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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

……

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

……..

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

…….

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

………

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

……..

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

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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

…….

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

…….

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

Cheltenham Festival 2019 – Wednesday Selections

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1.30: Grade 1 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, 2m 5f

Will Champ honour his name? He’s certainly got every chance to do so. He’s top rated, 5lb ahead of his nearest rival. Has achieved the highest RPR of anyone in the field so far and comes only marginally second in TS ratings.

The one thing you can question is the merit of his forms, though: they aren’t worth a lot, despite two graded successes this season. On that basis, at given prices, he’s one to oppose.

The Irish talk is all about Battleoverdoyen. He won the Lawlor’s Of Naas in impressive style. He’ll be an amazing chaser next season, you’d reckon. In my eyes, even now, he seems like crying out for a step up in trip and his jumping isn’t really all that efficient over the smaller obstacles either.

The runner-up from Naas, Sams Profile, is an interesting contender. He didn’t quite get the best of runs that day and should have plenty of improvement left.

Nonetheless, the one I quite fancy, despite not having graded form to his name yet, is City Island. Unbeaten over hurdles, he had enough speed to win a 2 miles national Hunt Flat race last season as well as a Leopardstown Maiden Hurdle this season, dispatching smart Dallas Des Pictons easily.

That form looks a strong piece of form judged through the runner-up. Not as impressive form-wise, more so visually, was City Island’s most recent success at Naas- a good preparation for Cheltenham.

The fact he has had the speed to win over shorter than the Ballymore trip, despite clearly having a future over further, already having shown form with cut in the ground and running to a relatively fast TS rating plus the second highest RPR tells me he is still underappreciated in the market, even though he is shortening.

Selection:
10pts win – City Island @ 10/1 Coral

……..

2.50: Grade 3 Coral Cup Hurdle, 2m 4f

I’ve been sitting for a long time over this race, much longer than usual. Ultimately, even though shortlisted, I do not trust big weights Vision Des Flos and William Henry to be good enough to overcome their high marks in this ultra competitive renewal.

Ruby Walsh on favourite Uradel is the likeliest winner in my book. His reappearance last month at Leopardstown was eye-catching and he comes here with a nice weight. But he is a skinny price.

Not a skinny price, but also catching my eye was Tully East. A horse I’ll be forever grateful for as I backed him at big odds when he landed the Close Brothers two years ago.

That was over fences. This is over hurdles. Significantly, Tully East’s hurdle handicap mark is eight pounds lower for this race than his current chasing mark. One can make the argument that he is a better chaser than hurdler. In my book it’s marginal and a rating of 138 by the British handicapper gives him a tremendous chance in this race.

As mentioned, Tully East caught the eye on his latest run, which was a second after a 148-day break. He was well beaten in the end, but was buried in the pack for the majority of the race, travelled nicely, made a bit of stylish headway turning for home, when short of room, which eventually ended his race.

Trip and ground are a non-issue. He’s been here before, done it – I’m sure connections had this in mind all season long. He’s a much bigger price than I would have anticipated.

Selection:
10pts win – Tully East @ 22/1 MB

…….

3.30: Grade 1 Champion Chase, 2 miles

Altior isn’t to beat, so much is for sure. He’s the class act of the festival and baring a disaster he’ll win another Champion Chase.

It’ll be all about the places behind him. Obviously Min has the strongest claims. He’s got the form in the book this season with his latest Leopardstown success. On ratings he’s closely matched with Politologue. A mere pound separates them.

When these two met the last time, albeit at Aintree over 2m 4f, there was only a neck between them as well – Politologue got the better that day.

As I am eyeing the place market here, I struggle to make even a remotely good cases for anyone else in this field, so both Min and Politologue should have excellent chances to fill second and third.

In saying that, I feel Politologue is overpriced in the place market. Yes, it’s not all that long ago he was a leading fancy for the King George, but truth is also his form over 2 miles is quite good as well, particularly with cut in the ground.

Whether Cheltenham is his track is another matter. The jury is still out for me. Fact his, finishing a tired 4th last year in this very race may not quite be a fair measuring stick given he was hampered by a faller four out and found himself suddenly in front – way too early.

I’m sure Politologue will be conservatively ridden for a place this time. Given he’ll find perfect conditions tomorrow I feel he’s worth a bet to fill second or third behind the almighty Altior.

Selection:
10pts place – Politologue @ 7/2 MB

…….

4.50: Grade 3 Fred Winter Hurdle, 2 miles

Th French grey Coko Beach has shaped much better in his two Irish starts for Gordon Elliott than the bare form suggests. Steadily ran races on good ground is highly unlikely to bring the best out of him – he is related to to horses that all showed their best on soft.

Coko Beach will make a nice chaser over further in the future. But he jumps his hurdles nicely and an opening mark of 134 could underestimate him, given he should improve dramatically from the Leopardstown runs.

On the positive side, he already has won a Hurdle in France on soft ground, albeit over slightly further, dispatching a next time out winner easily with Arverne who, on his UK debut, was pitched right into Grade 1 company.

Selection: 
10pts win – Coko Beach @ 15/1 MB

Big Race Preview: Cheltenham Gold Cup 2019

Presenting Percy is the one to beat, surely? Too commanding was his RSA victory twelve month ago – a second successive Festival success after landing the Pertemps in equally impressive fashion another year earlier.

A less than ideal preparation for the Gold Cup stands on the other side. Only one run over hurdles, not having contested a chase this season; it has to be a big negative, regardless of how bullish Davy Russell and trainer Pat Kelly are.

I don’t necessarily mind having only one race this season. Coming fresh to Cheltenham, potentially fresher than rivals, in what should be another war of attrition, may not be that big a deal. But not having jumped a single fence in public for a year certainly is.

Visually Presenting Percy looks the real deal. Even though over hurdles, the Galmoy success at Gowran Park, the RSA, the Pertemps… they were wonderful performances on the eye.

It’s a different matter on the clock. In five starts over fences his best time speed rating is a lowly 106. Given he ran to 146 over hurdles and he potentially better over the larger obstacles he is potentially capable to better that. He hasn’t shown it yet, though.

With all these negatives, despite having the best man for the job in the saddle with Davy Russell, I can not see the value in the 7/2 odds. He may drift out on the day and if so, at 6/1 and upwards I’d be interested.

Defending champion Native River has defied a few trends already, so why shouldn’t he be the one who does the near impossible, going back-to-back?

On the many preview nights you could hear plenty of positive vibes, because with the ground likely coming up favourably for him, there are many much wiser men than I am who believe the nine-year-old is capable of mastering the enormous task on hand, that is defending his crown in the Gold Cup.

Form wise it’s hard to judge what he has really done this season. Again only a light campaign, he ran with plenty of credit on fast ground in the Betfair Chase, which was also his seasonal return. He rallied on rather quick ground once more in the King George.

It was a concerning look I felt, nonetheless: Native River, the reigning Gold Cup champion outpaced way too early in one the few big targets he’d have this season. Sure, Cheltenham is a different task. Nonetheless, nearly 14 lengths beaten, racing clearly with less zest than in the past, was and still is a big concern for me.

The new kid on the block – at least in terms of being regarded as a true Gold Cup contender – is Clan Des Obeaux. Even though, not quite that fresh; in fact this is his 3rd season over fences.

He’s only won five of his 13 starts since going chasing, and only lately did he come into the frame as a potential winner of the blue ribbon of jump racing.

An impressive success in the King George, followed up with a visually incredibly impressive Denman Chase victory – it’s obvious this is a horse in the prime of his career.

Personally I still struggle to take him serious for the Cheltenham Gold Cup. In truth, all he’s done is beating horses that haven’t been in peak form in the King George, and you hardly can take the latest Ascot race as a proper measuring stick.

Clan Des Obeaux was a runner-up in two of four runs at Cheltenham, so he’s probably okay over course and distance. But the fact remains his jumping can be sketchy at times, he can be a tricky ride in general and quite obviously he’s much better at right handed- and speedier tracks in my view.

I’m not saying he can’t win. Of course Clan Des Obeaux can – he’s the form horse. But there is at least as much on the con-side as on the pro-side, therefore he’s a skinny price.

Might Bite has clearly gone backwards. He’s had another wind procedure after a lackluster effort in the King George (and preceding Betfair Chase). You have to have a lot of confidence that this will help the son of Scorpion to rediscover the magic he produced in 2017 and 2018. Even at 14’s or bigger I’m not ready to take a punt on this.

Can Willie Mullins finally win a Gold Cup? He got close with Djakadam a couple of times. There are those that say, despite running four in this year’s renewal, he’s not the quality to win it. There’re others who’re sweeter on his chance this year. Including myself.

There is Irish Gold Cup winner Bellshill. Only nine runs over fences for the nine-year-old, he appears to be still on the upward. He’s clearly come a long way since finishing a 10 lengths beaten third behind Might Bite in the 2017 RSA Chase. Nearly an Irish National winner, now a Punchestown and Irish Gold Cup winner – you have to respect his chance.

Bellshill goes on any ground, he stays the trip and even on ratings – particularly if you’re in the camp believing the market leaders are a bit overrated – he’s got little to find to be right up there. I find little wrong with him anyway – he’ll be bang there.

There is not a lot wrong with Kemboy. He really stepped up this season, winning a Grade 2 on reappearance followed by a wide margin Savills Chase success at Leopardstown.

Nearly the same as for Bellshill applies, even though there is a little niggle in my head – despite having form on slower ground, whether Kemboy simply found perfect conditions, both in terms of ground and how the race panned out at Leopardstown? Both clearly favoured his speed hence do we overvalue this form?

Despite Bellshill finishing well behind Kemboy that day, I feel he’s got more improvement to come and in a match race would be my choice.

That says, purely on prices, I do fancy Al Boum Photo the most of this trio – Invitation Only really should not be good enough. But Al Boum Photo has definitely the potential to be good enough.

Surprisingly, the seven-year-old flies quite a bit under the radar. True, Tremore form is hardly sexy, and New Year’s Day may feel like a long time ago now, as that was the last time we saw him – however, it shouldn’t be forgotten what he did that day as he slaughtered a pretty decent field in the Savills Chase.

The seven-year-old has not too many miles on the clock, but during his career he’s certainly been somewhat an ‘unlucky’ horse: most prominently in last season’s Punchestown Champion Novice Chase when he ran out before the last fence while looking like the winner of the race.

Earlier that season he won the Gold Cup Novice Chase beating Shattered Love which came right after a late fall in the RSA Chase at Cheltenham, where he would have finished at least a clear third (most likely second, I believe) behind Presenting Percy. He wouldn’t have caught the winner, but running so well as a 6-year-old in that type of race rates significant in my book.

Al Boum Photo looks incredibly talented and Willie Mullins alludes to the fact that despite all the excellent performances the gelding has beside his name, we haven’t seen the best of him yet.

Soft in the going description will be vital for Al Boum Photo. Given the current whether forecast it looks likely we’ll get that come Friday. Unlikely it’ll be heavy, but it should be still riding on the slower side is my prediction.

This type of conditions are key to my second fancy also: Shattered Love. The only mare in the race, at the bottom of Official Ratings and certainly not seen as a serious contender whatsoever, judged by the betting market.

The market may have it wrong, though. On RPR’s she’s got to find 6-12 pounds with the market principles. If my assumption is correct that Native River and CDO are overrated, then, taking the 7lb sex allowance into considerations, Shattered Love is suddenly right up there. That doesn’t take into considerations potential race conditions and any sort of improvement the mare could still show.

The facts are: the mare has a 45.5% win rate over fences, she has been outside of the money only twice in eleven starts over the larger obstacles, she is in the right age group as an eight-year-old and most importantly she has Festival form.

Cast your mind twelve months back, when Shattered Love stormed up the hill to win the JLT decisively. It wasn’t a fluke. She followed up with strong runner-up performance behind Al Boum Photo in the Gold Cup Novice Chase at Fairyhouse.

That was last season. Has she trained on? Absolutely! Two fine second place efforts this season, most notably chasing home Min over 2.5 miles in the John Durkan can be classified as rock solid form – notably upgraded because they came on unsuitably fast ground.

Hence I’m not worried about Shattered Love’s below-par run at Leopardstown over Christmas. She needs cut in the ground and Gordon Elliott said afterwards he’ll keep her fresh, not risking her on ground too fast until the Gold Cup.

While it is true the mare needs to improve a bit, I feel she may well do so and is certainly entitled to more respect than she is currently receiving. Shattered Love has a lot going for herself either way: the weight allowance will help her allot. She has pace but stays well also. She proved good enough to step into open company. She’ll primed for the run of her life comes Friday.

Selections:
5pts win – Shattered Love @27/1 MB
5pts win – Al Boum Photo @22/1 WH

Cheltenham Festival 2019 – Tuesday Selections

The Festival

“It’s Christmas for horse racing fans…” they said in the radio this morning. How true a statement this is! Particularly the opening  Tuesday is arguably the finest day the sport has to offer. This year is no different with the renewal of the Champion Hurdle shaping like a race for the ages.

Enjoy the sport and bet responsibly… a mantra we’ll also hear often this week. One I personally can’t emphasize enough: you don’t need to have a bet in every single race in order to love the magnificent show on offer over the next few days. In fact, you probably shouldn’t if you want to maximize your winnings.

Cheltenham is incredibly competitive. Horses are primed to run for their life. That should ensure enough opportunities to find value in the market. But: there are also plenty of races where little secrets are hidden. The never ending trail of preview nights, the mere fact that every little piece of information is chewed endless times now, means few details are still hidden from plain sight come Tuesday half past one.

It’s gonna be a much better strategy to identify those races where a few things are up in the air, where you find question marks about runners, particularly those near the top end of the betting, and where form is more difficult to judge for the random betting folk.

And most importantly: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It’s four days. It’s not the end of the world leaving Tuesday without a winner. A 20/1 shot in the Grand Annual could swing the pendulum right back into profit.

……..

1.30: Grade 1 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle, 2m½f

There is little wrong with favourite Al Dancer. In fact, he is a bigger price I would have expected. What I don’t like about him is the fact you can easily question the value of his Betfair Hurdle success. It’s his best piece of form, he did it nicely, but so would have done most in this field.

Furthermore, Al Dancer is a rather free going sort, spotting a hood the last two times for that reason. Given the nature of the Supreme, there’s a relevant question to be asked: could the occasion get to him?

Lightly raced Angels Breath will have learned plenty from his recent Kempton runner-up performance. He is clearly talented having won a Grade 2 on his rules debut. Only two starts under his belt is a major concern, though.

The hype horse, judging the market and social media, is clearly Willie Mullins’ charge Klassical Dream. Easy to see why: he stepped up from a maiden to win a Grade 1, beating a well fancied stable mate. He’s a class act. I’ve slight reservations, though, over the likely soft ground, even though most feel he’ll be suited by it given he knows it from France. Let’s see that firsthand tomorrow.

I love the attitude of Elixir De Nutz. The Tolworth Hurdle winner goes for a four-timer. He’s a front-runner, though. It’ll be tough to make all in the Supreme.

Certainly not the forgotten horse, but the hype has slowed: Fakir D’oudairies. The only 4-year-old in the field. He looks quite forward, however, as you would expect for a French import.

He’s got experience on his side, looks physically strong, and JP McMaus took a punt on him after a 13 lengths romping over course and distance in January. He followed up on a fair maiden success at Cork, on his first start for Joseph O’Brien.

The form of both races is debatable. Nonetheless, the impression Fakir D’oudairies gave here at Cheltenham, leaving a rather decent 147 rated Adjali well behind him, is one of a significant talent. The weight allowance he gets is a massive help as well. Soft ground is sure to suit – I feel Fakir D’oudairie is the one to beat.

Selection:
10pts win – Fakir D’oudairie @ 13/2 MB

…….

2.50: Grade 3 Ultima Handicap Chase, 3m 1f

I missed the hype train, regardless, I remain firmly in the Willie Mullins camp here: Up For Review is still a tasty price at 10’s. He’s already a ten-year-old, but quite lightly raced for his age, with scope to improve over fences.

He was quite a good hurdler back in the day, given he won a Grade 2 Novice Hurdle and was 148 rated – he’s 2lb lower rated over fences currently and comes here with an incredibly strong piece of recent form to his name.

After a good 17/18 season as a novice, resulting in two wins, he made his seasonal reappearance in the Gowran Thyestes Chases. Up For Review was trailing the pace, which wasn’t an advantage that day. He jumped well, made stylish progress throughout but couldn’t match the speed of the eventual winner and runner-up, and probably got a little bit tired in the end as well.

However, a third place behind Gold Cup contender Invitation Only rates quite strongly, now returning to a handicap, with ground and trip likely to suit – even though he has slight stamina questions to answer as the last time at Cheltenham, in the 2016 World Hurdle, he was pulled up.

I’m aware Willie Mullins is yet to win this race, so that is a slight concern, whether his horses are in the right weight bracket to be successful. However it’s a new year and I strongly believe Up For Review is on a mark he’s well able to defy, as long as he gets home over 3 miles and the additional furlong.

Selection:
10pts win – Up For Review @ 10.5/1 WH

………..

4.10: Grade 1 Mares’ Hurdle, 2m 4f

Benie Des Dieux is a poor favourite here. Yes, Willie Mullins has done it before, but this mare isn’t Quevega. Quite clearly she didn’t have the preparation connections had in mind and you can know holes into her form left, right and center.

I’m feeling a little bit uneasy backing her stable mate, running the same colours as well. But on ratings there is nothing between Benie Des Dieux and Limini. On official ratings there is a single pound separating them. And that despite Limini not having been at her best lately.

However Limini’s highest RPR is a 158 compared to Benie Des Dieux’s 152. Limini will need to find back to her best. Potentially she can do that at Cheltenham where she excelled in the past. Her 4th place finish behind Presenting Percy when last seen rates fair form too, albeit over 3 miles rather than the shorter 2.5 miles.

The ground will suit her tomorrow, and in truth, the fact she ran incredibly well, in fact winning, on the flat during the summer, currently rated a 103 there, shows she is still high class.

Selection:
10pts win – Limini @ 9/1 WH

…….

4.50: Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase, 2m 4f

While I can clearly see the case being made for favourite A Plus Tard, he’s short enough in the betting. The two I favour here will both enjoy the cut in the ground while having some high class form to their name already, though, it seems less appreciated by the market.

Highway One O One is an experiences sort, who travels and jumps well, usually right up with the pace, who remains unexposed over this trip as well.

He was found out in graded company, but ran a massive race on handicap debut over course and distance here back in January. He made all from the front, setting a strong gallop while jumping for fun and was only caught with two out by classy Kildisart who is now a leading JLT chance.

Red Indian is the other one who appears overpriced. H seems harshly judged on his latest effort when unseating his rider as a 1/4 favourite. True, it’s not an ideal preparation; on the other hand he showed plenty of promise earlier, as his 4th place, albeit a good deal beaten, behind La Bague Au Roi, Topofthegame and Santini, leaving a subsequent Grade 2 winner a long way behind him, also.

He drops in trip here and it remains to be seen whether he has the pace. Every inch of rain will be appreciated, that is for sure. Nonetheless his 131 TS rating is the best on offer here, so at the price it’s worth to take the risk.

Selection:
5pts win – Red Indian @ 22/1 MB
5pts win – Highway One O One @ 13/1 MB

Saturday Selections: March, 9th 2019

DSC_1062

2.25 Sandown: G3 Imperial Cup Handicap Hurdle, 2m

I was incredibly taken by Malaya’s return to the track three weeks ago at Ascot for the first since December after falling subsequently twice. The mare wasn’t fancied at all as a 20/1 shot but outran her price tag by a wide margin.

The five-year-old travelled much the best for the majority of the race, jumping well and making stylish progress in the closing stages. She didn’t get the clearest of runs two out but also seemed to tire significantly jumping the last, without being too many too hard questions asked either way.

Malaya is down to a handy mark and the way she travelled the last time indicates a drop to 2 miles will suit. So should the slower ground. In a race that does look for the taking she has a massive chance.

Selection:
10pts win – Malaya @ 5/1 MB

………

2.40 Wolverhampton: Class 5 Novice Stakes, 8.5f

Last season in hands of Roger Varian, Nawar tracked in the right direction, looking like a horse that’s close to get his head in front. His last two pieces of form in Handicaps at Kempton over a mile are rock solid form and his second- and third placed efforts are to be upgraded taking into context how the races unfolded.

He changed yards since, off the track over the winter, and now first time out for Martin Bosley, back in a Novice race. I suspect he’s fit for this outing with George Wood booked.

The slight step up in trip sure suit, no doubt. Nawar hasn’t too much to fear in this race in my book also as he is the most experienced in the field, while the others don’t look world beaters either.

Selection:
10pts win – Nawar @ 6/1 MB

…….

4.25 Wolverhampton: Class 2 Handicap, 6 furlongs

Not particularly original in the context of the race, but Corinthia Knight is the obvious selection here. He got close in a handful of hot sprints in recent weeks, ever since he won off his current mark over 5f at Lingfield.

His last two performances, particularly when beaten by only a neck by Royal Birth, rates the strongest piece of form here, I feel. The winner had an absolute dream run, Corinthia Knight not quite so much.

Having the opportunity to race off 105 once more, even though stepping up to 6f, which should not be an issue whatsoever, given he’s a 3x distance winner as well as having course form, Corinthia Knight looks poised for finding his way back to the winners circle.

Selection:
10pts win – Corinthia Knight @ 11/2 WH

Saturday Selections: March, 2nd 2019

National Hunt Fence

1.30 Newbury: Class 3 Handicap Hurdle, 2m 4f 118y

Nico de Boinville for Ben Pauling over hurdles at Newbury…. an interesting combination. A winning one, history tells us. They team up here with A Hare Breath. The veteran has question to answers after poor showings lately.

Nonetheless, fitted with CP for the first time, dropping significantly in the weights into an easier race, with conditions to suit, he should have on based on that a tremendous chance to win this race.

Obviously only if he is still in the mood. We probably will know soon after the start whether he is on a going day. At given prices I feel it is a fair risk to take.

Selection:
10pts win – A Hare Breath @ 6/1 MB

………

3.00 Doncaster: Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle, 3m½f

Danse Idol has top form in the book as runner-up in graded company. She could prove hard to beat if she takes to the trip over this fast ground.

I feel she is short enough in the betting and red hot mare Bonza Girls offers better value. 5-5 in handicaps this season, she is improving rapidly. This is a higher grade and she has to improve again.

However, given she tries 3 miles for the first time, a distance that could suit and may well eke out more improvement, given she has been very game in her races, always running well to the line, it is possible we haven’t seen her best yet.

Selection:
10pts win – Bonza Girl @ 5/1 MB

……..

3.35 Doncaster: Class 2 Handicap Chase, 3m 2f

Given form and ratings, Dingo Dollar offers plenty of upside and looks a shade overpriced in this race. On the surface he was slightly disappointing in the Listed Skybet Handicap Chase here at Doncaster recently, however that form as well as his run in the Grade 3 Landbrokes Chase were strong races.

This looks easier. The trip will suit. The additional furlong should be to his aid. Off 148 back in a handicap I feel there is still a bit more to come.

It’s Wayne Hutchinson’s only ride on the card also. He knows the horse well already, which is a bonus.

Selection:
10pts win – Dingo Dollar @ 4/1 PP

…….

7.30 Chelmsford: Class 5 Handicap, 6 furlongs

Real Estate is clearly in good form as his last performances suggest. He also remains handicapped to go close again. He may have better form over 7f, however he can be keen over that trip, and his latest runs over the shorter trip are promising.

Those races look like rock solid form, he’s also rated a pound below his last winning mark right now. There doesn’t seem to be too much pace on in this race today, so from a good draw there is fair chance he’ll be well positioned to make a break turning for home, playing out his extra bit of stamina in the closing stages.

Callum Shepherd comes here for this one ride only; let’s hope he can make this one a winning one.

Selection:
10pts win – Real Estate @ 10/1 PP