1:30 Cheltenham - JCB Triumph Hurdle (Grade 1)
When it comes to the Triumph Hurdle, the market seems to almost get it spot on with 13 of the last 15 winners all being sent off single-figure odds. This is a huge plus for horses such as Solo, Goshen, Aspire Tower and Allmankind who are the only four horses in the race to fit this trend. However, this trend was shattered last year as we saw Pentland Hills get up to win for Nicky Henderson at 20/1 after Sir Erec’s early exit.
In terms of trials, the Spring Juvenile Hurdle run at Leopardstown’s Dublin Racing Festival in February has been the best guide to the Irish form. This gives a huge positive to A Wave of the Sea who landed that race for Joseph O’Brien and despite not being the strongest in the market, he could make a case on the market leaders.
The French-bred horses seem to keep making an impact in these big races at Cheltenham and this race is no different. The French-bred horses have had a massive impact in the Triumph Hurdle as they have now taken 3 races in the last 5 years. This makes it hard to make a case for horses such as Cerberus, Lord Lamington, Never Do Nothing, Sir Psycho and Allmankind who are all Irish or British bred. You can’t rule out allmankind however after his strong form and is unbeaten over hurdles.
Solo’s form has been vastly improved since winning the Adonis Hurdle comfortably by 13 lengths and he makes a lot of appeal on paper due to this run. Horses have a very good record here after winning this race and that is why he will more than likely go off as favourite in the market. Gary Moore’s best chance of the Festival lies with Goshen who will be looking to retain his unbeaten record over hurdles. This gives him a major boost in the race as three out of the last five winners have all been unbeaten when heading into the race. His form on paper looks very strong after beating horses such as Nordano by 11 lengths and Thyme White by 34 lengths. Despite Aspire Tower losing his unbeaten record due to falling at the last last time out, he fits a lot of the major trends and is another who is in with a shot in this competitive race. Looked to have every chance to land the Spring Juvenile Hurdle and that form is great coming into this and with Rachel Blackmore in the saddle again, Henry De Bromhead’s horse stands a great chance.
2:10 Cheltenham – Randox Health County Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3)
There has been a recent Irish dominance in this race with Willie Mullins heading the Irish winners. They have taken 8 of the last 13 renewals. However, there is now a new kid on the block and Dan Skelton has announced himself onto the County Hurdle stage taking three of the last four renewals. Therefore, it clearly pays to keep close attention to their runners. Ciel De Neige, Aramon, Tiger Tap Tap, Saint Roi, Buildmeupbuttercup and Mohaayed go for their respective trainers.
The Betfair and Ladbrokes Hurdles serve as good basis to judge future County Hurdle contenders. Those at the top of the market all contended either race. Mohaayed is Skelton’s only runner in the race and he fits the majority of the trends. He also won the race two years ago off 139 and is now 142 so looks to have been primed. Having a run this year is also very important. Adjali and Moon Over Germany have both failed to run this year, which would be a slight concern.
12 of the last 16 have been won by a horse, who began their career on the flat. Although this may seem strange as Cheltenham is a very attritional track, it is in fact a bonus as speed is often the key in this race with so many runners. Being able to keep up with a relentless gallop is key to unearthing the winner. Ciel De Neige who leads the market, did not start over the flat which could be cause for concern. Adjali also didn’t start on the flat so it will be interesting to see if they can break this dominant trend. All of the other runners began their career on the flat so fit the trend.
Last year’s result was only the second time in the last 14 runnings that a horse out of the 130’s was successful. Ch’tibello won off 146 and joined Arctic Fire who won the race in 2017 of 158. It could suggest that maybe there is a shift to horses toward the upper end of the weights. It would also suggest why none of the last 10 renewals have yielded a winning favourite as it is often horses who carry a lower racing weight who win and they may have been forgotten. Tiger Tap Tap and Saint Roi are two very interesting runners for Willie Mullins who fit this trend.
Ciel De Neige
Tiger Tap Tap
It is no surprise that all four horses shortlisted are Irish trained. Willie Mullins trains three of them and each come with a great chance in a race that Mullins will be very keen to bring back to Ireland.
Ciel De Neige has a leading chance is probable the right favourite. He is carrying 11st 1lb and has he relevant experience to go well. The only major concern is the lack of a flat start, which seems to be so dominant in the trends.
Tiger Tap Tap is top of the trends fitting all of them. He has had an interesting campaign over hurdles and looks very much laid out for this race. He has had numerous runs over hurdles and is no stranger to a big field and a fast pace, which is crucial as there are 26 runners and often the horses don’t see the hurdle until the final second. He contested the Ladbrokes Hurdle but finished a disappointing 18th however he is sure to be better than that.
Buildmeupbuttercup is the last horse on the shortlist that Willie Mullins sends. She also comes with a leading chance and the only trend she doesn’t fit is the rating. As I discussed earlier this may not be too much of an issue as 2 of the last 3 have been won by horses over 140. While this is only a small sample size and a recent change in trends, it may be the beginning in change of complexion in this race.
Thatsy is the final runner on the shortlist. He is not trained by one of the leading trainers in this race but does hail from Ireland, who have a great record here. He went close in the Ladbroke and gets in off 139 so falls into the weight category. It is an extremely competitive race but Thatsy has a good a chance as any of the market principles, when looking at the trends.
2:50 Cheltenham - Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle (Grade 1) (Registered As The Spa Novices' Hurdle)
The Albert Bartlett is a thorough test of any novice hurdler’s constitution and it’s clear that experience is crucial with horses that had run less than 3 times over hurdles never winning; a worrying stat for the likes of Oscar Academy, Janidil and Lieutenant Rocco.
It has also been proven that the Albert Bartlett has previously been won by horses that are aged six and seven. This gives some serious doubts to The Cashel Man, Ramses de Teillee, and Lieutenant Rocco, with the latter only fitting two of the major trends, the least in the field. The other two are the only two eight-year-olds in the race and this might not be a negative, as experienced horse in this race do excellently well. Ramses de Teillee is looking to complete his hat-trick after an impressive victory last time out.
Despite Willie Mullins having an excellent record in almost every other race at the Festival, Willie Mullins is now one win from 33 attempts, including having three being favourites. Although he won this race three years ago with Penhill, this doesn’t look the best of news for horses such as Monkfish, Aione and Janidil. Monkfish does look interesting however and looks positive in the market.
Form in Graded races is another aspect to look out for and this gives some serious doubts to horses such as Sempo, Cat Tiger, Foxy Jacks and The Wolf who have all failed to win or place in Graded company. Furthermore, it’s also a key trend to have run in a graded race last time out regardless of the finish and this puts some question marks next to Kiltealy Briggs and Redford Road along will some other horses that have already been mentioned. Harry Senior make some appeal on paper after winning over 3 miles but he doesn’t meet enough trends to make the shortlist.
Thyme Hill looks to go off at the top of the market, there is no surprise to see why, following his hot form. The recent Hyde Novice Hurdle winner fits most of the trends and horses to have won the Hyde, Bristol or Classic Hurdle before coming into this race have been very successful in the past. He also has some very strong form behind him, beating horses such as Fiddlerontheroof by 2 lengths and Champagne Well by three lengths. Paul Nolan makes the trip over with Latest Exhibition and he is another who is very well supported in the market. His seven-year-old fits a lot of the major trends also including winning a bumper earlier on in his career. He also won a Grade 1 novice event at Leopardstown last time out, beating Cobbler’s Way who was in trailing in second by two lengths. Rachel Blackmore is back in the saddle of Henry De Bromhead’s horse and she will be looking to reverse the form from today and has every chance to do so. This horse is another with some decent form behind him after beating Sempo already this season by two lengths.
3:30 Cheltenham - Magners Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (Grade 1)
Arguably the most historic and prestigious race of the whole Cheltenham Festival, the Gold Cup is a supreme test for a racehorse, that many horses can raise their level to win only once. This is supported by the fact that ten of the last fourteen winners arrived having had nine runs or less over fences; a trend that Al Boum Photo, Clan Des Obeaux and Kemboy will have to overcome.
You want to have a full tank coming into this race and only one horse to have raced more than three times earlier in the campaign has won in the past twelve renewals; bad news for Elegant Escape and Real Steel in this year’s race.
Class is obviously one of the biggest factors here and all of the Gold Cup heroes this century had already won a Grade 1 over fences. Proven quality is a must so Chris’s Dream, Elegant Escape and Real Steel look to have it all to do to if they are to record their first top-level chasing win in this particular contest. Previous Festival form is also important as fifteen of the last nineteen winners had won (8) or placed earlier in their career. Al Boum Photo returns to Cheltenham in a bid to retain his crown, while leading contenders Santini and Delta Work look closely matched on their second and third place finishes in last year’s RSA Novices’ Chase.
Plenty of winners had shown a good level of form over shorter distances earlier in their career and thirteen of the last twenty winners had won a Graded novice over 2m–2m4f. Al Boum Photo is the only contender in the 2020 line-up to have done so, winning a Grade 2 at Fairyhouse on his fourth career start back in April 2017.
Despite the strong record of Graded performers as novice hurdlers, recent Gold Cup winners tend to have been sent chasing after just the one season over timber. The last twenty winners had, initially, spent the just one full season over hurdles (Synchronised switched back to hurdles ahead of his Welsh Grand National win). This statistic will continue in 2020 as all of the runners this year were quickly sent chasing, but it is best to focus on those who are more lightly-raced as seventeen of the last twenty winners were in their second on third season over fences. Therefore, Clan Des Obeaux and Bristol De Mai could be vulnerable to their less-exposed rivals.
Al Boum Photo
With class coming to the fore in the Gold Cup, favourites have a solid record in the Grade 1 contest with eight of the last seventeen market leaders landing the odds. Al Boum Photo and Santini are currently vying for favouritism for the 2020 renewal, with the former looking to make it back-to-back wins in the race for Willie Mullins and Paul Townend. The eight-year-old has followed the same route to Cheltenham as last year, with connections only deciding to run him once during the campaign in a 2m5f Grade 3 at Tramore on New Year’s Day. He looks primed for his attempt to become the first horse since Best Mate in 2003 to win the race in consecutive years.
Al Boum Photo’s main challengers look to be the pair who fought it out for the placings in last year’s RSA Chase. Santini has long been seen as a Gold Cup contender by Nicky Henderson and stepped up on his seasonal reappearance to get the better of Bristol De Mai in the Cotswold Chase at Cheltenham’s Trials Day in January. His preparation for this year’s Festival has reportedly been a lot smoother than his interrupted 2018/19 campaign and he could run a big race in his first try at the Gold Cup. Delta Work finished a place behind Santini in the RSA, but has progressed to win three times at the highest level in only four starts since. He came out on top in the Savills Chase at Leopardstown’s Christmas Festival, before following up in the Irish Gold Cup which looked to be a strong race with Kemboy and Presenting Percy in behind. Delta Work can confirm that form and make a bold bid to give Gordon Elliott and owners Gigginstown House Stud another win in the Cheltenham Gold Cup, after their victory with Don Cossack in 2016.
4:10 Cheltenham - St. James's Place Foxhunter Challenge Cup Open Hunters' Chase
Staged over the exact same course and distance as the Gold Cup itself, the foxhunter offers amateurs the chance to create their Gold Cup. It may seem like a hard race to dissect however the trends show that it might to be too hard to find a winner.
The key trend is that 5 of the past 8 winners had finished in the first 5 the previous year and the returning horses this year that achieved that feat are Hazel Hill, Shantou Flyer and Top Wood.
Recent form is key and it’s vital when relating to this race as 11 of the past 18 winners won last-time-out. That includes quite a few in this race such as Billaway, Minella Rocco, Rewritetherules, Shantou Flyer and Caid du Berlais. Furthermore only 3 winners this century failed to finish in the first 3 last time out so it doesn’t look good for Arctic Skipper, It Came To Pass, Don Bersy, Dylrow and Top Wood.
Age is important in this race as 9 of the past 14 winners were aged 9 or younger, so that’s a plus for the likes of Billaway, Staker Wallace and Duhallow Tornado. On the other hand, there have been only 2 winners in the past 42 years aged 12 or older, so is a negative for Hazel Hill, Chosen Dream, Mr Mercurial, Sausalito Sunrise, Bishops Road, Southfield Theatre, Top Wood and Stellar Notion.
8 of the past 9 winners were officially rated 134 or higher so that would include the likes of Billaway, Minella Rocco, Hazel Hill and Shantou Flyer, with a further strong trend for the classier type rated 138 or above, again a plus for Minella Rocco, Hazel Hill and Caid du Berlais.
A couple more trends are that Irish-trained runners won 6 successive renewals between 2011 and 2016 and a key trend is that 7 of past 10 winners came from the top 4 in the betting, which this year includes Billaway, Staker Wallace and Minella Rocco.
Billaway has been heralded by Mullins as his best chance of a winner all week and the yard are certainly in need of one. A convincing winner at Navan last time out, this purpose built hunter has time on his side and certainly represents a combination to be feared in these parts. His rating would suggest he would need a further step up but the manner of his victory at Navan would suggest that should be forthcoming. Minella Rocco has been reborn by the switch to hunter chases and saw off Hazel Hill last time, who also makes the shortlist. His ability is clear and Jonjo O’Neill seems to have bought the talented chaser back to his best, following back to back wins at Warwick and Wetherby. He appeals as the class angle in the race, alongside last year’s winner Hazel Hill. The age trend is a concern for Phil Rowley’s inmate but he’ll have been trained for this day and he should be thereabouts. David Maxwell rides Shantou Flyer again and the pair are out for revenge after finishing second in this race last year. Course form always equates well in these races and he needs respect as such.
4:50 Grand Annual Challenge Cup Handicap Chase (Grade 3)
Run at a ferocious speed, this is not one for the light-hearted. Last year this race was won by Croco Bay who also lines up in this year’s renewal. Horses who attempt to win this race don’t have a good record so Croco Bay would have to put in a fantastic effort to win this. Although previous winners don’t have a great record, horses that have run in it before without winning do. In fact, previous Cheltenham runners in general have a good record with 11 out of 12 winners having had their previous run at Cheltenham. Greaneteen and Chosen Mate, two at the head of the market, have both failed to run at the festival previously.
Another important trend is runners with fewer attempts over fences often fair better. 11 or less seems to be the magic number. 10 of the last 12 runners have had fewer than 11 starts over fences with Croco Bay being one of the two to break this trend. Quite a few in this field fit the profile however it is the ones that don’t that are of more interest. Mcgroarty, Gino Trail, Us and Them and Caid Du Lin all fail to hit this trend and it is interesting to note that they are all lower down in the betting.
Carrying a big weight in this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Of the last six winners, five have carried 11st or more. Being able to carry a big weight is important so it pays to look for runners that are able to carry a bigger weight. In this field, all of the runners have carried at least 11st, indicating it is a very strong renewal this year. The bottom weight this year is carrying 10st 11lb only 1st 1lb less than the top weight. Instead of looking for a well handicapped horse, it is better to pay closer attention to the ones who have proven themselves over fences. Showing a higher level of consistency.
In most races, you would think that paying closer to previous winners would be important. However, in the Grand Annual you want to pick horses that haven’t won previously that season. This applies to about half the horses in this year’s renewal. Only two out of the last 12 winners had a least one win that season and the horses that fit this trend are Great Field, Marrcudja, Us and Them, Two Taffs and Ballywood.
Ballywood looks to have leading claims according to the trends. He has relatively low mileage over fences and is rated between 138-150. He is also one of the few to be a second season chaser, not many fit this trend in the race. He also goes here fresh which is very important when uncovering the winner when looking at the trends. Theinval is an unlikely one to fit the trends on paper but when fully assessed he ticks a lot of boxes. He has run many times over fences and therefore also doesn’t fit the second season chaser. However, he has a lot of experience and hasn’t managed to win over fences this season. He ran in this race two years ago finishing 4th and is off the same weight as last time. He should go very well here now back in this race.
Great Field is top weight here with a rating of 155. Now with Jonjo O’Neill, he comes here off the back of some poor efforts however fits a lot of the trends. Festival experience is important and he has a lot of it as well as not being seen since the end of last year. Jonjo should have him nice and fresh and hopefully the weight isn’t too big an issue for him. Paloma Blue is the last runner that is shortlisted. He has run very well in his second start over fences posting some good efforts behind graded horses. Rated 152 he’s at the bottom of the 150’s so isn’t too far of fitting the 138-150 trend. At the prices, he certainly seems to have been forgotten and fits the all-important stat of not winning a race earlier in the season.
5:30 Cheltenham – Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle
Stamina is essential in this race and staying beyond the 2m 4f is essential. Most of the runners have had a run over a longer distance. As it’s a conditional jockey race as well it is often run very fast by default so staying is the name of the game. Indefatigable, Column Of Fire, Assemble and Doctor Duffy have all run over further than this distance which could prove key. The field certainly has more runners with staying characteristics than other years.
Five and six year olds have been dominant in this race. They’ve taken the last 10 out of 11 renewals of this race and look set to continue their dominance in this year’s renewal. Mill Green and Doctor Duffy do not fall into this category as well as some of the others further down the market. Although there aren’t too many it does mean we can narrow down the field.
You want to try and look for a horse that is relatively unexposed over hurdles six of the last 11 have had five or less runs. While last year’s winner had only run 8 times over hurdles. Assemble for Joseph O’brien has had less than five runs as well as Umbrigado and Front View. It definitely pays to not have many miles under your belt.
Willie Mullins, Paul Nicholls and Gordon Elliott have done well in the race in the past; winning seven of the last nine renewals between them and that can be attributed to both having the higher-rated horses with access to the best conditionals around. There main hopes are Column Of Fire, Five O’Clock and Cliffs of Dover. Judging by the jockey bookings these look to be their best chances in the race and to oppose them would be going against a lot of the recent trends.
The O’Leary brothers are proving an ever-growing force on both sides of the Irish Sea and horses that carry the now widely-recognised maroon and white silks of Gigginstown House Stud have enjoyed plenty of success in the fledgling history of the Martin Pipe. Sir des Champs, Don Poli, Champagne Classic and Blow By Blow have won the contest recently so Column Of Fire, Assemble definitely warrant extra respect.
Column Of Fire
The Bosses Oscar
It comes as no surprise that the quartet of horses shortlisted are trained by Gordon Elliot or in Ireland. Joseph O’Brien’s Front View is looking to replicate last year’s success of Early Doors and get some points on the board for Ireland. He fits all the remaining trends and looks to be primed for this race in the colours of JP McManus. He really could be anything and has very low mileage posting some good efforts in high class races. He also has Assemble who fits the bias toward Gigginstown as well as a lot of the other trends.
Elliott has the other two in the shortlist, Column Of Fire and The Bosses Oscar. Both have leading claims and have been well founded in the market. Elliot clearly targets this race and looks to have two very good candidates. Column Of Fire does have a bit more mileage than most would want however he fits most of the other trends. The Bosses Oscar has had fewer runs but does lack that all important run over further, which could prove crucial in the closing stages!