Friday, 17 March 2023

Cheltenham Festival Day Four: Friday 17th March 2023 - It’s a Bravemansgame Taking on Gold Cup Favourite

Just like that, it’s nearly over for another year. This is Gold Cup Day however, the most important of the entire jumps season.

The £600,000 feature race is due off at 3.30 but there are two more Grade 1’s to take care of before that, beginning with the Triumph Hurdle.

1.30 (Triumph Hurdle – Grade 1) – LOSSIEMOUTH 

Three of the four best-fancied horses in this race are fillies and their weight allowances could be crucial. It probably doesn’t matter a whole lot to the trainer, singular, as Willie Mullins trains all four of these leading juveniles!

Zenta is the outsider of the quarter and rightly so based on what we know, while Gala Marceau was at her best to beat Lossiemouth last time but that was somewhat of a surprise.

At the weights, Bloody Destiny put in a performance stronger than that one and very easily back in January so is second choice, but the aforementioned filly Lossiemouth was so impressive as far back as December and should be a much better horse now. She gets the vote to regain the winning thread.

2.10 (County Handicap Hurdle – Grade 3) – PEMBROKE 

Hunters Yarn (Willie Mullins) has been steadily backed to challenge Filey Bay (Emmet Mullins) for favouritism, but we rather like the look of Dan Skelton’s Pembroke.

The Skelton team know exactly how to win such races as the County Hurdle and their representative is a major improver over this sort of trip.

3.30 (Cheltenham Gold Cup – Grade 1) – BRAVEMANSGAME

Another cracker of a Cheltenham Gold Cup is upon us. Minella Indo is back for another crack, while Stattler, Conflated and Sounds Russian may be popular with some each-way backers.

Better off on our books are Ahoy Senor and Noble Yeats, first and third in the Cotswold Chase here on Trials Day. It’s unsure how much more there is to come from the pair but that is solid form.

Galopin Des Champ is the short(ish) priced favourite and has been since winning at Fairyhouse last April. Since then, he’s added two more easy wins and he would be easily unbeaten in chases but for an unlucky fall when well clear at the festival last year.

He is a brilliant chaser, there’s no doubt about that, but this is also the best company he’s ever found himself in and there isn’t much value in backing him.

A good form line is November’s Betfair Chase in which Protektorat was excellent. He beat A Plus Tard there, last year’s impressive Gold Cup winner, and both are in this line up.

A Plus Tard has been freshened up and should be better now, but winning back-to-back Gold Cups is notoriously difficult.

Protektorat was behind Ahoy Senor and Noble Yeats in the Cotswold but he is far better than that and was perhaps not 100% tuned up that day. He was also third in the Gold Cup last year and would have been much closer but for a final fence blunder.

Among the main candidates, that leaves us with Paul Nicholls’ Bravemansgame and he is the one we think has the most quality.

Even as a novice hurdler, his trainer told us that he was very much the real deal and this from a man who trained Kauto Star and Denman.

As a chaser he has some very reliable and classy form to advertise his claims. On his third start as a novice, he was seven lengths and around 10lbs better than Ahoy Senor.

This season he began in imperious fashion when winning the Charlie Hall Chase at Wetherby before producing a demolition job in the King George Chase at Kempton on Boxing Day.

He is ready to put in the performance of his life so far in this, that from a horse who on current ability already has a big shout. Harry Cobden rides.

4.10 (Festival Challenge Cup Open Hunters’ Chase – Class 2) – FAMOUS CLERMONT

This is a difficult race for many punters as the form lines are not as solid, or even known, as many others during the festival. In fact, as it comes after the Gold Cup, it’s the signal for many people to leave or to hit the bar.

Not that many people like to even see big-time trainers even involved in this race, we do have a mix of names involved.

Our big three are Billaway, last year’s winner trained by master Willie Mullins, Famous Clermont trained by Chris Barber in Dorset, and Ireland’s Vaucelet trained by David Christie.

Chris Barber’s grandfather in fact trained four winners of this race when it was known as the Foxhunter. He has got his Famous Clermont to the point that he is the leading point-to-point horse in the country and he is good value to hold off the Irish challenge.

4.50 (Mares’ Chase – Grade 2) – ALLEGORIE DE VASSY 

The Mares’ Chase is a somewhat controversial race, only on the schedule since 2021 and won both times by Willie Mullins.

Three of the big four in this are quite close on recent form. Magic Daze (Henry De Bromhead), Impervious (Colm Murphy) and Jeremys Flame (Gavin Cromwell) will all have their supporters, with Impervious the best of that small bunch according the odds.

In fact, Impervious could challenge Willie Mullins’ Allegorie De Vassy for favouritism which we think is a tad strange.

At the weights, Allegorie De Vassy has already put in a performance to match or better what the others have achieved, though she did it on only her second chase start and very easily indeed.

There is a ton of improvement still to come from her, of that there is no doubt, and it’s a slight surprise to use to see that she’s not odds-on for this race, especially given who the trainer is. Paul Townend rides.

5.30 (Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – IROKO

With a few non-runners announced there are 21 due to line up for finale, a chance for the conditions jockeys to shine in the Martin Pipe.

An extended 2½ miles is the trip with a perfect profile for the race according to most results since the race began in 2009, Iroko is fancied score.

Representing owner JP McManus, trainers Oliver Greenall and Josh Guerriero and rider Caoilin Quinn, Iroko is an improving type who may get the better of Haxo and Irish Hill.

That’s all for another Festival folks! We’ll be back for the April Meeting in five weeks’ time.

Wednesday, 15 March 2023

Cheltenham Festival Day Three: Thursday 16th March 2023 - Head Home by the Lee

Day three brings us seven more races, three Grade 1’s, £1.3 million in prize money and two major feature events.

As well the championship race, the Stayers’ Hurdle, we see the Ryanair Chase which has produced some fantastic horses and brilliant finishes in the recent past.

We begin right at the top level with the Grade One Turner Novices’.

1.30 (Turners Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – APPRECIATE IT

The money has all been for Mighty Potter in this event ante-post and he opened up at even-money and 11/10 after the final declarations.

He’s three out of three over fences and he hasn’t put a foot wrong. Two of those wins were in Grade 1 company and the style of them suggested that he is out of the top draw.

The sort of numbers he’s produced however don’t make him unbeatable on paper, and a much better value alternative is 2021’s hugely impressive Supreme Novices’ winner Appreciate It.

Since belatedly going chasing this season he too has been excellent to watch. Two wins set him up for the Irish Arkle for which he went off the 11/8 favourite ahead of Tuesday’s Arkle winner El Fabiolo. Though beaten there, he was far from disgraced and it seems he wants this 2½-mile trip now.

Stage Star, Balco Coastal and Banbridge are all very good young chasers too and can also make their mark.

2.10 (Pertemps Network Final – Premier Handicap Hurdle – Class 1) – THANKSFORTHEHELP

Nicky Henderson can probably finish his festival a happy man after Constitution Hill’s Champion Hurdle demolition, but he does have another winning chance in the Pertemps Final with Walking On Air.

This 24-runner, three-mile handicap hurdle is frightfully competitive but Walking On Air could be nicely treated at the weights and that’s going to be the crucial factor.

The other big improver who is nicely handicapped is Thanksforthehelp and ultimately, he gets our vote.

David Pipe has won this race a couple of times before so knows what is required, as does the owner JP McManus. His form is solid, he won so easily last time, he stays and he handles the ground.

2.50 (Ryanair Chase – Grade 1) – SHISHKIN

Hopefully Nicky Henderson hasn’t quite gone home at this point, as he needs to saddle up another superstar in the shape of Shishkin.

While he had his wobbles towards the end of his two-mile chasing career, he was an awesome Arkle and Clarence House winner but he found a new lease of life over a longer trip last time.

Inexplicably sent off second-favourite for the 2m5f Ascot Chase, he scored by 16 lengths and just looked better and better the further he went. He drops back to 2m4f here, but around this track that should suit him well.

Blue Lord is a solid second choice in this race and is the main danger, while Janidil, Envoi Allen and Hitman have their work cut out.

3.30 (Stayers’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – HOME BY THE LEE

The 2019 winner (and three-time Cleeve Hurdle winner) Paisley Park is still competing in Grade 1’s aged 11, while the 2021 and 2022 winner Flooring Porter is also once again in the line-up.

Klassical Dream has also been around the block a bit without seeing out a three-mile trip like this one to his best level.

All in all, it seems that the stayers’ crown will go to someone new this year. The recent form of Teahupoo has been excellent and he will on many punters’ lips, while Blazing Khal could even go off favourite.

The one we like best however is Home By The Lee. Joseph O’Brien’s runner won a Grade 2 in November, then stepped up again on that to win the Grade 1 Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown.

He is now a confirmed stayer, loves the ground, is improving, has the class and for good measure had Flooring Porter well in behind at Leopardstown.

4.10 (Plate Handicap Chase – Class a) – WAR LORD

Another hugely difficult handicap race is upon us here for punters. 24 runners line up for the late, a two-and-a-half-mile race which usually favours those having run in certain similar handicaps in recent weeks.

Il Ridoto and Fugitif are two horses to have run in just the right race, finishing 1-2 in the premier handicap chase over this course and distance Trials Day.

They should both make their presence felt, as will So Scottish if the betting is anything to go by, but great value is last year’s Arkle Trophy fourth War Lord and he looks well handicapped.

He reached a mark of 149 after finishing behind Edwardstone twelve months ago, and while it’s taken a while to get him back to his best, he’s just about there now and he gets in here off only 144.

4.50 (Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – LUCCIA

Otherwise known as the Dawn Run, this 2m1f race has been on the schedule since just 2016 and was won for the first five years by Willie Mullins.

In behind the favourite, opinions are bound to differ on at least ten mares in this field and the battle for places therefore could be a keen one.

Up at the top of the betting market however is Nicky Henderson’s Luccia and she really does deserve that position on what she’s achieved so far.

She was two from two in bumpers including winning at Listed level last March, while she has now also won both of her hurdle races, again the latest at Listed level. She was impressive at Exeter and should handle this ground OK.

5.30 (Kim Muir Challenge Cup Handicap Chase – Class 2) – ROYAL THIEF

We finish the day with the Kim Muir, a chance for the amateur jockeys to take centre stage.

In amateur races we often rely more on the jockey than we often would. Their ability range is greater than with the pros, which is partly why Mr Incredible (Patrick Mullins) and Dunboyne (Jamie Codd) will be fancied.

Royal Thief however looks very smart in the context of this race and could send supporters home happy.

Cheltenham Festival Day Two: Wednesday 15th March 2023 - Edwardstone to be Crown Champion Chaser

Day one was magic as always, now we have another million pounds on offer as we watch the second and final day of action on the Old Course.

The two-mile Champion Chase is the feature race worth £400,000, ably backed up by three more Grade 1 events including our opener, the Ballymore.

1.30 (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – HERMES ALLEN

We go over what might prove to be a fairly gruelling 2-mile, 5-furlong trip on soft ground for the race known to many as the Baring Bingham.

Willie Mullins has his usual strong hand here with, in reverse order of our preference, Ho My Lord, Champ Kiely, likely favourite Impaire Et Passe and Gaelic Warrior all engaged.

American Mike and Good Land shouldn’t trouble our selection, which is Hermes Allen for the Paul Nicholls yard.

On a four-timer now, the French-bred six-year-old gelding has been imperious over hurdles so far. A 27-length win at a canter on good ground was followed by a nine-length success in a Grade 2 here, again on top of the ground.

What was even more impressive however is the fact that he again cantered, unchallenged, to victory last time out on soft ground in the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle and it seems he is destined for the very top.

2.10 (Brown Advisory Novices’ Chase – Grade 1) – THYME HILL

At £181,000 this is the second most valuable race on the day behind the feature event. The reason for that is that, as a three-mile race over fences, this contest features horses likely to go and challenge one day for the Gold Cup, perhaps even next season.

Mullins dominates the entries once again, though four of his five have their work cut out to get involved. His Sir Gerhard however, last year’s Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle winner, has a real chance if seeing out the three miles on only his second chase start.

He ranks higher than the short-priced favourite Gerri Colombe on our books, though they all may have their work cut out to get to Thyme Hill.

Philip Hobbs & Johnson White’s runner was the best staying novice hurdler in 2021, a close second in the Stayers’ Hurdle in 2022 and last time out won the Grade 1 Kauto Star Novices’ Chase in an absolute canter.

2.50 (Coral Handicap Hurdle – Class 1) – ICARE ALLEN

Though Run For Oscar, Good Risk At All, Camprond and HMS Seahorse have all been well backed it could be a horse at a very big price that goes close for us in the shape of Icare Allen.

Owned by JP McManus, trained by Willie Mullins and ridden by Mark Walsh, you’d think this horse would have been given more attention in the build-up to the festival but he appears to be going under the radar.

He does step up in trip here but on breeding there’s plenty to like about that move and, if he does indeed stay well, he is certainly handicapped to go very well undeed.

3.30 (Queen Mother Champion Chase – Grade 1) – EDWARDSTONE

The championship race on day two is the Champion Chase, the season’s two-mile chase feature.

It’s mad to think that twelve months ago Editeur Du Gite went off 17/2 for the Grand Annual and finished fourth, now he comes into this having beaten both Edwardstone and Energumene in the rescheduled Clarence House Chase.

Those two still rate higher in our books and both will be fully tuned up for this, with Edwardstone’s time surely here as last year’s Arkle winner and this season’s impressive Tingle Creek hero looks to confirm his place at the head of the two-mile table for trainer Alan King and jockey Tom Cannon.

Greaneteen and Nube Negra are both very capable on their day, but should not be getting involved at the business end of the race.

4.10 (Cross Country Chase – Class 2) – FRANCO DE PORT

Naturally, the cross-country course here is like no other and so we cannot accurately judge the form of ordinary chase races in order to evaluate this field.

What we do know is they still have to jump, they still have to stay and they still have to handle the ground which is soft.

Galvin has quality and is likely to stay involved for a long way, while his stablemate Delta Work won this last year and is looking to double up.

Franco De Port at 8 can actually still improve, while Snow Leopardess is not getting younger but is a thorough stayer and gets 7lbs from the boys.

All things considered, the 158-rated Franco De Port (Willie Mullins) could be ready now to dethrone Delta Work and is a good price to do so.

4.50 (Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase – Class 1) – DINOBLUE

The Grand Annual is a very competitive two-mile handicap hurdle, but the stats tell us that it’s generally hard to carry a lot of weight in it and we are on stamina-sapping ground.

So, while Andy Dufresne, Coeur Sublime and Final Orders are all classy and respected, it could be that the improving Dinoblue wins the day.

The six-year-old has his best days ahead and is well handicapped, while we also know he handles this ground which is a crucial factor.

5.30 (Champion Bumper – Grade 1) – WESTERN DIEGO

We finish with a frightfully competitive Champion Bumper in which all horses are improving and it’s up to us to work out at what rate. As well as taking our advice, look out for any serious money coming for runners in the closing race in the lead-up to off time.

After a long process, we whittled this down to three horses outside of the likely favourite A Dream To Share, the trio all trained by Willie Mullins.

It must be pointed out that one of ours, Fact To File, does indeed carry the first choice JP McManus colours rather than the favourite.

He needs to get back on track after being beaten last time, while It’s For Me was very good on debut and is second on the list behind Western Diego. The six-year-old selection is ridden by Rachael Blackmore and is fancied after a very impressive opening win in January.

Tuesday, 14 March 2023

Cheltenham Festival Day One: Tuesday 14th March 2023 - No Fighting the Constitution in Champion Hurdle

And, we’re back! The 2023 Cheltenham Festival gets underway on Tuesday and we have strong information for all seven races on the opening-day card, worth a combined total of £1.2 million.

The ground is a little softer than many would like, which punters should keep in mind, though the Old Course does favour speed which is what we’re using on Tuesday.

1.30 (Supreme Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – FACILE VEGA

We won’t expect anything like last year’s spectacular winner Constitution Hill to show up this time around, but the winner of the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle tends to be a very, very good horse so this gets us as excited as always.

Champagne Fever, Vautour, Douvan, Altior, Klassical Dream, Shishkin and Appreciate It have all won this race in recent years.

Five or six weeks ago, Willie Mullins’ 2022 Champion Bumper winner Facile Vega was a very strong favourite for this race. After failing last time however, lots of people have jumped ship to Barry Connell’s unbeaten Grade 1 winner Marine Nationale.

We like that horse too, but there is no reason why Facile Vega shouldn’t get back to form here after only one blip and if he does, he will surely prove that he is comfortably better than this field.

His stablemate from Willie Mullins’ yard Il Etait Temps may be a better option to follow him home, while former Derby favourite High Definition and Paul Nicholls’ Tahmuras have to improve plenty.

2.10 (Arkle Trophy – Grade 1) – JONBON 

There are arguably only four serious contenders for this year’s Arkle which is somewhat disappointing. Three of those are trained by Willie Mullins. Of that group, Saint Roi is likely to be the poor relation leaving us with Jonbon, El Fabiolo and Dysart Dynamo.

El Fabiolo was outstanding in winning the Irish Arkle last time, while we should not rule out Dysart Dynamo who was as impressive as his two big rivals on chase debut and went off the same price as El Fabiolo in that Irish Arkle. The one we like best however is Nicky Henderson’s Jonbon.

He only just got the better of El Fabiolo on his last hurdle start at Aintree last spring, while he had to play second fiddle to Constitution Hill in the Supreme.

He has eased to three facile victories over fences so far and while it’s true he hasn’t been tested to the limit yet, he looks up to the task for jockey Aidan Coleman.

2.50 (Ultima Handicap Chase – Class 1) – MONBEG GENIUS

2022 winner Corach Rambler has only had a couple of runs since his big victory but he’s back here for more.

He is an interesting contender, as are Into Overdrive and The Big Breakaway, but our vote goes to Jonjo O’Neill’s Monbeg Genius who is on a four-timer after three very taking chase wins.

3.30 (Champion Hurdle – Grade 1) – CONSTITUTION HILL

Only seven line up for the Champion Hurdle this year, though it is to be understood to a degree as many are running away from last the sublime Supreme Novices’, Fighting Fifth and Christmas Hurdle winner Constitution Hill.

The seven is very disappointing for each-way backers too, unless you want to take Vauban or I Like To Move It at reduced odds with three places, as Constitution Hill and State Man are very hard to oppose as a pair.

Constitution Hill looks to have all bases covered in truth and it would be a bitter disappointment were he not to win. His price is very restrictive, but he can of course be used in multiples, Placepots and the like.

4.10 (Mares’ Hurdle – Grade 1) – ECHOES IN RAIN

If we’re right about Jonbon and Constitution Hill, then a fair bit of money will be going on Nicky Henderson’s former Champion Hurdler Epatante in this event, or for that matter likely favourite Marie’s Rock.

Both Epatante and Honeysuckle are going backwards, it’s just a sad truth, and they may yet be beaten home by not only Marie’s Rock but also Love Envoi and even the overpriced Echoes In Rain.

Willie Mullins also runs Brandy Love in this race, a shorter price than the selection, though Echoes In Rain is a real long-term improver over hurdles who won ever so easily last time and who will love the conditions.

She was fifth in this race last year behind Marie’s Rock, though more is expected now.

4.50 (Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle – Class 1) – BAD

This the race otherwise known as the Fred Winter, a very competitive handicap hurdle for four-year-olds. These juvenile hurdlers are all very inexperienced which presents punters with various challenges, especially this year.

We all know that the Old Course favours speed and this indeed is a two-mile race, however many of these horses will go a lot further in time and so on the forecast soft ground it may be that some amount of stamina is needed to get the job done.

Top owner JP McManus has a strong hand here. His Tekao is being very well backed throughout Monday while Risk Belle provides strong back up. Big money has also come for Byker, while Sir Allen has some strong form to his name in the novice ranks.

The best of the bunch way well prove to be Bad however. Ben Pauling has grabbed this young horse from France where he put in an impressive performance back in November and he now looks very well handicapped.

5.30 (National Hunt Cup – Grade 2) – MAHLER MISSION

Our final race is a 3m6f novices’ chase for amateur jockeys, though nothing in the race’s conditions makes it less
appealing to punters.

All the money in the build-up has been for Willie Mullins’ Gaillard Du Mesnil, though while he should be improving like most novices, there is no real evidence he’s going forward just now and he is a very short price.

Minella Crooner is of some interest, as is Mister Coffey who we tipped when he went close in the Kim Muir last year, though he finishes second an awful lot and again isn’t improving fast enough.

Mahler Mission is the value play. Though he was beaten last time, he is a fast improver overall and will love underfoot conditions too.

Friday, 27 January 2023

Cheltenham Trials Day: Saturday 28th January 2023 - Arkle Hero to Enhance Champion Chase Claims

We have a bumper nine-race card on Saturday.

It’s Trials Day at Cheltenham, meaning lots of clues for the 2023 Festival which is indeed our next meeting, kicking off on Tuesday, March 14th.

After Ascot was called off however, some races have been saved and moved here including the Grade 1 Clarence House Chase which has now become not only a terrific spectacle, but a proper course and distance trial for the Queen Mother Champion Chase.

We have a tip for all nine races, beginning with the Triumph Hurdle Trial.

11.40 (Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle – Grade 2) – SCRIPTWRITER

Four stand out against the field in the race otherwise known as the Finesse Hurdle, a four-year-old-only event serving as the top trial for the Triumph Hurdle in March.

Dixon Cove gets plenty of weight for the Paul Nicholls yard, while 66/1 shock winner Jupiter Du Gite was impressive last time and also gets 5lbs from the other two major contenders.

They are the solid Comfort Zone, and the one a chance can be taken on which is Milton Harris’s Scriptwriter.

He is unbeaten in two for the yard, though with form that isn’t quite good enough yet. The major point however is that over hurdles and on the Flat, he’s not yet had the ground he wants but gets it this weekend.

12.10 (Novices’ Handicap Chase – Class 2) – STAGE STAR

Naturally, we can’t know everything about these novice chasers, but Paul Nicholls’ Stage Star really does stand out and so is a tentative selection.

Faced with only one rival last time out, he went clear to win his race easily meaning we don’t know what level he can truly reach. He also that day managed to offer speed figures that stand up with anything else in this race, achieved on soft ground and without a strong pace being set.

12.40 (Cross Country Handicap Chase – Class 2) – BACK ON THE LASH

Easysland is back for yet another go on the cross-country course, while last year’s festival winner and Grand National third Delta Work is bound to be a short price in the market.

One who knows his way around the cross-country course and who may be one of very few in the line-up who could be ahead of his handicap mark is Back On The Lash, and it’s Martin Keighley’s runner who is given the nod.

1.20 (Clarence House Chase – Grade 1) – EDWARDSTONE

Given that this race was meant to be run at Ascot, many have changed their minds this week on who they believe will win.

Thankfully we’re now up from three runners to six, but the two big dogs remain the ones to concentrate on in the shape of Champion Chase winner Energumene and Arkle scorer Edwardstone.

The latter really doesn’t have too much to find at all and the Tingle Creek winner has clearly matured. Both horses are Cheltenham winners of course so the track shouldn’t be a problem, with Edwardstone fancied to win this taking dual on the New Course.

1.50 (Premier Handicap Chase – Class 1) – IL RIDOTO

This is a very competitive event indeed and small stakes are advised. Any one of a number of the maximum 17 runners could land the money, the £56,000 prize for the winner tempting a number of hard-hitting trainers to get involved.

The selection, though not a confident one, is Paul Nicholls’ Il Ridoto in the hope that soft ground isn’t too much against him.

He ran well on it here last time and has been even more fluent on better going, but in any case he has both the class and the speed to remain competitive in this race.

2.25 (Cotswold Chase – Grade 2) – PROTEKTORAT

A most taking three-mile, one-and-a-half-furlong chase which is a fine event in its own right, but for once also a bona fide trial for the Cheltenham Gold Cup on March 17th.

Frodon has won this before and will no doubt set the race up to be a truly-run event, while Ahoy Senor and Sounds Russian are very well thought of at home.

Noble Yeats is the fascinating runner. Last year’s Grand National winner showed no ill effects from Aintree, returning there successfully when stepping down to this sort of trip in the Many Clouds Chase and a Gold Cup foray is definitely on the cards for him.

That being said, Protektorat is the class angle here and it’s nice to see him being given a proper run much closer to the festival this time. Last year’s Gold Cup third was hugely impressive on his seasonal return at Haydock and he really should have too much here under Harry Skelton.

3.00 (Cleeve Hurdle – Grade 2) – DASHEL DRASHER

Once again, this is a fine historic race in its own right but always gives us major clues for the Stayers’ Hurdle.

Past winner Paisley Park is a standing dish here and he may very well win yet again given the overall level of opposition isn’t that impressive, despite the numbers in this field.

Gelino Bello may struggle but is still young, while Botox Has doesn’t quite match up on known evidence.

The one who does get very close indeed at the weights is Dashel Drasher, so given that he is a much bigger price than the jolly, he is taken to be the value angle in the race.

3.35 (Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – PEMBROKE 

This is a trial for the race of the same name at the Festival, though it’s still known to many as the Classic Novices Hurdle.

Henri The Second holds claims, as does Blenkinsop who is on a five-timer, but Pembroke really has been impressive for then Skelton team and he has been ready to run again for some time. He may outclass them here.

4.10 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – HACKER DES PLACES 

In terms of known form and early betting market clues, this race is a bit of a basket case.

Many hold chances, but a stab is taken on another Nicholls horse here in the shape of Hacker Des Places who made a nice seasonal return and who has more to offer yet.

Saturday, 31 December 2022

Cheltenham New Year’s Day Meeting: Sunday 1st January 2023 - I Like To Move It to Play the Tune in Relkeel

The home of jumps racing in Great Britain welcomes in the new year in fine style with a seven-race card.

We get to see not only the Dipper, a Grade 2 for the novice chasers, but also the fantastic Relkeel Hurdle as well as another competitive premier handicap chase.

We have a value selection for all seven races, beginning with the maiden hurdle just after midday.

12.10 Maiden Hurdle – Class 2 – WEVEALLBEENCAUGHT

Many of those entered in this extended 2½-mile hurdle race don’t leave us too much to go on in terms of proper form, but there is just enough to suggest that backing Weveallbeencaught wouldn’t be the worst idea of the afternoon.

The logical dangers are Nicky Henderson’s Firestep and Milton Harris’s Gentle Slopes, but Nigel Twiston-Davies’ runner achieved at least as much if not more in bumpers and would have improved a little by now.

He has also already reached a very fair level over hurdles having run third around here in a Grade 2 behind Hermes Allen, a horse expected to go right to the very top in good time.

12.45 Handicap Chase – Class 2 – FARINET

This is an interesting race, run over 3¼ miles of the New Course which may take some getting. That said, we could be looking at fairly quick ground so speed may play a part too.

Poppa Poutine and good old Spiritofthegames will be popular, as will Rapper and Found On who each have place chances. Don’t be put off by the latter having been pulled up on his latest run.

The key piece of form though is the Welsh Grand National Trial, run at the beginning of December. There, Venetia Williams’ Farinet beat Secret Reprieve and while both horses may come on and there is a weight difference now, Farinet may take some stopping.

The former French runner should be a good half a stone ahead of his handicap mark right now, perhaps even more, something jockey Charlie Deutsch should be able to take full advantage of.

1.20 Dipper Novices’ Chase – Grade 2 – THUNDER ROCK

Known these days as the Paddy Power Novices’ Chase, the Dipper remains an important stepping-stone for young chasers, Gold Cup second-favourite L’Homme Presse in fact having won it last year.

This time around, the biggest chunk of the betting market is being taken out by Paul Nicholls’ Monmiral.

He was second on his steeplechase debut to Jonbon which perhaps accounts for his odds, but he is by no means head and shoulders above this field.

True, Beauport has it all to do at the weights, but Thunder Rock has looked very good in two chases so far and it’s he who looks the best value in the race to grab the win for Olly Murphy.

1.55 Paddy Power New Year’s Day Handicap Chase – Class 1 Premier Handicap – STOLEN SILVER

This is the race still known to many as the Fairlawne Handicap Chase and while its name may have changed, it still provides plenty of excitement and a maximum field.

Regular readers of the blog will know that we’ve been quite big on Stolen Silver.

Sam Thomas’s horse is the one who ran away with the Silver Trophy over this precise course and distance back in April on good ground. There appeared to be a lot more to come from him and indeed he was sent off a strong favourite for the Paddy Power Gold Cup back here in November.

He unseated there and was found to be lame. He has been given time to recover and now we can expect a better horse than before, one who may well go on to prove that under jockey Sam Twiston-Davies.

In behind, watch out for strong performances from Shakem Up’Arry, Brave Seasca and Fantastic Lady while the betting may also offer some late clues for each-way value punters.

2.30 Relkeel Hurdle – Grade 2 – I LIKE TO MOVE IT

A lovely race, one worthy not only of its Grade Two title but also of being placed in any punter’s notebook with the Cheltenham Festival in mind.

Whether they prefer two miles or a little further, this one is run over two and a half, the form of the main contenders here is rock solid.

Marie’s Rock is a Grade One festival winner who gets 5lbs here, but while she also won at Punchestown her form overall falls just a tiny bit short unless she has improved more.

First Street has more gears to find for the Nicky Henderson team, while Knappers Hill was a good winner of the Elite Hurdle and he’s now on a five-timer over hurdles.

The one we like best however is Greatwood Hurdle winner I Like To Move It.

He has the pace, but looks as though this step up in trip will suit also. His form level is good enough, as is his rating, but the point is that he is improving and he gets a couple of pounds from Knappers Hill. He can win this for the Twiston-Davies team.

3.05 Handicap Hurdle – Class 2 – WILDE ABOUT OSCAR

They could be going off at better than 4/1 the field here, emphasising the fact that at first glance this is a tough to solve handicap hurdle.

There is a key form line we should perhaps concentrate on however, that being a race at Sandown in which Dolphin Square, Call Me Lord and Wilde About Oscar were the first three home.

The better pace shown over time has been shown Dan Skelton’s Wilde About Oscar and he was also staying best of all towards the line when they all met at Sandown.

Given the chance to improve a little and now facing the Cheltenham hill to see out his finish, he gets the nod to reverse form with the other two although we shouldn’t forget about Jet Of Magic, Abuffalosoldier and Thomas Darby.

3.40 Junior National Hunt Flat Race – Listed Race – SHINJI

These bumper horses go straight to Listed level for the meeting closer, a race in which they tackle the shortish 1¾-mile trip.

The final race is also reserved for juveniles, with all of the maximum 16-runner field having officially turned four on the day of the meeting.

We liked five against the field here; Dancing In Brazil, Dino Bellagio, Fiercely Proud, Meatloaf and Shinji.

While Dancing In Brazil is tempting for the Alan King yard, the way Shinji won on debut left us all wondering how much more there was in the tank.

He is the second-youngest of our five being an early April foal too, meaning he may improve more than others, and that win was also some 47 days ago once again meaning he has had time to come on a little.

Friday, 9 December 2022

Cheltenham International Meeting Day Two: Saturday 10th December 2022 - Silver to Steal the Gold

Let’s not underestimate the importance of this Saturday’s Cheltenham card.

After this, the second day of the International Meeting, we will only see New Year’s Day and Trials Day at this course before the big one in March.

In its own right, this race day is a fantastic spectacle too. Today we have seven races, two of them graded and one being among the top betting handicap chases all National Hunt season.

We have a tip in each race, beginning with the young horses.

12.05 (Triumph Trial Juvenile Hurdle – Class 2) – SCRIPTWRITER

This race isn’t always the most reliable trial for the Triumph Hurdle despite its title, but it is a nice race for the soon to be four-year-olds over 2 miles and a furlong.

There is added confusion this year as the big two in the betting, Joseph O’Brien’s Nusret and Milton Harris’s Scriptrwiter, are also declared at Doncaster owing to uncertainty over the frosty weather.

Assuming Scriptwriter runs in this race, he may have the edge on the Irish horse. He was better on the Flat than his main rival and has done nothing wrong over timber so far, winning both of his hurdle races to date.

If the main pair don’t run, Perseus Way would be the obvious way to go but by then he would be no sort of a price we’d imagine.

12.40 (Novices’ Chase – Class 2) – MONMIRAL

We’re going over the extended two and a half miles for this Class 2 novice race, one in which Monmiral is the obvious selection although he’s not a great betting prospect on his own.

He looks reliable for multiple bets however, Paul Nicholls’ five-year-old running second to none other than Jonbon on his chase debut and he’s in very much calmer waters now.

1.15 (Handicap Chase – Class 2) – THYME WHITE

This two-miler feels a little like the calm before the storm on Saturday afternoon. Not that this race isn’t very competitive mind you, as the eight runners are fairly tightly matched.

Of course, we cannot rule out Gumball, Editeur Du Gite and Dolos, but it can be argued that they are not progressive and are therefore risky at the weights.

Thyme White on the other hand is going the right way for Paul Nicholls. More was expected at Ascot last time, but he was excellent the time before that at the same track and is heading in the right direction.

Third Time Lucki can be considered very well in on his track form of only a year ago, but he did go backwards last season and the wind operation he had recently needs to have done the trick.

If it has, he is a massive danger but the safe play at this point is Thyme White for Nicholls and Lorcan Williams.

1.50 (December Gold Cup Premier Handicap Chase – Class 1) – STOLEN SILVER

The December Gold Cup is one of the top pre-Cheltenham Festival handicap chase races of the season. Worth some £130,000, the race is run over the extended 2½ miles and this time it presents Stolen Silver with a chance to regain the winning thread.

Sam Thomas’s seven-year-old is at the stage of his chasing career which should still be before his peak, so we know he has more to offer us.

After a perfectly reasonable fourth in the Stable Plate at the festival in March, he returned to his favourite track in April and destroyed Simply The Betts in the Silver Trophy by 11 lengths.

After a break Stolen Silver returned to Cheltenham last month and was sent off favourite for the Paddy Power Gold Cup. He unseated that day but is back for more now and given the time that has gone by, it’s a fair bet that he’s a good few pounds ahead of his handicap mark in favourable conditions.

Fantastic Lady is very interesting away from the Paddy Power Gold Cup form, which is also represented by Il Ridoto and Deyrann de Carjac who have each-way chances.

2.25 (International Hurdle – Grade 2) – I LIKE TO MOVE IT

The other race on the card worth £130,000 is this, the 2-mile, 1-furlong International Hurdle.

Horses winning this haven’t had such a great record in the Champion Hurdle thereafter, though many go on to stay longer distances so keep this result in mind for other festival races.

Epatante is the star name here and she also represents Constitution Hill’s form from his stunning Fighting Fifth Hurdle win at Newcastle.

She has her mares’ allowance as well but she does remain vulnerable. Knappers Hill is on a good winning run too, but we really love the chances of our runaway winning NTF Greatwood Hurdle horse I Like To Move It.

Nigel Twiston-Davies’ horse is improving sharply and may even turn into a Champion Hurdle type in time, taking this en route to the festival looking like a natural step.

3.00 (Bristol Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 2) – WEVEALLBEENCAUGHT

There have been some good winners of this down the years, including subsequent top staying chasers Blaklion and Coneygree.

Strictly on the numbers Paul Nicholls’ likely second favourite Outlaw Peter catches the eye, but there should be a lot more improvement to come from Weveallbeencaught meaning it could be a quick double for the Twiston-Davies yard.

From his point-to-point last December, to his bumper win in March and through to his debut Grade 2 third here last month over hurdles, he has improved in absolute lumps and that cannot be ignored.

Another big step forward is expected and if it comes it would be enough to see him win.

3.35 (Mares’ Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – THEATRE GLORY

The safe way to go in the last is to side with Nicky Henderson’s Theatre Glory.

She won three races last season, including one at Cheltenham on good ground, and she was only 4/1 on her return to action when unseating.

Better for the experience, she can carry on her progression now and win for a sixth time in total in her career.