Welcome back all to my blog for another stab at this year’s Cheltenham Festival!
National Hunt Racing has been through a turbulent time of late but hopefully this year’s meeting will help to mend a slightly tarnished reputation
Covid will again be having an impact this year. In particular field sizes are going to be noticeable diminished in some races. With owners not able to attend the meeting there is going be a lack of ‘social’ runners whereby being able to attend your horse in the paddock was an attraction to run for many in the past. This is likely to be reflected in a number of very short priced favourites…and many may well win. It’s not really my style to put up very short prices but will still endeavour to pick out some value where it exists
I’ve covered some notable statistics to pinpoint winners in past years 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. There can be some very generous offers to take advantage of..but with field sizes reduced these may be harder to find this year
The state of the ground is again going to be vital in making selections. For most of this century, Good to Soft or Good ground was fairly standard to start the week. In the last 2/3 years it has been wetter and we have started on Soft. The lead up this year hasn’t been quite as wet and we were starting to look like some watering of the course was necessary to obtain a safe Good to Soft start on Day 1. However, with 10mm of rain falling on Sunday night that may not now happen. Ground conditions will be updated throughout the week here: https://www.thejockeyclub.co.uk/cheltenham/owners-and-trainers/the-going/
As I write it is Soft (Good to Soft in places). With some drying conditions to come I am working on Good to Soft as the likely starting point (with maybe Good ground being possible in places if no further rain and no watering)
Onto the action for Day 1:
1.20 Skybet Supreme Novice Hurdle
An early taste of things to come with field size. 8 runners are declared – the smallest field I’ve seen in 40 years+ of watching Festival openers
APPRECIATE IT is a justified Irish trained favourite having won all of his starts this year. He holds both BALLYADAM and BLUE LORD on that form. Of the principals, he is the only horse to have proven himself on the course having finished second in last year’s Bumper. He was beaten for a turn of foot that day and if this were a slowly run race that could be an Achilles heel again. However he won’t need to make his own pace here with guaranteed trailblazer FOR PLEASURE in the field. The presence of this outsider is a big help to him I feel. All of Appreciate It’s form is on soft ground so Good to Soft or better could count against him…but we can say that for others as well. Some feel that BALLYADAM’s chances could be improved by better ground. Without any actual evidence in the form book to prove that though, I would be able to back him ( a recent stable move from Elliott stable also a potential negative)
METIER’s form is also all on Soft/Heavy ground. As impressive as he has been on that going he is also passed over as I’m still unconvinced by the level he has actually been beating.
The danger for me – and each way pick (whilst there are 8 runners and 3 places are paid – it would revert to 2 if we went down to 7) is SOARING GLORY. On the face of it his Betfair Hurdle win off a mark of 133 would still give him something to prove on ratings. That was an exceptionally well run race though (For Pleasure there again to force the pace) and he was impressive in beating some far more experienced types. There are similarities with the same stable Get Me Out of Here who won the same race off 135 before finishing a very close second in this race (in an arguably stronger renewal as well). With better ground looking to be a plus for him he rates the potential value here
Previously mentioned FOR PLEASURE remains a key horse in this race. He was given too much rope in the lead when winning here earlier in the season. If you wanted a wild outsider, you would be hoping the rest forget about him again. I can’t see that happening here but his presence should ensure a well run race
APPRECIATE IT rates as much the likeliest winner but at odds marginally above Evens, I’d rather be taking a chance on SOARING GLORY each way at around 8/1 (as long as there are 8 runners and 3 places paid)
1.55 Arkle Trophy
Only 6 runners here and the shine was taken off this a bit when potential second fav Energumene was ruled out last week. He and ALLMANKIND would have been vyijng for the lead. That scenario could have been perfect for favourite SHISHKIN to then come and pick them off
Shishkin was about Evens before that withdrawal but is now half that price at 1/2. He will be hard to beat but with ALLMANKIND now having much less competition up front it does add a tactical issue that Shishkin’s rider Nico de Boinville probably could have done without.
It’s quite likely the other runners will be ridden from behind to try and benefit from errors. CAPTAIN GUINNESS would be my pick to come out best of these though I think second place is the best he could get here
SHISHKIN should win but I cant back him at prohibitive odds. Expect ALLMANKIND to be testing them all from some way out and if he can get away from thm and lead others into mistakes a shock is possible. This race is on the Old Course which will help him to last home better up the hill
2.30 Ultima Handicap Chase
As mentioned in previous years, I tend to gravitate towards the lower weights in this race.
The counts against the admirable Scottish trained challenger AYE RIGHT who carries 11st 8lbs. I still think he can go close as he done in two similarly strong handicap races this season. Those efforts have seen his mark creep up 4lbs but the booking of Richard Johnson is a plus.
Weight also says me against MILAN NATIVE a winner at the Festival last year off an 8lb lower mark. Additionally, Irish trained runners have a terrible record in this race
HAPPYGOLUCKY starts favourite and is progressive but I’m not sure if his overall form and a mark of 147 entitles him to be quite as short as he is. I think the memories of Imperial Aura’s win at the Festival last year when being above his mark may be shortening this one’s odds to some degree
I’ve put up VINTAGE CLOUDS in this race before and he has performed well in it but he appears to be on a downward curve now
Of the lower weights this year it is ONE FOR THE TEAM who stands out this year. Nick Williams has won this race with a novice chaser before in Coo Star Sivola and the booking of Tom Scudamore is a plus.
The negative is that this horse hasn’t run on the course before but much his best form last season came when the ground improved in Spring (his family all were better on better ground). I’m happy to ignore his last run at Doncaster when the ground was far too soft for him. Earlier form makes his mark of 140 potentially very workable here
ONE FOR THE TEAM is top of my shortlist here but AYE RIGHT should be hard to keep out of frame. Extra places are quite likely to be offered in this race for each way value hunters
3.05 Champion Hurdle
Thankfully small fields haven’t affected the big race of the day where we have a cracking renewal.
I can make a case for 5 or 6 in this field which in itself makes me think it’s not one to go into with a gung-ho attitude to betting
HONEYSUCKLE is a justified favourite. She is unbeaten and was never better than in her last 10 length defeat of ABACADABRAS ( should expect improvement to come from this one ) and SHARJAH.
Stamina is her strong suit and she’ll be one of several pace angles here. GOSHEN, ASPIRE TOWER, SILVER STREAK and NOT SO SLEEPY have also all shown best form from racing at the front.
A strong pace seems guaranteed and this scenario might often suit hold up types (EPATANTE, ABACADABRAS and SHARJAH). That happens when the front runners can’t keep up the gallop and are picked off but such is the strength of those prominent racers that I think they could get away too much
GOSHEN certainly didn’t falter after a duel with Allmankind up front in last year’s Triumph Hurdle before a really unlucky last hurdle mishap robbed him of victory. His season started poorly but he seemed to be back to his best last time. I just have a long held view that 5yos are at a disadvantage in this race that sways me against him
Of the holdup types, I prefer ABACADABRAS but would have preferred to see sidelined Davy Russell on board. Last year’s winner EPATANTE had excuses with a back issue last time when beaten by SILVER STREAK and I have too many doubts about her in my head after that performance
It is the victor in that race, the likeable grey SILVER STREAK who appeals as best value to me at current odds of around 14/1. I did put him up for this race last year but the soft ground turned all against him. However, all of his performances this season point to an individual who has improved by some degree. It might be strange to say that for an 8 year old but it’s not that long since another grey Rooster Booster improved drastically at the age of 9 to demolish his rivals in this race
I’m not expecting that kind of performance here but as Evan Williams charge is versatile and doesn’t have to lead, I think he can sit just behind the pace here and the race will be run to suit him. Again this selection is reliant on the forecast being right and the ground is Good to Soft or better
Finally, its really hard to ignore the value being given on this race by William Hill who offer 1/5th odds for 5 places each way. Standard would be 3 places for 10 runners. It’s impossible not to get value whatever you back on these terms (even getting 4 places makes a massive difference to each way bets). To have no margin for themselves they would need to have 500% on the place odds from their book. At cuurent odds I make them 353%. They are massively underround here and the advantage is all on the puter side
SILVER STREAK 12/1 EW (with Wiilliam Hill offering 1/5 odds 12345)
3.40 The Mares Hurdle
Plenty of past Festival form to work here
ROKSANA won this race two years ago and was 4th last year in a much stronger renewal
CONCERTISTA won the Mares Novice Hurdle very impressively here last season from DOLCITA (run over half a mile shorter trip). She had been second in same race the year before with BLACK TEARS and INDEFATIGABLE just behind in 4th and 5th
DAME DE COMPAGNIE beat BLACK TEARS in last years Coral Cup but is 4lb worse off, while INDEFATIGABLE won the Martin Pipe Hurdle
In short we have many runners here with proven course form.
Much will depend on how this race is run. CONCERTISTA seems more about speed and arguable better at a shorter trip ( I did see her outstayed by Black Tears at Leopardstown last year but has undoubtedly improved since).
ROKSANA now may prefer 3 miles so she will need a strong pace for her stamina to come to the fore.
I’m not sure if there is a strong front runner in this field so am swayed towards the chances of CONCERTISTA because of that but think she is too short a price at a current max of 11/8
Not really a betting race for me. I have backed BLACK TEARS each way but at bigger prices than that available now as think she has the same chance as Dame de Compagnie. I can see BetVictor offer 4 places here so that would be the pace to head for each way bettors at the moment
4.15 Boodles Juvenile Hcap
Always a tricky race. Having the best Flat rating used to help but being French bred then took over as the main stat
SAINT SAM appeared to show improved form last time when having his own way up front (BUSSELTON 4lb better off for 4 length beating when ridden a bit quieter than his previous run ). He won’t get that here with the free rolling/slick jumping CABOT CLIFFS in the field. The two could well conspire to each others downfall
SAGE ADVICE appeals as the type who could improve now he is back on better ground and is well in with Cabot Cliffs on earlier Warwick form. His jumping looked to need some improvement there and that would worry me in a well run race here. watch out for any market move on him from his shrewd stable
HOUX GRIS has been well touted for this race but if you fancy him you also have to fancy HOMME PUBLIC at bigger odds as they are so closely linked on French form. It is just who trains them that dictates the price disparity here…but the Greenall stable in being underrated with the odds
HOMME PUBLIC would have been a recommendation and was chalked up at 33/1 by some firms yesterday. Unfortunately that didn’t last and at current odds of 14/1 the value has dried up. BUSSELTON may be able to reverse Leopardstown placings with SAINT SAM with the way this race is run. Only small interests for me in this race but with some firms offering 6 places there is some extra value to be had on the each way options
4.50 National Hunt Chase
With no Amateur riders this year this is the first race of 3 this week that will have a completely different complexion and we may be able to ignore stats to some degree.
GALVIN has been touted for some time as a long term plot – but that was when he was trained by Gordon Elliott and was going to have Davy Russell on board. His stamina has to be taken on trust but the change in his stable alone could see him drift in the market. I won’t be a backer
NEXT DESTINATION arguably has the best form and is now rightly becoming favourite for the race. He has been difficult to train in recent years and I’m not sure any drying of the ground will be in his favour
REMASTERED won a substandard Reynoldstown Chase this year but impressed with both his jumping and stamina there. Again he may be best sited by softer ground though
ESCARIA TEN is also largely having soft ground form but appeals as the type who could improve plenty for this extended trip
I don’t understand why LORD ROYAL is a single figure price at all in this race on what he has done this season
No strong view here but I’m marginally preferring ESCARIA TEN. His owners sponsor the Ultima Chase earlier in day and they could have gone there. It’s notable that they have gone for the race that they think suits him
The blog will return on Tuesday evening to look further at Wednesday’s card
In the meantime, thanks for reading and good luck with whatever you end up backing