Friday, 27 March 2015

Dubai World Cup preview

The richest race in the world, the US$10m Dubai World Cup returns to dirt this year which rules out most horses from Europe unfortunately. Still, if they want to have a couple of American horses in the big race, they've achieved their goal...

With the preview, it's Mitchell Fenton, @mitchfenton88.

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Dubai World Cup
21:00 LOCAL 1700GMT
G1 2000M Dirt
US$10,000,000

PRINCE BISHOP (IRE)

Ran ninth beaten over 10L behind African Story in this race last year when coming off a dominant Al Maktoum win in the lead up. This campaign he’s had two Meydan runs and finished second on both occasions beaten narrowly. Both times he ran home hard to just miss out on the major prize. Will settle back but be running on hard late and is a definite winning chance in the race.

HOKKO TARUMAE (JPN)

Dual Gr1 winner in his native Japan, he finished 16th and last in this race last year but returns on the dirt surface for another go. Comes here on the back of two consecutive wins so he’s going well, that sees him a decent each way chance in this race.

AFRICAN STORY (GB)

Defending champion looking to create history by becoming the first dual winner of the world’s richest race. Comes into the race in winning form after beating home Prince Bishop narrowly in the 2000m Gr1 Al Maktoum last start. A genuine chance of making it back to back wins.

SIDE GLANCE (GB)

Australian punters would know this boy well. Last Spring he had two runs in Australia - a third in the Gr1 2000m Caulfield Stakes followed by a luckless fourth in the ‘WFA Championship’ of Australia the Cox Plate behind Aidan O’Brien’s Adelaide. This is a lot tougher and whilst he always runs well he doesn’t win out of turn and I doubt that’ll be any different here.

LEA (USA)

Lightly-raced American horse arriving off the back of a narrow Gr1 defeat at Gulfstream Park over 1810m. He’s never been tried beyond that distance, so as much as it looks like he will run a strong 10 furlongs it is an unknown quantity. A triple Gr3 winner but this looms as much tougher and at his current 5-1 quote I think he’s well unders.

CANDY BOY (USA)

A rough place hope if he can run up to his Breeders Cup Classic run when beaten 5.5L behind Bayern.

LONG RIVER (USA)

Outclassed.

EPIPHANEIA (JPN)

The world’s highest ranked horse thanks to his devastating 4L Japan Cup win over 2400m but he’s twice won over the mile and a quarter journey of the World Cup. Possesses an explosive turn of foot I think Soumillon can park him in the first half of the field and he can use that dash to go right over the top of them.

CALIFORNIA CHROME (USA)

Won the Kentucky Derby and the Preakness before failing over the 2400m in Belmont to miss out on the Triple Crown of America, when his owner became more famous than the horse for his ridiculous moaning to the media. He’s all class having won four Group 1s at home, he’ll take plenty of beating and we know he loves the dirt tracks.

TIPS:
8.EPIPHANEIA
9.CALIFORNIA CHROME
2.AFRICAN STORY
1.PRINCE BISHOP

SUGGESTED BET: 8.EPIPHANEIA (EACH WAY)

Golden Shaheen preview

It's Dubai World Cup weekend when the world racing spotlight turns to the obscenely rich and the delights of Meydan racecourse. Taking on the feature sprint race is international racing aficionado Calum Swan, @calumswanlaw.

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Dubai Golden Shaheen
G1 1200m Dirt
1505 GMT


Big Macher- Californian sprinter who climbed the ranks from Maiden Claiming level to G1 winner when besting Goldenscents in the Bing Crosby at Del Mar. Hasn't been able to replicate that level of form since and was below par when only fifth in a G2 when last sighted. Will need to run right up to his best form in order to strike here

Cool Cowboy- Former US speedball who was four from four on Dirt over 1200 metres when based stateside. He lost his unbeaten record over the distance when only 4th on his debut for Watson in the Mahab Al Shimaal, but he travelled really well before tiring late on. His trainer was on record as saying he was a week or two behind schedule for that assignment and improvement from that display can be expected. He looks a big runner at juicy odds

El Padrino- Singapore raider who was known as Ip Man in 2012 when he attacked Meydan first up and broke the course record in a 1400 metre Handicap on the Tapeta. The wheels somewhat came off after that performance and he has been lightly raced since. He did take a local G3 last time but doubtful he will follow up in this field

Krypton Factor- Winner of this race in 2012 on the Tapeta when besting the mighty Rocket Man but not so good nowadays. Well beaten in the trial for this without any obvious excuse and will need to roll back to years if he is to regain his crown

Lucky Nine- Exceptional Hong Kong based sprinter who is approaching the twilight of his career but is still a capable sort at the highest level. He has taken two of his three G1 victories in Singapore and has also ran with credit at the highest level in Australia, Japan and here at Meydan, so travelling is of no concern. He split Aerovelocity and Peniaphobia in his prep for this and that level of form puts him right in the mix here

Salutos Amigos- David Jacobson charge who has rattled up a four-timer at Aquaduct since finishing 7th in the Breeders Cup Sprint in November. He really impressed in accounting for the useful Dads Caps on the slop last time and he looks a sprinter on the upgrade. If he is able to translate his recent form to Dubai then he has every chance of winning outside of NY for the 1st time

Secret Circle- Very consistent 6yo who has finished off the board only once in 15 starts, having seemingly done all of his racing at the highest level. He won at the Breeders Cup as a Juvenile, and then took the G2 Rebel Stakes over 1700 metres at three before reinventing himself as a top grade sprinter when taking the Breeders Cup Sprint at four. Having taken the latter race on only his second start after a 14 month layoff he looked to have the potential to dominate the sprinting ranks in the US. However he is winless in six since and he looks a tight price to get back on the winning trail here

Rich Tapestry- Runner-up in this race last year having taken the prep race on Super Saturday, and has since become the first Hong Kong based horse to win a G1 in the US when taking the Santa Anita Sprint Championship by a nose from Goldenscents. Was unable to back that up when last and heavily eased [reported to have bled] as the chalk in the Breeders Cup Sprint and he hasn't been seen since. His trainer has stated he lost some weight and was dehydrated on arrival in Dubai and he looks massive unders on his first start in five months

Muarrab- Locally based 6yo who has been campaigned disappointingly this season having not been since at Meydan since finishing second in the Dubawi Stakes. He travelled like a dream that day before finding nothing off the bridle and connections didn't hesitate to scuttle back to his beloved Jebel Ali following that display. He has since won two races there at long odds-on, taking his winning streak at the venue to seven. The level of competition is far removed from what he faces here and his light preparation may have left him ill prepared for this challenge. The choice of Hanagan and Looks the best of the home team. He certainly has the talent to compete in this grade, but has he got the toughness

Shaishee- Often a slow starter and took advantage of a pace meltdown when cooking up a shock in the Mahab Al Shimaal. Very possible a similar pace scenario could unfold here and he should be finishing strong at the finish. He remains unexposed over this trip and may have been underestimated by the market. One to keep in mind

Montiridge- Son of Ramonti who was a winner of five races for team Hannon before becoming a disappointing sort at four, having started that season as a 5/1 shot in the Lockinge. Was jettisoned to Saudi Arabia at the end of his 4yo campaign and has returned to form of late, winning his last two over 1400 metres. Hard to quantify that form but likely he will find things happening all too quickly here

Speed Hawk- UK based son of Henny Hughes who has shown an affinity for the Meydan Dirt in a busy carnival campaign. He has travelled best of all on his three tries on the surface but has found little off the bridle each time, and seems to struggle to see out the final 100 metres over thie 1200. Has been placed in the two G3 trials for this race and will do well to match those efforts

Super Jockey- Hong Kong representative who was a winner on his off turf debut last time. He beat a useful field that day, but did get an ideal trip that day and was perhaps a fortunate winner. Does get the benefit of Ryan Moore, who has won on him before, and should run a praiseworthy race whilst finding a few too good

United Color- Ghostzapper colt who was third in this contest last year and showed a return to that level of form when a steady finishing second in the trial. That contest was run at a frantic pace and he picked up the pieces late. Such a pace war has the potential to happen again here and he should be staying on past beaten horses at the end

Verdict- Strong looking renewal which can go the way of the New York Gelding Salut Amigos who arrives in the Gulf having won four on the spin at Aquaduct and looks a sprinter on the up. His prolific trainer has been making bullish noises in the build up and he can complete the five-timer here. Cool Cowboy is entitled to improve from his run in the trial, having fared best of those who ran up with the pace and he is a threat for the in form barn of Doug Watson. Lucky Nine and Shaishee are others to consider.

1 Salutos Amigos
2 Cool Cowboy
3 Lucky Nine

The BMW preview

Sydney's autumn carnival kicks on. The CHampionships don't officially start until next week but there are still Group 1 races at Rosehill to be run. Taking on the richest WFA 2400m race in the country is regular contributor Mitch Fenton, @mitchfenton88, from UBET.

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The BMW
Rosehill, G1, WFA 2400m
1630 local time, 0530 GMT
Odds Comparison
Form guide

At time of preview the Rosehill Gardens track was rated a Heavy (8) surface. Our Sydney track expert expects it to dry up somewhat but still be rain-affected come Saturday so I’ve based my preview off a Slow (5) track.

1.PROTECTIONIST (GER)

A brilliant 4L Melbourne Cup winner back last November - coming from as far back as 18th in the run to demoralise his opposition. His closing sectionals in the race were:

600m – 34.52
400m – 22.70
200m – 11.68

Those type of sectionals at the end of two miles are unheard of, in-fact his closing 200m sectional of 11.68 was the second fastest ever recorded in a Melbourne Cup. Has had two runs back since that win in the 1800m Peter Young Stakes and the 2000m Australian Cup and both efforts have been fair to middling, certainly not setting the world on fire on either occasion.

He could only manage the fifth fastest closing 600, 400 and 200m sectionals in the Australian Cup. There’s no doubt he’s looking for further but from what I’ve seen from him in his two runs back he needs 3200m and I still think the mile and a half might be too sharp for him.

Can’t entirely dismiss him as he does has a G2 2400m win in the Hasna-Pries in France and he oozes class but I think he needs one more run to bring him right up to the mark for the Sydney Cup.

Has won two from two on soft going including G2 Prix Kergorlay, a major Melbourne Cup lead-up race, so if the track is rain affected it won’t worry him in the slightest.

2.WHO SHOT THEBARMAN (NZ)

Has come on in leaps and bounds since placing in the Melbourne Cup and he now looms like he’s going to be a genuine G1 WFA horse. He’s had two runs back this campaign. He settled 5.5L off the speed 1st up in the Gr1 Chipping Norton at Warwick Farm before zipping home his last 600m in 3.3L quicker than average time to finish fifth beaten just 1.4L behind Contributer who has since won again in the G1 Ranvet Stakes in which he blew a high quality field away. His last 200m split was faster than Contributer, just to exemplify how well he finished the race off.

Second up he went to the 1900m Sky High Stakes at Rosehill and again he settled back in the ruck before powering home his last 600m 1.4L faster than average, including a race fastest final furlong of 11.94 on a Soft 5 rated surface. That might be a tad deceiving however as race winner Hartnell was allowed to trot the last bit, but it was still a terrific run by ‘The Barman”.

Glenn Boss who rode the horse in the Melbourne Cup climbs back aboard and he gets out in trip to 2400m that will suit down to the ground. I think the Sydney Cup over two miles will be his perfect race but that’s far from saying he’s not a winning hope in this based on his two terrific runs back this campaign. Twice a heavy track winner so rain-affected going won’t be an issue.

3.BEATEN UP (GB)

Has had four runs back this campaign in the Expressway, CF Orr, Peter Young & Sky High and has failed to flatter in any of them. Got within 2.5L of Hartnell in the Sky High but that was only a battling effort. He’s either looking for further or more likely, and what I think, he just hasn’t come up this prep.

4.OPINION (IRE)

Has followed the same path as stablemate Who Shot Thebarman through the Chipping Norton first then into the Sky High Stakes. Both runs have been terrific and he’s ticking over very well heading towards the two mile Sydney Cup, but I just have a few question marks over him under the handicap he’s been allotted.

5.EXTRA ZERO

An old marvel who's been up this time, longer than the honeymooner’s proverbial. He’s had 13 runs to be exact and in those 13 runs he’s had one win – run second on an incredible seven occasions and had four third placings. He’s missed the placings one just one occasion and that was a luckless effort where he was beaten just 3L. HOW’S THAT FOR CONSISTENT! It’s seen the 8-year old gelding crack the $1million in stakes.

Last start was his toughest assignment of all the G1 2000m Australian Cup at Flemington. He was 16th and last at the 400m mark some 9L off the leaders before sprouting wings late to get beaten by the narrowest of margins. I’ll be the first to admit I though he’d won watching it live then again as they rolled the replays, but it was stablemate Spillway who got the verdict. His sectional times running home were freakish. Nothing else in the prestigious G1 race came close to matching them.

The knock this time around however is that at 11 tries beyond 2000m he’s only managed to fill the placings once – a second in the 2009 VRC Derby. He’s run in this race before and flopped and while he’s in dynamite form I can’t see him troubling these quality horses over a mile and a half.

Doesn’t handle the wet, has one placing from 11 soft track runs.

6.FAST DRAGON (NZ)

Got a cheap lead in the Ranvet Stakes last Saturday running the first 1400m of the 2000m race in a ‘tortoise like’ 10L slower than average. Despite the soft run in front he still compounded badly and finished last. Will lead them up for a portion of the race but isn’t up to this grade.

7.TO THE WORLD (JPN)

Probably the best horse the Japanese have ever brought to Australia, right up there with amazing Caulfield Cup winner Admire Rakti. His latest run was a close second to legendary mare Gentildonna in the G1 2500m $4.1million Arima Kinen (The Grand Prix) at Nakayama racecourse. That run saw him rated at 120 by the Horse Racing International Federation (world ranking’s system) that to put into perspective was equal to the figure Adelaide returned in the Cox Plate and Protectionist recorded in winning the Melbourne Cup.

In the race he beat home Japanese champions Gold Ship, Just A Way - the world’s highest-rated horse as well as Japan Cup winner Epiphaneia, the world’s second best horse.

The 4 year old entire has only had 10 career starts for four wins and four minors as well as a solid fifth in Japan’s famous Derby. On ratings, form and ability he just wins. It’s that simple. Of course we all know it’s racing and things can and do go wrong – but this invader is a load up, put in, get out job.

Untried on anything bar good going but breeding suggests a slightly damp surface won’t harm his chances at all.

8.HARTNELL (GB)

Godolphin horse who has been imported to Australia. Made a stunning Australian debut in the Chipping Norton running home 5L quicker than the average to get within a half-length of star stablemate Contributer. He then strolled home in the Sky High to prove his first up Australian effort was no flash in the pan.

His European form was very good prior to being transferred to Australia and John O’Shea, he won the Queen’s Vase at Royal Ascot and the Gr3 Bahrain Trophy at Newmarket ….but the begging question is, is it good enough to topple such a class horse as To The World? No doubt he’s improved with O’Shea putting some speed into his legs, but I just think he runs a clear second behind the gun Japanese horse To The World.

Multiple wet track winner, so a soft surface holds no fears.

9.SILENT ACHIEVER (NZ)

Very disappointing last week in the Ranvet after getting a soft on pace run. She looked before that like she was building nicely so I’m inclined to forgive that effort, but she’s outclassed against a tougher opposition this year, even though she won this race last year….This is five times harder.

Does love the wet though so a heavy track would see her as a genuine each-way chance.

10.LUCIA VALENTINA (NZ)

Star mare that will relish getting out to 2400m for the first time since her slashing Caulfield Cup run in the Spring in which she was third behind Admire Rakti and Rising Romance. She’s had three runs back this campaign in the Apollo, Chipping Norton and last week in the Ranvet Stakes. All three of those runs have been very sound but she hasn’t quite produced the brilliance that we’ve seen from her prior yet this time in.

No doubt Kris Lees has set the mare for this race since the Spring and she’s a live each-way hope in the race. If the track was to be rated at a Soft 6 or worse she’d be the horse to beat all of a sudden as she relishes the wet tracks.

Good hope on her best but needs to lift.

11.RISING ROMANCE (NZ)

Was a touch disappointing last Saturday when being tipped over as the odds-on favourite in the G3 1900m Epona Stakes here at Rosehill (even though beaten very narrowly by Scratchy Bottom who got the freak inside run), even conceding the fact she did have to lug the top-weight.

The start before that she was a very unlucky second in the G1 2000m New Zealand Stakes, failing to have the result overturned in the steward’s room after lodging a protest. Steps up to 2400m now which is her ideal trip, having run the race of her life last Spring in the 2400m Caulfield Cup where she was nabbed right on the line by Japanese star Admire Rakti. The difference here is that she doesn’t get in the race with a light-weight however now facing WFA conditions at the highest level.

She beat Lucia Valentina and Zanbagh last Autumn over 2400m and that form has proven to be just about as good as it gets. I give the Kiwi mare a great each way hope at a decent price.

12.HAMPTON COURT

Has been thrashed at all three runs this campaign. Hasn't done anything since flopping as VRC Derby favourite in the spring. Simply isn’t good enough at his best and he’s not going his best.

TIPS
Supremely confident 7.TO THE WORLD, back him straight out.

Take a trifecta 7.TO THE WORLD / 8.HARTNELL / FIELD
$50 = 5000%

Very confident on the first two, plenty of hopes for the third spot so cross your fingers something at value can bob in.

Friday, 20 March 2015

Golden Slipper preview

It's Slipper Day in Sydney, the best day of racing of the year north of the Murray with five Group 1s. Just such a shame that they'll only get about 1/4 of the crowd which turn up to Derby Day at Flemington.... #verysydney

Taking on the 2yo Championship of the World (well, the richest 2yo race anyway), is regular contributor Mitchell Fenton, @mitchfenton88, from UBET.

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Tooheys New Golden Slipper
Rosehill Gardens, 1200m
Group 1, $3.5m, 2yo

1630 local time, 0530 GMT

Formguide

Odds Comparison

The big feature for the 2yos and the $3.5 million prize pool sees it maintain its status as the world’s single richest two-year old race.

Here’s an in-depth runner-by-runner look at the race.

1.VANCOUVER
Star Medaglia D’Oro colt trained by the two-year old genius Gai Waterhouse. He has a perfect record of three from three.

He won the Breeders' Plate on debut back in the Spring by leading all the way beating the highly-fancied Team Hawkes runner Saboog, who is the full brother of Slipper runner-up (behind Pierro) and Gr1 winning mare Snitzerland.

Then resumed in the Autumn beating Gai’s colt Outreach in the Canonbury at Rosehill, Outreach being a full relation to Gai’s 2013 Slipper winner Overreach. He showed his versatility that day by settling well back in the small field of six before running home to score with conviction again.

He stamped himself as a potential superstar then by winning the Gr2 Todman at Randwick by a massive 3.5L beating home Furnaces and Headwater who he’ll face again here. He ran very slick time overall in winning and his last 600m sectional was four lengths quicker than average.

The knock is obviously drawing the outside gate of 16 and for mine but that’s the only knock, had he have drawn well he would have been nearly past the post even in such a quality race. He can go forward or settle back in the field and that versatility may help overcome the alley. Wins with luck and good T.Berry ride.

2.HEADWATER
Brilliant winner of his first two races including the Gr2 Silver Slipper Stakes at Rosehill that saw him start $1.75 in the Todman against Vancouver. Blake Shinn elected to sit three wide without cover that day and he was a beaten horse a long way out, before plugging on OK late to nab third, but he was a whopping 5.5L behind Vancouver.

That’s a hell of a lot of ground to make up and even though I think he’s better than what he showed in the Todman, I can’t see him turning the tables on Vancouver or Furnaces for that matter unless “Group 1” Glenn Boss can produce some sort of little miracle.

3.FURNACES
The first of four Godolphin runners in the field. Comes here at start four a la the top two. Huge debut winner by 6.5L at Rosehill last spring before being immediately tipped out for a spell by O’Shea. Has come back this prep with two second placings including last start behind Vancouver in the Gr2 Todman beaten 3.5L. Looks an handy type who probably wants a bit further, lacking any real brilliance over 1200m. Place chance.

4.HAPTIC
Unbeaten from two career starts including the listed Lonhro Stakes at Randwick last start where he beat stablemate Furnaces. That form ties in with Vancouver. On pacer who from barrier three will likely be able to lead with James Doyle riding but not sure he has the class of some of these other youngsters, and think he’s a place chance at best.

5.EXOSPHERE
Flopped on debut as an odds-on favourite being going for a spell. Has won both starts this prep firstly a Kembla Grange maiden before an explosive win in the Gr2 Skyline Stakes at Warwick Farm. That run sees him a legitimate chance here to snare the Slipper. He showed a brilliant turn of foot and that’s often what wins Golden Slippers. James McDonald should be able to position him close and let him unleash a big finish. One of the main hopes.

6.READY FOR VICTORY
Won impressively on debut. Comes here at just his second race start. There’s no telling just how good he might be. A real wildcard hope!

7.ODYSSEY MOON
Prefer others but champion international jockey Ryan Moore, who claimed the Cox Plate and Melbourne Cup last spring, takes the ride.

8.ENGLISH
Gai’s unbeaten filly winning 2 from 2. I prefer other formlines, howevere it’s tough to ever completely dismiss a Gai Waterhouse trained 2yo in the Slipper.

9.REEMAH
Nosed out in the Blue Diamond at just her second start in a race, after the stable tipped her on radio at a huge price. That day she ran the fastest last 600, 400 and 200m splits of the race. That shows that she’s high quality. A real live knockout chance at 40-1.

10.SPEAK FONDLY
Won last start but I prefer the other Waterhouse runners.

11.FIREWORKS
Looks to me like she wants further and will be better suited in the Sires and Champagne.

12.HAYBAH
Won last start in Adelaide but highly doubt it’s got what it takes in a Slipper.

13.OTTOMAN Big boom on her before Xmas, beating Pride of Dubai on debut, and then a little disappointing this campaign with mild excuses in being caught wide and over-racing. Probably not up to it.

14.LAKE GENEVA
Went to the Blue Diamond at just race start number two and was terrific running a gallant third behind Pride of Dubai. Has been freshened up since and draws a decent gate for the first time here.

15.SINGLE GAZE
Prefer others.

16.LOOK TO THE STARS
Not for me.

TIPS:
1.VANCOUVER
5.EXOSPHERE
6.READY FOR VICTORY
9.REEMAH

SUGGESTED BET; 1.VANCOUVER TO WIN, 9.REEMAH EACH WAY AT BIG ODDS.

Thursday, 19 March 2015

Alister Clark Stakes preview

Melbourne's autumn carnival winds down as the attention moves north of the Murray, but Moonee Valley still has a couple of feature races under the Friday night lights before the clocks go back.

This week it's the Alister Clark Stakes for 3yos, a race which launched the career of the mighty Vo Rogue all those years ago... Sharing their shrewd analysis is the team from Premium Racing Services

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Alister Clark Stakes
Moonee Valley
Friday March 20
Race 6 - 9:15PM
G2 3YO, 2040m


PRS Speed Map



Expecting that, having drawn the closest barrier to the rail that No.5 MASTER RESET crosses and leads the field with No.13 MAASTRICHT and No.10 GENERAL JAMES coming across and sitting behind him. The speed outside that trio is reduced, likely enabling this trio to slow the tempo down mid race.

By this time of the night, it will be established whether or not there is a noticeable bias, so play close attention to that as it is a challenge to predict what (if any) bias will occur prior to the meeting starting.

Our Market:



This market is of our system's ‘raw’ prices which is set to 100% with every runner rated >$21 eliminated. PRS clients get a market <100% on a wagering sheet which also blends in the public price of each runner to find a wagering edge.

Stratum Star is brilliantly weighted in this event, given the Set Weight conditions of the contest. He has a 16 point Official Handicapper Rating advantage on the second highest rated horse, Magicool. This places him with an immediate head start, all else being equal.

He has been excellent this campaign, rising gradually in distance and grade – first up 1300m Open Grade, second up 1400m G3 then last start in the G1 Australian Guineas over 1600m. 4th up this distance is a smart decision by trainer D.K.Weir, one that should ensure the horse peaks. He has, vitally, improved his performance rating at each of these starts, with a PB last start finishing within 0.6L of Wandjina (arguably the best 3YO miler in the country). His rider, Brad Rawiller should have an easy time parking the horse on the back of the speed, ready to join in at the turn to put pay to them.

Presumably, the market has decided to partially risk his chances with the rise to 2040m, yet he has given no indication that it is beyond his reach as the longer the distance he competes in, the higher his performance rating has proven to be.

The current public offering of >$2.00 is good value.

Recommended Bets:
Back Stratum Star to win.

Friday, 13 March 2015

Albert Bartlett preview

The last of the G1 Novice Hurdles is the Albert Bartlett, a gruelling three mile test which has thrown up the likes of Wichita Lineman, Bobs Worth and At Fishers Cross in recent years. It's a race that's worth looking at in depth - while there have been four successful favourites under 2/1 in the last decade, there have also been a couple of 33/1 shots claiming victory.

My turn to have a crack at this one, certainly an intriguing contest, even more so by a decent drop of rain overnight.

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Albert Bartlett Novices' Hurdle
3m New Course, Grade 1
£120,000
1440GMT

Willie Mullins brought a ridiculously strong team to Cheltenham particularly in novice hurdle ranks but was denied in the Neptune by another Irish runner in Windsor Park. This time Willie has five horses in his armoury, and all of them have multiple recent wins.

In racecard order:

Arbre Vie
Lightly-raced French import with only five starts to date, and just two for the Mullins camp. Hard to line up his form as they don't really link up with any other runner but he has won well in both runs for Ricci & Mullins. One interesting link in his form, he ran a close third to Aux Petit Soins who was very convincing on Wednesday in the Coral Cup. Untapped.

Avant Tout
Just three starts to date and steps up from two to three miles. Rated 10lb behind Arbre Vie, a huge ask to improve that much beyond others with improvement still in them.

Black Hercules
The obvious favourite, has had a boom on him since the start of his career. Took on three miles for the first time last start and relished it, albeit in a small field on a heavy track at Cork. Has won four from six but it irks me that his two failures have been in the big races, although both were bumpers last season (Cheltenham and Punchestown). For all the hype, he's only one of eight horses rated 145-148, so it's the Mullins & Walsh factor making him favourite rather than pure class. Have to take him on at the price.

Blaklion
Consistently running to 145 at his last four starts which puts him right in this but vulnerable to rivals on the improve. Narrowly beaten at his last two starts, and Sam Twiston-Davies replaces Ryan Hatch, a notable tick. The pair who beat him at Newbury (Parlour Games and Vyta du Roc) were right in the finish in the Neptune, and his conqueror at Doncaster, Caracci Apache opposes him here. In contention but place best for mine.

Caracci Apache
Three from three over obstacles and relishing the increase in trip each time. EVerything went his way at Nico de Boinville mightn't be one the biggest names in the jockeys' room but he has ridden Festival winners before and has won twice on this runner. Capable, probably a touch of value at 20s.

Carningli
Won a Chepstow maiden last start and his jumping wasn't fluent. Won't get near these.

Definitly Red
Annoyingly misspelt, inclined to write him off just for that! Trained by Brian Ellison who is yet to notch a Festival winner, but the yard is in outstanding recent form. Strong English formline through Fletchers Flyer in a G2 last start, won at the track, distance, in the going and has top jockey aboard. Do not rule out.

Fletchers Flyer
Promising hurdler who meets the aforementioned Definitly Red 3lbs better for defeat by a head at Haydock last time. Nothing to really to pot him, but nags me slightly that this will be his fourth different jockey in a row, but that's probably a symptom of being from a smaller stable. Right in this, gives AP McCoy a decent chance of a final day winner.

Kylemore Lough
Bolter of the field, beaten in a four horse Listed race at Huntingdon last start, miles out of his depth here.

Martello Tower
Has form through Outlander, a leading chance in the Neptune who ultimately failed with my money aboard, and finished ahead of No More Heroes last time at Leopardstown, although that horse was said to have scoped poorly after the race. Has won a pair of Grade 3s over this distance. In contention but I prefer a few ahead of him.

Measureofmydreams
One of the many Mullins and Gigginstown Stud runners but bottom of the pile. Beaten 31 lengths by Martello Tower in December with the benefit of 6lbs, no reason to suspect that could be overturned.

Milsean
Similar form and connections to Measureofmydreams. Nuisance value.

Native River
Not hopeless, rated right up to the best here yet will go around at a huge price. Impressive win at Exeter last start, running away from the field giving them all weight. The Tizzard stable is not averse to a big price Festival winner, worth an interest.

No More Heroes
The pick of the Gigginstown team. Yet to run over three miles but has always looked like it will suit him. Scoped dirty last time at Leopardstown, should be right in this but the market hasn't missed him.

Out Sam
The preferred Henderson runner based on jockey bookings. Just two runs under rules, beating two of today's rivals at Newbury in November (receiving 8lb from Thomas Brown) and then winning under a big weight at Ascot without a huge amount left in the tank. The Newbury win puts him right in this with natural improvement. Another with a strong chance.

Shanroe Santos
Northern raider with two starts under rules. Won a Class 2 Novice nicely last time at Musselburgh over the same distance but would have to think that is well below the level required here.

Shantou Bob
Fascinating runner from the Warren Greatrex yard, who claimed their first Festival winner yesterday in the other staying hurdle with Cole Harden. Beaten a nose by Vyta du Roc at Sandown in December (cast a plate) and then bled from the nostril in early January, running third in a Grade 2 at Warwick when 10/11 favourite. Just like Cole Harden yesterday, he's had a wind operation too. Rated to be in the mix here and the stable is firing.

Tea For Two
Marginally top in official ratings, winner of three from five over hurdles. From a smaller stable and has an inexperienced jockey aboard who would normally claim 7lb, but Lizzie Kelly has ridden him throughout his career. You can't substitute big race experience and this is a hot race, but that concern is more than compensated in the price.

Thomas Brown
Not raced since he won here on New Years' Day, defeating among others, Zeroshadesofgrey which ties in favourably with form of Blaklion and Caracci Apache. Form through an earlier win at Exeter ties in with Arbre Vie through Kingscourt Native, and then there was the second to Out Sam conceding 8lbs. Stablemate of Fletchers Flyer, trainer can't seem to split them. One of a host of chances, he'd be shorter in a higher profile stable.

Value At Risk
Just the two starts over hurdles, for a 22L win at Newbury and a narrow defeat at this venue behind Ordo Ab Chao who finished midfield in the Neptune. Steps up to three miles for the first time, but being by Kayf Tara, that's only a good thing. Won't mind the rain one iota, another strong chance.

SUMMARY
This is tough, very tough. If you're not going for either of the two favourites then just about anything can win.

I'm going to take a punt on the Greatrex stable continuing their run - another staying hurdler coming off a wind op at a massive price.

1. Shantou Bob (50/1 at Stan James if you're quick, or 33/1 generally)
2. Arbre de Vie
3. Native River
4. Tea For Two

with other mentions in exotics for Out Sam, Definitly Red, Fletchers Flyer and Thomas Brown.

County Hurdle preview

Amongst the set weight championship races, there are some cracking handicap races during the Festival and the County Hurdle is always near the top of that list. Get out the darts or just listen to the shrewd advice of Adam Webb, @adamwebb121, on the back of tipping the first three in the World Hurdle yesterday.

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Vincent O'Brien County Hurdle
2m1f Handicap, Grade 3, £80,000
1405 GMT


Thank you for all the congratulatory tweets after today’s result. Whilst it didn’t go the way planned, at least the top three I could make a case for finished in the placings. Congratulations to both Gavin Sheehan and Warren Greatrex for their debut wins at the Festival and what a way to do it!

This preview won’t be as long but the County Hurdle is always a minefield with so many potentially well handicapped horses who have been laid out for the race. Ireland head the market with several contenders including Quick Jack who has probably had this race in mind since he finished third in the Cesarewitch at Newmarket back in October and he also has some fair handicap hurdle form. His trainer Tony Martin elected to miss the Festival last year due to a mark given to him of 136. He races here off the same mark however useful claimer Shane Shortall takes five valuable pounds off his back. The overnight rain shouldn’t be much of a concern and looks solid enough as favourite.

The Game Changer is another with top handicap form when third in the Galway Hurdle to Thomas Edison before winning a competitive handicap at Killarney in comfortable style. His most recent start in October was promising enough behind Rebel Fitz. Since then, he has moved to Gordon Elliott’s following the retirement of Charlie Swan. The forecast rain isn’t a complete negative to his chances but he seems to prefer good ground.

The JP McManus trio of Princely Conn, Sort It Out and Waxies Dargle all look interesting contenders. Princely Conn is the choice of Tony McCoy who showed some fair bumper form before going hurdling. The pick of his form would be the third behind Nichols Canyon in the Royal Bond at Fairyhouse in December. He ran well last time on handicap debut at Leopardstown behind Sir Scorpion and whilst he goes on most ground, the less rain the better for him. Sort It Out has improved leaps and bounds when winning on his last two starts at Punchestown and Leopardstown, the latter where he dropped back in trip which really looked to suit him. He looks the best of the McManus trio with Waxies Dargle looking to recover from a fall in the Boylesports Hurdle at Leopardstown in January.

Of the leading English contenders, Ebony Express goes for the Imperial Cup/Cheltenham Festival bonus for Dr Richard Newland but he had a hard enough race on Saturday and may be best watched whilst Violet Dancer heads the Betfair Hurdle form with Cheltenian. The former was given an easy time on that occasion and will not be getting the same luxury this time whilst the latter has had a wind operation since last year’s race where he was pulled up.

He holds his claims but his owner Roger Brookhouse has another contender in BALTIMORE ROCK who disappointed on his only start this season in the Greatwood but won last year’s Imperial Cup before not being disgraced at Aintree behind Josses Hill. Ground shouldn’t be too much of a concern and a first time tongue tie is an interesting addition.

Willie Mullins has several entries including the inexperienced Max Dynamite who Ruby Walsh has chosen and the surprise second string that is SEMPRE MEDICI. He was one of the ante-post favourites when the weights came out but has now drifted out to as big as 28/1 which seems a bit extreme. When he was second to Jollyallan at Kempton, he went straight into my notebook especially for this race.The weather forecast shouldn’t really be of any bother as he has won on testing ground both on the flat and on hurdling debut at Cork. The hustle and bustle shouldn’t inconvenience him and he goes in with a big each way chance.

The other Mullins contenders look to have plenty to find. Wicklow Brave has become increasingly frustrating with the rain falling not helping him at all whilst Analifet has looked a different horse for the wrong reasons since her pelvis injury and Lucky Bridle looks badly handicapped.

Horses that I was originally keen on had it been run on good ground were Hawk High and Orgilgo Bay who fought out the Fred Winter last year. The former is such a likeable horse who is just a gutsy little street fighter and whilst he would run well on a softer surface, good ground would bring out the best in him. Orgilgo Bay is a strong travelling type but the doubt even without the rain would be the more stamina sapping idiosyncrasies of the New Course compared to the Old Course. Commissioned and Roman Flight are two others who look well treated but both need top of the ground to be at their most effective.

The final horse worthy to go in the shortlist is one that doesn’t deserve to be anywhere near the 50/1 mark in ASO for Aidan Coleman and Venetia Williams. A Grade Two winner at Haydock two starts ago, he disappointed in the Betfair Hurdle but he is well worth another go here which makes the price look insulting, especially as he did beat useful horses at Haydock in Kiama Bay and Qewy. The track should be no issue having stayed on powerfully up Sandown’s hill and he could easily run into the frame.

Conclusion

Having noted SEMPRE MEDICI down for this race back at Christmas, it would be stupid of me not to back him around the 25/1 mark whilst BALTIMORE ROCK still may have more to come from his handicap mark and if the rain really gets into the ground, ASO comes into consideration at the prices. An honorable mention goes to Hawk High as well who carries top weight and should run his race regardless of conditions although he would prefer a sounder surface.

Baltimore Rock - E/W
Sempre Medici - E/W
Aso - E/W

Newmarket Handicap preview

Just a few hours after the hustle and bustle of Cheltenham has ended (although a few of the night clubs will still be cranking!), the spotlight heads back south of the equator to Flemington and Super Saturday. Australia once again has an outstanding generation of sprinters and we may see a couple of these head to Royal Ascot in June.

After tasting success last week with Hallowed Crown, Mitch Fenton, @mitchfenton88 returns to the chair to preview the Group 1 Newmarket Handicap, a race steeped in tradition.

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Lexus Newmarket Handicap
$1 million. 1200m. Group 1.
1550 local time, 0450 GMT


1. LANKAN RUPEE (58.5KG)
Bounced back to his brilliant best first up in the Lightning thrashing Brazen Beau and the undefeated ‘boom horse’ Deep Field, with arrogant ease. Has been weighted with 58.5kg, which has only been carried to victory once in the past 50 + years. (Hay List – 2013). He was beaten fair and square into third by Terravista and Chautauqua in the Gr1 Darley Classic at weight for age, during Cup week and he meets both those horses much worse off under these handicap conditions. Having said that his Lightning Stakes win showed he’s in much better form now then he was last Spring. He’s earned the big weight through his brilliance and also shown his toughness time and time again. Prefer the two that beat him in the Darley Classic, purely based on the weight scale but it’s impossible to completely discount him, he’s a freak.

2. TERRAVISTA (56.5KG)
Comes here first up giving away a race fitness edge in the race to the other fancies Lankan Rupee and Chautauqua who have both had one run back this campaign, however he’s a first up “bomb” having won all 4 of his career first up attempts. No horse has won the Newmarket first-up since Polycrates in 1917! He broke through at Gr1 level in the Spring winning the Darley Classic defeating Chautauqua and Lankan Rupee over this very same track and distance. The only difference this time around is the handicap conditions. That sees him very well weighted against Lankan Rupee – he meets him 2kg better for beating him, however he meet the narrow runner up Chautauqua 1kg worse off for beating him only a short half head. One of the world’s best he’ll be very hard to beat from the inside gate.

3. CHAUTAUQUA (55.5KG)
Ran slashing overall and sectional times winning the Gr2 1100m Rubiton Stakes first up at Caulfield, when he looked underdone and as though he’d derive a great deal of improvement from that run. Class got him home. He really stamped himself as a super star during the Spring when he twice thrashed quality opposition in stakes races down the Flemington straight before being very narrowly beaten in the Darley Classic after being sent out a short priced favourite. He meets Terravista, his conqueror in that race 1kg better at handicap and for me the slight pull in the weights will make all the difference. He comes here more seasoned then he was in the Spring time and I think he’ll exact revenge for the Darley loss.

4. AERONAUTICAL (52KG)
Good honest sprinter who has been up for a long time without victory but has run a couple of decent sort of races in the process. Get’s in with the light weight but is outclassed at Gr1 level.

5. BRAZEN BEAU (52KG)
Won the Gr1 Coolmore Stud Stakes against his own age group, over this track and trip in the Spring before resuming with a distant second in Lightning Stakes at Gr1 Open WFA - Ran very well despite being safely held by Lankan Rupee. Very well suited dropping to Handicap conditions and with 52kg meets Lankan Rupee 3.5kg better off than what he did in the Lightning. He’ll also be better suited by the rise to 1200m. Should be very competitive and definitely isn’t with a hope.

6. DRIEFONTEIN (52KG)
Ran well behind Deep Field here in a Gr3 race during the Cup Carnival. That form can be lined up through the Lightning when Deep Field was well beaten. Will lead most likely but on the evidence seen she’ll find this a bit too strong.

7. LORD OF THE SKY (52KG)
Speedy customer but well and truly outclassed in this.

8. WATERMANS BAY (52KG)
Terrific second in the Winterbottom in Perth late last year, narrowly beaten. Was ok in the Lightning and will definitely be better off over the 1200m but I doubt he has the class to match up with the big guns here.

9. DELECTATION (50KG)
Has been competitive in 3yo grade including a second behind stablemate Brazen Beau in the Gr1 Coolmore Stud Stakes over this track and trip during the Spring. Carries the proverbial ‘postage stamp’ but I don’t think he’s up to this level just yet at this stage of his career.

BETS
Very bullish on Chatuaqua, and for the exotic, taking the trifecta 3 - 1,2,5 boxed for 500% ($30).

Thursday, 12 March 2015

Triumph Hurdle preview

The final day of the Festival kicks off with the juvenile feature, the Triumph. In theory the raw, developing hurdlers should be prone to dealing a surprise or two but those at the pointy end of the market have a very good record in recent years.

After success with Moon Racer in the Champion Bumper, it's the return of Harriet Fuller, @HattieLFuller, to the tipping podium.

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Triumph Hurdle
2m 1f New Course
£120,000 Grade 1 for 4yos
1330 GMT


The Triumph Hurdle betting is dominated by Nicky Henderson with his three runners, Peace and Co (11/4), Hargam (11/2), and Top Notch (8/1). Of these three I would give the latter the best chance tomorrow, but not as good a chance as two of Alan King’s horses.

Peace and Co has done nothing wrong, since his impressive British debut at Doncaster he then went on to win a better race at Cheltenham, confirming his promise. Peace and Co looks every bit a chaser in the making, anything he does this year will be a bonus. Whether he deserves to be the favourite is slightly questionable, with others in the race coming in withhold form as well.

One of those is Hargam, another of Henderson’s. He was beaten on his first start, but since then has gone on to win both his starts since. McCoy has been very vocal about his chances, and has said that he could well be his best chance of a winner.

Top Notch is the last of the Henderson trio, and this is a horse that I am very interested in tomorrow. Mainly due to the rain that is forecast. It's difficult to know how much Cheltenham will get and how much it will change the ground, but if there is significant rainfall then I would want to be on him rather than the other two. On the topic of drying ground at the start of the week Henderson stated that Top Notch would be vulnerable on fast ground whereas the other two would appreciate it. The night before, and we are looking at a flip situation where Top Notch could have the advantage.

He has won all five of his races, two in France and three in Britain and he has looked impressive in doing so. If the rain comes, then I would be willing to back him.

At a bigger price are my two original selections for the race (before the mention of rain), and they represent the value. Both are trained by Alan King and both have caught my eye. Karezak is a solid selection. He will run his race every time and will be involved in the business end of the race. He has been beaten by the likes of Peace and Co and Hargam but he is battle-hardened so to speak and at 20/1 I'd be very interested in backing him.

Pain Au Chocolat is completely the opposite to Karezak in the sense that we don't know how good he actually is yet. After winning at Plumpton ahead of Devilment he went on to win at Sandown, and looked every bit a smart horse. Devilment has since gone and franked the form of his Plumpton win bolting up next time out. If we use this form line then perhaps Devilment should be a selection too, but I just think Pain Au Chocolat has more potential and could be anything at the moment. He could be one of the best value bets of the Festival at 18/1.

So, while Henderson may have the fire power, King has got a great duo of horses and both are worth each way bets, as Pain Au Chocolat especially should appreciate slightly better ground than he has raced on before. As a side note, if there is a lot of rain, then I would advise you to back Top Notch at a shorter price as he could be Henderson’s best hope.

BETS
Karezak and Pain Au Chocolat each-way
If significant rain, back Top Notch as well.

Cheltenham Gold Cup preview

The feature of the final day, if not the whole Cheltenham Festival, is the Gold Cup. This year's cast isn't rated to be the strongest of all time but it certainly isn't a race where finding the winner is a simple task. And that's before the rain arrived!

In the hotseat for the blue riband event is Chris Day, @chrisday100.

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Betfred Cheltenham Gold Cup
3m 2.5f New Course, Grade 1
Track GOOD at time of posting but significant rain forecast


What a festival it's been but for many the best is yet to come. We've had the point and fire victories of Mullins' big guns earlier in the week and the fight back of Paul Nicholls with Graded and handicap victories demonstrating just why many of us consider him to be the best trainer and placer of horses we've ever seen.

As we go into the final day the highlight is undoubtedly the Gold Cup, a race which retains the open look it has had since the days when Kauto Star, Denman and Imperial Commander strode the stage.

Last year's contest, and the result itself, remain a mystery and, with his festival record and an owner, trainer and jockey with a brilliant recent history here it's impossible to write off last year's winner, Lord Windermere. He's won an RSA Chase and Gold Cup from his two visits to Prestbury Park and warmed up for this with a much more promising performance in The Irish Hennessy last time than he had put up prior to last year's race. He's obviously well suited to the test and I couldn't honestly put anybody off backing him.

The top two in the market last year, Silviniaco Conti and Bobs Worth, jumped the last looking likely to fight out the finish before being overhauled on the punishing climb to the winning line by Lord Windermere, On His Own and The Giant Bolster. Whilst it may have been easier to predict Nicholls' horse not quite seeing out the trip, Bobs Worth should have loved it and I cannot explain the run at all.

Since then, Silviniaco Conti has won a Grade 1 at Aintree, run disappointingly on his Charlie Hall comeback at Wetherby and put up arguably his two most dominant performances ever in winning Haydock's Betfair Chase and Kempton's feature, the King George. The question with him is whether he's better on a flat track or has Paul Nicholls just managed to improve him as he's done so brilliantly this season with Dodging Bullets?

Second in the market as I write is the admirable Many Clouds who has done nothing but improve this season. He's demonstrated his versatility in beating a high class opponent in Eduard over 2 1/2 miles at Carlisle with Holywell way behind, sitting in behind in The Hennessy before staying on stoutly as he'll need to here and then showing the course holds no terrors for him in winning here on Trials' Day. The significant thing about the latter victory was that he was conceding the maximum penalty, something which not many horses have managed in recent times. He represents connections who nobody would begrudge victory here, in fact it could be argued that he would be the most popular winner of the season if he could pull it off.

One trainer aiming to spoil the party will be Noel Meade, who runs Galway Plate and Lexus winner, Road To Riches, who's also been on a steep upward curve in the last year and The Lexus has now become the pre-eminent Gold Cup trial in Ireland. The form looks solid but I jut wonder whether he will have the brilliance normally associated with winners of this race.

The big plunge horse in recent days has been the Willie Mullins trained Djakadam, always highly rated and apparently now beginning to deliver on his promise with victory in the Thyestes Chase last time out. Apparently unfit in The Hennessy, he'd travelled like a class horse until entering the straight at Newbury and, as the saying goes, could be anything. If you're on at 20-1, good luck but I do feel he's too short at single figure prices.

One of the most popular quotes in tomorrow's media about the rest of the field will be "would have his chance if returning to his best" and this really does apply to the majority of this field which is covered by a ratings spread of generally less than 10lbs so a good or bad jump will be key and I've absolutely no idea who will be the benefactor or otherwise of fortune.

In the hope that we'll see a horse worthy of taking on Don Poli in 12 months'time, I'll take Many Clouds, who should benefit from overnight rain, to provide a dream result for us nostalgic types with Lord Windermere as runner up and Silviniaco Conti to be carried out on his shield in third.

Wednesday, 11 March 2015

World Hurdle preview

The staying hurdler trophy of the week is the Ladbrokes World Hurdle. Maybe not quite as sexy as the Champion Hurdle, but a field of 17 and 11/2 the field in a Grade 1 race is a beautiful and rare thing.

Tasked with the preview for this appealing engagement is Adam Webb, @adamwebb121.

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Ladbrokes World Hurdle
Three miles, Grade 1
1520 GMT


The picture of the 2015 Ladbrokes World Hurdle has been an unclear one for the majority of the season with many twists and turns regarding potential leading contenders, some of whom have fallen by the wayside. Firstly More Of That, last year’s impressive winner who looked to have the world at his feet. We saw him at Newbury’s Hennessy meeting in the Long Distance Hurdle where he looked on paddock appearance to be carrying some condition.

On unfavourable testing ground, he struggled home when third behind Medinas and Cole Harden. Trainer Jonjo O’Neill was quick to suggest he needed a wind operation but ever since, the vibes coming from those close to the horse were mixed, including at one stage what appeared to be a false alarm when originally declared unlikely to run. Eventually, connections had to admit defeat in getting him back in time for the Festival.

Another prominent candidate that has failed to make the race is Nicky Henderson’s Beat That, who was another only seen once on the track on New Year’s Day at Cheltenham, where he travelled well before looking to blow up behind Rock On Ruby, who was also announced a non runner sadly on Saturday having worked poorly and then scoping badly.

Add Annie Power to the list as she was always going to go to the David Nicholson Mares Hurdle after missing a month of training in December where she looked to have the race won only for falling dramatically at the final flight. Overall, this doesn’t look the strongest renewal although one horse stands out a clear mile from his opposition.

Paul Nicholls undoubtedly holds the key to the race with the experience of Zarkandar and the youth of Saphir Du Rheu heading the market.

Zarkandar has been to the Cheltenham Festival and got the t-shirt having won the Triumph Hurdle back in 2011. Since then, things haven’t always gone his way as he was a sick horse the following season when trying to win the Champion Hurdle for the first time when fifth behind Rock On Ruby. On the back of that run, the choice to go for the Aintree Hurdle looked the right move but he took a heavy fall at the sixth which ended Ruby Walsh’s season.

The following season he tried again but even with a better preparation, he was outpaced coming down the hill and was beaten the exact same distance by Hurricane Fly as he was in 2012. He ended that season when stepping back up to two and a half miles at Aintree where he beat The New One in tenacious style.

Last season looks now on reflection a write-off, especially the second half of the season. He wasn’t disgraced in any of his efforts. Trying to give seven pounds to Annie Power on two occasions was always going to be difficult and trying to beat The New One over a course and distance where he is pretty much unbeatable in the International Hurdle. After the Kingwell when runner up to Melodic Rendezvous stable jockey at the time Daryl Jacob was jocked due to owner Chris Giles not being happy with the ride administered. The irony of that being the horse getting two rides from Noel Fehily that had plenty more questionable elements to them.

In the World Hurdle, he was dropped out last and ridden like a suspect stayer which at Grade One level, you cannot do. You have to ride with the utmost confidence that your horse will see out the distance, regardless if they haven’t tried it before. He was never put in a position to challenge but stayed on up the hill to finish fourth behind More Of That. On that basis, they went to Aintree and changed the tactics completely where him and At Fisher’s Cross ended up cutting each other’s throats with some brain-dead riding from both Fehily and Tony McCoy which allowed Whisper to pick up the pieces.

Once freshened up after two low key efforts at Auteuil, he was really impressive in the Grand Prix d’Automne where he slammed Gemix by five lengths with rider Vincent Cheminaud who doesn’t speak much English describing him as ‘un machine’. With the long term aim to go back to Cheltenham, we last saw him in the Long Walk Hurdle at Ascot where he travelled by far the best he has in a very long time but just idled after the last allowing Reve De Sivola another bite of the cherry. Once he went past, Zarkandar battled back but was just denied by the hattrick seeking winner.

His genuineness was questioned but that’s the least of my worries with the horse. On form, he deserves to be at the head of the market and potentially shorter considering most of his opposition have far more questions to answer. He will definitely be in the frame but the one he has to beat is his stablemate SAPHIR DU RHEU whose season plans changed markedly at Christmas time.

The son of Al Namix took a bit of time to come to hand in England which included a disappointing effort in the Fred Winter two years ago which he deserves forgiving for having landed awkwardly at the third flight which ended any chance he had. He confirmed the promise his trainer had in him when bolting up in a Pertemps Qualifier at Sandown back in December 2013 before racking up two other big handicap successes. The first coming at Kempton in the Lanzarote and the second in the Welsh Champion Hurdle at Ffos Las where he gave six pounds and a beating to future Grade One winner Whisper. His final run in the National Spirit was a sign of a horse needing a break after a long enough season.

Novice chasing was always going to be the aim this season and he was sent off favourite on his debut in the Berkshire Novices Chase at Newbury with Nicholls indicating that he would need the run as he had done the previous season. He jumped well enough until getting in too close to the seventh giving Sam Twiston-Davies no chance to recover. Next time out at Exeter, he made amends for it with one of the most impressive performances seen by a novice chaser when beating a fair field under a confident Nick Scholfield before going to Kempton for the Feltham where he was sent off a warm favourite. Sadly, the old trait of Newbury set in and he made a similar error which gave Twiston-Davies no option but to jump off as he skidded on landing.

Connections' initial comments were to get plenty of schooling into him over fences but the decision changed when it was announced he would head to the Cleeve Hurdle at the end of January. Unlike Kempton, Saphir Du Rheu was weak in the market on the day with Un Temps Pour Tout going off favourite but he got his season back on track with a battling performance to see off Reve De Sivola. Since the decision to go back hurdling, the comparisons have flown out with Big Buck's who also went hurdling after unseating in the 2008 Hennessy Gold Cup. There’s only two comparisons that can be made.

1) Both horses are owned by Andy Stewart.

2) Both horses have been in the hands of Paul Nicholls.

Both horses are completely different so the media building him up to be another Big Buck's is a complete load of rubbish. Nicholls himself made the best comment on the pair. On Trials Day, he said that Big Bucks was ‘gutless’ at a fence compared to Saphir Du Rheu who is more ‘brave’ and he will definitely go back chasing, the long term aim being the 2016 Gold Cup. Whilst this is an unorthodox method to get there, this route will have likely done the horse’s confidence the world of good. Whilst he is the top rated horse based on his three handicap wins last season, he most certainly didn’t run to that in the Cleeve. But, let’s not forget it was effectively his second full run of the season having not had hard races at either Newbury or Kempton so there will be plenty of improvement to come, especially on better ground. The only slight concern I have is that he likes to take a liberty at a hurdle or two but with the most scope for improvement, he is the one to beat and my banker of the whole week.

Behind the top two in the market, plenty of them have had interrupted preparations. Both of Nicky Henderson’s runners Whisper and Blue Fashion are prime examples. The former has only had one start this season which came on New Year’s Day when comprehensively beaten by Caesar Milan at Exeter on his only start over fences. The latter has only raced twice and ironically on the same day on the calendar. The first time was when he gave weight to last year’s World Hurdle winner More Of That before missing the rest of the season due to reasons not disclosed. His only run this season saw him bump into Faugheen in the Ascot Hurdle recieving four pounds. With both not having ideal preparations they are easily looked over.

Similar comments apply to one of Willie Mullins’s contenders Abbyssial who fell on his last outing which doesn’t sit comfortably with me so they also can be taken off the list. He has also had an interrupted preparation so is best left as is Zaidpour who isn’t good enough.

Un Temps Pour Tout was an expensive purchase and looked a very smart prospect when slamming Cole Harden in February last year at Ascot. Before that he had found two miles too short for him on his British debut at Haydock when second to Zamdy Man and ended his season when third to Deep Trouble in a competitive handicap hurdle at Punchestown. His only start this season was in the Cleeve where he was well backed but looked to blow up when third behind Saphir Du Rheu. Whilst he should improve for the run, better ground is a question mark as his best form has come on really testing ground as as I argued above, I believe Saphir Du Rheu has yet more to come.

Lieutenant Colonel would be one of the results of the week were he to succeed for Sandra Hughes and has definitely improved from the shell of a horse we saw in last season’s Neptune. Like Saphir Du Rheu, he came back hurdling but he only had one start over fences when beaten at odds on by Sizing Granite at Naas. He then went onto win the Hatton’s Grace beating Jetson before confirming that form in the Christmas Hurdle at Leopardstown when stepping up to three miles, although Jetson was closer on that occasion. Both will need to step up on that, the former would have place claims whilst the latter struggled to win the Pertemps Final twice so I can’t see how he can win a World Hurdle.

Monksland was third behind the pair mentioned above on his comeback after two years off the track with it being a more than satisfactory effort before finishing a short head second to Dedigout at Gowran. Quite a few have made a case for Monksland but with how fragile he is, surely softer ground is paramount. As for Dedigout, he improved from Christmas to win at Gowran and then went on to Navan where he won again. He is another that needs soft ground to be at his best. Gigginstown also run last year’s Triumph Hurdle winner Tiger Roll who is worth forgiving his starts over two miles as he clearly wants further but would probably have been better off in the Coral Cup off his handicap mark.

There is an argument that Reve De Sivola should be much shorter than he is on formlines through Zarkandar and Saphir Du Rheu, one who he beat when winning his third Long Walk at Ascot and the other who beat him when giving away weight in the Cleeve. Although he has won at Cheltenham, his form at the track is best described as being like a barcode and jockey Daryl Jacob alluded to this after winning at Ascot. He said that he tends to need a breather which you cannot give a horse coming into a championship. He would also need testing ground to figure. Aubusson was third beaten twenty three lengths and the drying ground is surely a concern plus Lizzie Kelly isn’t able to claim.

Cole Harden is a tough and hugely likeable horse who has made a fair step up in improvement from his novice form. His second at Aintree to Beat That was an excellent front running performance and he matched strides with Faugheen in the Neptune coming down the hill. He was impressive on his return at Wetherby when beating Medinas and At Fishers Cross comprehensively. As mentioned at the beginning, he then faced More Of That where he went off far too quick on ground too soft for him and Medinas who was given a canny ride by Richard Johnson was able to pick up the pieces.

His last two efforts have come at Cheltenham. The first on New Year’s Day where he chased home Rock On Ruby and Vaniteux after getting outpaced. The step back up in trip was sure to suit in the Cleeve but he didn’t perform on the day. It transpired that he had a problem with his wind which has since been rectified. For an each way selection, he would certainly give you a run for your money as he will be staying on when plenty of these have cried enough.

The final two in the field are Seeyouatmidnight and At Fishers Cross. They met last time out at Haydock where the latter’s issues with his jumping came to the fore and he was well beaten. The former was reappearing for the first time since the Sefton behind Beat That and Cole Harden and wasn’t disgraced at all under a penalty. Softer ground might be what he requires though. At Fishers Cross has first time blinkers which could book up his ideas however he hasn’t had one good run this season compared to last when placing in the Cleeve. It looks a difficult task for Tony McCoy to attempt to win his first World Hurdle at his last go.

Conclusion

Paul Nicholls has the aces in the pack with Zarkandar and SAPHIR DU RHEU but the latter appeals more for win purposes as he looks to still have more potential improvement to come, especially after his narrow win in the Cleeve Hurdle. I will suggest a forecast with the pair as they look to be a fair way clear of the rest. As there still seems to be some juice in the price of Saphir Du Rheu at 5s, why go looking for value when it’s smacking you right in the face? As mentioned above, the potential each way play in the race would be Cole Harden at 20s who is well worth a play as you are guaranteed a run and will be staying on right to the line.

Suggestions

Saphir Du Rheu - 5/1 (Various Bookmakers)
Saphir Du Rheu/Zarkandar Forecast

Ryanair Chase preview

Day three of the Festival and it's usually one of those days which just feels it is stretched further than it needs to be, a remnant of the expansion from three days to four a decade ago. But the two features this year make up for that. And after the rather disappointing Queen Mother Champion Chase today, perhaps it's for the better that we can erase that memory swiftly by travelling five furlongs further.

Prolific contributor Chris Day, @chrisday100, analyses the big chase of the day, the Ryanair.

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Ryanair Chase
2m5f New course, Grade 1
1440 GMT


The Ryanair Chase is one of Cheltenham’s newest Grade 1s and, despite its detractors, regularly throws up one of the most competitive fields of the week.

Favourite for this year’s contest has long been Don Cossack, unbeaten all season and clear on ratings for the race sponsors. Always held in the highest regard by connections, he appears to be fulfilling his promise and has earned the right to being jolly here. He’s won a Grade 3, two Grade 2s and a Grade 1 this season and is difficult to fault except for the fact that his jumping didn’t really stand the test in last year’s RSA Chase. Interestingly, his excellent trainer, Gordon Elliott has always said that he’d be happy to let him take his chance in The Gold Cup should connections’ Road To Riches not make it for any reason. Stamina is a big asset in this contest and he must go close.

Second favourite is the antepost plunge horse, Ma Filleule, who has attracted significant support since her reappearance second at Ascot behind third favourite for this race, Balder Succes on much softer ground four weeks ago. Second to Holywell in a red hot three mile handicap chase here last season, she jumped like a panther in the Topham at Aintree next time from a mark of 150 and appears to thrive for better ground, some sunshine on her back and a left hand course. I don’t mind admitting she’s a key horse for me here and connections sound bullish. Hopefully she runs to her best and, if she does, her 7lb mares’ allowance could be the key.

Balder Succes has won his last two races since stepping up in distance and has legitimate form claims but I’m not sure Cheltenham is his track and feel his stamina may be his undoing late on.

Foxrock won’t lack for stamina, having run in the four miler here last season and ran a very sound second in The Irish Hennessy last time, having previously taken a Leopardstown handicap comfortably by five lengths from a mark of 149. He’s clearly improving and his shrewd connections will not have stumped up the supplementary entry fee for a day out but I just wonder if Cheltenham really is his course and ninth in that race last season would be miles away from the form required to take this.

Hidden Cyclone was running away coming to two out in this last year before being passed by Dynaste and is a consistent performer with a good course record who will be tough to beat. Connections have decided to take this option rather than The Champion Chase for which he had been well touted and he will test the jumping of the others to the maximum. Whether his stamina will quite hold out is my only doubt and he is a big danger to all.

One of my favourite horses and one who owes me nothing is John’s Spirit, three times a course winner and just denied under a welter burden in November’s Paddy Power by Caid Du Berlais. His best form, though, is on that course and I just think that the New course doesn’t suit him so well so reluctantly have to pass him over.

If Taquin Du Seuil and Uxizandre return to the form of their JLT run last year when finishing first and second, they are a danger to all and I take the former, with fewer stamina doubts, to be the stronger up the hill, Eduard has his chance on Carlisle running with Gold Cup fancy, Many Clouds, but his jumping will be under pressure from the off here, Wishfull Thinking is a grand servant and testament to the training skills of Phillip Hobbs, having raced in top company for the last five or six seasons and clearly still loving the game and Wonderful Charm may be best on better ground and fresh so could easily outrun his odds.

My heart says Ma Filleule will be suited by a good jumping test and has the stamina and all important 7lbs mares’ allowance to help on the run to the line with the added assistance of the best chase jockey in the business, Barry Geraghty, but my head says Hidden Cyclone may be able to get them all at it early and just have the stamina reserves to hang on in what promises to be a thrilling renewal.

Champion Bumper preview

Wednesday's card concludes with the Champion Bumper, a Marmite sort of race that doesn't take everyone's fancy. It still has to be won though, and the bookies will have the satchels open, so let's see what Harriet Fuller, @hattielfuller has found with her magnifying glass...

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Champion Bumper
Two miles, Grade 1 National Hunt Flat
1715 Wednesday


I find myself in an extremely unusual situation this year, as not only do I have a couple of strong fancies for the Champion Bumper at Cheltenham, but I am also looking forward to it.

Normally, when looking through the cards, by the time I stumble upon the bumper I pour myself a large whiskey and put my head in my hands. It is a lottery, last year's winner Silver Concorde I didn’t even give a second look.

But this year is different and there are two horses (maybe three) that I am looking forward to see. And who knows, I could even find the horse that will end the Irish dominance in the race after they have trained eight of the last ten winners.

It would seem a good place to start with the Irish though, and first up in the market is Willie Mullins’ Bordini. He was successful on two bumpers in November and December and did it in good fashion, the one downside with him is that both wins have come on pretty soft ground. I would be slightly concerned if the ground dried out too much. However, saying that, the form of his bumper wins has been franked with the third and fifth in his second bumper both scoring over hurdles already. He'd also beaten a few winners. So at 7/1 I can see why he is favourite, but I would like to take him on with one of the British-trained horses.

I have a lot of time for David Pipe’s Moon Racer. Having been victorious in a bumper at Fairyhouse in the spring at odds of 50/1 he was snapped up by Pipe and went on to win impressively at Cheltenham, this is the key for me as we know he will run strongly up the hill. He hasn't run since, but he goes well fresh and is reported to be in top shape at home, he deserves his place near the top end of the market, and at 8/1 he is a cracking bet to win it for the home team.

The next horse to touch on is Vigil who was fifth in this race last year. I expected him to go hurdling this year but he has seemingly been saved for this and despite winning his sole start this season I can't help but feel he is vulnerable to other least-exposed horses in the race, he does however have experience on his side, and although I won't be siding with him, if you do, he’s 12/1.

Another of Mullins’ entries is Au Quart De Tour, although in comparison to a couple of his stablemates, his form doesn't stand up as well, he has also drifted in the betting out from 8/1 to 12/1. Mullins has stronger chances in the race.

One of those chances is Pylonthepressure who threatens to continue the Irish domination of the race, he is a horse I have been incredibly taken by so far and I would expect him to run a big race. Winning both bumpers he is held in high regard by Mullins and he could well be one for the future, the downside to him though, is that he won over 2m3f and on soft ground, the shorter trip and drier ground may cause small inconvenience, but you can't deny how impressive he has been and the form stands up. He's also received market support and is able to be backed at 10/1 now.

The last horse I would like to mention is Supasundae who has been on his travels this year, now on the hands of a third different trainer. He won a bumper at Wetherby for trainer Tim Fitzgerald before switching to Andrew Balding’s yard and winning at Ascot in a Listed race. Since then he has moved over to Ireland to Henry de Bromhead’s stables ready for a crack at this race. He is a beautifully-bred horse, by Galileo out of a half-sister to Nathaniel and if any horses are going to give Moon Racer a run for his money then it's him. He is available to back at 12/1.

So in summary, Moon Racer has a great chance to win it for the home team while the main danger to him will come from Supasundae, both horses are however, great each-way prices so you can't go wrong there.

RSA Chase preview

Second up on Wednesday is the RSA Chase, for novice chasers over three miles. There's a bit of a boom over the favourite here, and after endless debate over which race he should run in, he lines up here in the classier race.

Making his debut on the blog is aspiring Irish writer, Robbie Fahy, @rfahy00. Welcome aboard!

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RSA Chase
3m 110y, Grade 1 Novices' Chase

The RSA has been quite an open race over the last number of seasons. Three of the last five winners have been double digit odds in the market (12/1, 10/1, 16/1) and you have to go back to 2009 (Cooldine) to see the last time a favourite has triumphed in the Novices race.

Winning this race requires many things, accurate jumping, a good traveller and most of all, the hardest thing to find in a novice, a stout stayer. That trick usually does not develop until the later years but with a good quality renewal, it is certain that the winner will need to get every yard of the 3 miles 110 yard contest.

Here are the runners as they appear in Racecard order:

Apache Jack – Having maintained Dessie Hughes licence after his tragic passing, it would be fitting to see this 7 year-old son of Oscar triumph on what is sure to be a tough day for trainer Sandra Hughes. He was third in last year’s Albert Bartlett hurdle but has been indifferent over the larger obstacles so far this season. Beaten from a long way out last time out by a horse in Very Wood who failed to land a blow in the Amateur Riders race on the opening day. Hard to see this one writing that fairy-tale realistically.

Don Poli – A leading fancy in both ante-post markets for the two races he was entered in (this and the four miler on Tuesday), this 6 year old gelding looks ready to give Willie Mullins his fifth winner of the meeting. He ticks all the boxes that I stated at the outset, He jumps well, is a stout stayer and has travelled well into all of his races to date. He won the Conditional Jockeys hurdle here last year beating a horse in Thomas Crapper who has run creditably here yesterday and in my view, is still outstanding value in the race at the current price.

If In Doubt – A very interesting runner for Philip Hobbs given that he was due to run and very publicly aimed at the Midlands National this coming Saturday, so why the sudden change in direction? The 10lb hike he would have had to carry following his success in the Sky Bet Chase is the likely answer however it is still interesting that he takes his chance in the stronger company. He is not always convincing in the jumping department however and the strong gallop along with the drying ground will push his jumping to the limit. If I was backing him I’d have to take the fallers insurance on this one.

King’s Palace – An unusually poor jump lead to his demise in last year's Albert Bartlett but he’s shown he respects the larger obstacles in three chase outings this season and is one of the main dangers to the above selection. Crucially he’s won twice at the course, showing he loves the undulations of the course which, much like the camber at Epsom can cause a lot of problems for the novices. All of his wins have come in fields of 11 runners or less so he doesn’t need to be dropped in and is one of the more straightforward runners in the field. Expect Tom Scudamore to press on from three or four out and try and take the finish out of the rest, but don’t be surprised if this move is ultimately his undoing close home.

Southfield Theatre – Paul Nicholls' charge has a lot to find here in my estimation. Sent off odds on favourite in small fields his last four runs, I would be very critical of what he has actually beaten en route to taking his place in this year's line up. Paul Nicholls hasn’t won this since he done so with Denman in 2007 and I’m far from saying he would have to be that good to win this year, more that I believe that he was a Dan Skelton runner instead of a Paul Nicholls charge, he would be a much larger price and much better value for the punter. Over-rated and under-priced.

The Ould Lad – While Tom George’s runner is worth his place in the line-up on official ratings, he seems like he is handicapped to the hilt based on his recent place effort at Leicester. A beaten favourite his last twice and it looks increasingly like he has reached his ceiling in terms of improvement. Trainer not adverse to sending out a big priced winner however and one of his runners on the opening day “God’s Own”, ran a cracker, but probably best watched on all known form.

The Young Master – A very progressive Chaser this season, defying every mark the handicapper threw at him and winner of over £100k in prize money this year alone. Yet to be tested in Graded company however and despite beating a few useful horses along the way this is still a big step into the unknown in terms of quality of race so it will be interesting to see how he handles it. Excellent jockey booking in Barry Geraghty who has won on him a couple of times and will know how to get a tune out of him. Well capable of being in the shake up and picking up some place money at the end of the race.

Wounded Warrior – Second string of Gigginstown and rightly so. Beaten already by Don Poli this season and also by Gilgamboa, who was bitterly disappointing on his next start and has not even made the trip to Prestbury Park for Willie Mullins. This bay Gelding does have ability however and will see out the trip, which could potentially see him pick up a place for each-way backers. Paul Carberry will drop him out and wait to pounce until the last second so if any of the more fancied runners go off too fast, then he could well be left to pick up the pieces. Place chances.

Adriana Des Mottes - Another Rich Ricci runner for Willie Mullins but one that definitely looks like it could be out of his depth. Every race he’s won has taken a severe knock on the form book and he was beaten convincingly by Apache Stronghold when last seen at Leopardstown. 25/1 sums up his chances accordingly and could very well be under instructions to go out and make the gallop for other runners. Not suggesting that this would be an overly obvious tactic considering a different owner for the other animal but there are precious other reasons as to why this one has been given a run in this kind of a race.

Overall – I’ve stated from the beginning that I am a huge Don Poli fan and even at a skimpy 2-1 I cannot bring myself to oppose him, given a clear round I feel that he will be too good for this and will move onwards and upwards to better things.

For each-way and Placepot backers looking for value I think that both The Young Master at 5/1 and Wounded Warrior at 12/1 could run a big race given the right conditions.

1. Don Poli
2. The Young Master
3. Wounded Warrior
4. King’s Palace

Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle preview

Wednesday's Cheltenham card opens with the Neptune for novice hurdlers, over a slightly longer distance than Tuesday's opener. Once again, it's over to Chris Day, @chrisday100 for his preview.

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Neptune Investment Management Novices' Hurdle
2m5f, Grade 1

The traditional curtain raise on Queen Mother Champion Chase day is The Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle, run over 2 miles 5 furlongs and often considered a better trial for next year’s Champion Hurdle than the Supreme, run over two miles on Tuesday.

This year’s betting is headed by two Willie Mullins’ runners (bet you didn’t expect that), both with very different backgrounds.

Nicholls Canyon, ridden by Ruby Walsh, is an ex-flat horse who rose to a rating of 104 for John Gosden before being bought by Graham Wylie and has won three of his four completed starts over hurdles, only unseating when favourite for a Leopardstown Grade 1 over Christmas. His last run was quite impressive as he dominated The Deloitte Hurdle field over three furlongs shorter, apparently improving for the step up in trip. Some pundits felt he jumped better in front which would be an obvious worry over a longer trip in a more competitive race. Willie Mullins recently likened him to Hurricane Fly and it’s probably fair to say he has a favourite’s chance.

Second favourite, Outlander, is a National Hunt bred, who was only beaten in a Punchestown bumper last season after winning three previously and has won twice over hurdles this season, being tremendously impressive over 2 ½ miles in a Leopardstown Grade 2 last time. In between he appeared to be outstayed on heavy ground at Leopardstown over three miles by my Albert Bartlett fancy, Martello Tower, who he turned the tables on in no uncertain fashion next time. Seven year olds don’t have a great record in this but I fancy he’ll put up a pretty big show for the Gigginstown team.

Windsor Park allows us to compare collateral form as he was second to Nicholls Canyon and fourth earlier to Outlander and, for my money, it was the latter who had his measure more easily. He was also a useful bumper horse who won his first two novice hurdles but has it all to do to reverse form with the two who beat him and there’s no form reason I can see for that to happen.

The main domestic hope is Parlour Games, a very useful flat handicapper for Godolphin in his day and winner of Newbury’s Challow Hurdle in December from Vyta Du Roc. He’d earlier travelled well before quickening away from Blaklion over course and distance in November and sets the standard for the home contingent. Interestingly, Challow winners have a desperate record in this and I have him a slightly less strong stayer than the Mullins’ horses so will pass him over.

Vyta Du Roc has done little wrong in winning a couple of decent races since a summer break before his Newbury second but I’ll be surprised if he has the scope to improve like others in the line up and Ordo Ab Chao, tough and genuine though he is, has already finished well behind him at Sandown and looked to need all of this test when successful on Trials’ Day. Put simply I think he’ll lack the speed to go with the big guns when the taps are turned on.

It was hard to fault Beast Of Burden’s Bangor win but also difficult to see it being enough to translate into victory here although he should make a lovely chaser some time soon, Snow Falcon has a mountain to climb on form but scope to improve, Warrantor had looked useful before flopping in the Lanzarote in January but did defeat the Imperial Cup winner at Chepstow in November and Anteros is surely here to secure owners’ badges for his connections.

In summary, it’s a tough race to call, as it should be, but I just think Outlander’s greater stamina will come into play in a truly run race and fancy a Mullins 1-2 (sorry to be unoriginal).

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Supreme Novices' Hurdle preview

The traditional Festival opener, the race the bookies are falling over themselves trying to give the best customer offer to hook you in for the entire week. So it's not just about finding the winner, it's about finding the best offer - provided you are in the UK or Ireland where you can take advantage of them - bit harder from Australia.

As part of the excitement of arriving early at Cheltenham, it's my turn to preview the Supreme Novices' Hurdle. Tune in at 1330GMT to listen to the roar as the tapes go up on the first race.

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Supreme Novices' Hurdle
Grade 1 Hurdle, 2m 1/2 f
1330 GMT


For weeks this race has all been about the Willie Mullins-trained favourite Douvan. Does he provide the bulletproof start to the Festival for punters, or are there chinks in his armour? This is a race for young, rising hurdlers, so the form isn't completely exposed. Form versus potential, the eternal punters' conundrum...

In saddlecloth order:

Alvisio Ville
Probably the fourth pick from the Mullins stable, and second pick of the McManus-owned runners, based on jockey bookings. Two starts in Ireland since being purchased from France, winning a Maiden Hurdle at Leopardstown followed by a third in the Deloittes (G1 Nov) a month ago, beaten by two horses not deemed fast enough to run in the Supreme, when 11/10 fav. Unlikely to be any undisclosed excuses for that after a relentless month of Cheltenham previews. Jockey here for just the one ride today and hasn't ridden a winner at Cheltenham. Today's not the day - not good enough.

Bentelimar
Different formlines, coming through handicap and Listed hurdles in Ireland rather than the Graded races. Doesn't mind the firmer tracks (winter form often on very soft tracks, Festival races can be the first time a horse has seen better footing all season), but think his best option might be sneaking into placepot contention.

Douvan
Purchased from France after two runs and has comfortably beaten small fields in his two Irish starts, the latter being the Moscow Flyer Grade 2 at Punchestown. No holes to pick in those runs beyond the lack of decent rivals - just how good is he? With the stable having won this race two years in a row, they know how his form lines up and are pretty confident. But is his price any value? This race has been a graveyard for favourites over the last decade, but Vautour reversed the trend last year. Not run on better than soft going and this is a small field...

Jollyallan
If it wasn't the Irish going wild for a Mullins/Walsh favourite winning the first, it'd be everyone else cheering for Tony McCoy opening his final Festival with a winner. Is three from three on good-to-soft going where the Festival will start, and his official rating is up there with the market favourites. Beaten last time in a small field at Sandown, where his jumping again wasn't perfect and that sapped his stamina on the uphill finish. Won't have the luxury of doing that here either, the hill is unforgiving. Still a bit green, hard to be confident under this pressure when his jumping has flaws. Expect him to be right in the race at some stage but crashing through a hurdle or two to disrupt his momentum.

L'Ami Serge
The main danger to the favourite and Britain's best hope of opening with a winner. Henderson and Geraghty is a very safe combination at Festival time, and this 5yo gelding is unbeaten since crossing the channel. The ratings men will tell you those wins all stack up well against Douvan, but again they are in small fields and none of those rivals line up here. Listed, Grade 2, Grade 1 is a nice progression to the Festival, winning by six, seven and 14 lengths respectively. Right in this, the bookies will be cheering him louder than most, they need one of the Mullins quartet to sink all the accas early.

Qewy
Flat-bred (by Street Cry) with only two runs over hurdles so likely to be lacking a bit of experience. Won a Gr3 Novice Hurdle at Newbury last time, drier surface won't be a hindrance, needs a big step up to be in this but not completely out of it.

Seedling
Three from three for trainer Warren Greatrex, a trainer who has excelled this season particularly in lower grades. He's the only horse in the field with a victory over the course and distance which must count for something. Relishes firmer ground, has conceded weight to rivals in his latest wins, best chance of a surprise result.

Shaneshill
Star bumper horse from last season with two runs over hurdles, winning a big field maiden at Fairyhouse and then beaten at 4/9 in a G2 at Navan. Has made a couple of mistakes in those runs and has a few pounds to improve on the ratings. Second pick for Mullins, plenty of potential left in him.

Sizing John
Beaten a long way behind Douvan at Gowran Park in November then won a weak G1 at Leopardstown during the Christmas Festival when outsider of the field and the odds-on pop fell. Long way short of what's needed here.

Some Plan
Beaten by Seedling in December, just making up the numbers here.

Tell Us More
Interesting runner from the Mullins camp, drops back from 2m4f when narrowly beaten by McKinley (33/1) in a G1, conceding the winner 3lb. Paul Mullins commented in one of the many podcasts I've listened to that this horse could easily surprise the stable - drop in trip likely to suit, firmer ground... Bryan Cooper rides this Gigginstown Stud-owned runner, loses nothing there. Don't rule him out.

Velvet Maker
Took four races to win his maiden, that doesn't merit consideration in a Grade 1. Can't blame the owners for entering him, who doesn't want to have a runner at the Festival? Absolutely no hope.

Summary
On price alone, I have to be against the favourite. All the numbers say it's flip-a-coin against L'Ami Serge but the betting says 2/1 vs 7/2. If the prices were reversed, I'd be on the Irish horse but today it's all about the hype. Seedling and Tell Us More definitely provide value and will go into my Placepots.

1. L'Ami Serge
2. Seedling
3. Tell Us More
4. Douvan

but remember to keep your eye out for the best available offers!