1.30 Cheltenham – The JLT Novices’ Chase (Grade 1)
Although there have only been seven runnings of the JLT Novices’ Chase, patterns are already beginning to appear.
Yorkhill’s victory last year made it 6 out of 7 for Irish-trained horses and they also recorded a 1-2-3 in 2015, while last year Disko was placed in the contest. The Irish challenge this year is headed by Invitation Only for Willie Mullins, who’s taken 4 of the 7 renewals of the race.
5 of the 7 winners had already won a Graded chase, while 8 of the 11 Grade 1 chase winners have placed in the JLT, so class comes to the fore here. Half of the horse in this year’s line-up have won a Graded Chase, including Invitation Only, Terrefort and Modus.
5 of the 7 winners started in the first two in the market, which is a tad surprising given how hotly-contested the race has been since its inception. Last year’s 8-strong field was the joint- smallest in its history (along with 2015) so despite a decent number lining up, the bookies still tend to get it spot on. Invitation Only and Terrefort head the market at the time of writing.
All of the winners ran between 32 and 54 days before the Festival so some recent match practice is certainly a positive. Not only match fit, but it seems that horses need to arrive here in top form with 5 of the 7 winners having won last-time-out. Of the other 2, Noble Prince was runner-up before winning the inaugural running while Black Hercules was primed to be in the mix when falling on his previous start last year. In this year’s line-up half of the line-up won last time out, but interestingly this does not include the current favourite Invitation Only, although he did finish third in the Grade 1 Flogas Chase behind Monalee.
Festival form usually comes to the fore in the Grade 1 races at Cheltenham and the JLT has proven no different in its short history. All of the 7 winners ran at the previous year’s Festival, so we need to pay special attention to the likes of Modus and Kemboy who already have experience of the hustle and bustle of Prestbury Park in March.
Invaation Only looks to hold a strong chance of providing Willie Mullins’ with an impressive fourth consecutive winner of the JLT and the trainer’s fifth overall. He was beaten last time out, but that was a good performance to finish only a length behind Monalee in the Flogas Chase last month. The main danger could be Terrefort who has 2 wins from 2 starts in Britain since joining Nicky Henderson. On his latest run he was successful in the Grade 1 Scilly Isles at Sandown and there should be more progress to come. Modus also has graded form to his name having been successful in the Grade 2 Rising Stars Chase at Wincanton in November. He has valuable Festival experience to call upon having been involved in the last four years, including when sixth in the Coral Cup last year.
2.10 Cheltenham – The Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle Race (Grade 3)
In terms of age, it seems that this has been a race in which the young horses have struggled historically. The only five-year-old to win was Josh Gifford’s Pragada in 1988 and horses aged 8 or 9 have triumphed in 7 of the last 14 renewals; not good news for the likes of Delta Work, Louis’ Vac Pouch and Mine Now.
However, we are not looking for a horse that has shown their full hand to the handicapper as 9 of the last 11 winners had contested 6-10 races over hurdles. Leading fancies Louis’ Vac Pouch, Glenloe and Forza Milan fall into this particular category this time round.
Winners of this race have also often had a spell over fences in recent years, in fact horses to have already run over the larger obstacles are 8/75 this century. 11 of this year’s field have ran in a chase earlier in their careers including Sort It Out, A Great View and Dell’ Arca.
Another important stat to be aware of is that horses bred in France have a poor record, having had 76 unsuccessful runners since 1994. To back that up further, the last 8 winners began their careers in points or bumpers suggesting that those bred in Britain and Ireland hold all the aces. Protek des Flos and Delta Work will have to buck this trend if they are to get their heads in front.
Paul Nicholls had a particularly poor record until landing a couple of places in recent years, but the fact remains that he is still 0/17 in this race, a stat very similar to that in the staying handicap over the same trip on the first day of the Festival. That gives Connetable a bit of an obstacle to overcome.
Lastly, we get back to the recurring theme of headgear. 5 winners this century have carried some sort of accompaniment to victory, which bodes well for Louis’ Vac Pouch, Forza Milan and Wait For Me this year.
Kansas City Chief
Perennially, the Pertemps seems to be a fairly strong race from a stats-analysis perspective and this year is no different with a whole host of horses performing well. However, there are four that emerge ahead of the rest which puts them on the shortlist.
Forza Milan tops the list solely due to the fact he is trained by Jonjo O’Neill, who already has four Pertemps winners to his name. He earned his place thanks to a solid runners-up effort behind the re-opposing Louis’ Vac Pouch at Aintree back in November and improved on that when filling the same spot in a valuable handicap at Newbury in December. He has been freshened up since and the application of a tongue-tie could well aid his cause here.
Another benefitting from first-time headgear is Lovenormoney, who wears a visor here. The drying ground may just be going against him but he could still feasibly be well treated having only been raised 5lb for his win in a heavy-ground Exeter qualifier last month.
Whataknight is a bit left field but has earned his place on the shortlist and the Pertemps has been open to a big-priced winner over the years. He has been below-par on his last couple of runs but has had a break since and finds himself on a 4lb lower mark than when finishing runner-up to Dell’ Arca in a qualifier at Newbury back in early November. It could well be that this has been the plan all along and with Noel Fehily taking over in the saddle, he could prove a lively outsider.
Completing the shortlist is Kansas City Chief who lurks on a handy mark of 137 towards the bottom of the weights. He needed his latest second at Southwell to get a run and has shown some solid form on his last three starts having had a couple of runs over shorter upon joining current connections. Neil Mulholland knows what it takes to win big handicaps so I’d be inclined to say that this was always the plan from the get-go and the fact he has managed to employ the services of Sam Twiston-Davies to do the steering looks a big plus.
2.50 Cheltenham – The Ryanair Chase (Grade 1)
As with many of the races at the Festival, previous course experience is key and this really comes to the fore in the Ryanair. 9 of the last 10 winners had already tasted success at Prestbury Park and taking this a step further; 5 of the last 8 winners had previously won a race at the Festival. A feather in the cap for previous Festival winners Un de Sceaux, Douvan and Cue Card.
Familiarity with the Cheltenham idiosyncrasies can give a horse an edge but proven quality is still a must here. All but one of the 10 winners since the race achieved Grade 1 status had won a Grade 1 chase prior to arriving here. The same three horses as previously mentioned are the only ones who fit the bill again.
Jollies have only won 4 of the last 10 Ryanairs but towards the head of the betting is still the place to be with only 2 previous winners of race sent off bigger than 6/1. Un de Sceaux and Douvan currently find themselves atop the bookies’ boards.
5 winners, including 4 of the last 5 winners, were second-season chasers and this looks like an emerging trend that is well worth taking note of. There are three horses who fall into this category in 2018: Balko des Flos, Frodon and Cloudy Dream.
It follows suit that a race as well regarded as this should be contested by the best around as it provides a happy medium between the Champion Chase (2m) and Gold Cup (3m2f) for Championship calibre horses that find things happening too fast over the minimum trip or don’t quite get home over the extended 3m2f. horses with a RPR of 170+ are 8/31 in the contest, so Cloudy Dream and surprisingly Douvan have a bit to find based on the ratings.
Un de Sceaux
Douvan (with a run)
Admirable veteran Un de Sceaux is a worthy favourite for the race as he bids to defend his crown from last year. Although also sent off as the market leader in 2017, there were some doubts about him on the better ground which he laid to rest in fine style. The softer conditions will suit the ten-year-old this time around and he should make a bold bid to give Willie Mullins a hat-trick of wins in the Ryanair. The trainer could also possibly run the high-class Douvan, but this looks unlikely with him competing in the Champion Chase on Wednesday. Therefore, the main danger to the favourite could be twelve-year-old Cue Card who would be a very popular Festival winner. He won the race in 2013 and showed that he retains his spark last time out when a good second in the Ascot Chase behind Waiting Patiently.
3.30 Cheltenham – The Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle (Grade 1)
Big Bucks’ four successive victories in this Championship race between 2009 and 2012 skews the trends somewhat, but there are still some solid pointers as to the profile of a Stayers’ Hurdle winner.
No five-year-old has won the race and horses aged ten-year-old and over are 0/50 since 1986, so we really must concentrate 6-9yos here. Even Big Buck’s managed to cram all his four wins into this slot! The New One and Unowhatimeanharry are the two who fall outside of this particular bracket both aged 10.
All 35 horses in the last 13 renewals that had been beaten in the race before were beaten again. Iris’s Gift is the only horse this century to have won the race having been beaten twelve months earlier (and he was a novice when finishing second before turning the tables on Baracouda the following year). Those that ran twelve months ago once again taking their place in the line-up are Unowhatimeanharry and Lil Rockerfeller, so the latter could find it difficult to go one better than last year.
There are plenty of negatives to rule horses out by, but if you’re more a ‘glass-half-full’ kind of person, the positives are there too – 15 winners this century had won a graded hurdle at 2m4 1/2 f or shorter. This is bodes well for the likes of Supasundae, Yanworth and The New One.
Donna’s Diamond arrives with one key trend in his favour. He is unbeaten in 2 runs over hurdles so far this season, including the Grade 2 Rendlesham. horses that have lined up here in a similar vein of form in the last 10 renewals have been rather profitable with a record of 7/21. There are no other unbeaten hurdlers this campaign to take their place in the field.
A trend that others in the line-up will have to overcome is the worrying statistic that Albert Bartlett runners have in the race. The Stayers’ Hurdle seems the logical step for Albert Bartlett horses remaining over the sticks but none of the 16 to have lined up here twelve months later have prevailed (including 6 winners of the race). Penhill won that race last year and is joined in the Stayers Hurdle by Wholestone, Augusta Kate and The Worlds End.
Sam Spinner is the new kid on the block in the staying hurdling division and is the current favourite for the race for Jedd O’Keeffe. The six-year-old has been highly progressive this season, landing a Grade 3 handicap at Haydock in impressive style by seventeen lengths and then landing the Grade 1 Long Walk at Ascot. That contest is a good trial for the Stayers’ Hurdle and Sam Spinner should have more progress to come. Only Big Buck’s has won this century after an aborted chasing campaign, but Yanworth will bid to defy this statistic. He did not take to fences as well as expected, although he showed that he still possesses a good engine. The eight-year-old has high-class form in this sphere and is a fascinating contender. Making up the shortlist is the Jessica Harrington-trained Supasundae who comes here off the back of a victory over Faugheen in the Irish Chamption Hurdle. His trainer saw this Grade 1 as a good route to his Cheltenham target and is one of her main hopes of the week.
4.10 Cheltenham – The Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
It may seem an obvious thing to say when discussing a competitive handicap but a low weight seems to be an advantage when it comes to this race. To quantify that, the last 9 winners have carried less than 11st to victory and the only horse in the last decade to defy that ceiling was 66/1 shot Mister McGoldrick in 2008; leaving leading fancies The Storyteller and Tully East with something to find here.
Sue Smith’s eleven-year-old in 2008 was an exceptional winner in many ways but his price was in line with the recent history of the race as only 1 winner this century was from the first 4 in the market. At the moment the quartet the top of the betting are: King’s Socks, Movewiththetimes, The Storyteller and Tully East.
Given the undulating and unique nature of the Cheltenham course, it usually means that course form tends to hold up well. However, in this race it is worth noting that the last 71 runners that won a chase at the course have all been beaten. This does not bode well for the likes of Tully East, Ballyalton and Guitar Pete.
Although course and Festival experience hasn’t proven a factor, this race has proven itself more suited to the seasoned chaser in recent times. 9 renewals this century have been won by horses in at least their third-season chasing so be wary of those only in their first or second season. The likes of Movewiththetimes, The Storyteller and Tully East arrive here as fairly inexperienced over fences.
In terms of trainers to follow, Venetia Williams and David Pipe have 5 victories between them in the past decade. Venetia is represented by Willie Boy this year while King’s Socks goes to post for Pipe.
Romain de Senam
Willie Boy heads the shortlist as he bids to give Venetia Williams her fourth win in the Plate this century. He has only had the four starts over fences but won at the second attempt to end his 16/17 campaign and made a very promising reappearance this season at Newbury. The seven-year-old was below-par last time but can make a bold bid if bouncing back to form. King’s Socks also represents a trainer with a good record in the race as he runs for David Pipe. He has only had the single start in Britain since joining the stable, but finished runner-up to Footpad on his last two starts in France. Also making up the shortlist are the Paul Nicholls-trained Romain de Senam, who has twice run at Cheltenham this season, and Harry Fry’s Drumcliff who had won two handicaps before finding the Grade 2 Kingmaker Chase at Warwick too tough last time (won by Saint Calvados).
4.50 Cheltenham – The Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2)
This is just the third renewal of the race and trainer Willie Mullins looks to have a big chance of making it a hat-trick of victories following Let’s Dance and Limini success last year.
Laurina, trained by Mullins, is a strong favourite for the race having won both of her starts for the trainer since being recruited from France. She made a very impressive stable debut as she won a maiden at Tramore by fifteen lengths as easily as she liked. The five-year-old was then stepped straight up to Grade 3 company at Fairyhouse in January and she passed the test with flying colours. She had no problem getting the better of the Jessica Harrington-trained Alletrix by eleven lengths, and the runner-up has since gone on to finish second in the Listed Quevega Mares’ Hurdle at Leopardstown. The mare travelled smoothly through the race and this race was the obvious target for her afterwards. Those two victories both came on heavy ground so testing conditions at Cheltenham would hold any fears for Laurina. She could prove hard to beat for her top trainer on Thursday.
Maria’s Benefit heads the dangers to the favourite as she arrives here on the back of a five-timer for Stuart Edmunds. She has been highly progressive this season, but it was the manner of her Listed Taunton victory at the end of 2017 that really caught the eye. Regular jockey Ciaran Gethings employed the usual front-running tactics with the mare and she had far too much for her rivals as she won by thirty lengths. The form has since been franked with the runner-up, the Paul Nicholls-trained If You Say Run, finishing second in the Grade 2 Jane Seymour at Sandown. Maria’s Benefit then took the step up to Grade 2 level in her stride, showing a good attitude to get the better of Peter Atkinson’s Irish Roe in the Yorkshire Rose at Doncaster. She looks likely to make another bold bid from the front in her attempt to win at the Festival.
Making up the shortlist is Fergal O’Brien’s Cap Soleil who has won two of her three starts over hurdles. After making a wining debut over obstacles she then finished runner-up in a Listed race at Newbury to Richard Hobson’s Dame Rose. She then managed to go one better at the same grade at Haydock in December, rallying well over the 2m 3f trip to defy a penalty. The five-year-old is going the right way and she should be suited by the closing hill at Cheltenham.
5.30 Cheltenham – The Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Steeple Chase
As with any amateur riders’ race, jockeyship is vital and it’s no shock that Jamie Codd’s name appears 4 times on the Roll of Honour. Codd’s mount this year, Squouateur, is of particular interest but the overriding stat is that backing jockeys that have ridden out their claim is a must. Only 1 of the 77 to have taken part in the race since 2009 have prevailed so you’re certainly wise to pin your hopes on those amateurs that are a cut above the rest.
Supporting this theory is the fact that 69 horses have lined up in the Kim Muir having fallen or unseated earlier in the season since 2005 and every single one has come up short. With amateurs in the saddle, a sound jumper is essential so the likes of Tintern Theatre and Wild West Wind who have been prone to the odd jumping error already this campaign, look up against it.
However. Willie Mullins has had a surprisingly quiet time of things and along with Paul Nicholls, the pair have a pretty poor record in the Kim Muir. They have saddled 25 runners between them with none finishing in the top 3 so it may be prudent to approach their runners with a fair amount of caution here. Mullins isn’t represented this year but Nicholls saddles Braquer d’Or and Captain Buck’s.
Odds-wise, 5 of the last 9 winners of the Kim Muir have come from the first 3 in the market, so keeping an eye towards the top of the betting looks a good move. Squouateur, Mall Dini and Sugar Baron head the betting at the time of writing.
The headgear debate rages on again here but the fact 6 of the last 7 winners sported some sort of accompaniment. A tick in the box for the likes of Mall Dini, Sugar Baron and Pendra.
Festival form is key when it comes to the Kim Muir with horses that have won or been placed at Prestbury Park in March previously 5/39 since 2009. Only Pendra, Mall Dini, The Young Master, Double Ross and Missed Approach fit into that category this year and are certainly worthy of extra respect.
With the increasing bearing that the French National Hunt scene has been having on British racing in recent times, it is a tad surprising that French-breds are winless here since 2005 having had 52 attempts (including 4 of which were favourites). This doesn’t make pleasant reading for the likes of Squouateur and Braquer d’Or.
The Young Master
The shortlist has a similar look it as last year with Pendra and Mall Dini once again finding themselves in the top 4. We were almost rewarded with Charlie Longsdon’s charge finishing a close second last year, and with Derek O’Connor on board once again, that means he ticks two major boxes. We shouldn’t be put off by the fact that he hasn’t been seen since considering that was his sole run last campaign and he must have strong each-way claims once again from the same mark of 145.
Pat Kelly’s 2016 Pertemps Final winner wasn’t disgraced when fifth in last year’s renewal, especially considering history was against him as a handicap chase debutant. Again, he lines up off the same mark and although he is still searching for his first success over the larger obstacles, he still looks capable of getting involved for his very shrewd handler.
The Young Master is next in line having tumbled down the handicap this season. That doesn’t really come as a surprise given that he has always shown his best form in the spring but given he finished sixth in last year’s Ultima from a 15lb higher mark and third the year before from 14lb higher, he looks to be on a very attractive mark. Factor in that he has had a wind op since pulling up at Newcastle last month, and he could well be over-priced at around 16/1.
The rest are much of a muchness but Sugar Baron just sneaks into the final spot on the shortlist courtesy of being in the top 3 in the betting. He was another to take his place in the race last year, finishing in touch in sixth, but has shown improvement in a pair of runners-up efforts so far this season and still finds himself just 2lb higher. Nicky Henderson has booked Katie Walsh for the ride this year which is another bonus.