Although there have been numerous National Hunt events already, the Cheltenham Open is often regarded as the true beginning of the jumps season. In recent years, the Open’s importance has grown, and it is now a three-day meeting that attracts challengers from all around Europe.
There are multiple Class 1 events and highlights include the BetVictor Gold Cup Handicap Chase and the Greatwood Handicap Hurdle. However, the Cheltenham Open is now known as one of the best events for uncovering future stars. There are several premium-quality novice events, so let’s take a closer look at some potential high-flyers at Cheltenham this week.
When looking at novices, please remember that you’re focusing on horses that may already have won a race. However, it must not have won it during the previous season. Technically, the NH season has been ongoing for several months so there may be horses with several wins this season already. Also, a horse can enter a Novices Chase race if it has won an NH Flat or Hurdle race in a previous season, or a Hurdles race if it has previously won a Chase or NH Flat event.
Old Steel Plate and Sections Novices’ Chase
This Class 2 race could reveal some hidden gems. Just because these horses haven’t hit the heights yet doesn’t mean they are doomed to spending a career in the doldrums. Major trainers such as Paul Nicholls and Nicky Henderson are involved which means there could be a talent to keep an eye on.
It will be interesting to see what Mr Whipped has to offer on his Chase debut. He won a Grade 2 Novice’s Hurdle back in January before a disappointing couple of runs; the latter saw him pulled up in a Grade 1 in Cheltenham in March. If he can hit his best Hurdle form, he will be tough to beat.
Top-weighted Cubomania boasts a rating of 149 and has won four of his six Chase races to date. It could be that he needs a longer trip than the 2m 2.5f he ran during a Grade 3 at Punchestown where he finished third. Vinndication is another horse to watch having won all five races; including his Chase debut at Carlisle. A convincing win in a Class 1 Hurdle at Huntingdon in February suggests this 5yo is one to watch if he can make the transition to Chase events.
Although it is a Class 2 race, there are a total of five horses rated at 140+ although only two are aged 5yo. Aside from Cubomania, the other highly rated 5yo is the Paul Nicholls trained Dynamite Dollars. He is currently available at 6/1 and has an OR of 146. To date, he has one Chase race in his career, a facile victory in a Class 3 at Market Rasen.
Ballymore Novices’ Hurdle
This Grade 2 Hurdle race is the pick of the action on Day 1. The current favourite, Dinons, is an exciting prospect coming from the Gordon Elliot stable. The 5yo is the top-ranked horse in the race with an OR of 146, and his only defeat came when he fell at the last in his first race when winning comfortably. Since then, he has won each of his next five races by a minimum of seven lengths, with four of the wins by 13+ lengths. This race is a step up in class but his 14-length win in a Class 2 at Cheltenham last month suggests he is probably ready.
Looking at the rest of the field, there doesn’t seem to be many horses capable of taking on Dinons which means he should prove to be value at 3/1. Aye Aye Charlie finished fourth in a Grade 1 at Aintree in April, less than five lengths behind the winner. If he can replicate that form, he should at least tell us if Dinons is the real deal.
The Nicky Henderson trained Pym is the second favourite at 4/1 at the time of writing. He is a horse that burst onto the scene in April 2017 with a comfortable 4-length win at Ayr. However, his next two runs were disappointing and included a ninth-place finish in a Grade 2 at Aintree in April. Subsequent runs have provided new hope and include a win at Chepstow and a creditable second at Ascot this month.
Percy Veer is the top-weighted horse in this race despite having an, OR that is 11 points less than Dinons. He is a horse with the calibre and won a Listed race in Limerick in October. A poor run at Cork, along with the excess weight, explain why he is 20/1. Interestingly, Percy Veer ran at Killarney in August against Dinos and was in second place, pressing the favourite, when he fell. Perhaps he can spring a surprise at Cheltenham this weekend?
For the record, the last 20 winners of this race were in the top 5 in the betting market, including 15/20 in the top 3 but just five favourites. 17/20 winners finished in the top two in their previous race. Also, 18/20 winners last ran 16-42 days before the race, and 19/20 winners had at last one season run. The 1-2 season runs is the ‘sweet spot’ with 14/20 winners.
Will we find the next Thistlecrack or Annie Power at the Cheltenham Open? Does it pay to focus on the ‘big’ trainers? While Nicky Henderson has a win rate of 32.99% in Novices Hurdle races since 2014, it would result in a loss of almost 5% on Betfair. His Novices Chase record over the same timeframe sees you losing almost 6% even though he wins almost 38% of his races; a sure sign that his horses are often poor value.
Interestingly, Henderson has a good November record in Novices Hurdle races. In the last four Novembers, his win rate is 33.33% for a profit of almost 18%, including a profit in three of the last four years. He is also off to a great start this November.
For the record, Paul Nicholls has an outstanding Novices Chase record in November. Since 2014, he has won 50% of his 44 races for a profit of over 85%. This includes a Betfair profit of at least 14% in each of the last four years. While 2014 and 2017 were good, 2015 and 2016 were sensational with profits of 186% and 117% respectively.
It is interesting to note that Gordon Elliot has a runner in a Novice race because he has had just one November NH Novice in the UK since 2014. His overall Novices record is a case of quality over quantity. From just 90 Novices Hurdle races since 2014, he has a 41%-win rate for a profit of 27%. From just 36 Novices Chase races, he has a win rate of 22% but a profit of almost 75%; albeit with losses in two of the last five years.
As well as analysing the quality of an individual horse, it is also wise to check out a trainer’s Novices record; especially in the month of November, if you want to make money at the Cheltenham Open. Look for Nicky Henderson’s Novices Hurdle entries, and Paul Nicholls’ Novices Chase horses.