Saturday, March 16, 2019

Cheltenham Festival 2019 - the betting debrief

Shown below a record of the blog's highlighted selections at this year's Festival to a nominal 1 point level stakes wager (1 point win, 0.5 points each way) with bets settled at advised prices and each way returns calculated to one fifth the odds.

For once, it all makes for half-decent reading and ranks as the blog's best performance on record with the thirteenth anniversary of that fateful first post just a couple of weeks away.

Readers are strongly advised to make use of the contextual footnotes provided.

Tuesday

1.30 Supreme Novice's Hurdle
Selection: Elixir De Nutz
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 8/1
Starting price: N/A
Result: Non-runner / no bet

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase
Selection: Lake View Lad
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 20/1
Starting price: 25/1
Result: Third
Return: 2.50
Profit/Loss +1.50

Profit/Loss Tuesday +1.50

Wednesday

1.30 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle
Selection: Brewin'upastorm
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 9/1
Starting price: 11/1
Result: Fourth
Return 0.00
Profit/Loss -1.00

2.10 RSA Novices' Chase
Selection: On The Blind Side
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 10/1
Starting price: 14/1
Result: Pulled up
Return: 0.00
Profit/Loss -1.00

3.30 Champion Chase
Selection: Sceau Royal
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 14/1
Starting price: 16/1
Result: Third
Return: 1.90
Profit/Loss: +0.90

5.30 Champion bumper
Selection: Master Debonair
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 11/1
Starting price 12/1
Result: Twelfth
Profit/Loss: -1.00

Profit/Loss Wednesday -2.10

Thursday

2.50 Ryanair Chase
Selection: Frodon
Bet: Win
Advised price: 15/2
Starting price: 9/2
Result: First
Return: 8.50
Profit/Loss +7.50

Selection: Aso
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 33/1
Starting price: 33/1
Result: Second
Return: 3.80
Profit/Loss: +2.80

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle
Selection: Sam Spinner
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 40/1
Starting price: 33/1
Result: Second
Return: 4.50
Profit/Loss: +3.50

Profit/Loss Thursday +13.80

Friday

3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup
Selection: Anibale Fly
Bet: Each way
Advised price: 25/1
Starting price: 22/1
Result: Second
Return: 3.00
Profit/Loss +2.00

Profit/Loss Friday +2.00

-----
Outlay over four days: 9 points
Profit/Loss over four days: +15.2 points
Profit as percentage of outlay: 168.88%
-----

Footnote 1:
Do not be deceived - this performance is demonstrably atypical and unlikely to be repeated in the next ten years. Normal service will be resumed next week.

Footnote 2:
Mrs Tips states: 'I picked my own winners on Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. I started off full of enthusiasm but by Thursday I was picking names I didn't even like or care about. On Friday I picked Pentland Hills for the first race because I thought they were in the Cotswolds. I still picked more winners than PG's Tips.'

Friday, March 15, 2019

Midlands Grand National 2019

A somewhat curtailed post following a hectic week at Cheltenham...

Twenty runnners have been declared for tomorrow's Midlands Grand National at Uttoxeter due off at 3.35; the going is currently described as soft with strong winds and heavy rain forecast - an inspection has been called for eight o'clock tomorrow morning.

Only two winners have carried more than 11-0 to victory in the past ten years - Synchronised in 2010 and Firebird Flyer in 2016; Ms Parfois and American at the top of the market are set to carry 11-4 and 11-12 respectively.

Last year's winner Regal Flow became the first horse older than nine to come home in front since Lucky Lane obliged in 1995.

A key piece of form is The Last Fling Handicap Chase run at Haydock on December 30th last year. Chef D'Oeuvre beat Back To The Thatch two and threequarter lengths that day with Dell'Arca a further twelve lengths adrift in third.

Chef D'Oeuvre was raised eleven pounds for that victory and went up another four when finishing third (from three pounds out of the handicap) behind Robinsfirth and Ramses De Teillee in Haydock's Grand National Trial.The form reads well and the horse has clearly benefited from a change of stable but inevitably the handicapper has had his say.

Both Back To The Thatch and Dell'Arca haven't run since - the former is up six pounds, the latter down one pound. Back To The Thatch re-opposes Chef D'Oeuvre nine pounds better off for two and threequarter lengths. 

On his seasonal debut for new connections Chef D'Oeuvre was beaten over 21 lengths at this track by Crosspark.

Crosspark won the Eider three weeks ago with Kilkishen six and a half lengths adrift in fourth, Raz De Maree seventh  and Potters Corner falling two from home when appearing to hold every chance.

Potters Corner has been raised three pounds for that effort; he is clearly a talented individual but the fences seem to be getting in the way - Christian Williams' charge has failed to complete in three of his last four chase starts.

Arthur's Gift is relatively unexposed while Ballydine boasts good form behind Lake View Lad, Carole's Destrier and particularly behind Wakanda in the Peter Marsh at Haydock - beaten under five lengths that day, he may have finished much closer but for a bad blunder three from home.

Dawson City, seventh behind Elegant Escape in the Welsh National, collected the Devon National at Exeter three weeks ago and should certainly having little trouble staying the trip but now looks high enough in the handicap.  

Of those at bigger prices Smooth Stepper did me a favour roughly 12 months ago when winning at Kelso; the balance of his form suggests he struggles to stay beyond three and a half miles. Prime Venture has not won over fences in five starts but has been pitched in against the likes of Bags Groove, Kilbricken Storm and Ramses De Teillee.

It's possible to make a case for several in the field. Comments from connections have led me to Back To The Thatch who has the right profile and comes to this a fresher horse than those who ran in the Eider.

At the time of writing William Hill offer 11/1 and pay one fifth the odds seven places.

Back To The Thatch is the each-way selection with William Hill.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Cheltenham Festival 2019 - Friday

A good day for the blog this Thursday but tomorrow, it's another day altogether. Beware the Ides of March.

We look set for a vintage renewal of the Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.30); sixteen have been declared with the going currently described as good to soft, soft in places.

Colin Tizzard saddles three. Native River bids to become the first horse to win back-to-back renewals since Best Mate completed his hat-trick in 2004. Stablemate Thistlecrack may be eleven years old but he retains some engine; if his jumping were more proficient, he would rate a top contender. Welsh National winner Elegant Escape isn't readily dismissed either but the suspicion is, as the ground dries out, a few in the field will finish ahead of him.

Presenting Percy won last year's RSA Chase in some style (Elegant Escape third, Al Boum Photo fell) and has been at or near the top of the Gold Cup market ever since. Patrick Kelly's inmate has had just one run this season - over hurdles - but has schooled over the larger obstacles at Galway as part of his preparation. The last horse to win the Gold Cup without a prior race over fences that season was Easter Hero in 1929.

Clan Des Obeaux's victory in the King George on Boxing Day (Thistlecrack second, Native River third, Double Shuffle fifth, Might Bite seventh with Bristol De Mail falling) represents top-drawer form and marks Paul Nicholls' charge out as a serious contender. His fourth behind Bristol De Mai in the Betfair Chase at Haydock in November (Native River second, Thistlecrack third, Might Bite fifth) for me just leaves a query as to how well he'll cope with the final climb up the hill of this extended three miles two and a half furlongs.  

Conversely, Bristol De Mai appears to reserve his very best form for Haydock.

Willie Mullins saddles four and Ruby Walsh rides Bellshill. Kemboy's win in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas is noteworthy (Bellshill fourth, Shattered Love tenth) but Bellshill wasn't fully wound up that day and progressed next time out to win the Irish Gold Cup by a short-head from Road To Respect (third in the Ryanair earlier today).

Might Bite's mighty duel with Native River in last year's renewal (Anibale Fly third, Definitly Red sixth) lives long in the memory. Nicky Henderson's charge hasn't been in the same form this term; connections have tried wind surgery and, if I remember correctly, the horse has undergone treatment for ulcers. 14/1 would be a very big price if Might Bite was back to his best but he has always had quirks - he nearly handed the 2017 RSA Chase to stablemate Whisper - and I suspect ideally he'd prefer slightly better ground.

The mare Shattered Love underwent wind surgery in January and the balance of her form to date suggests she isn't certain to stay this trip but Yala Enki certainly will. Venetia Williams' charge often races prominently but is likely to find a few in the field staying on a bit more quickly.

Anibale Fly finished a very creditable third in last year's renewal, making up ground at the business end of the race without ever threatening the leaders, and four weeks later he came home fourth behind Tiger Roll in the Grand National.

Last time out the JP McManus owned gelding ran a pleasing trial in the Red Mills Chase over an inadequate trip of two and a half miles, beaten two lengths by Monalee (fourth in the Ryanair earlier today).

Of the protagonists Native River would be the one for me but on the back of that effort last year Anibale Fly - with something to find on the book - makes most appeal as an each-way outsider, although drying ground isn't ideal.

At the time of writing both William Hill and Ladbrokes go 25/1 and pay one fifth the odds four places.

With Barry Geraghty up, Anibale Fly is the each-way selection.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Cheltenham Festival 2019 - Thursday

There has to be a certain irony in the way Cheltenham racecourse officials talked to customers about how 'notoriously difficult' it is to predict wind gust speeds ahead of Wednesday's card threatened by advancing Storm Gareth, yet those same officials made no mention whatsoever to customers of the difficulty factor involved in picking the winners of the seven races on the day's card. 

For starters, I've had a look at the JLT Novices' Chase (1.30) and the Ryanair Chase (2.50). To my mind the better value lies in the Ryanair but the staff at the Racing Post Weekender appear to have pinched all my best ideas - honest - and, at the same time, have also decided to increase the price they're going to charge me for them.

Course and distance winner Frodon is clear of his rivals on Racing Post ratings yet at the time of writing Paul Nicholls' charge is fifth in the betting behind four Irish-trained runners:

180 Frodon (15/2 in places)
178 Balko Des Flos (16/1) 
178 Un De Sceau (9/2)
176 Footpad (4/1)
174 Road To Respect (5/1)
171 Monalee (9/2)
170 Aso (40/1)

Footpad has yet to prove he stays this trip and the going on the new course is currently soft; Monalee finished second in the RSA last year; Un De Sceaux is 11 years old now; and Road To Respect is better known as a three miler. Last year's winner Balko Des Flos (beat Un De Sceaux four and a half lengths) hasn't been in the same form since but is still given every respect with ground conditions to suit.

Of course, a number in the field like to race prominently and that could set the race up for those in behind...     

Aso finished third in this two years ago and is forgiven his last run behind Cyrname at Ascot; having previously won over course and distance, he appeals as an each-way outsider who should appreciate underfoot conditions.

Two selections for the Ryanair:
Frodon win 15/2 (Paddy Power)
Aso each-way 33/1 Bet Victor 4 places, one fifth odds.

Regular readers will know I'm a Paisley Park fan but I'd venture the Stayers' Hurdle (3.30) is more open than the market would have us believe and there are some each-way opportunities.

Last year Penhill beat Supasundae two lengths with Sam Spinner fifth and Barcardys falling. 2017 Coral Cup winner Supasundae is admirably consistent but has never won beyond the distance of the Coral Cup - handler Jessica Harrington indicates in the Weekender his ideal trip is 2m 4f.

Faugheen, a veteran now, is the joker in the pack; Willie Mullins' inmate beat Penhill 13 lengths at Punchestown last April. Only one eleven-year-old has come home in front since 1972 - the Fulke Walwyn trained Crimson Embers in 1986.  

The Cleeve is a key piece of form - Paisley Park beat West Approach 12 lengths with Black Op third, Sam Spinner fourth and Wholestone ninth. Simon Rowlands' sectional anaylsis of the race makes interesting reading and highlights Black Op's chance, currently 12/1 with Bet Victor.

Connections have indicated they may try different tactics with West Approach (25/1).

Last year Sam Spinner was sent off 9/4 favourite for this race yet 12 months on he's rated a 50/1 chance. The gelding hasn't had the best of seasons but he showed a revival of sorts in the Cleeve and has ground conditions to suit. Pilot Joe Colliver has re-arranged a mandatory visit to the magistrates' court on a drink-drive related matter so I'd like to think both horse and jockey can put their troubles to one side and turn in a good performance.     
 
At the time of writing  Bet Victor, Betfred, Betway and Totesport pay one fifth the odds four places. For those of a conservative disposition, Black Op (12/1 Bet Victor) represents the more solid proposition but, hell, it's the Festival - I'm going to keep the faith and will take an each-way interest in Sam Spinner (40/1 Betway).

I saw the black cat again this morning. Damned creature just clean stared me out. Reminded me of a friend's cat when we were kids - they called him Carpenter as he kept on doing odd jobs around the house.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Cheltenham Festival 2019 - Wednesday

Superstitious? Not me. Except that yesterday morning I encountered a money spider in the bathroom, two magpies out the back kitchen window during breakfast, then a black cat crossed the road but didn't cross my path, preferring instead to hide under a rusting Vauxhall Corsa, as I was walking in to work, while on the return journey my right shoulder took a direct hit from a rather impertinent pigeon...

The thing is I can't decide whether all this means Hell's Kitchen is going to win the Champion Chase at odds of 40/1 or not.

In the opening Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (1.30) Champ bids to become only the second seven-year-old to come home in front; French Holly won in 1998. Champ won a muddling Challow at Newbury in December but he looks a highly-strung individual and I'd be slightly worried about how he'll handle the preliminaries.

Brewin'Upastorm was beaten four lengths by Champ in the Challow and I'm not keen on backing horses that fell last time out but Olly Murphy's charge appeared to be in the ascendancy when coming to grief at the last in the trial for this event - I'll chance Brewin'Upastorm each-way at 9/1.

The RSA (2.10) looks difficult this year.

Delta Work would appear to have a favourite's chance and, quite frankly, I'm not sure what to make of Santini with his participation the subject of some conjecture over the past week.

Topofthegame is bang there with every chance but at a bigger price I'll take an each-way interest in On The Blind Side (10/1) who bounced back to form at Kempton following wind surgery, has won here previously, sports first-time cheekpieces and has the assistance of Noel Fehily in the saddle.

A quick mention too for Mortal who didn't run well last time out but on his penultimate start was giving Delta Work a run for his money when a mistake at the last cost him. I just wonder whether he'll see out this trip on soft ground.

After much deliberation my each-way wager in the Champion Chase (3.30) is going to be Sceau Royal (14/1).

On official ratings Politologue is the third best horse in the field but he was slightly disappointing when fourth (God's Own third) in this race last year and I just feel he's better going right-handed. God's Own is eleven years old now so course and distance winner Sceau Royal gets the nod. If in the mood, Hell's Kitchen could easily outrun his odds but he's a risky conveyance, as I'm sure Barry Geraghty is aware...

There's a smaller field than usual for the bumper (5.30). I always think it's a big ask for a four-year-old but the market tells us Willie Mullins' sole entry Blue Sari is held in high regard. Cue Card was the last four-year-old to come home in front in 2010 - the only other winners in that age bracket were Rhythm Section (1993) and Dato Star (1995) - remember him?

Envoi Allen is prominent in the betting while Abacadabras was giving his stablemate a run for his money last time when running out. On official ratings Envoi Allen is seven pounds clear of Abacadabras so I'll take an each-way interest in previous course and distance winner Master Debonair currently priced around the 11/1 mark.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Cheltenham Festival 2019 - Tuesday

With persistent rain forecast before racing on Tuesday, clerk of the course Simon Claisse believes this year's Festival will start with soft ground.

Eighteen have been declared for the Supreme Novices' Hurdle due off at 1.30. There have been noticeable market moves in the past few days for Angels Breath - Nick De Boinville rides - and Klassical Dream, the mount of Ruby Walsh. At the time of writing both Ladbrokes and Black Type price up Angels Breath as the clear favourite.

My view on the race remains much as outlined in the preceding post:

Handler Nigel Twiston-Davies is on record saying favourite Al Dancer is his best chance of the week; the gelding's victory in the re-arranged Betfair Hurdle at Ascot certainly looked impressive. The two most recent Betfair winners to contest this - Ballyandy in 2017 and Kalashnikov in 2018 - finished fourth and second respectively. A couple of concerns - in the past decade just two favourites have obliged while Getaway Trump, fourth behind Al Dancer at Ascot, ran no sort of race at Kelso last Saturday and I'm just wondering whether that Ascot race has left its mark.

Nicky Henderson has two entries - Angels Breath was odds-on when turned over at Kempton last time but connections feel this track will play more to his strengths while Mister Fisher is given every respect but in the past has shown he can boil over in the preliminaries. Stable jockey Nick De Boinville rides Angels Breath.

It's no secret Joseph O'Brien is a trainer going places and just last month owner JP McManus purchased Fakir D'Oudairies. As a four-year-old the gelding receives his weight-for-age allowance but only three others in that age bracket have contested this event in the past decade and none have been placed. The last four-year-old to come home in front was Hors La Loi III in 1999; Fakir D'Oudairies also holds an entry in Friday's Triumph Hurdle.

There's a feeling in some parts that the Tolworth form - Elixir de Nutz beat Grand Sancy half a length - may have been underestimated. Elixir De Nutz has won over both the old and new courses here racing from the front. Those tactics may make him vulnerable at the business end but Colin Tizzard's charge could prove hard to pass; at around 8/1 I'm considering an each-way wager.


William Hill stands out by paying one fifth the odds seven places; Elixir De Nutz is the each-way selection at 8/1 with William Hill.

Just ten go to post for the highlight of the first day, the Champion Hurdle at 3.30. 

Buveur D'Air won this race in 2017 and beat Melon a neck in last year's renewal. Nicky Henderson's charge is particularly quick over the obstacles (although he has been known to miss one out in a race) but he faces no easy task conceding weight to the two mares in the field, Apple's Jade and Laurina; Annie Power was the last mare to come home in front in 2016.

The market suggests the race is between the three principals and I'm not inclined to disagree. I considered Brain Power as an each-way proposition but on official ratings the eight-year-old has enough to find and was beaten 30 lengths into eighth behind Buveur D'Air in the 2017 running. In the last ten years there have been just two winners over seven years of age - Hurricane Fly (2013)  and Annie Power (2016). 

Apple's Jade is my idea of the winner but I'm not going to play.

Sky Bet pay one fifth the odds six places in the Ultima Chase at 2.50; I've succumbed to temptation and will take an each-way interest in Lake View Lad at 20/1. 

His profile doesn't match that of recent winners and top weight isn't ideal either although Un Temps Pour Tout won carrying a similar burden in 2017. All that said, I thought he was impressive in the Rowland Meyrick last time, he will relish soft ground and the stable has sent out five winners in the past fortnight. Owned by Trevor Hemmings, the gelding holds an entry in the Grand National so I'd be hopeful of decent showing here on the way to Aintree.

Lake View Lad is the speculative each-way suggestion at 20/1 with Sky Bet, one fifth the odds six places.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Festival fever 2019

It's that time of year again.

You get up in the morning thinking about the Cheltenham Festival, you go to work thinking about the Cheltenham Festival, you can't concentrate at work because you're thinking about the Cheltenham Festival - all the time, you go back home thinking about the Cheltenham Festival and when you finally get to go to bed of an evening you end up dreaming about the Cheltenham Festival.

In a recent telephone consultation my doctor reassured me this behaviour is completely normal - he used the shorthand 'Festival fever' to refer to the condition which he sees with increasing regularity during the first two weeks of every March - and is nothing at all to worry about.

With just a few days to go and Festival fever on the verge of fever pitch, my present thinking and tips on selected races are outlined below.

Of course, readers perturbed by the blog's egregious performance last week - who wouldn't be? - can get the latest Cheltenham Festival betting tips here instead.

Still, it would be remiss of me not to point out that the blog has shown a profit at the Festival for the past four years, with the all-time best performance occurring in 2016.

And, only the other day, my accountant, a fastidious, lugubrious individual with the eye of a pike and a marked tendency to carp, told me the blog's highlighted selections were showing a level stakes profit of over 30 points to advised prices this season.

Naturally, I had to go for one of my long lie-downs after hearing such a shocking piece of evidence and have since taken the precaution of arranging a face-to-face appointment with the doc - PG meets GP. The earliest slot available was on the Thursday morning of the Craven meeting at Newmarket...

Traditionally I've followed a cautious betting strategy at the Festival - it's a marathon not a sprint - and I've no particular desire to give this season's hard-earned profit back to those bookmaker chappies.

To quote the standard disclaimer seen on most investment products - please remember past performance does not guarantee future results.

Tuesday

1.30 Supreme Novices' Hurdle

The first race of the whole jamboree and never an easy call.

Handler Nigel Twiston-Davies is on record saying favourite Al Dancer is his best chance of the week; the gelding's victory in the re-arranged Betfair Hurdle at Ascot certainly looked impressive. The two most recent Betfair winners to contest this - Ballyandy in 2017 and Kalashnikov in 2018 - finished fourth and second respectively. A couple of concerns - in the past decade just two favourites have obliged while Getaway Trump, fourth behind Al Dancer at Ascot, ran no sort of race at Kelso last Saturday and I'm just wondering whether that Ascot race has left its mark.

Nicky Henderson has two entries - Angels Breath was odds-on when turned over at Kempton last time but connections feel this track will play more to his strengths while Mister Fisher is given every respect but in the past has shown he can boil over in the preliminaries. Stable jockey Nick De Boinville rides Angels Breath.

It's no secret Joseph O'Brien is a trainer going places and just last month owner JP McManus purchased Fakir D'Oudairies. As a four-year-old the gelding receives his weight-for-age allowance but only three others in that age bracket have contested this event in the past decade and none have been placed. The last four-year-old to come home in front was Hors La Loi III in 1999; Fakir D'Oudairies also holds an entry in Friday's Triumph Hurdle.

There's a feeling in some parts that the Tolworth form - Elixir de Nutz beat Grand Sancy half a length - may have been underestimated. Elixir De Nutz has won over both the old and new courses here racing from the front. Those tactics may make him vulnerable at the business end but Colin Tizzard's charge could prove hard to pass; at around 8/1 I'm considering an each-way wager.

2.50 Ultima Handicap Chase

Festival handicaps are an absolute minefield, come with a health / wealth warning and really need to be avoided at all costs. Here are a few general pointers, just in case you happen to hear siren voices calling...

Make sure your selection's last run was this side of Christmas; Irish trained runners have a better win record in the handicap hurdles, British runners in the handicap chases.

The last Irish trained winner of the Ultima was Dun Doire in 2006 (when it was sponsored by William Hill).

Lake View Lad has plenty of weight and doesn't fit the profile of recent winners - just four aged over eight since 2000 (Youlneverwalkalone 2003, Joes Edge 2007, Chief Dan George 2010 and Alfie Sherin 2012) - but if he runs I'll consider a small each-way wager on the back of his win in the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day, his trainer's current form and the fact I once knew a lad whose house overlooked a lake.

I think I've read somewhere that Rhinestone (Coral Cup) and Ben Dundee (Close Brothers or Brown Advisory Plate) could be considered well treated if taking up their chance in those named races but, hell, I can't be certain I didn't just hear it all in a dream.

It's the Festival fever. If you find a layer paying one quarter the odds fifteen places, please let me know.

3.30 Champion Hurdle

Buveur D'Air has won the past two renewals but faces no easy task this year conceding seven pounds to two mares, Apple's Jade and Laurina. Apple's Jade has had a phenomenal season and would be my idea of the winner but, at the prices, the race doesn't make much appeal as a betting medium.

Writing in the Racing Post Weekender Simon Holt makes the case for Silver Streak to run a race at a big price. To my mind Evan Williams' charge doesn't jump the hurdles well enough; I prefer Buveur D'Air's stablemate Brain Power (20/1) as an each-way longshot and will firm up that decision over the weekend.

4.10 Mares' Hurdle

It's certainly not a bet for me but, for those interested, Ruby Walsh rates Benie Des Dieux his best ride of the week; the favourite has obliged in this race on seven occasions in the past ten years.

Wednesday

1.30 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

Challow winner Champ, reputedly named after Sir Anthony Peter McCoy, is the conundrum. Despite pulling hard he remains unbeaten this season and possesses a potent turn of foot. Clearly very talented, he looks a tricky enough ride; the last seven-year-old to come home in front was French Holly in 1998.

Brewin'Upastorm appeared to have the measure of Birchdale when coming to grief at the last in the trial run over the new course here in January. Connections may re-route Birchdale to the Albert Bartlett on Friday.

Battleoverdoyen, a chaser in the making, is unbeaten and likely to appreciate the recent rain.

3.30 Champion Chase

Altior does it all so terribly easily but he didn't create the best impression when jumping out to his left at Ascot the last day. Clear second best Min looked an each-way bet to nothing at 8/1 but that price disappeared some time ago; the gelding still holds an entry in the Ryanair for which he is priced up clear favourite with both Labrokes and Paddy Power. I'm on the lookout for an each-way outsider and God's Own and Hell's Kitchen are in the frame.

4.10 Cross Country Chase

Don't bother with a bet, just enjoy the phenomenon that is Tiger Roll.

5.30 Champion bumper 

I do like a bet in the bumper. This year's race doesn't look a typical renewal so I'll need to do some more work over the next couple of days. Two currently of interest are Abracadabras who was giving stablemate Envoi Allen a run for his money when running out last time and course and distance winner Master Debonair who is trained by Colin Tizzard, responsible for Cue Card's victory in 2010 at odds of 40/1.

Thursday

3.30 Stayers' Hurdle

Paisley Park is a worthy favourite and was impressive when winning the Cleeve over the new course here by 12 lengths from West Approach with Black Op back in third and Sam Spinner fourth. That said, he looked in a fair bit of trouble half a mile from home and a number in the field offer each-way possibilities.

Simon Rowlands' sectional analysis of the Cleeve highlights the chance of Black Op who is currently on offer at 14/1. Connections were particularly pleased with his return to hurdling after things hadn't quite gone to plan over the larger obstacles and after the race Noel Fehily hinted there could be improvement to come.

West Approach is another to have benefited from the return to hurdling - connections have indicated they may try different tactics and come from behind this time - and he holds each-way claims at 25/1 while I haven't totally given up on Sam Spinner who finished fifth in this last race year, beaten under six and a half lengths, yet is rated a 40/1 chance.

Jedd O'Keefe's charge unseated first time out this season and then repeated the trick next time when apparently spooked by Ascot's new-style hurdles. Obviously he comes with risks attached - as does regular pilot Joe Colliver who at the time of writing is due in court on race day on a drink-driving charge - but Sam Spinner seemed to be getting back on track in the Cleeve and will be well worth a second look if the rain continues to fall.

Faugheen, eleven years old now, is the subject of favourable reports and is the joker in the pack.

I'll make my mind up nearer the time.

Friday

3.30 Cheltenham Gold Cup

I saw Presenting Percy win the RSA last year in imperious fashion. The question this year is: can he win a Gold Cup after just one run over hurdles?

Apparently the last horse to win the Gold Cup without a start over fences in that season was Easter Hero in 1929. At the price on offer I'm not tempted.

The recent rain has seen money for last year's winner Native River (Colin Tizzard exhorts us not to forget stablemate Elegant Escape) while the Paul Nicholls trained Clan Des Obeaux has been a revelation this season and reminds me a lot of 1999 winner See More Business.

Kemboy's win in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown reads well; I'd expect Bellshill to finish closer this time and it will be interesting to see which one of four Ruby Walsh decides to ride.

At this stage my each-way value wager would be Anibale Fly, quoted a 25/1 chance, who finished third in last year's renewal before going on to come home fourth behind Tiger Roll in the Grand National at Aintree. The more rain that falls, the better his chance, but that maxim applies to several in the field.

In accordance with tradition, I'll aim to publish a post for each day of the Festival. This year, however, different arrangements apply.

Regular readers will know in the past I've usually made it to the track for Wednesday's action but not this year, I'm afraid. My employer has complicated plans somewhat by inviting me to a Long Service Awards ceremony - to be honest, I don't know why, I've never really settled in - which has been scheduled for this coming Monday evening.

I kid you not, I have needed to call upon previously untapped reserves of self-restraint to prevent myself from audibly expressing the intense sense of exasperation I'm currently having to contend with and, let me assure you, throughout the entire evening's proceedings you already know what I'll be thinking about - it's the Cheltenham Festival.

Friday, March 01, 2019

Down after the Eider

In the immediate aftermath of Crosspark's win in the Eider Chase at Newcastle last week, I was referred to the local stewards to face a charge of striking the sofa with the Saturday supplement above the permitted number of times after the final fence.

Following a thorough examination of available evidence and a sentient, slightly slurred submission from susurrous Lady Sipsmith, the stipe from the suburbs, chief steward Mrs Tips dispensed a regulatory 10 day suspension for the appropriated misuse - five days for marking the sofa with a minor weal, two for excessive force and three for failing to allow the sofa enough time to respond - commencing Wednesday 6th March.

Under the stringent Rules of Racing in Our House no betting or televised racing is permitted during the suspension period. As this period coincides with the Cheltenham Festival, I have indicated to the chief steward I am appealing; her tart reply - 'That may have been the case some thirty five years ago but no longer applies!' - came just a trifle too swiftly for comfort.

Negotiations are at a 'delicate' juncture. With sackcloth and ashes manifestly insufficient, so far I've agreed chocolates, flowers and, as a gesture of goodwill, a half bottle of supermarket gin for the whispering Lady Sipsmith. If necessary, I'll consider tempting the chief steward with a long weekend in a static caravan outside Lawrenny, Pembrokeshire (reputedly the birthplace of Dick Francis and handily situated for a visit to Peter Bowen's yard) but I don't want to play that card unless I have to.

The equine flu outbreak and now this... All I need is for the people at PG Tips to take a (tea) leaf out of Manchester United's book and claim infringement of intellectual property rights - as the football club did against Panini Cheapskates earlier this week - and I'll have a complete set.

My Festival preparations are in total tatters and the country's politicians are doing very little to help the cause with the threat that several key Brexit votes could still take place in Cheltenham week. Is nothing sacrosanct anymore?

I was disappointed to see Lake View Lad didn't make the final declarations for the Belhaven Brewery Premier Chase at Kelso tomorrow as this one has been on my radar since he won the Rowland Meyrick at Wetherby on Boxing Day. He currently holds an entry in the Ultima Chase on the first day of the Festival for which he is quoted a 25/1 chance (more study required, but the beast fails to warrant a mention in the race preview in the Racing Post Cheltenham - The Ultimate Guide publication) as well as an entry in the Grand National for which he is priced up at 33/1.

With that cunning plan thwarted and rain not forecast to hit Berkshire until Sunday, Newbury's 'Supporting Greatwood' meeting has been the focus of attention; the going is described as good to soft.

The previously tipped San Benedeto goes in the Gold Cup at 2.40 and is available at 16/1 with Paddy Power but I still haven't recovered from the shock of his last run at Ascot six weeks ago so, instead, I've had a look at the William Hill Supporting Greatwood Veterans' Handicap Chase at 2.05, primarily because the last time I had a wager in a veterans' chase the outcome was far more propitious when Houblon Des Obeaux landed the spoils at Sandown and I had sufficient prescience to strike the bet at odds of 20/1.

After that race connections made it abundantly clear that was a 'going' day for their charge. The next time at the same track he was beaten over 35 lengths into tenth by Classic Ben - third in that race Kimberlite Candy finished fifth in the Eider, fourth Give Me A Copper has been installed 13/2 favourite for the Ultima while seventh Shanroe Santos appears to hold Venetia Williams' charge on these terms - it is noted that Shanroe Santos did not jump well last time.

Meanwhile Theatre Guide finished fifteen lengths second behind Houblon Des Obeaux and on the book is not weighted to reverse the form. Of course, there's no guarantee Houblon Des Obeaux will turn up in the required frame of mind tomorrow and I feel that's reflected in the price on offer.

Carole's Destrier finished fourth in the Classic Chase at Warwick on his penultimate start - form that reads well - and prior to that won the Mandarin Chase over course and distance; his chance is respected as is that of favourite Abolitionist who was third in the 2017 Irish National and won an Aintree hurdle on his debut for new connections after a break of 441 days.

The Last Samuri has his third run following wind surgery; the second at Taunton last time out gives him every chance but Alan King has indicated Ziga Boy will come on for the run.

Two with lower mileage on the clock than most are Perform and Joe Farrell. Mr Ben Jones can claim seven on the former and has ridden at 9-7 in the past twelve months while the latter won here last year before going on to bag the Scottish National off a mark of 135.

A word too for Venetia Williams' other runner Marilhac whose second to Relentless Dreamer at Ludlow in December 2017 reads well but the balance of his form suggests he prefers racing right-handed.

Writing this post, I've come to realise just how competitive this race is.

I'm going to chance the Rebecca Curtis trained Joe Farrell. He hasn't been seen on a racecourse since beating Ballyoptic a nose in the Scottish National last April but he has been placed in four of his six chase starts to date and has won after a break in the past.

Joe Farrell is the each-way selection, at the time of writing 9/1 with William Hill who pay one fifth the odds five places.