Category Archives: Cheltenham Festival 2014
I see the Gold Cup is being written off in some quarters as a very poor one because of the result. I’m not having that. You don’t go into a championship race with two horses around 180 – trained to the minute – and come out of it with a field full of 160ish horses – it just doesn’t happen imo.
The rails were moved yesterday morning “between 7 and 11 yards on the inside of the ‘chase course” (Simon Claisse), offering a strip of ground that had not been raced on for a year. Given that the year also saw an unprecedented amount of water falling on it, and that most of the field raced on that strip for most of the race – except the finish where the first three came up on older ground – could that have something to do with the result?
The going announced was for the whole track – I wonder if Mr Claisse used his stick on that fresh strip? I’d be very interested to see a stick reading from it.
An unusual pace can, of course, throw up a strange result. But Geraghty reported that he thought they were going a stride to fast for BW throughout; the winner could not go the pace at all until turning in for the last time. And yet the time was nothing special. The Gold Cup was run less than seven seconds faster than The Foxhunters, run 40 minutes or so after the big race.
Yesterday was Lord Windermere’s first win on ground without soft in the official description (Timeform gave it as Good, Good to Soft in places). Bobs Worth’s connections have always insisted he is a better horse on decent ground – there’s insufficient evidence in the formbook to form a solid objective assessment of that claim.
Anyway, it’s nothing more than a theory on what was a very strange day at Cheltenham, all in all. Bobs Worth’s poor run at Haydock and the general form of the Henderson yard could also be seen as casting some doubt on his running. But I’m not having it that Silv Conti didn’t get the trip after bottomless stamina won him the King George. That race, of course, might have left a mark on him, so the front two could conceivably have run well below form. Whatever happened, seven minutes didn’t turn two horses with a ratings advantage of between 16/19lbs and 25/28lbs into a pair of donkeys.
2.05: Cinders & Ashes
2.40: Kings Palace (nap)
3.20 On His Own EW
4.00 Tammys Hill
4.40: Thomas Crapper/Hazy Tom
5.15: Drumshambo/Next Sensation
All pretty speculative bets on this final day, although I fancy Kings Palace quite strongly. He’s the best jumper of hurdles I’ve seen for a staying novice, skipping over them like a champion hurdler (touch wood). The likely short-priced fav, Briar Hill, tends not to pick up his back end when jumping. He’s effective enough, but KP should gain ten lengths on him through his hurdling alone.
I think Bobs Worth will probably win the Gold Cup but wouldn’t tip him at that price. Had he not run inexplicably badly at Haydock in November, I’d have thought him close to unbeatable here. But that poor run – very unlike him – sticks in my mind. Having said that. he’s 5 from 5 here at Cheltenham with 3 of those being wins at the Festival. I have backed him almost a year ago for this at 9/2, but would not tip him at 6/4 – and I have laid my bet off. Had it not been for Haydock, I’d have held onto the whole bet.
On His Own seems finally to be blooming at the age of ten. W Mullins never believes his geese are swans and for him to suggest paying 30k last week to supplement this horse for a pretty hot Gold Cup, well, that alone should be heeded, and I’ve high hopes the horse will place at least and might just make all and hold on.
1.30: Taquin de Seul
2.40: Rajdhani Express/Medermit
3.20 Big Bucks
4.00 Third Intention/Sew on Target
4.40: Our Father
Best value is in the Ryanair, as I think it’s turned into a really open looking race. I’ve never been a Dynaste fan; I backed Al Ferof some months ago for this. But his last run added to my doubts that he has not retained his ability after the long layoff through injury. If I’m wrong, he should hack up here. But his past two disappointing displays have been put down to stamina issues: I don’t buy that. His sire has produced many stayers and AF won a Paddy Power in bad ground with a big weight.
Anyway, there’s reason enough to believe Dynaste and Al Ferof will not produce their best. After Dynaste’s miserable display in the King George, his trainer said they didn’t know what was wrong and that they might not run him again this season. It was later reported that he might have pulled muscles. However, I think him over-rated anyway.
I always liked Medermit though things seldom work out for him as he almost always finds one too good. But he’s run well at a few Festivals and trainer Alan King reports him in really good order, so he’s worth an EW at 33s.
I love the look of Raj Express: a fine big type – a Festival winner last year and he looks to have scope for improvement. By Presenting, he should relish the ground and, at around 25/1 is 10 points longer than he should be imo. He’d be my main bet, with a saver on Medermit and a small Exacta in case they fill 1st and 2nd (hope springs eternal).
I’d love to see Big Bucks mince this lot tomorrow. He’s always had one of the best engines in racing and it should be perfectly tuned now. He’ll like the ground too. Giving a mare as talented and strongly built as Annie Power half a stone, will be his toughest task yet, but I think he can do it. Some have doubts about AP’s stamina. I don’t think she’ll fail on that count as she gallops like a horse who’ll stay this trip and farther. But this will be the fastest ground she’s raced on and I suspect she’ll always want deep ground to be at her best.
Third Intention has long been my cliff horse. For as long as he races, I’ll believe there’s a Festival win in him. I’ve tipped him for the last three festivals and have no intention of stopping now. I see he’s been stamped with the Timeform squiggle, denoting lack of trust in him. He had a good start to the season, but could never get it together after that. His trainer thought he’d caught a low-level virus…who knows? But he’ll get his favoured ground on Thursday and I won’t be surprised if he pounces late on his stablemate Sew on Target, another horse I like – he often front runs with real enthusiasm and I’ll be having a saver on him.
But if you think the Sire de Grugy win was sentimental, wait until you see me if Third Intention finally delivers!
Pateese is another who could land a decent race, and he’s worth taking a chance with at a big price. Stick him in an EW patent with Third Intention and Raj Express, and you might be smiling wide by this time on Thursday.
Very tough card, I think. I’ll only be having one decent bet and that’s on D McCain’s Corrin Wood at 11/1 (Paddy Power) in the RSA. But I offer one in each race for the fun players as we managed 3 winners and a NR on Tuesday:
1.30: Royal Boy
2.05: Corrin Wood
2.40: Far West
4.00: Sire Collonges
4.40: Orgilgo Bay
5.15: Black Hercules
Corrin Wood made all round Warwick – a very tricky jumping track, imo – even for experienced horses. He put in the best round of jumping I’ve seen there for a novice, even though he went right at a few fences. I think this jumping right is helping to push his price out, yet I got the impression that he could well have been doing it at Warwick just to meet the fence on the correct stride; it was never excessive. He battled on really well too when challenged and is my bet of the day, with Sire Collonges next best.
But I’m fascinated by the amount of time invested in trying to find winners at Cheltenham in March. “1 of 237,000” might be the result of a Google search for ‘Festival Previews’. There are books, blogs, YouTube videos, RUK and ATR specials, stable visits. Some punters plan days to set aside for form study, and to what end?
I can’t recall the last time I studied form for a Cheltenham bet. Most of my betting is ante-post, seeking value about horses I know well, or ones I suspect will prove to be much better than they’ve shown. Come Tuesday, I don’t want to be scrabbling to pick winners; I’d rather relax and enjoy four days of superb racing.
One thing that has held strong in Festival after Festival, is that previous winners, or horses who have run really well there, have a fine chance of doing so again. The excellent Timeform guru Simon Rowlands breaks the figures down to prove the case for this ‘system’. For those who want to avoid the labour of ploughing through acres of print and horse of video – Simon’s study is the one for you.
The study is based on the previous 4 Festivals. Here’s a quote from it:
The 78 horses returning having won at the previous Festival were successful in 20 races, more than three times what could be expected by chance…
Why should horses repeatedly run well at the Festival? Well, many are simply classy horses. But many more are handicappers. Trainers prime their horses for the Festival – true. Course winners always have an advantage? Applying this assumption across all courses would, I think, find you in the grubber after four days.
My guess is that the key to this system is a combination of the track and the way races are run here. You could send out the same field, in the same conditions in January and you’d get a different result. At the Festival, races are invariably run at a hotter pace than they would be at any other time on this track or any track. To the jockeys, this meeting is everything. Adrenaline and desire push them all to go a stride faster in every race than they normally would. 60,000 bawling throats in the stands urge them on. The best horse does not always win, but the one who likes the pace at which these races are run on this unique track, the animals unfazed by crowds and brass bands and keyed-up jocks and anxious starters…these are the horses to concentrate on.
A very successful punter from the past – it might have been Pittsburgh Phil – I can’t remember, said something like: ‘I never started making money from betting until I stopped comparing horses to their rivals and started comparing them with themselves.’ Wise words. Under what conditions does a horse perform to its best? If you can replicate those conditions, all else being equal, the horses have a great chance of replicating their performance.
Perhaps Rod Street and his team at Great British Racing, should campaign for jocks on such horses to wear a big sign on the back of their silks: ‘Been here. Done that. Got the trophy.’ Failing that, the Racing Post offers a very helpful daily summary of runners returning from past Festivals.
Make the best of it.
I will post one or two tips next week, if something looks outstanding value. But you could do an awful lot worse than just back these Festival lovers and sit back and enjoy the show.
How many horses are truly being run on their merits throughout the jumps season? In this week’s Weekender, Alan King says . . .
“We train our horses to progress as the season develops” Is that within the rules?
45.3 A Trainer must not send any horse to race with a view to schooling or conditioning the horse.
There’s the matter of fitness, readying horses to peak at a particular time, and, crucially, timing medication to be out of their systems so that the doping rules are not infringed come race time. If this is what we have come to, perhaps we should be honest about it and the rules modified to fit. Some might gladly agree to such a compromise for that glorious week in March; I might even be one of them. But we need a degree of openness about it.
Should trainers be required to declare a quantifiable fitness assessment for each runner before a race? Rather than: ‘He’ll be doing his best, but I’d expect him to come on for this,’ something like, ‘I’d say he is 80% fit.’ It would then be up to punters to decide whether that 80% fit horse has enough natural talent to beat another in the race who’s been declared 95% fit. Doubtless trainers will win with horses declared as 70% fit and plenty will lose with horses deemed 100% fit. But at least the information is in the open. It is then up to punters to decide what to do with that information. Of course there is also the question of the judgement of the trainer and the honesty of the trainer. But as things stand, there’s a level of compulsory dishonesty anyway, if many horses are running in races with the intention of preparing them to win another race.
Or, if NH racing needs prep races for horses, then perhaps the Jumpers’ Bumpers should be properly structured, and horses who are being openly prepped, confined to those races until declared 100% fit and ready to win over jumps.
It’s a tough problem with many facets, but as the Festival’s influence grows, it’s going to have to be faced at some point.
The festival continues its domination of the season, like a multi-headed monster growing stronger each year. Having a winner there is becoming a target against which the careers of trainers and jockeys are measured.
Grasping how vital it is to trainers needs no words; a look at the red, tearful, heart-burstingly strained face of Nicky Henderson says everything.
There are plenty moans on twitter about how unbalanced NH racing has become by the focus on the festival, but like government and media, we get what we deserve, and from a punter’s viewpoint there should be no complaints. In the not too distant future, these will be looked upon as the glory days of punting.
The desperation of the big bookmakers to compete and attract new players is illustrated by some offers that would stretch credibility in fiction.
P Power ran a series of offers to tempt new phone customers, each up to £50, each with a stake-matched free bet should the selection lose. Examples: 5/1 Pont Alexandre: 8/1 Cue Card: 7/1 Bobs Worth.
Coral went evens Sprinter Sacre throughout the festival to £20 – small stakes but free money just the same. Most of the others had their own take on financial suicide over the meeting…crazy.
But where bookies can be wounded most, imo, is in the pressure that comes with shoving the first post-race quote for next year under the noses of CH4. The dilemmas here for bookmakers are: we want to be first, we want to be best price, we know we’ll need to hold those prices for a reasonable time period.
All this without being able to dissect the race properly. They quote on the fly and hope for the best.
Many punters run shy of betting a year in advance and, under normal circumstances, such caution is merited. But the fury of the festival has changed everything in the punters’ favour and cherry-picking from post-race quotes can be a goldmine.
Hills went 5/1 Bobs Worth. 5/1 about a horse who . . .
has won the Gold Cup
has won three different festival races (first since Flyingbolt)
is five from five at the track
is only 8
was having just his 6th steeplechase
is with a trainer who could make a fortune running festival masterclasses
has no history of unsoundness (touch wood)
faces no threat from those he beat (you can argue for Silv Conti, but at 5s BW, I’m happy to rule him out)
faces no threat from the younger generation
and, crucially, who will definitely have the race as his target
If you don’t mind tying up your money for a year you are being offered 5/1 about a 6/4 (tops) chance
In the Champion Hurdle, if you’re happy to stick with what looks a hugely talented younger generation you can dutch Our Conor at 6/1 and The New One at 8/1.
The bias among some ‘judges’, which The Ryanair should finally have put to rest, seems to have continued with 5/1 available about Cue Card for a repeat against the usual suspects. There is a small chance he might be stepped up to the Gold Cup but that is pretty remote, and you can have a saver on it at a big price.
PPower went 4/6 Sprinter Sacre (Bet 365 offer a more realistic 1/3).
Hills soon caved in and cut Bobs Worth to 7/2, but you can still have 4/1 with Sportingbet. PP now go 4/7 S Sacre.
To recycle the old Richard Baerlein line, now is the time to bet like men.