Cheltenham Festival – 11-15th March 2014 – A Preview
Dubbed the ‘Greatest show on Turf’ the Cheltenham Festival captures everything that is great about this great sport, from the ‘Cheltenham roar’ going up on the Tuesday until the ‘Gold Cup’ finally decided on the Friday. It is a week for opinions and afterthought, mainly the latter! Throughout the season I base all my selections on every available piece of data, to provide the best insight into where the value lies, however during festival time I feel this goes out the window! I believe most horses vying for contention; have arrived here in March based on merit, through various trials days and more importantly consistent winning form.
Many horses have been run sparingly to insure they are primed and ready to peak come their chosen race, others meanwhile are run following a certain pathway, maintaining excellent form throughout the season with a slow build up to the grand finale, in the hope they reach their potential. Therefore any runners in the top end of the betting have a reasonable chance of success, if certain factors click into place for them on the day. This is why Cheltenham Festival week is the best in the jumps racing calendar. The debate in the weeks leading up to it, guesswork done on which horse will go where and who will outgun the bookies to come out of the week in profit, all adds to the spectacle.
Punters are bombarded from every conceivable angle with stats regarding each race of the week, but to me it is down to personal preference on the day!(Having done some research as guidance) My method to a profitable week is back the horse from the head of the betting you think will have the best chance and from what I have picked up from during the season I will select another E/W to claim a place with a small stake. Unless you are backing a complete outsider with no forethought – then I’m afraid you are on your own!
Value in the market is there to find If you shop around with the various bookmakers and take each one on at their own game, you may just remain in the black come Friday evening. There are some great NRNB (Non-runner no bet) and firms offering extra places, enhanced odds, betting without certain horses etc. and the most obvious – some with better prices than the rest.
Tuesday 11th March
Sky Bet Supreme Novices Hurdle – Grade 1
Throughout the season there were no real stand out Novices to stake their claim for this, until the last few weeks, when the front runners had there last prep runs and showed great potential to succeed come festival time. The Paul Nicholls trained Irving done enough last time out to ensure favouritism in the market, but wasn’t convincing enough for me and can easily be opposed. Vatour is the leading Irish challenge from the Willie Mullins army, but it is his stable mate Wicklow Brave that was more impressive of the 2 on recent outings and this is the selection I will go with. Also I will be backing Valseur Lido EW at around 16/1 – young horse that jumps brilliantly but may lack track experience and first time round Cheltenham may be too much for him this year, but is definitely one for the future. Hoping he is thereabouts to grand a place.
Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Chase – Grade 1
Champagne Fever leads the charge in this one but didn’t run well at Leopardstown and scoped badly afterwards, which may account for his performance on that day. He has excellent Cheltenham form and aiming for his 3rd win here and is the one to beat. However I think the winner will be found in the 7yr old Gigginstown horse – Trifolium. He recorded a 9L victory over the highly rated Felix Younger on his last run with the ever improving Bryan Cooper on board. I think they have had this race in mind for this horse all year and have him set to peak at the right time. Remain unconvinced surrounding Dodging Bullets, has winning course form here from the open meeting but his last run has put me off, as he didn’t travel well in a small field. Nicky Henderson’s’ Grandouet is the EW value at around 10/1
Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy – Grade 1
After all the speculation of who goes where, we nearly have the field narrowed to the eventual runners. This race was looking to be run with no prominent front runner until the development on Wednesday when Captain Cee Bee was supplemented for the race, who will now act as pace setter. All previous winners if this have all been in the 160+ mark in the ratings. This is easily a head V heart case in relation to the current champion – Hurricane Fly. For the sake of the history books I wish him to win this for a third time, not only has he won this twice and once when having to regain his title from Rock On Ruby, but also notched up 19 Grade 1’s in the process. He still doesn’t get the recognition he fully deserves.
Having watched him in the flesh 5 times in the last year, I can honestly say the last 2 runs at Leopardstown in which he disposed of Jezki and Our Connor, show he is back to his best. I think this will be his grand finale and will bow out on a high, by claiming a third champion hurdle. The introduction of Captain Cee Bee will play to his strengths in terms of how the race is run. I can definitely see the challenge being put up to him in the form of The New One, but fully expect HF to hold out and stride on to win by a length. Mullins and Ruby have such time for this horse and the success it has brought them, there is no doubt they will have him primed to pounce. Although it’s said he hasn’t the greatest form round Cheltenham, he has shown enough progression this term, even at his age, to see off the young challenge once more. I fully expect HF and TNO to be fighting it out come the other side of the hill and OC with MTOY vying for 3rd spot. The each way value will lie in Melodic Rendezvous if he runs.
Wednesday 12th March
Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle – Grade 1
9 of the last 10 winners of this contest have been under the age of 6, coupled with having won over 2m 4f+ provides the guidance here. Along with the race being run over the old course, meaning the ground playing a larger factor than usual. This novice hurdle is again dominated by the Mullins charge, in the form of Faugheen who leads the way in the betting. With Briar Hill going to the Albert Bartlett and Kings Palace widely expected to challenge him for the honours. From the remaining runners and based on form, Faugheen should run out the eventual winner. For me, he is not the most fluent of jumpers which instinctively red flags him in my eyes and will look for value elsewhere in the form of Rathvinden EW, though this is totally ground dependant. The main danger for me is the David Pipe trained Red Sherlock, yet to be beaten, has won over this distance and already scored a winning run at the course, would be my choice.
RSA Chase – Grade 1
Not the greatest of renewals of this race in my eyes, straight away I am going to oppose Ballycasey, after reports of his fall during schooling at Leopardstown on Sunday past. He is a horse that doesn’t show a lot of restraint and with the distance to cover in this, I think this will play to his downfall. Morning Assembly is the one I will side with, although having been beaten by Carlingford Lough on his last outing, I fully expect him to reverse form with and the extra distance to cover should help him achieve this, should he be in contention towards the closing stages. That leads me to take Carlingford Lough EW for the value and protection, as this battle hardened pretender should definitely finish among the places if not taking full honours. That been said, the main danger could come in the form of Gordon Elliott’s Don Cossack who could finish off a fine season with success at the festival. If JonJo O’Neill’s Holywell is declared to run, he will need some serious consideration if he is favoured here instead of one of the handicaps.
Bet Victor Queen Mother Champion Chase – Grade 1
Ultimately this should have been a straight shoot-out between one of the best horses in the modern era over 2m, the superb Sprinter Sacre, coupled with the up and coming successor to the throne, Sire De Grugy. The withdrawal of the former has left a cloud over this race, but here’s hoping the Black Aeroplane id back in full fighting mode next season. Therefore it would transpire this is Sire De Grugys to lose – I can’t see this happening. If he runs his own race, this should be there for the taking, providing he jumps well, which at times has seen call for criticism. Over the season he has been the best horse over 2m, but it his Cheltenham form which sticks out for me, having been beaten at this course in the past by two of his challenges for this, the latest being Kid Cassidy back in Nov and before that Captain Conan the previous Nov. However I don’t think Gary Moore or connections will allow a third. His main challenge would come if the form of Benefficent, but the Tony Martin trained Star look set for the Ryanair Chase. EW value lies with Mouse Morris’ Baily Green who should be available around 10/1. Not to mention the inclusion of the 12yr old established veteran Sizing Europe who impressed recently at Down Royal, showing enough to suggest he could be among the places.
Thursday 14th March
JLT Novices’ Chase – Grade 1
Top Rated Felix Younger is looking for a return to winning ways after suffering defeat on his last 2 outings, beaten into 2nd by the ever progressing Trifolium by a full 9L (who is set to run in the Arkle) This looks his chance of doing so having previously won at 2m 4f, should stand him in good stead against his rivals. My only issue is that he may prefer good ground to bring out his best form. I think i will side here with Nicky Henderson’s Oscar Whisky, since switching to chasing he has yet to finish outside the top 2 in his 4 starts, 3 of those runs have come at the course since Nov, has reversed form with Taquin De Seuil and narrowly beaten Wonderful Charm back in Dec. Consideration must also be given to Willie Mullins’ 5yr old Djakadam for EW value should he choose to run him.
Ryanair Chase – Grade 1
With all previous winners having recorded victories over 2m 5f+ and rated higher than 152, helps break down the contenders for this one. I will be siding with Tony Martins Benefficient to claim victory, comes here full of confidence on the back of a latest winning outing at Christmas, be it at a shorter distance. Also disposed of the highly rated Dynaste by more than 3 lengths at last year’s festival, this should be within his grasp. It is Irish counterpart from the Shark Hanlon yard, Hidden Cyclone who gets the EW nod following on from an excellent run last time out at Ascot when finishing on strongly behind Champion Chase favourite Sire De Grugy, back in Jan and only ¾ length behind Benefficient at Leopardstown.
Ladbrokes World Hurdle – Grade 1
Massive fan of Big Bucks but only 2 words to sum up this race – Annie Power.
Seven times Cheltenham winner Big Bucks has had a difficult time of late, with a long layoff from the track and new jockey, in the form of Sam Twiston-Davies to contend with. He showed great potential on his return to the course in Jan, he was on course to record another victory but I feel it was only lack of race fitness that let him down. He is sure to improve dramatically in the build up to this, in the hope to regain his crown, although reports suggest he may have suffered a slight set back during work at home, however true that may be or impact it will have remains to be seen.
It is hard to see past Annie Power, not only in the age factor but the mare allowance as well – she is in receipt of 7lbs from Big Bucks, which surely is too much for the former champ to overcome, especially as Annie Power remains unbeaten in 10 starts. Although it can be said she has never been tested over 2m 5f, this seems to be her only negative attribute. She has grown in experience with each ride and having won here on soft ground back in Jan, the longer trip shouldn’t prove to be an issue. More of That the EW value for JonJo O’Neill
Friday 14th March
JCB Triumph Hurdle – Grade 1
One of my fancies for the entire week runs in this and will probably go off as favourite; he is 160 top rated Le Rocher. A classy animal trained by Nick Williams and ridden by Richard Johnson. Has already notched up C&D form, scoring a 10L victory here in January on heavy ground. Form doesn’t suggest he is a ground dependant horse which should suit as this falls on the 4th day. He doesn’t appear to have negatives, the only being his has to give weight to the field, which would benefit my EW choice, Royal Irish Hussar – who has already won over this distance and should be there abouts come the business end, but I feel Le Rocher will have the edge.
Albert Bartlett Novices Hurdle – Grade 1
This race should unfold better as the week goes on, when we find out who remains after declarations. But the guide to this is 9/10 previous winners have all been rated on the upside of 145 and won over 2m 4f+. The stand out runner for this has to be Kings Palace. His last 2 wins have come at the course this season with one of them having been run over the distance. Both were impressive victories, taking the plaudits with 14L and 18L on the closest rivals. Again these were on good ground which should work in his favour as the forecast seems to suggest the ground will dry out and may even require watering. EW value should lie with Deputy Dan
Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase – Grade 1
Momentum will have been building all week towards this mouth watering renewal of the Gold Cup. A factor to consider is that all previous winners have won at 3m and beyond. Some reports suggest that in the lead up to this, Bobs Worth hasn’t been working well at home and is not 100%. He looked in superb form when winning the Lexus at Leopardstown, coming from deep down the field to storm up at the line. However, he still remains the one to beat. Some controversy surrounding the race in regards to Last Instalment and his trainer Philip Fenton, but judging on merit alone, he is way over priced and should be excellent value EW at 8/1, after impressing with a recent 8L victory over Tidal Bay in the Hennessey Gold cup. My thoughts are on Silviniaco Conti, if the race is run with no real pace or clarity then this will surely play to his strengths and was looking to be cruising in last year’s race before his fall. Its unsure if he would have went on to win, but his chances will definitely improve if Bobs Worth isn’t at his best, ground dries out and lack of pace, a lot needs to happen to make those conditions fall into place but stranger things have happened. Other note would be Triolo D’Alene who has been supplemented for the race and with AP McCoy being released from his ride on teaforthree to take up this one; surely connections have high expectations and could go off a good price EW to grab a place.
Horses to Note:
Keep an eye on the horses below to see where they are declared to run; each should have good EW prospects but obviously price dependant.
Foxrock – 4m
Champion Bumper – Black Herecules looks set to take the spoils but there could be some value found in Value At Risk EW
Follow Cormac McCavera on Twitter: @IrishRacingPrev