Next week sees 4 massive days of racing as the Cheltenham Festival rolls into town and dominates the sporting chatter for a week. What a spectacle it is. The roar on the opening of the day, the chargxe down the hill, the stamina-sapping finish, Willie Mullins, Ruby Walsh, Nicky Henderson… It’s the very pinnacle of the sport we love and we can’t bloody wait.
To help our loyal followers unpack the races, the tips, the strategies (and ultimately find the winners!) we’ve asked our four most successful TwitterNAPs tipsters to share their thoughts and offer some expert advice.
For the opening day, we’re leaning on the 11-time #TwitterNAPs champ @chatOvBurley who is well known for providing great insight, winners, value and an honest overview. Throughout the week we’ll be getting a blog live on these very pages so keep checking back to find the latest updates.
SKY BET SUPREME NOVICES’ HURDLE
Not long now until the ‘Cheltenham roar’ and the Supreme Novices’ Hurdle gets underway. I have 2 ante post arrows in my Quiver for this, the long time favourite MIN and the other being TOMBSTONE. Like many others, hearsay was a big factor in getting on the MIN express back in September and that train has gathered speed at both stops, it’s only in the last week when the momentum appears to have ground to a halt. He is yet to come off the bridle in both his runs so far and his master trainer, who has won the last 3 renewals of the race in the same colours is sure to have left something to work on. If he’s your idea of the winner leave it until Tuesday if you are not involved already, I’d be surprised if none of the bookies is 3/1 or bigger on Tuesday morning!
I was very impressed with TOMBSTONE early in the season but in truth his last couple of runs has dampened my enthusiasm, at the 12/1 he is now I would leave him alone.
YORKHILL has seen plenty of support since the start of the month and has gone from as big as 14/1 into 4/1 with some firms. I had him down as one for the Neptune Novices’ Hurdle and had backed him in December for the race so was a little surprised (and annoyed) that he runs in this. He’s been well tipped up at the Preview evenings which has resulted in his price being decimated, personally, I think he’ll lack a bit of speed for this and would like to see him in the Neptune Hurdle, a race I have backed him in ante-post.
SUPASUNDAE finished 6th in last year’s Champion Bumper and ran the best of those racing prominently, he has not looked a natural over hurdles although his last effort was by far and away from his best run. Johnny Burke his talented up and coming jockey says it’s his best ride of the week. He is bred to be a Group 1 horse on the flat so the drying ground will only add to confidence but for me, his jumping will have to improve a hell of a lot. SUPASUNDAE beat SILVER CONCORDE last time by 13 lengths so ill cross him out and his stablemate VIGIL does not tick enough boxes for me.
It is worth noting that Nicky Henderson has not saddled a winner of this race for 24 years but of his 2 runners ALTIOR & BUVEUR D’AIR I prefer ALTIOR. His win at Kempton on Boxing Day was very impressive and he still looks green, a big rangy striding son of High Chaparral there looks to be more improvement still to come and I can see him relishing the Cheltenham hill.
BUVEUR D’AIR has also been impressive this season but his runs have just not resonated with me. It’s not his fault but I wonder what he would find if made to battle and dig deep?
The only other runner I feel worth mentioning runs in colours that we won’t be seeing for much longer, those of Bloomfields and trainer John Ferguson who gives up his licence next month. PENGLAI PAVILLION won at Cheltenham in October then disappointed 3 weeks later back at the track when stepped up class. The trainer’s runners seem to run very well fresh and he will be coming here off a 4 month’s break. I’m not sure there has ever been a runner at the Cheltenham festival that has run in a Prix De L’Arc De Triomphe? PENGLAI PAVILLION was 5th in 2013 running, he has the raw speed and class to enable him to be still involved at the business end of the race, don’t be surprised if the faster they go the better he travels. A 40/1 shot with the bookies he is available to small money at 90.0 on the exchange, if you find a couple of quid down the sofa, why not?!
MIN 2/1 (wait till the day will be bigger)
RACING POST ARKLE CHASE
On the face of it, this is the least competitive renewal of the Arkle that I will have seen, if DOUVAN gets around then he wins, simple as that! Willie Mullins says he is probably the best horse he has ever trained and connections believe that he could have won the Champion Chase this year if they had so wished. It’s likely there will be 7 runners or less as DOUVAN looks to have scared off the opposition. If anything untoward was to happen in the race then VANITEUX is the one most likely to pick up the pieces, I can’t recommend having a bet on him as a lame insurance policy. If you are someone who likes to have a bet in every race then the market without Douvan is probably the way to go but for me, this is a no bet race, sit back and enjoy an equine superstar.
STAN JAMES CHAMPION HURDLE
This race was blown wide open when first Faugheen and then Arctic Fire were ruled out through injury. What we have been left with at the head of the market is a supplemented 8yo mare who is a general 2/1 favourite for the Champion Hurdle.
ANNIE POWER is, without doubt, a very high-class mare but when I look at what she has in her favour for this race I can’t help but think she is a terrible price. Yes, she gets 7lb from the field and will most likely have the assistance of Ruby Walsh in the saddle, after that, I’m struggling for positives!
The negatives I have are slightly longer, this will be her first race over 2m since winning a Grade 2 Mares race at Doncaster in January 2014, before that we have to go back to February 2013 when she beat the boys in a Grade 2 Novice in Ireland. Some big names were in that field, most notably Don Cossack but chasing was always going to be his game. I also wonder how many horses have run twice at the distance over the past 3 years and
a) run in the Champion Hurdle?
b) have been sent off favourite?
c) won the Champion Hurdle?
The answer, is none that I can find.
This will be her third run at the Festival and she is yet to win. To be fair it’s probably mischievous to flag that up as she had the race won last year and ran a huge race over a trip that stretched her stamina in 2014. I am not a horseman, however, I’m sure a late change to her training regime to drop down to 2m is not ideal if anything that’s also got to be a small negative. Then I get to the ratings, the BHA ratings have 4lbs covering 7 runners in the race rated between 159 – 163. The Racing Post Ratings have 5lbs covering 6 runners with ANNIE POWER rated 3lbs inferior to NICHOLS CANYON. She’s weighted to come out on top with her allowance but will have to run right up to her best, I’m not saying she can’t win but her price is bordering on the ridiculous so it’s a no brainer to take her on.
NICHOLS CANYON is the obvious starting point, he was 6/1 third favourite before the injuries to the Mullins pair so how he is still the third favourite at the same price is a head-scratcher. He was disappointing on the last day but that was on the back of a gruelling effort over the Christmas period on the terrible ground not long before, that is easy to forgive. He is the only horse to have beaten Faugheen and got the better of second favourite IDENTITY THIEF in that race over Christmas. A 6 time Grade 1 winner, the last twice over 2m, he should be the favourite in my book. NICHOLS CANYON has to go very close. IDENTITY THIEF needs to reverse the Christmas form, I find it hard to see him doing that and as he is the same price as his conquerer ill pass.
THE NEW ONE runs in the race for a third year, this is the weakest renewal he has contested but he is not a horse I like. The stable vibes have been positive and they are expecting a huge run, a best priced 13/2, it’s not hard to see him running well given his course form, 161211315.
MY TENT OR YOURS has the back form and class to be involved in this but he is a 9yo now and returns after almost 2 years off the track. If he was to win it would go down as one of the greatest training performances of all time, I couldn’t back him with my money, or yours! I believe CAMPING GROUND will be too slow on the ground and readily pass him over.
The 3 horses that jumped the last together in last season’s Triumph Hurdle all meet again, HARGAM, PEACE AND CO and TOP NOTCH, I suspect they will finish in a different order to their positions in the Triumph, I advised last month taking an each-way interest in HARGAM in the market without Faugheen. He is still available at 20/1, the better the ground the better he’ll go. PEACE AND CO have been massively disappointing, backing him requires a huge leap of faith, he has had a wind operation. TOP NOTCH is a consistent horse but I think he is a couple of notches off being Top Notch.
OLD GUARD and SEMPRE MEDICI are two outsiders also with a squeak of getting in the places. OLD GUARD is 3 from 3 at Cheltenham and has to be shown some respect after winning the International in December, he was reported to have worked badly on Saturday morning. All of them will need to improve around 10lbs to be involved at the finish. SEMPRE MEDICI beat IDENTITY THIEF with ease last April in Grade 2 at Fairyhouse on the only occasion they have crossed paths. That form makes the 28/1 SEMPRE MEDICI a little tempting as he may be a horse that has a huge performance in him on the drying ground.
As the market stands now NICHOLS CANYON is the one to be with. He is the only horse to have beaten Faugheen, in the absence of the machine he has to be the logical alternative and at 6/1 is a no brainer each way bet.
Recommended Bet: NICHOLS CANYON 6/1 ew BETWAY
OLBG MARES HURDLE
VROUM VROUM MAG remains undefeated since joining Willie Mullins and is 8 from 8 combining hurdles and fences. In those races, the longest price she has returned is 4/6. She is by far the likeliest winner of the race but is priced up on the back of being in the same ownership and stable as Annie Power. This will be the toughest race she has contested up against some battle-hardened mares. A best-priced 11/10 and odds on in places, in my opinion, she is far too short.
I’m going against her with a tough mare of Harry Fry’s, BITOFAPUZZLE was a close-up 3rd in this last year when only half a length covered the front 3 at the line. She has been rerouted here after a couple of below-par efforts over fences, a strong traveller who can dig deep BITOFAPUZZLE went on from this race last year and won her Grade 1 at Fairyhouse. There’s a chance she has more to come over hurdles, if that’s the case then she might be able to give the favourite something to think about.
Recommended Bet: BITOFAPUZZLE ew 14/1 Boylesports
CHELTENHAM DAY 1 HANDICAPS
As almost all the handicaps are, the handicaps and shoulder races on Tuesday are fiendishly difficult. Everyone will have different views and shortlists and different betting strategies. I like to fire 3 or 4 bullets at the handicaps. Here are my selections and shortlists.
ULTIMA HANDICAP CHASE
SHANAHAN’S TURN – Won the Galway Plate with an immaculate round of jumping, 2 runs since have been right-handed, he is much better going left-handed, the more the ground dry’s the better.
HOLYWELL – Comes well at this time of year and at the Festival where his form reads 114, ran a huge race in last year’s Gold Cup on unsuitable ground, is 10lb lower now than his Gold Cup mark, stable form a concern but Jonjo has a habit of bouncing back here.
MORNING ASSEMBLY – Lightly raced, was 3rd in 2014 RSA, has some high-class bits of form, looks well in off 150.
THE YOUNG MASTER – Trainer won this last year and he has taken the same route with this horse, Sam Waley Cohen rides for his dad who is joint owner and also Chairman of Cheltenham Racecourse, take note!
KRUZHLININ – Is thought to be better left-handed and given as one of the trainer’s best chances of the week. Pulled up on only other festivals starting in 2013.
UN TEMPS POUR TOUT – Interesting, 6pb below hurdle mark and has the whiff of having been campaigned for this. Slight doubts over-drying ground.
ALGERNON PAZHAM – I think he has a nice race in him and carries 1lb more than when touched off at Bangor on first start this season, form figures since are UFP which doesn’t inspire confidence bit stable are in form.
OUT SAM – Looks to be on a generous mark, he is not that big a horse and has done his winning in small fields but is unexposed)
INDIAN CASTLE – Was 5th in this last year from a mark 5lb higher mark and is 1lb lower than when recording a course and distance victory over Annacotty in January 2014.
Bets to consider from @chatovBurley
THE YOUNG MASTER ew 20/1 (ante-post)
SHANAHAN’S TURN ew 33/1
MORNING ASSEMBLY ew 14/1
INDIAN CASTLE ew 33/1
NATIONAL HUNT CHASE
I can see MINELLA ROCCO going off a well-backed favourite but I’m going to leave him due to his age and his price. The last 8 winners have been at the front of the market. My preference is towards some bigger priced runners, there were a couple of 33/1 winners in 2006 and 2007 so there may be a big price due?
NOBLE ENDEAVOUR – Well tipped up at the preview nights and has been laid out for this. All wins on soft/heavy and his sire likes plenty of giving in the ground.
DEFINITELY RED – Stays longer trips, versatile on the ground, is a course winner and has a solid form.
VICENTE – Been around a long time, still only 7yo, the better the ground the better he will go. Can hit a fence but a slightly slower pace over 4 miles will help.
MEASUREOFMYDREAMS – Beat Noble Endeavour last run 5 lengths, all wins on soft/heavy, did win his point on good ground.
NATIVE RIVER – Will get the trip however a negative has to be that his intended jockey has jumped off to ride Minella Rocco.
MINELLA ROCCO – Eye-catching last run and has the right connections for this race. An obvious choice but is short enough and age is against him.
BALLY BEAUFORT – Trainer has come into form, hurdle win over Onenightinvienna reads well. Stays all day, multiple winning pointers, lightly raced over fences, big price!
Bets to consider from @chatovBurley
DEFINITELY RED ew 16/1
VICENTE ew 16/1
BALLY BEAUFORT ew 50/1
CLOSE BROTHERS NOVICES’ CHASE
A stick a pin in the race to end with, just 4lbs separating the field. Aloomomo is the favourite, I heard somewhere early in the season that this horse’s optimum conditions are softer than he is likely to get here, because of that and at his current price I have to take him on. Favourites don’t have the best record in this, only 2 of the last 10 have got the job done.
ALOOMOMO – The trainer was very positive about his chances at a preview I attended. Into favouritism, optimum conditions may be softer than he will get here.
MCKINLEY – A little quirky but have a suspicion he is well handicapped and will like the ground. Irish trained runners have a poor record in the race.
BOUVREUIL – Was 2nd in last years Fred Winter, only 5yo in the field and only 1 in the last 10 years have won this but that was also trained by Nicholls.
THOMAS BROWN – The trainer thinks he’s a grade 1 horse so the mark of 140 may mean he is in lightly? First-time blinkers, course and distance winner, drying ground a positive, 2/2 point winner, 2/4 chases, unseated the last run when well-backed favourite.
ON TOUR – Has to be well handicapped off 138, beat Otago Trail first run this season over the inadequate trip for both. Otago Trail is now rated 154.
RACING PULSE – The trainer is back in form and she won the race last year. Has shaped on a couple of occasions like a good horse. Big price!
Bets to consider from @chatovBurley
BOUVREUIL ew 12/1
THOMAS BROWN ew 16/1
ON TOUR ew 25/1
RACING PULSE ew 33/1