Tag Archives: Preview

Cheltenham 2020: Friday Preview

Winner!

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

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

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

………

1.30 Triumph Hurdle, 2m 1f

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

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

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

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

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

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

……..

2.10 County Hurdle, 2m 1f

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

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

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

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

………

2.50 Albert Bartlett, 3 miles

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

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

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

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

……..

3.30 Gold Cup, 3m2½f

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That leaves the two potential improvers. Santini and Lostintranslation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

…………

4.10 Foxhunter Hunters’ Chase, 3m2½f

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

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

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

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

Cheltenham 2020: Thursday Preview

Cheltenham Finish

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

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

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

………

1.30 Marsh Novices’ Chase, 2m 4f

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

………..

2.10 Pertemps Final, 3 miles

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

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

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

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

……..

3.30 Stayer’s Hurdle, 3m

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……..

5.30 Kim Muir, 3m 2f

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

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

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

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

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

Cheltenham Festival 2020 – Wednesday Preview

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

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

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

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

………..

1.30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle, 2m 5f

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

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

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

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

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

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

………

2.10 RSA Chase, 3m½f

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……..

2.50 Coral Cup, 2m 5f

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

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

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

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

………..

3.30 Champion Chase, 2m

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

……….

5.30 Champion Bumper, 2m½f

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

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

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

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

Henry II Stakes Preview

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After a recent Sagaro Stakes success Dee Ex Bee is well fancied to go back to back today. It was his first try over two miles and he passed the test with flying colours. This could be more competitive today, though, so is my feeling.

Obviously his Derby run is the standout performance, however, he hasn’t ran anywhere near that form ever since, and judged on form and ratings what he has produced ever since, he is a good horse, but clearly not a top drawer and also his time wasn’t that impressive last time to suggest he’s dramatically better than the rest of the field here, particularly as he has to give weight away.

Strong cases can be made for the two Mark Johnston runners. My preference is for Austrian School simply on the fact he has more often produced high enough time speed ratings to suggest he is defiantly home in this grade, and probably a better horse than stable mate Making Miracles, who was so impressive in the Chester Cup, having the run of the race, on the other hand.

Austrian School was a long way beaten there as a favourite, but bottomless ground and the way the race turned out, are a fair excuse. He is better judged on his impressive Musselburgh win in April over 1m 6f.

A career best performance on TS and RPR, also backing up the strong runner-up performance of the Mallard Handicap at Doncaster from last autumn, confirming he is that good.

Austrian School deserves a crack at this level and will give the favourite a lot to think about in the closing stages I strongly believe.

Selection:
10pts win – Austrian School @ 11/2 MB

Preview: Kentucky Derby 2019

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11.50pm Irish time: gates crash open for the 145th Kentucky Derby! The Run for the Roses is the longest running sporting event in the United States. This years edition appears to be particularly wide open in the absence of recently withdrawn ante-post favourite Omaha Beach.

As a consequence you can make a case for plenty of horses. Bob Baffert remains to have a strong hand, of course. Though, I fancy two horses that seemingly sail a little bit under the radar at the moment.

War Of Will – his stock has significantly fallen since a disappointing effort in the Louisiana Derby. Disappointing only on paper, though. Watch the start of the race and you see how he looses his footing soon after leaving the stalls, pulling a muscle as a result.

That aside, since switched to the dirt, he won three races on the bounce, including two graded contests. He did so in fine style, running away with the races once entering the home straight.

He’s been a high class juvenile on turf last year, runner-up in the Grade 1 Summer Stakes and finishing  good fifth in the Breeders’ Cup Juvenile Turf.

If you’re willing to excuse the last run – he was 4/5 favourite, telling something about the expectations for this colt – you’ll see a classy, progressive individual, who’s taken really well to the dirt – and who has, as a little bonus, local form as well as form on a sloppy track.

Drawn right next to the rails can be a struggle, however he has early speed to overcome this task. Obviously, a different question is whether he can make the step up to Grade 1 company and has the stamina to stay the Derby trip.

We’ll find out. Crucially, the talking of the track is he’s flying at the moment, having worked really well leading up to the big race. At a big price he’s a rather easy choice for me today.

Maximum Security – By no means I am an expert if it comes to US racing, nonetheless I struggle to understand why this colt isn’t closer to the top of the market than he is. Sure, he started his career in a cheap claiming race, but ever since winning on debut he’s kicked on to new heights, culminating in the Grade 1 Florida Derby victory.

Unbeaten in four starts, it seems his recent top level success is questioned because Maximum Security lead from the front, setting slow fractions. That certainly is true and will be different today, but on the other hand, simply from a visual perspective, one could hardly been more impressed with the way he put the race to bed in the end.

On the clock he ran the last three furlongs in less than 36 seconds – easily. According to Beyer Speed Ratings, he’s ran twice to a rating o 100 or higher already. Not other horse in this years Kentucky Derby lineup has shown that sort of speed.

Early speed will lead Maximum Security to the front or near to it from a good draw. Once he’s there, how he’ll react being hard pressed, going potentially fast for a long period, over a trip he’s uncertain to stay – we’ll find out turning for home whether he’s a Derby horse.

On the plus side: Maximum Security has shown in the past he doesn’t need to lead, and he has form on a sloppy track as well.

Selections:
5pts win – Maximum Security @ 9/1 Coral
5pts win – War Of Will @ 20/1 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