Racing Tours Ireland’s Road To Cheltenham 2015
Having looked at the big 4 open championship races on Monday, now that the dust has settled a bit during the week, Racing Tours Ireland takes a look at the remaining 10 Grade 1 races from Tuesday to Friday next week, hopefully identifying some profitable selections.
Tuesday is widely recognised by national hunt enthusiasts as the greatest day’s racing of the year. Anticipation is at its height with the whole festival to feast on, and Tuesday starts with a bang, and never looks back from 1.30pm ‘til late Friday. The opening bang of the Supreme Novices hurdle brings together everything that Cheltenham is about – young, top-class horses, from both sides of the Irish sea, whose talents have not all been revealed, which lends itself perfectly to much hype and knowing opinion. However, by their nature, the 3 championship novice hurdles are as much a shot in the dark as well as informed by the form in the book. This year’s Supreme is a perfect example. Douvan is as low as 6/4 on the back of 2 runs over hurdles in Ireland this season, with 2 other runs at French provincial tracks in 2014, in 1 of which he was beaten. He has the dream ticket of messrs. Ricci, Mullins & Walsh in his corner, who have won the race for the last 2 years. Douvan has been impressive in both his wins, and his 12 length beating of Sizing John at Gowran Park is decent form. However, there are enough reasons to take him on. All his runs have been on soft to heavy ground, in field sizes of 5 to 8 runners – nothing like he will tackle for the first time on Tuesday. Then there is the strength in depth of the opposition. L’Ami Serge (yet another of these French-breds that seem to be taking over the place) boasts far superior form to Douvan, easily beating the likes of Kilcooley (County hurdle top weight) and Violet Dancer (Betfair hurdle winner) at Newbury, easily beating Douvan’s good stablemate, Killultagh Vic, at Ascot, and then winning a grade 1 by 14 lengths. Consider his connections, Henderson & Geraghty, and he must have a serious chance, although he carries the same concerns as Douvan regarding ground and field sizes. There are other potentially very good novices in Qewy (a listed winner on the flat, and impressive on his last outing), Jollyallan (rated 151 but needs to improve his jumping), Seedling (a tough, course and distance winner unbeaten in 3 this season). Seedling may be a bit of each way value at 20/1, but the greatest danger to Douvan may come from within his own stable. Shaneshill was probably the best bumper horse of last season, second in the Cheltenham bumper last season before reversing the tables on Silver Concorde at Punchestown. He has only had 2 hurdles runs this season, and so may be under the radar, and hence his price of 12/1. He obviously has an engine, and while his hurdles form is only fair, both those runs were on heavy ground which wouldn’t suit him based on his bumper form. He is trained by Willie Mullins, and so will be trained to the minute, and Paul Townend is a top jockey. Like every runner in the race he has questions to answer, but he has positives that make the 12/1 look very generous. Mullins to win the opener as expected, but not with Douvan!
Possibly the most anticipated race of the week is the Arkle chase, and you don’t need to have a bet to enjoy this. I’m going to sit this one out for win-bet purposes, and cheer on the exciting trail-blazer that is Un De Sceaux. He is miles ahead of these on ability, if not yet chasing form, and the only dangers will be in front of him – hopefully he can jump a clear round and electrify the atmosphere even more. The “betting without the favourite” market might offer some value in the shape of Three Kingdoms at around 8/1, or Dunraven Storm at 20/1, both of whom finished close to Vibrato Voltat, who is fraction of their prices.
The other Grade 1 on Tuesday is the Mares hurdle, and I will keep this as simple as the Arkle summary. Annie Power should win this. Apart from Polly Peachum, Annie Power is rated miles ahead of the field, and being in the hands of Willie Mullins, she should arrive in prime condition, despite her 311 day absence. From a betting perspective, the “betting without” market seems to offer the best options. On ratings, Polly Peachum is the one, but her preparation can’t have been ideal after suddenly pulling up and being dismounted on her last run in November – she is too risky as the favourite in this market. There are 8 or 9 others with similar chances, so, at 10/1 a chance is taken with Alan King’s improving The Pirates Queen.
So, with Willie Mullins’ strong hand in the Champion Hurdle, there does seem every likelihood that he will bag all 4 grade 1s on Tuesday’s card, and that the bookies could have a “Willie-gedon”!
Willie Mullins could well be at it again in on Wednesday. Apart from the Champion Chase, in which he has one of the favourites in Champagne Fever, he saddles the favourites in the 3 other Grade 1s.
The Neptune hurdle opens proceedings, and Mullins has the first and second favourites. Nichols Canyon has looked all business in his pair of Grade 1 wins this season, apart from his fall at Christmas, when sun in his eyes was mentioned as a reason. If forgiving him this, which is easy after he banished it with his convincing win in the Deloitte hurdle at Leopardstown, Nichols Canyon seems a solid bet at 4/1 to win this. Mullins’ other contender, Outlander, was also impressive in his Grade 2 win last time, but the memory of him being outbattled by Martello Tower at Christmas, worries me about him coming up the Cheltenham hill – I’d prefer Nichols Canyon in a battle. There has been a lot of money for Windsor Park in the last week for this race, but I’d prefer to see him run in the Albert Bartlett on Friday. He has been beaten by both Outlander and Nichols Canyon on his last 2 runs, and so there is no reason to back him at similar prices to reverse both those results. The British challenge doesn’t seem strong here, with an exposed-looking Patriot Games their main hope, and a concern about good ground for Vyta Du Roc. In the unlikely event of it coming up soft, then Vyta Du Roc would be of interest. Overall, despite him lacking the hype and sex-appeal of Douvan in the Supreme, Nichols Canyon looks a very fair bet at 4/1 for this.
The RSA chase is the next Grade 1 on Wednesday, and the remaining question around this is whether Coneygree will turn up here or in the Gold Cup. It looks increasingly like the latter. Even without Coneygree in the line up, there’ll be nothing easy about winning this. Don Poli looks the likeliest winner, but he is one of a half-dozen serious contenders. Don Poli does appear to have alot of positives going for him, but Mullins’ apparent reluctance to commit him to this race until yesterday, having always thought the 4 miler would suit him better (saying “he’s an out and out stayer, just gallops and stays”), combined with his price of around 9/4, make him enough of a conundrum to neither back nor lay. In a field of novice chasers, there are enough doubts about the others to sway me away from them: Kings Palace bombed out completely at last year’s festival; The Young Master looks like a good handicapper that won’t quite win it; Southfield Theatre may just lack the class, and was lucky to win an ordinary race last time; maybe Very Wood is the type of jekyll & hyde character that represents the value in the race at 14/1 – he’s a previous festival winner that won last time out.
The final Grade 1 on Wednesday is the Bumper, or the “Irish benefit”. Sacrilegiously, Racing Tours Ireland thinks that the bumper is destined for Britain this year. Despite all the Mullins apparent firepower in the race, this season has been devoid of fireworks in Irish bumpers. There have not been too many exciting performances that screamed “Cheltenham!”, and perhaps the best of the lot is staying t home – Tycoon Prince. His trainer, Gordon Elliott, is bringing over Jetstream Jack and has spoken well of his chances. Last year’s fifth, Vigil, was very well backed that day, has been trained since for this year’s race, and will have flat champion Pat Smullen doing the steering, so must have a good chance. But there is no reason why he should win it this year if he couldn’t last year. Perhaps the best of the Irish will be a former British-trained horse, Supasundae. He’s now with Henry de Bromhead, and was impressive when winning a bumper at Ascot for Andrew Balding. Conversely, a former Irish-trained British representative, Moon Racer, is the selection. He was an eye-catching winner of the big Tattersalls bumper at Fairyhouse last Easter, and has since scooted up over course and distance by 12 lengths. His odds of 8/1 are more than fair. One other to consider who shouldn’t be far behind is Wait For Me at 14/1. If he improves from his debut win, he hasn’t too much ground to make up on convoluted line of form involving Paolozzi.
Just 2 Grade 1s on Thursday (apart from the World hurdle) – the JLT Novices chase, and the Ryanair chase, and both promise to be belters. The JLT has 4 big guns clashing: Vautour, Ptit Zig, Apache Stronghold, and Valseur Lido. It is very tight between all 4, and their prices only range from 2/1 to 5/1. This seems very stingy to me by the bookies, and hopefully there will be better value on the day. If pushed to choose, I would rule out Ptit Zig as he is coming into the race after falling at Ascot (although he had looked a good jumper before that, and it looked a soft enough fall), and Valseur Lido beat Apache Stronghold alot easier at Fairyhouse than Apache beat him at Leopardstown when Valseur was coming back off a 10 week break. So, I think this will boil down to the Mullins duo. Vautour is clearly a top-class horse as he proved last year (including finishing 11½ lengths in front of Valseur Lido in the Supreme), and his chasing record shows 2 easy wins from 3 runs this season. However, his season does not appear to have gone to plan, appearing to be in a “catch-up” mode since his unexplained poor performance at Christmas. He seems very bad value to me at 2/1, despite his obvious chance. So, by the power of elimination, combined with his impressive Drinmore chase win and hugely encouraging second last time out, Valseur Lido is the pick.
The Ryanair Chase contains Racing Tours Ireland’s bet/banker/hope of the meeting.
A competitive field go to post, boosted by recent additions Hidden Cyclone and Foxrock. The handicapper has 12 horses rated within 8lbs of each other, from 159 to 167, which hardly suggests there’s a banker in there! What’s more, she is rated at the lower end of that band, on 159. However, Ma Filleule gets 7lbs from the boys, thus moving her to the upper end of the band, and gets the “banker” tag. But ratings are only one piece of the jigsaw. Ma Filleule left a lasting impression last spring with her runs at Cheltenham and Aintree. The good spring ground seemed to help her gain lengths at her fences, and as she is still only a 7 year-old, she should still be improving. Her form this year has seen her elevate to graded company, and she has performed well in the winter soft ground. Nicky Henderson looks to have been bringing her along for a spring campaign, and if “Barry The Great” can get her into a nice rhythm in front, I hope, and expect, that she won’t see another horse until Geraghty turns her back around to face the Ch4 interviewer as the others are finishing. As already mentioned, there are a heap of dangers on ratings, but this game is more about emotion and feelings than weights and scales, so I’ll leave it at that. Ma Filleule for the Ryanair!
The Triumph hurdle opens proceedings on Gold Cup day. Apart from 33/1 shot Countrywide Flame, the biggest winning SP of the last 10 years has been Tiger Roll at 10/1 last year. The race has changed shape since the introduction of the Fred Winter alternative for the 4 year olds, resulting in smaller fields and more predictable results. This year’s race looks set to continue that trend, with the head of the market looking strong. Again, as Racing Tours Ireland, it unnerves me to put a line through the Irish contenders, but like the bumper crop, this year’s Irish 4 year-olds don’t seem a vintage bunch, so I’ll concentrate on the British contingent for the winner. Or should it be just the Nicky Henderson contingent? Top Notch is unbeaten in 5 runs, yet appears to be the “outsider of 3” at Hendersons. As all his form is also in soft ground, I’m happy to go with this pecking order, despite his obvious will to win and spring-heeled jumping. Hargam will look to give Tony McCoy a winning start to his last ever Gold Cup day as a jockey, and he has good course and distance form. He sits as 6/1 second favourite, behind his stablemate Peace And Co. This fella has looked very impressive in his 2 wins to date, despite never settling in his last run at Cheltenham. However, he overcame this to won impressively and beat Karazek by more than Hargam beat the same horse earlier in the season. A line through Starchitect also gives Peace And Co the beating of Hargam. The main issue with Peace And Co is his price, currently around 9/4. This is not value, but he does appear the likeliest winner and the bookies may well be out to get him on the day. If he hits 3/1 then he is a good bet to get the day rolling.
The other Grade 1 to consider on Friday is the Albert Bartlett hurdle. As a 3 miles novices hurdle, this probably has the least form to go on, making it dangerous territory, as evidenced by the mix of 4 favourites and a pair of 33/1 shots winning in its 10 years history. The Irish dominate the head of the market. Black Hercules is the 5/1 favourite, more on the back of his connections, and possible improvement on his good bumper form for the increase in trip. He ran a great race to be 4th in the bumper last year, and has to be on the short-list. Next is No More Heroes for another powerful Irish team (Elliott, Cooper, Gigginstown). He has been well touted by those close to him, and also by Barry Geraghty after he rode him to beat Shaneshill at Navan in December. The horse has since disappointed before bad scope, but, like Black Hercules, December in soft was the last time he won, which is a long time ago and a different test to Cheltenham in March. An ex-Irish horse looks to be the best British hope, Value At Risk. He is certainly a serious contender, but disappointed at last year’s festival behind Black Hercules. Racing Tours Ireland sees this race going the way of the Mullins clan, but not to Willie. His sister-in-law, Mags Mullins, trains a live hope in Martello Tower (the pic above is the Martello Tower in Sutton). He is proven over the distance, when beating and giving 6lbs to Outlander (second favourite for the Neptune hurdle), then finished second to Outlander over an inadequate 2½ miles at Leopardstown but still finished in front of Killultagh Vic, Windsor Park and No More Heroes. He has also won on good ground at Killarney last summer. At 12/1 he rates cracking value. Killultagh Vic, who was a length behind Martello Tower at Leopardstown is way over-priced at 25/1.
So that’s the review of the 10 Grade 1s apart from the Big 4. As the more selective top end of the sport, they should be the easiest races in which to pick a winner, but this is Cheltenham, and every inch is fought for, making nothing easy, and every winner backed should be savoured.
3 best short-priced selections:
Peace And Co
3 best each-way selections:
Good luck to us!!!