Thursday’s previews were a bit hit and miss from me. I’ll admit I got the Ryanair completely wrong, with Dynaste running out a really nice winner. Al Ferof struck into himself which will have almost certainly compromised his chance, with both Medermit and Benefficient not running anything like up to their best. The World Hurdle was a better result, with Annie Power and At Fishers Cross finishing 2nd and 3rd. The winner, More Of That, I gave a really positive mention to but thought this test would come too soon, he proved more than up to the task and looks like a horse with some future.
Onto the Gold Cup, where I’ve previously spoke about one of the main contenders before here. I’ll go through each runner like I have before, with my top three at the bottom. Good luck in what you’re backing.
Bobs Worth (Nicky Henderson) Form: 11-61
Winner of last years renewal and a deserved one too, keeping his undefeated record at Cheltenham intact (5/5). This season he ran no sort of race on seasonal reappearance when expected to need the outing before getting back on track over the Christmas period in the Lexus Chase. It was a very promising step back in the right direction and the fact he hasn’t been seen since then isn’t a bad thing (similar preparation done last year). His love of the track and his proven track record at the Fesitval will go a long way to help him retain his title and he is a big contender.
Cloudy Too (Sue Smith) Form: 3-1012
A winner of the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby this season when putting average Grade 3 competition to the sword , but had previously been well-beaten in the Hennessey at Newbury. Although running well enough in the Betfair Ascot Chase last time out behind Captain Chris, he really has a lot to do here and looks vulnerable in this sort of race, especially over this trip when there’s a strong argument he could be more effective over shorter.
First Lieutenant (M F Morris) Form: 3-3423
Runner-up in last years Ryanair Chase but stays this trip having gone close in the RSA in 2012 and is proven over this sort of distance with his form in Ireland. That being said though, he hasn’t really looked like a Gold Cup winner in waiting on the evidence of last two starts at Leopardstown and although he got close to Bobs Worth on the penultimate one of those, you’d expect a lot of improvement from Bobs Worth returning to this venue. Has a bit to do.
Houblon Des Obeaux (Venetia Williams) Form: 16143
Solid performer at the upper reaches of the staying handicaps this season with both wins coming at Ascot this season. He stayed on eyecatchingly well last time out but that was his own doing, having not jumped particularly swiftly. This is obviously much tougher and it is unlikely on this decent ground that he’ll be seen to his best.
Katenko (Venetia Williams) Form: 1-F443
One of the really disappointing horses this season, as he hasn’t shown nearly the form of last season after returning from Colic. There has however been some encouragement on occasions, not least his run in the Peter Marsh Chase off a huge weight. A winner over 2m5f at Cheltenham in 2012, he handles the course and although he could well have regressed since his illness, there may still be something left to challenge for a place in this sort of race. Better ground is an unknown but he travelled strongly on it earlier in the season (before a fall) and it could well illicit improvement. Not discounted.
Knockara Beau (George Charlton) Form: 512512
Cleeve Hurdle winner when taking the scalp of Big Bucks and ran okay behind Long Run at Kelso last time. However, was flattered by his sixth I felt when contesting the 2012 renewal and it is unlikely that things will fall so kindly for him like they did over hurdles.
Emphatic winner last time out in the Irish Hennessey when running a significant career best. Would be a major player on that form and at least has some form on better ground, winning a Novice Grade 1 back in 2011. On the evidence of his last start, he should have no issues with the extra two furlongs but the one question would regard the surface, especially when running in the top race of the year. Cannot be discounted considering he beat Tidal Bay and First Lieutenant so well, though and one of the more likely ones.
Lord Windemere (J H Culloty) Form: 31-876
Winner of the RSA last season and respected on that form considering it came here, but not shown anything like his best form since then and probably needs more time now outside of Novice company.
Lyreen Legend (D T Hughes) Form: 423-55
Extremely similar profile to that of Lord Windemere, although Lyreen Legend showed slightly more retained ability in the Lexus Chase. Disappointing last time out when behind Last Instalment and can see no real reason why he should overturn the form with that one, not even considering the remaining 13 rivals.
On His Own (Willie Mullins) Form: 176611
Sent off short prices for his previous two tries in the Grand National at Aintree (8/1 and 14/1) and is frequently over-bet. A winner of his last two races over in Ireland. Comes from powerful connections and may one day live up to his reputation, with this sort of ground unlikely to be too much of an inconvenience. However, his record at Cheltenham isn’t great and has only been put into this race as a Plan B. Willie Mullins usually knows where he’s at with his horses and this one isn’t likely up to Gold Cup status.
Silviniaco Conti (Paul Nicholls) Form: 1F3-31
A faller when going well in last years renewal, he finally made good on his past promise when a winner of the King George. That was on softer ground though and those who he was against, for whatever reason absolutely failed to fire. It was a dire renewal and the impression you get from this one is that the extra distance he’ll face in the Gold Cup could be his undoing, as well as the stiff finish. His previous best runs had been saved for less testing tracks (Aintree, Wetherby, Newbury, Haydock) and I don’t think Cheltenham as a course is ideal. Alongside that, Paul Nicholls string haven’t been firing this week which would be an obvious concern too.
Teaforthree (Rebecca Curtis) Form: 203-92
A winner over much further and a standing dish in the extreme marathon distance races over the past couple of seasons. He’ll have no issues with the trip of course but his real target is the Grand National and will possibly not be fully wound up. Likely to finish his race and could pick up some prize-money if a couple of the principles fail to fire.
The Giant Bolster (David Bridgwater) Form: 7-7U51
A real enigma but finally put things together again when tried in a hood and a visor last time, winning the Argento Chase in really taking fashion. Runner-up here in 2012 and does enjoy Cheltenham, so on that basis is hugely respected. He isn’t however the safest of betting proposition and is likely to find a few too good if he runs to his best, so when he’s hardly guaranteed to do that, then he isn’t one to trust.
Triolo D’Alene (Nicky Henderson) Form: 81-131
Winner of the Hennessey at Newbury and has been a market steamer in recent weeks. On the basis of his last run he won’t be too far away considering he was so impressive and value for more when winning at Newbury, and connections are looking onwards to the Grand National. Not proven around Cheltenham though but likely to run a good race considering he looks like he’s still improving.
- Bobs Worth
- Last Instalment
BOBS WORTH looks all set to defend his crown and after a really poor effort at Haydock on seasonal reappearance, looked like he could get back to his best after winning the Lexus Chase. His unbeaten record at Cheltenham obviously stands him in good stead and with everything to suit, he looks the obvious choice. Katenko has been in dire form compared to his reputation last season, but showed enough on his penultimate start to suggest ability still remains and switched to good ground, it wouldn’t surprise me to see him outrun his odds significantly and finally fulfil his potential of the 2012/13 season. Last Instalment is a big player on the bare form of his last start and although there’s questions about the ground, he looks capable of further improvement on the big stage. Triolo D’Alene is next best.
The Ryanair Chase over 2m5f is always an interesting contest, as you always get a few horses that have been touted as Gold Cup contenders who for one reason or another, have decided to drop down to the intermediate trip, as well as those that weren’t suitable for the Champion Chase. It’s a Grade 1 and is always a good race, with Cue Card an easy winner last year but two years ago led to one of the great Cheltenham finishes when Riverside Theatre somehow got home.
Al Ferof (Paul Nicholls) Form: 1-132
Has been beaten 25 lengths and over 14 lengths on his last two starts and has been bitterly disappointing this season, especially as he looked like a realistic contender for some big races over three miles. To his credit, a 3m slog on heavy ground which he faced last time at Newbury was far from ideal and he travelled well enough during the race to suggest that ability obviously still remains He’s now back to what is likely his best trip and is record at Cheltenham is extremely good (3/6) and back to the trip that won him the Paddy Power Gold Cup in 2012. He’s always shaped as if he would be a top-class animal and given the ground has come in his favour, has a great record at Cheltenham and is back over a suitable trip, he has to be feared.
Benefficient (A J Martin) Form: 11P-41
Won the 2m4f Novice chase at the Festival last year, which obviously puts him in with a big shout coming into this race. The experiment of three miles didn’t seem to work and he was much more promising when dropped back to the minimum trip at Leopardstown. He fought hard to beat the decent Hidden Cyclone that re-opposes today and Benefficient ought to be suited by the step back up in trip, especially on the evidence of his last start. Cheltenham form is always a plus and there’s a lot to like.
Boston Bob (Willie Mullins) Form: 1FF-16
A faller on his last two starts over fences, which is a glaring concern considering one came when well fancied in the RSA last year, his confidence would have been boosted by a win over hurdles in Ireland but he didn’t show much in the Cleeve Hurdle when last seen. The better ground today will help and it’s likely that 2m5f suits better than the longer distances he’s previously been running at over fences, but it takes a dramatic leap of faith to support him and the price is smaller than it should be due to the Mullins/Walsh partnership. Talented but too risky.
Dynaste (David Pipe) Form: 121-25
You can put this one into the similar camp as Al Ferof, albeit Dynaste is proven at the three mile trip but has had a disappointing campaign since a promising reappearance at Haydock. The joint top-rated in the field and probably the classiest, with wins at Aintree and a close second behind Benefficient at the Festival securing him the potential for top billing this season. It hasn’t really gone that way after a poor run in the King George and I get the impression that going for this race was very much a “Plan B”. I do feel his future lies over further and although he’s got a lot of ability, I do feel he’ll struggle a little bit up against those who are “specialists” over this distance. He’s very much respected, mind, given his form last season.
Hidden Cyclone (J J Hanlon) Form: 21322
Behind Benefficient the last time them two met, but Hidden Cyclone has had another start in the form of a runner-up position behind Sire De Grugy. That form has been franked in no uncertain terms and is another that will appreciate a step up in trip to 2m4f, especially on the evidence of a 3rd in the Paddy Power Gold Cup. He looks relatively progressive, handles the track and conditions and should go well, but I find it difficult to believe that he’ll have the class to beat a couple of these if most of them come here on song.
Hunt Ball (Nicky Henderson) Form: 68693
Famous for his exploits when flying up the handicap ranks to win at the Festival, but nothing has really gone to plan since then and his American adventure failed in no uncertain terms, with the impression given that the owners have brought him back here with their tails firmly between their legs. His reappearance effort for this stable wasn’t horrific, a 31 length beating by Captain Chris on ground too soft for his liking and it would be fair to suggest that he’ll come on for that. However, even in his pomp, it would be a tough ask for him to win this race and he doesn’t look to have retained that ability fully, so he’s easy to write off for a contest like this at the moment.
Kauto Stone (Paul Nicholls) Form: P-5535
All the headgear being removed might be a good ploy with this one, who has been extremely disappointing since a win at Down Royal. To be fair, he was given no chance with a too positive ride last time out with headgear applied and it’s a fair assumption that connections will be a little more patient today. However, he looks a horse that has no ideal trip, not good enough to challenge the principles in a Grade 1 race and horribly out of form.
Medermit (Alan King) Form: 2234/4
Hasn’t had much luck since he participated in a brilliant finish (3rd) in this race back in 2012, with a good run at Aintree followed by an injury, missing the entire of 2013. His comeback effort came in the same race as Hunt Ball and it wasn’t completely devoid of promise. He was beaten a fair way but stayed on a little bit towards the end and didn’t look a complete lost cause. This sort of test is ideal for Medermit and it’s interesting that connections have come back here for another track at this race. Medermit’s record at the Festival is extremely fair (two placed efforts from four) and although you would have to take his ability been retained on trust, if he’s back to something like his best then he has every chance of finishing in the first three, especially with Alan King going so well.
Menorah (Philip Hobbs) Form: 3P22-P
Joint top-rated with Dynaste but wasn’t at the races in the King George, where he was quietly fancied by many to run a good race. The good ground he’ll face today is in his favour and he certainly acts at the track, having won the Supreme Novices’ in 2010 and being narrowly beaten by Champion Court over this trip at the April meeting here. That followed up a brilliant run at Aintree previously (over further) and it may well be that distance is now his preference. The fact he ran horribly in last years renewal of the race is also disconcerting and to win here, he’ll need to put in close to a career best over fences. His wellbeing is also a question (one you can apply to others, though) and he doesn’t strike me as the most likely type to win here.
Radjhani Express (Nicky Henderson) Form: 1711-5
One coming up from the Handicap ranks and has plenty of form here, which is an obvious positive. No problems with the ground and on occasions, has hinted that he could be easily up to being much better than he has shown so far in his career. He hasn’t been seen since November but that may well be a good thing considering Henderson’s yard struggled through the middle part of the winter. Difficult to make a solid case but with everything in his favour, he could capitalise if a couple of the principles underperform.
Took the scalp of Hidden Cyclone last season but has shown very little this term, being comprehensively beaten on his two starts in 2014. Those were over shorter though and is likely to appreciate the return to this trip, as well as the chance he’ll be cherry ripe fitness wise to run a big race here. It wouldn’t be the biggest surprise to see him run well, but given he’s not looked in particularly good form in races he should have been much more competitive in, then he’s difficult to be too confident about.
- Al Ferof
An absolutely impossible race to call, with many of these not having shown their best form on their latest starts, leading us to go back into their history to find evidence. Al Ferof is given the call by the narrowest of margins, as he’ll really appreciate the step back in trip to what is likely his ideal and his record at this venue, especially in good races, is very competent and he looks the one to beat. Medermit doesn’t look the most likely winner on paper but is rated above the likes of Dynaste and Benefficient in my thought as there’s every chance he could be back to something like his best given the prep run and the form of the Alan King stable. He should be given a chance at big odds. Benefficient has every chance on recent form and will be thereabouts.
The Thursday of the Cheltenham Festival sees a shorter card than usual as the Charity Race closes the day off and that isn’t obviously a race to bet in. As always, it’s a fine card today and I’m much looking forward to the World Hurdle. As you may have seen in my previous post (here), I’m of the belief that Big Bucks is very vulnerable, so it will be interesting to see how right I am on that front. My thoughts on that big race specifically are below. Best of luck to whatever you’re backing. Look out for any further race previews.
15:20 Cheltenham – Ladbrokes World Hurdle
At Fishers Cross (Rebecca Curtis) Form: 11-4U2
Dominant in the Novices’ division last season, culminating in winning the Albert Bartlett at the Festival in pretty facile fashion. That race hasn’t worked out particularly well but there’s no real doubt that he’s top class. We haven’t seen the best of him this season, as after making a complete mess of the second-last at Newbury on seasonal reappearance, he hasn’t jumped with much fluency and enthusiasm. That improved however in the Cleeve Hurdle when just in-front of Big Bucks, showing much more passion for the game and jumping a whole lot better. He needs to improve again, but he’s hardly been seen to best effect this season and could well come on a bundle for that outing. Likely to be on concert pitch for today’s race and with Rebecca Curtis going much better now (winner on Wednesday), he’ll go very well. The ground is a slight concern, but he ran perfectly well at Aintree last season and the better ground ought not to be an issue for him.
Big Buck’s (Paul Nicholls) Form: 11/1-3
Champion of this race on four occasion and likely to be remembered as one of the greats, he returned after a long absence with a very respectable effort in the Cleeve Hurdle when possibly given too positive a ride, especially after a long time away from the track. It’s a fair assumption that he’ll “come on for the outing” and is drifting now to an attractive price, which can often happen with such horses at Cheltenham. The nagging feeling is that he is now 11 years old and it’s unlikely that he’ll be the same horse as he was a couple of years ago. With some strong looking rivals in the field this time, it’ll take a heroic effort for him to win here.
Celestial Halo (Paul Nicholls) Form: 6-1613
Winner of the aforementioned Newbury race which featured At Fishers Cross, but followed that up with a rather tame effort at Haydock. His yard put up some excuses and it didn’t really look like his true form anyway, so he can obviously be given the benefit of the doubt. He’s no doubt talented but even on his best form, you would really be hard pushed to see him winning unless all the big names fail to fire, which is unlikely considering there’s quite a few that could fit into that bracket this year. Place chance if nothing more.
Mala Beach (Gordon Elliot) Form: 21-231
Soft ground Irish staying hurdler who won a Grade 2 at Gowran Park back in January. The form of that was tainted though as Zaidpour failed to run to any sort of form and the runner-up was rated 134. Mala Beach was well behind Zaidpour the time beforehand and it’s difficult to see him truly being up to a standard of a Grade 1 contest, not least this one. An angle could have been made if the ground had been very testing, but that obviously isn’t the case and doesn’t look one to be supporting.
Medinas (Alan King) Form: 11P-22
Winner of the Coral Cup last year and showed he could handle graded races when a length second to Tidal Bay back in November. Medinas was well-behind Celestial Halo next time out at Newbury and hasn’t been seen since. That might be no bad thing considering the problems the Alan King stable had been having this winter, which now seem to be behind them on the evidence of this week. On that basis, he could be an interesting outsider but the main doubt is the trip. Although he proved he can stay three miles at Wetherby, a strongly run race at Cheltenham is a different ball-game altogether. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him there with a big chance with half a mile to run before the stronger finishers get the better of him
More Of That (Jonjo O’Neill) Form: 1-111
The unexposed JP McManus runner wasn’t a definite runner in the race and was overlooked by AP McCoy in favour of At Fishers Cross but this one comes into the race with a emerging reputation and looks extremely likely to make his mark in the National Hunt sphere in time. Whether that time will be today is debatable, given he’s only had four starts over timber and hasn’t been tested over the trip. I wouldn’t be surprised if he turned out to be one of the best of these, but I really think he’ll need more experience to take this sort of race. It’ll be a really tough race and you just have to hope that it doesn’t leave it’s mark. Although, I don’t think this sort of trip will be any real problem, so entitled to be thereabouts.
Reve De Sivola (Nick Williams) Form: 01314
An easy winner of the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot on awful ground in December, he’s a confirmed mud-lark who is best on testing surfaces. He’s no slouch though on better ground, shown by his 4th place finish in this race last year. On that basis, the 40/1 on offer at the time of writing looks awfully big. However, he didn’t run anything like he should have in the Cleeve Hurdle and was bitterly disappointing as he looked the obvious type to cash in if Big Bucks wasn’t at his best. He’ll have to bounce back from that, on far from ideal ground and against some serious competition, so he doesn’t have particularly much to recommend for today.
Rule The World (Mouse Morris) Form: P-1421
Obviously the best of the Irish challenge and was second at the Festival last year in the Neptune, when staying on behind The New One. Had suffered a Pelvic injury and although he took a couple of runs to get it together, was impressive over 2m4f at Naas on testing ground. He’s proved that he stays this trip in the past and we still likely haven’t seen the best of him. Definitely deserves to take his chance here given he could well be back to his best and I’d like to think that he could be in with a serious place chance.
Salubrious (Paul Nicholls) Form: 15-222
Goes well here, having finished 2nd on his last two outings at the track (over 2m5f and over 3m). He was last seen at Ascot behind Reve De Sivola when beaten ten lengths, but that doesn’t tell the full story. Salubrious was travelling well and was about to unleash his challenge when slithering on landing, effectively ended his chance. I really don’t think he would have won but the end result would likely have been much closer. Course form counts for a lot around here and he acts perfectly well on nice ground, so he has plenty in his favour but it’s hard to see him winning. Another in which an argument can be made for place prospects.
Zarkandar (Paul Nicholls) Form: 1-2222
Twice this season behind Annie Power over trips around two and a half miles and the stamina question that will be applied to Annie Power can be equally applied to Zarkandar. He’s a grand servant to connections in graded races and showed that emphatically when narrowly going down to Melodic Rendezvous over two miles at Wincanton last time. He’s the scalp of The New One last season too and there’s no doubting that he’s classy, albeit never looking flash. His galloping style may well suit three miles, but it’s hard to see him making an impact at Grade 1 level over this trip, given he’s never really looked up to that standard and has hardly indicated that he’s screaming out for the extra distance.
Annie Power (Willie Mullins) Form: 11-111
10/10 on all starts but she hasn’t gone further than 2m5f and obviously the key question is stamina. She does however have exceptional credentials given how impressive she’s always looked. On her running style she looks like she could keep on galloping all day and does things so effortlessly. It’s arguable that she would have troubled the principles in the Champion Hurdle had she gone there and although you’d expect a strongly run three miles will mean the fuel gauge is close to empty, she’ll be more than capable of capitalising on a pace collapse up-front and the ground been how it is should give her plenty of opportunity to stay. The one to beat and probably one of the most exciting mares in recent season, especially as she’s taking on the boys.
Quevega (Willie Mullins) Form: 1/11-1
- Annie Power
- At Fishers Cross
- Rule The World
A brilliant renewal to a race that has been lacking in competitiveness for the past few season, with rivals possibly been scared off by Big Bucks. That runner is highly respected given his record in the race but at age 11, he’s unlikely to be as good as he once was, and looks vulnerable to an emerging class of staying hurdlers. Annie Power is the preferred selection, albeit possibly not one to back. Stamina questions aside, she’s one of the most exciting prospects to be seen at Cheltenham this week and could well be a cut above many of these. We haven’t seen the best of these and she should be more than capable of handling this big race in her stride. At Fishers Cross looks the best alternative and a sound each-way bet, given we’ve not seen the best of him this season and his run in the Cleeve Hurdle was much more like it. Given Rebecca Curtis’ is now in better form, it would be no surprise to see him improve on his official OR of 157. Rule The World looks an exciting prospect from Ireland with proven Cheltenham form from last season, looks likely to go really well.
It’s a sure thing that for the vast majority of Horse Racing fans and those interested in the upcoming Cheltenham Festival, that begins on Tuesday, that they’ll be having a bet. It’s a “natural” thing to do, you study throughout the year, find horses that you think will be suited to the Cheltenham test, back them ante-post as the trials occur. As well as that, you study the night before when the declarations are released and do your form study then, finding value bets and placing them accordingly the night before or in the morning. The prices don’t fluctuate and you can get a decent bet on. But, you don’t hear the next line uttered too often…
“You don’t have to bet at Cheltenham this week”
Why? When so much of the previews, blog articles, video blogs, newspaper articles and advertisements focus on the betting aspects with money-back offers and enhanced prices, would you want to do that?
“Cheltenham is so good and competitive, you don’t need to have a bet to enjoy it”
It’s not something I do personally, but how often will you see someone say “Just a small bet for a bit of interest” or words to that effect. Generally, these are people who don’t have a big fancy and just want to watch the race. The beauty of Cheltenham is that the racing is so good anyway, with top-class graded horses and handicappers coming together, that for most of it, you wouldn’t be a National Hunt Racing fan if you couldn’t watch the racing. I won’t be betting in the Champion Hurdle, but will I still be watching them coming over the last? Absolutely! Cheltenham should be of high enough quality that you wouldn’t need to do these bets over the course of the Festival, especially if you didn’t have a strong view.
“The Cheltenham Festival is extremely difficult to win at”
Some will argue that the above statement is complete nonsense, and from a blog point of view, we’ve had very good Cheltenham’s and very bad one’s. For example.
What do the numbers 28, 16, 33, 25, 25, 50, 16, 14, 10, 16, 3 mean to y'all?—
Graham Cunningham (@gcunning12) February 28, 2014
Graham Cunningham was of course, talking about the SP’s of the winners of the Handicaps’ at last years Festival. Just on the straw poll of those numbers, finding the winners of these races is a tough enough task indeed. Obviously, one winner at those fancy prices can absolutely make your Festival, but that’s probably the wrong way of thinking about things. You obviously too have races other than handicaps, but then these are sometimes just as competitive.
“The best Bookmaker offers don’t apply to me”
It’s hardly defamatory towards the bookmakers that the best offers are aimed at new customers. It makes obvious business sense to aim these at people who have yet to register to your site, rope them in and hope they stick around to give back what they’ve likely won from their special offer. Just a quick look around the internet saw Sire De Grugy at 3/1, Quevega was 4/1 earlier in the week for new customers too and although there are appealing offers available for existing customers, I’ve the belief that the assumption that it’s a punters benefit in terms of special offers for bookmakers customers is slightly overstated, unless you haven’t exhausted your friends availability to open new accounts for you.
“Information overload in the run-up to the Festival”.
This statement can be argued that there’s so much racing, so many angles and so many horses’, that it’s not unlikely that you can find an angle that has been missed by the majority. However, a quick look on social media in the run up to Cheltenham, with multiple previews every night for seemingly weeks, means that many, many people have been exposed to multiple viewpoints, write-ups and inside information on the vast majority of the big names in all the races. The interest in Cheltenham is so huge that there’s a big enough chance that the more obvious, better value bets will have gone long before the day of the race. Not every bet can win, of course, but there’s so much information out there, so many good judges that with everyone’s eyes turned onto four days in March, there’s a huge amount of missed opportunities if you’re leaving your betting to the day of the race. I’m not saying that there isn’t such opportunities out there (more in the handicaps, where there’s lots of late doubts with which targets a horse will go for) but it is certainly much more difficult to land on a really good bet where you significantly beat the SP when betting on the day.
“There’s opportunities elsewhere when everyone else is looking at one track”
I haven’t seen it this year yet but there was often a common phrase touted about social media/forums about “What would be the big gamble at Sedgefield this year?” – The Northern track having been home to some fairly big gambles over the past few years whilst Cheltenham has been taking place. It provides an interesting conundrum, we are forever been told by “professional gamblers” to “look away from the majority view” and to find angles that others are not seeing. So, this is a much simpler task when hundreds of thousands are watching developments at Prestbury Park, while possibly a few hundred are taking a keener interest in what happens at Lingfield Park. It makes perfect sense then, not to follow the majority and instead, look to the sand and the smaller National Hunt venues, for potential betting opportunities, ones that likely will have been swallowed up by shrewder punters not distracted by Cheltenham.
If you put the hours in to your punting, then doing it for four days/nights straight is going to take it out of you. Unless you’re perfectly level-headed, results swings either way could effect you either way. Winning too much and you could get more reckless and careless as confidence grows, whilst a losing run could lead you to dramatically drop stakes as your confidence wanes or, the polar opposite and lose even more. The topic of staking plans is well-documented and keeping a disciplined approach is obviously key, but four consecutive days of hard form study, is possibly going to cause burnout by the time Friday’s study comes around.
Obviously, I have a bet and enjoy the hard-work you put in to find a winning bet etc… otherwise I wouldn’t have started up a betting blog. But, I do feel that Cheltenham Festival isn’t the “be all” and “end all” of the season and you shouldn’t be disheartened that if, for whatever reason, you can’t or don’t want to bet on every race at Cheltenham. I’ll summarise a few key ideas that I hope I’ve got across.
- The Racing is so good that you don’t *have* to bet, you can just watch the races as they’re so packed with quality anyway.
- By all means, cash in on bookmakers special offers, especially if you don’t have accounts open with some of the main firms. New customer offers are a great way to get a head-start on a bookmaker and give you some cash to “kick on” with betting post-Cheltenham. But, don’t be too drawn in, many of the offers aren’t too appealing on the maths of things from a industry side and with some bookmaker percentages on races, it’s almost worth just betting as you would normally.
- Too many eyes and too many good judges have had their paws on the Cheltenham cards over the past few months, so some cast-iron opportunities will have gone. There’s racing elsewhere, so don’t be afraid to look away from the main meetings and find something of interest at a smaller venue, where less research has taken place.
- Don’t be afraid to take one day at Cheltenham relatively easy, doing four days of study on the trot will take it out of most people and mistakes can be made and opportunities overlooked.
- Make sure you enjoy yourself when you’re having a bet, if you’re putting in “too much like hard-work” that you’re not really enjoying, and unless you’re doing it for a job/contractually obliged to, don’t be afraid to take a back-seat.
Enjoy the week whatever you do, see you at Lingfield Park on Friday?
Firstly, I’m back from a holiday and raring to go for the Festival, which is only a few days away. I’m still trying to catch up with what I’ve missed but in the meantime, I’ve been able to look at the main Championship races and I think I’ve found five animals, spread over the four days of the Festival that are well worth opposing. These will all be big-names that are prominent in the market, a couple of them being currently favourite. I do feel that, all of these are vulnerable and are well-worth taking on. Hopefully it will provide a different opinion to that of the majority and all comments/feedback are obviously, very welcome. As per usual, I’ll be doing the handicaps on a day by day basis before the race.
Cheltenham Festival – Five to avoid
Supreme Novices Hurdle
Irving (Paul Nicholls) Form: 1111
Unbeaten over rules and a winner two of Grade 2 races at Ascot in December and then Kempton in February, he obviously comes here with a big reputation. I’m however, not completely convinced that he should be so short in the market on what he has done this season. He’s unbeaten, but I’m not the biggest fan of what he’s beaten. Take his latest start at Kempton, where he beat Amore Alato quite comfortably. That one however, isn’t top-class and although Irving won easily enough, he’ll certainly come up against much tougher sorts than that one. He was fortunate to win by so far when winning at Ascot in December (I’m sure he’d have won, but Prince Sigfried would have got pretty close to him) and I just think he’s flattered a little bit by his current odds. Paul Nicholls believes he’ll improve for a strongly run race but there’s always the chance that he might not, and the big-field, strongly run races of the Festival are much different to that he’s previously been running in. Going this way round is a new experience too, and a lack of course experience could count against him as well. He hasn’t done a lot wrong, but at 5/2 in a race where there’s always one or two that improve out of all recognition for that sort of contest, he’s worth taking on. He wouldn’t be a big lay, but it’s wise advice to not be scared to hunt something else out at a bigger price each-way.
Hurricane Fly (W P Mullins) Form: 111-111
The winner of this race in 2011 and 2013, Willie Mullins seems to have sacrificed the chance of the well-touted Annie Power and Un De Sceaux (both are still in the race but unlikely to run) to give Hurricane Fly the best chance of picking up the prize. He’ll obviously go down as one of the best hurdlers ever, with 19 Grade One wins to his name. That being said, he’s now a 10yo and although unbeaten this season, he’s hardly faced a test like the one he’ll face next Tuesday. Firstly, the race is one of the most competitive in years, with The New One, My Tent Or Yours, Our Conor and Jezki all looking like tough opposition. The last two mentioned he’s beaten this season, but I’m convinced that Our Conor will be reinvigorated with the switch back to Cheltenham and has been trained all season with this race in mind. I’m sure we’ll see a few lbs of improvement from that one and that could be enough to overhaul Hurricane Fly. We’ve barely even mentioned the chance of The New One, who loves it round Cheltenham and looks to be top-class. I really thought he’d be a bigger price than the 11/4 he is at the moment and the fact is, that everyone in the field is conspiring to beat him. It’s happened before in 2012 when the race was almost deliberately run so to inconvenience him and the fact that Jp McManus has supplemented Captain Cee Bee means that they’re attempting to do so again, in order to support the chance of My Tent Or Yours. This will almost certainly be Hurricane Fly’s greatest victory if he can win this, and backing a horse of his age when he’s mostly facing upwardly mobile, young rivals in arguably the toughest and most competitive Champion Hurdle he’s took part in, looks too much to be supporting at 11/4.
Sire De Grugy (Gary Moore) Form: 1-12111
The arguable top success story of the season has been Sire De Grugy’s climb up the ranks to be regarded as one of the top two mile chasers. Connections were brave and bold in their campaigning this season, giving him plenty of chances for success and picking up some really good prize-money on the way. Their ambition was rewarded in no uncertain terms when not being afraid to run against Sprinter Sacre at Kempton and he’s the “in-form” horse in the division and looks to have every chance on paper. His Tingle Creek victory is probably the best recent form in the field, but I still do think that there’s every chance of him getting turned over.
Firstly, I’m not completely convinced that Cheltenham is an ideal track for him. You have to remember that he got beaten by Kid Cassidy earlier on in the season at the venue. I accept that the weights in that race meant he did extremely well to finish where he did, but I do think that other tracks suit his strengths better. The stiff finish could well catch him out again (it did when facing Kid Cassidy) and the jumping test that Cheltenham brings may also find him out, as he was hardly pitch perfect on his two starts at Prestbury Park. There’s also the possibility that the fairly “long” season in terms of top quality races may take it’s toll. Last, but by no means least, he’ll likely face the best of the Irish contingent. Arvika Ligeonniere could also have comments attributed that Cheltenham isn’t his track but he’s been mightily impressive this season with how he’s travelled and his jumping. Baily Green is another that should go particularly well, having gone close behind Simonsig in the Arkle, he hasn’t been seen to best effect this season but is one that will surely be reinvigorated by the trip to Cheltenham. I do feel that one of the Irish contingent will be able to get the better of Sire De Grugy, now he’s away from an ideal track.
Big Bucks (Paul Nicholls) Form: 1111/1-3
Big Bucks is my least favourite horse in training. Why? Because I do think he’s so vastly overrated and comparisons in terms of the great’s of Horse Racing are just so ridiculous. Granted, he’s won the World Hurdle four times (he was injured for 2013′s renewal) and a “Championship” race like that, it is a incredible achievement. However, the World Hurdle has in recent years, been won on multiple occasions by the same horses. Inglis Drever, Baracouda both won the event on multiple occasions and to me, this shows a particular pattern. The division is weak. Staying Hurdling in the past seems to the path for failed chasers and often, the best hurdlers who might stay further go chasing a lot sooner down the line. It’s hardly the quality of the Cheltenham Gold Cup (over Hurdles) and although you can only beat what is in front of you, this year is a different story entirely.
There’s Annie Power to contend with, who looks such an exciting prospect. Big Bucks has beaten horses with similar amounts of hype before, but he’s now 11 years old. On the basis of his comeback run in January, he’s probably not quite as good as he once was and I really will be completely amazed if he can win at the Festival this time around. It will be an amazing training achievement, but I do think that he’s time in the winners enclosure has been and gone. He’ll run well, but I’ve plenty of doubt about him actually winning another renewal. At Fisher’s Cross seems to be back in form now and that rival, alongside Annie Power, will be difficult to beat.
Cheltenham Gold Cup
Silviniaco Conti (Paul Nicholls) Form: 11F3-31
The winner of the King George at Kempton in December, it’s a well-trodden path that he hasn’t been seen since and it’s nothing to worry about. That being said, I’m quite concerned that although picking up a huge victory on Boxing Day, Silviniaco Conti hasn’t quite got the level of form to trouble a back to his best Bob’s Worth. My main concern is that he won’t be quite good enough. The King George was full of horses that ran well below form and it was only really Cue Card that turned up. That one didn’t stay in the end and is out injured, but it was a really poor renewal to me and I do think that if Bob’s Worth runs to a similar level that he did in the Lexus, especially as he won when the yard still weren’t firing on all cylinders, he’ll win. The ratings suggest otherwise, especially the RPR’s but Silviniaco Conti didn’t beat horses that were in-form (on the day). His record at Cheltenham isn’t ideal either, having fallen in this race last year and only running okay in a graded hurdle earlier in his career at the venue. Other concerns are the fact that he’s prone to throwing in a shocker on occasions, for example at Ascot back in 2012, and the fact that the extended Gold Cup trip, one he’s hardly proven over and evidence at Haydock earlier in the year suggests he won’t see it out as well as others. I think he deserves to be around 2nd favourite for the race, but he’s not one to be backing at 3/1 and will surely go off bigger on the day anyway if the majority of runners stand their ground.
Firstly, apologies for the lack of posts. There’s been a lot going on in my life, not all of it ideal, and I’ve had to spend a lot of time trying to get things right. That, alongside the atrocious weather and my lack of real interest in the AW has meant I’ve not had much to post about. I’ve been keeping an eye on things in terms of Cheltenham Festival.
I’m going to be on holiday from tomorrow until towards the end of February. So will be back posting in the run up to Cheltenham, hopefully with some winners!
At the beginning of January I published a list of 10 horses that I thought were worth following through the National Hunt season. This is a continuation of that list with a few more new additions. As for the January list, only 3/10 have actually ran! Broughton was the first winner at the weekend, winning easily at quite prohibitive odds. He was entitled to win and looks all set for Cheltenham. I don’t think he’ll win (his current odds suggest he isn’t too strongly fancied) but will go well and should make a decent hurdler next season, too. Downtown Manhattan has ran once but hasn’t got his ground yet, running yet again on a testing surface. We’ll need to wait for better ground for him. Mighty Mobb is other runner and was a tad disappointing when last seen, eventually being quite well-beaten. I don’t think the ground he faced on that occasion was to his liking and is worth another chance away from really testing ground.
The good news is that many of the other horses listed are being entered and it is a case of simply waiting for the testing conditions to end. They should do within the next couple of weeks and hopefully we’ll see a lot more action.
Horses to Follow – February 2014
Jigsaw Puzzle (David Pipe)
I’d initially spotted this one in December but it didn’t make the final 10 of the January post. However, I’ve been thinking a bit more and do think this one has a chance at picking up a race soon. He was quick to get off the mark in bumpers but hasn’t really made much impression on that initial promise. He was the last to finish on his last start at Towcester but jumped well and I was actually close to the final fence that day, and he seemed to finish with a bit more in the tank than you would have thought.
Advice: Maybe needs better ground but isn’t one to completely give up on. He may need a smaller stable to get the best out of him but should find his level over fences in the near future, and could be one that goes in at a big price.
Polo Springs (Graeme McPherson)
Not showed a lot on the track so far but was a decent type in the P2P field a couple of years ago, winning twice over 2m4f and 3m. She was injured on her only start under rules for Charlie Longsdon and wasn’t seen throughout 2013. However, she caught the eye with how she travelled on her reappearance and is on a lowly mark, and she might not be worth giving up on, given that she made a bad error which pretty much ended her race.
Advice: Worth taking a look at in the market next time out, as she may well be under-bet. On her P2P form, she should be very much capable of taking advantage of a mark of 71.
Rupert Bear (James Walton)
An absolute bull of a horse that ought to have been a natural over fences. However, his career over the bigger obstacles hasn’t gone entirely to plan, putting in a weak showing last time out at Newcastle when jumping quite slowly and deliberately. However, I don’t think the small field that day was to plan and was a big market drifter, which give the impression that connections weren’t really expecting too much.
Advice: He’s fallen to a good mark now and ought to be winning soon over fences. He may well need a truly run race to be seen at his best and I’d be tempted to back him in a big field where there’s a danger they’ll go too fast. Will be often weak in the betting too so you ought to get a good price about him.
Saints And Sinners (Michael Easterby)
A very capable hurdler for Michael Easterby, he won off a mark of 115 over the smaller obstacles and has now reached that mark over fences. He jumped well on both occasions and I wasn’t the biggest fan of the ride he was given last time out at Warwick, when he gave the leaders far too much rope in front. He will have learnt a lot though from those two starts and ought to be winning soon.
Advice: Entered tomorrow (4th February) and although his price looks a little prohibitive on his fences form, he ought to be winning off a mark of 115 over fences so I would fairly recommend a bet. He’s had two positive experiences of fences now and if given a more prominent ride, which is likely given the smaller field, then he’s the one to beat. If he doesn’t run, then he’ll be worthy of a bet next time out.
Salut Flo (David Pipe)
Off a long time after his Cheltenham Festival win in 2012 but returned with a fair effort in the Paddy Power Gold Cup. Reports at the course that day suggested he wasn’t particularly fit and the way he shaped suggested he’d come on significantly for the outing, the tank emptying fairly quickly when the race got going. He jumped fairly well considering the problems he’s had and ought to get back to something like his best form in time for Spring.
Advice: Possibly will be aimed at the same race he won at the Cheltenham Festival this season but ought to be winning a better ground handicap at some stage round Cheltenham if his jumping holds up. Unlikely the same issues with his fitness will be apparent if showing up in March and could be worth an ante-post flutter if connections show their hand early in which race they’re targeting.