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Category: Cheltenham (page 1 of 7)

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***

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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*

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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.

Cheltenham Tuesday

Well, here we are, under 24 hours from the Cheltenham roar as the Supreme gets under way. The ground in my garden is squelchy and the rain is set in for the day. It’s scheduled to be the same at Cheltenham until 11.00 p.m. so we can now safely say that the going will be heavy all round. It’s hard to overestimate the effect that this will have on racing, particularly up the hill. Expect horses with a turn of foot to find nothing at the finish and horses with a decent lead at the home turn fading badly. The last time the Festival started with proper soft ground was in 2013 and the week included winners at 28/1, three at 25/1, 33/1 and 50/1 and just eight favourites won. The last time we had soft/heavy ground was as long ago as 1995 when the Supreme was won by Willie Mullins’ Tourist Attraction at 25/1.

Simon Claisse has reported this morning that “there isn’t much standing water around” which, of course, means that there is some. Expect significant non-runners on the day.

The news as I write is that Altior is lame this morning with pus in his foot (although might still run) and We Have A Dream is unlikely to run in the Triumph. Douvan has been declared for the Champion Chase, scotching suggestions that he might be diverted to the Ryanair.

The ground has put paid to any but the most obvious multiple selections. Winners will be harder than usual to come by.

Of course there are lots of bookie offers but one of note is with Paddy Power who are offering money back as a free bet on all losers if the SP favourite wins on all day one races.

1.30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle

Kalashnikov**** 

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The top seven in the betting have all shortened with Getabird current favourite at 2/1, followed by Kalashnikov  at 5/1, Summerville Boy and First Flow 11/1, Mengli Khan and Paloma Blue 14/1 and Claimantakinforgan 16/1  (22/1 bar). I’ve already said that I think that this is a two horse race between the leading two in the market. I think that Getabird is a false price because of its connections and I’m firmly with Kalashnikov to follow up on his ideal prep with a mud-spattered victory in the most valuable handicap hurdle of the year at Newbury last month. He’s the form selection and certainly in with as good a chance as the favourite so the price of the selection appeals.

Here’s Amy Murphy talking about Kalashnikov’s chance:

Getabird has won on soft and heavy ground and over 2m 4f and therefore should not be inconvenienced by the going. He should improve on his runs to date but Ruby Walsh thinks that he’s “short enough”.

Of the others First Flow has won on heavy on his last two outings at Haydock and Newbury and can fill the frame.

2.10 Arkle Chase

Footpad***** (nap)

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A small field for the Arkle is not unusual but just five runners (as matters stand) is disappointing. This is one of the races that was (very unusually for the Festival) re-opened on Sunday.

Robinshill (125/1) has no chance and I was already strongly against Brain Power (12/1) (form 1UF) before the ground turned against him. That leaves Footpad, Petit Mouchoir and Saint Calvados. I’ve heard so many people say in previews that Petit Mouchoir’s hurdles form is better than Footpad’s but it’s a chase and the latter has well and truly come into his own over fences. Petit Mouchoir (100/30) has been overtaken by Saint Calvados (3/1) as second favourite and that makes sense given the conditions.

Saint Calvados has sprung to prominence on the strength of one, albeit very impressive, win in the Grade 2 Kingmaker Novices’ Chase at Warwick on soft ground.

Footpad’s price of 5/4 is a steal. I would have him at 4/6. I’ve already pointed out that his Auteuil experience is a big asset and his form there – 112 – on soft, very soft and heavy reinforces that view. This is no tougher assignment than his win in the Irish Arkle last month.

Here he is winning the Prix Alain du Breuil on Auteuil soft in 2016:

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase

Beware The Bear* (e/w) / Vintage Clouds* (e/w)

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This is a race that could well produce a long odds winner. Having said that, there are several candidates with good form on soft and heavy who are worthy of consideration.

On the contrary, long time ante-post favourite Gold Present has not run on soft ground since November 2015 when he was pulled up at Bangor.

I try to avoid favourites where possible but I completely get why Coo Star Sivola is now 5/1 favourite. He was an easy winner of his last outing over three miles on soft ground at Exeter, albeit that he didn’t beat that much. However, I think that his price is too short. He was very nearly my selection and, unlikely though it is, any drift in the price would see me backing him. An entirely plausible winner.

Regular readers will know that I don’t have any time for Singlefarmpayment (6/1) who has consistently failed to deliver.

Beware the Bear (14/1) is a fine horse. He was pulled up in the Welsh National after a couple of mistakes but was a fine winner of the Rehearsal Chase on soft at Newcastle last December (beating Yala Enki and Wakanda among others). He has winning form on heavy ground. He’ll need to jump better than he does sometimes and, if he does, I can see him (one of the few) staying well up the hill.

Vintage Clouds (8/1) is another reliable stayer on soft ground. He began his season with a win at Aintree and followed up with a second to Clan des Obeaux at Haydock on heavy ground. He kept on for a commendable staying on fourth in the Welsh National (again on heavy ground) and was second (yet again on heavy) in the Towton Chase at Wetherby last month. As such he represents excellent each way value.

By the way, there are no Irish runners in this race.

3.30 Champion Hurdle

Buveur d’Air***** (n.b.) / Wicklow Brave* (e/w)

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I’m interested to see that connections have declared my former favourite Charli Parcs in this day one highlight. I’m afraid that the current 100/1 is fair. He’s assumed to be here as a pacemaker for the favourite.

The ground should not inconvenience Buveur d’Air (8/15) whose last three wins have been on soft and who also has winning form on heavy (Sandown in February 2017 when, according to the in-running comments he “cruised into the lead”). He is head and shoulders above the opposition and the ground may only to serve to extend the margin of victory. I expect a shorter price at the off.

Here’s Buveur d’Air winning last year:

For a dual purpose horse Wicklow Brave (14/1), winner of the 2015 County Hurdle, has surprisingly good form on heavy ground. He’s a bit in and out but could just turn in a good one here. He can be fussy at the start so that’s another factor to take into account.

Faugheen is currently 6/1 second favourite and this has to be all about what was rather than what is. I saw him in the parade ring at Dublin last month and he looked majestic. However, I’m afraid that coming second to Supasundae is simply not good enough.

Yorkhill has form on heavy ground but that’s not his problem. This is an afterthought and there can be no confidence in him turning it round here.

Elgin has an each way shout with his win on soft over course and distance in the Greatwood last November but most of his decent form is on good/good to soft.

4.10 Mares’ Hurdle

Apples’ Jade*****

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This one is short and sweet. I don’t see any serious opposition to Apple’s Jade who is on a six-timer, including this race last year. She has winning form on heavy.

Here’s Apple’s Jade toughing it out in this race last year:

Second favourite Benie des Dieux has been chasing in her last three races so it is hard to see that this was the target.

La Bague Au Roi is a fine mare but not in the same league as the favourite.

4.50 National Hunt Amateurs’ Novices’ Chase

Ms Parfois**

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Jury Duty is a fair favourite with the redoubtable Coddfather on board. However, my selection is the very progressive, soft ground stayer Ms Parfois at an appealing 7/1.

Over four miles this race will be attritional and I see no more than a handful of finishers, one of whom could be Rathvinden, although the 13/2 is too short for my liking.

5.30 Close Brothers Novices’ Chase

Testify* (e/w)

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De Plotting Shed is a well handicapped favourite.

I don’t have any strong views in this race but, of the others, I like Testify each way at 12/1. He won well over the same distance in a Grade 2 on heavy at Haydock last time out and should have no problem staying on when others have given up the ghost.

Good luck!

My bets placed for the day

1.30 Kalashnikov** win 5.2/1

2.10 Footpad****** win 1.04/1

2.50 Beware The Bear* 13.5/1 e/w

3.30 Wicklow Brave* w/o fav 5/1

4.10 Apples’s Jade*** win 4/6

4.50 Ms Parfois** win 7/1

5.30 Testify* win 9.5/1

Footpad/Apple’s Jade double** 2/1

 

 

 

 

Miscellaneous thoughts about Cheltenham

If there’s one thing that’s absolutely certain about the Cheltenham Festival it’s that it’s going to rain…a lot. Please bear that in mind with all your selections.

It’s great to see that the first two days of Cheltenham are now listed on the Racing Post website as forthcoming races rather than ante posts. This isn’t a full update, rather a few observations about today’s news. I’m now done with work before my week off for Cheltenham as it’s been for the last at least 15 years. I’m not going to the Festival but I’m no less excited about it. I’ll be doing a full Festival preview tomorrow.

Here are some random observations.

Ballymore

There was a drift on Samcro this morning (reported to me by Gerry Rooney) but he’s still short enough at 8/11. Eddie O’Leary has said, categorically, that he will run in the Ballymore so maybe he will run here! Shall I say “lack of clarity” about race selections is no longer the exclusive preserve of WPM and Rich Ricci? We’ll know the answer about 11:00 on Sunday (thank goodness for those 48 hour decs for all races).

The ground

Nothing has moved me from my view that it will be soft all round on Tuesday and it may have at least a reference to heavy by Friday. Accuweather now agrees with BBC weather that it will rain every single day from this Saturday until next Friday.

Max Dynamite

It seems that this one will be turning up in the Coral Cup and if Ruby’s on board that would be a big plus (currently 10/1). He can hurdle and he’s miles ahead of the opposition on his best flat form but what about the ground? However, he might contest the County Hurdle (Rich Ricci identified this at the start of the season) so beware or, if you can’t wait, go NRNB.

Black Corton

Timeform are against him and think that he will be outclassed in the RSA. I disagree. By the way, at the current prices, even if you’re not with me this one is surely nailed on for a place at 15/2.

Sizing John

…is out of the Gold Cup with a pelvis injury. He wasn’t in my reckoning anyway.

Saint Calvados

I think this one will be second to Footpad. Thinking about a forecast but can’t get a price yet. It’s a dangerous strategy to rely on hurdles form when chasing can bring out the best in many horses. How many times have you heard a trainer say that his or her horse is marking time until he/she goes chasing? Relying on the chasing form in isolation rarely goes wrong. I could give you innumerable examples. Incidentally, that means that Footpad and Saint Calvados are the big stars in this one and I’m in no way wavering about Footpad.

Tiger Roll in the Cross Country

I watched the At The Races preview last night – very entertaining. Kevin Blake often knows the word in the yards and could not have been more positive about Gordon Elliott’s enthusiasm for Tiger Roll in the Cross Country. Given that he also trains Cause of Causes that has to be worthy of note. Looking at Twitter today the feeling is that this is Tiger Roll’s target whereas Cause of Causes is being seen as a serious Grand National candidate. I’m going to hold my bet and watch the market.

However…Cause of Causes is always targeted for the Festival and has regularly delivered. I will keep the faith.

WP’s runners in the Triumph

Ruby’s choice will, as often, be very informative. If he goes for Saldier (and I think that he will) then this one will definitely be an each way bet.

Kalashnikov

The likely soft ground is firming my view for this one. His official rating of 154 cannot be ignored. I’m increasingly of the view that Getabird is a hype horse. All over Kalashnikov and will be a big bet to get us off to a good start.

Native River

The ground will play to the staying strength of this one, unless I’m very much mistaken. If it’s seriously tough going Definitly Red is very good value for a place at a current 14/1.

I’m dead against Our Duke, Killultagh Vic and Djakadam. By the way, judging by his comments, I don’t think that Ruby Walsh will be on Djakadam, even though he’s spoken positively about his previous runs on him in this race.

Total Recall is another great option each way at 16/1.

Waiting Patiently

All the signs are that he will not run. If he does and the ground goes as I’m thinking it will, I think that I might just switch from Un de Sceaux. It will certainly be a very close call.

Mares’ Hurdle

With the retirement of Vroum Vroum Mag (the last time that I’ll have to override the spell check!) this just reinforces my view that Apple’s Jade is the best short odds-on option of the week. She could quite easily win the stayers’ hurdle and will surely win this. Incidentally, she will no doubt run here because, as all the leading trainers say, you put the horses where they have the best chance of a Festival win.

The Bumper

Hollowgraphic is out so that makes Blackbow all the more appealing and still at a decent 5/1. I’ve heard good talk about the 4-y-o Acey Milan who, as such, gets 8lbs from most of them.

Early handicap views

Diesse de Bieffes is apparently being aimed at the Martin Pipe. If so, I don’t think that he has any serious opposition. By the way, it’s unsatisfactory that SunBets, Betway, Betbright and my nemesis BetVictor are still quoting Hunters Call for this after trainer Olly Murphy said:

“Unfortunately Hunters Call has some heat in his foot today and as far as Cheltenham is concerned we have lost the race against time.”

He added: “We will now aim him at the Scottish Champion Hurdle or one of the main Irish festivals in Fairyhouse or Punchestown.”

I’m a big fan of Tully East and supported him last time out. Last year he won the Close Brothers’ Novice Chase and this time he’s an 8/1 favourite against distinctly dodgy opposition in the Brown Advisory Plate.

Surely Theinval is another that will frank his Cheltenham form in the closer, the Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase, which closes the Festival on Friday. Nicky Henderson has run him in a way that puts him on a mark of 141 and that’s just about right for this. I doubt that this is just by chance. The current 11/1 against drifting favourite 10/1 Vaniteux (transferred from Nicky Henderson to David Pipe last October) is excellent value for the “get out”. There are a few still entered in this who could change my mind, for example, I’m not sure why San Benedeto is 33/1 – maybe someone can help me with this?

Much more detailed observations to follow tomorrow.

Cheltenham – The Grade 1 Races

This is the last update with selections before the declarations. Thank goodness we have 48-hour decs this year so we can have a good look at the fields rather than wondering which horse will take its place where. Of course there is still the possibility of double decs but, overall, it should be much better all round.

The first considerations are the weather and the ground. According to the BBC website rain is forecast every single day from this Friday until Gold Cup day. Today (Tuesday) the ground is soft, good to soft in places. I’m expecting soft ground all round on Tuesday (11/8) and soft, heavy in places by Gold Cup day. According to Accuweather extended rain is expected this Saturday, followed by next Thursday and particularly on Friday.

I’m going to confine my views to the Grade 1 races and the Cross Country today because there are too many multiple entries in the main handicaps.

Later in the week I hope to post videos of the main contenders. For now, here’s an example of Footpad’s spectacular jumping performance at Leopardstown’s Christmas meeting:

Tuesday

1.30 Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (winner £71,188)

Kalashnikov**** (15/2 > 6/1 > 11/2)

There are 53 entries but it’s 10/1 bar Getabird and Kalashnikov without NRNB. It’s a “pick ’em”. It’s easy to think of Getabird being another Melon (i.e. a beaten hotpot). His form is impeccable and he has winning form over 2m 4f on heavy so softish ground shouldn’t be a problem. He easily beat Mengli Khan and Carter McKay in the Moscow Flyer at Punchestown on soft to heavy last time out in January and may well improve.

If you disregard Kalashnikov’s second to Summerville Boy in the Grade 1 Tolworth on proper heavy ground (and I think that you can) his profile is also impeccable and his victory in the the Betfair Hurdle (formerly the Schweppes) was a mighty performance for a novice. Another horse to have progressed from this race was Make A Stand in 1997 (having improved 50lbs in the course of the season), except he went on to win the Champion Hurdle at 7/1. Kalashnikov has shown his resolution and speed in a cavalry charge on soft ground and he is a confident four stars selection.

2.10 Arkle Novices’ Chase (winner £99,663)

Footpad***** (7/4 ->11/8 > 11/8 > 6/4)

Regular readers will know that I’ve been a fan of Footpad for years and he’s moved up to top gear by chasing. I’ve already said that I see this one as a future Champion Chaser. He took a drift in the market last weekend but it now seems that this may have resulted from confusion with the Munir horses (Sceau Royal is out), as noted by Ruby Walsh:

“Footpad is 100 per cent and we don’t know why he was in the news over the weekend.

“Maybe someone had the wrong information about a Simon Munir horse or something, we know Sceaux Royal went missing on Monday, but Footpad is 100 per cent and there was never an issue with him, but you get those rumours at this time of the year.”

I can’t split Footpad and Apple’s Shakira as my nap of the week. They are both five star selections and the current prices for both are staggering value.

I agree with the Racing UK pundits that Brain Power has no chance and although Saint Calvados was impressive in the Kingmaker at Warwick he didn’t really beat that much. He was sixth of 10 behind last weekend’s star De Bon Coeur last April at Auteuil. As an aside De Bon Coeur looks like France’s next Questarabad after his latest demolition job of the opposition at Auteuil on Sunday (winning a race also won won by Questarabad at a similar stage). It would be great to see that horse taking on the best from the UK and Ireland but, if I was the owner, I’d hold on to him and sweep up all the extremely valuable prizes in France for years to come (form 111111-F111).

3.30 Champion Hurdle (winner £256,275)

Buveur d’Air***** (4/6 -> 1/2 > 8/15)

None have emerged to prevent Buveur d’Air from retaining his crown. The only reason why he’s not my nap is the price. I’m therefore looking at the place options. As previously noted Elgin should be supplemented (for £20,000) and take his chance (currently 16/1) and Wicklow Brave could well run into a place at 12/1.

4.10 Mares’ Hurdle (winner £67,524)

Apple’s Jade**** (8/11 -> 4/6 > 4/6)

W P Mullins appears to be firing his best available against his former charge Apple’s Jade but none of them should be able to see her off. This is easily Gordon Elliott’s best chance of the day and probably the week. I might have a small interest on La Bague Au Roi for a place at 14/1 if she turns up here.

Wednesday

1.30 Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle (winner £71,187)

Samcro**** (9/4 -> 8/11 > 4/5)

There appears to be a consensus that this one is the Irish banker of the week. The price is certainly very attractive but, in reality, there are better options (albeit at shorter prices). His win at the Dublin Racing Festival was mightily impressive and there is no good reason to look beyond him. He’s unbeaten and this is his graduation day.

2.10 RSA Novices’ Chase (winner £99,662)

Black Corton*** (10/1 > 8/1)

I’ve been with Black Corton from the start of these previews and I’m not going to change now. The only concern is if Monalee turns up here but I think that he’ll show up in the JLT. Don’t worry about the progression from a summer horse to a Cheltenham Grade 1 candidate. As I mentioned above Make A Stand improved 50lb in one season before winning the Champion Hurdle. His victory in the Grade 1 Kauto Star Chase, followed by the Grade 2 Reynoldstown, proves his class beyond doubt and, with Bryony Frost on board, I can already see her smile and raised arm on board the winner making the front pages of the newspapers.

3.30 Champion Chase (winner £227,800)

Altior***** (11/8 -> 8/11 > 8/11)

Altior is the chasing equivalent of Buveur d’Air in the Champion Hurdle and should ensure that Nicky Henderson bags both 2m prizes. A curve ball in this one (for a place) is Great Field for Willie Mullins after 321 days off but on a five timer (into 10/1 from 16/1 in the last few days).

4.10 Cross Country Chase (winner £40,235)

Cause of Causes** (4/1 -> 7/2 > 11/4)

There’s not much to add to my earlier views. Cause of Causes is a fair bet for this one but no more than that.

Thursday

1.30 JLT Novices’ Chase (winner £85,425)

Monalee** (14/1 > 13/2)

I do hope that Monalee turns up here and, if he does, he should win. One to watch is the Munir/Henderson highly rated recruit Terrefort at 13/2.

2.50 Ryanair Chase (winner £199.325)

Un de Sceaux**** (9/2 -> 3/1 > 2/1)

Unusually, I’ve put up the prize money in the titles of the races in this preview, particularly with this race in mind. The Ryanair is often seen as the poor relation of the other championship races but that prize to the winner of nearly £200,000 is not to be sniffed at. The ground prediction reinforces my view that this is Un de Sceaux’s for the taking. Waiting Patiently would be interesting if he turns up but I don’t think that he will. If the decs go as they might, this might be 7/1 bar the fav in which case the advice must be to get on now.

3.30 Stayers’ Hurdle (winner £185,088)

Sam Spinner** (4/1 -> 11/2 > 5/1)

Let’s get two out of the way to start with. Neither Supasundae nor Yanworth are my ideas of the winner. Both have had good days but are not champions here. This is a wide open race and that is why I think that it’s a perfect opportunity for the highly progressive Sam Spinner who, like Kalashnikov, has shown tenacity in his prep races.

Friday

1.30 Triumph Hurdle (winner £71,187)

Apples Shakira***** (4/1 -> 3/1 > 3/1)

I’m going to repeat myself – Apples Shakira is a very, very good horse. She gets half a stone from the geldings and arguably wouldn’t need it to win. That is a very significant advantage and all her wins in the UK have been on soft (she also beat 10 on her debut in France on trés souple) and this could be run on very soft ground. Unbeaten, she is all over my idea of the winner of this. Of the others Saldier (12/1) and Stormy Ireland (9/1) are candidates for a place, both at decent prices.

2.50 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle (winner £71,187)

Next Destination* (8/1 -> 6/1 > 7/1 (as low as 4/1 in places))

This is by some margin the weakest of the Grade 1s and Next Destination is the weakest of my current selections. Santini is the current 4/1 favourite and if Chef des Obeaux (11/2) turns up here I’ll be switching to him (particularly on soft ground).

3.30 The Gold Cup (winner £355,937)

Native River*** (6/1 > 6/1)

Well, bring on that properly soft ground for my selection! If it does turn up that way on properly churned ground (after two days on the new course) I can see this one grinding on and on for an old fashioned win over 3m 2 1/2f. I can see some of the the Irish horses repeating their Christmas flops and, as I’ve already said, I can’t see Might Bite winning and all the more so on trying ground. I think that Ruby will ride Total Recall and he’s excellent value for a place at the current 16/1.

Combinations

It seems this way at this time every year but this year in particular I think that there are horses to place in multiples and they are:

Footpad

Buveur d’Air

Apple’s Jade

Samcro

Altior

Un de Sceaux

Take them all (including NRNB) for a realistic 50/1. I have.

 

Good luck!

 

 

 

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