We’re halfway through the 2016 Cheltenham Festival now, and I think it’s safe to say that it’s one win for the punters and one win for the bookies. Wednesday was definitely a day for the bookies, although we did see one of the greatest ever training performances ever by Nicky Henderson, who got Sprinter Sacre home a convincing winner in front of a reasonably strong Champion Chase field. It’s one of the great stories, and the champion two-miler got the reception he deserved from the Cheltenham faithful as they greeted him with the reverence that only the likes of Arkle, Best Mate, Moscow Flyer and Kauto Star have seen in the past. But the other story was that he basically smashed hot favourite Un De Sceaux. However, it’s not all doom and gloom for Willie Mullins, as he took another big novice hurdle prize, this time with Yorkhill, a handy winner from the handy Yanworth. And then Ballyandy won the Champion Bumper, giving Nigel Twiston-Davies the win, and, for the first time, he had a winner his his son, Sam, which also gave both men a double on the day.
We didn’t have too much luck yesterday, although it was pointed out to me that I seemed to talk myself out of several selections, and if I had faith in Any Currency, we would have turned a profit for the day, but it wasn’t to be. So we’re now -3.75 units for the first two days of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival.
Day Three of the 2016 Cheltenham Festival is, as you have come to expect, another big day of action. The feature race is the World Hurdle, and we’ve got yet another hot favourite. That’s at 3:30. Before that, at 1:30, we’ve got the JLT Novice Chase, the Pertemps Hurdle Final at 2:10 and the Ryanair Chase at 2:50. After the World Hurdle, it’s the Brown Advisory Handicap Chase at 4:40, the Mares’ Novice Hurdle at 4:50, and we finish the day with the Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Chase for amateur riders at 5:30.
If you’re going to place a few bets on the 2016 Cheltenham Festival, your best place to get in on the action is at Bet365, and they guarantee you the best price on every horse race shown live on Channel Four if you back it from 10am on the day of the race. What could be better than best prices? Well, if you back a winner at 4/1 or more at Bet365 on any of the Channel Four races, you get a free bet that matches your stake on the winner for the next Channel Four race.
The JLT Novice Chase is the first race of the day, it’s over 2 miles 3 furlongs, and we have ten runners going to post for it, with some really classy novices, and future stars in the making.
The main prerequisite for a runner to go well in the JLT is that they need to have won on their previous start. Of course, given the class of this race, that still leaves us with six potential winners, seven if you forgive Black Hercules his fall last time out. However, Black Hercules seems like he needs a long trip and heavier ground, so 2 mile 3 on ground that is proving to be on the better side of good isn’t going to be beneficial to him.
So that leaves us with Bristol De Mai, Garde La Victoire, King’s Odyssey,o Mount Gunnery and Outlander.
It’s a huge step up in class for Mount Gunnery here, and having lost some weaker races than this, he’s really going to find it hard here, So that leaves us with half the field now.
I think Outlander is also another one that could use a step up in trip. He has won over this distance, but he didn’t win that convincingly, and the ground was heavier than he’s going to be here. 3 miles might be his best bet. His 6th in the Neptune Hurdle last year doesn’t make me think he’s at home on the Cheltenham turf, either.
King’s Odyssey’s win last time out actually looks quite good, as he put Un Temps Pour tout, a winner already this week, well in his place by over 17 lengths, even though he was getting 13lbs from him. That would put him on a mark relatively close to that of Bristol De Mai and Garde La Victoire. He’s progressive, but this isn’t a handicap, and he’ll have to find some more. To get in front here.
So it’s a toss-up between Bristol De Mai and Garde La Victoire by the looks of things. Garde La Victoire has some good form in the book at Cheltenham, with three wins out of five starts at the course. He won a novice chase here in November, and the form with Fox Norton works out relatively well, and his official rating of 151 seems about right after Fox Norton’s run in the Arkle. However, this is the biggest field he’s had to face, and he was running in Arkle trials, so a shorter trip and smaller field might just be the best thing for him.
That leaves us with Bristol De Mai, who has four wins out of six over the bigger obstacles, beating As De Mee comfortably at Sandown last time out. He’s made for this trip, and will relish the ground. He did lose to Garde La Victoire on his chase debut, but that was over the minimum trip, and he’s come on leaps and bounds since then, finding the optimal trip.
24 runners going to post for the Pertemps Final, and it’s another one of those bookies benefit. handicaps that we’ve come to love at the Festival. It’s not an easy race to work out, but we’ll do our best to solve this 3 mile puzzle. The trends of this race will hopefully help us a little.
Looking at the trends, we’re looking for a horse that’s rated 142 or lower, which takes out the top six in the field. We’re also looking for one that didn’t win a qualifying race, which is going to help a lot.
Westren Warrior has a great deal of appeal down near the bottom of the handicap. He has a nice line of form therough Yala Enki, who has been progressive in handicap hurdles this season. He ticks all the boxes, and Richard Newland, with his small stable, will have him nicely prepped for this.
JP McManus is well represented in the field, with six runners, so look for which one of his takes the big plunge in the market. Leave At Dawn is his obvious number one runner, with Barry Geraghty getting the nob, but Champion Jockey elect Richard Johnson if on If In Doubt, so he’ll also fancy his chances. But we’ll stick with Westren Warrior, as there were high hopes for him at the start of the season, and this could be his chance.
The Ryanair has been the subject of a few headlines this week, with Vautour being pulled from the Gold Cup, and put into the Ryanair Chase instead. The reason given was that they don’t think his work has been good enough to win a hot Gold Cup, which is fair enough, really. However, that begs the question that if it’s not good enough to win a Gold Cup, is it good enough to win a Ryanair Chase?
It’s a surprisingly decent race here, and Gigginstown Stud are well represented in the race, after coming close with Don Cossack last year. This time round, they’ve got Oscar Rock, Road To Riches and Valseur Lido in the field, and Road To Riches is their apparent favoured choice, with Brian Cooper taking the ride. Road To Riches was third in the Gold Cup last year, running Coneygree close, and has looked in fine enough form in his two starts this season, although he was put in his place by Carlingford Lough last time out, although it was a true test of stamina, the 3 miles in heavy ground at Leopardstown. This 2 mile 5 furlongs is definitely going to be more suitable.
The old-timer Al Ferof might be there come the end, but Father Time isn’t on his side now, with him and Dynaste both in double figures, and this might just go to a younger horse.
Vautour is obviously leaps and bounds ahead on ratings, but there is a genuine worry that he isn’t 100% if connections have pulled him from the Gold Cup. Yes, they’re going for the easier target, yes, Vautour has great form round Cheltenham, but that big question mark still remains.
No, we’ll stay with Road To Riches as our selection, as I think that last year’s Gold Cup form is working out well, and to get so close to the impressive Coneygree over a trip that is a bit on the long side for him is quite impressive.
I’ve been saying for the best part of six months how poorly I thought the 2015 World Hurdle form was, and it’s turned out to be true. Cole Harden has looked poor when challenged, Saphir Du Rheu hasn’t looked great, either, Whisper is a shadow of his former self, and At Fishers Cross hasn’t impressed either.
But then that’s why Thistlecrack is going to take some beating. The eight year-old has done everything required of him this season, putting the so-called best stayed in their place three times so far. Saphir Du Rheu? Smashed him at Ascot. Cole Harden and Whisper? Took care of them at Newbury. The fact Cole Harden struggled after his seasonal bow just shows that last year might have just been a fluke. There’s a lot to like about the convincing way Thistlecrack bounded up the hill in the Cleeve Hurdle, and he’s going to take some stopping.
Another one of those big handicap chases, this one over 2 miles 4 furlongs, and we’ve again got 24 runners to pick through. But we’ve got some great stats to work from this time, as no winner of this race has been rated higher than 141. That only leaves us with 9 runners to get through, which is far more manageable. We’re also, according to the stats, looking for a horse that’s run in the past 6 weeks, which takes out another three. So now we’re left with six, which are Fingal Bay, Sew On Target, Kings Lad, La Vaticane, Quincy Des Pictons and Full Shift.
Sew On Target has never won off this mark before, struggling off 142 at Cheltenham in January 2015, and then muddling through in the 130s, before notching up a huge win in February which sealed his place in this field. But his mark has gone too high, and it’s hard to see the veteran getting ahead here.
Kings Lad hasn’t won since January 2015, and also has a terrible record round Cheltenham which has a fall, a pulled-up, and a 24th, alongside a 2nd back in January 2013. Plus, 2 wins out of 12 isn’t exactly troubling form.
Quincy Des Pictons, at 12 years-old, and having 5 wins out of 28 runs over fences, isn’t realistically going to be challenging here, and he doesn’t have much recent form to suggest otherwise.
So that leaves us with Fingal Bay, La Vaticane and Full Shift. Full Shift didn’t impress of this mark last time out, and he hsan’t run well in Cheltenham on his previous two visits. Sure, Barry Geragthy is on-board, but I don’t think even he can get the best out of him.
La Vaticane came to Britain with a lot of hype, but David Pipe’s stable were seriously misfiring. He finally found his form last time out, but he’s got a 5lb penalty to contend with here, which isn’t going to make things easy. And when you factor in his one and only run at Cheltenham, as much as I like him, it’s enough to put me off.
So that leaves us with Fingal Bay, and the main reasons is that he’s got some great form at Cheltenham over the years. He won the Pertemps Final in 2014 around here, came second to Dynaste in a Novice Chase four years ago, and also won a Group 2 novice hurdle five years ago. So he likes it here, and given that he was rated 12lbs higher over hurdles, even though he’s 10 years-old, you can see why Richard Johnson is happy to take the ride.
We’ve got the Mares’ Novice Hurdle here, and it’s actually looking a lot harder than some of the handicaps to work out. Well, that’s if you look at it as one big picture. However, this looks perfect for Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh yet again, this time with Limini. She has the profile like the rest of Mullins’ superstars, with two wins from two in Britain, and a Group 3 win under her belt to boot.
The threat? Bloody Mary. But this has all the hallmarks of a Mullins and Walsh coup, and we want to be on the right side of it.
Last race of what looks to be a tricky day, and it’s an amateur riders’ race, which isn’t going to make things easy for us. We’ll look to the trends again here, as we’ve got another 24 runners in this handicap to make life difficult.
We need them to have had a prep of at least 3 miles last time out, which, to be fair, is a prerequisite for a 3 mile 2 furlong race, isn’t it? They should also have run in a handicap, and shouldn’t have a claimer on-board.
Cause of Causes won the novice equivalent of this race last year, but it’s hard to gauge how well he’s come on. Although he hasn’t had a prep race of this trip, so we have to discount him on that factor.
Knock House has a lot of appeal, and it’s rare to see Mick Channon sending a runner over the jumps, but he does seem to come alive at Cheltenham. However, his three runners so far at the 2016 Cheltenham Festival haven’t impressed, with Somersby’s fifth in the Champion Chase the best of the lot. So although we like the booking of Nina Carberry, we’ll steer clear, even if there are the right boxes ticked.
Instead, we’ll go with Ireland’s Upswing who had a good run at Cheltenham two starts ago, narrowly losing out to the classy Sausalito Sunrie at Cheltenham, over a much further distance. He was pulled up in the Welsh National, but again, the ground was awful, the distance was too far, and only six made it home anyway. This is much more manageable for him, and he will definitely prefer this ground.