Tag Archives: Ryanair

Review: Cheltenham 2019 – a Boum Week

A magic week of racing is over – an excellent week from a personal perspective on the betting front: 145pts profit for a 72.50% ROI; but more importantly Cheltenham provided – as is usually does – the stage for incredible stories, memorable moments, tears of joy and sadness – four days full of drama are well and truly behind us!

Gold Cup Joy

Willie Mullins won the Gold Cup – finally! “I’d sort of resigned myself to not winning a Gold Cup” – the Irishman could be forgiven for his negative thinking because with more than a circuit to go it looked like another year of misery  as three of his four horses in the race were already gone!

Thankfully not Al Boum Photo, who was the “last man standing” for the Mullins camp – and my 22/1 selection for the Gold Cup (alongside Shattered Love who faded away in the closing stages) – was always travelling strongly in the hands of Paul Townend.

Sitting at the back of the field initially, Al Boum Photo made smooth progress, jumping well, Townend sitting confidently, letting his mount find a rhythm; turning for home he couldn’t hold him back for much longer as Al Boum Photo was tanking along, still hard on the bridle.

Despite a mistake at the second last, now asked for full effort, Al Boum Photo returned every call to win the Gold Cup a shade cosily!

The seven-year-old proved that his Tremore run on New Years Day wasn’t a fluke and that the glimpses of brilliance he showed last season in fact were real. It was also a hugely rewarding success for Paul Townend after what happened last year at Punchestown when Al Boum Photo looked all but to secure a Grade 1 success, only for Townend to take the horse out before jumping the last.

Can Al Boum Photo defend his crown? We have been here before. It’s such a difficult task as defending champion Native River had to find out.

Many believed he could do it, but there were early signs of concern as Richard Johnson had to encourage his mount from an early stage. In fairness, the brave Native River responded and battled to the line, ultimately finishing in a creditable yet well beaten 4th place.

Colin Tizzard lamented afterward not having used blinkers. Personally I don’t think it would have made a huge deal of a difference, to be honest. Native River didn’t have the legs to go with the three horses in front of him in the end. Neither had Clan Des Obeaux. His bubble burst.

Mitigating factors can be put forward for Presenting Percy’s flat performance. Not so much the preparation, which wasn’t ideal as had been discussed for weeks and weeks, but more so because he was found to be lame after the Gold Cup.

Female Jockeys Rule Over Cheltenham

Rachael Blackmore, Lizzy Kelly, Bryony Frost – three top class female riders who won races at this years Festival. Blackmore scored twice, though it was Bryony Frost who got the girls off the mark in terms of a first Grade 1 Festival winner over hurdles or fences.

Still challenging for the Irish jockey championship, Blackmore with close to 20 rides over the course of the four days, set a new record for female jockeys – the fact female riders achieved a higher strike rate vs. their male counterparts (4-46; 8.7% vs. 5.3%; 24-452) is an interesting side note.

I don’t want to be patronising. Nonetheless, this is a story that goes beyond racing, particularly in these times where equality is such a strong topic.

It shows that if given the opportunity, female riders can be as successful as male jockeys. It shows not everything is about riding the strongest finish but also about riding a smart race: knowing your mount, judging the pace right and finding an advantageous position to challenge when it matters most.

What I loved most about Bryony Frost in particular when she won the Ryanair Chase on Thursday were the words the found after the race speaking to a huge TV audience: emotional, yet smart. The way she spoke about the horse, about adversity, putting her own emotions into words which felt warm and relatable at the same time – a message not all jockeys are equally gifted in transporting to the general public.

One Era Ends Another Begins

Age catches up with anyone. It has caught up with Un De Sceaux and Faugheen. Both eleven-years-old now; the fall has been gradually, nonetheless it’s clear their younger rivals have fresher and faster legs these days.

I fancied Un De Sceaux in the Ryanair Chase, actually. But truth is you knew his time was up when Paul Townend buried the 2017 winner of this very race at the back of the field. What eventual winner Frodon did you would have expected Un De Sceaux to do if at his brilliant best.

Faugheen fared a little bit better. He was there until the last in with a chance. Still, as soon as Paisley Park shifted into 6th gear the former Champion Hurdler was a beaten horse. He finished a creditable third, and he may well be able to go to Punchestown and win another race.

But as far as the Festival is concerned Faugheen won’t have many more stories to write, neither does Un De Sceaux. They don’t have to. Both horses have bee brilliant throughout their respective careers. They owe us nothing.

In saying that, the mentioned Paisley Park looks a staying hurdler for the ages. How he went from appearing briefly in trouble to looking absolutely irresistible within a matter of seconds was one of those “WOW” moments this week.

It can be the start of the new era. Comparisons with Big Bucks have been made. They aren’t far off the truth I reckon.

Thumps Up ITV

Good news on the TV front: average viewing figure rose 18.5% from last year to 993,000, while peak daily viewing numbers and overall share also saw positive rises.

As record crowds flooded trough the gates, record numbers were glued to the telly as well: Tuesday, Thursday and Friday of this year’s festival saw  the highest average viewing numbers since records began in 2003.

Having the luxury of choosing between RTV and ITV at home, I chose to stick with ITV after day one. I thoroughly enjoyed their coverage. From the morning show to the coverage of the actual races – it was excellent, with good people before and behind the camera.

Yes, they speak a simpler language on ITV than they do on RTV. Francesa was asking some seemingly ‘dumb’ questions. One shouldn’t forget, though, the audience on ITV is a different one than on RTV. So overall, thumb up for team ITV – my biggest compliment for them: their genuine love for the sport comes across in every shot and every discussion.

0 British-Bred Winners

I only noticed this fact when reading the opening comment in the Irish Field yesterday morning – even though the numbers were low in years before, not a single British-bred winner at this years festival must be a concern.

Contrary, France closed the gap to Ireland. It’s 14-14 for French-vs. Irish-bred winners this time.

The likes of Klassical Dream, Duc De Genievres, Frodon or Al Boum Photo are all French-bred and were some of the most impressive winners of the entire week. Good news for the French breeding industry!

:::::::::

There is so much more to say. I could go on for hours. So many memorable performances. So many stories to tell. Also a few sad ones – they are unavoidable in our sport.

It’s been a wonderful week of horse racing over all. The sport is as popular as ever, if not even gaining in popularity again! Long may this trend continue.

Back to bred and butter now: class 6 Handicaps on a Wednesday night at Kempton, Wolverhampton or at Southwell, not that Britain’s only fibresand track owns a bunch of floodlights! Butnot for long.

Even though the sky over county Kildare Is rain filled at the moment (and has been for the entire last week pretty much!) spring is around the corner and with that comes the flat season – the Doncaster Lincoln, the Dubai World Cup and also the opening of the new Curragh. It’s gonna be exciting!

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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 2017 – Thursday Preview

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

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

……

1.30: JLT Novices’ Chase

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

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

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

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

…….

2.10: Pertemps Finale

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…..

2.50: Ryanair Chase

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

…….

3.30: World Hurdle

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

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

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

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

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

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

…….

4.10: Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap 

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

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

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

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

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

……

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

…….

5.30: Kim Mur Amateur Riders’ Chase

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

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

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

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