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Supreme. Unbeaten: 20/1

binocularsA week today at half past one a roar will rise from Cheltenham’s grandstands and another Festival will begin. As the sound rolls down the track to the galloping horses, it’s possible that there will be just one among them who will be unbeaten – Moon Racer. Three others with a rack of 1s against their name – Winter Escape, Yorkhill and Long Dog – could miss this race for other engagements, leaving Moon Racer the only runner about whom we can say ‘we don’t know how good he is.’

That’s if Moon Racer makes it to post. His last run was a year ago when he won the Champion Bumper comfortably. Training troubles have kept him off the track since, but David Pipe, his trainer, says he will declare him at the five-day stage and see how it goes. You can’t get more touch and go than that with racehorses.

But the triple winner is valuable property. His connections won’t let him run in this hottest of novice hurdles unless he is capable of winning. He hasn’t jumped a hurdle in public, but they must be happy with how he’s schooled or he’d already have been counted out.

Min is the short-priced favourite. Altior looks the key challenger from England, at least according to the betting. But Moon Racer is, I believe, the best value in the race if you bet now, because you can have 20/1 (Betfred), with a guarantee of your cash back if Moon Racer doesn’t run.

When lining up last year for the Bumper, Moon Racer hadn’t run for five months. He was backed into favourite. I believe there will be money for him again if he lines up on Tuesday.

If you want one for an each-way double at around the same price as Moon Racer, try Kilcooley in the Ryanair World Hurdle. He is another who’s had a troubled season which has kept him at home since the end of October. But he seems likely to line up against Thistlecrack on Thursday.

So, take on the two short ones with two long ones.

Good luck

 

Here we go again with Un Beau Roman at 33s

iStock_000009081252SmallThis fella is becoming another Rajdhani Express for me. I’m convinced he has a decent race in him; it’s just a matter of whether I have any money left by the time he finally wins.

He runs at Newbury tomorrow in the 3.25. I’ve backed him at 33/1 Betfair Sportsbook. He has two entries at Cheltenham: the Brown Advisory and the Grand Annual, and he has 10st 4lbs in each. Now, that might not guarantee him a run, as there is a safety limit in each race on the number of runners – I believe both these races are 24.  If he wins tomorrow he’ll get a 5lb penalty for doing so and that will ensure him a run at Cheltenham

At the end of last year he moved from W Mullins to a small trainer, Paul Henderson, who won with him on his second run for the yard – a Kempton Chase, which was where I first noticed him as he travelled like a real good horse off a fast pace before winning comfortably.

On his next run, he was again travelling well when he made a real bad error five out and that finished him (heavy ground didn’t help). That was a Grade 3 Handicap. His next run was in the G2 Game Spirit, where on form he looked outclassed, but I backed him anyway. He again travelled well until the principals kicked on and he was allowed to come home in his own time, never asked for any real effort.

Anyway, he travels like a good horse. I’m not saying by any means that he’s high class, but he will win a decent race. Might be tomorrow, so if you’ve followed me with him so far, you might not want to desert him now.

Just in case…you ought to have a bet on him for both his Cheltenham races with Bet 365 who offer NRNB: he’s is 66/1 for the Brown Advisory and 33/1 for the Grand Annual.

Good luck

Joe

 

25/1 Dark horse Kilcooley just a gallop away from the World Hurdle

CLIn October I tipped Kilcooley at a big price for the World Hurdle. Like last year’s World Hurdle winner, Cole Harden, Kilcooley had just won the Bet365 Yorkshire Hurdle.

Training problems have kept him off the track since then. On the upside, they’ve also ensured he has slipped well below the bookies’ radar. On official ratings, Kilcooley is one of three sitting just 4lbs behind Thistlecrack. On Topspeed ratings he’s the fastest in the race.

Kilcooley’s trainer, Charlie Longsdon, told me yesterday, ‘”Killer” is very well and I am doing a racecourse gallop with him before I make a final decision as to whether he will be ready for Cheltenham or not. If he is not, I will send him to Aintree.

‘He has had a few muscle problems since he last ran, but hopefully they are now a thing of the past. He has had a lot of help from our vets and all the physios, and I hope that will pay off in three weeks. As for his chances, he is the forgotten horse of the race. He is the joint second highest rated horse in the race and he will go on any ground’.

Kilcooley is 25/1 NRNB with a few bookmakers and it looks like he won’t be risked unless he is spot on, in which case he has an excellent chance. With money back if he doesn’t run, he is great value.

Good luck

Joe

Smad Place the Gold value now at 14/1

question_timeI’ve believed since last March that Vautour will win the Gold Cup, but value cannot be ignored and Smad Place has to be the value bet now at 14s NRNB (Betfair Sportsbook). He has never run a bad race in his life and since his breathing op, the King George has been his only blip – King continues to ‘protest too much’ about abandoning front-running tactics there: I doubt he would have won with them, but he might well have finished much closer.

He has exactly the same attributes as Coneygree had plus experience and, touch wood, soundness. Horses who can get into a rhythm in staying chases have a precious advantage, especially at Cheltenham.

I can only think he is such a big price due to bookies assuming he is a deep ground specialist. But he’s run some fine races on good ground, not least a neck 2nd in the RSA and a 3rd in the World Hurdle (not finishing his races either time, and his breathing might well have been the issue). Since his op, he’s run once on good, thrashing Fingal Bay on his seasonal debut. He then wins a Hennessy easily by 12l off 155, and yesterday, the Betbright in the same fashion and by the same distance off 168.

Why is he 14/1?

Take 16/1 Un Beau Roman and 100 for Ryanair

iStock_000016070653SmallChampagne West will be a warm order in tomorrow’s 2.25 at Cheltenham, and he has a good engine, but he’s not the most natural jumper so, seeking some value in the race, I came across Un Beau Roman at 16/1.

Six weeks ago his home was among the stars in Closutton as one of Willie Mullins’s horses. But he was sold to a small trainer, Paul Henderson who trains about 30 down at Whitsbury. Un Beau Roman ran poorly in his first outing for the yard over hurdles, but back over fences a couple of weeks later, he won in the style of an improving horse.

With 28 runs, you’d hardly call him unexposed, but it’s not unusual for a horse to improve for a move to a much smaller yard. He’s the best  horse Henderson has, which will make a nice change from seeing Vautour & Co at breakfast every morning.

In a race run at a decent pace at Kempton, he travelled supremely well throughout under Wayne Hutchinson, and after a brief tussle in the straight put the race to bed in fine fashion. A comment from Ruby about the horse early in his career suggested he was a weak finisher, and if so, Cheltenham wouldn’t be the place for a ding-dong battle in this hot handicap. But he looks as though he’ll have no issue travelling nicely in behind the leaders, and he jumped well at Kempton. The hill, as ever, will tell the tale in the end.

I’ve backed him EW at 16/1 and suggest you do the same. And Bet365 offer 100/1 about him in the Ryanair non-runner-no-bet. If he loses tomorrow, I suspect he will not run, and if he wins, he’ll be a good deal shorter than 100/1, despite the size of the task in March. So, a fiver at 100s will buy you some very cheap fun throughout tomorrow’s race.

And stranger things have happened than a Closutton ugly duckling turning into a Festival swan.

Good luck

Joe

 

Here’s your annual Festival EW treble

cash_in_handI always like to throw away a tenner around this time of the year, when Festival Fever brings me out in rash decisions.

These are all non-runner-no-bet with Bet365

Champion Chase – betting without Un de Sceaux

Traffic Fluide 8/1

I was very impressed with this fella, especially the way he travelled and ran on against the hotpot last weekend. There’ll be a fair bit of improvement in him and he could easily finish 2nd to UDS, thus starting us off with an 8/1 winner, giving £45 running onto . . .

Road to Riches at 5/1 for the Ryanair, which is where I think he’ll turn up, as I suspect he’s better when stamina is not at a premium. The owner sponsors this race, and I believe this one would give him the best chance of winning it. He could miss this for the Gold Cup, but with NRNB, it’s no loss. If he wins you have £270 running on . . .

… and the NRNB clause applies even more to the final selection, Kilcooley 20/1 to win the World Hurdle. Niggly problems have kept him off the track since his stunning Wetherby victory in November in the race Cole Harden won last season before taking the World Hurdle. Charlie Longsdon say the horse is well and he’s very hopeful of making Cheltenham. His price has drifted since November as there’s probably been more action in this market than any of the other Grade Ones at the festival.

So, there you go, an easy £5,670 return if they all win, and a consolation of £202.50 if they place…Happy Days!

Good luck

Joe

 

Take 50/1 Purple Bay for the Champion Hurdle

binocularsWhen I tweeted this advice earlier in the week, I got one response: “you’re drunk”.

Many reading this might share that sentiment because Purple Bay’s profile is far removed from that of a typical champion hurdler these days. Musselburgh, Stratford, and Taunton have been his stamping grounds rather than Cheltenham, Sandown and Newbury.

He’s not trained by Nicholls or Henderson, but by John Ferguson. The jock who’s had most success on him is a 7lb claimer. But the manner of his victory in the Elite Hurdle last Saturday bore the stamp of a fast-improving horse, for whom a solid plan has been laid out.

Irving’s last flight fall in the race seems to have diverted attention from Purple Bay’s performance. He was first to come under pressure when hitting a flat spot turning into the straight, but when he got back on the bridle, he came away from his pursuers with ease and won with some authority, ears pricked and it took Mikey Ennis a while to pull up.

That was his first run since finishing 7 of 20 in the Galway Hurdle, a race which came within 12 days of his easy Market Rasen victory. I suspect his runs will be a bit more spaced out from now. He has an entry in the Fighting Fifth on November 29th.

At this time last year, Purple Bay had an official rating of 130. It’s now 161. The current champion hurdler Jezki is rated 169. At the front of the festival market are Jezki, Faugheen and The New One, a horse I’ve always liked but one I now believe is just lacking that killer touch.

I’m not saying Purple Bay will win the Champion, but 50s is way too big in my opinion. The experts believe the horse has quirks; other than the habit of hitting a flat spot, (and he seems to run around a bit approaching some flights) I’ve seen nothing to worry me enough not to back him at that price. He’s just 5 and will still be learning. He wouldn’t want to hit that flat spot at a critical stage in a Champion Hurdle, but the hill should be a significant advantage to his racing style.

If he turns up at Newcastle, we’ll learn an awful lot more about him. For now, I’m content to take the chance.

Good luck – and for those unused to ante-post betting, the usual warning: if your horse does not run in the event, your money is lost.

Joe

Cheltenham tips

qmWell, 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.

risk

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.

Sanctuaire

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.

Al Ferof for Ryanair at 16s

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.

cryingman

Back in Focus at 20s for RSA

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!

Olofi at 100/1 for Champion Hurdle

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.

CC

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!

sad horse

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

Joe

WarnedOff

Cheltenham’s Old Course, the New Course and the effects of the going

spyglassDuring the coming week you’ll hear much talk of the Old Course and the New Course at Cheltenham.  In October and November the Old Course is used, in December and January, the New Course. That’s the regular schedule. Only the spur was not used in January due to waterlogging.

Frost covers are already down. There’s been enough rain for the course to be declared officially soft everywhere and overnight temperatures in the coming 48 hours are set to plunge well below freezing, The upside of frost covers is that we almost always get to race. The downside is that they can trap moisture in ground that’s already very wet; this can leave sticky, cloying going for horses, although Andy Clifton, Cheltenham’s PR boss tells me the covers are breathable so let’s hope they breathe enough to prevent pudding-type ground but not enough to let frost through.

Frost covers

Sandown on Saturday looked sploshy and very wet, but horses and riders invariably prefer this as horses run through it, finding it easier to splash through than sticky ‘waterless’ mud. They’ll still be tired but  not Tough Mudder tired.

Cheltenham’s a stamina-sapper as it is, and while it’s almost always better to race than not to, we could see some very tired animals slogging up that hill. Let’s hope for minimal use of the stick: the public will not be aware how well-padded whips are, and hitting exhausted horses climbing a muddy hill could bring us the kind of publicity we’d don’t need with the Grand National looming (April 6th).

Anyway, I am blethering away here, let me get to the point. The Racing Post carries just one course graphic for Cheltenham – that of the Old Course. The blessed Timeform display two. I’ve used them below. You can get them, along with course maps for every other track as a free download.

Although it’s a taxing track, whichever course you’re on, I’m never afraid to back front-runners at Cheltenham; I have no stats but from my many years watching racing here, I’ve formed the impression front-runners can do better than they would on tracks which appear to be easier.

Cheltenham's New Course

Cheltenham’s New Course

Something you’ll hear at least once before the Champion Hurdle is that Zarkandar won his Triumph Hurdle in 2011 on the New Course whereas the Champion Hurdle on Tuesday will be on the Old Course, considered by many less of a stamina test because it is a slightly shorter run-in (In Tuesday’s field, Zarkandar should be much better suited than most of his rivals to a stamina test).

A peculiarity of the New Course is that only 2 hurdles are jumped in the last seven furlongs – 42% of the race gets  just 25% of the jumps.

The Old Course

The Old Course

The only other course at Cheltenham is the cross-country, a race you love or hate. I love it. I enjoy the spectacle of watching the jocks figuring out the twists and turns (many don’t manage it!). I like to see the horses scale the banks and face all different sorts of obstacles. Racing should have more of them – I’d be amazed if newcomers to the sport, especially youngsters, don’t enjoy them.

You’ll see by the map why the jocks need a GPS (some senior jockeys refuse to ride in these races for fear of ‘taking the wrong course’ bans).

The map and the fence illustration are courtesy of the talented folk at Chestnut Creative

XCountry

XCfences

Let’s hope the Cheltenham exec has updated the signage for jockeys on this maze of a course. We don’t want to see something like this happening this week . . .

XChorses

Finally, an aerial pic of the track to give you a truer perspective on how the courses wind through those famous undulations in our modern-day Colosseum, where you can gaze in horror while live humans are devoured by bookmakers.

Cheltenham racecourse

Cheltenham racecourse

If your brain needs a break from form study, try the Kindle version of Warned Off, a snip at £2.50. It’s a Dick Francis-type mystery which has garnered 95 reviews on Amazon (UK &.com), most 4 & 5 star.

Good Luck for Cheltenham

Joe

WarnedOff

Join my Skin Geoff Banks campaign with this 3,756/1 treble

cashBookie Geoff Banks is  a bit of a throwback – the arch-enemy of punters, but one with a face. We’re all used to tilting at the corporations like Hills and Ladbrokes without experiencing the pleasure of visualising the pain in their eyes as they pay out.

Geoff is bred for it, his father being the Frankel of bookmakers, the great John Banks, who died ten years ago. I remember John well; I was at my first Ayr meeting as a boy, it was a hot day, and as I stood looking at John’s board he reached down and gave me a choc ice – God knows how he kept them cool for his punters. John was cooler than any ice cream and pulled off some great PR stunts, managing, at the same time, to irritate Cyril Stein of Ladbrokes. But those tales are for another day.

I ought to make it clear now that I have no association with Geoff and take no reward of any kind for promoting his business. I admire him because he lays a decent bet and, more importantly for me, he was first to go non-runner-no-bet for Cheltenham. The majority of my punting is ante-post and the comfort of knowing your stake doesn’t go west with a non runner is worth a lot at any time never mind on the approach to the biggest meeting of the year.

Around this time I like to dig out a fiver each way treble for the festival, to try to win an amount which for many would be life-changing. Geoff Banks offers best price NRNB on the three I’ve chosen this year.

If you don’t already have an account with Geoff, you can open one here. It can take a few hours to get your account approved. Once it is, you have the option of credit or the standard deposit with a debit card. Geoff tells me that one of his most popular services is the text service – you just text what you want in plain English and get a quick acknowledgement.

Geoff has kindly agreed to hold these prices as long as he can for readers of this blog.

If you just want to get on with it, here are the selections:

Update, March 13th

Prices have changed, but I still think these three are well worth an EW treble: Third Intention is now 20s with Betvictor, though GMOOH is down to 9/1 & TGB is 14s in places.

Jewson Chase – Third Intention 16/1

World Hurdle – Get Me Out of Here 12/1

Gold Cup – The Giant Bolster – 16/1

Return on a £5 win treble is £18,785: a winning EW treble returns £19,285: a place treble returns £500.

And here’s the reasoning . . .

Third Intention is a horse I’ve been watching for some time; I think there’s at least one good race in him, and I believe he’s close to twice the odds he should be  for the Jewson. Two things are important to him: decent ground and a hold-up ride (he can idle badly in front).

At last year’s festival he ran well to finish 8th in the Coral Cup with 11st 10lbs. Since going chasing he’s had three unsuccessful attempts at beating Captain Conan who will probably start favourite for the Jewson if  Dynaste misses the race. But last time at Sandown I think Third Intention would have beaten Cap Conan had he not idled after being in front a long time – he was beaten a neck at levels.

Many say Captain Conan did not show his true form that day, but I always take the view that such conclusions should be treated with caution. Despite that being a substantial turnaround on earlier form, I think there’s every chance that TI was much better suited by the step up in trip (previous runs against CC were at 2 miles, this one was 2m 5f: Jewson is 2m 4f)

Third Intention is better going left-handed, better on decent ground and is improving: 16/1 is far too big and even if Dynaste runs here I think TI will be hard to keep out of a place.

Get Me Out of Here is another I’ve always liked, and one I’ve believed capable of winning good races. He’s been 2nd four times at Cheltenham, three of those being at the festival. Like Third Intention, decent ground  is important for GMOOH, much more so than TI. This will be his first attempt at 3 miles, but he stayed on for pressure when 2nd in the Coral Cup last year carrying 11.12.

Jonjo, the master of getting them cherry-ripe for the festival will have him spot on. AP rides. It’s a fairly open race and he has every chance of being placed and perhaps just nicking the race late. My main fancy here is Oscar Whisky but GMOOH definitely represents value.

The Giant Bolster. This bugger’s jumping flaws must make him horribly frustrating to train; he rarely puts in a clear round and in his early days was regularly on the floor. But he has bags of talent and loves Cheltenham. His record at the track, when he has stood up, is 6112: that 2nd was in last year’s Gold Cup (I’d backed him at huge prices and was going mental as they went for the last!).

His trainer and jock think he needed the race at Newbury when blown away by Silviniaco Conti who was giving him 4lbs. One thing we do know with him over Silv Conti, he loves Cheltenham.

My main bet here is Bobs Worth but of the outsiders I was between TGB and Cape Tribulation. TGB’s comparative youth, his fine run last year and Cape Trib’s habit of dropping in the odd poor run (never completed a hat trick) swayed me toward The Giant Bolster.

So there you are. Risk a tenner and it might just give you something to shout about. If they all get placed, come back and buy a copy of Warned Off!

Good luck

Joe

WarnedOff