Cheltenham Festival Sample Preview

Cheltenham Festival Sample Preview2020-01-17T12:57:53+00:00

Below is the previews and tips send to subscribers on the Tuesday of the 2019 festival.

Below is today’s previews and tips. The recommended bets are all with bookmakers with the horse highlighted in bold, and are the only bets that will be included in the official results, but I will add some extra advise as well, which may be in the form of a bet on the exchanges, and I will also list horses that were close to being a bet, and the minimum price I would have backed them at, as well as the stake if they had been that price. My criteria for a bet is fairly strict, but if you’d prefer more bets then by all means back the extra advice if they are close enough to the min price. So for an example –  Singlefarmpayment (min price 9/1, 2 Points each way) means the minimum price I wanted to back Singlefarmpayment was 9/1, and he would have been a 2 points each way bet if he was that price before I send the email. This is useful if they drift to that price after the email is sent. I also include a min price for the official bets in case you didn’t get on at the advised price.

Best of luck
Declan

1:30 Cheltenham – Supreme Novices Hurdle

Al Dancer won the Betfair Hurdle off 141, he was a bit free, off what was only a fair gallop, and left the impression a faster pace would see him in a better light, and he had more in hand than margin too. He was followed home by a horse rated just 125 though, and the third was beaten in a seller on his previous start, so this is a big step up in class. Two recent winners of the Betfair have tried to win the Supreme after. Ballyandy won the Betfair hurdle off 135 in 2017, before finishing a twelve lengths fourth in the Supreme next time. Kalashnikov won the Betfair off 141 last year, and then came second in the Supreme, but it was a poor Supreme. It’s likely Al Dancer’s progression is the reason for his two most recent efforts being his best yet, but they were also on decent ground, so while he seemed to act fine on soft ground before, it would still be a slight concern.

Angels Breath was strongest at the finish when winning at Ascot, and again when beaten by Southfield Stone last time at Kempton, when he was a bit outpaced before staying on after the last. He was given the second five pounds though, and that one has improved since being beaten by Elixir De Nutz, so the form is maybe only ten pounds or so shy of an average winner. His win first time was on soft ground, were as it was fast at Kempton. which made it more of a speed test. The softer ground and uphill finish are sure to suit him, and with only two runs under rules so far he clearly has plenty of potential to improve too, and with this years race looking below average so he may not even need to find that ten pounds to win.

Only five fours year olds have run in the Supreme in last eleven years, and only two started at under 20/1, Binocular was second in 2008 and Torphichen was only ninth in 2009, so while there’s not much to go on there, I do think the eight pound allowance Fakir D’Oudairies receives is on the generous side. He improved massively from his first start for Joseph when jumping well and running away with the Triumph Hurdle trial at the end of January at Cheltenham. The time-figure was good and it looks solid enough form, he could easily have more to come too. He seems to have a fairly rounded action, so the softer ground is likely a plus for him as well.

Klassical Dream had four hurdle starts in France without winning before making a winning debut for Willie Mullins at Leopardstown over Christmas, and he improved on that when battling back to win the two mile grade one at the same track in early February. That form would still be around a stone shy of an average Supreme winner, and although this is probably a substandard edition, I still can’t have him as joint favourite. He’s had six hurdle runs now, and was all out last time, his form is no better than a few others, who surely have more scope to do better.

Aramon was only a head behind Klassical Dream at Leopardstown, but that was his third hurdle defeat in his novice season, and while he has a decent level of form, it’s hard to see him making the required jump to seriously contend for this.

A few awkward jumps in the straight didn’t help, but Mister Fisher didn’t have much more than the two and a half length margin in hand when winning at Haydock, and that form looks a good way shy of what will be required. He is however lightly raced, so it’s likely he will do better.

Grand Sancy was just over three lengths ahead of Southfield Stone, the horse who beat Angels Breath last time, when beaten half a length in the Tolworth, and probably improved on that form when winning an open grade two last time. He likely has nearly another stone to find to win an average Supreme, and with eleven hurdles runs already it’s hard to see him finding enough to win, although a place is definitely achievable.

At a big price Itchy Feet is interesting, he beat Grand Sacy at Kempton, and although he got a soft lead that day, he was going away again at the line, suggesting a faster pace would have suited him better. Last time he was second to Elixir De Nutz in the grade two at Cheltenham. He was given the winner five pounds, and that one has gone on to win a grade one, while the third horse home Seddon has put up two solid efforts since too, while the fourth won his next two starts. The form looks pretty decent and while he’ll need to improve again to win, he shapes like he has more to come, and a fast run race should suit him. The ground is a worry though as he’s never run on softer than good.

 

Recommended Bets 

3 Points Win Angels Breath at 11/2 with Betvictor, Skybet +more (min price 11/2)

1 Point Each Way Itchy Feet at 33/1 with Bet 365, Paddy Power +more (min price 28/1)

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2:10 Cheltenham – Arkle Chase

Glen Forsa is three for three over fences and jumps really well, but was pretty much all out when winning a handicap chase off 125 on his penultimate start, and his nineteen length victory over Kalashnikov in grade two at Sandown last time is hardly solid form, despite a decent time-figure. Even a very positive view of the form would make odds of just 9/2 look short.

Lalor was impressive on his chasing debut at Cheltenham in a steadily run race, but made mistakes off a faster gallop at Sandown next time. Connections blamed the ground at Sandown but that’s nonsense as he ran his best hurdles race by miles on similar ground at Aintree last year. That was a well run race so it’s not as if he’s all speed, and he also had no trouble jumping at speed at the end of the Cheltenham race, so maybe he just had an off day at Sandown. Ante Post quotes of just 3/1 looked much too short for him, the 6/1 he is now looks about right, and is probably a little big even, as it looks a poor Arkle. The drift is likely due to the soft ground which I don’t see as a negative.

Duc Des Genievres shaped like he wanted further than two miles last season over hurdles, but didn’t quite seem to stay two miles and five on soft in the Ballymore. He improved for the step up to two and a half mile over fences last time at Gowran though, jumping well and making all at a good gallop. The worry would be he improved for making the running over two and a half, and now drops to two miles, when making the running again will likely mean he’s going too quick, as this is likely to be well run. On the plus side he had plenty of solid hurdles form when held up a bit, and if he is dropped in, and lets the others make it a real test, it could suit him down to the ground.

 

Kalashnikov probably wasn’t right last time, but never really traveled when beaten the time before either, and he likely needs very soft ground to be effective over two miles, so just how much rain we get this morning, and how the ground rides is pretty important. If it comes up a bog he has a chance, but even if it did I’d want bigger than 9/1 on him.

Hardline was short of this level as a hurdler, and although he has improved over fences this season, he lacks the star potential you’d expect of a horse near the head of the Arkle betting, and even in a poor Arkle I couldn’t have him at anywhere near his current 5/1. Us And Them has franked the form of the Navan race they contested back in December, but Getabird would have beaten Hardline easily at Limerick next time but for getting the last all wrong, and he was only third in the Flogas last time, when a few mistakes didn’t help.

This is one of those races when you start at the top of the market, and think terrible price, terrible price, bad price and expect to find something at decent odds that looks much to big. Unfortunately with this years Arkle I couldn’t find anything at bigger I liked either and it just seems a poor race. meaning it likely won’t take that big a performance to win it. I still think Glen Forsa and Hardline are too short, but the more I look at the rest of them , the more I think Duc Des Genievres should be favourite.

Recommended Bets 

3 Points Win Duc Des Genievres at 13/2 with  Paddy Power, William Hill, Betvictor +more (min price 13/2)

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2:50 Cheltenham –  Ultima Handicap Chase

Give Me A Copper went like a well handicapped horse for a long way at Sandown on his reappearance run, having been off the track since November 2017. He jumped really well until getting in close to the third and second last, by which time the effects of running quite free seemed to tell. He’s very lightly raced for a nine year old and looked a perfect fit for this race. Two things put me off him though, his trainer has a very poor record with his handicap chasers at the meeting in the past eight years, and that’s based on much more robust methods than just using win strike rates, and his trainer also doesn’t have a good record with horses having their second start within a couple of months, having been off for an extended period.

Minella Rocco was second in the Gold Cup in 2017. He’s only had five chase starts since then, yet he somehow gets to run off just 152 today. He wasn’t in as good a form last season, but still ran well to be fourth in the big chase at Leopardstown Christmas meeting that season, and while he was well beaten on his chase comeback in late January he showed much more off a mark of 150 over hurdles last time, when racing much more prominently than usual he had all the field on the stretch after the fourth last, and looked like he was going to win, before running out of puff over the final two flights. Based on that you’d give him a chance off this mark in a hurdle race, despite the fact all his best form is over fences, and that run was surely just a warm up for this. Horses who had their last run in a hurdle actually have a very good record in handicap chases at the festival, probably due to the fact that horses who follow that route are doing so in order not to ruin a chase mark they can win off, so get a little pipe opener over hurdles instead. Minella Rocco is still only nine, and could easily still come back to his best, as he has done in March at this meeting before, but he likely wouldn’t need to, to go very close in this. The one worry is the rain as you could argue his very best form is on decent ground, although he has plenty of decent soft ground form too, and it could be just circumstance that led to his best efforts being on faster.

Recommended Bets 

2 Points Each Way Minella Rocco at 10/1 with Skybet, Betway, Betvictor +more (min price 9/1)

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3:30 Cheltenham – Champion Hurdle

Since going back over hurdles following two chase victories in February 2017, Buveur D’air  has won nine of his ten starts, with two Champion Hurdles and an Aintree Hurdle to his name. In truth the rest of his races have been in very uncompetitive affairs, and his Champion Hurdle wins offer the most robust evidence to rate him on. His win in 2017 was pretty impressive, and while he probably had a little more in hand than the four and a half length margin, it was a ten year old My Tent Or Your’s that chased him home, so it was far from vintage stuff.
Last season Buveur D’air was all out to beat Melon by a neck, with Mick Jazz just three lengths back in third. This time he had nothing extra in hand, and it looked a poor renewal of the race, so while the ground was softer than the previous year he looked like he would be vulnerable in his attempt at three in a row. He’s won two of his three races since, but while his defeat of Samcro was easy on the eye, it probably didn’t have much substance, and it was good ground when he got beaten by his stablemate, Veranda Blue over Christmas. The margin was just a short head, but the jockey on the winner was a long way from asking for full effort. Buveur D’air did make a mistake when he dived at three out, and while it didn’t cost him much, if any ground, it could have had an energy cost. On his win here two years ago he would likely take an awful lot of beating, but he hasn’t looked as good since.

The ground now looks very likely to be soft at best as well, and while he has won grade ones on ground as soft as heavy, and a few times on soft, they were mostly uncompetitive slowly run affairs. When last years Champion turned into a bit of a slog he wasn’t at all impressive, and will likely need to better that to win today. Easily his most impressive performances in his career were his wins in the 2017 Champion Hurdle and Aintree Hurdle the same year, and both were on good ground, so I would have big doubts about him being at his best on these conditions with Apples Jade sure to make it a stamina, rather than speed test.

Apples Jade adds a fascinating element to this race, having won the Irish version by sixteen lengths last time, but I wouldn’t get too carried away with that performance, as wide margins wins in small fields tend to be overrated, especially when a good bit of that margin was gained in the final furlong and a half when the second hit the wall, and it was again her superior stamina she was showing, by keeping going, when the others stopped.
The time figure was good at Leopardstown, and adding on her seven pounds mares allowance would give her every chance in an average Champion, but bare time figures with only three hurdle races on the card,  with the last hurdle missing, and only two over two miles, with the other one steadily run, while useful, are certainly not very robust, and they should be used in conjunction with sectionals to analyze a race. The actual time figure itself will, like all form analysis, be just an estimate, and in this case not a very solid one.

It’s easy pick holes in the form, as apart from the margins at the line being exaggerated by the rest stopping, the second would have been way out of his comfort zone over two miles on good ground, with his two top flight wins having come on soft at that trip, the third home Petit Mouchoir has no solid recent form to speak of, while Melon the danger on form is very inconsistent, and clearly ran no race. Another factor is the last hurdle being omitted meant a run in of almost half a mile, and that makes it more of a stamina test as well, which obviously suited her.

Another concern would be while Apples Jade looks better than ever this year, she has never to my eye looked like two miles would be anywhere near her optimum before. When she won by a wide margin in the Hatton’s Grace over two and a half, it was her ability to sustain a strong pace for that trip that meant she won by twenty lengths. She won the Mares Hurdle at Cheltenham two years ago, but was matched at 89/1 in running when two of Willies came there cantering all over her in the straight, but she battled back well to win. That was over two and a half, and while the pace wasn’t strong, it was one on many examples of her not looking like a two miler.
Last year she got beaten in the Mares Hurdle with the fact she was in season used as the excuse.  That was also the official excuse when she was beaten at Punchestown afterwards too. Given her current odds that would have to be a concern again. Her tendency to shift right before each hurdle is another possible concern, all the more so if something takes her on, as it will be harder to maintain an even gallop.
Another factor that seems to have been over looked with her, is that while everyone agrees she needs a true run race at two miles to have a chance of beating speedier horses like Buveur D’air, she will very likely have to make that pace herself, or at the least take it up a good way out, and while leading isn’t a problem for her, it means her jockey, who got it spot on at Leopardstown, will need to reproduce those perfect splits to give her the best chance, and contrary to what some jockeys might believe, their record at getting it absolutely perfect isn’t all that high, which is understandable really, as tiny differences in miles per hour speed, can lead to quite big differences in overall efficiency. The margin for error with her is quite small, as if she goes too fast, even if she drags the others along with her, it will still be her that did more running at too quick a pace, and if she goes too slow she will surely get out speeded from the home bend. Buveur D’air’s jockey on the other hand has the luxury of just sitting in and getting some cover, knowing he can win if Apples Jade goes too fast, too slow, or even if she gets it just right. The soft ground today is a massive plus in her favour though,as although she clearly acts just as well on better ground, it means she should be able to make it a real test, without being taken out of her comfort zone.
Laurina is unbeaten over hurdles for Willie Mullins but the rivals she beat in mares novice races last year, are a million miles off Champion Hurdle standard and it’s a total guessing game how good she is. An easy win against one rival at Sandown in January wasn’t much help either. She again ran out an easy winner over two and a half miles at Punchestown last time, but Stormy Ireland chased her home, with Slowmotion nor far behind in third. The bare form would be way off what will be required here, and while it’s clear she had more in hand than the six length margin, this is a totally different class of race. The trip is another possible issue as she has raced mostly over two and a half, and while the fact she was winning easily means you can’t read too much into the her being strong at the finish, you would worry that she might be better over further, and also that she will have to jump much faster than she’s ever been asked to do before in this race.  Potential stars like her with little substance to their form tend to be over bet, and her current odds of  7/2 certainly look too short.
Sharjah looked exposed as a good way below this level after his novice season, and indeed was only rated 146 when wining the Galway Hurdle last July. He has looked an improved model this season though, beating Faugheen at Punchestown, before looking to have more in hand than the margin when coming from behind to win the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown, with the steady pace compressing the margins. You would assume he will again be dropped out and ridden quietly, and with the possibility that the pace could be overly strong, he could well be the one to benefit the most from a pace collapse. His two most recent efforts were on ground Timeform called good, but it was soft when he won the Galway Hurdle, and it was also soft when he fell at the last at Leopardstown as a novice when looking likely to win a grade one, so the ground should be fine for him.
Verdana Blue beat Buveur D’air at Christmas and that was despite her rider only nudging her out close home to get up and win by a short head. It seems far more likely the second was below form, rather than her showing huge improvement though, and she was only fourth in a handicap off 151 on her previous start. That’s not bad form when you add on her seven pounds mares allowance, but it’s hardly Champion Hurdle form either. The ground was good at Christmas too, and the last time she ran on ground close to what it’s likely to be today was well she was a well beaten tenth in last years Betfair Hurdle at Newbury.
Brain Power went off at just 13/2 when disappointing in the 2017 Champion Hurdle, before going over fences last season. He went back over hurdles last time, and was value for more like a five length win in the International at Cheltenham, but that form would still leave him with a good bit to find, and he looks pretty exposed now too. It’s likely he will be ridden to pick up the pieces though, so a place isn’t a forlorn hope.
Espoir D’Allen has won seven of his eight hurdle starts, and likely wasn’t right for his only defeat. He’s won all three starts this season, and while Saldier looked to be going marginally better when falling at the last at Naas in the first of those, Espoir D’Allen was strong at the finish in his next two starts, so may well have won that one anyway. At Limerick he went right away from Stormy Ireland, while last time he was giving seven pounds to Wicklow Brave and Tombstone, but despite a mistake at the last which halted his momentum, he picked up again for a comfortable victory. The fact Jarob was only a length and a half behind Tombstone, and gaining on him at the line could be used to question just what sort of form they were in that day though, but off a slow pace, which will help compress margins between runners, Espoir D’Allen did well to win with authority. He needs to find more, but a fast run race looks sure to suit, and he is one of only a few were major improvement is possible.
Melon is not consistent, that much is obvious, but he was only beaten a neck in last years Champion Hurdle by Buveur D’air, so while this may end up being a better renewal, he is certainly worth a closer look, as a slight improvement on that form could easily be enough. He fell at Punchestown after that run, but it was too far out to know how he’d have fared, and has been well below form in his two runs this season, but he was also well below form in the his two runs before Cheltenham last season, yet he bounced back on the day to run to his best. He also ran to his best as a novice at Cheltenham, so a return to form is probably more likely than his odds suggest. He was also a little free in this race last year, so the presence of Apples Jade could mean he settles better, which can only help.
Recommended Bets 

1 Point Each Way Sharjah at 20/1 with Coral, Betvictor +more  (min price 16/1)

1 Point Each Way Melon at 18/1 with Ladbrokes, Betvictor +more (min price 18/1)

Espoir D’Allen (min price 20/1, 1 point each way)

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4:10 Cheltenham – Mares Hurdle

The ground has come right for Benie Des Dieux but the form of her win in last years mares hurdle isn’t all that strong, and there’s a very good chance a reproduction wouldn’t be enough to win again, as although she had Apples Jade back in third, that one was nowhere near her best, and the pair were split by Midnight Tour who went off 99/1 on the exchanges. Benie Des Dieux did show better form when winning at Punchestown afterwards, but it’s  a guessing game what level she’ll be capable of today, after nearly a year off, and just because Quevega had no problem turning up and winning this after such an absence doesn’t mean she’ll be the same.

Stormy Ireland looks a potential place lay to me, as although she came second to Laurina over this trip last time, it was a steadily run race, and the winner still beat her handy. I’d have major doubts about her getting this far in a properly run race, and she got very wound up before last years Triumph Hurdle too, so her pulling her chance away is a possibility too. I’d place lay her at 9/4 or shorter.

If Stormy Ireland does get lit up and goes a good gallop in front, then the current 8/1 available on Roksana  on the exchanges would look very appealing. The problem with backing her before the race is she was strongest at the line when winning a well run handicap over a furlong further at Newbury last year, before coming second to Santini in a grade one novice at Aintree over three miles, and you would have big concerns about her being fast enough if this turns into more of a speed test, as this race often does. She actually shaped like the best horse in that Aintree race, but she tracked the wrong horses, and it meant her smooth progress was disturbed by having to switch and try and chase down Santini, and after looking like winning, her run flattened out close home. She had little chance against Buveur D’air on her comeback over two miles, but did enough to suggest she returned in form. That Aintree form with the promise of more to come looks very strong in the context of this, but unless she drifts a bit, I think I’d rather wait and back her at a little shorter in running if they are going a good pace.

Limini was a close third in this in 2017, with Apples Jade winning and Vroom Vroom Mag coming second, and that form is likely as good as what Benie Des Dieux achieved in winning last years race. She was off for over  a year after that but seemed as good as ever in a flat campaign last summer, and although her first two hurdle starts this winter were a bit below her best, she bounced back last time with a close fourth to Presenting Percy in the Galmoy Hurdle. That was over three miles, and she seemed to stay it fine, but it wasn’t run at an even pace,and the fact she won a flat handicap over a mile and five, on fast ground, off a mark of 98 back in September suggests she still retains the pace for this shorter trip.

Lady Buttons has improved this year, winning two chases and two hurdles, and on the form of her easy win off a mark of 140 at Newbury, albeit over fences she would have a solid chance here. She had tons in hand when winning at Doncaster, again over fences on her penultimate start, sauntering clear before starting to pull herself up close home. That was a well run race  over two and a half miles and she got the trip fine, as although she pulled herself up close home she looked to be idling, as only a few strides earlier she was going clear and looked full of running. That theory was backed up last time, when back over two miles, she again went to the front very easily on the run in, before jamming on the breaks close home, and nearly getting beat. She will need to be held onto longer here, but looks to have a good chance.

Recommended Bets 

No Bet

Lady Buttons (min price 16/1, 1 Point Each Way)

Roksana (min price 9/1, 2 Points Win) I’d take 7/1 in running if they go off at what looks a decent pace

Stormy Ireland (place lay at 9/4 or shorter, currently under that)

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4:50 Cheltenham – Close Brothers Novice Handicap Chase

A Plus Tard is favourite for this and he looks fairly handicapped off 144, but he will find this a massively different experience than the seven runner novice he was second in last time. His age looks a huge negative for a race like this. In the past eight years, eighteen five year old’s have tried their luck in festival handicap chases, and none have won. In big field handicaps that doesn’t mean much, but only two have placed, and perhaps more damming is the more robust percentage of rivals they’ve beaten is a lowly 25%, indicating that the majority of them at least, just don’t have the know how for such a test. I’d be looking to place lay him on the exchanges at anything under 7/4.

Lough Derg Spirit ran very well when sixth in the Martin Pipe over hurdles at last years festival, leaving the impression the less than even pace didn’t suit him. He won on his chase debut at Wetherby, before disappointing at Kempton, but got back on track at Ludlow last time, winning a five runner affair very easily despite jumping out to the left all the way. He got a seven pounds rise for that but 142 still looks like a very exploitable mark for him, especially now he’s going left handed again, and his trainer does well in these festival handicap chases too.

Recommended Bets 

1 Point Each Way Lough Derg Spirit at 22/1 with Bet 365, Coral, Betvictor +more (min price 18/1)

A Plus Tard (place lay at 7/4 or under) He’s currently under 6/4 on Betfair to lay.

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5:30 Cheltenham – National Hunt Chase

The two at the head of the market stand out here. Ballyward is favourite for this and looks to hold a big chance. His form over three miles is good enough to give him a big shout, but I wouldn’t be as convinced as some that he wants this extra trip. Indeed if you watch last seasons Albert Bartlett at Cheltenham he was weak enough on the run in having looked like he was going to be in the first three jumping the last. On the other hand Ok Corral who got the last all wrong and landed on all fours, to let Ballyward almost upsides him, managed to get going again to stay on into second, and was very strong at the line. Both of them have done all you’d expect over fences since, although having been travelling much the best turning in at Naas Ballyward hadn’t put the race to bed when Discorama fell at the last, although he still hadn’t been asked for full effort. Ok Corral has won both his chase starts impressively and looks sure to appreciate both the soft ground and the trip, and I’d make him favourite for this.
Recommended Bets 

No Bet

Ok Corral (min price 9/2, 4 Point Win)
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Stakes are on a scale of 0-8 points, A 20/1 shot will generally be a 1 point bet, were as at the opposite end, a 6/4 shot will generally be an 8 point bet. The aim is to return around 20 points on the win part of each bet. I will aim for higher than 20 points with stronger selections, and lower for ones that I’m not as strong on.
Each Way means a win and a place bet, so €10 each way will cost €20 in total.
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