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Cheltenham 2020 – Thursday and Friday

It’s been a frustrating couple of days with four 2nds on Tuesday and just two winners on Wednesday. Very much a case, as is so often at Cheltenham, of what might have been! Nonetheless it’s been a decent couple of days’ racing, notwithstanding the absence of two of the main protagonists in the Champion Chase. The first two in the Champion Bumper (Ferny Hollow and Appreciate It) are no doubt destined for great things if they remain sound. My highlight of the week so far was Easysland’s win in the Cross Country.

Onwards and upwards!

Thursday

13:30 Marsh Novices’ Chase

I’m really surprised that Itchy Feet*** (9/2) is such a short priced favourite. I tipped him last time out at 8/1 and I hope that he goes on to win this well. Equally, I hope that Faugheen (5/1) puts in a clear round, regardless of where he finishes. If he wins then that will be the highlight of the week and a genuinely momentous performance at the age of 12.

14:10 Pertemps Final

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The Storyteller* (11/2) won the Plate at the Festival in 2018 on soft to heavy ground and I back him to follow up here. Another favourite but he’s obviously been laid out for this. Of the remainder I might have a little each way on Jatiluwih* at 20/1 for Corinthian amateur (but prolific winner) Mr David Maxwell. The jockey will have to be at his very best in a race like this but the field should have sorted itself out after two circuits in the home straight.

14:50 Ryanair Chase

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Earlier in the season I thought that I would be backing Frodon (5/1) to repeat his victory in this race last year. However, he’s not been quite the same horse this time round. There are many people who just will not see past A Plus Tard but I think that this ideal for Min*** (11/4) who is comfortably the top rated horse in this field (Timeform 185), who ran Chacun Pour Soi close last time out and for whom I think that this 2m 4 1/2f should be ideal at this stage of his career.

15:30 Stayers’ Hurdle

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There is absolutely no reason to look beyond defending champion Paisley Park***** (4/6) who has absolutely dominated this division and may very well be better than last year. One to watch and enjoy.

16:10 Brown Advisory Plate

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I don’t have a strong view about this race so, after deliberation and having decided that the favourite (Simply The Betts – 100/30) is much too short, I’m going to take a plunge and side with Siruh Du Lac* (18/1) notwithstanding that he was pulled up in his only outing this season. He won this race last year and is another who is likely to have been saved for the big day.

16:50 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle

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I think that this is a head to head between the front two in the market and, having been passed on a good word (at least three times removed!) I’ve opted for the favourite Minella Melody** (3/1).

17:30 Kim Muir Amateurs’ Chase

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I really have no idea at all about this one and won’t be having a bet. As a random selection I’ll choose Cloth Cap* (20/1 e/w) as an improver.

Friday

13:30 Triumph Hurdle

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Unlike the last race I have a very firm view about this one and one of my bets of the week is Goshen***** (7/2) who I think is a prodigious talent. Unbeaten over hurdles and on a seven-timer, he can jump right (like Asterion Forlonges!) but has top class in abundance. Likely to follow up on Envoi Allen and Easysland as one of the stars of the week.

14:10 County Hurdle

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Another favourite I’m afraid but I think that Ciel De Neige** (7/1) had the ideal prep in the Betfair Hurdle, coming second to Pic D’orhy, who would have been my choice had he run in the Champion Hurdle. However, it’s notable that of the J P McManus runners, Barry Geraghty is riding another inexperienced but potentially very good Willie Mullins horse, Saint Roi (currently 14/1), so watch out for a market move for that one.

14:50 Albert Bartlett Hurdle

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I thought all season that I would back current favourite Thyme Hill (7/2) whose preparation has been exemplary. However, I can’t resist being drawn to two other contenders, Harry Senior (8/1) and Ramses De Teillee (10/1). I was very taken with Harry Senior’s win on this course over 2m 4f in January. He was staying on to win well and the step up in trip should be ideal. I am concerned about Colin Tizzard’s form so far this week but I’ve been caught out by that in the past so I’m going to overlook it. Ramses De Teillee has an unusual profile for a race like this, having previously run in the Welsh and Aintree Nationals. He was fourth in a Grade 3 chase at Cheltenham last November but is a hardened campaigner who should be in the mix if, as is entirely possible, this turns out to be a bit of a slog. However, on balance, I’m siding with Harry Senior* who I think represents decent value at 8/1.

15:30 Gold Cup

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There are so many different ways to approach this race, so I’ve decided to apply a process of elimination. There are doubts about Colin Tizzard’s horses at the moment and Lostintranslation would have to bounce back from a very disappointing performance in the King George. I’ve never been a fan of Santini or Presenting Percy. I’ve decided that Kemboy isn’t quite good enough. So, at the head of the market, that leaves Al Boum Photo, Delta Work and Clan Des Obeaux.

Al Boum Photo (7/2)

The defending champion who could very well follow up. He’s had the same prep, with a nice rest before this race, and deserves to be 7/2 favourite.

Delta Work (9/2)

This admirable horse has a great CV. In his last five outings (in order) he beat Kemboy and Presenting Percy at the Dublin Racing Festival, Monalee in the Savills Chase, was fourth of five in the Down Royal Champion Chase, beat Discorama and A Plus Tard in the Punchestown Champion Novice Chase and was third to Topofthegame in last year’s RSA Chase. On balance I’ve decided that he’s just a tad below the very top level.

Clan Des Obeaux (7/1)

As an 8-y-o, he comes here direct from his easy victory over Cyrname in the King George. I think that the decent break is ideal for him. He was second to Road To Respect in the Down Royal Champion Chase but it’s reasonable to assume that this was nothing more than a pipe opener. People used to criticise Henrietta Knight for limiting Best Mate’s outings but the record speaks for itself. It was widely suggested that he didn’t stay in last year’s Gold Cup (“Looked well; tracked leaders, close 3rd 2 out, soon ridden, no extra from last”) but I think that the extra year will make all the difference.

Well, I’m sure that you’ve worked it out by now. I think that Clan Des Obeaux *** at 7/1 represents excellent value for Paul Nicholls (after having had no runners on day one) to take both of the major chases of the week. I recommend taking the price now because I think that he’ll be much shorter on the day.

16:10 Foxhunters’ Chase

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I think that this is much easier. I’ve watched all of Hazel Hill‘s**** (5/1) races this season, including the point at Sheriff Hutton, and I think that the defeat by Minella Rocco at Wetherby was no more than a blip, when outrun at the death. He won this well last year and followed up with a course and distance victory in the Mixed Open Gold Cup Final Hunters’ Chase two months later. A confident selection.

16:50 Grand Annual Chase

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I have a nasty habit of overlooking the last two races after what has preceded them. However, as I mentioned in a post a few weeks ago, I had an early selection for this one, current favourite Greaneteen** (5/1), another for Paul Nicholls. It’s odd for a Cheltenham favourite to have been last seen at Fakenham but he comfortably beat a Nicky Henderson/Trevor Hemmings horse, having previously won the generously named Scottish Champion Chase at Musselburgh. This is by far his stiffest test but Nicholls made clear in his pre-Cheltenham stable visit that he holds him in very high regard and, for what it’s worth, I agree. By the way, he’s unbeaten this season and definitively fits the bill as “progressive”.

17:30 Martin Pipe Conditionals’ Hurdle

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I flagged this one up a few weeks ago and, for once, I do have a keen selection for the Festival closer in the shape of Column Of Fire** (6/1 – initially advised at 9/1). He ran very well when third at the Dublin Racing Festival and, quite simply, fits the bill.

Summary

So, here they are:

Thursday:

  • 13:30 Itchy Feet
  • 14:10 The Storyteller (win) / Jatiluwih (e/w)
  • 14:50 Min
  • 15:30 Paisley Park
  • 16:10 Siruh Du Lac
  • 16:50 Minella Melody
  • 17:30 Cloth Cap

Friday:

  • 13:30 Goshen (nap)
  • 14:10 Ciel De Neige
  • 14:50 Harry Senior
  • 15:30 Clan Des Obeaux
  • 16:10 Hazel Hill
  • 16:50 Greaneteen
  • 17:30 Column Of Fire

Good luck!

Cheltenham 2020 – Tuesday and Wednesday

The featured image this year is of former Arkle winner Footpad, a regular in this post in recent years, having won £650,000 in his career to date, and now sold to race in the United States.

As was the case last year, the going is of more interest this year than the standard good to soft. According to the latest Turftrax going report (14:00 on Monday) it is soft, good to soft in places on both the chase and hurdle courses and soft, heavy in places on the cross country. However, it’s worth noting that the vast majority of the main courses are soft, with the good to soft confined to the end of the back straight. This should suit most horses but the preferences will be for those with winning form on similar ground, while disfavouring those who want properly good ground. 5mm of rain is forecast on Monday afternoon which should mean that it will be unchanged for Tuesday. It’s expected to dry out during the week.

19.30 Monday update. There has been much more rain than forecast, with more predicted for tomorrow morning. It must now be likely to be soft all over on Tuesday.

This year I’m delighted that my very good friend, racing sage and former Quatre Heures co-owner Gerry Rooney has kindly allowed me to add his day one selections. As usual, he’s picked a few at long odds (he’s got some very good form at this!).

Tuesday

13:30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Asterion Forlonges (11/4f) is unbeaten, including his only two hurdle races, and is the current Timeform top rated (167p). He has a tendency to jump right, which obviously isn’t ideal, but he seems to be able to correct himself quickly and obviously has abundant talent.

Shishkin (in the same ownership) is second favourite at 100/30 and has not looked back since falling on his hurdles debut. He’s a fast finisher, ideally placed to pick off runners up the hill.

Abacadabras (13/2) is the most highly tried of the leading contenders and impressed when second to Envoi Allen, before winning a Grade 1 at Leopardstown.

Chantry House (7/1) has also impressed, winning over course and distance on his hurdles debut, before winning again in a decent novices’ hurdle at Newbury. This one could easily improve further to be in the mix.

Of the remainder, Fiddlerontheroof (7/1) and Elixir D’ainay (25/1) are of interest but probably not quite up to the standard of the market leaders.

My selections: Asterion Forlonges** (now 3/1) win and Chantry House* (7/1) each way (look out for the offers – as many as the first seven!)

Gerry’s selection: Chantry House (7/1)

14:10 Arkle Novices’ Chase

This is the first race in which I have a firm view. Current favourite and winner of the Irish Arkle, Notebook (3/1) is headstrong and could find things a bit too consistently fast for him. Cash Back (7/1) was second in that race. He has a tendency to jump to the right. Of the British runners I prefer Maire Banrigh (12/1) to Brewin’upastorm (11/2). The former does not have the likely profile of an Arkle winner but is unbeaten over fences (Huntingdon, Doncaster, Warwick and Stratford) and will definitely stay.

My idea of the winner is Fakir D’oudairies (9/2) (167p). Another who will be suited by the ground, he won the Grade 1 Drinmore over 2m 4f at Fairyhouse and was second to Notebook at the Dublin Racing Festival. I think that this one is the most talented in the field and, as a 5-y-o experienced chaser, has room for rapid improvement.

My selections: Fakir D’oudairies*** (9/2) win and Maire Banrigh** (12/1) each way.

Gerry’s selection: Fakir D’oudairies (9/2)

14:50 Ultima Handicap Chase

I don’t have a strong view about this race. I think that Vinndication is the right favourite at 13/2 and should relish both ground and trip. However, he’s carrying top weight and was only 5th of 10 in his only previous outing at Cheltenham (in last year’s JLT).

A lot of people like The Conditional (8/1) off only 10st 6lbs, mainly because of his second in the Ladbroke Trophy at Newbury but that wasn’t a top class renewal and I’m not convinced.

My very marginal preference is for Kildisart (10/1) who has been campaigned at a high level, runs off 11st 3lbs, and won well in a similar race at last year’s Grand National meeting. First time cheekpieces may help.

My selection: Kildisart* (10/1) each way

Gerry’s selection: Cogry (28/1)

15:30 Champion Hurdle

There has been much discussion about how this is a below par renewal and it’s fair to say that the field would not look out of place in a decent handicap. However, that makes for a very interesting race with lots of cases to be made.

I’m against current favourite Epatante (3/1). She was an easy 5 lengths winner of the recognised trial, the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton on soft ground, and gets the 7lbs mares’ allowance. However, she was 9th of 22 on her only previous outing at Cheltenham (Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle) when going off at 15/8f.

I’m even more against second favourite Pentland Hills (13/2). Although he won last year’s Triumph and Aintree 4-y-o hurdles, the transition from four to five can be problematic for some and he’s been underwhelming this season. He was fifth in the International Hurdle here last December and was beaten last time out by Ballyandy at Haydock. He’s had a wind operation since then but there are too many question marks for me.

Cilaos Emery (15/2) has reverted to hurdles after failing to shine as a chaser. He’s been supplemented for this race at a cost of 22,500 euros, is trained by Willie Mullins and definitely has the ability to win. I think that he’ll be a much shorter price before the off.

Supasundae (11/1) is now 10 years old but has consistently run well against the best, will definitely stay and has winning Grade 1 form. I see him running into a place.

Of the remainder, Darver Star (12/1) is a big improver, Sharjah (14/1) probably won’t like the ground, Coeur Sublime (16/1) is good but not top notch and Call Me Lord (20/1) is another that’s just below top grade.

Ballyandy (20/1) is an ultra reliable horse who, in my view, is seriously overpriced. Third to Epatante in the Christmas Hurdle, beat Pentland Hills in the Haydock trial, proven on soft, a strong finisher and has run well at Cheltenham, he ticks the boxes for me.

My selections: Cilaos Emery* (15/2) win and Ballyandy** (20/1) each way.

Gerry’s selection: Ballyandy (20/1)

16:10 Mares’ Hurdle

The banker of the day is Benie Des Dieux (3/5). She has won all eight completed starts for Willie Mullins with her only defeat coming in this race last year when falling at the last and looking all over the winner.

Honeysuckle (11/4) is her stiffest test yet against her own sex but has a sticky jumping style and lost serious ground over the hurdles, although to her credit overcoming that to win the Irish Champion Hurdle last time out.

My selection: Benie Des Dieux***** (3/5)

Gerry’s selection: Benie Des Dieux (3/5)

16:50 Novices’ Handicap Chase

This is a race that could easily turn up a long odds winner, but which one? Since I’ve no idea I’m just going to take a look at two towards the head of the market as possibles.

Galvin (8/1) runs for Gordon Elliott and is ridden by Davy Russell. He was sixth in last year’s Ballymore but was always likely to shape up more as a chaser. He’s been kept largely under the radar, performing creditably in a beginners’ and a novices’ chase when treated “gently” and has been kept away since his last outing in November. Regular followers of Gordon Elliott will recognise the profile!

Espoir De Guye (8/1) has progressed very nicely for Venetia Williams since moving from France. He’s on a three-timer and, unsurprisingly for the trainer, has winning form on soft and heavy ground.

My selection: Galvin* (8/1)

Gerry’s selection: Trainwreck (12/1)

17:30 National Hunt Amateurs’ Chase

Much discussed after last year’s attritional renewal which has led to changes in the conditions, this is an excellent way to finish day one.

Carefully Selected (9/4) has been aimed for this race by Willie Mullins and is, by some way, the classiest horse in the field. He was placed in Grade 1 bumpers and hurdles and has an unblemished record over fences, including a Grade 3 novices’ chase last time out at Naas. He’ll stay, will have no problem with the ground and has the significant benefit of Patrick Mullins on board. His only blemish is that he does have a tendency to clatter the odd one but he’s clever and it’s not stopped him so far.

I’d like to find some opposition but I can’t see past the favourite.

My selection: Carefully Selected**** (9/4)

Gerry’s selection: Lord Du Mesnil (13/2)

Wednesday

13:30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle

Many people’s idea of the banker of the week is Envoi Allen (11/8) and I’m one of them. There are no chinks in his armour. He won all four of his bumpers, including last year’s Champion Bumper, and all three hurdle races this season, including two Grade 1s. He’s running over his ideal distance of 2m 4f (having been considered for the Supreme) and is rated 168P by Timeform.

I expected him to be a much shorter price and he’s currently drifting slightly but, subject to any late news, that’s fine with me.

Of the remainder, Sporting John (7/2) is very progressive. Beware of the names in this race! The Big Getaway (Mullins/Townend) and The Big Breakaway (Tizzard/Power) are both next in the market at 13/2 and, of them, I prefer the latter.

Selection: Envoi Allen***** win.

14:10 RSA Novices’ Chase

Ante post favourite for this race at the start of the season, for me, Battleoverdoyen (12/1) has been slightly underwhelming in his recent outings, putting in workmanlike, albeit winning, performances, before falling last time out in the Grade 1 Flogas Novices’ Chase.

Another who fell last time out (here) is the highly touted Champ (7/2jf), second in last year’s Ballymore. He treats his fences with disdain and I’m far from confident that he’ll deliver a clear round at this highest level.

Last year’s winner of the Albert Bartlett is Minella Indo (7/2jf). Widely tipped at the preview nights, he’s been seen in two fairly low profile beginners’ chases (second and first) and this is a massive step up in chase company. He’s 14lbs behind Champ on Timeform ratings, albeit with “a big P”, but has it all to prove.

Although also in a beginners’ chase, Allaho (9/2) for Mullins and Townend was a really impressive winner last time out at Fairyhouse and looks to have loads of potential for improvement.

Copperhead for Colin Tizzard is another that has attracted tipster support and has recently shortened in the market to join Allaho at 9/2.

Selection: Allaho** win.

14:50 Coral Cup

Take your pick! Although I have no strong views, two to consider from the field are Birchdale (10/1) and Eglantine Du Seuil (20/1), the latter having won last year’s Dawn Run Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle at 50/1, thereby demonstrating aptitude at the course.

Selection: Eglantine Du Seuil* each way.

15:30 Champion Chase

Will Altior (3/1) take part after his minor setback at the weekend? It doesn’t make a great deal of difference to me because he wasn’t going to be my selection in any event. From being the very best jumps horse in training I take the view that he peaked about 18 months ago, notwithstanding that that he’s seeking a hat-trick.

Defi Du Seuil (7/4f) is a grand horse and has a very strong chance of winning this race. He won last year’s JLT and has won all his subsequent races (two Grade 1s and a Grade 2) – except – when he was beaten by Chacun Pour Soi at last year’s Punchestown Festival. There’s everything to like about him.

So, on to Chacun Pour Soi (5/2). He’s been very lightly raced and had a 1219 days’ break when moving from Emmanuel Clayeux to Willie Mullins. However, perseverance has paid off and I think that he’s one of the very best National Hunt horses currently racing. I’m pleased to see that Timeform agrees and have him top rated at 187p. I could not have been more impressed with his last time out win, beating Min at the Dublin Racing Festival in a very fast time. All over the winner to me.

Outside the top three it’s 20/1 bar.

Selection: Chacun Pour Soi***** win

16:10 Cross Country Chase

There are some well-known names behind the market leaders in this race, including Might Bite (14/1) and Yanworth (16/1). However, if you’re not a keen follower of racing and you’re attracted by the familiarity of the names, beware, they’re here because connections have run out of other ideas.

Although it may seem like sacrilege, I’m opposing Tiger Roll (11/10), although heart over head I’d love to see him win easily as an ideal prep for the Grand National. There have been no negative vibes about him, quite the opposite, and his fifth in the Boyne Hurdle was a perfectly respectable return.

However… he faces a seriously good opponent in the shape of Easysland (100/30) for David Cottin and cross country specialist jockey Jonathan Plouganou. He’s on a seven-timer and comfortably won the cross country here last December. I watched his subsequent race at Pau (on TV) when he won as easily as you like. J P McManus was clearly also impressed because he bought him between those races, no doubt with this in mind.

Selection: Easysland*** win

16:50 Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle

I’ve never been a fan of this race since it was introduced a few years ago and, to be honest, I’ve paid little attention to it. Subject to that, I think that current favourite Aramax (6/1) and Blacko (16/1) are quite closely matched so, on prices alone, I’ll opt for the latter.

Selection: Blacko* win

17:30 Champion Bumper

It’s the bumper and therefore time for another Willie Mullins hotpot, but this time I think that he’s the real deal. If you wanted to see the ideal prep race it was delivered in the shape of Appreciate It’s (2/1) mightily impressive win in the Future Stars Bumper at the Dublin Racing Festival on 1 February (a race won last year by Envoi Allen). If you can, see if you can find a reply of the race finish and you’ll see what I mean. For the places, David Pipe has a strong hand with Panic Attack – a big money purchase from Willie Mullins’ yard – and Israel Champ (both 11/1).

Selection – Appreciate It***** win

Summary and a Lucky 31(!) (with updated prices)

Tuesday

  • Supreme – Asterion Forlonges** (3/1)
  • Arkle – Fakir D’oudairies*** (9/2)
  • Ultima – Kildisart* (10/1)
  • Champion Hurdle – Cilaos Emery* (15/2)
  • Mares’ Hurdle – Benie Des Dieux***** (3/5)
  • Novices’ Chase – Galvin* (8/1)
  • NH Chase – Carefully Selected**** (9/4)

Wednesday

  • Ballymore – Envoi Allen***** (11/8)
  • RSA – Allaho** (9/2)
  • Coral Cup – Eglantine Du Seuil* (20/1 each way)
  • Champion Chase – Chacun Pour Soi***** (5/2)
  • Cross Country – Easysland*** (100/30)
  • Fred Winter – Blacko* (16/1)
  • Champion Bumper – Appreciate It***** (2/1)

Lucky 31

So, not content with a Lucky 15, I’ve opted for a Lucky 31! Five selections, 31 bets at £1.00 each = £31 and they are:

  • Benie Des Dieux
  • Carefully Selected
  • Envoi Allen
  • Chacun Pour Soi
  • Appreciate It

…to deliver £468.17. (A Lucky 15 (£15) without Carefully Selected will currently deliver £120.18 with a full house.)

Good luck!

Racing Post tips for Cheltenham

Tuesday

13.30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Abacadabras (5/1)

14:10 Arkle – Notebook (5/2)

14:50 Ultima Handicap Chase – Mister Malarky (10/1)

15:30 Champion Hurdle – Ballyandy (20/1)

16:10 Close Bros. Mares’ Hurdle – Benie Des Dieux (4/6)

16:50 Northern Trust Novices’ Handicap Chase – Imperial Aura (11/2)

17:30 National Hunt Chase (Amateurs) – Carefully Selected (7/4)

Wednesday

13:30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – Envoi Allen (5/4)

14:10 RSA Novices’ Chase – Minella Indo (100/30)

14:50 Coral Cup – Kilfenora (20/1)

15:30 Champion Chase – Defi Du Seuil (2/1)

16:10 Cross Country Chase – Tiger Roll (10/11)

16:50 Boodles (Fred Winter) Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Tronador (14/1)

17:30 Champion Bumper – Israel Champ (11/1)

Thursday

13:30 Marsh Novices’ Chase – Faugheen (5/1)

14:10 Pertemps Final – Skandiburg (12/1)

14:50 Ryanair Chase – Frodon (5/1)

15:30 Stayers’ Hurdle – Paisley Park (4/6)

16:10 Brown Advisory Plate – Ben Dundee (10/1)

16:50 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – Minella Melody (11/4)

17:30 Kim Muir Handicap Chase (Amateurs) – No Comment (10/1)

Friday

13:30 Triumph Hurdle – Mick Pastor (12/1)

14:10 County Handicap Hurdle – Saglawy (25/1)

14:50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle – Thyme Hill (9/2)

15:30 Gold Cup – Kemboy (7/1)

16:10 Foxhunters’ Chase – Hazel Hill (9/2)

16:50 Grand Annual Handicap Chase – Lisp (9/1)

17:30 Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle (Conditional Jockeys) – The Bosses Oscar (12/1)

Cheltenham 2019 – Friday

Thursday turned out to be one of the great days of recent Cheltenhams with excitement and big stories throughout the afternoon. We got off to a good start with Defi Du Seuil (3/1) and followed up with Paisley Park (2/1) and (most pleasing) Siruh Du Lac (8/1 when initially advised). Ladies Day was delayed by 24 hours this year with Lizzie Kelly’s win on Siruh Du Lac and, most significantly, Bryony Frost’s thrilling win on Frodon in the Grade 1 Ryanair (the first woman to win a Grade 1 at the Festival).

So, on to Friday and another great card. The ground is holding up very well (Willie Mullins said that both Un De Sceaux and Footpad needed it softer) and it seems that the wind is drying the rainfall with no significant changes expected for tomorrow. The times have indicated genuine soft ground but more on the good than the heavy side. This militates against soft/heavy specialists but means that we can take most of the form at face value, as demonstrated by the spate of favourites winning, based on their performances this season.

I’ve been following French website Equidia (who provide live coverage of the Festival in France) throughout the week and it’s been notable how, time after time, they’ve been pointing out that the winners have been French bred. You will see that theme in what follows.

13:30 Triumph Hurdle

Sir Erec – 4/5f

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This one was a very good flat horse for Coolmore, placed behind Stradivarius in the Group 2 Long Distance Cup at Ascot and exceptionally well bred (by Camelot out of a Galileo mare). He’s taken very well to jumping although it’s worth noting that his trainer Joseph O’Brien said that he had the run of the race when winning last time out at the Dublin Racing Festival. It’s reasonable to assume that he won’t have such an easy time of it in this race. Joseph also noted that Pic D’Orhy has very good French form. He has a Timeform rating of 167p (courtesy of racingtv.com)

Gardens Of Babylon – 8/1

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I mention this one only because of his place as second favourite in the betting. Also trained by Joseph O’Brien and in the same ownership (J P McManus) I see no reason for him to reverse the form, having been beaten by 6 lengths by Sir Erec when last seen out.

Pic D’Orhy – 9/1

This is an intriguing horse, making his UK debut for Paul Nicholls after performing at the highest level for Francois Nicolle, exclusively at Auteuil. His trainer describes him as “a gorgeous horse”, “a proper horse” and Timeform clearly agree with their rating of 166, just 1lb behind the favourite.

Quel Destin*** – 10/1 – selection

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This is probably my favourite horse of the season, although it’s a close run thing with Paisley Park. Imported from Guy Cherel last September, he has had the ideal preparation including two Grade 2s and a Grade 1 and is the epitome of a tough National Hunt horse. He has nothing to prove and, for me, is a confident selection at an excellent price (my only ante-post bet placed several weeks ago but still great value). Timeform rated 159.

14:10 County Hurdle

I don’t have any strong views about this race so I will follow the positive words in previews for Whiskey Sour* (Mullins/Walsh), who is unsurprisingly the current 11/2f. He was third in this last year and appears to have been targeted to go two better this time. Of the others, I’m interested in Monsieur Lecoq (11/1), second in the Imperial Cup last Saturday, Capitaine (14/1), beneficiary of a wind op and subsequent winner last time out and Countister (16/1), one of my selections last year when fifth in the Dawn Run last year, but hasn’t been seen since then so it’s another leap of faith.

14:50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (“The Potato Race”)

3m (or, for pedants like me, 2m 7f 213y) is a long way for novices, so we’re looking for a confirmed stayer, particularly on softish ground. This is a race in which this year’s form on unusually good ground could make a difference. I think that this one could produce a long odds winner.

The current favourite is Birchdale (6/1 > 9/2). I think that he’s a hype horse because of the connections (Henderson/JP) and I don’t think that his form is anything special.

Commander Of Fleet (15/2 > 13/2) is second favourite. Gordon Elliott’s comments about him are illuminating. At the Betfair preview he said that he’s brilliant on the track but hopeless at home, adding that it is hard to be confident about him and saying he could be first or last.

Lisnaghar Oscar is OK and has a better Timeform rating than the favourite but not one for me at all.

Dickie Diver* (8/1) is one that will relish the trip but, again, is in the same ownership and with the same trainer as the favourite. I suppose that they wouldn’t mind which one wins and presumably wouldn’t be running him unless they thought that he had a chance. However, I should emphasise that this is a random choice, even by my standards!

Joseph O’Brien rates Rhinestone (12/1) as having an each way chance and rates Gordon Elliott’s Dinons (10/1), as do I (e/w), particularly with Davy Russell on board.

15:30 The Gold Cup

Presenting Percy – 4/1f

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The enigma, and that covers both the horse and even more so the trainer. This has been a properly weird build-up. He ran three times in 2017, three times in 2018 and is chasing a three-timer at the Festival (Pertemps 2017, RSA 2018). He was beaten by Our Duke in the Red Mills in 2018 but that was probably over an inadequate trip (2m 4f). He’s won over 3m 5f on soft so his staying credentials are not in doubt. But, and it’s a big but, he’s had only one outing this year, over hurdles, and I’m not buying into the idea that this is a genius strategy. He could have run in two decent chases, including a repeat opportunity in the Red Mills, but didn’t. My take on that is that the horse needs properly soft ground and we haven’t got that (previous runs soft/soft/heavy/heavy/soft/soft-heavy). Could well win easily but will not have my money.

Native River – 4/1 > 9/2

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In the same way as with Presenting Percy, I’m unconvinced that the ground is sufficiently soft for him to prevail at the highest level this time. It’s very hard to follow up on Gold Cup wins and, with the best will in the world, he’s not a Kauto Star or Best Mate.

Clan Des Obeaux** – 4/1 > 5/1 – selection

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There’s no way that I would have selected this horse, even a week ago. However, I’ve been strongly influenced by the times of the races for the last three days (particularly on the New Course on Thursday) and there’s no doubt that he has the best profile, based on this season’s performances. I accept that there’s really nothing to go on with Presenting Percy but his King George win can’t be ignored and he has won on Haydock heavy over 2m 5f. Will he stay? I’m not absolutely convinced but he is, in my view, the best horse in the race and Nicholls’ current form can’t be ignored.

Bellshill – 10/1 > 8/1

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I can see exactly why this one has attracted support, including from my shrewd friend Gerry Rooney, who notes that he’s Ruby’s selection ahead of the one Ruby previously hinted at, Al Boum Photo. Two of his last three outings include wins in the Punchestown and Irish Gold Cups but, in between, he was beaten by Kemboy, Monlaee (4th in the Ryanair) and Road To Respect (3rd in the Ryanair). WP is desperate for a Gold Cup winner but I don’t see this one delivering it for him, albeit I can well see him running into a place.

Kemboy – 11/1

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This one is probably a stayer and won the Savills Chase. David Mullins keeps the ride but, for me, his jumping is against him and I don’t see him as top level.

Al Boum Photo – 12/1

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Another one that is just not top level.

Might Bite – 12/1

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Nicky Henderson and Nico de Boinville both reported that he ran very well in his racecourse gallop but there’s no way that he can be supported based on his proper races this season.

Elegant Escape – 16/1

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I’ve gone this far down the field because staying is the game and I think that this one should not be ignored. 2nd in the Hennessy, winner of the Welsh National and 2nd to Frodon in the Cotswold Chase, he’ll be staying on, even on this ground, when many others have given up the ghost. A sound each way option.

Verdict

I’ve surprised myself by selecting Clan Des Obeaux but I’m keen on Elegant Escape usurping Native River as the place option.

16:10 Foxhunters’ Chase

In late February this is what I had to say and I see no reason to depart from it:

Recent pointer Stand Up And Fight, owned by J P McManus and trained by Enda Bolger, is the big talking horse and current favourite for this race at 3/1. As a 7-y-o he could be absolutely anything. My preference is currently for two proper campaigners, Ucello Conti (4/1), a very taking winner of the Navan hunters’ chase against good opponents on 17 February, and my current selection, Road To Rome(6/1), a superb winner of the Walrus at Haydock on 16 February, whose form following wind surgery is 24321111111. This will be former winner’s Pacha Du Polder’s last race so I’m just hoping for a safe round for that one. Another that I’ll keep an eye out for is Shantou Flyer (7/1) who appears to have found his metier with new owner and man of the Hunters David Maxwell.

28 February 2019

So, now we are at the night before and the odds are:

  • Ucello Conti 7/2
  • Stand Up And Fight 4/1
  • Hazel Hill 11/2
  • Caid Du Berlais 7/1
  • Road To Rome 8/1
  • Shantou Flyer 8/1
  • Pacha Du Polder 18/1

I’ll take the 8/1 Road To Rome*** thank you very much.

16:50 Grand Annual Chase

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For me, the Festival finishes with the Foxhunters’ but I’ll put up selections for the remaining two races. Le Prezien* (9/1) is very well priced to repeat last year’s victory in this race.

17:30 Martin Pipe

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This race has produced future Cheltenham stars and my idea of that one is 6-y-o Dallas Des Pictons** (11/4f) for Gordon Elliott. He’s made no secret of the fact that he loves to win this race and has put him up as his pick of the week. Bear in mind that this was when Apple’s Jade and co were still to run.


Cheltenham 2019 – Tuesday

Here we are at last! The Festival is about 40 hours away as I’m writing and, as ever, I can’t wait for the feast of racing that will keep me fully occupied for the next five days (including Cheltenham Eve!).

First things first – the weather. As I mentioned in my post at the end of February, the ground is a massive factor and Accuweather pretty much nailed it in terms of the forecast. Clerk of the course, Simon Claisse, is currently predicting soft ground for day one and, based on the hailstorm that I’m watching as I’m typing this, I’m expecting that it will be nearer soft to heavy rather than good to soft. That makes a massive difference. For a normal Cheltenham you need horses that stay, because of the pace of the races and the hill. On soft ground that is even more to the fore and, with a major storm and 50mph winds forecast for Wednesday, could be even more important later in the week (Un De Sceaux and Native River immediately spring to mind). It’s a time to be cautious about graduates from the flat, and to favour National Hunt bred horses and particularly those from France, which conveniently suits my favoured profile!

Returning to my preview post, I’m pleased that my initial selections for day one are unchanged (that will not be the case for the rest of the week!). So, on to the races themselves and, once again, thank goodness for the 48 hour declarations

13.30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

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5/1 the field is an appetising starter for the first of 28 races and here are my views about the leading candidates.

Al Dancer (5/1 jf)

Yet to be beaten over hurdles, he was an impressive winner of the Betfair Hurdle at Ascot on 16 February, but he didn’t beat much. This is good handicap form and he might be seen as following in the line of Kalashnikov, a similar handicap winner before going close in this one last year. His previous outing was in a Class 3 on the new course at Cheltenham (old course this time) and, again, he didn’t beat much. He’s been declared without a hood (which he’s worn on his previous outings) and, when asked today about it, jockey Sam Twiston-Davies said that they’re going for ear plugs instead. An odd selection for the hubbub of the Festival. Not for me.

Angels Breath (5/1 jf)

This is definitively not one for me. Much hyped (no doubt because of the trainer/owner combination – Henderson/Dai Walters), his much delayed follow up to the Grade 2 Kennel Gate at Ascot in December (when four of the eight hurdles were omitted) was when he was beaten by unheralded Southfield Stone in the Dovecote at Kempton on 23 February. Some have said that he was unsuited by the good ground and fast track but I think that’s more about wanting to believe rather than analysing the cold facts.

Klassical Dream (6/1)

Currently attracting support, this winner of a maiden hurdle at the Leopardstown Christmas meeting followed up with a victory by a head over my selection of the day Aramon at the Dublin Racing Festival on 3 February. I was there and felt that this one is not top class. To be fair, much vaunted Vision D’honneur was third but I’m not convinced that soft ground at Cheltenham will suit.

Fakir D’oudairies (13/2)

An impressive winner of the Triumph Hurdle Trial on the new course on good to soft ground at Cheltenham on 26 January, again not beating too many good ones (second was 25/1), I thought that this one would be one of my Festival favourites. However, it’s pretty obvious that this 4-y-o (no 4-y-o has won this race for 20 years) is turning up here because another JP horse (and possibly most backed of the week), Sir Erec, is the favourite for the Triumph. Could run a screamer but I doubt it.

Elixir De Nutz (8/1) – selection

And now on to my selection, the well-campaigned and highly exciting Elixir De Nutz. I’ve followed him throughout the season to date. Beaten on his seasonal outing in a Class 3 over the course by Thomas Darby, he’s not looked back since. Won the Supreme Trial on the old course on 18 November, followed up (on the old course) on 14 December and won a good Tolworth on soft at Sandown on 5 January. Hard as nails and will win.

Grand Sancy (12/1)

A good French horse but beaten by Elixir De Nutz. Subsequently won the Kingwell at Wincanton but I don’t see him reversing the form with my selection, particularly on the ground.

14:10 Arkle Novices’ Chase

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This is much more open than recent renewals but, again, I have a firm selection.

Glen Forsa (9/2f) – selection

This is exceptional value. Sometimes (quite rarely) you see one horse break another’s heart and that is exactly what I saw when this one beat 1/4f Kalashnikov at the relocated Kingmaker at Sandown on soft on 15 February. Admittedly it was a three horse race and the third made up the numbers but this was a majestic jumping performance for a novice, in a style very reminiscent of Footpad last year. Put simply, he is this year’s Footpad and my bet of the day.

Lalor (4/1)

It’s easy to be heart over head with this horse. He won well over this course in the Grade 2 Arkle Trial (Defi Du Seuil was last) on good ground but his run in the Henry VIII at Sandown in December on soft was desperately disappointing. I would want to have seen him redeem that outing in the meantime before I could support him in this one

Hardline (6/1)

This one has stormed up the betting since being highlighted in several Cheltenham previews. I think that he’s the best of a moderate Irish bunch and being put up precisely for that reason. I watched him being comprehensively beaten by La Bague Au Roi in Dublin on 3 February and I just don’t get the hype.

14:50 Ultima Handicap Steeplechase

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Unlike the first two, I don’t have a strong view about this race. Current favourite Give Me A Copper (11/2) for Paul Nicholls was well beaten last time out on soft ground at Sandown. Minella Rocco (8/1) will never be a selection for me. Mister Whitaker (also 8/1) won the Close Bros Novices last year and I think that is the only reason why he is towards the head of the betting. I’m going to rely on what I’ve heard in the preview nights (and from Barry Orr today) and have an each way on Lake View Lad at an appealing 20/1. Other each way options are Beware The Bear (20/1) and Royal Vacation (soft ground stayer – 25/1).

15:30 Champion Hurdle

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This is the best Champion Hurdle for years and is between the first three, with one notable outsider.

Apple’s Jade (2/1f) – selection

Ignore her run in the Mares’ Hurdle last year – she was in season and obviously didn’t run to form. She will not be in season this year (I have no idea how or why that is the case but that’s what I’ve heard!) and her form, that run aside, is impeccable.

Buveur D’air (9/4)

Looking for a third consecutive Champion Hurdle, whether you like him or not, I agree with Matt Chapman that the last two were by no means classics. He only beat Melon by a neck last year and the defeat at the hands of Paloma Blue in the Christmas Hurdle in December was significant. This one is often mentioned in the same breath as the other Henderson star Altior but the Champion Chaser is a significantly better horse.

Laurina (4/1)

Unbeaten since transferring from Guillaume Macaire to Willie Mullins in November 2017 and with (mares only) winning form on soft and heavy, she could be a very good horse. However, I’m inclined to attach an awful lot of weight to jockey Ruby Walsh’s one line assessment of her, that “she’ll need to improve”.

Espoir D’allen (20/1)

Although I don’t see this one as a winner, the profile is great (unbeaten this season in three Grade 3s including the Limestone Lad last time out) and I could easily see him running into a place in what is currently a 10 runner race.

16:10 Mares’ Hurdle

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I see this as a head to head between Benie Des Dieux (5/6) and Lady Buttons (9/1). In the absence of the main challengers (Apple’s Jade and Laurina) this is an easily winnable race. I selected Benie Des Dieux last month and I see no reason to change. She won this last year and the form of Lady Buttons is just not quite good enough. I was a big fan of Stormy Ireland last year but she didn’t live up to expectations. One for a place at 50/1 is Alletrix.

16:50 Close Brothers Novices’ Chase

I have no interest in this race whatsoever, but will mention that in the preview nights there was support for Tower Bridge (8/1) for J P O’Brien.

17:30 National Hunt Amateurs’ Novices’ Chase (the four miler)

Although trained by Nicky Henderson and ridden by Derek O’Connor, I really don’t like current favourite Ok Corral (3/1). The form is at best dubious, although I realise that could be a plot. I have been reluctantly convinced by several pundits at Cheltenham preview nights that there is perhaps a better plot in the shape of Discorama (7/1) . The difference with this one is that he ran into a good fifth in the Grade 1 Drinmore (beaten by among others Delta Work and Le Richebourg) and has never run over anything like this distance. He also has form on yielding, soft and (to a lesser extent) heavy.

Summary

So the leading selections are:

  • Supreme – Elixir De Nutz
  • Arkle – Glen Forsa
  • Champion – Apple’s Jade
  • Mares’ – Benie Des Dieux

An accumulator will deliver 221/1 and the Lucky 15 £622 so a £2 accumulator and £15 Lucky 15 delivers a potential maximum of £1067. Good luck!!

Early thoughts about Cheltenham

All of what follows is, as usual, subject to the ground! We’ve had a very unusual season with good and good to soft featuring pretty much throughout. Perhaps the biggest bet for the week as matters stand is what the going will be, and it could have an enormous bearing. For holidays I’ve tended to rely on Accuweather and they are predicting that six of the twelve days at Cheltenham between now and the start of the Festival will feature rain, plus more of the same on the first three of the four days of the Festival itself. If that’s right then much of what follows will be pointless!

If you want a quick summary of what follows, it’s here:

http://www.martinmalone.net/wp-content/uploads/2019/02/Cheltenham-2019-selections-28-February-1.pdf

Tuesday

Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Al Dancer (3/1) is the right favourite and could be a top horse. The Betfair Hurdle win was an ideal prep. Fakir D’Oudaries (6/1) proved his credentials in the Triumph Hurdle Trial at Cheltenham on 26 January. However my early selection is Elixir De Nutz (8/1), with Grade 1 form in the Tolworth that has stood up really well.

Arkle

Le Richebourg would have been my selection until his unfortunate setback. I can’t have current favourite Defi du Seuil (5/2) and I’m torn between Lalor (11/4) and Glen Forsa (4/1), the latter being also entered for the JLT so that might help. Lalor requires a leap of faith after being beaten fair and square by Dynamite Dollars, who subsequently beat not much in the Lightning at Doncaster. Albeit that it was a match, Glen Forsa was mightily impressive when beating Kalashnikov on soft ground and could be a very good horse indeed.

Champion Hurdle

I’m going to oppose Buveur D’Air (2/1) and side with Apple’s Jade (15/8) with the mare’s weight advantage, but won’t be surprised if the other mare, Laurina, overpowers them both. It’s 10/1 bar the three which seems right.

Mares’ Hurdle

On the assumption that Apple’s Jade and Laurina will go for the Champion Hurdle (by no means certain), Benie Des Dieux (evens) will be my bet of the day.

Wednesday

RSA Chase

One of the bets of the week is deserving favourite Santini (3/1), for whom this race should be absolutely ideal. It’s a grinder for the novices and this one has the perfect combination of quality and stamina.

Champion Chase

I can see no reason whatsoever to oppose Altior (4/9) and suspect that he will face a small field of others who he has comprehensively beaten or who have no chance. A crowning glory before being tried at longer distances (hopefully), notably the King George.

Cross Country

Tiger Roll demonstrated his rude health with a dominant victory in the Grade 2 Boyne Hurdle at Navan on 17 February. I can see no reason to oppose him and the current evens on offer will surely be much shorter on the day.

Champion Bumper

I wouldn’t normally be considering this one at this stage but Envoi Allen (3/1) looks to me like very good value for what is almost certainly the horse of the year in this division. Assuming good health, I see this one being a major player in all the main races in years to come.

Thursday

JLT Novices’ Chase

If Glen Forsa (6/1) turns up here, I think that he wins. Alternatively, I like Camelia de Cotte for Mullins/Ricci at an appealing 14/1.

Ryanair Chase

Min (5/2) could win this if he turns up but I doubt that he will. Frodon (6/1) should run at this ideal trip, rather than the far too long Gold Cup and if he turns up then, subject to Min’s absence, will provide Bryony Frost with her first Festival Grade 1.

Stayers’ Hurdle

In the unfortunate absence of Penhill, this is an easily winnable race and provides my bet of the week in the shape of the admirable Paisley Park (15/8). The emerging horse of the season in my book and one with a very exciting future. Again, like the Champion Chase, this could end up being quite a small field.

Don’t forget that I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that it’s not inconceivable that Presenting Percy could turn up here instead of the Gold Cup. He’s still available at 12/1 with Betfair and 2/1, non runner no bet, with Sky Bet. A big conspiracy theory I know but, given the quirky preparation, not out of the question.

Brown Advisory Plate

I wouldn’t normally mention this race at this stage but current favourite Siruh Du Lac (8/1) should be half that price. An outstanding candidate.

Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle

Another race I wouldn’t have expected to mention now but I’m very keen on race hardened and impressive Posh Trish, at a very appealing 15/2.

Friday

Triumph Hurdle

Everyone in Ireland seems to think that Sir Erec (6/5) is the banker of the week. However, I prefer proven National Hunt types in this race and I’m delighted that Quel Destin, who has served me very well throughout the season to date, is currently 8/1 and represents my first bet placed. By the way, that’s an outstanding each way option.

Gold Cup

Well, if Presenting Percy (7/2) turns up then he wins, assuming that the ground is as usual, and probably even if it’s not. If it’s not (i.e. soft or perhaps even worse) then Native River (11/2) has a fair chance to follow up on his victory last year. That’s pretty much it. Kemboy doesn’t jump well enough. Clan Des Obeaux won’t stay the distance up the hill (particularly on the likely softer ground, but may do subsequently). Bellshill is a good horse but not a prospective Gold Cup winner. Might Bite can’t be supported this season. Of the rest, I wouldn’t be shocked if Invitation Only (25/1) runs a screamer and is definitely a candidate as an each way shot.

Foxhunters’ Chase

Recent pointer Stand Up And Fight, owned by J P McManus and trained by Enda Bolger, is the big talking horse and current favourite for this race at 3/1. As a 7-y-o he could be absolutely anything. My preference is currently for two proper campaigners, Ucello Conti (4/1), a very taking winner of the Navan hunters’ chase against good opponents on 17 February, and my current selection, Road To Rome (6/1), a superb winner of the Walrus at Haydock on 16 February, whose form following wind surgery is 24321111111. This will be former winner’s Pacha Du Polder’s last race so I’m just hoping for a safe round for that one. Another that I’ll keep an eye out for is Shantou Flyer (7/1) who appears to have found his metier with new owner and man of the Hunters David Maxwell.

There will be lots more to follow in the run up to the Festival with the huge benefit of 48 hour declarations.

Good luck!

Timeform top rated NH horses – updated today

Which horses do Timeform think are the current top rated? Normally, I wouldn’t want to disclose what might be seen as protected content. However, since they’ve published the details on Twitter, they’re obviously happy to let the information be known.

Top hurdlers

167 BUVEUR D’AIR

166 MELON

165 FAUGHEEN

164 PENHILL

163p SAMCRO

163 L’AMI SERGE

162 BAPAUME

162 SUPASUNDAE

161 MICK JAZZ

160 AGRAPART

159 MY TENT OR YOURS

159 WHOLESTONE

158 SAM SPINNER

158 YANWORTH

157 CILAOS EMERY

157 ELGIN

157 SHARJAH

156p SUMMERVILLE BOY

I agree with the top five and that makes the anticipated Fighting Fifth at Newcastle with Buveur D’Air and Samcro very interesting. I think that Bapaume is slightly overrated and I wouldn’t be backing Mick Jazz at the highest level. Agrapart can have a good day and I think that My Tent Or Yours is probably past his best. We’ll have to see how Sam Spinner performs this season and I’d definitely hold fire on that one. Cilaos Emery has had no outings in 2018 and holds no entries so we’ll have to wait and see about that one as well.

I think that Sharjah is underrated. I know that he’s been race fit against season debutants but the record is there to be challenged.

Top chasers

179p ALTIOR

174 FOOTPAD

172 NATIVE RIVER

171 MIGHT BITE 

170p GREAT FIELD

169 MIN

169 ROAD TO RESPECT

169 SIZING JOHN

169 UN DE SCEAUX

168p WAITING PATIENTLY

167 FOX NORTON

166 BALKO DES FLOS

166 BELLSHILL

166 POLITOLOGUE

166 THISTLECRACK

166 TOP NOTCH

This is a very compressed list, particularly towards the bottom, with 10 horses between 166 and 169.

I strongly agree that Altior is the best current chaser. Footpad has to assert following his latest outing to take the mantle. I think that Great Field deserves his “p” and could be one of the horses of the season. I hope to see Min on TV at Ascot this weekend, entered for the Christy 1965 Chase at Ascot (currently 3/1), along with Politilogue (13/8f), Bellshill (5/1) and surprising omission from the list Shattered Love (5/1).

Sizing John will need to show that he retains top class form, but I doubt that this will be a problem for hard as nails Un de Sceaux. Waiting Patiently is another with a deserved “p”.

Top Novice Chasers

152P LALOR

149 DIAKALI

147p COUNT MERIBEL

147p VOIX DU REVE

145p BAGS GROOVE

145p KAISER BLACK

145p THE WORLDS END

145p WINTER ESCAPE

145 BRAVE EAGLE

145 MALL DINI

145 ORNUA

144p BLOW BY BLOW

144p LE BREUIL

144p LIL ROCKERFELLER

I could not have been more impressed with Lalor’s jumping and running away win at Cheltenham last weekend. For me, this is the Arkle one to beat.

I’m very surprised that Diakali is so highly rated. Kaiser Black is another that hasn’t beaten much opposition and appears overrated. I totally get why Winter Escape is included in the list. A very exciting prospect.

It’s too early to say much about the following two categories but I’ve added them all to my horses to follow.

Top Novice Hurdlers

139 QUICK GRABIM

137 AYE AYE CHARLIE

137 HEARTS ARE TRUMPS

136p CITY ISLAND

136p TRIPLICATE

136 GRAND SANCY

135p BLACK SAM BELLA

135 DEBUCHET

135 DOUBLE TREASURE

134p CHAMP

134p FAIR MOUNTAIN

134p ROYAL RENDEZVOUS

134p STONEY MOUNTAIN

134p THE DEVILS DROP

Top Juvenile Hurdlers

137 QUEL DESTIN

135p JACK REGAN

134 CRACKER FACTORY

133 MONTESTREL

128 CHIEF JUSTICE

126p NEVER ADAPT

125p FANFAN DU SEUIL

123p KING D’ARGENT

122p ELYSEES

122 KATPOLI

121p OUR POWER

121p SONG FOR SOMEONE

120 IDILICO

119 NEEDS TO BE SEEN

117p FRET D’ESTRUVAL

The bottom of this list is intriguing. Idilico (by Lawman from a Sadler’s Wells mare) was a beaten evens favourite at Market Rasen on 8 November (“ridden when switched inside flat, kept on, no extra towards finish”). Needs To Be Seen (by Motivator and formerly with J P O’Brien) was fifth of six in Quel Destin’s Triumph Hurdle Trial last weekend at Cheltenham (50/1) –  “held up in rear, headway on wide outside before 3 out, soon prominent, every chance next, ridden and unable to quicken before last, well held flat”. Fret d’Estruval has been bought by Munir/Souede and placed with Alan King. Formerly with Guillaume Macaire, he won at Vittel on 4 August and followed up with a win at Lyon Parilly on 16 September, both over hurdles. Looks very interesting! Song For Someone, a son of Medicean, won a hurdle at Le Lion d’Angers in July for Joel Boisnard and has been placed with Tom Symonds for Sir Peter and Lady Gibbings.

I wonder how many of these will turn out to be Dublin Racing Festival and Cheltenham Festival winners? It’s a good long list to work from.

Cheltenham Friday

There’s normally a day at the Festival when winners are thin on the ground and Thursday was it. Terrefort ran well in the JLT. The surprising defeat of Un de Sceaux by Balko des Flos (supposed not to like the ground) meant that I was bound to end on a loss for the day but the commanding win by Laurina in the Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle cushioned the blow.

On to the big day.

1.30 Triumph Hurdle

Apple’s Shakira***** (nap)
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On Tuesday I was absolutely delighted to hear J P McManus say that Apple’s Shakira was his selection of the week. Her sister Apple’s Jade flopped on day one and I mentioned to a fellow watcher at the Lady of Mann that it might have been her time of the month. It’s now been confirmed that she was indeed in season so that goes some way to explaining the uncharacteristic lacklustre performance. Apple’s Shakira is my selection of the week and the current 7/4 is still worth taking. I got on at 3/1 a couple of months ago and I might well top that up. She’s been campaigned at Cheltenham since her valuable transfer from Emmanuel Clayeux last September and has won all three outings on soft, including a defeat of Nube Negra (who ran well in the Fred Winter).

I expect that many of you have seen her Cheltenham races so here is a video of her win at Vichy which, I expect, prompted the purchase (she’s in yellow and green) “facilement”:

Just nine runners in this championship race for juveniles will reinforce the view that the Fred Winter has diluted this race. I take the view that the top newcomers should  have their opportunity in a decent race and the hustle and bustle will be absent this time.

Stormy Ireland is one to watch, a 58 lengths winner of her last outing at Fairyhouse on heavy ground.

2.10 County Hurdle

Smaoineamh Alainn*

Well, this one is full of horses that I’ve followed into a hole, namely Ivanovich Gorbatov, Meri Devie, Moon Racer, Jenkins, Brelade, Divin Bere and Sternrubin! I’m going each way with Smaoineamh Alainn (on a four timer at 16/1) who has winning form on soft here last December, albeit in a Class 3. To be honest I’ll have no more than a marginal interest in this race.

Current joint favourite Bleu et Rouge (10/1) is also of interest.

2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

Chef des Obeaux***

The potato race. As regular readers will know I’m all over current second favourite (5/1) Chef des Obeaux in this race. I was really taken by his win last month at Haydock in the Grade 2 trial for this. That was on properly heavy ground but he’ll keep going when others have lost their chances. Others of note are Dortmund Park (16/1), Calett Mad (16/1) (for a place) and Kilbricken Storm (33/1) (also for a place).

3.30 The Gold Cup

Native River***

Embed from Getty Images

I’m still with Native River (5/1), even though the ground may not be as bad as I predicted. He was third in this race last year and the conditions are undoubtedly more in his favour this year. He made an impressive return in the Denman Chase last month (when many of Colin Tizzard’s horses were not running well).

Here are Colin and Joe Tizzard talking about him last week:

I can’t have Might Bite.

Our Duke beat Presenting Percy by a length in the Red Mills Chase last month and the latter’s win in the RSA on Wednesday was very impressive. However, I have concerns about his jumping.

Of the remainder Definitly Red (10/1), Killultagh Vic (10/1) and Road to Respect (12/1) have live chances.

Overall, it’s a very open race.

4.10 Foxhunters’ Chase

Caid du Berlais*

Embed from Getty Images

Foxrock (8/1) and Burning Ambition (3/1) have been strongly supported for this. As I mentioned in an earlier post, my preference is for Caid du Berlais (14/1). He’s not seen a racecourse since coming in eighth behind Presenting Percy in last year’s Pertemps Final. However, he has won his last three point to point races easily, the most recent of them 19 days ago, and his back form includes a win in the Paddy Power Chase.

I’ll also be backing Unioniste each way (22/1), formerly a high class horse, who has won his last two hunter chases easily.

4.50 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Hurdle

Dieses des Bieffes**

This race is a bit of a lottery and often throws up a long priced winner. However, I’m keen on second favourite Dieses des Bieffes (8/1) for Nicky Henderson and excellent young jockey James Bowen. Of the remainder I’m interested in the Mullins/Ricci pair Burrows Saint (18/1) (Lizzie Kelly) and Deal d’Estruval (6/1) (Liam Gilligan).

For a bit of value Delire d’Estruval (33/1) and Brillare Momento (28/1) are worth a look.

5.30 Grand Annual Chase

Theinval* (pictured) / Gino Trail* (e/w)
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I decided a while ago that I would side with Theinval (14/1) in the finale.  He was third in this race last year and has a good place record overall. He won a Grade 3 hurdle at the Grand National meeting in 2015 and followed up with a valiant second in the Red Rum Chase last year.

Gino Trail is good value for a place at 20/1 (recent form 31121) but has a lot of weight to carry.

Dresden is the Racing Post nap at 40/1 and North Hill Harvey has been routed here instead of the Arkle. However, he was beaten by 39 lengths at Warwick by Saint Calvados who was subsequently outclassed in last Tuesday’s Arkle and has enough weight to be carrying as a novice.

 

Good luck!

Cheltenham Thursday

Another good day on Wednesday with big stakes wins from Samcro and Altior.  I accidentally bet twice on Altior which provided an unexpected bonus so funds are in place for the rest of the week! Although Samcro was impressive there is no doubt that the performance of the day was from Presenting Percy in the RSA. He’s now as short as 6/1 for next year’s Gold Cup and A P McCoy didn’t hide his enthusiasm for him to take the blue riband next year.

Black Corton didn’t jump with his usual zest but, in reality, even if he had done so, he would at best have run into a place (as Paul Nicholls acknowledged). Mitchouka was badly hampered at the third in the Fred Winter, having to jump over the stricken faller Lisp and lost all chance in a manner reminiscent of the hampering of The New One as a result of the sadly fatal fall of Our Conor in the Champion Hurdle in 2014.

It’s a desperate shame that Ruby is out after Al Boum Photo landed on him in the RSA. The latest (as I’m writing) is that he has aggravated the prior injury and it was quite emotional to see Katie Walsh in tears when talking about it after her win in the Bumper.

For me, Thursday is all about three races, the Ryanair, the Stayers’ Hurdle and the Mares Novices’ Hurdle and I’ll do no more than dabble in the remainder.

We are on the new course for Thursday and Friday. The common view of the jockeys is that the ground on the old course was holding but the results suggest that this has not provided anything like the inconvenience that really heavy ground might have done. According to the BBC weather website the forecast is for heavy rain tonight and tomorrow morning so we’ll have to take stock again and see what the first race brings.

1.30 JLT Novices’ Chase

Terrefort*

Terrefort

I wanted to see Monalee in this one but, of those declared I have a slight preference for Terrefort (9/2). Invitation Only and Benatar could both have been chosen so just a small bet in this one.

Here’s Terrefort beating Cyrname in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles Novices’ Chase:

2.10 Pertemps Final

Forza Milan* (e/w) / Protek des Flos* (e/w)
Embed from Getty ImagesI’ve never had a winner in this and I doubt that will change this year. I’ve picked two each way but very much more in hope than expectation. Forza Milan (14/1) has good form on soft, having been beaten by decent horses on his last two outings. Protek de Flos (25/1) (pictured) looks too big a price, perhaps because his last outings have been at Huntingdon, Wincanton and Ludlow.

As I’m writing Sort It Out is shortening at 10/1. He was second in the County Hurdle in 2015 and ran well on soft/heavy when joint third last time out in a Pertemps qualifier at Punchestown last month.

2.50 Ryanair Chase

Un de Sceaux***** (nap)
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I’ve been with Un de Sceaux all season (and the last couple) and without Douvan I think that he’ll win this easily. The current 10/11 is excellent value.

Here he is winning his third Clarence House Chase in a style that I expect will be repeated tomorrow:

He lacks the exuberance that he’s had in previous seasons, including when he charged away from the field when winning this last year, but this is well within his scope.

3.30 Stayers’ Hurdle

Sam Spinner**** (n.b.)

Embed from Getty ImagesI selected Sam Spinner after his win at Haydock last November. The choice was confirmed with his Grade 1 win in the Long Walk at Ascot the following month. 4/1 is a very appealing price.

Here he is winning the Long Walk Hurdle, beating L’Ami Serge and Unowhatimeanharry:

4.10 Brown Advisory Plate

Tully East** (e/w) NON RUNNER
Embed from Getty Images (He’s the horse in second clearing the last at the Dublin Racing Festival)

Tully East (10/1) has let me down a couple of times this season, but he flourishes at the Festival and this has clearly been his target, following his fourth in the Martin Pipe in 2016 and his win in the Close Brothers’ Chase last year.

4.50 Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle

Laurina**** / Countister* (e/w)

Laurina

Laurina wins the Solerina Mares Novice Hurdle at Fairyhouse

By all accounts Laurina is a bit special and has won on heavy in both runs for Willie Mullins, including the Grade 3 Solerina Novice Hurdle last time out.

Here she is demolishing the field at Tramore (00.17″ to 8.32″):

I’ve followed Countister since she moved to Nicky Henderson from France last September. I doubt she’ll be good enough to trouble the favourite but she could well run into a place.

Here she is winning the Grade 2 AQPS Prix Chloris at Maisons Lafitte before her transfer in September 2017 to Nicky Henderson/J P McManus:

5.30 Kim Muir Amateurs’ Chase

Mall Dini*
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I see this as a head to head between the front two in the market and I’ve marginally selected Mall Dini ahead of Squouateur.

Mall Dini won the Pertemps in 2016 and was fifth in this race last year (running on after having been hampered). Patrick Mullins is an eye-catching jockey choice.

Squouateur was seventh in the Martin Pipe in 2016 and unseated in this race last year.

However, his fourth to Presenting Percy in the Grade B Porterstown Handicap Chase (11st 8lbs v the winner’s 11st 10lb) now looks very good after the winner’s dominant performance in todays’s RSA.

As I said on day one, I’m trying to avoid multiples but I’ve had a sneaky little treble on Un de Sceaux, Sam Spinner and Laurina at 11/1.

Cheltenham Wednesday

A great first day, most of all with the performance of the day by Footpad in the Arkle. Apple’s Jade was a surprising disappointment and Kalashnikov and Ms Parfois both went very close. Beware The Bear’s fourth in the Ultima topped up the profit on Footpad so I’m ahead leading into today’s racing.

1.30 Ballymore Hurdle

Samcro***** (nap)

Embed from Getty ImagesWe start with the one that, for many, is the Irish banker of the week. There is nothing to fault about Samcro and both ground and distance should not inconvenience him. 8/11 is a betting price and I see no need to look beyond him.

Here he is winning easily in the Deloitte at the Dublin Racing Festival:

As At The Races said after that one “Seven from seven, and rampant winner of his biggest – time to believe the hype”.

I can’t have any of the others against him.

2.10 RSA Chase

Black Corton 7/1***

Embed from Getty ImagesBlack Corton has been a favourite of mine since very early in in the season and I’m not going to desert him now. He is a course and distance winner and graduated to the top level with his Grade 1 win in the Kauto Star Chase on Boxing Day, having won a Grade 2 in his previous outing at Newbury. His prep race in the Reynoldstown at Ascot only confirmed what we had seen before, also confirming his ability to handle soft ground.

Star conditional Bryony Frost and her “best mate” serial winner Black Corton are a lethal combination.

Here they are winning the Kauto Star Chase:

and the Reynoldstown:

Monalee and Presenting Percy are the obvious threats. Monalee is as hard as nails and both of them should be able to deal with the ground. It would be no surprise if either of them won but I’m drawn by the undoubted resolution of Black Corton and the price.

2.50 Coral Cup

Max Dynamite**

Embed from Getty ImagesThis is one of the races that could very well see a long price winner but Max Dynamite is without doubt the class in the field. Like Wicklow Brave, notwithstanding his exploits on the flat (including third in the Melbourne Cup), he has winning form on soft (albeit a long time ago in a maiden hurdle) and his big field experience is a big plus. I think that Wicklow Brave is the better of the two in this discipline but this is much more winnable.

However, Max Dynamite’s performance coming third in the race that stops the nation, The Melbourne Cup, is mightily impressive:

Of the others my current shortlist is made up of Mount Mews (16/1), Barra (20/1), Bleu Berry (20/1) and Kildisart (currently a reserve at 40/1).

3.30 Champion Chase

Altior****

Embed from Getty ImagesI’m convinced by those who know much better than me about these things that Altior will not be inconvenienced by the pus in his foot a couple of days ago. On that basis I’m reverting to him as the strong selection.

Douvan would be at least his equal on his best form but after a year off, with no prep and with doubts about his participation he must be running here more in hope than expectation.

There is value in Politologue each way at 14/1. A commanding winner of the Tingle Creek and the Desert Orchid Chase, this one is an obvious candidate.

4.10 Cross Country Chase

Cause of Causes***

Embed from Getty ImagesPeople have knocked this race since it was introduced and I see that gobby controversialist Mark Winstanley, aka “The Couch”, called it The Circus Race a couple of days ago. Anyone who understands National Hunt racing (look at the banks racing and prevalence of cross country racing in France plus the Velka Pardubice in the Czech Republic, let alone hunting) will know that this was a long overdue addition to the Cheltenham Festival card in 2005. The international cross country series The Crystal Cup is offering prize money of 700,000 euros this year.

Enda Bolger had a well deserved stranglehold for years but this time round Gordon Elliott holds the main cards. As reported in a previous post Gordon was supposed to be all over Tiger Roll. However, I watched the Racing Post/Betfair preview on Saturday evening (when others were probably watching Ant and Dec’s Saturday Night or Pointless Celebrities) and there’s no doubt that he thinks that Cause of Causes will win. Of the others, I like Bless the Wings but he’s also  trained by Gordon Elliott.

Cause of Causes seems to have been here for ever but is only a 10-y-o. He’s a Cheltenham specialist who frequently disappoints before coming to light here. This is more winnable than most of his other Cheltenham challenges and the current 5/2 is just fine.

I couldn’t resist giving you the French version of his win last year (sa quatrième succes à Cheltenham) <<I’l a pris l’avantage>> and a good mention for <<Bless Ze Wings>>:

4.50 Fred Winter Hurdle

Mitchouka** (n.b.)

Embed from Getty ImagesMitchouka is ideally placed here, having won four of seven hurdle races and tested at the highest level. Very appealing at 9/1.

Mercenaire is an interesting outsider at 25/1.

5.30 Champion Bumper

Blackbow**

I selected Blackbow after watching his very taking win while at the Dublin Racing Festival and, with the defection of Hollowgraphic, I’m pleasantly surprised that he’s holding at 5/1.

Of the others, I’m not alone in thinking that Acey Milan, on a four-timer and with the 8lb swing for a four year old, presents serious opposition.

As always, I’ll wait for market moves and may well change my selection moments before the race.

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