Monday 13th March
Cheltenham Festival Day 1 preview
Roars, Rags, Ricci’s and Ruby
In the past few years the festival opener has been dominated by trainer Willie Mullins and jockey Ruby Walsh who have combined to win 6 of the last 8 grade 1’s on Day 1. The one that got away was Altior in the Supreme Novices Hurdle last year where the pair had to settle for second with Min. I say the one that got away because the 8th was the memorable Annie Power fall and when they have one fall at the last the others you would think are in for a chance…but up turns Glen’s Melody the Mullins second string and wins anyway! Had Annie Power won, 7 out of the first 8 (last 2 years) Grade 1 races were won (the other they were second) by the same trainer / jockey and owner - Rich Ricci. Suffice to say they are dominant. However this year, largely due to injury, that same combination only have three runners on Day 1 and two are in the same race, so it may be the year for a changing of the guard, if admittedly only a short-lived one
Race 1 - 1.30 : Supreme Novices Hurdle
Often a race which attracts a lot of attractively bred ex flat horses but one which they have a surprisingly poor record in of late. In the last 9 years only one ex flat runner has hit the first three. So for me it illustrates that staying power over speed is definitely preferable. One thing is for sure there will be some classy horses coming out of this race in the future and the roll of honour is long and illustrious. The market is a funny one at the time of writing as it predominantly revolves around two horses Moon Racer and Neon Wolf. Moon Racer is a Cheltenham festival winner in the bumper and was chalked up to run in this last year before injury curtailed his season. Now, still as a novice at the age of 8 he is my idea of the favourite. However the vibes continue about him redirecting to run in a ‘weak champion hurdle’ later on the card. Moon Racer, Ballyandy and Movewiththetimes are all very closely matched and whilst Moon Racer and Ballyandy’s match ups to date haven’t been at the Supreme standard, they definitely make a fair amount of appeal. My issue, with Ballyandy in particular, is he has been on the go a fair bit this season and a horse trained to peak in the Supreme may well have his number. Neon Wolf certainly would be that horse and if he takes his chance then I think he will probably win. However it is expected he will run in the Neptune so at 4/1 NRNB he was worth investing earlier in the week but possibly not at much shorter. I can’t have Melon, Willie Mullins latest superstar worker on the gallops. He has only had one run and is flat bred. I have to admit I wouldn’t really want to lay him but think mainly his inexperience may well catch him out here. He may well develop into the best horse but will he be the best on Tuesday, I’m not so sure. On the day I will more than likely back one of Willie Mullins second string (possibly Crack Mome) but that will depend on who is actually running and what the prices look like! What I’m looking for is a powerful stable, proven group form and a highly respected NH pedigree; step forward River Wylde. Sired by the legendary Oscar he has ran in a point over 3m losing out by a neck but importantly illustrated a bit of stamina. Since hurdling he has shown continual improvement and whilst maybe he’s no Altior he does looks progressive. His latest victory was a strong staying performance to outlast Elgin (who is overpriced at 50/1 for this race) in the Group 2 Dovecote on good ground. If the ground is not too soft I think River Wylde is a good bet EW at 12/1. At huge prices both Elgin and more notably Labaik could be interesting to sneak a top 4 (lots of bookies will offer an extra place on the day). He hates racing!! Refused to Race on no less than 4 occasions. But if he jumps off 50/1 could be a lovely price.
Recommended bet: River Wylde 5 points EW 8/1 : Placed +5.0 points
Race 2 - 2.10 : Arkle Challenge Trophy
Altior is obviously a serious horse and any novice that could well challenge for the Queen Mother against the mighty Douvan no less deserves to be a 1/3 shot. Thats not really my style I’m afraid and I am going to attempt to pick the odd hole in what looks a bullet proof favourite. A few years back the gutsy Champagne Fever (serial festival winner) came up short when 50/1 Western Warhorse caused a huge shock. That won’t happen on Tuesday but I have played Royal Caviar EW at 20/1. He is a little shorter now and I suspect he will start 3rd favourite on the day about 10/1 so it’s a squeak of value for him to hit the frame. Charnel put up a very decent performance going down by only 6 lengths to Altior last time out and I will probably play the tricast of Altior / Charnel and Royal Caviar for a bit of involvement. Sometimes the better horses get embroiled in a battle to take on the ‘big name’ and some of the weaker horses are left to pick up the pieces. I just don’t think any of the Jockeys can be foolish enough to think they can lower his colours and just settle for the minor honours. On all known form Charbel looks an EW steal at 10/1 so will put that up as the main selection.
Recommended bet: Charbel 10 points EW 11/1 : Fell -20.0 points
Image above : Charbel
Race 3 - 2.40 : Ultima Handicap Chase
This race has taken me hours to trawl through and still the waters are a little murky. This is mainly because horses are so well placed its tricky to know which route to go down. The race is getting classier and the previous 3 winners all carried over 11 stone and have run very well at Group 1 level in their careers. If the ground is soft I will be all over Otago Trail but I think it will be as usual Good to Soft day 1 one ground. From a class perspective Theatre Guide jumps off the page, jockey Paddy Brennan thinks he should run in the Gold Cup! He clearly retains all his ability however his Course victory crucially came on the more galloping New course and he has tried this race a few times without hitting the frame, though he did fall last year so we won’t know where he would have finished. The next horse I am interested in is Viconte Du Noyer. The owners had the second a few years ago and this fella has the right type of racing style to be successful here. Jumping up with the pace and staying really well he won a staying handicap on the Old course in November beating Minella Rocco (20/1 for Gold Cup) no less. He is 8 which is a good age for this race (2 of last 4 winners). My worry is he ran in the Welsh national and thats always a tough race especially in the soft and this new Tizzard recruit is inexplicably 33/1. That is definite EW value. The one horse I really need to mention epitomises the recent article I wrote about handicap plotting and placing. The Druid’s Nephew won this race 2 years ago off an OR of 146 in December 2015 he peaked at 156 and now is back down to 146 again. If, at the age of 10 he retains his ability he is a handicap blot and there are none better than Neil Mulholland for pulling this sort of thing off. Noel Fehily is already booked too so things look set for a big run. The negative is he is now 10/1 as this rating has been picked up by the shrewdies so begrudgingly I will look elsewhere. I wouldn’t put any off backing Un Temp pour Tout or even Champers on Ice (whichever Tom Scu chooses to be fair). The horse I have backed Ante Poste is Singlefarmpayment. I love his credentials and although his win here has come on the New Course I think he may well be suited by the Old course. Again his price is skinny now at around 7/1 so my second selection is going to be Heron Heights for the Henry De Bromhead team. He may not run as he has multiple entries but wherever he ends up I think he has a big chance. He won a novice chase on the old course in October and whilst that form isn’t tremendous it looked a nice prep with March in mind.
Recommended bet: Viconte Du Noyer 5 points EW 50/1 : Unplaced -10.0 points
Recommended bet: Sinlgefarm Payment 5 point win 15/2 : Unplaced -5.0 points
Race 4 - 3.30 : Champion Hurdle
A tricky one this year with no top class attraction yet on show. My Tent or Yours probably tops the list on his achievements but ultimately he continues to come up short. However in a supposedly weak renewal what’s to stop him going one better? 20/1 EW seems big continuing he has come second for the past two years. That is in my opinion the best form on show, whichever way you spin it. You wouldn’t rule out the JP McManus tricots this year for sure. My preference for this race continues to be Yanworth. He has only lost once and that was to Yorkhill at the Festival. He has plenty of Cheltenham form and although he hasn’t looked a million dollars this season I think he is still the best horse in the race and will be a tough nut to crack. Brain Power brings the unconvential Handicap form into the race and has looked seriously progressive this season after winning the Betfair off a heavy weight. The vibes about him look good and he would certainly be of interest. However in my opinion if you like Yanworth how can you not also like Ch’tibello. He lost out by just a length last time out to Yanworth and has reported just had his wind done. I was taken by an interview Dan Skelton did about him saying that if any race turned into a sprint he would win hands down as he is absolutely rapid. If the ground is good he definitely is overpriced at 33/1 ew. I was very put off Buveur D’Air when the bloodstock agent who bought him said it was unlikely he was good enough for a Champion, though his Supreme third and Aintree win is good form the suspicion is softer ground would enhance his claims.
Recommended bet: Yanworth 10 points win 3/1 : Unplaced -10.0 points
Recommended bet: Ch’tibello 2.5 points EW 33/1 : Non Runner
Recommended bet: My Tent Or Yours 5 points EW 16/1 : Placed + 15.0 points
Image above : Yanworth
Race 5 - 4.10 : Mares Hurdle
A race which revolves around the two Rich Ricci owned Mares there are too many variables to really get stuck into either. They don’t think Limini is good enough for the Champion but good enough to beat Vroom Vroom? Limini has Apples Jade held one recent run but Apples Jade prefers better ground and improved as the spring went on last year, she will definitely be ridden differently to the way she was last time. However she really disappointed in the Triumph last year and my suspicion is that Rich Ricci is happy to go in two pronged to ensure he gets the job done with one or the other. I’m still not 100% convinced by Jer’s girl at the top level and as result the play is back Lifeboat Mona ew. On strict form lines she gave Midnight Jazz a conformable beating in January whereas VVM could only pip her a head at Doncaster last time. Lifeboat Mona has a real turn of foot and is still unexposed post wind operation. That isn’t often the case in these mares events and I suspect the market has basically ignored the English contingent because they have such a poor record in recent years because of the Mullins domination. 12/1 is definitely fair and worth backing about a Mare Paul Nicholls continues to rave about and even more so if for some reason Vroom Vroom Mag fails to run…
Recommended bet: Lifeboat Mona - 5 points EW 16/1 : Unplaced -10.0 points
Race 6 - 4.50 : National Hunt Chase
A race run off level weights for amateur riders this is not a race to look for long priced value. The top rated horses tend to do very well and last year the top two rated were first and second. I must admit to backing Martello Tower each way at 20/1 so that seems to be looking good at half those current odds but the more I look at the race I am taken by the two Irish raiders Edwulf and Genie in a Bottle. Both have powerful connections, both laid out for this race and both with the highest ratings, it could turn into a match race with Beware the Bear or Martello Tower chasing them home. Its difficult to know which one to flag up. Edwulf’s jumping has let him down but his racing style looks suited to this race where they don’t go as quick and he can hunt round and pick them up late a la Minella Rocco.
Recommended bet: Edwulf 5 points Win 11/2 : Unplaced -5.0 points
Image above : Edwulf
Race 7 - 5.30 : Close Brothers Novices Handicap Chase
The closing race and only 1 winner in the last 9 to go off bigger than 12/1. Starting prices 12, 11, 8 in the past 3 years means the punters are generally finding the right horses towards the top of the market. This is hardly even a handicap anymore as the weight spread is likely to be about 3lbs so the key is finding the best horse rather than unpicking some shrewd placing. Foxtail Hill has done nothing but improve all season and his jumping is excellent. His latest effort to be at hardened handicappers over the new course was mightily impressive and I wouldn’t be surprised if he jumped some of these novices off their feet. He is definitely first pick for me even though the value has dried up a bit. I would be interested in Heron Heights as already mentioned in the Ultima. Itsafreebee ran poorly in soft ground last few times but on better ground accounted for Cole Harden over fences and ran creditably behind Yorkhill and Yanworth in last seasons neptune. At 12/1 he is of interest if the ground isn't too soft however it is annoying that stable jockey Dan prefers Value at Risk and Davy Russell is booked for Two Taffs - The fact Dan has opted for VAR is probably a tip in itself. If it was soft Zamdy Man who is 2 lb clear top rated would have to come into the equation and at 20/1 too! However those horses picking up a penalty after the weights were announced do not have a good record. I also think Mixboy and Double W’s have the progressive profile to have a say here but his form at the ‘lesser tracks' is difficult to equate. The interesting thing about Double W’s is he has only raced at 2 miles so far, this step up in trip could bring out more improvement.
There is a race in November over the new course which has a good record in producing placed horses here. The race this year was won by Royal Vacation who takes the RSA route but in second was Potters Legend beating some quite well fancied horses high up in the betting in the Ulltima in the process. To add further substance he ran a 1 length second to Ballyandy in a bumper over the old course back in 2015 so I think he definitely has more scope as a chaser. Lucy Wadham is a relatively unfashionable trainer and as a result he is 20/1. I think he has been missed and fully expect a bold show. Unfortunately, he is running in the amateur race on Thursday at 12/1 and we can back him in that instead.
Recommended bet: Foxtail Hill 5 points Win 6/1 : Unplaced -5.0 points
Image above : Foxtail Hill
There's 28 races at Cheltenham so even two good winners you will be way ahead, so as a word of warning, even if Day 1 doesn't go too well there's a long way to go. Also don't forget to check out the Cheltenham offers on the blog.
River Wylde - 5 points EW 8/1 : Placed +5.0 points
Charbel - 10 points EW 11/1 : Fell -20.0 points
Viconte Du Noyer - 5 points EW 50/1 : Unplaced -10.0 points
Sinlgefarm Payment -5 points win 15/2 : Placed -5.0 points
Yanworth - 10 points win 3/1 : Unplaced -10.0 points
Chtibello - 2.5points EW 33/1 : Non Runner
My Tent Or Yours - 5 points EW 16/1 : Placed + 15.0 points
Lifeboat Mona - 5 points EW 16/1 : Unplaced -10.0 points
Edwulf - 5 points Win 11/2 : Unplaced - 5.0 points
Foxtail Hill - 5 points Win 6/1 : Unplaced - 5.0 points
Total staked : 80 points
Total returns : 35 points