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 That race has been replaced by the Mrs Paddy Power Mares' Chase (4.15 Friday).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...


Anonymous said...

My system places no emphasis on where a trainer is based but it will be interesting to see if the Irish trained runners over-perform this year.

The system is under-performing in 2021 and I’m in the red for the year thus far; I’m not sure Cheltenham will be the meeting to turn things around but I’ll be giving it a go!

Best of luck with any blog selections you do manage to post.


GeeDee said...

A word to the wise, TW.

To give yourself the absolute very best chance of 'turning things around', make sure you ignore any wagers suggested on this blog.

Looking forward to it all nonetheless.

Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Warning Pre Festival Diversion!

BARONERACING.COM Leinster National Handicap Chase

For punters that can get on with Will Hill the place terms offered on this race are too generous to pass in a bid to boost Cheltenham funds:

Fourteen (14) or more must run for 6 places 1/5th to be paid. Twelve (12) or more must run for 5 places to be paid. Ten (10) or more must run for 4 places to be paid. In the event of nine (9) runners or less, standard EW terms will apply.

There are currently 15 runners.

Lean Araig is 5lb out of the handicap

8,9 & 10yos look optimum so I’ve dropped off Scoir Mear and Castle Oliver.

The going at Naas on the Chase course is Soft to Heavy,heavy in places. With showers throughout the day the going is likely to be testing.

I’m not sure the following horses will thrive on testing ground; Fitzhenry, Saturnas, Blazer, Smoking Gun, Speak Easy, and Ten Ten

The race in ran over 3 miles and 126 yards which gives concerns for Chavi Artist and Best Behavior.

This leaves Class Conti, Atlantic Shore, Rocky’s Silver & Dounikos.

Dounikos is potentially well treated off a mark of 138 with a 7lb claimer but you need to trawl back through the form book to Feb 2019 since he last put in a decent shift. Rocky’s Silver probably has one of these in him but a career high mark of 132 will not help his cause. Class Conti is talented but inconsistent, if it is a going day he may win.

So the best bet to make the most of Will Hill’s generous concession in a hope of booting the Festival coffers may be Atlantic Shore. He’s up 7lb for his last chase win but looks to have relished the step up to longer distances, comes into the race in great form and can surely make one of those 6 places.

1PT EW at 9/1 6 places 1/5 odds.


Anonymous said...

A system badly out of tune and a schoolboy error [I’d failed to notice that Atlantic Shore PU yesterday, fortunately the trainer has withdrawn him] does not augur well for the week ahead…

Still 48-hours Decs now out for Tuesday so onwards and ……?


GeeDee said...

Put it down to pre-festival nerves, TW... :)

A cursory look at Tuesday's 48 hr decs - fields look smaller than usual.

Anonymous said...

A interesting update on Irish v Non-Irish in the handicaps thus far by Simon Rolwands on ATR:

Trainer update

An update on trainer performance after the first two days.

There have been four handicaps, two won by Irish-trained horses (Jeff Kidder and Heaven Help Us, both hurdles) and two won by non-Irish (Vintage Clouds and Sky Pirate, both chases).

The % of rivals beaten are remarkably similar, Irish/non-Irish and hurdle/chase.

Chase: Irish, 9 runners, 49.7%, non-Irish, 26 runners, 50.1%

Hurdle: Irish, 18 runners, 49.0%; non-Irish, 30 runners, 50.6%

Overall: Irish, 27 runners, 49.4%; non-Irish, 56 runners, 50.3%

The Irish may be dominating the Festival overall, but the BHA handicappers have done a good job in getting parity in handicaps. So far.


GeeDee said...

That's interesting, TW.

Those figures would appear to indicate the BHA handicappers have taken steps to address anomalies seen in the recent past.

Sometime before Aintree I'll analyse the Festival handicap results to generate similar figs to those quoted for the past couple of years.