Tag Archives: Champion Hurdle

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!

Cheltenham Festival Preview – DAY 1

The Festival

Finally it’s here – the Cheltenham Festival! It feels like the build-up to it would never end, with all the talk (and hype to an extend) about the biggest four days in jump racing effectively starting as soon as each new jumps season gets under way. But let’s jump right into it now and concentrate on what this is all about: The great sport we all love so much!

I’ll be previewing each day in advance over the course of the week. But no worries, I’ll keep it short and snappy. I’m sure you have heard and read so much the same horses and races over and over again, be it on TV, on other blogs, Twitter or on one of the countless preview nights!

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Two standout horses here: Willie Mullins “supposed to be banker” Douvan and Nicky Henderson’s L’ami Serge. Both haven’t done much wrong in their young careers. Douvan been mightily impressive in two starts since moving to Ireland from France. He’s beaten some smart horses with ease and Cheltenham will tell us more about how much he has left once off the bridle. L’ami Serge has been equally impressive thanks to a couple of wide margin wins. He has an awful lot of potential.

From the bigger prices, Qewy is interesting and looks talented. He may be better suited to Aintree but could still run into a place here. I feel Douvan is a rock solid selection, though, and should prove very hard to beat. His form looks stronger to my eyes and he looks such a huge, imposing individual, with plenty of scope – I just can’t look past him, particularly not at 2/1.

Douvan @ 2/1 William Hill – 10 pts win

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Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase (Grade 1)

Un De Sceaux will win this. Full stop. He looks a superstar in the making, and while I was still a bit unsure before his last run at Leopardstown, I’m now pretty sure he is the real deal, after slaughtering two smart rivals in breathtaking fashion. If he jumps well tomorrow, and I don’t see any reason why he wouldn’t, then he must rate “banker material”.

Main danger should be progressive Vibrato Valtat. He always seems to travel well and nowadays also seem to finds something off the bridle. Not sure if he really would stick his neck out in a tough battle up the hill though. Clarcam finished a long beaten runner-up to UDS recently, but if ridden with more restraint, he may finish in the money. Looking elsewhere for a bit of value, I particularly like the 40/1 for God’s Own. He comes here as a fresh horse which seemed to work best for him in the past. The last two runs were poor but he didn’t have the ground he needs to be seen to best effect. That should be different tomorrow and he should show a much improved effort.

God’s Own @ 40/1 VC – 2.5pts EW

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Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1)

This looks a straightforward race to my eyes. Faugheen is better than anything else in this race. It’s that simple. There are no worries about match fitness due to his lack of run since December. Connections did the same last year, when he won so impressively at the Festival. He may miss the odd jump here and there, but he is learning and certainly has a touch of class about him. Some say he didn’t beat much this season, and yes that is true to an extend. But Blue Heron, who was 17 lengths behind Faugheen in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton, was subsequently a runaway winner in Grade 2 company.

What about the rest? The New One won’t be quick enough. Too much has been made of the trouble he meat in-running last year in the Champion Hurdle. Jezki got a super ride last year but even with his Cheltenham form and liking for decent ground, it’s hard to see him good enough this year. I’d love to see The Fly doing it for a third time, but he isn’t getting any quicker and for me it’s proven that he is not quite the same horse at Cheltenham, despite two Champion Hurdles. The ground is certainly against him.

Kitten Rock is one I like from the bigger price. He has a lot to find on form and ratings, but is an improving sort and may be better than the price suggests. Nonetheless, it’s Faugheen all the way!

Faugheen @ 6/5 Coral – 10pts win

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Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1)

Another race with a red hot favourite trained by Willie Mullins. Make no mistake, he has four “bankers” on the opening day of the Festival, but none is a bigger one than Annie Power. She is the highest rated horse in the race and has a proven her class last season. She is simply a league or two above the rest in this field. The vibes from the yard are good, Annie is in fine form and while it is slightly disappointing to see such a high class animal in the  below Grade 1 level Mares Hurdle (despite the status as one), it makes sense to give Annie a potentially easier race than in a tough World Hurdle. If nothing unforeseen happens, she’ll win.

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Toby Balding National Hunt Chase (Listed Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase)

This looks a wide open renewal. Noel Meade has the very promising favourite Very Wood in the race and this former Festival winner must have a big chance as he’s getting his ground here. Sego Success looks to have the right tools to run a big race too. Nonetheless this looks an open enough contest and I feel the mare Theatre Queen is a big price and worth an each-way nibble. She can be a tricky customer but has Cheltenham form, looks a stayer through and through and goes on decent ground with a nice weight here.

Theatre Queen @ 33/1 PP – 2.5pts E/W

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There are two more Handicap Chases on the card. Plenty of runners there, hard to distinguish form in those races for me. I don’t want to pretend t be able to solve the puzzle in those races and leave that up to the National Hunt experts. My advice would be: Sit back and enjoy these races. They’ll be competitive and probably pretty exciting to watch.

I like to make a call for one double bet: Annie Power and Un De Sceaux look unbeatable for me. And while there is no such thing as certainty in jump racing, combining these two short prices gives us odds of about @ 2.79. Do I think there is a better than 36% chance that both win their races? Yes, absolutely.

AP + UDS @ 2.79 Betfred – 10pts win