The blog is back for the 2018 Cheltenham Festival!
It will be a shorter and more condensed run through than recent years due to my own time constraints this year.
I’ve detailed a few important stats when looking for winners in previous years but anyone looking to expand on that is recommended to visit the excellent www.gaultstats.com site. (A lot of work has gone into this so if you do find it useful be sure to leave a donation to the worthy cause it has been done for)
It’s a completely different looking meeting to recent years though with heavy ground looking a possibility on the opening day. We have to go back to the early 1980s the see anything similar and it does put a completely different spin on trying to anticipate the likely winners this year. The stats I have used in the past may well be affected by this difference. Ability to act on the going could well have a far greater bearing than usual and could throw other statistical trends up in the air.
Reminiscence time now to see just what this sort of ground can do to decimate a field can be seen here in the 1980 renewal of the RSA chase
A lot of plans made through the winter may be up in the air now with the anticipated Good to Soft going on Day 1 no longer materializing.
We’ll know a lot more after racing has started on how bad the conditions are. There has been a marked tendency at this course when it has become very boggy in recent years for hurdles races to be dominated by horses racing on better ground on the far rail. I’m hoping this isn’t the case here but if it is I expect there to be a fight to secure the prime spot
Onto the racing – odds for each race can be found via www.oddschecker.com – I will list best available price I can find at time of posting where applicable for any selections
1.30 Skybet Supreme Novices Hurdle 2miles
There didn’t seem to be an overwhelming vote of confidence for Willie Mullins’s favourite Getabird at preview evenings in the run-up the big meeting. I was half expecting 3/1 to be available on the day but his price has firmed up since and he looks likely to start much shorter now. That’s a lot to do with the softer ground (good ground would have been a concern). There is still a question mark over his ability to race left-handed (same applies to his Punchestown victim Mengli Khan). It is that, and some doubts I have about the form of that race (Mengli Khan seemed to run well below previous efforts), that make me uneasy here.
Kalashnikov is most fancied of the home team and comes here after an impressive Newbury win against seasoned handicappers. He showed soft ground held no fears there but truly heavy conditions may not suit quite as much. He was beaten on bad ground at Sandown by Summerville Boy before then. That race had a slightly unsatisfactory feel about it to me at the time and I’m not so sure the winner can uphold the form given that Kalashnikov lost a shoe in the race.
First Flow is another to consider as he is also proven in deep ground but he needs to improve on what he has achieved so far. The potential is definitely there though.
Slate House has good course form earlier this season but seems to have gone backward since.
Claimantakinforgan and Western Ryder will both struggle on this going from what I have seen from them this year
The other interesting one is Paloma Blue. He was the only one to come close to the much vaunted Samcro on paddock inspection in terms of looks on his last start at Leopardstown. He took a strong hold during the race but travelled as well as the favourite turning into the straight. The earlier antics then took their toll and he weakened into third. I’d be worried that with the big atmosphere certain here he might not settle again – in which case the final hill will almost certainly find him out. If he can be settled by Davy Russell though he is a player
Marginal preference is for Kalashnikov here. He would have been an each way bet for me at 5/1 or better on soft ground but on heavy ground I’ll probably be holding fire now
2.10 Arkle Trophy 2 miles
The presence of some high quality novices at the front of the market here has frightened all but rank outsider Robinshill off and we just have 5 runners.
With three of them all racing from the front this year many are anticipating a burn-up which could have let something come in to pounce from behind.
Brain Power is the one that doesn’t need to lead but a last run fall and some below par course form don’t attract me to him.
Saint Calvados hasn’t got the hurdling form of others but has impressed greatly with his jumping in some easy wins this season. He has the ground to suit him but there is some question mark with his rather pronounced action that this undulating course may not suit as much as the flat ones he has been winning over.
Many seem to have been marking Footpad as another who needs to race from the front. He lead Petit Mouchoir at Leopardstown but I don’t believe it’s something he has to do – he certainly didn’t as a hurdler. He’s been leading simply because his jumping has been so proficient and I actually think that he might be better here because he has a rival he can give him a lead.
Petit Mouchoir reopposes again and can be expected to improve on that effort. He was the best hurdler out of these but he did make some errors on that last start. I can’t help thinking that with two better jumpers taking him on he might be drawn into mistakes again – and that will cost him here
Footpad is my choice to win this. He was about 6/4 a couple of days ago but is nearer to Evens tonight. That’s a little bit too short to make him a recommendation in ground that has been suggested could be ‘puddingy’
Likewise I am loathe to oppose two short priced favs later in the card.
Buveur D’Air is around 4/7 for the feature event – the Champion Hurdle at 330 – but it’s hard to oppose him in his bid to repeat last year’s success. Previous winner, Faugheen, didn’t look the same horse on his last start. Faugheen’s stablemates – Yorkhill (ran abysmally last time out and avoided by the main stable jockeys here) and Wicklow Brave ( talented but quirky – has been known to plant himself at the start) I am also happy to discount.
My Tent Or Yours would have been an each way bet here for me given his previous record in this race but the heavy ground has to be a negative for him.
There’s easily potential for a big priced outsider to hit the frame here – it’s just that finding it is the problem with so many looking to prefer better ground. For reasons noted last year, I hope that Ch’tibello is one that can do that but he did run flat last time and was still feeling the effects of an attritional performance at Haydock. It could be that his Wincanton conqueror, Elgin is the one to grab a place. He is proven on bad ground at Cheltenham already this season (when he stuck to the far rail like glue!)
Apples Jade (also around 4/7) looks the other short-priced one that can’t be opposed in the Mares Hurdle at 4.10. She also comes here to defend her crown and looks a better horse than last year. Her opposition looks weaker still to me and so would be the more attractive option to me of the two hotpots at that kind of price. Benie Des Dieux is a more unexposed than the rest and the only who I could see representing any kind of threat
On the rest of the card I find the Close Brothers Handicap at 530 practically impossible to solve at this stage.
In the earlier Ultima Handicap at 250 I think it would take a monster effort from top weight Gold Present to win in these conditions. Last years second, Singlefarmpayment, I also have to rule out on the likely ground. My short list for this race are three novices – Coo Star Sivola, Vintage Clouds and Ramses de Teillee.
Coo Star Sivola and Ramses de Teillee would both struggle on previous stats as 6yos but as they are French breds I’d be willing to ignore that as they do tend to mature earlier. Coo Star Sivola has good previous Festival form and looked improved for stepping up in trip last time. He was 8/1 a few days ago but there isn’t much juice in the 5/1 now (I’d like a bit more in the price to counteract the one negative in my mind which is the jockey). Ramses de Teillee comes from a stable that has to be respected in this race and will like the going. My concern here is that all his best form appears to be at Chepstow and that can be a track for specialists.
Vintage Clouds is a second season novice and was running well in this last year until falling. I think this year’s ground will be far more to his liking. Unfortunately he has been found in the market too and the 14/1 that was freely available on Sunday is long gone!
With the prices all a little below what I would want on all three it’s another no bet race for now
The final race to consider is the 4 mile National Hunt Chase at 4.50. Over this trip and on this ground this is going to be a severe test of stamina. I’m not convinced that favourite Jury Duty has the fortitude for it on this going. There were two that stood out to me as likely to appreciate both going and trip.
Firstly, the mare MS Parfois will relish the ground and has won at the course. She would have been a bet until I noticed some fairly horrendous form from her stable in recent weeks. This is a little offputting.
Therefore I am drawn to her Warwick victim, Duel At Dawn, who looks another who could be ideally suited to such a test. He ran well at this course when beaten by reopposing Sizing Tennessee but is 5lb better off with that one today and also looks a stronger stayer than his conqueror there
I wouldn’t have been nominating this one on normal ground but he could well come into his own in this likely slog and is an each way recommendation with some firms offering 4 places
1pt ew Duel At Dawn (use firms offering 1/5 odds 1234 – paddy power have best price of 16/1 at time of writing)
Good luck to all once more and thanks for reading
Summary of selections
2.50 Coo Star Sivola/Ramses de Teillee/Vintage Clouds
3.30 Buveur D’Air
4.10 Apples Jade
4.50 Duel At Dawn (recommended bet ew with 4 places)