JCB Triumph Hurdle
I am usually keen to take on the winner of the Finale Hurdle and Finesse Hurdle here as they have a dreadful record on faster ground come the Festival but Nick Williams stated earlier in the week that Le Rocher, who won both races, will not run which is a shame as he would have helped make the market for others with better trends-based credentials as was second-favourite at the time of his departure from the Triumph.
As 17 of the last 20 passed the post in front last time out, best concentrate on those as the starting point so Achtung, Amoruccio, Ballyglasheen, Cherry Tiger, Kentucky Hyden, Plinth, Royal Irish Hussar, Tiger Roll and Adriana Des Mottes would make an unusual winner. As the last 8 winners were all rated 138+, of those not already overlooked, we can add the 135-rated Lindenhurst. No winner has been longer than 55 days of the course since 1992 so that’s a second negative for Lindenhurst who returns after a 160-absence and is also against Royal Irish Hussar who has been off for 90 days. Only one runner was rated lower than 80 on the Flat since 1996 which is not good for Guitar Pete who was rated in the low 60s. He won the Spring Hurdle last time out beating Tiger Roll and Plinth and that race has featured two Triumph winners and two Triumph seconds in the last three years.
That’s the negatives relative to this year’s race dealt with leaving eight to look at with a view to positive patterns and as eight of the nine winners since the Fred Winter was first run came from the first four in the betting, of those not already overlooked that is a tick for Calipto and Broughton (maybe Pearl Castle and Rutherglen if well supported).
Calipto has plenty going for him as Nicholls has trained two of the last six winners (though they were Flat-breds), he is French bred like three of the last five winners, he won last time out, will start in the first four in the betting and he also has winning Newbury form (both his hurdles wins were at the Berkshire track) and three of the last eight winners made their hurdling debut at Newbury. Broughton hosed up in the Scottish Triumph Hurdle Trial last time out and meets the Flat form stats having run over 1m4f and being rated over 80. He also made his hurdling debut after November like seven of the last ten winners and should start in the front four in the betting like all bar one of the last nine winners. The John Quinn-trained pair of Rutherglen and Pearl Castle complete the short list being last time out winners that also qualify on both the Flat profile stats. Maybe Rutherglen will be more suited to this stamina test than Pearl Castle as he wants an end-to-end gallop whereas his stable mate might be more speed based. Abbyssial has won his last three starts but I got the feeling that Gitane Du Berlias (not declared) was the Mullins number one so question whether he is quite up to this test.
Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle
Novices have won the big four 2m handicap hurdles this winter (Greatwood, Ladbroke, Boylesports.com and Betfair) on top of also winning the latest two editions of the County so the likes of Upazo, Arctic Fire, Minella Foru, Rainbow Peak and Cheltenian have to be interesting here. Nine of the last ten winners were first or second-season hurdlers so second-season hurdlers to name are Diakali, Flaxen Flare, Runswick Royal, Never Enough Time, Montbazon, Lac Fontana, Deep Trouble, Thomas Edison, Makari, Morning Royalty and Lough Kent.
The Irish also have a great record and you can bet your bottom dollar the Handicapper will not want to see them win this race for a seventh time in eight years. In fact they have filled three of the first four places for the last two years. Irish contenders this season are Diakali, Upazo and Arctic Fire representing Willie Mullins (unrepresented in 2012 but has saddled two winners and a second in the last three years he has had a runner), Minella Foru in the colours of J P McManus (two wins and a second since 2000 and he also owns Alaivan), Never Enough Time, Thomas Edison (for Tony Martin who has only run three horses in the last decade and many will argue that should have been two as Psycho (5/1 favourite in 2008) was given too much to do eventually finishing second failing by less than a length) and Strongpoint. Walsh rides Arctic Fire and has ridden the County Hurdle winner four times in the last ten years.
The Boylesports.com Hurdle at Leopardstown is unquestionably the key guide from across the water as five of the last seven Irish-trained County Hurdle winners contested their most prestigious two-mile handicap hurdle of the season back in January. Flaxen Flare (2nd) is the race’s only representative this year. However, he carries 11st 7lb here and the last ten winners all carried 11st or less. The last eight winners were all officially rated in the 130s but two of those eight winners were rated 139 so we are just about clinging on to that trend so, if you do want to extend it further, I would suggest drawing the line at 145 as just one winner has been officially rated higher since 1998. horses rated 146+ are Diakali, Flaxen Flare and Cinders And Ashes.
Only one horse has carried more than 11st 8lb into the frame since 1979 so I can’t have the top weight Diakali especially as no winner has carried more than that same weight for 54 years and most remarkably of all, only two winners have carried more than 11st 2lb since 1960 (will be the same three horses as mentioned above). Diakali is also a front runner and the last County Hurdle winner to race prominently was Sir Talbot 14 years ago. He is in the same ownership as Arctic Fire who wants to come off a fast pace.
The leading British guide has been the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury which has featured the winner on four of the last ten occasions when it has beaten the weather. Cheltenian (4th), Alaivan (6th), Jumps Road (10th), Deep Trouble (13th) and Montbazon (16th on his first run for 23 months) represent that handicap this time.
With more luck Paul Nicholls could easily have trained five of the last ten winners but I’m sure he will settle for three victories and two seconds in one of the most competitive handicap hurdles of the season and he runs Lac Fontana. Just one winner behind is Philip Hobbs whose two victories were achieved over a decade ago but his horses continue to run well in this race as his record of two winners, a second and three thirds from 19 runners since 1990 indicates and he runs Cheltenian and Dunraven Storm.
Never Enough Time
Being Willie Mullins-trained (two winners and a second in the last four years), a novice (9 of the last 10 winners were first or second season hurdlers) and ridden by Walsh (four winners in the last ten years), Arctic Fire tops the list and he is expected to enjoy being held up off a fast pace on spring ground. Never Enough Time is also Irish-trained and being a second-season hurdler, he also has to be interesting. Both are rated 141 so just above the ideal rating bracket but two recent winners won off 139. Sticking with Irish-trained second-season hurdlers, Thomas Edison comes into this for a yard that arguably should have had two County Hurdle winners. Philip Hobbs has a solid record in this race and his novice, Cheltenian, was fourth in Britain’s best guide (Betfair Hurdle) and it can’t be a bad thing he has won at the Festival before. Paul Nicholls has an even more solid record and his Lac Fontana is a second-season hurdler on the up who won well here at the last meeting so he also makes the short list. Minella Foru came very close to making the short list being a J P McManus-owned novice rated 139.
Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle
Cheltenham form has been key in nine runnings so far and the big two of Kings Palace (x2 hurdle wins before Christmas here) and Briar Hill (won last season’s Weatherbys Champion Bumper) both have it. However, form at the course this season and over hurdles has been crucial so Kings Palace has the edge over Briar Hill in this respect and unlike his main market rival, he has contested (and won) a race over 3m like seven of the last nine winners. Eight of the nine winners started in the first five in the betting (Captain Cutter, Urban Hymn, Champagne West, Deputy Dan and Mosspark) are fighting it out to be third, fourth and fifth favourites) but with four winners starting at under 2/1, it will be no surprise if the big two dominate.
Only one winner failed to finish in the first two last time out which is against Madness Light, Port Melon, Prince Siegfield, Regal Diamond, Saint Roque, Sausalito Sunrise, The Job Is Right and Very Wood. No winner had run less than three times over hurdles which is against Port Melon.
Seven of the 9 winners had won a pattern race over hurdles and this year’s qualifiers are Briar Hill (x2), Captain Cutter (the Grade 1 Challow Hurdle), Deputy Dan, Kings Palace and Urban Hymn who just edged out Blakemount in the River Don, which hasn’t been a good guide so far.
It has not paid to look too far beyond the obvious in this race (just one winner from nine runnings started at a double-figure price) which has been one for the punters. As Kings Palace has run (and won) over 3m and has Cheltenham hurdles form, he is just preferred to Briar Hill who promises to improve for a step up to 3m but we don’t know as yet and his course win was in a bumper. Mullins has been knocking on the door in this race but the only Champion Bumper winner to run here was well beaten. Kings Palace has bolted up at the course twice over hurdles and on the second occasion recorded an official rating higher than that recorded of all nine winners in this race. Urban Hymn is just preferred to Captain Cutter as his pattern race win was over 3m and seven of the nine winners had 3m form.
Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup
Class has shone through since the turn of the century as the last 13 winners started in the first three in the betting (positions sure to be filled by Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti with Last Instalment likely to be third-favourite) and 13 of the last 14 winners contested either the King George won by Silviniaco Conti or the Lexus Chase won by Bobs Worth where he had First Lieutenant 1½ lengths away in second with Lyreen Legend (5th) and Lord Windermere (7th) back in the field. In terms of the winners of those Grade 1 races, the King George leads the way with five of the last ten winners doubling up here compared to three Lexus winners completing the double in the last decade.
Continuing with the class theme, the last 14 winners had all won a Grade 1 race so that would be against the likes of Cloudy Too (won the Rowland Meyrick), Houblon Des Obeaux (won a couple of classy Ascot handicaps), Katenko (never won a pattern race), Knockara Beau (6th two years ago but 11 now though did win the Cleeve Hurdle – no winner has been aged over ten since 1969), On His Own (dual Thyestes winner and supplemented to run at a cost of £27,500), Teaforthree (won the NH Chase two years ago), The Giant Bolster (second and fourth in the last two years and winner of the Argento) and Triolo D’Alene (won the Hennessy and McCoy comes in for the ride).
Only one of the last 13 winners was not officially rated 166+ and just three qualify this year; Bobs Worth (180), Silviniaco Conti (177) and Last Instalment (170). The latter recorded that figure when winning the Irish Hennessy but we have to go back 18 years for the last winner of that Grade 1 race to double up in the Gold Cup.
Just one of the last 15 winners failed to win earlier in the season which is the statistic against First Lieutenant in addition to a negative for last season’s RSA 1-2 of Lord Windermere and Lyreen Legend to overcome plus Teaforthree who is using this race as a prep for the Grand National. All three also failed to finish first or second last time unlike 12 of the last 13 winners which is also another negative for Houblon Des Obeaux and Katenko.
Second-season chasers have won 11 of the last 22 runneings of which Last Instalment is by far the best. Many won’t see him as such as he missed last season due to injury but this is only his second campaign over fences. Other second-season chasers are Lord Windermere, Lyreen Legend and Cloudy Too.
Not the most exciting of short lists I grant you but what can you do for a trends-based service when the last 13 winners started in the first three in betting and only one of the last 13 winners was not officially rated 166+ and these three are the only qualifiers on the latter stat and will probably be the first three in the betting? I have just given Silviniaco Conti top billing as five of the last ten King George winners have doubled up and Nicholls has won the race four times. Both also contested the Betfair Chase which has featured three of the last seven winners though Bobs Worth clearly didn’t enjoy Haydock. He adores Cheltenham however being 5-5 here including last year’s race but only Best Mate has won back-to-back Gold Cups since L’Escargot. The only stats-based negative for Last Instalment is Irish Hennessy winners don’t have a good record but he is best of the second-season chasers and they have won half of the last 22 runnings from much less than 50% representation.
CGA Foxhunter Chase
Last-time-out winners under the age of 11 that started life in the point-to-point field regularly win this race and Carsonstown Boy, Certain Flight, Ganbei, Harbour Court, Minella Stars and Shy John fit that profile.
What we do not want to be doing is looking at horses aged 11+ as they have won just twice in the last 23 runnings despite being responsible for approximately 50% of the field in that time frame so it’s the red-pen treatment for Berties Dream, Doctor Kingsley, Double Bank, Ockey De Neuillac, Oscar Delta, Pearlysteps, That’s Rhythm and The Holinwell. Latching onto the youngest of the most-fancied horses has worked wonderfully well over around the last 20 years and would have found you eight winners since 1992.
Of the last 28 winners as many as 23 won last time out which is against Boxing Along, Croan Rock, Doctor Kingsley, Foundry Square, Gale Force Oscar, On The Fringe, Oscar Delta, Tammys Hill and Lucette Annie.
The Irish have been the far superior nation in the hunter chasing division in recent times and are chasing a fourth successive Foxhunters’ winner so much of what follows in this paragraph surrounds their main contenders. Events from 12 months ago are often as good a starting place as any in the Foxhunters’ and especially as four of the last eight winners contested the previous season’s renewal in which Oscar Delta ducked and unshipped his rider 150 yards when all set to win. He doesn’t meet the age and last-time-out winner stats though.
Divine Intavention was a well beaten second in the end but he still beat everything else. Doctor Kingsley was last of just four finishers. Oscar Delta was also second in the Racing Post Champion Hunters’ Chase at the previous spring’s Punchestown Festival which has featured four of the last seven Cheltenham Foxhunters’ winners. Another long-standing hunter chase to take place in Ireland during the previous spring is the Fleetconnect Joseph R. Reilly Memorial Hunters’ Chase at the Fairyhouse Easter Meeting in which Salsify won twice and was won easily last season by the prolific winner, Tammys Hill, in not the strongest of renewals. Tammys Hill went on to beat On The Fringe in the leading Irish trial during the same calendar year when taking the Raymond Smith Hunters’ Chase, a race which Salsify has won for the last two seasons on his final start before winning at the Festival. It is also the only race in the same season to have featured more than one Foxhunters’ winner in the last decade in the same season.
Whereas nine of the last 12 winners of the Aintree Fox Hunters’ were ex-handicappers (or better) that had their attentions turned to hunter chasing, 22 of the last 25 winners of Cheltenham Foxhunters’ had the opposite profile having been brought up from a point-to-pointing background from the outset.
As for any in-running punters, six of the last 18 winners made virtually all the running and eight winners have held on having led passing the post with a circuit to race in the last 31 runnings.
I’ve made the case that the shortest-priced younger horse has a great record in this race and that would be Harbour Court this year who was last season’s champion novice hunter chaser and prepped by winning a point-to-point. He also won at Cheltenham last spring so course and ground should be ideal. Shy John is young, in form and progressive and won the same hunter chase at Wincanton that two fairly recent winners also won so he is interesting at a double-figure price. The big three Irish hopes of On The Fringe (ran too free), Tammys Hill (not suited by dropping to 2m5f) and Oscar Delta (getting fitter for this race) were all beaten last time out which is not a good trend so Carsonstown Boy might be more interesting at the prices in a bid to give the Irish a fourth straight Foxhunters’ winner having won his last two starts. Certain Flight is unbeaten in three starts this season and was a very easy winner on his only run in a hunter chase last time out at Huntingdon and at the age of nine is coming into his prime.
Martin Pipe Conditional Jockey’s Handicap Hurdle
This will be just the sixth running of the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle so we’ll keep this short and sweet. Despite clearly still being very early days, it is worth noting that all five winners were novice hurdling the previous season. They are represented this season by Virak, Rum And Butter, Caid Du Berlais, Ruacana, The Skyfarmer, Hazy Tom and Leo Luna. The only Irish runner is Willie Mullins’ novice, Don Poli.
To all intents and purposes this is basically a limited handicap and, generally in such circumstances, there has to be an argument for keeping it simple and attempting to identify the best horse in the race more than attempting to identify a handicap plot. For example, only two of the 23 runners entered last season’s handicap with a higher rating than the winner and in the other renewal since the upgrade to a 0-145 handicap, it was two horses in the top six in the weights that fought out the finish. The higher-rated horses also did rather well before the upgrade in the race’s quality as the previous season’s top weight was caught within20 yardsof the winning post and, 12 months earlier, the winner carried second-top weight of 11st 10lb to victory.
This has not been David Pipe’s race so far which must be a cause of frustration as wanting to win what he calls “Dad’s Race” would have to be close to the top of his hit list at the start of each season. I do think it is very significant, however, that Pipe has attempted to lay out the best two horses he has trained during his career for this race but both Grands Crus (balloted out) and Dynaste (rated 2lb higher than the top weight’s cap) failed to get a run for very different reasons. For understandable reasons there will be plenty of focus on the yard’s Vieux Lion Rouge (especially being their only runner) but, so far, just one Pipe’s 14 runners has hit the frame. He has had three winners this week already though.
Nicky Henderson has had a right crack so far notching up a runaway winner at 25/1 in the first running in addition to five other top-five finishers and it is also worth highlighting that four of his six horses to have recorded a top-five position also had winning course form. He runs Une Artiste (former Fred Winter winner), the novice Full Shift and One Lucky Lady (squeezed in off bottom weight).
I wouldn’t place too much emphasis on this but jockeys claiming 3lb have won four of the five runnings, were responsible for the 1-2-3-4 in 2012 and they also filled eight of the first ten places in 2011.
It is certainly worth noting the excellent strike rate of last-time-out winners in handicap hurdles at the Festival having won just under half of such races since 1993 up until this season (32-70) and from just less than 20% overall representation and Salubrious was one of seven runners in last season’s 23-strong field to arrive here directly off the back of a victory making it three on the spin in this handicap.
I would suggest looking twice at horses that have already demonstrated a liking for Cheltenham. That line of thinking has failed to produce a positive outcome in the last two years but the inaugural running was won by Andytown at 25/1 despite having won a similar race at the course four months earlier in equally emphatic measure. Then came Pause And Clause who ran a cracker to finish third in the previous season’s Coral Cup 12 months prior to winning this handicap. He was not a previous course winner but of the three horses in his renewal that were, two finished in the first five places
Caid Du Berlais
Rum And Butter
As last-time-out second-season hurdlers have won for the last three years I have to include Virak who is top weight but classy horses have fared well in this race so far and Nicholls won the race last year. Caid Du Berlais (runner-up in last year’s Fred Winter) is also a second-season hurdler like all five winners and represents the Nicholls-Derham combination that won last season’s race so two of the three Ditcheat-based runners make the short list. Given Une Artiste won last time, has winning Festival form and represents Henderson who has a solid record in the race, she is also worthy of our attention. Sticking with course winners, The Skyfarmer won well here before Christmas and is also a second-season hurdler as is Rum And Butter who was only beaten half a length at this course after his last start back in October and I do like a J P McManus-owned handicapper at the Festival arriving here off a long break to protect his handicap mark.
Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Handicap Chase
Novices have won four of the last five runnings (as have 13 of the last 32) despite being comprehensively outnumbered. More novices take their chance these days and they are represented this year by Raya Star, Mr Mole, Next Sensation, Claret Cloak, Passage Vendome, Ned Buntline (in a hood for the first time) and Changing The Guard. In carrying 10st 11lb to victory last year, Alderwood carried significantly more weight than the previous five successful novices as they had featherweights of no more than 10st 2lb (and rated no higher than 134) which underlines the increasing quality of the race – this year’s bottom weight runs off 136 for example. Given that novices have such a strong Grand Annual record, it should not come as a shock to note that lightly-raced chasers very much hold the call to the extent that 14 of the last 15 winners had contested no more than 12 steeplechases.
If you take into account Stephen Clements’ 7lb claim bringing Oiseau De Nuit’s weight down to 10st 13lb three years ago, then the last 14 winners carried under 11st which is a compelling statistic. The last winner to be officially rated over 145 was 22 years ago which is against the top seven in the handicap; French Opera, Oiseau De Nuit, Raya Star, Easter Meteor, Mr Mole, Savello and Eastlake and I prefer ratings stats to weights stats.
Seven of the last eight British-trained Grand Annual winners had won at Cheltenham before which is a tick for French Opera, Oiseau De Nuit, Eastlake, Tanks For That, Astracad, His Excellency, Lancetto (in a first-time visor) and Shooters Wood.
Following the success of Bellvano in 2012 and being responsible for last season’s 1-2, this has been J P McManus’ race of late in addition to also witnessing his colours also carried to victory in 2005 and four others also hitting the frame since 2003 and he has the novices Mr Mole and Ned Buntline to represent him this time as well as Eastlake.
Many punters will want to concentrate on Nicky Henderson’s contenders for obvious reasons. Since this handicap was named in his father’s honour in 2004, the Seven Barrows team have saddled two winners, four runners-up (two of which were novices) and two other placed horses from 30 runners. Before 2004, however, tells a different tale with just one placed runner from 12 career starters and don’t just concentrate on his perceived main hope as both his winners were sent off at 20/1. This year he runs Tanks For That (Geraghty), French Opera (De Boinville) and Anquetta (Waley-Cohen). Punters have latched onto Paul Nicholls in a big way by sending off one of his representatives favourite in five of the last ten seasons collecting twice. His two runners this season are Mr Mole and Shooters Wood. Alan King’s novices are also worth a look in a race where they have only had eight runners (novice or otherwise) in the last decade including a winner and two thirds and he runs Raya Star.
Changing The Guard
No horses fit the ideal profile so I have had to be a little creative. The Irish have won five of the last 14 runnings, J P McManus has won the race three times since 2005 and novices have won four of the last five runnings so Ned Buntline makes appeal, especially in a first-time hood. Being off the track for over 45 days has been a negative but I am not sure that should be the case with McManus-owned runners and his Fota Island also won this race off longer absence than 45 days. Changing The Guard is the lowest-rated novice in the race which has been a good system and he also ran recently so he could go well at a big price as could another novice, Claret Cloak, at shorter odds though 97 days off is longer than ideal. Paul Nicholls has trained two winners and his Shooters Wood has course winning form and is lowly weighted so he also makes the short list which is completed by Passage Vendome for the Irish and novices who ran six times between August and December but none since.