Friday, March 26, 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021: one week on

A week is a long time in horse racing.

There has been plenty of soul-searching this side of the Irish Sea after Irish-trained horses won 23 of the 28 races at the Cheltenham Festival.

Irish domination was the theme last week and, as Kevin Blake rightly highlights, those 23 winners came from 10 individual trainers. 

Willie Mullins has attributed that domination to the long-term vision of Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive Brian Kavanagh whose latest five year stint in the role comes to an end this September;  unsurprisingly, both Mullins and Jim Bolger are keen to ensure the main man stays in post.

Over here Alan King speaks in the Weekender of 'taking Ferraris on with Fords' while Maddy Playle states:

"British jump racing lacks depth, because there are too many Graded events which give connections too many opportunities to dodge other talented horses."

Once again Irish runners performed extremely well in the Festival handicaps. Here are updated figures for Irish trained horses that recorded a first three finish in Festival handicaps: 

Cheltenham 2019 (10 handicap races): Ireland 5 wins; Great Britain 5 wins

Irish trained horses achieving a top three finish: 13 from 68 entries (19.12%)

Cheltenham 2020 (10 handicap races): Ireland 5 wins; Great Britain 5 wins

Irish trained horses achieving a top three finish: 17 from 73 entries (23.29%)

Cheltenham 2021 (9 handicap races): Ireland 7 wins; Great Britain 2 wins

Irish trained horses achieving a top three finish: 13 from 65 entries      (20%)

Two years ago Simon Holt highlighted a similar emerging trend in the handicap races at Aintree [RP Weekender 10-14.04.19]:

Aintree 2019 (7 handicap races): Ireland 5 wins; Great Britain 2 wins

Irish trained horses achieving a top three finish: 9 from 32 entries   (28.12%)

[Irish horses fill four of the first five places in the Grand National from 18 entries.]

Unfortunately last year's Aintree meeting was called off due to the coronavirus pandemic but here are figures for 2018 and 2017:

Aintree 2018 (7 handicap races): Ireland 1 win; Great Britain 6 wins

Irish trained horses achieving a top three finish: 5 from 31 entries   (16.13%)

[Irish horses fill six of the first eight places in the Grand National from 16 entries. In the concluding Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle, Scheu Time, trained by J A Nash and ridden by Ms K Walsh, fell at the last when in the lead.]

Aintree 2017 (7 handicap races): Ireland 0 win; Great Britain 7 wins

Irish trained horses achieving a top three finish: 4 from 25 entries        (16%)

With Covid and Brexit in the background it remains to be seen just how many Irish horses will travel over for Aintree this year - Willie Mullins has already indicated he only intends to send a small team. Whatever happens, I think it will certainly be worth taking a second look at any Irish runner declared in the seven Aintree handicaps:

Thursday 8th April: Red Rum Handicap Chase

Friday 9th April: Alder Hey / Merseyrail Handicap Hurdle; Topham Handicap Chase 

Saturday 10th April: Gaskells Handicap Hurdle; Betway Handicap Chase; Randox Grand National Handicap Chase; Pinsent Masons Handicap Hurdle

After all that I need a bet.

I'd like to think I K Brunel can put up an improved showing in tomorrow's William Hill Handicap Hurdle (2.05  Kelso) following wind surgery last month. Olly Murphy's charge was well backed the last day at Ascot but clearly something was amiss; he makes the long trip north with the better ground likely to suit. At the moment the yard is operating at a win strike rate of 22%; Adrian Heskin travels up for this one ride.

16/1 earlier this afternoon, I K Brunel is now quoted a 10/1 chance with the sponsors who are paying four places. 

I K Brunel is the each-way suggestion.

Friday, March 19, 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021 - the betting debrief

Shown below a record of the blog's highlighted selections at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival to a nominal one point level stakes wager (1 point win, 0.5 points each way) with bets settled at advised prices and each way returns calculated at one fifth the odds. 

Free bet offers utilised during the four days have not been included in the figures.

For the fifth time in the past six years the blog has returned a profit at the Cheltenham Festival. This year's performance beats the previous best on record (2019), falling into the 'scarcely believable' category, and the fifteenth anniversary of that very first post is just a couple of weeks away. With apologies to Bob Dylan: Ah, I was so much younger then, I'm older than that now.


1.20 Supreme Novices' Hurdle

Selection: Soaring Glory

Bet: Win

Advised price: 6/1

Starting price: 10/1

Result: Fourth

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

3.05 Champion Hurdle

Selection: Sharjah

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 12/1

Starting price: 11/1

Result: Second

Return: 1.70

Profit/Loss: +0.70

Profit/Loss Tuesday: -0.30


1.20 Ballymore Novices' Hurdle

Selection: Bravemansgame

Bet: Win

Advised price: 7/2

Starting price: 4/1

Result: Third

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

2.30 Coral Cup

Selection: Tea Clipper

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 40/1

Starting price: 33/1

Result: Third

Return: 4.50

Profit/Loss: +3.50

3.05 Queen Mother Champion Chase

Selection: Rouge Vif

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 28/1

Starting price: 20/1

Result: Ninth

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00


Profit/Loss Wednesday: +1.50


1.55 Pertemps Network Final

Selection: Mrs Milner

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 12/1

Starting price:  12/1

Result: Win

Return: 8.20

Profit/Loss: +7.20

3.05 Stayers' Hurdle

Selection: Flooring Porter

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 12/1

Starting price: 12/1

Result: Win

Return: 8.20

Profit/Loss +7.20

Profit/Loss Thursday: +14.40


1.55 County Hurdle

Selection: Milkwood

Bet: Each way

Advised price: 25/1

Starting price: 28/1

Result: Third

Return: 3.00

Profit/Loss: +2.00

3.05 Gold Cup

Selection: Al Boum Photo

Bet: Win

Advised price: Not recorded

Starting price: 9/4f

Result: Third

Return: 0.00

Profit/Loss: -1.00

Profit/Loss Friday: +1.00


Outlay over four days: 9 points

Profit/Loss over four days: +16.60 points

Profit as percentage of outlay: 184.44%


Normal service will be resumed next week.

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021 - Friday

A starter before the main course...

The County Hurdle (1.55)

I don't usually have a bet in the notoriously difficult County Hurdle but with the ground drying out I think Milkwood is big enough at 25/1 with Sky Bet who are paying eight places. 

Beaten five and a half lengths by Sceau Royal into fourth in the Welsh Champion Hurdle last October (Ballyandy second, Buzz third), he was badly hampered in a listed intermediate hurdle at Newbury four weeks later and in the circumstances did well to finish third, two lengths behind Floressa.

He didn't really make much of an impression in the Betfair Hurdle last month and the handicapper has dropped him a pound for that effort. 

This would appear to be his first run at an undulating track; he was withdrawn from the Greatwood Hurdle on the morning of the race on account of the ground deteriorating overnight from good to soft, soft in places to soft, heavy in places.. 

Current stable form looks good with five winners from 31 runs in the past fortnight; quoting trainer Neil Mulholland:

"The combinagtion of the softer ground and having to come from a long way back might not have helped him last time at Newbury. He might have used his run getting into the race, but that was my fault and we might do things differently this time. You take that run out and he'd be much shorter for this. The drier the ground the better for him."

Milkwood is the each-way selection, at the time of writing 25/1 with Sky Bet who pay eight places.

Footnote: Dan Skelton tends to target this race - he saddles Third Time Lucki who finished fourth in last year's bumper. I think the original plan was to run Proschema but the gelding failed to make the cut when only able to finish fifth at Newbury a fortnight ago.

And now the main course...

The 2021 Cheltenham Gold Cup (3.05)

Al  Boum Photo bids to become the first horse since Best Mate (2002 - 2004) to win three consecutive renewals of the Cheltenham Gold Cup. Although it's possible to make the case for a few of his opponents, on balance Willie Mullins' inmate is the percentage call. 

We've seen him just the once this season (Al Boum, that is, not Willie) winning the Savills New Year's Day Chase at Tramore.

At the time of writing A Plus Tard is priced up favourite in a couple of lists. Henry De Bromhead and Rachael Blackmore have had a spectacular week so far and you can only start to imagine the media coverage if Rachael were to become the first woman to ride a Gold Cup winner. 

Before Christmas A Plus Tard's best form had been over shorter trips but he stayed on well on his first try over three miles in Leopardstown's Savills Chase to beat Kemboy half a length. 

Rachael Blackmore, aboard stablemate Minella Indo in that race, came to grief at the eighth; Kemboy has since beaten Minella Indo in the Irish Gold Cup at the Dublin Festival.

Still, A Plus Tard has to stay another two and a half furlongs (and come up the hill) tomorrow and I just wonder whether he will last home. On official ratings he has six pounds to find with Al Boum Photo.

Champ is talented and possesses a big engine but remains something of an enigma. He has never been a particularly fluent jumper, of either hurdles or fences; in the RSA last year he was eight and a half lengths adrift coming to the last yet came up the hill with a late rattle to win going away from Minella Indo.

Connections have been working on those jumping issues and he looked better on his first outing after wind surgery over a trip of two miles in the Game Spirit at Newbury last month. It's certainly an unorthodox preparation for a Gold Cup. For me the key question is still whether his jumping will be good enough to keep him in contention.

Stablemate Santini was beaten a fast-diminishing neck last year but has just not looked quick enough this term. Connections will hope the fitting of a visor can bring about a much-needed return to form.

Frodon and Bryony Frost will want to get to the front early on and establish a rhythm. After winning the 2019 Cotswold Chase connections opted for the Ryanair rather than the Gold Cup which they duly won (Aso second). He still has to prove he stays this extended trip.

Royal Pagaille could be anything but you feel the drying ground is against him, a comment that also applies to previous winner Native River.

Lostintranslation was my selection for the race last year and he finished a creditable one and a half lengths third behind Al Boum Photo and Santini but, like Santini, he has been a shadow of his former self this term. 

Neither Aso or Black Op has won over a trip of three miles. 

There appears to be plenty of money for A Plus Tard this evening but Al Boum Photo has to be the selection.

Al Boum Photo is the win selection.


And finally...

For those with moolah left over - and an appetite for the practically impossible - the concluding Martin Pipe is a handicap Irish-trained runners have fared well in in recent years. Due to pressures of time I haven't done the homework on the nine Irish-trained declarations so I'm not going to offer an opinion.

Last year the Gordon Elliott trained Column Of Fire held every chance when coming to grief at the last.

The Dan Skelton trained Langer Dan won the Imperial Cup at Sandown on Saturday; connections will pick up a £50,000 bonus if the gelding comes home in front tomorrow.

David Pipe is particularly keen to win this race named after his father; he saddles three tomorrow: Leoncavallo, Martinhall and First Lord De Cuet.

On his last run Leoncavallo finished nine and a quarter lengths behind Great White Shark in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket. Both Leoncavallo and Martinhall were due to run at Sandown on Saturday but were unable to do so after an accident on the M5 caused major traffic problems close to the yard.

Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021 - Thursday

My two most fancied tips for this year's Festival miss their intended engagements tomorrow. 

Thyme Hill doesn't run in the Stayers' Hurdle after picking up a minor injury while it appears connections of Midnight Shadow prefer to take their chance in the Virgin Bet Silver Bowl Handicap Chase at Kempton on Saturday rather than tomorrow's Paddy Power Plate (3.40). 

Has that decision been influenced by the decision of the The Shunter's connections to take up that option from their five Festival entries? If The Shunter wins the Paddy Power Plate, they pick up a cool £100,000 bonus. 

Last time out Emmet Mullins' charge won the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso off a mark of 135 - that was less than a fortnight ago. Tomorrow he'll race off a mark of 140 but Jordan Gainford's seven pounds claim negates the rise.  

The Stayers' Hurdle (3.05)

The Stayers' Hurdle is the feature on Thursday with Paisley Park hoping to regain the crown he lost to Lisnagar Oscar last year.

Looking very quickly through the runners' profiles, I think drying ground could possibly inconvenience the following horses: Sire Du Berlais, Vinndication, The Storyteller, Beacon Edge (query), Sam Spinner and Main Fact.

No horse older than nine years of age has won this since Crimson Embers in 1986.

Paisley Park was found to be suffering from a heart irregularity in last year's race but looked back to full health when collaring Thyme Hill in the shadow of the post at Ascot last time.

Over Christmas Flooring Porter made all at Leopardstown to beat The Storyteller six lengths with Sire Du Berlais third, Fury Road fourth and Bacardys pulled up. A few people have carped the form saying he stole the race from the front; on Racing Post ratings (RPR) he has one pound to find with Paisley Park.

The last horse to make all and win this was Cole Harden in 2015.

Conceding two pounds Fury Road was beaten a neck by Beacon Edge over a trip of two miles five furlongs at Navan last time. He won a point-to-point on good ground over three miles in 2018 but has yet to win over this trip under rules and, beforehand, there appear to have been some doubts expressed as to whether he would travel over for this race.

Lisnagar Oscar has had an interrupted preparation. 

After finishing behind Roksana and then Thyme Hill in the autumn he underwent wind surgery. On return he ran a fine race from the front at Haydock, beaten threequarters of a length trying to concede six pounds to Third Wind. 

That effort was rated within three pounds of his best and Rebecca Curtis indicated he'd missed five weeks' work after cutting into himself at Newbury. 

The gelding is certainly underestimated but the adjusted RPR he recorded when winning this last year was the lowest in the past ten years.

At the time of writing Paddy Power go 12/1 Flooring Porter and pay five places.

Flooring Porter is the each-way selection.

Pertemps Network Handicap Hurdle (1.55)

Irish horses have dominated proceedings over the first two days. 

The British entries for this race are respected with Imperial Alcazar, Champagne Platinum and Come On Teddy all near the head of the market. 

However I'm going to concentrate on the Irish entries as an Irish-trained horse has won this race in each of the past five years.

The Irish-trained entries in tomorrow's renewal are: The Bosses Oscar, Milliner, Mrs Milner, Dandy Mag and Anything Will Do.

Joint top weight The Bosses Oscar has been well touted; Jordan Ganford rides and claims seven pounds. The British handicapper has allocated the gelding a mark of 151, eight pounds higher than his Irish rating. 

He was beaten 12 lengths by Flooring Porter at Navan in December and a little over three weeks later just failed to concede four pounds to Dandy Mag at Leopardstown with Mrs Milner fourth and Anything Will Do fifth. 

This stable has won the past three renewals with Delta Work and Sire Du Berlais (twice); the Bosses Oscar is the one to beat on RP ratings.

In the RP Weekender [10-14.03.21] Willie Mullins says of Dandy Mag:

"Looking at the weather forecast...I am not sure it will be wet enough for him but the British handicapper has put him 6lb higher than his Irish mark which ensures he will get a run, but for a horse of his age it will be a tough task." 

Mrs Milner's neck second to On The Blind Side on the Old Course here in November reads well but she fell last time out at Leopardstown.

Anything Will Do has a patchy record but at the Dublin Festival last month she took up the running coming to the last before fading into fifth behind Maze Runner. The likes of Koshari, Sayo (fourth in the Coral Cup earlier today), Pure Genius and Dandy Mag were in arrears.

Milliner has crept in right at the bottom of the weights. After a log layoff he finished fifth at Navan at the end of January and then qualified for this when third behind Atlantic Shore at Punchestown just over two weeks ago. Rated 123 in Ireland, he has been allocated just 126 here and the market indicates he has every chance. 

The Bosses Oscar is my idea of the winner; Milliner could be anything. 

Mrs Milner's neck second to On The Blind Side over the Old Course here in November catches my eye and I note she has previously won on good ground at Galway. The fall the last day was unfortunate.

At the time of writing Mrs Milner is 12/1 with Sky Bet who pay seven places.

Mrs Milner is the each-way selection. 

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021 - Wednesday

The Ballymore Novices' Hurdle (1.20)

It's generally accepted that Bob Olinger was the the last victim of Billy the Kid - who also happened to be known as William H Bonney. 

Trained by Alan King, William H Bonney finished well beaten in a handicap chase at Newbury two weeks ago ('went modest fourth two out') while Bob Olinger, trained by Henry De Bromhead, has been chalked up favourite for tomorrow's Ballymore Novices' Hurdle with just seven set to face the starter at 1.20.

Bob was impressive in the Lawlor's of  Naas Novices' Hurdle last time, looking particularly slick over his hurdles. Given the manner in which the Irish novices dominated the Supreme earlier today, confidence will be sky high for this.

On official ratings Gaillard Du Mesnil, trained by W P Mullins, is one pound ahead of the favourite while the Paul Nicholls trained Bravemansgame looked a good winner of the Challow at Newbury over Christmas and is rated five pounds ahead of the favourite by the Racing Post.

Paul Nicholls considers Bravemansgame his best chance of a winner at the meeting and Sky Bet are offering money back as cash (to a maximum £10) if your horse loses.

Bravemansgame is my risk-free play against Bob Olinger with Sky Bet, quoted a 7/2 chance at the time of writing.

The Brown Advisory Novices' Chase (1.55)

Monkfish has looked exceptional this season and goes into the Brown Advisory (1.55) a long odds-on chance; the race makes little appeal as a betting medium. It's worth noting only three favourites have obliged in the past decade.

Team Tizzard have suffered a torrid time of it all this term but signs of resurgence are there to be seen.

Harry Cobden has described The Big Breakaway as the best horse he has sat on so, with an eye to the future, I'll watch this one closely along with Sporting John who looked a little raw on only his second chase start in the Scilly Isles at Sandown last time but still managed to win going away from Shan Blue (quoted 15/2 for the Marsh Novices' Chase on Thursday) and should be suited by this step up in trip.

The Queen Mother Champion Chase (3.05) 

Chacun Pour Soi is a talented if fragile individual who was withdrawn on the morning of this race last year suffering from an abscess on the foot. On form he's the one to beat and he's priced accordingly but it's worth noting this is his first run at the track and there look to be some tempting prices about decent horses in this field.   

Altior isn't of them though, having been withdrawn yesterday following a dirty scope.

The going was changed to good to soft, soft in places after the Close Brothers Mares' Hurdle this afternoon and, judging by the breeze battering Oli Bell and Chris Hughes on ITV's Social Stable, we can continue to expect the ground to dry out pretty quickly. 

Odds-on shot Defi Du Seuil failed to fire in last season's renewal run on soft ground, allowing Politologue to make all and win. 

Paul Nicholls' grey beat stablemate Greaneteen in the Tingle Creek (Rouge Vif third) but was comprehensively beaten by First Flow in the Clarence House at Ascot last time. 

David Bass gave Kim Bailey's charge an inspired ride that day; to date this one has shown his best form on soft / heavy ground but connections feel First Flow might prefer slightly better ground now he's that little bit older. The main worry is he would appear to prefer racing right-handed. 

Put The Kettle On won the Arkle over course and distance last year and is three from three at the track. The mare's defeat of Duc Des Genievres on her penultimate start was workmanlike (five lengths down two out) and she finished third behind Chacun Pour Soi and stablemate Notebook at Leopardstown over Christmas. She has shown her form on good ground, soft ground and everything in-between.

Sceaux Royale will certainly appreciate better ground. He finished a well beaten fifth behind Politologue last year but was a highly creditable third behind Altior in 2019. 16/1 is of interest for each-way betting purposes.

Rouge Vif at 28/1 (in places) is big but he's ground dependent and  I'm not certain it will have dried out sufficiently. 

His victory over course and distance on good ground in the Bentley Flying Spur Handicap Chase last October was particularly impressive. 

Just over a year ago he beat Nube Negra in the Kingmaker at Warwick but finished well behind Dan Skelton's charge in the Desert Orchid Chase at Kempton over Christmas. The yard was going through a lean spell at the time but is in much better form now. 

It's noticeable layers aren't offering extra each-way places this race. 

A blog going under the name of PG's Tips really should tip up Put The Kettle On but 28/1 Rouge Vif is too tempting.

For those with a particularly strong constitution, Rouge Vif is the each-way selection (28/1 Bet Victor, three places).

Coral Cup (2.30)

Pressed for time, I haven't given this race the attention it requires. 

Top weight Thomas Darby has to give six pounds and upwards to the field but regular contributor TW makes a cogent case for this one:

Numbers have held up and a field of 26 is likely to go to post with system selection Thomas Darby [TD] heading the weights with 11-12. Whisper carried 11-11 in 2014 and William Henry 11-10 in 2019 to success and overall the quality of horse winning this race looks to have improved.

TD is quite lightly raced for an 8yo and this is only his 2nd try in a handicap. He never took to the bigger fences but his hurdle form is very good. Runner up in the 2019 Supreme, won his only handicap start [off 151, 4lbs higher today] giving 2lbs when beating the more than useful Song For Someone at Ascot over this sort of trip & ground. Since that handicap win TD has performed with credit in 3 graded stake races. TD has raced twice in big fields [11+ runners] winning one and 2nd in the other. His Cheltenham record from two runs is 12. He has never finished out of the first 3 [albeit some of these were small field affairs] and never been further than 5L behind the winner in hurdle races. He comes here a fresh horse [won after lay offs of 54 and 169 days]. He wears cheek pieces for the 1st time.

Nicky Henderson has won the last two renewals and Craigneiche, Birchdale, Monte Cristo and Janika all have their chances. The last-named ran a bit of a stinker at Ascot last time but was rated 164 on his last chase start (February 2020) yet comes into this with a mark of 145. Burbank carried my money in the 2018 renewal when trained by Henderson; he finished seventh that day behind Bleu Berry with Topofthegame second.

Grand Roi heads the market but I always think this is a tough race for five-year-olds. 

Shakem Up'Arry falls into that age bracket and will presumably be given a more prominent ride by David Bass after being held up in the Betfair Hurdle. Metier finished 12 lengths ahead in the Tolworth but did nothing for that form earlier today.

I'm going to take an each-way interest in Chepstow Silver Trophy winner Tea Clipper. 

Tom Lacey's charge beat Flash The Steel in south Wales but then finished behind that opponent on revised terms at Newbury in November. He'll appreciate drying ground and was freshened up in a jumpers' bumper won by Proschema at Newcastle last month. The yard is quite quiet at the moment but compared to some in this field he looks relatively unexposed.

Sky Bet, Paddy Power and Betfair pay seven places and at the time of writing offer 40/1.

Tea Clipper is the each-way selection. 

Sunday, March 14, 2021

Cheltenham Festival 2021 - Tuesday

For longer than I care to remember I've made the pilgrimage to Prestbury Park for Champion Chase day. 

This year it's going to be different, Cheltenham is going to be different, although I have to say I won't miss those timetabled visits to the gents' toilets which, more often than not, resemble a scene from one of Dante's nine circles of hell; or, for that matter, sobbing silently into a pint of overpriced Guinness after the bumper, consoling friends in that area of the Mandarin Bar reserved specifically for losers - while the more successful punters hold a carefree, impromptu party just across the way.

Tuesday's final declarations were published earlier today; field sizes are perceptibly smaller. Eight go to post in the Supreme, six in the Arkle, 10 in the Champion Hurdle and 16 in the Ultima.

The Festival is a four day marathon and, traditionally, I've exercised a deal of personal restraint on the first day - and there's no doubt my wallet has seen the benefit.

The Supreme Novices' Hurdle (1.20)

Ordinarily I wouldn't contemplate a wager in the opener, the Sky Bet Supreme Novices' Hurdle (1.20), but this year the sponsors offer money back as cash (maximum £10) if your horse loses. 

Appreciate It is the short-priced favourite but in the past decade the favourite has obliged only twice. On Racing Post ratings Tolworth winner Metier, rated 88 on the Flat in Ireland, is the one to oppose with but his form this term has been on soft or heavy ground.

I was taken with the manner in which Soaring Glory won the Betfair Hurdle 'comfortably' at Newbury on good to soft ground just over three weeks ago. He's likely to face similar conditions on Tuesday and connections have decided to fit first-time cheekpieces.

Soaring Glory is my play against the favourite, 6/1 with Sky Bet at the time of writing. 

Selection: Soaring Glory win (6/1 Sky Bet).

The Champion Hurdle (3.05)

The Champion Hurdle, the highlight of the first day, has been billed as a clash between two mares from either side of the Irish Sea.

Current favourite Honeysuckle is unbeaten in 10 starts. She was particularly impressive in the Irish Champion Hurdle last month, beating Abacadabras 10 lengths with Sharjah a disappointing nine lengths further adrift in third on ground described as soft / heavy. 

Last year Epatante won this race in convincing fashion, beating Sharjah three lengths (Silver Streak a further nine lengths adrift in sixth), recording a Racing Post rating (RPR) of 168 in the process - seven of the previous 10 winners recorded a higher rating. 

Nicky Henderson's mare displayed an impressive turn of foot to win the Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in November but didn't hurdle with her usual fluency last time when unable to keep tabs on front-running Silver Streak in the Christmas Hurdle at Kempton.

Goshen came to grief at the final flight in last year's Triumph Hurdle with the race at his mercy. 

This term, after a couple of warm-up runs on the Flat, Gary Moore's charge finished last of the ten runners in the International Hurdle; he was subsequently found to be suffering from an irregular heartbeat.  

He bounced back to form in spectacular fashion in the Kingwell Hurdle just over three weeks ago, beating Song For Someone 22 lengths. At the time of writing he is vying with Epatante for the second favourite's spot.

Silver Streak has shown improved form along with improved hurdling this season. Well beaten in third by Espoir Allen in the 2019 running, the eight year old grey finished sixth last year and could be expected to improve on that this time. In the past 10 years only two older than seven have come home in front - Hurricane Fly (2013) and Annie Power (2016).

I'm interested in Sharjah. I'm ready to forgive his latest effort behind Honeysuckle at the Dublin Festival where there was a hint regular pilot Mr P.W. Mullins overplayed the waiting tactics. 

Writing in the RP Weekender [10-14.03.21], Mr W.P. Mullins says:

"For the past two seasons he has been successful in the Grade 1 Matheson Hurdle at the Leopardstown Christmas Festival only to follow up with lacklustre runs in the Irish Champion Hurdle. It could be that it just comes too soon after Christmas. However, last year he bounced back at Cheltenham and I hope he can do the same again as he has been in grand order at home. Better ground will improve his chances and I think the right tactics may make the difference this year between first and second."  

At the tine of writing Sharjah is generally a 12/1 chance with bet365, Sky Bet and Paddy Power all paying four places; William Hill offer 10/1 and pay five places.

Selection: Sharjah each-way (12/1 generally, four places).

An old friend of mine, Aye Right, goes in the Ultima (2.30) and I like Richard Johnson on one that likes to race prominently but I missed the price last week and the 6/1 now on offer is too short.

In a previous post I discussed some of the Irish contenders in the Boodles (4.15); with a maximum field of 22 it looks difficult. Bet Victor offer 10/1 about Busselton and pay five places too but I'm going to let this particular opportunity pass by - there will be others later in the week.

Friday, March 12, 2021

A view on selected handicaps at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival

Regular readers with a mind for such matters may recall in the past couple of seasons I've examined the performance of Irish trained runners in Festival handicaps. 

A note on this year's numbers before looking at next week's declarations...

Imperial Aura won the final running of the Northern Trust Novices' Handicap Chase last year. That race has been replaced by the Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase (4.15 Friday). As a result there will be nine, not 10, handicaps at this year's Festival.

Entries for the handicap races are significantly down on previous years

The Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (4.50 Friday) attracted the highest number of entries. 

In contrast the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (4.15 Tuesday) attracted just 44 entries, with four of those non-qualifiers; the Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (1.55 Thursday) received 46 entries with seven non-qualifiers.

Irish trained entries in the handicaps are at their lowest since 2014. 

Gordon Elliott was responsible for over a quarter of this year's figure; Denise 'Sneezy' Foster assumed formal responsibility for the yard on Tuesday following Mr Ellliott's well-documented wrongdoing.

As I attempted to demonstrate in the run-up to last year's Festival, statistically Irish trained runners have fared well in Festival handicaps.

Last year's results compare favourably with those from 2019:

2019: 13 Irish trained runners record a top three finish from 68 entries (19%)

2020: 17 Irish trained runners record a top three finish from 73 entries (23.29%)

Gordon Elliott was responsible for four of the five Irish trained handicap winners last year.

I've concentrated efforts on entries for three races in which Irish runners have recorded notable success in recent years: the Boodles (4.15 Tuesday); the Pertemps (1.55 Thursday); and the Martin Pipe (4.50 Friday).

Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (4.15 Tuesday)

The Boodles was known as the Fred Winter back in 2017 - and was also known for being something of a lottery. In the preceding ten years nothing had won off a rating higher than 133. That year the Nick Williams trained Flying Tiger flew in off a mark of 134 - at odds of 33/1. 

The winners since (trainer, OR, SP): 

2018: Veneer Of Charm (G.Elliott); 129; 33/1

2019: Band Of Outlaws (J. O'Brien); 139; 7/2f

2020 result: 

1. Aramax (G.Elliott); 138; 15/2

2. Night Edition (D.Pipe); 133; 16/1

3. Saint D'oroux (G.Elliott); 133; 14/1

With 28 six day declarations the Irish trained entries are: Youmdor, Saint Sam, Druid's Altar, Busselton, Riviere D'etel, Longclaw, Glorious Zoff, Zoffanien, Coltor, Jeff Kidder, Curious Bride, Scholastic.

In the RP Weekender, Willie Mullins indicates Youmdor is likely to run in the Triumph. 

In a Festival preview broadcast I heard one commentator indicate a rating under 140 would be considered good news for Saint Sam; Mullins' charge has been allocated 139 and heads the market at the time of writing. He was well beaten by Quilixios last time but finished ahead of Busselton at level weights; on revised terms the pair look closely matched here.

Previously on Boxing Day Zanahiyr beat Busselton with Saint Sam fourth, Druid's Altar sixth and Jeff Kidder seventh, less than nine lengths behind the winner.  

Druid's Altar won going away from Zoffanien in a Naas novice hurdle last time. Zoffanien has been kept busier than most and won off a mark of 119 at the end of last month.  

Paul Kealy makes the case for Curious Bride at a price in the RP Weekender. The filly was pulled up over an extended trip at Navan last time out but prior to that won a 20 runner Punchestown maiden from the front with Zoffanien finishing third and Coltor fourth. Rated 116 in Ireland, she races off 123 here.

Of interest: Busselton, Druid's Altar.

Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (1.55 Thursday)

Horses trained in Ireland have won the past five renewals. The 2020 result:

1. Sire Du Berlais (G.Elliott); 152; 10/1

2. The Storyteller (G.Elliott); 149; 11/2jf

3. Tout Est Permis (N.Meade); 136; 12/1

There are 31 six day declarations; Irish trained entries consist of: The Bosses Oscar, Danny Mag, Anything Will Do, Mrs Milner, Dalton Highway, Milliner.

With just six entries - and two of those need a few to drop out to make the final cut - top weight The Bosses Oscar holds an obvious chance. 

Fifth in last year's Martin Pipe off a mark of 138, he made significant ground in the closing stages despite suffering interference in running. 

He has shown improved form this term for the step up in trip, finishing a well beaten second behind Flooring Porter (quoted at 8/1 for the Stayers' Hurdle) on his penultimate run before just failing to concede four pounds to Dandy Mag at Leopardstown over Christmas (Mrs Milner fourth, Anything Will Do fifth). He is now rated 151.

Dandy Mag subsequently finished 35 lengths behind stablemate Maze Runner at the Dublin Festival (Anything Will Do fifth). In the RP Weekender Mullins states:

"Looking at the weather forecast we have been given I am not sure it will be wet enough for him but the British handicapper has put him 6lb higher than his Irish mark which ensures he will get a run, but for a horse of his age it will be a tough task."  

On that Leopardstown run over Christmas both Anything Will Do and Mrs Milner are weighted to finish a lot closer to Dandy Mag and The Bosses Oscar. 

Mrs Milner's neck second to On The Blind Side off a mark of 130 at Cheltenham last November reads well. The mare fell when racing over a much shorter trip at the Dublin Festival which was unfortunate. 

Of interest: The Bosses Oscar, Mrs Milner.

Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys' Handicap Hurdle (4.50 Friday)

With six day entries still to be published, this looks a minefield at the moment. 

Gentleman De Mee is owned by J.P. McManus, trained by W.Mullins, remains unexposed and could be anything. He's priced up clear favourite at the time of writing.

Column of Fire came to grief at the last in this race last year when holding every chance; he is rated two pounds higher this time. Wide Receiver is in the same ownership.

The Shunter won the Morebattle Hurdle at Kelso last weekend and as a result has been raised five pounds; connections will pocket a bonus of £100,000 if their charge wins any race at the Festival. Trainer Emmet Mullins is currently operating at a 44% win strike rate and has fared particularly well with his runners this side of the Irish Sea. The Shunter holds entries in a number of races while stablemate Sneaky Getaway holds an entry in this and the Coral Cup (2.30 Wednesday).    

Connections of Gabynako are hopeful but don't consider their charge 'thrown in'; stablemate Wolf Runner is more likely to go for the County Hurdle.

N'golo holds several entries but will only travel over if the ground is drying out.

If you've made it this far, you're not likely to be best pleased when I tell you I'm not really sure I'm any further forward.

The Festival is certainly going to be different this year. As always, I'll aim to post selections for each of the four days. 

Not long to wait now...

Monday, March 08, 2021

Looking ahead: the 2021 Stayers' Hurdle

Compared to the other championship races, to date The Paddy Power Stayers' Hurdle (3.05 Thursday) seems to have received relatively sparse attention. 

In an attempt to redress the balance a little, here's a copy of a preview that landed on my desk recently, followed by my own initial thoughts on the race.

Stayers’ Hurdle at the 2021 Cheltenham Festival

Of the four feature races of the Cheltenham Festival, the Stayers’ Hurdle has arguably been under the least scrutiny in the lead up to the 2021 event. The narrative of the other big races is plain to see: Al Boum Photo gunning for a Gold Cup hat-trick; Epatante taking on Honeysuckle in the Champion Hurdle; Chacun Pour Soi as a red-hot favourite to deliver Willie Mullins a first-ever Queen Mother Champion Chase.

But while there haven’t been many headlines concerning the Stayers’ Hurdle, it remains intriguing. The 2019 winner, Paisley Park, is the slight favourite, with odds of 10/3 generally. But Thyme Hill is right on his shoulder at 4/1. But those publishing their Cheltenham tips and predictions for day 3 will be well aware that a 50/1 winner, Lisnagar Oscar, confounded the experts last year. There are several candidates tipped to upset the leading pair in 2021.


Last Year’s Winner at 16/1 

Indeed, the lead up to the 2021 Stayers’ Hurdle has been defined by one of those strange situations where the majority of tipsters eschewed talking about the market leaders, but instead have backed the JP McManus-owned Sire Du Berlais. The 9yo is a general 7/1 chance and has popped everywhere up on racing forums and tipping sites as the prime candidate to upset the two favourites. The Storyteller (12/1) has also had plenty of backing. He finished second to Sire Du Berlais in the 3m Pertemps Handicap Hurdle at Cheltenham last year. 

The Storyteller and Sire du Berlais finished second and third respectively to Flooring Porter in the Grade 1 Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle (also run over 3m) in December. The feeling is that Flooring Porter caught rivals on the hop that day, but the Gavin Cromwell-trained 6yo was also impressive when winning a big handicap hurdle at Navan a few weeks earlier. 14/1 will tempt some. Last year’s winner, Lisnagar Oscar, is a general 16/1 chance, but hasn’t shown much form since that surprise victory. 

French Runner Is a Wild Card Option 

Further down the markets, Paul’s Saga at 40/1 catches the eye. The French runner was a distant second when making a first appearance in Britain at Warwick last month. But form in France has been impressive: Paul’s Saga won two Grade 1’s in France over the winter, including the French equivalent of the Champion Hurdle (run over 3 miles), Le Grande Course de Haies d'Auteuil. 

As for the two favourites, not much needs to be said about Paisley Park. Imperious over 3m up until the shock loss last year, this season has been fine. Paisley Park lost by just over a length to Thyme Hill at Newbury on his season reappearance, and then beat by Thyme Hill by a neck in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas. Neither horse has appeared since. 

So, there you have it – something of a puzzle unless you have some conviction about one of the favourites. The Storyteller suggests value at 12/1, and his consistency might make an each-way bet worth considering. Paul’s Saga is certainly a wild card, but if you can get 40/1 alongside some extra places through a bookies’ promotion on Day 3, it could feel like a masterstroke in hindsight.



In receipt of three pounds Thyme Hill beat Paisley Park one and a half lengths at Newbury in November. Three weeks later, at level weights, Paisley Park reversed the form, beating Thyme Hill a neck in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot. With the score one apiece, several see this as the decider. 

Paisley Park's hold-up style of racing reminds me of Baracouda and Inglis Drever - and it doesn't do an awful lot for the old jam tart!

There are likely to be times during the race when Emma Lavelle's charge appears to be struggling but his record speaks for itself. He recorded an adjusted Racing Post rating (RPR) of 176 when winning the 2019 renewal and was found to be suffering from a heart irregularity when failing to defend his title behind Lisnagar Oscar last year.

Philip Hobbs rates Thyme Hill 'our strongest chance going into Cheltenham'. In a Straight from the Stable article in the Weekender [24-28.02.21] he states:

"I will not be checking on the ground as he is effective on anything, but he clearly goes well on heavy."

It would be a mistake though to think this is a two horse race.

I was taken by Lisnagar Oscar's run at Haydock last month following wind surgery, beaten threequarters of a length conceding six pounds to Third Wind. Connections of Third Wind, fourth in last year's Pertemps, have indicated they won't run in this as they see their charge finishing fourth or fifth at best.

16/1 Lisnagar Oscar looks quite big, particularly if the ground comes up on the soft side, but, that said, last year Rebecca Curtis' charge recorded the lowest winning RPR (155) of the past decade.   

From a time angle Sire Du Berlais won the Pertemps in 6m 0.22s last year (The Storyteller second, Tout Est Permis third) while Lisnagar Oscar recorded 6m 3.20s in the Stayers' Hurdle.

If those times highlight the chance of Sire Du Berlais, then Flooring Porter has to enter calculations following his all-the-way win in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown (The Storyteller second, Sire Du Berlais third, Fury Road fourth, Bacardys pulled up). 

Some commentators feel that race was stolen from the front but Tom Segal has already tipped this one each-way; the last horse to make all and win was Cole Harden in 2015, recording an adjusted RPR of 162 in the process.

The Storyteller has done more chasing than hurdling this term, finishing a creditable second to Kemboy in the Irish Gold Cup last month; no horse older than nine years of age has won this since 1986.

Fury Road isn't lightly dismissed either on the back of his neck third behind Monkfish in last year's Albert Bartlett, with Thyme Hill one and a quarter lengths adrift in fourth; Thyme Hill looked unfortunate to suffer traffic problems at the business end of the race that day. The winning time was 5m 57.96s.

Plenty to ponder there - and certainly no two horse race. 

Friday, March 05, 2021

County form lines for Kelso's 2021 Morebattle Hurdle

Following a grim week for racing, Gordon Elliott attended an Irish Horseracing Regulatory Board's referrals hearing today; the trainer has been banned for one year - the final six months suspended - after he was found guilty of bringing the sport into disrepute.

Several small fields tomorrow; in search of some value, I've decided to head north of the border and look at the Morebattle Hurdle (3.15 Kelso). 

The race is named after a village seven miles south of Kelso and, since 1984, has been run as a conditions event. Tomorrow's renewal will be the first in its newly revised guise as a Class 2 handicap - the result is a competitive field of 14 runners. 

The going described as good to soft.

A number of these did battle in the Scottish County Hurdle at Musselburgh last month and several also hold entries in the County Hurdle at Cheltenham; there's a £100,000 bonus if tomorrow's winner can go on to win any race at the Festival.

The last time we saw The Shunter this side of the Irish Sea he won one of the season's most competitive handicaps - the Greatwood Hurdle at Cheltenham - fairly comfortably off a mark of 128. 

Starting seven pounds higher tomorrow, it's no surprise to see he's priced up favourite. Trainer Emmet Mullins has a fine record with his runners in Britain, Cape Gentleman winning the Dovecote at Kempton the most recent example.

The Skelton operation is going great guns at the moment (9 wins from 54 runs in the past fortnight) and Faivoir is given plenty of respect. This one surprised a few, myself included, when beating Minella Drama a neck in the Rossington Main at Haydock in January.

Hunters Call may be 11 years old but he brings decent form to the table including fourth behind The Shunter in the Greatwood  and, most recently, third behind Boreham Bill in the Lanzarote over the extended trip of two miles five at Kempton.

Night Edition was beaten a length by Aramax in the Boodles at the Festival last year but has been out of form in competitive handicaps this term. 

Tommy's Oscar has to enter calculations on the back of a respectable second to Bareback Jack (goes in Premier Novices' Hurdle at 1.30) last time out. 

Paul Nicholls saddles two with Solo well backed during the day. 

Conversely stablemate Christopher Wood has drifted in the betting. 

This one beat Voix Du Reve three and a quarter lengths in the Scottish County Hurdle at Musselburgh last month (Blakeney Point fifth, Newton Boy sixth, Locker Room Talk tenth). 

Previously Blakeney Point pipped Voix Du Reve a neck in the Hogmaneigh Handicap Hurdle at Musselburgh on New Year's Day. Donald McCain's charge isn't without talent but wouldn't be the most consistent of individuals; connections reach for the blinkers for the first time since September 2019 and, with Brian Hughes in the plate, 28/1 looks a big price.

Sky Bet pay five places this race and the 25/1 they offer about Voix Du Reve, part owned by golfer Lee Westwood, has just proved too tempting.  

His fourth in the Fighting Fifth 12 lengths behind Epatante isn't form to take at face value but Iain Jardine's charge has run well this season, although his hurdling hasn't always been as clean as you might have wished for. 

Still, with seven pound claimer Oakley Brown up, he looks weighted to come home ahead of recent conquerors Christopher Wood and Blakeney Point, and on Racing Post ratings the gelding, trained at Carrutherstown, Dumfries & Galloway, is bang there with every chance.

Voix Du Reve is the each-way suggestion.