Tag Archives: Native River

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

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Saturday Selections: March, 17th 2018

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The week-long Cheltenham Bonanza is over. Native River crowned as the new king. A thrilling finish up the legendary hill of Prestbury Park saw the eight year old edge out favourite Might Bite. While I enjoy the replay of this epic battle one more time, it’s back to bread and butter later on….

……..

8.45 Wolverhampton: Class 6 Handicap, 1 mile

A really poor race, even for this class. Given that I’ll side with Emigrated once more. I did so on two different occasions already this year.

Still a maiden after 13 career runs, there is little in his bare form to suggest he can win. However, closer examination suggests that with a tiny bit of improvement, particularly in a poor contest as this, he can go very close.

Actually, his last two starts on the All-Weather were a lot better than the naked result might tell. Last time out at Chelmsford he finished well among much higher rated horses. Three 60 rated horses only three lengths or less in front of him, a 68 rated individual a nose behind him.

Back in January at the same venue he travelled very strongly and for a moment looked like to be in with a massive shout. He faltered late to finish 6th eventually. He clearly has an issue seeing out his races, so the slight step up to the 8.5f does not seem necessarily ideal. On the other hand, races at Wolverhampton over this trip in smallish fields can be run at a slow pace.

That, plus the appliance of the tongue-tie can help. Main question remains: if he can win with a tiny bit of improvement based on recent runs, where is the improvement coming from?

Surface. This is Emigrated’s first try on Tapeta. While Tapeta isn’t all that different from Polytrack, it still seems some horses tend to prefer one or the other. Emigrated is a son of Fastnet Rock. A key piece in this case I gonna make.

Fastnet Rock offspring has an excellent record on Tapeta, regardless whether it is Newcastle or Wolverhampton. A better one than at any other All-Weather surface. Compared to his overall AW record, Fastnet Rock actually produces profit and solid positive ROI on Tapeta.

So there is it: if Emigrated is ever going to win a race, today is his best chance. A poor field, he has solid enough form in the bock, track should suit and trip may not be an issue either.

Selection:
10pts win – Emigrated  16/1 VC

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?

…..

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.

…….

.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