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Month: March 2021

Cheltenham 2021 – Gold Cup Day

For all that it’s not been the most profitable week so far, I’ve really enjoyed this week’s Festival.

The obvious star is not a horse but a jockey, Rachael Blackmore. I can’t emphasise enough how much her success has been down to her tactical skill and judgement of pace, which have been peerless. She has rightly made the news headlines and is favourite to be the leading jockey at the Festival. As the BBC’s Frank Keogh (@honestfrank) pointed out, the current tally is Rachael Blackmore 5 Great Britain 4.

So, here’s the summary so far. Appreciate It got us off to a great start in the Supreme and that should not be forgotten for a horse that has great potential. The same can be said for the short priced favourite and imperious winner of the Arkle, Shishkin, who is current 6/4 favourite for the Champion Chase 2022. Vintage Clouds was a great 28/1 winner of the Ultima and I recommend listening to Harvey Smith about him on the Nick Luck podcast. As for Goshen, well, I’m just very sad for the connections. He’s very talented but, like many in so many different disciplines in life, perhaps unsuited to the one that he’s been given. I’m still not giving up but there are perhaps shades of Might Bite about him.

Bob Olinger was all that I hoped for in the Ballymore, while Monkfish showed what a good horse he is by being far from his best and still winning. Although I couldn’t have him in a month of Sundays, it was clear from early on that Tiger Roll would win the Cross Country and it seems that he may now be aimed for the Betway Bowl at Aintree on Thursday. On the same Nick Luck podcast (Wednesday) that I mentioned above, racing manager Eddie O’Leary said:

“He seemed to jump off with a big smile on his face and as the race went on, he seemed to get better and better.

“Without getting too mad about him, I don’t think there’s been too many like him. Before this race came along, he kind of chucked racing. It was an amazing training performance by Gordon to get him back, and an amazing training performance by all at Cullentra to get him there yesterday in that kind of shape.

“Because he is what he is there are no races for him, and because of the famous handicap mark he has, there are no opportunities to get it down. He doesn’t really run on (conventional) tracks.

“We’ve absolutely no regrets about taking him out of the National as his rating is just too high. We’re probably going to have to run him at a park track, we’re even considering the Betway Bowl at Aintree.

“The way the horse won yesterday, retirement is off the table – he’s loving life and while he is we’ll listen to him.

“He’ll probably go for the Bowl and unfortunately he’ll prove he’s not that (166 rated), unless he is and then he’ll prove us all completely wrong.

“The Tiger we saw yesterday, you’d have to give him 10 out of 10, which is a testament to all at Cullentra.”

I was gutted to see Kilcruit beaten by Sir Gerhard in the Bumper but they are both great horses in the making.

Envoi Allen‘s unexpected fall did for all my accas but credit to Richard Hoiles on ITV who commented before the off and in the early stages that he was fizzing and didn’t jump the first few too well.

The victory of Allaho in the Ryanair was largely down to a superb ride by Rachael and I was pleased to see that my selection Fakir D’oudairies ran into a creditable (albeit not profitable) second place.

I can’t remember who it was who tweeted that The Shunter‘s comments in running should have been “settled in in the early stages and responded to lots of money” when he (unusually) collected a £100,000 bonus for winning at Kelso on 6 March and following up at the Festival. All credit to the tweeter and to Emmet Mullins for a cracking result. I should also add a mention to Farclas in defeat for another excellent Festival performance.

So, on to Gold Cup day.

13:20 Triumph Hurdle (2m 179y)

Regular readers will know that I chose Zanahiyr (11/10) months ago and I see no reason to change now. Rather like the the Supreme, it’s an unusually small field and that will help. While not in my top 5 for the week, this is a confident selection.

13:55 County Hurdle (2m 179y)

I’ve been a follower of Buildmeupbuttercup (18/1) all season but the time has come to desert her in favour of Third Time Lucki (8/1) who has an ideal profile for this race. For loyalty rather than confidence I’ll also have a few quid on Ciel De Neige who has let me down a few times. but I have to see it through.

14:30 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (2m 7f 213y)

The potato race (these previews would be incomplete without me saying that!). I think that this is wide open and I still like Alaphilippe at 12/1 for Fergal O’Brien and Paddy Brennan. He has graded form and is rock hard with a guarantee to stay the distance.

15:05 Wellchild Gold Cup (3m 2f 70y)

My initial thought was to go with Champ (5/1). However, I was struck by Kevin Blake’s comment in a preview that he is a horse of “low intelligence”, particularly when it comes to fences, having a tendency to ignore or head butt them.

I understand that Al Boum Photo (3/1) is not a star, even though he is aiming for a three-time win in this race which would put him among the all-time greats. All the form suggests that he will do it again but I’m unconvinced.

Aso (125/1) will not stay.

A Plus Tard (100/30) will probably go off as favourite because of the Rachael Blackmore factor. He’s a leading candidate and Rachael could do it, given her superb riding to date but he’s not guaranteed to stay this trip.

Black Op (125/1) will be tailed off. Not up to this standard.

Frodon (12/1). Don’t discount him. Front running has been seen to work this week and the King George win shouldn’t be discounted. My choice for a longer odds win (12/1).

Kemboy (16/1) could run away with this but not for me because of dodgy jumping.

Lostintranslation (25/1) , politely, is not going to win this.

Minella Indo (8/1) was supposed to be the coming horse but I’m unconvinced. Could run very well but definitely not my choice.

Native River (14/1) doesn’t have the right ground and could be withdrawn.

Royalle Pagaille (14/1) was my choice for National Hunt Chase and I was gutted when he was withdrawn from that (at 2/1). I watched this horse (live on TV) when he first ran in the UK when beaten at Chepstow in a match behind Vision Des Flos and when he lost a shoe when beaten by Equus Secretus at Huntingdon. Since then he beat Espoir De Romay in a Class 2 at Haydock, Cap Du Nord and Double Shuffle impressively at Kempton and Potters Legend and Just Your Type in the Peter Marsh (Grade 2) at Haydock on 23 January. He’s a 7-y-o and I think that his time will come, starting with a place in this race.

15:40 Hunters’ Chase

Well, this is an oddity because it is the amateurs’ Gold Cup but amateurs are not allowed to take part.

The Hunters’ calendar has been a bit of a mess this year so we should look for the outright best horse. There is a good case for looking for an Irish horse but I’m going with Bob And Co (9/2) for Paul Nicholls and with the excellent Sean Bowen on board.

16:15 Mrs Paddy Power Mares’ Chase (2m 4f 127y)

I don’t know why Elimay isn’t 1/2 (currently 4/5). The only other challenger is Shattered Love (7/1).

16:50 Martin Pipe Conditionals’ Handicap Hurdle (2m 4f 56y)

Normally a random choice But Gentleman Du Mee (3/1) has attracted a lot of support in recent weeks. Langer Dan (13/2) has made it in for the bonus after winning the Grade 3 Imperial Cup last Saturday and could follow The Shunter in this regard. However, I’m with Frontal Assault (12/1) for Denise “Sneezy” Foster, “((former) trainer said, regarding improvement in form, gelding was tried in blinkers on his most recent run which seemed to make him too keen)” !! I’ll leave you to draw you own conclusion!

Good luck!

Cheltenham 2021 – Thursday

Just quick selections for tomorrow.

13:20 Marsh Novices’ Chase (2m 3f 168y)

Envoi Allen (1/2)

13:55 Pertemps Final (2m 7f 213y)

Imperial Alcazar (5/1)

14:30 Ryanair Chase (2m 4f 127y)

Fakir D’oudairies (6/1)

15:05 Stayers’ Hurdle (2m 7f 213y)

Sire Du Berlais (11/2)

15:40 Paddy Power Plate (2m 4f 127y)

A Wave Of The Sea (6/1)

16:15 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (2m 179y)

Gauloise (13/2)

16:50 Kim Muir Handicap Chase (3m 2f)

Diese Aba (8/1)

Good luck!

Cheltenham 2021 Tuesday and Wednesday

It’s here again, and with some unexpected rain before we get going. There was 10-12mm of rain on Sunday evening.

(Credit Turftrax (@TurfTrax))

The going is soft, good to soft in places and the going stick reading on the old course (in use on Tuesday and Wednesday) is 5.6. The reading is taken from at least 30 samples around the course and ranges from 0 (flooded) to 15 (rock hard). It’s worth noting that, for national hunt, the relevant averages are 5.2 (heavy), 6.0 (soft), 6.8 (good to soft) and 7.7 (good). There is therefore a decent cut in the ground, albeit on a very good surface, particularly as a result of the January meetings having been abandoned. The forecast for the week is mostly dry but there’s a 60% chance of rain on Tuesday, 10% on Wednesday, 20% on Thursday and 20% on Friday. We should therefore be looking for horses with form on soft and good to soft and be cautious about horses which appear to prefer good ground.

Tuesday

13:20 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (2m)

1. Appreciate It (162p) 3112-111 (evens)****

Second in last year’s Champion Bumper, this long-standing favourite is hard to oppose. Won his maiden hurdle on heavy last November and has followed up with Grade 1 wins at the Leopardstown Christmas and Dublin Racing Festival meetings. No obvious drawbacks and should be staying on at the end.

7. Metier (161p) 111 (11/2)**

Was a decent flat horse and is unbeaten over hurdles (heavy, good to soft, soft), most recently winning the Grade 1 Tolworth impressively on 2 January (although not the strongest field).

2. Ballyadam (158) 31-1142 (7/1)**

Beaten comfortably enough by Appreciate It last time out and trainer Henry de Bromhead has acknowledged that he would have to improve significantly to turn the tables on the favourite.

It’s hard to see any of the others taking the honours. Beware of any non-runners for each way purposes because we have the straight eight (5-7 runners first two only/fewer than 5 win only).

13:55 Arkle Novices’ Chase (1m 7f 199y)

I would have backed Energumene had he not been pulled out lame a few days ago.

6. Shishkin (182p) 1/F111-111 (8/15)*****

This horse is now quite simply unopposable and would still be good value at even shorter odds. The others are a clear level lower and many have question marks about them. A champion chaser in the making.

Allmankind (5/1) is a tearaway who frequently disrespects the fences but has speed and stamina. Backing this one will be a heart in the mouth roller coaster ride.

Captain Guinness (8/1) probably has more to offer but has just fallen short at the highest level, including a fall last time out at the Dublin Racing Festival.

Franco De Port (12/1) was 20/1 a few days ago and also has room for improvement. A possible for a place but consider the forecast bearing in mind that there are only 6 runners.

The others have no realistic chance.

14:30 Ultima Handicap Chase (3m 1f)

This is the first real betting option, although Happygolucky is quite short at 7/2. I prefer Aye Right*** (6/1) for small trainer Harriet Graham but with the benefit of Richard Johnson on board. He was third in the Charlie Hall Chase and was an excellent second in the Ladbrokes Trophy (behind current Grand National favourite Cloth Cap), following up with another decent second in the Sky Bet Chase at Doncaster.

Of the others, Cepage and Ok Corral (both 25/1) both provide decent each way value (first four as long as there are no defectors but look for bookie offers for up to the first six).

15:05 Champion Hurdle (2m 87y)

6. Goshen (174) 111U-01 (5/1)*****

You are either a believer or a non-believer when it comes to this horse and I am in the former category. He was going to be one of the best Triumph winners in many a year at last year’s Festival when unseating in the most unfortunate circumstances after the last. He suffered a fibrillating heart when bombing out in the International Hurdle but was a most taking winner of the Kingwell Hurdle last month. I think that they know how to run him and he’ll either win or be unplaced.

10. Honeysuckle (178) 1111-11 (7/4)****

This mare made it a perfect 10 from 10 when easily winning last month’s Irish Champion Hurdle (for the second time), where she beat Abacadabras, Sharjah and Saldier, none of whom are likely to reverse the form here. Her winning form includes on soft and heavy. She was last year’s winner of the Mares’ Hurdle at the Festival but this is by some way her stiffest test yet.

9. Epatante (175+) 9/111-12 (4/1)***

This defending champion would undoubtedly have been a short priced favourite to repeat the feat were it not for a very disappointing run in the Christmas Hurdle. She was headstrong, unsettled, fluffed a number of hurdles and was comprehensively beaten by Silver Streak. She was subsequently reported to have a back problem and must be treated with considerable caution on her first outing since then.

It’s hard to look beyond the first three in the betting, not least because several of them have raced against each other on several occasions. One of note is James Du Berlais (33/1) for Munir/Souede and Willie Mullins who is having his first outing since moving from France, last time out a close send in the Grande Course De Haies Des 4 Ans last November. It’s a tall order but the high level form (12-121212) has to be respected and is perhaps worth a few quid each way.

15:40 Mares’ Hurdle (2m 3f 200y)

Concertista (11/8f) was an easy 12 lengths winner of the Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at last year’s Festival and should win this. However, I’m going to take a chance with Roksana*** (11/4) who is tough and battle-hardened and was fourth in this race last year. Dame De Compagnie set out on a chasing career this season, having won last year’s Coral Cup, beating Black Tears. She may shine back over hurdles but I think that the front two in the market will provide too tough a challenge. Of the remainder, last year’s Martin Pipe winner Indefatigable could provide a bit of each way value at 25/1.

16:15 Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (2m 87y)

Current favourite Houx Gris (9/2) was a €200,000 purchase for the current owners, having beaten Homme Public (14/1) at Auteuil. However, a 22 1/2l third behind Adagio and Nassalam in the Finale at Chepstow was not the most auspicious UK debut and I prefer Saint Sam*** (11/2) for Mullins/Townend, after his impressive second to Quilixios in the Grade 1 Spring Juvenile on soft to heavy at the Dublin Racing Festival. This one could easily have taken his chance in the Triumph but must carry 11st 8lbs. Of the others Homme Public is attractive for a place at 14/1.

16:50 National Hunt Chase (3m 5f 201y)

As you may have seen, I was all over Royale Pagaille for this race at 2/1 until connections made the courageous decision to declare him for the Gold Cup, in which he is a current 8/1 chance.

As soon as Paul Nicholls saw that Royale Pagaille was a defector, he opted for this race for Next Destination (5/2f) in place of the Brown Advisory (formerly the RSA Chase on Wednesday). I had selected Escaria Ten** (9/2) for the Ultima and now that he turns up here I won’t desert him. Of the others, if you ignore his last outing on heavy ground when pulled up here last November, Soldier Of Love could run into a place at an appealing 40/1.

Wednesday

13:20 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (2m 5f)

2. Bob Olinger (157p) 1-211 (15/8)*****

If you read my last post you’ll know that this is one of my horses of the week and is a confident selection. His win in the Grade 1 Lawlor’s of Naas in January was mightily impressive and he looks like a top performer in the making. It’s not so much who he’s beaten but how he’s done it that has really caught the eye.

3. Bravemansgame (160p) 36-2111 (11/4)***

This is a much-touted horse and one of the big hopes of the week for Paul Nicholls. He has won his last three outings including a 10 lengths’ defeat of Star Gate and The Glancing Queen in the Grade 1 Challow at Newbury last time. However, the Challow has lost its sparkle in recent years (£23,800 to the winner) and I’m not sure that he’s really been proven at this level.

5. Gaillard Du Mesnil (159p) 21222-211 (11/4)***

An admirably consistent horse for Mullins/Townend/Donnelly and a fair enough winner of the Nathaniel Lacey on soft to heavy at the Dublin Racing Festival last month. Could well improve further but I can’t see him beating Bob Olinger.

Of the remainder Keskonrisk (16/1) was a respectable third to Appreciate It at Leopardstown last December and may well run into a place on this first attempt beyond 2 miles.

13:55 Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase (3m 80y)

So here comes another of my top 5 for the week and there really is no need to look beyond Monkfish***** (1/2f), arguably the best National Hunt horse in training, let alone as a novice. I’ve seen slow-motion videos of this horse in action and he is a treat to behold. Just a watching brief at the price but could well turn out to be the performance of the week.

14:30 Coral Cup (2m 5f)

Good luck!! It’s currently 7/1 the field so we need to look for a bit of value in the cavalry charge (28 runners at the time of writing and reserves who may come into play).

Look out for the weights because this is often taken by one towards the bottom of the handicap. With that in mind, here are a few to look at:

  • Dysart Diamond (25/1) – 10st 8lbs
  • Witness Protection (25/1) – 10st 1lb
  • Encore Champs (28/1) – 10st (RESERVE)
  • Breffniboy (40/1) – 10st 1lb (RESERVE)

15:05 Champion Chase (1m 7f 199y)

1. Chacun Pour Soi (187p) 1/121-111 10/11f*****

Another of the five for the week, hopefully his time has now come, having been withdrawn on the day of the race last year with a foot abscess. He has clearly had his issues with 1219, 239 and 270 days’ breaks during his career but he has had three outings since last December, with facile victories in a Grade 2 and two Grade 1s. Dare I say it, the current 10/11 looks like very good value indeed, not least with the defection of Altior.

It’s currently 8/1 bar behind the favourite and that’s about right. Nube Negra (8/1) beat a below par Altior in the Desert Orchid Chase but is surely not in the same league as the favourite. Politologue (10/1) is the defending champion but it’s hard to imagine that he would have beaten Chacun Pour Soi had he participated. Put The Kettle On (10/1) was a 16/1 winner of last year’s Arkle but was a one-paced third to Chacun Pour Soi at Leopardstown last December.

Notebook (28/1) could run into a place if having a good day.

15:40 Cross Country Chase (3m 6f 37y)

If you forgive his below-par run here when 4th last November Easysland (11/10) is the right favourite at the right price. However, of the many short odds horses this week, I think that he’s one of the most vulnerable. It’s hard to argue with the form (11/111114) but I think that former Welsh National winner Potters Corner (6/1) may well have been well-primed for this race and it would be great to see him win for Christian Williams.

16:15 Grand Annual Chase (1m 7f 199y)

This race has produced 66/1 and 28/1 winners in the last five years and it can pay to look down the card. With that in mind I’ve picked out Sky Pirate (15/2), Ibleo (12/1), Bun Doran (28/1) and Not That Fuisse (25/1). I’ll probably follow the market on the day before making my final pick.

16:50 Champion Bumper (2m 87y)

Sir Gerhard (9/4) was the long time ante post favourite for this race, having been bought for £400,000 by Cheveley Park and easily winning his only two races to date. (He is among the horses transferred to Willie Mullins after the recent Gordon Elliott debacle.)

However, then came along Kilcruit***** (pronounced Kilcrut as Ruby and Willie will be quick to remind you). A Mullins horse through and through, as the title to this video says, “Have you ever seen a graded race won as easily as this?”

I watched this one live (on TV of course) and immediately made a note to myself that this one had to be the selection for the Festival Bumper. Even WP was lost for words after the race. Hopefully a decent 2/1 winner to round off the second day.

Good luck!

What do the trainers think?

Nicky Henderson (courtesy of ATR):

Willie Mullins (also via ATR):

Paul Nicholls (via Sporting Life)

Kim Bailey (via Sporting Life)

Henry de Bromhead (via Coral/RP)

Dan Skelton (via Coral/RP)

Donald McCain

ATR full preview with Barry Geraghty

Betfair preview day one:

Cheltenham 2021 – snapshot preview

The weather forecast

Of course we always start here. The going will, of course, be good to soft on Tuesday but it’s looking like it will get faster during the week.

Early views – all subject to declarations and changes in the main previews

All selections are subject to final declarations (and late withdrawals or other late news) so I’m just setting out my initial thoughts.

It’s sad that the featured image includes a crowd that won’t be there but, in reality, I’ve watched the vast majority of Festival races on TV and the excitement for me is undiminished.

These selections are without watching a single preview so they’re all down to me and what I’ve watched on TV (probably too much during the current constraints!).

Tuesday

Supreme – Appreciate It (7/5) – 5/1 bar. Place Keskonrisk (25/1)

Arkle – Energumene (9/4 – no value). Place Franco De Port (20/1)

Ultima – Escaria Ten (10/1)

Champion Hurdle – Goshen (4/1)

Mares’ Hurdle – Concertista (6/5). Place Dame De Compagnie (13/2)

Boodles – Saint Sam (11/2)

National Hunt Chase – Royale Pagaille (2/1 – nap). I think that this horse will love Cheltenham. I hope that he runs here and not in the Gold Cup (for which he’s currently 14/1). Next year please.

Wednesday

Ballymore – Bob Olinger (9/4 – nap) (an exceptional horse)

Brown Advisory (RSA) – Monkfish (4/6 nap of the meeting)

Coral Cup – TBA

Champion Chase – Chacun Pour Soi (evens n/b)

Cross Country – Easysland (evens but no bet for me)

Grand Annual – TBA

Champion Bumper – Kilcruit (9/4 – great value)

Thursday

Marsh – Envoi Allen (4/5 superb value)

Pertemps – TBA

Ryanair – Fakir D’Oudairies should be declared for this but apparently won’t be. No bet for me but should therefore be Min (6/1)

Stayers’ – Sire Du Berlais (8/1)

Plate – The Shunter (with a run – 12/1)

Mares’ Novices’ – no bet

Kim Muir – Achille (20/1 e/w); Le Breuil (20/1 e/w)

Friday

Triumph – Zanahiyr (9/4 nap)

County – TBA

Albert Bartlett – Alaphilippe (10/1)

Gold Cup – Champ (5/1 – great value)

Hunters’ – maybe It Came To Pass (9/1) – TBA

Mares’ Chase – Elimay (7/4 – nap)

Martin Pipe – Gentleman De Mee (6/1 – n/b)

If you like combination bets, now is the time to get on before the main favs shorten. Make sure that you take the prices and here are my selections:

  • National Hunt – Royale Pagaille
  • Ballymore – Bob Olinger
  • Brown Advisory – Monkfish (next year’s Gold Cup favourite and likely to be horse of the week)
  • Champion Chase – Chacun Pour Soi
  • Marsh – Envoi Allen

For guidance I’ve done the following with Paddy Power, all non runner no bet:

4-folds x 5 (single bet – five selections – really a “5-fold”) (£5 – return £97.51)

Royale Pagaille

Bob Olinger

Monkfish

Chacun Pour Soi

Envoi Allen

Fixed accumulator (5 selected at fixed prices) (£2 – return £79.52) (i.e. bets accumulate from one to the next)

Royale Pagaille

Bob Olinger

Monkfish

Chacun Pour Soi

Envoi Allen

Lucky 31

The 31 bets at £2 each are:

  • 1. 5 Singles
  • 2. 10 Doubles
  • 3. 10 Trebles
  • 4. 5 Fourfold Accumulators
  • 5. 1 Fivefold Accumulator

This one costs £62 at £2 per line with a potential return of £575.76 but lots of lower returns if not all of them come in. The selections are the same.

I will take a look at the non-championship race bets when we know the declarations but, for me, Cheltenham is all about the horses that are comfortably the best in their categories. Do I think that they will all win? – probably not – but the Lucky 31 provides a bit of value if you take it now.

Good luck!

Eurovision 2021

For the first time in a number of years the UK has a strong Eurovision entry from James Newman:

Unfortunately, recent history and the voting audience’s predisposition against the UK mean that it’s trading at odds between 34/1 and 130/1.

Current favourite (4/1) is Switzerland’s rather glum entry:

Ireland seem still to have lost their way with this 200/1 shot:

This is quintessentially French and my current favourite:

The French don’t have a great recent record (last won in 1977 – L’oiseau et L’enfant) but the current 8/1 looks like good value to me.

This year’s contest takes place on 22 May in Rotterdam. Most contestants will perform live at the venue with the possibility of a limited audience.

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