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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

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