Friday, March 11, 2022

Cheltenham Festival 2022 - handicap hints and headaches...

Irish trained runners dominated last year's Festival winning 23 of the 28 races.

In the immediate aftermath  Willie Mullins attributed that domination to the long term vision of Horse Racing Ireland's chief executive at the time Brian Kavanagh while, amidst much soul-searching this side of the Irish Sea, Alan King talked of 'taking Ferraris on with Fords'.

In the recent past Irish horses have performed particularly well in Festival handicaps:

2019: 13 of the 68 runners achieved a top three finish (19.12%)

2020: 17 of the 73 runners achieved a top three finish (23.29%)

2021: 13 of the 65 runners achieved a top three finish (20%)

A review established by the British Horseracing Authority announced in September that changes to the way British horses are handicapped would be made 'to correct a perceived imbalance in ratings'.

In a recent piece of analysis published on his ATR blog, Kevin Blake looks at the implications of these changes and concludes:

"...while last year's equivalent of this piece of analysis was unusually upbeat about how the Irish-trained horses were treated as a group by the weights, there is much less to be happy about this year. The treatment of the handicap hurdlers seems notably tough given all that has changed with how leniently British hurdlers have been treated this season."

The post highlights the handicapper's treatment of Langer Dan, currently favourite for the Martin Pipe (Friday 5.30), to illustrate the point. 

In similar vein, on seasonal debut Alaphilippe lost two places after the final flight when finishing fifth behind Sporting John at Warwick in January. 

Fergal O'Brien's charge has been been dropped two pounds for that effort and is set to contest this year's renewal of the Pertemps Final (Thursday 2.10) off a mark of 138 - five pounds lower than when fifth in last year's race behind Vanillier.

Sire Du Berlais, fourth in that Warwick race off 158, won the 2020 renewal of the Pertemps Final off 152 in a faster time than Lisnagar Oscar won the Stayers' Hurdle, and is set to go off a mark of 156.   

The Gordon Elliott trained Death Duty - 7/1 joint favourite for the Ultima Handicap Chase (Tuesday 2.50) - is the only horse assigned a lower rating than his Irish mark. Ironically this is a race in which Irish runners haven't fared particularly well in recent times, Dun Doire the last one to oblige in 2006.

School Boy Hours, with entries in the Ultima (Tuesday 2.50),  the Kim Muir (Thursday 5.30), as well as the Grand National at Aintree, runs off the same mark as his Irish rating - 142. 

Noel Meade's charge was raised nine pounds after winning the Paddy Power Chase at Leopardstown over Christmas with Ben Dundee second, Death Duty fifth, Foxy Jacks seventh and Noble Yeats ninth.  

Apparently the handicapper has also changed the way in which he rates French horses this season. 

As Paul Kealy has pointed out, under the old system Gaelic Warrior would have been rated 139 rather than 129 in the Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (4.50 Tuesday). 

In the same race it's possible to make a case for The Tide Turns being ahead of his mark (137) following his run behind Teahupoo in the Red Mills Trial. 

The only British trained runner with a rating above 130 is Petit Tonnerre (138) who also holds an entry in the Triumph Hurdle (Friday 1.30).

Taking into consideration the analysis above, British trained hurdlers with an entry in a Festival handicap and a mark that has fallen since the turn of the year include: 

McFabulous (155-150); Honest Vic (146-141); If The Cap Fits (142-137); Ask Dillon (141-137); Solara One (134-130); Boothill (135-132); Third Wind (146-144); Call Me Lord (144-142); Brinkley (142-140); Stoney Mountain (141-139); Pileon (137-135); and Balko Saint (133-131). 

After all that, currently just seven British trained horses are priced up either favourite or joint favourite for the Festival's 28 races:

Constitution Hill (Supreme)

Edwardstone (Arkle)

Good Risk At All (Coral Cup)

Shishkin (Champion Chase)

Celebre D'Allen (Paddy Power Plate)

Hillcrest (Albert Bartlett)

Langer Dan (Martin Pipe)

A quick glance at the Coral Cup and I'm surprised Gowel Road is 12/1 and Unexpected Party 9/1 when the former beat the latter over course and distance in November conceding a stone. Gowel Road also holds an entry in the Martin Pipe.

I think Kiltealy Briggs is worth a second look in the Ultima (Tuesday 2.50) as is Commodore in the Kim Muir (Thursday 5.30) on the back of an impressive win at the track back in December; the Venetia Williams trained grey also holds an entry in the Grand National.  

Threeunderthrufive looked interesting in the National Hunt Challenge Cup (Tuesday 5.30). Paul Nicholls happens to agree but the McNeill family are keen to run in the Brown Advisory (Wednesday 2.10).

Dan Skelton probably goes into next week with his strongest ever team - away from the handicaps, Nube Negra (Champion Chase) and Protektorat (Gold Cup) represent reasonable each-way plays although drying ground may not play to Protektorat's strengths.

And with no more than 10 runners in the Champion Hurdle I wonder if William Hill will pay five places as they did last year - Not So Sleepy finished fifth at odds of 125/1.

Sky Bet offer to return losing bets (win singles and win part of each way singles) to a maximum of £10.00 in the first race of the meeting, the Supreme (Tuesday 1.30). 

The crowds are set to make a welcome return this year; as always I'll aim to post selections for each of the four days.

Not long to wait now...


Mulldog said...

Good luck next week PG

GeeDee said...

Thanks, Mully. Good to hear from you.

Hope the gods of racing smile on you as well... :)