Saturday, 31 March 2012

Dubai Sheema Classic

It's my turn for this one, too good a race not to be covered!

Songcraft - The least-exposed of these with only five starts under his belt, two low-grade wins in France, followed by two wins in Meydan and then close up behind Mikhail Glinka and Cavalryman in a Group II this month, after being held up down the straight. Still improving but surely a little out of his depth at this stage of his career. Could be an ideal Melbourne Cup horse later this year.

Bold Silvano - too bad to be true here last start, I doubt De Kock would be backing him up if anything was seriously wrong on the day. Won the G1 Durban July in 2010, and then a G3 on Tapeta here last year. Couple of real stars in this, racing for place money at best.

Beaten Up - won all three starts in Britain last season, going from a lowly Ripon maiden to the GIII St Simon Stakes at Newbury by four-and-a-half lengths. Rapid improver but taking on some real class here. His first real test and being a gelding, this is as big as his career can go.

Mahbooba - another Mike de Kock runner and has a sensational record here - three wins, three seconds and a third from seven starts, almost entirely in fillies and mares events. The only time she has competed against the boys was the third, in the UAE derby at this meeting last year. Not quite up to these.

Cavalryman - came home late to run third behind Mikhail Glinka three weeks ago, his best run since running third in the Arc behind Sea The Stars back in 2009. Hasn't won for 2.5 years and can't see him breaking that drought here, even with Dettori aboard.

Treasure Beach - first run on Tapeta which will suit his on-pace style. With Spencer aboard he can control the race, maybe too well for the likes of his stablemate if he gets an easy run in front. Irish Derby and Secretariat Stakes winner last season, definite chance.

Jakkalberry - star in Italy but that form doesn't measure up at the elite level. Outsider of the field for a reason.

Cirrus des Aigles - possibly the best gelding in the world so this is big race of the year. Victory would more than double his prizemoney, not bad considering he's already won 13 races. Returns to his favoured turf surface (just one win from eight on AW), will be primed for this.

St Nicholas Abbey - Breeders Cup Turf winner on the tight Churchill Downs grass track, and fifth in the Arc de Triomphe last year. Won three around this distance in 2011, biggest concern for me is how warm the stable is at this time of year. Just one win from 18 turf runners this week and traditionally they aim for the big races further into the season. Could be the exception but wouldn't be backing him too short on that.

Shimraan - beaten a fair way behind Mikhail Glinka last time, looks out of his depth, however, did finish barely a length behind Cirrus des Aigles in the Prix Dollar last October (CdA's excuse for being beaten by Byword was track too firm). Has Barzalona on board, can't rule him out.


Huge fan of Cirrus des Aigles, it's a tragedy he can't run in races like the Prix de L'Arc de Triomphe just because he's had the snip. Songcraft and Shimraan could throw some value into exotics if the pools are decent.

Friday, 30 March 2012

Golden Shaheen preview

James Jack returns after his work on Cheltenham to preview the elite sprint race of the night - the Golden Shaheen. Follow him @Materialista27

The Shaheen is a Group 1 for 3yo+ run over 6 furlongs on the Tapeta surface. Prior to the move from Nad Al Sheba, this race was run on the turf, but due to the constraints of the track at Meydan, the Shaheen moved to the artificial surface. Nearly £775k is the winner's purse and we have Rocket Man in the field who tasted glory last year. Runners are previewed in order of gate position.

Rocket Man
OR 125
Felix Coetzee for Patrick Shaw

This globe-trotting gelding has predominantly spent the last year in the Far East, picking up two Group 1s at Kranji, however, at seven, time must be catching up with him and there wasn't a great deal of opposition in Singapore as he was sent off at 1/16 and 1/5. His penultimate start came in the Hong Kong Sprint and he finished a disappointing 12th of 14, behind the likes of Bated Breath, Sole Power and most importantly Lucky Nine, who we'll get to later. Tough ask to repeat last year's success, but if he can get to the front from gate 1, then he could steal this one from the front. Clearly a class horse, but not sure a justified 5/2 favourite in this field.

Happy Dubai
9-0 with tongue tie
OR 112
Johnny Murtagh for Ali Rashid Al Raihe

Been hit and miss largely during his career and was strong during last year's carnival, but since then has only won once and that was in a handicap here at Meydan. Been tried over 7f and last year trailed in 10th in the Al Quoz Sprint. 40/1 looks a generous quote for a horse that could easily be a triple figure price.

Giant Ryan
9-0 with tongue tie
OR 115
Willie Martinez for Bisnath Parboo

Strike a line through his miserable run in the Breeders' Cup Sprint, the winner of a muddy ground Group 1 round Belmont and a Group 2 handicap, this horse will probably be Rocket Man's partner at the front of the race similar to Euroears' role in last year's race. Lightly raced for a six year old, but seems a solid performer, if not spectacular. Will be there or thereabouts and 12/1 is a tempting EW quote.

Russian Rock
OR 108
Wayne Smith for Musabah Al Muhairi

Rejuvenated since he came over from Roger Teal, however has only the single win over six furlongs and his last two starts have been over five at Jebel Ali. Most likely to try and sit just off the pace and kick in the home straight, however looks outclassed in this company and looks to be stuck between not having the pace to stay with the leaders and lacking the turn of foot to compete with the closers. 50/1 seems about right and success for this horse would be finishing 11th or better.

Krypton Factor
9-0 with blinkers
OR 117
Kieren Fallon for Fawzi Nass

Winner of the Mahab Al Shimal 3 weeks ago, he came from just off the pace and beat Hitchens and Iver Bridge Lad comfortably, and in doing so reversed placings with Hitchens. Although he looks scrappy at times in running, he has that turn of pace that puts a race to bed, and has won two of three over course and distance. Only four years old, and still looks to have a bit of improvement in him. Big chance, and 12/1 is far, far too big from this plum draw with the early pace inside him and the closers on the outside.

OR 113
Silvestre De Sousa for David Barron

Seven years old now, and form has become patchy. Finished 3rd in the July Cup last year, then finished well back in the Sprint Cup. Has pinched a couple of Group 3s, but still seems capable of lifting his game for a big-time effort, which will be required to have any chance. Will more than likely wait for the last 300m to time his effort and given De Sousa's anointment at Godolphin, he'll be looking to impress his new employer. Add that to his very impressive 22% strike rate at Meydan and you may have a bit of value at 18/1

The Factor
9-0 with tongue tie
OR 117
Rafael Bejarano for Bob Baffert

Eye-catching winner of the Malibu Stakes in December and Santa Anita's fast dirt is a good test for a run at Meydan, the only concern being that he hasn't won over six since his maiden and may be outpaced over six here. Re-united with Rafael Bejarano who rode him to that maiden victory, he'll be finishing fast, but not sure if he'll have the speed to get to the six furlong specialists. It would be an emotional win though as Bob Baffert was released from hospital yesterday. 5/1 looks short enough for a horse with plenty of questions and we'll see if he has the answers tomorrow.

Iver Bridge Lad
9-0 with blinkers
OR 108
Michael O'Connell for John Ryan

Heavily raced for a five year old and his only wins on the all weather have come at Kempton. Finished 8th to Krypton Factor in the aforementioned Mahab Al Shimal and seven and a quarter lengths is a lot to make up. He never really made much ground that day and never looked like doing it. 40/1 is probably quite kind, and he'll be duelling with Russian Rock to avoid the wooden spoon.

OR 123
Kerrin McEvoy for Peter Snowden

I wished I'd seen the last of McEvoy when he returned home four years ago. He returns to Meydan with his balloon-like head and capacity for ruining a good horse's big race. Peter Snowden with his first overseas runner has brought arguably Australia's third best sprinter over for a tilt against some proper opposition and can be forgiven a poor performance last time out as blowing away cobwebs. The horse has been in Dubai for three weeks to acclimatise and trainer and jockey seem happy with gallops, so I'd expect him to confirm his class and be very close at the finish. 9/2 is a bit skinny for a decent beat and if he wins it will be in spite of Kerrin McEvoy's efforts rather than because of his masterful and intellectual ride. G1 Coolmore Stakes replay

9-0 with cheek pieces
OR 113
Adrian Nicholls for Dandy Nicholls

The fact that Dandy has a runner here at all is a big sign, but the horse has only won twice in England and once in France with his other seven wins coming in Ireland. He's only won twice over six furlongs, so the step-up is a little concern. If he breaks well, he should be a contender for the early lead and given the conditions of the Tapeta, the extra furlong will be a help rather than a hindrance as he plugged on in the Al Quoz Sprint last year. He could just hang on to a place when it comes to the finish and 40/1 seems huge.

OR 113
Frankie Dettori for Saeed Bin Suroor

It's a strange sight to see Frankie Dettori in Godolphin's second colours, but as his former apprentice is in the first colours with a much better chance, then it makes perfect sense. Soul beat Iver Bridge Lad at the start of the month, no big surprise there, on his first start for Bin Suroor after coming over from Peter Snowden. Probably not even in the top five Australian sprinters. Big task to take this and despite the Frankie factor and Saeed Bin Suroor's 100pt level stakes profit, chalk this up as a loser. 16/1 is plenty, but I won't be touching it.

Lucky Nine
9-0 with half blinkers
OR 118
Brett Prebble for Casper Fownes

Hong Kong Sprint winner, remember I said we'd get to that well here it is. Three time Group 1 winner and on his last start, he landed the Queen's Silver Jubilee Cup over seven at Sha Tin. Has been tried as far as nine furlongs and seems to have the rare ability of the speed for six and the stamina for a mile or more, a bit like a Hong Kong version of Black Caviar, but a typical Hong Kong knock-off, not quite as good as the original. The son of Dubawi is a half brother to Fox Hunt (see Gold Cup), Mickdaam (see UAE Derby) and Monterosso (see World Cup) so there is plenty class in his pedigree. I would imagine the delightfully named Brett Prebble will try to get across and join the early pace and stretch the race to use his mount's stamina, and it could be tough for anyone to get past him. 8/1 looks a good quote for his chances and I'll be having a bit of that.


2pt win Krypton Factor
1pt ew Krypton Factor
2pt win Lucky Nine
1pt ew Lucky Nine
1pt ew Inxile

5 & 12
5 & 9
12 & 9
5 & 10
All 1pt exactas

5 & 12 with 6, 9 & 10
1pt trifecta banker

Dubai World Cup preview

An excellent analysis here from Phil Derbyshire. Follow him on Twitter @Mo_Licker


The most likely question to be asked of the contenders before the running of the 2012 Dubai World Cup in Meydan will be, ‘Will that form be translated onto Tapeta?’

As a result, a brief, but crucially important analysis of Tapeta is required if the race is going to be properly handicapped.

Tapeta has helped to eradicate the kickback seen on dirt tracks and provided sounder footing for acceleration. This is comparable in lots of ways to the racing we see on grass/turf in that the early pace will be pedestrian (hint: on the night keep an ear out for the commentator giving you the sectionals to confirm this – although I do feel that this year there will be some guaranteed pace setting a good ‘clip’) and that a lot of horses will be saved for the final kick down the straight.

As a result, the last two races have delivered blanket finishes and surprising results to many. A heavy speed bias has been on show at Meydan over the past couple of years and logically horses with superior pace should receive plenty of respect. That much sounds obvious, but be ever fearful of the stalker in the pack.

After looking at the previous two years races on Tapeta in depth, rather than celebrating the best horse on merit, as Nad al Sheba most often did, Meydan's Tapeta has favoured the horse with the savviest rider who gets the best trip.

The Contenders

So You Think – J: J O’Brien. Gate 4
Age: 6
Weight: 9.0

The globe-trotting 6 year old will be racing in his fifth country within 15 months. Looking at his last three races one has to come up with three different excuses. In short the horse, in my opinion, looking at the way he finished 2011 appeared as if it was a race or two too many.

But this is an eight-time Group 1 winner spanning Australia and Europe we are talking about here and quite rightly has had some time to rest since. The best form in the book it has to be said. He has run very well fresh in the past, and is due to retire to stud in Australia in the 2nd half of 2012. Is the angle here that connections have him fully wound up for this race? One thing is for certain; there can be no more excuses.

It could just be that the race is set up perfectly for him and can get the toe in from the pacesetters.

Smart Falcon – J: Y Take. Gate 5
Age: 7
Weight: 9.0

A son of February Stakes (G1) winner Gold Allure (Sunday Silence). Smart Falcon has 23 wins from 33 starts and won his last 9 starts. He has won over 2100m on sloppy dirt which points to having stamina and a great attitude. He then won the G1 2011 Tokyo Daishoten against all comers from across the Globe.

Then stepped up in grade Smart Falcon put up a brilliant front running performance over the 10 furlongs of the Grade 1 Kawasaki Kinen on January 25 2012. Connections state Smart Falcon has ‘seasoned well’ and they’re clearly expecting a big run.

Make the assumption that he takes to Tapeta based on how other JAP dirt horses have transferred over (see Transcend and Victoire Pisa last year). A natural front-runner, well drawn to attack, who loves a battle and looks at his best when given the message to kick for home as soon as he enters the stretch.

Game on Dude – J: C Sutherland. Gate 14
Weight: 9.0

The draw has been unkind to say the least. With usual jockey Chantal Sutherland, Game on Dude will undoubtedly need to break quickly from the gate, but being a front-runner will use up a lot of effort to get across early on. I don’t foresee this being too much of an issue and would expect to see Game on Dude helping to dictate the pace.

The question is, now that the draw has been made will he see the trip out or will he be caught by a late finish from the clouds? There are also concerns about him being able to handle the Tapeta too (fourth in the Grade 1 Pacific Classic over Del Mar's Polytrack and lost a photo to First Dude in the Grade 1 Hollywood Gold Cup on Cushion Track).

It cannot be underestimated how important a role Game on Dude plays in the race. An eye catching cruising speed should result in fast early fractions and will give the grinders the target to aim at. Replay from Breeders Cup.

Zazou – J: O Peslier. Gate 3
Age: 5
Weight: 9.0

Ever heard of a horse called Danedream? Certainly not many punters had prior to October 2011. What do the Germans know about horse racing? Lots as it happens.

Zazou (GER) is in fabulous form at the moment. Check the form out; a winner of the Group 1 Premio Roma in November beating Rio De La Plata, a close third after hitting trouble in the Group 1 Hong Kong Cup in December, won a handy prep race on synthetic at Chantilly in March. Oh and that last win happened to be the second time in a row that he'd beaten Cirrus des Aigles (granted not at best) – who beat So You Think in the Group 1 at Ascot.

With jockey Olivier Peslier who gets on well with horse, back on board this horse deserves plenty of respect and the times clocked at 2000m back that up. Peslier has been quite bullish in the run up too.

Royal Delta – J: J Lezcano. Gate 7
Age: 4
Weight: 8.9

The female. Champion three year old. Trained by Bill Mott who knows a thing or two about winning a race like this (see Cigar). By all accounts has been walking around Meydan as if she owns it. Great to hear and very positive. Tapeta won’t be an issue based on the fine win (in an allowance) at Keeneland's Polytrack April 2011.

She has never raced against males before, and certainly not males of this calibre. Winner of the Grade 1 Alabama and the Breeders' Cup Ladies' Classic. Royal Delta returned to action in second behind Awesome Maria in the Grade 3 Sabin at Gulfstream Park.

Bought for a mere $8.5 million, trainer Mott has specifically targeted this race. Mott says “The one thing we don’t know is whether she is good enough, but the distance doesn’t seem to be a factor; she’s won at a mile and a quarter. She’s won race on a synthetic track. She’s won under the lights and she doesn’t need any medication to speak of. She’s jumped through a lot of the hoops that you have to clear to win here”

Royal Delta gets a slight weight advantage (take off 2kg) and regular rider Jose Lezcano will likely break nicely and race prominently a few lengths off the pace and grind it out at the business end.

Eishin Flash – J: C P Lemaire. Gate 2
Age: 5
Weight: 9.0

Eishin Flash is the five-year-old son of King's Best and is a winner of the 2010 Japanese Derby.

The form book is quite impressive. Last year’s World Cup winner Victoire Pisa was third to Eishin Flash when the latter raced as a three-year-old in the Tokyo Yushun Derby.

Eishin Flash is out of King's Best and is trained by Hideaki Fujiwara. The winner of the 2010 Tokyo Yushun was last seen finishing second to Orfervre (Triple Crown winner and Japan Horse of the Year 2011) in the Arima Kinen in December 2011.

Popular opinion suggests that if Orfevre was dropped into this race he would likely be 2nd favourite so that suggests the price on Eishin Flash is a value bet with the likelihood that the horse is on the upgrade. The tight track at Nakayama suggests the similar profile at Meydan could suit. Despite not winning for a while, Eishin Flash is a real live chance here.

Transcend – J: S Fujita. Gate 10
Age: 6
Weight: 9.0

10 career wins in 19 races, including four Grade 1 victories, last year’s runner up Transcend returns for owner Koji Maeda. Here’s where the pace bias theory kicks in; last year, Transcend hit the front early and all thought the pace was being set accordingly. All apart from Victoire Pisa. Victoire Pisa loomed up on the outside and forced a quicker pace forcing Transcend to commit and get involved in a fight with Victoire Pisa in the final furlong. Transcend finished a valiant second. That’s a ½ L 2nd at a cool 40-1.

Since that effort, Transcend has won a Listed Mile and a Grade 1. However, his first race of the season finished in an ordinary 7th. Goes better fresh so let’s draw a line through that.

There will be a battle to dictate the pace and it would be no surprise to see Transcend stay prominent about 2 wide if beaten to the rail. Much respected on last year and 2nd out of the ballot connections chose stall 10. Has to go well.

Capponi – J: A Ajtebi. Gate 11
Weight: 9.0

One of four Godolphin entries in the race, Capponi deserves his place after showing eye-catching progress over the duration of the Carnival. Lightly raced recently despatching with Silver Pond, Disa Leader and dead heating with Sarrsar.

Mahmood Al Zarooni has worked his magic and somehow transferred this horse from a Class 2 handicapper at Doncaster to being a comfortable Group 1 Maktoum Challenge winner (over same course and distance and with Ajtebi aloft).

This is tougher though and needs a career best.

Mendip – J: S De Sousa. Gate 13
Age: 5
Weight: 9.0

Given the trip and the day, Mendip is a very capable horse. But, there remain too many question marks about the suitability of the trip. I think it is informative that Godolphin didn't try him in the World Cup a year ago.

After capturing the about 1 3/16-mile Maktoum Challenge Round 2, he stepped up to 1 1/4 miles for Round 3, only to disappoint in 11th.

Godolphin new boy Silvestre de Sousa gets the ride, and while that is eye catching enough, it’s a leap of faith to trust. Priced accordingly.

Silver Pond – J: J Murtagh. Gate 9
Age: 5
Weight: 9.0

Was entered in the Arc De Triomphe and beaten 8L by Danedream. Beaten 4L in March at the Carnival by Capponi.

He capped the year with a troubled third to Group 1 Melbourne Cup winner Dunaden in the Group 1 Hong Kong Vase.

The 4L defeat to Capponi was Silver Pond’s first start on Tapeta and has room to improve off that debut. This his second start for trainer Doug Watson.

Master of Hounds – J: C Soumillon. Gate 1
Age: 4
Weight: 9.0

The 4-year-old colt finally broke through for his first Group 1 win in his last start, when he charged home to win the Jebel Hatta on turf in March. That was a front running performance and I’m not too sure that, even though breaking from Gate 1, he will get the same run of the race here. I think other horses will break quicker and with their natural game to dictate means Master of Hounds could get pinned on the rail. As a result the pace will be hard to peg back on the kick. Opposable based on that.

Mike de Kock trains the son of Kingmambo, who prior to the Jebel Hatta has performed with credit at the Carnival but moreover missed by a whisker in last year's Group 2 U.A.E. Derby on World Cup night for Aidan O'Brien. Christophe Soumillon will ride.

Monterosso – J: M Barzalona. Gate 8
Age: 5
Weight: 9.0

Monterosso is a horse that gets on with Tapeta. If you look at last year's race (beaten 3/4L into 3rd) it’s clear he was looking for a split about 300M out but just couldn’t find it nor the final gear.

Proven that he likes the surface, and eventually was staying on like a train last year so this year it depends where Barzalona places him when it comes to kicking for home. Al Zarooni has admitted that the previous run was nothing more than a warm up for this race so read nothing into his last effort other than it being a pipe opener - as this has been the target all along for Monterosso.

Lightly raced, this will be the second start of the year for Monterosso, who finished fourth to Capponi in the Al Maktoum Challenge last time out and I’d consider the cobwebs to be blown away sufficiently to make him a likely place candidate again, but will need a career best to take the win. Always finishes his races well and can grind out at the business end - it wouldn’t be like Barzalona to swoop down the outside now would it?

Prince Bishop – J: L Dettori. Gate 12
Age: 5
Weight: 9.0

Gelded in the Autumn of 2011, and appeared to work the Oracle as he won in November 2011 and then January 2012. But then appeared to tail off in the next two starts. The last time out 3rd does him a slight injustice in that he missed the break, was harried into the pace, ridden wide and still crept in the back door into a good 3rd to Capponi in Round 3.

Clearly looks to be the first choice of Godolphin based on the jockey booking of Dettori but based on the form book, would need a career best to win this. I’m making the assumption that Dettori has chosen this horse because he feels there is more to come and with a smoother trip will be in the mix.

Planteur – J: R Moore. Gate 6
Age: 5
Weight: 9.0

Typically known for exclusively racing on turf this will be the first run on Tapeta. The French Group 1 winner will be making his debut for new trainer Marco Botti who took Gitano Hernando to the World Cup in 2010 and 2011.

The form book shows his form was affected by the botched attempt at being a miler but back at the preferred 10f the nicely bred son of Danehill Dancer could surprise a few people.

Keep in mind that Planteur has won first out in each of his three prior seasons of racing, and will get the excellent Ryan Moore in the plate.


This, now, very much looks like a race where the favourite can be taken on. All of the International markets agree that So You Think is the clear class act, clear on figures and clear on form. Fresh after a break likely to be tuned up and will be tough to beat. But at the price and the recent poor record of the favourite in the race I think it prudent to look elsewhere at a larger price.

A legitimate pace scenario sees Capponi battling it out with Game on Dude. The other front runners in the race will not have encountered a pace rival like Game on Dude and if he can break early dodge traffic Game on Dude could be 3 lengths clear in no time and he might just put them all away.

But from a great draw, Smart Falcon is likely to take up the challenge and dictate. Pace, stamina, guts, proven over distance, a Timeform rating of 126 (5lb shy of So You Think). He gets a tentative selection.

If playing the Exotics i.e. forecast/reverse forecast/combination forecast and each way shots, I suggest looking for a horse that will be well placed, able to commit early and grind it out. I’d use Monterosso (Timeform 124) who is great value at a huge price, Transcend could sneak under the radar and into a place. Eishin Flash completes the genuine contenders.

Selection – Smart Falcon
Each Way Plays – Eishin Flash, Monterosso, Transcend

sectional times angle at the Dubai World Cup

Guest blogger Steven Lines, @sjlone1, takes a look at the Dubai World Cup meeting from a sectional timing angle, something almost totally foreign to British punters!

Dubai World Cup Sectional Times

The recent announcement of the use of sectional timing during the QIPCO Champions Series has given racing presenters and pundits much welcome alternative filler to the common fare of flawed breeding analysis. Instead of searching through a three-generation pedigree grasping to find “the one to take from the race” in a Catterick seller they will be scouring the Tuftrax sectionals for any 11 second furlongs – these will then be interpreted as “broken his/her opponents” or “went too fast “….. depending on the horses finishing position!

British sectionals, for us who only get paid when our opinions are correct, are meaningless. Our racecourses can’t even supply correct race distances – witness the course records broken at Newbury recently! Denman et al; great Hennessy winners of the past, have now been eclipsed by Ikorodu Road.

Sectionals were developed for All Weather racing; consistent going and no rail movement….yes of course it would be more beneficial to concentrate efforts in sectional timing to the AW but punters still languish at the foot of the food chain - and QIPCO and the BHA will find it easier to “network” at Ascot or Newmarket than a mid-winter Thursday at Southwell. Sectional timing is common throughout the rest of the racing empire, but our racing is the best in the world I hear you say! The Premier League is the ‘best in the world’ – according to those who make a living out of it – but the England team performance contradicts this belief. I suggest racing wears the same tinted spectacles…… Why use sectionals? Unless you have the eyes of Pricewise, you will see the race exactly as 99% of viewers - and bookmakers. Combine the visual with readily available ratings and you create a very efficient assessment of the horse’s chance - which is readily reflected in bookmaker’s odds. Taking the subjective view out of the race may give the analysis a “system” feel but it does produce underbet selections. It also relieves the pressure at those times when every wagering opinion you have concludes wrongly…..

How do they work…… comes the science bit. Two evenly matched horses both ran their last race in 1:09.8 – giving them an identical ‘final time’ speed figure. Fractional times show us horse A ran 22.2 secs for the 1st 2 furlongs and 24.8 for the last 2 furlongs. Horse B ran 23.2 and 23.8 respectively. The middle fraction for both was 22.8. Converting the figures to feet-per-second gives a value for each fraction:

Horse A 59.45 57.89 53.22 Average 56.85 fps. Early pace % 35 of final time
Horse B 56.89 57.89 55.46 Average 56.74 fps. Early pace % 33 of final time

So from identical final time speed figures we have an objective, determining difference. Horse A has shown the ability to run faster – although favourable race conditions and competent jockeyship are still vital. Calculations are a bit more complex with the need to include beaten lengths.

Godolphin Mile

All angles point to the favourite, AFRICAN STORY. Even when defeated by stablemate SANDAGIYR, his converted fractions show him to be the quicker horse. From a back to lay in-running angle the 10/1 available now for DO IT ALL seems good value, obviously the 11 draw doesn’t help but De Souza is world class and there is no other recognised early speed in the race. WESTERN ARISTOCRAT is the unexposed wildcard.

A small combination forecast on the Godolphin runners and DO IT ALL (10/1) with a view to laying either pre-race or in-running will be the play.

Dubai Gold Cup

Races over 10f and further don’t lend themselves to sectional pace ratings – class and stamina becoming a more important performance factor.

UAE Derby

An impossible race to analyse with differing lines of form from Australia, Argentina, UAE, France, US, Japan and Britain. The Dubai sectionals figures show MICKDAAM should confirm placings with SURFER and COUNTERGLOW from their last meeting, although KINGLET has the figures to be competitive if you can forgive his last race. ENTIFAADHA should reverse form with BURANO but the ‘bounce’ factor and first time on Tapeta maybe negative factors. I’ll be scouring the match bets.

Different races need to be approached in different ways. If given a free bet in this race I would look for a horse that had won a Group 1 and was within 3lbs of Timeform top rated – I would then switch to a casino site and choose black or red! Good luck…

Al Quoz Sprint

Another race not conducive to sectional ratings – the figures are always distorted in favour of the late runners.

Dubai Golden Shaheen

Another race where time analysis is fruitless. Group 1 winning form on show from Australia, Hong Kong, US and Singapore. Five Group 1 winners, four are which are still open to improvement, plus some useful local runners, mean a place lay of ROCKET MAN won’t do too much damage – sorry, can’t help myself defaulting to the subjective view!

Dubai Duty Free

MUTAHADEE is a prime example of the use of sectionals. The calculations show him to comfortably be the best horse in the race when behind MASTER OF HOUNDS on his last outing. The horse I’ve been waiting for… a little race at Jebel Ali on a Thursday would have seen the credit cards maxed; but against hardened Group 1 performers? The computer says……yes.

Dubai World Cup

Another gathering of different form lines; again making time comparison analysis worthless but CAPPONI has figures to make him an in-running back to lay play. Drawn wide in 11 he needs to gain an uncontested position pressing likely pace setters MASTER OF HOUNDS and SMART FALCON. His smart turn of foot in the final fraction could see him trade short as the finishers try to close him down in the straight.

There it is then – Excel has crunched the sectionals and spewed out African Story and Mutahadee as likely winners – which won’t be too difficult to land on by traditional study but it is Do It All and Capponi where, hopefully, sectionals will allow us to make a profit from the race within the race.

If nothing else, sectionals will reduce the number of times we have to endure the ‘as a son of blah de blah out of a blah de blah mare he should prefer a bit of blah de blah…..’ I’ll pay for that.

More previews to come tonight/tomorrow morning!

Tuesday, 27 March 2012

Dubai World Cup meeting

Stay tuned for previews this weekend of the richest meeting in the world, the Dubai World Cup from Meydan. If you'd like to be a guest blogger, drop me a line on here or Twitter. At least three races covered so far, hoping to cover at least half of them and I might even get time to write one....

Thursday, 15 March 2012

Johnny Henderson Grand Annual Chase

James Jack, @materialista27, runs through the field for the final race of the week...

The Grand Annual closes the festival on Friday and is a Grade 3 handicap for 5 year olds and older The runners will tackle 14 fences over 2 miles and a half furlong on the New Course. Despite it's position in the running order of the festival, the Grand Annual is the oldest race of the week and was first run in 1834. As the race carries the name of his father, Nicky “oh gee I've had another winner” Henderson has 6 runners in race, so if like me you haven't backed many of them, you'll have plenty of chances in this and even if he comes up dry, his smug mug will be all over the racing news for the next few weeks so we can all look forward to that. We have 1 previous winner in the field this year in the form of Oiseau De Nuit.

French Opera 11-12
Henderson's first entry was 2nd in this race 2 years ago and 3rd the year before that. Slowly getting back to form finishing 2nd at Newbury on his seasonal reappearance, but the main concern is that he's carrying a stone more than most of the market leaders.
In with a chance for a place.

Cornas 11-4
Decent chaser, with a few good efforts over 2 miles, but 10 now and an amateur hasn't won this race in the last 40 years.
Doubtful to get in the frame.

Oiseau De Nuit 11-2
Reigning champion, but as this week has panned out, he isn't Big Buck's so unlikely he'll win. Hasn't won since that effort last year and is 7lb higher than last year.
Leave out.

Tanks For That 10-13
Another one for the man who's face you'd never tire of punching. Geraghty takes the ride on this one for Henderson, won over 2 miles here in November but 22lbs higher in this race. Still, cannot be written off based on the form these 2 are in this week.
Small EW play on this one.

Kid Cassidy 10-9
Looks like he-who-must-not-be-named's first string. McCoy takes the ride, but he's been largely quiet this week, so it's be typical for him to pop up in the winner's enclosure here. Fell on chase debut, but bounced back with 2 wins. Never been out of the frame when completing the course. Has never run at Cheltenham so we'll see how he handles the hill but 2nd over hurdles at Sandown shows he can handle an uphill finish.
There or thereabouts.

Astracad 10-9
The Twiston-Davies team have been quiet at the festival since Imperial Commander's Gold Cup triumph in 2010. However he's had a bit of a break since winning over course and distance in December and the race will be run to suit.
Include in all forecasts.

Renard 10-8
Has produced a few good efforts this season for Venetia Williams but as a result has vaulted up in the ratings. Won last time at Taunton when back to this trip. Manfully finished 4th at Cheltanham on New Year's Day but that was over 2 miles 5 furlongs so should be discounted. I've had a niggly feeling all week that Venetia will have a winner in one of these handicaps, so this is her last chance.
Not for me.

Kumbeshwar 10-8
Alan King's charge had taken well to fences this year, and finished 2nd in the Albert Bartlett last year. Wears blinkers for the first time which should help in this type of race. Improved when tried in a visor on the flat, looks like a pointer for this effort.
Looks like the winner for me.

Toubab 10-7
Nicholls and Walsh, punters' friends for the last few year at the Festival, bounced back with Big Bucks' stunning victory, but with questions over the yard, he might not be at his best and his best is what'd be required in this race.

King Edmund 10-7
Donkey, even with promising claimer Declan Cannon on board. Best form has come at Ascot, and Cheltenham is very different. I would be surprised if he's anywhere near the frame.
Don't even think about it.

Slieveardagh 10-5
Mainly run in novice chases this season for Eddie O'Grady and has acquitted himself well. Andrew Lynch will be hoping to make up for his final “fence” blunder on Sizing Europe. Yet to run on these shores, so it's unknown how he'll handle the trip and the conditions.
I'll give him a miss.

Eradicate 10-4
Henderson's 6th string on paper, too many questions over the hill, the ground and the jockey. Has only beaten 10 horses over fences.
Don't touch it.

Tara Royal 10-3
*Bottle-job” McCain got a well deserved defeat with Peddler's Cross in the Jewson. Tara had his best effort at Musselburgh last time out in winning his first chase since debut over fences at Haydock in summer 2010. Hard to believe he'll make the jump to winning this, but Maguire looked masterful in the first race of the festival, so it'd be nice symmetry if he could book-end the meeting with the winner here.
Tricast selection.

Bellvano 10-2
It's been a while since I talked about a Nicky Henderson runner in this, so let's have another one. Most of his success has come in small fields against shire horses. Even with Paul Carberry on board, he won't find much off the bridle, so he'll plod up the hill in 10th or 11th.
No thanks.

Anquetta 10-2
Stick with me folks, this is Hendo's last one, and this is the sneaky one the stable lad will have his million on. Finished 6th in the race last year and despite falling and finishing last on his previous 2 starts, Henderson has said a word about this one, so he'll likely come stonking up the hill and complete a memorable festival for the Henderson team just to spite me.
Will probably finish either first or last.

Lucky William 10-2
Thomas Cooper brings this one over from Ireland after running in Grade 1 chases last twice. Likes a softer track than this as last two wins came in soft and heavy conditions including a 2 mile chase at Punchestown in October. Will be running well at the finish, but as he'll be outpaced by faster ground runners, he'll be running on in 8th or 9th.
Leave it out.

Ultimate 10-1
Brian Ellison saddles this one, and although winning last time out at Doncaster, this is a much tougher test and the booking of a 7lb claimer doesn't inspire confidence. His only other chase win came on good to firm, after his somewhat mince hurdling career.
I wouldn't touch it with your betting slip.

Free World 10-0
Still with me? Nearly there now. Ran over hurdles last time out as he was pulled up on his last 2 chasing efforts, and although he'll probably complete this time, it seems unlikely he'll be in with a shout. Owner Clive Smith will be pre-occupied with the great Kauto earlier in the day, so he won't mind this one dawdling home a good few lengths behind the rest.
No chance.

De Boitron 10-0
Ferdy Murphy provides the ride for the delightful Lucy Alexander. Finished 4th in the race last year, and despite a couple of lamentable efforts at Donny and Ascot, was much better at Mussleburgh last time out. Course and distance winner in the past and looks to be regaining that form. Probably the last and best chance for a female jockey winner this week.
Will go very close.

Idarah 10-0
You don't see many American bred winners at the Cheltenham festival, and this won't be one of them. Nina Carberry on board for Paul Cashman, he won 3 weeks ago at Naas on soft ground, but still could be dangerous from this weight if Nina can get over her various disappointments this week.
Small EW chance.

Norther Bay 10-0
Will likely make the running for Eoin Griffin and Paul Townend, and will probably throw Paul off at some point. You may have seen him last time out finishing last over 1 mile 5 furlongs on the Dundalk AW, and based on his last win at Listowel, has plenty to find and should probably be switched back to hurdles last season.
Back it only if you're daft or rich.

Spread your 10 points on:
4pt win Kumbeshwar
2pt win De Boitron
1pt win Tara Royal
0.5pt ew Tanks For That
0.5pt ew Astracad
0.5 pt ew Idarah

Martin Pipe Conditional preview

After the Gold Cup it gets very tough. Bookies hoping to cash in on the last couple of races as the Festival winds down and the one-day drinkers get right into it. Jim Kent @jkbet has lined up to take a stab at one of the toughest races of the week.


Named after the great trainer and this being only the fourth edition, I've drawn the short straw here, as it's been notoriously difficult to crack, but I will have a go anyway.

I'm narrowing my runners down to a big field experience, with preferably a half decent run at the course, and a jockey with some experience.

First port of call is with the Great Man's son, David.

Looks to be Pipe's best chance here, some good past hurdle form on good ground with this jockey on board.

This fella seems to me, to be the Man of the moments best chance. 3 wins on the bounce and a jockey who rode a lovely race to notch a 40/1 winner on Wednesday

This is a horse that's caught my eye this season. Running in three decent handicaps and faring well and this step up in trip and the good ground, could see this fella get into the shakeup.

Probably will go off favourite and rightly so in my opinion. Good flat form, goes well on the good ground and the form of his last race looks impressive with Smad Place running so well in the World Hurdle

Charlie Longsdon has had a few winners over the last month and this horse was put away in December, maybe with better spring ground in mind. He has big field experience and wins on good ground and is another I like at the bigger prices

The Great Charlie Swan brings this fella over from our side of the pond. A good fifth in a recognized trials race at Leopardstown and a bumper win at Towcester on good ground, so trip and ground will suit well. Keep an eye on Citizenship in the 2.05 as he has won that particular race.

These are the six that I've come up with and being the second last race, I like to try a few forecast and tricasts in this, I'll probably back the shorter ones on the nose and a few each-ways on the bigger prices. I'll hope to click, so the Guinness can keep flowing!!!!


Albert Bartlett preview

The Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle is a tough test, three miles for the out-and-out novice stayers. Andy Charles, @capitalgull, lines up the form.

American Spin – A late comer to the hurdling ranks at eight, and did win an egg and spoon race at Fontwell, but well and truly up against it in this grade.

Benheir – Asking a lot to progress from being beaten at Ffos Las (easy winner there on debut) last month and needs to find a couple of stones to challenge the leading lights.

Big Occasion – Couldn’t fault this one’s attitude in his most recent victory at Carlisle but that form is well over a stone off the quality needed for this. Likely to be up front early but staying there is a different matter.

Boston Bob – There will be many Irish punters heading home before the Gold Cup if this Willie Mullins charge is beaten. Opted for the longer trip of this race over the Neptune where speed could have been a concern. His form is top class but this will be the first time he has encountered ground as quick as this. A short price given that concern.

Brindisi Breeze – Has clearly improved since his defeat at Musselburgh in a bumper but has that progression come because of the slower ground? Slogged a decent field into submission at Haydock last month but this could test his pace. Another sure to be up front and vulnerable late.

Dawn Commander – Gambled on to win a handicap at Bangor last time but found one too good and jumped sloppily (probably cost connections the win). Shouldn’t be good enough to win this despite coming from a shrewd and in-form yard.

Fill The Power – Tried Grade 1 company when thrashed by Fingal Bay at Newbury – that probably sums up his chance in this race. Brave front-running winner at Newcastle before but this is too hot for him.

Fox Appeal – Still very green when winning a second Taunton handicap last time out. Clearly has a lot of talent but only ever just does enough and might not be one to enjoy the battle this event will clearly become.

Grand Vision – Formerly frustrating type who got the winning habit two runs ago and repeated the dose at Haydock last month. But beating staying chaser Sa Suffit is something of a different task to this.

Hard To Swallow – Yet to win over hurdles and hasn’t always jumped very well either. Could have finished second to Fingal Bay had he stood up in Persian War at Chepstow on decent ground which he will have here. Tough to see him winning but not worst of the outsiders.

Ipsos Du Berlais – Well beaten by Boston Bob before Christmas but has regained the winning thread since. Hard to imagine him turning around the form with the favourite but there are few shrewder trainers than Noel Meade.

Lovcen – Would have been easier to judge had he not fallen in the race won by Rocky Creek at Doncaster. Since won a competitive handicap at Wincanton (well backed to do so) and should handle rough and tumble of this, but is he good enough?

Meister Eckhart – Put in his place by Brindisi Breeze last time out and hard to see him reversing that even if the ground is very different here.

Mount Benbulben – One of the season’s talking horses proved a costly failure when slipping up on his hurdles debut. Has won twice since then before going down to Boston Bob last time out. Said not to be right that day and worth noting he was made favourite – much better is expected this time.

Rocky Creek – A really taking winner at Doncaster (Lovcen an early faller) and already looks to be a chaser in the making. Undoubtedly has a chance here and the apple of Paul Nicholls’ eye, but lack of experience would have to be a concern for me.

Sea Of Thunder – Would have absolutely bolted up here in December but for knuckling over at the last. Although that form is not top-class all of his best form is on good ground and a repeat of it would have him in the shake-up and his trainer has a history of Festival success with Weapons Amnesty winning this in 2009.

Sivola De Sivola – An eye-catcher over two miles at Cheltenham last time, Tom George’s grey will be suited by this return to a staying trip. Paddy Brennan adores this six-year-old and thinks he will run a huge race – his form is probably 10lbs off but sure to be staying on late.

The Bosses Cousin – Won his only hurdle so far in good style at Fairyhouse but this is a huge step up in class and trip, which is easily enough to put you off despite coming from the powerful Mullins yard.

The Druids Nephew – Scored in game fashion at Kempton last time to open his account under rules but another taking a huge rise in class and easily opposed.

Tour Des Champs – Struggled since debut win and was too bad to be true when pulled up on horrible ground at Haydock last time. Different conditions today but needs to find rapid improvement.


While most of Ireland will be cheering on Boston Bob to rescue them at the end of a bad week (at time of writing) for the Emerald Isle, it could well be another raider on top in this contest that lacks depth. It was hard not to be impressed by SEA OF THUNDER’S Cheltenham performance last year (despite the fall) and back on better ground he could be the one to cause a bit of a surprise. Sivola De Sivola is respected and should be coming home well and Hard To Swallow would not be the most surprising improver now the winter ground has disappeared.

Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle

A top class handicap race named after possibly the greatest ever trainer to set foot on a British racecourse. And typically, it looks damn hard to solve. Solving the puzzle is Richard Skeen, whose blog can be found here.

Vincent O’Brien County Hurdle (Grade 3)

A right old cavalry charge of a race run over 2m 1f for five year olds and older. The race tends to feature runners who have met previously throughout the season notably at the Ladbroke Hurdle at Ascot, the Betfair Hurdle at Newbury and the Boylesports Hurdle in Ireland – where Final Approach who won this race last year had his run prior to winning. Paul Nicholls and Irish trainers have been responsible for the last five winners so these runners should be noted. 27 runners line up so to find the winner will be an element of luck.

Quickly on trends – no horse has carried more than 11st 8lb to win since 1960, while only one horse has carried more than that weight to place since 1979. Horses rated between 128 to 135 have won 7 of the last 10 renewals. Other key things to consider are that ten of the last ten winners had run in the past 60 days and run at least three times that season. Nine of the last ten winners were first or second season hurdlers so those old dour runners may be able to be discounted. Favourites are worth noting have won three of the past 10 runnings – while five year olds have won three of the past four so again should be kept on side.

Starluck – The top weight is a real class horse having run in a Champion Hurdle and beaten a nose in a Grade 1. The weight burden may just strike him out however. He is though a massive price at 40/1 based on past ability.

Clerks Choice – Is another runner who has run in a Champion Hurdle and another who seems to have had his better days behind him. He’s not won since October 2010 and is probably best left alone.

Moon Dice – also has to contend with the weight stat, however, he is a fair bit shorter in the betting than the previous two and ran a belter in the Greatwood off 144 in November. He looks reasonably well handicapped on the bare form of that run but the past 60 days stat also concerns me.

Via Galilei – Had a cracking season last year winning a valuable Newbury handicap and then running well in defeat since. He doesn’t look to have much in hand from the handicapper to me though.

Ubi Ace – Has moved from Tim Walford’s yard to Jonjo O’Neill having been snapped up by JP McManus. He keeps improving and beat the afore-mentioned Via Galilei back at Sandown. Again though like a few at the top of the handicap he doesn’t seem to have much in hand.

Sailors Warn – Is a horse I’ve followed for a long time and is one who is going to pop up in one of these big handicaps one day. His Triumph form is solid form and if you watch that run back he raced alone from the second last which wouldn’t have helped. He’s since run well behind Unaccompanied and in several competitive heats. He will pop up one day and comes into calculations.

Raya Star – Won the Ladbroke earlier the season and held his form well to finish third in the Betfair Hurdle behind Zarkandar, he’s a horse who looks to still be on the upgrade. The form of Alan King this week would concern me though.

Desert Cry – The form of Donald McCain’s yard is in form though and interesting to note McCain says of this fella he is handicapped to win a big pot. I’d suggest he’s best left watched but could well be a plot job. Maguire rides.

The Bull Hayes – Irish raider from the yard of Jessica Harrington, his form over good ground would worry me and his price reflects his chance.

Dirar – Won the 2010 Ebor Handicap at York and Gordon Elliott nominates him as his best handicap chance of the week. He was beaten 4l in the same race of 138 last year and now off 140 I’d speculate there are a number better handicapped. Though I could easily be wrong.

Dee Ee Williams – Has been mixing it in a number of decent races, was third in this race in 2010 off 135 before being pulled up last year. Form has tailed off and his mark hasn’t dropped much.

Local Hero – Has some decent form in the book, not least last time out behind Simonsig, who slaughtered the Neptune field. Based on that run he could be a fair bit better than 140 and his Cheltenham form stands up to scrutiny have finished 8th in the Triumph and beating Third Intention off levels in the Finesse. Worth watching.

Alderwood – AP McCoy rides which is eye-catching. The form though to me to looks pretty basic and I can’t see why he’s running off 139.

Lifestyle – Runs for the dream combination Henderson/Geraghty and that alone will see money come for the horse. She won a handicap off 135 so may not be handicapped out of it and then was sent off at 11/2 for a handicap of 141 behind Celestial Halo. 33s is a big price.

Alarazi – If this gelding recaptures some past form has a chance, won the Imperial Cup last year and form at Cheltenham is solid was sent off favourite for this race last when coming tenth. That was off 131 – may be a little high still off 138. Though again 40s is a large old price.

Plan A – Gordon Elliott doesn’t seem as bullish over this runner as he does Dirar and although he ran well in last year’s Fred Winter he’s flattered to deceive a bit since.

Edgardo Sol – From the Nicholls yard is another decent price for me, beaten 1l off a mark of 134 in December. He ran reasonably well behind Sire De Grugy at Taunton, the last day. Harry Derham takes off 7lb and 33/1 could look big after the race.

Hell’s Bay – Has been chasing. Doesn’t look in decent form and his old hurdles form doesn’t suggest he has anything out of the ordinary hiding in the locker.

Snap Tie – Falls down majorly on the last 60 days stats having not run for 882 days! He was targeted for this race last year but then didn’t turn up. No doubt he is well handicapped on form three years ago – but three years ago. 10/1 in places. No thanks.

Magnifique Etoile – Is an interesting runner of 136 having run well this season in winning three maiden and novice events by a country mile before performing with credit in the Tolworth. Five year olds do have a good record and he’s been saved for this.

Redera – Is another Irish raider who could well have a few pounds up his sleeve. Tony Martin is one trainer I really can’t get a grasp on.

Olofi – Is no doubt handicapped well and has been punted to win a couple of these types of races and with luck he would have won a few. He’s still on 136 and his form at Cheltenham is solid. I think he should be nearer favourite than the 16/1 he is with Corals. Worth noting.

Master Of Arts – We’re now into the 128-135 bracket of trend winners. This horse was backed substantially last week in the Imperial Cup before running a stinker. He may have needed the run, but to counter that this may come soon afterwards.

Ted Spread – Also ran in the Imperial Cup and also ran a little flat. He’s 5 though and does have the Walsh/Nicholls combo. Having been backed as if defeat was out of the question last week his mark may not be beyond him. 20s could be worth a few quid.

Ifyouletmefinish – Is a horse I’ve followed this season as he’s run in a number of races with Triumph form. So if Grumeti, Pearl Swan or Urbain de Sivola run big races there it’s worth noting. He’s from an unfashionable yard and may drift, has a really likeable attitude. 135 may underestimate.

Ingleby Spirit – Richard Fahey won’t have had many Cheltenham runners but he has one here and one in grand form his 5l defeat of this mark though suggest the handicapper may have his measure.

Citizenship – Won the same race that Final Approach took before winning this last year. He’s gone up 15lb for that win having won off 118. I think 7s is too short because although he could still well be handicapped well the rise is a fair bit to overcome and he may not have the class of some others.

Court In Session – The bottom weight, beaten miles in last four runs has very little to recommend.

Summary – Going to concentrate on those near the bottom of the weights and fling a few darts – because these events are minefields, by all means play them each-way but I tend to do win only. I do think Olofi is primed to win a big pot someday soon and he is worth backing with Corals at 16/1. I’d also recommend bets on Ted Spread – I tend to ignore one bad run so give him another chance. Local Hero is another worth considering and I’ve backed him also at 25/1.

Olofi 2pt win 16/1 Corals
Ted Spread 1pt win 20/1 William Hill
Local Hero 1pt win 25/1 Paddy Power

Follow Richard on Twitter @lonesomepundit

Triumph Hurdle preview

The big juvenile race of the week is the Triumph, and stepping up to the plate is Andy Charles, @capitalgull

Triumph Hurdle

Arctic Reach – Plating class on the flat but made hay last summer when the ground was quick, although well beaten by Countrywide Flame even back then. Off (bar a jumpers bumper) for a while now and wouldn’t have the class to win this.

Asaid – Two low grade wins wouldn’t be enough to win this, although he did split those with a fourth behind Hisaabaat in a Grade 1 in Ireland. Godolphin cast-off from a shrewd yard but up against it.

Baby Mix – Boasts an in-and-out record since arriving in the United Kingdom, winning impressively on debut at Cheltenham before a flop at the same course when he went out like a light after a bad mistake two out. Bounced back at Kempton last time but that race was run to suit more than rival Sadler’s Risk and tables could be turned.

Balder Succes – Three-time winner since, like Baby Mix, coming over from France but his victories do not have a great deal of substance against, in the main, inferior rivals. The manner of his most recent win at Ascot was taking to the eye but doubts over quick ground.

Countrywide Flame – A Northern raider with plenty of experience. His two most recent runs in Grade 1 company read well but looks more one to be fighting out the places rather than storming up the hill to win. Faster ground should suit as well

Darroun – Flat-bred from the blue-blooded Aga Khan lines and impressed when winning a 25-runner maiden at Leopardstown. My main worry would be lack of experience but Willie Mullins is a dab hand with these types and definitely a danger.

Dodging Bullets – Beat Hisabaat (a rival here) on the flat last year and made a most pleasing bow over timber at Kempton when beaten 1 ½ lengths by Grumeti, but the winner was value for more and improvement is required.

Dysios – Former Luca Cumani inmate who has only run over timber twice and won on the second occasion at Navan two weeks ago, but it would be asking a lot to make the jump up from that victory to this level.

Grumeti – Could easily have two, three or four wins from his four starts but as it is it’s the middle of those options thanks to being handed a race at Cheltenham on the disqualification of Pearl Swan and losing one when falling at Newbury. Have a feeling he may prove better on a flat track and could be susceptible to strong finishers here. Reportedly 100% after a minor recent setback.

Hisaabaat – Was beaten by a few of these on his first four runs over timber but came good in a Grade 1 last time out that might hold the key to this race. Blinkers seemed to make the difference that day but they are left off now he has hit the winning thread. Jumped really well in his victory and that is a real positive. Big danger.

His Excellency – Thrashed by Hisaabaat last time out and has thrown away a couple of races because of a questionable attitude. Not for me, the swishing tail will not make him go any faster, that’s for sure.

Hollow Tree – Three-time winner who came off the flat with a decent reputation and enters calculations on his best form. Sure to be up with the pace (has been on every run so far) but might find it tough to keep going when the taps are turned on late.

Mattoral – Handed victory at Chepstow when a rival fell two out and 200/1 is probably about the right price based on his defeat at Sandown.

Pearl Swan – Disqualified after beating Grumeti last time out over course and distance (strange decision in my humble opinion) and that form gives him a cracking chance. The worry would be that he was outpaced for a while on softer ground than anticipated on Friday.

Sadler’s Risk – Flat recruit who was ante-post favourite for this race after winning impressively on his hurdling debut. Not so good second time up (again at Kempton) but the race was not run to suit and this test should be more up his alley. Respected.

Shadow Catcher – Beaten by Hisaabaat at Leopardstown on his most recent run, and while I respect his trainer Gordon Elliott, I am not truly sure why this is shorter in the market than the horse who came out on top last time.

Urbain De Sivola – Thrashed Ranjaan at Taunton a couple of runs ago and won again (dead-heated anyway) at the Somerset venue on his most recent effort. That form has him entering calculations but his jumping has been a concern at times and that could be a real problem with the field likely to go very fast here.

Ut De Sivola – Flopped behind Hisaabaat (and others) at Leopardstown on his first run on quicker ground. Another Mullins runner you would be foolish to ignore but just call me foolish…not for me unless a deluge hits Prestbury Park before the race.

West Brit – Improved a great deal on his debut (pulled up when favourite at Plumpton) to win at Musselburgh but the form is nothing special and probably needs to improve a couple of stones to win here.

Wingtips – Beaten in two big-field Irish juveniles, finishing behind some of his rivals here. Nothing to suggest he can turn around that form.


A wide open renewal of the juvenile championship with strong entries from Britain and Ireland, but it could be Irish eyes smiling for the first time since 2002 (Scolardy) thanks to Dermot Weld’s HISAABAAT. Got off the mark in Grade 1 company last time and although the blinkers have been left off that should not be seen as a huge negative. The leading home challengers have been beating one another but despite his Kempton reverse and the lack of winners from the Hobbs yard Sadler’s Risk could be the best of them. Would be no surprise to see Countrywide Flame run well again and the same remark applies to the blue-blooded Darroun.

the big one - Cheltenham Gold Cup

Big race coverage comes from Clint Smith, better known on Twitter as @snipersnipes

Cheltenham 15:20
Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup Chase (Grade 1)
£500000.00 added, 5yo plus, 3m 2f 110y, Class 1

Here we have possibly the most prestigious race of the week, a culmination of months of work and preparation, a lifetime of dreams and aspirations; everyone wants a Gold Cup Winner!

To the purist it looks a fairly straightforward fight with Long Run holding all the aces, can anyone turn a river card to bust the hand...let's see.....

A wonderful Bob Back bay gelding with some very competitive form in the bank, last time out (LTO) he ran Long Run to within 1/2L in an oddly run race over 3m, on that occasion he did seem to hit one or two flat spots and at 5f was being pushed along only to find his gears again. In a race with a lot more competition and a lot more pace I feel he will get found out, he will always be up there and challenging but he will also falter. It's folly to write off anything being saddled by the great man at the moment but the simple fact is that this one isn't good enough, although I do have it down as 3rd, so it could be a good bet for the place only or EW money and hope that one or two fall or fail to run to form.

A very inconsistent sort who runs poorly or unpredictably. At best was a shock winner (for most) two runs back in the Hennessey and has shown that he stays, can run at any pace and can mix it with the best but you have no idea what type of horse will turn up - the great jumping champion or the dodgepot with a bad attitude and temperament. From a betting perspective this is one to swerve unless you being offered odds that factor in both the horse's chance and the added gamble on what sort of mood it will be in on the day. His current Betfair odds are 80.0 W & 14.0 P this makes this a "fun" alternative to the obvious selections, this for me should be the housewives' selection and hope he's on a going day.

Not a lot to say regarding this beast, an average handicapper at best, not guaranteed to stay a fast run 3m2f, has shown tendencies to throw it in at the end of his races, weakens instead of quickening, his best run was probably Nov 2010 when he was in the mix with Long Run and Sizing Europe at Down Royal, he has everything against him today including a patent lack of scope or ability. One to avoid.

An old favourite, everyone loves "Arry". A real trier with a big heart and some decent form although current form leaves the impression that they are somewhat tilting at windmills at this present juncture. Has been soundly thrashed after not staying in his last two races. I'm afraid Arry will have to lower his sights before he enters the winners' enclosure again. Will not even place, his goose will be well and truly cooked a long way from home. This can only win in the land of fairytales. Great horse with great connections, just not today or any other day in this class (unfortunately a rating of 160 leaves fewer options).

The KING is back and is back in superb form, in fact he is as good as I've seen. His last two victories were imperious, jumped like a stag, travelled without moving and still has heart for a good head to head battle. Twice a winner of this race, beat Long Run last two times, first by an amazing eight lengths and lastly by an ever-decreasing 1.5L in which he bravely battled as Long Run challenged (but never looked like winning). King Kauto is a true star, a true stayer but may struggle to confirm form with Long Run today. I think the King will only manage 2nd here, I can see this with Long Run jumping the last with not more than a length separating them but this time Long Run will run on the better with Burton Port about 4 or 5 lengths back in third. However, if LR falters with his jumping like he has a tendency to do then Kauto will have this sewn up long before the's all going to hinge on the jumping today.

Another old hand that has met and raced with the best without being in front, just a shade and a few pounds below top class. A great performer, honest and reliable but is just under the top tier. Here today for the day out and living in hope of some place prize money ( 6th pays £6700 & 5th £13,400 ) which could be a possibility but has no chance whatsoever of winning.

And we finally move onto the star of the show, Long Run, a true champion, a true stayer and like the King is all class. He has struggled with fitness thus far this season and that has shown in his races making it look like hard work from the get go, but his class has enabled him to be bang there behind Kauto the last two times. I feel the extra 2f will play into Long Runs hands and the extra stamina is the key, Long Run is a better stayer over the extended distances as the 3m2f really does stretch Kauto to the limit. This is a horse only just entering its prime, will win today and will be a major force for some years to come. This for me is the winner, an obvious choice (it's the fav) but has so much in its favour including a lack of genuine contenders that it would be folly to play against unless you're a value hunter or a dreamer.

Interesting runner runner from Mulholland, a good looking sort with obvious ability. A true stayer and does have a touch of class about him. LTO won the Argento quite comfortably beating a few of today's rivals over the extended 3m+ and I see no viable reason why any parts of that form should be reversed. A superb jumper (only fell once before on unsuitable soft ground and when tired at Down Royal), a great mover, races quick between the fences and is tactically versatile. I like this horse and although I can't see past Long Run, this is a quality alternative and will be in the mix for the places. A genuine Group horse and a proper chaser on the upgrade.

The big Mullins hope, not this year matey. For this to get involved it needs two key factors: softer going and weaker opposition. It has run up a small sequence winning some nice races in Ireland against (IMO) very moderate opposition on ideal ground. It has also show a weakness or two with its jumping and rather erratic style. It's a nice horse in its own right and on its home turf, this isn't even the best horse in Ireland over 3m+ so to put it in here is slightly confusing. No chance, avoid.

The mount of the Mighty McCoy, yes take a bow brilliant A.P., and he is rubbing leather with a very curious beast indeed. This one-time failed chaser was being aimed at races like the National a few months ago after failing to cut it. He was no better than a decent handicapper that had potential but was just not putting it all in, then he started to string a few decent races together culminating in the destruction of Rubi Light and Quito de la Roque in the Lexus over 3m on decent ground. That was a stand out performance and if he can run to that level he will give them all something to think about. Do not under estimate, this could be the dark horse, the improver that everyone thought was a step too far and at 20.0 is worth a few shekels of anyone's money EW.

Simply not good enough, can't even understand why he is taking his place in this field. Short on ability, courage, stamina and class, this will get blown away. Not even worth a fun punt, this is just padding out the field and making up the numbers.

You get a certain feeling that as we come down the field the class starts to evaporate like water from a boiling kettle. From the Mullins Yard, maybe it's here to set a pace for others, has absolutely no chance whatsoever. Would need at least 13 other runners to fall to be a consideration, I wouldn't back this in a walkover.

Has been thoroughly thrashed and humiliated by the big guns several times now, has been beaten by the lesser lights and really is out of his depth. Will struggle to place or be with the pace, an ok horse in its own right but well under the class required for this, another that will struggle to find races with a big rating.

Was held in high regard by former trainer Ian Williams ,and new Trainer Donald Mcain has done a good job with the unlocking of this fragile geldings known potential, winning the Charlie Hall and then finishing best of the rest behind Kauto and Long Run in the Betfair Chase he has shown he has ability and will be fighting out the places again, top 6 i think for sure , the battle is truly on for the places.

And finally the last one in is What a Friend. This one led the supporting cast last year coming within a nose of running Kauto Star from 3rd place. Got back to something like his best when third to Long Run in the Denman Chase but as is usually the case with this one, he simply flatters to deceive. Never really puts it all in, looks good and travels well...then nothing, all style over substance.

CONCLUSION: This is Long Run's race for the taking and only he can lose it. A lot will depend on his jumping which has been a bit sketchy at times. I do feel however there will be a better race within this race and that will be for the places and the EW money as lining up behind ( nd possible winners should LR fail) are Kauto Star, Burton Port, Midnight Chase, Synchronised, Weird Al & What A Friend, this is your top 7 but in which order? That's the puzzle within a puzzle, the winner though is the rather obvious LONG RUN.



BEST VALUE BET : Place Only Dutch with SYNCHRONISED / MIDNIGHT CHASE ( 5.0 & 4.0 )

Visit Clint's blog to read more of his musings.

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

political move for Betfair in California

Interesting move here by Betfair just when they are working hard to strike a deal with the Horsemen's Group in order to get exchange wagering off the ground in California. It's already passed through legislature, it just needs approval by industry stakeholders to get going. This isn't the first time they've bought the naming rights to a racecourse, Sandown in Melbourne, Australia, was called Betfair Park for three years (2009-2011) until the deal was recently taken over by Sportingbet.

Betfair signs five year Hollywood Park deal

Betfair has increased its burgeoning American presence with a five-year naming rights deal for Hollywood Park, which will be known as Betfair Hollywood Park.

Betfair, which owns the TVG televised racing and betting network in the States, has pledged to make "significant infrastructure investments and improvements" to the track, which hosted the first Breeders' Cup in 1984 but has been in decline for several years.

Betfair US chief executive Stephen Burn said: "We are deeply committed to changing US horseracing for the better and are delighted to find a partner in Hollywood Park Racing Association willing to take the bold step of trying to change every facet of the racing experience to appeal to a broader, younger audience."

The deal is contingent on the California Horse Racing Board approving 2013 dates for Hollywood Park, threatened by closure in recent years.

The sponsorship comes at a time as the CHRB is considering regulations to legalise the introduction of betting exchanges for California residents.

Byrne Group Plate Handicap Chase preview

Once again it's Dan Kelly attacking a wide open handicap..

Whereas yesterday was a day for the market leaders this race most certainly hasn't been punter friendly with last 4 winners being priced 25/1 18/1 33/1 66/1 and I fancy an upset here. These are my 3 against the field:

Matuhi ran a good 6th in this race last year off 135, and even though here rated 144 I feel he has a better chance round this time round. He finished third behind Calgary Bay and Hectors Choice back here on New Years Day, both have gone on to bigger and better things, Calgary Bay winning the Skybet Chase, and Hectors Choice running a gallant second to Nacarat in the Racing Plus Chase. What is the clincher for me is Tom Bellamy in the saddle. Not only does he take 10lbs off his back, this claimer is 3 from 7 over fences, and won at this track back in November on Swing Bill.

As per my thoughts on the Jewson, Micheal Flips is running in the wrong race, and on the back of that I think the drop back in trip is going to suit The Cockney Mackem greatly. He has form on good ground, and his run behind Micheal Flips reads well given what he did in the Scilly Isles. Wouldn't be Cheltenham without a Twiston-Davies winner.

An interesting jockey booking is the basis of the final selection, Paddy Brennan on Life Of A Luso. Ran a good 3rd to Billie Magern here in October, and a decent 5th over hurdles in April shows the track will not be an issue. Never jumped at Ascot, and was given a sighter at Kempton, picking up best part of £3k in the process. Overpriced in a race that is full of exposed handicappers.

Follow Dan on Twitter, @muffinmannhc.

Jewson Novices Chase preview

Back for more after tipping Son of Flicka today is Dan Kelly, @muffinmannhc. Thursday kicks off with the newest Grade 2 race on the schedule, the Jewson Novices Chase which has attracted quite a handy field. A month ago Peddlers Cross was bombproof, now he's severely on the nose...

Well this little number has certainly livened up in recent weeks. Sprinter Sacre, or the lack of work, has seen Peddlers Cross' target shifted, and Sir Des Champs, well with Mullins any declaration he makes, is always the right one. This much loved addition to the festival roster has a quality look to it.

Yesterday we saw Bobs Worth, Finians Rainbow, Simonsig and even the bumper winner either make it or most certainly sit just off the pace, but this race has a number of runners who will be up there.

Bold Sir Brian has been winning chases in the north fairly convincingly, and this Grade 2 winner over the smaller obstacles has to be respected. He certainly improved for the better ground at Musselburgh as his jumping was breathtaking at times, and all his runs have seen him sit just off the pace. Worry has to be that if this turns into the test I expect it to be, then he could struggle at this level.

Cristal Bonus has beaten nothing of note, and also there are questions to answer with regards to the true well-being of the Nicholls horses, at a single figure price I can't have him on my mind one iota and as such, Duke Of Lucca is swiftly overlooked.

Zaynar has shown himself up just as much as Tom Scudamore has with his riding this week, and I can't envisage either returning to winning sometime soon in current form. Excluding Imperial Shabra who has a task and a half this leaves us with; Champion Court, For Non Stop, Micheal Flips, Peddlers Cross, Red Tanber, Sir Des Champs and Red Tanber. Yes Red Tanber.

Red Tanber deserves a mention just purely based on how this race may pan out, I make it that on evidence seen so far Michael Flips, Duke Of Lucca, Champion Court, Cristal Bonus, Peddlers Cross, Soliz and Zaynar are likely to be up there with a couple likely to cut each others' throats, as such I think quotes of 150/1 are generous for a small each-way play.

As in form as Donald McCain is in, I can't have Peddlers here for the win. It's openly been said that he hasn't had enough schooling as McCain would have liked, and this will be run at a searching clip, so he has to be overlooked at cramped odds of 7/2.

For Non Stop is a quirky sort, at Sandown he looked like he had the beating of Al Ferof yet didn't go through with his challenge, and even at Newbury I felt that he didn't beat Michael Flips as readily as he should have done. Michael Flips should be in the Grand Annual.

I keep reviewing last years Martin Pipe Hurdle, and I see, continually, in disbelief Sir Des Champs get up. Again last time out, I think he's beaten and come the line he is there. He was bought with chasing in mind as he had lost his novice status in France prior to purchase, and he has a favourites chance, and arguably should be clear favourite.

But I declare my love for one, Champion Court. Prior to his win at Cheltenham Nov 10 I thought that Martin Keighley had a sort on his hand if you watch his run at Kilbeggan, he didn't disappoint running away from a sound field. Jan 11 he ran as if something amiss, and at the 2011 Festival he ran with the choke out. Fences would be the making of him, in part they have, but the main ingredient to his improvement in form on New Years Day was tactics. Alain was happy to let him bowl along prominently and make use of him, he won convincingly and I can't see any excuses for placings being reversed with Solix here today.

The two Champs will have it between them tomorrow, heart is hoping Champion Court can do it the hard way from the front, yet 7/2 on Sir Des Champs is too big to overlook.

Ryanair Chase preview

The Ryanair Chase is one of the newer races at the Festival but it has certainly been accepted quickly. This year's field is top class and very tough to split. Back again for another crack at a preview is David Plane, blogger extraordinaire.

Ryanair is an airline associated with insufficient legroom and hidden extra costs. Michael O’Leary is a man whose name is synonymous with garish behaviour and a boss who encourages his employees to steal pens from hotels so they don’t have to spend petty cash money buying them.

Thursday’s Ryanair Chase, by comparison, couldn’t be further from the cheap lipstick and polyester uniform donned by the budget airline’s cabin crew. Instead it offers a first class, turn-left-at-the-aircraft-door, champagne-on-arrival treatment, and national hunt fans will feel their punting pillows being perfectly plumped by this high quality field.

Two hundred and sixty grand is up for grabs for 5yo + horses rated 130 or higher, but with 11 of the 17 entered rated at 170 or more by the BHA Head of Handicapping, the rules and regs really don’t need to be worried about. Indeed, 14 horses lining up have just 8lbs between them and it’s a hugely competitive affair.

Riverside Theatre took all the plaudits at Ascot when impressively winning the Betfair Chase from Alan King’s grey, Medermit, but with Choc Thornton closing towards the line, I am predicting a reversal of that form tomorrow, and after Nicky Henderson and Barry Geraghty ruined my day today, I have added personal (and financial) reason to hope that feeling is borne out.

Rubi Light has been successful in Ireland this season and finished in the places in this race last year, but despite 40 gallons of water being poured over Cleeve Hill in the past fortnight, the ground is probably going to be too fast for him as he tends to prefer it boggy. Alberta’s Run comes back in an attempt to defend his crown for a 2nd time, and loves Cheltenham, but Guinness glass half-full backers of Sizing Europe and Hurricane Fly may well be cautious about lumping on another previous winner – and I certainly put myself in that undistinguished bracket – even with a tempting price of 10-1 about the 11 year old.

Noble Prince and Somersby are both ahead of Medermit in the betting, and there is class further down in the shape of Paddy Power Gold Cup winner and Hennessy placer Great Endeavour, Paul Nicholls’s course specialist Poquelin and WP Mullins’s 20-1 shot Blazing Tempo, who is partnered by Ruby Walsh, last year’s top Cheltenham jockey who will be very keen to get some winners under his belt before Bazza G runs away with the 2012 title.

Little Josh is rated well below the others and is deservedly a very long shot, the others are available at around 40-1 (we can’t have another one of those after today can we?) and Captain Chris won’t be getting any more of my money after I tied up ½ pt each-way on him for the Gold Cup in the ante post market.

The Ryanair isn’t easy(jet) to call – but it should be one of the highlights of the week. Sorry – it’s been a rough day!

You can follow David on Twitter, @planey2k

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Champion Bumper preview

Some people love it, others hate it - it's the Champion Bumper. I quite like it as there are no obstacles to get in the way! The team at @cheltofestival have helped me out again with this thorough preview:

Mathew Waters previews the Champion Bumper
note - written before final declarations, so runners and prices may differ.

In the 19 runnings of this race, significant trends have emerged. It has been a strong race for the Irish, with 14 Irish winners (6 from Willie Mullins alone), from only around a third of the runners. It has also generally been a race for fancied runners with 14 of the 19 coming from the top 6 in the betting. Unlike other races at the Festival, horses put away for this race have fared very well, with 5 of the last 9 races won by horses that had not run since previous Boxing Day. 16 of the 19 winners had won at least one previous bumper with 14 or more runners.

Moscow Mannon (8/1) – Possesses the highest RPR and Topspeed ratings in the field. More experienced than many, winning three from four races. Flexible to ground, winning on good ground as well as soft/heavy. All wins thus far have come with an amateur taking off 7lbs (not permitted in Grade 1 yet jockey confirmed). Has never run left handed.

Champagne Fever (8/1) – The lowest priced Willie Mullins runner, despite Mullins saying as recently as early February that he thought Mozoltov (now 33/1) was his best Bumper horse this season prior to his defeat to Clonbanan Lad. Champagne Fever was beaten as an odds on chance on Boxing Day (victors only win from 3 but not run since and not entered for this) before winning a 9 runner race as 1/4F in January. Won that by 13 lengths but other 8 runners hold a combined 0-23 record.

Royal Guardsman (10/1) – Coming from the same stable as Cue Card, has attracted a lot of attention. Two wins from three, all on good or good to soft. The most recent win was highly acclaimed with many jockeys claiming it was as good a bumper as they had raced in this season – RG was the 7l winner. However his sole defeat was 4th in a race won by Sir Johnson who is 25/1 for this race, when also receiving 7lb from the winner.

New Years Eve (12/1) – This winner of two small field Bumpers (7 and 9 runners) in 2012 will be in receipt of 8lb age allowance. Was odds on for both of these wins and ridden by a 5lb claimer each time so not unexpected victories. Most recently beat Swinging Sultan by 8l, a horse beaten by Sir Johnson by 61l in the October race mentioned above.

Pique Sous (12/1) – Another Willie Mullins runner. Finished third in high value Fairyhouse bumper last April (Lyreen Legend who has subsequently done OK over hurdles finished 9th) and won only race since at Leopardstown in February on good to soft ground. Whilst giving weight all round in that win, he was favourite for that race and the other 11 runners are a combined 0-24 under rules.

The New One (16/1) – Unbeaten in two races, he will be receiving the 8lb age allowance. Won the New Years Day Bumper at Cheltenham but this is 2½ furlongs further. 5 others within that Cheltenham field of 15 had either won previously or have won since. Course experience a plus but potentially has stamina to prove.

Horatio Hornblower (20/1) – Another 4 year old receiving the allowance, finished third in his only run to date, at Newbury in February. Beaten that day by the unbeaten Shutthefrontdoor (not entered at Cheltenham) and Village Vic (best priced 16/1, see below). There were a number of previous winners in that race so the form could be good but historically most Cheltenham Bumper winners had won at least once prior to the Festival.

Fickle Fortune (16/1) – Will be getting every help, in receipt of both the 8lb age and 7lb sex allowance. Only run has been a recent heavy ground success at Down Royal. The win was done very easily but no form lines with other entrants and other 11 runners in that field hold a combined record of 0-26. Unexposed but little firm evidence to go on.

Village Vic (16/1) – Won first race under rules, a comfortable winner in field of 6 at Chepstow on heavy ground. At Newbury on good to soft in February he lost by only a short head to the unbeaten Shutthefrontdoor but in the process beat Horatio Hornblower (20/1 for this) and 6 previous winners, giving weight to some of them. That could prove to be good form.

Clonbanan Lad (20/1) – Holds the joint second highest RPR of the field and unbeaten after two races under rules. Both of those races were won easily but on soft to heavy and heavy ground. The first of these races has produced three subsequent winners but the second was too recent to provide an indication thus far.

Population (20/1) – Two from two for John Ferguson, both on good ground at Ascot. Both wins had the jockey claiming 5lbs but the more recent race (November) has produced 3 subsequent winners, with 4 wins and 9 places from 27 runs between the field. None of that form closely ties to others in this field. A fairly unexposed option.

My Tent Or Yours (25/1) – A Nicky Henderson runner that won his first race comfortably in December before being beaten the first weekend of March by the unbeaten Up To Something (Available at 40s for this race). Raced keenly in the first race before hanging left in the second. Relatively unexposed but If considering this horse, then serious thought also needs to be given to his March victor.

Sir Johnson (25/1) – Unbeaten in 4 races from good to soft to firm. Unseen since defeating Royal Guardsman and 4 other subsequent winners (from field of 17) at Aintree on October 23rd. That was a Class 6 race but form has been franked. Trainer Peter Bowen is 7-24 in Bumpers this season (this horse does account for 4 of these admittedly) and 12 of the 24 have finished 4th or better.

Since writing the preview, Jezki completed a workmanlike odds on victory at Leopardstown on Sunday. This saw his odds dropped slightly to 16/1 but having watched the race there was not enough to significantly change my view on this race.

Conclusion: Those at the top of the betting do not appear to have rock solid form in the book to justify their market leading status. I suspect they are there as much on trainer reputation, hype and potential as they are on performances to date. As such I am keen to look at those horses with at least as good form but housed with smaller, less fashionable trainers. A number of the horses that have not raced in 2012 also appear to have been forgotten in the market and may represent value.

Sir Johnson fits very much into that criteria and also has a shrewd trainer and good jockey on his side. Available at 25/1, NRNB and BOG, that appears to be very good each way value on the basis of his beating of Royal Guardsman in his most recent outing.

Other horses of interest include Village Vic to upset pretty much every trend in the book following his short head defeat to Shutthefrontdoor at Newbury and the unexposed and as yet untested pair of Population and Clonbanan Lad.

Champagne Fever is the horse I will be laying. Always dangerous opposing a Willie Mullins bumper horse but I believe his place in the market is largely down to his trainer’s history and reputation rather than anything he has done thus far on the track and was not considered the trainer’s first string until a month ago.

Visit Cheltenham Festival Info for previews of each and every race of the Festival.

Coral Cup preview

These handicaps are far too hard for my liking, but some people love them. Here's Dan Kelly's take on the time-honoured Coral Cup.

Coral Cup - three against the field

This year's Coral Cup is one of the classiest renewals we've seen in years, and with six last time out winners in the field, many come into the race on the upgrade. That is the usual make up of winners as shown by Carlito Brigante and Spirit River in recent years, however here are my three against the field.

Form of F9090 wouldn't inspire many, if any, yet at the festival last year Son Of Flicka finished a good second to Sir Des Champs off 140. Running here 135 after a generous 7lb drop in the weights following a lacklustre perfomance in the Lanzarote, it takes a leap of faith to expect a return to form, but Donald McCain and Jason Maguire continue to pull out spectacular efforts from their runners with Cinders and Ashes, Our Mick and Overturn doing connections proud.

Again it's to the Lanzarote I goto for another hope, and even though Swincombe Flame didn't frank the form in the muddling mares race yesterday, Act Of Kalanisi deserves a closer look. His 3rd in the Lanzarote was the second time he was sent over a trip in handicap hurdles, his first was when winning the Betfair Mobile Handicap at Ascot of 10st. Brendan Powell takes off 5lbs for a trainer who won this with Burntoakboy in 2007.

Whereas last time out winners are housed in the yards of Hobbs, Pipes and the likes, John Ferguson has some artillery in his yard, and where Cotton Mill and New Years Eve are hogging the limelight today, his Cape Dutch sneaks in under the radar. He has course form following his run behind Edgoardo Sol over an inadequate 2m test, yet either side of this run he had winning form over 2m4f at Carlisle and Musselburgh. With form on quicker ground already in the book, this can only be seen as a plus on what is the quickest conditions in recent Festivals, throw in the typical improving make up, then Cape Dutch is the last time out winner that is of interest at 16s or bigger.

Follow Dan on Twitter, @muffinmannhc. There'll be more from Dan on the remaining days of the Festival.

Queen Mother Champion Chase preview

Another excellent piece of work from @marcowenbanks who will be writing a few previews for the blog this week.

Sizing Europe will be defending his Champion Chase crown in 2012, and Big Zeb will be looking to emulate Moscow Flyer in regaining his 2010 title. Henry De Bromheads 10yo is arguably the best 2 mile chaser at the game at present, but the best don't always win races. Certainly the stats could be viewed as against his chance.

The "Irish" too, are defending this crown. In addition to the 1-2-3-4 they scored last year, have had 1-2's in four of the previous ten renewals but in 2012 will be relying on the big two to return the spoils. Master Minded defended his crown and won in consecutive years in 2008-2009, but he has been the only one to manage the feat from the past eleven defending Champions. Whilst Big Zeb would become only the third in the history of the race to regain the crown. Whilst these two head the markets, we have to scour down the book to find Noel Meades REAL DUBH, who's chance is reflected in his sizable price. He had an option for the Ryanair but this has turned out the preference.

The English Challenge is led by FINIANS RAINBOW from Nicky Henderson and KAUTO STONE from Paul Nichols. Outside of this pair, Somersby is entered but is going to the Ryanair Chase. Back to Kauto Stone and he was more than comfortably held by SIZING EUROPE when they met in the Tingle Creek at Sandown in December. He kept on well enough in that race and going into the Ascot Chase in February many thought he could improve again and pull him further into the mix for this race. As it was he was more disappointing and only the most speculative of punters will follow him for this.

FINIANS RAINBOW on the other hand can be a serious contender. The previous seasons Arkle is generally a pretty good guide to this race and with Captain Chris not in here, he represents the race this time round. Runner up behind the former last season, although 9yo, is only a second season chaser after making his bumper debut at 6 and is open to further improvement and what better place than to achieve that. He would have traded at huge prices at Kempton in December in the Desert Orchid Chase when putting his nose on the ground and dragging his hinds legs at four out and gave the advantage to Wishfull Thinking and Oiseau De Nuit, he fiddled the second last when still two and a half lengths down even before the last, many would have been trying to lay off any liabilities on him but he flew the final fence and picked the front pair up and even looked to win the race in what would have otherwise have been described as a well timed run. Barry Geraghty has to take much of the credit for staying in the saddle in what was one of my favourite finishes of the season thus far. When following up and finishing second to Somersby in the Victor Chandler Chase at Ascot, one might consider the race came too soon and he just didn't find the finish to hold off the challenge. It represented further improvement, with Al Ferof a further 3 lengths down and Wishfull Thinking, this time 30+ lengths behind in 6th.

It pays not to look to far down the betting in this race. 29 of the last 30 winners were priced no bigger than 11/1, and 10 of the last 13 were 5/1 or shorter. FINIANS RAINBOW sits at a best priced 5/1 as I write and is taking as the opposition against the Irish pair. The price looks a bet to nothing for each way punters and that is the route I shall be taking. Whilst the stats on age are against Sizing Europe and Big Zeb the race could still look weaker if some of the opposition are diverted elsewhere and the place part of the bet is insurance against a stat busting result.

Queen Mother Champion Chase Bet:

FINIANS RAINBOW 1pt EW @ 5/1 generally available

Read more of Marc's great material on his website