Martin Malone

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Category: Racing 2019

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.

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