Saturday, 21 March 2015

Nothing Solid For Saturday

I have no strong fancy today. A speculative choice, if pressed, would be Midnight Jazz e/w in the 2.35 Listed mares handicap at Newbury. An impressive winner last time on soft ground (handles good) this horse is priced up at 16/1. Ben Case has his string in fine form, with Croco Bay doing this blogger proud with a cracking run in the last race at the festival. Midnight Jazz's dam was placed in a listed bumper on good ground (her two sisters won on good ground), and connections will be keen to repeat the dose today. She is by Midnight Legend, whose progeny usually cope well with decent ground too, so this horse looks worth a small each way interest at 16s. 

Pick: Midnight Jazz small e/w 16/1 2.35 Newbury 

Friday, 20 March 2015

A Friday Fancy From The Punter's Graveyard

Last weekends selections ran well, with both Saffron Wells and Mydor staying on well late to take 4th and 3rd respectively. Mydor was given a terrible ride in my opinion, and it wouldn't surprise me in the slightest to see him popping up at Punchestown or Galway in one of the big festival handicaps stepped back up to three miles and on decent ground. Not for the first time Mr Martin has a well handicapped animal on his hands.
Tonight's fancy is a rare selection from the punter's graveyard Dundalk. Excelli goes in the 8.35, and gets in as second reserve. This horse has had three runs for rookie Ballysax trainer Maria Richert and has run well in all of them. He went close on his second run under this evening's pilot Damien Melia, beaten just half a length off a mark of 47. Raised 2lb for that run to 49,  he followed it up with an arguably even better effort when he was 4th, beaten 2.5l by Cristys Call(2nd) who has gone on to win his next two starts. Cristys Call ran off a mark of 55 that day. Today he runs off 68 whereas Excelli stays off 49, with Melia's claim meaning he is effectively off 42. Simply put, Excelli was getting 6lb from Cristys Call when they last met, today he is getting 26lb. I would be amazed if a 20lb swing is not enough for Excelli to turn the tables tonight. 
I will post a selection or two for the weekend later on. Watch this space. 

Pick: Excelli (7/1) e/w (just in case!)

Saturday, 14 March 2015

Cheltenham Reflections And A Couple For Saturday

Festival Reflections

The Olympics of National Hunt racing are over, but thankfully we only have a year to wait before the fun starts all over again. After a great day for punters on Tuesday, a day which could have been even better but for the final flight fall of Annie Power, the bookies refilled their satchels on the next three days with only four more favourites obliging in the remaining twenty races.
One of the main narratives of the week was the fact that this would be the last time the festival would be treated to the sight of a certain AP McCoy in full flight driving a horse to victory. He only managed to get one winner, Uxizandre in the Ryanair, and was denied a fairytale swansong in the last race of the week, named after him, when Ned Buntline could only finish fourth behind the relentless Next Sensation. The McCoy roadshow will roll onto Aintree now, as the long goodbye continues. You can be sure Jonjo and JP will have a few tricks up their sleeves for him at the remaining major meetings of the season. (Shutthefrontdoor in the National perhaps?)
Another highlight for me was the victories in the feature races on Thursday and Friday for two less well known trainers, Warren Greatrex and Cole Harden in the World Hurdle, and The Bradstocks and Coneygree in the Gold Cup. I think it is brilliant to see the small men making their mark taking on the might of  the likes of Micheal O'Leary and Rich Ricci's millions. While the achievement of Willie Mullins in winning eight races should not be overlooked or underestimated, it has to be remembered that he has an army of horses to choose from and had near fifty runners in total. The wins at the festival for the likes of the Bradstocks are what Cheltenham is all about for me, It proves that while many smaller operations may not have the resources or ammunition of the Mullins' or Nicholls' yards, on the rare occasions they do get a good horse they are just as adept as training it and producing it at the peak of its powers on the big day.Racing would be boring if the big yards and owners swept all before them, and if the sport is to continue to thrive into the future it needs to keep producing fairytales like it did on Thursday and Friday.

Back To Reality

Cheltenham may be over, and many will be nursing sore heads and looking for a few quid down the back of their sofas, but the show must go on, and tomorrows main attractions come from the altogether less glamorous venues Kempton and Uttoxeter. Tony Martin, victorious during the week with Rivage D'or, sends Mydor to Kempton in search of victory in the Silver Plate at 2.20. This horse narrowly missed the cut for the Pertemps, and there had been a lot of support for him in ante post markets (he was as short as 12/1). This suggests Mydor is in peak condition, and the support for him already this evening, 6/1 into 4/1 with Powers, would lead one to believe a big run will be forthcoming. Shane Shorthall takes off a valuable 5lb and this Irish raider looks well worth an interest at the current price of 4/1. I can see him going off a lot shorter.
Saffron Wells could be the danger, and is worth having a saver on at 20/1. His last run was very disappointing, but if he can confirm the promise of his previous run over course and distance he could well give the favourite something to think about.

Selections: Mydor 4/1, Saffron Wells (e/w 20/1)

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Fridays Festival Fancies

Triumph Hurdle

A race where the last four winners have been out of predominantly flat sires, with Authorized, Azamour, Haafd and Jeremy, the sire of the ill fated Our Conor, responsible. This year the horses at the head of the market are all bred along similar lines.
Beltor is by Authorized, sire of last years winner Tiger Roll, and has been mightily impressive on both his starts over hurdles. I backed him first time out at 16/1, and immediately after I had a small interest on him at 66/1 for this race. That quickly disappeared after he hacked up at Kempton upped in class last time out, and there is every chance he can give rookie trainer Robert Stephens his first festival winner. The run of Modus in the bumper also shows that his horses are in top form and the forecast rain will be no problem for him either. Can still be backed at 7/1 which is more than a fair price.
There are a few likely dangers in the field though, chief among them Peace And Co, unbeaten over hurdles and an easy winner over Starchitect, who did the form no harm with a gutsy fourth yesterday. Any rain will not adversely effect his chances either, with all his wins, including one at Cheltenham, coming on soft ground. He is definitely the biggest threat to the selection.
One at a decent price that could sneak a place is the John Ferguson trained Devilment, available at odds of 20/1. This son of  Cape Cross was placed off 91 on the flat for Godolphin and, as you would expect from one of their horses, has an outstanding pedigree (Dam 2nd in Sagaro Stakes). He has won both his hurdle starts without breaking sweat, and whilst tomorrow will be a different sort of test there is every chance this well bred sort will be up to it. The big negative would have to be the performances of Ferguson's string so far, as many were predicting a strong showing from him at the festival this year. Perhaps his luck will change tomorrow.

Picks: Beltor (nb) 7/1 Devilment e/w 22/1

Vincent O'Brien Hurdle

After seeing the majority of my (confident) handicap selections running less than impressively over the first three days I am now approaching the remaining ones with a degree of trepidation. With the threat of significant rain tonight, I have decided to concentrate on horses that are best with a bit of cut in the ground. The last six winners have been priced at either 10/1 or 20/1 with only one favourite obliging in the previous ten years.The Mullins'  and Paul Nicholls have won 7 of the last 9 runnings of the race, so their entries merit close scrutiny.
The mount of Ruby Walsh, Max Dynamite, has disappointed on his last two runs after winning his maiden easily.That day he raced up with the pace, and the horse he beat into second, Phil's Magic, has subsequently gone on to win a maiden and a listed hurdle. His next two runs he was held up off the pace, and was beaten. Tomorrow I am sure you will see him racing more prominently, and this useful ex flat performer could end up looking very well treated off a mark of 137. Rain no problem, as he managed to come within 3/4 of a length of landing a group 2 at Longchamp on rain softened ground.
Another horse near the foot of the weights that could also run well is Noel Meade's Waxies Dargle, another whose best form has come on soft ground. He won as he should have at Fairyhouse on his penultimate run, before falling four out in the Boylesports Hurdle before Carberry had asked the question. Who knows how he would have gone without the accident, but he could be well treated off 136. The fact McCoy overlooks him may look like a negative to many, but I am guessing the choice was made before the rain was forecast, as it looks to me as if Princely Conn is best on a sound surface.

Picks: Max Dynamite (e/w) 16/1  Waxies Dargle (e/w) 25/1

Albert Bartlett Hurdle

The potato race as Mark Winstanley likes to call it. Again an open heat, with Mullins/Walsh combining again with favourite Black Hercules. However, I would be more keen on stablemate Arbre De Vie, the mount of Paul Townend. This ex French performer has hacked up on both starts in Ireland/UK so far, and on his last French start was beaten a length by Aux Petit Soins, form which has been franked in no uncertain terms earlier this week.That run, as well as both his wins, was on bad ground, and he will relish all the rain forecast for tonight.
Another horse that will appreciate any precipitation is Definitly Red, from the on fire Brian Ellison yard. 3/4 this year he has looked very tough and not short on stamina, characteristics that will stand him in good stead for a test like this. He ran a lovely race in last years bumper at the festival, and could well run into a place, or better, at generous odds.

Pick: Arbre De Vie e/w (20/1) Definitly Red e/w (25/1)

Gold Cup

The big one, and as open a renewal as there ever has been. Silvinaco Conti heads the market, but I can't be having him as I don't think he will get up the hill (again). Previous winner Bobs Worth is a huge price, but the forecast rain will scupper his chance. The same applies to Lord Windemere. One horse the rain will definitely suit though is Coneygree. This trailblazer has been a joy to watch this year, and it is brilliant to see a small yard going into a gold cup with a realistic chance. If the ground turns properly soft I can see him running a huge race. With doubts about so many of his opponents the 10/1 currently available looks a great price.
Another horse that won't mind the heavens opening is the trusty old boy the Giant Bolster, who came within a whisker of winning last year. He always gives his running in this race, and is still only 10 years old, even if it does feel like he's been around forever. At 40/1 he is always worth a small interest in this race, and if he jumps well he will be there or thereabouts at the business end.

Picks: Coneygree (10/1) The Giant Bolster (40/1)

Foxhunter Chase

No strong opinion on this race. Salsify looked to be returning to form last time out and is a tentative selection.

Pick: Salsify 10/1

Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Hurdle

Only one favourite has obliged in the last six renewals and this year it looks a particularly difficult puzzle to solve. One horse that may be overpriced, well treated and that will appreciate any ease in the ground is Kauto Grand Mogul, a half brother to the inimitable Kauto Star. His win on his penultimate run, where he slammed subsequent winner Bosman Rule, was very impressive. His next run was not as good admittedly, but there was an excuse for that and he has since had an operation on his palate. His shrewd handler thinks the world of him, and he could well run a big race at the rewarding odds of 50/1,

Pick: Kauto Grand Mogul (e/w) 50/1

Grand Annual

A race that is all about last years 2nd Ned Buntline. McCoy's last ever Cheltenham ride. Many think he has been laid out for this and it will be a fairytale ending for the champ. I don't do sentiment, and I don't believe in  fairytales either, and I will be opposing the likely favourite.
My idea of the winner of this race is Croco Bay, trained by Ben Case and partnered by Kielan Woods. This horse absolutely demolished a decent field by 19 lengths on soft ground at Ascot in November off a mark of 134. The handicapper reacted accordingly and raised him to 149, and he was put away for the winter, presumably with this race in mind. Ben Case was at one stage  even considering a tilt at the Champion Chase, which shows the regard in which this horse is held, He made his comeback run in Febuary, and showed he can compete off his new career high mark. That pipe opener will have put him cherry ripe for this, and I can see him running a huge race at odds of  25/1.

Pick: Croco Bay e/w (NAP) 25/1

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Thursday Revisited.

This is the day I have been most looking forward to, I strongly fancy a couple in the handicaps, as well as Seeyouatmidnight in the big one. My original thoughts on the first four races stand. Here are my updated thoughts on the last two races.

Brown Advisory Plate

Attaglance is my original selection for this race, and his claims were outlined in my original preview for Thursday. One other horse i'd also like to give a mention to in this race is Rawnaq, who is trained by Matthew Smith, who runs a small operation in County Meath.
This horse is 2//3 over fences, and has also won over timber and on the flat. He is the apple of his trainers eye, and although he may have been 25/1 when easily beating Gilgamboa last time out the stable were not surprised by the result. He has won both his chases at Navan, where the stiff uphill finish is an ideal prep for Cheltenham. He is travelling over with a lot of confidence behind him and could well outrun his odds of 25/1.

Pick: Attaglance (advised when 16/1) and Rawnaq e/w (25/1)

Kim Muir Chase

So last but not least on the Friday is the Kim Muir, which sees 24 handicappers go into battle over a gruelling 3m2f. It goes without saying that stamina is essential in this race, and the stats show that carrying above 11 stone is not too much of an issue. Past winners include Sunnyhillboy, who went on to be beaten a nose in a Grand National, and last years runner up wasCause of Causes, who won the 4 miler at this years festival, So as you can see, stamina is key.
One horse that I feel has a likely profile for this race is Heaney, trained by the wily Tom Taafe. He gets in off a mark of 131, which looks to be fair enough given what he has achieved so far. However, this half brother to Ellison stable star Definitly Red is unexposed over 3m + trips and really caught my eye when staying on strongly in the Irish Grand National last year after being given way too much to do, finishing a never nearer sixth beaten ten lengths. That run suggests stamina is this horses strong suit, and I believe that this race has been the target this year. With Derek Queally, a top Irish amateur, doing the steering hopefully Heaney can be poetry in motion and reward backers at a tasty price.

Pick: Heaney (e/w) 18/1

Day 2 Revisited

Since my first blog on Day Two of the festival a number of the fields have changed. Here are my updated thoughts on these races on Day 2 of the festival.

Neptune Hurdle

No real change to the make up of this field so selections remain the same.

Picks: Windsor Park (win), Ordo Ab Chao (e/w) and small reverse forecast.

RSA Chase

The defection of Coneygree to the Gold Cup on Friday has seen Don Poli shorten into 7/4 at the head of the market. He remains a confident choice, and is a horse with unlimited potential over fences.
The one to chase him home could well be the JP McManus owned and Philip Hobbs trained  If In Doubt, who has won impressively on his last two starts in chases. His last run in particular caught the eye in a Listed handicap chase at Doncaster, where he earned an RPR of 157, which puts him right in the mix here.

Picks: Don Poli advised at 5/2 (nap) , If In Doubt (e/w) 14/1.

Coral Cup

A wide open handicap, as is usually the case at Cheltenham. One that looks to have a right chance at the foot of the weights is Marinero, from the shrewd Tony Martin yard. This fella was beaten only 6l by Douvan over an insufficient trip and on ground softer than ideal  in January, form given a substantial boost yesterday. He has won on both occasions he has raced on decent ground, a bumper on good to firm at Fairyhouse and most encouragingly when he was stepped up to 2m 2f on yielding ground at the same track. Martin's decision to drop back in trip on soft ground on his last two runs looks to me to have been a ploy to protect Marinero's handicap mark, and it looks to have worked as he gets in off 138. Promising young claimer Shane Shorthall takes off another 5lbs, and off a feather weight of 10-1 he can make his presence felt today.

Pick: Marinero 16/1

Champion Chase

No change. Small stake Somersby e/w.

Cross Country

No opinion.

Fred Winter

Old Guard, one of my original selections, doesn't run. Starchitect, as outlined in my previous entry, has a good e/w chance. Another couple worth keeping an eye on are Gwencily Berbas and Beatabout The Bush. Gwencily Berbas is near the top of the weights, but connections feel he may be well treated off 139 and a big run is expected. There has been a lot of support for this horse since his win last time out, and his price has collapsed in the last couple of weeks. Barry Connell is not a man to be underestimated, especially when the money is down.
Beatabout The Bush has a very different profile, and is lurking at the foot of the weights. His trainer, Henry Oliver, posited this race as his target after a facile victory at Sedgefield in January and he gets in off a mark of 130. The manner of his two victories have been impressive, and this son of Bushranger could improve again for the switch to decent ground.

Picks: Already Advised-Starchitect. Updated: Gwencily Berbas, Beatabout The Bush.

Champion Bumper

Already advised- Jetstream Jack 25/1, Modus 25/1.

Monday, 9 March 2015

Festival Fancies


JLT Novice Chase

Willie Mullins trains two of the four market leaders in this heat as he tries to win the race for a second time. His Vautour is currently the clear favourite at a best priced 9/4. He will possibly end up shorter, especially if Mullins' other hotpots do the business earlier in the week. He is a son of Robin Des Champs, who, incidentally, is also the sire of the Carlow handler's previous winner of the race, Sir Des Champs. Unbeaten over hurdles, including a win in last years Supreme Novice, he was won two from three over fences, his only defeat coming after a shuddering mistake over Christmas at Leopardstown. He is a little bit short for me, but his chance is an obvious one. 
The other two main Irish hopes according to the bookmakers are  Gigginstown's Valseur Lido 11/2 (Willie Mullins) and Noel Meade's Apache Stronghold 11/2. These two have faced each other twice already, with the score currently at 1-1. Meade's charge came out on top on the most recent occasion at Leopardstown last month, and I would think he will uphold the form. However, Vautour beat Apache Stronghold quite easily at Punchestown over timber last year, and barring accidents I can see him repeating the dose on Thursday. 
Ptit Zig, clear 2nd fav at 7/2,  is the main British hope for the Paul Nicholls yard. He lost his unbeaten record over fences last time out, falling before the race had properly developed at Doncaster. His previous wins over fences, in particular his easy victory over Josses Hill, looked impressive, but in a race like this jumping is crucial, and you would have to wonder if that fall at Doncaster has dented his confidence. Too short for me. 
There seems to be very little confidence behind any of the other runners in the field, but one that I like at a price is Splash Of Ginge 16/1. Course form on decent ground in the book. Admittedly he has a bit to find with those at the top of the market, and his last run was awful, but I am willing to forgive him that as the ground was terrible and it was on a right handed track, which Twiston Davies reckons doesn't suit him. Without that run he would probably be half the price he is now, and if the rain stays away he could be worth a small each way interest. 

Picks: Vautour 9/4 Splash Of Ginge e/w 16/1

Pertemps Final

A big field handicap in which nine of the last ten winners have been priced at 10/1 and bigger, including a 50/1 winner back in 2006. Last year Fingal Bay became the first favourite to oblige since Inching Closer in 2003. The field is yet to be finalised but my picks are two horses that are guaranteed to get in. 
There has been a lot of talk from some shrewd and well connected judges that Edeymi is Tony Martin's handicap plot of the festival. Unfortunately he is now a skinny enough 8/1 with the bigger prices well gone at this stage. His last run caught the eye of the stewards at Musselburgh, and it is not hard to see why if one looks at the race. He was 2nd in the Fred Winter two years ago, and had yet to be popped the question when he was brought down in last years Martin Pipe. It is easy to see why he is so well fancied, and he could well do some damage off a mark of 135. 
Another horse I think can run a big race here is Tim Easterby's Trustan Times. Last year, off 144, he ran an absolute cracker to finish fourth beaten less than a length by the winner. This was his first visit to Prestbury Park and he seemed to relish the undulations and the stiff finish. He subsequently ran a gallant third in the Scottish Grand National and was put away for the summer. This year his five runs have been very poor, but as a result he has dropped to a mark of 142, 2lb lower than last year. Easterby has also been among the winners recently which is encouraging to see. James Reveley takes the ride, one of the most underrated jockeys around, and I think he will go very close in this fiercely competitive handicap. 

Picks: Edeymi 8/1, Trustan Times 25/1.

Ryanair Chase

Don Cossack the one for me in a race where there has been only one winner bigger than 6/1 in the last ten years.  Was at Punchestown the day he ran and easily beat Boston Bob and Lord Windemere and was hugely impressed, not only by the manner of his win, but also how he looked in the parade ring. What a good looking animal this fella is. With a clear round I can't see him being beaten. 
At a price perhaps Eduard can chase home the favourite. Currently 16/1 he has some decent form in the book which suggests he could run into a place. In particular his run behind Many Clouds, where he had to give the winner 6lbs on ground softer than ideal and was beaten less than 2l, is among the best form on offer in the race. He perhaps lacks the experience of some of his rivals over fences, but this exciting young chaser could surprise a few people with a big run. 

Picks: Don Cossack 7/2 (NAP), Eduard e/w 16/1

World Hurdle

A wide open race. Paul Nicholls, who has an excellent record in this courtesy of Big Bucks has two fancied runners in Zarkandar and Saphir De Reu. Both priced up at around the 5/1 mark I think they are way too short. Zarkandar especially so, considering the manner in which he finished his race when Reve De Sivola beat him in Ascot. 
Lieutenant Colonel is a horse I really like and have followed all year. I watched him in action at Fairyhouse and he is a lovely scopey type. A definite chaser in the making. He is a fair price at 10/1 but he has a lot to find if the ratings are to be believed. 
The horse I am sweetest on in this race though is Sandy Thomson's Seeyouatmidnight. This fella is a tank of a horse and I have been following him ever since the day I watched him beat a long odds on Regal Encore, at a price of 66/1, on his racecourse debut at Hexham. Stepped up in class and trip on his next run he hacked up by 9l at 22/1, Upped in class again for his next outing he won the Grade 2 Rendlesham, before he finally lost his unbeaten record in a Grade 1 at Aintree. I think he may well have been over the top at that stage, and he also picked up an injury in the race which held up his return to action this season. 
He made his reappearance in the Rendlesham and finished second beaten just under 3l. Many would argue that he would have no chance on the back of that run, but I would disagree. He was giving 8lb to the winner, and travelled like the best horse in the race until a lack of fitness caught him out in the closing stages. With that run behind him he will strip fitter, and he is still unexposed at this level. I believe his galloping style will be perfectly suited to Cheltenham.The bookies have discounted his claims completely and he can be backed at odds of 33/1. In one of the most open races of the festival I think he has a fighting chance of running into a place. At least. 

Pick: Seeyouatmidnight e/w 33/1 NB

Brown Advisory Chase

Attaglance a confident selection here. He was my bet of the festival last year and should have won. Brian Hughes was instantly removed from my Christmas Card list after that race! He keeps the ride this year, and I am sure he will be desperate to make amends. I will return to this race in more detail once the final line up is apparent. 

Kim Muir Chase

 No particularly strong fancy here. Will return to it when final line up is confirmed. 

Daithi MacStiofain

Friday, 6 March 2015

Festival Fancies


Neptune Hurdle

An open heat, with the market headed by Willie Mullins'  Nichols Canyon, a horse I had the pleasure of seeing in action when he won easily at Fairyhouse in November. He also has a recent win over market rival Windsor Park in the book, but I think the Weld horse can reverse the form back on a better surface. He looks to have a serious chance at 6/1 and looks the best of the Irish challengers.
The home challenge is strong in this race, and the pick of their team looks to be the ex Godolphin inmate Parlour Games who won over course and distance back in November. However, there was a distinct lack of pace in that race and it remains to be seen if this flat bred gelding will relish the hill after a furiously run race. The previous ten winners have been national hunt bred horses. A more likely challenger, in my opinion, is Alan King's Ordo Ab Chao. He also won here in gutsy fashion back in January, and it looked a more honest pace than Parlour Games encountered. He seems to also enjoy decent ground, which he will get here, and at 16/1 this son of Heron Island looks a great each way bet in a wide open race.

Picks: Windsor Park 6/1(win), Ordo Ab Chao 16/1 e/w. (small reverse forecast)

RSA Chase

Don Poli is the hype horse in this race. Numerous experts have put him forward as their best bet of the week. A winner at the festival last year, storming up the hill in impressive fashion, it is hard to pick holes in his form. He looks to relish three miles, and has proven himself on decent ground. However, he looks to be facing a formidable foe in the shape of the Bradstock's stable star Coneygree. Still to be confirmed for this race, this exciting eight year old has electrified on his last few starts, dishing out an unmerciful beating to Houblon Des Obeaux last time out. The general consensus seems to be that he will take his chance here rather than in the Gold Cup, and if he does Don Poli will have to be at the top of his game to come out on top.
The Pipe's Kings Palace, Paul Nicholls' Southfield Theatre  and Neil Mullholland's gutsy chaser The Young Master  complete the list of horses at the head of the market, but will be battling it out for minor money unless the top two capitulate.
In conclusion, I can see Coneygree setting off in front and jumping like a stag as he always does, but he won't last home up the hill and Don Poli will pick up the pieces, swoop late and bring home the bacon for the Irish.

Pick: Don Poli (nap) 5/2

Coral Cup

If he runs, Arbre De Vie looks interesting. Been a lot of hot air from the Mullins camp all week at various preview events about most of their runners, but one horse they have never mentioned is this one. Could be well treated. I will return to this race in greater detail once the final line up is certain.

Queen Mother Champion Chase

An intriguing race, and for many the most fascinating race of the festival. Sprinter Sacre, the returning legend is currently favourite, with Barry Geraghty telling everyone he 'feels' back to his best. Too many doubts for me however, and I'll be laying this one heavily.
Old rival Sire De Grugy impressed under a heavy weight, jumping like his old self,  after making a complete horlicks of his comeback run and  he deserves his place near the top of the market. Dodging Bullets is another near the head of the market but his festival record leaves a lot to be desired.
Champagne Fever looks to be the pick of the Irish in this race, and can't be discounted given his brilliant Cheltenham record. He looks a fair price at 6/1 as he seems sure to go close with a clear round of jumping.
One horse that looks a huge price is Mick Channon's Somersby, who can still be backed at 40/1. This horse is a standing dish at the festival, and is still seeking his first win after a number of near misses, including a 4l 2nd to Sire De Grugy last year. Now 11 years old, he has run to an RPRs of 164, 165 and 166 in his last three appearances this season, which suggests he still retains a lot of his ability. Add this to the fact that those three runs were on softer ground than ideal and it becomes an even more impressive feat. I think he is well worth a small each way interest with a fighting chance of being in the first three.

Pick: Somersby each way 40/1

Cross Country

No opinion on this. One to simply watch and enjoy.

Fred Winter

The last three winners have been sent off at odds of 33/1, 25/1 and 40/1. Although he hasn't won it since 2010 Paul Nicholls has supplied two of the first four home in the last two renewals. He has three entries this year and the market would suggest that Bouveril is his main hope. However his form leaves a lot to be desired and his pedigree doesn't exactly set the pulse racing either. Money has also come for All Yours, as short as 10/1 in some places now.  He also has Old Guard, a flat bred horse who turned over Karezak earlier this season, He hasn't been seen since disappointing behind Pain Au Chocolat at Sandown, but his flat form and pedigree suggest he will be a different proposition on a quicker surface. At 20/1 he is the one for me out of Nicholls three.
Gordon Elliott won this two years ago with Flaxen Flare, and is out to repeat the trick with Hostile Fire, who has been well backed and is currently a best priced 8/1fav. Thunder Zone and Chatam House Rule complete his raiding party, with the former the pick of Gigginstown jockey Bryan Cooper.
The one I like at 16/1 is Starchitect for Donald McCain. Finished a creditable 2nd to Hargam in a listed hurdle at Musselburgh on his last run,on ground softer than ideal, and has been allocated a mark of 133. This could turn out to be lenient, and back on decent ground this could be Sea The Stars first winner at Cheltenham.

Picks: Starchitect 16/1 e/w Old Guard 20/1 e/w

Champion Bumper

A notoriously difficult race for punters. Mullins has won 4 of the last 10 editions so obviously his entrants have to be respected. However, his last three winners have all returned at double figure odds so it as not as simple as backing the one that is the shortest price. At the time of writing he still has eight entries, of which Bordoni is the lowest price at 7/1. For me the most interesting one is Turcagua who can be backed at 28/1. A son of Turgoen, he showed a liking for a sound surface when he won his bumper at Navan. He really only got going once he hit the hill, and that bodes well for the conditions he will face in this race.
There have been good vibes from the Elliott yard for Jetstream Jack, who runs in the colours made famous by the likes of  Menorah and Wishful Thinking. His win was given a boost last week when the horse he beat won easily at Navan and any entry from those quarters has to be respected.
The one that interests me most from the home team is a horse that was amongst the favourites for last years renewal, Modus, trained by little known Robert Stephens. He ran a good race last year, paying the price for running wide and fading in the last furlong. A year older, wiser and stronger this year it would be no surprise to see him making the frame.

Picks: Modus e/w 25/1, Jetstream Jack (nb) e/w 25/1. Turcagua e/w 25/1.

Daithi MacStiofain

Thursday, 5 March 2015

Festival Fancies

It's almost that time of year again. Students of the form are cramming in the hours as the Festival fast approaches. Most bookmakers are now going non-runner no bet on all races at this stage, and there is still plenty of value to be found, especially in the handicaps. Here are a few of my Festival fancies for the opening day.


Supreme Novice Hurdle

Value is not hard to come by in this race, with long time favourite, the Willie Mullins trained Douvan, available at a biggest price of 7/4. Mullins has been bullish about this one, and having won the last two editions of this race he knows what it takes to win. However, while he has looked impressive in both his Irish hurdle victories, they were both on rain softened ground and he will face very different conditions on Tuesday. The price is way too short, and I can see him going off even shorter on the day as the Irish jump on the bandwagon.
This is good news for anyone who fancies something else at a price in the race, as many other runners will be overpriced. There are a number of dangers lurking in the shadows. Chief among them is Shaneshill, another Mullins inmate, who ran a cracker at the festival last year  finishing 2nd to Silver Concorde, a defeat he went on to avenge emphatically at Punchestown. Both of these runs were on decent ground and over 2 miles, and he will  get those conditions at Cheltenham. For me he is brilliant value at around 11/1 and is a solid each-way option against the favourite. I think Seedling may well be the best of the home team.

Pick: Shaneshill e/w 11/1.

Arkle Chase

Here we have another short one, Un De Sceaux. Odds on everywhere you look. An 'aeroplane' we've been told. They won't see him for dust. He makes all. Simple. Even the shrewd Meathman Gordon Elliott has admitted defeat and has said Clarcam will be ridden for 2nd. However I have never been one for lumping on an odds on shot, especially on one that has never run at Cheltenham and  that has fallen in the recent enough past.
 One at a price that catches my eye is Smashing, a horse trained by Henry De Bromhead who is no stranger to success at Cheltenham. He has chased home Un De Sceaux and Don Poli in two chases this season, before he obliterated a poor field at Gowran. However he ran the best  best race of his career at the festival last year, finishing fourth in the Coral Cup. This was on decent ground, and Tuesday will be his first run in similar conditions since. Worth a small each way interest at 25/1.
Sgt Reckless looks to be the most interesting of the home team, and he will love the better ground. He also has decent festival form to his name and could run into a place at 16/1.

Picks: Smashing e/w 25/1 and Sgt Reckless e/w 16/1.

Festival Handicap Chase

A very tricky race with a number of potentially well treated horses. Even as a confirmed lover of handicaps I  have struggled to find the answer in this race. Barrakilla was the one that I eventually sided with. Should get into the race off a nice low weight. Ran a decent 2nd over 2m5f at the track last time out, outpaced then stayed on. That was off a mark off 135, and he is only a pound higher now. I think he will definitely improve for the step up to 3m1f, and his pedigree suggests it too (half brother to classy China Rock)

Pick: Barrakilla e/w 16/1.

Champion Hurdle

Once again  a Mullins hotpot heads the market.. Faugheen the machine is a best priced 5/4 to bring the crown back to Bagenalstown, with the legend that is Hurricane Fly and Arctic Fire also looking likely to run. The Fly is now 11 years old. Last year I was convinced a 10 year old couldn't win it, and despite his heroics on desperate ground this winter, I have seen nothing to convince me otherwise.
Jezki, back to defend his crown,and Kitten Rock fly the flag for JP McManus, with McCoy taking the reins on the former in what will be his last ever Champion Hurdle (a race he has won twice before).
The New One looks to be the home team's only chance of a winner. The general consensus last year seemed to be that he was desperately unlucky not to win the race and I find it hard to disagree. His last run was far from easy on the eye, but he battled well on desperate ground and showed a willing attitude.
Faugheen is way too short, considering what he has actually beaten, and you won't catch me steaming in at near even money. At the prices I strongly favour The New One to atone for last year's misfortune and take the title for Britain.

Pick: The New One (nb)

Mares Hurdle

Guess what? Another Mullins short priced fav in Annie Power, who bids to pick up where Quevega left off. She has had a similar preparation too, and will have been absent for the guts of a year come post time. 4/6 is best price, and a ridiculous price too in my opinion. A lot has to be taken on trust. Her main rival, stablemate Glens Melody, has a far more trustworthy profile, and was a good 2nd in this race last year, running Quevega to within 1/2l, 4/1 a fair price.
The home team's challenge will be led by Alan King's  L'Unique, merely a length behind Glens Melody in 3rd in this race last year (I was on her e/w at 25s). She looks overpriced again at 16/1. She could be worth a small e/w interest.
Another horse that caught my eye is Tim Vaughan's Hidden Identity. Fourth last year at 66/1, the bookmakers are showing her similar disdain this time around, pricing her up at a mind boggling 100/1. Given the fact that she has twice got within a length or two of Glens Melody in three attempts, I believe she has to be worth a couple of quid each way.

Picks: L'Unique e/w 16s Hidden Identity e/w 100s

National Hunt Chase

No strong opinion here. Very Wood a speculative choice.

Novice Handicap Chase

Thomas Crapper is the one for me in this tricky handicap. Ran Don Poli a close second (in receipt of a stone) at the festival last year over this trip. Has been kept out of handicaps this season and has failed to get his head in front. However, he ran Vibrato Valtat (Rpr of 164 last time out) close in a novice chase off level weights only beaten a length, and also got within 3 lengths of Three Kingdoms (Rpr of  155 last time out) This is very strong form, and it beggars belief that he has been allocated a measly mark of 134 for his chase handicap debut (the same mark he was 2nd off last year to Don Poli). Some placement by Mr. Dickin it has to be said. Absolutely thrown in in my opinion and the best bet of the day at 10/1,

Pick: Thomas Crapper 10/1 (NAP)

Daithi MacStiofain