Back To The Drawing Board – Part 2

Continuing with day two of the Festival, where I attempt to answer the simple question of whether the favourites will win the Grade 1 races:

Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle – Samcro. Current best odds 4/5. One of the very things I’ve got right so far in the lead up to the Festival is that this will be the chosen race for Gordon Elliott’s 6 year old gelding.  I can only see two rivals, On The Blind Side and Next Destination, working on the basis the latter doesn’t end up in the Albert Bartlett. Both have good records, but from what I’ve seen Samcro is a class apart and has the necessary gears to win. In spite of Elliott saying ‘he still has to keep improving’ I’m backing him.

RSA Novices’ Chase – Presenting Percy. Current best price 3/1. This looks to be one of the best betting races of the week, with Presenting Percy and Monalee (4/1) currently battling for favouritism. I may be missing something , but I would struggle to present an argument for either. I’ve also written previously about my faith in Black Corton and a man has to display some loyalty so I’m against Presenting Percy.

Champion Chase – Altior. Current best price 8/11. All that fuss about Altior and the wind op seems like history now and all people will remember is that win at Newbury earlier in the month. And he looked the real deal. I’d like to make a case for Politilogue, but Altior looked in a different league running against him. Min is a threat, but has shown he can be beaten at the highest grade. In spite of only having raced once since April of last year, he’s a proven winner at Cheltenham so I’m backing Altior.

Champion Bumper – Blackbow. Current best price 6/1. For the avoidance of doubt, I’m hopeless at picking the winner in Bumpers. There will be a lot of unexposed horses who have won on their last time out. The only trick I’ve been told is to look for the distance of the previous victory. But to keep it easy, on the basis only one favourite has won this race in the last ten years, I’m against Blackbow.

 

 

Back to the Drawing Board – Part 1

So far I’ve offered two tips for Cheltenham. Firstly, If The Cap Fits for the Supreme Novices. Harry Fry announced on Friday that due to a muscle tear, he won’t be running. Secondly, Elgin for the Champion Hurdle. I wrote in support of Alan King’s six year old, largely based on questioning the favourite, Buveur D’Air’s preparation. The argument went that due to the cold snap, Nicky Henderson would be unable to get him out for a run around Kempton yesterday and wouldn’t, therefore, be match fit for the Festival. Buveur D’Air got to have his workout and Henderson reported it ‘was perfect’ as part of his build up.

OK so I’m beginning to look like a bit of a dick head. But more than twenty years of defending hopeless causes before hostile Magistrates has taught  me, if nothing else, to be resilient and inbuilt an ability to bounce back.

In an attempt to rehabilitate myself, I’m going to begin by going through the Festival Grade 1 races and give a view on whether to support the favourite. I will avoid any comment on value and, to avoid humiliating myself any further, will try and keep it simple.

So here’s Day one:

Supreme Novices’- Getabird. Current best price 13/8.  Lightly raced. Won all three hurdle contests, but nothing at a pace and unused to large fields. Also untested jumping on the likely firmer ground. Doesn’t get my backing.

The Arkle- Footpad. Current best price 11/8. Has won the key Irish prep races and proved himself on good to soft ground. In a division that lacks any strength in depth, he gets my backing.

Champion Hurdle- Buveur D’Air. Current best price 4/7. Looks to have it all, except for a proper test this season, which could be crucial. Having argued the case against him yesterday, I’m going to have to stick to my guns and won’t be backing him.

Mares’ Hurdle- Apple’s Jade. Current best price 4/6. I can’t say I know an awful lot about any of the rivals, but just looking at the form, I would struggle to argue against her. She, therefore, gets my backing.

 

The Case Against Buveur D’Air

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Buveur D’Air is quite correctly the banker for many at the Cheltenham Festival. Winner of the Champion Hurdle last year, he is currently best price 4/7 to retain the title.   Having raced four times since this victory, he has comfortably beaten all placed in his way.  This includes The Betway Hurdle at Aintree last April, The Fighting Fifth at Newcastle in December and most recently The Contenders Hurdle at Sandown earlier in the month.

The question mark over him, however, is the lack of a test. The Fighting Fifth looked too easy and the The Contenders was a three horse race, with one starting at 100/1. I recently heard it said that he has only run in egg and spoon races this season. That is a bit harsh as most have been in Grade 1 company, but frankly if I’d lost a couple of pounds and held on tightly enough, I would have fancied my chances on his back in the Fighting Fifth.

Whilst the weakness of the division can only strengthen the argument for a win, history might suggest otherwise. Statistically the Champion Hurdle is the least predictable  of the four championship races. Five of the last ten winners have returned at prices of 9/1 or greater and you have to go back to 2005 to find the last back to back victories in Hardy Eustace.

It is always easy to overemphasis historical data, but the case against Buveur D’Air becomes stronger if you factor in the lead up. Nicky Henderson had hoped to give him a run at Kempton before the meeting today, but with the covers on this opportunity was lost. Henderson said earlier in the week “He needs an awful lot of work and he didn’t have a race at Sandown the other day. So we have to take him somewhere”. With the weather set to get even colder and to stay with us, you have to wonder where the chances will come from to have a strong gallop before the Festival. It might just be the weather has conspired against him and thrown the timing out.

Given the paucity of rivals, you may well suggest all this academic, and ask who realistically can beat him. Even assuming Faugheen turns up, on recent evidence would offer no challenge. My Tent Or Yours, must surely be too old. Next in the odds is Yorkhill at 16/1. Really? I’ve read nothing to suggest Willie Mullins has this race in mind and he’s only run twice this season staying over fences, without making any impact.

There then follows a host of prospects at 20/1, many of whom have multiple entries and most of whom it would be hard to make a case for.

Amongst the 20/1 group is Alan King’s Elgin, who isn’t even entered at this stage, but looks a certainty to be supplemented. Far from disgraced with 7th place in last year’s freakish Supreme Novices’, he has since proved himself around the Old Course, winning the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle in November. Given the weight  he can probably be forgiven his subsequent 6th place in December’s Handicap Hurdle at Ascot and bounced back with victory, under a penalty, in last weekend’s Kingwell Hurdle at Wincanton. This race is really the last British prep run before the Champion Hurdle and is often used by those who are catching up late. However, with the weather likely to frustrate last minute preparations for Buveur D’Air, the timing might just have been perfect for Elgin.

There are worse races than the Kingwell from which to pick a Champion Hurdle winner and it provided Elgin with the one thing Buveur D’Air hasn’t had this season, namely having to prove himself in a proper dust up of a competitive race.

 

 

 

Black Corton – I’m a Believer

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Bryony Frost celebrates victory on Black Corton at The Cheltenham Showcase

There were probably few who witnessed Black Corton’s win at Newton Abbott in October who predicted he would go on to triumph in four of his next five races, including a Grade 1 victory at Kempton on Boxing Day.

For a horse that had been raced over the summer circuits at Fontwell and Worcester, you could be forgiven for thinking Newton Abbott would mark a fine end to his season. However, two weeks later he won at Cheltenham’s Showcase Meeting and save for a second place at Newbury in December, has remained unbeaten. Whilst I have always had a soft spot for him after that win – he helped my recovery at Prestbury Park on a day the bookies were getting the better of me – I have been among those who were not convinced by his credentials. I posted at the time that I believed Sizing Tennessee would have won, but for the fall, and when I returned to Cheltenham in November, I fancied Ballyoptic in the Novices’ Chase. The fact that Black Corton started out the 4/1 outsider in a field of three was evidence of how few had been won over. He beat Ballyoptic by four lengths.

It could be argued that because his jockey, Bryony Frost, has lit up the season like no one else, attention has been deflected from her ride. However, you sense that feelings have run deeper. There were those saying he was nothing more than a glorified summer horse and when they were proved wrong, the argument changed to – Oh, he’s being over raced.

The fact that you could have got slightly better than evens if you looked hard, in today’s Grade 2 Novices’ Chase at Ascot against a field who on paper were unlikely to trouble him, again showed the doubters remained. What was particularly impressive about today’s comfortable eight length win, was his ability to pick up the pace when asked. The notes I scribbled against his name in October’s Cheltenham Racecard, consist of two words – “Proper stayer”. That does him an injustice. He started his career as a two mile hurdler and looks to have much more in his locker than just an ability to stay three miles.

Whatever questions I used to have, now I’m a believer. However, at a time of year when markets are disproportionately affected by even a modest win, the fact that you can get 12/1 for the RSA at the Festival, would suggest there are still many to be converted.

 

 

 

Kalashnikov Proves Best in Betfair Armoury

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Amy Murphy and Jack Quinlan celebrate victory

 

At a time of year when every decent race can appear as little more than a search for Festival clues, it is satisfying to have a contest that is great in its own right. When one comes along, it should be appreciated as such. And none fits the bill better than the Newbury Betfair Hurdle. On a card where the two top Chases attracted only three runners each, this Grade 3 was run with a maximum field of 24. It is Britain’s richest Handicap Hurdle and probably the most competitive of the season.

It was also full of back stories. From the fancied Irish Roe, purchased for €2000 and one of only two horses in training with North Yorkshire pig farmer, Peter Atkinson, to Lalor running for Kayley Woollacott the day before the funeral of her husband, Richard.

It was Jenkins who made the running in what wasn’t the fastest pace for a 2 mile Hurdle, but his bid for glory was short lived, as Remiluc took the lead three from home. Willie Mullins’ Bleu Et Rouge always looked threatening, but Jack Quinlan worked his way skilfully from mid division and touched the front with two fences left. Kalashnikov proved to have too much fire power for the sole Irish raider and stayed on strongly, winning by over 4 lengths. Jack Quinlan already had his whip in the air in celebration as he crossed the line, in what was the biggest win of his career. It also marked the greatest success for Amy Murphy, in her second season as a trainer.

Whist the pleasure is in enjoying a competitive race for what it is, you can’t ignore that every Graded win in February is going to influence the Festival markets. Kalashnikov has been cut from 20/1 to 8/1 for the Supreme Novices’.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Cheltenham Festival – Supreme Novices’

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With Trials Day done and dusted and the curtain down on the Dublin Festival, it’s not too early in all decency to start talking about Cheltenham. As always, the only place to begin is with the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle.

The consensus  seems to be that if Samcro is chosen for this race, he will be hard to beat. After the season he’s had and victory in yesterday’s  2 mile Grade 1 Novice Hurdle at Leopardstown, that’s difficult to argue with. However, the noises coming out of the Elliott camp are that the Ballymore is the most likely destination and I would have thought the longer distance would give him the opportunity of show off his sublime ability to move through the gears. It would also avoid a showdown with Getabird, who Gordon Elliott is quoted as saying that he “Would be frightened by”.

Working on the premise the two horses won’t meet, I don’t believe Getabird will represent value, at what will probably be an extremely short priced favourite. Untested over hurdles on the sort of going he is likely to encounter at Cheltenham, his times are also arguably not consistent with a race where speed is a key component. Further, the size of the field will be a new challenge, as will the opening Festival atmosphere.

The horse I would make a case for is Harry Fry’s If The Cap Fits. If you’ve seen him run, there are good reasons to be put off. He can probably be politely described as quirky: he can hang to the right or the left, depending on how the mood takes him and you’re never sure if he’s going to leap a hurdle like a chaser or gracelessly  clip it. I also have to accept this will be a jump in class.  However, since finishing 4th in the Aintree Bumper back in April, he’s won all three races this season as a Novice Hurdler, on a variety of ground. With impressive times, the victories have come as a front runner and also having to make up significant distance. If you add to that a stables that seems to be finding form at the right time, the current 8/1 – although shortening as I write- looks like a decent punt.

If The Cap Fits is also entered in the Ballymore, but Harry Fry has made it clear the Supreme is the likely target and given he has never jumped further that 18 furlongs, that would seem to make sense. On that basis, I can see no reason to be tempted by no runner no bet.

It might be worth noting that all rides have gone to Noel Fehily this season and suspecting he is a horse that is far from straight forward, I might have concerns should a less experienced jockey end up on him at Cheltenham.

And one final word of caution, picking out a winner in this race can be far from easy. I wonder how many tipped the serial race refuser, Labaik, to win last year at 25/1.