Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle - 1 30 cheltenham
A big race for the fancied horses with just two of the last 28 winners not starting in the first five in the betting so I am not mad keen to look beyond Faugheen, Red Sherlock, Rathvinden and Royal Boy (predicting the fifth favourite is more tricky) for the winner. If you fancy getting inventive outside of the front five, I would stick with horses that finished first or second last time out like 29 of the last 30 winners so Ballyalton, Cocktails at Dawn, Creepy, Cup Final, Killala Quay, Midnight Thunder and Twelve Roses are not for me.
The strongest positive trend is that 14 of the last 16 winners had won a pattern race over hurdles of which only five in the line up have done (Faugheen, Red Sherlock, Creepy, Killala Quay and Royal Boy) so not Rathvinden.
Royal Boy won the Grade 1 Tolworth Hurdle over 2m (re-routed to Kempton this year from Sandown), as did French Holly (1998) and Monsignor (2000), before they won this near 5f longer race but he is a seven-year-old and only French Holly has won the Neptune for them from 100+ runners since 1974. Being seven is also not a positive therefore for Ballyalton and Killala Quay. Royal Boy is also a second-season hurdler but that didn’t stop Ten Plus, Massini’s Maguire or Mikael D’Haguenet.
The Irish have won four of the last eight runnings, two via Willie Mullins who has also had a second and two thirds recently but two of those placed runners were beaten having been sent off favourite. Faugheen and Rathvinden represent the powerhouse force in Irish jumps racing and they are joined on the boat by Lieutenant Colonel (who has finished second to Vautour and Wicklow Brave and expected to improve for a step up in distance) and Shanahan’s Turn.
Given this race has been dominated by pattern-race winners in the top five in the market, I make no apologies for concentrating on Faugheen and Red Sherlock. Faugheen is not short of speed but stays 3m as well which could be crucial and as his trainer has won the race twice recently, so he would be the narrow trends pick. He would need to jump better than so far though. Red Sherlock won the Classic Novices’ Hurdle beating Rathvinden (gave 3lb) by 2½ lengths which has been a great Albert Bartlett guide of late but is also a good Neptune guide and he won it in a fast time extending his record to 6-6 and we know he can do it at the course having also won the Listed bumper here in November. Of the other big two players according to the market, Royal Boy is seven (one winner since 1974) and Rathvinden has not won a pattern race (14 of the last 16 winners have) so I’ll stick with two for the short list.
RSA Chase - 2-05 cheltenham
I keep hearing this is a poor renewal but I am not having that, in fact, I would say it’s the deepest running I can remember for a long time as chances can be argued for so many even if we don’t have a standout performer, but they tend to get beat in this race anyway.
The key stat in my view is that 18 of the last 21 winners were novice hurdling the previous season. In other words, get them over fences sharpish so I don’t like horses who have been running over timber for more than one season. The three that weren’t came straight from a bumper, point-to-point or were a second-season chaser. This is not a good stat therefore for the two-time World Hurdle third, Smad Place, where I think he was ridden to finish third so is also a little flattered on those runs.
horses placed second in the World Hurdle in three of the last four years started a hot favourite here and all three finished unplaced. Sam Winner was sent chasing the year after he was novice hurdling but fell twice so was sent back hurdling last year but has found what it takes on his second season over fences.
Annacotty is game and likeable but doesn’t come out well on stats as no Kauto Star Chase winner has ever won in 18 attempts and there have only been two six-year-old winners since 1978 which is also against Le Bec and Gevrey Chambertin who is trying to win on just his second chase start which is a huge ask, especially as he was well beaten on his first.
The Irish would have won the last five runnings if it weren’t for a Gold Cup winner in Bobs Worth and they have a very strong challenge this year.
Their key trial is the Dr P J Moriarty Chase which has featured four of the last five RSA winners and all three runners last month take their chance again after Ballycasey beat Don Cossack with Carlingford Lough still in contention until he unseated McCoy at the final fence. The big stat against Ballycasey though is lack of experience (as demonstrated in his schooling fall last week) as he has run just twice over fences whereas the last 14 RSA winners had run 3+ times. He is trained, however, by Willie Mullins who has trained three RSA winners and two seconds and also had four others well in contention until falling late on. One of his winners was Florida Pearl who did win off just two chase starts.
Morning Assembly also has a notable stat to overturn as the last 50 RSA winners ran in the same calendar year whereas he has been deliberately held back since finishing second to Carlingford Lough in the Topaz Chase (Grade 1) having previously beaten Don Cossack in the Florida Pearl Chase. Don Cossack then narrowly beat Carlingford Lough in the Drinmore Chase (Grade 1) so there is very little between all three. No Drinmore winner has ever won the RSA though.
Pattern-race chase form is a must as 11 of the last 12 won or finished in such a race which is against Corrin Wood, Gevrey Chambertin, Samingarry, Sam Winner and Smad Place and the last 26 winners all finished in the first three last time out with 24 of those winning or finishing second so that is a negative that Carlingford Lough must overturn (though he was unlucky to unseat his rider as was squeezed up so it would be harsh to throw him out for that) in addition to Just A Par, Gevrey Chambertin and Samingarry.
French-breds don’t have a good record (two winners in the last 21 winners) which is against Black Thunder, Gevrey Chambertin, Le Bec and Sam Winner.
Less than three chase starts for Ballycasey, no run since Christmas for Morning Assembly, no pattern race chase form for Corrin Wood and having spent three seasons over timber for Smad Place are all strong enough negatives to mean that four of the big hopes can’t make a trends-based short list. As no Drinmore or Kauto Star Chase winner has also ever won the RSA Chase, that is statistically not good for Don Cossack and Annacotty and I am not keen on French-breds either so I am not with Gevrey Chambertin, Le Bec, Sam Winner or Black Thunder so that doesn’t leave a lot. More by process of elimination O’Faolain’s Boy and Many Clouds appeal most having finished 1-2 in the Reynoldstown Chase and have no negatives to speak of but beaten horses in that Grade 2 at Ascot have a better record than the winner so maybe Many Clouds could be the one today, especially meeting the winner on 4lb better terms for 2½ lengths having also got involved in a pace duel with Gevrey Chambertin up front over the final mile. They are both also seven-year-olds like the last seven RSA winners. Carlingford Lough looks the trends pick of the Irish chasing a fifth win in six years as he is the one of the trio who contested their best trial (the Dr P J Moriarty) who doesn’t have a negative statistic to overcome unless you want to be ultra harsh and penalise him for unseating McCoy at the last fence when he was squeezed up.
Coral Cup 2-40 cheltenham
To be frank, it is not a handicap overburdened with strong patterns but anyone combining second-season hurdlers that won last time out would have collected on five occasions in the last 11 years and horses who fit that profile are Waaheb (for J P McManus who has won this race twice), Kaylif Aramis and Calculated Risk.
Of those two factors being on a second-season hurdler has been the stronger trend highlighting seven of the last nine runnings and other second-season hurdlers (that didn’t win last time out) are Whisper, Sametegal, Far West, Smashing, Ifandbutwhynot (in a first-time hood), Clondaw Kaempfer and Foxcub.
Eleven of the 20 Coral Cup winners arrived here off the back of a last-time-out success including seven of the last 11 from approximately 20% representation. The only other last-time-out winner is Dunguib but he has it all to do on official ratings being rated 154 as the highest mark ever carried to victory in all 20 runnings was 148. Others rated above 148 are Whisper, Sametegal, Meister Eckhart and Oscars Well.
Regards negative statistics, horses aged 10+ are 1-24 to place since 1999 so former Festival winners Dunguib, Noble Prince and Son Of Flicka are older than I would like as is the three-time Festival runner-up, Get Me Out Of Here.
Seven victories from 20 runnings is an excellent return for the Irish who are represented this year by Dunguib, Oscars Well, Sadler’s Risk, Waaheb, Bayan (for Gordon Elliott who won with Carlito Brigante), Noble Prince and the Willie Mullins-trained pair of Smashing and Indevan though only one of his nine runners has placed.
Alan King had a 1-2 in last season’s Coral Cup thus adding to his two other placed runners from 14 runners in total and he runs last season’s runner-up Meister Eckhart off a 6lb higher mark and also Vendor who is more interesting as he was a staying-on eighth in the Betfair Hurdle, a handicap that featuring three winners and two runners-up from the last nine occasions when it has beaten the weather. The runner-up, Dell’ Arca, also takes his chance as does Smashing (9th) and Far West who looked like placing until falling at the final flight.
A total of 75% of Coral Cup winners had won earlier in the season which is not in favour of Meister Eckhart, Oscars Well, Cotton Mill, Far West, Get Me Out Of Here, Clerk’s Choice, Sadler’s Risk, Edgardo Sol, Clondaw Kaempfer and Son Of Flicka who all haven’t
As five of the last 11 winners were last-time-out winners having their second season over hurdles then the only three qualifiers on both counts, Waaheb, Kaylif Aramis and Calculated Risk, make the short list. Waaheb’s trainer may not have had a Festival winner since 1990 but his owner has had around 40 and he is interesting having always been well regarded, if he can jump cleanly. Kaylif Aramis won a competitive handicap at Ascot last time and is the sort of toughie you want on your side for a race like this even if he has won more handicaps than ideal. There was a time when five-year-olds could be discounted but not anymore and Calculated Risk appeals as the best of those at the prices. Again, he has more handicap hurdle wins that I would prefer but last-time-out winning form counts for more in my view. I also want Vendor on my side as his eighth over an inadequate 2m in the best guide (the Betfair Hurdle) was an eye-catching run and his trainer had the 1-2 last season and I will chance a first-time hood could make a difference on Ifandbutwhynot who has a good turn of foot so this drying ground should suit and he is a second-season hurdler like seven of the last nine winners.
BetVictor Queen Mother Champion Chase 3-20 cheltenham
Okay, it’s not a classic renewal but it is certainly open and that makes it more of a punting race than last year. Sire De Grugy is the form pick and won the best guide when winning the Tingle Creek, a race that was contested by nine of the last 13 Champion Chase winners when he beat Somersby and Captain Conan. However, he was at his most impressive when winning the Clarence House Chase two starts later at Ascot, a race that has featured four of the last ten winners and if he puts up a similar level of performance then he should win. However, he is 0-2 for Cheltenham and drying ground is not in his favour so bookmakers will be falling over themselves to lay him. If successful he will also become the most aggressively campaigned winner since 1995 having his sixth start of the season.
Eleven of the last 12 winners had won a Grade 1 chase before which is a big stat against Baily Green, Kid Cassidy, Module and Wishfull Thinking. The latter two are also likely to start at bigger than 11/1 and as just one of the last 32 winners started at a bigger price, they have a second big negative to overcome. The Henry De Bromhead-trained pair of Special Tiara and Sizing Europe (wears first-time cheekpieces) are also likely to start at above 11/1. I suppose these two stats are more vulnerable in a weaker year such as this and it was also a weak year when the SP stat was broken when Newmill won although he went on to prove himself to be an up-to-scratch winner. Sizing Europe is 12 now however and there has only been one winner aged older than ten since 1997 which is a third negative for the 11-year-old Wishfull Thinking to overcome. Sizing Europe is the only previous Festival winner in the line up though and 19 of the last 29 winners had won at this meeting before.
Dealing with positive stats, the Irish have won five of the last 11 runnings and run four, Arvika Ligeonneire (thought to be best right-handed and on soft ground), Baily Green (last season’s surprise Arkle runner-up), Special Tiara (last season’s surprise Maghull Chase winner) and Sizing Europe (form figures at the Festival over fences of 1122). Regards Baily Green, two Arkle seconds have gone one place better here since 1986 including Buck House who was also trained by Mouse Morris.
I can’t even recall a novice running in the race let alone winning so Hinterland would be an unusual winner on that respect. However, although he is officially a novice, he is a second-season chaser so isn’t really a novice if you know what I mean and Nicholls knows how to prepare one for the Champion Chase as proven by Call Equiname and Master Minded (x2) and it is significant he runs here rather than the Arkle having put up a faster time than Sire De Grugy on the same card at Sandown in December.
There is plenty of pace in the race which might also suit a hold-up horse like Hinterland as well as Kid Cassidy who beat Sire De Grugy by 3½ lengths here in November when receiving 10lb with Special Tiara finished third giving 5lb to the winner. However, Kid Cassidy has not run since putting up a poor performance at Leopardstown over Christmas and the last 11 winners had run in the same calendar year. That stat is also against Sizing Europe who also disappointed in the same race and Hinterland and Captain Conan who have not run for 95 days.
(Sire De Grugy)
The debate as to whether Sire De Grugy should appear on the short list is a tricky one as he has won the best guide but the last 17 winners had not run as often as him earlier in the season. I do want proven Grade 1 winners first and foremost though given only Master Minded was breaking his Grade 1 maiden tag in this race in the last 12 runnings, so I will include him in brackets which determine he is strong in most trends but has one negative trend to overcome and he has bagged the big two domestic 2m chases this season at the highest level. Arvika Ligeonneire and Captain Conan are second-season chasers who are both four-time Grade 1 winners so they make the short list. The Irish have a fine record of late and Arvika Ligeonneire looks their best hope but if we back him we have to put our trust in Mullins and Walsh that he can act left-handed now. Whether he will also like drying ground is more of a concern for me. Captain Conan represents a stable who has won this race with three individual horses, he beat Sire De Grugy over course and distance last season and ran in the best guide when third in the Tingle Creek so also makes it into the short list. Like Sire De Grugy he appears in brackets though as he has a negative to overcome having not run since early December. He cut out quickly after making the running in the Tingle Creek in a manner that all was not clinically right with him but he is reportedly over that problem and firing on all cylinders at home. In my view he would have won the Arkle last year given how workmanlike Simonsig was had he run there rather the JLT where he failed to stay but was going best turning into the straight.
Glenfarclas Cross Country Handicap Chase 4-00 cheltenham
The Irish were responsible for the 1-2-3-4-5 last season taking their advantage to 8-1 over the home defence and only six British-trained horses have paid a place dividend from 69 to face the starter so oppose the Brits with the exception of Philip Hobbs who won this race two years ago with Balthazar King who won again here in November, and that stable have also won over these fences with Lacdoudal so they know what they are doing.
With regards to the Irish, Enda Bolger has won 15 of the 41 cross country races staged at Cheltenham (and trained either the winner or runner-up in this race on seven occasions in nine years) and he has potentially three of the first six in the betting this season with Love Rory, Star Neuville and Quantitativeeasing.
Love Rory won the P.P. Hogan which has been a strong guide having featured four winners of this race in its eight renewals and three 1-2s. He beat Big Shu last month in that trial but had race fitness and track position advantages over the runner-up who will also appreciate this extra 7f.
Of course, Big Shu is the defending title holder and he had the race sewn up before the home bend 12 months ago and showed his win last year was no fluke by adding the La Touche Cup but he needed his comeback run behind Love Rory and was very easy to back beforehand also having his first start under Paul Carberry.
Star Neuville was a half length second in one of the lesser banks races at last season’s Punchestown Festival but there has been a big word for him in recent weeks. This would be Quantitativeeasing’s first banks race which is not a good stat for him as only one of the last 30 winners over these fences was a cross-country debutant but the switch to Bolger has clearly reinvigorated him judged on his second to Carlingford Lough in the Galway Plate back in August and he will have been very well schooled hailing from the Bolger yard.
As for Cheltenham cross country form earlier in the season, the handicap in December has been a better guide than the conditions event in November. Sire Collonges won the former event beating Any Currency for a rare British-trained 1-2 but it didn’t look a good race beforehand and the winner was only seven at the time and just one of those has ever won over these obstacles.
In fact, over half the field were aged seven or younger underlining what a poor race it was. Balthazar King beat Uncle Junior in the November event but was denied the opportunity to defend his Cheltenham Festival title that he won so bravely in 2012 last season as the ground was deemed too soft for the opening day of the meeting but it has dried out enough for him to take his chance this time.
Big Shu was a surprise winner last year but 16 of the previous 19 winners of Cheltenham cross country races were won by a horse that could be found in the first three in the betting.
I have long been a fan of the P.P. Hogan as a guide and it would not surprise me if it is the key form again. Love Rory beat an unfit Big Shu that day and is only a six-year-old so I have to believe that Big Shu will reverse form, especially over an extra 7f on a course we know he excels at and now having a run under his belt. A Stray Shot caught the eye in fourth and could be an each-way play at a big price but as he is a seven-year-old, he will do well to win. I can’t not include an Enda Bolger runner though given his amazing record and as his Quantitativeeasing has not run in a banks race, I will side with Star Neuville who was half a length away from beating Sizing Australia at last season’s Punchestown Festival. The ground has come right for Balthazar King who won this race two years ago and struck again over these fences in November beating Uncle Junior who is likely to get run off his feet on this quick surface. Hobbs does well in these races and Balthazar King is as bonny as you like but if he is to win off 150, he would be the joint classiest winner alongside Garde Champetre.
Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle 4-40 cheltenham
The angle I like most is latching onto horses with the bare minimum of three runs to run and be handicapped on. Less runs equals fewer opportunities for the Handicapper to obtain a true reflection of a horse’s ability which equals greater probability of underestimation of what they are capable of. This year’s qualifiers are Le Fin Bois, Ivan Grozny, Baradari, Goodwood Mirage, Arzembouy Premier, Certification, Azza, Astre De La Cour, Dawalan and Orgilgo Bay.
You might have read by first-time headgear article on Page 4 of my book and last year’s winner bolted up with a headgear angle. This year’s race sees Ballyglasheen don a first-time visor, Dawalan first-time cheekpieces, Certification first-time blinkers and Orgilgo Bay a first-time hood. As three of those had the three runs to qualify, they make the short list.
So does Azza who has had three runs over hurdles and also because fillies have won four of the first eight runnings in addition to supplying the runner-up in 2006 which is some return considering that of the 240 runners to date, just 19 were fillies so less than 10% representation.
Stamina and breeding are important elements for this race as juveniles are going to have to stay especially well to beat 23 rivals and it is worth noting that the Aga Khan bred the first two winners of this race and also supplied the runner-up in 2008 and 2011 (and also the fourth three years ago) and Dawalan and Baradari represent him this time. Baradari is a half-brother to the former Triumph runner-up, Barizan.
The first seven winners had all been beaten on their first two hurdling starts but not the last two so I am happy to let that pass but all nine winners had run from February onwards which is against Azza but I do love the record of fillies so I still want her on the short list especially given David Pipe’s record in the race with French-breds of a winner, two second a third and a fourth.
French breds or French imports have won five of the nine runnings from approximately one-third representation so they are over-performing. What makes French breds or imports even more appealing, however, is their place record as they supplied the runner-up and third last year, the 1-2-3-4 12 months earlier, four of the first five positions in 2010 and the 1-2-3-4 in 2008.
Paul Nicholls is another that does well with French breds in this race with Sanctuaire winning and supplying the second and third last year and Katgary is an interesting runner for him on his British debut. Keltus and Solar Impluse are two more Nicholls-trained French imports taking their chance
Six of the nine winners started their career on the Flat and the best on ratings from the level is tricky to work out as Ivan Grozny and Baradari ran in France so we don’t have official ratings for them but there would not be much between them at Goodwood Mirage.
Of the last seven winners three had won at Sandown earlier in the season and Violet Dancer won there before Christmas.
Dawalan ticks a lot of boxes being Aga Khan-bred, three runs over hurdles, French import and first-time cheekpieces and the owner-trainer won this race two years ago. I’ll also row in with another Aga Khan-bred horse in Baradari who if he was not the best of these on the Flat like three winners of this race, he wouldn’t be far off it alongside Ivan Grozny and Goodwood Mirage and he too is a French import with three hurdles runs to his name. Azza is also a French-bred, has had three hurdles and represents a stable with a good record in the race plus fillies have a belting record so she also make the short list despite an absence of 116 days. Nicholls is another trainer that has done well with French imports in this race of which Katgary may be the best but I prefer Orgilgo Bay and Certification who both have the ideal number of hurdles runs (three) and I like the new headgear angle for both like last year’s winner.
Weatherbys Champion Bumper 5-15 cheltenham
It’s Ireland 16-5 Great Britain despite the raider supplying a third of the runners and it will be a surprise if it is not 17-5 given the strength of their challenge this year led of course by Willie Mullins gunning for a ninth win in the race. On three of the four occasions when Mullins won having brought over multiple runners, it was his third and second strings according to the market that prevailed so it will be interesting to see the market with regards to Black Hercules (Patrick Mullins – he bought him for his owner so no surprise there), Shaneshill (Ruby Walsh) and Killultagh Vic (Paul Townend) especially as just two winning market leaders in the race’s 21 runnings is a pretty poor return given its Grade 1 status but many eight favourites or joint-favourites have finished second. That said, six second-favourites have been successful and 14-21 winners were sent off in the first six in the betting.
With regards to the Irish guides, I like to keep an eye on the four bumpers at the prestigious four-day Leopardstown Christmas Meeting where the best horses in Ireland come out to play and the race restricted to four-year-olds which was won by Value At Risk (Philip Fenton) which has been the best guide of those races whereas Silver Concorde won another contest at the same meeting for Dermot Weld who also runs Vigil who won a bumper at the Hennessy Meeting at Leopardstown.
In terms of winners, horses unbeaten in bumpers lead 12-9. Fourteen of last year’s 23 runners were defending an unbeaten record in bumpers (and they posted a 1-2-3) which was an unusually high percentage as normally over half the field had tasted defeat under Rules at some point. More important, however, is to have won last time out like 19 of the 21 winners which is against last year’s third, Golantilla, plus Joshua Lane, Mountain Of Mourne, Neck Or Nothing, Oscarteea, Our Kaempfer, Seven Nation Army, Stack The Deck, Coyaba and Royal Vacation.
Although bumpers are all about potential it is worth noting that three of the last 11 winners were top rated by BHA and the 16/1 winner two years ago was only 1lb off the highest-rated horse. Killultah Vic is as much as 6lb clear top rated this season having beaten last season’ Champion Bumper third, Golantilla (unlikely to have been race fit on his first run for 11 months), by a wide margin.
Seventeen of the 21 runnings have gone the way of Irish-bred horses including last season’s 1-2-3 though that is no massive surprise as they make up over half the field. Only one French-bred has won from 34 runners but they have been faring better in recent seasons after their first 24 runners all finished unplaced.
Six of the last 11 winners had run in at least three bumpers and, during that same period of time, four winners were rested having won before the New Year. Last season’s 1-2 had not run since January 3rd and October 12th. Of the 21 winners, 16 had won a bumper comprising 14+ runners.
Value At Risk
You won’t be surprised to see I have gone Willie Mullins crazy given he was won the race eight times but you might be a little surprised I have Killultagh Vic top but he is 6lb clear on ratings and being with the top rated in this race has been a good place to be. The word Mullins is giving all season is that Shaneshill is his number one and Patrick Mullins is usually aboard the main hope but as he purchased Black Hercules it is no surprise to see him ride that one of Graham Wylie’s pair. Leopardstown Christmas Meeting bumper has been worth following in this too and it was a toss up between value At Risk and Silver Concorde but as Dermot Weld has had a late change of mind and also runs Vigil, perhaps Silver Concorde isn’t his best hope so I will go with Value At Risk who the bumper that three winner of this race down the years have contested.