It was starting to look unlikely to go ahead a week ago but thankfully the Cheltenham Festival looks likely to start as planned this week. The blog has therefore returned for another stab at pinpointing some value priced selections
Fingers crossed the meeting is able to continue without disruption throughout its four days!
As before I’ve included some stats for previous years in past posts. For a thorough look at these I can once more strongly recommend www.gaultstats.com for a far more comprehensive job. There is a lot to digest here but careful study can reap rewards – but do remember to contribute to it if you do
Again this year’s blogs will be kept quite concise due to time limitations. Comparison of odds and place terms can always be found at www.oddschecker.com. Extra places being offered by some firms will be seen here…and there can be some very generous offers to take advantage of!
It again looks as if the Festival will be starting on soft ground…something that would be very rare until recent years. This should be borne in mind when focusing on statistics from past festivals – many of which could be based on better ground. Weight in particular could be a much bigger factor as its harder to carry higher weights in handicaps when conditions are deep
Below I’ll cover my thoughts after seeing the entries for the opening day..plus a few others for later in the week that I’ve already had an interest in
Onto the action for Day 1:
1.30 Skybet Supreme Novice Hurdle
A very open looking event to start off the Festival.
Abacadabras was early ante post favourite but from an early stage I thought he might be vulnerable here. You cant knock his form and its easy to see him looking to travel better than anything on the home turn.
The downside is he looks all about speed and didn’t get up the hill as well as others in last years bumper after travelling similarly well.
I still think he’ll be in the shake up but have a feeling something could outstay him close home.
Shishkin has supplanted him as favourite after some highly impressive wins. He hasn’t done quite enough to tempt me yet at some low odds.
In the same colours, Asterion Forlonges is the chief hope of the Willie Mullins stable. His recent Leopardstown win was all the more impressive to me as he still looked far from the finished article in the paddock before hand. There is still some strengthening up to be done there and whatever he does on Tuesday, I think he’ll be better again next season. More of a concern from that run would be a tendency to jump to the right – that isn’t what you would want here
Chantry House has done little wrong this season but yet to face this grade. Fiddlerontheroof in comparison has won at this level and is on an upward curve – enough to suggest he can reverse earlier season form with Edwardstone.
At bigger odds, Elixir D’Ainay is also interesting now that he is being dropped back in trip. This looks like a move that could suit after he patently failed to stay last time.
It’s hard to discount the majority of this field and that makes it largely a race to watch
With Hills offering 7 places on the race I would have to be most tempted by Abacadabras with that offer.
Add ABRACADABRAS to any each multiples with firms offering as many places as possible
2.10 Arkle Trophy
Last years Arkle wasn’t the best of affairs and quickly fell apart to leave a fairly uncompetitive affair
This year we should have a far more exciting contest with Ireland most likely to have the winner.
Notebook has beaten both Fakir D’Oudairies and Cash Back this season and on a pure form basis should do so again
He’s a lovely looking type but his only previous piece of form at Cheltenham isn’t inspiring – and he did get quite worked up before his last win. Both have to be negatives
There is a lot of pace and some very accurate young jumpers in this race.
As well as Notebook, Global Citizen, Cash Back, Esprit du Large, Fakir d’Oudairies, Rouge Vif, Maire Banrigh and Put the Kettle On have all won races from the front this season
There is every chance that they could all cut each others throats and let something creep in from behind. Brewin’upastorm would seem the obvious one to do that but it’s Fakir d’Oudairies that gets my vote.
He’s jumped like a natural throughout the season but he also looks like he doesn’t have to lead.
I can see him sitting behind the pace and unlike many others in this race has all important good previous course form in his favour
2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase
This race has often had a tendency to suit lower weights and I think it would be a massive effort for top weight Vinndication to justify favouritism in this. He is further handicapped by having shown a preference for right handed tracks in the past.
Top of my list is The Conditional who has crept in on a nice 10st 6lb weight. He has a course win and came close to winning a bigger race than this when second in the Ladbroke Trophy in November.
On his only start since he still looked a likely winner until stamina failing kicked in late (a bad mistake also served to knock some stuffing out of him at a critical point)
That result has helped to bring his mark down a little and he ticks all of the boxes I look for in this race.
I also like Who Dares Wins who jumps well for a novice and never seems to run a bad race. Expect to see him late on the scene. Trainer Alan King has won this race with a novice before (Fork Lightning) and might have had a second with Bensalem until a late fall
Kildisart also carries some money for me after a quite eyecatching performance last time at Kempton. This suggested a return to some very decent form was around the corner. 25/1 was available after that run but current quotes of around 10/1 seem more accurate. I cant really recommend him so much at those odds
Back THE CONDITIONAL and WHO DARES WINS each way – preferably with firms offering extra places
3.30 Champion Hurdle
The main event of the day has a large field than normal, mainly because it’s a wide open (and dare I say it has a ‘sub standard’ look to it)
Epatante comes in with best piece of form but I still cant quite forget a very bad run here last year (even if there was a supposed excuse behind it)
Nicky Henderson also has 2nd fav Pentland Hills who has looked to need to be produced at exactly the right moment so far this season,
I’m far more taken by the claims of two big prices here – especially with some firms now offering 4 places
Cornerstone Lad had the look of an improving type and benefitted from an inspired ride to beat former champ Buveur D’Air in Newcastle’s Fighting Fifth Hurdle in November. His rivals definitely underestimated him that day and spent too much time watching each other.
However in his next run he proved it wasn’t all fluke when just behind re opposing Ballyandy and Pentland Hills at Haydock. He gave both rivals weight that day and on level terms has every chance to turn that form around.
He might have given the impression in both of those races that he needs to lead but I don’t think he is that one dimensional. There are others in this race like Not So Sleepy and Petit Mouchoir who can take that role this time and I think Cornerstone Lad might actually be better coming off a strong pace.
He doesn’t have any course form but wins at undulating Catterick give me enough hope that he wont mind Cheltenham.
The most important thing is his favour would be soft ground. He has a very marked knee action which will always see him to best effect when conditions are deep
Silver Streak is the other for me with around 25/1 available. Placed in this race last year he looks a better horse again this year and has been trained more specifically for it. His second to Epatante over Christmas (Ballyandy behind) was a fine trial for me.
In contrast to my other selection, Silver Streak wants better ground. He was well beaten behind Cornerstone Lad when the ground was too soft. If it’s just genuine soft he still can operate…but on ‘good to soft’ I think the scales tip more in his favour
CORNERSTONE LAD each way on Soft or Heavy ground
SILVER STREAK each way on soft or good to soft
look for firms offering 1/5 odds 1st 4 places in both cases
Both horses are overpriced in my eyes due to coming from less fashionable stables
4.10 The Mares Hurdle
Two top mares in Benie Des Dieux and Honeysuckle are due to battle this one out. With no previous course form for Honeysuckle I have a clear preference for 2018 winner Benie Des Dieux.
However she isn’t going to make anyone rich at current quotes of 4/6
There is another likely duel in the race – with two others being strong contender to get in the frame
Roksana and Stormy Ireland benefitted from Benie Des Dieux’s last fence tumble to finish 1st and 2nd in this race last year.
Stormy Ireland has had a successful season in Ireland so far but there isn’t anything in her form for me to suggest she can turn the tables on Roksana.
ROKSANA might be needing some good fortune again to win but she’s the obvious one to fill 3rd place to me and so that makes her worthy of inclusion in any ew multiples at odds of around 9/1
4.50 Novices Hcap
A Plus Tard was a graded performer masquerading in a handicap last year when dotting up in this.
The one horse who immediately strikes me as being better than a handicapper this year is Hold The Note. He just got outstayed over 3 miles last time after looking to travel all over Two For Gold last time when turning into the straight
He’s a big horse who is built to carry weight so I’m not too worried about him sharing joint top weight.
Connections have won this race before with Mister Whitaker but this one looks to have more class than that horse and still could be improving
Imperial Aura looks an obvious danger but is already plenty short enough at around 5/1. He should run his race again and will be hard to keep out of the frame
HOLD THE NOTE each way
530 National Hunt Chase
A slightly controversial race last year with Amateur riders pushing a few horses a bit too hard over 4 miles
The race has been trimmed by 2 furlongs as a result but in soft conditions having a top amateur on board who can judge the pace is a big advantage
Carefully Selected fits the bill with Patrick Mullins on board but on his last run you’d be forgiven for thinking he was only 50-50 to get round with his jumping
Forza Milan and Ravenhill are obvious dangers with top amateurs on board – but this seems to have been factored enough into their respective prices already
Consequently the recommendation here is NO BET
Looking ahead further into the week here are a few others already backed that interest me
RYANAIR CHASE, Thursday
ASO was narrowly beaten by Frodon here last year ( and was also placed the year before). He’s done nothing to suggest he is any worse this year. His form over this course and over left hand tracks is markedly superior to right hand tracks. Therefore, I’m not too bothered that his last two runs don’t appear to be good enough – he came into this race last year on back of a similar effort. His Wetherby effort confirmed to me that all the ability was still there until failing to stay.
With up to 25/1 still available I think this is a cracking each way bet (especially given his form proximity to Frodon last year who is at 5/1). Only 13 remain in the race at this stage and with likelihood of a few more coming out it may be prudent to jump in now. If less than 8 are left after the 48 hour declarations on Tuesday the each way angle will no longer be possible
Back ASO each way at 20/1+ while 1/5 odds 123 are still guaranteed
GRAND ANNUAL CHASE, Friday
LISP has already shown some cat-like jumping prowess in his novice season that suggests he is going to be a better chaser than hurdler
He has managed to retain the same mark over chases so far despite not getting the conditions that suited him best over hurdles – coming off a strong pace over 2 miles
He should get this in spades on Friday and granted the usual luck in running is at the top of my list of handicap fancies this week.
Off his 144 mark he should be getting weight from plenty here. Alan King won this with another novice (Oh Crick) in 2009 and its been an obvious target for some time as Lisp goes in pursuit of a £60,000 bonus courtesy of winning a race at Plumpton before this
LISP each way
The blog will return on Tuesday to look further at Wednesday’s card
In the meantime, thanks for reading and good luck with whatever you end up backing