Tag Archives: Champion Hurdle

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

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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

……..

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

……

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

……..

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

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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?

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

Cheltenham Festival 2015 – As It Happend…

It is over! Yes, Cheltenham is over, indeed. We have to wait another (loooong) twelve month until it is alive again. But see it this way: If Cheltenham would be on every week, it wouldn’t be as special as it is. And boy, was this last week special, wasn’t it?! It had it all: Memorable triumphs, dramatic finishes, outstanding horses, magical rides and real Championship races. Relieve the action again – as it happened…..

Day 1 – Tuesday: All about the roar of the crowd – it’s the opening day of the Festival! Four Grade 1’s on the card, probably the finest day of racing the whole year. The big story of course was the potential Willie Mullins four-timer which would have resulted in a major loss for bookmakers. This wasn’t a long-shot. In fact it looked very likely to happen when Annie Power approached the last obstacle in the Mares’ Hurdle.

Punters and bookies alike were holding their breath. Annie was clear and just needed a decent jump to win. But as we know now, she crashed! She got seemingly confused by the shadows and jumped them instead the real obstacle. A fall literally at the last hurdle, saved the bookies millions, and cost punters dearly.

Earlier that day, Douvan opened the Festival with an authoritative triumph in the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle. Un De Sceaux followed with an impressive success in the Arkle. Faugheen landed Tuesdays feature, the Champion Hurdle – living up to all the hype surrounding him. It was a clean sweep for the Irish and Willie Mullins, as not only did he train the winner, but also the runner-up Arctic Fire and of course world-record breaking Hurricane Fly, who finished a gallant third! The New One in contrast wasn’t quick enough. Jezki not good enough.

Day 2 – Wednesday: The readily improving Windsor Park provided renowned flat trainer Dermot Weld with a Cheltenham win in the Neptune Novice’s Hurdle. Davy Russell with a brilliant front-running ride. Don Poli, thought to be one of the bankers of the meeting, obliged duly in the RSA Chase and was rapidly installed as favourite for next years Gold Cup.

The Champion Chase was all about Sire De Grugy and Sprinter Sacre – even or maybe because both didn’t run to their formerly best and were beaten a long way. Sprinter Sacre in particular looked a finished horse and retirement is looming. Sire De Grugy’s legs weren’t quite quick enough and the form horse Dodging Bullets landed the odds.

Day 3 – Thursday: What can you say…. Vautour on a different planet! He demolished classy opposition in the JLT and proved all doubters wrong. His jumping was spot on, maybe the best round of jumping around the testing Cheltenham course we’ve seen in a long time. Gold Cup next year for him.

A winner for AP McCoy is a winner for racing. A perfectly judged front-running ride on long-shot Uxizandre meant McCoy wouldn’t end his Festival career without a winner. It was emotional for anyone involved and just what was needed. A long-shot also got up in the World Hurdle. Cole Harden made all from the front too. Clearly improved since a wind operation, he fend off the challenge from favourite Saphir Du Rheu.

Day 4 – Friday: Gold Cup Day, and it’s all about the big race, indeed! Paul Nicholls’ Silviniaco Conti was the favourite – he had the form in the book thanks to his impressive King George triumph. But his failures at recent Festivals made him look vulnerable. Willie Mullins saddled progressive stayer Djakadam; former Galway Plate and Lexus Chase winner Road To Riches was another Irish runner with fine chances. Hennessy winner Many Clouds and novice Coneygree were well fancied UK rivals.

The race itself turned into a procession of jumping and determination. They said novices can’t win the Gold Cup. Well, they can! Connections of Coneygree were bold in making the decision to let him take his chance in the biggest race of the Festival – and that proved to be the right one. The rapidly improving novice made all from the front. He out-jumped his more experienced rivals and he galloped relentlessly, having more than half of the field on the stretch a long way before the finish. Jumping the last with his ears pricked, this Coneygree was jumping for fun and out-battled the few rivals which were still with him on the legendary Cheltenham hill toward the finish line.

A simply sensational performance. But credit to Road To Riches as well, who was never to far off Coneygree and stuck well to the task. He finished a very creditable 3rd while Djakadam stayed on in second. Silviniaco Conti was beaten when the leading pack turned for home, five runners had to be pulled up, including last years winner Lord Windermere. That shows how ferocious the pace was, set by Coneygree.

Number of the week: 13 – A draw between England and Ireland. Thirteen winners apiece. Though Willie Mullins was responsible for the majority of the Irish winners. He could celebrate a record eight times in the winners circle.

Ride Of the week: Davy Russell on Rivage D’or in the Cross Country Chase – A super confident ride and perfectly judged by the former Irish Champion jockey on the 16-1 outsider. Russell sat quietly on his mount, making up ground gradually, patiently waiting to ask Rivage D’or for everything when it really mattered. Not many can ride Cheltenham better than Russell.

Betting: If you would have followed all bets on this blog throughout the Festival week, you would be a whopping 132pts in the green! To give this figure some context: If one point of your betting bank would be €10, you’d have made €1320.00 this week with my selections. Not too shabby for a week’s work in the office! Highlights were of course Martello Tower on Friday, who got up at 14/1 SP in a dramatic finish. As well as Rivage D’or in the Cross Country, which was tipped at 20/1.

Future Outlook: What a massive Gold Cup we could have on our hands next year. Vautour and Don Poli looked both very special and are heading the ante-post market already, with Coneygree expected to try and defend his crown. Throw in Djakadam and Road To Riches who could both still improve a bit, and we have a race for the ages!

Willie Mullins was the utterly dominating force during the week and quotes of 20/1 are out for him to take all four major races at the Festvial next year – that’s the Champion Hurdle, Queen Mother Champion Chase, World Hurdle and the Gold Cup. I’ve seen worse long-shots to be honest!