Category Archives: Paul Nicholls

Cheltenham Festival Preview 2016

The blog has had to take a lengthy holiday due to work commitments but is back for the big week of the year – the Cheltenham Festival – where it’s had most success over the past couple of years.
I’ll put up some quick previews for each day the night before – starting on Monday.
Here are my early thoughts on some of the selections I am already with over the 4 day period.
I won’t put up a staking plan on these today – merely selections. In many cases, I think there may be more value to be had on the day when prices and place terms are often more enhanced. Generally speaking if a horse is 4/1 or more and ¼ odds 123 or more are available I will probably be playing each way – less than 4/1 and it’ll be win only (there will always be a few exceptions but I will detail those if we come to them)
The ones listed below are the ones I’d be more inclined to be using for angles in multiple bets (doubles, trebles,etc).over the week ahead. A staking plan will be added to the daily blog to analyse profit/loss over the 4 days.
Do always check the place terms if betting now – ¼ odds a place should be widely available next week on most races. Some bookies have already reduced the riskier each way races to 1/5th odds. This makes mathematical sense but it would be no surprise to see them revert next week to be more competitive and lure in more bets.

Onto the week ahead and the early selections….
Ground will hold sway on some of these. At the moment the course is reported as soft but with drying conditions likely over the next few days I’m largely assuming the ground will be good to soft on Tuesday with prospect of it getting better still as the week progresses.

TUESDAY (48 hour declarations due out later today which may cause market movements)

1.30 Supreme Novices
A lot of ups and downs in the market here recently with doubt concerning the participation of Yorkhill. Right now it looks like he will be running in Wednesday’s Neptune instead.
Willie Mullins/Rich Ricci have won this with favourites Vautour and Douvan for the past two years and Min is a shorter price currently than both of those two. That doesn’t mean he is as good and on what he has achieved he is too short. He is a free going sort who has won his races easily so far this season but beaten nothing of the calibre he meets here. The preliminaries are a concern to connections.
I’m much more taken by second fav Altior, who has also displayed keenness in his racing earlier this season but still found plenty of reserves to win his first couple of races. He has winning form on the course – it wasn’t impressive in beating Maputo but that was a very tactical and slow run race. He was much better of a better pace at Kempton over Christmas. I feel he will thrive here off a strong gallop and with the uphill finish and he should be favourite. He probably wouldn’t want to ground too soft but as long as it dries out as expected I’ll be cheering him on

Stablemate Buveur D’Air hasn’t faced any strong opposition this season. He has closely matched form with Altior in bumpers last season but that’s hard to take at face value now. He appeared then as a strong travelling type who didn’t finish of his races quite as well as others and I wonder whether the hill might find him out here. He may prefer the ground to stay soft also
Supasundae has been well talked up at preview nights as an each way bet. Henry de Bromhead doesn’t waste his runners here but this one has to improve his jumping and didn’t get home up the hill in the Bumper here last season after running freely early on.
At a Dublin preview on Thursday, Gordon Elliott was asked if punters should back his Tombstone each way for this race. He replied ‘no’ which doesn’t augur well for that one’s chances!
Selection : ALTIOR ew at 4/1 or better with ¼ odds 123


2.50 Ultima Hcap
This seems to be the desired race for Warren Greatrex’s Out Sam who has somehow got into the Festival with a mark of 139. The form of his last comfortable win at Newbury makes that mark stand out as being highly lenient and if 8/1 is available still it’s hard not to have some interest.
This race will be completely different – a big field racing against seasoned handicappers rather than novices. However this race often favours both novices and light weights (he should be carrying 10st 2lbs if weights don’t rise)
Southfield Theatre would be of interest at a bigger price given his previous Festival record. He hasn’t shown much this season but needs decent ground to show his best. The vibes from Ditcheat are that he is coming back to form but I’m not sure if the ground will have dried up for him sufficiently by Tuesday.
Selection; OUT SAM ew at 8/1


A wide open race since the defection of Faugheen and Arctic Fire.
Annie Power is too short a price for me considering her original aim was the Mares Hurdle and she has come in as a late replacement for Faugheen’s owner Rich Ricci.
She looked a possible runner two years ago but was diverted to the World Hurdle instead. When it looked likely she would run in the Champion she was no shorter than The New One and My Tent or Yours. There’s no evidence she has progressed since so the disparity in odds against those two is a little strange to me.
My Tent or Yours probably has the most talent but hasn’t run for a long time and that’s a major concern for a horse who has had a problem settling. Twice he has finished second at the Festival after his early exertions have left him vulnerable to a stronger stayer up the hill.
The New One appeals most at current prices. He wasn’t suited by a tactical pace last year and had an interrupted preparation. The year before he was an unlucky loser after being badly hampered early in the race. He is effective on the course though – the way he accelerated up the hill to win the Neptune in 2013 shouldn’t be forgotten. Jumping has always been a bit of an issue with this horse but he can really come up this hill well and this is the easiest opportunity to win a Champion Hurdle he will ever get. (Nice pointer for the form of the stable with Flying Angel winning the Imperial Cup yesterday)
Nichols Canyon probably has the best form this year and he could get an easy lead up front (Camping Ground the only other possible front runner by my reckoning). I’m not convinced he acted on the course here last year though and wonder if he needs a flatter track as his form at Aintree afterwards looked much better.
At bigger odds, I much prefer Old Guard who has improved a lot this year and has plenty of winning course form. The better the ground is the more I give him a chance. I wouldn’t take his Kempton form literally – wrong track and ground too soft. He holds Sempre Medici and Hargam on earlier Cheltenham form. An issue developed here at the Sandown Park preview last night when trainer Paul Nicholls said his latest piece of work had been ‘dire’. I was going to add him as a second selection but best to wait for further news emanating on his well-being for now
Sempre Medici has been put up as an each way bet by several judges at preview meetings. It seems he may be ridden quietly out the back and aiming for a place more than a win. Similar types have been placed before so it wouldn’t be the biggest shock for him to hit the frame
THE NEW ONE ew at 6/1 or better


***Sunday evening update – Old Guard withdrawn from race due to muscle problem***


4.10 Mares Hurdle
Team Mullins has had a stranglehold on this race for several years.
Vroum Vroum Mag is their short priced favourite this time. She’s won a lot of mares races very easily but for me has yet to do anything to suggest that she is a 160 type of horse as her price suggests – her actual rating is 154 and not that far ahead of anything else in the race ( no course form for her either)
I much prefer another Henderson second fav, Polly Peachum, who looks a really solid each way at around 6/1
The more the ground dries out the better for her and she was narrowly beaten in this race last year when rated 155 (now dropped to 149). The ground was far too soft for her when she still managed to beat The Govaness at Sandown (latter an obvious non stayer behind Vroum Vroum Mag at Ascot so wouldn’t be taking that as a collateral form line). She is capable of a higher level than that and is proven over the course
There wouldn’t be much to choose between Polly Peachum and Bitofapuzzle on last year’s form but the latter (if she runs) comes here from a couple of disappointing chasing efforts and apparently has had breathing problems.
The selection goes off to the paddocks after this race so am very hopeful she can end her jumping career on a high.
Selection: POLLY PEACHUM ew at 6/1 with ¼ odds 123


1.30 Neptune Novices Hurdle
I haven’t seen a better novice hurdler than Yanworth this season. He’s not a great price now but will be shocked if he is beaten such has been his superiority against decent opposition in his last two victories. Earlier in the season his jumping technique was in need of polishing up but the work on that seems to have paid off and I can’t find any negatives. One of the weeks bankers
Selection; YANWORTH win


4.50 Fred Winter Hurdle
There seem to be a lot of potential plots here in this competitive handicap for 4yo hurdlers. The handicapper might have scuppered the chances of Campeador who was an early talking horse.
I attended a preview in Dublin on Thursday where there were subtle hints that Missy Tata was well fancied before Gordon Elliott put her up as his charity bet.
The one I most want to be with though is Paul Nicholls’ Diego du Charmil who there has been a strong whisper for over the last couple of weeks and is now fav.
This race used to have a strong stat favouring highly rated flat horses but things have changed a little in the last couple of years with Nicholls having success with unexposed French breds like this one.
He has supposedly been doing very well on the gallops with much higher rated types and has been saved for this. He could be very well in here – it’s hard to judge him on his French form but his second in this race linked below looks to show a horse that had plenty more to offer….

There are a couple of others at much bigger odds I also have my eye on but will wait until the day for those.
For now the selection is DIEGO DU CHARMIL ew 7/1 or better



Not looking the strongest of the four days for me and will largely leave this until the night before
THISTLECRACK has very little negatives in the World Hurdle at 3.30 except a very small concern if the ground has become good by that time. He should be odds on and would be if he were trained by someone like Mullins.
In the new Mares Novice Hurdle at 4.50, SMART TALK appears a solid ew proposition. She’s improving with every race and would have won with a lot more in hand last time but for a blunder in the home straight.
She could be up against a very classy recruit in short priced favourite Limini but that one does have some questions to answer with her jumping. Her flat race class could carry her through but I’d be surprised if Smart Talk was out of the frame so an each way bet appears far better value

***Sunday evening update. 3rd fav Myska withdrawn from Mares Novice Hurdle. 6/1 really shouldn’t be lasting on Smart Talk now if 1/4 odds 123 are available, An each way bet becomes even better value if you can get those odds and place terms***


1.30 Triumph Hurdle
I believe the strongest trial for this may have been run over this course in January event though it probably didn’t throw up the right result at the time.
Who Dares Wins and Clan Des Obeaux finished 4th and 2nd respectively (behind Protek Des Flos) but these two started racing each other a very long way out on some very sticky ground. They paid for those efforts up the hill but in so doing kept themselves at attractive odds.
If the ground were soft on Friday I’d be inclined to be with Clan Des Obeaux who has the look of a future high class chaser.
However, with conditions likely to be quicker, I have to be with Alan King’s Who Dares Wins. He was too keen early on in that Cheltenham race and had to make the running. He still came out as marginally the best horse in the race as was giving away weight all round. On better ground and with a faster pace to come off, this decent ex-Flat racer should be a much better proposition.


It seems possible that Richard Johnson will ride given comments at Sandown last night. Alan King knows how to win this race and I think he will be the stable’s number one here on better ground over Sceau Royal.
Zubayr has to be feared after his win at Kempton recently – the same route taken by recent winners Zarkandar and Soldatino. He appeals more than Ivanovich Gorbatov who didn’t jump well enough last time at Leopardstown and is an awful price on that form
Selection; WHO DARES WINS ew 12/1 or better

3.30 Gold Cup
The highlight of the Festival and I think Kempton’s King George result is by far the strongest piece of form to go on here.
It’s debatable whether Don Cossack would have won that day if he had stayed up at the second last but I do question his effectiveness over this course given his previous record here (3rd and fell)
That leaves Vautour and Cue Card. Vautour was outstayed that day but is expected to be fitter this time. I wouldn’t be surprised to see him win but reports of a lack lustre gallop recently aren’t encouraging. The stamina question over further and with an uphill finish to contend with remain. On the plus side it’s hard to forget how he came right at the Festival last year with a spectacular win in the JLT.
I’m firmly in the Cue Card camp for this race to pick up a fairytale win and secure a £1 million bonus fund in the process.
Given his breeding (dam Wicked Crack as a very good stayer) it was always a surprise to see him display so much speed when he burst onto the Festival scene winning the Bumper in 2010.
He was one of the stars to develop from a stellar year of novice hurdlers in 2011 and got another Festival success in the 2013 Ryanair. He is a proven Festival performer.

Cue Card lost his way last year but after a breathing operation has come back a completely revitalised horse. He no longer runs freely out at front and can be settled comfortably off the pace – he now looks the stayer his breeding promised him to be. In Paddy Brennan he has found a new partner and they look to be a match made in heaven. His Kempton win proved he was back at the top of his game but I believe he can be better than that. His jumping there wasn’t as good as it can be and all of his best form has been on left handed courses like Cheltenham
I’m taking him to beat off a strong Irish challenger.
Don Poli is some way behind these on form but is a bit deceiving as he is the sort who keeps on winning by doing just enough. That is an admirable trait but I think he may lack some pace against others here on what is likely to be decent ground on Friday. In much softer conditions, he would be one to fear more

Selection; CUE CARD ew 5/1 or better


The blog will be back during the week with updates and quick race-by-race synopsis
Thanks for reading and good luck to all over the week ahead with whatever you back


(comments always appreciated)


Some useful links

To compare odds with all firms I use (though check individual websites as changes don’t always come instantaneously)

For further write ups on many of the Cheltenham preview nights that have occurred over the past couple of weeks:

A really interesting read (as always)from Timeform’s Simon Rowlands on sectional times for many of next week’s leading contenders


Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

%d bloggers like this: