As Andy Newton said in Saturday’s post . “Are you getting excited for the Cheltenham Festival yet?”
The answer from me is a big…YES!
I hope it’s the same for you too.
Will the Cheltenham Trends Hold?
Now it’s possible, that the all the trends/profiles that many punters have used at the Cheltenham Festival over recent years, will be thrown out of the window in 2019.
Why do I say that? Well, at the time of writing this we are seeing well above average temperatures in February, with dry and sunny weather that you would normally expect to find in April.
This time last year we were of course in the grip of sub-zero temperatures courtesy of the “beast from the east”.
Of course, we could still have some wintry weather in the run up to Cheltenham but, if the long-range weather forecast is correct, it’s more likely to be rain than the white stuff.
So far, this winter has been one of the driest in recent years, with courses having to water to maintain safe ground. Indeed, you can almost count on your fingers how many racing meetings have taken place on heavy ground.
It’s been particularly dry over in Ireland where plenty of trainers had to wait longer than normal to get their horses working on the grass, and almost as long to get them out for their seasonal reappearances.
Irish Trainers Hit Hardest By Dry Spell
One trainer whose whole training “modus operandi” for the winter months has been disrupted is Willie Mullins. Plenty of his big names have had limited campaigns, or in some cases not even made the track, so far this winter.
The unseasonably dry spell of weather hasn’t just affected big trainers like Mullins. Last year’s winner of the RSA Novices’ Chase, and long-time ante-post Gold Cup favourite, Presenting Percy has only had one run this season in a hurdle race at Gowran Park last month.
The Patrick Kelly trained gelding has missed two recent engagements, including Saturday’s Bobbyjo Chase at Fairyhouse, due to the dry ground.
This all means the Favourite for jumps racing’s “blue riband” race will take his place in the line-up without having jumped a fence for 12 months.
Hardly the sort of preparation that his connections would have wanted or expected at the start of the season
It’s been the same over this side of the Irish Sea too, but I think it’s the Irish that have been most disadvantaged by such dry weather, given that Irish trained horses have dominated the festival in the last couple of years.
It will be interesting to see if the pendulum of success is about to swing in the direction of the British trainers this time around.
Finding winners at the Cheltenham Festival is always a tough puzzle even in the best of years. This year the normal signposts could send you off in the wrong directions.
As ever, before I look forward to the Cheltenham Festival, let’s have a look back at a couple of performances from Kempton on Saturday.
Raffles Steals Kempton Show
Fusil Raffles, trained by Nicky Henderson, put in a seriously impressive show to land the Adonis Hurdle at Kempton. The juvenile was having his first run for the trainer since coming over from France.
On paper the Adonis looked an open race, and the bookies were going 4/1 over the field at the off. The front runners went off at brisk pace with Fusil Raffles was always in a good position in third of fourth.
He could be seen travelling noticeably well on the heels of the leaders after three out. Taking it up from the second last he was never in any danger, and he settled the issue in a matter of strides coming to the last.
He put 9 lengths between himself and the runner-up Beat The Judge at the finish. By all accounts he was a sick horse during the winter, so came into the race without the benefit of an ideal preparation.
I have to say he looked magnificent in his coat and a picture of health. With his dapples really standing out in the February sun.
Clearly this is a horse with a big future and plenty of improvement to come. Not surprisingly, after the race his odds for next month’s Triumph Hurdle were slashed as low as 9/2.
Sadly, he was found to have a deep cut on one of his hind legs. Hopefully it won’t be to severe and he will be able to take his chance at Cheltenham.
Angels Didn’t Take My Breath Away
Nicky Henderson was hoping to enter the winner’s enclosure 35 mins later with Angels Breath. The 5-year-old had created a big impression when winning a Grade 2 Novices’ Hurdle at Ascot just before Christmas, on his first start for the trainer.
A win saw the gelding became one biggest talking horses of the winter. Not surprisingly he was sent-off the hot favourite for the Dovecote Novices Hurdle.
Not surprising, given his absence, he was a little keen in the early stages of the race. Albeit nowhere as keen as his main market rival Scarlet Dragon.
Southfield Stone was always up with the pace. He took it up at the fifth and went for home coming to three out. The pace he injected into the race had the odds-on favourite off the bridle.
Despite a mistake at the last and hanging badly over to the stands rail on the run in, he still managed to hold off Angels Breath by ¾ length.
The winner was suited by the drying ground and the return to a speed favouring track. There weren’t any real excuses for the runner-up on the day.
However, the slow early gallop didn’t really suit him, and the going was much quicker than he had faced at Ascot.
Whilst the runner-up wasn’t really suited by the slow early gallop, or probably the ground.
His owner, Dai Walters, also had last week’s Betfair Hurdle winner Al Dancer in the Supreme. There must be a temptation to now run Angels Breath in the longer Ballymore Hurdle.
However, after the race, the trainer still seemed to be leaning towards the former race. You can see why. This run will have taken the freshness out him.
More juice in the ground, a stiffer track and a greater stamina test will see the horse in a much better light.
If you are holding ante-post vouchers for the Supreme I wouldn’t throw them away just yet. So, he didn’t take my breath away.
But he would still have a great chance if he was to go for the shorter race at Cheltenham.
Cheltenham Festival 2019
Ballymore Novices Hurdle
Another Cheltenham Festival race comes under the microscope. This week it’s the Ballymore Novice Hurdle which gets Day 2 of the Festival underway.
Here are few of the main contenders:
Champ has been the ante-post favourite for the race for some time. The Nicky Henderson trained 7-year-old was a decisive winner of the Challow Hurdle on his last start, and could well prove be too good for his rivals. However, at a best priced 3/1 I think there’s better value to be found elsewhere.
Battleoverdoyen is next in the betting at 5/1. The Gordon Elliott trained 6-year-old has won all three of his starts over hurdles. The last of which came in January with a workmanlike display to take a Naas Grade 1.
The extra furlong of the Ballymore will suit him, as would softer ground than he’s faced so far. He will bid to follow-up stablemate Samcro’s win in last year’s race.
City Island is third in the betting at a best priced 10/1. He’s owned by the sponsors of the race, and has as been first past the post on all three of his starts over hurdles, although he did subsequently lose the first of them after he was disqualified for having a prohibited substance in his system.
He’s since gone on to win at Leopardstown and Naas.
The 6-year-old only has a few pounds to find with Champ on Racing Post Ratings, and goes to Cheltenham a strong contender for the race. Trained by Martin Brassil. He would be half his odds for the Ballymore if he was trained by Willie Mullins or Gordon Elliott.
So far, he’s shown he’s highly effective on a sound surface, but more juice in the ground at Cheltenham shouldn’t inconvenience him either.
Of the others, Angels Breath could easily end-up in the race after his Dovecote run. Recent Leopardstown Grade 1 winner Klassical Dream is the shortest priced of the Willie Mullins entries, but he could also go for the Supreme.
At a bigger price, another Mullins’ entry, Fast Buck, is interesting. The 5-year-old hasn’t been seen on the racecourse since finishing runner-up to Fakir D’oudairies in a Cork maiden at the start of the year.
Twice a winner on the flat when trained in France, his Cork hurdle debut was full of promise. He was due to run at Naas over 2m on Sunday. If he was to win there with some authority, he would become a contender for Cheltenham.
He also won’t be the 33/1, for the Ballymore Hurdle, as that was prior to his Naas run.
Champ and Battleoverdoyen deserve to head the betting for the Ballymore.
Fast Buck would become a contender if he was to win well at Naas on Sunday.
At the prices though, City Island looks overpriced and is my pick at around 10/1!
Continuing the Cheltenham theme. Here are three trainers whose Cheltenham Festival runners have carried a wealth warning at the last five meetings. Starting with Paul Nicholls.
1. Paul Nicholls
Race Type: Chases
Race Distance: 2m 1f+
For a top trainer of chasers, the Cheltenham Festival has provided poor pickings for the trainer. Since 2014 his runners over fences in races beyond 2m 1f+ have produced just 2 winners from 59 runners 3% -16 A/E 0.41 6 placed 10%. Both wins courtesy of Pacha Du Polder in the Foxhunters Chase.
Taking out his Foxhunter runners he’s –
0 win from 53 runners
including 0 winners from 25 runners 2 placed 8% in festival handicaps.
Can Clan Des Obeaux or Topofthegame end Paul Nicholls’ recent poor record over fences at the Cheltenham Festival?
2. Nicky Henderson
Nicky Henderson can be relied upon to have his fair share of winners at each Cheltenham Festival, but he’s found handicap chase wins elusive in recent seasons. His runners in such races have provided the following set of results:
0 winners from 35 runners
Can Nicky Henderson land a Cheltenham Festival handicap chase in 2019?
3. Venetia Williams
For a top National Hunt trainer Venetia Williams has struggled for winners at the Cheltenham Festival. Since 2014 all her runners have produced the following set of results:
0 winners from 52 runners
Will Venetia Williams come off the Cheltenham Festival cold list this year?
Until next week.
All the best,
for the Race Advisor