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Cheltenham is Coming

Hi all,

In today's main feature, I'm initiating my preview of next month's Cheltenham Festival. Additionally, I'll be sharing a selection from this evening's Newcastle card.

Astonishingly, the new flat season is just over four weeks away. You might think it’s too early to be considering the new flat season given we haven’t even had the Cheltenham Festival. However, I have a feeling that the upcoming flat season could be something special. Additionally, like many punters, I'm growing weary of small-field NH Grade 1 races.

Cheltenham is Coming

In three weeks, the 2024 Cheltenham Festival kicks off, and for the next three Tuesdays, I'll be commencing my buildup to the event. This week I’m looking at the two Cheltenham courses, lack of value in the Grade 1 contests and my festival banker. Plus, there is a fun Cheltenham Festival angle that has identified big-priced winners.

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Cheltenham’s Old and New Courses are different. They do share some things though. Both courses are left-handed and undulating, with stiff fences, and for the last half-mile horses face the famous Cheltenham hill.

Old Course:

The first two days of the Cheltenham Festival are run on the Old Course. Strong travellers are often favoured and often pays to be close to the pace on the Old Course.  Both the Champion Hurdle & Champion Chase are tests of speed and good jumping prominent racers are hard to peg back.

Courtesy of the Racing Post.

The final two days of the Cheltenham Festival are run on the New Course. On the hurdles course there are just two hurdles to be jumped over the last seven furlongs which means the emphasis is very much on stamina. That combined with big fields is why hold-up horses can do well in races like the Pertemps Final and County Hurdle.

Indeed, while it's true that each course has its unique characteristics, it's possible to overstate the differences between them. Knowing the nuances of the two tracks, is useful but like race trends just don’t let dominate your thinking when comes to analysing a race.

On Course Profits free Horse Racing magazine
Unearthing Festival Winners: A Profitable Angle from Horseracebase.com

Many winners at the festival have proven that they can triumph without prior experience on the track.

I place a high value on previous course form, notably performances at the Cheltenham Festival. This familiarity with the track, coupled with past success, often serves as a strong indicator of a horse's potential performance.

With that in mind I have an interesting angle for you and it’s a simple one.

You’re looking for horses that have placed in the race at previous Cheltenham Festival’s.

Horse’s that had previously placed in the same festival race have been profitable to follow since 2017.

Results by year.

The angle has historically unearthed value winners, with ten out of the 12 winners returning odds of 9/1 or higher. However, last year's performance was disappointing, yielding only one winner and resulting in a £6 loss to a £1 level stake. The low Exp/Wins ratio (I typically prefer 10+ for a more robust sample size) suggests a cautious approach is necessary if considering following this angle at this year's festival.

While this year's outcome could mirror that of last year or 2018, landing on one or two winners could still lead to a substantial profit, especially if backing qualifiers at Betfair SP.

Good luck Finding Value in the Grade 1 Races

Finding value bets in Grade 1 races can be challenging, and it's disheartening to witness the ongoing trend of smaller fields and less competitive races at this year's festival. This situation persists for two main reasons.

Firstly, the dominance of a select few big trainers, notably Willie Mullins, who train the best horses. Their concentrated success limits the diversity of winners and reduces the competitiveness of races.

Secondly, the festival's dilution, exacerbated by the addition of extra races, including those specifically for mares. While these additions may aim to promote breeding, they often lead to weaker fields and do little to improve the overall quality of competition.

Cheltenham Handicaps: Unlocking Value

The Cheltenham Festival handicaps continue to provide some of the most promising betting opportunities. However, assessing these races effectively requires knowing the weights allocated to each horse. It's prudent to withhold analysis until this crucial information becomes available. Only then can one accurately evaluate the competitive landscape and identify potential value bets.

Speaking of festival handicaps, if you're thinking of betting ante-post in such races, I'd suggest seeking out horses priced between 12/1 and 20/1. What you're seeking are horses that will have shorter odds on race day.

It may sound straightforward, but it's actually quite challenging. When you review the bookmaker lists for festival handicaps, such as the Ultima Handicap Chase on day one, you'll find numerous horses priced between 12/1 and 20/1—sometimes as many as 30 or more.  Indeed, it entails a significant amount of form analysis to sift through such a large number of contenders.

Cheltenham Banker:

Apart from the certainty of Ireland winning the Prestbury Cup, I'm inclined to agree with Tom Segal (Pricewise) that Sir Gino is the standout choice for the Triumph Hurdle this year. While I haven't focused much on the juvenile hurdle division, Sir Gino appears to be significantly ahead of his competitors, including those trained in Ireland. His trainer Nicky Henderson is 4 winners from 18 runners 22% +19.5, 8 placed 44% in the race since 2009. Sir Gino’s 8/11 ante post odds won’t add much to the trainer’s profit, but it should be another winner in the race.  

There’ll be more Cheltenham Festival thoughts and stats next Tuesday.

Daily Punt Notebook
Ascot – Saturday

Bad took the first time cheekpieces but missed a big opportunity to gain a first handicap hurdle success in Ascot’s 2m 3 ½ f handicap hurdle. The ability is there to win off his present mark, but he doesn’t find much in a finish. If he’s to land on one of these he’s going to have to be produced right on the line off a strong pace. In the same race Hyland shaped well in sixth. Returning from a short break the 7-year-old who won a Pertemps Qualifier (3m) at Cheltenham in October found this inadequate stamina test. He’ll be sharper for this run, and he can go well in the Pertemps Final provided the ground isn’t too soft.

Trainer Henry Daly has got his horses back in form and Supreme Gift finished a ¾ length 2nd of 13 to Honor Grey in the 2m 7 ½ f. The 7-year-old seemed to prove his stamina for an extended 2m 7 and seemed to take to the first time visor. He can win again if the headgear continues to have the desired effect. Loup De Maulde was a 5 length 4th in the same race. He might have finished closer if there had been more ease in the ground. He’s on a competitive mark and should be able to win a handicap hurdle before the season is out.

Haydock – Saturday

I think the form of Saturday’s Grand National Trial looks solid. Yeah Man proved his stamina for 3m 4f and given the testing conditions produced a useful change of gear for a stayer to win. He’s going to be a live contender for the Irish Grand National.

My Silver Lining has really improved for the step up to marathon trips and testing ground. As when she won the Classic Chase she jumped well and was just outpointed by a better treated rival on the day. She’s had a couple of hard races so may appreciate a break but can win again.

Iron Bridge, a solid third needs further than 3m 4f and would be a contender for Midlands Grand National. It’s a race trainer Jonjo O’Neill has won in 2010 & 2021.

I mentioned in yesterday’s column that Famous Bridge could be a Scottish Grand National contender, but he would need good to soft or softer ground at Ayr which might prove elusive if recent years are any guide. He was still travelling well within himself when unseating his rider at the 17th. Hopefully is confidence won’t be affected by this mishap because he’s unexposed over marathon trips.

Future Winner:

Lord Snootie bounced back to form when a ½ length 2nd of 10 in the Pertemps Qualifier. The 7-year-old was short of room four out and couldn’t hold his place and seemed to be struggling. However, to his credit he rallied and managed to get within ½ length of Cuthbert Dibble at the line. Three miles around here even on heavy ground is too short for him. There’s a decent 3m handicap pot in him on a stiffer track on testing ground or more likely back over further (sole win 3m 2f).

Tuesday Selection

I’m heading to Newcastle and the 6f handicap (6:30) for today’s selection.  Solray made it 2-3 over C&D when winning 72 days ago. He’s only had the five starts and should be capable of winning another race even off an 8lb higher mark.  Bet365 are 5/2 about the 4-year-old’s chance and those odds are acceptable.

Newcastle

6:30 – Solray.

Good luck with your Tuesday bets.

John

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