Tag Archives: Champion Chase

Cheltenham 2020: Thursday Preview

Cheltenham Finish

The tide has turned! Two successful selections on Wednesday: Politologue landed the Champion Chase, albeit one has to put an asterisk behind the word “Champion”, given the field lost two of its main attractions due to injury, while Defi Du Seuil didn’t fire at all.

Politologue galloped the decimated field into the ground from the front – he finally had his big day here, after chasing Altior home in the past. Rule 4 deduction is painful, it remains a double figure price, though.

Easywork finished a gallant second behind superb Envoy Allen. For a moment the favourite looked in trouble but only for a moment, until Envoy Allen motored home in impressive style. Easywork was plenty keen throughout the race, so his performance can be upgraded. The place part of the 22/1 each/way price was certainly a fine start to the second day of the Festival.

………

1.30 Marsh Novices’ Chase, 2m 4f

Possibly I eat my words later on: I simply can’t fathom who made Samcro a favourite for this race… and who are those people backing him at the prices on offer? Insanity. It’s grand memories attached to the name of Samcro. Those memories have faded, though.

The Ballymore is two years old, and his best performance rating wise is a runner-up effort over hurdles. Sorry, but this lad isn’t a superstar and will struggle here, even though there is some danger attached to these words given a recent wind operation.

That may help him to find a bit more, but you can’t tell me he had all the years wind issues and only now these are notices and rectified?

Probably an even bigger surprise is to see 12-year-old Faugheen looming large behind Samcro in the betting. At least surprising in that sense as only a few months ago that sort of scenario would have been laughable.

Not so funny any more: Faugheen is the one they all have to beat. He has the best form in the book. And he is, around 5/1, actually a price to seriously consider. If he’d be two years younger I’d back him. I simply can’t however, bring myself to back a 12-year-old. Particularly after he had a very hard race at Leopardstown.

Sure, that was last month, plenty of time to recover. Yet I remember other veterans – Kauto Star or Hurricane Fly – who turned the clock back during the season before coming to Cheltenham in March when all that was left in the tank they gave in the races leading up to getting them there to the Festival in their grand age in first place.

In my opinion there isn’t all that much substance in this race. Itchy Feet is interesting, though what did he beat at Sandown? Improving Mister Fisher has an intriguing profile without having set the world alight.

That brings me to my selection: Melon. A quirky horse, a poor win record, still searching for a first success on the highest level. But clearly there is a lot to like as well. He was a top class hurdler nonetheless. if not for a neck, he could be a Champion Hurdler. He finished twice a runner-up in that race, plus a second place in the Supreme. Clearly he comes alive at Cheltenham.

Melon has taken well to fences in three starts. A second behind Fakir D’oudairies on his debut run – a good piece of form given Fakir D’oudairies has franked the form with a strong second in the Arkle on Tuesday.

Melon had to work hard but eventually prevailed with more than two lengths to spare subsequently at Leopardstown. That form doesn’t look too shabby either. What became apparent then and also the next time when disappointing in the Irish Arkle that Melon has lost a bit of speed and particularly over fences seem to cry out for a step up in trip.

He has to prove to truly stay the longer distance, but in theory it should slow things a little bit down, which may help his jumping, which can be a bit sketchy sometimes. But then, he can learn and improve as well. It’s noteworthy when Willie Mullins says:

“He’s shown us that he needs two and a half miles. He has good Festival form and if he has a clear round of jumping, I think he’ll go close.”

That sums it up for me. With the potential that the trip helps his jumping and a bit more improvement to come from experience over fences, together with his excellent Cheltenham record and whatever ground we have come race time unlikely to bother him, I feel Melon is overpriced in this wide open contest.

Selection:
10pts win – Melon @ 15/1 MB

………..

2.10 Pertemps Final, 3 miles

I am quite keen on Dingo Dollar here. 50/1 with six (even seven, if you’re lucky) places on offer looks foolish to leave on the table. He may well find a few too good or too speedy, particularly if the ground dries out further. At the same time he comes here potentially well handicapped.

The 8-year-old has established himself as a fine staying chaser, but has also two victories and two placed efforts from seven hurdle starts to his name. he can race of 4lb lower than his current rating over fences, and done okay in three starts this season, including when qualifying on his seasonal reappearance for the Pertemps.

Dino Dollar is a no-nonsense, simply horse to ride. Up with the pace, which will hopefully eliminate potential in-running trouble. He stays all day long but also has speed ratings that can match the ones of the more favoured individuals in this race.

Selection:
5pts e/w (6pl) – Dingo Dollar @ 50/1 BF

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3.30 Stayer’s Hurdle, 3m

Paisley Park will be the banker of the week for many. And rightly so. You can’t fault the defending champion. He appears to be the perfect horse for this race. In saying that, this is racing, things can go wrong and there is always a “new kid on the block” from time to time that will challenge the leader of the pack.

Summerville Boy came close in the Cleeve Hurdle. He had the champ off the bridle before turning for home and made him work hard for the eventual victory. I can see a scenario where Summerville Boy can turn this around; more so I can’t see many scenarios where he won’t be in the money at the very least.

Nonetheless it remains still only a slim hope that the former Supreme winner can turn the form with the almighty Paisley Park. The “new kid on the block” who offers a little bit more hope is City Island.

Last years excellent Ballymore winner, beating Champ, who we all remember now for his dramatic RSA victory.

City Island went chasing after his successful, albeit short, hurdling career. It never worked out. Connections done the wise thing and revert back to the smaller obstacles.

The 8-year-old has a lot to find with Paisley Park. By no means its a given he’ll do that. However, coming here off a recent wind OP, the ground on the new course not quite as soft and potentially further drying come race time, is a positive. That offers the potential, in combination with the new trip, of improvement. Not to forget, he’s four from five over hurdles.

Whether that’ll be enough to go close, and whether City Island has retained appetite for the game as well as being able to revert back to slick jumping over hurdles is another question. At given prices he’s certainly overpriced and can give the favourite a run for the money.

Selection:
10pts win – City Island @ 18/1 MB

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5.30 Kim Muir, 3m 2f

It’s a bit of a shame I left the analysis of this race so late because I missed nearly missed the boat. Meaning, the price for my selection is borderline now. Kilfilum Cross remains value, despite the big field.

The still relatively lightly raced 8-year-old finished an excellent runner-up in this twelve month ago. He jumped the last narrowly in the lead and only missed out to Any Second up the hill.

That is a superb piece of form and today Kilfilum Cross can run of one pound lower than last year! He comes here in excellent form after a fine runner-up performance at Kempton. The wind OP seem to work. He ran a career best RPR and TS that day.

The ground is fine today, the race, although competitive in field size, is not the strongest. Kilfilum Cross has a fine chance to go one better this afternoon.

Selection:
10pts win – Kilfilum Cross @ 9.2/1 MB

Cheltenham Festival 2020 – Wednesday Preview

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A winner?! A feeling I forget exist: enjoying one of my selections crossing the line in first.

I can’t quite remember the last time this happened – it’s been a while – even though it looked like coming when Abacadabras traveled like a dream through the Supreme, despite a slightly awkward start, and getting hampered by a faller, he looked like the winner turning for home…. only to be denied on the line. Of course!

Thankfully Honeysuckle ended my incredibly brutal losing run, beating Benie Des Dieux in a brilliant finish. It was a superb ride by Rachel Blackmore, who continues to prove female jockeys certainly can be at the very top of the game.

I could do a with a few more winners now. Have a lot of catching up to do in order to get 2020 back into the green. The second day of the Festival is a tasty one, although again a tricky puzzle to solve as usual. All selections are big prices which increased the chance for a blank day on the winners front.

………..

1.30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, 2m 5f

On paper Envoy Allen looks the banker of the day. He may well be. If he can continue to improve he’s hard to beat. Will he, though?

You can argue he didn’t have to be pushed to the limits in his last two starts. There is a good chance he can pull out more. At the same time, at least on the rating front, Envoy Allen is good but not overwhelmingly brilliant. RPR’s and TS ratings are to be taken with a pinch of salt in jump racing, yet have some merit.

On that front, second favourite Sporting John is a highly intriguing rival. All the time improving, his Kempton performance was simply stunning and looks excellent on the rating front too. Unfortunately I am too late to the party: the juice is out of the price. Factoring in his general inexperience, having never raced on these terms, I have to leave him alone.

Brings to my selection: a rare each-way one: Easywork appears to be a massive price. I believe he’s harshly judged by his runner-up effort – albeit a long way beaten – behind Asterion Forlonge, who didn’t run too badly in a super competitive Supreme today btw..

Relativally decent ground over two miles was clearly against Easywork that day. Stepping up to 2m 4f with plenty of juice in the ground is much more to his liking. He showed his talent already this season winning three on the bounce, in pretty good style, all of these victories came on soft or heavy going.

Selection:
5pts e/w – Easywork @ 22/1 WH

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2.10 RSA Chase, 3m½f

What a competitive renewal: the betting says it all with four horses heading the market with less than two points between them. I personally think there a few behind them that can’t be discounted either. Certainly form wise the first five, six in the market are rather closely matched anyway.

Certainy overpriced is Battleoverdoyen. He probably would right in the mix at the top of the market if not for an usually poor showing in Flogas at Leopardstown. He was effectively beaten before falling at the last.

That’s a big question mark obviously. He was apparently pretty sore and 50/50 running at the Festival, only a fortnight ago. That’s a reflection of his price tag.

Nonetheless, even taking that into account, he remains an exciting prospect. Battleoverdoyen was classy hurdler, although twelve month ago was disappointingly pulled up in the Ballymore.

The big, rangy gelding was always a chaser in the making. And he took well to fences, winning three on the trot, including a small-field Grade 1 over Christmas.

Three miles om soft ground won’t be a problem. The fact Battleoverdoyen usually travels strongly and is a good jumper will count for a lot in what could well turn out to be a war of attrition. That sort of race could easily put Copperhead at an advantage, who has been quite impressive as well, and would be my most likely winner.

At given odds, even with the risk of the recent fall attached, Battleoverdoyen is clearly one who’s much bigger than he should be.

Selection:
10pts win – Battleoverdoyen @ 14.5/1 MB

……..

2.50 Coral Cup, 2m 5f

In a tricky affair where in-running luck will play a role Protektorat stands out to me. His style of running, and the fact he can b a quirky sort, adds to the risk of needing things to fall right. On the other hand he ticks a lot of boxes which outweigh the risk given the price.

The five-year-old is an improving individual, having ran well here at Cheltenham already, will enjoy the ground and will stay the trip. He ran with plenty of credit finishing third under a penalty when last seen here, following from a Listed victory at this venue, if not for a demotion post race.

A mark of 144 gives him a really nice weight in this contest where few make appeal on that front. French bred with speed – and Protektorat has shown to have a bit of speed as well as staying ability – tend to do well in this race.

Selection:
10pts win – Protektorat @ 16.5/1 MB

………..

3.30 Champion Chase, 2m

With absence of Altior this race is wide open, despite two seemingly clear horses leading the market. There is little in the betting between Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi, even though personally the potential improvement that can still come from Willie Mullins’s charge would sway me to believe he is the one to beat today.

Nonetheless this race is wide open for the fact that both these star names have actually never ran to speed figures that are mind blowing. Not yet at least. That is in contrast to Altior or other top class Champion Chasers of the past. Defi Du Seuil and Chacun Pour Soi may still be the best of the rest today and for that reason land a Champion Chase, but I firmly believe they are not as much clear of the other four runners.

The two I think have a chance to get much closer than there odds suggest are the runner-up and third of the 2019 Champion Chase.

Look back at the reply of what as hugely exciting race, that produced strong ratings and see how both Politologue and Sceau Royal had the almighty Altior off the bridle and hard working two from home. In fact Sceau Royal traveled much the best!

This was a career best performance for both horses. However, they have proven in the past – at leas on ratings – to be on par with the two market principles. Both are proven in Championship races.

Sceau Royal was beaten by DDS this season, however that was on his seasonal reappearance. In his next two starts he has shown himself in good nick, including a fine second behind Altior in the Game Spirit Chase. He’s likely to run his race today, and if he does run to form then he’s a much better chance than 25/1.

Politologue has already been beaten twice by DDS this season. He was a close enough runner-up on his comeback run but bitterly disappointing in the Tingle Creek. That wasn’t his true showing.

He will need to bounce back and there is risk attached to a 9-year-old with so much racing under his belt already.If he can bounce back he’s in it with a fair shout, having run well at Cheltenham in the past.

Selection:
5pts win – Politologue @ 19/1 MB
5pts win – Sceau Royal @ 26/1 MB

……….

5.30 Champion Bumper, 2m½f

Willie Mullins could have another winner in this one with Appreciate It who is a rock solid favourite in my book. Nonetheless he is a short enough price to look what’s further down the market in what appears otherwise an open race.

Ask A Honey Bee is one that catches the eye with his three bumper wins, particularly as he defied a double-penalty when last seen! I also appreciate the fact the six-year-old has plenty of experience, as beside those 3 NHF races, he also has ample point-to-point experience.

Further to this Ask A Honey Bee clocked a solid topspeed figure on his penultimate run, which can’t be said for many in this field. He is a fine each/way shout.

Selection:
5pts e/w – Ask A Honey Bee @ 44/1 WH

Cheltenham Festival 2019 – Wednesday Selections

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1.30: Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, 2m 5f

Will Champ honour his name? He’s certainly got every chance to do so. He’s top rated, 5lb ahead of his nearest rival. Has achieved the highest RPR of anyone in the field so far and comes only marginally second in TS ratings.

The one thing you can question is the merit of his forms, though: they aren’t worth a lot, despite two graded successes this season. On that basis, at given prices, he’s one to oppose.

The Irish talk is all about Battleoverdoyen. He won the Lawlor’s Of Naas in impressive style. He’ll be an amazing chaser next season, you’d reckon. In my eyes, even now, he seems like crying out for a step up in trip and his jumping isn’t really all that efficient over the smaller obstacles either.

The runner-up from Naas, Sams Profile, is an interesting contender. He didn’t quite get the best of runs that day and should have plenty of improvement left.

Nonetheless, the one I quite fancy, despite not having graded form to his name yet, is City Island. Unbeaten over hurdles, he had enough speed to win a 2 miles national Hunt Flat race last season as well as a Leopardstown Maiden Hurdle this season, dispatching smart Dallas Des Pictons easily.

That form looks a strong piece of form judged through the runner-up. Not as impressive form-wise, more so visually, was City Island’s most recent success at Naas- a good preparation for Cheltenham.

The fact he has had the speed to win over shorter than the Ballymore trip, despite clearly having a future over further, already having shown form with cut in the ground and running to a relatively fast TS rating plus the second highest RPR tells me he is still underappreciated in the market, even though he is shortening.

Selection:
10pts win – City Island @ 10/1 Coral

……..

2.50: Grade 3 Coral Cup Hurdle, 2m 4f

I’ve been sitting for a long time over this race, much longer than usual. Ultimately, even though shortlisted, I do not trust big weights Vision Des Flos and William Henry to be good enough to overcome their high marks in this ultra competitive renewal.

Ruby Walsh on favourite Uradel is the likeliest winner in my book. His reappearance last month at Leopardstown was eye-catching and he comes here with a nice weight. But he is a skinny price.

Not a skinny price, but also catching my eye was Tully East. A horse I’ll be forever grateful for as I backed him at big odds when he landed the Close Brothers two years ago.

That was over fences. This is over hurdles. Significantly, Tully East’s hurdle handicap mark is eight pounds lower for this race than his current chasing mark. One can make the argument that he is a better chaser than hurdler. In my book it’s marginal and a rating of 138 by the British handicapper gives him a tremendous chance in this race.

As mentioned, Tully East caught the eye on his latest run, which was a second after a 148-day break. He was well beaten in the end, but was buried in the pack for the majority of the race, travelled nicely, made a bit of stylish headway turning for home, when short of room, which eventually ended his race.

Trip and ground are a non-issue. He’s been here before, done it – I’m sure connections had this in mind all season long. He’s a much bigger price than I would have anticipated.

Selection:
10pts win – Tully East @ 22/1 MB

…….

3.30: Grade 1 Champion Chase, 2 miles

Altior isn’t to beat, so much is for sure. He’s the class act of the festival and baring a disaster he’ll win another Champion Chase.

It’ll be all about the places behind him. Obviously Min has the strongest claims. He’s got the form in the book this season with his latest Leopardstown success. On ratings he’s closely matched with Politologue. A mere pound separates them.

When these two met the last time, albeit at Aintree over 2m 4f, there was only a neck between them as well – Politologue got the better that day.

As I am eyeing the place market here, I struggle to make even a remotely good cases for anyone else in this field, so both Min and Politologue should have excellent chances to fill second and third.

In saying that, I feel Politologue is overpriced in the place market. Yes, it’s not all that long ago he was a leading fancy for the King George, but truth is also his form over 2 miles is quite good as well, particularly with cut in the ground.

Whether Cheltenham is his track is another matter. The jury is still out for me. Fact his, finishing a tired 4th last year in this very race may not quite be a fair measuring stick given he was hampered by a faller four out and found himself suddenly in front – way too early.

I’m sure Politologue will be conservatively ridden for a place this time. Given he’ll find perfect conditions tomorrow I feel he’s worth a bet to fill second or third behind the almighty Altior.

Selection:
10pts place – Politologue @ 7/2 MB

…….

4.50: Grade 3 Fred Winter Hurdle, 2 miles

Th French grey Coko Beach has shaped much better in his two Irish starts for Gordon Elliott than the bare form suggests. Steadily ran races on good ground is highly unlikely to bring the best out of him – he is related to to horses that all showed their best on soft.

Coko Beach will make a nice chaser over further in the future. But he jumps his hurdles nicely and an opening mark of 134 could underestimate him, given he should improve dramatically from the Leopardstown runs.

On the positive side, he already has won a Hurdle in France on soft ground, albeit over slightly further, dispatching a next time out winner easily with Arverne who, on his UK debut, was pitched right into Grade 1 company.

Selection: 
10pts win – Coko Beach @ 15/1 MB

Cheltenham Festival 2018: Day 2 Fancies

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Off to a flyer! The opening race of the week – and bang, there is first the winner (9.5/1) to ease the pressure right from the start!

In truth, I fancied Summerville Boy ever since his Sandown win, yet think it was the right thing to wait – and let the big prices go – to decide as close as possible to the race in order to know ground conditions as well what is going to turn up.

Stamina clearly won him the race today. While he clearly enjoyed the pace, his jumping was poor, particularly in the closing stages, where he missed a couple, including the final jump! Yet, he outstayed Kalshnikov in a dramatic finish.

Hot favourite Getabird faded away quickly went it mattered most. The first hype horse of the week well and truly beaten.

My other two selections didn’t fare quite as well as Summerville Boy. At leasr Pylonthepressure gave a run for the money. In fact, if he would be able to jump a fence, he may have gone really close. Only 5th in the end, after a torrid round of jumping that saw Katie Walsh performing acrobatic acts on several occasions.

Same can’t be said about Yorkhill. His enigmatic character can make life difficult for himself and his jockey. Today, it seemed, there was nothing of his usual spark at all. Only a lifeless performance.

Stablemate Faugheen also looked so far off his best that the word “retirement” made the rounds on social media. Mullins has none of it: Punchestown and the Stayers Hurdle is for the former machine the target.

Buveur D’Air landed back-to-back Champion Hurdles in a thrilling finish up the hill against Melon. He’s the best around at the moment, though, it was far from a vintage renewal.

Performance of the day, no doubt, was delivered in the Arkle by sensational Footpad. One scary jump midway, that’s all you had to fear if backing the odds-on favourite (I didn’t). He made it look easy in the end. WOW!

Well, that was day one – on to Champion Chase Wednesday.

…..

13:30 Cheltenham – Ballymore Novices Hurdle:

Not much you can say against either Samcro or Next Destination. Both have proven their class this year, both won Grade 1’s, as well as over the trip and are unlikely to mind the ground.

Though, it’s the Gigginstown inmate who could turn out to be a special one. Hence all the hype is, as far as I am concerned, justified. I saw Samcro in flesh at Leopardstown – he really looks the part!

In terms of prices, I’m not drawn to them, though. For the simple fact that there is a horse that ran well in defeat behind these two makes plenty of appeal: Duc Des Genievres.

This lightly raced grey had only three starts to date; two of of those this year since moving over from France to the Mullins yard. He travelled strongly on debut when third behind Next Destination in the Lawlor’s of Naas Hurdle, and made quite eye-catching headway at Leopardstown weeks later when beaten only by Samcro.

On both occasions, the slowly ran race may not have been to his liking. The prospect of a decent pace, with a step pup in trip and ground to suit on what will only be his fourth ever career run is reason to believe that there is a fair case to be made for Duc Des Genievres to finish closer to the two market principles.

Selection:
10pts win – Duc Des Genievres @ 15/1 Matchbook

……..

14:10 Cheltenham – RSA Chase:

The Irish lead the way, not surprisingly. Presenting Percy with possibly the strongest piece of form overall. Followed by Dublin Racing Festival winner Monalee. Both will relish the step up in trip and the ground.

At a much bigger price and probably open to considerable amount of improvement that should see him being at least in the shake-up, though, is British raider Ballyoptic.

He’s been beaten earlier this season a couple of times by Black Corton, the number one challenge of the British. That says, Black Corton was then and still is a vastly more experienced individual.

Ballyoptic, in contrast, only has his fifth start over fences here, while having won two already, including a Grade 2 at Newbury when last seen in tough going, doing so in pretty fine style.

He had ample time to recover and be ready to go for Cheltenham since then. More time then the market principles had. He is open to improvement over fences, given he was a fine staying hurdler and with a good pace assured and ground conditions to suit, I can see him running a huge race.

Selection:
10pts win – Ballyoptic @ 16/1 Matchbook

…….

14:50 Cheltenham – Coral Cup:

Keep it simple: Max Dynamite is the answer. Not particularly original in a field of 27, however, the 2017 Melbourne Cup third has proven to have retained all is class. Given he is also quite a decent hurdler on a fair mark, he should be a big chance.

Max Dynamite finished 4th in the County Hurdle in 2015, when quite clearly not having the run of the race, and was an excellent runner-up in the Galway Hurdle the same year, staying on strongly, suggesting the step up in trip could well suit.

Ground is not an issue. He has form on softish going. With Ruby Walsh in the saddle Max Dynamite will have every chance to be in the right position when it matters most this time.

Selection:
10pts win – Max Dynamite @ 9/1 Matchbook

…..

15:30 Cheltenham – Champion Chase:

The less than ideal preparation for Altior is well documented. He may well turn out to be the superstar he promised to be in the making. However, I can’t have him at the ridiculous short odds that seem to crown him to be a superstar without proving it, yet.

If Douvan, after a year-long break, does not return at his old brilliant, the laughing third can be Min. He is rock solid over this trip, track and ground. Yes, beaten by Altior at the Festival before, but he had a much better preparation, hence seems to be a good bet….

….nonetheless, I side with Douvan. Simply because 4/1 is way too big for this horse that is, in my eyes, a confirmed superstar. He bombed 12 months ago in the very same race, but was found to have sustained a pelvic injury during the race. Recovery took a while and we haven’t seen him on a racetrack ever since.

It would be a massive training performance by Willie Mullins to bring Douvan back to form good enough to win a Champion Chase. However, if one can, he is the man. Also Douvan is still only an eight year and was only beaten twice in his career: on his French debut and here last season.

Vibes from the Mullins camp are positive. Ruby Walsh has opted for Douvan. I see that as a vote of confidence. Douvan is a two times Festival winner with a superb record on soft ground.

Selection:
10pts win – Douvan @ 4/1 Matchbook

…….

16:10 Cheltenham – Cross Country Chase:

A four-timer for Cause Of Causes? The much talked about Tiger Roll on the money again at the Festival? Probably not. Class will prevail. And the class act in this field is The Last Samuri. On his way to the National he can pick up this race.

I really fancy his chances. He’s still a generally young horse in the context of this field. He is worth his high rating as proven this season. On weights he is favoured to win this if it would be a normal race. Of course it isn’t. It’s the Cross-Country, a unique test.

Connections report The Last Samuri schooled well over these type of fences. Generally he is a fine jumper. He is a pretty decent hurdler, a pretty good chaser and also acts over the National fences.

With that in mind, ground, trip and track not too much of a worry, I believe he will go very close.

Selection:
10pts win – The Last Samuri @ 6.6/1 Matchbook

…….

17:30 Cheltenham – Champion Bumper: 

A graveyard race for me personally over the years and this edition looks a competitive, wide open affair once again. That says I was immensely taken by the two performances Blackbow put up this season.

He was gutsy on debut staying on strongly, and even more so impressive was his turn of foot in the Grade 2 bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival when beating a smart horse in Rhinestone.

These two renew their feud today; plenty are of the opinion Rhinestone was a bit unlucky the other day and can reverse the form. I don’t have that. He wasn’t miles off Blackbow, in fact he was right on his ass for most parts of the race and simply didn’t have the pace when Blackbow turned up the heat over two furlongs out.

True, Rhinestone stayed on, however Blackbow idled in front and eventually held his rival with ease, or so I felt. That doesn’t mean the Joseph O’Brien trained Rhinestone can’t improve to a level that see him go past Blackbow. On the other hand Willie Mullins’ charge has a wonderful scopey frame, who looks well able to progress himself.

I love the fact that Blackbow not only has put up the best piece of form in the bumper sphere this season, but also that he is an uncomplicated individual, who should sit close enough to the pace to not get into in-running trouble, which can be the case in this race if you sit too far back.

In terms of running style, I can see how his turn of foot combined with his ability to pull out when it matters works well in combination with how the bumper is run at Cheltenham.

Selection:
10pts win – Blackbow @ 5.5/1 Matchbook

Cheltenham Festival 2017 – Wednesday Preview

Day two of the Cheltenham Festival features the Champion Chase, the race that brought tears to so many grown man (and women) twelve month ago when the magnificent Sprinter Sacre turned back the clock to produce a stunning display that will live long in our memories.

Who’ll be his predecessor? That’s probably the most straightforward question to ask on a day where big fields with cloudy deceleration lists pose a nightmare for punters. Nonetheless I’ll try my best to solve the puzzle once more.


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1.30: Neptune Novices’ Hurdle 

Neon Wolf could be the real deal. There weren’t many more impressive novices this season. However he’s by no means a banker. Given his relative inexperience and rawness I’m happy to let him run without my money.

Plenty others are interesting – though most of them are unlikely to run. That makes this race hard to evaluate.

If she runs, then Let’s Dance is my pick. With a handy weight allowance, strong form and experience, she ticks plenty of the right boxes for me. I love her improvement this season and particularly her last Grade 2 success at Leopardstown.

She is versatile, ground independent and has already won over 2m 4f – the right traits for a big performance.  With NRNB I select her – if she does not run I watch the race in the hope of a big performance by Neon Wolf.

Selection:
10pts Win – Let’s Dance @ 7/1 VC (NRNB)

……..

2.10: RSA Novices’ Chase

With plenty of talented horses likely to pull out before Wednesday, the RSA could be left with a slightly lukewarm lineup. That doesn’t mean it won’t be an intriguing contest, but it certainly does not shape as one of the stronger renewals.

Favourite Might Bight has been on the drift for a while and there is the question whether Cheltenham is his track. We’ll find out soon. His Kempton performance (until the fall) was huge, so one should not underestimate him and his price goes in a direction where it becomes tempting.

Alpha Des Obeaux’s bleeding issues when last seen put me off, whereas I feel Royal Vacation is a very decent each-way shout here. But the one I’m most excited about is recent 32 lengths Navan winner Acapella Bourgeois.

Yes, you can argue he got it easy in front that day, the other jockeys were caught napping and the heavy ground had a role to play too. But the way he jumped, the way he pricked ears while jumping the final fence clear by a mile, still only in second gear – you got to be impressed with this still generally lightly raced seven year old.

The faster ground is a question mark, though he was a Grade 2 winner over hurdles on yielding ground. I feel he’s the right type for this race, one who’ll be suited to Cheltenham and its demands, one who won’t go away when it starts to hurt and one who’ll be able to pull out more when the others stop.

Selection:
10pts Win – Acapella Bourgeois @ 7/1 Skybet

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2.50: Coral Cup

Another of those races where you can’t be certain at all who’s going to line up on Wednesday afternoon. Though fairly certain is the start of Peregrine Run.

A really nice progressive sort who was denied a five-timer back in January at Warwick probably by unsuited soft ground. With decent ground looming and course and distance form in the book, this race should suit down to the grounds with a fair handicap mark to leverage.

Dan Skelton’s Mister Miyagi is another one i do like quite a bit. Finished sixth behind Altior in last years Supreme, not far behind Tombstone, who incidentally is favourite for the Coral.

Things did not go right for MM afterwards, he needed a wind op suffering from the same issues Cue Card did before his legendary revival. Skelton feels he’s a big runner and he’s probably right: if the wind op helped to solve the underlying issue then he’s got a huge chance to to be in the shake-up in this compressed handicap.

Highly speculative my third selection: Bleu Et Rouge goes back hurdling. He never seemed happy over fences, his jumping letting him down badly, though his debut run was quite promising, actually.

The smaller obstacles (either here or in the county hurdle) will be a big help nonetheless, he was a Grade 1 winning novice who could easily be well handicapped if the spark is back. With NRNB insurance, it’s worth a risk at a value price in case he lines up in the Coral.

Selection:
5pts win – Peregrine Run @ 10/1 Bet365
5pts win – Bleu Et Rouge @ 16/1 Bet365
5pts win – Mister Miyagi @ 20/1 Skybet

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3.30: Queen Mother Champion Chase

An empty netter from five yards out for Douvan this is, he won’t be beaten. So I focus more on what’s finishing behind him in second and third. Fox Norton, God’s Own and Special Tiara is the trio most likely to fill places left on the podium – all three rated within a pound, in and around with the same sort of chance.

Though the betting does not reflect this. That says I get why the not fully exposed seven year old Fox Norton is slightly better fancied, nonetheless I think 16/1 for Special Tiara with 1/4 of the odds looks big in comparison.

The win part of the bet hinges on luck or misfortune of Douvan, but the place part looks to have a better chance than the odds suggest in my mind. He mightn’t be quite as good as he used to be, but fact remains that he finished 3rd in the Champion Chase last year and won this season the one time he encountered the ground he needs.

with decent ground likely here on Wednesday, Special Tiara should prove hard to pass for most rivals in this race, bar the near unbeatable favourite.

Selection: 
5pts E/W – Special Tiara @ 16/1 Bet365

……

4.10: Cross-Country Chase

Any Currency won this race last year but lost it in the courtroom afterwards. Nonetheless he is a Cheltenham specialist and even more specialist for this specific race. He seems to find his form again and should be ripped in order to put up a huge performance once more.

Now 14 years of age, there will come a point where younger legs do get the better of him him but the Cross Country is a race for specialists. A specialist Any Currency is and therefore it looks near impossible to keep this guy out of the money.

Selection:
5pts E/W – Any Currency @ 14/1 PP

…….

4.50: Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

A big field and one where you wouldn’t like to be on a short price but the word is out that Divin Bere is the one to beat and well fancied by the stable. He could have gone down the Triumph route but he’s here in a handicap off a reasonable mark.

In fact it’s probably closer to the truth that the Henderson inmate is well handicapped taken his sole run in Britain into account.

He is a French recruit who made a big impression on his UK debut at Huntingdon with form that works out incredibly well through the runner-up. Connections didn’t leave a stone untouched it seems as Divin Bere also got a wind op since then.

Selection: 
10pts win – Divin Bere @ 6/1 Skybet

……

5.30: Champion Bumper

Exciting favourite Carter Mckay might be too good but at bigger prices I fancy two other Irish horses to outrun their price tag: that is Robbie McNamara’s Quick Grabim. A visually super impressive winner of a bumper at the Leopardstown Christmas festival, he was disappointing the next time at Exter but probably had excuses that day.

Better ground should suit and it’s telling that Noel Fehily was extremely keen to get the leg up on this boy.

Davy Russell will ride Joseph O’Brien’s interesting West Coast Time. Impressive on debut, he was hampered in the mud when runner-up – yet convincingly beaten  – behind Carter Kckay. Drop back to two miles on decent ground could easily bring out further improvement though.

Selection: 
5pts win – Quick Grabim @ 25/1 WH
5pts win – West Coast Time @ 16/1 Skybet

Sprinter Emotions

“Unbelievable! That’s un…be…lievable!!!” My words sitting in front of a screen in an open space office located on the outskirts of Dublin; Racing UK stream on, headphones on, sound up to the maximum… apparently emotions got the better of me. Co-workers made clear gestures:”Pssssssssssssssst!!”. The race was over anyway.

It was a funny thought beforehand, a joke told with a bit of a cynical undertone – but here it was: REALITY!  Nicky approaching the parade ring, emotional, close to tears. And there he was, the hero, returning to the winners enclosure, accompanied by the loudest cheers imaginable. A euphoric crowd trying to get a glimpse of the horse they call Sprinter Sacre. You have to see it to believe it. I mean: he REALLY did it. Unbelievable!!!

Look, I’m the first to stand up and say I got it wrong. 12 month ago I sure said “retire him”.  I’m sure I wasn’t the only one, was I?. And surely I can’t have been the only one entirely dismissing Sprinter’s chance in today’s Champion Hurdle. I certainly did. And I got it spectacularly wrong.How wonderful!

Let’s enjoy the day but at the same time let’s not get too carried away. This wasn’t the Sprinter Sacre of the old, glory days which were days of pure brilliance. However today was one closer to it than ever since all the injury problems started to emerge.

What I really want is: take my hat off to Nicky Henderson! What an unbelievable job you’ve done with this horse. Fit and ready to go to war at the moment when it mattered most.

And Sprinter delivered! I loved how he found more and more once under pressure. He’s not a bridle horse. He’s a fighter! Admittedly there was a moment when he was rather too early off the bridle for my taste and I thought “that’s it”. But here came the surprise. He kept going, embraced the fight and won duly. Stuff dreams are made of!

Any Currency – Consistency pays off

Placed twice before, now he got one better – finally! Any Currency, at the grand age of 13, out battled the younger legs of favourite Josies Hill. He was prominent throughout the race, jumped well and clearly knew what was asked of him. Still, turning for home I would have put my money on rival Bless The Wings, who were there coming with a very strong ride.

But experience prevailed. Any Currency, throughout his career, was a model of consistency, excelling particularly in this discipline. Ten starts in cross-county races, five times placed, two times a winner, both victories at Cheltenham, including this one today, the biggest day of his long lasting career. Well done!

Novices’ Upsets

Blacklion caused a bit of a shock in the RSA. He outstayed the strong travelling Shaneshill, who – that’s probably fair to say – is not quite a 3 mile chaser. But neither of the well fancied No More Heroes and More Of That where involved in the finish, although the Gigginstown horse has a good excuse, was found lame afterwards and is lucky to have survived, if Twitter is to be believed. On a personal note I’m happy here, given Blacklion provided me with a first Festival winner (13/1).

Slightly surprising, albeit not quite as shocking, was how how easily Yorkhill disposed red hot favourite Yanworth in the Neptune. Yanworth looked a superstar in the making when winning the Neptune Trial here at this very same venue back in January but was clearly only second best today.

Yorkhill, who won the Tolworth hurdle on his way to Cheltenham, didn’t mind the better ground and looks a super exciting prospect. How good he can be, we have to find out. But he’s been quoted 10/1 for next years Champions Hurdle.

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Thursday: What’s on the tab? *Updated Wed. 11am*

First race, the JLT; I have had a proper look through this race but still feel it’s some kind of lottery race. Ground, trip, form – question marks everywhere, none of the better fancied ones really stands out.

So I like to go with a horse that could be anything: Three Musketeers. Still available at 12/1 which could look big later one. Had excuses for his last bad run but is pretty much unexposed, an excellent jumper, was brilliant before when winning a Grade 2 at Newbury – plenty to like about, though the ground is a bit of an unknown.

But he was far from disgraced on fast ground at the Aintree festival last season, when an excellent third in a Grade 1 hurdle behind Nichols Canyon.

If the JLT is a lottery, what would you call the Pertemps Final then? Madness! It’s funny though that after having a proper look I feel quite strong about the value of some in the field. There’s the dramatically improved Kilfinichen Bay. Maybe too high in the mark now? We’ll see, but sure to act on the ground and stays the trip. 50/1 is a huge price.

The same can be said about Broxbourne. He’s only had eight starts over hurdles and could still improve a bit, particularly in today’s conditions. I like the 28/1 for him. I also feel 18’s for Saddlers Encore  is slightly over the top. He’s got the right profile. Progressive, fair mark, ground, trip all what he wants.

And I also feel 50/1 shot Rolling Maul is massively overpriced if he can find back to his past hurdling form. Back over timber off a competitive mark gives him a chance to run well. I’ll be on all four individuals each-way; a rarity for me, but five places and 1/4 of the odds is too good to leave alone.

The Ryanair Chase and back to the “Vautour Saga”. It’s not the Gold Cup for him as we know now. Anyway, my evens wager looks a “good thing”. Go Vautour go! Nothing else to add. Except: While Road To Riches is probably to slow to beat a fit Vautour, he could make this a true test of stamina and should be at least in the money. If I’d be an each-way backer I lump on the 8/1.

World Hurdle, and here I have an ante-post stake as well. Cole Harden. Though the closer the race, the more I feel Thistlecrack is near impossible to beat. Although my 8/1 looks a steel of a bet with the good ground sure to bring out the best of the reigning champ. Still, the more often I watch the reply of the favourites last race, the better it looks.

The beautifully named Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate is a race I want to be involved in. Because I fancy one of Willies’s! Doesn’t happen often, I have to say, which is more for price reasons than anything else. But Ballycasey in this grade, trip on ground he acts on, makes plenty off appeal from his current mark. He’s not as good as he used to be but still has some decent form in the book. At 20’s he looks a big price.

The Mares Hurdle looks a sure thing for Limini… according to the bookies. The mare has done really well since joining Willie Mullins but her price is over is plain wrong and only as short because she is trained by the Irish Master.

I seriously like Smart Talk at 8/1 as the value. There is a bit of concern about her jumping, she has to improve in that department, has to be slicker and more efficient over her hurdles, but her record is hugely impressive and the way she put away decent opposition the last time at Doncaster, despite almost coming down at the second last demonstrated the enormous engine this mare has.

The Amateurs race is dominated by some familiar names. An equally familiar name makes plenty of appeal with his mount. Grandads House and Sam Waley-Cohen must be a good chance to go close I feel. The horse stays the trip, acts on the ground and ran a blinder in the very same race last year but is getting in this time off a much better mark. At 33/1 it’s a nice each-way shout with 5 places, 1/4 odds.

Cheltenham Thoughts – Part I

Three more nights to sleep…. clearly I’m in danger of running late with the articles I want to have up before the almighty roar of the crowd signals the start of the Cheltenham Festival. But it’s not my fault! A nasty viral infection made life miserable the last ten days or so. Truth told, I was halfway through the draft of this post before falling ill – so better finish now before it’s really too late!

So here it is, a couple of lose thoughts and bets on a handful of races with some ante-post taken before last week. I reckon some of those prices quote will change soon enough if they haven’t already at the time of posting.

 

Tuesday: Supreme Novices Hurdle (Grade 1)

Visually I loved what I saw from Min so far. He’s such a in impressive individual! But hey, this is Cheltenham, this is a different ball game! Clearly he’s the weakest of the bunch of “Mullins banker” next week and it’s rather easy to pick holes and take him.

Looking for a bigger price, for the potential of x amount improvement as well as proven Festival form: I look no further than Dermot Weld’s Silver Concorde. I was lucky enough to see him close up cruising past the winning post at the Cheltenham Festival this day two years ago in the Champion Bumper. A lasting impression – this lad ticks plenty of the right boxes.

Truth told, there are some of cons too. There always are. He’s yet to get off the mark over hurdles – however remains frighteningly unexposed over timber nonetheless  and I give him the benefit of the doubt as his jumping is not that bad at all. It’s more like in his three starts over hurdles he was beaten by either heavy ground or a trip beyond his stamina.

Silver Concorde goes two miles but not any yard more and he does it only on decent ground. That’s how he won the bumper. With the mild weather settling in, Cheltenham on Tuesday’s likely to be in and around good to soft – here’s hoping it’s going to be slightly better, given it’s dry and all the rain that was there last week should be well absorbed by a track that drains so well.

Look, that’s the risk. Will it be good enough for Silver Concorde? No clue! We’ll find out. But the fact that Dermot Weld has kept faith in him, brings him here again and has spoken very positively in recent weeks, gives me some confidence.

Previous Festival form is so vital in my mind; he stays the two miles, has it proven here, he jumps a hurdle and can only get better in the jumping game anyway – I got 25/1 ante-post (without the NRNB insurance though), but he’s now as short as 16/1. So if you want to follow me on this lad, you might be better off waiting till Tuesday, then fully aware of the ground and bookies maybe offering mad prices.

Selection: Silver Concorde

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Tuesday: Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)

Maybe not quite as good a race as it was in the last couple of years, still an intriguing contest. The addition of Annie Power adds some sparkle and I actually think she’s got a great chance. Sure, there is plenty for and against her. Biggest negative is her lack of form over two miles. But she always looked a keen, pacey individual and there’s no doubt that she operates well at Cheltenham, despite the absence of that elusive W missing the respective CD column.

In a vintage Champion Hurdle of the past she might well have been found out for speed, but in this years edition I can easily see a scenario where she uses her stamina to her advantage. She could dominate from the front, setting freakish fractions in the hope of outstaying everyone in the end rather than outpacing them.

Says I’m not too keen on the price because I don’t feel she has such a big edge on the field, nonetheless. Stable mate Nicholas Canyon is probably not quite as his best around Cheltenham, and has some doubts after a tremendously hard race in the Irish Champion Hurdle. Though he’s got to be a key contender if he can bounce back. He won at Leopardstown at Christmas, slogging it out on horrible ground when caught flat footed at the run-in behind exciting Identity Thief.He just found the bit more under pressure in the end, against a less experiences rival.

The Gigginstown runner seems a bit a hyped up horse I thought. So many have been quite vocal about Identity Thief’s chances. Though I have to come to the conclusion: they are right. I loved the efforts of this lad when winning the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle and when second in the Ryanair Hurde behind Nicolas Canyon at Leopardstown. He’s still learning the game, doing so while competing against the best and is getting better each time.

He jumps well enough, although has still room for improvement in that department, but most importantly has plenty of scope. Still generally lightly raced, we don’t know yet how good he can be. Also he could be better on better ground , which he did get only on his successful seasonal reappearance at Down Royal.

It’s quite surprising that this lad is still offered at 6/1 which looks something like two full points over the top in my mind. Identity Thief clearly has a great shout in this race if he continues to improve.

Selection: Identity Thief

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Wednesday: Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1)

No real need to talk about who’s going to win this. Un De Sceaux has it all to take if he only gets round clear and safe. He did that last year and I don’t like to bet against a horse where the only hope of him not winning is him being a faller.

Some others can run well here. Stable mate Felix Younger most likely is one to be chasing the money. He’ll appreciate the better ground. That should be very much the same for Gods Own who has excellent festival from from last year when runner-up behind UDS. Though it’s hard to see him turning the form around even running the race thirty times.

Special Tiara should go well but his best chance to land this may have passed. Never underestimate reigning Champion Chaser Dodging Bullets if he can find back to something close of his best.

Whether Sprinters Sacre still has it in his locker or not is hard to say, but I doubt it Right, he’s two from two this season, but let’s not forget that a) the form is hardly Champion Chase form and b) he’s had as hard a race as not all too often before in his career when running it out on the line against Sire De Grugy at Kempton. It’s even more evident that Sire has not the legs any more required to perform at the top level too.

Saying that the “Without the Favourite” market is intriguing. For a moment I felt the urge to back old hero Somersby who looks a tasty price here. But he is probably over the edge by now and will be retired right after the race. More interesting is Colm Murphy new inmate Sizing Granite who has been rather disappointing in two starts this season but remains open to improvement.

He won a big Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at Aintree last season, crowning an excellent 2014/15 but couldn’t quite fulfil the promise shown back then this season. But there are fair excuses: he was only beaten by a head on his season reappearance, probably not fully wound up that day, and got completely stuck in the mud at Leopardstown – conditions totally detrimental to his chances.

Sizing Granite is a different horse on decent ground, so it’s easy to assume that we’ll see a different horse at Cheltenham. He has changed yards in the meantime, something that may help galvanise him too. Not to forget he is still a relatively unexposed horse, open for further improvement. You can have 12/1 without the favourite, which looks generous.

Selection: Sizing Granite (w/o UDS)

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Thursday: World Hurdle (Grade 1)

Reading plenty of Festival Guides one could get the feeling it might be a wise move t put the mortgage on World Hurdle favourite Thistlecrack – it’s the “surest thing ever”! And I fully get that. He’s been nothing but impressive since last year. And boy, there was this almighty performance in January when he bolted up in the Cleeve Hurdle. Totally get that.

But wait! Do people realize that the ground was horrific that day? Do people realize that Cheltenham come Thursday will be closer to good than to soft? Bottomless ground often throws up those impressive looking wide margin wins – that sort of form is hardly one to trust! Not that I doubt the class of this lad – not all all. But it’s worth mentioning, isn’t it?! Ah well, it’s only me trying to pick holes into this “sure thing”.

However, honestly, I understand all the hype, and sure thing we find out soon if it’s all justified – but let’s not forget that this is still the hardest test to date for Thistlecrack – shall we run the race first before we crown him?

Saying that because in my mind many people seem to make a big mistake ruling out reigning World Hurdle Champ Cole Harden. A wind op and good ground transformed this horse 100% last season. He looked like the world beater most assume Thistlecrack to be. With the exception: we already know Cole Harden is it! He has proven it!

Point I wanna make: Cole Harden has been beaten in all starts this season, but I’ve no doubt we’ll see a different Cole Harden this time around again. It’s easy to see why. He’s trained only with the defence of the World Hurdle in mind this season. He’ll be primed for the big day.

Drying ground is going to be a big plus for him. Says Thistlecrack is by no means a bad horse on better ground. But surely a much better horse with cut in the ground whereas Cole Harden is a completely different animal on decent ground. So backing the reigning champ at 8/1 makes perfect sense for me under these circumstances.

Selection: Cole Harden

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Friday: Grand Annual Chase (Grade 3)

Big field, open race, through a needle, make your pick….. but I do really like the prospects of Velvet Maker here. He gets this into with a pretty fair handicap mark and showed plenty of promise in his first starts over fences. Still lightly raced, he’s bound to improve for his recent experiences I feel.

Velvet Maker was a fine Novice Hurdler, although found out for class in the Supreme at least years Festival. He got off the mark on his first start over fences at Naas, showing plenty of potential, dispatching a subsequent handicap chase winner easily.

Upped in class significantly, he bumped into the almighty Douvan the last two times, but again there were plenty of positives particularly about his performance in the Leopardstown Arkle. He travelled well for a very long time, was there in touch with Douvan until the last and finished a clear second in front of the third placed Doomesday Book, a decent individual in his own right.

If Velvet Maker runs in the Grand Annual he drops back into Grade 3 and against opposition much closer to his own rating. I wouldn’t read too much into his sole Cheltenham start, he was out of his depth last year. But the likely better ground should certainly suit him here.

In addition to that, owner Barry Connell has called Velvet Maker out as his banker of the meeting. Nothing special, I know,  those sort of remarks have to be taken with a pinch of salt. Nonetheless it adds to the already impressive list of good arguments for Velvert Maker to be a leading candidate to the win the Grand Annual.

I don’t think he’ll be as big a price on the day as he is right now in the ante-post market. I got 16/1, again without insurance, but he currently still available at around 14/1 NRNB, which is a bit on the generous side I’d say.

Selection: Velvert Maker