Well, the time has come to face the ante-post jury for a cold judgement of where we are as we approach festival week. Most of my tipping is done in tweets these days, although my wording does seem to cause a few chuckles. For those I believe you should have the maximum bet on that you can afford, my tweet begins ‘I strongly recommend . . .’ (The last one of those was an EW recommendation for Cue Card in the Champion Chase at 8/1 NRNB). My last ‘live’ one was for Cue Card at Ascot, strongly recommending that the 7/2 Cue Card be taken on the Tuesday before the Ascot race – Cue Card won at 15/8.
Any of my tweets other than that might say something like, ‘this should run well, this will outrun its price, such and such is worth a small bet’. So starting a tweet ‘I strongly recommend’ means I will be having my maximum bet on it.
A wealth warning here. I’m not a tipster. I run this blog and my twitter account for fun and because I enjoy the company and the craic. I know a few ‘connections’, owners, trainers jockeys but I never listen to tips from them, never. They are in this business because they are optimists. They are blinded by that optimism to the abilities of many of their opponents. Their judgement is not to be trusted.
I still listen to them, and read post-race comments because you can occasionally pick up something about a horse’s character, going preference, future targets. Occasionally, my ears prick up when a trainer or jock breaks with their ‘normal’ style. For example, Nicky Henderson has been talking about nothing except Binocular for weeks and is still going on about how well the horse is. Grandouet has been a fair bit shorter in the betting than Binocular for some time, yet we’ve heard little praise for him (though it now seems as though he might not have been burning up the gallops). I always thought Binocular over-rated and have never backed him, but I’ve had an EW bet on the strength of Henderson’s confidence and what I thought was a really nice prep run last time.
Had it not been for the fact that Binocular has not won going left-handed (Cheltenham is left-handed – anti-clockwise) for 3 years, I’d have had a decent bet.
Back to the caveats about betting tips . . . So I don’t have ‘inside info’ (true inside information is rare and almost never makes its way out to the likes of you and me) and I don’t study form or watch racing regularly. I watch the bigger races at weekends and if something catches my eye, I will note it. 50% of my annual betting would be ante-post on Cheltenham. If I think a horse is value, I’m happy to bet it many months in advance and take the chance of losing my cash if the horse doesn’t turn up on the day (those are standard ante-post rules, and that’s why so many punters wait for bookies to offer Non-runner No bet).
Anyway, I have no system or sequence. I am happy to trust my own judgement. Many people shy away from going against the pros – TV Tipsters, Timeform-writers, etc. I say learn to trust yourself once you’ve found a style of analysis and betting that suits. You’ll be wrong plenty times. I’ll be wrong plenty times. But don’t get yourself into financial trouble by risking more than you can afford, and don’t lose your confidence after a bad run. You are never as good as you think you are and never as bad as you think you are.
Okay, what have we in the Blog’s locker for this year? I blog a selection rather than tweeting it when I think some explanation is needed.
My first tip for the 2013 Festival was made about two weeks after the end of the 2012 one: Sanctuaire EW for the QM Champion Chase at 50/1.
It looked very sweet after Sanctuaire skated up at Sandown routing a decent bunch, unfortunately, the old Sanctuaire is back this season; inconsistent with RPRs of 155, 171, 143. Unless he finds his sparkle from last year, I fear we have little chance now of collecting on this bet, although some of you, I hope, will have traded out on Betfair at around 8s before his seasonal debut.
I tipped this just before the Paddy Power where I fancied the grey strongly, and he was cut to 8s for The Ryanair after winning the PP. But not long after the cash was down the horse was finished for the season when suffering a stress fracture. As it turns out, I’d now be torn between him and Cue Card. Cue Card is the better horse imo, but Al Ferof loves the track and the ground would have suited him.
This one will be particularly annoying! I backed him at 20s, he is half that price now but, frustratingly, looks like he’ll run in the NH Chase over 4 miles. Now considering the fact that I’ve backed Rival D’Estruval for the NH Chase at 12/1 (now 5/1), I need not tell you that BIF will come and beat him a short head!
He won The Greatwood (now The Racing Post Hdl), a race in which I’ve found a few champs, and although this was sub-standard for this race I suggested a fiver at 100/1 in case it came up testing. He looked like he’d finally hit the starting blocks for his career here, but he was tailed off next time in The Ladbroke and hasn’t been seen since. I’m assuming he’s gone amiss.
My final ante-post recommendation via this blog was Oscar Whisky at 7/1 for the World Hurdle. This was posted just after it was announced that Big Buck’s would miss the race. 7/1 seemed a crazy price about a horse who finishes his two-and-a-half-mile races so powerfully that I just do not believe he can’t get 3 miles. I had a decent bet on him to prove just that in The Cleeve hurdle but he was ridden conservatively that day and failed to catch Reve de Sivola.
Afterwards, jockey Barry Geraghty reportedly said that Oscar had shown none of his sparkle, and he’d been concerned about him from early in the race. The forecast soft ground will probably see him start at around 4/1 on Thursday and I’m still fairly confident he will win. the World Hurdle is rarely run at a hot pace – they regularly just hack for the first circuit. Doubtless there’ll be those wishing to test OW’s stamina to the full, but there will need to be a balance between trying to draw his sting and jeopardising your own chance in the race.
Many of you will know I have tweeted regularly throughout the season about my confidence that Zarkandar and Bobs Worth have been trading far too big for the Champion Hurdle and Gold Cup, almost all season. My first bet on them was 8/1 both. They’ve come steadily down recently, but I am still amazed and how long their prices held up for EW double purposes. After The Hennessy I posted a tweet saying I reckoned Bobs Worth should be no more than 7/2 for The Gold Cup, yet 5s remained available for many weeks.
One horse I advised recently via twitter was The New One at 7s for The Neptune with a small saver in case he went for The Supreme. Given the way things have turned out with the ground, I think his trainer Nigel Twiston-Davies will regret having taken him out of The Supreme. The horse has plenty speed and I’d fancy his chances much more of beating My Tent or Yours than I do of him beating this Irish hotpot Pont Alexandre.
I still believe he has an excellent chance of winning the Neptune. He’ll be dwarfed by the Irish favourite, a wonderful looking big slashing bay whose build even now would see him fit into the parade for The Gold Cup. The New One is much smaller, but he is very well put together and one of the most athletic movers I’ve seen over hurdles. He has a high cruising speed and a deadly turn of foot which was used up too soon last time. I’d expect him to be prominent throughout on Wednesday and to be held on to till after the last before delivering what I hope will be a killer challenge.
Two caveats: he is not the slickest of jumpers though seems to be improving with each race: there is a bug in the yard that has knocked out three proposed festival runners. TNO worked very well on Friday morning but sometimes the virus can lie low in a horse, erupting only when the animal is put under pressure. Although I think Pont Alexandre a fine prospect, I fear the yard bug more than the Irish giant. Whatever happens, I think The New One will eventually go to the top.
One other strong festival advice I posted on twitter was an EW double on Zarkandar and Silviniaco Conti when both were 5/1. I’ve never known quite what to make of Silviniaco Conti’s form; until Newbury last time I would not have feared him endangering Bobs Worth. SC isn’t much to look at and, like Bobs Worth, he’s not flashy in his running or jumping style. But handsome is as handsome does and his form now has a very solid look to it. He jumps, he stays, he has class and is still improving.
I suspect Bobs Worth has more improvement in him though; this will be just his 6th start over fences and his fifth outing at Cheltenham where he has a 100% record. I think he is a very good horse indeed and I suspect he and Silv Conti will finish some way clear of the others. I cannot remember the last time I had a reverse forecast, never mind in the Gold Cup, but I think I’ll be doing just that here.
I offer you my nap of the week – Cue Card, the most unpopular top class horse I’ve ever come across. People crib him for his head carriage (slightly high, which can signify a mental or physical problem with a horse), for his supposed need to ‘be alone’ up front, for his jockey, for his ‘disinclination to battle’, doubtless there’ll be other reasons before he lines up, (almost certainly) in The Ryanair on Thursday. It’s not impossible there’ll be a change of mind as his trainer has left him in the Champion Chase. If the ground’s like glue on day one, he might yet be rerouted to the 2 mile race. Again, last week I offered a ‘strongly recommend’ tweet to bet him each way at 8/1 for the QM non-runner-no-bet. He is far and away the 2nd best two-miler in the country and would be very difficult to keep out of a place. If Sprinter Sacre went wrong in some way, he’d dot up in the QM, I think.
But even in the Ryanair, even in bad ground, I will bet him with confidence as I have done since the start of his fencing career. His form is gold-plated in my opinion. He is, in general, a sound jumper and the key to his clean jumping, I feel, is a good pace. He doesn’t necessarily need to be in front; Joe Tizzard puts him there to ensure he gets the pace required to have a cut at his fences, which, to my eye, is the horse’s natural inclination.
Joe Tizzard though, will now only let him have a cut when Joe is confident he sees the stride; otherwise he lets the horse fiddle. A perfect example of this was in his third race over fences. He came to the last at Newbury having led pretty much throughout and put in a good round, he was three or four clear going to the last but JT decided to sit still and let him fiddle. The jock then made the situation worse by having a look round on landing (a habit he had for a while which he now seems to be shaking off), which didn’t help Cue Card’s balance. Anyway, he was caught in the last stride and beaten a short head by Bobs Worth.
Bobs Worth is a year older than Cue Card. Cue Card gave him half a stone that day. You might want to read that last sentence again.
Cue Card gave the year-older Bobs Worth, the same horse who went on to win the RSA, to open this season with a Hennessy win, to be 3s fav for Friday’s Gold Cup, half a stone. Had he jumped the last he’d have won a length or two.
Okay, it was Bobs Worth’s fencing debut and his seasonal debut (he’s no slouch first time out, as he’s shown). But it was only Cue Card’s third chase. On his fencing debut he thrashed Silv Conti, now 2nd best for the Gold Cup. In between those he started jt fav with Grands Crus, to whom he was conceding 5lbs (GC was flying at the time) only to unseat at the 11th, teaching his connections the valuable lesson that the horse disliked restraint and wanted to be travelling at pace.
After the Newbury defeat by BW, he went back there to give For Non Stop half a stone and a 4L beating (Walkon, levels, was 11 lengths farther back). Cue Card then ran into the unstoppable Sprinter Sacre in The Arkle, beaten 7 lengths over a trip I believe to be short of his best (he stayed on well up the hill – it was the shortest trip CC has ever tried over jumps).
His seasonal debut saw him trounce Edgardo Sol by 26L and Menorah by 34L on his first attempt right-handed over 18f at Exeter. I then had the biggest bet I’ve had for a long time that he’d win the King George. I knew my fate at the first where he was on his nose, and he made another mistake at the 2nd. The KG ground was heavy for the first time since 1937 and many believe he didn’t get the trip. He certainly would have preferred better ground, but I think the early mistakes took their toll more than the going did, and I’d love to see him have another crack at the race on decent ground.
I managed to get my KG losses back through Coral being ultra generous, as they often are with this horse, when going 7/2 against him winning The Betfair Ascot Chase last month. He did so in some style (2m 5 and a half furlongs on soft ground on a stiff track). But the doubters were out in force again. Apparently CC was 3/1 in running as Captain Chris came to challenge, despite the fact that Cap Chris had been under strong driving from three out when all Joe Tizzard had done was change rein. JT later reported he’d still two gears in reserve and the horse won easily.
So, the upside of Cue Card not getting the recognition he deserves is that he will be a point or two longer in the betting for the Ryanair than he should be. As I always do, I have backed him (NRNB) with considerable confidence and I look forward to him making many people eat their hats.
Before I go, there’s another Tizzard horse which is well over-priced: Third Intention in the Jewson. He’s a horse I’ve been watching for a couple of seasons as I believe he will win at least one good race, probably more than one. He almost won last time at Sandown but idled on the run-in and Captain Conan beat him a neck. Cap Conan had beaten him twice before, easily, but that had been over the minimum trip. Third Intention almost turned the tables at 20f, The Jewson trip. Cap Conan is 4/1 for the Jewson – Third Intention is 16/1 – daft.
Third Intention ran well last year in The Coral Cup, finishing 8th of 28 carrying 11st 10lb. Arguably, he’d have preferred better ground but it was heavy last time when he ran so well. This will be his 6th Chase, and he is improving: he is at least twice the price he should be at 16s and I strongly recommend an EW bet on him NRNB. Expect to see Joe Tizzard hold onto him till after the last this time.
This blog will probably be pretty quiet throughout the festival but if I fancy anything I will tweet it.
Enjoy the festival, don’t risk too much because people like me, with strong opinions are often wrong. And horses are pretty crazy too: they probably have more quirks and personality disorders than humans do. In 1967 when I used to skip school to work at my local racing stable, Sun Tonic, a beautiful big chestnut with four white socks loved being hosed down with nice clean water. But AP McCoy could not have got him to step into a puddle: if he couldn’t walk round it, he’d plant himself and you had to turn back. Last week I heard of a horse who was afraid of the dark!
They kick at one end, bite at the other, and nobody can be sure what’s going through their heads during a race. Machines, they are not!
Have a brilliant Cheltenham, and, if you’re a reader and like Dick Francis-type mysteries, give Warned Off a try. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can download the Kindle app for free on pretty much any device, including a good old fashioned PC.
All the best
Silviniaco Conti, trained by Paul Nicholls, made all under Ruby Walsh to win the Betfair Chase in terrific style from the 2011 Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run, passing the post at Haydock Park two and a half lengths to the good.
This morning Nicholls had witnessed the unveiling of the bronze statue of Kauto Star which honours the four-time winner of the Betfair Chase he trained. Kauto Star led the runners for today’s big chase in the pre-race parade on the track and was cheered
Nicholls said of Silviniaco Conti: “He is a really decent horse. He’s only six, he jumps and he stays. We had a chat before and to Ruby I said that if they go quick, get a lead but, if they don’t, just bowl along in front because he jumps and gallops. There’s no better man to ride him in front than Ruby.
“I am not going to rush him and I might go straight to the Gold Cup (Cheltenham on March 15, 2013) with him. He loves to be fresh and I am not going to run him all winter in the mud – he’s only a baby and he could be really interesting come Cheltenham.
“I thought that he didn’t get the credit he deserved at Wetherby. He is a second-season chaser – he jumped, he travelled and he won really well.
“You have got to see him do it on the track. Long Run is a very, very good horse but it was a great performance for a six-year-old.
“He won’t go to Kempton (for the King George).”
Walsh commented: “The Gold Cup looks the natural step for him. He is a good stayer – he is not slow – and it’s great to have another chance of riding a Gold Cup winner.
“We discussed it a fortnight ago with the owners and we decided to come here. We were all of the same opinion that the King George this year would be more of a speed race with all of the two milers and two and a half milers.
“We will be happy enough if we win in March.”
More Betfair Chase winning quotes
Ruby Walsh, the winning rider on Silviniaco Conti, said: “There is a great crowd here at Haydock and we have seen it before with Kauto Star. They come out and support racing and it is great that they got a good performance from Silviniaco.
“I guess I assumed The Giant Bolster might make the running but probably you should never make assumptions should you? When the tapes went up and no one wanted to go on, Paul (Nicholls) did not mind me going on and so I went on.
“I dictated things the way I wanted to and he jumped really well and he travelled really well. I guess when you are in front, you are in control of the race.
“I was always happy I was doing things I wanted to be done. It would easier to have wing mirrors but I wanted to see what was going on (when he looked around). It was nice when it comes off but obviously when you make the running you can be a sitting duck as well. It is a fine line and great when it does work out.
“I would be delighted with that – it was a good performance. Paul has trained four Gold Cup winners so whatever he thinks I am happy to go along with.
“This horse has always been a very good jumper, from the first day (over fences) he ran at Chepstow and Cue Card beat him. He likes jumping – he takes you to the fence. It is a big help when they do that. The horses are going the right way.
“I guess you were wondering which Long Run was going to be here today. The Long Run who won the Gold Cup would be nearly impossible to beat but the Long Run who came third last year (in the Gold Cup) we would have a chance of beating. That’s the chance you are taking but if you are going to take the next step up this is the kind of performance you have to be putting in. It is great he did.
“We were delighted with him at Aintree (when he won his final start of last season) but people were knocking the form and saying the other horses were over the top.
“He was showing the right signs when he came in for this season. When Paul Nicholls rings you in the middle of September and says you want to see this that gets you going.
“Al Ferof and Silviniaco Conti have big boots to fill but they are going the right way. The horses are in great form and every weekend there seems to be a big winner. It makes for short weeks!”
Paul Nicholls declared: “He ran in France as a four-year-old (questioned about having enough experience) and it is more about having the ability and being good enough at the right time of their life. If he is fit and healthy you go. Kauto did when he was six and this horse jumps better than Kauto.
“This horse is a really sound jumper and he can only improve, He hasn’t been to Cheltenham before but I never worry about that too much. He has been around Haydock, he has been around Wetherby, he went around Aintree and he is fine.
“I thought if he won today then he will definitely go to the Gold Cup. If we run before is an issue but I would not be worried if he did not run before. I certainly won’t run him over Christmas. He is not a great horse in the middle of the winter and if we leave him now and then just tick him over and try and get him at his very best for Cheltenham.
“It is very exciting. The young horses have been amazing this year – we have lost the older lads who have retired. It is a dream come true to have the young horses come through. I am thrilled for everybody. Good horses are versatile and can win on any ground.”
“NO EXCUSES” FOR BEATEN LONG RUN
Former Cheltenham Gold Cup winner Long Run could only finish second on his seasonal reappearance after failing to reel back the front-running Silviniaco Conti in the Betfair Chase.
The 11/8 favourite struggled with his jumping on the first circuit and once again occupied the runner-up berth – the same position he filled in the race 12 months ago when second behind Kauto Star.
Jockey Sam Waley-Cohen said: “He’s run his race but we’ve been beaten fair and square. The ground was a bit soft for him but it was the same for all the others and we’ve got no excuses. Hopefully this will put him spot on for the King George and that’s where he’ll head next.”
Owner Robert Waley-Cohen was happy enough with his horse but felt the pace of the race could have been his undoing. He said: “It’s always disappointing to be beaten when you’re favourite and maybe the pace of the race was to blame. He’d have preferred a more even pace as he seems to jump better when that is the case.
“His jumping was a bit sticky to begin with but when the pace picked up, so did his jumping. It didn’t help that he was a bit keen on the first circuit and he’s never been the quickest finisher.
“Given the pace, I’m not sure we’ve learned an awful lot from the race. He should come on for the run though and will now head straight for the King George.”
PLACE IN THE GOLD CUP NO FLUKE
After a game seven-length third to Silviniaco Conti and Long Run on testing ground in the Grade One Betfair Chase David Bridgwater who trains the Gold Cup runner-up, The Giant Bolster, said: “He’s bound to come on for that, they all will – apart from the winner. We’ve got a lot of improvement. The winner is a good horse but the winner is very fit and has had the run of the race.
“It was a bloody good run by our horse. The class horse of the race is the second horse (Long Run). The winner has won because he is fit and we have finished not far behind – and Mr Henderson (Long Run’s trainer) has got better gallops than I have!
“There’s the King George at Kempton and the Lexus at Leopardstown in Ireland so we will see what happens.”
Asked if this proved that his charge’s Cheltenham Gold Cup second last season was no fluke, Bridgwater replied “Absolutely! He’s jumped beautifully and the top three have finished where they should have so we are happy.”
Tom Scudamore, who rode the Black Sam Bellamy gelding, added: “I think he has run an outstanding race, he has made a couple of mistakes but I put that down purely to the ground, he will come on so much for the run. It was our first run of the season and he just got tired at the end on less than ideal ground.
“This proves that he is a Grade One horse”
Content courtesy of my friends at Racenews
Saturday’s Racing Post Hurdle (formerly The Greatwood) has proved a decent fishing ground for Champion Hurdle contenders. Olofi was 2nd in it last year and 5th in 2010. Although he carried only 10st 11lb when winning on Saturday, I think it was a pretty good performance. Very soft ground obviously suits him well and it’s far from impossible that we will get those conditions come March and the Cheltenham festival.
His trainer and jockey have called Olofi an unlucky horse and he does seem to find more than his fair share of trouble. A difficult ride (he wears cheekpieces and has his tongue tied down to aid breathing) he was, as usual, quite keen throughout the race on Saturday. One noticeable difference from an ‘unlucky’ race last season was the way he reacted to being baulked.
In the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury, he took a bump approaching the last and he then seemed to want to get as far away from the bumper (Get Me Out Of Here) as possible, veering badly right and having to be switched round another horse before resuming his challenge. In the end he was beaten under 5 lengths by Zarkandar although he was in receipt of 15 lbs.
On Saturday, he was badly blocked (though legally, imo) by Bothy as he tried to get to the running rail approaching the last; this time, he regained his momentum very quickly and surged past – no mean feat at a crucial point in a hot race. He kept on well to win and there might be a chance that the penny has finally dropped with him. He is still only 6 and could well have a fair bit of improvement to come.
But it’s likely to be a hot Champion Hurdle this year; I fancy Zarkandar strongly and Rock On Ruby, last year’s winner, looks the type who will improve. Hurricane Fly could be back to his best too. Anyway, I wouldn’t risk more than fiver but 100/1 about any winner of Saturday’s race, given its history, for the Champion Hurdle is probably worth a small bet.
William Hill offer 100/1
The odds compilers at Coral sometimes ‘take a view’ (follow their own opinions rather than the market’s) on a big race and it looks like they are doing so with the RSA next March. They offer 20/1 about Saturday’s Punchestown winner, Back In Focus. Big mistake, I think.
He is just half that price with Bet 365 and is generally a 14/1 chance. He’s won both his steeplechases; Saturday’s race was a pretty strong one and although the ground was heavy, he had the smoothest action of the four runners suggesting that he will go at least as well if not better on good ground (a high knee action usually suggests that a horse will go well on soft ground). I suspect it’s not so much soft ground he needs as a true stamina test.
On that front, my only reservation on the ante-post front is that he might end up in the 4m National Hunt Chase, although his trainer, Willie Mullins, said after Saturday’s race that the RSA trip would suit him well. If he ends up in the four-miler, well you can back him to recover your lost stake for the RSA (ante-post bets are lost if the horse does not run).
In action, he looks a proper stayer: a head-down rhythmic galloper and an economical relaxed jumper. He made one error on Saturday, otherwise he fenced like an old handicapper and better ground should only help his technique. He reminded me a bit of Denman. Like that horse, he seems to give a lot in his races without any driving and I suspect he would want a fair rest between runs.
But take the 20/1 before Coral realise they’ve made a bloomer.
His Cheltenham record has been blotted only by his poor run behind Sprinter Sacre in this year’s Arkle when he made a horrendous mistake four out (sweated up beforehand too). Mr Nicholls can rarely resist the temptation of taking his Cheltenham runners to Aintree when in my opinion, many should be rested (he’s not the only trainer whose common sense is holed below the waterline by the lure of huge prize money).
Anyway, he boxed up Al Ferof and took him there where he ran a lifeless race. Prior to his festival outing, he’d run a really good race for a novice in the Victor Chandler; he lined up there with just two fencing runs behind him and ended the race with his best ever RPR of 163 for finishing 3rd.
He won a very good Supreme last year beating Spirit Son, Sprinter Sacre and Cue Card and is a high class horse with a strong liking for this track and an excellent record on good to soft which looks likely for Saturday and is always favourite for the festival in March.
I like Grand Crus but I suspect he is a wee bit soft. Al Ferof could come late and battle him out of it in the Paddy Power. Take the 16s now for the Ryanair. If you get the ante-post yips over the winter, you can always lay it off at half the price!
I suspect I’m doomed never to make my fortune on Cue Card but I just can’t resist getting back off the canvas and reaching for my wallet again. His chase debut last October was one of the most impressive I’ve seen and I started backing him then, with considerable confidence, for the Arkle.
On Nov 11th he turned out at Cheltenham against Grands Crus and I had a big bet on him. He tipped Joe Tizzard out of the saddle at the 11th fence. JT had, I decided, made the error of trying to restrain the horse who seemed, to my eye, to be desperate to be allowed his head so he could take the fences in his stride.
A measure of my mania . . . for the first time in my life I wrote to a trainer, emailing Colin Tizzard to say the horse plainly needed to be given his head and not interfered with. Mr Tizzard wisely hit the delete button.
I decided to get my cash back, and more, at Newbury on Nov 25th by which time the Tizzards had figured out for themselves that the horse should not be restrained. He led throughout and jumped well bar one blunder, only to be caught and beaten on the nod by Bobsworth to whom he was conceding half a stone. Now, Cue Card’s head carriage isn’t the loveliest thing but his jockey’s that day was even worse. Joe Tizzard has a habit of looking round after the last and he did so here when two lengths clear. That look round must unbalance a horse to some degree (try doing it on a bike) and it might well have cost him the race.
Nonetheless, given his natural speed and the speculation that he hadn’t quite seen out the twenty furlongs at Newbury (tosh, in my opinion) I backed him again for the Arkle.
On December 9th a big black party pooper called Sprinter Sacre jumped his way to the top of the Arkle market and I settled for cursing him and having a saver at 7s just in case.
On the last day of the year Cue Card gave For Non Stop half a stone and a four length beating at Newbury, refilling my bank account in the process. The Black Aeroplane, as Nicky Henderson calls Sprinter Sacre, left Cue Card behind at Cheltenham. CC had failed honourably and I ended up with a small profit thanks to the early season saver on SS.
You might have seen Cue Card’s seasonal debut at Exeter the other day when he hammered Menorah, Edgardo Sol (who, by the way, I think will win a nice race one day). He was reported as jumping slickly; that’s not the way I saw it. Yes he made some nice jumps, but he was far from slick at every one due to his habit of screwing when JT tries to organise him.
I’m convinced that what this horse needs is a strong even pace throughout and the chance to attack his fences: restraint upsets his rhythm. I’ve little doubt that the King George trip will suit him perfectly if his jockey sets that spot-on pace from the outset. The others will simply melt away as their power fades. If I could be guaranteed he’d get that kind of ride, I’d back him with a huge amount of confidence. As it is, I’ll have a decent bet at 10/1 and hope for the best. I suspect he will be half this price come the day.
Of the others I respect Grands Crus, though my confidence that CC would have beaten him at Cheltenham had he stood up compels me to stay with the Tizzard horse. Long Run is well over-rated due to his Gold Cup success and he has trouble bending his back properly under pressure.
Riverside Theatre is a good horse though he managed only three outings in each of the past two seasons and is far from certain to turn up.
Silvianaco Conti has met Cue Card twice and lost each time. On his Aintree showing, Finian’s Rainbow has a good chance of getting the trip here and I’d rate him the main danger.
He wasn’t fluent at times today, granted but Tizzard did the right thing in making all as the horse’s prime need over fences is to be travelling fast enough to have a proper cut at them. Restraint at Cheltenham caused the unseat imo – he was giving Grands Crus 5lbs that day when the grey was a very marginal favourite. (6/4 -7/4) and given he didn’t get the best ride at Newbury last time, combined with his tendency to idle, I think there’s a reasonable argument he could be 3 from 4 and who knows what might have happened had he stood up at Cheltenham?
At Newbury he gave Bobs Worth 7lbs. Today he gave the runner-up 7lbs and beat him much further than Al Ferof did at levels.
His idling habit and good jumping at pace on decent ground will, I believe, make The Arkle ideal for him, allowing Tizzard to hold him up. He also looks to be one of those ‘no specialist distance’ stuck somewhere between 2m and 20f that The Arkle’s stamina/speed test suits perfectly.
20s was too big yesterday (as tweeted) and 14s with Betfred is still way too big today imo.
Yesterday’s trial for this race has proved most reliable in the past which makes the last flight faller and moral winner Sea of Thunder a very good bet at 16s. Trainer confirms this is his target whereas Simonsig, by all reports is due to miss it and Fingal Bay seems more likely to turn up in the Neptune.
Here’s the Racing Post’s summary of yesterday’s race.
This Grade 2 has had an important bearing on the Albert Bartlett (Spa) Novice Hurdle over C&D at the festival. Black Jack Ketchum and Nenuphar Collonges won both races, while Brewster and Mossley won this and were placed in March. Another well-known winner, Iris´s Gift, was runner-up in the World Hurdle later in the season in the days when there was no 3m novice at the festival.
This looked a reasonable edition on paper. The pace lifted on the second circuit and there was drama at the final flight.
Sea Of Thunder had taken up the running on the home turn moving well and was in the process of drawing clear when he stepped into the last and came down. It was a horrible fall, but thankfully he got up from it. Previously unraced beyond 2m2f under rules, this half-brother to the high-class hurdler Macs Joy had won two point-to-points in Ireland and obviously has plenty of stamina. The moral winner, he paid a compliment to the Charlie Longsdon-trained Hazy Tom, who beat him easily at Wetherby last month, albeit over 2m. If he´s none the worse he deserves a place on the shortlist for the Albert Bartlett proper.
On the eternal hunt for value I see William Hill offer 40/1 about Golan Way for the King George VI Chase on Boxing Day, in their betting without Long Run
The big race is now down to 15 runners after today’s declaration stage: Kauto Stone is the only notable absentee. His stablemate (and full brother) Kauto Star is not yet a certain runner with connections reported to be delaying a decision until about a week before the race.
It’s only a hunch but I think Kauto Star’s owner Clive Smith and trainer Paul Nicholls might decide to miss the race and give the great horse his swansong in the Cheltenham Gold Cup. It will be a tough decision for them as KS would be trying to win the King George for a record-breaking 5th time. But he had a hard race when beating Long Run in the Betfair at Haydock, before which he hadn’t run for six months.
Mr Nicholls will not know for sure if Kauto Star is fully recovered and ready for Boxing Day – he’s been misled by the horse before, and by Denman, when their demeanour at home has suggested they’re rearing to go only for them to disappoint on raceday. What he now knows for certain is that he can get the horse fit enough after a long break to run to his best form. In winning the Betfair, Kauto Star ran to a Racing Post form Rating (RPR) of 180 – the highest his RPR has been in two years. He won his first Gold Cup with a RPR of 175, his second one with 185. Long Run ran to 183 RPR in winning this year’s Gold Cup and connections will know that reproduction of KS’s Betfair performance next March would see him go very close indeed to ending his career on the ultimate high.
It’s also worth remembering that Kauto Star’s connections have Master Minded in the King George too, a horse who almost certainly wouldn’t have the stamina for a Gold Cup (he might not even get home in the King George, in my opinion)
Anyway, should they choose to miss the KG, Long Run would start odds-on.
Let’s take a look at a few of the others, prominent in the betting, who are left in.
I mentioned that he is not sure to stay 3m. After his first failure over 20f at Aintree when beaten by Voy Por Ustedes (VPU), connections were convinced he was a non-stayer and said he’d be kept to 2 miles. But they had a change of mind after MM met the first decent 2m chaser he’d faced in Big Zeb. Since losing his Champion Chase crown to Big Zeb, he has run just once at 2m.
I think Master Minded’s visually breathtaking Champion Chase win in 2008 was as much a curse as a blessing for him. His official rating shot up from 170 to 186 and he simply was not that good. In VPU he’d beaten a 20f horse. MM was also at the peak of his ascendancy then – everything fell right on that one day and he’s never been able to live up to the hype, or the rating. I think too that he’s possibly a bit quirky – odd to say that about such a consistent horse, but it’s just the impression I get in some of his races.
The Arkle winner is suffering from what his trainer describes as ‘a minor cold’ which has ruled him out of Thursday’s Peterborough although Mr Hobbs is hopeful he can still get him ready for Kempton. Even if he turns up, he’d need to be in top notch condition and also show a fair bit of improvement. I believe he’ll have no trouble staying the trip.
This is another quirky horse and another over-rated one in my opinion. Since his trainer Hen Knight had Best Mate, she (and the public) has been waiting for the successor. The odds against that happening are very high but she’s had Calgary Bay, the first impostor, then Somersby. His win in a three horse race against an unfit and over-rated Aiteen ThirtyThree was his first in almost two years. I don’t think he will suddenly come good on this his first attempt at 3 miles.
Runner-up in the last renewal of the KG, he’s reported very unlikely to be ready for the race after a training setback. If he turned up 100% fit, he’d have a chance if Long Run’s jumping failed him.
Another who’d be in with a shout but his trainer was quoted last week as saying he would miss Kempton and run either at the Festival or Aintree. I suspect he’s left him in the race in case anything goes wrong with the principals.
Lat year’s Hennessy winner has talent although he’s injury prone. He’s big too, and Kempton’s sharp track might not be ideal. If he goes to post, it will be his first run on a right-handed course. Always considered best when fresh, he was beaten a long way first-time out in the Betfair and it’s hard to make a case for him.
This gelding won The Future Stars Chase at Sandown on Saturday by more than 3 lengths having led throughout. This year’s RSA winner Boston’s Angel was in third though it must be said that one seemed to run a lifeless race. Golan Way’s run before that was in a handicap hurdle at Cheltenham – he was unplaced. He ran there after refusing to race the previous time. His trainer, Sheena West, put that down to a ‘mix-up among the jockeys’, and watching the horse run, you’d never think he lacked enthusiasm.
His final outing last year was in The Mildmay Novices Chase at Aintree – a Grade 2 where he was beaten 3 lengths into third by Quito De La Roque who has won 6 of his 7 Chases (2nd to Bostons Angel in the other one). If you watch the race you’d find it hard to believe Golan Way could finish so close after two massive blunders. His jumping at Sandown last time was almost flawless and he showed the same guts and will to win as he did at Aintree, having led all the way, he saw off the runner-up before the last and was still galloping strongly passing the line.
Golan Way is only 7 and has won 3 of his 6 Chases. Kempton should suit as he has won 5 from 7 going right-handed. His talented trainer thinks a lot of him and we might learn even more if she lets him take his chance in Huntingdon’s Peterborough Chase on Thursday (he’s won both his races at that track). If he runs and wins on Thursday – 5 of his potential King George opponents are also entered – he will shorten a fair bit for Boxing Day as his penalty for Saturday means him giving weight to everything at Huntingdon. (Update: SkySports report he will not run at Huntingdon)
Assuming Long Run finishes in the first three at Kempton, Hills current offer on Golan Way effectively means he can be 4th and you’ll still get paid the place odds of 8/1. Should he run the race of his life and finish 2nd to Long Run (or, of course, win) you get paid at 40/1 for the win part.
So Golan Way (without Long Run) is my value each way bet for the King George.
There’s nothing I can add to what’s been written and what will be about Kauto Star’s magnificent Betfair win: I tweeted on Thursday that his trainer seemed to be viewing it as Kauto’s Gold Cup and if it turns out to be his only win of the season it will lose no lustre for that.
There’s an ante-post list at the foot of this post, courtesy of Easyodds. I’m going to go through and pick a few from it for comment in the hope I can find some value.
Long Run 11/4
I was more impressed with him today than I was at any time last season. His King George and Gold Cup victories were against horses with question marks against them: a poorly Kauto Star and a few others who were amiss at Kempton. At Cheltenham the 2nd fav, Imperial Commander pulled up lame and the aging KS and Denman arguably set it up for Long Run.
He ran a remarkable race today given that he left his hind legs in almost every fence down the back straight on the second circuit. To battle back after such a string of errors in a Grade 1 on that ground on his seasonal debut showed what power he has. Unless something unexpected emerges between now and March he will have the best engine in the Gold Cup field. The trouble is, he’ll have 22 fences to get over.
Here’s his form comment from this year’s Gold Cup:
In touch, blundered 3rd, hit 10th, tracking leaders when blundered 12th, stayed right there, not fluent 4 out, ridden before next, stayed on to challenge 2 out, led before last, driven and stayed on strongly run-in
His only steeplechase in the UK without a mistake was the King George he won.
Sam Waley-Cohen seems a nice fella and he has talent but I’d love to see what Long Run could do with Ruby on board. Given his jumping issues and the usual ante-post worries of remaining sound, he’s no value at 11/4.
Kauto Star 12/1
In his ninth season with 14 Grade 1 victories on his CV including 2 Gold Cups and 4 consecutive King Georges, 4 Betfair Chases( he’s the only horse to regain a Gold Cup) who’d write him off? Come Gold Cup day he will be 12 years old. Since the race’s first running in 1924, only two 12-year-olds have won it – Silver Fame in 1951 and What a Myth in 1969. I’m never too concerned with age stats because the information on how many of the relevant age group took part is often absent giving you no sample size from which to draw a conclusion.
If you want to be picky, you could argue that he’s much more error-prone at Cheltenham than anywhere else with his 2009 Gold Cup win the only race there which was mistake-free.
Having missed the 44/1 available yesterday, I’m loath to back him now at 12s but I wouldn’t put you off.
Quito De La Roque 16/1
This 7-y-o, despite trading above 250/1 three out on his last run where he completed a five-timer by catching an utterly exhausted Sizing Europe close home, appears Ireland’s main hope for the Gold Cup.
He’s got stamina stamped through him though has won at 2m 4f. Ferry/Plane trips don’t bother him as he won at Aintree in April, The ground seems to make no difference (always a confidence booster when ante-post betting). He’d be 7 from 7 over fences but for just failing to catch RSA winner Boston’s Angel in a Grade 1 at Leopardstown, two fencing errors not helping.
His trainer’s quotes (below) suggests there might be quite a bit more to come and he’s on my short list.
05Nov11 Down royal ( 24 Sft ,RPR167 )
To win was a bonus. He wasn´t as fresh as we would have liked today. Three weeks ago he had a leg problem and we had to knock the sparks out of him to get here. He had a hard race today, though, so we´ll have to revise his programme now. He´ll probably go for the Lexus at Leopardstown at Christmas. I´ve never had a runner in that race. The John Durkan at Punchestown could come a bit quick but he´ll get an entry. He´s a pure gutsy horse. He kept going when the rest were stopping today. We´ll see if there´s a five mile race for him anywhere! – Colm Murphy, trainer
08Apr11 Aintree ( 25 Gd ,RPR151 )
He is still such a big, backward, raw horse and we felt that the flat track here would suit him better than the undulations of Cheltenham. Physically there is still more to come, but we won´t get carried away yet. Time will tell if he can make it. We´ll let him do the talking, but he would have to improve for us to start talking about Gold Cups. – Colm Murphy, trainer
Grands Crus 16/1
RSA would seem a much likelier target for this grey, the Arkle has been mentioned too so aside from his unknown level of talent and his inexperience it would be daft betting him for the Gold Cup at any price when he seems unlikely to run.
Captain Chris 16/1
No value at 16s. The Arkle winner’s form is not top-drawer, to me he ran in snatches on his reappearance at Exeter, wasn’t at all fluent before landing on top of the last and unseating. Has a chance of staying the trip but far from guaranteed and should be at least 25s for this.
Weird Al 20/1
He was 20s before the Betfair and it’s interesting that his price remains unchanged. At 8, he’s had comparatively few races for his age and it’s hard to draw conclusions about him. He’d been with Donald McCain only about 6 weeks when he won the Charlie Hall impressively (never off the bridle according to T Murphy). Mr McCain mentioned before today’s race that it might come a bit soon for him and Murphy’s post-race report today was that the horse did not feel as sharp as at Wetherby. The trainer announced he would have a long rest and be brought back in the spring.
Weird Al is 2 from 3 at Cheltenham – he broke a blood vessel in the Gold Cup this year. Before that he was 8th of 18 in the Hennessy – by far the biggest field he’s ever faced. It might be he prefers small fields and there’s no way of predicting how many will line up for the Gold Cup given Long Run has now proved he is no superstar.
But Weird Al is a fine jumper, a stayer, very gutsy, a good traveller and, perhaps most critical of all, seems to go particularly well fresh. There was some 25s to be had after today’s race which seems to have evaporated and given that it is unlikely he will be seen again until after Christmas, his price is unlikely to shorten. There’s no drawback I can see in holding off for now if you fancy him.
If Rolls Royce Denman went in for a service, they’d be sure to have to change a few worn-out parts. I doubt I’ve ever seen a horse who puts so much into his racing; I think he’d rather die than give up. The cost of that over the years has been a loss of energy after his first run of the season.
I think he has never been quite the same after his Gold Cup victory when he poured it on so aggressively. He lost something that day which could never be recovered. His heart problem arose after that race and, with hindsight, perhaps it was no coincidence. The only time he came close to reproducing that RPR was on his seasonal debuts 0f 09/10 and 10/11 (both in The Hennessy)
If I thought Mr Nicholls was going to run him just once this season, in the Gold Cup, I think 25s would be huge value.
Great Endeavour 33/1
The Pipe horse would need to find about 20lbs improvement to figure with a chance in the Gold Cup – not completely out of the question, but the Pipe stable was red hot when he won the Paddy Power. No denying Cheltenham’s a track ke likes having won the Byrne Group Plate at the 2010 Festival. However, he’s been inconsistent and the trainer’s post-race quote from last time doesn’t inspire confidence in him getting the Gold Cup trip:
12Nov11 Cheltenham ( 21 GS ,RPR164 )
We did fancy him last year but things didn´t happen for him. He is a bit quirky but Timmy got a great start and got him into a rhythm. He is entered in the Hennessy but we´ll see. He´s a very good traveller in his races and three miles and two furlongs might be a bit far. – David Pipe, trainer.
Were it not for that comment, I could be tempted to have a small bet.
Master Minded 33/1
Another very good horse with the mixed fortune of having hit the best day of his life against a poor field in the Champion Chase on his ideal ground, and at the zenith of his very progressive profile at that time. His 19 length victory resulted in a rating of 186 (probably 10lbs too much) and the superstar expectations which he’s been unable to meet.
Master Minded never lived up to his 186 rating. In his dominant period, the 2m opposition was poor – Petit Robin, Mahogany Blaze, a past-it Well Chief, a 20 furlong horse in Voy Por Ustedes: arguably the first good horse he met, Big Zeb, would have beaten him but for demolishing the last fence at Punchestown (and still running him to a head). Big Zeb then beat him in the Champion Chase and Paul Nicholls stepped MM up in trip.
I thought him workmanlike at best at Ascot today and I suspect he’s getting a bit quirky. He can also throw in the odd mighty blunder. Although his trainer thinks he wants a trip these days – it’s very hard to imagine that trip being an extended 3m 2f at Cheltenham. The following quote is an old one (given after his Aintree defeat by VPU), but can it be turned around to the extent that 33/1 becomes value for the Gold Cup? Not for me – I suspect his race will be The Ryanair but if he wins or goes close in the King George, who knows?
04Apr08 Aintree ( 20 Gd ,RPR168 )
He´s run a good race, he just said he didn´t stay – simple as that. He made a mistake but he was running on empty before then, and Ruby said, ‘We´ll just stick to two miles´. He´s absolutely fine and you will see him next in the Tingle Creek. There was always a doubt, though Ruby said when he won at Sandown that he thought he´d get two and a half. At least we know now and we will stick to two miles. There will be no, ‘Oh, he might be a King George horse´, he is going to stick to two miles, and that´s it. Voy Por deserved to win a big race. He has been knocking on the door and we owe him one. – Paul Nicholls
I think Weird Al is the one to take from today – from a value perspective – but given his fragility in the past and the fact that we’re unlikely to see him again for at least 2 months, the price is unlikely to drop. A dazzling performance by the KG winner might see Weird Al pushed out, so I will wait a bit.
Prior to Quito De La Roque’s next run, I’ll have 2 points win on him.
Good luck and if you have read this far without dozing off . . . my work here is done.