2m4½f Ryanair Chase (Grade 1) – Thursday 12th March 2020
3m½f RSA Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – Wednesday 11th March 2020
There are two types of people in this world; those who are big fans of Champ, and those who cannot have him at all. I’m certainly in the latter camp. Continue reading “Cheltenham Festival Ante-Post: RSA Novices’ Chase”
2m½f Champion Hurdle (Grade 1) – Tuesday 10th March 2020
You don’t need me to tell you that this year’s renewal of the Champion Hurdle isn’t a vintage one – countless pundits and writers have been saying the same thing for months now. It’s funny how much a year changes a division in National Hunt Racing; it was only 12 months ago that we were licking our lips at the prospect of Laurina vs Apple’s Jade vs Buveur D’Air! As it turned out, the first two flopped and the latter named former Champion got injured on his sole start this season. In addition to the sad loss of last year’s brilliant winner Espoir D’Allen, the already fairly undistinguished 2019/20 two-mile Hurdle division has been blown apart – crying out for a new Champion to arise.
2m4½f Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3) – Thursday 12th March 2020
The Brown Advisory and Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Stable Plate for short!) is run over two-and-a-half miles on Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival. The race takes place on the New Course, and is open to Horses aged five-years-old or over – providing that they have had at least three runs over Fences. Whilst the Stable Plate is a Handicap, there is no ceiling – which has allowed Horses with ratings as high as 158 to run over the past ten renewals. With the Grade 1 Ryanair Chase run over the same course and distance just over an hour prior, the race is aimed at Horses who are just below this level – and now also provides an opportunity for Horses who can’t get into the ever-competitive Northern Trust Novices’ Handicap Chase on Day 1 of the Festival. For many years this race had been considered a ‘British banker’ in terms of the Prestbury Cup, but the Irish have made a strong resurgence in recent times.
2m½f Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – Wednesday 11th March 2020
The Boodles Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (better known as the Fred Winter) is run over two-miles on Day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival, and is the last Hurdles race of the week ran on the Old Course. The race is for four-year-old Horses only, and serves the purpose of taking lower rated Horses out of the Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle. Despite some seemingly less talented Juveniles running in the race, it is usually extremely competitive due to the nature of improving young Horses. The race has been won by some nice types in the past, with the likes of Sanctuaire, Diego Du Charmil and more recently Band Of Outlaws victorious. French recruits have an extremely good record in the race, but the last two winners have come off the Flat – including Joseph O’Brien’s 8/1 winner for this blog last year.
3m Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – Thursday 12th March 2020
The Pertemps Final Handicap Hurdle is run over three-miles on Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival, culminating a 16 race long Qualifying series. Qualifiers for the Pertemps Final begin at Cheltenham way back in October of the current season, with races taking place across the UK from Exeter to Musselburgh, as well as Leopardstown and Punchestown in Ireland. In order to Qualify for the race a Horse must finish in the first six places of a Qualifier, which means that Horses with Handicap marks high enough to get into the race would usually rather finish sixth than first! This caveat means the Pertemps Final has a completely different dynamic to that of an ordinary Cheltenham Festival race, as it’s not all about finding a Horse with the best recent form. One factor that does remain constant in regard to finding a Festival Handicap winner however is that you need a Horse who is ahead of their mark, be that through careful plotting by connections, or untapped potential.
2m5f Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – Tuesday 11th March 2020
The Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle is the first Handicap on Day 2 of the Cheltenham Festival, run over two-and-a-half miles. The race will inevitably have a bit of cross-over with the Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys Handicap Hurdle as they are run over the same distance, but the Coral Cup is aimed at Horses higher up in the Handicap. Last year William Henry saw off the top weight and much missed Wicklow Brave in a thrilling finish. Recently the Coral Cup has been contested by subsequent Grade 1 performers Whisper, Supasundae and Topofthegame.
2m4½f Martin Pipe Conditional Jockeys’ Handicap Hurdle (Class 2) – Friday 13th March 2020
The Martin Pipe Handicap Hurdle is the concluding race of the Cheltenham Festival, run over two-and-a-half miles. The race is for Conditional Jockeys’ only, and is named in honour of the legendary fifteen-times Champion Trainer. Certain trainers like to target this race due to their admiration and respect for Martin Pipe – especially Gordon Elliot. Whilst the race isn’t one of the most high-class affairs of the week, you can start to get a picture as to who is being targeted for the race around this time of year. The British and Irish Handicappers start giving marks to Novices’ who have had three runs over Hurdles (usually happens around January time), which gives a rough idea as to if a Horse is Grade 1 standard. Although some Horses might not be up to that level before the Spring Festivals, plenty will get a mark that looks exploitable in Handicaps – with further improvement likely to come. When you combine these sorts of Horses with trainers who like to win the Martin Pipe, betting angles start to shine through.
3m6f National Hunt Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) – Tuesday 10th March 2020
The National Hunt Chase is the longest race run at the Cheltenham Festival, traditionally being dubbed the ‘four-miler’. After the controversies of last year’s renewal with only four Horses finishing the race however, a BHA review has made several changes to the race conditions for 2020. Significantly, the race distance has been reduced to 3m6f, with the number of fences jumped decreasing from 25 to 23. The participants also have more boxes to tick; Horses must have a minimum rating of 120, have ran at least twice over fences (including finishing in the first four of a Chase over 2m7f+), and have ran at least once during the current season. With the race being for Amateur riders, the Jockey’s also have new conditions to meet; they must have ridden a minimum of 20 times over fences, achieving at least five winners, all under National Hunt rules. Safety is clearly paramount in Racing, so fingers crossed these changes to the race conditions will provide a middle ground – as some fantastic Horses have graduated from this race in recent years including; Cause Of Causes, Minella Rocco, Rathvinden, Native River and of course the legendary Tiger Roll.
2m4f Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed) – Tuesday 10th March 2020
The Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase is always an intriguing race, aimed at Novice Chasers who aren’t quite yet up to Grade 1 standard. The rating band was changed in 2018 from a 0-140 to a 0-145, attracting a highly competitive field with just 7lbs between the top and bottom weights in 2019, and 8lbs in 2018 (excluding any claims). The race was extremely kind to my selections twelve months ago, with leading fancy A Plus Tard bolting up, and my second selection Tower Bridge following him home. The performance of A Plus Tard from a rating of 144 was that of an incredibly well Handicapped Horse, which has since been proven by him landing a Grade 1 at Leopardstown and earning a mark of 165. A similar story applies to 2018 winner Mister Whitaker, who won the Grade 2 Silver Trophy Handicap in April from a mark of 149 (12lbs higher than when winning this contest). This highlights the type of Horse required to win the race however, as essentially the weights are now irrelevant; Horses who wish to participate will need a mark of 140 to guarantee themselves a run, but obviously cannot be rated higher than 145. Whilst it is no longer an issue winning the race off top-weight, it will inevitably require a Horse who is ahead of the assessor.
Ante-Post Preview #7 – 03/03/2019
2m½f Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – Tuesday 12th March 2019
The Supreme Novices’ Hurdle is the traditional Cheltenham Festival curtain raiser, always preceded by the famous Cheltenham roar of a crowd full of anticipation and excitement. Run over a fast paced two-miles, this is one of the most competitive Novice Hurdles of the season. The Supreme has a fantastic roll of honor including the likes of Altior, Douvan, Vautour, Al Ferof and Champagne Fever in recent years – so it clearly takes a classy horse to win. Last year the race was won by Tom George’s Summerville Boy, and we look to have an even more competitive renewal this year with no Willie Mullins hot-pot at the front of the market.
Ante-Post Preview #6 – 27/02/2019
2m4f Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed) – Tuesday 12th March 2019
The Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase is run over two-and-a-half-miles and is limited to Novice Chasers rated 145 or below. This rating band changed from 0-140 last season, and in result we now have an extremely competitive handicap. Last season the bottom weight ran from a mark of 137, and this year we look set for another tightly matched field. Mister Whitaker won from that bottom weight in 2018, but the nature of the race means that the top weights won’t have as difficult a task as they may have in a traditional handicap – we could see as little as 5lbs between the field this year.
Ante-Post Preview #5 – 26/02/2019
2m½f Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – Wednesday 13th March 2019
The Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle is one of two races at the Cheltenham Festival for four-year-olds, and this race is usually made up of horses not quite up to Grade 1 Triumph Hurdle standard. Last year the race was won by Gordon Elliot’s Veneer Of Charm, with the likes of Diego Du Charmil and Sanctuaire also on the honors list. The race is run over two-miles-and-half-a-furlong on Wednesday of the Festival and is the last race over obstacles on the Old Course, before action switches over to the New Course the following day.
Ante-Post Preview #4 – 13/02/2019
2m4f JLT Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – Thursday 14th March 2019
The JLT Novices’ Chase is one of three Championship Novice races for Steeplechasers, and opens Day 3 of the Cheltenham Festival. The race is run over an intermediate distance of 2m4f, and last year was won by the likeable Mare Shattered Love. Since the races’ inception in 2011 Willie Mullins has struck up an impressive four wins (50% strike rate!), most memorably when Vautour demolished his rivals by fifteen lengths in one of the all-time great Cheltenham Festival performances. In a weird season which has been halted by both the weather and Equine Flu, we’re set for another competitive renewal. Continue reading “Cheltenham Ante-Post #4 – JLT Novices’ Chase”