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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Anonymous said...

Best of luck for Cheltenham.

My, rather mechanical, modus operandum is to take look no further than the next day’s races so I’ll focus on Sandown and the Imperial Cup before turning my attention to the Festival.

Speredek tops the system ratings and could run a big race from the front back over hurdles under Tom Buckley the yard’s 10 lb claimer. But at 33/1 [5 places 1/5 odds] I’ll take chance on Chti Balko (CB) running a big race. He disappointed when last seen, however given subsequent events at Donald McCain’s stables he might just have been under the weather. That tame effort aside he has run some nice races this term yet the handicapper has been good enough to drop him to a tempting 141. He has a Cheltenham entry, but I do not consider Matchbook’s £100,000 pot to be at risk just yet.

As I’m not performing anywhere near the level of this blog and in a desperate attempt to bolster the kitty for next week, I’ve also included CB in an EW double with Skandiburg. The race looks an open enough affair and 25/1 – again 5 places – just looked a bit too big.

I’ll probably be on the back foot before the Festival gets going!


GeeDee said...

Good luck, TW! After reading your write-up, I've started to hear those damned siren voices again. Doing my best to keep the powder dry for next week... ;)

GeeDee said...


Skandiburg write-up in RP:

"There was plenty to like about the peformances of Skandiburg, Boldmere and Senior Citizen in scanning the field for future staying chasers. Skandiburg could be the one to concentrate on as this five-year-old looked to have the most physical scope of the trio.

One of the youngest in the field, he was not subject to a hard race on the testing ground and this bumper winner will have learned plenty from just his fourth run over hurdles. It was no surprise he did not have the pace to go with them when they quickened into the home straight but he plugged on gamely."

Anonymous said...

Thanks PG, Skandiburg ran O.K but did not show the improvement the system had predicted and perhaps he is a horse that needs a bit better ground than he had yesterday. The going should have favoured Chti Balko but he disappointed and it may be that Donald’s string needs to show a bit more before backing any of his just yet.

The net result was a dent in the kitty before the festival has even started!!

Tuesday’s final declarations are and now out and with 117 set to go to post (smallest field is the Champion Hurdle with runners) I’m pleased I have a system to do some the form study donkey work!