2014 Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup Day Preview, Trends, Tips

2014 Cheltenham Festival Gold Cup Day Preview, Trends, Tips

And so we come to the final day of the 2014 Cheltenham Festival, Gold Cup day, and the best may be yet to come. Whether you’re staring down the barrel, or riding the crest of a wave, it’s not done yet… but it very nearly is. So saddle up, let’s lock and load for Day Four of CheltFest2014! (And I promise not to use that many clichés in the entire rest of this piece 😉

1.30 Triumph Hurdle

Calipto bids to triumph in the Triumph

Calipto bids to triumph in the Triumph

[Previewed 9th March]

The Triumph Hurdle is the four-year-old Championship event, a novice hurdle over two miles and a furlong that has announced the arrival of such as Our Conor, Katchit, Celestial Halo and Zarkandar in recent seasons.

It is one of the hardest races in which to assimilate the respective Irish and British form against each other, especially as several of the horses have been running in France until very recently.

2014 Triumph Hurdle Trends

Last time out: Thirteen of the last sixteen Triumph winners also won their previous race. Two more were second and one was third. Horses finishing fourth or worse last time are 0 from 100 since 1997. 44 of the 48 placed horses ran within 60 days, and every winner since 1992 had run within 55 days of their previous race.

Betting: The top four in the betting have won eleven of the last sixteen renewals, and all bar one since the introduction of the Fred Winter. That race has helped to thin the Triumph field, so hard luck stories are rare.

Key trials: The key race in Ireland has been the Spring Novices’ Hurdle, which has been the Spring-board (geddit?!) for the last two Triumph Hurdle winners. This year, Guitar Pete beat Tiger Roll and Plinth. In Britain, Kempton’s Adonis Hurdle has long been the main trial: since 2005 Penzance, Soldatino and Zarkandar all won that en route to Triumph victory. This year, Activial (misses Cheltenham) beat Commissioned and Solar Impulse.

2014 Triumph Hurdle Preview

The long-term presence of soft and heavy ground is a real fly in the ointment for form students of this race, as most of the main contenders will be facing very different turf than in recent starts.

Calipto heads the betting at 5/1 and that looks entirely fair. After all, this thrice-raced ex-Frenchie had Adonis winner Activial over three lengths behind when winning a Newbury juvenile hurdle. Moreover, that was on good to soft, a rare piece of evidence on a sound surface. He then turned up at the same venue a month before Triumph day and won a heavy ground novice hurdle.

So, we know he goes on the quick; we know he’s got some class; and we know he’s in decent form. Although he’s not been tested above Class 3, he has raced against Graded stakes opposition, and the form of that first UK run is arguably the best juvenile hurdle form of the season, certainly on goodish ground.

After all, runner-up Activial won the Grade 2 Adonis; fourth placed Dawalan has won twice since, and is favourite for the Fred Winter; sixth placed Baradari also won next time; and seventh home, Shalianzi, won a Lingfield all weather maiden last time out!

The fact that Calipto recorded that form on good to soft is key. He may be beaten in the Triumph but he has revealed more clues about the race’s suitability than many of his rivals.

Le Rocher is second choice in the ring, and Nick Williams’ charge began his UK career by winning the Grade 1 Finale at Chepstow in heavy ground. That was a real stamina test, and he followed up in the heavy ground Triumph Hurdle trial here at Cheltenham, also on heavy. Although he won a hurdle in Dieppe in June on good to soft, it would appear he has a preference for more ease. Further, the form of those two races cannot be said to have worked out, and I think he’ll run below his market rank.

Guitar Pete is next and, while it’s hard to crab his hurdles form – after all, he won the Grade 1 Spring Novices’ Hurdle last time – this former 60-rated flat horse was beaten readily enough by Royal Irish Hussar at Cheltenham three months ago, on good ground. He seems better on easier, and is another I’ll discount, rightly or wrongly.

Behind Guitar Pete that last day were Tiger Roll and Plinth. Tiger Roll was having only his second career start after winning a Market Rasen novice event on soft and, for one so inexperienced, ran a blinder. He’s flat bred (by Authorized out of an Entrepreneur mare), and might improve for the better ground. In any case, he has more scope to improve past Guitar Pete’s current level of form, given their respective experience (two hurdles runs versus six, and twelve runs in total, for GP).

The third that day is interesting at a price. Plinth is a cumbersome jumper and, if he kicks the timber from the turf as he did the last day, he’ll do well to even get round let alone win. But the fact he ran within six lengths of Guitar Pete with such a woeful display of hurdling speaks volumes for his engine. He could well jump better on decent ground and, if he did, I’d fancy him to beat both Guitar Pete and Tiger Roll. The 25/1 with Hills appeals to small money.

Coming back to the UK form, Broughton has been perhaps the best backed horse of the last week. Formerly trained by Mark Johnston and rated 89 on the level, he made a fine start to his John Ferguson-handled National Hunt career when a head second behind Fox Norton in a Grade 2, with Royal Irish Hussar sixteen lengths back in third. That was on good ground, going on which he also has plenty of flat form; and he followed up by winning a Listed event on soft at the start of February.

He’s tough, experienced at racing, and progressive over hurdles. He might just have what it takes to claim a Triumph, though he did show a bit of tail-flashing attitude when asked to close at Doncaster that first hurdling day. Moreover, O’Regan would not be my first choice jockey, even of the pair at Bloomfields…

Far back in third that day, and absent since, is Royal Irish Hussar. He needs quick ground, which he’ll get, but those ninety days away mean he’ll be bidding to do something no horse has done since 1992: win after more than 55 days off. He’s been well backed but he’s not for me, not on form and not on layoff.

Willie Mullins has Gitane du Berlais amongst other options here, and this filly has improved a good bit since her Irish hurdling debut third to Guitar Pete. First, she won an Aintree Listed event by eight lengths, and then she followed up in Grade 3 company at Fairyhouse by five lengths. Both of those wins were against her own sex, and this will be tougher against the boys, but she does receive the seven pound ladies’ allowance, and that could help tip the balance in her favour.

Rutherglen is unbeaten in three hurdle starts, and warmed up for the Triumph in unconventional fashion by winning a flat handicap on the all-weather at Kempton. Despite his upside potential, the form he has demonstrated to date gives him plenty to find with some of these, and he ought not to be good enough.

Stablemate Pearl Castle looks much more likely, having won his last two on good to soft, both at Doncaster. He was more visually impressive on the first of that pair, when trouncing  Dubai Prince, Varom, Area Fifty One and the rest; but he performed to a higher level – form-wise if not aesthetically – when seeing off the game Zamoyski by two and a half lengths.

That form gives him a bit to find with Guitar Pete, but he’ll travel better off a more searching gallop, which is almost assured in the Triumph Hurdle. He can run into the frame, and perhaps even emulate trainer John Quinn’s 2012 winner, Countrywide Flame.

The rest won’t be good enough.

2014 Triumph Hurdle Tips

I think the favourite, Calipto, looks pretty solid. He’s progressive, has form on a sound surface, and represents the barn of 2008 and 2011 Triumph winner, Paul Nicholls. 5/1 may not be a sexy price, but this chap looks almost certain to go close and, in that light, is a decent bet.

At more speculative odds, Broughton, Pearl Castle and Plinth could go well. Broughton, at 10/1, is a classy ex-flat fellow and, though somewhat ‘attitudinous’, he does have a high cruising speed and jumps pretty well. Pearl Castle has little to find to trouble the best of these and looked capable of better two starts back when thumping a decent field. 16/1 is entirely fair.

And if you’re prepared to take a leap of faith which may turn out to be as tenuous at the literal leaping of Plinth, you may be rewarded. He looked to hate the ground in the Grade 1 Spring Novices’ Hurdle last time, and yet was only beaten six lengths in third.

Two years ago, Countrywide Flame went over for the Spring Hurdle, and finished third. A month later, he won the Triumph Hurdle. At 33/1. There is a smidge of 25/1 about lightning striking twice in the form of Plinth and, if better ground leads to better hurdling, he could far outrun those odds.

Most Likely Triumph Hurdle winner:
Calipto 5/1 bet365 (BOG / NRNB)

Best Each Way Bet in Triumph Hurdle:
Pearl Castle 16/1 bet365 (BOG / NRNB)

Best Outsider in Triumph Hurdle:
Plinth 25/1 Hills (all in run or not)



2.05 County Hurdle

The last race of the old three day Festival, the County Hurdle now forms part two of the very tricky Day Four placepot puzzle, and it’s no easier to isolate the winner for that earlier slot.

County Hurdle Trends

The Irish have won this in six of the last seven years.

Just two winners since 1960 have carried more than 11-02

18 of the last 20 winners had run at least four times during the season

10 of the last 16 winners finished 1st, 2nd or 3rd last time out

Half of the County Hurdle winners since 1997 have been aged five, from 23% of the runners

County Hurdle Preview

Irish-trained five-year-olds have won three of the last six renewals, and there are a couple in here that might this angle a good starting point. Favourite Arctic Fire is a Mullins-Walsh nag, and has strong Grade 1 form. Specifically, he was third to The Tullow Tank in the Grade 1 Royal Bond Novices’ Hurdle on good to yielding ground.

That was a seriously eye-catching run, as he was quite far back when the front two quickened and made up all bar a closing length and a half at the line. He ran a little flatter than that on soft ground the next time, and has been off since, but that Royal Bond form may be the pick in this race, and he looks almost certain to go off shorter than his current 6/1 odds.

The other Irish 5yo is Minella Foru, who ran thirteen lengths behind Arctic Fire in the Royal Bond, and yet gets only two pounds from him. As a JP/AP runner, he can be expected to be ‘live’ this time (assuming, of course, he wasn’t before!) and, as such, there may be a bit more to come. But I’m not confident of him reversing form with Arctic Fire, not at all.

Lac Fontana is a five year old too, and Paul Nicholls has won this three times in the past decade. But he does seem relatively exposed, and the trainer has said he’d prefer slightly softer ground. He’d not be a shock winner, but there should be something quicker than him.

Against the youngsters, there are plenty of very interesting runners. Rainbow Peak is an eight year old now, and won a Group 1 on the flat as recently as five starts ago. That was, however, in 2010 and John Ferguson’s charge has had just the three hurdles runs for his opening rating of 138. That looks fair, and this classy nag could travel very well here. Whether he’s as capable at this level of the winter game remains to be seen, but 16/1 is not unreasonable if seeking an answer to that question.

Cheltenian has a clear chance on his track form. Winner of the Champion Bumper in 2011, he’s had just four starts since, and only two this season. They were a win in a maiden hurdle and then a nice fourth in the Betfair Hurdle.

Deep Trouble is a battle-hardened animal and has some strong form on decent ground this season. Beaten a fair way in the Betfair, it’s quite possible he resented the mud that day and, back on terra firmer, could bounce back. If he does, 40/1 could look huge.

Barizan is another that could far outrun 40/1 odds. A winner of the Grade 3 Swinton Hurdle two starts back, he loves fast ground. If he’s fit after a long break (237 days), he’s another big priced beast with a squeak.

County Hurdle Tips

It’s unoriginal but the favourite here has a great chance, and I think he’ll be a bit shorter by post time. 6/1 is worth taking. Against him, Rainbow Peak is interesting on various angles, and 16/1 offers scope to be wrong about him. Likewise, at huge odds, Barizan and Deep Trouble are 40/1 tempters.

County Hurdle Selection:
Arctic Fire 6/1 bet365 BOG, FIVE places

Best County Hurdle each way:
Rainbow Peak 16/1 Skybet BOG, FIVE places

County Hurdle Big Priced Bombers:
Deep Trouble 40/1 bet365 BOG, FIVE places
Barizan 40/1 bet365 BOG, FIVE places


2.40 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle

Briar Hill seeking a second Festival win in the Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle

Briar Hill seeking a second Festival win

[Previewed 7th March]

The Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle is run over three miles, and was added to the Festival line up in 2005. It already has an illustrious alumni with RSA Chase and Gold Cup winner, Bobs Worth, the probable pick of the pile. Known affectionately as ‘the potato race’ (Albert Bartlett supply over 20% of the UK’s spuds), it is a race for thorough stayers.

2014 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle Trends

As with all of the newer races, data are limited so trends should not be used as alpha and omega. However, there are some strong patterns emerging.

Age: All bar the first winner – a precocious French-trained, bred and raced five year old – were aged six or seven. However, there is a fairly even spread of placed horses from five to eight, so it may be dangerous to infer too much into the win stats.

Last time out: Eight of the nine Albert Bartlett winners were first or second on their final outing before lining up at Cheltenham, with only 33/1 Berties Dream’s cap not fitting. He was fourth in a Grade 2.

Curiously, all nine winners had run in a Grade 2 event last time, despite only 51 of the 162 (31%) runners matching that profile.

Experience: Berties Dream had already had an incredible fourteen hurdle races before carving his name into the trophy. That compares with seven of the nine winners who had either three or four hurdle starts in  their career to that point.

All had won at least one hurdle race, with six of the nine winners (67%) having won three or four races from just 35 qualifiers (22% of the runners).

All had won a Graded race, except Listed winner Moulin Riche, and seven of the nine had won a Grade 2 race or better.

Days since a run: Only the unbeaten even money favourite, Black Jack Ketchum, has been able to defy an absence of longer than 60-ish days (Nenuphar Collonges was off for 61 days when winning). None of the 29 horses to be racing within 25 days of its last start has even placed.

Horses to map best to this type of profile are Deputy Dan, Urban Hymn, Blakemount, Sure Reef, Apache Jack, and Masters Hill.

2014 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle Preview

As with most of the other novice events at the Festival, we are looking for a potential winner of the race to surpass anything it has shown previously. It is perhaps for that reason that there has only been one previous Grade 1 winner to claim the prize, whereas horses with Grade 2 winning form have often leapfrogged to the ascendancy.

The favourite for this is yet another Willie Mullins animal, last year’s Champion Bumper winner, Briar Hill. He’s now unbeaten in five rules starts – two bumpers and three hurdles – and, but for a slightly longer than ideal absence, would be a perfect profile fit.

That the absence of 68 days is almost exactly the same as he’d been off before ambling home in the Champion Bumper suggests it is of little consequence, and this fellow will likely be tough to beat. He’s won his last two despite the small fields, not because of them, and the quicker they go, I feel the better he will perform.

He was held up in the bumper here last year and joined the leaders turning in as though he’d only just started. He’d put seven lengths between himself and Regal Encore by the finishing line.

Briar Hill reminds me of a sort of equine Yaya Toure, looking a bit cumbersome and laboured until asked to do something, and then responding with speed and acuity. 9/4 is an unexciting price, but he is surely the most likely winner.

Next best according to the prices is David Pipe’s Kings Palace. He’s unbeaten in his last three hurdles runs, the last two of which were at Cheltenham, and the last one of which was in a Grade 2. Although he did it nicely there, it looked a fairly shallow race, and he had fourteen lengths to spare over Masters Hill.

Your first 30 days for just £1

3/1 comfortably factors in his level of form, and I’d be uncertain how he’ll respond in a much stronger contest, likely to be run at a much truer gallop. The issue with Kings Palace is that he’s yet to actually run in a fast-run race. It’s possible of course that he could be even better in such circumstances, but 3/1 allows little scope to be wrong on that score; especially as he’s been off the track for 90 days.

So it is that Captain Cutter, a nag I’ve backed non-runner money back for the Neptune, may line up here. He is the third market choice currently, at around 8/1, and is one of a number also entered in the shorter Neptune Novices’ Hurdle, run on Wednesday. For most of them, the situation is that if it’s soft ground, they’ll go Neptune, while drying ground leads to ‘the potato race’.

Absent since Christmas, Captain Cutter was last seen winning the Grade 1 Challow Novices’ Hurdle over the Neptune distance but in heavy ground. That implied a reserve of stamina necessary to get competitive in the Albert Bartlett, and he’s a progressive type.

Incidentally, though I wouldn’t read too much into it, he did beat Kings Palace in a bumper on his debut last season.

That 76 day hiatus may be sub-optimal but the trainer is making quite positive noises and, if he lines up here, I think he may again finish in front of Kings Palace. Whether that will be good enough is another question, but 8/1 looks a robust each way play, if you’re happy he’ll be match fit after a break.

Faugheen may still turn up here but is more likely to run in the Neptune, and is ignored for the purposes of this preview. Likewise, Red Sherlock.

Champagne West and Deputy Dan are a pair of 16/1 chances for this who locked horns in an above average maiden hurdle at Warwick in early December. In a great tussle – the pair well clear of the rest – Champagne West just got the better of Deputy Dan to trigger a hat-trick of hurdling wins, none of them above Class 2.

It might well be that, of the two, Deputy Dan has improved more, and he’s another I like for whichever engagement he assumes. Given the likely drying ground, he may well show up in this three-miler, and he looks a thorough stayer with a great hurdling technique.

He had nine lengths to spare over Masters Hill, with subsequent Betfair Hurdle winner, Splash Of Ginge, back in third that day. Rathvinden also ran in the race, but fell when coming under pressure after a third consecutive hurdling error down the back.

Deputy Dan looks a fair each way bet.

Flat-bred Sure Reef is another of the Mullins battalion and I understand he’s more likely to go the handicap route (County Hurdle over two miles, curiously).

Urban Hymn and Blakemount are both 20/1 chances, and were separated by the proverbial cigarette paper at Donny last time, the former just getting the verdict. That was a slow-mo finish, and it’s unlikely that either is quite quick enough – even over three gruelling miles of the Cheltenham oval – to bid for gold.

Apache Jack, second to Briar Hill last time, may be best of the rest, but should not be good enough.

2014 Albert Bartlett Novices’ Hurdle Tips

Briar Hill demands huge respect, and he is the most likely winner. He could be really short as well if the Mullins horses are firing, and the current 9/4 might look value come race time. Still, he’s worth opposing each way at least, and those that appeal most are Captain Cutter and Deputy Dan.

I’ve backed both horses for both this and the Neptune, non-runner money back, as I think they’re progressive types and perhaps a bit under-estimated by the market. They should at least give us a good run for our money.

Whilst Kings Palace is a dual Cheltenham winner, he hasn’t really beaten much of merit and I’m against him, though he may make me eat my words.

Most likely Albert Bartlett winner:
Briar Hill 9/4 bet365 (Best Odds Guaranteed, Non Runner Money Back)

Best Albert Bartlett each way alternatives:
Captain Cutter 8/1 SkyBet (Best Odds Guaranteed, Non Runner Money Back)
Deputy Dan 14/1 (Best Odds Guaranteed, Non Runner Money Back)



Gold Cup 2014 Preview/Tips

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014 Preview/Tips

3.20 Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014

[Previewed 5th March]

It’s the big race of the entire meeting, and rightly so. No other race puts such a premium on stamina, class, and jumping ability – especially not the Grand National with its modified fences.

It’s extremely rare that an outsider wins the Gold Cup, such is its combined demand. Even 100/1 Norton’s Coin in 1990 has been claimed by many as a winner and, who knows, some of them may actually even have backed it! 😉

To this year’s race, and first the trends…

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014 Trends

My thanks for horseracebase.com for these data.

In the last sixteen years, of the fourteen winners to have completed last time, ten won and two more finished second. A further Gold Cup winner was third (See More Business) and one was fifth (Imperial Commander). The non-completion winners pulled up (Cool Dawn) and fell (Mr Mulligan) respectively.

Put another way, every winner this century aside from Imperial Commander finished first or second last time out.

When Long Run won in 2011, he was the first six-year-old since Mill House to prevail. At the other end of the age range, Cool Dawn was the last double digit aged horse to win the Gold Cup, as a ten-year-old in 1998. It used to be more frequent, with four ten-year-old winners between 1988 and 1998.

But, with the growing fashion for precocity, and the increased influence of French-bred horses on the winter sport, the average age has dropped from nine (1988-99, twelve renewals) to 7.85 (2000+, thirteen renewals).

Of the dozen Gold Cup winners with an official rating coming into the race, none was lower than 166. This year, only Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti have the requisite level of established ‘official’ form.

Seventeen of the last twenty winners came from the first three in the betting.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014 Preview

Some reasonable pointers in the Gold Cup trends, most of which point to the top of the betting lists. Let’s now consider the form book, starting with reigning champion and favourite, Bobs Worth.

Bobs Worth is a very good horse indeed. And he absolutely loves Cheltenham and specifically the Festival. In 2011, he won the ‘potato race’ (Albert Bartlett). In 2012, he won the RSA Chase; and last year, he won the Gold Cup itself. That took his Cheltenham tally to five out of five, and he will again be very hard to beat.

Nicky Henderson’s charge comes here off the back of two starts this season, which is one more than he managed last year prior to taking this prize. After a dismal too-bad-to-be-true pasting in Haydock’s Betfair Chase, Bobs Worth reverted to type in the Lexus Chase at Leopardstown.

Hendo’s horses have been a bit in and out this season, but they do seem to be back firing on all cylinders now, just in time for Cheltenham. Bobs Worth has the highest level of form in the race – rated 180 – and ran a rock solid prep last time. He loves Cheltenham, and the ground ought to be just right for him: anything between good and soft will suit.

He looks certain to run his race.

Next in, and the only other horse with a rating above the historical benchmark, is Silviniaco Conti. Trained by Paul Nicholls, this could be a right good Hendo-Pumpkin set-to up the run-in, as this eight-year-old son of Dom Alco looks tailor-made for a Gold Cup. [Is there a prize for most hyphens used in a sentence?]

Silviniaco Conti went into last year’s race on a four-strong unbeaten run, and was travelling extremely well when coming down three from home. It was much too early to say whether he would have won, because a) Bobs Worth is a very strong stayer, and b) Silviniaco Conti is a slightly doubtful stayer.

All of Silviniaco Conti’s best form has been on flat tracks. But that’s primarily because, with the exception of a third place hurdle start and that Gold Cup stumble/tumble, all of his form full stop has been on flat tracks.

That’s a niggle here. It would have been fascinating to witness what Ruby might have conjured from his tanking mount after the turn for home, after the last, and up the hill. I think he’ll probably stay. But I’m not sure. And that uncertainty is about the only thing that stops me from piling into him as one of the bets of the meeting.

My rationale? I reckon this is as close to a two horse race as you’ll find across the four days. There is nothing in opposition to the top two that has demonstrated anything like the level of form needed to win an up-to-par Gold Cup.

“Hang on”, I hear a few of you cry, “what about Last Instalment?”. Good question, and perfectly fair, so let’s examine his case.

Last Instalment, trained by in-the-dock but innocent-until-proven-guilty Philip Fenton, has enjoyed a return to the big time this season after two years out injured. His win in the PJ Moriarty Chase of 2012 set him up as one of the horses to beat in Bobs Worth’s RSA Chase. Then it all went wrong.

27 days shy of two years later, he resurfaced in the Kinloch Brae Chase, a middle order Grade 2 run at Thurles. Sent off the 9/4 jolly that day, he ran well to finish a length and a quarter third to Texas Jack. But, improving significantly for that, he made most to bolt up in the Hennessy at Leopardstown in early February.

The going was on the dead side that day, and most races were won from the front. As such, Last Instalment may well have been flattered by how it panned out. Moreover, his trainer is on record as saying this horse wants deep ground.

Given a drying forecast, he might not even take his chance on the Gold Cup. And, if he does, that chance must be compromised on anything faster than good to soft (despite a ‘good’ ground win in the Topaz Novices Chase of 2011 – a questionable going description).

Last Instalment was awarded a peg of 169 for that Hennessy win, which puts him ‘just’ eight pounds behind Silviniaco Conti, and a further three behind Bobs Worth. In other words, he has half a stone and more to find.

If he’s got a lot to find, the rest look varying degrees of (hopelessly) outclassed. Captain Chris is fourth in the list, on 16/1, and he’ll surely need a bus ticket to complete this trip in front. His rating of 172 puts him in the mix, but his lack of a win beyond two miles six, and his recent Cheltenham form of P46 take him straight back out again.

I’m actually quite surprised they’re not running in what looks a very winnable Queen Mother Champion Chase this year, as he was the Arkle winner in 2011.

First Lieutenant is a very good horse with a losing habit. Just one win in his last fifteen races tells the tale, even though twelve of them were Grade 1 affairs. Besides, he’s more likely to run in the Ryanair unless Last Instalment absents from the Gold Cup.

The Giant Bolster is a 20/1 chance and that will buy you a run for your money if he decides to jump with any adequacy. He was fourth in last year’s Gold Cup and second the year before, and he’ll again plod on without being good enough to win.

Triolo d’Alene and Rocky Creek are 20/1 and 25/1 respectively, and they each have something to recommend them from an each perspective at least. First of all, they’re trained by those men Hendo and Pumpkin respectively, and secondly they were first and second in the Hennessy Gold Cup last November where each lugged eleven stone-plus to beat off lighter weighted rivals.

Triolo had four pounds less than Rocky, and made that count by two and three quarter lengths at the line. Triolo has not been seen out since, and this for him is a Grand National prep run. A fair number of horses have made the frame in that context, but I wouldn’t be backing him to receive ‘kitchen sink’ assistance from the pilot seat in a scrap for third place.

Rocky Creek is also prepping for the National, and has a likable profile. Just seven chase starts, all of them in the first three and including three wins, have demonstrated both jumping alacrity and stamina. He was giving The Giant Bolster five pounds the last day, and may not have enjoyed the heavy ground either.

On a sounder surface, and with further progression to come, I can see him going close to making the frame and 25/1 is more appealing than the prices about some of his supposedly more fancied market rivals.

It’s nigh on impossible to make a case for much else, though Boston Bob is a seriously slow horse who stays well. He could plod into the medals. Perhaps.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014 Tips

There are likely to be all sorts of bookmaker concessions on the day for this race, as the layers scramble and scrap to claw as many pennies back into their virtual satchels as they can.

From a win perspective, I’m only interested in two horses: Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti. Quite frankly, I’ll be gobsmacked if one of the pair doesn’t win. And it’s very tempting to back them ‘coupled’ at 8/11. But I don’t really have enough elevens to be stealing eights, so I’m going to wait for the day and get as much ‘bookie value’ as I can.

As I read the form, the prices on the front two are at least fair, and perhaps a sniff of value, as they are. And when those cut-throat sales start on Friday morning, I’ll be ready to get as much of both as I can.

Each way burglars might be tempted by Rocky Creek, who has more improvement than most, stays and jumps well, and could run into the frame.

Cheltenham Gold Cup 2014 Advice

Back Bobs Worth and Silviniaco Conti at the best prices available on Friday (Gold Cup day) morning. They’re almost sure to be bigger than 2/1 and 3/1 respectively, albeit for restricted stakes.

For those who like to play for more, I think 8/11 the pair is one of the bets of the meeting. It’s not bombproof – after all, the odds are 8/11, not 1/11 – but these two are far and away the most likely winners of the race in my opinion.

Rocky Creek is 25/1 Best Odds Guaranteed and Non Runner No Bet with bet365, and that’s worth taking now, each way.


Can Tammy's Hill give Ireland another Foxhunters win?

Tammy’s Hill to give Ireland another Foxhunters?

4.00 Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase

[Previewed 4th March]

The ‘amateur Gold Cup’, as it’s known, is run straight after the Gold Cup and over the same testing course and distance. It is always a thrilling spectacle – though not necessarily for the right reasons – as jockeys variously hail cabs, knit pullovers, and otherwise make life difficult for their generally experienced hacks.

Last year was different, though still eventful. Poor Jane Mangan, one of the best amateurs around, set off up the run in aboard Oscar Delta with the race at her mercy. Alas, the horse was spooked by the thin tape which marks the run in from the arc of the bend, and jinked violently giving Jane no chance. She was unshipped and Salsify doubled up.

There’s no Salsify this year, but Oscar Delta and Miss Mangan return, and this scribe wishes them well.

Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase Trends

There are a couple of reasonable trends for the Foxhunters, as follows.

Age: Despite the presence of plenty of veteran sorts, just two winners since 1990 were older than ten. There was also just one six-year-old, Kingscliff, winner in that time. If history is to repeat itself this year, the likes of Palypso de Creek, Oscar Delta, Berties Dream and Pearlysteps – all well fancied – look to have it to do.

Rules form: Since 1997, only Cappa Bleu (2009) came directly from the point fields to win without a run under rules (i.e. in hunter chases). Of those racing under rules during that time, ten of the fifteen winners had won on their last rules start.

Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase Preview

Winners of the Foxhunters at Cheltenham tend to be either established top hunters, or rapidly improving youngsters. They are generally relatively young, in hunter chase terms; and they often race prominently, thereby avoiding both the carnage in behind and the need for their pilots to use strength to make up ground.

If I sound cynical, it’s because I’ve seen plenty of these races. On the other hand, of course, I’m a wagering interloper and so – if I don’t like what I see – I can bet elsewhere. All fair enough!

This year, the established top drawer hunters are On The Fringe, Tammy’s Hill (if he travels), Oscar Delta and, to a lesser extent, Divine Intavention.

In the rising star camp are Harbour Court, Shy John, and Certain Flight.

On The Fringe has been lumbered as favourite by default to some degree, with the enforced absences of both hat-trick-seeking Salsify and expensive purchase, Mossey Joe. But he has clear form credentials to put him on the rarefied market perch.

Twice a winner of the Punchestown Champion Hunter Chase, a race won by Baby Run en route to Festival glory; and also a winner of the Raymond Smith Memorial Hunter at Leopardstown, the pre-eminent Irish trial; On The Fringe was a precocious talent.

Indeed he was just five when scoring in the first of that brace of Punchy Hunters. He’s raced sparingly since, and this season won a strong hunter chase at Down Royal on Boxing Day (beating Tammy’s Hill and Salsify), before just ceding to Tammy’s Hill in this year’s Raymond Smith.

That form is arguably the best on show and On The Fringe will be a lot better equipped to finish his race off than he was when fourth in the 2011 renewal as a six-year-old. Though this may be made to look folly after the race, he’s placepot banker material in the green and gold of JP McManus.

An obvious danger then is his last day vanquisher, Tammy’s Hill, who was slated to run at last year’s Festival before a pulled muscle scuppered the plan. This nine-year-old is very closely tied in with both On The Fringe and Salsify and, given the latter won the last two Foxhunters’ and the former is favourite for this one, he looks a fair bet at around 6/1 non-runner money back (he’s 7/1 in a place but if he doesn’t get on the boat the game is up).

I have a slight niggle about the ground – he’d certainly prefer it muddy – but his form on good is, well, good and he may well have been unsuited by Stratford’s tight turns in the summer hunter championship event.

Oscar Delta and Divine Intavention were the moral winner and fairly distant third horses last year (though, as the race record shows, the form failed to complete and the latter was second as a consequence).

Oscar Delta’s record in the race is impeccable: third in 2011, third in 2012, and looking a certain winner in 2013. He’d been thumped behind Salsify in the Raymond Smith before all but reversing form with that one on the day that mattered, and has had a similarly low key prep this term.

My issue with him is that he’s eleven now, and he’s had a few tries. Last year was surely his year and, though it will be an awesome story if he – and Jane Mangan – can win, they’re not for me at 10/1.

Divine Intavention was what Salsify received when Oscar Delta ditched La Mangan, and meant this chap ran a twenty length second. He’s since run second to smart hunters Rumbury Grey and Hawkeye Native and, more recently, has been winning Class 4 handicap chases. now in the care of Martin Keighley, a trainer local to Cheltenham, he’ll probably take some support on the day, and may have improved a bit since the switch.

The rising stars are much harder to quantify. Harbour Court trumpeted his arrival on the main drag with wins in the Intermediate Champions Hunter at the Cheltenham May meeting and the Champion Novices’ Hunter at Stratford in the summer. He was a very unlucky early faller in a Kelso hunter, but has since landed a point by five lengths at Cottenham, beating the useful Nikos Extra.

That does leave him with something to find and, though he’d be far from a shock winner, I’d much rather be on 7/2 On The Fringe than 4/1 Harbour Court.

Shy John is an experienced pointer with thirteen runs between the flags – five wins and six further places – to his credit. In three hunter chase efforts, he’s improved upon his only race last year to win both times this season, beating decent marker Richard’s Sundance in the process. It’s possible that he was flattered there, as both Richard’s Sundance (now twelve) and third placed Coombe Hill (thirteen) could be on the downgrade.

All that said, he is a strong traveller, and if he’s raced close to the pace, will see the trip out without a bother.

Perhaps the most interesting of the nominated trio of aspirants is Certain Flight. I was at Huntingdon for his first race under rules – he’s had 23 point-to-point starts – and he absolutely bolted up, the official margin being fifteen lengths. His rider that day, Will Biddick, said afterwards, “He’s a nice horse and has yet to be tested”.

Biddick is one of the more experienced amateurs, so those are comments worthy of note about this 20/1 chance.

True, it was a weak race and main market rival, Qualviro failed to fire (carrying my cash!), but he couldn’t have done it any more impressively.

Of the older guard, Pearlysteps and Berties Dream appeal most. The former is a strong stayer who has won both starts in hunter chases this term. I would have a reservation about the big field for a horse that has only ever won in single figure fields, and who has been beaten on eleven occasions when facing double-digit rivals.

Berties Dream has plenty of Festival form, including when a surprise winner of the 2010 ‘potato race’ (Albert Bartlett). On his last rules outing, he ran a massive fifth of 24, beaten less than seven lengths, in the Pertemps Final as a 33/1 shot. He lagged up in the Ladies’ Open at North Carlton by 20 lengths, and will likely again have experienced amateur Gina Andrews on board.

For a horse with such excellent Cheltenham credentials (he was also an eight length sixth in the 2011 World Hurdle), Berties Dream is a tempter at 20/1.

Cheltenham Foxhunters Chase Tips

It’s a wide open and compelling renewal of the Foxhunters, and I’m going to take one from the top and two at big prices. Although it’s tough to choose between On The Fringe and Tammy’s Hill, the latter is twice the price of the former, and I just can’t understand why. That represents a clear value selection, though I’d obviously fear On The Fringe greatly.

At bigger prices, Berties Dream has a lot in his favour: he’s been in fine form, has a top lady rider in Gina Andrews, and loves Cheltenham and specifically the Festival. At eleven, he’s not getting any younger but he’ll go on any ground and 20/1 is too big (16/1 non-runner money back probably the more prudent play).

And Certain Flight is a left field speculative. I was very taken when I saw him in the flesh at Huntingdon on his first rules outing, and he annihilated his rivals that day. Clearly, this is a huge step up in class, but he’s earned the right to tilt at so many equine windmills, and I think 20/1 is again fair enough for this ‘could be anything’ type.

Foxhunters Selection:
Tammy’s Hill 6/1 BetVictor NRNB / 7/1 William Hill all in run or not

Big Priced Alternatives:
Berties Dream 16/1 bet365 NRNB BOG / 20/1 888sport all in run or not
Certain Flight 20/1 Betfred NRNB

[NRNB = Non-Runner No Bet; BOG = Best Odds Guaranteed]


4.40 Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle

Martin Pipe Trends

With just five renewals to go at, the trends are not strong. However, conditionals riding horses from their retained stable that had good track form in big fields has been an angle to note.

Martin Pipe Preview

Nicky Henderson seems to make the frame with one of his entries every year, and this time he saddles favourite Full Shift, with Festival-winning jockey Nico de Boinville taking the ride. The horse has had just three runs to date so has plenty of scope, and Hendo has said that two and a half miles on decent ground is spot on. He looks to sure to go close.

This is a hot race though, and Paul Nicholls looks to have a live chance with Caid du Berlais. This lad has been chasing recently, presumably to protect his mark, and had previously run second in last year’s Fred Winter and then run second to Jezki (Champion Hurdler!) in a Down Royal Grade 2. Nicholls says that the trip and ground are optimal for him too. Harry Derham is a very experienced pilot in the context of a race like this.

Vieux Lion Rouge is the other top of the market horse. He’s been running well in novice company on heavy ground, but this is a different proposition. Indeed, the only time he’s run on good to soft was last season’s Champion Bumper where he was well enough beaten. He’d be the one at the head of affairs I’d be happy to swerve… so watch him trot up!

Henderson’s other runners are One Lucky Lady and Une Artiste, the latter being a former Fred Winter winner. She’s been in good form lately too, and a mark of 140 isn’t generous but nor is it especially punitive. Jeremiah McGrath  is another of the more experienced riders and I think she might fare better than odds of 25/1 suggest.

There are clearly plenty of horses in here with chances, but one of the old guard who ran two recent stormers on unsuitably soft ground is Art Professor. Trained by Venetia Williams, no stranger to Festival handicap success, this lad has done all his winning on good or good to soft ground. Despite that, he was unlucky to unseat at the last in this race last year – Venetia had the second there – and was staying on best.

He wouldn’t have beaten Salubrious – ran in the World Hurdle today – but would certainly have made the frame, perhaps even beating his stablemate for silver. He’s two pounds higher here but 33/1 with five places looks a solid longshot play.

This is a really good race these days – Sir Des Champs won it in 2011, Attaglance in 2012 and Salubrious last year – and there are plenty of possibles, so I’ll side with the above and hope I’m lucky.

Martin Pipe Tips

I’m just leaning towards Caid du Berlais over Full Shift at the top of the market, though accept I might be wrong there. In a race as competitive as this, it may pay to take proven big field handicap form, and the one at a price with plenty of that – and lurking at the bottom of the, admittedly compressed, weights – is Art Professor.

Martin Pipe Selection:
Caid du Berlais 10/1 FIVE places 888sport

Best Martin Pipe each way:
Art Professor 33/1 bet365 BOG, FIVE places


5.15 Grand Annual Handicap Chase

Grand Annual Trends

If you’re calling this the ‘get out stakes’ you’re in trouble. A tougher nut to crack than Alan Pardew’s Glasgow kiss, there are plots aplenty hereabouts.

Horses carrying eleven stone or more have not had a look in since 1998, with all winners since then carrying 10-13 or less

Only one double-digit aged horse has won since 1998, the Arthur Moore plot, Tiger Cry.

The five Irish trained winners of the Grand Annual since 1998 were all 15/2 or shorter. Plot horse or no dice, most likely.

Grand Annual Preview

There’s a reason this race is the last of the meeting: it’s bloody hard! For all that, ten of the last fifteen winners have paid out at single figure odds, so perhaps there’s hope yet.

It’s historically been a race where weight has stopped horses near the top of the ratings, and I’m framing my play around that. I like one, and I’m going to give a mention to one that Nag Nag Nag’s Gavin Priestley has picked out. They’re both big prices, so make of them what you will.

First, my pick. Changing The Guard represents a friend of geegeez, Dr Richard Newland. He’s a shrewd operator, and this horse has been campaigned cunningly in recent times. In winning two fast ground novice chases around Newton Abbot in the Summer, one would not immediately think Grand Annual winner.

But look more closely and you’ll see that he first beat Baby Mix, a 139 rated chaser, by seven lengths; and he then beat Highway Code, a 129 rated chaser, by 35 lengths. Thirty. Five. Lengths. A rating of 137 in that context is workable in the extreme, and ground shouldn’t be an issue either.

Now, for sure, Newton Abbot is a good bit tighter and sharper than Cheltenham’s Old Course, but this horse has plenty of ability. His four length third in a Galway novice on heavy ground was a fine effort given all seven of his turf wins have been on good or quicker ground. It’s slated to be good going tomorrow.

His most recent run was surely a sharpener after a break, and he ought to be cherry ripe now. 20/1 is a value bet.

Gavin likes Willie Mullins’ Passage Vendome, who – bizarrely perhaps, given he’s ridden by Ruby Walsh – is a 25/1 shot (remember Briar Hill last year?!). This lad was last seen when finishing fourth of four in a novice chase. On the downside, he was beaten 28 lengths. On the up side, he was beaten by Felix Yonger, Trifolium and The Paparazzi Kid, all Grade 2 or higher winners.

Before that he was a twenty length third to Felix Yonger and Defy Logic, the latter a Grade 1 scorer over fences since. In other words, he’s mixed it with the best and, while he’s been well enough beaten, this is a different kettle of horses. He has a low weight and apparently schooled very well the other day at Leopardstown.

They’re both big prices, and it’s easy enough to make a case for them. Chances are something else will win, but these could give us a run for our beans and a fair chance of sneaking out in front on the meeting, almost irrespective of what’s gone before.

Good luck!

Grand Annual Tips

Each way two against the field:
Changing The Guard 20/1 bet365 BOG, FIVE places
Passage Vendome 25/1 888sport, FIVE places

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