Tag Archives: Festival

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!

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Chester Kick-Off

The Chester May Festival kicks off on Wednesday. Traditionally quite an important date in the calendar as more often than not we see potential Oaks and Derby contenders over the three days.

However it is also a meeting that brings certain aspects of the Chester racecourse to the forefront of our mind: the draw advantage or disadvantage in particular. It’s no secret – and numbers do back it up indeed – that low drawn horses perform much better than those drawn wide. This not uncommon, of course, but even more emphasised at this ever turning track.

Particularly over sprint distances, if you are drawn in the high numbers you can basically forget whatever winning chances you dreamed of – it’s not gonna happen. So bear that in mind if you intend to get in involved in the races.

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2.25 Chester: Cheshire Oaks (Listed), 1m 4f

Aiden O’Brien has used this race as a springboard for plenty of good fillies in the past, in fact his record is quite sublime and therefore it should be a tip in itself that he brings Alluringly here on the back of a mightily impressive maiden success last month.

The Fastnet Rock filly rocked home at Tipperary in stylish fashion, giving the impression that she could be a very smart individual. She looked, big and scopey, clearly physically improved that day, after two slightly underwhelming runs as a juvenile.

The step up in trip is the question mark. She goes as far as never before and it’s not clear cut on pedigree, however there is Saddler’s Wells in the dam line, so that alone should ensure that she has at least a fighting chance. Also she ran strongly to the line the other day, giving the impression a step up in trip will only see her improving again.

Selection:
10pts win – Alluringly @ 6/4 Skybet

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5.05 Chester: Class 4 Handicap, 7f

The final race of the opening card of the Festival. I elaborated above on how the draw plays a huge role here, so going against the bias backing a horse from a wide draw is probably rather dumb.

I still do it. Reason is that I back bottom weight Fast Dancer here, who is drawn in eleven, but who is a hold-up horse and therefore might not  be quite as disadvantaged by the draw as a horse that needs to lead.

Though it is also true that being up with the pace is an advantage at Chester too, it also happens regularly that they go way too fast up on front witch in turn opens up opportunities for those horse ridden more patiently.

Fast Dancer will rely on this fast pace and what encourages me most is his positive course record. Also he dropped to a mark that potentially undervalues his past achievements and therefore a race to suit should see him have a cracking chance here.

Selection:
10pts win – Fast Dancer @ 14/1 Bet365

Thursday Selections

Cheltenham Festival

2.35 Goodwood: Qatar Richmond Stakes (Group 2)

Long Island at 6/1 is a huge price in my mind. Forgive him the run at the Curragh which came too soon after a big performance at Royal Ascot. He’s more suited to 6f though and after a bit of rest should be back to his best today. He went into the Royal meeting as the most exciting 2yo and I think it’s too early to give up on him.

Long Island @ 6/1 Betfred – 5pts Win

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3.00 Galway Handicap (90-60), 1m

Top weight of ten stone and a wider than ideal draw are tough asks, but lightly raced Champagne Or Water makes plenty of appeal in this field nonetheless. She came out off her seasonal break really well at the Curragh earlier this month when she won a good Handicap in fine style.

She came miles clear with the runner-up and might well be able to pull out more, despite a rise off 9lb in the mark. She is overpriced here.

Champagne Or Water @ 9/1 Coral – 5pts Win

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3.10 Goodwood: Goodwood Cup (Group 2), 2m

I like to think that Pallasator is capable to bounce back today. He’s a really interesting runner – the three year old filly Vive Ma Fille is the one that intrigues me most. She is wonderfully bred, is a full-sister to Group 1 winning Vif Monsieur and she stepped up successfully to Listed class at Royal Ascot last month.

She tried 2m for the first time and attempted to make all. She set a steady pace and was in with a big shout over one furlong out, however hang her chances literally away. Whether this performance is prove enough for her ability to truly stay 2m isn’t clear yet as on pedigree she hasn’t really a right to do so, but it was an encouraging effort in a competitive field.

Today is tougher of course in a better grade against seasoned stayers, and the fact remains that she has won only one single race to date. But she has been very consistent in her form. What I like is thee fact that she receives a truckload of weight from the rest of the field. The Johnston yard is flying too, so there’s plenty to like about her chances.

Vive Ma Fille @ 20/1 Sportingbet – 5pts Win

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4.45 Galway: Galway Hurdle, Handicap, Class 1, 2m

It was Diakali first, the rest nowhere on his seasonal comeback at Tipperary eleven days ago. If this doesn’t come too soon today, it’s hard to look beyond him. This six year old is the class act, still improving and as long as he takes to the track, will take all the beating, despite top weight. I feel 5/1 is rather generous.

Diakali @ 5/1 Coral – 5pts Win

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7.15 Ffos Las: Class 6 Handicap, 10f

I’m sure Kingdom Of Alba is better than what he’s shown in three maidens yet with the yard going strongly, but the same could easily apply to Rebel Yell who makes plenty of appeal on his handicap debut either. He’s pretty well bred and should be very well suited by the step up in trip.

Gelded since his last run will help to focus him more on the task ahead. Usually this works well for Shamardal offspring. This is very winnable race, so with plenty in his favour, he’s a worth a nibble at 10/1.

Rebel Yell @ 10/1 Betfred – 5pts Win

Wonder Holy bound to improve

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6.40 Galway: 3yo Handicap, 1m

The trip is a concern for the favourite, although the light weight is a huge advantage for Laganore. I feel the horses higher up the marks facing quite a stiff task and my interest mainly applies to the lower weights.

With Laganore making not much appeal due to a shocking price, the next best choice appears to be Wonder Holy. Of a mark off 79 with a useful 5lb claimer in the saddle, he is an intriguing sort.

He hinted a bit of ability in a maiden at Fairyhouse when he finished strongly coming from an impossible position. He got off the mark the next time at Killarney, when again not favoured by the way the race was ran, but he got there in time.

Today represents a massive step up in class, but I believe there is a good chance he is a bit better than his current rating. He has a good draw today and the ground won’t bother him at all – therefore he seems quite a big price.

Wonder Holy @ 20/1 Paddy Power – 5pts Win

Preview – Aintree Grand Opening Day 2015

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Day one of the Aintree Grand National Festival. A brilliant card of top class jump racing is awaiting us – four Grade 1 races – that is simply sensational! The Aintree Hurdle in particular shapes as a cracker with the likes of Jezki, Arctic Fire and Rock On Ruby tackling the 2m 4f trip. Probably not a race to bet on, but to simply sit back and enjoy. Betting wise I’ve two selections for the day:

1.40 One Magnificent City Manifesto Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)

The first four in the betting have all been beaten by the same horse at Cheltenham… in fact they have been demolished. A sigh of relive for connections – there’s no Un De Sceaux here today! Josses Hill was the one who fared best last month, he finished a creditable third. He got a very good ride that day but was clearly ridden for a place. Things are different today and for that simple reason he looks short enough in the betting. He may not be able to ride his own race in a way he could do it the last time.

Vibrato Valtat may get closer this time with a different ride. He remains with potential, while Clarcam needs to show big improvement to be competitive. You could pick holes in each of the three better fancied runners here and I feel this might be one for an upset.

If there is a horse that looks potentially capable of causing an upset then it is Cash And Go. He’s been a decent hurdler, finished 3rd in a Grade 3 here at Aintree last season. He improved gradually this season over fences. Unseated his rider on his Chase debut, battled and won well the next time and demolished a small field in a minor race most recently.

He is still learning his game over the bigger obstacles and needs to improve his jumping if he wants to be competitive here. But he is a nice prospect, with more improvement to come and he may well be up to this class. I like to select him as a big price against the better fancied market leaders.

Cash And Go @ 20/1 Bet365 – 5pts win

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3.25 Aintree: Betfred Bowl Chase (Grade 1)

It’ll be interesting to see how much the big guns have still left in the tank after a tough season and Cheltenham in particular. That says I’m surprised how the betting shapes for this race. Holywell looks an exciting prospect, no doubt, and he wasn’t disgraced in the Gold Cup at all. But I feel he is a wrong favourite. And improving sort with loads of potential – yes. But he hasn’t done yet what a Silviniaco Conti has done.

Conti was certainly disappointing at Cheltenham. However this was his only poor performance this season, ignoring his seasonal reappearance. Cheltenham doesn’t suit Conti, but Aintree does. He won this very same race last year, and the fact that he was such an impressive winner of the King George, should give him every right to be the favourite for this race.

The mare Ma Filleule is a consistent individual, always well fancied in the big races with her sex allowance, but she hasn’t been able to get her head in front in her last three races, where she had every chance to do so. She looks just a tick below the very best horses in this field. Don’t underestimate Menorah. On his day he could always spring a surprise. He’s kept fresh and has conditions to suit. But on most occasions he has been beaten by Conti in the past, and that should be the fate here again today.

Silviniaco Conti at 3/1 is a full point too big in my mind. It remains to be seen what damage the Gold Cup has done to him. But he bounced back last year to win this race, so I don’t see a reason why the same shouldn’t happen today again. He’s the class act in the field and I expect a big run with conditions sure to suit.

Silviniaco Conti @ 3/1 Bet365 – 10pts win

Cheltenham Festival Preview – Day 3 / Part II

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Part II of my preview for Cheltenham Thursday takes a look into the races with the big field sizes. Always on the hunt for value, I belive to have found some interesting overpriced horses.

Pertemps Network Final (Listed Handicap Hurdle)

I wouldn’t be surprised if Grand National winner Pineau De Re shows up today with a big performance but I like Trustan Times a bit more and trust him to run a very good race at a big price. Less than a lengths beaten in fourth last year, he followed on with a third in the Scottish Grand National. Wasn’t seen at his best this season so far, but good ground and return to Cheltenham will definitely suit.

Trustan Times @ 20/1 PP – 2.5pts EW

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Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate (Grade 3 Handicap)

David Pipe’s favourite looks hard to oppose but offers zero value. Jessica Harrington in contrast brings over the excellent mare Burn And Turn who was runner-up in the Galway Plate last year and who won off 138 a good Chase at Limerick over 2m4. Out off depth in Graded company, this drop in class will help and key to her is the good ground. She arrives fresh, what can only enhance her chances.

Burn And Turn @ 20/1 Coral – 2.5pts EW

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Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase

Benbane Head has a p proven track record over course and distance and if you can forgive him his recent antics at Warwick then you see a nine lengths CD triumph in a Grade 3 Handicap Chase. He’s seven pounds higher today but could be up to it at this venue with ground he clearly likes.

Benbane Head @ 25/1 VC – 2.5pts win 

CHELTENHAM FESTIVAL PREVIEW – DAY 2/PART II

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Part II of my preview for Cheltenham Wednesday – I’ll have a closer look into all of these very competitive looking races with huge filed sizes. There might be some value to find, though, and if only one wins for me, I’ll be big in the profit today.

Coral Cup (Grade 3 Handicap Hurdle)

Prices are quickly diminishing for Lac Fontana but he is still big enough to have an each-way interest in him. He loves it around Cheltenham, won three out of six starts here and was progressive last season, culminating in a triumph in the Country Hurdle at the Festival. He has been not quite as good this season, well held in two of his three starts, though he ran in hot company and a third behind Faugheen at Kempton looks good form. He’s a fresh horse today which should work, he has his decent ground and is back at his beloved Cheltenham. I expect a bold bid.

Lac Fontana @ 18/1 Coral – 2.5pts win

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Cross Country Chase

I love this race. Visually it is most compelling. Some strong runners with excellent experience in this type of race are at the top of the market and it is not easy to oppose them, but they offer little to no value in their prices. From the rather unexposed looking animals I like Rivage D’or. He needs decent ground and looks on a fair mark with potential improvement to come. He fell when last seen but usually jumps well. Trip is an unknown but possible. He has won as a fresh horse before, and could outrun his price .

Rivage D’or @ 20/1 PP – 2.5pts EW

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Champion Bumper (Grade 1 Standard Open NH Flat Race)

Some lovely bred sorts in this race. I think some of the bigger prices are underestimated, however. Very well bred indeed is the only mare in the race, Montana Belle. She has a bit of experience in bumpers and shaped well in most starts. I loved the way she quickened here at Cheltenham over CD when last seen. She finished runner-up behind very useful mare Bitofapuzzle who won a couple of races subsequently and finished 3rd in the Mares Hurdle yesterday. The decent ground should suit Montana Belle who looks big and scopy. Worth a nibble.

Montana Belle @ 66/1 Coral – 2.5pts EW