The flat is back! And whilst I prefer NH racing, for some reason I have a better punting record on the flat so I’m glad to see it back.


2.25 – I really like Sacred Act in here at 5/1 with Ladbrokes. I’ll go EW as I think he’s an EW bet to nothing as I can’t see him being out the first 4. His run at Sandown after almost 500 days off was very impressive, as he had no room before quickening extremely well when he eventually got out. He looks a proper weapon and should take all the beating. 

3.35 – The first big race of the flat season, The Lincoln. I was gutted when Chelsea Lad just missed out as he’s so much better than his mark, and it was quite difficult to have another look at this race after being so strong on Chelsea Lad. Yuften is the most likely winner, but he’s a bit short for me so I’ve settled on Oh This Is Us. He’s been running really well out in Meydan, and is a progressive 4 year old who should go well here. The pace looks to be evenly spread so being drawn 2 is fine. The worry would be the ground, but it is drying to I’m hoping we will be racing on pretty close to good ground, which is what he wants. 12/1 EW with Bet365. 

5.20 – Wasatch Range wins this for me. It was a decent effort on debut when 3rd behind Big Challenge and Melodic Motion despite running very green, and it looks to be a very strong maiden at that. Big Challenge will be part of the Godolphin classic team, the 4th has since finished 2nd in another maiden, and the 5th has won. Frankie is onboard and he’ll take the world of beating. There’s plenty of 2/1 around. 

2.05 – Viren’s Army wins this. He won a Meydan handicap at the end of Feb, beating a very well handicapped horse in Kidmenever, and still has plenty of improvement left. I’m shocked to see him 4/1 in places, as he should be clear fav. 

3.15 – It’s Prince Of Arran for me here. He looks somewhat a Kempton specialist with form of 1114 here. That 4 was a Listed race won by Crimean Tatar (a horse I really, really like and will win an Ascot Gold Cup at some point), and whilst he’s now up to a mark of 102, I think that still potentially underestimates him based off that 4th LTO. He’s clearly still improving too. Ladbrokes and Coral both go 9/1, and I’ll be having some of that EW. 


The Cheltenham Festival 2017 Day 3 Tips – Thursday 16th March

Wednesday was another bookies day unfortunately, but we managed to come out of it with a healthy profit so I’m very pleased with that. Tuesday’s losses were wiped out with a fair bit left over so hopefully we can add to that today. Modus placing at 16/1, Bless The Wings placing at 14/1, and Fayonagh (11/1) incredibly winning the Champion Bumper despite completely blowing the start were the money earners. Linger was gutting though. I put him up at 33/1 and he was backed all the way down to 6/1, before being struck into at the 2nd hurdle and he came back lame. Anyway, onto Day 3, and this really doesn’t look the easiest of days, but hopefully we can still come out ahead on the day. I was working late last night so I don’t have time to go into as much depth today as I usually do, but I’ll give it my best shot. 

1.30 – JLT Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – 2m 3f 198y

There’s no doubting Yorkhill is the most talented horse in here. But he is a livewire. If he jumps round sound, I can’t see him beat, but that is a big if. The first fence in the JLT comes up very quickly and it could be lights out in a matter of seconds. I’ve backed him antepost at a decent price, but with him being so quirky and with Mullins hardly firing, I won’t be going near him at the current price. Instead, I’ll be backing Disko. Despite disappointing in the fog at Punchestown in November, he has then gone on to finish 3rd at Leopardstown over Christmas where he was just outstayed by Our Duke and Coney Island over 3 miles, before getting revenge on Our Duke over 2m 5f in the Flogas. That’s a serious piece of form, and there’s no doubt this is his trip. He’ll go from the front, and being an excellent jumper (probably shouldn’t have said that!), he’ll put some of the others under serious pressure as he’ll be going at some pace. He’s not short of speed and I have a feeling he may be very hard to peg back here. 

Selection: Disko EW (6/1 BetVictor and Betfair, 1/5 odds 3 places)

2.10 – Pertemps Network Final Handicap Hurdle (Listed Race) – 2m 7f 213y

The first of 3 handicaps on the day, and I don’t really have a strong opinion on any of them. The stats didn’t really narrow it down to many, so I’ve just gone on my own opinions. I’ve gone for Rocklander here. He’s run really well since taking the step up to 3m, including here on New Years Day, but I don’t think he quite got home on the ground. Back to better ground here, I’m hoping for a good run for our money. 

Selection: Rocklander EW (22/1 Bet365, 1/4 odds 5 places)

2.50 – Ryanair Chase (Grade 1) – 2m 4f 166y

This was a tough one to call to be perfectly honest, but I’m going to stick with Uxizandre, who I’ve had down for this since his return when 2nd to Un De Sceaux in the re-arranged Clarence House on Trials Day. That was his first run since winning this in 2015, which was incidentally AP McCoy’s last Cheltenham winner, and it came on ground he would’ve hated. With a mile to go, it was looking as if he may be tailed off, but he stayed on really well to only be beaten 5 lengths. Like I said, he hated the ground that day and on a return back to his best trip and on his favoured ground, I expect him to reverse that form with Un De Sceaux. There are doubts surrounding Un De Sceaux at this trip anyway, and he loves soft ground, which he certainly won’t be getting here. The biggest danger is Empire Of Dirt. Gigginstown are desperate to win the race they sponsor for the first time and he has a huge chance. I wouldn’t put anyone off backing him, but it’s Uxizandre for me. 

Selection: Uxizandre (4/1 BetVictor, SkyBet and Bet365)

3.30 – Sun Bets Stayers’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m 7f 213y

This is the banker of the week for many, including myself. If Unowhatimeanharry gets beat here the bookies will be counting their cash in lorry loads. But I can’t see how he gets beat. I’ve tried to take him on every run this season, and have of course failed every time. He’s won 8/8 since joining Harry Fry, and just keeps on getting better and better. Whilst he’s never visually impressive, he gets the job done and never really looks like getting beat. He just doesn’t do a tap when he hits the front. He beat the 2nd fav here by 1 3/4 lengths last time conceding 8lb, and whilst Cole Harden will appreciate the better ground, I’ll be shocked if that form is turned on its head. A confident pick here in Unowhatimeanharry who is impossible to oppose. 

Selection: Unowhatimeanharry (6/4 Betfair)

4.10 – Brown Advisory & Merriebelle Stable Plate Handicap Chase (Grade 3) – 2m 4f 166y

Again, this another difficult handicap to solve. I’ve ended up with Bouvreuil for Paul Nicholls though, who I’ve backed on both previous starts this campaign, but the ground hasn’t been quite right for him as he loves it quick. He still ran well for a long way on both occasions, but the soft ground got the better of him eventually. He clearly likes it here having been 2nd at the Festival twice, and I’m hoping he can go one better today!

Selection: Bouvreuil EW (14/1 Paddy Power, 1/5 odds 5 places)

4.50 – Trull House Stud Mares’ Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 2) – 2m 179y

Now I tried to oppose the 2 Mullins mares here, but I just couldn’t find anything to take them on with. I don’t think La Bague Au Roi is quick enough, Forge Meadow was a long way behind Airlie Beach in the Royal Bond, Asthuria is the Mullins 3rd string, Barra has a fair bit to find on ratings and the form of that Deloitte doesn’t look great. If any of the others win then the bookies will have had it right off, not for the first time this week either. So I’ve ended up going for Let’s Dance, and hopefully Willie Mullins and Ruby Walsh can finally get a winner on the board here. She’s the top rated in the race, has won all 4 starts this season, and whilst the step back to 2m isn’t ideal, she isn’t slow and should have too much class here. Airlie Beach comes with a very good chance too, but you’d like to think Ruby has chosen the right one this time. 

Selection: Let’s Dance (7/4 BetVictor and Boylesports)

5.30 – Fulke Walwyn Kim Muir Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Handicap Chase – 3m 2f

I’m getting repetitive here, but it’s another tough nut to crack. Now I don’t really like doing this in a race like this, but I’ve gone for the fav, Squouateur. Gordon Elliott is absolutely flying, he has the best amateur rider in the game onboard, he’s very well handicapped on his hurdles form and it looks like he’s been laid out for a pot like this all year. Jamie Codd has won this in 4 of the last 8 years, and teamed up with Elliott to win this last year with Empire of Dirt. They can repeat the trick with Squouateur. 

Selection: Squouateur EW (11/2 Bet365, 1/4 odds 5 places)


The Cheltenham Festival 2017 Day 2 Tips – Wednesday 15th March

Onto Day 2 we go, and with Day 1 being more of a bookies day this year, let’s hope Day 2 belongs to the punters. It was a small loss on the day yesterday, but no real damage done. Apple’s Jade was our only winner, what a wonderfully tough mare she is.

1.30 – Neptune Investment Management Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m 5f 26y

Unlike most of the races yesterday where I was a bit indecisive on who to go for, the Neptune looks on paper an easier puzzle to solve. It’s all about the wolf. In my opinion he put up the best novice hurdling performance of the season (pre-Supreme of course) when winning the Grade 2 at Haydock in January. His hurdling was incredibly slick, and he won as he liked. You could call him the winner practically from the off. He is also the highest rated in the race despite having just the 2 starts over hurdles. And whilst the majority of his rivals have a fair bit more experience than him, he seems to have a bit of star quality about him. That is something I don’t think can be said for anything else in the race. Second in the betting is Bacardys, who comes here on the back of his win in the Deloitte, getting up from Bunk Off Early close home. That was over 2m 2f, and the step up to 2m 5f here is sure to suit. There’s no doubt about him staying, as he looks like he’ll need further still. But whilst the step up will suit, I’m a big believer that you need pace to win a Neptune. They often don’t go that quick, meaning you’ve got to have some speed to win this, which I’m not sure Bacardys possesses. I know a fair few people that like Messire Des Obeaux for this, but I can’t have him. Yes he beat Ballyandy, before going on to win the Challow, but there didn’t look to be anything special in that Challow and I’d fancy Baltazar D’Allier to be the best horse out of that race long term. He looks a bit slow to me as well, clearly not something that will aid him here, and he’d have been better suited to the Albert Bartlett. But of course the owners have Wholestone in there, so he has to run here. I’m surprised to see Consul De Thaix declared. I thought they’d have exploited his handicap mark, but they’ve chosen to run him here instead so perhaps Henderson is expecting a big run. Willoughby Court was very impressive at Warwick in January, and the form of that entitles him to be bang there, but you’d have to be worried about the better ground with him. So an easy decision for me here, Neon Wolf to start the day with a winner. 

Selection: Neon Wolf 15/8 (SkyBet offer)

2.10 – RSA Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – 3m 80y

In here we have the lay of the meeting in Might Bite. I cannot have him at all. He’s been here 3 times, scraping home in a novice hurdle, before 2 poor runs in a novice chase and a handicap hurdle. I’m confident in saying he doesn’t like the place. He’s a flat track bully, which he proved when running away with the Feltham on Boxing Day before his X-rated fall at the last. Some say he was unlucky, but there’s nothing ‘unlucky’ about clattering the last. If you don’t jump them, you can’t win. Being by Scorpion, it is no surprise he’s a tricky customer, and Nico de Boinville is going to have a very tough task here to keep him under control. Second in the betting is the one I fancy, Alpha Des Obeaux. He was last seen when pulled up at Leopardstown over the Christmas period when bursting a blood vessel. Now that would usually put me off backing a horse, but I’ve read that his burst was caused by an underlying condition which has been treated, so there’s no danger of him bursting here. Or so we’re told. He’s only run here once, and that was when 2nd to Thistlecrack in last year’s Stayers’ Hurdle, so we know he likes the place. He’s not been back at that level of form so far this season, but he’s not had his conditions either. He’s been racing at a trip short of his optimum, and mostly on ground that does not suit. Back up to 3m and on good ground here, I fancy him to run a very good race. You know Mouse will have him spot on too. Whisper is one I’d give a chance to also. He beat the well touted Clan Des Obeaux here on New Years Day, and is a proper battler. With Davy Russell up, I don’t think he’ll be too far away. However, he is 9. Since 1992, 31 horses aged 9+ have tried to win this. All have been beaten. Acapella Bourgeois won the Ten Up in remarkable fashion last month, going from the front and just extending the gap all the way to the line. You could argue the others let him get away, but the fact of the matter is the gap back to the rest was only getting bigger. If he reproduces that form, I think he’d be very tough to beat. But you just wonder whether the ground is soft enough for him, as soft ground is essential to his chances. I’ll give a small mention to Bellshill, who fell in the Flogas won by Disko last month. He was very disappointing that day and was well beaten by the time he fell at the last in what was a very tired fall. He did disappoint at that same meeting last year, before coming here and disappointing again, as he had done previously too. Despite running in races that clearly wouldn’t suit him (bumper and Supreme), he ran so badly each time that you’ve got to question whether he likes the place or not and I think he’s one for Punchestown rather than here. 

Selection: Alpha Des Obeaux EW (6/1 Ladbrokes, 1/4 odds 3 places)

2.50 – Coral Cup Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – 2m 5f 26y

With it being a handicap, I’ve gone down the trends route again. With 26 runners, it wasn’t easy. The first stat I used was that 13 of the last 14 winners had previously won a race that season. So I took out Hargam, Mister Miyagi, Sure Reef, Allblak Des Places, Hawk High, Morello Royale, Thomas Hobson and Leoncavallo. 18 left. 7 of the last 8 winners were rated 139+. So take out Scoir Mear, Bravissimo, Carrig Cathal and Robinshill. No winner since 2004 had previously won a graded race. Take out Tin Soldier, Tombstone (who I actually don’t think is that well in on a line through Rashaan), Peregrine Run, Taquin Du Seuil, Old Guard, Who Dares Wins and Monksland. And only 1 British runner aged 10+ have ever placed, so I removed The Romford Pele. Of the 6 left, ill be splitting my stake EW on Automated and Modus. Automated collared Scoir Mear close home LTO and the stable is clearly flying. As for Modus, the step up in trip clearly suited in the Lanzarote (the only time I hadn’t backed him this season!), and is only up 6lb for that after Sheppard’s claim is taken into account. 

Selections: Automated EW (14/1 Paddy Power, 1/5 odds 6 places) and Modus EW (16/1 Paddy Power, 1/5 odds 6 places)

3.30 – Betway Queen Mother Champion Chase (Grade 1) – 1m 7f 199y

Here we shall see in my opinion the best horse in training. We are in for treat here when the aeroplane that is Douvan simply takes off. I’ve never seen anything like him. He’s a freak of nature. Yet these self-proclaimed experts still try and crab him. Why? He’s not beaten anything they say. Not like he’s beaten Irish Gold Cup winner Sizing John or anything. And he’s beaten him 7 times. Actually he hasn’t beaten him 7 times, he’s smashed him 7 times. By an aggregate of 81 1/2 lengths. The same Sizing John that’s now a best priced 10/1 to win the Gold Cup, and in my opinion goes there with a proper chance. People need to just sit back and enjoy watching an absolute superstar, who will undoubtedly go down as one of the all time greats, rather than look to try and find something against him. It’s pathetic. Douvan will win this with no fuss (barring an accident of course), so like the Arkle yesterday, we’ll have to dip into the W/O market for a bet. I might be missing something here, but I think this one is just so obvious; I cannot see past Fox Norton. The only real danger I can see is Gods Own, but even with him you’re relying on him showing his usual spring return to form, for all that he was much better in the Tingle Creek than he was at both Aintree and Ascot earlier in the season. But I just wonder whether he’ll be one for Aintree and Punchestown like last season, rather than being A1 for this. Special Tiara is gone at the game. The rest simply aren’t good enough. Fox Norton on the other hand we know likes it here, having won a handicap here in October, and also the Shloer in November. He was entitled to need the run when very easily brushed aside by Altior in the Game Spirit last month, but given he had to give Altior 5lb that day, I think every horse in here bar Douvan would’ve been beaten further to be perfectly honest. That will have put him spot on for this, and I cannot see him being beaten by any other than Douvan of course. 

Selection: Fox Norton W/O Douvan (11/4 BetVictor)

4.10 – Glenfarclas Chase (A Cross Country Chase) – 3m 6f 37y

Now you’ve got to start here with the Enda Bolger runners. The guy has an incredible record over these fences and runs 4 here; Cantlow, Auvergnat, Quantitativeeasing and Colour Squadron. Cantlow is the fav, and deservedly so. He won here in December, before just failing to give 15lb to Urgent De Gregaine in a handicap here on Trials Day. This is off level weights and he is a complete natural over the course. But I put him up at 8/1 earlier in the season, so there’s no need for me to go back in. Auvergnat was going really well on Trials Day before unseating before scoring at Punchestown a week later, but he has a hell of a lot to find on ratings and I don’t fancy him. Quantitativeeasing was 4th (3rd after Any Currency’s DQ) in this last year, but has a long break to overcome and I’d be surprised if he was good enough. His final runner Colour Squadron was having his first cross country run in the race won by Auvergnat, but he didn’t take to it that well and may just need a bit of time to get used to this unique test. The other 2 major contenders I’m going to look at are the 2 Gordon Elliott representatives, who had a cracking start to his Festival with 3 opening day winners. The first one is the 2nd fav, Cause of Causes. I love this horse. He’s a festival winner twice, and attempts to make it a hat-trick here on only his 2nd cross country start. He was 5th here on Trials Day, but like a few of the others he didn’t take to it that well. He’ll have schooled plenty since, but is too short for me. I’ve backed him for the National at 40s, so hopefully this will put him spot on for that! Gordon’s other representative is my pick, Bless The Wings. He was 9 lengths behind Cantlow here in December, but was attempting to give Cantlow 10lb that day. At today’s weights, he comes out best and I think he’s a bit of value at the price. Any Currency would be a very popular winner but I don’t think he’s the same horse anymore. The rest either won’t take to it, or have plenty to find. 

Selection: Bless The Wings EW (14/1 Coral, 1/4 odds 3 places)

4.50 – Fred Winter Juvenile Handicap Hurdle (Grade 3) – 2m 87y

Now the stats didn’t work here, and I didn’t really have a strong opinion on it anyway. So the write up will be brief and stakes low. I’ve taken a chance on Linger at a big price. It is nothing more than a chance, I’m not expecting him to win but if he does it’s a bonus. He seems to be making rapid steps forward, and whilst he’ll need to improve significantly again, he’s been given a good word by a few at preview nights, and he’s my dart. 

Selection: Linger EW (33/1 Bet365 and Betway, 1/4 odds 4 places)

5.30 – Weatherby’s Champion Bumper (A Standard Open National Hunt Flat Race) (Grade 1) – 2m 87y

I’m going to start here with the favourite, Carter McKay for Willie Mullins. I’d backed another of his, Ballyward, at a nice price antepost but he pulled a muscle and doesn’t make it, leaving Carter McKay the clear stable first string. On first impressions, he wasn’t very impressive on debut at Leopardstown, but the 2nd (Bakmaj, who also runs here) has won since, so the form clearly stacks up. He then went and won at Naas, where he was visually very impressive in beating West Coast Time. However, I don’t think West Coast Time ran to form that day and Patrick Mullins won’t be able to dictate the pace here like he did that day. A couple of small field crawls is about as far away at you can get from a Champion Bumper. He may well handle the big field and win easily, but I’ll be taking him on. Now as I’m running out of time, I’m just going to cut straight to my pick, Fayonagh for Gordon Elliott and Jamie Codd. She won a Listed bumper at Fairyhouse by an absolute mile (20 lengths to be exact), and Codd has been talking up her chances at various preview nights, so that clearly has to be respected. She of course gets the 7lb Mares’ allowance, and I think she can go very well. 

Selection: Fayonagh EW (11/1 Bet365, 1/4 odds 4 places)


The Cheltenham Festival 2017 Day 1 Tips – Tuesday 14th March

1.30 – Sky Bet Supreme Novices’ Hurdle (Grade 1) – 2m 87y

And we’re off, the best 4 days off the year are underway. I’m going to start in the obvious place, and that’s with the Willie Mullins quartet. The guy has simply farmed the race in recent years, and has a strong hand again this time round. First up is Melon, who of course arrived from France with a big reputation, before going missing until after Christmas to the point where I actually saw people on Twitter asking whether he even existed. When he eventually showed up, he was very impressive in winning his maiden hurdle at Leopardstown as he liked. He cruised through the race with the minimum of fuss, jumped really well (bar the last) and Ruby struggled to pull him up after. He’s clearly got some engine. Bunk Off Early comes here via a well known trial in the Deloitte, where he was 2nd to Bacardys despite looking the winner turning for home. He pulled hard early on, and just didn’t get home. That was over 2m 2f, so the step back in distance here will suit, but I’m not convinced he’ll get home here either. First of all, they go hard straight from the off in the Supreme. The pace is relentless. If you are a doubtful stayer, you don’t win a Supreme. Secondly, he is by Zebedee. He’s bred to be a sprinter. He ain’t getting up that hill. Crack Mome is the Mullins third string in here if you look at jockey bookings alone. However, I’m surprised Townend has chosen Bunk Off Early over him. His 2 races to date have been on soft, firstly in a Clonmel maiden hurdle which he won well, and the last day where he was 2nd to the very exciting Any Second Now in the Moscow Flyer. He’s expected to improve significantly for good ground, and I think he has a great EW shout. Willie’s final runner is Cilaos Emery. At one point it looked as if he may be their first string here, but he was very disappointing behind Mick Jazz last time and has a lot to find now. The second favourite in the race is the Betfair Hurdle winner, and last year’s Champion Bumper hero, Ballyandy. He started off over hurdles with 2 defeats to Moon Racer at Perth and here in November. He was then beaten by Messire Des Obeaux at Sandown, before going on to score in the Betfair Hurdle after the handicapper gave him a gift of a mark. The stats aren’t so encouraging about his chance here. Since 1996, 60 have come here after having their last run in a handicap. None have won. The last 20 winners of the Supreme had all won at least 50% of their starts over hurdles. Ballyandy is 1 from 4. But one stat is in his favour. Of those having finished in the top 5 in the previous year’s Champion Bumper in the last 6 years, only 4 have started 10/1 or shorter. 3 have won, the other was 2nd. Make of that what you like. Nicky Henderson’s only realistic chance here is River Wylde. Henderson had his first winner in this since Flown in 1992 when Altior won last year, but does have a very good record of horses being placed in the race. In the last 10 years, 12 of his 19 runners placed, with 4 of those being priced over 10/1. Incidentally, Flown was the last Dovecote winner to double up here which is what River Wylde will be trying to do. High Bridge would be of some interest with a proper jockey on, but I can’t even entertain the thought of him going close with Alex Ferguson on him. But my pick has got to be Melon. You cannot ignore the way Willie Mullins speaks about him. He has talked about winning Champion Hurdles with this horse, so you’d be wise to take note of the master of Closutton. Yes he has only won a maiden hurdle, but when you also have the 3rd and 5th fav for a race you’ve basically owned in recent years, and you say it will be an easy decision for Ruby to ride him, he’s got to be very good indeed. 

Selection: Melon (10/3 SkyBet)

2.10 – Racing Post Arkle Challenge Trophy Novices’ Chase (Grade 1) – 1m 7f 199y

This won’t take too long. I think we all agree Altior wins here, and wins very easily. He’s rated better than both Douvan and Sprinter Sacre at this stage, and whilst I’d have liked to have seen him take on Douvan in the Champion Chase, Nicky Henderson has taken the logical option. And that’s probably the right thing to do. But what a treat we’d have been in for if he’d have taken on Altior. Let’s just hope we get to see them clash at Sandown in December for the Tingle Creek. Anyway, we’ve got to look elsewhere into the W/O market for a bet here. Like the betting suggests, the most obvious choice is Charbel. But I’m not keen to back him. The reason for that is because they are going to try and beat Altior. That probably sounds weird but David Bass will be trying to stay with Altior, but none in this field are even close to being good enough to do that. As a result, he will more than likely pay for his efforts late on, leaving it open for one of the others to nick 2nd. The one I like here is Royal Caviar 9/2 EW, 3 places 1/5 odds. With no Min, this will be Ruby’s ride in the race, and whilst he’s no Min, he’s a good horse in his own right. He would’ve won the Irish Arkle last time but for a fall at the last. He is actually a very good jumper, the fall at Leopardstown was the only mistake he’s made over fences. He was a decent hurdler too, finishing 2nd to Sutton Place twice. But he’s really come into his own over fences, and despite being a 9yo, has only raced 11 times under rules (only twice over fences), so has plenty of scope for improvement too. So it’s Royal Caviar EW W/O Altior for me. If he finishes in the top 4 it’s money back, if he finishes 2nd, bingo! Some food for thought though; of course Altior won the Supreme last year and is attempting to follow up here. Since 1965, only one horse has done the Supreme – Arkle double: Douvan. 

Selection: Royal Caviar EW W/O Altior (9/2 SkyBet and Bet365, 3 places so finish in first 4)

2.50 – Ultima Handicap Chase (Grade 3) – 3m 1f

The first handicap of the week, the Ultima. I don’t have the greatest record in the handicaps so I’m going to try something different this year and go stat-based. Whether it works, well I guess we’ll find out on Friday. So 24 runners here, I’ve managed to whittle it down to 4 off the stats alone. 21 of the last 25 winners had finished 1st or 2nd at some point that season. That wipes out 7 here: Holywell, The Druids Nephew, Measureofmydreams, The Young Master, Buywise, A Good Skin and Annacotty. 7 of the last 9 winners had a handicap rating of 142-148. That stat takes out a further 10 (Noble Endeavor, Un Temps Pour Tout, Pilgrims Bay, Theatre Guide, Clarcam, Antony, Go Conquer, Vic De Touzaine, Vintage Clouds and Viconte Du Noyer. Paul Nicholls is 0/19 in this race, so I’ve taken out Ibis Du Rheu and Caid Du Berlais. And finally, 8 of the last 9 winners had run in the 45 days leading up to the race, so that takes out Junction Fourteen. That leaves 4: Singlefarmpayment, Henri Parry Morgan, Label Des Obeaux and Coologue. Singlefarmpayment beat Label Des Obeaux by 8 1/2 lengths off levels here in December, and gets 6lb off that rival today, so I’m happy to rule out Label Des Obeaux. Coologue won here in October, but has disappointed since and I’m happy to leave him out as well. So we’re now left with just Singlefarmpayment and Henri Parry Morgan, and I will be dutching the pair of them EW. Singlefarmpayment is an assured stayer, won here in December and is completely unexposed in 3m chases, and should go very close. He is right towards the head of the market and I’m hoping he isn’t left with the curse of being fav, so the Irish will hopefully smash into Noble Endeavor. As for Henri Parry Morgan, I had him down as a big player for the Grand National at the start of the season, but it just hasn’t worked out for him so far. He disappointed in the Hennessy, before unseating at Wetherby on Boxing Day and falling here on New Years’ Day, both when still in with a chance. He then disappointed twice subsequently but if he’s on an up day, he can go close. 

Selections: Singlefarmpayment EW (15/2 Ladbrokes, BetVictor, Coral and Bet365) and Henri Parry Morgan EW (14/1 Stan James)

3.30 – Stan James Champion Hurdle Challenge Trophy (Grade 1) – 2m 87y

Now then, where do I start here? First of all, we all agree this is a substandard Champion Hurdle, that it lacks the superstar of recent years. However, the race this year is arguably much more intriguing for that very reason; nobody really knows who is going to win. And you never know, it could be the launchpad for a superstar of the future. Ok, maybe I’m going too far here, so I’ll get on with the race itself now. I’ve changed my mind on this time and time again in the past days and weeks. I’ve written off every horse in the race at some point. But finally I’m settled on one: Yanworth. Yes people might moan I took an age to make my mind up and have ended up going for the favourite, and they would be right. However, let’s look at the facts. He’s the joint highest rated in the race (with Petit Mouchoir, who won’t get up the hill). He’s only been beaten once over hurdles, and that was here last year when 2nd (btn 1 3/4l) to Yorkhill in the Neptune and if Yorkhill had been re-routed here, he’d be fav. No doubt about it. Over the years, it’s been well proven that the Neptune is a better trial for the Champion Hurdle than the Supreme too. 20 of the last 27 winners of the Champion Hurdle were course winners previously, a criteria that Yanworth meets, whilst Buveur D’Air, Brain Power, Petit Mouchoir, My Tent Or Yours, Footpad, Ch’Tibello, Wicklow Brave and Cyrus Darius all fail this test. People often crab him for his jumping, but he’s never actually fallen and he’s got some heart on him. He just loves winning. Another key stat I came across was that 17 of the last 20 winners had previously won a Grade 1 hurdle, another key stat Yanworth meets, whereas Brain Power and Moon Racer do not, and The New One’s sole Grade 1 win was over 2m 4f, so he barely meets the criteria either. He also just keeps on improving, and despite having raced on speed tracks that clearly haven’t suited him at all this campaign, he’s still won every time. So I’ve made my case for Yanworth, and now I’m going to go through why the other 11 in the race can’t win. Buveur D’Air won’t be suited by the ground and this is Plan B after chasing was abandoned. Brain Power is a handicapper, hasn’t had a prep run, hasn’t won round Cheltenham before and hasn’t previously won a Grade 1 hurdle. Petit Mouchoir won’t get up the hill, plus he’s only beat a below par Nichols Canyon twice. Moon Racer has well over a stone to find. Can’t blame connections for having a go but he’s going to find this very tough. The New One has never won a Grade 1 over 2m, and was behind Yanworth in the Christmas Hurdle, beaten fair and square. There is no reason for that form to be reversed. My Tent Or Yours is the definition of a bridle horse. He’ll be bang there at the last, before probably finishing about 6th. Footpad is improving, but was flattered by how close he finished to Petit Mouchoir last time and has a lot to find to get competitive. Ch’Tibello has been beaten by Yanworth twice this season, and on a track that now suits Yanworth much better, that form won’t be reversed. Sceau Royal just isn’t that good, and like Ch’Tibello was behind Yanworth in the Kingwell. Wicklow Brave isn’t really top level and Cyrus Darius has 20lb to find. So there we are, Yanworth the pick. He may get a little outpaced between 2 out and the last, but I have no doubt nobody will be finishing quicker, and want to win more, than the orange machine. 

Selection: Yanworth (3/1 SkyBet, Betfred and Stan James)

4.10 – OLBG Mares’ Hurdle (Grade 1) (Registered As The David Nicholson Mares’ Hurdle) – 2m 3f 200y

This looks like an absolute cracker, with Limini, Vroum Vroum Mag and Apple’s Jade all showing up. This race is usually a formality for Willie Mullins, and plenty say it is this year as well, but I’m not so sure. I think there’s very little between the 3 of them, and the ORs back that up. Limini and Vroum Vroum Mag are both rated 154, with Apple’s Jade just a lb behind on 153. Ruby has picked Limini. There’s a chance he may have picked wrong, we’ll find out later. Earlier in the season, Apple’s Jade became the first 4yo to ever win the Hatton’s Grace when beating none other than Vroum Vroum Mag. Granted, she was getting 4lb that day which she won’t be getting here, but that’s a serious achievement, especially considering it came just a week after she was narrowly denied in the Fighting Fifth. There’s no denying, she’s a wonderfully tough mare. Since then Vroum Vroum Mag won the Leopardstown Christmas Hurdle, but she wasn’t impressive in doing so, and I’d have fancied both Apple’s Jade and Limini to get the better of Clondaw Warrior and Snow Falcon getting the 7lb mares’ allowance. She then went to Doncaster, where she was mightily unimpressive in beating Midnight Jazz by a head. It was then announced she was feeling the effects of a cold that day, which explains the performance, but I wonder if she’s over that, which I’ll come back to later on. Limini and Apple’s Jade have already met this season, when Limini got the better of Apple’s Jade last month in the Quevega Hurdle. In all honesty, Limini won easily, but the way the race was run suited Limini perfectly, whilst it certainly wasn’t run to suit Apple’s Jade. Apple’s Jade and Whiteout were having a little battle for the lead, and when Whiteout fell, Apple’s Jade was left in the lead a long way from home. Whereas Ruby gave Limini the perfect stalking ride, joining Apple’s Jade at the last before going on. The ground was horrible that day, which wouldn’t have suited either mare, and with Gordon Elliott saying he’d left a fair bit to work on with Apple’s Jade, I don’t think there’ll be too much between them today. But Apple’s Jade is almost 4x the price…tempting. Willie was so impressed by Limini that day that a supplementary entry for the Champion Hurdle seemed likely. Quotes like “if VVM is all good and well, we may just take a chance on Limini” were thrown around, which brings me back to Vroum Vroum Mag. If everything is right with her, why is Limini showing up here as well? Did they have second thoughts about spending the £20,000 to supplement, or is all not quite right with VVM? Perhaps we shall find out at around quarter past 4. My choice here is going to be Apple’s Jade EW. I can’t see her being out of the 3, and with there being so little between the trio, it would not be a surprise should Apple’s Jade make it a fruitful double. 

Selection: Apple’s Jade EW (5/1 Paddy Power, 3 places)

4.50 – JT McNamara National Hunt Challenge Cup Amateur Riders’ Novices’ Chase (Grade 2) – 3m 7f 170y

I’ve spent a lot of time going over this one, as it’s been a proper puzzle to try and solve. I’ll start with the favourite, Edwulf. He’s certainly the class horse in the race, already achieving a rating of 159 over fences. He also has a top, top amateur in Derek O’Connor booked, so you’re very unlikely to be blaming the jockey for his defeat should you back him. But he has developed a bit of a habit of failing to complete. He’s fallen twice and unseated once in his 7 starts over fences, so if you’re going to back him I’d do it with faller insurance, but he’s not for me. Champers On Ice has looked like he’ll need 4m all year long. He’s proper slow. But it doesn’t matter if you’re slow here, well it kind of does but you get the idea, it’s not going to turn into a sprint. He’s been staying on in both defeats this year looking like the further he goes the better he’ll be, but there is one aspect I’m worried about. And that’s his jumping. At Warwick he was losing upwards of a length at every fence and you just can’t afford to do that, and he certainly won’t get away with it here. Beware the Bear has a decent chance, having won on both starts this season. The form doesn’t look too bad either, having beaten Singlefarmpayment at Ascot back in November, though admittedly he was getting 3lb and only beat him 2 3/4 lengths. Bigbadjohn has beaten Our Kaempfer and Arpege D’Alene this season, as well as having form behind Thistlecrack, but I’m not convinced he’ll see out the trip. I’d be surprised should any of the others win, bar one I haven’t mentioned. And it’s my pick, A Genie In Abottle. He’s been laid out for this all year. No trip is far enough for him. He has the job amateur booked in JJ Codd. He was 2nd behind Anibale Fly over a clearly inadequate trip (3m) last time. What’s not to like? The ground has been raised as a potential issue by some, but being by Beneficial, the better ground should be fine. 

Selection: A Genie In Abottle EW (11/2 Paddy Power 4 places)

5.30 – Close Brothers Novices’ Handicap Chase (Listed Race) – 2m 4f 78y

So the 2nd handicap of the week, and the last race of day 1. Also the last race I’ll be able to watch as I’m working the rest of the week, bastards declined my holiday. Anyway, I went with the stats approach again, but it didn’t quite go as I hoped. I first wiped 8 off the 20-strong field as every single winner of this had ran in the 60 days leading up to the race. So that takes out Hammersly Lake, Sizing Tennessee, Mixboy, All Hell Let Loose, Last Goodbye, Killiney Court, Deans Road and Relentless Dreamer. Conditional jockeys have a poor record here, with only 2 having ever finished in the first 4. With Charlie Deutsch on Burtons Well and Sam Coltherd on Redbeard, I’ve now got it down to 10. The Irish don’t have a good record here either, having only won the race once. That takes out Tully East and Powersbomb. 8 remain. The final stat I used is that 10 of the last 12 winners were beaten in their first 2 starts over fences. Gold Present, Its’afreebee, Bun Doran, Double W’s, Zamdy Man and Templehills all won at least 1 of their first 2 chases, so out they go. They are Foxtail Hill and Two Taffs. Now I don’t like either of those at all so I’ve abandoned the plan. Instead, I’m opting for All Hell Let Loose for Henry De Bromhead and Bryan Cooper. He looked a proper animal when he won his Beginners’ Chase at Kilbeggan in the summer. The fact that he’s been off since doesn’t really concern me, as I’ve a feeling they’ve been conserving that mark for a big pot. Maybe today is that day. 

Selection: All Hell Let Loose EW (22/1 Bet365,  Ladbrokes and Stan James, 4 places)


Swans to fly up the table?

7 fold – Bayern, Swansea, Southend, Sampdoria, PSV, Charleroi and Waregem @ 17.86/1 with Betway


In their last 10 games Bayern have picked up 26 points, the most in the Bundesliga, which has sent them 5 points clear at the top of the table. They face a Koln side that has been in the European places until the last few weeks, but having not won in 4, losing to Hamburg, Frieburg and Leipzig, have slipped to 7th. This is a game that Bayern should be winning, and I expect them to make it 17 wins in 19.


Swansea come into this game on their best run of form in the season so far, picking up 9 points from a possible 15, only losing to top of the table Chelsea and away at Champions League contenders in Manchester City, the latter of which was a close fought contest in which they conceded the winner in the 90+2 minute. They face a Burnley side who haven’t won away all season, and have only managed to pick 2 points from 12 away from their home fortress of Turf Moor. I can only see Swansea winning this one, a win which could send them 5 points clear of the bottom 3.


Southend come into their match tomorrow knowing a win could send them into the play off spots, depending upon other results. Their form has been mixed recently, winning 4, drawing 2 and losing 2 in their last 8. Their home form however is far better, losing only 1 game in their last 17 in all competitions at Roots Hall. In contrast, Port Vale are on one of the worst runs in the EFL at the moment, only managing 14 points in their last 20 league games. This is compiled by their dreadful away form, having only picked up 1 win in 20 in all competitions. I can’t see the Vale getting anything from this game.


Next up in the acca will be Sampdoria at 5:00. They come into this game undefeated in 5, and having only lost 1 in their last 12 at home. They face a Pescara side who are currently bottom of Serie A, and who have only managed to pick up 12 points all season (26 games). They are awful away from home as well, losing 13 of their last 15 on their travels, drawing the other 2. If Sampdoria drop points here, I’ll be shocked.


PSV come into this game after a narrow 2-1 defeat away to top of the Eredivisie Feyenoord. Before that game, PSV had won 7 in a row, and had a very clear chance to get Champions League football for next year. As it stands, they can’t needlessly drop any more points in that chase, and facing a Roda side who are 1 point and 1 place above the relegation zone, they should easily win. Roda’s away form is poor to say the least, only managing 1 away win in 15.


The next 2 games are both in the Belgian Jupiler League, and kick off with Charleroi. They come into this game after winning 4 of of their last 6, and winning 9 of their last 12 at home. They face a Kortrijk side who have only managed 3 points in their last 8 on their travels, and I can’t see them increasing that points tally tomorrow.


The last leg of our Saturday acca is Waregem. Their home form this season has been amazing, being unbeaten in their last 17 at home, and find themselves lying 3rd in the table, 8 points off the top (it’s usually a 2 horse race between Club Brugge and Anderlecht in Belgium, and this year is no different). They face a Westerlo side who are 2nd bottom of the Jupiler League, and have only managed to pick up 22 points this season (28 games). If you thought their general form was bad, look at their away form. In their last 17 away games they have only managed 11 points.