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


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Sunday 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.  

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