Friday, March 27, 2015

National considerations

We're two weeks away from A.P. McCoy's final Grand National.

Whatever happens, one thing is for certain - his mount in the race will be significantly overbet. If he were to pass the post in front, he's likely to retire on the spot.

Earlier in the week a colleague mailed me an article entitled 'Small data: how much would you have won backing McCoy?'

You won't be surprised to learn that a £1.00 level stakes investment on all his rides since January 2nd 2000 returns a deficit of £1744.75. Respectfully I pointed out to my colleague that over a similar period I developed any number of far more sophisticated approaches to giving away money to bookmakers.

A report in The Times today focuses on another jockey likely to generate publicity in the forthcoming fortnight; Sean Bowen bids to become the first 17 year old to win the race since Bruce Hobbs rode Battleship to victory in 1938.

Bowen is set to partner Mon Parrain for Paul Nicholls in the showpiece but still has to ride one more chase winner (10 required) before satisfying the stringent eligibility criteria established for the race.

Tomorrow he's aboard  Edmund Kean for father Peter in Stratford's snappily-entitled Bordeaux Undiscovered La Fleur Morange Handicap Chase. Having failed to complete on both runs this season, Edmund doesn't look to hold the most obvious chance in Bowen's search to qualify.

I need to do some more work on the National entries in the coming week; as regular readers know to their cost, I tend to favour horses that have previously shown form over the unique fences.

That said, I'll pass on the one tip I've received to date.

A respected form student is keen on the chance of Jim Culloty's Spring Heeled. Last year this one won the Kim Muir at the Festival, finished fifth in the Whitbread and was just pipped for third in the Galway Plate behind Road To Riches (third in this year's Gold Cup).

The National has been the target all along - stable form is the concern.

Friday, March 20, 2015

After the Lord Mayor's show

Inevitably there's something of an air of 'after the Lord's Mayor's show' about tomorrow's cards.

I've been waiting a while for King's Tempest and he goes in the opening novices' hurdle at Newbury.

I saw this one win a Warwick bumper about this time last year; there was talk afterwards of Cheltenham entries but in the summer the gelding moved to Warren Greatrex. On his first run for new connections the gelding was beaten two lengths by Jollyallan who went on to finish eighth behind Douvan in the Supreme at the Festival.

Decent enough form but Nicky Henderson saddles Flat-bred Hassle (by Montjeu) who was beaten just over ten lengths on his hurdling debut by stablemate Cardinal Walter who in turn was beaten six lengths by Qewy, fifth behind Douvan at the Festival.

One who looked to be coming back last time was Graeme McPherson's Harry Hunt; he's declared in Stratford's 3.50. At odds of 50/1 this one was fifth at Doncaster 31 days ago, jumping the last in second place before weakening over a longer trip.

He's of interest in this Stratford race and there's a pointer 15 minutes beforehand when the Doncaster second and fourth, Western Jo and Our Mick, contest the 3.35 at Bangor. The winner at Doncaster, Milan Bound, was amongst the five-day entries for Kelso's 2.50 but connections have decided not to take up the option.

I'll take an each-way interest in Harry Hunt (has won previously at this track) provided:
- Western Jo and Our Mick show up well at 3.35;
- Layers offer10/1.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Cheltenham Festival 2015 debrief

For the first time in a number of years, the blog's highlighted selections showed a small profit to recorded starting prices, as shown below.

The two selections which provided a return, Cole Harden and Polly Peachum, were available at 20/1 and 10/1 on the morning of their respective races - the profit as a percentage of turnover figure soars to 38.63%  when calculated using the prices taken.

The New One       5th   100/30 1pt  WIN   0.00
Polly Peachum     2nd  9/1       0.5  EW    1.63
Little Jon               6th   10/1      0.5 EW     0.00

Sire De Grugy     4th  5/2     1pt WIN     0.00
Zarib                    6th  8/1      0.5 EW      0.00
Vigil                     5th  8/1      0.5 EW       0.00

Johns Spirit           5th  8/1      0.5 EW     0.00
Wishfull Thinking PU 28/1     0.5 EW     0.00
Cole Harden         1st 14/1      0.5 EW    9.75
Whisper                 5th 8/1       0.5 EW     0.00

Holywell               4th 8/1       0.5 EW    0.00

Total outlay: 11 points
Total return:  11.38 points
Profit / loss: + 0.38 points
Win strike rate: 9.09%
Profit as % of turnover: 3.45%

Highlight of the entire meeting for me was Vautour's exceptional jumping in the JLT Novices' Chase. I wonder whether we will see him running in next year's Gold Cup...  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Cheltenham Festival 2015 - Friday

A very open renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup with eighteen set to face the starter at 3.20.

On official ratings favourite Silviniaco Conti (174) has seven pounds in hand over nearest rival Road To Riches (167) but his track record isn't impressive - he fell three out in the 2013 running of this race and finished a slightly disappointing fourth last year, two lengths behind shock winner Lord Windermere.

Following that defeat the gelding received treatment for ulcers. On his seasonal reappearance he was tapped for toe behind Menorah in the Charlie Hall but won Haydock's Betfair Chase and then the King George at Kempton where he made all.

I've always thought he shows his very best form on soft ground. Tomorrow he's the form choice and will make a bold show - come half past three, 9/2 could look a very big price indeed.   

This season Oliver Sherwood's Many Clouds has emerged as a credible challenger with victory in the Hennessy at Newbury and then the BetBright Cup Chase (formerly the Argento) in January; the suspicion is he's better with cut underfoot.

Ireland's challenge is spear-headed by Willie Mullins' Djakadam, well-backed in recent days but with enough to find on official ratings, and Lexus winner Road To Riches who had On His Own, Sam Winner, Boston Bob, Carlingford Lough, Lord Windermere, Bobs Worth and Home Farm in arrears that day.

Last month Carlingford Lough put his marker down with victory in the Irish Hennessy (Lord Windermere, Boston Bob, On His Own and Home Farm beaten).

For those interested there are some fancy prices available about horses with form in previous renewals - Lord Windermere (2014 winner) 14/1, Bobs Worth (2013 winner) 14/1, On His Own (short head second last year) 33/1 with The Giant Bolster (three quarters of a length third) 33/1.

Three days into this year's Festival, I'm struck by the number of winners that have either made all or led for most of the way:

Un De Sceaux (Arkle)
Faugheen (Champion Hurdle)
Windsor Park (Neptune)
Vautour (JLT Novices' Chase)
Uxizandre (Ryanair)
Cole Harden (World Hurdle)

I suspect many will now have another look at Coneygree who is talented if fragile and will take no prisoners racing from the front; it will be important for those behind to jump fluently and keep in touch.

Holywell won at this meeting last year before going on to Aintree where he added the Mildmay Novices' Chase to the haul. The gelding has been slow to come to hand this term with the stable going through a lean spell mid-winter but a facile win at Kelso the last day indicates he is in better health now.

Holywell is the each-way suggestion, currently priced at 11/1 with William Hill, Paddy Power and Bet Victor.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Cheltenham Festival 2015 - Thursday

For Thursday's card, two each-way chances in two races...

With seventeen set to face the starter, this year's World Hurdle (3.20) looks more open than ever.

Whisper - has one pound to find with top-rated Saphir Du Rheu. Collected the Coral Cup at this meeting last year before going on to Aintree where he won the three mile Liverpool Hurdle with Zarkander and At Fishers Cross in arrears. At the time of writing Ladbrokes stand out with a quote of 11/1.

Cole Harden - tough front-runner who was well beaten in the Cleeve but has had a breathing operation since. Meets both Saphir Du Rheu and Un Temps Pour Tout on better terms but has a little to find with those rivals on the book. Trainer Warren Greatrex issued an upbeat bulletin a fortnight ago; I'm hoping the wind operation and better ground bring about the improvement required - at  the time of writing bet365 offer 20/1 and pay a quarter the odds four places.

Fourteen go to post in the Ryanair Chase at 2.40.

Johns Spirit - won the Paddy Power Gold Cup Chase here in 2013, was beaten a head by Caid Du Berlais in the same race in November and finished fourth at the Festival last year in the Byrne Group Plate; connections have decided to aim higher this time. On ratings has something to find with a few in the field but the gelding clearly loves the place. At the time of writing Paddy Power stand out with a quote of 10/1.

Wishfull Thinking - the oldest horse in the race and the top-rated to boot! He has been tipped up by partner Richard Johnson on the Festival preview circuit. In decent nick this term winning Aintree's Old Roan Chase and the Peterborough at Huntingdon - something of a wildcard but Ladbrokes, Skybet and bet365 all offer 25/1.  

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Cheltenham Festival 2015 - Wednesday

Is Sprinter Sacre the horse he used to be?

Probably not is the answer coming out of Nicky Henderson's yard...

Of course, Sprinter wouldn't need to be at his absolute best to win this year's renewal of the Queen Mother Champion Chase but the air of circumspection from connections together with the fact he's priced up at 7/2 is enough to put me off.

We haven't seen an awful lot of the horse since he was pulled up in Kempton's Desert Orchid Chase in December 2013 but following a racecourse gallop at Newbury and his return at Ascot this January (a race after which he bled), the jumping hasn't appeared totally convincing.

Last year's winner Sire De Grugy has had his problems as well, falling in Mr Mole's race at Newbury on his return from injury before winning well at Chepstow 18 days ago.

Dodging Bullets is the season's form two-miler but trainer Paul Nicholls states:

"Dodging Bullets likes soft ground and I would not want it to dry up too much. He is a real staying two-miler."

Mr Mole is talented but quirky while Champagne Fever has enough to find on official ratings; Sire De Grugy is the selection. 

Like many, I was keen on Coneygree's chance in the RSA (2.05) but connections have opted for the Gold Cup instead; Coneygree is particularly fragile and the forecast rain before Friday's race is the reason behind the decision.

The RSA can be a brutal race; Don Poli is favourite and the most likely winner but I won't get involved.

I looked at David Pipe's King's Palace but this one, carrying my money, disappointed badly in last year's Albert Bartlett and his jumping in the two-runner Denman Chase at Newbury last month was far from perfect. He will appreciate better ground

McCoy rides If In Doubt who won the Skybet Chase at Doncaster the last day; those who saw that race and McCoy's post-race interview will be wary about backing the partnership here.

I was impressed with Ordo Ab Chao who won over course and distance the last day - he runs in the opening Neptune at 1.30 but the drying ground will have scuppered his chance. Two ex-Flat types are prominent in the betting - Nichols Canyon and Parlour Games - but a Flat horse hasn't won this race since No Refuge in 2005.  

Dan Skelton rates Zarib his best chance of the whole meeting so is the each-way selection for the difficult-looking Fred Winter at 4.40.

I  always like to select a couple in the bumper, just for the sheer hell of it. Years ago my wife picked Hairy Molly (won 33/1) but I forgot to put the bet on and in 2010 I tipped Cue Card (won 40/1) to a friend but never had a penny on myself.

This year, the Mullins' battalions aside, David Pipe saddles Moon Racer who cost £225,000 while Dermot Weld's Vigil returns for another stab having finished fifth last year, beaten four and a half lengths. Wait For Me from Philip Hobbs' yard is another intriguing runner.

Paddy Power offer 11/1 about Vigil; at those odds the gelding rates a sporting each-way wager.     

Monday, March 09, 2015

Cheltenham Festival 2015 - Tuesday

Willie Mullins' horses dominate betting on the opening day of this year's Festival with Timeform expecting a super show from the unbeaten Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle at 3.20.

Only eight go to post in the showpiece but the field contains last year's winner Jezki, third The New One and fourth Hurricane Fly who happened to win this race in 2011 and 2013.

That suggests this might just be more competitive than the markets would have us believe.

I'm going to support The New One who looked rather laboured on heavy ground at Haydock the last day. He isn't always the cleanest at his hurdles (a comment that also applies to Faugheen) but he has shown fighting qualities in the past; I'd expect to see him ridden a little more prominently this time after suffering interference last year when Our Conor fell fatally.

At 7/2 (with hints of 4/1 here and there) The New One is a value play against the favourite.

As I indicated in an earlier post, bookmakers appear more inclined to lay Faugheen and Douvan (Supreme Novices' Hurdle) than Un Des Sceaux (Arkle) and Annie Power (Mares' Hurdle).

I won't have a bet  in the Arkle (2.05) but I note Mullins' comment in the Weekender:

"However, [Un De Sceaux] won't find it easy coming up the hill. He has to go for it right from the off, as that is his way, and it's exciting but also frightening to watch."

Annie Power is the form selection in the Mares' Hurdle at 4.00 but she's priced accordingly and hasn't run for 311 days. After suffering a setback in November, she was back in work on New Year's Day.

Her handler indicates in the Weekender that she's likely to be a bit fresh after the lay-off so connections have decided to opt for this race (it's often less competitive) rather than the World Hurdle on Thursday.

I've followed Polly Peachum through the season and will chance her each-way provided I can secure a double digit price. She will certainly appreciate better ground.

For those with any money left in their pocket at the end of the day, Little Jon (14/1) is an each-way suggestion in the CHAPS Restaurants Barbados Novices' Handicap Chase; Ryan Hatch claims five.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Cheltenham Festival 2015 - initial thoughts

As Alan Lee pointed out in a snippet in The Times earlier this week, Willie Mullins trains the market leaders for four of the seven races on the opening day (Douvan 7/4, Un De Sceaux 8/13, Faugheen 5/4 and Annie Power 8/13), yet layers are still convinced Great Britain will collect the Prestbury Cup (most winners over the four days); Coral currently bet 7/2 Ireland.

In the build -up layers have appeared particularly reluctant to take on Un De Sceaux (Arkle) but seem to think they stand a better chance of seeing Douvan beaten (Supreme) as well as Faugheen in the Champion Hurdle.

Just eight remain in the Champion with Ruby Walsh yet to decide between Faugheen and Hurricane Fly. I'll probably side with The New One.

A year ago I saw Polly Peachum win a Warwick handicap hurdle by fourteen lengths off a mark of 117 and I've followed her since. Now rated 155, she will appreciate decent ground and deserves to take her chance in the Mares' Hurdle but faces stiff opposition in Annie Power and Glens Melody and the layers aren't offering a value each-way price.

Mullins has confirmed Don Poli for Wednesday's RSA Chase - I hope to see Coneygree declared for this rather than Friday's Gold Cup.

The top two in the Champion Chase market (Sprinter Sacre and Sire De Grugy) have had their problems this season. Dodging Bullets is the form horse but would probably prefer more cut while Champagne Fever has been racing over further and was only beaten a head over this distance in last year's Arkle. I remain undecided.

On Thursday I will bet Cole Harden each-way (currently 25/1) in an open-looking World Hurdle; Warren Greatrex's charge has had a breathing operation which could bring about some improvement.

Module, third in last year's Champion Chase, was priced 40/1 for the Ryanair but unfortunately didn't make the six day entries. John's Spirit has, has done me a favour or two in the past and is priced up in double figures in some places.

Holywell, winner of the Mildmay Novices' Chase at Aintree last April, is an each-way play in the Gold Cup on Friday.