Tag Archives: Champion Hurdle

Cheltenham Festival 2020 – Tuesday Preview

The Festival

Here we are: Cheltenham 2020! The festival has been good to me over the last number of years. More of that this week please – I could do with a few positive results after a start to the year that can only be described in one word: catastrophic!

Day one looks pretty tricky, at the same time offers plenty of value in the market. Rain has soften the ground significantly and adds extra spice to open contests.

Unlike in previous years there are few red hot favourites, heading the betting at short odds. I can see some big prices making the frame – one of those winning for me would a unimaginable relieve as at this point I simply wonder if I ever will back a winner again?!

From a pure racing perspective the championship races are highly intriguing, more so by the lack of odds-on favourites. Although not a vintage year, the Champion Hurdle makes for a compelling puzzle to solve, whereas Supreme and Arkle shaping like unmissable contests with future starts in their respective divisions unleashed.

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1.30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 2m½f

Highly competitive. Plenty of exciting novice hurdlers in the field. Usually a fast start to the Festival and the year: plenty of pace, crowd noise, nervousness among the jockeys.

I feel experience will count for a lot. Hence I like Abacadabras. Fourth in the Champion Bumper last year, he made a seamless transition to hurdles, having four already under his belt, winning a first Grade 1 at Leopardstown over Christmas and only been beaten by sublime Envoi Allen at Fairyhouse.

He tends to travel well, has been here before, has proven to run fast, can jump straight and is tactically versatile, giving Davy Russell plenty of options.

Selection:
10pts win – Abacadabras @ 11/2 MB

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2.10 Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase, 2m

The one completely forgotten here, particularly in the soft ground conditions, is Global Citizen. He’s been classy hurdler over two miles, which tends to be a good indicator for this race, and since switching to fences has left a poor start to his chasing career behind when winning impressively at Kempton last time.

That Grade 2 at Kempton looks useful form, but it’s more the way Global Citizen went over his business that is noteworthy. He was pretty keen, set a fast clip, jumped pretty well – much improved to his debut – and held off the advances of his rivals in fine style in the end, finding plenty when needed.

He’s got to bring this to Cheltenham and is unlikely to get an easy lead, however it’s his now proven ability to jump at speed that can be key in the Arkle.

Selection:
10pts win – Global Citizen @ 22.5/1 MB

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2.40 Ultima Handicap Chase, 3m 1f

Stamina is key in this race, so my eventual choice is a risk, but beside the favourite Vindication, who is, on the other hand a rather short price for a race like this, I struggle to identify many who are ahead of their respective handicap marks.

Who Dares Wins could be on his handicap debut, though. Whether he well and truly stays the distance, particularly on soft ground all the way up the hill remains to be seen. Fact he has been here before, ran well at two Festivals before, particularly in the Pertemps two years ago.

That day he lead the field to the final hurdle but faltered into finishing fifth eventually. That’s an obvious negative. On the other hand, Who Dares Wins potentially saw daylight a little bit too early, certainly compared to the winner and runner-up who were asked all questions a little bit later.

With that in mind, this performance also gives hope as Who Dares Wins is a little bit older now and has proven his ability to on the flat to stay marathon trips. He also could be rather well handicapped on his chasing debut after having landed a Grade 2 in Novice company at Kempton when last seen, with an opening mark of 147, which is 4lb lower than his hurdling mark.

Selection:
10pts win – Who Dares Wins @ 15/1 MB

……….

3.30 Champion Hurdle, 2m½f

A rather ordinary renewal with plenty of question marks hanging over the market principles. The mare Epatante looks a fair favourite, if nothing else. With plenty of pace this race is unlikely to turn into a pure speed test and I’m not sure whether that truly suits her.

This should suite, however, quite clearly Supasundae. It’s probably fair to argue two miles isn’t quite is optimum trip, on the other hand there is plenty of evidence he is – or least used to be – highly effective over the minimum distance as much as over further:

A winner and runner-up in the Irish Champion Hurdle, a Punchestown Champion Hurdle winner and a decent 4th on his seasonal reappearance in the 2020 Irish Champion Hurdle back in February; Supasundae doesn’t seem to slow down too much, even though turning ten now.

He is still a class act in this field and I feel the likely setup of the race will be an advantage to him. Hi experience, having been around Cheltenham numerous times is another bonus.

Selection:
10pts win – Supasundae @ 11.5/1 MB

………..

4.10 Mares’ Hurdle, 2m 4f

A fascinating clash between two top mares, albeit the market has Benie Des Dieux a clear favourite, which seems fair, given the should be a hat-trick seeking Festival winner if not for a fall at the last twelve months ago.

The question is, though: is the 9-year-old that far ahead of the young challenger Honeysuckle? We’ll find out today. As it stands now I come to the conclusion to answer this question with a “No”.

BDD has stellar form in the book and look as imperious as ever at Gowran Park in what was her sole outing this season. She has the experience, is fresh and clearly in top form.

Honeysuckle in contrast had quite a few more races this season already, advancing through the ranks, landing the Irish Champion Hurdle when last seen, and connections seriously pondered whether a bid for THE Champion Hurdle should be the race to go for.

It was a widely shared opinion in the aftermath of Leoprdstown that Honeysuckle didn’t quite jumped that well and wasn’t as brilliant as expected. That is to some extend a fair comment.

On the other hand, the Irish Champion Hurdle was still an excellent contest, she beat some really good horses, would be at the very least joint favourite for the Champion Hurdle if running there, and in my view, showed a lot of valuable traits in February, mainly the ability to dig deep and go through the wall when challenged heavily.

I also believe that stepping up to 2 miles & 4 furlongs, on soft ground can lead to further improvement for a mare that has only raced seven times and has won all of them. On the ratings front she ties in closely with BDD: their career best RPR’s and TS rating are only two and one pound off respectively.

With that in mind: Honeysuckle has to improve. But not by much. Given that, she is quite clearly overpriced.

Selection: 
10pts win – Honeysuckle @ 10/3 WH

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Edit: 10:45am – added Mares’ Hurdle

Saturday Selections: April, 6th 2019

Aintree parade ring

Preview for the Grand National: Read Here

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3.40 Aintree: Grade 1 Stayers Hurdle, 3m½f

It’s unusual for me to get involved in a hot favourite. The times I do it? It usually backfires. So this should be the kiss of death for Apple’s Jade today.

Nonetheless, I simply can not let the 6/4 odds on offer go, for this supreme mare in a race that’s at her mercy, as long as she turns up back in form – in my book she’s a much bigger favourite and I would expected her touching odds-on.

She probably would be a long odds-on favourite if not for her ‘flop’ in the Champion Hurdle at Cheltenham. Recency bias is a funny thing: only a few weeks ago Apple’s Jade was deemed nearly unbeatable – that was the opinion of some smart racing experts.

Today, in a weaker contest, she’s deemed merely a 40% chance. Seriously? I’m puzzled. True: the seven-year-old was disappointing at Cheltenham. On the other hand she had fair excuses for an uncharacteristic performance, as we found out afterwards. Right from the start the mare didn’t travel and it was obvious she wasn’t right on the day.

You’d bet connections wouldn’t let the superstar mare run today if she wouldn’t have shown to be back on song at home. So, trusting she’s fine from a physical standpoint today, she’s the best horse in this race by a country mile.

Further to this: personally I had my doubts whether Cheltenham as a track could see Apple’s Jade to best effect. We still don’t know, but suspicion remains it may not. Hence a return to a flatter track, like Aintree, will be to her advantage. In fact she is a course winner already.

The step up in trip, on what looks fair ground today, is no issue. She’s won over 3 miles this season – in fact she is 2 from 2 over 3 miles – the additional distance will not bother her either, I believe.

So, if back to the form Apple’s Jade showed all season long, bar the most recent run, she is hard to oppose today and should convert this penalty kick.

Selection:
10pts win – Apple’s Jade @ 6/4 WH

………

3.50 Leopardstown: Group 3 Ballysax Stakes, 1m 2f

Another rare occurrence: a bet on an Irish race. Over the last 14 months I’ve had only five bets, despite calling this little island my home. Betting wise it’s a tough place for me, though. Can fortunes change today?

Obviously the Ballysax is a wide open race, with little recent form on offer and you have to go by juvenile form, without knowing how it truly translates to this new season with a winter in between.

That says I figure Sydney Opera House looksover priced here. He’s a small drift in the market, to a handy price, I feel. He’s the one who ran to the highest time speed rating and joint highest RPR last season. And that despite conditions not always favouring him.

The son of Australia is obviously supremely well bred, a half-brother to a Melbourne Cup winner and Irish Derby second. He showed a lot of promise in a handful of starts as a juvenile, including a close runner-up effort in the Criterium De Saint Cloud when last seen.

Sydney Opera House looks bound to improve as a 3-year-old, even more so when stepping up in trip. But I also have the feeling a softer surface will see him to much better effect.

So, if ready today, he should run a big race on the rain softned Leopardstown ground. And in doing so, he could put himself firmly into the Derby pciture.

Selection:
10pts win – Sydney Opera House @ 7/2 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.

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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 2018 – 3 Fancies for Day 1

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Here we go! Cheltenham is upon us…. finally! Didn’t we have to wait long enough?

It sometimes feels like a slog throughout the dreariness of the short and oh so often grey days of the winter. I for one certainly share this sentiment in regards to jump. Anything points to the Festival in March, which always seems so far away – yet if you take your eye of it for once, it suddenly approaches with rapid speed and hits you right in the face without a warning!

Anyway, all the talk is over. It’s now that matters most. Who’s going to live up to the hype? Who’s going to fail and end up a mere footnote in history? Plenty of opportunities for either fate on day 1 this year.

Last year was an incredibly profitable Festival for myself betting wise. The year before it was a disaster. The year before that it was simply sensational. Means this year is going to be….?

Well, without further due, here are my three fancies for the first day of a mad week – a day that’s often hailed as probably the finest of its kind in the whole wide world of horse racing.

13:30 Cheltenham – Supreme Novices Hurdle:

Getabird looks hard to beat on anything we know so far. How much more improvement can he find? He’ll love the ground, given he’s a point-to-point winner and the ratting pace should be in his favour, that’s for sure. Hard to imagine we have seen the best of him yet. However,….

…. on prices I prefer Tolworth Hurdle winner Summerville Boy, because on ratings there is actually very little between the two. While Getabird is likely to improve it’s hard to argue that this lad isn’t capable of getting better either.

Summerville Boy got tough ground and a fair pace pretty much for the first time in this combination at Sandown. He obliged duly, putting Supreme second favourite Kalashnikov rather easily away in the end. He should love conditions here and I believe he’ll make it a real contest for Getabird.

Stock is rising, odds are shortening – still, there is some fair prices around.

Selection:
10pts win – Summerville Boy @ 9.5/1 Matchbook

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15:30 Cheltenham – Champion Hurdle:

You can’t fault defending champion Buveur D’Air. He’s done everything right whereas no real rival has come to the fore this season. That says, Buveur D’Air hasn’t been really tested this season either. So, do we really know how much any of those runs is worth?

We may do – regardless, if there is one horse in the race able to beat him it has to be Yorkhill. Not too long ago he was hailed to be the best horse in training; two crushing defeats over fences later, sees his reputation in tatters and him reverted back to hurdles over two miles.

While he never seemed to have the same regard for hurdles as for fences, fact remains Yorkhill has been a Festival winner over them and is four out of five overall. The trip might be a bit on the sharp side these days, however, the ground should will likely slow things down a little bit in that regard.

Ideally Ruby would sit in the saddle. Yorkhill is a notoriously difficult ride. That, plus his sketchy jumping may easily ruin his chances before we turn for home – in terms of ability and potential he certainly can rival the favourite hence the price is massive.

Selection:
10pts win – Yorkhill @ 16/1 VC

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16:50 Cheltenham – National Hunt Chase:

My initial reaction to this race was “Jamie Codd, Jury Duty!” However, stamina in this heavy ground is a real question mark. Yes, Tiger Roll won last year but that were different circumstances, I would argue.

A long-shot, but by no means without a chance, is Katy Walsh’s ride Pylonthepressure. Once thought good enough to contest a Champion Bumper (taken out on the day) and receiving raving reviews beforehand by Willie Mullins, he also finished 2nd behind Our Duke in a Hurdle a good two years ago and remains lightly raced.

He went over fences this season, and after a year-long absence needed his return, though, in January won a Beginners Chase at Thurles when dropped to 2 miles. Stamina won him the race that day. He looked like a beginner making a couple of mistakes but should have learned allot.

Upped to 4 miles seems strange in that regard. On the other hand, the mantra of connections was on more than on occasion that he has got plenty of stamina. This type of race, with the ground we have on day one, could suit him really well. Least we forget he is also a point-to-point winner.

Selection:
5pts e/w – Pylonthepressure @ 20/1 Matchbook

Cheltenham Festival 2017 – Tuesday Preview

Here it is – Cheltenham is upon us! Well, nearly. Two more sleeps (or even less ,depending when you read this) then it’s the legendary roar that’ll send the horses on their way round Prestbury Park .

This four day bonanza: craziness, beauty, drama and excitement showcasing the best horse racing has to offer. It’ll be a roller coaster week, a draining week, a hopefully rewarding week. Great sport, great races, great horses…. and hopefully great money to be won.

Let the games begin & let us find some winners!

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1.30: Supreme Novices Hurdle

It all kicks off with the Supreme – a surprisingly wide open affair this year. No outstanding star in the line up to get us off to a flyer. Though Willie Mullins saddles the favourite yet again.

However I’m  not yet convinced by Melon – though he might well be the real deal – his lack of experience is a big concern, particularly at a short enough price in a race with plenty of substance and alternatives.

Experience and a bit of stamina usually counts for allot in the Supreme and with that in mind two bigger prices come on to my radar:

There is Nicky Henderson’s progressive River Wylde on one hand. An impressive Grade 2 winner at Kempton in February, he’s shaping like an ideal candidate with the likely decent ground sure to suit.

A point to point recruit, he’s been improving all the time since moving to the Henderson yard, resulting in three wins on the bounce, culminating in a slick performance in the Dovecote Novices’ Hurdle.

He beat Elgin that day, mainly because he jumped better. Nonetheless the runner-up is the other one I like here. Not as slick,  bit more workmanlike, but a fine second behind classy Neon Wolf earlier this year, he’s also not stopping to improve with each run and the Alan King yard is quite upbeat about a big run.

Both should be able to outran their price if they are able to keep up with the frantic pace that’s sure to bet set early on.

Selection: 
5pts win – River Wylde @ 10/1 Paddy Power
5pts win – Elgin @ 25/1 Bet365

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2.10: Arkle Tropy

Altior will win this barring something dramatic to happen. He’s way too good for the rest of the field. That makes the betting market without the favourite interesting.

Couple of horses I do like: that’s the Mullins runner Royal Caviar, who’s an excellent jumper, despite the fall at Leopardstown when last seen. Top Notch is another talented individual, though whether this test is what he really wants remains to be seen.

The one I feel who could outrun his price tag is Paul Nicholls’s Le Prezien. The French recruit has had a good  – albeit – light season so far, including a Grade 2 success here at Cheltenham. His Novice hurdle form is excellent too, so it’s fair to assume he might still have a bit more to give than what his current rating suggests.

He seems to be a soft ground horse but I hope he is one who could be staying on up the hill when it matters to pick up the pieces behind Altior.

Selection:
5pts win (w/o Altior) – Le Prezien @ 10/1 Bet365
Edit: 13/03/17, 8.30pm: non-runner (see update below)

……..

The Ultima appears to be a minefield in my eyes – the two I would be interested in case they do run, are Heron Heights and Champers on Ice, but both are unlikely to line up here, so I leave this race alone.

………

3.30: Champion Hurdle

No superstar of the previous years in the race this time around, but that doesn’t make it any less exciting. In fact this incredibly open renewal of the Champion Hurdle has added intrigue given the entry of Buveur D’air who quickly established himself as a leading chance in recent weeks.

Favouite Yanworth has done little wrong and it’s fair to assume there is more to come. The likely frantic pace will suit him and he is a fair favourite, the one they all have to beat. Yet I’m far from excited and am not sure if he is really that much better than some others in this field.

I want to see that he’s a Champion Hurdle horse, given connections also had a good look at the Stayers Hurdle because Yanworth surely is not the most explosive hurdler the world has seen.

The chances of Buveur D’air may hinge on the weather. Rain, to be precise, is needed. If it would arrive he may even go off as favourite, I imagine.Whether that is warranted remains to be seen, but it’s fair to say he’s more home over hurdles than fences and connections did well to change the plan.

Nonetheless, the seemingly underappreciated horse is Petit Mouchoir. Admittedly, I’m not a huge fan of the Gigginstown inmate and the critics are right in saying we don’t know what his form is worth. He seems a solid, but not spectacular individual, one who hasn’t beaten anything of note, yet.

On the positive side: Petit Mouchoir seems a better horse this season. He stepped up his game, has two Grade 1’s to his name and in the end he can’t do much more than beating what#s put in front of him. And let’s not forget he was only narrowly beaten by Buveur D’air at Aintree last season. Both horses may have improved since then, but given all we know, there is likely to be very little between the two.

That means 7/1 seems overpriced. The same could be argued for progressive Brian Power to some extend, while Moon Racer is the dark horse. All in all an intriguing contest, but at given prices and form it’s hard to argue that Petit Mouchoir is not worth a punt in my mind.

Selection: 
10pts win – Petit Mouchoir @ 7/1 Skybet

…….

4.10: Mares’ Hurdle

Surprise, surprise! Both Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag locking horns in the Mares’ – who’d thought that?! The latter one sets the standard as the convincing winner of this race last year, but she was clearly not right when last seen at Doncaster and whether she is quite 100% after the virus infection is up for debate.

Fair to say that on all evidence plus factoring in potential improvement Limini is the correct favourite. She could have run in the Champion Hurdle and would have not looked out of place there. So she has a serious chance in this race. But I wonder: should she be three or four times the price of Apples Jade? I argue: absolutely not.

The two met last month and Limini won well, but one could argue Apples Jade was back from a small break and will come on for run – probably more so than Limini will. Gorden Elliott’s mare remains to be lightly raced with further progress far from impossible

It’s also been noted by Wullie Mullins that Limini is quite hard on herself, meaning each race takes its toll on her. I wonder whether a big performance as the one she produced only three weeks ago might haven take more out of her than ideal?

All in all at the given prices I do prefer Gordon Elliott’s progressive five year old.

Selection: 
5pts win – Apples Jade @ 5/1 PP

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4.50: National Hunt Novices’ Chase

Every man and his dog seems to be on A Genie In Abottle and that makes perfect sense. But there is no juice left in the price, so looking elsewhere is worthwhile.

Highly speculative and risky, still I like to put forward the case of Tiger Roll. A shaky character, who clearly didn’t quite life up to the promise of his early career. But on his day he can be a classy individual and least we forget he used to be a Triumph Hurdle winner back in the day. Now lining up in a 4 miler seems odd and he may well be found out for stamina, if not for class.

His rating entitles him to have a decent shout, though, and he put a string of decent performances together over the last six races, including a success in the Munster National.

This is a different kettle of fish, but he goes well on decent ground and performed admirably off a break in the past, so it would not surprise me if he outruns his price tag.

Selection:
5pts win – Tiger Roll @ 20/1 Bet365

……..

5.30: lose Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase

Big field and you can easily make a case for at least a handful of these. But two stand out in terms of potentially being well handicapped: Itsafreebee is an obvious one. Third in the Neptune behind Yorkhill last year, he’s been not reaching those heights over fences yet but a handy drop in the weights and potentially decent ground should ensure he has a huge chance.

From Ireland I like the chance of Tully East. I feel he he hasn’t been seen to his best in his last two starts, probably with this race and his handicap mark in mind. He won over fences back in December and ran really well in the Martin Pipe last year.

Selection:
5pts win – Itsafreebee @ 12/1 Paddy Power
5pts win – Tully East @ 20/1 Bet365

……

Update: Arkle Trophy

With Le Prezien out, my interest is now firmly around Willie Mullins’s Royal Caviar. As mentioned in my initial preview of the race, he strikes me as an excellent jumper and most likely would have won the Irish Arkle if – ironically – not for a fall at the last.

His overall win record is dismal, but he’s rarely been out of the money and I would expect him to run a fine race, with a good chance of finishing second or third behind Altior.

Selection:
10pts Place – Royal Caviar @ 6/4 Skybet

PREVIEW: Irish Champion Hurdle Day

It’s Leopardstown’s big day – so it was supposed to be at least – but the absence of two of racing’s biggest stars in Min and Faugheen has diminished the excitement factor of Irish Champion Hurdle day.

Still, two Grade 1’s and another Grade 2 – today is a big deal for Irish racing! The losses of Min and Faugheen due to injury hurt, nonetheless there is some serious racing action o show at Leopardstown. The two big races are intriguing, possibly even slightly more now, given both Min and Faugheen would have been long odds-on to land them.

The ground remains officially good – that should suit certain horses, while others will struggle with the emphasise on speed. That say If I glimpse out of the window I can see some very dark clouds hanging over the “fair City” right now.

The magnificent Hurricane Fly will be honoured with the unavailing of a statue for his lifetime achievements. Emotionally I’m quite attached to him  – quite clearly he is my favourite National Hunt horse. So it’s fantastic that Irish racing and Leopardstown embraces his legacy. ‘The Fly’ will also be paraded today.

2.00 Leopardstown: Novice Hurdle (Grade 2)

One of the main contenders is out with Monalee and that makes it a much easier task for the exciting Willie Mullins mare Let’s Dance. She is a second season novice who was already promising in her first year over hurdles but she appears to have improved significantly over the summer.

She landed a listed price at Punchestown on her seasonal reappearance but looked even sharper when stepped up to 2m 4f at Leopardstown over Christmas when she bolted up in a Grade 3.

She is a slick jumper with gears who’s an incredibly exciting prospect and should have no problems to cope with the good ground here today. She takes the world of beating in my book.

Stable mate Kemboy can’t be discounted. He was a fine winner on debut and has more to offer with the experience under his belt. Noel Meade’s Joey Sasa was an impressive winner of a maiden hurdle here at Leopardstown over Christmas. He enjoys decent ground but has to prove he wants the trip.

Selection: Let’s Dance @ 5/4 Skybet

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2.30 Leopardstown: Arkle Novice Chase (Grade 1)

I totally get why Identity Thief is the “hype horse” here and no doubt his record makes for impressive reading. I also wouldn’t read too much into his last run when pulled up. Nonetheless it is a slight concern, so is the good ground today. I feel he is best suited so rain softened underfoot conditions but then he might easily stuff my mouth if he bolts up today.

Anyway, the Arkle is quite an open and intriguing race and the slight concerns over the favourite do bring the other three rivals right into the game.

De Bromehead’s nine year old Some Plan is two from three over fences and has only 2lb to find on the ratings and the one race he didn’t win he fell and we never know how close he would have gone. Still early days in his chasing career but he already looks a better chaser than hurdler and no doubt there’s more improvement likely to come.

The grey Blue Et Rouge is the youngest challenger in the race and looks to have plenty of ability. A winner of a solid Beginners Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas, he left a lasting impression on me. Truth told his jumping wasn’t the best that day, though he was badly hampered two out by a faller and it was impressive how quickly he made up lost ground to jump the final fence on par eventually. Once clearing the last he produced a fine turn of foot to win with plenty in hand.

Willie Mullins also saddles nine year old Royal Cavalier. A solid sort in his own right and a good jumper, but he has a bit to find with his three rivals.

At given prices I do fancy Blue Et Rouge to be thereabouts in the finish. The drop in trip doesn’t concern me personally, given he showed plenty of pace the other day. He acts on track anf ground quite clearly and should have learned plenty from his first outing over fences. He looks an incredibly exciting prospect.

Selection: Blue Et Rouge @ 7/2 PP

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3.30 Irish Champion Hurdle (Grade 1)

A disappointing renewal given Faugheen’s absence, Now this looks pretty much a two horse race, though the younger Petit Mouchoir is firmly fancied. Rightly so, after an impressive Ryanair Hurdle success where he beat today’s most dangerous rival Nicholas Canyon quite easily. But do we get carried away and letrecency bias influence our judgement a bit too much here? Let’s not forget Petit Mouchoir win record is not impressive at all and given he was a 3m point to point winner it might well be the case that he can get into trouble on this good ground against a pacier sort.

Connections couldn’t explain Nicholas Canyon’s rather lacklustre showing at Christmas. Seven lengths beaten in second by Petit Mouchoir seems not a true reflection of his ability. Now, if he is anywhere close to his best – and his seasonal comeback run suggested he is as good as ever – then he should make this a real race for the long odds-on favourite. Obviously he has to improve a good bit to get closer this time, and fact is he’s better with cut in the ground and probably on a right handed track….

Yet, let’s not forget he’s last years Cheltenham Champion Hurdle third, a seven times Grade 1 winner, including two of those here at Leopardstown. On ratings he’s only two pounds to find with Petit Mouchoir and it’s not unreasonable to believe NC can be closer to this rival today.

Hard to make a case for Footpad and Ivanovich Gorbatov, though the later one is the reigning Triumph Hurdle winner nonetheless so can’t be fully discounted.

Selection: Nicholas Canyon @ 11/4 Ladbrokes

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Arrogate romps home in Pegasus

What an anti-climax for the richest race of the world – the inaugural Pegasus World Cup promised a fascinating showdown of the two highest rated horses on the planet…. unfortunately it wasn’t to be.

Only Arrogate showed up and he did what we expected him to do: romp home. A shame that California Chrome never got going. He already looked edgy and not particularly willing in the warm-up. Something was clearly not right. Even before the field turned for home Chrome lost touch. The race was over.

Taking nothing away from Arrogate who still had to go on and win the race. But we know he is so superior to the rest of the field that it was no real surprise that he did what he did in the end. Much more exciting will be to see how he continues in 2017 now as a four year old, most likely with the defence of his Breeders Cup Classic crown as the main target.

For California Chrome it’s the end of a long road. A deserved retirement and daily meetings with some lovely mares await him now – he deserves it and also send a clear signal yesterday: I’ve enough of this game. Happy retirement!

Third Time Lucky Annie!

Cheltenham is well and truly alive! But beware, blink with an eye and it’s all over! Not quite yet though… thankfully. Now, the opening Tuesday has been a remarkable day. For many different reasons. Some good, some not so good. First of all let me confess: I had a shite day punting wise.

By hopes rested firmly on the back of Identity Thief – boy oh boy, he bombed out! All the hype, I wanted to believe it. Forget it. He looked beaten halfway through the race. Silver Concorde? Never seen closer than last.

On a side-note: William Hill was gracious enough to allow me a €2.38 stake on a longshot in one of the big Handicaps. Not 30 quid, not ten, not five, and no – certainly not €2.40. The risk was too high of me robbing them of their annual profits, it seems!

Anyway, let’s quickly recap what happened; writing this while watching the replay package on Racing UK.

Bin those Mullins Accas

Altior, what can you say. That was f***ing impressive! Got a peach of a ride and the way he flew up the hill… imagine he’d be trained by Willie M! Bookies would beat each other over “who makes the silliest ante-post quote for Cheltenham 2017”.

Says, there actually where some questionable quotes flying around soon after Altior crossed the line….

Min jumped like a 15 year old chaser. Sometimes big and round, sometimes clumsy, but certainly not as sharp as expected. Maybe he didn’t like the track. The hype around him has certainly stalled. But I wouldn’t give up on him. He remains a nice prospect. The prospects for all those wild accumulators including Willie Mullins’ horses are bleak after this, though. Call that off to a bad start….

Douvan, Douvan, oooohhh you lovely Douvan

What a superstar. Watching him jump his fences is a thing of beauty. So athletic, so accurate – it’s beautiful. Simple as that. He’s made all and won comfortably. As expected.

To be fair he didn’t really have a race on his hand once jumping the second last, mainly because Vainteux fell, who was trying to challenge hard, but even more so because the wobbling Vainteux hampered the eye-catchingly strong travelling The Game Changer big time!

The Game Changer looked for a split second like he’d be able to transform his name into reality. Turning for home, approaching the second last, he clearly came with a huge run…. for second.

Annie Jumps the Last

She did it, but I’m sure thousands of punters collectivity held their breath when Annie Power approached the last hurdle clear of the rest. She didn’t fall this time, so she won – and she won well.

She was the class act, received 7lb from her male rivals and as called out in my preview of the race she made full use of her tactical advantage – to run the finishing kick out of her male rivals. How could they let her go off at 5/2?! Sounds all so easy in the aftermath. Of course I didn’t back her. But I’m delighted for the mare. She deserved this.

My Tent or Yours ran a tremendous race finishing second. Almost two years off the track, all those niggling problems , yet travelling so well here. Excellent training performance Nicky! The New One wasn’t good enough though. Can connections except that? They seemed to find it hard conceding defeat in the past, that’s for sure. But let me say this: TNO is a good two miler, however not a brilliant one.

Vroum Vroum all class in crappy Mares’ Hurdle

Class prevailed. Never in danger, never in doubt, Ruby gave Vroum Vroum Mag an ultra confident ride. She had way too much on her plate for the rest of the field. It wasn’t exactly competitive racing, and while that can happen if one horse stand head and shoulders above the rest, the Mares’ Hurdle is a crap race.

VVM is a really nice mare, to make her run a race against inferiour opposition, a race where most are clearly not up to the highest level – it’s an insult to the mare, it undermines her class. She deserves to be tested in a real championship race, where she can show off her true talent. Personally I’d scrap the Mares’ Hurdle right away.

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Wednesday Outlook:

An intriguing Champion Chase is awaiting us tomorrow as well. UDS wins with a clear round of jumping, right? I made that point in my Champion Chase Preview as well as waving the flag for a big run of Sizing Granite. Though I’d really love to see Sprinter Sacre running one more big race. How awesome would that be?!

I also mentioned before I do fancy Very Much So in the bumper. He’s currently on the drift. Probably not a good sign, admittedly. Other than that I haven’t have a strong opinion on any of the other races yet, except for the Cross Country Chase!

 

4:10 Cross Country Chase

I’m a big fan of this race and that makes me probably a loner in the world of horse racing. Most people slate cross-country races, in fact hate them with passion – which is fine – though I love the purity of it, the diversity of the course and fences, the enormous test it provides for horse and rider. It’s a race for the eyes as well, it brings out the beauty of jump racing.

Last years winner Rivage D’Or – one of my brighter moments writing this blog, I tipped him for a huge price last year – is going to post to defend his crown. However there is very little evidence that he’s in any sort of form to go even close. I pass him over this time.

I find it hard to make sense of the field, with a rather short-priced favourite, who ticks plenty of the right boxes, but it simply a very short price for a race where plenty of different scenarios can play out.

We saw it last year, where Quantitativeeasing travelled really well but was bumped out at one of the last jumps towards the end of the race. He may have won the race that day and therefore must be a good thing this time around again. I just don’t feel confident about it, maybe because he had his chances here in the past and didn’t take them. As an 11 year old there is very little chance for more improvement too.

I want to find something unexposed with the potential to take to this type of race and bit of improvement potentially left. So the older horses aren’t doing it for me. But I got stuxk with nine year old Dolatulo.

Not necessarily an unexposed type, but one who’s progressed into a fair stayer last season, who took well to the National fences and who acts on better ground. He’s rated to be in with a fair shout if he acts on the cross-country course. He’s schooled over it in the past, so I guess connections have a good feeling of throwing him into this. So have I. This test could be tailor made for Dolatulo. He’s 28/1 with Paddy Power, which looks a tremendous price.

Selection: Dolatulo

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The Vautour Saga

One last thing: There was a bit of hysteria in the twitter world  when it was made public this morning that Vautour is not heading for the Gold Cup, instead goes for the shorter Ryanair Chase! It’s easy to see where most critics are coming from, nonetheless I feel there is a fair bit of hypocrisy in the outcry too.

Since when do people take words from owners and trainer literally? And whatever, if you punt ante-post you know the rules. It’s that simple. Horses are no machines, can get knocks any given second. If that happens, plans can suddenly  change. Yes it’s true, Richi Rich told the world Vautour would go for Gold or nothing, but at the very same time one didn’t have to look very hard to find rumours stating the opposite. So there was something surely not as 100% clear within the yard as it seemed through the Ricci word.

But was Ricci simply forced to be bullish? All those questions, any given day, the speculations, anyone with an opinion, particularly on the Preview Nights Circus, which is more like an industry these days. All the hype, starting month and month in advance. Why not let the people involved with the horses do their job? Why do we need clear-cut answers weeks in advance? Can’t we not wait until the Festival is finally upon us? I understand, people love an ante-post bet. But hey, if you do so, you know the risks involved.

This is not nesascarily an excuse for what happened. What happened is clearly quite unfortunate. It’s just some thoughts that came to my mind when I read all of it this morning. There are always two sides to the coin and the truth generally lies somewhere in the middle.

That says I would have loved to see Vautour trying the Gold Cup trip. It added to the intrigue of the big race. However for some weeks now I also have a big wager on him in the Ryanair with the NRNB insurance. I’m pretty happy right now cause this was a win-win

If Vautour would runsin the Gold Cup he gets outstayed by Don Poli (yes, that’s the winner of the 2016 Cheltenham Gold Cup=. But having him in the market helped to get a bigger price on the Gigginstown horse. The only concern for my Rynair bet now: Vautour’s apparently only 90% and doesn’t show the same sparkle as last year. I’m not so worried about the fitness as more about the spark. Did the King George took too much out of him?