Tag Archives: Cheltenham Festival

Saturday Selections: March, 14th 2020

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Cheltenham is over. It didn’t deliver the goods on the betting front as it did in the last years. At the very least it delivered some relieve in the sense some of my selections were successful. Many more ran really well. That’s a big positive after the worst start to any betting year I ever had.

There is a bit a question “would, could, should”. But those type of thoughts rarely lead to anything good.

I got the Gold Cup spot on, though: Al Boum Photo was the one to beat and he had everything you need to go back to back. He didn’t quite have the same dream run through as last year but he had a super sharp Paul Townend in the saddle who made the right decisions in the right moment to ensure ABP endured as little trouble as possible.

He beat Santini in a brilliant finish. In third, my selection, Lostintranslation, ran a massive race. The two possible improvers were good enough to beat the rest of the field, as was my expectation before the race. But they were not quite good enough (yet?) to beat the defending champion.

After the week didn’t start too well for Paul Townend, he finished it off with a week that’ll go down in history. Champion jockey and the man who steered a horse to defend the crown in the Gold Cup. He doesn’t always get it right. But who does? Ruby and AP didn’t. What matters is that Paul Townend got it as right as it gets at the grandest of stages. That makes him a top top class jockey.

I will review Cheltenham tomorrow afternoon on Dublin City FM. Tune in if you like. Beyond that, I gonna struggle on in an attempt to get by betting back on track. Thankfully the flat is around the corner.

………..

6.00 Wolverhampton: Class 6 Handicap, 9.5f

The money is pouring in for Taurean Dancer who returns from a break with a first time visor fitted and Rossa Ryan in the saddle for what is his only ride on the card.

Whether this Taurean Dancer’s optimum trip is a question mark, given his career best topspeed rating came over further. However hes form over shorter as well, having been beaten only by a neck at Kempton over a mile of a much higher rating in the past.

I imagine he’ll be ridden forward in order to set a good pace and use his undoubtedly existing stamina. As he can be keen, this should suit him well in a race that is wide open.

Selection:
10pts win – Taurean Dancer @ 11/1 MB

Cheltenham 2020: Friday Preview

Winner!

Oh Melon…. right before the line and after the line in front but not on the line – where it mattered. Tough to take. This year really tests my mental strengths. It’s the second tight finish this week (Abacadabras) that went against my horse. Kilfilum Cross was another runner-up, albeit fair and square beaten.

Final day of the Festival. Even though it went decent enough so far, I really could do with a big winner. On a different note: how Cheltenham can go on while every other sporting event worldwide is cancelled due to COVID-19 is hard to understand.

I mean don’t get me wrong: I’m home bound, so happy it’s on. But from a pure risk management perspective this looks wrong.

………

1.30 Triumph Hurdle, 2m 1f

This is a wide open race as the betting suggests. The completely unexposed Solo is probably the one most likely to be a superstar. If he finds this a bit too much, though, there is anything up for grabs.

The one that looks completely overpriced is the JP owned Cerberus. If not for idling when seemingly having won the Spring Juvenile Hurdle, he’d be a Grade 1 winner and much shorter today.

He’s jumping generally fine and economically, has run as fast on the ratings front to suggest he belongs here and is much closer matched to Allmankind that the bare Chepstow form would suggest.

Re-watch the race and you’ll see the field gifted the eventual winner an easy lead, and while Cerberus made nice progress at the latter stages, Robby Power was taking a bit pull before approaching the last, which meant the ground made up was lost in an instant. He was pretty kind on the gelding in the finish, is fair to say.

The 5 place offer with William Hill looks attractive. I firmly believe he’ll be in the money. But the win odds on the exchange are much bigger and even better value.

Selection:
10pts win – Cerberus @ 24/1 MB

……..

2.10 County Hurdle, 2m 1f

Oakley ticks a lot of boxes trend wise but also form wise. I really liked his most recent effort in the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury when pretty much all went against him that could.

Good ground was certainly not what he wants, a standing start didn’t help with finding a good position early on, and then being hampered by fallers at the last was still not enough to see him finishing strongly, resulting in an eye-catching performance that also looks good rating wise.

He’s one of few in the field who has already proven to be able to run as fast as his handicap mark warrants. Oakley has performed with plenty of credit this season, including course form, including a neck beaten runner-up effort over this CD.

Selection:
10pts win – Oakley @ 29/1 MB

………

2.50 Albert Bartlett, 3 miles

Experience can count for a lot here, so does stamina. With that in mind Ramses De Teillee should have a tremendous chance to be in the shake-up at the very least.

He’s reverted back to hurdling, although he was quite a good staying chaser, actually. A runner-up in the Welsh Grand National, he also achieved a topspeed rating of 149, which is the highest in this field and manifests his status as a graded horse.

Ramses De Teillee has won his last two starts, so comes here in fine form and is sure to stay every inch of the uphill finish to the line.

Selection:
10pts win – Ramses De Teillee @ 14/1 MB

……..

3.30 Gold Cup, 3m2½f

After landing the big pot twelve months ago as a 22/1 longshot (and I backed him!), Al Boum Photo holds a special place in my heart. Emotions aside, he looks the type capable of doing the seemingly impossible: defending his crown!

Part of the reason why I believe he has quite a decent chance is simply down to the opposition. Make no mistake this is a good and deep Gold Cup field – but without any true superstar to beat, other than ABP himself. That may change post race; as of now Al Boum Photo looks the clear favourite in my book.

The other reason to believe he can do it is the ideal preparation the 8-year-old enjoyed. He went down the same route as last year, he comes here fresh on the back of a fine effort at Tramore. Since Cheltenham he only ran twice: the aforementioned January race and a fair runner-up effort behind Kemboy at Punchestown.

ABP is still relatively low mileage and even though he may not improve any further, he doesn’t have to: an effort as good as twelve months ago will see him probably hard to beat.

The one thing that does potentially speak against him is the fact that last year he got pretty much a dream run through the race. Everything worked to perfection. That may not be the case this time.

Nonetheless it’s reasonable to attest that 10/3 is at the very least a fair price – potentially even too big. Still, I feel there is better value in the field for the fact that I do want to have an improving horse on my side.

I don’t think Delta Work is good enough. He’s a contender but a silly price for all what he has done so far. Particularly if leaving naked form aside – which can mislead – and look what’s under the hood, it becomes clear he simply hasn’t ran particularly fast yet. He may well be capable of doing so, but fact remains in 17 starts over fences or hurdles he never bettered a 132 topspeed rating. That’s not up to scratch for a proper Gold Cup horse.

Granted these ratings are to be taken with a pinch of salt and Al Boum Photo didn’t achieve that either before his Gold Cup victory. He had, though, less chances to do so and you could make a reasonable case to believe why he might be able to step up to the required form, plus he was a much bigger price, than Delta Work is today. Not to forget ABP ran to a 177 TS rating in the Gold Cup eventually.

Kemboy has been disappointing this season. His jumping makes him vulnerable. If he gets his act together he is a live chance, nonetheless, and a far better one than Delta Work.

Presenting Percy had enough opportunities to prove he is a top class staying chaser. He hasn’t quite delivered the goods as many would have hoped he would at this stage last year. He has place claims if at his best.

As impressive as Clan Des Obeaux is at Kempton, he will likely struggle here once more. Bristol De Mai can run his race and could be an interesting each-way candidate at massive odds.

That leaves the two potential improvers. Santini and Lostintranslation.

Santini has been touted a Gold Cup horse for a while and to his credit he has answered the calls when landing the Cotswold Chase this season. A breathing operation has clearly helped. He has the right profile and looks to have talent in abundance, with more to come.

The same can be said about Lostintranslation. However his star has faded a little bit since the King George where was pulled up. He had a wind OP in the meantime, though.

You have to believe that procedure has helped to rectify the issues he clearly had in December. If it has and you ignore the King George, you see a progressive staying chaser who was a fine winner of the Haydock Betfair Chase, which made him a short price for the King George in first place.

What I appreciate most about Lostintranslation: he is not a pure stayer but has proven speed. He has both: speed and stamina. That is the magic combination for a true Gold Cup contender.

Therefore, at given prices I have to side with him. He ticks nearly all the right boxes. Only the King George and recent wind operation are question marks; hence he isn’t 3/1 but rather 11/1, which is over the top and the fair price is probably somewhere in the middle.

Selection:
10pt win – Lostintranslation @ 11/1 WH

…………

4.10 Foxhunter Hunters’ Chase, 3m2½f

The drift is a worry, but at this price, particularly each/way, too good to let go. Alcala has ran well to qualify for this race with two efforts within two weeks last month. That may have left a mark and possibly is a reason for the drift.

Hard to know. If he is fine, and one hopes he is if allowed to run, then Alcala must have a better chance to make the frame than 50/1 would suggest.

He’s a decent chaser who has won over this trip in the past and he’ll enjoy the drying ground. In an open contest he can outrun his price tag.

Selection:
5pts e/w (5pl) – Alcala @ 50/1 Bet365

Cheltenham 2020: Thursday Preview

Cheltenham Finish

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

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

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

………

1.30 Marsh Novices’ Chase, 2m 4f

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

………..

2.10 Pertemps Final, 3 miles

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

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

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

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

……..

3.30 Stayer’s Hurdle, 3m

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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5.30 Kim Muir, 3m 2f

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

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

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

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

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

Cheltenham Festival 2020 – Wednesday Preview

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

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

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

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

………..

1.30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, 2m 5f

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2.10 RSA Chase, 3m½f

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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2.50 Coral Cup, 2m 5f

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

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

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

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

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3.30 Champion Chase, 2m

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……….

5.30 Champion Bumper, 2m½f

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

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

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

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

Cheltenham Festival 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

……….

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

……….

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

My Betting Review 2019

2019 is over! It’s been a year that has flown by like Paco Boy thundering past his rivals in the 2010 Lockinge Stakes! The last twelve months were intense. Certainly on the betting front: a real roller-coaster year!

As in 2017 as well as 2018 I like to do a detailed review of my betting year: overall results, what worked, what didn’t work, plus key lessons for the new year.

2019 in numbers:
  • 635pts Profit
  • 20.09% ROI
  • 336 bets
  • 45 winners
  • 13.39% Strike Rate

Overall it was a good year once more – the third profitable one in a row, with 9/12 months in green.

2019 was also about an ever increasing difficulty in “getting on”. My accounts with any high-street bookmaker are limited to cents now. Liquidity on exchanges for the low grade races I am usually interested in isn’t always a given either.

Nonetheless, compared to to other years I placed more bets than ever before, however, for lower profit and lower ROI than in 2017 and 2018. Which is perfectly fine – 20% ROI is plenty and any profitable year is a good year after all.

In reflection I have to be critical of myself as well because there were days when I simply gave in to my urge to have the bet because I somewhat fancied the horse without having all boxes ticked on my “checklist”. Something to address: no bet, no problem – my mantra, which I want to follow even more rigidly in 2020.

It was also a year where I missed out on some big scores. Some massive prices denied on the line – in fact my selections hit the post a whopping 80 times!

The Good:

Turf delivers the goods: A 385pts profit! I was losing in this sphere last year so I am delighted to see my slightly revised focus on how to approach the turf paying off. UK only posted 485pts (without class 6 Handicaps, a massive 615pts!).

Highlight was clearly the 1000 Guineas victory of Hermosa at 16/1. The majority of winners came in the lower grades though, class 4 and 5 Handicaps – which really is no surprise as it’s always been my happy hunting ground. Windsor and Brighton turned out to be the most lucrative tracks.

1m & 2 furlongs: The mile and a quarter trip is a clear standout profit wise: 465pts+ profit, 9 of 26 successful bets – British racing provided all winners (of 20 bets, +515pts).

Jump racing: 275pts profit, thanks to another decent Cheltenham Festival, including 22/1 selection Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup. City Island (11/1) landing the Ballymore was another fine winner during the Festival week.

Lately the French Diesel D’Allier’s success in a Cross-Country Chase at the Cotswolds venue helped boosting a profitable 2019.

I wanted to be much more selective here, as the last years taught me my knowledge and understand of the day to day world of jump racing is simply not good enough to make it pay in the long run. The bigger races, though, have always yielded a fair return as more data – and reliable data – is freely available that helps me to make quality calls on races.

The Bad:

The All-Weather: My bread and butter. A 15pts loss! To compare: 605pts profit in 2018. Something went badly wrong here. I don’t think my selections were poor. A lot of big prices hit the post. However I know that in autumn in particular I lost focus a bit and made selections there were not quite up to the high quality I would expect of myself.

Class 6 Sprinting: A total disaster. Regardless of the surface, a 200pts loss is a clear sign for what to avoid moving forward. Across the board from 5 furlongs to 7 furlongs, in the lowest grade I struggled badly. It’s such an issue in higher classes, though. Apart from the minimum trip, specifically on turf. These are trends manifested from years before as well.

25 losers in a row: Not a single winner in October – tough autumn. It’s those long losing runs that test your mentality as a punter. However it also shows how tight the margins are: if Delphinia would have got up in the super tight finish on British Champions Day it all would have looked a little bit different – a 25/1 shot denied on the line.

2020 Outlook:

Hopefully another successful year. Potentially even more selective, with less bets and more quality, that’s the aim. Combining several different data points with my own form analysis will remain the method of choice in identifying potentially well handicapped horses, likely in lower grades.

If I can’t answer the question “Is the horse well handicapped” with a resounding YES I’ll revert back to “no bet, no problem”.

Avoiding class 6 races on turf altogether. Be properly diligent in my assessment on anything below class 5 on the All-Weather before placing a bet while swerving sprint races on the sand.

The odd group races will still keep me entertained. Speed ratings tend to hold up well in those competitions therefore they remain of interest in the right circumstances. I also enjoy writing more complete and in -depth previews of the big Group 1 races.

Become even more selective on Irish racing. Don’t get sucked into the excitement of the bigger meetings. I always struggled to make it pay.

Complete Betting Record

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Preview: Grand National 2019

Aintree Racecourse

Can Tiger Roll become the first multiple winner in 40 years since Red Rum? It’s the question on everyone’s lips and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who’s not wishing the little horse the very best of luck to achieve the status of a living legend.

For many Tiger Roll is already a legend. A multiple Cheltenham Festival winner, one who’s been around forever – or so it seems – the nine-year-old holding on to win the National twelve months ago; looks even better than ever this season!

He kicked proceedings off with a Grade 2 hurdle success on his way to the Festival where he then slaughtered his rivals in the Cross-Country Chase. A performance which in turn has catapulted him firmly to the front of the market in the 2019 Grand National, more so to one of the shortest priced National favourites of all time.

Given this is the Grand National with 40 runners, where luck or the lack of it, can play a huge role in getting a clear run round the course, Tiger Roll, currently priced at 4/1, is a laughable price.

Or not? The 9 pound hike in the weights does appear to be rather fair, particularly after his Cheltenham demolition job. He’s a good jumper, a classy horse with speed and guts, let’s not forget he’s a previous Triumph Hurdle winner also.

So, if you run this race four times, will Tiger Roll win it at least once?

Possibly. I still struggle to see value in the price, even though I’d absolutely love to see him winning. But I’ve got to look at bigger prices here – thankfully there’re three much bigger prices I’m incredibly excited about.

History tells its own story: a 7-year-old hasn’t won the National for quite a long time. Hence the task on hand for Ramses De Teillee looks a daunting one. Nonetheless, for his age he’s got plenty of experience already – ten runs over fences, including a runner-up performance in the Walsh National and fine 2nd place in the Haydock Grand National Trail when last seen.

Ramses De Teillee is officially 5lb well-in; so, on the weights front he looks a sexy contender. He does that also on both RPR- and TS ratings, given he has improved in each of his last two runs, suggesting the profile of a horse with more to come.

The ground won’t hold any fears, the trip should suit, only his jumping is a slight question mark – but he may get a little wiser with age and experience now.

Ever since romping home in the Bet365 Gold Cup at Sandown at the end of last season the Grand National seemed the target for Step Back. The 9-year-old has relatively few miles on the clock, therefore is clearly another one who could improve quite a bit for this unique test.

He hasn’t done a lot in two starts this season, clearly being minded and connections believing his current handicap mark warrants protection. He certainly stays, acts in soft conditions and despite having only six starts over fences, has strong form in big handicaps as well.

Walk In The Mill is a rare National course winner in the field. He ran away with the Beacher Handicap Chase here last December, so undoubtedly possesses plenty of stamina, given the 3m 2f event was run in deep ground -which was also a career best effort.

A progressive handicapper over the last years, Walk In The Mill has been minded ever since the Beacher run; two fair hurdle efforts brought him along nicely for a big run.

Selections:
3.33pts win – Ramses De Teillee @ 30/1 MB
3.33pts win – Walk In The Mill @ 31/1 MB
3.33pts win – Step Back @ 31/1 MB

Review: Cheltenham 2019 – a Boum Week

A magic week of racing is over – an excellent week from a personal perspective on the betting front: 145pts profit for a 72.50% ROI; but more importantly Cheltenham provided – as is usually does – the stage for incredible stories, memorable moments, tears of joy and sadness – four days full of drama are well and truly behind us!

Gold Cup Joy

Willie Mullins won the Gold Cup – finally! “I’d sort of resigned myself to not winning a Gold Cup” – the Irishman could be forgiven for his negative thinking because with more than a circuit to go it looked like another year of misery  as three of his four horses in the race were already gone!

Thankfully not Al Boum Photo, who was the “last man standing” for the Mullins camp – and my 22/1 selection for the Gold Cup (alongside Shattered Love who faded away in the closing stages) – was always travelling strongly in the hands of Paul Townend.

Sitting at the back of the field initially, Al Boum Photo made smooth progress, jumping well, Townend sitting confidently, letting his mount find a rhythm; turning for home he couldn’t hold him back for much longer as Al Boum Photo was tanking along, still hard on the bridle.

Despite a mistake at the second last, now asked for full effort, Al Boum Photo returned every call to win the Gold Cup a shade cosily!

The seven-year-old proved that his Tremore run on New Years Day wasn’t a fluke and that the glimpses of brilliance he showed last season in fact were real. It was also a hugely rewarding success for Paul Townend after what happened last year at Punchestown when Al Boum Photo looked all but to secure a Grade 1 success, only for Townend to take the horse out before jumping the last.

Can Al Boum Photo defend his crown? We have been here before. It’s such a difficult task as defending champion Native River had to find out.

Many believed he could do it, but there were early signs of concern as Richard Johnson had to encourage his mount from an early stage. In fairness, the brave Native River responded and battled to the line, ultimately finishing in a creditable yet well beaten 4th place.

Colin Tizzard lamented afterward not having used blinkers. Personally I don’t think it would have made a huge deal of a difference, to be honest. Native River didn’t have the legs to go with the three horses in front of him in the end. Neither had Clan Des Obeaux. His bubble burst.

Mitigating factors can be put forward for Presenting Percy’s flat performance. Not so much the preparation, which wasn’t ideal as had been discussed for weeks and weeks, but more so because he was found to be lame after the Gold Cup.

Female Jockeys Rule Over Cheltenham

Rachael Blackmore, Lizzy Kelly, Bryony Frost – three top class female riders who won races at this years Festival. Blackmore scored twice, though it was Bryony Frost who got the girls off the mark in terms of a first Grade 1 Festival winner over hurdles or fences.

Still challenging for the Irish jockey championship, Blackmore with close to 20 rides over the course of the four days, set a new record for female jockeys – the fact female riders achieved a higher strike rate vs. their male counterparts (4-46; 8.7% vs. 5.3%; 24-452) is an interesting side note.

I don’t want to be patronising. Nonetheless, this is a story that goes beyond racing, particularly in these times where equality is such a strong topic.

It shows that if given the opportunity, female riders can be as successful as male jockeys. It shows not everything is about riding the strongest finish but also about riding a smart race: knowing your mount, judging the pace right and finding an advantageous position to challenge when it matters most.

What I loved most about Bryony Frost in particular when she won the Ryanair Chase on Thursday were the words the found after the race speaking to a huge TV audience: emotional, yet smart. The way she spoke about the horse, about adversity, putting her own emotions into words which felt warm and relatable at the same time – a message not all jockeys are equally gifted in transporting to the general public.

One Era Ends Another Begins

Age catches up with anyone. It has caught up with Un De Sceaux and Faugheen. Both eleven-years-old now; the fall has been gradually, nonetheless it’s clear their younger rivals have fresher and faster legs these days.

I fancied Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase, actually. But truth is you knew his time was up when Paul Townend buried the 2017 winner of this very race at the back of the field. What eventual winner Frodon did you would have expected Un De Sceaux to do if at his brilliant best.

Faugheen fared a little bit better. He was there until the last in with a chance. Still, as soon as Paisley Park shifted into 6th gear the former Champion Hurdler was a beaten horse. He finished a creditable third, and he may well be able to go to Punchestown and win another race.

But as far as the Festival is concerned Faugheen won’t have many more stories to write, neither does Un De Sceaux. They don’t have to. Both horses have bee brilliant throughout their respective careers. They owe us nothing.

In saying that, the mentioned Paisley Park looks a staying hurdler for the ages. How he went from appearing briefly in trouble to looking absolutely irresistible within a matter of seconds was one of those “WOW” moments this week.

It can be the start of the new era. Comparisons with Big Bucks have been made. They aren’t far off the truth I reckon.

Thumps Up ITV

Good news on the TV front: average viewing figure rose 18.5% from last year to 993,000, while peak daily viewing numbers and overall share also saw positive rises.

As record crowds flooded trough the gates, record numbers were glued to the telly as well: Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of this year’s festival saw  the highest average viewing numbers since records began in 2003.

Having the luxury of choosing between RTV and ITV at home, I chose to stick with ITV after day one. I thoroughly enjoyed their coverage. From the morning show to the coverage of the actual races – it was excellent, with good people before and behind the camera.

Yes, they speak a simpler language on ITV than they do on RTV. Francesa was asking some seemingly ‘dumb’ questions. One shouldn’t forget, though, the audience on ITV is a different one than on RTV. So overall, thumb up for team ITV – my biggest compliment for them: their genuine love for the sport comes across in every shot and every discussion.

0 British-Bred Winners

I only noticed this fact when reading the opening comment in the Irish Field yesterday morning – even though the numbers were low in years before, not a single British-bred winner at this years festival must be a concern.

Contrary, France closed the gap to Ireland. It’s 14-14 for French-vs. Irish-bred winners this time.

The likes of Klassical Dream, Duc De Genievres, Frodon or Al Boum Photo are all French-bred and were some of the most impressive winners of the entire week. Good news for the French breeding industry!

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There is so much more to say. I could go on for hours. So many memorable performances. So many stories to tell. Also a few sad ones – they are unavoidable in our sport.

It’s been a wonderful week of horse racing over all. The sport is as popular as ever, if not even gaining in popularity again! Long may this trend continue.

Back to bred and butter now: class 6 Handicaps on a Wednesday night at Kempton, Wolverhampton or at Southwell, not that Britain’s only fibresand track owns a bunch of floodlights! Butnot for long.

Even though the sky over county Kildare Is rain filled at the moment (and has been for the entire last week pretty much!) spring is around the corner and with that comes the flat season – the Doncaster Lincoln, the Dubai World Cup and also the opening of the new Curragh. It’s gonna be exciting!

Cheltenham Festival 2019 – Friday Selections

Winner!

Comprehensive preview of the Gold CupRead Here.

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Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle, 2m 1f

Sir Erec has been touted as the banker of the week and he may well be. His flat form and Grade 1 Spring Juvenile Hurdle win entitle him to be at the top of the market. His preparation hasn’t been quite worry free, though. Probably it won’t make a difference, but it’s something to keep in mind.

As for his form: for all the visual sensation his most recent Leopardstown success created, as weak that form looks on the other hand.

Main rival Tiger Tap Tap had excuses (if you’re willing to accept them) and other than the Willie Mullins horse there was little of real quality in the field. It also was a steadily ran affair, suiting Sir Erec from the front best. A TS rating of 85 for a Grade 1 over 2 miles on good ground is appalling.

Soft ground holds no fears to Sir Erec judged by his strong flat form on this type of going. But on anything he’s achieved over hurdles so far he’s clearly one to avoid at a skinny price.

In saying that, it sounds hypocritical to put up Tiger Tap Tap as a selection for the race. Though, there are good reasons: on his stable- and hurdling debut in December at Leopardstown he nearly matched vastly more experienced Sir Erec stride for stride and only went down narrowly in the closing stages.

The Mullins camp expected a big run in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle but neither the steady pace suited, nor the fact he was boxed in turning for home, nor that he may have been undercooked, hence didn’t pick up at all after jumping the last.

Willie Mullins contested: “I might have been too easy on him between those races but he’s a smart sort”.

Mr Mullins has seen plenty of great horses over time. He’s got plenty of great horses filling the boxes in his stable right now. It would have been easy to let Tiger Tap Tap fall after such a disappointing run. But to the contrary, the trainer keeps faith, saying this lad is quite a smart one and he’s hopeful to get him back to the type of form produced on his debut.

I take trainer comments always with a pinch of salt. If they complete a picture I’ve already painted, it’s a positive, though. Clearly Tiger Tap Tap is talented; also related to a few smart horses. He’s already won on soft ground in France – so here’s hoping for a big run on Friday.

There is another one I quite like and want to throw at the favourite here:

….that’s not Coral Finale Juvenile Hurdle winner Quel Destin. Don’t get me wrong, I do like him but I simply like the close runner-up of the very same race, Adjali, the little bit more at much bigger odds.

Truth is there was little to chose between the two, even though Quel Destin kicked on from there winning another Grade 2 whereas Adjali was a massive disappointment subsequently.

Nonetheless, there is a dramatic price difference between the two, which I don’t feel reflects truly on the difference in class.

Interestingly, after the disappointing Cheltenham performance Adjali was seemingly out of the Triumph picture but came right back into it when delivering a fine piece of home work which lead Nicky Henderson to attest Adjali to be in “great form” and that “he’s very much come back to the front line.”

If Adjali can improve – which he has to – he can be able to outrun his price tag given ground and trip will be perfectly fine.

Selection:
5pts win – Tiger Tap Tap @ 10/1 PP
5pts win – Adjali @ 16/1 Coral

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2.10: Grade 3 County Hurdle, 2m 1f

Eclair De Beaufeu has made eye-catching progress from poor maiden hurdles right into hot handicap company. The novice showed guts when getting finally off the mark at Limerick in heavy ground. He followed up with an impressive success at Fairyhouse.

However the real eye-catcher is undoubtedly his latest run at Leopardstown, in a strong handicap – hist handicap debut – he travelled and jumped well and stayed on nicely in a messy finish for 4th place.

He comes here only 2lb higher. This experience should taught him plenty. He’s open for progress and should enjoy the stiff test on softish ground Cheltenham will provide on Friday.

A second selection here is improving Monsieur Lecoq. Since moving to the UK the French import won two on the bounce in deep ground and was only edged out late in the Imperial Cup last week by a well handicapped winner, while not getting the best of rides by an overwhelmed young apprentice.

Monsieur Lecoq can actually race off a lower mark here and has the excellent assistance of Lizzy Kelly in the saddle, who’ll claim valuable 3lb. Ground and trip will suit. Whether he can stay up the hill remains to be seen.

Selections:
5pts win – Eclair De Beaufeu @ 12/1 BF
5pts win – Monsieur Lecoq @ 14/1 PP

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2.50:  Grade 1 Albert Bartlett, 3 miles

Proper soft ground, usually an attritional race, one where stamina and experience counts for a lot. Cap York doesn’t tick all the right “trend” boxes but plenty enough for me.

He was a promising younger horse when moving over to Ireland after showing signs of talent in France. Leg issues prevented him from running for roughly two years before coming back this season to land a Maiden hurdle on his comeback run as well as a decent Handicap when last seen.

That performance is hard to gauge because the main challenger fell at the final hurdle, but up until that point Cap York rallied strongly, to suggest he may have held on anyways.

Before that the seven-year-old ran with plenty of credit in a Grade 2 Novice Hurdle at Limerick, finishing 4th behind Derrinross. He was unlucky that day – not only did they crawl, which doesn’t suit this lad at all, but he was also several times heavily impeded over the last two furlongs.

A race with good pace, with emphasis on stamina and soft ground will be ideal for York Cap. He looks like a stayer through and through, which his trainer Noel Meade confirms:

“He just keeps galloping and I’d say the softer the ground and the longer the trip the more he would like it… he stays and stays. ”

Selection:
10pts win – Cap York @ 26/1 MB

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4.10: Foxhunter Open Hunters’ Chase, 3m 2f

If you’re one of the lucky ones who got early on to Hazel Hill – well done! I’m late too the party but not too late. The 11-year-old isn’t a sexy price any more but I imagine he”ll go off around 7/2 fav on the day.

This lad looks a serious Foxhunter contender – still relatively low mileage for his age, a proper ‘hunter’, he came into the picture with a wide margin success at Warwick in January. He ran to an RPR of 151 and TS rating of 119 that day – this is as good a piece of form you’ll find this year in this sphere.

Hazel Hill is 14 out of his last 15 rides, unbeaten under rules, will love the ground and trip and is without a doubt the one to beat.

Selection: 
10pts win – Hazel Hill @ 13/2 WH

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Grade 3 Grand Annual Chase, 2m½f 

Last year’s winner Le Prezien comes here only a single pound higher than winning twelve months ago. That was a serious performance in similar conditions as to expect on Friday, when he had to navigate around a faller three out, yet came home super strongly to win with a bit in hand.

If Le Prezien is a similar sort of form he’ll take a hell of beating, granted he gets a clear enough run. He’s had a quiet enough season, with one fine hurdle run and two disappointing performances over fences. He didn’t set the world alight last year before Cheltenham either, so this isn’t a worry.

The other one at an even bigger Price I quite like is Marracudja. He’s down to a pretty fair mark having won the Scottish Champion Hurdle off a pound higher last year.

He’s a tricky enough ride, but looked quite good in his last two starts toward the end of 2018. Since then Marracudja had a wind OP and comes here fresh. He’s won off breaks before, and if his wind is fine now then he should go close in these conditions.

Selections:
5pts win – Marracudja @ 20/1 BF
5pts win – Le Prezien @ 11/1 PP

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Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle, 2m4½f

Acapella Bourgeois returns after a one year plus lay-off. You have to trust Willie Mullins to bring him over in good shape. Now a 9-year-old, it remains to be seen how much ability he retains, but judged on past form he’s got a brilliant chance here.

He was in the Ryanair, Gold Cup and Grand National picture still at the start of the year. So, I hope now reverting to hurdling, where he can race off 9lb lower than his chase mark, a big run is on the cards.

One shouldn’t forget Acapella Bourgeois was a Grade 2 winning novice hurdler and two years ago a leading RSA contender. Also when last seen, Acapella Bourgeois was punted off the boards in a hot 2 mile handicap (where he was subsequently pulled up).

Back up in trip, with soft ground, one would hope Acapella Bourgeois will find ideal conditions to show – granted fitness is on his side. At a massive price it’s worth the risk.

Selection:
10pts win – Acapella Bourgeois @ 20/1 MB

Cheltenham Festival 2019 – Thursday Selections

Cheltenham Festival

2.10: Grade 3 Pertemps Final, 3 mile

The Pertemps Qualifier at Leopardstown over Christmas could be the key to this race: Favourite Sire Du Berlais qualify under a shrewd ride and looks perfectly laid out for this race – but he is a shocking price.

The first three of this particular race are of a lot of interest to me. The winner Cuneo made a big impression with his excellent attitude in the closing stages. He was still green, quite raw, travelling wide throughout, but made nice headway with three out, hit the front turning for home and found plenty under pressure.

He ran once more in another hot contest, though the fast ground wasn’t quite to his liking, so was the the way the race was ran. He looks bound to improve for the stiffer test at Cheltenham.

One had to be impressed with Walk To Freedom also, the way he finished late was eye-catching. Nonetheless I liked the performance of Thermistocles equally, and he’s a better price. He also is one who is still learning his trade quite obviously.

Thermistocles travelled strongly, throughout, maybe saw daylight a little bit to early after jumping the second last and just got beaten in a tight finish. He was 3rd in a Maiden Hurdle behind Dortmund Park last year, which reads good form and he has steadily improved ever since.

Selection:
5pts win – Thermistocles @ 16/1 MB
5pts win – Cuneo @ 16/1 MB

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2.50: Grade 1 Ryanair Chase: 2m 5f

Everyone keeps saying this is such a strong renewal – stronger than last year, most certainly. But is it really? More runners, yes. But more runners doesn’t always equate for more quality.

At the top of the market we have last season’s star novice Footpad. His reputation took a massive tumble this season when beaten in two starts. In truth, we were probably fooled by the impressive visuals: his jumping at speed looked simply stunning!

Form wise those achievements are less than stunning. Particularly in open company against the best in this division those runs don’t compare as impressively. With softer ground sure to suit it’s not impossible to see him improve, but stepping up to this longer trip is a concern on the other hand.

His prominent racing style should suit the nature of the Ryanair, on the positive side. So, with the ground for his liking and giving him the benefit of the doubt to stay the trip at Cheltenham, Footpad remains one the more likelier contenders. At 7/2 that is an awful lot of trust you have to have, though.

Last years winner Balko Des Flos has never after or ever before ran to the level he did this one magical day in March 2018. Suspicion is that simply everything went pinch perfect for him in this race twelve months ago. The pace, the ground, the ride from supreme Davy Russell. Not again – I’m pretty sure.

Road To Respect would be better running in the Gold Cup now that he settles better. I doubt he has the speed required in this field. Frodon is interesting. But he’s on the go for a while and I wonder: how much more can he improve? He may not have to but was well beaten in this last year.

There’s plenty of support for Monalee. In fact he’s touch and go for market leader at the moment of writing. It makes sense. This intermediate trip will most likely be his optimum. He ran well this season and has still relatively few miles on the clock, compared to some others.

On pure form I don’t think he should be up there, though; I find the hype unwarranted. That says, he could be the most solid choice – meaning, Monalee is likely to run a rock solid race. There is a case to be made that it’ll be enough to land the Ryanair this year.

The somewhat ‘forgotten horse’ is former champ Un De Sceaux. A lot is made of his age. True, and 11-year-old now, how much longer can he keep producing the goods? He was beaten in this race last year fair and square.

However, it was obvious he lost the race in the middle part when he made way too much, way too early. He set it up perfectly for Balko Des Flos. There’s the risk the same happens again. We know UDS. Once lit up he goes. No stopping.

On the other hand, as pretty much the only one in this line-up, he keeps producing the goods indeed. Certainly on the ratings front, everything he’s done this last season or in this single run this season – a highly credible 2nd behind Altior – is pretty much in line with his best, or close to.

By that standard there is no doubt Un De Sceaux is the best horse in the race. One last hurrah for the popular gelding. Ground will be perfect for him I reckon. He gets the trip.

He won here before – even though, judged on RPR’s he’s never produced his best at Cheltenham, which is the one niggling concern, more than his age, to be honest.

Selection:
10pts win – Un De Sceaux @ 5/1 MB

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3.30: Stayer’s Hurdle, 3 miles

On the surface Paisley Park is hard to oppose. He’s the right favourite, has the right form in the book and has clearly a good chance to put unbeaten run of four successfully to the line. But at odds of 6/4, with at least one viable alternative in the line-up, I happily oppose him.

Horses beaten in this race the year before have a dreadful record when they return. Nine-year-old horses upwards have a dreadful record also. But trends are there to be broken and Supasundae may well have returned as a winner if not for bumping into smart 2017 Albert Bartlett champion Penhill.

Supasundae travelled incredibly well throughout the race in ground conditions probably not to dissimilar to what he’ll encounter on Thursday and clearly stayed the trip without a problem – in fact without Penhill we would say he stormed up the hill, leaving the third placed Wholestone 5 lengths behind.

Trained by Jessica Harrington, Supasundae is a rare sort as he is so versatile to be good enough to compete in either a Champion- or a Stayer’s Hurdle.  In fact he is an Irish Champion Hurdle winner already but has been placed in multiple Staying Hurdle races as well as having landed the Coral Cup in 2017.

This season saw him clash with the brilliant Apple’s Jade multiple times. He was chasing in vane but shouldn’t be judged too harshly on that because the fact is he was runner-up in all his three start this season, all in Grade 1 company.

To round it up, I love the quote and bullishness of Robbie Power as he says:
“The English are ranting and raving about Paisley Park but he’s only beaten West Approach who I’ve ridden and is a very, very ordinary horse. Barry Geraghty rode in the race that Paisley Park won at Cheltenham and he came in and said that Penhill and Supasundae will eat him up.”

Selection:
10pts win – Supasundae @ 8/1 WH

……..

4.10: G3 Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate, 2m4½f

Very excited about this one: Eamon An Cnoic looks ready to rumble! The 8-year-old ticks all the boxes: an improving sort, coming here in nice form. Already ran well at this course and has Festival experience. Right level of experience, acts on the ground and trip and is trained by Martin Pipe who has a super record in this particular race.

Eamon An Cnoic travelled well for a long time in the Ultima twelve months ago, although the whole experience and 3m 1f trip was a bit too much in the end.

He returned to Cheltenham in November, running with plenty of credit in the ultra competitive Gold Cup Handicap Chase.

Eamon An Cnoic had a wind OP in the meantime, returns from that and a little break at Chepstow over sharp 2 miles. He travelled powerfully and produced a nice turn of foot to win which ensured he made the cut for the Brown Advisory.

Only 7lb higher over a longer and more suitable trip, with soft ground no worry, I feel Eamon An Cnoic is the answer to the puzzle.

Selection:
10pts win – Eamon An Cnoic @ 16/1 PP

……..

4.50: Grade 2 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, 2m1f

Short priced favourite Epatante is already a French NHF Grade 1 winner but has only done what was expected in a couple of hurdle starts since switching to Nicky Henderson. She’s open to more improvement, particularly on softer going, but at given odds is easy to take on.

Particularly if you have such a strong opponent in Posh Trish. This classy looking individual has quite a physical presence and has clearly the best form in the book when beating Indefatigable at Taunton. According to TS and RPR’s still is by far the strongest piece of form on offer.

Posh Trish is still pretty raw and learning her trade, but with soft ground likely to suit her as well, and the fact she is already been to Cheltenham in the past, when she won a listed bumper, means that she should be a lot closer in the betting to Epatante than she currently is.

The Taunton form is interesting also because the runner-up Indefatigable ran a mighty race too. She made a mistake at the last, so we don’t know how much closer she could have got, but she went on to follow-up with another strong performance nearly collaring much more experienced – and 4th in the Mares Hurdle on Tuesday – Lady Buttons on the line.

Indefatigable has only won once and has to prove her ability to act on proper soft ground. At a big price I have a little saver on her as I feel she is well capable to outran this massive price tag.

Selection:
6.5pts win – Posh Trish @ 6/1 Coral
3.5pts win – Indefatigable @ 33/1 WH