JLT Novices’ Chase
As this is just the fourth running there are few trends to speak of so we’ll keep this short and sweet. So far the Irish have won all three runnings of this race which is now run as a Grade 1 for the first time and they are strongly represented here by the Willie Mullins-trained trio of Felix Yonger, Djakadam and Mozoltov plus Sizing Gold.
Seven of the nine top-three finishers won last time out which is a positive for Djakadam, Oscar Whisky, Vukovar, Mozoltov, Taquin Du Seuil and Off The Ground. Six of the 12 top four finishers had run well in a Cheltenham Festival handicap before which is a plus for Double Ross (placed in last season’s Martin Pipe Hurdle)Captain Ocana and Uxizandre finished unplaced last time out and only three of the last 52 combined winners of the Arkle and RSA (the other two Grade 1 novice chases at the meeting) had done likewise.
Oscar Whisky and Captain Ocana are both nine-year-olds but there has been no winner of a Festival novice chase at up to 3m that old since 1990. Five-year-olds have been up against it in all Festival novice chases since their age allowance was chopped (just 1lb in this race) which could make it tough for Djakadam and Vukovar.
Mozoltov may be Willie Mullins’ probable third string but he comes out on top on (admittedly very limited) trends in three runnings being an Irish-trained last-time-out winner who is not too young or too old based on results of other Festival novice chases. With the Irish winning all three runnings I have concentrated on them and prefer Felix Yonger and Sizing Gold to Djakadam for the short list mainly on age grounds as five-year-olds (Djakadam and Vukovar) only receive 1lb even though they finished second last time out whereas Djakadam won. They might also be better suited than the big grey on this drying ground. Felix Yonger was second in the Irish Arkle one place ahead of Mozoltov (won since) on ground he didn’t like last time and Sizing Gold was outstayed over 3m in a Grade 2 on his last start shaping like this trip would be ideal. Oscar Whisky is older than I like and prefer Wonderful Charm (has a solid place only look about him) of the British. Taquin Du Seuil has shown a preference for much softer ground
All of the last ten winners started at a double-figure price so don’t be afraid to chance your arm on some long shots. Let’s try and cut the down the 24 runners first using negative trends. The last 13 winners were all officially rated no higher than 142 so the top seven in the weights are not for me from a trends perspective; Fingal Bay (won the final qualifier at Exeter), Southfield Theatre, Quartx De Thaix, Trustan Times, Jetson (third last year), Seefood (a game second in the Leoparsdtown qualifier and I do quite like his each-way chance for a yard that won this in 2005) and Mickie.
Unfortunately there are no five-year-olds we can oppose this year but as only one winner of a qualifier has won in the last 17 runnings we can look to take them on. Winners of qualifiers that got in the race are Fingal Bay (Exeter), Jetson (Punchestown), Mickie (Newbury), Uncle Jimmy (Warwick), Top Wood (Haydock) and Josies Orders (Huntingdon). The latter is trained by Jonjo O’Neill though who has won this Final four times and is his only runner. I think Open Day was Jonjo’s number one hope but he missed the cut by one place and Ireland’s best hope, Inis Meain, was also balloted out.
Older horses have fared better than you may think as six of the last eight were aged 8+ and they make up 50% of the field this year. Those that have not got a negative mentioned above are Grand Vision (second in Warwick qualifier), So Fine, On The Bridge and Cross Kennon (third, fourth and eighth respectively) in the Cheltenham qualifier which has been the best qualifier as a guide of late), Pineau De Re (has been chasing and is being aimed at the Grand National so I imagine this is more of a prep for Aintree and 11 is probably too old), Vics Canvas (also probably too old at 11), Lie Forrit (sixth in the Carlisle qualifier), Pateese (second in the Newbury qualifier) and Crowning Jewel (third in the Musselburgh qualifier).
Although Cheltenham back in October has been the best the qualifying guide, a very eye-catching three of the last five winners contested the valuable Fixed Brush Handicap Hurdle at Haydock which featured Utopie Des Bordes (2nd), Lie Forrit (3rd), Crowning Jewel (6th) and Trustan Times (8th).
Utopie Des Bordes
Being an older horse who was third in the best recent guide and is in the right area of the weights, the ten-year-old Lie Forrit is lightly-raced for his age (22 runs) and is interesting if the ground is not too lively for him as he would prefer a bit of cut. He does have a great first time out record though and comes here fresh off an 88-day absence and has course winning form. Lucinda Russell’s horses regularly outrun their odds at Cheltenham. One place ahead of him in that best recent guide (3 of the last 5 winners ran in the Fixed Brush Hurdle) was Utopie Des Bordes, who has two ways of running but has the ability to be a factor if on a going day. In for a penny in for a pound, as it has been a cracking guide of late let’s have the sixth home as well, Crowning Jewel who, like Lie Forrit is also an older horse, relatively speaking, at the age of eight. We should have a contender hailing from the best qualifying race which was held at Cheltenham in October and So Fine, third that day, has squeezed in off bottom weight and loves Good ground so conditions are coming in his favour. He is also aged 8+ like six of the last eight winners. The final berth goes to Seefood who is 3lb higher than ideal for stats purposes, hence the brackets, but he was second in Ireland’s best guide and the Irish have won this five times since 1992 and all qualified in the same race including this particular stable (Dessie Hughes) with Oulart and Seefood was the only horse in the top ten that day that was ridden prominently in that qualifier.
Twelve declarations of which three ran in the King George; Al Ferof (3rd), Dynaste (5th) and Menorah (p.u). As five of the six winners of the Ryanair since it became a Grade 1 race were beaten in that race and the other was second in the previous year’s King George, then there is a good argument that we should stop right here and this trio make up the short list. Al Ferof has since flopped on bad ground in Denman Chase and was legless from three out so I have some doubts whether he will be super fresh and it was too far out to say that he failed due to stamina.
I would put it more down to the ground as he is such a good jumper and this surface will suit much better trying to give Paul Nicholls a third winner in the Ryanair. Menorah would also have not liked the ground and was pulled up in the King George on his only run this season and is now is fitted with first-time cheekpieces which is interesting given the headgear angles that worked so well on Day 1 underlining my point on Page 4 of my Cheltenham Festival Betting Guide. He ran to 169 when splitting the top class pair of First Lieutenant and Silviniaco Conti on spring ground last April so the going is also coming very much in his favour. Dynaste was the disappointment of the King George off the back of also running to 169 when splitting Cue Card and Silviniaco Conti at Haydock but I think he can be given a pass for that as returned sore and has not run since.
All three King George runners have won at Cheltenham before which is a big deal as 15 of the 18 Ryanair winners or runners-up had won at the course which is against half of the field; Boston Bob, Cantlow, Hidden Cyclone, Kauto Stone, Medermit and Rathlin. The only two winners to finished unplaced last time out did so in the King George so that is against Hunt Ball, Boston Bob, Cantlow, Kauto Stone, Medermit and Rathlin. Also since the race was upgraded to a Grade 1, five of the six winners had won at Grade 1 level which another negative for Cantlow, Hidden Cyclone, Kauto Stone, Medermit and Rathlin.
The Irish have never won this race despite throwing 24 darts at it and it is quite interesting that Gigginstown, who effectively sponsor the race and had two seconds with Mossbank and First Lieutenant, run Rathlin rather than First Lieutenant. Their main hope, however, is last year’s JLT winner, Benefficient, who is also effective over 2m1f and 3m so has the ideal blend of speed and stamina.
Given this is a great race for leading fancies, Grade 1 winners, Cheltenham winners, British-trained and King George runners, the shortlist is the easiest of the week to come up with and Al Ferof just gets the trends-based vote over Dynaste and Menorah as the best trends horse as his trainer has won the race before but I fancy the latter may be the best each-way value of the race with three course wins and first-time cheekpieces also make him fascinating. The only real statistical problem with Benefficient is the lack of Irish success but, he did beat Dynaste in the novice equivalent of this race at the meeting. However, Dynaste has officially improved 12lb since then and goes particularly well fresh.
Ladbrokes World Hurdle
Not a strong trends race. The big head-to-head of the meeting between Big Buck’s and Annie Power is a mouth-watering prospect and the Irish mare has an additional 2lb off her back than when Rose Ravine and Shuil Ar Arghaidh won with a 5lb mares allowance as she has a 7lb head start. She hasn’t won over 3m though and ten of the last 12 winners had won a pattern race of this trip. Then again, she has not been given the chance and, I for one, think she will improve for the step up in trip on her breeding.
Of course, age is the big negative that surrounds Big Buck’s bidding for a fifth win in the race at the age of 11 (only one other winner has been as old) coming off an injury when finishing third in the Cleeve. That trial as been the best guide recently however as 7 of the last 14 World Hurdle winners or runners-up prepped there. Big Buck’s came out of the race, which he needed quite badly judged by Nicholls’ comments, as the best horse at the weights but none of the last 14 winners finished out of the first two on its last start which is also against last season’s runner-up and fourth, Celestial Halo and Reve De Sivola. At Fishers Cross finished one place ahead of Big Buck’s and is the choice of McCoy over More Of That as the latter also has to prove he stays 3m having his debut over this trip here as does Zarkandar. Rule The World and Medinas have also yet to win over 3m.
Back in fourth in the Cleeve was Reve De Sivola who previously made all to outstay his rivals in the Long Walk Hurdle, a race that has featured half of the last 20 World Hurdle winners. However, Salubrious might have beaten him if he did not over-jump two out before At Fishers Cross fell at the final flight when beaten but the latter is reportedly now over what was physically hindering him in the first half of the season and been the recipient of glowing home reports. Reve De Sivola was fourth in last year’s World Hurdle but the last time a horse finished out the first two in last year’s renewal and then won was back in 1981.
Eight of the last 11 winners won last time out which is a tick for Annie Power, Mala Beach (testing ground would have helped his cause), More Of That and Rule The World, and the latter was second in last season’s Neptune, a race in which placed horses like Karshi, Inglis Drever and Dorans Pride ran in 12 months prior to their World Hurdle wins.
At Fishers Cross
(Rule The World)
The big two are not ideal trends horses as Big Buck’s is too old at 11 and was outside the front two last time out whereas Annie Power has not won a pattern race over three miles though she has not been given an opportunity to yet but, as she is last-time winner and mares have a good record in the race from low representation, she deserves to still make the short list in brackets especially also being a second-season hurdler and they have a very decent record indeed when you take out the multiple World Hurdle winners. At Fishers Cross is marginally the best call on trends. He too is a second-season hurdler and he won over this trip at last season’s Festival and has contested the two best guides at Ascot and Cheltenham, placing second on the latter occasion and has reportedly thrived since then. Rule The World has not won over 3m but Neptune placed horses have fared well and he arrives here off the back of a win and is another second-season hurdler so he gets the final vote. Mouse Morris does particularly well with his few Cheltenham runners and he should start in the first four in the betting like all of the last 13 winners, as should the other shortlisted pair.
Byrne Group Plate
Twenty-four declarations again so we will start with negative trends to help cut the options down starting with official ratings as 24 of the last 26 winners were rated no higher than 141 so the top five in the handicap have it to do; Champion Court, Johns Spirit, Colour Squadron, Tap Night and Third Intention. In fact, no horse carrying over 11st has finished in the first three in the last five years and 10 of the last top 12 finishers could be found in the bottom seven in the handicap. The first four of those ran in the Paddy Power Gold Cup as did Ballynagour and Nadiya De La Vega (first-time visor) but there has been no winning representative from that race in the Plate for 20 years.
The same figures apply to having a recent run as 24 of the last 26 winners had run in the previous 42 days and there are 13 this year; Third Intention, Tatenen, Carrickboy, Bennys Mist, King Edmund, Bless The Wings (in first-time blinkers for those enjoying the new headgear angle this week) Wetak, Firth Of The Clyde, Shangani, Mr Cracker, Act Of Kalanisi, Sew On Target, Gallox Bridge and Christopher Wren.
The Irish have only won once since 1951 and Sraid Padraig (Tony Martin) is their only runner this time. However, Venetia Williams has won three of the last eight runnings and she runs last year’s shock 50/1 winner Carrickboy (off only a 4lb higher mark), Bennys Mist and the recent Newbury winner Shangani. Martin Pipe won this handicap four times in six years and David Pipe also targets it having won two of the last four runnings and he gives last year’s favourite Ballynagour another crack after he broke a blood vessel 12 months ago but he was also pulled up in the Paddy Power Gold Cup on his only subsequent start. Wetak is the other Pipe runner. In addition to Nadiya De La Vega, Henderson also runs Georgio Quercus in his bid for a fifth win in this race.
Only one of the last 15 winners had run more than 16 times over fences so perhaps Champion Court, Tatenen, Carrickboy, King Edmund, Nadiya De La Vega, Mr Cracker, Giorgio Quercus, Sew On Target and Tartak are too exposed?
French-breds (50% of winners since 1999 and five runners-up when they didn’t win and novices (five winners in the last ten years) have a cracking record. French breds are Tartak,Giorgio Quercus, Nadiya De La Vega, Wetak and Tatenen who look pretty exposed to me except Wetak. The only novice is Firth Of The Clyde.
Firth Of The Clyde
The hardest race to solve at the Festival on SP returns over the last 25 years, don’t be afraid to open up your mind on this race. French breds have a great record as does the Pipe stable and I prefer Wetak of their two runners to Ballynagour as Paddy Power Gold Cup representatives have struggled and there are six of those in this field including the 1-2 Johns Spirit and Colour Squadron who also have ratings/weights stats to overcome. Wetak is also unexposed for Pipe having had just one run since coming over from France where he fell at Ascot when losing touch. That was his third run in Britain though as he was runner-up here at The Open Meeting over 2m in 2012 before having four more runs in France in Britain so he is a fascinating contender. Being the only novice (won five of the last ten runnings) then Firth Of The Cylde makes appeal, especially as he is trained by Malcolm Jefferson who had two handicap winners at this meeting two years ago and almost had another on Tuesday when Attaglance was beaten half a length. His horses all look in fabulous condition in the paddock at the Festival so I expect nothing different from this winner of two of his four chase starts. I can’t not have a Venetia Williams horse o the short list and Shangani, who won at Newbury 12 days ago should go well and he also contested the same Kempton handicap that two other winners of this race in the last nine years also ran in. I will also include her winner of this race last year, Carrickboy, despite having more career chase starts than ideal (though not by much) as he looks like he has been laid out for a repeat and there have been two dual winners of this race since the mid-1980s and she has done a good job to get him here off only a 4lb higher mark. The final berth is given to Giorgio Quercus as French-breds, recent runners and Henderson contenders have a good profile as do horses in the bottom seven in the weights and he has only had one chase start over the preferred limit of 15.
Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Handicap Chase
Being a far more compressed handicap these days has certainly had a big effect and the last five winners carried 11st 6lbs+. The problem this year is that the top 11 in the handicap have 11st 6lbs+ as it is even more compressed. Therefore a case can be argued to simply attempt to identify the best horse rather than the best handicapped horse (they could also be one and the same of course).
The recent trend has very much been to concentrate on the more-experienced, non-claiming amateurs that have won seven of the last eight runnings. Last season’s second, third and fourth were ridden by amateurs with no less than eight previous Cheltenham Festival successes between them, in fact 17 of the last 20 win-and-place place positions over the last five runnings were filled by non-claiming amateurs. Therefore I won’t be with Our Father (becoming a very disappointing horse), Same Difference (won the race last year), Lost Glory, Swing Bill, Dursey Sound, Saint Are, Mumbles Head, Fine Parchment, Pickamus, Tabhachtach, Gas Line Boy, Quinz or Problema Tic who are all ridden by claiming amateurs.
Last season’s 1-2 were both seven-year-old novices so they were bucking the trend that only four of the previous 33 winners were aged seven or younger. The question is whether last season’s result should be treated as a one-off? Donald McCain trained last season’s runner-up and has ‘previous’ with seven-year-old novices in the ‘Kim Muir’ having won it with Cloudy Lane and he runs another novice in Indian Castle with Derek O’Connor booked. The same owner/trainer/jockey were beaten in a photo finish last year on the favourite, Super Duty, and Indian Castle may also start favourite for them this year. He is only six though, as are Dursey Sound and Cause Of Causes, and we have to go back to 1971 to locate one of those.
Nicky Henderson has won the race three times in total including a 1-2 in 2002 and 2005 and runs the top weight, Roberto Goldback. David Pipe has some way to go to emulate his father’s record of three Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir winners but a 1-2 in 2011 was a nice start and he has four runners; Our Father and Buddy Bolero, who both wear first-time blinkers, plus Swing Bill and Probelma Tic. The Irish have not won this race since 1983 and saddle four contenders; Cause Of Causes, Spring Heeled, Hunting Party and Tabhatchtach
All winners since 1985 ran in a handicap last time out and the last 13 winners had run over 3m+ last time out.
The Pipe’s love this race and I like Buddy Bolero the most of their four runners in first-time blinkers with Katie Walsh (won this race before) booked to ride. He is also an eight-year-old as is Twirling Magnet who is another towards the top of the weights with a non claiming amateur on board and Jonjo O’Neill won this race two years ago and his horses are running well this week as usual. Top weights have a good record of late, as does Nicky Henderson, and Sam Waley-Cohen is one of the best amateurs in the business so we’ll have Roberto Goldback on the short list running off 144 having been a 161-rated horse in the middle of last season even if he is 12. Jamie Codd (won this race with a great ride on Character Building) is also one of the top amateurs so we’ll have the second top weight too (the last five winners carried 11st 6lb) on another 12-year-old in Tranquil Sea who won the Paddy Power Gold Cup here in his pomp and travelled ultra sweetly when winning the best veteran’s chase I’ve seen last time out so he is clearly on extremely good terms with himself. I like Indian Castle as a horse and love Donald McCain’s profile but being a six-year-old puts me off him (no winner since 1971) as it does Ireland’s main hope, Cause Of Causes. Therefore, the final berth goes to Night Alliance who has course winning form and has won his last three completed starts for Richard Newland who is an excellent placer of horses. He would be more lightly weighted than ideal but there are no other qualifiers from the top half of the handicap who are British-trained and ridden by a non-claiming amateur that are not considered too young.