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.

Cheltenham International Meeting Day One: Friday 9th December 2022 - Mottes to Win the Pot

Friday marks the start of Cheltenham’s brilliant two-day International Meeting.

Lookout for Saturday’s blog. We have tips and info for the Triumph Trial, the December Gold Cup, the International Hurdle and the Grade 2 Bristol Novices’ among others.

As for today, we have a selection for each of seven races on the card beginning with the cross-country race.

12.05 (Crystal Cup Cross-Country Handicap Chase – Class 2) – CREALION

We’re going over the familiar 3-mile, 6½-furlong cross-country course for the Glenfarclas Crystal Cup to open the card. There are some familiar names here too. 

Likely favourite Delta Work spoiled the Tiger Roll party by winning the cross-country at the festival in March, finished third in the National and won last time out. That all sounds great, but he’s had a hard time and may be handicapped a little high.

Plan Of Attack, Foxy Jacks, Diesel D’Allier, Singing Banjo and previous course and distance winner Back On The Lash can all also make claims, but Crealion is too big a price.

The sudden improvement in his form when he won easily in France last time was no fluke and he is well handicapped on that. He also has more speed than the others at these weights (yes, that counts even at this distance between obstacles) and he may be able to dash clear if getting a clean round.

12.40 (National Hunt Novices’ Hurdle – Class 3) – TIMEFORATUNE

This race is for the 4-6-year-olds over 2 miles and 1 furlong, one in which the Twiston-Davies horse Master Chewy is bound to attract the most money.

He was ahead when he fell last time so many will treat him like a last time out winner, however he is too short a price and we’ll never know what he would have done on the run-in.

Paul Nicholls’ Timeforatune on the other hand is improving fast. He didn’t go on as much as hoped last time, but he was very green indeed and is learning all the time. With the experience under his belt, he can prove his class in this event.

1.15 (Novices’ Limited Handicap Chase – Class 3) – GREEN VAULT

There are only four runners in this race, three of which are out of the handicap.

Because of that, topweight Mister Coffey is a likely short-priced favourite and there are no particular weaknesses in his game with these conditions in mind.

On our numbers however, even from out of the weights, Green Vault may be only a few pounds behind so more improvement than we expect and/or a mistake from Mister Coffey brings him right into it.

Given that Lucinda Russell brings only this horse for today from Scotland, she may feel he has a big chance and so at the odds he is worth a small interest.

1.50 (Mares’ Handicap Chase – Class 3) – MARTA DES MOTTES 

This race is a Challenger Mares’ Chase Series qualifier over the extended 2½ miles. Joint topweight Legends Ryde is relatively solid, as is Gazette Bourgeoise, but there is a lot to like about the chances of Marta Des Mottes at these odds.

We’ve compared her with the horses she’s beaten, looked at her speed figures and more, with everything pointing at the fact that the handicapper has got her all wrong.

This mare could be closer to a 120 horse than a 108 horse, meaning she looks very well in indeed and its not as though conditions are against her either. Ben Poste rides for trainer Tom Symonds.

2.25 (Premier Handicap Chase – Class 1) – CAPTAIN CATTISTOCK

The feature race on day one is this 3¼-mile handicap chase worth £60,000. If the quicker conditions hold, there is more than enough in the profile of Captain Cattistock to suggest he can add another Cheltenham win to his record.

As well as the fact that his form stands up well, his local trainer Fergal O’Brien has been in excellent form so it’s fair to say the chances are the horse will be at his best.

He’s already had a pipe-opener this season so he’s race fit anyway, making him our favourite ahead of Switch Hitter, Nassalam and Commodore who won the race last year.

3.00 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 3) – MULLENBEG

We’re back over the two-mile, one-furlong trip for this handicap hurdle. The top one Zoffanien remains of interest, likely at a nice price, while Punctuation could also improve enough to take a hand in the finish.

Anyharminasking is rock-solid by our reckoning and may well have been the ultimate selection ordinarily, but it’s just too hard to ignore the claims of Milton Harris’ Mullenbeg who gets the vote to make it four wins in a row.

According to our own stats, the handicapper has got Mullenbeg’s latest run dead on at 122. That’s based on the bare form shown, but it doesn’t take into account the improvement he undoubtedly still has and the fact that he won his race rather easily, meaning he could have pulled out more if necessary.

If he does indeed take another step forward then that may be enough for him to rack up the four-timer under jockey Jonathan Burke.

3.35 (Handicap Hurdle – Class 2) – DUSART

Nicky Henderson has a very strong hand here as we finish over three miles in this handicap hurdle.

His Captain Morgs was entered along with Call Me Lord in a Pertemps qualifier last week but was rerouted to this race and is of some interest.

We’re not exactly sure Captain Morgs is the best handicapped horse at the moment however and it seems top stable jock Nico de Boinville may agree as he has chosen Dusart back from an absence.

The last time we saw this horse over hurdles was spring 2021. Since then, he’s gone chasing and had a breathing operation and a long break, but all in all he looks well handicapped for hurdle races in conditions he likes.

Annual Invictus, Flight Deck and Uhtred were also considered, all of whom may be the subject of some each-way bets.