Tag Archives: Cheltenham Festival

Cheltenham: The Future Starts Here

The Festival it was – a crazy week flew by in a blink of an eye. A proper review of all the Cheltenham action is due, though at another time. Nonetheless a big shout out to Sizing John and everyone connected with the new king of jump racing!

What a gutsy performance, he stayed every inch of the Gold Cup trip. A sensational, patient, cool ride by Robbie Power. A horse that was campaigned over two miles where he couldn’t get past the almighty Douvan, but upped in trip and his class could finally shine to its full extend!


Horse racing is the game that keeps giving. It never stops. Only one week then it’s Dubai World Cup day, one week after the flat season starts…. it comes thick and fast. Cheltenham is over and one might think the world ends. But no – the future starts here! Isn’t that beautiful?

So let’s keep the momentum rolling and have a look what racing has to offer on this Saturday. Two races in particular are of interest to me.

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2.40 Kempton: Silver Plate Handicap Hurdle

An ultra competitive race with nearly half of the 2o runners in with a fair shout. However I do like quite a lot Dan Skelton’s Bandsman off a lowly mark on his handicap debut.

The six year old took his time to get off the mark, but was massively impressive once he did it. He followed up with another success at Market Rasen, when he fought gamely to be on top when it mattered most.

This form looks strong through the runner-up who since then went on to win a Grade 3 Handicap Hurdle. An opening mark of 129 may well underestimate Bandsman’s true class, particularly with ground sure to suit and potential improvement to come for the step up in trip.

He’s not a slick jumper yet, so has certainly to do be better in that department against classier opposition here. But if he learned and if he stays the trip then he’s a good chance to be in the shake-up I feel.

Selection:
5pts win – Bandsman @ 9/1 Bet365

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3.20 Limerick: Handicap Hurdle (80-109)

Top weight Hareth looked worth for more than his narrow success in a Handicap Hurdle here at Limerick under a stylish Carberry ride back in April. Off the track for nearly three years subsequently, he made a pleasing comeback at Naas last month when a fair third.

Back at Limerick, he’s probably a good deal better than his current rating and can make that count against very beatable opposition. Slight concern over the soft ground and the 2m trip, given he won on fast ground over further in the past, but class can see him through.

Selection:
10pts win – Hareth @ 7/2 Matchbook

CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL 2017 – FRIDAY PREVIEW

There you go: the finale, the last day – it’s nearly over, gone, history. Time’s flying and these four days of Festival craziness fly by in a blink of an eye. This is Friday, the day were the champ of champs is crowned. Who’ll make history, who will it be, the new king?

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1.30: Triumph Hurdle

The home team has a strong hand in the race with the unbeaten Defi Du Seul and progressive Master Blueyes and French recruit Charli Parcs but I feel it’s the Irish that will take home the price.

If Bapaume would line up I’d be certainly interested in him but the market trend suggests he’s not going to be declared. So it’s left to the horse who has beaten him in the Spring Juvenile Hurdle last month: Mega Fortune.

I really do like the progression this good looking Soldier of Fortune son has made this season.He got closer and closer to the big guns in Graded races until eventually getting his head in front.

In the Leopardstown feature he jumped well but was most impressive once he put the foot on the gas pedal. He jumpedthe second last and wooosh off he went, in the end running strongly to the line.

I’ve got slight worries about the fast ground as he seemed to relish the juice in the ground the last time, but at given prices he’s a bit over here with only a handful of runners having a realistic chance to go close. Further progression must see him go close.

Selection:
10pts Win – Mega Fortune @ 7/1 PP

……

2.10 County Hurdle

Gordon Elliott has a massive week so far and it might get even better because with Mick Jazz he has an exciting runner in the race. He won well on his first start for Elliott in October and was a fine runner-up behind Labaik, which looks brilliant form in hindsight.

He then went on to Fairyhouse Handicap where he travelled strongly behind a wall of horses but in the home straight then getting hampered twice, also making a mess of things at the second last, yet staying on strongly. Impressive!

After a break he produced another strong staying performance beating an odds-on Mullins horse at Punchestown. He looks the type ready made for Cheltenham. Even the ground is no worry. He could easily be better than his handicap mark.

Another one I really like to run big is Twiston Davise’s Crievehill. He’s probably getting in off a light weight. He’s progressive, his 3rd place behind Neon Wolf when last seen looks strong form and he might be still able to progress. The ground is a big worry as he never encountered anything less than soft, but at a big price he’s worth a punt.

Selection:
10pts win – Mick Jazz @ 10/1 Bet365
5pts win – Crievehill @ 40/1 Betfair SB

……

2.50: Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

Death Duty may look like a good thing to many – but not to me. He could easily be too good, though at shortish odds I’m against him given he’s unproven on this ground and trip.

Two bigger prices are certainly of interest and seemingly underappreciated: there is the lightly raced Constantine Bay, who stepped up to 3m at Doncaster and produced a strong travelling yet incredibly game and tough performance in a ding dong finish, staying on very strongly. Traits you want to see in an Albert Bartlett contender.

Ami Desbois is the other one: Already  a seven year old, bit more experienced, he’s been improving this year, was only a lengths behind Wholestone over course and distance in December but the price difference in the betting would imply there is a whole world between the two.

I really like Wholestone, but if I do so, then I have to like Ami Desbois even more, given his progressive profile and much bigger price.

Selection:
5pts win – Ami Desbois @ 33/1 Betfair SB
5pts win – Constantine Bay @ 16/1 Bet365

…..

3.30: Gold Cup Chase

Who’s the new champ? Native River most likely. Hard to be against him? He put in some big performances, is clearly on the up, has Cheltenham form and is only seven. Even if there is no rain arriving, the ground may not necessarily be too big an issue.

But at the given price I can’t have him. Plain and simple he’s got to prove it all now for the first time in Grade 1. He hasn’t done that before. This is the toughest test to date which he may pass with flying colours. But I have to see it to believe it.

The standard is set by Djakadam. Twice a runner-up in this race; seemingly enjoying a better preparation this time and the Mullins yard is bullish. Fact is he’s been here before and ran extremely well, but fact is also his win record is only average. He had a lot of hard races for a horse of his age, so I’m not convinced he is even able to run to his form of the last two years.

He may well, but again, price dictates that he’s not for me. Even at double the odds he’d not be my choice, I have to admit. And that might be unfair to the poor horse and he could easily prove me wrong. If he does: great for Willie Mullins and well deserved.

Looking elsewhere I cant have Cue Card either. The old boy seems to be nearly as good as ever. But does he truly stay the Gold Cup trip? I still have a few doubts. Another one who’d be a well deserved winner, don’t get me wrong. But there are good reasons to oppose him, at least at a shortish enough looking price.

Sizing John is an interesting case. He won’t see the backside of Douvan here, but will he actually have the stamina to get home? Big question mark in my book.

Lexus Chase winner Outlander is a serious horse, though one you never can be sure whether he’s on a good or a bad day. It concerns me that he has not been seen since Christmas. Maybe to keep him fresh. This quirky character is not for me.

Neither is More Of That, even if Jonjo is blullish. Maybe unlucky the last time when he fell in the Irish Gold Cup, but overall his form over fences is below the standard required to land a Gold Cup.

Brings me to the two I fancy – though as it is with each and everyone in this field, you can blow big holes into their form.

After landing the Peter Marsh Handicap at Haydock, Bristol De Mai was odds-on to land the Denman chase, where he was then a long way beaten by Native River. That form is not his true class and I wouldn’t read too much into it. He’s clearly better than that.

Still only a six years old he could easily improve and develop into a top chaser. He may not, of course, that is also possible. At given prices I’m rather backing him to close the gap to the favourite.

Speaking of form that ties in with Native River: he was second at last years Festival behind Minella Rocco in the National Hunt Chase!  For Minella Rocco things did not go well since then. A decent comeback run followed by a fall and unseating his rider in his next two other starts this season.

Hard to know what to make of that. Confidence might be an issue. But if he can get his act together, which is more likely to happen at a place over a trip he has proven to be successful at, then he could be in the shake-up.

Selection:
5pts win – Minella Rocco @ 25/1 WH
5pts win – Bristol De Mai @ 25/1 WH

……

The Foxhunter is a race I find impossible to solve. Yes, On The Fringe is the most likely winner, but he is also a very short price. I would love to find an alternative but I rather focus on the last two races of Festival.

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.4.50: Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap

There is no doubt that Battleford ticks every box for me. Granted he gets in to the race, which looks rather likely (otherwise it’s money back anyway), he’ll be a big market mover come Friday I believe.

He had the perfect preparation in my mind, showed excellent form this year – his runner-up effort behind Monalee rates highly in my book. Most importantly he was here last year, finishing an agonisingly close second in the Champion Bumper.

Off a really nice mark he’s got a tremendous chance to win this race.

Selection:
10pts win – Battleford @ 8/1 Bet365

……

5.30: Grand Annual

Having fancied Le Prezien to have a chance to have a place chance in the Arkle and subsequently in the Brown Advisory, I have to fancy him for this, right?

The French recruit has had a good – albeit – light season so far, including a Grade 2 success here at Cheltenham. Hi seasonal reappearance when second behind Charbel looks increasingly strong form after his excellent performance in the Arkle on Tuesday.

Ground is a slight worry, but he looks potentially well in on handicap debut, so it’s the risk I take.

However there is another horse I even more fancy: that is Velvet Maker. I was incredibly keen on this lad last year in the very same race, where he bombed out. But he scoped badly- and had his issues in the aftermath, which meant he only made a reappearance last month.

That was an encouraging spin over hurdles where he travelled well and finished a nice third without getting a hard time. He should come on allot for the run – hopefully – with a 2lb lower mark than last year, fit and healthy this time around, I sense he’s a massive chance to lead from start to finish.

Selection:
5pts win – Le Prezien @ 10/1 Bet365
10pts win – Velvet Maker @ 14/1 Bet365

Cheltenham Festival 2017 – Thursday Preview

It’s day three of the Festival – it’s nearly over again…. how time’s flying! So let’s enjoy it as long as it lasts, with Yorkhill the class act of the day to shine…. or not? Some say he’s the best horse in training. He might well be. We soon find out.

The Stayers Hurdle (formerly World Hurdle) is the feature of the day. A red hot favourite who is probably backed into odds-on on Thursday itself – can he been beaten or may he kick-start a dominance over the stayers division as Big Buck’s did not all too long ago?

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1.30: JLT Novices’ Chase

A race that’ll evolve around the jumping of Yorkhill. With a clear round he’s very hard to beat. But I’m not sure if he will get this clear round. His first start over fences was a Mickey Mouse contest where he didn’t learn much, his second and most recent start was one that didn’t impress many and clearly left me wondering too.

Jumping is the game, the saying goes – particularly at Cheltenham. That brings Disko very much into the equation. Noel Meade’s inmate was impressive at Leopardstown when last seen, he’s still improving and has the distance and ground in him.

Officially rated only one pound below Yorkhill you have to take him serious. Whether the big performance at Leopardstown in February has taken too much out him is a question mark. But he is a super jumper who may put the pressure on Yorkhill’s potentially weak point.

Selection:
5pts win – Disko @ 5/1 Paddy Power

…….

2.10: Pertemps Finale

A big field handicap but one that can be easily broken down to a good handful of serious contenders. Favourite Tobefair looks a big chance. So does El Bandit and Impulsive Star together with Jury Duty from the other side of the Irish Sea.

In the end I’m nailing my colours to Impulsive Star and Jury Duty. Neil Mulholland’s lightly raced seven year old has been progressive throughout the season resulting in three wins out of four runs, while the one time he was beaten he encountered some excellent opposition.

He won’t mind the decent ground and stays really well. One who should relish the test of a big field where he can battle up the hill. A career highest mark he has to overcome, but this serious talent could easily be better than his current mark.

Ireland’s Jury Duty is equally lightly raced, though his win record isn’t as good. He’s encountered some strong opposition, though, and was slightly unlucky here and there in the past.

He picked up a niggle in his preparation and had to be rushed in order to qualify, which he did at Chepstow eventually.

The quick ground is a slight concern but this lad may have still some serious improvement left in him. It’s probably fair to say we didn’t see the best yet and that gives me hope for a big run here.

Selection:
5pts win – Impulsive Star @ 10/1 Betfair SB
5pts win – Jury Duty @ 10/1 Betfair SB

…..

2.50: Ryanair Chase

A bit a surprise to see Empire of Dirt declared given I thought he’d be the ideal candidate for the Gold Cup, even more so after Don Poli’s absence. He’s here though and rates a major chance.

A festival winner last year, runner-up in the Irish Gold Cup this year – he’s got stamina in abundance as well as class. Ground and trip are not necessarily a worry but I do wonder if the big race from last month left a mark? He also produced some of his finest performances as a fresh horse.

That’s like complaining on a high level, of course, yet I feel he’s not the ideal candidate that I want to lump on in this race.

Speedier Un De Sceaux is favoured in the betting. The former Arkle winner and Champion Chase runner-up has had a perfect preparation with two wins from two starts this season. He can be a bit edgy jumping wise, might not quite appreciate the quick ground and the trip is one that may stretch him with others surely making this a test of stamina.

He’s the most likely winner but nothing more than a fair price. The one I do like is Empire Of Dirt stablemate Sub Lieutenant.

Far from a sexy selection, but a value price in my book. He’s proven on good ground and still only an eight year old. He’s had an ideal preparation and put a string of fine performances together this season, including a success over subsequent Lexus Chase winner Outlander.

With that in mind and more than double the price of UDC and EOD I feel he can give those two something to think about on Thursday.

Selection:
10pts Win – Sub Lieutenant @ 8/1 Bet365

…….

3.30: World Hurdle

On all evidence Unowhatimeanharry is very hard to beat here. He’s a machine who’s proven class over course and distance. But he’s also a very short price. Too short for me.

Looking for alternatives I can see previous World Hurdle winner Cole Harden going close, but the one intriguing me most is quite clearly Ballyoptic.

He finished a couple of times behind the favourite this season and probably the same fate awaits here. But fact is he’s a Grade 1 winning novice himself who’s still a relatively young horse on the upward who was only 6l behind in second Unowhatimeanharry at Newbury in November.

After a disappointing performance over course and distance in the Cleeve Hurdle he got a bit of a break and his wind done – he’ll try a tongue tie for the first time here too – that in combination might bring out further improvement.

If it does and if he can get back to his early season form then he’ll be able to outrun his price tag and should be in the shake-up which is enough for a healthy place part of an each-way bet to pay.

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

…….

4.10: Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap 

Update: my original selection Le Prezien is out and instead runs in the Grand Annual tomorrow – so I re-evaluated the race and come to the conclusion at given prices, now that he made it into the race, Katachenko of a feather weight must have a decent chance to be in the shake-up.

He had a light enough campaign to date after finishing last season on a high thanks to Graded success over two miles at Aintree. His most recent run over a little more than 3 miles at Catterick, which is quite an undulating track, was a fine prep.

Stamina questions were answered that say in my mind. He finished a fine runner-up in soft conditions, but has proven himself on better ground in the past. Given he has form over much shorter too, he should be fine with conditions today.

At 40s with six places to pay with Skybet, I give him a chance.

Selection:
5pts E/W – Katachenko @ 40/1 Skybet

……

I strongly fancied Let’s Dance for the Supreme and I believe she’s going to be very tough to beat now in the Mares’ Novices’, but she is not a price for me, so I let her run and hopefully win without the burden of my money.

…….

5.30: Kim Mur Amateur Riders’ Chase

Plain and simple Potters Legend is the one I want. While I also quite like Southfield Royale, I find it hard to trust him at a shortish price. Potters Legend, a lightly raced novice, will find this a tough assignment against seasoned handicappers but he could be one who has the talent to relish the challenge,

He produced fair performances this season and the last two times in Handicaps off his current mark. The step up in trip is intriguing and may or may not suit. But if he has to have a chance then because of improvement coming for the stamina test.

The good ground should definitely help to stay the distance. At a price he’s a decent bet in this race I feel.

Selection:
5pts win – Potters Legend @ 16/1 William Hill

Cheltenham Festival 2017 – Wednesday Preview

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

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


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1.30: Neptune Novices’ Hurdle 

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

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

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

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

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

……..

2.10: RSA Novices’ Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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

……..

2.50: Coral Cup

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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3.30: Queen Mother Champion Chase

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

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

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

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

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

……

4.10: Cross-Country Chase

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

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

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

…….

4.50: Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

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

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

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

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

……

5.30: Champion Bumper

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

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

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

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

Cheltenham Festival 2017 – Tuesday Preview

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

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

Let the games begin & let us find some winners!

……

1.30: Supreme Novices Hurdle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……..

2.10: Arkle Tropy

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

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

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

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

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

……..

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

………

3.30: Champion Hurdle

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…….

4.10: Mares’ Hurdle

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

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

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

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

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

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

……..

4.50: National Hunt Novices’ Chase

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

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

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

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

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

……..

5.30: lose Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase

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

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

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

……

Update: Arkle Trophy

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

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

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

Cheltenham: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly

That’s it, all over, the Cheltenham Festival 2016 done and dusted. Time’s flying! The build-up, twelve month long, the Festival fever, and then, blink with an eye and you miss the whole thing. This is my personal review of the week, calling out the moments that caught my attention; positive and negative, beyond all the the self-adulation of an industry that can be prone to turn a blind eye on some things.

Sprinter brings the house Down

All that was good about the week is unified in the this one horse, Sprinter Sacre. It can’t be any different. The old warrior made dreams come true. Dreams many have dreamt but few dared to believe could become reality. And yet here he was, the ex Champion Chaser, jumping the third from home, niggling along but suddenly finding another gear, under  pressure called on for a big effort, jockey De Boinville not shy to ask for everything.

The comeback of comebacks. It’s what makes racing so beautiful. The only sport that can deliver a drama as rich as this, where the red hot favourite find himself overturned by a horse that only twelve month ago looked finished. But Sprinter Sacre is no ordinary horse. He’s an individual full of heart and class. To see him jumping the last ,clear and striding on to win his second Champion Chase – it one of those moments that make this place, Cheltenham, so special. It makes or brakes you. It makes you a legend.

Yes, we could discuss whether this Champion Chase was a vintage renewal, whether it was a below par race, whether the favourite was caught up in  a battle for the lead and therefore racing way too early, whether the eventual winners performance was the performance of a true Champion or not. But no, let’s not do that. Let’s enjoy it for what is was: a moment of magic, a moment where dreams came true,  a moment that made usbelieve in the beauty of the sport.

Victoria silences the Doubters

Personally I never doubted Victoria Pendelton’s ability to ride in the Foxhunter Chase. What I saw from her in advance was clearly good enough to ride in the race. Her credentials weren’t any worse or better than the ones of most of other amateur riders in the field.

In the race itself, she did a good enough job. You can’t ask much more from someone who’s only riding for a year. She looked good for most parts of the race, she showed balls going on the inner, saving ground and waiting for a gap to open. Other than that is was not an outstanding ride or anything close to it in my opinion. She started riding when it was way too late. Any other day and she may have been even called in by the stewards to explain herself under the non-trier rule.

But then, she is an amateur, never rode at Cheltenham before. She reflected afterwards and what she learned and could have done better. This ability to analyzise and reflect is what you expect from a professional athlete as she is. I really liked the way she conducted herself. Open, honest and  transparent.

As such it was good to have her there, it brought unparalleled PR to the sport. It was a feel good story, which was much needed after the death of seven horses during the week.

But I also would have preferred the media to be a bit less VP obsessed in the immediate aftermath of the race. It was attention which the actual winner, On The Fringe, given a peach of a ride by arguably  the best amateur rider around, Nina Carberry, deserved.

On the other hand it is understandable why Pendelton got the full winners treatment. Channel 4 interview, ovations entering the parade ring, all of that. She deserves it. But so does any other amateur riding in the race. It an achievement for all of them to make it there, to ride, to get over the line. We shouldn’t forget that.

Bryan Cooper flipped the right Coin

It must have been some sleepless nights for Bryan Cooper leading up to the Festival. He had to make a difficult decision. Who to ride in the Gold Cup? Stick with Don Cossack – the highest rated chaser in trainer? Who may not be totally suited by Cheltenham, and with whom Cooper – in the opinion of some – didn’t seem to get on well with? Instead should he switch to Don Poli, the up-and-coming star chaser? Twice a winner at the Festival, the horse Cooper won the Lexus Chase with earlier the season?

Cooper stuck to the form book. Decided to ride Don Cossack. It turned out to be the right decision. Young Cooper gave his mount a brilliant ride, patient, waiting for the right moment to press the button. Maybe advantaged by the fact that Cue Card fell, nonetheless Don Cossack looked so classy on Friday, stayed up the hill in the manner of  a true champ – he put the doubters to bed.

So did Bryan Cooper. Not getting on well with Don Cossack? Well, both just won the pinnacle of jump racing! And Don Poli? Cynics where quick to make fun of “Slow Poli” in the aftermath, but seem to forget that he remains a young and promising chaser, who finished 3rd in the Gold Cup, nonetheless. He got rolling when it was too late, that’s for sure, though.

That might have been down to an ultra patient ride by Davy Russell. From my armchair position I’d say with a slightly more aggressive ride Don Poli would have finished closer. However no other ride would have made any difference about the winner of the race. Don Cossack is the best chaser in training.

Mike Cattermole ruins the Gold Cup

I felt Racing UK did an okay job throughout the week. The build-up to the racing every day in the morning was excellent. The coverage in the afternoon was decent, without being really good. Opinions are always divided, but personally I feel RUK’s coverage of the 2015 Royal Ascot meeting was far superior. Somehow the spark was missing this time.

There was more than only the spark missing from Mike Cattermole commentary of the Gold Cup – the feature of the entire week! It was dismal, unworthy of such a big race. Sure, it’s always down to individual taste, but in this case I would have preferred no commentary rather than listening to an uninterested, unemotional, dreary sounding Cattermole who seemed to lose interest completely in the closing stages.

The Gold Cup deserves a commentary that brings the emotions and excitement across, that stands  up to the phenomenal performance of the winner. This after all is the race everyone wants to see. I would have much preferred Mark Johnson, who’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but he’s one who always puts his all into calling a race.

Death is Jumping

Seven horses died this week: Long Dog, Pont Alexandre, Montdragon, No More Heroes, Niceonefrankie, The Govaness and Rezorbi. It’s the ugly part of our sport. In racing people don’t want to talk about it. Usually this topic is brushed away. “It is what it is.”

I’ve been contacted by friends this week, asking about what’s going on there with all the dead horses. The topic debated on national radio, it’s the one thing non-racing folks hear about, it’s what sticks in their mind; not Sprinter’s heroics.

“It’s cruel, how can you support this bullshit?” – It’s a relevant question. And I make the points – happily defending the sport I love – those horses didn’t suffer, they receive the best care in the world, live a happy & healthy life in a way the majority of the human population doesn’t do. It’s not necessarily racing that kills horses.Even leisure horses break their legs when taking  a wrong step on the field. It’s just happens, is what it is. And that is all true.

But even I have to admit – on Friday, two dead horse again – it sometimes gets difficult defending this, no? We bring these beautiful creatures into the world, care for them deeply, bond with them, just to see them getting destroyed jumping hurdles?

It’s a strange thing. I guess it’s one of the things why I prefer flat racing. Although I’m probably just a hypocrite in saying that. Death is less visible in flat racing. But who knows how young horses die before they ever make it to the racetrack? Well, it’s the ugly truth of our sport and Cheltenham gave it a face this week. It’s something I as a fan have to accept.

An over-hyped Festival

So this gets controversial now, and it goes against the general happiness that surrounds the Festival, which again was of course the greatest, the best ever, nothing like it…. everyone seems so freakin’ happy! Praise for yet another sublime festival on every corner, every tweet, blog, commentary. It’s Cheltenham after all!

I didn’t feel it this year. Maybe it’s just me, maybe it was always like that and I just never saw it, however I felt this year the whole thing was so dramatically over-hyped, hyped up so long before an actual race was even run. All this big talk, it drove up the excitement, the “bring it on I can’t wait for it” feeling from pretty much five, six months before the legendary roar of the crowd.

It all got me so early in a state of eager anticipation; I purchased several guides, listened to tons of podcasts, trainer interviews, visited preview nights – all leading up to the big week of course, which should be the culminating point of all the excitement.

It was the complete opposite. By Tuesday the 15th of March there was this empty, burned out feeling: All those details, tons of information, all the emotions created well in advance, already lived through the last number of months.There was nothing left.

There is nobody but myself to blame, of course. Nobody forces you to take part in this. Though this time it seemed more difficult than ever to not get soaked in by the wheels of the Cheltenham machinery. As a racing fan it’s hard to avoid it, isn’t it? As a racing fan I crave for all the details, all the thoughts of “is this a Cheltenham horse?” questions.

Obviously this in itself is nothing new. It been always hat way. But no, not THAT way. It was a different intensity this season, different in a sense of how Cheltenham was at the forefront of anyone’s mind, so much, so early. Everything’s about Cheltenham. A well oiled machinery, in top gear right from the start. Anything beside? Ornamental Art. Hennessy, King George….? Preliminaries. Nobody cares.

Admittedly, that might be slightly exaggerated and I’m not sure if I’m actually able to articulate properly what I really mean. But in short: the Cheltenham hype starts as early as the horses pass the line of Grand Annual. There is no break. It’s constant. Anyone’s caught up in the hype from the earliest moment. It’s like being on drugs constantly. The Festival drug!

To add one more thought: I generally like the idea of  having a season that goes out with a big bang, like you have it in jumps racing with the Cheltenham Festival. But I also like it the way the flat keeps the momentum over a full season with highlights here and then. And this diversity between the two codes is what I generally love about the sport.

And don’t get me wrong, I do love Cheltenham. I’ve been there myself in the past. It’s just this year, I – and I can only speak for myself – got caught up in the hype way to early, which meant when the actual event came around, it felt like all the races had been ran thousand times before.

Now, onwards and upwards I guess. Tomorrow the new Irish flat season starts. Up until now I haven’t really thought about it. But you know what? I’m mightily excited driving up to the Curragh tomorrow afternoon. #Theflatisback

Cheltenham: Thistlecrack & Vautour run the Show!

World Hurdle day, and boy did we see an impressive winner in Thistlecrack! The hype was real – this horse is THAT good. Sure, it wasn’t a vintage renewal of the race, but honestly, is there ever one? Three milers aren’t the most exciting horses in the world, but this lad clearly is one with a bright future. Gold Cup 2017 I hear ya calling?!

I was worried when Vautour was on the drift earlier today. You could back him at staggering 11/10 for the Ryanair. A fools price, one would think, but only if the horse is fit and fine, which we couldn’t be sure of after connections performed a dramatic u-turn.

In the end nobody, including myself, who was big time on Vautour, had to worry. The ultra talented chaser jumped well mostly throughout the race and put the race to bed turning for home as quickly as Ruby gave him a bit of reign.

Relief…. it’s been by far my biggest bet in the last 24 month – Vautour evens with the NRNB insurance of course. So while Cheltenham in general is more like a betting disaster, it doesn’t really matter in the end if this lad goes in. Thankfully he did.

Friday’s Menu: 

It’s all about the Gold Cup and my stance on the race is clear: I’m on the Don Poli bandwagon and can’t wait to see him flying up the hill past anyone, putting all the doubters to shame, who are nicknaming him “Slow Poli”. I’m delighted about the fact that Davy Russell is riding. Nobody’s better equipped to steer home a lazy but classy horse as Don Poli is.

The other ante-post bet  is Velvert Maker @ 16/1 in the Grand Annual. This horse will run a huge race, I’ve no doubts. If all goes to plan this lad should have way too much on his plate for lot he’s facing in this handicap.

County Handicap Hurdle: I really like Starchitect who has the right profile to land this.But he’s short enough in the market and I also like two much bigger prices. Devilment at 40/1 looks overpriced for a horse that goes well around Cheltenham and who’s ran two nice races this year but most importantly will love the fast ground.

It’s a bit more difficult to make a case for Ivan Grozny who can’t be trusted at all. But he shaped not all that badly in his two races this year after a long absence. He’s was a decent flat horse and showed plenty of promise over hurdles before getting injured. If he comes right fitness wise now he’s got a chance to go close. Again ground can be key. I’m pretty sure he’s a different animal on better ground.

Foxhunter Chase: You can be sure On The Fringe is primed and therefore I wouldn’t read too much into the fact that he tired badly when last seen at Leopardstown. More concerning is his age, he’s not getting any younger, and there is at least a small doubt whether he’ll come back from the tough campaign he had last season.

There were plenty of good words about the Jim Culloty horse It Came To Pass in the build-up of the festival. And it’s easy to see why. Lightly raced, unexposed, progressive. Successful in point to point company, he won a maiden hunter chase on his first under rules. He went on to finish an encouraging second at Leopardstown in February, when he had too much to do.

This six year old is likely to have more left in the locker. That says the Foxhunter is a tough test for such a young and inexperienced horse. There’s also a question mark whether he can handle good ground. All in all It Came To Pass remains a very playable price at 12/1.

Martin Pipe CJH Hurdle: I don’t understand how Nabucco can be a 33/1 chance. If you draw a line through his last performance, where he was clearly not himself, you have a progressive animal who’s coming fresh into this race of a very fair mark.

There is a question mark over his stamina, particularly around Cheltenham, but the better ground will surely play to his strengths. Nabucco was a classy flat performer, who too kwell to hurdles, winning three on the bounce last year, including a Listed Handicap off only 4lb lower than his current mark.

If he can ran to that sort of form he’s got to be in the mix, if he finds a bit of improvement for what is only his sixth start over timber, with conditions likely to suit, he’s got to be a big runner.