot of this one who cost £200k; unfortunately the form is difficult to assess. 
Of the Mullins entries, it all hangs on Ballyburn: clearly a class horse, personally I think 2m4f is the way to go and that Mullins hasn't shown his hand yet suggests if he thinks he can win the Supreme with another horse he will. The JP McManus owned Mystical Power is also entered in the Baring Bingham over 2m5f on Wed, and as his dam Annie Power stayed 3-mile (as well as being good enough to win the Champion Hurdle) it would not surprise me if he went for that race instead (leaving McManus to have Jeriko Du Reponet representing him). So, that would leave Tullyhill who looked to have exceptional potential when winning LTO to be the main Mullins representative. Mullins does have a strong hand for the Baring Bingham as he also has Ile Atlantique who looks like he needs 2m5f. The Festival could have come a bit too soon for the 5yo's Mistergif and Anotherway; and Asian Master just isn't good enough (but could be used as a pace-maker). 
I think we will see Firefox / Jeriko Du Reponet / Slade Steel / Tellherthename / Ballyburn / Tullyhill and Asian Master line-up (7 runners) - and I'm on Firefox already at 10/1 and I'm also interested in taking the current odds of 4/1 on Tullyhill just-in-case Mullins sends Ballyburn for the Baring Bingham on Wednesday.

The Arkle Novices Chase over 2-mile is yet another race which could have under 10 going to post. Mullins holds 5 of the 15 entries confirmed today, and it's very likely that he will have the fav in Il Etait Temps who was last seen staying-on strong to win the Irish Arkle. Now, I like this horse but my worry is that he didn't repeat the level of form he showed last year at the Dublin Festival and either Cheltenham or Punchestown - but he should run a solid race. Will he, or won't he run Gaelic Warrior? Even if he does run him, after his display LTO when he appeared to hate running left-handed, I can't have him. If Townend doesn't ride him I won't have a penny on. The well-bred Facile Vega looks desperately wanting 2m4f and I expect to see that one run in the "Turners" on Thursday. There are a lot of good judges putting-up Hunters Yarn, and he clearly has an engine, but he's made significant errors in both his races and I don't think he's a 5/1 chance.  And I really cannot see him running Sharjah in this race at 11yo - he's been a good servant, time to put him out to grass. Of the others; my particular fav is Found A Fifty: he's done nothing wrong in his 4 chase races this season, and the form bares-up to inspection; not only that he has the stamina for 2m4f and he likes to lead. Some many ticks in the boxes. The 2021 Triumph Hurdle winner Quilixios has recovered his form after 2 years on the side-lines. He beat Sa Fureur LTO (that one holds a couple of handicap entries) over 2-miles but I think he could be better over 2m4f,and he doesn't look value to me at 6/1. Personally, I don't think any of the other entries are good enough to win an Arkle, but I do think My Mate Mozzie is one of the best handicapped novice chasers around going into the Festival - he's going to take a some to be beaten in the Grand Annual on Wednesday.
After the Irish Arkle, I took 6/1 about both Il Etait Temps and Found A Fifty, and I'm going to increase my stake on Found A Fifty as I think he's bullet-proof.  

The withdrawal of Constitution Hill has thrown the Champion Hurdle into a quandary -how to make this a meaningful race? In some respects, I'm laughing - Nicky Henderson (in my opinion) has egg all over his face as, by his own insecurity, he's wasted this season. The defection also clearly demonstrates the lack of depth in the hurdling division - something I've been remarking on for years as Faugheen in 2015 was the last "proper" Champion Hurdler and had he not been injured he'd have surely followed-up in 2016 and 2017. This will be a virtual walkover for State Man.  I very much doubt the mare Lossiemouth will run being just a 5yo, and the same goes for Zarak The Brave. Gordon Elliott will probably provide the runner-up, being either Irish Point or Pied Piper. Personally, I think Pied Piper is nailed on for 2nd as that's the position he filled in the County Hurdle last season when just failing to win. However, he's apparently going for the County again (which is gutting for me as I have a 40/1 ew wager on him for the Champion Hurdle, plus a double with Firefox in the Supreme). As such, if none of those 3 run, then the most logical selection for 2nd is Irish Point, but he wasn't exactly quick as a novice hurdler, and he looks more comfortable over 2m4f.  Therefore, it's no surprise that Henderson and JP McManus have entered the Betfair Handicap Hurdle winner Iberico Lord; odds of 16/1 are available and that's fair. Note: £10 on State Man at 2/5 returns £14; whereas £5 eachway at 16/1 on Iberico Lord returns £21 for 2nd or 3rd place.

The Mares Hurdle over 2m4f is yet another race dominated by a Willie Mullins trained odds-on fav in Lossiemouth. The only chink in her formbook is that she's not won beyond 2m1f; and I expect that's why Mullins has also entered Ashroe Diamond who is guaranteed to stay.  However, I think Love Envoi could have something to say in this race, having chased home Honeysuckle last year; she's the one I think that looks the value at 10/1. Although Marie's Rock is a better mare now than she was when she won this race in 2022, she's not at the level she needs to be to win. The Mullins-trained Echoes In Rain and Gala Marceau are just not good enough on known form. It may be worth having a small ew wager on You Wear It Well who won the Mares Novice Hurdle last year and perhaps didn't stay 3-mile when going close at Doncaster. She flopped LTO so if there's a doubt about her being in top form she may not run; but she could sneak 3rd place at 50/1.

Now, the NH Chase over 3m6f. The current fav is Corbetts Cross, and yes, he's a horse of potential - that's why he started the "Albert Bartlett" Novice Hurdle over 3-miles at last years' Festival the 9/4 fav - he's failed to show that promise yet, but he has hinted at it. That he was easily beaten over 3-mile at Leopardstown on 29-Dec suggests he's not the strongest. The 2nd fav Embassy Gardens has a stronger profile having won both his chase starts with ease; he just may lack a bit of pace. The Gordon Elliott trained Salvatore Ziggy is interesting: he stays 3-mile as a hurdler and a chaser, and goes well off a long break - he easily has the strongest form. Nothing else in the race comes within 10lb of those 3, and this is a race which is invariably won by the highest rated runner (yes, it's seems obvious, but "dark horses" with only 1 or 2 races showing indeterminate ability, don't win the NH Chase). Odds of 9/2 are available on Salvatore Ziggy from Coral and Ladbrokes, and that may seem very generous come Tuesday afternoon

I will be having a long look at the Ultima Handicap Chase later in the week.

Monday 12 February 2024

Cheltenham Festival update - 12th Feb

Following on from Saturday's blog, I'm continuing with a look through the Cheltenham Festival programme in the search for value.  It's too early to consider the handicaps, there will be plenty of time to consider those when the declarations are made.

The 2nd-day of the Festival (13th March) opens with the
Baring Bingham Novices Hurdle over 2m5f
For a long time this was the premier novice hurdle of the season, but since Faugheen won in 2014, the winners of this race haven't really progressed as expected.  The race does illustrate the transfer of power from England to Ireland as in the past 10 years, there's only been one winner of the race trained in England and that was Willoughby Court in 2017.
I think Mullins will run Ballyburn in this race rather than the "Supreme" on the opening day. Why? Because this looks a weaker race, especially as Caldwell Potter is not running at the Festival; as such, Mullins trains all the main contenders. Slade Steel (de Bromhead) doesn't look anywhere near good enough; Mystical Power (Mullins) is more likely to run in the Supreme; as will Ile Atlantique (Mullins). As for Readin Tommy Wrong (Mullins) while he will likely run in this race, I feel he is more of a 3-miler and he also holds an entry for the "Albert Bartlett". 
Skybet offer odds of 2/1 (NRNB) on Ballyburn, and I'm taking that.

Brown Advisory Novice Chaser over 3-mile
This race, and the NH Chase on the opening day, look fairly open.  Mullins has only won this twice in the past 10 years, and his likely 1st-string Grangeclare West is apparently out for the season.  I'm expecting Fact To File (Mullins) to go for the "Turners" on Day-3 over 2m4f, and (with Gaelic Warrior seemingly unable to run left-handed) his main chance in this race was expected to be  one of  Nick Rockett, Minella Cocooner, or Embassy Gardens.  
Given how Nick Rockett and Minella Cocooner flopped yesterday, it should be Embassy Gardens and I'm tempted to take the 11/2 (NRNB) offered by Bet365.
However, the English trainers have a strong hand for this race in Stay Away Fay (PF Nicholls) and Grey Dawning (Dan Skelton). Both of these are proven at the trip and have very strong form.  The current odds offered on both Stay Away Fay and Grey Dawning are poor value, and I reckon you will be able to obtain around 9/2 - 11/2 on the day; and there's a strong possibility that Stay Away Fay will go for the NH Chase over 3m6f.
Right now, I'm only interested in the 11/2 (NRNB) offered by Bet365 on Embassy Gardens.

Queen Mother Champion Chase over 2-miles
It's near impossible to consider any other horse other than El Fabiolo winning this, and if he doesn't it will be Jonbon. However, in jump racing nothing is certain, as Jonbon proved LTO - there's always a possibility of jumping errors, although I hope that doesn't happen. What could be 3rd? There's a lot of support for Edwardstone after his win at Newbury on Saturday, but I'm not sure he's at his best at Cheltenham, and last year's runner-up Captain Guinness (currently 20/1 with Skybet) could be the one.

The only other non-handicap race (I'm not looking at the Cross Country race which should be run at another track and has no place at the Festival) is the "Bumper" but I'd want odds of 5/1 just to name a runner in the race, never mind the eventual winner.

Saturday 10 February 2024

Cheltenham Festival 2024 - general update (10th Feb)

I've started this blog several times over the past couple of weeks, but then left it unfinished as the antepost odds available do not accommodate enough "risk" element to cover the potential of not running in the race on the day.  The "Non Runner, No Bet" (NRNB) odds are truly pathetic and I'm fairly sure that better value will be available at the Festival in March. So what's this blog about? Essentially, I'm going to try and narrow down the entries to identify the likely runners, and in the process endeavour to find some value - if it exists.

Tuesday 12th March
Supreme Novices' Hurdle:
Current fav is Ballyburn (WP Mullins) and while he looks a capable winner at this stage, I think he's a better horse at 2m4f+ (like his full brothers) and so he's more likely to go for the 2m5f hurdle on Day-2.  Mystical Power is a more likely runner for Mullins, but his form doesn't appear strong enough to suggest he's a likely winner. I'm expecting Mullins to have several runners in the race, one being Mirazur West a full-brother of Ferny Hollow, and another being Mistergif an expensive purchase given a run on 30th Jan. While you cannot ignore Henderson entries in this race, what we've seen of Jeriko Di Reponet does not suggest he's good enough to win this race.  With Gordon Elliott losing Caldwell Potter (now with Paul Nicholls) his main hope is Firefox, and this one beat Ballyburn over 2-mile on 02Dec. Firefox was then disappointing stepped-up to 2m4f, but if he lines-up for this and is in top form, he could go close. it would not surprise me to see Mullins have 4 or 5 runners in this race, and Ile Atlantique ticks a lot of boxes, and was only just btn LTO: on form, he looks the strongest Mullins entry after Ballyburn.Of the other entries, the JP McManus owned No Flies On Him could be anything as he won a good race on his sole hurdle run to date. Caldwell Potter may run in this race, but it would not surprise me to see him not run again this season, as his future is as a chaser.
I'm tempted to take NRNB odds about:
Mistergif @ 25/1 (Bet365); Ile Atlantique @ 16/1 (Bet365) and Firefox @ 10/1 (Bet365)

Arkle Novice Chase
I been taking a long-look at this race, and (even before the Dublin Racing Festival) I was liking the look of Found A Fifty and Il Etait Temps. Since they finished 1st & 2nd last weekend, I've taken the odds available about the pair, and will plump for one or the other closer to the Festival.  Found A Fifty hasn't run a bad race all season, and looks to want more of a stamina test in time, as such I'm leaning more towards him as my Arkle selection. Despite winning LTO, in my mind Il Etait Temps may be best suited by a flatter track than Cheltenham, and I see him more of an Aintree horse. What of Marine Nationale?  Beaten horses at the DRF tend not to recover and win at Cheltenham - it's not impossible, but it's unlikely. If (like Sizing Europe in 2010) he'd fallen at the final fence when looking the likely winner, I could take a more positive view - but he emptied out quickly suggesting something was amiss (breathing problem?).  One to keep an eye out for is 
My Mate Mozzie: he probably has too much speed, and not enough stamina to win the Arkle, but he looks to be well handicapped.
I'm on Il Etait Temps @ 5/1 (NRNB) and Found A Fifty @ 6/1 (NRNB)

Champion Hurdle
With the front two in the betting Constitution Hill and State Man, unlikely to be beaten by another on the day, there's the 3rd place spot to find.  I was all over Bob Olinger and had an eachway voucher at 33/1 on him - but he now goes straight to Aintree.  Zanahiyr filled 3rd spot last year, but is likely to remain chasing. However, Gordon Elliott has able deputies in Irish Point and Pied Piper, and both look more than capable of taking 3rd in this race. I need to find something similar in another Festival race for a long-odds eachway double.
Mares Hurdle 
I really cannot see Lossiemouth running in the Champion Hurdle unless State Man can't take part in that race, and she looks a near certainty to win this. She cannot be opposed.

National Hunt Chase
At this moment, I'm still surprised that Flooring Porter is the 3rd fav as I'd be surprised if he takes part. This race still looks fairly fluid regards what's going to take part, but the "Ten Up" Chase at Naas on Sunday 11th Feb is usually a good pointer. I'm taking Minella Cocooner to beat his stablemate Nick Rockett and leap to joint-fav for the NH Chase - he's currently 8/1 (NRNB). I'm not convinced (yet) by Embassy Gardens, and this looks a good opportunity to lock-in some value.

More to come...